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Monday, November 15, 2010

CHEVOLUTION: The Tragedy of a Revolutionary

I was in college when this particular anecdote happened. There was this girl who was wearing a Che Guevara T-shirt and was sporting a sort of punk look. When I asked her if she was a Commie, she looked pretty offended. When I told her that she was wearing a T-shirt featuring the most famous Communist revolutionary ever, she just shrugged and replied, “Really? I thought he was a rock star or something?” Her reply shocked the hell out of me then. How can you sport a Che Guevara T-shirt without even knowing who he is? Why Che of all the people? Today when I look back at that moment, I realize the tragedy that has befallen Che. He has become the tool in the hands of the very forces that he fought all his life.

The Che Guevara image that we see so much around nowadays is the most prolific photo image in history. Go to a college and you will surely find some youngster sporting a Che T-shirt. But ask him who exactly was Che and there are one in a ten possibilities that you’ll get a correct answer. Che has become a symbol of rebellion for most youngsters, something like a cool addition to the overall image of an average punk youngster.

Born as Ernesto Guevara, Che was the most famous Communist revolutionary from the post-World War II era. Trained to be a doctor, he traveled through Latin America and joined Fidel Castro’s guerrilla troop of revolutionaries to oust the Batista regime and establish a Communist regime in Cuba under the aegis of Castro. Che stayed on in Cuba for sometime as one of the important members of Castro’s government, but the zeal to see a world revolution was too much in him to make him lead a normal political life in Cuba. Che’s later journeys took him to countries such a Congo in Africa and Bolivia in Latin America where he was eventually assassinated by CIA operatives. Till Che was alive, he was mostly regarded as a communist guerilla fighter who moved about instigating people to rise in revolt against the existing systems. But Che’s rise to a powerful symbol of dissent was the handiwork of artistic minds rather than revolutionary minds.

The iconic photo of Che which we are all familiar with was taken by celebrated Cuban photographer Alberto Korda. It was taken at a political rally where Che was standing on the podium. I find it rather funny that Che had to get popular through the medium of an image considering the fact that Che hated to be photographed. Perhaps it was because Che himself worked as a photographer during his student days in Mexico and no serious photographer likes to be photographed in any circumstances. The photo didn’t become a sensation as soon as it was taken. It stayed for some time with Korda who had then christened it as “Guerrillero Heroico.” Years later after Che’s death, it was eventually taken by a Spanish communist publisher named Feltrinelli who had it published in one of his publications. Korda had also not attached any copyright issues with the image and so it became possible to reproduce it in large quantities without any hindrance.

The photo made its first grand appearance during the Students’ Protests in Paris in 1968. The photo literally exploded on the scene with students holding it out on their placards. It became a new symbol of protest and defiance. It gave out a whole new meaning to the idea of resistance. And soon this image was everywhere. During the Vietnam War protests, the Black Movement in America… it became everybody’s favorite expression of defiance. The 60s and 70s were turbulent times if we take into account the rise of counter culture and other protest movements. Posters were a very popular mode of expressing protests. And how could Che remain far behind in this regard? The work to transform Che’s photo into a graphic protest poster fell to the fate of artist Jim Fitzpatrick who made it into radical piece of artwork synonymous with the very idea of protest. So consequently the background became blood red and all the hues and patches on the face were removed and the shadows in the image were enhanced and what we got as a result is, as they say, history. The posters surpassed all other protest posters of that era and went on to become one of the most potent images in the psyche of humankind in the 20th century. It would not be wrong to claim that apart from Da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” the Che Guevara image is the other most recognized image in history. The image also appeared in various other forms of artwork but the basic structure of Fitzpatrick’s artwork was never altered. For some time it seemed that the revolution that Che had always talked about was nearing in sight as everyone was talking of Che and his ideologies and the image became an everyday affair in almost all parts of the world. But this is just one side of the story because soon Che and the image became victims of the vey forces that they strove to fight against.

When an idea germinates, it takes the form of an expression. Here the expression became the image of Che. And consequently the image assumed the form of an artwork that spread to all corners of the world though in varied forms. It was here that the capitalist forces realized the potent power that this image had come to assume. Commercialization got the better of the original message of this image and it got gagged somewhere under the weight of it. So Che then began to appear everywhere. From T-shirts, badges, shoes, accessories, cigarette packets, lingerie and what not! Che was everywhere and literally everybody wanted a piece of him. The image found its way into the oddest of places. And the problem was that most of the people who now got hold of the Che image hardly knew anything about him or his ideologies. It is surprising that many people still confuse Che with Bob Marley because of his long locks and virile rock star looks.

So the new Che Guevara image was everywhere courtesy capitalism. The image now became symbolized with the new punk or pop culture instead of any sign of protest against the established order. It is still a symbol of defiance but the meaning seems to have changed since its inception in the 60s. People wear Che Guevara T-shirts and accessories to look cool and associate him with something rebellious. But sadly most youngsters of today have forgotten what Che really stood for. And he has just become a powerful symbol of commercialization with a misplaced message.

This is the tragedy of Che. Even after death, though Che has been immortalized in our popular culture but he has but remained as a tool of capitalism. I often wonder what Che would have said if he had seen all this today. So even though I see many youngsters sporting Che Guevara T-shirts I really have no reason to feel happy about. Atleast not for Che.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Portrait of a Princess

On December 2, 2008, four tremors were felt in Sikkim. This, according to local beliefs, is a signal of the departure of a great soul from the living world. That day Princess Coocoola, the sister of the last Chogyal (King) of Sikkim had died. Ever since her brother, the last Chogyal Palden Thondup Namgyal had died in 1982, she had been regarded as the last surviving symbol of the Sikkimese royalty. And her legacy is something that is an enduring testimony to the aura that the Chogyal royalty had among the Sikkimese people.

Although the news of her death was something that I had read in The Telegraph, I was quite stuck with this royalty I had never heard before. And yet there were my Sikkimese friends who swore that she was like a guardian angel to the people of Sikkim. A little research on her on Google did yield fruitful results and finally left me more mesmerized than before. Although I have been anti-monarchist all my life, there have been times when I have been swayed by the personalities of royal background. Princess Coocoola was one such royal figure that managed to sway my interest. The other being Princess Diana of England.

Born as Princess Pema Tsedeun Yapshi Pheunkhang Lacham Kucho, she was the daughter of Sir Tashi Namgyal, the 11th Chogyal of Sikkim, and the granddaughter of a Tibetan general. But she was popularly known to everyone as Coocoola. She was born in Darjeeling on September 6, 1924, when the Himalayan Kingdom of Sikkim was a protectorate of the British Empire.

