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Those blank shoes have an empty smell: galloping through the half-a-dozen senses of otherhood.
dedicated to Bijan Bhattacharya, Mahasveta Devi, Ritwik Ghatak and Nabarun Bhattacharya
By Mukherjee. P
Fragment Zero: Aftertaste of Otherness
Accompanying colour photographs: Have been shot from the play Insert Hamletclone Here by Baishampayan Saha.
Let us begin with this unrelated line that shall occur and recur many more times in this piece-through myriad examples recounting the sameness of the same (shame?). What is the anatomy of a empty abandoned pair of shoes?
Let us leave this rhetoric alone and now to try to find out the destination of the shoe.
After a public outcry, the Delhi Police has withdrawn the advertisment which shows a child from a lower income group with the following line: Help him learn how to chop onion/Before someone teaches him how to chop a head.
Yes, police belongs to a government machinery that approved the copy of this advertisment to be printed (and withdrawn later).
When I began this piece, not so long ago, the four gram sabhas (out of 12 palli sabhas of which 7 is in Raygada and 5 in Kalahandi) had rejected the proposal of mining in Niyamgiri hills. How do we imagine and ideate many smells of otherhood? Who creates it? How do we keep manufacturing the cliches? What are the senses of that otherhood? How do I define these senses with one common image? Can otherhood citizens have their own poetry? Do they even write in such wounded times?
Poetry is neither order nor chaos.
It may only be a whimsical focal point that lies
Between two extremes to trip up time.
A snare, perhaps, on the threshold of rare sounds,
a question lying with the curl of a bell,
in the throat, way down at gut-point,
rolling out at my slightest movement
from a dark nook, a ball of lust,
maybe that. Not order, but anticipation,
a clock-spring, stubborn ember,
always a phoenix...Enis Bator
Twenty one years after the mosque was razed to the ground on that harsh December day of 1992. I am being seized by the smell. The smell that runs haywire in a sensitive magnetic field of democracy and manages to trample all that we stand for and in the process manages to sponsor two most important commodities that we thought remained dear and personal.
Dissent and silence.
Instead they find a new replacement as per the demand of the sponsor.
Cliche and More clichés.
Is it a dance step of the macabre which continues to dazzle, bemuse and titillate us or is the collective strength of Taksim Square? Is it a year of horsing around with our notions of democracy and corruption? In any case, one of the image that leaps inside our collective imagination or in that visceral space deep inside the mind is that of the recurring image of empty shoes. Yes, I can see otherhood in that shoe, in those shoes and in a galaxy of shoes, amongst a heap of shoes and inside the soul of that lonely unclaimed shoe
Little nightmarish and yes, the empty, lonely, once claimed and now unclaimed shoes... are strewn all over. Irrespective of the topography. Irrespective of the uprising.
Why are we regurgitating this apocalyptic tone? Are we a little bizarre and tangential in our approach? Yes, we are.
But not in a bizarre way....we are trying to re-construct, this year's gallop with our sense of (our sense is intended) black humour. Dark subtext of the humour. The one in which democracy becomes a dance step. That begs another question.
It isn't surprising because we still fantasise dominance (not just the sexual but disturbingly the political) and if that fantasy can be ideated through a metaphor (however, crude that might be) we would still cling on that (it would be a perfect tribute to our public-liberal, private-dominance mask).
And that extends in every field ranging from a discussion on safety pin to that of a conversation that dissects the step of an elephant.
Look at democracy. Even the gallop of democracy harnessed inside the stables of Arab spring is now headed for a second coming. When the fundamentalist cocoon rides the popular wave to replace the liberal despot..the collective, then, hatches his own unique ploys to be become their own version of an acceptable despot. But in this case, the ambition is become an elected-sanitised despot instead of becoming at least an acceptable liberal scumbag. Iran and Egypt are case histories that will repeat itself many times over. If we do not walk the fine line to promote that creative moderated area between the emotions of throwing out a liberal autocracy and inserting a sensitive polity, then we will choose both our version of devil and the collective vision of the deep sea.
For me, this year is a gallop of newer forms of institutionalised violence along with the fading memories of the older ones....traces of which are being methodically wiped out.
Over the years we have found newer uses of these materials and coupled with the spectre of identity politics..our selves have attacked our self.
And after every blast, every encounter and counter-encounter, every elimination and counter-elimination...all that remains is an empty shoe.
That shoe makes it's way to the newspaper and magazine. Of course, the claimants have now disappeared, have been annihilated and reduced to a number.
Strait of dead horses: Fragment 1...Sight
What do you with a river where dead horses float towards dead destinations? Let’s have a look at the recent violence spiral that began from July 20, 2012 and continued it’s march for another three months. The traces won’t go away. Ever.
