Four Sorties by Hiya Mukherjee

1.How to Wear a Fascist Regime Like it’s Nobody’s Business

‘Hurl the babies! Hurl the babies!’ we shouted in unison once we spotted the patrol van. Our cries ejecting from our frail vocal cords like bullets made out of butter and hit the wallpapers like an intoxicated wasp. The babies were giggling like satanic Centaurs once we started throwing them one by one to the nearby pond. They floated in the air like delicate lilac petals, without contempt, for a while; then slowly sank, prompting not even a ripple. The patrolling guy with his faux leather jacket and exotic cigar case stood underneath us pretending to look for a lost puppy. And we just stood there, motionless, like porcelain gargoyles, pretending to praise the clouds. The sun melted down like honey on our wheatish organs. We were so proud of having survived yet another doom. We felt like we deserved an applause. The sirens were fading with our sweet thuds on the staircase as we rushed to the kitchen for some celebratory pudding. Underwater, the babies were still giggling.

2. How to Follow a Forest into Oblivion without Rousing Suspicion

 

A gentle stroll through the woods is not always what you expect it to be. Partly because you left your mother’s glacial mouth in spite of her vehement warnings ‘Achtung honeypie! Beware of the strangers!’, and partly because of the soft creatures that lurk in the burrows, looking saintly innocent with their sharpened horns carefully hidden beneath those fury blossoms. But you were adamant and careless enough. You wanted to meet the Husband. Husbands often promise to meet in front of the gate of a certain reserved forest. Husbands often trade their wives in exchange for more attractive boons, like a vintage Harley Davidson or a bowl of stale onion soup. But you went nonetheless. And then the woods became quite expectedly dark and scary, and you started spotting fanged animals on your way, you finally come across the Husband in front of the gate. In the face of your awe, he strips you naked and ties you to a government check post. He ties colorful helium balloons to your hardened nipples. ‘It’s for the stray specters of the forest, you see. They’ll come and want to fuck you for eternity. I’ve made a pact with them.’ And you being you, a humble and dutiful daughter, comply by putting on your mother’s glacial mouth and wait for it to happen while the Husband disappears beyond the restricted area, whistling happily on his newly acquired Harley Davidson, looking for a bowl of stale onion soup.

3. How to Rightfully Whistle ‘Hangman, Hangman, slack up your rope, oh slack it for a while’ Even When Your Tongue Feels Completely Numb.

Embrace fine arts or homosexuality. Opt for the cheaper alternative. Smoke countless unfiltered cigarettes. Drink at least fourteen cups of espresso during your day. At night, shift to Moonshine or some equally obnoxious local variety. If anyone tells you that it’s not healthy, prudishly quote Jean-Paul Sartre. Choose your idols carefully depending on your sex. For girls, she should be Juliette Greco with her kohl-smitten eyes and untamed bird’s nest of a hair. For boys, there’s no use, all your idols are dead and so will you be, sooner than you expect. Your task is to listen to an impossible number of Miles Davis singles while crying uncontrollably and repeating the single phrase ‘la résistance’ over and over. Slowly, start resembling the frail foliage of your mothers’ torso and your fathers’ shriveled neck. Strangle your lineage. Shout obscenities. Fire the therapist. Fuck till your private parts are as blue as a dead rockfish. Lose your progenies to the famine. Tuck their minuscule dead bodies behind your ears like flimsy dandelions. Sigh as often as possible, preferably in public. Fashion a pair of blood-red tea-cup shades, even in the dark. Secretly, invest in a cloning facility. No need to carry a white handkerchief embroidered with the initials of some obscure lover. When the clock strikes, they are going to shoot you anyway

4. How to be a Dutiful Daughter despite the Drought.

She picks up the tricky remains of her Mother one by one and puts them in a mason jar. Mother has been in a state of pathetic disintegration for quite some time now. She picks up the pieces like a person possessed and waits for the Father to return. The Father never returns. The Father is always away on a business trip to some distant African country. She traces a makeshift map of Africa on the refrigerator door with her tongue. It feels cold and impersonal. Mother’s remains complain of back pain from inside the mason jar. She makes out tiny droplets forming on the outer layer of the glass. The sun makes them shine like coagulated rubies ready to burst out anytime. She sweats and tends to the cattle and wonders about Africa. Africa is going nowhere. It just stands there like a gothic window with its rusty panes and hazy glass panels. Nobody is allowed to peek inside. It holds the secrets of the Father like an envious concubine. The cattle become hostile to her touch. The Mother’s remains complain of a diarrhea infestation. The mason jar looks fuzzy. Her head spins as she keeps waiting for the Father. The days are getting longer out here. Nobody has dusted the furniture for ages. She tries the only thing that comes to her naturally. That is, tending to the cattle. Not once does it occur to her why it is always about the Father. The mason jar ceases to complain.

 

hiya

 

Hiya Mukherjee was born and brought up in Kolkata. She writes mostly in her mother tongue Bengali. She has published a chapbook of her Bengali poems. She co-edits a bilingual bimonthly blogzine called Agony Opera. She is currently pursuing her PhD in theoretical physics.

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Poems by Abin Chakraborty with Sketches by Subarnarekha Pal

cover

Shrunkp01 (2)

Around my father’s frames

Unanswered questions cling.

At night, in silence, they bring out their tapes

And plug in their scales

To shape their reports of withdrawal and loss

Which linger as shadows without end.

 

Even in the absence of strands of light

They pile upon beds as unpaid dues

And stab at my skin from all sides.

 

Bruised, I wake and look into the glass

And shrink with each passing night.

 

Telemachus Redivivus  

His was a far wider world

Peopled with networks of far reaching goals

With anchors in uncounted hearts.

