Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Permanent Revolution, Public Space, Fox on Acid, Dalitness and Manu Joseph

Some things I've been reading:

1. Permanent Revolution by Hossam el-Hamalawy
The military has been the ruling institution in this country since 1952. Its leaders are part of the establishment. And while the young officers and soldiers are our allies, we cannot for one second lend our trust and confidence to the generals. Moreover, those army leaders need to be investigated. I want to know more about their involvement in the business sector.
All classes in Egypt took part in the uprising. In Tahrir Square you found sons and daughters of the Egyptian elite, together with the workers, middle class citizens, and the urban poor. Mubarak has managed to alienate all social classes in society including wide section of the bourgeoisie. But remember that it’s only when the mass strikes started three days ago that’s when the regime started crumbling and the army had to force Mubarak to resign because the system was about to collapse.
Some have been surprised that the workers started striking. I really don’t know what to say. The workers have been staging the longest and most sustained strike wave in Egypt’s history since 1946, triggered by the Mahalla strike in December 2006. It’s not the workers’ fault that you were not paying attention to their news. Every single day over the past three years there was a strike in some factory whether it’s in Cairo or the provinces. These strikes were not just economic, they were also political in nature.

He ends by saying 'we have to take Tahrir to the factories now'.

2a. Gautam Bhan in Kafila about Egypt and public spaces.
Another thing that keeps returning to my head is the images of the numbers in Tahrir square and how important the square was in and of itself spatially in the moment and the movement.
I think of a rally a few weeks ago for Dr Sen. After a long time, a protest in Delhi wasn’t at Jantar Mantar but actually walked its streets – from the Red Fort to ITO. I remember being struck by how different it felt, and how long it had been, to walk in the city in the name of dissent and protest. Images from Tahrir and the streets of Tunisia now stand next to that feeling in my head. Dissent need not be but often necessarily is deeply physical – the presence of the bodies on the street is as near an experiential sense of the “public”, in one sense, that one can get. Public spaces are the heart of challenging the centralization of control and of creating cultures of equity and dignity – be it in the city or in the nation-state.
In Delhi, for example, the increasing instances of gating, the control over gathering anywhere outside the two hundred square feet of Jantar Mantar, the spectre of Section 144, and a deeply inequitable and fractured housing and land market, have, in very different yet particularly spatial ways, all render the idea of the “public” as an afterthought, a residue – a space that no one can claim. The physical absence of residents in public spaces is both the chicken and the egg of a story of a changing and depleted imagination of a shared public among the city’s residents – be it of services, of resources, of aesthetics, of citizenship and of a very simply idea of dignity, of who can, should and does belong to the city. This story – in similar and different ways – is being played out the scale of a nation as a whole.
Could reclaiming public space for conversations, debates and voices – regardless of what these voices want to say and whether “we” agree with “them” or not – become a single point agenda for a movement of our own? Could the idea of the public bring urban residents together – regardless of what we want to do once we’re in that space? Could public space be an answer that rallies people together – the more voices, the more noise, the more debates, the more antagonism that come, from any point of view, would that noise not represent a resistance to the single story being told about India today?

2b. Serendipitously read the next piece [which is actually a couple of years old] just before Gautam Bhan's thoughts. Khalid Omar on the disappearance of public beaches in Karachi. 
Karachi must be one of the few waterfront cities in the world to have no waterfront at all. Karachi is a city by the sea, but considering the amount of water activities which takes place, it could well be in the Sahara. The primary reason is that most of the beaches in Karachi belong to the military or some other government scheme, and are off limits to civilians, or are private property and once again off limits.
The Pakistan Army, Navy and Air Force have taken over practically all the beaches in the city.
Now, while it is understandable that the Navy needs some waterfront to man their boats, the Pakistan Navy takes the cake by claiming the entire coast of Pakistan belongs to them. Besides their bases, housing schemes, naval clubs and what not all taking up miles of waterfront, they've also cordoned off the best beaches to build huts for their upper brass. Case in point: A number of beautiful beaches are used by the Navy as training grounds, smack in the middle of Karachi. Even there, the best part of the beach has private huts reserved for the top brass -- and out of bounds to civilians.
3. Amitava Kumar interviews Arundhati Roy for Guernica.
Guernica: Your stance on Kashmir and also on the struggles of the tribals has drawn the ire of the Indian middle class. Who belongs to that class and what do you think gets their goat?
Arundhati Roy: The middle class goat is very sensitive about itself and very callous about other peoples’ goats.
Guernica: Your critics say that you often see the world only in black and white.
Arundhati Roy: The thing is you have to understand, Amitava, that the people who say such things are a certain section of society who think they are the universe. It is the jitterbugging elite which considers itself the whole country. Just go outside and nobody will say that to you. Go to Orissa, go to the people who are under attack, and nobody will think that there is anything remotely controversial about what I write. You know, I keep saying this, the most successful secession movement in India is the secession of the middle and upper classes to outer space. They have their own universe, their own andolan, their own Jessica Lal, their own media, their own controversies, and they’re disconnected from everything else. For them, what I write comes like an outrage. Ki yaar yeh kyaa bol rahi hai? [What the hell is she saying?] They don’t realize that they are the ones who have painted themselves into a corner.
4. S. Anand's essay in Caravan on Dalit literature says some interesting things about Manu Joseph's Serious Men [which I admit I liked for the most part].
To come back to the author we began with: Manu Joseph manages to inaugurate a new template—he identifies his characters specifically as Dalits (not as untouchable Chamars or Pulayas) and depicts them as fully conscious of (but enraged by) caste oppression. Joseph’s rationale for making Ayyan Mani a Dalit makes for interesting reading. In an interview with rediff.com, he says:
When Ayyan first formed in my head he was just the same but he was not a Dalit. He had this anger and a comical interpretation of the modern world and modern women and science and everything around him. But he was not a Dalit. Then I asked myself, why is he so angry, can I give him a justification? And the idea of a Dalit male who is trying to create from thin air the first Dalit boy genius just fascinated me.
Consider what kind of social reality leads a writer like Joseph to decide that Ayyan Mani ought to be a Dalit because he is “so angry.” Mani’s specific kind of imagined ‘Dalitness’ is clearly a by-product of the post-Mandal anti-reservation rage of the upper classes of India, represented with deep sympathy by the Brahmin-controlled media. Such a portrayal of a scheming Dalit—who is merely a prop in the novel—would perhaps not have been possible in the period before the 1980s or the 1990s.

It is not that a Dalit character ought not to be dark and devious, especially in a dark comedy. It is not as if one is looking for a portrayal of triumph shorn of the complexities of human nature. What’s worrisome is how Mani’s son Adi has to be a congenitally poor, underperforming student with a hearing disability (to compound matters), who has to cheat his way through tests and quiz shows—lacking inherently in “merit.”


km said...

I'm missing the "fox on acid" reference in the title.

//enjoyed reading Bhan's post on public space. Excellent link.

Space Bar said...

km: it's not in the excerpted portion; Roy says it about a TV channel and it's actually right up there in the introduction to the conversation, though it appears later in the interview.