08 October 2014

Have you considered carefully the f-word?

This is the second in a series of articles on rebels and rebellion I am writing for the FREE section of 'The Nation'.  'FREE' is dedicated to youth and youthfulness. 

Think back.  Who was your best friend when you were in the kindergarten?  How about in Primary School?  How many best friends did you have since the boy or girl who happened to be seated next to you became your ‘bestie’? Have you wondered what happened to them?  Who is your current best friend?  The current best friend is always considered ‘bestie for life’.   As we grow older the label ‘bestie’ becomes very precious.  We are careful on whom we pin it on. 

Have you wondered why people have so many best friends in a single life time?  Maybe it’s something worth thinking about if you want to be a rebel.  The thing about rebels and rebellion, for the most part, is that one man or one woman is not a front – it’s almost always about shared perceptions of injustice, common vision and collective action.   And since almost always you are fighting forces that seem to be invincible and absolutely unscrupulous you have to have a lot of trust in those you choose to stand with and fight alongside. 

How we trust someone?  It is easy to say ‘One for all and all for one,’ for example.  It is easy to expect members of a given collective to demonstrate fidelity to the idea of collective responsibility.  

The problem is that what’s easy to say aren’t always easily done.  Worse still, you really don’t know how a particular person will behave when the going gets tough.  Think about it.  Don’t we all know at least one person who let us down, one person who didn’t live up to expectations and one person who switched sides in the middle of the battle?  It is only when people are placed or find themselves in situations where they loyalty, ability and resolve are truly tested that we get a measure of who they are.  But we do know of instances when someone stepped up and delivered, someone we never thought had the guts or the skill, but who nevertheless saw us through somehow, don’t we?  

There’s only one person out there you can trust absolutely.  That’s you.  You know how much you are invested in the ‘rebellion’.  You alone know whether you are in it for the long haul.  You alone know roughly at what point and under what circumstances you would draw a line and say, ‘this is as far as I come!’  And therein lies a lesson: others are not too different. 

Way back in the late eighties, there was a popular set of lines one heard in demonstrations: කෑලි වලට කපා දමා අප නවතනු සිතනු එපා…ලේ හැලුනත් පාර දිගේ යා යුතු මග අප යනවා (We may be cut down to pieces but do not think we would ever be stopped… Let our blood fall every step of the way but we shall walk the walk that must be walked).   The truth is that not everyone who uttered those words loud and clear and with so much conviction was there when the blood-letting began.  Not everyone was ready to take the bullet and still remain with determination un-riddled.   Of all those who embarked, not too many were left at the end which, as is known, was not happy but bloody. 

There was a man by the name of Dasanayake.  He was a student leader.  A man loved by all, political opponents included.  When the last days came, a friend told him to quit.  He simply said, ‘too late’.  For two reasons.  First, ‘I’ve brought too many people into this – I can’t leave now’.  He didn’t mention the second reason.  He just couldn’t hide.  He had a congenital scar over his left eye.  He was literally drawn and quartered. His body parts, we are told, were hung from a tree in Katugastota. 

Now Dasanayake would be a great rebel-friend.  Not all rebels, however, are Dassanayakes.
This doesn’t mean you should not rebel.  It means that at every moment, at each and every step, you have to be alert, you have to keep assessing the f-factor or the true friendship worth of the person you call ‘comrade’.   He or she that stands with you may not be a Dasanayake but this doesn’t mean that he or she is a ‘plant’ or a ready-to-betray jerk either.  The truth is people (ourselves included) have both heroes and villains residing in them.   We have to make a judgment call. We have to take our chances just as others judge us and take their chances on us. 

We set out thinking of ‘principles’. We fight for ‘justice’.  We want to change the world.  In the end, even as we think of all these things and look to secure fairly well defined goals, we do it as much as for these as for ourselves and those we struggle with.  We should be worth it.  They should be worth it.  This is why it is useful to reflect now and then on the f-factor even when we are busy making the revolution.

The following was seen at the back of a bus:

කෝ පුතේ ඔයාගේ ඔය අපූරු යාළුවො ටික?  (Where are all those wonderful friends of yours, my son?).  Beneath it, the following response:  හොයාගන්නවත් නෑ අම්මේ (I have no idea where they are, Mother).
Forget the cynicism.  Rebellion is serious business.  When the odds are stacked against us, we can’t afford to err by much.  Certainly not when it comes to those who we stand with.  Tough stuff, true, but who said revolution was easy, eh?