Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Somdatta Mandal in conversation with Ajay K Chaubey

Reviews, Vol I, Issue IV
Somdatta Mandal
Somdatta Mandal (SM) is Professor of English at the Department of English and Other Modern European Languages, Visva-Bharati, Santiniketan, India. Her areas of interest are contemporary fiction, film and culture studies, Diaspora studies and translation. A recipient of several prestigious awards and fellowships like the Fulbright-Pre-doctoral Fellowship, Fulbright Visiting Teaching Fellowship, Charles Wallace Trust & British Council  Fellowship, Rockefeller Residency Fellowship at Bellagio, Salzburg Seminar Fellowship, Shastri Indo-Canadian Faculty Enrichment Fellowship, she has been published widely both nationally and internationally. She has written two academic books, edited and co-edited more than twenty books and journals, and published scholarly articles and book reviews both in India and abroad. She has received a Sahitya Academy award for translating short fiction and has also been awarded the Meenakshi Mukherjee Memorial Prize 2014 by Indian Association of Commonwealth Literature & Language Studies (IACLALS) for the best scholarly essay published between 2012-2013.

Prof. Mandal spoke to me via e-mail while she was in the US and I was in India on multiple contours of theory, texts and contexts related to diaspora*.

Ajay K Chaubey (AKC): Since Man’s arrival on earth is a consequence of his dispersal from heaven, How far do you agree that man bears the seeds of Diaspora since its genesis?
SM: Whether we believe in the idea that man was actually expelled from heaven or not, it is true that since time immemorial, the nomadic nature of man in earlier times carried with it the urge to migrate. This was because of survival, search for food, and suitable habitation. In the case of the origin of the concept and the etymological meaning of the word ‘diaspora’ of course, we have the mythological story from the Old Testament when the Jews were forcibly thrown out of their homeland and like seeds, they were scattered in different places of Egypt. In their minds, they always nourished the desire to return to their homeland. It was only during the last two decades of the twentieth century that postcolonial scholars and critics started using the term ‘diaspora’ without any religious connotation and use it in a broader sense for people who have undergone transnational migration.

AKC: Is migration of people within their own country regarded as a category of Diaspora? If “yes”. How far? And if “No”. Why not?
SM: Migration is always undertaken for two purposes, either voluntarily for financial reasons or involuntarily due to forced political conditions. In both cases the situation is similar as within the country as well as outside the country. For a large multilingual country like India movement from one state to another and settling down in another part of the country by a particular socio-linguistic group bears with it all the essential tropes that define diasporic existence, namely nostalgia for homeland, bonding within their own community and living in ghetto-like state, trying to maintain contact with root culture through food, clothing, language etc. The refugees from erstwhile East Pakistan who settled in West Bengal after the partition of India still prefer to maintain their own enclaves, language and customs. In recent times novels like Anjum Hasan’s Lunatic in My Head which speaks about the Khasi versus non-Khasi life in Shillong is a good example of an author settling in a different part of the country. Having grown up and lived most of her life there, Anjum Hasan does a brilliant job in grasping the laid-back nerve of the city, something that people over the years have associated Shillong with.

AKC: The pre-colonial diaspora was labour diaspora what Robin Cohen classifies in his magnum opus, Global Diasporas (1997). The ancestors of Naipaul were also sent across black sea in the same pursuit. In what context do you see the migrants and their modus operandi in post-colonial Diaspora? How far postcolonial diaspora differs from the pre-colonial Diaspora?
SM: We all know that after the abolition of slavery in the 19th century, the plantations around the world were in dire need of manual labour and that was when the ‘girmits’ or indentured labour from India (the ancestors of Naipaul for instance) were sent to places like Guyana, West Indies, Fiji, Mauritius and other places. Though not by force, most of these illiterate workforce did not have any idea where they were being taken and they all nurtured the desire to come back after five years when the contract period would be over and after they would be able to amass sufficient amount of money by then. In reality, of course, it never happened and very few of them ever came back. Therefore, the people belonging to this class of labour diaspora along with their descendants suffered from nostalgia for their homeland much more than those who voluntarily went to lead better lives. Many of these girmits considered themselves suffering a period of banishment like Lord Rama in exile and they neither acculturated well in the new environment in which they lived but clung on to their old traditions as much as they could. A House for Mr. Biswas serves as a good example of this. 

As for the voluntary diasporics, though they suffer from occasional pangs of nostalgia for their homeland too, they are much keener to acculturate in the host land as ‘model minorities’. Financial stability and better living conditions deter them from ever returning to their original homeland. For the people belonging to the petro-dollar diaspora, earning money to remit home becomes the main objective of their living in the diaspora and as a result, the demographics of their hometowns have changed significantly. But unable to enjoy the benefits of the new diasporic space, they go on slogging in inhuman conditions and so everything is not always rosy for them.

AKC: What are the factors behind dynamics of Diaspora that has resulted in a progressive journey from labour and victim Diaspora to academic, economic, or technocratic Diaspora?
SM: At the beginning of the twentieth century, Indians wanting to immigrate to the west had to face plenty of problems, as the policies of the governments were not conducive for such migrations. For example, let me mention the tragic Komagata Maru incident when Indians who were British nationals were denied to land in Vancouver in Canada fearing the browning of the nation and were sent back to India to be tortured there by the British administration once again. Later the scenario changed when in 1965 the US government passed the new immigration act and since then there has been a regular stream of white collared professionals entering and settling down in that country. Though they faced discrimination in certain circumstances, their experience can in no way be compared to the people of labour diaspora.

