Tuesday, 15 June 2021

Akshada Shrotriya on Sushil Gupta's The Fourth Monkey

                         A Balanced Conflict: Reading Sexuality and Ideology in

Sushil Gupta’s The Fourth Monkey

Akshada Shrotriya


Michael Foucault’s seminal work published in 1976 traces the emergence and development of sexuality – the act itself and its perception in society. In the seventeenth century he notes, with the emergence of the Bourgeoisie, sex was repressed (3). The view that it was an act meant solely to procreate and not for individual pleasure (since indulging in pleasure would be a sin according to the Bible) took the form of rather a tyrannical order. It all went down under an Orwellian surveillance.

In the first part of his book, Foucault talks about the emergence of the Victorian bourgeoisie which ordered for sexuality to be confined within the four walls. A false sense of idealism developed and paired with the rising market forces, it started to solidify. Such great emphasis was laid on the idea that it started to create a moral sentiment in the public. Sex was now an act which was to be performed only and only to procreate.

Attempting to build a context from the French philosopher’s work is a deliberate choice here; the Victorian society that Foucault views with a critical lens seems to be fitting for the kind of society we exist in – that of 21st century India, where sex is still a hushed issue despite the fact that its fruits (quite literally) are very much palpable. The “hypocrisy” that Foucault intends to deal with in his work, is something that the Indian society has – for generations – practiced. It has penetrated into our psyche to such an extent that we have barely questioned it; it is now through engaging in a discourse that one starts to find resolve.

Sushil Gupta’s novel, ‘The Fourth Monkey’, is a direct confrontation of this society since it provides a space for that discourse. It tells the story of Madan Swaroop, who teaches English at a Delhi University college. A major portion of the book deals with the rollercoaster of his married life. Shalini, his wife, is a charismatic personality, unlike him. Her entrance lights up the room. Her husband’s on the other hand, is very likely to go unnoticed. After about 25 years of marriage, Madan is offered the opportunity to teach in a college in Bhutan, where his married bachelor life begins. The presence of youth enlivens his spirit. Added to it is the attraction that two of his students, Tashi and Tshering (Sherry), harbour towards him. They smother him with occasional kisses and visits to his house. Another roller-coaster ride ensues.

The duo of Madan and Shalini wade through a number of differences in their way, which are also diluted by the conventions of a married life. Nevertheless, they love each other and are content with each other. The only hassle in this urban Eden is that Shalini had an affair, which continues even after marriage. The twist in the tale is that her beloved is a metaphysical entity, a God - Krishna himself. And in order to maintain a balance between what she calls, her husband on earth and Krishna, Shalini comes up with a regimented sex routine: two nights per week only.

Shalini represents the Victorian bourgeoisie mentality in the novel. What Gupta, a friend of Madan’s in Bhutan, notes about Tashi’s act of changing clothes in front of the teachers fits the mould Shalini belongs to. He says: “You are imposing bourgeois values of a bygone era onto a culture which is fresh, open and clean.” (Gupta 169). Shalini’s limited exposure to the world and her one-track minded devotion to her God seem to obstruct her vision. In some other instances, it creates a comedic effect, but in others, it leads one to truly question the ideology of the system.

Though Madan has his reservations and doubts, he is informed of his wife’s indulgence with the God after some time of marriage. His atheistic self fails to comprehend the affair but it does not persuade him from asking his wife to abandon her beliefs. He assumes the position of a spectator and takes a back seat as Shalini’s engagements pan out. He does try to bend the rules about the limited two-nights-a-week sex policy, but she barely nudges. For her, this hedonistic idea of self-gratification stands in the way of man’s path towards spirituality, which should be the ultimate aim of one’s life according to her. She condemns indulgence of any kind. And interestingly enough, she gets her way.

The title of the book in this regard, becomes pivotal. A clear allusion to Gandhi’s three monkeys which represent the basic senses in humans – eyes, mouth, ears – each standing for the moral jargon “bura matt dekho” (do not see evil), “bura matt bolo” (do not speak evil), and “bura matt suno” (do not listen to evil) respectively, it asks, who is this fourth monkey? What could he possibly represent? What part of the body is left for this fourth monkey’s hands to cover?

As the novel unravels through the development in its protagonist’s life, the question is not only answered, but it also confronts the false sense of morality that has been solidified in the Indian system due to its unshakeable presentiment. The fourth monkey, as the reader would come to understand, has its genitals covered. Gandhi must not have been unaware of this monkey’s importance; history has shown how un-saintly his demeanour was but unfortunately, this monkey had to be abandoned at the time. Portraying it then, and to a very great extent even now, would have been preposterous. The holy trinity ought to remain holy.

In that respect, writing a fourth monkey into an almost century old narrative is a rather brave act. In theoretical terms, it is what Julia Kristeva terms as an “intertext” which essentially refers to the interaction of various texts in one particular text (Kristeva). A text is then not an autonomous entity but rather, a conglomeration of texts (these may be books, artworks, events, etc.); it emerges essentially out of these other texts. Gupta’s “The Fourth Monkey” is a significant example in this regard. Movies for example, are an important part of Madan’s life. Through the club, he is exposed to the cinema of the world – worlds which are in stark opposition to his reality. The difference that lies between what he sees and what he lives is a key element in the novel, for it relies on the production of a balanced space between the opposing ends – Madan and Shalini. It becomes an imminent question of ideology.

Further, this space of the novel is termed by Kristeva as “ambivalent” for it “implies the insertion of history (society) into a text and of this text into history” (39) which is one and the same for the writer, as she notes. The title of the novel as well as the various attempts made in creating a dialogue between other forms and works of art amplify this definition. And it is within this ambivalent space where the author-narrator dynamics in the novel also becomes pertinent. The narrator is the author’s tool to achieve that ambivalence which he does by bringing in a variety of texts in one grand narrative. Through the interaction as well as intersection of these texts (artworks, books, philosophies, etc.) the novel alleviates the issue at hand. Thus, lending it the gravitas which allures one more to Madan’s tale. Moreover, it leads to the creation of discourse, the importance of which lies in its appeal brought in by the interaction of texts in the narrative of an ordinary man; the socio-political issues are tackled by this discourse.

