The Corona Virus: Lessons for a Myopic People – A Discussion by Krishnamurari Mujherjee

The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has once again laid bare an undeniable Hobbesian truism: life was, is and always will be solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short. Although rapid advances in science and technology compel us to yearn for a day when we overcome death, and if not death, then certainly the confines of the Earth; the sudden genesis and proliferation of Covid-19 has made us starkly realise that our most audacious ambitions and pursuits are as precarious as a ship that finds itself in a stormy sea.

It has shown us that the social, cultural, religious, economic, and political structures and processes that animate our specific way of life are not beyond our own reach. It is we, who choose to keep them alive and functional; without our will (active or tacit), they would end up becoming relics fit for display in museums of a post-human world. The semblance of order, which we impose upon our daily lives, and the very real threat of everything being turned upside-down is essentially the reflection of our will or the lack of it.

A scientific invention will in all probability cure the Corona — as the experts keep saying, a possible vaccine is still about eighteen months away. In the meantime, there will be people who pass on, and ones who live to tell the tale. But, what would be the moral teaching of those stories? Would they only laud the indomitable human spirit? Or, would they simply sing paeans of the great leadership offered by our political and technocratic power elites?

Although such assessments would not be without complete merit, any sweeping victory parade would only be at our own peril. The life-transforming pandemic has called into question almost everything that we had so far been taking for granted: our one-sided exploitation of nature, our ability to control time (underscored by the demands of capital), and our facility to fulfil our ambitions or plans of good life without treating others as means to our respective goals or ends. Covid-19 has unmasked the arrogance of the politics that sustains such a way of life, an enterprise in which science and technology are equally complicit.

This struggle against the Corona Virus will not only test our determination to effectively maintain ‘social-distancing’ norms, our abilities to use gloves and N95 masks, or even our hand washing skills — (for that matter, can we really wash our hands clean for playing the docile subject instead of functioning as equal partners of a democracy, at least most of the time?) —but, more significantly it will test the country’s democratic resolve.

The state of lockdown we all are currently enduring could either become a pause button or a window of opportunity to make some life-altering transformations. Such changes can only happen if there is political will to do so across the entire cross-section of the society. In this essay, I will strive to focus upon three inter-related aspects of our democratic existence. Conceptually speaking, democracy is composed of a substantive and a procedural component. The virus has implicated both these aspects and betrayed their precarious nature.

For how long, can we be mute spectators to the Machiavellian culture of tampering with mandates that have been decided with a certain definiteness? Should the ambition of a single individual or a single political party to gain power irrespective of the wider cost be given a stamp of legitimacy? I hope the situation in Madhya Pradesh proves to be an eye-opener in this regard: at the time of writing this piece, it is the sixth most-affected state in the country, with the third highest number of Covid-19 related deaths, as reported by the https://www.mygov.in/covid-19 website. Compromising with the rules of the game or the democratic procedures might substitute one set of power-elites with another, but in the ultimate it has dire consequences for the common citizens.

A key substantive element of a democracy is the essence of freedom. The incarceration of a television journalist in Mumbai reminds us once again of the very precarious status of our freedom to express and speak our minds in this country, especially when such expressions are backed up by hard facts and logical reasoning and not rhetoric and propaganda. I fear that democratic voice could easily be suppressed in the name of the Corona virus, and even after the pandemic has passed in the name of rebuilding our economy and society. Can we really hope to combat an invisible, hitherto unknown enemy, and, thereafter, make progress without the voice of civic reason being able to manifest itself freely and completely?

It is at this juncture, one might very well raise the following question: whereas, it is true that Covid-19 is an invisible enemy, why is it an unknown one? Although such a question appears to be rhetorical, closer examination would betray that the Corona Virus happens to be this alien force not because our scientists failed to apprehend it well in advance, but because of our imaginations have always been myopic. Let me belabour this argument. We have always thought and have been socialised to think that the human race is the most superior one on the planet. That we would be able to overcome any adversity we encounter. We cannot simply imagine the Earth without human beings (but hang on for a moment: did the dinosaurs think along similar such lines? Look what has happened to them now: they have become computer generated graphics for our entertainment!).

Since, we have always been so very confident about our collective immortality, we have always preferred our enemies to be relatable, and intimate — beings who we could ‘otherise’ without much effort. Hence, our history is replete with innumerable instances of man-made enemies based on religion, nationality, culture, caste, sexual orientation, so on and so forth. It does not take much effort. A demagogue (the great artists which they are!) can easily stand on a podium and point towards a certain people (and this group keeps on changing with changes in time and circumstances), whip-up our fears, our insecurities and paint these people as their real causes. But, can you do that with a virus, with a non-human/non-animal entity? No, you can’t. And, why not? Because, we have never thought of conceptualising a non-human/non-animal entity as a possible enemy. We have never been trained that way. Such elements are extended only limited recognition depending upon their utility for human welfare. This is why the Covid-19 proves to be an unknown, unfamiliar force wreaking havoc to our normalised lives. And, our imaginative failure has given it a free-pass to breach humanity’s collective vigilance.

However, frankly speaking it is rather ironical that we find ourselves in such a swamp! It is ironical because academic disciplines such as Political Science and International Relations have been warning us about the transformed nature of security threats for quite some time now: non-traditional security concerns that undermine human well-being have overshadow traditional security threats that are posed to the state. That being the case, why did India’s intelligence/security establishments fail to apprehend the tsunami of Covid-19? The answer proves to be rather intuitive: they were preoccupied till late-January in dousing the flames of conventional forms of security threats, stoked by a persistent politics of fear-mongering; the protagonists of which are our very own intimate enemies. Yes, those who we can see and relate to, with our naked eyes.

Thus, let me phrase the second key-takeaway in the form of the following interrogation: can we let the powers that run our democracy justify the suppression of freedom in the name of security, hereafter? The ongoing insecurity of our nation is exceptional not because of its novelty (the Corona Virus), but because people in-charge failed to envision that such circumstances could at all arise in the first place. Consequently, can we really consent to be led by people without foresight?

But, alas, given the short-sighted nature of our own lives it is difficult to expect that we will get out of our comfort zones any time in the near future. We will continue to repose faith in our leaders, who emerge from our blinkered society and hope that our lives will remain safe, secured, and that we will achieve good lives one fine day. But, when such aspirations are dashed the best we can do is ridicule the parochial representations we have in our legislatures, in our administrative, and judicial apparatuses, and vent our frustrations through memes and forwards on social media.

This contemporary predicament of ours is symptomatic of the thrusts of our knowledge production: for too long now, we have gone on to produce far too many Engineers and MBA’s (quite a few of them are fretting over losing their jobs due to this alien enemy at the moment) who are trained to exploit nature in the name of economic growth and governance! Our obsession with development as economic growth has been quite enervating, it has been a major cause for our short-sightedness. Covid-19 has bared to us yet again the indispensability of the humanities and the social sciences — that branch of academia, which teaches us how to think for ourselves, which trains us to be ever-ready with a question or two. If we continue to undermine them or sell them as commodities for an overtly covert purpose, it would be to our own collective jeopardy. Why do I speak of their relevance at this juncture? Well, a few paragraphs earlier I spoke about how our security establishments were busy responding to conventional threats rather than preparing for this alien virus, which mind you had already been wreaking havoc in China, our northern neighbours (yes, Pakistan isn’t the only country we share our borders with!).

