Sunday, December 14, 2008

Of "Xunor Axom", "Matir Axom" and bad roads....

In my last post, I had mentioned about economic underdevelopment as a cause of the ethnic-religious-linguistic conflicts peppering Assam. Here, I bring before you a video, recorded by a digicam, with some photographs thrown in, that has a sorry tale to narrate about how bad the roads in certain areas in Assam can be. The road in the video here is the 33 KMs stretch from Tangla, my hometown to Mangaldai, where one can get on to the highway on the road to Guwahati. the actual length is 43 KMs, but 10 KMs are motorable roads. It takes one exactly two and a half hours to cover that 33 KMs stretch on a small car. And to think of it, there are numerous other roads like these which have fuelled the underdevelopment of the state. And what better reason can we have than underdeveloped infrastructure as a creator of resentment and consequently, armed struggle - terrorism to many, struggles for an equal lot, and a disruption to the proper functioning of daily life for the common people. And yet we speak of Assamese linguistic chauvinism, Jai Ai Axom et al!!! The song that plays as a background score to the video is by Loknath Goswami, from his memorable album Amolmol Xewalir Gundh. Hats off to Loknathda. This video is not to be enjoyed. It is just supposed to make you think. And feel.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Assam Serial Bomb Blasts: Spontaneous Emotions Recollected in Turbulence

The last time I had written something was after the traumatic experience of being in a riot-torn town, and before the dregs could settle from that experience, I was brought down to my knees by the reports of the television news channels that Assam, my home state, the state i am so proud of, has been bombed. That people have died in hundreds. Predictably, I could sense an outrage at what happened, and immediately everyone started blaming Tarun Gogoi, the "Bangladeshis", the "Congress Government", the "Jehadis". Goddamn it, did anyone, anyone think that the problem lies in the economy of the state? That the Government officers are getting rich through emblazoned money while people are lying in hunger, empty dreams mocking their emptier eyes. The youths move around, burning eyes eating into their sockets, not knowing what they are supposed to do, while chasing the materialistic dreams brought before them by cold "capitalists", advertisements et al!!
Goddamn it, there are no good roads, no good schools, no good colleges, no industries. And people still indulge themselves in jingoistic slogans. Why don't people come out to protest the roads which have mini-lakes in them, or the bridges which shake like a maleria stricken patient even when a scooty paases over them, or simply the lack of industrial development? Rather than trying to chase "Bangladeshis" in order to take up the cheap labour being filled by the hapless migrants, refugees from their own land because of floods that devastate the area most of the year (for details, refer to Sanjay Hazarika's Strangers of the Mist), why not just let everybody assimilate into the multi-vibrant culture of Assam. As it is , we have already so many identities within the greater identity of being an Assamese, what harm would it do to have another sub-identity that would only enhance our reputation of being a pluralistic state? One ought to remember that continuous cultural onslaughts like branding a community as "those dirty miyas" would only work to drive the victimized community into any path available before them. So, if a hot-headed lot goes the way of fundamentalism, which I do not have any qualms (No political correctness here. Victimization does not mean resorting to fundamentalism, there are many other democratic options, but only if one would like to think of them as options) in branding as a path which is only bound to create more distractions and hatred (Don't you think the rising influence of the BJP and the RSS in Assam has a lot to do with it?). I find myself guilty of considering them as "them", different from "us" - the othering of a community looked at with distrust. Please let us not do that. we ought to know better.
Of course, the borders need to be sealed. Not because I am afraid of Bangladesh "swarming" into Assam, but only because Assam cannot have more people. It is still, even in this electronic world, a state which depends primarily on agriculture. And agriculture requires land. And how much land is our state left with? (I sincerely thank Prof. Manirul Hussain of Guwahati University, Political Science Dept. for bringing in this aspect to my notice.) The forests are being cut to fit in people, which will create havocs with the pleasant Assamese climate. Does any Assamese want that? I do not think so. And I sincerely believe what our "jingoistic" leaders call as "outsiderrs" will also support me.
And then let us do the unthinkable. Let us use the resources being created by migrants to build our state. Let us learn from their hard work. Let us learn from their struggle to survive in an increasingly hostile world, both environmentally and politically. And let us not crib like infants, infants with irresponsible bombs and guns in their hands. Let us not throw away industrialists with demands of extortions. Let us not scare away potential tourists with kidnappings. As Khagen Mahanta said a couple of days back in a concert in Delhi, " Let us show everyone we do not like bombs, terrorism and communalism. That we like music, arts, culture, peace, beauty, joy."
Period. Amen.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Udalguri conflicts.

