It was in the year 2006 that this thought first crossed my mind. It was a moment of shame, for me, after a moment of pride. Chidanand Sali had called me and recited the translation of my ghazal. I was happy for a ghazal written by me was translated. But what put me to shame, after some time, was the fact that the ghazal was translated to my mother tongue- Kannada!
Though, over the years, I have mentioned about this to many a friends as “a unique episode in history where the poem was translated to the poets mother tongue by somebody else,” I have deeply felt ashamed of myself regarding this.
The second time this though crossed my mind was when Raghunanadan Sir wrote a warm mail saying, “You need to improve your English writing skills.” That was in early 2009. While I agreed with him completely I also felt the need to speak to him about the issue but could not for I was busy packing bags from The Hindu to JNU.
Ever since then I have felt the need to write about this issue but I did not know what to write and how to write it. When once I had to ask Vivek Shanbhag Sir to consider an article written by me for Desha Kaala I had to request him to get it translated into Kannada for publication, when I had to request Ravikumar Sir to get my article translated into Kannada for Abhinava magazine, I have not just felt ashamed of myself but also felt ‘wordless’. Every time I felt so, I felt the need to write about it. But the wordless world remained voiceless for some unknown reason. It remained voiceless till a week ago when a discussion in Udupi when Vaidehi in the presence of H.Y. Rajgopal, Vimala Rajgopal, Jyothi Mahadev and Muralidhar Upadhyaya posed the question, “What will happen to Kannada when most of the younger generation is going to English medium schools and getting distanced from Kannada?”
After HYR and VR spoke how Kannada was being used by youngsters even in the US and after JM said how her son, though uses the roman script chats with her in Kannada I felt an inner push to go speak and reveal the struggles of the wordless world. And I did, partially. Here I just attempt to reproduce the same and slightly elaborate it.
The question to me is not “What will happen to Kannada?” but “What happened to all those worlds within individuals which got torn between languages?”
My mother is a school teacher in a Government Kannada medium school. My father, now retired, used to teach in the Engineering college of Manipal. We lived in the quarters provided by the Institute where my dad was an employee. My father’s mother tongue was Tulu and my mother’s mother tongue was Kannada. We spoke Kannada at home. When the time came for my parents to put my sister (elder) and me to school, my parents put us in an English medium school. My mother has always told me that she wanted to put my sister and me to a Kannada medium school but did not do so because every child in the quarters went to an English medium school. I totally understand that. My mother is not that strong a lady who would swim across the tide. We- my sister and I- along with our friends from the neighborhood went to English medium school.
Confessing the fact that I am not a very intelligent boy I must say with English being the medium of instruction in school and Kannada being the language of communication at home, at a very young age I felt myself being torn between two languages, two worlds from opposite direction. The two worlds- of home and school- were so disconnected because of the language. Though I could somehow relate myself to the language at home, I could not relate myself to the language spoken in school. A small incident that is a part of one of my very early memories of school should explain it a bit. While in class one or two our Science teacher spoke of soil and the same was there in the text book too. At home, while my mother would help me revise what had been taught in school she asked me “What is soil?” Trust me I did not know but had imagined soil to be something “big”. I put my head down to indicate that I did not know. Being the primary school teacher that my mother is, she explained it to me in Kannada and said, “Soil andre maNNu.” What? My imaginations were reduced to mud! “Soil andre maNNa?” I asked my mother. “Howdu” (Yes) she said. I knew what ‘maNNu’ was and could relate to it but did not know what ‘Soil’ meant. It might appear silly to you, but it is as tragic as it appears silly to you.
My inner world, I can say, got grinded between this ‘soil’ and ‘maNNu’ or English and Kannada, for this less intelligent boy, it was difficult to balance between two languages at a young age and as both the languages was occupying the inner space the more the inner world got torn between the two worlds and two languages, one morning language and the other evening language one language of the brain and the other language of the heart. With the burden to learn two languages simultaneously, this less intelligent boy, could not hold tightly to any of the languages! It was half baked English and half baked Kannada too. There were quite a lot of intelligent students who studied with me who mastered English. But there were quite a few of these less intelligent, like me, who got torn between languages. (I wonder what happened to the inner world of all those less intelligent, like me, classmates of mine whose mother tongue was either Konkani or Tulu, common to this geographic region, who were torn between their mother tongue, English and Kannada)
Understanding was not difficult for there were two languages which could complement each other. If I failed to understand what ‘soil’ meant then there was Kannada’s ‘maNNu’ to help me understand. Later in life if I failed to understand ‘commodity fetish’ then Kannada’s ‘vastu vyaamoha’ would help me understand and if I failed to understand ‘pratigaami-purogaami’ then English’s ‘regressive-progressive’ would help me. But the real tragedy was that a language of expression was not formed in this tearing apart of the inner world between two languages. This was because expression, as I feel, demands a command over the language, if not profound at least there is some basic requirements. With a broken English and half baked Kannada what possibly could one express, though some basic communication was possible?
With this pull and push between the two languages I got distanced from both the languages. It was like having a leg each in different boats and two boats taking their own course in their own speed resulting in a fall into the river of screaming silence, a wordless world.
