On the Chinkyness of Saif Ali Khan

Been meaning to write something about the recent Nike “all female” ad which ad pundits have been trolling on and on about. When I first saw the ad on TV, my speculation was that the production team must have just given up on any new ideas and decided instead to go down the old safe road of celeb endorsement. Throw in a little “feminism by consumption” and you have yourselves something that can hobble along as a national campaign. Why the hell was Deepika Padukone featured in an ad with athletes? She’s a fucking model! Models (please don’t believe Bollywood) are not athletes. No one cares if she played badminton once upon a time (she was quite good at it apparently). The point is these are professional sportswomen and it is selling them short (and cheap) by glamming up what they do with models. Do not even get me started on the fact that two of the athletes are not even Indian citizens.

Let me ask a question: Where was Mary Kom in the ad? You remember her, right: India’s North East sweetheart, the same one who won shiny medals and brought so much honour to the country? The same country that refuses to lift the oppression of AFSPA from her home state, the same country that remains mute on issues of human rights abuse in Manipur. Why was she not in the ad? Did she decline or was it something else? Maybe she was busy, I don’t have the means to tell you. However, what is clear is that it is becoming very common to airbrush away (nuanced) representations of the North East. The hue and cry over Priyanka Chopra playing Mary Kom is justified. Sure, Mary is not an actress but neither was Chopra before becoming a beauty queen. The point is Chopra was given ample opportunity to develop her craft when she became a spotlight fixture. So why not for Mary or for that matter any Manipuri actress?

Part of the answer for the neglect lies in understanding someone else’s rise to stardom: Arnab Goswami. Ostensibly, Goswami is from Guwahati, Assam. I am not sure if he is Assamese or Bengali but he is without doubt from the North Eastern city. For someone with such a background, Goswami is remarkably silent on news coming out of the North East. That is because he realised something on his way up the ladder. One has to sell away one’s background in order to be bankable. Imagine if Goswami had decided to opt instead for a career covering news coming out of the North East and not Delhi or Bombay. No one would have noticed or bothered with him. That is the bitter truth. That in order to be bankable one must put one’s lot in with the majority. That what the majority wants must be given; this is the logic of profit. The rest of the country doesn’t care about what goes on in the North East. For the most part, this is fine but when people from other cultures start having stupid biases and stereotypes against North Eastern people then it becomes a problem. Isn’t the media supposed to inform us instead of ‘disinform’? Isn’t the media supposed to sensitize people about other cultures and places? It seems that in order to become a success, one must ‘whitewash’, no ‘brownwash’, no ‘de-chinkyfy’ one’s self. Goswami is the highest exemplar of this selling of one’s self for profit.

Popular ideas about the national image and national identity are often ludicrous. Most of them are premised on numbers. The larger (or economically powerful) groups decide what the smaller ones should believe in or follow. This is hardly a desirable state of affairs. In this country, in particular, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done in the field of representation and developing sensitivity towards others. Even larger minority groupings like those in the category of ‘Muslim’ still face much discrimination and hounding, so what chance do small tribal communities have? It is worse for North East tribal groups because they do not look “Indian”, they look “Chinese” or “Nepali” or something along those lines. They apparently look like “momo” or “chowmein” if racial slurs are to be believed.

Occasionally, the national news has to pick up on stories of racial and/or cultural discrimination experienced by people from the North East in the big cities. These are very infrequent but those “libtards” get somethings right once in a while. Much of the reports always come down to one thing: faces. In particular, how someone is discriminated against because they happen to look chinky. I find this very interesting. Why would someone looking chinky warrant such actions? Is there some sort of a value judgement passed on chinky people? Maybe it has to do with their food, maybe religion, maybe their language or their much-defended sense of individualism? I think the main reason why one people might discriminate against another might be owing to a misplaced sense of worth, a pride in being better than others. But if one is so much better than others, why be so insecure? If you are so much better than others, why would you even bother to do such things? It can’t possibly be because of a fear – like many Right-wing Hindus have – of the perpetually Mating Muslim™ who they believe will overcome Hindu control of India through ‘womb and scrotum’ tactics. North Eastern people can’t keep up with that sort of ‘mass reproduction’. The real reason would most probably lie in the truth of insecurity, a fear of the unknown. Maybe this misguided fear is actually a fear of the Big Chinky Mama™, China; and NE tribals just have to bear the brunt of it. Or maybe it is a fear of the mysterious newcomer whose face we do not recognise nor accept. We fear that they will disturb our sense of order. Except if they’re ‘white’, of course.

