A brief history of books, resistance, the police and politicians.
It is humanly impossible for even the most learned judge to have read every book referred to in their court. For a brief while this week, the judge conducting the trial of activist Vernon Gonsalves, an accused in the Bhima Koregaon incident of 2018, became an example of this. That was until the judge clarified that he is, in fact, aware of the Russian writer Leo Tolstoy and his epical novel War and Peace.
His response when the Bhima Koregaon charge sheet was placed before his court proves he knew of the provenance and contents of War and Peace. The confusion, it now appears, arose because the charge sheet had mentioned another book with a similar title. That is how the judge had ended up asking Gonsalves’ lawyers why their client possessed a book about wars in “other countries.”
It is not the judge’s knowledge of great literature but his belief that books about wars in other countries should not be owned (or read) by Indians that is a bigger surprise. Of course, since that remark, many commentators have pointed out that Tolstoy’s writings supported peace and not war. Accordingly, Mahatma Gandhi’s long correspondence with the literary legend is being highlighted afresh.
That said, this is not the first time that judges have expressed a curious indifference to the value of the written word, whether fictional or literary. The question arises, how can we tell if this incident is an aberration or the tip of an iceberg of flimsy excuses to keep people behind bars.
The most remarkable development during his time in Brussels was the penning down of the Communist Manifesto, which firmly established Marx as well as Engels as the intellectual leaders of the working class movement.
Lived in Brussels from February 1845 to March 1848
He celebrated New Year’s Eve 1947/48 together with the “Deutscher Arbeiterverein” and the “Association Democratique” in this place
The plaque put on a building which housed a restaurant ‘Le Cygne, The Swan’ now is the only memory left of the days when history was ‘made’ here. According to legend, it is the same place ‘[w]here the First International had convened’ and Marx and his lifelong friend and comrade Engels ‘[h]ad written the Communist Manifesto’.
No doubt it was the same place when Marx, Engels, Mozes Hess – who was another early luminary of socialism and who supposedly had influenced Engels about communism – and other associates of the surging workers movement pondered over many of those ideas which have been memorialised in the opening sentences of the Manifesto, “A spectre is haunting Europe — the spectre of communism….”
May be the historic slogan ‘Workers of the World Unite, You have nothing to lose but your chains’ which later reverberated throughout the world – whose echoes are still heard – had its ‘humble’ beginning in one of those very rooms, where Marx and his close associates used to educate workers about their exploitation.
Scores of people sitting in this particular restaurant which was serving them sumptuous food and choicest drinks were completely oblivious of all those details. Few of them rather looked at us with a sense of disbelief and dismay, when they witnessed us taking photos of the nondescript wall which had the plaque put on it. Perhaps they looked more satisfied that they are enjoying food at a place which is situated on the Grand Place or Grote Markt, which is the central square of Brussels and is considered one of the most beautiful squares in Europe and is also part of UN Heritage.
“It was the unlikeliest setting for a ‘literature festival’. A run-down auditorium with rickety chairs secured with rope. Noisy ceiling and pedestal fans. Battle scarred tables covered with threadbare cloth. But the first edition of the People’s Lit Fest, held in Kolkata, was designed to be just that – a radically different interpretation of literature and its role in modern India”
These were the opening lines of a report by Scroll.in, on the 1st edition of People’s Literary Festival, 2018. In less than a couple of weeks, the 2nd edition of People’s Literary Festival (henceforth, PLF) will commence, once again at that run-down auditorium with rickety chairs, namely ‘Sukanta Mancha’ in Kolkata. The present article hopes to shed some light on the reasons why those rickety chairs or the noisy fans are related to PLF, but before that, as a member of Bastar Solidarity Network (Kolkata Chapter), I feel compelled to explain why we even organize PLF in the first place.
Stephen Greenblatt has struck upon a sheer and stupendous idea: to retell the tale of the first couple of the Christian world, Adam and Eve. The Rise and Fall of Adam and Eve is a sweeping work with a remarkably ranging scholarship, galloping through centuries in minutes. The tone and the expanse of the book successfully hide the vertical depth of laborious research that has gone into bringing such an ambitious endeavour into culmination. This is also a book of reliving an ancient art: the bare act of telling a story, holding up the full panoply of its rich narrative contours. The book jauntily speculates as much as it reveals. The very subject matter allows Greenblatt to do so. But there is yet another dimension to this project— a life-long, intense personal engagement with the idea of how conscious human intervention may have altered man’s relationship with whatever is cosmic, mythical and animistic. To that end it is also an ideological book that tells the story of Adam and Eve as it tries to grapple with our modern condition.
Ghalib has fascinated generations of people and they have tried to understand/ interpret his poetry in their own way. For any such individual it is really difficult to recollect when and how Ghalib entered her/ his life and ensconced himself comfortably in one’s heart.
This wanderer still faintly remembers how many of Ghalib’s shers were part of common parlance even in an area whose lingua franca is not Hindustani. His andaaz-e-bayaan, his hazaron khwahishein, his making fun of the priest etc. could be discerned in people’s exchanges – without most of them even knowing that they were quoting the great poet.
To be very frank, to me, it is bewildering that a poet – who died over 150 years back – looks so contemporary or at times even a little ahead of our own times. Is it because, he talks about primacy of human being, at times philosophising about life, and on occasions talking about rebelling against the existing taboos in very many ways? But then have not many other great poets have dealt with the same subjects/ topics? Continue reading ‘Why Ghalib appears so contemporary even today ?’ : Interview with Hasan Abdullah→
[ This post is based on updates posted by me on my Facebook wall ]
A great kerfuffle has ensued ever since the recently elected independent MLA from Vadgam, Gujarat and Rashtriya Dalit Adhikar Manch activist Jignesh Mevani gave an interview in which he had some choice things to say about the Prime Minister and BJP leader Narendra Modi. Mr. Mevani made some positive and gentle suggestions, to the effect that because Mr. Modi has stopped being relevant, has not delivered on even one of the promises made by him, he should retire, proceed towards the Himalayas, and in the phrase that has caused the greatest commotion, ‘melt his bones’.
Predictably, Mr. Modi’s personal broadcasting service, known as Republic TV has kicked up the greatest fuss. Arnab Goswami has been especially indignant, and he was joined in his rage by BJP spokesperson, the orotund television commentator and historical photo-shop scam artist, Mr. Sambit Patra. Mr. Mevani offered a robust and dignified refusal to apologize for what he said about Mr. Modi, when Republic TV demanded that he do so. Continue reading Jignesh Mevani, The Meltdown of Modi-Men and Dadhichi’s Bones→