Had we been more empathetic towards the role of the humanities and the social sciences, we would not have been drawing vicarious pleasure from the physical assaults that took place on the country’s premier humanities and social sciences institutions in the months of December, 2019 and January, 2020. Instead, we would have questioned the fear-mongering techniques that were on full-display twenty-four seven! Please do not forget that while we were distracted with different episodes of man-made violence: Jamia, JNU, AMU, Shaheen Bagh, East Delhi riots, the Corona Virus was destabilising lives of people in Wuhan. Our obsession with our intimate enemies have brought us to this day — all we can now do is wash our hands for twenty-seconds and religiously maintain social distance in order to survive!

Yes, religion! That ever potent opioid. For the past few years, religion has been used as quite an effective tool to drive wedges among Indians by fomenting narratives of ‘us’ and ‘them’, glossing over the real problems that face our society, such as rising levels of inequality, unemployment, access to quality education and healthcare. And, when a pandemic assaults such a society riven with fear and hatred, it is not surprising that it would be ill-equipped to deal with the contingent nature of the problem. To this end, Covid-19 has strangely been an enlightening force — it has betrayed to our pulverised intelligences, that God (no matter whose God it is) at the end of the day is as powerful as our own convictions, reasonable or otherwise.

Attempts to communalise the virus have thankfully been nipped at the bud in some regions, otherwise fanatics would have had a hard time ensuring comparative advantage of their respective Gods. As it stands, if God is good, and is meant to purge any kind of evil, then the carnage all around us illuminates that she or he has quite supremely failed at that task. That being said, I am no one want to totally dismiss religion as a social institution. It certainly has many positive influences on human beings (chief amongst which is to provide peace and solace to individual souls). However, I vehemently protest its politicization, which intoxicates even the most empathetic and tolerant person. This brings me to my third major takeaway offered by the present reality of suspended animation: the politics of fear-mongering does not serve the greater good in the long run. It needs to be immediately banished to the pages of history.

Covid-19 hit India at a point in time when it was already on an economic tailspin and socio-political unrest was on the rise. Given such a context, it won’t be unreasonable to expect that the fear of economic survival faced by the common man could overshadow the immediate threat presented by an invisible enemy. The real possibility of death en-masse due to a contagion would only ensure deterrence for a short period of time. Once the shock-and-awe fades, and people are resigned to their eternal, inevitable fates is when the efficaciousness of administrative measures, like the ongoing lockdown would really be tested.

The lockdown has already revealed that something as basic as access to food and even to reaching out to one’s homes are privileges and not matters of right in a democracy that is preparing to celebrate its seventy-fifth birthday in a couple of years from now. Weren’t we just legislating measures such as the CAA, and implementing administrative exercises such as the NRC to put an end to the bane of illegal immigration a couple of months ago? Let us for a second accept that such measures are highly necessary, and that a sovereign country must have a clear distinction between the legal citizen and the illegal immigrants. Covid-19 has uncovered the arbitrariness of that policy prioritisation — while we were on a mission-mode to solve the problem of illegal immigration did we forget about our own migrant population, our daily-wage labourers? Or, have they always remained invisible to us? We were on our way to becoming a five-trillion dollar economy without ever recognising the foundation that supports that very objective. We can only express our anguish when a train runs over migrants returning to their loved ones on foot. Some of us might even be enraged at their impudence (whilst we congratulate ourselves for bringing back Indians stuck abroad) — is a railway track meant for walking? Equality? Egalitarianism? Such words are meant to sound fine in that book known as the Constitution, in our op-eds, and on the Twitter handle of some-folks! I hope the Corona Virus has slapped us back to our senses. Only an extremely ungrateful lot would choose to shut their eyes again to such norms, and ideals!

Allow me to share with you, one last apprehension that has been troubling me lately: what prevents the norm of ‘social-distancing’ meant to flatten the Corona-graph from being perverted into a casteist, communal weapon that fuels violence both during this ongoing carnage, and even after the virus has been tamed? What is that safe-word or phrase? Go Corona Go? Some of you might argue that I am being unnecessarily cynical. I just hope that some of you are right. But, given our recent track-record of being extremely tolerant and kind towards each other, you would agree that my worry is not unfounded.

Moreover, since as a nation we are easily blinded by rhetorical performances and charismatic personalities leading to cult-worship, I fear that a magnetic personality could emerge in the near future and divide us in myriad ways we are not yet aware of. News of local level leaders trying to communalise the virus, especially from Uttar Pradesh, and some other parts of the country continue to pour in unabated to which our senses have already become immunised. Disruptions created by such kind of politics ultimately hamper the emergence of a spontaneous social resilience.

Efforts of our real-life champions, who are rarely celebrated like doctors and nurses, healthcare professionals and scientists, sweating it out at the frontlines trying to provide that glimmer of hope in these trying times; and even those who are keeping the essential services of the society alive, for instance people who work to maintain the hygiene and sanitation of our neighbourhoods, fruit and vegetable-sellers, food delivery-boys, people who work at medicine shops, and even the ever-maligned police personnel could all just be in vain, if we reboot our lives back to where we were and how it all was.

Covid-19 has laid bare that the Earth, which we inhabit is fundamentally designed for symbiotic intra and inter-species co-existence, as well as, an equilibrium between the animate and the inanimate. An economic meltdown though unavoidable is not insurmountable. However, if our politics does not change henceforth, if we do not start treating our compatriots and other species with life as ‘ends’ in themselves and not just as ‘means’ to our particular visions of ‘good life’, we would have failed to heed to the wake-up call that has been presented to us by the Corona Virus!

N.B. An earlier version of this article was published as a blog-post with the following title: ‘A Wake-Up Call’ by the Centre for Ethics, Politics and Global Affairs, Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi on 29th April 2020.

 

Krishno

 

Krishnamurari Mukherjee is a Doctoral Research Scholar at the Department of Political Science, University of Delhi and a Research Associate at the Centre for Ethics, Politics and Global Affairs, Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi, India.

Poems by Alokabho Pal

My Temporal Skin

 

I wear my skin in loose folds of oversized shirts and jeans

I wear it like skin and bones and brown flesh tones

I wear it like a man but I am not

I wear it like a boy but I am not

No, not a woman either,

No, not a girl ~

Somewhere in between, somewhere lost;

Cotton and linens and leathers and wools

Getting lost in clothing rules

Break and tear and loudly scream —

My flesh is my temporal skin.

 

 

To All the Boys I’ve ever Loved

 

To all the boys I’ve ever loved,

On anonymous chatrooms, webcams and Snapchat;

To the love, lust and the pleasure;

To the photos we exchanged.

Fingers clutching my hard cock —

Deep breaths, moaning, stroking, cumming.

To the dry cum encrusted on my t-shirt…

To the discovery and the shame;

I found myself in breathless sighs

I found myself in stranger’s eyes

We were headless torsos and shadowy reflections

Hiding, lying, denying___.

If not our faces, our bodies were free,

But once night fell

There were no more stories to tell.