AKC: What type of paradigm shift has been caused by political treaties, compromises, multiple socio-economic deals and Military agreements in diasporic writings?
SM: Though many countries have given permission to people seeking political asylum at different periods of time, the same has not been reflected much in literary writings. Probably, like all refugees or victims who suffered from the trauma of partition, these diasporic individuals prefer to remain silent about their past. We find issues of cross-cultural conflicts/dilemmas especially in areas where difference in generations, gender and sexuality intersect. Needless to say the more recent voluntary diasporic subjects are different from those Indians whose lives were mapped by exile, mass migration and economic emigration.

AKC: During my short span in the UK, I found that Bangladeshi and Pakistani nationals were residing in disguise of Indians. Even, I found many Indian restaurants owned by them.  What is the position of Indian Diaspora as compared to Pakistani and Bangladeshi Diaspora in the West after 9/11 insurgencies?
SM: Belonging to the Indian sub-continent, Bangladeshi and Pakistani diasporic nationals are often clubbed together in the UK as belonging to the South Asian group, of which Indians form the largest contingent. One has to remember here that a sort of racism by the ruling Brits pervades multicultural British society even today. Novels by Hanif Kureishi, Monica Ali, Atima Srivastava, Meera Syal and others amply testify this phenomenon. We have to keep in mind the different nature of migration of these various South Asian groups and the reason for their settling down in the UK. For instance, Bangladeshi persons (then from undivided region of East Bengal) have been going and settling in Britain for quite a long time and they went primarily from Sylhet and Noakhali districts of that country to work as lascars in ships and later settled in the East End district of London. Many of them later took on the job of cooks and ayahs and helped in the flourishing of the restaurant business. As for Indian restaurants run by them, the lure and taste of ‘curry’ and ‘chicken tikka masala’ that entices the British palate is their USP and the Britishers are either unable or not simply bothered to distinguish between genuine and fake identities of the South Asians who run the businesses. Another fact has to be kept in mind. Unlike in the United States, the number of Indians and Pakistani migrants in the UK are much more in number, because these countries were part of the Commonwealth and under the British imperial rule. As far as we can make out, the division of South Asian Indians and Pakistanis and Bangladeshis in Britain is operational more on religious lines, than on nationality. Also a lot of South Asians settled in the UK has undergone multiple migrations after being evicted from some country in Eastern Africa.

AKC: Younger authors are also writing a lot about India like Rushdie and Naipaul but unlike them, they are slightly positive about India. How are they different from the other younger diasporic writers in the perspectives of India?
SM: Examining the themes of exile, identity, longing, displacement, race relations, rootlessness, and ultimately acceptance is the staple stuff of most novels on the diasporic experience. In order to make sense of his present state, the writer revisits the past by taking recourse to memory and imagination. Most diasporic writers feel nostalgic about their homeland. I feel Rushdie and Naipaul are exceptions. In the gifted writers, the cross-cultural conflicts/dilemmas are generally disrupted and complicated in productive ways, especially in areas where differences in generations, gender and sexuality intersect – as in Meera Syal in Britain, Jhumpa Lahiri in the USA. This points to a trend or a pattern in the future of Indian diaspora also. Both Syal and Lahiri write from their own experiences of living abroad as a second-generation immigrant in multicultural society. An Indian by descent, the Kenyan-born, Tanzania-raised, US educated, and a Canadian by citizenship since 1978, M.G. Vassanji is a writer who falls somewhere in between the two categories. Like Neil Bissoondath and Michael Ondaatje, he is an Indian expatriate separated from the subcontinent by generations. Most diasporic writers try to juxtapose their homeland and the hostland in their works. In their fiction the plots and characters usually in some way or the other link India as well as UK or the US. The novels of Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Bharati Mukherjee, Jhumpa Lahiri, or Sunetra Gupta are good examples of such transcultural interface.

AKC: The prevalent conditions of “New Diaspora” are much more different from that of “Old Diaspora”. What difference do you find in both the Diasporas?
SM: The formation of the Indian diaspora according to Amitav Ghosh “is not merely one of the most important demographic dislocations of modern times: it now represents an important force in world culture” and can be classified, according to the critic Sudesh Mishra, as the ‘sugar’ and the ‘masala’ diaspora. There is also a distinction to be made between the old and the new diasporas. “This distinction,” according to Mishra, “is between, on the one hand, the semi-voluntary flight of indentured peasants to the non-metropolitan plantation colonies such as Fiji, Trinidad, Mauritius, South Africa, Malaysia, Surinam, and Guyana, roughly between the years 1830 and 1917; and on the other the late capital or postmodern dispersal of new migrants of all classes to thriving metropolitan centres, such as Australia, the United States, Canada and Britain.” This same classification is termed by other critics as ‘forced diaspora’ and ‘voluntary diaspora’. Another critic and scholar, Vinay Lal, reiterates the same idea by calling it ‘diaspora of labour’ versus ‘diaspora of longing’. For most of the old diasporic writers, there is an unease of the dislocated and the deracinated who either by choice or by compulsion have abandoned home in the country of their birth for a home in their adopted country. For the migrants of choice, on the other hand, the situation is totally different. They prefer to live in a kind of cosmopolitan globalised world where the markers of their borderless state have often to be invented.

