Desh @ 66: Imagining Life without Memory

“One access to the creative way consists of discovering in yourself an ancient corporality to which you are bound by a strong ancestral relation. So you are neither in the character nor in the non-character. Starting from details, you can discover in you somebody other – your grandfather, your mother. A photo, a memory of wrinkles, the distant echo of a colour of the voice enables you to reconstruct a corporality. First, the corporality of somebody known, and then more and more distant, the corporality of the unknown one, the ancestor.

Is this corporality literally as it was? Maybe not literally – but yet as it might have been. You can arrive very far back, as if your memory awakens. This is a phenomenon of reminiscence, as if you recall the Performer of primal ritual. Each time I discover something, I have the feeling that it is what I recall. Discoveries are behind us and we must journey back to reach them. With the breakthrough – as in the return of an exile – can one touch something which is no longer linked to origins but – if I dare say – to the origin?” – Jerzy Grotowski

I have plugged in my hard disk. Memories float. I have plugged it out now. In this arid landscape, I am trekking with a bag full of terabytes. Ten hard disks of 2TB each, in addition to the 1 TB of my laptop, and my memories of childhood – those sepia tinted photographs inside numerous albums all over my house and memories of another million snapshots that are etched but never taken. The selective wear and tear of this memory, the convenient modification of this memory and the inconvenient trek of memory from the deepest pores of angst… all this makes me a memory junkie.

I am in front of a seminary. There are two choices that confront me: firstly, this is a centre where healing touch of a great text is taught and maybe understood. Secondly, this is where the lessons of the great text are modified to incite a mind. I open my laptop. Plug in a hard disk. A lady pops up from one of the files.

Who is she?  Samira Munir, Norwegian activist of Pakistani origin who became the first Muslim to openly support a ban on headscarves in Norwegian schools. She died mysteriously on November 14, 2005 on a train track near suburban Oslo. Mind you, Samira knew and loved the faith as much as anyone else. She was neither a reformer nor a rabble rouser, simply a mature young woman who understood the difference between faith as a paradigm and a faith as a dogma. I am looking at the laptop screen and also staring at the seminary. A question pops up – what is the fate of an intellectual dissenter? The death of Samira is the death of the right to dissent.

What do I do with this ever expanding memory? Is this expansion part of a memory agenda, whereby the local is left out in the splurge of globalised half-knowledge? I see an India that breathes, chokes amongst wrinkled faces waiting-for-rain paddy fields. India:  where a Shankar Guha Niyogi and Pratap Save have to pay for their informed, specific, society-changing outbursts. And then my non-digital memory stretches itself to remember an incomplete list of contemporary voices wanting to break free.

Like the path breaking Wolf Totem by Jiang Rong (whose real name is a secret) which shook the foundations of safe Chinese fiction. The underground literature of the Marxist Balochistan People’s Front and Balochi Students Association declaring their presence— both emotional and moral— as the Pakistani state wants to pound them to suppression along Sui and Loti valleys.

Fresh memories of Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, Sardar Khair Bux Marri and Sardar Ataullah Mangal. The fight goes on for Bugti, Marris and Mangal.  Quetta still burns.

Let’s just wind the clock back. April 14, Bengali New Year, 1941. Tagore’s Shabhyatar Shankat (Crisis in civilization), a sort of final testament, was read out at Shantiniketan, three months before he passed away. He kept reiterating that imperialism in any form is dangerous. Tagore concluded: “And yet I shall not commit the grievous sin of losing faith in Man. I would rather look forward to the opening of a new chapter in history after the cataclysm is over and the atmosphere rendered clean with the spirit of service and sacrifice. Perhaps that dawn will come from this horizon, from the East where the sun rises. A day will come when unvanquished Man will retrace his path of conquest, despite all barriers and win back his lost human heritage.” Is the expansion of memory the new imperialism?

Cut to history: Armenia versus Azerbaijan in Nagoro-Karbakh enclave. Memories of the massacre of Croat-Bosnia (Bosnian Muslims) in Srebrenica in 1995.

Cut to now: Sectarian violence at Narathiwat province in Thailand in villages like Ti Ming, Tak Bai and Tung Kha.

Can a still photograph that hangs from a physical wall or facebook wall be categorised as a tribute, or is it just an object of gaze? One really cannot fathom. Between one perspective and another we reintrepet the contours of memory.

