His Master’s Voice
(For Major Avtar Singh – the murderer of Jaleel Andrabi)
they play your voice
at night on the broken
gramophone when the light worms
have slept, tired of the drenched morning
that never ends.
Your notes shake hands
Like the fleeting rain falling on
Blown out lamps. The days are sad, Master
yet at night smoke of sadder death fills my wide nostrils.
They burn all the idols
Of gods anointed by
I petition to dye
The soiled bowl of moon
With the warm tint of that fateful
Master, I petition
the shadows of banned stars
protest at night near my tongue tied window and break open
I have forfeited my dogmas
surrendered every charade of a plan.
I have sworn via costly affidavits before
their Lordships: I won’t atone my sins.
Yet, every night, Master, my throat refuses to howl.
I ache for
a sip of warm
Curse my sad eyes.
Your murderer left the house
Weeping and wailing. I never consoled
him. He cupped your warm blood in his coarse hands
and deposited it softly in my
bowl. The taste lingers,
Master. How can I then
I clench cold blue pebbles
in my swollen palms.
Mother sprinkles warm breath
gathered from drenched Quran and her prayer rug.
Uncle says four witnesses testified-
moon rose in Iqbal’s medicated eyes on Eid.
He ploughed the soiled lane
with thirsty nails after the last bullet.
In the fresh mazaar, we bound his dead
feet with narcissus plucked from beside the grave.
The parchment of my heart
is empty, quite empty.
Letters to Azaadi
Either everyone talks of you to me
Or else no one converse with me
They barricade us, dear
in halls of censored silence.
A half dead rumour
whispers you will visit soon.
Black roses shed mourning, buds
bulge in the blind garden
beside frantic beds in the fort-prison.
We were directed to forget
the taste of tulips left on battered
tongues and further directed to report
the rumours of your exile to stinking Dal.
We wrote back
An ember simmers in our ancestral mouths
when cold minutes prey on a mutilated memory.
We wrote that this fire also feeds on our caned bones.
We Remain wedded to our delusion:
One day, the final destination of mirages
will testify in courts of reality. Their apprehensions
too will be dismissed, we too will wheel in the hollow horse of victory.
We are still prisoners of the sorcerers.
They lure us with outlawed remedies and handcuffed
potions. They gouge out our warm heartbeats and auction them
at the loud borders over feasts of rented revelry. We are yet foolish dear
to smuggle letters to you in our beats. Do they reach you? Did you read them? You never reply.
Minutes of a Meeting
Neither a ritual of friendship, nor any mark of enmity
Both adopt a similar colour in your city.
- Khatir Gaznavi
Look, did nobody inform you?
The vultures meet tomorrow to discuss the magpie.
The feast is set and the guests are met, in Coleridge’s words.
Today, the radio news announced the magpie stands accused
of slander, misinformation and rebellion against the dead summer.
The summer was found dangling upside down from the almond bough
in the masked gardens yesterday. The Magpie is the prime suspect.
Yesterday, the radio declared it in four dead languages every hour.
I heard them.
Indeed, did nobody inform you?
They have all the proofs. The magpie was found
hopping in blood coated feet between the words
of a poem by Shahid. You know Shahid? No, not the boy shot dead
yesterday. No, not the one they picked up last year!
No, Shahid – our beloved witness and cashmere poet.
The magpie was caught near his villas of peace.
The spotlight caught him
eying the inscriptions on the graves
recently whitewashed. We need new symbols,
they announced on the radio. So, they have wiped hurried blood
off the clichéd inscriptions. You know the elegy
about the swallow returning the garden back to the gulcheen – the black rose thief.
The radio announced elegies are banned now.
I heard them.
Indeed, did nobody inform you?
That the trial is due soon. The magpie has spilled the beans.
It is due to be grand conspiracy. The bats have shut their bored eyes.
They have seen and heard enough. No prior sanction is required to display
its gassed innards on the clock tower. The radio threatened miscreants to not expect mercy.
I heard them.
Indeed, did nobody inform you?
Last winter, the magpies hung in the warm jails
were piled on the blasted road. They wrapped them in smoked shrouds
after calculating the price of a censored massacre. Their ghosts have promised
to immolate themselves at the feast in protest. The wary vultures have announced
that nobody shall be permitted to take any liberty, so they will step up security.
The radio speculated it remains to be seen who emerges the victor.
I heard them.
Testimony in February
Murdering a lover was never far from any beloved’s mind-
but before your regime, it wasn’t the general practise
Faraz, what befell the garden’s residents this time?
Why don’t my friends of the cage answer me?
We will evacuate our grief
Won’t you rent our empty hearts?
We will forsake our creed
Won’t you be the Prophet of heresy?
We will prevail upon Death
Won’t you outbid it at the auction?
We have disowned desire
Won’t you accept our turn of phrase?
We forgot your name
Won’t you silence our conversations?
We scheme we will be faithful
Won’t you seduce us in sore custody?
We have abandoned our homes
Won’t you house us in mirrors of history?
We gaze out from the prison window
Won’t you blow out green stars and the moon?
We too call caged friends, Faraz
Won’t they reply with tidings of a massacre?
