It was 13th November 2016. I was sitting in the hostel and trying to work when Dharmakeerthi called to ask if I would be interested in watching an experimental play in Marathi. My first response was in the negative because I wouldn’t follow Marathi. But I changed my mind in no time when Dharma told me the play is titled White Rabbit Red Rabbit, a play about which Shrunga had spoken to me, while in Bangalore, couple of months ago.
The play white Rabbit Red Rabbit written by Nassim Soleimanpour , I was told earlier by Shrunga and by Dharma that evening, is a unique experiment in theater where the play if handed over to the actor for the first time in a sealed cover on the stage in the presence of the audience and s/he is expected to perform while s/he discovers the play while reading it aloud on the stage and performing as per the instruction given by the writer. The play is played only once by a performer and each time a new performer does the play. The prerequisite for the performance is that the performer, before the play, should not know anything about the pay before the performance. The performer is sent a mail 48 hours before the performance where they are told to bring a bottle of water with them and come prepared with an animal impression.
Thus the play opens as a mystery not just to the audience but also the performer.
What grounds this experimental world on earth is the primary reason that led this play to be designed in this fashion. Nassim Soleimanpour, an Iranian, refused to enroll for national service and was forbidden to leave his native Iran for the same. So when restricted from moving outside Iran this theater artist decided to make his words his play travel without him yet with him and wrote the play White Rabbit Red Rabbit, which as he himself says could, “find a way around the Iranian structure of supervising the performing arts.”
Dharma came to pick me up slightly over an hour before the time scheduled for the play to begin. Demonetization had just crashed on all our lives and neither Dharma nor I had money in hand to buy tickets. Dharma requested the organizers to let us pay the next day or on one of the days following and permit us to watch the play that evening. The organizers agreed gracefully.
That evening the play was to be performed by the celebrated Marathi theater and screen artist Atul Pethe. As we waited for the play to begin Dharma told me that Alok Rajwade had earlier performed the same play. Alok was with us waiting for the performance to begin.
Unlike all other plays the performance of White Rabbit Red Rabbit encourages the audience to keep their mobile phones switched on because one “might need to use it,” and begins by uniting all, the audience and also the performer, in a shared experience of nervous excitement.
This feeling of nervous excitement which is quite paradoxical, kind of captures the nature of White Rabbit Red Rabbit which is paradoxical and through the paradox quite profound.
The play handed over in a sealed packet stands as a metaphor for the closed worlds and secrecy of the state and authority which through such secrecy not just secludes people but also controls them. While the uncertainty of what is going to happen reflects the uncertainty of life in a repressed society the overwhelming presence of the voice of the author dictating terms not just to the performer but also the audience speaks of how unknown voices, given the stature of authority/ author controls our movement or non-movement through its demand of obedience. At the same time when the actor speaks for the author introducing himself/ herself as Nassim Soleimanpour we see, in a strange way, how censorship works i.e. someone starts to speak through the individual stripping them of their voice.
The structure of the play certainly echoes these ideas, also because of the circumstances under which it was written, though the author says the play which is ‘meeting of social experiment and theater experiment’ only his exploration of the ideas of obedience and collective behavior.
On the flip side of this dark reality told in a gripping way through secrecy and mystery, the play speaks of possibilities within such a restricted, repressive and restrained given reality.
The sealed packet reaching the hand of the performer, to begin with, gives the first hope about words still being able to be transported to the performer even when the author is not allowed to move out of his native. When the performer begins to read the script, s/he, “I am Nassim Soleimanpour,” it shows the transformative power art holds within itself, where the performer becomes the author and author performs through the performer. This, in a way, also hints that the author, the performer, the audience all could be the same kind of individuals in similar situation of life/ world.
The author at one point says, “I can’t see you or hear you, but I consider you somewhere in my imagined world and I write to you.” This while shows the power of imagination it also shows the transgression made possible through word through art. When the author says he had written the play on 25 April 2010 and says he doesn’t know when and where the performance is taking place, the author and the play starts to hint about words being able to travel in time thus sculpting story and history in time and making it travel across space and time.
When Nassim, the author, says through the performer, “I have not seen you but have met you,” he challenges the authority and its power by making his play, a piece of art, turn into a creation of human bond across space and time. He further extends this bond when he invites the audience to write to him and send him photographs of the play. He also promises to respond to the mails “if alive.” This uncertainty of his life, while chokes the audience it also shows the immortality of words and art, which continues to survive beyond the author and tell the story of a particular phase of history in a given land.
While it looks like experimental play it is also an experiential play because the anxiety, authority and uncertainty of a condition of living is made to experience, though in a diluted way, by the audience and the performer and are also made to experience the possibility of breaking such structures through art and words.