What do you do in between contrasting and conflicting symbols of identity? Who is welcome and who is unwelcome? As the violence continues to spread it's stink in Kokrajhar, Dhubri, Barpeta, Goalpara (yes, even now)...the logic of secularism fails.
Don’t be fooled into believing that this is an isolated phenomenon concerning the Bodo-dominated areas. If you look at the history of North Cachar Hills Autonomous Council (formed in 1952), Karbi Anglong Council, Bodoland Territorial Autonomous Districts-BTAD ( as a result of the peace accord in 2003-with representation here is reserved upto 75 per cent for the Bodos) and the polemics concerning the changing demography of Assam with the accompanying politics of ceasefire-surrender and topping in the cherry have been to create migrant votebanks....there is one point in all this...that is patently clear: we have failed to create a secular diverse plural cultural space.
What would that space be? With 72 communities in Assam's landscape and a culture that ranges from the oral texture of Mising tongue, to the spirituality of Sankardev, to the composite idea of culture of Ajan Fakir to the socio-political churnings of different groups including Karbis, Dimasas, Bodos, Adivasis, Tea-Tribes...there was always a need to weave together a common ground based on a sense of minimum representation of all parties involved. Unfortunately (or shall I say consciously) that common cultural platform never got made and the flare-ups continued.
In terms of the recent Bodoland conflict, flashpoints can be looked back at 1952, 1987, 1996, 1993-1997, 2018 and now 2012 (with unofficial figures reporting over 300 deaths and 4.5 lakh displaced). There are 269 relief camps across four districts and the situation is still fragile. And the fragile situation raises a few home-truth moments.
As surreal as the river Gwrang. The river which remains a metaphor to the bloodshed. This river begins it journey in Bhutan, flows past the Chirang district, takes a snake-like path across the densely populated Kokrajhar town before merging into Brahmaputra from the Dhubri side. The Mahamaya temple on the southern side between the Kokrajhar and the Dhubri town remains an important landmark on the path of the river. This river is now a dumpyard of dead bodies as mute spectators of organised violence are being washed up to the shore. The Kanibhur rivulet near Khagrabari, Chirang is another mini-Gwrang with it's share of bodies washed to the shore.
What remains the most complex cog in this machine of delayed justice and fresh injustices is the treatment meted out to the local Muslim community. And the fact that time and again, one would question their right-to-live. Whether it is the land as a flashpoint in Gossaingaon, Udalguri, Salmara (in Bongaigaon), Bedlangmari (in Dhubri), Baksa or the question of identity (Bodos are about 1 million in the 3.1 million total populace in BTAD), this broth shall spill over time and again. It is a fact that among 18. 5 million votes in Assam (for the year 2011), there are 5.5 million of Muslims (a growth of 24 percent have been recorded as per census 2011 of the numbers in Barpeta, Dhubri, Goalpara, Hailakandi, Morigaon and Nagaon).
There is also the question of The Illegal Migrants Determination by Tribunal Act (IMDT) enacted in 1983 and struck down by the apex court in 2005. The act excluded those who entered India before March 25, 1971 and the deportation of the others after that is marred by the fact that the onus of proving the non-legality of the intruders lies with the agency.
As a result, a simple ration card is enough for many to stay back or at least to drag the proceedings to an extent where the votebank politics will prevent further action.
Lessons have clearly not been learnt look. Lessons from the The All Assam Students Union agitation which ran from 1979 to 1985, which finally resulted in an accord that could have had more specific parameters.
The February 18, 1983 carnage in Nellie where a section of Lalung populace hacked more than 3,200 Bengali-speaking Muslims ostensibly raising the migrant bogey, December 20, 1996 train blast, 2008 violence in Udalguri with a casualty list of 64 and this is not even the tip of a long list of documentation of stray, organised and well-executed violence.
Which brings us to the final question. Amongst 27 districts (and 21 ethno-centric constitutionally mandated administrative autonomous councils) in Assam, there has been a rise in Muslim population in 11 districts(between 2001 and 2011) namely Bongaigon (19.6), Barpeta (21.4), Darrang (19.5), Nagaon (22.09), Dhemaji (20.03), Dhubri (24.4), Goalpara (23) Cachar (20.17), Hailakandi (21.4), Karimganj (20.7) and Morigaon (23.4). For reasons more than one, the increase has happened, it can neither be reversed nor can it be completely rolled back (measures should be taken). And interestingly, the literacy rates have floundered in these areas giving rise to the valid conclusion that we are multiplying without knowing the livelihood issues of that arithmetic configuration.