I, a recluse, with few valid friends

Never really moored in any of his isles

And only paid homage with indirect routes

That long have lost lustre and gloss.

p02 (2)

So all of those words which he sang in my praise

As he led me to halls of mighty and great

Now seem as tattered as paint on our walls

And rust in a corner, unkempt.

 

And even as he beams from his picture on high

On corners of his lips I trace

Such little pixels of unfulfilled hope

That only my eyes can sense.

 

Rewind

Long have I grappled with his loss

Tangled in all five stages of grief

Without any definitive end.

 

A random rewind, and there still reigns

His rich broad smile, with brightness in eyesp03 (2)

And that ever so gentle arm on my back

Tougher than all tempests I faced.

 

And yet amidst that,

Like superimposed stain

Intrude those images of a frail old man

Curled in a ball of his waste;

Or perhaps ravings of despair or rage

When he bawled as an alien disguised.

 

Inconstant memories now bicker and clash

And leave my inheritance in doubt.

Two Poems by Ketaki Dutta

Back from Coma

Peregrinations on a plane called Earth,

Like the parachute, alighting on a dry land,

With all dreams cocooned in its womb;

Brought a wide smile on her face!

At least she could win the battle of existence,

Slipping off the main charter of diurnal reality,

Mixing up day and night in a beaker,

Stopping all conjectures and all snigger,

Jumping up from her comatose state

To be reinstated in the cycle of Life,

As a lost planet leaping up to its orbit

it was chucked out from,

Long, long ago.

 

Promises made to be Broken

 

Reason and unreason lay strewn on her way,

She waded gingerly through the clutter,

She cocked a snook at her foe,

She took her pal in a bear-hug,

She could not make out whether

To walk along the undulated way

Of unsure choices, not many,

Though held out to her in a platter!

She hesitated, she swooned,

She erased her presence off the

Map of being and nothingness,

Yet she came, breaking a promise

Of not coming back at all!

 

 Dr. Ketaki Datta is an Associate Professor of English, Bidhannagar College[Govt], Kolkata. She is a novelist, short story writer, critic and a translator. Her debut novel “A Bird Alone” has won rave reviews in India and abroad. Her poems have been published in anthologies published by Brian Wrixon, Canada and in Pangolin Review, books edited by Padmaja Iyengar and P. Gopichand and P. Nagasuseela. Her second novel “ One Year for Mourning” has been acclaimed, here and abroad. Sahitya Akademi has assigned her with the translation of “Dhruboputra”, a Sahitya Award winning Bengali novel by Amar Mitra , lately. She has a book of poems , “ Across the Blue Horizon” [Feedaread Publishers, UK, 2014].Her translations of short stories have been included in several national and international anthologies.

 

Translations by Huzaifa Pandit

Two poems by Abdul Satar ‘Ranjoor’

 

The caged bird: On the treaty of Amritsar (1846)

What does a fulfilled wish cost?

I wish a wish:

A caesura, a pause

An audience for my aggrieved tale.

A remedy for me

Behind policed bars.

 

I was a golden bird

My beauty was legendary

Eyes, ears and hearts captivated

Everyone would covet me.

 

I roamed gardens

of epics, old books and brochures of proposed luxury.

Fountains, fresh water springs, blossom, bulging boughs

Ripe fruit and vast green.

One day I was out as routine

When a meadow tempted me.

I felt at peace immediately.

 

I don’t recall

When the snare crept upon me.

A stupor had overcome me

No inkling of the forfeit

Reached me.

 

A loud whisper

Like a half spat gurgle awoke me

To prison: I’d been caged.

 

My captor peddled me:

Lock, stock and barrel.

The man who bought me

too took no pity on me.

 

Puddles of dull ache

accumulate in my knees.

Ropes bind my wings

Eyes blindfolded.

In prison, I lie listless –

A shrivelled cripple.

 

Kaleem’s tongue wrenched,

Deaf, dumb, blinded.

Starved of grain and water

I’m neglected, famished.

 

A foolish wish rustles in my sore chest:

I wish I’d flutter my wings

Like in old carefree days of yore.

Faint hope still flickers

A sip once more of blue freedom

trickling from the sun.

A kiss of soft spring

in the arms of sighing meadows.

 

Squeezed inside the cage

The bars bellow

prohibition to flutter.

All paths to escape shut.

My heart is sick

What dreadful misgivings haunt me!

 

How’d I plead?

Unkempt grief snuffs my voice.

My famished children weep,

My family left with nothing

But souvenirs of tragedy.

 

I have but one quality:

Every morning, I lay a golden egg.

Alas! But for this quality

I’d not have faced tragedy.

Master bought me cheap.

A few coins for the cage, a few for me.

All profits accrue to him

He siphons the fruit of my body.

 

His heart never melts with mercy

I plead each day for liberty.

He dangles a promise,

But rescinds

Cites concerns for my safety.

Meanwhile, another bastard

Advises him against my liberty.

 

He is my arch-enemy

Who advises him to ignore me

I only pray such travesty

Be engraved in his destiny.

He shares culpability

For spilling innocent blood.

He profits nothing from

Depriving me my liberty.

I wish

Smoke billowed from earth, one last time.

The sky toppled over, one last time.

 

Ranjoor, everyday

I am tormented

By starvation and contemplation.

Patience runs short now

Either decide my destiny

Or let me die and be free.

 

Thoughts on Kashmiristan

 

I address you my fellow Kashmiri

Take particular care

That you are sound of mind and body.

Scion of its soil, let nothing foil

Your dream of a flag fluttering free

Proclaiming Kashmiristan.

I hear you will sign

the decree of partition.

Read every article carefully

Be prepared beforehand.