 

Skins

 

I erased myself with a dried up wet wipe

I rubbed and rubbed till I was sore and clean

Take off my skin and hide it in my bag

Sweet cherry lips and rainbow eyes

I wear 2 skins but one doesn’t fit quite right

I live two lives but one doesn’t feel quite right

But that’s alright, that’s okay,

I was once told that our lives are supposed to be this way…

 

Notes of queerness

 

I write my queerness with my walk

I write my queerness with the way I talk

I write my queerness with my clothes

I write my queerness with my words

I write it down in tiny little notes.

 

Alokabho

 

Alokabho is a postgraduate student of English literature in Jadavpur University. His interests include Queer studies and media studies. He has worked with Gaysi Magazine, Sappho for Equality, Sanhita and is currently working with The Lens.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Celebration of “She-Roes”: An Analysis of Female Protagonists in Anubhav Sinha’s Thappad and Meghna Gulzar’s Chappak

 

Gayatri Chakrabarty Spivak famously wrote: “ . . . if the subaltern is to be taught to speak, as I believe she must be, humanitarian efforts (would-be quick fixes) won’t cut it . . . The subaltern cannot speak . . . because her speech falls short of fully authorized, political speech. Too much gets in the way of her message’s being heard, socially and politically.” Spivak’s theory focused on the inability of European classics and scholars to address the non-white woman’s problems and issues; she believed that “white men cannot save brown women from brown men.” Writers, scholars and most certainly filmmakers of India have hardly ever tried to render speech to the “brown woman”; they have rarely departed from the depiction of unequal gender relations in their work. Bollywood directors have, by and large, naturalized unequal gender relations in their films. Meghna Gulzar’s Chappak and Anubhav Sinha’s Thappad deconstruct traditional Bollywood formulaic cinema in a way that is challenging and subversive.

One of the reasons that Spivak was unhappy with the umbrella narrative of Western feminism was that it did not encompass the local and regional discriminations that women have to deal with in third world countries. Meghna Gulzar’s Chappak brutally exposes the harsh realities of heinous acid attacks on women from marginalized classes in India. Chappak fictionalizes the life of Laxmi Agarwal, an acid attack survivor who is today a prime advocate of banning the sale of acid in the country. The film, featuring Deepika Padukone in the central character of Malthi, follows a non-linear narration: it begins with Malthi, already having endured the attack, looking for a job to support her family and heal herself emotionally. We follow Malthi across the streets of Delhi, as she seeks jobs, first at a beauty parlor (where she is blithely dismissed as not being the “beauty needed in a beauty parlor”) then at a newspaper office where she goes to give an interview and finally to the NGO office where she is tasked with helping acid attack victims like herself.

From the very start, Chappak stands out as a film that does not indulge in melodrama or tears; We meet Malthi as a powerful protagonist whose pain is visible in her expressive eyes but whose spirit is indomitable. We rarely see Malthi without a smile or a laugh; she dances at parties, cracks jokes with her co-survivors and believes that life can be optimistic despite all that has happened. What is also very heartening is the depiction of strong women characters in the film; it is Malthi’s lawyer Archana and her team who file the PIL and launch the campaign for the ban on acid and for stringent laws to punish acid attackers. Chappak reveals the impunity of gender discrimination not only in Indian society but in the Indian legal system; When Malthi (and her real life counterpart Laxmi) is attacked in the year 2005, there is no act that punishes acid attackers; Malthi has to struggle not only to identify and convict the people who have scarred her so heinously but also to ensure that their sentence is a long and just one. (Today there is the Acid Attack Act under section 326A which punishes acid throwing with a maximum sentence of ten years but one wonders whether that is enough for literally and metaphorically burning a girl).

Spivak was certain that white men would never free brown subaltern women; Chappak depicts the gulf that Spivak wrote about. Western countries rarely witness crimes like acid attack; this kind of vitriolic crime is typical in sub-continental countries where it is believed that a girl’s identity resides in her ‘beautiful’ body. By attacking the girl’s ‘beauty’ the acid thrower strives to destroy her sense of selfhood; it is also significant, as Archana in the film points out, that most acid attacks have occurred on women who were subverting their class or caste norms, either by their academic abilities or their wish to overcome social barriers like marriage. Research papers on acid attacks show that while acid throwing on men and women occur across the world occasionally, in India, Taiwan and Bangladesh, women are the most common victims of acid throwing. The National Crime Records data shows that over 249 cases of acid attacks occurred in India in 2015-16. The data further shows that maximum number of attacks occur on women in the age group of 20-30; 30% of the attacks were motivated by marital dispute, unrequited love and to perpetuate ‘honor killing’.

Chappak shows how in India the acid thrower alone does not scar the girl; there are so many others: there is the policewoman who searches Malthi’s phone to see how may texts from boys are there in the phone, there is the friend of Malthi’s brother who cackles with laughter at the ‘ghost’ his friend’s sister has been transformed into, there are the relentless people on the streets who scorch Malthi with their pitying gaze, believing that if a girl’s ‘beautiful’ face is disfigured, she is better off dead. Gulzar never lets her audience forget the suffering of Malthi or her overcoming of it; but, at the same time, she explores the biases against women to the fullest, trying hard to make the audience question as to why one human being would commit such a terrible attack on another. Chappak does not make you weep or cry and it certainly cannot entertain you; it makes you scream silently against a society that refuses to grant a woman her right to live on her own terms; it makes you punch the air silently in victory as Malthi moves on in life, not as victim but survivor, winning her case as well as her convictions.

Bollywood films are seldom known for their subtility; most of the times, everything is in excess, be it tears, laughter or anger. If Chappak breaks that trend then Anubhav Sinha’s Thappad dismantles it completely. Thappad, as a film, celebrates protest against patriarchy, but it does so silently, without yells of rage. The plot revolves around Amrita (Taapsee Pannu) who is a devoted wife, committed to furthering her husband’s prospects and career, till one fateful night at a party when she is publicly slapped by him. While the story is overtly a straightforward one, the layers are multiple. We have all heard of the term “domestic violence”; Thappad asks the question: what encompasses domestic violence? Does a single slap constitute violence? Or does domestic violence go beyond the slap and beyond the physical? Perhaps, violence constitutes all the silent abuses that patriarchy heaps on women, especially in India; every time a woman is asked to choose between her career or her home, when she runs after her husband to ensure he eats his breakfast before heading to work and when a man becomes entitled enough to vent his pent up frustrations on his wife by slapping her. Sinha’s 2 hour 21 minute film delves into the rarely spoken of and accepted gender discriminations in our society; an impulsive slap at a party becomes a metaphor for all the unspoken ways in which women are marginalized in Indian society. We see how Amrita is interpellated into the norms of her traditional marriage, giving up her passion for dance, taking over the household management, doing everything she can to support Vikram, her husband. Amrita’s mother-in-law constantly reminds her of a ‘woman’s responsibility towards her home’. We rarely see Amrita questioning this skewed division of responsibilities.

