Friday, April 12, 2013

Macbeth was wrong.

A few hours back I read an essay written by a Sri Lankan journalist/ lawyer  who got assassinated back in 2009, and that got me conversing about the situation here in our Union. The following thoughts are borne from that conversation. (You can read the essay here.) 

"The sacrifice, David. That is how mankind overcomes the Babel threshold. Our little tribal circles, bound by social contracts and selfish mutual need. Everyone working in their own greedy, self-interests and huddling together with their tribe, at war with all those outside who they regard as barely human. What breaks a human mind out of that iron cage of mistrust is a sacrifice. The martyr who gives up everything, who abandons all personal gain, who lays down his very life for the good of those outside his group. He becomes a symbol all can rally around. So instead of trying to make a selfish, violent primate somehow empathize with the whole world, which is impossible, you only need to get him to remember and love the martyr. As one is forgotten, another must replace it. Unfortunately, as I feared, today that is to be us."
-          David Wong, This Book is Full of Spiders.

I have to start by saying that the essay was indeed unlike anything I have read in recent memory. It squarely hits so many thoughts running through my head in recent days, primary amongst them, where we are as a nation. In soft discussion held with close friends and colleges, bosses and clients, I cannot help but conclude that the state of our union is in some need of some urgent repair, and that it’s presently being held together by some magic and the sheer will of the masses to not let the world slip from their shoulders. Any day this glue might burn up and I shudder to think what lies beyond that veil.

            I do  not have any answers and solutions here, just a bunker full of questions and maybes.

The point that struck me most was that in this sordid scenario, Late Mr. Lasantha Wickramatunga, in the Sri Lankan context, is a martyr. It’s the martyr Sri Lanka needed then and he’s the martyr it needs right now. He will hopefully tower as someone who acknowledged the need of the masses outweighs the safety or security of those in his ‘monkeysphere of 150 and knowingly laid down his life for it. It was the sacrifice that country needed. But, four years hence, and many posthumous awards and accolades later (UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize; the Louis Lyons Award for Conscience and Integrity in Journalism of Harvard University's Nieman Foundation; the James Cameron Memorial Trust Award, and the American National Press Club's John Aubuchon Press Freedom Award; he was also declared a World Press Freedom Hero of the International Press Institute) where is Sri Lanka now? Has it made a difference? I believe it has. I believe his death will prove to be the slow churning ballast that will finally string the beleaguered nation together. And If (hopefully when) positive change comes in any acceptable form to the island nation,  its people will turn back and see that the morning of 8th January, 2009 was when the nation found its courage.

A similar question was asked by  Emil van der Poorten in his pieceChamorro And Wickrematunge – Decades And Continents Apart But …!”  , where he asks :

 “  Can the history of Sri Lanka’s Sunday Leader, the death of Lasantha Wickrematunge, its founding editor,  and the events leading up to it play a similar role in Sri Lanka’s future?
I believe it will, even though the national euphoria attendant on the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE/Tigers) and the annihilation of the vast majority of its leadership in the final battle has tended to distort and obscure, in the short term at least, the significance of Wickrematunge’s assassination.”

(On a side not, I love Niemoller’s poem Wickrematunge reminds us of in his posthumous essay. It is a subject I have debated endlessly, should people stand up for their neighbors when they are being snatched away from their homes. I know they seldom do, and seldom will, self-preservation is a strong motivator of actions oft contra to our own morals.  Such is the enigmatic human condition. The need (or will) to protect the immediate few will always outweigh the urge to protect the faceless many.  And thus we label one who puts the need of the many over the needs of the immediate a ‘Hero’ and if he dies, a ‘Martyr’. Maybe we expect too little from ourselves and I have a much too dim view of our global tribe.  Wickramatunga gives me hope. He fought for others so that other might fight for themselves and hopefully others. So that the wronged are not left out in the open, exposed, sans allies like Niemoller)
            So, I got thinking what about us, here in India? I firmly believe we are fighting a war too. You probably are aware of it . You have felt the angry glances from absolute strangers, the needless shove from a passerby,  the endless angst on the roads, the frothing nature of the multifarious gatherings, people vs people, people vs the regime, regime vs regime. The hot streets seem to be boiling. Right now, look outside any window, and you will see that Mr. Fresh Prince of Indian politics is wrong, we are not bees, we are hornets. And someone is going to feel the sting of a collective echo. Today, tomorrow or later, a levees gonna break, somewhere, anywhere. It might be the death of one or many, a student or a soldier, a lawyer or a lawman, a politician or his goon, an innocent is all it will take.  

