Saturday, March 15, 2014

Slash that divides and bridges: Rajesh Sharma on his ‘in/disciplines’

1. How How did you get to write these essays? What motivated you?
I believe I am also responsible for the world in which we find ourselves. I have tried to respond to this world from time to time. As a person who teaches – and who can read and write – I think I have an obligation to make some sense of it and to share the resulting attempts with others, and so contribute to the dialogues that are the motors of civilization.

2. Rajesh, why in/disciplines for a title?
Though the title is explained in the Introduction towards the end, let me add (and repeat) that education, culture and politics are ‘in/disciplines’. That they nevertheless require a disciplined effort to study them. That they demand that the disciplinary boundaries between them be challenged in order to reveal how none of them is self-constituted and self-limited/limiting. The slash is an enabling line that divides and bridges at the same time.

3. There is so much of Punjab in it. What is your take on the search for a Punjabi identity? What do you think of its (Punjab’s) multiple divisions and existing fissures? By the way I notice there is a painting on the cover by the great Punjabi abstractionist Rajinder Singh Dhawan.
Punjab today badly needs critical reflexivity. The discourse of Punjabiyat has progressively regressed over the decades. It has been turning on ethnocentrism, sectarianism, jatt-centred casteism, linguistic fanaticism, religious fundamentalism. Also, the actual Punjab is transforming ‘terribly’, but songs continue to be sung of a stereotyped, mythical Punjab of unmatched glory. These might be signs of a nascent fascism.
Punjabi identity, even after the partition, remains Punj-abi, where the fifth ab/river/current is the principle of dynamism as against stasis. Punjabi identity, to me, is essentially anti-essentialist. Freedom, love, quest – these define the adventure called Punjabiyat. And this Punjabiyat needs voices more than ever today.

4. At what angle the Punjabi intellectual stand in relation to the power structure?
The Punjabi intellectual, in Punjab particularly, has been largely (not wholly) coopted by the dominant power structures. Dissent has been reduced to a bargaining tool for profit and self-promotion.

5. As an intellectual on the campus, how do you you see yourself and the role you play?
I am a student and teacher, not an intellectual. I believe we have the task of building critical capabilities, of creating and guarding over spaces for criticism and critique, of linking our expertise with the lay person’s discourse. We must believe in a better world and write and speak for making it possible. The young are amazingly receptive to the challenge of thinking; we must not fail them ‘any more’.

6. What next (after this book)?
I am working on Blood Flowers, a translation of Harbhajan Singh Hundal’s selected poetry. The translation of Sohan Qadri-Amarjit Chandan conversatiions – The Now Moment – is in press. Another book of essays – on literature and theory – should be ready before the end of this year.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The candidate who flunked the interview

By Rajesh Sharma

Indian TV’s greatest event of 2014 – Rahul Gandhi interviewed by Arnab Goswami, telecast on 27 January – as the Times Now Channel repeatedly flashed the ad (as if the year was going to end that evening) had just begun when I switched the channels after dinner. 

Hoping there would be something refreshing, if not important, to see and hear, I settled down like a tame idiot before the box. In fact, I even raised the TV’s volume so as not to miss a word of what would be said.


The unsteady and shifting eyes of Rahul were already hinting how the interview would go. I still told myself he would speak with better confidence once he was a few minutes into the show. But that never happened.

The boy had not been properly trained. I want to whip his trainers.  He had memorized a few stock phrases and thought he would be able to field all questions. He did not seem to have visualized that he could be faced with someone other than a Congressman, much less a journalist who flaunts aggression. Yet, to be fair to Arnab, he was this time sufficiently polite in speech, sporting his characteristic aggression only through facial musculature. 

What did I expect of Rahul?

I expected Rahul to be candid and courageous. 

I expected something of the flaming dream that had marked Nehru. Or a shadow of it that lingered in Rajiv. 

I was not worried Rahul would fumble and say a few politically incorrect, even embarrassing, things. 

I believed he was young.

But he spoke like he was already too old to offer hope.

And he spoke of harnessing the young Indians’ energy to change ‘the system’.  Could inauthenticity be more authentically incarnated? And what does one mean by ‘the system’? Isn’t ‘system’ now the easy refuge of the out-of-date, shallow-minded pseudo-thinkers?

Rahul spoke like a candidate from one of India’s many private management-diploma shops, who have never known a good book, who have no hands-on experience, who rely on second-hand notes. On thoughtless plagiarism.

If women can be empowered with three additional LPG cylinders, I will sponsor 30.

If Modi’s government machinery actively contributed to the Gujarat pogrom of 2002, ‘my’ party’s government at the centre should have dismissed ‘his’ government, whatever the consequences. 

If Congressmen were involved in the massacre of the Sikhs on the capital’s streets, as Rahul almost admitted they ‘could be’, he should have not only apologized (he had a great opportunity) but vowed to bring the killers to justice within a specific time frame by promising to fast-track the cases. 

Rahul had a chance to heal the wounds that have festered for thirty years. He refused to heal. 

But then only a man – who humbly accepts his mortal condition, against all the splendor of royalty – can be a healer. Not one who is less than a man.  

I expected Rahul to be a man. I expected him to be a gentleman.

He disappointed me. 

Not that he cannot become a PM. He may, given the way some ‘democracies’ work. So what if he becomes a PM? It will be just another plastic feather in mediocrity’s cap. 

Thanks to Manmohan Singh, we know beyond doubt that no office, howsoever high, can make you a leader. You either are a leader, or are not. 

And these days, who knows we may have leaders who are not even men. Much less gentlemen.