However, when Vikram, in his fuming temper, slaps her, Amrita is jarred awake. She resolves to end the marriage and from hereon begins her struggle. We meet a lawyer who cannot comprehend any wife leaving a marriage just because of one slap. Amrita is repeatedly told that a ‘slap does not constitute violence’. But what Amrita and Sinha want everyone to realize is that the slap is part of the larger pattern of discrimination; the slap is a symptom of gender bias rather than a cause. Sinha poses the larger question of what empowers a man to physically abuse a woman in our society, just as Gulzar tries to explore the reason for a man believing that he is entitled to throw acid on a woman simply because she spurns his offer of marriage. Both Chappak and Thappad question male empowerment in Indian society; Malthi and Amrita, through their silent protest and courage, challenge and overturn patriarchal supremacy. While the plot of Thappad may seem repetitive of feminist woes and a rant against patriarchy, the sensitive and layered direction makes the film expose much more than domestic abuse; it shows the years of conditioning that a woman undergoes to become a slave to male domination. Gender Studies revolves around the axiom that gender is social rather than biological; Thappad proves that again and again through its trio of women characters.

Other than Amrita, we meet her maid who is regularly beaten by her alcoholic husband. Then there is Amrita’s neighbor (Dia Mirza) who strives to succeed as a single woman. Sinha intertwines all of their stories to evoke empathy for the struggles of women trying to overcome patriarchy in a society that does not allow them to do so. Like the character of Malthi, Amrita is restrained and quiet; she rarely rages and screams but her anger and disillusionment shine through for the audience. Sinha makes it very clear that abuse is abuse, whether it is committed by a serial offender like Amrita’s maid’s drunken husband or it is a solitary episode of a ‘slap’ by an otherwise ‘good’ husband like Vikram. Vikram is not a villainous monster; he is simply blinded by male privilege. Thappad beautifully depicts various kinds of men, from the misogynistic Vikram to the very lovable father of Amrita, who roots for his daughter all through the film. Sinha does not demonize men; he simply projects the many facets of the Indian male: we have our share of understanding and caring men who help women achieve success or happiness.

Sinha’s Thappad is flawless cinema; its awareness of gender bias goes beyond the overt and the obvious. Indian cinema has for far too long catered to patriarchal clichés. It has appeased the male ego far too many times to count. However, Thappad and Chappak are path breaking in their ‘slap’ to patriarchy; they are buckets of ice hurled on the sleeping audience to jar them from their stupor. In the words of Simon de Beauvoir, both these films tear themselves away from “the safe comfort of certainties” and get “rewarded with truth”.

Poems by Shirsha Bandyopadhyay

১.

তবুও প্রেম।

 

শৌর্য্য আর আমি একসাথে স্বপ্ন দেখতাম,

শৌর্য কালো পাঞ্জাবি পড়ত ,

আমি সাদা শাড়ি পড়তাম ।

শৌর্য চশমা পরতনা,

আমি মাইনাস পাওয়ারের গ্লাস পড়তাম ।

শৌর্য অগোছালো ভাবে কলকাতার রাস্তায় হাঁটত,

আর , আমি কালো টিপ , খোলা চুলে বাউলে ডুবতাম।

আমি সুররিয়ালিসমের নোটস গিলতাম ,

আর শৌর্য , সুররিয়ালিসমের কবিতা লিখত।

আমি শক্তি চাটুজ্যে পড়তাম ,

ও কোলরিজ, ব্ল্যাঙ্ক ভার্স আওড়াত

শৌর্য কোনোদিন গোর্কিকে ভালোবাসেনি ,

পড়েনি মার্কসের প্রেমের কবিতা,

আমি শেষ বিকেলে গড়ের মাঠে চিৎকার করে

চে এর সবুজ নোটবই পড়তাম।

আমি ‘অনিমেষ’ হতে চেয়েছিলাম,

বন্দুক হাতে বিপ্লবে নেমেছিলাম শহরে..

আর তিলোত্তমার রাজপথ জুড়ে

বৃষ্টি এসেছিল বাহাত্তরের ভোরে।

শৌর্য এখন স্বপ্ন দেখেনা ,

ভৈরবী সাধেনা কবিতা জুড়ে;

স্যুট – টাই পড়ে কেরানি সেজে

রাত্তির করে বাড়ি ফেরে।

আর , আমি দিগন্তরেখা ছুঁয়ে

ছুটে যায় , লাল সূর্যের দিকে।

ঠিক যেদিকে রবসন এর গান ভেসে আসে …

ঠিক যেভাবে শৌর্য চুমু এঁকেছিল ঠোঁটে।
দ্রষ্টব্যঃ – বাবির ( Debasish Banerjee ) ” শ্বেতা ও আমি ” তিরিশ বছর পেরিয়ে।

২.

রোদ্দুর ও ড্যাফোডিলের সংসার।

 

সেদিন বৃষ্টি পড়েছিল সারাটাদিন

আমরা হেঁটে গেছিলাম রাজপথ,

সেদিন রোদ্দুর চুরি করেছিল রাখাল

চিলেকোঠায় শালিক পাখির বকবক।

আমরা হেঁটেছিলাম , সমুদ্দুর পেরোলাম

পেরোলাম ট্রয়ের অলি – গলি

নেশাতুর চোখে রাত নেমে আসে ,

স্টেশন জুড়ে ঘর-ফিরতি কাহিনী।

সেই চোখে চোখ রেখেছে মিদাস

জাল বুনছে গবলিনের বাজার ,

আমি দেখেছি তাকে কিটসের শেষ ছত্রে,

আমি দেখেছি ওই মদির চোখে,

নীরার ফেলে যাওয়া ছেঁড়া খাম ।

আমি সেই চোখে সাঁতরেছি খনিজলে।

আমরা ডুবুরি নিয়ে তলিয়ে গেছি ,

প্রশান্ত মহাসাগরের প্রবালদ্বীপে,

আমি সেই চোখে পেয়েছি

চে এর বিপ্লব , ছোটগল্পের উপসংহার ।

আমরা ঝর্ণার জলে স্নান করলাম ,

অবগাহন করলাম ড্যাফোডিলের সংসারে—-

আমরা পেরোলাম তারায় ঘেরা রাজপথ।

৩.

ট্রয় ও রূপকথারা

বিকেলের নিভে আসা আলোয়,

ছড়িয়ে পড়া ক্যাথারসিসে

তোমায় দেখেছি আমি

ভ্যানগগের রং তুলির টানে,

তোমার স্বপ্ন বুনেছি আমি।

ট্রয়ের ইতিহাসের আঁচড়

নেমে এসেছে আমাদের ব্রজভূমে–

প্যালেটের শেষ হয়ে যাওয়া লাল রঙে,

আঁকিবুকি কেটে সাজিওনা আমায় ,

সাজিও তোমার সাদা-কালো-ধূসরে।

আমি তো রাজপুত্তুর চাইনি ,

চাইনি , ঝলসানো আলোর রাজমহল,

শুধু অবগাহন করতে চেয়েছি

অপার ভালোবাসার সমুদ্দুরে,

শুধু আমাদের রূপকথা লিখব বলে।

––———————————
Sheersha

শীর্ষা বন্দ্যোপাধ্যায় , কলিকাতা বিশ্ববিদ্যালয় থেকে ইংরেজি সাহিত্য ও ভাষায়,এম.এ । হেস্টিং হাউস থেকে বি.এড পাঠরত । বাংলা লিটিল ম্যাগাজিনে কবিতা , গল্প , প্ৰবন্ধ লিখি, কলকাতা সহ অন্য জেলার অনেক ম্যাগাজিনে প্রকাশিত হয়েছে লেখা । সাগ্নিক পত্রিকার সম্পাদক মন্ডলীর সাথে যুক্ত। লেখিকা ও কবি হওয়ার স্বপ্ন দেখি ।

Poems by Ritoshree Chatterjee with Illustrations from Subarnarekha Pal

Ragdoll

My sweet, you
asked me
about                                  Insanity

Ragdoll
insanity
/ɪnˈsanəti/
noun
the state of being seriously mentally ill; madness.

