Interpreting Maladies

 

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The Constitutional Idea of India is under Threat

The last week has been yet another bloody reminder of all the maladies that threaten our future. A DSP was lynched to death in front of a mosque in Srinagar in Kashmir without any immediate cause. On the other hand a row over seats in a local train running from Delhi to Mathura escalated into a communal assault which claimed the life of one Muslim youth, returning home for Eid, while seriously injuring his brother and their two friends.

Given the propensity for crime and violence in India, such events are themselves insignificant from a statistical perspective. But they hint at deeper, corrosive fissures which would engulf us all.

The young men returning home for Eid were accosted by fellow passengers who demanded spaces to sit. Now, everyone who travels by local trains in India is familiar with traditional problems regarding lack of punctuality, overcrowding and various forms of associated discomfort which in this sweltering heat, often leads to bouts of anger, name calling and even occasional pushing and shoving. But what happened here was rather different. The seated youths had even offered a seat to an old man of the outraged group in an effort to smooth things over. But such courtesy proved ineffectual. Soon they began to be heckled by the aggressive newly boarded passengers who started making provocative comments regarding the fez caps on their heads, the beards on their faces, whether or not they ate beef and why they were at all residing in India. The external symbols of their religious identity had made them targets of fanatical hatred in the same way that people are generally identified and assaulted during riots. But things did not stop at words. Eventually the young men, Junaid, Mohsin, Hashim and Moeen were attacked by the mob and Junaid was stabbed to death while the others received serious injuries.

Such an event exposes the intense currents of communal hatred coursing through the Indian body politic, especially in various parts of North India. What it also foregrounds is a changing perception of normalcy. A mere discord over seats in a local train culminating in a communal hate crime is not something that one associates with civic life in India. Generally, communal violence in India has been the result of systematic political strategy or mobilisation based on inflammatory issues of one kind or another. And we have generally deluded ourselves by thinking that such violence is a kind of aberration that occurs outside the general stream of history. But the history of the present is a history of a different order. We now have digitally connected vigilante groups who are ready to kill at the mere suspicion of possession of beef, irrespective of whether eating beef is legal or not. We have international theocratic conferences from which are launched venomous declarations regarding the establishment of Hindurashtra and the eradication of the religious minorities. We have an administration that remains silent and indifferent in the face of communal violence and contributes to the covert consolidation of violent fanatics in the name of religion and patriotism. And such is the level of our apathy and moral bankruptcy that even though the body of 16 year old Junaid lay on the platform of Asaoti station, no eye witness can be found to aid the police investigation. In the process, the secular fabric of India is becoming more and more a constitutional fiction being crushed by the murderous weight of a sordid reality. But when merchants of death are democratically placed on the thrones of power, should we expect anything different?

Unfortunately something similarly grim and inhuman happened a day before in Srinagar where DSP  Mohammad Ayub Pandith was lynched to death in front of the Jama Masjid in Nowhatta, Srinagar by an angry mob that attacked him without any apparent provocation. Only a few weeks ago Feroz Dar of the Indian army had been attacked and killed in Achabal while he was returning home from duty. In both cases, there was no apparent cause of conflict, no immediate provocation. Yet the men were gruesomely assaulted and murdered by angry mobs who perhaps only saw them as representatives of an administration that they intensely hate, of a state they wish to disown. While Hindu religious fanatics reduce all Muslims to potential terrorists or hostile Pakistanis, for a section of the Kashmiri population, anyone associated with the state or the administration has simply become a creature deprived of humanity who might be remorselessly assassinated. However, given the protracted conflict in Kashmir and the kind of torture and losses many Kashmiris have had to endure, this too seems inevitable. Cycles of hatred have a tendency to harden one’s heart and flood the normal world with unprecedented abominations.

Such abominations seem particularly damaging to ordinary Indian Muslims. On the one hand they are constantly being targeted and victimized by Hindu fanatics who are ready to spill blood without any provocation at all, and on the other hand, they are being targeted by Jihadi mobs or terrorists if they become associated with the state in any form. They are becoming the nowhere-men in their own motherland.

One would have thought that, seventy years after achieving a bloody independence marked by catastrophic partition riots, we as a nation would strive to ensure that such blunders are never repeated. Instead, we continue to sow the seeds of hatred, through political organisations, the education system, electronic media and of course the fanatical trolls in social networking sites.

I have long stopped believing in the righteousness of the silent majority who would eventually rise against the forces of division and carnage. The political masterminds who preside over the murders of Junaid or Akhlaq or others have come to the conclusion that incremental violence, as opposed to protracted genocides, will not result in electoral backlash. And they are being ably aided by those who are responsible for the murders of Feroz Dar and DSP Pandith as communalisms tend to feed off each other.

What then? I don’t know. The Idea of India is under threat. The Death Eaters are gaining momentum. Can we raise a Dumbledore’s Army potent enough to take on the Dark Lords? The Midnight’s Children are in desperate need of some magic.

P. S. 3 more persons have been killed today by cow-vigilantes.

It is also the 20 year anniversary of the first publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

 

 

A Death in the Gunj – A striking debut

Directed by Konkona Sen Sharma, 2017

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Konkona Sen Sharma’s A rated debut film is a chamber drama, unfolding dreamily in the mystic light of a forestry Anglo-Indian settlement in Jharkhand of the 70-s. It starts off with two men (Nandu and Brian) peering down a car’s trunk, thinking aloud of how best to tuck in a “body”. A summer-sky blue car of the yesteryears then travels along the wintry paths to a holiday retreat- the mansion of the Bakshis in McCluskiegunj. The narrative by then has jumped a week backwards and plays out like a journalistic account with numbered days.

Right from the party’s arrival at Anupama and O.P.’s household, the exchanges in English with a few Bengali greetings and phrases thrown in, acquaint us with a mélange of characters suffering the cultural superiority of a colonial hangover.  The dominant mood is that of banter and the inner tensions of all vacationing members seem to concentrate on Shutu- a withdrawn 23 year old.  In fact the film could have been all about Shutu, the eternally hurt and abused ‘softie’ in the family whose meekness equally entertains and irritates others. His elder brother tries to ‘man’ him up the tough way, flicking him on the head and insisting he drive a car even when he clearly refuses. Reeking of machismo- Vikram bruises him during a game of kabaddi; Anupama disapproves of the mean-mindedness in the clichéd one-liner- “boys will be boys” at the dinner table. But we soon see that the women are no less when it comes to bullying, Mimi (played by the vivacious Kalki) calls him “pretty”, has drunk intercourse with him- riding him on a rocking chair in a very intelligently detailed scene that builds up your anticipation through suggestive tropes, and then leaves him.

