30 December 2007
Has the initial shock worn off? Not quite.
The media reactions are worth examining. After occurrences like the assassination of a political leader, what does the media do? Try to fit things into discursive model ‘stories’ already available.
So what does Bhutto’s death really mean? I don’t know. I reckon it’s too soon to accurately judge the ripple effects. But it does benefit to look into who directly or indirectly profits by it:
Musharraf? Because blaming it on “the terrorists” would seem to give him a justification about the Emergency slapped earlier; give him a basis to show how
Bush? Because it would become an excuse to show how the “war against terror” is still required; how the so-called "struggle against the forces of terror and extremism"must continue as it threatens democracies everywhere?
The logic of Nation-States everywhere? Because acts of terror, which constitute their existence, would appear to justify it?
It definitely does not benefit the people of that country. Or this. Or the rest of the world.
19 December 2007
I grew up in, everything happened. Married women fell in love with pubescent girls, boys climbed up sewage pipes to consort with their neighbors' wives, and students went down on their science teachers in the lab. But no one ever talked about it." *** Delhi
"Science had told us this century that nothing was certain. The universe was chaotic and relative; these aspects measurable. There were few hard facts on which one could base a way of living one's life. I'd always scoffed at religion as a crutch for the masses, so it wasn't even a consideration. We'd spent two thousand years only to find out that we didn't know. That moment, sprawled on my bed, changed my whole life. I was free all of a sudden. Free of the burden of knowledge and therefore of any morality that proceeds from knowledge. Only feelings counted. And sensations." ***
"Everyone was complacent and measured success and failure by the same yardsticks- car, house, electronic goods. Jhuggi [slum] people like Rani thought that a government job was the epitome of power and that a government servant was a very big sahib. She wouldn't understand why I adored writers and scientists, intellectuals who could only be measured by the volume of gray matter in their brains. She probably didn't even know what writers and scientists were. If you didn't have any education, could you know how knowledge itself was classified? But she did know what a doctor was. Almost everyone knew what a doctor was."
10 December 2007
Curious, I posed the RJ’s question to several other people – people I considered more sensitised than the morons on the radio show. While most among this group seemed to sympathise with beggars in general, they seemed quite opposed to the notion of begging itself. Several followed the policy of buying everything and anything that a kid at a traffic light may sell them, but refused to part with any money if it was plain begging. Because the effort to sell something, however useless, seemed to be an effort and willingness to do some kind of work. Whereas to beg was a downright refusal of the same.
Going by the above, the opposition to beggars is not completely equivalent to the sort of contempt a privileged class may reserve for the non-privileged (though it comes dangerously close.) A major part of the opposition seemed reserved for the nature of the act rather than its agent.
So then, what is so wrong with begging? Perhaps it is the fact that it poses a threat to the concept of work itself. A unidirectional flow of money without a corresponding flow of a good or service (in the opposite direction) is radical for the reason that it challenges the capitalist idea of work which grounds itself on the notion of exchange. The same logic applies to theft, burglary, etc since they question the capitalist separation of ‘your’ money from ‘mine’. It is also not surprising then that the above is a legal crime – legality being the medium of suppression used by the state machinery.
But the threat lies not in the act in itself, by itself. One beggar or thief isn’t going to shake the entire system. But one beggar or thief does present an alternative. Something that goes to show that the current system is not the only possibility, that several other means of exchange are also possible. And therein lies the threat.
9 December 2007
8 December 2007
3 December 2007
I have two pending posts, neither of which I can seem to conclude. So till the time I can figure out my dilemma, I’m going to fill this place with one of my favourites: Saadat Hasan Manto. Below are some really short pieces of his writing (translated from the Urdu by Khalid Hasan, Mottled Dawn).
Some basic things to be observed:
-- The depiction of horrifying violence and insanity which informed Partition (and hence also Manto's works)
-- How women were among the worst affected since they were/are constructed as repositories of 'honour'; 'honour' which, by a perverse logic, needed to be protected and upheld in context of the Self and plundered, looted (and hence raped) with respect to the Other.
-- The systematic involvement of state machinery...
--...as well as how regular people became both victims and oppressors.
-- Mano's characteristic dark humour and irony.
-- And most importantly, the absence of mention of any particular religion or country, which goes to reveal how underlying a "pretense" of difference is actually a terrible sameness.
