मैं फिर आऊँगा

मैं फिर आऊँगा
जब तुम्हें मेरी ज़रूरत होगी

दर्द का एहसास
मुझे भी होता है
मेरे सीने से भी चीख निकलती है
आँखो के पर्दे फाड़ दे
इतनी तेज
लेकिन तुम तो बहरो
के नगर के राजा हो
तुम्हें कैसे सुनाई देती

तुम्हें महसूस होता है
जब वार हो
तुम्हारी दौलत पर
इकट्ठा किया है जिसको
तुमने ग़रीबी के खून बहा कर
जिससे बू आती है
उन लाशों की
जो तुम्हारी दौलत की इमारतों
को बनाते दब गए
हम ‘शहीद’ कभी नहीं होते
तुम्हारी परिभाषा
मौत की अजीब है

मुझको जकड़ के रखा है
भूख और बदहाली के ज़ंजीरों में
फिर से आना पड़ेगा
भूख मिटाने
बदहाली मिटाने

मैं फिर आऊँगा
ज़ंजीरों को
अपनी भूख की भट्टी में पिघलाने
तुमको दिखाने
तपते हुए लोहे में
कितना दम होता है
तुम समझोगे तब
हम बेसहारा बेबस नहीं
तुम्हारी यातनाओं ने ही
जन्म दिया एक क्रांति को
जो इतिहास में अभूतपूर्व नहीं होगा

20th April 2020

We do not walk alone

Walking not alone
But with innumerable others
Talking occasionally
Of where we were
And where we will be
Whether we will also perish
Like the one
whose body could not carry him for long
Like those young lives
Which were lost in transit

I don’t walk alone
I walk with my comrades
All of us enslaved
by the shimmer of cities
by false hopes of a better life
by the wicked king
who hypnotised
us with his rhetoric
of religion, nation and friendship

Why do we,
Who built those penthouses
Those iconic metros
Those beautiful gardens
Nurtured those flowers
Brought ‘life’
to the emaciated, lifeless urban life,
Have to run away
Hungry, diseased, unsure and impoverished

We are not alone
Look at the roads
The buses and trains
Our number
Generates fear among Them
They beg us to stay back
For who would
Deliver them their lives
Who would stand quiet
Like lifeless slaves while the master shouts
Who would service their existence

The spring will again come
Not with us walking like this
The Gulmohar will blossom
With the bright Amaltas
Along those streets
Which we built
The sun will not take our lives
Sucking every bit of whatever is left within us
That Spring will be brought by us
By our refusal to work
Refusal to be led
Refusal to be oppressed
Refusal to be silent

1st May 2020

Corona Narratives III:Enmity, Hatred and Livelihood in times of Communal Virus

Ahmad (name changed) has been our regular kabadiwallah (junk dealer). He would come whenever we called him to collect newspapers, empty bottles, old junk of any kind. Around two years back he took a lot of time to come and, in fact, told us that he could come only on Sunday. I was perplexed at this. When he came I asked him whether he was not there in Delhi and had gone to his village in Uttar Pradesh his answer proved my premonition right – that of an economy which is making most people’s lives miserable. He said sale and purchase of junk was not providing two time’s meal for his family so he has become a daily wager and does this junk-dealing only on Sundays. During this Coronavirus lockdown he must be finding it difficult to survive. When a few daily-wagers have become vegetable vendors he cannot even resort to this new profession because he could neither purchase/rent a cart nor could he manage to hide his identity very easily. And I started thinking about the forms that capitalism can take – demonising individuals and communities, forcing them to verge of hunger. People would die but the system would survive because it has developed mechanism to tide over its crisis. It has created a consensus and has an army of mercenaries at work doing this. They include analysts and intellectuals who ensure that our eyes miss the fundamental flaw – that lies with the structure of the system itself, which takes inequality, hunger and impoverishment as normal because its functionality is bound to produce and reproduce these aspects. Capitalism-in-crisis has resorted to a powerful pedagogical tool – spread lies to such an extent that they become truths which no one could nullify. Lies become convincingly true, much more truer than the truth thereby nullifying the idea of truth itself.