This might not have bothered some of my other classmates who learnt the languages of C++ and Java and others to make their living. But when I chose my path for life and livelihood, this bothered me a lot. With ideas flowing in, in two languages (plus one more of Hindustani, which we were all made to learn) ideas and thoughts would take wings within the inner world but struggle to come out as the language required is inadequate for expression.
God knows how much Govind Sir and Sudipto cursed me for my English while I was with The Hindu! No wonder Raghunandan Sir asks me, affectionately, to improve my English. How much does Akshata, no less to my elder sister, curse me for not being able to write in Kannada! No wonder Chidanand Sali has to translate my ghazals into my mother tongue- Kannada. I struggle to write in Kannada, but the language doesn’t flow through the pen to the paper from my mind. I struggle to give voice to the inner world in English, but my English is half baked. The inner world is thus broken between English and Kannada in broad and between screams- attempt to speak- and silence – inability to speak!
I do not blame anyone for this. It’s a rupture that has happened because of an intersection of language politics, socio-economic condition etc. I myself am also to be blamed, partially, for not having utilized all my strength to work on my weaknesses and limitations. But at the same time, when I see Kannada medium schools being closed down and many children whose mother tongue happens to be Kannada being sent to English medium schools I feel that one should, in his or her younger age, made to learn- read, write and express, all in his or her mother tongue to avoid a rupture in the inner world of him or her. Because when wordless world is created then the loss, as I see, is two way. The subject however is not able to express, in his or her complete capacity and at once and at the same time it’s a loss to the world too because of someone’s world being wordless the world is at a loss of narratives, ideas, imaginations and thoughts, as the story telling ability is lost.
I believe that this is not just my story- of being torn apart between two languages and thus two worlds- and falling into the wordless world. It must be the story of many. But never have I heard this being discussed or mentioned or even observed by all the debaters of language. The debate and discussion mainly focus on “what will happen to the language?” or “what will happen to the next generation which is divorced from one particular language and has sold itself to the other?” and not much is spoken about the generation which got torn between these two languages at a turning point of history when this shift from one language to the other as a dominant mode of expression and tongue was happening. The story might remain unsaid because it is the world of the wordless. But that wordlessness is screaming, yearning for patient and compassionate ears.
Yesterday, on the occasion of Deepawali, my sister gifted me with a wrist watch. It has been years since I wore a wrist watch. Mobile phones with its multiple utility made wrist watch disappear from many a hands and lives, I believe, including my own. But the moment I saw myself being gifted with a wrist watch the needles of the watch moved backward and I remembered A.V. Jacob, who used to teach in St. Aloysius College, Mangalore when I was a student there.
Those days, I used to see him often in campus but I did not know who he was and worse, I dint even know that he was faculty. With this limited knowledge of him, there was no chance for me to know what he was!
End September 2003. Our department- Bachelors of Social Work- had decided to observe International Senior Citizen’s Day on October 1 by visiting old age homes and distributing soaps, tooth paste and other things of daily use, which we intended to collect from the entire college. We formed a few groups and decided that every group will be assigned to visit one department each and make an announcement of our programme and then collect the things, two days later.
I was assigned the BCA section and on one day I walked towards the BCA department to make an announcement. As I opened the door I saw Jacob Sir lecturing. That was the moment I realized that he was a lecturer. Till then, his appearance in a faded shirt, salted beard, soiled shoes, teary eyes never gave me a feeling that he was a lecturer. I walked in, introduced myself to Jacob Sir and took his permission to read out the notice/ request letter we had prepared. I read out how we should respect elderly people and as a mark of that respect we- the students of BSW- had decided to ‘help’ the elderly people in the old age homes by ‘gifting’ them with soaps, tooth paste and other daily requirements. Saying this I requested all of them to be ‘kind’ enough to be contributing something for the ’cause’ and announced that I would be back after two days to collect the ‘gifts’.
With some pride of a moral science teacher I turned to Jacob Sir to thank him, before leaving the classroom. He was standing right next to me and staring at me. Probably I was expecting him to give me a look which by itself would say, “good work my boy, keep it up.” But his eyes gave me a questioning look. Before I could decipher that look he said, “Write down my name.” I was puzzled. I stood silent. Before the next move of the third needle of the watch he continued, “Even I am old. Will I get toothpaste?” The Rubik’s cube went more away from solution. The entire class burst into laughter. Every block in the Rubik’s cube now appeared a different colour and I could see no possibility of matching anything with anything. I stood still wondering who the fool was- Jacob or I. Who was being laughed at! Jacob Sir turned to the class and said, “Why are you laughing? I am old. I am alone. I do need toothpaste. I do need soap,” then turning to me he asked in Hindi, “Milega na mujhey soap aur toothpaste?” I did not know what to say, as the entire class continued to laugh. I got scared by the entire absurdity of the situation but pulled the courage to ask, “Sir, your name?” as I pulled out a piece of paper from my pocket and a pen. “A.V. Jacob,” he answered. By then I felt ‘pity’ for this ‘old man’ who was in ‘need’ of toothpaste and soap and had decided to ‘gift’ him with toothpaste and soap on International Senior Citizen’s Day. I asked him, “Sir, your address?” to which he said, “Ask the office people they will give you.” This answer made me feel that he was angry and was not actually meaning what he said and that his words had something else to communicate. The entire class laughed as I walked out of the class. This sealed my opinion that Jacob Sir was hitting some other point, which I failed to grasp, and that he was not in need of soap and toothpaste.
