For the love of politics
Sometimes, I miss the days when politics was a far-off concept – something you read about and occasionally shook your head over because you were so sure it wasn’t really affecting your life. You made friends because you both loved Harry Potter and neon-coloured nail polish. You fell for people because you both liked the same music and hated sprouts. Politics was for elderly uncles who sat in their armchairs watching nothing but the news on TV, or went to clubs and shouted at each other when their views clashed.
Touching adulthood at the turn of the millennium, and working in a newsroom for the better part of the last decade, gave me a somewhat wider view. More significantly, as India went through a major power shift in terms of political parties, social media exploded. It was all talk-yell-argue-hate to me at first before I realised that many issues were pertinent to me. ‘It takes privilege to be apolitical,’ someone told me, and that’s how my first political conversation started.
Arguing with strangers you don’t know beyond a profile photo comes easy to some people. You get to tap into amazing reserves of rage and righteousness without real fear of how it might affect them. But, how do you manage political AND polite conversations with people you’ve known most of your life, and for whom love is your first response?
Let’s be honest… the best of friends, the most loyal of partners may not necessarily share your views on birth control, eating beef, the rights of the military, etc. Imagine having to choose between someone you adore and your staunch belief that everyone in Pakistan isn’t out to kill us. “How do you manage to stay friends with her?” I asked R, a close colleague whose childhood friend regularly puts up posts on how Indian history must not be distorted for mass viewing. “She’s a lovely person,” R replied. “And, she used to be different, which I miss. But, I don’t want to simply cut her off because she’s more conservative than I am. I ignore some of the things she thinks and focus on the good stuff.”
The older I got and the more I discussed and read, I came to see how very personal politics was. Everything, from what we ate to what we wear (especially as women) to whether we had kids or not – it was both heartfelt belief as well as a wider political thought. In other words, you lived your politics, whether you liked it or not.
But, did it mean that we couldn’t form any personal relationships with people whose politics did not cleave to our own? Or, was there a middle path? After all, there could be someone who I talk to for hours about favourite books and cupcake bakeries, but who also believed electing the BJP to power was the best thing that happened to India.
As a partner, it’s always been exceedingly important to me that someone I’m dating stands against oppression of any sort and actively believes in gender equality. I also want him to be nice to everybody, regardless of their status. Going deeper, however, there have been rifts with men I love over issues such as organised violence and how there are countries without armies that function perfectly well. We haven’t agreed, and I’ve often felt that twitch in my gut, as though I cannot believe I am with someone like this. The good thing is… most of them have been willing to talk instead of yelling or clamming up in stubbornness. A lot of them, I’ve left, and felt better about myself.
In a recent article in The New York Times on feminism in America in the time of Donald Trump, journalist Jill Filipovic writes, ‘Women make up half the country, and since we aren’t going back in time, the same men who have long been hostile to feminism should consider coming along with us. I suspect for a lot of men, a more equal America — one with fewer cultural rules about how a man should be, and more avenues to identity and respect — would be a pretty great America to live in.’
Among a great many other things, I found her anti-hostility stand and dedication to inclusiveness particularly appealing. Navigating political talk is very often a minefield. And, as far as I see, there are always more questions to put up and more points to make. But we do have the choice of doing so with a degree of, dare I say, affection… and an open mind. As long as no one is choking me with their views and refusing to listen to anything else, I can take a difference of opinion. Asocial as I am, I imagine a life with only my opinions would be rather limiting. You can pretend to separate love and politics, life and politics, or you can accept them as a single entity from which you learn and which does, in fact, have everything to do with you and how you live each day.
Illustrations: Rohan Shetty Gowda (@brohan_) is an animator, storyboard and visual artist who lives in Toronto.
Words: Tia is a writer/editor who lives surrounded by piles of books. Her work has appeared in Arre, The Ladies Finger and Open Road Review.