Radical Ideas of idle rAmbliNgs

A long time ago, in a Psychology class I remember learning how a memory is created. I imagined it as squiggly lines forming ridges in my brain, some in bold lead, some a lighter grey. Every time I try recalling a memory, one would light up, the ridges glowing as each detail is recollected, the squiggly line becoming sharper and clearer. I wonder about those grey lines, those lines that keep fading away as other become bolder, cobwebbed into obscurity. After a while would it completely die out? Like a squiggly line on a heartbeat monitor that after a while finds an abrupt halt. Reading Jumpa Lahiri’s Lowland, I think about Naxalbari. It reminded me of a debate competition back in Pre-University when I had to make a case for the Naxal insurgencies. In a way that had triggered the beginnings of a romantic’s imaginations of a revolution. It coincided with my first trysts with Marx; the first conjuring of violent uprisings that would transform lives of peoples completely unconnected to me. I continued reading about the Red Corridor, I even remember that Outlook cover of Arundhati Roy’s interview with the insurgents. I read that long narrative like a thriller novel with more grit in reality than fiction had ever produced.

It took a while for those stories to become a bigger part of my newly politicised thoughts and ideas. In 2011/12 Manmohan Singh had declared the naxal situation the biggest internal security threat in India. For a few years, Naxal insurgency played as serious a role in seeping terror through the country as post 9/11 America. Random arrests and shootings took place on a routine basis; any sign of dissent or even slightly distasteful thinking about just about everything being quelled immediately citing Naxal affiliations. Every radical was a Naxalite, any Leftist thought was radical and any questioning of normalities was Leftist. Looking back now, just a a few years later I wonder what happened to this biggest security threat. You read lesser about the Red Corridor in newspapers, no more headlines about Naxal leaders caught splashed across the country as exemplary signs of security, in fact there are barely any reporters in high-intensity conflict areas like Chattisgarh and Jharkhand. Has there been some spontaneous retreat of Naxal insurgency groups? Whatever happened to overthrowing the Govt by 2050? I don’t know and I don’t know enough to hazard a guess. And that’s what I find frightening.

That memory trace that I thought was ingrained in bold lead was successfully smudged and coaxed into nonexistence. I’d forgotten about it or atlas hadn’t thought too much about the lack of information until now. If it disappears from newspapers,does it disappear from our collective consciousness? Does the lack of concentration on the situation make it less important by default? After 2012,rape and sexual violence became an obsessive topic. Sometimes it’s as relatively inane as garbage disposal and sometimes ludicrously political like the beef ban. In the past five years the focus of fear and threat has moved steadily right along the political number line, from Maoist insurgent groups to right wing Hindu fundamentalists and an intolerant government. I’d imagine that the in-between might serve as a negotiation space, but in this case we see both as being completely disjointed from one another. Is that true though?

Reading a book by Saskia Sassen on Brutality and Expulsions in the Global Economy. Sassen suggests that there is a sort of power nexus constructed globally to aid and abet the global finance market. She sees everything from those who lost their homes in the mortgage crisis in the US to forced migrations in Europe and the displacements in the Global South through mass land grabs as being part of the same agenda. A universal principled agenda to actively make invisible peoples around the world as they become irrelevant and redundant in the market. What doe that mean? It means that neither the Naxals or the people caught between security forces and the insurgent groups matter, because they don’t matter to the economy. The rapists don’t matter and the people they rape don’t matter. One gets sent to prison and become invisible anyway and the other is removed through societal norms and conditions. Of course the limited time rape received in the spotlight, tried undoing the second one making the woman free to provide cheap labour in a minor role. What I am trying to get at is the creation of a second class citizenry, a sort of reserve army of labour in Marx’s terms. Pushing people into the margins, in ghettoised refugee camps, in prisons, through a caste system and even through reinforcing gender norms: to remove these peoples from plain sight,out of economic equations and census,but still keeping them there through a veil of inconsistent dialogue so that at some point some might be of use to the market.

