Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Adventure At The Zoo

Saahil Raina

(Grade 1)

(Saahil is the youngest contributor to this blog. I hope you enjoy his fine story. - RKS)

Illustration: Google Clip Art

Once there was a boy named Duck. He took a trip to the zoo with his dad. He got lost because he climbed up the tree to see the monkeys. The dad asks animals to help find where his son is.

First, he asked the lion. The lion said, “He is in a tree but I can’t reach.” The dad asked the tiger and the tiger said, “I can’t reach either.” Then he asked the leopard. The leopard said, “None of the animals can reach except the camel.”

Then the dad asked the camel and the camel said, “I can’t reach.” “The leopard said you could,” said the dad. The camel said, “The leopard is not smart. Go ask the giraffe.”

The dad asked the giraffe, “Can you get my son out of the tree?” The giraffe said, “Yes.” The giraffe reached out his long neck and the boy climbed down. Then he went home with his dad.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Scheherazade of Today

A Short Story by Bushra Ejaz. Translated by Paramjit Singh Ramana.

Once she decided to banish love out of her life, her world turned upside down. She had never thought that later she would face any such problem that she won’t be able to solve. And trying to solve that problem, she would herself become a problem. She had never thought that in loveless times the flowers fade, the breeze turns into scalding wind, sadness engulfs the walls of your home and despite the cacophony of noises emanating from the courtyard, a deafening silence overwhelms you and takes possession of your heart like a cobra with its hood raised, whose hissing sets your very being on such a fire that neither the cold water nor the icy winds can ever extinguish. The heart burns, the cobra hisses, the fire rages and doesn’t die out. Whatever you do, it does not die out; it just refuses to die out.

She put her left hand on her chest and walked slowly towards the window. It was pitch dark in the street opposite. A municipal bulb, visible near the last corner of that lane near Zainab Massi’s [maternal aunt] house, looked like a lamp burning in a hut at the edge of a forest, which sometimes shows the way to the lost travellers. That bulb was surrounded by a silent darkness. A murmur could be heard coming from Uncle Arshad’s house, situated just opposite the window. Chachi [paternal aunt] Rashida will as usual be narrating the same old tale of Scheherazade to her grandsons and granddaughters. She would conclude with the words: “What a wonderful woman she was! How intelligent, quick witted and brave!” When she heard that story as a child, she had asked, flapping her eyelashes, “How come, Chachi?” “That is because instead of accepting defeat, she had decided to bravely fight the cruel king. God helped her succeed. Look children, it is an honour for the brave to die fighting. Then death ceases to be death, it claims the status of martyrdom and that is a very high status, indeed,” Chachi had said.

Chachi used to tell this story always on the last day of the week. This was her principle. The children waited for the story for full seven days, and then she poured it into their ears, drop by drop. That was why this story was very popular among the children. The next day was a holiday and she remembered how instead of flying kites, playing marbles or simply making noises on the roof with her siblings, she had spent the day engulfed in silence. The issue of dying while fighting bravely had got stuck in her young consciousness. She spent the whole day lying on the cot and looking into the sky. In her heart she repeated innumerable times what aunt had said. But she couldn't figure out what was so special about dying while fighting bravely which earned such praise from Chachi. What courage Scheherazade had displayed that so overwhelmed the aunt that she was narrating her story to everyone? When she could comprehend nothing, she decided not to listen to the story of Scheherazade again and came down from the roof.

Great, Chachi! She felt the echo of conversation reach her ears, and a sigh escaped her lips. Your Scheherazade had succeeded in defeating death due to her narrative gift. But here life itself has been crushing everyone since centuries. I haven’t seen any Scheherazade who could prevail over it. Everyone is afraid of it, and can be seen bowing before it with folded hands. Death appears helpless in facing life. Death is kind and one’s own, at least, it doesn't reject you. Rather it accepts one into its lap with a lot of affection. She felt like shouting at Chachi Rashida through the window and ask her to let go of the poor Scheherazade now, for god’s sake. To forgive that Scheherazade! The poor girl might have got tired of fighting death. Let her face life now. She should also know that there is a world outside the world of art, where there is hunger, there are worries, there is sadness, there is hatred, there are contradictions and.... And life is like the cruel king. And life doesn't pay any attention to the narrative skills of the master storyteller. It has no interest in any such art. Rather, it would be more appropriate to say that it's not possible to trick it with any such art.