To elucidate, in his life in Bhutan, comprising the third part of the novel, Madan comes across two young women from the college in which he teaches who show a romantic interest towards him. Unabashedly, he entertains them. Yet, only up to an extent. In one of his initial classes, he talks of angels being sexless creatures and the same day, Sherry addresses him as one. The comedy involved here in fact, pinches at the reality of things which as far as the novel delves into, only Gupta is able to understand the dynamics of. He states his thoughts very frankly on the subject of restrained sex in their marriage. There are instances in the novel where Madan seems to laugh at his own comical fate and there are also places where he feels frustrated and is shown to be in despair.

Another important perspective emerges at the beginning of the book, from its cover. It features the Italian Renaissance painter, Sandro Botticelli’s ‘The Birth of Venus’ in which the zephyrs are seen to blow wind on one hand on the other a woman with a cape-like cloth appears to cover Venus’s body. The zephyrs are in clear contrast to the woman; they are also spectators unlike the woman who tries to cover the subject of their interest. This image of Venus is invoked in the novel when Madan is gifted a bonus night of love-making on occasion of his birthday and Shalini walks to him undressed. He writes: “The Hellenic vision of Botticelli came alive in my bedroom.” (57).

The image of a fourth monkey with the goddess of love and sex incites humour and wonder. It is our main character’s very own position. Despite the proximity, sex becomes inaccessible to him. By the end of the novel in fact, his picture is displayed beside the trio of monkeys by his daughter-in-law, Tashi. Thus, finally manifesting Madan’s position in a physical form.

Since novel text alludes to Greek mythologies, it would be worth to note here that the most important characteristic of classical Greek texts is deus ex machina. It refers to when Gods themselves come down from heaven to resolve the issue of mortals. This interference of the Gods in human affairs was a tool used by epic writers (Homer would be the best example) as well as playwrights (Sophocles, for example). It would be fitting to say here that Gods were as biased as humans; one simply had to rely on likeability. To take an instance, Paris reaped the fruit of calling Aphrodite the fairest of three goddesses his entire life and suffered from Hera’s hatred in turn.

In Madan’s life, this interference is caused by a God known for his wooing skills, the blue-skinned Krishna. And it begins precisely right after marriage, almost ominous of what unfolds at the end, “I sat by one window and Shelly by the other, with an eighteen-inch idol of flute-playing Krishna lodged between us.” (27).

In his comedy titled ‘Lysistrata’, written during the time when Athens was at war with Sparta, Aristophanes inverts the power dynamics and imagines his women characters as change-makers. This change is brought by the women’s decision to refrain from any sexual activity and reject their husbands’ advances. To indulge in the pleasures of the flesh, men must abandon war. Though it may be said that it limits the role of women to objectified entities with nothing but sex as their weapon, it would be a better interpretation to think of it as capitalising on the male weakness. Sex becomes a tool for Aristophanes by which the women are able to assert their position (as opposed to always complying with and submitting to their husband’s needs, as patriarchy would ask of them) as well as resolve conflict.

Though no such grand war is to be fought by Madan, Shelly’s regiment makes one think of her as Lysistrata – with respect to dominance and controlling abilities. At the end, when Shelly decides to give up her marital status and devote her life in service of her Krishna, it is to be asked if the plot was always leading up to this – symbolic of a kind of asexuality for Madan. The ‘angel’ reference becomes important here since the issue finally reaches its climax and Madan is left to fend for himself. His admittance of his passivity in this respect fits the mould perfectly: “Women have always had their way with me.” (271).

Interestingly, the author doesn’t seem to make any effort in suggesting or depicting Madan as any hero or rebel. He is not shown to be any different from other men – it is ultimately desperation that drives them. Athenian men too gave in when women held their reins. The success of the text perhaps lies in the realism of Madan’s depiction, as a student observes: “Sir, you are the first teacher I have met who does not hide his mediocrity”. (150).

WORKS CITED

 Foucault, Michael. Trans. Robert Hurley. Pantheon Books, 1978.

Gupta, Sushil. The Fourth Monkey. Indialog Publications, 2006.

Kristeva, Julia. The Kristeva Reader. Ed. Toril Moi. Columbia University Press, 1986.


Akshada Shrotriya is pursuing her Master's in English from Delhi University.



 

 

 

Wednesday, 9 June 2021

BOOK REVIEW - Shanta Acharya's 'What Survives Is The Singing' reviewed by Anita Auden Money

What Survives Is The Singing By Shanta Acharya. Indigo Dreams Publishing, 2020.

Review by Anita Money


Shanta Acharya’s seventh poetry collection is dedicated to her mother for her 85th birthday.  The four carefully chosen quotations on life from Dickinson, Rilke, Bishop and Brecht have a particular power, not unlike the refraction of light, able to amplify and alter vision so that they act as a subtle introduction to the collection.  The title plays on Brecht’s lines ‘In the dark times/Will there also be singing? / Yes, there will also be singing /About the dark times. The collection, with notes at the end to give context to some of the poems, presents a landscape still familiar, characterized by the metaphysical and philosophical thinking that underpins Acharya’s  view of life yet grounded by a very practical awareness of the world and strong sense of irony, but there are changes: this landscape feels older, more reflective, questions left open waiting for response. 

