Sunday, 27 December 2009

'If you have a gun'- A story by R.M. Rashid.

If you have a gun- you have a story.
                                                                                                        By  R.M. Rashid.

“If you have a gun- you have a story.”
I’ve window-shopped for guns since the age of 19. That is almost 30 years of window shopping.  Just lately, I’ve actually started going up to the counter.
“Say what?”
 This is a two-bit pawn shop. The little Chicano runt behind the counter is- what? 30? No, less.
“You have a gun-“ the weaselly little guy is hefting a pistol- maybe a Chinese .22- in his palm, “Boom! You gotta story. You aren’t just…”
“You know… an innocent bystander. You got a story. You somebody.  You goin somewhere. You got like.. theme music.. get me?”
Well, at least he hadn’t started singing ‘Shaft!’
 Still, I felt I was giving too much away. I don’t like being read like this. Not in a gun shop anyway.
The way I want to come across- when window shopping for a gun- is like I’m.. maybe not Mr. Patel, with a Motel, exactly… but like a shop-owner. Not a jeweler’s but not a plain Mom &Pop either.  Something technical. In the old days, it might have been computer stuff, satellite phones, something of that sort. Now… I don’t know. Maybe I could sell high end naturopathic medicines. Something ethical but recession proof.
‘Look,’ weasel guy looks bored. He wants me to know he’s just going through the motions- ‘You are… maybe, a rare book dealer? No, not books… collectibles? Got you pegged right? Well, let me tell you, in this State, you aint gonna get a permit for a concealed weapon unless it’s something like that. I can take care of all that for you. You see, you don’t want to be putting down that you carry gems or bearer bonds or anything like that. That’s just painting a bull’s eye on your back. Believe me, there’s no such thing as confidentiality now everything’s on computer. So what you do, get me, is say you’re in high value collectibles in a real shallow market. That way no one thinks it worthwhile to jack you. Say the word and I’ll take care of everything.”
“What’s my story?”
“What? Oh, right… well, say it’s cigarette cards from, like, Thailand or something…don’t worry about that, I’ll just see what’s going on Ebay with a high reserve and not a lot of bidding…get the picture? Shallow market, no fuss, no muss.”
“No. What you said earlier. You got a gun, you got a story. So I get a gun. What’s my story?”
“Whatever you want!” weasel guy is suddenly running for Governor, “Live free or die! You write your own story.”
“Writing,” I said, “Naw. Don’t fancy it. Never put things down on paper. You never know.”
“Tell me ’bout it.” Weasel guy is ringing up a no sale sign on his weasel face, but then he has a better idea. “This Chi-nee crap no good to you. Come round back. Got something you’ll like. Expensive. But maybe you want to put down a deposit y’know?”
Fuck, I thought to myself- but, at least the fucker didn’t sing Shaft- so I go behind and the first thing that hits me is the stink of stale curry- well, that explains that, I say to myself, coz I’m still y’know in  stream of consciousness mode and then next thing that happens is the fucker jacks me... straight up
Khabardar! Haatth uttha! Fuckin assume the position!”
I’m so shocked, I raise my hands and start babbling appeasement in Urdu- asking where he’s from- like maybe we’re related. He laughs.
‘Uncle, do you see any gun in my hands?”
“Then why do you have your hands up?”
“I don’t understand.”
“It’s the story. You see, if you have a gun, you have a story. You didn’t have a gun- so you had no story of your own. You thought I had a gun, so only my story was important. Do you see what just happened?”
“Don’t worry, Uncle, you will understand everything when I show you what I have in my safe. Believe me, it is worth more than everything else in the shop. Just look at it, that’s all. After all, looking costs nothing.”
So, I thought to myself, it’s a con. Which one? The mythical ceramic Glock that can get through metal detectors? The snub nose that spins the bullet with a bias so you can shoot round corners? No, too elaborate. This would be Saddam Hussein’s gun. Or, no, the guy has spotted me for a fellow South Asian. So it would be a gun linked to some assassination in our part of the world. Why not? I would register awe and wobble my head. The guy was a story teller. Make him happy- costs me nothing.
The little guy had become solemn. It was a small gun wrapped in oil cloth. I suddenly had one of those out of body experiences.  I saw the bald spot on the back of my head. The little guy’s curly hair glistened with some fragrant Latino pomade. There was a calendar on the wall behind me with a picture of the Ka’ba.  So that was the direction of Mecca. I couldn’t see the prayer rug- but I had no doubt it was rolled up somewhere on a shelf.
Meanwhile we were looking at a gun.
Perhaps this was the story. This and nothing else.                            
Later, I talked to an old friend about it. The guy has a PhD in Arabic and high level security clearance. Back in ’81, we worked night security for a bonded warehouse an hour’s drive from campus. My memory is, I still owe him gas money.  Back then, neither of us could afford a full tank. Still, we thought we’d go the distance. Actually, even ten years back we weren’t worried. Now, we both know how far one gets on half a tank. Sure, it get’s you from campus to work. But it doesn’t get you home. For that you need to pool. And it isn’t home exactly. But close enough. Well, close enough to get to work which is the main thing.
But I can’t just end like this- or can I? True, I never bought the gun- so I don’t have a story. And the little guy- well he didn’t actually own it either. He was just minding the store for some second cousin twice removed who’d gone home for a wedding or a hip replacement or- coz of the dollar’s surprising rally against the rupee- maybe both.
As for the story- see if you can work it out for yourself. What’s a story about a gun might make it worth a lot of money to a middle aged South Asian guy? Someone with a big bald spot on the back of his head? Especially now with the dollar surging against the rupee?
You nailed it. Yup it was the gun in some Jersey dot-buster shootings back in the late 1980’s that were never solved.
Weasel guy watches me for a reaction. I try my best- but I’ve got nothing to give him.
So the story changes. It’s now all hints and innuendos rather than pandering to a graying immigrant’s gaudy revenge fantasy.
 I’m being told, the gun’s been used a couple of times since- once on the wife of a Punjabi Dentist in Seattle who was threatening a costly divorce, and the other time… well, you get the picture.
Pricey? Yes. But, it’s an investment. Just be sure to up her life insurance before pulling the trigger! And, sure, absolutely, you sell it back to us- no questions asked.
How about it?
So that’s what having a story is about. Lucky I don’t have one.
One time I used to pool and get to work paying for just half the tank of gas.  But then, for some reason, I no longer had anybody to pool with.  Maybe, I thought I didn’t need to pool- there was always some bonus supposedly coming my way or good stuff gonna happen with my 401 k- so, what did it matter so long as I had that half tank of gas to get to work with? And I did get to work- always been lucky that way.  Just didn’t have enough gas to get home. At least, that’s what it now feels like.
I’ve got a friend watches screens like he’s still doing night security in a warehouse. But that’s okay- it’s homeland security. I too watch screens- and maybe that’s financial security- except, nowadays, what I’m watching on the screens is everybody getting robbed blind.
Still, I’ve got me.  Sometimes, I can even look down on myself and see the bald spot on my head. So, I guess I’ll carry on window shopping for guns. Till, someday, someone spins me a better story. If that isn’t too much to ask.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

When Masud Khan met Shiv Kumar Batalvi

The year was 1973. The Enlightened West was reeling from the effects of the Islamic East's oil price hike. The disaffection of the miners, working coal seams deep beneath its green and pleasant land, meant that a Stygian darkness, as part of the Government's proposed 'three day week', threatened to black out Britain more thoroughly than Goering's Blitz.

