ঈশ্বর
 
নদীর জলে ভাসিয়ে দিয়ে
মেঘের মত স্বর, 

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ব্যথার মাঝে ঘুমিয়ে পড়েন

আমার ঈশ্বর।
 
ঘুমের ফাটল চুইয়ে ঢোকে
মনকেমনের রেশ।
 
নাবিক আমার ঈশ্বর
পড়ে যীশুর ছদ্মবেশ,
 
জলের উপর স্বপ্নে হাঁটেন
নেশায় হয়ে চুড়।
 
ভগ্ন গীটার বাজিয়ে চলে,
হ্যালেলুয়ার সু্র ।
 
ভ্রষ্ট পথিক ঈশ্বর মোর
নষ্ট প্রভু আমার,
 
‘সো লঙ’ বলে হারিয়ে গেলেন
অন্ধকারের পার।
 
চেলসি হোটেল, ক্লিনটন স্ট্রিট
কিংবা ম্যানহাটন,
 
স্মৃতির ঘরে অপেক্ষাতে
ন্যান্সি, ম্যারিয়ান।
 
একটা মানুষ, এক খানি গাছ
আমার আশ্রয়,
 
চোখের সামনে দেখতে পেলাম
ঈশ্বরের-ই ক্ষয়।

 

ঈশ্বর তবু স্বপ্ন দেখান
‘ফ্রিডম সুন উইল কাম’।
আমার প্রিয় মৃত ঈশ্বর,

লেনার্ড কোহেন নাম।

 -Rohan Hassan

 

cd6b51d766cb0e38a5771c34fb847f8b.jpgগান ক্যাফে

 মনের কোনে ক্লান্ত ক্যাফে
লেনার্ড কোহেন এর গান শুনে
নভেম্বর  হাঁফিয়ে ওঠে
ডিসেম্বর এর দিন গুনে।

 রাতের চাদর আঁকড়ে ধরি
তোমার শরীর সব বোঝে
অ্যাটলাস  তোমার আঙ্গুল রেখে
নাবিক যে তার পথ খোঁজে।

 

বন্দরে আজ জাহাজ শান্ত

রাতের আকাশ মদের ঠেকে,

বিকেলের ছাদ ঘুমিয়ে আছে

লেনার্ড যখন কবিতা লেখে।

 আমার আকাশতোমার আকাশ
মিলে মিশে একসাথে
পকেটে মেঘের খুচরো রাখি
তারার ধুলো ফুটপাথে।

 তিনিও নাকি প্রেম করেছেন

চাঁদ কেটেছেন ব্লেড দিয়ে

গলার স্বরে তুফান ওঠে

তুফান থামান গান দিয়ে।

মন  নাকি খারাপ হয়

শীতকালও নাকি রাগ করে

কোহেন এর নাম প্ল্যাটফর্ম  লেখা

সুইসাইড  তার নাম জানে।

নদীর স্রোতে ভাসে পালক

রাতের  নাকি বাঁধ ভাঙে

কবিতারা নাকি আজও মাতাল

লেনার্ড কোহেন এর নাম ধরে।

 -Sayan Aich

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Leonard Cohen and the Name-of-the-Father

“I asked my father,
I said, ‘Father, change my name!’
The one I’m using now, it’s covered up
With fear, and filth, and cowardice and shame.”
– Lover Lover Lover
To look at Leonard Cohen’s music and poetry is to look at a tapestry of themes and recurrent preoccupations. Volumes upon volumes of articles have been written, interviews have been conducted, and statements have been offered by generations of inspired songwriters about Cohen’s treatment of religion, of love, of politics, of sexuality, and of a number of other issues that his lyric has often engaged with. One recurrent theme that has haunted this beautiful man since the first conceptions of his poetry, though, has been the image of his father. This article offers a brief discussion of that, in the hope that this would perhaps open up room for more enriching dialogue in this context.
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Traditionally, the eldest son in the Cohen family would be given a name whose initial letter was ‘L.’ Leonard’s great-grandfather, who first emigrated to Canada when she was still a young country (only two years after the independence), was named Lazarus. His eldest son was likewise christened Lyon. Our own songwriter, being the firstborn son himself (preceded only by an elder sister, Esther), was of course named Leonard. However, in a peculiar breach of tradition, Lyon named his eldest son Nathan, while the ‘L’-name was graciously bestowed upon a younger child, Lawrence. As to why Lyon Cohen chose to break with family tradition, one can only guess. However, in the context of inheritance, or rather, a perceived denial of the same, this aberration in the tradition of naming was perhaps a strange foreshadowing.
Passionately Jewish and fiercely nationalistic, Lyon Cohen was one was the most important members of the early Jewish community in Montreal, Canada. He staunchly believed in the value of loyalty, and urged his sons Horace and Nathan to go fight in the war for “the land, the country, and the king” (Lawerence, too young at the time, was thankfully spared the experience). Horace came home in one piece, but Nathan was not so lucky. He returned to Montreal a cripple, and his ailment would haunt him, body and mind, for the rest of his life. Leonard’s cynical, somewhat disillusioned songs on war perhaps find some matter in this experience of his father’s.
“I fought in the old revolution
On the side of the ghost and the king.
Of course I was very young,
And I thought that we were winning.
I can’t pretend I still fell very much like singing
As they carry the bodies away,
Into this furnace I ask you now to venture,
You who I cannot betray.”
Old Revolution
Nathan’s disability kept him bedridden for months at a time. As a result, most of the responsibility of running the Cohen family was taken up by his wife Masha Klinitsky-Klein. It was Masha that the two eldest children, Esther and Leonard, grew closest to in their early years. This does not mean, of course, that Leonard had nothing to do with his father. The two of them would sometimes speak; of history, of literature, of the Jewish identity. The first person our young songwriter witnessed playing a guitar and singing was a friend of Nathan’s; a gentleman who worked for a Canadian worker’s union. Many years later, Cohen would jokingly comment in an interview that in those days, only communists played the guitar.
Nathan had always been a quiet man, reticent and thoughtful despite the flourishing business his family owned. This unassuming nature of his, coupled with his disability, ensured that the immense responsibility of handling his family’s business was not handed to him. His brothers, Horace and Lawrence, were the social and public faces of the Cohen family business, to Nathan went the far less colourful duty of supervising the factory. It doesn’t seem, though, that Nathan was particularly unhappy about this arrangement, the workers at the factory were reasonably fond of the quiet, unassuming man, and they got along well.
Although Judaism is thankfully devoid of the disturbing caste system that certain faiths allow, traditionally the ‘Cohens’ are the priests of the community. They have the honour of the leading their peers into prayer, into songs of faith. Traditionally, the firstborn son of the Cohen family is the recipient of this honour, but Nathan, as I mentioned, was never really considered the eldest in the family despite his status as firstborn. Did this raise certain inescapable questions for Leonard, who had been brought up surrounded by the images, structures, and even rigours of Judaism? If the father is denied his role as firstborn, where does that leave the son, HIS own firstborn? Have the uncles, then, usurped the father’s designated role in their own personal history? And if they have, where does Leonard stand in the bewildering expanse of that history? His poetry, as his songs, has often shouldered the weight of such questions.
“Besides the brassworks my uncle grows sad,
Discharging men to meet the various crises.
He is disturbed by greatness
And may write a book.
My father died among old sewing machines,
Echo of bridges and water in his hand.
I have his leather books now,
And startle at each uncut page.”
– Spice Box of the Earth
Elsewhere in his poetry, Cohen has returned to this moment of loss, the particular instance of his father’s death, with even greater urgency.
“Bearing gifts of flowers and sweet nuts
The family came to watch the eldest son,
My father.
And stood about his bed
While he lay on a blood-sopped pillow,
His heart half-rotted,
And his throat dry with regret.
And it seemed so obvious, the smell so present,
Quiet so necessary,
But my uncles prophesied wildly,
Promising life like frantic oracles;
And they had only stopped in the morning,
After he had died,
And I had begun to shout.”
 Let Us Compare Mythologies
His uncles, of course, had become captains of the Cohen family ship even before Nathan’s death, and Leonard sees himself inheriting little more than his father’s “leather books” in his passing. Of course, neither of Leonard’s uncles resembled the archetypal evil, usurping Claudius of folk and romance literature. Lawrence, in particular, was gracious and very concerned about Leonard’s future. He decided to sponsor Leonard’s education at the MacGill University when the latter failed to secure a scholarship. And yet, a peculiar grief and anger has haunted Leonard throughout most of his life; why did his father not explain to him what role he was inheriting from him? Why did he leave him, above all, confused?
I believe Leonard could never quite put a finger on who his father really was. In the structured hierarchy of his Jewish family, his father’s position was always precarious, and this lack of coherence has offered Leonard question after question which he has often attempted to answer in his literature. In the first novel of his career, The Favourite Game, Leonard Cohen asks himself this question. Even in deeply personal questions of his own identity, his own position, he asks, “why was my father’s pain so involved?” In Leonard’s eyes, Nathan’s image was never quite clear. And this urged him, time and again, to try and reach out to his father through a variety of familiar images by which he sought to define him; the image of Jesus Christ, the image of the forsaken soldier, the image of Abraham.
“The door it opened slowly,
My father he came in,
I was nine years old.
And he stood so tall above me,
His blue eyes they were shining,
And his voice was very cold.
He said, “I’ve had a vision,
And you know I’m strong and holy,
I must do what I’ve been told.”
So he started up the mountain,
I was running, he was walking,
And his axe was made of gold.”
– Story of Isaac
Nathan, the firstborn Cohen, was still denied of his traditional responsibility to be the priest of the community, as Leonard perceived it. And, as Clive Rawlins asks in a comprehensive biography of Leonard’s, “When the priest cannot function as a priest, is he bound to become prophet?
-Kabir Chattopadhyay