Her technique has always been low key with lines that have a natural speech rhythm, in-line rhymes and often the use of refrain, a familiar poetic device and a characteristic of ghazals. There is experimentation with different verse schemes and with the spacing of words (noticeably in a marathon of red images in ‘Infinity in Red) but a predominant construction is that of two line verses, some that carry through and others that are end-stopped. Here are two examples from ‘In Silence’ and ‘The High Window’, the latter with a repeating refrain:

 

When fate deals you a losing hand, play in silence.

Luck favours those who mend themselves in silence.

        --------

An act of kindness never goes unnoticed,

The praise of prayer-wheels they say is heard from

                                                               the high window

In life’s intricate game of snakes and ladders,

Winner takes it all, face against the sun framed in

                                                               the high window

Acharya balances her informed understanding of the economic realities that drive politics and world affairs with a deep sense of human suffering, injustice and cruelty.  In this collection there are  four poems where she adopts the  persona of another woman to dramatize brutal experiences – that of rape, murder and female infanticide in ‘Can you Hear our Screams’; an honour killing in ‘Alesha’s Confession’;   genital mutilation in ‘Ambala’  and sexual exploitation  in ‘To Lose Everything’.    In ‘Graffiti’ the speaker holds the hand of a dying boy who has been stabbed in retaliation. 

‘The Bull Fight’ introduced with a quote from Nietzche ‘Man is the cruelest animal…’ arouses our   instinctive sympathy for the bulls and our admiration for the heroism, not of the matador, but of the bull. This sense of sympathy and identification extends to inanimate objects and in ‘Umbrella’ one that has been broken and set aside takes on a feeling of rejection:

 

Bent, broken, it skulked like a skeleton

Behind the door – an extra, never chosen to feature

centre stage, no opportunity to show off its strong,

supple skin, open up, let itself take wings –

 

be properly forgotten on a bus or train,

venture into other people’s homes

like its companion, the walking stick

that went on expeditions far and near. 

Trying to come to terms with personal injustices, disappointments and existential anxiety find expression in a variety of poems: ‘Self Portrait’, ‘The Best is Yet to Be’, Parallel Lives’, ‘All You Can Do’, ‘Just for Today’, ‘Where in the World Does One Find Happiness’(after LiPo).  Acharya questions her sense of self or many selves and the feeling that she is an actor playing a part  in a life that  is not as she imagined, while also searching to find her true self – ‘There’s someone in the mirror smiling at me,/the image is mine but who is that person?’ 

In ‘Woodpecker’, ‘Spring in Kew Gardens’, ‘Parliament Hill’ and ‘The London Eye’ there is engagement with life outside her own preoccupations and she muses on history and locality. This connection with the natural world and life around her provides emotional light relief in the sound of birds, the sight of cherry blossom at the advent of Spring, children learning to fly kites ‘their feet barely touch the grass glinting in the light’ and an aerial view of London from a capsule.  

 

Home and Exile, a reoccurring theme in her poetry, have a dimension that goes beyond India as home and  England a second home: it is a nostalgia for a different reality,  ‘rebirth,’  ‘a world elsewhere’ where one feels at home, free from disappointment and alienation.

Home is not a country or postcode,

more a state of mind, keeper of the map of my world-

 

offering a hint of the distance between myself

and the silence out there, the way life reaches

 

for light, and rays leaning like ladders against the sky

invest my journey with meaning. (from Home)

In the following lines from ‘Homecoming’ God is addressed:

 

Don’t know why I presume you might listen

more carefully to my entreaties in a foreign land?

 

I am the one on holiday, not you –

such are the limitations of the human mind.

 

Talking to you, sharing my thoughts, I keep thinking

you will respond, talk to me through your silence………

 

My loneliness has led me back to where I’d begun.

I’ve nowhere else to go, don’t turn me away

on another journey of self-discovery for I am done. 

 

Compare these lines with ‘The Art of Ageing’ where we are given a list of instructions on coping:

 

Let the young and foolish fume and rage,

Preserve your energy for life’s endless surprises…….

When you pray no point in thanking the Lord

For all the things He hasn’t done, or repenting

For the things you have.  If you haven’t been heard

In all these years, do not take it personally.

There may or may not be a reason for everything. 

Keep an open mind, but don’t be afraid to hold on

to what you believe.  Develop a sense of the absurd. 

 

Both poems, humorous in different ways, have a serious message.  There is an ambiguity that reflects the mysterious and unpredictable reality of existence, the question of belief and the challenge of holding on to a belief against the odds of silence.

 

Family and family bonds are another major theme and she sees interesting correspondencies in the movement of rivers.  In ‘Relationships’ she speaks of

 

daughter  mother  grandmother  great-grandmother

Linking us all the way back through time

 

celebrating the journey    memories of places

travelled   together  apart  shared

 

flowing from the same glacier


head of the soul mountain to a drop in the ocean……..

 

A slip of a stream growing into a river with tributaries becomes an image of motherhood in ‘Find Your Level’: ‘The memory of her mother’s  songs echoes / in her veins as she flows into the sea…’

 

What provides resolution is the recognition of her personal need to write and the human instinct for poetry.  There are several poems on the subject: ‘Why Some People Read Poetry’ (after W.S Merwin), ‘Why Some People Write Poetry’ but also ‘Less is More’ ‘Not Knowing’ and ‘The High Window’.  

In   ‘Words’  she celebrates the creative impulse and sense of relief in finding the words to make a poem, hoping the poem will travel the world, connect with others:

 

imagine your creations  rising like suns

On the shores of continents of strangers,

networks of neurons connecting the universe.

The joy is all yours, nothing’s the same anymore –

Not the past, present, not even the future.

 

The image of a river entering the sea and these lines of Acharya’s return me to the title of this collection and remind me of that famous line from Auden often misunderstood because pulled out of context:

 

For poetry makes nothing happen, it survives

In the valley of its making where executives

Would never want to tamper, flows on south

From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,

Raw towns that we believe and die in: it survives

A way of happening, a mouth.

