Saturday, 23 February 2008

Saima Afreen’s Poetry

Cosmic Reach of Saima Afreen’s Poetry
By Remigius de Souza

I came across Saima Afreen’s poem on Internet – a world-wide-wilderness. The reason for ‘why is ‘how’. That is to say ‘means is goal’. For example in my wanderings of tens of thousand of miles aimlessly the means and goal is wanderings. I wouldn’t call it a chance, or coincidence, or destiny, or providence or probability; these are futile concepts that create confusion and add to the chaos, which is overbearing.

Two Words is the poem that I saw:

On the sheet
Of Time
With the ink
Of Black Night
I wrote
One dripped to meet the ocean
And as the Moonlight prepared to
In the pool of dew-drops
The other one
Covered up the blue sky...
Simple words, simple imagery, few words, no acrobatics, and no jugglery of any kind: that is how I describe her poetry. It is very difficult to be simple that is also elegant. She writes Urdu, Hindi and English poems; a flavour of Urdu is found on English in her poems; I am not talking about figures of speech etc.; I speak of figures of mind – thought and feeling; that is what makes Saima’s poems unique. At times I feel if Saima writes a poem or poem writes her.

The poet goes beyond gender, even in her feminine poems; gender in the male chauvinistic civilised societies even to this date.

Afreen’s poems take me from gross physical level to cosmic heights. I would describe her poetry in two words: Cosmic Reach. No mincing words. it is the quality over quantity. A couplet may last forever. The couplet from her verse in Urdu, for example has a quality of a proverb:

Hazaron dastaanein likhee gatin jis key seeney pe
Aaj us bekas zamin ka no koi quadardaan apna hai.

(On whose chest thousands of tales have been written
Today that helpless Earth has no patron of her own.)

See -Text . The translation from Urdu is by Saima Afreen.

In the English translation Saima uses a word ‘patron’ for ‘quadardaan’, which disturbs my oriental sensibility. Perhaps there is no equivalent for ‘quadardaan’ in English. This problem is usual while translating from a language of one culture to a language of another. It happens in comprehending even works of other arts.

My experience is that Saima’s poems give me, as a reader, space and freedom to move in many directions. It evokes compassion in mental space alike a flower that opens and spreads its fragrance in the cosmic space and evokes contemplation, whether I am alone or in a crowd of hurry and hustle of metropolitan urban-scape.

Saima’s poems are antidote for those lost in the modern crowd and clutter, bombardment of information and consumerism. For a tramp, a homecoming: an oasis in the modern wilderness.

Her Urdu blog “Caravan”, which is in Roman script, is a welcome addition. I wish Saima could add also Urdu script for the delight of readers worldwide. Urdu /Arabic script is a calligraphic art form like in Japanese. I have witnessed it carved by Indian artisans on several mosques in India during my pilgrimage; they mould letters and stones at will. It is delightful experience, though I can’t read the script. Now that technology facilitates, adding a voice will be another treat.

© Remigius de Souza, all rights reserved.

