Creative Coincidental Kinship~ 3

April 29, 2017 at 9:15 AMApr (Activism, Friends, Musings, Slice Of Life, Theater, Uncategorized)

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.

Atul PetheThe 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.

after the performance with the performer Atul Pethe

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!

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The Novelist As Teacher

March 22, 2013 at 9:15 PMMar (Activism, Literature, Musings, Poetry, Theater)

chinua achebeChinua Achebe- the father of modern African literature- is no more. He is important, to all of us, not just as an author but also as a voice. His works not just broadened the world of literature but also broadened the meaning- inclusive of role and responsibility- of a creative artist, viewing novelist as teacher.

In one of his essays on language he says that man in his long evolutionary history has scored few greater success than the creation of human society. He, in the same essay, later says that the key to formation of human society is language. Because he realized this power of language he could spot the reverse of it i.e. language creating hierarchies in the mind and thus dividing the world into highs and lows. He not just spotted them and critiqued them, like in his famous talk critiquing Joseph Cornard’s novel Heart of Darkness and its colonial view of Africa exposing the blindness of the west that calls Africa dark, but also used language as a counter force through his creative and critical works. His words were not just speaking for Africa but also to Africa and also the West, teaching it to view history from the below. Being the father of modern African literature he began the re-imagining of Africa and fighting the western image of Africa with and within the language of the colonizer i.e. English itself. He used the master’s language against the master, thus inviting liberation of both the colonizer and the colonized from the baggage of colonialism, colonial images and thus humanizing both.

Chinua-AchebeThis use of master’s language was criticized by Ngugi-Wa Thiango in his powerful work ‘Decolonizing The Mind‘ holding the opinion that the mind gets colonized also by the language as it  “is both a means of communication and a carrier of culture” and hence suggesting abandoning of the English language, inviting authors to write in native language. Ngugi later wrote all his works in Gikuyu and gave up English as a medium of expression, completely. Though it is a highly valid argument by Ngugi the limitation came in terms of Ngugi not being able to reach- his creative works, his message, his image breaking and image making- to a larger world, while Achebe reached a larger mass and thus altered the dominant image to a large extent. Though he used the language of the colonizer, for Achebe it was necessary that in the usage of  English one did not forget the true expression and experience of the soil. He was of the opinion that, “The African writer should aim to use English in a way that brings out his message best without altering the language to the extent that its value as a medium of international exchange will be lost. He should aim at fashioning out an English which is at once universal and able to carry his peculiar experience.” His view had a dream of decolonizing even the colonizer’s mind and the language of the colonizer too.

In the year 1984, Siddhi- a tribe of African origin (brought to India by the Portuguese), in Manchikere (Karnataka) performed a play titled Kappu Janara Kempu Neralu which was an adaptation of Achebe’s novel Things Fall Apart. This play opened the communication between the Siddhi tribe and the world outside and made it possible for the Siddhis to fight the stigma attached. It, while liberating the Siddhis from the stigma, it also liberated the world outside from their bias and their misconception. The politics and creative power of Achebe reached to his long lost separated brothers too.

When he visited Mysore once the Dalit activists took him to the Dalit colonies. He was very disturbed seeing the condition of the Dalits which made him say, “In Africa it is considered sin if the blood of God’s children is spilled on the ground. Looks like here it is considered to be virtuous to spill the blood of Dalits on mother earth.” It is no mystery to understand how Achebe was able to understand the plight of Dalits in India and how the tribes in India could relate to the creative work of Achebe. As Faiz said, “Badaa Hai Dard Ka Rishtaa…” Hence when Wole Soyinka says the loss is “personal” it is personal for us too and when he says he has lost a brother, we also realize that we too have lost a brother.

Rest in peace Chinua Achebe.

[The title is borrowed from Chinua Achebe’s essay of the same title]

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Humans Are Not Like An Arrow…

October 28, 2012 at 9:15 AMOct (Activism, Cinema, Friends, Literature, Musings, Poetry, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy, Theater)

While speaking of Mani Kaul and his films Shama Zaidi, in class, remembered an incident from the past involving her, Mani Kaul and B.R. Chopra. After some award function, she said, B.R. Chopra made a comment on Mani Kaul saying, “You make money by takings funds from government to make films.” To this, she remembered, Mani Kaul responding by saying, “We at least make films. You only make money.” This response angered B.R. Chopra and on the next day made him burst out in the presence of Shama Zaidi saying, “What does he think of himself? What does he know about me? I was a peasant leader in my village during pre-partition.” Listening to his words Shama Zaidi said, “I almost fainted listening to him.”

Narrating this incident Shama Zaidi said she later mentioned about it to another senior actor who was also in the present Pakistan during pre-partition days. On listening Shama’s narration of the incident in a comic manner the senior actor said, “Yes, he used to be a peasant leader,” which Shama said shocked her completely.

“You never know what kind of history people have and how they can change,” said Shama Zaidi and quoted the example of Ramanand Sagar who once upon a time was a member of the Progressive Writer’s Association and whose novels were appreciated as progressive writing. Ramanand Sagar later went on to make the Ramayana tele-serial in the earliest days of the aggressive waking of Hindutva fundamentalism.

Yes, we never know how people change. It makes us uncomfortable when the move of the difference is slide down. While working on my M.Phil thesis on the theater movement in Karnataka i.e. Samudaaya I was re-reading the autobiography of Siddalingaiah, an important Dalit poet and activist in Kannada. His autobiography gives an account of his life his struggle as a Dalit individual and gives a glimpse into the world of Samudaaya theater movement too. His aggressive struggle narrated in his autobiography is a moving account and so is the account of the activities of the Dalit movement in Karnataka then. But in the days when I was revisiting his autobiography Siddalingaiah had become a part of the system and lost all the fire inside him and in one of those days had also given a press statement saying, “We need to learn a lot from Bhagavatgeeta too,” which the Siddalingaiah who we come across in the autobiography wouldn’t/ couldn’t have said.

A similar example from the Marathi scenario would be Namdeo Dhasal who moved from the aggressive Dalit Panther to the Thakre team.