So far we suffer the distinct misfortune of not knowing our enemies. This is yet an shadowy and opaque war. No clear ‘us vs. them'. It’s much more subliminal. It holistic It is a war that I feel has already begun in many factions, but it’s just not being fought out in the open. A civil war of the cold nature, if you will.
For the first in recent memory, we have two undeclared PM candidates battling it out in the media-sphere, creating theater, where the Fresh Prince bumbles his way into an incoherent speech that is half rhetoric and half school boy philosophy. And the other, the Godra man himself, seeking to shed his image of Christmas past, quips IT + IT = IT. What is that you ask? Very proudly he declares: Indian talent + Information Tech. = 'India tomorrow'. Ya! He might just win too. That’s his winning formula.

            So the question I ask my self is this: who is are the victims of this war? We have our  concentration camps for sure, where people are held. From where they cannot escape. Where there is abundant hunger and suicides a-plenty. Be it the Indian hinter land or Maharashtra or Orissa or Manipur. Be they farmers or students, skilled workers or laborers, or just normal every day citizens trapped in their own city under oppressive laws (read AFSPA) or military junta barricades. These camps might not have gunned walls but they have clear demarcation. They exist because someone, something, created circumstances for their existence. Somebody always benefits from the misery of others. It’s just very hard to tell who.

But what if we knew?

On the way from Bilaspur I saw what appeared to be an endless sea of tarp tents covering something. It extended as far as the eye could see on either side of the Highway.  Turns out, it was grain. Unimaginable  tons of it. Left on the ground. Not even a warehouse to protect it. Apparently it has been lying there for a while. It does not take much cerebral magic to realize that an open field is not really very conducive to grain preservation. We have insects, rodents, and other inedible pleasantries to protect against. A decision such as this seems more deliberate. Someone, somewhere has chosen to be apathetic to the  plights of the hungry. Shortage creates hunger. The hungry are easier to control (up to a point).

Such decisions create shackles.

Or maybe, the war is being fought against the struggling migrant laborer, in Delhi and Mumbai, living in sub human camps on the streets, washing their clothes in the dirty Yamuna or the open Sea, eating vegetables contaminated with God-knows-what! and a cocktail of other contaminants, grown off soiled lands on polluted river beds, working for sums barely enough to buy a loaf of bread.  I wonder if they think to themselves, that though they are meant to be free, they were never really born as such. Illusions can be a tricky thing. Do they wonder, as they lie down to sleep every night, tired, hand calloused from the tilling harsh concrete, in those wispy moments before retiring to their kingdoms of choice:  this cannot be freedom. Am I a fief and is this is a fiefdom. How am i am bound by the shackles of my circumstance, and who has shacked me? Who is my liege? Is it the same faceless decision maker, who stockpiles grain on the highway for rotting? 

            If one really sits down to wander into the minds of the sleeping men and women of this country, one will undoubtedly realize that a War is on. It is the oppressor versus the oppressed. Whoever or where ever they might be. And is it possible the oppressors might not even realize that they oppress.

            We need a martyr today, not to win the war but to expose the fact that a war is waging on.  But who will he(or she) be and what shall be his (or her) sacrifice?

            In the end, I recall the Selina Kyle whispering in Batman's ear : "There's a storm coming, Mr. Wayne. You and your friends better batten down the hatches, because when it hits, you're all gonna wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us."
             So, are we the oppressed or the Oppressors ? And is it possible that we are neither ?

 But maybe I am wrong. Maybe there is no war. Maybe this is just an attempt to make sense of the illogical. Creating Thor to explain thunder. Maybe there is no explanation, and no levee will ever break and we will continue foaming and frothing till we are exhausted. Resignation will cover us once again. Is nihilism the way to go? Is it possible that a war will never happen because we are fighting against ourselves? Fighting to escape the boiling streets and into the air-conditioned atriums, in the wake of our desire, creating the conditions of an invisible holocaust.

Maybe we’ll discover or award ourselves a martyr. Maybe we won’t. Maybe it will never come to that. Life is feeble and life is weak. We live, we die. On the way we try to do right, often do wrong, we seek redress, we beg forgiveness. We remember and we forget.

But, it’s important to remember. It's imperative. Macbeth, once warned off the frailty of live and its meaning in death :

“Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.”

