Blue Light At Mawiong

We went out for a drive yesterday and stopping by a Mawiong shop – for cigarettes – I saw again the once-familiar blue fluorescence, emitted by one of those bulbs that is meant to attract insects. I remembered then my father’s mosquito zapper, which shone similarly. I remembered fiddling with it after his funeral. I then became morose with these thoughts. It’s funny how the mind works. How it can leave behind the chatter and wander off into a blue aura. How it can colour memory and animate the dead. Yet it is also the thing that reminds you that none of its figments are real.

How can it do this? Teleporting me to my father’s death-bedside, while my friends drink in the car. How can it show me these things now? The image of his body in a suit – eyes shut – with some hideous cotton up his nose. It is still, seen through curtains, which I dare not part. It is still, seen in no one’s company but my own. It is an image, which has lost some of its details over the years but not its power. It still breaks my heart.

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Tribal Writes Back | Guwahati

That Ganeshguri giddiness. That time once when a scrolling LED sign, screening useless info, astounded a child’s mind. This was the nineties, when the French Motor Company  was at the edge of the city, the same place where I saw the Fiat Uno for the very first time, when I saw something different from either Maruti or Ambassador. It was a time when the Ganesh Mandir at Khanapara, then by the highway – not under a flyover – waited for our Christian children’s coins. Maybe it was an old hangup from olden days, or maybe it was just fun tossing money in there, throwing around cash. That time of auto rides when no Mawlai ones plied the road. That thrill of polluted air through the hair. That joy of unpacking a toy at home. My father’s home where we spoke Khasi. A school vacation home, a home where I first saw MTV, a home with fans and marble floors, a home with mosquito nets over the beds where I was a tiger in the City Zoo, a home with foul tasting water. Everytime I breeze through Guwahati onto the airport, I try to recollect the name of that neighbourhood where that house sits in, now someone else’s home. Now, offering someone else those things.

Pher (1984 – 2014)

It is our failure and not your own.
We killed you long before your death;
We killed you with expectation of high offices, high salaries, high horses.
We drowned you in the pool of Narcissus, we suffocated you in our charnel house –
And we call this ‘cowardly’ and the ‘easy way out’ after we throttled every single dream;
Took every single idea, dropped it on its head, shattered it.

You swore a bucolic covenant, in dark holy taverns (places more honest than churches, mosques and temples), where many souls have come and gone.
It brought you to people like yourself, made you friends too; until it turned on you,
until it too started squeezing out your sanity.
And all that while, we never stopped sneering.

After this suffocation, we wanted you to forget the happiness of childhood impossibilities, the mirth of being free and wanted you to get a job, a uniform, a routine, an order –
And we call such things ‘success’ and we will never accept anything else other than this.

All souls return to the One, they say. So be it, you are there too then. You have broken none of the laws of passage, you have defied no dogma. No gates are closed to you now.

Back To Mother’s

I come back from Jowai with a gold ring on my finger- I’ve never ever had one before- and I think about its weight, workmanship, its symbolic importance before society. I walk down the same roads as I have done a thousand times before and something is very different about them now. But they aren’t, I know. It is just a layer, a new skin that has refracted the sights coming into me. I am going to my mother’s house- first time after my wedding- and I hail a cab going to Polo. I had always, in earlier years, avoided that route because a part of me believed that the Bazaar was only ever the haunt of decrepit dkhars and dark-eyed CRPF thugs. My shiny gold ring makes me think about them again. Onwards, onwards then to my mother’s home! Sharing an auto to Mawlai; its seats soaked in bidi smoke and sweat, its occupants swearing and intoxicated, boxed in like fish.

Portrait

There are a number of things that have changed within me in the last 5 years. One was, of course, my break with religion and my slow reach towards agnosticism. I thank Joyce for that. ‘Portrait’ was the one thing that empowered me to destroy my old beliefs and build new ones – it is a thing because it is not simply a book to me – it strengthened me paradoxically like some weaker strain of religious conviction. I gave up on the god idea for humanist aesthetics at 21. And I thought I would be like that forever. That I had concretized my being into some definite enduring form.

But that was not true. Even my aesthetics, and my love of it, were subservient to something else – a politics. Re-learning, or perhaps unlearning this as well was another step. To relearn is something beautiful. To re-see, to revisit your old convictions and be embarrassed that you once held them so firmly, that you once thought that way, is precious. Quite often, we think we can define people analytically but we do not understand that people change and that change is absolutely natural and essential. Change is deep too and it isn’t explained in a few terse lines or a disposition. One must know why they’ve changed and defend it.

More than a year ago, I was casually Left, or Liberal-Left, if it suits illustration. Somehow I think I owe Noam Chomsky and Noami Klein for that. They were essential reading at the university. I also have to thank those traditionalist Eurocentric aesthetics, beamed into me since I was a small boy, for keeping me firm.  These made me such that I couldn’t stand materialism and “contemporary corporate art” (I still can’t, often enough). In that way, I suppose I came to the political through the aesthetic. My scepticism about the merits of certain aesthetics kept me from subscribing to the overall political framework which engendered it. I am very glad.

Perhaps my anti-materialism was a remnant of my orthodox Christian beliefs. If so, I am very grateful to have known it. As I write this, I think of all the Christians who busy themselves chasing after shoes, looking up dresses and trying new cars and touching phones and who do not look on Christ the Cynic except for ceremony. Like many other followers, they practice and are satisfied without the theory. They are devoted to the floating symbol of their faith, not its message.

Anyway, another chapter has begun now. Re-discovering Marxism has been a spiritual journey, or rather a journey of the Spirit. Many people ask me how I can say that about something so cold, mechanical and exacting. They don’t seem to understand the basis of it. It is a way to help people; it is a way to help my people. It lays emphasis on the local and contextual and not some abstract globalism. New Marxism undermines prejudice and ancient manacles. It is the only system which gets down close to the “lowest of the low”; it is about justice – which for me – is emotional and spiritual.

Now I am re-discovering all the great art works and songs and poems and films by Marxians and I keep asking myself – where were they hiding all this while? It is me, of course, who like many others never gave due credit to these giants nor even knew about them because they were crowded out by the more self-loving and flamboyant (and thus marketable) heroes of the (mostly) Anglo-American pantheon. Actually, even many heroes I had from the old days were extremely political people but these are never things we should talk about. We should simply read and wonder about the word-smithy, about the narrative and the character development and should forget about their many-a-times Leftist politics.

Right now, this change is there, it will add another layer to my life further. It will deepen it. Having not learned my lesson, I think this is how I will remain for the rest of my life.