Life cannot be appeased. It has its own facts, its own assessments, its own canvas, its own brush and its own colours. Ideas too are its own and so it paints whatever catches its fancy: Upright, inverted, oblique, crooked, as she feels like. And the remarkable thing is that nobody can mould life the way one wants. ‘O.K. Scheherazade! If you ever come out of the discourse created by Chachi Rashida, I shall tell you what life is all about.’ The sigh emanating from her heart became an expression of her very being. Now in her eyes could be seen the innocence of an eleven year old girl, who takes note of the quickly lengthening shadows on a hot summer afternoon; one who has a small painting brush in one hand and a simple page, torn from a notebook, fluttering in the other.

She wanted to make a painting of the shadows; the shadows of the arches, walls, terraces and the attic of the house. The shadows that came down from the mulberry, mango, black plum and margosa trees growing in the courtyard and spread there in strange shapes, forms and directions. She used to watch the play of shadows while sitting in the centre of the courtyard in one of the arches of an old Baradari whose plaster was coming off. And her feeling of wonder used to multiply manifold when she would see an ill-shaped shadow emerge from the arch she sat under, and spread on the ground. “Do I look like this?” surprised she would wonder and run into the room. It was during those days that she thought of capturing the shadows in a painting. Perhaps in this way the shadows could be prevented from spreading and lengthening. But that day, her amazement knew no bounds when she saw a shadow in the middle of the arch, move strangely left and right with a yard long brush on a square shaded piece of paper. Do shadows also...? She thought and threw the painting brush away.

It was during those days that a strange accident took place which threw her into a never ending vicious cycle. All her later life was moulded into that cycle. And that cycle became her life cycle. She could never get out of it. Then she could see nothing. She closed her mind’s eye. All her innumerable little childhood joys were strung into an unending chain of tears. Unobtrusively she put that chain around her neck, never to take it off. And then that little girl metamorphosed from Mother’s Muni to Zohri, to Zohra Baji and finally to Zohra Aapa. Recollecting that transformation, Zohra felt a cold shiver quicken through her being. Wrinkles began to appear on her face, which expressed her innocent fears. Sad glitter of twinkling glow-worms began to flicker on her empty palms. A scene emerged in front of her gloomy eyes, a scene that had snatched the joy of breathing from her and had burdened a twelve year old girl with a load of centuries. When she tried to carry the burden, her shoulders slumped, her back bent double, her hands started trembling and legs turned shaky. But she couldn’t even complain against the burden.

She just kept laughing. To keep smiling in face of an extreme sorrow is also akin to defeating the grief. Implicitly, it was like victory over grief. But she learned too late that it was not so. Grief was a wrestler that displayed greater tricks when it was out of the arena. It was simply impossible to prevail over it. Now she left the window and sat in the chair. She untied her long black hair and resting her head on the back of the chair, closed her tired eyes and took deep breaths. “Life is a four-directional battle, Miss Zohra Sultan.” A whisper rose from somewhere close by. “How many opponents will you fight? You’ll get exhausted.” “This exhaustion is here since those days Professor Zaka, when I didn’t even fully understand the meaning of exhaustion.” She thought despondently, feeling the murmuring silence enclosed within the four walls of the room. How can I tell you, Professor Zaka? When the upheaval occurred, a good deal was buried under the rubble.

Long time ago, Professor Zaka, a dark night had swallowed the light out of my life like a cruel demon. The sleep had turned into a continuous wakefulness and dreams, into frightening dreamlessness. When a 12-year-old girl, rudely shaken out of her sound sleep by the frightening noises all around her, had chosen to plug her ears with her fingers. She had devoutly prayed to be blinded in both her eyes when she witnessed that horrifying scene. Finding herself defenceless and overcome by her vulnerability, she had accepted defeat and sitting near the mutilated bodies of her dear ones, had dipped her fingers in their thick blood and written a pledge on her own self. Crying, she had noiselessly run to the rooftop with Maya pressed to her bosom, to talk to God. Perhaps she had the illusion that God is nearer the rooftop. There is no barrier in-between, but this too was her delusion. She learned later that God is far away from everywhere. It is not so easy to reach Him. So she did not cry while giving the final bath and burying the blood-drenched bodies of her parents and three younger siblings. The dry dust flying into her eyes had settled on her eyelashes, spread on her lips and engulfed her very existence. Later, staring at the photograph of a terrorist, printed on the last page of a newspaper, she had tried hard to bring back tears to her dry eyes, the tears that got lost somewhere in the labyrinth of some dark alley on a brutal night.

