When I was in school, I remember waiting daily for the cartoon strips of R K Laxman in the Times of India. The character showed a little man with no influence in the society, perhaps not far from his home or neighbourhood. Certainly, the man was no leader. He did not seem to possess any wealth except what was needed to make ends meet. But then, the man had an honest perspective of what was happening around him. The man scanned the swaths of news and information around him, both good and bad, and offered his perspective in an inimitable style. He had the power of analysing information and of reacting with empathy. There was a sign of sheer courage in him. The instinct of outlining his viewpoints and expressing his concerns was quite apparent. In fact, all these broadly defined what a common man stood for. Referring to just man, and no woman included, was no bias – just how the cartoons visually sketched the personality. It applied to all genders, people from all walks of life – to define the character of a common individual struggling to prove himself or herself to be a good citizen.
I do not see R K Laxman’s man in the streets any longer. I do not see him in offices or at homes or even on online social media. The breed seems to be extinct now; is replaced by an arrogant, violence-seeking and ignorant man full of hatred for every other human. He has at least one complaint against every other person on this globe in different contexts – religious, economic, caste, colours and ideological. Find another context for a division and this man will have a way to vent out anger against people across the fault line.
Today, we no longer keep ourselves abreast of what is happening around us. This is true in spite of the availability of information at our fingertips; we simply do not ask the right question. Rather, we romance with fictional realities with botched up insights about our society, polity, economy, art and scientific enquiries. Did I miss out an aspect? Include that too.
While some blame fake news and biased algorithms for all these, they too fall prey eventually to another counter-factual reality or perspective. Both realities may be different, but there is one thing common between those – both are far away from the facts.
We, common people today, are revisionists. We prefer to see a new past and are oblivious to the present. Unsurprisingly, we offer immense possibilities for the powerful to draw up our future where we no longer are active players. We are no longer ‘citizens’. We play the part of a herd of sheep taking guidance for our self-destruction. It is unfortunate if the R K Laxman’s common man within us has fallen dead. Will he revive?