Leonard Cohen : In Memoriam

অক্টোবর ২২, ২০১৬

(কোহেনের শেষ অ্যালবাম শুনে)

Leonard-Cohen-leonard-cohen-5540907-1600-1200-1024x768.jpg

 

লিওনার্ড কোহেন আমার কাছে ব্যক্তিগতভাবে ডিলানের চাইতে বেশি আপন (আহা, এই মোহনবাগান-ইস্টবেঙ্গল বাইনারিটিতে বোধহয় শুধু বাঙালিরা দুষ্ট নয়) যেভাবে জঁ-লুক গোদার আমার কাছে অনেক বেশি আপন তিনিও পৃথিবীর শ্রেষ্ঠতম চলচ্চিত্রকার না হলেও। না গোদার শ্রেষ্ঠতম নন, তিনি অনেকক্ষেত্রে মুখ থুবড়ে পড়েন, কিন্তু সেজন্যই তো, সিনেমাকে তার সীমানা থেকে পেরিয়ে নিয়ে যেতে হয়ই কান টেনে, ঘাড় ধরে – না হলে সিনেমা ব্যক্তিগত বা অভিপ্রেতর কাছাকাছি যাবে কি করে? আমার কাছে আশি পেরোনো গোদার এখন – আসলে চিরকালই – আবেগসর্বস্ব মানুষ, যার নিজের আবেগকেই সম্মুখীন হওয়ার ভয়ে মেধার দেয়াল তৈরি করেন। ভাগ্যিস করেন, নাহলে সিনেমার সবচেয়ে সাহসী নিরীক্ষাগুলো আমরা দেখতে পেতাম না (খুব কম লোকেরই সে সাহস আছে, কনসিস্টেন্টলি নিরীক্ষা করার) – আশিতেও তরুণতম থাকতেন না।

লিওনার্ড কোহেনের আশি পেরিয়েও সেই ভয় নেই, নিজের আবেগের সম্মুখীন হওয়ার। সে তো তিনি শুরু থেকেই হয়ে আসছেন। পৌরুষকে, সত্ত্বাকে নির্মমতম এক্স-রে’র রশ্মিতে যদি কেউ ঝাঁঝরা করতে জানেন তার নাম লিওনার্ড কোহেন – যার কঙ্কাল তার কাব্যের মত নিরাবরণ ও সুন্দর। তিনি নিজের আবেগের, ভঙ্গুর অস্তিত্বের মুখোমুখি দাঁড়ান যেভাবে জনশুন্য ওয়াইল্ড ওয়েস্ট টাউনের পথের দুপ্রান্তে ডুয়েলে প্রতিদ্বন্ধ্বীরা। তিনি জানেন তার ভঙ্গুর অস্তিত্ব আগে হোলস্টারমুক্ত করবে রিভলবার, অথচ তিনিই বিদ্যুতগতিতে হবেন অব্যর্থ। নিজের আবেগের লাস পেরিয়ে যাবেন তিনি, নিজের অস্তিত্ত্বের লাসের দিকে এক লহমা তাকিয়ে টুপিটা খুলে নেবেন। কোহেনকে আবেগ থেকে নিজেকে রক্ষা করার জন্য মেধার দেয়াল তৈরি করতে হয়না। তার গন্তব্য আবেগ থেকে নিরাবেগের দিকে।

You Want it Darker সেই মৃত্যুপরবর্তী নিরাবেগ নিরাসক্তিতে আচ্ছন্ন। সেই কবে Tower of Song-এ নিজের সার্টিফিকেট লিখেছিলেন তিনি I was born like this, I had no choice, I was born with the gift of a golden voice, এই অ্যালবামে নিজেকে নিয়ে সেরকম appraisal নেই। কবিত্ব বা গান নিয়ে কোনো ফিরে দ্যাখা নেই – এই অ্যালবামে এক নতুন প্রতিদ্বন্ধী, নতুন প্রেমিকা, নতুন সম্রাট, নতুন আততায়ীর সাথে তার মোলাকাত।

একবার মনে হবে তার নাম মৃত্যু, একবার মনে হবে ঈশ্বর – আসলে দুইজনেই – আবার আসলে তিনি নিজেও, আসলে এই মৃত্যুরূপী, ঈশ্বরপ্রতিম, নিকটতম আগন্তুক তিনি নিজেই। অর্থাৎ, আবার রাস্তার দুধারে হোলস্টারে রিভলবার নিয়ে দুইজন দাঁড়িয়ে – কবি ও কবির ভঙ্গুর অস্তিত্ব। শুধু এইবার অস্তিত্ব কবির হৃদয়ে অন্তিম বুলেটটি পাঠিয়ে দেবেন, তারপর দায়হীন, নিরালম্ব, হালকা, মুক্ত অস্তিত্ব – যার রিভলবারে একটি বুলেটই ছিল – কবির রিভলবারটি পরম আদরে তুলে নেবে। যেখানেও একটিই বুলেট অবশিষ্ট থাকার কথা। আততায়ীর আর কাউকে হত্যা করার নেই।

তারপর সেই বুলেটের সামনে গানের অপারে, কবিতার অপারে গিয়ে সেই অস্তিত্ত্ব বসবেন, আর বলবেন – তার কন্ঠে সুর অনেকদিনই বিগত, তার অমোঘ ব্যারিটোনে এখন নিটোল উচ্চারণ শুধু –

I’m sorry for the ghost I made you be

Only one of us was real – and that was me.