The play, through author’s personal anecdotes and through a fable of animals, speaks of freedom, censorship, life and death, obedience, passivity, compliance and the power of communication. By blurring the lines between fact and fiction, performance and actuality and primarily between him and us the author breaks walls and unites the divided word at the level of experience and makes the performer and the audience realize that he, in his closed atmosphere, and we in our closed theater are still connected and a collective.
The play unites the author and the audience not only through the performer but also by making the audience a part of the performance. In a beautiful way of breaking the fourth wall the author prompts the performer to make the audience to count numbers in succession and then making the performer invite audience of some designated numbers to come on stage and perform tasks, take notes, keep time etc. Thus a strange bond takes place between the author, the performer and the audience where the gap between time, country and on-stage and off-stage breaks, uniting everyone in a single thread.
While watching the play with rapt attention because of my inability to understand Marathi I was put into a strange situation when the author Nassim Soleimanpour instructed the performer Athul Pethe to invite number 15 on stage, which was me! I politely told Atul Pethe that I don’t follow Marathi and hence it is better if he invites someone else. While for everyone else only the content was not known, for me even the language in which the content was being expressed was unknown, causing extra nervous excitement. My refusal to get on to the stage was not accepted by Atul Pethe who insisted I come on stage. He said he would translate the instructions to English for me. “Have faith in me, I will help you,” said Athul Pethe, reminding of a performer in US who when interviewed before the performance of White Rabbit Red Rabbit had said, “I am trusting them to not humiliate me.” My fear was not just of being humiliated but also unwillingly, because of my language limitation, diluting the seriousness of the play. But then Athul Pethe was inviting me to invest trust in him who had invested trust in Nassim Soleimanpour to help him navigate through this unique experience of performance. I was confused. I looked at Dharma who was sitting next to me who through mild gesture said I should get on to the stage.
I went on stage and had to become a bear, on stage, and act with a few other audiences who were also invited on stage, along with Atul Pethe. While everyone else on the stage was following Marathi the instructions for me had to be translated. A play which was originally written in English and translated to Marathi for a Marathi audience was being partially translated back to English! Thankfully it was that part of the play which was meant to be funny. My not knowing Marathi and standing still with no reaction when the instruction was first being read, which the audience understood, added to the humor. The spontaneous translation of Atul Pethe for me and my response which was a delayed response for the audience made the audience involved enactment of a rabbit going to a film without play and a bear checking tickets in the hall, appear more funny.
When the play got over that night Dharma took me to Atul Pethe and introduced me to him. Atul Pethe said, “It was fun to have you on stage.” I smiled and shook hands with him for I dint have anything much to say for I did not understand some of the nuances of the play spoken in Marathi. But I was overwhelmed the fact that a Nassim Soleimanpour who wrote a play in English in Iran had instructed Atul Pethe, who he has never met, in Marathi to invite me, a Marathi illiterate, to come on stage and instructed, in Marathi, to perform some actions, which I had performed after the words were translated to English.
Nassim Soleimanpour’s play which creates anxiety, nervousness and excitement in everyone who watches it and performs it had managed to do the same to me in more than one level, not just through its form and content but also through language. In that I felt more close to the play, the performer and the author!
Sometime in 2014 April I had written about finding an auto, in Manipal, with a Chaplin sticker with a quote by Chaplin behind it and my search for the auto on the following days.
Seeing a photo of Chaplin behind an auto was, as I had written earlier, an “exciting, thrilling and relieving experience” because I was tired of seeing, “fascist face, from nationalist, statist and religious matters making space for themselves through images and texts.” I, as I had said, was looking for a break from such an “image-sphere,” and for a more humanitarian and more inclusive “image-sphere.”
Within a month after spotting this auto in Manipal and searching for it on the following couple of days, I left for Ranchi.
After four months stay in Ranchi I returned back to Manipal.
Sometime in the end October 2015 one evening I took my scooter and went on for a drive. That evening I took my scooter to Parkala intending to take an alternate road via Saralebettu to Manipal on my way back. In Parkala that evening I finally found the Chaplin auto!
I stopped my scooter right next to the auto and as the driver looked at me I said, “You dont know how much I had searched for you.” Listening to me the driver asked if I had forgotten something in his auto while travelling in it. “No,” I said and when explained the story of me spotting his auto and the Chaplin’s photo leaving a sweet taste behind, the driver held my hand asking, “Really?” There was twinkle in his eyes.
By then the lady who had hired the auto returned from the vegetable shop near-by and sat in the auto. Thanks to her vegetable shopping, I managed to spot the auto and have a conversation with the driver.
