Written by Jahnavi Jayanth, writer and curator at Bolti Bandh.
Illustrations by Natanin Rachpradit, creator of Bluish State of Mind, consultant illustrator and designer and Bolti Bandh's in-house illustrator.
Published on November 10th, 2019.
Disclaimer: The insights and claims made in this article regarding conflict are made in reference to the masses of people involved in conflict, and not individual political influencers that were/are accused rightfully for crimes against humanity. No comment has been made about the role individual political influencers have played; with the focus solely and entirely on how masses reacted, if at all these individual political influencers were involved in the narrative.
We are not that different from a Muhab or Ahmed, a Thawra or a Rena. Yes, even a Rena. Because today, she loves just like we do. She hopes like we do (perhaps better than we do). They all relish in sweet nothings just like we do, they have crushes and partner problems just like we do, they have irritations and frustrations just we do. Yes, they are also going through (or have, in the past, gone through) something so horrifying, dehumanising and terrifying that we have not. But even in those times, they have held onto their humanness, in the little, silly us-like things, with an aggressive fervour.
They would like nothing more than to be ordinary people and maybe they are, but in undeniably extraordinary situations, making their work and lives undeniably extraordinary.
I don’t think I’m extraordinary and I’m going to so far as to say neither are you. I can say with full confidence that there is no one reading this right now; actually no one at all who knows everything there is to know about the Kashmir conflict and can single-handedly fix the conflict or at the very deeply impact it. But does not knowing about something, feeling strongly for one side and feeling distant from the other - do those make us ordinary? Is not being the one person who can with a swish fix everything, or something substantial immediately - does that make us ordinary? And does being ordinary mean we do nothing in the face of brewing or violent conflict?
Yes and no.
“Ask as many questions as you like, and take our story to as many people as you can.”
The Western Wall, Jerusalem. Early Morning.
For six hours, we walked through the oldest marks of civilisation in Jerusalem, holy grounds for some 4.1 billion people around the world. At the Western Wall, I saw hundreds of women clutching crevices in the wall, placing their foreheads gently on it and sobbing. Just this wall alone carries a stupefyingly rich story of religions that battled over it and what it guards, a story that spans millennia.
But in that moment, while I breathed in one the most powerful sights I have ever seen, what struck me about the wall and the crowd by it was not its story. It was the sheer magnitude of human belief that made this wall a visceral, unshakable, immutable part of hundreds-of-thousands, if not millions of people’s identities that drove them to love, to shed tears, to feel relief, to feel anger, to feel loved. To sob as if at that moment, nothing else mattered and to sob with a community above whom no one else mattered.
Whether you are religious or not, you have to agree that there is something incredibly powerful and humbling to learn from religion. It is to recognise and believe you are a speck in the universe, powerful only because you are part of something much, much bigger which is powerful only because you and so many others believe you and they are part of it. That belief that scores hold together, each person’s faith enriched and augmented by another person who’s faith is enriched and augmented by yet another, and so it goes. That is what makes religion extraordinary.
And that is exactly what makes you extraordinary and capable of fighting conflict even as it may loom. Or so, I believe.
Let’s recap. It doesn’t matter whether you know who’s right or wrong; it matters that you know there are too many stories to tell, each right and wrong in unfathomable and infinite ways. It doesn’t matter that you don’t know what to say or that you don’t know enough, to speak; it matters that you ask. It doesn’t matter that you don’t know which side to pick, or that you have a side picked; it matters that you ask and bring one more story, one more side of the story, into the world. It doesn’t matter if, when you ask, you get no answer; it matters that what you have asked will prompt at least one more question, counter as it may be. It doesn’t matter whether you are in conflict, whether conflict is slowly brewing around you and may happen or never happen; it matters that by asking you are breaking a silence that allows conflict to flourish.
Today, we’re ordinary people in what may or may not be extraordinary circumstances. Speaking up is important. Listening, maybe more important. But asking, so you may listen, could be the single most important thing you do today, to nudge us a little further towards being extraordinary people capable of tackling extraordinary circumstances.
And if you can, let me end by asking you this, mustn’t you?