The singing taken in its broadest sense is about the human capacity for suffering and celebration, for lifting the mortal spirit above desolation, and this life affirming capacity is what the poet voices on behalf of humanity. 

Anita Auden Money is an educator based in London. She is a frequent contributor to Re-Markings. Her conversation with Re-Markings is being featured in the forthcoming issue of Re-Markings www.re-markings.com



Tuesday, 20 April 2021

E-LAUNCH RE-MARKINGS' 20th Anniversary Volume March 2021: A Day to Remember

 E-LAUNCH RE-MARKINGS' 20th Anniversary Volume March 2021: A Day to Remember











RE-MARKINGS and 18th March: A Date with History

Nibir K. Ghosh



"Time present and time past/ Are both perhaps present in time future/ And time future contained in time past.” – T. S. Eliot

March 18, 1944 is one of the most historic day of India's independence struggle. On this day, Azad Hind Fauj (Indian National Army) of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose entered India crossing Burma border. It was a prelude to the INA’s victory against the British forces at Moirang. It was at Moirang that the flag of the Indian National Army was first unfurled on April 14, 1944. The INA Memorial Moirang reminds us of the noble sacrifices made by the INA soldiers under the charismatic leadership of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose.

This day is no less historic for Re-Markings. It was on 18 March 2017 at Agra that our special number entitled Bose: The Immortal Legend of India’s Freedom, published in January 2017, was launched at Agra at a grand event in the majestic presence of Prof. Sugata Bose and numerous Bose scholars from various parts of India.

It is a happy coincidence that on this auspicious day we are all together to celebrate the 20th Birth Anniversary of Re-Markings in the presence of historical figures like Prof. Sugata Bose, eminent Harvard University Historian, Chairperson NRB, Kolkata, former M.P. Lok Sabha, grand-nephew of Netaji, and the guiding light to Re-Markings. We truly miss the gracious presence this evening of Mrs. Zeenat Ahmed, wife and long-term companion to Col Mahboob Ahmed, Military Secretary to Netaji who is unable to be with us on account of mild ailment. Ahmed madam has enriched our special Bose number with her interview conducted by Tara Sami Dutt and Zara Urouj. We, my wife and I, had the pleasure of meeting her at Patna a few years ago.

No less historic is the presence of Mrs. Anita Auden Money, an educator and writer based in London. She is the maternal grand-daughter of Shri W. C. Bonnerjee, the first President of Indian National Congress. With great affection I announce the presence of Prof. Jonah Raskin from Santa Rosa, California who visited us in Agra a fortnight after we launched the Bose special number. On going through the volume, he instantly became a big fan of Netaji. Also with us is the video presence of Dr. Tijan M. Sallah, the leading poet of the Gambia and former World Bank executive.

On the cover of our 20th anniversary number that is due for formal launch today we have an endorsement by the US National Book Award winner, Charles Johnson, that says “Re-Markings is India’s finest literary ambassador to the world.” In our midst today, I am proud to share the presence of many ambassadors of Re-Markings who are distinguished academics, critics, writers and poets and who have played a significant role in Re-Markings’ grand march to the 20-year milestone. Equally noteworthy is the presence of members of the Re-Markings’ great fraternity of readers and contributors bound by ties of brotherhood and friendship.

On behalf of the Editorial and Advisory board, it is my privilege and honour to welcome you all with feelings of love and gratitude to this momentous event.

Thank You.

Re-Markings 20th Anniversary Special Number (44th Edition)

18th March 2021

E-Launch Address

Shanker A. Dutt

Launched in March 2002, Re-Markings has completed twenty enriching years of publication with its 20th anniversary special number in March 2021, and today, we have gathered in times of masks, hand-washes and physical distancing in a digitally invented world to celebrate this significant milestone.

A number of literary and cultural journals have, over the years, provided space for the publication of scholarship in India. However, many of these have often struggled against the vagaries of quality, trying to find an appropriate balance between the excellence of established names and the need to create space for young researchers. Other qualities appreciated in a good literary journal are the value of the editorials, its ethical responsibility and the punctuality of its publication. These are three areas where Re-Markings has scripted its success.

Re-Markings is an international refereed biannual journal of English Studies that aims at providing a healthy forum for scholarly interpretations of multiple cultural texts as evidenced in literature, art, television, cinema and journalism with substantial focus on Contemporary Studies in English including translations and creativity. Its Chief Editor, Professor Nibir K. Ghosh, wrote rather poetically in the 10th issue:

‘It is perhaps a happy coincidence that Re-Markings, like the equinoxes, appears in March and September each year. The vernal and the autumnal equinoxes set the globe in perfect gravitational balance and become the harbingers of the Spring of life and the fruits of its Autumn. I am optimistic that Re-Markings will continue to offer, through a clockwork precision of the biannual event, the hope and cheer that one finds in the songs of Spring and the music of Autumn’.

It is with this exacting precision of nature’s laws that one has to expect the arrival of Re-Markings and I cannot recollect an occasion to be disappointed. I stopped believing in magic almost 6 decades ago but when India Post delivered my 20th Anniversary special number in February, I entered my second childhood to re-discover magic. In my mind I re-wrote Shelley's wind inspired lines: 'If winter comes, can Re-Markings be far behind'?

Re-Markings has provided space for discussion and interrogation of cultural productions in English and brought together a band of critics and commentators from different parts of the world on a truly globalised forum for expression and exchange. If the journal enjoys the distinction of publishing contributions of celebrity writers and distinguished academics, scholars and researchers from over 80 countries of the world including Nobel, Pulitzer, U.S. National Book Award, Padmashree, Sahitya Akademi and other award winners, it is no less significant that it has given ample encouragement to newcomers and young scholars by introducing their work to the academic fraternity in the country and all over the globe.

