COVID Bodies

Probably; this is for the first time, in the literary or for that matter, in the cultural history of India, that a fourteen-line poem has created, so much stir, that people are calling it, a volcano. I call the poem volcano, because very often volcanoes erupt without any history and without any prior symptoms as at the time of the Tsunami of 2004.

The poet, who is a home maker, mostly a poet of soft romantic poems in Gujarati, felt so much of anguish and pain, she almost jumped in to the fire of burning political poetry. The immediate reactions; so far have been extra-ordinary, she has been abused by almost 30 thousand trolls in the choicest of the words. It is also true; probably, the poem was posted on social media on the 10th of May ‘21 and it was translated in to 19 languages by 25th of May. Songs were composed in at least three languages, as far as I know.

The trolls were also directed on her gender; very normal, in North India because we have seen, the Khaap panchayats, ordering the rape of women of the family to avenge the folly of the men of the family. Some feminists have taken exception to this as an attack on women. I think, that is misplaced. Yes, if the same poem was penned by a male, this gender dimension wouldn’t have been there.

It would be proper to provide the reader with an English rendering of the poem; the trouble is, there are many in English. I am presenting here an English rendering of the poem by Gauri Shringarpure (with a minor change of one word);

Shav- Vahini- Ganga

Cadavers chime in unison,” Everything is fine”

My king, a river of floating dead is thy kingdom divine

My king, your morgues are falling short, You’re out of wood for pyre

My king, our tears are running dry, our shoulders starting to tire

All around in homes, dance devils of death, Depraved, and with design My king, a river of floating dead Is thy kingdom divine

My king, one little germ is lighting countless pyres with madness

My king, we are forced to be widows, our chests heaving in sadness

As Nero played his fiddle, blind to Rome’s burning sky line

My king, a river of floating dead is thy kingdom divine

My king, thy attire full of splendour, splendid is the grace

My king, now the entire nation has seen your real face

If you have a spine, come say out loud “You are naked, oh Emperor mine!”

My king, a river of floating dead is thy kingdom divine.

 The question is what would happen now, since the poem is in the public domain for more than 20 days. I have already talked of the immediate reactions.  Will it pass just as one queer voice? I don’t think anybody has the answer. One thing is sure, this was not the first voice of serious protest against the dominant or the present-day mainstream ethos. Divya Bhaskar, the Gujarati daily after collecting and comparing data of government declared deaths and the death certificates issued all over Gujarat, showed the gap between the two. Incidentally, it was Divya Bhaskar which published the poem and made it a thing of media from social media.

What I derive out of these voices of anguish, pain and protest is very different from the many comments, the poem has attracted. Those comments show Gujarat is a lost case of decadence for ever. In society, there are three significant resources; power, pelf and culture. This poem indicates the power of culture. Culture in my view is a complex, layered, multi-element and multi-dimensional phenomenon. Culture includes many elements like, religious theology, intellect, idea, ideology, creative creations and many things more.

Changes come; not in sequence but in a spurt, Hegel called it the spiralis jump. The beginning can be a flicker, which is enough to create a jungle fire. Many people may think, this is wild imagination. Mainstreams do not evolve, they are designed, devised and created in a dialectical process. Just think of Bengal; the Atmiya Sabha and its members were weak compared to Dharma Sabha proponents; Radha Kant Deb, Bhabani Charan Banerjee etc. In Bengal the concept of Hindutva was conceived by Chandra Nath Basu, a disciple of Bankim Chandra Chatterjee in his book ‘Hindur Prakita Itihas in 1892’. Bankim Chandra Chaterjee conceived, the nation as Indian mother Goddess. Bengal is the birth place of cultural-religious nationalism.

This mainstream trend of Bengal was challenged in the same period by many like Ram Mohan but where one would place Vidya Sagar.  The challenge to religious nationalism continued for long. In the context of nationalist movement and particularly the peasant movements the challenge was serious.

The Tebhaga presented an opportunity to the masses to think in terms of broad nationalist and economic terms. Then the processes of left discourse became dominant. Such a broad -based movement represented by a party rooted in all parts of Bengal became very weak with some policies not liked by the people. The same can happen in other places too.

Take the case of Gujarat; it is an area of operation of Gandhi and Patel, the two of them blessed the Bardoli movement. Both of them pitched their tents in Gujarat in the midst of plague. The movements of tribals in the 1920s in south Gujarat termed Devi was important and the Dalit movements have a long history which has emerged again in 2017. The more important phenomenon was the KHAM combination of the Congress, which gave it power in the state for almost two decades; KHAM stands for Kshatriya, Harijan, Adivasi and Muslims.

This was upturned by the present mainstream starting from the Nava Niraman Movement of 1973 to undo reservation of tribes and Dalits in the medical and engineering colleges. Sangha intervened and rode on it to enlarge its base. The Sangha has a base everywhere in the country, this got the support of Savarna sections in Gujarat and then slowly it became the mainstream there. Sangha has been organizing football clubs in Bengal from the 1950s too.

Some people commenting on Parul’s poem, say the area is moribund. All opportunities of humanitarian and inclusive discourse are dead there. It is here; I do not agree with the view  that Gujarat has gone to the decadent ideology for ever. Not only Parul but the Divya Bhaskar write up on Covid 19 deaths, are pointers to the change. Change is coming from within; Divya Bhaskar has been a consistent supporter of the Parivar all over India with all its different regional editions, Parul is on record of supporting the same person often whom now she is terming as Billa or Ranga, whatever one may surmise.

So, it may turn out to be a whimper or a storm. This may face so much opposition, that for the time being, the counter voice may die down. Parul has locked her face book account. I think, the process has started in the biggest laboratory of the Parivar. The opposition has been simmering for a long. This has been strengthened by several movements and events.

The Shaheen Bagh movement initiated by an elderly lady of the Muslim community, extended to the whole of India. Among the Muslims; the fundamentalists who were in the news for all the wrong reasons in February-March 2020, joined the Shaheen Bagh movement, no matter very hesitatingly. Note, these fundamentalists oppose any public appearance of Muslim women without veil, not to talk of leading social movements; could do nothing but nod in support of women shouting all over India.

Then the farmer movement; they were showered with negative terms like anti-national, foreign inspired, separatists, extremists and what not. Then the Bengal results and now like the last nail in the coffin has proved to be the tragic second wave of Covid 19. Some of these are well defined and well-conceived. The Covid19 is not. It has exposed the unpreparedness of the government. The tragic site of floating bodies is simply too obnoxious to deny.

I don’t claim, the forces of reason, sanity and the process of deciding policy issues by dialogue, have descended but I do think the process has started. Since, the bearers of the revivalist ideology have almost hegemonic positions with their cultural ideas dominating the media, funds pouring from all corners, recently the monthly stipend of the Parivar volunteers has increased three-fold and they have enormous power in their command.

They have undermined all the institutions by design. An eminent professor had to resign just on this score. The mainstream is out to conquer India with their vicious ideology. They are anti-science, how their central minister sponsors a medical product; the efficacy of which is yet to be proved. They support age old Varna order in this global world. Still, it is very powerful. The poem of Parul representing protest has come from within; so, I think this is going to be the mythical flicker in starting a jungle fire.

Mujtaba Hussain is a retired teacher of sociology at Patna University


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