Every legendary epic needs heroes and villains. It needs drama, traitors, collusion, collaboration, dark horses, bravery in the face of great adversity, valiant people with grand dreams, tragedy, glory, misery, delight and everything else that comes along with it to make a great story.
Every villain needs a great hero in order to alleviate his own stature. The converse is also true. Every hero needs a fearsome villain in order to prove himself worthy of honour. However, in a world that has remarkably few opportunities for people to attain glory, people must invent their own villains so that they can then overcome them in order to prove to others how great they are.
It is perhaps this innate desire in humans to become heroes that is responsible for the emergence of the SJW cult. And looking at some of the things Ravish Kumar has been saying, one gets the distinct impression that it is the same desire that is driving his brand of journalism. Ravish Kumar’s speech on winning the Ramon Magsaysay award is symbolic of the fact.
Listening to the speech gives one the distinct impression that he is living in a dystopian world where the upside is down, the left is right and contrary to what we have learned in all these years, the Earth is indeed flat. The government has been lying to us, fools. Ravish Kumar is indeed a poet with considerable talent, however, poets are often not in touch with reality. Journalism demands that a journalist keeps his feet planted firmly on the ground while poets can only prosper when they give wings to their spirits.
It appears as though Ravish Kumar continues to practice ‘journalism’ but he has allowed his spirit to take to the skies. And what we have as a result is a poet painting a terrible portrait of the world on the canvas with the considerable amount of creative talent at his disposal. Needless to say, the resultant ‘khichdi’ makes one a terrible journalist while his creative talents go unappreciated.
Ravish Kumar said in his speech, “We are living in testing times, as journalists and as common citizens. Our citizenship itself is on trial right now and make no mistake about it, we need to fight back. We need to rethink our duties and responsibilities as citizens.” It appears Ravish Kumar is referring to the NRC exercise. Ravish Kumar conveniently ignores the very real threat from illegal immigration to wax eloquence on an issue that demands a rational evaluation of facts.
The NRC, quite clearly, was riddled with various flaws that requires immediate fixes but Ravish Kumar paints a slanted view of the whole matter that’s tailormade to suit his own purpose. The slanted view was essential to augment his own stature amon his peers, it’s only by convincing others that he was fighting a mythical monster that he could portray himself as a hero.
Ravish Kumar goes on to add, “I believe that in today’s times when the attack on our citizenship is all-encompassing and the state’s surveillance apparatus is more overbearing than ever, the individuals or groups who are able to withstand this onslaught and emerge stronger from it, will be the ones who lay the foundation for a better citizenry and for that matter, maybe even better governments in the future.”
An authentic journalist would have recognized that the threat posed by surveillance is very real but also appreciate the fact that it isn’t coming from governments. It’s the tech companies which are undermining the privacy of their consumers. Tech giants like Facebook, Google, Twitter have managed to establish an environment where they spy on individuals without their consent. However, the poet that he is, Ravish Kumar thinks the Indian government is the problem here.
Ravish Kumar knows he can’t fight the tech giants. Therefore, he chooses an enemy that he actually has a chance of defeating. That’s the other essential part of epics. If the heroes and villains are so mismatched that one stands no chance against the other, then it doesn’t make the stuff exciting. One side turns out to be mere cannon fodder and as we all know, cannon fodder doesn’t make for a great story. A cannon fodder cannot be a hero. Our Ravish Kumar, here, does imagine himself to be a hero in his own story. Therefore, it was essential that he chose the government as his enemy and not the tech giants.
Evidence of his poetic inclinations was evident throughout the speech. At one point, he said, “Our world is filled with such determined citizens already who in spite of pervasive hatred and a manufactured information deficit, have chosen to fight back and bloom like the cactus flower does in the midst of a barren hopeless desert. Standing alone and surrounded by the ever stretching desert on all sides, the cactus doesn’t think about the meaning of its existence: it stands there to let you know that it’s possible.”
He goes on to add, “Wherever the fertile plains of democracy are being subverted into deserts, the exercise of citizenship and the fight for the claim over – and right to – information have become perilous, but not impossible.” At another point, he says, “Disagreement is the aatma [spirit, soul, or essence] of democracy and citizenship. The democratic aatma is under relentless attack every day.”
This is poetry in its purest form, it isn’t journalism. Because journalism doesn’t rely on flowery words and imagery to convey information, it relies primarily on the authenticity of its facts. Poetry, on the other hand, doesn’t have to constrain itself with the talons of reality. And Ravish Kumar, quite clearly, has taken the liberty to indulge in gross exaggeration, complete misrepresentation and twisting reality to suit his own purpose.
Ravish Kumar also condemns sections of the media for what he believes is unethical journalism. He says, “When mainstream journalism can neither support its own rights nor the sheer idea of journalism, citizen journalists and citizen journalism both are under a constant (existential) threat. The threat here is not merely on the practical implications of reportage, viewership or financial sustenance, but also on the atmosphere which should not enable the growth and nurture of such hypocrisy and bankruptcy. Such media – and may I go so far as to claim that its audiences too – cannot stand by pure information and hard facts, be it anywhere in the world. It has moved so far away from its foundational ideals and principles that it was imagined on, that it will, and it already does, fail to see the irony and tragedy in the cases that I have just listed.”
