Context: The Netflix-Twitter Complex.
The Ad Blocker Alert is running amok, especially on the Indian newspaper websites. It all seems to have started on the same day. Perhaps they are all using the same software for creating their websites and some changes were made to that software.
I had ad blocker installed on most browsers I use. Suddenly one day, boom! no more (Indian) news reading if you don’t disable your ad blocker.
So far, so bad. Ad blockers have the option to disable it on specific websites. There being no other option (take it or leave it), I did that for several Indian newspaper websites. The Ad Blocker Alert still appeared, on all browsers. Then on some websites, it disappeared, although on some others it still said the same thing.
So it went on for several weeks. My browsers screens were dominated by ads, which seemed to be of two main varieties in recent days: bad semi-nude ‘paintings’ and a mind boggling number of ads for making women’s skin fair. As fair as a white woman. Or at least as fair as a Jewish woman. The ideal face for an Indian upper caste woman with marriage or her mind. Or, more likely, her family’s mind. With before and after pictures. The word racism is not in their vocabulary. The Indian newspapers (which these days go on about the same kind of racism in India and how bad it is) wanted me to see these ads. There were others which were offensive and/or irritating, as most ads are, advertising being an inherently evil art.
Consent is not needed. No doesn’t mean no, whatever they might say in their reports and opinions pieces, and, yes, even essays. They publish essays too. They seem to have their own definitions about what the word essay means, like some on the Radical Left, who insist on calling their pamphlets essays. I don’t know when the word pamphlet lost its revolutionary value. Perhaps they are catching up with the bourgeoisie values. The word pamphlet don’t sound very statussy, I guess.
Weeks passed again, with the same bad nude painting and fair skinning ads. Then yesterday, the Ad Blocker Alert was unhappy again. It started giving the same message: Please disable the ad blocker on this website (this time a bit more polite: The almost threatening Ad Blocker Alert title – in bold letters – on the page was replaced). But I had already disabled it on all websites.
Still having no other options, I went ahead and simply uninstalled the ad blocker completely. May be their ad blocker code was not smart enough and it just detected the presence of an ad blocker and blocked me in return.
The Ad Blocker Alert didn’t appear impressed. Back to the same message. Please disable the ad blocker on this website. But I had already completely uninstalled the ad blocker!
Now there is a disclosure: I sometimes use the Tor browser, even for visiting newspaper websites. In fact, mainly for visiting newspaper websites. And I know that many websites block traffic from Tor nodes. Some block it completely and some make you fill silly recaptchas. Free crowdsourcing for machine learning as the added benefit for the recaptcha providers.
So, on a hunch, I went to the vanilla Firefox. I uninstalled the ad blocker, installed it again (so that I had the latest version) and tried again. But this time I enabled it everywhere. First, it worked without the ad blocker being disabled anywhere. But soon the same alert appeared again. Now I disabled the ad blocker on that particular website. Surprise! It worked, although with the bad nude painting and the fair skinning ads (or some variety thereof) were still there.
A little bit happy (that I won’t have to now disable the ad blocker everywhere), I went back to Tor. Did the same excercise again. No luck. Disable on the particular website. Doesn’t work. Disable everywhere. Doesn’t work. Uninstall it completely. Still doesn’t work.
So I figured they are simply putting up the Ad Block Alert for any traffic to that newspaper from Tor (or may be from a foreign IP). The bright side is: no recaptchas to prove that you are not a robot (your are simply blocked). The recaptchas are getting more and more complicated these days and if you use Tor a lot, they will ensure that quite a bit of your time goes into proving that you are not a robot. Again and again. With different kinds of puzzles: some even difficult for humans.
For now, it seems only one Indian newspaper website is affected by this. It is one of the most centre-left, liberal, progressive ones. They are probably the trend setters.
Waiting for the others to catch up. No more Tor, it seems, from now on if you want to read Indian newspapers.
That’s how things stand for now.
Update: Suddenly, as I am nearing the posting of this post, the bad nude paintings and the fair skinning ads have become hard to find. For how long, I wonder? Instead there is this:
Update-2: The semi-nude paintings are back:
By the way, doesn’t this one look like a recaptcha? Click on the all the (bad) semi-nude paintings to prove that you are not a robot. I wonder what they are selling.
