Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Tera Rang Aisa Chadh Gaya, Koi Aur Rang Na Chadh Sakey…


He came, he inspired, and he conquered. This summer Aamir Khan forced India to cancel all Sunday morning appointments. Generations across the country, across the world, sat glued to their television sets or their computers to find out what else is wrong with India.

In 13 episodes, Aamir Khan initiated, established and supported a movement – a movement for change – change that India and Indians had been wanting for years. He appeared on our screens and spoke to us in impeccable Hindi [and several regional languages], bringing a new issue, a new problem and a new solution to us every Sunday.

A flood of sentiments, arguments, opinions, donations, questions, monumental praise and even criticism followed every episode. India was on its feet. Her citizens were thinking, making choices, taking decisions, and waking up. Or were they?

I waited to watch the last episode depicting Satyamev Jayate’s journey so far. I waited till an hour ago. It was telecast on August 15th, 2012 in India – the day I flew out of the country to make my way back to a remote corner of the USA.

I waited because I wanted to get out of the Satyamev Jayate fever that had engulfed people around me and the atmosphere in general. Engulfed is probably too strong a word but suddenly, people were talking about rainwater harvesting, even though my neighbours were pumping water out every morning to wash their collection of cars. I waited so that I could develop a relatively unbiased perspective and because I honestly didn't have the time to watch it while I was trying to pack 46 kg of luggage. 

Meanwhile, TIME magazine featured Khan on their cover with a caption asking readers whether an actor can change a nation.

If TIME magazine had watched even one of the 13 episodes, or looked closely at their own cover photo, they probably could have seen the underlying truth. Aamir Khan is not ‘an actor’. He’s an Indian. An Indian looking to create, build, and leave behind a better India for generations to come. I don’t think anyone is that good an actor. Good enough to pull off something like Satyamev Jayate and actively, personally follow up on every issue to see it to its destination.

His eyes give him away. They are brimming with grit and determination to make things happen, to make the right things happen. His gaze holds your eyes, draws you into the episode with him, makes you weep as he wipes his tears away, and infuriates you as you learn of new atrocities. No actor can do that. Only an Indian who, in every drop of his blood, loves and feels his country can. He can. He did.

So did several before him. Shaheed Bhagat Singh, Lokmanya Tilak, Babasaheb Ambedkar, even Mahatma Gandhi invoked this level of emotion in Indians the world over. So why is he different?

Because he is not advocating radicalism or leaning towards the Left or Right. He’s standing up for reality and advocating humanity, responsibility, and practicality. His ‘fans’ aren’t extremists or non-violence practitioners. His followers are the common people who experience these issues every day and have kept quiet for years thinking no one cared, and that nothing could be done either way. From farmers to entrepreneurs, people relate to him, and feel involved in the process of making their home a better place. 

Question is, why did we need an Aamir Khan to stand up and say he would do this? Why hadn’t we done something about either of these issues ourselves? Or do we always look to Hindi cinema for solutions? We let Shah Rukh Khan teach us romance, and we wait for Aamir to debut on television to mobilize ourselves. Why?

Does it not sting you somewhere deep inside that you’re asking for a Satyamev Jayate Season 2? Is it, on some level, not embarrassing that we’d need a second season?

Is it only Aamir Khan’s moral responsibility to mobilize the country every time it falls asleep or begins to doze off? Why do we always wait till the last minute, wait for a wake-up call? Purely and simply as legal citizens of India, we are required to follow the law. Everyone from our country’s premier, politicians, lawyers, doctors, engineers, scientists, painters, plumbers, tailors, actors, students, housewives, is required to dutifully and honestly fulfil their individual responsibility as laid out in the Constitution of India.

We lived under foreign rule for centuries. For 65 years, we have had the legal freedom to be responsible for our own country, our own lives. Somewhere down that road, we became complacent, materialistic and insensitive. Six and a half decades down the road, do we still find it impossible to initiate problem-solving techniques ourselves and do we still feel the need for a constant wake-up call or reminder to tell us to do our job better?

I find it hard to be saying and asking all these things because: a) I have no idea if anyone is ever going to read this, b) I’m actually a staunch supporter of the sheer spirit and √©lan with which Aamir Khan went about creating and executing Satyamev Jayate, and c) It’s 1:28am and I haven’t slept in a long, long time so thinking objectively and clearly kind of becomes difficult.

Despite the severe sleep deprivation, I wonder why people of India continue to flood Satyamev Jayate’s pages with requests of a second season. Maybe 12 heart-breaking episodes and windows into reality weren’t enough to rattle them out of their seats and get them moving, for good.

On a very superficial level, it's great that the episodes in themselves and the follow up action got politicians and the concerned authorities moving towards a goal. A goal that should have been reached and passed decades ago. On a deeper level, the fact that in so short a period of time, so many politicians signed documents, passed bills in parliament, altered text books, made arrests, conducted raids etc. - is shameful. If that's all the time it took them to get this far, what on earth were they doing for all these years? 

13 weeks of Aamir Khan's tear-jerking telecasts drove them to the edge and transformed people into aware and patriotic citizens of India. So maybe Gandhi, Nehru, Tilak, Ambedkar etc. should have launched television shows for the impact they desired. Because we sure as hell aren't where we should, or could, have been at this point. 

It makes patriotism look like a battery-powered emotion that runs out when you overuse it in a short period of time. Then it needs to be recharged or needs a ‘second season’ of batteries to get going again. Is this why we became independent?

It took us 65 years to discuss female foeticide, child sexual abuse, domestic violence etc. on a national, public platform. Do we want to wait another 65 to discuss the next dozen issues?

If India wants to change, and I believe in my heart that it does, then why can’t we change without requesting a nudge at regular intervals? Are we not all Aamir Khans? Aren’t we all the trustees and beneficiaries of our own country?