But Maqbul- who had just turned 14- was oblivious to all this. He was visiting his father- the veteran left wing poet and journalist, Mirza  Mehboob Ali  'Aarzoo'- for the first time in many years. It was the boy's first trip abroad.

Maqbul did not show the precocious literary talent of his father, nor the acting and directorial flair of his mother, but had distinguished himself, nonetheless, as a caricaturist at a young age by winning the Shankar's Weekly competition and going on to publish regularly in some of the most progressive (now, alas, vanished!) magazines of the period.

His father, Aarzoo Sahib, took Maqbul to see leading Indo-Pak personalities, then resident in, or transiting through, London, and Maqbul sketched them while his father conducted interviews.

On one occasion, when his father had two interviews lined up- one in the West End, the other in the much further West, district of Hounslow- Maqbul Bhai's sketch pad was already almost full, so he folded the last sheet such that two very disparate characters ended up side by side on the same sheet of paper.

By a strange coincidence- if coincidence it really was and not Jungian 'synchronicity', not to speak of stuff  spookier yet- the two notables fraternally turning their profiles to each other across a Lacus Curtius or hiatus valde deflendum of Social Geography, were-  reading from Right to Left- the fabulously rich Lyallpur Prince, Masud Khan- then famous (now, alas, infamous!) as a celebrity psycho-analyst, much commended for his command of literary English- and, the wretched refugee trained only to the humble Patwari's profession, Shiv Kumar Batalvi- the still madly popular Punjabi poet whose brief English sojourn  doomed him to an early death.

I may mention, Maqbul's stepfather- the late Iqbal Khan 'Sharminda'- was a colleague of my father at the Pioneer newspaper in the early '50's.  He too was selected for the External Publicity wing of the Foreign Ministry, but- after marrying Maqbul's mother- he decided to remain in India so as to ensure his step-son should grow up in a stable environment and not experience any educational disruption.

Though this generation may not remember much about some of the people I am mentioning, my father- now entering his 80th year- keeps their memory green for me and points out the continued (or, should I say, increased?) relevance of their progressive ideas and example to our current task of supporting Civil Society by upholding democratic norms and strengthening Judicial oversight and monitoring Barkha Dutt's loss or gain of weight on N.D.T.V.

Maqbul Sahib- whom we youngsters, at the Fitzroy Sq. Hostel, used to call 'Big Mac', I can no longer recall why- entrusted me with a portfolio of his sketches in 1981. Actually, in his heart of hearts, he had already abandoned art for activism as early as '76. However, as a matter of Party discipline, he continued to publish occasional cartoons in affiliated Magazines- which being crude and uninspired, now command a good price from certain famous Mathematical Economists of Bengali extraction.

In 1994, I was either recovering from, or (in the hope of becoming a poet) pestering to death, a sort of aboulie or mental breakdown occasioned by a too tidy divorce. To make ends meet, I took a lodger- a working class U.P Brahmin, named Shiv Kumar, two or three years younger than myself. Shiv was working as a chef at the prestigious 'Chutney Mary' restaurant. He had grown up in Chandigarh, Punjab, and had somehow acquired a reading knowledge of Gurumukhi script as well Urdu. Yet his formal education had ended when he was just ten or eleven years old.

Initially, Shiv was reserved rather than Hail fellow, well met. I thought to muyself- "this Brahmin bastard does not approve that I take liquor. Fucked if I care for the opinion of a pockmarked little Maharaj!''

Actually, the truth is,  Shiv was very kind to me and loved me as elder brother. On one occasion, I opened the fridge and saw all sorts of mouth watering food. I was unable to stop myself from just stuffing myself with the various items- not even troubling to warm them up in the oven- then and there.
That night, I waited up for Shiv- whose shift at the restaurant ended late- and told him curtly that he should deduct the cost of the food I'd consumed from his rent. He refused. He said he took his meals at the restaurant. That food had been cooked for me only. If I didn't eat, it would be thrown in the garbage.

Since he was exhausted from work, I did not argue with him or show my temper. Still, in subsequent days, I took more moderately from the food in the fridge. If I satisfied my full appetite, he would have to cook everyday.

One or two weeks later, I felt in my pocket and pulled out a £20 note. How had it got there? I was very hard up at the time. I puzzled and puzzled over it. Finally, I asked Shiv. His color changed. He looked guilty. He muttered- 'For safety, always best to keep some money in the pocket. What to do? This is London.'
It was as though he was a shikari giving survival tips to a Jungle safari tour group.

I wondered if he was an illegal immigrant.

Anyway, after that, I refused to take money from him for rent. We became close. One day, idly leafing through my books, he found Maqbul Sahib's album. He became excited when he saw the portrait of Shiv Kumar Batalvi.

Suddenly, he saw me in a new light. Perhaps, I was 'cultured'. In any case, being himself under a lot of psychological stress, he needed to believe that I was, indeed, a worthy 'elder brother' rather than one to be so termed only to make the giving of alms- food in this case- more palatable to Pity's growingly obese object.

But, rather than berate myself uselessly, let me tell you what happened in plain words. Shiv brought out a cassette and put it on the music system.  I got out my poetry notebook. The song I wanted to translate was 'Maye ni Maye'- 'oh mother, my poems are eyes blinded by the dust of separation'- listen to Ustad Nusrat Fateh Khan singing it by clicking below- but, at that time, the only 'mazmun' theme I got out of it was the notion of the bee exiled so far from the flower garden that its raison d'etre is now only to convert into life-blood, the hateful poison of its sting. (Yes. I know. I'm a monstrous Anglophile pile of crap)

Anyway, Shiv- my Shiv, Shiv the pockmarked cook, not Shiv the beautiful poet- asked me about the other Sahib in the picture. To my surprise, I found I could place him. His autograph wasn't easy to decipher but it was appended to a quotation from Rilke. You know the one I mean- that favourite of the British School of Psychoanalysis- Beauty as the dawning of that just bearable terror which serenely disdains to destroy us- anyway, I happened to be reading a book by Christopher Bollas at the time and so I crowed out that this, here, was that author's Guru- the great Masud Khan!

Shiv became quiet and thoughtful when I revealed to him that Masud Khan was a great Mind Doctor from the Punjab- who had won golden opinions from the Whites.