Princess Coocoola of Sikkim was always known as the beautiful wife of a Tibetan governor and a champion of the distinct culture of the state of Sikkim. Such was her aura and beauty that she has often been compared to the likes of other royal beauties like Maharani Gayatri Devi, Princess Diana and Queen Rania. Embodying a combination of oriental charm and western sophistication, she relayed messages to the outside world when the Chinese invaded Tibet in 1950, and then devoted ten years to running a rehabilitation centre for Tibetan refugees in Sikkim. Twenty-five years later, when Sikkim was annexed by India, she played an active role in trying to retain its separate political status, giving a press conference in Hong Kong to protest at its loss of independence.

Princess Coocoola was educated at the St Joseph's Convent in Kalimpong, a hill station near Darjeeling. The Tibetan Pheunkhang family then wrote to the palace, saying that they wanted a Sikkimese Princess to marry their 23 year old eldest son. Her father did not force her to accept, and she asked a secretary to reply that she wanted to go to university first. On being pressed, she accepted Sey Kusho Gompo Tsering Yapshi Pheunkhang, the governor of the Tibetan city of Gyantse and a son of one of the four ministers of Tibet. But she broke precedent by declining to marry both the bridegroom and his brother, as was the custom. In 1941 the Princess duly set off on the three-week journey to Lhasa with two maids, one bearer and two horses. When she arrived she found the two sons sitting next to her at the wedding ceremony, but again insisted that she would marry only him. After marriage, she and her husband settled down to enjoy the leisured life of the Tibetan gentry complete with parties, picnics and festivals.

Princess Coocoola’s beauty attracted the attention of many admirers. And they have recorded her aura in their own special ways. Among her admirers was Heinrich Harrier, author of the book Seven Years in Tibet. He hailed her as the most beautiful woman he had ever seen, and far more interesting than her husband. In his book Seven Years in Tibet, he records: “She possessed the indescribable charm of Asian women and the stamp of age-old oriental culture. At the same time she was clever, well-educated, and thoroughly modern. In conversation she was the equal of the most intelligent woman you would be likely to meet in a European salon. She was interested in politics, culture and all that was happening in the world. She often talked about equal rights for women… but Tibet has a long way to go before reaching that point.” Another visitor compared her to an exotic butterfly, saying her qualities showed in the quizzical way she looked up through her long lashes, and in the slow manner in which she exhaled her cigarette smoke or murmured a few words in her low, clear, musical voice. She entertained far more regally than her homely brother, the Chogyal, offering sparkling conversation as the best French wines were poured from heavy decanters. Her place at table was set with golden coasters and cutlery to remind even the most honoured guests of their inferior rank.

But she was also a woman of substance and strength. It is said that while travelling the dangerous trade route between Tibet and Gangtok with her small children bundled up in windowed boxes on horses or mules, she insisted on riding a horse with a rifle slung across her shoulder and a revolver in her pocket to repel bandits. Such guts are rarely seen among women of royalty.

Acting as the hostess for her brother, the Chogyal of Sikkim, at State functions until he married his American wife, Hope Cooke, she travelled widely to lobby with politicians in New Delhi. Internationally, she also mixed with the likes of John Kenneth Galbraith, Senator Edward Kennedy and other presidential aides in Washington and presented an 18 inch high Buddha figurine to a Tibetan children's village at Sedlescome, Sussex. When Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru offered her a pension, the Princess turned it down, and asked instead for trading rights. Working from a single room in Calcutta, she and her younger sister Princess Kula started a business importing turquoise from Iran. Later she joined the board of a company which produced jewels for watches and of the State Bank of Sikkim.

Princess Coocoola and her husband were founding members of the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology, to which they donated manuscripts and a large silver-plated stupa to hold the relics of two Ashokan monks, which were a gift from the Indian government. She even allowed the institute to scan her photographic collection. After she was widowed in 1973, she spent most of her times championing the cause of the Sikkimese culture among the mainstream Indian public. In her last years she lived in a modest cottage on the outskirts of Gangtok, keeping up with events in Sikkim and world politics and continuing to enjoy discussions with scholars who came knocking at her door. When one such scholar completed a book on Sikkimese village religion she insisted they celebrate it with a bottle of champagne.

By the time she died in 2008 at the ripe age of 84, she had become a legend among scholars and intellects who came about seeking Sikkim’s oriental opulence. She was the last positive symbol of the Sikkimese royal family that had been segregated in the wake of Sikkim’s merger to India. Although she is no more among us today, her legacy continues to endure and constantly reminds us of this beautiful princess who loved her people and her culture above everything else.

*This piece is just a reflection after having read a similar article on Radical Royalist's blog. This is just an appreciation of his work.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

How Sikkim was won!

On 14th April, 1975, Sikkim became the 22nd state of the Indian Union. Sikkim, regarded as one of the Seven Sister states of northeast India, has a stormy history when we look into its accession into the Indian Union. For centuries Sikkim had remained a Shangri-La for most outsiders. With its rich culture influenced by Tibetan Buddhism, Sikkim has always offered an oriental treat that is rarely seen in South Asia.

Sikkim’s first inhabitants were the Lepchas and Rongs. They were later absorbed into the later tribes and clans that overran the land in the coming centuries. Sikkim finds mention in the ancient Hindu scriptures as Indrakil or “Garden of Lord Indra.” The spread of Buddhism in Sikkim is attributed to Guru Rinpoche who came to the land in the 9th century AD. According to legend the Guru blessed the land, introduced Buddhism to Sikkim and also foretold the era of the monarchy in the state, which would arrive centuries later. There are numerous stories regarding the migration of Tibetans into Sikkim and the establishment of the Sikkimese monarchy. For centuries, Sikkim was ruled by the Chogyal monarchs who had titular privileges from the Dalai Lama of Tibet.

Sikkim had always attracted attention from outsiders. More so because of its strategic location because of which it was viewed as an easy passageway to Tibet. Sikkim’s first brush with trouble from the outside world started when it was invaded by Nepal in 1700 AD. Sikkim lost much of its territory to Nepal and continued sharing an uneasy relationship with it throughout the medieval period. The arrival of the British in India saw Sikkim allying itself with them as they had a common enemy- Nepal. Sikkim’s developing relations with the British invited the ire of Nepal and it attacked Sikkim again with vengeance. This prompted the British to intervene and thus started the Gurkha War in 1814. Sikkim won back its lost territories in 1817. And this paved way for a curious relationship between the Sikkimese and the British.