People must have watched the video that went viral and even news channels showed it – a vegetable vendor was being asked to produce his Aadhar card to ascertain his religious identity. In many cases they are beaten up. The social media went into its usual hyper-activity following discovery of infected persons at a programme of Tablighi Jammat, after all the Right-wing and the fence sitters needed something to once again vilify the Muslims. We have seen in last two decades or so the way social media has been used to create a division in society based on religion. It becoming increasingly clearer that anything majoritarian is beyond law and other instruments of state in our times because it has either merged with the state or it has become supra-state. That is the reason any shouting match (as nearly all TV channels are constantly under adrenalin rush) on television goes unnoticed by the law, which sometimes becomes hyperactive and does something called suo moto cognizance. It is capable enough to differentiate why certain developments qualify to be cognized as such and certain others do not.

It does not really matter today if houses and shops are razed to the ground in the heart of the nation by a planned act of violence in name of religion. Strange logic seems to be at work when one after another intellectuals and journalists are booked under UAPA on one hand while on the other hand high decibel hate factories (read TV channels) are given respite by justice system. The intellectuals who simply analyse, dissent and write are considered terrorists. It is a weird, dystopic world governed by the Snowmen that we are living in. Everyone is under constant watch under some pretext or the other. Across the world, surveillance has increased but we know that some are watched with more seriousness while others are not. The law also works differently while some are not arrested despite ample proofs and others are arrested with much swiftness. But it seems normal – those in power would always look the other way when their own cadres engage in acts of violence. However, the liberal bourgeois democracy, which survives on its own self-appreciation of being democratic, and objectivity, is seeing a new moment.

In everyday lives, the reality is that communalisation has seeped in. The vigorous campaign that was launched by the Right and their cohorts has gone down deep among the masses – something that the ruling class in crisis would also love. After all, it is easier to blame the others for any crisis – the German Nazis did it on Jews and communists and in India it can be done on the minorities. I was feeling uncomfortable in asking the vegetable vendor his name and his place of origin, which I usually do for rapport building. My fear came from what was being done to the vegetable vendors and what was being done to the Muslims. He confidently gave me his details, including the phone number so that I can contact him during lockdown for vegetables. Only the other day another vendor said how Muslims have spread the virus – and I realised the success of the Right in their agenda. They are being deprived of their everyday economic means. It has been ensured that we stop thinking rationally. A human relationship, bereft of religion or even with two individuals with different religious faiths coexisting, is becoming more and more impossible. Enmity and hatred is the principle that governs our lives today and it gets encouraged by the formal and informal structures of power. Imagine what would happen to those who are struggling to meet their ends meet. I am reminded of the poem that Nagarjun wrote in 1983:

तेरी खोपड़ी के अंदर (1983)

गले से
रुद्राक्ष की लम्बी माला
लटक रही थी
जोगिया कलरवाले
कुर्ते पर
दाहिने कान से
लाल फूल अटका पड़ा था,
चमक रहा था भाल पर
चंदन का पीला तिलक
वो अपना रिक्शा
मेरे निकट ले आया
“नमस्ते बाबाजी!”
संजीदगी में बोला
“किधर को ले चलूँ बाबाजी?”

मैं उसको गौर से देखने लगा
वो अच्छा-भला युवक था,
गंदमी सुरत का डबल-पतला!

बड़ी-बड़ी आँखे, सुरमई
चौड़ी पेशानी पर
चमक रहा था चंदन का टीका
लूँगी पीली थी
पैर ख़ाली थे

“चलो बाबाजी,
किधर ले चलूँ?
छीपी तालाब?

कि इतने में
एक और युवक
इन कानो में
फुसफुसाके कह गया –
“ख़बरदार, यह मुसलमान है
इसके रिक्शे पर
कभी ना बैठना आप!”
मगर अपना साथी
अ अ बोला –
“हम इसी का रिक्शा लेते है।“
हमने उससे कहा –
“हॉस्टल ले चलो,
हाँ-हाँ, मेरठ कालेज हॉस्टल ।“
हमे हॉस्टल के गेट पर
निहायत नरम आवाज़ मे
वो कहने लगा –
“बाबाजी, हम चुटैया भी रखेंगे
आठ-दस रोज़ की
भुखमरी के बाद
हमारे अंदर
य अक्किल फूटी है।

रुद्राक्ष के मनके
अच्छी मजूरी दिला रहे हैं

“बाबाजी, अब हम
चूट्टना भी रखेंगे माथे पे
अब हम चंदन का टीका भी
रोज़ लगाते रहेंगे
बाबाजी, अब हम
अपना नाम भी तो
‘परेम परकास’ बतलाते है
अपना रिक्शा लेकर
प्रेम प्रकाश जा रहा था
और हम डोनो
मिनटों उसे जाते हुए
देखते रहे
यों तो वो
कल्लू था –
कल्लू रिक्शावाला
यानी कालिमुद्दीन
मगर अब वो
‘परेम परकास’
कहलाना पसंद करेगा
कालिमुद्दीन तो
बख की भट्टी में
ख़ाक हो गया था