These are still vague thoughts, running parallel sometimes because of two books I am reading and running into each other and merging in my mind at others.I feel like I am talking about a conspiracy theory; this creation of a second class citizenry through different means all for a common end. Sassen would see it as a creation of systems,governments,international organisations,corporations and individuals all connecting the dots to form a picture of the predatory face of global finance: not a group of individuals sitting around a table deciding this should happen, but everyone talking about the same thing because of the creation of a common grammar. Now I see those memory traces in my brain all interconnected as well, one squiggly line joining with another to form a web of memories. Everything forced into inconsequence becoming consequential because of its link with another. To jog collective memory you need a trigger, one strong enough to make a collage of newspaper headlines that begin with A and end with Z.

mInd yOUR LangUage

In my first week at the Uni, I met several international students.Italy,Greece,Palestine,China,Armenia…all lost, fragmented in their identities, desperately in search of fellow countrymen and all feeling completely inadequate while expressing themselves. They would sit through numerous orientations, trying to glean some information, while White people in suit and tie,with flashy powerpoints would tell them what they should and shouldn’t do. They would come out, flustered and frustrated because they hadn’t understood a word of it. The Italian must have assumed she spoke fluent English back home, the Greek must have revelled in his writing skills. Then they come here to find that it was all a sham, the trouble they had gone through for years honing and correcting their accent was all for naught! Their high school English teacher was a fraud. They even have to go through a gruelling 3 hour language test, where they might excel in writing and reading but fail miserably in listening because this was not the same language they had learnt.

Meanwhile I get an exemption from the test, can chatter away in English and figure out the forms they have to fill and phone settings and bus passes. To them, I am clever merely because of my grasp of the language. I laugh as someone asks if people in India speak english, I smile graciously when they compliment my accent and vocabulary, I generously acquiesce to help them ‘figure things out’ while explaining that I have been speaking English since I was 2. My language is a validation certificate to be bandied about here to gain acknowledgment, to surpass the brown on my skin,to use well while avoiding the twang in my accent and common Indian slang.

 As a classmate explains how arduous she find the readings and how she sometimes has to find online translations of academic terms, I wonder if I might seem half as smart without being able to speak fluent English. The various affectations of my language in India, sprinkled with different regional languages gave authenticity to my ideas that atleast politically, were intrinsically Indian. The English I speak here  though, has a tendency of sounding like an outsider’s perspective even when I talk about India; atleast to my own ears. How then does a Thai student go through the process of translating her thoughts before being able to say it out loud and then have people not understand it? The very process of translation has diluted her idea and she is aware of it even as she forms the words. All meaning is lost. 

Who knows if the Over The Moon can wax eloquent on how the West refuses to see anything more to China other than perceiving them as a threat? Who knows if Just Punk Not Japanese can make long passionate speeches about politics in music?And I will never know if my very thought process would be different if I didn’t think in English.

Of stUdyIng pOLItICs In the FiRst wORLd

 It was frustrating doing my Bachelor’s in a private university in India and talking about politics. You cannot talk about things like poverty, caste system or even the functioning of governance in rural areas because almost everyone in the class is middle class/upper middle class and don’t even know what a village is might look like. There was an especially ridiculous moment when while trying to develop a campaign to get people in rural areas to drink only pasteurized milk, the lot of us in class made up fantastic ideas of what rural India looked like and how we could influence people we didn’t know a thing about.

So what do I do? I look for a bigger world, a diverse background. Hey I can’t get into a govt college in India, I’ll go to another continent and see what the world looks like from their perspective. Spend a fortune and a great amount of time applying to extremely streamlined  courses- the kind you don’t find in India. The first day in and it’s like a potluck of political and social backgrounds and everyone’s brought their own flavours on every conceivable topic. Neoliberalism, Marxism,Feminism,Postcolonialism, Aural and Visual Politics, the works! It’s quite the menu and everyone’s interested in one or all of them. The professors aren’t here to lecture, but merely prod and gently tug and push, you can say anything and everything is graciously acknowledged. Sounds like a veritable academic experience right?

But what do I talk about when in a class on Hip Hop and Politics, we travel from the US to UK to Canada and then just circle around those countries. How about when we can’t seem to move out of a Disney studio in Hollywood while discussing Visual Politics? Then there are those jerky rides through feminist movements during the Civil War or even the full ferry on NHS. No, it’s not like I have nothing to say about any of that, in fact I can wax eloquent on any of those topics. But what’s the point of the potluck when everyone only samples one dish? Are the rest there merely for show and colour?I could feign righteous anger about the NHS in crisis (talking neoliberalism) and the risks of privatising healthcare but er, farmer suicides/large scale displacement/ access to education and food and water in the rest of the world! And hey,this isn’t a ‘whose problem is bigger?’ thing,but whose problem do YOU think matters?

Looking back I realise even when I felt suffocated merely studying Indian politics in comparison to the West, I was atleast trying to expand my outlook. The world is a small place in the First World. China, Japan,Brazil,India,we appear on the menu as side dishes, to complement the main course,but can never be the subject matter as a standalone.

And as far as Aural Politics goes, how about this