Irresponsibility runs through the film like the haunting background scores that mix Indian folk songs with Tagore’s ‘Dhitang Dhitang Bole’ and Burn’s “Auld Lang Syne”. Shutu is absconding from his home; he has turned up at his maternal aunt’s house for retreat, keeping his guilt at bay from his mother’s weary voice that makes its way into the film through letters and a terribly one-sided telephone conversation. He has failed his post-graduation exams and is hung up on his father’s death. Tilottoma and Nandu, while clearly dismissing Shutu as an “imbecile”, still leave their daughter- the eight year old Tani under his care. So that when she goes missing, the blame is clearly on his imbecility. Tani, in turn, is super excited to adopt a puppy whom she names Fluffy but soon loses the will to care and it ends up straying around.

In a tenderly amusing moment, the film shows Fluffy sharing an idyllic family dinner with the servants; the housemaid hand-feeds him a plate of rice as her husband has his meal by their side.  In the family’s visit to Ms. Mckenzie’s place for lunch, we hear her dishes being highly praised as the camera covers them in detail but, immediately we are offered a glimpse of her in the kitchen- licking the ladle with which she stirs and serves the food. We are nudged awake to her lack of hygiene. Equally tickling is the servant’s lack of concern when he discovers Shutu in a ditch- very matter-of-factly he exclaims that it is strange of him to slouch in a ditch when the whole family is looking for him. The film is replete with these wry flashes of humour.

Also, the servant’s discovery of Shutu in the ditch comes after minutes of agitation over the lost child. The narrative drops red herrings like Miss Curney stealthily visiting the grave of her daughter who died an infant and Tani reciting a poem where she wishes to be six forever, making you flinch for the worst when Tani goes missing. In an exceptional stroke, Sharma returns the child unceremoniously home while having moved on to Shutu’s trepidations in the ditch he falls into on his search for Tani in the woods at night.

We see glimpses of suppressed rage in Shutu all along (as he is wronged time and again) but pass over just like the film’s cast does till all goes berserk in the final moments. The death happens as announced right in the title (which thankfully was not a red herring!) but there again, the director makes visual poetry out of the gore. In an arresting shot, the blood splatters all over the bark of the family tree where their names are etched (Tani and Shutu trace the names on the first day of the trip) and trickles down in slow motion. A couple of minutes later, we see Shutu- wafer-like and haunting in the backseat of the car (which also carries the corpse) as he is driven back to the city.

Needless to say, Sen Sharma’s debut which has been critically acclaimed for its “assuredness” deals with human psyche in a charming way. Even while Shutu runs the risk of being reduced to a trope (for campaigning) precisely because the narrative never wanders far from his basic predicament, the story balances it out. The other full-bodied characters, the games and gaiety, the suspense and humour come together to give you a comprehensive experience of watching cinema. For me, one of the most warm takeaways is the friendship between Shutu and Tani (Shutu’s only true bond), and the hurt when the former acts forgetful about it.

– Barnamala Roy

The search is all that matters: A note on Ashish Avikunthak’s ‘Kalkimanthankatha’

For a young research student, working on the works of Samuel Beckett, Ashish Avikunthak’s Kalkimanthankatha is an important lesson on reading methodology. I wonder, when I first read Waiting For Godot almost seven years back around the time I was graduating from high school, what did I find so pertinently interesting about the text. Is it the obscurity or the abstraction? Is it poetic sensibility expressed through prosaic precision? These questions have lost their relevance over the years as I re-read the text and realized that they not matter. The text has borne its own relevance every time I have gone back to read it and it continues to change. What could have been the intention of the author is not as important to me any more as the various problems and possibilities the text poses to the reader.

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In Avikunthak’s film I find the same spirit of a growing distance from the author that eventually brought the film closer and closer to the Beckettian spirit. Contrary to the Beckett text: the setting continuously changes, even though the location remains the same; the clothing of the characters also keep altering and in the end serve as an important symbol in the film when finally abandoned; and instead of four, the film has only two characters waiting for the arrival of ‘Kalki’— the last avatar of Vishnu. In fact the characters do not wait, rather they use the word ‘search’ that perhaps justifies their movement across the space instead of staggering around a confined spot.

In the film, Beckett’s text is read into Mao’s statements. The confusion over language and philosophy that is one of the thematic facets of the text is thus interwoven into the film as the characters read out from the little Red Book in mundane monotonous module. One wonders if it is a Beckettian reading of Mao or Maoist reading of Beckett, but in the end it is neither since the film tries to fall  back upon the political via an act of abandonment of textual language carried out by the characters as their bodies turn to absolute bareness much like the setting in the Beckett text itself — ‘A country road. A tree. Evening’.

The bareness of the bodies stands in between continuous attempts at looking backward to an ideology that has largely failed, and is heading toward a future of indifference. And it is at the face of such crises of memory and hope, past and future, that the characters live out their present in search of someone who has made a promise. If the political is imbued within the act of search itself, the bodies in their absolute bareness, become the space and means of politics. Instead of being read as metaphorical exposure of the political confusions and indifference of our times, they should be recognized as materialization of the anguish that politics proclaims, and constitutive of the materiality of politics. Hence, the identity of Kalki, like the identity of Godot, is no longer relevant here — the search being undertaken by these characters is all that matters while being together, like comrades like lovers, two shadows walking bare in the allegorical mist.

The element of the absurd propounded by Beckett’s text lies in the method in which the film is executed. The dialogues are composed in an unexpectedly refined and lyrical Bengali delivered by the characters that wear very ordinary contemporary outfits; or the sudden shift in colour and tone of the screen are various instances contributing to the sense of absurdity which is if not always Beckettian, very cinematic. Beckett had often expressed his discontent with the cinematic medium when it came to the adaptation of his dramatic works meant for the stage. He was not sure if the screen space was suitable to explore the architecture of his plays. Therefore, the filmmaker has to distance himself from Beckett while abiding by the Beckettian spirit nonetheless, only to rethink the plot in cinematic terms. Perhaps Avikunthak’s reading of Beckett into film would be a fitting tribute to the master and his opinion — but what one takes back from the experience is that reading itself, at once political and cinematic, sustained through the potent performances of Joyraj Bhattacharjee and Sagnik Mukherjee.

– Samudranil Gupta

An Ode to Manchester: Inscriptions of an Inconsequential Indian

I visited Manchester for a 3 day halt in-between two conferences in Leicester and London back in 2013. And just outside the Central Library was a sign that read: “Manchester means the world to me”.

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You could be forgiven for considering that sign as an exercise in exaggeration. You could well think that it was merely the sentiments of people who have been born and brought up there. You could even think that this was the exclamation of a football fan captivated by the romance of the Busby Babes, the trio of Charlton, Law and Best, the Class of 92, Sir Alex Ferguson or modern-day superstars like Ronaldo, Rooney or Pogba. But even a cursory sojourn in the city will convince you that the sign actually touches a deeper chord.

