When I met Dostoyevsky

I have wandered the streets, nooks and corners and alleys of Saint Petersburg with Raskolnikov. I have felt tremors and numbness in my legs when I had to accompany him to the old-lady’s room. I have often got entangled in the arguments of Mitya, Vanya and Alyosha and lost in thoughts. But how I met Dostoyevsky himself is rather a pleasant memory of my undergraduate days.  

You may all have stories of how you found your own much-loved writers. My story took its beginning when I was an undergraduate student of English literature.

If my memory serves right, I started reading literary texts when I was in eighth standard. I was fortunate to have a friend who was six years elder to me at that time. He was instrumental in orienting my readings into thicker, longer versions of the stories I unearthed in the little magazines. 

Both of us were huge book-lovers and have gone to various libraries on foot, trekking for miles, walking on the mud-parapets, crossing the paddy fields. He prompted me to read  books like Asuravitth, Ummaacchu, Sundharikalum Sundharanmaarum. 

The memories of going to various libraries are etched in my mind. This particular library where I met Dostoevsky was in a sorry state. It was not actually a library, but one displaced to a stitching institute owing to lack of funds. It did not have a regular staff and most of the times it remained closed. One lady was entrusted to look after it, but she hardly turned up. Many authors, from Dickens to Thomas Hardy to Vaikom Muhammed Basheer enjoyed the rhythm of scissors, that too from the hands of adorable damsels. Basheer would have written secret letters to them, for sure. He would have been the most sensitive to be intoxicated by the scents of oil and talcum powder filling the room.

There were two, three big shelves of books in no order. It was a library which lost its glory and the authors in the shelves felt claustrophobic. The occasional, lucky readers sometimes gave these authors an outing. It was in such chaos that I met Dostoyevsky in ‘Choothaattakkaaran’ (The Gambler). He was a big gambler himself who gave everything to the game.

when I reached home and started reading the book, I was overcome by an unprecedented emotional turmoil. I used to be an avid reader then, who would not care for anything including food. I could just lie down in my bed and read for hours together. Now, such marathon readings seem unachievable, maybe you enjoy the book differently when you are older.

Once I finished the novel, I could not control my emotions. I was literally jumping in my room out of psychic explosion. When I felt that I would be unable to contain my feelings, I dressed myself and ran to the public telephone booth. I had a mobile phone then. Maybe there was no balance, I am not sure. I called up one of my graduation friends who was as crazy as me over books. 

We had this strange habit of calling each other in the middle of reading, if we are overwhelmed by certain passages. Mostly, I used to call him. Then, I would read out the passages that touched me. Then, we would discuss n-number of things about the book each of us has been reading. We were lovers through books. 

I do not exactly remember what all I talked to him about The Gambler. But I am sure I spilled my beans for more than half an hour and he patiently listened to all my outpourings. I would have told him how much I felt like pulling Dostoyevsky from the gambling table, just to put some sense into his ears. Or, how much I enjoyed being at the table with him, as agitated as he was! Or, I would have joined in his cursing his luck at one moment, and the instant consolation that being part of the game is more important, not winning. I would have felt pity for his sufferings and envied his resilience in hardships.

I have been hooked on to him then, once and for all.  

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Longing

Ask me, where I should come, in this moonlit night,

I have lost fear of the night and wolves, and reptiles.

Tell me, what I should bring for you, in our rendezvous,

I have forgotten weight of the things, of earth and the sky.

 

Allow me to take your hand now, and kiss on the fingers with love.

Be kind to dart a loving glance at me, I am a devotee to you.

I have brought flowers, incense sticks, with a supplicating hand.

Give me a darshan, let flowers bloom in my heart as in Spring.

 

Take me to your world, the land of mysteries and magic.

Show me the wonders, of the unseen, like a torchbearer.

Tell me the stories of yourself, and your dreams and sorrows.

Hug me, and invite me into yourself and to your world.

