Loving a mirage

Ever since I read Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being I have been pondering on the different questions the novel left me with. Probably I’ll never find the right answer, or may be there is none. The novel left me questions about love and human relationships in general. The answers to which I will continue exploring for a long time.

There are scientific explanations to why do we love someone, not necessarily sexual (platonic) like love between two friends, a man and a dog, a mother and her child. But I have never come across a scientific explanation as to why we stop loving someone. Time, human expectations, and death they all play a role.

We sometimes are in love with the idea of a particular person even when the person is no more or not around us. Death is final in physical sense, but the person continues to live on through memories and through love. Love keeps the memories alive. Time passes and probably the idea of a person continues to be loved. As the idea lives on and life moves on probably the idea of person(mirage) seems more ideal as our lives become far from ideal. Kundera explores this possibility in his novel.

As we now live in a hyper-connected world, I now wonder about the love in the time of social media. This idea of a person takes form of Facebook profile or WhatsApp profile. Someone might be far far away from us, and we probably have not met the person in years, but can we continue to love the idea of that individual? We continue to chat, send messages, comment on walls, tell them what is going on in our lives. It is similar to letters being exchanged in old times. This has just taken a different form. There are not much expectations in such a relationship. Loving the idea of a person is lighter than loving the person itself. It does not come with any baggage and responsibility. The idea itself becomes our ideal projection.

– Shantanu Gharpure

कावळा

किती महत्व असावे कावळ्याचे आपल्या रोजच्या जीवनात? माला अचानक रविवारी सकाळी कावळा का आठवला आता? नाश्ता करून घरी परतांना तीन चार लाहान मुले आणि त्यांचे वडील होते. एक मुलगा त्यात कावळ्याला आट्याचे गोळे फेकत होता. त्यांना तेवढाच तो खेळ आणि मी पण बघत होतो हसून. माझ्यातले पण लहान मूळ हसू लागले कावळ्याला तो गोळा खाताना पाहून.

कावळा दुरूनच भावतो. काळा, कर्कश्य काव काव करणारा पक्षी, काय असे सुंदर ना त्यात? कावळ्याबद्दल बेपर्वाई असते. काय तो पक्षी, शाकाहारी पण आणि मांसाहारी पण. कावळा खरंतर स्वच्छ भारत अभियानाचा एक ब्रँड एमबेसेडर हवा. मुंबई आणि दिल्ली सारख्या मोठ्या शहरांचा कचरा कावळा साफ करतोच ना- रोज, कधीही संपावर ना जाता. लहानपणी मला आठवते मराठीच्या परीक्षेत हा निबंध यायचा एखादवेळेस, ‘आई संपावर गेली तर काय?’ ‘कावळा संपावर गेला तर काय?’ हा विषय हवा निबंधाचा.

लहानपणी आजी सांगायची मास नाही खायला हवे, पोटात किडे होतील. आजीचे चूक होते असे नाही. पण जे मास खातात त्यांच्याविषयी भेदभाव का? कावळा तर रोजच्या जीवनात आठवतही नाही. तो काहीही खाणारा कावळा. तसे तर त्याला जवळ पण येऊ देणार नाही. गलिच्छ, काळा, कर्कश्य काव देणारा कावळा. कसा हा खेळ बघा जीवनाचा. ज्याच्याशी आयुष्यभर भेदभाव केला, त्या कावळ्याने शेवटी पिंड नाही शिवली, तर आत्म्यालाही शांती मिळत नाही.

Facebook Wall Cleansing

So much has happened this year, so much to deal with, so much to sink in. Last 50 days of the year, and what more can happen?

I guess a lot of people have started using Facebook as their source of information for everything, from people’s lives to news. I deactivated my Facebook account this year three to four times or may be more, but the maximum it lasted was couple of days. Why did I deactivate? I was tired of constant information, and also I could not resist checking it. Not that I was or I am addicted, but yet my news feed has been more overwhelming for me this year than ever before. Partly due to those in my friend lists but also due to events in India and across the world.

