Monday 25 September 2023

Amit Chaudhuri on being an Indian imbecile

 The Indian judiciary took suo moto action to compile a Nationality Register in Assam and to open detention centres there for illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. It did so because successive governments had failed to honour a promise made by Indira Gandhi to the Assamese who had previously massacred some Bangladeshi Muslims back in the Eighties. Once the Register was completed, Delhi found itself in a pickle. It reacted by bringing in the Citizenship Amendment Act which gave a road to non-Muslim immigrants who had arrived prior to 2014. But such laws had been in place since 1948! Indeed, Nehru had barred the return of Muslims who had fled across the border in panic. 

Some opposition parties pretended that CAA was about deporting Muslims. Some elderly Muslim women believed these stories and staged protests. What was the upshot? The parties which supported the CAA agitation were wiped out in the Delhi polls. In Bengal, the BJP become the biggest political party after the TMC. The whole tamasha had been a cynical ploy which backfired.

Amit Chaudhuri has a new book which is part of a series titled 'Literary activism' whose website explains that-

'On Being Indian' is a long essay on the protests that took place from late 2019 to early 2020 against Citizenship Amendment Act. The following is a short section that occurs towards the end of book.

Students at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Kanpur sang Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s‘Hum Dekhenge’ in protest and in solidarity with students at Jamia Millia and Jawaharlal Nehru Universities in New Delhi on December 17, 2019 (two days after the police attacks).

The students had run riot burning buildings and vandalising railway stations etc.  

A member of the IIT Kanpur faculty, Dr. Vashi Mant Sharma, registered a complaint against the protest, saying two lines in particular had hurt his ‘religious sentiments’:

Nothing came of it. Still, Dr. Sharma got some publicity. 

‘Jab arz-e-Khuda ke Ka’abe se, sab buth uthwaae jaayenge /

When all the idols are removed for the Ka'ba- which is what happened when Prophet Muhammad was able to return to Mecca from Medina.  

Hum ahl-e-safa mardood-e-haram, masnad pe bithaaye jaayenge

The 'ahl-e-safa', or 'pure of heart', were poor and pious Muslims who slept in the mosque and kept it clean. They could also be considered the forerunners of the Sufis as well as the great scholarly circles of early Islam. The meaning is that the 'ahl-e-safa' will be seated in the highest positions.  

/ Sab taaj uchhale jaayenge, sab takht giraaye jaayenge’

All the Crowns and Thrones will be uprooted.

Faiz, though a Secular Socialist, was using a religious idiom to criticize Zia's Islamist regime. It was foolish for the students to quote this poem because what the Pakistanis saw was that Benazir was worse than Zia. She sponsored the Taliban. Socialists like Faiz became wholly irrelevant.  

(‘From the abode of God, when the icons of falsehood will be removed /

The 'abode of God' is Heaven. Faiz wasn't saying that God keeps 'icons of falsehood about his person.  

When we, the faithful, who have been barred from sacred places, will be seated on a high pedestal / When crowns will be tossed, when thrones will be brought down’) (The Wire 2020).

The Wire is not a trustworthy source.  

Sharma saw this as an allegorical reference to the Mughal invasion of India, which was accompanied by the destruction of idols and temples—the word buth, meaning ‘idol’ or ‘figure’, plays into this interpretation.

It means an idol. Islam is iconoclastic. It was foolish of the students to condemn idol worship in a country where the great majority visit temples which have religious icons in plenty.  

The fact that Faiz (1911–84) was Pakistani couldn’t have helped, although he’d been a Marxist and an atheist, and his song had been composed to dissent against General Zia ul Haq’s Islamicizing regime in Pakistan.

Faiz had been an Army officer and had been close to Bhutto who, it is generally believed, played a big role in two of Pakistan's wars against India.  

As a result of Sharma’s complaint, a committee was put in place at IIT Kanpur, and six students and five teachers were ‘counselled’—which must mean ‘warned’—for their role in the protest.

The students had been silly. We all do silly things when we are kids.  

Here’s my admittedly cursory attempt to translate the words:
We shall see—
It’s certain we too shall see
The day that was promised to us
And set indelibly in iron When the boulder-weight of tyranny
Will scatter like wisps of cotton
And under the feet of the reigned-over
The earth will pound like a heart beating
And over the heads of those who govern
Lightning will burn and crackle

When all idols will be vacated
From the holy places
And we, the dispossessed and displaced,
Will be returned to our inheritance,
Each crown will be flung away,
Each seat of power brought down

Allah’s name will remain: nothing more—
He, who is present and absent too,
He, who is both scene and spectator;
The cry ‘I am truth’ will be heard,

This is 'An'al Haq' for saying which Mansoor al-Hallaj was executed. It has a mystical meaning. 

