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Posts Tagged ‘death

On violence

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“On the specific question of violence, the elite are ambiguous. They are violent in their words and reformist in their attitudes.”

One day, some weeks ago, as I walked down from my home in Greenland Dhapasi to a microbus at Basundhara, I noticed two young kids, maybe 11 or 12, doggedly following a Madhesi man with a bicycle. This man, dressed in loose fitting cotton pants and shirt, was studiously attempting to ignore the two boys, who were hand-in-hand and giggling. As I passed by, I distinctly heard the boys call after the man, while following him around, “Dhoti, ae Dhoti.”

“It is not enough for the settler to delimit physically, that is to say with the help of the army and the police force, the place of the native. As if to show the totalitarian character of colonial exploitation the settler paints the native as a sort of quintessence of evil. Native society is not simply described as a society lacking in values…The native is declared insensible to ethics; he represents not only the absence of values, but also the negation of values. He is, let us dare to admit, the enemy of values, and in this sense he is the absolute evil.”

Even earlier, when images of Madhesi and Janajati leaders smashing and hurling chairs in Parliament flooded our airspaces, social media took on a strange, unwelcome hue. Under a thin veneer of condemning violence, the bile spewed on social media took on decidedly bigoted overtones. The barbs hurled were no doubt familiar to Madhesis: dhoti, Bihari, Indian. Some people, who on occasion had even posted that all 601 members of the Constituent Assembly, should be shot, were now suddenly concerned about the sanctity of Parliament. Most others complained of what ‘message’ this would send to the world.

Earlier this week, when news came in of the terrible deaths of security forces and protestors, social media was similarly flooded. This time, the racism wasn’t hidden; it burst forth as if it had been waiting, crouched beneath the skin. There were comments about how Tharus should have stayed Kamaiyas, comments wishing for floods to wash away the Tharus. Some regretted having donated goods to those very Tharus during the floods last year. Someone posted, “Let the security forces go around the Madhes and ask everyone there who they are. Anyone who replies ‘Madhesi’ or ‘Tharu’ should be shot dead on the spot. Anyone who replies Nepali should be let go.” And all along, that now-familiar refrain, “Are they even Nepali?”

 “The native is always on the alert, for since he can only make out with difficulty the many symbols of the colonial world, he is never sure whether or not he has crossed the frontier. Confronted with a world ruled by the settler, the native is always presumed guilty. But the native’s guilt is never a guilt which he accepts; it is rather a kind of curse, a sort of sword of Damocles, for, in his innermost spirit, the native admits no accusation. He is overpowered but not tamed; he is treated as an inferior but he is not convinced of his inferiority.”

There is no defence of violence. Malcolm X’s threat of ‘by any means necessary’ does not encourage violence, it encourages only the means that are necessary.  And there are those who would argue violence as necessary, but I would reply that murder is never necessary. The violence inflicted on an unequal system is the only kind of violence that is necessary and in that sense, the system must be smashed, not reformed. The structure must be destroyed and built from the ground up in a twilight of the idols. To those protesting the new federal set-up of the country, no structure has been destroyed. The new is the same as the old.

The violence of the Tikapur incident was brutal, no doubt. And there can be few who would condone or justify that atrocity. But there are many who would ask that the same outrage be directed at those who perished at the hands of the security forces, like Rajiv Raut and the five others shot dead in Birgunj. But the social media consensus seems to be that because they were protesting, they somehow deserved their deaths. Their guilt was decided the moment they joined the protest; their death was their sentence.

The point is not to belittle one death or another; it is not to say one was more important than the other. A life is a life, especially when it is extinguished. But sadly, some deaths mean more than others, some lives just more precious.

