It is difficult to encapsulate my feel of the moment this early December evening except perhaps in images, each emblematic of long narration behind them : a spearheading Modi disrupting India multidimensionally, a Trump making Americans feel collosally stupid, a burning Middle East, a flexing China and crouching Russia, pouting Europe, clearing Africa, sliding Latin America, grasping Japan and a clutching, sputtering and misfiring, Pakistan.
There is a small window of gray before darkness descends on the moment. The TV screen lights up in its forlorn corner while the woman grates veggies for dinner and the young man, just in from work, munches over baked potato twirls. The crassy emptiness of the image threatens to smother another, more real, within. Will it; won’t it ?
Images in sight and images in heart. Images with one image. One versus many images. Until the writer intervenes to develop a third, the philosophical one, occasioned but absorbing of all that select themselves in the process. Such as we have in The Fall, crafted by Albert Camus. There is a narration that is almost intellectual, in there. But wouldn’t you agree, the most powerful were those objective images in its backdrop ? The shops in fleamarket, the restaurant frequented by sailors, the foggy pathways by the canals, the sea and the shiphorns. And those images of mankind. And that one which Jean Baptiste Clemence carries of himself, in his heart. And, finally, the one he’s hung in his closet, of the presiding judges.
It isn’t just this one work, dominated by circular images. I am reminded of Camus’ other works well : The Outsider, with a linear trail, and The Plague, which has both straights and eddies. In fact, there isn’t a single writer of eminence who hasn’t penned his own take of images before and within himself. All of whom, of which, I recall.
Speaking of images, the soft power of a country lies in its current consistency with its heritage, traditions and views on globally important issues. In the US, where the term was formed, softpower was defined as the ability of a country to persuade others to do what it wants without resorting to force or coercion.
I do not agree with this hard Harvardian definition, “to persuade others to do what it wants.” I find softpower in the nature of appeal … the way a life issue, a nourishment then in people’s want, resolves itself through autoselection of one geospecific practice, example or offering, amongst more than one choices before the globally aware individual. However, thoughts on the matter clarify with what the experts elaborate : Soft power lies in a country’s attractiveness culturally, politically as it plays out within it, and by the legitimacy and moral appeal of its international policies.
India is not the biggest tourist destination on planet earth. Its people are not best known for keeping their environment clean, as perhaps Europe does. Its rural communities are not as alive as depicted in Fiddler On The Roof. It does not have noodles and the range of non-veg cuisines, easily handled with spoon and fork, as the Chinese or the Japanese can rustle up. Nor does it have a showcase of technology and infrastructure of everyday use.
What India has is an antiquity rich with civilisation, an unbroken line of examples in inner courage, uniquely developed spiritual sciences and native medical knowledge, a truly chaotic rainbow nation that still makes sense together, regional diversities that emerge every 100 miles any which way, a plethora of “pagan” beliefs that have gone under or virtually vanished elsewhere, a history marked with longest dark age, a milling population that still breathes hope over myriad deities, each sensed here and now, a riotous range of languages, festivities, dialects, sartorial colours, cuisines largely vegetarian, and an adaptive way-of-life compass that corrects itself without much intellectual discourse.
Today, India is not only the birthplace of all extant panentheist and atheist religions, it is hegemonistically speaking the least aggressive powerhouse nation on earth. Since millennia, it has been home to persecuted refugees from far off lands — Jews from Syria and Parsis from Iran — and a potboil of people with every racial hue. It is a country that is willing to pay in order to maintain the diversities on its bosom. And, above all, it has the genes to check the religious regimentation that Christianity and Islam bring in their wake.
Freedom, in India, is the very warp and woof of a common man’s life : in the way he survives, celebrates, and protests.