Another point I might make is that my parents were close friends of Mr. and Mrs. Mahendra Kaul- I was particularly fond of Mrs. Kaul who worked at the B.B.C External Service at Bush House. Being an Anglophile, I did not fully understand my dad's conversations with Kaul Sahib- but, I pricked up ears when the conversation turned to poetry. I was firmly of the opinion that modernist poetry is best written by imbeciles- hence a field I might myself profitably enter. Thus, it may be, I already knew of Shiv Kumar Batalvi- whose interview by Kaul Sahib you can view at the bottom of this page- even before Shiv, that is Shiv the cook, took me Glassy Junction- the pub in Southall whose one time proprietor had played host to Batalvi on his fatal trip to London.

What I didn't know at the time was that Masud Khan and Shiv Kumar weren't really so different. Masud fell in love with a Hindu girl, Shiv with the daughter of a wealthy Sikh. Neither Masud's money, nor Shiv's poetry could avail against Society's iron laws. Shiv's beloved- that daughter of the hawk  he fed upon his heart- flew off to America after an arranged marriage of which Shiv was not informed, while Masud's love faced even more formidable obstacles in the run up to Partition.

For both, England was a sort of imagined land of aetherialised intellectual perfection where it wouldn't matter that the lacerated heart now pumped but to poison the blood.
Masud, who had come here hoping to be healed, was suborned into himself becoming a healer- except this was not a healing but a habit of addiction that could only support itself by dealing in its own poisonous product- and, because his sickness really was of the heart, he ended up not a respected leader of the Cartel,  but one ignominiously expelled- not for alcoholism but anti Semitism.  (read more here)
Shiv, feted in London by Punjabis on the make, was nonetheless condemned to becoming a sort of human Jukebox- they poured him Whiskey and commanded him to sing. It killed him. He died in Chandigarh. of liver failure, a couple of months after his return from London.

But what does it matter? Masud Khan's books are an imperishable achievement. He enriched that heartless Science that could not understand his malady. Shiv Kumar Batalvi, too, we will have with us always. Perhaps not on the Juke box at 'Glassy Junction' but on the cassette deck wherever a broken hearted waiter calls out to his mother in the Punjab and weeps.

Shiv Kumar- the cook not the poet- had a mental illness. It was schizophrenia. For a time, poetry helped him. But that poetry was 'an eye blinded by the dust of the world'. Masud Khan and Shiv Kumar Batalvi never met- except on that page from Maqbul's sketch pad. They could not heal each other. Instead they were taken up and used by a materialist Civilization whose great advance is that it can restore the health of a man by giving him the heart of a pig.
And because Masud and Shiv never met, because I was too fucking Anglophile to understand how they might have helped each other if they had, Shiv Kumar died- that is the cook not the poet- a few years later in a ward for the criminally insane not far from Glassy Junction.

The story is over. But not for me. You see, nowadays, Maqbul Bhai doesn't bother even skimming through the scripts I send him. He enjoys increasing acclaim, running an N.G.O which sponsors neo-Brechtian theater troupes in various slum areas and Naxalite run rural redoubts.
I gave him back his album in 1998. Teased him about his infatuation with a girl working at the fast food joint next to Warren Street Station. He was silent- so I thought it was the same old 'Big Mac'. I was wrong. He put up that album for Ebay auction. It was in the news. The money went towards bringing Brecht to the backward classes. Speaking relatively, this broke my heart. Speaking relatively, continually raising my glass while writing this post,  I too have drunk myself to death.
But that is only relatively speaking. After all,  I'm not a Masud Khan or Shiv Kumar Batalvi.

Still, at least I aint Maqbul Ali either.
Maybe, Shiv the cook.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Deshtyaag- proof that only the N.R.I is the true (Leela) Gandhian.

One of the funniest books of all times is 'the Chirala Perala tragedy- an episode of voluntary exile'. It is short and worth  savoring, preferably with a cold beer and a plate of galavati kebabs.

The extended quotations from Goldsmith's 'deserted village' are, in context, utterly priceless.

The story is about how the British Raj's determination to boost local government- i.e. impose a burdensome and costly bureaucracy- was resisted by the villagers because it meant that taxes went up from Rs. 4000 p.a to about Rs.20,000 p.a to finance the empowerment of a new tribe of rapacious officials requiring heavy bribes.
A young gentleman- an M.A from Aberdeen- takes a hand in organizing the peasants. Mahatma Gandhi, too, gets involved. He counsels 'deshtyaag'- voluntary exile. So the villagers ruin themselves for about a year before admitting defeat.
Bear in mind that the whole of the increased tax could have been paid off by one of the big lawyers of the day without breaking a sweat. But, the lawyer/politicians wanted the peasants to stand erect on their own two feet, so as to increase their own stature- their own feet being firmly planted on the heads of those same  peasants.
The point about this story is not that you need a qualification from U.K to really fuck up peasants and other poor people- by the time Raja Rao's Kanthapura came out, a High School matriculation would suffice- but that Mahatma Gandh (not yet sleeping naked with young girls 'to correct their sleeping posture') got one thing right.

Deshtyaag- sacrificing one's country and going into voluntary exile- is the only valid way of reconciling non-violence and Gandhian shite.

Ergo, only the N.R.I is the true Gandhian. No wonder India subsidized its own brain-drain so heavily.

As has happened with Leela Gandhi- an accomplished poet- consider this couplet-
'My grandmother, growing old, deciphers
'daughters are verbs, sons ciphers'
What's worse, Leela Gandhi is real cute. Ogle her here as she explains the Post Colonial Subject to starving ( or at least fashionably bulimic) Theater workers in some backward part of Pondicherry.
But what she has to say is 'from a queer perspective'- very queer indeed and not Edward Carpenter queer either.
Bizarrely, she claims that late eighteenth/early nineteenth century Orientalism was not highly regarded because it was the creation of 'really disreputable traders"- REALLY? Sir William Jones, Colebroke,  H.H Wilson- disreputable traders? RUBBISH! Orientalism was prestigious THEN not later. Notice that when Arnold quotes the Gita to Clough, he is using a text from that early Orientalism.
Goethe, Emerson, Schopenhauer (via Karl Krause who actually learnt Sanskrit) as well as poets like Tom Moore & Southey all owe a debt to that Orientalism- perhaps the impact of 'Empire of the Nairs' on Shelley might also be included under this rubric if only to point out the irony of people like Bharati coming under his influence later on. Compare this to the ridicule heaped on Max Muller by people like Wilde towards the end of the Century.
However early Orientalism would have been prestigious even if there had been no trade or imperialism in India. Look at how the Jesuit's forged Purana influenced Voltaire. The East India Company is irrelevant for Western reception of Indian texts. Okay maybe Burke's philosophy would have been different if there had been no 'Indianism'- which he considered a greater danger than Jacobinism. So, yeah there are already some negative influences.

