Tuesday, May 26, 2009
At four in the evening
I think about my freedom.
What is it all about?
I think of several answers-
Most of them you know well
As you also think the same
At times, when work weary.
Freedom is the courage,
For me at least,
To go into my skin
And see calmly
How double minded I am
About all what is around me
And live with it in peace;
Remorseless and ruthless.
Then work till four happily
And think about freedom
Again from four onwards.
Freedom is the courage
To say NO to the urge
To masturbate or fuck
Only to bust stress
Between Four and Four.
Saturday, May 23, 2009
An ice cube
Sinks in the
Of seasoned wine
And comes back
For a moment
To remind me
Of all what I said
During the past week
Then it sinks again
Helping me to forget
My sins and desires.
I confess to nothingness.
The priest asks me,
I go down on my knees
And say “Repeat.”
Friday, May 22, 2009
Mr.Happy was absolutely happy till he was woken up by a harsh buzzing of the calling bell, which god alone knew why the landlord had placed right inside the bedroom.
Happy opened his bleary eyes half and looked at the watch. It was 2.35 in the afternoon. He had gone to bed at eleven in the morning. For the last seven months this has been his routine. Generally he wakes up at four in the evening.
The moment he wakes up, Happy checks his mobile phone for the missed calls and text messages, mostly from the friends who have just changed their shifts from night to day at the Charlton Inc., a BPO, where he works. He returns only one call, the call from his girl friend, Lucky. Since she changed her shift, he speaks to her everyday at least for half an hour over phone.
Then he goes to the bathroom, pee wearily while looking into mirror to see the three fourth of his face, which Lucky had told him, really looked good. ‘Great’ was the word she used to qualify the three fourth profile of his face. Later he grabs a sandwich or something from the fridge and sinks into a beanbag, which is placed at a comfortable distance from the plasma television, which he bought on the day he received the first salary from Charlton Inc.
Happy likes to read newspapers. Perhaps, he likes to read the city pages filled with film gossips and party circuit pictures. At the same time, as a post graduate in Economics, with a background in political activism in a small town college, Happy always felt that it was very important to read newspapers regularly, catch up with national politics, watch television news, wear hip T-shirts with Che Guevara prints, collect souvenirs that send symbolically pronounced messages to his ‘good for nothing’ friends when they came over for weekend parties at his flat.
Generally speaking Happy is a happy guy. At the age twenty four he earns Rs.45000/- per month from Charlton Inc.
‘What if my company’s sister concern is involved in the manufacturing of Arms and Ammunition? That’s happening in the US. I am not involved in that. I do my job, solve problems of the clients who call me up at odd hours to know more about investment issues. I am getting a fat salary for helping the people out. Oh, during college days I was against all those multinational corporates etc. I was against all those imperialist forces that did gun running in the poor countries in Africa and South East Asia. I had participated in a lot of protest marches and all. But looking back I can see how foolish I was. I cannot change this world. But I can change myself. Look man, I have a good job, decent living and I will be marrying Lucky in a couple of years’ time. We will set up a good family and lead a great life. These protest calls and social responsibilities…bullshit. Why these guys don’t understand that I am no longer interested in all those even if I am interested in the politics of this country. One should be aware of the politics. But why should one become an activist?” Happy thought. He was actually looking at text message sent by one his college mates, Priya, who too had shifted to the city to join an NGO almost the same time Happy came to the city.
Happy could not think in that line for long as the bell rang again and after a few moments it gave way to a rude knocking at the door.
Happy scrambled himself out of the bed and came out to the hall, then as if in sleepwalk he inched towards the door, still yawing.
At the opened door, there stood a man, who must be somewhere around fifty, clad in a Safari suit. Happy could not see his eyes as he was wearing a pair of Ray Ban goggles. “Is it original or from Palika Bazaar?” Happy asked himself in mind. “I have become too brand conscious these days,” he thought.
“Can I come inside?” the man in Safari suit asked him without any change of expression in his face. “You have been sleeping and I have been buzzing this bell for long time. Why do you sleep during day time?” he asked.
“That’s none of your concern,” Happy wanted to retort, but he didn’t.
The man came inside, looked around and sat in the beanbag and stretched. “It’s goddamn hot out there. Oh, by the way, I am State and they call me Mr.State,” he extended his right hand and Happy could do nothing but take it hesitantly and shake.
“I am Happy…” he cleared his thought.
“Yes..yes ..yes I know…you are Happy. I know most of the things about you,” State said.
Happy felt some churning in his stomach pit. He felt like going to loo. “Can I get fresh and come back?” Happy asked the Man.
Inside the toilet, Happy sat like a bundle of wet clothes. Some unknown fear gripped him. “On what earth this asshole tells me that he knows everything about me? I have never met him and he has never contacted me before even on emails. What’s going on?” While flushing he thought that he should be stronger and deal with the situation the way he wants. “I should not just turn weak-kneed before some fucking old man who has no business in my house. He is an intruder and if need be, I should call the police.” He made sure that his mobile phone is there in his short’s pocket.
“Can I have a glass of water? You young guys have lost all sense of decorum. You should be offering a glass of water at least to a man who comes to your home from this bloody heat out there,” the man said without hiding his irritation and he was glancing through the Che Guevara poster on the wall and the books on the side table.
“You read a lot?” Without expecting an answer State said when Happy came back with two glasses of water.
“Yes, at times…I don’t get time these days. But I do buy books,” saying that Happy felt why he was answering all those stupid questions of that man. He should show his defiance rather than compliance.
“But I think you have a choice….Look at these books, all literature…shall I say revolutionary literature…” the man chuckled.
Damn it! Happy thought. He, as if for the first time he was seeing his collection of books, just cursorily read through the titles of the books there.
