8/15/18

Poetry | Anil Pushker | Independence Day Special


परेशान


पिता परेशान हैं
क्यूंकि हम परेशान हैं

हम परेशान हैं
क्यूंकि लोग परेशान हैं

लोग परेशान है
क्यूंकि  महकमे परेशान हैं

महकमे परेशान हैं
क्यूंकि सरकार परेशान है

सरकार परेशान है
क्यूंकि  वायदा बाजार परेशान है

बाज़ार परेशान है
क्यूंकि ठग परेशान हैं

ठग परेशान है क्यूंकि
भूमंडल का देवता परेशान है

देवता परेशान है
क्यूंकि उससे दुनिया परेशान है

दुनिया परेशान है
क्यूंकि हमारे पिता परेशान हैं



तुम्हारी इच्छा के विरुद्ध

तुम्हारी इच्छा के विरुद्ध
जो राजा था, राजा रहते हुए मरा

आज
तुम्हारी इच्छा के विरुद्ध
वो भूखा ही जिया भूखा मरा

आज
तुम्हारी इच्छा के विरुद्ध
जन-मिलीशिया ने हमला किया

आज
तुम्हारी इच्छा के विरूद्ध
उपजाऊ जमीनों को बेचा गया

आज
तुम्हारी इच्छा के विरूद्ध
युद्ध जारी है

आज
तुम्हारी इच्छा के विरुद्ध
देखो, अब किसकी बारी है.
.


इसको हल करने का सूत्र बताओ

पहले
श्याम बेनेगल आये या एके हंगल
ये सवाल वेवजह हो सकता है

मगर
पहले बदहाली आयी फिर भुखमरी और तब तरक्की
या पहले तरक्की आई फिर भूख और तब महामारी
इसको हल करने का सूत्र बताओ
फिर उस सूत्र से हल सुझाओ.

पूछते-पूछते ये सवाल इतना बड़ा हो गया
कि इसे पहले ले जाया गया मरने वाले के पेट में
फिर पोस्टमार्टम के आखेट में
फिर वो अस्पताल से थाणे और
थाणे से न्यायालय ले जाया गया
जहाँ पंचनामें की तफतीस का ब्योरा देख
फैसला सुरक्षित रख लिया गया

शवदाहगृह में रखी लाश पर चस्पा सूचना के मुताबिक़
उसके बदन में खून की कमी पाई गयी
रोटी का एक टुकड़ा पेट में पत्थर बन चुका था
आँतों में सालन अरसे से गला नहीं था
(नसों के तनाव से मालूम हुआ वो हादसे का शिकार नहीं बल्कि
इरादतन मारा गया था) जो लिखा नहीं गया

लोगों के बीच चर्चा बनी रही जिस समय वो नहीं रहा
उसकी जीभ में सरकार के विरुद्ध कैक्टस उग आये थे
मुट्ठियों में जम्हूरियत का गीला लोंदा कसा था

जब उसे लेने कोई नहीं आया
उसके खिलाफ़ तमाम अपराध दर्ज हुए
मसलन वो देशद्रोह का भागी था
उसकी गाँठ में एक अखबार का टुकड़ा मिला
जिसमें तम्बाकू के साथ नक्सलवाद का जिक्र था
उसका रंग और हड्डियाँ इस बात की पुष्टि थीं
कि वो जंगल का निवासी है

सरकारी वकील की अपील फिर आयी
फैसला सार्वजनिक किया गया

वो लाश अब
राष्ट्र का घिनौना चेहरा बन चुकी है
आतंकी होने की मुहर लग चुकी है.



8/14/18

Poems | John D Robinson

PC: B.M. Barbeito







NO TIME

She kissed my lips, spat in my face,
broke my heart
and then wished
me well,
toughest motherfucker
I ever met,
the best education
I’ve been given
and the worst
beating I’ve ever
taken,
not a wasted
moment.



