The city swarmed with angry shouts. The night before, the shopkeepers noted a steep increase in the demand for candles. This morning, the florists ran out of white roses before 9 a.m. and tulips before 10. A scuffle broke out in the metro when many well-meaning people with many well-meaning angry placards attempted to disembark at the same stop. Businesses were closed for the day, all major highways barricaded. News channels played the National Tragedy on repeat, interspersed with a montage of passionate protesting people and lower-thirds advertisements for iPhones and Ayurvedic medicine and fairness creams. In front of the city’s oldest monument, tents were set up and wooden stages hastily put together. On these, local leaders and other opportunists sat holding discussions. No microphones were handed to the gathered crowds. Meanwhile, those camped out in front of the monument since before the National Tragedy were pushed to the side once their agenda was determined to be unrelated. A little after twelve, the government issued a press release with empty condolences and vague promises. The men on top of the dais repeated this message and emphasized their fealty. To whom, or what cause, remained unclear. A passing mention was made to campaign donations. Someone from the crowd threw footwear at that. They were quickly removed from the premises. The discussions were suspended for lunch. College students who had skipped lectures for The Cause looked up the closest Starbucks and drank glasses of iced, well-deserved coffee. Their passions, exacerbated as they had been by the summer Sun, cooled and settled comfortably in the pits of their stomachs. There was a brief comment on a nearby, recently-opened uber-cool hangout and its convenient proximity. They would be missing their classes anyway. Post lunch, an announcement was made at the dais notifying the people about the politicians’ sudden necessity elsewhere. No one paid much attention; the crowd had thinned considerably.
By sunset, the monument was almost deserted. The people pushed to the side earlier in the day shrugged and redisplayed their protest signs and demands. News vans were called back once they had enough footage. That night many people slept well for the first time in years relishing a job well done. The next day newspapers broke stories of hope and loss and a future worth looking forward to. A number of them would wind up half-read, discarded on morning commutes, wrapped around pakoras and popcorns and a variety of street food.
The victims of the National Tragedy would not be allowed to grieve for a while. They would be hounded for photo-ops and interviews and assailed with accusations and skepticism regarding their own victimhood. But the news cycle would run over, as it always does. And once that would happen, they would pick up the pieces of a broken home and rebuild. A dismally small fraction of the screaming, angry horde of their supposed allies would reach out and offer help and unconditional assistance and shoulders to cry on. As the world would carry on, patting itself on the back for its bravery and self-righteousness and unity in the face of injustice, these people with no money and no power, with only their scars would carry on fighting. They will join the others camped out in front of the monument, this time away from the limelight.
A year from now, or possibly two if we’re lucky, a National Tragedy will strike again. People will rise. Committees will be set up. Reforms will be promised. There will be elaborate segments on the Last Similar National Tragedy and its victims would find themselves in the spotlight once again. And then, the sun will set and an amnesia will grow around our tired feet and full stomachs and aching hands until it twists and claws its way to our burdened minds and once again, put us to sleep.
Inspiration and Such:
The title is taken from W.H. Auden’s ‘September 1st, 1939’. The line in the original poem –which Auden not only disowned but called ‘trash’– was, ‘We must love one another or die.’ I don’t care much for the poem itself, but this makes for an excellent writing prompt and no one can convince me otherwise.
Yes, this is about outrage and protests and the culture we’ve built around injustice and pain. I have a lot of conflicting thoughts on this because as beautiful as it is to see people come together in times of crises, it is disheartening to witness these protests lose their momentum before any serious reform can be made. And I know there are people who work tirelessly to ensure this doesn’t happen and who work insanely hard even when it does, and my heart goes out to them. We need more of you guys. We need more people who hold the powers-that-be (governments, administrators, even low-level law enforcers) accountable. Snap protests are great. But we need to be a thorn in the side of our representatives to get meaningful work done.
Until next week.
If this is your first time here, this story is a part of The Ray Bradbury Project. Basically, I’m attempting to write one short story per week for a year. You can read the ones I wrote earlier by checking out the tags on the right!