Another home trip. Another experience. Again that reminds me of my rootlessness, how far I am from what had been my home when I had grown up. The mango tree is no longer there. It used to send ripe, mellow and sweet vollies at the tin roof with every passing storm. What a racket it used to be!! The mini - jungle in front of my home has now been chopped off. I see four buildings in that plot of land which had devoured at least five cricket balls!! Every six used to be a challenge, as it was very hard to look for the ball among the dense shrubs and thickets.
The jungle that I saw in Assam this time was that of communalism, ethnic cleansing and mindless violence among people who do not even know what globalization means. People I know, people who have lived in Assam for hundreds of years were killed. Their bodies lay rotting in the wild. They lay there for two days and two nights. The houses were burnt. The people now lie huddled in relief camps, doing nothing. What blankness burns in their eyes. You won't even be able to get one hundred miles near that blankness. Angry youths pass by mosques, and in their drunken state, shout, threaten, "BURN 'EM All". Durga statues have their heads chopped off. In one clean stroke. Communities shrink in fear after every incident. majorities and minorities get blurred. The fisherwoman speaks with troubled eyes,"mur loratu ghuri aha nai de. Buji naplung ki korah jai" (My son has not yet returned. Don't know what to do.) In another village, somebody else laments the loss of their years savings. The vegetables needed to be taken to markets are rotting, "Aamra khaibo kemon kore? Bengungula to sob posche jasche." (How will we eat? All the brinjals are rotting). There is fear in the eyes of everybody as they vainly try to realize what is going on, why is this that their religions, the language that they speak have turned against them. They have no answers. They are no journalists. They are no academicians either. They cannot comment on television. They do not write poetry. They do not write blogs.
It is so easy now to sit before this computer and theorize about what had happened. Yes, I will do that as well, later. Some other people are already doing that. I am posting the link. If anybody is interested to know what had happened, it will be a good starting point. However, one big defect of the article is that it kept on stressing on the deaths of muslims. Nothing was mentioned about loss of the other side. This is bad reporting. Nonetheless, here it is.
Another link:
Please do not say, oh, they are "bangladeshis", they are "tribals", why should we worry? Think away, outside your narrow boundaries of success, fame and name, for a moment. It is not much to ask, really, for the fifty four people who are dead and the tens of thousands of people who have been displaced. They were, are, humans too.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Film(ed) Nights

I just watched, after a particularly depresing evening, a Stephen Spielberg movie, The Terminal, where Tom Hanks plays Viktor Navorski, who is caught in bureaucratic glitches that make him an "unacceptable", someone who can neither fly back to his country somewhere in East Europe nor can he go out of the terminal into the Big Apple to fulfill his father's wish of completing a tin of papers signed by 57 famous jazz musicians. He has to stay in the terminal for nine months, when he impresses and become friends with everybody in the terminal except the cold and ruthless boss who sees the east European, innocent, non-English speaking Navorski as a potential threat to the way he runs the airport. but Victor remains wise to his traps as well as his machinations and ultimately forces the boss to concede defeat and let him get the one last signature that will complete the set. A run-of-the-mill human interest story in a way, but nonetheless raises certain pertinent questions.

I was talking to a friend just before i switched on the movie and the conversation was largely built around success and its relation to family and human obligations. One aspect on which we both agreed on and I suppose most readers will do the same to was the increasing need of individual space, time and mental preparation to fulfill the challenges urban societies and a globalized reality would throw before us. Ambition is all, and success maketh a woman, or a man, more a man. And when was money more powerful than it is now? And yet, we speak of families, love, affection,bondage? Are not these all old fashiones, reactionary(!) concepts? Are not conversations, relations, friendships made based nothing but on work? Can a moonlit night be a moment to be savoured, silently, without thinking of deadlines? Are not people judging themselves based on which bigshots they are dining with or even better (if sexual orientations allow) sleeping with?