“I need to go now,” said the driver as soon as the lady got into the auto. “Can I click a photo of the Chaplin sticker behind your auto?” I asked him and the driver agreed saying, “Sure. But quickly.” The sun had set and the light wasnt sufficient. When I told him about it and said, “Will come tomorrow and take a photo,” he said, “Give me your phone number and I will whatsapp you some photos.”
The driver took my number and gave me a missed call. I asked him for his name while storing the number and he said his name is “Manjunath.” I saved his name as ‘Manjunath Chaplin and took his leave.
Next morning Manjunath, on whatsapp, sent me three photos of his auto where the Chaplin sticker was visible. I thanked him.
From then on every day he would send me a good morning and good night message without fail. After a few weeks when he did not message me for two-three days I got a bit worried. I sent him a message asking if he was fine and he said he hadnt gotten his phone recharged hence couldnt message. That night Manjunath sent me a message saying he had saved my name as Charlie Chaplin on his phone and apologizing for the same asked me what my “actual name” is. I laughed aloud and told him my name. After some good fifteen minutes he said something funny had happened. When I asked him what was it Manjunath said he would tell me the following day.
Next morning I went to meet Manjunath at the Parkala auto stand. There I was told by Manjunath that earlier he used to work in the same office where I worked for a brief period. “That evening in the dark I couldnt see your face properly so i couldnt recognize you. Yesterday when you told me what your name is, I searched for your profile on Facebook and there I recognized you are,” said Manujnath and added, “I had come to you with some books from the admission department and spoken to you also. May be you dont remember.” I confessed that I dont remember.
Manujanth told me that he had quit that job four months ago and was running an auto full time. “The salary wasnt sufficient and I wouldnt get leave as per need. So quit the job. I used to run the auto after office hours earlier. Now its my full time profession,” explained Manjunath.
Later when I asked him if he had seen Chaplin’s films he said, “No.” I was curious to know what prompted him to have a Chaplin photo and his quote behind his auto when almost all other autos in and around Manipal had either Mera Bharath Mahaan, Jai Karnataka, Brahma Baidarkala, Jai Shri Raam, Vartey Panjurli or some other local deities at their back. When I had first spotted his auto it was between the central elections and the announcement of results. So most of the autos had the photo of the soon to be elected PM of the country, which I felt nauseating. Which was the reason why finding a humane and secular Chaplin behind an auto was a relieving experience for me.
Manjunath told me that he had read the quote by Chaplin, ‘Mirror is my best friend because when I cry it never laugh,’ on Facebook and had liked it a lot. So much that he got it written behind his auto with a Chaplin face along with it. That is it. I realized that what Chaplin meant to me did not mean the same to Manjunath. It need not also.
But to see Chaplin was a very nice experience because it created a hole in the other-wise dominantly nationalist, religious image-sphere.
Almost three years after all these, now in 2017 just two days ago I happened to meet Manjunath again. This time in Manipal. Before I saw Manjunath I saw his auto which I recognized because of the Chaplin sticker.
But now Chaplin was not alone behind Manjunath’s auto. Next to Chaplin was Shivaji!
The history of Shivaji and Shivaji as a poster is not smooth and is complicated, agree. But what Shivaji stands for in this day and age needs no explanation. So it was painful to see Shivaji next to Chaplin behind Manjunath’s auto.
When I met and spoke to Manjunath I felt happy because of Manjnath’s unadulterated affection.
But as I took leave from Manjunath, the discomfort caused by the shrinking of the hole caused by Manjunath’s auto in the image-sphere made me recollect, the couplet by my poet friend Liaqat Jafri:
haaye afsos yeh kis tezi sey duniya badli,
yeh jo sach hai kabhi jhoot hua karta tha.
Cutting through the dusty roads and then the mist on NH-01, when we reached Patnitop it was almost 14:00 hrs.
Starting our journey from Jammu at around 8:00 in the morning we had reached Patnitop, pausing our journey at several places for temples-Dargah visits and for tea.
The driver initially played some bhajans in the car but slowly as our journey proceeded he started playing old Hindustani film songs, all stored in his pendrive. We joined our sincere though un-melodic voices with those songs. He narrated stories of his association with some songs and so did I.
When we crossed Udhampur and started getting on the hills he said, “There is a dhaba run by a friend nearby. We will have lunch there and then proceed.” I agreed. When we stopped the car by the dhaba for lunch the music also stopped and we forgot to play it again when we continued the journey after a good meal.
When we reached Patnitop I was amazed by the beauty of the place and felt the need to underline the experience with some good music. I requested him to play the music. He said, “Let us listen to radio. It catches the signal of Sialkot station.” He tuned the radio to Sialkot station which played good old Hindustani film songs from Bombay cinema. We sang along and continued the journey.
I was thrilled about the radio catching signals of a radio station across the border and the station across the border playing old HIndustani films songs of Bombay cinema.
