अनिल एकलव्य ⇔ Anil Eklavya

December 1, 2011

The Original Mark Twain

A day or two ago Google put on its search engine interface what they call a doodle. It was for celebrating the 176th birthday of Samuel Langhorne Clemens, otherwise known as Mark Twain. I used to have trouble recalling his real name, so commonly known and popular his pen name has become, something like that of George Orwell, who, by the way, wrote an essay about him titled ‘The Licensed Jester’ (note this down as evidence of contradiction).

I had read Huckleberry Finn during my first college degree days. At that time I was aware of the fact that Mark Twain was a famous writer. I had read a few short things by him in English text books. I had also read a part of Tom Sawyer, but couldn’t finish it because it had to be returned. But I did not know about this book, Huck Finn. I didn’t know that it was considered the first Great American Novel. But even before finishing that shortish novel, I had no doubt that it was one of the best American novels ever written.

Note the self-referentiality and pomposity and keep it in mind while reading the rest of this article.

But this article is going to be more of a cut-and-paste (copy-and-paste, to be exact) job. That’s because this is the only way to do justice to what I want to say here. And there is no editor and a board of reviewers to look over my shoulder, so that makes it easy. The source is also in public domain, so no legal problems. If you are a fair use fanatic, go read something else.

If even people like me have trouble recalling his real name, it can be expected that few people (other than literary scholars and may be some other literary geeks) know the story of the origin of his pen name. Those who do know, only know a part of it, and that too the part that is less interesting.

Now I can add here that there is a theory among scholars that this story is perhaps not factual. I am not aware of their arguments and since Mark Twain himself explained in detail why he became Mark Twain, and I also know him to be one of most honest people in literature or elsewhere, I will ignore that theory and get on with the one that I like.

In fact, when I first read this story it made such a great impression on me that I have been aching ever since to write about it. The story forms Chapter 50 of another of his great books, Life on the Mississippi. I read it some years after I had read Huck Finn and this time I had borrowed the book (from the British Library, if I remember correctly: note this down for your later judgement). Since I had it in my own name and was ready to pay the fine for late fees (which I did very frequently and they were substantial sums for me at that time), I was able to finish this much longer book (I was as busy as anyone can be in those days: note it down). I liked it almost as much as Huck Finn. For the record, I completed reading Tom Sawyer much later and didn’t like it that much. No match for Huck Finn.

The story, or the part of the story that is commonly presented and known, is also given on the Wikipedia page about Mark Twain:

He maintained that his primary pen name came from his years working on Mississippi riverboats, where two fathoms, a depth indicating safe water for passage of boat, was measured on the sounding line. A fathom is a maritime unit of depth, equivalent to two yards (1.8 m); twain is an archaic term for “two.” The riverboatman’s cry was mark twain or, more fully, by the mark twain, meaning “according to the mark [on the line], [the depth is] two [fathoms],” that is, “The water is 12 feet (3.7 m) deep and it is safe to pass.”

The Wikipedia page goes on to say that he “claimed that his famous pen name was not entirely his invention” and that “In Life on the Mississippi, he wrote:”

Captain Isaiah Sellers was not of literary turn or capacity, but he used to jot down brief paragraphs of plain practical information about the river, and sign them “MARK TWAIN,” and give them to the New Orleans Picayune. They related to the stage and condition of the river, and were accurate and valuable; … At the time that the telegraph brought the news of his death, I was on the Pacific coast. I was a fresh new journalist, and needed a nom de guerre; so I confiscated the ancient mariner’s discarded one, and have done my best to make it remain what it was in his hands – a sign and symbol and warrant that whatever is found in its company may be gambled on as being the petrified truth; how I have succeeded, it would not be modest in me to say.

As I said, the complete story forms a full chapter of the said book. The title of the chapter is “The ‘Original Jacobs'”.

Mark Twain was not faultless, of course, and he was also not one of those who only seem to become faultless by adopting the current orthodoxy about political and social correctness, taking no risks of their own, and having done that, they entitle themselves to judge and sentence anyone from the present or the past, say, for having shown a little bit of racist tendencies in the seventeenth century or of being a little sexist in the first half of the 20th century.

That is not to say that he did not do some nasty things in his time. In fact, the interesting part of the story is about just that. Then there is also the fact that he displayed considerable literary/stylistic prescriptivism in blasting some writers and critics of his time, but I am not going to go into that.

The introduction to the story is that there was another man who had used the pen name Mark Twain. He wasn’t a literary writer, but he was something impressive: impressive enough for Mark Twain to say that it was an honor to be the only one hated by him.

So here comes the copy-and-paste of the 50th chapter of Life on the Mississippi (I have left out the final paragraph, which is not relevant to the story):

Chapter 50 The ‘Original Jacobs’

WE had some talk about Captain Isaiah Sellers, now many years dead. He
was a fine man, a high-minded man, and greatly respected both ashore and
on the river. He was very tall, well built, and handsome; and in his old
age–as I remember him–his hair was as black as an Indian’s, and his
eye and hand were as strong and steady and his nerve and judgment as
firm and clear as anybody’s, young or old, among the fraternity of
pilots. He was the patriarch of the craft; he had been a keelboat pilot
before the day of steamboats; and a steamboat pilot before any other
steamboat pilot, still surviving at the time I speak of, had ever turned
a wheel. Consequently his brethren held him in the sort of awe in
which illustrious survivors of a bygone age are always held by their
associates. He knew how he was regarded, and perhaps this fact added
some trifle of stiffening to his natural dignity, which had been
sufficiently stiff in its original state.

He left a diary behind him; but apparently it did not date back to his
first steamboat trip, which was said to be 1811, the year the first
steamboat disturbed the waters of the Mississippi. At the time of his
death a correspondent of the ‘St. Louis Republican’ culled the following
items from the diary–

‘In February, 1825, he shipped on board the steamer “Rambler,” at
Florence, Ala., and made during that year three trips to New Orleans and
back–this on the “Gen. Carrol,” between Nashville and New Orleans. It
was during his stay on this boat that Captain Sellers introduced the tap
of the bell as a signal to heave the lead, previous to which time it was
the custom for the pilot to speak to the men below when soundings were
wanted. The proximity of the forecastle to the pilot-house, no doubt,
rendered this an easy matter; but how different on one of our palaces of
the present day.

‘In 1827 we find him on board the “President,” a boat of two hundred and
eighty-five tons burden, and plying between Smithland and New Orleans.
Thence he joined the “Jubilee” in 1828, and on this boat he did his
first piloting in the St. Louis trade; his first watch extending from
Herculaneum to St. Genevieve. On May 26, 1836, he completed and left
Pittsburgh in charge of the steamer “Prairie,” a boat of four hundred
tons, and the first steamer with a STATE-ROOM CABIN ever seen at St.
Louis. In 1857 he introduced the signal for meeting boats, and which
has, with some slight change, been the universal custom of this day; in
fact, is rendered obligatory by act of Congress.

‘As general items of river history, we quote the following marginal
notes from his general log–

‘In March, 1825, Gen. Lafayette left New Orleans for St. Louis on the
low-pressure steamer “Natchez.”

‘In January, 1828, twenty-one steamers left the New Orleans wharf to
celebrate the occasion of Gen. Jackson’s visit to that city.

‘In 1830 the “North American” made the run from New Orleans to Memphis
in six days–best time on record to that date. It has since been made in
two days and ten hours.

‘In 1831 the Red River cut-off formed.

‘In 1832 steamer “Hudson” made the run from White River to Helena, a
distance of seventy-five miles, in twelve hours. This was the source of
much talk and speculation among parties directly interested.

‘In 1839 Great Horseshoe cut-off formed.

‘Up to the present time, a term of thirty-five years, we ascertain, by
reference to the diary, he has made four hundred and sixty round trips
to New Orleans, which gives a distance of one million one hundred and
four thousand miles, or an average of eighty-six miles a day.’