Enough said. The sketches:
Invitation to Action
When the neighbourhood was set on fire, everything burnt down with the exception of one shop and its sign.
It said, ‘All building and construction materials sold here.’
The two friends finally picked out a girl from the dozen or so they had been shown. She cost forty-two rupees and they brought her to their place.
One of them spent the night with her. ‘What is your name?’ he asked.
When she told him, he was taken aback. ‘But we were told you are of the other religion.’
‘They lied.’ she replied.
‘The bastards cheated us!’ he screamed, ‘selling us a girl who is one of us. I want our money refunded!’
‘He is not dead, there is still some life left in him.’
‘I can’t. I am really exhausted.’
Out of Consideration
‘Don’t kill my daughter in front of me.’
‘All right, all right. Peel off her clothes and throw her in with the other girls!’
30 November 2007
24 November 2007
"In a moving story 'Shishu' (Children), the Bengali writer Mahasweta Devi describes how tribal peoples have literally and figuratively crippled in post-independence
. National ‘development’ has no space for tribal culture or beliefs, and the attitude of even the well-meaning government officer Mr. Singh, towards the tribal people replicates colonialist views of non-Western peoples- to him, they are mysterious, superstitious, uncivilised, backward. In other words they are like children who need to be brought in line with the rest of the country…At the chilling climax of the tale, we are brought face to face with these ‘children’ who thrust their starved bodies towards Mr. Singh, forcing the officer to recognise that they are not children at all but adult citizens of free India: IndiaFear - stark, unreasoning, naked fear - gripped him....Why were they naked? And why such long hair? Children, he had always heard of children, but how come that one had white hair? Why did the women - no, no, girls - have dangling, withered breasts? ... They cackled with savage and revengeful glee. Cackiling, they ran around him. they rubbed their organs against him and told him they were adult citizens of India. ... Singh's shadow covered their bodies. And the shadow brought the realisation home to him. They hated his height of five feet and nine inches. They hated the normal growth of their body. His normalcy was a crime they could not forgive. Singh's cerebral cells tried to register the logical explanation bt he failed to utter a single word. Why, why this revenge? He was just an ordinary Indian. He didn't have the stature of a healthy Russian, Canadian or American. He did not eat food that supplied enough calories for a human body. The World Health Organisation said that it was a crime to deny the human body of the right number of calories. ..."
21 November 2007
Much of feminist theorising in
Sarojni Naidu in the midst of a very active and organised All India Women’s Conference in Mumbai in 1930 declares in her presidential address: “I am not a feminist”, and later that:
“We must have no mutual conflict in our homes or abroad. We must transcend differences. We must rise above nationalism, above religion, above sex.” [Quoted in Maitrayee Chaudhuri’s Introduction to Feminism in India]
‘Feminism’ with its obvious western associations had no place in the vocabulary of contemporary nationalist politics. In the agenda of nationalist rhetoric, internal differences are subsumed in the interest of the “larger picture” which the narrative of the ‘Nation’ forefronts.
Of course, it was not as if “the woman’s question” (to use a very loose term) was not being debated. It was, but solely in the context of the struggle for
Among the loudest contemporary voices protesting against such a political schema was Rabindranath Tagore. Though Tagore’s focus was largely on class and caste, and not gender issues, he is important for this argument too. A freedom movement, according to Tagore, that seeks to gloss over internal differences; that does not specifically address the issues of the underprivileged; that imposes the construct of a ‘Nation’ over diverse social, linguistic and cultural groups; can only be a failure, even if it does achieve independence.
Tagore’s warning does not seem to be very irrelevant. For even though, after the Independence in 1947, women were granted suffrage along with men, debates about ‘the women’s question’ had disappeared from the public space in the decades that followed. Several very significant and related questions, which accompanied a lot of women’s suffrage movements around the world could not be raised. The collective energy that had been amassed during the freedom struggle and channelled towards that end was diffused through a paternalistic granting of the right to vote.
