History repeats, they say.
From the moment the news channels started telecasting the news of the attack in Padil, Mangalore on 28 July 2012 the memories of the infamous 2009 Mangalore pub attack (24 Jan) was invoked.
A few youngsters were partying at a resort in Padil, Mangalore and 50 members of the vigilante group Hindu Jagarana Vedike have attacked the boys and girls at the private party. The girls were manhandled assaulted and so were the boys.
The private party was called “rave party” by the media and was believed to be one by the vigilante group for which the private party was attacked. The problem the vigilante group had with ‘rave party’ was not legal but cultural, which is an insight to the fact that these groups are not concerned about law. In 2009 the attack on women in a pub in Mangalore was also for “cultural” reasons. In both cases law was taken into hand by the vigilante group and law was broken.
There are more similarities between the two incidents that have occurred in a gap of three and a half years.
Like always, in Mangalore, the attackers have claimed, proudly, that the members of their group have attacked. (On Sunday they have also protested the arrest of their group members). Like always, questions have been raised about the victim to justify the acts of violence.
History repeats. Yes. But with some difference.
In the 2009 incident the camera persons from various channel had assembled at the to-be attacked pub even before all of the attackers arrived! The camera persons called “action” only after which the pub was attacked! The police were not informed! In the 2012 incident the media did make calls to the police as and when they walked with the assailants into the resort. The police did not receive the call and finally when the assault was reported, cases were booked on the reporters! The inefficiancy of the police makes them target the reporter. (an interview of the reporter Naveen Soorinje can be found here and his account of the incident can be found here)
The 2009 attack made national news within no time. The 2012 one also did. But the 2009 images were censored the faces blurred. The images aired by Public TV and Suvarna (may be others too) were not even censored. The faces not blurred.
Discussions were held in almost all the Kannada channels. There were arguments in support of the attack and there were arguments condemning the attack too. The argument of those condemning the attack would be like, “Yes they shouldn’t be partying like that, they shouldn’t be dressing like that, they shouldn’t be drinking like that… but you see attacking them in this manner is not right….”
These arguments were disturbing because they, heart in heart, seem to hold the view that drinking is “not good”, wearing clothes of choice is “not good”, partying is “not good” and moreover gives the authority of individuals to their family while saying, “Who are these people to teach them a lesson? Only their families have that right…”- which goes on to accept that these boys and girls deserve to be taught a “lesson” but by a different teacher. But yeah they deserve to learn a lesson because they are wrong!
When the pub was attacked in 2009 in Mangalore there were arguments which asked, “What is wrong if the girls drink and dance?” Sadly in 2012 even those condemn the attacks seem to have subscribed to some of the basic arguments of the vigilante groups that certain things are going wrong and that needs to be mended. While the vigilante groups take it on themselves to become the teachers the ones condemning the attack seem to make the family members the teachers while accepting that a lesson is to be taught.
In the 2009 incident there was one brave Pavan who fought the vigilante groups, all alone, though with less success. But in 2012 there was no one like Pavan.
In 2009 there were mute spectators for the violence. In 2012 after the attack when the police arrived, the common men and women of Padil staged protest against the victims and not against the attackers or the attack. If being a silent spectator is also considered as being party to the acts of violence here in Padil the most common men and women extended their support openly to the attack and also welcomed it openly, not in silence being mute spectators. They also were crying the slogan, “Bolo bharath maata ki… JAI.”
Saffronization and Talibanization of the collective consciousness. Legitimization of violence.
A closer look at the video makes us realize that one of the difference between the 2009 incident and the 2012 incident is that the earlier was more of an attack while the latter one more of a sexual assault. While in 2009 the attack was in the name of “culture” and the justification was in the lines of “we acted like elder brothers by slapping them when they were slipping.” In 2012 the elder brother has vanished and fascism doesn’t require wearing the mask of a brother and even sexual assault is accepted, in the name of “culture.”
The way in which the girls were manhandled in Padil makes us think if the goons were doing what they were doing f just for some “sexual thrills,” and some “violent thrill,” in the name of culture! It makes us doubt if these men are grounded even in the periphery of any ideology. It appears like the devil has resided independent of fascist ideology in the subconscious and unconscious. But one can never ignore the fact that the devil was planted by fascism. In 2009 the members of vigilante group held a mass prayer before attacking the women in the pub. In 2012 there was no mass prayer as such. The violent mentality is independent now. It requires no support of ideology. The mentality which once held the little finger of fascist ideology now seems to have learnt to walk on its leg by itself.
The orange (read saffron) color of the sky has turned black while the sun has drowned in the coast of Mangalore. Darkness has settled on Mangalore.
In her autobiography- Anudinada Antaragangey– poet Pratibha Nandakumar records one of her meetings with the naxalite poet Ajita where she suggests Ajita to put down her life in words. This suggestion is rejected by Ajita saying, “What is there to write? I have not created a revolution nor have I shaken the society. My revolution my struggle everything is in my inner world. I am struggling with my own self inside myself.”
In one of the earlier pages the author herself wonders if she should be writing an autobiography of not for she feels that she has voiced her life in her poetry. But when she pens her autobiography she documents exactly that which Ajita found too negligible a thing. From the very focus of her autobiography Pratibha begins subversion- which she is known for. While most of the autobiographies- especially women autobiographies- are either about the oppression and trauma they had to go through or their success against all odds, Pratibha chooses to speak , in her autobiography, mainly about her search for love.
This search for love and several relationships of love that Pratibha takes us through is a delicate matter and it must have required great strength courage and importantly sensitivity to write it for there is always a danger of a slight mistake in choice of words and articulation making love appear like lust. But the success of her autobiography is this, it comes across as love and not lust and retains the delicacy of the issue in its words and in its narrative.
Is the autobiography just about the quest for love? No. While speaking of her own quest for love, she unfolds before us her world and there we see the struggle of an individual and also the quest of an individual.