Never lower your sight

from the pinnacle of glory.

I swear you by your land and people

Never forget their memory:

People whose houses are painted with penury.

Enemies surround you, they close in.

Look sharp! Keep your wits about you.

Be wary of dangers ahead and behind you.

Beware! This new-fangled friendship

Might make a fool out of you.

Beware!

Don’t take the nation’s boat out

The whirlpools will drown you.

Shed your stupor, stand guard, the storm descends

Light lamps of kindness, put on valour

Roar to the demons

Like a fierce lion out of his lair.

The enemy might know the terrain

Better than you.

Ranjoor if you profess to love serving people

Dedicate yourself, your plot and phrase

to your people.

 

(Abdul Sattar Ranjoor (born 12 October 1917, dead 23 March 1990) was a Kashmiri politician, and a renowned revolutionary poet and writer. He was a veteran leader of the Communist Party of India (CPI). and the founding state secretary of the party in Jammu and Kashmir.)

 

Ghazal by Ghulam Rasul Nazki

 

Yet again today, you rake

the subject of desires of my heart:

fresh tales of salting the wounds of my heart.

 

I waxed eloquent with my tale, you heard me

out patiently. Else, who in the world

listens to lovers pouring out their heart?

 

Relic of the garden –

Flower raised in garden’s shade

In deserts too, I speak of gardens

with a breeze in my heart.

 

You sculpted my idol, I followed

your lead. Ritual of idolatry

started right, thus, from Kabba’s heart.

 

The candle burnt and wept

all night. Till dawn, all conversation

revolved around the moth’s heart.

 

(Mir Ghulam Rasool Nazki (March 16, 1910 – April 16, 1998) was a prominent scholar, poet, writer, intellectual and broadcaster from Kashmir)

huzaifa2Huzaifa Pandit is the author of the recently published ‘‘Green is the Colour of Memory’ which won the first edition of Rhythm Divine Poets Chapbook Contest 2017. Born and raised in Kashmir, his poems alternate between despair, defiance, resistance and compliance as they seek to make sense of a world where his identity is outlawed. His inspirations in poetry can be guessed from the topic of his PhD: “Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Agha Shahid Ali and Mahmoud Darwish – Poetics of Resistance” at University of Kashmir. His poems, translations, interviews, essays and papers have been published in various journals like Indian Literature, PaperCuts, Life and Legends, Jaggery Lit, JLA India, Punch and Noble/Gas qtrly.

Poems by Nishi Pulugurtha

 

  1. RIGHT AND WRONG

Are we bothered about it anymore?

Small acts, idealism, fights, struggles,

Are we bothered any longer?

Do they really matter?

Yes, they do, they have to

A single act cannot dislodge what one feels

The timid sun’s ray does filter through

The seed breaks through the soil in a burst of green

Inspite of all disillusion, I find a reason to smile

I must find a reason to smile.

 

  1. LOSS

It is a usual, busy day by the river

People bathing at the ghat, praying by the river

Priests performing funeral obsequies

People dressed in white, hands folded

He utters mantras in a grave solemn tone

Paraphernalia all ready with him, he asks to do this and that

Mantras to be repeated, occasionally intersperses them with explanations

Explanations of how important the rites are

To me it was all over the moment the breath left the body

The living, breathing person, was no longer there

Just the still, lifeless body, a mere shadow of what had been

Present turning to past

I see a small boy, a boy six or seven

His teeth chattering, he must have had the obligatory dip in the river

His head tonsured, a reminder of the loss of a parent

An uncle asks him to stand in the sun as he was cold

The cold bothers him, he shivers for a while

The sun warms him up

His dear ones come and take him along

More rites and rituals to be done

He is too small to have seen all that, to have to go through all that

But then, rites and rituals are to be done.

The little boy standing in the sun, shivering

Still unaware of the fact that his life might be changed forever.

 

NISHI PULUDr. Nishi Pulugurtha is Head and Associate Professor in the department of English, Brahmananda Keshab Chandra College and has taught courses at West Bengal State University and Rabindra Bharati University. Her research areas are British Romantic literature, Postcolonial literature, Indian writing in English, literature of the diaspora and film. She is a creative writer and writes on travel, Alzheimer’s Disease, film, short stories and poetry. Her work has been published in The Statesman, Kolkata, in the anthology Tranquil Muse and online – Café Dissensus, Coldnoon, Queen Mob’s Tea House and Setu. She guest edited the June 2018 Issue of Café Dissensus on Travel.

