Friday, June 24, 2011

Country on Celebrity “Fast” track

It was with great interest that I read my hubby’s post about two much known fasts from Indian History. Fasting for protest- it is a curious subject. It has both funny and tragic sides to it. Yes, fasts are the “in” thing these days. But come to think of it – when were they out of fashion anyways? As it happens, we only notice the celebrity fasts while there may be many other more real fasts on protest happening around us, which go unnoticed. Let me recount- you fought with your spouse and the dinner went untouched that day. Next day, there is a high probability that the demands of the aggrieved side would be acceded to. . The teenagers too very often use the fast-way to get their demands from pocket money to piercing and from that “awesome” new dress to the latest gadget their best friend has purchased . Not only that, now a days the teenagers of both sexes are almost always fasting to remain in shape. Then we have workaholics like I know one Miss R, who would willingly skip a meal or two to complete the work at hand. That the work at hand can be postponed in favour of a lunch break would never occur to such selfless souls. They after all, consider even the most routine work as a step towards world peace and nation building.

Incidentally, I also have an aunt who wears her vegetarianism on her sleeve. I mean, even I am a very proud vegetarian, but this aunt would happily skip a meal in a party claiming to be on “fast” if she has slightest of doubts that the food may have been contaminated by non vegetarian food. I respect the sentiment and cannot count how many of her friends and colleagues have turned their party food “100% veg” to ensure that she doesn’t go empty stomach. So here it is. We as a nation believe in getting our way by threatening to go on fast. We do it with our spouses, with our parents and even our friends. It is , therefore, very understandable why Gandhi, Jatin Das, Jaiprakash Narain or very recently Anna Hazare thought of it as a political tool of protest .
But as I said earlier, only the celebrity fasts are noticed. A very well known Indian trait is that we love melodrama – not only in our politics and society, films and family life but also in our religion and work. Sans that we do not care who is eating and who is not. In most cases we do not even bother for the issue a protestor is trying to raise. We just follow the drama part. It was therefore, not hard to believe why one of the most heart wrenching fast was so easily forgotten by us. On 2 November 2010, Ms. Irom Sharmila Chanu, a Manipuri girl, completed ten years of hunger strike demanding the repeal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 (AFSPA). That is a story of a human life wasted.

Last time I heard she was lying in a Government Hospital and was being force fed by nose. A torturous procedure, which keeps her alive for last many years . I understand that most of her vital organs have been wasted by this decade long hunger strike and it seems that our country has decided to let her go on her protest without even considering her demands. I won’t be surprised if most of the people who joined Anna Hazare or Baba Ramdev have not even heard of Sharmila. I can’t recall when any of our politicians tried to contact her. They are probably too busy in receiving the charlatan Babas on airports and bugging each other’s rooms. No filmstars visit her, no young professionals or activist groups try to listen what she is trying to say through her protest. In and out of jails for the past 11 years, Manipur's 'Iron Lady' Sharmila has a tube running down her nose as the government alternately force feeds her and incarcerates her for attempting to take her own life through her hunger strike. We have very conveniently decided to forget her as a Government liability - uncomfortable, but manageable nuisance. I do not judge whether one protest is greater than the other but can say with some confidence that in most cases people who support or oppose such protests have nothing much to do with the issues in question. They join sides on considerations like political parties, region, religion, vote bank, hero worship and publicity. In the long run that is the tragic side of these “fasts”. We remember the personalities, garland them, give them awards but forget the issues.

On second thoughts, there is one more side of celebrity fasts. I mean other than the funny and the tragic sides. It adds a new flavour to our daily I won’t be exaggerating, if I say that this Fast-track at least bring back viewers to TV, gives magazine stories to write about, geeks to form support forums online and ordinary men and women to gossip about . No wonder, everybody loves a celebrity fast!