Elle: The Cruel Dichotomy between Rape and its Illusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Sruti Purkait

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কথোপকথন

kothopokothon

 

তুমিঃ বেশ তো হল শারদীয়ার পুজো পুজো লেখা
নস্টালজিয়া, পুরনো প্রেম, রবীন্দ্রনাথ ছোঁয়া –
এবার তবে অন্য কিছু হোক।

আমিঃ অন্য কিছু?

তুমিঃ এই শহরের মধ্যে আছে আরেকটা কলকাতা, দেখে লিখতে হবে!

আমিঃ এই ঋতুতে এই শহরে কি যে আছে আর!
বৃষ্টি কাদা জল আর জ্বরের সমাচার।

তুমিঃ সন্তর্পণে হিংসার মুখে থমকে আছে দেশ,
তোমার কলমে পড়বে না ধরা শ্বাপদের ভূষাবেশ?

আমিঃ এই শহর কি হিংসার মুখ দেখে?
হিংসা তো শুধু অন্য কোথাও ঘটে, নিশ্চিত ভাবে অন্য কার সাথে।
সারা বছর খেলা মেলায় ডুবে, শহর থাকে বালিতে মুখ গুঁজে।

তুমিঃ শহর মানে এটুকুই শুধু আজ?

আমিঃ আমাদের আছে অফিস ধরার বাস
আমাদের আছে বাজার সারার রাশ
আমাদের থাকে মাসিক বিলের ঝড়
তার পরে যে মরবে, যা মর!

তুমিঃ নকশালেরাও এই শহরেই ছিল, ভুখা পেটের শহীদেরাও সাথে
চলবে না কি আবার সদলবলে মিছিলগুলো ওদের দেখানো পথে?

আমিঃ স্মৃতির আকর খুঁড়ে আনা বিষম পরিহাস
একের পর এক mall এর নীচে আদর্শদের লাশ;
আমাদের ও বয়েস হচ্ছে ফেসবুক এ তেই চাষ
Share করার শেষে আমার meme এই সময় নাশ।
তবুও তোমায় জানিয়ে রাখি, বলছি কানে কানে,
বিপ্লব হবে সুপ্রভাতের পোস্ট এ,
রক্তিম কোন স্ট্যাটাস ঘোষণা করে।

ভাট বকো না বন্ধু বরং কণ্ঠ ছাড়ো জোরে
দেখা হবে তোমায় আমায় সেলফি শহরে।

—– Abin Chakraborty

Illustrations by Subarnaekha Pal

আবাহন

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1.বেশ অনেক বছর আগের কথা। নবমীর রাত। সবার অনুরোধে দুটি অল্প বয়েসি মেয়ে ধুনুচি নাচ এর ময়দানে নামল। তাদের কথা অনুযায়ী ক্যাসেট চালান হল। মুহূর্তের মধ্যে হেমন্ত মুখার্জী শুরু করলেন ধিতাং ধিতাং বলে। ঠিক ৭ সেকেন্ড সময় লাগলো আমার চারদিকের পৃথিবীটাকে ভুলতে। দুজনের মধ্যে একজন আমার থেকে বয়েসে বছর ৫/৭ এর বড়। সাদা সালওয়ার, ওড়না তা কোমরে বাঁধা। ওড়নার সাথে গোটা জগতটাকে নিজের মধ্যে বেঁধে নিয়েছে। তার হাথে তখন মাটির পাত্র নেই, যেন এপ্রিল মাসের তিরিশটা সূর্য কে নিয়ে সে মণ্ডপ প্রদক্ষিণ করছে। আর আমিও তার সাথে মিশরের পিরামিড, আমাজন এর জঙ্গল, ভেসুভিয়াস এর ভেতর দিয়ে হেটে চলেছি। বয়েস অল্প, সবে সবে ইংরেজি সাহিত্যর প্রেমে পরেছি। ক্লিওপাটরার নাম শুনেছি, সেদিন চোখে দেখলাম। ওদিকে হেমন্ত বাবুও নিজের জীবন দিয়ে গেয়ে চলেছেন। আগামীকাল পূজা শেষ। বোকার মত দাড়িয়ে ভাবছি, জীবনের নবমীর রাত টাও যেন এইভাবেই শেষ হয়।