17 November 2007
"Why is life so tragic; so like a strip of pavement over an abyss. I look down; I feel giddy; I wonder how I am ever to walk to the end. But why do I feel like this? Now that I say it I don't feel it...Melancholy diminishes as I write. Why then don't I write it down oftener?"-- Virginia Woolf (The Diary of Virginia Woolf vol 2 1920-24. Ed. Anne Olivier Bell)
11 November 2007
I would wish to believe that an awful completely forgettable week, certain disturbing patterns of behaviour and a broken foot are excuses enough to allow for a mini-rant. I'm pretty sure this would seem to be terribly uninteresting (if at all coherent) reading. I am usually against blogs which end up resembling personal diaries/ letters to Agony Aunt, etc. But things have bothered me enough now and I need this to get them out of my system. What makes a doctor believe he has the right to lecture a patient in with a broken foot about sabhyata or Indian culture simply because they prefer to hop across to their office on their own? 'Self-help' apparently is a western concept (or so I was told). Our (making the usual 'us' versus 'them' division and making the grand assumption that I'm ready and willing to be included in any such collective identity) sanskriti teaches us to help others, and consequently taking help from others as well. The above, as far as I can see, is especially important for a young woman to understand in order to be cultured.** And, of course, a concept such as 'self help' is western (and synonymously a corrupting influence). For wouldn't it go against, for instance, the traditional conservative rhetoric behind helping pati-parmeshwar and letting him accept help? Wouldn't 'self help' actually then imply that women are not denied a sense of 'self' to begin with, which traditional roles of housekeeper, sati savitri seek to efface? What also gives people the right to discredit someone on the basis of their subject of interest? (Something incidentally which this particular doctor seemed to do. Missing classes is apparently not that big a deal if one doesn't happen to be a 'sciencie'.) Why must Humanities be considered inferior to the Sciences? Why must Art and Philosophy be so sidelined? Why must being a good student in school always imply potential for becoming a good engineer or doctor?
Perhaps so that doctors can make regressive statements on culture and such like? Or perhaps it benifits power structures and power hierarchies? Maybe if there are more doctors, engineers, software professionals, technicians, management consultants than thinkers, artisits, writers, philosophers, then the nature and existence of such structures os not contemplated, which perhaps implicitly perpetuates such structures? Artists and thinkers then are more important - not because they help build the world, like engineers do - but because they help explain what sort of world is being built. ___________________________________________ ** For the record, some bacteria are more cultured than I may ever be. I happen to be awfully proud of that fact.
1 November 2007
31 October 2007
I’ve changed the title of the blog since, as a friend put it, I wasn’t really “examining much whyness”. The current title comes from Alexander Pope’s An Essay on Criticism, albeit slightly distorted to suit the purpose. (Next person to mention the name “Elvis” dies.)
And speaking of titles, why are posts (or any other mode of writing) expected to have titles? Giving something any particular title pre-supposes the implication of a central concern of that piece of writing. This ignores other possibly relevant issues within that text. It would, for example, be foolish to argue that Pride and Prejudice is only about qualities of pride and prejudice; or that Hamlet is about this young prince with a dilemma.
And yet, titles seem to be indispensable in order to know what is being talked about. I shudder to think how a paper on “that book by that Hosseini guy” would be graded. Or how this post would be distinguished from that one. Hmmm...
26 October 2007
Many people lament the decline of the humanist model, and the rise of poststructuralism, because poststructuralism throws out ideas of God, truth, self, and meaning and replaces them with relativism, ambiguity, and multiplicity. According to some people, this is EXACTLY what's WRONG with the world today. If only we could return to the old-fashioned values of humanism, and believe in absolute truth, fixed meaning, and permanence, everything would be OK--or at least a lot better than it is now.I can only cringe.
25 October 2007
"The Aussie all-rounder was not heckled because he is black. His ridiculous hair-do, clown-like face mask and show-pony fielding leave him open to the elements."Allusions to his "clown-like face mask", "ridiculous hair-do", and later "clown make-up mask" are nothing but euphemisms for his ethnic background. It's almost equivalent to saying he was taunted not because he is black but because he has an element of blackness in him. Granted that Symonds had had a spectacularly good tour and that he does tend to get aggressive to the point of being theatrical at times. But that could also be said of several other players in that team too. Or in the Indian side for that matter. (Haven't people seen Sreesanth or Bhajji?!) So why was only Symonds singled out for such treatment? What is also mind boggling is BCCI's meek response and refusal to give the incident the sort of weight it deserves. All there was provision for was arresting the individuals under Section 110 of the Bombay Police Act, 1951 for indecent public behaviour. They were reportedly released half an hour later. I usually do not use the approach citing legal, constitutional provisions, but the lack of such provisions is obviously illuminating. *sigh* Why do we pretend that racism does not exist here? [It's not just areas like sport, where racism is so visibly manifest, but in several other places as well. More posts on that soon.]