Poems by Puja Mandal

নারী
এই যে আমি বহুবার
ভেঙেছি,গড়েছি অনেকখানি
নারী নামক বৃত্ত মুছে
স্বপ্ন ডানায় আকাশ ছুঁতে জানি।
বহুদিন তৃষ্ণা এঁকেছি চোখে
অগোচরে খূঁজে বেড়াই স্মৃতি
নিজের ভিতর হারিয়ে যেতে ভয়
হঠাৎ যদি জীবন টানে ইতি।
যে পথ বাঁধলো জীবন জুড়ে
দাঁড়িয়ে আমি প্রদীপখানি জ্বেলে
পথেই যদি মূল্য দিতে হয়
ছিটেফোঁটা জ্যোৎস্না দেবো ঢেলে।
তবুও ভরসা এগিয়ে যাওয়ার
পেরিয়ে আসা পরিমিতি
নিজেই নিজের ভাগ্য গড়ে
গড়ে তোলা নিজের পরিচিতি।
বাঁধন
গতে বাঁধা জীবন যেমন স্বপ্ন দিয়ে কেনা
কখনও সজাগ থাকে,কখনও আনমনা।
যেভাবে চলার পথ ফেরে,পিছুটান চলে
ঠোঁট যদি চুপ থাকে, চোখ কথা বলে।
পাওয়ার তাগিদে আসে,কিছুটা উসুল
একই পথে ফিরে যাওয়া,সহজাত ভুল।
রাত নিভে গেলে ফোটে,সকালের আলো
মন্দের মাঝেও থাকে, অনেকটা ভালো।
জীবন পরিযায়ী কিছু, মৃত্যু জীবন্ত খুঁটি
কিছুটা নিয়ম ভেঙেই, সাময়িক ছুটি।
বিভেদ সেতু
কথার উপর বাঁধানো এক সেতু
পাহাড় সমান প্রশ্ন চলে বেগে
শরীর জুড়ে বিশ্বাসের এক চাদর
ঠোঁটের কোণে মিথ্যে থাকে লেগে।
আতসকাঁচে পোশাকি যে মোহ
তুচ্ছ কেবল মনের কাছে এসে
বন্ধু-বিবাদ পক্ষের জোরাজুরি
বাড়তি ঋণে স্বার্থের ভার মিশে।
বিপরীতে হাঁটতে থাকা মানুষ
সূক্ষ অনেক স্বপ্ন রাখে জমা
ছিনিয়ে নেওয়া অসম্ভবের বারুদ
ভিতর ভিতর গড়ছে মানববোমা।
.
সুপ্ত যতো বিষণ্ণতার আলো
জ্বলতে থাকে ক্ষতের উপর গাঢ়
ইচ্ছাকৃত হারতে থাকে যারা
অনুভূতি প্রবলতর, দৃঢ়।
Puja Mandal
Puja Mandal is a budding young poet from Calcutta who remains devoted to literature both academically and otherwise. Writing remains one of her cardinal passions and we hope to see more of her creations in future.

Poems of Huzaifa Pandit

His Master’s Voice

(For Major Avtar Singh – the murderer of Jaleel Andrabi)

Master,

they play your voice

at night on the broken

gramophone when the light worms

have slept, tired of the drenched morning

that never ends.

 

Master

Your notes shake hands

Like the fleeting rain falling on

Blown out lamps. The days are sad, Master

yet at night smoke of sadder death fills my wide nostrils.

They burn all the idols

Of gods anointed by

you.

 

Master

I petition to dye

The soiled bowl of moon

With the warm tint of that fateful

spring.

Master, I petition

the shadows of banned stars

protest at night near my tongue tied window and break open

my last

heart.

 

Master

I have forfeited my dogmas

surrendered every charade of a plan.

I have sworn via costly affidavits before

their Lordships: I won’t atone my sins.

Yet, every night, Master, my throat refuses to howl.

I ache for

a sip of warm

blood.

 

Master

Curse my sad eyes.

Your murderer left the house

Weeping and wailing. I never consoled

him. He cupped your warm blood in his coarse hands

and deposited it softly in my

bowl. The taste lingers,

Master. How can I then

set you

free?

 

Hysteria

 

I clench cold blue pebbles

in my swollen palms.

 

Mother sprinkles warm breath

gathered from drenched Quran and her prayer rug.

 

Uncle says four witnesses testified-

moon rose in Iqbal’s medicated eyes on Eid.

 

He ploughed the soiled lane

with thirsty nails after the last bullet.

 

In the fresh mazaar, we bound his dead

feet with narcissus plucked from beside the grave.

 

The parchment of my heart

is empty, quite empty.

 

 

Letters to Azaadi

Either everyone talks of you to me

Or else no one converse with me

  • Anonymous

 

They barricade us, dear

in halls of censored silence.

 

A half dead rumour

whispers you will visit soon.

 

Black roses shed mourning, buds

bulge in the blind garden

beside frantic beds in the fort-prison.

 

We were directed to forget

the taste of tulips left on battered

tongues and further directed to report

the rumours of your exile to stinking Dal.

 

We wrote back

An ember simmers in our ancestral mouths

when cold minutes prey on a mutilated memory.

We wrote that this fire also feeds on our caned bones.

 

We Remain wedded to our delusion:

One day, the final destination of mirages

will testify in courts of reality. Their apprehensions

too will be dismissed, we too will wheel in the hollow horse of victory.

 

We are still prisoners of the sorcerers.

They lure us with outlawed remedies and handcuffed

potions. They gouge out our warm heartbeats and auction them
at the loud borders over feasts of rented revelry. We are yet foolish dear

to smuggle letters to you in our beats. Do they reach you? Did you read them? You never reply.

 

Minutes of a Meeting

 

Neither a ritual of friendship, nor any mark of enmity

Both adopt a similar colour in your city.

  • Khatir Gaznavi

 

Look, did nobody inform you?

The vultures meet tomorrow to discuss the magpie.

The feast is set and the guests are met, in Coleridge’s words.

Today, the radio news announced the magpie stands accused

of slander, misinformation and rebellion against the dead summer.

The summer was found dangling upside down from the almond bough

in the masked gardens yesterday. The Magpie is the prime suspect.

Yesterday, the radio declared it in four dead languages every hour.

I heard them.

 

Indeed, did nobody inform you?

They have all the proofs. The magpie was found

hopping in blood coated feet between the words

of a poem by Shahid. You know Shahid? No, not the boy shot dead

yesterday. No, not the one they picked up last year!

No, Shahid – our beloved witness and cashmere poet.

The magpie was caught near his villas of peace.

The spotlight caught him

eying the inscriptions on the graves

recently whitewashed. We need new symbols,

they announced on the radio. So, they have wiped hurried blood

off the clichéd inscriptions. You know the elegy

about the swallow returning the garden back to the gulcheen – the black rose thief.