 

নভেম্বর ১১, ২০১৬

(কোহেনের তিরোধানের পর)

বলেছিলেন, গায়কের মৃত্যু অবধারিত – the singer must die – অথবা, মৃত্যু দন্ডিত হয় তার। কাল যার মৃত্যু হল, তাকে কেউ দন্ডিত করেনি। ইউএসএ-তে ডেমোক্রেসি এলো, তখন চলে গেলেন একজন – আমেরিকাতেই। তিনি ফেরারী হলেন।

কবির মৃত্যু হয়। ফুরিয়ে যাওয়া শিরা থেকে নিংড়ে নেওয়া এক একটি শব্দ বেরোলে মৃত্যু তো হওয়ারই কথা। এক একটা শব্দ বসতো রক্তের ফোটার মত – অমোঘ, অথচ শিশিরের মত ছেনালি তার, রোদ উঠলে উবে যাওয়ার হুমকি। সে সব শব্দ, ফেরারী হল।

সে তো কবির কথা। রিক্ত ভক্ত কি নিয়ে থাকবে? অশ্লীলের হুংকারে, ক্ষমতার ভাষার এ কোন কোলাহলে রেখে গেলে – কবি আমার? ঈশ্বর আমার?

সুর তো কন্ঠ থেকে কবে থেকেই ফেরারী হচ্ছিল, খান দেড়েক নোট লাগতো কন্ঠে। সেই কবে থেকেই তো কিন্নরীদের ভাঙা কাঁচের মত রিনরিন তাকে ঠেকনা দিয়ে রাখতো, যেভাবে কবিকে ধারণ করে রেখেছিলেন তার আজীবনের সঙ্গিনীরা। গায়ক যখন বৃদ্ধতর, তখন লিওনার্ড কোহেন ছিলেন শুধু উচ্চারণ, উচ্চারণই অস্তিত্ব।

অমোঘ ব্যারিটোন! যেভাবে তিনি ‘নেকেড’ বলতেন স্বেচ্ছায় নারীরা বসন খুলে দিতেন সেই কন্ঠ দেখবে বলে; যেভাবে তিনি ‘লর্ড’ বলতেন ঈশ্বর স্থানু হয়ে যেতেন নতজানু সেই কন্ঠের সামনে; যেভাবে তিনি ‘লাভার’ বলতেন আনমনাদের মাথা ঘুরে যেত সেই ডাকের দিকে। তার কন্ঠ, উচ্চারণ – অস্তিত্ত্ব হয়ে যেত শব্দময়। অস্তিত্ত্ব ফেরারী হল।

রিক্ত জীবিত এই রক্তময় বধিরতায় কি নিয়ে থাকবে – চিরজীবিত আমার? প্রেমিক আমার?

গানের আড়ালে রগড় শোনা যায়। যেতাম না – তিনি বলেন – বন্ধ হয়ে গেল যে সরাইখানা? বারটেন্ডার আরেক পেগ দিলে কি নিতাম না? মহিলা যদি আরেকটি কলি শুনতে চাইতেন, কপটে বলতেন সেরকম হয়নি – বাঁধতাম না আবার? ‘সেরকম’ই তো খুঁজে চলেছি। স্যাক্সোফোনিস্ট যদি বলতেন পর্দা মিলছে না – গলা খাকরিয়ে চেষ্টা করতাম না ফের? কিভাবে যাবো? গত কত দশক ধরেই তো প্রতি মুহূর্তে নাগরিক কোনো নিরালায় কোনো এক শ্রান্ত নারী বলতো – লিওনার্ড, যেখানেই থাকো, বলো – নেকেড, লর্ড, লাভার – এক পল’ও বিরাম পাইনি; আদেশ দিলে বিরাম হারাম হয় না কন্ঠের ক্রীতদাসের? কিভাবে যাবো? যদি একটি’ও মুহূর্ত আসে, যখন কোথাও, কোনো নাগরিক নারী নিরালায় বলছেনা – কোহেন, বলো … এক দন্ড, দু’দন্ড দেখে চলে তো যেতেই হবে যদি তারা অন্যরকম আনমনা হয়। এক লহমায় তাই হল কি? প্রেমিক ফেরারী হল।

রিক্ত পুরুষ হয়ে, আপনার উচ্চারণের অযোগ্য আকাঙ্খী নিমিত্ত হয়ে, লিওনার্ড হেটেরো ফাকার কোহেন – কি নিয়ে থাকবো তাহলে? এ কোন অতৃপ্তের কামনার বাজারে রেখে গেলে – পুরুষ আমার? বৃদ্ধ আমার? ম্যানহাটান নেওয়ার কথা ছিল, বার্লিনও।

ফিসফিস করে বলেন কোহেন – এ তোমাদের আজব ভ্রম! কাকে ফিরিয়েছি? সঙ্গিনীকে নিয়ে গান বেঁধেছি, তুমি গান হয়ে ওঠোনা কেন তাদের? নারীই ঈশ্বর, ঈশ্বরই ভালোবাসা, ভালোবাসাই মৃত্যুসমান। সভ্যতার গায়ে ফর্মালডিহাইডের গন্ধ, জ্যাজ ক্লাবে শেষ বুগি নাইট – বাইরে প্রস্তুত সশস্ত্র সেনানী – তোমার জন্য দ্বার বন্ধ আছে কি? এসো। সংরক্ষিত লাসের রাসায়নিক গন্ধের শরীরগুলো বাইরে নিথর; তৃপ্ত রমনের, শ্রান্ত নৃত্যের ঘামের গন্ধ ওরা সহ্য করতে পারেনা – তাও ওরা নিথর বাইরে, আদেশের আগে বুলেট ছুটবেনা। তাতে কি শেষ ওয়ালৎজ বন্ধ আছে ভেতরে? এই যে বৃদ্ধ রসিক তাদের মৃত্যুভয় জয় করার গান শোনাচ্ছে, যে গায়ক দন্ডিত – তোমার পৌরুষ কি তা শোনার অন্তরায়? কে বলেছে তোমার জন্য গাইনা? স্বয়ংক্রীয় আগ্নেয়াস্ত্র নিয়ে সেইসব সেনানী আদেশ পেলে গেটক্র্যাশ করবে, অথচ স্বয়ংক্রীয় নয় তাদের শরীর, তোমার শরীরে তো নাচ হয়? মুক্ত হওনা কেন তা’লে?

