Monday, August 31, 2009

A reading of My Son’s Story and The Colour Purple

I will use in this essay two novels, My Son’s Story and The Colour Purple by Alice Walker, to primarily compare two issues that are central to both texts – first, the marital space and its contentious relationship with an outsider, a lover, as it were, and second, the use of female autobiography.

In My Son’s Story, parts of the narrative that are Will’s are most prominent; they tell us most about the psyche of others as he sees them. His is a very peculiar sense of precociousness. He has the ability to see them completely. There is almost something frightening about the way he looks at Hannah through single-hued glasses. Of course, she must be a subject of derision, but the abhorrence is perhaps unsolicited. Hannah’s role, in this sense, has to be reconsidered. The social awkwardness of having both his wife and his lover at the same place together is undermined by Sonny’s adept handling of the situation, or more so, his fascination with the possibilities it entails. He enjoys the moment of explosive tension it affords. Hannah is not explicitly uncomfortable about it either. In the intersection of their own relative buffers that make disconcertedness almost invisible, Aila’s own (assumed) ignorance makes the situation almost soporific, a moment of unspoken truce, very spontaneous, unpremeditated. Aila, at the stage in which the passage is mentioned, perhaps does not even know the entirety of what she ought to know, or does not get the import of what it is that she is vicariously a part of, of what it does to her personally. It is an act of quiet passivity that we witness. Hannah, on the other hand, has no imputed motive. She is simply there, a rightful lover, an activist present in the company of another, a woman whose actions and legal assistance in the past in relation to him have been laudable. There we know she is not capable of sabotage. She is a woman of circumstance, thrown into the lives of those who constitute the movement she has undertaken as her own. She lives through the hope of their emancipation, and hence her notion of Aila is but not a consequence of what she shares with Sonny, but what she immediately understands of her as a woman and as an activist.

The question of the conflict of marriage and love is here laid beneath the peace and solidarity of comradeship.

In The Colour Purple, ideas of love and marriage, especially its many clashes and conflagrations tend to haunt us in a more direct sense. The home of Mr. – is a space that is filled with the possibility of explosion and yet the oppressive force with which such potential is contained is absolutely incomparable. There is nothing that is ‘peaceful’, in the former sense, about it. The oppression itself is of a different kind. The men and women who people these houses are of a different kind. Their subservience to the upper constituents of society is very different from those in South Africa. The idea of slavery is now a token of legislative abolition. The fact of slavery is inverted and made a household phenomenon. The masters of yore become unapproachable administrators of society, but the masters that assume ownership of the home and body are those recognizably familiar, and more grotesque by their familiarity. Fathers and husbands populate the repressive apparatus of the novel. The fact that women are excluded from that kind of overarching control is perhaps a result of the writer’s own imagination, but any conception of society will tell you that women are privy to the governments that rule within homes and often enforce the diktats that rule lives without dissent.

The act of marriage in the novel is vastly more complicated than the one marriage closely studied in My Son’s Story. Celie is raped by her step-father repeatedly in the beginning of the novel, and the abuse does not stop. Two children are begot through repeated acts of rape and both are disposed. Celie finds them ultimately in the end, when her sister, Nettie, takes up service with a pastor and his wife, who, providentially, are the adoptive parents of her two discarded children. Her father forces her into marrying Mr. - , a man of unknown provenance, his only qualification being relentless lechery in church. Celie is exchanged and Nettie follows her to her new home. This marriage, once Nettie is driven away from its confines, becomes a relationship of petty labour. Celie is only so far useful as her ability to clean the home, look after the children and cook, most of which she does, most of which she resents and impotently rages against, but all of which she is often scolded, castigated and mocked for. Mr. – ’s repeated beatings and hollering ring in her ear.

The arrival of Shug Avery, the lover-figure, becomes, then, her moment of escape.

Shug Avery’s beautiful, flamboyant and business-sensible pub-singer role is overwhelming. Celie’s conditioned doggedness and inability to think become stale and slightly irritating. Shug’s adept control over Mr. - , her former lover, is shocking. He refuses to raise his voice above the lowest decibel and refuses to contest anything she says. Shug brings with her an uncontainable outpouring of demands and not-so-subtle humiliations. Is this the man that beat her mindless that now kowtows ludicrously to another woman? - Shug changes things drastically about her. She is that transformative energy. She provokes Celie into speech and provokes her to haggle with her own suppressed jealousy and her own servility; she forces her to think, she forces her to look around her and to recognize the grime and deprivation her inner life has always been. When she looks at Celie it induces in Celie, at the same time, the knowledge of her stupidity, and a sudden realization of her own beauty. Shug Avery, the other woman, triumphs sexually over Celie, loving her and exploring her; irretrievably altering her sense of being a woman, of her body, subject to sex as naught but an act of rape.

Women in the novel are endowed with strength. Harpo’s wife is a bombardment of domineering energy. She fights her husband, she fights Mr. - , she fights Celie, she even, naturally, gets incarcerated, after an altercation with the sheriff and his wife. I wonder why this incarceration persists through the novel. Sophia remains enslaved in the end – this explosive bag of rebellion, denied her right to her children – whereas the meek and downtrodden slowly ascend.

It is almost strange, the way in which Celie and Shug Avery fall in love. At first, Celie is besieged by feelings of resentment and wonder. This is the woman who enthralls men by singing in bars and is dressed so wonderfully. Her challenging sexual ebullience makes Celie falter, stutter and try in a confused and desperate way to allay her. At first Shug is dismissive and taunting. But slowly, she wonders at the resilience of this woman, her life and years of servitude and degeneration. Shug, in a quiet and unseen way, tries to draw Celie out from her cocoon, from abrogation to confidence. In the few days of her stay that become weeks, Shug treats Mr. – dismally; he retreats into the shadows of his own house, and Celie, although still just as shy, feels freer and safer than ever before.

The love between Shug and Celie evolves into a relationship of many years, where even though Shug ‘takes on’ a new husband, Celie comes to live with her in her home, away from Mr. -. Here, Celie starts a business of her own and takes over the upkeep of Shug’s house. When Shug finds yet another man and departs for Cuba, Celie, battling these burgeoning feelings of resistance, returns home. She is freed from the clutches of Mr. – and is no longer beholden to him. She neither speaks to him any longer, nor cares that he lives right next door to her, completely buffered from him.

Ultimately, the story resolves all these ruptured relationships, Mr. – and Celie live together again, are on speaking terms again, but what constitutes their marriage, the essentials, are transformed forever. Shug returns from Cuba and moves in with Celie and Mr. -. They live all under the same roof in the end. Celie’s sister returns from South Africa – back from years of undelivered correspondence and stultifying missionary work. She returns with Celie’s children – now her own.

The issue of female autobiography is, however, a difficult one. This may be so because of various factors, not least of which is the fact that Gordimer, writing in parts as the omniscient narrator, uses the identity of a black adolescent boy to tell her story. The question of authority is one that doggedly follows at the heels of every discussion on this novel, but that aside, we do not know how to classify writing that is geographically located in the writer’s own native society, and predicated on her imagination of that society, but not countenanced by the writer’s native identity. She is not a black adolescent boy. The story of the Will encapsulated in the imaginary of the novel is precisely a product of the writer’s deliberate use of that face and name and identity. However, the story of South Africa, of an oppressed, broken and sclerotic society, is very much the writer’s own story. The story of South Africa is the story of her life, and insomuch, is material for autobiography. The writer’s upbringing and growth, ultimately her creative adult life, is intertwined with the fate of her society, and she desires this conflation to be the axle on which her authorship rests. The incident of the school-children’s march across the veld spearheaded by Sonny (Suwetto), the violence that erupted at the graves of those young men who were shot by the police (Sharpwell), the public mourning that was sabotaged, the racial segregation practiced in housing and localities to mark white neighborhoods from black neighborhoods, the segregation of schools, the inaccessibility of institutions as indispensable as the courts, the police, the library, the marking off of the real blacks, conscripted into forced labour, as against those who are less than really black, the insubordination and rebellion and the disruption of these diktats – everything that constitutes the skeleton of the story is, precisely, her native society. In this sense, her adoption of Will’s identity, or the intermediate recanting of the lives of Sonny, Hannah, Aila and Baby, are shifts in world-views and mental frameworks – while the organic field of the continent’s contemporary history remains unchanged.

