Friday, April 03, 2020

Re-use, reduce, recycle

There's been this saree tag doing the rounds on Facebook. I was tagged too. I am not in a mood to post happy pictures. However, since many people here have spare time for reflection or experimentation or learning new skills, I'd like to tweak the tag and focus on how to shift our culture away from relentless consumption, especially of cheap garments. Excessive mass production of clothes means under-paid workers and a very polluted planet.

A lot of our habits of consumption come from our inability to refurbish and repair cloth. You can put it down to lack of time, but the honest truth is the most young people nowadays don't have the skills. There is zero respect for artisans' skills (because we consistently under-pay them and get away with it), and so middle class kids are not taught to sew, mend, dye, embroider, starch. We certainly do not know how to make paint or dyes. I was lucky to be taught the basics of sewing as a schoolgirl, and because I was interested, I also began to experiment a little with the sewing machine a few years ago. However, I didn't know much repair work and I didn't know how to dye.

Last year, I decided to teach myself. I upped and went to the market one day and bought some dyes, and a giant pateela (of the type you cook biryani in). I threw in some faded clothes that I would otherwise have given away. Because I had no instruction (except youtube videos) and because I didn't know enough about fabrics (what sort of cotton can take what kind of dye etc), I did make a mess of almost everything I attempted. However, this saree turned out okay enough for me to wear out to an event. (I do wear the ruined clothes too, within the house).

This saree was a cream organdy with applique booti work that had a tinge of maroon. My mother bought it in Lucknow, perhaps in the early '90s when organdy was still popular. She wore it until the hem was discoloured and fraying. The stiffness had also gone out of the fabric. Then, after some intense washing in the machine with multi-coloured clothes, it was marked with pink and blue splotches. So I decided to dye it a dark pink.

What I learnt through doing it is that, dyeing fabric is much harder than it looks. It is physically hard, being near a hot boiling vat for that long. If you use chemical dye, there are fumes (I didn't know better and will try to find organic dyes in future). One also needs a stick or stirrer of some kind and I didn't have one, so I used the broken leg of a chair. The stirring was hard too, and you have to be cautious to dip and move the fabric along carefully so that the colouring is even.

I actually did a shoddy job in that the fabric did not take the colour evenly. But that's not immediately obvious to anyone who isn't looking too closely. I wore it to work (a book event) and hoped nobody was looking too closely. If they were... well, you would have thought that I was wearing a faded old saree and that would be an absolutely correct deduction, of which I am not ashamed.

The blouse is old too, also belonged to my mother. It is also at least 20 years old and the fabric is fine.

I don't know if I'll wear this saree often, because I don't wear any sarees too often, but these five yards have served us very well. Perhaps I'll cut it up and turn it into something else later. A scarf, a dress, a curtain, a shirt, a dishrag?




In turn I've tagged friends who have successfully turned sarees into something else, or refreshed fabric instead of throwing it away and buying new stuff. Consider yourself tagged if you feel like it. And reduce, re-use, re-cycle.

Photo courtesy the TATA Litlive festival. I'm afraid I don't know the photographer's name. Happy to credit if you raise your hand.

P.S.: If you're wondering at my expression, this is me looking at Shanta Gokhale and wondering when I would grow up to be as lovely, as spirited and as smart as she is.












Thursday, April 02, 2020

When hunger is the tragedy...

My mother attempted to buy vegetables last week, right outside the gates of the housing complex, and she witnessed police officials preventing sales. A cart or basket had been overturned. Vegetables lay crushed in the dirt. She saw desperate folk picking up the damaged food when they thought the cops were not looking. Her recounting of this brief experience triggered something within me. That, and reports of migrant workers – suddenly out of work, hungry, and trying to walk hundreds of kilometres on foot.

I began to think of ‘The Song of Famine’, a long chapter embedded within a travelogue written by the French traveller Pierre Loti. India was published in 1901, just after a major famine had affected many parts of the country, Rajasthan in particular.