Sometimes you have to give up things without which you think your life would be incomplete. That it will be hard to bear. How the hell are you going to manage without it?
This can happen with other things too, but it usually happens with things which have become so much a part of your routine that you can’t imagine life without them. You become, in a way, addicted to them. When you are somehow compelled to give them up, life seems hard. For a while, at least. After a while, or more than that, you might become used to living without them.
Having got out of the addiction, the feelings that you might have may differ. Sometimes you might still look forward to the day when you can have that thing back in your life. Sometimes you might adopt a sour grapes attitudes and just pretend that you don’t want it anyway. But there are times when you can say, with all truthfulness, “Good riddance!”.
That is how I feel towards Corporate Media now. I have been an addict, in some cases a hard core one, of all (or at least several) kinds of Corporate Media: of radio and T.V., but most of all of newspapers. Radio and T.V. were lost long (several years) ago and the loss was not so big. The hardest was newspaper. I was one of those people whose day is spoilt completely if they don’t get their newspapers, not just everyday, but with their morning tea. And who simply have to read almost all of that newspaper. Even if it is a pain for the eyes and the back and the neck.
Therefore, when I had to stop reading newspaper everyday (whatever may have been the reasons), and here I mean hard copy, not the online version, it really was a hardship for quite some time. It was as if a part of my life was taken away. Still, I continued reading it online, not exactly everyday, but quite regularly. Then, the frequency of reading it got reduced and gradually there came a point where I totally stopped reading newspapers.
This complete stoppage, though from the chronology it seems to be the sole result of not being able to read the newspaper in hard copy, was a conscious choice. Because, by that time, I had come out of the addiction and when I thought about it, I found, very much to my surprise, that I could heartily say, “Good riddance!”.
Note that I am talking about newspapers in general, but with the implied assumption that all of them were basically instances of Corporate Media, and am not talking about a specific newspaper. In fact, the last one, the one that I finally stopped reading was definitely better than most others and perhaps with the least Corporate characteristics. I might also add that I have been an addict of at least three major (Indian ‘National’) newspapers at different times during the last (more than) thirty years. And even in case of T.V. and radio and some other forms of media, I have the experience of regularly following many sources or outlets.
Of course, not reading any newspaper daily has its drawbacks. For example, these days sometimes I find out about some major event several days later. For a person like me (who is marginally involved in the dissident media), that can be problematic. Still, it is not exactly true that I don’t read any newspaper at all now. I do periodically check Google News and read some of the ‘stories’ linked there. But that is mostly in the sense of, “What are they up to now?”.
What I do read, and where I get information and even ‘news’ that matters, is the ‘dissident media’. And I find, with only a few reservations, that this (much) more than compensates for the loss of my daily newspaper, as far as being aware of what is happening in the world is concerned.
In spite of the many usages of the first person pronoun in the preceding paragraphs, I hope the reader will have already understood that it is not about me. Because this kind of thing, even for me, could not have happened independently of what is happening in the world today. For one thing, there was no online newspaper just 15 years ago (neither did I have access to the Internet). There was no online dissident media, no blogs, no subscription in emails etc. For another thing, Corporate Media was never so blatantly, shamelessly Corporate as it is now. And being that, what it produces now is such trash that, when your addiction is gone, you can only wonder why were you addicted to it in the first place?
But then there is another thing. Since I have been consuming the produce of various kinds of Corporate (as well State) Media for such a long time and in such quantities and with such critical concentration (bordering on obsession) that given an event, I can predict most of the things that a particular newspaper would say. I have learnt their mechanics. I can see through them. I can read the subtext. I could do that even when I was still addicted, but what I mean is that this understanding of their methods (and I don’t mean behind the scene goings on, but only the text-subtext-message itself) makes the loss only the loss of an addiction, which is not a bad thing.