One of the poets from Nepal named Bhupi Sherchan can be another example. I remember how much I loved his poems when my student friend Prasith introduced me to the works of Bhupi Sherchan by translating his works from Nepali to English for me. I had also translated the poems to Kannada. After years when I chanced upon a book on Bhupi Sherchan during my days in JNU, it was quite disappointing to learn that the revolutionary Bhupi Sherchan in his last days almost became a man of the state and system which also got reflected in his poems.

Once I had discussed this matter with one of my mentors, taking the example of Siddalingaiah, Dhasal and Bhupi. What my mentor told me was interesting. He said, “None of us are like an arrow that takes flight from the bow. An arrow has an aim, a purpose. Humans aren’t like that. There is no path or an aim for life. It finds its own path. It has no purpose so thee is no missing of the aim in life. What we need to understand is that though they all moved away from the values that we believe in, at one point, they gave their energy their strength to the movement to the cause that we believe in, in their own manner and thus strengthened the movement. While they believed in the cause and movement they stood by it. When their beliefs eroded they moved away. There is no ‘digressing’ in life because humans are not born with a single aim in life a bull’s eye which s/he has to reach. There is only being and nothingness. In the becoming one can move in any direction and many direction for s/he is no arrow that took flight from a bow and has to reach a specific destination (aim). Their contribution to the cause the movement is valid, though they moved away.”

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Andaaz-E-Bayaan Aur…

June 22, 2012 at 9:15 PMJun (Literature, Media, Music, Poetry, Theater)

The word ‘Dastangoi’ comes from combining the Persian words for epic (dastan) and telling (goi), and involve narrating medieval romantic tales full of magic and adventure. The ancient form of Urdu story telling, Dastangoi, has been revived and made popular by Mahmood Farooqui and Danish Husain. They have taken the form to various national forums and international. These two storytellers are unique in the sense that they not only pursue their own professions, but also make the form contemporary by telling stories from our midst. Excerpts from an interview conducted by Samvartha ‘Sahil’ after their performance for SPICMACAY, in Surathkal, Karnataka.

Was the reviving of Dastangoi an artistic or aesthetic exercise for you or was it also a political act?

Mahmood Farooqui : I wanted to tell these stories, which were being told by the Dastangos (storytellers) and that is what led me back to Dastangoi. My theatre background made it an artistic exercise. Though it is not a conscious political act, the very act of reviving a forgotten art form and the very act of telling stories in Urdu, especially in post-independent India, becomes a political act.

Like Urdu, has Dastangoi also been associated with Islam in the popular mindset?

MF : I can’t say if it actually is. There are non-Muslim performers also in our team. But the visual image, especially the skull cap, makes the performance go well with the popular image of Islam. But the cap we use is called ‘Dopalli‘, and these caps are neither Hindu nor Muslim. They are traditional Indian caps, which later also took the form of Gandhi topi. And though traditionally Dastangois were stories about great Muslim warriors, its audience base was not Muslims alone. So it is difficult to say if it is associated with Islam or not.

Courtesy: The Hindu

How different is Dastangoi from Mushaira, apart from one being story and the other being poetry?

Danish Husain : Mushairas were a conglomeration of poets who would read out new works. There used to be some kind of showmanship and it was like a competition between poets. Though Mushaira has a performative angle, it is very different from Dastangoi because Dastangoi is not about competing but telling and listening. And Dastangois, like your Yakshagana or Pandvi, Lavni, have a community attached to it. The audience knows the stories being told beforehand, but they come to relive those stories. Mushaira, in that sense, need not have a community and it is mostly a recital of new works with which the audience is not familiar.

Was there any attempt by the Progressive Writer’s Association (PWA) or the Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA) to revive or use the Dastangoi tradition, as many of the people associated with the two groups had memories of Dastangoi?

Danish : Dastangoi faded out in the year 1928 with the death of Mir Baqar Ali. PWA came into existence in late 1930s and IPTA in early 1940s. I guess they had ideological differences. For them the definition of art was different. It must serve the people. It must have a political end. Their focus was to use art for politics and not to revive forgotten art forms. Though political issues can come into the daastaans of Dastangoi, the very idea of Dastanagoi is not to serve people or bring a revolution but just tell stories. The writers had their ways of reaching to people through street plays. But yes, it is interesting as to why they did not use Dastangoi, when it would have come so handy to mobilise people and reach out to them, probably because most of the people associated with these associations had a western model of revolution. So street play was closer to them than a traditional Dastangoi which could have also been used for political purposes. This could also be because by then, the colonial gaze had injected inferiority complex is us not just about ourselves but everything about us including our art forms.

You have also performed in Pakistan. So what do you think could be the contribution of Dastangoi – an oral tradition in Urdu – to bridge the cultural gap between India and Pakistan, where our common language is broken because of two different scripts?

MF : I think bringing the two nations together is a far-fetched idea. Dastangoi is new to both countries and even in Pakistan there is a major set of people who do not follow Urdu, as there are in India too. To bridge the gap there must be attempts not in the shared culture of Urdu, but in the shared culture of Punjabi. Moreover our idea and focus is not that. We are here just to tell stories.

On similar lines what is the contribution of revived Dastangoi to the language Urdu which, like Dastangoi, has been marginalized from early 20th century?

Danish: The contribution to the language Urdu was major by gazal singers like Jagjit Singh, Ghulam Ali who kept the river of Urdu flowing. The taste for Urdu survived majorly because of them. The cassette culture and revolution also helped them. Will Dastangoi play a role of that magnitude only time can tell us.

Has Dastangoi always been performed in closed atmosphere?

MF : No. Dastangoi was performed in the streets of Jama Masid and was very popular there. It was being performed in a closed atmosphere too. Ghalib is said to have organised Dastangois in his house.

Danish : We too have performed in open spaces, amphitheatres, gardens – all sorts of places. Our requirements are also minimal – a mike set and a few lights. At times, we have done without equipment too.

Courtesy: Tehelka

Has there been any instance, in the past, of women being Dastangos?

MF : Yes, there has been. Not in open-space Dastangois, but in closed-atmosphere Dastangois, such as inside the house.

The other forms of storytelling in India use music and songs. Why doesn’t Dastangoi use music and song?