Whenever Captain Sellers approached a body of gossiping pilots, a chill
fell there, and talking ceased. For this reason: whenever six pilots
were gathered together, there would always be one or two newly fledged
ones in the lot, and the elder ones would be always ‘showing off’ before
these poor fellows; making them sorrowfully feel how callow they were,
how recent their nobility, and how humble their degree, by talking
largely and vaporously of old-time experiences on the river; always
making it a point to date everything back as far as they could, so as to
make the new men feel their newness to the sharpest degree possible,
and envy the old stagers in the like degree. And how these complacent
baldheads WOULD swell, and brag, and lie, and date back–ten, fifteen,
twenty years,–and how they did enjoy the effect produced upon the
marveling and envying youngsters!

And perhaps just at this happy stage of the proceedings, the stately
figure of Captain Isaiah Sellers, that real and only genuine Son of
Antiquity, would drift solemnly into the midst. Imagine the size of the
silence that would result on the instant. And imagine the feelings of
those bald-heads, and the exultation of their recent audience when the
ancient captain would begin to drop casual and indifferent remarks of a
reminiscent nature–about islands that had disappeared, and cutoffs that
had been made, a generation before the oldest bald-head in the company
had ever set his foot in a pilot-house!

Many and many a time did this ancient mariner appear on the scene in the
above fashion, and spread disaster and humiliation around him. If one
might believe the pilots, he always dated his islands back to the misty
dawn of river history; and he never used the same island twice; and
never did he employ an island that still existed, or give one a name
which anybody present was old enough to have heard of before. If you
might believe the pilots, he was always conscientiously particular about
little details; never spoke of ‘the State of Mississippi,’ for instance
–no, he would say, ‘When the State of Mississippi was where Arkansas
now is,’ and would never speak of Louisiana or Missouri in a general
way, and leave an incorrect impression on your mind–no, he would say,
‘When Louisiana was up the river farther,’ or ‘When Missouri was on the
Illinois side.’

The old gentleman was not of literary turn or capacity, but he used
to jot down brief paragraphs of plain practical information about the
river, and sign them ‘MARK TWAIN,’ and give them to the ‘New Orleans
Picayune.’ They related to the stage and condition of the river, and
were accurate and valuable; and thus far, they contained no poison.
But in speaking of the stage of the river to-day, at a given point, the
captain was pretty apt to drop in a little remark about this being the
first time he had seen the water so high or so low at that particular
point for forty-nine years; and now and then he would mention Island
So-and-so, and follow it, in parentheses, with some such observation
as ‘disappeared in 1807, if I remember rightly.’ In these antique
interjections lay poison and bitterness for the other old pilots, and
they used to chaff the ‘Mark Twain’ paragraphs with unsparing mockery.

It so chanced that one of these paragraphs–{footnote [The original MS.
of it, in the captain’s own hand, has been sent to me from New Orleans.
It reads as follows–

VICKSBURG May 4, 1859.

‘My opinion for the benefit of the citizens of New Orleans: The water
is higher this far up than it has been since 8. My opinion is that the
water will be feet deep in Canal street before the first of next June.
Mrs. Turner’s plantation at the head of Big Black Island is all under
water, and it has not been since 1815.

‘I. Sellers.’]}

became the text for my first newspaper article. I burlesqued it broadly,
very broadly, stringing my fantastics out to the extent of eight hundred
or a thousand words. I was a ‘cub’ at the time. I showed my performance
to some pilots, and they eagerly rushed it into print in the ‘New
Orleans True Delta.’ It was a great pity; for it did nobody any worthy
service, and it sent a pang deep into a good man’s heart. There was no
malice in my rubbish; but it laughed at the captain. It laughed at a man
to whom such a thing was new and strange and dreadful. I did not know
then, though I do now, that there is no suffering comparable with that
which a private person feels when he is for the first time pilloried in
print.

Captain Sellers did me the honor to profoundly detest me from that day
forth. When I say he did me the honor, I am not using empty words. It
was a very real honor to be in the thoughts of so great a man as Captain
Sellers, and I had wit enough to appreciate it and be proud of it. It
was distinction to be loved by such a man; but it was a much greater
distinction to be hated by him, because he loved scores of people; but
he didn’t sit up nights to hate anybody but me.

He never printed another paragraph while he lived, and he never again
signed ‘Mark Twain’ to anything. At the time that the telegraph brought
the news of his death, I was on the Pacific coast. I was a fresh new
journalist, and needed a nom de guerre; so I confiscated the ancient
mariner’s discarded one, and have done my best to make it remain what it
was in his hands–a sign and symbol and warrant that whatever is found
in its company may be gambled on as being the petrified truth; how I
have succeeded, it would not be modest in me to say.

The captain had an honorable pride in his profession and an abiding love
for it. He ordered his monument before he died, and kept it near
him until he did die. It stands over his grave now, in Bellefontaine
cemetery, St. Louis. It is his image, in marble, standing on duty at
the pilot wheel; and worthy to stand and confront criticism, for it
represents a man who in life would have stayed there till he burned to a
cinder, if duty required it.

I find it interesting that the part that this chapter focuses on is always left out from the usual accounts, as far as I know (I am not a Mark Twain scholar, so I am only talking about what I have read).

I also feel that there is a lesson somewhere in this story for those who are receptive. How many would be receptive to such a lesson is something depressing to think about these days.

As a bonus for having read thus far, I invite you to read this, which was not published in his lifetime and about which he said, “I don’t think the prayer will be published in my time. None but the dead are permitted to tell the truth.”.

January 9, 2011

नीरस नाम की रोचक कहानी

7 जनवरी, 2011

(मूल लेख)

ज़ेड नेट या ज़ी नेट, आप अंग्रेज़ी वर्णमाला के आखिरी अक्षर को जिस भी तरह उच्चारित करते हों (जो इस पर निर्भर करता है कि आप पिछले साम्राज्य के प्रभाव में पले हैं या नये वाले के), का हिन्दी संस्करण शुरू किए अब चार साल से ऊपर हो गए हैं। एकदम ठीक तारीख दी जाए तो 1 दिसंबर, 2006 को हिन्दी ज़ेड नेट की वेबसाइट शुरू हुई थी। तब से काफ़ी कुछ बदल गया है। ज़ेड नेट खुद अब ज़ेड (ज़ी) कम्यूनिकेशन्स बन गया है, जिसका एक प्रमुख भाग फिर भी ज़ेड नेट है।

हिन्दी संस्करण की शुरुआत इस तरह हुई थी कि अपन ज़ेड नेट अक्सर पढ़ते रहते थे और एक दिन अपन ने देखा कि इसके कुछ अन्य भाषाओं में भी संस्करण हैं। पाठकों-उपयोक्ताओं के लिए लिखा गया एक निमंत्रण सा भी दिखा कि अगर आप इनमें से किसी में सहयोग देने या एक नई भाषा के संस्करण की शुरुआत करने में रुचि रखते हैं तो संपर्क करें। अपने को लगा कि भाई हिन्दी में भी इसका एक संस्करण होना ही चाहिए, तो अपन ने माइकल स्पैनोस, जिनका नाम संपर्क के लिए दिया था, उन्हें एक मेल लिख डाली। जवाब आया और ज़ेड नेट के लेखों का अनुवाद करके हिन्दी संस्करण की वेबसाइट बनाने का काम शुरू हो गया। पाँच लेखों के अनुवाद से शुरुआत हुई, जो नोम चॉम्स्की, माइकल ऐल्बर्ट, अरुंधति रॉय, जॉर्ज मॉनबिऑट तथा तारिक़ अली के लिखे हुए थे। उस समय वेबसाइट ज़ेड नेट के ही सर्वर पर बनाई गई थी, क्योंकि हिन्दी ज़ेड नेट के लिए अलग से कोई इंतज़ाम नहीं था।