AKC: There are many authors like Arundhati Roy, Aravind Adiga,  Jeet Thayil who live in India but they have pen-pictured the “exotic tales” of dark side of India. What is your assessment of this type of writing? (a) Politics for prize-winning (b) desire to seize popularity by being negative about the nation or (c) because of being more realists?
SM: First and foremost, none of them are diasporic writers. Instead, they reside in India. But it is true that almost all Indian English writers wherever they are physically located, along with their publishers, have a latent wish to win some sort of a prize from the western world – be it a Booker, or a Commonwealth or a Nobel. The noted Kannada writer U.R. Ananthamurthy had once remarked, “A lot of new writers who get the kind of attention that Rushdie gives them are writers who write for export. It is a shame that in the whole world only Indian writers in English write for export.” It is true that exoticism  sells. Though India is no longer perceived in the west to be a land of princes and snake charmers and naked fakirs, nevertheless the reality of India at present times is what probably motivates these writers. When Arundhati Roy wrote The God of Small Things in 1997, the theme of the novel highlighted in the dust jacket cover of the New York Random House edition was the caste system in India where the love between a person of a higher caste and an untouchable was the main focus. After all, like any other multinational consumer product book production is also dependent upon marketing hype. Balaram Halwai becoming rich through improper means in The White Tiger is part of the present reality in India. I do not understand why some critics lay blame on Aravind Adiga for being negative about the nation. When a novel like An Obedient Father was published by the diasporic Indian American novelist Akhil Sharma in the United States several years ago and even won a prize, the judges thought that the novelist had given a true picture of India with its dubious politicians and bureaucrats in Delhi. We feel ashamed to admit that the Indian protagonist of the novel was a man who raped his own daughter, kept on living with her, and even attempted to sexually abuse his granddaughter. Even Bharati Mukherjee, who claims to be recognized as a mainstream American novelist, wrote about the reality of a resurgent India of contemporary times with its call-centers and urban problems and sexual abuse of young women in her latest novel Miss New India. She depicted a true picture of the nation as of    now and I don’t feel she was aiming at popularity by being negative about India. In fact she sees the book as a stand-alone novel and last part of her trilogy comprising of Desirable Daughters and The Tree Bride.

AKC: There are many South Asian authors who prefer to settle down in the “other” world rather than in the First world viz. Uma Parameswaran, Vassanji, Mistry, Ondaatje and Shyam Selvadurai in Canada; Suneeta Peres da Costa, Yasmine Gooneratne and Chandani Lokugé, Samantha Sirimanne Hyde in Australia; Amulya Malladi and Tabish Khair in Denmark; Sujata Bhat in Germany; Manjushree Thapa and Taslima Nasrin in India and Shehan Karunatilaka in Singapore. Do you think that that the First Worlds-the UK, the US and France and etc. are not safer in the backdrop of 9/11 attacks in the US, 7/7 in the UK and, of late, Charlie Hebdo attacks in France? Please comment. 
SM: I find this question of yours problematic because as far as my knowledge goes writers who have settled down and live in Canada are considered part of the First World. You cannot call it ‘other.’ It is true migrants have been more suspect to state vigilance after the terrorist attacks in events like 9/11in the US and 7/7 in UK, but we should be very careful about not falling into the trap of essentialism. Each individual South Asian writer has a different reason and trajectory for settling in an alien country and so we cannot generalize. For example, many of them went along with their family for better economic prospects, like Yasmine Gooneratne from Sri Lanka who went to Australia or Romesh Gunesekera who went and settled in Britain after the Civil War in his native country.  Some went for academic reasons (Tabish Khair for example, who went from his native Bihar to Denmark, Amitava Kumar from Bihar to the United States), whereas Taslima Nasrin had to flee her homeland Bangladesh (and now even India) because of religious fundamentalism, and so on.

AKC: What role does Bollywood construct in gaining prevalence abroad and re-uniting the Indian diaspora at the global forum? Do you think that Indian Cinema is more accepted in the West than any other film industry of neighbouring countries of India?
SM: By its sheer number of films produced per year, Bollywood happens to be the largest film industry in this subcontinent and thus overshadows films produced by neighbouring countries of India. Bollywood films are watched by an overwhelming number of South Asians both at home and abroad. Of course the diaspora watches these products differently than the home audience. I feel this difference is marked in two particular areas. First is the spirit of nationalism that is inculcated in many films where dying for the nation becomes a heroic act. This even cuts across religious lines. The second and more significant issue is the interest showed in the west for queerness in Bollywood films where narratives about queerness in the Indian diaspora are almost upbeat and use the acceptance of queerness as a token for entry. For example, Karan Johar’s films Dostana and Kal Ho Na Ho, set among the diaspora community in America, present the possibility of joy, hope, and acceptance for an Indian gay man. In contrast, Bombay Talkies, Johar’s only film addressing queerness within India, deals with the same issues while at home, shows only the possibility of a violent confrontation with society, represented by parents, followed by a life of loneliness, pain and lies while the spirit of India looks on and sings songs of mourning for them. All of the recent films set within India with a prominent gay story line have had similar bleak endings. With the advancement of technology and simultaneous release of a Bollywood film in any part of the world on the same day, the people of the Indian diaspora feel more connected with the homeland now. Unlike earlier times they do not have to wait for pirated copies of Bollywood blockbusters to reach them much later.

AKC: When you are on tour to abroad or settled there for a long time, what do you think of your homeland? Do you realize the contours of Rushdie proliferated by him in his tour de force, Imaginary Homelands (1991)?    
SM: The critic Avtar Brah in Cartographies of Diaspora emphasises on the homing desire and the desire for the homeland as recurrent themes in diasporic writing. Accordingly, she identifies four stages in the process of assimilation in the hostland. These are the tourist phase, the culture shock phase, the conformist phase and the assimilation phase. For Rushdie, the role of memory, what he terms as ‘Indias of the mind’ remains the most significant criteria. The other metaphor that he uses is that of the pieces of a broken mirror, parts of which are lost. So, in spite of having a desire for the homeland, when one is settled abroad for a long time, the memory keeps on fading. As Rushdie has put it in Imaginary Homelands, the position of ‘the exile or immigrant’ is one of ‘profound uncertainties’ The diasporic person is at home neither in the west nor in India and is thus ‘unhomed’ (Homi Bhabha) in the most essential sense of the term. Thus the concept and interpretation of ‘home’ becomes vital in all kinds of diasporic writing.