I Married a Communist- Philip Roth, About Trade Unions- Lenin, Chomsky Reader, Rebel Sell, Jail Diary, Motor Cycle Diary, Life of Fidel Castro, Lajja- Tasleema Nasreen, Aranyer Adhikar- Mahashweta Devi, Fear of Small Numbers- Arjun Appadurai, News of a Kidnapping- Marquez…..
“Collected Speeches of Chairman Mao….hmm….All revolutionary literature…” the man looked at Happy quizzically.
Show off traps at times, thought Happy. He had carefully selected these books from his collection and displayed at the front table in order to show his friends that he was ‘different’ from them.
“Actually, these are just for collection sake…I read the popular stuff like Who Moved My Cheese, The Google Story, Biography of Hillary Clinton, Slumdog Millionaire, One Night at Call Centre, Your Are Here, Almost Single, Sex and the City, Three Mistakes I Made, My Friend Sancho etc…Those are in my bedroom. If you want to check please come in,” Happy wanted to tell him all these. But he could not move his tongue. He just stood there like a Wax Museum statue.
“Mr.Happy, a young man with a lot of life and a great future should not be involving in anti-national activities,” said State without any introduction.
“Who are you?” Finally Happy mustered up all his courage and asked the man.
“I have already told you who I am. I am Mr.State. Doesn’t it explain everything to you Mr.Happy. I thought you are intelligent enough to understand things…”
“I am not anti-national….” Mumbled Happy. For no reason he thought of Priya. Fuck. I should be thinking about Lucky at this time. Why the hell I think about Priya.
“You have been under surveillance dear. We have been following you for the last seven months. And we have all the clinching evidence to prove that you are involved in anti-national activities,” said Mr.State in a menacing voice.
“What the fucking evidence you have against me?” Happy had regained his courage by now.
“Mind your language, young boy,” said the man and Happy felt that word ‘boy’ as disgusting as an obscene word which he had ever heard in his life.
“Why did you meet that Maoist at the Café Coffee Day joint at New Friends Colony in February? What was the purpose?” Mr.State asked coldly while sipping from the glass. He sipped as if he was having one of those fancy cocktails in a posh restaurant, complete with a miniature umbrella. Happy never understood why a cocktail comes with a small umbrella. But it was not a time for such frivolous thoughts.
“Maoist…who?” Happy scrambled through his memory to identify the ‘Maoist’. “No…I don’t remember.”
Mr.State whipped out a photograph from his suit pocket and placed it close to Happy’s face. “Now, do you remember? Don’t you?”
Shit…thought Happy. Priya’s friend from Bastar. What had she told me? A doctor? Yes, he was a doctor and his name was Praful Chatterjee. I remember now. But he was such a nice guy. He came to Delhi, Priya told me then, for attending a seminar organized by the Ministry of Human Resources Development. He was presenting a paper on ‘Rural Health and Twenty First Century Aspirations in Poverty Alleviation.’
“He was a state guest, Mr.State,” Happy blurted out. “Yes, I met him and we had a good chat. He sounded absolutely well meaning. A Maoist. I don’t believe this.”
“Oh, yes. He was a state guest. Now also he is a state guest. Don’t you know he is detained for his anti-national activities? Don’t act my boy. His computer has been confiscated and we have found evidence that you have been one of his contact persons here. Now…come on, out with truth,” Mr.State thundered.
Happy did not know what to say. The evening schedule flashed in his mind for a second; meeting with Lucky for a cup of coffee before punching into duty, an online conference with the Charlton executives and the regular stuff.
He also remembered a few poems written by Praful Chatterjee, forwarded to his inbox by Priya.
“What nonsense are you talking, Mr.State. Me, a front person for a Maoist?” Suddenly Happy asked himself why he had already assigned the title of Maoist to a man whom he had met only once in his life. “Mr.State, now I understand who you are. But let me tell you, I don’t have anything to do with this guy. I need to go to office and please let us call off this meeting.”
“Sorry, Happy, my boy. You are under arrest. And you know why we are detaining you. We have the history of your college activism. And we even know that you are a plant in the Charlton Inc. So let’s go. Get ready.”
Happy was frozen. He remembered the face of his parents, a man and a woman, who toiled throughout their lives to make him happy. He remembered the face of all those friends in college. He remembered the faces of Priya and Lucky. It should have been the other way round, he thought instantly.
“Shall I make a call?” Happy was now polite. All his aggression was gone.
“Make as many as you want. You may not be able to call anybody in the coming few days,” said Mr.State, who looked apparently relaxed now.
Happy dialed Priya. It took some time for her to come on line.
“Priya…,” Happy’s voice was broken. “Priya…they are taking me.. I don’t know why. But they are taking me. Take care of me Priya…please….” Happy was already crying.
The Scorpio in which Mr.State came, pulled near. A couple of other men in Safari suits were also there in it. Mr.State gently pushed Happy inside.
Happy was happy, absolutely happy, till he heard that harsh buzzing of the calling bell just above his head in his bedroom in that hot afternoon.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
There was a time when you said anything against the ‘progressive forces’ (I mean the Communists) you were dubbed as a CIA person. Several intellectuals and writers faced this allegation during 1980s only because they spoke about the totalitarian ways of the Community Party (Marxist) in India.
Now the tables are turned. If you talk anything about the poor and the downtrodden, suddenly you become a ‘commie’, a ‘red’ (thankfully not a ‘Reddie’) and someone who follows that ‘damn old’ defunct 19th century ideology. Erstwhile ‘CIA people’, who have been always talking about issues on a democratic and humanitarian level, are forced to ‘become’ ‘commies’ and ‘reds’ now.
George Orwell had warned us about this doublespeak long back in forties through his prophetic novels ‘Animal Farm’ and ‘1984’.