When we stopped for a cup of chai at Patnitop the shopkeeper told us about 18 soldiers being killed at Uri that morning.
Few days into this incident it felt like a war had begun not just at the border but also everywhere. There came a demand to ban all Pakistani artists from Indian cinema. Those who defended the Pakistani artists not surprisingly got branded as anti-nationals. There was a call for boycotting the films which had Pakistani artists. As I kept reading and hearing about these I recollected the moment of the radio catching signals from across the border and the radio station across the border playing Hindustani film songs from Bombay cinema. This memory would bring a smile on my face and to this moment I cant figure out if that smile is an indication of agony or ecstasy. But everytime I remember that moment I also remember a song penned by Javed Akthar, whose opening lines are:
“panchi nadiya pawan kay jhonkay,
koi sarhad na inhey rokay.“
(birds, river and the blow of wind
no national borders ever stop them.)
~ Javed Akthar
But the paradox/ tragedy of our times is that someone like Javed Akthar (has been brought to a position where he) questions/ condemns the silence of Pakistani artists over Uri.
On one hand nobody, even the line of control, could stop the radio signals/ waves coming from across the border and the broadcasting of Bombay film music by a radio station across the border. On the other hand the situation has built such pressures on the likes of Javed Akthar to make statements which given an ideal, equal and fair world they wouldn’t feel compelled to make. The unhindered music makes me happy but the poet’s heart being taken over by political pressure pains me.
May the heart of the poet write again of the futility of wars. And this time, I pray, let these songs not just cross borders but also erase borders.
I: I love you.
K: Good. But I don’t.
I: I want you to marry me.
K: Leave me alone.
I: Do you love xyz?
K: How does it matter to you? I dont love you and that is enough information for you.
I: Don’t you love me?
I: How can you not?
I: If you don’t love me, if you dont marry me, you will have to face the consequences. You are so inconsiderate towards my love for you.
K: Stop threatening and harassing me.
I: Harassing? Why are you blowing it out of proportion?
K: I might have to slap you if you continue this.
I: Why are you turning violent?
K: I am being violent?
I: Yes. What did I say after-all? I just love you and want you.
K: But I dont.
I: What do you want?
Siddhartha born in present times holds within him the possibility of becoming a part of the system and strengthening it and also holds within him the possibility of becoming a rebel and subvert the system, said the wise ones.
Seeing the possibilities within Siddhartha the Emperor to ensure the tragedies, miseries, poverty etc. are not seen by Siddhartha, created an illusive world of make belief ‘good days’ with the use of media, advertisements, public relations and sugary slogans.
Blinded by these Siddhartha, for long, failed to observe price rise, land grabbing from Adivasis, attack on Dalits, communal disharmony, dis-empowering of educational spaces, censure on speech and expression, market favoring governance etc.
Siddharatha of current times will, one fine day, wake up to the reality of the times. He will break away from the trap of fake good days to move out for a while in search of ways of resisting, ways of countering the miseries and tragedies of the world. He will become the Buddha and concentrate his efforts in creating a new world and thus liberate the world from the tragedies, miseries and also the make belief good days.
Every individual trapped by the illusion of fake good days is a Siddhartha, holding within himself a rebel and the possibility of becoming Buddha and creating a new world. A new dawn will arrive, good days, real ones, will arrive too.
Troubled times compel every Siddhartha to take this political-spiritual journey collectively to the new self to the new world.
A very brahminical ritual among the upper caste Hindus is of chanting a shloka while taking bath before going to the temple and also in the beginning of the process of performing the daily prayer service. The shloka goes thus:
Gange cha yamune chaiva godhawari saraswathi
Narmade sindhu kaveri jalesmin sannidhim kuru.
The sholka broadly means: “In this water I invoke the presence of holy waters from the rivers Ganga, Yamuna, Godhawari, Saraswathi, Narmada, Sindhu and Kaveri.”
Metaphorically looking at this ritual of purification one realizes that without being purified through water and invoking holy rivers in the water one cannot access the divine.
Water and religious/ spiritual experiences are closely connected through rituals.
Interestingly the rivers invoked in the sholka carry the name of goddesses, women to be more specific. In a quite imperceptible way the divine, woman and river/ water are interwoven in the sholka and a close look at it, again metaphorically, we realize that the divine, woman and water/ river are creators and also source of life!
So it is not surprising, with a basic understanding of history makes one realize, that all civilizations took birth by the river coast! To put it in another way, for civilizations to take birth, to sustain them water body has been very necessary. It is the river/ water which have nurtured human civilization.
Where rivers have dried civilizations have died.