After exiting the railway station, as I bunglingly looked for directions to my hotel, I came across a couple of typically robust, gregarious and smiling Sikh cabbies who gave me very clear and helpful directions to the hotel. They had all been living in Manchester for decades and did not seem to suffer from any anxiety of belongingness. This was the first clue to the multicultural plurality of the city. Such plurality was also evident from the sprawling China Town of Manchester, the Gay Village with its proud rainbow flags, Indian restaurants and a cosy Bombay Street and most importantly, a whole host of warm, welcoming friendly people who enjoyed all the colours of life (not just red and blue, that is).

This plurality would attract the eyes of a traveller in other ways as well. Alongside tall, glass-covered glitzy modern buildings, including the Manchester Hilton, he would be awed by the spires and arches of structures that bear the intricate knottings of history. And just as Manchester occupies a pivotal place in the history of the Industrial revolution in England, something which it celebrates through its Museum of Science and Industry or a statue of Alan Turing, it is also the place where the famous Chopin played his last concert and where inveterate comedians like Norman Evans or Sir Harry Secombe regaled the audiences.

For a student of English literature like me, it was also quite remarkable to see a plaque commemorating the Peterloo Massacre of 1819, which happened at the erstwhile St. Peter’s Fields that now falls within the modern City of Manchester where 15 people were killed during a peaceful demonstration and more than 600 injured after a cavalry charge. The plaque bears testimony to the heritage of Manchester as a working class city, a city of resilient people who have fought adversities and stood strong and have inspired others in turn – including someone like Percy Bysshe Shelley whose ‘Masque of Anarchy’ was written in response to this horrible consequence of governmental crackdown.

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All of these memories came flooding back in the wake of the recent terrorist attack in Manchester in which a suicide bomber managed to kill 22 people in the Manchester Arena during an Ariana Grande concert attended by hundreds of young people. The attack stung me into that same kind of pain and grief that I experience when my fellow Indian regularly fall victim to networks of terror.

It is rather pointless to talk about the deplorable nature of these terrorist organisations, the inhuman motivations that drive them and the destructive fantasies that are nurtured by those who work for these organisations. They are immune to criticism and deserve whatever punitive measures a state can muster.

But more importantly, the only way one can effectively fight terror is by not succumbing to terror at all and by upholding those values of plurality, courage and togetherness which Manchester has embodied again and again. From Thatcherite blight to IRA attacks – Manchester has survived and prospered. It is particularly interesting to note that in 1996, when the IRA detonated a 1500 kilogram bomb on 15th June at Corporation Street, in the heart of Manchester, England was hosting the Euro’ 96 and despite all the horror and destruction, the match between Germany and Russia went ahead as scheduled on the very next day at Old Trafford. More than fifty thousand people watched the game. Manchester had responded: “we will not give in”, they said.

It is one of those strange eccentricities of history that once again juxtaposed terror and football as only two days after the attack, Manchester United, a club almost synonymous with the city, played the final of the Europa League and won, dedicating its victory to the whole of Manchester. Of course, overcoming adversities and horror is in the DNA of Manchester United as well. This is a club that overcame the horrors of the Munich crash to become the best in the country and the best in Europe, this is a club that under Sir Alex Ferguson, for more than two decades, showed the world that it’s not over until the final whistle and conjured almost magical, miraculous victories in the dying minutes from the jaws of certain defeat. And Manchester United is also a testimony to that spirit of diversity and togetherness which the city as a whole embodies – footballers from all across the world come and play at The Theatre of Dreams and become one of Manchester, irrespective of their race, religion or language as they become part of the collective experience of football with its truly universal language; and this is equally true for the Manchester City Football Club as well which has now become a major force in the English Premier League with a similar stellar cast of global superstars. So the victory of Manchester United, symbolically, was also a victory of the Mancunian spirit, a typically working class spirit, a spirit of invincible resilience founded on togetherness. As an impassioned Steve Bertram wrote in Manutd.com: “Marcus Rashford may have been the only Mancunian on the field by birthright, but every single player was an adopted Manc; each one buzzing about the field with bottomless energy and purpose. Ander, Matteo and Anthony from Bilbao, Legnano and Massy became Andy, Matt and Tony from Blackley, Longsight and Moston. All of them, one of us.”

For all these reasons and more: “Manchester means the world to me” too.

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Figure 1: Picture courtesy Reuters and The Independent

-Abin Chakraborty

The Drop of Life

Lovers
You come from a land
Fanned out by many rivers.
You sing of waves,
Embracing and flowing
The last sea miles together.
*
If the wide breath
Of meandering history
Had settled its silt otherwise,
I could have breathed your air.
Would have plunged and played with you.
Shared food and street and toys.
Would have grown into,
And out-grown in time,
All precious trivialities
Of childhood together.
*
Since that was not to be,
We meet as loving enemies today.
*
We lie in this high-ceilinged room
Of this sturdy, old house.
Much like one my grandfather built,
When he and others
Crisscrossed those rivers-
Rivers unknown to me-
To escape the fires
And make a home again.
*
A home to make love in.
A home to make love to.

Maria’s Mumblings
Months trail down the thighs.
They leave stubborn stains.
*
Tangle of torn hair
Keep circling that corner.
Why can’t you see?
Why won’t you see?
That corner there of wet walls.
*
Wet walls
Like crumpled letters.
Like wrinkled hands.
Like rain shrunken
Scrotum n’ breasts.
*
The kitchen tiles
Are brown with burnt oil.
A dragon fly’s glittering wing
Is stuck there.
How it got there?
Wish I knew.
*
The goldfish is dead.
The goldfish is dead too.
Like many other things.
A goldfish on my palm.
*
In that crystal gaze of death,
What pictures are frozen still?

Pebble Drop
He’s alive.
Every evening
The worn heels
Tap off the same phrase
Like ash from cigarette.
*
Same old phrase:
Station to stairs to gate.
*
He’s alive for sure.
His fingers have borne
The grocery weight of commitment,
Of happiness,
Of life.
*
He’s alive.
Bills await him.
Investment plans.
Wedding invitations.
*
He’s alive
In dishes
And plates
And glasses.
In crumpled sheets
And pillows
And clothes.
*
He’s certain.
*
And yet,
Two moth wings
In the mailbox today,
Made him look
In the mirror
An hour.