One of the earliest memories of life which the author speaks is her inferiority complex regarding her appearance. The author speaks of her teeth being the major cause of her inferiority complex. This beauty consciousness is formed not by the individual but has happened unconsciously. She speaks of how people would make fun of her teeth arrangements and how her teacher would give the role of the main performer to some beautiful girl who did not know to dance and not to Pratibha, who danced better than the beautiful, for her appearance. Pratibha in the later stage of her, following the fire accident where her body gets burnt, realizes that physical appearance is something unimportant. But sadly the world hasn’t grown up! She speaks of an emotional intimate moment with a person where the person, holding her closely, asks “are you burnt there too?” which angers Pratibha. She says how she felt disgusted and walked off. This act of walking off is protest and display of strength at once and at the same time. But what is more important is that the author feels bad about how she has been gazed by others and not by what is there. She has outgrown any inferiority complex regarding body and appearance. If from childhood to middle-age she has outgrown the inferiority complex and has reached a position of not attaching any importance to appearance, while writing the autobiography, by when some more years must have passed, the author has reached a stage where she challenges that even at the age of ninty she will wear jeans pant and dye her hair. She says this as a response to a boy who asks her if she dyes her hair. The world has not changed even after so many years. But the point to be noted in this declaration is that the author having grown from inferiority complex to acceptance to assertion.
The chapter where such a declaration is made ends with the author saying, “Get lost” (Thoo… Hograyya) which is a reflection of the confidence and strength gained by the author over a period of time. But the author is not the kind who defines her strength and confidence in the light of feminism or takes an oath to fight oppression completely and uncaringly destroy the oppressive structure. Her strength is a humane strength, acquired over years being subjected to oppression, violence and pain and suffering, which tries to understand the oppressor too as and when, through actions, subverting the oppressive structure and making space for the self and respect for the self.
The poet recollects in her autobiography the disturbed marital life of hers and her struggle within the frame of marriage. The husband is slightly violent and insecure too. An incident of being locked out of the house is recollected. That night when she had to urinate she had to go to a corner of the street and pass urine. Though the poet narrates this in good humor it must’ve been quite scary, embarrassing and humiliating too for a lady with two children to attend nature’s call in the open in an ungodly hour. From such embarrassing violence to the restrictions imposed to not attend functions to life threats is experienced by the poet. Yet, when a friend asks her why she tolerates all of it she says, “Because I love him,” and explains why the oppressor is an oppressor. To be able to understand, to be able to forgive, to be able to see the oppressor in a human light and as a human with his own limitation is also strength and not just to fight. The kind of struggle she goes through to get her husband treated is a painful experience to read. But in spite of all her struggle the husband ill-treats her. It frustrates her but still she tries to understand. That is her strength.
But that doesn’t mean she submitted herself to patriarchy and male violence. She finds loopholes within the existing structure to make space. She cooks good food and then gets permission to go watch films. She recollects an incident where she tells her husband that if he expects her to be a house wife of the traditional kind he should also be a husband of the traditional kind, which means he alone should work he alone should go out to pay the electricity bill, water bill, bring vegetables etc. The husband ends the discussion by brushing off her argument. The escape from conversation is not just the triumph in argument but also an indication that patriarchy in its strictest sense is a chain to men too. So, the loosening of patriarchal system, in any which way, is to liberate not just women but also men. In that sense Pratibha subverts the existing structure and validates her acts by turning the master’s language against the master and makes space for herself and makes her position respectful.
The most memorable part of the autobiography is the methods in which the poet is living the way she wanted within the oppressive structure in between restriction and violence. She says that one of the tool was lying. An incident of going for a movie is narrated. Pratibha tells her husband that all her colleagues are going, which is a lie, and goes for the movie all alone. Her husband turns up near the theater when the movie ends, to pick her up and she waves at unknown ladies to make her husband imagine them as her colleagues. One falls for the way in which a dream was lived and how a path was found for the self when it looked impossible, without trying to make any value judgment on the act of lying. More interesting are her acts of late night love letter writing and addressing the cover to one of the newspapers so that even if the envelop is caught by the husband it is assumed that some story some poetry is being sent to a newspaper.
The unbearable violence is dealt by turning the acts of violence and oppression into jokes and laughing about it. Pratibha not just laughs at her tragedies but also teaches the same art to her colleagues. The strength of Pratibha and her colleagues stem from this ability to laugh at tragedies than mourn over it which can kill their morale. Lying and laughter becomes saviors of the poet amidst all troubles of life.
Apart from lying and laughter there is something else which makes life beautiful for her and gives her the strength to keep marching. It is as she says the life of her inner-self, her relationships of love. In an interesting episode narrated by Pratibha she meets a poet with whom she had a romantic relationship through letters but had never met. When they meet the man asks her, “had coffee?” which by its sheer dailyness disappoints Pratibha. She says that the man who used to write letters appeared different in flesh and blood and in his question because of its dailyness. So, what were the acts of writing letters for Pratibha? What was the act of writing poetry for Pratibha? Were they attempts to live that which life did not offer? Interestingly, as narrated in the first chapter of the autobiography, when expressed the desire to write an autobiography on her quest for love her husband reacted saying, “so you want to write on a non-existent imaginary love…” Was the quest for love also a way to find meaning in life and search for that, like writing, which life did not offer? Is there a similarity between the act of writing and the quest for love? Pratibha’s autobiography raises these questions subtly.
Remembering her days of recovery from fire accident she recollects all her pains and immediately breaks into an emotional phrase saying more than everything what pained her was the fact that “he” did not come to meet her. She also tells that she feared doing IAS, once, because she feared that if she becomes an IAS officer she will become a bit distant from human company. This need to belong to someone, to love, to be loved is the driving force of the life. The thirst is such that it can scare the ones who come near. The thirst is also such that it doesn’t allow her to kill herself. Her act of swallowing sleeping pills and then immediately informing about it and saving herself is not an act of cowardice but love for life. She is once told by a man, “you don’t love me, you love life,” which she tells us in the autobiography. She loves life even when caught by the barrenness of life. It is also this quest to quench the thirst once before the play of life comes to an end, which makes revert from suicidal plans. This episode also reveals that love is very essential for life, even if in the form of a search for love.
