Saturday, October 17, 2009
Candle and the Windbags
Lighting a candle is suddenly in vogue . Hardly a disaster goes by without us being urged to light one up. An act that is otherwise almost always accompanied by grumbles and curses and "The power situation is getting worse everyday" has become synonymous with showing solidarity with the victims of 26/11 when done in the middle of the road. The melted candle wax economy is booming but other than that ? I understand why candle-lighting, in addition to ribbon-wearing has become the symbolic act of choice. It does give your face a very cool glow (or, in the case of ribbons, gives you a snazzy accessory . Just remember to colour co-ordinate) that looks awesome in photographs . Nothing screams "I support the sufferers of (insert cause here)" like shining a flickering spotlight on your own face.
What I don't get what purpose this serves?. Do candle-flames have superpowers?.Are they are like little flaming supermen who jump off their waxy fortresses of waxy solitude and zoom into action, stopping earthquakes in China, riots in India, brushfires in Australia and humiliating cricketing defeats in South Africa? If I went out and encouraged people to wave burning newspapers around, would cops buy the theory that I was doing it to eliminate hunger? No. They would bounce me off the funny farm and throw me in jail.
Of course a major reason for the resurgence of this trend is Rang De Basanti. It was a movie about how the young generation should speak out and act against corruption, and if that doesn't work, shoot up radio stations. THAT, I'm cool with. But there is a scene in there where approximately half the population of Northern India shows up for a candlelight vigil. That kind of jolted.the 'nations youth', who immediately went out and lit up. Their cigarettes, that is. But they sure talked a lot about how finally there was a movie with a message for the youth, and how everyone except themselves should do something about it. Since radio stations are surprisingly well guarded and it's much easier to get candles than guns at your local grocer's (plus an attack on a radio station would just mean more vigils anyway), candlelight vigils have kind of become de facto response to any major event. Or even non-event. You could light a candle for peace, poverty (elimination of), corruption (decimation of), disease (eradication of) .You get the point. The fact that it is about as effective as a stern letter from the United Nations seems to have slipped our collective minds.
Of course, this has been a been a boom for the media, especially television. Those sure look pretty on screen. Make sure you get the shot of the flames reflecting off the photograph though, otherwise the producer is going to bitch. Plus, it's easy to get sound bites, no one would push you around, and people are generally nice to you. A good break from the OTHER kind of protest marches, where they have to worry about bricks cracking their skulls, or worse, their camera lenses open.
Now, I know there are genuine emotions involved here. At least sometimes. And yes, in case of specific tragedies, or victims, maybe it does help bring some sort of closure to the ones affected. But mostly, its a cop out. Lighting a candle for poverty? World peace? Really? Its the real life equivalent of forwarding an e-mail to ten people about the poor boy suffering from a debilitating bone-marrow-turning-to-chlorophyll disease and for every mail you send WHO is going to donate one cent to save the boys life because clearly a child's life should depend on random strangers and the size of their address books. It's the aethist's version of a confession. It's cheap, easy and no one actually has to do ANYTHING. And no, lighting a match and holding it up near a wick does not constitute as DOING something. The problem's still there, but hey, at least I did my bit. Well I'm saying it's getting old. Change the gimmick. And if it can't be done, at least up the intensity a little. Make it look like you REALLY care. This Diwali, stand up for national unity. Fire up a blowtorch.