In the city of Jaipur, Loti documented what he saw:

“Servants lead tamed cheetahs belonging to the King through the streets. These are led on slips so that they may become accustomed to crowds, wear little embroidered caps tied under their chins with a bow…But there are also many hideous vagrants— graveyard spectres like those lying at the rampart gates. For these have actually dared to enter the rose-coloured city and to drag their skeletons through the streets. There are more of them than I should have thought possible…horrible heaps of rags and bones lying on the pavements hidden amongst the gay booths of the merchants, and people have to step aside so as not to tread upon them. These phantoms are peasants who used to live in the surrounding districts. They have struggled against the droughts which have brought destruction to the land, and their long agony is imprinted on their incredibly emaciated bodies. Now all is over; their cattle have died because there was no more grass, and their hides have been sold for a mere trifle. The fields which they have sown are only steppes of dusty earth where nothing can grow, and they have even sold their rags and the silver rings that they used to wear on their arms and ankles so that they might buy food…They thought that people would take pity on them, and would not let them die, and they had heard that food and grain were stored here, as if to resist a siege; they had heard, too, that every one in the city had something to eat. Even now carts and strings of camels are constantly bringing sacks or rice and barley that the King has procured from distant lands, and people are piling them up in the barns, or even on the pavements, in dread of the famine which threatens the beautiful city on every side. But though there is food it cannot be had without money…”



I began to read this chapter again once pictures and videos began to emerge of migrant workers and their families trying to leave cities after A sudden lockdown was announced to combat the ongoing Corona virus pandemic. People are heading back to villages where they hope to be fed. Perhaps they could live off the fruits of the land, if they have any, for a while. Perhaps they could shelter in a hut that’s not in an overcrowded slum. At the very least, if they die, their families will know what happened.

Read the full article here:

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Truth and the pandemic

When was the last time there was a massive public uproar about our leaders concealing truth, or flip-flopping on facts presented in court, or lying in Parliament? Assuming falsehoods were based on faulty information, when was the last time our leaders apologised for misleading us?

Far from seeing it as a ‘sin’, as a symptom of moral degradation with life-and-death consequences for us, we have grown inured to falsehood. I have lost count of the number of times I have heard admiration in the voices of fellow citizens when they comment upon politicians’ penchant for endlessly, inventively, lying to the nation. How then, in the middle of a terrifying pandemic, do we suddenly expect honesty?

The building of public character takes generations. It requires leaders who uphold the principle of honesty, who urge us to re-examine our intimate and perceived reality. 

Here is one such nugget of reality: India spends only 1.28% of its GDP on health. Here is another: over 55 million Indians were pushed below the poverty line in 2011-12 because of out-of-pocket health expenses. And another: in 2014-15, the government led by Prime Minister Modi slashed an already pitiful health budget by 20%. And this: despite warnings from the World Health Organization, despite COVID-19 deaths being reported in China and Italy, India continued to export protective medical equipment.

There are many more truths to confront...

Read the whole column here: 

Monday, March 30, 2020

Not so rare

We like to believe that justice is served when a murderer goes to the gallows. Death offers closure. It also shields us from the awful truth that a society where such crimes happen with alarming regularity is broken, and requires a drastic overall. We experienced it as broken in 2012, when details of the Nirbhaya case emerged. The masses roared on the streets, demanding that something get fixed. The accused were arrested, and seven years later, have been executed.

Someone mentioned videos. I didn’t want to look. I didn’t want any more detail about those men. Already, I find it hard to forget that they were desperate to stay alive, filing appeal after appeal. I confess, I don’t know what they deserved. Fourteen, twenty-five or fifty years does not seem to balance the scales of justice. But it is also true that I feel neither relief nor cheer. I feel weary, and much, much more afraid than I was in 2012.

The cases I’ve mentioned above are a tiny selection from English press reports. Some of those ‘rarest of rare’ crimes were undertaken after the accused in the Nirbhaya case were arrested, and people were baying for blood. A death sentence was almost a forgone conclusion. Yet, the rarest of rare crimes recurred. Individually, and in gangs, men emulated the tortures they heard of during media coverage of the Nirbhaya case. One thing different was though: they made sure to kill the victims.