Meanwhile, the British viewed Sikkim as a gateway to Tibet and possibilities to explore the ancient Silk Route lightened up. However ties between Sikkim and India grew sour with the taxation of the area of Morang by the British. In 1835, Sikkim was forced to cede the town of Darjeeling to the British on the condition that a compensation of Rs 35,000 is paid to them. Throughout the British regime, Sikkim remained as a protectorate state of the British Empire with the Chogyal monarch as its head. Although there were occasional skirmishes between the Sikkimese and the British expeditioners, relations between the two remained more or less peaceful throughout the period.

In 1947 when India became independent, the then Chogyal Tashi Namgyal was successful in getting a special status of protectorate for Sikkim. This was in face of stiff resistance from local parties like Sikkim State Congress who wanted a democratic setup and accession of Sikkim to the Union of India. These political parties which rose as a consequence of the rise of various political parties in India were to play a great role in Sikkim’s absorption into India. Most of these parties, like the Sikkim State Congress, were dominated by Nepali migrants who resented the domination of the Chogyal. And their best bet in this regard was the entry of direct Indian power into the state machinery of Sikkim.

Sikkim had retained guarantees of independence from Britain when she became independent, and such guarantees were transferred to the Indian government when it gained independence in 1947. A popular vote for Sikkim to join the Indian Union failed and India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru agreed to a special protectorate status for Sikkim. Sikkim was to be a tributary of India, in which India controlled its external defence, diplomacy and communication. A state council was established in 1955 to allow for constitutional government for the Chogyal, which was sustained until 1973.

During the Sino-Indian War of 1962, Sikkim became one of the bones of contentions with the Chinese. As China regarded Sikkim as a part of Tibet because of its Buddhist affiliations, it refused to see it as a part of India or even status quo. Skirmishes occurred and this resulted in the old Nathula Pass being closed with it being finally reopened in 2006. Sikkim along with Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh form the trio who prefer Indian occupation to the Chinese after seeing the Tibetan example.

The old ruler Tashi Namgyal died in 1963 after suffering from cancer. The last hereditary ruler, the Chogyal Palden Thondup Namgyal ascended the throne in 1965. Trouble began to brew for the Chogyal even before he assumed the throne, as Prime Minister Nehru, who had carefully preserved Sikkim's status as an independent protectorate, died in 1964. His daughter Indira Gandhi became Prime Minister in 1966, and being the authoritarian that she was, she had little patience for maintaining an independent Sikkim or its monarchy. The reigning Chogyal was viewed by India as politically dangerous, especially after his American wife, Hope Cooke, published a journal article advocating a return of certain former Sikkimese properties.

By the beginning of 1970 there were rumbling in the political ranks and file of the State, which demanded the removal of Monarchy and the establishment of a democratic setup. This finally culminated in wide spread agitation against Sikkim Durbar in 1973.There was a complete collapse in the administration. The Indian Government tried to bring about a semblence of order in the state by appointing a Chief administrator Mr. B. S. Das. Cold relations between the Chogyal and the Kazi (Prime Minister) Lendup Dorji saw further events which resulted in elections in the state which finally paved way for the dissolution of the monarchy and Sikkim transformed from a protectorate state to an associate State. On 4th September 1974, Kazi Lendup Dorji, who was also the leader of the Sikkim Congress, was elected as the Chief Minister of the state. The Chogyal however still remained as the constitutional figure head monarch in the new setup. Mr. B. B. Lal was the first Governor of Sikkim. In this, the Kazi played a pivotal role in Sikkim’s assimilation into India as a full-fledged state and bringing about democratic aspirations among the Sikkimese youth who began to view the Chogyal monarch as a symbol of tyranny.

Matters came to a head in 1975 when the Kazi appealed to the Indian Parliament for representation and a change of status to statehood. On April 14, 1975, a referendum was held, in which Sikkim voted to merge with the union of India. Sikkim became the 22nd Indian State on April 26, 1975. On May 16, 1975, Sikkim officially became a state of the Indian Union and Lendup Dorji became head of State (Chief Minister). This was promptly recognised by the United Nations and all countries except China.

The 1979 assembly election saw Nar Bahadur Bhandari elected as the Chief Minister of Sikkim. Bhandhari held on to win again in 1984 and 1989. In 1994, Assembly politician Pawan Kumar Chamling became the Chief Minister of Sikkim. In 1999 and 2004, Chamling consolidated his position to sweep the polls. China’s attitude on Sikkim also changed over the period. In 2003, with the thawing of ties between the two nations, Sikkim was finally recognised to be a part of India by China. The two governments also proposed to open the Nathula and Jelepla Passes in 2005.

Sikkim’s assimilation into India is a curious blend of politics and strategy. The end of monarchy and the augmentation of democratic setup heralded a new era for Sikkim from where today it is one of the most peaceful states in India. The policies that were advocated for Sikkim show as to how the institution of monarchy was gradually weakened and the democratic aspirations resulted in the concrete entry of Indian power into Sikkim’s state machinery. The fear psychosis against China was also a major factor here. Personal politics and cult domination have played their part as well. Nobody can refute the contribution of Kazi Lendup Dorji in Sikkim’s assimilation into India. And many intellectuals wonder if Sikkim’s process could have been used in other princely states such as Kashmir for better results. Though that is highly debatable, the fact remains that in Sikkim’s case the right policies were used to make it a firm part of India.

Monday, August 30, 2010

The Decreasing Rice Fields of Assam

Assam has been one such state that has the vast potential of becoming the rice basket of India. Every year, Assam witnesses heavy rainfall for months which is the most essential requirement for the proper growth of rice. Added to this, the soil conditions is such that there is much larger scope for Assam to produce rice more than the other leading producers of the country. But today, the area of rice cultivation in Assam is fast decreasing. And this has aggravated the problems that are already plaguing the rice farmers of Assam.

The total area under rice cultivation in Assam, which registered a bumper record production of 40.7 lakh metric tonnes of rice in 2008-09 — an all-time high — has been shrinking over the past decade and more. From 26.46 lakh hectares in 2000-2001, it dwindled to 24.84 lakh hectares in 2008-09, with the state having the lowest area under rice cultivation — 21.90 lakh hectares — during 2006-07. Likewise, the rice yield has also witnessed a sharp downward trend in the past one decade, coming down from 39.98 lakh metric tonnes in 2000-2001 to an all-time low of 29.10 lakh metric tonnes in 2006-07.

It is not a new thing that Assam is the victim of yearly floods. Every year, the Brahmaputra and its tributaries submerge most areas of Assam for months altogether. Heavy soil silts are deposited and there is heavy erosion of soil and rocks that affect the topography heavily. One might think that the presence of rivers like the Brahmaputra and the heavy rain cycle would be enough to improve the situation for rice cultivators of Assam. But the truth is that these heavy floods destroy the rice fields beyond imagination. The absence of a proper irrigation system to salvage the waters of the Brahmaputra and tributaries during the flood season is a big issue for rice cultivation here. This year’s heavy floods has caused great damages to the agricultural areas of the state; especially in Dhemaji district that has the damage of 60% of its agricultural lands.

