04 February 2015

Dear Rebel, get through your universities first

This is the nineteenth 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 was a neat tagline used by a shoe company back in the 1980s, ‘First to Bata then to school’.  It made sense, at least as a marketing ploy.   This was at a time when the JVP in its thinly disguised ‘Deshapremi Jathika Vyaparaya’ (Patriotic National Movement) wanted all ‘patriots’ to drop everything and take up the patriotic cause.   First came the Motherland, therefore, and whatever else was to be shelved for later. 

It is against this backdrop that the following lines greeted some undergraduates one morning as they strolled towards the Arts Faculty, University of Peradeniya: පළමුව බාටා දෙවනුව පාසැල....නෑ නෑ පළමුව මවුබිම දෙවනුව පාසැල (First [to] Bata, second [then to] school…no, no first the Motherland, school second [next]’.  The authors actually considered themselves revolutionaries.  Maybe they were.  Maybe not.  But perhaps rebels can’t lose much by considering the reverse proposition (replacing ‘Motherland’ with ‘Revolution’):  ‘First to university then to the frontline’, or ‘First study, then rebel’.  

You got to go to university if you want to be a rebel.  Wait, that doesn’t sound right, does it (or does it sound ‘right’ as opposed to ‘left’?)?  It implies that those who don’t enter university cannot rebel or are unqualified to do so.  Yes, that does sound odd.  But if you have heard of Maxim Gorky you might change your mind. 

Gorky was orphaned at the age of 11 and was brought up by his grandmother.  He ran away from home when he was 12.  Seven years later he tried to kill himself.  Thereafter he travelled on foot across the Russian Empire for five years, moving from one job to the next until finally deciding to stick with journalism.  He died at the age of 68. 

Maxim Gorky never attended a university.  And yet he’s considered as one of the greatest writers of his time (late 19th and early 20th Century). 

He wrote a lot but never saw literature as an aesthetic practice.  For him it was a moral and political act.  He sought to change the world.  Describing and dissecting the world around him was for Gorky a revolutionary act.   It is said that his works especially ‘Mother’ inspired more people to support the Bolsheviks than the Communist Manifesto or the works of the Bolsheviks themselves.  What’s important is that he not only lived through hard times and underwent hardships but observed keenly everything he encountered, especially the underprivileged, their countless deprivations, the humiliations they were subjected to and most of all the humanity that survived all this.  It was not his world alone but a world in which millions resided.  He turned it all into a university or rather into universities.  He attended all relevant classes in that world, he read what had to be read, he reflected, analyzed and came to conclusions. 

A rebel then is a student first or if he/she is not then study he/she must.  It’s simple.  All you have to do is to ask yourself a simple question: how can I change the world if I do not know it first?  Gorky studied people, Gorky read books, Gorky took notes, Gorky tried to understand the processes which yield particular outcomes.  Gorky then wrote and wrote and wrote. 

There is perhaps some truth, then, in the notion that the greatest revolutionary act for a young person is to study.  Study, revisit, revise, study again, conclude and review it all, again and again, even as you rebel in whatever way you think fit. 

So it’s not ‘First to Bata’.  It is not ‘Motherland First’.  It’s your universities that come first.  If you are serious about rebelling, that is.

Other articles in this series


Thilina said...

Learning itself is a revolution.but you remain as a revolutionist as long as you learn for the sake of subject. If you are aiming a carear goal you will end up as a bourgeoisie capitalist.