The radio announced elegies are banned now.

I heard them.

 

Indeed, did nobody inform you?

That the trial is due soon. The magpie has spilled the beans.

It is due to be grand conspiracy. The bats have shut their bored eyes.

They have seen and heard enough. No prior sanction is required to display

its gassed innards on the clock tower. The radio threatened miscreants to not expect mercy.

I heard them.

 

Indeed, did nobody inform you?

Last winter, the magpies hung in the warm jails

were piled on the blasted road. They wrapped them in smoked shrouds

after calculating the price of a censored massacre. Their ghosts have promised

to immolate themselves at the feast in protest. The wary vultures have announced

that nobody shall be permitted to take any liberty, so they will step up security.

The radio speculated it remains to be seen who emerges the victor.

I heard them.

 

Testimony in February

Murdering a lover was never far from any beloved’s mind-

but before your regime, it wasn’t the general practise

-Dard

 

Faraz, what befell the garden’s residents this time?

Why don’t my friends of the cage answer me?

-Ahmed Faraz

 

We will evacuate our grief

Won’t you rent our empty hearts?

 

We will forsake our creed

Won’t you be the Prophet of heresy?

 

We will prevail upon Death

Won’t you outbid it at the auction?

 

We have disowned desire

Won’t you accept our turn of phrase?

 

We forgot your name

Won’t you silence our conversations?

 

We scheme we will be faithful

Won’t you seduce us in sore custody?

 

We have abandoned our homes

Won’t you house us in mirrors of history?

 

We gaze out from the prison window

Won’t you blow out green stars and the moon?

 

We too call caged friends, Faraz

Won’t they reply with tidings of a massacre?

 

Huzaifa Pandit was born and raised in Kashmir. He is pursuing a PhD on “Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Agha Shahid Ali and Mahmoud Darwish – Loss, Lyricism and Resistance” at University of Kashmir. His poems, translations, essays and papers have been published in various journals like Indian Literature, PaperCuts, CLRI, Punch and Muse India. He is fond of Urdu poetry, Urdu and old Bollywood music. He hopes to publish a book of his translations soon.

 

Huzaifa

There in the Garden the Flowers Grow Undisturbed: A Defence of University Autonomy

JU Hunger Strike

The walls of Paris-Sorbonne in 68 were written over with the slogan “Soyez realistes, demandez l’impossible” meaning “Be realistic, demand the impossible.” It is just such an echo that can be heard today in Jadavpur University, an echo that slowly gathers momentum across the state and country to swell into a giant bellow that begins to shake the corridors of power, while touching countless other lives with the mellifluous music of hope in the darkest of times. The recent movement that started up as a response to the arbitrary and unprofessional scrapping of admission tests for six departments of the Arts Faculty at Jadavpur University, represents a critical moment in the history of the consciousness of student communities in West Bengal. The decision to scrap admission tests in favour of “merit” based admission (viz. marks obtained in the board examinations of the 12th standard), while overtly an internal decision of the Executive Council (E.C.), the highest decision-making body of the university, had all the ingredients of state intervention in the internal functioning of the university. The rapid changing of decisions as to the modalities of the admission process, together with their absolute sync with statements given out by functionaries of the Higher Education department of the state government, leave no room for doubt as to the actual source of these machinations.

Two things are important in this equation. First, the numerous reports of corruption in the admissions process in colleges across the state, including the much-publicised cash-for-seats allegations that have rocked the public education sector in West Bengal this year, stand out in stark contrast to the lack of such complaints about the admissions process at Jadavpur University. The fact that different departments follow different procedures to admit students should not be a roadblock towards academic continuity. In fact, the freedom of academic departments to decide their criteria of admission, their syllabi and modes of assessment are the greatest contributors to academic excellence. To a postcolonial state obsessed with the West and its modes of functioning, this should be an easily acceptable reality, seeing as universities across the USA, Europe, Canada and Australia grant a great degree of freedom to their departments to decide how to admit their students and what syllabi to teach, where standardised tests form only a component of the overall application process, and are sometimes entirely absent. Closer home, institutions of excellence acknowledged by all, such as the Jawaharlal Nehru University (J.N.U.), The English and Foreign Languages University (E.F.L.U.), the Indian Institutes of Technology (I.I.T.s) and many others also use admission tests to determine which students are the best fit for its courses. The need to refer to a legality, the advice of the Attorney General of the state apparently sought by the Vice Chancellor, to throw the entire process into question exposes the application of external pressure to subvert the autonomy of an academic institution. Secondly, this attempt to interfere in the internal functioning of the university is not the first of its kind nor is an isolated occurrence. Successive governments have attempted to interfere in the functioning of the university and subvert its autonomy, especially in the matter of teacher recruitments and governance of the university. However, the attack has been intensified in the last few years. The removal of student representation in the EC, the stalling of elections to the Teachers’ Association, attacks on the various research Schools and Centres that function in the university independently of the major departments, together with repeated messages in the mass media by functionaries of the Higher Education department, including the minister for that department, claiming that the government paid the salaries of the professors and staff and therefore they would have to ‘toe the line’ when it came to government policies related to the university, have all been calculated to erode its autonomy. Jadavpur University is an autonomous public academic institution which does not require the interference of the government. Jadavpur University is ranked 6th among all the Universities in the country by the 2018 National Institutional Ranking Framework (N.I.R.F.) of the H.R.D. ministry of India and is ranked 74th in the BRICS economies, 125th in Asia and in the range of 601-650 in the world according to the QS World University Rankings of 2018. US News and World Reports also ranked it at 772 in the world. It regularly receives grants and international honours and is among best-known Indian universities around the world. Since it is not lacking in merit even according to empirical standards, though rankings are hardly a complete or nuanced measure of true excellence, what is the urgent need to radically alter its functional methodologies? The answer, perhaps, lies in a domain other than that of academic or research competence.

