By- Hengul Dutta
IF YOU CAN’T BE FAMOUS, BE INFAMOUS.
That marketing tagline seems precise for the film Chicago but in real life it has different ramifications. Being infamous doesn’t pay the desired social dividends. That is true because, to use the cliche, I have been there and done that.
While on endless walks on the footpath and countless bus journeys around the city, we come across that omnipresent crowd-sitting just-this-tiny-inch beyond the main roads on a parade of motorcycles, surrounded by multitudinous layers of smoke; waft of intoxicants pregnate the air around with the free-flowing and liberal use of cuss words. We also can find them lurking in dark alleys, in empty lots, around abandoned buildings. I must admit they are made of the toughest mould. May it be seething cauldron of the summer, the incessant rains, or even the severe, cold winters, nothing can deter them from venturing out from the confines of their homes to the welcoming streets, the streets they love and rule. We always find them, in the heat of summer, be it the foggy winter or the torrential rains. They are either in different states of inebriation, or indulging in vandalism or in million worthless shows of vanity. Women fear the prospect of passing by them under the shower of lewd comments that would follow. Some among us deliberately avoid them, some do not care and many look upon them with disdain, failing to comprehend their utter lack of public decorum. Reprimands reach deaf ears thus we go back to our original state of veiled but vehement and reluctant avoidance. The Wasted Youth,- we call them.
On the flipside, it would be harsh to call them a menace to society. They have only just lost their way around things. Help was hundreds of miles away, in form of a phone-call never answered or an incident never shared, and their predicaments overwhelmed them completely, consequently, they have turned into social rejects. The average group consists of a mélange of individuals; a blend pervading, personal, social and economic barriers, brought together by their affinity to anything and everything, solid, liquid or gas. They scoff at society’s mundane existence, explicitly make fun of many a fata label/mamu (pompous moron) and if need be, they will even use their physical prowess to prove their point. There can be no excuse for use of intoxicants and its after-effects and of their foul-mouthed and distasteful mannerisms, but use of intoxication is one of the many pre-requisites that sets them apart from the bhal lora (good boy) class. Apart from the time in the adda (gathering), the rest of the day is spent in hibernation, under shields or false facades. How I know so much about them? Well I am one of them and believe me we do not choose this way of life.
One of my friend Bishnu was a completely different entity when we first met nine summers ago. He was one of the finest of the guys around. He was intelligent, considerate, an optimist and belonged to a loving middle class family. Where I mostly stood out of the class, he used to stand out in the mark sheet. But we were friends nonetheless. But in the last few years, he has undergone a sea change. Not one day passes when his mouth does not reek of alcohol and what not. An interesting anecdote comes to mind. One normal day, he shut himself in his room, but, without alcohol. I, along with another friend went to enquire as his mother called us. Later, we found out that the poor lady was terrified and even thought that her son was in ill health, for the simple reason that he did not drink on that day! At one point of time his family was blissfully happy; the laughter is gone, replaced by a stagnant void, that of his future. When we meet, we do talk like old friends, but there always lurks a barrier between us. Some days are lucky, when he lets his guard down and we do talk like old friends. The crux of these conversations was humane, essentially signifying the person he is within. He worries about his ways, his family, his future and so many other things instead of just booze, dope or just another petty fight around the corner. He laments upon the nature of his ways, how in the pursuit of becoming cool led him into purgatory, Milton’s Purgatory. How his constant need to seek attention and approval of others made him a mere puppet meant to please. Ultimately he became antagonistic to the double standards that prevail in today’s society, the society governed by the unconcerned. Next I present the case of another friend. He has been a childhood friend. With a family that gave him the choice of decisions, he, albeit, made the wrong ones and mostly regarding matters of the heart. Only two things stand out in him-Schedule drugs and a misogynistic outlook. Sometimes it amazes me as to where that funny fat kid a couple of houses away has gone, only to be replaced by a zombie-like replica. I catch him on the streets sometimes, and mostly find him involved in drunken scuffles, demanding money from passer-bys and other such unpleasant occurrences, which would have a mere figment of imagination, had he not been high. He was very good at painting, nature was his favorite. Once we went on a trip to a village and on the next day he painted me a scene from the village. It was beautiful and still is with me, but, he is not. He is in a rehab.
Our daily lives are littered with such examples. Different names, different shapes, some veterans, other novices, but they are the same. A walk along the stretch of Commerce and I rest my case. But, who do we pass the buck to? The teachers pass it to the parents, the parents, in turn, to the friends, the friends to other friends and so on the buck makes its way, round and round the existential merry-go-round. By the time it stops, the person in question becomes incorrigible. The future looks bleak because charity begins at home, as the first step to rectification is acceptance. Without our acceptance of the reality that persists, we, I am afraid, cannot bring them into the right path. The North-east has been always secluded from mainland India. Thus, we do not experience the work culture that is prevalent in industrial, commercial or cultural hubs; nor can we foster such a work culture here. Due to this very fact, a few decades ago the frustrated youths joined separatist organizations and today’s frustrated legions have established their parallel society. This is a cruel fact, but a fact nonetheless.
It is never easy letting go of one’s 15 minutes of fame. Since human nature inherently seeks adulation, approval and adoration, it is, therefore, tough to stay out of the spotlight. The hardest thing is letting go. Many have tried, many have failed. But, try again. Trying to be infamous is a fad; it comes with a certain age and raging hormones. It lurks around a while, maybe a tad longer in some. But when it gets ingrained as a defining character trait is when the alarm bells ring. Essentially everyone is essentially good by nature. But, choosing to walk this path of no-return is more than a mere step of the fickle human nature. Thereon it is a full-fledged battle against one’s own self. The victor, eventually, governs. Now, only, if my band of brothers would realize the fact that the clock of 15 minutes reads 14 minutes and 55 seconds.