Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Spring time grasses and nostalgia bites back

What happens when the the setting that engulfs you with it's conspicuous presence slowly gives rise to hints of nostalgic past? Yes, either you ignore them or quite sometimes you embrace them. This is precisely what happens during particular seasons in the built-in city of New Town Kolkata. This is the spring time and hence it's also the time for an end to the year long ignorance to the grasslands, yes kaleidoscope refers to the natural grasslands and not to the landscaping made by the disciplining organisation of the place named NKDA. Yes, it's time for the shone grasses to bloom and before you know they bring about much needed nostalgic atmosphere in the region. These grasses if left alone can grow tall and has the capacity to completely transform the landscape to a grasslands. People, would have definitely used them to make strings and are quite an useful resource to the villagers. Often they provide good thatching to the roofs of a mud wall house. A natural and sustainable form of temperature regulator.

Who is going to use them here, at a place where the history has been wiped off by using mechanical and political power to being about a dream destination to the urban middle classes. They have their air-conditioning machines to do that. They are habituated in wiping off histories in the name of development.

Meanwhile, the shone grasses returns in with the spring like the repressed returns and ghosts of past bites back.

Friday, March 8, 2019

That hijab clad girl - untold discrimination and compromises - unknown revolutions

There is this girl in the built in space attempting to go beyond her family restrictions in the name of tradition slowly failing to convince her parents to continue what she really wants in her own terms. She is one of those hijab clad girls coming to the educational institution to pursue graduation course in some honours department. She is one of those few who constantly wears hijab and it's not a fashion statement nor it's a choice but it's a prescription from the family.

"my brother is pursuing B. Tech from xxxx (private) college, but I am the first among the women to pursue higher studies from our family... You know my parents are conservative and my father doesn't want his daughter to go out!" Said the girl sitting in a department with which she doesn't really have any academic connection.

"It's not that your parents are conservative... Your parents are quite progressive in a sense that you are the first person of your family pursue a graduation course from a college"

The girl remains silent. Nods her head.

"But I have to go to Aliah University to pursue further, and I am looking forward to it"

"What makes you do that?"

"My parents do not want me to pursue a course from a mixed crowd... You know. Crowd where both Hindu and Muslims study together" -she replied.

"Now, I also want to do this, I want to leave this place..."


"You know, they are all like me... Muslims..." The girl completed in a tone suggesting some untold stories.

"Is there anything that happened and hurt you?"

A long pause and then she continued

"Yes, we ate together, I washed my hand and then tapped my friend... She shrugged and showed irritation with my touch!"

"But that happens... Quite often!”

"No! I don't think that happens with everyone... I feel isolated and lonely here... And since I was shocked and cried at home my father asked me for the reasons, only to decide to send me to Aliah... I protested, but he said, if I say no to anything else from now on, he will make me discontinue my studies and my sister's studies too. I seriously do not want that to happen...and I don't want to be lonely here."

Kaleidoscope could talk to her friends on the issues of discrimination. One of them replied

"This is not that we started to discriminate her... There are others like her as well, no one behaves like her. She doesn't share her tiffin with us nor she eats anything when we celebrate our friends birthdays and like that"

"It's not that she is a misfit, but you know me being a Muslim girl by myself, I think she overdoes things, and it's not her fault... She had been reared up like this it's none's fault. Tells another one from another department."

The story remains unresolved, but the resolution remains... Kaleidoscope could only think of numerous like her making compromises for being woman, being minority in sum being 'different'. Kaleidoscope believes these apparently small compromises are the revolutions many hope to see.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Theorising a war: Kashmir-Pakistan and the simulcra of hyperreal

Post Pulwama attack (on 14th February 2019), What appears to dominate the publics of contemporary India is a monolithic notion of nationalism. It is rather simple in its manifestation. It includes a) a projection hatred towards our neighbouring country Pakistan, b) an internalised (programmed) perception of the crisis of the country in terms of not being able to deal with the historical injustice to its people (mostly by the Congress regimes), c) an overt manifestation of a particular lifestyle (read Manu dictated Brahminical Hindu lifestyle). A combination of the three has been strategically used for quite some time now. I cannot remember a single day of debate regarding the issues of national sentiment, vis-à-vis nationalism without the discussion of Kashmir or Pakistan with my colleagues while sharing a glass of whisky in the night for six long years I have spent in the port city. Even with hours of discussion with my colleagues neither they change their position an inch, nor I did the same.

I am not saying that the thing I have just mentioned anywhere near the representative sampling for the country, but with the advent of facebook which helps us to connect to millions of unknown people, I feel the contention of reified perception regarding the nationalism related to Pakistan and Kashmir is quite well founded. I can comfortably say that Pakistan and Kashmir are the two issues which can pump more blood through the veins of any average Indians.

It is true that during the election, at least for the two terms I have seen National Democratic Alliance in office there are upscaling of such issues as India-Pakistan conflict and Kashmir issues, that too at times when election is quite near.

How does it serve the aggressive nationalism in consolidating national sentiments is the thing that I wish to write on.