बाद में कुछ अन्य लेखों के भी अनुवाद किए, मगर और कामों से समय निकाल कर उतना नहीं हो पाया जितना सोचा था। फिर भी धीरे-धीरे चलता रहा। उम्मीद यह थी कि अन्य लोग भी अनुवाद में सहयोग देने के लिए मिलेंगे, पर एकाध लेख के अलावा कोई और अनुवाद करने वाला नहीं मिला, लिहाजा एक व्यक्ति से जो हो सका वही होता रहा। एक समस्या यह भी थी कि हिन्दी की अपनी वेबसाइट न होने के कारण कुछ भी करने (चाहे टाइपिंग की कोई गलती सुधारने जैसी ज़रा सी बात ही हो) में भी काफ़ी समय लग जाता था क्योंकि ज़ेड नेट की वेबसाइट भी जिन लोगों के सहारे चल रही है, उनके पास भी पहले से ही बहुत से काम हैं और वे अन्य गतिविधियों में भी अपना समय देते हैं। और यह कोई व्यावसायिक मीडिया तो है नहीं जहाँ कागज़ी हरियाली की कमी न होती हो।

आखिर 2010 के मध्य में ज़ेड संचार नाम से हिन्दी ज़ेड नेट की अपनी वेबसाइट zsanchar.org के पते पर चालू की गई। इसे शुरु करने के कुछ समय बाद यह लगा कि जब वेबसाइट हिन्दी में है तो अंग्रेज़ी का अक्षर ज़ेड नाम में क्यों है? नतीजतन एक नये नाम की खोज की गई, जो ‘सह-संचार’ पर आकर रुकी।

आप अकेले नहीं होंगे अगर आप सोचते हैं कि यह नाम बड़ा नीरस है। अपना भी यही ख्याल है। नाम के साथ एक और समस्या है। ‘सह-संचार’ हिन्दी में सोशल नेटवर्किंग के समानार्थी के रुप में भी स्वीकृत होता लग रहा है। यह दूसरी समस्या शायद इतनी गंभीर नहीं है। जैसा कि भाषा विज्ञान में आम जानकारी है, एक ही शब्द के एक से अधिक अर्थ हो सकते हैं। बल्कि उच्चारण और वर्तनी एक जैसे होने पर भी दो शब्द हो सकते हैं, जैसे दिन वाला ‘कल’ और पुर्जा वाला ‘कल’। इसलिए दूसरी समस्या का समाधान तो हमने यह मान लिया कि एक शब्द है ‘सह-संचार’ जिसका अर्थ है सोशल नेटवर्किंग और दूसरा शब्द (या नाम) है ‘सह-संचार’ जो ज़ेड (ज़ी) कम्यूनिकेशन्स का हिन्दी संस्करण है।

पर नाम के नीरस होने की समस्या फिर भी बचती है। तो यह लेख उसी समस्या का स्पष्टीकरण देने के लिए लिखा गया माना जा सकता है। स्पष्टीकरण इस तरह कि नाम चाहे नीरस हो, पर उसकी कहानी नीरस नहीं है, बल्कि काफ़ी रोचक है।

वैसे हिन्दी संस्करण के नाम में ज़ेड (ज़ी) होने का भी एक वाजिब आधार है। और वहीं से हमारी कहानी शुरू होती है।

बीसवीं शताब्दी में कला का एक नया माध्यम सामने आया जिसे सिनेमा कहा जाता है। बहुत से शायद इस माध्यम की किसी भी कलात्मक संभावना से सिरे से ही इन्कार करते हों, पर उनसे बहस में भिड़ने का अभी अपना कोई इरादा नहीं है। तो इस नितांत नये माध्यम की सबसे बड़ी खासियत यह है इसकी पहुँच बहुत कम समय में बहुत बड़े जनसमूह तक एक ही समय पर हो सकती है और बहुत तेज़ी से फैल सकती है। इक्कीसवीं सदी और भी नये माध्यम लाती हुई दिख रही है, पर सिनेमा जितनी पहुँच तो अभी भी किसी अन्य माध्यम की नहीं है। टी वी की पहुँच कुछ मामलों में अधिक हो सकती है, पर उसकी कलात्मक संभावनाओं पर सवाल इस हद तक उठाए जा सकते हैं कि अधिकतर तो एकमात्र कला जो उस पर कभी-कभार नज़र आती है वो सिनेमा ही है। संगीत, नृत्य आदि भी पहले दिखते थे, पर वो ज़माना तो चला गया लगता है। इंटरनेट पर बाकायदा एक कलात्मक माध्यम के उभरने में शायद अभी कुछ समय लगेगा।

तो सिनेमा की इस असाधारण पहुँच के कारण ऐसे बहुत से लोग भी इसकी तरफ आकर्षित हुए जिनको प्रतिबद्ध कहा जाता है। हिन्दुस्तान के ही सर्वश्रेष्ठ सिनेकारों में से एक रितिक घटक, जिनका प्रगतिशील राजनीति और उससे जुड़े थियेटर से लंबे समय तक वास्ता रहा था, का कहना था कि उन्होंने सिर्फ़ इसलिए सिनेमा को अपनाया कि इसकी पहुँच बहुत बड़ी है और अगर हम अपनी बात ज़्यादा से ज़्यादा लोगों तक पहुँचाना चाहते हैं, तो सिनेमा को नज़रअंदाज़ नहीं कर सकते। रितिक घटक जैसे अन्य कई सिनेकार विश्व सिनेमा में हुए हैं जिन्होंने इस माध्यम का प्रयोग न केवल कलात्मक अभिव्यक्ति, बल्कि नैतिक-राजनैतिक कथन के लिए भी करने की कोशिश की है। उनकी राह में बाज़ारवाद, रूढ़िवाद तथा पूंजीवाद (भ्रष्टाचार को छोड़ भी दें तो) के चलते अनेक बाधाएँ आईं और वे किस हद तक सफल हुए यह कहना कठिन है, पर उनमें से कई काफ़ी लोकप्रिय फ़िल्में बनाने में कामयाब हो सके, या कहना चाहिए कि उनकी फ़िल्में लोकप्रियता हासिल करने में कामयाब हो सकीं।

इन्हीं में से एक बहुत बड़ा नाम है कोस्ता गाव्रास। यूनानी (ग्रीक) मूल के गाव्रास का नाम लेते ही तस्वीर उभरती है ‘राजनैतिक’ फ़िल्मों की। यहाँ राजनैतिक से वैसा अर्थ नहीं है जैसा प्रकाश झा आदि की फ़िल्मों से जोड़ा जाता है, बल्कि वैसा है जैसा प्रतिबद्ध साहित्य के साथ जुड़ा है। यह अर्थभेद राजनीति तथा राजनीतिबाज़ी का है – पॉलिटिकल और पॉलिटिकिंग का।

ऐसी राजनैतिक फ़िल्मों में भी एक खास श्रेणी है उन फ़िल्मों की जो हमारे ही समय (यानी पिछली एक सदी के भीतर) की वास्तविक ऐतिहासिक घटनाओं पर आधारित फ़िल्मों की है। कोस्ता गाव्रास ने ऐसी ही फ़िल्में बनाने में अपनी महारत दिखाई है। ‘मिसिंग’, ‘स्टेट ऑफ़ सीज’, ‘एमेन.’ (पूर्ण विराम नाम में ही है) ऐसी ही कुछ फ़िल्में हैं। पर शायद उनकी सबसे प्रसिद्ध फ़िल्म है ‘ज़ेड’ (या ‘ज़ी’)। यह आधारित है यूनान की ही राजनैतिक घटनाओं पर जब वहाँ अमरीकी दखलंदाज़ी की पृष्ठभूमि में फ़ासीवादियों द्वारा एक लोकप्रिय उदारवादी नेता की हत्या कर दी गई और उससे जो घटनाकृम शरू हुआ उसकी परिणति सेना द्वारा सत्ता पलट में हुई।

‘बैटल ऑफ़ अल्जियर्स’ तथा ‘ज़ेड’ वे दो फ़िल्में हैं जिन्हें इस श्रेणी की फ़िल्में बनाने वाला हर निर्देशक अपना काम शुरू करने से पहले देखना ज़रूरी समझता है।

कोस्ता गाव्रास के नाम के साथ यह कहानी भी जुड़ी है कि ‘ज़ेड’ की असाधारण (और शायद अप्रत्याशित) व्यावसायिक सफलता के बाद उन्हें (फ़्रांसिस फ़ोर्ड कपोला से पहले) गॉडफ़ादर निर्देशित करने का ‘ऑफ़र’ दिया गया था, पर उसे उन्होंने रिजेक्ट (या कहें ‘रिफ़्यूज़’) कर दिया क्योंकि उनके अनुसार स्क्रिप्ट माफ़िया का महिमामंडन करने वाली थी और वे उसमें कुछ बदलाव करना चाहते थे, जिसके लिए स्टूडियो वाले तैयार नहीं थे।

