14 August 2020 02:09 AM

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CHANDRU CHAWLA | 5 JULY, 2020

Hanging On in Quiet Desperation: The Indian Way?

Those of us who take our rights for granted must revisit the poetry of Roger Waters


Much after he left Pink Floyd, Roger Waters performed a concert based on Pink Floyd music in Mumbai. After roaring applause, he asked the audience of screaming youngsters if they had thought about peace in the Indian neighbourhood.

There was a stunned silence. He asked if the crowd had seen “The Killing of Kashmir” and understood the plight of ordinary Kashmiris. He could well have asked them about an alien universe – their faces were blank!

The concert did happen, but the incident did not. Waters asked a similar question in a sold-out concert in Neve Shalom, to see if young Israelis were familiar with the suffering in the daily lives of Palestinians. They were not.

Entire generations of youth had been brainwashed to forget that people once “landless and oppressed” had become today’s oppressors and occupiers. And that the state sees no moral difference between the two.

Since the 70s, there may not be an urban Indian college goer who hasn’t sung her lungs out in protest:

We don't need no education,
We don't need no thought control
No dark sarcasm in the classroom,
Teacher leave them kids alone

Waters wrote the song as a reminder of how deeply injurious “rote based” school education has been: creating monolithic, robotic creatures whose “innocent thinking and playfulness” is effectively muzzled to make them conform to the diktats of an uncaring society, an unjust state.

The generation in India who first heard this in their college years are now the well to do Indian upper middle class, managing commerce, government, professional services – the generation that has status, power, means and influence.

Through the Covid-19 linked lockdown, it is discovering that it has indeed succumbed to thought control and failed to see the onslaught of arrogance, bigotry and hierarchy in their daily lives.

This generation could have reimagined the entire album, The Wall, as a cry for help from an isolated and encircled Kashmiri, who has lost family to war and conflict between states, with no help forthcoming, and who falls into an abyss and is lost forever.

The songs in the album Animals may well be talking about the Orwellian India of today, represented by ruthless despots, wily predators and blinded, unquestioning followers.

In Orwell’s classic Animal Farm the animals’ rebellion against humans to seek a free, happy and equal state for themselves fails. But Animals provides a glimmer of hope in the capitalist-led moral decay around us, in the song Pigs on the Wing:

You know that I care
What happens to you
And I know that you care
For me too

Waters seeks an equal, active, dissenting adult as a partner, signifying perhaps that a free, active, alert, engaging and dissenting voice is the only way to build a just, vibrant and caring society.

For the better part of his life, Waters has been on a crusade.

From battling for the rights of people in occupied Palestine despite punishing economic boycotts from powerful, well funded organisations; funding the fight against climate change through various concerts; championing the eradication of poverty and malaria; to supporting free speech in the Julian Assange saga, Waters has been at the forefront of the struggle for human, civic and political rights.

His refrain on the state of the modern world and its capitalist chicanery is best found in his solo, If I had been God:

The temple's in ruins
The bankers get fat
The buffalo's gone
And the mountain top's flat
The trout in the streams are all hermaphrodites
You lean to the left but you walk to the right

His poetry and music have inspired generations of Indian youth to rebel, enquire and speak their minds. That India is very much in his thoughts can be seen from his recent recitation of a poem by Aamir Aziz (who like Orwell is also from Bihar).

The nation is in the grip of several conflicts: over the attempt to create classes of citizenship, the handling of a pandemic, the misery of Himalayan scale disemployment, the mass incarceration of the people of an entire state, the border transgressions with two neighbouring states, the blatant and cruel use of “sedition” and “terrorism” charges on students protesting peacefully, the merciless dismantling of protections for labourers and the environment…

Those of us who take our rights and blessings for granted must revisit the poetry of Roger Waters. Let's

Breathe, breathe in the air
Don't be afraid to care



Cover illustration Derek Monteiro

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