While It was ‘shut shop’ on Friday throughout India to express our collective displeasure at the steepest petrol price hike the country has ever seen. Led by political parties, consumers everywhere were asked to put their pens down, give their vehicles a day’s rest and they, themselves, take rest to show the government how unhappy they were with the price hike.
The country came to a literal halt, almost, with confusion reigning over whether one could go ahead with one’s normal routine or not. Some offices didn’t declare a holiday saying their employees were free to decide either way. Some of the buses that did try to ply on their regular routes were caught in the middle of the wrath of a mob, which was most unhappy that the bundh call was not respected. So the offending buses were stoned and set on fire to show the world that there is someone there who can wield power in these harmful ways.
What the protesting political groups failed to understand each time a bundh is called, is that damage to public property is akin to damaging one’s own household article that one has paid for. Not only does taxpayer’s money go up in flames, it sends out the illogical message that we are still a country that needs to grow up. But then, that is the topic of another column. Or two.
The manner in which we express our unhappiness largely determines how mature our relationships are. These relationships could be with other people, institutions, ideologies or processes. Dissent, no doubt, is an important part of change in society at the micro and macro levels. But how this is expressed also determines whether we live in a world that is ready for progress and change.
People use various channels to express displeasure and unhappiness. It could be through words, actions, non-verbal behaviour like body language, the tone of the voice, etc. In a day, we find many reasons to show that we prefer it if things were done in another way (read: our way). While protesting for change is the dharma of every individual, doing it for the wrong reasons and at the wrong times in the wrong way can all have a negative impact on the otherwise desirable process of protest.
By constantly expressing this negativity, we’re drawing more energy from it and also feeding more energy back into it. To break the vicious cycle, there is a need to think differently, think creatively. It is a big enough challenge to live spiritually in the modern world that hardly gives us a minute’s rest. However, there are ways to achieve calm. Sorting out the mess within our own heads should be the very first step in this direction.
Peel off the different layers of conditioning built over the years owing to societal expectations, and ask these questions: is what I’m fighting for really worth it? Are there more important things I need to attend to at this point? Should my time be spent in the pursuit of those more important things?
Aiming for simplicity and reducing distraction and negativity automatically allows us to slow down. We start to think clearly and notice the little pleasures of life around us. Watering plants, watching the sun set, walking barefoot on grass and simply doing nothing, assumes greater meaning in this stressful life — more meaning than burning down buses and causing inconvenience.
It is time to get that missing joie de vivre back into our lives.
The writer is a Bangalore-based commentator.