Do as I tell you and keep away from the gossip of people. For Pheme (Rumour) is an evil thing, by nature, she's a light weight to lift up, oh very easy, but heavy to carry, and hard to put down again.
-Hesiod, Works and Days 760
--a swift-footed creature, a winged angel of ruin, a terrible grotesque monster, each feather upon whose body--incredible though it sounds--has a sleepless eye beneath it, and for every eye she has also a tongue, a voice, and a pricked ear.
Virgil, Aeneid 4.
Rumors. We’ve all started one, at one point or another. With a secret thrill, slight foreboding at consequence, a twang of guilt (consoling ourselves perhaps, that the target had it coming?), out of boredom. A light footed sprite, flitting mischievously, carelessly, between your lips and mine.
Born in bedrooms, at the corner store, in weekly meetings, on the evening news, over the internet. From the wagging, idle, wicked tongues of women, to cunning political conspirators, to anxious mothers inciting fear in wayward children, to desperate mobs, the rumor occupies an intimate position in our social lives. We whisper it furtively and then hide, collectively.
A feather bodied creature full of sifting judgments, doubts, unanswered questions, fantasies, perversions and moralities.
Far from trivial, the rumor is packed with potentialities, attaching itself to a person or group like a leech. And sometimes, with the passing of time, contradictions dissolve, with the emergence of an essence.
Like an echo, the rumor travels across geographies, histories and generations. Though often disparaged and dismissed, our dealings as social beings are governed far more by whispers, doubts, secrets than rigid statistics and steadfast opinions. Brewed from incomplete information, suspicions, carelessness, fear, vengeance, idleness, the rumor is a Chinese whisper, mutating with each teller.
A plausible rumor, remarked Kobe Abe, seems a lot more believable than the truth itself.
In early 2015, an article appeared about a curious vaccination, the ‘anti rumor’. Created to fight the ‘malaise’ of the rumor, the anti rumor was designed to erase a person’s belief in the original rumor, and prevent the person from believing it in the future. The vaccine was born from increasing alarm over the harmful effects of rumors..
The rumor often clings, persistently, an odor that is difficult to get rid off.
A silent whiff, a shadowy presence, lurking, ready to show itself when the occasion demands it.
Like on 27th march 2017, when three young Nigerian students were beaten within an inch of their lives by a mob. Rumors floating across Greater Noida, are convincing in their representation of the cannibalistic African, fueled by drugs with a unique penchant for licentious sexual behavior. Toxic rumors borne from the heart of darkness.
Or when, late at night on 28th September 2015, when a rumor about a ‘stolen calf’ being consumed led to the beating and lynching of a man by a mob armed with sticks and bricks. Some people had observed the victim surreptitiously disposing of a ‘sack’ of meat bones, whilst others had ‘smelt’ the betrayal. The media coverage for a week after the event chose to focus on the identity, not of the murderers or victims, but of the meat. Was the cause of trouble a goat or a cow?
And recently, when seven men were lynched on suspicion of being ‘child-lifters’. This time, the rumor was born through a series of WhatsApp messages. The rumors were successful not just in instigating murder, but in setting the stage for the playing out of resentments- tribal vs non tribal, state vs tribal, Hindu vs Muslim.
And the list goes on.
The rumor can be speculative.
It crystallizes, depending on interpretation and context.
Rumors are produced by, and reinforce distinction.
The rumor is fertile, begetting from its body, many other rumors, that find their own feeding routes. Parasitic, the rumor requires nourishment.
The tenacity of the rumor depends on how much we feed it.
Rumors offer an easy way to other-ise, a simultaneous possibility of violence and reconciliation.
A socially sanctioned circuit of resentment, propaganda, faith and doubt.
This circuit runs from inner private domains out onto streets, into newsrooms, and legislations.
The rumor seeks the exceptional.
Branding us as targets, because of the clothes we wear, the length of our beards, the food we eat and the language we unfortunately know to speak.
Rumors confirm purity and pollution, confer respect and taint.
Rumors fuel aspiration, desires and incomprehensible terrors.
Rumors act as suffix.
as punctuation, as verification in a world where reality truly is stranger than fiction.
By Angarika Guha
Grandma and I diligently stepped away from sturdy thickets and straight, menacing lines of somber green as we made our way to where the great beast was expected to arrive. Down the stream of dust, I carried, and dragged across, a bag I was assigned with austere instructions to protect through the course of the insane journey we were to embark on.
“Do not let the coconuts roll off. They are little ones, and you can take care of them, can you not?”
A curt nod of his head signaling affirmation, and his teeth biting onto his lower lip with determination, were implications enough of strength for his grandmother.
The two had begun their journey at noon, and now, it was almost dusk. A few more steps, and they would arrive at the secret station.
“Do not fear the great beast, Ubi. The ground will tremble with its arrival, but do not frolic your feet about. The air will scream with alarm, but do not rip your ears off. People will plead from deep within the alcoves of its belly, but pay them no visual heed.”
