Short Story Recommendations for a Dose of Magic

The only memory I have of my grandfather before he passed away was him calling me ‘good gurl di laltain’ when I was a toddler, for pulling off my part in our game. I would spin around in my lehenga, to him singing dholi taaro dhol baaje. I never knew why laaltein, or what all of it meant together- I made my peace understanding it as a Punjabi grandpa’s drivel, stashing the memory away as a precious obscurity. It was only in high school when I decided to excavate some of my family history of partition through the stories of Saadat Hasan Manto, did his words take on meaning. In Manto’s Toba Tek Singh, a few years after Punjab is split into two, it occurs to the authorities that the lunatics in mental asylums must also be exchanged across the border, the Muslims to Pakistaan and the Hindus and Sikhs to Hindustaan. News of the transfers bewilder the inmates, who, cut off from news, are in a frenzy over whether the asylum had been in Hindustaan or Pakistaan, which of the two their own villages fell in, and how it came to be that land that was Hindustaan a few years ago when they were brought in was now Pakistan. The opinion of one Sikh inmate is sought out on the matter, and his response was always: ‘Uper the gur gur the annexe the bat dhayana the mung the dal of the Government of Toba Tek Singh.’ The words struck me as the long form of the gibberish my grandfather would come to imitate when playing with me. His call had been translated to me, in a strange sense, from beyond the grave. All of a sudden, with this tiny story, the old drivel became boundlessly meaningful, and made me swell up in the lofty awe of being, not rootless, but forever embodied in the webs of history, whether I’d know it or not.  Continue reading “Short Story Recommendations for a Dose of Magic”

Liberation among trees

A grandma and a girl collect firewood for their chulha (a traditional Indian cooking stove) and ask me to keep an eye on it as they catch up with friends. They’re from the neighboring Rangpuri Pahaadi, which houses the workers who hold up my suburban neighborhood. I spend the time listening to a picnicking family, children leaving the cluster to chase each other. Every day is a picnic day because the park is where they eat lunch. Boys who deliver groceries from the shop to the homes let loose in a game of cricket, wary of my dog, who never lets the ball loose once he’s caught it. The drooping leaves of old peepal and palaash trees cave in around benches, where a group of men spends the afternoon playing cards. Sometimes, they complain about the terms of their work, rude and capricious bosses, and having to work at all even during a pandemic. Continue reading “Liberation among trees”

To Defy the Politics of Fear, We Must Cultivate Solidarity with Prisoners

There’s a thin but sturdy chasm between a criminal and non-criminal, a ditch you fall through, and it’s always being dug by people constructing something else. I often think I’ll land up in prison for protesting or writing against the state or having the wrong books on my shelf, like Varavara Rao was. Those protesting CAA/NRC have been filling jails as ‘conspirators’ in the Delhi anti-Muslim pogrom, even as Kapil Mishra, whose speech residents of Northeast Delhi testify had spurred the violence, hasn’t had a single FIR filed against him. I look at the platoons of people being arrested under the fascist Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), and I wonder what I haven’t done, that protects me from arrest. Continue reading “To Defy the Politics of Fear, We Must Cultivate Solidarity with Prisoners”

Labour Laws Scrapped, Key Industries Sold Off: How Coronavirus is Being Exploited by the Indian State to Further Crony Capitalism

Naomi Klein’s anti-capitalist manifesto, the Shock Doctrine (2007), observes through decades of coups d’état, hurricanes, massacres and tsunamis, that industrial capital has used these moments of shock and awe to pull the rug from underneath the public’s feet. Neoconservative economist Milton Friedman- may he turn in his grave- used the shock of the coup that installed Augusto Pinochet in Chile in 1973 to cut social spending and renegade Chile to hyperinflation. The shock of the United States backed coup in a country that had seen a century and a half of peaceful democracy and economic stability paved the way for an economic shock with ‘the free market trinity’: privatizing industries long held by the state, deregulating finance, and cutting welfare schemes. Chile’s economy spiraled, with unemployment rising from 3% to 20% in a year and inflation hitting the roof at 375%. 45% of the country soon fell below the poverty line, although 10% of the richest Chileans became much richer. Those who opposed the junta’s brutal ‘reforms’ were hunted down with yet another kind of shock: arrest, torture, and disappearance. Continue reading “Labour Laws Scrapped, Key Industries Sold Off: How Coronavirus is Being Exploited by the Indian State to Further Crony Capitalism”

As long as Caste lives: Book Review of The Gypsy Goddess by Meena Kandasamy

The Gypsy Goddess marks a moment in history as one of the first Dalit novels written in English. Meena Kandasamy has a doctorate in socio-linguistics and her academic background is apparent in the book’s ideation of writing itself, referencing, in the most desi way possible, ‘Derrida-Shmeridda’ (39) to put the reader at ease with the postmodern novel. 

Dalit prose has so far mostly emerged as autobiography. The autobiography has afforded writers from Om Prakash Valmiki to Sujata Gidla the space to be unabashed, to deploy the power of narrative to will to the fore, the lives that exist in the trenches of Indian cultural life and politics. The autobiography commands a credibility that the traditional novel cannot and which the aim of Dalit writing demands: a recognition of the writer’s truths. It is not surprising then that the Gypsy Goddess has become a novel on the condition that it be non-fiction, and be acutely aware of the trappings of forms and language, experimenting with both until the story be told justly. The novel is penetratingly conscious of the reactions of the reader: she is commanded not to abandon the book at drab details, made wary of feeling complacent or ‘woke’ for her familiarity with this small village, urged to think how her politics is changing with each passing chapter. In fact, the dialogue with the reader is the most consistent theme of the book. Continue reading “As long as Caste lives: Book Review of The Gypsy Goddess by Meena Kandasamy”