In the second week of this month (October 2013) I was in Byndoor- my grandparents place- where I met quite a few of my relatives. I was meeting them after a long time. It felt nice till a random evening conversation got into politics: Critique of Janardhan Poojary’s move to have widow priests at the temple, cattle trade, the novel Dundi and obviously NaMo being the “hope” for India.
My aunt- mom’s younger sister- who took care of me during my childhood, in place of my working mother, spoke quite militantly about all of it! I don’t remember a single instance where she has spoken about politics earlier. She, I have always known, as a personification of affection! But there she was angrily speaking and spitting at the ‘enemy’ of tradition, culture, beliefs and the nation! How did the world change so much? I did not have the words to argue with her because I was shocked!
My uncle- my mom’s elder brother- spoke of how bombs must be thrown at Muslims who are into cattle trade. He was serious and said the bomb used to save fields from pigs should be used for it doesn’t kill but ensures that hand and legs will not be in functioning condition after! Nobody there objected. They all seemed to agree with him. My head reeled and the next morning when I saw the photos of cattle traders- license holding- beaten black and blue in Mangalore and their bleeding body, an imaginary scene of these cattle traders being beaten up played in my mind and there I saw my uncle leading the attack!
Byndoor, located in the north part of the Udupi district, is not a big town. But a small town which is growing. Seeing huge hoardings of NaMo where he is being referred to as “Future PM of India” (not just PM candidate) with the slogan “Sambhavaami Yuge Yuge” in a town like Byndoor made me feel NaMo is not just a urban and internet phenomena!
More than often I avoid meeting my school friends these days purely to avoid confrontation about NaMo politics. Memories of having played, stolen mangoes, mimicking teachers together seem like an impossible occurrence for its hard to imagine sharing space with many who now on the slightest criticism of NaMo jump on me and take my flesh out. (Metaphoric statement: The need to give such explanation is necessary) We all were good friends! But today I ask if we all, who are so different fundamentally, were really friends? If yes how could that be? Did those days let us be friends and this day doesn’t even allow sharing of space with them even in memory? My childhood stands far from me and teases me asking “Am I real?” I don’t know what to answer. It doesn’t look real. Today’s shadow has fallen on my past and my past appears too distant. The alienation of today makes my past also seem alienated from me!
I don’t know if NaMo has unleashed fascism or is NaMo a phenomenon which was waiting to happen for the larger mass wanted someone like him to come and give them the courage to bring out the devil inside them. As a friend said, “It’s hard to say whether he is the trigger, bullet or (personification of) war.”
This was just couple of weeks after an intolerant mass spoke with all disrespects about Dr. U.R. Ananthamurthy expressed his opinion about NaMo. He said he wouldn’t want to live in India if NaMo becomes the Prime Minister. So groups of men not just spitted poison at URA but some also sent him money orders for him to leave the country. If expressing an opinion is so difficult for a man like URA what are lesser mortals to do in such a fascist time? When URA is expressing fear about NaMo being “helpful” only to one class & religion and lacks a vision of URA’s dear word sarvodaya, the mass for which URA is speaking is spitting poison against him!
Edward Said says speak the truth to the power and Chomsky says speak the truth to the people. When people and power are in tune with each other? Who do you speak the truth to when nobody wants to listen? When everyone seems to be on some anesthesia!? When truth is not welcomed and considered insignificant?
A friend listening to my ranting in a sad and sarcastic tone asks, “Well, we signed up for democracy, nay?” Yes we did. That is why while speaking at Ahmedabad, after the ABVP attack on FTII students, I had said, “I can’t sing Faiz’s poem aaj baazaar mein because to say hai inka damsaaz kaun apne siwa is impossible.” It is impossible because we, with all our concern, are not their damsaaz. The larger mass seems to be in tune with what we are trying to fight for a better tomorrow. The greater common seems to have a different idea of the greater common good.
I am an anomaly whose anxieties are considered irrelevant, whose questions are considered blasphemous, whose values are considered outdated, whose politics is considered anti-development and whose belief in the idea of democracy- liberty, equality and fraternity- is considered an obstruction to the illusionary future of global power.
Well, my friend, yeah we signed up for democracy!!!
“Many of my students are of the opinion that love marriages are not good for they see many love marriages fail miserably,” she said. “I tell them that if love marriages fail then it isn’t love at all,” she added. She teaches in a girl’s college in a small town in Karnataka.
This is something that I too have been noticing, though I haven’t come to believe that love marriages are not a good option, that some love marriages do fail. While wondering what can possibly go wrong I saw something similar happening outside marriage too. Live-In relationships, I noticed, also have their own strain when the couple moves in together. This puzzled me even the more. But on some meditation I got a feeling that the matter was something to do with sharing space. Sharing our space with another person has its own strain. But on further thought I felt that it had something to do, along with the sharing of space, with the dailiness of life.
