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



Rama Rao said...

I wish i could get an English translation of the poem.
Your response to the poem leads to intense pain and soul-searching for the thinking. Things did go awry but how can 'we' put things on the rail again?
Even the atheist has only one way - terrorism is surely no way at all - looking up and inward.

Thanks for the brilliant article.

Ek ziddi dhun said...

aap ne bahut achha likha hai, cheejon ko sahee dhang se sochte hue. ise hindee mein bhee dete, kuchh aur log padhte. is kavita ka shayad english translation hua hai, Asad Zaidee shayad bata payen...