poem 2

2.কতদিন কিছু লিখিনা। লেখা আসেনা। বাস স্টপ এ দাড়িয়ে থাকি। একের পর এক অন্যের কবিতা চলে যায়ে। যখন কিছু লেখার মত পাই, তখন শব্দের এত ভিড় যে উঠতেই পারিনা। না আছে বসার জায়গা, না ভাল ভাবে ধরে দাঁড়ানর। যাই হোক, আজ দিনের ৬ ঘণ্টা রাস্তাতে কেটেছে। বাড়ি ফিরব প্রায়, দেখলাম একজন বছর ২০/২২ এর মেয়ে, চুল খোলা, পুজোর বাজার সেরে রাস্তা পার হচ্ছে। ট্রাফিক পুলিশ ও সিগ্নাল না মেনে সব গাড়ি দাড় করিয়ে দিয়েছে। পৃথিবী একটু আস্তে ঘুরছে, সূর্য টাও যেন একটু ওপরের দিকে উঠল। মেয়েটি রাস্তা পার হয়ে গেল, অষ্টমীর রাত এর ধুনোর গন্ধ পেলাম। প্রতিমা দর্শন ও শেষ।

poem 3

3.দেবী আসে, দেবী যায়। জলে মেশে রঙ, মেশে মাটি। ক্যানভাস জুড়ে ধবধবে খরা কাঁদে শুধু। দেবী আসে, দেবী যায়। কখনও দরজা খোলে যদি, কালো ঘোড়ার মত, তুলির টানে দাপিয়ে চলে ঝোড়ো মেঘের চুল। ওপারে ঘণ্টা বেজে ওঠে। মাতালের মত, বুনো মোষের মত। বোধন না বিসর্জন?

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  1. টিম টিম চোখে, কাঁপা কাঁপা হাথে, তাল তাল মাটি থেকে, দেবী জেগে ওঠে। আঙুলের আদরে ফোটে চোখ, ঠোঁটে হাসি। এই দেবী মারে না, কাটে না, শুধু স্বস্তির আশ্বাসে বলে, সকল ঝড়ের মাঝে আমি তোমার আশ্রয়। সাধন শোনে আর তার চোখে ভিড় করে আসে কয়েক দশকের শরত এর ঝরা পাতা। মুছে যাওয়া কোনও এক মানবী প্রতিমা, সাধনের দেবী হয়ে ফেরে বারবার। রাত নামে, শীর্ণ ক্লান্ত দেহে, সাধন ঘুমের দেশে ভাসে, বেহুলার মত। পাশের বাড়িতে বেতার বেজে ওঠে। জর্জ দা গাইছেন,

” সব ফুরালে বাকি রহে অদৃশ্য যেই দান,

সেই তো তোমার দান,

মৃত্যু আপন পাত্রে ভরি বহিছে যেই প্রাণ

সেই তো তোমার প্রাণ। ”

