Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Politics of Language- Rekhta

Languages live and die with human interests. Language does not have with in it to carry itself through public apathy. Language cannot survive vacuum and apathy. One of the biggest loss of the 21st century is the death of languages. While technology has been one cause of it, religious appropriation and attribution is another important reason. Suddenly we have Latin for Christians, Sanskrit for Hindus and Urdu for Muslims.

Absolutist religions have brought clash of civilization to our doorsteps. This reflects in the election of Donald Trump in the US and the books on Islamic supremacy being in best-sellers in France. It is not totally unfounded. Technology connects the mankind in unprecedented manner. Therefore, famines of Bengal in 18th and 19th century could not cause mass transfer of humanity from Asia to Europe nor could most bloody of wars in 7th century push people westwards, as much as it could today. One can easily call names to people who are simplistic and intellectually brow-beat them, but the fact remains that immigration without assimilation is invasion, not immigration. There is an old story of Parsis who landed on the Western coast of India and were brought to the King. When the King questioned them, placing a glass full of milk in front of the refugees, as to how do we accommodate you when my resources are not sufficient for my own people? The immigrant leader took a spoon full of sugar and mixed in the milk. When you land into another country and insist that the local people change their way of life and insist on not only insulting rather changing the existing customs and way of life, insecurity rises. That reflects everywhere.

In the latest edition of Rekhta, an annual event to celebrate Urdu, noted journalist Tarek Fateh was allegedly heckled. It was cited as a proof of intolerance on the part of organizers of Rekhta. There are multiple literary events happen in the country these days, and on all counts, by selection of panels, selection of guests, Rekhta has been the most honest effort for celebrating Urdu or Rekhta. Tarek Fateh is a brave journalist and has suffered much at the hands of authorities in Pakistan. He also calls himself an Indian, considering, like many either side of the border, the partition of India and creation of Pakistan on religious lines a grave folly. I am with him on this, I was with him on changing the name of a road after Aurangzeb.

Tarek Fateh who has vigorously spoken in the past against Urdu and the attempt of Pakistan government to enforce Urdu, as against Punjabi, which he loves, did wander off in the festival to look at Urdu literature, since he was told (as per his tweet) that there were wonderful Urdu books available there on the stalls. He tweeted however later calling Rekhta an Islamist festival. I would believe this was his later thought. Given his history, I would not suppose he would walk into Islamist festival (although given his dislike for Urdu, I do not know why he would walk in to an Urdu festival either). I was in the festival the two days, although, I was not at the place where the incident happened. Probably I was attending the discussion on Urdu in Global literary market at the time it happened. However, if there was hugely violent, Islamist environment; I, for one, did not notice it.

I was there. I am a Hindu and proud one at that. There were volunteers there, I do not suppose all Muslims. No one was checking the religion of the attendees, No one noticed the saffron thread on my wrist. The biggest attractions of the event were Dr. Gopi Chand Narang, great Urdu Scholar, and one Sardar Sampooran Singh Kalra also known to most of the people as Gulzar. Neither of us were heckled, nor were any of my other co-religionists at this supposedly Islamist event. Muslims formed a large number of attendees, there is no denying that. That is possibly because our politicians somewhere feed this into the mind of Indian muslims that Urdu is a Muslim language. As a reactionary response to which Hindus tend to shun Urdu, at least in public, while most Whatsapp inboxes are full of couplets by Ghalib and Meer. Mr. Fateh was not a speaker at the event, so I am not able to understand how his freedom of expression was gagged. If at all, we have an example of gagging of Freedom of expression, it was Salman Rushdie being barred from JLF last year and Taslima Nasreen being barred this year. Media houses have also take to organizing literary fest, which are mostly propaganda fest, with propagandist debates as highlights. Times Litfest had Dr. Swamy and Owaisi debating, neither of them exactly men of literature, ending with ABVP’s Saket Bahuguna debating with Kanhaiyya Kumar of JNU. India Today did another literary festival with TV anchor and journalist interviewing Javed Akhtar, trying to bring the topic time and again to demonetization and feels-like-emergency narrative in current government.