Apart from floods, there are other factors that are responsible for the decrease in the agricultural area of Assam. Over the past one decade, Assam has seen a huge spate of industrialisation. There has been acquisition of lands for industrial purposes. This has resulted in the loss of agricultural lands and has also reduced the scope of farming among its traditional holders. With industrialisation, there is also an emergence in the urbanisation phase of the state. Cities like Guwahati, Tezpur and Jorhat have grown up to be huge urban centres of the region. This has resulted in the decrease of the farmlands that have been based around these areas. If we take the case of Guwahati alone, then we find that the areas of Amingaon and Palashbari have been big sufferers in this respect. There have been many cases of agitations by farmers when their lands were taken over by the BSF to build base camps. These two areas, which are close to Guwahati, have lost huge tracts of farming lands over the decades. And due to this, the city’s easy access to foodgrain from the neighbouring areas has lessened down. Similarly, a mega gas cracker project in Dibrugarh has also recently sparked off protests from farmers who have lost their lands due to this.

Highway building has also its fair share in causing harm to the agricultural areas of Assam. The trend which we are seeing now in states like Uttar Pradesh is something that Assamese farmers have been suffering for years. Highways like the four-lane East-West corridor from Srirampur to Silchar has caused heavy damage to agricultural areas which had to be sacrificed for it. Many farmers lost their lands to this and this resulted in the reduction of agricultural lands in the state. This is a fact which was recently admitted by the state agriculture minister Pramila Rani Brahma. The minister had recently asked the Public Works Department to ascertain as to how many farmers had lost their land due to this project.

Farmers in Assam grow three major varieties of rice, these being ahu (autumn rice), sali (winter rice) and boro (summer rice). Though farmers in Assam have been traditionally used to growing only one crop a year, efforts are now being made to motivate them to go for at least two rice crops. Irrigation is not yet a popular concept in Assam. While canal irrigation has remained almost a non-starter, sinking several thousand shallow tube wells some 10 years ago has come as a big relief for farmers, especially in the lower Assam districts.

Although the present situation of rice cultivation and overall agriculture in the state has not given way to chaos, it is not to be forgotten that if the present ways continue then Assam will terrible times in the near future. Land has still to be retained for agricultural purposes and the growing urbanisation has dealt a heavy blow to the farmers of Assam who have not been able to cope with the situation properly. Added to this, the heavy influx of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants into the state has also resulted in the grabbing of lands that were originally meant for farming.

Let’s hope that things improve in Assam and the once thriving rice belt of the Northeastern region soon regains its lost glory.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Ambubachi Mela: When the Goddess beckons...

June is not exactly the perfect time to visit Guwahati. It is the rainy season which sees the mighty Brahmaputra in its full fury. It is also the time when the humid heat becomes unbearable with everyone sweating themselves out. But still it is during this June month that one sees a frenzied rush to Guwahati of people who are seeking religious solace and peace. So a drive around Guwahati at this time will reveal a sudden growth in the population of sadhus and ascetics. Trains loaded with pilgrims arrive in frenzied numbers at Guwahati making things rather uncomfortable for the authorities there. Afterall, it is the time of the yearly Ambubachi Mela.

Over the years, the Ambubachi Mela has taken the form of a “Kumbh Mela of the Northeast.” It is rather a phenomenon to see thousands of pilgrims turn up for this event which takes a colourful shape at the Kamakhya Temple atop Nilachal Hill at Pandu on the outskirts of Guwahati. Traditionally the Kamakhya Temple has been one of the most sacred Shakti shrines of India. It is perhaps the most important temple in Assam today where the Tantric cult of Hinduism is prevalent. As per traditions, when Shiva’s wife Sati passed away he carried her body around the world in a fit of grief. The various body parts that fell down on the earth became the various shrines of Shakti (Mother Goddess) worship all over India. And here on the Nilachal Hill, fell Sati’s “yoni” or vagina and so sprang forth Kamakhya, the goddess of sexual desires and tantric worship.

Every year during the month of June for a period of three days, the goddess goes through her annual period of menstrual cycle which renders her unclean for that period. During this period, the temple doors are closed. All religious activities are suspended and farming works are not undertaken. The small stream which flows from the temple becomes red signifying the blood flowing out of the goddess. For these three days, a sort of religious fair or a “mela” takes place outside the temple which sees devotees coming in thousands from all over India, especially from the states of West Bengal, Orissa and Bihar. After the three days period, the goddess is ritually bathed and her purity restored. The temple gates are thrown open to the devotees to worship and “Prasad” is distributed either in the form of Angadhak- sacred white water or Angabastra- pieces of red clothes symbolic of the goddess’s feminine power.

Over the years, the Ambubachi Mela has assumed a character of gigantic proportions. Thousands of pilgrims converge in and around the premises of the temple. Traders come over to sell their wares which include a wide range of carnelian beads and other traditional items used for religious purposes. Guwahati city sees an uncanny horde of tourists in the form of the many sadhus and ascetics. Apart from them are the regular pilgrims who are normally householders and also the Bauls who are the singing minstrels of Bengal. Blouseless, impoverished old widows, mainly from Bengal and Orissa, also turn up for the event. The area around the Nilachal Hill does not sleep for a period of about two weeks around the mela. There are so many activities going on that it takes a rather colourful shape in the forms of continuous singing by the Bauls, tantric practices by ascetics which attracts hordes of crowds and the resulting mayhem that ensues gives the authorities sleepless nights for this period.

The sadhus and ascetics are the biggest crowd pullers during the mela. Sadhus of all shapes and sizes turn up at the temple premises and most of their outlandish getups end up getting all the attention that most people may die craving for. Most of these sadhus keep returning to the mela every year and hence many of the annual pilgrims have got familiar with most of them. Perhaps the most well known among them is the one who has the longest matted locks of hair. I have been seeing him from the last two years when I started attending the mela and I know that I will be seeing him for many more years to come. Apart from them, there are also the rituals that the tantric ascetics perform around the temple complex. Most of them end up smearing ash all over their bodies and performing wild dances in total frenzy. Also there are pilgrims who are from abroad mostly from European countries who have taken to the Hindu way of life. Most of them dress up like ascetics and attract lots of people who love to interact with them. During the last mela, I remember meeting a guy called Renault from France and it was his third outing at the Ambubachi Mela. Renault, a masters degree holder in philosophy from the University of Paris, took the life of a sadhu eight years back when he first came to India. The Ambubachi Mela for him was a way to experience the mystic grace of the divine goddess Kamakhya. Indeed the Ambubachi Mela is more than what it seems.