UNLUCKY THIS TIME (John Wesley Hardin)

He was ruthless, mean,
treacherous, later in life
he claimed 40 killings,
27 men are confirmed
to have fallen by his guns;
he once shot a man dead
for snoring; in Hardin’s
defence the snoring guy
was in the next room,
Hardin fired 2 shots
through the wooden
partition, 1 of the
bullets struck the
unlucky snoring bastard
in the head:
Hardin was later sentenced
to 25 years for another
killing, during his 16
years in prison he
studied law and when
released he practiced law:
he was shot through the
back of his head in a bar
in El Paso, Texas, in
1895, he was 42.




THE WRETCHED CURSE

If I had been given
the eyes of a poet,
the mind of a poet
the heart of a poet,
the strength
the depth
the insight
the harshness
the tenderness
the wildness
the cruelty
the beauty
the grit
and belief
I would have
shaken my fist
in anger at the
heavens at
such a
wretched curse.



THE ACCUSATION

‘Some asshole told me
that you write poetry!’
‘That’s just fucking ugly
gossip bullshit’ I said:
‘I thought so’ she said
as she ordered another
round of vodka:
‘I mean I knew it was
bullshit, you can’t even
spell your own name!’
she said laughing:
‘Write it?, fuck, I can’t
remember it most of
the time’ I said.

7/24/18

Poetry | Michelle D'costa

Photo by B.M. Barbeito

 A year of dating an asshole
                     
Ordered to stay still, eyes shut. Challenges thrill.
Hot men danced before me like shapely women to a rishi.

Blessed who can’t see yet believe. I knew they’re hot.
Hot men have ways of communicating exactly how they are

out of my league.

Repetitive steps sent vibes; my eyelids twitched.
Lost the challenge; eyes pried open. One pitied me though,

way one backtracks outside church to drop 100 fils
into a beggar’s bowl. Beggar owes that generous being.

A salute, a prayer, a blowjob if the beggar wants more.

 Our first date, he confides,  I have superpowers. If I disappear,
 You’ll never find me. Had to look after him well. Way the chimp

 is cared for at the zoo, for tourists. Female friends
 warned he wouldn’t last. Misconstrued concern for jealousy.

Symptom of inexperience, please understand.

Friend’s husband crosses the border every day
for a living. He confided about women there who

visit male doctors for imaginary ailments to be seen
and touched.  A corpse since...a year now,

won’t you take a look at this rotting flesh?

Yes, I know which part began to rot when.
What took me so long? Would I be taken seriously

if I was only beginning to rot?