Earlier in the same speech, he had said of the media, “News channel debates take place within a vocabulary of exclusionary nationalism wherein they seek to replace the collective history and memory of the nation with that of the ruling party’s in their viewers’ minds. There are only two types of people in this news universe narrative: the anti-nationals and us. It’s the classic “us” and “them” technique. They tell us that the problem with Anti-nationals is that they ask questions, disagree, and dissent.”
On another occasion, he states, “India’s mainstream media is working night and day to convert our citizens into “post-illiterates”. It has given up on trying to convert superstitious beings into rational thinking beings. Its syllabus is comprised of unthinking nationalism and communalism. The mainstream media has begun to consider the state’s narrative as pure information. There are numerous channels on television but the manner and content of news on all these channels is the same. ‘Opposition’ is a derogatory word for this media.”
Such tirades against the media can be found throughout the article. Every media platform is corrupt and biased and agenda-driven, every single one of them; apart from the one where Ravish Kumar works, of course, and the ones he personally endorses. He is a hero, you see, up against insurmountable odds. But he, along with his rag tag band of comrades, is carrying on the good fight, in defiance of the mythical monster that seeks to destroy humanity itself. At least, that is what we are asked to believe here.
This, too, is extremely essential toward building an aura of integrity around himself. How could a preacher establish his own moral superiority without condemning others for their moral bankruptcy? How could a hero become a hero unless he is distinguished from those around him by virtue of his moral superiority? It is extremely natural for heroes to call out his peers for failing to adhere to standards that are expected of them. And that is exactly what Ravish Kumar is doing here, alleviating his own stature.
Then, like a true hero, Ravish Kumar tries to inspire people to victory. He says, “When the media turns against the citizen, then it’s time for the citizens to take on the role of the media. She has to do so knowing that the chances of success are slim in these times of state brutality and surveillance.”
On a particular occasion, he says, “When the state and media unite to control citizens, is it possible for a citizen to be able to act as a journalist? To be a citizen and exercise the associated rights, it requires a system that has to be provided for by the same democracy that the citizen belongs to. If the judiciary, police, and media become hostile towards the citizen, and the part of society that is aligned with [is/indistinguishable from] the state begins excluding them, how much can we expect a defenceless citizen to fight? Yet, the citizen is fighting back. The cactus is coming alive.”
It is another instance where the brilliance of his literary skills comes alive in exquisite fashion. His commendable literary skills also become evident when he says, “While evening in India may arrive with the setting of the sun, it is the reportage from news media that spreads the darkness of night.”
Towards the end, he appreciates his fellow travelers on the bandwagon. “Even in these times of despair there are numerous people who are trying to fill this gap. From comedians to YouTube channels, they have tried to keep the essence of journalism alive: an exercise of citizenship in the service of citizens. It is their strength and determination which has not let everything become one-sided in India’s democracy. Even if they may have not won the battle (yet), the people continue to fight,” he said.
It was Ravish Kumar’s speech on receiving the Ramon Magsaysay award that the actual tragedy of his story became evident. I have no doubt that he resolutely believes in the apocalytpic picture of the world he has painted. But creative people have fertile imaginations and should they become hostage to the figments of their own creativity, consequences can be devastating.
It is more apparent than ever now that Ravish Kumar has fallen prey to the musings of his own mind. Perhaps journalism wasn’t his ambition, perhaps he always really fancied himself as a poet. Even when he took up journalism as a profession, he could never really abandon his heart’s call. Poetry is where his heart was and home is where the heart is. We carry our homes within us wherever we go, it never really leaves us, and so Ravish Kumar carried poetry into his journalism.
The end result of it all is that Ravish Kumar constructs a fictional narrative about the country and the world at large without ever realizing that the portrait he has painted is entirely the creation of his own mind. It exists only in his head and has no semblance to reality at all. However, Ravish Kumar has been so consumed by his passion for poetry and his compulsion to work as a journalist that the only way out that he could figure out for himself was transforming his work into a work of art. Unfortunately for him, the profession he was in demanded loyalty to truth and not creativity. Facts take precedence over imagination in journalism.
We are not living in a dystopian world, the world is not coming crashing down tomorrow because Narendra Modi was elected Prime Minister or Amit Shah was appointed the Union Home Minister. There is genuine hope among people that India may finally be on the verge of being a dominant player in world politics. The economy may be suffering a slowdown but people are still upbeat and optimistic about the future of the country. There is genuine trust in the government which is always a great thing in a vibrant democracy such as ours. The world is not on the verge of a Zombie Apocalypse either.
At 44 years of age, Ravish Kumar perhaps believes it’s too late for him to start anew as a poet. However, it’s never too late for a fresh beginning. He has a genuine talent with words and unconstrained by journalism, he could really let his creativity soar. As of now, the possibility of that happening is extremely low. Perhaps, Ravish Kumar intended himself to be a tragic hero in his own story. However, in the real world, the mythical narratives that he invents manifest themselves into action that would cause the ordinary observer to consider him a villain. Thus, even worse than a tragic hero, he is a tragic villain even in his own story. And that is, perhaps, the tragedy of Ravish Kumar.