They stumbled onto a clearing and his grandmother stood still. Ubi clawed tightly into her cotton sari and waited.
There it was, far in the distance, two luminous eye-globes anxiously taking in the darkness of the forest, charging forwards with terrifying purpose, carrying with it an urgency for life that even death would fail to garner. Trees arched in reverence and shed exotic leaves as offerings. Dust caved in upon itself to pave the most intricate path for the slithering beast. Animals hid their families and watched on with tranquil vapidity.
With its raging prowess, it came pulsing forth to the clearing where Grandma and Ubi stood trembling, bowing their heads as to not lose their minds to the mesmerizing energy of the beast. It slithered up sturdy oaks, leaving indelible marks of such violence in its wake that Ubi wondered, for the smallest fraction of a second, if he saw the barks cower in fright.
Shoots of the tallest trees were raked into an eloquent spectacle of wavering fractals as the beast wound its metal frames about creaking wood, eventually, from up above, opening its mouth, a rudimentary snare for beings of soft flesh, to let the two reluctant passengers in.
A ladder, hollering of its rambles of mighty battles lost to the empires of rust, extended itself out for the passengers to clamber on.
“Mind the gap!” shouted Grandma to Ubi as she jumped and pulled herself, rung by ludicrous rung, up to the gaping hole above. Ubi followed immediately, blowing away scents of the earth wafting about the feet of his grandmother.
The metal door slammed shut, Ubi remembered, with a heaviness much alike the one held by the door to his little locker at home. He wound himself closer to his grandmother as the two bodies were ushered, by the intangible ascendancy of one’s will by the incessant nature of collective stares, deeper into the stomach of this hungry locomotive.
The beast thundered forward and Ubi was thrown against a sweltering net of human hands and limbs, shielding him from the inevitable death awaiting anyone who dared to expunge himself out of the cradling tracts, harboured within the body of the beast, while it flew. He looked gratuitously around and acknowledged the myriad pairs of shimmering eyes vibrating with the motion. He stood up, raising much furore in the process, ducking whenever pickle jars and suitcases flew towards him in the gravity-defying cauldron he now found himself in, and held his bag close to his ribs.
As Ubi slowly crept towards a bench he thought had space to accommodate him, he suddenly realized that his grandmother was missing. He looked around frantically, but her familiar pair of kind eyes could not be spotted in the dark. But, he knew, in that moment, that there was no meaning to tears shed in darkness, that the beast had swallowed her whole, and that she was peacefully lost to the magnanimity of the journey.
Ubi sat on the softest patch of wood he could find, between a woman with a hat and her well-clothed cat. In what was a concoction of suppressed fury and rational clarity, he professed to himself of the concretes that held his identity together, of the inconsequential idea that, by merely being in the belly of a beast racing towards time future, one would dissolve the cohesiveness of the mortar that retained the monolithic beauty their ego.
He parted textured shutters from its furry base and pondered gaily over the streaks of metaphysics that he knew he would, one day, rise to command. He inched his head further out into the rippling wind, watching closely the head of the eccentric beast that he knew he would, one day, grow to tame. He let the air praise his hair as he closed his eyes against the night, and grasped the truth of what he knew he would, one day, live to be.
By Aravind Deepak
The act of defining one’s identity is ironic. When one is asked to verbally articulate the structure and content of one’s identity, the immediate response would be to define oneself in terms of their position in a collective - their nationality, their gender, their social qualities that make them likable, and so on. I posit that this is ironic, because while these areas may be of significance to them in understanding themselves, it is utterly redundant, because they are not defining their identity - they are establishing themselves as members of various collectives. Man is social, yes. However, his existence is independent - he has free will, and the ability to think rationally - and is, therefore, primarily an individual that exists for himself, first. His social position is, morally, secondary.
Identity, therefore, is individual. We can define ourselves - for ourselves - in terms of values, ethics and purpose.
Values are the principles and ideals you uphold, that establish your thoughts, and your actions. Every individual - whether through a conscious, rational process or an unconscious one - has a set of principles and values which he lives his life by. An individual’s values and principles drive his existence, and here is his foundation.
Ethics are our understanding of morality. What an individual considers moral and immoral is derived from his principles, and this is what helps him make value judgements, and act accordingly.
Purpose is our value of existence itself - what you live for, and what your purpose is. When we value life, and existence, we establish our purpose, and this purpose is necessarily self-serving. You live for that which gives you joy, whether it is the production of art and literature, studying, and so on. The more established your purpose, the more solace and joy you find in your individual existence.
I have delineated the understanding of identity in detail, because I believe it is supremely important to understand oneself individually, and not in terms of a collective. Understanding identity is, and should be, a rational process. Social relations add value to your existence, and are not, and cannot be, the center of it.
Your identity is how you live, and what you live for. It’s that simple.
by Shruti Menon