Words are often misused, limiting their effects. I’m a journalist and I throw around words like a used tissue. Words like depressed, disturbed and disappointed for instance are so overused that the gravity they carry is often misrepresented. But at times, as misfortune would have it, there just isn’t a better word.
For instance, I for one am deeply disturbed and at the same time mildly elated with the protests in Madras that have been incited by the allegedly anti-Muslim film. While it is odd for a single event to evoke contrasting emotions, this incident is right up there with the crazy ones. For instance, there is a high possibility that most of the protestors might not have watched the film at all (Neither have I). The film, as far as I know, is available only on Youtube. Not that protests have a high record of logical backing, but this one might just top the chart in terms of its ridiculous aims. They want President Obama to first apologise for the film and then order the hanging of its director. If pigs took to the sky when a black man became US’ President, there’s a good chance they might have to cross the thresholds of the solar system for this to happen.
To open the newspaper in the morning and to see your city’s roads ravaged, vehicles burnt and buildings smashed at the behest of nothing but stupidity is incessantly disturbing. I have never for once pegged my city’s people for such actions. Be that as it may, given that a big chunk of respect has eroded on one hand, there’s a sense of pride that has bubbled to the surface, for all this while, I had a feeling Madras never really cared much for anything.
When the Sri Lankan govt was rampaging through the traditional strongholds of the LTTE, the Tamil folk across the sea made silent protests at the usual places, letting the city’s people go about their everyday jobs. Every December 6th, one is warned to be a bit careful about going out, especially in Muslim-dominated areas. Never in my two decades of living here have I heard of anything untoward happening on that day. However, the city has seen its fair share of mob fury. Shops have been looted when political leaders died and buses have been burnt when a school kid died by falling off a bus. But those actions, at least as far as I can see, have a little bit of anger, something I can empathise with, behind them. Not to belittle the emotions of the protestors, the film might have insulted them, but what good is damaging a few CCTV cameras outside the American embassy going to do to ease that pain.
On the other hand, things have been unnaturally quiet for the past two decades. It was only when the Tsunami struck was the city collectively worried about something. People feared for their lives, locals approached the beaches with a little trepidation for a few weeks following the Tsunami and the memories of that Sunday morning still haunt many a fisherman. But apart from that, zilch. The first Anna Hazare movement saw a few hundred gather at an abandoned building in Adyar, but very few bothered to show up during his consecutive fasts. Something closer to home like the Kudankulam reactor hasn’t managed to make many of the Mamas and Mamis of Madras put a finger on their noses.
Which is why, when the protests in question actually took place, a little part in me was a bit joyous. There was a tinge of satisfaction that this city could feel something, that when some if its citizens suffer - albeit allegedly in this case - the people don’t leave them to rot whilst going about their daily routine. The city doesn’t shove something under a carpet and go about its business of giving a damn about its downtrodden.
Having lived within 20 metres of a wine shop pretty much all my life, I have seen many drunken men sleeping on the platform beside their own vomit. I have also seen a guy bring a van full of food to feed some of the homeless every Sunday morning. This city cares about its people, be it the overtly rash bike-rider who’s just encountered an accident or a near-blind senior citizen waiting to cross the road.
And when something as precious as religious sentiments are hurt, the people fight back. They should.