MF: Its just not designed that way. The stress is on narration as it is an art of narration. But recently in one of our shows in Kabul one of our artists broke into a song and it not just went in tune with the performance but was also well received.

It has been seven years since you have revived and been performing Dastangoi. You have performed in various parts of the country. So, are there attempts of artists of other languages using this form- Dastangoi- to tell the stories in and of their language?

MF: No. But it can be done. If we can tell the story Ghare Baire in Urdu why can’t the Bengalis narrate it in Bengali? It might pick up sometime because it is low cost theater and an interesting one too.

This one is for you Mahmood Farooqui. How do you divide your time? The roles of a Dastango, a historian, a filmmaker all demand different kind of preoccupation and outlook.

MF : (laughs) I am being pulled by both my legs these days. The role of a filmmaker is different. But the role of historian and a Dastango flow into each other. A Dastango should know about everything. The last major Dastango Mir Baqar Ali used to attend anatomy classes though not a medical student. That is because if you are narrating a story where you need to describe the body you should know about it thoroughly. In that way the interest in history actually strengthens the performance of Dastangoi for me.

(An edited version of this interview was published in The Hindu, Friday Review on 22 June 2012)

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Weeping In The Rain…

March 22, 2012 at 9:15 AMMar (Activism, Literature, Musings, Soliloquy, Theater)

He sat there in utter helplessness and a great sense of loneliness. Stars couldn’t be counted for they were not visible. There were rain drops to count for him. He was looking forward to something and looking back at several things. He was looking forward to some help from somebody coming from Kalakshetra. He was looking back at his life in arts and politics as a part of the Samudaaya theater movement. He was also looking back at his personal life.

Not many days had passed since C.G. Krishnaswamy popularly and affectionately called as CGK had returned from the historic Jaatha of Samudaaya, a left leaning street theater movement in Karnataka. The success of Jaatha made every member of Samudaaya believe that revolution was around the corner. So the members, soon after returning, gathered to stage one more play and the play was ready. It was Dangeya Munchina Dinagalu.

Samudaaya was carried, mainly, those days, by two people- Prasunna and C.G.K. The Jaatha demanded months of work and the Jaatha itself was for about a month cutting through the length and breadth of Karnataka. These months of preparation and work had put CGK’s teaching profession at Bangalore University and more importantly his family in the back seat for him. He was in financial crisis yet his commitment for the cause of art and politics was not compromised on.

During the rehearsals of Dangeya Munchina Dinagalu CGK’s son Keerthi was ill and hospitalized by a friend of CGK. After the first show of the play at Kalakshetra, CGK rushed to the Marthas Hospital where his son was admitted. He entered the hospital to see his wife and his parents boiling in anger refusing to talk to him. The doctor came to him to say, “I have given the prescription in the afternoon. Kindly get them quickly.” Hours had passed since the prescription was given. But the financial crisis was such that his wife could not have gotten the medicines. The doctor was unaware of the financial crisis and CGK was in no position to explain either. Collecting the prescription from his wife he went to the near by medical shop. There must have been nearly ten pockets in his shirt and pant put together. But not a single penny in all of those ten pockets. There was nobody that he could think of at that moment who would come to his help. He asked the medical shop owner how much the medicines would cost. A price was quoted. Two hundred off rupees. Removing the watch in his hand CGK placed it on the table. He asked the shopkeeper if he could keep the watch and give the medicines. The shopkeeper agreed. Taking the medicines CGK ran back to the hospital. Giving the medicines to the doctor he went near his parents and his wife who were seated in a corner. Looking at their face he realized that they had not eaten anything since morning and it was nearing 22:00 hrs.

He walked out of the hospital and sat on the bench outside not caring for the rain. He kept looking at the gate hoping somebody from the team would come with some money to help him. It was past ten then. He calculated that the props must have been moved to the office by then so someone or the other must be on the way with some money collected from the tickets that day. But nobody came. He started looking back at the past few years of his life.

The times were bad. Troubled times. Post-Emergency times. The aggressiveness accumulated during the times of emergency had not lost its temper. The mood of the nation and especially in the realm of arts was anti establishment and rooted in the soil and in the times. CGK then became a part of the Samudaaya troupe which went on to create unbelievable ripples across the state with its revolutionary theater. CGK was one of the main pillars of Samudaaya along with Prasunna. In his extreme involvement with art and politics or rather political art he happened to prioritize it over his family and also job as a result of which his family was in crisis completely the financial crisis being at the base of it.

Two thoughts crossed his mind. “Who to blame?” and “Why to blame anyone?” He started speaking to himself about his mistakes. Rain drops falling on him continuously yet failing to distract him nor fill the emptiness he felt at that very moment. Tear drops were standing a step behind the last layer of his eyes, waiting to slit open the eyes and rush out and join the rain waters. He couldn’t even console himself saying he had sacrificed his personal life for the sake of revolution because no revolution had taken place and also because the false consolation would have done no good for he was completely aware of the misery which he was living.

Through the withheld tears he could see Shahidar Adapa swimming towards him. CGK hoped that Shahidar Adapa would have got some money with him from that day’s ticket collection. He asked Shashidhar Adapa if he had brought some money. “No,” came the reply. The tears could not be withheld anymore. Slitting the eyes tears rolled down. The force of the rainfall doubled beneath his feet.

Shashidar Adapa searched all his pocket and all he could find was a 50 ps coin. Handing it over to CGK Shahidhar Adapa said, “call Kalakshetra somebody might be there. Ask them to come here with some money.” Taking the 50 paise coin CGK went to the nearby coin telephone booth. Inserting the coin he dialed the number of Kalakshetra. The phone rang. Someone picked up the phone. “Hello, is it Kalakshetra?” he enquired. “Sorry, wrong number,” came the reply. In utter helplessness in utter loneliness out of great frustration CGK banged the receiver on the phone. Such was the anger and force that around forty coins dropped on the floor from the telephone. Shashidhar Adapa and he picked up all the coins and went to Kempegowda circle to bring some food. Getting some idlys packed CGK started walking back to the hospital. Thunder and rain increased as he walked. Shashidhar Adapa suggested that they should wait for a while. CGK without caring enough to listen to any word uttered by Adapa walked towards the hospital in the rain as if it was not raining.