AKC: To what extent do you agree that present economic and political fluidity has converted the “nowhere presence” of Diaspora into “omnipresence”?
SM: The way our Indian government woos her diaspora population by observing the Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas every year and by offering sops like PIO and OCI cards and by asking them to invest in the country speaks a lot about their financial stability in general. On the other hand, the overt presence of politicians of Indian origin in both the UK and the US also speak a lot about their ‘omnipresence’. They are now a serious power to reckon with.

AKC: What role has South Asian Diaspora played in deconstructing the Orientalist view of the Occident?
SM: I believe that South Asian diasporic writers see a new phase of neo-orientalism in recent fiction. For example, Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland or Neel Mukherjee’s The Lives of Others where large sections of the novels are based on Kolkata fits in this sort of agenda.

AKC: Thank you, Prof. Mandal! It’s an enlightening discourse not only for me but also for the pan-Indian scholars and academicians.
SM: Welcome Ajay. It’s worthwhile for me too.

Ajay K Chaubey is Assistant Professor of English in the Department of Sciences & Humanities at the National Institute of Technology, Uttarakhand, India. His has recently published his maiden academic work, V S Naipaul: An Anthology of 21st Century Criticism (Atlantic, 2015). His another volume on Salman Rushdie is under publication from the Atlantic itself. He has co-edited two volumes on the Literature of the Indian Diaspora—Transnational Passages: An Anthology of Diaspora Criticism (Vol. I) and Discursive Passages: An Anthology of Diaspora Criticism (Vol. II)—under publication from the Yking Books, Jaipur. He has attended, participated and presented research papers in the conferences and symposia held in India and overseas including York St. John University, York; Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham and University of Leicester, Leicester (UK) during June 2014. He is also associated with the preparation of syllabi and academic policymaking as he is also the Officiating Dean (Student Welfare) in his institute. He is a Life Member of the research organizations viz. IACLALS, AESI and Sahitya Academy, New Delhi.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

The Mirage of Love by Lady Diana/ Quills Ink Private Limited

Reviews, Vol I, Issue IV

The novel effectively deconstructs the trendy cosmopolitan perception about love marriages being an egalitarian relationship between men and women. It is generally acceptable by a section of the so called educated and financially well-off people in our contemporary times that love marriages are a symbol of being progressive and modern. On the contrary love as an emotion is equally guided by the repressive and gender insensitive nature of our society. Though, it is equally significant to define that a love relationship is the first democratic step by a person in our society when it transgresses the boundaries of caste, class, religion, heteronormativity and ethnicity in our society. 

The protagonist in the novel gets struck by this revelation that even though she had asserted her right to choose a partner, but she has fallen back into another institution of oppression by consummating her love bond into the Hindu marriage fold. The codes and norms she is obliged to follow are not just repressive, but are ways to discipline her back into a symbol of a "good woman". It is not just the female protagonist who is the victim in the novel, but the worst of all are the other women characters who being forged and moulded into the roles of the godmother, the mother-in-law, maid servant, and women in the neighbourhoods who instead of understanding, and at least showing solidarity with each other are constantly trying to monitor each other, constantly reminding each other to follow the herd. Thus, the Hindu patriarchal structure is getting more consolidated when the women themselves are unable to forge unity to break it. The institution of marriage is not just preserved through traditions, but it perpetuates itself through the oppressed and thus reproduces the conditions of its own existence. The author wonderfully captures this decapitating dilemma of the protagonist who seeks to move out from the domestic prison and pursue her desires to become financially independent rather than depending on the mercy of her husband. He on the other hand has brought her as a trophy to his home winning her love, and is proudly committing infidelity blaming his wife for not entertaining him after marriage. He just sees her as an object to give him pleasure and entertain him all his life. 

Also, when she finds another male companionship in her life she is faced with the same conflict of culminating her companionship into another marriage, and thus falling into the same structure of existence. Diana has thus offered a way to her protagonist to denounce the structure itself and asserted through her protagonist that love does not necessarily require a tag of being a wife of someone in conventional sense; rather it requires a constant struggle to build an egalitarian companionship between the lovers. It is not just the fight of one individual woman in the novel, but rather the struggle of "half the sky" to democratise the society. The novel through its conclusion subtly suggests that the only way towards a free dawn is to demolish the structure rather than reforming it which has been the problem of the mainstream feminist struggle in India which has set the limits of dissent and is regulated by the overarching political and economic structure of the country. 

Reviewed by Sourabh Kumar
Assistant Professor, Department of English, Ram Lal Anand College, University of Delhi

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Repudiating Disabilities: Making Whoopees of ‘Unimpaired Selves’ in Margarita with a Straw

Reviews, Vol I, Issue IV

The trials and tribulations of life entail us to counter them bravely. But do we emerge a champ every time confronting both the simple and arduous deals of our day to day lives. Sometimes we succumb outrightly; at other times we knock ourselves out completely but fall just a little short of hitting the bull’s eye. Few other times, we win in cracking the code and registering a brilliant triumph. Truly, life is a mixed bag, there are moments when we are laid down by our disabilities which may not be real but chimerical ones etched deeply on our mind’s roster; disabilities as they say are in the mind only.