Professor Zaka, the walls of that room used to be very pitiless and chilly where I, clutching Maya to my bosom, attempted to get rid of the questions written over the frightened open eyes of those mutilated bodies, and to find some sleep by hitting my head against the pillow. Covering both my eyes with palms of her hands, I used to vigorously recite the Ayat-ul-Kursi [a prayer from Quran]. “Go to sleep, Go to sleep”, I used to admonish myself. Those days I used to feel very angry with God. I wished I would come face to face with Him and ask what type of a God He was who destroyed the world of the unsuspecting? Did He prefer those who haughtily roamed around freely, nonchalantly killing or injuring whosoever they liked, without any worry whatsoever? Pitted against them were people like us, who even after having been destroyed completely, kept on praying to You, talking to You.’

A car blew horn in the street below, she got up from her chair, shut the window and lay on the bed. On the wall facing her, was a photograph of twenty year-old Maya. Maya on whose lips a smile had spread out like flowering buds and life glittered in her eyes like a fountain in the hills. In her confident manner, there was an extraordinary openness. As if she will jump out of the photograph and exuberantly embrace her, “Aapa, Zohra Aapa, the blue sky, high snow clad mountain tops, adventurers conquering those tops and the determination visible in the eyes of those people, fascinate me. Aapa, let us also go to conquer some top. I wish to plant my Aapa’s flag on the highest peak of the world. Zohra Aapa, the Great! Zohra Aapa, the highest peak in the world, higher than the Himalayas, mad…” She turned in the bed and felt a sharp twinge of sorrow rise in her chest: “Wah Maya! How would you know of what brittle clay your sister is made of, how fragile is her being? It was for your sake that your Aapa transformed herself into something like the Himalayas. What else could she do?” “But Aapa you never revealed why we were so alone despite having so many relatives?” “Because we loved to live with freedom” she had smiled.” “That is okay. But, when our parents died, you were so young. Tell me, how you decided to live on your own?”

On this probing, a pitiless night buried deep in her heart stared at her ironically. But she was ready. Since long, she had prepared herself for this moment. So she spoke calmly: “Maya, you have always been stupid. You fool, how was I alone? My Maya was with me, so were Noor Chacha, Massi Khairan, and Chacha Rashid. There were Masi Zainab and Mama Tufail. And we were there. They all were there. We have been living among them all. They used to be here all day long. Leave that, Yaar Maya! The truth is that I didn’t like locking up our parental house and shifting somewhere else. Should I tell you the truth, Maya?” She became a bit sad. “You were so young; you do not know how our parents used to look after this house. They had supervised every brick that was laid in this house. They had carefully tended every leaf, every plant and every flower-bed with their labour and prayers. Then how could I desert this house and let others take its possession. Maya, this house is a place of worship for me, where love is a prerequisite and purity a duty; where you can respectfully pay your obeisance any time. Where you can worship and that is all.” Saying so, she tried to erase the image of that horrible night from her mind, when in that place of worship the blood of innocents was senselessly shed. That night, the cruel rite of butchering was performed; something, which was neither so ordained by God, nor expected as an offering by Goddess Kali. Perhaps, even she doesn’t demand such sacrifices any more. And God, He has been uninvolved from the very beginning, so uninvolved. Why should He require such sacrifices?

“What happened, Aapa?” Maya was troubled by the changing expressions on her face. “Nothing, my dear.” She had controlled herself. A smile was playing on her dust covered lips. “Then what happened, Aapa?” Detecting curiosity in Maya’s eyes, she continued slowly: “Then, your Aapa grew up, matured, became the most mature, maturer than our parents and she succeeded the mother, took over her kingdom. In her kingdom, she simultaneously performed the duties of the king, the queen and the slave. She ordered shut all the secret escape routes. She zealously protected the borders of her kingdom and began to enjoy life with her dear Maya Rani. Everyone was surprised; everyone was confident about the imminent collapse of the kingdom; everyone was waiting. Everyone spread rumours; because such things had not happened before. But as you say, your Aapa is stronger than the Himalayas, so everything went off well. (And... my Maya grew up. After a long time she breathed peacefully, holding Maya to her bosom.) Perhaps life would have gone on comfortably had Professor Zaka’s arrival not caused the upheaval. A little joy trapped in her heart for centuries escaped through some small crack and settled on the forehead of Professor Zaka. What? Completely oblivious of his presence, Zohra stared at him surprised.