সৈন্য অপারেশন শেষ হলে দেখবে সভ্যতার আন্ডারগ্রাউন্ড জ্যাজক্লাবে কোনো কোহেনের লাস নেই। কোহেন ফেরারী।

এ কোন নির্বান্ধবে রিক্ত করে গেলে, বন্ধু আমার? বৃদ্ধ ব্যারিটোন ফিসফিস করে বলে – কিন্নরীরা যখন রিফ্রেন গাইছেন বাতাসে – নিকটতম স্পর্শ খোঁজো, নিকটতম শ্বাস, এখনো চুম্বন বাকি হাজার হাজার!

 

-অনিন্দ্য সেনগুপ্ত

Memory and Tradition

 

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One of the very first memories I have of Jagadhatri Pujo at my paternal home is of an evening the idol had arrived. We were sitting and making decorations for the festivities. A phone call came. And the news of my 13 year old student’s death was transpired. The other bit of memory that I have is that of a very difficult discussion that took place between me and my parents about why a girl shouldn’t be allowed to become the representative of the family as part of the rituals.

In the seeming inertia of memory there is much movement. The coniferous tree reproduces by cones and depends on the movement of the wind and insects to catalyse the process. In the absurdity of remaining evergreen, life cycle keeps happening. There is motion in the inertia of colours. Similarly, memory is an active agent in our lives. It is not only an event, a thing, or an emotion that happened in the past. The reality of the past is sieved through time and the essence of memory becomes that of longing. In keeping with the polyphonic dimensions of memory and time, neuroscientists now believe that every time a memory is recalled, it changes. That makes it fallible and false memories may be things we should start to acknowledge. The best part of memory being mouldable is that it leads us to art and craft. The act of creating an art transpires the true story to it. In the act of writing this piece, I try to capture the memory of a household soaked in tradition as much as I want to harness the self as the carrier of such memory.

***

In addition to the joy that the pujo inadvertently brings, the memory of the 13 year old student of mine never leaves the mind. He was a tall, dark boy with bright, mischievous eyes. He used to study history with me. His life ended in an accident, when he fell off from a moving bus and suffered haemorrhages in the brain. Jagadhatri pujo brings back the image of the swelling in his head wrapped in neat turns of white bandage. I never went to visit him in the hospital.

The difficult conversation that I had earlier mentioned is another recurrence that Jagadhatri pujo brings every year. My memory of the incident is vague but I do remember the point of difference that we perched on. In our conservative Brahmin family, questioning was never the preferred mode of functioning. And boy I did have a lot of questions! It was paramount for me to ask the difficult questions no matter the outcome. And so I did. In the given circumstances, I believed my family was prejudiced against the female and I shared my opinion unhindered. Every pujo of the goddess is still a celebration of the female for me on the one hand, and on the other, a reminder of the limitations of the female body.

Questions about the purity and the celebration of the body have been areas of concern growing up in that conservative Brahmin household. The sense of awareness of the body has increased over the years,  partially due to yoga. However, it is with my recent Tai chi experiences, that I have increasingly become aware of the body as a container of the energy, the qi. This awareness now extends to involve the energy around me as well. Something perceived as a negative emotion or physical ailment is starting to look like the workings of the energy.

The building of memory is like an exercise with energy. It can be an active process to build negative events with a positive tenor of the mind, thus channelling the energy. This makes the press and the push of the Ying and the Yang a very credible thing.

***

Immunity of the mind is called resilience. It is the quality of the subject to spring back into life even after setbacks. What does resilience do to memory building, I often wonder? Since memory is like a fiction, with every retelling a part is added or deleted, does resilience impact memory creation? The retelling of the death of that 13 year old student of mine somehow has not been able to decrease the grief of his death or the guilt of not visiting him in the hospital. But what the years have done is to gradually fade the memory of his face, to the extent that I think of his face as a living person’s face.

Does that even make any sense?

***

An orthodox family knits tradition to keep the semblance of order unquestioned. Joy joins in the ranks of order unaccountably. It is like the breeze-aspired weeping willows. In the momentum of the wind, the tree finds a freedom that was uncalculated and undocumented. In the web of traditional rites and rituals, the joy of working together, sharing an event slowly gather importance. And the definition of tradition shifts from being an oppressive act to an act of benevolence. The Jagadhatri pujo in my paternal house has somehow crossed the line and is now a celebration of togetherness as much as it is the worship of a goddess.

***

It is ironical maybe that an event that had seemed problematic, identity-wise, given that my parents and I harbour very different opinions about the role of the female in the ritual of the pujo, is the cause of depression a decade later. What is it that makes a family pujo a matter worthy of causing depression? Is it the rites and rituals that give a sense of discipline and calm? Or, is it the act of meeting family and friends that is missed?

I come to the honest confession that it is neither. It is the sense of being part of a tradition that espouses togetherness and hence bestows upon postmodern souls like this Grazer a distant but crisp sense of rootedness. It is an idea that memory, immunised from time, befruchten.( “Befruchten” is a german word that means to fertilise, not only in the sense of conception of a child, or a fruit, but also in the sense of bearing energy.)

 -Susmita Paul

 

A Haunting

A list is haunting the Indian academia. The list of Raya Sarkar. What she has done is to create a virtual hall of shame for Indian academics accused of sexually harassing students and colleagues. As the list demonstrates, some of the offenders are known and have already been penalised while others have neither been formally charged nor held guilty. While objections have been raised regarding the authenticity of anonymous accusations and the ethics behind them, reports have also come to light of offensive behaviour, by certain individuals on the list, which were not available in the public domain in the past. Raya Sarkar has also claimed that each individual name included on the list is based on screenshots, first-person accounts and other credible information provided either by the victims or by their close friends. While it is true that the readers should have had access to the information provided to make up their own minds, one also understands how such revelations might endanger the victims even further and that they may be subjected to legal, social and professional ostracization and subjugation. The list will not bring about institutional redress for the victims, but it might warn future students and scholars which in itself would be a notable achievement. However, in a world of constant digital manipulation of all kind of data, especially images, how does one become sure of the validity of the evidence Raya Sarkar claims to have in her possession? Is it too much to imagine that some people might just be making capital of other people’s trauma to satisfy their own malicious intentions? What to do about the reputations of these men who might thus be falsely accused? The overwhelming support Sarkar has received of course suggests that her initiative lends voice to the silenced trauma that many women, across time and space, have experienced within the walls of Indian academia without much hope for justice. And it is also true that academics across the country, especially in institutions which have had several of their faculty members mentioned in the list, are also showing signs of modified behaviour, with even hesitant declarations of apologies and amends. Some of the accused who have come out in denial have also had their hypocrisy exposed by other women who have been emboldened by the list to openly declare the instances of harassment which they witnessed or experienced.