The cry that is me as it is you,
And everywhere will reign God’s progeny
Which is what I am, as you are.

Faiz's poem was melodious but it was silly. The fact is this world will end. There will be bodily resurrection and a great battle but ultimately none of 'God's progeny' will remain alive. Marxist eschatology features a 'final crisis' and a Revolution but it does not have an Apocalypse after which no creature remains alive.  

We are moved by this in a way that we aren’t by actionable words.

Pakistanis weren't. True Benazir came to power but she was worse than Zia.  

There is an ambiguity of emotion here to do with the phrase ‘we shall see’, which is inflected with both defiance and defeat (the victorious don’t say ‘we shall see’);

They may. It may take some time for them to get their genocidal plans in motion. Still, they reassure their supporters that they will will see plenty of killing soon enough.  

and Allah, who, we are told the moment we are promised the prospect of his ubiquity, is both ‘present and absent’ (hazir hai aur gayab bhi),

Faiz was not a theologian. He had got a bit mixed up. The Prophet is 'hazir and nazir' in a special sense but it is meaningless to say such things of Allah who exists beyond Space and Time. To be fair, there was a sort of Hegelian 'Liberation Theology' in Islam which Faiz encountered in Beirut and London. But it was very muddled.  

pointing to the curious sense of annulment we experience in ourselves in the midst of the song’s prescience of plenitude.

This is nonsense. The song is melodious and somewhat melancholy. Islamic eschatology isn't about Society evolving into a Socialist Utopia. It is about the rise of 'Dajjal'- the anti-Christ and the final battle between Good and Evil. This world is pretty horrible and will get worse. The good news is that God will take his chosen people to Heaven. 

What does 'prescience of plenitude' mean? Faiz is saying that the high and mighty will be brought down. He isn't saying everybody will get a BMW and a super-yacht. 

Like love, protest implies surrender:

No. Protest implies vocal belligerence, not abject surrender.  

a surrender of the personal,

becoming a suicide bomber or enlisting in an Army likely to be annihilated by the enemy may involve such sacrifice, but protest does not.  

in the course of which what is ‘present and absent’ in ourselves converges.

I have a dick. I don't have a vagina. Will my dick turn into a dick-vagina if I protest against Climate Change?  

This convergence, in turn, leads to, instead of unequivocal triumph, a melancholy in protest, a melancholy that doesn’t paralyze but enables, as this song did for so many in 2020.

What did it enable? Nothing at all. The law by which non-Muslims fleeing Islamic persecution gain citizenship remains to this day. You can't fool Muslims that Modi will deport them because he has neglected to do any such thing.  

The literalism of nationalism allows neither that melancholy nor the contradictory tonality in which it subsists.

Why not? There is plenty of literary nationalism in India. Some was pretty fucking melancholy. Nehru certainly wrote in a manner which had 'contradictory tonality'. There were moments when he sounded like Walter Pater and others when he sounded like Lunacharsky.  

Neither, to be fair, does the liberal consciousness, which sees the protest poem or song as a vehicle for protest rather than a complex experience that exists in and through the texture of poetic language.

Nonsense! By the time Faiz wrote this, sub-continental Liberals agreed with Vincent Kiernan that Faiz was a romantic with elite tastes. He was not a revolutionary. Yet there was a time when he looked as though he'd turn into a Leftist journalist and editor with expert knowledge of ideographic matters- e.g. the condition of bonded labourers in Sindh. He'd be the kind of chap UNDP technocrats would consult.  

On January 7, Riyaz Khan, on the Times of India readers’ blog, identified himself as an ‘Urdu poetry lover’ and said he was distressed by the way ‘Hum Dekhenge’ had been misread. ‘People who are cognizant of the art and nuances of poetry know that in poetry words are not used to stress their literal meaning,’ he wrote (Khan 2020).

Indeed. But they also know the difference between 'majaz' (illusion) and 'haqiqi (true, real). The problem with Faiz's Socialism was that it was a majazi fantasy. Was it also 'munafiqat'- (hypocrisy) ? Not initially. Like many young romantics around the world, Faiz had believed that Socialism had discovered a scientific way to make the poor highly affluent. In fact, such a science did exist. It was the type of engineering or applied science which raises productivity. Still, if people have babies like crazy, affluence will remain a distant dream.  

