Should I stay or should I go?

Published: Jul 07, 2019, 05:50 IST | Paromita Vohra

Quitting, oddly, reclaims some kind of power, even in a situation of defeat and compulsion, which is why it is sometimes followed by heated rejoinders, rather than acceptance.

Should I stay or should I go?
Illustration/Ravi Jadhav

Paromita VohraOffice conflicts in sitcoms often feature a typical break-up scene, in which an employee yells, "I quit," and the employer follows with, "Oh yeah? Well, you're fired." Quitting, oddly, reclaims some kind of power, even in a situation of defeat and compulsion, which is why it is sometimes followed by heated rejoinders, rather than acceptance."

You could be quitting when you're ahead, like Zaira Wasim quitting Bollywood, or quitting when you're behind, like Rahul Gandhi resigning as Congress party president. As public acts with symbolic significance, they are naturally, even fairly, publicly debated. Was Wasim pressured by religion? What does her decision mean for other Kashmiri women dreaming of a life in the arts? Well, she's just a teenager, why can't we let her be? Has Gandhi raised the bar by saying he doesn't feel he can play on the terms of the current field? Or, is his letter full of Nehruvian entitlement and hokey humility?

Quitting is an ambiguous act. Its ambiguity lies in how it sits on the cusp of public significance and private motivation: the cusp we call the 'personal'. Thus we are compelled to respect a personal choice even as we are entitled to our emphatic opinions on the nature of that choice or whether it was really a choice at all. It is as if someone dropped their half of the rope in a tug of war. But it still creates doubt — as if someone walked off the screen in the middle of the movie, in search of a better movie to be part of.

Speaking of movies, currently the Congress is like 1980s Bollywood films that never bothered with scripts or music, as long as they could cast Amitabh Bachchan. Clearly it needs a new model, as yet unknown. Where's the dishonour in only knowing that? There's even some encouragement in remembering that after quitting, Bachchan came back big as ever, inaugurating a new media paradigm.

Some years ago, I was asked to be part of a prestigious project. Rejecting it, all insisted, seemed unthinkable, but in solitary moments, my mind would say, "I don't feel like doing it." The Censor Board committee in my head would scold: "You're just scared of failure and rejection" "Be more conventionally ambitious" "If you don't try you'll regret later." Then, the project itself ran aground. A hibiscus of relief bloomed in my chest. The choice had been taken away from me and, in that moment, I knew what my choice should have been. But it's hard not to make conventionally right choices in a world which is a fan of onwards and upwards, not onwards and sideways.

Part of maintaining the status quo is to insist the current options are fine: it's you that needs to change. In love or work or education, we are exhorted to try harder, to not give up. But sometimes, the options don't work for us. Other times, we don't work for the options.We are supposed to want the perfect guy on paper, the bigger job, the cool friends, but somehow we don't or can't. Quitting is not necessarily the defeat of one way by another. It's simply acknowledging that for a radical shift, we have to go look for something new, so we can be someone new. As the song goes, "What can you lose?/Only the blues."

Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at www.parodevipictures.com

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