26 March 2015

Time is long Dear Rebel, really long

Nazim Hikmet
This is the twenty fifth 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.

‘Time’ is a term that plagues rebels.  You have to be on time.  You have to get the timing right.  You are always ‘running out of time’.  The ‘time window’ is narrow more of than not.  You can’t be too early, you can’t be too late.  There are a million things to do and there never seems to be enough time to do them all. 

Relax.  There are rebel-moments that are long.  Exceedingly long.  Not talking about hours as opposed to minutes and seconds, not talking about weeks or months.  Years.  For good or bad that’s a possible ‘part of the story’.  In the end it is up to the rebel to make best use of these long moments. 

Nazim Hikmet, the best known and most translated Turkish poet, spent less time as a free man in his native Turkey as he did in prison or exile.  He once made a pertinent observation on ‘time’:  
Since I was thrown inside
                The earth has gone around the sun ten times.
If you ask it:
                “That’s noting – a microscopic span.”
If you ask me:
                “Ten years of my life!”
I had a pencil
                The year I was thrown inside.
It lasted me a week.
If you ask it:
                “A whole lifetime!”
If you ask me:
                “what’s a week?”

During those long years, he could not agitate or attend demonstrations, he could not meet comrades or like-minded people, he could not discuss or debate, he could not raise voice against the many tyrannies he encountered and took on.  He raised his heart and mind, though.  He had strength to lift a pencil and move it across paper.  His words flew out of his heart and into the skies.  They turned into water.  The wind took them to the four corners of the world.  They fell, drop by drop into the thirsty hearts of rebels all over the world. 

There are writers who are incarcerated.  Then there are the incarcerated who turn their agitation and rebelliousness into poetry.  Sometimes they don’t get paper or pencil (or in these days laptops or mobile devices that make communication possible).   But rebels are resourceful people.  They have the will; they find a way.

I once knew a prisoner who had written a comprehensive critique on the dominant paradigm of development.  When he was arrested, the police confiscated all his papers.  I am sure they couldn’t make head or tail of that document, but he never got it back.   Three weeks later, he was released.  In that time he re-wrote that entire book. 

There are of course better known and much celebrated prisoner-writers.  Antonio Gramsci, the Italian Communist, is a good example.  The title of his best known book, ‘Prison Notebooks,’ explains context in just two words.  Contained therein are thoughts that have inspired and informed a lot of social theory over more than half a century. 

No one wants to go to prison.  Well, when blood is hot and stoutness of heart is overestimated there’s a righteous imp within every rebel that says ‘take me in, do your worst’.  It’s not fun.  But more importantly, imprisonment for the true rebel is less a possibility than a probability.  If you are in for the long haul, as they say, tell yourself now and then that bars don’t stop and indeed they can boost capacities and enhance productivity in ways unimagined. 

Time can be very long.  Count it as a blessing.  You might as well.  
Other articles in this series