Kashmir and Pakistan as hyperreal condition:

No matter what is said or projected about the Kashmir, i.e. the average Kashmiri's miserable life because of Militarisation of the valley, the use of pellet guns instead of water cannon, stone pelting students, Kashmiris are alienated. In private conversation, those who consciously alienate Kashmiris will definitely accept fantasizing a Kashmiri, but will nevertheless maintain that they are the one needs to be alienated.
The question is how does this situation come into being? It is not the situation of certainty but that of imagined reality (not in the sense of Imagined Community), and yet not some kind of a liminal space. For a liminal space we are uncertain, but for Kashmir its that of game of signs. This well ground itself in the impossibility of position ourselves within this a space and to cognitively map it as Jameson might like to put it. We hold similar contention towards our neighbouring country Pakistan. We believe that it doesn't have any space for democratic functioning and that it is solely depending on its hatred towards India - in consequence we as a country often find ourselves doing the same, i.e. manufacturing the concept of nationalism in terms of our hatred towards Pakistan.

We seldom look at the factor of hyperreality in action, especially in our congnitive conceptualisation of the two spaces. What makes these spaces hyperreal? As Baudrillard notices with the end of Modernism, especially with the end of production cantered orientation of society as argued by Marx himself the contemporary orientation is that of "media, cybernetic models and steering systems, computers, information processing, entertainment and knowledge industries, and so forth (Kellner 1989). In sum, we have slowly stepped into the age of the explosion of signs (Harris 1996). It is so powerful that the entire society now moves from mode of production to code of production. Kashmir, Pakistan and average India's idea about these two hyperreal space has entered into the game of signs. It is a game of signs because the cognitive idea of Kashmir and Pakistan is no longer representing any physical place including physical people and their positions, but, rather a space represented by signs which does not have any referent. When this happens we can no longer tell what is real. The distinction between signs and its referent disappears.

This is the age of simulations as Baudrillard (1983) welcomes us. Media ceases to be a mirror of reality but become that reality itself, sometimes (with people like Arnab Goswami) more real than reality - the hyperreality. The idea of Kashmir and Pakistan for Indian appears to be a classic case of hyperreality or a simulacra and simulation of the simulacra.

In this world signs gets promoted uncontested through a variety of media (paid?) and IT cell. Therefore, all the public sphere demands is bizarre, scandalous irreverent, promiscuous and playful. As Kellner (1993) says Carnivalasque and spectacle. Therefore, all we need to forget everything including our everyday dissatisfaction is a Carnivalasque be it an attack on soldiers or a counter attack to the "enemy territory."

Spectacle and the new mode of consumption:

Be it a particular political ideology or a new product launch, spectacle through carnivalesque tunes the existing social order upside down and install a new mode of consumption. The dramatic public display of morphed video, representative videos and a claim of hundred of militants being killed sells the larger than life image of particular political leaders (like the he who must not be named in Harry potter)! As Umberto Eco echoes Baudrillard (or perhaps its the opposite! not sure) "unreal has become the reality... The real now imitates the imitation." It began with the conceptualisation of Disney world but then spread rapidly like a plague which can only increase the death toll.

The agents and their structures:

The question is who carries such a postmodern condition? Who manipulates them? and more importantly who are the victim hosts?

Let me give you an anecdote. I remember all my significant others pushing me to pursue 'pure' science course and discouraged the 'rest'. The typical words were  "you wont be able to do anything by studying history, or for that matter 'arts'", "you must take science course to do something in life!" and so on. From the secondary standard we were told not to really like 'arts subject', consequently we belong to a generation who looks down upon subjects like history, sociology, political science and other so called arts subjects. Since, the sign value of the English literature with its colonial past is higher, hence, English literature carries a bit more sign value. Hence, you encounter a generation of 'professionals' with little knowledge and almost no regards for the so called knowledge domains such as history, politics and society. Since, each of the three, unlike their 'skilled' and 'professional' knowledge is quite ubiquitous everywhere, and there is this simulacra of hyperreal space of social media they hold their opinions. Once an opinion is manufactured quite uncritically, based on the available information circulated through kitsch like WhatsApp forward there is a solidification of 'knowledge' and perspective! When such an ahistorical, megalomaniac public sphere is prepared there is little need to use them as hosts to the simulacra to steer benefits out of it.

Hyperreal bites back:

What appears to be a raging masculine moustache of the pilot Abhinandan, which became the new symbol of patriotism and love for those who supposedly take care of the country gives another meaning to the nature of simulacra. His steel like nerve in denying the answer to the questions he was asked by the Pakistani military with calm and composed "I am not supposed to tell you that" has become the new tagline for the same populace which adores the hyperreal.
Social media was flooded with this moustache

Hyperreal, has this fleeting nature. With post-structural turn of the people's perception there is a frequent "death of the author" and hence, no matter how definite move the media makes there is always a chance for the newer signification of the symbols of hyperreality. Imran Khan's prompt peace gesture by returning Wing Commander Abhinandan shows the beginning of a new symbol and absence of credible evidence of destroying the militant groups dismantles the monolithic hyperreality even further to bring more chaos to the populace. It can only further confuse between the real-imagined-hyperreal and simulation in coming decades. The confusion that would only fuel in the rising mistrust and division in the public sphere- until the day comes that removes the boundary principals and bring about newer simulations of peace gestures.

Photo: War, by Lee Pina (accessed from http://www.leepina.com/abstract/war)