– Aritra Mukherjee

Yehuda Amichai: Selected poems

Yehuda-Amichai.jpgMy first encounter with Amichai was at College Street, in the form of a second hand book, entitled, Yehuda Amichai: Selected Poems. Published by Penguin Books, dated 1971, the poems translated into English by Assia Gutmann and Harold Schimmel in collaboration with Ted Hughes at once brings us to the most celebrated poet of Israel. The selected poems are a world at once colloquial and universal, sentimental and witty. It unfolds the man and the poet Amichai, one whose Jewish identity is inextricably interlinked with his poetry, if not overtly explicit. These selected pieces are peopled with God and Jews, mother, father and child, with bombs and Orange groves, with angels and dogs, with remembrances and forgetting, with Bedouins and Jerusalem.

At a time, when Biographical criticism may seem obsolete, with the baggage of the death of the author, and writing occupying that neutral space obliterating all identity, Amichai’s poems showcase a kind of deliberateness of identity. It is at the same time important not to deny that the literariness of the poems is never subservient to the identity politics of the man. Yehuda Amichai, considered a stalwart of Israeli poets, was born in Wurzburg, Germany to Orthodox Jewish parents, who in 1936 emigrated to Mandate Palestine. As a man who actively engaged himself in the war against Germans as well as the Arabs, his is a voice at once poetical and political.

What struck me as a reader of Amichai’s poems are certain peculiarities that form his poetic voice. At the outset, it is the language deployed by Amichai, that grabs our attention. The different poems in this collection at once showcases the tension in language, language which is at once rooted in a Biblical tradition and at the same time, a product of an angst generated out of War and Exile, a certain timelessness juxtaposed with the contemporary culture. The pull of contraries mark a kind of irony, which itself is a hallmark of most twentieth century writings. Take for instance the poem, Two Songs of Peace:

“My love was not in the war.

She learns love and history

Off my body, which was in two, or three.

And at night.

When my body makes battles into peace

She is bewildered.

Her perplexity is her love. And her learning.

Her wars and her peace, her dream.”

As we note in this poem, the idea of war and peace as a simultaneity is brought about seamlessly in the topos of Amichai’s work. The states of transition from being ‘bewildered’ to ‘perplexity’, to ‘learning’ and ‘dream’ are not clear cut but seem to be defy linearity of logos and time. This idea of language being contained and at the same time escaping fixity is further continued in the next stanza of the same poem.

“And I am now in the middle of my life.

The time when one begins to collect

Facts, and many details,

And exact maps

Of a country we shall never occupy

And of an enemy and lover

Whose borders we shall never cross.”

One recognises how the element of continuity, of exactitude as demarcated by ‘maps’ and ‘borders’ is contrasted with the idea of not being able to ‘occupy’ or ‘cross’. The usage of paradoxes as well as the usage of the sacred and the profane marks the language of Amichai’s poetry as in the poem National Thoughts…. “To speak now in this tired language/ Torn from its sleep in the Bible-/ Blinded, it lurches from mouth to mouth-/ The language which described God and the miracles,/Says:/ Motor car, bomb, God.” In the words of Michael Hamburger, in his introduction to this text, this use of contraries, ‘sets up an ironic tension between the deity worshipped in Biblical times and the purposes which the old religion can be made to serve in the age of motor cars and bombs.”

The rubrics of Amichai’s poetic works in this collection poignantly captures the themes of migration, of exile and his unique relationship with the Other. As he himself confessed in an interview published in the Paris Review, he is acutely aware of his Jewish belonging and upbringing, as well as being an upholder of Zionist ideology. The selected poems in this collection showcase the importance that he attaches to his status as a diasporic Jew as well as the poetic consciousness shaped by the fact that his parents migrated to Palestine. This awareness of being (dis)located, of the problematic relationship with the homeland, of the fear of perpetually fleeing is reflected in many of the poems in this collection. In My Parents’ Migration, he laments that he has never been able to makepeace with the fact of his parents migrating, and how home has always been shifting, lacking constancy…  “For my silence among the houses/ Which are always/ Like ships.”This same angst is reflected in another poem.. “Don’t leave me. Please. Please./ You’re not leaving/ I’m not./ Close one eye. Speak in a loud voice./ I can’t hear- I’m already far away.” (Eye Examination) or the line, “Of all the things I do,/ Parting is the inevitable one.” (In My Worst Dreams). At the same time, it is interesting to note, that despite his leanings towards Israel, he is never a jingoist or exclusionist. In his dreams, the Other, the Stranger is a perennial presence, indelibly etched. This stranger is not just an intruder, but one who he cannot imagine his homeland without, one with whom he cohabits… “And into these dreams/ There shall also come strangers/ We did not know together.”(If With a Bitter Mouth). For Amichai, home is not only the place that one longs for but also where someone else would come to stay.. “And what I shall never in the world return to/ And look at,/ I am to love forever. Only a stranger would return to my place.” (The Place Where I’ve Not Been). Drawing upon the Abrahamic tradition, he almost recognises a brethren in the Other, an idea which is espoused in another poem of his… “I shall therefore travel through my life like Jonah in his dark fish,/ We’ve settled it between us, I and the fish, we’re both in the world’s bowels,/ I shall not come out, he will not digest me.” (Two Quartrains).

Taking cue from this perspective, I must necessarily digress, if only to come back to a recurring dream I have often had… Across the windows, a dimly lit room in which both Amichai and Mahmoud Darwish sit across the table. Their voices are inaudible and interspersed with laughter and silence. Undoubtedly, I realise time and again how the relationship between I and the Other, in Amichai’s poems cannot be understood in isolation. In his poems, I hear the echo of another poet, beyond the barbed wires and barricades. Darwish, a contemporary of Amichai, was also his poetic rival, with words and memory as the only weapon of choice. Just as Amichai’s poems in this selection showcase a complex relationship with the Other, so does Darwish, as in his poem “He is Quiet and So am I”:  “He is quiet and so am I./ He sips tea with lemon, while I drink coffee./ That’s the difference between us.”This unique relationship between the self and the Other as proposed by Amichai, where “The many dreams I now dream of you/ Prophesy your end with me” is strangely mirrored by Darwish as well and one which shows how memory gets into the way of history.. “If I were someone else on the road I’d belong to this road/ there’d be no going back for me or for you..”

At the heart of the themes of exile and Other, is the singularly dominant image of Jerusalem that marks many of Amichai’s poems. Jerusalem becomes a metaphor for not only his Jewish identity, a ‘port city on the shores of eternity’ or the ‘Venice of God’ (Jerusalem, Port City), but also a space of contestation claimed by different cultures and traditional symbols.. “And the policemen and the flags and the high masts of churches/ And mosques and the smokestacks of synagogues and the boats/ Of praise and waves of mountains.” (Jerusalem, Port City). Whatever Jerusalem may come to denote, it is the constant symbol and reminder of his identity, which he must preserve through his words and memory… “If I forget thee, Jerusalem,/ Let my blood be forgotten./ I shall touch your forehead,/Forget my own,/ My voice change/ For the second and last time/ To the most terrible of voices-/ Or silence.” (If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem).