Read the whole piece in Outlook magazine:

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

कश्मकश : एक नौजवान की लिखी बहुत पुरानी नज़्म

मेरे नाना साहब की लिखी एक बहुत पुरानी नज़्म. उस ज़माने में वो लखनऊ यूनिवर्सिटी में पढ़ रहे थे. उम्र क़रीब 22 साल रही होगी (नज़्म पे तारीख़ 1938 लिखी है). ये तो नहीं मालूम कि नज़्म में किस कश्मकश का ज़िक्र है लेकिन कुछ अंदाज़ा इस बात से लगाया जा सकता है कि 1941 तक वो ऑल इंडिया स्टूडेंट्स फेडरेशन के जनरल सेक्रेटरी रह चुके थे और जंग-ए-आज़ादी में पूरी तरह शामिल होकर जेल चले गए.

बाक़ी, एक नौजवान का दिल तो था ही, उसकी कश्मकश अलग रही होगी... पढ़िए ज़रूर.


कश्मकश

इस गुंचा-ए-ख़ुशरंग को तोड़ूँ के ना तोड़ूँ?
गुलचीं की निगाहों का शरर रोक रहा है

साग़र के लब-ए-सुर्ख़ को चूमूँ के ना चूमूँ?
मैख़ाने का अंदाज़-ए-नज़र रोक रहा है

गोदी में मह-ओ-साल की मचलूँ के ना मचलूँ?
आते हुए आलाम का डर रोक रहा है

है मौसम-ए-गुल जोश पे चहकूँ  के ना चहकूँ?
पैहम कफ़स-ए-तंग का दर रोक रहा है

पयमाना-ए-सरजोश हूँ छलकूँ के ना छलकूँ?
हर मंज़र-ए-बेकैफ़-ओ-असर रोक रहा है

मंज़िल की तरफ़ बाग को मोड़ूँ के ना मोड़ूँ?
कोई मिरी हर राहगुज़र रोक रहा है

फ़ितरत के सिरा परदों को उलटूँ के ना उलटूँ?
क़ानून-ए-ख़ुम-ए-तेग़-ओ-तबर रोक रहा है

फ़रसूदा निज़ामों को बदल दूँ के ना बदलूँ?
तहज़ीब का हिलता हुआ सर रोक रहा है

-

रुकने का भी इमकान है चलने का भी इमकान
जलने का भी इमकान है फलने का भी इमकान
थमने का भी इमकान उबलने का भी इमकान
गिरने का भी इमकान संभलने का भी इमकान
ख़तरे हैं अगर लाख तो इमकान हज़ारों
बढ़ने के भी हटने के भी सामान हज़ारों
ये कश्मकश ए ज़ीस्त, ये आवेज़िश-ए-अफ़कार
सरमाया-ए-सरमस्ती-ए-याराना तराहदार
ग़ैरों को मवाफ़िक़ नहीं अपनों को सज़ावार
अपनों को सज़ावार के वीराने हों गुलज़ार
गुलज़ार जो आज़ार-ए-मह-ओ-साल भुला दे
वो तल्ख़ी-ए-माज़ी ये ग़म-ए-हाल भुला दे

- अली जवाद ज़ैदी
लखनऊ (सन 1938)
किताब का नाम: सिलसिला


कुछ शब्दों के मायने

गुंचा = फूल या कली
गुलचीं  = माली
शरर  = चिंगारी
मह-ओ-साल = महीने और साल
आलाम = मुसीबतें या मुश्किलें
पैहम = लगातार
कफ़स ए तंग = सिकुड़ा हुआ पिंजड़ा/ क़ैदख़ाना
मंज़र-ए-बेकैफ़-ओ-असर = बिना असर या दुःखी नज़ारा
क़ानून-ए-ख़ुम-ए-तेग़-ओ-तबर = तलवार और कुल्हाड़ी का उठता/बढ़ता हुआ क़ानून
फ़रसूदा = पुराना
इमकान = सम्भावनाएँ
आवेज़िश-ए-अफ़कार =  चिंतन/फ़िक्र की लड़ाई
तराहदार =  ख़ूबसूरत / स्टाइलिश
मवाफ़िक़ = जो हामी भर दे या फिर हामी भरना / to conform
सज़ावार = सज़ा के लायक़
आज़ार = तकलीफें, दर्द
तल्ख़ी-ए-माज़ी = बीते दिनों की कड़वाहट
ग़म-ए-हाल = अभी का ग़म

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Being profiled

In other news, Facebook has finally successfully figured me out. It has my profile down pat:interested in literature (writing), films, culture broadly. It shows me ads for masterclasses in screenwriting by Mira Nair and Judd Apatow. One even by Margaret Atwood and if I was who I was fifteen years ago, I may even have jumped at that offer.