So who’s a chinky anyway? Personally I think Saif Ali Khan is very chinky. Did he get that from his Afghani (fairly chinky people) forefathers or from his Bengali mother? And yes, Bengalis are quite chinky. Especially those from the East, which is why the Bengalis won’t discriminate against you based on your facial features. They will do it because of religion, language, culture but never on what sort of face you have. That’s just crude! What would Bollywood be today without the chinky RD Burman and his even more chinky father, SD Burman? What about the half-Burmese chinky, Helen ‘’Golden Girl’’ Richardson? This is a country of diversity we are told but to watch the nonsense of Bollywood today one would think otherwise. Take the horrible, recently released film, Mohenjodaro; why is the entire city, in the film, populated by ‘’Aryans’’, where are the “black”, sorry Dravidian, people? Hell, while we’re at it, that famous Mohenjodaro ‘priest’ statuette looks sort of chinky, I reckon. I mean his eyes are slits, for god’s sake! The ‘negrito’ dancing girl might have been his girlfriend. So yes, it was probably a society, in ancient times, where a chinky man had a “black” girlfriend; that sounds more modern than anything we have today. The Bollywood set (this includes Times Now) seems happy to overlook important facts like origin, culture, distinctiveness in their pursuit of an “Indian” identity. We see that it often spills over into the curation of an actual physical appearance i.e. how an “Indian” ought to look like. They do this, not because of patriotism, but because it can be sold for great profit. The simpler it is, the more it will sell. That is the logic of the Market. When you create a simplistic, unilateral identity, you are, in effect, creating a brand. And that is priceless.

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Dying with a Little Patience – On the Indian Left

We have heard a variety of opinions from the Left about the events surrounding JNU, Kanhaiya, Umar and Anirban, the Patiala House assault etcetera. Our attention was drawn to the hypocrisies of the supposedly radical (the main stream Left parties) who tried to explain away the issues, or did not acknowledge them at all. Then our already ‘weakened’ belief systems were further complicated with the entry of Dalit perspectives on the matter. One writer commented quite eloquently on how the JNU violence was a response by the Hindu Right at the re-assemblage of the Left into a force that was bringing together non-Manuvad and ‘minority’ elements together. This might very well be true. The whole thing was quite a storm but I think our minds are better for it. I was sitting in Shillong, enthralled by the events that occurred in Delhi, like the rest of the country: I empathised with the trio, I railed against Goswami. There was even a small demonstration here in solidarity with the students of JNU and their cause. The ridiculousness of the situation shall be chronicled for our future generations to ponder over.

Then, Kanhaiya came out of custody and wooed the young men and women with his speech. Sadly as my Hindi is very basic (to say the very least), I could not understand him in entirety. In the English translation text, he hit all the right notes and checked all the right boxes. Some people opined that this “Kanhaiya moment” could be seen as the emergence of a New Left – a Left which could bring together Dalit, tribal, Muslim, LGBT, the poor, farmers, rural workers et al in the struggle for a better future. Well, it is optimism which must be appreciated though realities are, of course, difficult.

In 2014, Scotland organised a plebiscite to decide whether it would continue to stay or leave the UK. It was an actual historic event, it was not simply chatter. No one interfered with its decision to hold the plebiscite, none of its actions were considered sedition, and secessionism was not a crime but a right. In India, words like secession are straightaway censored, speakers of such words arrested. It’s just a word! Its articulation does not mean the breakdown of the Indian state. Its articulation does not mean chaos and lawlessness. It’s just a word. What about the way people in the North East feel (or felt) towards the Indian Union? Do the feelings of difference that they have towards the rest of the country count as sedition? In the eventual course of history, do they not have a right to decide what their own aspirations are?

Now, turning our attention elsewhere. I have a problem with many Leftist friends and foes in that I do not think politics (as in the canvassing-winning-elections type) is a bad thing. This is because I cannot imagine a future where we are simultaneously “emancipated” but also bound by helplessness. If anything, it seems like a very selfish liberation: how can I be “free” but cannot change the world? We MUST change it. Some opine that would be a “co-opting of the radicalism of the revolution”; others say something as insipid as “politics is a dirty game”, to which I say “don’t hate the game, hate the players!” I sometimes wonder if this problem is because Left intellectuals are almost always situated in urban centres – in spite of their contestations to be rural or pro-poor. Could it be that the urban solitude and spiritual distance keeps them (in the Left) from fully imagining a political future together? One in which we could all take part in? How can we talk about workers’ rights, labour reforms etc when we do not think seriously about how to bring them about? ‘Movements’ and ‘struggles’ are all well and good but perhaps we must insist on expeditiousness in the face of starvation, abject poverty and horrible livelihoods. People are dying while we debate revolutionary praxis. The CPI, CPI (M) and others like them have apparently failed us, so do we lose steam and faith because of that? Or do we learn from their mistakes?