Reaching the hospital CGK handed over the packet of idlys to his parents and his wife. He could not pull the courage to ask them to eat. He just handed the packets over to them and left from the vicinity.

Moving to one corner of the hospital CGK stood staring at the photo of Jesus Christ. He remembered how his mother had lit candles before Christ praying for his recovery. As he recollected it he placed his palm over the burning flame and prayed for his son. He saw a poster hanging nearby which read, “Don’t lead me, I may not follow you; Don’t follow me, I may not lead you; But come with me let us go together.” The comrades who joined voice to voice while crying slogans had not walked with him in times of his needs. He saw himself not walking with his family. The melancholic feeling and the loneliness was overpowering. Those who he walked with refused to walk with him in times of difficulty and those who belonged to him he had walked miles away from them to the extent that the point of return was seeming difficult.

“Who am I?” he asked himself. He concluded that he was not a leader. He concluded that he was not a cultural ambassador. He wrote a melancholic letter to a friend (G. Rajshekar) saying all he wanted was his family and his son.

The doctor came and announced that Keerthi was recovering. CGK lit a cigarette with Shashidhar Adapa. As morning dawned Shashidhar Adapa told CGK that he would bring the money in a while and asked what time CGK would come to Kalakshetra to rehearse for the repeat show of the play. In a detached tone CGK said he wouldn’t come to Kalakshetra. He announced his decision to move out of Samudaaya. Realizing their mistakes the members of Samudaaya apologized. But CGK went back to his department at the Bangalore University and went back to his family, hoping to set that world correct which was in a broken state.

***

This is my narration of a part from CGK’s autobiography Kattaaley Beladingalolagey. This part troubled me and continues to trouble me immensely. Tears swell up in my eyes and I imagine, fearfully, what would have happened if CGK had walked so far from his family that he could have not returned. I feel a lump in my throat when I think how painful it is to be left out by the so called comrades who are not to be available in times of requirement. Wonder where would have CGK gone had his path drifted completely from his family, feeling left out by his own comrades. I wonder how lonely a human’s life is. You be all pragmatic involving yourself with revolutionary stuff or stand before the God, burning your palm in prayer. Neither pragmatism nor devotion will pull one out of the helpless and lonely condition to which man is born. The immortal loneliness remains. There is no escape from this. This part of the autobiography confronts me with the incomprehensibly tragic fatalistic loneliness of one’s existence.

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Word Is The World: Tumhaari Amrita Completes Twenty Years On Stage

February 27, 2012 at 9:15 AMFeb (Letter, Literature, Media, Theater)

It was two decades ago that the play Tumhaari Amrita was first staged. It was in Prithvi Theaters of Mumbai, the then Bombay. A recent report in The Hindu reveals that Feroze Abbas Khan, the director of the play, while preparing the play for its first show, thought that the play wouldn’t go beyond four shows. But after two decades the play still continues to pull the crowd and today the play is being staged in Mumbai after yesterday’s show in New Delhi, to mark the completion of twenty years.

Tumhaari Amrita is a play telling the story of two individuals Amrita Nigam and Zulfikar Haider through the letters exchanged between them for 35 long years. Amrita and Zulfi sit on the stage with a pile of letters and read out the letters. This play with no stage movement unfolds before us and enacts itself in the realm of our minds through words. Experimental in its own way the play actually challenges the traditional norms of staging a play and succeeds in giving a fresh and euphoric experience.

Amrita and Zulfi are not just different individuals belonging to two different religion but are also different in terms of their outlook, approach, intensity, temper and also taste. But these differences stop them neither from loving each other nor from writing letters to each other. They pamper each other, they play pranks with each other, they advise each other, they fight with each other, they criticize each other they encourage each other. In one sentence, they live with each other through the ups and downs of life, through letters. Though they do not come together they do not stay apart too for they cannot stay apart.

Two worlds meet through words. At one point of the play Zulfi says that writing letters to Amrita has become an essential part of his life. Amrita once after meeting Zulfi writes to him saying she loves him more in letters than in real life. It is not just two worlds meeting through words but two worlds coming to life, for themselves and for each other, through words. In the play where the ‘word’ is the king, the worlds of Amrita and Zulfi get unfolded before the audience through words and thus the word becomes the world, in the moving tale of Tumhaari Amrita.

Through these words what unfolds is not just the tale of Amrita and Zulfi but also the tale of the times in which the play is set. The play begins in 1940 and goes to the time of Emergency in India. The pains of partition, the insecure position of Muslims in the post independence India, the communal riots in Meerut, the turbulence of the 70s and the emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi cuts through the lives of Amrita and Zulfi and thus becomes a part of the narrative of the play, which while encapsulating the lives of Amrita and Zulfi in words also encapsulates the tale of the times.

Feroze Abbas Khan, in the recent interview to The Hindu, said that a friend from Gujarat gave him a copy of A.R. Gurney’s play Love Letters which he thought was not a play for the Indian audience, even though he liked the play. Being at the peak of his theater career then he thought of staging the play for the Prithvi festival and contacted Javed Siddiqui to write the very same play with Indian context. Javed Siddiqui, who says that he liked the form of A.R. Gurney’s play but not the content, went on to write a play with the same form in mind but a play of his own. Thus flowered Tumhaari Amrita which though started off to become an adaptation of A.R. Gurney’s play went on to become an independent play which Javed Siddiqui prefers to call a play by him ‘inspired’ from A.R. Gurney’s play.

The play has not been published yet and all the rights of staging it is with the Feroze Abbas Khan team. But interestingly the play has not just been translated into Kannada but also published. As the Kannada translator Jayanth Kaikini mentions may be this is a unique incident in the history of literature and publication where the translation is published first and not the original. It was translated by Jayanth Kaikini, in the year 2002, for the Saket team of Arundathi Nag who wanted to stage the play as a precursor to her major project- Ranga Shankara. The play was directed by M.S. Sathyu, who incidentally was the person who, in 1992, had escorted Feorze Abbas Khan to Javed Siddiqui. The play won the hearts of the people of Karnataka and so did the play, in written format, when Manohar Grantha Maala in the year 2003 published the play. The beautiful translation of Tumhaari Amrita as Iti Ninna Amrita, for many a Kannadigas, has made the play a play of Kannada itself. So, when Tumhaari Amrita is celebrating twenty years Iti Ninna Amrita is also celebrating its decennial.