To illustrate her point , Leela tells us that, in Thackeray's Vanity Fair- 'the first suitor to be rejected was from the Company (East India Company)'- this is extraordinarily ignorant even for a Professor of English at Chicago University. Jos Sedley could have married whom he pleased precisely because Collectors of Boghleywallah were rich THEN. Not later. P.G. Woodhouse's dad couldn't afford to send both sons to Oxford. Orwell has drawn a pathetic picture of the shabby genteel retired I.C.S officer who is glad to marry off his daughter to an Insurance agent whose dad was a butcher.
 Thackeray himself protests at the ease of upward mobility for the mulatto heiress and the Indian comprador. His big beef was the rousing reception given to Dwarkanath precisely because of the prestige that early Orientalism enjoyed.
The real problem with what was happening under Hastings- but which had already started previously- was that HERMENEUTICS changed to a literalist, bibliolatric, ultraconservative pile of shite and philological progress just added to the problem by making historicism the only game in town- even though this meant creating a totally artificial picture of the past. The dispensing with of the Court Pundit's in the 1860's is the symbol of Orientalism Mark II. This was the real damage done by Colonialism. Nothing to do with whether a Magistrate banned some devadasi's book or what the District Comissioner said to Bankim.
If a pompous asshole like Sir Bartle Frere could see that bad (or at least self serving) hermeneutics (w.r.t the interpretation of legal texts, sunnuds etc) caused or abetted the calamity of the Permanent Settlement and governed its subsequent trajectory, why can't Prof. Gandhi?
The answer is that Govt. of India still upholds that foolish hermeneutics simply so as to legitimize its own corruption.  But the Academy too is on side. How else could interminable whining continue to masquerade as a literary theory?
If these Post Colonial shit-heads really wanted to be relevant, rather than part of tokenism's gesture politics, they could do something like analyse the interaction between H.H Wilson and the young Bengali lads learning English who helped him with his translations. It would explain why Raja Ramohan Roy and his successors fucked up wholesale. But no, these guys can't do that- anymore than Edward Said could tell us about how W.S Blunt screws up the notion of an Arab Caliphate- why? Because these assholes are pig ignorant about their 'own' texts and hermeneutic traditions. Gayatri Spivak believes that India is called Bharat coz that was like Rama's younger brother's name? And like those Hindutva guys are trying to turn Ram into like a vengeful Semitic Father God? Or there is Maria Mishra who doesn't understand why there are so many statues of Hanuman popping up all over the place. No one told her about Madhavacharya. Why? Coz they really are that ignorant.
Leela Gandhi doesn't know Indian history and assumes we don't either. She does not know English literature  - at least not Thackeray- but is a Professor. I am dazzled by her. She is a true Indian heroine.
Of course she may just be pretending.
Perhaps it is all part of a cunning plan to revenge India upon Prof. Wendy O'Doniger Flaherty, Mircea Eliade (yes! that old Fascist fraud!) Professor of Indology at that same shithole.

Xenophilia is just vandalism if it means a rainbow coalition getting together to break shop windows and battle the police. Or intellectual vandalism of the Gandhian sort- i.e. a conspiracy theory of knowledge whereby any stupid fad is cool and any science or art is bad.
Only difficult stuff- like learning foreign languages, getting your head round different hermeneutic systems, doing lots of boring research- qualifies as real engagement with plurality. Ezra Pound's exile was Xenophilia as vandalism. Joyce's was different.
Pound's deshtyaag was treason. Joyce's deshtyaag was patriotism. Why? He worked hard. He rejected the facile. He got very very drunk very very often but he didn't ally himself with the vandals.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Quick gun Murugan vs. Vandana Shiva- The coming battle between Saffron and green

James Lovelock- y'know, the guy who accidentally discovered the hole in the ozone layer while looking for life on Mars- advocated the creation of a genetically modified virus to kill off India's methane farting cows.

Now, it is true that one could change their diet so as to reduce methane emissions but, given wholesale corruption, there is no effective way of ensuring that cows switch to such fodder. Of course, an open ended commitment- like free electricity to the Agricultural sector- could be made. But that would be a perverse incentive- not to mention fiscal hara kiri. In the same way that free electricity means unsustainable depletion of groundwater levels, so too would a free fodder scheme result in an ecological disaster.

I know that the consideration quoted above has no bearing on practical politics. The Saffron and the Green can work out a modus vivendi based on wasting huge sums of public money on Green Goshalas- everyone is happy- while of course the real problem gets worse. (Unless of course- as the figures suggests- the whole climate change this is just a pious fraud and huge boondoggle).

Still what cheers me is the prospect of a High Noon showdown between Vandana Shiva and Quick gun Murugan. Don't say I didn't warn you. Mind it.

Devdas- nice Hindu boy as Hubb al Udhri hero?

Can a, middle class, Hindu boy be a Hubb al Udhri hero? 

If the middle class Bilgungsburgertum of present day India has a single Werther like figure- a doomed Romantic hero- then that hero is Devdas. Yet, unlike Werther, Devdas shows no affinity with Bildung- except in its comprador aspect of addiction to railway travel and (as satirised by Michael Madhushdhan Dutt in 'Ekei ki bale Sabhyta?') foreign liquor- indeed, Devdas can not be said to posess any character- other than that of an oafish overgrown village urchin- or any particular aesthetic or spiritual sensibility let alone political consciousness. Yet, while others abide our question- Devdas is immortal, generation after generation we Indians rediscover him and remake him in our image. Why? What is the story of Devdas? Reduced to its essentials, it is that of a rich man's son who can't marry Paro, his childhood sweetheart, because her family accept bride price while his exact dowry. Bear in mind, in Bengal at that period, Society had far less coercive power than it does today in some parts of the sub-continent- or even amongst the diaspora- where 'honour killings' are rife and Moms merrily threaten to commit suicide and Dads boisterously pretend to have heart attacks at the merest suggestion that their progeny might have ideas of their own regarding their bodies' bestowal. The fact is, as Sharat well knew, young lovers could defy convention eloping to Calcutta or Burma and live happily- & often more prosperously than if they'd remained as parasites on the joint family patrimony. Indeed, as Niradh Chaudhir records, even in the '20's and '30's there were young men so lost to shame as to come down to Calcutta to set up home quite openly with their own mothers-in-law! What makes Devdas's unheroic, Hamlet like, indecision even more puzzling is that Paro comes to him in the middle of the night to signal her willingness to elope with him- or even be kept as a sort of concubine!- but Devdas has not the courage to break with his family on this issue and sends her back. She then gets married to an even wealthier landlord- a widower with grown up children- at which point Devdas turns into a drunkard. The Maharaja of Cooch Behar, who had fallen in love with an English Music Hall star but was prevented from marrying her by his family, chose to quite deliberately drink himself to death a few years before the first publication of Devdas in 1917. In his case there was an actual, rather than purely sentimental impediment to be reckoned with- viz. the British Political Agent who would have elevated a cadet branch of the family to his throne- to the further ruination of his subjects- if he had persisted in his romance. In any case, I believe, Sarat wrote 'Devdas' almost twenty years previously, when his disgust with his mother's ultra-conservative (anti-Brahmo) joint family was at its height. Since Sarat was not himself a drunkard, and what's more soon developed a progressive outlook and political consciousness, we must conclude that Devdas's drunkeness has neither the aristocratic eclat of the Cooch Behari Raja- whose family were probably the most Anglicised- & certaily the most glamorous- amongst the Royals- nor is it the Nihilistic Neutron bomb of the disillusioned or Dalit poet- but rather it is merely a narrative device, a cover, to introduce the character of Chandramukhi- the dancing girl, the tart with a heart- who in caring for the doomed drunkard repents her way of life and returns to respectability.

