Understanding Rebellions

Almost everyone has heard of some or other story of rebellion. And by rebellion, we mean not the teenage angst we have all gone through at some point or the other. Rather, we are talking of men and women like Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Susan B. Anthony and others. People who started with nothing, but yet decided to challenge the supreme powers of the day. People with seemingly no means, and yet exuded the supreme confidence in their success. And people who against the greatest odds, managed to succeed, in fact, managed to put a scare into the greatest powers of the day.

What drives these men and women? How do they think? What are they after?

To gain a glimpse into their minds has been the quest of many – consider for instance, the number of books that are written, the movies that are made on them. But yet, in all that, there always seems to be something missing. An essence lost. The facts and the figures, the events and the people, they are all represented. And yet, one comes away often with the impression that not much was learnt.

In my opinion, that happens for a number of different reasons.

One, is that the circumstances of every rebellion have been different. Therefore what Gandhi encountered is totally different from what Solzhenitsyn encountered, is totally different from what Martin Luther King encountered. And each of these persons reacted in their own way to that injustice that they saw – they each had a different journey.

And therefore, when we watch a movie about them, or read a book about them, even their autobiography – we see a sequence of events unfold sequentially.

But life seldom unfolds sequentially now, does it. Instead, life is a series of choices really. At each moment we are offered a series of choices. And these choices – and the circumstances that generate them – even these – each of us sees this differently.

And therefore, when say Gandhi writes something in his book – there is a huge background to it – not only historical mind you, but the background of the person. His mind, its working, his emotional states – all these things are no doubt a factor in the whole story.

And it is this background that causes the linearity to arise. Things happen in a sequence in say, Gandhi’s life, but that sequence is not randomly determined – that sequence comes into existence because of the views, attitudes and actions of Gandhi.

And yet, rare is the writer that can step away from it all, and observe himself dispassionately. In fact, one might argue that this is not possible at all, for anyone. The emotional state, the experiences will always color what you see, what you feel.

And yet, this very secret ingredient is missing from the book, the film! The linearity in all these is artificial – it is the potentialities [“what might have been”] that matter – and yet, they always remain hidden from view.

To illustrate, let us consider the instance when Gandhi was thrown off a train in South Africa.

[To those who don’t know, the entire sequence of events goes like this. It is the 1900s. The place is South Africa. There is already a system of apartheid in place, between the Blacks and the Whites. There is also a substantial population of Indians in that country. Gandhi has been offered a plush job as a lawyer which is the reason why he is there. He buys a first class train ticket. It turns out, Indians are not allowed to travel first class. Well, Gandhi does board the train, and takes his seat in the First Class Compartment. Pretty soon, he is discovered, and on the next station, he is thrown off the train, with all his belongings.]

Gandhi calls this one of the landmark events in his life; something that convinced him to fight for the rights of the Indians in South Africa.

Several questions arise immediately however.

  • Did Gandhi not know that South Africa had a system of apartheid?
  • Did not anyone caution him when he was buying the train ticket?
  • Did not anyone caution him when he was boarding the train?
  • When he did come to know, why did he not disembark gracefully?
  • When he was thrown out, why did he of all things possible, decide to fight the British Empire, the most powerful Empire on Earth at the time? [Lesser reactions were possible!]

The answer to all this lies hidden in Gandhi’s unique psychology. And I call it unique, not because Gandhi is specially unique, but rather, each of us is specially unique. Therefore in a way, the answers to all these questions shall always remain a mystery.

It shall remain a mystery, because no one on this planet can be anybody else. You cannot be me, I cannot be you. There is limit to which you can understand my choices, my actions. No matter how much you wish or try, there will always be a hair’s breadth of a difference in what I see and what you see. That is just the nature of the Universe.

That is the reason why no biopic, no book, no encyclopedia ever manages to grasp that essence of the man or the woman. Because that essence is a secret, unknown often to the very person.

Therefore, what Gandhi felt that day, or what made Martin Luther King challenge the US government, shall always remain a mystery undecipherable.

But yet, there is nothing to despair in all this.

For after all, the British Empire has long since vanished, women have voting rights in most all countries of the world, and Blacks are not as discriminated anymore as when MLK started.

And therefore,

  • YOU shall not be thrown off a train.
  • YOU shall not be denied voting rights.
  • YOU shall not be asked to give up your seat in a bus.

And since these situations shall not arise again in our lifetimes at least, what is there to gain to read about them?

That is, if one is curious about them, one must first prove oneself worthy. For the only reason to be curious about them, is so that you can emulate these people. So that you can fight the battles of the future. Not waste yours and others time just satisfying some academic curiosity about the past, about these personalities.

Is that the way you wanna go – and indeed – that is the only way to understand these people and these events – by becoming them?

All learning is experiential. You must somehow experience these things. You must become a rebel yourself. Then you will see.

I can make anyone a rebel. It can be taught. Do you wanna learn?

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