Judging from what I read of Kanhaiya’s speech, I personally feel that he would be well-suited to formally enter politics, not just remain within the activism which has made him famous. Someone called him an Ambedkarite. That is very high praise. Do we remember that Ambedkar was not just an activist, a gifted lawyer and academic but also that he was a seasoned politician as well? He contested elections and won. He also lost later on but that is not the point. The point is, and it’s a jaded maxim: The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing. The Right and Neo-libs might not be evil (or maybe they’re all pure evil!) but we have definitely not done enough. In terms of the footwork and organising, the Left is woefully behind. We are always caught “reacting” to situations, events and then we flex our muscles to show that we still have strength. There is a lot of talk in a lot of universities about ‘revolution’ but very little about people – people like the ones I see daily, suffering and struggling in life. Let’s say, tomorrow if Kanhaiya and thousands like him join the AAP or INC, can we get angry at them, would the decision be entirely their own? Are there no lessons to be had from the path of George Fernandes and others like him? History is cyclical, apparently.

I feel terribly apprehensive about the future of Kanhaiya and his comrades. What will happen to these guys? I am not talking only in lieu of the authorities. What support system can we provide for them after this traumatic ordeal? What about their prospects after being tried and vilified in front of millions? I hope that they are not abandoned by those who cheer for them now. I have been going on about the need for a political groundwork which would challenge the current scenario. Before this, people in the Left must decide what they believe in (I realise this is hard). If one is an anarchist, socialist, Maoist (and everything in between) then declare yourself as one. It’s absolutely fine, you have every right to. But having patchwork ideological frameworks, without any teleological commitment, cannot be the stepping stones to a better future. Perhaps the most crucial question that everyone needs to answer is: what is their idea of the future?

Look East

Look East but not if this highway brings middlemen and murder;

Look East but not for the sake of nation or Delhi;

Look East but not if this highway takes from you, your health;

Look East but not for the sake of anything but your village;

Look East but not if this highway brings dust and drunk driving;

Look East but not for the sake of companies or tycoons;

Look East but not if this highway takes from you, your rice fields;

If these should happen: look west, look south, look north,

Look anywhere but east.

CHATTRI, LAL BAHADUR (Indian Labourer) Indian Labour Corps; 56th (Khasi) Indian Labour Coy. Date of Death: 06/05/1918 Service No: 1828 D.1

In death, you become Khasi: a wildman, a man of the grass, a person who dug down deep and strove to scratch out life one day at a time, a royal. That’s what a Khasi was, wasn’t it?
You knew those ways, that’s why they called you one.

When you fell flat onto that cold French earth-
Not the France of Cannes and Paris but bleak brutal battle-
The Khas in you struggled inside, wanting to live on;
When your eyes shut -your body heavy with lead, your lungs failing -you took a fistful of foreign earth.
The British called you Khasi because they didn’t know what else to call you (or perhaps didn’t care).

They all look the same, I guess, they said. Hand them medals, sort up a small parade, send them some money: celebrate the death of their sons at Iewduh; call it bravery, call it valour.

I wonder what Lal Bahadur was really like. In a uniform, he must have looked like everyone else in the corp. He must have ‘attentioned’ or ‘stood at ease’ like everybody else.
He must have made some Khasi friends:
Facing death together, sharing stories about a home they shared in the hills of Assam, bracing together under a foreign hand, marching under a foreign scepter:
All problems must have seemed foreign back then.

Lal Bahadur, what sort of place was this when you were alive? What were the people like? What funny stories did the tavern spill out into the home? What forces drove people apart then and chained them?

Been a hundred years now, I wonder if he knows:
That there are no wild nor free men anymore; no people of the grass, no Khas.

Comrades, In Dark Times

What we have, dear friends, is poetry. Only we can use it. We haven’t guns nor knives, bombs nor tanks; no flags to flaunt nor conch to blow;

When the close minded and hate-filled attempt it, it sounds so forced. That is because they are not really free; they are bound still, anchored still, still fearful of change, still clinging to ruin:

For if they were free they would know Poetry. They would lose all their scales and shed away their old skins to gain soft but powerful wings. To fan minds, raise gales. To soar, to soar.

On Legal Migration

(Appeared in Shillong Times, Aug 22, 2014)

Our homegrown bigotry is so deep, so pervasive that we sometimes need reminding just how ingrained and tough-rooted it really is. Our situation is, of course, unique. We are simultaneously: minority and majority. We derive the ‘benefits’ of both in equal measure. We make use of minority safeguards, which are constitutionally recognized, and which are indeed vital to the survival (and empowerment) of the small. Yet our attitudes towards other races/communities, especially the poor, is as casteist as of the most orthodox acolytes of the largest castes. Though we have, in a manner of speaking, achieved (debatable of course!) what other tribals all over the country are seeking to achieve: ruling for themselves; we continue to oppress in turn, the minorities within our own minority community.