“जीयो बेटा प्रेम प्रकाश!
हाँ-हाँ, चोटी ज़रूर रख लो।
और हाँ, पूरनमासी के दिन
गढ़ की गंगा में डूब लगा आना!
हाँ-हाँ, तेरा यही लिबास
तेरे को रोजी-रोटी देगा !
लेकिन तू इतना तो ज़रूर करना
मुझे उस नाले के क़रीब
ले चलना कभी
उस नाले के क़रीब
जहां कल्लू का कुनबा रहता है!
मैं उसकी बूढ़ी दादी के पास,
बीमार अब्बाज़ान के पास
बैठकर चाय पी आऊँगा कभी!
कल्लू के नन्हे मुन्ने
मेरी दाढ़ी के बाल

Reads so true even today. It has not changed. It has aggravated and intensified. One needs to be worried at the generalisation of hatred.

Corona Narratives II:Informal Labour in Exceptional Times

Living in a locality, which is more heavily gated, quieter, and not very intrusive does not let you realise the impact that Corona pandemic is having on the informal labour. Ever since the pandemic hit the human race and more so after the Indians developed a true fear of this unforeseen phenomenon my neighbours have been doing everything that the prehistoric humans were doing – before gods were born. The inability to explain fire, flood and other natural disasters might have led people to worship those inexplicable powers. Gradually, the priestly class was born, which really reaped the advantage of this inexplicability and institutionalised ignorance to its own advantage. It made itself indispensable to human existence – from birth to death. My locality, like many others, has been doing the same. They have followed the High Priest and often requested the angry God/dess Corona to go away by dancing, beating utensils, clapping and blowing conch shells to the stage of ecstasy (being one with the god/dess) or by lighting candles and diyas and those who were too urban had held their mobile torches in hand. People around have been very disciplined. So, when in a family the husband asked his wife to stop ringing the bell because five minutes were up she responded that she will stop after the mantras which were being recited in the opposite house would stop. Religion and virus have developed an interesting relationship, which is evolving, since March 22, 2020.

In this ambience, due to lockdown and extra precaution that people have taken there are very vegetables vendors who come around the locality. Hardly anyone would be seen after ten o’clock. But something interesting happened on 6th April 2020, the day after the lighting of diyas and candles. There were too many vendors in the locality. I had to go to deliver meat and fish to someone and when I came to the main road there were unexpected number of vegetable and fruit vendors. This was inexplicable given that the Okhla Wholesale Fruit and Vegetable Market from where all these retailers source was under too much of surveillance after the Corona pandemic. Someone told me that many new people are now selling vegetables. As an example Praful who had a roaring flower business has put up vegetable stall in front of his shop. I could not contain myself and asked a few regular vendors about the increased number of vendors. Finally, I got the answer: many daily wagers who did not have any work for days have rented carts and are selling fruits and vegetables in order to survive.

This is an act of survival in these exceptional times. We know that many may not be able to sell sufficient to make huge profit. The effort must be to sell enough to pay rent for the cart and buy something to eat. The corona pandemic has slit open the underbelly of this ‘growing economy’ visible through the long marches that people undertook to escape cities which was killing them in absence of work. It has exposed to the blind, affluent and aspiring class of people that it was not sheer magic, it was not the work of a government but it was at the cost of these toiling masses who cannot survive without working a single day, unlike most of us, that the economy is ‘developing’. This class of people are switching jobs/work to survive, whether that will be sufficient or not is a big question. Capitalism will have to devise some illusion, invent some enemy to hide this crude reality, to convince these people that they will get work if certain other people do not take it away from them. They might be turned into mercenaries, ideologically influenced by the Right, of capital, which will be looking for ways to survive this post-pandemic crisis.