“The politicians who make speeches and who write in the nationalist newspapers make the people dream dreams. They avoid the actual overthrowing of the state, but in fact they introduce into their readers’ or hearers’ consciousness the terrible ferment of subversion. The national or tribal language is often used. Here, once again, dreams are encouraged, and the imagination is let loose outside the bounds of the colonial order; and sometimes these politicians speak of “We Negroes, we Arabs,” and these terms which are so profoundly ambivalent take on during the colonial epoch a sacramental signification. The nationalist politicians are playing with fire: for, as an African leader recently warned a group of young intellectuals, “Think well before you speak to the masses, for they flare up quickly.””

Who is to blame for these deaths? Is every man his own master or is he often misled and promised dreams by those who would seek to use this man for their own ends? On one side, the protestor and on the other, the policeman. Who is the more autonomous? The protestor is there of his own accord, he is fighting for his right to be. The policeman is there without choice, fighting for his pay. Who do we blame? Those who would fan the flames of war in order to achieve all ends, decrying the same blaze they helped ignite when the fires have charred all? Or those who would send some 50 policemen to take a crowd of 10,000 under control, even when they know there are those sowing discord?

Why does it take acts of senseless violence to bring those powerful to the table to talk? Why is that when unspeakable acts of violence are enacted, it is only then that the politicians spring into action? If your early action could have stopped murder, at the end of the day, whose hands are really bloody?

 “Decolonization never takes place unnoticed, for it influences individuals and modifies them fundamentally. It transforms spectators crushed with their inessentiality into privileged actors, with the grandiose glare of history’s floodlights upon them. It brings a natural rhythm into existence, introduced by new men, and with it a new language and a new humanity. Decolonization is the veritable creation of new men.” 

What the second Janaandolan, with its toppling of the monarchy, set in motion cannot be stopped. It has acquired an inertia of its own—it will continue to move forward unless acted upon. And even then, if it has momentum, it will sweep all obstacles out of the way.

No one is ever really comfortable with repression; it’s a human trait. Being beholden to someone else rankles. We all would rather be our own masters. Those protesting know this, but perhaps those in ivory towers do not. Sometimes, it might look like they’re losing but the struggle is long and it is arduous.

All excerpts taken from ‘Concerning violence’ in The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon

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Written by Pranaya

September 7, 2015 at 11:53 PM

Death on the streets

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Seven years ago, on a balmy September morning, I saw a man die. I was standing by the roadside at Satdobato, about to alight onto a waiting microbus that would take me to further south to Hattiban and my place of employment. A blue Pulsar motorbike came careening from Lagankhel, swerving madly around cars, buses, other motorbikes at the Satdobato chowk. Piloting was a male and riding pillion was a female. She held him close around the waist, her face off to the side and her hair blowing in the wind. They sped past me, throwing up clouds of dust in their wake. Perhaps awed by the audacity with which this man was navigating the streets, I watched entranced. From the opposite end, from up the Hattiban incline and down the long, narrow, straight road that leads right up to Satdobato chowk, came another motorcycle. The collision happened in a fraction of a second.

There wasn’t a single scream, just a metallic crunch as the motorbikes met each other head on, and a long drawn-out squeal of skidding tires. People gathered quickly, as they are wont to do anytime an accident happens. A nearby shopkeeper called the police and an ambulance. There were four people lying on the road–two boys and two girls, barely teenagers. I noticed a highlight streak in one of the girls’ hair, until I realised it was fresh, bright blood. Three of them were motionless while one boy was moving slightly. The boys were safer, helmeted and in jackets. The girls were much worse off, empty-headed and with exposed arms and legs. Blood was pooling and as I watched, the man moving slightly was attempting to sit up. His left leg jutted at an impossible angle and he flailed before falling back down. He lay like that for a while, his jacketed chest rising and falling with each laboured breath. And then, as I watched, unable to look away, he stopped. The chest no longer undulated and the limbs no longer twitched.

The ambulance arrived and carted away the bodies. The police arrived with a truck and hauled away the wreckage. Men stood around pontificating. Now that the bodies were gone, I moved closer, out of a macabre sense of curiosity. Dark smears from rubber tires marked the asphalt and pools of black oil shone in the morning light. The blood was already congealing, turning brackish. Teeth glinted like pearls.

