Eid Mubarak to all of you!
Wherever you’re reading this from, I hope you are safe, indoors, and feel adequately loved.
One Saturday evening in 2019, I sat with my laptop, facing a blinking cursor, and impulsively typed, “WHAT DO I DO WITH MY RAGE?” Two seconds later I backspaced all the words and texted them to a friend instead. Different flavors of this same emotion slip off my tongue far too often — they make homes in the chat boxes, emails, and minds of most people I know.
I try to dispatch anger away on most days, it makes me uncomfortable and I rarely know what to do with it. But more recently, rage has a wholly different function.
Towards the end of 2019, rage drew many of us into tangible, wilful action — it filled up streets with resistance, led to regular banner painting sessions with my friends, to cohesive thought, a collective reckoning. During this time, in the midst of a drunken rant, I was prescribed a useful suggestion: hold systems more accountable than people; be significantly angrier at systems than individuals who are made to be pawns in it.
In many ways, this statement defined my relationship with anger. As I see it, there are two kinds of anger. One that is driven by personal, sometimes unreasonable reasons — it manifests when my friends forget to tell me things or don’t buy me enough presents. The other kind of anger is more deep-rooted — one that flourishes when systems fail, leaders become dictators, and everywhere around there is a widespread infestation of injustice. I don’t know what to do with the first kind of anger, never have. It stems from never knowing what to expect from people, or how much to claim them. The second type, on the other hand, I’ve grown to deeply engage with.
Perhaps it is because this form of anger is always backed up by a sustained effort to resist something. It doesn’t stand alone. It brings with it many other things — an appetite for dwelling, constructive thought, resilience, and most importantly hope. In the field with all of these big ideas, the rage, to me seems more digestible, it has more direction.
In one of her essays, Rebecca Solnit makes a profound analogy. She suggests imagining the world as a theatre where the actions of the powerful and official are what occupy the stage. In this scenario, she says, “No matter the details or the outcome, what is onstage is a tragedy, the tragedy of inequitable distribution of power, the tragedy of the too-common silence of those who settle for being the audience and who pay the price of the drama.”
A few lines later she goes on to say, “You can see the baffled, upset faces of the actors on stage when the streets become a stage and the unofficial disruption of the planned program.”
Shaheen Bagh, Delhi 2020
In January 2020, I sat with a bunch of batchmates on a huge stretch of grass in Delhi. The winter sun poured on us, while an activist who had come to have a conversation with us was asked how he kept himself going through disturbing times. His reply was instant.
Resistance, he said, is always full of small victories. He pointed out that as activists, they constantly fought and advocated for the Indian citizenry to have a better relationship with their constitution. During the CAA-NRC movement, with the preamble being read out loud in different corners — an Indian citizen came closer to the Indian constitution. For him, that was a victory. He rejoiced in it.
After the conversation, we stopped at a chai-sutta shop where I felt a quietness inside me. His words would stay with me, I knew. He had articulated the feeling I was always overcome with when people around me said going to protests was risky, unsafe, scary, or mentally taxing. The feeling of knowing that resistance is the most joyful thing you will experience.
A protest is where rage meets her sisters — hope and resilience.
Bilal Bagh, Bangalore 2020
For times when we can’t gather on the streets, here are some gifts:
Hope in the Dark by Rebecca Solnit
Hum Dekhenke by Faiz (Coke Studio)
The Other Day by Varavara Rao
India I see Blood in Your Hands by Imphal Talkies & The Howlers
A letter written to Umar Khalid in jail by his two friends
Abolish The Delhi Police by Hamraaz
A sample from Walt Whitman —
“This is what you shall do; Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to everyone that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.”
Thank you for reading.
Six Impossible Things is a monthly newsletter about art, books, reading, and feelings. You may sign up if you want it delivered to your inbox. You can also come to say hi to me on Instagram @a_catinthesink