Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Magical May

I’ve been meaning to post this for a while now, never got around to it.
Suddenly it is high May and it is raining. I just love the steady patter of rain on my pane. It feels almost home. And refreshing too. Newspapers are replete with sloppy explanations, quoting the poor weatherman. Some f******* western disturbance causes the f****** hot air to go up and then winds from Kashmir blow in to fill the seducing gap, they tell us. And it rains. Kashmir, it appears, works like a shot of tranquilizer India cannot do without.

Glad tidings first. Obama seems certain to clinch the Democratic presidential nomination in the US. That is only if that spunky old war-mare Hillary would let him. Looks like she is going to go down fighting. It was exhilarating to see real democracy in action all these previous weeks. Day after day. Primary after primary. Caucus after caucus. Debate after debate. Vote count after vote count, it was sheer catechization. The way a candidate makes it to the top is perhaps the best example of participatory democracy anywhere in the world. [Though democracy is not always flawless, occasionally it does promote a dim-wit. Example: George Bush Jr].

This week also marked the 40th anniversary of the student revolution in France. It was the May of 1968 when a million students abandoned their lycee and university classes to bring upon a profound social change in France. The rebellious youth were disillusioned among other things -- with the Vietnam War, the old society of Europe and traditional morality. Charles de Gaulle [CDG], the iconic French president tried to crush the uprising. Brute force was used to put it down but the students held forth. Soon workers joined them. Intellectuals like the existentialist John Paul Sartre backed the revolution. Police soon swung into action and occupied the prestigious Sorbonne University. Tempers frayed. Protesters were arrested in their hundreds --including Sartre -- and swiftly charged with sedition. At this CDG intervened and had charges against Sartre dropped. ‘You don’t arrest Voltaire’, CDG famously remarked.

A million young men marched in Paris on the magical morning of May 13, 1968. De Gaulle’s administration shuddered at this open defiance of authority. What started as an impromptu protest had become a movement that now seemed completely unstoppable. At one point CDG had to go into hiding. The brilliant Tariq Ali recalls those nostalgic – and eventful years – as the street-fighting years. Eventually France changed forever. Religion, patriotism and respect for authority gave way to liberal morality – epitomized by equality, sexual liberation and respect for human rights. The world watched in total awe. Students in those tumultuous May nights plotted and managed to bring about a dramatic shift in values.

Closer home the rampant pillaging of fragile countryside ecology continues unabated. Everyday -- for the past one week -- whenever I check a Kashmiri newspaper online I am immensely saddened. There are daily reports of impunity with which the beauty of Pahalgam is being destroyed. Dirty CRPF make-shift tentments – where troopers in groups of 10's -- eat, sleep, loll and play cards -- have come up all over the lush dell. And as I mentioned in an earlier post, trenches are being dug for excreting, bang in the middle of a golf course this time.

Kashmir is no doubt a tranquilizer but does that mean we overdose ourselves on it.