I am surprised to know that there are several people (young people) in our country who simply believe in this doublespeak. How easily they indulge in the doublespeak! In their interpretation, Dr.Binayak Sen is a ‘Commie’. Going by that Medha Patkar, Arundhati Roy, Mahashweta Devi and many more like them should be ‘Commies’.
Dr.Binayak Sen is a Commie because he works amongst the rural poor. We were desperately waiting for an ‘other’. In a global society finding the ‘other’ is a very difficult task. Everyone is connected through networking sites and blogs. Everyone is partying here or there. Everyone is enjoying the same zoozoos. Everyone is enjoying the same IPL.
Even a terrorist like Kasab became so familiar with his naïve appropriation of a popular desire to be with/like John Abraham. Look how a global terrorist has surreptitiously become our co-conspirator in the ‘ether world’ of desire.
Establishing and identifying an ‘other’ is a psychological need for human beings in order to make their lives worth living. The ‘other’ performs the role of a touchstone in the real and imaginative realms of life. Your energies are directed towards the other for assessing your mettle in the general battle field of life. It tests your ideological convictions, philosophical anchors and above all survival instincts.
To digress a bit, when you step into a mall, you detach yourself from the real world. You become a zoozoo, identify your mirror images and satisfy your desire to be there by being there. If at all you think, you think about your privilege to be there. Your ambition then would be to become ‘more equal than’ the tolerable other in your vicinity. You just don’t think about the real other, which you have long forgotten, but still cherish an itch to have one somewhere.
Finally, you have found your other in Dr.Binayak Sen; a ‘Commie’ in your parlance. In his image, confined or free, you identify the images of the innumerable poor and downtrodden in this country. That is really irritating. So you give them a collective name a la Coriolanus, ‘Commies’; under your breath you add, ‘dirty, unwashed, skeletal, ugly and impoverished creatures.’
Look at the comments made by some of my readers: ‘Is the Chattisgarh govt. and the Supreme court of India MAD to imprison a good doctor giving free treatment to the poorest of the poor?’ ‘This is a man who is a clear sympathizer of the Naxalites.’ ‘There is nothing heroic or noble about being a naxal. It's no different from joining the underworld.’ ‘Your Mother Theresa the second wears red underwear.’
These are the reactions of the people who have finally found their ‘real’ other. Now they are happy because they can call anybody who speaks up for the human rights, a Naxal, a Dr.Binayak Sen or a Commie.
Once the identity of the other is established, then it is very easy to decimate them. Yes, I have to agree with these guys on one thing; the terrorists and the poor have one thing similar. They don’t have a face. The terrorists all over the world look the same in their hoods. The poor all over the world look the same- bearded, tortured and emaciated like Dr.Sen. Even if they are hooded by their poverty and lack of equal opportunity, their eyes spark through the holes in their hoods, just like the terrorists’ eyes from behind their hoods.
Khalid Hosseini in his best seller ‘Kite Runner’ talks about the sacrifice of a goat during the festival days. Before the priest runs the blade through its neck, the goat looks back at the man and those who surround it to see the spectacle of death. What is the meaning of that look in the goat’s eyes?
For me it resembles the feeling of a man forcibly made the other by the mainstream thinkers.
But then what about those who call Dr.Sen and all supporters Commies? Don’t their eyes also play up the same fear of death, temporarily flashed as victory and desire?
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Dear Mr.Rahul Gandhi,
Congratulations for that thumping victory in the last parliament elections.
Congratulations again for your decision to opt out of ministerial posts and to concentrate on organizational works. Well wishers as well as sycophants would say that you should join the central cabinet only to gain experience in governance. Yes, like them, I too am sure that one day you are destined to become the Prime Minister of this country. As the Hindustan Times editorial said on the other day, it is in your genes. There is nothing wrong in it.
Don’t think about my identity and whereabouts. I am couple of years senior to you and looking forward to grow along with the political scenario that you have in a way facilitated in our country. Like many of my age, I am not euphoric about your victory. To be precise I am very curious about your future evolution as a politician; may be I should say, a social activist, that is a qualification that suits you well at this stage. When your activism is translated into policy matters, a lot is going to change in this country. I, as a writer, am curious about this aspect of translation.
I write this open letter to you on behalf of those thousands of people who raise their voices for the release of Dr.Binayak Sen, who has been wrongly detained by the Chattisgarh state government for the last two years. Reports say that Dr.Sen’s bail application is rejected by the State High Court and the Supreme Court of India.
You may think, if that is the case this Dr.Sen must be a dreaded terrorist. The problem lies there. Kasab, the captive from 26/11 terror episode spends his days in an ‘anda’ cell (Egg Cell or Blind Cell?) at the Arthur Road Jail in Mumbai. He is news; even his wish to meet the Bollywood hunk, John Abraham is news. We never know, one day, thanks to political and humanitarian pressures, even you would say let Kasab be pardoned and released. But Dr.Sen, who is not a terrorist, who has not indiscriminately fired at any innocent people is still in Jail. Why that is not a ‘news’ for you, I wonder.
I know, you have been busy with election affairs and you will still be busy for a few more weeks till a stable government is put in placeat the centre. Hence, to apprise you of the case of Dr.Sen, let me tell you- Dr.Sen is a ‘terrorist’. Please don’t jump into conclusions. Dr.Sen is a ‘terrorist’ with a difference. He is a terrorist in the field of social health and medicine. He has been working amongst the poorest of the poor and been giving them medical assistance and awareness. He is a terrorist because he worked selflessly for the poor, which eventually put the elected state government into shame. He is a terrorist because he pointed out the ‘terrorists’ amongst the state police force, who brutally and indiscriminately killed the village folk in stage managed encounters.