I did not feel insulted. I felt intrigued. I wanted to go back to this man. I wanted to speak to him. But there was field-work (an integral part of the social work course) that day and I had to leave the campus. I went back to the institute during lunch hour as I could not work. I went to the students, who in the class had laughed, and asked them what the matter was. They laughed, again, recollecting what had happened in the class. It puzzled me more. Then I decided to talk to Jacob Sir directly and find out what exactly was in his mind during that absurd conversation. I went to the main office and asked for the contact number of A.V. Jacob. They said they do not have it and asked me to enquire in the MCA office. As I was walking to the MCA office from the main office I had to cross the department of English and as I crossed the English Department I just felt like asking Anil Pinto, who those days was a faculty in the same college, if he had the contact number of Jacob Sir. The moment I asked Anil if he knew A.V. Jacob he smiled. That perplexed me even the more. Laughingly Anil asked me why I wanted the contact number of Jacob Sir. When I narrated him the entire morning episode he laughed loud. I, now, wanted an answer from Anil. I sat asking him, through my silence and my eyes, the reason for his laughter. Anil did not tell me why he laughed but he told me that Jacob was a “fine mind” and that Jacob Sir was a “Marxist” who had worked intensely with a tribal group in Maharashtra, hinting at what Jacob Sir was and what he could have meant that morning and what could have angered him that morning.
Later I took the contact number of A.V. Jacob from the MCA office and called him that evening. I reminded him who I was; told him that I wanted to talk to him and asked what time on the next day could I meet him. “I am not available tomorrow,” he said. “If not tomorrow, day after tomorrow,” said the stubborn me. “I come to the college at 7 in the morning and then leave by 11,” he said. As I was travelling from Manipal to Mangalore those days it meant I had to leave by the first bus to reach at 7 in the morning. I was ready for it. “Ok Sir, will see you tomorrow,” I said to which he said, “007, IT block. Easy to remember. Bond,” and dropped the phone. That was his cabin number- 007. Jacob, A.V. Jacob. That last sentence made me feel a bit at ease for that said that Jacob Sir had a sense of humor too.
The next morning catching the first bus I went to college, not to attend regular class but to meet A.V. Jacob and not an ‘old man’ who was in ‘need’ of toothpaste and soap. Sitting in 007, amidst some computer hardware machines which I did not understand, I asked him what he meant the previous morning. He was still angry about it, I could read. “What purpose are you going to serve? Do you even know what those old people need? Have you tried to find out, at least? Is it toothpaste and soap that they need? You are least bothered about what their needs are. All you want is self-satisfaction of doing something, a pride of charity. Your concerns are so superficial that what you do is the only thing that matters to you and not what actually is the need. Tell me the truth, in the very same meeting where you decided to go visit the old age house dint you decide to carry a camera? That photograph you want to click, of you handing over those toothpaste and soap, is so important for your ego. Isn’t it? That matters to you more than those people. Your idea of social work is flawed. You think of people as beggars who need your toothpaste and soap. So you think by giving them toothpaste and soap you are doing some service and social work…” he went on hitting the nail on its head. I felt ashamed of myself and our programe of distributing toothpaste and soap to the senior citizens, for Jacob made me realize how flawed it was. We spoke for nearly two and a half hours that morning, I missing the first class of the day.
A day later when I went back to the BCA department, as I had to go collect toothpastes and soaps, as it was decided earlier and was impossible to back out by then, I hoped that no one would get anything. To my luck nobody got anything. But a lot of toothpastes and soaps were collected from the other department and we- from the department of social work- ‘proudly’ went to old age homes and distributed those toothpaste and soaps. Yes, photographs were clicked too making me remember every word that Jacob Sir had spoken and making me feel ashamed of everything.
In the very next month I organized a lecture by him for the students of Social Work which was way above our intellectual capacity to understand. When I had organized this lecture for us, I had told Abid Misbah- favourite student of Jacob Sir, who was in the BCA class which laughed at me- about it. So after the class Abid asked me how the class went I honestly told him that we understood nothing. He had spoken of Hegel and other tongue twister philosophers of whom we had never heard then. When I said that we did not understand, Abid said how Jacob Sir’s classes for BCA were also ‘high class’ and difficult to understand for his classmates. Saying so he said, “He is too intelligent for all of us.”
