Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Telangana once more

'Jai Telangana' slogans from the govt. institute nearby, as men dance around in a circle and try to bring the few girls who've turned up for work into the circle.

Nearby, at a construction site, the contract labourers continue to chip away at granite. I have no data on this, but I see no Telangana supporters enlisting these migrant/contract/daily-wage labourers in their struggle for statehood. Surely they're one part of the demographic that will (supposedly) benefit if a new state is carved out?

A two-day bandh means no school, which means a kid who has to be entertained and (worse) demands time-share on the computer and the internet. Ha! There are plans to watch Star Wars. The world - both real and virtual - is full of stirring tales.

Apparently yesterday's events near the Assembly meant parents were taking kids out of school early. I was blithe and unworried, putting in a good day's work and the kid was happy at the thought of mid-week vacationing.

Interesting coverage difference between the Hindu and the Deccan Chronicle. The Hindu sounds disapproving of the 'mobs'; uses words such as 'vandalism' and mourns the damage caused to the 'beautiful facade' of the Necklace Road MMTS station. The DC calls the students 'activists' and shows photos taken from behind the riot police as they lob teargas.

Interesting times have once again washed up on our doorsteps. 

Thursday, February 17, 2011

kaarvaan banta gaya

मैं अकेला ही चला था
जानिब-ए-मंजिल मगर
लोग साथ आते गए और

                          - मजरूह सुल्तानपुरी 

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.”

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Reclaiming 'Realism'

Inevitably, someone somewhere will point out that revolutions fail, that they collapse into precisely the kind of chaos that more pragmatic people had warned the world about. If that's an argument for never having taken the step towards change at all, it's a pretty unconvincing one, as Egypt shows.

Timothy Burke's post, 'Real and Fake Realism' is worth reading in this context.
Because the aspiration to rights for all and autonomy in economic, social and cultural life is not the end of history, there are no guarantees: not for Egyptians, nor for Americans. Everything we make and achieve and value can be taken away from us someday. Judging from America’s own discontented winter, we are the most likely agents of our potential deprivation. None of the things that fulfill our humanity come with guarantees: we do not love because we are promised that love can never fail, we do not invent and make and create because we have foreknowledge that what we imagine will always come into being. Nor can we take control of every circumstance to gain that guarantee. That was the hubris of the neoconservatives, and whatever happens to Iraq in the long run, it’s hard not to notice that it took 100,000 dead people to make it happen with none of those dead people agreeing to or expecting that cost in advance, versus some hundreds dead in Egypt, nearly all of them people who took their risks knowingly. 

(Via the most awesome Aaron Bady)

Friday, February 11, 2011

Mubarak ho, Egypt!

This needs a separate post of its own, in celebration. I'm glued to the images coming out of Tahrir Square following the announcement that Hosni Mubarak has stepped down.

No screengrab* is going to do justice to what's happening there. What a day!

(Yes, the army is still in charge, yes, this doesn't mean everything has changed; and yet it has.)


*Screengrabs - no; but photographs - yes. Hossam el-Hamalawy's record of Egypt over the last coupleof weeks, some images here

Strawberries dipped in chocolate reminds me of revolution

Just returned from some art opening where there were strawberries dipped in chocolate and I left early, stealing some in a napkin and remembered Alea's film and his earlier one, from the time the Cuban revolution was still in its days of hope and possibilities...

...and from there to Egypt, which is never far from my mental horizon these days. When this part of their revolution is over I wonder if they will have an equivalent of ICAIC, what their cinema will be like and if I will see all of it, and if I will collect some as yet unpublished issue of Jump Cut or like journal that celebrates a new cinematic idiom.

But mostly, I conclude that strawberries & chocolate are a good thing individually and together.

While I consume the last one, do hop over to Jadaliyya for most things Egypt-related. Also, those in Hyderabad, please mark tomorrow evening 7pm - Lamakaan is having a reading of Faiz's poetry in celebration of his centenary.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

I could spend morning, afternoon, evening and night

whiling away my time on this (so far, I've taken in Ah, Still Standing and Everybody Dies)

Or I could keep this (pdf) open and come back to it every once in a while.

Or! I could log off and get back to writing!

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

The Battle of Pan-Pat and Other Happenings

More literary controversy! More skirmishing! This time between Pankaj Mishra and Patrick French! (I really don't have anything to say about it except how much I wanted to use the title of the post).


Now that that's out of the way, announcements:

1. Readings, Writing Workshops, Film Screenings (not in that order) related to the writer Akhil Sharma's visit. Via mail from the US Consulate, Hyd, details below:

February 8                 : Screening of ‘Cosmopolitan” film and discussion with author Akhil Sharma, whose story was made into the film
                                     Venue: La Makaan, 7.00 pm
February 9                 : Creative writing workshop (registration required. Mail hyderabadpa@state.gov)
                                     Venue: Akshara book stores, West Marredpally, Secunderabad, 6.30 pm
February 10               : Book reading from “An Obedient Father” by Akhil Sharma
                                     Venue: Oxford book stores, Park Hotel, Somajiguda, 7.00 pm

2. Via Peter Griffin, the Essential Indian Books Survey.

He needs plenty of responses, so do consider taking it when you have a moment.