Unfortunately, the publication of the list was also followed by its denouncement by a group of feminists on the online platform Kaafila which went on to spark an even greater controversy, especially with Raya Sarkar and her allies castigating their critics as advocates of Savarna Feminism. A movement that should essentially aim for broad-spectrum solidarity must not get mired in petty identitarian name calling or the demands to shut up or go away. Such fissures only strengthen the hegemonic order and weaken ongoing struggles for greater gendered justice within the academia. An anarchist list has its uses. But not at the expense of institutional measures which some of the feminists on other online platforms have been calling for, even though their call for the withdrawal of the list smacks of arrogant myopia and ignores the emotional salve it has been able to provide, to many women who have been victims of sexual harassment. During our time in Presidency College, we often came across or shouted a slogan: “When order is injustice, disorder is the beginning of justice”. The operative word from Rolland’s famous remark is ‘beginning’. The list might be seen as a beginning and not an end in itself. But if the process initiated by the list is to successfully continue, one needs utmost solidarity among people who seek to end violence, harassment or discrimination based on gender and sexuality, without privileging other determinants of individual identity such as caste, class or religion.

What is also agonizing is what the list and surrounding debates reveal about the nature of the Indian academia. Many of us have grown up hearing whispers and rumours of such behaviour, even though I have never come across definitive allegations or evidences of sexual misconduct. But what if the rumours were true? I remember batchmates talking about one particular teacher who spent too much time patting the backs of favoured female students. There have been scholars who have talked about a male professor pressing their thighs as if to congratulate them. There was even a story about a teacher who had supposedly claimed that a poem was like the body of Bipasha Basu: the deeper you went the more pleasurable it was. While I was able to ignore and scoff at these rumours by supposing them to be the ridiculous actions of gross old men, I am sure the female students did not feel the same. Incidentally none of those names are yet in the list which suggests that the problem is more pervasive than the 70 names on the list suggest. I cannot report any of these names as not only are they powerful but I have no evidence to back up my claims, especially since I only heard these reports from other male students and not even from supposed victims of these predatory actions. It is this shroud of silence and fear and shame that the list has perhaps managed to partially lift. After all, subaltern knowledge often eludes official archives and their due processes,

But what does this suggest about the academic world to belong to which we had worked so hard, with such idealistic passion? It is of course foolish to think that the maladies affecting the rest of the society will somehow not affect the academia. Far from it. But there is a difference between isolated cases of wrongdoing and systemic problems. And what the list, irrespective of its accuracy or lack of it, seems to hint at is a systemic problem which will further degrade the popular perception of the intelligentsia and the nature and significance of academic research. When the pioneers of retrieving subalterns from their shadows are seen as agents of subalternisation, disillusionment and apathy are inevitable. In our country, at this particular moment, there is a concentrated attempt to disparage rationality, intellectual vigour and the pursuit of truth to champion, bigotry, sycophancy and submission through verbal and physical violence. This is the time when we needed our academics the most so that the leading lights of academia could set examples of just action and behaviour so that the public could strive to extricate itself from the miasma of abusive, chest-thumping howls of division and hatred that are threatening the very fibre of our idea of India. Instead we have found ourselves mired in these lists, allegations and counter-allegations while the yogis, the gau-rakshaks, the bajrangis and their other cohorts prepare further assaults against all that we hold dear.

Disagreement should never put an end to dialogue. The compilers of the list and those who are sceptical of its efficacy should learn to listen to each other so that the kind of gendered justice they all seek can be collectively fought for, a fight that also needs to include other male academics who have neither practised nor condone the predatory activities of which some of their colleagues have been accused. It is only by forging networks of solidarity that are mindful of our specific limitations and cognizant of what we need to learn from others that we might together seek to thwart the quasi-fascist forces that are raving and raging across the land. In the name of Gauri Lankesh, M.M. Kalburgi, Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare, Pehlu Khan, Akhlaq Ahmed, Nirbhaya and other martyrs of our time, can we dare to try? I think we must.

NAVIGATING FEMININITY THROUGH THE OTHER

A couple of months ago, I took an erratic and impulsive decision of accepting my friend Joe’s invitation to go to Nepal. This invitation and decision, both came in the wake of my personal struggle of dealing with and overcoming the horrors of being sexually molested by someone I considered a friend, some months ago. The horrors came with night-time terrors and day-time scrutiny of who I was, how I had been affected and how to navigate this sea of disdain I had slowly come to associate daily life with.

After making a short trip to Darjeeling, I returned to the city and immediately accepted my friend’s offer.

Joe is a professor in the Department of Politics, Philosophy and Education at the Asian University for Women in Chittagong, Bangladesh. He was going to stay in Nepal for a couple of months to brush up on Tibetan and excel in translations. Meanwhile, he opened his home to me, another one of his friends from Mumbai and his girlfriend from the Philippines. He had this idea of the four of us co-existing together for a brief while, focusing on our individual art and at the end of the day huddling together over wine to essentially engage in either discourses or nonsense banter- whichever the night demanded. Soon after I reached, we settled into a beautiful routine where it seemed like we had the perfect household and the perfect members to live with in peace.

Generally, Joe would be off all day attending translation classes and was not to be seen before evening. Prajna, the friend from Mumbai, a prolific woman with a wide knowledge and an impeccable taste in music and art, would mostly be off exploring places in and around Kathmandu.

That would leave Joe’s girlfriend and me spending a lot of time together, both too lazy to venture out, too poetic to not capture our thoughts into words while in bed and both too much in love with a good glass of rum- she much more than I!

Lola and I had only briefly met one evening, several months before this, during her trip to Calcutta with Joe. That evening we went to this “hip” joint called The Xrong Place, which I used to frequent once but slowly the attraction dwindled. When I had learned that Joe, Lola and a couple of other friends were drinking there, I swiftly made my way across town to give them a hug and share a drink.

In the course of that evening, what followed was unfortunate, infuriating and just a soddy reflection of the society that we are. A middle aged man kept eyeing Lola and when it became a little apparent that she may be trans, he started taking an intrusive and almost offensive interest in her- which led to Joe and the man getting into an altercation,even exchanging a few blows. The situation turned ugly when the pub people refused to evict this creepy and offensive man, rather wanting the foreigners to adjust, forgive and forget.

I’m not even going to go into the trope of the Irish man getting into bar fights scenario here, but what stayed with me from that evening was Lola’s infectious matter-of-fact dismissal of the man and his lecherous ways. It was at once both very feminine, yet had an archetypal sense of masculine power in the way she handled herself and Joe that evening. Not to mention the brief moments I could steal with her to speak of my then obsession, Nabokov’s Lolita, which I was incorporating into a play. It’s no coincidence that I met a Lola on the path of discovering another.

I knew, hence, that spending time with Lola in Nepal, would be enriching in more ways than one. If not enriching, certainly intoxicating, given her fervent love for her rum and my love for a glass of the same, every now and then!

In the afternoons, after our lazy breakfast making rituals, when we’d lay out in the balcony with a cigarette, a peg and a basket full of thoughts, I would often pose various questions to Lola, looking to her as this sister in arms, possessor of worldly knowledge of which I yearned for a taste. And she would rarely disappoint.

Everyone in that household was elder to me, except Lola who was just right. She was in her late twenties and was the closest to my age group which helped me open up without the fear of judgements with respect to my ignorance on so many things as opposed to the vast knowledge of highly accomplished people like Joe and Prajna.

She was the first trans-woman I had had the privilege of being close to and I knew this could help outline a lot of my ideas and notions regarding trans-sexuality, womanhood and the concept of transitioning itself. And thankfully, it did.