Huzaifa Pandit was born and raised in Kashmir. He is pursuing a PhD on “Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Agha Shahid Ali and Mahmoud Darwish – Loss, Lyricism and Resistance” at University of Kashmir. His poems, translations, essays and papers have been published in various journals like Indian Literature, PaperCuts, CLRI, Punch and Muse India. He is fond of Urdu poetry, Urdu and old Bollywood music. He hopes to publish a book of his translations soon.
The walls of Paris-Sorbonne in 68 were written over with the slogan “Soyez realistes, demandez l’impossible” meaning “Be realistic, demand the impossible.” It is just such an echo that can be heard today in Jadavpur University, an echo that slowly gathers momentum across the state and country to swell into a giant bellow that begins to shake the corridors of power, while touching countless other lives with the mellifluous music of hope in the darkest of times. The recent movement that started up as a response to the arbitrary and unprofessional scrapping of admission tests for six departments of the Arts Faculty at Jadavpur University, represents a critical moment in the history of the consciousness of student communities in West Bengal. The decision to scrap admission tests in favour of “merit” based admission (viz. marks obtained in the board examinations of the 12th standard), while overtly an internal decision of the Executive Council (E.C.), the highest decision-making body of the university, had all the ingredients of state intervention in the internal functioning of the university. The rapid changing of decisions as to the modalities of the admission process, together with their absolute sync with statements given out by functionaries of the Higher Education department of the state government, leave no room for doubt as to the actual source of these machinations.
Two things are important in this equation. First, the numerous reports of corruption in the admissions process in colleges across the state, including the much-publicised cash-for-seats allegations that have rocked the public education sector in West Bengal this year, stand out in stark contrast to the lack of such complaints about the admissions process at Jadavpur University. The fact that different departments follow different procedures to admit students should not be a roadblock towards academic continuity. In fact, the freedom of academic departments to decide their criteria of admission, their syllabi and modes of assessment are the greatest contributors to academic excellence. To a postcolonial state obsessed with the West and its modes of functioning, this should be an easily acceptable reality, seeing as universities across the USA, Europe, Canada and Australia grant a great degree of freedom to their departments to decide how to admit their students and what syllabi to teach, where standardised tests form only a component of the overall application process, and are sometimes entirely absent. Closer home, institutions of excellence acknowledged by all, such as the Jawaharlal Nehru University (J.N.U.), The English and Foreign Languages University (E.F.L.U.), the Indian Institutes of Technology (I.I.T.s) and many others also use admission tests to determine which students are the best fit for its courses. The need to refer to a legality, the advice of the Attorney General of the state apparently sought by the Vice Chancellor, to throw the entire process into question exposes the application of external pressure to subvert the autonomy of an academic institution. Secondly, this attempt to interfere in the internal functioning of the university is not the first of its kind nor is an isolated occurrence. Successive governments have attempted to interfere in the functioning of the university and subvert its autonomy, especially in the matter of teacher recruitments and governance of the university. However, the attack has been intensified in the last few years. The removal of student representation in the EC, the stalling of elections to the Teachers’ Association, attacks on the various research Schools and Centres that function in the university independently of the major departments, together with repeated messages in the mass media by functionaries of the Higher Education department, including the minister for that department, claiming that the government paid the salaries of the professors and staff and therefore they would have to ‘toe the line’ when it came to government policies related to the university, have all been calculated to erode its autonomy. Jadavpur University is an autonomous public academic institution which does not require the interference of the government. Jadavpur University is ranked 6th among all the Universities in the country by the 2018 National Institutional Ranking Framework (N.I.R.F.) of the H.R.D. ministry of India and is ranked 74th in the BRICS economies, 125th in Asia and in the range of 601-650 in the world according to the QS World University Rankings of 2018. US News and World Reports also ranked it at 772 in the world. It regularly receives grants and international honours and is among best-known Indian universities around the world. Since it is not lacking in merit even according to empirical standards, though rankings are hardly a complete or nuanced measure of true excellence, what is the urgent need to radically alter its functional methodologies? The answer, perhaps, lies in a domain other than that of academic or research competence.
The attempt by sections of the government and some intellectuals and professors to tar the students’ protests against such intervention as an elite, protectionist one does not hold water. In fact, with students coming from schools affiliated to the ICSE and CBSE boards scoring better marks across spectrum, a ‘marks-based’ merit system would actually adversely affect the chances of those who might aspire to study in the six departments where admission tests are held but who did not get sufficient marks in their Board Examinations. The process can always be improved and made even more inclusive, but this cannot be by the arbitrary diktats of governments. As for the question of uniformity of policy, as I have previously addressed, individual departments need not determine their academic environment in accordance with some external desire for uniformity or conformity. Academic excellence can only be achieved in an atmosphere of freedom, trust and confidence. If at any point any of the departments of the Arts Faculty feel that their system is flawed or outdated, they should have the courage to revisit and restructure not only their admissions process but their very modes of functioning. This process cannot be unilateral, and while the students cannot in effect demand a say in how the department’s admissions process is conducted, their cooperation and participation in any refashioning or transition will only allow better mutual understanding and a better academic environment to flourish in the university.