For Alice Walker, autobiography as a mode of writing is less fraught. Her protagonist writes a certain way, her sentence and her speech spill over with the idiosyncrasies of wrong grammar and the cadences of a southern accent. This shift in writing style is witnessed when we read the letters of Nettie, which in themselves undergo a less visible transition. The epistolary form of the novel (‘Dear God…’) records the diary of a woman who attempts to articulate certain things to herself, but must use the mediation of God to create space for conversation. Alice Walker’s life corresponds to Celie’s in at least one way that I know of – the experience of rape, which is what forms the crucible of autobiography. Rape is more prominent in Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, however. The means of recounting the incident, for Celie, is ignorance; she does not know what it is that she is a victim of, and she does not know how it is that her body feels pain. The ignorance is used by the writer to demarcate that intervening period in which she learns what sex is. The reader here knows, in the first place, what it is and later recognizes it again, this time along with Celie.

Nettie’s sojourn to South Africa, through England, is crucial. It corresponds to the freedom and the knowledge that emancipation holds out, which is but the fortune of only one half of the two sisters. One learns what the world is, the other remains where she always has been. Nettie’s realization of the subjugation of South Africa, of the imperative enthrallment of the pan-African colonial enterprise, and of her own role as a black missionary, comes to Celie in letters. In these letters, there is a record of historical conflagrations and defeats, stories that culminate in the Apartheid of My Son’s Story. It is strange now to think that Nettie saw the misdirected beginnings of that enterprise.

Other ideas –

  • The political space that Sonny’s relationship with Hannah needs to be what it is.
  • The resentment of Hannah’s opportunities – Sonny knows that his rebellion will never accord him access to the same offices and designations.
  • The relationship some something ‘illegal’ – an act of breaking the law.
  • Hannah’s identity as a white woman, Shug’s as black.
  • Nettie’s colleagues as Hannah’s ancestors?
  • The politics of southern American states post-emancipation, as against South Africa’s status as a colony till 1991.
  • Socially-conditioned racism versus state-sponsored racism?

Animal Farm

The last time I tried to write about this, I had to flee persecution. It did not go down very well with the hoi polloi. Most of them wanted to incarcerate me, but unsuccessfully. Several of them tried to suppress what I had already written, but someone got wind of it and finally managed to get it out in the open. Somehow, it was salvaged. The memory of it, over years of attrition, was slowly and excruciatingly erased till very little remained, just about enough to provoke a laugh or a scoff in the Corridors of power. Hardly enough to really make you think about what it was that I had tried to tell people. Nevertheless, I was not completely bumped off, which had less to do with the munificence of my persecutors and more to do with their ineptitude. I wasn’t exactly pushing daisies in the years after. I was recuperating. Working and everything, trying to get things in working order again. So much effort it demanded of me – worthwhile all the same. I tried to think optimistically about the future – I even succeeded for a while, when most of those who encountered me in passing remarked on it – but it was getting slightly tiresome. I tired of the fa├žade of normalcy and I wanted something drastic to change the ennui befallen on our farm.

I did not have to wait for long.

I believe it is the recrudescence of old problems that fascinates man most. This is mainly because of two factors: the first is that he has an uncanny ability to recognize things that he has seen in the past quite adeptly; the second is that he experiences a burst of gratification when something that he had foreseen in past comes true. He likes foretelling evils. Very much the same with me. I got bored of the regularity and inertia at the farm. And when what I am about to tell you happened, everything, for me, fell into place again. I recovered faster and better: because I could see that all that I had said the last time could not be contradicted this time. It happened right in front of us for all to see.

We had in our farm several facilities. We had the pig-sty, the cow-shed (enlarged beyond necessity, in my opinion), the horse-stables, the fish-ponds, even a rather cumbersome stretch of land for goats to graze in. Of course, I should mention prefatorily that I occupied the sty, because I am pig, and a rather overgrown pig. We had pretty decent living-quarters there; much of where we spent our waking hours was adequately desiccated to make it habitable and there were hardly any food-contingencies. I would say the same for the horses. They seemed quite well off. The cows did not complain either but the incessant sound of their mooing sounded irritating and whiney anyway. It is the hens’ area that I should come to next, being as it is the theatre of our story, where a strange and mysterious episode unfolded over a week in August.

The hens, which in our farm were all black, had a large thatched conservatory to themselves. They were, as you would know, consumed on a large scale and demand for their meat did not flagellate at any time of the year. It meant the best, most consistent care taken of them. The owners of our farm, an old and bedraggled couple, tried their best to keep the black hens in optimal order. The black hens cooperated, grew fatter without hesitation or resentment, ate the food provided for them and generally kept in good humour. The overall condition of the hens in the past half decade, at the time of the incident, was, you could say, satisfactory. They did their feeding and laying of eggs uncomplainingly. The supervision and confiscation of eggs was not a problem. Such an understanding to this effect had been reached between hens and humans two millennia ago by common agreement. In fact, they did not even experience the global terror wreaked upon their species plaguing their counterparts in farms across China and Europe. Much of what transpired there came to us in fits and starts, as gossip, and our hens remained eminently indifferent to it, because they knew their health was unimpeachable. By virtue of their black colouration, they showed certain characteristics that made them different from hens of other plumage. They were slightly bigger, more aggressive and louder than others, if you believed the farmer’s wife.

At some point before August, the farmer received a kind of contract for a horticultural experiment. Since his hens were all purely black, he was to introduce into their lot a white cock. I should mention that the farmer kept black cocks in a segregated section of the hut, and that the offspring of the two produced, as you can imagine, regular, healthy black chickens. News of the arrival of the white cock created a ripple in our farm. Several animals discussed what the hens felt about it. The hens, for their own part, were bemused and a little offended at the ignominy of being experimented upon. A lot of talk went around, some of the hens were purportedly breaking out of their hut to try and escape, but they never got too far. Some of the other hens kept mum, not really aware of what the hullabaloo was about. Some of them anticipated his arrival quietly. Some of them had seen white cocks before – and knew perhaps, unlike the rest, how wondrous they could be.

The day the white cock arrived was marked by commotion. A lot of the other animals were intrigued to see him. Some said he looked so prodigious, so huge, so muscular. Some spoke of his enviable strength. Some stared at his incomparable feathers, baffled by his stunning beauty. He mesmerized everyone so quickly it was as if someone had slipped aphrodisiac in our collective water-supply. The prodigious white cock marched confidently out of the van and into the compound that was to be his exclusive leisure space, partitioned from the conservatory by a thin mesh through which hens could see the outside. They saw what awaited entry into their midst. I found it hard to glean much from their initial reaction. I think some of them were shocked into silence; for much quiet prevailed most of the day. But when evening fell and an unusually dark night came upon us, shrill cries of indistinguishable anguish could be heard from them. They wailed and wailed as if their insides ached. We knew not why. It was all very mysterious. The white cock, in the meantime, I believe, slept peacefully in a corner outside, wholly unmoved by the cacophony of sounds emanating from within.