Obviously. When you are sharing the space with someone, be it within the framework of marriage or be it live-in relationship, what one has to deal with is the dailiness of life. To see the foam of toothpaste in your partner’s mouth every morning, to ask your partner to close the bathroom door, switch off the lights, to fold the bed sheets, to go buy groceries, to call the plumber, to pay the bills, to see the unwashed pile of underwear, to fart in the presence of the partner, to sweep, to do the dishes, to fix the bulb and tube lights, to be able to bear the smell of partner’s sweat- No. No. None of these day to day mundane things are romantic. So the true test of any relationship- marriage or love- is dailiness.
How much ever the couples love each other if the couple can’t bear this dailiness of life with each other then the relationship is bound to weaken. When not sharing a space, the relationship can be all romantic. But when partners start sharing space it is not romantic always for one has to live with mundane affairs of life.
In an interesting episode narrated by Pratibha Nandakumar in her autobiography Anudinadada Antaragange she meets a poet with whom she has a romantic relationship through letters but has never met earlier. When they meet the man asks her, “had coffee?” which by its sheer dailiness disappoints Pratibha Nandakumar. She says that the man who used to write letters appeared different in flesh and blood and in his question because of its dailiness.
Intellectual connect, common interest, emotional bonding, physical attraction can’t help much if the dailiness cannot be handled. More than often it is about unromantic stuff than romantic while sharing space. One has to live it and with this dailiness, which is unromantic, all romantic ideas of sharing lives together get demystified to an extent. To be able to handle this demystification becomes important. What becomes also important is to be not too disappointed and disillusioned by this demystification.
To be able to accept and add life to this dailiness and be able to make this dailiness romantic or make the gaps between these mundane affairs romantic is also the test of any relationship.
[Disclaimer: This note is written based on 100% observation and 0% experience. So the matter can be completely ignored. To quote Bertrand Russell: I will never die for my beliefs because I may be wrong.]
My visits to the old boys’ hostel increased during the end of my course. Unlike the new hostel where I used to stay the old boys’ hostel has a common loo and bathroom and the rooms are relatively small and hence the old boys’ hostel has the culture of drying the clothes outside the room.
During one of my visits to a friends’ room in the old boys’ hostel, in the corridor, something caught my eyes and I stopped wondering what my underwear was doing there! I had seen it from the corner of my eyes! By the time I turned towards my right, wondering, it occurred to me that it couldn’t be mine and wasn’t mine! It was a similar one! The same brand! I laughed at myself and as I laughed my eyes traveled the string on which clothes were hanged. To my surprise I saw couple of more underwear of the same brand and the same style. The rest, though not all most of them, were all of the same brand. My laughter vanished for it made me uncomfortable!
Why isn’t there any variety? Why is there an obsession with a brand? Why is there such homogeneity?- questions popped up in my mind!
Few years ago in an Institute that I was a part of I saw almost every student going for a similar hairstyle! That was the “in” thing then I guess. From far everyone started appearing the same. A larger number of the population there seemed to be getting high over the same food (fast food) and same drinks. Almost everyone seemed to be listening to the same music and reading the same books . In such homogeneous culture, I thought and still think, things can only decay! All of this had troubled me.
Now years after I was standing and wondering how did I also fall trap to the same phenomenon! It had not occurred to me, until then, that I had fallen trap to the same. This is what globalization does, I started to think and feel that it absorbs us without us realizing it! Globalization and capitalism markets brands and brands become standards and these brands not just establish themselves but by equating themselves with the products they eliminate other makers of the same product. Meanwhile through the help of advertising a particular brand is projected and made to believe as the marker of a standard of living and the only way of life. With this make belief and the elimination of other producers there is hegemony of one brand and homogeneity of life and culture! An advanced stage of the same would be we being left with no other option but to go with that one brand. From that day the brand will decide what our lives will be and how our lives will be for we will be slaves to the brand and left with no other option but to dance to their tunes.
Almost a decade ago at Jaipur I had heard Aruna Roy speak. In her speech, pointing at her Khadi saree, she had said, “My dress is my politics.” I have repeated her lines innumerable times when asked about my khadi kurtas. My roommate once had made fun of me saying, “baahar khaadi, andar jockey.” I had laughed in good humor! But the unknown underwears in the old boys’ hostel made me realize that for dress to become politics one needed to go deep and the it should come from “inside”!
Seriously guys. Not jockeying!!!
I knocked the door and a warm smile welcomed me. I had heard about her from Hiren Bhai when I was in Ahmedabad in August for a protest meet. He and Sarup Behn had told me about her book. Soon after coming back from Ahmedabad I had written to her asking for the book. She promised to send me the book and took my postal address. But never sent the books. So when my trip to Mumbai got finalized I decided to meet her in person and collect the book from her. I wrote to her about my trip to Mumbai and she invited home. And there I was on 2nd of October.
Ayesha Khan, Hiren bhai and Sarup Behn had told me, was a journalist with Indian Express in Ahmedabad. A Maharashtrian born and brought up in Gujarat. She later not just quit IE but also Gujarat and settled in Mumbai. After the 2002 carnage Ayesha Khan, told Hiren Bhai and Sarup Behn, had travelled all across Gujarat and collected poems written by common people, only Muslims, as a response to the 2002 carnage. She collected them and translated them too. The book was published but never distributed to the market by the publisher, for whatever reason. Hiren Bhai had told me that Ayesha had a few copies with her. After a few email exchanges now I was at her place to collect the book Scattered Voices.
