Category Archives: Identities

The Visible and The Invisible – Abhay Dube

Modes of Representation in Hindi Fiction

I must confess at the outset that I was a bit afraid when I begin to look for the literary representations of Ambedkar in Hindi creative writing. I thought that I am in for a business fraught with a kind of ‘political correctness’ not known for its introspective qualities. And, I had sound reasons to think so. In the world of Hindi speakers the impact of Ambedkar and his discourse is being felt lately both as a source of literary imagination as well as a potent force in politics. Therefore, a possibility of a linear narrative for and against the formation of dalit political community can easily have diminishing effect on the power of literary expression. While surfing for evidence, to my pleasant surprise, what I encountered was far more complex world of themes, situations, tropes, images and opinions. Another gratification I enjoyed from the fiction of last ten years, published or otherwise, belongs to the nuances of the inner voice echoed by the restless self of literary artist on the both sides of the fence, dalit and the non-dalit. Going by the traditions of cultural materialism I venture to say that in the dalit/non-dalit interface of Hindi literature, the power structure created by the dalit political practices is being subjected to a stern critique. Instead of providing the comfort zone it always looks for assuring its legitimacy, existing dalit political community finds a virtual battleground full of constant skirmishes on the pages of literature. A dialectic is already there to be seen as emerging. Contrary to the experience of Maharashtra, where a rich legacy of dalit literature never found a commensurate political success, it seems that North Indian shenanigans of dalit political power have of late created cultural conditions that leave the whole process open to the counter-narratives. In fact, I consider it as a classical situation producing the counter-narratives of emancipation suggesting different social possibilities within a discursive terrain of Ambedkar.

Continue reading The Visible and The Invisible – Abhay Dube

Mortuary Blues

Post-Gujarat riot people asked me have you written anything – a poem, an essay, a short story, anything? It is strange. Every time a cataclysmic event takes place, there is pressure on a creative person to respond to it. As if it is proper to respond to a catastrophe. As if it is an obligation if you are creative. As if art must serve a purpose in the end. As if underneath every creative urge there is a political undercurrent. As if there is a subtle politics that must consume every art form in the end. As if every expression of art is a grand statement redeeming a belief. But unfortunately creativity is not subservient to anything. It has its own mysterious, enigmatic, whimsical way of manifesting.

I read about the riots like million others as a news item. I had a vague confusion within, mixed with rage and a sense of injustice. (This does not mean I feel less enraged hearing a non-Muslim’s death. Normally, I don’t need to qualify a statement like the one above but I have heard such retarded inane counter-remarks that I think I need to clarify it.) And in spite of trying hard my pen spluttered nothing. Then seven months later, one August afternoon, as I was rehearsing for a play (George Bernard Shaw’s Arms and The Man – Why that play I wonder?) it all came to me. I do not know how I should categorize this poem. This was neither a response nor a rant. I wasn’t trying to make any statement. I just wrote a poem. And I know Gujarat was on my mind when I wrote this.

Mortuary Blues

Slithering
through her soul
are few uneasy thoughts.
A blob in her throat,
her voice choked,
she stretches her hand,
as if a magic wand
will bring it all back –
the dreamful of sack
bit-by-bit stacked
in afternoons doing nothing.
Her son, perhaps, lies dead here
(She doesn’t even know it!)
amidst the decomposed heap.
She stretches her hand
to reach out for what,
I don’t know.

She may be a Muslim
or a Hindu, who cares
in this urban milieu.
Haven’t we all died
in our own mother’s eyes
so many times, whenever she wished
for a son or a daughter
to hold her if she falters.
But we all had our reasons,
perfectly justified reasons.
It’s no different here;
She only looks for a son
who is not there.

She wades through
her resolve, her stubbornness.
It has acquired
a macabre face now.
She stumbles,
gets up, only to stare
at a charred face.
Maybe he’s her son,
maybe he’s not.
She lost her reason
long before she lost her son.

I stand quietly
with a list in my hand
I don’t know who’s who,
all I have here are few names.
A stink greets us.
My soul silently pleads,
silently pleads to her
to quickly confirm
that this room
does not have her son.

I am just a municipal clerk,
doing an honest work,
diligently counting the dead
to earn my humble bread.
Arrey! This is just a mortuary!
I’ve seen worst crimes
at a spin of a coin –
the crime where one kills
one’s own conscience.
In this age of karseva and jehad,
wonder anyone heard a word called ittehad?