खैर, यह समय था विश्व युद्धों के बाद अमरीकी साम्राज्यवाद के पहले बड़े फैलाव का, यानी वियतनाम युद्ध का और ढेर सारी अन्य जगहों पर अमरीकी समर्थन प्राप्त सत्ता पलट और तानाशाही का। पर यह समय अमरीकी नागरिक अधिकार (सिविल राइट्स) आंदोलन का भी था। नोम चॉम्स्की और हावर्ड ज़िन जैसे लोग इस आंदोलन में सक्रिय थे, और जो छात्र इसमें शामिल थे उनमें एक थे माइकल ऐल्बर्ट,यानी ज़ेड नेट के संस्थापक।

जब मैंने पहली बार ज़ेड नेट पढ़ना शुरू किया था, उसके कुछ ही समय बाद मैंने यह अनुमान लगाया था कि हो न हो इसके नाम में यह अंग्रेज़ी का आखिरी अक्षर जो है, उसका कुछ संंबंध कोस्ता गाव्रास की फ़िल्म से है और यह बात मैंने अपने ब्लॉग पर भी लिखी थी। बाद में खुद ज़ेड नेट पर ही यह लिखा देखने को मिला कि यह अनुमान सही था।

बात इतनी अजीब नहीं है। दरअसल (आधुनिक) ग्रीक भाषा में इस अक्षर का अर्थ है ‘वह अभी जीवित है’ और उस फ़िल्म के अंत में यह अक्षर या शब्द इस अर्थ में एक लोकप्रिय नारा बन जाता है कि अमरीकी दखलंदाज़ी के विरोधी जिस जनप्रिय नेता की हत्या कर दी गई थी वो जन-मन में अब भी जीवित है, यानी जैसा कि ज़ेड नेट के मुख्य पृष्ठ पर लिखा है, प्रतिरोध की भावना अब भी जीवित है (द स्पिरिट ऑफ़ रेज़िस्टेंस लिव्स)।

सार यह कि ‘ज़ेड’ अंग्रेज़ी अक्षर नहीं हुआ, बल्कि एक राजनैतिक कथन हुआ। इसीलिए अगर हिन्दी संस्करण में भी यह रहता तो उसका वाजिब आधार था।

फिर यह ‘सह’ क्यों आया? मज़े की बात है कि यह भी ऐसा मामला है जहाँ एक ही उच्चारण और वर्तनी होने पर भी दो शब्द हैं – पहला तो सहने के अर्थ में और दूसरा सहयोग के अर्थ में। हमारे लिए दूसरा वाला मामला लागू होता है, हालांकि पहले को भी अक्सर झेलना पड़ सकता है।

लेकिन उससे भी मज़े की बात एक और है। वामपंथियों के खिलाफ़ एक आरोप जो अक्सर लगाया जाता है वह है कि जो व्यवस्था (या मनोहर श्याम जोशी के अनुकरण में कहें तो प्रतिष्ठान) अभी हमें जकड़े हुए है उसकी बुराइयाँ तो आप बहुत बताते रहते हैं, पर उसका कोई विकल्प आपके पास नहीं है। जो विकल्प माने जाते थे, यानी साम्यवादी व्यवस्था आदि, वे भी असफल साबित हो गए हैं। ये आरोप सच हैं या नहीं इस पर तो हम अभी नहीं जाएंगे, पर जिन माइकल ऐल्बर्ट का ज़िक्र हमने किया, यानी ज़ेड नेट के संस्थापक, वे एक विकल्प (पार्टिसिपेटरी इकोनॉमिक्स या पैरेकॉन) की परिकल्पना और विकास की कोशिश में अनवरत लगे हुए हैं, उसे हिन्दी में ‘भागीदारी की अर्थव्यवस्था’ या ‘सहयोग पर आधारित अर्थव्यवस्था’ कहा जा सकता है। तो सह-संचार के ‘सह’ को आप उससे जोड़ सकते हैं।

पर वो तो बाद की बात है। उससे पहले की बात यह है कि ‘स’ और ‘ह’ (संयुक्ताक्षरों को छोड़ दिया जाए तो) हिन्दी या देवनागरी, बल्कि ब्राह्मी, वर्णमाला के आखिरी ‘अक्षर’ हैं, जहाँ ‘अक्षर’ शब्द का प्रयोग अंग्रेज़ी के ‘लेटर’ या ‘कैरेक्टर’ की तरह किया जा रहा है।

आपके बारे में नहीं मालूम, पर अपने को तो यह कहानी बड़ी रोचक लगती है। अगर ज़्यादा हो गया हो तो चलिए थोड़ी बहुत रोचक तो है ही। नहीं क्या? अगर नहीं तो कोस्ता गाव्रास की कुछ फ़िल्में ही देख डालिए। और देख ही रहे हों तो लगे हाथ रितिक घटक की फ़िल्मों पर भी हाथ साफ़ कर दीजिएगा।

(जो भी हो, यह याद रखा जाए कि सह-संचार अनिल एकलव्य की वेबसाइट नहीं है, चाहे अभी तक इसका ज़िम्मा लगभग पूरी तरह उन पर ही रहा हो। यह ज़ेड कम्यूनिकेशंस का हिन्दी संस्करण है। आप इस संचार में सहयोग करना चाहें तो एक बार फिर निमंत्रण है। संक्रामक रोग का कोई खतरा नहीं है।)

February 6, 2010

The Elite Strikes Back, Fetishiously

From right after the transfer of power from the British to the local English Elite (the Babus in the broadest sense), one recurrent theme in the Indian ‘National’ press, which translates as the English press, has been to come down like a 16 ton weight on anyone who so much as mentioned the case of the Indian languages and the extraordinary privileges enjoyed by the English speaking Elite in the country. So, for example, if any politician of the Hindi belt suggested that students should be allowed to write some important exam in Indian languages or that English should not be compulsory at the primary level or even something much less radical-revolutionary and world shaking, there would be (without fail) editorials in the ‘National’ newspapers about how the language chauvinists are going to lay waste our great democracy.

With the changes that have happened in the last 15 years or so (some for better and more for worse), this trend became less common. But now the lumpen antics of the Thackerays have given the Elite a golden opportunity to come back with a 32 (or is it 64?) ton weight on the ‘language chauvinists’.

The way the Thackerays have been able to carry on their thuggery (in the Hindi as well as the English sense of the term) is so absurd that only a few things can compete with it. And one of those things is the fact that the English Elite of the country have been so amazingly successful in summarily suppressing all Indian languages including the legally National Language (Hindi), the language that has the most chauvinistic support from its speakers (Tamil) and the language of the most intellectual community of the sub-continent (Bengali). These and many others are not endangered languages (at least not yet). Most of them can be called mega languages in terms of the number of speakers. All of this is so well known and so often repeated that I feel weary of having to write this. Also equally well known is the fact that only a very small fraction of the Indian population is comfortable with English. However, as India is a society whose structure is mainly defined by the caste system, no one except the top caste wants to remain in their own caste. They all want to make the transition to the higher castes, even as they list the reasons for the greatness of their caste. And the highest caste now effectively is that of the English speakers, who have replaced the (literal) Brahmins from their perch at the top (I know, ‘replaced’ is not a good term because a large fraction of the Elite is Brahmin). Naturally then everyone wants ultimately to make the transition to the top caste. This has lead to an extremely comic and absurd fetish about any language anywhere in the world. It is the fetish for the English language. This fetish too is a well known, though rarely talked about in the English media. A recent issue of the Outlook magazine was an exception. (The issue was the exception, not the magazine). The ‘language media’, of course, used to talk about it. Innumerable books have been written about it. Movies have been made about it (a recent one being Tashan, one of whose stars is now living out his character’s fetish in the real world). And sometimes politicians have talked about it for electoral purposes. But most of them have learned that it doesn’t pay much as the Indians (especially the North Indians) are not very keen to be seen speaking their own languages when in respectable company. They don’t even want it to be known to anyone that they are not good at English. Parents who can’t speak the language will parade their English learning children in front of any visitor and have a little performance of nursery rhymes being chanted in English, even if the visitor as well as the child feel tortured. They will also mention with pride that their child is very poor in Hindi (or any other Indian language).

