Some Gods

Some gods are really weird
They need you to grow a beard

Some of them are damn hard to please
They want you down on your knees

How am I going to worship the guy
If he’s invisible, up in the sky ?

What do you reckon I’d say
When I don’t think about him all day ?

Some gods don’t like women in service
Others really make men nervous

I think we all need a time-out
From the hysteria and shouts

Give me a quiet, pensive deity
Not of the church but the laity

Give me a god of the stark winters
Give me a god of mud and splinters

Give me a god, cold like stone heaths
A god that reminds us of our soft feet,
Our soft skins, our soft tissues, our soft ideas

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Past Life Repression

Betrayal
Father chases me with a stick
I run to grandmother in the garden
I sob into her warm clothes
She hands me over to father

 

Pain
Father dies in a car crash
Father dies in pain
I hear this in the garden
Now I know Pain

 

Anger
Why did you take him away
When I did your Sunday School work !?
Why did you fail me
When I prayed to you each day ?!

 

Loss
Something went missing
Around my 16th year
Something flew away
I don’t know where it’s fled

After Lit Fest

​Everyone’s horny.
After a few,
Some want to get into bed,
Some into each other;
There’s always a busy drunk,
Someone always loses a bag
I do a dangerousrunacrossthestreetforcigarettesat12o’clock;
I promise myself I’ll stop. Always.
After a few,
Men and women call you beautiful;
Old poets need attention,
Young poets want to beat up old poets
It’s always the same.

Our Shiva

Let me claim you as the Veda did aeons ago,
Let me remind you of your previous life:
You are pasan, my old uncle.
Our Enkidu whose shack was behind mother’s house,
Where you ate dried fish heads with local toddy at night;
With your jokes came a hint of malice;
We were always nervous laughing, wary of your curses,
Like your namesake, you danced one moment
Then spewed venom the next.
During the day, you Shiva, would prod about in the garden,
Harvesting taro and sweet potatoes.
You were always accompanied by our un-ceremonial dogs.
You bathed once a year around Christmas time
Upon mother’s insistence;
No one called you deity but I know
You were something like the old gods;
Winter plants were nurtured by the silt of your meandering locks,
The mushroom in its underground prison festered joyfully again,
The wild rat smirked in its winter sleep within its earth womb,
Blossoms grew patient, waiting for the shot of spring:
It was all your doing, I know.

Crabs in a Bucket

There is a famous Khasi middle class story about selfishness and it goes something like this. There were a number of crabs in a bucket and they were all destined to become dinner at some point in time. The crabs knew about this and they realised that they needed to escape this horrible fate. The story goes on to tell us about how one of the crabs had somehow managed to get a firm grip on the rim of the bucket and was proceeding to pull himself out to the relative safety of the outside world. However, just as he was about to complete his great escape, the other crabs resorted to pulling him back down to the bottom of the bucket. He was, thus, doomed like the rest. The moral that many Khasi people draw from this is that Khasis are like the crabs in that they are inherently selfish and would rather pull other Khasis down rather than raise them up to greater heights or glory (or as the story goes, to freedom). It is one of those stories that Khasi middle class society has learned off by rote and which comes out often during drinking sessions. I have heard it so many times that I instinctively cringe at it when I happen to hear the familiar lines: “Ki briew jong ngi te ki long kum ki tham…”(our people are like crabs…).

So firstly, this story is about as Khasi as sliced bread or Kentucky Fried Chicken. Many people the world over use the same allegory to voice the same complaints within their own particular contexts. The conclusion is usually the same so there is nothing Khasi about this in a strict purist sense. I have heard Bodo people say it, Mizos tell each the same thing, Bengalis as well as the Assamese. Selfishness it can be argued is a universal human feature. Now the other thing is – and this might shock some of you – crabs are not human beings! We may enjoy our Jataka and Panchatantra tales but they are hardly manuals on human behaviour. What do you think is going to happen?

The story of the crabs in the bucket is actually a philosophical experiment. It is easy for the listener to condemn the apparently selfish act of the crabs in the bucket but is it so straightforward? Who is actually being selfish? The singular individual crab or the clawed throng that pulls him back? The way you look at the story depends on the type of person you are. If you are a person who prides individual achievement over collective interests then you’d side with the lone crab hero. Most people would boo and jeer at the throng for their pettiness. However, the other side of the story is this: our hero is, probably, a real selfish bastard.

It is actually unfair that the story unfolds as it does. Does it tell us how many crab heads our hero stepped on to get to the top? It is a story – like many others – about the sacrosanct virtue of individual achievement. It is a nice story and many of us identify with that crab: triumphant, glorious (and undoubtedly) egotistical. We immediately associate crowds with hysteria, violence and viciousness.

