Why Should I Write?

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Well if you are a Bengali then you would know what hatekhari is but for all the other people who do not know what it is or for bongs who haven’t undergone this ‘stuff’ it can be translated as ‘initiation to writing’ or ‘beginning of writing’(ummmm?) Well perhaps we do not actually begin to ‘write’ right after the initiation because we pass through a phase of developing a consciousness about ‘writing’. We gradually evolve as we try to hone our skills so that our verbs and adverbs, adjectives and tense are falling in place and we are syntactically correct. But so much so for all those who initially teach us to write. But is writing merely syntactical? No! It is ethical too. Can we develop a certain sense of ‘ethics of writing’ as we climb up the crowded stairs of school? It is a difficult question to answer (or is it?). A few may but most of us are provided with a readymade solution in form of sample essays and answers by our venerable private tutors or the coaching centres simulating within us only a sense of potency(perhaps that is the reason why so many of us fffffail to perform or we celebrate monogamy! Later, on a fruitless night, we say to our spouse, “ You know darling perhaps I am not good at everything but once in class 11 I had written a very good essay on The Importance of Preserving and at that age only I had the subtlety not to mention ‘the Nature’ part of it! Ah haha! Such was your shona! I also used to play cricket well or sing well! Then came the AIEEEs and AIPMTs and now I am working as a Senior Sales Executive! Gave up everything! I actually dreamt of playing guitar like Slash!”).

“That writing never happened.”

Even after this there are people who have to write. It is a compulsive disorder. Well! We have to write because we have to submit our papers and churn marks out of shit! Write because some venerable organization with a few gandu policy makers think that it is the only paradigm of excellence! We skore out of it although there is a birth of a nothing. We take precaution not to produce anything by our act of writing except for a retarded score. But even this cannot prevent the academic world from being overpopulated with worthless Edmunds!!

Why bastard? wherefore base?
When my dimensions are as well compact(MLA/APA/CHICAGO),
My mind as generous, and my shape as true(ISSN/ISBN),
As honest intellectuals issue? Why brand they us
With base? with baseness? bastardy? base, base?
Who, in the lusty stealth of nature, take
More composition and fierce quality
Than doth, within a dull, stale, tired bed,
Go to the creating a whole tribe of fops.

                                                                        –Fuck Lear, Fakespeare

But even then there are people who must write! More than ever at this point of time when writers are being persecuted by all sorts of fanatic forces! History proves that writers have always been feared. Oh Solzhenitsyn! A writer is happy so long as he chooses to be happy and nothing can stop him.

A great writer is, so to speak, a second government in his country. And for that reason no regime has ever loved great writers, only minor ones. (Alexander Solzhenitsyn, In The First Circle)

We must write because there is a Palestine. We must write because Ananta is dead! We must be like Raktavijas-“He from whom each drop of word is a seed”. With the death of each writer should be the birth of one more! We must write because Bruno Schulz was killed. We must write because Gramsci was imprisoned. We must write because we are forgetting Bose. We must because Rushdie has written. We must write because Utpal was smitten with freedom! We must write! We must write because Sandipan wrote! We must write because we must fight! We must write because chitmahals were merely exchanged! I must write because it purges me! I must write because it merges me with the infinite! I must write because I have never written and I have never been written! I must write even if I am killed! If you hack me into pieces the pieces of my body lying on the street will form a contour of writing! I must write! I must write because I am addicted and no one listens to me except for my writing! I must write because I am a hypocrite and it is my writing in which I am true with all my follies! I puke in my writing! I write while I piss! Oh Writing! Writing is bliss! I come with my writing! I sleep when I have written! I wonder if I have ever written! I fuck with my writing! I jerk with my writing! I write because each and every moment the world writes on me! So long I live this gives life to me! I write because someone challenged me and I failed! I write because someone abused me! At times I write for the sake of it! I write because I want to plead! I write because I want to bleed! It cuts through me! I write! I write! I right! And I write because he wrote….

Why write I still all one, ever the same,

And keep invention in a noted weed,

That every word almost doth tell my name,

Showing their birth, and where they did proceed?