“Zohra Sultan! Time is fast running out of your grip. There is only one path available to those obsessed with the quest for truth in this universe; it is that they surrender their true need to the care of some Mansoor without wasting any time. Why do you forget that you are not alone in this universe? There are some other equally headstrong people here, who are driven by the same spirit, who live with that spirit and love their selfless desire.” She saw that a ray of happiness was now playing on Professor Zaka’s chest.

“Zohra Sultan! Howsoever high your aim, it should not defy nature, otherwise, the aim does not remain aim, it grows into obstinacy. Those who go against nature suffer and cause suffering to others also.” “Professor Zaka, I don’t understand why you are after me? What do you want from me?” she heard herself speak. “I don’t mean any harm, Zohra Sultan.” She observed that the glitter of some unseen happiness shining in Professor Zaka’s eyes had suddenly begun to fade away. He bowed a bit to place the notebook he was carrying, on the table. And she observed that the little ray of happiness that had been glowing on his chest suddenly vanished. “I wish to draw you out of your self-created world where you have imprisoned yourself since ages.” “It is not like that, Professor Zaka.” The confidence in her voice had a ring of defeat to it. “Yes, yes, I know you regard this as your kingdom,” he spoke aggressively. “But without seeking your pardon, I wish to assert Miss Zohra Sultan that you are making a big mistake, a very big mistake.”

This was the moment when angry Zohra Sultan ordered him out of her world. Banished love out of her life. And taking Professor Zaka’s spirit as an illusion, she withdrew completely into her own little world.

But after this, the time sense began to go awry. The tastes began to alter and the moods underwent transformation. After moving at her own pace for such a long time she began to feel an innocent urge in her heart to stop, to rest which she tried her best to suppress with her strict rules and discipline. But she saw that the urge was growing like the bamboo. The system of her kingdom got disturbed within days, hours and moments. The eyes, on guard since so long, began to feel heavy because of the sleeplessness; the eyelids tended to close under the weight of some unknown burden. In her heart she felt such a pang that she was even afraid to name. “Is that all Zohra Sultan! How strange that you, despite being so courageous, intelligent, and self-confident, don’t know what is in your heart? Something that you long for, but can’t admit to yourself. Perhaps admission is defined as cowardice in your dictionary. But I would like to make this clear to you that there is limit to denial also. ‘If defiance crosses a certain limit, it results in problems.’” The words of Professor Zaka came from so close that she was surprised.

“Professor Zaka! Long ago I tried to make a painting of the shadows. But I was so frightened by my own shadow that the painting brush fell from my hand. But do you know what happened after that? On seeing the innocent blood of my dear ones, I dipped my finger in the blood and wrote a pledge on my very being. The surprising thing is that this scene didn’t frighten me but a strange defiance permeated every pore of my being I cannot get rid of, now. Professor Zaka! You are right this ‘kingdom’ was a delusion; I have no hesitation in admitting this. I am in love with you but, believe me, my defiance creates a wall between you and me, a wall made of such a mirror that I find myself standing on its both sides. On both sides, I find myself. In such a situation, I do not understand where you disappear. Now tell me, where should I go? What should I do?”

Far away, Professor Zaka was fast asleep in a room in the youth hostel, when something suddenly woke him up; as if the touch of a wing of some divine angel roused him, saying “Get up, Professor Zaka!” He got up, and yielding his fulfilled dream to his shortened sleep, went towards that part of the city where a girl, captive of a cruel moment and sleepless since ages, was standing on the crossroads, carrying the burden of defiance on her head.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Good Man Muthalik

Good man Muthalik, patriot—
He downright honest man;
He do not like this dirtiness,
He clean up all he can.

One problem he is having, though,
That require CT Scan:
The dirtiness he thinks he see
Is all inside his brain.

Muthalik, he like Amreeka
For dollar and internet;
But for keeping mahila disciplined
Taliban are his pet.