Next morning, the hens went berserk. The white cock upon waking found that the mesh portioning him from the hens’ quarters had been torn and in his compound, a multitude of hens scattered helter-skelter. Most of them ran along the periphery in concentric circles. Some shrieked at the poor beleaguered black cocks cowering inside. Some wailed like they did last night – clearly their ache had not subsided. For much of the morning, the other animals tried ways and means of buffering the sound but to no avail. Most of us went back into our hay-stacks to shut our ears off from the terrible sound.

The rest of that week witnessed a drastic change in the hens. The white cock now stayed inside the shed and hardly ever ventured out. Several dispossessed black hens waited outside, unable to enter what were only a few nights before their laying-spots. Many stayed on inside, but from what I hear, their hierarchy had changed. The bigger black hens, earlier leaders, assumed the most distant corners and the leaner, more emaciated ones occupied prime hovels in the centre. In the very core, most comfortable spot, the white cock had taken over residence. Those whose places were of closest proximity became newly endowed with the leadership of the hens. The white cock did not really have much to do. He simply sat there, looking honorific as he did, tended to by the harem most proximate to him.

The worst of it was of course reserved for the black cocks, for whatever food and provisions were provided for them was intercepted by the black hens on his bidding. The white cock never once deigned to look in their direction. The black cocks, truth be told, would have loved to be enlisted in his retinue – they too were mesmerized. Instead, however, after days of starvation, boney skeletons covered with black were found in their wake.


I believe I must stop here. The rest of the story is too terrible to be told in detail. But I will summarize. A week after his arrival, the white cock was taken by the farmer to his kitchen and was never seen again. The black hens, pained by absence, gave birth to several incongruous black-and-white offspring prematurely, all of whom perished. The strange pestilence at which the very same hens had earlier cocked a snook came upon them like Hell’s vengeance and not a single one was spared. They all collapsed into a heap of dead blackness.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The last days of term

It was five in the morning and the rain wouldn’t stop beating. It had been going on for a few days and no one could see himself doing anything constructive without being drenched. It overwhelmed everything about life here for a while. Even the classes started a while later than usual. The sports timings were shifted now and again. The teachers were tired and their voices were unceremoniously drowned out by the loud outpour. It took a while for everyone to get used to it. Not unusually, everyone thought that the rain was anomalous. Little did we know that it would rain for a long time afterward and we would continue to do all our things against the backdrop of an incessant beating of droplets on tin-roofs.

It was the last day of school and we were all packed up to leave for home. The evening was crowded with the formalities of departure. We had to put our trunks back into the sequestered trunk room behind Manas, bring all our extra luggage into the linen-room for safe-keeping, tidy up the rooms and bring all our dirty clothes and uniform for their final wash. It took a long time to get through all the preparatory holiday rituals. I usually thought I could get done with them days in advance but it wasn’t possible. There were tomes of prep-work to go through, several last-minute assignments to write. I had a difficult time doing them. My notes remained untouched on the table and my list of pending work grew gargantuan by the hour. Things remained in stultified inertia for a long time here, especially in my room. I felt them grow heavy on my desk and the table itself kind of ominously grew threateningly big, but just in that little unseen way. I could never clearly tell. Something about the urgency of last-moment tasks kept me from noticing. I felt relieved when everything came to a head on one of the last few remaining working-days. I would unthinkingly dive right in determined and finish it. It’s surprising how quickly I dispensed with hassles. Only I couldn’t work myself into that state without that crucial urgency of the last few days.

I filled up my trunks with all kinds of stuff – all my endless mounds of collected necessities that were absolutely unnecessary, which I never used in the end, piled into a huge collection, shoved into my cantankerous little box – and took it back to the storage room behind the house. The storage room itself was littered with piles and piles of mounting trunks all around, it was impossible to move. It was one of those truly great feats that people performed occasionally without the slightest feeling of accomplishment – like managing to get through a long line of people and finally getting to the front of the queue. People climbed and ascended all of these boxes to get to theirs. Once done, they dumped them back in, helter-skelter in all directions, doing anything to get rid of them until our return from the holidays. Everything became temporarily convenient and no one seemed to mind the ephemeral comfort we derived from carelessly strewing our trunks everywhere.

I returned all my linen. My clothes always got pungent by the end of the term. Well, everyone else’s did too, so I never felt embarrassed about it. We all threw our soiled uniform into massive heaps in the linen-room and left them there for the laundry.

That day, the last day of school, when I had done all that I had to do before leaving, I set about scrubbing my toye-unit. I knew my housemaster (Kevin Phillips) would come around on inspection later in the evening after dinner and it had to be spic and span. He looked at all of ours toyes very suspiciously and immediately detected any flaw in them. He had that quality about him. He could tell right away. I did my cleaning immaculately again. I had to. I didn’t want a reprimand from him. I kind of resented having my last days marred by last-minute recriminations. I avoided them. I scrubbed really hard and borrowed some soap from the guy next to my unit. He used copious amounts himself and never had a problem.

That done, I set about packing. I had two suitcases, one enormous, another really teeny. I filled in the big one with all the books I had to take back home, with my shoes and toiletries and the little ‘home’ clothes I had. No one wore ‘home’ clothes ever. Exceptionally, some days we could. So they languished in my big suitcase through the term, until I would have to rearrange a little bit at term’s end, move them slightly around to make space, or leave them untouched. I put my little boxes and pens and notebooks into the tiny one. I also had some dirty uniform I wanted to get washed at home. I put them all in and locked the two. At six in the morning, the space in front of the common room was crowded with luggage. Everyone put them there before leaving the hostel. It kind of waited in transit. These collected bags spent hours huddled together, merging into one big, bloated pile while the rest of us anticipated the coming day.

I sat on my stripped and bare bed, and waited patiently. I waited for solace. I waited for my eagerness to implode, but it never did. All I remembered then was the need to be patient. It would be hours before I reached home.

The hours were long and tiring. It exhausted me to sit in the bus, doing nothing, just sitting and hoping for home, waiting for its warmth. We would talk sometimes, the person next to me and I. We would talk about the prep-work set, about all the things we couldn’t wear at school this term and all the people we would catch up with over the holidays. We always had plans chalked out meticulously. These would tumble out on our bus journeys. I thought about the things I would eat on the way. I thought about the one hour wasted by those who got off mid-way at the hotel in Nowgong where we stopped every time – everyone used the loos there. But things moved slowly. The prospect of the (hostel) life left behind consoled me. The thought of going home left me awake and sleepless. I felt the heat peter into the bus, but I just stayed put in my seat, not looking back to talk to anyone else. I needed to get my plans in order. My holidays were here.

A conversation with Hemi Rawat

Last night, I stayed up till four in the morning. By the time I returned to bed, my eyes were heavy and I felt sleep crawling back. It made a quiet, incipient entry through the rear. I felt like I had both lost and gained something crucial. Something I couldn’t quite define, but definitely something indispensable. Perhaps something on which a lot of my ways, my traits and thoughts are incumbent. It’s difficult to say clearly what it was that emerged from that conversation – but something indispensable certainly did. It felt like a conversation about several things, a brush-stroke encompassing all of the canvas available, bludgeoning all the little white spaces spared. It felt like it was about everything, in a way. Ultimately, now I can’t even recall it properly. There is a sudden amnesia that afflicts people who want to remember important details of conversations like these. They cannot do it, details get obfuscated in the larger canvas, and all the little white spaces overcrowd the surface in their absence.