Thursday, 14 February 2008

Monkey business at Cricket Realty Show

Monkey business at Cricket Realty Show
By Remigius de Souza
Andrew Symonds is an Australian adivasi – aborigine, if I am correct. (I hope this is not a racist statement!) No wonder he is an all-rounder in cricket game. By his present status as a chosen cricketer he is also part of the global corporate capitalist society.
A glimpse of Australia: We have heard that Britain used to send the hardcore criminals and convicts, under life sentence, to Australia, an open country then, with adivasi – the aborigine. There was no built prison. It was similar to British India’s Kala Pani at Andaman Islands for the convicts – criminals and freedom fighters; thankfully there was a built prison. What may be the population of the descendants of those criminals now? Are they reformed after the period of time? We have heard similar Kala Pani was established by the French in Le Reunion in African continent.
Andrew Symonds’s basic aborigine instinct may not have changed, hopefully. He deserves all the respect, at least mine. The aborigine, as I know from contact with a few communities here, are upright persons with self-esteem and dignity. They don’t have the slave mentality of the colonial subjects or low class/caste people exploited for centuries by the higher ups in hierarchies.
Whosoever a player or some Tom-Dick-and-Harry from the stands at Baroda, Gujarat, among the spectators, who go for passive entertainment, may have (I’ve not heard) called him monkey is out of shear envy. We Indians have to prove ourselves above board in our individual and the collective abilities and responsibilities, not only in cricket but all fields.
Particularly Baroda’s record of collective responsibilities, after 1960s, is questionable as the city has been riot-ridden with sporadic eruptions of violence, even artists and academics are not spared. Baroda was called ‘saanskar nagari’ – a city of culture, once. Now I don’t know.
Showing Hanuman with Symonds’s face by the Australian media serves us well. Why should our sentiments get hurt! In the first place to call any human by names of animals – monkey, donkey, pigheaded, dog, vulture, cobra etc – is an insult to the animals and animal world. Chittapavan Brahmins are called cobra, at my native place, Konkan; it is an insult to cobra. Animals, from bacteria to large mammals, have integrity and sense of community.
There is Katkari tribe near Mumbai in Raigad District. They believe that they are descendants of Hanuman, Sugriva etc. in the times of Epic Ramayana. Scientific hypotheses believe that Katkari tribe migrated from south India in ancient times. Hanuman and his clan are portrayed as monkeys.
Were they monkeys? Was it a derogatory term because of their facial features were different compared to Aryans’? It is known that Aryans called the locals or the non-Aryans by names – Rakshasa (demon), Danava, Daitya, etc. – that are derogatory.
There is Bhil tribe in Gujarat and surrounding region. They do not use their thumb in archery, their traditional skill – art, game, or sport. This practice is has been going on for millennia. This is to commemorate their ancestor Ekalavya. Ekalavya had cut his right thumb and offered it to Dronacharya, a Brahmin by caste, his absentee guru, according to guru’s demand for fees. He had learnt archery by self access and surpassed Dronacharya’s pet pupil Arjuna in the skill.
Katkari or Bhil, or other tribes, such historical records come down by oral tradition or mnemonic method, from generation to generation through millennia. Even Vedic scriptures are no exception. Whatever sciences or written texts may say or authenticate.
Ironically Bhils are forbidden to carry their bow and arrows under the Arms Act, but in the name of religion Sikhs are allowed to carry a sword. Adivasis – the tribal – in Gujarat are a minority like Muslims and Christians and have to face atrocities at the hands of people or the state. Sardar Sarovar Project – The Narmada Dam – is a known example that has become a controversy regarding the rehabilitation of the displaced adivasis.
Their traditional skill of archery is being destroyed by the great democracy of India. Even the so-called development in Gujarat has ignored this skill. Forget cricket in Gujarat; it has overshadowed all other games, athletics and sports. Archery is also a spiritual icon in the eastern cultures. Indeed archery should have been a national sport of India. Unfortunately adivasis may not ever see a day when they shall participate at Olympics in archery events. Such are the hypocritical claims of development and progress in India.
We are fond of the Past and boast a lot about its glory. If we start digging the past, many skeletons will be exposed; we must be prepared to learn from it. Instead of studying anthropology of the pluralistic society of India a section of Indic society has turned to its polarisation.
It is said one of the non-Aryans, Ravana, had ten heads. Such magical forms could be imagined, painted or sculpted any time, or constructed now by computer animation. In the present turbulent times, how long shall we continue to live in virtual reality of the past, and/or by magic by technology in the present, devoid of soul? It is time to remove our blinkers of superstitions and look beyond our eyelids the real world.
While writing this, I hear the news on Channel News Asia that the Australian Prime Minister apologizes the Australian aborigines. I am happy. I revere the adivasis – the aborigine – in India – they are Indian Archetypes – so also those all over the world. Tribal – aborigines – are most precious world heritage to be saved.
Remigius de Souza
© Remigius de Souza, all rights reserved.