In the very next breath Abid had asked me, “Did you notice that he doesn’t wear a wrist watch?” I said I had not noticed it. He then told me the story behind Jacob Sir not wearing a wrist watch. It seems when Jacob Sir was a college student all his classmates had a wrist watch except him. The economical condition at his place wouldn’t let him have the luxury of having a wrist watch. But he desired to have one wrist watch very much. Once highly impressed by his answer sheet one of his lecturers said anything that Jacob asked for would be given to him, as a mark of appreciation for his intelligence expressed on the answer sheet. Then, I was told, it was a wrist watch that Jacob Sir asked for. In two days Jacob Sir had a wrist watch on his hand. He was so much in love with his new watch and so excited about it that he would keep looking at his watch, like a child is completely absorbed by playthings. This, it seems, made him concentrate less on the class which angered the lecture who had gifted him the watch. The anger of the lecturer and the inability to concentrate on the class made Jacob Sir throw away the wrist watch and never wear it again.
Ever since then every time I think of wrist watch I remember Jacob Sir and his story with the watch. Even when I stopped wearing a wrist watch, because of the luxury I had with a mobile phone, I remembered Jacob Sir. When a couple of them asked me, in the last few years, if I never wore a wrist watch, I said, “Forget me listen to this story…” and have narrated the story of A.V. Jacob. Yesterday when my sister gifted me a wrist watch and I had to wear it, for the emotional value it has, I felt that my wrist was heavy for it is, now, not used to carrying a watch. At once and at the same time, along with my wrist even my heart was heavy, for I remembered Jacob Sir as I wondered would he wear a wrist watch now, after so many years of him not wearing it, if somebody gifted him a watch.
A heavy heart has been remembering Jacob Sir since yesterday. When was the last time I met him? That was when I was with The Hindu. His cabin was shifted. But he was still the same. Faded shirt, salted beard, soiled shoe, teary eyes. We couldn’t talk for long that day as he had a class. I left and I couldn’t visit him again. Today, when I am remembering him so intensely I feel like talking to him. But I don’t know where he is. Few months ago when one of my friends joined Aloysius as a faculty I told her to go meet Jacob Sir. After a few days she said there was nobody by that name in the MCA department. I asked her to check once again and gave her the description of him- faded shirt, salted beard soiled shoe and teary eyes. She could not find. Today I called her yet again to ask if she could find Jacob. A negative reply. The I called Anil Pinto and asked if he knew where A.V. Jacob was. His silence made me feel that he too went back in time. “No,” he said after asking if it was the same A.V. Jacob who was in the computer application department. “Yes,” I said and we both went silent for a moment. Telling Anil I will ask a few others I told him, “Some people just disappear.” Anil probably did not hear me properly. He asked me to repeat and I said, “Some people just disappear.”
Some people just disappear. Time doesn’t wait for them to re-appear nor did it stop when they disappeared… It continues to march… Like this watch lying beside me now- tick tick tick tick tick… But “When from the clock’s last time to the next chime, silence beats his drum” all the disappeared people appear again, before the mind’s eye…
On the 2nd of May, while announcing the death of Osama Bin Laden to the world, the US of A President Barrack Obama invoked the memory of 9/11 saying its images had ‘seared into national memory’ and added, “And yet we know that the worst images are those that were unseen to the world. The empty seat at the dinner table. Children who were forced to grow up without their mother or their father. Parents who would never know the feeling of their child’s embrace.” If the statement has to be seen parking aside the debates on the history that Osama created and the history that created Osama, on US imperialism, the terrorism of the US, we feel Obama spoke of what is less discussed yet is no less crucial or important.
Though Obama spoke of this, it was only for political reasons to unite the US of A under the umbrella of emotions. But it is true that many dinner tables went empty and many children grew up without their mother or their father and many parents missed the touch of their children. While it is true of US of A, it is also true of Iraq and Afghanistan and to go back further in history it is true also of Japan during world war two.
The history of war the history of politics the history of power hardly documents the loss that war and politics causes at a very human level. Art, at times of history, has not just raised voice of resistance and protest but also has managed to record the unspoken part of history. To quote a line from Brecht’s poetry: “Will There Be Poetry In Dark Times? Yes There Will Be Dark Poems In Dark Times.” Art documents, artistically, the darkness of times. It can be seen in the works of Sadat Hassan Manto who through his short stories documented the violence of partition, in the works of Nagnamuni who documented the unspoken story of the floods in Andhra in 1977, in his epic poem Koyyagurram, to quote couple of examples.
With these entry points I would like enter the animation film ‘Grave Of The Fireflies’ made in the year 1988 by the Japanese filmmaker Isao Takahata. The film is adapted from a semi-autobiographical novel by Nosaka Akiyuki. The story is of a teenage brother (Sieta) and his younger sister Setsuka in the city of Kobe, in Japan, after the city has been bombed during the fading days of world war two.
One of the popular narrative structures in audio-visual medium is to hold the suspense regarding the end of the narrative. But this animation film begins with the end. The film opens with the scene of Sieta breathing his last in a substation uttering the name of his sister. The director thus poses the question, silently, “Ok now that you know he is dead, do you know how did he die? Was it a natural death as you saw it and believed it?” As if to further strengthen his question the viewers get to see a gatekeeper coming to Sieta’s body, from which life has just flown away, who on realizing the end of Sieta’s life exclaims, “Another one.” The strength of his words is in the normal reaction to a death at a public space. Death doesn’t shock him anymore. By saying, “Another one” he has made us realizes that Sieta has died in the times when death was reduced to statistics. It also makes us realize that its not just Sieta who has died but many have died, like him. So the story of Grave Of The Fireflies is not the story of Sieta alone, but it’s the story of many through the life of Sieta.