Apart from the sadhus and tantrics are the many hundreds of pilgrims who are regular householders. Most of them stay in makeshift tents and camps during the mela period. The sight of so many people at a particular place is a breathtaking sight in itself. Many of these pilgrims have been coming to the mela for a number of years and their devotion towards the goddess is mind boggling due to which they journey in overloaded trains and come to Guwahati every year. For the three days period, you hear people mostly speaking Bengali or Oriya around the temple complex for most of the pilgrims who camp around the area are from those states. Truly, the Ambubachi Mela has become symbolic of a uniting platform for the Hindus of eastern India where suddenly people from all walk of life mix with each other in the hope of attaining divine bliss from the mother goddess.

As I conclude this article, I have a message for the readers who have not been to the Ambubachi Mela yet. Just reading this article is not enough. You have be there to believe what I have written here. And whoever has been to the mela has always kept coming back each year to it. I myself started going there two years ago and I can confidently claim that I will be doing it for as long as I can.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Those Unforgettable Homosexuals

Ever since I heard about Archie comics decision to include a gay character, Kevin, among their other characters, I have been forced to reflect on the state of homosexuality in our society. This thing has raised quite a few eyebrows among comic enthusiasts. I personally feel that it’s a very healthy step that Archie comics administration has taken. To keep up with the times that we are living with as of now, it is very important to include newer norms that are gaining more and more acceptance in society. Although homosexuality is not a new thing, its pattern as an accepted phase of human nature is something new. I still remember how shocked I was when I first learnt that Alexander the Great was a gay! Today, after living for six years in a students’ environment where free thinking is encouraged, I have become more comfortable with the fact that there can be a homosexual person in the neighborhood.

When I think about the possibilities of Kevin’s character, my mind also reflects back to my college years in Delhi University where being labeled as a homosexual was the cruelest joke that anyone could crack on you. Although in our hostel there existed a fabled gay society which was made up of guys who were single, it was all made in pure jest and there were no real gays in it. People used to furiously debate on these topics when among intellectual circles but in secret it was all blown out in pure jest! In the midst of this my mind revolves to those few self-confessed gay people that I came across during my college life. Even if they had been there rather for brief moments, they did succeed in putting a deep impression on my mind about such people who hide the most important thing about themselves purely out of fear of a society that refuses to accept it.

Whenever we think of gays, our mind immediately forms the image of an effeminate character with certain types of mannerisms (read Karan Joharesque). And if there is someone in the group who has such attributes, then he is condemned for good as he becomes the butt of all jokes after that. I have always come across such characters and I admit even I used to make fun of them. But that obviously doesn’t means they are all gays. In fact I have a good friend who has such mannerisms. But I can vouch for the fact he is not a gay as he has such a hot girlfriend! Woof! Well, anyways the fact remains that such mannerisms cannot under any circumstances make a person gay. Also, one tends to think about homosexual men only when this topic is raised up but they completely forget that there are lesbian women too. Infact the first real homosexual character I met in life was a lesbian girl. Although our interaction was rather brief, I must say that she did put a very deep impression on me which will last forever.

The first look at Jincy, and you simply couldn’t tell that she was a lesbian. Infact, she was rather attractive and any guy would love to flirt with her as I did for the first few moments. I met Jincy at her college fest and we hit off pretty well. As a group of boys who had entered the fest of a girls’ college, we were expected to hit gold somewhere in the crowd. And all of a sudden in the crowd, I caught sight of her. Nice chick, I thought. I tried to hit a conversation with her and it went off pretty well. She was a literature student and I, a history one. I tried everything to impress her about my knowledge of English literature and trying throw in historical perspectives wherever I could. I was particularly impressed with her level of knowledge and ways of perceptions about various things. We were going really fine when suddenly she took leave and went off to a girl and started chatting with her. I then started to talk to another female friend of mine who then joked as to what was wrong with my taste for girls. I was taken aback. It was then that my friend told me that Jincy was a lesbian and the girl she was talking with was her lover.

Sometime later Jincy came over to me and introduced me as an ‘intelligent guy’ to her girlfriend. I was at a loss of words as to how to carry on the conversation. She could read the awkward expression on my face which I so desperately tried to hide. And then she herself said, “So you found out that I’m a lesbian?” I went dumb for the moment. I really couldn’t think of what to say. She said that she had seen me chatting with my friend and so she could make out what she must have told me. She also said that she had come across guys with similar expressions when they found out that she was a lesbian. She knew I was trying to flirt with her. That embarrassed me even more and she could sense it. She said rather casually holding my hand, “It’s ok yaar. There’s no big deal if you flirted with me. You didn’t know. But I really like you. You’re a good-looking, funny and a very intelligent guy. Infact believe me, if it were not for guys like you all girls would have gone lesbian.” She could easily see the surprise on my face. No girl had ever said such nice words to me and she turned out to be a lesbian! In fact those words were the best compliments I have ever received from a girl! I was feeling both good and terrible at the same time. The only thing that managed to escape my lips was whether her parents knew about it. Her answer was no. Her face turned grave and she added that she didn’t know how she would break the news to them. Our meeting ended at that because I had to go and join my friends. Strangely, I met Jincy only one more time in the final year of my college and it was a very brief encounter in the Kamla Nagar market. It was a simple hello-hi stuff and nothing more. But I could never forget Jincy completely and for the first time I realized that there must be so many like her. Imagine the dilemma and the agony they all have to go through! I never knew what happened to Jincy and her girlfriend. Once again life seemed very unfair and the society seemed like a hideous monster!

Now when I come to homosexual men or gays to be more precise, the one memorable character that I had come across was one that we found in our nest of Hans Raj. We were in third year when in came a fresher named Sushant from Lucknow. Sushant was a very soft-spoken and shy guy and also one of the few freshers in the hostel who was really nice in showing courtesies to his seniors. So most of us took pity on him and didn’t rag him much. Sushant, an English literature student, had a very sensitive side to most things of life. Sushant was very fond of my batchmate Irfan and I remember how once me, Irfan and Sushant had an intense discussion on human behaviour way into the midnight. For the first time I realized the high level of intelligence that Sushant possessed. But then people had begun to suspect that he was a gay and there was also a rumour that he was in love with Irfan. Of course Irfan whisked it off as a silly joke.

