Sunday, July 12, 2020

Fifteen annas

Fifteen annas
Abinash Jha has recently written on what the state of ordinary life has become in the current extraordinary times. The piece begins with a general definition of ordinary life, which Lokvidya jana-andolan has adopted as the basis of their work. The definition is this – ordinary life is life without any condition. It is outside the domain of institutional exchange of science, technology, religion and philosophy. Falsehood, extravaganza and immorality are also part of that life. But it can recognize truth, morality, justice, wisdom etc.
Abinash Jha writes that, regardless of the importance given to it by history, ordinary life has always been there. Political systems, technologies, religions have come and passed, but ordinary life has flown, almost unnoticed, at its own pace. That life is under threat today. An order or system that usurps nature's wealth is spreading to all corners of the globe. Consequently, endless conditions are imposed on ordinary life, even as it struggles to stay ordinary. As the space for ordinary life keeps shrinking, now it is pushed to the verge of extinction.
In response to this persistent trend, some suggest that one has to let go of what is gone. After all, in today's world it is not possible to survive without the system. If nature is in turmoil, it is better to focus on making decent provision for one’s own survival rather than trying to repair all that is damaged. If water and air are poisoned, purify as much as you need. Of course that is not possible for everyone. So those who remain outside the system are destined to perish.
There are those who reject and oppose this approach. But the point is: one cannot expect a strong pushback to emerge from those who suffer perpetual contraction after being pushed away from ordinary life.
Yet there exists a source of potential strength. A core tenet of ordinary life – in the absence of external pressure – is its reliance on a direct understanding with nature. This life seeks to sustain the environment out of the sheer compulsion to sustain itself, and not from any ideological motive. It induces one to plant saplings after cutting down trees, to indulge in lazy talk and to lament the waste of time, to clash with a neighbour and to stand by the same neighbour’s side in calamity - without any humanitarian inspiration. This experience has a strength and vitality of its own.
The privilege of direct touch and feel keeps people happy. What one experiences from the practice of an ideology or value system – no matter how lofty that may be – is like the touch of a hand shaken with gloves on. Ordinary life without an agenda gets a direct taste of life.
That taste, and the craving for it, lingers even after the space for ordinary life shrinks in many ways. When a new order comes into being, people automatically seek out cracks and loopholes to carry on with their normal business. Most people on this planet still have this desire for ordinary life.
Rabindranath Tagore had expressed the glory of this ordinary life thus: “People are divided into two classes – fifteen-annas and the rest one-anna. The fifteen-annas part is calm; the one-anna is restless. The former is useless; the latter has a purpose. Atmospheric air consists mostly of stable and calm nitrogen; oxygen is only a small part of it. If the proportions are reversed, the world would burn to ashes. Likewise, once a section of the fifteen-annas seeks to become as restless and useful in worldly matters as the one-anna, there can be no peace. People would have to submit to their fate and get ready to be burnt to ashes. (“Fifteen-annas”, Bangadarshan, February 1903.)
It is noteworthy that Tagore did not eulogize the life lived by the fifteen-annas as an expression of high ideal or noble thought. Pleading in favour of the fifteen-annas he admits in the same article, "We ... play with friends for no reason, talk to relatives without purpose, then stage a son’s wedding with much pomp and put him in an office, and thereafter disappear from the world without leaving any trace of name or fame – we are part of the million forms in the dance of this vast life; its flow glistens with our million little laughter; it bustles with our little talks and laments.” (ibid)
A life bound by thousands of conditions can no longer be ordinary. Ordinary life can be lived as long as the general needs are freely met in a natural environment. A system driven by the motive of achieving boundless progress and profit will invariably put conditions on people, especially those belonging to the fifteen-annas, under various situations. That is what is happening all over the world now.
This conditioned state of life is not always a matter of compulsion. People do accept conditions voluntarily. The lure of a benefit or the pursuit of a happy dream often induces them to sacrifice freedom knowingly. But their inner movements, whether good or bad, can never be artificial. The natural tendency of a normal human being is away from living in a cage of imposed conditions. Even the happiness in pursuit of which a person moves away from ordinary life may seem – in hindsight – quite hollow.
The human affinity for freedom and direct contact may be a source of sustenance in the face of threat to ordinary life.
Paramesh Goswami (a friend of Manthan Samayiki,  Kolkata)

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