The walls of Jadavpur University are covered with graffiti from two successive, even contiguous, movements. While the mainstream media and guardians of the ‘moral conscience’ of society constantly point to the so-called excesses and irreverent ridicule towards figures of authority, very few focus on the creative desire of the students for positive growth and change. Reverence has never been the strong suit of students, and long may they remain critical of everything that is ossified in our society. The fact that they are prepared to put their bodies on the line so that those appearing for the entrance examinations may not be deprived the chance they themselves received, so that their academic departments do not suffer from the negative impact of an erosion of autonomy, shows the unlimited reserves of courage, self-sacrifice and moral fibre that marks the unique body that are the student-youth of a country. At a time when public education is under imminent threat of privatisation, and academic autonomy and progressive values are being stifled by both the state and social forces aligned to various fundamentalist forces, it is even more important that spaces for dissent be strengthened, and the public University has always been the nucleus of such thought and action. In order to overturn the siege of education by market and fundamentalist forces that threaten the very fabric of the country, solidarity must be extended to the just struggles of students fighting to preserve academic autonomy and its contribution to social progress.
The writing on the walls speak of change. Change that begins not at some other place, or some other point in time, but here and now. Students are the sentinels of history, and they shoulder the responsibility for its progress. The audacity of students always sparks either admiration or anger. It rarely leaves any space for apathy. As the clouds of the habitual Kolkata monsoon break apart and the sun shines on the buoyant, determined faces of the students, one realises how important it is that young flowers be allowed to grow and not stifled before they are able to raise their heads towards the sun. The flowers that grow in the garden of the University fill the world with their perfume and splendour. And these are not fragile flowers, easily wilting under pressure. They are unyielding, unwavering, proud and thorny to the touch if handled incorrectly or not accorded due respect. They go out into the world and cover it with their petals. When you ask them to be practical, be reasonable, be ‘realistic’, they listen in ways you cannot imagine.
They are realistic. They demand the impossible. And the impossible transforms into reality at their touch.
– Syamantakshobhan Basu
[Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of Platos Caves and Platos Caves does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.]
What consociates Prince Albert Victor, son of the Prince of Wales and second in line to the throne, with Sherlock Holmes is their cognition with the Cleveland Street. The Cleveland street scandal occurred in 1889 when a homosexual male brothel in Cleveland Street, London was discovered by the police. In The Hound of Baskervilles, Doyle clandestinely mentions Holmes hiring a ‘telegraph boy.’ Aristocrats of England were a regular at the Cleveland brothel where young telegraph boys also served as prostitutes.
Holmes’ queerness has always been a matter of contention. Whether or not Holmes is gay was never indisputably answered by Doyle but R.G. DeMarco optimistically remarks that Doyle has left trails “that a discerning well informed reader could immediately follow.”
In The Five Orange Pipes, one of Holmes ‘client is killed on the Embankment. The Embankment, like Cleveland, was a famous homosexual gliding area, although Holmes acquaintance with the area is never clearly illustrated in any of Doyle’s other works.
The idea that Holmes could in fact be gay originates from his and Dr. Watson’s relationship. Doyle makes no effort to hide Sherlock and John’s over affectionate relationship. Doyle explores their relationship through various works. He often reveals how Holmes and Watson shared intimate looks and professed their love and need for each other. In The Adventure of the Three Garridebs Watson gets wounded. Holmes becomes crestfallen and immediately rushes to Watson’s aid dismissing his client’s presence. Holmes becomes aghast, so much so that Watson narrates, “It was worth a wound- it was worth many wounds- to know the depth of loyalty and love which lay behind that cold mask.”
Holmes and Watson’s relationship has a symbiotic aspect too. Watson brings in domesticity required to ground Holmes and Holmes brings adventures into their lives. However, their relationship far transcends the boundaries of friendship. Even when Watson marries, he continues to visit Holmes, until finally when both his marriages end and he rejoins Holmes at 221 B Baker Street.
Holmes’ apparent disinterest in marriage and the opposite sex is often a cause for suspicion of his gayness too. Although, it’s not until the 70’s that the question if Sherlock Holmes is actually gay is comprehensively speculated. In The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, (1970) Holmes ‘pretends’ to be gay, but it’s only with Sherlock Holmes (2009) with Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law that the idea gains a concrete ground. However, it is BBC’s adaptation which boomingly states the great detective to be gay. Nevertheless, Benedict Cumberbatch, who starred as the detective in the adaptation in an interview stated, “He’s asexual. He doesn’t want any, and it’s very purposeful on his part.
“The discovery of an unpublished manuscript by John H. Watson may well engender in the world of letters as much skepticism as surprise.” Nicholas Meyer wrote in his introduction to The Seven Percent Solution. Holmes’ cocaine addiction is no secret. It is mostly about him trying to come to terms with his childhood traumas (later revealed in the novel that it was Holmes’ father who had murdered his mother and that Moriarty was her lover) or accepting is stoic and apathetic nature. Holmes’ never tried to fit in. When Meyer adapted the novel into a screenplay he deviated a bit from Doyle’s’ image of Sherlock. Meyer’s Sherlock was rather flamboyant and flirtatious.
The Sexual Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’ by Larry Townsend came out in 1971. The book is a Holmes’ cannon, erotic novel concentrating heavily on Sherlock and Watson’s relationship both emotional and physical. Mrs. Hudson, is completely absent throughout the course of the novel and unequivocally every other character is gay.