When the film Slumdog Millionaire was released Harsh Mander who works also with children, especially street children, decided to take some street children to watch the film. Following the film viewing he discussed the film with them to know what they thought about the film and later wrote an article on the views of children. In that article Harsh Mander, in the last paragraph, writes, “The most beautiful observation that the children made while assessing the film made about their lives, was that Jamaal was able to overcome his circumstances not because of the chance of his winning a game show. This does not happen in real life. It happened, they said, because he found love. In the film, it happened to be the love of a girl that Jamaal encountered. But in life, it could be the love of an elder, a mentor, a friend: anyone who really cares…”
It is in search for such love that Pratibha journeys the path of life, as we see it in her autobiography- Anudinada Antaragangey. While the absence of any names frustrates the curiosity of the reader it is not important as to who made her move or how she moved. What is important is to see what made her move. The only remedy for love is to love more. That is the most moving part of the autobiography.
Every new place I go to, I take out some time to look for a bookstore in that place and visit it. Every place has its own taste and so the bookstore of every city has a different kind of collection. So every place gives an access to a different kind of books.
Recently I was in Poona. While having chai at a restaurant I saw a small magazine shop next to the restaurant. After having chai I went to the shop and asked the shopkeeper about the nearest book store of the city. He guided me to AB Chowk saying, “There you will find one entire street of book stores.” I got excited imagining AB Chowk to be like College Street of Kolkata. I took an auto to AB Chowk to see that all the book stores are having only books for competitive exams and text books!
As I was trying my luck to find some good book store and book in between the innumerable “you too win” and “prepare for GATE” books a friend messaged me. This friend is from Pune but settled in Bangalore now. Immediately I called my friend and told about the strange experience of ending up between books for competitive exams while searching for books which would interest me. Narrating my experience I asked my friend which book stores were good for me to visit in Poona and she suggested a couple of them but one particular name somehow caught me. I immediately left to Deccan Gymkhana area of Poona. The shop was closed as it was Sunday.
Next evening I took an auto to the Deccan Gymkhana area. The doors were open. This shop has been operating since 1935 and has three huge photos of John Steinback, Iris Murdoch and George Orwell hung on its wall.
While browsing through the first rack I found a book by Rustom Barucha titled ‘In The Name of Secular’ and without second thought decided to purchase it and was holding it in my hand while moving to the next rack. This rack was like the old age home. It sheltered old books- some second hand. I was looking for something in particular, which is out of stock now and hence my eyes were particularly looking for some words and some letters in specific rather than looking at every book kept in the rack. When my eyes were moving through the titles of the books one book with a different but familiar script caught my eyes between several other cover pages wearing the sweater of dust and turning pale and weak over the years. It was Kannada script. I took out the thick book and read slowly and carefully. It was a huge collection of prose by the Kannada poet Da. Ra. Bendre. Curious to know the content of the book I opened the cover page to see Devnagari script- hand written- on the first page of the book with the title and author’s name printed in Kannada script. It puzzled me. Kannada book with some note in Devanagari script! Printed Kannada script in black ink and handwritten Devanagari script in blue ink. It read some three names- to whom the book was gifted, on the top. All Marathi names. Wondering who would gift Kannada books to Marathi family signing it in Devanagari script, i saw the name of the person who had gifted the book. My eyebrows went high. My eyes sparkled. It was Da. Ra. Bendre himself!
Moving my hand on the handwriting as though moving my hands on a peacock feather I thought Bendre must have gifted the book to someone who did not know to read Kannada and the children of the gifted person must have gotten rid of the ‘useless’ book in an unknown language by selling it to the bookstore, who now has kept it for second hand sale. But I couldn’t believe my luck. A signed copy of Da.Ra. Bendre!
I went to the counter placed the two books- one by Bharucha and one signed copy of Bendre’s book- on the counter table and told the man sitting in the counter, “I will buy these two for sure. Its difficult to hold them while going through the other racks so let me keep it here.” He nodded his head to say, “yes” silently. Placing the books there I went back to the old age house rack. I can remember any title having registered in my head even when I was coming to the end of the rack. I was overwhelmed by my luck to have caught hold of a signed copy of a book by Bendre in a non-Kannada place.
I was still high and almost at the end of the rack when an old man came and asked if I was the one who wanted to buy the “Kannada book.” I went near him and said, “Yes.” “He smiled and asked me if I was from Karnataka. As I said, “Yeah from Manipal in Karnataka,” he turned the cover page normally saying the book would cost hundred rupees. Saying so, very normally, he went on to tear the first page of the book!
He stopped and looked at me. “Don’t tear that page,” I said. He stared at me and said, “See this book is gifted by Bendre to somebody else and I cant give you the book with this page,” and took his position to tear the first page. I screamed once again and told him, “I will fall at your feet, please don’t tear that page.” He repeated his sentence. “This is gifted by Bendre to somebody else and not to you. How can I give you this page?” I got angry and my voice levels went high without me realizing it. “If that somebody understood the worth of it why would they sell it to you? And will you go give them this one page?” I asked. “See I know that someone and the book has come here by mistake. I can give you the book but not this page,” said the old man. “If that is the case then I don’t want to buy the book,” I said. “Then fine I am not giving you the book,” the old man said. “I don’t mind. But I don’t want this copy of the book without that page and I don’t know who is that person who has given the book for second hand sale but would want to have only the signed page, without the book,” came words out of my mouth, mixed with anger.
The old man closed the book and said. The book was not for sale.