Rekhta on the other hand is least pretentious in this regard. It is pure literature which gets space in Rekhta. And as is the wont of literary minds, it is quite iconoclastic, if not blasphemous. No one seems to mind that. Last event, Javed Akhtar mentioned as to how Muslims are wrongly caught in the stereotype, that they all were descendent of Mughals with all Hindus as their legitimate subjects. He was upfront, witty and dismissive of this nonsensical idea, as he referred to the fact that it was mostly deprived, down-trodden Hindus who converted to Islam and were no way inducted into Mughal aristocracy. The attendees largely where the same as this year and no one hooted him. He got a big applause instead. This time Prof. Irfan Habib quoted an interesting case of UP, where huge hiring was done for promotion of Urdu language. He plainly mentioned that in a meeting with new teachers he found that most of them did not know how to write Urdu and had only one thing in common- they were all Muslims. He also plainly put in front of the people that since giving job to one religion was not possible due to SC guideline, Urdu promotion was a fa├žade used by UP government to give jobs to Muslims who knew nothing about Urdu. At many panels, concerns were raised that attempts were being made to identify Urdu with Muslims, while Urdu did not came from the birthplace of Islam. It came from India. It was termed as  Rekhta, or thrown away, because it was looked down by the purists writers of those days who preferred to write in Persian. An interesting event detailing the journey of Progressive writer’s association, mentioned an anecdote about noted poet, Majaaz. To a great applause the narrator explained how when the poet went to Aligarh, for a lock exhibition (Aligarh is famous for locks), and saw a huge lock at the stall. He asked his friends what that thing was. When his friends responded that it was a Taala (Lock in Urdu/Hindi), he shook his head and responded thoughtfully, “Na, Allahtala”. Will such jokes go in an Islamist event?  An Islamist event will not celebrate Meer who himself wrote about himself- 
Meer ke deen-0-mazhab ko, kya poochte ho unne to, 
kashka khaincha, dair mein baitha, kabka tark-islaam kiya 

(What do we speak of religion of Meer,
he (Meer) who has put on a Tilak, 
sits in a temple and has disowned Islam long time back). 
This man is also called Khuda-e-Rekhta , the God of Urdu, quite blasphemous, no? Can we trust a Hafiz Sayeed to preserve Meer. No Fateh Saab, Fanatics are not cut out to carry forward literature. Rekhta is not an Islamist event.

People have jumped over Rekhta. Outrage builds over outrage. I would only say, please attend Rekhta once. It is not about Urdu only. It is about a language. That language is not a Muslim or foreign language. It is our own language. We made Sanskrit language of Brahmins and killed it. Let us not do it to Urdu. While in western countries, one is not considered cultured enough without the knowledge of Latin, in India, pushing for Sanskrit makes you a Sanghi and pushing for Urdu makes you’re an Islamist. Mr. Tarek Fateh must not look at India as he looked at Pakistan. Urdu is not a contradiction to secularism and local language. Both Urdu, Sanskrit and Hindi are custodians of the jewels of world’s oldest civilization. Languages are too big and important to be left to religious fanatics. Language needs scholars not fanatics. It is sad that right-wing thinkers are jumping into the debate and in process, trying to belittle Urdu. This language has served us well. It gave us writers like Premchand. True writers are bigger than politics and do not go about returning awards because the government is not of their liking. Let us read Urdu, read Ghalib and Meer, and lest you feel offended, instead of outraging against a language, read Dinkar, Kalidas and Nirala as well. Lost languages erase the past and history of a civilization, eventually leaving it rootless. We cannot let this happen to India. A language cannot be appropriated by a religion or an ideology. Left acts as if literature and all things cultural belongs to it, in India. Through our own stupidity, let us not substantiate this fallacy. Religion rides over language and not vice-versa. Religious writings survive centuries not only because they are true, rather, because they are written well. Virginia Woolf wrote- “When I cannot see words curling like rings of smoke around me I am in darkness- I am nothing.” This is as true for an individual as it is for a nation and a civilization.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Book Review- The Red and The Black - By Stendhal



Book: The Red and The Black (Le Rougue et Le Noir)

Author: Stendhal (Marie-Henri Beyle)
Pages: 608, Published by- A Levasseur (1830)
Amazon Page - Click Here
Recommendation:
Must Read. A novel and an Education. 

