Saturday, April 5, 2014

Of killing and mockingbirds

“If there's just one kind of folks, why can't they get along with each other? If they're all alike, why do they go out of their way to despise each other? ”  
- Jem Finch ( To Kill a Mockingbird)

Jem is around 10 years old, in the book. And Jem could have not have put it more precisely. Like most children, he has the knack of getting things right ( digging beneath the murk of social prejudices). Since the author did not write about Jem's or Scout's (his sister) adulthood, I sincerely hope that their spirit remained intact all life long.
Children always get it right. Like insane people, mystics, poets and a few old people. Unfortunately, children do not know how to gift wrap their opinions in words, philosophies and mutterings. And are hence, shushed and reprimanded. Although, considering that the rest of the 'get it right' crowd is actually shunned by the society, I think it's a blessing that children lack the tact.

The novel was written in the 1960s. At a time when words like nigger, colored and black were freely used. And the discrimination on the basis of colour and ethnicity was well marked. Black people knew their place and toed the line. 
Today we have replaced black with African American, crippled with 'differentially abled', leprosy with Hansen's Disease, faggot with lgbt and whore with 'sex worker'. All in the name of 'political correctness'. 

But, have we really moved beyond our prejudices? Do we really 'mean' these phrases when we use them to describe people? Why is it that 'To kill a mockingbird' is still widey read (and associated with)? 

“Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” 

And how many such innocent mockingbirds do we persecute everyday? In our minds or in the real world. Persecute them for their color, their caste, their social status, their religion, their ethnicity or just their appearance. 

People from Kashmir are terrorists, people from U.P are goons, people from anywhere down south are Madrasis, Mallus are cunning, Marwaris are stingy, Punjabis are loud and Bengalis are pseudo-intellectuals. As soon as a person tells you his/her name ( or is unfortunate enough to actually have an accent), your rifles start loading themselves.

How many times are we ( consciously or subconsciously) rude towards those 'beneath' us. The beggar by the side of the street, the cleaning lady, the poor patient in the ward, the kid serving tea at the roadside hotel and the driver. What happened to basic manners? A right to dignity? Or, must be attach a brand label to that too.
Blame the maid for breaking the vase, the driver for stealing, the guard for sleeping on duty and the nanny for spoiling the kid. It is okay for kids to misbehave with them (and reserve their best behavior for the 'guests'). 

What use is education if people continue asking each others' castes? ( and judging and bonding over it). 
Why are we still stuck to 'reservations' in examinations when generations of people have already profited and are no longer 'subjugated'. To look at the grass on the other side, why are we still facing the brunt of communal violence and khap panchayats? 
How does one's religion make one a terrorist or a saint? Why is it that caste and religion politics still dominated the country? Why are we still looking for 'fair' brides? 
Are these not the reflections of the society's mindset? Are these not equal to hanging an innocent man for his colour? 

 "I think there's just one kind of folks. Folks."

To understand all this, we must ponder over eight ear old Scout's words . There is just one kind of folk. How long will it be before we look beyond all these social constraints and see an individual, as an individual? Train ourselves to greet, treat and accept everyone equally ( until you come to understand their natures well enough).

Or, must we wait until someone labels us as a mockingbird too? And shoots us down. 

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