Did you tell me through the media that the last election verdict is on good governance? Yes, you did tell me. You told me one more thing that you wanted to spend time amongst the poor and know their problems first hand. You even went to stay in villages (I don’t want to think that it was a PR exercise or a Gandhi Tourism for the foreign friends). Cynics say that the village had already been sanitized. Cynics would say many things. I want to believe in your sincere efforts to reach out to the poor. You also told me that you covered almost one lakh kilometers to understand this country (so what even if it was for election campaign?).
Do you remember that famous scene from Attenborough’s ‘Gandhi’? Under a railway bridge, Gandhiji sees a young mother trying to cover her shame with torn rags. He sends his upper clothe floating over the waves. Captured against the setting sun, this scene is the one that got etched in my mind the day I watched this movie as a young boy. Did you see such people in your travel? Or you saw only those post-card perfect images of a tourist’s India. If you have seen what Gandhiji had seen almost a century back, then it is time for you to think in real time.
Organizational activities are needed amongst these people- not amongst those Khadi wearing temporary Youth Congress men. You ask your guys to go to these people and help them out. You have chosen the cream of Indian youth as your team. Great. We have a lot of hope on you and your team.
Let me come back to Dr.Sen’s case. You, in one of the press meets in Delhi said, Ottavio Quottrocchi (Bofors fame) is no longer an issue. True. Intelligent journos like Karan Thapar, Vir Sanghvi, Rajdeep Sardesai and so on also endorsed that statement of yours. They said, you got it right. Yes, I, as an Indian citizen, do not get up in the morning with a chill running through my spine as I see a Bofors gun and Quottrocchi’s face in my early morning dream. I don’t even think about the nuclear policy of India before I go to sleep and when go around with my business during day time. You got it right.
Then, what is our real problem? Dr.Sen’s detention is one of the problems and a pointer towards a host of problems waiting in wings for you. Please address it. I believe you are the only person (in authority) in this country who can take an initiative to free Dr.Binayak Sen. Okay, let me tell you, if Dr.Sen could be proved the biggest terror that our country is facing today, let us hang him; not in the enclosed area of the central prison but in Public, in Connaught Place, and let us telecast it live. Yes, this country should learn a lesson from a `terrorist’ like Dr.Sen. Shouldn’t we?
So far no real charge has been slapped against Dr.Sen. Oh yes, they say he has been colluding with a detained Naxal leader. But it is proven with evidence that Dr.Sen was visiting him in Jail (when Dr.Sen was a free bird) with the permission of the Jail authorities. That too, in the capacity as a medical practitioner, not as a comrade in arms.
Come on, I have been visiting Tihar Jail, Delhi for the last two years as a part of a project that I am doing with Anubhav Nath of Ramchander Nath Foundation. None can even stop his car in front of the Jail without the permission of authorities, forget just entering the premises.
If Quottrocchi is no longer our problem, then what it is? Dear Rahul Gandhi, I strongly believe that we have so many problems in our country that need urgent attention. Detaining a well meaning man is one amongst them. What do we get by punishing a man who helped the poor?
I have spent a few days in Chattisgarh. I have been to Naxalite infested areas like Narainpur there. I saw police units deployed along the length of roads adjoining the forests. But at night I saw none of them. I heard a lot of stories from people who are traumatized both by the Naxalites and the state police. Dr.Sen was living amongst these people and helping them in their medical problems.
Think about it. Your image is going to be etched permanently in the minds of the young people in this country if you take initiative to free Dr.Sen. Whether you become the Prime Minister of India or not, your social activism will be acknowledged for the humanitarian gestures that you express in public a la Mahatma Gandhi.
Yes, I know the ‘Gandhi’ in you and that in the Father of Our Nation are qualitatively different. But you can equalize it….only you can equalize it because you are the last Gandhi standing in Indian political firmament.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Once upon a time, I too was (like) Abir Ganguly, the protagonist of Amit Varma’s debut novel, ‘My Friend Sancho’, day dreaming (a sort of contemporary Mungerilal. Now who is he? Those who grew up during 1980s watching Doordarshan know who he is; the day dreamer made eternal by Raghuveer Yadav), eleven times masturbating in a day (no exaggeration here), all twenty three year old and a budding journalist.
‘My Friend Sancho’ is all about the life and times of Abir Ganguly. May be that ‘life and times’ come to us in two weeks’ time; too contemporary, detached from history and attached too much to the flimsiness of now and here, like a newspaper report. There is no wonder why Amit Varma, himself a former journalist spiced up Abir’s story with possible autobiographical imaginations. Varma knows the now-ness now.
Okay, our protagonist Abir Ganguly works for a Mumbai based tabloid, Afternoon Mail. As a beginner he is in crime beat. For those who don’t know about the progression that a journo makes in his career, it is like this: crime reporting, art and culture, developmental stories, features, left over political stories, full fledged political reporters. Abir Ganguly is still a crime reporter, wanting to do more but does not know what to do.
The novel goes like this: One day Abir gets a call from his ‘contact’ Police Inspector Vallabh Thombre. The message says that they are going to burst a gang holed up in a housing complex in Mahalaxmi, Mumbai. Abir, with his photographer reaches the spot with the police team. But things go wrong. The police shoot the wrong person; they shoot one Mohammed Iqbal.
Abir follows the police version and files a small story on the ‘encounter’. However, things were not getting over with that. Iqbal was an accountant with a NGO run by the activist, Meenakshi. She brings Iqbal daughter, Muneeza to the Afternoon Mail office and the editor asks Abir to do a human interest story about Muneeza’s dead father for the soon to be launched feature pull out.
The providential meeting of Abir with Muneeza takes place in a Mall called ‘Eterniti’. They meet several times there and their relationship grows beyond the scope of the intended feature story. She lands up in his pad as Muneeza finds no place to stay. Meanwhile, Abir is forced to do a parallel sketch on Vallabh Thombre, which throws him into a temporary existential zone.