Disappointed and angry I went to the next rack of books. Browsing through the other racks of the shop, picking up couple of books (Richard Schechner and Ranjini Obeyesekere ) from the next few racks, cursing my bad luck, I went to the counter. I placed the two books on the one which I had picked earlier and asked the man in the counter to make the bill for three. While making the bill he said, “Sorry that book is not for sale. It was here in the shop by mistake.” After a pause he said, “I don’t know how it came here. It was gifted by Bendre himself to my father. The last name in the top is mine,” he said proudly and added to it, “Bendre knew my father very well and he would come home whenever he came to Poona.” I was in no mood to speak so just was throwing a fake smile at this man hiding my shock by the fact that the book was gifted to them but still they kept it for sale and when they had a buyer they wanted to sell the book by tearing that one page!
The man sitting in the counter said, “I am sorry,” looking at my disappointment which I could not hide though managed to hide the anger. I said, “No no its fine.” Him apologizing made me realize that i had to apologize to the old man for having raised my voice while talking to him, which was disrespectful, and having lost my temper with him. I went to the old man, collecting my three books, and said, “I am sorry for I misbehaved while talking to you,” to which he said, “Ok,” indifferently.
I walked out of the shop and it was raining. I stood for a while and remembered a line of Bendre, which Phaniraj Sir quotes always- “Kandorigalla Kanadavarigashte…”
I think its partially my foolishness to. That book, I know, was a rare one. Out of print. Not available easily now. But for reasons I myself am not able to understand I was carried away by the signature of the author!!! I guess I should have bought the book. Probably if there was no signature I would have bought the book. But when the signature was there I did not want the book without it. What is important- signature or the content? I ask myself while asking myself how correct was it to tear the page of a book? How correct was it to sell a gifted book?
Speaking about a particular scene from his Blue, where the protagonist meets a street musician who is playing a tune composed by her husband, the filmmaker Kieslowski said that he was not trying to say that the husband stole the music from the street musician or that the street musician stole it from the husband. He said he thinks that music is floating in air and that is why two people can catch the same music at the same time in two different places. At times I feel that thoughts are also floating in the air and some catch it and that is how some people are all thinking the same/similar thing at a given point of time.
Few days ago a friend pinged me on gtalk and asked: “Sir friends naa banao toh problem.. banao toh proble.. aisa kyun hota hai..why few ppl who truly give their trust, heart in friendship gets nothing in return apart frm shocks..??!! ??” that very night another friend, while chatting said, “u know the worst thing is when people grow apart for no reason at all,” and continued to say, “Whom can u blame? no one and that can be sooo painful. Just as love comes unannounced, it leaves without making any noise, unsaid words, unexpressed feelings.”
While both of them were speaking almost the same the first one was stressing on trust being broken and causing shock the second one on the lack of a proper reason for the growing apart and was stressing on the loss of a relationship in the changing nature of the relationship.
Just a day before that a friend had shared a wonderful article by Arshia Sattar where the author speaks of how Sita was hurt by not finding her beloved Rama after the war, who had turned into king Rama, and this change of the person leading to the change in the relationship hurt Sita for which she preferred death to getting back to the changed Rama, by proving her chastity.
Tum Masarrat Ka Kaho Ya Issey Gam Ka Rishta
Kehatey Hai Pyaar Ka Rishtaa Hai Janam Ka Rishta
Hai Janam Ka Jo Yeh Rishta Toh Badltaa Kyun Hai.
– Kaifi Azmi
This evening a similar topic came up when I was having chai (over chai) with two friends. He spoke about a recent experience where someone who had taken major help from him had spoken to him in a very indifferent manner. That triggered it all. He said that it was not the first time that such a thing had happened with him. Several times several people on whom he had invested a lot of affection had behaved indifferently after their work, with him, was done. I was in total solidarity with him but she said that it is the nature of humans to be ungrateful and its high time we accepted the hard truth. No, he was not ready to agree with her. Nor was I ready to agree. To agree with it, I thought, was to say it was ok to be ungrateful.
Yes, to be treated with indifference hurts. It hurts when the person who took your help are ungrateful to you and thankless. It hurts because the person was all good till the work got done and then turns totally indifferent once the work is done. But it hurts even the more when friends change and when friendships change. To be treated by once upon a time good friend indifferently hurts. The very fact that friendship has become a story of ‘once upon a time’ hurts. It hurts when in the changed relationship the changed friend forgets the past. It shocks. It pains. Even the more when the change in the friend and friendship cannot be explained logically.
He said how some of his friends, on reaching some position in life, would not receive his calls or call back even while having his number. “Even if they are busy at that point of time cant they call back. At least after a day or two?” he asked.
Do people actually get so busy that they cant take out two minutes from an entire year to speak to a friend? No I cannot believe that a person would get that busy. Its just about changed priority and changed relationship. To come to believe that you are no more a priority of a friend who was very close and that the relationship has changed, can be extremely painful. Why do priorities change? Why do friends change? Why do friendships change? The absence of an answer makes the experience even the more painful.
“How can people be so selfish? Use people when you are in need and then forget so easily? Remember only when there is a need and forget completely when there is no need at all?”- He asked. him she said, “People are selfish, so you should stop expecting any good from them.” How selfish can people be? Can they be so selfish that the entire friendship is just a performance in the time of need? Is that also possible? If that could be a possibility how can anyone be trusted?
Listening to the two and thinking about it loudly in my mind I remembered a friend who was telling me about someone who broke her trust. My friend told me, “I was happy in my world till this person broke my trust. Now I am not able to trust anyone and love anyone without wax and that has spoiled my peace of mind because I am skeptical about everyone now.”
That may be generalizing. An exemplum. But when betrayed by dear ones one can naturally come to a position where s/he would say, “if near and dear ones can betray anyone and everyone can,” which can lead to such generalized notions. But what the real tragedy here is that trust on entire humanity is lost. That is a great loss. When friends change and friendships change the greatest loss is the loss of love and affection between the two and the loss of trust. This loss of love, affection and trust can eventually lead to the loss of humanity inside the heart of the betrayed.