Kama Sutra, Khajurahu—
Very spiritual are;
Naked sadhu maharaj jies
Spread that message far.

Mahila, she is not to act,
But to be acted upon;
Bharat ki naari tu tou hai
Very much mahan

But only when you do observe
Proper laaj and sharam;
And oblige without argument
When Muthalik is garam.
Between these poles resides the crux
Of your param dharma.

Badri Raina

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Public Revolt Builds Against Rip-off Rescue Plans

by Naomi Klein

(Courtesy The Nation, February 5, 2009)

Watching the crowds in Iceland banging pots and pans until their government fell reminded me of a chant popular in anti-capitalist circles back in 2002: "You are Enron. We are Argentina."

Its message was simple enough. You—politicians and CEOs huddled at some trade summit—are like the reckless scamming execs at Enron (of course, we didn't know the half of it). We—the rabble outside—are like the people of Argentina, who, in the midst of an economic crisis eerily similar to our own, took to the street banging pots and pans. They shouted, "¡Que se vayan todos!" ("All of them must go!") and forced out a procession of four presidents in less than three weeks. What made Argentina's 2001-02 uprising unique was that it wasn't directed at a particular political party or even at corruption in the abstract. The target was the dominant economic model—this was the first national revolt against contemporary deregulated capitalism.

It's taken a while, but from Iceland to Latvia, South Korea to Greece, the rest of the world is finally having its ¡Que se vayan todos! moment.

The stoic Icelandic matriarchs beating their pots flat even as their kids ransack the fridge for projectiles (eggs, sure, but yogurt?) echo the tactics made famous in Buenos Aires. So does the collective rage at elites who trashed a once thriving country and thought they could get away with it. As Gudrun Jonsdottir, a 36-year-old Icelandic office worker, put it: "I've just had enough of this whole thing. I don't trust the government, I don't trust the banks, I don't trust the political parties and I don't trust the IMF. We had a good country, and they ruined it."

Another echo: in Reykjavik, the protesters clearly won't be bought off by a mere change of face at the top (even if the new PM is a lesbian). They want aid for people, not just banks; criminal investigations into the debacle; and deep electoral reform.

Similar demands can be heard these days in Latvia, whose economy has contracted more sharply than any country in the EU, and where the government is teetering on the brink. For weeks the capital has been rocked by protests, including a full-blown, cobblestone-hurling riot on January 13. As in Iceland, Latvians are appalled by their leaders' refusal to take any responsibility for the mess. Asked by Bloomberg TV what caused the crisis, Latvia's finance minister shrugged: "Nothing special."

But Latvia's troubles are indeed special: the very policies that allowed the "Baltic Tiger" to grow at a rate of 12 percent in 2006 are also causing it to contract violently by a projected 10 percent this year: money, freed of all barriers, flows out as quickly as it flows in, with plenty being diverted to political pockets. (It is no coincidence that many of today's basket cases are yesterday's "miracles": Ireland, Estonia, Iceland, Latvia.)

Something else Argentina-esque is in the air. In 2001 Argentina's leaders responded to the crisis with a brutal International Monetary Fund-prescribed austerity package: $9 billion in spending cuts, much of it hitting health and education. This proved to be a fatal mistake. Unions staged a general strike, teachers moved their classes to the streets and the protests never stopped.

This same bottom-up refusal to bear the brunt of the crisis unites many of today's protests. In Latvia, much of the popular rage has focused on government austerity measures—mass layoffs, reduced social services and slashed public sector salaries—all to qualify for an IMF emergency loan (no, nothing has changed). In Greece, December's riots followed a police shooting of a 15-year-old. But what's kept them going, with farmers taking the lead from students, is widespread rage at the government's crisis response: banks got a $36 billion bailout while workers got their pensions cut and farmers received next to nothing. Despite the inconvenience caused by tractors blocking roads, 78 percent of Greeks say the farmers' demands are reasonable. Similarly, in France the recent general strike—triggered in part by President Sarkozy's plans to reduce the number of teachers dramatically—inspired the support of 70 percent of the population.