What did he really mean? The conversation started with Zeitgiest, a movie I had asked him to see. I recall suggesting it to him. I have a way of suggesting things that I especially like to people, that tends to back-fire with alarming frequency. To him too, I perhaps overstretched my point. I launched into a long panegyric about the movie, and tried to clearly tell him all the details in a convincing manner, gesticulating now and again, using my hands once in a while. I kind of generalized a little bit, gave him the larger picture and shoved in forcefully the central details. I know I did it a bit too unequivocally, like I was entirely prepared to annihilate any other point of view. Why would I do that? I don’t know – I have a strange tendency to do these things without the slightly bit of shyness. The strangest thing is I don’t even know if I know for certain I can surely guarantee the veracity of some of the facts. I probably can’t. Something about a new idea, however, gets me really going – almost in a propagandist kind of way. I get garrulous when I know that other people aren’t familiar with the idea of some story. It gives me a sense of wanting of legitimize my own version of it, or at the very least my point of view on it. The same, although, less dramatically, applied to this case as well, and Zeitgiest I unflinchingly put before him.

Last night, he said, albeit a little hesitatingly and bashfully, that he wanted to say something about the movie to me later. I didn’t know what it would be about. I tend to assume the least. I like sticking to the most innocuous explanation and leaving things that way. It provides a little bit of assurance, mostly when such is needed, not in the daily interactions that you have, but in the bigger, perhaps professional problems you encounter. I thought he might have something to say about his own take on religion, a topic discussed speciously in the first part of the film. I don’t have a problem with specious information. I know it can be misleading, but I progress with as much alacrity, and later, it does not turn me into a mind-fucked midget, but someone simply with a larger compass of vision. After dinner, I left the thought at that and didn’t consider it again.

Back in his flat, the question came up again. I was eating some delicious fish and was too engrossed with the eating to notice any impending crisis-point. I would refrain from calling it a crisis. It was a conversation. I thought about other things all the while, tried in my mind to work out some of the things I needed to do the next day, some plans I needed to execute, some food I needed to buy, some timings I needed to settle – all things indispensable to planning. I thought them through and then turned to the conversation at hand. Perhaps I was listening only fleetingly earlier. I wanted to savour the fish. I can’t dissipate my concentration whilst eating. If I try and recall what sparked the discussion, I will be inaccurate. But it was something about journalism. About journalistic writing and the kind of effect it has on the world that reads it. I thought about that for a while, but soon, it veered to the movie again.

How gullible are we as human beings? Extremely gullible, a little gullible, not at all, perfectly intransigent? The movie discussed several things and frankly, when I watched it, I thought it admissible. Admissible is different from legitimate. That was the crucial gap in our points of view last night. It was the technical chasm that lay between the endorsement of something, which he presumed me to be responsible for, and the admission of something. I had only admitted the idea, but could not put it across then. In fact, as I write this, I am startled by the comparative clarity of the situation. Last night, I was babbling nonsense and I could not have been more unconvincing and incongruous. He said that a lot of the facts were misleading, a lot of the research not consistent. I did agree it was inconsistent. However, it is difficult for me to accuse anyone of inconsistency until I have accomplished something similar myself. But that in itself is not a consistent way of looking at the world. There is not enough time to prove everything yourself. He said that the movie packed in a lot of details that confused each other and thwarted each other and left a lot of the story vacillating between conviction and incomprehension. I didn’t agree with that – it was coherent – coherent when I watched it and even now that I try and recall it. He said that it packaged itself so irresistibly that it convinced everyone merely by means of its flashiness and its inarguable sharpness. That I could believe.

What is the truth? When you think about yourself and the universe that surrounds you, you know that you will have very little coherence in your interaction with, for instance, aliens if they do happen to drop by and demand some synoptic kind of de-briefing. What would you say? Firstly, you would be very disorientated by the sudden break down and demise of all your presumptions about life. You are not alone in the universe. Here are creatures come to meet you from somewhere incomprehensible to you. Would you tell them about the many phone calls you have made, the many poems you have read and written, the interminable conversations you have on if they ask you what your life means to you? What would you say then? I know I would be lost. Lost in a stranglehold of many daily events and little meaning.

Is everything virtual reality? What if all that means anything to us is a virtual concoction of uplifting energies? What if all poetry is designed to take you into another world and leave you stranded? If not by design, what it all literature does it by default? Would you still be as comforted by your dependence on it? In the daily needs and rituals of your waking hours, all the little things that you do, all the little duties you perform and indulgences you have, you have entered into an enclosed reality lived virtually? It is a simple matter. Nothing extraordinary. Think of all the relationships you conduct on the telephone. All the closeness you have taken care to build with people, all the moments you have lived through phone calls and messages. To think that they are all simply simulations of actual presences, but not those presences themselves, is to know that they belong to the world of virtual realities. They are made of the stuff of imagined lives in imagined closeness.

The sun was out at four in the morning and we moved to the veranda. We stood there for a while and looked at the growing glow around us. The day was almost beginning. It was beautiful. The trees looked young and ready and the street-lights stood you starkly against a new-born day. The veranda caught some of the sports-complex behind it and it jutted out through the trees in the distance. I thought about the trees and I thought about the dashing blue in the sky, cloudless and unhesitant. It didn’t know about virtual realities. It just existed, blue and fresh and renewed each morning. I felt everything coming back to me. All the mornings I spent in class four, waiting up till five in the morning when the busses going home would be parked outside the WMH. I thought of all the nights I spent thinking about home in the breathtaking final hours before the holidays. All the nights I stayed awake, anticipating the next morning; the long, smelly and tiring journey back to the city. I remembered the overwhelming desire to see the sun first in the morning. I remember the little things we invented to doggedly not feel drowsy, all the little conversations some of us - Navid, Raghav, Debarghya, Pratik, Gautam and I - would start and prolong – all because we could not sleep, waiting to see the morning as it sprang up on our stationary buses, waiting to carry us home.

That morning on the verandah in his flat, it all came back to me.

But I could not tell anyone because it was my solitary past – a past I shared with long-gone people - people somewhere obscured in the little details of time, place and different life-courses. A secret past of waiting that only the trees behind Manas will recall.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

On Being Called Narrow-Minded

So I know that I am slightly narrow-minded. This is one accusation people today cannot deal with - it's so strange to be called narrow-minded. It's reductive, it assumes a lack of intelligence - in a tenuous way, it even kind of implies that you know no better - that your antecedents are no better. I don't know if narrow-minded people are irredeemably narrow-minded or just temporarily narrow-minded. It's hopefully not a permanent state of being. That would be dreadful - to be perpetually condemned as a narrow-minded person is scary. But then again, what is it that people mean when they say something like that? And more importantly - are some people truly in a position to qualify saying something like that - are they essentially free from the charge in the first place?

I feel that a lot of the times that I've called people narrow-minded I've meant it in a cultural sort of way. I've hurled the charge at them by way of cultural awareness and something along those lines - I've often felt that people unaware of the state of the world or people parochially entrenched in a ditch full of the commonplaces of their own four walls are narrow. I use it not as a reference to where they come from, or what language they speak, but certainly to the kind of responses they have to the world around them. Some of them are indifferent to the life that whirls and swirls and gushes tempest-tossed just beyond the barbed wires of their confines; these are the states of being that I have pointed the epithet at. Sometimes they have been justified, and sometimes not. It's not something that you can control - your assessment of someone is always, and is fated to be, subject to what you know of him or her. If you don't know much about her, but still think of her as a certain kind of person from what you DO know about her, well, then that is indisputable. You cannot help but think what you cannot help but think.