“I fear I am reaching a position, after being hurt by all changing friends and broken trust, where I want to hurt all those who have hurt me,” I said. He was shocked I think by the way he was looking at me. She asked, “What is that you will achieve by that?” I don’t know. But what can the loss of love, affection and trust can do is this. It can turn a human inhumane. It can make one inhumane leading to self-destruction, like Sita. Or lead to destruction of the other. <not denying the fact that a middle path is a possibly >
If the change in friend and friendship is actually unmasking of the real self and if friendship was a performance at the time of need, then the chances of a human turning inhumane are high for the very thought that one was used by someone, one’s emotion was fooled and one’s affection was turned into a joke by using it for some selfish reasons can be a nightmare, especially if the friend was kept very close to the heart. It can shock. It can shock to the level that heart would get numb forever, losing its ability to be sensitive. Now that loss of sensitivity is the real loss. The loss of sensitivity becoming a loss of humanity is the real loss. The inability to trust and love is the real loss.
Who is to be blamed? As Buddha said is human expectation to be blamed? If that be true is the person who used you, made a joke out of your affection innocent? The friend who changed colors, innocent? Or is the very attachment to the friend to be blamed? Is there a need to blame anyone or anything? Even if someone or something is blamed, will the pain of a changed friendship, loss of love, loss of trust, loss of humanity, be healed?
There is nothing that one can do but helplessly watch at life mocking at the tragedy. It is impossible to accept the changed relationship and live with it. That is why Sita prefers death over being with Rama. But giving away life for someone who doesn’t care for you seems worthless. Living with it appears stupid. Once a mirror gets broke what is one to do with broken images? Any attempt to collect them and put them together will only cut one’s hand leaving it wounded. To leave it lying on the floor becomes impossible because of the emotions invested on that mirror. Humans get pulled between opposing forces when relationships close to heart change, when trust is broken, when emotions are played with and joke is made out of affections by using it as benefit, an opportunity. It is humanity which suffers in these kinds of tragedies.
Woh Yaar Hai Jo Kushboo Ki Tarha,
Jis Ki Zabaan Urdoo Ki Tarha…
Gulzar Saheb, you might find it weird that I am quoting your own lines to you but I have no other expression to get started. There is a reason why I pick up this line. Not just because on the 8th of July, 2012 in Mangalore I used this line as a take off point to ask you a question, during the discussion following your lecture on poetry but also because this line, in a way, captures what I feel about that day when you were in Mangalore.
When I asked you, “what Urdoo means to you?” because of your expression, “Urdoo ki tarha” you said, “Urdoo is my love,” and spoke on the lines of, “Urdoo speak to me. My emotions speak to me in Urdoo.” Then you went on to say how the song is soofiyaana and remembering the line, “Main hawaa pe doondhoo uske nishaan,” said that the song was about the invisible existence of a “yaar” like the “kushboo.” To think about it, how true! The fragrance exists and we all know of it yet cannot be seen with naked eyes. It is there, yet it isn’t there. You too were like kushboo, to me in Mangalore.
Let me express my anger and my unhappiness now. I asked for an interview slot and I was denied. It hurt me. Yes, deeply. I felt it was an insult to my years of love admiration for you and the years of my reading and living/ breathing of your works. But the magic was this- when you began with your lecture one by one you answered the opening two questions I had written down for you. I had come with 16 questions (yes too long but do you think I am not selfish?) and your lecture answered the first two.
What is a poetic moment? Was my first question to you, in my questionnaire. It is from a very general that I wanted to get into more specific. Though I never got to conduct the interview, you did answer my first few questions. You said what a poetic moment is. “When a lady lights a lamp in the evening, wiping her tears cries saying- jab charaag jaltaa hai toh poora aangan roshan hota hai, dil jalta hai toh sirf dhuaan kyuna uth’ta hai?” you narrated and went to describe how the flame, after fighting to stand up while the wind is blowing, stands up and then challenges, “Aaye ab koi jhonka.” When you were explaining how a flame stand up on its feet, moving your hand slowly in the air like painting in the canvas of air (hawaaon pe likh doon) I had my answer- there is poetry in every moment, it just requires a third eye to see it!
I also loved the way you entered the question of a poetic moment by answering the question what poetry is. You said that the question “what is poetry?” is like the question, “what is life?” for which none of us have a definitive answer even when we all are alive and live life. I had once asked my teacher H.S. Shivaprakash a similar question, “What is a good poetry? How do you judge a good poetry?” to which he had counter questioned me, “Who is a good human? How do you judge as to who is a good human?” I was reminded of my conversation with my teacher when you spoke.
My second question was to be- what is it in poetry that makes it poetry? You answered this question so beautifully and poetically. You said poetry was walking and initially rhyme was following it and after a while poetry thought to itself, “yeh toh mere palle pad gaya hai,” and casted it off. Then you said it casted off meters too. So, what is it in poetry that makes it poetry? There is no specific answer that you gave. But your repeated mentioning of “ehsaas” makes me read that as an answer. Or probably it is essentially to bring something to life. For example the way you narrated the history of poetry as though poetry was walking on some street with rhymes and meter following it like some “paaltoo billi,” to use your own word. It could have been said in a matter of fact fashion. But you gave life to that information and yes, you made it poetic!
