Category Archives: OtherWise Quotations

“a high-class cheez”

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Novelist Chandrahas Choudhury on the state of novel in English in India:

In a scene early in Vikram Chandra’s massive 2006 cops-and-robbers novel Sacred Games, the small-time gangster Ganesh Gaitonde sells some stolen gold and feels, for the first time in his life, wealthy and powerful. He goes looking for pleasure on the streets, and a pimp offers him “a high-class cheez.” But no sooner is Gaitonde left alone with the prostitute than he begins to feel set up. He has only one way of finding out whether his “cheez” is as high-class as promised. “Speak English,” he orders the woman. When she complies, Gaitonde cannot understand the words, but it doesn’t matter. “I knew that they were really English,” he thinks to himself. “I felt it in the crack of the consonants.”

The prostitute’s utterances in English earn her fee, just as the Indian novelist who chooses to write in English has often been accused, especially by readers and critics at home, of being inauthentic or a sellout, forcing characters with their roots in the words and worldview of some other Indian language to “speak English.” The debate, of course, is old, fraught with the historical baggage of India’s British colonial past…

More here.  To read more of Chandrahas Choudhury go here.

Seamus Heaney, Digging

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Seamus Heaney

Digging

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; as snug as a gun.

Under my window a clean rasping sound
When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:
My father, digging. I look down

Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds
Bends low, comes up twenty years away
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills
Where he was digging.

The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft
Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
To scatter new potatoes that we picked
Loving their cool hardness in our hands.

By God, the old man could handle a spade,
Just like his old man.

My grandfather could cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner’s bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, digging down and down
For the good turf. Digging.

The cold smell of potato mold, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.

from: telegraph.co.uk

from: telegraph.co.uk

Kaikini on Bangalore

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Jayant Kaikini on the famed docility of the tribe of Bengalurians.

The city’s ‘complacency’ and the ‘poverty of dreams’ was in particular disconcerting. Ask the Bangalorean, “I believe some spaceship  carrying aliens has landed outside town. Shall we go and watch?” or “A new dosa camp has come up in 5th Cross, let’s go and try it out!” and his option is crystal clear. “Does he serve extra sambaar? Extra chutney?” he’ll exclaim and rush towards the eating joint.

from: google images

from: google images

Even if he is served a litre of sambaar with the first round, he’ll finish it with a single idli and then elbowing his way through the crowd of customers like Superman, he’ll dash to the counter for a second helping of the saucy broth. Such is the application of this sambaar-lover!

from: kosambari

Nandita Das on her film

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Nandita Das, actor and director, shares some insights about making her film Firaaq. More here

Cinema, unlike poetry or painting, is not a personal art. You

from: nanditadas.com

from: nanditadas.com

make it to share it with people and engage with them. As an actor, I resolved the dilemma of wanting to be part of stories that need to be told even if not many people actually wanted to hear them, by choosing to do those roles. But as a director, I also wanted to reach out to as many people as I could, of course with the story I so wanted to tell.
For those who have still not seen Firaaq, it is set a month after the Gujarat carnage of 2002 and deals with five different relationships and the impact of violence on their lives. Firaaq is about how fear, prejudice, guilt and violence linger on much after their obvious manifestation is over. In fact, there is hardly any violence in my film and yet the fear and tension are palpable. The story traces the emotional journeys of ordinary people — some who are victims, some perpetrators and some who choose to watch silently.

Amitav Ghosh on imperialism

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from: amitavghosh.com

from: amitavghosh.com

Amitav Ghosh has written so much on imperial relations and imperial transactions in his fictions that he seems to have concentrated almost entirely on this aspect of our historical experience. Therefore it is always interesting to read him on the subject. Readers who have read In an Antique Land will remember his comments on imperialism over there. Another book that frequently examines issues of empire is Imam and the Indian. He has written several journalistic pieces on current affairs which also take up the question of imperial tendencies. Below I quote from an article that  appeared in The Newyorker on 7.4.2003 and is available at his homepage here.

Empire cannot be the object of universal human aspirations. In a world run by empires, some people are rulers and some are the ruled: It is impossible to think of a situation where all peoples possess an empire. On the other hand, the idea of the nation-state, for all its failings, holds the great advantage that it can indeed be generalized to all peoples everywhere. The proposition that every human being should belong to a nation and that all nations should be equal is not a contradiction in terms, although it may well be utterly unfounded as a description of the real world.