On a desolate evening, as I gaze languidly across the windows of my ever shifting homes, the smell of the partially tattered book and its yellow pages, gives me another reason to read Amichai. In this collection of poems, one finds a deep level of intimacy, a tone at once personal as well as universal. In his ambivalent relationship with God and his own staggering faith, his personal relationship with his mother, of his reversible role as both the child and the father of his child, his poems at the same time transcend his dreams and longings, to become a plea of humanity to remember against the tide of oblivion and at the same time realising its futility.. “I demand of others/ Not to forget. Myself, only to forget./ In the end, forgotten.”

-Ayesha Begum

অথচ জ্বলছে যারা: এই শহরের শ্মশানদের জন্য

1. নির্বাণ
তর্জনী শুষে নিচ্ছে আগুন
বিগলিত ঘুমে
জ্বলে উঠছে অজস্র চোখ
প্রতিটি চুল্লীতে
জন্ম নিচ্ছে বিকল্প শববাহক।pexels-photo-105541
2. দ্বিতীয় বার পোড়ার আগে
যে-সন্ধ্যা গিলে খায়
বিদগ্ধ মাকড়সা
তার ভস্মে ঘি ঢেলে বলো
নাভি পোড়ে নি
নাভি পোড়ে না
নীল আঙুল বিগলিত হয়
জ্বলে ওঠে তুষারমানব
শ্মশান চিনেছে তার লগ্ন
নাভি পোড়ে নি
নাভি পোড়ে না
ভেসে ওঠো বেহায়া চুল্লী
প্রজ্জ্বলিত হও অস্থিমজ্জাসার
সমবেত পেট্রল গিলে
যেটুকু জীবাশ্ম বেঁচে থাকে
দিগন্তের গলা চিরে
যেটুকু আগুন পারো আনো
সহস্র মুখাগ্নি শেষে
হিমবাহ বুকে রেখে বলো
নাভি পোড়ে নি
নাভি পোড়ে না।
3. স্বাহা; অথবা, পরস্ত্রীদের জন্য
আগুন, এখন আগুনের সাথে শুচ্ছি
হাতড়েছি তল, অতল পাবার চেষ্টা
সাজিয়েছ কাঠ, পিচ ঢেলে দাও গর্ভে
ঘুমোনোর আগে একবার জ্বলি শেষটা
আমার তো শুনি ময়াল সাপের চামড়া
ঘেমেছ তুমিই, বাষ্পে দেওয়াল স্তব্ধ
আর দু পা গেলে মানুষ হবার ইচ্ছেয়
সাপকে খেলিয়ে বাঁশিওয়ালা গোনে শব্দ
কফিনেই পাবে পরস্ত্রীদের বাঙ্কার
সমুদ্র পেলে কেউ করে দেবে ঢেউ সই
কাচের গেলাসে ঘর শুকোনোর রোদ্দুর
ফেনা ওঠা শেষ, আমি তো আসলে কেউ নই
চুল্লী খুলেছে ঘোরানো হাতের সঙ্গে
সিঁড়ি নেমে গেছে, আছি বেশ আছি রঙ্গে…
-Arkoprobho Roychowdhury

Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets

“Vast is my beloved country,

 Full of forests, field, and rivers.

 I know there’s none other like her,

 Where a man can breathe so freely.” (277)

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Histories, we now know, are grand narratives which necessarily come into being by silencing contradictory micro narratives and to portray a nation in a relatively good light. Svetlana Alexievich offers a deft demonstration of this problematic in her book Secondhand Time.

The dominant narrative regarding Russia in the post-Soviet era has trained us to glorify the Russian Revolution, despise Stalin and his despotic rule and celebrate Mikhail Gorbachev’s Glasnost and Perestroika. The reality, the hardships faced by the ordinary people, has been carefully ignored. Svetlana Alexievich’s Secondhand Time, translated by Bela Shayevich, unfurls those concealed experiences of nostalgia, pain and anger.

Svetlana Alexievich specializes in the genre, which she calls “novels in voices”. Similar to her other books Voices from Chernobyl, Zinky Boys; this book too presents the heart-rending tales of the interviewees untouched by the author as she weaves together more than dozens of memoirs from the former Soviet Union.

Secondhand time is a work of non-fiction and spell-binding collection of interviews from ordinary people all across Russia. Alexievich has assembled her narratives through interviews taken by her of ordinary citizens, Gulag survivors, ex-Communist Party officials and traumatized women; mothers, wives and daughters. The book gives an account of their experiences of the post-Stalin period (1991-2001), when Communism was in demise and the concept of USSR was just a fond memory. The interviewees feel the need to pay respects to the Soviet Era. They cherish communism and the governance of Stalin. Elena Yurievna from Moscow, third secretary of a district party committee, without hesitation states: “I will take pleasure in writing “USSR”. That was my country; the country I live in today is not. I feel like I’m living on foreign soil. I was born a Soviet.” (127-128).They had fought and bled for Freedom but when it arrived, it brought them nothing but torment and hunger. The people could not accept this freedom offered by Gorbachev’s government where promises remained unfulfilled. Money was everything; the poor had no respect in society.

Alexievich’s book revolves around the recurrent theme of nostalgia about Stalin’s USSR, hate for Gorbachev and the dearth of bread, cheese and salami. Before the reign of apparent ‘Peace’, the public got to choose from variety of salamis and everything was equally handed out. Mikhail Gorbachev and his ideals became anathema and people longed for the rebirth of Stalinist regime; the public fell in and out of love with Gorbachev. Snatches of conversation hovered about in the streets: “Gorbachev is an American free agent…a freemason…he betrayed communism.” (66)

Alexievich lets us a peek into the kitchen lives of the Russians! Yes, the kitchen was a very significant place. The anonymous interviewee, a stoker from St.Petersburg, reminisces about his kitchen days filled with food, love and criticism about post-Stalin Russia where “revolution was nothing but a spectacle; a play put up for people.”(76-77). The kitchen was the place where Perestroika actually took place, “Russian culture lived on” and Fear was a stranger since they were among friends having meals (57-58). Most Russians were left with nothing but their memories. Elena, from Moscow, remembers USSR as a place of free will where “no one was forced to do anything. All of the kids dreamed of becoming Young Pioneers, of marching together…. To drums and horns…. Singing Young Pioneer songs:

“My Motherland, I’ll love forever,

Where else will I find one like her?” (138-139)

 The author intervenes between the conversations with cozy comments like, “We take a short break. The eternal tea, this time with the hostess’s homemade cherry jam.” or “She laughs.” (154-157). She carefully keeps her analytical, journalistic approach out of the way and lets the reader travel in the poignant world of the interviewees.

