Last Seen At

On the Sion-Panvel highway, where the buses stop to let passengers board, is an expanse of road that would put the moon’s surface to shame. More often than not, that stretch of pockmarks is filled with water turning it into a giant ditch. When I pass by the bus stop every morning, I experience this burning feeling to get off and fix the road to level it for each passenger who stands there freshly washed but ensconced by dirt and grime. The more I think of going there with sand, concrete and tar, the more I like the idea. I discussed the practicality of this idea with someone yesterday. I wonder if the people who board the buses from there feel the same way as I do.

This is a long overdue and consistently procrastinated post. For the simple reason that there are so many who sit in their cozy homes and fire away at their keyboards/tablets lamenting the dire straits of this nation at the hands of the current government. At the risk of being accused of joining the armchair critic bandwagon and at the brink of being labeled a cynic, I venture to take this paragraph forth. Murphy could foresee India’s future when he said, “Everything that can go wrong, will go wrong.” I already imagine every Indian reading this post nodding their head in agreement. It’s common knowledge that present day India is harangued by all sorts of problems — social, political, financial, cultural, international — you name it and we have it all. It’s no news that we’re not exactly heading anywhere and hoping that a man in a cape is going to save us come the 2014 elections. My mother reads the news paper every day while I do not. Every evening she tells me about the unfortunate events she reads in print — someone was killed, another girl was raped, a building collapsed, a bus crashed — the despair just doesn’t cease in the news. And while all this is happening, what is the educated, MNC-going, averagely-smart individual doing? Checking the ‘last seen at’ time stamp on WhatsApp. Seriously, I kid you not. That’s where everything stops. And it’s simply amazing. Our nation, our society, our means for a wholesome life are crumbling around us and we’re trapped in our own minds of how people haven’t responded when they should have, and taking the analogy further, we’re trapped in our minds of how people have not done what they should have. We’re a nation obsessed with cell phones while every other basic need is being ripped from end to end and being neglected.

The urban population of this country works in some of the biggest and best companies that have a tremendous influence over the economy and the Indian market. The amount of money circulating through this country right now is not even funny. The power that the collective societies of India can have on the nation is phenomenal in my imagination. And you would think that the population that works in these firms and earns a living to get by would be empowered and progressive. You couldn’t be more wrong. In spite of the power each one of us possesses we live terribly shallow lives. To aptly quote Dave Ramsey, “We buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like.” The failing of our society is not an incompetent, impotent government. Well, yes, that might come as a rude shock, but frankly, it’s true, and it’s time we face the music. Forgive me for being blunt, but our problem is not a mute MMS or a plundering UPA. Our diseases are not the patriarchal society or the uneducated goons. Our failings are not the outdated education system or the one-track IIT pursuing childhood. Our biggest and most concerning incapacity is us and our belief that someone else is going to build a better nation for us. No, sorry. They’re not. You are. So, if you look around and see everything is wrong, you’re pretty much responsible for it. If you’re doing a job you don’t love, that’s your problem. If you’re doing a job you love and are not doing it well, that also is your problem. If you’re living in a society that is filthy and inhabitable, that’s your problem. If you’re taking or giving a bribe, that’s your problem. If your roads and public transport is not good enough, that’s your problem. And this is not an idealistic view, it’s more objectivistic than anything else. Why blame the government for everything that goes wrong? Are you trying to say that the government is controlling the way you live? The way you think? The manners you conduct yourself with in society? If you say yes, then, my friend, you are in deeper trouble than you thought. You have no mind of your own. But if you do have a mind of your own, what’s stopping you from creating a better life for yourself? Ah! Let me guess. America. No, really. We’re running after the American dream while living in India. Typically, we’re stuck between our dreamed-of existence and our actual existence. In this yo-yo-ing between one and another, we don’t stop and think of the tangible, possible life that we can live in this country. So what do we do? Take the easy way out – blame the government, blame the women, run after MNCs, buy more cars in an act of defiance to the public transport and your neighbor, and deride the “society” for their backward notions. It’s bewildering how stupid we sound. Are we even listening to ourselves?

What stops us from empowering ourselves? The answer is simple – ourselves. And the utter lack of faith we have in each other. There is a scene in ABCD (Any Body Can Dance) where two boys can’t do a dance step collaboratively thus bringing disharmony in the coordination of the whole group. Prabhudeva forbids everyone from going home till they don’t get it right, and in his eloquence tells them that they can’t do it not because of lack of talent but because they can’t trust each other. And that’s who we are, we don’t trust each other. We have no faith. Not the religious kind of faith that separates one from another, but the kind that frees us from dogma and prejudice. Because there is so much good in this world that all evil can be vanquished. Just that good needs a chance, and we have to give it that chance. Let us not forget, we’re only as strong as our weakest link.