So what happens is what can happen in such a matrix. A sense of fringe consolidation (of course, these are unguided and more often than not misled fringe) which is the only antidote to the votebank (expansionist) politics. Yes, the influx needs to be stopped and monitored but the existing faultlines needed to be addressed culturally and economically.
If you are to address the madness that descended in Bangalore, Hyderabad and Chennai and the consequently flight of north-eastern people, then culture is the only panacea. There is so little north-east in our textbooks, in our national imagination, even in our eastern imagination that manufacturing the sense of otherness is routine and people would whip up sentiments riding on that cliche.
Much more than words will have to be crafted as a tribute to all those who felt/feel/will be made to feel in not-so-near-future as excluded, left out, brutalised, traumatised. Those who stared at the barrel and asked themselves is worth all this. Between the middle class job-seeker fleeing Bangalore or the kid inside the stink of Salmara relief camp in Bongaigon, between the Manipuri leaving Hyderabad and burnt down villages of Duramari and Naryanpur, between the All BTAD Minority Students Union Activists (ABMSU) and the activists of Badruddin Ajmal's All India United Democratic Front (AIDUF)....a bare minimum consensus needs to be arrived at.
Till then dead shoes will float. And communal half-banter leading to communal gossip leading to communal savagery will continue.
All these exclusion. Distil it down to that one defining image: the empty shoes.
Memory of that taut, unyielding, secluded space…Fragment 2..Touch:
History is essentially longitudinal, memory essentially vertical. History essentially consists of passing along the event. Being inside the event, memory essentially and above all consists of not leaving it, staying in it and going back through it from within– Gilles Delouse
If communal politics is one polarity. The other one is a new kind of politics...the displacement induced by forces of selective globalisation that would leave out the lowest incoming group. Invariably and always. Let me share one such faded memoryscape with you. A diary entry from on not-so-old and not-so-irrelevant logbook.
For a little disaster themed tourism...just travel to Srunger, Sikarpai, Kucheipada, Kodinggamali, Kansariguda, areas in and around Barigaon. We are talking about Deomali area of Similiguda in Koraput in Orissa. You have tribals who have braved CRPF, Battalions, Orissa State Armed Police and NGOs and have launched a struggle at a heavy cost. Some of them get arrested. Some of them languish in jail. Yet they walk their talk.
Set up by Industrial Infrastructure Development Corporation (IDCO) – a nodal agency, the Kalinga Nagar industrial complex at Duburi in Jajpur district now stands as a massive 13,000-acre complex.
The state government which begun acquiring land since 1991 had acquired 12,000 acres of land between 1992 and 1994 for the Kalinga Nagar Industrial Complex project. Of the13,000 acres, private land was to the tune of 6,895 acres and the rest was state property. Of this huge area only Nilachal Ispat Nigam Limited, Mesco Steel, Visa Steel, Jindal Steel and Mid-East Integrated Steel have set up operations. Of them only Nilachal and Mid-East had used 5,000 acres of land by 2002 and the rest of the area was still inhabited by tribals. In fact, of the 634 families displaced by Nilachal only 53 found employment, in case of Metro out of 87 families evicted only 5 received employment and out of 430 families displaced for Visa Steel only 42 found their way to a job. During 2004, a steel behemoth was allotted 2,000 acres. The project was a 6 million tonne plant to be built in two phases each of 3 million tonne capacity.
Now comes the twist in the proverbial tail. The plot had six hamlets and two villages namely Chandia and Gadapur. The tribals say that in 1994, they were offered Rs. 37,000 per acre by the government and the sale price to the steel major was a whopping Rs. 3,50,000 per acre. Moreover, after acquiring the land the government did not take immediate possession and allowed the tribals to cultivate. And then almost a decade later they seemed to wake up from a conscious, harmful, vote-bank slumber.
In November 2005, the state government had decided to pay an additional Rs 15,000 per acre for the land to the displaced farmers. This additional payment was a knee-jerk reaction to a resistance that unsettled the government. By then, the villagers have repeatedly demanded higher compensation.
On May 9, 2005 the district administration was trying to take over the land when the villagers laid siege and repeated their demands. Everything, became eerily calm for a while but this uneasy calm was punctuated by unconfirmed news that at any point in time attempts will be made to cordon off the place with a boundary wall.
On January 1, 2006 during a New Year celebration at Chandia, the locals knew that the D-day was approaching. Another attempt at erecting the boundary wall. Next morning, the district administration accompanied by the officials, District Collector, SP and 12 platoons of police and workers armed with a bull-dozer started construction of the wall.
Initially, 150 tribals, gathered near the proposed site. Four walked up to talk to the administration team. As they were about to cross the ditch dug for the boundary wall, a police siren was sounded. A rope was pulled. A deafening explosion was heard from the ditch and two persons fell down dead.