This shifting of jobs reminded me of an interview that I attended not as an aspirant but as an interviewer. It was for a job of mere Rs.18000/- monthly salary as an office assistant. And when it comes to deciding salaries somehow the decision-makers always believe they deserve more than anybody else and end up deciding a lower salary for any other person. The candidate was quite articulate for the job profile that we were looking for. I asked him about his earlier job and he responded that he worked in a corporate house and was earning more than double the amount but was asked to leave the job after he took leave due to some family exigencies. He was compelled to appear for the job of an Office Assistant though he himself was a supervisor in his earlier workplace. Another guy who was appearing worked in a medicine company had a similar story. The informal sector working environment at all levels is extremely oppressive whether it is in a corporate house or as an Adhoc faculty in a public university. In the former kind of job profile the workers are compelled to shift jobs and are not necessarily in a position to make choices like those in situations of seeking upward mobility. It is a question of survival for those workers. The Corona pandemic is showing same symptoms of depriving people of their work – daily wagers trying to survive as vegetable vendors is only one immediate example. This also shows one of the most oppressive characters of the informal sector – the perennial insecurity (which is celebrated to increase efficiency) and always-on-verge-of-hunger conditions. And imagine what it implies for an individual when the economy is completely informalised. There is no escape. One has to accept these conditions or rebel. There is always an effort by capital to subdue possibilities of rebellion through consensualisation and some amount of coercion. Those who ran away when the country was shut down will return to their work as daily wagers if it is available but many of them will be compelled to look for other possible jobs because the companies and offices will be laying off staff. The labour in general, and informal labour in particular, will be tested once again in these exceptional times.

Don’t Doubt Us, We have been your students

Ravi Kumar

I remember those faces
which wanted proof
of me getting killed,
of 16 fractures in my body
after they took me out of the hostel room,
tied me to a tree
and broke my bones

I remember those faces
which wanted oil radiator in their offices
forgetting that I was being dragged out in the cold winter night
and beaten up
when I lay silently in my hostel bed

I remember those faces
which debated
whether uniformed men entered my hostel room
and switched off the lights
when their own daughters are expected to be protected
Men in darkness in Delhi didn’t invoke good memories

I remember the faces
which wanted proof
of how I was dragged out for being the ‘circumcised’
and my hand broken

Would you like your sons and daughters
to be paraded like criminals
with hands in air
just because they were studying in a library

And then ask for a proof !!

When I was shot at
when I was dragged by my hair
when my religion became an abuse
when asking the basic right to dissent,
to express myself, to protest against
what I felt wrong became a crime
I only said it is wrong
You still ask for proofs!!

We asked some questions
that made some uncomfortable
We are blamed for asking those questions
nobody asks them why are they uncomfortable

To be with us in solidarity is the only thing we ask for
but you need proof
you need time to discuss
by then the locusts would have eaten the crop
hunger would have become normalised
humans would have become cannibals
your proof-seeking will never be pardoned

History will never pardon you!

Celebrating Eid in Kashmir and the Growing Insensitivity of Our Times

A newspaper reported that 18000 people offered namaz in Srinagar on Friday (the Jumma before Eid). The population of Srinagar as per 2011 census was around 11.8 lakhs. And one wonders why the number of people offering prayers was too low generally and secondly, why does one want it as the news headlines. Muslims offering prayers on this day in Delhi did not make it to news. Obviously, the situation is abnormal and has been created wilfully. This Eid will not be same for the people of Kashmir, as guns seem to outnumber people. There is something wrong, abnormal as the Jama Masjid of Srinagar remained closed even on the last Jumma before Eid.

Festivals are always eagerly awaited. For some like the Bengalis they literally go crazy so does the market months before Durga Puja each year. There is a lot of planning, managing the everyday during those four-five days. Festivities have their own important place in our lives. People await Diwali, Christmas or Navratra because it gives them opportunities to do what they cannot during the rest of the year. They express love towards their dear ones, be with them, remind themselves that they are part of a human society after all the alienating lives they lead throughout the year struggling to meet their everyday necessities. It is the sense of celebration that entices people apart from their religious significance. This is the reason why there is more than one Eid (which means ‘celebration’). Munshi Premchand describes the exuberance of Eid ul Fitr in his famous story Eidgah:

A full thirty days after Ramadan comes Eid. How wonderful and beautiful is the morning of Eid! The trees look greener, the field more festive, the sky has a lovely pink glow. Look at the sun! It comes up brighter and more dazzling than before to wish the world a very happy Eid. The village is agog with excitement. Everyone is up early to go to the Eidgah mosque. One finds a button missing from his shirt and is hurrying to his neighbour’s house for thread and needle. Another finds that the leather of his shoes has become hard and is running to the oil-press for oil to grease it.

