Ghazala's Weblog

a poetic thread to string my words and experiences on…

APOLOGIES TO LARGE QUESTIONS FOR SMALL ANSWERS… — November 30, 2008

APOLOGIES TO LARGE QUESTIONS FOR SMALL ANSWERS…

I’m in a strage place. Mumbai massacres are over and everything is agitated and turbid. I am a little apprehensive of what this holds in store for the future of so many things… will India too, get dragged in the ‘war against terror’? who will symbolise ‘terror’ now and take the strike…?

Somehow reading Wislawa Szymborska seems fitting. She says in her poem The Three Oddest Words

When I pronounce the word Future,
the first syllable already belongs to the past.

When I pronounce the word Silence,
I destroy it.

When I pronounce the word Nothing,
I make something no non-being can hold.

Her poem Children of our era somehow reminded me of the parable of blind old black woman and some youngsters with a bird in their hands, in a hauntingly poetic and beautiful nobel lecture of Toni Morrisson (Szymborska is 1996 nobel winner). Morrison says “In her country children have bitten their tongues off and use bullets instead to iterate the voice of speechlessness, of disabled and disabling language, of language adults have abandoned altogether as a device for grappling with meaning, providing guidance, or expressing love. But she knows tongue-suicide is not only the choice of children. It is common among the infantile heads of state and power merchants whose evacuated language leaves them with no access to what is left of their human instincts for they speak only to those who obey, or in order to force obedience.”

We are children of our era;
our era is political.

All affairs, day and night,
yours, ours, theirs,
are political affairs.

Like it or not,
your genes have a political past,
your skin a political cast,
your eyes a political aspect.

What you say has a resonance;
what you are silent about is telling.
Either way, it’s political.

Even when you head for the hills
you’re taking political steps
on political ground.

Even apolitical poems are political,
and above us shines the moon,
by now no longer lunar.
To be or not to be, that is the question.
Question? What question? Dear, here’s a suggestion:
a political question.

You don’t even have to be a human being
to gain political significance.
Crude oil will do,
or concentrated feed, or any raw material.

Or even a conference table whose shape
was disputed for months:
should we negotiate life and death
at a round table or a square one?

Meanwhile people were dying,
animals perishing,
houses burning,
and fields growing wild,
just as in times most remote
and less political.

Ever so often, I think of our ill-attended meetings, dharnas and marches as pitiably futile, but then again I get up and go join something and tell myself that this was an act of resistance to atleast being passive, if not more. To be sure there are things, issues and questions not well attended to, neglected and not among our favourite. Szymborska says, in her Under a Certain Little Star, what I  wish to scream out today…

My apologies to chance for calling it necessity.
My apologies to necessity in case I’m mistaken.
Don’t be angry, happiness, that I take you for my own.
May the dead forgive me that their memory’s but a flicker.
My apologies to time for the quantity of world overlooked per second.
My apologies to an old love for treating a new one as the first.
Forgive me, far-off wars, for carrying my flowers home.
Forgive me, open wounds, for pricking my finger.
My apologies for the minuet record, to those calling out from the abyss.
My apologies to those in train stations for sleeping soundly at five in the morning.
Pardon me, hounded hope, for laughing sometimes.
Pardon me, deserts, for not rushing in with a spoonful of water.
And you, O hawk, the same bird for years in the same cage,
staring, motionless, always at the same spot,
absolve me even if you happen to be stuffed.
My apologies to the tree felled for four table legs.
My apologies to large questions for small answers.
Truth, do not pay me too much attention.
Solemnity, be magnanimous toward me.
Bear with me, O mystery of being, for pulling threads from your veil.
Soul, don’t blame me that I’ve got you so seldom.
My apologies to everything that I can’t be everywhere.
My apologies to all for not knowing how to be every man and woman.
I know that as long as I live nothing can excuse me,
since I am my own obstacle.
Do not hold it against me, O speech, that I borrow weighty words,
and then labor to make them light.

* All poems translated from polish by Joanna Trzeciak

Longing for Gandhi… — September 24, 2008

Longing for Gandhi…

 

What has visited me in the middle of tonight doesn’t feel like muse. But more a consuming urge to get this off my chest. I think in Hindi/Urdu so this is how it came but the translation took a turn of its own.

Khud ko majboor karti hoon
Khayalon ko idhar kuchh, udhar kuchh
Rakh ke dekhoon
Ke ik tasweer ban jaye
Zuban bojhil si hai
Dil pe kuchh saye hein…

Mere bachche! Mere log!
jin ki zubanein kati hui hein
Un ke haathon mein aslahey na dein
Dayare shauq mera!