Years later, when I would get on my scooter to ride to work and especially on the long, dark ride back home, this is what I would think of. The morning sun and the teeth in the road. I drove with caution, always afraid of a speeding vehicle from the opposite end. At night, I cursed every car, bus and motorbike that had their high-beams on, blinding them each time they passed. Night was also the time of the darting pedestrian, those vague, shapeless, bundles that would leap onto the streets, paying little heed to the tonnes of metal barrelling towards them.

On the Ring Road, the buses and trucks hold dominion and on the inner city streets, motorbikes and microbuses. Road rage boils and seethes. Once, at the Tinkune petrol pump, waiting for my turn to fill up my tank, a young man on a red motorbike cut in front of me. I protested, saying there was a line. Easily, he called me a name implying I had illicit relations with my mother and threatened to kill me. When I laughed it off, he got off his bike and took off his helmet, ready to swing it like a weapon of war. The altercation ended when I backed down and let him have his way. In Kathmandu, more than anywhere else, might is right.

This past week, two girls were crushed to death on the wide, freshly paved stretch of road from Maitighar to Koteswor. They were both in their 20s, fresh-faced and young. Stories appeared online detailing their last moments and their hopes and dreams. Each story like a dagger in the heart. Young lives crushed carelessly under the tires of buses and trucks. And that was just in Kathmandu. Outside, on the perilous highways, dozens of people die every week, at an average rate of between three-five a day. Like Deepak Thapa said in a recent column, these are war-time casualties.

And meanwhile, in the Capital city, the traffic police embarks on a campaign to name and shame pedestrians who cross haphazardly that fabled stretch from Maitighar to Koteswor. Photos are taken and shared mercilessly. Comments roll in about these peoples’ lack of civic sense and how ‘uneducated’ they are. Never mind the fact that zebra crossings are almost non-existent, that traffic lights never work, that no one ever gives way to pedestrians. Never mind the fact that public vehicles stop anywhere and everywhere, packing passengers like stuffing gundruk into a jar. Never mind that private cars and motorbikes pick up speed instead of slowing down when they see pedestrians on a crosswalk. In a city where muscle matters, those who walk are at the bottom; every one else has a metal machine to run you down.

The spectre of death is always over your shoulder if you make regular use of Kathmandu streets. One unlucky day and it could easily be you, lying on the street, bleeding out of your ear. This might not be a pleasant thought to start a morning with, but it is necessary. And it not just immediate death or injury from an accident but slow, cancerous death from the daily inhalation of toxic fumes from ancient buses and trucks and the thick dust that rises in eddies around roads under construction. As for me, I don’t ride a scooter to work anymore.

Published on The Kathmandu Post, December 13, 2014

Written by Pranaya

December 14, 2014 at 5:01 AM

Man vs Door

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man vs door

The Kathmandu Post, September 13, 2014

Written by Pranaya

September 13, 2014 at 6:53 AM

The Head and the Heart

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The Head and the Heart

The Kathmandu Post, October 19, 2013

You give me reasons. Tell me why I shouldn’t feel the way I do. But my body doesn’t listen. It still strains and shivers every time I hear your voice. It still trembles and retreats into itself whenever I think of you with someone else. My brain tell me to be quiet, it tells me to let go but I seem forever locked in that chill. It pierces me like a cold, sharp, shard. And yet, you speak so callously, because you can. You’re the one who’s let go and once you let go, its always easier looking back. Because its always easier to say goodbye when there’s someplace else you need to be. Love and desire are always easier for those who already have it. I hope one day you’ll realise, like I have, just what it was we lost.

Written by Pranaya

October 20, 2013 at 10:29 AM

to set the darkness echoing

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to set the darkness echoing

TKP, September 14

Written by Pranaya

September 14, 2013 at 1:55 AM

To sleep, perchance to dream

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Back then, I was something else.

