09 November 2011

Because life never surrenders...

Gioconda Belli, in her memoir of love and war, an autobiography described as "a passionate, lyrical, tough-minded account of an extraordinary life in art, revolution and love", quotes an anonymous Vietnamese poet:

“We fill the craters left by the bombs
And once again we sing
And once again we sow
Because life never surrenders.”

What are "craters", what are "bombs"? What is our song, what is it that we sow? What does it mean never to surrender? What are these "wars" described by the falling of bombs and the making of craters?

In the "Vietnam" of this anonymous poet, there could have been no prizes for the answers. People died in their thousands. The Vietnamese knew about biological warfare long before the term became an easy alibi to obliterate nations in the name of "restoring" democracy. Back then it had a name: Napalm. They knew about craters, because bombs fell like torrential rains. Vietnam survived. Vietnam survived because the people had not lost their voices and all the bombing, gunfire, napalm and other death-bringing mechanisms failed to erase their memory of song. They survived because they never surrendered.

Gioconda's story is also a song. It is a song that echoes the sentiment of the Vietnamese poet. The same song, a different land. Nicaragua. There too, people refused to surrender, there too they continued to sow hope even though their ears, hearts and sensibilities were relentlessly lashed with the rattle of gunfire from mercenaries and the death cries of those who loved their country.

Gioconda Belli saw all this first hand, she saw her comrades die. She saw courage and humanity, defeat and triumph. She saw and made a revolution. And saw it defeated. She continues to sing and to sow the seeds on an earth that might perhaps yield a different tomorrow. Under a different sky. Maybe in a land she has never seen. That is the magic of such sowing.

But craters and bombs, seeds and sowing, melodies and remembrance, hope and intransigence...are these words and sentiments the private property of armed struggle or collective resistance?

The bombs do drop on sleeping villages, the bullets run through the breasts of children. Young men plant the seeds of rebellion. Those who refuse to surrender, they die. Or triumph. Or, they give life even in death to those who come after. Like Augusto Cesar Sandino whose ragtag army of peasant soldiers forced the United States of America to terminate their "intervention" in 1933. He was murdered by Uncle Sam's creature, Anastasio Somoza Garzia the following year, only to be give birth to the Sandinistas in the seventies, who fought and overthrew his son, ridding Nicaragua of the Somoza dynasty almost half a century later.

But I know that it is not only those wearing military fatigues that fight, it is not only the young radicals who plant seeds and more than all this, that the bombs and guns and napalm that really hurt are not those manufactured by arms merchants. No, the most pernicious weapons of mass destruction are those that attack our spirit, those that are designed to erase our memory, those that choke our voices and kill our song, and those that prevent us from sowing the regenerative seeds of ideas, resistance and dignity.

All the craters of this world fascinated with war are not found in the city plaza, the jungle hideout and the village bombed by mistake. The most violent craters are those found in our minds and our hearts. When we choose to look away, we do so because our eyes have been relieved of sight. When we refuse to question tyranny and injustice, we do so because poisonous gases of ideology have benumbed our sensibilities. When we refuse to water lands that have been demarcated "barren", it is because we have accepted surrender as a "pragmatic" choice.

It is not about "a people" or "a collective" alone. It is also about self, about the "I" and the "me". "Where are the rest?" is not a question that someone who values dignity should ever ask. The correct query is this: "Where am I?" If that is asked, invariably, one would also ask, "who am I?", "what am I?" and "what would I become should I forget to sing, should I refuse to sow, should I resolve to surrender?"

It is, and of this I am convinced, a matter of being able to go home and sleep well, knowing well that the day was spent honourably, knowing well that all the strength was expended in the fight, regardless of the outcome. 

"The underground" is not a jungle hideout, it is at the core of one's heart. "The resistance" is not a collective, it is a region of resolve that exists within. The seed that needs to be sowed must be received by a fertile earth or an earth made fertile. That earth is also resident in our being. And the hand that must gently plant the seed is not a hand, but a conscious decision to rediscover all these things that make up who we are.

The multitude never comes, and certainly not when called. The multitude arrives only because decent human beings arrive. They sing because someone does the unthinkable of singing at the scene of carnage. They sow because a crazy farmer defies the given logic of an earth's infertility. They fight because a madman says, "I will not surrender". They triumph because some random woman stands up and says, "I know none of you have the strength to speak the truth of what you see and I hold no grudge; I raise my voice regardless."

Gioconda Belli said that what decided the matter of becoming a revolutionary or not for her was a certain statement made by Camilo Ortega: "I am doing this because my parents didn't do it and because I don't want to leave it to my daughter to do." That clinched it for her. As always it is the little thing that transforms a quiescent life into a live, vibrant concerto of engaging and giving.

It is late, and I have to go home to my wife and child. At this point, all images, all metaphors and the heroic narratives cease. I have one thought, just one: my little girl. Yes, her smile and her searching eyes.