When you answered the opening two questions of mine without knowing that I had those questions for you, I was thrilled. I felt like you had heard my unvoiced question and were answering me. But did I ask those questions to you? Did you actually hear the unasked questions? Wo Yaar Hai Ko Kushboo Ki Tarha…
Once you put a full stop to your lecture the floor was open for discussion and I used that opportunity to ask a couple of more questions. I asked you how the lyricist in you tackles writer’s block. I wanted to know this because a poet doesn’t have deadlines and “tukda ek nazm ka” can remain “din bhar saanson mein …” waiting for that moment when poems become ripe. But that is not the case with a lyricist. The lyricist has to work within deadlines. Your answer was this: “Writer koi aasmaan sey utraa hua shaks nahi hai. A writer is also a professional like any other professional and he has to know his job and do his job.” You said every profession has its own block but one has to tackle it. “Yahaan ticketbik gayi hai aur log hall mein aa chuke hai. Ab artist yeh thodi na keh sakta hai ki ab mood nahi hai, ab gaa nahi sakoonga. Writing is like any other profession and you have to work like a professional.” Your answer broke the aura around the writer. And your approach to writing as a profession like any profession was a required answer to every other writer and aspiring writers.
My other question to you was about how your writing preserved its delicate nature even after your close association with PWA and IPTA. Going through the art works of PWA and IPTA one can easily sense the difference in their craft. They are quite loud, quite explicit. But your works have maintained that delicacy and that ambiguous nature. Take for example the poem that you recited after saying Mangalore is known for its ‘tensed’ environment:
Kaagaz pe rakha
Toh kuch lafz phoote
Kuch dhuaan uthaa kuch chingaariya
Ek nazm ko aag lag gayi.
Dango Kay Shehar Mein Baitha Shaayar
Ab karein Bhi toh kya karein
Lafzo se aag nahi bujhtaa
Nazmo sey zakhm nahi bharte
(Apologies if I got the words wrong. I am recollecting it from my memory. Did not make notes while listening to you being absorbed completely in listening)
How beautiful. Without getting explicit and worse, getting to sloganeering, you speak of the inability of art to heal wounds and speak of the violence prevailing outside poetry. It is political without speaking of politics and not a single pixel of compromise with aesthetics. The delicacy, which is quintessential Gulzar, is so evident and so unlike most of the others associated with the politically charged group of writers.
Answering my question you said, “It’s easy to go with the flow but you have to remain true to what you feel and remain yourself.” My answer is even the shorter- because he (you) is…- Gulzar!!!
Gulzar saheb, I had more questions to ask. I wanted to continue the same question and ask you about aesthetics, politics, political aesthetics, aesthetic politics because your approach is different from other PWA and IPTA members that I am slightly familiar with. While many are aesthetic and political at the same time the politics takes and upper hand and in you aesthetic takes an upper hand and politics flows beanath.
I wanted to ask you about your earliest visual and auditory experiences (because your poems are very visual and have an auditory imagination) and how they have shaped your craft. I wanted to know about the craft of poetry by asking you about the translations you have made of Tagore, Sukrita, folk songs and also the alterations of the poems written by Meena Kumari. Wanted to know how expressions find a form and know how and why about the new form you invented i.e. Triveni and the new kind of music albums that you cut with Abhishek i.e. Udaas Paani and Raat Chaand aur Main, about the new form that you are planning to venture into i.e. drama. I wanted to know if art can help in healing wounds, especially because you once said unconsciously the memories of partition pushed out poems from you and hence I am curious to know what poetry does to a poet after taking wings from the poet, especially in the context of historical violence. There was a question on how second childhood has changed your writing for children. So many other questions too. ..
Some more questions I had but all remains unanswered for me. But still a portion of my interview was done. Kushboo ki tarha… Interview is done, yet not done. Gulzar saheb, it’s like this- a couplet in a gazal is complete in itself yet couple of couplets don’t make a gazal complete. Similarly couple of questions answered but the interview remains incomplete. The interview is there yet not there. Wo Yaar Hai Jo Kushboo Ki Tarha…
Answering one of the audiences you said that some poems remain incomplete. You said at times while drawing water from the well the rope slips our hand and the pot with the rope goes into the well… You said at times when dipping a biscuit into a cup of coffee the biscuit stays inside and only the undipped part of biscuit remains in hand… You said similarly some poems remain incomplete. That is how incomplete it was- my interview of yours… It was a dream lived and a dream incomplete also because again, as it happened once before, when breathing the same air with you, standing next to you, I was speechless and my voice was stuck in my throat… The dream to converse with you remained incomplete… Not that I did not converse with you. But nothing complete. I did converse yet did not converse… Wo Yaar Hai Jo Kushboo Ki Tarha…
My conversation with you began with a smile, as I opened your biography and placed it in your hand. Taking out the pen from my pocket, handing it over to you and said, “Printed hai. Zaraa saans bhar deejiye haatho sey likh ke…” you smiled and signed…
But my dream was to converse more. I wanted to tell you how you had captured my imaginations and how I hated you in my teens because you gave me complex by writing extremely romantic verses, at your age, which put my teen age romantic poetry to shame. But words were stuck “galey mein” like, “kaanch ka tukda”… I spoke to you yet did not speak to you…
Dreams half lived or unfulfilled- I cannot explain. Things were incompletely complete. Dreams shouldn’t come true Gulzar saheb… They must not come true. As you said in one of your poems, “Jaag Jaayega Toh Khwaab Marr Jaayega.” If dreams come to life, they will die… The incompletion of it makes me dream of another tryst… Will there be another tryst, I don’t know. But yes for now I can take shelter in your unusual English poem:
I have tossed a moon in the sky
Hold it when it comes back.
If it falls on heads
You will meet me again.
If it is tails
I shall wait for you.
Cause all that goes comes back
That’s the law of gravitation: In love.
Yes, you were like “kushboo” for me… But at the same time you were “Urdoo ki tarha” and that is where you won me, again and again. Your small gestures were “Urdoo ki tarha.” You taking the garland from your neck and walking straight to the small kid among the audience and garlanding the kid… You apologizing, in public, to an unknown journalist after denying an interview… Sitting on the dusted stairs and having chai… These all made you appear “Urdoo ki tarha” to me and not as “koi aasmaan sey utraa hua shaks.”
When I handed you my old copies of your book to take your signature you wrote on them: “to you with love <signed Gulzar>” and now I feel my name if YOU.