It’s not that no one in the English speaking community has noted this. Even Nayantara Sehgal had mentioned this in one of her novels long ago. More recently Arundhati Roy had written about the oustee villagers from the Narmada dam site being scolded by Maneka Gandhi for not writing their petition in English, after they had travelled all the way, enduring hardship and hoping to save their lives. There have been others like Namita Gokhale among the (English speaking) writers and artists who have at least hinted at the absurdity of the situation.

But, by and large, the Elite has managed to suppress all talk about any fairness with regard to Indian languages which account for the overwhelming majority of the population of India. They have used diversity as an argument for maintaining the hegemony of English. They have used chauvinism as an argument. They have pitted one big language (Tamil) against the other (Hindi). They have pitted small languages (the so called dialects of Hindi) against big languages. They have pitted Dalits against the upper castes: no matter that most of them belong to the upper castes themselves. They have used linguistically spurious claims about the superiority of English over the ‘less developed’ Indian languages. They have steadfastly refused to concede even a pinhead worth of territory to the Indian languages.

Talk of divisiveness.

Unfortunately for them, The Market (whose praise they are now singing, be they from any part of the political spectrum) may be a brutal place, but it has allowed the Indian languages to gain some territory. As had the linguistic reorganisation of the states, which also (like the demands for linguistic fairness, not like The Market) they have always kept riling against.

When Pepsi and the others came after The Reforms, they didn’t give a damn about what language can get them more customers. Before that, big companies in India preferred to make commercials in English, unless their product was some low brow thing that no one would want to talk about. It is understandable why: the top advertising agencies are mostly dominated by the elitest of the Elite. It must have been hard for them to get used to the presence of Indian languages in their midst. To give the devil his due, they have managed the transition quite well, at least on the public front. It has turned out that these underdeveloped languages can be used ‘creatively’ after all, whatever may be the purpose. I don’t know what to feel about this.

The people may be ashamed of their own languages and of being seen reading books in them (chauvinism indeed!), but they are hooked to the movies and T.V. serials in those same languages. The movie scene is not any less hilarious either. The people involved in these movies may be making their career, earning huge amounts of money and generally being the gods of urban life in India (along with the cricket stars) through Indian languages, but they too are equally ashamed of the languages they make movies in. The scripts of Bollywood movies are written using the Latin alphabet. More than one big Bollywood Hindi movie star has been on record saying he hates Hindi. One of them said he didn’t want anyone around him speaking in Hindi. Offscreen, all they want is for their lives to be copies of Hollywood stars. And they are prepared to pretend that their mediocre work in ‘foreign’ English movies (to the extent they get such work, the chances of which are increasing now as the real superpower focuses a little bit more of its attention eastward this side) is by far better than their best work in Hindi movies. They will tell you the reason for this too: English movies give them far more exposure than Hindi movies (if they do, what does quality matter?). As for the criticism which suggests otherwise, well, ‘it will die its own death’.

Another of the cards the Elite uses against any demand for linguistic fairplay is that of communalism. The fact that the Jan Sangh/BJP and the Sangh Parivar in general have been shouting the slogan of ‘Hindi, Hindu, Hindustan’ has been used time and again to put down (and discredit) any such demand. This time they are vehemently talking about how the ‘Hindi fetish’ of the BJP and the Sangh Parivar has brought about the Thackerays’ Marathi version of the same. One of them has grudgingly noted, though, that there are differences between the two.

The only part of the slogan in which the BJP and the Sangh Parivar are interested in is the Hindu part, and they have made a travesty of even that. The preferred name for India for them is Bharat, not Hindustan. India is referred to as Hindustan (or Hindostan) more in the Urdu literature than in the Hindi literature or in the literature of these right wingers.

As a person whose mother tongue is Hindi (standard Hindi, Khari Boli) and who wants to write in Hindi, I refuse to surrender all the rights of this language or the terms Hindustan, Parivar, Sangh (or even Hindu) etc. to the Sangh Parivar conglomeration. The Elite has done its best to give exclusive rights for all these to the conglomeration. I keep the rights to these as an individual, not as a member of a group. I also keep the rights to contribute and participate as an individual, without being a member of any group.

The plain fact is that injustices are committed on a large scale every day in this huge country in the name of languages. However, there can be no doubt that the largest number of these injustices are in the name of English. Time and again I have seen (first hand) how careers of even brilliant students go the steep downward path because they are not so good at English. And careers are a just small part of the picture. If you are involved in a court case, you are unlikely to be heard if you use an Indian language.

I am not talking about a polish person’s case not being heard properly in France because he can’t talk in French. Even that, as a lot of the members of the Elite perhaps know, can be a valid grievance.

The plain fact is also, as a prominent Hindi writer said in an interview on Doordarshan, that ‘we’ (the people talking about the Indian languages) have accepted English as an Indian language and as our own: the question is whether ‘you’ (the English Elite) are prepared to accept the Indian languages as Indian and as your own.

She said this when the first great lit-fest was held a few years ago at a former royal palace near Jaipur where the guest of honour was V. S. Naipaul, who came with all his knightly glory. And where hardly any Indian language author was invited.

If you don’t listen to people like her, then some day you might have to listen to people like the Thackerays. And you might have to pretend that you like what they are saying.

Another plain fact is that most of the mainstream literary writers in Indian languages (whatever might be their other shortcomings) are neither chauvinists nor communalists. In fact, they are the most committed opponents of the right wing politics of the BJP and the Sangh Parivar. And hardly any of them has ever been able to survive from literary writing alone, except perhaps those whose books become textbooks, which is itself a long story. Dismissing the whole idea of linguistic fairness by waving the communalism card is something that we usually expect from unscrupulous politicians, but the Elite (especially of the Left variety) has been doing exactly this ever since the transfer of power to them. Absurd as it may sound, one can understand this if one realizes that they have always felt threatened that some day the vernacular hordes will take the power away from them. There is a great deal they have at stake. I suspect part of their initial vehement opposition against the BJP was motivated by this. And the BJP saw this and made good use of this: they started talking about political untouchability being practiced against them and they gained a lot of sympathy votes on this point alone. The same Elite later became much more tolerant of the BJP once it came to power. Perhaps they accepted it as the fait accompli.

Fait accompli is another card that is heavily used by the Elite. English is the most powerful language that can give you any chance of a decent career and the possibility of some kind of justice so just shut up and try to improve your English. As one strategic think-tanker recently wrote about the Taliban, if you really want to get something done, then you have to go and talk to the people who have power.

As a not so irrelevant aside, consider the paid news affair, which is causing quite a stir these days. Newspapers have been always been used as weapons by both small and big power mongers. While the big newspapers are used more subtly, the smaller ones (with exceptions and to varying degrees) have either been directly owned by the powerful political and corporate people or have been available for hire. But after the Great Indian Reforms and Liberalisation, some big newspapers like the Times of India started the business of paid news quite openly. Till recently, however, there was only a little murmur of protest from the rest of the English Media. Then the ‘vernacular’ newspapers (for whom it is much harder to compete as they get less advertisements and at lower rates) started following the example of the TOI, but they did it more crudely. Suddenly it became a big issue, with even Dilip Padgaonkar telling us what a scourge paid news is.

Why would the editor of a National daily spend the time and effort to write an editorial about every non-committal language related statement from every two penny politician?

The Left part of the Elite is prepared to talk about all kinds of injustices except those related to language. Except when it is Indian language vs. Indian language. In that case it’s great fun for them.

What we actually have is a strange kind of fanatic language chauvinism practiced by the Elite against all Indian languages: more than just fetishist chauvinism. It’s so real that you only need to walk the roads of any Indian city and read the posters (among other things) of English teaching joints.