Once I was destiny, plotting out an infinity of paths in a labyrinth of time where each fork diverged into another fork and each crossroad only let to another crossroad. This was a labyrinth of choices, one taken and the others forgotten. I watched you choose one after another, lost in your own self, thinking each choice you made was yours to make alone. But there were others and they chose exactly as you did. Only you would never meet them. You would never even know they exist. And even if your paths did cross, each would go your separate ways, not knowing that the world you held was the world they held too.

Once I was dream, amorphous and everywhere. I was a child, wandering through a meadow, fascinated by the robin and the blue jay, enthralled by the red wingtips of a massive butterfly and scared of the tall, thick shadow cast by the oak. I was a woman, lying in bed and wishing desperately for it to stop, seizing a hard, metal ashtray from the bedside table and smashing it into a head, blood as thick as molasses and hot as the sun trickling onto my skin and marking me for life. I was an old man, walking through the streets of the city, bent over my gnarled wooden stick, a candy wrapper stuck to my shoe, a long forgotten tune on my lips, my eyes on the distant horizon and my long-gone wife in my heart. I was a butterfly, dreaming I was a man. Or was it the other way around?

Once I was death, answering questions I didn’t know the answers to. I stood by empty cots, mangled cars, fallen buildings and the back of buildings. I stood on towers and bridges. I hung from ceiling fans and the branches of old, old trees. I lay in wells, discarded and in ditches, forgotten. I walked on ocean floors and fell from burning airplanes. And all those times, you asked me, what happens next. As if I had the answer. I am merely a conduit, I wanted to say. I am that which separates the black from the grey and the grey from the white. I am the crack in between, the line over which you must cross. I am neither here nor there. But instead, I heard myself say, what comes next irrelevant. What came before is all that matters. No one gets anything special. You get what everyone gets. First you dream, then you die.

These days, I am no one new.

 

 

Written by Pranaya

April 4, 2013 at 12:11 AM

escuchela, la cuidad respirando

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Only the ten foot tall Kal Bhairav remains standing as stoic as it ever was, plastered in bright vermillion that could easily be the blood of a thousand sacrificed to this hungry god. The Kal Bhairav relief is the only structure that is consistently worshipped and prayed to. Devotees throng the menacing statue and tourists are often awe-struck by the god’s monstrous visage. The Kal Bhairav is befitting his name: an incarnation of death that is not the sinewy skeleton of the grim reaper nor the shadowy apparition of a spectre, he is fear and wrath incarnate, death at its most primal, a breaking away of form and matter, free reign to all passions, no longer boxed by the lie that is maya. No wonder so many come to pray to him. With his weapon held aloft, his eyes blazing like a thousand suns, Kal Bhairav stares down at all us puny humans, kneeling at his feet, supplicating ourselves so that he will stay away just a little longer, so that the shadow of his mighty form not fall upon us that night as we lay afraid and quaking in our beds, praying, praying for death to take the other door.

The Kathmandu Durbar Square seems to serve as a synecdoche for the city of Kathmandu, a contrasting symbol. Modern and ancient all at once, concrete jostling for space with brick and centuries old wood. A living goddess sharing space with us humble humans. Shiva Parvati looking out from their dabali window as young lovers walk hand in hand below their watchful gaze.

During day time, the square is full of people, alive and vibrant, a cacophony of sound. At night, there is only an owl’s baleful gaze, the streets yellow under the jaundiced glow of the streetlamps and the temples ominous and forbidding in the dark, Kal Bhairav looming like a mountain, seemingly grown taller in the gloom. It is only at night that you feel it, the steady throbbing of the city as it sleeps, its hearbeat, its breathing. And from Kathmandu Durbar Square, the heart of the city, you breathe in as the city breathes out; you begin where the city ends, or is it the other way around?

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Written by Pranaya

August 21, 2012 at 10:57 AM