-Sayan Aich and Abin Chakraborty; Illustrated by Subarnarekha Pal

জাহান্নাম 

1. জাহান্নাম
মাটির নীচে দু’হাত বিকেল। কৃষ্ণচূড়ায় লেপ্টে ঘাম।
পা রেখেছি পাতালরেলে। তোমার বাড়ি জাহান্নাম।
হয়ত যেত অন্য মানুষ। হয়ত হত অন্য শেষ।
সন্ধ্যে নিত অন্য জীবন। রাত্রি হত অন্য দেশ..
কীংবা তুমি মৃত্যুমুখী। তোমার কফিন অন্ধকার।
কী বোঝাবে সন্ধ্যে তাকে মৃত্যুযোগে জন্ম যার..
কিন্তু খসে পলেস্তারা। ফাটল ধরায় বিধির বাম।
সন্ধ্যে নামে পাতালরেলে। তোমার বাড়ি জাহান্নাম।
জলপ্রপাত থাকলে হতো। শ্যাওলা পাথর, অন্য ভয়..
জলের হদিস থাকলে কী আর উৎস থেকে ফিরতে হয়?
প্রশ্ন শুনে চমকে উঠি। কোথায় গেল পুতুলনাচ?
ঘরের মানুষ ফিরছে ঘরে। আয়না একই। অন্য কাচ..
পায়ের নীচে খেলছে তড়িৎ। বাদবাকি সব মর্ষকাম।
রাত্রি ফেরে পাতালরেলে। তোমার বাড়ি জাহান্নাম।
2. অশ্বমেধ
ভীষণ মাতাল সিঁড়ি, ষোলোর পায়ে পা, ক্লাউড নাইনে ঢিল, শূন্যে চোট
নেহাত অবাধ্যই, কে কাকে টানছে, কার কাঁটায় কার ঠাসবুনোট
তুমুল তর্ক শেষে আবার লাইনে পা, ক্লান্ত চৌকাঠে অন্য মত
দরজা দেওয়ার আগে এক ঝলক ফের, জুতোর মনে থাক কক্ষপথ
খোলস নামিয়ে রেখে শরীর স্নানের ঘরে, তৃতীয় সন্ধ্যার সূর্য ম্লান
আগুন জ্বালতে চেয়ে জেহাদী দেশলাই, তবুও ভিজে যাক অগ্নিবাণ
জমানা বসে যাক প্রবল বর্ষণে, বাষ্পে জমা থাক লক্ষ্যভেদ
একুশ জন্ম নিক ষোলোর মরশুমে, দেওয়াল চিনে নিক অশ্বমেধ!
3. আরামদিন
চিবোও কাকা শহর চিবোও
তিতকুটে এক চিউয়িংগাম
ভাল্লাগে না সন্ধ্ব্যবেলা
আঁতেলপনার সংঘারাম
নাগরদোলায় ঊর্ধ্বে চলো
পায়ের তলায় মুব্ধ ভিড়
বৃন্দাবনের পাহারাদার
ধরণধারণ বিপ্লবীর
বৃষ্টি-কাঁটায় শরীর ভেজাও
গলায় নরম উষ্ণতা
আদর দিয়েই হিসেব হতো
জুতোর মালা অন্যথা
রং লেগে যায় চোখ-মণিতে
হাতের আঙুল নপুংসক
তেমন হলে জলকেলিতে
ভিজিয়ে নিও গোপন ত্বক
খামখেয়ালি জীবনযাপন
মন্দ তো নয় কি চার্মিং
শহর চিবোও কফির সাথে
আজকে তোমার আরামদিন
আমার হাতে ধোঁয়ার কাঠি
জাগলে নাকি? চুমুক চাই?
যে যাই বলুক, আমরা জানি
শ্যামের বুকে ক’জন রাই!

Teachers’ Metamorphosis: Instrumental Rationality and Academic Clerkship

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Umbridge’s mayhem isn’t as alien as we would like