There was a time when the media, in spite of being owned by corporations, had something real to offer. You could get some truth out if it. That is now history. Yes, in a crude sense you still can get some information, and if you know how to read the subtext and to guess the unwritten, you can still be in touch with the global and national goings on by following this same media, but only to a small degree. Earlier, blatant lies were a rarity in the prestigious sections of the media. They could be exposed, and when exposed, they could cause major scandals and embarrassment. That is not the case now. Blatant lies are now quite common even among the more responsible newspapers. Let alone the distortions, omissions, spins, deliberate distractions etc. And exposure doesn’t rattle them much. The skins have become much thicker.
So, whatever may be your ideology, if you want to get a good idea about what is going on in the world, your best bet now is the dissident media. Even blogs are better than the mainstream media, if you know how to pick the good ones.
I am not kidding. I am not exaggerating either.
How can that be? There must be a catch somewhere. The bloggers and the dissident media people simply don’t have the infrastructure to gather news from all parts of the world everyday. That can only be done by Corporate Media.
Yes, there is a catch. The thing is, the bloggers and the dissident media people can take all that they want from different sections of the Corporate Media, clear out the trash, put the non-trash things together, and produce something much better than what you get from the mainstream media. There is another catch. Due to the ideological differences and some other factors, one dissident media source alone may not be enough. You might have to more than one of them. You don’t have to do that all at the same time. You can rotate between these sources. Read one source one day and a different one the next day. On the Internet, it is not very difficult to do, provided you don’t become addicted to just one source.
There are problems with the dissident media, some of them the same as with Corporate Media, but they are much less. The major problem is that there is still (as far as I know) hardly any dissident media at levels smaller than at least the national level. For example, if I want to know about the local politics of a particular state in India, there is little of that to be found on the global dissident media sources. There may be some blogs, but they still don’t (at least in the Indian context) provide a real substitute. This is a problem if you want to give up following the Corporate Media altogether. But as long as it is there, there is no harm in using it for some purposes. In fact, one reason I occasionally still follow it is to get an insight into the workings of the minds behind the Corporate Media, from their own sponsored words. (By the way, in that sense, even the advertisements can be helpful). They can also help you in predicting what they are going (or planning) to do, regardless of the surface meanings of what they (and the media) are saying. Crudely put, the Denial Principle works here, i.e., Peace means War.
But we can look forward to the day when the dissident media will be able to collect all its news on its own, probably (and partly) through what is called ‘citizen journalism’, though I am aware of the difficulties.
Meanwhile, there is a life of awareness after Corporate Media. And I can say that it is better than what it was before, leaving aside, for a moment, the other aspects of life.
Not to mention the saving of paper and, therefore, the reduced need to cut trees.
Viva la Dissident Media! (Excuse my Spanish).
At the beginning of this new year of a new decade of a new century, once again there is a cry from parts of the progressive left that what we need is some suggestion of the possible, rather than the ‘religious’ prophetic cry of ‘woe’ from the margins. So here is my brief attempt at the same.
Every sensible person now knows that there are two worlds, one which has all the resources and the power, and another that has close to nothing. The citizens of this have-world are few in number as most of the humanity belongs to the have-not-world. Mountains of evidence is available in favour of this ‘theory’. All the documentation is there. All the empirical evidence is there. And logic does not contradict it either. So this is as much of an established fact as any fact can be.
And the distance between the two worlds is growing.
How is it then that the have-world is able to maintain its hold over the vastly larger have-not-world? All logic seems to contradict such a possibility, but it is there.
The answer, not very original, is that there is something wrong with the binary division of the world between the haves and the have-nots. We know that this division has always been there. It has only become sharper in recent times.
For maintaining their stronghold over the world, the haves have always been promoting some of the have-nots such that another world is created. This is the world of the have-somes. You could call it the Middle Class, but that should be done only for the purpose of convenience, not as a technical term as used conventionally. It consists of managers, professionals, scientists, experts, intellectuals, artists, small businessmen (or whatever remains of them), doctors, security officers, bureaucrats and so on.