Sunday, 10 February 2008

Proposed Rehabilitation of Dharavi Slums, Mumbai

Proposed Rehabilitation of Dharavi Slums, Mumbai

by Remigius de Souza

The Living Chronicle of India’s Development
Ironically the great Dharavi slum at Mumbai is also the living chronicle of the history of India’s Development. Dharavi slum has been there when the city was called Bombay; it was on the periphery of the island city. Now it is in the centre, on the prime land, which the First World is eying takeover.
Predictable Stereotypes
This refers to the report on proposed rehabilitation project for Dharavi slums (Hindustan Times, Mumbai ed. 7 February 2008, p. 1 & 6). Assessment of this exercise could be summarised in one sentence:
“What if you give a pauper a designer three piece suit / a designer saree or dress, made of material and assembled in the West?” We all know the answer that is in the question itself. When the means and goals are not one the failure is imminent (e.g. Soviet Russia). O, Give them the fishing hook, not fish.

Again I quote Henry David Thoreau, with adaptation to Indian conditions, “give a beggar (poor or rich) a hundred rupee note or 100 million rupees, he will buy a few more rags”. Have a comprehensive look at Mumbai, or even India, and you will notice an old quilt with patches of these rich rags stitched on it.

Consider yet another assessment in just three (+two) words: it’s a fantasmic (boundless labyrinth) Kafka’s Castle!

Planning as if People matter
The First Look: the architect has planted people and plants on the elevated walkways, away from the ground – soil. This is reversal of natural priority of both, the people and plants.
The statement shows numbers – money, areas, families – but no mention of demographic studies of the existing settlement; no mention of ‘environmental impact assessment’ of existing and proposed situations.

As we know, the people here are self-reliant and self-supporting: all that they need is water, sanitation, health care services and education. The project denies them their autonomy wholesale. At least 20-30 percent people – unskilled, semiskilled and skilled – residing here as well as at other slums, are engaged in production of building materials and construction, which has shaped the First World Mumbai. What did the policymakers learn from them so far?

The architect is another functionary from the Castle. The curricula of architecture and planning education have no place for “community participation”, which is a great ancient tradition. Hence how could they go for “user participation”, unless of course the West starts it? This is despite the thousands of temples and mosques in India the artisans had a free hand to do the details at their will, so if you see every wall panel, every column are varied though they look as part of the whole schema.

Mumbai’s 50-60 percent (5-7 millions) slum dwellers, so also those at other places, are displaced people – peasants. This is fallout of the great Indian development craze of the First World India to copy after the Western model. Now they target the slums in the cities to displace them to nowhere!

The sixteen names mentioned do not add to the credibility of the project, and are irrelevant. They are only tourists sponsored by the office.

The great land grab continues

The hidden agenda of the project is to displace the poor beneficiaries(sic) to the square one, as the history shows. The capitalist corporate society eventually shall hijack the project (in the game of many a snake and one ladder), by both design and default. After the special economic zone (SEZ) now the First World India has targeted prime land in Mumbai. This is another realty bazaar to plough back investment made in the name of the poor.
The Last Word: People’s Primary Concerns First
House is where the home is. The home grows so the town, the city, the country. Thankfully our biological father is/was not an impotent and our biological mother is/was not a barren that could fulfil the nature’s function of procreation, birth, growth, sustenance and death. The proposed township at Dharavi is an end product; as soon as it materialises, begins its decay to leave behind debris, effluence, and its residue. It is not designed for growth of the inhabitants of Dharavi slums. Agency is faceless entity; it has no posterity. Ironically Dharavi is also the living chronicle of the history of India’s Development.
  1. The words in italic above: I owe them to Milan Kondura (‘The Art of the Novel’, Faber & Faber, p. 113).
  2. The images: I owe them to Hindustan Times (07-02-2008). For more images you may log on Hindstan Times epaper.
Remigius de Souza


© Remigius de Souza, all rights reserved.