Other times, I have used the word more loosely. To harangue some people for not being open to ideas. To make fun of authorities who refuse to know anything but the rules that come prescribed in little green books. To make my own case stronger against someone else's, someone who clearly thinks in a way antithetical to my own - whether for better or worse, I know not. I have never really thought of using the word to mean myself - someone who is suspicious about the ways of the world, and the things people do, and the things people think when they do the things they do.

It's almost strange. It's like looking in the mirror for a long time and realizing these terrible gashes materializing out of nowhere - in spots you had never suspected, in ways you had noticed and criticized in other people. The mirror steadfastly refuses to budge and show you anything but what it flawlessly records. You stare and stare and try and discern the errors you hadn't noticed before. The more you look, the clearer they stand out and you see them like you had never seen them before. This is what startles me. The finding of almost hidden truths, glaring like gashes visible in the mirror, hiding all the time so effortlessly without the slightest hint.

But you know the gashes are there - clearer now by the moment. But it doesn't seem to me that being narrow-minded is a realization that can startle you one day out of the blue. It is probably more serious than that. It probably takes longer to know it, longer to see it and it simply does not come as a surprise. What do you do when someone says that you are narrow-minded because you cannot let other people be? That you are narrow-minded because you don't accept them as who they are?

Let other people be? Who is anyone to let anyone else be? If anyone ought to exist, he should exist independent of the likes or dislikes, opinions or condemnations of any other people. If someone were to be effectively permitted to live, then that person's claim to a sound and rational life is fairly compromised, almost wholly so. Because that person ought not to be able to breathe on his own, but mainly according to the convenience of those around him. He ought to feel every whim and fancy of those you surround him and gratiate them willingly. Such a man is despicable. Truly unworthy of the recognition of no one around him. He ought to breathe feely, independently, of his own will. Not servilely because others let him.

The charge against me is that I am norrow-minded because I judge people for being certain things. Firstly, why must I not judge? Why must I deny myself the capacity to think, like or discern. It is clearly wrong in the grossest sense to expect anyone to like everyone. It is perfectly rational to expect that people are subject to their value-systems, that they work according to the ways of their own worlds inside, dictating their feelings and judgments. And why not? They are meant to feel the power of their own discretion and to use it gainfully. If I feel that I cannot like someone, or feel the need to accept someone's company or presence, it is entirely a consequence of my own judgment. Why must that be narrow-minded? I feel sometimes that I can trust my understanding of other people's motives and feelings and intentions. This is not to say that I am assured I am right - in fact, quite the contrary. I know for certain that I could be grossly wrong. But that has nothing to do what the immediate value-judgment I allow myself to form - why not? It is the business of my mind and my rational faculties to inform my intuition. If if feel I am justified in feeling something about someone, I ought to respect it for being what it is - simply a matter of my own personal values. I need not always feel the need to go around excavating the truth of everything I see. It does not matter to me. What does matter is that I respond to my intuition rationally and allow myself the freedom to act according to that rational response to the dictates of my feelings.

That does not make anyone narrow-minded. It makes the person independent to do what he or she thinks is right. That is human rationality. It ought to remain so.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Logic Paper

The chapters are too long and the words don't seem to follow any logical sequence. I mean, of course they do, they are very well contructed words. As in written in the Introduction, the chapters and the sentences and the thoughts and the assignments are the product of a meticulous process, putting it all together, making everything intelligible to even someone who has never read such material before. But to me, to that someone who has been in the course, has comprehensively attended several classes, read these chapters before but nevertheless is alienated by them, these words are beginning to go out of focus. I cannot tell why. They seem sensible enough. There are sentences within these long passages that make sense to me. They seem to define a lot of concepts and entities and I am not, as a rule, anathema to definition. Then why? Why is it that the enitre gamut put together becomes more difficult to get throught to? What happens in that momentary, brief gap between the single sentences and the gargantuan passages? I cannot tell. I can't tell if the words are meant to be incongrous. But incongruity is not a very convincing charge. It is certainly not incongrous to everyone. Even I experience slight but pertinent moments of understanding, when all the words fall into place. When the definitions seems articulable and in alignment with the rest of the ideas I need to digest. Still, a persistent incongruity comes back intermittenty to undo whatever is done and learnt. This moving, tenuous, two-way path is difficult. It takes away from the intial concession of having got the chapter. It kind of makes a demonstrable nuisance of every tiny step taken. When I think of this, the image of a treadmill comes to mind. Even when you're walking on the treadmill in a gym, you know that you are not moving forward. You walk faster and faster, until you reach optimum speed. When you reach it, you walk consistently the remaining time. You keep walking and walking and walking on it, even though you are not going ahead. But that is the purpose of the exercise. You are not meant to be going ahead, you are meant to be stranded, predicated in a circumscribed space, not allowed to walk out of its boundaries, the belt of the machine. However, if in normal circumstances, out on the pavement along the side of a road, your walking ceased and the ground below transmogrified into a indiscernible treadmill, not letting you move forward, you would panic. You would be completely confused. And the episode would be, irrespective of explanation, unintelligible to you. 

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Notes on the nature of Revolutions

- Arjun Rajkhowa & Sachida Bista


This is not a revolution. This is only a list, it need not be treated like a complete essay. So when you say that you want a revolution, you probably mean you want something to drastically change. Some kind of mass-transformation. That is the definitive understanding of what a revolution is. And it is something remarkable. Every time you think of something massive, involving masses of people, you think of something so immense, so big that it can be really terrifying to even consider pushing it further. I would not want that to afflict me. I would not want to be scared by the massive size that a revolution demands. I want not to be encumbered by the arithmetic of numbers. By the size of it all.

You say, to be the pioneer of a movement, you need to be the very fulcrum on which it rests. This is again something I want you to think about. Or rather, I want to think about myself. At a time like this, I want to think about the kind of impact people like us could have. Who are the people we know? What kind of impact would we have on them? What are the avenues open to us? It’s a preliminary step to going beyond these – contending them in the first place. You say that these questions are relevant only after we commit ourselves to a decision. This is true. But the question persists. It is not as an afterthought that a question like this arises. Even if you think of them as details, they are essentially details of your existence. You cannot bracket them as subsidiaries of what you do, they are the minutae of who you are.

To me, a revolution is a revolution. It means nothing until people change in the sphere that we are in constant contact with. If the people around you continue to impact you in negative ways, the point of a ‘massive’ change is made redundant. The only thing that really affects you, or rather, will affect you in the future is that transformed sphere that you inhabit. This cannot be ensured until you consult the details of your life first. It might sound slightly exaggerated, given the fact that you are probably most unaware of such ‘details’ yourself, or at the very least dismissive of them, but there you are – this is a practical precondition to the problem.


To start a revolution, you must come together will all those who share your plight. And then slowly, perhaps even painfully work together demanding changes by cajoling, force, whatever it takes to assert the cause. But even before that, the revolutionary, or the one who vouches of becoming one, must fundamentally understand that his path is to be one of indifference. By indifference, what I mean is that the revolutionary must turn blind to hostile elements that may decide to cause damage to the movement or even set it off astray. The revolutionary must also turn indifferent to his own emotional shortcomings. A revolution is no trivial commitment but, the undertaking of an entire lifetime.


