Friday, August 12, 2016

On Censor Regime: Filter Coffee Column

Read it here on Kindle magazine, or see below.


In the first few days after I came to London, postcards that said Britain is not an island were still hanging around here and there. It was a blue and red drawing, more like a child’s scrawl. It wasn’t everywhere, like the Leave pamphlets were, for they tell me, the people here, that they never thought they would need to flood the country with Stay literature. It was so obvious what was good for the country, they thought. How wrong we think, about everything sometimes.

That we are free. That you can be who you want to be. That you can write what you want. Even when it says so in the Constitution. Who cares for that old book these days? Not our governments, it looks like.

In the state of Kerala, it must be the Karkidakam month already. In our parts we call it Kakkada masa, at the end of which we eat a sweet kheer made with the Aati leaves which bleed a light purple into the dish. Last year around this time, a previously unknown fringe outfit called Hanuman Sene forced a well-known writer called Dr M M Basheer to stop writing a column in Malayalam for Mathrubhumi, one of the highest read dailies in Kerala. Karkidakam is also called the Ramayana month, and several newspapers were getting writers to comment on various aspects of the epic, Dr Basheer being one of them. He apparently got several threatening calls, asking him what authority he had to write on Rama, being a Muslim himself. He had already written five out of the six installments the newspaper had asked him to write. The fact that Dr Basheer is a well-respected critic and has previously written on Ramayana seems obvious, and thus irrelevant here.

The last time I had had a friend check, he had stopped answering all calls. This incident was then the latest in a series of attacks on free speech and those who exercised their Constitutional right to freedom of expression. The Kannada writer Dr M M Kalburgi had been murdered a few days ago then. Unable to withstand the political vendetta against him, the Tamil writer Perumal Murugan had declared that he would never write again, that Perumal Murugan the writer was dead now. Since then, I have lost count of the number of incidents where this fundamental right has been snatched away from the citizens of my country.

I sit in a distant land and hope to build a bubble that insulates me from the happenings of the world. We like to fool ourselves on the best of days. Last week though, when there were three terror attacks in three days in neighbouring Germany, another in Kabul, the ‘coup’ in Turkey, Kashmir, the official announcement of Trump as the Republican Party candidate for US presidency and so much more, it was impossible here not to be depressed. The bunch of us here, in this place I am living in, a jolly bunch, us all, usually sharing food and swapping stories from our homelands, we were quiet that day. One talked about how she had to hold back from giving her son an old frat scarf of the Palestine symbol, when he went to university, because with his ethnic background, he would be all the more a target than usual. Children in Texas are legally allowed to bring guns to university. Read that sentence again. Legally allowed. We in India aren’t allowed to eat when a class is underway. Another friend wondered what it would be like when his three year old son grew older. He wondered if he should never leave the remote northern European country he lives in. We wondered if we should have children at all. We wondered where this was heading. We wondered if we should just retreat to the villages we all grew up in, isolate ourselves, build our bubbles and hope the bombers don’t find it worthwhile to obliterate our little homes. It was a selfish thought that quiet evening. We weren’t sure what to say or do or think.

Are there any answers? I desperately hope so, at least for the sake of the beautiful children I know and love, for the sake of the child I might one day have, or not. But right this minute, for all the troubles of the world, the terrorism, the mindless ‘lone wolf’ attacks, the quiet attacks by our governments to prevent us from speaking, writing, creating, hoping, there seem to be no answers. Allow me to apologize for this grimness, for being so without hope. We all try, desperately to be cheery and hopeful and grateful for the privileges we, those that read and write here in these pages, have. For we have the power of the word, at least to write somewhere, anywhere. Most times it doesn’t seem enough. You do your best but it just gets worse, this world.

The other day, the Madras High Court squashed all the criminal charges against Perumal Murugan. In desperate times, I stop to notice little things, that it is still called Madras. That city is a firm favourite, and will always only ever be Madras for me. Murugan is free to write whatever he wants, I don’t know if he still is though. Udta Punjab, a movie we were supposed to see just before I left, but didn’t, released too, with just one cut. In times like these, like a drowning man holding on to a few stalks of grass, I hold on to these things, by no measure small judgements in the face of the crisis the present government is hoisting upon its people.

Here is what you can do. Buy every banned book. Watch every movie that is controversial. Write, even if just on a Whatsapp group, how much you hate what is going on. Read the alternative press, for Arnab Goswami is never going to tell you what you really need to know. Watch videos that small groups are making, about mining or something else. Be subversive, of please be subversive. Being an activist is not really a career choice you make anymore. Hashtag the hell out of these things. Every drop counts. For if you are not free, especially intellectually free, there really is no point to anything.

#insolidarity #foe #everyotherfoerelatedhashtag

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