When we turn to politics, we see this very clearly. Our politicians stand over us: unassailable, irreproachable, haughty. Many of them actually come from humble settings and humble locales but you wouldn’t know it based on the way they act. These are the crabs who’ve made it to the top but whom no one dared pull down. We forget that they rose to their current heights because of the belief people have invested in them. Upon climbing up high though they have proceeded to defecate upon the same devotees. Only the businessmen and contractor friends are enjoying themselves. The “common” people have nothing but filth on their faces.

If we are going to compare crabs with humans, perhaps, another version of the ‘crabs in the bucket’ story could be as follows: the crabs organise a ‘great escape’, after many sessions of careful planning and coordination, they come up with the idea of using a distraction to fool the humans while one of their best trained crabs climbs over the wall with the help of some others. The said crab would then drop down an escape line and thus everyone could be saved. This is a nicer scenario because it argues for a better, much happier conclusion. Rather than the original story which pits individual survival against collective doom, in this version of the story everyone is saved! This version lays emphasis on the importance of teams and team-work. That the crab-hero could not be triumphant without the aid of others is understood and accepted by everyone including the hero crab.

An interesting tangent that arises from my version of the tale is this: when the crab-hero gets to the top, it has two choices – to either drop the escape line and help rescue the others or to save only its own skin and run away? Based on these two choices, certain economists, politicians and technocrats say that people – being intrinsically selfish and self-involved – would choose the latter option as it is the one that requires the least amount of work and time. It turns out to be the most “profitable”. This was essentially the situation and conclusion proposed by the mathematician John Nash in a game he helped devise called “Fuck You, Buddy!”. Through it he inferred that humans would always try to fulfill their own selfish desires; so our crab-hero must always – according to his rational logic – desert his comrades and leave them to their fate. However, the actual results of Nash’s game showed that people, in fact, did not behave like that. Most people (empirically) tried to help one another and negotiate with each other in order to achieve a collective goal or desire in the game. Can we not apply this to politics and economics as well? Why must we be drawn into false binaries which do not reflect reality and the experience of living together as a society?

The last interesting thought that I want to extract from this scenario is perhaps the most realistic. Let me repeat the query again: when the crab-hero gets to the top, it has two choices – to rescue the others or to save its own skin. In a political sense, for its own future power, the crab-hero should save the others. Their gratitude and appreciation would guarantee the hero-crab the fruits of a secure and prosperous life. The other crabs would deify him for his apparent selfishness. This is perhaps the most Machiavellian (or Chanakyan if you prefer). It is also the most ‘true-to-life’ scenario which mirrors our political world today.

There is scope for a lot of abuse of power based on this outcome. Individuals could abuse the privilege of their office to gain and accrue wealth as we see it today in Meghalaya. The key to thwarting this must surely lie in the public realising its own power. The public will have to realise that the individual desire for power is real but so too is its own power to shape and control it. Unless this happens, only doom awaits us

Green Wail

How can you think about the future on a day like this?

How can you study inside the house for a promotion?

When the warm air wants to lull away your memories and your sense of time;

I am listening to the Present present its case

In the blue jacaranda, the slow skin-breeze, drops of water.

I can’t remember the taste of bitterness, the cries of people in the bazaar, pain.

I know my father will teach me to swim in the black shining waters one day

I’ll forget the faces of Shillong, the words of poets I adore, I’ll forget my English;

When I resurface, father will row me across to the waiting grounds

There to quietly recite this prayer :

I want to give up human speech for the language of trees speaking love to the wind

I want to never be seen again as a man but a protruding rock on a hill

I invented a soul and may it always swirl in the skies over me

I pray the lichens and fungi accept me as their kin

May I never be grander than the moss on pine bark or the wiry orchids in the canopy

May I learn to be as capable as khasiana nepenthes

When I tire of the world of men,

May the green maiden embrace me

Scratch, bite, prick, and sting me

So that I may know myself;

Let the bamboo slivers have a drop of me

Let the thorn vines have a drop of me

Let my blood be familiar to all in the menagerie

Let it thaw into something warmer, kinder

Sister, when you hurt me,

Also fill me with the spirit to pull on,

Fill me with the air of your lungs,

The resolve of your stone

These I ask in your name.

Amen.

Bad Management

How can Industry survive incompetent policies? The answer is ‘not very well’. In the case of Meghalaya we see this very clearly. Industry has never been a thrust area for this (and hardly any preceding) government. This is probably down to the fact that massive profiteering is easier when industry is unorganized and unarmed. If the industrial policy were ‘proper’, industrial organization would have to be proper. The result as things stand has been a ‘doomscape’ of inconsistent production and subsidy pilfering. No “planner” in the Meghalaya government talks about industry but rather individual capability, that is, an individual person or firm’s ability to raise capital, invest, generate income, and occasionally (very rarely) give employment to the local population. The truth is a wealthy individual or company does not constitute an industry.