We all act incompetent many a time but being human we tend to hide our shortcomings under the garb of formidable situations and ill-starred times. Still, are we sensitive enough to treat at an equal footing, the ones with disabilities writ well on their bodies- the ones whom the world favours with the tag of ‘differently abled,’ and feels relieved at having practised a deemed altruistic deed by re-christening them so. The lesser known reality is that they are not at variance from the able-bodied ones in their dreams and desires; and are equally entitled to comply with their longings and inclinations.

The movie, Margarita with a Straw (2015) contemplates on the leitmotif of ‘Unimpaired Selves’ implicit in the not so able-bodied ones, manifested through the character of vivacious Laila, the protagonist of the movie. The charming and creative nonconformist Laila deconstructs all radical notions of a young girl with cerebral palsy. Though wheelchair bound, she otherwise is just like any other exuberant teenage girl who does not allow any physical impediments to come in the way of her adventurous student lifestyle. Laila does not permit her physical disability to meddle with her love life.

The movie seeks inspiration from the book, One Little Finger (2011) a memoir of a leading advocate of disability rights, Malini Chib who is herself inflicted with cerebral palsy. The   movie as well as the book on which it is based calls for the exigency of a receptive and inclusive world which cherishes and reinforces the rights of the ‘differently abled’ to live fulfilled and wholesome lives. Malini Chib takes a dig at the contradictory standards of society in this regard:  “It is crazy but society on one hand thinks that disabled people should lead normal lives, but when it comes to the crunch of having an intimate relationship with a person who is disabled, they get scared and pretend that the problem is not theirs.” And she is quite genuine in her surmise that being both disabled and a woman is a ‘double disadvantage.’

Both Malini Chib and Laila Kapoor cruise past many such yardsticks, transgress from the outmoded traditions and trespass the antiquated social norms at every rung to lead ‘no strings attached’ unconditional lives. In defiance of her sickness and physical limitations, Malini Chib indulges in quite a lot of globe-trotting, and pleasantly traverses the boundaries between nation-states both for tourist amusements and academic pursuits. The cathartic endowment for heartbroken Laila too (on being spurned by the lead singer of her band) heralds in the guise of a full scholarship from New York University for a Creative Writing Program. The expanse and plenitude of the Big Apple sets the stage for Laila to discover love in an exceptional way.

Margarita with a Straw is not a conventional art house drab movie with spotlight on various predicaments of disability. It is a coming of age movie that gets past the disabilities and takes a flyer of treating people with disabilities as normal. It hinges on the sexuality of differently- abled people and insinuates without getting preachy: to treat as normal the libidinous and emotional urges of the differently-abled. The film manages to audaciously venture into the forbidden spaces of bisexuality too.

On a buoyant, howbeit a defining note, the title of the movie rehearses another tip on equality by suggesting that the physical incapacities of people need not disavow them from the extravagance of raising a toast to celebrate and; exhilarate themselves by sipping on margarita, what if with a straw. Summing-up in words of Shonali Bose, the director of the movie: “The film deeply talks about passing the prejudice and making a parallel line for equality. Let’s move ahead, and look at these people as humans.”

- Reviewed by Manjinder Kaur Wratch 
Kaur is a recipient of Maulana Azad National Fellowship and a researcher working for her doctoral degree on Partition literature. She has made many presentations at various national and international conferences and has also contributed research papers for many journals-national as well as international. Earlier she has served as Faculty English Language and Literature in various leading institutes of the country. For her M.Phil dissertation she worked on the translated in English works of the legendary Punjabi and Hindi author, Amrita Pritam. Her recent stopover being reviewing literary works and penning homilies on the arty-crafty realm of ‘substance cinema.’              

The Gypsy Goddess by Meena Kandasamy/ Harper Collins India

Reviews, Vol I, Issue IV

In the middle pages of the narrative of the novel, we have a list. A description of the dead bodies who were massacred by a police inspector: burnt alive by the Caste-Hindu Landlords of Kilvenmani. It is a chilling few pages in the novel. Trust me, nothing within the earlier pages where the novelist is preparing us for the story, telling us the impossibility of telling such a story, and also giving us the background of the massacre where both the political ideologies or class/caste ideologies represented with two pamphlets will prepare you for this. Till now, you may have dissected, interpreted, got irritated, got provoked, itching, scratching your head, thinking hard to make sense (as you have no idea about what actually happened), making some sense (of the historical details given) a few times, gasping, yawning (not me), being impressed with the techniques/ anti-techniques, narrative style/anti-narrative style, novel/anti-novel, modernism/postmodernism, political commitment, research, thesis/ anti-thesis and all other things. But trust me, you are not prepared for this graphic detail. An absolutely emotionless detail. You come to know there were 44 of them. You come to know most of them were women and children. You come to know how those bodies, burnt, were sometimes so unrecognizable that their identities (name, sex, house, but not caste or village or specie) get dissolved. As if you’ve been hit with a brick. As if you now start watching things with your eyes wide open(no more yawning in between or doing technical studies of narratives, especially when you've been thinking about writing a review, your first ever review) Here, when are craving for realism, when it’s too real, you won't be able take it.

The next couple of chapters are in reverse, like Gasper Noe’s Irreversible, and yes the facts/images/smells/sounds are even more startling than that skull smashing scene in the beginning of the movie. Next Chapter: Someone, probably someone young, running to save his life (short sentences, breathlessness).  The next one, has the account of the massacre, where 44 people were burnt, locked inside a hut. (no commas, full stops, no time for taking a breath, as if the novelist has a handy cam and she is capturing those images, without a break). And then the trial, the usual denial of justice and a violent ending (Can't tell you everything)

Since it’s a novel (it is hard to describe it as something else, or maybe we can call it a tragedy, an epic tragedy, a novel with tragedy of epic proportion) you are searching for a single micro narrative, an isolated case study, a minute description of what happened to the old woman in the beginning. You’ll be disappointed if you want that story. The judges in the courts in the novel too wanted such a narrative.