While each issue of the journal provides a diverse range and variety of intellectual resources to its enlightened readers, special sections on V. S. Naipaul (March 2002), Communalism (September 2002), Racism (March 2003), John Steinbeck (September 2003), David Ray (March 2004), W.H. Auden (March 2007), and Doris Lessing (March 2008) have attracted considerable attention from academics and researchers worldwide.

Special numbers on Langston Hughes (January 2014), Bose: The Immortal Legend of India’s Freedom (January 2017), A World Assembly of Poets: Contemporary Poems (November 2017) and India: Diversities and Convergences (May 2018) have decisively enriched the Re-Markings’ treasure trove.

Re-Markings has a distinguished list of advisors: Dr. Charles Johnson, Professor Sugata Bose, Professor Morris Dickstein, Jayanta Mahapatra, Dr. Ramesh Chandra Shah, Prof. Jonah Raskin and Prof. Amritjit Singh.  These luminaries have enriched the journal with their regular contributions. The editorial collaborators along with Professor Ghosh, Dr. A. Karunaker, Dr Sunita Rani Ghosh and Sandeep Arora ensure production-quality and punctuality. These eminent personages contribute to the authenticity of the journal’s distinction and encourage qualities of scholarship, good writing and some remarkable creativity that one has come to associate with Re-Markings. Its outreach has been enhanced through its web version, created and aesthetically designed by Sandeep Arora, that provides convenient access to readers and scholars across the globe.

In his 2002 editorial  Dr Ghosh wrote, “What is, therefore, needed is an effective forum which can function as a repository for a coherent system of thoughts and ideas. I strongly believe that in addressing specific issues and concerns central to the human predicament, Re-Markings will play a seminal role,’ and in continuation with that idea he further writes:

‘a good work of art invariably leaves its indelible markings on the shifting pages of time. It may or may not offer solutions to the problems that beset mankind but its sublimity lies in the way it contributes not only to the profound understanding of the age in which we live but also in making us aware of our private fears and insecurities, our joys and hopes’.

And, indeed, the prophecies of twenty years ago have manifested over time in meaningful dialogue with texts. Umberto Eco spoke of written texts as being machines to generate interpretations. Readers from different cultural contexts and personal backgrounds engage with texts in different internal dialogues revealing multiple meanings. The author thus is relegated to being a controlling devise as readers vie for space to interpret and explain. It is this valued space that Re-Markings provides. The canvass of Re-Markings is varied and vast, comprising articles on canonical and marginal representations of human experience. In the editorial of twentieth anniversary edition Professor Ghosh writes, 'In these times of crisis, upheavals and cataclysmic changes we must accept the fact that the personal and the political are inextricably intertwined and that no policy of isolation is possible. As responsible citizens of the world, it is incumbent upon us to rise above our own limited interests and objectives and become empathetic to the oppression, poverty, discrimination, trauma, violence, bigotry, pain and suffering that we witness all around us.'

He quotes T. S. Eliot as an instrumental testament to Re-Markings, 'to do the useful thing, to say the courageous thing, to contemplate the beautiful thing: that is enough for one man's life'.

It assumes special significance in an age of considerable bitterness and despair, when the world seems to be ideologically partitioned, when development and progress have many, often contradictory definitions and core human needs are subservient to lifestyle choices, it compels us to engage with literature and the kindred arts in search of understanding.

Some years ago, commenting on Re-Markings, I had written to Prof. Nibir Ghosh: ‘it must be a daunting task to publish a journal with the editorial responsibility of sorting out variable quality and the publisher's jugglery to balance finance and production. I really liked the honesty with which you have written the editorial in the March 2006 edition of Re-Markings. Often we do not problematise, question or challenge received knowledge  because we are daunted by the reputations and the linguistic magic of what we read. You have taken the lid off manufactured mysteries in a short but telling editorial. Many congratulations for the excellent work you are doing’. Today, as the twenty- year milestone is crossed, it is a pleasure to reiterate what I had written and state that Re-Markings is getting better with each passing equinox.

I wish to conclude with a sample of the Salman Rushdie magic in his Commencement Address for Bard College, New York:

'For in the years to come, you will find yourselves up against gods of all sorts, big and little gods, corporeal and incorporeal gods, all of them demanding to be worshipped and obeyed - the myriad deities of money and power, of convention and custom that will seek to limit and control your thoughts and lives. defy them; that is my advice to you. Thumb your noses; cock your snooks. For as the myths tell us, it is by defying the gods that human beings have best expressed their humanity.'

I am optimistic that Re-Markings will continue to express the best of humanity.

                                                                                                             

20th Anniversary Celebratory Number of Re-Markings

Anita Auden Money

I am very glad to be taking part in this Zoom meeting to celebrate the 20th Anniversary Number of Re-Markings and appreciate its international range and particularly the balanced approach of Nibir Ghosh.  His essays in Mirror from the Indus, provide an antidote to what appears currently to be a very immature trend in reaction to Colonialism, Race and Gender that is creating a false reality that divides rather than unites people in a period of turmoil where COVID reminds us of our universal kinship in susceptibility to a virus.  

His essay on Tagore points out how much Tagore disliked a narrow Nationalism and, I quote, “strove to remain far above the narrow confines of the nation-state debate that seems to flourish in the academia today. If he desired to share India’s message of cultural synthesis with the rest of the world, he also ascertained the need for India to incorporate others’ messages into her own cultural repertoire.”  The essay on Kipling also offers a fuller understanding of Kipling’s views on the East and West which are really best understood in relation to individuals rather than to races and this is a key to the question of prejudice.