When guesstimating Holmes’ relationship and his sexual orientation, we often miss one of his most important conjunctions. Holmes’ impassivity to the opposite sex is quite clear, his relationship with ‘the woman’ isn’t. Irene Adler featured in Doyle’s short story A Scandal in Bohemia. Sherlock never once took her name. He would always address her as ‘the woman’. In spite of his dispassionate behavior towards Adler, Holmes’ admired her. Whether the admiration could lead into a romantic or sexual arrangement was never made clear by Doyle. However, in the Holmes’ cannon, Adler is often Holmes’ only female love interest.
No writer in the Victorian era could ingenuously create homosexual characters. However, they would leave evidences and clues for the readers to pick upon. Doyle did the same. Holmes’ and Watson lived together. They often used terms of endearments to address each other which ranged from ‘my dear’ to ‘my ideal helpmate’ and ‘the man whom above all others I revere.’ Doyle’s personal life too could be an object of reference. Doyle and Oscar Wilde shared a very close bond. Wilde was very forthcoming of his taste. He was put to trial in 1895 on trail and incarcerated. In 1904 Doyle wrote The Three Students, where Watson states “”It was in the year ’95 that a combination of events, into which I need not enter, caused Mr. Sherlock Holmes and myself to spend some weeks in one of our great University towns.”
In The Final Problem, Holmes asks Watson to flee with him to the ‘continent.’ The punishment for homosexuality and crimes related to homosexuality ranged from imprisonment to chemical castration. The ‘continent’ was either France or Italy where the aristocrats and other rich folks could flee to, to avoid persecution. According to DeMarco, “that’s quite a large clue that Doyle hides in plain sight.”
Holmes’ relationship with Watson and the page boy are just one of the many things that make readers question his queerness. Holmes’ gayness has always been a matter of speculation. In most cases Watson’s heterosexuality is presumed and it complements Holmes’ apparent homosexuality or asexuality. It’s needless to say that Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes was a man of dubious morals and an ambiguous sexuality.
- A Study in Lavender by Joseph R G DeMarco
- The Seven Percent Solution by Nicholas Meyer
Qahera is a web-comic created in 2013 by the Egyptian artist Deena Mohamed in response to media representation of Muslim women and their living conditions in modern day Egypt. In Qahera, Mohamed borrows the foreign medium of superhero comics to narrate the concerns of Arab and Muslim women. Superhero comic, in its historically conventional form, is dominated by superheroes who are often while, male and Western, while female characters tend to be hypersexualized as a spectacle for the male gaze. But Mohammad’s Quahera marks a point of departure.
This web-comic series revolves round the exploits of Qahera, a hijab-clad superheroine living in Cairo, who uses her superpowers to defend women under physical or ideological attacks. Her name, carrying a double meaning of “conqueror” and the Arabic term for Cairo, seems to coalesce the concept of agency with her Egyptian Muslim identity. Deena Mohamed, in an interview, claims that she intentionally made Qahera veiled “because she combats Islamophobia that veiled women face to a large extent due to being very recognizably Muslims, and because there is already such little representation of women in hijabs that isn’t dehumanizing.”
Whether vilifying or glorifying the hijab, essentialist Western and Arab misogynistic discourses treat it as a performance of muteness. The former views the hijab-draped woman as an abnormality and she is often abstracted in Western media to epitomize foreign cultural oppression. As the most visible member of Muslim societies, women in hijabs are frequently turned into soft targets for xenophobia and other dehumanizing rhetoric. On the other hand, the sociocultural location of women in hijabs in Arab societies and within patriarchal and religious discourses is quite complicated. Currently the hijab-clad womanhas become the symbol of “umma”/nation for Muslims— she has become an embodiment highlights the morality of a God-fearing patriarchy where men protect and women need to be protected. But web-comic artist Deena Mohamed rejects this signification that dehumanizes the woman underneath the hijab by reducing her to a symbol. Thus her superheroine in Qahera is depicted in a manner that turns these essentialist discourses on their heads. As a superwoman who fights prejudice and crimes against women in Egypt, Qahera refuses her subjectivity to be subsumed either by the Western discourses that aim to ‘liberate’ her or by the Arab misogynist discourse that deem her as an object to be preserved and ‘protected’. This facet of Qahera’s identity is made apparent by the visual semiotics of the web-comic, wherein all figures are delineated in black and white, with an exception of Qahera who is sketched in grey. Thus she emerges as a hybrising force that troubles the discourses which aim to control and contain her identity. Not only does she surface as an unintelligible entity once she defies the roles assigned to her by the discourses of Western feminism and Arab misogyny, but also destabilizes the discourses that undermine Muslim women’s ability to self-represent and determine the meaning of their social visibility.This is evident from Qahera’s exploits as depicted in the web-comic series, especially in chapters entitled “Brainstorm”, “On Femen”, “On Women’s Choices” and “On Protest”, where she defends Muslim women from ideological assault and sexual harassment.
In “Brainstorm”, aided by her super-hearing, Qahera hears some “misogynistic trash” being spouted by a Muslim cleric to an audience of agreeable men. He defines a good woman as an “obedient wife” who needs to be kept “in check” by her ‘dutiful’ husband.Qahera flies to the scene and interrupts the discourse by brandishing her sword in face of the cleric, before she penalizes him by transforming him into a spectacle hung on a laundry-drying line. Then, having justly discharged her duties, a content-looking Qahera sardonically points out to the subdued cleric: “You’re right, you know, housework is women’s work. I especially enjoy doing the laundry.” Such a punishment for the cleric not only helps Qahera to overly subvert stereotypical gender roles and relocate the chore of laundry outside of its intended domesticity, but it also evinces itself as an empowering act that allows Qahera to ideologically ‘cleanse’ the society by penalizing those rotten souls who disseminate such misogynistic ideas. After exacting her vengeance on the Muslim cleric, Qahera’s super-hearing detects some “rubbish”, this time, being spewed out by white Feminists on the “need to rescue Muslim women.” The comic closes with Qaherapromising another discursive intervention, this time against Western feminist discourse that relegates the hijab-draped Muslim woman as the oriental Other of the Western ‘liberated’ woman.