The attempt by sections of the government and some intellectuals and professors to tar the students’ protests against such intervention as an elite, protectionist one does not hold water. In fact, with students coming from schools affiliated to the ICSE and CBSE boards scoring better marks across spectrum, a ‘marks-based’ merit system would actually adversely affect the chances of those who might aspire to study in the six departments where admission tests are held but who did not get sufficient marks in their Board Examinations. The process can always be improved and made even more inclusive, but this cannot be by the arbitrary diktats of governments. As for the question of uniformity of policy, as I have previously addressed, individual departments need not determine their academic environment in accordance with some external desire for uniformity or conformity. Academic excellence can only be achieved in an atmosphere of freedom, trust and confidence. If at any point any of the departments of the Arts Faculty feel that their system is flawed or outdated, they should have the courage to revisit and restructure not only their admissions process but their very modes of functioning. This process cannot be unilateral, and while the students cannot in effect demand a say in how the department’s admissions process is conducted, their cooperation and participation in any refashioning or transition will only allow better mutual understanding and a better academic environment to flourish in the university.

The walls of Jadavpur University are covered with graffiti from two successive, even contiguous, movements. While the mainstream media and guardians of the ‘moral conscience’ of society constantly point to the so-called excesses and irreverent ridicule towards figures of authority, very few focus on the creative desire of the students for positive growth and change. Reverence has never been the strong suit of students, and long may they remain critical of everything that is ossified in our society. The fact that they are prepared to put their bodies on the line so that those appearing for the entrance examinations may not be deprived the chance they themselves received, so that their academic departments do not suffer from the negative impact of an erosion of autonomy, shows the unlimited reserves of courage, self-sacrifice and moral fibre that marks the unique body that are the student-youth of a country. At a time when public education is under imminent threat of privatisation, and academic autonomy and progressive values are being stifled by both the state and social forces aligned to various fundamentalist forces, it is even more important that spaces for dissent be strengthened, and the public University has always been the nucleus of such thought and action. In order to overturn the siege of education by market and fundamentalist forces that threaten the very fabric of the country, solidarity must be extended to the just struggles of students fighting to preserve academic autonomy and its contribution to social progress.

The writing on the walls speak of change. Change that begins not at some other place, or some other point in time, but here and now. Students are the sentinels of history, and they shoulder the responsibility for its progress. The audacity of students always sparks either admiration or anger. It rarely leaves any space for apathy. As the clouds of the habitual Kolkata monsoon break apart and the sun shines on the buoyant, determined faces of the students, one realises how important it is that young flowers be allowed to grow and not stifled before they are able to raise their heads towards the sun. The flowers that grow in the garden of the University fill the world with their perfume and splendour. And these are not fragile flowers, easily wilting under pressure. They are unyielding, unwavering, proud and thorny to the touch if handled incorrectly or not accorded due respect. They go out into the world and cover it with their petals. When you ask them to be practical, be reasonable, be ‘realistic’, they listen in ways you cannot imagine.

They are realistic. They demand the impossible. And the impossible transforms into reality at their touch.

 – Syamantakshobhan Basu

 

[Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of Platos Caves and Platos Caves does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.]

THERE IS NOTHING MORE DECEPTIVE THAN AN OBVIOUS FACT

c7dd1cc5981be7909fb7fe9673090ade.jpgWhat consociates Prince Albert Victor, son of the Prince of Wales and second in line to the throne, with Sherlock Holmes is their cognition with the Cleveland Street. The Cleveland street scandal occurred in 1889 when a homosexual male brothel in Cleveland Street, London was discovered by the police. In The Hound of Baskervilles, Doyle clandestinely mentions Holmes hiring a ‘telegraph boy.’ Aristocrats of England were a regular at the Cleveland brothel where young telegraph boys also served as prostitutes.

Holmes’ queerness has always been a matter of contention. Whether or not Holmes is gay was never indisputably answered by Doyle but R.G. DeMarco optimistically remarks that Doyle has left trails “that a discerning well informed reader could immediately follow.”

In The Five Orange Pipes, one of Holmes ‘client is killed on the Embankment. The Embankment, like Cleveland, was a famous homosexual gliding area, although Holmes acquaintance with the area is never clearly illustrated in any of Doyle’s other works.

The idea that Holmes could in fact be gay originates from his and Dr. Watson’s relationship. Doyle makes no effort to hide Sherlock and John’s over affectionate relationship. Doyle explores their relationship through various works. He often reveals how Holmes and Watson shared intimate looks and professed their love and need for each other. In The Adventure of the Three Garridebs   Watson gets wounded. Holmes becomes crestfallen and immediately rushes to Watson’s aid dismissing his client’s presence. Holmes becomes aghast, so much so that Watson narrates, “It was worth a wound- it was worth many wounds- to know the depth of loyalty and love which lay behind that cold mask.”

Holmes and Watson’s relationship has a symbiotic aspect too. Watson brings in domesticity required to ground Holmes and Holmes brings adventures into their lives. However, their relationship far transcends the boundaries of friendship.  Even when Watson marries, he continues to visit Holmes, until finally when both his marriages end and he rejoins Holmes at 221 B Baker Street.

Holmes’ apparent disinterest in marriage and the opposite sex is often a cause for suspicion of his gayness too. Although, it’s not until the 70’s that the question if Sherlock Holmes is actually gay is comprehensively speculated. In The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, (1970) Holmes ‘pretends’ to be gay, but it’s only with Sherlock Holmes (2009) with Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law that the idea gains a concrete ground.  However, it is BBC’s adaptation which boomingly states the great detective to be gay. Nevertheless, Benedict Cumberbatch, who starred as the detective in the adaptation in an interview stated, “He’s asexual. He doesn’t want any, and it’s very purposeful on his part.