This was followed by: rubber pellets, tear gas and real bullets. Diugi Tiria and Sudam Barla, were shot point-blank in the forehead. Twelve tribals were shot dead by the police. Two of them were shot in the back after retreating following the lathi-charge. Gobinda Laguri, a 12-year-old boy from Gobarghati village was hit in the back and the right side of the neck and 28-year old Jinga Jarika, a 28-year-old woman form Bamiagotha was hit just below the right shoulder. Now, at Champakoili and Bamiagotha even tears have lost their relevance.
Tribals belonging to Chandia, Champakoila and Gobarghati villages know that the inevitable is only a formality. Down memory lane one can visualise the scenes at Sriram Chandra Bhanj Medical College & Hospital (S.C.B Medical College) where a number of tribals were admitted. One of the byproducts of the clinical brutality was the fact that six of the tribals had their palms cut off. According to Visthapan Virodhi Janamanch they were Mukta Bankara, Landu Jarika, Bhagwan Sai, Jinga jarika, Ramu Gagare and Arti Jamuda. For a moment give this thought: palms cut off.
Let me repeat a ground-level allegation. Local people had alleged that the six tribals were too weak to run and had their hands chopped off. They claimed that many who were even 500 metres off were felled by the bullets.
What do you do now? Your memory comes in way of my forgetting. You are clutching the cut wrists of Kalinganagar. And I am looking the other way. You are asking the Lord: What do I do with these head-on-istic times. Memories of Sudam Barla, Govind Laguni, Janga Jarika, Landu Jarika, Ati Jamuda, Mukuta Bankira, Dedghi Taria, Bhagat Sai, Ram Gagrai. Across Damiagotha, Belahuri village, Champakoila, Majakhia – the story was that blank stares and deep discontent.
At the Paradeep-Daitari highway life would go on. Some truncated lives. The compensation package given to the deceased was Rs. 5 lakh each from the centre and the state. They matched each other in magnanimity.
But the blood trail continues. Streaks across the topographies of Jajpur road, Tomka, Sukinda, Danagadi are wails. Wails that invoke similar history. Dried up tears of the victims of Maikanch firing (December 2000). Wails of Kendukhunti, Dimundi, Ramibeda and the alert fists vowing December 16 to be a Martyr’s Day.
Coming back to Kalinganagar. Memory tells me that at Ambaguri, the funeral is long over. People have trooped home from the Jaipal Singh ground. It’s time for ex-gratia politics. It’s time for the farmers’ to repeat what they have been repeating over the years: Stop this killing; stop all kinds of petty politics. Stop treating us as aboriginals living in bauxite zones. Stop this compensation politics, stop making laws that you don’t respect (The Scheduled Area Law says: land can’t be acquired without prior consent of Gram Sabha).
Now that the first phase of the proposed plant is supposed to be operation from March 2014. Now that the official figures reveal that 948 familes out of 1, 195 families have moved out of the project site with adequate compensation..what do we do with the memory of the bloodshed.
Another act of locking the thoughts in the cold storage. Simply, because a new dawn is at sight. Do we need such a sunrise?
More than 1. 5 million people have been displaced in Orissa since 1947. If we look at the larger Indian scenario, we find that adivasis constitute less than 8 per cent of the Indian population and more than 40 per cent of the displaced ratio. Orissa is the lab of displacement and a sublimely faulty Rehabilitation and Re-settlement Policy. If you walk across Kalahandi, Koraput, Keonjhar, Sambalpur, Dhenkanal, Sundargarh and even at the Gobargahati Rehabilitation Colony at Kalinga Nagar, the scenario is still desperate.
At Gobragahati, there are killer water-borne diseases, nearest primary health care centre is 20 kms away at Jajpur and the village ponds stink appallingly. The situation at the Trijanga Rehabilitation Colony, Anji Rehabilitation Colony and Pandiracuch of Kashipur is no better. This where you’ll see how a nation-state can fail the tribals. Ink dries up. More bodies. More compensation. More political manoeuvres.
Instead of the memorial, in the dusty road, keep one empty shoe. Put a post-it note on that shoe that says: Here lies the unknown, chewed and roasted remains of a tribe called labourer
Fragment 3-Hearing: Hoof of the idea-poem and the reality-prose: Drifting with the driftwood
The empty shoe. Sound of the empty shoe. The echo of the blank pair of shoes.
Till then we remain the breeding ground of retro-cool, heartlessly lethal genocide mongers. Black and White. White and Black. And those left out ones are telling us: I seem to float distinctly among half-filled horizons. Between outrage, between multiple insensitivities, between knowing what to understand and understanding what to know. I’m a nit-picker. I’m a trivia tripper. I’m just a half constructed metaphor. Waiting for you to listen.