Caught between love, loyalty and profession, Abir finally confesses his ‘deeds’ to Muneeza. She leaves him. The publication of the pull out is temporarily postponed thanks to recession. Abir tries to get out of his emotional turmoil and hopes that he would be alright. As a final effort to reach Muneeza he makes a call to her without much hope. But she picks up the call and says ‘Hello’.
The story ends there. The happy or sad ending is left to the imagination of the reader. Or are we too caring about their reconciliation? Perhaps, that is not the point of this novel. What makes this novel important and readable is its now-ness, its urgency of narration, the feeling of anchorless-ness of Abir Ganguly and the sensitive responses of the girl, Muneeza.
This lucid story, written in lucid language belongs to the genre of contemporary popular novels. The contemporary popular novels use a contemporary narrative, which is akin to the narratives that we create in our imaginary and real realms on a daily basis. Even while we are conclusive and assertive about the situations that we are in, a sense of doubt lingers. This leads us to comical situations and comical thinking, an auto-mechanism that helps us to keep ourselves afloat even in the melancholic situations. We, the people are speaking continuously to ourselves, ironically even when we are tied to the world virtually through internet and online networking communities.
Abir speaks to himself and he needs the feel to be connected to a world, if not really at least virtually (in his case, through reading certain interesting blogs and spending innumerable hours in a bookstalls, browsing. Here we see Amit Varma’s own real time blog ‘India Uncut’ as the chosen blog by Abir, the protagonist. It is almost like embedding commercial products within films so that indirect sponsorship is pre-fixed). His thoughts are always funny, contradicting and negating his imaginary existence, and they function as a safety valve for him.
The word ‘Sancho’ in the title comes from Muneeza’s nickname. But in some way it looks slightly stretched association. Iqbal and Muneeza, together used to read a lot and they particularly liked this book Don Quixote. Muneeza called her father Quixote and he in turn called her ‘Sancho’. What would have happened if the novel had been titled, ‘My Friend Muneeza’? Within the novel there is a situation where Abir’s mother asks for the name of the girl who is in his house. Abir tells she is Sancho. He could have told her the original name, Muneeza. Then what would have happened? This could be a clever ploy by the writer to use the same apprehensive situation to advantage.
Sexual ambiguity and anxiety are the issues that drive the narrative with certain kind of rigor. Abir is not yet a man- he is just twenty three- but he wants to prove his manliness through his sexual power. Muneeza is a surrogate sexual figure for him to vent his carnal energies and thanks to the middle class morality he feels the urgency to curb his sexual identity. Interestingly, there is a lizard in his pad who functions as his alter ego, which constantly warns him of his sexual interest towards Muneeza. This lizard, for me, is too familiar that I have seen the same lizard directing the life of one Christian guy in Paul Zacharia’s Malayalam novel, ‘Oru Nazrani Yuvavum Gouli Sastravum’ (One Christian Youth and Lizard Science).
This is the time of bloggers flowering into full fledged writers. It was Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan who set the trend with the publication of her first novel, ‘You Are Here’, which also mapped the life of a twenty something girl traversing in Delhi’s career landscape. Amit Varma got international acclamation through his blog ‘India Uncut’ and he too has come out with his novel. These novels including Advaita Kala’s ‘Almost Single’ speak of the contemporary life of young people trying to negotiate with their own identity and sexuality. The death of ideological anchor is a serious theme even in the outwardly jovial narratives. Amit Varma has proven his mastery in devising the plot through the same method. And it works well with the readers.
Thursday, May 14, 2009
I don’t like wearing my conscience on my sleeves. But today I feel like doing it, thanks to Facebook, a networking site that I started hating recently.
I have been seeing Free ‘Dr.Binayak Sen’ campaigns as taglines of my friends for a long time. But I had never thought of asking these questions, ‘Who is Dr.Binayak Sen?’, ‘Why is he arrested?’ etc.
Today, I chanced upon the country singer, Susmit Bose’s Youtube posting on Dr.Binayak Sen. Let me tell you I was more interested to see Susmit Bose’ singing than the cause for which he was singing.
I googled to know more about Susmit Bose. The more I learnt about Bose, the more I felt the need to know about Dr.Binayak Sen. So I started googling Dr.Binayak Sen.
As all of you know by now, Dr.Binayak Sen is detained under the Chattisgarh Special Public Security Act by the Chattisgarh Government. Surprisingly, today (14th May 2009) marks the second anniversary of his detention.
Dr.Sen has been working amongst the poor people in Chattisgarh, giving them free medical help. The allegation against him is that he has been helping the Maoists (ultra leftists) who have been usurping the state government for long. Dr.Sen raised voice and attracted the attention of the responsible citizens all over the world about the state sponsored killing of poor tribal people, in the name of cleansing the area of ultras.
No substantial evidence is found against Dr.Sen for his alleged affiliations with the ultras. But he is still languishing in the state central prison. The High Court of the state and the Supreme Court of India have rejected his bail applications.
Why? Can’t the state correct itself if it has done something wrong, book the culprits in uniform for mindless killing and absolve Dr.Sen? Shouldn’t an egalitarian democracy like India be honoring a man of Dr.Sen’s worth with high accolades rather than keeping him jail and letting him rot at the sensitive age of fifty eight?
I join the millions of people, who voted or not in the last general elections, who demand the release of Dr.Sen. I demand this not because that I am a great radical or sensitive to everything that is going on around me, but because I know that the injustice being inflicted on Dr.Sen is nothing but injustice. I need not go into a case study with a skeptical mind in order to keep myself ‘objective’ in this matter.
