It is a well known phenomenon that turmoil, whether socio-political or socio-economic, more than often leads to reflection. It then finds expression in the written word or through the arts. The early years of the last decade were no different.

India in its post liberalisation avatar was grappling with uncertainties for the first time, post 1991. As always the youth at that time was getting swayed with the daily developments and those with the pen in hand or keyboard in reach were keen to observe and reflect.

One such person was a young scribe Sanjay Versain whose work in verse took off at that phase and has culminated now in the shape of a work of fiction ‘Pee for Protest’. A journalist who had his formal education in Dharamshala and Shimla, Versain has spent his professional stint mainly in Chandigarh editing for a national daily.

His endeavour is an addition to the growing breed of writers coming from the small state where there is not only so much to see but also to write. For a person who has spent more than 22 years in the profession, an outpour of what he has observed and felt in the form of a book is a logical outcome.

“That was the era of ‘India against corruption’ movement where social activist Anna Hazare was the centre. After witnessing the good things like the opening of the economy, a boom and people getting to travel across the world, the ills of liberalisation were getting noticed. The nation had erupted in protest. I too got carried away,” Versain said in a chat with The Citizen.

He pointed out that at a time when there was no hope but confusion all around, he was happy to be proved wrong. It was the time that threw up Arvind Kejriwal as a new leader offering hope.

But reality has dawned again over the next 10 years that has seen space for protest shrinking fast. It is a time where there is repression of anyone who dares to stand on the road to protest as has been seen time and again whether it is the ongoing protest of the women wrestlers, the farmers’ movement against the controversial agricultural laws or the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC).

‘Pee For Protest’ according to its writer captures the ‘anxieties of a youth in protest’, he points out, “It captures the turmoil brewing up in a generation that has forgotten how to rebel. A decade later, a similar wave of protests has been sweeping the country and the youth still seems to be standing at the crossroads of hope and despair.

The book brings out this internal conflict and in the end leaves it for the reader to decide the fate of the protagonist or his own self as well. Narrated in a stream-of-consciousness style, the story is open-ended to allow different interpretations.”

A byproduct of post-liberalised India, the main character in the novel, stuck in the routine of a hyper-competitive career, gets drawn into a wave of protests sweeping the country. Caught in the uncertainty of mistrust and over-interpretations veiling the landscape he inhabits, the protagonist, Nachiket, cannot escape the alienation of the times and longing for his idea of the society and thus becomes an unwilling conspirator against the status quo.

But something holds him back. What could it be? Perhaps ‘genetic mutation, which makes us Indians not capable of revolt’, he believes. He finds solace in silent candle protests. However, in a bout of nothingness, Nachiket lands up at a very unlikely place while on way to meet his girlfriend. He confesses his licentious act to his girlfriend but cannot escape its consequences.

The writer has a premise that Indians are a docile civilisation that does not prefer violent revolt. “Call it the impact of Gandhism or whatever,” he leaves the reader guessing.

While Nachiket tries to make sense of his blunders, which he attributes to his inability to take decisions, more trouble follows as he is accused of raping the woman he spent a few hours with at a hotel. Is it a witch-hunt for having mocked a cop during a protest rally? He knows not.

Nachiket instead expresses his defiance by deciding to attend a rave party in a mountain hideout. The conspiratorial djinns of uncertainty follow him even as he gets stuck in more uncertainty and pathos. He even survives a near suicide, maybe because he claims to have ‘promised himself not to harm himself’.

The rave itself seems as unreal as the forces trying to pull him astray and the people he meets, a free-flying paraglider peddling marijuana aerially, an old foreigner living alone in a cave, a woman shaman pursuing godly union, are equally uncanny.

Later he decides to atone for sins he has not committed. “What he realises is that he had already moved the nation by going missing. But to what effect, his beaten, battered self knows not,” the writer says.

Since the writer has his roots in the hills state of Himachal Pradesh, the story uses the mountain topography and local issues like power projects, hyper tourism, and drug abuse as a backdrop of the story.

“The whole concept of atonement by the protagonist despite not having committed any crime comes from the thought that we cannot expect the others to bring about a change in the country. It is I who has to change. It is my responsibility to atone for the ills of the society,” he pointed out.

Referring to the backdrop of the issues plaguing the hills at this point of time, he pointed out, “We have to learn to first deal with local issues as it is very difficult to imagine a countrywide mass movement given the vast expanse and diversity of India. The people in Manipur for example are fighting their battle at present. They may have empathy across the land but the battle is theirs to fight. There are so many micro level fights going on in the country pertaining to individual communities,” he said.

So the question is that in the present scenario when protest has become a blasphemous term often associated with things that are ‘anti national’ and ‘efforts to tarnish’ the image of the country and by default the ruling parties or groups at various levels, is there still hope?

“This is where the confusion still prevails among the youth. Are they happy with what is happening? Do they want to see a change? That is why I have left the book open ended,” Versain said.

Pee For Protest

Published by: Ukiyoto Publishing India, Canada, Philippines