Of the strangest sights of 2007 — no, I’m not including that searing image of President Pratibha Patil facing a hallful of empty chairs at Rashtrapati Bhavan after honouring India’s cricketers — has to be a candlelight vigil in Kolkata in broad daylight. I forget whether the folks were protesting against the violence in Nandigram, the death of Rizwanur Rehman, or the fact that Sourav Ganguly never takes off his shirt any more. But the rows of people walking with candles, not to mention spiffy placards with spiffier messages sent out one strong signal to the cynical world out there in their living rooms: activism got funkier in 2007.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to diss good people with a can-do approach for their can-doing just because I’m a full-time non-activist. It’s just that even when television studios have their general lok ki adalat-type discussion shows, not only will there now be at least a few of these updated protestors, but they’ll also bring their placards — ‘We want peace’, ‘Stop the violence now’, and the dripping-with-sarcasm favourite, ‘Are we the Taliban?’ — and, lest we forget, their non-lit candles in keeping with their intense desire to wax eloquent about...wrongdoings.
The earlier lot of straight-up activist-protestors are still there, all right. You know, the sort of chaps who arrive from the hinterland to hold up traffic, who bother you to bits by their sagging enthusiasm (enthusiasm sags if you’ve been travelling for the last few days and then go on a nice, long walk in a honk-ing city), and then leave with no visible signs that they were there, holding up traffic, bothering you to bits....
And most importantly, those guys rarely made it to the telly. In 2007, Nithari, Nandigram, Nach Baliye 3, ‘Not Dhoni without his hair!’ — all such issues and much more have made a more urbane, suave, vocal, kolapuri-kurta-clad bunch (as opposed to those wearing chappals) come out of colleges, schools, kitchens and rocky marriages.
So did the world change because of the change in the profile of the visible activist? Well, sort of. Having angry people with quivering consciences looking, speaking, spluttering like you and me has made bad people sit up and seriously think of moving out of town. And what scares them shitless are those unlit candles at the morning marches. From the old beacons of hope and sympathy and unity, they now look like devices that the Marquis de Sade would have said ‘Hmm...’ to. Activism got sexy in 2007. Bad people in 2008, watch out.
(Indrajit can reached at firstname.lastname@example.org You can’t hold a candle to him.)