Our situation makes it very hard to paint things in black and white. Perhaps it would be more fruitful to seek out the grey areas, the shades that are not so simple to discern. Hatred has blinded us to anything other than a commonplace brutality and a (so-called) necessary violence to maintain our supremacy over other peoples. Though we might control the political reins, it is still not enough and we continue to impose our chauvinism and fists on the ones who cower; they MUST cower before us else they get burnt alive. It is a rather tragic and comedic part in which slave at times becomes master, master in turn slave. Of course, we cannot brand our entire community with such an iron. It is also one with much heart, openness and flexibility, though many a time one is hard-pressed to find these.

Our oldest enemies or adversaries seem to be the people of the Sylhet Plains. But is it so easy to say this? Often at times we disregard our rather close and cozy relationships with these people. Why then do we hate them today with such venom? Quite often the geopolitics of our own backyards are filtered to us through the lens of so-called experts. We do not ask the class interests, the personal biases and political agendas of these people. The intricacies are rolled over and a simplistic, urbane narrative is presented to us as truth. We fear the assimilations, and possible, obliterations of our own distinctive identities as a “hill people”. Who says we are “hill people”? Maybe we were a “ravine people”, a “slope people” or “people living in the foothills”? We are “hill people” and therefore diametrically opposed to “plainspeople”; but what about the areas in between hills and plains? For a long period of time, this was where the life of our people was built upon and thrived in. Yet the experts and ‘babus’ tell us otherwise based on shoddy and questionable assumptions, most of which is drawn from Colonial gibberish.

Today outsiders who do not even belong to this region, who do not have sensitivity towards the North East, who share no historical ties like us and the Bangladeshis, seek to tell us that the Sylhetis are foreigners and anti nationals, terrorists and land grabbers. This is the distinction they create to justify their own landgrabbing and militarization of the region. They call these people “foreigners” based on a border which some white man helped draw on a piece of paper! If we look at history, Delhi is a far more foreign place to us than the nearby plains. Indeed this mentality is foreign and recent. It is nationalism without past or context, a dumbed-down version which can be called to use at any time, for the convenience of our dearest political people. I do not mean to say there are no “illegal” immigrants but I want us to question the politics of “legal” migration more incisively.

“Illegals” have no rights, guns or resistance so they present an easy target; their only weapon is quantity, it seems. They are seen as something sub-human: a horde that travels to favourable lands, lays babies and overwhelms through reproductive might. We call them the ‘freeloaders’ (“poiei”) and celebrate them being beaten up and chased around like goats. Do we dare do the same with the “legal migrants” who come with armaments and take up entire mountains as campsite? Do we dare question why we have so many men with guns in our backyards? We do not; for we somehow have convinced ourselves they are here for our own protection. It is interesting to note – in 1972 the year Meghalaya was formed, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) was amended to include this state within its purview. The irony is obvious. So too is the lack of trust in such a move. The same is true for “legals” who come to develop our apparent backwardness. They can occupy large acres of land seemingly leased but in reality it is as good as a sale deed. They are not “poiei” because they bring us small trinkets like the white men who ruled over us less than a hundred years ago. Tomorrow if a Bangladeshi industrialist comes to “develop”, will we see him/her as a “poiei”? I hardly think so. “Poiei” is for poor people, rich people deserve better names.

What we must demand today is something no pressure group has raised so far, to my knowledge. Not with sustained effort anyway. We must demand the retraction of the military apparatuses from our walks of life. Some might say that I am being an idealist, such people take the world as it is. But true Progressive vision starts with just that – a vision; something to aim for, to work towards. Why can’t we emulate the countries of the world which have disbanded or reduced the strength of their militaries? Are we still so filled with hate and fear? Is it not ourselves that we fear and hate? Let us acknowledge the truth of military occupation; that we are surrounded by armed force and that violence breeds violence. Is it not a tenet the Mahatma would stand for?

 

“Where have all the flowers gone?

Long time passing …

Oh, when will they ever learn?

Oh, when will they ever learn?   (Pete Seeger)

Yo, God

Yo, God I’ve got a question for you.
Are you Jew, Muslim, Christian or Hindu?
Do you hear when they talk or are you blank as my wall?
Are you small and compact and sit inside a room,
Or is it a tomb that houses your presence?
Can your essence be spread by just one faith,
And can they teach hate for the ones who can’t understand?
God, are you man, transgender or animal?
Do you have mandibles, fur or down?
Are you a clown? A non serious god, an old uncle who lives down the street?
Do your feet rise above the ground, or are you like us:
Not far from the dust and dirt and piss and cigs ?
God, don’t stay with the Big; come out of those stuffy spots-
Those churches, ‘gogs, mosques and temples- run outside, quick!

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