I was called insensitive recently; an assertion that I was forced to accept, based solely, might I add, on the context in question. The fault, however, was entirely texting’s. You see, I was a bit annoyed, and fearful that I may cause harm through the use of conventional tools of expression like those tiresome things we call ‘words’, and opted instead for a smiley. My hope was that a lame, toothless arc made up of a colon and closing parenthesis would express my restrained agreement and half-hearted empathy to my friend’s situation more clearly than the actual act of conversing orally or through written language. This did not happen. Instead it seemed I had successfully come across as uninterested and devoid of understanding.
However, I have, since then, tried to curb my enthusiasm for symbolic representation. I chide my right index fingertip when it hankers to hit the like button on a friend’s Facebook status update or when one of those eminent twits I follow retweets another twit’s tweet and all I want to do is retweet it to my fistful of followers to demonstrate that I too am a with-it twit who’s in on all that I ‘should’ be in on. And then, every few years, the elections roll by and I watch my social media feeds fill up with images of inked nails and smudged cuticles, check ins at polling booths and urges from fellow citizens of the democratic order to #vote and be #patriotic. An inundation of browser windows by hashtags and thumbs up icons follows, effectively symbolizing nationalism through representation. The never inked half moons of whiteness at the base of my fingernails devolve into symbolic depictions of my unpatriotic attitude. Inky smears of active engagement in the democratic process accost me, warning me through social media attestations that my unadorned ballot casting fingers will cost me the right to question polity and policy alike. That the do-goodery of the in-between years, the little these and those of responsible citizenry are but childish games when faced by the real symbol of democratic righteousness – the vote.
Perhaps. Perhaps not. I am disinclined to look upon an every-few-years process as an effective measure of my patriotism. I am equally disinclined to view my status as a yet-to-vote citizen as a matter or pride. An election is, after all, an exercise in democracy, a means of voicing opinion, the ability to engage. It is not, however, a baptism, or a ritual purge or a holy cleanse. It is a single point on an arc of continuous engagement. It is incapable of corroborating avowals of patriotic fulfillment or national obligation.
Maybe I’ll vote in the next election. I probably won’t flaunt images of my smeared finger through my iFace or other futuristic, technologically advanced device. But, in the intervening five years I won’t arrest the development of my individual campaign to do right by my country and be a better citizen for lack of opportunity of the general election kind.
© Ayesha Sindhu 2014