Writing about social issues used to give me fake powers. Arms stretched out, I jogged across a building terrace – pinching the loose ends of my superhero cape. I was on a mission way to save lives. Tackle injustice. Analyze political quagmires. Make bold statements about societal norms. No fear of consequences. Always ready to fight the good fight.
When I reached the terrace’s edge, I put one foot up on a raised platform. I folded my left elbow and cupped the right shoulder with the center of my palm. I looked up to the sky before peering, heroically, at the city below. I saw all the people on the ground. So many of them needed help. They wanted to be rescued.
Sometime in the 18th century, playwright Edward Bulwer-Lytton had suggested that the pen was mightier than the sword. It is hard to disagree because writing can be a potent instrument of change. At least, as long as writers don’t take themselves too seriously.
Nowadays, whenever I write about social issues, I feel a little guilty. It is as though I am taking selfies in front of accident victims to talk about the dangers of drunken driving. A vanity project to expunge my middle-class guilt and gain some popularity in the process.
Most of the time, I end up sending strongly-worded memos to the system, through the system, about how the system has failed. And how people are suffering because of it.
It is easy to represent the marginalized – as a writer. It requires minimum effort to elucidate on matters regarding their social and economic rights. They have been sidelined since time immemorial. Photo-shopped out of the big picture. Shoved aside to make room for Starbucks. Ignored by the government, at large, and the average citizen.
Hope lies in those willing to spend time outside their homes. Those who can leave their office cubicles and friend’s basements to do something about it. People must rise. Stand up. Not just to adjust their innerwear so that they can sit comfortably and contribute to news agencies or post updates on social media. Rather, they must stand beside the downtrodden, and show the world that they aren’t alone.
As for writers, we are the Ringo Starrs of social activism. We can be replaced with some other drummer. Most people won’t even notice it.
Either, Oscar Wilde got it partly right when he wrote that, “All art is useless”. Or my fifth-grade teacher absolutely nailed it when he screamed at me, “Rascal, you just don’t care about anything”.