We have to stop being trapped – first in our own minds and then in our excuses. There’s nothing wrong in wanting a better life, what’s wrong is hoping that someone will hand it to you on a platter. Look at the life you’re leading. If something is broken, fix it. When you read the bad news, resolve to love more and be better. If you don’t enjoy what you do, stop doing it. If you do enjoy it, do it better. If the grass is unkempt, mow it. If the place is littered, clean it. There is nothing more liberating than recognizing how much (good) power we have inside each one of us. The day we are cognizant of this potential power, we won’t need a government, we won’t crib, and we will all rise collectively as a nation. There are so many questions in this age, and if the answer to each one of them doesn’t make you feel good and fill you with awe, then the answer is wrong.

You’re wonderful and bountiful. Refuse to be trapped by a technology to live a wholesome life. Refuse to be caged by dogma, superstition, religion, evil power, and most importantly fear. Refuse to live a life that doesn’t nourish you as a person. Refuse to feel anything that doesn’t enrich your being. Let go. You’re going to die one day; or probably today, but before that answer this question – Have you lived a good life which you can love on your death bed?

Trust me, the government won’t bring flowers to your grave or help to disperse your ashes. It’s not even going to check when you were last seen at.

The Secret of Change
The Secret of Change

6 thoughts on “Last Seen At

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  1. “An Idealistic Clarion Call to Mobilized Collective Action” — is how I would put this post’s tone as. Inspirational, Provocative, Eloquent, Challenging, and Well Articulated. However, therein also lies the problem – by virtue of these same qualities, it is also naive and ultimately thoroughly futile. Human nature sadly cannot be corrected in a sustained way over the long term. Humans develop a conscience, and in their finer moments of clarity, insight and purposefulness, write an inspired piece of prose or social commentary like this.

    But the when the sun sets, dusk turns to darkness, and the dust settles on our momentary conviction, we abandon the foresight, the vision, and the inspiration – and shall no doubt be consigned back to our frivolous, narcissistic and herd behavior.

    Nonetheless, exceptionally articulated piece of inspiring social critique … It reminds me a great deal of a timeless piece of Poetry penned by Simon & Garkfunkel called “Sound of Silence”, which goes something like this –
    >>
    Hello darkness, my old friend,
    I’ve come to talk with you again,
    Because a vision softly creeping,
    Left its seeds while I was sleeping,
    And the vision that was planted in my brain
    Still remains
    Within the sound of silence.

    In restless dreams I walked alone
    Narrow streets of cobblestone,
    ‘Neath the halo of a street lamp,
    I turned my collar to the cold and damp
    When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light
    That split the night
    And touched the sound of silence.

    And in the naked light I saw
    Ten thousand people, maybe more.
    People talking without speaking,
    People hearing without listening,
    People writing songs that voices never share
    And no one dared
    Disturb the sound of silence.

    “Fools,” said I, “You do not know –
    Silence like a cancer grows.
    Hear my words that I might teach you.
    Take my arms that I might reach you.”
    But my words like silent raindrops fell
    And echoed in the wells of silence

    And the people bowed and prayed
    To the neon god they made.
    And the sign flashed out its warning
    In the words that it was forming.
    And the sign said, The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls
    And tenement halls
    And whispered in the sound of silence.
    <<

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    1. //“An Idealistic Clarion Call to Mobilized Collective Action” — is how I would put this post’s tone as. Inspirational, Provocative, Eloquent, Challenging, and Well Articulated. However, therein also lies the problem – by virtue of these same qualities, it is also naive and ultimately thoroughly futile.//

      You’ve said exactly what I want to say 🙂

      Like

      1. Basically both of us are calling this a Barack Obama level speech (replete with inspirational oratory), which is typically followed by no commensurate Barack Obama action, mostly because just like Barack Obama, we are all prisoners of a complex socio-economic-political hierarchy and shortsightedness and narcissism is ingrained as the default behavior of our species at the individual and collective level.

        The reason your post is inspirational is precisely because it ain’t possible in reality. Batman/Superman and almost every tale of heoric idealism are cherished and worshiped so much because they are the hyper-idealization of what humans can be, and perhaps ought to be, but alas what they never will be. It’s a fantastic post Sameen. Let’s just leave it at that 😛

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  2. As I read this, I couldn’t help but be reminded about V and some of his speeches from the movie V for Vendetta. He says something along the lines of “If you’re looking for the guilty, you need only look into a mirror.”

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