From here the film moves back to narrate the story of Sieta and his sister Setsuka after their city has been bombed by the US of A. Their mother has died in the bombing and their father is in the Navy. They are not just deprive of a house, now, but also a home. Their entire environ is damaged. Its not just they who are displaced by this war but the place itself has been displaced thus making them an alien in their own place and their own space. They, for survival, initially move to the house of an aunt, who is quite nasty and does not feed them properly. This makes Sieta find an empty cave for himself and his sweet little sister. Now the burden of feeding himself and his sister falling completely on him, Sieta does varied things to fill their hunger, including an attempt to steal.
The author of the novel Nasoka once in an interview had said that when he was searching for food would feed himself first and his sister later. He recollects that his own sister died because of lack of food and nutrition and said that this fact haunted him all his life. This, he said, pushed him to write the novel.
In this autobiographical statement of Nasoka we can see that the cruelness of the aunt was caused by the historical pressure of the war time which damaged life and lifestyle of people. The scarcity of food the intense hunger made Nasoka feed him-self first, and the aunt of Sieta and Setuska sell the clothings of their mother for rice and keep a major share of it for herself. It’s this scarcity of food and intense hunger which makes Sieta make an attempt in stealing and be caught in the act by his own sister making him feel ashamed of himself.
Sieta had to leave behind his childhood and take up the responsibility at a very early age because of the damage caused by war. He not only lost his family and childhood but was also burdened with the responsibility to make his small sister not feel the absence of the touch of a family at a very formative age. He hides the matter of their mother’s death from Setsuka and makes all possible attempts to make her laugh and keep her happy by holding fireflies, giving her candy, and creating water bubbles. But there is a limit to the optimism of the will. Human spirits can triumph over situations but not historical darkness. The struggle of Sieta comes to an end when Setsuka dies due to lack of food and due to malnourishment. The war, which snatched the childhood of Sieta, earlier after snatching their mother, the shelter of parents, cuts short the life of Setsuka early, very early.
While the film celebrates human spirit and courage to fight against odds, it does not romanticize it. It speaks of all the ‘short cuts’ that humans will have to take for survival, without looking down at those acts but seeing them as a part of the struggle for survival. At the same time it doesn’t speak of triumph of the will, against all odds, thus making the world of art ground properly on earth.
This film is shown across Japan to sensitize the children towards their history. This film, probably one of the strongest anti-war films, wouldn’t have been this strong if made a film of celluloid. While the story of the film suits the medium of animation, it is quite unusual (at least in the times it was made) to incorporate such stories within the medium of animation. This has not just given a new touch to the story but also has made many, who think of animation as a medium of and for children, rethink about animation.
Art, while documenting the untold part of history, can generally do two things. One, heighten the emotions to cut through the skin of the audience to communicate. Two deepen the emotions to seep into his heart, taking him to a meditative state and think about what is communicated. This film slowly grows on the audience, making him think about various aspects, as they start associating themselves with Sieta and Setsuka.
It is true that a good art is the one which slows you down. The speed of history has to slow down. The speed of power politics has to slow down. Apart from raising voice of resistance and protest, the art should probe the audience and should also make them slow down. When political speech reminds us of the empty dinner table it is to intensify the hatred for some people and is jingoism in disguise. While Grave Of The Fireflies and such films speaks the same it tries to fill the gaps of history and to enable the audience look at life differently, slowing them down, revealing to them the politics of larger politics. This is the politics of art. This is creative politics.
(Written for the 300th – special- issue of Hindi magazine Chakmak which was released yesterday the 23rd of Oct 20011 in Bhopal by Gulzar Saheb)
They walked in five minutes after the music concert began. The two, who appeared to be of the age 17-18, came and occupied the seats right in front of me.
Manipal, 19 Oct 2011, Friday.
The boy was a music illiterate and the girl a music enthusiast. The girl was trying to explain the music to the boy, in a very soft voice. The boy was trying his level best to understand but by looking at his eyes one could understand that he was failing to understand, even when he was enjoying the music. On realising his diffiulty in understanding the music , even with the explaination provided, the girl would touh his hand, softly, and smile, as though to assure him that it was ok if he couldnt understand and that he would understand with more listening…
To me that touch was more musical than the music being played on stage and i thought that her touch would make him understand music more than her explaining.
After an hour or so while the girl was lost in the music and the boy who was making serious attempts to understand the music as he was enjoying the music, slowly and softly touched the hand of the girl. She looked at his eyes and he smiled… She got up and so did he. They both walked out… Having enjoyed the music…
As I saw them walk out, while listening to the music taking wings from the strings of violin, I remembered a line that Almustafa speaks of ‘love’ in Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet:
Sing and dance together and be joyous.
But let each one of you be alone,
Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.
