Tough fights, the really tough ones, can cost you. If you take on the beast, comrades, then you’ve got to run the risk of being bitten or worse. Take it as a given – when the enemy is desperate, the enemy can get really nasty. Tear gas and baton charges are on the cards. Abductions and torture. Count these as probable rather than possible. There’s a lot that can happen this side of assassination or, as we came to call it in the terrible years towards the end of the eighties, ‘disappearance’. Incarceration, for example.
Scared? Don’t be. Maybe you didn’t think through this rebelling business. Maybe you thought and still think ‘It will not happen to me’. Anyway, the most important thing is that you’ve decided to rebel, decided to say ‘no’, decided to say ‘enough’ to something or the other. It could be a small battle or a big one. If it’s a small battle, defeat won’t faze you. If it is big, then you’ve got to think a bit more. It’s the big battles we are talking about here.
So let’s assume you’ve been arrested. Rest assured there would be laws that allow your enemy to hold you indefinitely in some miserable cell in some remote corner of the country. Most likely such laws are part of the reason why you decided to rebel in the first place. Anyway, let’s say you’ve been arrested. The food would be horrible. For a bed you might have to make do with a hard, cold, uneven cement floor. It would probably be stinking. You might have to share the cell with some despicable people and not ‘comrades’. Sometimes being alone might seem a better proposition.
Sometimes being alone is worse. Either way, the worst thing could be that you don’t get to see daylight and that could be more terrible than not being able to see your loved ones. You might want that tiny piece of sky that you once saw through a half-open window or that shimmer of moonlight on rain-wetted leaves. Things like that. Small things like that. It’s tough, even for the toughest rebels.
Now there are no guidebooks written about how to deal with such situations. We do have notes that people who’ve had to spend dozens of years in prison have written. Prison notebooks, so to say. Some of these have been written by highly articulated people who have had to spend time ‘inside’ for ‘rebelling’. Their words might give you a clue. Take for example the words of Nazim Hikmet, the Turkish poet who spend more than half his life either in prisons or in exile.
Nazim says, ‘keep your heart’ (at all costs), whichever prison you happen to inhabit:
‘Read and write without rest,
and I also advise weaving
and making mirrors.
I mean, it’s not that you can’t pass
ten or fifteen years inside
and more –
as long as the jewel
on the left side of your chest doesn’t lose its luster!’
There’s something there. Sure, you have to keep your wits about you if not for anything to exploit the half chance your detractors give you out of negligence, complacency or simply arrogance and over-confidence. The proposal here is not to dump mind and keep heart. It’s about keeping the heart, regardless.
You have to believe. You have to continue to love. You have to keep your faith in people. You have to believe that there’s something beautiful in all human beings, including the jailor who locked you up, the judge who sentenced you and the comrade who may have betrayed you to the enemy. It’s all about love. It’s about the heart. And sometimes it is all about learning a simple lesson written by a beautiful man who wrote in a language you’ve never heard and fought battles you are unaware of.
It’s the heart. It is precious. Keep it.
*When I was working at 'The Nation' I wrote a column for the FREE section of the paper which was dedicated to youth. The title of the column was 'Notes for a Rebel'. I wrote a total of 52 articles in this series. I have resumed by 'Notes for a Rebel', this time writing for the website www.nightowls.lk.