By Ekta R. Garg
Instead of choosing a writing prompt from the web, I’ve decided to share some thoughts on recent events. Call it an exercise in creative nonfiction.
Last night, we stayed up late to watch the 2017 Hindi film “Secret Superstar.” We’ve seen it many times before, and it’s become a family favorite. One of the few we’ll most likely watch all the way through instead of taking a break and coming back to finish it another day.
For those who haven’t seen it, it’s about 15-year-old Insia. She’s a Muslim girl growing up in a traditional household—her father believes girls are burdens on the family and heavily favors his son. He also resorts to verbal and physical abuse if something upsets him, and he’s upset a lot.
Insia struggles to follow the rules when her dream of becoming a professional singer spurs her to do otherwise. When she wants to enter a school talent competition that includes a new laptop as the prize for the winner, her mother says no. She knows, her mother warns, what her father would do if he found out Insia wanted to sing and perform in public.
Instead, in secret, her mother sells the few pieces of valuable jewelry she has to buy Insia a laptop. The teen starts her own YouTube channel, wearing a burqa and performing her original music. Fans start following her, begging for her to post new stuff, and for a little while it seems like Insia’s on the way to her dream.
When Insia’s father discovers that his wife sold her jewelry for what he considers a frivolous purchase, he beats her. Then he orders Insia to throw out the laptop, which he means literally. Actress Zaira Wasim as Insia does an incredible job of showing her character’s rage as she grabs the computer and hurls over the balcony of her family’s apartment home. As the laptop shatters against the concrete below, we see the manifestation of the shattering of Insia’s dreams.
After hearing about the latest bout of looting and protests, I feel like I’m seeing the real-life version of Insia’s rage.
She tries to argue with her father first. Throughout the film we see her stand up for her mother. But her father doesn’t listen, just arguing louder and threatening more violence. Insia uses her voice and isn’t afraid to say she’s angry, she’s tired of the oppression, but her father drowns her out. When she destroys her own laptop, it’s a heart-wrenching moment. Why, a person might wonder, would she get rid of the one tangible reality of her dream?
Her rage drives her to destruction. She regrets it afterward, and all it does is create more complications. It drives her further into her despair. But it also forces her to seek new, productive ways to achieve her goals.
I’d like to state clearly that I don’t believe looting stores and destroying public property—those acts in and of themselves—solves anything. But I also would like to state that I understand the rage and anguish driving those acts. People are beyond fed up. They’re beyond reason. As well they would be, given the problems with race we have in this country.
I’m a firm believer in the power of words. I believe they have the fundamental ability to change people, lives, and the world. But I also think there are times, when all the words are spent, when they’ve been used for decades, centuries, and the changes are glacial, that actions speak louder.
That’s what we’re seeing now.
I do not condone violence for violence’s sake, and I’m not so naïve as to believe that everyone involved in the looting is doing it for a noble cause. I also don’t think that breaking store windows and stealing merchandise, those acts themselves, will make race relations better. In some cases, all those acts will do is reinforce stereotypes and the racism that exists.
Protests are an empowering way to effect change. Approaching city leaders, writing petitions, leading conversations that force people to acknowledge the racism in the community and their lives are all positive actions. They can, and have, brought change.
Allowing those protests to devolve into the heat and sweat and fear of breaking windows and grabbing items for sale…all that does is drown out the message. Again, I understand why the message is being drowned out. People are tired of marching in orderly lines. They’re tired of being polite, of ignoring the slights, the digs, the jokes, the handbags clutched a little tighter and the way bodies press a little closer in apprehension.
Sometimes, though, the rage has nowhere else to go; I get that too.
I’m disheartened and angry and feel helpless at the way our world is today. The coronavirus brought about a pandemic that locked us indoors with our anxieties and our questions and our uncertainties. The senseless murder of George Floyd and so many others has unleashed all of those feelings tenfold.
Our country is on fire.
I don’t know when the fire will be doused. I hope the physical fires that are hurting businesses and livelihoods will be doused eventually. Not to make anyone win or lose but because those businesses create jobs. Those jobs create paychecks that elevate our communities. That’s good for everyone, no matter what color your skin is.
I wish there was a way to put out the fires on the buildings and keep the fires alive in people’s hearts. Make them understand that they should take that same rage and break glass ceilings, not the windows of stores. Make them see that they shouldn’t steal merchandise; they should steal people’s racist natures. Make them believe that the voices they raise in screams and shouts in the streets should be raised in the ballot boxes.
That is my sincere wish and hope and prayer for everyone today, this week, and for the rest of this year.