06 August 2015

So when are you planning to graduate, dear rebel?

This is the fortieth 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.

There is nothing to say that only university students rebel.  Rebellion is no one’s private property.  A young man can rebel against his father, a young girl can rebel against authority in a school run by nuns, workers rebel against owners of factories, people rise up against tyrants.  

A worker does not cease to be a worker after a specific number of years unless he or she decides to do something else.  Even then, most often, it’s the setting or the landscape that changes not his or her relation to the means of production.  University students are a bit different though.  

If you happen to be a rebellious undergraduate you have certain privileges that the rebellious workers do not enjoy.  They do have expenses but they bear only a fraction of the costs of their education.  Most of them are supported by their parents so they really don’t have to worry too much about where the next meal is going to come from. They don’t have dependents.  It’s tough no doubt but it is way tougher for the worker.

One day they will graduate. Armed with a degree certificate they can go look for a decent job. Yes, there are lots of unemployed graduates but sooner or later they all find gainful employment.  The thing about undergraduate rebels then is that they have a three or four year window of rebelling-opportunity.  Most of them ‘retire’ after they graduate.  Very few will even remember the vision that inspired them to rebel in the first place.  Very few will be moved by these grievances to continue objecting to systems they ranted and raved against.  They ‘graduate’ to another level and at that level rebellion is a bad word.  They drop it.   Not all of them obviously, but the vast majority.  

But if you are a real rebel (as opposed to a ‘fake’ one), can you ever graduate?  Can you ever retire?  Is there a point at which you say think to yourself ‘my work is done!’?  The terrible truth is that there is such point, there is no ‘end’.  Unless of course you are one of those rebels who is interested in achieving just one thing — like changing a government as opposed to a system.  But anyone can do that without thinking they are rebelling and without having to make all the sacrifices that rebels usually have to make.  

If you’ve taken on larger issues, if you want a better society and not just a change of government, then there’s hardly ever time to relax.  Graduation to a comfort zone of sorts is not part of the deal.  When you achieve one objective you realize that there are other things that cry out for attention.  

There’s a poem in Rabindranath Tagore’s ‘Gitanjali’ which probably was meant to be an expression of devotion that nevertheless speaks to our about-to-graduate rebel.

"When I sit by the roadside, tired and panting, when I spread my bed low in the dust, let me ever feel that the long journey is still before me. Let me not forget for a moment, let me carry the pangs of this sorrow in my dreams and in my wakeful hours.”

The true rebel will not and cannot deceive himself or herself.  Their work is never ‘done’.  There’s always a blemish that needs to be varnished, there’s always a tear that needs to be wiped, always something that is askew that needs to be straightened, always someone to defend, always a principle to die for.  

Let the university student graduate if that’s the choice.  Let anyone else ‘retire’.  Let that be someone else’s prerogative.  Just remind yourself now and then that the long journey is yet to begin.  That’s all the strength you need.

Other articles in this series