26 September 2007

The Feeling of the Present and of History

A drama is unfolding in Burma as I write. Monks and nuns, the most respected class of people in the Burmese society, are in open defiance against the ruling junta. Could it be just like two decades ago, when similar incidents culmulated in Aung San Suu Kyi's electoral victory? Right now, as it unfolds before the world's eyes, no one can guess where it will lead.

There is something that appears fundamentally different between knowing an event in history and an event unravelling in the present. In 1988, students took to the streets. Military suppressed them. Thousands were killed. It triggered elections. Aung San Suu Kyi won. The military refused to recognise election results. Their rule continued. That is history. It is as I know it. I was too young then to know it as it unfolded. I read it later in my life. I read it, as a piece of history, compressed and summarised. Time flowed in different beats: unimportant days were swept away in words no longer than a few seconds, and moments of importance were granted paragraphs after paragraphs that took minutes to read. The scaling of time when cast into words is twisted out of linear proportion.

But with the present, time is time. It is not scaled. It is not contorted. It is not shortened to slim boring periods and lengthen to fit critical events. One day is one day. One week is one week. One month is one month. The present becomes alive. Yesterday nuns took to the streets. Last week monks did so. Suppose a revolution were to come in a month's time. This month will not be a day long. It will not be a week long. It will be a month long. A month is a month. It is not like pages of a history book. Even if nothing goes on during this one month, time plods on unrelentlessly, unceasingly, unhurriedly.

That is, perhaps, why events unfolding as I read in the newspapers feel more real than events of the past. When I read an article about John Lennon's death there is a detached feeling about the whole incident. It is not as if I have not felt the loss of a great singer, but this loss feels muted. It feels as if the concrete of history has solidified. But when Luciano Pavarotti died, the concrete of history may have been laid, but it is still wet. Maybe this is the reason why people often say that times are getting more and more difficult.

Where will the events in Burma head from here? Will it be like two decades ago, a repetition of history? Or will a fresh chapter of democracy enter Burma's life? There is no flipping of pages to the important future events this time.

Feels so real, doesn't it?

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