If you have a problem, fix it. But train yourself not to worry, worry fixes nothing. - Ernest Hemingway

Friday, 25 November 2011

I never heard my mother …

Shamsur Rahman

[Shamsur Rahman, who lived in Bangladesh, was one of the finest Bengali poets. He was also an important voice of reason in Bangladesh, and once suffered a near-fatal assault by Muslim fundamentalists. I sent this translation to him, seeking his permission for publishing it. But when I wrote to him, I didn't know he had gone into a coma. He died a week later, on 17 August, 2006 at the age of seventy-six.]

I never heard my mother singing.
Did she ever sing a lullaby as she tucked me in
In those far-off childhood nights?
I wish I could remember …

Even before her figure reached the fullness of spring
When she was closer to the season of
Picking up mangoes scattered in a storm
In lonely afternoons, evenings,
No tune ever grew up on her like a silent creeper
Lest the elders should hear …

And even in her husband’s home, my mother
Remained far too silent, far too much in the shadows,
And so far as I know, never fell for music.
In between chopping fish or grinding turmeric
Or perhaps in the afternoon, after swabbing the courtyard
And scrubbing bell metal plates sparkling bright
Bending down on the sewing machine, darning a torn shirt,
Hanging clothes on a clotheshorse,
After sending me off to playground with a kiss,
In her moments of solitude, as she pretended to do her hair,
Did she ever hum a tune?
Such a long time I lived with her, but never found out …

It’s as if throughout her life she stored all her songs
In a wooden chest that reminds us of our sorrows.
Presently from its dark inside exudes but rarely,
Not tunes, but the pungent smell of naphthalene. Y

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Kochuthresiamma Joseph

Kochuthresiamma Joseph (KTJ to her friends) passed away in the night of 8/9 November. Although her husband Joseph Mathew and I were colleagues, I never met her. Yet, when I opened a common friend’s text message carrying the news of her death in the small hours of the morning yesterday, I felt a deep sense of bereavement … a sense of loss made more poignant by the stillness of the night.

I came to know her long after Joseph Mathew and I ceased to be colleagues, through her somewhat mysteriously titled blog “Pareltank”. Later, she wrote she had named the blog after the road in which she had lived with her husband and children in Mumbai: Parel Tank Road. Maybe, when she named the blog, she was in that phase of her journey when one prefers to look back, rather than looking ahead.

She taught English at college(s) and wrote beautifully about her friends, relatives, acquaintances, neighbours, tailors, in short, the ordinary people she came across. And they came so alive through her writing! While reading her blog, I would be touched by her sensitivity, eye for details, sense of humour and her candour and courage.

She also wrote about the colossal social evils that we have agreed to live with, without losing much sleep. And in these pieces, she came out as a different kind of writer: tough, no-nonsense, and brilliantly incisive. I didn’t agree with her always – needless to say – but I was always impressed by the well-informed analytical mind that was behind the fingers on her keyboard.

I didn’t know Kochuthresiamma Joseph personally while she was alive. Now that she is no more, I know that Mother Earth has lost one of her wonderful daughters. I bid adieu to you, my unknown friend! And my heart goes out to your husband, children, and other close relatives.


Here are the links to three of KTJ's many lovely articles:

Autograph  /   Fair & Lovely   /   Narendra Modi's letter to Anna Hazare

Monday, 7 November 2011

To be a Muslim in India

Yesterday's Indian Express carried these stories.

“Nadeem Saiyed, a key witness to the Naroda Patiya massacre during the 2002 Gujarat riots, was brutally killed on the main street of Juhapura on Saturday. He was stabbed 25 times, just steps away from the anti-terrorism group headquarters.”

Saiyed gave evidence in the Naroda Patiya mass murder case, which had been a ghastly incident even by the standards of Gujarat riots. The official death count was 39, but it was actually much higher. Tehlka magazine’s spy cameras caught some of the mass murderers gleefully boasting – with gory details – about how they had killed defenceless people at Naroda Patiya Housing Society. On Headlines Today, I saw a similar footage, but I am not sure if it is their in-house footage or that of Tehlka.

Saiyed was under police protection since 2009. The newspaper added, “But it is not clear why the PSO [personal security officer?] and another guard assigned to protect him were not around at the time of the incident. … A few days ago, Saiyed met Ahmedabad police chief S K Saikia and sought more security.”

The second story is actually a positive development, but distressing if viewed in totality. A Special court granted bail to all the nine men accused in the 2006 Malegaon bomb blasts in which 37 persons were killed and hundreds injured. The blasts had occurred in and around a mosque in Malegaon in Nashik district during the afternoon prayers on Shab-e-Barat.

The accused, all Muslims, had filed fresh bail applications after a Hindu priest, Aseemanand confessed in late 2010 that the blasts had been set off by Hindu extremists. Indian Express went on to add that the NIA [National Investigation Agency] said that after the confession of Aseemanand, it reviewed the evidence of other investigating agencies and then collected fresh evidence before arriving at its decision not to oppose the bail plea. The families of the nine men insist they are innocent and were framed by the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad which first handled the probe, and later, by the CBI, which took over the case.

Gujarat government has systematically, blatantly, and shamelessly tried to derail the process of justice for the 2002 riot victims, including arresting whistle-blower IPS officer Sanjeev Bhatt. The murder of Saiyed is possibly the latest paragraph in that long, sordid saga of sabotage. If a key witness, supposedly under police protection, can be killed, what are the chances that the Naroda Patiya killers would be brought to justice?

As regards the second case, who will pay for the lost years of the men framed by the state?

It cannot be proved mathematically, but there are strong indications that in both cases, the state has proactively hurt a community which has no protection other than from its own tormentors. At least in parts of India today, being a Muslim may guarantee that you won’t get justice from the state.

Fortunately, the Indian story is neither so simple, nor one-dimensional. The same paper carried the following report too.

Nineteen year-old Sweety Abdul lives in a tarpaulin-covered shanty beside the Cross Maidan in Mumbai, where she grew up watching boys playing cricket. She helps her sister run their small unauthorised shoe shop in nearby Fashion Street, a Mumbai flea-market. The shack that she shares with her ailing mother and sister — her father died when she was nine — has little space and no electricity. Sweety dropped out of school after Class VII.

Yesterday was the proudest day of Sweety’s life because she was selected to play for the senior Mumbai cricket team. The Mumbai under-19 coach said she had bailed out her team several times, including against Gujarat when she hit a 50 with her side five down.

Sweety told the newspaper, “(But) when batting, sometimes my worries are not about tackling opponent bowlers, but about the municipality vans which routinely come and try to clear away the stalls. If they raid our shop, it is tough.”

During the monsoon, she prays for rain to go away, as otherwise, her cricketing gear would get spoilt: “Hum dua karte hain barsish zor ki na ho.”

For every game she is paid Rs 2,500, from which TDS is deducted, says Sweety. The difference with men’s Ranji team is stark. The men get over Rs 1 lakh per match. The reporter added, rather poetically, “But there are days when everything seems possible, like when she boarded a flight to return from Ahmedabad or when she gets to stay in an actual room with walls during hotel stays for cricket matches.”

Sweety hopes to find a job, though she knows it won’t be easy. And she wants to see her family in a proper house where they don’t have to worry about thieves and junkies. In the India of Infosys, Sachin Tendulkar, and Narendra Modi, it will be tough, but not impossible. Let’s wish her luck.

[Photo and information - courtesy The Indian Express]