After asking me how I know Hiren Bhai and listening to my answer she handed over the book Scattered Voices and its Hindi version Kuch Toh Kaho Yaaron. Handing over the book she started speaking about the book.
After reporting the carnage for Indian Express Ayesha was left with the question, “This was done as a part of my profession. But did I do as a human?” At the same time she was surprised and shocked by the silence of the mainstream Gujarati literature with regard to the 2002 carnage. This made her curious to know if the most common men respond, poetically, to the 2002 tragedy. “More than the curiosity it was my need to come to terms with what had happened,” said Ayesha speaking to me about it after 11 years.
She told herself that she would compile the poems written by Muslims in Gujarat only. Because she by then had realized that she was, “a Muslim more in political and social terms than religious.” With this one condition she set her journey. She just went on asking people if they knew of anyone in the surrounding who had responded to the carnage, for she would not know or take a guess as to who could have possibly written. People, she said, would guide her to someone in their near by surrounding saying, “Yeah s/he had written.” What she found interesting was that people around knew about the poetic responses. When she would meet the people who had written poems, she said, some would take out a sheet from a polythene bag which would be holding some bills and other stuff and hand it over to her. Some would tear off their only copy of the poem, from the note book, and give it to her. On the other hand, some women who had written poems refused to share their poems saying, “We did not write it to share it.” There were people who had written but did not want to own them. There were people who had written but did not want to share them. The night before this I had gone to sleep wondering what did Neruda after writing the saddest of all lines on that melancholic night! I asked this to myself because I was doubting of any cathartic possibilities of poetry. But here my notions were challenged. It was further when I asked Ayesha as to why she did not approach any other publisher later on when the publisher of the book refused to release the book in the market. She said, “I was emotionally drained out by then and I was kind of satisfied, though not over it completely, because at a very emotional level the entire project had helped me come to terms with whatever had happened because these poems gave me hope.”
She also spoke of a butcher she met who wrote poems in Urdu. She said this man knew the entire lineage of Urdu poetry and had several masters’ poetry on the tip of his tongue! This man she said had studied till class 8 or 9. “See every time the education qualification of Muslims is brought into arguments to speak about how ‘backward’ they are. What does literacy has to do with education and culture? This butcher knew Urdu and Urdu literature better than a well educated girl like me.” She added, “This collection breaks all those stereotypes.” It also breaks open a new image in my mind. I, who consider myself quite liberal, too cannot imagine quite easily the image of a butcher and the image of poetry. But these two images come together as one in this poetry collection.
“One of the dominant emotion in this collection,” she said, “is betrayal.” “When does one feel betrayed?” she asked me and immediately answered, “When you love.” When this love is questioned and asked to be proved, said Ayesha, it hurts badly. “See in spite of that if people are not leaving this country and staying here it shows how much they love this country. Their love is more than the love of those who question their love,” she said and asked me how many of these people would continue to live in this country if they have to “pay price everyday” for being what they are? Getting a house, sending kids to a school, getting a gas connection- these things are not something which require great effort in a democratic country. “But for all these day to day things we have to struggle and there is no normalcy in our lives when these day to day things are affected,” she said and added, “We pay price for our identity every day in one or the other way. Yet we continue to stay because our love for this country is such.”
Coming back to the collection of poems she said, “I don’t know the literary merit of these poems. I am not a literary person. I don’t understand literature and aesthetics much.” While listening to this I wondered, what is the aesthetics of a response? What is the aesthetics of intervention? What is the aesthetics of catharsis? What is the aesthetics of therapy?
“I look at prosperity with great suspicion.” She said one wo/man’s stomach got filled the questions of identity and history start bothering him. It is not a coincidence, she said, that it is in well educated and “prospered” areas that are communally quite tensed. She then spoke of the anti-Nirma struggle by farmers in Gujarat which was a success and the struggle of fishermen in Bhadreshwar (Gujarat) which again was a success. Quoting these two examples she said, “These things don’t get reported in the national media the way they should be. These stories puncture the aura of Narendra Modi. The farmers and fishermen ensured that Modi’s development projects will not affect their lives. They stopped those projects. But its also because they are farmers and fishermen. It’s a matter of their livelihood. The middle-class with its want to prosper will never challenge anything.”
Then she asked me about the situation in Karnataka. I spoke briefly about the situation in my part of the world. From her expression it looked like she was familiar with the situation.
I took her leave and took an auto for a friend’s place. In the auto I opened the book randomly and found these lines:
Khuda hee karta hai hum faislaa nahi kartey
Sitam ka karz sitam sey adaa nahi kartey.
– Nadeem Sayyed Ali
The lord only decides not us
We don’t repay debt of atrocity with atrocity
Yes, the fact that in such troubled times people chose poetry and not retaliation is a hope. They chose word over sword.
The agony of troubled times was clearly searching for a language. It found a language. In language it found some catharsis. Sad, these voices did not reach people. Under tons of dust, I am sure, the books lie in some godown!