“Perhaps he wanted a single story: uniform, end to end to end. The “Once upon a time, there lived an old woman in a tiny village” story. Sadly, we are not able to tell such a story. A story told in many voices seems unreliable.”

How can you tell one story when so many people got affected? And is this just the story of Kilvenamni? Probably not. Although the Kilvenmani story (in the novel at least) is resolved temporarily, but it’s also the story of other such massacres, the Bathani tola’s, the Lakshmanpur Bathe’s or even the Ramabai Colony’s (it’s ironical that we have to use the word story here, even when we are telling you a fact, because when someone narrates a fact, it automatically becomes a story, hence unreliable and the impossibility of telling a factual story stems from that)

What’s also refreshing to see is that the novelist is not shying away from revealing her political commitment to communism, and that commitment is not just reflected in the narrative, but also in the narrative style. ‘We’ is the protagonist of the novel, in this sense we can call it a proletarian narrative. Although there are a few individuals too like Maayi, but it’s not your regular single hero blockbuster. The villain, however, is cinematically represented, and the horror that we are going to deal with in the future pages becomes believable.

The preparation of the reader for the future events, where the novelist is trying to figure out, what is the best way to tell the story, also works as an alienating effect (see, I know Brecht) This alienation stops us from being emotional about the story, to cry, and get purged and forget about it after the reading. That is not going to happen to you. Although you won’t do the things that the novelist suggested, but still, you’ll be disturbed (at least for a while) you’ll try to find out the facts (though there is hardly enough material on the net) This probably will be the only properly written thing (though the novelist will disagree) that you’ll be reading about the massacre. Though there are a few non-fictional accounts about which the writer herself talks about.

As a first time reviewer (I don’t know if it’s a review, since I haven’t written one before and also the fact that you can’t really write of something like this as I have never been subjected to such a violence, being from a certain caste/class/educational background, but still, for convenience sake) I would recommend (strongly) to read the novel and to try and discover more. You can’t feel the pain (don’t even try to pretend) but at least be aware that something like this has actually happened. Do grab a copy. I heard that the paperback is out (buy a hardcover version though, the words will remain secured inside it) Keep that story of those Gypsy Goddess (seven or seventeen) and their children who were burnt with them, in the hard disk of your memory.

About the Novelist
Meena Kandasamy is a poet, writer, activist and translator. Her work maintains a focus on caste annihilation, linguistic identity and feminism. She has published two collections of poetry, Touch (2006) and Ms Militancy (2010). Her first novel, The Gypsy Goddess was published by Atlantic Books (UK) and HarperCollins India in 2014.

She was a British Council - Charles Wallace India Trust Fellow at the University of Kent and a Visiting Fellow at Newcastle University in 2011. In 2009, she was a writer-in-residence at the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program (IWP). She has held writing residencies at the Hong Kong Baptist University, Jawaharlal Nehru University (New Delhi) and the University of Hyderabad.

She has co-authored (with M Nisar) a biography of Kerala’s foremost Dalit revolutionary Ayyankali, and previously, she edited ‘The Dalit’, a bi-monthly English magazine. She holds a PhD in socio-linguistics from Anna University Chennai, and dabbles in political & literary translation.

- Reviewed by Prabhat Jha

Prabhat Jha is a Research Scholar in Patna University. 
He often writes poetry, plays and short stories. 
Apart from English he also writes 
and translates from Maithili and Hindi.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

