Blindness to the Goodness
One of the speakers at the Mumbai launch of the book, Urban Naxals by Vivek Agnihotri, was Sandeep Singh. He talked of the wars that are no more fought by swords and guns – but by words. The term #UrbanNaxal which is the product of Agnihotri’s book, is a weapon, in that sense. In times of unconventional warfare, where the enemy remains invisible; terms like #UrbanNaxals are used to define and name an enemy. Proper terms are like night vision and thermal imaging cameras that help us identify the enemy better.
“Once upon a time in China, a philosopher was asked the first thing he would do if he became ruler. The philosopher thought for a while, and said: well, if something had to be put first, I would rectify the names for things. His companion was baffled: what did this have to do with good government? The philosopher lamented his companion’s foolishness, and explained. When the names for things are incorrect speech does not sound reasonable; when speech does not sound reasonable, things are not done properly; when things are not done properly, the structure of the society is harmed; when the structure of society is harmed, punishments do not fit the crimes; and when punishments do not fit the crimes, the people do not know what to do. ‘The thing about the gentleman,’ he warned, ‘is that he is anything but casual where speech is concerned. The philosopher’s name was Confucius.”
~ Unspeak: Words are Weapons, by Steven Poole
So, the author gives us this term, a result of his experiences in the making of his film, “Buddha in a Traffic Jam.” This term has found it’s place in the in the new battleground that are social networks. We may even take it to be the standard. But how do we apply it. Who is an #UrbanNaxal?
Libtard, AAPtard, Congi, Sanghi, Bhakt, and such, is the currency on which current conversation thrives. What is the value of this currency? It has no fixed value. This book offers good answers; however the takeaway of this book is not just the one term – #UrbanNaxals. In the Mumbai book launch – the author clearly explained who is and who is not an #UrbanNaxal. Yet I fear, for those who will snatch this term and misapply it variably diluting it’s well-researched powerful definition.
Of the ways that the author explained the nature of an #UrbanNaxal – I felt he missed saying one thing. The #UrbanNaxal has a “Blindness to the Goodness” – a deliberate attempt to not see the good around you and then build a narrative. The sharp focus on what’s wrong creates the inability to see any good. That is how the #UrbanNaxals are, create a narrative.
This book has given us the means to understand who #UrbanNaxals are. That is why this is a very important book. The author in his book, as well as in many talks, has made it clear that it covers a specific set of people who engage in specific set of activities. #UrbanNaxals cannot be carelessly used for all who dissent. There are two types of dissent: one is guided by a purpose and the other is guided by a purse.
A Traveller’s Tale
Many things have been said about “Urban Naxals” – the book. It has been variously shelved in politics, sociology, even memoirs. No one has called it a travel book to my knowledge.
Urban Naxals is the culmination of a journey. Not necessarily only the travel from one location to another. A journey of experiences and insights. Talking of locations, early in the book, the author has something to say about risk, with a specific reference about people who dwell in Mumbai. He says,
“My adventurous family agrees. My wife and children are Mumbaikars. They have no idea how ugly political agitations can get.”
Ouch. I wince at this statement. Being a generally well-travelled Mumbaikar I take an exception to that statement. But, I get his point. It’s fair.
In days and times where armchair travel is common, being at a place and experiencing it is nothing like knowing a place and experiencing it. It’s a different reality, which is what culture shock probably means. Insights need an open mind if they are to make sense, which the author has done extensively and brilliantly. For engaging in all the experiences of the journey that resulted in this brilliant book, I’d say that Vivek Agnihotri’s book is also a travel book. A unique one at that.
Fighting Mediocrity and Inefficiency
Early in the book, the author talks of the fight against mediocrity and inefficiency. Thankfully, it is not a statistical exposition of the happiness index of people who live in this country. Personal experiences with people come to the fore all along the story-telling. Raw.
I have worked a lot with templates; have even developed templates – yet, all I wanted – was to destroy them; but I had to work with people who revered templates. It’s easy and it’s safe. Addiction to a template is the path to mediocrity, influenced by timidity.
The fact that unintentionally, though it may be, we allow mediocrity and inefficiency. I won’t use the word ‘tolerate.’ There’s a significant difference between allowance and toleration; in the first permission is explicit, in the second, permission is silently withheld.
As defined by the author, #UrbanNaxals want to confuse you, create doubt, and cause chaos in what you once believed in. But why does it work for the #UrbanNaxals, if all they are doing is appropriating or usurping the meaning and context of words? A large part of the response to #UrbanNaxals is abuse. That is the worst kind of response. The discourse is inefficient and ineffective. Vivek Agnihotri’s Urban Naxals is being celebrated for bringing the term #UrbanNaxals to us, which it rightfully should be, however, the other message of conquering mediocrity and inefficiency deserves equal footage, if not more. Some of his experiences on creativity during the making of his film need an equal salute. It is very easy to reduce #UrbanNaxals to identify people – but mediocrity and inefficiency is also a kind of #UrbanNaxal that eats at our abilities and opportunities. They too need an honest and a qualified response from us that is intelligent and assertive. Calling out #UrbanNaxals on social media will not be enough. The response will have to be above anger and name calling. It will have to be creative.
Largest of armies have been annihilated by the smallest of armies, by causing chaos and confusion – this is a recurring theme in history. When armies – large or small – have won wars, they have been excellent, efficient, creative, and stood their ground.
Urban Naxals, by Vivek Agnihotri has to be read, perhaps more than once, and has to be read by many.