Thursday, January 19, 2012

Everyday Subversiveness

Grand narratives are dead is the great grand narrative of our age. It is the big idea that there is no big idea, just little moments. I subscribed to this even before I came across the post-modernists, when I started loving the moments, seeing everything as temporal, momentary. I know the post-modernists now: I almost believe in them.

But one grand narrative I continued to believe in. Perhaps, that was my biggest failing. That one can change the world. It was one of those quixotic ambition that allowed me to take my mind off the trivial, the fact that one has to live a normal life, settle down, have a mortgage and die afterwards. The rhythm of middle class life were directly opposed to my sole source of hope, that one can imagine and bring about a different world. This is why I never settled: I left once I felt too comfortable. I became a traveller.

Life is catching up with me, though. Sometimes, I ridicule the dreams I am having. I wish I could be more practical. I wish I bought a house, settled down in life - just like other people. Or, may be there is a better way of saying this: I accept my limitations. I accept that I shall never play cricket for the Indian national team, and can see I was never good enough. I know that I shall never be a Prime Minister or a President, as I ardently believed I shall be. Things like that, and I have started accepting that I have been fairly foolish all the time. When I told girls I dated about my ambitions, they mostly ran away: I thought they were impressed.

Maturity shall we call it: This gives me a perspective of a different kind. Despite these frailties, one can still change the world. Because it is your world, my world. The moments that I loved are not universal moments, but moments that we own: Own not in the sense of property, as with most things in life, but own in the sense of enjoyment. I can shape them. Just as Michel De Certeau suggested, I can choose to take the peculiar path from my office to the railway station, which allows me a momentary sight of a sunset, or I can just be a bit playful in office, practising my humour if such a thing can be done, just to keep myself entertained. I can write this blog, indulging myself to be a serious writer, without having to know whether or not anyone would like to read what I think about the world. Or, in the middle of an office day, using a few moments granted for lunch time, completely unplanned, I can wander around into an old cemetery reserved for atheists and sit by the place where Daniel Defoe was buried tomb-less, and admire his rather plain tomb which was built with the donations from children from all over England many years after his death. Yes, that moment, I remember my journey began much earlier than I actually ever travelled, from the childhood reading of Robinson Crusoe and growing up with the ambition of being a ship-wreck.

That settles it for me. There needn't be a conflict of grand narratives and our daily subversiveness. In a sense, great revolutions are an aggregation of these little moments, moments when we feel free and behave as such, all tipping over a point. All things build up, little by little. As Theodore Zeldin claims, people always changed the conversation their rulers wanted them to have. It is the power of doing little things, even as everyone seems to be moving about as a soulless pawn of a great machine, our moments of being ourselves, that keeps the grand narrative of changing the world alive: We indeed change the world, one moment at a time.

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"Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the grey twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat."

- Theodore Roosevelt

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We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

- T S Eliot

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