Leonard Cohen and the Name-of-the-Father

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

Leonard Cohen : In Memoriam

অক্টোবর ২২, ২০১৬

(কোহেনের শেষ অ্যালবাম শুনে)

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

I’m sorry for the ghost I made you be

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

 

নভেম্বর ১১, ২০১৬

(কোহেনের তিরোধানের পর)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

-অনিন্দ্য সেনগুপ্ত

Memory and Tradition

 

ba54039ce3faf44df0b546167479ca10.jpg

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

Does that even make any sense?

***

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

***

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

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

 -Susmita Paul

 

A Haunting

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

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

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

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

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