Drawing-room Notebooks


Daily Times, December 2, 2007

I fervently want a revolution; want to test my theories; but I want others to get clobbered on the streets. Why must people insist that just because I know that only a new ‘political consciousness’ aka ‘revolution’ can make a difference I must also start one?

I am a naturalised Lahori, part of the flotsam washed onto the incestuous shores of this city.

My name’s up there so that’s a fairly good start. I am a Pisces. For reasons both of the two fish going in opposite directions and because Lahore has brushed off on me, I am a mass of contradictions. But lest anyone think the tension that tugs at me is the stuff of high tragedy. Far from it. It’s quite pathetic but that’s not an issue on which I’d like to go public.

I like to think that I think; in any case, I like to hold forth, both in print and at dinners and get-togethers, now sexily called GTs. Since I have been able to read a few books and can string a sentence or two together, I consider myself a cut above my neighbour or anyone who is sitting beside me. Of course, it is not necessary for others to accept this but then who cares. I don’t, and that is what matters.

I am quite passionate. And by this I mean in matters political. Since November 3, I have been on the verge of taking to the street and bringing the Temple down on the Khakis, the modern equivalent of Philistines.

But I haven’t done that. Not because I lack courage. No sir, my cup floweth over with it and no, Courage is not a brand of single malt, though I wish it were. The reason I haven’t taken to the street is because I am to be the ‘mind’ of the movement against oppression. This is not a medieval fight where generals led from the front; in modern combat, the front is the ops room in the rear. Plus, the contested zone requires foot-soldiers.

And don’t you dare think I am the Orsino of revolutions, more in love with the idea of revolution than perpetrating one. That would be too harsh a judgement and a wrong one too. It’s just that if I were to give vent to my fury and take to the street, the vulgar functionaries of the government would not be able to appreciate the difference between a thinking revolutionary and a fighting one.

I am Jean-Paul Sartre. I know that violence like Achilles’ lance heals its own wounds, but that is no reason for me not to keep a safe distance from it. In any case, this is an intellectual discovery. It will be outrageous to want to see a thinker becoming a guinea pig for his own theories.

There are thousands who are useless and whose energies can be diverted towards the task of overthrowing an oppressive regime. They cannot think; they do odd jobs. They will never be able to achieve anything. It is my calling to instil a new consciousness in them. They shall be remembered. I will even write a book, fraught with new formulations, one that will be picked up by the departments of sociology and political science across the world as a classic on socio-political movements.

Why must I present myself on the street to the black-and-tans, who will have no regard for my intellect, and let the world lose an asset? Also, who would enlighten the elites at dinners? If I were put in jail, I would also be deprived of the many necessities of life that are essential to my well-being. It should be obvious that unless I feel good and satiated I cannot think. That would hurt the revolution.

There is the morning cup of tea. It’s an old Bertie Wooster habit without which I cannot begin my day. The cup is brought me by the local variant of Jeeves. It takes me time to get up, sip the tea and read through the morning newspapers. I am also rather finicky about my bathroom. I spent more money per square foot on it than on any other part of the house. Latest research has also found a strong linkage between thinking and crapping. So a decent bathroom becomes essential to deep thinking. I am told the jails don’t put much premium on bathrooms. Going to jail would then mean not being able to think and that would only delay the advent of the much-needed political consciousness and its endpoint — a revolution.

I know Marx thought revolutions were a non-voluntarist phenomenon but he was wrong. You need a vanguard and you can’t have the thinkers in the vanguard go out and get arrested or worse, killed. Once the head is cut off, the movement will be akin to a headless chicken and we all know what a headless chicken does. It does nothing except go round in circles.

I also need to earn enough so I can keep thinking. I must come to office everyday. I need a nice car and a driver to drive me around and so on. Thinking is a full-time job and a sacred one. Comfort and thinking go hand in hand. Now unless jails were prepared to provide me with a suite, cable TV, laptop, books and other stuff to imbibe and regular outings where I could hold forth intellectually, I couldn’t be expected to write Prison Notebooks. I consider it a waste of time to invite myself to jail.

The point really is that I fervently want a revolution; want to test my theories; but I want others to get clobbered on the streets. Why must people insist that just because I know that only a new ‘political consciousness’ aka ‘revolution’ can make a difference I must also start one?

Ejaz Haider is Consulting Editor of The Friday Times and Op-Ed Editor of Daily Times.

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