Another time, FB showed me some ad related to writing - merchandise, perhaps? It does not yet show me books per se, because the books' business is small and publishers (and writers themselves) rarely advertise their wares.

Once in a while, it will show me some quaint piece of furniture, or mulmul and silk sarees. If I wasn't so determined not to shop for objects that I have not physically gone looking for, not touched and seen at close quarters, it would have been my undoing.

Still. Congratulations, Facebook. You nailed who I am. Give my love to all the AI programs that track my every move.

Amazon, on the other hand, is wringing its hands at my habits. I do not usually purchase anything except books there but it keeps trying to offer me gadgets, phones, home accessories. As if to say: Come on! Oh, come on!

I kind of prefer that approach, to be honest. It sees and it resists your own idea of who you are.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Corona virus wali shakl

Somebody on Twitter called me a 'corona virus ki shakal ki...' (other words followed) It was obviously meant as an insult. Made me thoughtful. Virus ki shakal means the face of the virus. Since viruses don't have bodies that can easily be anthropomorphized - where's the 'face'? - one may assume that the whole of it is a shakal

I've seen images accompanying news articles and was struck by the shape and colouring of Corona: Are those its own colours? Or is that the stain left by whatever chemicals scientists are using to define/isolate a particular strain? Does only one part of the body (can one say 'of the creature'?) take the dye? Why?




To look at it, as one looks at anything else on the planet, it is not unattractive. The word 'striking' comes to mind. So, as far as shakal-surat is concerned, it is not entirely uncomplimentary to be compared to the Corona.

There is also the question of power - its capacity to incapacitate, to cause chaos, to cause fatal damage. Again, from a shakal perspective, this is not entirely uncomplimentary. And therefore, I am not feeling the insult after all.

And because I ran a search for images, here are some links I found (below). This article has several images and one very striking illustration by the biologist David Goodsell, who creates 'molecular landscapes'. Whether you believe in God, or Nature, or the Universe, or Earth, you cannot but behold, ruminate, and marvel.

https://www.floridatoday.com/picture-gallery/news/2020/03/12/coronavirus-photos-what-virus-look-like/5030958002/








Sunday, March 15, 2020

Reading in

Less going out of the house (which I do reluctantly at the best of times) means more reading. Over the last few weeks, between deadlines, at airports, and through sleepless nights, I've read a fair bit.

Ali Khan Mahmudabad's 'Poetry of Belonging' was special, not just because it was about poetry and belonging, but also because it includes references to my dear departed grandfather's work (which I have yet to read!). It also makes me wonder at how much we don't know. Like about the Urdu poets working in what is now Haryana. How was the poetry of a 'Faridabadi' poet different from that of a Dehlavi? What was the sub-regional flavour like? Don't we wish we knew?

'Blue is Like Blue', a selection of stories written by Vinod Kumar Shukla and translated by Sara Rai and Arvind Krishna Mehrotra. None of these names need any introduction to readers familiar with the Indian literary landscape. All I can say is, buy and read, all ye who haven't, and especially all ye who would write.

I read Asiya Zahoor's 'Serpents Under My Veil', a book of poems that bring together many difficult themes - gender, literary engagement, Kashmir, violence, love.

I also read and enjoyed Saif Mahmood's 'Beloved Delhi', another book based on place and Urdu poetry. It offers the background and context to the writing of some of the most brilliant poetry written by Delhi's most famous poets, and the translations made it easier to understand and enjoy the original works.