One of my earliest and the most endearing struggle I ever faced while “discovering” and charting my womanhood was my constant sense of duality. I was too sensitive and in tune with my emotions, hence too feminine, for my male friends to completely identify with my thoughts whereas I was too masculine in my day to day approach to life for my female friends to be completely understanding of my actions.

This is a phenomenon I have had the unfortunate luck of experiencing in almost all spheres of life, even today. The concept of a higher, wholesome and the most exemplary form of femininity was just an ideal- a social construct perhaps but an ideal nonetheless.

I had never had the comfort of being fully understood, until Lola, that is.

When  Lola would vaguely and sometimes in vivid details take me on a trip into her experiences of being a woman- acting, thinking and even dressing like one- I would feel like I could finally connect to that duality that exists within me without in anyway infringing on my identity of being feminine.

She once told me how back in her homeland, femininity or womanhood was largely prescribed in terms of one’s practical performances in the sphere of day to day life. It’s considered in terms of one’s performativity more often than not. Lola mentioned how her being drawn to cooking, staying home and taking care of the family was a major factor in her early moments of navigating the femininity. At the same time, a lot of her habits and traits were not considered to be the perfect depiction of the “ideal femininity” that she at one point struggled with.

For me, she is very close to my idea of femininity, perhaps because she resonates most with my internal duality which manifests itself in myriad manners.

I have reflected a lot on the phenomenon of trans-phobia and the historically rampant “Othering” and violence that has been meted out against the trans-community. A lot of people try to define it as a pathology whereas others call it plain and simple hate. And not to forget the vehement ideals of trans-womanhood itself that can be extremely bothersome and frightfully harmful.

In my conversations with Lola, I came to discover the inherent discriminations that exist between a lot of trans-women themselves. And these same discriminations are echoed more profusely within the cis-het majority, which really reflects little to no understanding, or rather a very flawed understanding of womanhood in itself.

Apparently, a lot of trans-women judge one another regarding “incomplete” transition. This in itself, I believe, defeats the whole process of accepting the identity one is attuned to irrespective of how they are born. If the concept of femininity is largely defined by our bodies then where exactly does the mind and its feelings and intuitions come in to act as a larger indicator of femininity?

I believe Trans-women are an example of how understanding femininity requires a broader perspective that defies just the rudimentary divisions of body, its organs and its relation to our mind.

When I see Lola dress up and head out, or cook for everyone or simply put on some lipstick and pose for the camera, I don’t see the social constructs of femininity within me being projected on to her in a systematic manner to help me identify her as a woman. She is as much a woman to me when she curses, is unruly, drinks like a sailor or takes charge or for that matter, how she uses the fucking bathroom!

To the trans-phobic, Othering trans-women becomes easy when their transitions are not complete because it gives them a card to call out on the disconnect between their body and their mind, relegating them to being pathological and in one single breath even perpetuate ridiculous stereotypes or notions to solidify a ground for mind-numbing hatred and singling out to oppress further within the patriarchal context.

In the face of such trying times, my only relief is in the search for the refined notions of femininity that is less about the superficial and superfluous demarcations and more about encompassing the concepts of the “Ideal Femininity” and its various rough edges and sides within everyday conversations thus, consistently refining, redefining and expanding at the same time.

In Joe’s recent book Trans*am- Cis Men and Trans Women in Love, he notes the experience of loving a trans woman as a cis het man and often refers to how it’s imperative to enlarge the conversation in a manner where the heteronormative ways of identifying as who we are do not inherently take precedence while talking about transamorous love. He writes :

                       “Cis men have largely devised and profited from the gendered economy of external validation in which the “Real Man” is the referential gold standard that sets terms for the “Real Woman,” and so many other fabricated metaphysical terms to label those who are Other, or less, than the “Really Real” (White) Man. While raking in the rewards of this economy, cis men are expected to be consistent, at least, and repose in our unassailable Manhood—a simple truth about reality—and imagine anything Other to be something with a significance relative only to their own.”

This same notion is so vital to keep in mind even as a cis het woman while engaging in conversations about our Othering of people who in theory, identify with her, so as to not alienate them from the discussion. This is one of the major drawbacks of modern day feminism when put to practice, and our systematic alienation of trans women, women of colour and of backward socio economic classes while engaging in day to day discourse.

May be when we expand our own vision of what it means to be a woman, only then can we reach out to the Other.

And only when we reach out to the Other, can we essentially understand, examine and even attempt to obliterate the archaic demarcations that keep us divided and ignorant about our own dualities of femininity and feminism as a whole.

– Navamita Chandra

(Originally published on Saintbrush)

Trans*am- Cis Men and Trans Women in Love by Joseph McClellan can be purchased here

Evening

Yamuna

 

In the dark night

I was going.

There was forest,

There was snake

There was swan

There was the music,

But I only remember

The night,

In which I was going.

 

That Window

 It was a north-faced one.

I didn’t have any other window

My home, my room was all but north.

The chilling cold dried my hair

It scorched my skin.

I shivered, for years as I didn’t have

The warm south.

And one day, as I decided to quit,

The window asked me,

“Is it you? Who’s left?”

 

The Light

Those dark horses don’t ply

In my prime I knew them

It wasn’t time, still, you and I

Waited to be longed for

Still, you and I…waited.

 

Days got older as our bird

And we got cold. Dear Lord,

We sickened together

until salvage came.

 

Dear Lord.

And Now, we see the light

at the end of the tunnel

The horses do go,

It is their prime.

-S Mukherjee

Projapoti Biskut

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At a time when the Bengali movie going public was torn between looking for an adventure atop the Mt. Everest Base camp (“Yeti Abhijaan “) or flying high inside an aircraft in peril( “Cockpit”) Projapoti Biskut appeared to saunter in with a breath of fresh air. I dare say hopes were raised both for a different aesthetic and commercially viable experience. The former because Anindya Chatterjee’s previous film, although pandering to the nostalgia of the long lost North Calcutta of the 90’s and the early 2000’s, had captured the somewhat bored and freely accepting whatever is served (read scene by scene remakes from films down south) on the silver screen. And the latter, as the production house of Shiboprosad Mukherjee and Nandita Roy do manage to churn out commercially successful films, no matter how much it reeks of middle-class Bengali compromise and sexism. But a man cannot live by hope alone. And although, the Box Office reports have hinted at adding wind to the sails, Projapoti Biskut is like the cookie, after it has been dipped in the tea too long.

Centring around a premise which has not seen too much exploration in the Bengali cinema circle, that of a young couple looking to start a family and for various reasons (be it the over-the-top timidity of the male protagonist Antar, or simply a lack of ” Netflix and Chill ” time) are unable to do so. Things to ponder upon: 1. Even though they have been married two and a half years and are relatively young (presuming being married for a longer period of time calls for heckling from members of the family to carry the family tree forward and the more practical issue of complications in pregnancy for women over 34), there seems to be a sudden uncalled for urgency in wanting to consummate their marriage. Hence, the visit to the Doctors and exploring options of IVF (quite the buzzword these days). 2. If you are expecting to see a sensitive issue being talked of/ spoken of for the first time, without the usual Censor Senguptas with a scissor in their hands, then think again. The film flatters to deceive.