And yet you don’t.
Strut of the eternal frontier: Fragment 4-that of Smell....
The horse marches on. The horse which turns to organised religion and organised fascism in a neo-liberal garb of ushering in induustries that promote middle class comfort. They are the new agents of ashwamedha yagna. You do not need to travel far to look at those who are grappling with the after-effects of the yagna. They need your presence, they need your cultural intervention which is much more than analysis by the seminar mafia or reflective posturing by newspaper columnist who need to fill up their 2,700 word dispatch with marketable metaphors.
Otherwise we are still stuck with symbols. Like an unclaimed shoe (that discarded shore which comes in the frame after every bomb blast, after every riot). Unclaimed residue of the body. The lonely shoe becomes the symbol of dislocation and mocks at our muddled up consciousness and saying: How long would we genuflect? And if we have to move on culture remains the key.
Culture, by way of sensitive-non-violent-liberal outlook, is never overpowering. Overwhelming yes. Overbearing yes. Overpowering no. And this culture triad is the first step to any consensus or any effort that searches for a common ground. Would that common platform ever happen? The young Rajbangshis, Totos, Saranias, Nepalis, the tea tribes are asking the same question. And we are pretending as always not to hear that. Because, we have no comrades any more, we either have "votebank" or have "clients" or at times we call them "catchment segment" and when we are very desperate and groping for words, we describe them as below-poverty-line.
The debate is indeed on. The debate about how escapist notions of "anything goes" gets cleverly marketed and then presented as "something relevant."
The horse has indeed left the stable.
The hoof marks are difficult to ignore and wish away as each and every one of them narrate the idea of being trampled upon.
Let us look at the various manifestations of gallop. Up, close and most definitely that political which is always personal. De-construct that gallop, questions the scar and reveals our misplaced sense of spring-on-our-steps. What emerges is a chronicle of our confused gallop on the concourse of fragmented time.
Because invisible horse and even more invisible leash cannot lead to any concrete visible revolution.
None of it. Not even in short spurts.
In between unquantified greyness. And those left out ones are telling us: I seem to float distinctly among smokey horizons. Between outrage, between practiced insensitivities, between knowing what to understand and claiming that one has not understood. I’m a rag-picker. I’m a trivia tripper. I’m just a half constructed metaphor. Waiting for you to listen.
And yet you don’t. I have no problem that you don’t listen. Where I have a problem is the fact that you don’t care.
Till then, I am staring at the empty unclaimed shoe. Smelling the last lost smell.
And waiting for the narrative of that shoe to enter into our notional national consciousness.
Waiting for Godot.
Meanwhile the google chat application in my mailbox says: Oops! You are not invisible because you're logged into Google Talk from another client, device, or location that doesn't support invisibility.
Hey, what else do I need now: visibility and life-time prepaid on my mobile phone. As for motherhood, let the sleeping oppressed lie. Mind you, at the risk of repeating ad-nauseum, the key word is "oppressed."
Fragment 5-Claimer and the disclaimer pages from the diary: Dhaka and Colombo:
To understand Dhaka you have to go back to the current Islamist politics of the Indian sub-continent. Let us grapple with this contention a bit more. From the Khilafat movement decade of 1912 to 1922 to the report of Rajinder Sachar Committee. An average Indian sub-continent Muslim (irrespective of whether he/she is a majority/minority) is still grappling for answers. Answers to their basic economic backwardness, the clichéd image of "their ghettos" in every city and the regular denial of basic framework of justice .
When you ignore enquiry commission findings, when you turn a blind eye to conclusions of fact finding commissions, when you have indulged in very few constructive economic measures that would take the development paradigm to the grassroots, it is but obvious that the minority radical elements will step in with their sense of misplaced radical rhetoric and try to insinuate a fair amount of India's 15.5 million Muslim populace and in a larger context the agenda continues in the subcontinent.
Dissect our national picture, it is a fact that Barelvi school of Islam has been sidelined as opposed to the radical rhetoric of Deoband school of Islam and their missionary outgrowth Tablighi Jamaat.
Whereas a Barelvi school struggles to find their feet despite having a large following amongst Indian Muslims, the Deoband-Tablighi Jamaat, Ahle Hadi school rhetoric and a completely misplaced sense of rhetoric by Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, Jehad-i-Islami, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Lashkar-e-Toiba(LeT), Harkat-ul-Jihadi-al-Islami(HUJI), Harkat-ul-Ansar and Indian Mujahidedeen have all been funded by sources from all over the world. Which is why you hear of ultra-Wahhabi groups far more than you hear of a Rifai committee of the Barlevi school or a small body called Indian Muslim Association-Noori which fights hardline fundamentalists and their manufactured rhetoric.