Perhaps the sturdiest thread connecting this global backlash is a rejection of the logic of "extraordinary politics"—the phrase coined by Polish politician Leszek Balcerowicz to describe how, in a crisis, politicians can ignore legislative rules and rush through unpopular "reforms." That trick is getting tired, as South Korea's government recently discovered. In December, the ruling party tried to use the crisis to ram through a highly controversial free trade agreement with the United States. Taking closed-door politics to new extremes, legislators locked themselves in the chamber so they could vote in private, barricading the door with desks, chairs and couches.

Opposition politicians were having none of it: with sledgehammers and an electric saw, they broke in and staged a twelve-day sit-in of Parliament. The vote was delayed, allowing for more debate—a victory for a new kind of "extraordinary politics."

Here in Canada, politics is markedly less YouTube-friendly—but it has still been surprisingly eventful. In October the Conservative Party won national elections on an unambitious platform. Six weeks later, our Tory prime minister found his inner ideologue, presenting a budget bill that stripped public sector workers of the right to strike, canceled public funding for political parties and contained no economic stimulus. Opposition parties responded by forming a historic coalition that was only prevented from taking power by an abrupt suspension of Parliament. The Tories have just come back with a revised budget: the pet right-wing policies have disappeared, and it is packed with economic stimulus.

The pattern is clear: governments that respond to a crisis created by free-market ideology with an acceleration of that same discredited agenda will not survive to tell the tale. As Italy's students have taken to shouting in the streets: "We won't pay for your crisis!"

This article was first published in The Nation.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Me, You, They

Book Reviews by M.L. Raina

Identity, Culture and the Post-modern World
By Madan Sarup.Edited by Tasneem Raja
University of Georgia Press, Athens, USA
pp.xvi+192. $15.95

Strangers to Ourselves
By Julia Kristeva
Translated from the French by Leon S.Roudiez
Columbia University Press, New York
pp.xii+230. $15.50

For starters let us consider the following three statements. The first from the addenda to Samuel Beckett’s Watt: “For all the good that frequent departures out of Ireland had done him, he might as well have stayed there”. The second by the first Duke of Wellington. Asked what his identity was, he curtly replied: “Sir, one is not an ass because one is born in a stable”. The third statement occurs in Naipaual’s Among the Believers to the effect that even though all Muslims are perceived as brothers in Islam (ummah), no Muslim country allows access to the citizens of another Muslim country without a valid visa.

None of these statements is to be found in the above books, but each one of them has a direct bearing on the subject of identity and representation which occupies the attention of Sarup and Kristeva. Whereas Beckett sees identity as fixed (like our Hindutva zealots), the good Duke regards it as changeable. For Naipaul identity shuffles between private and public domains and is constantly renegotiated at the frontier. As individuals or subject positions (in the hip argot of post-modernism), we go through pulls and pressures of all sorts to claim our identity. All the more reason, therefore, to engage with Sarup and Kristeva who have in differing ways grappled with these questions with renewed earnestness. While Kristeva’s is a historical angle in that it studies the changing attitudes to the ‘Outsider’, the ‘Not-ourselves’, Sarup’s is an effort to synthesise social, political, and psychological notions of identity into a comprehensive statement, leavened with a dash of personal history to give his statements a solid grounding. In the event, an intellectual analysis is shot through with real experience of birth, dislocation and adjustment—pivots on which to hang identity.

Madan Sarup taught at London’s Goldsmith College until his death some years ago. A post-modernist down to his tonails, he will be remembered for his masterly introductions to Lacan and post-structuralism, apart from his work on race and education in England. Unlike his previous work, this last work is more inward-looking. Expository in nature and hitching his own ideas to those of contemporary European thinkers, it introduces a disturbing element into an academic exercise—namely, the decision to examine his own evolving consciousness within a general rumination on the whole range of questions about identity and belonging.

Though his brief autobiographical descriptions are linked to a strictly theoretical discussion, they somehow seem to stand apart from the objective and logical debate carried on in the major chapters of the book. If the editor Tasneem Raja is to be believed, the premonition of impending death must have impelled Sarup to first weigh the arguments about identity in contemporary social and political theory, and then to try and understand it all through an existential disquiet about his own sense of the dissolution of the self. This is not a new phenomenon and Sarup is not the first to mention it. A significant contemporary example is to be found in Louis Althusser’s memoir, The Future Lasts For Ever.(New Press, New York) written in a mental home after he murdered his wife. True, Sarup’s book lacks the delusive clarity with which the French Marxist philosopher probes his own wrought psyche. Nevertheless, by punctuating what are certainly well –argued points with scenes from his own life, Sarup brings an introspective strain into his discussion. This procedure allows us to juxtapose the theoretical and the strictly personal parts of the book without the author pointing to any predetermined conclusions. The author’s post-modernists strategy couldn’t have been more usefully marshalled.

