Saturday, July 26, 2008

‘1857 : Saman Ki Talash’

A Reading of Asad Zaidi’s Poem

Asad Zaidi’s disturbingly powerful poem opens with a complex telescoping: 1857 has returned, with an immediacy that it did not have in 1857.

There is guilt and a sense of wrong. Can we evade the burden of responsibility for all that has gone wrong? The speaking voice is ambivalent: are ‘we’ the people or the writers, or both?

The soundscape, too, is ambivalent: there is the restive, loud India of people and there is the whispering India of agents and touts and political opportunists.

Maybe this reality of contemporary India is the product of fiction and commercial cinema. Our unreal reality. But also an ironic shifting of the blame for sordid reality on to fiction and cinema. The aporia of representation.

The metaphor of noise again changes – to become the tinkle-tinkle of money. The poem takes aim and fires at a Prime Minister’s magisterial faux pas. The telescoping returns: freedom has become only a name for the quest for a convenient subjugation. Obviously, this is a pointed assault on the neoliberal avatar of colonialism that conceals itself behind the mask of a freedom won on such and such a date and hence an ‘indisputable empirical fact’.

The rumble – the noise – of the battle-drums of 1857 knocks on the poet’s heart, to bring back the memories that the canonical national writing has long kept locked in silence (except for Subhadra Kumari Chauhan who remembered to remember 1857). The writers of the canon may not have exactly aspired for a more convenient slavery, but their taking for granted the freedom arguably made them complicit in the subversion of freedom.

Freedom is not something you download once and forget all about; it must be continually updated and protected.

The rumble is a reminder of the history that did not end in 1947 but that continues to repeat itself even after a century and a half in the suicides of farmers, weavers and others. The worst irony of the history of the present is that these people cannot afford even the dignity that would be conferred on them if they could be called rioters or protesters. They are like shadow-people, exiled from their lands swallowed up in SEZs, dragging themselves to an unsung, general death as fodder of national statistics of development and starvation.

Yes, we have moved on. History more than repeats itself. An unclean, squalid look was, in 1857, mere destiny. Today it is a grave crime.

But then there are several ways in which history may repeat itself. An unfinished battle may be resumed across decades or centuries. Even the dead may rise to fight, albeit with archaic, obsolete weapons. Indeed they must, when the living are deader than themselves.

The dead may have been dead and seemingly asleep, but they have learnt their lessons. They now know that their leaders may not have always fought for them but only for their own feudal properties. They even mockingly ask the enlightened living whether they do not fight because there is nothing to fight for, no one to fight against . . . whether injustice has vanished from the world . . . or whether they have just given up.

Rajesh Kumar Sharma


Friday, July 18, 2008

Don’t Drink the Nuclear Kool-Aid

By Amy Goodman, King Features Syndicate

But nuclear power is not a solution to climate change -- rather, it causes problems. Amory Lovins is the co-founder and chief scientist of Rocky Mountain Institute in Colorado. He makes simple, powerful points against nuclear: "The nuclear revival that we often hear about is not actually happening. It is a very carefully fabricated illusion ... there are no buyers. Wall Street is not putting a penny of private capital into the industry, despite 100-plus percent subsidies." He adds: "Basically, we can have as many nuclear plants as Congress can force the taxpayers to pay for. But you won't get any in a market economy."

Read the article here

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Of Roses and Sexual Harassment

By Rahnuma Ahmed

`You should not have written about such sensitive issues in such indecorous language,’ faculty members at Jahangirnagar University (JU) told me and my ex-colleague, Manosh Chowdhury. It was 1997, four years before I left JU to become a writer.

Read the complete article here

Critiquing Multiculturalism

Mistaken identity

Obsessing about culture traps people in their own history, argues Kenan Malik

Today’s multiculturalists argue that to fight racism one must celebrate group identity. The consequence has been the resurrection of racial ideas and imprisonment of people within their cultural identities. Racial theorists and multiculturalists, the French philosopher Alain Finkielkraut observes, have “conflicting credos but the same vision of the world”. Both fetishise difference. Both seek to “confine individuals to their group of origin”. Both undermine “any possibility of natural or cultural community among peoples”. Challenging such a politics of difference has become as important today as challenging racism.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

The Burden of the Humanities

by Wilfred M. McClay

Lamentations about the sad state of the humanities in modern America have a familiar, indeed almost ritualistic, quality about them. The humanities are among those unquestionably nice endeavors, like animal shelters and ­tree-­planting projects, about which nice people invariably say nice things. But there gets to be something vaguely annoying about all this cloying uplift. One longs for the moral clarity of a swift kick in the ­rear.