Shabana Azmi, who plays the role of Amrita in Tumhaari Amrita once said that the original pile of letter to be read out on stage had increased from 100, during its first show, to 300 now for the change in eye power over the time. This also speaks of the amount of river water that has flowed into the sea from the time of the first show of the play. She says that often she jokes with Farooque Sheikh, who plays Zulfi in the play, that the play will follow them even after their death and that the two will have to perform the play in the other world too.

The play follows the audience throughout their life by moving them deeply and by pulling the chords of their hearts. It lives with them. It can also be read like a novel or a novella being alone in silence, without being staged. I know of many, including myself, who with friends read out the entire play. They live out the play, while reading it either in a group or in seclusion.

Amrita at the moment of death pleads Zulfi to keep writing to her even after her death. She commits suicide and asks Zulfi to keep writing to her! She lives her death. This passion, this intensity, this eccentricity captivates! It could even scare death. So, the death is also lived. The play also continues to live- on stage, through words- even after two decades when it was assumed that it wouldn’t go beyond four shows.

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Imprisoned By Profit

December 20, 2011 at 9:15 AMDec (Activism, Friends, Media, Musings, Poetry, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy, Theater)

Attacking the statement of the Chairman of Press Council, Justice Katju over the first page coverage of Dev Anand’s death, a blogger (Archana Venkat) wrote a blog titled ‘The Obsession With Framer Suicide’, starting off the blog saying that even farmer suicide, on which Mr. Katju stressed, doesn’t qualify, like the death of Dev Anand, to be front page news, “particularly when there is no development in the issue.”

She has voiced her opinion in the website The South Reports. I learn that she has cross-posted the same on The Hoot too. She voices her opinion that the government should have taken proper actions to address the issues which it hasn’t and adds, “Why then should the media cover farmer suicides repeatedly again when there is little development around the issue? How long should they harp on the same issues? Should we dedicate a portion of the newspaper or a segment of air time exclusively for farmer suicides and perhaps run the same stories because we have no new ones to discuss?”

The blogger goes ahead to say, “While it is understood that media has a moral responsibility towards creating awareness about lesser known yet grave issues, it is largely a private enterprise and must be allowed to function as one, keeping in mind its readers and business prospects,” which reveals the idea of journalism the blogger seem to have. This idea of journalism and media as a business gets reiterated when she asks PCI to make provisions, by talking to government, of “subsidy” and “tax wavier” for media houses and “travel grants,” apart from “scholarships” for journalists to unearth the real issues and to get trained to do such specialized stories.

I was angered majorly by the way the blogger trivializes the issue of farmer suicide by saying things like news is only if the Government does something which implies that the suicide of farmers by themselves do not hold any news value. There seems no value to human life in the eyes of this blogger.

More sadly she says, in a comment on TSR that “one” suicide is no news but “many” suicides is news. It seems the blogger looks at farmer suicide as numbers which make her say that “one” suicide is not news and “many” suicides are news. “How many deaths does it take to be a massacre?”- Derrida is said to have asked in the closing hours of his life and is said to have answered the question as “One.”

News worthiness, according to the blogger, is decided by the media itself. Media as she sees is a private enterprise and has its own “business prospects”. By saying this she implies that the business interests of the media is more important than the expected job of the media. Worse she expects “subsidy”, “tax waiver”, “scholarship” and “travel grants” to do what is supposed to be the job of the media!

In anger I ask myself how could the editor have approved such an insensitive and inhumane post be published. What is the role of media-house while such insensitive views are being aired in the space provided by them, though the views of the authors may not be that of the channel/newspaper/website. Though the website may say, with its disclaimers, that the views expressed in the writings are that of the author and not the website but when the website allows such insensitive writings in their website the editor cannot excuse himself/herself with the disclaimer for (s)he has given the space. He/she too would be responsible.

Like in the case of DNA publishing the article by Subramanian Swamy where the views expressed by the columnist may not or is not the views of the paper. But by providing space for such a hateful piece of writing DNA did cause damage. How can it excuse itself by saying it is the view of the columnist and columnist himself is responsible for his views?

I ask myself if the blogger can be permitted to air such views on the grounds of “diversity of opinions and views”?

My problem with the post in question is not that the blogger holds a view which is different from mine. My problem is the insensitivity which the blogger’s point of view holds, which it is likely to pass on to the readers.

A friend of mine told me that it was fine if the blogger had aired her views in her personal blog and said that because she had aired her views in a public sphere he finds it objectionable. I don’t know if it is ‘fine’ if one shares his or her opinion in their personal blogs, given the easy access to the blogosphere. But yeah as my friend pointed out the website which is a collection of blogs is more of a public sphere and has more accessibility than personal blogs, which makes the insensitive writing more dangerous.

Antonio Gramsci wrote, “How the ideological structure of a dominant class is actually organized: namely the material organization aimed at maintaining, defending and developing the theoretical or ideological ‘front’… Its most prominent and dynamic part is the press in general… The press is the most dynamic part of this ideological structure, but not the only one. Everything which influences or is able to influence public opinion, directly or indirectly, belongs to it: libraries, schools, associations and clubs of various kinds, even architecture and the layout and names of streets.” Had Gramsci been alive now, undoubtedly, he would have mentioned the internet space too for it too has the potential to influence the “public opinion.”

The blogger through her words is strengthening the dominant class and weakening the causes of the wretched of the earth. She, in an ‘intelligent’ manner, is shaping the public opinions in favour of the dominant class! What is the blog in question turning the public opinion to? The bloggers ends her blog post saying media has a moral responsibility to its readers and no moral obligation as such. It is not a moral obligation or moral responsibility that the media has. It is the social responsibility and the social obligation that it has. Thus in an ‘intelligent’ manner she shifts the focus from social responsibility and social obligation to moral responsibility and moral obligation thus liberating, at her convenience, the media from social responsibility and obligation. By saying that press is a business the blogger is making people believe that the press need not have social responsibility for it is a private enterprise. By saying farmer’s suicide doesn’t qualify to be front page news she is trivializing the issue and pushing the issue to invisibility. By this the cause is being weakened and business being strengthened for she claims absolute liberty to the media as it is a private enterprise.