I was introduced to Nibir Ghosh and Re-Markings by a friend of mine - Shanta Acharya, a poet, writer and more unusually an investor, and was delighted that Nibir appreciated and admired my uncle W. H. Auden.  As I am half Indian (my mother Sheila Bonnerjee was Bengali, and my father John Auden, Wystan’s brother, worked for the Geological Survey of India), I wanted to feel that India could understand Wystan. Nibir’s book W.H Auden: Therapeutic Fountain published in 2010 does indeed illustrate a genuine sympathy and understanding and the Re-Markings Commemorative Issue that was published in 2007 to celebrate Wystan’s birth Centenary also showed a wide appreciation. 

As many of you are aware,  Wystan has been subject to  a good deal of criticism of his later work both here in the UK and in America, some of it justified  as no writer or poet develops without making mistakes, but showing a great lack of understanding of what he was trying to achieve. 

In A Certain World, Wystan’s commonplace book which gives a very good picture of what interested and inspired him, he says in the section ‘Writing’: “What the poet has to convey is not ‘self-expression’ but a view of reality common to all, seen from a unique perspective, which it is his duty as well as his pleasure to share with others. To small truths as well as great, St. Augustine’s words apply:  The truth is neither mine nor his nor another’s; but belongs to us all whom thou callest to partake of it, warning us terribly, not to account it private to ourselves, lest we be deprived of it.”  

As to how he was going to apply this to poetry he writes elsewhere: “The ideal at which I aim is a style which shall combine the drab sober truthfulness of prose with a poetic uniqueness of expression.”  He did not find this easy and in a letter to a friend, speaking about ‘Thanksgiving for a Habitat’ he comments: “To keep the diction and prosody within a hairsbreadth of being prose without becoming it is a task I find very difficult” 

Auden is lucky to have Edward Mendelson as his Literary Executor who has also written so wisely about him, John Fuller, poet and academic, who wrote the Commentary and introduced his work to a number of his students at Oxford. There are also a variety of poets and writers whose appreciation of the later work matters – to name  a few  and apologies to those not mentioned  –  Peter Porter,  Hongbin Liu (the Chinese poet who has been published in Re-Markings in The World Assembly of Poets), Grey Gowrie, Glyn Maxwell (whose understanding of Auden was influenced by Derek Walcott), Lachlan Mackinnon, Hamish Robinson who gave an excellent talk at The National Theatre in relation to Alan Bennet’s ‘Habit of Art’ pointing out that  Auden’s poetry was ‘in the profoundest sense liberal, a poetry released from poetic theologies and free to draw its sustenance from all sorts of profane sources,’ and Alexander McCall Smith whose ‘What W. H. Auden Can Do For You’, is a personal appreciation. It is good also to read Thekla Clarks ‘Wystan and Chester’, and Humphrey Carpenter and Richard Davenport-Hines’ biographies.

Wystan in a letter to my father written in 1941 said: “Every ohm of private happiness and decency is, I am convinced, a political asset to the world.” This belief in the individual as unique and the need for individuals to take responsibility is a key to understanding Wystan’s deep concern for humanity.

In his address in 1951 to the “Indian Congress for Cultural Freedom” Wystan  reminds that there are two parallel realities - Nature and History:

The natural material world, the physical world, the world of mass, of number, not of language. A world in which freedom is indeed consciousness of necessities, a world in which justice means equality before the law of physics, chemistry, physiology. 

The historical community of persons, the world of faces, the world of language where necessity is the consciousness of freedom and justice is the command to love my neighbour as myself, that is to say, as a unique, irreplaceable being. 

Unreality comes when either world is treated as if it were the other one. I think this is part of the problem now.


 

Bringing the World Together: 20th Anniversary Milestone


 

Tijan M. Sallah

 

2020 was a sad year—so much lives perished, got harvested by the grim reaper. Mainstream and social media bristled with news about the Corona Virus. COVID, COVID everywhere—grim headlines assaulted us—breakfast, lunch, dinner.  Uncertainty and fear went viral.  It is truly a malignant year, perhaps best described as Annus Horribilis.  

But all is not gloom and doom.  As we get diminished by the somber news and the countless funerals globally, there are anniversaries to celebrate: the discovery of efficacious and hopefully safe vaccines— Pfizer’s and Moderna’s and Astra Zeneca’s, as well as promising new therapies.  Beyond that are also the continued bright signs of the joys of life: the musical, the visual and the literary arts. The world has witnessed major trials this year, but it is not about to end. The sun is still rising. Just look out in the morning.

In this spirit of optimism, I am excited about the twentieth anniversary of Re-Markings, a literary and cultural publication that brings the world together through creative and critical oeuvres that celebrate the cultivation of humane impulses and the triumph of the human spirit. The world has in the past few years been usurped by authoritarian and nativist leaders across the globe preaching a vile nationalism. They want to erect walls rather than build bridges. They want to imprison rather than unleash the human spirit. They simplify complex problems and pit the innocent against each other. They deny science, including climate science—and withdraw to crude atavism.  I am reassured by platforms like Re-Markings where dialogue triumphs over tone-deafness, where our common humanity is celebrated over the hereditary differences of tribe, belief or geography. Twenty years might be youth for a human life but a significant, non-trivial milestone for a literary publication.


 The INA, Netaji Subhas Chnadra Bose, Abid Hassan & E-LAUNCH of 20th Anniversary Re-Markings’ Volume

Address by Chief Guest

Sugata Bose

I thank you very much Prof. Nibir Ghosh. First of all, may I congratulate Professor Ghosh and everyone associated with Re-Markings on the publication of this wonderful 20th anniversary celebratory number. It was very good to hear Jonah Raskin and Anita Auden Money. It is so wonderful that Re-Markings has had special issues on Doris Lessing and W. H. Auden. No historian of the 20th century can afford to not cite W. H. Auden. He has a brilliant poem on every major historical event to have occurred in the last century including, of course, on partition which Ayesha Jalal and I quote in full in our book Modern South Asia: History, Culture, Political Economy.

