OPINION

A-vivek of N-Arundhati

July 13, 2010
Vivek Sharma

When Narundhati treks through the jungles as a guest of Maoists, her biases
ignore the blisters on her city feet. The mosquitoes that relish blood, heedless
to the age of their victims, serenade to her, in a 'thousand star hotel'.
What Narundhati says is part fact, the part where she describes guns
and explosives in a region termed Pakistan by leaders and policemen —
a Pakistan within India where followers of Mao seek a bloody revolution!

When she quotes a Harvard returned politician or a Naxal leader verbatim, she stays partly
in right, stating their high-headed thoughts about cost of progress and freedom at midnight.
I root for her when she describes the plight of farmers, counterfeited by a green revolution,
or when derides the blind march into globalization or the abject immorality of the corrupt.
When Narundhati asks if a fact is a fact in her fiction, or if our judgment of Maoists is right,
or suggests that India need 'feral poetry', she is enchanted by her wordplay. Her fiction
writer’s instincts laud her, as she pens lines lyrically in a cinematic setting to die for (not in)
and her protagonists are Davids fighting a 'higher caste, fascist' Goliath-state.
In episodes that trek her journey with lilting rhythms, every typed word is paid for, is wanted
by a popular magazine, and she anticipates the applause she will get from the Eastern left,
and the Western right.

She is partly right when she describes how CIA's jihad
of late eighties in Afghanistan finished off Russian communism and spawned
Taliban style communalism in Afghan & Indian territory, bringing Kashmir its tensions
(and some intellectuals their liberal pretensions). She appears partly bright
when she describes the rise of Hindutva as a political force in that nineties disquiet.
Since her writing is tight, she urges connotations to bare themselves and subtleties
of diction in this colonial language, appeased by her 'hysterical rhetoric', look like ecstatic,
climactic arguments, but what interests me always is what escapes her,
or what she omits or leaves out.
Like Kashmiri Pandits, who don't feature in her computation of what went wrong in 1988-
89, though historically speaking, those lands belonged to those hundreds of thousands:
now refugees in their own country, driven out by 'Azadi guns'.
When she forgets is that in this Indian Palestine, the oppressed is the Hindu, whose homeland,
memory of forefathers is being wiped out, and there is no Darwish to sing of this loss!
But her reading of the historic is undone by her histrionics. She ignores
what she dislikes, and in her surreal imagination, Gandhian protest is a vice.

Hinduism, which gives her name, but deserves only her distaste, is the problem she must cite.
Her unintelligent comments about Kashmir or Taj Mumbai siege (as Rushdie called them),
her howl: "justice or civil war" reflect she’s Narundhati: yet her prestige persists in spite of her sleights,
for a country she calls a Nazi-like police state by tolerating her, belies the atrocities she cites:
while she sees only death and shadow lurk on our stage
Isn't she surprised, why she is still unscathed and alive?
Truth is seldom as black or white, but my stanzas seem stunted for I am imitating Narundhati's style.

See I am stumped by her contradictions, though as an Indian, I am deemed capable of reconciling
the opposites. Narundhati, the embedded journalist, describes rapes, arson, murder by police as malice,
yet urges us to sympathize with Maoists who count mutilated corpses as a prize.

Years back, on the shores of Narmada, she cried hoarse with non-violent protesters,
"Narmada bachao, bachao" "Narmada bachao, bachao"
and now in Maoists camps, she despises those methods.
"Lal salaam comrade! Guns uthao, uthao"
She cites Charu's and Mao's affection for gore, and tells us, in her Delhi accent...
O don't be a bore,
look at these tribals dancing, look at their songs and folklore...
who'd think they have killed a score.

When she writes, "I tell them Delhi is a cruel city that neither knows nor cares about them,"
she forgets that the Indian city destroyed the most number of times, never though by pacifists,
is the city of Hindu memories, of Ghalib, Mir and Sufis, of Sikhs and seekers of many faiths,
but our city-girl thinks cities as contraband
and like Mumbai, her 'karmabhoomi' is ostracized from her skies.
Likewise, millions of children born into consumer cultures, are vultures
as per her writing, which insists world markets are ulcers, progress = prosecution,
pro-Hindu idealism = fascism, police = thieves/rapists, leaders = hate-mongers. If her arithmetic of India,
America, World is really that simplistic, and caustic, I wonder, what qualifies her to be a critic?