Had a small debate with a faculty of Management in Manipal on caste, the Vishwakarma community in specific, which took me back to a mail i had written to my friend Shobha after she shared a blogpost of Rahul Pandita titled ‘A Brahmin Heart’ with me. Here i post the entire mail:
Rahul Pandit may be correct in his opinions on Binayak Sen, CRPF, Maoists etc but his take off point itself appears flawed. When people ask “Why are you doing this?” the question comes from a statist mind and not with a hidden expectation that only a Dalit, JNU passed jhola fellow or a leftist needs to do it. If he can’t understand such simple psyche of the larger population, which thinks Nation is mother, Nation is God etc etc (which makes them feel offended when someone takes a soft stand on Maoists who declare a war on the nation) and takes that as his spring board to kiddish arguments about Brahminism, i can only pity him.
He was displaced by Islam terrorism. Sad. Very sad. I condemn. But how does this feeling of displacement gets translated into a pride for Brahminism? In a system which is oppressive, crying slogans about one oppression and feeling proud about another oppressive group is no progressive-ism. It is utter regressive-ness and display of stupidity and half baked understanding of the world in which one lives. I have no issues with he not eating meat on Tuesdays and wearing the so called sacred thread, for i know many, including myself, who wear the so called sacred thread as a respect to the emotions of their family. Some of them have casted it off once the emotional burden fell off. In my case it will remain till i can convince my parents in removing it and i am in the process of convincing since nearly ten years now and i hope to convince them sometime soon. That apart, yeah… wearing the so called sacred thread is not much of an issue. The problem is when one wears it on their minds. I think this Rahul Pandit has worn the so called sacred thread on his mind.
Well, now let me tell you about my caste history. I was told, since childhood, that we are brahmins and i was brought up in a typical brahminical set up. You may not believe, Shobha, in my childhood, during holidays, i have served as asst priest, distributing holy water to the devotees. My father happens to be in the forefront of these caste organizations and i would go with him to all their programmes (because there they would serve ‘bajal’- a local soft drink which was very popular those days) and listen to all the speeches. It was sometime when i was in high school that the caste-organization, in which my dad was an active participant, started a gurukul to train the caste-boys in priesthood. Soon, a ‘Mutt’ was established. Out of my curiosity, i asked my dad as to why suddenly they found a need for such a school. Then answer was, “Because the Udupi Brahmins refused to train our boys.” The immediate question was, “So, till now din’t our caste have priests?” The answer to this was, “There were only one or two who went and learned from northern parts of India.” I couldn’t accept the answers. I realised, that Vishwakarma community were not Brahmins. The community, from ages, have been occupied in the profession of smiths, carpenters, architects, idol making (stone) etc which is a working class job. I just couldn’t digest the fact that a working class community was a brahmin.
When i came to my calss 12 in our sociology we had to learn about Sankritization. The theory was formulated by one M.N. Shrinivas and his case study was that of Vishwakarma community. He says that in history there have been many communities, like Vishwakarmas, which though not from an upper caste, follow the upper catse way of life and rituals in order to enhance their social status. (it is a totally different fact that no brahmins or non-brahmins saw them as brahmins just because they followed the brahminical rituals) I had a theoretical background now. So i started arguing with my dad and my dad started saying that M.N.S. has been proved wrong long ago, for it is a well known fact that to sculpt the idols of the god and do the temple architecture one needs to know the vedas etc etc so one had to be a brahmin. Saying this my Dad said, “MN Shrinivas is bogus.”
My dad was partially correct, though not completely. I will tell you why. MNS makes his observations correctly, but doesnt go further and ask, “Why do they imitate?” Earlier i thought, and i still think, that these communities which imitate to gain acceptance by enhancing their status are desperate for being a part of the world. There is a whispering cry and crying whisper in that imitation. MNS doesn’t speak of that and by just documenting his observations has in no way explained the power politics in the structure. Even Vishwakarma community is of the same kind, but there is a small twist here. As Deviprasad Chattopadhyay observes, at one point in Indian civilization the working class and working hands enjoyed great dignity for that was the early stage of civilization when man was still conquering the world and gaining control over the world. But once the caste- structure came into existence knowledge and labour got broke and immediately knowledge gained supremacy over labour. That is when the Vishwakarmas lost their dignity in the society. Here this community seem to have, in an attempt to regain their supremacy, have adopted to some brahminical rituals without leaving their professions. Sadly in the course of history they wore the so called sacred thread on their minds, not juts on their body.
Two years ago the caste organization of which my dad is an active participant organized a seminar ‘The False Theory of M.N. Shrinivas’ and even i was invited to read a paper. My paper was titled ‘Sanskritization as a regressive counter culture’ made people go angry because i not just was showing the limitation of MNS but also arguing in the same breath that Vishwakarmas are not Brahmins. People were annoyed. But i stood my ground. If my dad had not earned so much respect in that circle, i guess i would have been trashed that day. Whatever.
Now my dad himself has started slightly believing in my arguments, but he has believed that he is a Brahmin, in fact a step above Brahmins, that it is getting difficult for him. All i tell him is this: “MNS did injustice to Vishwakarmas but not addressing the issue properly. Fine. A greater injustice is being done by people like you who through the ages have ripped off the community from its own flesh blood and culture to make it wear a Brahmin culture, making the community divorced of its own culture and its own grammer. You have uprooted the Vishwakrma community from its soil.” At times i also tell him that the caste organization is killing community identity by hanging it to the brahmin tree with the so called sacred thread. To this his answer has always been silence.