Our egalitarian democracy has provisions for the criminals to contest in elections from jail and come out with state security for voting, and later for attending the policy meetings, denting the common exchequer.
A man who has helped poor people, however does not have these rights in our democracy. Who needs this kind of democracy?
Free Binayak Sen. That’s all.
A campaign is going on to change the facebook profile picture for a month with the ‘Free Binayak Sen poster’ in order to express solidarity with the millions who raise voice for freedom.
I humbly join them, faceless.
Monday, May 11, 2009
When you are open
To an invisible world
With stamp size photographs
For friends and trickles of
Daily triumphs for philosophy
You imagine that all those
Messages are for you.
You are Picasso for a day
And an Aries forever;
Calculated madness, flowery traps;
From one picture to the other
You hop like a hopeless bee.
Eternal wait to comment
And to be commented upon.
A street square, that it is-
Paste, spray, spit, vomit
Caress, gaze, urinate, shit,
Tease, rape, murder, lick,
Sing, beg, coax, kidnap and
Carnival it is in its best
Desire shop in its worst.
Choose, bargain and comeback,
It won’t wait for you there.
Give it a search to capture
The cross-section of wailing hearts
Through your fading lenses-
Will not be same for the same price.
People travel and they move on
What remains is a stamp size picture
And the messages, which you think
Are for you and you only.
The weird world rolls on- a statement from one of the works written by Rose Hawthorne, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s daughter. Miriam is writing a book on Rose Hawthorne. Miriam empathizes with the failed literary career of Rose. Perhaps, she too does not have the confidence as a writer. Miriam is the daughter of August Brill, a seventy two year old book reviewing expert.
In one hundred and eighty pages Paul Auster creates a different world and it is titled ‘Man in the Dark.’ This novel, which is magically real and really magical, tells the story of August Brill and Owen Brick, and all those people related to them.
August Brill, a widower, currently wheelchair bound after a car crash, is no longer active as a book reviewer. But his daughter Miriam, divorcee and her twenty three year old daughter, Katya want him to write about his life for the ‘posterity’. He would like to do it, but thanks to the unfortunate incidents in his life- the demise of his wife Sonia, the breakup between Miriam and her husband Richard, the beheading of Katya’s boyfriend, Titus Small by the Iraqi extremists etc- he is not able to do it. He, like his grand daughter is not able to sleep.
In his sleepless nights, he conjures up a new America, which is in arms against itself. The states are against the centre. Everything is in ruins. The twin towers still stand. There is no Iraq war. But the American states are against the Federal power. They demand freedom from the Federation. They call it the Liberated States of America.
Ownen Brick, a small time magician living with an Argentinean woman, Flora, one day finds himself in a pit, wearing a military uniform. Someone saves him from the pit and assigns him with a mission: to kill a man. He meets Virginia Blaine, his childhood love interest and she turns out to be one of the co-conspirators against the Federal state. The mission is to kill one man who has created this war- and he is none other than August Brill.
Going through a chain of events we come to know that the war is happening in Brill’s mind and that world really exists somewhere. Logic is simple- if this world could exist, then other worlds also could. There are parallel worlds and we do not know about them until we cross the borders by chance or by force.
Paul Auster makes us believe that the world where the American war is on, really exist. The narrative link between the world of August Brill, which is real as we too habit in the world of Brill, and that of Owen Brick, which we do not want to believe as we force ourselves to think about it as only as a phantom or a distant possibility, is created by mixing up two narratives happening in the minds of two people; Brill and Brick.
Like in our ‘real’ life, we too would like to control the lives of other people, but keeping ourselves out of the phantom world that we create for them to suffer. However, any narrative has an intrinsic tendency to include the narrator somewhere in it, either as a controller of the events or as one of the negligible victims, who has only one power, that of witnessing.
Brill is aware of the power of t/his narrative, which he is facilitating in his mind in order to ward off the evils of his times and also to control the torturous sleepless moments. One day he has to enter into the narrative, unwillingly and wait for Brick to come and execute him. However, Brick’s conscience does not allow him to commit a murder for no reason or a reason forced on him by Brill himself.
Finally, Brick pays for his reluctance. He is killed by the Frisk and Duke, who somehow want to end the war by killing the person who has created a world of war.
Paul Auster gives us the guilt of an American citizen, who lives in total conformity with the state and takes a lot of pride in such subjected life. One day, as the novelist prophesizes subtly, the conformed citizen would rebel against the powers that curb him down, at least by creating a parallel world of chaos and freedom.
There is something Baudrillard-ian about this novel. Baudrillard claimed that the Gulf War did not take place because all what had been broadcasted in television were the simulation of a war. In Man in the Dark, we see a world of simulation, but apparently real. The collusion between these two worlds happens in the narrative structures that we make in our imaginations, till we lose control on the worlds that we ourselves have created.
But soon we regain control over the ‘real’ world with families and familiarities around. That is the only safe way to make the ‘weird world’ roll on.
Friday, May 8, 2009
One day she broke her leg. She was just climbing down the stairs, holding her husband’s hand, happily chatting away those little nonsense matters, which her scientist husband always disliked. At the last step she tripped.
While falling, she was still holding her husband’s hand. She was wearing a frilled skirt and that spread around her leg like a flower. She thought, I am a flower, just got dislodged by a strong wind, but still hanging from its stem.
Then she smiled. Her husband hurried to pick her up. Oh slowly, she moaned. With the moan that came out her throat uncontrollably, only she realized that she was injured. But she did not know what exactly was broken in her.
This time, with no nonsense topic to discuss, she limped towards the garden bench next to the pool. Her husband made her to sit there, slowly. She clutched his hands as if he was going to leave her. He too was visibly worried. It shouldn’t have happened at this moment, he thought.