                                                            -The Master, Sonnet 76 (no plagiarism)

(And why do I even write… because he wrote?!)

– Arijit Mukherjee

Shakespeare’s ‘bong’ connection: scraping ‘The Cess Pool’ of scholarship

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Almost sixty years back, in a hilarious piece of dialogue in Osborne’s Look Back in Anger, Jimmy Porter, with a patented combination of frustration and sarcasm, had informed Cliff about “an American professor from Yale or somewhere, who believes that when Shakespeare was writing The Tempest, he changed his sex…This professor chap is coming over here to search for certain documents which will prove that poor old W.S. ended up in someone else’s second best bed –  a certain Warwickshire farmer’s, whom he married after having three children by him”. What Osborne was mocking was a certain strand of biographical scholarship that invents one chimera after another to sustain its own irrelevance. For hundred of years, before and after Osborne, curiosity regarding his identity and attempted discovery of who the real Shakespeare supposedly was has been relentless. From time to time, scholars and academics have credited his plays to Marlowe, Francis Bacon, Ben Jonson, Edward de Vere, a syndicate of scholars and authors and even a Jewish woman named Amelia Bassano Lanier. Apart from such wild goose (and geese) chase, there have also been endless theories about the identities of the ‘fair youth’ and the ‘dark lady’ of the sonnets, about whether Shakespeare was a homosexual, whether he enjoyed a threesome, whether he was secretly catholic, whether he and his family members were involved in a plot to kill James I and more of the same. The latest in this line of Laputan gobbledygook is the claim of a team of researchers led by South African professor of anthropology, Francis Thackeray, that Shakespeare possibly smoked cannabis because four pipes, unearthed from the garden of Shakespeare’s house in Stratford-upon-Avon, contain traces of cannabis and date back to the 17th century.

He has gone on to state in an article published in The Independent that:

Shakespeare may have been aware of the deleterious effects of cocaine as a strange compound. Possibly, he preferred cannabis as a weed with mind-stimulating properties.
These suggestions are based on the following literary indications. In Sonnet 76, Shakespeare writes about “invention in a noted weed”. This can be interpreted to mean that Shakespeare was willing to use “weed” (cannabis as a kind of tobacco) for creative writing (“nvention”). In the same sonnet it appears that he would prefer not to be associated with “compounds strange”, which can be interpreted, at least potentially, to mean “strange drugs” (possibly cocaine).

It is quite obvious that the claims are based on shoddy analysis and flimsy assumptions. There is no earthly way of proving that just because certain pipes were found in his garden, Shakespeare himself had used them. This is almost like saying that just because there are channels in my television which show befuddling connivances being hatched by wives and mothers-in-law, must mean that I have stooped to watch them. How stupid can you get? Furthermore, anyone who has read sonnet 76 would know that the poem uses the term ‘weed’ to refer to dress or costumes and not to cannabis. In fact, it is quite unlikely that the term ‘weed’ was ever used in Shakespeare’s day to identify popular narcotics of today’s world.  Furthermore, the article shows yet another soporific attempt to represent the medium of the text as a mirror for real life, for a reading of texts grounded in the biography, imagined or otherwise, of the author. By that logic, Shakespeare may very soon be identified as a murderous, raving, lunatic drunkard as his plays obviously include a fair sprinkling of murders, ranting, lunacy and drunken escapades of one shade or another. Such exercises in academic drudgery entirely dispense with that “negative capability” of Shakespeare, the “myriad-minded man”, which enabled him to cast off his own ego and voice the thoughts of his imagined characters. Furthermore, what is of eternal cultural value, is not the biographical identity of the man named William Shakespeare but the sheer unquantifiable, beyond-adjectives brilliance of his plays.