Well i narrated this entire narrative just to ask this: Now should i, for having been uprooted from my soil, sometime in history, left with no culture of my own, but a borrowed culture of brahmins, take extreme pride in saying i am a Vishwakarma and once upon a time we were the most respected people on this earth and these Brahmins did injustice to us? Or should i engage my entire life in resurrecting the Vishwakarma culture which the brahminical supremacy snatched from the Vishwakarma people? How regressive and stupid that would be. The real thing to be done is de-casting the society.
I know, like Dalits, the community which i belong too has been oppressed throughout history. The community to which i belong to lost everything of its own, in an attempt to regain its supremacy, and gained nothing, not even the dignity for which it yearned. This remains a less spoken part of India cultural history where certain communities got torn apart between two cultures. But there is no point in speaking of it and trying to re-establish it. Any such attempt would only build walls and what we need to build is not walls but bridges. Construction, should have a knowledge of the past, but the eyes or the vision should be focused in the future and not in the past. I guess somewhere Rahul Pandit has to understand this and needs to decaste himself first. Else, with all his progressive stands on developmental issues one would still say “arrey yeh toh Pandit hai” because he is Pandit not in his card but in his mind.
(The mail was written on 7 July 2011, from New Delhi)
Death, almost always, makes us quite emotional and makes us over-evaluate the contribution of a person who has been embraced by death and throw a blind eye on the limitations of that person. Though this is more in cases of untimely death and unnatural death, natural death and death at an expected age also results in the same. Death can not only cut short lives but also elongates life even after death in a larger than life manner.
To my mind Jagjit Singh (may his soul rest in peace) was more of a popular ghazal singer and not a great ghazal singer. At his death I do not want to be dishonest to the departed soul or to myself by over-evaluating the position of Jagjit Singh as a ghazal singer.
Jagjit Singh did have a sonorous voice and was a good singer. He did touch many a souls, including mine, with his voice. But, looking through my eyes and listening through my ears, the ghazals to which he gave voice did not take a second birth in his voice. The poetry hardly got lifted through his voice to the next level. They remained a poetry but in a melodious voice. Moreover his compositions all sounded the same, once you listened to a couple of them. Even when they sounded the same they did not fail to touch you, thanks to the poetry that he chose to sing.
Yet Jagjit Singh gave us very memorable moments through memorable songs. Many, I am sure, like me, started off listening to ghazals and developed a taste for ghazals, listening to Jagjit Singh sung ghazals. So for many of the ghazal lovers ghazal and Jagjit Singh are synonyms. I remember once, in a concert, Gulzar referring to Jagjit Singh as Gazal-Jit Singh. To that extent Jagjit Singh was a part of ghazal for the common man, which Gulzar understood very well.
Though not a great ghazal singer the greatness of Jagjit Singh remains in further popularizing the form of ghazal and keeping the tradition of ghazal alive among the common men. He kept ghazal alive among the masses, yes. But we need to ask ourselves if Jagjit Singh diluted the ghazal singing tradition which was more vibrant than the kind of singing which he practiced which was more monotonous, though it gave a feel of depth.
What we cannot forget over here is the fact that in a post-independence situation where Urdu was being marginalized as a part of the Hindi Nationalism and Hindu Nationalism it has been Bollywood songs which in many ways kept Urdu alive among the common man. With Urdu, the form of ghazal, which is so closely associated with the Urdu language, could also have gotten marginalized if not for bollywood songs and the various albums of Jagjit Singh, Chitra Singh, Pankaj Udaas apart from Ataullah Khan, Ghulam Ali etc. It appears like Jagjit Singh’s style of singing and his voice was almost like a negotiation between the intense Urdu ghazals and light music style which had a mass appeal. This negotiation was also done by the kind of poetry which he chose to sing. He chose to sing the less Persianised Urdu which the post-independent Indian mass could not follow easily. This negotiation worked very well among the masses and not just appealed to the listeners but also kept ghazal alive and through ghazals, to some extent, even Urdu or Hindustani.
As we acknowledge the fact that Urdu/Hindustani and ghazals, to some extent, survived among the common men through Jagjit Singh and did not die at the hands of Hindi Nationalism and Hindu Nationalism we cannot forget his album ‘Samvedana’ where he gave voice to the poems of the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpeyee. Though the poems, by themselves, did not have anything fascistic in it, how can one dismiss the fact that A.B. Vajapeyee was from the Bharateeya Janatha Party, which came to power because of its Hindu Nationalism and that Vajapeyee himself was known for his highly Sankritized Hindi which was an offshoot of Hindi Nationalism. The poems of A.B. Vajapeyee are of not great literary merit, according to literary critics, yet Jagjit Singh went on to give his voice to those poems. Was it to please the then PM and the party that he represented? I don’t know. If yes, why did he choose to do so? I wonder!
