Varavara Rao: The Conscience of Our Time

varavara rao 2

Two districts of Gujarat have begun to grant citizenship to minorities(Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Parsis and Christians) from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. More than hundreds drowned in Morbi, Gujarat in the moribund madness we call celebration. We are at the pedestal in the Global Hunger Index. Everyday capitalism is devouring our air, water, and land. And the big giant 56 is roaring at the Naxals both with a gun and pen. He consciously or unconsciously acknowledges that the pen has the same power as the gun!

It’s this fear that has put brilliant minds behind bars. But are we not also within bars too? Invisible wires have enslaved us. The inflation and the market where we are mere products at both ends. The gloominess is so dark and deep that it often drives a sane person to complete despair. We are on the verge of losing the last straw: Hope. But history is a very living, breathing thing. It whispers in the ears even if the whisper comes from the famous/infamous cell. It whispers,

“Our free breath touches us

Our touch is still free,

the feeling of freedom will throb in us.”

(Source: Captive Imagination)

If Time has a conscience, then it is behind bars in the form of some faces whose uncompromising struggles are lifelines of the poor people who are merely some numbers to lose or win in the election, more to those in power. The violence perpetrating not always with the gun but with the power which comes with politics and money is ruining the lives of those who are marginalized. The shadows of the giant malls have become so large that the skeletons of the small chaiwala and grocery have faded in these shadows. Who is speaking for them? Yes, some people are speaking for them though they are caged! Maya Angelou can’t be wrong, yes, caged birds still sing. From the anda cell an octogenarian is singing in the hope of better tomorrow:

“Of course, in this jail moon is not allowed

To share his light,

But who can stop me from

Marching into the dawn of the eastern sun.”

(The Making of Varvara Rao, page number – 86).

In short public memory, the wounds and deaths of people quickly go into oblivion. The horrific visual of the migrant laborers run over by a train and the rotis( the reason why they went to work in towns) they were carrying lying beside their dead bodies has been forgotten or they are on timelines but the recent death news has piled over the news. We are a country of breaking news: not of life but of death. We don’t have a dearth of news of death. We die silently as the ants die. No reason, no justification, no mourning.

But still, the laughter of the poor village housewife lingers in the air. She steals happiness from the system that writes the decree of her death every day. She defies it. Some people have the heart to listen to the laughter of that poor woman. These hearts pause for them to lick the last drop of the nectar of that happiness and these hearts are dreamers, visionaries, and revolutionaries. They refuse the decree of death. They struggle to sprinkle that happiness in the soul of the nation.

They become the object of the wrath of the holy 56-inch chest. But they can’t stop dreaming, even if the system throttles them, and try to tag them with various names – terrorist, urban Naxals, Maoists and so on. But no one can rob them of the lights that inhibit their hearts. Even from the cage, they see the shafts of sunlight blooming as beautiful flowers on the hair buns of some village girls who are walking with their pitchers to the river. Though now they have to walk more as their river has been poisoned by industrial waste.

In gloominess, there is always light. I wonder what would have happened to Kazi Nazrul Islam if he writes Those Iron Gates of Prison (কারার ঐ লৌহকপাট) in present times! Would have he been in jail too booked under the draconian UAPA?

কারার ঐ লৌহকপাট,

ভেঙ্গে ফেল, কর রে লোপাট,

                   রক্ত-জমাট

শিকল পূজার পাষাণ-বেদী।

ওরে ও তরুণ ঈশান!

বাজা তোর প্রলয় বিষাণ!

ধ্বংস নিশান

উড়ুক প্রাচীর প্রাচীর ভেদি।

Destroy those iron gates of the prison, the

demolisth-stained stony altars

of chain worshipping!

O youthful Shiva,

blow your horn of universal cataclysm!

Let the flag of destruction

rise amidst the rubble of prison walls

of the East!!

Courtesy: Sajed Kamal. Kazi Nazrul Islam: Selected Works [Dhaka: Nazrul Institute, p 128; 1999]

But if the pen begins to fear the rulers, the pen becomes the space to the rulers. In every darkness, fearless poets rise and write for those who walk alone, who are deprived. So is Varavara Rao. He sings but not lullabies to facilitate the sound sleep of those living in fully air-conditioned rooms. He sings the songs of those working women and men, people who are homeless, and helpless. If time has a conscience, then the poet, Varvara Rao is the living, breathing conscience of our time. When he sings, he sings for us, he sings loud:

When a weary cloud

Chokes the voice of justice

No blood flows

No tears rain.

Lightning turns to thunder

Raindrops swell to a hurricane

As a mother wipes her tears

Beyond the prison bars

The poet’s melody Soars forth …

(Source: Captive Imagination)

The powerful melody of the poet, Varavara Rao is the song we need to walk towards a better tomorrow. May his fearless pen rip every injustice. May he have many years of life. Happy Birthday VV!

Moumita Alam is a poet from West Bengal.  Her poetry collection The Musings of the Dark is available on Amazon

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