Why is Chandramukhi important? Well, it is to give a Hindu twist to what might otherwise appear to be a debased version of the Hubb al Udhri romance where the hero- like Qais 'Majnun' keeps faith with the beloved Society prevents him from marrying- and, as in other narratives from that tradition- dies on the path to the beloved's house. A settled feature in Hindu romanticism is the presence of not one but two love interests for the hero. This is because Hinduism ultimately came to admit the inferiority of conventional piety and sittlichkeitas a soteriological path as against the complete rejection of orthodoxy, notions of 'shame' and 'decency', and ultimately even of sanity along the reckless & hysterical trajectory of a doomed obsessive love which by valorising only the haecceity of the beloved- or any trace thereof- seems, on the face of it, an outright rejection of the Monism taught by Vedanta. Doctrinally, the Hindus had to support this notion becasue they are committed to pluralism- the notion that there are many paths to the Lord. But, from the Western point of view, whereas the Hubb al Udhri tradition can be seen as admirable because it upholds the monogamous fidelity celebrated by their own Church (the bride of Christ- with no co-wives or divorce permitted!)- the Hindu notion of the nayak (hero) having two love interest seems nothing more than an amoral celebration of gallantry & sensuality. Sarat's genius is to get around this problem by subtracting the erotic element and turning the prostitute Chandramukhi into a self-abnegating provider of purely maternal care & concern. Thus- bearing in mind the Agamani genre which describes the day to day domestic give-and-take between the Mother Goddess Uma & her Mother Menaka- Paro's and Chandramukhi's loves become the mirror of each other- the girlish, self-willed & ultimately transgressive element in Paro's love set against the foil of Chandramukhi's sublimated, metanoiac, and

ultimately wholly beneficient love. Wider 

reading of Sarat's works helps us to catch the underlying ideological dimension or dhvani. Chandramukhi's care of Devdas should be understood as like the unconditional maternal love shown by the wronged sister-in-law in the joint family to the undisciplined rogue who beats her (vide Mamlar Phal) or the love of the prostitute for the neighbour's son in Amar Prem- in other words, by exhibiting the metanoiac potential of Society's 'insulted & injured' and by insisting that only this sort of bottom up Tikkun can repair the Social ethos, Sarat demonstrates that he is not lacking in political consciousness nor peddling escapist fiction based on some foreign model. On the contrary, he is renewing, adding  apoorvata to, the milliena old Indian tradition of (vide my, 'Reflections on Valmiki's breath blinded mirror') showing how the vatsalya of all beings to all beings- irrespective of false notions re. caste and 'morality'- is itself the foundation and supreme 

type of Ram Rajya. forthcoming picturization of another Sarat masterpiece.

The Naishadyacharitra- summarised in a couplet

Such glee as Damayanti's  not the world has seen
Since Nala cooked that goose, their go between

Sunday, 13 December 2009

kranti ke pujari- worshippers of revolution

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Which poet wrote 'ban kranti ke pujari, siddhanth pe hatti/ bhar dil mein umang aur dimagh mein tatti"?

These lines from a film I saw on Doordarshan back in the 70's stuck in my mind for some reason. I thought it was from "Kranti' or some other Manoj Kumar flick from that period- but I recently reviewed my whole 'Mr. India' Video collection (I was transferring them to DVD) and couldn't find this song. Any ideas?
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I don't think so this could be lines from any Hindi film. The meaning of the lines- if you have put it down correctly- is ' become the worshippers of Revolution, obstinate on your principles/ Fill your heart with hope and your mind with faeces.
This is not a correct sentiment and would never have been broadcast by the State T.V network in the 1970's.
Probably, you heard these lines in some College skit or humorous mushaira.
Furthermore, the language is not so much of movie type or literate usage. Maybe such type of sentiments were expressed by Right wing peoples or satirists like (the Madrasi) Cho Ramsvami.
However, relevance of the couplet can not be denied. True revolutionary should always engage in night soil clearing for hygenic environment. Also, from practical point of view, filling mind with faeces does facillitate rapid rise in political power. However, this is a matter of Ancient Tradition just as much as of Modern Revolution. Indeed, sampoorna kranti- total Revolution- Revolution as living Tradition- can only be achieved by these means. Smearing of cow dung ash on forehead is just outward show. True religion is to fill mind with ****. However, aim must always be to bring about total Revolution. As Bible says 'Meek inherit some earth'. So Humility is key.

Incidentally, Manoj Kumar starrer 'Kranti' only came out in 1981.
  • 10 months ago
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Saturday, 12 December 2009

Celestial mysteries unravelled of Vikas Swarup's 'Six Suspects'

Slumdog Millionaire garnered 9 Oscars and straddled the divide between Hollywood and Bollywood.

Vikas Swarup's second novel- 'Six Suspects'- does more. It unites two different philosophical and literary traditions in a timely and uniquely positive manner.

'Six Suspects' is a tightly plotted novel which shows how people of the most diverse origin and status are nevertheless interconnected and mutually interdependent. This is a very old idea, at the heart of every Indian Religion or system of thought.

But, Swarup's characters are not related to each other by notions of caste- that is hereditary status defining mutual obligations and entitlements- nor is their relationship helpfully mediated by the Law or Religion or Government Institutions, or the gradients established by Wealth or Celebrity or Education- for, in Swarup's Universe, everything has already been corrupted, no Social process is not dysfunctional.

Indeed, even the Family- the father son relationship- is shown to have degenerated with the rising violence implicit in the inequites of the system.

What abides, however, in Swarup's Universe  is something purely metaphysical- a 'least action principle'- such that the working of chance is constrained to always maximize poetic justice by ironic reversal.

From the point of view of the detective novel, Swarup's  reliance on coincidence, rather than a deterministic dynamics based on the principle of sufficient reason, appears to be a weakness. Yet the ironic reversals that characterize the narrative arcs of the various characters have a psychological truth, an illumining and liberative power,  such that we readily acquit Swarup of  laziness or doctrinaire thinking.

The result is that Swarup's Universe- though operating according to a different logic from the world we inhabit- nevertheless tells us more about our reality than any merely realistic or polemical work. But, Swarup insists- by his final plot twist- it is not enough to illumine reality. The point is to change it.

Since 9/11- or, for middle class Indians, the Mumbai attacks- the illusion has been shattered that one is safe within the fallout shelter constituted by one's Wealth, or Education, or Nationality, or Celebrity, or Beauty, or the plain fact of one's Innocence. At the moment, we have perforce to rely on Governments to act together to re-establish the status quo ante. But, as this decade draws to its miserable end, we realize that Governments make things worse- are bound to make things worse- so long as we do not accept the bedrock fact of our radical mutual interdependence and alter our perceptions and expectations on that basis.