Curious kids who were playing around the pool gathered around her and started asking various questions. Aunty, does it hurt too much? How did you fall? Where is it hurting aunty, should I do something for you?
The last question came from a girl child, may be of ten year old. She was wearing a white frock with a lot of flowers printed on it. Only a girl child can ask such a caring question at this tender age, She thought.
Her husband was making some phone calls while hurrying towards the parking lot. Primarily, he was postponing a meeting with his friend, then he was apologizing to another friend saying that he wouldn’t be coming for the dinner.
He helped her to get into the car. He drove in silence. The stereo was playing some music. Suddenly she felt the music very odd inside the car. Why don’t we talk instead of sitting quietly like this? I am in pain I know. May be the music will help me to forget the pain. May be if he talks to me something that would be better, she thought.
He was not in a mood to talk. He was not insensitive or uncaring. He was really worried. He wanted to get her into some hospital’s emergency ward at the earliest. The traffic was terrible in the city and one needed a lot of patience and concentration to drive. Now he was worried and he needed to be extra conscious about his driving.
She looked outside. Everyday sights; she knew each and every building on the way. She knew the small little alleys that quarreled with the main road and ran into thickets and dirty water. She knew the places where these alleys led. She used to go there quite often to get her materials. Yes, she was an artist.
But now the sights looked different. Seeing things through the thin film of pain makes things different, she thought. She noted it down in her mind. I should be making a work about the pain and the visions induced by pain. The car reached the hospital.
Duty doctor came to her without much ado. He took her case quite casually. May be he sees many like me, middle aged women, with broken legs and hands everyday, she thought. Well, let us get an X-ray done, he said. One girl in light green uniform helped her to sit in a wheel chair and rolled her into the X-ray room. Please go and make the payment, the doctor asked her husband and he walked hurriedly towards the cash counter.
He always hurries, she thought wickedly while the broad door panels closed behind her leaving her hurrying husband out. She was made to sit on a high table. She looked at the swollen ankle of her left foot. Farewell to thee my dear ankle, she told her self. She was finding it really funny. She had a broken bone in her left leg and what did was just thinking about in poetic terms. How absured….ouch…..She felt the real pain now as the technician pulled her leg, carefully though.
Yes, there is a hairline fracture here, pointing at the X-ray with a pen, which was obviously a complimentary one, perhaps given to him by one of those medical representatives who wait patiently at the doors with their bulging leather bags, the doctor said. We need to put a plaster cast. No movements for six weeks.
Six weeks, thought she, that is quite a lot of time. But the rider had not yet come. We need to fix the bone with a steel plate and eight screws. Considering your age, it is very necessary. The steel support will be permanent, said the doctor. Hmm..so it is going to be something serious. Do I see some irritation on my husband’s eyes? No he loves me.
Back home she started contemplating about the steel plate inside her. She examined the X-ray pictures taken on a weekly basis to see the progress of her cure. May be for others they do not make much difference, she thought. But it made difference for her. Suddenly she started loving that one steel plate and eight screws, which were not a part of her body till the last few weeks. Now they had become a part of her.
When her husband went out to the Institute, she found she had a lot time. The maid servant came, did the errands and left. She watched the movies, one after the other; some she liked and some she did not. She refused to pick up phone calls as she started contemplating more on the steel plate and the eight screws in her body.
Slowly she stopped watching movies. Instead, she spent her time in speaking to the broken ankle and the steel plate and the screws inside her left leg. She did some drawings of her leg. Then she removed the image of her leg from her drawings. It looked very abstract. No, they were not abstract images. Soon she realized that she was unconsciously drawing the steel plate and eight screws.
The huge sculptural installation that she did exactly one year after her tripping and falling, received one of the prestigious art awards for that year. It was installed at the city park. The City Mayor inaugurated the sculptural installation and praised her to the skies. Many galleries came forward to sponsor her works and she got several invitations to participate in international biennales.
She is a very successful artist now. But she rarely speaks to people. One day I had a chance to talk to her. While talking to her she asked me, Could you discern the images in my award winning sculpture? I was a novice, a new journalist. I said, No.
One steel plate and eight screws, she said.
Thursday, May 7, 2009
Many of my friends do not like reading Paulo Coelho. Whenever I mention his work they tell me, “Look, his masterpiece is The Alchemist. Rest is the repetition of the same.”
Some other friends say, “May be for the Western audience the kind of spirituality he writes about must be appealing. But as Indians we know the spiritual search that he is talking about.”
Another set of friends just smile. I know the meaning of that smile. “Oh, you still read Paulo Coelho, the bestseller type.”
All of them say one thing for sure: Paulo Coelho says the same thing in different ways.
May be that is the reason I like reading him- he says the same thing in hundred different ways.
I remember Bruce Lee, the martial artist and superstar. He says in his biography, “I like the martial artist who can perform the same punch in hundred different ways than the one who can perform hundred different punches in the same way.”
Paulo Coelho belongs to the former category. His single punch is this: The human being in his never ending quest for power, fame and glory, has lost his soul. One needs to search for it. And perhaps, everyone is in a path of this spiritual search.
I have read most of Coelho’s works and each time I find something new. I realize that the same story of different people rendered in different ways could show you a new path, a new experience, a new and unexpected vision.
Hence, reading his latest novel ‘The Winner Stands Alone’ was a pleasure for me. Unlike his other works (mostly set in a particular period in ancient or modern history), this one is a ‘contemporary’ novel. By contemporary I mean the fading baggage of history.
The only historical reference to it is the Afghan War waged by the Russian Army. That too comes as a part of the protagonist’s psychological make up. Otherwise it happens in one day, precisely on 19th March 2008.
Don’t look for the exactitude of the incident narrated in this book. It starts on 3.15 am in Cannes, France. The setting is Cannes International Film Festival. Simultaneously, international fashion shows are also on.