This theme is continued in the next chapter, “On Femen”, where the hijab-donning superwoman, Qahera, is pitted against “Femen” protesters. This comic was posted online by Mohamed in response to a “topless jihad” held by the “Femen” protestors in April 2013 in front of the Great Mosque in Paris. In their breast-baring demonstration, they demanded freedom for Muslim woman from their ‘oppressive’’ garment. Their toplessness is meant to create a spectacle of contrast with Muslim women, emphasizing the polarity of choice women are forced to make between nudity and veiling—thus, like the misogynistic Arab discourse, Femen’s feminism fixates the body of the Muslim woman as one side of the Self/Other binary.Mohamed visualizes this binary opposition when Qahera confronts the Femen women. The ideological and discursive confrontation is narrated through several picture-specific panels—in one of these, the fully robed superheroine is pitted against the bare-bodied Femen protestors demonstrating in front of the mosque. The panel not only visualizes the binary of covered/uncovered bodies— rather being posited next to Femen and the mosque, which represents institutionalized Islam, Qahera seems to emerge as a third possibilityof what Muslim women could be beyond the cleric’s misogynist discourse or Femen’s homogenizing discourse. Qahera confronts the hegemonic binary opposition of Femen/mosque and challenges both by retaining her subjectivity as a covered and empowered woman. However Qahera’s character brings home the point that she is a superheroine neither because of her hijab nor inspite of it— rather the hijab is choice that she voluntarily embraces and strategically uses her hijab-clad body as a site of performance of power.
This issue of women’s sartorial choices surfaces in the chapter entitled “On Women’s Choice” when Qahera decides to engage in a verbal debate with two men over women’s act of donning the hijab. While entering a café with her unveiled friend, Qahera overhears two men enthusiastically debating over the hijab—the former posits the hijab as a symbol of backwardnessand urges Arab community to ‘progress’ by imitating Western culture, while the latter defends the hijab as a cover that protects women from sexual gaze and compares the uncovered woman as a dirty candy that attracts flies. Being outraged by both the discourses that objectify woman and treat her body as a carrier of social meaning, Qahera erupts and reprimands the men. She tells them that, “Women do not exist as periphery objects in your universe nor are they candy…They’re human beings! Women’s lives are not for you to prove a point! Our choices are not your political punchline.”Qahera not only rejects both arguments of local misogyny and Western superiority, but dismantles them by destabilizing the premise that a hijab is a spectacle of signification. She rather individualizes it as a choice rather than a metonymy of an institutionalized religion or a signifier of backwardness.
Just as Qahera defends women against ideological assault by generating her ‘super-discourse’ (which is not merely about Muslim women, but also by a Muslim woman), she employs her superpowers and weapons to shield women from actual sexual harassment. In the chapter “On Protest”, which deals with sexual assault against Egyptian women who participate in protests, Qahera saves a woman kidnapped by a mob and punishes the attackers. In the final panel, two female protestors appear in grey hijab and veil, which suggests that Qahera’s act is meant to empower women and not to ‘rescue’ them. These women, in their courage to protest against injustice and misogyny, resemble Qahera— this is highlighted by the grey hue of their figures and Qahera’s closing comment: “I am a superhero Ibecause have superpowers. They are superheroes because they do not.”
Deena Mohamed’s web-comic series Qahera not only acts as a medium to raise awareness for ideological issues and practical problems that plague modern Egypt, but it also delineates Qahera as a figure who defies easy categorization by the Arab misogynistic and Western feminist discourses. While Qahera never explicitly states the reason for donning the hijab, her covered body is never reduced to an object of obedience or submission. Qahera generates a discourse that leaves room for Egyptian women to thwart essentialist notions and reclaim their right over their sartorial choices and define empowerment in their own terms. Therein lies the success of Qahera.
If only there was a Qahera in Kathua or Unnao!
I wanted to watch Coco since I first watched the trailer. Being a new-age animated movie lover, I have watched almost everything this genre has to offer and still keep craving for more. When the film went on to win an Oscar, I finally sat down and watched it, and for the lack of anything better to say, completely lost my mind.
The story of the film follows a little Mexican boy called Miguel Rivera (voiced by Anthony Gonzales), who wants to become a musician, against the will of his family. When he tries to steal something from a dead musician on Dia de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead), he accidentally ends up in the Land of the Dead. Dia de los Muertos, a widely celebrated traditional ritual in Mexico, is the day when families welcome the spirits of their deceased ancestors. Miguel, in his frenzied dream to become a musician, chooses this very day to leave his house to perform for the people. He steals a guitar from the deceased musician Ernesto de la Cruz’s (voiced by Benjamin Bratt) gravethus ending up with a curse whic hleaves him half-dead. As a result, only his dead relatives can see and feel him.