The tales of Secondhand Time collectively turn into ghastly dystopias. Though it is fact based, the author succeeds in molding it into a novel of the history of emotions. The book turns out to be a surprise to the reader, who may be a novice to such an experience, because a book about the communist USSR is immediately taken for granted; imagined to be just another irksome, literary work of political history consisting of collection of field notes depicting the drudgery, pain and oppression in the lives of Russians inflicted by Stalin. Instead it surpasses the expectations as the writer explores the fond memories, the intricate details of Russian livelihood during Soviet times and the sentimentality of the narrators about their lost motherland- the “USSR”.

The powerful and multi-vocal narrative of the novel breaks the norms of chronicling history of a nation. Second-hand Time is practically a bombshell, an unveiling which compels the reader to be cognizant of the fact that rigidly judging a country by a few literary works and reckoning upon the media can be quite detrimental. In the middle of a conversation in Red Square with an engineer (name not mentioned) about the suicide of Sergey F. Akhromeyev, marshal and chief of the General staff of the Soviet Armed forces of the Soviet Union, he shows his notebook full of quotations from the Marxist classics to Alexievich where she spots a particular quote from Lenin: “I would live in a pigsty as long as it was under the Soviet rule.” (376)

The agitation of the anonymous engineer and many other distressed individuals is hard to be oblivious to as Alexievich often receives rebukes against her questions: “What does history have to do with it? You want the facts “fried up”? Served spicy, with some extra sauce?” (359) Their anger against Gorbachev, scarcity of food, death of Stalin’s Soviet Union, the “bloody” bureaucrats lacking convictions, principles or any of those muddled metaphysical ideals, Marshal Akhromeyev who hanged himself from a Kremlin radiator leaving his country in the hands of traitors – all would have died with them if not for Svetlana Alexievich.

Alexievich transforms the grilling conversations about history and daily politics into coherent narratives through her honest documentary style. It is one of her most phenomenal works in which the Nobel laureate takes us back in time, while depicting a disturbing portrait of Russia and the readers can almost feel the emotions and the yearning of the ordinary men and women for the “normal” freedom whose suppressed voices have been buried deep down among unidimensional histories of the nation.

The book is a must read especially because it offers a different perspective and makes the reader experience a hidden history of the people of Russia by letting them narrate it; this is storytelling of a most unusual kind. Like Lorraine Warren had said in The Conjuring, “It’s an insight; like a peek through the curtain into another person’s life”. It is an onerous and perplexing read but also impossible to put down. 2017, coincidentally, also marks hundred years of the Bolshevik revolution.

-Sruti Purkait

Moana: Under the Deep Blue Waters.

Directed by Ron Clements, John Musker, 2016.

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It is not every day that we get to see a film like Moana, which is not just a triumph of the art of filmmaking but also a celebration of the journey that we call life-of man’s eternal quest for meaning in life. Disney uses the old crucible, the same ingredients- but in a varied proportion – and adds a few new spices, to cook up a startlingly fresh recipe that has become a yardstick by which the quality of its future productions will be judged. Based on a Polynesian myth, the story of Moana travels space and time to become a universal tale of adventure and self-discovery which would definitely be enjoyed by generations to come. The film is a product of a great team’s hard work and dedication which gets reflected throughout the film ranging from the beautiful Polynesian islands, to the detailed development of the characters and obviously the soulful numbers which linger in one’s mind long after the film has ended.

The character of Moana (played by Auli’ i Cravalho) is a very welcome addition to the legacy of Disney. In an important inversion of convention, Moana is notone of the anorexic princesses who have stick figures for bodies; hers is a rather rotund figure. She is very brown, and not at all one of the damsels in distress unlike her predecessors. She knows it from the very outset that she will have to shoulder the responsibilities of her island Motunui after her father, who is the Chief of that island. She leads an idyllic life in her island surrounded by her people and knows that no one goes beyond the reef, yet at times, her heart sings a different song. Whenever the sea calls her she cannot control herself and she desperately wants to explore beyond the reef and discover “how far it [the ocean] goes” (‘How Far It Goes’).

The film opens with the mythological tale of Maui’s act of transgression which resulted in the birth of a “terrible darkness”, narrated by Moana’s Grandma Tala (Rachel House). Maui (Dwayne Johnson) had stolen the heart of TeFiti, the Mother Goddess, a thousand years ago in an attempt to please the Immortals who would then be able to procreate life with the help of the heart. Unfortunately, things did not turn out as planned by Maui and he had to pay for his act by losing his magical fishhook and had to lead his life as an exile stranded in an island until the “chosen one” came and grabbed him by the ears, made him board her canoe, cross the great ocean in order to return the heart of TeFiti. The name ‘Moana’ roughly translates to ‘deep waters’ or ‘ocean’ therefore it’s fair enough that the ocean will be inextricably related to her. Thus, she was the ‘chosen one’ who would have to complete this daunting task. Everything in her island was going just fine until one day the predictions of her Grandma came true- a dark disease had afflicted their coconut trees and all their fish were chased away by some uncertain reason. When she proposed to go beyond the reef in search of some catch, she was forcefully silenced by her father. But, no one could silence her inner voice and she set sail and moved beyond the reef accompanied by Pua. But her initial attempt at exploring was thwarted and she almost accidentally survived. It is at this critical juncture that her Grandma tells her the tale which the authority had tried to erase from the collective memory of their people as it posed a deep threat to their safety. This tale revealed that their ancestors were voyagers but after the rise of the darkness, many ships were lost and many men died which made these adventurers permanently settle down. Her Grandma then returns the heart of TeFiti which the sea had given Moana years ago. Time and again Moana is confronted with choices and every time she chooses the road less travelled by and that makes all the difference. There seems to be a deep sense of understandingwhich the women characters share in this tale. When everybody is refusing to believe Moana, her Mother and her Grandma are the only people who reassure her and provide her with the necessary strength to carry on with her quest. This is in stark contrast to the earlier fairy tales where women were portrayed in two colours-either black or white- she was either the paragon of angelic beauty and virtue like Cinderella or Snow White, or the evil stepmother figure.