The modern Indian academia is haunted by apocalyptic acronyms like CAS, NAAC, RUSA and not to mention that progenitor of endless eccentricities: UGC. What generates the spectral power of these acronyms is the nexus between money and paperwork to which are subjected young academics full of hope and promise and intellectual acuity who realise soon enough that the system only demands imitation, repetition and boundless vacuity. A college or university needs adequate infrastructure for a teacher to impart education properly to students. To that end it needs adequate financial grants. Hence the inevitability of NAAC and RUSA. But the teachers also need to lead a reasonably worry-free life to dedicate themselves to the project of learning and teaching. And s/he may have committed the blunder of having a family. So s/he needs money, and given the inflation in this country and the rising cost of medical assistance, food and accommodation, quite a lot of money. So s/he needs (and deserves) upward movement along the academic ladder popularly known as the promotion. Hence the relevance of CAS (Career Advancement Scheme). What binds these acronyms together is the demand for production of endless papers with different formats, immense data and repetitive hollow rhetoric of many kinds, all of which is supposed to justify either the distribution of money to institutions or to individuals. For example, anyone who has had to endure the pathetic farce that unfolds in the name of a NAAC (National Assessment and Accreditation Council) visit will know how the whole college is forced into a collective enterprise of fabrication, manipulation and concoction of data that covers almost everything from what percentage of SC/ST students were there in the college 5 years ago to what is being done by students who passed out from the college, some of whom did not even bother to attend the classes while they were there. And much of this conjuration happens through a process of duplication where one canny colleague smuggles in the SSR (another pesky bugger) of a college that has recently suffered NAAC and the current victim-to-be simply changes the name and the relevant data with what the former-victim has painstakingly (maybe not, may have been re-appropriated from the similar document from yet another co-suffering institution) fudged for months. As stated before all these translate into imitation, repetition and boundless vacuity. Something similar happens for CAS. One’s ability, dutifulness and accountability is measured through reams of paper congealed into an apparently fat file whose weight alone should impress prospective experts among whom one may even find associate professors or professors who have never qualified NET (National Eligibility Test) and have climbed the ladders of academic hierarchy with somnambulist stupefaction. None of these processes have anything to do with the pursuit and dissemination of knowledge which is supposed to be the essence of academia, or which should have been the guiding principle of academic life. Instead, teachers are forced more and more into immersing themselves in exhausting paper work.  And they also have to sit idle for hours while waiting for students to arrive with proper papers during admission season. And they have to draft stale and perfunctory letters to different offices and departments for assistance during examinations.  And they even serve as presiding officers during elections. None of this has anything to do with pursuit and dissemination of knowledge which alone should be the task of teachers. Academic institutions are supposed to be endowed with non-academic staff who should be able to take care of the other stuff as they are not professionally bound to pursue and disseminate knowledge – a task that requires single-minded devotion. While there is no denying that a group of people involved in teaching presently are incapable of such devotion and undermine the profession by dabbling in ten thousand other things, there has also been a systemic devaluation of the pursuit and dissemination of knowledge, mainly by clubbing it with other professions and by introducing alien mensurational methods based on quantification which are utterly incompatible with the academic vocation. The thrill that one feels when one learns something new or the ecstasy that courses through one’s veins when s/he is able to impassionately teach something and see the glint of recognition in the eyes of the audience – these are immeasurably precious experiences which cannot be identified through quantifiable data and attendant analysis. Teaching and the alchemic communication that takes place at times through teaching is a matter of affect, a visceral tripartite bond between the teacher, the student and the text which arouses wonder, stirs the intellect and motivates the heart to soar like the skylark into a Rushdie-esque sea of stories where multi-coloured strands of stories are merging and splitting into innumerable other strands of inexplicable hues. Teaching is supposed to be a plunge into such oceans where the teacher first guides and then allows the student to swim in his/her own style, with his/her chosen currents towards whatever shore he/she envisions. None of this is a matter of quantifiable data and mechanical procedures culminating in points/numbers/grades. But there is no daring prince in this land of cards who might shake things up with his defiant tunes and gestures.

Such absence is evidence of the total domination of instrumental rationality over the lifeworld of our societies. Since capital only moves through the abstract hyperspace of data, numbers, figures and performance models of one kind or another, the growing commercialization of the education sphere has meant a pervasive integration of the teachers with the rationality of capitalist domination and as an obvious outcome we have become shackled in a world of spectral mechanisms of control heralded by the notorious acronyms with which I began.  The result of such control is the gradual transformation of teachers into a hybridised clerk whose greater qualifications only breed frustration and discontent as he/she remains chained to various forms of bureaucratic drudgery that clinically oppose that realm of freedom, innovation, experiment and affective bond which the academic world deserves and yearns for. Even the grand old Shantiniketan of Rabindranath is no exception to this process. Mercuse’s nightmare is coming true, the one-dimensional man is proliferating through the flatlands of Indian academia.

“Shall I part my hair behind?   Do I dare to eat a peach? 

I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach. 

I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each. 

I do not think that they will sing to me”.

 

Will these lines be our chorus then? Or will we dare to “bombard the headquarters” (figuratively, of course)?

 

Bridging the ‘Great Hiatus’: The Oriental Afterlife of Sherlock Holmes

One wonders if any other fictional character has enjoyed as numerous and diverse afterlives as Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. While a rapid proliferation of Neo-Victorian literature post 1950 has witnessed the rebirth of marginal Victorian characters [such as Charlotte Bronte’s Bertha Mason as Antoinette Cosway in Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea (1966), Dicken’s Magwitch as the eponymous hero in Peter Carey’s Jack Maggs (1997) to name a few], they are written in the vein of the Empire writing back, and provide an alternative version to the imperial parent texts by turning the peripheral figures into protagonists. However, the huge repertoire of parodies and pastiches that Sherlock Holmes enjoys, is singular and astounding.1 Even before the demise of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in 1930, the world of literature witnessed the birth of quite a few parodies and pastiches of Sherlock Holmes. J. M Barrie’s My Evening with Sherlock Holmes (1891) is the first parody followed by the pastiche The Adventure of the Unique Hamlet (1920) by Vincent Starrett. Conan Doyle’s relation with such reproductions of Sherlock Holmes was ambiguous. While Barrie earned his praise, he maintained his silence on the other parodies and pastiches, but refrained from granting his permission to the latter, if sought before publication.