When you expand this picture to the context of Africa, middle-east nations, Bangladesh, Pakistan and even to so-called liberal European nations you find the moderate Islam is grappling to find it's feet against the militant radical variant. Because the states have yet to understand that the route to integration is not anti-religious propaganda but to strengthen the hands of moderate stance.
So what do we do with the contours of this kind of discontent
Do you and I wish it away? No we can't.
Do we locate the real "discontent" in our lives by eliminating any reference Dalit massacres like Kandhamal, Gohana and Khairlanji in India or the minority deaths in and around Dhaka or the deaths during Mainapokhri crossfiring in Nepal? Have we realized that private armies ranging from Behtulla Masud to state-sponsored ones should be immediately disbanded.
Do we understand that we are still practicing our own brand of apartheid by excluding lower-income-group Muslims, tribals and dalits from our national paradigm….from our carefully constructed biased syallabi recommended for schools and colleges…from our easy solution of firing at the helpless who want an alternative revenue model for their multi-crop land…
Now, from this lens, let us look at Dhaka and then in a different strain: Colombo. The last two election results that took place in Bangladesh was heartwarming by the framework of the South Asian context. Because the electorate gave a very loud and clear signal that they would like to distinguish between the tolerant Islam and the Islamic fundamentalism. Those who know the history of Bangladesh are aware of the fact that parties like Khaleda Zia's Bangaldesh National Party and alliances that included Jamaat have not only tried to tinker with personal liberties using religion as an excuse but also dangerously played out with the country's history. So much so that instead of concentrating on hunger they were busy building a new set of pioneers with whom an alternative religious nationalist discourse has to be manufactured.
The interesting part of Dhaka is that inspite and despite tremendous odd to undermine the secular spirit of the great city. From Showkat Osman to Shamshur Rehman, from Rudra Mohammed Shahidullah to the bhasha Shahids of the past to gave their lives, Dhaka has seen it all. The inherent plurality of Dhaka is so rooted in the waters of old Dhaka, with an unmatched love for Tagore, Lalon, Hason Raja, Nazrul, Benimadhab, Shah Abdul Karim, Jibanananda Das, Santan Das Baul, Ritwik Ghatak, Nirmalendu Goon...that even if the succesive governments shoot all the poets and singers in a football stadium (the way they did in Chile...in the Latin American version of 9/11)..the city can bounce back
But for it retain the bounce, it has to again tread a very thin line. However, un-Bangladeshi it might sound, in the mainstream discourse of reading, writing and performance....Dhaka has to carve out more space for the Chakmas, for the Bishnupriyas, for the wonderful tribal culture that dot the Chittagong hill tracts...
To me, Dhaka is far more culturally steeped than Paris and it has to take the cultural roadmap to bounce back. And in that cultural roadmap what India has to do with engage with Dhaka on the future of Chittagong Hill Tracts and that of minority Hindu population in districts who become easy fodder to that patriotism-is-linked-to-Islam debate.
As if the wheel turning a full circle, it is this patriotism-is-exclusively linked-to-Sinhala identity, which has been the undoing of Sri Lanka. It is undeniable that the essential Sinhala identity remains the bedrock of the nation state but the Tamil contribution is not negligible, if not paramount.
I was recently in Colombo, performing my solo production Necropolis. And while chatting after a show, the topic for the night veered towards cricket. And which is the first name to come up: Mahadevan Sathasivam. A young bright Sinhala lawyer who is involved in a series of human rights cases tells me excitedly that any coming-of-age tale of Sri Lankan cricket has to start from Sathasivam.
Look at the statistics. It tells nothing. Just 11 recorded matches with 18 innings and an average of 41.83. But then that says nothing. Ask an old timer in Chennai about Sathasivam's 215 in about four hours at Chepauk. At the P Sarvanamuttu Stadium, you get goosebumps at the the Tamil Union Club house where a largeish portrait of Sathasivam walking out with Don Bradman to toss in 1948 adorns the wall. Sathasivam is revered by the old timers in India for the 215 he made in just over four hours at the MA Chidambaram Stadium, considered one of the best knocks played in Chennai. Tap local folklore and up there with the Sunny Gavaskar's last Test innings is Sathasivan's knock of 96 made in an uneven bounce wicket against visiting Commonwealth team that included Worrell and Sobers.
