January 31, 2012

Of Dreamworlds and Catastrophe (Part 3)

The social worker is a figure of pride, sacrifice and moral turgidity. He brings to the fore of the moment, its hidden discontents. A hurt pride of a community, a nostalgia of forgotten glory, a fear of new combinations of being, a distaste for the rhythm of the moment as it merges with a larger, contemporary time – mirror themselves in the social worker. He speaks of losing connection with values of heroes, the need for fashioning new heroes, the importance of being resistant to the tide of time, to align with accumulated time, to make place and being while merging with distant and forgotten places and beings. It is the 150th year of Vivekananda’s birth.It was the 150th year of Tagore’s birth. It is also the year of someone’s birth, death, travel, marriage, winnings and losses. These incidents built time for the social worker. Time that he struggles to keep stringing moments on to, in order not to disturb its weave.

Community is harked back at. Time is sacralised. Space too. It is this space that important things of history happened on. We stand on this space and remember our battles and our heroes. He says. We raise statues on these crossroads. We mark out the outsiders and call out to them to accept our invitation. Be like us, we say. It’s the noblest way to be. And we love you. We give out clothes, food and medicines with our hands. We work tirelessly to alleviate the lives of those who are weaker than us. We come to be their protective and magnanimous neighbors. We generate sovereignty of our own. We sit by the sovereign, as though royal courtiers. Deeply immersed in matters of statecraft. We speak of time and space, as though spiritual gurus. Standing by the messengers of god, as if deeply in discussion about the ills of this time. We ignore the cracks and crevices around us, the muck pouring out from everywhere, the decrepitude that makes our world. We point at a crack and call it sacred. And all is well.

January 14, 2012

Of Dreamworlds and Catastrophe ( Part 2)

The railway station is an elevated platform in the middle of rice fields. I am told that a racket of land speculation is on the rise as many companies want to buy these lands. Agriculture is increasingly financially unviable, and the farmer prefers to sell off and have his sons do something else, than find himself entrapped in debt. Where was the middleman all this while? I ask. He was here, but operating more covertly. Now he has come out in full glory. He buys a cauliflower at 50p and sells at Rs. 5 in the market. The consumer worries about rising prices. The grower remains impoverished.

A story of a violent transition towards non-agrarian services on agrarian land is told to me. A structure of services exists, and a new one is called for. A broker steps in to make money off of this precarious void. Often quoting prices that the existing structure cannot support. Essentially an entrepreneur. Looking for the best opportunity. Its his business to sniff around and foresee change. The entrant of a company is heralded as an invasive outside force, determined to loot and ravage. If you manage to plug in, some of the loot will be yours. A scene, historically borrowed from the harboring of foreign ships up the Hooghly. Except, in this chapter, there is a ready grammar of interpreting the outsider. The outsider comes from the government to ask you the weight of your newborn, give him polio medicine, give you credit or fertilizer. The outsider comes to inspire you towards war against the powerful. The outsider comes to invite you meetings and micheels, for cha and biri. The outsider bats traveler-lids through digital lenses to capture your cowdung by the afternoon shadow. The outsider tells you – you are beautiful, you should not change one bit. Change comes banging at your door, and prices of land scale up.

The outside woman wears a hat on the stage. Jatra audiences laugh out aloud. A marker of the foreign is domesticated with disdain and wonder. She transforms into the good agrarian wife. She wears a red and white sari and comes back from her morning temple trip. The inside has conquered this round. Woman remains the last bastion to be held on to. The one that nurtures an old amour for her brother-in-law is a damned whore. For disturbing the equilibrium of Home. Home – the last fortress. Where woman waits for you to come back from your wars and carnivals, with a warm meal, clean towel. She is eulogized, just so she is not tempted to run off with one of the outsider, just so she doesn’t seek an evening out in the town. But she find ways out. Her heels reflect a mirror of outside fashion. On the odd carnivalesque occasion, she pulls up her tight jeans, brings out their lipsticks, and gets on the bus. It takes two and a half hours to reach Kolkata. Then a longish to the college. She secretly spread wings of desire on the way. She has a Facebook account. Woven in tinshed cyber cafes. She looks out for the next wave of change. To get a new pair of heels. You can’t hold her back. You can’t hold onto the land. You must move and make way. The middleman has moved onto to the next almanac of change.

January 7, 2012


Along the bridge, I passed sequin-shirted young men with surma-laden eyes, women peeping out of their scarves with eager eyes, children licking ice-cream off their fingers. This was the scene of any carnivalesque gathering. Except a threatening energy that the procession emitted as it slowly moved through the crowd. Four teenaged boys followed me in youthful vigor. The Grand Trunk Road (North) narrowed into Pilkhana. The crowds here were denser. On the diases, PA systems installed at corners proclaimed words of caution and camaraderie. Party banners made explicit the support of of this MLA or that in making this festivity possible. There came a deadlock in the movement. The crowd was being physically stopped in order not to create more chaos. Tall bright triangular flags hemmed in silver sequin, glittery mausoleum sculptures mounted on rickshaw-vans floated slow and confident. Tall, slim swords quivered with every chant.Young men huddled in their bleeding shirts.