Anindya Chatterjee, frontman of the Bangla Band Chandrabindoo, along with his band-mates Upal Sengupta and Chandril Bhattacharya, has been known to pen quirky lyrics, talking of urban sensibilities and sometimes urban insensibilities. Their lyrics are sarcastic and satirical, unearthing society’s obsession and idiosyncrasies with a surgeon’s precision. But satire is brilliant when subtle but not so when exaggerated and over the top. The captain of the ship, (the director) starts by placing the female (Shaon) protagonist in a familial set up, which is upper/ upper middle class, showing the done to death stereotypes of Tagore veneration in the household, a distaste for Popular Culture, and communist/ Marxist leaning (isn’t the sharing of the same ideological space by Marx and Tagore a bit problematic? One only wonders.) Other stereotypes are pandered to too, the most striking being the sketch of the male lead. Back in the 19th Century, when the British were consolidating their strangle hold on the Indian Terrain and subconscious, one of the ways was to create a binary, of the virile active British Male and the effeminate, lazy Indian counterparts (except the Sikhs and the Gorkhas of course). Their chosen targets were the Bengali “babus”, who were indolent, lazy, seen to be wasting time in luxury and privilege, not fit for any physical activities and hence the perfect fit for the “writers’” profile and thus the emergence of a particular class of individuals and government servants in the “Writers’ Building.” (For a detailed analysis, one may look up Colonial Masculinity by Mrinalini Sinha.)

Over the years, the stereotype has festered and taken up different forms, but the central core remains the same, that of the Bengali Man as a man of thought, words, a part of the intelligentsia but hardly a robust, active do-er. Our hero in peril, Antar is a caricature of this done to death perception. Hardly having an opinion of his own, a firm stand or say in matters of the office or the family, his character sketch is drawn, with the intention of making us laugh at ourselves, but where we end up only cringing at the exaggeration.

The problematics of the film deepen further. With a rift in marital harmony regarding a failed adoption attempt, Shaon returns to her parents. Having done so, she starts sporting a short hair-cut, undergoes a metamorphosis in terms of her apparel(The apparently more progressive Jeans replacing the Saree), and experimenting occasionally with alcohol and cigarettes, signifying a liberation of sorts which underlines the assumption that it is kind of impossible to portray a free thinking strong willed woman wearing traditional Indian/ ethnic wear and being a teetotaller. The case with our male lead is rather more baffling. In a world where Macho ( growing beard, beefing up the physique ) is the new cool, Antar goes clean shaven (reading too much into emasculation am I? ), starts wearing T shirts instead of the more formal attire and out of nowhere seems to acquire the confidence in speech, action and decision making that his previous self had been totally lacking. There is a very vague element of Amol Palekar of Choti Si Baat in this transformation, but if that was subtle, funny and heart warming, Projapoti Biskut fails to live up to the promise of that charm.

The film is slow in most parts. Except for a few witty exchanges, which are a trademark of the Anindya Chatterjee/ Upal Sengupta/ Chandril Bhattacharya stable, the film lacks a nuanced presentation of the issues, be it pregnancy , adoption or class and ideological conflicts within the familial, Bengali societal set up. Caricature or exaggeration works only to a certain degree. This “biskoot” (a very Bengali way of pronouncing ‘biscuit’) seems to have been dipped in froth.

-Sayan Aich Bhowmik

Revisiting Holmes:Empire and Its Falling Shadows in Arthur Conan Doyle’s Iconic Hero

It is often proclaimed by critics and theorists that there cannot be a specific demarcation between ages. There might be (and seems to be) a transitional phase between two apparently dominant literary, philosophical, social, political,cultural, psychological currents and then the stronger one takes over the weaker. Now, there might not be a specific date but sometimes one can really point out what in poetry is called a Volta: a turning point. In case of the Victorian and Modern age arguably that Volta is the publication date of On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin –24th November, 1859. This was the book in which we came to learn about the human evolution –from one-celled amoeba to the multi-celled, complex neurological entity called the human being. The book virtually demolished the age-old religious notion of a coherent unidimensional world with considerable organic collectivity propelled by the church.In this context, one could almost conclusively say that in one moment of epiphany the whole Victorian sense of the superior centrality coming down through the golden middle ages of trust and truth and collective well-being as explored in Everyman, Mankind and similar texts, was gone. From Morality to Materiality, it is a journey towards brokenness –a large and gigantic fluidity with essential dots of superfluous fragments of a shattered post-industrialization, post-neo-classical age of liberal ideas trying to gather its own bits and pieces and as the poet exclaims, against its own ruins.

sherlock-holmes

In our theoretical classes our professors used to teach us how the age of “heroes” have ended with an emerging concept of the principle character, the protagonist. From the miracle to the morbidity it was all about the cry for the passing one, an all-time ubisunt which eventually leads to a corresponding search for a counter-pointing. With the breaking of the grand narratives like God, Faith, and Morality in a post-Darwinian age, the claws and paws of dehumanised modernity revealed itself more than ever in its overwhelming mechanized machinations. It is interesting to find how through the Iconoclast Sleuth of Doyle, the broken empire shows its lurking shadows; how Sherlock becomes a face of the times forgotten, trying to fulfil the need for what a Jimmy Porter would call a ‘good cause’.

It is interesting to note that Doyle was born in the same year which stands as the age-defining year for the publication of Darwin’s book, 1859. So, technically being born in the post-God-made-thee era, Doyle’s perception of his time was mingled with a belief of the enlightenment, in the super-reality of the massive metier of the empire. The very name Sherlock brings to mind a superhuman deduction with God-like knowledge on multifarious aspects. On the contrary, in the introductory novel A Study in Scarlet Sherlock’s would-be life-long partner-cum-friend-cum-narrator Dr. Watson reveals his vast ignorance about facts generally held to be an insignia for post-18th Century ‘educated intellectuals’:

His ignorance was as remarkable as his knowledge. Of contemporary literature, philosophy and politics he appeared to know next to nothing. Upon my quoting Thomas Carlyle, he inquired in the naivest way who he might be and what he had done…

Sherlock, brother of an important empire-man does not only seem to be the super example of the construct of the Messiah for the distressed with all his larger–than–life ability to deduct and identify the real culprit but also the man who consciously detests the superficial sense of frugal prosperity.

Mycroft, the obese ‘government’ itself-man is the very representative of the centre that was losing its grasp on a world-wide scale. With the emergence of a broken generation on the advent of the Great War with insurgent colonies, with lowered values and higher need for mundane survival, the centre, as it is evident is able merely to give a vacant gaze at the ‘things’ while they fall apart. Sherlock’s intimacy with his new war-returned friend John Watson and his clear preference towards him over family deconstructs the idea that Mycroft symbolises – all that is of the empire, therefore, loftier and therefore important. With his unsocial confinement, his so called weird sense of the universe, man and nature, his lonely ruptures, his curious secrecy about himself and workings of his mind, Sherlock stands apart from being a mere white awe-inspiring Messiah. A nuance of a classical past, of those humanitarian substances in a virtual world of ‘superhuman inhumanities’(Owen- “Spring Offensive”) and made-up truths, his random and often outright condemnation of the present with all its scientific-geographical advancements might be considered as a comment upon the futility of the future to come. A sensitive man of the pro-war generation, Sherlock contains that potential, namely the cause of ‘being’, while the other half of the magic word remains,‘human.’