Rahul Sakritaayana the scholar-writer constructs his fiction spanning from 6000 BC to 1942 AD around the river coast and calls it Volga-Ganga. Though a fiction in the work it is the rivers which provide the setting for the stories to unfold. The twenty fictional short stories in a metaphorical way narrate the history of human civilization. History, we realize, is built around river/ water body.
It is also a reference to how water body is central to epic storytelling and an inseparable part from the creative energy.
Shantanu’s children are drowned in the river, Karna is left afloat in the river, Shakuntala’s ring gets lost in the river—these are few examples of how river has been a very integral part of our mythology and our narratives.
While we can agree that water is the source of life, we must never forget that water has also been a tool of dehumanizing. While it is the water route which lead to colonization it was denial of water and refusal to share water which has been the cruelest way in which untouchability is practiced.
Kabir when says ‘ekai pawan ek hee paani ekai jyothi samaana, ekai khaak gaDey sab bhaandai ekai kumhaar saana’ (same air same water same fire, God the potter made all in the same mould by the same clay) it is also to be understood that it is in sharing all the basic resources, nature broadly, inclusive of water, that equality is established and refusal to share any of these and denying some to share/ use them is to not just dehumanize oneself by treating the other lesser human but is also a disrespect shown to divinity!
Water being one for all is a kind of spiritual experience for divinity and thus a propagation of equality for Kabir. But it, in social reality, is divided and denied turning the world inhumane which makes it necessity for social and political battles for equal and egalitarian society.
Reclaiming the water source was an essential part of the fight against untouchability in India. If Dalits under the leadership of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar drink the water from Chavdar Tale on 20 March 1927 then it is not just a fight against untouchability and oppression but also for dignity and for life.
Recently in Maharashtra’s Kalambeshwar village a man named Bapurao Tajne, belonging to an untouchable caste, dug a well after his wife being denied by the upper caste people to draw water from the well belonging to the upper caste.
Water, we see here, is at the heart of life, love, liberty, equality, fraternity and denial of it is in the centre of hatred, oppression, discrimination and humiliation.
The great Kannada writer Kuvempu in his autobiography speaks of his visit to Dakshineshwar in Calcutta to Ramakrishna ashram and Kali ghat. He explains in great detail how dirty the Hoogly River, a distributary of the holy Ganga, was.
He then goes on to say that on that very night he had written a poem which has remained unpublished and shares that poem with the readers. In that poem he write about a ‘pure’ Ganga which cleanses all sins.
This though looks ironic is essentially quite insightful because we realize that the mythic Ganga and the physical Ganga are different. At the same time we realize that Ganga, in specific and river/ water broadly, has been having not just physical existence in the collective consciousness but also mythical and thus an essential for the inner life too and not just physical life.
What I have tried to map in this article is also how water body has been the life source for the multiple dimensions of human life, essential for religious, narrative, historical, spiritual, physical, social, political life and has occupied space in out myths, metaphors and memories.
I would like to close this article by recollecting an overheard conversation. During my stay in Delhi I was a regular customer, in Pathpadganj, of Verma, who was affectionately called Verma ji by all, who owned a small tea stall. Verma ji hardly spoke but whenever he spoke one would realize that he was a master of words and hence did not waste much of words. Many auto drivers and cycle rickshaw riders came to him for tea.
One day as I kept sipping tea a rickshaw driver came to Verma ji and asked for water. Verma ji just pointed at the water can kept to his left. As the driver bent the can to take a glass of water Verma ji told him, “main do cheezein kabhi nahi bechta. Roti aur paani. Zindagi banti hai inn do cheezon sey,” to mean, “I do not sell two things- bread and water for they are the source of life.”
I had my jaws dropped. To actually think of it, tea is luxury so are biscuits. But bread and water aren’t. They are source of life. To realize that they are source of life and hence are not to be sold is great wisdom.
[Originally written for the Neervana campaign, for water conservation, by the web news portal News Karnataka. Published on 20 May 2016]
Place: Mangalore, Karnataka.
Couple of days had passed after the infamous pub attack in Mangalore by Sri Ram Sene which caught national attention. National media descended to Mangalore and gave special coverage to the issue of immoral policing.
Political leaders, activists, common men everyone were being asked for their opinion and the prominent activist Pattabhirama Somayaji who has been battling communalism from a long time was interviewed by one channel where he said, “It is Ravana sena not Rama sena.” This statement of his “hurt the religious sentiments” of his students at the University College in the heart of Mangalore making them call for a strike in the college campus asking Mr. Somayaji to apologize.