Now from the Sathasivam detour, let's try to understand Sri Lanka. There are many Sathasivams. Their stories are even more obscure but needs to be told. And if this nation is not blending stories as a cultural roadmap to create a larger Lankan identity then the roadmap to Tamil rehabilitaton will be fraught with ideological landmines. It is just not international aid or Rs 500 crore from India or a port made by China, if the average Tamil has to feel at home in Lanka, it has to be by sharing his achievement rather than make him fodder for the rights NGOs.
And like Dhaka, this is where I am not really bullish about Colombo. The hawks in Colombo are far more than Dhaka. The general fist-pumping euphoria that a-war-has-been-won is still resonating in the air. The "us" versus "them" are still playing out. And it has to stop. The silver lining is that like the art fraternity of Dhaka who can be called as art warriors..there is a smaller minority in Colombo who have a unflinching gaze towards the minutest human rights violations and one hopes that their numbers will swell.
Colombo has to relook at itself. Sun-tanning in Negombo and Galle is fine. A little high-five remembering a Murlitharan spell can't assuage wounds. The small minority has to swell so that the heat is on.
It is dark tonite as I rewind Colombo memories I write:
And planning the exact shape of the grave where I will rest
Planning the grave with the same precision as I plan my suit, my bathroom fittings or the
Mutual fund investment
Next time around when they will lower my body in the grave.I will fit in exactly into that precisely dug rectangle …
POSTSCRIPT-Accompanying Photo Tribute: These rare set of four black and white photographs (along with more stills) appeared in a seminal book published by the Bharati Sarabhai Memorial Trust in English and Gujarati editions. The photographs were taken by the legendary Jagan Mehta (May 11-1909-February 10, 2003).
The backdrop of the photographs have been Gandhiji's peace mission in Bihar in 1946-47 to assuage the festering wounds and deep distrust in the backdrop of the communal riots.
It is to be noted that as a response to the Kolkata and the Noakhali riots of 1946, the state of Bihar saw a series of disturbing turn of events reuslting in about four lakh Muslims fleeing the state.
These photographs were taken in last week of March,1947 and the team that accompanied Gandhiji included Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan (Frontier Gandhi), Mridula Sarabhai, Dev Prakash (brother of Pyarelal-Gandhiji's secretary), Professor Nirmal Kumar Bose, Manu Gandhi and Hamid Hunnar.
Born in 1909, to a family of Ayurved doctors, Jagan Mehta was a shagird under Kalaguru Ravishankar Raval (at Kumar Karyalaya in Ahmedabad), before making it on a scholarship from Bhavnagar to study mechanical photography in Institute of Fine Arts, Vienna in 1934. In Vienna. Here, he worked for the Hindustan Academical Association which was set up by Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and later joined the underground freedom struggle movement. He came back to India in May, 1936 and meandered between setting up a studio in Relief Road (1948-54) working for Prince of Wales Museum (currently known as Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya) Mumbai between 1957 to 1967, a year at the National Institute of Design-Ahmedabad for Nehru Exhibition project (1967), teaching photography at Sheth Chimanlal Nagindas Vidyavihar Kala Vidyalaya (from 1968 onwards as a part-time lecturer) and setting up a few ventures (including a club called Niharika-a club for pictorialists) that really did not take off.
What is unique about these stills...is the economy of expression. The photographer participates in the process of dialogue creation, reaching out and dressing up the mental wounds. There is no no angular flourishes..no extreme close-ups....just camera as a means of humane documentation. From his first frame of Gandhiji in 1933 till Bapu's last breath, Jagan Mehta through his stills tried to bring out the humane Bapu inside the human-Bapu.
His other acclaimed series includes an extensive visual portraiture of Gujarati writers.
These photographs are a tribute to the spirit of Bapu and the genius of Jagan Mehta.
A midnight bus to peculiar places
It's a date
Last night's dream
A game of tones
Poetry in Motion
The conversations across windows, lanes, streets
Are felt in steps,
The footfalls, the buzzing, the hideous smiles.
Approachers are poachers
From the hole's core
To this bypass's cove,
I stand toe by toe
With a lantern
Hanging by my waist
And give tickets,
This day darkens high,
Wintered by withering lilies
As a coffeehouse sees
Innumerable empty cups,
Did you ever extend your hatred
Towards the one with nothing
But repulsive venom,
Nailed at around the hall
And piano lies resolutely desolate.
The eyes suffer adulthood
And the adultery it invites
To dine with us
In our backyards as unidentified guests
And not some Reilly counsellor
Or uniting agent
Is the show stopper with undemocratic dress
And abusive skin Am I not him?
Or he me?
I do not know at all.
Dr. Amit Shankar Saha
Heartbreak of the Lost Earth
In the wilderness of Binsar
something gets lost in transition.
All the trees leaf through the forest
in vain search for the lost object.
At night there is sound of heartbreak
amidst the beating of silence.