This is a truism of literary criticism

No. It is silly. Literary criticism has to say 'the words you used have a literal meaning which is deeply stupid. We get that you are trying to make some arcane metaphysical point but in order to do so you have to write sensibly. If you write 'just as the spade shatters into pieces when it touches the souffle so too does true Democracy cause cats to sodomize dogs' people will think you are Amit Chaudhuri level stupid.  

and, in the context of the time, a reasonable statement:

the context was students in a Hindu country pretending that poor Indian people want idols to be removed from their temples.  

criticism as an expression of a rationality related to love, the love of ‘Urdu poetry’,

Rationality is not related to love though no doubt a rational person can describe and analyse different types of love. I love Chinese poetry. Yet my couplet- 'We wun Ping Pong/ Nix Son ding-dong'- though intended as criticism of Wang Wei can be rationally analysed as utter shit because I don't actually know Chinese. Also you are not supposed to stick chop sticks up your nose even if that is what Nehru did when he met Chairman Mao.  

which itself is not unrelated to a wider understanding of democracy, free speech, and insaniyat.

It is completely unrelated to such stuff. The fact is Urdu poetry existed and was loved before there was any fucking democracy or free speech. 'Insaniyaat'- i.e. Humanitarian feelings- are all very well but if your cousin keeps trying to stab you so as to grab the ancestral property, you might find your attachment to it decreasing.  

The first two sentences of Riyaz Khan’s biographical note on the blog page describe him as ‘basically a mechanical engineer with MBA in International Business. Currently he is director in an Engineering Services & IT headquartered company in Hyderabad.’

Owaisi has a big following in Hyderabad.  

In keeping with the time of the anti-CAA protests, Khan seems to have been an organic intellectual who emerged from and made his intervention within the system.

Khan is an actual intellectual because he has post-graduate qualifications and holds a senior position in the Knowledge Economy. It is more than likely that he comes from a cultured family. He is not an 'organic intellectual' in the Gramscian sense. offers this clarification ' An intellectual or someone of professional standing (i.e. a doctor, lawyer, or priest) who rises to that level from within a social class that does not normally produce intellectuals, and remains connected to that class. In other words, the organic intellectual is the opposite of a yuppie—he is not upwardly mobile and his concern is for the condition of his class as a whole. He is not seeking to advance his own career by espousing the cause of the class he was born into but which he hopes to leave behind.  

The surname 'Khan' is like the surname 'Chaudhury'. It suggests higher social standing. A man named Riaz Ansari who managed to qualify as a lawyer and who represents Trade Unions is an organic intellectual provided he came from a community which scarcely has any High School graduates, let alone Lawyers or Doctors. 

It may be that Amit, like many bhadralok Bengalis takes a dim view of Muslims. He thinks they are all employed as 'kasais' or else are gangsters. It doesn't occur to him that a person who uses words like 'cognizant' and 'nuance' is very well educated in English and, moreover, an Urdu speaking 'Khan' is likely to be descended from the land owning aristocracy. Yet, for Amit, a guy with an MBA is 'subaltern' just because he has a Muslim name. This is the elitist attitude which has made 'being Indian' so unbearable for many Indians. I myself have faced severe discrimination from my relatives. Just because I live in London, they assume I clean toilets in Heathrow. I have explained countless times that I was dismissed from that job because all the flies in the toilet complained about my body odour. Still, I have launched a court case and hope to get my job back any day now. 

Here is another excerpt

On 14th January 2020, my wife and I visited the Park Circus protests in Calcutta, which, like the one in Shaheen Bagh, Delhi, were arranged and dominated by Muslim women, most of them in traditional burqa.

This scared Hindus into voting for the BJP whose tally rose from just 3 to 77. Their vote share went from 10 percent to 38 percent.  

Large posters of Gandhi, Subhas Chandra Bose, and B.R. Ambedkar, as well as a plethora of Indian flags, surrounded us.

Because Bangladeshis worship Gandhi, Bose and Ambedkar- right?  

This was happening across the country: the appropriation and reinvigoration of national symbols

appropriation- yes. Reinvigoration- no. Why not a poster of J.N Mandal the Ambedkarite who was Jinnah's first Law Minister? The answer is that Mandal had to run away to India.  

(some of them, like the flag, commonly claimed by political parties or patriots; others, like Ambedkar, seen as the icons of certain groups or communities, like the Dalits

and the BJP 

or the ‘left-liberal’ intellectuals) by a mainstream of men and women transformed by, and contributing to, the anti-CAA protests, including, of course, much of the Muslim population. 