I held up
peachblossom
candies

for you, and
ruminated
the whistling

monster; eyes
carmine, chasing
me

till I slipped into
my greyscaled,
homestead

listening to mom’s
sewing machine
ratatat

ratatat

‘Ma, I want to play’
ratatat

‘Sing to me at night?’
ratatat

‘Ma, there’s a monster outside’
ratatat

her eyes, red
from Moscato
wine, red

wool for my
stillborn
brother

red with the
monster, now

inside

in our family,
the heir wears
red wool

ruffles

blessed be

but I crowned
myself, with
a wreath of

peonies

My sweet, my
insanity
lies in peony

wreaths and
watercress
tufts

not in the angry
willowtree of
welts

father carved
in
me

nor in the
porcelain
Buddha

that smashed to
smithereens
as the old man with

bald spots and
garlic
breath

shoved me
down on
his aisle of

little
crotches
smelling like

daffodils

and an old
photograph of a
buck naked

ukulele
lady with
blackbeetle

nipples,
smoking
Havana

how I wanted to be her

‘You’re a  whore’
he
whispered,

his white hands
poking
down my

tadpole legs

and I believed him

Homecoming

Homecoming

There are days you
smell of
sad white linen and

aftershave

and I let you brush off
cobwebs from
my back and

cigarette stubs
from my
navel

… and you
drown yourself, in
drunken whiffs of

long withered buttercup
breasts, and
smoldered

sea-salt smiles

There are days I
toss, mustard
seeds and lima

beans, my
cluttered beads
of rosary

and wonder why
someone with a
smile like

dawn
breaking open

would drift to sleep, to
paltry thighs, and
purplish

skin

There are days our
tiny porch lies
strewn with flaming

leaves of Chinar

and you gently
blow them snowflakes
off my sweatcaked

sleeping, forehead

and you let me
lie, amongst
solitary chirps

of homecoming
swallows, gathering
straw

wishing I knew.

 

 

Fable of a Mayflower

  1. My eyes trickle sand and sweat and seasaltshe is an April girl and her island is overgrown with watercress and flamingofishes her nipples smile at me bits of salmon sun dripping from her lips uncouth

Mayflower I
after my starved half lidded eyes scan past her soft red mud underthighs I veer into her eyes and see the ocean I cannot afford to drown again so I close them sickly portholes and let the sun dry up my tears instead

II. She stared at me till the sky broke open
Mayflower II
she cracks open few coconuts and we slurp the virgin nectar and we let the rain drops kiss our naked skin she hums ditties and lullabies only a mother could
hum her brazen fingertips run over her belly bulging like waves and lemon flowers

it is when she intertwines my coiled hollowed digits into hers and tiptoes into a cove layered with pink debris and pondscum I realise I have known her before for inside lies a skeleton which is barely a skeleton for its skull is smashed to bits and miry worms tear off dregs of rainsoaked flesh still hanging by the ribcage

III. My memories creep back as leaves blush amaranth
Mayflower III
we made love on a mottled autumnal carpet and she giggled while I sucked her areolas peached with perspiration the earth crumbled and the oceans waltzed astray from afar drifted hushed voices of bearded men frigid with frugality and foresight to them we were damnable bloodworms feeding on sweat and semen

while they excused their woebegone desolate pride to law books and zephyrs from primrose canopies none of them had known the wet aching mouth of a woman craving a fortnight’s bliss none of them had spent themselves on distant dreams of bumblebee lips I felt spit settle down my collarbone and tasted blood and clinks of skull and clasped her waist underneath me melting

IV. The graves are done and the only mourners are snowflakes
Mayflower IV
we let ourselves be draped in myrtle and seaweed and fasten barbed icicles and make our sturdiest dig the child lies unborn motionless when I brush my tongue along her waning navel my tongue is cold and dormant and my hands ache as I warble for the babe to wake up to whiffs of fossilized plumeria she pecks me not on the torso not on the lips
I have never felt so unaccustomed to forehead kisses before I hold back frozen gnawing at my grave and hers her eyes are jagged an insane shade I have never seen before

 

a bluebird trills then she’s a breeze that never has been I lie down wooden and wait for spring and the wildflowers

RC

 

Ritoshree Chatterjee studies English Literature at Chandernagore College, writes poetry to find peace and voraciously devours much, from Marquez to Murakami.

 

 

Subarna

 

Subarnarekha Pal is an independent thinker and enthusiast and jams poetry with her friend. Amidst everything, she struggles to be an artist.

Poems by Rupsa De

Podunk BITCH!

 

White pajamas, Daisy sunshine

I want my captain home

Tell me “oh, sweet lover mine

Where do sea captains go?” I want my captain home

From Sandy shores of May

And bring me jewels

From a market on Sunday.

 

My mother taught me a song

“call him sir” and he taught me

To keep steady hands all night long

Until from a little child, I grew

 

Mama saw how big I was

And mama wept sad fat tears

She screamed blue in the dawn

“Gone” before the morning could yawn

 

We ran and ran until we stopped

Pretty pink horses at play

Stained my white pajamas white

Held me down, monsters at bay

 

Daisy sunshine, little flowers

White powder on cheek

Mama sits and empty stares

Why doesn’t mama speak?

 

Now the captain battles at sea

I join my hands in prayer

Mama turned me out, my dear

And took a postman near

 

I sleep on streets and wait for light

Powder in hands, powder white.

Fade, I fade into that terrible night

And curses be on that terrible sight

 

Gods, perhaps in sadness delight

I break, I break, oh I break

Tiny metal

Filthy, filthy shipwreck!

 

 

Love runs cold.

 

Mad love,

You come back home

When the streets are dark

With the night’s child

Lying in a pool of blood.

 

Mad love,

You sleep with your eyes open

And walk the endless lanes,

Eyes closed, as if beauty in death

Has embraced you for her lover.

 

Mad love,

You come back and cup my chin

My face is your Hawaiian dream,

A brown land with green trees,

You want to colonise, to turn it over.

 

Mad love,

I am dreaming of sunlight on my skin,

My golden crown, the wide open sea,

In dreams, I don’t feel your fingers

Cracking my jaw open. In dreams,

 

I only run free.

In dreams, time is still.

Mad love, golden prince,

riding on a horse, goodbye,

 

YOUR ALCOHOL IS MAKING THE LANES WEEP.

 

Sita’s going

 

I drew lines around her,

The girl in the yellow dress

To see if she could step out of them.