Then I was a reporter with The Hindu and went to the University College on getting to know about the strike. As I entered the campus my eyes fell on the students who were crying slogans against Mr. Somayaji. There was so much anger in them that I felt scared to go near them to talk to them. I silently went to the other side where other students were standing silently in the corridor and witnessing the strike. I spoke to some of the students there, collected basic information and then walked towards the students crying slogans. As I neared them their aggressiveness made me stop at a distance. As I stood there one among the ABVP students saw me and came to me. Coming near me in an aggressive voice asked, “Who are you?” I said, “Reporter,” listening to which he asked again in an angry tone, “Which media?” I hesitantly said, “The Hindu” and suddenly, to my shock, his tone changed as he said, to his other friends, “He is our man form the media, come come.”
The name of the newspaper The Hindu had given the ABVP boy an impression that it was a pro-Hindutva paper and I was one among them in solidarity with them. I let it be and went with him to meet the other members of ABVP who were on strike and the college president from ABVP. They spoke to me on how Mr. Somayaji is “anti-Hindu” and how he has “hurt the religious sentiments of the Hindu people,” and demanded an “apology” from him and “strict action” against him by the administration. I made note of all that they said.
I interacted with them in a quite friendly manner which, I guess, made them feel more like I am one among them.
When I, as a part of my job, asked them if they had seen the TV interview where Mr. Somayaji had made the statement against which they were protesting and explained, “I havent seen. I dont know what time it was aired so I am asking you.” To this they said, “Even we havent seen. But it seems he has said. Any ways, he says all anti-Hindu things in class.” They also spoke about how VHP had instructed them to go on strike and how they were in contact with the political leaders. I just made note of that and playing an innocent journalist asked how did an English teacher speak anti-Hindu matters in class when nothing in the subject makes space for the same. The students smiled and said, “We only probe him,” to which I had to laugh and I did.
Some of them took my phone number saying they will inform me whenever there is news from the college and will keep me updated about the strike. They said, “we need your support,” to which I just smiled.
Coming back to the office I wrote not just about the strike but also about how the strike was instigated by the VHP and how students admitted to not having seen the interview and probing Mr. Somayaji to make his political stands vocal and thus “frame” him. All of it got reported in the newspaper next day.
I clearly avoided, out of fear, going near the University College, the next day. But a day after the news got published, the students went on strike once again for the same issue saying the administration is not taking any action against Mr. Somayaji. My boss called me to say that the students were on strike again and asked me to go cover the issue. I said, “Sir, may be its wise that I dont go,” because I feared. I was scared because I had reported all that was against the ABVP students which I am sure the students did not expect. But my boss was like, “You did such a fine job the other day. Just go.” He did not know how the “fine job” the other day had taken place and what my fears were. I had to go.
I entered the campus once again where the ABVP students were aggressively crying slogans against Mr. Somayaji and demanding strict action against him. I stood quite far from the students calculating what to do. By then a student who was crying slogans saw me. I thought now everyone would come and beat me up and I took my phone out of my pocket to be able to call some friend. But the boy, to my utter shock, smiled and told his friends, “Our friend is here,” and welcomed me saying, “Come come…”
I couldnt believe what had happened. But yes, I realized in that moment that the ABVP members did not read the newspaper and especially The Hindu which they assumed to be their mouth-piece.
They came to me, one of them put their hand on my shoulder, and they said, “We need more coverage so that the administration takes strict action against Mr. Somayaji.” They also explained why they were on a strike again after a day’s break. The instructions were coming from the VHP office members. They told me about the details of the phone conversation they had with the VHP, RSS members who had instructed them to go on strike and why Mr. Somayaji was the prime target. “Teachers like him spoil the minds of students with anti-Hindu matters. To get rid of such teachers from institutions is necessary else the entire nation will become anti-Hindu. Protecting young minds from such teachers is our agenda,” they said parroting what probably was told to them by their seniors.
I filed my report again. My boss was happy again.
The strike did not continue the following day. But I kind of fearlessly walked around the University College.
After a few days the students were on strike again for the same matter. This time I informed my boss and said, “I will go cover the strike.”
When I entered the campus the ABVP President was washing his face under the college garden tap. Some ABVP members who saw me took to him saying, “Our friend is here again.” The ABVP President was uncomfortable seeing me. He slowly walked away telling the other members of ABVP, “He is not our friend,” and while walking away he said, “Nobody will speak to him anymore. Its an instruction we have got.” I walked fast towards the President and put my hand around his shoulder asking, “What happened? What is the matter?” to which he said, “I have been told that you are not with us and have reported against us.” I asked him, pretending to be shocked, if he had read the newspaper to say so. He said, “No. But those who read told me. So I cant speak to you. Its an instruction we have got.”
I reported saying the ABVP had strict instruction from higher ups to not to speak to The Hindu. The strike did not continue after that. But ABVP continued creating problems in the College about which my other sources told me and I did report about them.
Everytime anywhere in the country ABVP makes some noise I cant help but recollect these incidents from 2009 from my experience where the ABVP’s unintelligence came across so well.