But stories of Sushant’s alternate sexuality also began to circulate in the English department. Sushant had submitted a short story for the department magazine which was considered quite bold in its theme on homosexuality. The professor straightway asked him if he was gay and he boldly replied in the affirmative. After this we don’t what happened but after sometime Sushant’s father showed up and met the professor. The very next day he decided to take Sushant home and started taking out his luggage from the hostel. Here a little drama ensued. While his father tried to take him away, Sushant cried and pleaded to wait for sometime so that he could meet Irfan one last time. Most of the boys in the hostel came out to see this and were dumbstruck by what they saw. But his father took him away anyway. Irfan, who had been away to his department, came to have lunch in the hostel and heard the story. I don’t know how he felt but he kept silent for the rest of the day. Later we learnt that the professor had told Sushant’s father that his son was not mentally well and had developed alternate sexual feelings. Also, he had asked his father to take his son home so that he could be taken proper care of. While most guys made fun of the entire episode, Irfan remained silent. I on my part felt very angry on the professor. How could he do something like this to his own student? Such a narrow minded asshole! The last thing that is true about gays is there condition being a result of a mental disorder. Preposterous! I found it highly revolting. When I openly spoke against the professor in front of my other hostel mates, they made slight jokes about my intentions as well. But I didn’t give a hoot to that at all. But the fact remained that an intelligent and promising intellectual’s journey was halted because of his alternate sexuality. Life sure is unfair.

Ultimately, I don’t what became of Jincy and Sushant. But I know that there’s are not the only stories of this kind. There are many more. Although the Supreme Court has scrapped Article 377 and has made things easier for homosexuals in this country, they still fear the onslaught of the society. And they have their reasons. What can you expect out of a society to treat its homosexual citizens when it is itself guilty of crimes like honour killing, female infanticide and caste violence? Even as I conclude this article, I don’t know what the future holds for these people. The Archies may have introduced a gay character, but the questions on these people still remain uncertain.

*names have been changed to protect privacy.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

I will not wait for Kalki!

When I was a young boy, I would often listen to stories of the various avatars (incarnations) that Lord Vishnu had assumed over the ages to protect mankind from various perils. And I still remember how my overtly religious grandmother would tell us the stories in her own enthusiastic way so that someday we would grow up to be devout young Hindus. The ten avatars of Vishnu have always been an obsession with me. And as I grew up, I began to read more materials on them. In this I began to look for a more modernistic approach on them and so I always looked for works done by foreigners and contemporary historians, most of them being Britishers. So by the time I was giving my matriculation exams, I had fairly good materials on the topic and was decently informed on each of the avatars. But it was always the last one i.e. Kalki which intrigued me the most. Kalki as we know it is yet to come and he is supposed to be the one who will clean this world of all evils and will end this Kali Yug (Dark Age) and usher in the Satya Yug (Age of Truth).

Reflecting on Kalki also forces me to reflect on the other nine avatars as well. Historically none of these avatars can be proven to exist. It is all but a gameplay of faith and devotion. But what is more important for me is the way each of these avatars has been shaped up in the annals of Hindu mythology. Here we have some avatars which seem pure works of imagery and fiction while there are others which seem to have got lost in the dust of ancient history. The only avatar which has historical relevance is the ninth one i.e. Lord Buddha. But Buddha’s elevation to the position of an avatar of Vishnu seems to be a rather political step taken by the Hindu priestly class in a bygone era.

When I look back at avatars like Matsya (the giant fish), Kurma (the tortoise), Varaha (the wild boar) and Narasimha (half man-half lion); I have no option but to discard them as results of fanciful imaginations. All these avatars mentioned here are short-termed ones and have a rather abrupt ending. Matsya’s relevance is only on a particular point because it comes at a stage where the Hindu scriptures speak of a great flood or deluge akin to the one mentioned in the Old Testaments of the Bible. But obviously we as rational human beings cannot accept that a giant fish saved the world from a great deluge! The avatar of Kurma also has a similar story where it is taken up to save the world. The avatars of Varaha and Narasimha were taken in two different instances to kill demons. Even the avatar of the Bamun (the short heighted Brahmin) was only for a few moments taken to subdue the pride of a demon king who was out to conquer the world. Bamun’s avatar seems to me a classic case where the Brahmin class tried to assert their dominance by showing that the first human avatar that Vishnu took after assuming earlier animistic forms was that of a high class Brahmin.

All the avatars mentioned so far were the earliest ones and also on very short term basis. Also they were taken only on special occasions. Varaha is the only one among them which makes an appearance more than once. It is rather interesting that Mohini which is a female form of Vishnu is not regarded as an avatar although she makes quite a few appearances in Hindu mythology. She plays an important role in the episode of the churning of the ocean, she and Shiva also have a son in a story; and also she makes an appearance in the Aravan episode of the Mahabharata. Then why is she not in the list of the avatars? Maybe the concept of a female avatar by a male god wasn’t appealing enough for the priestly class of that era. This is a classic instance for me where sexism played a huge part in the non-elevation of a potential avatarial candidate. For me Mohini surely deserves a place among the avatars of Vishnu if the other short-termed ones mentioned above are to be regarded as avatars. I hope all my feminist friends take a note of this.

After these avatars, the rest which come have a proper lifespan and have a proper story to be told. Although they betray every historical fact imaginable, they do help us in understanding the philosophy and the patterns of society formations of the early Vedic period. These avatars also come in a particular era from where events and places mentioned in their stories have some historical relevance. The two great epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata also help us a great deal in chronicling the era and also we have a decent amount of information from that period thanks to the various archaeological findings. So I was greatly overjoyed when I first heard the news that Krishna’s Dwarka city had been discovered off the coast of Gujarat years ago. But obviously controversies and debates continue to haunt them. Krishna’s Dwarka is still under a lot of scrutiny as to its authenticity. Rama’s birthplace Ayodhya has been claimed up by as many as five different places including one in Afghanistan. And obviously one of these Ayodhyas led to the biggest communal carnage in independent India that our generation was unfortunate enough to witness.

Among these later avatars that have a more stable lifespan then their previous counterparts, Parashuram has got to be the most violent one. Right from the act where he chops off his mother’s head at the behest of his father to the later parts where he single-handedly carries out a mass murder program to kill every single Kshatriya on earth, Parashuram’s story is full of violence and bloodshed. Also if we analyse carefully, Parashuram is also perhaps the only avatar which is more human in its behaviour and outlook. Perhaps this avatar also shows how we humans in our want for revenge and justices totally throw off all logic to the winds and indulge in mindless violence that sucks the innocents in it as well. This imperfection is one important feature of the character of Parashuram which is not seen in the other avatars which are derived to be as perfect as the God who reside in them. It is one instance where even God, in the form of a human, becomes imperfect like him and commits acts of mass violence. Also Parashuram’s story also gives us a picture of the first instances of caste violence or to be more precise the rising of a person against a particular class in early Vedic times.

