There appears a pattern sometimes that prompts one to ponder: is revelry the new religion? Or is it the new amphitheatre of class conflict in a diverse nation, in which aspirations of different segments clash? Images tumble out as the nation grows happily in a new century into new milestones of affluence. These are disturbing images of prosperity: a mob molests girls outside a trendy hotel in Mumbai; elsewhere in the city, four New Year revellers die, their car having run into a dumper; in Chennai, a 23-year-old worker from the software industry dies when a New Year bash stage by the poolside collapses.
These are images that offer death and indignity courting revellers. They convey the eternal uncertainties that all must endure somehow. At another level, the groping incident in Mumbai, captured by camera in an age of reality TV and surreal city cultures, conveys the undercurrent of social tumult. Somewhere in the unspelt lexicon of the rampaging mob is the new rule of social politics: you can engage the target in their moments of revelry.
Was it not at the beach resort of Sharm-el-Sheikh in Egypt in 2005 that terrorists struck Western tourists? Was it not in the charmed environs of Delhi’s Qutub Colonnade that a politician’s son was involved in a shootout that killed a trendy bar girl over a glass of unserved drink?
In the Bollywood movies of the 1960s and 1970s, the ‘party song’ was an evocative instrument of social and economic conflicts, where the poor poet would confront the affluent challenger in a scene that would seem a musical cross between a fight scene and a mating ritual. Insults, moral statements, sarcasm and plain clashes were the leitmotif of these songs.
The songs buzz again in a metaphorical way when one reads of the Mumbai mob. Somewhere in liberal society, old rules are being broken. Girls are out celebrating and their escorts are no longer the tough Hindi film heroes who bash up the goons. The police arrive a tad late, somewhat like they do in the movies, and do their best. But they are up against what seems like a slice of life from a social tango of lust and envy.
So, is revelry the new instrument of social tragedies and economic conflict? Ideologies may have taken the backseat or run for cover but raw emotions of feudal rage, patriarchal privilege, economic aspiration, muddled self-assertion and assertive celebration together find their stage in seasons of revelry. The media exist to mirror them, in an excited chatter of repeating facts that convey no truths, churning out images that spur much outrage but not insights. Revelry is then the new ideology of self-discovery for the repressed of many hues, be it the knowledge worker seeking an avenue of affluent celebration, youths who love speeding on shiny roads not far from urban slums, or a mob that gropes its way into upward social mobility.
Maybe, just maybe, historians will watch some day all the videos in reflective reason that contemporary heat noisily conceals.