Ke koi Gandhi ab kahan
Jo puchhe
“Zakir Hussain theek hein?
Jamia theek hai?”

saathi! kuchh dost
Dil ko khangaal kar
sharmindagi hi nikaal paye
haashiye se aati hui
doosri aawaazon ki taraf
uchhaalte hein sawaal kai
Khauf ke baad ki woh shaam
Lagaatar boonda-baandi ne
Ek bechaari si chaadar daal di thi jis ke sir pe
Halki si khunki thi hawaa mein
dar se larazne ka ilzaam uspe tha

Mere ghusse ki aag par
chai banti rahi kai kap
aur log drawing room mein beith kar
kehte rahe ke haalaat abhi aur kharaab honge

The translation or another poem in its right

Sleep eludes me
I move the ‘thought-pieces’
Here and there
Clockwise and anti…
And wait for a picture to emerge
My tongue keeps growing heavier
And long shadows loom over my heart

My people!
Find their tongues severed
My children!
Weapons thrust in their hands…
A dictionary, rough note books and pen
bomb-makers need these too…

Evening after fear
wore the pathetic chador offered by incessant drizzle.
There was slight nip in the air.
It took the blame
of making people shiver-
fear was left off the hook

my anger kept simmering tea
cup after cup
and in the drawing room discussion
it was declared that things will go worse from bad

Dayare shauq mera!
I long for a Gandhi
who will ask
‘Is Zakir Hussain safe,
is Jamia safe?’

Comrades! some friends
Reflect as asked and find
Guilt and anxiety
They hurl accusing questions
at the other voices from margins
and attempt even they don’t know what

I was at Janpath in a solidarity March and collection drive for Bihar Flood Relief on September 13, 2008 when we heard two bombs blast off at Central park and Barakhamba. And I was at home in Zakir Nagar while the Delhi police encounter at Batla House happened. What is the best way to respond to situations like these? To lie low and do nothing? I don’t know but that’s what I did- nothing and like so many others felt sad, helpless, restless, angry at the news reports.

For some time in the past, I have felt my bond with Jamia weaken slowly. ‘Time…’ I thought. But the recent events proved that bonds are ‘bonds’- inherently difficult to break. Mushirul Hasan’s statements today and the university’s stand have reassured many a common-person-in-Jamia-Nagar’s (like myself) agitated hearts. Why is he doing what he is doing? I don’t wish to speculate on this and let skepticism take over … but I was reminded of the passages I reproduce below about Jamia during partition of India from a life sketch of Dr Zakir Hussain in RajMohan Gandhi’s “Understanding the Muslim Mind” (Penguin India, 2000)

“…Soon, however, disturbances started in Delhi. Many Muslims living in villages near Okhla were looted and killed, not by their Hindu neighbours, who had a long relationship of friendship with the Muslim villagers and with the Jamia but by organised groups from outside. Some Jamia men were attacked too. Shafiqur Rahman and Hamid Ali Khan- who was in charge of Jamia publications, barely escaped with their lives. Led by Zakir Hussain, who was obliged to forget his weariness and depression, the Jamia community organised the protection of its women and children and harboured a number of Muslims who had fled from their homes in surrounding areas. Nehru visited Jamia in the middle of one night; General Cariappa, head of the army, came and left behind a platoon of the madras regiment. ‘Keep the gardens in trim’, Zakir Hussain told Mujeeb. ‘if we are forced to vacate, let those who occupy this place after us feel that we loved it.’

From Calcutta, where a fast by him had restored security, Gandhi, 78, arrived in Delhi. His first question to those who met him at the station was, ‘Is Zakir Hussain safe, is Jamia safe?’ The next day he went to Okhla. Later Zakir Hussain recalled the visit:

‘His finger had got crushed in the door of the car and he was suffering great pain. In spite of this he laughed and provoked others to laugh, he infused courage into us, and advised us to stay where we were. He talked to the Muslim refugees on the terrace of the secondary school, took an orphaned girl in his arms and hugged and kissed her. Then he left, saying that he would do all that was necessary for our safety or perish in the attempt.’”

Tomorrow, I shall hopefully, march behind Mushir Sa’ab with students, staff and faculty of the Jamia in the neighbouring areas. Jamia is doing what Jamia has done earlier too, but I shall miss Gandhi.