We all think we have them, but do we really? For six months, I went around speaking to people between the ages of 15 and 35 and asked them various questions about opining in India. You’re now probably thinking “Why on Earth would you want to do that?”, and it’s a valid question.
Here’s why :
I’m a painter, an artist if you prefer the term, and I’m working on a new body of work which deals with the confusion the current Indian youth is drowning in, in terms of opinions about anything and everything. Some of you might find this exercise a waste of time, juvenile or perhaps even completely pointless, but I persist with it because it’s something that has bothered me for quite some time now.
The following dialogues are extracts from some of the many conversations I’ve had. As requested by those I spoke to in some cases, I shan’t be mentioning their names, instead referring to them by their initials and ages.
Me : Do you think your opinion or view is taken into consideration during family discussions of any sort? If not, why do you think this is so?
Shivkar, 15 : No, it’s not really considered. Especially if it’s a discussion about something to do with the house or family. If it’s a question of what to eat for dinner, yes, but things like where we should go for a family vacation, or something like that, then no. I think my opinion isn’t considered because I’m the youngest member of the family, and like I’m told most of the time to ‘respect the wishes of my elders’, I do.
Me : Doesn’t it bother you that your opinion doesn’t matter in this case, and do these situations appear in other social environments?
Shivkar : It bothers me a lot, because though my parents are very rational, well educated people, they still follow traditions which I think haven’t been questioned in decades, at least in my family, if not the community. I think it’s only because they are adults with children and working lives do they get a say in the working of the family, but even then it’s the grandparents who have the final word on anything. I see something similar in school also, where we are made to write what we’ve rote-learned despite the question in the exam stating ‘In your own words, explain…’
I have some friends who are of the same opinion, but I only know this because we can only share these thoughts with each other. When we raise the topic with our parents or relatives, or teachers even, the only answer we get is “You’re too young to know anything about this yet.”
Me : Are you a very religious person, and do you believe in God?
Anika, 17 : Yes, I’m an extremely religious person and I do believe in Gods.
Me : Have you ever questioned the concepts of organized religion, God, and have you questioned the reason behind your being religious? Is it because your parents have brought you up in a very religion-based environment where it is the highest priority, or because you choose to be religious after considering the validity of these beliefs from the consultations of spiritual texts and your elders?
Anika : No, I haven’t really questioned any of it. I never had reason to. It’s not like I disrespect any other religions or peoples’ ideas, but I’m happy living within my own religion’s guidelines. Religion is an important binding factor in my family, and questioning its need has never come to my mind. In fact it’s a scary thought to even bring up the topic in front of my family. As long as my actions and beliefs don’t hurt someone else, I think it’s okay if I don’t bother having an opinion on the matter that differs from my family’s.
Me : If you were given the freedom to take a fresh look at all these things without any kind of backlash from your family, or society even, would you?
Anika : I don’t think so. Isn’t questioning something you’ve seen generations of your family grow and live with happily for so long dangerous and simply troublemaking?
Me : Let’s come to politics. Within the following social environments with regard to the political scene of India, are you allowed to have an opinion different from the others in the group, and if not, are you alright with this situation?
c. the office/colleagues
AK, 24 : I don’t know what to make of Indian politics at all. At this point it’s just scandal after scam after screaming and shouting on news channels. When it comes to having an opinion, it really doesn’t matter in any of the social groups you mentioned, because I don’t have one. I don’t know what I’m supposed to think or say or do when it comes to politics, or religion, or even food. And really, what’s the point? The moment you say one thing, ten people descend on you like vultures and rip you to shreds, whether you’re right or wrong, because you can’t have the last word on anything.
Me : That’s not always true, I’ve found. Would you find it easier to have an opinion or view on something if you aired a disclaimer like ‘I leave it to you to accept my view or not’ before you aired that opinion in a particular situation?
AK : Pointless, I think. Just a few more words that will be ignored and I’ll end up going through either the same shit or a very awkward silence once I’m done talking.
These three short excerpts are highly indicative of the trend a majority of the conversations followed. I’m not sure how clear it is at this point to you how confused and more importantly, scared, most of the people I spoke to are about having an opinion. One poor girl asked me to stop the interview because she felt embarrassed that she didn’t have an opinion on most of the things I put up for discussion with her.
“I’m too afraid to have an opinion, because what if it’s wrong and I end up the butt of jokes for years to come?”
With all of the information I gathered, I created a vocabulary of colour, line and form, and created compositions for paintings that are split into two major styles of painting : abstract and figurative. While the series might seem disjointed and as though two of them have been squeezed together into one, the whole body of work is in fact just one singular series that encapsulates the valid fear of trying to say something different and being pulled out of the crowd and made to stand alone in full view.
I hope the point comes across more clearly once you see some of the new paintings that will be put up in a blogpost in the near future.
I leave you with this : opine, without fear of being ridiculed and sidelined, because the world will remember you for what you say and do, not by only one or the other. You cannot do either without knowing where you stand.