As one of the most accessible observers of the contemporary scene, Sarup’s principal interest is not to offer a new view on identity and the self, but to introduce and annotate a range of contemporary thinkers who have pondered these questions... Given his allegiances, he is naturally drawn to the founding fathers of post-modernism: Lacan, Foucault, Braudillard, Freud and David Harvey. Beginning with the premise that identity is fabricated rather than given, he sets out to discuss what he calls the various ‘technologies of the self’ that shape it. Assuming that the entire ensemble of race, class and gender determines who we are, he engages with his chosen thinkers in their exploration of various strategies of self-creation in society. In the process he rehearses the debates of the past two decades and clears much confusion surrounding the issues of identity and the self... Sarup concentrates on ideology, ethnicity, unconscious and narrative that he regards as the major determinants of identity. His attempt is to see if a viable notion of the self can come out of a welter of possibilities opened up by these determinants. He makes his position clear in these words: “Identity in my view is a mediating concept between the external and the internal, the individual and society, theory and practice. Identity is a convenient tool through which to try to understand many aspects—personal, philosophical, political—of our lives”. In his recent book on identity Amratya Sen offers similar arguments. After making identity a ‘tool’, Sarup is able to grasp the technologies that fashion this tool from time to time. No wonder his discussion of Foucault’s ‘technologies of the self’ is the best part of the book. Foucault, as we know, uses these ‘technologies’ to demonstrate the disciplinary mechanisms that effect identity formation.

Like Nietzsche before him, Foucault destabilizes fixed identities by invoking technologies of production, sign-systems and power which permit us to produce, manipulate and transform things. Even though Foucault fails to clearly define ‘self’ and ‘subject’, his analysis of different discourses that regulate the self establishes the fabricated nature of identity. In this view we are mere subject positions, appropriated by the disciplinary apparatus of the state and that the idea of a free willing subject is a chimera—a position supported by Althusser in his ‘interpellation’ theory. Our religious, ethnic and social identities are all that we have.Doesnt seem to be a far out idea in the light of the polarization of Indian society on these issues.

But the questions that need answers are: is that all there is to identity? Are we only what others think we are? Are complexities of human nature so many simulated goods, pure products of the totalizing discourse of the state? Has the debate between sincerity and authenticity (Lionel Trilling’s exemplary terms) lived out its relevance?

It is here that Sarup’s autobiographical incursions into his expository project assume significance. Deeply concerned about his own post-modern proclivities, he cannot openly cast doubt on his expository claims. The autobiographical passages manage to do this job for him. They act as instances of what Isaiah Berlin in a 1957 essay called ‘lower levels of reality’, intuitively providing a bedrock of experience not to be fitted into the publicly accepted figures of identity. There is sufficient evidence in the main text that for all practical purposes Sarup is English—in taste as well as in his professional attitudes. But the fact of his Indianness, conspicuously present in the portrayal of his Panjabi father and brothers, keeps pressing on him... Of course he does not feel the psychic rift with the same poignancy with which Althusser questions his own identity. (“I did not really exist, I was simply a creature of artifice”) in his memoir.

All the same, there is a nagging unease framing a robust intellectual analysis of the question of identity. There definitely is a latent self-division, a feeling of Freudian unheimliche that Sarup in the later part of his exposition acknowledges rather grudgingly, leaving identity and representation to oscillate between autonomy and artifice, between, on the one hand , a syncretic and parodic invention, and ,on the other, a core self which refuses to go away do what you will. A tragic impasse that no amount of theorising can gloss over!
The idea of the outsider is closely tied up with the question of identity. Since human identities are organised under race, gender and group identities, those who do not conform must stay out. Julia Kristeva, French feminist and psychoanalytical philosopher, throws considerable light on the fate of the outsider in European history from the Greek times to the present day, something the German Marxist philosopher Hans Mayer
also attempted in his erudite book Outsiders (M.I.T Press, 1982). Her curiosity to study the fate of the outsider culminates in a replication of the Freudian credo that in the long run we are all outsiders to ourselves—a conclusion significantly different from Mayer’s.