There is, though, something that follows from the former need – the need to meet people thinking of the same things, experiencing the same things. There is a feeling of camaraderie that this will bring in. You might even begin to understand one another better. You may even want to spend more time together. This is appealing; but, ultimately, we cannot discount the veracity of real-life incidents and stories. People say, more than vaguely, that they get disenchanted with those they ‘share their plight with’. They begin to resent the very same people, begin to attribute the worse features of their journey together to them. They begin to see them as hurdles, as obstacles getting in the way of their work. It’s probably not very convincing an argument. But it only requires a little bit of getting-out-there to see it occur daily, relentlessly, everywhere.  It’s not specifically the ‘kind’ of people that they are that pushes it to this extent, it’s not even the things they do, or the mindsets they have, even though all of these are contributory things. It is, after all, in the end, about the very fact that they are other people. Other people with different motives and different interests, getting in the way of your own stated and unstated motives and interests, inimical to the road you want to inhabit.


It is true that for the very development and assertion of any ‘cause’ these people are indispensable. But after the formation of the idea, what one must comprehend is that the cause must precede its propagators. In bearing the cause, the people who are associated with the revolution, need to overlook their personal differences. A revolution needs a leader, in the way any intelligent organism needs a head. It is the task of the leader to bring together the functions of the other organs, in spite of their differences. A revolution does not promise personal benefits to anyone, not even to the one who pioneers it. By definition, it is a collective endeavour, and thus, a revolution benefits the people at a larger, social level. To seek immediate individual profit in such a movement is mere selfishness. One must uphold the ideology first. A revolution begins BECAUSE of the ideology, and overlooking it is a grave error, which might lead the movement to meander aimlessly.


Another point of view, separate from the previous, is one that thinks of the revolution as a result of minute-changes. The use of the word ‘ideology’ is a very contentious one. It might be erroneous to suppose that ideologies are concrete objects that can be realized in more concrete terms. They cannot. They are the by-products of several years of transition, the aftermath of occurrences, the benefit of afterthought. They cannot always precede a revolution. It’s wrong to assume that people start out by thinking of what they ‘want theoretically’ in a movement. To them, it’s always a matter of exigencies. It’s about their requirements at home, in their own lives, in their work. It’s about the things they have to deal with on a regular basis, the lives they have to lead. Therefore, these needs, these pertinent concerns push them into doing something. Anything concrete. Take, for example, the underlying thought of the sexual revolution that prompted this. It is not something that coalesced into being simply of and by itself. It is not a theoretical concern. It is majorly a practical concern. It stems from the need to identify yourself and to demarcate your space, to compete with those crowding your space at the moment, to question the need of the antagonists of this space to feel threatened and be figures of threat. That is what spurs the thought forward, not a detached, unrelated theoretical need somewhere in the recesses of your mind.

The kind of person the ‘revolutionary’ is is something that can be contended. It is not merely his vision that matters. It is the vision itself that matters. To distinguish between the two, it is necessary to look at the difference between the political manifesto that a party publishes in the time of elections and the party itself. They are two very different things, know to us through experience. The earlier mentioned need for indifference is a very potent one. But that indifference needs to be defined, conscripted in its own rank and circle of influence. Perhaps, it is self-sufficiency that really matters in the end, because indifference is something that comes naturally to most people. They need not remind themselves to be indifferent to things that they are intolerant of. This is not to say that people are instinctively indifferent to such things, but they eventually tend to become that over time. It is that need that would come equally naturally to someone in a movement. That person, however, cannot be deluded into misrepresenting that indifference. To those who matter to him, and to those to whom he matters, it is necessary for him to withstand the slow attrition of his self of compassion. He needs to tell them about himself, and he needs to introduce them to his way of life. So that they know they are definitely involved and certainly of some import in the movement.


Any movement that plunges itself forward without an ideological map in hand, is most probably to find itself lost in the sea of confusion that the world is. I am aware that all ideas, ideologies, philosophical doctrines are the result of historical occurrences. However they also function as effective hinges, which determine the course of the future. An ideology is a profound understanding of both the past and the present, and the conscious assimilation of the ways and agencies required for future changes. To say that it is merely the result of past upheavals alone, is to diminish the potential the formulated idea bears. To say that, would mean, by extension, that everything is the by-product of the past, and then we are suddenly in a world of determinism where the individual has no way out.

An ideology is a conceptualisation of the varied needs of a social group. Without condensing these practical concerns in paper, it would be incomprehensive. It would be difficult to even recognise the root of the problem. Besides, without a framework, everything would eventually fall into chaos. A theoretical doctrine determining the nature and course of a revolution is indispensable. And if the people who participate are firstly preoccupied by their practical concerns alone, then what would really be the future of the movement would be mere complacency. What they need firstly is a concrete idea of what they are/will be doing; they need an ideology to motivate and direct them. A revolution is not the same as evolution, where life shapes itself according to the conditions favourable and otherwise. It is an upright, conscious commitment with no room for passive elements. I am not unmindful of the practical aspects of life; but I understand these practical aspects are the way they are because of a certain prevalent mindset. It is the thought, the mind that must be the first to change.

There is a risk involved in all enterprises. There is one in this too. However, to already suppose that the corruption and incompetence of political parties would be necessarily inherent in the concerned revolution is baseless and furthermore demoralising. It is a wrong foot to start off with. These problems are there after the movement begins. To dwell on them, before the movement’s birth, is futile and even damaging.

Asking for a ‘definition’ of indifference – now isn’t that to be a ‘theoretical’ indulgence? Anyway, what I mean by indifference is not the same as the above understanding of it. It is not the indifference one allows oneself due to petty occurrences that exist to wreck characters and their relationships.  I meant that the people, involved with the movement, must turn blind eyes to any hostile and demoralising elements that might want to thwart the movement. It is the movement that is of the primary concern. The individual is secondary. A revolution is not a love-affair; where the personal is the means and the end. It is a sacrifice for a cause that is greater than even the revolutionary himself.

( be contd.)

Monday, March 16, 2009

The story of Narcissus

- Sachida Bista

Anything that is unconventional and alien to one is wrong and hence frightening. Hence to overcome those fears one tends to tame things outside oneself, like the circus-man who must tame the carnivorous lion. Of course that man is never truly rid of that fear which makes him ‘tame’ it in the first place. He must always carry a whip and lash it whenever need arises. An absolute reconciliation is impossible for he is a man and it is a lion, and in their differences only a pact between them is possible, between two powers, one scared of the whip and the other scared of the whipped. Well, I am not as much interested in the lion as I am in that circus-man, probably dressed like a clown, a painted mask to hide his fear and misery. Why he must tame the lion in the first place might seem ridiculous, but that is because to tame is essentially his nature and his purpose. Without taming the lion, or rather without the lion, his existence becomes meaningless.


Only by ‘teaching’ the other can one overcome one’s fears. Man finds himself alone amidst variety, change; amidst things he cannot make sense of. Hence, his immediate reaction to such an unknown environment is to spread himself, his ideas, force them down the other’s throat if need be, to overcome that variety, to understand that change, so that everything becomes familiar again, so that he is not ‘outdated’. He is reaffirmed. This is why knowledge is ‘light’, missionaries must bring charities and the words of their gods must be spread.


Man needs to see himself reflected. He is a narcissist and hence man will essentially die in his own self absorption. He collapses into himself. He is not seeking relationship in others, but mirrors so that he is reflected. So that he knows who he is, his desires, his fears, his strengths, his achievements. So that he can value and validate himself. For this reason man devised religion, customs, traditions, love in order to find himself in the other; so that he sees himself reflected. But what he fails to learn is that even the other seeks the same. Hence an interesting and a pathetic situation occurs: two mirrors reflect each other in futile for infinity.