 

All that is enough for a life in this world, as ephemeral as it is,

Death would not be more beautiful as it is now, period.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ram Nath Kovind is not a Dalit; Dalit is a Spring of Political Consciousness

The propaganda minister in Nazi Germany, Joseph Goebbels was so sharp in his thinking that we have come to quote his famous aphorism regarding the plausibility of a lie being conceived as truth if proclaimed often. What is more, we see innumerable imposters of him in our country, wearing clothes stitched from saffron to red to all possible colours. It has become difficult for us to recognize the truth on our own. I was struck by this fact the other day when I saw everybody, including some Dalits, acknowledging the ‘dalitness’ of Ram Nath Kovind, the presidential nominee of NDA. We are truly into a fascist era, big time!

Look at some of the responses from across the political spectrum on Facebook:

 By making Ramnath Govind, a dalit as The President of India – BJP sends a clear message….

 So, all those who are asking whether Kovind, the NDA presidential candidate, has any stand on the all round attacks on Dalits, are presumably ‘uncomfortable’ that a Dalit is being made President….

 The market value of a stooge Dalit is determined by the collective labor of All Ambedkarite Dalits against Hindutva….

Many such responses could be spotted if you just scrolled down your social media pages. The general trend is that the left, liberal sections are asking the oft-repeated question, ‘what about Ram Nath Kovind? And many ‘Dalits’ are responding that Kovind is being used to forestall the dalit uprisings gathering steam in every part of the country. It is true! But, are we forgetting the question ‘who is a Dalit?’

In theorising who a dalit is, the Dalit Panther’s Manifesto (1973) characterised him/her as one conscious of his/her political, economic and religious exploitation. One wonders whether the weight given to ‘consciousness’ here is lost on deaf ears, on both the right and the left. Many dalits themselves seem to fall prey to characterisation of anybody belonging to the marginalised and oppressed sections as a dalit. This trend is visible in the discourses around the nomination of Ram Nath Kovind as NDA’s presidential candidate.

If asked, ‘what is common between Udit Raj, Ram Vilas Paswan and Ram Nath Kovind?’ is your answer ‘they are all dalits’? Then, it seems to me, there is something seriously wrong with our own thinking. Isn’t the right wing professing the same? Aren’t the left, liberal sections proclaiming the same? Are we to fall into their traps and argue that ‘dalits are being bought by them to crush dalit mobilizations? Think of the danger here. Has ‘Dalit’ become a commonsensical word to refer to anybody coming from social groups who are recognized under Scheduled Castes? If so, should we see this only as the success of the political mobilization of the oppressed or, should we also see the game underway here. If anybody can signify ‘dalit’, where is the political warrior raging against the brahminical forces?

I think we need to sit back and assess the situation a little more carefully. We are very conscious of mobilizations of the most oppressed and the marginalized against the brahminical forces. We know that the brahminical forces would go to any extent to crush the assertions of the oppressed. They too know well that caste forms the fault line and stumbling block in constructing and sustaining a brahminical Hinduism.

Since Udit Raj and his ilk are not politically conscious to be ‘dalits’, we should see them not as dalits, but as particular individuals coming from their respective social groups in the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes as listed in the constitution. It is true that such people are being used tactically to crush the Spring that is spreading across the country. But, they are daydreaming if they think that they can crush the consciousness of a rising people using some bootlickers.

Wasn’t Ambedkar hitting the nail on the head when he said that the ruling classes have tried all their means at their disposal to arrest the rising consciousness of the oppressed? Ram Nath Kovind and many others in these fascist times are the ploys Ambedkar referred to. Beware of them: they are not dalits, they can never be. And the ‘dalit’ cannot be disintegrated by such tactics, because ‘dalit’ is the fruition of a consciousness, a Spring spreading across the country, not just the flesh and bone inhabiting any name or person.

Originally published in roundtableindia.co.in

 

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