The 18th of March is of course a red-letter day in South Asian history. On march 18th 1944, the Indian National Army moved into North-eastern India towards Imphal and Kohima. With "Chalo Delhi" on their lips, the Azad Hind Fauj crossed the Indo-Burma frontier and carried the armed struggle for liberation onto the Indian soil. They marched singing their battle song "kadam kadam badhaye ja." Step by step they would advance until the Indian flag fluttered over the red fort of Delhi. On that historic occasion, Netaji issued a lyrical order of the day in which he dwelt on the theme of sacrificial patriotism:

“There, there in the distance-beyond that river, beyond those jungles, beyond those hills lies the promised land—the soil from which we sprang—the land to which we shall now return. Hark! India is calling! India’s metropolis Delhi is calling! three hundred and eighty-eight million of our countrymen are calling. Blood is calling to blood. Get up, we have no time to lose. Take up your arms. There, in front of you, is the road that our pioneers have built. We shall march along that road. We shall carve our way through the enemy's ranks or if God wills, we shall die a martyr's death. And in our last sleep we shall kiss the road that will bring our Army to Delhi. The road to Delhi is the road to Freedom. Chalo Delhi."


The INA soldiers were ecstatic to be on Indian soil, and journalists reported scenes of jubilation and camaraderie as they closed in on Imphal and Kohima.

My father Dr. Sisir Kumar Bose invited Abid Hassan, a very close aide of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, to deliver the Netaji oration in Calcutta 51 years ago, on January 23rd 1970. That morning Abid Hassan delivered his beautifully crafted and deeply moving Netaji oration titled “The Men from Imphal.” He had chosen to foreground in his oration the harrowing retreat of the brave soldiers of freedom after their march to Delhi had been halted at Imphal. In one brilliant paragraph, he portrayed the character of the army of liberation to which he belonged:

"What a group we were and ours was but a unit among many of its kind in our army. I felt proud and I feel more proud today that I belong to it. Baluchis were there among us and Assamese, Kashmiris and Malyalis, Pathans and Sikhs and Gujaratis. Proud members of classes called the Martials and those still then denied reputation for martial valor but who proved in battle that they could, by their deeds, claim equal honour. Every region in india was represented. Every religion and every caste mixed inseparably together, not only in bigger formations but even in small platoons and sections. Each unit being a living tribute to the unity of India. We had our different private faiths and we had our different languages but, in our purpose, and in our political belief, we were a well-knit, determined and indivisible whole.”

Once they reached Mandalay, Netaji came to meet them. The Sikhs oiled their beards; the Punjabi Muslims, the Dogras and Rajputs twirled their moustaches. We the indiscriminate, Abid Hassan said, “put on as good a face as we could manage." As Netaji spoke to them, their weariness seemed to depart and they felt refreshing new blood circulating in their veins. Abid Hassan understood the essence of his leadership: "he was all we had as our leader to whom each one of us however humble meant something and who to us all meant everything. He belonged to us, to us all of the Azad Hind movement and entirely without any compromise." Abid Hassan then flashed back to October 1943 to illustrate the meaning of “without any compromise” by telling the story of Netaji's visit to the Chateau temple in Singapore. He had turned away the Head Priest saying, "What, come to your temple where even Hindus of other castes are not permitted entry, not to speak of members of other communities who are equally near and dear to me?" He agreed to go when the High Priest returned with an invitation to an Indian national demonstration. When we came to the temple, Abid Hassan remembered, "I found it filled to capacity with the uniforms of the INA officers and men and the black caps of South Indian Muslims glaringly evident. The memory I retain is one of an invigorating music as that of a symphony dedicated to the unity of the motherland. That music sustained him during his travails on the battlefield."

Abid Hassan returned to us and stayed at our home in 1976 and we interviewed him over three days. On the basis of that interview, my mother wrote a long-form article “The Memory of a Soldier.” Krishna Bose's diary which I was reading the other day, contains an important entry on March 14 1976, regarding the tape recording session that day. Abid Hassan says, she notes on 17th August 1945 in Saigon, he would have accompanied Netaji and Netaji himself wished so but because of military protocol, Colon Habibur Rahman was asked to go. He was senior anyway, all of them were to follow him shortly so they did not realize that it would become a matter of such importance at the moment.

Jonah Raskin mentioned Ravi Shankar so I should tell you that during this period of the interview on March 15 1976, Pandit Ravi Shankar came to see the Netaji Museum, Netaji Research Bureau, from where I am speaking today and we showed him around. On January 23rd of that year, he had presented a wonderful birthday concert for Netaji performing the ragas Shayamkalyan Charukeshi and Machhkhambhak on the occasion of the second International Netaji Seminar that year. The first one had been organized by my father in 1973. Since this is the 20th anniversary of a journal, I thought I’d read to you a letter that Abid Hassan wrote to my father about the Netaji Research Bureau's new journal The Oracle in 1979: "My dear Sisir, thanks ever so much for sending me a copy of The Oracle. You have brought it out very well indeed, much better than I expected. But then you are always so thorough and painstaking attending to all my minute details, just like your uncle and it is the drudgery of attending to details that pays dividends in the end. I know so many people envy you when success is achieved but, of course, they are not there to help you with a hand at the wheel pulling the cart out when it is stuck in the mire. How many years day in and day out have you been attending to the Netaji Seminar. It is, thanks mainly to your efforts, that it has now turned out to be a veritable scholarly research institute." I know that not only Nibir Ghosh but also the team around him, attend to the details and that is what makes Re-Markings such a wonderful journal.

51 years ago, Abid Hassan had, in his Netaji oration, referred to these frustrating times "when India again seems to be a house divided against itself." The times have turned even more ominous now and in human acts that Abid Hassan deplored, are becoming an everyday reality in today's India. His oration was, in Sisir Kumar Bose's words, a moving affirmation of the revolutionary faith given to us by our leader. Abid Hassan had closed his oration with a message of hope "the people of India will accept any leadership provided the call remains the same and the call cannot be but forget not that the grossest crime is to compromise with injustice and wrong."

