May 1 has always been special to me. I am sure it is the same for many of my friends. More than 18 years ago on this day, we organized efforts to create an association of neighborhood children of Jayadev Vihar, Bhubaneswar. We must have been young and innocent then. Rakesh (Sabir Mohammad), Mituna (Mitrabhanu Mohanty), Jaji (Jayajit Dash), Munlu (Spandan Biswal) were few of the driving forces. Back then, world was not yet unipolar. Misha magazine printed at Soviet Union was widely adored. Beautiful cartoon narratives in this colorful magazine were always a big draw. Books like Situational Grammar and Eleven Stories for Boys and Girls formed part of the library we created over the years. Most households proudly and yet most unassumingly read great number of books for children and adults, published in the USSR.
The Children’s Library of Fancy Club indeed was a culminating collective. The collective had few rules. We would pay a minimum monthly due and spend it towards organizing quizzes, buying comic books, English classics, Soviet books and organizing some periodic events. Of course we would play Cricket and badminton and hockey and football and chess…!
Three years after, we changed the name to Pacific Club and expanded the base to include other fellow students from different neighborhoods. Pacific, to us, of course meant a change in direction. “Promote peace and reduce conflict.” This was in 1990-91. By this time, world was leaving us behind. We knew an essential component of our childhood—the association with Soviet literature—would no more be a visible part of daily life. Indeed with the ‘failure’ and ‘demise’ of the ideology, we would no more find similar books any longer at the book fairs. Where some stores would have the old copies, they would be sold at such dirt cheap prices that even purchasing them would seem burdensome. After all, if they are this throw-away, then they must indeed be.
Pacific Club, despite changes in the world political shiftings, started on a May 1 morning too! And we did not exactly know why, except that this was still the day we identified with as the dearest for us. Two years hence, when we again revisited how we were naming ourselves, we thought a transition from Fancy to Pacific was a necessity. And hence a transition from ‘Club’ to Aces would possibly be logical too. So we abandoned any remaining elitism to make ourselves (expanding membership bases still all the more) become more organized. By this time, computers started making their presence. Hand-written and typewritten membership forms were replaced by desktop publishing. Monthly dues increased slightly. We were in the high-schools already and needed to discipline ourselves more into maintaining catalogues, entries, monthly updates of magazines and books. The library continued to make impacts nevertheless. Weekly quizzes continued to happen.
Into colleges, and some of us still were in schools, other changes were promising to happen. Perestroika and Glasnost were two familiar words by now. For good or worse, the world was changing rapidly and a third-world country children were slightly feeling the tremors. Some amount of cooperativeness still prevailed. Suicides among students were still low. More children still smiled at Chacha Chowdhury than they did few years after.
When we all found ourselves in a hostile and oftentimes indifferent world, Tanjug helped conceptualize a Red Peace Movement while in Delhi, in 1998, and May 1 was still the date of its inception. When three years later, work on the Ego Magazine started as a collective editorial process, May 1 again launched the journal. Only last year when Whosemedia started to offer alternative tidbits, how could I not start on a May 1?
In one individual life, or in several of ours (Amarendra Paital, Ziauddin Ali, Biswanath Patnaik, Tanjug Singh, Hemant Rohella, M Ravi Kumar etc etc….), May 1 continued to impact. Just incidentally…Or intentionally as well..
I am not sure if it was political. Or could it be at all political, when we were as young as 10 (and some of us were even younger!). But the only thing we could connect with May 1 was a word called ‘International’. It was the only international day of observance we ever knew. Among all the regional, religious and ethno-centric festivities that marked Indian society, May 1 was the single most international observation we could celebrate. And I guess, with the desire to know the world of Misha and Robinhood, we had somewhere fallen in love with the world itself. And May 1 stood out as the day of love.
With the resounding laughter of silent Charlie Chaplin, we were learning what an internationalist he was. With a Japanese-sole, British coat, a Russian hat, and an Indian heart, when Raj Kapoor died in 1989, we were too young to feel the loss. Or too international already to celebrate his legacy. Doordarshan (the Indian peoples TV) was not then corrupted by mythologies yet and it had great educational programs and solidarity serials. Biggest hit of the period was still Maine Pyar Kiya-one where the hero rejected his class society status and worked as a proletariat to prove his qualification as a worthy man. The 80’s India was a transitional period. One that killed Indira Gandhi, witnessed transfer of power in Soviet Union and one that paved the way for 90’s liberalization.
With globalization, one would have assumed that May 1 would become all the more celebrated. Ironically, the more liberalized we became, the less we felt passionate about international causes! African Fund or Non-Aligned Movement or SAARC—all lost relevance in the post-1991 era. Disarmament, Olympic Games or Parallel Cinema—all lost charm in the liberal age. The identification with worker’s movements in the local trade unions or in the larger understanding of 8-hour days were lost on us as we gradually entered the new era of free capital. And the sheer romanticism associated with peoples of the world was replaced by pragmatic failures of the utter money-market hardcore stoicism.
Today May 1 is a symbolism. Not a movement. In different parts, different strikes are being organized. Protest marches for variety of reasons. Just arbitrary dozens speaking-out and hundreds of people way scared to leave their workplace to come out. There is nothing international about the May 1 of 2006. Indeed the spirits are no more. Or are the spirits only there?
I don’t know about the future. For me, May 1 is a big day of introspection. May 1 spoke of the worldwide connection that we had. The Penpal friends we made out of intention. The postage stamps we collected to know the colors of the different lands. In the entire gamut of understanding how we were related to our families, our families to the society, the society to the state, the state to the country, the country to the continent, the continent to the world. May 1 connected us to possibilities of uniting with this world all the time, all the while. Not to connect superficially as hero-worshippers of western soaps or shopping malls. But to connect with other people “like us” who wanted peace and happiness for all.
May 1 helps me this year to think of what happened over the years. To connect the several associations and clubs and community organizations we formed while we were young, to the understanding of our global values. By recognizing ourselves more, we could identify with others all the more. The possibilities, and hopes for a better “world” was the mantra then. For a better world, we tried to learn of the world from the oppressed lenses. We never forgot we belonged to the third world. We never assumed the rest of the suffering population of the world as anything other than our dear friends.
What happened to the dreams of yesteryears when we all dreamt of equality of opportunities for all of us. When we talked of free housing, medical care and primary education. When we planned about free time to watch movies or read a folk story. When we thought of one world, one people, one public property sphere. When we envisioned there would not be some people too rich and too many people too poor. When working people will not live in fear of losing jobs, or getting underpaid or work as slaves in firms owned by slaveowners. When we dreamt we would respect each work with dignity, and not pay mental workers abnormally higher than we pay manual workers. When we thought we would not bomb countries endlessly, we would not destroy ecology mindlessly, and not make commodities off everything ceaselessly. We dreamt as much in the 80’s when we grew up in our early childhood and teens. With May 1 by our side!