Thus, Moana sets out on her own to fulfill the task assigned to her and answer the call of the sea. Thestorytellers toy with the expectations of the audience as Heihei-the curious rooster (and not Pua) gets to accompany Moana in heradventure. Heihei is a very interesting figure who likes to walk with his eyes covered in a coconut husk and is disillusioned every time Moana removes the coconut husk from over his head. Heihei fails to come to terms with reality and appears to inhabit a different world altogether. It makes no difference to Heihei if he is pecking on a piece of wood, stone or real food but he goes on pecking enthusiastically. His act of pecking is perhaps an act of desperation which helps him attach some meaning to his otherwise uneventful existence. Heihei is also probably a dehumanized version of every unthinking  individual who accepts whatever he is given unquestionably and overlooks the tyranny of the world by covering his eyes with a coconut husk not realizing what he is capable of and never trying to realize his true potential. When one of the villagers proposes to roast Heihei as such a stupid chicken is of no use to anybody, Moana retorts saying:

“Sometimes our strengths lie beneath the surface… but I’m sure there’s more to Heihei than meets the eyes.”

In our quest for perfection we often bury parts of ourselves not realizing that they are equally important to our being. In this context, it is interesting to note that the person playing the voice of the villager who had proposed to roast Heihei is the same person who has given his voice to the rooster. Therefore, there is definitely more to Heihei than meets the eyes. Heihei also has a critical role to play in the final sequence when he saves the heart of TeFiti instead of gobbling it up proving that he is not stupid after all and surprises everybody just like Moana had.

The ocean is also a very important character in the story. It is the source of chaos as well as order. If there is darkness in its shadowy depths then it also provides the characters with the necessary strength to fight and end the darkness. The ocean might be a friend of Moana but it does not help her until she tries to help herself or asks for help.

                          “The sea doesn’t help you, you help yourself”,

said Maui. Maui might be a demigod but it was his original sin and he had to pay the price for disrupting the balance of nature by stealing the heart. The heart might be a stone which maintains the balance of nature but on a closer look it might also stand for that primitive force which keeps each one of us from falling into pieces, the force which helps us fight our inner demons and emerge victorious in that strife.

In his eighth letter “To a Young Poet”, the great poet Rilke says,

“We have no reason to harbor any mistrust against our world…. If it has terrors, they are our terrors,… if it has dangers, we must try to love them…. How could we forget those ancient myths that stand at the beginning of all races, the myths about dragons that at the last moment are transformed into princesses? Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.”

Moana teaches us that we are a conglomeration of TeFiti and TeKa and only when we acknowledge the chaos inside us will we be able to muster the courage to invoke order out of it. Moana’s quest is therefore every man’s quest for meaning in life.

                                                                                                                 -Aishwarya Das Gupta

বাঙালির রামনবমী

বাংলা ভাষায় একটি বহুল প্রচলিত প্রবচন আছে, ‘চুলকে ঘা করা’। এটি সচরাচর শিক্ষিত কিংবা সংস্কৃতি মনস্ক মানুষের মুখে ব্যবহৃত হয় না। তথাকথিত অ-সংস্কৃতিবান অথবা আম জনতার মুখেই বেশি ব্যবহৃত হয়। কী জানি কেন আমার এই মুহূর্তে ওই প্রবচনটার কথাই মনে পড়ল। অবশ্য আমি যে বিশেষ সংস্কৃতিবান বাঙালি এমন দাবি করবার দুঃসাহস আমার কদ্যপি ছিল না।

আমরা অর্থাৎ বাঙালিরা নিজস্ব কোনো কিছু নিয়ে গর্ব করার দিন অনেক আগেই পেছনে ফেলে এসেছি। আমার জীবদ্দশায় অন্তত তেমন কিছু চোখে পড়ে নি। তবে বাপ-ঠাকুদ্দার মুখে গল্প শুনেছি, বাঙালি নাকি ছিল এক সাংঘাতিক জাত আর তার গর্ব করার মত বিষয়ও ছিল নাকি ভুরি ভুরি। সে যাই হোক, বাপ-ঠাকুদ্দার কথা অবিশ্বাস করতে নেই। পাপ হয়।

গর্ব করার মত কিনা জানি না, তবে একটা ব্যাপার ছিল, সব ধর্মের মানুষের মিলে মিশে থাকার চেষ্টা। সেটা অবশ্য গর্বের বিষয় না লজ্জার তা নিয়ে বিতর্ক হতেই পারে, অন্তত আজকের প্রেক্ষাপটে।

তার মানে এই নয় যে বিভিন্ন ধর্মাবলম্বীদের মধ্যে পারস্পরিক সন্দেহ বা অবিশ্বাসের বাতাবরণ ছিল না। ছিল, সুপ্ত হলেও অবশ্যই ছিল। কিন্তু বিগত চার দশকে সেই সন্দেহ বা অবিশ্বাস মাথা চাড়া দিয়ে উঠে বাঙালিকে দ্বিধাবিভক্ত করতে পারে নি। চামড়া থাকলে ফুসকুড়ি হবেই। আর ফুসকুড়ি থাকলে তা মাঝে মধ্যে চুলকোবেও। কিন্তু সেটাকে চুলকে চুলকে ঘা করব কিনা তা অন্য প্রশ্ন।

আমার মনে পড়ে, ছোটবেলায় কলকাতার রাস্তায় মহরমের মিছিল দেখা ছিল আমার বিশেষ কৌতূহলের বিষয়। বড় হওয়ার পরও সেই কৌতুহল আমার যায় নি। তরোয়াল,ছোরা, লাঠি নিয়ে সেই মিছিল দেখে আমি আগেও মুগ্ধ হতাম, এখনও হই। কখনো আমার মনে হয় নি ভিন্ন ধর্মের একদল মানুষ আমাকে তার অস্ত্র দেখিয়ে ভয় পাইয়ে দিতে চাইছে। তরোয়াল উঁচিয়ে শিখদের মিছিল দেখেও কখনও তা মনে হয় নি। আজ হঠাৎ কী এমন ঘটল যে ‘দেখ, আমারও কত তরোয়াল আছে’ বলে রাস্তায় নেমে পড়তে হল!