They quickly take him to the Land of the Dead to meet his great great grandmother Mama Imelda (voiced by Alanna Ubach). We soon learn that it was Mama Imelda who had forbidden anyone in the family to pursue music after her husband abandoned her.
Unwilling to compromsie with his dream by promising to give up his music, Miguel runs away again, risking death. He then tries to search for Ernesto de la Cruz, the deceased musician, who he believes is the great great grandfather who ran away from his family. Another friendly ghost, Hector Rivera, agrees to help Miguel on one condition: he has to put Hector’s picture on an Ofrenda so that he can go and visit his daughter Coco (voiced by Ana Ofelia Murguia) in the Land of the Living. The mesmerising journey that these two undertake leads to some shocking revelations, but as is the ritual in the Disney movies, everything resolves in the end, and we see a very promising Happily Ever After.
The reason everyone (children and adults alike) should watch the movie is its fascinating storyline. The story, which is based on an age old Mexican practice, is as classical as it gets. It shows us how important one’s family is in their lives. It teaches the young why they should never leave their family, which is a constant beacon of support and solace one has. On the other hand, it also teaches us how important it is to let the younger generation follow their dreams.
It is also a particularly telling narrative, in the context of the current political atmosphere in Trump’s America where all Mexican immigrants are branded criminals importing drugs and lawlessness. Miguel and his family are neither learning English nor trying to escape into America. They have everything that they hold dear in their little town, and in each other. The all brown cast of the film that topped the film charts across the world seem to be winking in the face of the chest thumping White supremacist rhetoric and unabashed xenophobia. Mexicans in Coco, as in real life, are a people steeped in their culture, too fiercely proud to even acknowledge the presence of a powerful adversary in the neighbouring land.
Other than the beautiful storyline, what left me spellbound was the music throughout the movie. Every song is Coco touches the heart, while ‘Remember Me’ lifts your spirit up and brings it crashing down to realise that people exist just as long they are remembered. To be forgotten alone is to die. Coco is a beautiful quest narrative, liberally endowed with spectacles, grandeur and soul-stirring music to drive the point home.
From the broken statue of Lenin in Bilonia in Tripura to the sea of red, created by agitating farmers, led by All India Kisan Sabha, in Mumbai’s Azad Maidan, the Indian political spectrum has been a saga of surprising contradictions over the last fortnight. But perhaps that is not really a surprise. This is a land of multiple temporalities where apparent anomalies are unblinkingly commonplace.
Yet, there is no denying the fact that it came as a shock to many when the Left suffered a chastening defeat at the hands of the BJP in Tripura, despite having a rather satisfactory performance record, a leader whose austere and honest lifestyle is not even blemished by opponents and the dearth of any concerted popular opposition against the ruling party. More than the electoral defeat of the Left, which happens at regular intervals in Kerala and more often now in West Bengal, what was shocking was the rise of a polarising and divisive force like the BJP in a state that had witnessed sustained peace for more than two decades after terrible episodes of violence. And almost to confirm widespread apprehensions among anyone tinged with sanity, secularism and sagacity, the electoral success of the BJP was followed by rampant violence against CPM workers in different corners of the state, acts of plunder and vandalism and of course, the visually telling demolition of the statue of Lenin at Bilonia. None of this could be termed unforeseen. The ideological progenies of Nathuram Godse are past masters of murder and mayhem as evident from the many traces of barbarism which can still be seen and heard in corners of Bhagalpur, Ayodhya, Mumbai, Naroda Patiya in Gujarat, Kandhmal in Orissa, Muzzaffarnagar in U.P….and many other sites. Tripura became and will continue to be, for at least a few more years, yet another laboratory of the religio-fascist violence which is the hallmark of the Sangh Parivar and its hydra-like branches. The unquiet corpses of Akhlaq Ahmad, Rohith Vemula, Junaid, Gauri Lankesh, M.M. Kalburgi, Govind Panesaar or Narendra Dabholkar continue to howl in the wind about these ongoing atrocities which the notorious sieve of public memory lets so easily slip by. All these murders, as well as the aforementioned examples of organised violence, are the handiwork of various groups directly or indirectly affiliated to the Sangh Parivar and the centre therefore either ignores these crimes or abets them through provocative remarks of one kind or another. Given such political realities, what would prompt voters to vote for BJP en masse? One has to wonder if we Indians are, after all, contrary to popular perception, a people which condones and at times even encourages various forms of brutality without either remorse or redress. While a statue of Lenin is less important than his historical role and his ideas, and breaking a statue does nothing to weaken belief in his ideas, the assault against the statue of course stands for a virulent form of intolerance which is embodied not just by ordinary karsevaks but also by those occupying administrative positions such as the existing Governor of Tripura. Since then, similar attacks against statues of Ambedkar and Periyar have been seen in different parts of the country, all symbolising this rising discourse of intolerance which of course has a fair amount of popular support as well. Had it not been for such support, the murder of Junaid in a crowded train would not have been possible, nor would the murderer of Mohammad Afrazul in Rajsamand in Rajasthan receive thousands of rupees for legal assistance nor would BJP secure a victory in Dadri in UP where Akhlaq Ahmad was murdered on the suspicion of possessing and consuming beef. Each such event bares the stained conscience of a nation whose people grow more intolerant, more violent, more inhuman. And if that is the case, why should we hope for a popular upsurge that might bring a better world? Couldn’t it well be, if ever, a more diabolical monstrosity?