‘Ethnic Cleansing’, a word that stayed with me after I attended Dr. Simeon’s lecture a month back at Ashoka University. He said that we live in an ethnically cleansed surrounding. ‘Hitler lost the war, but won against the Jews’. Europe was ethnically cleansed of Jews during Second World War. Many killed by Nazis, some lost hope and gave up life, some fled Europe, and very few survived the horrors of the Holocaust. How can I not feel sad and angry when someone says they respect Hitler. Respect Hitler, why, for what? For his leadership, leadership to exterminate Jews? Hindu dominated upper middle class areas in India are ethnically cleansed of Muslims. Majority Muslims in India continue to live in ghettos. Yet, our country is home to roughly 172 million Muslims, third in the world, behind Indonesia and Pakistan. Yet how many do we see as news anchors, how many do we admire as leaders. The community has its own problems to deal with, but increased ghettoization will never solve them. I will not get into details, it’s a much larger issue with several implications for our country. My point is most of the Urban class lives in surroundings where they will mostly have people from same religion, class and to some extent caste surrounding them.  How will in this case, will a boy or girl growing up in such a neighborhood grapple with the problems of someone from other religion,caste, etc. This otherization runs deep in our society, which we have constantly failed to acknowledge. We are increasingly living in an ethnically cleansed world. Pandits were ethnically cleansed from Kashmir valley, Muslims cleansed from Mumbai post 1992-93 riots and so on. Continues to happen, if not in violent manner, then through our own prejudices and preferences. There still exist societies where people from a particular caste or community will not be able to buy or rent a flat. Our ancestors had warned us of interbreeding, yet we have continued to do so for centuries. Inter-breeding of thoughts, inter-breeding of culture, so much so that our outlook has narrowed because of so much inter breeding.

In such a scenario, it comes down to adequate representation from different classes and communities of society. I never studied with someone who practised Islam, Christianity, Sikhism or Jainism for my entire school life. My school was for the middle class in Nagpur. I am not blaming anyone,  but it deprived me of the opportunity to know about other religions, cultures that were different from my own. I knew Muslims, Christians existed in Nagpur because of my mother who taught in a Christian-run school. Her class was way more inclusive than mine. This is just one example, there are plenty examples where I realized later in my life, only if my school was more inclusive, I would have had better education, better exposure. We underestimate the importance of right schooling so much. To a great extent it shapes our present, our privilege, our insecurities.
Our Facebook walls have been subjected to same ethnic cleansing, and now a days also to ideological cleansing. Why do I make such a statement? Look at your own friend list, ask yourself is my friend list diverse enough. In most of the cases, the answer will be NO. Then we are reading posts and status updates of people who come from same social class, religion and city. Our ethnically cleansed, not-so-diverse, interbred surroundings translate into our Facebook news feed which we constantly subject ourselves to. Anything other than what we constantly read seems abnormal. I will frankly find it abnormal to suddenly find my news feed full of farms, and vegetables and trucks. Because I do not come from a village or do not know people who work as farmers. They are not my friends, how will I know what’s happening in their lives? Virat Kohli scores a century and my wall will be full of it, because I have lived in a city, a country where people worship Cricket. I will find it abnormal to suddenly find everyone going gaga over a game of basketball. These are very trivial examples. My point is our Facebook news feed is to a great extent a result of our own choices, privileges, caste, religion, class, and basically everything that defines our identity.

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I know friends who have unfriended people they find annoying, because their opinion and ideology is different from theirs. I also know people who have unfriended me, or stopped following me for the same reason. Basically subjecting oneself to same interbreeding of thoughts. How will I know about a different perspective if I decide to unfriend everyone who doesn’t agree with me or has a different world-view. If every Clinton supporter unfriended every Trump supporter and vice-a-versa, imagine what will happen. If I decide to unfriend everyone who praises Rahul Gandhi, I’ll be happy and delusional and will go on cursing Rahul Gandhi, calling him a fool, because my friends are enjoying it, liking it. These things no doubt also translate into WhatsApp, but still WhatsApp is more personal and we mostly are in touch with our friends or colleagues. Facebook friend list is huge, where there are people whom I know from years ago and will probably never meet them, but still they are there.If a status goes viral on Facebook, we know who posted it. We can accordingly appreciate or hurl abuses at him/her.

We were already living in silos, and we have increasingly started putting the people we know into silos. Bhakt, pseudo-liberal, sickular, chaddi and what not. Once we have decided that the person belongs to a particular group, we read the statuses with a preconceived notion, already ready to hurl abuses or like,share the status. We are increasingly forgetting what is a dialogue. But we constantly subject ourselves to this information propaganda without taking a step back, verifying a particular article, or not. We like, share, ready to let the world know.
‘Yo bro! Modi did it again!’
‘ 80 likes, no abusive comment. Yes. So proud of my friends!’

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This interbreeding of thoughts, ideologies will do no good to this nation, doesn’t matter whether we are nationalists or anti-nationalists, we will be ruining our society forever. As the world increasingly starts living on social media, it’s a huge question we need to ask ourselves, ponder and do something. Can we take a step towards diversifying our news feed, tolerating people, and engage in a dialogue? Social media has become a place for no dialogue. But what choices do we have in front of us as the world increasingly turns to social media? Can we continue to live in our own delusional silos, or diversify and become more inclusive.