As a teenager, I volunteered one summer for teaching the slum children in Delhi. As a reward
for my sincerity, I was led into a small, unlit room one afternoon, to talk to a high-ranking Maoist.
"We must rid our nation of these intellectuals, professors, politicians, landowners, high castes,
scientists, and wipe out the rich.
Blood is the only water than can wash the strains of anguish
that distinguish my people," he said. He quoted Marx, Majumdar, French revolution, Russians, Mao.
I looked like an ancient cow quoting Gandhian or Buddhist or Hindu philosophy,
and the forgotten principle of Christian non-resistance: of turning the other cheek.

I tried to decipher why I was an enemy. "You represent the worst of elitists, Sharma;
studying in a fancy engineering college, Convent educated, Brahmin, or course you’re a fascist".
My distinct unease told me I was condemned by the prejudice of this self-appointed jurist!
I lacked potent phrases to debate with him, so I described how I had toiled hard all my life
under extreme family pressure and my success was fruition of the daily, honest sweat
of my parents who had risen from Himalayan poverty, which doesn't ask your caste
when it affects you, though employers cite it when they reject you.
"Many innocents must die too. The fire of sacrifice, the Goddess
calls for a bloody revolution."

That three hour meeting still baffles me. I am at loss for words,
it hurts. For him, Chinese excesses or Stalin's policies are justified. The morbid horror of it,
rages within me, and as I devour literature from all times — Tale of two cities, If this is a Man,
Doctor Zhivago, Train to Pakistan or Manto's stories — I realize every activism and ideal
that strives to reverse biases, by justifying repressive policies and atrocities of present day
in the light of past excesses, rationalizes exactly what it criticizes. War begets war, lust, lust,
hate spawns hate. I agree markets lack compassion and conscience, but collectives can be callous
as well, Dickensian crowds can turn into mobs and guillotine,
and Achebe’s tribals are capable of being innocuous or fascist!
If only we had the right acumen, we would triumph over ourselves and turn human,
but we lay down a landmine, we turn our holy lands into Palestine, we outline
new charters of hate, wiping Jews or Tutsis or Hindus or Red Indians or Muslims
or Cambodians, or Tibetians or Armenians, priests and pilgrims, ultra-rich and urchin,
wiping whole generations off our slate!




I don't know why Narundhati's mother thinks India needs a revolution, or why
Narundhati listens to grasshoppers and they speak her mind, about 'democracy
as a demon-crazy'. I lived in Chekovian villages, in beat-up small towns,
in places where people don't worry about abstract isms and nouns,
rather stick to their daily needs, banal fancies and follies, ageless celebrations and strife.
We are the poor or middle classes, our daily living supplies more solace and sorrow to our lives
than the craving rich can conceptualize.


When I read dream-like sequences of rural, joyful life, I realize,
even Tolstoys can lack the facts, and that ignorance leads to lies.
See the Soviet history, witness its birth, youth and demise!
Yes Naom Chomsky's is a learned man, and Howard Zinn knew his People’s history,
but when N-Arundhati talks their language, she lacks their informed gallantry,
their reverence for their national ideals, their ability to denounce propaganda, backed with facts.
Not every ape is a Hanuman, for it takes a lot of spirit, guts, grime and gyaan.
To be a Zola, rather than a bhola, requires more than a kurta and a jhola!