The Muslim percentage has increased a lot since 1971.  

In the process, the flag changed from being the empty symbol it had been under Congress rule,

The flag was created by the Indian National Congress. It stood for them just as much as it stood for India. The Commies preferred a Red Flag while the Muslims had Green Flags.  

waved during Republic Day parades, or the instrument of intimidation it had become under the BJP—when you could be beaten up if you didn’t stand up for the national anthem or vociferously echo the cry Bharat Mata ki Jai!

Things which get you beaten or killed in Mamta's Bengal.  

The national flag became a sign promising a number of new meanings.

a Muslim majority in West Bengal by 2050? 

Similarly, Ambedkar, it seemed to me, was being reinserted—both as the face of a historically oppressed group, the Dalits, and as a drafter of the Constitution—into the national consciousness far more persuasively than various seminar discussions in the last decade had managed to do.

Very true. If those nice Muslim women had also put up a poster of Einstein, his theory of Relativity would have been much more persuasively inserted into the scientific consciousness than any Physics seminar has as yet managed to do.  

The traditional intellectual’s attempts to bring Ambedkar into the discussion as part of a critique of the blindness to caste hadn’t foreseen the extent to which he could be invoked, universally, in the context of democratic rights.

e.g. the democratic right to destroy idols in Hindu temples.  

And the role that the Indian flag could play in protest had not been previously imagined.

by Amit. He was not aware that Indian nationalists have been waving this flag, or its predecessor (which featured a spinning wheel) while courting arrest since the Nineteen Thirties.  

To lift symbols (the Constitution, a picture of Ambedkar, the national flag) and bring them together with the features of various other realities (religion, the burqa) was to make an argument, to create a new case for reimagining the human and the political.

What argument? That Hindus should be ethnically cleansed from West Bengal. The thing may be inevitable but there is no point making an argument in that connection. Nothing less that knifing Hindus will do. At least, that's what worked in East Bengal. 

The connections these juxtapositions asked us to make—between posters, flags, and women making speeches, or cheering, or distributing tea and biscuits—involved reusing our powers of reasoning rather than tapping into a readymade vocabulary of dissent. 

but Ambedkar, Bose, Gandhi etc. are part of that 'readymade' vocabulary.  

As we entered the Park Circus maidan, we saw a young woman in a burqa at the microphone (speaker after speaker, mostly women, would follow) raising slogans. Then she began to speak in Urdu/Hindi, pointing out the privileges she had as an ‘educated’ woman, which, she said, was why she was standing before the microphone: she was aware of her rights, her haq. ‘Some of us may be students here, some of us may be children, but none of us are stupid.’

They objected to non-Muslims getting refuge in India. They should just sit quietly and let their throats be slit.  

Indeed, there were children present—high-spirited, but certainly not bewakoof: stupid or gullible.

unlike Amit.

After chanting a few more slogans, the young woman said: ‘The name of Gandhi came up earlier, but I confess I was never a wholehearted follower of the Gandhian way. I’m an admirer of Subhas Chandra Bose.’

Who allied with the Japs because the Brits weren't doing a good enough job or raping and looting the country. 

There was applause. ‘But now, when I see how our students are being beaten up,

by Mamta's goons? 

I feel great pride

so do I. Students should be beaten up- but only by other students.  

and begin to understand the value and fruits of ahimsa [non-violence].’

Its fruit was the ethnic cleansing of Hindus from East Bengal. Amit and his wife should kindly take the hint and just fuck off already.  

She raised slogans for the students of JNU, Jamia and AMU; the crowd joined in. The man standing next to me said: ‘She’s my wife.’ 

Stop leering at her or I will knife you.  

I liked that she’d presented the arc of her thought to us: that Gandhi’s appeal to her had been a qualified one until she had realised, in the last month, the purpose of ahimsa.

Hindus sitting quietly while their throats were slit. 

This was in keeping with the various throwaway remarks made by organic intellectuals from July 2010 onwards: that there were no readymade resources for political protest if protest was not to become a repetition of pieties,

but the anti-CAA protests were nothing but 'readymade' and involved a 'repetition of pieties'. Still people who rose from the working class- organic intellectuals like Modi- did discover new ways to protest. Tikait, the farmer's leader, organized massive rallies in the late Eighties. His son repeated the trick with great success a couple of years ago. By comparison, Shaheen Bagh was a washout. Why? It made no concrete demand and was based on a stupid lie- viz. Modi would deport Muslims. On the other hand, the women probably did genuinely want non-Muslims to stay put and have their throats slit in Pakistan or Bangladesh.  

that reasoning needed to be enlisted and put to work.