Navorski made me realize that this utterly artificial, selfishly individualistic outlook towards life may be actually damaging to our well being. His cool ways of taking things was diametrically opposite to the highly calculative brains of the Airport boss. But it was the boss who was breaking things, when Naborski stubbornly hung on to his wish to fulfill his father's dying desire - to get the last signature - to fill up that old can of peanuts with the signed papers of 57 great jazz artists. What a simple wish! And Spielberg so daftly keeps it hidden from the audience for most part of the movie,and we keep guessing Navorski's designs and drive ourselves nuts, just like that silly old successful head of JFK Airport, New York.

The movie has a number of flaws, but I don't want to get started on that. My literature-spoiled-enriched-crooked-crumpled mind almost made me look at the movie as yet another popular appropriation of the subaltern, and it would have been absolutely easy to can the film using the paradigms of theory. But, just for this once, for a day, let me love, let me admire, let me write simply on Viktor "the goat" Navorski - my saviour for the evening. Now, it is well past midnight, and the computer clock is beckoning me of duties to be done tomorrow, starting at eight in the morning. I might be late, I might oversleep, and I don't really care a hoot. Because this is a moment when I need to write, I have to write. As i am saluting the human spirit, saluting the lovable, clumsy, magnificently human, saluting Viktor Navorski.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Narratives on Nellie

Most of us have heard about Nellie in Nowgong district and the massacre that had happened there. But how many of us actualy feel what had happened there on the 18th of February, 1983, in that year when Axom was burning. a year which has disappeared from the careers and lives of almost the entire Axomiya community? (For what I mean by the Axomiya community, please check out the disclaimer at the end of my post titled Home Post-1).

Anyway, there were a few texts which were published last year that tried to revisit those days from the vintage point of living twenty five years of the promises and failures of the monement. I wrote a review, goaded by the never-tiring Ashley and encouraged very sweetly and patiently by Xonjoy Borbora, of these three texts and which was published in the May-June, 2008 issue of Biblio: A Review of Books. Here is the link to the online version of the journal.

Here is the review. Hope it goads you to know more on what had happened in the movement that had shaken Assam in such a way that our dear state is yet to recover completely.

Shame and Pride

The Assam movement of 1979-85 remains a site of different interpretations, expressions and feelings. It is a reminder of bloody massacres of thousands of innocent men, women and children and ironically is also the source of nostalgic pride for the leadership of the movement. Such dialectical feelings have been a part of the Assamese cultural scenario and inform the three texts under review, where the same movement is interpreted and presented in different representative voices.

Two of them—Diganta Sharma’s Nellie 1983 in Assamese and Hemendra Narayan’s 25 Years On—are factual journalistic reports on the most horrific and notorious massacre of the agitation: on 18 February 1983, over 3,000 Muslims were killed in the tiny town of Nellie in the aftermath of the All Assam Students’ Union’s agitation against illegal migrants from Bangladesh. Even as both books condemn the incident as an abject attack on innocents, they try in different ways to show what really happened.

Sharma’s book tries, and with a lot of success, to bring to light the hidden communal, regional and linguistic forces that planned the massacre. What is most striking about Sharma’s book is that it is written from the perspective of an adult who was a mere six-year-old child when the massacre took place. And the tone of his book thus bears what Harold Bloom termed as the ‘anxiety of influence’- especially in his attempts at constructing a viewpoint that rejects the extreme sub-nationalism of the earlier generation that culminated in the massacre. What he stresses upon is the shame faced by the Assamese community, both internally and vis a vis the international community. Armed with facts and documents, he courageously exposes the hidden Hindu communal forces that instigated the Assamese people to massacre more than two thousand children, women and men, and also how the local tribes—such as the Tiwa—were made scapegoats by the movement leadership. He also points out that despite charge sheets being made no action was taken against anyone, something that needs to be rectified if the survivors and the killed alike are to receive any justice, even if it comes after a long twenty five years. An eleven-page appendix lists the available names and ages of the victims, and even a casual look will fill the reader with remorse, anger, guilt, pain or shame, depending on his subjective position. A very important aspect that he raises is that the wounds have not healed but have been forcefully covered by the victims as they needed to get back to their daily routine of life; survival itself was at stake, primarily because of their meager resources, which were further depleted by the attacks on their houses and livestock. One wishes though that Sharma had presented a bit more of analysis over and above the facts which have been so excellently put together. He also could have avoided a lot of printing mistakes which often irritate the reader besides taking a lot of the sheen away from what is a much needed work of investigative journalism, as the events of Nellie have always been tried to be swept under the carpet, both by the movement leadership and their opposition political parties. However, a chilling cover-page and more chilling photographs inside the book make up for the technical defects.