 

I had heard stories before

Of the one who overstepped

And the dark one who took her away

 

The sun was bright, the yellow

Of her dress burning my eyes,

Curious I drew the boundaries in my mind.

 

She stepped out, I held my breath

The sun shrieked and hid

The dark one came

 

I hadn’t noticed he was in chains

Why did you do it, he asked in tears

The stories taught me well-

 

A woman out of line

Is a woman in need of History

Playing Devourer.

 

 

red cap picture

Rupsa Dey believes in the power of language and cats, and is only allergic to the latter. She is currently pursuing her Masters in English Literature from Jadavpur University. She never says ‘No’ to tea and if given a chance, would like to believe in a world without borders.

Poems by Antoni Ooto

no matter how much rain falls

the end

takes nothing but shadow

 

nature grows backward

 

and her secret

soaks through a waiting field

peace in perfect quietude

like monks dropping the chaff

 

that final vow

 

 

Family Secrets

the unanswered questions,

the difference in our smiles

 

I was listening from that limbo

for someone to answer

 

waiting

for that connection

 

with a voice

like mine

 

waiting

all my life

 

 

Toward the Last

a cloud of medication

its morphine clock

ticking—ticking

 

sitting—watching

standing––waiting

posturing bargains with God

 

we fight…

still… they leave

 

ordinary as breath

simple as sleep.

 

 

Antoni OotoAntoni Ooto is a poet and flash fiction writer. Known for his abstract expressionist art, Antoni now adds his voice to poetry.  His study of many poets has opened and offered him a new form of self-expression. Antoni’s poems have been published by Front Porch Review, Amethyst Review, Nixes Mate Review,  Young Ravens Literary Review, and many others. He lives and works in upstate New York with his wife poet/ storyteller, Judy DeCroce

“Books are Mirrors”: The Power of Literature in Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s The Shadow of the Wind – Somrita Misra

zafon

 

Stephen King once said that “Books are a uniquely portable magic”. In The Shadow of the Wind the power of the written word and books reigns supreme. The novel begins with Daniel, the protagonist, visiting the Cemetery of Forgotten Books with his father for the first time. The reader learns that the cemetery is a rare library of old and little remembered books which is a secret amongst a few select people of Barcelona. Daniel is asked to choose one book from this treasure trove, a book he will have to protect and cherish forever. He chooses The Shadow of the Wind, an unknown novel by an author named Julian Carax. So captivated is Daniel by the book that he determines to discover all he can about Carax. Thus begins Daniel’s adventures and troubles.

     Throughout the novel books and literature connect and intertwine the characters. Daniel and Julian’s lives are connected from the day Daniel finds The Shadow of the Wind in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. There are also the relationships between Clara and Daniel, Penelope and Julian and Daniel and Beatrice, all of which develop because of their common love for books. Literature has the unique power of helping readers overcome loss, loneliness and grief. The Shadow of the Wind portrays this power through Daniel’s journey through his adolescence. Fitzgerald has famously said: “That is part of the beauty of all literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings, you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong”. Zafón understands this beauty all too well: we see how Daniel escapes the angst of growing up through books. Julian too finds respite from the brutal horrors of his childhood in the pages of his favorite novels.

     Julian tells his friend in the novel that “Books are mirrors: you only see in them what you already have inside you”. For each of the characters their favorite books are indeed mirrors, a gateway to their deepest fears and desires. Penelope finds her longing for Julian reflected in the passionate lovers of her romantic novels; Daniel discovers that other teenage boys can be as lonely and isolated as he is when he reads The Shadow of the Wind. The reviewer of The Daily Telegraph hailed The Shadow of the Wind as “A triumph of the storyteller’s art”. In many ways, the novel is about the power of the storyteller and stories.

     Zafón’s Barcelona is full of fragmented stories about broken people in the harsh regime of Franco: as readers walk through the many alleyways and streets of 1940s Barcelona, they meet characters like Fermin, an intelligent, energetic man whose spirit has been crushed under the weight of Fascism. Then there is the sinister policeman, Fumero whose cruelty chills the readers’ spine and who represents the arbitrary violence of a dictatorial state. The novel traverses a panorama of savage yet alluring characters and their individual stories. Like all powerful historical novels, The Shadow of the Wind spends very little time on factual history; the novel is set in 1945 Barcelona, right after the Spanish civil war has ended. Without any reference to the history of the war, Zafón conveys the horrors of it; his medium is stories and narratives of individual characters who have suffered the trauma of the times.

     The novel is a collage of not just varied characters but diverse genres: Zafón intermingles gothic melodrama, adolescent coming-of age story, historical thriller and whodunnit. The plot flows smoothly and is fast paced while there is a healthy dose of the melodrama and mystery that creates bestsellers. Yet, the novel never degenerates into the banal or the tawdry. The minute subplots and the diverse cast of characters ensure that the literary touchstone remains a high one. The two major protagonists, Julian and Daniel, are separated by many years yet connected through Julian’s novel. Julian guides Daniel through his journey, helping him overcome his obstacles in uniting with the love of his life, Beatrice. Daniel helps Julian heal and overcome the grief of Penelope’s death. At the end of the novel Daniel finds happiness and fulfilment in his union with Beatrice while Julian starts to write again, regaining his ability to tell stories.

     In Zafón’s novel Barcelona becomes a character. Especially significant are the bookshops where the forgotten stories are stored. Daniel himself is brought up in the bookshop his father runs where he nurtures his love for reading. Nuria, Miquel, Fermin all find their lives changed through the books they come across. For Zaf’on books become instruments to forge bonds between his characters and to change their lives. Books do not always impart positive perceptions for the characters: for many like Daniel, Nuria, Fermin, books become a reflection of the tragedy and trauma they see around them. Through his identification with Carax’s novel, Daniel realizes the truths of life: the beauty of love, the tragedy of fate, the universality of suffering. At the end of the novel, Daniel confronts his fears and chooses to commit himself to Beatrice, fully aware of the trials and tribulations of love. Daniel understands that life, like literature, cannot always be beautiful, it can also be dark and frightening. But just as his favorite book cannot be left unfinished, life too needs to be lived to the fullest, a cup that one needs to drink to its brim.

     For Aristotle, literature was a reflection of life. True art tries to achieve this reflection. Zafón’s The Shadow of the Wind is a testament to the power and the value of literature. It illustrates the significance of stories and their role in healing a traumatized and torn city and people. Literature and art ultimately are non-utilitarian; they are not “needed”, not like one needs water to drink, food to eat, medicine to survive an illness. Perhaps that is why the Sciences as a field are viewed so much as a priority, not just in India but across the world. Perhaps the concrete nature of scientific fields seems more essential than the abstractions of a literary thesis or study. One can never quantify feeling or emotions and our world values only that which it can measure. However, as Christ famously dictated, “Man cannot live by bread alone”, man has spiritual needs and needs over and above the physical, the concrete.

     Literature provides, in many ways, food for the soul. It nourishes not man’s body but his spirit. In that lies its power and its value, a value that the greatest of scientists have recognized and appreciated. Zafón’s novel is a celebration of this value and this power of books, stories and literature. In the words of the reviewer of Entertainment Weekly: The Shadow of the Wind “is ultimately a love letter to literature, intended for readers as passionate about storytelling as its young hero”.