No. For a protest to work, the passions have to be enlisted.  

We, too, began to participate in protest as a form of logical thinking:

Amit can't think logically. 

a reconsideration of the language and uses of nationalism, that took nothing for granted, neither an inherited iconography nor the presence of children in a gathering.

Why not take an inherited iconography for granted? What's the harm? As for kids being present- where else are they supposed to be? Who will take care of them? Poor people don't employ governesses.  

For my part, I inferred that deep religiosity—of which the burqa was a sign

 Muslim women who don't wear burqa are all atheists. Sheikh Hasina should be killed.

—was not incompatible with being deeply invested in the secular.

To use a thing in a tactical manner does not involve 'investing' in it.  

In fact, it seemed possible that ‘secularism’ had always been impelled and renovated by the wisdom that is made available to people through religious inheritances.

Nonsense! Why not say 'Science' has always been impelled and renovated by what is made available by Magic?  

The space of religion and the space of the secular state weren’t distinguished by a demarcation in Park Circus, as in the European idea of the secular.

Amit thinks these women offered namaz to nice statues of Gandhi and Ambedkar.  

The secular state didn’t just accommodate various religions, as in the Indian conception of secularism.

Or French or American secularism.  

Religion didn’t mean opposing the secular or delegitimising it as ‘pseudo-secular’, which was the BJP’s model.

India does not have a uniform Civil Code. It isn't secular.  

The religious was an indispensable component of the secular.

No. A country composed entirely of atheists would still be secular. By contrast, a country with a lot of religious people- e.g. Iran- might choose not to be secular at all. 

The full title of Amit's book is ' On Being Indian: The Organic Intellectual, Mystical Poetry, and Lineages of Indian Rationalism'. Sadly, he is too ignorant and stupid to write on any such topic. Could such a book be written? Sure. You could have separate chapters devoted to people from educationally backward communities who managed to join a learned profession and who wrote either mystical or 'rationalist' (i.e. atheistic) poetry and polemical works of lasting influence. One might pose the question why such vernacular writers also thought of themselves as Indian and not just Tamil or Punjabi or Bengali. The answers might differ from writer to writer but this, in itself, might be quite illuminating. 

I am tempted to say that Amit's book is emblematic of the buddhijivis cardinal epistemological sin- viz. to believe that the intellect is only properly employed to wholly useless ends. Consider the following-

“To Indian reasoning, whether the object of adoration, devotion, or focus exists is a secondary or nonquestion; what’s scrutinised is whether the adoration or focus is real and self-forgetful, or self-interested and factitious'

Such reasoning, or devotion to such reasoning, must result in being completely and utterly useless otherwise it is 'self-interested' and therefore 'factitious'. Now, it is quite true that you may compose love poetry or seek to dress in an attractive way not because you have your eye on some one, but because you hope to meet some such person and want to be prepared to present yourself in the best way possible. You may never meet that someone but you may generate utility by becoming a good poet or at least looking less like a gormless thug. Even if this was not your intention, you are likely to be rewarded for this in a manner agreeable to you. The plain fact is it is in your interest to generate utility- i.e. be useful rather than, like Amit, an utterly useless imbecile.

Indian religion affirms that you can attain states which greatly benefit you. You genuinely attain Joy when you achieve 'sat-cit-ananda'. Amit mentions watching the Dalai Lama on TV say the following “Reason can never be defeated by the irrational. Reason is based on pramana. In the end, reason is always victorious.' What he meant is that if you receive proper indoctrination in Buddhist logic and epistemology you will gain experiential certitude thanks to having a higher type of consciousness including the ability to remember past lives. Here there is 'verification' that you have achieved something very useful of a superior type. True, the charlatan may make all sorts of extravagant claims. But they can't be verified. At best the thing is legerdemain, it has no foundation in Reality or in Reason. 

Being an Indian, more particularly if you live in India, means doing useful things. The anti-CAA protests were useless or counter-productive. Pretending Modi will deport Muslims or crucify Christianity is not a 'noble lie'. It is stupid propaganda. Coming up with ideas or pushing forward programs which raise productivity improves both economic and security outcomes for Indians. Indian religion distinguished between 'matam' (doctrine) and 'Vigyan' (science or praxis) What is useful boosts the latter and 'matam' is welcome to reconfigure itself in that light. But this is merely a matter of hermeneutics which, since Amit teaches Eng Lit, he is is utterly incapable of doing save in an absurd and bigoted manner. 

No comments: