Colin Wilson, the philosopher (and author of The Outsider), often wondered about asking Samuel Beckett whether life was really and altogether so meaningless? But Beckett was such a polite and down-to-earth person that, when they met, Wilson could not ask his question. However, the thought remained with him. Later, he had the opportunity to meet Eugene Ionesco. And when Wilson asked him the same question, it was raining. Ionesco looked outside and, half-jokingly but with a serious detachment said, “Look, it is raining out there. Does that have any meaning?” In this cosy, limitless, undivided third world of soil and wind, goats and humans—everyone knows what rain means. Though I do not have enough data, perhaps Rhinoceros could also be placed in that category.
A Play for Thought
Recently a play was enacted by workers and labourers of the Mujnai Tea Estate in the Dooars at Siliguri’s Srijan Utsav. A simple plot and subject: death by malnutrition of a little girl in the tea garden. Such things we see all the time. The props and performance were also quite ‘crude’ by regular theatrical standards. What more can one expect from the kuli-kamins of the garden? Anyway, the girl dies after a bout of shrill, insistent coughing. Everyone goes to cremate her. Now this is what is worth narrating. The play is over. But the labourer women won’t stop crying their hearts out. Keening and crying go on and on. No break. No respite. Will this incident make us think? Do we have the competence to think even?
He Who Has No Refuge
Somewhere the progressives, with clinical precision, are slitting open some necks. And then some progressives, as is their wont, are surely slitting apples and cakes too. There are, of course, quite a sizable number of progressives whose incredible ability to masticate with a purpose will shame our most qualified bovine friends. With all these you have tremendously progressive enterprises and undertakings: how the Cockatoo’s perch may have evolved from the Mughal period, along with the photographs of some droopy-eyed Cockatoo on mystifying perches; a day of intense debate on whether mass urinals, that resembled the parliament, were to be constructed opposite metro stations; a post-prandial short seminar on whether globalization means the monopoly of the US dollar or the rise of the Russian Mafiosi and the Romanian whores—all these busy activities give us direction for new avenues of thought. This is the real Pragati Maidan—the one in Dilli is totally fake. Those who merely gape at nature’s ravages on the Discovery Channel may be perennially awed by the certainty of such enterprises.
But unfortunately, the mass—paanch-public, is indifferent to this brimming arrangement of progress. The new and improved versions of conscious, rational, scientific, correct, unmistakably almighty programmes are not making people particularly eager. That the Tata Sumos and the Opel Astras of the world are naturally loutish we know, but since when did the dilapidated bicycles, rickshaws, tempos, autos and number 11 become so immature and irresponsible? Whoever is giving them such a long rope, eh? Do they not know that such unctuous, ingratiating behaviour borders on good manners?
Some among the readers would be familiar with that well known incident at Jadavpur University when during a soiree, the late Sagar Sen had just begun, “Venom, I have drunk with full knowledge,” when an elfish student yelled from the back: “Fie on you Sagar! Never such words.” On that note, let us remind the fatuous ones, “Paanchu, never such words.”
What news from Seattle and Prague?
That was really funny. The Vietnam War was at its peak. In response to the call of the US administration, in a secret and important meeting, a swarm of Nobel-Prize winning scientists got together. Only Linus Pauling, that saint of peace, was not invited. After going through all kinds of ‘classified documents’ the Nobel laureates came to the conclusion that the US military would easily win the Vietnam War. Of course such a prophecy by these wise busybodies was proven wrong. On the other hand, who could tell that the so-called red bastion in erstwhile Soviet Union and other East European nations would give way so easily like a structure erected upon bogus building materials? But then we have the Fukuyamas and Fergussons who know for sure that the game is over. Khel Khatam, Paisa Hajam baba. But are there some minor doubts, here and there? Prague and Seattle, and now Greece?
Who will show the light of day to the asinine wise? We are waiting.
Language: A Craftsman’s Wonder
Every year, as the winter is about to decamp, there is a yearly ritual with the Bangla language. Ritual means repetition. The same numbers. Similar platitudes. Same knowledgeable mastication. One feels like eloping with the winter. But what can one do? This is Bengal’s fate—talking precocious bunkum. But within this relentless flat and tedious buffoonery, I came across a hitherto unknown poet Arvind Chaturvedi, who has written this Bangla collection of poetry. The name itself is delicious: “I Speak Bangla after some Arrack.” (Ami Bangla Kheye Bangla Boli). I am sure many will welcome Arvind with open arms. The poems are good. With lots of bones. Strong jaws. Not iced kulfis in the sun.
Recently I have been noticing a pocket-sized virus. A few thousand Indians trying to mock-show novels in English. Aim: Booker or some such heavyweight prize. These are nice folks. Merely looking for some quick fame. That is a normal human tendency. Globalization is helping them too. If you have to be close to the sahibs, you better be Tom, Dick or Harry—who does not know that? The sweet arriviste Bengalis are very much here too. We will call this virus the Rajmohan virus. Nice and sweet, eh?
Fortunately, those who have mashi-pishis, who sup with muri-phuloori, use gamchhas, suddenly smile at the corners of their lips and lose themselves to distant drums, are still writing in Bangla. Writing and will keep on writing. Whether Naipaul’s steamer stops at Aden or Casablanca it does not matter. It goes back to Dover. So no thread, grey or black, in their anatomy gets dislodged.
But we also know that there is a scam, a ghapla, within this neat division between the sahib-native. Some thrive on this division. Whole careers and institutions are made. The sahibs will have ‘amplification, digressions and swellings of style’. Natives: ‘primitive purity and shortness’. Sahibs will dazzle in ‘tropes and figures’. Natives: ‘unaffected sincerity and sound simplicity’. These we have been hearing for decades now.
Whenever the wise maha-pandits have so wished, many craftsmen of art and literature have simply vanished into thin air, have they not? But even as they were getting evaporated and obliterated they kept on saying: “Enough of your drivel. Now fuck off.” Or: “Now is the time to put a muzzle on your mouth.” In Bangla we call the muzzle—kuloop. Has a nice loop to it. That many are invested in making the Bangla language bloodless, asexual, plastic is a long-standing fact. Our job is to just make sure that they get the country treatment. First a tarpaulin. Then an innovative use of bamboo sticks.
I have a feeling that what I have just written has gone a bit awry. Hardly matters. If there is a reasonable beginning, others will take over. That is good enough.
During the Paris Commune, communards came out in droves and began shooting at the big and large clocks. They declared that those clocks bore the ruler’s time. We want to establish our time, they said. This we see in Walter Benjamin’s writings too. All of us know that—time in future. I have somewhere read this in Herbert Marcuse too. Anyway, as I kept thinking about the matter, I thought each one of our writings is a stopwatch. As the reader starts reading, each work starts. And sometimes the stopwatches do not run. This ethereal stopwatch can sense the writer’s and the reader’s time. Sometimes in spirals of time too, in a manner—as the perceptive Bakhtin would have it. There is no use manufacturing dysfunctional and feckless watches.
[Nabarun Bhattacharya is a fiction writer and poet. These are some snippets from his short & fragmentary works collected in the anthology Aquarium. Translation: HUG]