Next after Parashuram, comes Rama, the hero of the great Indian epic, the Ramayana. Rama is shown to be the embodiment of everything perfect. He is shown to be the perfect son, husband, brother, etc. Rama’s birth is mainly taken to kill the demon king Ravana, the ruler of Lanka. The Ramayana is a perfect example which shows the early struggle between the Aryans and the non-Aryans in India. The Aryans in this period were in an expansionist phase in India and were contending for power with the non-Aryans who were holding their grounds. Rama for me must have been a great warrior of that age who must have won great victories against the non-Aryans which probably resulted in his position being elevated to that of an avatar. His greatest victory must have been against Ravana which is the crux of the Ramayana. But then again I have serious problems with the way Rama treated his wife Sita after killing Ravana, when he made her go through the Agnipariksha; and also for the next time when he banished her to the forest after he became the king. Here we find that Rama is not a perfect character and he has to live up to the public image that he has built around himself. So even if Rama is considered to be a perfect character, he is in all practical sense, imperfect. So Rama in simple terms was a victim of image branding!

Next in line is Krishna. Krishna is a cunning, witty and extremely successful politician. Also when we read about this exploits in the Mahabharata, it becomes clear that he is an unparalleled master of jurisprudence. The way he leads the Pandavas to victory in the Kurukshetra War only shows his mastery in the fields of politics and strategy planning. Krishna’s forte lies in the fact that through the medium of logic and arguments, he converted most acts of cheating and treachery into acts of wisdom and common sense. For him victory was more important than upholding ethics in the battlefield. Krishna’s famous sermon to Arjuna which becomes the revered Bhagwad Gita, is a perfect example of how he treats duty above all ties and relations. And this simple philosophy is the pillar of strength behind all of Krishna’s politics and strategies. Krishna’s cunning ways make him more close to our dear politicians of today. Surely, it is no wonder that a character with such a successful career in politics was elevated to the position of an avatar.

Now when we come to the ninth avatar i.e. Lord Buddha, we must realize that the scene in the Indian scene had undergone a change. The Vedic period of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata had ended and now had come the age of the Mahajanapadas, which were the first great kingdoms to be recorded in the annals of Indian history. Buddha’s period coincided with a very important phase of history. This was the time when kingdoms like Magadha, Kosala and Kashi were vying with each other for political supremacy in Northern India. This was also the period where history actually began to be recorded in India. And in the midst of this came Buddha with his message of peace and non-violence. Buddha’s attempts, to me, were neither to form a new religion nor to claim godhood. His prime motive was to start a reformatory movement within Hinduism which had then become too complicated for the common masses. This reformatory movement which eventually evolved into a separate religion i.e. Buddhism, gave a jolt to the Hindu priestly classes when they saw the huge conversion to Buddhism as a potential threat to the very existence of Hinduism. It seemed but only a very appropriate step to declare Buddha as the ninth avatar of Vishnu. This was a strategic move as far as religion is concerned. It definitely served as a counter step to the conversions to Buddhism and also by including Buddha in the Hindu pantheon of avatars, the concept of the ten avatars or incarnations of Vishnu drew to a prefect closing phase. Also, Buddha’s close relations with kings like Prasenjit and Bimbisara was a big factor for his consideration as an avatar.

Now, the question which arises is who is going to be the last avatar of Vishnu i.e. Kalki? What will be the considerations that will work to the forming of the Kalki avatar? Preists have over the ages given various premonitions of Kalki. The most obvious being that he will be born in a Brahmin family (again the Brahmin dominance!) and that he will usher in the new age of Satya Yug (Age of Truth). So far after analyzing all the avatars, one can wonder as to what will it take to find a Kalki from among us! So when will this Kalki come? Should we wait for him? Or is it that he has already taken birth and is waiting for his right time to come forth? My view on this is that I will not wait for any Kalki! The way the previous avatars were selected clearly makes it out that only a hero from among us will be elevated to the post of Kalki. The later avatars like Rama, Krishna and Buddha were given the status of avatars as late as the Gupta period. So most probably, in the future, some desperate priest in an attempt to save the last straw of Hinduism will declare some fairly successful personality to be Kalki who will obviously fit the bill of the avatar. So I say no point in waiting for Kalki. We should all strive to be what we expect of a Kalki to do for us. For the truth is that until and unless we ourselves do something to improve the prevailing situation of the world we live in, nobody will come to save our unfortunate arses. Who know? Kalki maybe none but one among us!

Or maybe Kalki is just a metaphor. And we all need to look for a Kalki in ourselves.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Burha Luit.

Ask a Guwahatian what would he miss the most outside Assam? You may get a myriad range of answers. But whenever, this question is asked to me, pat comes the reply. Brahmaputra or the Burha Luit (Grand Old River). There is something unbelievably mystical about this river. Starting from the Himalayas in Tibet, flowing through the heart of the great Assam valley, joined by the Ganges in Bangladesh and finally flowing into the Bay of Bengal... it has a journey which resembles any man's including mine. Although my journey has to go a long way still!

My earliest recollection about the river was as a child when I used to go to it's Ghat with my late grandfather to watch the fisherman go about their early morning catch of fish. The sight was magical! The sights of so many fish boats floating about on the river waters, which were again bathed in the blood red rays of the rising sun gave forth an unbelievable feeling to it. It was as if the river had come alive from a deep slumber. Watching the boats hold their own against the torrential waves of the merciless river was a sight in itself. My grandfather had once told me how he as a youth had a narrow escape from getting drowned in the river. The river, for him, was a merciless demon which took away more lives than it used to give to the Assamese people. For him, it was the Blood River! This I realise every year when the Brahmaputra's torrential floods cause havoc throughout the state. And watching the flood waters creep into my home as well every year made me aware of this.

The Old Blood River may have given many people jolting memories, but for me it was this river which taught me what being strong means! Ever since my childhood, I had always wanted to swim across this mighty river. But till date it has never happened because I know the Luit's strong currents are waiting to suck me into them. All my skills as a swimmer melt away the moment I realise this. Whenever I sit down by the river Ghat in Guwahati, I get the peaceful feel that I cannot get anywhere else on earth. But then again, I always feel that the merciless River God is laughing at me amd saying,"So chap! When are you going to conquer me after all?" This feeling of insignificance has always raged a storm inside that has actually made me overcome my other fears. Afterall, if I dont conquer my other fears, how will I ever face the merciless Luit when it challenges me the next time. In my quest to face the Luit boldly, I actually went ahead to conquer most of my fears, which in turn made me stronger from the inside.