Industry involves both Management AND Labour. Today when one talks about industry in the popular press, it is usually along the dictats of the management cadre. This cuts across public and private sectors. MNC management, IAS and PSU officers can often be seen together on TV deliberating upon industry, pointing to stats and speculating about growth and trajectory. They are at home in each other’s company in spite of the alleged animosity PSUs have with private undertakings. In fact, it appears, management within many PSUs seems hell-bent on capitulating and acquiescing towards private sector desires. Divestment, for instance, looks set to be a high priority agenda for this government at the Centre. I have heard all the arguments for divestment a thousand times before. There are just a few compelling ones. However, that aside, my main point for contention in all of this is simple: where does Labour figure in any of these plans?

Forget about the fact that robots can now do the work of a hundred men, forget about mass production and cost effectiveness for a second. Those are not too much of a factor at the moment in Meghalaya where statistically most employment is in the area of non-mechanised, intensive agriculture. What efforts has the government made in this sector at this current junction? It sends officers, engineers and ministers on ‘exposure tours’, ‘technical workshops’, ‘seminars’ etc. These in turn have a gala time clicking selfies and visiting (ahem, ahem) interesting “districts”. All this would be fine if they actually brought knowledge back and didn’t waste government money i.e. my money, your money. Now I am sure to a European, our Meghalaya officers, engineers and ministers might seem like the lumpen ignorant mass of savages they were told to expect but we, the ones from within the state, know their true nature and privilege. We know very well that our farmers, orchardists, artisans etc should be the ones going on these “tours”. After all, these are the people who actually work and struggle within these sectors. They are not a bunch of salaried, unprofessional louts who have been mismanaging the resources and futures of this state’s people.

I am not saying everyone within administration is like that, there are many hard-working people within the government. However the striking thing is how easily it is to become de-motivated within such a system. But that being said, I am hopeful that young energy shall eventually surge its way through the depressing, greyish, banal corridors of the Secretariat. These too have a role to play as an important cog within the wheel of Labour.

Up to a few years ago, employees of the government did not feel the need to worry about organizing themselves. After all, the task had already been done for them especially within Central government offices. They perhaps thought of themselves as separate from the various trade union and labour movements that were underway in different industrial sectors throughout the country. Now, I think it is safe to say, there can be no illusions. They might have felt safe at one point in time but their type of employment is under threat; the younger employees especially are increasingly drawn from the huge contract/casual reservoir and many no longer have any of the protections that their seniors enjoy. On the other hand, Management i.e. IAS, IPS, MCS, MPS etc have been gaining more and more benefits and perks at great expense to the Exchequer. A progressive government must redress this and narrow the income and benefits gap.

Eventually, a lot of jobs might become redundant. But again, perhaps this depends on the system of production and consumerism that we choose as a society. In Meghalaya, it is unclear what sort of economic development model the administration is aiming for. Will it be large scale and mechanised? Or maybe artisanal and sustainable? The government lazily waits around for some tycoon or firm to approach them and it is he/they who set the terms and conditions for investment. It is, clearly, management that is calling the shots at that stage. Between government and investor, management is speaking to management. The work force have no say in the process. And that is where shifts have to be made. Re-schooling labour and assigning more managerial roles to them should be the top priority of any progressive government. Major threats to trade unions come from within, from the complacency and reactionary attitude many have towards their own industry. Most of the time, negotiations happen after an event has been initiated by management, but who says that should be the case? Labour always needs re-skilling.

Meghalaya is suffering because Labour is suffering. The attitudes and world-views of our work-force have been shaped by years of anti-labour policy and departmental inactivity. Instead of organizing within their respective sectors, our employees and workers have had to outsource their grievance redressal to outfits like the various pressure groups. Instead of coal miners organising, we call the KSU; instead of cement plant workers coming together, we call FKJGP. These outfits have never empowered the sectors from within by instructing Labour to organize itself. Instead, they have assisted them just enough so that a dependency is created. Thus labour unions have never really taken the stage for themselves in this place. They have simply become part of the noise.

The greed of the management cadre coupled with their inefficiency stemming out of their ignorance has been disastrous for the state economy. Officers might sanction the creation of a farmer’s market place for example but will not pursue plans for marketing of the products there. The chain between farm and fridge is never realised and the project ultimately ends in a quagmire. As a manager shouldn’t one seek the organization of Labour for the sake of smooth functioning and efficient production? But that is where it gets interesting. I personally don’t think just organizing labour into unions is such a great idea. We need the unions to think along the lines of the managerial cadre as well. Simply organizing worker into a union might not always be such a great idea. They are not automatons after all. But in no small measure, the future seems to be headed towards making them as such. Intervening now and infusing new ideas into them would be a crucial task.