By Rashmi Bhushan for Twocircles.net
I looked at the weather and murmured, “There are ominous dark clouds gathering overhead”. A voice from behind asked– “Are you talking about this uneasy weather or about democracy”? When I looked back I saw an old man who resembled a satyr more than a man.
He had wide-set, bulging eyes that darted sideways and enabled him, like a crab, to see not only what was straight ahead but what was beside him as well. He started coming towards me, I noticed he was barefoot but his gait was very intimidating then my eyes went on to his flat, upturned nose with flaring nostrils and large fleshy lips which reminded me of a donkey. What was most attractive about that non- attractive man was his long hair and the arrogance he was carrying on his face along with a stick in his hand. He came closer to me and asked me “how old are you?” I replied, “Who are you?” then he repeatedly asked me “how old are you” to which I answered, rather irritatingly: 21. He said “WHAT”, to which I replied, “I am 21 years old.” A contented smile appeared on his face, and he said: “You are quite young.” Then as a young curious mind, I started my interrogation, I bombarded him with so many questions like, Who are you? Where have you come from? and How come you listened to my murmuring even from such a distance and why did you say democracy, etc. His name was enough to close the Pandora box of my curiosity. He is Socrates, the greatest of the great philosophers.
He brought philosophy down from skies. We decided to walk. We started our journey from one of the posh areas of Delhi, Connaught Place. When I along with Socrates, walking through those white pillars where “beautiful” ladies and “handsome’ men were lost in their own world of narcissism, whirr and click sound was coming as if some lone wolf has come up with a machine gun. Socrates got astonished by looking at the blatant narcissism. As soon as the creatures of the narcissistic world had a look at Socrates they also got astonished and contempt was rolling down from their eyes. To avoid such a disdain we decided to move on. Socrates seemed hungry, so I decided to take him to some restaurant but unfortunately, we could not get entry, I suppose the reason was Socrates.
While walking, we came across a large screen television, a larger panel was debating something, and Socrates got fascinated and took a pause at that place. His pause continued for a long time and then I interrupted and asked what happened? , why are you looking so nostalgic? He said this television debate reminded me of my court trial. In a charmingly naïve way, he started asking me –Is this pervasive or only a few media house does so? I was left with no answer, so to avoid the embarrassment I asked a counter question, that is, how you relate this to the Athenian courtroom where you had been trailed? He started his explanation by comparing journalists with Anytus and Meletus, they were great admirers of democracy but they were the ones who brought me to the court for expressing my mind. Journalism is supposed to be critical of the world but after watching that debate Socrates said it seems journalism has become an instrument to crucify those who dare to criticise views to which media house pays great homage. The “anti-democratic” actions of media and Anytus and Meletus made them interrelated. Like the Athenian courtroom, the newsroom is also filled with lies. An apology is a symbol of violation of free expression, so is today’s journalism/public discourse. After reading Apology it is vivid that the contempt and apprehension Socrates is showing after watching that news debate (read it noise debate) is no exaggeration and comparison between media and a court trial is apt. In religious court in the Athenian agora, Socrates articulated one of the great pities of human society, he says “It is not my crimes that will convict me but instead, rumours and gossips; the fact that by whispering together you will persuade yourselves that I am guilty”. This is what today’s journalism is all about. They create their narrative and spread that narrative vehemently and sometimes they “prosecute” also. After watching all the recent debates, whether it is a debate of Jawaharlal Nehru University students labelling them as anti-national or/and terrorists or any such debate, Socrates said nothing but quoted another Greek philosopher, Hesoid, “Keep away from the gossip of people. For rumour is an evil thing; by nature, she’s a light weight to lift up, yes, but heavy to carry and hard to put down again. Rumour never disappears entirely once people have indulged her”
While walking on the streets of Delhi, we come across an ATM line Socrates surprisingly asked me “what is going on here?” I sarcastically answered him it is an MRI test for patriotism. In a charmingly naïve way, he asked me –“Can’t we stand there?” Meanwhile, an old man fell down from the queue, Socrates and I tried to help that old man. Socrates started saying what kind of patriotic test is it, where people are dying unwillingly? Love for the country doesn’t mean this. A group of people came up towards Socrates and heckled him with their “soldier argument” but poor people they did not know that they are heckling someone who preferred hemlock over exile.
After the tussle, we chose to move on to another destination but this time not by foot but by the Metro. Looking at so many young people Socrates was mesmerised, he tried to talk to a few of them but some of them were busy in playing Pokémon, some were busy with their headphones. Amidst, an old lady came in and many young ladies and lads offered her seat I felt so nice in fact Socrates also had a smile while watching this but the life of our happiness was shorter than a minute when another old woman came in and no one offered her as seat, the reason was that she was an old lady labourer who was not as elite as the former old lady. After getting down at our destined station Socrates shows a great disdain for that act. He said it appeared that I am in an Athenian democracy where everyone has right to speak, as in this case, everyone has right to board the metro, but the greater rights go to the elites.
Finally, we reached to mela of megalomania, that is, UP during elections. Fortunately or unfortunately, we reached there on the day when there was a huge rally. We decided to attend that rally and we stuck to our decision. After that rally, Socrates told me “the Sophists exist now also”. Yes, you got it right, Socrates was talking about our politicians who speak only rhetoric, and truth which does not exist, that is post- truth. Socrates was not familiar with the word post- truth but he knew the meaning since his time. After watching and listening to politicians Socrates looked grim. I knew the reason but still, I asked him the reason. With a great sense of anger and sadness, he replied – This is what makes democracy one of my bête noirs. Even after being a great believer in democracy (brutally honest, a eulogizer) I could not defend it as it has stooped to a level where DEMOCRACY has been replaced by DE –MOCKERY- CY.
From CP to UP, whatever Socrates encountered has augmented the disdain he was showing for democracy. He was aggrieved by the fact that even after so many centuries the discriminating nature of democracy, and the neo- sophists exist and what not exist is a youth who is curious. Suddenly we heard someone screaming, both of us walked towards that voice. What we got to see was deplorable, a few young couples were thrashed by some puritanical squad (read it anti- Romeo squad). A few of couples were let go after a great deal of humiliation but two men were still beaten up. Again, Socrates got perplexed. At his typical, he asked me about the nitty-gritty of the incident. I explained to him that these couples are victims of moral policing. They are punished for falling in love. He asked –“ why these two men are still being thrashed?” I answered in a very low voice – homosexuality is an offence in India not only “culturally” but by laws as well. My answer made Socrates numb with shock, he asked me with a heavy voice “Shall we leave?”
We should be happy that Socrates decided to leave. Had he not left such, once again he would have been forced to drink hemlock. And this time, not any court but news channels would have done his trail and it is most likely that his death would have been telecasted live on television and some people must have taken sadistic pleasure. The journey with Socrates filled my mind with a zillion questions but what I kept, in fact, keep, asking myself is- What kind of world are we living in where people like Socrates (who preferred hemlock over exile in Athens) prefers to leave?
The author is an MA student at Centre for Political Studies at JNU.