Twenty Years after Independence

Dhoomil

As I write this, the nation is awash with visions of discontent folded into the sordid semiotics of nationalism. This is an old story now, but it is important to document these moments, I believe, and to annotate it with the art of those who have seen deeper, and whose words and images have the power to imagine a future filled with hope.

It’s almost a month now since Munawar Faruqui has been kept in police custody for a joke that he did not even perform. Those fragile little creatures called sentiments have been hurt once again, by a mediocre scene in a badly written series like Tandav. The Republic Day Parade seems to have grown in militaristic bombast and unabashed Hindu pride, covered fervently by the state’s media lapdogs who lost no time in tarnishing the tractor parade, spreading misinformation about “Khalistanis” and anti-nationals. Enough people have talked about the absurdity and privilege inherent in the call for a “disciplined” protest. Any sensible human being would understand that if so many voices are speaking up, the solution isn’t distraction but simply listening to them!

A few minutes before writing this post, I saw, with horror Arnab Goswami’s call to the nation in his launch of the “Nationalist Collective”. Nothing less than an open call to form a militia ready to attack any act of freedom in the name of “Nationalist common intent” (The number of times he evokes “National” in that document will leave us wondering if the word has any meaning left) it reminded me of Arjun Appadurai’s argument about “the fear of small numbers”. This bothersome ‘miniscule group of conspirators who exercise disproportionate clout’ reeks of majoritarian predatory communalism - the pure race scared of the diminutive viral stains which will multiply if unchecked.

The events unfolding before us make us question and deliberate what this imagined community means on a daily basis. Some of us have the privilege to question. Others languish in jails. I think constantly of the innocence, idealism and strength of those who are forced to take to the streets, of those whose voices have been stopped before they could sing. A beautiful graphic story, ‘Heart of Light’, that draws from the myth of Amir Hamza, composed by Orijit Sen and Pakhi Sen speaks to this idea. It gave me some hope and strength. Do make sure you check it out. A seamless montage of multiple visual and temporal scapes, this simple fable draws you into its magical utopia, while radiating multiple strands from multiple movements across the history of the world.

But absolution is temporary. I find myself, like Dhoomil in the poem I share with you today, unsure of the signifiers of nationhood, unsure of where we have reached. One image stays with me -

‘a cow has slopped its dung
on the map of India’

Faced by this montage of histrionics at the ‘celebration’ of an important reassertion of this nation’s conception, like Dhoomil, I “walk on in silence, without an answer”.

P.S. I realise that this edition has come after a hiatus. I have been traveling and caught up. I hope to return to regularity soon.

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