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Home- A Story of Divorce and Devastation


Dev sat on his knees as if in a confession, staring at the bright red shirt spread on the bed in front of him, his eyelids dropping with a sadness that sits so heavy on the soul that it makes one’s shoulders droop. Tears welled up in his eyes, fogging his spectacled vision, as he ran his palms over the soft fabric lying in front of him. He felt as if he was trying to touch the person for whom it was meant. His eyes narrowed as if trying to find something in a distance. He looked from one side of the wall to another, as if trying to ease out the lump in his throat, as if trying to loosen the sudden stiffening of the neck. He threw his head back and stared at the blank ceiling for a while as if looking for some sign from above. He could feel his desperate silent prayers rising up and eventually falling on his face unanswered. Sadness does not come at once, it comes in waves, one after another, each more cruel than the one that went before. He felt as if the space and heaven was shrinking fast and he was going to be crushed between to unfeeling sphere colliding around him.

Questions were floating around him in the sad, solitary and stale air of the fourteenth story room of the Hotel.

“Will this, this perpetual pain, end with death?”

“When will death come?”

“Could this all be a bad dream that has gone on for so long that it seems like a reality of his life?”

Questions floated around like serpents floating about, eventually tying themselves around his neck, threatening to stifle his soul. He longed for someone to shake him by his shoulders to wake him up from this nightmare which hounded him. Tears rolled over helplessly over his angular, near-impoverished faced.

Read the complete Story on StoryStar.com (Click here)

Friday, February 10, 2017

The Unbearable Agony of Unwritten Words



The weather has changed. Skies are clear once again, fog lifted. Azure, cloudless skies; trees bare. The dawn descends with the shy, blush of a fair, newly-wed woman. The days are not yet jaundiced with the pale, bright yellowness of the summers. There is a distinct hint of red in the yellow. 

Writing is sporadic, very less. A few intermittent blog post. Unwritten words sit heavily on the soul of a writer. To accept oneself as a writer is to embark on a dangerous path. It is a solitary profession and a hard one at that. 

I read to prepare to write. I tell myself. Be at some point, even reading has to make way for writing. Writing is not a quick job. It takes time, time and sitting all agitated inside and all peaceful outside, the incongruous internal and external world pulling one apart, in diverse directions. Writing takes time. One needs to tie that heavy stone to the neck of a reckless, wandering mind and allow it to sink to the depths. Bubbles of air escaping to the surface, a brief struggle, gasping for breath and eventual settling down to the bottom of the ocean. Then and only then the world is vivid and the pen is unencumbered. 

Writing won't happen in a hurry. There has to be a pattern to precede it- Reading, pondering, understanding the subject, empathy with the subject, shared suffering -all of it- before the first true sentence breathes on the paper. My novel sits at page number 280, which would mean 140 to 200 pages post editorial massacre. It is sitting there for long. Page 281, blank and barren, sits waiting like an obedient, trusting child in a crowded marketplace, left behind by a father who has wandered off to get a muffin. It sits silent and will not talk to strangers, and it awaits my return. 

Another attempt to get off Social media. Step one- deleted the two applications, Twitter and Facebook from the phone. It is so easy to get on it that it become addictive. Social Media nibbles from the corners on both time and the mental space. Some good friends discovered on Twitter and some old friends re-discovered on Facebook. That said, being on social media is as important as being off it, for anyone as a writer (even as a serious reader, as some studies suggest). 

The agony is unwritten word is unbearable. Reading Stendhal's "The Red and the Black". A brilliant novel. My first Stendhal reading. He is closer to the great Russians than any other European writer I have read. The story largely unfolds into the minds of the main character. A very long book, much like Middlemarch (George Eliot), unhurried in treatment. Halfway through, need to finish (note to self)

Read "The Journals of Sylvia Plath" on the flight. She writes- "Virginia Woolf helps. Her novels make mine possible." I do agree. I know she helps, so does Conrad, Fitzgerald and Homer. Reading for writing, essential. But then writing has to follow. Ms Plath writes at another place- "If I am not writing, I haven't been last half year, my imagination stops, blocks up, chokes me, until all reading mocks me (others wrote it, I didn't). So common, plagues writers great and small similarly. That feeling, that unbearable, indescribable agony of unwritten words, which left unaddressed, will soon rise up and fade away like wisps of smoke rising from dying embers. Write, I must. Keeping a distance from technology. Write by pen on paper. SM only for sharing what I write. Write with discipline. 

(Wrote this by hand (not on desktop). I find it is quicker and to reproduce it on Computer is an opportunity for descent edit. Pleasant discovery, to quote David Ogilvy, that my fingers have not lost their cunning. )