7/12/18

Book Review | Zeeshan Husain




Partha Chatterjee is a voice that no one can afford to ignore. Broadly working and having expertise simultaneously in two fields— political science and modern Indian history, he has many feathers in his cap. Chatterjee’s contribution to our understanding of political theory, West Bengal’s society and culture, peasants in India, subaltern consciousness, and issues of development deserves special mention. I wonder how come so much complex stuff has been theorised by him with so much lucidity. Perhaps this is a hallmark of any expert. The book Politics of the Governed is definitely an important contribution by him to understand contemporary politics, ranging from the local to regional, to national and international levels. Let me first summarise the main arguments of the book and then analyse it critically.
From the title, one gets a brief idea what the book will be about. It is about the common people and their way of dealing with bitter socio-political realities of life. The geographical area under consideration is almost the whole world. The book has two major parts. The first part consists of three chapters which were delivered as Leonard Hastings Schoff Memorial Lectures in 2001. The second part consists of a collection of three speeches delivered in various places in India and US. Thus all the seven chapters are actually oral texts and are extremely lucid to read. This is usual in Chatterjee’s style of writing. But this also causes omission of various references which would have helped serious readers to locate the sources of statements which the author is making.
Chatterjee clarifies word by word the title of his book. ‘Popular’ means non- institutional form of politics, ‘most of the world’ means the whole world except the modern capitalist democracies i.e., Western Europe and North America (p.8), ‘civil society’ is the closed association of modern elite groups and ‘democracy’ as politics of the governed. One remains thankful to Chatterjee for defining these terms quite clearly. Indeed this makes the task of reviewer (and critic) considerably easy. Just a brief summary before we start the critique.
The book broadly deals in the first part with the issues within India and in the second part deals with global concerns. In chapter one, he critiques Benedict Anderson’s theorisation of ‘empty homogenous time’ and says that a nation actually lives in various time-spaces; or in simple terms modern, non-modern and even anti-modern characteristics exists in the same nation. In the second chapter, he puts forward concepts like ‘population’ and ‘‘political society’’. He departs from usual modern (liberal) understanding of Citizen and proposes the concept of ‘population’. While a Citizen's existence is theoretical, and normative, ‘population’ is empirical and descriptive. Population allows the State to intervene in people’s lives in the name of development. Chatterjee refers to Foucault’s notion of ‘governmentality’ (p.34). Chatterjee delineates ‘civil society’ and ‘political society’: former connects nation-states with citizens and the latter connects populations with governmental agencies (pp.37-38). ‘Political society’ exists outside the domain of ‘civil society’ (p.40). In the third chapter, he outlines what is meant by the ‘politics of the governed’. For him, it is democracy but seen from the position of those who govern(p.69). It is a local paralegal arrangement which seeks moral solidarity and tries to bring about change in the (asymmetrical) power distribution (p.66). From the fourth chapter onward starts another paradigm, that of global issues. Chatterjee says that globalisation is not new (pp.85-91); what is new is the emergence of US as Big Brother of the world (p.96). The peace of the world is ensured by the US, in a kind of ‘global democracy’ (p.100). He calls it an ‘empire’ (p.98) whose principle is control not occupation (p.101). It is this chapter which critiques the global order/ peace very poignantly. Fifth chapter flags the issue of ‘Islamic terrorism’ as a plank by US to ensure its control in the name of global democracy. Sixth chapter problematises the concept of secularism, along with ‘democracy’ and ‘war on terror’ and the seventh chapter gives the gloomy picture of neo-liberalism reaching India’s cities.
Chatterjee is critiquing the liberal understanding of ‘civil society’ and proposes the concept of ‘‘political society’’ to understand politics of the non-West (or East). For him the concept of ‘‘civil society’’ is not relevant in India, and perhaps the whole East/ South. Unlike in the West, people are not completely under the purview of state; they do not have citizenship rights. This causes many, if not most people, to remain outside ‘civil society’. State intervenes in this case, through, what Chatterjee is calling ‘‘political society’’. People outside the ‘‘civil society’’ are not looked upon as citizens but as populations to be controlled by the State for developmental concerns (p.40). He has, however, not defined this crucial term, unlike various others terms in the book. This might be intentional, as the term is extremely fluid. Nevertheless he keeps on giving us various characteristics of ‘‘political society’’, and ‘‘civil society’’ as well. Let us now critically engage with his ideas one by one.
First, Chatterjee is using Foucault’s concept of governmentality in this book. This assumption - that only non- West has this ‘‘political society’’ - is difficult to digest. I agree that ‘‘civil society’’ is quite strong in the West, yet a number of people’s movements constantly keep on negotiating with the State. This is the case with both West and East. On what basis, then, has this distinction between West and East and their respective politics been made by Chatterjee? If he was speaking in terms of degrees, he could have told it clearly. Rather, the neat definitions given show he has strong binaries in mind.