This second world, the world of the have-somes, the Middle World, serves the purpose of a buffer zone between the Top World and Bottom World. It does so very much in the sense Empires or even Great Powers talk of buffer zones between themselves and their enemies. It not just protects the Top World from the discontent and possible rebellion of the Bottom World through the passive act of just being there. It also actively manages the Empire of the Three Worlds on behalf of the Top World, with little concern for the Bottom World. It administers this Empire, it provides the security infrastructure. It curbs the tendencies for insurrections. It also looks after the Moral Affairs, which are very important if it has to carry out its complete brief. It keeps the Hope alive among the citizens of the Bottom World. Hope that is based on thin air. If all this doesn’t work, it can, perhaps with a heavy heart – perhaps not – resort to brutal violence against those who have little protection except the elements (where still available) or pure chance. It can create mythologies of fear to justify that violence, regardless of the comparative amounts of violence by those in whose names the mythologies are created and its own violence.
Note that I am talking as if it is the Middle World’s violence, whereas the consensus seems to be that it is the Top World’s violence. The violence (in all its forms, not just of the blood and gore variety) is indeed carried out on behalf the Top World, but the one that actually carries it out is the Middle World. No doubts about it. Are there? Well, there is a little imprecision here. At the ground level, much of the violence is carried out by citizens of the Bottom World – against their own brothers (if we can still talk in terms of the brotherhood of men) and also against the ‘bad citizens’ of the Middle World who refuse to accept the role they are supposed to play.
But these citizens of the Bottom World, agents of the Middle World, acting ultimately on behalf on the Top World, are acting just as drones. As humanoid robots. That’s what they have been reduced to. Being that seems to them the only way to a decent life. Hopefully.
The first question, then, is this. Why do the citizens of the Middle World accept this degrading role for themselves? The second question is, how are they able to manipulate the Bottom World for the benefit of the Top World?
The answer, again not very original, is that in return they get comfortable lives (to varying degrees), they get security, they get relatively satisfying work to do. But above all, they always have the golden carrot ahead of them. The chance to leapfrog into the Top World, either temporarily or permanently. This last one is the clincher.
But the last one is a bit of a lie. It’s basically the lottery system that can work both ways – the Calcutta Derby way and the Shirley Jackson way. Even the first part should cause at least some resentment. It does. Except that it is kept within manageable limits.
So how does this management of the Middle World itself happen? It mainly happens through the mediation of what is called the Media. By which we can now only mean the Corporate Media. Well, there are other aspects, but this one seems to me to be of prime importance. And I am only going to talk about one suggestion of the possible.
The Corporate Media ensures that the Middle World functions properly. That is because it lives in the in-between-world, with one foot in the Top World and the other in the Middle World. It is the buffer between the Top World and Middle World. Using a heady mixture of technology, psychology, language and images, it controls the minds of the people of the Middle World and to some extent even of the Bottom World. Control where control matters for its purposes. Where it doesn’t, the minds can be allowed to be free, thus causing the illusion of being completely free.
Yes, the above picture is a bit simplified. But I use it to lead up to a suggestion for the possible. You can take it as the idealization step of the scientific method.
The suggestion of the possible is to work for dismantling this crucial link, clearing up this buffer zone between the Top World and Middle World.
Work to get rid of the Corporate Media.
It is not as difficult as it seems. At least it is not so now, with the technology that CAN allow people to join together in REAL solidarity, even if all kinds of barriers have been put by the loyal (you know to who) citizens of the Middle World.
If we can get rid of the Corporate Media or any of its avatar, possibly the Top World will have serious problems managing the Middle World. And possibly the Middle World will not be so inclined to manage the Bottom World for the Top World.
It may not happen.
But it is possible.
However, to be able to achieve this, we need to change our ways too. One of hallmarks of the left has been its divisiveness, which was hilariously portrayed by the Monty Pythons in the Life of Brian (and that is just one example).
We can disagree with each other. We can criticize each other, sometimes severely. We can even fight each other sometimes. But we should stop being enemies. That’s the bare minimum. Otherwise everything is doomed.
It is already happening to some extent, but can we take it to its logical conclusion?
‘We’ specifically here refers to the little dissident ‘medias’ that we are involved in. In general, it can mean all the left. Or why just that? It could mean all decent human beings who believe in the Romance of Justice, more than they believe in the Romance of the Plunder.
We have to associate with each other (or is it ‘one another’: this is always a grammatical puzzle for me). In spite of our differences. We have build alliances. We have use each other’s work. We have contribute to each other’s work. We have to recognize each other’s work. We have to come to defend each other whenever it is needed.