मैं साक्षी... यह धरती की - लता तेजेश्वर

Reviews, Vol I, Issue IV

लता तेजेश्वर एक उभरती हुई रचनाकार हैं। इनकी लेखनी की सबसे बड़ी खासियत यह है की वे हिंदी भाषी नहीं होते हुए भी हिंदी में कविताएँ, उपन्यास आदि सृजन करती है। इनकी अनेक काव्य कृतियाँ छप चुकी हैं। अभी हाल ही में ही भूटान में इनकी लिखी उपन्यास 'हवेली' का लोकार्पण हुआ।
इनकी काव्य संग्रह "मैं साक्षी... यह धरती की" मुझे समीक्षार्थ मिली। इस संग्रह में नई कविताओं की एक ऐसी गुलदस्ता है, जिसमें जीवन के अनेक रंग समाहित है। प्रत्येक गुल की अपनी ही दास्तान है, अपना ही रंग है जो कविता प्रेमी हॄदय को पुष्पित कर देता है।
कोई कविता प्यार के रंगों से भरपूर है तो कहीं इनकी कविता में जीवन की सच्चाई का वर्णन है तो कहीं नारी अंतर्मन तथा शोषण की दास्तान हैं। इस संग्रह की सारी कविताएँ इंसानी जिंदगी के विभिन्न रंगों से हमें परिचित करवाती है। खास कर इस संग्रह की भूमिका "मैं साक्षी... यह धरती की" जिसमें इन्होंने धरती के बनने के समय से लेकर आज तक की तकलीफ़ को धरती और अपने बीच तादात्मय स्थापित करते हुए एक सूत्रधार की तरह ऐसे परिभाषित किया है जैसे की मानों धरती के साथ हुए हर घटनाओं की वह गवाह है/साक्षी है। यह इनकी गहरी सोच का परिचय है। सच, एक नारी ही धरती की पीड़ा को समझ सकती है। इसलिए नारी की तुलना सदैव धरती से की गयी है। जिस प्रकार धरती मूक हो कर अपने व्यथा को सहती है, जिसे उसने अन्न, जल, शुद्ध हवा दी वही मनुष्य धरती को आज विनाश के कगार पर खड़ा कर चुका है। उसी प्रकार स्त्री भी अपनों के दिए हुए दुःख और तकलीफ झेलती है। कभी स्त्री के अस्तित्व का प्रश्न तो कभी उसके साथ यौन शोषण, तो कभी उसे जन्म देने से पहले ही मिटा दिया जाता है। जैसे कि धरती अपने अंदर ज्वालामुखी को दबाए रखती है, औरत भी धरती की तरह अपने अंदर अपमान के ज्वालामुखी को सहती रहती है। धरती तो फिर भी अपने अंदर के ज्वालामुखी का विस्फोट कर कभी प्रलय तो कभी भूकंप के रूप में आती है। परंतु औरत तो हमेशा मूक ही रहती है और इसे ही अपना नियति मान लेती है।
लता तेजेश्वर जी के रचनाओं में कहीं जीवन मरण से जुड़े जटिल प्रश्न है तो कहीं कृष्ण की दीवानी राधा का प्रेम है। जबतक सृष्टि रहेगी राधा-कृष्ण का प्रेम लोगों के समक्ष एक उदहारण प्रस्तुत करते हुए यह कहता रहेगा कि प्रेम का अर्थ पाना नहीं त्याग है, बंधन नहीं मोक्ष है।
लताजी ने अपनी कविता "वेदना" में राधा के मन की व्यथा, कृष्ण के प्रेम की आकुलता तथा राधा के नयनों में कृष्णा की एक झलक देखने के लिए उनके प्रतीक्षा की पीड़ा को दर्शाया है। "वेदना" में राधा के प्रेम के उदगार तथा कृष्ण के कर्तव्य पालन छवि को दिखलाया गया है,-

                   "भौ कृष्ण, कबतक
                   तेरे आगमन को निहारूँ?
                       मन चितवन विचलित कर
                        गोपियों के संग रास रचाते
                        मुझे अपनी मानस पट से
                       दूर नहीं कर सकते।"
वहीँ इनकी कविता "आत्मन" में जीवन मृत्यु जैसे विषय पर प्रश्न उठाया गया है। इसमें इंसान के मन में उठने वाले प्रश्नों को दर्शाया गया है। हर इंसान के मन में यह प्रश्न उठता है कि मैं कौन हूँ? जीवन क्या है? मरण क्या है? इंसान का अस्तित्व क्या है? इसी पर मनन किया गया है। इसमें कवयित्री ने "नचिकेता" की कथा को उदहारण स्वरूप लिया है। जिस प्रकार नचिकेता ने जन्म मरण के प्रश्नों को 'यम'' के समक्ष रखे थे वहीँ प्रश्न इनके मन में उभरते नज़र आते हैं।  

साहित्यकार का कार्य ही है नवीनता को तलाशना। आत्मन की इन पंक्तियों में मनुष्य के मन में उठने वाले प्रश्न हैं-

               "कभी मेरे मन में एक सवाल दस्तक दी थी।"
               " कहाँ से आती है जिन्दगी और कहाँ जाती है?"
               "हम कौन है?"
                "मैं कौन हूँ?"
                "मेरा अस्तित्व क्या है.. (पॄष्ठ-64)

सच यही है।  जीवन के इन्ही प्रश्नों का जवाब खोजते-खोजते इंसान की जिंदगी खत्म हो जाती है।
इसके अलावे "तवायफ" "किताब" "आर्तनाद" जैसी कविताएँ भी दिल को छू लेती है। "आवारा मैं" कविता में एक "पॉलीथिन" की आत्मकथा उसके अपनी ही जुबानी कही गयी है। जो लेखिका के उच्चकोटि सोच के दौरान है।
                   "कहाँ से आया मैं..
                    कहाँ है जाना...
                   ना कोई मंजिल ना कोई ठिकाना।"
पॉलीथिन उन लावारिस बच्चों की तरह है जिसका कोई ठौर ना कोई ठिकाना है। माँ बाप की गलतियों का नतीजा, ये अनाथ बेसहारा बच्चे जिन्हें उनके माँ बाप अनाथ-आश्रम या गली नुक्कड़ में छोड़ जाते हैं। ये आवारा बच्चे इन आवारा पॉलीथिन के भाँति इधर उधर भटकते हैं। लताजी के कविता की यही खसियत है। "सवाल" में वे एक किसान की दयनीय स्थिती को दर्शाती हैं।  इसके अलावे "अनकही बातें" "साथी" "एहसास" दिल को छू लेने वाले कविता है। इनके काव्य की माला में एक से बढ़कर एक मोती हैं। इन मोतियों को कोई जौहरी ही परख सकता है।
आज के भागम-भाग वाले युग में जहां इंसान आगे बढ़ने की होड़ में लगा है, वहीँ अगर वह चन्द मिनट काव्य रास स्वादन में लगा दे तो अनेक समस्याओं का समाधान हो जाएगा।
लताजी की कविताएँ हमारे मन में उठने वाले काव्य प्यास को शांत करती है। जीवन से जुड़े हर प्रश्न का उन्होंने कविता के माध्यम से सुन्दर वर्णन किया है। अहिन्दी क्षेत्र की होते हुए भी उन्होंने हिंदी में कवितायेँ लिखकर हिंदी के मान को बढ़ाया है। वैसे भी हमारे हिंदी साहित्य में अनेक अहिन्दी क्षेत्र के लोगों ने काव्य, कहानियाँ तथा उपन्यास की रचना की है । हिंदी को आगे बढ़ाने में इनलोगों के अमूल्य योगदान को हमेशा सम्मान मिलेगा।  
 - संजू शरण | लेखिका

Film Review: To The Wonder

Reviews, Vol I, Issue IV

“Love makes us one. Two…one. I in you. You in me.”