There is supposed to be a sense of excitement in air for everyone – old and young, men and women. The Jumma before the Eid is an important one and like any other festivity it is expected that the families reunite and celebrate the festival. The young, impressionable minds, who would have enjoyed the day most would ask why they were denied the pleasure. Those who deny become perpetrators for those young minds and on this day they would see the troops as those perpetrators managing the mosques, the streets and markets not letting them go free, run around and engage in all kind of disobedient acts that they would have done. The discomfort at being monitored every second destroys the possibility of celebration even if officially there is a relaxation of curfew. Premchand captured how the young boys waited more for this day than others. He wrote:

The boys are more excited than the others. Some of them kept only one  fast— and that only till noon. Some didn’t even do that. But no one can deny  them the joy of going to the Eidgah. Fasting is for the grown-ups and the  aged. For the boys it is only the day of Eid. They have been talking about it  all the time. At long last the day has come.

However, the Kashmiris cannot contact their family members and or be with them. Whatever the Indian state did has denied the possibility of celebration of one of their most awaited festivals to a huge community. It has taken away the basic right that any individual wants – be with their family, celebrate with freedom the festivities and enjoy the day that the children, youth, old, men and women await so eagerly.

The Human Pain and Suffering and Insensitivity of Our Times

What surprises is that the people in rest of India are more driven by what the Indian state has done and less concerned with the sufferings of other humans. Would it have been a normal, acceptable situation if people were denied celebration of Diwali or Durga Puja in Delhi or Calcutta? It would have created a havoc as media would have ran campaigns to show how people were denied of even their basic human desires of celebration, meet their families and share the joys with others. Media houses move their microphones across different locations asking people what they think about the abrogation of Article 370. People respond with a predominantly positive feeling about abrogation. Newspapers do not even mention that there are protests and that there is huge discomfort that people are experiencing at being denied the normalcy of leading their everyday lives. Rather, there are WhatsApp messages now celebrating the possibility of buying land in Kashmir or showing a saffron image of an Akhand Bharat. The political patriarchs are joking about the Kashmiri women. What all of them, from the people on the streets to the political patriarchs, miss is the pain and suffering of Kashmiri people and forget that those pains are same for everyone whether it happens in Delhi or Srinagar and Kargil. 

One of the hallmarks of what has happened in last five-six years has been the intensification of a dehumanising ethos. We do not get perturbed when someone is lynched, when mass crimes of rape and physical violence happens against particular communities, when food censor happens for the majority simply because they like to eat non-vegetarian food during the whole year. The protests or solidarity meetings that happen against lynching or against atrocities on tribal and intellectuals are attended by very few people. Increasingly, the feeling of empathy has replaced with mechanical world of try to guard one’s own interests and if any act that does not remotely appears connected with these interests one lets it go. On the other hand, the media (social and electronic alike) manages to create a consensus about what is one’s interest. This process has led to insensitivity towards the others who are made to suffer.

The most obscene manifestation of this will be when Kashmiri people won’t be celebrating Eid and the rest of India will be indifferent to them watching and re-watching Indian Oil sponsored display of masculinity with Bear Grylls in evening.

Photo courtesy: Khaleej Times

Ifs and buts of Elections 2019

I am not a psephologist, neither do I owe the ability to perfectly predict what goes on inside mind of Indians. Social scientists of variety have been at it to tell us who will win, whose winnability is it this time in Indian Parliamentary elections. Facebook’s, WhatsApp and so on, they are all over it. Hats off to their ability.

I got inspired and thought I will also try my hand at this very attractive vocation. So I asked the question to myself: who will win the General Elections 2019? I don’t have a clear cut answer and that is an answer in itself because it does not seem like a wave – a clean sweep that we saw in 2014. Then I went on to see what if

What if SP-BSP alliance wins around 40-45 seats in UP

What if Congress performs a little better in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhatisgarh following their win in assembly elections thereby preventing 2014 repeat performance for BJP there

What if DMK-Congres combine performs well and takes away at least 75% seats in Tamil Nadu

What if Congress-JD(S) combine manage to get half of seats in Karnataka and Left does the same in Kerala

What if TMC wins around 34-36 seats in Bengal

What if North East does not repeat itself as 2014

With such ifs BJP may not retain the position it held in 2014. This would mean that some other political forces might form the next government. And given that it is all about ifs and buts this may or may not happen. What is important is to think about what will happen if there is a new government – new political forces who claim to represent a counter-narrative to the earlier regime?