The author of the second book, Hemendra Narayan, was one of the four journalists who were present in Nellie by sheer chance on the fatefu day of 18 February 1983. They were the ones who exposed the brutal truth in the press as eyewitnesses to the ghastly massacres. He formulates a documentative anthology of the massacre but does not travel much beyond that. The eye-witness account had the potentiality of being a gripping and chilling read, but ridiculous linguistic and grammatical errors often leave the reader wishing for a better and more skillful editor. But 25 Years on is important simply because it tries to combine the eyewitness accounts with Government committee reports, public memoranda like that of the Lalung Durbar to the then Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi; a booklet that reflects the then Government of India’s view on the massacre, a Non-official Judicial Enquiry’s report and some observations by the Election Commissioner on the situation of Assam during the days of the 1983 election. However, it has all the faults of a hastily compiled work marred by a huge number of grammatical and printing mistakes.

Both these books have a number of shortcomings and might not rate highly in the index of books, but the importance of these books should not be gauged by their quality but by the fact that they bring to light one of the worst massacres of Indian history, where almost three thousand people were killed on a single day, going by unofficial records. And this was only a part of a number of lesser incidents that marked the blood-stained days of 1983 and the Assam movement. The victims because of their lack of education and their economic situation, could not speak back. These texts could act as a voice that might help bring some justice to the unfortunate survivors of Nellie, many of whom still carry multiple scars from wounds inflicted by spears, bows, guns, machetes, axes or clubs.

If these two books are primarily documentations of an event of the Assam agitation, Rita Choudhury’s Ai Samay, Sai Samay (These Times, Those Times) is an absolutely different take on the agitation. It does not mention any of the massacres and tries to portray the movement as a mass uprising based on ideological grounds of sub-nationalism (as Sanjib Baruah calls the feelings of ethnic unrest in Assam). Whatever might be the weakness in the way she tries to illustrate her ideological stand in the novel, Choudhury is indubitably successful in creating a very elaborate yet well-connected plot. Her narrative syle resembles that of a suspense novel and the reader just cannot keep down the book till the denouement ties up the myriad loose threads in terms of both plot and characters. There are some quite unbelievably melodramatic events in the novel, however the well etched out characters more than make up for this blemish in the text. At the level of ideas, the novel employs the Bakhtinian chronotope or the idea of time-space—temporal and spatial connections—evident the most in the title. The body of the novel however fails to really substantiate the associations Choudhury tries to explore between the idealism of the agitation days and the spirit of the generation which had missed the event, being born after 1983. She tries to interpolate past idealism within a generation brought up to believe the forces of globalisation and selfish individualism but does not really manage to link up these disparate processes of thought.

The novel succeeds not at the level of ideological formulations but at the level of plot and narrative, where the element of suspense acts as a strong measure against a very weak ideological framework. Another strong point of the novel is its ability to illustrate the spirit that went into the Assam agitation and also the disappointment, disillusionment and the consequent distress that follows when ideas do not work the way you intend them to do. It captures a period and sentiment in the history of Assam which one can look back on with anger, shame, remorse or pride, but which one just simply cannot ignore.

The three texts share one commonality, and that is the reaction of the new generation to the Assam movement. Though Rita Chaudhury’s novel seems to find the fire of the agitation burning in a difeerent way in the present generation, the other two texts try to expose the violence and turbulences that marked the movement, and which ultimately led to further unrests that continue till this day.

Nellie 1983: A postmortem Report into the Most
Barbaric Massacre of Assam Movement in Nellie on
18 Feb. 1983
By Diganta Sharma
Ekalabya Prakashan, 2007, 87 pp., Rs 55
25 Years On . . . Nellie still Haunts
By Hemendra Narayan
Self-published, Delhi, 2008, 47 pp., Rs 80
Ei Samay, Sei Samay
By Rita Chaudhury
Banalata, Guwahati, 2007, 472 pp., Rs 150
ISBN 81-7339-484-9

Nellie photograph

This is what we did twenty five years back..

Friday, May 30, 2008

the bidexot apun manuh video..

want to listen to the song of Assamese diaspora I wrote about in my last blog piece?? here is the video...