21 October 2007
“how chose/ Between this
-- Derek Walcott, ‘A Far Cry from
It is interesting to think how something like an informal discussion in class about Walcott’s poetry could teach me the extent to which certain types of criticism can be damaging. The thrust of the discussion was on the poet’s sense of fragmented identity and divided allegiance with a special emphasis on language and history. In a classroom full of Indian students only too familiar with this type of division, a comparison between the
There are several things wrong with such a statement. I do agree that it is relevant (and important) to see how we, with our colonial inheritance, face a dilemma similar to that expressed in Walcott’s poetry over the use of language. It is equally significant to argue that, like in Walcott, our knowledge and response to history is similar. (By studying British literature, for example, I am aware of
It is not simply a matter of preferring a particular critical approach to another. What is at hand is looking at what the critical approach consequently implies. Relegating Walcott’s lament “of being white in mind and black in body” to an aspect of the ‘human condition’ is a silencing so many immediate social concerns that Walcott and other writers from the
16 October 2007
My association with Sa'adat Hasan Manto began, unfortunately, only in a classroom. As an undergraduate student of literature, it was compulsory for me to study Partition literature and Manto was one of the prescribed writers. One lecture on, I was completely submerged into Manto’s world of thieves, madmen and prostitutes. His Toba Tek Singh was most tragic, his Thanda Ghosht most horrifying.
He is often set apart for his ‘objective’ characterisation. And what struck me most about him was his complete abstinence in delineating his characters in a particular manner solely on the basis of their religion/nationality. In class, the professor had passingly remarked about how ‘Manto stays with you forever’. She could not have been closer to the truth. Each side, in Manto’s work, mirrors the other, and questions the ‘reality’ of the Indo-Pak border.
Contrast this with what the children of this country are taught about the Partition at school. Notice how the history textbooks construct a story quite different. We, according to them, were “the good guys” and they (used on separate occasions to imply the British, Pakistanis, Muslims… ) were “the bad guys”. They were always responsible for all the 'bad, evil things' that happened to us. This difference between us and them is created at such a deep-rooted, intrinsic level and is accepted so passively that it becomes difficult, virtually impossible to unlearn this “truth”. Despite everything, there still remains a sense of mistrust of ‘the other’.
A few years back, among my list of internet friends included a Pakistani girl my age. We frequented the same discussion boards. We got talking and found we had much in common. We liked the same books, listened to the same music, cribbed about the same things. She, like me, had pre-occupations any teenage girl would be expected to: school, friends, television, movies, books, parties…
I was quite amazed how easy it was to talk to her. Inevitably, the Partition came up. We exchanged noted on how differently history was constructed on either side of the border. I toldher India’s Independence Day was on the 15 August, a day after theirs. She’d had no idea. It hadn’t been important. She told me about how they celebrate their Independence. (We discussed them as though they were different events.) I’d never before given it a thought.
All my life, I’d been conditioned into believing how all Pakistanis were ‘evil, twisted monsters’ whose sole purpose in life was to destroy our peace and ruin our happiness. And then I’d read her latest e-mail asking how school was, what movie I’d last watched, whether she’d be able to complete Anna Karenina within the next lifetime…
It was only this one-on-one interaction that initiated a change in my sensibility. I’m sure it was the same for her too. I’m aware that I can’t expect the same response from every Pakistani, just as it would be too idiotic to expect the same from every Indian. It did, however, teach me an important lesson. Instead of believing a ready made opinion, I discovered that I’d rather make up my own mind.
The fundamental point I’m trying to make (after a whole lot of digressions) is an old established one. It is the state machinery which relegates Pakistan(in this case) to the position of ‘the other’ in order to aid their self-definition, and thereby retain their authoritorial position. In other words, they are responsible for constructing Pakistan as ‘different’ from India - for if they both were ‘the same thing’, what point would it be for the state to exist?
[EDIT: I have managed to locate Manto's Toba Tek Singh online. It's a terrible translation though. But it was sadly the only one I could find.]