All the grasses stay up sleepless
listening till late to the earth's quake.
In gulps and moans the world laments,
under our feet grows estrangement.
It looks like a branch
of a tree. This part of a reef,
colony of calicles,
marine, sessile, invertebrate,
polypless calcium carbonate.
It came from Maldives.
Inside its numerous pores
once plant-like cells made
their home. Day and night
salt water made their visits.
Now the limestone skeleton
has no zooxanthellae.
Your coral pores are holes,
hollow, no longer home.
The One I Should Not Name
Remembering your collar bones:
Just below your canopy chin
hides your collar bones;
two protrusions under the skin
like two hot eruptions
under a cold.ocean.
Remembering your handbag:
You put everything in there;
in the yellow chambers
your hands search for coins,
pen, pad, perhaps lipstick too
and a bit of emotion.
The morning arrives on the waters..
Golden and a little bit drunk...
Running fingers through her hair..
Yawns up the hundred Eastern dawns of the sky...
The gold spills..
Into the quilts of lovers who long
Fills the eyes
Of the lingering stars..
The boatman's dirge
Wends it's way
To the waiting mermaids...
I wrote a poem for you
It starts with you
What's your view
You like the colour Blue
It's all for you
You always like New
I wrote a poem
An Evening Scene
Flat as sleep the world around lies as if under the spell of any humming hawker
On the corner of broken bent of this hapless street the pale halogen annunciates the lover's
reverie or a drunkard's glassy poetry of the smell of peace
Nobody walks, yet lighted with the windows the layer of intruding cables and a broken
apprehension of a power cut swims in the men in their trances of revolutionary ointments!
You can't call it a scene black as it lacks
All that makes a deep sea but yet some black barks and howls prevail on the forlorn fields those
wail unheard by men but flying moths!
Or is this any evening or an alien time teleported by a same world as this beyond the existence
of this universe?
Nobody knows, they just stroll like clowns and smooth their toes treading on this burning coal
indifferent to emotions, truth!
This evening seemingly insipid is announcing an imminent mystery yet nobody listens , they just
stroll and roll
While the vacant lots interpolated in every corner plays an orchestra without instruments
Raining down the Roman Rings those drench the prison and rusts grow !
Eyes of a Sonata
I have often visited the farm inside my eyes and
Saw there women naked as the sky trying to feed their second
And gradually my mind receded into the mirage of the chair where I sit and ruminate the days
when such rotten clothes I wore, being with friends, girls, animals and a large tumbler where I
blew out all the images gulped
After bathing everyday I again sit on my hunger and count the needs that I have
Ceaselessly 'the-speaking-voice-that- can-be-heard-when-I-don't-talk' draws lines and white
gaps on a whitely black sheet
And blurts out sudden tremulous impulses and laughs at my silence
I clutch the Autumn that rains in my room and sleep after sleeping all this while !
I make an act of kissing the mud and run after Rohan. He runs through the others playing football and falls, gets up, and runs faster. There is a mud patch on the side of his uniform; his thigh is bruised. I finally catch up with him, panting hard, as sweat trickles past my ears. Next break, and it’s his turn to catch me. He does it in no time.
We sit on empty benches in class and eat from our lunch boxes. He has potato parathas, lentil pudding, and kaju barfi. I, a packet of biscuits, with a girl’s smiling face crumpling over the packet. The tip of Rohan’s tie sits in his pudding. Unlike his tie, the school emblem on mine is worn out.
In the next class, Ms. Annie, the biology teacher announces in a strict voice that some children will have to queue up outside the old-school building from tomorrow’s recess. There is a general uproar. Some boys complain they get only fifteen minutes to play in the recess and now this. But Ms. Annie won’t have another word. “Do as is in the circular,” she says, fanning the Principal’s notice over her face.
The next day I find my name on the list and stand in the queue. Rohan’s name is not on the list, so he doesn’t know if he should wait for me to play or go and join the other boys. He hangs around.
The queue is long, but it moves fast, snaking through two floors of the old building.
Every child is given a glass of fresh-looking milk from a huge flask and three crunchy biscuits. I wonder if I have to share this with Rohan. My mouth is watering; I am no longer interested in playing our catch-me-if-you-can game.
The milk tastes insipid at first. Its smell is awful, but I soon develop a taste for it and look forward to having it every day. I make sure to keep enough until I finish the cookies - that’s what they call them, funnily.
All this while, Rohan looks at me as I move through the line, get my cookies, drink my milk, tasting each sip under my breath, under the proud banner that reads: ‘World Food Programme’.
I can almost bet he would have loved to be in the line with me. Note: potato parathas – potato-filled tortillas
kaju barfi – cashew fudge