But under all this cloak of ferocity, I know there is also a much calmer and sensitive side to this river. The sight to watch the sunset by the Brahmaputra is a sheer joy! It is during these moments that I feel the river whisper to me,"Hark you chap! Sometimes it pays to be ferocious. But never lose touch with the more calmer self in you. Afterall, that is what you really are." The Old River never lets me forget that under the wild insensitive creature that I portray before the world, there is a fellow who just loves his quiet moments and would not trade them for any strength in the world. Bloody old river! On one side it challenges the wild side of me to conquer it. And then again it keeps reminding me the virtues of patience and calmness.

Perhaps it is waiting to be conquered by me. It is only making me stronger with each encounter. Afterall, Brahma's son choses its challengers very cautiously. Just wait you old demon! I will get even with you someday...

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Identities- Musings on Reasonings and Choices

The Oxford English Dictionary refers identity as the fact of being who or what a person or thing is. There can be vast variations as to how a person perceives or identifies himself as. Identity can be a very complicated matter if we take social norms to considerations. Especially when we take up the case in a vast country like India.

In India, a country where so many myriad communities and sections have sprang up in course of history, has huge differences on the basis of identities. Over the course of history, various ethnic groups and communities have sprung up. Most of the population of this country are descendents of races who migrated from outside. Most of these races have intermingled with each other to such an extent that most identities have merged with one another or have given birth to newer identities as well.

Recognising identities is not an easy fair. If we look into the matter then we find that the rulers who ruled this vast country from time to time have always given much importance to the recognition of identities to stay in power. Recognition of identities has often meant various benefits and privileges to the groups concerned. An example of it can be sited in regards to the prestige and honour received by the Rajputs in the Mughal court. The British were the ones who started to take note of identities on a more concrete basis than any previous power. While conducting surveys, they perhaps made the first real accounts of the various identities that existed in India. Although all this was done for strictly administrative purpose, it surely served the tide of people becoming conscious of their respective identities.

In today’s Indian society, identity is a very important issue. The issues of caste and reservation have made people all the more conscious about their respective identities. The Hindu caste system and the subsequent entry of the Muslims on Indian soil have given rise to various identities that divides the Indian society on a large scale. Now the question arises as to how we should go about in the process of recognising identities in today’s modern world. In the post-independence era, the questions of identities have given rise to various issues and movements. An example of it can be the age old Naga liberation movement which hinges on to the theory of a separate identity from that of the Indian diaspora. The question of reservations is an entire display of the politics of caste identities. The Kashmiri separatist movement is also based on the idea of a separate identity. And then again, when we move down South, we find among the Tamils the idea of rejection of everything North Indian because of their theory of the Dravidian identity.

The ways of reasoning and choice are a part of the argumentative system to arrive at a conclusion. By reasoning we mean to give opinions and reasons to substantiate a point. Reasoning can be a very important tool in the overall process of recognising identities. This society has many divisions. And often it becomes important to ascertain reasons as to why a particular identity should be given to a group. An example of it can be the Gujjar stir in Rajasthan as regards to the demand of SC status by them. Here a set of proper reasoning has to be ascertained so as to come to the conclusion of whether they should be given the SC status or not. A set of reasons regarding their economic and social status can help us in arriving to the point of their status as a Scheduled Tribe.

The use of choice may be another way to come to the basis of an identity. Choice is a way by which the power of decision is vested in the concerned person or group to choose his or their identity. This sense of choice can give us a direction in their thoughts regarding themselves and also as to what has been the cause of their mental makeup regarding the question of their own identities. This is a very intricate way in which we get closer to the subject and learn about their overall socio-political makeup leading to their present choice of identity. An example in this case can be sited of the Tibetans who regard themselves separate from the Chinese who occupy Tibet. Even though the Chinese occupy Tibet and propagate various theories to project Tibet as a part of China. But the Tibetans still hold on to the theory of them as a separate nation and maintain the idea of Tibetan independence.

So we find that reasoning and choice play very important roles in recognition of identities. Identity may be a very complicated issue when we get to the ground realities and issues. But we can always look to various ways to decode identity and arrive at cohesive conclusions to help it deconstruct our socio-political structure.

A Ray of Light for the Darkness

“I wish I could see. I could have painted pictures then.”

This single quote tells us so much about a boy’s aspirations that have got murdered because of the fact that he is a blind. Meet Ram Singh. He is a student of Class VI at the Institution for Blind which is situated at Amar Colony near Lajpat Nagar in New Delhi. He is one of the 140 blind boys who study and reside in the school.

Ram Singh belongs from Rae Bareilly in the state of Uttar Pradesh. Like most boys in the school, he is also from a poor rural background. He is the son of a farmer and has been blind ever since his birth. He has a younger brother back in the village who studies in Class I. “I am so happy that my brother can see,” says Ram Singh with a smile, “He tells me a lot about the colours that make up this world.” The disability surely proves to be hampering his movement to an extent. But then one cannot help but admire the fact that he moves around so effortlessly and also that it may have come after so much effort.

Though he finds English rather difficult, Ram wants to speak the language perfectly like his English teacher. Ram likes mathematics very much. “It is the most interesting game ever made.” says Ram. As he sits with his Braille book open, he tells me that he would like to be a music teacher someday. He loves to play the tabla and is taking lessons in learning the keyboard. Though Ram considers himself as not very good in sports, he like most boys of his age loves cricket and idolises Sachin Tendulkar. I can see the obvious disappointment in his face when I tell him that Tendulkar is not as tall as he thinks him to be.

Ram Singh like the other boys stays in the school hostel which is in the first and second floors of the school. The boys stay in dormitories which hold ten boys each. The boys make their own beds, wash their own clothes and also wash their dishes themselves after every meal. One might think that so many chores are too much for a blind boy of his age. But ask Ram and he surprises you with his answer. “Believe me nobody really likes to do all this things. It gets cumbersome at times,” says Ram, “But then again we cannot forget that we are blind and the world outside is harsh to us. We have to help ourselves to survive in this world.”

Ram tells that before coming to this school, he used to be pestered a lot by the other children in his village. Here in the school, living among boys of his group and the constant support by the teachers has brought in a sea of change in boys like Ram. He has made some of his best friends here. The school is like a home to him. He doesn’t prefer to go back to his village too often as the attitude of the village folks towards the blind is still not very favourable.

Boys like Ram Singh come to this school and achieve the missing pieces of life which their disability steals from them. Even though their world is dark, it is not devoid of dreams. And it is evident in the way these boys talk and carry themselves. And one thing is for sure, Ram Singh and his friends will achieve their dreams no matter what happens. Wishing them all the best in life.