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After the death of Conan Doyle, the door was opened to writers from around the globe to rewrite and redefine Sherlock Holmes in new colours. Nicholas Meyer in The Seven Percent Solution (1974) pushes to periphery the detection skills of Holmes and instead focuses on his cocaine addiction, and blurs the boundary between fiction and fact by showing Holmes being treated by the historical figure of Sigmund Freud. Four years later was published Michael Dibdin’s The Last Sherlock Holmes Story, which exposes the darker side of the detective by showing him to be a perpetrator of the crimes that he solves, and the antagonist Moriarty as a fictitious invention of his insanity. To make a record of the numerous other pastiches is beyond the scope and aim of this article. However, what is relevant is the difference between two broad (and loosely arranged) categories of Sherlock Holmes pastiches: the first comprises those narratives that reveal different unspoken, or newly constructed, aspects of Holmes’s life, such as his weakness for drugs, his homosexual relation with Dr. Watson, or his wife who surpasses him as a more efficient (female) detective; the second category consists of narratives that try to fill up the gap of the years between his apparent ‘death’ at the Reichenbach Falls following a confrontation with his arch-enemy Moriarty in ‘The Final Problem’ and his subsequent reappearance in ‘The Adventure of the Empty House’. In ‘The Adventure of the Empty House’, Holmes tells Watson that following his apparent ‘death’, he “travelled for two years in Tibet . . . amused [himself] by visiting Lhassa” under the name Sigerson and thereafter “passed through Persia, looked in at Mecca, and paid a short but interesting visit to the Khalifa at Khartoum”.2  This little piece of information, left unexplored by Conan Doyle, is extremely interesting against his treatment of the Orient in the adventures of the detective. True to the imperialistic fervour of his age, he portrays the Orient, especially India, as a hotbed of crime, cold-blooded criminals, and a savage race in dire need of a colonial education of civilisation.3 Having had the East thus depicted, the question arises as to how did the sleuth negotiate with the topography, culture, custom and people of the Oriental spaces when he traverses them in person. That such a negotiation is contingent upon the writers of the Oriental pastiches, is evident from the widely differing treatment of the issue in Ted Riccardi’s The Oriental Casebook of Sherlock Holmes: Nine Adventures from the Lost Years (2003) and Jamyang Norbu’s The Mandala of Sherlock Holmes (1999). Riccardi’s collection of tales is based on the assumption that the British empire was losing its grip over the colonies, giving way to an outburst of murders and mayhem uncontrollable by the local authorities and the occidental figure of Sherlock Holmes was required to solve the crimes and establish order. Hence travels Holmes from Lhassa to Kathmandu, from Calcutta to the deserts of Rajasthan, all the while caught up in the diplomatic machinations of British imperialism that Rudyard Kipling dubbed “the Great Game”. Though Riccardi takes care to include local colours and customs in his tales, his rhetoric fails to break out of the colonial register. Hence, what is described of Calcutta, for instance, is its “native squalor”, the “humid pungency” of its climate, and the “unusual possibilities for crime and evil” that the city boasts of.4 The Indian Brahman is described as “swarthy”, or dark-complexioned, which explicitly reveals that Riccardi is complicit in the colonial discourse of race and colour. Also, while Riccardi’s Holmes has to take indigenous help, such as the aid of an Indian servant, or a knowledge of the Devnagri script, or an understanding of the deities of the Hindu pantheon (the Goddess Kali and the architecture of a Kali temple, for example, in ‘The Viceroy’s Assistant’), he nonetheless, remains largely distant from being absorbed in the Oriental atmosphere. Most of the crimes are traced back to England, and a number of them are solved in entirety only after Holmes’s return to London. Contrary to Riccardi, whose bridging of the ‘Great Hiatus’ is in line with the original imperial plots, that of Norbu is an unveiling of an Orient unseen by the Victorian British readers of Sherlock Holmes.

