Poetry versus cancer: Tough lessons from a Facebook fund drive in Chandigarh | punjab$chandigarh | Hindustan Times
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Poetry versus cancer: Tough lessons from a Facebook fund drive in Chandigarh

People who are ‘nice’ can be more annoying than those who are habitually rude. This is particularly true about people who are into a ‘cause’ and stuff like that; who think every place in the universe is a podium for a speech; and that every human being with the capability to hear or nod is interested in their espousal, or should be.

punjab Updated: Jun 04, 2017 00:21 IST
Aarish Chhabra
No, this is not about a heartwarming video of a cat kissing its offspring, nor have I read a second-hand news report made all flowery by a yuppie website, which sells stuff from mainstream media as its own, and also pans mainstream media as a thing of the past.
No, this is not about a heartwarming video of a cat kissing its offspring, nor have I read a second-hand news report made all flowery by a yuppie website, which sells stuff from mainstream media as its own, and also pans mainstream media as a thing of the past.(Shutterstock image)

Turn away if you are into nuance. This is not that kind of article. This is the kind that generalises, pokes and enrages, and goes viral for it, hopefully.

Fit for the genre, let me start with a theory: People who are ‘nice’ can be more annoying than those who are habitually rude. This is particularly true about people who are into a ‘cause’ and stuff like that; who think every place in the universe is a podium for a speech; and that every human being with the capability to hear or nod is interested in their espousal, or should be.

It gets worse.

Internet makes this self-satisfying niceness overbearingly apparent. For the ultra-cynics — who keep on living despite acknowledging life’s pointlessness — it’s not a nice feeling to spot gooey Facebook posts in which people seek help for a dog who’s got ticks or seems lost. These FB do-gooders never bother to wonder why we’ve got an unmanageable population of uncared-for canines in the first place; how our civic bodies have failed for decades in dog sterilisation; and why there is a lack of veterinary hospitals, and of hospitals for the lesser species, Homo sapiens. No complications, OK!

In a world like that, it sucks when you come across upbeat people who live as if everything is all right, or is going to be. These people make cynicism, the life and blood of people who struggle with other emotions, as pointless as life itself. How do you get out alive? Don’t kill yourself, please.

There is redemption. No, this is not about a heartwarming video of a cat kissing its offspring, nor have I read a second-hand news report made all flowery by a yuppie website, which sells stuff from mainstream media as its own, and also pans mainstream media as a thing of the past.

It’s simpler than that. It’s about a friend.

She is a typically nice person. And she has other friends like her. I know them through friends, because it’s hard not to know everyone when you live on the island of Chandigarh. She likes doing nice stuff, such as going to awareness events, telling stories, reciting poetry. On most days, I’d find it hard not to get annoyed with that.

But she caught my attention when she recently did something that such nice people avoid doing — standing up for a cause that’s more complex than a well-meaning talk, and requires some sweat, even blood.

Students at Panjab University had stood up against a fee hike, and it became a Jeremy Corbynish argument: Is education a right or a commodity? Should it be free, or should there be reasonable fee? Who defines reasonable?

There was a bunch that went as far as to suggest that making education expensive acts as a filtration process that helps the economy. Some from this bunch write poetry that extols humanism and equal opportunity. Another set that meant to be middle-of-the-road backed the plan to have some sort of on-campus work plan for poor students to fund their degrees. Life is not fair and equal anyway, they underlined.

She, true to how she comes across and probably is, kept it simple: Look, no one like Buta Singh, that boy from heartland Punjab who earns his fee by seeking manual work at Labour Chowk, ought to be deprived of education! The pitch made it hard to argue against this simple point without coming across as an entitled twat.

So, last week, when she sought help for a cancer patient with a fundraising appeal on Facebook and Instagram, it wasn’t a surprise. After all, this is the kind of thing she does. On usual days, you look at such posts, and sometimes you act, most times you don’t. It’s a mood thing.

But, what if she turns it around on you? Do you think new-age cafe poetry lacks conviction? Here’s a little something for you.

She started a drive to write poetry for money, which will go into the cancer treatment of a student whose parents can’t afford it. Do you now think — like Kathleen Kelly’s boyfriend in You’ve Got Mail tells her— that she is “a lone reed, standing tall, waving boldly, in the corrupt sands of commerce”?

No, there are more like her. In the city and beyond. Poetry has joined hands with stories, photography, painting, and other art. The patient needs around ₹25 lakh, and they’ve raised about half of that within a week. Such is the flow of money that, I believe, they might end up raising more than required, and maybe can help someone else. How about a cancer fund that goes beyond individuals? Yeah, let’s do this. This feels good!

Wait, did I just sound hopeful? Oh no, I am losing my edge. What’s the point of this? I must immediately get off Facebook, and hide in my cave of cynicism again. Go on, you nice people, annoy the hell out of the world. Amy Singh, I hate you!

Also read | Facebook fund drive for Chandigarh student gathers poetic pace

Views expressed are personal. Writer tweets at @aarishc