However, the stupidity street doesn’t stop here. Since the publication of the article, several other articles have been published all over the online word, asking whether Shakespeare was high when he wrote his plays or whether he was a stoner and so on and so forth. Such questions and captions reveal that persistent unease with the timeless grandeur of Shakespearean texts, an unease that was initiated long back by Ben Jonson’s snide comment about Shakespeare’s “small Latin and less Greek”. It seems as if the world still cannot get to grips with the fact that a bloke from Warwickshire with no university education had somehow managed to write, with his own industry, genius and experience such magnificent plays which continue to enthrall, provoke and console us in more ways than one. This is why conspiracy theorists have been trying to pass him off as either an English Lord or some University Wit in order to massage their own egos which Shakespeare’s astounding genius continues to wound.  This latest South-African dope-trick, involving, we are told, state-of-the-art gas chromatography mass spectrometry, is yet another scheme of the same kind which seeks to suggest that however great Shakespeare’s plays may have been, he only stumbled into them in a sort of drug-induced funk with little control over his faculties. Had that been the case De Quincey, Coleridge or the likes of Kerouac and Ginsberg would have attained a similar position to that of Shakespeare in the literary pantheon. Only those who have no idea about the craftsmanship that goes into the production of literature can pronounce such cockamamie claims.

However there is also a deeper problem involved. When academics become involved in investigating whether the Bard of Avon had consumed cannabis or cocaine or the vaginal system of the flea (the title of a Cambridge PhD thesis Terry Eagleton had once spotted), they necessarily forgo the task of foregrounding ideas that have some bearing on the society at large. The article by Francis Thackeray and the various posts and spin-offs it has generated, starkly reminiscent of Jimmy and Cliff’s dialogues about a heated debate regarding whether Milton wore braces, is symptomatic of the passing away of a critical age and the failure of academics to take on the responsibility of the public intellectual. In the light of such developments, the abiding relevance of Jimmy Porter again comes to light and we are left with no other option but to either chant Jimmy’s ‘The Cess Pool’ or look forward in dismay.

P.S. I had a séance with Alexander Pope yesterday and before his departure, he left me this couplet:

Perhaps I’ll write a new Dunciad this day;

Th’name of its hero is Francis Thackeray.

– Abin Chakraborty





The Government Knows Only Gandharis

Part I


Rumours, we are told, grow on trees. They fan and flower and come to fruition poised on the flimsiest excuses for a truth. We could call them lies, others could call them half-truths. It is really a matter of fence-straddling: you get to choose your point, depending on whether you create or are created.

Where the rumour of the ban on pornography originated, I do not know. It must have taken some Jehovah of a Parliamentarian to have let loose such pestilence on the student community! The intellectual lamps lit in the exam-eve season across the country united in expressing mute rejection. In triumphant disbelief, collections of porn films were assembled as each of us, poor students, mocked at such frivolous dares. We could call the bluff as well!

But what followed was arm-flexing, a terrible injustice ungovernable by the law-courts in the country. The power lords did not care about the enthusiasm infused by the promise of a porn-film treat, a chapter later.The mourning was uniform in our affected community. The rainbow-bursts of happiness were yet to engulf the kaleidoscopic brilliance that Tolstoy attributed to sadness.

And then it transpired that it is not just a government congratulating itself but a whole market of budding writers to contend with. The pulp-fiction industry might, for once, breathe free of the astounding success of the likes of the notorious palette of Gray. Writers may now belt out(because graphic derives from graphos which means to write, or, draw) sweet, pure, happy-endings love stories with impunity. Similarly, carrying condoms in wallets or pockets will become a low-risk practice for literature on condom packets will be effaced, along with the accompanying sensuous illustrations. Minus the obvious clues, avoiding detection by younger family members would be cake-walk!

The rates of rape, as the optimistic government assures, will see a slow decline in the absence of such blood-warming, hormone-firing actions. With the lack of such triggers for physical passion, undoubtedly, even consensual sexual activity would chart a decrease? It would then, take down the growth rateof population as well.

Simultaneously therefore, the problems of religious aggression would be curbed. Bells would clang in opulent mandirs, muezzins echo across resplendent mosques, incense smoke through latticed gurudwaras and candles sigh in the loneliness of churches. In the monuments to religion, secularism would rest supreme. For who would fight, or be a fundamentalist if the pleasure of sex be defeated?

Assured of the efficiency of the government, I applaud the foresight that uses one stroke to solve the maelstrom of politico-religious troubles. There have been many who call me mindless and/or delusional. But even they cannot ignore the romance of a country where dreams are being born.

