They Shoot Horses, Don't They?
On freedom of expression
I walk in foreign places. I walk and walk and walk. I look this way and that. I take notes. I photograph. I record. That was pre-pandemic, when I’d be in a physical geographic location, a country, a city, a town or village.
Over the past nine months, on the cyberhighways, I tend to do the same thing---looking, observing, stopping and, nowadays, talking to the passersby. I spend a lot time in cyberland. Nothing exotic. I’m curious about human creativity. Facebook and Twitter resemble strip malls. There’s nothing happening there except mostly people strolling along all dolled up and a few smart carnival barkers. Instagram on the other hand, I think, has unleashed a fantastic space for creativity for artists, sculptors, painters, performance artists, photographers, musicians, writers and poets. I see all manner of creativity including humor and art. I have become good acquaintances and sometimes friends with some of them. Some of their work hang on my walls.
On one of my strolls, I came across Alolika Dutta, a poet. She wrote this poem when she was seventeen.
I share it not only because I like the poem but also because of the serendipity of such a meeting. Without being on the cyberhighway, I doubt that I’d have come across so many young and not-so-young talented and imaginative people.
[Illustration credit: Change.org]
This Is How We Censor the Truth
A message for journalists everywhere, in verse
Censorship: The suppression or prohibition of any parts of books, films, news, etc., that are considered obscene, politically unacceptable, a threat to society, or subversive of the common good.
Blank space. Backspace. Strikethrough.
Coffee brewed. Diplomatic issues. Prudent avenues.
Deceptive reviews. Rating and revenue. A fabricated worldview dipped in sweet, rhetorical fondue.
Write. Delete. Write. Bleed. And rue.
Journalism: The activity or profession of writing for newspapers, magazines, or news websites, or preparing news to be broadcast.
That is how ruthlessly the dictionary defines an art that governs our self-governance,
that echoes the chaotic oblivion of statistical theses,
that goes far beyond a mechanical preparation of “news to be broadcast.”
Journalism is the known amid the unknown; it is a pair of watchful eyes staring into the void; it is a saturated consciousness looming on the brink of devastation.
Journalism is the truth.
Journalism is a lie.
And amid the roars of aggressive activism, it is the heaviness of a helpless sigh.
The mistress of mayhem,
The custodian of conspiracy,
The curator of controversy,
The sour columns and syrupy stories,
The Times New Roman, size 9,
The Georgia print of the uneducated Education Times,
The Verdana-dominated headings and oh, it looks so fine,
The words, all left aligned,
The systematic, symmetrical design and the frivolous, front-page headline,
The defamations and the mascaras maligned,
The eyes of the children and the frowns of the youth and the miseries of the benign,
But when those eyes penetrate the pretty paragraphs and start reading between the lines,
Dear journalists: That is where it lies, your last deadline.
Until then, take your time and write us something sensationalized,
Tell us about the prospective assassinations, the benevolent dehumanization, and the 60 years of ruthless domination.
Tell us about the hidden spiritual manipulation and your precisely planned proselytization.
Tell us about the Hindu-Muslim division and all your fancy schmancy 1977 anti nationalism.
For journalism has reduced itself from the ravenous reeking of revelation to the subtle fragrance of falsification,
And this act of rebellion will rust, erode, and diminish until all that exists is the archaic word,
We are just a step away from the day when journalism has no definition and no application; why refer to it as “journalism” when “fiction” conveys the same?
When a story has become too fictitious to be fact, and too factual to be fake,
For it would have become so consumed by contradiction,
So choked by reasonable restriction,
From the names, to the references, to the diction,
We are soaked in the weight of ruthless regulation.
The broken business model,
The political propaganda,
It is maddening, isn’t it? We are the assassins, we are the saviors, and we are the victims.
We hold the knife and we are the body that has gone cold.
Our fingers gliding across phone screens, skimming through ‘personalized news feeds’,
The stories stitched around strange sinister deeds,
The moral immorality, the illegal legality, and the same greed,
The torment of truth withheld.
The burden of truth freed.
The nation has risen to read the entwined tales of dictatorship and democracy,
Only to be fed the incomplete, harrowing language of vacant words and deformed sentences printed on thin, white papers with advertisements and unstinting compliments,
The vivid descriptions of proportionate waistlines, porcelain skin, plumped lips, painted tufts and tresses,
Oh, tell me about the glamorized lives of actresses,
The curves of cleavages,
And the chronological timeline of the latest rape case described with emotionless detail across unending pages,
Tell me about the true journalists imprisoned within bureaucratic cages,
And how the readership suffocates itself with images of red carpets while no one remembers the unpaid minimum wages.
The gag, the rope, the noose, the knives, the loaded rifles,
Welcome to the exhibition of all the journalists we stifled.
The crematorium of unembellished truth masquerading beneath a sheet of jargon too soft, too sweet, too cordial with deceit.
We are centuries of poetry compiled into generations of history etched across decades of etymology.
We are slaves, not to our suppression, but to our own aimless resistance.
We are the months, weeks, days, hours, and minutes that pass by in the taxi, the conference room, the classroom, the market, in the seconds before you fall asleep to the distant quiet within your own disquiet.
We are the helplessness of the poor newspaper seller who reads his time away in hopes of witnessing change.
We are the suffering of those compelled to dissent on the roads, and we are the privilege of those who lament within air-conditioned condos,
Unknown to the daily rhythms of red tape and money-hungry systems, unknown to the dried blood on those government files, ink pens, and sindoor-soaked foreheads,
Unknown to the cemetery of men and women who were buried under these polished marble floors, their recklessness far too intimidating for these hazed hallways, their voices far too loud for these hushed corridors.
Our nation today is a graveyard of all the liberties we were promised,
It is a graveyard, not of the martyrs who died with bitter truths lingering on their lips, but of those who surrendered to the sweet swish of the whip.
It is a graveyard of those who diluted the essence of journalism by never disclosing that often, the ones who sow flowers on their skin also submerge their soul in sin.
And here, I conclude,
Journalism is an act of war.
For if you are bleeding dissertations of destruction,
If you are weeping tragedies of truth,
While having laid your head on the mouth of a guillotine,
While being tied down with chains of censorship,
Then aren’t you a warrior, too?