Crazy busy weekend, and there's stuff I want to blog about, but OMG, Scorpio in the early morning sky this morning after god knows how many years! It was magnificent!

It being spring, the rain tree's shed all its leaves, and I suppose I happened to look up as I do these mornings, and there, behind the bare branches, was the top half of Scorpio. The tail was tucked out of sight, which is a pity, but it was still gorgeous. Must find some other vantage point tomorrow morning.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Several Minutes Older

That's what my readers will be, before (if) the column returns.

There's been a few changes at the New Indian Express this last month, and February on, Saturday's Zeitgeist pull-out has been discontinued. For the duration that things are rearranged, Two Minutes Older will not appear.

But there's always (ir)regular blogging, right?

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

'more believable stories'

Mohammed Hanif in Dawn:

Trying to get my own Cairo update, I watched with concern as a barber shaved his customer while both watched Al Jazeera. A tour guide taking an American couple on Jesus Christ`s last walk on Via Dolorosa abandoned them for a bit and went into a shop to find out if Mubarak had left the country or not.
In Ramallah, the working capital of the very dysfunctional Palestinian Authority, I saw similar scenes. Cafe Lavie, one of the swish joints in town, was hosting a Spanish night. As the young kids danced the night away and middle-aged businessmen ogled them, they had one thing in common: they all insisted that Al Jazeera stay on so that they could watch the cool Cairo protesters flashing their `V` signs.
In Palestine Coffee Shop, an establishment so old and so set in its ways that it serves only coffee and nothing else, a place where old Arab men start playing cards at eight in the morning and are found taking naps before midday, customers wanted Al Jazeera on full volume.
Nobody becomes an expert on anything, let alone a political movement, by hanging out in mosques and coffee shops. I asked university students in Berziet and Nablus about why Palestinians were so interested in what was going on in Cairo. Their favourite word about the Cairo situation was `exhilarating`. They were all interested in what would happen next. They had all stayed up late to watch Mubarak speak, who, like all aging dictators, had indulged in a bit of self-pity.
Could something like this happen here, in Palestine? It was the obvious tourist question. But they were generous, as they had been asking the same question of each other.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

The Metaphysical Blanket of Poppies

Either I must blog the sections of things I read online, in order to be able to retrieve things when I want, or I must return to copying out things in my notebook. What I read had to do with this question that everybody erupts with once in a while, which is: does poetry matter? For the life of me, I can't summarise what the writer said in response (which demonstrates that the 'how' is as important as the 'what').

I've been following what's happening in Egypt, hard on the heels of Tunisia, and here are a bunch of links related to poetry in the midst of the uprisings.

1. Amardeep Singh on the role of poetry in Tunisia and Egypt

"To the Tyrants of the World" was recited on the streets during the protests in Tunisia, and it is now being recited in Cairo and Alexandria by the millions who have taken to the streets to demand democratic reforms and the ouster of Hosni Mubarak. One line whose meaning comes across with unmistakable force in even this rather basic translation comes near the end: "Who grows thorns will reap wounds." [Would it be even stronger as "He who grows thorns will reap wounds"?]

2. [Via Amardeep] Elliott Colla's The Poetry of Revolt

The poetry of this revolt is not reducible to a text that can be read and translated in words, for it is also an act in and of itself. That is, the couplet-slogans being sung and chanted by protesters do more than reiterate complaints and aspirations that have been communicated in other media. This poetry has the power to express messages that could not be articulated in other forms, as well as to sharpen demands with ever keener edges.

Consider the most prominent slogan being chanted today by thousands of people in Tahrir Square: “Ish-sha‘b/yu-rîd/is-qât/in-ni-zâm.” Rendered into English, it might read, “The People want the regime to fall”—but that would not begin to translate the power this simple and complex couplet-slogan has in its context. There are real poetic reasons why this has emerged as a central slogan. For instance, unlike the more ironic—humorous or bitter—slogans, this one is sincere and states it all perfectly clearly. Likewise, the register of this couplet straddles colloquial Egyptian and standard media Arabic—and it is thus readily understandable to the massive Arab audiences who are watching and listening. And finally, like all the other couplet-slogans being shouted, this has a regular metrical and stress pattern (in this case: short-LONG, short-LONG, short-LONG, short-SHORT-LONG). While unlike most others, this particular couplet is not rhymed, it can be sung and shouted by thousands of people in a unified, clear cadence—and that seems to be a key factor in why it works so well.