– Pritha Mukherjee

Part II

image source: eroticscribes.com

An old man in Wellington St. in Kolkata sells, among a motley assortment of pulp literature, Hindi and Bengali erotica. Stacks of slim, shoddily printed copies with voluptuous women and mustachioed men and frank titles. If you stop for a moment to cast a casual glance, he would enthusiastically try to hand you a few of these, gleefully mumbling how good they are. If you don’t reciprocate his enthusiasm, he stares with a mocking mischievous smile until you are completely unnerved, and have walked away.

Curiously, he does not do that if you have a woman by your side. Then he patiently watches you browse through his small collection, and embarrass yourself. I had always thought this habit to be the residue of old school gentlemanly patriarchy, but a few days back when the Indian govt. banned pornography, in the aim to achieve a clean, Swachh Internet, this gentlemanly predisposition was resounded by a crude and hostile lawyer, who had put in the petition to ban pornography in India. Apparently, he has said that to even think that the Indian woman watches porn would be to gravely insult her dignity.

After the court proceedings of the Delhi-rape case, and especially when BBC’s India’s Daughter put forward the opinions from the different strata of the country’s citizenry, such regressive, oppressive, fascist-propagandist patriarchal opinions shocked many, more so because they could relate to the sentiments. So now this new comment comes as no surprise. What might have happened is that it has lost some of its shock-value in repetition, and appears almost moronically ridiculous in its denial.

Although it is a cliché argument, but it is nevertheless true that we are too used to watch and think of pornography as an exclusively male commodity: by the men, of the men and for the men. And it would not be an entirely baseless assumption, given how porn films are shot almost exclusively from the male point of view. In this hypersexualised universe, the females are wholly fictional props, doing as we desire, almost too eager to please. It would not be, therefore, an unfounded fear that such a viewing practice would bleed out of the screen and permeate real life, and warp common sense and knowledge about the just-as-much humanness of the other sex. But, they have the scene a bit wrong. Because they are already doing it. It is perhaps not the mass that needs restraints to turn not into ‘sex-maniacs’, as a certain govt. official put it, but the government that needs a training in sanity and common sense. Whether women watch pornography is not the concern, the effortless and overconfident assumption that they do not, absolutely cannot, is. By binding half of the population in absurd definitions, by super-supposing what they do and do not do, and what they might be allowed to do and not, we are relegating/pushing them into the realm of unreality. We are making women into myths, phantoms, and incongruous fictions.

– Souraj Dutta

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: The Confounding Conundrums of Political Thought

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A debate is currently raging in the U.S. over the comments of an Indian-American professor of Media Studies, Deepa Kumar of Rutgers University, who tweeted “Yes ISIS is brutal but US is more so. 1.3 million killed in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan #NoToWar”. Quite naturally, academics as well as people in general have been quite disconcerted by her comments and she has already been subject to a lot of derision, hatred and ridicule.