In the Mahabharata, one chapter of which is the Bhagvad Gita- we find a system of symmetries that conserve two fundamental principles- karma and dharma.

Karma- the law of cause and effect- is nothing but Swarup's poetic justice achieved by means of an ironic reversal. Karma defines the trajectory of the individual, but because it functions ironically- i.e. by pointing backwards to an underlying harmony that had been breached rather than providing data for the shaping of a pragmatic heuristics- its purpose is the inculcation of Wisdom rather than the accumulation of Knowledge.

Dharma- the path of righteousness- is what knits people together. What is the highest Dharma? It is to empathize with the other and adjust one's behavior accordingly. This is what happens in Swarup's 'Six Suspects'. People change or pay the price. Dharma is what redeems and delivers from the grip of karma.

The Bhagvad Gita deals with a difficult question. Why can't one simply stop the world coz one want's to get off? Why not simply say- "I'm done with this. I don't care any more. Rob me, cheat me, kill me- I don't care. I just won't play any more."
The Gita tells us that whether you act or refuse to act, there will still be consequences. Consequences you can't escape no matter which brand of Stoicism you cultivate.

One of Swarup's six suspects is a Screen Goddess who refuses to act in a porn film. But her refusal to act doesn't matter because her double acts in it anyway! Why does she have a double? Well, she felt pity for someone who looked so much like herself, trapped in the same sort of milieu as her own younger sister. In any case, it was so convenient. Thus, though, a reader of Neitzche, she lets her guard down- as we all let our guard down- for reasons of pity, but really convenience, and  this double we will always have with us- except, if we refrain from acting, the double acts and we become its shadow that Retribution seizes.

The Western reader may find nothing novel about the concept of  'the double'- Edgar Alan Poe, Doestoevsky and so on- however notice that Swarup is using the double in a wholly Indian way. Instead of rivalry- or the logic of Girardian 'mimetic desire' by which the double must die in order for the original to live- both or which the West is constrained to by its 'Final Judgement' Eschatology- Swarup shows us a way one can co-exist with the double. Indeed, one learns from that reflection to abandon one form of life to the other who desires it, so as to re-invent oneself- to be reborn, as is the Film Star at the end of Six Suspects.
Thus Vamadeva, in the Rg Veda, confronting his double- a scene as frightening as anything in Edgar Alan Poe!- nevertheless puts India on a different trajectory to that of the West.

Like most Indians, I have- in the past- had a prejudice against Indians writing in English as opposed to their mother-tongue. I suspect such people of showing off or desiring money or pushing forward some mischievous ideology.

Of course, if one's mother tongue is English, that is a different matter. But still, the fact that English is the language of those whose profession involves absorption in 'symbol manipulation'- operating at a  level several degrees removed from (though, perhaps, still founded on) the realities of an extraordinarily exploitative- or, if that is no longer so, then, still terribly inequitable- socio-economic system, means that you have a literature that is either aimed at the ex-Colonists or, merely, an elite pastime. It can not tackle head on- as opposed to by way of ideology or gesture politics- the question the vernacular literatures deal with- viz. how Morality- not to mention Spirituality- is still possible within a Lebenswelt founded upon injustice and violence.

Swarup is, by profession, a 'symbol manipulator'. Yet, because he uses the same principle of poetic justice as the Mahabharata, we can say his novel is truly Indian while, of course, being vastly entertaining and absorbing to a Western audience with no prior interest in India.

Perhaps, his scathing critique of Indian society- 30 years ago he would have been drummed out of the Foreign Service simply for suggesting there were poor people in India- is the natural consequence of his mastery of the principle of poetic justice. His understanding of karma has changed his own karma.

His situation parallels the great change in India whereby 'symbol manipulation', rather than being parasitic, has been established as the way to reverse the vicious circle of poverty whereby exploitation has to increases as poverty increases because of that very exploitation.
India has changed.
  Angrezi boli (English language) is no longer yoked to the Angrezi goli (English bullet) which permitted exploitation to increase exponentially and reduced vast classes of people to a sub-human status.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Arjuna's cakshushi vidya- structuralist analysis anyone?