In The Mandala, Sherlock Holmes arrives in India as the Norwegian Sigerson following the conflict with Dr. Moriarty and immediately connects with a cast of characters borrowed from Rudyard Kipling’s fictions. Among these, Hurree Chunder Mookerjee, the Bengali spy from Kim (1901), becomes a central figure, enacting the role of an (Indian) Dr Watson. In giving Hurree a physical agility that matches Dr. Watson’s and making him perform crucial acts, especially in the climax of the novel, Norbu subverts Kipling’s caricature of the obese colonised Babu. Norbu’s Holmes, in a series of adventures, dodges attempts on his life, solves an exotic murder, and journeys to Tibet, where he saves the young Dalai Lama from an assassination attempt masterminded by the still living Moriarty, now an agent for the Chinese. Norbu positions Holmes as having his Western rational certainties destabilised by encounters with Eastern mystical thoughts. In his narrative, the arch defender of rational observation accepts that in the enigmatic lands of the East, not everything could be analysed or understood by exercising the faculties of reason. Holmes and Moriarty are portrayed as enemies in two different but interconnected lives. Eighteen years ago, “The Dark One” and Gangsar of Tibet were two of the greatest adepts of the century at The College of Occult Sciences in Lhassa. The Dark One tried to kill the Grand Lama but ended up killing Gangsar who had rushed to save the Lama’s life. The Dark One was temporarily robbed of all his powers by the Grand Master of the College. It is later revealed that he has returned as the evil Moriarty to face Holmes into whose physical body was transferred the life forces of Gangsar by the yoga of “Pho-wa”.5 Working within a framework of Tibetan religion, history, and philosophy, Norbu’s Holmes becomes a part of the Orient. His meditative composure, celibate life, and keen observational powers can, therefore, be attributed to the life-force of an Oriental monk that he carries within him, making him an amalgamation of the East and the West. Unlike Riccardi, for whom the East merely serves as a backdrop where Holmes had spent his underground years, Tibet springs to life in Norbu’s tale. The Sherlock Holmes of 221 B Baker Street, is enmeshed in the history of Tibet, and at the close of the narrative is “attired in wine-red monastic robes, tall and imposing . . . accompanied by his disciples” standing at the monastery gate.6

 

 

Notes:   

  1. This article is limiting itself to a selection from among the printed parodies and pastiches of Sherlock Holmes. Apart from them, there are loads of rewritings of Holmes on web as well as on celluloid.
  2. ‘The Adventure of the Empty House’ in The Penguin Complete Sherlock Holmes. (Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1981), p.488.
  3. See for example, The Sign of Four.
  4. ‘The Viceroy’s Assistant’ in The Oriental Casebook of Sherlock Holmes: Nine Adventures from the Lost Years (New York: Pegasus Books). Ebook.
  5. Pho-wa is “the yoga of transferring the principle of consciousness from one incarnation to the next without suffering any break in the continuity of consciousness” (Norbu, 242).
  6. Jamyang Norbu. The Mandala of Sherlock Holmes (Noida: Harper Collins, 2008). p.259.

 

-Deblina Hazra

Love in the time of Darj’healing’

As I type this on a lazy Sunday morning, the hills that were supposed to be smiling, are actually burning and smack of gunpowder. Reports of fresh violence have trickled in and if some of my friends and acquaintances living in North Bengal and the Darjeeling district are to be believed, there has been a clampdown on Internet services. With a period of relative normalcy and peace in the last few years, the clamour for a separate state of Gorkhaland has found voice again. And this is not just a murmer or a whimper, it is slowly developing into a war cry.

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Since the formation of the independent India, various states/ tribes have demanded autonomy. Some struggles have found success, like the creation of a new state in Telengana, some have seen bloodshed like the demand for Khalistan and some like the Gorkhaland movement have hung in a limbo for almost two decades. The Gorkhaland agitation seems to have been the culmination of decades of exploitation and a particular ethnic group being labelled, stereotyped and marginalised.It is independence from the state that this ethnic group sought and not from the country. The complaint was of years of neglect and domination by the Bengali population and intelligentsia, in matters of jobs and opportunities in the government and the private sectors.

In today’s Darjeeling however, the term Gorkha tends to be applied to all Nepali-speaking people. What unites them all is probably their common aversion to the Bengali majority. Despite their immense contribution to the country and society, the majority of the Gorkhas are still second rate citizens and live without any solid base of livelihood and adequate educational and developemental facilities.  In the main industries of the Darjeeling district, Nepalis constitute the vast majority of the workforce, but are almost wholly absent from the ownership or management positions wich invariably have gone to the plainspeople.