Igor, the protagonist, owner of a huge telecom company in Russia arrives in Cannes in his private aircraft. He is here to ‘destroy worlds’ for retrieving his lost love. His wife Ewe had deserted him two years back in order to live with one of the fashion moguls, Hamid Hussein.
Igor believes that by killing a person, he could destroy one ‘world’, which would send messages to his former wife who is present in Cannes along with her new husband. Igor believes that he saves a life by destroying a world.
It is a thriller, with sex, lies and of course video tapes and surveillance. Igor befriends a young peddler, Olivia. He kills her after knowing that her life is not going anywhere with her abusive boyfriend. Then he kills Javitz, a film distributor. Then he kills Maureen, an aspiring film maker. Then, the lot falls on a famous film actor.
Each murder, Igor carries out meticulously without leaving any trace of suspicion. The Cannes Police spend hours to nab the serial killer but in vain.
Igor does not select his victims though he plans the method of killing flawlessly. The victims come to him by chance or by choice. He feels that he saves them and he identifies himself with Jesus Christ with a mission to save the world from people who are suffering out of love; everything done for getting back his love, Ewa.
However, people and incidents are connected by providence. Maureen was almost sure of getting her film funded by Javitz. Gabriella, a twenty five year old woman was about to become a superstar as she was signed by a director to act against the murdered superstar. She enjoys her moment of glory by walking upto the steps of Cannes Palace. She never realizes that her world is already collapsed. Jasmine is about to become a supermodel. But the man who is supposed to produce the movie for Gabriella and make Jasmine a supermodel, Hamid Hussein is already fallen a victim to Igor. Finally Igor kills Ewe also.
The police never get a clue about the serial murderer. He leaves Cannes safely in his private aircraft.
What we get from this novel is a cross section of the world of fashion and films, its undercurrents, money laundering, pains of the models, futility of power, glory and fame. Each person is a lost person in this novel and they are searching for their souls. Ironically, before they meet their soul, they lose the vision of it. Either they are taken away by circumstances or are killed by someone who is pathologically inclined to cleanse the world of its loveless-ness.
Paulo Coelho’s works are always page turners, so is this one. Each character in this novel reveals a new world for us and soon we realize that the world thus revealed is not new any longer as we too take a share of it on a day to day basis as consumers of popular culture. Our souls are lost in our culture and the point is that we are aware of the slow erosion of our worlds from under our feet.
Paulo Coelho just points this out through an extremely thrilling narrative structure which spreads out before us in twenty four hours.
You can hate Paulo Coelho for him being a popular writer. But for me popularity does not indicate the lack of verve, intelligence and grip in narrative. Perhaps, you don’t read him twice. But you definitely read him once, whenever he comes up with a new book.
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
After a long gap once again I am here in my blog with something that has been tickling my brains for the last few months.
I drive daily to my work place and I prefer listening to the FM Radio channels than playing regular music CDs. Reason is very simple- here in FM Channels someone is always speaking to you in a very artificial voice. You can feel the sound grains of the RJ’s throat or even the heaving of the female RJ’s bosom. I call it ‘lisping unlimited’.
Advertisements of all kinds, information on weather and road conditions, bits of news, preaching on social awareness and to pep all these up, some music from the latest Bollwood flicks. Unlike Television, FM Channels have a lot of advertisements of local business establishments; right from vegetable shops to beauty parlors.
One ad caught my imagination by force. Two females are talking.
“Look, that’s coming again.”
“My God, I can’t wear sleeveless. I have to put up with the full sleeves. I hate it.”
A male voice chips in. “Don’t worry. Come to XY Parlor, where you have a FREE hairless skin design. Test and enjoy it.”
I realized the ‘horror’ that ‘coming’ was hairs (in armpits).
Hair removing is a ‘hair-raising’ experience for most of the young women (for oldies too these days, it seems). Ads are abundant in magazines and televisions that emphasis the need for a ‘hair free’ skin/body.
But ‘Free Hairless Skin Design’ is a new formulation. Euphemism for the same old painful plucking, waxing, shaving and erasure of the never say die dead cells of the human body.
To be dubbed beautiful, is it necessary to remove all those hairs? Who tells you that you should not have hairs in your visible and invisible parts (in public)? Individual fantasies regarding hairs in personal relationships are abundant. It varies from person to person.
The other day I was reading ‘Vagina Monologues’. One of the women tells that her husband wants always her vagina to be shaved. For her it is a painful experience. All those cuts and rashes. The vengeful return of dead cells and their conspiracy with panties. You make your life miserable.
Hair is political and hair removal is ideological. While the former revels and rebels in/with its existence, the latter cleans up the desire machines of ideologies.
Will you be put off by seeing the hairy shanks of a girl? If you, then why shouldn’t she turn cold when she sees your gorilla like chest?
It is the time for a hairy world. Add Hair to FAT FREE and FEMINIST.
Some people say, it is necessary to remove hair to keep the body clean. What about all those toiletries?
Hair is a surprise. The light seeps in through the window and it falls on her cheeks. You find golden hairs shining there and what a beautiful sight it is!
You look at her hands with small hairs holding a bead of invisible sweat on a sultry summer day. It is magical.
You see her in sleeveless clothes with a fair share of hair in her arm pits. You should be happy if you are an aesthete.
Again, you accuse me of talking about my own male fantasies. But then aren’t you going through all those pains of waxing, shaving, plucking etc to satisfy my male fantasy?
Wear your hair with élan. That should be the latest rebel statement (so that the fashion moguls could design clothes to emphasis hair in human body). What’s the point in shaving off all you have and fitting them up with all those feathers and frills?
I don’t know whether I make sense or not. But I like hair especially when she says, “I like it in this way.”