এ কথা স্বীকার করতেই হবে, সারা পৃথিবীতে ধর্মীয় সংখ্যালঘুরা সামান্য হলেও অস্বস্তি নিয়ে বাঁচেন। একটা চোরা আতংক তাদের চেতন অথবা অবচেতনে বয়ে চলে । তাই তারা একজোট হয়ে থাকতে চান, থাকতে চান নিজেদের নিরাপত্তার স্বার্থেই।

কিন্তু পশ্চিমবাংলার চেহারাটা তো এমন ছিল না! দুর্ভাগ্যজনক হলেও সত্যি যে এখানকার মুসলমানরা অধিকাংশই দরিদ্র। আধুনিক শিক্ষা থেকেও তারা পিছিয়ে ছিলেন যুগ যুগ ধরে। তার কারণ বিশ্লেষণ করা এই লেখার উদ্দেশ্য নয়। উদ্দেশ্য হল এটা বলা যে অধিকাংশ মুসলমানই ব্যস্ত থেকেছেন জীবন-জীবিকার লড়াইয়ে। সেই জায়গায় সংখ্যাগুরু হিন্দু দরিদ্রদের সঙ্গে তাঁদের কোনো তফাৎ ছিল না, এখনও নেই।

ব্যক্তিগত ভাবে আমার অভিজ্ঞতা হয়েছে সর্বস্তরের মুসলমানের সঙ্গে মেলামেশার। ধনী-দরিদ্র-মধ্যবিত্ত-শিক্ষিত- অশিক্ষিত সব পর্যায়ের মুসলমান পরিবারের সঙ্গে আমি মিশেছি। নিজেকে সে কারণে যথেষ্ট ভাগ্যবানও মনে করি। কোথাও দেখিনি পরোধর্মের প্রতি বিদ্বেষ। বরং তাদের আতিথেয়তা ও আন্তরিকতায় কিঞ্চিৎ বিস্মিতই হয়েছি।

উল্টো দিকে বেশির ভাগ বাঙালি হিন্দু পরিবারে দেখেছি মুসলমানদের সম্পর্কে চাপা বিদ্বেষ। কিন্তু সে বিদ্বেষ ধর্মাচরণ ও খাদ্যাভ্যাসের মধ্যেই সীমাবদ্ধ থেকেছে অধিকাংশ সময়েই। কখনোই তা বৃহৎ আকার ধারণ করে নি।

সব ধর্মের মধ্যেই কিছু শক্তি থাকে যাদের কাজ উস্কানি দিয়ে বিরোধ কে বাড়িয়ে তোলা। সেই শক্তিকে যদি মৌলবাদী শক্তি তকমা দিয়ে দিই তাহলে অতি সরলীকরণ হয়ে যাবে। মৌলবাদের বাইরেও এই জাতীয় শক্তি অবস্থান করে। সেখানেই গুরুত্বপূর্ন ভূমিকা পালন করার কথা ‘রাষ্ট্রের’।

কিন্তু দুর্ভাগ্যের বিষয় হল আমাদের দেশে রাষ্ট্রশক্তি পরিচালিত হয় দলীয় রাজনৈতিক লাভ-লোকসানের দাঁড়িপাল্লায় ভর করে। ফলে রাষ্ট্রের কল্যানমুলক ভূমিকাকে পেছনে ঠেলে সামনে আবির্ভুত হয় রাজনৈতিক স্বার্থ। সেখানে শাসক বা বিরোধী কেউই নিজেকে পৃথক করতে পারে না।

মহরমের মিছিল হয় ঐতিহাসিক একটি যুদ্ধ ও সেই সংক্রান্ত বিয়োগান্তক ঘটনাকে স্মরণ করে। সেই মিছিলে প্রদর্শিত অস্ত্র সম্ভার ভিন্ন ধর্মাবলম্বিকে আতঙ্কিত করবার জন্য নয়। এমনকি সেই মিছিল আয়োজিত হয় মূলত শিয়া সম্প্রদায় দ্বারা। সমগ্র মুসলমান জাতি মহরমের মিছিল করে না। বছরের পর বছর ধরে বাংলার বুকে মহরমের মিছিল আয়োজিত হয়ে চলেছে। বড় কোন সমস্যা কখনও হয়েছে বলে জানা যায় না।

পাশাপাশি রাম নবমীতে অস্ত্র সহ শোভাযাত্রা বারাণসী অঞ্চলে প্রচলিত থাকলেও বঙ্গদেশে তার প্রাদুর্ভাব আগে দেখা যায় নি। একটি উগ্র হিন্দুত্ববাদী রাজনৈতিক দল ও তার অন্যান্য সংগঠন যে রে রে করে অস্ত্র হাতে রামের জন্মদিন পালন করতে নেমে পড়ল তার কারণ সম্পূর্ণ ভাবেই রাজনৈতিক মুনাফা লাভ করা। মূল গল্প হল সেই সাতাশ শতাংশ ভোট। সাতাশ শতাংশের এমনই মহিমা যে অস্ত্র মিছিলের মোকাবিলায় তথাকথিত ধর্মনিরপেক্ষ দলকেও এখন বলতে হচ্ছে,”রাম কি তোমার একার”? এবং ঘটা করে হনুমানজয়ন্তীও পালন করতে হচ্ছে।

সাতাশ শতাংশ ভোট পাওয়ার জন্য যারা সংখ্যালঘুদের উন্নয়নের পাশাপাশি এমন বার্তাও দিয়েছেন,’তোমাদের সাত খুন মাফ’, তারা এটা বোঝেন নি যে লোহার বাসর ঘরের ওই ছিদ্রপথেই কালনাগিনী ঢুকে পড়তে পারে। আর আজ ঠিক সেটাই ঘটতে চলেছে। ভয়ঙ্কর কালনাগিনী ঢুকে পড়তে চাইছে। ভোট শতাংশের খেলায় সে দিকে কারো হুঁশ আছে কি?

আমি দেখেছি, মুখে উদারতার বড়াই করলেও অধিকাংশ ধর্মবিশ্বাসী মানুষই মনের গভীরে এই ধারণাই পোষণ করেন, ‘যাই বল বাপু, আমার ধর্মটাই সর্বশ্রেষ্ঠ, তোমারটা ওঁচা।’ আর সেই বিশ্বাসের গোড়ায় সুড়সুড়ি লাগলে তা যে অন্য আকার ধারণ করে তা বোঝা যাচ্ছে বাংলার অলিতে গলিতে রামনবমীর সশস্ত্র মিছিল দেখে।

এর সমাধান কোথায় তা বলতে পারা খুবই কঠিন। ধর্ম আর রাজনীতি, রাজনীতি আর ধর্ম ক্রমশ আমাদের আষ্টেপৃষ্ঠে বেঁধে ফেলছে। জীবনানন্দের ভাষায়, অদ্ভুত আঁধার, যা ছড়িয়ে পড়ছে বিষাক্ত ধোঁয়ার মত। হয়ত আগামী দোল পূর্ণিমাতে দেখতে হবে চৈতন্য জন্মজয়ন্তী পালিত হচ্ছে নগর সংকীর্তন সহযোগে। আর খোল-করতাল এর মধুর ধ্বনি মাতিয়ে তুলছে আকাশ-বাতাস।তারই মাঝে ঝলসে উঠছে দু’চারটে খোলা তরওয়ালের ধারালো ফলা। সেদিন হয়ত আমিও বলে ফেলব, ওরা অস্ত্র দেখালে যদি মামলা না হয় তাহলে আমার বেলা হবে কেন?

——-সুরথ রায়।