Please buy all these books asap. You know you want to. I am helpfully attaching purchase links: 

I've also just finished a beautiful book called 'Calligraphies of Love' by Hasan Massoudy. It is, as the title suggests, a book combining text and art. Try getting the print edition rather than the kindle one. It is lovely. Something to hold with affection and a wonderful gift for all your beloveds. 

I'm taking the liberty of sharing a couple of snapshots from between its covers. The Gandhi page, of course. Because, you know... 





Monday, March 09, 2020

The price of not being a real leader is counted in (other people's) deaths

He could have said that peaceful protest is an inalienable democratic right.

If he had said it before, or even after winning the state assembly, it may have given pause to millions of people who were being told repeatedly that protestors deserve to be attacked simply for opposing the policies of the central government. After all, Mr Kejriwal himself has done everything in his power to topple those elected to Parliament before.

When he saw footage of CCTV cameras being smashed to prevent the recording of evidence while students were attacked in libraries, he could have said that his government would, anyhow, make sure the guilty were punished. He could say that his government would ensure that mosques will be re-built, and that inter-faith meetings be held every single day until the community can find its way back to harmony. He could say, even now, that we must resist ghettoization, for it can only lead to a greater gulf between communities. He could say that ghettoization is not just the outcome but the purpose of such violence, that it is venom in the body of our republic.

He could say to doctors: treat riot victims gently, and do post mortems honestly. He could say to teachers: counsel children so that they may not be drawn to future acts of violence, and may learn not to discriminate themselves. He could say to members of Residents’ Welfare Associations: for India’s sake, stop discriminating. He could even ask that meetings be in every colony to discuss the imperative of citizenship, and understand why so many Indians are feeling vulnerable.

There is a long list of things that need saying, urgently, but beyond taciturn appeals for peace – and those worded in miserly fashion – nothing has been said or done that demonstrates true leadership. The crisis in Delhi, and all over India, is that our leaders appear to think that their role is limited to winning elections. When they speak, they weigh their words against the weight of public opinion. They act as if that they were a mirror for potential voters, however ill-informed, self-serving, narrow-minded the latter be.

The notion that a leader is someone who 'leads', in thought and in deed, seems to have collapsed...


To read the whole thing, please go here: 

Saturday, March 07, 2020

Samman nahin, samaanta



Women's day, so I'm linking to the first documentary I made in 2015. It's online and free to watch now. I'll also say a bit about struggling against censorship of an indirect kind, because I feel like that is linked to the overall deterioration in our polity and our self-definition as Indians.

This film was the result of a PSBT grant but this particular grant came from the Public Diplomacy division of the Ministry of External Affairs, which means that they wanted to fund a film that would 'showcase' India. It also meant that, in addition to a filmmakers' committee that gave feedback, I would also have to show the film to another committee put together by the government. The response to an early cut was iffy. I was told the film was depressing. I edited to make the film more positive overall. However, there was still a lot of pressure to get rid of a few aspects.

First, a reference to (child) widows and their treatment in eighteenth/nineteenth century India, and how that led to a movement for reform. Secondly, they wanted me to remove the word 'Harrafa'. It was initially argued that there was no such word. I sent dictionary references. Then, it was argued that the word shouldn't be used anyway. To deny that word was to deny a big chunk of women's history - their relationship with the written word and disapproval of those who could and did attain learning and literature. There were some discomfort also about some background visuals or the artwork (any sign of an actual body).

I argued back but (with all respect to PSBT, for they did try to argue on my behalf too) PD prevailed. I finally did a shorter version of the film and handed it over to them. However, I also insisted on doing a cut for myself, and to screen whenever I was invited to do so. Both versions (and trailer) have censor certificates. 

I am hoping we - women, men and all other genders - will find a way to keep pushing towards equity. The fight for women's rights is tied into the fight for human rights. One cannot have one without the other. May we succeed. I also hope we have the courage to remember our history, the way it actually was, or else we are doomed to repeat it. 

My gratitude to all who helped me along the way, to PSBT, my colleagues and the crew, people who agreed to be interviewed (including those interviews where the footage did not make it into the final cut), singers, musicians, friends who agreed to be filmed peripherally, friends who sat through the early versions and gave feedback, others who have hosted screenings and discussions. 