Every society safeguards its identity within well-defined codes of bevahiour. The Greeks ostracised the barbarians because they did not speak the same language as themselves. ‘Barbarai’, before it acquired the current stigma of slavery, was a person who spoke an alien language. By trying to guard the purity of their language—the very glue that held communities together—they created a privileged identity for themselves (shades of Raj Thackeray here!). Today, however, the notion of the foreigner is endowed with a legal meaning. It refers to one who is not a citizen. In ancient Greece foreigners were accepted if they came as suppliants (as in Aeschylus’s play of that name. That ancient Greeks could play identity politics to the hilt is proved by their treatment of the Amazons and the Danae. They were excluded because they threatened the polis (a point sure to raise the feminist hackles) The story of the metic, the useful tradesman who was admitted, gives a clue to the pragmatism of the rulers who never let anyone bringing trade to the polis go away. Is this why the Americans give visas to foreign skilled workers without treating them as citizens? Their hypocrisy in this regard can be benign to the point of boredom!
Exclusionary as it may seem, the Jewish people’s covenant with God is an outgrowth of choice founded on the Torah which Israel accepted and others repudiated. The chosen race forbade Amonites and Moabites to acquire rights because they were aliens (remember Keats’s Ruth amidst alien corn?). The Biblical narrative assumes that being chosen imposes a conception of sovereignty based on the rejected, the unworthy, the outlaw or, as Kristeva suggests, the dalet, the latter term meaning the poor and not its Indian sense of the untouchable depressed class. In practice the myth of the chosen race is put on its head by Hitler’s anti-Jewish pogrom as well as by the Zionist outrage on the Palestinians.

Kristeva’s central thesis is that states have sought accommodation with aliens throughout history. Indeed the European Enlightenment and the French Revolution have been climactic epochs in which the abstract Rights of Man and the rights of the citoyan were hotly debated. The universal autonomous individual is challenged by small localisms and a special entity, cosmopolitanism, is born that seeks reconciliation between the native and the foreigner, the chosen and the peripheral. An affirmation of concord ignoring marginality and oddness is constantly made. What Montaigne had said in his time and for his time became the guiding principle of the new creed: “Any strangeness and peculiarity is to be avoided as inimical to social intercourse and, and unnatural”.

From this follows respect for the otherness of the alien, now included in the universal naturalness of enlarged, diversified and tolerant individuals and communities... Kristeva brings into her discussion the views of Diderot, Fougeret and Voltaire in support of the thesis that the age of reason precipitated the debate between Man and the Citizen, leading to the cult of the World Citizen as well as to Bertrand Russell’s later campaign on behalf World Government. “My wilful spirit leaps from limbs to limbs without setting on any one’, declares Fougeret.

As Simon Schama, historian of the French Revolution observes, the debate put the issue in a modern light as it established the need for civil society—an ideal state every country, at least in theory, aspires to. Its contemporary incarnation is the dubious goal of globalisation aimed at dissolving, if not fully eliminating, the cultural specificities of each community along with their social, political and economic independence. The information highway has only blurred the boundaries between states, not eliminated them, as Naipaul would say.

As Julia Kristeva pilots her discussion towards contemporary France—having voyaged through Aeschylus, Dante, Diderot and camus—she inclines more and more to the belief that the present day corporatist societies of the west have developed means of homogenising local identities. “ We are called upon,” she says, “through the pressures of the economy, media and history to live in a single country, France, itself in the process of being integrated into Europe”. But unsuspecting confidence in globalization is always undermined by doubt. There is the final schism within ourselves that can never be resolved (Dante’s exile is an apt illustration of it). Being strangers to ourselves is our destiny, as Freud had diagnosed in 1927 when he described the civilising process itself tending to conformity. Even the Marxist philosopher Georg Lukacs could not be sure that alienation would disappear in the Communist utopia. (See his observations on Solzhenitsyn).

Perhaps this is the price we have to pay for allowing our inherent sense of homelessness to be neutralised in order to make the return of the repressed plausible, acceptable, even pleasurable. Sartre would have found us guilty of bad faith on this account. But for Kristeva, as for many of us, this may be the best way of living in a conflict –riven world where identities keep sprouting like floating roots in a mangrove pond.