She straightens up, sighs,
looks at me with moist eyes.
Her face though sad
is at peace. She says
does it matter? Does it matter this room
has her son or not?
Even if this room had her son,
it means nothing.
I quickly extend my hand
expecting her to grease it.
See, I’ve been kind enough
to let you in, to let you
search for your son.
She smiles sadly
they took it all away in the riot.
I shrug my shoulders,
Ok! For once I shall be magnanimous!

© Dan Husain
August 26, 2002

Touchable Crimes: Gohana Nay Kizzhevanamani

Investigations by the police or the intelligence officials in highly contested cases have an uncanny ability of looking weird in an unabashed manner.

The recent chargesheet filed by the CBI, which had been asked to look into the attack, and arson, at a Dalit (Valmiki) basti in Gohana, once again vindicates this thesis. According to a newspaper report the chargesheet into the 2005 Gohana riots in Haryana has ‘..revealed that some people in Balmiki Basti had set their houses on fire themselves, allegedly for compensation.” The chargesheet talks of CBI’s observations that ” extensive burning was observed in 19 out of 28 houses. Of these, nine houses were inspected thoroughly and it appeared that in these houses the “simulated arsoning” was carried out, which are yet “to get compensation”. Continue reading Touchable Crimes: Gohana Nay Kizzhevanamani

Thinking About Sahir Ludhianvi

Some time ago I had written a short piece for Kafila titled ‘One Question‘. I had thought that I was articulating my anger fairly strongly at the refusal of the political apparatus to do any thing to punish the Guilty of the 1992 Bombay Riots, despite the fact that many perpetrators of those riots had been identified by the Justice Srikrishna Commission. My worry was that almost no one seemed to be bothered while every one was ecstatic about the “guilty” of the 1993 Bombay Blasts being brought to book.

There were a few responses that agreed with my contention and sent me links to sites where similar concerns had been raised. There was, however, one response that raised serious questions about my style of writing and went so far as to suggest that “Such a discourse ends up making the most harrowing human tragedies sound like the nearly fossilized shayari of Sahir Ludhianvi”.

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“One Day I Cursed That Mother-Fucker God”

Warriors of Truth and the Theatre of the Absurd

Shivam’s post actually gives me the opportunity to explicate certain things at greater length, especially in relation to Chandrabhan Prasad (CBP) but also, more generally, in relation to our relationship to the political in the contemporary. Shivam’s article from Himal Southasian, though it was written in a different context and with a very different intent – that of defending OBC reservations from the attacks by upper castes – opens out to my mind all the problems that I wish to underline. The fact that Shivam has posted this article in response to my comment and Ravikant’s earlier post, indicates that his argument there has a certain larger relevance to how we understand what CBP represents.

Let me at the outset however, clarify that my reading of Chandrabhan Prasad and his stances, especially his political mode and style, do not necessarily mean that I endorse his politics. In fact, let me confess, most of the time his politics makes me quite uncomfortable – even though I have on each occasion been persuaded enough to modify my own positions in trying to confront his. Moreover, there are still large areas of his politics that, I believe are based on a somewhat deliberately partial understanding of the situation. So for instance, his adulation of ‘American society’ or US corporations like Microsoft and IBM for taking the diversity issue seriously, is to say the least, naïve. It refuses to recognize that these were gains of hard won struggles against racism which are once again being seriously challenged. One only has to look at the recent agitation in Michigan University to be able to see that the so-called liberalism of white society is in a sense not very different from modern upper caste arrogance. Note also that the language espoused by both the white opponents of affirmative action in Michigan and the upper castes in India is that of equality: “affirmative action is anti-equality” is the common refrain.

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Chandrabhan Prasad and the Other Backward Classes

Outlook

In light of the two posts that have appeared on this blog on the peculiar politics of Chandrabhan Prasad, I reproduce below an essay I wrote for Himal Southasian a few months ago, and which CBP refused to respond to. The question of Dalit-Bhaujan unity, which is one of the points in Aditya’s succinct post, is by no means a simple one, and I do realise that I left it open-ended in this essay. But my point was more about reservations for OBCs and CBP’s opposition of it, than Dalit-Bahujan politics. Given that the two are not unrelated, I have been thinking a lot on this – Gopal Guru and Bhalchandra Mungekar are two amongst many who say that the OBCs need aan Ambedkarite political movement. Kancha Iliah and VT Rajshekhar are amongst the OBC thinkers who agree. But I don’t see that political movement happening anytime soon. Such political stagnation is another aspect of demography-driven dalit politics. Continue reading Chandrabhan Prasad and the Other Backward Classes