Monday, January 20, 2020

A new short story and interview

I have a new short story out in the Massachusetts Review. The story's called Mallika Reflects on the Events of Discount Monday. 

The journal also interviewed me for its blog about the writing of this story and other writing stuff in general. 

What inspired you to write this piece?
Well, I’m a woman and I wish I could say that I am the sort of woman who rejects all norms around femininity. But I do go to a salon once in a while. In India, there are all kinds of salons, more frequently known as ‘beauty parlours.' Parlours come in all sizes and cater to all classes. Many women operate from their own homes or rent little shops in neighborhood markets. I’ve seen some of the fancier ones too, though I usually go to a ‘normal’ parlour, which caters to the average middle-class woman.

Women sometimes go to a parlour looking for some kind of life affirmation, for emotional reassurance rather than physical plucking and primping. I remember going to a fancy salon once for a haircut, having just recovered from a bout of malaria. I was alone most of that week and feeling quite shaken. I needed to treat myself to something. The haircut cost five times what it would in the place where I usually go. The stylist told me that my skin and hair was in bad shape, and that I needed to buy fancy shampoos that cost ten times my normal shampoo, which she wrote out as a ‘prescription.’ I walked out feeling angry and have sworn off the place.

I’ve overheard some strange and sad conversations over the years at various parlours. I see beauticians trying to coax you into spending much more than you can actually afford by thrusting fresh norms, which they’ve picked up from Western (usually North American) magazines, upon their clientele. I also see women coming to the same place for years, never pushed into trying anything beyond the thing they came looking for. The story was an attempt to capture some of these conversations and experiences.

Here's a link to the whole ten questions: 

Wednesday, January 08, 2020

कैसे ये मस्त लोग थे क्या नौजवान थे

अली जवाद ज़ैदी साहब की एक नज़्म जो उन्होंने 1941 में लिखी थी, लखनऊ जेल में, जहाँ वो जंग-ए-आज़ादी में शामिल होने की वजह से क़ैद थे। 


गोली के ज़द पे जम गऐ , सीनों को तान के
तोपों के मुँह पे डट गऐ ,अंजाम जान के
क्या वीर थे सुपूत वो हिन्दोस्तान के

कैसे ये मस्त लोग थे क्या नौजवान थे

फौजों को अपने ध्यान में लाऐ नहीँ कभी
दुश्मन के दिल नज़र में समाऐ नहीँ कभी
मैदाँ से अपने पाऊँ हटाऐ नहीँ कभी

कैसे ये मस्त लोग थे क्या नौजवान थे

रण सामने था जोश में बढ़ते चले गऐ
कुहसार ज़ुल्म-o-जोर पे चढ़ते चले गऐ
आशार झूम झूम के पढ़ते चले गऐ

कैसे ये मस्त लोग थे क्या नौजवान थे

सुख चैन की बहार न ललचा सकी इन्हें
धन की नई फ़ुहार न बहका सकी इन्हें
घरबार की भी चाह न घबरा सकी इन्हें

कैसे ये मस्त लोग थे क्या नौजवान थे

क़ानून को रौंदते गाते गुज़र गऐ
सच्चाईयों की धूम मचाते गुज़र गऐ
दुख में भी सुख के गीत सुनाते गुज़र गऐ

कैसे ये मस्त लोग थे क्या नौजवान थे

मिटते हुऐ समाज को ठुकरा के बढ़ गऐ
धर्म आ गया जो राह में कतरा के बढ़ गऐ
इठला के, गा के , सैकड़ों बल खा के बढ़ गऐ

कैसे ये मस्त लोग थे क्या नौजवान थे

ये मुस्कुरा के शौक़ से रण में चले गऐ
ये भूक और प्यास के बन में चले गऐ
ये चाँद इब्तिदा के गहन में चले गऐ

कैसे ये मस्त लोग थे क्या नौजवान थे.