The Gorkhaland National Liberation Front originally led the movement, which disrupted the district with massive violence between 1986 and 1988. The issue was resolved, at least temporarily, in 1988 with the establishment of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council within West Bengal. The Gorkhaland movement distinguished Darjeeling Gorkhas from nationals of Nepal legally resident in India, from Nepali-speaking Indian citizens from other parts of the country, and even from the majority in neighboring Sikkim, where Nepali is the official language. The movement was emphatic that it had no desire to separate from India, only from the state of West Bengal. Gorkhaland supporters therefore preferred to call the Gorkhas’ language Gorkhali rather than Nepali, although they did not attempt to claim there is any linguistic difference from what other people call Nepali. The 1981 census of India, whether in deference to this sentiment or for some other reason, called the language Gorkhali/Nepali. However, when the Eighth Schedule of the constitution was amended in 1992 to make it a Scheduled Language, the term Nepali alone was used. It is to be remembered that in the past SubhasGhising had argued that Nepali was a foreign language and was terribly unhappy with its inclusion in the 8th schedule. This can be primarily traced back to the concern of the Indian Nepalese regarding their sense of belonging, for their long time concern has been to search for an appropriate term which would correctly situate them in the nation’s chronicles and distinguish them from the Nepalese born and originating from Nepal. Such was the vehemence that in 1991, the GNLF activists desecrated statues of BhanubhaktaAcharya, who was the author of the first major work of modern Nepali Literature, claiming that the statues honoured a foreign poet.

It’s the denial of basic amenities and the right to self identity and self-determination that has brought them to a point where many term them secessionist and it is the lack of inclusiveness, dialogue and underdevelopment that has ensured the stubbornness with which Gorkhas seek identity.As members of a sovereign secular country, it is a matter of great shame and concernthat its citizens have to demand for their rights with the national flag in their hands, lest they be construed anti- nationals. This blanket of fear has enveloped most parts of the country, and if the West Bengal government looks to continue to stave off fundamentalist divisive forces, which it has successfully done over the years, it has to ensure that there exists a platform for discussion and debate, without the fear of fear eyeing us all.

With other parts of the country still reeling under violence, seeking a separatist identity, with protests and marches and vigils being organised to voice support to particular communities under the threat of physical and psychological violence being inflicted upon them, it is a matter of concern that the greater section of the Bengali community/ Intelligentsia has chosen to remain silent about the unrest that has been growing in the hills. There has not been support, neither there has been condemnation. Part of the problem might be, that throughout the years, it has become embedded in our psyche to look at this particular community in the hills through a definite filter. I would also add that popular culture has been majorly responsible for the perpetuation of the stereotyped Nepali/Gorkha identity by visualising them as nothing more than soldiers in the army or watchmen/gatekeepers in the cities.To have these people suddenly clamouring for self-determination,is almost an affront to the Bengali sensibility. Moreover, Darjeeling and its neighbouring districts have been a favourite tourist spot for Bengalis over the years. The landscape and its beauty have been up there to be consumed, to be enjoyed, to be photographed, almost a passive docile terrain made by the gods for the plains-people to relax in. To have the majority of the population of that region up in arms against the hegemony of a dominant culture, whose bearers have little idea about the lives of the people in the hills, is a blister in the foot.  What complicates matters further is that multidirectional political interests in the hills are leading several people to fish in muddy waters, especially with baits of evocative rhetoric which are often devoid of concrete plans for inclusive welfare.

So where do we go now? The fire has been stoked, people are dying. As it happens in most cases, in chess and in politics, the pawns (read the commoners) are sacrificed in calculated gambits and manoeuvres. If mutual restraint is the order of the day, what should also be on the table is a willingness to solve the impasse before more innocents are killed. Let there be a debate, a healthy one. Let people be aware not only of the geo-political landscape, but also of the convoluted and complex history of an ethnic group. Let there be more people writing about the situation, both for and against autonomy, let more people talk so that Darj might soon be ‘Healing’ from the wounds and scars of unrest and bloodshed. The Argumentative Indian and the Opinionated Bengali can surely make room for a contented Gorkha.