The prosody of the revolt suggests that there is more at stake in these couplet-slogans than the creation and distillation of a purely semantic meaning. For one thing, the act of singing and shouting with large groups of fellow citizens has created a certain and palpable sense of community that had not existed before. And the knowledge that one belongs to a movement bound by a positive collective ethos is powerful in its own right—especially in the face of a regime that has always sought to morally denigrate all political opposition. Likewise, the act of singing invective that satirizes feared public figures has an immediate impact that cannot be cannot be explained in terms of language, for learning to laugh at one’s oppressor is a key part of unlearning fear. Indeed, witnesses to the revolt have consistently commented that in the early hours of the revolt—when invective was most ascendant—protesters began to lose their fear.

3. Martin Espada, The Meaning of the Shovel (which I found while googling this translation* of that portion of Neruda's poem generally known as 'I Explain A Few Things', from the longer 'Spain In Our Hearts)

In the documentary film about the Lincoln Brigade called “The Good Fight,” Abe Osheroff, with characteristic honesty, wonders aloud if the fight can ever be won.  “We fought the Good Fight,” he says. “And we lost.”

I have also heard him say that we do not fight the Good Fight because we know the fight will be won. We fight the Good Fight because it is the right thing to do, because our lives will be immeasurably richer for it.

The same holds true for the poetry of the Good Fight. We write these poems because we must, regardless of consequences. We are driven to create a record of human suffering—and resistance to suffering--without the luxury of measuring our impact on the world, which cannot be weighed, measured or otherwise quantified. We do not write such poems because we necessarily believe that our side will win, and that conditions will change; we write them because there is an ethical compulsion to do so.  Whitman, again, said it: “I am the man, I suffered, I was there.”

(Hmm. Echoes of Anouilh there, no?)

4. From 'The Republic of Poetry' Martin Estrada

The Republic of Poetry
                   For Chile
In the republic of poetry,
a train full of poets
rolls south in the rain
as plum trees rock
and horses kick the air,
and village bands
parade down the aisle
with trumpets, with bowler hats,
followed by the president
of the republic,
shaking every hand.
In the republic of poetry,
monks print verses about the night
on boxes of monastery chocolate,
kitchens  in restaurants
use odes for recipes
from eel to artichoke,
and poets eat for free.
In the republic of poetry,
poets read to the baboons
at the zoo, and all the primates,
poets and baboons alike, scream for joy.
In the republic of poetry,
poets rent a helicopter
to bombard the national palace
with poems on bookmarks,
and everyone in the courtyard
rushes to grab a poem
fluttering from the sky,
blinded by weeping.
In the republic of poetry,
the guard at the airport
will not allow you to leave the country
until you declaim a poem for her
and she says Ah! Beautiful.
5.* 'I Explain A Few Things' Pablo Neruda

You will ask: And where are the lilacs?

And the metaphysical blanket of poppies?

And the rain that often struck

your words, filling them

with holes and birds? 

I am going to tell you all that is happening to me.


I lived in a quarter

of Madrid, with bells,

with clocks, with trees.


From there you could see

the lean face of Spain

like an ocean of leather.


                             My house was called

the house of flowers, because it was bursting

everywhere with geraniums: it was

a fine house

with dogs and children.

                             Raúl, do you remember?

Do you remember, Rafael?

                             Federico, do you remember

under the ground,

do you remember my house with balconies where

June light smothered the flowers in your mouth?

                             Brother, brother!



was great shouting, salty goods,

heaps of throbbing bread,

markets of my Argüelles quarter with its statue

like a pale inkwell among the haddock:

the olive oil reached the ladles,

a deep throbbing

of feet and hands filled the streets,

meters, liters, sharp

essence of life,

                   fish piled up,

pattern of roofs with cold sun where

the weathervane grows weary,

frenzied fine ivory of potatoes,

tomatoes, more tomatoes, all the way to the sea.


And one morning it was all burning,

and one morning the fires

came out of the earth

devouring people,

and from then on fire,

gunpowder from then on,

and from then on blood.


Bandits with airplanes and with Moors,

bandits with rings and duchesses,

bandits with black-robed friars blessing

came through the air to kill children,

and through the streets the blood of children

ran simply, like children’s blood.


Jackals that the jackal would spurn,

stones that the dry thistle would bite spitting,

vipers that vipers would abominate!


Facing you I have seen the blood

of Spain rise up

to drown you in a single wave

of pride and knives!




look at my dead house,

look at Spain broken;

but from each dead house comes burning metal

instead of flowers,

but from each hollow of Spain

Spain comes forth,

but from each dead child comes a gun with eyes,

but from each crime are born bullets

that will one day seek out in you

the site of the heart.


You will ask: why does your poetry

not speak to us of sleep, of the leaves,

of the great volcanoes of your native land?


Come and see the blood in the streets,

come and see

the blood in the streets,

come and see the blood

in the streets!