December 20, 2019
This week in India has been identity-obliterating. That’s because, of course, what it means to be Indian is being fundamentally rewritten. But self-erasure is also the spiritual effect of successful protests. They rub away your edges until you, as a selfish you, are blurred, so that you can then belong to something greater. You are jostled, shoulder to shoulder; you cannot hear your voice in the crowd, which somehow makes it easier to chant things, because chanting is vaguely embarrassing. You have to subjugate the private, nuanced vocabulary of who you believe you are to the lexicon of resistance, which is sometimes crude. The chants translate to things like, He who rules like Hitler will die a death like Hitler. My Hindi is not good enough to chant this way; I required a translator later. I don’t know all the words to the national anthem, which peaceful protestors sang tunelessly on the campus of Mumbai University on Monday. I caught strains of other slogans as we inched between Grant Road Station and the August Kranti Maidan on Thursday — nahin chalegi, nahin chalegi, it won’t do; inqilab zindabad, long live the revolution; and always, azadi, azadi, freedom, freedom. But though I was often silent, or at best lip-synching, the voices around me lifted in chorus such that I might have forgotten I wasn’t speaking. It is strange to be a believer alone. It is transcendent to be a believer in a horde.