We have to come out of our false (pardon a little exaggeration) but comforting little solidarities and form a big REAL solidarity. A solidarity that may not even require one to physically ever face another. It will be the solidarity of the mind. It will be a moral solidarity.
It may not, and sometimes it may, be a solidarity of everyday social relations. Can you be in solidarity with one who may or may not be willing to meet and talk to you in physical proximity or to have dinner with you, but who is willing to participate with you, work with you?
Can you now?
7 जनवरी, 2011
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।)
If you are even a little bit well read, you might have come across the name of Bertolt Brecht, even if you don’t recall it now. He is well known as one of the most important figures of twentieth century theatre (theater for the more dominant party). But his influence goes far beyond theatre. It extends to movies, literature, poetry (he was also a poet), political thought and so on (not excluding the Monty Pythons). It even goes beyond the boundaries of the East-West or the North-South divides. I wasn’t surprised at all when I read yesterday that there are ’30 something’ MA theses in South Korea alone (written in Korean) on Brecht. In India, he has been widely written about and heavily quoted by intellectuals, especially those writing in Indian languages. One of the most respected Hindi poets, Nagarjun, even wrote a poem about Brecht. I would have loved to provide a translation of that poem here, but I don’t feel equal to the task as the poem uses words whose equivalents in English I am unable to think of. Some poems are translatable, some are not.
Brecht has been on my mind these days as I have translated some of his poems (from English) into Hindi in the last few days. This excercise included a bit of surfing the Net for his name too and as a result, I came across something that made me write this. Or, at least, acted as a catalyst or the precipitating agent for writing this.
I don’t mean to present a brief bio of the man here. You can easily find plenty of material about him on the Internet and in any good library. I am not even a minor expert (in the technical sense) on him or his works. But I might mention here that some of the things he is known specifically for, include these:
- His plays and his active theatre work (in particular the ‘epic theatre’ works like The Life of Galileo, The Threepenny Opera and Mother Courage and Her Children)
- His theory about theatre, which is centred around the idea of the ‘alienation effect’
- His poetry
- His affiliation to Marxism (though of the dissident kind)
It should not be hard to guess now (if you were unfamiliar with him earlier) that it is the fourth point that would get most people interested, either approvingly or otherwise. You write plays, you do theatre, you pen poems, that’s all quite alright. No problem. Have your fun. Let us have some too. We can spend time discussing and arguing about it too. But being a Marxist is taking this business to a different territory. That’s politics. That might lead to talk of revolution. Or, at least, to that of radical change.
And so it does. Intellectuals, artists and activists around the world who are not satisfied of being a real or potential (‘wannabe’) Salman Rushdie or V. S. Naipaul and who want to do or say something more about the injustices in the world, in the society, in the institutions, have almost all paid at least some attention to this guy. Some disagreed and turned away, some agreed wholeheartedly and became loyal followers and some agreed partly and adapted his ideas and techniques according to their own taste and their own views about things. One from the last kind is also someone with whom I have happened to be concerned recently. That one was Fassbinder, a prolific filmmaker from the same part of the world as Brecht. Another filmmaker (from India) of this kind was Ritwik Ghatak. But about them, later.
Brecht’s ideas about ‘epic theatre’ (the quotes are there because it is a specific theory or a specific kind of theatre, not necessarily what you would guess from the words: it is a technical term) were a result of synthesizing and extending the ideas of Erwin Piscator and Vsevolod Meyerhold.
About the alienation effect, this excerpt from the Wikipedia article on Brecht gives a fairly good introduction:
One of Brecht’s most important principles was what he called the Verfremdungseffekt (translated as “defamiliarization effect”, “distancing effect”, or “estrangement effect”, and often mistranslated as “alienation effect”). This involved, Brecht wrote, “stripping the event of its self-evident, familiar, obvious quality and creating a sense of astonishment and curiosity about them”. To this end, Brecht employed techniques such as the actor’s direct address to the audience, harsh and bright stage lighting, the use of songs to interrupt the action, explanatory placards, and, in rehearsals, the transposition of text to the third person or past tense, and speaking the stage directions out loud.