And it is in the midst of such despair that the sea of red in Maharashtra brings such relief about the idea of the ‘people’. 50000 farmers marching barefoot to the state capital and also the financial capital of the country, in a peaceful and organised procession, without disrupting either citizens or students sitting for examinations, with a clear set of demands for mitigation of long-standing agricultural crisis, and eventually securing written assurances from the government for fulfilment of every single demand – is an unprecedented resource for hope in crisis-ridden age which has virtually forgotten the possibility of collective movements by subaltern populations for social good. What is also interesting to note is the great outpouring of support which the march has received from urban citizens who have greeted the protesting farmers with flowers, food and footwear for their sore and bleeding legs. Such actions signify a sense of solidarity which also overcomes divisive machinations of religion or caste or even gender, especially since the agitating farmers included men and women in equal measure.
Interestingly, while most media outlets have identified this as a proverbial long march, thus drawing a parallel between this one and that led by Mao in China, a more apt international comparison would perhaps be with the Zapatistas. Just as the Zapatistas from Chiapas in South West Mexico would march to the national capital to present their charter of demands to the elected representatives, so did the farmers led by AIKS. Just as the Zapatistas mostly consisted of landless peasants belonging to indigenous tribes, so also were the farmers in this march mostly landless people belonging to various Adivasi communities. And like the Zapatistas, these farmers were also not trying to stake a claim to political power; they are simply trying to assert their right to lead a dignified life which would not be beset by the constant menace of rising debt, inadequate prices and unavailability of sanctioned compensations due to bureaucratic rigmaroles. Demands met, like the Zapatistas, they will go back to their fields and till their lands, hoping that the governments would not renege on their promises. Could this then be India’s ‘zapatismo’ moment? Will it trigger further concerted struggles of the same vein in other parts of the land where there are similarly uncaring governments? This is too early for that. But for now, there is hope. Hope in a politics of the people that does not include violent, destructive mobs, videos of cold-blooded murders and barbaric glee over crumbled statues. Hope in the belief that the right kind of organic leadership might uplift the downtrodden from being cretinised instruments of havoc to inspiring agents of collective welfare.
As things stand, we are looking for interested candidates who would be willing to be a part of this endeavour. The profile would include, proof checking the various articles that have been submitted, correct errors in note and reference making. It would be helpful if one is proficient with the Chicago Manual style and the MLA 7th edition. Due to various constraints and since the journal is not a profit making venture, we would not be able to provide any honorarium to the candidates holding the post. But it is the joy and thrill of being associated with an international journal slowly gaining a foothold in international academia that should be spurring one on.
Interested candidates should mail their cv to the following email ids:
You made me think twice. You reintroduced the reckless in me. I wish that night would have been darker, the liquor would have been stronger, the starry sky would have been more picturesque, and the kiss a bit longer. You are as sweet as Abba’s Chiquitita and as bitter as Hendrix’s Voodoo Child. In short, you are Jackson’s Smooth Criminal.
You made me feel beautiful. In the worst of nights, when claustrophobia and agony were the only friends, you made me feel stronger. I wish to laugh my ass off at your stupid jokes. I wish to see that rotund, bespectacled face of yours and bask in its warmth. I miss you.
A stranger in the city of dreams, that’s what I was But miles away, in the city of joy, there was this musician, a dreamer who comforted me.We have always been on the same page yet different. You are the Tambourine man I would love to listen to.Will you play a song for me?
A traveler, a hippie. A certain city would have been impossible without you Mike! I still can’t define our equation in words. We were more like the hippies who were trying to find solace in a cloud of smoke. I hope you are doing well. All I wish is love and luck to you.
Junkie or a dreamer. The most chivalrous man I have ever bumped into. All I would say is Que Sera Sera. 🙂
Phew! And it’s 8 o’ clock now. I am all by myself. Let me chug some beer and contemplate over the could have beens.
These are dark times; we are uncertain as to what awaits us tomorrow, nay, not just tomorrow but the very next second. We live in a world marked by globalization – a deep inter-connectedness that shapes our everyday. Yet, our mindsets, worldviews remain parochial, incarcerated by narrow domestic walls – the very boundaries Tagore, the grand old Indian poet had warned us against!
Our politics has become vindictive, revengeful, and petty. It has become brutal, inhumane…may be it always was. When ‘senas’ torch school buses ferrying children (I refer here to recent attacks on school going students by the Karni Sena, a right-wing fundamentalist outfit); and which, does not even evoke any words of empathy from the leaders we have elected, it foregrounds the failure and incompetence not just of our politicians but of our very own selves! Other related incidences of carnage also come to mind: the sudden murder of Gauri Lankesh, the vigilantism of Gau Rakshaks [like really does the cow even know that it/she is called a cow in the first place and moreover, is the holy-cow even aware of the fact that she/it is being venerated as a mother by some supposedly rational people? Furthermore, is the holy-mother-cow more significant than our own human-mothers?]
The question is when did we fail? And why did we fail? I believe we failed at that exalted stroke of midnight, when the Indian nation was celebrating its independence, its tryst with destiny in 1947. But, why did we fail? We failed because it was at that very moment we handed our politics over to the ‘politicians’. Charles de Gaulle, the founder of the Fifth Republic of France and a former President of that country had once remarked that politics was too serious a matter to be left only to the politicians; yet we Indians have been guilty of the same!