In Narundhati's analysis of India: there is a civil war-like situation
between Muslims and Hindus, tribals and corporations, Maoists and state machinery,
dam builders and those displace by dams. And of course, Narundhati is the liberal star
smug, satiated, saturated by her own self-defined idioms of calamity and causality.
Her writing shows, how she deifies the episodes of carnage, and her urge is to disgrace
the land on which she stays. In her prose, terrorists get rationalized, and as she breaks
into outbursts, aimed at foreign readers, buyers of her books, admirer of her looks,
who lap up what she writes, especially her calling much maligned Hindus — fascists,
or thinking of Kashmir as Palestine or her support for bloody revolutions. Half-truths are half-lies,
and my lament is... many trust her, and thrust biased policies on Indians using her near-sights.
Her rhetoric: 'Mumbai people asked for it, people who are neither in government, nor rich,
nor Maoists asked for it, Kashmiri Pandits asked for it, Hindus & Sikhs killed in past centuries
asked for it, the children of twenty-first century asked for it, Americans killed in 9/11 asked for it,
the races and regions continuously misrepresented by colonial mentality Orientalists like her
asked for it, asked for it, asked for it".


Why Suyodhan is called Duryodhan, why my write-up is full of A-Vivek, and why N-Arundhati,
who I support for her activism on many issues, is the locus of my ardent criticism?
While Narundhati has a Booker and I haven't even won a cooker, I still am an argumentative
Indian, as Amartya Sen would call me. Trust me, it takes more than a token speech to appall me.
Tell me, if I can be considered discreet if in my words, there is no middle ground, no layers, no gray.
Too much talk, and too little thought, too much debate, that too without consulting the proletariat!
Too many victims, too little praise, too much rhetoric, without perspective of the current or the historic!
Anger is easy, but solutions are harder, and in India, where bureaucratic cobwebs usher
answers at the pace of a lazy snail and facts are files buried in dust or disgust somewhere:
her urging us to burn down our the storehouse and file-keepers too leads us nowhere.

My voice falters in any discourse. My lament: I am innocent. If I cite Hindu philosophy,
I am labeled fundamentalist; if Islamic, labeled terrorist; if Jewish, Zionist. If I state
my thoughts, my name says I am a Brahmin, also my education was in Catholic school.
I am my father's son, so related to the government. I live in United States, so I represent the empire.
I am a poet means I am fanciful; an engineer, which implies I limp in humanities,
and by the sheer luck of being the son of a honest man, and a scientist, after a lifetime of toil,
I am still struggling to earn a foothold on our soil. But while I cannot even represent
my own self, how and why does a Narundhati triumph as a correspondent?
If Maoists win their mineral-rich forests, Kashmir gains independence, minorities and castes vanish,
will we reach the state of param-sukh: absolute solace and prosperity, will it be end of our anguish?
If democracy isn't right for us, how do we know unlike in Russian heydays, comrades will fight for us?
Why don't you forsake it Vivek? You don't know what you don't know. Half-truth only parasites on us!

(Inspired by: “Walking with Comrades by Arundhati Roy”)


NOTE
1. (A-vivek: Absence or lack of the ability to determine what is right and wrong, fact and fiction, fair and unfair, sacrosanct and rubbish, ephemeral and eternal. Arundhati was Vasistha’s wife, and name of a vine; but it also means ‘kundalini‘ or supernatural facility, and N-Arundhati therefore is a negation of the Arundhati; i.e. lack of faculty to look at the factual and at the intellectual, and since Arundhati is associated with fidelity, N-Arundhati also has lack of fidelity as a meaning).
2. Arundhati Roy gave a lecture tour after the article in Outlook, and my poem was written after hearing a lecture at MIT, where it was clear that her content and concern were, for most part, motivated by grabbing attention.
3. The poem like this one is considered politically motivated by most poetry journals. Most newspapers cannot publish it for my own political affiliations are unknown, and I come with no recommendations.

Vivek Sharma is a Pushcart nominated poet, an engineer with a PhD, a career scientist and an Indian-American writer. His work is published or forthcoming in Poetry, Atlanta Review, The Cortland Review, Kartika Review, Bateau, etc. He contributes columns and verses to Divya Himachal (Hindi newspaper in India) and his research is published in science journals. Vivek spend his childhood in Himachal Pradesh, undergraduate days in IIT Delhi, doctoral days in & around Georgia Tech, Atlanta and is currently a postdoctoral research associate in Mechanical Engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge (MA). Vivek's first collection, "Saga of a Crumpled Piece of Paper" (63 poems, English) will be published by Writers Workshop, Calcutta in 2009.
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