Not that there are no injustices in the name of Indian languages. The situation very much fits the big-fish-small-fish metaphor. There is also the infinitely indecent situation in Indian villages of there being separate upper caste and Dalit languages. The Dalits are not allowed to use the ‘upper caste language’. Language is used as a tool for domination, oppression and daily humiliation. In this language-eat-language world, the biggest fish by far in India (as in most parts of the world) is English. Even if it is spoken by a miniscule minority.

Trying to cover up this situation with slick diatribes about chauvinism and communalism might go on paying for a long time, but it might also lead to more dangerous situations than what we already have.

I really haven’t believed for one moment that the Thackerays have any love for Marathi. It’s their only possible ticket to power as of now. If they find some other better ticket, they will gladly drop the whole Marathi Manoos issue. The BJP and the Sangh Parivar are a bit more serious about the Hindi part of their slogan, but as their conduct while in power has shown, they care about Hindi only as much as the Bajrang Dal cares about the Indian culture. And everyone knows how much and of what kind that is. I abhor all kinds of chauvinism, but I still think it is an insult to the real chauvinists (like the ones who took part in the anti-Hindi riots a few decades ago) to call the Thackerays (or even the Sangh Parivaris) language chauvinists.

(1) What people like the Thackerays say, goes something like this:

  • Give licenses to taxi drivers only if they are Marathi speakers.
  • If the above is not done, we will get us some North Indian migrants kicked.
  • We will not allow anyone to do whatever we might decide they shouldn’t do.
  • We will thrash anyone who doesn’t agree with us.

(2) Here is what a real chauvinist might say:

  • Marathi is the greatest (or one of the greatest) language(s) in the world.
  • No Marathi speaker should use any word borrowed from any other language.
  • Hindi is actually a corrupted version of Marathi.
  • There is some evidence that the languages of Central Asia are derived from Marathi.

(3) A Marathi fetishist (if there are such people) might say this:

  • I am afraid to read English (or Hindi) books because they bring bad luck to me.
  • I must have a temple in my house to worship Marathi.
  • If my son doesn’t speak Marathi, I think he will become a pervert.
  • The captions of the Playboy centerfolds should be pasted over with Marathi ones before one looks at them.

(4) Then there could also be demands like:

  • English should not be compulsory at the primary level. It should be left to the parents to decide.
  • Students should not be punished for speaking in Marathi.
  • Knowledge of English (or Hindi) should not be compulsory for certain jobs.
  • Marathi writers (and newspapers, magazines, books) should be treated in the same way as English (or Hindi) ones.

There can’t be any debate about (1), (2) and (3), but as far as I can see, the three still have to be treated differently (say, for moral, psychological or political discussion). But there can (and should) definitely be debate about (4). That is, if by democracy you mean something substantial, not just a protective shield to keep your hold on the power indefinitely. If you put all four in the same group and dismiss them all, then there is some chance that this might lead to some bad things, even if Indians are ashamed to use their own language for higher purposes.

To touch upon another taboo topic, a great great deal has been written about Bombay becoming Mumbai, but I don’t remember anyone pointing out that Bombay had already been Mumbai for the Marathi speakers (not to say that it was and is Bambai for Hindi speakers), just as Calcutta had been Kolkata for Bengali speakers and Delhi has been either Dilli or Dehli for Hindi speakers. Is that completely irrelevant?

If we were to take the English Elite’s rhetoric about chauvinism seriously, one would have to call even Orhan Pamuk a language chauvinist. And Satyajit Ray. And Tolstoy. And every French writer. And so on.

In many places in his books Tolstoy resentfully showed how French was treated as the superior language among the Russian Elite and how no one among them wanted to be seen speaking Russian. Except may be when talking to the inferior people: servants, peasants etc.

As one member of the Elite (in a moment of frankness) living in New Delhi narrated in a ‘middle’ in The Hindustan Times several years ago, she was embarrassed when a foreigner from the West came to visit them and tried to talk to them in Hindi. Because for her and for the people in her class, Hindi was a language to be used when talking to vegetable sellers.

Most members of the BJP would love to make a transition to the same class. Some have already done that.

There are schools in India where students are punished for using an Indian language. Not in the class room. Not just for any formal or academic purpose, but even in their private conversation, say while playing in the playground.

So much for chauvinism.

Not to mention the Fetish part.

As for the Thackerays, I wonder why they don’t write their surname as Thakre.

They are defiling the name of one my favourite writers.

May 3, 2009

Rhetorical Questions on Ownership

If I compose a poem
While visiting your home
And having a post-meal nap
In your home
Does the poem belong to you?

If I write a poem
On the last page of the notebook
That you gave me and
Which contains the addresses
Of the people to whom I deliver
Items of furniture
As a means of survival
Does the poem belong to you?

If I live in a small room
Crammed with all my current
And parts of my old life
And I pay the standard rent
Regularly for the room
Like everyone else
Does a poem written in that room
Belong to you
Because I used a room owned by you?

If I burn my blood
Day and night, apart from
Doing my work under your pay
And manage to finish
A life sapping and lifespan reducing epic
Does the epic belong to you
Because I wrote it while working for you
And sometimes using your pen and ink?

But you didn’t pay me for writing it
You didn’t even ask me to write it
Most probably you didn’t even want me to
Because you don’t care for things
Written by nobodies who are working for you
And which are not worth much in the market

It may be a two penny epic
But does it belong to you?

If it happens to become a million dollar one
Does it then belong to you?

If I sit on the railway station
While waiting for a train
In the station restaurant
And write a poem on the tissue paper
Provided to me by the restaurant owner
Does the poem belong to the restaurant?

If my laptop is not working
And I borrow yours
And while I am using it
I write a poem using your laptop
Does the poem belong to you?

What if I even used
One or two words written
On the calendar hanging on your wall
Written on the cover of the notebook of addresses
Or on the hoarding visible
Only from the window of the room
Rented by me and owned by you
What if I referred to images
I see on the railway station
Or flashing on the T.V. in the restaurant
Something on the screensaver of your laptop
Or a line written on the notes
With which you paid me
Does the poem belong to you?

The poem that you keep reading
And may be keep damning
But don’t have to pay me extra for
Does it belong to you?

It does, does it?
Well, as a reader
Or as a property owner?

December 9, 2008

Talking about The Invaders

I am down with (relatively high) fever after a long time. This blog (before this one) had 99 posts. It seems nice to have the 100th. Round figures. The Decimal System of Indian Origin. A milestone. You get the picture. The number. The destination.

Or may be you don’t. What can I do about that?

I am still not sure why Catch 22. Or why Room 101 for that matter.

But I don’t feel like writing a post. So what I will do is, I will reproduce (with some proof reading of my comments) a post by someone else to which I had made many comments. Why do I reproduce? Can’t I simply provide a link to it (I already have)? Well, the reason is that I had a long exchange of comments on the same blog earlier on a matter that seemed important to me. But the post as well as the comment are now gone from that blog.

So, just in case something like that happens again, the exchange can be available here.

The Invaders

By Arfi

They met deep in the jungle almost every other weekend.

They were a motley group of men and women of all ages and professions who had found each other over the Internet. And over time, through discussions in forums or by way of certain books they had all been drawn to the movement. A movement that promised to restore to them, what they believed, had once rightfully been theirs. They met in the small forested area that lay on the outskirts of the city – away from prying eyes and curious onlookers.

That particular morning, at the edge of the forest, about 15 of them had turned up. They had all been sent e-mails in advance intimating them about the time and place of the meet. For some in the group this was their very first meeting and it showed in the nervous twitches that afflicted their fingers. Looking at them, you would not be wrong if you concluded that they seemed overtly secretive about these gatherings. The leader of the group – a gaunt bearded man somewhere in his fifties and clad in old jeans and a khadi kurta – had the air of the old revolutionary about him. He carefully scanned their faces, perhaps looking for signs that could tell him which of them would make good foot-soldiers for the movement. But even he seemed jumpy and constantly looked over his shoulders, as if he couldn’t wait to get out of the open and into the woods.