But more than this somewhat technical aspect, what attracts me to the ‘Brechtian’ art, was expressed extremely well by Erwin Piscator in 1929:
For us, man portrayed on the stage is significant as a social function. It is not his relationship to himself, nor his relationship to God, but his relationship to society which is central. Whenever he appears, his class or social stratum appears with him. His moral, spiritual or sexual conflicts are conflicts with society.
I read this only today, but as my (few) readers might have noticed (which I explicitly expressed once), almost all of what I write here is about ‘Individual and Society’ (which is also one of the most common tags that I use). For me, the above is the crux of the Brechtian enterprise. But I should add that in my opinion the Brechtian technique, along with its variants, is not the only technique for achieving the goal (for expression in art as well as for scholarly investigation) outlined in the above quotation. Still, I can’t resist saying here that it is the key to understanding Fassbinder. Many a reviewer of Fassbinder movies has made a fool of himself by ignoring this.
Having provided this little context, I will move now to the thing that precipitated this article. Yesterday, after posting one more of the translations of his poems on a blog, I came across a post that pointed me to a news story from Reuters. Since it is from Reuters, it has been carried by many other news outlets.
The story reports that a researcher from the University of Manchester “has uncovered the truth behind the death of German playwright Bertolt Brecht”. It goes on to say:
Professor Stephen Parker … said the playwright died from an undiagnosed rheumatic fever which attacked his heart and motorneural system, eventually leading to a fatal heart failure in 1956.
Previously it was thought his death in 1956 aged 58 had been caused by a heart attack.
So far, so good. But here is the precious bit:
Parker said the playwright’s symptoms such as increased heart size, erratic movements of the limbs and facial grimace and chronic sore throats followed by cardiac and motorneural problems, were consistent with a modern diagnosis of the condition.
“When he was young no one could get near the diagnosis,” Parker, 55, told Reuters. “Brecht was labeled as a nervous child with a ‘dicky’ heart, and doctors thought he was a hypochondriac.”
Brecht’s childhood condition continued to affect him as an adult, making him more susceptible to bacterial infections such as endocarditis which affected his already weakened heart, and kidney infections which plagued him until the end of his life.
Parker believed that his underlying health altered the way the playwright felt and acted.
“It affected his behavior, making him more exaggerated in his actions, and prone to over-reaction,” he said. “He carried the problem all his life and compensated for this underlying weakness by projecting a macho image to show himself as strong.”
I have quoted at this length because I didn’t want to lose anything in the paraphrase. So this researcher is a medical doctor? Wrong. He is an expert in German Literature. And he derived all these conclusions from Brecht’s medical records. The report ends with this gem:
“Going into this project I felt I didn’t really fully understand Brecht,” he said. “This knowledge about his death opens a lot of new cracks about the playwright, and gives us a new angle on the man.”
As the Americans (and now even the Indians) say, Wow!
The Superman might have been fictional, but we now have a Super Researcher. Nothing short of real superpowers could have made him achieve this amazing feat: “his underlying health altered the way the playwright felt and acted”. Felt and acted! That is a nice summing up of the whole business of existence. The key to all this was rheumatic fever! This would make a nice present to an absurdist poet looking for ideas. An expert in German Literature goes through the medical records of a man who was born in 1898 and died in 1956, having lived in various countries during one of the most tumultuous periods in history (when there were no computers: well, hardly). He (the Expert) felt “he didn’t really fully understand” Brecht and by going through these medical records (one of the key exhibits being an X-ray) and found out that all this ‘epic theatre’ and the ‘alienation effect’ and affiliation to Marxism and his poetry and his immeasurable influence on a large fraction of the best minds of the world for the last three quarters of a century was just the result of his rheumatic fever. All his politics was just a simple disease.
As if this wasn’t enough, there is something else that would have caused cries of “Conspiracy theory!” if a different party was involved in the affair. His research shows that the 1951 X-ray report, which showed an enlargement to the left side of Brecht’s heart, was never shown to the playwright or known about by his doctors and it may have been (emphasis mine) held back by the German security services, the Stasi, who had a grudge against the playwright.