I know Nibir had made a special request to me to end with a little bit of music. Now as he was about to proclaim the formation of the Azad Hind government, Netaji asked Abid Hassan to get the national anthem Jan Gan Man rendered in Hindustani, so that soldiers of the Azad Hind fauj could appreciate the meaning of Rabindranath Tagore's song. In Singapore Abid Hassan got the lyricist Mumtaz Hussein compose the Hindustani song in three verses, rather than five of the original. Ram Singh Taku wrote down a band score based on the original tune. Mumtaz Hussein did not attempt a translation but sought to capture the spirit of Tagore's song: "joyo hey" naturally became "jaya ho" long before A. R. Rahman made "Jai Ho" famous, the world over. The first verse that mentioned several place names bore a strong resemblance to the Bengali lyric. A comparison of the second verse evoking unity, which is not part of today's national anthem, gives a clear sense of the connection between the Bengali original and the Hindustani version.

Tagore had sung:

অহরহ তব আহ্বান প্রচারিত, শুনি তব উদার বাণী
হিন্দু বৌদ্ধ শিখ জৈন পারসিক মুসলমান খৃস্টানী
পূরব পশ্চিম আসে তব সিংহাসন-পাশে
প্রেমহার হয় গাঁথা।

The Azad Hind version went thus:


"
सबके दिल में प्रीत बसाए
तेरी मीठी वाणी
हर सूबे रहने वाले
हर मज़हब के प्राणी
सब भेद और फ़र्क मिटा केसब गोद तेरी के
गूँथें प्रेम की माला"

So, I really do hope that Re-Markings will play a role in binding, not just all of the communities of India but all of the communities and peoples of the world with a garland of love, through their literary pursuits which has always been both politically engaged and ethically informed.


Thanksgiving

Sandeep K. Arora

Finding appropriate words is a difficult task when the heart is full of gratitude. The gracious presence of each one of you on this historic occasion has made the event a thing to remember for years to come. Thanksgiving can never be a formality when we are celebrating 20 glorious years of a journey marked by a sense of belonging and companionship.

On the cover of our 20th anniversary number we have an endorsement by the US National Book Award winner, Charles Johnson, that says “Re-Markings is India’s finest literary ambassador to the world.” We attribute such accolade to the association of a vibrant community of writers, scholars, academics and avid readers who have given their very best to make Re-Markings an epitome of excellence invariably  committed to values and ideals.

The presence of Prof. Sugata Bose as the Chief Guest has been truly inspirational. His missionary zeal to “reclaim patriotism from the chauvinists, religion from the religious bigots, and politics from the corrupt” is in perfect sync with the Re-Markings mission statement. Prof. Jonah Raskin has always been an integral part of Re-Markings like its logo. It has become difficult to imagine any issue of the journal without his characteristic writings. Ms. Anita Auden’s presence in our midst will remain a fond remembrance for the Auden admirers in India. Dr. Tijan M. Sallah’s words echoed his unstinted love for Re-Markings. As always, Prof. Shanker A. Dutt feelingly shared his lucid narrative of friendship with our journal.

On behalf of Re-Markings I deem it an honour to thank one and all for sparing your valuable time to be with us today.

As one who has been intrinsically bound by ties of love to Re-Markings since its very inception in March 2002, I am optimistic that we all will continue to travel together to ever new destinations to do what is useful, to say what is courageous and contemplate what is beautiful in quest of a better world.

A special word of thanks go to Mr. Saurabh Agarwal for his technical assistance and guidance in conducting the event with much perfection.



 

 

 

 



                               Special Presence

Dr. Deena Padayachee, Dr. Abdul Shaban, Dr. Asim Siddiqui, Dr. Santosh Gupta, Dr. Mini Nanda, Dr. Muniba Sami, Mr. Debasish Chakrabarty, Mr. S.B. Chemburkar, Dr. Sunita Rani Ghosh, Mr. Adnan Ahmed, Mr. Imran Ahmed, Dr. Sukalpa Bhattacharya, Dr. Maya Vinai, Dr. Namita Sethi, Dr. Ajit Mukherjee, Dr. Gunjan Chaturvedi, Dr. Ranjana Mehrotra, Dr. Sudhir K. Arora, Dr. G.L. Gautam, Dr. Seema Sinha (BITS, Pilani), Dr. Tanya Mander, Dr. Charu Mathur, Saurabh Agarwal, Dr. Roopali Khanna, Raja Pandey, Anjali Bhadauria, Sharbani Roy Chowdhury, Dr. Stuti Prasad, Dr. Arati Biswal, Dr. Priti Verma, Dr. Namita Sethi, Insha Iftikhar, Dr. Pramila Chawla, Dr. Mukesh Vyas, Mr. Dheeraj Goyal, Dr. A Karunaker, Dr. Babita Kar, Dr. Suman Swati, Dr. Archana Prasad, Dr. Mandeep Mann, Dr. Rajan Lal, Dr. Shrikant Kulsrestha, Dr. Manju Rani, Mr. Anil Sharma, Dr. Ujjwala Thatte, Dr. Ashoo Toor,

  

            RE-MARKINGS Youtube Channel

Am sharing with immense pleasure the RE-MARKINGS Youtube channel so lovingly created and designed by our Executive Editor Sandeep K. Arora coinciding with the historic E-launch of Re-Markings’ 20th Anniversary issue on March 18, 2021. This provides us with new avenues for bringing together contributors, readers and admirers of Re-Markings from India and worldwide on yet another vibrant platform for discussion and dissemination of ideas central to human concern. 


Kindly share, like and subscribe to the channel and remain in touch with Re-Markings. 


https://youtu.be/03LnbHiRym8