How much ever one says that the new media and its public sphere is more democratic for it provides for an opportunity of discussion, debate and dialogue these opportunities do not make any difference. What would be the point of all the debate after the damage has been done with words by passing on a good amount of insensitivity to the readers?

I ask myself if the blogger can be permitted to air such views on the grounds of “Freedom of speech and expression”?

I remember when controversy rose against the play ‘Mahachaitra’ penned by H.S. Shivaprakash many authors and activists defended him on the grounds of “freedom of artistic expression” and “freedom of speech .” Interestingly the author said he doesn’t want to defend himself under the banner of “freedom of the artist” and said he defends himself on the grounds of the “responsibilities of an artist” being sure that he had not been irresponsible in his speech and expression. H.S. Shivaprakash believes that the freedom of an artist or a writer is not absolute. He believes that responsibility must be over liberty to writers, for their speech and expression can make an impact. What Leni Riefensthal enjoyed was freedom what she lacked was responsibility. The impact of her work has been witnessed. Under the banner of ‘freedom of the artist’ she can be defended but not under the banner of ‘responsibilities of an artist’.

In a society where there are thousands of people who do not have the freedom to live, like the farmer’s who are forced to commit suicide, it would be highly insensitive for the writer to speak loudly about his/her freedom to speech and expression, that too when with that very freedom of speech and expression, the writer dismisses the issues of the wretched of the earth not having any freedom, as a trivial issue and reducing lives of those freedom-less humans to mere numbers.

A Hungry Bony Boy
Begs His Mama For Food.
Mama, teary eyed
Points To The Sun Glowing Red.
Then, Give Me That Bread Now
I Haven’t Eaten Since Night
Stomach Is Growling.
Let This Hot Bread Cool Down Son
So Far, Yet So Scorching
It May Blister Your Mouth!
The Hot Sun Journey
And Dipped Behind The Mountain.
And Waiting For His Bread,
Bony Boy Went To Sleep Hungry Again!

Can the author be defended in the name of “freedom of the writer” or “diversity of opinion” in front of the boy that the farmer poet Late Shri Krishna Kalamb from the Vidarbha district describes? Especially when the writer wants to enjoy his freedom closing his/her eyes to the misery of the farmer who doesn’t have the freedom to live! The freedom of the writer is not above the freedom of the wretched of the earth. How can the blogger ask for “subsidy” and “tax waiver” for the media while to the wretched of the earth food is as far as the sun? How can the blogger demand for a “travel grant” to speak the stories of those bony boys and those teary eyes? How can the writer be defended on the grounds of “freedom of the writer” whose writing trivializes the issues of freedom-less wretched of the earth?

Karl Marx had something beautiful to say about the freedom of press. He said, “The first freedom of the press consists in its not being a business.” Interestingly the blogger in question is declaring that media is a business.

It is not just the idea of media as a business which strengthens the dominant classes but also the false notion and obsession that most of the media houses seem to have about “neutral”, “impartial” observation and presentation and also the attitude of the media personnel’s which they wish to call as “liberal” which accommodates all sort of views as “another point of which needs to be respected.”

Most of the media personnel- as they are taught in their media schools- believe that to take a side in their report means to be biased. When the world in itself is not balanced how can the reports be “balanced”? The world is not balanced. The reports cannot be balanced. One needs to take sides. To take side doesn’t mean to be biased. To be neutral is to be apolitical. To be impartial is to be apolitical. These apolitical attitudes can and will serve only the dominant classes. The idea of being “liberal” allowing all kind of views in the name of “diversity of views” also ends up strengthening the dominant class and not the wretched of the earth, by diluting the cause of the wretched of the earth by getting trapped in the false idea of a “balance”.

Utpal Dutt believed that, “Only if one identifies oneself with the cause of the proletariat and its struggle can one discover the intricate social connections beneath the simple incident and interpret it in truthful terms.” If one identifies oneself with the farmers or any wretched of the earth then even one suicide will mean more than a suicide and one will be able to see the structural violence which snatched the freedom to live from the wretched of the earth. But one sadly identifies oneself with the business of media and not the spirit of media which stands for and with the wretched of the earth.

“Here is the fastest growing media in the world, a politically free media, imprisoned by profit,” says P. Sainath in Deepa Bhatia’s documentary ‘Nero’s Guest’  and recollects a portion from Gandhi’s Talisman, while responding to a budding journalist. The portion of Talisman which he reads is: “Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man [woman] whom you may have seen, and ask yourself, if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him [her]. Will he [she] gain anything by it? Will it restore him [her] to a control over his [her] own life and destiny? In other words, will it lead to swaraj [freedom] for the hungry and spiritually starving millions?”

Gandhi was also a writer, a journalist who fought for freedom but also realized the responsibility which is well reflected in his Talisman.

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Thinking Aloud About ‘Water Station’

May 13, 2011 at 9:15 AMMay (Friends, Literature, Media, Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy, Theater)

During the last week of April I happened to see the play Water Station directed by Shankar Venkateshwaran for Neenasam Marutirugaata 2011, at Heggodu Shivarama Karantha Ranga Mandira. Like many, I too feared before entering the hall to watch the play because I was told by a few that the play moves in slow motion. A friend’s father said, “You have to make yourself sit and watch the play for the first half an hour and then it will grip you…” But the play gripped me from the moment it began. It kept giving a different kind of experience mainly through its slow motion.

Soon after the play I had sent sms to a few friends saying that I had watched the play Water Station written by the Japanese playwright Ohto Shogo and had liked it. While sending the message I had decided to watch the play again in Udupi on the 10 of May, which I did.

As I entered the hall I told my friend Shrisha that the stage at Ravindra Mantapa, MGM, Udupi, was too small for the play and spoilt the play, because of its space, to a certain extent. Now I read in a website comments complaining about how the audiences of Udupi were made to sweat while watching the play and also how the lights almost hitting the heads of the actors was causing discomfort for the audiences too.  