So all of you loony lefties, you commie fairies, this idol of yours was just a sick man. And if he was not, well, then he was at least (indirectly) killed by a communist government. So wake up, man! Give up all this talk about the individual and the society and injustice and imperialism etc. Get back on track and let’s live up the market dream together. We can change things. Yes, we can.
To be fair to Professor Parker, he has written a ‘literary biography’ of Brecht and it might be that he is not really claiming all of the above. However, what matters in the world outside the closed academic circle of experts on German Literature, is the effect of the reports of this study on the common readers. And what appears in these reports is, to use a word from the report itself, quite a sinister subtext. The Indian media right now is full of such reports (often of a much cruder, laughably cruder, moronically cruder variety) with similar, barely concealed subtexts, with obvious relevance to the current political situation in the country.
The ‘study’ apparently says nothing about the effect that his blacklisting in Hollywood might have had on him. Did the FBI (or any of the other agencies) had a grudge against him? Here was one of the most admired and influential playwright who had sketched notes for numerous films, but he got to write the script of only one movie that was directed by Fritz Lang. He was interrogated by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and decided to leave the US after that. He lived during the period when his country went mad and so did the world, with millions upon millions dying. He saw Germany descend from relative decency into barbarism. He later also saw the degeneration of the revolution in the Eastern Block. Did all that have anything to do with what he was and may be even with why he died relatively young? Parker doesn’t seem interested in such trivialities and externalities. At least Reuters doesn’t, because I don’t have access to the complete and original ‘study’ as written by Parker.
Very long ago, I had read one of the novels by that great favourite of those looking for gentlemanly humour, P. G. Wodehouse. In that novel (whose name I don’t remember), one of the main characters (Jeeves, perhaps) decides to go, for some reason, on a kind of fast. And from the time of the very next meal, his whole personality starts changing. He becomes dissatisfied with lot of things. He starts finding faults in everything. His good nature is all gone. In short, he becomes the caricature of a dissenter.
Finally, when things go beyond a point, the plot has him give up the fast, may be with some persuasion from others. As soon as he has had a good meal again, he reverts to his usual self. The dissenter is gone. Then comes an editorial comment from the narrator which goes something like this: If only Gandhi (no ‘Red Top’, as you probably know) were to give up his fasting antics, he won’t be creating so many unnecessary problems. As far as Wodehouse is concerned, he has won the argument against the whole idea of Indian independence and whatever else Gandhi said he was fighting for.
But we shouldn’t be too hard on poor Wodehouse, as cautioned by Orwell in his defense, because, for one thing, the humourist was just too innocent of political awareness.
A scholar of Brecht and one of the biggest news agencies in the world, however, belong to a different category.
But this is not such a unique event. Parker has just given a new meaning to the idea of pathologizing troublesome people. To the idea of ‘finding dirt’ on people who don’t follow the rules of the game. It is just a sophisticated version of the understated witch hunt against Julian Asange. A small attempt at rewriting History in somewhat Orwellian sense. The motivation is all there, as more and more people start talking about the ‘churning’ and ‘renewed stirrings’ for a more fair world. Yet another facet of the psychological operations (psyops) in these times of the gold rush.
(Using Bob Dylan’s words, we could say that Professor Parker is perhaps just a pawn in their game, but of a different kind than Wodehouse was for the Nazis.)
One of the significant influences on Brecht was Chaplin’s movie The Gold Rush.
Life is full of poetry and drama.
Once there was an Azad whose stories we are taught. He was declared by the government of the day to be a wanted terrorist, but was considered a freedom fighter by the people. He was ultimately hunted down with the help of treacherous informers (so we are told by books sponsored by today’s government). He was killed in an encounter with the security forces in a park. That was a real encounter in a real park, even if some details might be contested.
Then there was another Azad who was also declared by the government of the day to be a wanted terrorist. A lot of people of the country considered him to be fighting for them. He too was killed in an encounter by the security forces, except that the encounter this time was a fake encounter, something which we Indians have come to take pride in, so much so that we have films made in honour of (Fake) Encounter Specialists, sometimes by directors belonging to the minority community whose members are much more likely to be the targets of such encounter deaths.