মুখোশ খোলার দৃশ্যে — অর্কপ্রভ রায়চৌধুরী

Cover illustration

১.

এতদিন পরেও তুমি সমুদ্রের গল্প বলো। আসলে ক্ষোভ, দিগন্তবিস্তৃত মরা পাথর, ফিরে গিয়ে দেখবে বালি হয়ে গেছে। দ্বিরাগমনের লাভাPiece 1টে আলোয় তারাগুলো খানিক হাস্যকর ভাবে দুলে উঠতে শুরু করলে একে একে সব বিশ্বাস করা যায়- কি হয়েছে, কি হবার কথা ছিল। সেবারও ঈশ্বর খানিক ম্যানড্রেকের ভূমিকায়, বসা মাত্র রাস্তার ওপাশে আলোর রং বদলে যেতে লাগল, তোমাকে নামের মত করে চেনা তার পছন্দ হল না, ছবিওয়ালার ডাকে ফাঁকতালে জুটিয়ে আনা মাছ ফেলে পালাল জোড়া শঙ্খচিল। কিন্তু একরকম সুখ ছিল, বিশ্বাস করো, ঈশ্বর যত বাধ সাধে, ততবার মানুষ হতে ইচ্ছা করে। কিন্তু মানুষ বড় ভয়ানক, সে গেলে ফিরে আসে অথচ কোনো জল পাথর ঘেঁষে বসে না, যতদূর চোখ যায়, বিপত্তি পুষে রাখি চুপচাপ। এ পালানো, এ ধরা না-পড়া ঠেকে শেখা, কেবল কথা বলতে বলতে নিজেকে শুনিয়ে নিলাম অর্বাচীনের মত। ডায়ালগ ফুরোলে যখন দু’টো পৃথিবী হাত ধরে.. তখন নিরুদ্দেশের কোলে কোথাও একটা ছেলে ঠান্ডা মাথায়, ভিতর ভিতর অগ্ন্যুৎপাতকে সাক্ষী রেখে জলের হাতে ছুরি তুলে দিতে চাইছে।

২.

Piece 2তেমন কাউকে পেলে এতদিনে আলো উপহার দিতে। কারণ আলোর একরকম দাগ থাকে। কেউ নিজে থেকে এসে জ্বেলে দিতে পারলে তাই খুশি হও। উল্টে রাখা প্রদীপের পাশে বসে ওরা সর্ষেফুলের গল্প শোনায়। একসময় নেশাগ্রস্ত কাউকে ফিরিয়ে আনতে বিনা কথায় বাড়ি ছাড়ে। রাস্তা পেরোতে পেরোতে মানুষের চোখে পড়ে যায়। হাসে। আপনমনে কাঁদে। রাস্তা ছাড়ে না। ফিরে এসে দু’জনকে খেতে দেয়। পোশাক খুলে ফেললে মনে হয় গোলকধাঁধা। আসলে শরীর।

 

এত কিছু থাকতে তাই আলো বানাও। মাঝেমধ্যে দু’টো রং গায়ের জোরে ছিটকে কোথাও যত্নে আঁকা বরফকুচির ওপর এসে পড়ে, মনে হয় একটু গলতে দিলে ভাঙা-গড়ার সমস্ত বিবাদ মিটে যেত। আলোর আড়ালে তোমার অন্য কোনও পরিচিতি ঢাকা পড়ার সময় এসে যেত ততক্ষণে। এখন আসবে না। বরং বেলা পড়ে এলে ল্যাম্পপোস্টগুলো একে একে তলোয়ার খুলে ফেলার সময় থাকার পুরনো কথা নতুন করে মনে করিয়ে দেবে কেউ। যে-থাকা বলতে বোঝায় খালি আলোর জন্য থাকা।

৩.

ধরা যাক, সমান্তরাল কোনও পৃথিবীতে এখন লোডশেডিং। মানুষের মুখ আপাতত মানুষের মত না-দেখালেও কেউ কাঁদছে না, এমনকি মানুষও।

Piece 3

কোথাও একটা হঠাৎ বাজি পোড়ে। বেওয়ারিশ কতগুলো ফুলকি অন্ধকারের খবর পেয়ে এতটা পথ দৌড়ে আসে। ঝিল চোখে তুমি প্রেক্ষাপট খানিক কালো করে ফের ঘেন্নায় মন দাও। আলো হতে না দিয়েই। একেকটা বজ্জাত তবু এদিকেই এসে পড়ে, পাল্লা নাড়ে আর পিদ্দিমের ভিতরের মাটি কেঁপে ওঠে। অভিশপ্ত! এইমাত্র ফিরে এল সলতে সেজে, এদিকে বাসি তেলও আগুনের খবর রাখতে ভুলে গেছে কতদিন হল। তুমি দেখেও দেখোনি, বলা ভালো অন্ধ সেজে বসে ছিলে কখন সকাল হবে আর পোড়া দুর্নাম সাত পাড়ায় ছড়িয়ে পড়বে সশব্দে! কিন্তু রাখা কথার ভার বড় দায়, পাড়া কোন মরণকাঠি আগলে বিশ্বাসঘাতকের মত দরজা জানালা সব এঁটে দিয়েছে, আসলে তুমি খবর না-রাখলেও অন্ধকারের অমোঘ ক্যাথিড্রালে তোমার হয়ে তোমার জন্যই রাখা মোমবাতি জ্বালিয়ে দিয়ে এতক্ষণে নিঃশব্দে সরে গেছে অন্য কেউ। তুমি মুখ ফিরিয়ে অন্যমনে আলোর জাহাজ চলে যেতে দেখছিলে ভরা বন্দরে, অথচ একরকম তান্ত্রিক আঙুল তুলে সবক’টা বাতিঘর জ্বেলে দিতে পারত সে-ই। অথচ এখন আর কিছু থাকলেও আলো নেই, তোমার ঘেন্নাগুলোও ক্রমাগত পথ হারাচ্ছে এপারে আসতে গিয়ে। তাদের পথ দেখানোর কেউ নেই, কোনও এক ইন্টারস্টেলার বেইমানির শিকার হচ্ছে সমস্ত যোগাযোগ, বাজি পুড়ছে অথচ আলো এতটুকু দাঁড়াচ্ছে না। আসলে আলোর মত করে কেউ এভাবে দাঁড়িয়ে থাকতে শেখেনি বোধহয়। তোমার চোখে ঝিল কেঁপে ওঠে, অথচ তা দেখিয়ে দেওয়ার জন্য আলো জেগে নেই। অন্ধকার ছিল। থাকে। অথচ অন্ধকার থেকে এতদূরে একটা পৃথিবীতে বসে থেকে আমি মনে করতে পারি না, কে যেন বলেছিল, “সন্ধ্যেবেলার ল্যাম্পপোস্টগুলো অন্তত দাঁড়িয়ে থেকে শ্যামাপোকাদের রুদালি শোনে..”