On one hand Jagjit Singh, it appears to me, diluted the vibrant ghazal singing tradition by his dull singing, which appeared deep. On the other hand he has kept ghazals alive among the common men and popularized the form of ghazals. On one hand he has, knowingly or unknowingly, fought for Urdu/ Hindustani which is closely associated with the form of ghazal and on the other hand he has given voice to the poems written by a man in whom Hindi nationalism and Hindu nationalism comes together.
As I sit and think of all these I am reminded of that one line which he sang:
Tum Chaley Jaaogay Toh Sochengey,
Humney Kya Khoya? Humney Kya Paaya?
The sudden death of Steve Jobs came as a shock to many, including me. Death, every death, leaves behind a vacuum. Agree. So did the death of Steve Jobs. No doubt. But with the underlining of Steve Jobs life by mourning over his death I felt quite disturbed.
The sms I sent out to many friends on 6th of October read: “Steve Jobs was a great man. Sad that he passed away quite early. But I am thinking why the death of Ram Dayal Munda (30 Sep 2011) was not mourned so widely! How and of what we construct memories, as I see, are also a part of our politics and a reflection of what we stand for.”
By underlining the life of some people by mourning over their deaths we are also creating memories for ourselves and others. Through these memories we are also constructing our histories. What we include and exclude in this mourning, in this memory and this history reflects our politics and what we stand for.
The rich life of Ram Dayal Munda is not recognized when his death is not mourned and not even registered in our minds. When the death of Ram Dayal Munda’s death goes unnoticed, his life itself doesn’t get space in our memories, he gets erased from our mental and emotional history. By not telling the story of Ram Dayal Munda, by observing silence about his life, at the time of his death, we are excluding him from our memory and our history. At the same time Steve Jobs becomes more and more a part of our memory and our history by the way we construct memories through mourning and thus underline his life.
In this politics of inclusion and exclusion in memory a certain kind of history is being written where a ‘capitalist revolutionary’ finds a mention but a revolutionary who dedicated his life for the preservation of tribal culture doesn’t get any mention or gets less mention (speak of the 11th page given to one and the 1st page given to another and the politics of prominence which again forms memories and writes histories in a different way)
Storytelling and retelling of stories is an important aspect in keeping memories alive and through these memories writing a certain kind of history. When mourning we invoke, through mourning the life of of the dead and thus narrate the story of the dead man’s life. Thus underline the life of the dead. These narrating of stories through mourning not just reflect what is our politics what we stand for but also what kind of history we are writing and what kind of history we want to pass on to our future generations and what sort of a dream future we have in our minds.
Do we want to present Steve Jobs (d. 05 Oct 2011) as the model for our future or do we want Ram Dayal Munda (d. 30 Sep 2011) or a Wangari Mathai (d. 25 Sep 2011) is also reflected in what we mourn for and by mourning what story are we narrating and through that narration what kind of history are we constructing and what we are including and excluding in our writing of history and narrating that history to our next generation on which the next generation will build itself, which will form the future.
The car stopped. Sound of the horn. I come out of the book I was reading, sitting by the road, while waiting for them. The door opened. I went and sat next to him who had come home after three years.
There was a child like enthusiasm and excitement in him as we drove to the restaurant where he wanted to eat prawns. There was the same child like excitement in him as he said he wanted to eat Gudbud ice-cream after the lunch. There was the same child like excitement in him when we told him that we could make it to the beach before heading back to Manipal where he was to deliver a lecture on Rabindra Sangeeth.
Yet at once and at the same time he was also father-like, to me. That warmth in his words, affection in his gestures like patting the back, that kindness when he put his arm around my shoulder… It was this father like love from his side which made feel like a child while with him. I felt like a small child. I was jumping as I walked but did not make it too visible. I was as I was breathing but not so loud that everyone could listen to it.
While in Malpe beach after the delicious lunch and ice-cream my eyes fell on the white balloon that was being sold under a coconut tree. I wanted it. I wanted it as a sign of the child that I felt I was deep within, in his company. I went and bought it. I played with it by the beach and held it tight while we drove back to Manipal.
We went to his room, to collect his lap-top and with it we drove to the auditorium where his lecture would begin in some time. We walked into the auditorium with this white balloon flying and swinging between us, with its string tied to my finger. I was still holding on to it like a child. There were too many people in the lift and to save the balloon from being crushed I raised my hand letting the balloon almost touch the top of the lift. He smiled looking at me. A smile filled with affection.
The lift opened and we were close to the auditorium. Known faces appeared before our eyes. I took my hand back trying to hide the balloon which was not so small that this small body could hide it by holding it behind. I felt embarrassed, know not why, with that balloon. But I was still feeling like a child, small child, for he was still next to me. He saw me trying to hide the balloon and said, “You could have kept it in the hotel room.” Did he also feel embarrassed, like me? I asked myself. He had to go set the laptop and check the systems before his lecture so he went ahead. I stood back trying to hold the balloon behind me and thus hide it. All known faces had a smile on them as their eyes fell on me and the balloon which couldn’t be hid behind me.
Later I hid the white balloon under the chair on which I sat. He went on the stage and delivered his lecture on Rabindra Sangeeth. The balloon did not burst. But still i felt it had burst.