After waiting a few more minutes for any stragglers that might still show up, he signalled them and they all filed silently behind him. The group started moving into the forest. He had asked them to walk in silence and make as little noise as possible. The morning mist hung in the canopy of trees and the whole atmosphere oozed, of mystery – if not of revolution, as yet. Bird calls could be heard, and now and then, the sharp sound of a dry twig snapping under a pair of purposeful feet would pierce the morning air.

After a fifteen minute trek, they reached a natural clearing in the forest encircled by trees on all sides. The filtered morning light that fell into this clearing had a strange ethereal quality to it. The more spiritually inclined amongst them took it as a sign that their cause was just. In the middle of the clearing, the remains of a dead fire could be seen. The leader deep in thought and running his hand through his beard circled it a few times and poked at the ashes with a twig. He then looked around and suspiciously sniffed at the winter air. The others, looked at each-other in turn. A mixture of fear and excitement played on their faces.

The leader motioned them to form a circle around him. He then pulled out a sheaf of papers from the jhola he was carrying and was engrossed in them for a few minutes. They all waited in silence, nervously shifting on their feet. The leader then stepped onto the small mound of charred wood and ash which had inadvertently become the centre of this human circle, and though hardly a few inches overground, now acted as his pedestal.

He waved the sheets of paper in his hand and addressed them in an impassioned voice.

“Do you know what this tells me ? It tells me we have been invaded. If you read this, you would realise the level of threat we are under. And I am not talking about something that can be left for the government to deal with. They would never acknowledge this and they have already branded us as troublemakers anyway. We need affirmative action and we need it now because what I am talking about is nothing less than the threat of extinction. Extinction from our land. The invasion of our country. And it is time that those of us who understand this, step up and deal with it. Let me read out to you.”

He then read out the summary of the report to them. Having finished, he put the papers back into his jhola and picked up the twig instead. He started waving it around like a conductor, to the ebb and flow of his own rage and continued.

“They came to this country in waves. You could say they were even brought here by our own people in some cases and now look all around you. They have taken over this land, have pushed back the natives. These aliens, aggressive by nature and forever sucking the earth dry, have spread and multiplied right under our noses and what have we ever done about it. Nothing. They are vicious and cunning, quick to adapt and blend in, but do not be fooled because with every passing moment they are forcing the natives out. They breed – if I can even call it breeding – like rats and change the entire balance of the place they show up in, in a few years. They have polluted our environment and now even threaten our backyards. But it’s still not too late. Because now we have awakened. Now we know. And now is the time that we push them out and reclaim and replant what is ours. Trees like Acacia farnesiana and Acacia mearnsii have no place in our ecosystem. We must correct the past mistakes or these alien species; not only of trees, but herbs and shrubs too, would irreversibly change the climate and environment of our land. We must at once begin the process of eco-restoration. We must secure this land for our children and for our future generations.”

The leader stepped down from the mound of ash to a round of applause. The gathering then broke into smaller groups and started studying the flora around them.

Labels: activism, aliens, caricatures, experimental fiction, invaders, Pradip Krishnen, random

Comment by Banno:

The language of inclusion and exclusion remains the same whatever one is talking about, isn’t it? Liked it much.

Comment by Arfi:

Yes, strange but true. Was reading an obscure report on this and later something about Krishnen and it was the language that struck me – the way it was used.

Glad you like it.

Comment by me:

Do you actually realize what you are talking about?

You are in serious danger of becoming something like a Madhur Bhandarkar.

Comment by Arfi:

Hmm.. Madhur Bhandrakar – I hope not. Though in serious danger does sound almost irrevocable.

If you have read the labels with the post you would have noticed that I have labeled it as a caricature.

The point I wanted to make was about the use of language – which is so malleable that it can lend itself to any ideology, even if they stand at opposite ends. The entirely exaggerated narrative, atleast to me, clearly reads as such.

Comment by me:

I saw the caricature label, but I would still say that what you have written translates simply as this:

‘Left is equal to right and both are equally bad. Therefore centre is the best.’

And what is not stated but is usually the de facto meaning in such cases is that whatever is the status quo is the centre. Therefore whatever is, let it be, because that’s the best you can get.

This is the fashionable view in these days of clearly visible across-the-spectrum right-shift. In fact, this view (intentionally or unintentionally) serves to mask the shift.

The problem is that you can only write as well as you can read and, to be a bit harsh again, you don’t seem to read so well. But you are not alone in this. People who are really good at reading are much rarer than is usually assumed. Most people (and here I only talk about the intellectual type) are bad readers.

This is criticism. But it can be taken as an advice because reading skills can be improved. And I am sure you anyway didn’t expect a false pat on the back from me.

It would be a sad thing if, in spite of your writing skills, your writing doesn’t go where you wanted it to go because you can’t clearly see where you are going.

Comment by Arfi:

I welcome criticism, even more so coming from you. It helps unravel the thinking process – possibly at both ends.

The way one reads anything, as you correctly point out, reflects in our writing. And when we approach a text we bring to it our own world-view and politics which act as a sort of filtering mechanism or a highlighter – depending on whether you are trying to avoid or enforce certain beliefs – so one ends up glossing over some things and re-enforcing others. But this too is an evolving process, as we know from reading good literature – as to how it reads differently and leaves you with more each time you revisit it. This tells me that all hope is not yet lost and I might still become a good reader.

Now coming to the post itself, I dont know what exactly disappoints you. Is it that it does not take any stand – as I see it; or that it advocates maintaining a status quo – as you seem to have read it. It surely cannot be that I invoked Krishnen’s name :) (nothing and no one should be sacred, right ?)

Now why I wrote it the way I did was because of certain things coming together. I had gone on a nature walk in Uttaranchal with some local people, who are doing some really wonderful work related to eco-restoration and self-management of forested areas, and the politics of that movement would (and has) greatly stretched the right-centre-left spectrum that you have talked about. It’s quite obvious to which end and to whose discomfort.

But again like I said earlier what I found deeply ironical was the use of language when I was talking about some of those issues with them. It made me smile not in a derisive way but the way we smile when we realise, that strange though it is, the joke somehow is upon us. And that’s where this post comes from.

I cannot go ahead and declare – even though I would like to – that this here is my political stand; simply because I don’t have a one word label to express it. The labeling of views as centrist, rightist and left-leaning doesn’t help because even the connotations of these labels change depending
on the platform and the issues under discussion. Yes, right is centre now and forever pushing across, and yet the left doesn’t move away ? Old story.

But in the end, the fault perhaps lies in the post itself if it translates for you, to a one line false-hood of Left is equal to right and both are equally bad. Therefore centre is the best.

So I guess, it’s time for me to start reading in earnest, though even then I suspect that it would be difficult to know for sure, as to where everything is headed. :)

Good to have you here after a long gap.

~

Comment by me:

I knew what you were trying to say and also the fact that you were interested in the language (so am I).

The process of writing indeed evolves. But the problem is that once you write something, there is unconscious pressure on you (from yourself, your ego etc., if not from others) to then defend and stand by what you have written. This can come in the way of evolution, especially when your writing gets ahead of your reading, as I think is happening in your case.

I am glad that you are prepared to consider my suggestion. Actually, for people who restrict themselves to very narrow domains, this is less of a problem, but for people like you and me who want to write about almost everything, there is a serious risk of getting trapped in a net of our own making. (To digress, that is what seems to have happened with Ram Guha, among others). That’s why it’s very important to be a good reader so that you can read your own writing and decide whether it is expressing just what you wanted to say.

About the language, it is important to note that you can’t really look at such language of politics in isolation and ‘impartially’. Even if you explicitly don’t side with anyone, you are actually siding with the currently dominant party and, in a way, you are supporting the status quo. That the ‘language of inclusion or exclusion’ remains the same doesn’t change the fact that inclusion and exclusion can be very real. Therefore, the use of the same language can be valid in some cases and completely invalid in some other cases. To complicate this, there is the fact that there may be gray areas and partially valid cases or even cases where more than one parties have valid grievances with respect to inclusion or exclusion. Treating the language in isolation and supposedly impartially is thus a very political statement itself (whether you intend it to be or not).

But anyway, since you got my meaning, I hope I will have less (or no) reason for complaint in future.