The lion and the circus man are at continuous strife with each other. The circus man wishes for a puppet; the lion wishes to devour the ‘puppeteer’. What is common to both is that desire for victory. Both are engaged in that unending game because there will be no victory. It is a game between equals. It is to be a continuous struggle essentially because one needs the other for meaningfulness. The circus man, our subject, must engage himself as long as he desires to live. The moment he gives up is his end. The lion, the other, of course never rests.


Love, is a process of self-realisation and then the affirmation of that realisation. The lover seeks to see himself reflected in the ‘beloved’. Perfect love is love where one finds complete reflection in the other. One loves, to seek a validation of oneself; a validation of one’s imagined, constructed self. However, since an individual is always different from the other, love is a process with no end; there is no complete fulfillment, no complete reflection; hence there is no perfect love. The narcissistic lover is in a continuous process of ‘finding’ himself in the other. The other is reduced to a pond in which he sees himself, to appraise himself, to love himself. The murkiness of the water allows him the liberty to obscure and imagine various aspects of himself. But occasionally, the water clears to reveal the truth. Because of their (the lover’s and the beloved’s) inherent and acquired differences, a complete reflection (desired image) is unattainable. Thus love is an incessant and as unending process of ‘teaching’ the other. To ‘learn’ (from the other) is however unacceptable to Narcissus; for that would mean that he is lesser and more importantly, invalid. Hence, to reaffirm himself, he feels the need to tame, mould, ‘teach’ the beloved/the other into his idea of himself; his reflection. The other’s differences are understood as a threat to his identity. So the other is either held in contempt or is made to unlearn what she (in this case) is and in a way, mutilate herself into the lover’s notion of himself, so that he can overcome the fear of solitude. The lover needs to feel a ‘validity’ of and for himself in the social fabric. Thus, love boils down to the desire to assert oneself upon the other; to control the other. It is only a more cordial and agreeable method of exercising unwarranted power.


For a cup of tea

- Sachida Bista

It starts within one of us – that thirst. It proceeds onto a proposal and then a tacit agreement. It is as if we plan it all along. Then we clothe ourselves in our woolens, to protect ourselves from the cold of the night; to keep from exposing our nakedness from night’s wanton gaze. We push the gate; how the metals clash as they fight each other; and off we shoot ourselves, spurting onto the night’s cool skin. Our shadows dissolve into the dark.


It is a long, winding road to PC; where remnants of life still chatter, fuss, trade in the night. The road is empty, desolate. We walk – usually the three of us; sometimes a forth joins us, and sometimes it is a human chain, hissing, as it pulls itself forward. We walk on into the night with that great sense of purpose, with a need to satiate our thirst that gnaws our insides. That thirst is a void that absorbs everything that comes in its way; so we and our voids march forward absorbing every fibre of dark that we brush against. Sometimes, a conversation about something startles us and it accompanies us till our destination; sometimes, nothing.


The lamps that illuminate the road to PC hum in that low note, singing to the insects that collect around them. How those insects swirl around each glow creating a universe oblivious to another.  Each insect battles another for a touch of that divine fire; that dispassionate flame that evokes all desires; and after a fierce fight where each one is for oneself, an insect finally touches it - it burns, shrivels and falls from the heavens to the earth, from whence it had once sprung – a closure to its exquisite dance of death – a declaration of its limitations.


We walk on, unaffected as we pass these lamps; unaffected even as we see the carcasses lying around the lamp-posts. We search for our own spotlights – to touch the source of that illumination and to be scorched by the mere brilliance of it. But mostly, it is through the dark that we travel; it is in that dark where we imagine ourselves significant; it is there in that unknown, where we suddenly and fully know our purpose; it is there, where night is most blind, fragments of forgotten dreams converge into a point of concentration; it is in that dark we reign, we survive; for there, we are secret.


Life fades in as we near PC. There are men of different kinds, caricatures mostly; in a pathetic display of light and shadow. Whispers of women ooze out of cracks, in the barred windows, only to be stifled by the loud grunts and abuses outside. Sometimes, a car flashes past, tearing everything apart, followed by a gust of wind; but PC has a peculiar habit of stitching itself together again.  It has stood witness to fights, rapes, perhaps a murder; it has been bruised, wounded, scarred and yet, it is there still, firm, throbbing, a vein – a passage for life.


We collect around the tea-stall, for a cup of tea. The burning flame moans as the priest prepares the golden liquid that must quench the thirst that keeps ghosts from their sleeps. Hundreds gather around to see the sacred event, to be united with each other, in their desires. When the tea is finally ready the man who has practiced the great power of keeping everyone in suspension, pours it in small plastic cups. Each man sells his life, concealed in a few coins, for a cup. After he gulps down the burning liquid, the ceremony is over. He must return.


 We, are among those, who witness that eternal fire that warms the cold night in the deepest of winter; we are among those few, who travel great lengths for a sip of that elixir that flows endlessly in the rivers of that nocturnal civilization. We are among those restless pilgrims, who journey the unknown, in search of that god to be redeemed from the sins of the ignorant world. With that realization, we must all go back from whence we came; we must all submit to night’s calming powers. The road back is the same and its shadows too. More insects are stricken dead by the towering lamps and we must all return to our beds as sleep finally beckons us. Returning is a happy burden and numbed, we walk back, forgetting all that we had desired, all that we had been.


Then, in that last minute of wakefulness, as we finally settle ourselves in our confines, we suddenly come to realize: Night purloins our dreams and dissolves it in a cup of tea.


Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Rain

The rain 
is so eager to fall on our heads, 
prompt our trembling, 
tumbling out of beds. 
It ceaselessly pours, 
so trenchant and so cold, 
we feel the mooring 
of intractable, shouting winds 
that rush into doors 
and out of cantankerous windows.  

The rain 
is so willing to drench us, 
to wet our clothes, 
to wash, to cleanse us, 
it feels startlingly like  
a deluge of ichor 
bettering wounds. 
It is the washing  
of soiled bodies, 
thrashing and writhing in a momentary pleasure.  

The rain 
makes change so seamless. 
It takes old, vestigial hurt 
and flattens it gently.  
A soothing balm comes over it 
and precipitates 
layers of healing, 
making clean the prickliness of the old. 
It opens up fresh pores 
that breathe resuscitated.  

The rain 
pattering on him makes him look wet 
and calm and bellowing 
with hopefulness. 
It makes him incandescent  
with a kind of secret hope 
of incorrigible joy. 
It makes him feel 
like a refuge 
in which I can finally seal  
my peace.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Vegetarian Tuesday

It is a Tuesday night. Food in the mess is terrible – the same quotidian vegetarian stuff. Like every Tuesday I have to go out and find somewhere else to eat. Someplace nice, something new. It’s always like this on Tuesdays; the food is nondescript. It’s startling that food could become boring. But it eventually does. For instance, there used to be a time, in school, when on Tuesdays, yet again, you didn’t have an alternative. You had to eat whatever was served at dinner. It was an irrevocable fate that awaited everyone. Everyone had to eat it, no one could even bunk dinner. There, we had a location problem. Our campus was in a isolated area, was cordoned off by enormous fences, intimidating barbed wire that banished even the slightest thought of egress. You fell in line whether you wanted to or not. Everything worked around the clock. It was perfect. Nothing could induce you to try and change the irreversible. Not even the menu, which appeared and reappeared with strict regularity. It was pedantically repeated week after week, month after month, year after year, and nothing could be done about it. Of course, occasionally, people attempted to take the mess-manager to task, and bring about some drastic changes; but really, in the grand scheme of things that transpired at dinner, lunch and breakfast, everything was unalterable. 