            It is imperative to remember the sacrifices of people like Lasantha Wickramatunga. Remember the lives laid down for reasons beyond the immediate. Reasons that make life grand and enduring. For if we go to war, if we recognize its existence, we will need our heroes. And it is at that moment, we will need to prove within and without, that the sound and fury of hornets are significant. That the lives of martyrs matter.

That Macbeth was wrong. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

An Ode to the Self-destructing Kind.

We are the ones who self destruct,
We are the ones who destroy,
The houses we built,
The lives we carve,
We draw blood for the living,
From the joyous, from the laughing,
For, the darkness is what we've seen.,
Where we've  forever been,
In the night we were born,
In the night we clearly see,
Our visions, twisted,
Our fates, intertwined,
Our lives thrashing,
Against the past that we have mined,
 In a tiny corner, of a foreign field,
Where the shadows grow,
Row on row,
The grass does heal,
The old wounds and the
Broken lines.

But, the sun is out now,
We see the light, full of fear,
We see things in the distance,
We never imagined near,
Hand in hand,
we walk alone,
Into the sun,
Where the grass has grown,
Out of the night,
Into the light,
Fighting the flight,
We walk into the sun.

She whispers in my ear,
trembling with fear,
"Do we burn?"

Untitled #1

It is the morning  of the day, 
The nights, they have flown away,
Scurried down the alleys,
Letting the sun-light draw its way,
The walkers were awakenings,
Walking their morning walks,
I saw her sleeping,
In the distance of my eye,  
Drawing the curtains to a close,
Breathing deep, in a bee dream,
Busy eyes, flickering in her sleep,
Eyes that have seen the world,
Eyes that have traveled its people, 
Traveled, where I have never been.

She’s like a baby, holding her mind,
Inside the angel, that is her inner side,
She sees a road long, outstretched ,
Above and below,
Binding her hands,  closing in slow,
The ropes are tightening,
She struggles to fight free,
The sun is rising,
It’s fighting with the tree,
The ropes are tightening,
I fight to set her free,
I find the scissors, 
The blades are blunt, 
there is a fading,
In the  strength of my arms   
As I fight to set her free,
Free her from her mind,
Free from her bee filled mind, 
Free from the last song,
Whose words she left behind,
Free from the daylight, free from the night,
Free from the morning sunlight, binding her tight,
I see the ropes are gripping,
I fight to set her free,
I see a glimmer,
I fight to see,
I see fear,
I fight to see, still,
I fight to see the ropes,
I see the ropes are me,
I fight no more,
I finally see, 
Only She can set her free. 

Saturday, April 03, 2010

The Following...

Days have been cruel to you,

The nights have stolen from you,

Mornings blind you,

And in these mornings I see sight

In your eyes.

The evenings have lost their light and

shrouded you in darkness,

Dawn lurks too long in the shadows

Perched upon its timely haze,

Dusk is the ancient hour of witching

And it has bewitched you,

Time is running in slow circles

And we around it,

Time is leaving red herrings

And dry patches

You follow it,

And I follow you.

Monday, January 11, 2010


There is a meeting in a gallery,

A gallery that’s somewhere that’s nowhere at all,

A gallery where full portraits hang from it polished walls,

And fountains spot its hallowed halls,

Portraits of times that have long since

Joined and rejoined,

Its stray rivers, intertwined,

A gallery where the old masters still sing,

A gallery without lost causes

Or lost reasons,

Creaking sounds or rumbling noises,

A gallery where bad taste is the highest treason,

Lead me into this gallery dear,

Hold my hand now; show me the sights now,

Hold my fingers and point them in your direction,

Show me the way to the gallery,

Where I know you’ll wait for me,

Fully embracing this thrust of destiny,

The swift emblem of change,

Lead me into this gallery,

Your gallery, where blindness is a virtue,

Where the light bulbs project movies

Inside of our eyes,

Our every wanting eyes,

Take me to that deep corner

In the gallery where you always sit

And dream of times like these,

Where you sit and pray to your gods of vision,

The changing season,

You pray to be virtuous,

You pray to the gallery gods,

As the wavy drum roll thicken,

I walk towards you,

With fear on my breath,

Whispers clouding my mind’s eye,

I walk with boulders tied to my feet,

My back corroded from the golden heat,

Towards her aura of lilac lilies I walk,

Towards the bliss of her being.

And when we finally meet,

We stood toe to toe,

Both praying to the same painted gods,

Slicing the demons with our swords,

Praying for the same final answer,

We both seemed to stand together,



For the promised blindness,

The wreathed whiteness,

It is ours now,

Forever. Forever.