Saturday, November 9, 2013

South Asian Ensemble

Summer and Fall 2013 Vol 5 No. 3 & 4

The unprofitable work of literature

Rajesh Sharma   

The oldest memories with me include a balding and bespectacled old head reading a book held up by a hairy hand with cracked brown skin. A reflective grin spreads or shrinks, prompted by mysterious proceedings in the magic mirror in front.
Memory’s selection tool functions strangely.
            Sood Uncle. He ran a shop that never had more than… ten books? A banyan had grown in the shop’s forehead, hanging down like hair from aging eyebrows. Seven steps into the shop you faced darkness that tasted damp with the odor of rats’ droppings. I bought my first books, on credit to be paid by my mother’s brother, from Sood Uncle. My mother’s mother once confided to me that this Sood Uncle was a legendary kanjoos. Unlimitedly kanjoos, she said.
            Why did he run a book shop? I had never seen anyone other than himself there. Not even a departing buyer’s shadow. Did he do it to read the books he was supposed to sell? Was the shop a retreat from a hostile wife’s nagging intrusions? I remember my uncle and I stayed at his house for a week or so when he with his wife had to go to Bahrain to spend some time with their son. It was a bookless house, strictly and austerely bookless.
            In my memory he is the only book seller who actually read books. He must have made no profits in the business.

Writers have often noted the peculiar demand of their vocation. That they have to transact in used currency – the currency of words – and work on it to produce novelty. The work of literature consists largely – not entirely, though – in this. Yama, the teacher in Katha Upanishad, tells Nachiketa that immortal truth is produced by rubbing against each other, one upon the other, two pieces of (the oh-so-mortal, termite-loved) wood. For the sake of this truth, Nachiketa has spurned the offers of all wealth… all other wealth.
Perhaps here is one secret of literature’s immortality: the value that your labour’s work produces in the stuff, already available, of mundane exchange.
In this secret stands disclosed the indistinction, extremely demanding, between production and creation.
The indistinction, achieved as much as glimpsed, transfigures the nature of profit.


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Sasenarine Persaud's review of South Asian Ensemble

An extract from Sasenarine Persaud's review of South Asian Ensemble:
"Stories, excerpts, poems, essays, photography, paintings, reviews and interviews all go into making this eclectic publication. The contributions are not only by, or about, South Asians. The great strength of South Asian Ensemble is the translations from Indian languages."- Sasenarine Persaud's

Complete review here:

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Complete Mukti - How to Read a Manmohanism

By Rajesh Sharma

'Complete Mukti' - Prime Minister Singh's hybrid phrase delivered from the Red Fort today, on 15 August 2013. 

Is it a symptom of neoliberal pathologies of exclusive developmentalism transplanted on the Indian soil from abroad? 

Does it say, despite 'their' silence, that we must now pick up a redesigned outfit of freedom - of freedom defined in and qualified by Western(ized) corporate terms? 

At the same time, the brand new Manmohanism validates the operations of the native religious-corporate complex - by reimagining 'Mukti' in terms of the entertainment and fashion ideology of completism. 

Recall Raymond's ad campaign: The Complete Man.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Bradley Snowden Assange

Badri Raina

Bradley Snowden Assange, I say, for
You are one—born to protect
What was once proudly American;
Selfless beyond our tutored  

Even as all around us, the “best” hoard
Their lives and open their abuse
On behalf of the “patriotic” gun,
The corporate board, and the politics
That “god-fearing” red-necks use
To trample the world beneath
The ordained boot, romping from
One massacre to the other
Like proverbial bandicoot,
Snooping among “unalienable”
Privacies not just of those without
“manifest destiny,” but of those
That inhabit the “land of the free,”
You fling your soul like streak
Of light across the
Satanic gloom, thinking nothing
Of losing your life if, courting death,
You may illume to common sight
And knowledge the perfidies of those
That, pretending to maim and disfigure
On our behalf, fatten on the ruse.

Bradley Snowden Assange, in our trapped
Misery, the least we may do
Is to salute you, not just as martyrs
But harbingers of hope and apostles
Of truth, returning us to the lad
In the manger whom Herod, like
Our present-day tyrants, saw
As the mortal danger who had
Best be dead.

Not he, but the empire crumbled
As the force of innocence rumbled
Through earth and sky;
You beckon us to something similar
Even as we sneak or standby.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Trayvon Martin

By Badri Raina

You forgot your Biblical lessons,
Dear boy; God being Light, all
Good things are white;
And Satan being the prince
Of darkness, being born black
Is a hopeless mess.
Against such black vicissitudes
Was a just law found that said
To the white killer, “stand your ground.”
Only some sixty million of your forefathers
Were  murdered in the slave trade;
Too many more are still left
To be made dead. Sinners are those
That think racism is bad.
Only when non-white trash gathers
Into a common cause is racism racism;
Zimmerman is merely God’s own prism.
From the Fuhrer he remembered how
The Swastika was not racist emblem,
But Zarathustra’s  declaration
That only a chosen some
Had right over life, death, and the fun
Born of  extermination; thus
Zimmerman was only furthering
The  pure Aryan nation.
Watch Obama hold his thinking head,
Wondering how to balance
The claims of white power with
The  piquant tragedy of the dead.
Statecraft is a matter of great
Consideration of how to do
The bidding of the endowed
Without seeming to do so.
Dear Martin that art now in the
Netherworld, from the Netherworld
Itself must issue forth a new light
That bids adieu to the jaundiced ray
That makes difference between
Zimmerman and you, and bears
Promise to make mankind
All of one hue.