WE ARE AT WAR
We are at war, yet never really at war.
We are at peace, never truly at peace.
What is this land in which we live —seeded by hate, by the sword tilled,
scythe-harvested by Death?
Since neither of us can win,
let our unequal gods meet,
bury arms instead of limbs,
and negotiate a mirror’d defeat.
— Fakir Syed Aijazuddin, Lahore-based writer
Our hero has come home. Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, you have no idea what you achieved through your valour and composure. You showed the world and your countrymen the true meaning of decency under pressure. You demonstrated your class. You reflected your impeccable upbringing. You restored dignity to a loathsome situation. We love you for it. Thank you, Sir.
What now? Are we done? Is everything hunky- dory? No? What remains? More sabre rattling? This suspended and menacing state is a terrible, terrible place to be in. A gigantic sadness has descended. A shroud covers us all. But that’s not what the optics are saying. It is hugely troubling to take in the multiple images of ‘victory’. The chest thumping. The boasts. Come on, war is never ‘good’. War cannot possibly generate joy. War is worse than any other calamity. War is against humanity. It is childish to gloat. It is indecent to capitalise on conflict and cash in on death and devastation. But we are doing it. Everybody does it, we say. And if you do not participate in this grisly game, you have no right to call yourself an Indian. Really? Look at the hysteria. Check out the hyper nationalism. Why aren’t you chanting ‘Jai Hind’, draped in tricolour, flashing a victory sign? Tch tch! You, my dear, are not a patriot. In fact, you are no better than a traitor. And you know what? You are asking to be flogged in a public square.
Every single person has a theory about the “war”, which doesn’t look like it is going anywhere. We’re telling the world, “India has won.” Won what? After the horror of the Pulwama terrorist attack, the nation was shaken up in a way this generation of millennials has never experienced. Confused, ignorant and unsure of what was going on in reality, they jumped feet first into social media attack mode, with shrill battle cries and juvenile slogans (“Dude… like, is this for real? Seriously?). Most didn’t know the location of Pulwama. Just as most don’t know where Balakot is. Or what happened there. The outrage is real. The passion is real. The anger is real. But about what? Against whom? No clear answers.
It wasn’t just millennials who were confused. Aren’t we all? I have no shame in admitting my own emotions were ridiculously stirred as I followed the horrifying narrative of Pulwama, then Balakot, and now Abhinandan. I am finding it hard to focus on anything else. My initial response was stupid — let’s ‘show them’. Of course, we did! But through all the displays of macho patriotism, there remained within me, a nagging sense of loss and deep regret. It hasn’t disappeared. I thought about several media colleagues who were posting impassioned blogs declaring, “I love my country. I am a patriot. I salute our armed forces”. I was tempted, too. But the lingering feeling I failed to shake off was one of grief. It remains the same today. It made me wonder if it’s a ‘woman thing’. Do women respond to war-like situations differently from men? If so, are we pressurised into changing our public stance because our genuine reaction is not in tune with the overall, hyper-aggressive mood?
When I read the views of prominent personalities after the air strike in Balakot, I wondered how much was stated for public consumption, and how much actually felt? From the safety of our homes, we can afford to express wholehearted admiration for those fighting on our behalf and risking their lives so we can sleep soundly at night. It was only after Abhinandan’s moving saga that we were forced to think of his family and the families of our martyrs. That is how it has always been. Questioning war is rarely an option.
Questioning security lapses is asking for trouble. Declaring yourself a ‘peacenik’ is as good as confessing you are a deshdrohi. Despite this realisation, I still feel what I feel. And that does not make me a traitor, any more than it makes patriots out of those spewing hate. Death and destruction are the only winners in war. There has to be a better solution. A less savage one. We are all a part of the problem, and it is up to us to find that elusive solution. Nobody can afford a war. Nobody. That is the reality.
As I write this, the millennials are like in panic mode. Bro… this is not looking good! You are right, dude. It really isn’t.
As for me, there is a large square close to home. I am ready to be flogged.