I recently came across a post by a Facebook user – the ‘user’ sought to convey a simple yet a profound thought, the message posted on Facebook somewhat went along the following lines: governments elected by the people reflect those people in more ways than one. What did the Facebook-user mean by such a statement? An obvious, on the surface-type response would be – yes governments elected by the people definitely reflect their preferences at least when it comes to public policies. But what did the user imply by the phrase: ‘more ways than one’?
Do our elected governments reflect the kind of persons we really are or have become? Do the politicians we bring to power reflect the frameworks of morality we really subscribe to in our day to day existence? Do they reflect that we really are beings who are bigoted, racist and intolerant? During my childhood (I guess it applies to all the readers of this post as well) I used to recurrently hear from my teachers at school that one is known by the company she or he keeps. Such a statement essentially presupposes the voluntary act of exercising one’s choice and that the specific exercise of choosing a friend also reflects the kind of person one is.
Consequently, is it also not legitimate to argue that our governments do reflect the kind of people we really are? After all, our governments become our governments because of a voluntary choice on our part (for the purposes of this essay the Indian political system is understood to be a procedurally fair democracy)! Hence, by the abovementioned logic it must also be the case that our governments do indeed reflect us, to wit the Facebook user I had come across ‘in more ways than one’. Therefore, is the politics of intolerance of the present day something alien to our beings, to our consciousness? Or, is it something that emanates from our very core? Has our baser instincts overpowered our reasonable judgments, political or otherwise? Thus, are we also complicit in the grand design of subordination, social exclusion and violence?
It is my anticipation that the reader of this short piece would vociferously deride and dismiss the above charges. Our intelligentsia would argue: ‘we are shaped by social practices and norms you see!’… ‘Power makes us and it mars us!’… ‘We are mere products of governmentality’. The more everyday citizen would possibly despair: ‘where is the alternative?’…. ‘Our choice effectively is between the worse and the worst’… ‘We don’t have the power to change the system’!
At this juncture, I would urge you to take a deep breath and rethink the reason I had flagged off at the beginning of this essay. I had stated that our collective failure lay in the fact that we had handed our politics over to our politicians at the dawn of independence. Why do I make this statement? Did our politicians not usher in our freedom? Did they not lead the Quit India Movement of 1942? Conventional historiography would definitely highlight the role that the leaders had played! But what about the role of that individual young woman, nameless, faceless, for whom we do not celebrate any specific national holiday, who had burnt Manchester made attires? What about the grandmother who had cooked meals in secret so as to feed that freedom fighter in her locality? What about those young people who could have chosen to be anything or anyone else but gave up their lives so that India at last breathed the air of independence?
Micro-histories such as oral narratives are bringing to the forefront the many sacrifices made by different sections of the Indian society so that the people of India and its posterity could live in peace, and with dignity. Independence was the goal; it was achieved. We professionalized politics, giving rise to indigenous politicians, bureaucrats and the paraphernalia – these people were to be the engineers of the nation, they were to run the state, bring about development. The common person took a step back, became busy with their lives, their own ambitions and dreams. We wore our nationalism on particular days and valorized it for specific moments. We remain ever interested in politics (local, national and global) yet we exercise our political will very rarely. By, political will I do not refer to the periodic casting of the ballot at elections, which has been a rather successful exercise in India and also corroborated by the anonymous Facebook-user! Rather by political will I refer to the belief and the ability to speak truth to power, to make power accountable and to become the agents of a positive change, no matter how miniscule that change might be.
The above prescriptions may seem abstract for the moment. But, they are achievable. How do we go about achieving the same? There are two ways to address the above situation. One way is to turn a blind eye to the very many fundamentalisms that suffocate our society (considering them to be a temporary deviance) at the moment and to delimit ourselves in our own bubbles and to conversations between people with whom we would generally agree.
The other way is a rather difficult one. It, at the very first instance requires us to agree that our choices (be it autonomous or otherwise) reflect certain considered judgments or moral positions (even if they are not the most ideal ones) that we possess within ourselves. It is only then can we really begin to rectify the tendencies that may have gone awry.
For instance, when someone’s creative freedom is being suppressed, even threatened with physical annihilation the best possible starting point towards rectifying the said situation is not by otherising the culprit. It is to inquire whether any tendency within oneself would approve such acts of intolerance or not? If for some reason the tendency to be intolerant overpowers other reasonable sense of judgments then one ought to first fix that particular proclivity. And, thereafter, go about reasoning with our fellow participants (including the ones we elect) who are engaged in this socially cooperative venture known as India that they too can be accommodative, that they too have the power to choose their better selves.
This according to me is what Narendranath Dutta would have urged us to pursue. It is time to prove once again that the pen is mightier than the sword, and it is through myriad interpretations of texts, practices and institutions that deliberative rationality can be achieved. It is time to show that the present dominant narrative circulating throughout the country has certain logical flaws; that this narrative is doing disservice to its fountainhead.
The above passage is not meant to be a sermon. I too am complicit in the failure. However, I remain optimistic, hopeful that our political narrative will change…because hope is the best of good things and without hope life would not have any meaning. May the winds of change be upon us!