from the Chaitraratha parva- Ganguli's translation
"The Gandharva replied, 'I have been vanquished by thee, I shall, therefore, abandon my former name Angaraparna (the blazing vehicle). In name alone, O friend, I should not be boastful when my pride in my strength hath been overcome: I have been fortunate in that I have obtained thee; O Arjuna, that wielder of celestial weapons! I like to impart to thee the power of (producing) illusions which Gandharvas alone have. My excellent and variegated chariot hath been burnt by means of thy fiery weapon. I who had formerly been called after my excellent chariot should now be called after my burnt chariot. The science of producing illusions that I have spoken of was formerly obtained by me by ascetic penances. That science I will today impart to the giver of my life-thy illustrious self! What good luck doth he not deserve who, after overcoming a foe by his might, giveth him life when that foe asketh for it? This science is called Chakshushi. It was communicated by Manu unto Soma and by Soma unto Viswavasu, and lastly by Viswavasu unto me. Communicated by my preceptor, that science, having come unto me who am without energy, is gradually becoming fruitless. I have spoken to thee about its origin and transmission. Listen now to its power! One may see (by its aid) whatever one wisheth to see, and in whatever way he liketh (generally or particularly). One can acquire this science only after standing on one leg for six months. I shall however, communicate to thee this science without thyself being obliged to observe any rigid vow. O king, it is for this knowledge that we are superior to men. And as we are capable of seeing everything by spiritual sight, we are equal to the gods. O best of men, I intend to give thee and each of thy brothers a hundred steeds born in the country of the Gandharvas. Of celestial colour and endued with the speed of the mind, those horses are employed in bearing the celestial, and the Gandharvas. They may be lean-fleshed but they tire not, nor doth their speed suffer on that account. In days of yore the thunderbolt was created for the chief of the celestials in order that he might slay (the Asura) Vritra with it. But hurled at Vritra's head it broke in a thousand pieces. The celestials worship with reverence those fragments of the thunderbolt. That which is known in the three worlds as glory is but a portion of the thunderbolt. The hand of the Brahmana with which he poureth libations on the sacrificial fire, the chariot upon which the Kshatriya fighteth, the charity of the Vaisya, and the service of the Sudra rendered unto the three other classes, are all fragments of the thunderbolt. It hath been said that horses, forming as they do a portion of the Kshatriya's chariot, are, on that account, unslayable. Again horses which form a portion of the Kshatriya's chariot, are the offspring of Vadava. Those amongst them that are born in the region of the Gandharvas can go everywhere and assume any
p. 347
hue and speed at the will of their owners. These horses of mine that I give thee will always gratify thy wishes."
"On hearing these words of the Gandharva, Arjuna said, 'O Gandharva, if from satisfaction for having obtained thy life at my hands in a situation of danger, thou givest me thy science, and these horses, I would not accept thy gift.' The Gandharva replied, saying, 'A meeting with an illustrious person is ever a source of gratification; besides thou hast given me my life. Gratified with thee, I will give thee my science. That the obligation, however, may not all be on one side, I will take from thee, O Vibhatsu, O bull in Bharata's race, thy excellent and eternal weapon of fire!'
"Arjuna said, 'I would accept thy horses in exchange for my weapon. Let our friendship last for ever. O friend, tell us for what we human beings have to stand in fear of the Gandharvas. Chastisers of foes that we are and virtuous and conversant with the Vedas, tell us, O Gandharva, why in travelling in the night-time we have been censured by thee.'
"The Gandharva said, 'Ye are without wives (though ye have completed the period of study). Ye are without a particular Asrama (mode of life). Lastly, ye are out without a Brahmana walking before, therefore, ye sons of Pandu, ye have been censured by me. The YakshasRakshasasGandharvasPisachasUragas and Danavas, are possessed of wisdom and intelligence, and acquainted with the history of the Kuru race. O hero, I have heard too from Narada and other celestial Rishis about the good deeds of your wise ancestors. I myself, too, while roaming over the whole earth bounded by her belt of seas, have witnessed the prowess of thy great race. O Arjuna, I have personal knowledge of thy preceptor, the illustrious son of Bharadwaja, celebrated throughout the three worlds for his knowledge of the Vedas and the science of arms. O tiger in Kuru's race, O son of Pritha, I also know Dharma, Vayu, Sakra, the twin Aswins, and Pandu,--these six perpetuators of Kuru race,--these excellent celestials and human progenitors of you all. I also know that you five brothers are learned and high-souled, that ye are foremost of all wielders of weapons, that ye are brave and virtuous and observant of vows. Knowing that your understanding and hearts are excellent and your behaviour faultless, I have yet censured you. For, O thou of Kuru's race, it behoveth no man endued with might of arms to bear with patience any ill usage in the sight of his wife. Especially as, O son of Kunti, our might increaseth during the hours of darkness, accompanied by my wife I was filled with wrath. O best of vow-observing men, I have, however, been vanquished by thee in battle. Listen to me as I tell thee the reasons that have led to my discomfiture. The Brahmacharya is a very superior mode of life, and as thou art in that mode now, it is for this, O Partha, that I have been defeated by thee in battle. O chastiser of foes, if any married Kshatriya fight with us at night, he can never escape, with life. But, O Partha, a married Kshatriya, who is sanctified with Brahma, and who hath assigned the cares of his State to a priest, might vanquish! all wanderers in
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the night. O child of Tapati, men should therefore, ever employ learned priests possessing self-command for the acquisition of every good luck they desire. That Brahmana is worthy of being the king's priest who is learned in the Vedas and the six branches thereof, who is pure and truthful, who is of virtuous soul and possessed of self-command. The monarch becometh ever victorious and finally earneth heaven who hath for his priest a Brahmana conversant with the rules of morality, who is a master of words, and is pure and of good behaviour. The king should always select an accomplished priest in order to acquire what he hath not and protect what he hath. He who desireth his own prosperity should ever be guided by his priest, for he may then obtain ever the whole earth surrounded by her belt of seas. O son of Tapati, a king, who is without a Brahmana, can never acquire any land by his bravery or glory of birth alone. Know, therefore, O perpetuator of Kuru's race, that the kingdom lasteth for ever in which Brahmanas have power.'"

Thursday, 10 December 2009

The tale of the Sheikh and the courtesan. we are nothing, but at one time our qasbah had two ornaments- the humble Sheikh who, nonetheless, was the greatest Jurist of his time, and Noor, the courtesan, whose bewitching coquetry could not distract from the purity of her angelic voice.

Our qasbah  had an honest kotwal (police sergeant) whose plain dealing and blunt manner of speech had given offence to a certain coxcomb.

 That intriguer used his cunning to falsely accuse the kotwal and have him thrown in jail.

The Sheikh came to the policeman's rescue. He was acquitted and reinstated. Later, not just from gratitude, the kotwal begged and importuned the Sheikh to come for his daughter's wedding.

As part of the celebration, the Sheikh was forced to attend a performance by the courtesan, Noor. Thankfully, she did not play any of her tricks on this occasion, being wholly immersed in exploring the thematic complexities of the raaga (melodic pattern) appropriate to the hour. Nevertheless, the Sheikh- in an unobtrusive manner- was able to slip away at an early point in her performance.

The Sheikh never mentioned the singer again and, in any case, had never sought to gain a cheap sort of fame  by denouncing the wretched inhabitants of the Musician's quarter.

The courtesan, however, showed no such restraint. Clearly, she had recognized him in the audience- perhaps, by his white beard and nobility of countenance- and felt slighted by his decision to leave early.

The courtesan began to mock the old man and compose unflattering little couplets about him. So artful was she, such was her skill as a comedienne, that people enjoyed her sallies against the saintly Sheikh.

However, the courtesan was not content to let things stop there. The degrading nature of her profession meant that she had no compunction in dragging the most venerated of her fellow townsmen down to her own level- or, indeed, an even lower position- depicting the Sheikh a sort of simpleton, a moonstruck fellow.

Of course, no one dared mention such matters in front of the kotwal. His love for the Sheikh was well known. But, then, the debauched intriguer saw an opportunity to revenge himself on his old enemy.

That Acherontis pabulum came to the kotwal under a show of humble contrition and reported what the courtesan was saying about the Sheikh. The intriguer professed himself shocked and unable to decide how to proceed. 'Kotwal Sahib,' the intriguer confessed, ' you know very well of my wicked ways. My change of heart was entirely because of the Sheikh's influence. Yet, now I hear the courtesan mocking the Sheikh, my new found faith begins to falter. You tell me- what should I do?"

The kotwal became absolutely furious. He was determined to confront the courtesan. However, as a police officer, it was his duty to verify the complaint and gain damning evidence.

 He thought to himself- 'Women, speak more openly amongst themselves than they do to men. If the courtesan is really seeking to ridicule the Sheikh, her language to the women will be less moderate than that which she dares to use in front of men.'

Thus, the kotwal went to his wife and asked her about what the courtesan was doing. Seeing her husband's face, the woman's color changed. She said, "look here, if you go and kill that courtesan, the intriguers will say you did it because she refused your advances. You will be executed. Our family will be ruined. Let me deal with this matter. I will go and speak to her. Once she understands the danger in which she is in, she will immediately make a public recantation. She will compose songs in praise of our Sheikh. Wouldn't you like to hear such songs? Say what you like, she has the voice of an angel!"

The kotwal was mollified. In truth he wanted to hear her songs praising his beloved Sheikh.

His wife went to the courtesan. She warned that reprobate of the danger in which she stood. That little baggage gave her back-chat. Suddenly, the vain whore was claiming that her 'art'- itself nothing but lascivious display and an open advertisement for the sale of her body- was, nonetheless, on a level with the religious knowledge of the Sheikh!