I read it as a lesson in poetry. I have to become YOU and not just remain ‘I’ to become a poet. The ‘I’ should be inclusive of ‘You’. Else I will not be able to understand what a lady lighting the lamp in the evening has hidden in her heart and I will not be able to listen to the flame saying, “Aaye ab koi jhonka.” Its only when I imbibe the YOU that I will be enriched. Thanks for the lesson… Take a bow, Master, from this disciple.
With all my love I have for you and I can possibly give you…
I did not know, while writing about Vijay Simha and his words on forgiving and seeking forgiveness, that I was writing about it on the night of Shab-E-Baraat, aslo known as, Lailat Ul-Dua. I learnt about it in the blog post of Rakshanda Jalil who describes Shab-E-Baraat/ Lailat Ul-Dua as:
“A night of prayer and repentance, of asking forgiveness and seeking barakaat or blessings… (it falls on) the 15th night of the month of Shabaan which, according to the Muslim lunar calendar, is Shab-e-Baraat, or the Night of Forgiveness… And, indeed, Shab-e-Baraat, also known as Lailat-ul Dua, is the Night of Records when our past catches up with us and our future can be corrected by only repentance and prayer.”
On learning that it was Shab-E-Baraat I took the opportunity to seek for forgiveness from quite a few friends who I thought I could have hurt at one or the other point, unconsciously and unintentionally. In an atheistic interpretation of prayer as ‘wishing good’ I remembered all of them in my prayers. Oh yes, I did feel good about myself while asking for forgiveness and praying for these who I value a lot.
I cannot do in peace, till the mind works, for it has its own way of functioning and plays its own games. When one of the friends replied saying there was nothing for which I should ask forgiveness and asked me to forgive him in case I have hurt him, the thought “what is my ability to forgive?” popped up in my mind, even when there was nothing for me to forgive the friend who replied as there was nothing in him which had hurt or offended me.
What is my ability to forgive? – I asked myself trying to look at the darkness outside my room window…
Quite a few faces appeared before my mind’s eye. Incidentally it was 5th July, the last day of working of my first job. That was 2008, four years ago. I asked myself if I could forgive all those who conspired against me staring from the eldest to the youngest. The obvious answer was NO. One of our greatest leaders who passed away recently- B.V. Kakkillaya- once remembered his mother saying, “You will be forgiven if you slap someone or stab them. But if you kick their loaf of bread even God will not forgive you.”
Comrade Kakkillaya’s mother should have added to it saying- you will not be forgiven, even by God, if you hurt a person who loves you with all his/her heart and misusing his/her affection for you to get benefits from that person and then walking over him/her as though s/he was a doormat or using him/her like a ladder to climb up and kicking him/her away after climbing up. I say this because there were few others faces that popped up before my mind’s eye of such betrayers.
Et Tu- is the expression which captures the pains of such wounds of betrayal. To be treated as lesser than humans is the worst feeling. It requires superhuman power to come over the loss of dignity and the pain inflicted when one is walked over and misused, especially by those who are closest to the heart. To be betrayed after showering all the affection, is traumatic. Yes, as a friend wrote in a mail to me:”There is no shame in standing up for a person. There is no shame in sitting beside a person. There is no shame in giving someone importance. There is no shame in being betrayed. There is shame in taking advantage. Shame in betraying. Shame in backstabbing,” but to come over the feeling of having been betrayed, used and unloved by those who you loved the most, as I said earlier, requires super human power.When there is such burden of memory one can hardly muse of forgiving. Can I forgive all those people whose face appeared before my mind’s eye, I asked myself and had silence as an answer from my inner self.
I remembered how two years ago one student mailed me asking for forgiveness and explaining how the conspiracy was framed by one of the most senior person. Even after two years of him asking for forgiveness I have not been able to forgive him or those others who were a part of the conspiracy but never asked for any kind of forgiveness. The burden of memory is such that I cannot forgive. I alsoremember how once when one boy, who was a part of the conspiracy, was asking for forgiveness I stopped him half way through and said, “Don’t ask me to forgive you. Do you have any clue what I am going through after all that you did?” This was long time ago. The result of cutting him half was through was that, probably as defense mechanism, he hated me even the more and continued to speak rubbish. It did no good to me nor any good to him. I continued to live with bitterness and he too.
What would have happened had I forgiven him? Or just listened to him complete his sentence? The boy, who wrote that mail to me, has not been forgiven by me, but there is some kind of communication between us. He feels lighter after asking for forgiveness and I feel a bit better with the feeling that he feels guilty, though there is no justice done. It’s the burden of memory which stops me from forgiving. So, had I allowed the other boy to apologize would it, in some way, initiate reconciliation? May be. Even when I cannot forgive him? I have no clue… but the answer for the question ‘can I forgive?’ remains, shamefully, only and only NO.
Recently we observed the 40th anniversary of the Vietnam War. The image that comes to our mind the moment we remember Vietnam War is that of Kim Phuc running towards the camera, her body being burnt and clothes having melted completely. There were a few articles, in various places, about Kim Phuc and the photographer Nick Ut who saved her after having photographed her. While the story of Kim and Ut is undoubtedly a very humane account which pulls a chord in our hearts a much more moving account is the tryst between Kim Phuc and John Plummer who was the pilot who dropped the bomb. Twenty four years after the bombing Kim was giving a lecture on the Vietnam War veterans and in her lecture Kim went on to say, “If I could speak face to face with the pilot who dropped those bombs, I would tell him that we cannot change history, but we should try to do good for the present.” Kim was not aware that the hall where she was delivering the lecture was close to the house of John Plummer and that he was seated in the audience. A note came her way, during the presentation, which read, “I am that man.” When her talk ended he made way through the crowd to reach Kim and on nearing her could say nothing but, “I am sorry,” and repeat the same, “I am sorry.” Kim holding Plummer in her arms said, “I forgive you, I forgive you.”