- Borrowed from Mehfil Sukhan

Sunday, January 05, 2020

Prelude to a Riot: excerpts, interviews and reviews

An excerpt published in Scroll:

Annie Zaidi’s new novel takes us to a south Indian town where trouble is being brewed


An interview with the Huffington Post about the new novel: Prelude to a Riot


A review in Open magazine:

Zaidi’s emotionally intelligent novel is remarkable in the complexity it manages to convey

A review in Hindustan Times:

Prelude to a Riot has the depth of reportage and a deep understanding of the human condition

A review in The Hindu Businessline:

Her skill lies in etching the attributes of each character with finesse, without ever forcing the reader to be judgemental.

A review in Scroll:
What distinguishes this immediately affecting, often harrowing, and sometimes hopeful novel from contemporary reportage or even narrative journalism on the state of our society is the sensitive understanding it brings... 

Interview in the Indian Express about the roots of violence and the personal being political:

https://indianexpress.com/article/express-sunday-eye/a-lot-of-violence-comes-from-the-fear-of-losing-control-6055098/

Interview in the New Indian Express about violence and its impact:

http://www.newindianexpress.com/cities/bengaluru/2019/oct/16/the-truth-sayer-2048093.html


A first review in The Mint Lounge:

https://www.livemint.com/mint-lounge/features/the-beginning-of-an-end-foretold-1568374224159.html

Another review on Jaya's blog: 

http://www.jayabhattacharjirose.com/prelude-to-a-riot-by-annie-zaidi/



Learning to see and speak: 1

In 2018, I had begun to maintain a document of fear and self-censorship. In the wake of online aggression, often coordinated, and the killings and arrests of writers and journalists, not to mention the chilling effect of cases being filed in courts under one pretext or the other, I had begun to hold back a lot, writing only for myself, if I had to. Even where I did write and publish, I found myself not doing much to share my work around, wondering whether that would bring me negative attention, or get me onto some kind of list someone was maintaining of people who had to be gagged or worse.

One of the essays I published that year, but did not share much, was about protest, about how I grew up apolitical and was suspicious of student politics, until I became a journalist and finally learnt the dangers of distancing oneself from politicking as citizens and confining oneself merely to the exercise of the ballot.

I know now it is disengagement that makes us disenchanted, makes our politics unhinged. We ought to have been taught this before we turned eighteen and started sending people to parliament. At twenty-five, a citizen can stand for national elections. To tell university students not to ‘do politics’ is a slap in the face of democracy.

Please read the fully essay here:

Thursday, January 02, 2020

Gandhi and students protests

The recent wave of protests by students, and several others, and especially young people opposed to the CAA and the NRC/NPR rolled out by the government reminded me of what M.K. Gandhi had said to students during the freedom struggle.

Writing in ‘Young India’, in 1928, Gandhi refused to humour a principal who had wanted him to stop students from getting more involved with politics. At a convocation address at Kashi Vidyapeeth, which is also printed in ‘Young India’ in 1929, Gandhi had said: “The aim of government institutions is pre-eminently to turn out clerks and others who would assist the alien government to carry out its rule.”

He also gave students courage, asking them not to worry about their few-ness. He cited the example of the prophet Mohammad and Abu Bakr when they were facing their enemies. Abu Bakr is supposed to have said, “What shall we two do against these heavy odds?”  The Prophet rebuked his faithful companion by saying, “No, Abu Bakr, we are three. For God is with us.”

Again, in 1931, writing in ‘Young India’, Gandhi was urging students’ parents not to sign letters guaranteeing that their children will not participate in politics.

A lot of what Gandhi said and wrote changed. Reading his various letters and addresses to students, one might be struck by the changeability of his stance on the question of protest. There are times he asks them to be wary of 'political' protest in the sense of getting involved with a particular political organisation. But there is no doubt that he urges them to stand up in the cause of the right and in the interests of justice. He urges discipline too, but never silence in the face of injustice. 

