In Hindu Mythology, Sagar Manthan refers to the churning of the ocean, an epic battle between devas (gods) and Asuras (demons), a myth from the Hindu epic the Bhagavata-Purana. At the beginning of this episode, the devas and asuras are lined up on opposite sides, trying to use Mount Mandara to churn the ocean in order to produce amrita, the elixir of immortality. They tug on the serpent Vasuki, who is coiled around the mountain, but to no effect. Vishnu arrives and instructs them to pull rhythmically, but the mountain begins to sink. Things get worse when Vasuki vomits a deadly venom, which threatens to destroy the devas and asuras; Brahma asks Shiva to drink up the venom, which he does, but it burns his throat, which is blue thereafter. Vishnu meanwhile, in his incarnation as the tortoise Kurma, supports Mount Mandara, allowing the churning to continue for another thousand years.
Within us and around us, we experience this immortal churning of the ocean. The battle between good and evil, humility and vanity, truth and hypocrisy; a battle that is as immortal as the elixir promised within the ocean.
Among the many Urdu poets, Kaifi Azmi, has written extensive poetry that delves into the fight within us, but also so much about the fight against the system. A communist in ideology, while I was scourging his work, I found poems such as Aakhri Jung ( Last Battle), Subah-E-Watan(Dawn of a nation), Jail Ke dar Par(At the gates of jail) and Aazadi(Freedom).
With the spotlight on state against its people within the confines of JNU in Delhi, my weekend has been filled with discussions with my peers and reflections on their thoughts and opinions.
Freedom is a passionate sentiment and an elixir for which humanity has been churning the ocean from time immemorial. The fight for more freedom, whether within the confines of our homes, the place we work, in relationships, in systems, in countries and nations is ever-expanding. I am fortunate to be part of this idea called India. Thinking about the global conflict that has afflicted so many nations, a women born into the Islamic culture, living my life on my terms has been made possible within this nation.
But if something is good, can we not hope for it to be better? Can I oppose, conflict, resist and criticize the issues that bother me, only in my opinion?
To quote the thoughts of a dear friend, “nations offer its people hope and fear. It makes its citizens believe that they can hope for a better tomorrow, that it will provide them with opportunities that will help them thrive and at the same time save them from threats that come from outside the nation, protect them from enemies that can destroy this hope. In other words an aspiration to grow and a defense against encroaching enemies.
I asked my house-help, someone from the masses, born in a very small village, whether she has hope the nation (the government) will help her with her aspirations?
No, she said.
All I have are my capabilities and I need to help myself.
Does she fear the system?
If I am in-line and never oppose or react, they will leave me alone, she says.
Hope seems to be diminishing, but neither is the fear too dark.
What we also receive within this system are identity and pride.
With the boundaries of free speech being pushed to its limits, national pride and patriotism do find themselves major characters in this saga of epic proportions. I do get emotional at the sound of the national anthem, yes, I confess to that. I smile warmly at the thought of our traditions that welcome the athithi(guest) in a manner that is unmatched in many ways.
But I believe that good can get better and that “koyi bhi desh perfect nahi hota, use behtar banana parta hai.”( No country is perfect, it needs to be improved upon).
I want to be part of systems that allow me to be me, to speak my mind, to accept me for who I am and not suppress anything that comes naturally to me. Ideally all democracies should offer its people this freedom, not in part or a version of it, but in whole. But if you believe is constant improvement, even the ideal, will become ‘just good enough’ and we will aspire for better that ideal.
I may not support all policies that are created by the nation, or be happy with the decisions taken on my behalf, and in a state of free speech be able to speak my mind, voice my opinion.
Let us view nations as homes, a place that nurtures you, empowers you and protects you from harsh elements lurking outside, and allows you to be who you are, speaking your mind freely. Growing within this space, as you gain opinions, you may not support all the views held within that home, you may condemn the stand they have taken and even be able to convey the same to them. Does this opportunity not come with responsibility?
If I want to speak freely against the system, do I also not have a responsibility of making the system better?
No individual is without power. Within the confines of our resources, we are enablers and destroyers.
The students voicing their opinions have the power to garner opinion of their peers for their cause, create a mass following and drive the cause with their passion. But they must not forget that they have a responsibility to use it wisely, towards the end goal of making the ecosystem that they exist in, more liberal and open to debate. It is fine line.
As for the protectors of the idea of this nation, the torchbearers of patriotism, who hail themselves die hard nationalist, they too have power. They have the belief of so many others behind them, who believe in the idea of India and everything its stands for. Politicizing it, using it to gain mileage and using force against those to desist, does not make them more patriotic or the country richer in any way.
As a poet, Kaifi uses his resources: his words to convey his emotions; asking his voice to be taken to the rulers:
Meri Awaaz Pahuncha do yeh awaam-e-hukumat mein,
Garajte Zalzale chindharte toofan aate hai
Arre aise mein yeh mask-e-sitmarani nahi acchi
jamaal-e-zindagi par zard khatra chaya jata hai
muhibaan-e-watan ke khoon ki arzani nahi acchi
nikalo jail se unko jo khiz-e-mulk-o-millat hai
In azza-e-jamaat ki pareshani nahi acchi
ujadte hai tumhare kedkhane toh ujadhne do
magar is waqt yahan lashkar ki viraani nahi acchi
chade aate hain phansi hind ki bhi khol do muske
sunno khuch waqt ki awaaz manmani nahi acchi
Meri Awaaz Pahuncha do yeh awaam-e-hukumat mein.
Take my voice to ruling authorities
Thundering, earth shattering screaming typhoons are here
In a situation like this, distorted aggravation is not good
Upon the beauty of life, lies shrouded foul danger
The blood of goodwill within the nation given away cheaply is not good
Free them from prisons, those who show the nation the path
These worries within the limbs of society is not good
If your prisons are uprooted, let them get uprooted
The solitude of a soldier at this moment is not good
They come marching towards the noose, open the fist of Hind
Listen to voice of the times, all that selfishness is not good.
Take my voice to ruling authorities
I want to end the longest post ever written on bikhre lavz with my opinion, that let the churning of the ocean never cease. We must have debate, we should continue to be enamored by minds not yet numbed by their screens who raise their voices, organize, desist and express. A thriving democracy that is not asleep, that is aware and alive.
As long as both the devas and the asuras and these roles keep changing, I may add, don’t forget the ultimate goal of the churning was to reach the elixir, the elixir of freedom. While always being aware of the poison emitted by the serpent of callousness, irresponsibility and arrogance that can swallow both sides.
This poem dedicated to the constant churning of the ocean by Kaifi Azmi. It is a really long poem, so writing a few paragraphs only. He calls upon the youth, to see, hear, take accountability, and awaken.