Probably, this was the reason for Sherlock’s provisional death as conjectured by Doyle –to be by a fall – a gigantic, tremendous and overwhelming fall that will shake the root of every adoring heart, the reverberation of which will last for ages –howling and haunting. Wondrous fact is that, the extent of the wailing of the devotees around every nook and corner was a little undermined by the author himself!

It is Holmes, who pointed out the threatening turbulent east and to strip it of its last residing, notion of the master. As a break from his bee-cultivation in the countryside to help his country with his espionage skill, he proclaimed it. And we see two old little buddies sitting side by side in an uncanny silhouette conversing while giving birth to the crucial prophesy that comes out of a Victorian viz-a-viz Modern bleeding heart, one final prolegomena off the platonic friendship.

In Thucydides’ Battle of Epipolae in his History of the Peloponnesian War, there is a passage on the confusion faced by the Athenians during a battle at night. Unable to distinguish friend and foe, the Athenians became panic-stricken and attacked their own people. The note of the melancholic that one could hear in the Stradivarius compositions of Holmes therefore goes beyond the personal; it virtually becomes an age-defying elegy on the loss of assurance, integrities and finally whatever stands for the humane. A more likely source could be the sermon of Cardinal Newman, ironically on the traditional day of Twelfth Night:

Controversy at least in this age does not lie between the hosts of heaven on the one side and the powers of evil on the other; but it is a sort of a night battle where each fights for himself and friend and foe stand together.(1839)

Instead of being the primeval saviour, the fairy-tale grand-narrative, Sherlock Holmes served as the metaphoric abode for the restless generations, a shelter at predicament, a psychological boost to the depressed empire, an ever-present solution to the impending unnamed complications –the last projection of a sane man probably who could sense the compromise in the prosperity, bring the ancient wisdom to meet newly found aspiration, distinguish friends and foes properly. He was the Hero, even at a failing time when Heroes were scarce; there was a character who is worth speaking of, adding whatever dignity is left off what Alan Kirby would call a pseudo modern or post truth world.

-Saranya Mukhopadhyay

Elle: The Cruel Dichotomy between Rape and its Illusion

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In this era of maddening rage regarding feminism, I wonder how Elle managed to slip through the clutches of radical feminists. Not only that it also managed to win the Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film and was premiered for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. The possible reason seems to be that Paul Verhoeven decided to shoot the film in Paris rather than USA.

Elle directed by Paul Verhoeven based on Philippe Dijan’s book Oh…. presented a reckless facet of chutzpah perfected by Isabelle Huppert playing the protagonist, Michele who is not only a victim but also an arch-manipulator of every one of the narrative scenarios of her sexual life.

Michele is the dynamic and attractive head cum co-founder of a successful videogame company. The other characters encompassing her in the movie are chaotic and twisted out of proportion. Her father was a mass murderer in jail for almost 20 years. Her mother, Irene, still an extremely lustful woman of 70’s. Michelle remains disturbingly normal and unmoved at their death and funeral.  She is mingled in an affair with Robert, the husband of her best friend, Anna and invents devilish ideas of humiliating the young girlfriend of her ex-husband, Richard.

 The movie opens with grunts and screams of assault. Michele is beaten and raped in her house by a masked intruder. She does not report the matter to the police due to the traumatic childhood memory of helping her father burn the evidences of his crime and the authorities barging in. The trial of her father is closely followed by the press and the photograph of a half-naked, eleven year old girl with “an empty stare” beside her psychopathic father is all that is stuck in people’s memories. Unwilling to be portrayed as the victim again, Michele trains herself in self defense activities- learns shooting, buys an axe and a lethal pepper spray and makes it a mission to identify her rapist.

 The plot of the movie takes an unprecedented turn when Michele’s rapist turns out to be Patrick, the handsome and charming neighbor. In spite of this devastating truth Michele enters into a dangerous sexual contract with her rapist. She extracts her revenge by delving into a horrifying experiment with her sexuality. Throughout the movie she lives with an eerie sense of detachment and denial; vehemently refusing to be the victim. The audience cannot find a single scene where she lets go of her poise and professional attitude except the only outburst she expresses when her idea is questioned by a subordinate at her workplace. She instigates Patrick into a second encounter. However, this time it happens with her permission and on her command. The leash of control never leaves her hand although Patrick is under the comic illusion that Michele is completely at his mercy. Her consent in these situations makes his satisfaction from violence void and he remains ignorant of this fact until his death in the hands of Vincent, Michele’s son. It is not very clear who calls the shots in these sexual scenarios between them but Michele’s snatching the upper hand in them is quite evident. Michele’s need to feel challenged outweighs her conscience.  During a conversation with her best friend, Anna she states, “Shame isn’t strong enough to stop us doing anything at all”. For her it became a quest for the more powerful and aggressive man who could level up to her dark fantasies unflinchingly and forced her to push the limits of her sexuality. There is no verbal evidence of Michele’s consent to the role play; her as the victim and Patrick as the violent assailant who is biologically unable to participate consensual sex. However, due to the element of simulation encased by Michele, the roles are reversed. Patrick arousal comes from her screams and inflicting pain upon her but is horrified when he discovers that Michele welcomes and enjoys the physical torment.

Though the movie ends on a happy note- the mending of the troubled relations in Michele’s life, to the immense surprise of the audience; it leaves behind a contradiction. The clear demarcation between rape and consensual sex becomes blurred. The movie forces its viewers to imagine and explore the darkest human emotions in an audacious yet artistic way. Semantics and ‘isms are teased apart in the movie. In my opinion it can hardly be categorized as a feminist movie.  It is what it is; an outrage of a courageous woman against the perpetrators of violence and trauma upon her.

The movie certainly breaks the cliché surrounding rape victims as depicted in books and films. It stands out in contrast with even the progressive films made in the rape genre in India; Lajja, Matrubhoomi, Damini or Pink. A common story strings the films of rape genre together; a woman harassed or raped, ostracized by family and society but eventually acquiring justice for herself or the victim. In Elle that whole aftermath is contradicted by Michele who is no doubt shaken by the experience but does not allow it to unhinge her accomplished life or her mind. She uses her rapist to her own advantage, gaining pleasure from the sexual power play and lets him bask in the delusion of him as the stronger one and in-charge of the contract. It is truly comical the way he is stripped of power in the hands of his victim.

Isabelle Huppert gave a very convincing performance as Michele-a strong, confident woman in command of every aspect of her life and the people who are part of it. Paul Verhoeven paid special attention to the intimate scenes of the movie which were explicit but not gruesome. The movie is a very important work as it portrays the reality that rape victims carry multitude of experiences and go through fundamental dichotomies. It mocks the practice of uniformity and confinement of all individual cases into an airtight compartment.

In light of the ongoing wave of eve-teasing and sexual abuse in India, Elle broadens the arena of revenge and outrage against perverts and rapists. The initial reaction to most sexual harassment cases in India is suppressing them and throttling the victims because not only charity but allowance of crime also begins at home.  Elle challenges and refutes the notion of victimhood and the hypocritical concept of chastity i.e. the presumption that victims, irrespective of gender, are stripped of dignity when they are sexually abused or assaulted. The film is a major initiative and makes the audience examine the dystopian paradoxes within the society and their selves.

– Sruti Purkait