Sunday, November 03, 2019

'शायरी मैंने ईजाद की'

ये मेरी पसंदीदा नज़्मों में से एक है, उर्दू के नामी शायर अफ़ज़ाल अहमद सय्यद की लिखी हुई:

'शायरी मैंने ईजाद की'



काग़ज़ मराकेशों ने ईजाद किया

हुरूफ़ फ़ोनेशनों ने

शायरी मैंने ईजाद की


क़ब्र खोदने वाले ने तंदूर ईजाद किया

तंदूर पर क़ब्ज़ा करने वालों ने रोटी की पर्ची बनाई

रोटी लेने वाले ने क़तार ईजाद की

और मिलकर गाना सीखा


रोटी की क़तार में जब चींटियाँ आ कर खड़ी हो गईं

तो फ़ाक़ा ईजाद हो गया

शहतूत बेचने वाले ने रेशम का कीड़ा ईजाद किया

शायरी ने रेशम से लड़कियों के लिए लिबास बनाया

रेशम में मलबूस लड़कियों के लिए कुटनियों ने महलसरा ईजाद की

जहाँ जाकर उन्होंने रेशम के कीड़े का पता बता दिया


फ़ासले ने घोड़े के चार पाँव ईजाद किए

तेज़ रफ़तारी ने रथ बनाया

और जब शिकस्त ईजाद हुई

तो मुझे तेज़ रफ़्तार रथ के आगे लिटा दिया गया

मगर उस वक़्त तक शायरी मुहब्बत को ईजाद कर चुकी थी

मुहब्बत ने दिल ईजाद किया

दिल ने ख़ेमा और कश्तियाँ बनाईं

और दूर-दराज़ के मक़ामात तय किए

ख़्वाजासरा ने मछली पकड़ने का कांटा ईजाद किया

और सोये हुए दिल में चुभोकर भाग गया

दिल में चुभे हुए कांटे की डोर थामने के लिए

नीलामी ईजाद हुई

और

जब्र ने आख़री बोली ईजाद की

मैंने सारी शायरी बेच कर आग ख़रीदी

और जब्र का हाथ ज़ला दिया
*

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Looking at oneself grow

Indications that you might be an adult: You are able to sit down to a meal in a dining hall full of bright young people with whom you have no special desire to converse, nor any special desire to not converse. The hum of a hundred voices and clatter-tinkle of a hundred forks and knives rising and falling, washing over you like a clean rinse.

Indications that you might be regressing: You are able to eat like you are hungry, when you are hungry, with crumbs in your hair, and you can brush them off with no attempt at camouflage, while a dozen people look on.

Indications that you might be progressing: You stop taking people personally, because you accept that they are not yours to take.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Hindi divas

हिंद में हिंदी बनते बनते बनी, कई सौ साल लगे। अब भी बन ही रही है। संस्कृत के ताने पे तुर्की फ़ारसी का बाना और फिर जाने कौन-कौन ज़ुबान की कढ़ाई। अब अंग्रेज़ी के पैबंद लग रहे हैं।

हिंदी पे रहम कीजिए, फलने फूलने दीजिये। जब ज़ुबान नए धागे ढूंढ़ने लगे, नया मज़बूत रेशा, समझ लीजिए वो ज़िंदा रहना चाहती है। जितना उसे एयरटाइट डिब्बे में बंद करेंगे, उतनी जल्दी घुट के मर जाएगी। जिसे प्यार करते हैं उसे आज़ाद छोड़ना पड़ता है। नहीं तो, या तो प्यार मर जाएगा या वो, जिससे प्यार है। 

हाँ, हिंदी से प्यार नहीं है तो कोई बात नहीं। लेकिन सोच लीजिए, ज़ुबान माँ भी होती है, बेटी भी। जहाँ प्यार मिला, वहीं मुड़ जाएगी। हैप्पी की तरह, जूते पहन के भाग जाएगी। 


Thursday, August 15, 2019

Why did the chicken cross the road?

A new poem published in Narrow Road (Vol 8) is an attempt to examine chickens, roads and crossing over to the other side: Why did the chicken cross the road?

This issue was meant to be dedicated to 'anecdotal poetry', guest edited by Sivakami. My submission can be read as either anecdotal or a multiple choice question poem.

https://issuu.com/narrowroad.mag/docs/narrow_road_vol_8__august_19_?fbclid=IwAR0tFJcRSVSPdiv691_Q0UAfVJASdNEYGuttYHWLihH_nPtdvTVCjKCBmGE

Click the link above and keep flipping pages until you find the poem.


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