The kotwal's wife was astounded. She beat and slapped and pulled the hair of that filthy slut. To no avail. Those creatures of the devil are strangers to shame. Also, they are expert play-actors. The courtesan now uttered some self-pitying speech about how blows and slaps had forced her into this filthy trade- but that 'mousike' had redeemed her! Does this sort of trashy Music really redeem? And who actually practices this 'art' save those predestined to Hell fire? That is why it is condemned by Scripture.

The kotwal's wife made one final effort. She said, "I go down on my knees to you. Please stop insulting the Sheikh. My husband will kill you. As a consequence, he himself will be executed. My children will starve. Have mercy upon those innocents."

The courtesan became quiet. She said- "I agree, on one condition. You yourself go, with your husband, in front of the Sheikh."
"Stop!" said the kotwal's wife, "I understand your plan! You want me to tell this whole story to the Sheikh. But let me tell you, not just my husband only, I too am his lover! I would prefer to see my own children put to death before my eyes rather than trouble that Saint with your ribaldry! "

"No," said the courtesan, "I don't want you to tell the Sheikh anything about all this. Just say to your husband, in front of the Sheikh, 'The courtesan, Noor, claims she loves the Sheikh ten thousand times more than any in this City. Can she be prosecuted for uttering a falsehood, or a slander upon pious men?'"

"Impudent baggage!" said the kotwal's wife, "still trying your low tricks! But this time you are destined to fail. I know, full well, the Sheikh will deliver honest judgement. He is incapable of error. He can never fall for your low wiles. I have no fear for him on that score. I will do as you ask."

Our qasbah had two ornaments. We lost both at the same moment. The moment our Sheikh heard his love was returned.
Since that fatal day when two funeral processions set out from our qasbah- one solemn and grand for the Sheikh, one furtive  and mean for the courtesan- our mourning has been continuous.

This tragedy should be set right. But, how is it to be done? Where now are there hearts as of the old days?

Science must come to the rescue for it too has two ornaments- viz. Socialist Egalitarianism  and Secular Rationality.
Let the Central Planning authority locate the proposed Union Carbide factory here and our qasbah of Bhopal will once again flourish.

(extracted and abridged, with the permission of Chief Conservator, National Archives, from a petition to, then President of India, Dr. Zakir Hussain.  There is a faded annotation in  red ink which reads-
                    غم نہیں ہوتا ہے آزادوں کو بیش از یک نفس 
             برق سے کرتے ہیں روشن شمعِ ماتم خانہ ہم
(Since Sorrow can tax the free no more than one breath
 Lightning's the lone candle we now light for a death!)
Thinking about the strange manner in which the courtesan's insults united her to her beloved- and reflecting, more generally, on the topic of the 'hangamah-e-khuda'- the whole commotion about God and Morality and, therefore, 'Freedom' and 'Equality' and so on- I feel increasingly uneasy in my mind. 
Especially as there is another couplet in the same ghazal by Ghalib quoted earlier.
                        باوجودِ یک جہاں ہنگامہ پیدائی نہیں    
                          ہیں چراغانِ شبستانِ دلِ پروانہ ہم
(Ours too is a world- but one barren to its own passion, tumult & wrath
 & we the nuptial taper of the heart's bed chamber of its moth!)

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Levinas- deformalizing Time to achieve infinite droning on

Levinas is famous for calling ethics 'first philosophy' and giving it precedence over ontology, aesthetics and so on. However his ethical theory is cast in a (utterly shite) ontological language. He makes no attempt to follow Aristotle into a proper study of the logic of deontics- i.e. practical reason. He chose to remain ignorant of any method of studying reciprocity. Ultimately his instrumental value- as a sermonizer- was utterly vitiated by his failure to recognize that the other might actually belong to a different ethnicity or religion. In short, his was not an ethics, in any real sense of the words, but just bad ontology disguised as high falutin moralizing. He wasn't a great student of Halachah either- but always had some silly tendentious take on it which gave the impression he might actually be a saint far above the common run of humanity.

Levinas was not the first thinker to insist that Man's spirituality is founded upon the needs and vulnerabilities of the 'other'. As a matter of fact, no traditional religion has failed to make the same point- including the Mussar movement within Judaisim. However, Levinas was captivated by silly ontology, shallow politics, an illiterate history of ideas, and he totally failed to engage with a scientific theory of moral sentiments, a rational analysis of economics and politics- in other words the guy spent his entire life in an intellectual pig sty rolling around in that muck and then hollering that this aint ethics- it does not help the widow, the orphan, the stranger.
 The result of Levinas's failure to look at how using your brains can help other people- rather than get you a Professorship in a pigsty-  is that he got to propound an ethics which doesn't actually do any good to anyone ever. Rather it is all just a holier than thou mystification and wallowing in moral superiority- that crowds out genuine altruism and confuses every issue.
Never has so much intellectual attention been given to an ethical theory which has done fuck all to actually help anyone anywhere ever.
Yet Levinas is great. Why?
Well, by dedicating himself to 'deformalizing' time- rendering it multi-dimensionally infinite and dense with inconceivably high Cantor cardinality in the neighborhood of 'the Other'- Levinas has realized the ultimate ambition of every Creeping Jesus and Politically Correct windbag to crowd out everything in the Universe except the spectacle of his or her own quivering sensitivity and all round general wonderfulness- without, of course, doing anything for anyone ever.
Does this deformalization actually temporalize ethics? No, it removes any possible time limit on this limitless slavering over the wounds and vulnerabilities or 'the other'- who would be well advised to start shooting at the do-gooders coz being slavered over by those bleeding hearts is like painting a bullseye on your back. TO BE  LEVINAS'S OTHER IS A FATE WORSE THAN DEATH. To accept the role of the other is to destroy the basis of your self-respect and group cohesion. It is to bend over and drop your trousers. So what should you do? Shoot at the fucker if he comes near you.
Of course, in the context of the massacre of Palestinians in the camps in Lebanon, Levinas put forward the notion that these guys weren't 'the other'. Good for him. However bad things are for Palestinians at the moment- being 'the other' for a Levinasite would have destroyed their ethos for all time. Rather than being known as a hardworking people with a great commitment to higher education- they would be drunkards and prostitutes dying out from syphilis while periodically whining for handouts at International Conferences organized for the purpose of parading their decrepitude.
In attacking Levinas I mean no disrespect to the Judaism of the Rabbis- it was and is a practical creed- keep the pi jaw out of it and sooner or later an accommodation will be reached in the 'Holy Land'.
 The fact is, to really temporalise ethics is to....urm... to get involved, to negotiate, to do business, make friends, share a meal... like, get a life already. It isn't about erecting alterity into an altar to the God that is one's own infinite conceit in being Holier Than Any Guy That Ever Fucking Lived.
What on earth does caring for the Other have to do with writing crap books?
But what, if not writing crap books, is ethics about? Answer- it's about changing one's ethos- what one is for oneself- so that life becomes richer, fuller, more meaningful- MORE SPIRITUAL. Yeah God stuff. Nothing wrong with God. Nothing right about Levinas.