“The discovery of an unpublished manuscript by John H. Watson may well engender in the world of letters as much skepticism as surprise.” Nicholas Meyer wrote in his introduction to The Seven Percent Solution. Holmes’ cocaine addiction is no secret. It is mostly about him trying to come to terms with his childhood traumas (later revealed in the novel that it was Holmes’ father who had murdered his mother and that Moriarty was her lover) or accepting is stoic and apathetic nature. Holmes’ never tried to fit in. When Meyer adapted the novel into a screenplay he deviated a bit from Doyle’s’ image of Sherlock. Meyer’s Sherlock was rather flamboyant and flirtatious.

The Sexual Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’ by Larry Townsend came out in 1971. The book is a Holmes’ cannon, erotic novel concentrating heavily on Sherlock and Watson’s relationship both emotional and physical. Mrs. Hudson, is completely absent throughout the course of the novel and unequivocally every other character is gay.

When guesstimating Holmes’ relationship and his sexual orientation, we often miss one of his most important conjunctions. Holmes’ impassivity to the opposite sex is quite clear, his relationship with ‘the woman’ isn’t. Irene Adler featured in Doyle’s short story A Scandal in Bohemia. Sherlock never once took her name. He would always address her as ‘the woman’. In spite of his dispassionate behavior towards Adler, Holmes’ admired her. Whether the admiration could lead into a romantic or sexual arrangement was never made clear by Doyle. However, in the Holmes’ cannon, Adler is often Holmes’ only female love interest.

No writer in the Victorian era could ingenuously create homosexual characters. However, they would leave evidences and clues for the readers to pick upon. Doyle did the same. Holmes’ and Watson lived together. They often used terms of endearments to address each other which ranged from ‘my dear’ to ‘my ideal helpmate’ and ‘the man whom above all others I revere.’ Doyle’s personal life too could be an object of reference. Doyle and Oscar Wilde shared a very close bond. Wilde was very forthcoming of his taste. He was put to trial in 1895 on trail and incarcerated. In 1904 Doyle wrote The Three Students, where Watson states “”It was in the year ’95 that a combination of events, into which I need not enter, caused Mr. Sherlock Holmes and myself to spend some weeks in one of our great University towns.”

In The Final Problem, Holmes asks Watson to flee with him to the ‘continent.’ The punishment for homosexuality and crimes related to homosexuality ranged from imprisonment to chemical castration. The ‘continent’ was either France or Italy where the aristocrats and other rich folks could flee to, to avoid persecution. According to DeMarco, “that’s quite a large clue that Doyle hides in plain sight.”

Holmes’ relationship with Watson and the page boy are just one of the many things that make readers question his queerness. Holmes’ gayness has always been a matter of speculation. In most cases Watson’s heterosexuality is presumed and it complements Holmes’ apparent homosexuality or asexuality. It’s needless to say that Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes was a man of dubious morals and an ambiguous sexuality.

-Rueshan Mishkat

 

Works Cited

  • A Study in Lavender by Joseph R G DeMarco
  • The Seven Percent Solution by Nicholas Meyer

Covered and Empowered: The Hijab-Donning Superwoman in Deena Mohamed’s Qahera

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Qahera is a web-comic created in 2013 by the Egyptian artist Deena Mohamed in response to media representation of Muslim women and their living conditions in modern day Egypt. In Qahera, Mohamed borrows the foreign medium of superhero comics to narrate the concerns of Arab and Muslim women. Superhero comic, in its historically conventional form, is dominated by superheroes who are often while, male and Western, while female characters tend to be hypersexualized as a spectacle for the male gaze. But Mohammad’s Quahera marks a point of departure.

This web-comic series revolves round the exploits of Qahera, a hijab-clad superheroine living in Cairo, who uses her superpowers to defend women under physical or ideological attacks. Her name, carrying a double meaning of “conqueror” and the Arabic term for Cairo, seems to coalesce the concept of agency with her Egyptian Muslim identity. Deena Mohamed, in an interview, claims that she intentionally made Qahera veiled “because she combats Islamophobia that veiled women face to a large extent due to being very recognizably Muslims, and because there is already such little representation of women in hijabs that isn’t dehumanizing.”

Whether vilifying or glorifying the hijab, essentialist Western and Arab misogynistic discourses treat it as a performance of muteness. The former views the hijab-draped woman as an abnormality and she is often abstracted in Western media to epitomize foreign cultural oppression. As the most visible member of Muslim societies, women in hijabs are frequently turned into soft targets for xenophobia and other dehumanizing rhetoric. On the other hand, the sociocultural location of women in hijabs in Arab societies and within patriarchal and religious discourses is quite complicated.  Currently the hijab-clad womanhas become the symbol of “umma”/nation for Muslims— she has become an embodiment highlights the morality of a God-fearing patriarchy where men protect and women need to be protected. But web-comic artist Deena Mohamed rejects this signification that dehumanizes the woman underneath the hijab by reducing her to a symbol. Thus her superheroine in Qahera is depicted in a manner that turns these essentialist discourses on their heads. As a superwoman who fights prejudice and crimes against women in Egypt, Qahera refuses her subjectivity to be subsumed either by the Western discourses that aim to ‘liberate’ her or by the Arab misogynist discourse that deem her as an object to be preserved and ‘protected’. This facet of Qahera’s identity is made apparent by the visual semiotics of the web-comic, wherein all figures are delineated in black and white, with an exception of Qahera who is sketched in grey. Thus she emerges as a hybrising force that troubles the discourses which aim to control and contain her identity. Not only does she surface as an unintelligible entity once she defies the roles assigned to her by the discourses of Western feminism and Arab misogyny, but also destabilizes the discourses that undermine Muslim women’s ability to self-represent and determine the meaning of their social visibility.This is evident from Qahera’s exploits as depicted in the web-comic series, especially in chapters entitled “Brainstorm”, “On Femen”, “On Women’s Choices” and “On Protest”, where she defends Muslim women from ideological assault and sexual harassment.

