17 June 2015

When did you last speak with an old man, dear rebel?

This is the thirty third in a series of articles on rebels and rebellion written for the FREE section of 'The Nation'. Scroll to the end for other articles in this series.  'FREE' is dedicated to youth and youthfulness.

Rebels are young, for the most part, although there are evergreen reds so speak.  Unrepentant rebels, they often call themselves.  It’s true.  Take 100 young people and 100 old people.  The chances are the rebels in the former category will outnumber those in the latter.  This is perhaps why young rebels seek to make rebels out of those who are of their own age.  Turning old men and women into rebels is tough.  If what you need is numbers then it is certainly not cost-effective to recruit old people to your cause.

Does this mean that rebels should not ‘waste time’ on old people, though?  Is it worthless to chit-chat with the old when you could be talking to a young person and trying to convince him or her to join you?  

Well, rebellion is not just about recruitment.  If there are lessons to be learnt from history, from revolutions that failed, from revolutionaries who made wrong moves, if failures teach as much as victories, if rebels can benefit from deeper insights into the human conditions where such ‘learning’ helps them deal more effectively with enemy and obtain more from friends, then old people are libraries waiting to be browsed.  

They may not talk about rebellion.  They might not want to talk about social change.  Collective action may even be something they are amused by.  They might talk about the past, be insufferably nostalgic, complain about ‘the youth of today’ and sound slow, grumpy and annoyingly self-absorbed.  They might, in their story-telling, stray into byways and even off the beaten track as they say and might not seem able to return to the thread of their narrative.  

But they have lived. They have seen and experienced all the disjunctures, dislocations, injustices and relevant miseries that you object to and fight. In one form or the other.  They have not only experienced it, they have also reflected.  

But perhaps they won’t utter a word about such things.  Perhaps they speak of crops that have failed or harvests that are robbed.  They might tell you about the time when heavy rains took the dam and how villages came to be abandoned.  

They might talk about fences, what they keep out and what they hold in.  They might talk of the unevenness of the earth and the necessity of parasites.  They might say nothing and you might read the history of a nation in the furrows of their brows, the depths to which their eyes have sunk and the tenderness of their gaze.  

You might not come away with a notebook full of ‘tips’.  You might not be able to gather ‘lessons’ from such conversations.  All you get might be a vague notion about why and how people and communities live, struggle and survive.    

That might make a difference at a critical moment in your struggle.  And though you might not at the time know exactly where the ‘wisdom’ came from, you may figure out much later.  Even if you do not, it won’t matter.  They probably will not know.  If they did, they may not mind.  

Other articles in this series