It was almost comforting in a way. The fact that no matter what you felt, you would eat the same thing over and over again. You would be subject to the same culinary dicta. You would have to look down on your plate and find the same things. Other things tossed about obstreperously, fights ensued, people fell apart, expulsions and suspensions were handed down, but nothing would stop the food from being the same. Teachers left school, new ones replaced them. Students beat other students at competitions, some triumphant, some morose, they would all eat the same thing. On some days, I felt pinned against the wall, my imagination frustrated by the unimaginative ways of those who decided our routines. But I let it pass, and the feeling subsided. It became less and less problematic. Everything routine gradually became a source of comfort. A source of silent approval. You could be whatever you wanted, the circumstances around food never changed. 

But here, in North Campus, innumerable things offer respite from the regularity of Tuesday dinner. VKRV, for instance, is full of people. It overflows with lots of students avoiding dinner in their own hostels, trying better combinations of food to combat their boredom. They all escape the vegetarian dinner in college to come here and ask for some tried and tested alternatives. The most popular, unarguably, is Maggi and egg. Maybe with some aloo parathas in addition. And some coffee/cigarette or coke later on. The people who run the kitchen know their formulas so well. They vacillate between the two tables, slowly, ponderously. They look at you and ask you for what you want. You respond disinterestedly. You know the options. They might even remind you, if you don’t come often enough. The prices never change, except maybe in a few years. But such changes are brought on by the vicissitudes of a gorged-out economy, vitiating the lives of people elsewhere. Here, in response to the exigencies of inflation, they might occasionally change the price of aloo parathas and scrambled eggs. There are days when the place is full of loud conversations, dialogues intersecting each other midway in the air, garrulous people overcharged with talk. The people who work in the kitchen are silent even in the midst of this. They are always terse, even when engaged by the more loquacious among their customers. Theirs is an inherited silence, passed on from one generation of workers to the next, every year.

Kamla Nagar is so different. It is crowded and pushy, people inveterately step on your toes. They brusquely brush against you when you walk on the pavement. There is so little space on the pavement. Cars that are parked along the curb stolidly await their owners’ return. No one knows how long they stay there - stationary, contemptuous of pedestrians that try and squirm past them. You walk past the cars and file into the lane of Chinese restaurants. Pick any one for they are all the same. And this regularity does not bother you, because they all serve the same things, and they all do it quite well. You never think about the prices, they’re more or less all the same too. Those who come in from college look stealthily around, spotting others they may know. It’s interesting to note other people who think alike and seek similar avenues of escape, at least on Tuesday.

The roads are narrow and cars criss-cross each other, bludgeoning anything in their way. Dogs scuttle past, scampering across roads while others stand disbelieving on their side of the road, refusing to test the dangers that barricade them from the other side. People who walk along the road feel the energy of these cars; the abrasiveness, the vindictiveness with which they jettison past the melee of stranded, slow objects that obtrusively limit their potential speed. The contempt with which they deride slower things. They were made to repudiate them. They were made to be better, faster, sleeker and to overwhelm the slow and stationary with awe and fear. 

The Chinese is Kamala is filling, and well priced - comparatively. As you walk back to college, slightly tired and bemused, dodging cars and dogs and people sprawled in various states of sleep on the road, bloated and satiated with non-mess food, you look forward to another Tuesday, hoping you will do something new, something different from this one. Likewise, every Tuesday will carry you back to previous Tuesdays, protesting every thought of the regular, the boring. The routine of change fills you weekly with something else not to do. 

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

A little bit of clubbing

That night, I had no idea it would lead to something as complicated. I had absolutely no clue. Of course I knew that it would be slightly confusing. So many people, with so many things to say to each other. It was disorganized. People streamed in from everywhere. They came in their cars and some came by themselves, in autos. Everyone sort of just drifted along until they reached the club. That is how things normally work on these occasions. There is very little time to sort everything out precisely and meticulously. People just assume that everyone will come along; for those who don’t, it’s a sort of unuttered loss, but it doesn’t matter. Minutes before, everybody messages everyone else and they all come to some common consensus. It’s not entirely very simple. They have their separate plans and problems, which come up intermittently, sometimes together. Some people don’t know where to stay over. Some people have a slightly more difficult time convincing their parents. Some people have a tough time concocting stories to sufficiently satisfy their curiosity. But usually, parents here are complicit in their children’s bouts of drinking and smoking and dancing. They kind of appreciate it; it implies that their children are progressively growing more sociable, more fun-loving, more open to doing things with other people. It marks a kind of rite of passage, one that culminates in full-blown social mobility. For some families here, this is important. It is as crucial as the academic brouhaha that persists in colleges, episodic things that they are kept mostly separate from. No one goes to their parents to discuss their classes. But for ‘socials’, they do come in somewhere, somehow, even if in the most nondescript kind of way, taking away their capacity of surveillance so subtly and yet so unequivocally.  

And so it was that night. Everything followed exactly the same pattern and everyone produced the same procession of events, leading up to the club. It wasn’t very far off, closer than most of the other clubs in Delhi and it was significantly cheaper to get there. That wasn’t the issue. Everybody got there alright, without too much of a burdensome cash-slip attached. Certain people needed more comfortable means of getting there. They arranged for that as well. Cars are fairly easily available and women prefer cloistered cabs to the more public and more open metros and the more vitiating autos. People took a long time to get there, and the wait was kind of excruciating. Not because I didn’t know some people there; that’s not too much of a problem – you don’t really know too many people at these places, you just have to unobtrusively go along. But here, people I didn’t know had some kind of an overwhelming feeling of aggressive energy, transmitted randomly from person to person, from stranger to stranger, from one unknown space of discomfiture to another. It just kept growing, like little pangs of angry solitude. The dresses were nice, so was everything else they had put on. But they almost demanded, and screamed perfunctorily for, recognition. Not attention though, but recognition – the two are very different sometimes. I was there because I wanted to spend some time with certain people, which I did alright. But other things kept getting in the way.

It didn’t take me very long to slowly drift away. It was so easy. Everything already kind of egged on individual reveries. I only had to allow myself a conscious attempt at it. There were people who came along in throes, some of whom I didn’t find myself able to interact with. Which is perfectly fine. There is nothing reprehensible about not speaking to someone in situations like these. You can get away with it. You ought to get away with it.

I didn’t know, however, that someone there would seriously hold it against me.

It didn’t take me very long to feel that frustrated kind of repulsion. There is something instinctively invigorating about it. Whenever you get the feeling, you know it straightaway and you know it well. It fills you up with an assertiveness. You know you need to become more mellow, but some anger in you pushes you forward and you feel these little pangs of irritation. They cannot really be told apart from the melee of other things that inscrutably pass through your head. They come and go. You cannot be left wondering why. I felt those little pangs too. But I couldn’t tell them apart. They came and went. And I didn’t want to be left wondering why. So I simply felt it evaporate from me – effortlessly. They didn’t need any kind of initiative. They just petered out quietly, unspeaking. It didn’t feel right though, this person and her scrutiny. It wasn’t right. Because later, I chanced upon the conversation between them. It was ludicrous; not because it offended me, but because it was illegitimate; like a reprobate drunkard telling people off for harassing him, even as they tacitly watch him fulminate and go crazy, doing no more than witnessing the spectacle.

It was offensive. But so what? I enjoyed threatening its illegitimate coming forth. I liked the fact that I could reprehend it, and strangely, stupidly, even unwittingly, question it. Why not? People get away with a lot of things. They ought to get away with these things. Even then. They can be asked questions.