Poetry: Arkaprabha Roychowdhury

Illustrations: Subarnarekha Pal

What Even is Revolution but a Carnival of Hope? – Reflections by Barshana Basu

Ashiana. Ashiana, who has gained a following as the youngest ‘protestor’ has been sitting in along with her mother Rehana Khatoon and thousands of protestors, mostly Muslim women, for the last three weeks. The country wide demonstrations against the Citizenship Amendment Act (C.A.A.), the National Register of Citizens (N.R.C.), and the National Population Register (N.P.R.) has witnessed overwhelming participation from people of all walks of life, even in the face of brutal state oppression and state sponsored violence, directed especially against the Muslim community. The last few weeks have been cathartic. Growing up in a leftist household and studying in an university known for its voice of resistance, I have walked in many “michhils” (‘rally’ or ‘march’ cannot contain all the emotions that a ‘michhil‘ is ripe with) and expressed my solidarity to others. But the protests of the winter of 2019-20 are different – this winter is of despair, this winter is of hope.

Protest 2

I have grown up hearing “ye azadi jhuta hai” (“this freedom is a farce”), I still believe that we are yet to achieve ‘freedom’ in its truest sense, but the current momentum gives me hope. Many like me have never felt passionately attached to the symbolic representations of India, be it the tricolour or the national anthem, but I have seen that change over this memorable winter. This winter, we are standing for the national anthem on our own accords. We are singing along because we wish to and not because the government dictated that one should sing along before watching a movie in a theatre. In the last few years whenever I went to watch a movie and the national anthem was played, I sat at the edge of my seat, anticipating with fear that I might just get lynched any moment for not participating in forced patriotism. Those 52 seconds seemed like forever, forever of defiance, forever of resistance, forever of fear. Whenever at demonstrations nowadays the national anthem is sung, I feel elated. I can finally stand for it without being bullied, I can finally sing along because I choose to and not because the Big Brother wants to force doses of Hindutva ‘nationalism’ down my throat.

 

The skyline of the recent protests has been an interesting site – it has been a vibrant milieu of flags of all hues  embodying diverse ideas. All the michhils that I  have walked in in the past have mostly been adorned with red flags (‘rokto potaka‘ if you may), some since the first Pride parade I attended a few of winters back, have been dotted with rainbow coloured ones. The only instance I can recall of marching with the tricolour being present is on one damp cold school sports morning. That wasn’t a michhil, that was a mandatory march past, and it was devoid of any emotion. I can hardly recall having any sort of feelings, let alone strong ones at that, about the tricolour. However, in the last few weeks, the hundreds of michhils that reclaimed the streets, demanding azadi, demanding an end to state sponsored bigotry, an end to fascism, saw the active and enthusiastic presence of the tricolour. On 19th December ’19, for the first time in my life of 22 years and hundreds of michhils, I was voluntarily a part of something that celebrated the tricolour. There were scores of tricolours fluttering unfettered, people of starkly diverse backgrounds waved their tricolours as if in a trance, all the while chanting slogans of azadi. It was hypnotic, the last few days have been that way. In all the michhils since then, the tricolour has been a permanent fixture. Talking about flags, the omnipresence of the rainbow pride flag and the blue Bheem Army flags speaks a lot about the particularly inclusive nature of this movement. Protest 1While the red flag has been a global symbol of resistance for decades, it’s heartening to see it being eased of the solitary burden. The red, the blue, the rainbow, and the tricolour have raised a riot of resistance against the somber winter sky.

 

This winter has been of grief, this winter has been of resilience. Every visitor at Shaheen Bagh is bombarded by a retinue of questions from the women who have been braving the bitter Delhi cold in their fight to save the Constitution – “Have you had anything to eat?”, “Why haven’t you eaten anything?”, “You have come from such a distance, please have something.” The women of Shaheen Bagh belong to all ages – from 20 days old Ashiana, to nonagenarian Asma Khatun. The women of Shaheen Bagh raise slogans of azadi, the women of Shaheen Bagh sing songs of resistance, the women of Shaheen Bagh take care of each other, the women of Shaheen Bagh forge friendships while basking in the warmth of shared blankets. The women of Shaheen Bagh are often seen to break into impromptu dance sessions. However, swaying in resistance is not their exclusive forte. When a massive michhil culminated in Kolkata’s New Market area, a group of people started singing, dozens joined them, they held hands and went around in circles. While the  adivasi anthem of “gao chhorab nahi” (“we won’t leave this village”) was being sung, a local man, perhaps in his forties, sporting a big grin and tattered clothes, made his way to the centre of the circle and started dancing along the beats of the song – a song of resistance which in all probability he was hearing for the first time. He swayed in a manner as if the people around has been his closest friends since ages. A similar imagery was witnessed in Mumbai. A group of protesters, mostly students, had gathered at the Gateway of India. While slogans were being raised, an elderly gentleman, sporting a cap from under which fluffy white tufts of hair were peeping, started swaying along. In that sporadic moment of exuberance, arguably the youngest soul of the crowd made the demonstration a hundred times merrier.Protest 4

There has been passive participants galore. In one of the michhils in Jadavpur area of Kolkata, I caught the sight of a woman who was on a video call. I stole glances at her screen, and there were around three or four elderly women in a huddle. The active participant of the michhil tried hard to keep the women on the other side abreast with the michhil and the slogans. At one time one of her virtual audiences raised a clenched fist keeping in mood with the michhil. As we marched forward, a friend of mine drew my attention to a second floor balcony by the road. An old man sporting unabashed glee was holding the receiver of a landline phone of the bygone era, with his other infirm hand, he was holding the rest of the bulky phone. He was trying to capture the sounds of the michhil for the person on the other end – perhaps an old comrade, perhaps a forlorn lover, perhaps both at the same time. I would like to believe that he was reminiscing his old days, days when he was out on the streets, fighting on the right side of history. How dare I exclude that clenched fist on that five inch screen from the michhil! How dare I say that the man with his telephone was not matching his steps with ours!

 

Protest 3I have always identified more as a  Bangali than as an Indian. However, standing today, I can vouch for the fact that I have never felt more Indian before. We are standing on an oddly weird crossroad – at the very moment that the state is trying to mark us as non-bonafide infiltrators of the nation, we are feeling the most at one with that very nation. At the risk of resorting to a cliché, one cannot help but seek refuge in Dickens –

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…”

 

It’s a wonderful epoch when we are reclaiming the tricolour, the national anthem, the constitution, and at large the nation from the clenches of fascist goons. It’s a beautiful time to be alive, it’s a beautiful time to be out on the streets. Undoubtedly this is the darkest period in postcolonial India’s history, but this period is replete with the promise of a better future, perhaps a free India, an azad India in the truest sense of the poignant word. Call me a hopeless romantic, but I would like to believe that we are standing at the threshold of a revolution, for what even is revolution but a carnival of hope?

IMG_20190802_142754.jpgBarshana Basu completed her graduation from Jadavpur University and is currently pursuing her Masters in History from the same. Her areas of interest include the sociopolitical and cultural history of Kolkata in the colonial and post-colonial period, its built spaces, and migrant communities. She also harbours a strong penchant for Gender Studies. She’s a Citizen Historian with the 1947 Partition Archive. If not buried under a pile of books, she’s most likely to be found loitering around the labyrinthine alleyways of Kolkata, clicking pictures of odd edifices.