It requires immense strength, I feel, to forgive. Plus it requires effort from both the sides- the victim and the victimizer. If the victim refuses to forgive there can be no reconciliation possible and there can be no reconciliation if the victimizer has no sense of shame or sense of guilt and does not ask for forgiveness.
“Forgiveness made me free from hatred. I still have many scars on my body and severe pain most days but my heart is cleansed.Napalm is very powerful but faith, forgiveness and love are much more powerful. We would not have war at all if everyone could learn how to live with true love, hope and forgiveness,” wrote Kim in an article few years ago.
Yes, we need to free ourselves from hatred and bitter feelings for fellow humans. It requires great strength to ask for forgiveness, bending before somebody. But it requires immense strength to be able to forgive. I wish to do that but the burden of memory is anything but forgiving. While the Shab-E-Baraat made me ask for forgiveness, the Lailat Ul-Duamade me ask life to bless me with the strength to forgive.
For several reasons I liked Vijay Simha in the much hyped Satyameva Jayate on 1st July. In the episode that touched the issue of alcoholism Vijay Simha narrated his once upon a time addiction, it bringing him down to streets and his coming out of the habit and his second coming in life.
Vijay Simha, now with Tehelka, spoke how he was one of the brightest students during school who was held as an ideal son by his friends’ parents who would tell their children to become like, “Vijay”. But once he took to alcohol and when it became a habit, it started causing his downfall. He started spending much of his time at the Press Club drinking, after and before work. Soon the addiction grew and the hours spent for work started falling down. In one such days, he remembered, his parents came to meet him. Being assured that Vijay wouldn’t shelter them for long they had reserved train tickets for that very evening. But Vijay did not shelter them even till evening. He did not even let them enter the house and asked them to wait for the train in the railway station. In no time Vijay was on streets, thanks to alcoholism. Losing his job Vijay had to vacate his room too failing to pay the rent. He remembered the days he spent in public toilets and the winters that he survived on Delhi streets. He also recollected incidents where he would ask politicians for money, encashing on their fear of a journalist like him who had most of the inside news. But then one concerned friend, finally, puts him to rehabilitation and that becomes the beginning of the second innings. Vijay Simha then came out of alcoholism, got back to his job, got married and now is well settled in life.
I have an aversion for stories that have an undertone of- power of will- or –you too can win- or –nothing is impossible- etc etc. I have an aversion for such stories because they, most of the times, do not document the difficulties involved in the resurrection of a man but just speaks of two ends and say, “from there to here!” and going high over the success create too much an aura around success and fail to speak of the struggle and the complications involved in getting up after having fallen down. It is one thing to celebrate one’s success and another to speak of the struggle involved without romanticizing either the struggle or the success.
But Vijay Simha spoke of those difficulties too. He spoke of the struggle too as he struggled to speak. He was unlike the Shiv Khera kind ‘you too can win’, it appears to me, when he said, “When you want to restart you will have to settle a lot of previous accounts, especially ethical and moral accounts. You will have to ask for forgiveness from all those who you have hurt and forgive all those have hurt you.” That was unlike all the other stories of success narrated to us because this aspect, mentioned by Vijay Simha, is not an ego booster, which is THE reason for the success of all success stories, but an ego damager. Him saying “you need to bend, put yourself to shame, forget dignity,” was such a crucial and important matter. Giving away oneself and one’s ego, introspection, correcting oneself by bending and putting oneself to shame, is rarely narrated in other success stories which concentrate mainly on the ‘power of human will’ which they make us believe can increase the height of sky by pushing it with our little finger.
Moreover this aspect which Vijay Simha spoke revealed that to come back one need to forgive and be forgiven, which means resurrection can happen only if efforts are put from two ends. This again was unlike many other stories we hear where the individual all alone is responsible for his come back and that his will alone can bring him back to life. No. Man is a social animal- basic lesson of social science. Vijay Simha spoke of the collective effort required for resurrection. He fondly remembered the man in the rehabilitation center who helped him throw the dice second time and change the course of the game of life.
Kabhi Jo Khwaab Tha Wo Paa Liya Hai,
Magar Jo Kho Gayi Wo Cheez Kya Thi.
– Javed Akhtar
A story of success is not a story of complete success. The usual success stories or the stories of great come back hide the darkness under the lamp. Success, resurrection cannot mend everything. There remains something undone. This untold story is what makes reality not a ‘feel good factor’ totally as the general success and great come back stories makes us believe.
“Did you go and apologize to everyone who you hurt?” asked Amir Khan to Vijay Simha who replied saying, “No. I couldn’t apologize to my dad who passed away a few months after he came to visit me with my mom and I did not even invite them into my room.” He continued the story to reveal that even to this day his mother doesn’t speak to him. He also recollected the letter his father had written to him after his visit to the doors of his son which read, “It’s a curse to have you as a son.”
This part of the interview did make my eyes wet. It requires great courage and a great sense of truthfulness and honesty to speak of personal failures in the process of personal success. It requires great humanness to speak of the wounds on other’s hearts that were done by us. It is this void that makes one humble even at the face of success and great come back.
The best part of Vijay Simha’s interview for me was that there was no advice from his side. He just spoke of his story with no cheers for his success and no tears for his days on the street. But the honesty was in not celebrating the success and creating an aura around him. Honesty and truthfulness was in speaking of the struggle in coming back and not the celebration of overcoming and surviving high tides. It was the honest account of the struggle and the difficulties involved in crossing the ocean between two islands- one dry and the other lush green- which made Vijay Simha’s interview wonderful. Plus it was also the honest speaking of the tragedy which could never be repaired which made it a touching account. This also removed the aura of success and come back. It’s not the aura and inspiring tone which will help others to come back but the understanding of the difficulties involved.
Yes, where there is a will there is a way. But where there is a way there are thousand and one hurdles. Who will speak of those hurdles? A man who has walked the path can only speak. Others can make a myth out of other’s success and come back and speak of it as the “power of human will,” and create a false feel good factor.