We often hear people complaining about the system and its various ailments- corruption, materialism, nepotism, jealousy…the list is endless. Hearing people curse these evils at the top of their voices, I wonder why is it then so difficult to cleanse the system? Why do not our actions match up to our concerns? Why is there such a big disconnect between our thinking and our actions? Has it more to do with Kashmiris or is it the plain human nature?
To stand up against the system is actually easier said than done. Even if we have the freedom to think and say what we like, when it comes to actions we behave meekly like the majority who prefer to safeguard their own interests rather than follow the ‘inconvenient’ idealism. Besides, by going against the times, a person runs the risk of being left isolated in the crowd.
Flaunting unconventional ideas and unorthodox ways makes us appear as if we are desperate for attention or perhaps we look down upon other people. There are not many people who will feel obliged by our attitude and they will try to find a way to teach us a lesson. So even as everyone talks about corruption endlessly and how it has eaten into the vitals of our society, there is hardly anyone who has not paid a bribe at some point of their lifetime. At times, we don’t even realize how quietly we play into the hands of the very system we keep complaining about. It appears far safer and easier to accept the ‘unfair’ norms than to resent and change them.
We share the anti-system thoughts of our friends and colleagues, but there are not many people in our day-to-day dealings who appreciate our thinking. I often run into discussions about the unfairness of the system with my friends. We all strike a common chord while sharing our little experiences of corruption, discrimination, official apathy and host of other social evils. It feels good not to be alone in the big bad world. But as soon as we step out of the camaraderie and find ourselves amid the “pack of wolves”, the high idealism goes straight out of the window. Optimism soon gives way to pessimism and we eventually surrender to the reality. The reason arguments against the system do not work is that most people do not like to change their habits and when you challenge them, either directly through arguments or indirectly through behaviour, they turn hostile.
Kashmiris who have traveled or stayed outside the valley for a significant time often ridicule fellow Kashmiris. For an engineer cousin of mine, who keeps shifting from one Gulf country to another, returning home permanently is the last option. Whenever he visits the valley once in a while, his aversion to Kashmir seems to get reinforced. He tells me how the world has moved ahead while the mindset of Kashmiris remains unchanged. Many times, I felt like telling him that he is also a Kashmiri and should stop demeaning his fellow people. I could not do it perhaps because I was somehow convinced by some of the things he said. But other Kashmiris may not spare him for the ‘treason’.
People who flaunt their infatuation with a different culture and express disdain and contempt for their own appear to separate themselves from the common folk who follow the local customs without complaining. This often makes their fellow men, whose beliefs they challenge, dislike them. A person who openly seeks to keep a distance from his/her own people does so at the risk of being ostracized.
Here I am reminded of a legend from Idries Shah’s “Tales of the Dervishes”: “Once upon a time Khidr, the Teacher of Moses, called upon mankind with a warning. At a certain date, he said, all the water in the world which had not been specially hoarded would disappear. It would then be renewed, with different water, which would drive men mad. Only one man listened to the meaning of this advice. He collected water and then went to a secure place where he stored it, and waited for the water to change its character.
On the appointed date the streams stopped running, the wells went dry, and the man who had listened, seeing this happening, went to his retreat and drank his preserved water. When he saw, from his security, the waterfalls again beginning to flow, this man descended among the other sons of men. He found that they were thinking and talking in an entirely different way from before; yet they had no memory of what had happened, nor of having been warned. When he tried to talk to them, he realized that they thought he was mad, and they showed hostility not understanding. At first he drank none of the new water, but went back to concealment, to draw on his supplies, every day. Finally, however, he took the decision to drink the new water because he could not bear the loneliness of living, behaving, and thinking in a different way from everyone else. He drank the new water, and became like the rest. Then he forgot all about his own store of special water, and his fellows began to look upon him as a madman who had miraculously been restored to sanity.”