Transformation, Transmutation, Transgression, Emerging trends

Manipur, Karbi Anglong, Gujarat, NGOs hijacking causes
9/11, 29/10, 11/3, 7/7
Dates, numbers, memories

A recorded voice inside my head says: It was March 11, 2004. Four bombs went off between 7.30pm and 7.45pm. At the Atocha Commuter station, El Pozo and Santa Eugenia on the Guadaljara-Alcala de Henares-Linares commuter line. The final score-line in this political football match read: Killed-201, Injured and Maimed-Above 1500. Victims: people of 11 nationalities, some of them illegal immigrants. Result: One of the worst public attacks in Europe since Lockerbie bombings in 1988. Exactly three days later Jose Maria Aznar’s Popular Party was voted out of power. Welcome to Hyper-terrorism in Europe.

A chorus in my head starts whispering: Jupiter Yambem, an ex-student of NorthPointSchool, Darjeeling, died in Windows on the World, a restaurant at the top of the WTC. He was helping others survive even as the fire consumed him. Nobody died in that restaurant. Only him.

A document pops from nowhere. It says: at the Wackenhut Detention Centre a mass of human beings rot after dubious 9/11 arrests.

Soon another recorded voice says:

I cannot sleep well at night. It tears me apart that on September 11, 1973 the armed forces of Chile overthrew the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende. That La Moneda Presidential palace was in shambles. That Victor Jara never came back. That, Carabineros rule the roost. Between Admiral Merino, General Mendonza and Augusto Pinochet there is an overt exhibition of fascist friendship. And those famous words of Allende:  “I am not inclined to being a martyr, but I will not retreat.”

What does memory mean to me? The real, the contradiction, the interplay of life and death or the whole hog? Yes, memory to me is the whole hog. Like Pozzo’s dilemma in Waiting for Godot: The light gleams an instant, then it is night once more.

Memory isn’t a cloudy eyed amnesia drowned in Prozac nights, or a practised religious ritual hoping that the manic-depressive times around us will disappear. Memory is a state of being constant khanabadosh. The state of constant bohemia like the Gujarati poet Akho.

Who’s Akho? For the uninitiated, he’s a mid-17th century Gujarati poet who composed ground breakingchhapas (short six-line verses) that re-defined Bhakti poetry. Legend says that Akho gave up his job as a goldsmith to wander in this wide world when a woman (for whom he reportedly had sisterly affection) betrayed his trust. After wandering he came to Varanasi to find a guru. For a brief period he found one. But tired by the rhetoric and the bunkum, he gave up playing a perfect disciple to an imperfect master. He realised that the only God that manifests is an internal journey with all its imperfections and apparent contradictions. And with his travels, the writing spree began.

There are lines from Salman Rushdie’s collection Imaginary Homelands that haunt me. “What kind of life shall we call ‘ordinary’ here in the late 20th century? What is ‘normal’ in these abnormal days? For many of us, any definition that is quotidian would still include notions of peace and stability. We would, still, perhaps, wish to picture everyday life as rhythmic, based on settled and repeating societal patterns… combat fatigues, automatic rifles, missiles, hostages, hunger, fear become the new building blocks of a new uncomfortable definition of the real?”

I have to fight these real and normal times. Times that keep reminding me of that haunting Geeta Dutt voice (composed by Kanu Roy). She sings: Dil ke dehleez par samaya hai koi… kaun samaya mujhe kya maloom.

Memories implode as much as they explode. Memories morph as much as they are clear sighted. Memories die as much as they are kept alive. Memories prioritise as much as they are democratic. Memories become metaphors only to re-incarnate as grim reminders of the present. Memory plays itself out in an infinite loop. You try to capture and carry all those memories with you… yet you can’t cope up with the expansion. Memory is and isn’t matter. That is matter in its crude physical sense.

What would memory be to someone like Mohan Meghwal? Is there something called posthumous memory? Does it right the wrong?

Mohan Meghwal filed his nomination against upper caste landlord Shivdas Singh. As a back-up measure, he also made his mother and wife file nominations for the local panchayat elections. Democracy has its own hidden costs. The landlord manipulated the birth date of his fourth son with the local headmaster and the government nominee, and got his nomination rejected. His wife’s nomination was also rejected. However, his mother, Harku, was eligible to fight. She fought the elections and lost by a wafer-thin margin of 250 votes to Rawale – a bonded labourer set up by the landlords lobby.