But now it is not that funny since the political powers, with whom they were in touch even then, have started acting more than before. But amidst all the terror they have unleashed recollecting this episode gives me a laughter break!
A friend called and said, “I cant digest it. My father called me this morning to tell me that he expects me to write an article against JNU,” and after a small but heavy pause continued to say, “We discussed politics at home but never before it got so angry and heated.”
Just few days ago another friend was telling me about an argument she was having with one of her students over the JNU issue and how this otherwise nice boy was becoming unreasonable in this matter. The debate went on until the student ‘unfriended’ the teacher.
These two conversations made me go back in time to November when I was working for a film and as a member from the direction department was handling actors, especially local actors.
It was the time when the Tippu Sultan issue erupted in Karnataka turning things quite violent. The shooting schedule did not leave with much time for everyday newspapers. I learnt about the bandh through a child actor who when asked to take prior permission from school for a leave to be present at the set. Later when the child actor came to the sets on the following day I asked her, casually, if she is happy that she did not miss on the attendance due to bandh. The child actor said, “I am happy about it and also happy that the Hindus are not taking the blow silently like they always do.” I was shocked by the answer for this girl who otherwise was a sweet girl playing childish funny pranks had so much of anger in her tone as she uttered those words!
For some of the crowd scenes that were being shot the crowd had to be held for long without letting them get bored of the shooting process which can actually get boring. I used to engage these ‘extras’ in some conversation and inevitably the matter would move to politics and especially communal politics. The venom being spitted at the minorities shook me completely. These were students from Under Grads and PU. Some of them mothers holding the hands of their kindergarten kids.
As much as I wanted to debate and discuss with all these people I avoided it because my responsibility was to ensure that they would be in the sets and be there till the takes get over. I wasnt sure if we started to debate there would be any control over the talks and the situation for there was so much anger in the words.
These are the same people who came across days as extras to the set and having to deal with me spoke very affectionately to me as “Samvartha aNNa” (brother) and who brought sweets from home for me on deepaawali and who suggested medicines exercises and more importantly kept inquiring about my back ache which I had developed in the process of the shoot.
Sharing room with me and couple of other actors was a senior artist who we all respected for his stature and his greatness as an artist. He would wake up early in the morning daily and go for a walk and bring newspapers. When, during the Tippu Sultan controversy, Girish Karnad made a statement (with which I wouldnt agree completely) the senior artist, with the newspaper in his hand, said, “These intellectuals are too much.” There was such hatred and disgust in his tone that a fellow roommate and I felt a bit disturbed on realizing that this senior artist who we respect so much was communal deep down in his heart. But otherwise a magical artist and a graceful person. But after that statement things were not the same…
This is something that I have been sensing since the runway to the 2014 elections when almost all my childhood friends, carried away by the communal party, started appearing not just differently but also distant to the point that I would wonder if we did really share time and space in our growing up years. Suddenly the politics was not just a matter of discussion but a matter which started fracturing interpersonal relationships. It became too passionate and too personal and too vicious breaking apart human relationships or causing strain on human relationships which otherwise would have been a smooth human relationship with its differences. The aggression of the times, triggered by the fascist air, has cost us our personal lives too. It has turned the otherwise good humans into venom spitting lesser humans. Suddenly we realize that this aggressive politics has seeped in way too much into our lives and it is way too difficult to have a harmonious interpersonal relationship respecting differences without making the differences cause some kind of discomfort and distance.
Life and world is loosing warmth. This is a sad situation of banality of the communal, I guess, is one of the greatest tragedies of the times we are living in, I guess.
Filing the report as quickly as possible I went to the hotel where the Delhi based environmentalist was put up. Mangalore that evening saw unexpected rains and hence I was drenched slightly by the time I reached the room of the environmentalist. As I entered the room I saw Vidya Dinker seated there discussing environmental struggles and the issue of Mangalore Special Economic Zone. On seeing me drenched Vidya asked, “Is it raining here too?” and when I said “Yes,” getting up from her seat she moved towards the window to peep out saying, “It is raining in Kudubi Padavu. I dint realize it is raining here too.” On confirming that it is raining in Mangalore too she said, “Yes,” to herself.
I was shocked to realize that Vidya though did not know of the rain in the place where she was, knew of the rain falling on the soil on the land on the Kudubi people for whom she was fighting. It was a moment which in a strange way said how deeply she was connected with the Kudubi people who were to be dislocated from their land by MSEZ. She was more with them then with herself, the moment revealed to me. “You are unbelievable,” I said staring at her for a moment before I sat on an empty chair.
Kudubi Padavu is a village where the Kudubi tribal people live, near Mangalore. Their land was to be snatched away from them for the MSEZ. Vidya was spearheading the fight against MSEZ and for the Kudubi people.