While I totally agree that these factors did cause ‘rasa-bhanga’ I would not say that it was the fault in the play. The problem here was with the hall, which is not a hall for theater productions. It is for seminars. So now we must be speaking of the kind of halls we have for theater productions. We must accept, while we learn from this particular production, especially, how space of the stage itself can make a difference, that having a proper stage for theater productions is important for every city/ town and that not every stage can be used for theater productions. This must also push us to have decent halls with spacious stage, in every city and town, for theater productions.

The Ranga Mandira at Heggodu is spacious and so is the stage. In that stage the characters of the play looked small and weak which added to their weariness. But the shrunken space of stage in Udupi could not make the characters look as weak and weary as the Heggodu stage could, purely because of the space. It is sad that the play, in Udupi, appeared like nothing but a gimmick through slow motion because of the shrunken space.

***

I had told myself that I wouldn’t write about this production because I am still wondering how to understand the play and which entry point to take to look at the play. But the discussion in a website has made me pen down my observation of the play at Heggodu and in Udupi and say that the problem in Udupi was mainly because of the stage and space.

As I said I am still trying to understand the play completely and am asking myself, “what is it in the play which made me like it so much?” The slow motion, though caused irritation to quite a few, I liked it. In place of heightening the emotions, which usually theater does, this production, in place of heightening the emotions, was deepening the emotions by its slow motion.

The play experiments not only with its movement but also with the text and the space while it doesn’t have a story a plot or a drama as such. That is why when senior friend told me that the play was a display of post-modernism explaining why he disliked the play; I told him that I do not understand what post modernism is but the play, to me, appeared close to post-dramatic because it had divorced the drama element in it and had moved with theater alone.

But then we cannot forget the complaints that Safdar Hasmi had against Badal Sircar saying Badal concentrated more on the form making content secondary and concentrated more on how to do and not what to do.

I ask myself as to what did the content of the play have to tell me? To me it was a caravan of people torn apart by history who still have the quest for life and keep walking ahead. It showcased the optimism of the will even while not staging it as triumph of the will. This too can be seen as the history of Japan which gets up strong after every blow it receives. But then did its form emerge out of its content? Or are the content and form slightly disconnected from each other?

As I make these comments, I know that the play had something more or something else than what I could grasp in two viewings. I am yet to decipher the play but still am thinking aloud in my blog. The play is still unfolding within me and I am still trying to understand the play Water Station. But there is no doubt that I enjoyed the production, at Heggodu.

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Mother In The World, Mother For The World

May 7, 2011 at 9:15 PMMay (Friends, Literature, Media, Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy, Theater)

“I have to get an article published for Mother’s day,” said a friend speaking of her work as a PR. The article, as my friend said, had an advertisement touch to it for a particular brand. When my friend said so, it reminded me of an argument that a senior friend, associated closely with the right-wing politics, said few years ago. He had said, as one can expect, “This is not our culture. This is western culture. We don’t have one particular day to celebrate for our mothers. Our culture sees mother in the earth, in the nation state, in water, in food. Ours is the land which said maatra devo bhava equating mother to God…” and a lot. Saying this he made a connection to market, marketing and the celebration of these days, which made sense. The sentiments attached to mother, as my senior friend saw, was being encashed, for selling of products and this made him uncomfortable and also angry.

As I listened to my friend speak of her official duties and recollected my senior friend’s arguments there were two narratives which I remembered. One, what Shabnam Hashmi recollected in an article which went unpublished. Second one, the story from the life of Tripti Mitra, as recollected by Shamik Bandhopadhyay.

Recently ‘Tribune’ asked Shabnam Hashmi to write an article on the status of Muslim women in Gujarat. Once she gave her article they refused to publish it and said they would publish her writings some other time provided it was less controversial. In her article Shabnam begins the series of narrative with the story where a mother, during the Gujarat 2002 riots, is hiding in bushes, clutching her two children close to her chest while her elder daughter is being brutalized, stripped naked, gang raped; her breasts cut off and burnt to death. Shabnam writes, “The helplessness of the mother, the choice of being killed herself along with the two children or letting the daughter be massacred without registering a protest haunts me,” and adds “In the initial months every time I met her she kept mumbling,’ I am ashamed to be a mother; I am ashamed to be a mother’.”

Shamik Bandhopadhyay sir, while speaking at Heggodu this year, recollected an episode from the life of Tripti Mitra which was narrated to him by the artist herself in an interview. Tripti Mitra, said Shamik sir, was working as a volunteer during Bengal famine. She was cooking food and distributing it to the hungry. This experience is said to have affected her a lot and its impact on her was seen later during her performance in the play Nabanna. Once near the food camp Tripti Mitra is said to have seena lady with her children who, once saw the rice starch flowing out of the kitchen outlet ran towards it and drinking it. Her children came running after her to get some rice starch. But the mother pushed them away and continued to drink the rice starch. The children cried as they stood away in fear. After a while the mother realized what she had done and feeling ashamed started crying. Recollecting this episode tripti Mitra said Shamik Sir that the children later consoled the mother.

The world which encashes on human sentiments for business purposes is sickening but what is more painful and sickening is the way we have structured this world where within the large framework of violence we see a mother helplessly watching violence being unleashed on her daughter and a mother who gets, I use the word hesitantly, violent over her own children.

 *****

But then I ask myself, how to understand the cases of honor killings where, at times, the mother herself leads the community in killing her own daughter or a son? Is it the structure of society which has shaped the mother in such a way to believe that honour is more important and get violent over her own children? Or am I romanticizing the idea of a mother too much, as a friend of mine tells me always? Then I remember the writing of a new friend where my friend writes in the lines of ‘my mother betrayed me’ without elaborating what the story is. No, I can’t buy arguments once placed before me by my parents saying, there can be a bad son or daughter but there can’t be a bad mother. I had argued saying that one doesn’t become a mother just for having given birth to a child.

But as and when I believe that every child gives birth to a mother, I do not completely believe that biology has much to do with motherhood. This is what Anand Patwardhan once told me when I told him that I feel sad because I can never be a mother. Then Anand had told me that a teacher is also a mother. Vaidehi, I remember, once saying that there is a motherly quality in men too. Quoting the example of Gandhi and many more she had said, “It is this motherly quality which will save the world.” So the warmth of a mother makes a mother, I think I can say. This warmth is important.