Enter the eminent literary scholar Stanley Fish, author of a regular blog for The New York Times, who addressed the subject with a kicky piece entitled “Will the Humanities Save Us?” (Jan. 6, 2008). Where there is Fish there will always be bait, for nothing pleases this contrarian professor more than ­double-­crossing his readers’ expectations and enticing them into a heated debate, and he did not ­disappoint....


Friday, July 4, 2008

A Festival of Ideas

Bright ideas in the Wild West

By Jonathan Marcus

Hundreds of people pay to attend - it is probably the most intellectual holiday camp in the world . . . .

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Dwindling Cohesiveness in Society

By V.V.B. Rama Rao

"Sleepwalking into segregation" is the phrase Dominic Casciani of BBC New home affairs used, while analyzing the question 'A Cohesive Britain?' The most important, and the not so well recognized, danger for our country is the dwindling cohesion of our society. Cohesion is the most important parameter for a society to exist. When this cohesion is challenged society stands in imminent danger of fractionalization, secession, segregation and finally disintegration. Society is a conglomerate of a people with a unique identity. Body Politic and Social Fabric are phrases, which suggest binding, and togetherness to make the group viable to stand on its own preserving its identity and homogeneity. Minor external differences, call them variations pleasantly, exist but they should not be accentuated for ill-conceived short-term gains.

Reverence for authority besides near similarity of mindsets and perceptions, make for cohesion. Fellow feeling, mutual respect and reverence for age-old institutions and implicit obedience to authority make good 'followership'. Respect comes from trust and faith - faith in the honesty and uprightness of governance. We, in the past, had strong unifying and cementing force in Sanskrit, the epics, the classics, inclusiveness called heritage and most importantly, reverence for authority and loyalty.

Without cohesion of society nationhood becomes a shadow without substance. Bharat, in spite of the presence of many kingdoms and many rulers down the ages retained cohesion of society. It is the successive foreign rules that began showing signs of weakening of the once robust national ethos. But, the awakening of the people and the struggle for Independence under the leadership of illustrious life-giving patriots turned to be a factor for growing solidarity.

During the last decade dangerous phenomena like 'criminalization' of politics, in fighting among political parties and thirst for power of Adventists with no idea of governance or basic sense of decency have crept in, making elections expensive as well as divisive. Whipping up of passions and narrow-minded thinking and mindless pampering gave rise to demands that threaten harmony and unity. Diversity and plurality, the inherent qualities of the nation are relegated to insignificance for each group getting the lion's share of power, money-power as well as power of governance. No one person or factor is responsible for the malaise.

Politicians, statesmen, intellectuals, all need to own up responsibility for the erosion of values. The nation is going up the corruption calibrations of the world nations. Thanks to the emergence of Globalization and Liberalization the gulf between the poor and rich is widening and thus contributing to the rise of discontent, ill-will and mindless rivalries making the lives of the have-nots more and more miserable by the day. The terms Equality, Equitability and Social Justice are bandied about in an ugly manner with hideous narrow-mindedness inspired by skewed thinking and abnormal self-love.

This rot needs to be stemmed first and foremost. The mechanism of elections needs to be thoroughly overhauled. Cohesiveness and Plurality have been co-existent but now the two appear to be mutually exclusive in actuality. Intellectuals and selfless idealists need to assert themselves, more than ever. More idea-based organizations like the Center for Civil Society are the need of the day. There is no dearth of intellectuals and self-less social workers. Voluntary agencies that work tirelessly for promoting social harmony and cohesion need to be brought into being, besides sprucing up the existing organizations working in the field. Individual reformation, mainly among the aspirants to political power, efficacious screening of contestants in elections and strong deterrents for the defiant need to be put in place.

Dr V.V.B.Rama Rao, C-7 New Township, BTPS, Badarpur, New Delhi 110 044
Email: Phone 011 2697 5732 Mobile: 09910726313