Few days back, I was watching Hollywood Reporter’s The Full Director Roundtable with directors like Christopher Nolan, Richard Linklater, Mike Leigh, Bennett Miller, Morten Tyldum, and Angelina Jolie. While discussing about their movies and the subtlety and nuances of the art of capturing images, they all agreed with the fact that Terrence Mellick is one of the frontrunners and genius that knows the art of expressing through images better than anyone else. These candid talks and confessions of directors influenced me to revisit Terrence Mellick’s. Though his resume reads with movies like The Thin Red Line (1998), The Tree of Life (2011), and Days of Heaven (1978), which are visually spectacular and moving, I am more influenced by one of his least reckoned and appreciated movies, To The Wonder (2012), and that is what I intend to talk about in this review of mine. First of all, this movie is not at all for the ones who watch movies for entertainment, work in 9 to 5 job, come home exhausted, take out some time for leisure and wish to watch a movie for some serious fun. But those who love movies for movie sake; love to explore different facets of it being manifested through different and brave attempts, then this movie is definitely a no miss for you.

            The movie picks up the events from the life of its characters and expresses them before the audience. Now, when I say it expresses before the audience then it literally does that. The movie narrates the story of a man, Neil, a woman, Marina, and a priest, Father Quintana, not by explaining the events in their lives but by expressing them. You won’t even get to see the faces of the characters showing their emotions in most part of the movie. The camera just moves closer, circling around, following the rhythms of the bodies, scribbling the ode of love that this movie intends to be. This movie in some way is a marriage between silent and sound cinema, with subdued narration and excited movements overflowed with barrage of images to create a hypnotic vision of love that captures and transcends our bodies.

                                 The plot of the movie reads simple: Neil (Ben Affleck) finds a girl, Marina (Olga Kurylenko), who also happens to be a single mother, in his visit to France and both of them fall deeply in love with each other. Neil proposes Marina to move to Oklahoma with him. Marina along with her 10-year-old daughter, Tatiana, takes a leap of faith and moves into the States with him. Finding it hard to settle in a new locality, the feeling of loneliness starts creeping into Marina and Tatiana, and the tension starts surfacing in their relationship with Neil. Mariana finds solace into the preaching of Father Quintana, who himself is troubled with his quest of God and his inefficacy to feel his presence around him though he knows he is there somewhere.

                                 After spending quite some time, Marina feels the drift in Neil’s attention, ogling women’s bodies, and his cold and unwarranted reactions to her desperate attempts to seek for his love. Marina after the expiration of visa goes back to France, and for a brief span, Neil engages himself in a relationship with his childhood crush, Jane (Rachel McAdams). Marina though doesn’t find peace back in France and pleads Neil to help her come back in Oklahoma. The pair is reunited and gets married, but the bliss does not last for long again. In a moment of weakness, Marina commits the sin of adultery with Charlie, a carpenter, who had given her a wind harp. It seems that she has bore a child because of this encounter, and not being able to keep the guilt, she confesses it to Neil.

                                 Later in the movie we find Neil seeking Father Quintana’s guidance who helps him to understand that the bitterness of life can only be compensated through forgiveness. Finally, the couple departs from each other but on an optimistic note. Marina tells Neil that she wants to keep his name for the child. In the end we find random shots of Neil with what seems to be his family and Marina is somewhere in bliss, with her beauty being fused with the surroundings, transcending the ephemeral to eternal, being one with the peace and love she had been seeking from others all her life.

                                 Now, we have seen the same story, reiterated time and again on screen, and the plot of this movie suggests us to be no different. In fact again, the same story is executed with actors having angelic faces. What stands apart this movie is the treatment. The movie never explains the events but expresses them. It is like the memories (maybe of Terrence Mellick) flashing across the screen. The movie never tries to explain anything. Roger Ebert did his last movie review of his life on this movie, where he raised a question pertaining to the philosophical aspect of cinema, does a movie need to explain everything? He himself answers, No! Watching To The Wonder is like strolling along with Adam and Eve’s story again. Adam (Neil) loves Eve (Marina), but the purpose is lost. There is another Adam (Father Quintana) in the movie that seeks the lost purpose of life through love. The movie begins with Marina’s inquisition, “What is this that loves us, that comes from nowhere?” And ends with Father Quintana’s passionate call, “Christ, be with me. Christ before me. Christ behind me. Christ in me. Christ beneath me. Christ above me.”

                                 Martin Scorsese in a documentary of History of American Cinema said that there is not much of a difference when it comes to movies and going to church. Both have similarities in helping people seeking for some answers. Watching To The Wonder was one such experience for me. I know not many people will find it engrossing enough because of the lack of narration that we are used to, and I will not make an emphatic appeal to the readers to watch. But if you do so, it may not turn out to be a bad idea at all. Maybe you too will get some answers that you have been searching for long. Maybe you will get some peace as well. Maybe.

- Reviewed by Amar Singh 
The reviewer is currently acting as an Assistant Professor in English in Central University of Tibetan Studies, Varanasi. He is also pursuing his Research from Department of English, BHU, working with Professor Anita Singh on, “Hyperrealism and Christopher Nolan’s Cinematic Texts.”