We have constructed a world of violence where mothers are helpless and we, in this world, need the warmth of a mother to make us more humane and liberate us from the violence that surrounds us.  And what is also important, as another senior friend of mine (Shivasunder) says, is to have a motherly affection for the world.

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If You See A Slave Sleeping…

January 22, 2011 at 9:15 PMJan (Activism, Friends, Media, Music, Musings, Poetry, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy, Theater)

It was shocking to read an article in the Sunday magazine of a major Kannada daily. As I have been travelling I got to know about this article quite late. It was a friend who drew my attention to this article which softly defends the ritual of ‘made snana’ where devotees roll on the left over food, in the name of right to belief.

 

Few weeks ago I had read an article on the same lines on the same issue in the blog of a ‘research’ centre in Karnataka. But that was quite an expected stand from that ‘school’ of thought which thinks its path is that of de-schooling. But this article came as a shock because this was written by a sensible and respected author.

 

I must accept that I am not too familiar with the ritual of ‘made snana’ but from whatever I know I have come to a conclusion that it shames human dignity. I am told, by one of the most respected progressive thinkers in Kannada, that this ritual is not imposed by Brahmins on the lower caste people and that even the upper caste people practice this ritual.

 

The author of the article says that any action becomes oppressive or below human dignity only if the body and mind involved in the action feels so and argues that such a ritual should not be questioned as it is a matter of belief and this belief system appears oppressive and regressive only to the observers and not the practitioners.

 

Very interestingly the author juxtaposes the ritual of ‘made snana’ with the auctioning of IPL players and says that the media and minds which oppose ‘made snana’ did not oppose the auctioning of human beings because of a colonial after-effect which makes us look at the local cultures as oppressive and regressive and not the ones driven by market and capitalist forces. I wonder why the author looks both the examples as different! To me both are below human dignity and both need to be opposed and banned. But the author, don’t know why, chose to look at the two examples as different and silently and softly attempts to convince that the ritual is acceptable as it is associated with the belief of the practitioners.

 

There is a tribal community named Koraga. There is a ritual where the Koraga people are made to eat rice mixed with the hair, phlegm, urine and saliva of the upper caste people. This is to transfer the diseases of the upper caste to the lower caste. Sadly the Koraga people believe that they were born to eat rice mixed with the waste of the upper caste and liberate them from their diseases. It is, no doubt, a ritual which is slaughters human dignity even when the Koraga people do not think or feel so. They think it is their duty and the very cause of their birth. They believe so, I believe, because they have been, over the years, made to believe so. Do we defend such a ritual in the name of belief? Or do we oppose it because it is as inhumane as the IPL auction and the ‘made snana’ ritual?

 

An activist friend once told me that he came across a child who was seriously unwell and needed quick medical help. The life itself was under threat. But the parents were taking the child to a temple and not to the doctor. When my friend insisted that the child be taken to the hospital and not to a temple the parents asked who was more concerned about the child, they- the parents- or the activist friend of mine. Do we defend the decision of the parents because it stems from their belief system? And let the child lose its life? Do we neglect the arguments of my friend just because he is an outsider and a non participant in the action?

 

Another activist friend of mine narrated an incident where he and his team of youths mobilized the ‘untouchable’ people and finalized on a date for temple entry. The ‘untouchable’ were charged up and all set to enter the temple. But on the decided date the ‘untouchables’ stopped when they all neared the temple because they, suddenly, felt that the God would feel offended if they entered the temple. They, deep from inside, believed that they were ‘untouchables’ and God created them so and hence they were not supposed to enter the temple. Do we let them be outside the temple (for now let us park aside the argument whether the untouchables are a part of Hinduism and related issues) because they themselves feel and believe that they are not supposed to enter the temple? If yes, then would any reformation any revolution possible? Isn’t such a stand supporting and protecting the existing system which is too oppressive in nature?

 

Few months ago when I met a friend of mine after a long time she asked me what was the ‘thread’ that was tied on my right forehand. I said it was, ‘raakhi’ associated with the ritual of ‘raksha bandhan’. My friend asked me, “Don’t you think it is quite a patriarchal thing?” I had smiled and said, “The emotions of my sister is associated and I am quite attached to my sister and don’t want to hurt her emotions by not letting her tie the raakhi.” Listening to my explanation and justification my friend said, “Because you are attached to your sister and respect her emotions don’t you think you must make her understand that this ritual is patriarchic in nature?” I had no answer, as I felt that my friend made sense.

 

In one of his poems the man from Lebanon, Kahlil Gibran has the following beautiful lines-

 

They tell me: if you see a slave sleeping

Wake him not lest he be dreaming of freedom.

I tell them: If you see a slave sleeping

Wake him up and explain to him freedom.

 

During the freedom movement while opposing the Colonial regime many went back to the so called great Indian culture, reinvented it, reinterpreted it to mobilize people and motivate them to fight the colonial power. But such a stream of thought made us blind to the darkness under the ‘bright’ lamp of the great Indian culture. Today while trying to oppose the colonial viewpoint of ‘self’ we are trying to repeat the same, in different ways and through different arguments, to justify everything that is native. This would be nothing but a self defeating step, as I see it, which will dehumanize ourselves and our society by strengthening the existing regressive forces.

 

Few weeks ago there was an intellectual debate and discussion in Mangalore where S.N. Balagangadhara presented his viewpoints, about which we all know. Opposing his take Pattabhirama Somayaji, then and there, said that Balagangadhar’s thesis had words and arguments which did not consider the lives of human beings and human experience. What would knowledge and words be if divorced from human experience be but inhumane?

 

The rebel musician Hanns Eliser while speaking of popular music and culture, in one of his writings, says that these popular music and culture serve as narcotics to the working class. While understanding that the working class finds a need for such an opium, Eisler draws our attention to what this opium final serves. It only energizes the working class to refuel themselves for the work next morning and help the oppressive class to make profit. Isn’t religion also an opium, as Marx said? Aren’t rituals and belief systems attached to religion also such narcotics? Should the slave be left to dream of freedom in his sleep? Or should he be woken up and explained freedom?

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