Second, whatever he means by ‘most of the world’ or East or South is extremely flawed. By giving few examples from India and US, one cannot generalise the functioning of democracy across the world. Chatterjee is theorising three-fourths of the world (p.3) without giving enough evidence from even three continents– Asia, Africa and South America. Indeed, there are a number of instances in these countries where there is a complete lack of state intervention. Many countries have dictatorships, civil wars, riots, and military regimes. One wonders on what basis one could theorise a concept while taking, almost exclusively, India as an example.
Third major flaw is the assumption that ‘civil society’ is ‘consistent with the ideas of freedom and equality’ (p.46). ‘Civil society’ is assumed to be modern, while ‘political society’ to be either pre-modern or a strange product of modernity (yes these two contradictory phenomena are used by him to explain ‘political society’. See pp. 51 and 75). To refine his assumption, Chatterjee has often used the term ‘elite’ to show that non-elites are not part of this ‘modern’ institution. It is here that Chatterjee fails to understand even India, let aside the whole of the world. Let us ask- who are the elites? What is their caste, religion, ethnicity, gender and even region? Chatterjee uses sociologists like Nikolas Rose, and Thomas Osborne but fails to accept the reality as described by another sociologist from his own home state of West Bengal– Andre Beteille. Beteille (2001) explains that ‘civil society’ in actual practice is infected with the considerations of kinship and religion. In what way can we assume that Indian elites who are almost exclusively upper- caste urban Hindus are seriously committed to the project of modernisation?
This brings us to the fourth major flaw in the theorisation by Chatterjee. He argues that the various characteristics of ‘‘civil society’’ are not actually empirically verifiable. But, recent researches have shown the opposite. It is the pressure from the grass roots activities and struggles which is making the State and its arms ‘modern’, ‘democratic’ and truly civil. I live in a society, where police connive in communal riots against Muslims, where Special Task Force is recruited to ‘control’ tribal populations and where Dalits are humiliated on an everyday basis. Modernity is a project by the common masses, not the elites. Chatterjee missed out on this completely. Just visit any Indian university and see gender skewedness and a near absence of peasant/ Shudra castes after a decade of implementation of OBC reservations. Even a simple reading of Ambedkar could have helped Chatterjee to comprehend most of the India well. This despite the fact that he has started, clearly in haste, his book by taking the case of Ambedkar.
He misreads Ambedkar at many levels, and various people’s struggles happening across India. This again happens to be a major lacuna in Chatterjee’s understanding. Ambedkar has spoken more about exploitative caste system than about untouchability (p.9) in his works. His conversion after a long struggle with Hindu society, was a tactical move to show people that Hindu society will remain caste- ridden and hence the best alternative, the Navayana Buddhism, has to be adopted. Conversion was not a result of frustration, as Chatterjee believes (p.24). Ambedkar’s almost prophetic quote, from the Constituent Assembly (9 Nov 1948) is: “Constitutional morality is not a natural sentiment. It has to be cultivated. We must realise that our people have yet to learn it. Democracy in India is only a top-dressing on an Indian soil which is essentially undemocratic.” The ‘civil society’ which Chatterjee is assuming to be democratic is actually undemocratic and uncivil. Recent empirical researches like Anupama Rao’s The Caste Question (2010), Suryakant Waghmore’s Civility against Caste (2013), and Jeffrey Witsoe’s Democracy against Development (2013), among many others, show that it is the voices from the periphery that strengthen modern values of life, liberty, equality and fraternity. Pandian’s (2002) crisp essay One Step Outside Modernity provides a good framework to sum up how lower caste subjectivity is modern, not the other way round. At one place Chatterjee ends up calling lower caste leaders’ demands as patriarchal (p.75) which shows his limited understanding of caste–gender intersectionality.
Fifth, as I said earlier that Chatterjee has not explicitly defined the term ‘‘political society’’ but has given various characteristics of it. Going by those loosely defined characteristics, even Hindutva groups can be considered as valid forms of ‘political society’. These groups are beyond the purview of both State and ‘civil society’ and claim some moral significance for their groups too. One wonders how Chatterjee understands the rise of such groups, quite visibly since a decade.
In addition to these, there are number of self-contradictory statements (see for instances statements on ‘political society’ on pages 40, 47, 66 and 74). This might be due to his acknowledgement of the complex nature of political formations, which needed theorisation not mere passing references.
Overall the book successfully puts forward important changes happening in present world order, but fails to give any insight into the crucial working of the Indian or non-Western societies. Nevertheless, Chatterjee correctly places the relevnat political theory in the context of colonialism and present neo-liberalism. The book vehemently critiques US imperialism and its propaganda of Islamic terrorism. It is here that the book is at its best.