The Delhi based environmentalist while conversing with Vidya and me that evening recollected someone having told him that “There is only one man in Mangalore and that is Vidya Dinker.” That made all of us laugh. But before the echo of the laughter could fade away Vidya said, “I am not a man and there is no need for me to be one.”
Vidya Dinker, along with similar minded people, felt the need to start an organization for the victims of gender bias and atrocities. The need was felt more than ever when the issue of moral policing, which Vidya, like many, likes to call immoral policing, was on the increase. She has fought for the justice of women across all religions and against fundamentalist groups putting to shame the name of all religions.
Once when Vidya and I went to Kudubi Padavu a group of people, sent by the MSEZ, surrounded us and picked up a fight with us. They also took out the blow from the Tyre of the vehicle we had taken. Behind these people were standing the goons of MSEZ which made my entire life flash before my eyes. But throughout the fight Vidya just did not loose courage or appear frightened. She actually wasn’t frightened. Thankfully her strength made the people back off and thankfully our friend Naveen Soorinje who we had called came to the spot and took us back on his vehicle.
While fighting for the Kudubi people’s justice the fight at one point involved the seer of Perjawar Mutt which angered quite a few like me. When I raised my objections to the same Vidya said, “Its not about your faith or non-faith but about the Kudubis, their land and their life. She was of the belief that the seer’s involvement will add strength to the fight. Plus the Kudubi people had faith on the seer as a religious leader. Kudubi people’s faith was respected, by Vidya whatever her faith her stand was. Pejawar seer was never disrespected, by Vidya whatever her faith her stand was.
When Gregory Patrao’s house was demolished by the MSEZ people, Vidya, as I saw in a video recording of the event, faced the police bravely. In the post-Amnesia pub attack incident I have seen her bravely taking on, in public, the moral police. Whenever Vidya created ripples here and there all these memories always made me say, “Vidya is brave and one need not fear for her.” But now when the goons of Bajarang Dal have unleashed a hate campaign and war against Vidya threatening to rape her and kill her, following her filing case against the Bajarang Dal gooons who interrupted the screening of Dilwale in Mangalore, my heart is shivering and I am gripped by fear.
I am gripped by fear even when Vidya, amidst all these threats, asks me for the translation of a romantic Kannada poem, when I call her to express my solidarity with her. She romances life even at the face of death, such is her love for life, such is her faith in love (in the most humanitarian sense). Such is her courage, such is her bravery. Yet, my heart shivers and I am gripped by fear.
The reason for this being what happened around Mangalore few months ago. One Bhuvith Shetty openly threatened to kill someone and the police did not take action on Bhuvith Shetty. In some time Bhuvith Shetty did end up murdering an innocent human. Even now the police are not taking necessary action against those who have threatened to rape and kill Vidya. How am I to believe that another Bhuvith Shetty is not in the making? Especially when the Hindutva fundamentalists, in the current atmosphere, can pull the courage to threaten people openly and in an atmosphere where the police are also silent.
I fear for Vidya Dinker. I am with Vidya Dinker.
A year ago my friend Chintan Girish Modi as a part of Friendships Across Borders, an initiative of Chintan, wrote an article aiming to contribute to a peaceful and harmonious relationship between the people of two countries, for which he interviewed people from across borders asking them who, from the other side of border, they admire the most. Here is what I had to say to Chintan and to FAB.
“In Anand Patwardhan’s film War and Peace there is a sequence at the Lahore Grammar School. A debate competition is taking place, the topic of debate being the nuclear tests done by India and Pakistan.
The competition begins with this girl who very passionately supports and defends the nuclear test by Pakistan. She is followed by few other debators who argue for and against the bomb.
Once the debate is over Anand begins a conversation with all the girls in the room. In this conversation all the girls speak against the bomb and the girl who spoke first in the debate speaking for the bomb, invoking religious identities etc. also speaks the opposite of what she said in the debate.
When Anand questions the shift in her arguments the girl says, “usually in debate hum wahi baat kartey hai jis mein zyada josh ho zyada dam ho. Majority jis mein hogi usee taraf lengey,” to which very calmly, Anand responds saying, “gaur se sochiye iss baarey mein. hamaare leaders bhi aise hee kartey hai. Wahi josh waali baat kartey hai aur wahi baat kartey hai jis mein zyaada dam ho.”
Feeling ashamed, the girl with great guilt says, “hum galat tey. humein aisa nahi kahna chaahiye tha, aisa nahi bolna tha. hum maafi chaahtein hai.”
In my entire cinema viewing experience, this was the most humbling experience. It is that unknown girl from Pakistan in Anand’s film who I admire immensely.”