It is precisely the exclusivism of empire that makes it a program for ever-increasing conflict. If the mark of success for a nation consists of the possession of an empire, then it follows that every nation that wants to achieve success must aspire to an empire. That is why the twentieth century was a period of such cataclysmic conflict: emergent powers like Germany and Japan wanted empires as proof of their success. Those who embrace the idea of empire frequently cite the advantages of an imperial peace over the disorder of the current world situation. This disregards the fact that the peace of the British, French and Austro-Hungarian empires was purchased at the cost of a destabiliza-tion so radical as to generate the two greatest conflicts in human history: the world wars. Because of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, there can be no doubt that a twenty-first-century empire would have consequences graver still.

An imperium also generates an unstoppable push toward overreach, which is one of the reasons it is a charter for destabilization. This is not only because of an empire’s inherent tendency to expand; there is another reason, so simple as often to go unnoticed. The knowledge that an imperial center can be induced to intervene in local disputes, at a certain price, is itself an incentive for lesser players to provoke intervention. I remember an occasion a few years ago when one of the leaders of a minor and utterly hopeless insurgency asked me: What kind of death toll do you think we need to get the United States to intervene here?

from: amitavghosh.com

from: amitavghosh.com

There can be no doubt that political catastrophes can often be prevented by multilateral intervention, and clearly such actions are sometimes necessary. But it is also true that in certain circumstances the very prospect of intervention can, as it were, become an incentive for the escalation of violence. The reason the idea of empire appeals to many liberals is that it appears to offer a means of bettering the world’s predicament. History shows us, unfortunately, that the road to empire is all too often paved with good intentions.

Tamil Dalit Literature – Quotations

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This blog has seen too much of my opinions. Their worth being uncertain, I must be less liberal with them. Also because, there are so many who speak so much more sense. So here is a new category in this blog: OtherWise Quotations.

This quote comes from an article by GJV Prasad. I liked his piece for it

GJV Prasad

GJV Prasad

raises many questions about translating dalit literature into English, and the problem of a non-dalit translator’s role. But this quotation is more to give a feeling of one of the stories of Bama which GJV Prasad has translated. What the following quote relates is a fine literary representation of dalit resistance: a specific mode because unlike class related resistances, dalit resistance goes beyond political economy and invokes the ethical issues. But, I must hold my tongue now and let Ammasi speak to you:

The story is called “Annachi”. The title is the respectful term “elder brother”. The story is about a Dalit youth called Ammasi, who is quite the hero among the young and a thorn in the flesh for the elders of his community. Ammasi has a strong sense of self and asserts his rights to the face of the upper castes. There are two instances in the story when Ammasi incurs the wrath of the landowning Naickers. In the first instance, he refuses to get up in the bus to give his seat to the landlord in whose fields his father works. When Chandrashekar Naicker, the landlord, asks him to get up, Ammasi replies that

from: women'sunlimited.org

from: women'sunlimited.org

he had to struggle to get the seat and that he would get off the bus soon enough and the Naicker could have his seat then. The landlord tries in vain to get Ammasi to give up the seat reminding him of their respective status. He reprimands Ammasi, a lower caste fellow, for sitting when “Ayya” was standing–the term “ayya” is a respectful way of addressing elders, of addressing employers, landlords, upper caste men, and of addressing one’s own father. Ammasi retorts that his “ayya” is working in Chandrashekar Naicker’s fields, and the Naicker was not his “ayya” by any stretch of the imagination. When Naicker throws his caste status at Ammasi’s teeth, saying that all parayars knew how to stand in humility in front of the Naickers except this young kid, Ammasi replies that he had better mind his tongue if he wanted to keep his respect. Though severely castigated for this and beaten by his father, the old man as he calls him (it would be budha in Hindi), Ammasi does not see why he should change.

His next misdemeanor also has to do with breaking rules of caste behaviour–called to help in watering a field, he shows up in freshly laundered clothes and then gets into an argument with the landlord, Jayshanker Naicker. The landlord objects to being called “Annachi”, elder brother, by the Parayan Ammasi. The fight ends with Ammasi using an abusive word, “mayiru”, hair and abusive because pubic hair, and Jayshanker Naicker complains against him and a panchayat is called. When the narrator thinks the panchayat is for his having used the abusive word, Ammasi coolly corrects him saying that it is for his having called the Naicker “elder brother”. In the meeting he is castigated for crossing boundaries in calling the Naicker by a kinship term, and when asked why he called him “annachi”, Ammasi replies that he did so because the Naicker was older, otherwise he would have called him “tambi”, younger brother. The story ends with Ammasi saying that he cannot understand the community elders who castigated him the previous week for calling the scavenger Irulappan “elder brother” because he belonged to a lower caste, and now castigate him for calling an upper caste man an elder brother.

From GJV Prasad: Translating Tamil Dalit literature into English or how to resist one’s self (Language Forum, Jan-June, 2007 by G.J.V. Prasad)