(Politics of the Governed (2004) by Partha Chatterjee Columbia University Press. New York. ISBN 0-231-13062-7. pp.170+ xi)

7/11/18

Poetry | Suhit Kelkar

pc: Brian Michael Barbeito



GRAPES

In this vineyard,
the earth's quiet work
makes the unripe ripe,
sends the overripe into oblivion.
The circle of life
is a cliche
that exists only in language.
Here, there are beginnings,
there are ends,
distinct and disconnected.
Here, the call of the birds
embroiders heavy shadows
between rows of vines
where the crop, like bats,
hangs, grows, dozes,
after farm hands midwife it in the noon.
No one here but the farmer
viewing an unripe clump of grapes
the way a new father
regards his newborn
with a hint of pride.
As it is, I avert my gaze
from the primal sight
and turn to the acreage.
Here, if I wished to,
I could lose myself in the horizon,
I could sing without shame
A song if I had one.
But there is only silence
within and without.
The grapevines send tendrils
into my thoughts.
I am nourished. It is enough
on the farm's margins
where the birds fly low
over the sun-whitened grass of winter.


HAUNTED HOTEL

The world is a haunted hotel
and I, a lonely lover,
wandering its corridors,
cold in the clasp of fear
as strangers unwittingly take
rooms for the long night.
I fear for them, and for myself.
I can hear them whisper,
quarrel, move the furniture around,
even moan in pleasure through the walls.
Or are those the ghosts?
Outside the open window
between two breaths of the waves
god is an innuendo.
The sea is turbid
for it contains
our evils and our sorrows,
our leavings and our refuse.
Through the moon's keyhole,
night sprinkles through,
soothes my eyes like balm.
Yet my backbone is a guitar string
twanging to the footfalls
of some invisible beast
that has trudged for ages
from the stars to reach this place
with a message that I hope
I will understand some day.
Then my gaping wounds may yet
grow feet and slither away.
And I will feel it amiss-
to see by starlight
the plain, smooth skin
that had once, so beautifully, bled.
That is why I have checked in.
I must heal here,
must fill the wounds
I acquired before birth
and then move on
with a light heart.

CHICKEN DINNER

I saw the way they raise
the chickens that go on our dinner
plates. And why the phrase
'to be cooped up' is euphemism
for prison. I could also tell you
about the extraction
of cocks' semen in syringes
the holding-down of hens
for insemination.
How they flinch, startled and soundless
as the nozzle is dabbed between
their legs, their cloacas staring
like red, reproachful eyes.
Yet I'll go home tonight
and probably order a chicken dinner.
In this way lies evil just beyond
the corners of the eyes
woven into each day
of our pure and virtuous lives.
Love is a stretch of water
dammed till tight as a bowstring
that has to find its way downhill
by one way or the other.
In this manner
inner evils must be made love to
even when brought to sight.
Most people like the leg;
I, however, prefer the breast.

PLATES

This evening, the food is continental
and therefore, mild on the palate
in the chic South Bombay restaurant
not far from where the functional avenue
off Churchgate station meets
the art deco seafront.
On the white tablecloth,
pasta for her, fish and chips for me.
Even in this, we could not have been
more dissimilar. This evening
when we speak of everything else
but what we mean to say
my beer and her red wine
nonetheless sing to each other.
Maybe this'll work after all, I think.
Maybe no one's really
ready for love
and when we get into it
we surprise even ourselves
and stumble from day to day
in each other's arms
like beginners at a Lindy Hop class
till we aren't winging it any more.
Beneath our dancing feet
tectonic plates feel up one another
yield a Himalayan erection.


UNUSED CLAWS

At thirty seven,
when I visit my folks,
it pierces me, the sight of mother
swaying out on arthritic feet
out into the stairwell, to entice
our old cat back into the house.

And I am swept back
to my wanderings as a child,
into supposedly snake-infested,
stranger-frequented grounds,
from which she would haul me back
in a basket of love or threats.

There wasn't much to do there-
no other children of my age-
and the grownups lived in their own
world, so I was left to talk to trees.
Or, there were stacks of comic books,
if I was coralled at home by mother.

As for the cat, safe and bored today,
it overeats instead, and destroys
mother's sandals with overgrown,
unused claws. I say, better it than me.