Here’s what the Asian Human Rights Commission has to say as to what happens next: On March 1, 2005, at about 8:00 a.m., in the main square of Bedkalan village, Jaitaran Tehsil, Pali District, Rajasthan, Mohan was killed by a feudal lord, Thakur Shivdan Singh Rathore, also an ex MLA along with his son Tikam Singh and younger brother Diler Singh. It is alleged that the perpetrators first inflicted 19 deep knife injuries and then ran a tractor over him to kill him. Though this happened in broad daylight in the presence of so many people, no one came forward to save Mohan, mainly because of their fear of the perpetrators…

Can memory bring justice? Is there something called living memory? If so, is it only for tame remembering or a constant wound. Ask Bant Singh.

Who’s Bant Singh? Let’s start with this question. Bant Singh is a revolutionary Dalit singer from Mansa, Punjaband is a supporter of revolutionary Marxist politics.  It is not that Bant did not have a revolutionary streak in him from childhood but the latent fire finally burst out in the year 2000. His minor daughter was raped that year and a struggle for justice began.

After a battle of attrition with, amongst other people, a strong Jat landlord lobby and the ruling regime, the rapists were finally given a life sentence in 2002. They were relatives of Sarpanch Jaswant Singh and former Sarpanch Niranjan Singh of Jhabbar village.

On the evening of January 5, 2006, seven persons reportedly at the behest of Sarpanch Jaswant Singh and former Sarpanch Niranjan Singh brutally attacked the singer while he was returning home after spreading the word about a forthcoming conference. This cold blooded assault was carried out using the handle of a hand pump, axes and iron rods. According to reports, after the attack the profusely bleeding Bant Singh was left unattended for 36 hours in the Mansa Civil Hospital at the behest of a powerful lobby. Dr Purushottam Goel of the hospital allegedly demanded a bribe for treatment.

On the seventh day, his wounds were bandaged and he was advised to shift to Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research, Chandigarh. By then it was too late. At PGI, one leg and both his arms had to be severed because of gangrene.

Bant still stings. Sings Udaasi, sings Jagroop Junir. But the burden of memory weighs him down.  He fights gamely. He fights on.

Is memory institutionalised in history books? Contemporary dalit historical narratives can be a pointer. That the upper castes forget them is a known crime. That the syllabus makers forget to ensure their narratives a place in the so-called textbooks is also known crime. What their own ilk do is equally shocking.

How many Dalit study circles give the young girl or boy a national dalit perspective? Have we discussed Swami Acchutanand and Adi Hindu movement? How many Dalit political activists bother to discuss Mangoo Ram and the social political implications of his richly layered life? How many chroniclers of Ambedkar , Periyar, Naryana Guru have bothered to get into a mass-oriented approach of pocket friendly books in multiple languages, de-constructing the rich lives of Ishwardutta Medharthi (Babsaheb’s Pali teacher and the author of two remarkable tracts Varnavyastha Exposed and The Original Inhabitants of India and Sant Religion), Sambhaji Tukaram Gaikwad (Mahad Chavadhar Tank satyagraha of 1927), Bhaurao Krishnarao Gaikwad (Kalaram Mandir satygraha), Iyothee Thassar, Govind Ramji Adrekar, Shivram Gopal Yadav, Madke Buwa, Baldeo, Sakubai Mohite, Lochan Mallah, Samadhan Nishad, Avanatibai Lodhi, Godavari Gokhale Parulekar (adivasi leader from the Warli tribe, who married CPI activist Shyamrao Parulekar) and Ramji Ram (who won a parliamentary election in 1967 on a Republican Party of India ticket from Akbarpur, now renamed as Ambedkar Nagar).

There are so many memories in my backpack. Memories, I plug in. Memories I plug out. Memories with whom I am fighting this boxing match… each of us wants to deconstruct dissent. In this scrapheap of broken shards, aren’t we constantly bleeding? Don’t we realise the extent of hemorrhage?

What can a memory junkie do? Saving files… text, data, jpg, nef, tif, pdf, scans, more scans, flv, torrent downloads, applications, trial pack… saving and saving more… so much that accumulation is the key. So much that the micro-emotions of reaching out become an easy casualty in this race for acquiring knowledge.

I am tracking and trekking with memories. One day, I will die. Soundless. No bullet. No knife wounds. No heart attacks. No extended spells of coma. Nothing… simply dropping dead.


Call me a memory martyr.

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