And, no, Pradip Krishnen is not the issue. I am not even sure which Pradip Krishnen you mean. Perhaps you mean Pradip Krishen the movie maker and of the Trees of Delhi fame. I don’t know much about him. And I don’t think we should treat him or anyone else as too sacred to be criticized.

My main concern is that you have potential for good writing, so you should be writing in a way to realize that potential. You know that I don’t comment too often or at too many places.

Comment by Arfi:

I do concede the point that the use of language does not stand in isolation. Infact a writer steps into a virtual minefield, especially in the realm of fiction, when he dares to venture beyond the traditional fault-lines. He goes there because those spaces – the gray areas – need to be addressed, but at the same time, also require an extremely nuanced handling.

What also interests me is the unraveling and composition of layers, and the ambiguity that a well written text offers; where the reader shapes the meaning which entirely depends on what he brings to it. His interpretation says a lot – both about himself and the writer – and this ambiguity is quite difficult to achieve.

Guha’s is an interesting case. He is currently being heckled down by both sides. It would be amusing to see how it all unfolds.

Yes, I meant Pradip Krishen, not Krishnen. And I do realize that re-reading and re-drafting one’s work is almost a never ending process.

Comment by me:

>> “the ambiguity that a well written text offers; where the reader shapes the meaning which entirely depends on what he brings to it. His interpretation says a lot – both about himself and the writer – and this ambiguity is quite difficult to achieve.”

Is is true?

Partly true, but the meaning can’t completely depend on the reader, can it? And yes, the interpretation says a lot about the reader as much as the writer. That’s part of the reason why I talked about a good reader. The writer is, in fact, the first reader.

Also, what the interpretation can say about the reader includes the fact that the reader correctly understood the meaning. Or one or more of the meanings. After all there are people who know more and who understand more and there are those who know less and understand less, even if there is no objective way of finding out who is which in what case. But over a period of time, once you know someone well enough you might be able to decide whether to rely on someone’s judgment or not. We all rely more on the judgment of some people and less on others’.

About Ram Guha’s article, what he writes there is almost exactly more or less word for word what I used to secretly (as I had no one to actually say things to and I didn’t, of course, have a blog then) argue with the ‘left intellectuals’ about 10-15 years ago (perhaps influenced by the writings of people like Ram Guha who are given very generous space in the mainstream media and who, by the way, don’t talk nonsense most of the time: they are good enough writers). For example, I would (silently) say at that time that it is wrong to call the BJP or Shiv Sena etc. fascists. And I would give the same reasons as he has given in this article. It may be new to you, but it’s pretty stale stuff for me (I can’t help it if it sounds arrogant).

Now I know better. BJP may not be technically a classical fascist organization, but it is definitely a part of a network which has very strong fascistic tendencies. What we are seeing right now is corrupt fascism in somewhat slow motion. Whether it is better or worse than classical pure fascism is a matter of debate.

As for the again-and-again repeated diatribe by Ram Guha against the communist faction headed by Ranadive, how many people today know that the Nehru government had carried out systematic atrocities in suppressing these communists who believed that the independence that we had got was fake. In one of his articles in the Hindu as well as in a long article in the Outlook, Ram Guha ridiculed Ranadive for saying roughly ‘yeh aazaadi jhooti hai’. But was he the only lunatic extremist to say that? Do you remember the most famous poem by Faiz? And all this is very well documented and portrayed in the post-independence Indian literature (in Indian languages, perhaps that’s why the need to keep the literature in these languages down), though not much known to the general public. Just to give one example, Manohar Shyam Joshi, the writer of Hum Log and Buniyad etc., who was also a great writer in the true literary sense, wrote one novel which describes this in quite detail, as an allegory of modern India.

I like to read articles by Ram Guha, but be sure that I know perfectly well where he stands. At the very centre of centre (as the author of that article about Bhimsen Joshi said). He has no problem in saying that the left exactly equals the right. The funny thing is that he seems to be claiming that he is a leftist. And many people do think he is a leftist.

And, as I said earlier, the centre is shifting to the right. Hardly an original observation.

But I still like his articles most of the time. He is not very boring and he does give you a lot of background information about certain things and I want to read about everything. At least so far he doesn’t support the far right.

Comment by me:

And as for saying that Ram Guha is being ‘heckled down’, I don’t think you need to worry about him. He is a very privileged and respected person right in the middle of the mainstream.

It was he who had started the attack against Arundhati Roy, not vice-versa. I just hope that it was a misguided venture, not something deeper.

I don’t have much patience for card-carrying communists, what with their rigid ideology, but I do know that, on the whole, they fare better than most of the others.

Comment by Arfi:

>>”Is is true?

Partly true, but the meaning can’t completely depend on the reader, can it?”

Yes, I think it is true and something I am interested in exploring further. Of course I don’t claim that an entire text (any piece of fiction), can be that ambiguous. But, for example, the use of pronouns or initials (like Roberto Bolano’s B.) instead of a name in a third person narrative might go someway in achieving that ambiguity, if one consciously leaves open the narrative by not establishing the background or cultural influences of a particular character. There would still be other clues for the reader but what would be interesting is how he ‘fleshes out’ the character based on his own views when he reads the text.

Like I said, difficult but something worth experimenting with.

As for Guha’s article, I find his entire logic convoluted. First he applies certain ‘tests of fascism’ to the BJP, to let it off on a technicality and then later advises caution when borrowing terms generated from a different historical context – the very terms that he himself used to argue otherwise. Does he not realize that he cannot have it both ways.

I, for sure, am not going to worry about him anytime soon.

Comment by J.:

Today we were reading Derrida in class. Last couple of weeks Foucault. This in-depth discussion is very funny in this light. Funny in the sense that any talk of meaning is, post poststructuralist deconstruction.

Don’t read Derrida if you’ve managed to avoid him in your (lack of) reading so far. He may put you off reading forever.

Tongue firmly in cheek,

Your ardent fan,

J

;)

Comment by me:

So much for Ram Guha. There is something very ugly about discussing individuals. The only time it can be necessary is with respect to their public, professional or political stances, which is what I hopefully focused on. As an individual, I am sure he is great guy.

I have read tid-bits of Derrida and am familiar with his general ideas, but I most surely don’t apply his ideas because I wouldn’t know how to (TFIC).

For me, reading well is very much like appreciating music or appreciating cinema. It’s a mix of nature and nurture. The latter can often compensate for the former to a great extent. And if there is one thing I am very confident of, that is to differentiate good writing from bad writing, and good music from bad music and good cinema from bad cinema etc. So, though I can’t explain exactly why I think Madhur Bhandarkar is a classic pseudo, I am sure he is by watching several of his movies. Similarly, I know who to rely on more if I am in doubt. For example, I would rely on Orwell much more than I would rely on, say, Dan Brown. And I have been proved right innumerable times (sometimes wrong also, as No-One-Is-Perfect).

About your pronoun example, of course, that is true. You must be knowing that I know that much, don’t you? What I said was about the text as a whole, with the help of ‘clues’ in the text.

So I don’t have any objective arguments in support of my evaluation of your article, but you can either rely on me or not, depending on whether you place me nearer (in terms of my examples) to Orwell or to Dan Brown.

It has turned out to be an interesting discussion. I don’t even mind it being funny.

Comment by Arfi:

J.:

I have not read any Derrida except what surfaced in his obituary. (To be honest even that proved too dense for me.)

And I really have no idea what is meant by post post-structuralist deconstruction (you lost me after post-structuralism) but it does sound funny. ;)

But to be serious, what I am worried about is becoming overly conscious when writing if I venture too deep into literary theory. There is a long way to go and I am not even sure if I really want to or can go there.

Anil:

Yes, I am sure you know about the use of pronouns and initials in a narrative. I was only trying to further elaborate on the point I made earlier.

I rely on your judgement and look forward to further criticism. Indeed it has been an interesting discussion.

Comment by me:

To end on a lighter note, here are two excerpts from the book I mentioned:

(Caution: Hindi text ahead).

A kind of prologue

A popular hilarious passage

His writings, in general, are also very interesting from the language (if not linguistic) point of view.

By the way, I have left out one comment by someone because it was completely unrelated to my comments.

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