The Indestructible Individual

A story goes – it could well be true – that a man, angry on his cat, decided to punish her. He locked her up in a room and began to bring down his cane wildly and repeatedly on her. She ran around, under the table, behind the sofa, this corner and that corner, jumping to the closed window ledge, falling back and receiving the blows, once again behind the sofa, and so on, with the man and his caning in frenzied pursuit. Finally, when she felt sure that all access to freedom from the tyrant’s blows were closed, she turned on him with a ferocity that first surprised him, then enraged him, and finally forced him to open the door and escape for his dear life.

The struggle between the individual and the community is very old. In any large group a few muscled men assume power and try to impose their will on the rest. It is natural that a few should assume power over the rest. It is also true that they should impose their will on the rest. That is reasonable and acceptable to a limit. But what is not acceptable is tyranny. When that enters, it translates into actions that are hurtful to the individual, his dignity, ego and pride. When that happens, the individual initially blames himself for his weaknesses and his luck, implores his God for help, and accepts the injustice and insults with stoic patience. But as he squeals and appeals, in periodic repetition, in hope that reason will prevail, and nothing substantial happens, then he begins to consider various options to uproot the causes that force him to relinquish his rights, his voice and his dignity.

While he awaits with folded hands for the jurist to come out of his sedan, his mind is plunged deep in discovering the rationale of his plight. To his disappointment, he receives, instead of help and advice, a religious edict from the clergy. As he appeals to other authorities, he has a rage that is by now visible on his face. But, insensible to his plight, and his anger, the voice from behind the desk tells him in deliberate tones that he ought to observe patience, meaning, resign to his lot. On further insistence, he is to learn from the officials that in a way he himself is responsible for the situation, which could, sometime, and perhaps, it being not sure, change in the future, if he lived a life of submission to the authorities. Why shouldn’t he, when it is the demand of his loyalty to the state, of justice, and of religion? How can he reject what is good for everyone, if not so good for him? There is honor, he is told, in what he thinks is national capitulation and personal humility.

The above scenes enacted several times, their combined effects evaporate the individual’s patience. The cat, still very much looking like one – quiet, friendly, and peaceful – is boiling within with the rage of a lion. It is any time it will strike. In his desperation, he is ready to die. That makes him extremely dangerous. He has decided to go. He doesn’t care how many will go with him. Whether his grave will be beneath millions of tons of glass, concrete, steel and gypsum boards or handfuls of dust, is of no consequence to him. What happens after him is not the first item on the agenda he carries in the secret depths of his mind.

What is true of cats in a closed room, is truer to a greater degree of individuals. It is also true of a group of individuals against their leaders, as it is also true of the people of a weak nation tyrannized by a more powerful nation. When their rights are taken away, when they are tyrannized, consistently, devastatingly, and inhumanly, leaving no access to freedom, no hopes of redress, no promise of relief, except false ones, then the situation must make lions of them, with a ferocity that the tyrants had never dreamt the peaceful cat was capable of. When the individual feels deprived of his dignity: his and his nation’s, when he feels that humiliation has been stamped on his personality, so long as he lives, and that those who could do something neither share his feelings, nor his hopes and fears, nor pride, in fact, who are partners in the politics of national capitulation and disgrace, then he must act alone: against all. The individual is now pitched against the community, the society, the state and the world. If everybody lacks simple sense of justice, then everybody is his enemy.

He has time on his side. He could still be a boy whose father was unjustly imprisoned or humiliated by the soldiers before him. He now carries a mission in his breast. It is his life’s mission. Communities and nations have several missions: administrating the affairs, keeping the restive masses in control, manipulating the markets, controlling the financial hubs, imposing colonialism on weaker nations, promoting imperialism under the slogan of globalization – these are things, and many others, that keep nations busy day in and day out. But the individual has a single mission. For him opportunities are many, targets several. Does it need precise planning? University education will provide him the skill. Does he need data? A job in the right organization will help him lay his hands on it. When he acts, finally, in his teens, in his twenties, thirties, we don’t know when, we don’t know what are his plans, they are in his breast – when he acts, quite a part of what was transferred from the bank accounts of weak regimes to strong regimes over decades, is gone in a minute. In retaliation, the community of individuals, or of nations, might hit him hard. But, although slow to come back, he is sure to hit harder and ultimate triumph will be his.

The individual will have the last laugh even from down his grave. He wished to destroy the world. He couldn’t. But he wrought injuries with lasting effects and a humanity permanently handicapped. At his hands the world faces not a destruction that can be reconstructed with cement and mortar. He leaves behind him armies of men divided by walls of distrust, hatred and conflicts. He had wished to win a hearing. He failed. But foolish retaliation will polarize the people forever after him. When there are too many divisions, too many walls, too many check points, the people are ready for exchange of more devastating blows. After every battle, there will be more divisions, until the world destroys itself in its madness, arrogance and pride. The individual will win out. Civilized life might be gone, along with its arts, culture, science, technology, tall monuments, and symbols of pride. All that might go. But the individual will remain. In the end he will sit over a rock and stare at the debris of civilization, the mass of mortar and bones. As he retires to his cave, he will shake his head in disbelief at the folly of the powers that imagined that they could subdue him. Nations which thought they are above the law would be in rubbles before him. The individual who was thought to be unworthy of consultation, and so sidelined, humiliated and ignored as nobody, went about with a death-wish. In contrast, the nations pitted against him fought for their lives. They hated death. They wished to live forever: in comfort, glory, and at costs paid by subdued smaller nations. But the individual was ready for death. How could he die?

Today the writing on the wall is in bold letters. It can be read by any except the fanatic drunk in power. Science has attained its peak. Technology has yielded its cream. Stars have regained their older distances: they are unreachable. The earth is peopled by billions. Space is constricted. The world is gotten too small. Dwindling resources, changing weather patterns, aging populations, water shortages, melting glaciers, and, on top of all, Man’s refusal to recognize a God, who is God of all, not a racial God, of a “great nation” for whose security, survival and establishment, the rest of the world should work.

The writing is clear. Give up the ideas of greatness. Don’t be reckless. There is every chance when the debris is cleared, the dust settled, both the great and the humble would be gone. The nations must come to terms with the new situation. They must learn to respect the individual. Allow him to live a life of his choice, in peace and dignity. Ideas of invincibility have evaporated. The glory of the past is a thing of the past. The nights of peace have turned into days of fear. Learn to live as everyone else. There is need now to stand straight and look straight into the eyes of others: as equals. Let not the foolhardy persist. The individual will ruminate over their bones. The individual is indestructible.

You strike at phantoms, at illusions, at symbols of your own creation. Each bomb will increase the survival instinct of the individual. Individuals will be more bitter thereafter and less sensible to human suffering. Take away the death wish from the individual. Give him cause to live. Give him back his dignity, honor and self-respect. Listen to his voice, before he loses hope. He is saying, “Go away from my lands, from my sands.” Is he being unreasonable?

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