In “Brainstorm”, aided by her super-hearing, Qahera hears some “misogynistic trash” being spouted by a Muslim cleric to an audience of agreeable men. He defines a good woman as an “obedient wife” who needs to be kept “in check” by her ‘dutiful’ husband.Qahera flies to the scene and interrupts the discourse by brandishing her sword in face of the cleric, before she penalizes him by transforming him into a spectacle hung on a laundry-drying line. Then, having justly discharged her duties, a content-looking Qahera sardonically points out to the subdued cleric: “You’re right, you know, housework is women’s work. I especially enjoy doing the laundry.” Such a punishment for the cleric not only helps Qahera to overly subvert stereotypical gender roles and relocate the chore of laundry outside of its intended domesticity, but it also evinces itself as an empowering act that allows Qahera to ideologically ‘cleanse’ the society by penalizing those rotten souls who disseminate such misogynistic ideas. After exacting her vengeance on the Muslim cleric, Qahera’s super-hearing detects some “rubbish”, this time, being spewed out by white Feminists on the “need to rescue Muslim women.” The comic closes with Qaherapromising another discursive intervention, this time against Western feminist discourse that relegates the hijab-draped Muslim woman as the oriental Other of the Western ‘liberated’ woman.

This theme is continued in the next chapter, “On Femen”, where the hijab-donning superwoman, Qahera, is pitted against “Femen” protesters. This comic was posted online by Mohamed in response to a “topless jihad” held by the “Femen” protestors in April 2013 in front of the Great Mosque in Paris. In their breast-baring demonstration, they demanded freedom for Muslim woman from their ‘oppressive’’ garment. Their toplessness is meant to create a spectacle of contrast with Muslim women, emphasizing the polarity of choice women are forced to make between nudity and veiling—thus, like the misogynistic Arab discourse, Femen’s feminism fixates the body of the Muslim woman as one side of the Self/Other binary.Mohamed visualizes this binary opposition when Qahera confronts the Femen women. The ideological and discursive confrontation is narrated through several picture-specific panels—in one of these, the fully robed superheroine is pitted against the bare-bodied Femen protestors demonstrating in front of the mosque. The panel not only visualizes the binary of covered/uncovered bodies— rather being posited next to Femen and the mosque, which represents institutionalized Islam, Qahera seems to emerge as a third possibilityof what Muslim women could be beyond the cleric’s misogynist discourse or Femen’s homogenizing discourse. Qahera confronts the hegemonic binary opposition of Femen/mosque and challenges both by retaining her subjectivity as a covered and empowered woman. However Qahera’s character brings home the point that she is a superheroine neither because of her hijab nor inspite of it— rather the hijab is choice that she voluntarily embraces and strategically uses her hijab-clad body as a site of performance of power.

This issue of women’s sartorial choices surfaces in the chapter entitled “On Women’s Choice” when Qahera decides to engage in a verbal debate with two men over women’s act of donning the hijab. While entering a café with her unveiled friend, Qahera overhears two men enthusiastically debating over the hijab—the former posits the hijab as a symbol of backwardnessand urges Arab community to ‘progress’ by imitating Western culture, while the latter defends the hijab as a cover that protects women from sexual gaze and compares the uncovered woman as a dirty candy that attracts flies. Being outraged by both the discourses that objectify woman and treat her body as a carrier of social meaning, Qahera erupts and reprimands the men. She tells them that, “Women do not exist as periphery objects in your universe nor are they candy…They’re human beings! Women’s lives are not for you to prove a point! Our choices are not your political punchline.”Qahera not only rejects both arguments of local misogyny and Western superiority, but dismantles them by destabilizing the premise that a hijab is a spectacle of signification. She rather individualizes it as a choice rather than a metonymy of an institutionalized religion or a signifier of backwardness.

Just as Qahera defends women against ideological assault by generating her ‘super-discourse’ (which is not merely about Muslim women, but also by a Muslim woman), she employs her superpowers and weapons to shield women from actual sexual harassment. In the chapter “On Protest”, which deals with sexual assault against Egyptian women who participate in protests, Qahera saves a woman kidnapped by a mob and punishes the attackers. In the final panel, two female protestors appear in grey hijab and veil, which suggests that Qahera’s act is meant to empower women and not to ‘rescue’ them. These women, in their courage to protest against injustice and misogyny, resemble Qahera— this is highlighted by the grey hue of their figures and Qahera’s closing comment: “I am a superhero Ibecause have superpowers. They are superheroes because they do not.”

Deena Mohamed’s web-comic series Qahera not only acts as a medium to raise awareness for ideological issues and practical problems that plague modern Egypt, but it also delineates Qahera as a figure who defies easy categorization by the Arab misogynistic and Western feminist discourses. While Qahera never explicitly states the reason for donning the hijab, her covered body is never reduced to an object of obedience or submission. Qahera generates a discourse that leaves room for Egyptian women to thwart essentialist notions and reclaim their right over their sartorial choices and define empowerment in their own terms. Therein lies the success of Qahera.

If only there was a Qahera in Kathua or Unnao!

-Semanti Nandi