However, more than any examination of the logic or the lack there of which governed the actions of the individual in question, what puzzles me is the continuing acceptance of a paradigm of knee-jerk defensiveness in our critical thought, especially in the academics belonging to the so called “left-liberal” circles. Otherwise what can explain a sentence beginning with “Yes ISIS is brutal”, expanding itself to “but US is more so”, when clearly the sentence could either have stopped without further additions or could have gone on to elaborate on the brutality of ISIS itself of which there are ample evidences across the web. What perhaps explains such obsessive-compulsive anti-US rhetoric, even when the context is so utterly different is a skewed framework of thought in which it is supposed that any castigation of those who have declared war against the US, unless tempered by simultaneous US bashing, must mean a kind of dilution of one’s stance against imperialism. Why is it not feasible for such people to imagine that it is possible to criticise an entity like ISIS or Al-Qaeda unequivocally and without comparative analysis and still remain staunch opponents of imperialism, inequality and injustice? Perhaps at the bottom of all such conundrums lies an unconscious sense of existential insecurity which can only be alleviated by acts of overcompensation – an insecurity which would be entirely out of place with Deepa Kumar’s position as an Associate Professor in an eminent US university and a published author of such books as “Islamophobia and the Politics of Empire”. While there is no denying the presence of such Islamophpobia and the processes of exclusion, discrimination, torture and even lethal violence such Islamophobia engenders, there is also no denying the very real fear experienced by many across the middle east whose lives are currently being ravaged by the forces of ISIS who have proved themselves to be capable of all kinds of heinous crimes without remorse or repentance and have proudly declared their intent to establish a socio-political order that is not just akin to a feudal, patriarchal theocracy but may even be termed religio-fascist, an order that would neither allow the presence of such voices as that of Deepa Kumar nor the continued celebrity enjoyed by such a stalwart as Noam Chomsky who has continued to castigate American policies and interventions for several decades. And the US, despite its own culpability in the current imbroglio in the Middle-East must at least be lauded for continuing its military assaults against the ISIS, even if it is for its own geo-political interests, as the survival and continuation of ISIS poses a threat to all ideas of freedom, human dignity and civilised life we hold dear. And accepting that does not mean one condones the horrors of Vietnam caused by US invasion, it does not mean supporting the rhetoric of War on Terror, it does not mean forgetting the havoc wreaked in several Latin American countries through overt and covert military assaults, assistance to tin-pot dictators and military juntas, it does not mean applauding the cataclysmic destruction of Hiroshoima and Nagasaki. It simply means that the world cannot be seen through black and white images on flat screens. It means being aware of the multi-dimensional complexities of a growingly chaotic world where the menaces are many, solutions are few and choices are difficult. If the Soviet Russia could join hands with the UK and the US to eradicate the threat of Hitler and Mussolini there is no reason why an academic will not be able to entertain the idea that supporting the United States on certain issues does not necessarily mean compromising with one’s anti-imperialist stance. By the same token, while it is absolutely justified to oppose war across the world, one also has to wonder what alternatives are left when one is faced with an army of heavily indoctrinated militants, armed to their teeth with latest weapons, who are only concerned about the establishment of the caliphate at all costs and for whom no amount of dehumanization is reprehensible? It is precisely the inability to face such hard truths that renders doubtful the credibility of liberal rhetoric in several situations and consolidates entrenched racial and religious prejudices, as evident from some of the responses to Professor Kumar’s tweet. And while there is no denying the power of social networking sites in organising such socio-political movements as those in Tahrir Square of Cairo or the Shahbag square in Dhaka, to what extent is facebook activism, especially in countries where freedom of speech remains judicially and politically sacrosanct, actually radical or subversive in any way? Tokenism may serve as a status statement or massage the liberal wings of one’s ego, but rarely does it contribute to substantial change. Shouldn’t academics know better?

In fact, it is the continued practice of succumbing to these loopholes that renders many liberals open to accusations of hypocrisy and opportunism and thus subjects to ridicule any attempt at forging broad-based alliances against empire and its associated networks of power. A similar example may be seen in the news that Indonesia has decided to award the prize of global statesmanship to North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un for his apparent “persistence in fighting neo-colonialism” – a prize that had been received in the past by such luminaries as Mahatma Gandhi and Aung San Suu Kyi. Is it really possible to juxtapose the anti-imperial non-violent movements of Mahatma Gandhi and Suu Kyi’s similarly non-violent struggles for democracy with the supposed achievements of an authoritarian dictator who is associated with reports of countless executions, denial of freedom of speech and asphyxiation of the basic right to choice? The report rather seems like an April Fool’s Day spoof than anything else. When the struggle against neo-colonialism, very much a clear and present danger, tumbles into such bizarre antics, the whole project becomes laughable and only consolidates the imperial forces and the veil of ignorance they strive to sustain. Those of us who live in this particular corner of India know very well how anti-imperialist slogans have chimed well with electoral malpractices and attempted silencing of dissent. In the process, the very ideas of ‘neo-colonialism’ or ‘anti-imperialism’ turn to laughing stocks in the public domain.

The bottom line is this: a political stance of ethical integrity demands the application of similar standards to everyone and formation of such judgments that do not fall prey to contradictions generated by personal vested interests. Academics, as reservoirs and disseminators of knowledge, should especially keep this in mind.

– Abin Chakraborty