We are, after all, a secular democracy where the Rule of Law is respected.
Another thing common to both the Azads was that they were revolutionary socialists (krantikaris: क्रांतिकारी).
And another difference was that whereas the first Azad was hunted down as part of the declared policy of the government, the second Azad was one of the revolutionaries with whom the government claimed to be planning to conduct a dialog. He was shot to death from point-blank range in cold blood (in the honorable national tradition of fake encounters), apparently after picking him up from a place where he was traveling in connection with the preliminaries of dialogs which were supposed to be held. In other words, unlike with the foreign colonial government, with our own democratic government he was most probably enticed for a dialog and then got murdered in cold blood. The purpose, it seems, was just to show what we can do to people who dare to oppose us. And no one can touch us. So don’t mess with us. Such a thing is also known by another name: assassination.
The stories carried in the colonial media were biased to the extent that they called the first Azad a terrorist, while the stories in the vibrant free media of the our great democracy were almost total fabrications fed by the security forces.
Security? Really? For whom? From whom?
Along with him, another person was killed. He, a freelance journalist, was summarily and secretly executed for being sympathetic to the Maoists, or perhaps just for being found with the second Azad.
Is any strategist talking about the blowback?
What about the things going on in the region that is (as we were taught) India’s crown? Or should we say the Jewel in the Crown?
I apologize for writing this unoriginal and boring piece. I know hardly anyone will be surprised by anything contained in it.
For me, at least.
Almost ever since I learnt to read, devouring one or more newspapers has been an integral part of my daily life. Perhaps no other part of my routine has been that consistent. I still read a newspaper everyday (of course, there are exceptions), but now the newspaper is the online version. Unlike for some other people, this is not a matter of choice for me. I would still like to read the paper on paper. But due to some circumstances created by others, I have been forced to forego this habit.
About two years ago I stopped getting newspapers in my hostel room. There are a large number of people in the campus who want to keep teaching me a lesson for some reasons. They are not content with just once or twice. They want constant unrelenting punishment. So, things like taking away (it’s not really stealing, not always, though sometimes it can just be that) the newspaper from my door happen so frequently that at one point I had to decide that the whole thing was not worth the regular anguish of finding your paper missing etc. (this etc. is not empty: some interesting stories lie in there).
So, for about two years or so, I have not been reading the newspaper in hard copy and the age of hard copy newspaper has ended for me. Well, actually, last month the newspaper guy did ask me again if I wanted paper and just to check how things would be now, I said yes and paid him. I got what I expected. Only worse. Now the papers are gone even more frequently. So when the newspaper guy came again yesterday to get next month’s payment, I asked him to stop delivering papers to me. But he said he has already booked etc., so I paid him for one month more and asked him to stop after one month. By the way, I have not been reading the newspapers which I have been getting for the last month because I don’t want to get into the habit again and then first suffer the anguish of the missing paper (only a hardcore newspaper reader can understand what that means: but the people who I talked about know that it means quite a lot, whatever it may be) and then suffer the withdrawal symptoms once the papers have to be stopped.
This post is being written today because the paper is missing again today, the very next day after I paid for the papers that I am not going to read. And I have no doubt at all that it is missing by design, not by coincidence.
Those who know a little about me, also know that there are a lot many other things which others would consider more worthy of concern that…
Hopefully there are some people out there who would understand what and how much this post means. I would have been so much happier not to have to write a post like this. But then there might be other people who have faced similar things.
Or worse. Yes, it can always be worse, of course.
Perhaps it will be, because I do know that as a result of writing this there might be further trouble. Perhaps it is and I am not writing much about it. It can still get worse anyway. But I had to get this out.
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.
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,
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:
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.
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).
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.
Just like anything else, at any given time, there are certain phrases which become so fashionable that every third person is using them every third day for every third thing for every third …
These are times when many such phrases are in fashion. They are flying thick and fast.
One of the phrases I have noticed with increasing dread is ‘nip in the bud’. Every third etc. etc. is arguing for (even boasting of) nipping something or the other in the bud. Especially the experts talking about serious problems of the day in the mainstream media.
It’s time to listen to a certain song by Bob Marley.