Oldest mountain

Bijolia Khurd khaan. Sandstone quarries in Bhilwara, Rajasthan.
Bijolia in Bhilwara and Dhabi in Boondi have some of the oldest and largest stone quarries on the Aravalli, India’s oldest mountain ranges, now eroded to stubs. Workers who live by the quarries and mines work with their hands, using chisels and hammers to cut stone into slabs, which contractors measure at the end of the work day. They earn Rs 3 for each foot of stone they cut, in eight hours, today, Subhash Mehr, Rajesh Yadav, Keshu Ram Jogi cut 70-80 feet stone at Sukhpura khaan.

What we cannot say about bureaucracy

“..the situations created by violence — particularly structural violence, by which I means pervasive social inequality that are ultimately backed by the threat of physical harm — invariably tend to create the kids of willful blindness we normally associate with bureaucratic procedures. To put it crudely: it is not so much that bureaucratic procedures are inherently stupid, or even that they tend to produce behaviour that they themselves define as stupid — though they do do that — but rather, that they are invariably ways of managing social situations that are already stupid because they are founded on structural violence.

…Comparative analysis suggests there is a direct relation, however, between the level of violence employed in a bureaucratic system, and the level of absurdity it is seen to produce. Keith Breckenridge (2008), for example, has documented at some length the regimes of “power without knowledge,” typical of colonial South Africa, where coercion and paperwork largely substituted for the need for understanding African subjects. The actual installation of apartheid in the 1950s, for example, was heralded by a new pass system that was designed to simplify earlier rules that obliged African workers to carry extensive documentation of labor contracts, substituting a single identity booklet, marked with their “names, locale, fingerprints, tax status, and their officially prescribed ‘rights’ to live and work in the towns and cities” (Breckenridge 2005: 84), and nothing else. Government functionaries appreciated it for streamlining administration, police for relieving them of the responsibility of having to actually talk to African workers. African workers, for their parts, universally referred to the new document as the dompas , or “stupid pass”, for precisely that reason.

Andrew Mathews’ ethnography of the Mexican forestry service in Oaxaca likewise demonstrates that it is precisely the structural inequality of power between government officials and local farmers that allows foresters to remain in a kind of ideological bubble, maintaining simple black-and-white ideas about forest fires (for instance), that allow them to remain pretty much the only people in Oaxaca who don’t understand what effects their regulations actually have.

..Bureaucracies, I’ve suggested, are not themselves forms of stupidity so much as they are ways of organizing that stupidity — of managing relationships that are already characterized by extremely unequal structures of imagination, which exist because of the existence of structural violence. This is why even if a bureaucracy is created for entirely benevolent reasons, it will still produce absurdities.”

—-‘Dead Zones of the Imagination’, David Graeber.

A doctor tells stories

1466151_10201084611382805_2122444597_n

Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar’s novel, The Mysterious Ailment of Rupi Baskey, the story of a Santhali family over four generations, is remarkable for a deep and masterful observation of lives and descriptions of a tribal village – its tree groves, weekly markets, festivals, fights, and gatherings.

The debut author, a doctor with the government of Jharkhand, lives in Pakur, along the state’s border with West Bengal. Once or twice, in descriptions when Rupi and her husband Sido visit doctors to seek cure for Rupi’s mysterious ailment, the writer’s professional knowledge seem perceptible in the narrative. At others, the descriptions of the characters’ emotions of envy, loss, uncertainty are so natural, the supernatural seamlessly flows from them in the story.

What does being shortlisted for The Hindu Prize 2014 mean to you?


I think it means that something good is being expected of me. So I should try to work harder and write better books.

How did your closeness, or distance, from the lives of the people you were describing affect your writing?


The Santhal village, as I have shown in my novel, is how I have seen my village. I have always lived in a Santhal village. My village, Kishoripur – where I revised Rupi Baskey – and my hometown, Ghatsila – where I wrote Rupi Baskey – are just 40 km apart. We would always be at our village for one reason or the other every 10-15 days, or so. Sometimes I would be at Kishoripur in the morning and return to Ghatsila in the evening. There was no question of being close or distant here. I was both. What I have written in Rupi Baskey is from my own life.

How do you compare observing as a doctor to observing lives around you as a writer? Was there ever a temptation to diagnose Rupi’s ailment in the plot, or in your mind?


I remember, when I was working as a house surgeon at my medical college in Jamshedpur, my colleagues and I once saw a very fair young lady in a ward. Our immediate response was: Is this lady really this fair or is she anaemic? You wouldn’t get such a response from ordinary people; only from medicos. Doctors pay attention to the minutiae, the finer details. That is, I think, the beauty of being a doctor.
While writing Rupi Baskey, though, I felt neither as a doctor nor a writer. I did use my experience as a doctor in writing the childbirth scene in Chapter 1, but I never tried to consciously put my knowledge of medical sciences into my book. I was not comfortable thinking of myself as a writer at the time. In fact, I am not comfortable even now being called a writer. What you read in this book, was more as a person seeing an other person and then telling that other person’s story. And no, I never felt like diagnosing Rupi’s ailment. There would have been no mystery then.

What is your writing routine like? How did your novel come to be published?


The less said about my writing and revising routine the better. I am not a disciplined writer. Although, while writing Rupi Baskey I was a bit more focused than I normally am. Now, however, I have returned to my lazy ways. I don’t know when my next book or even a short story is going to come. I write only when I have something to write.
As for how Rupi came to be published, well, I sent the usual synopsis and first 50 pages to various agents and publishers. I had submitted to Aleph, too. My package was addressed to David Davidar. Two months later, I received an email from Ravi Singh – who was the publishing director of Aleph at that time – that Rupi Baskey had been accepted for publication. And I lost sleep after that.

Did you write the short story Adivasis Will Not Dance published in 2014 in The Dhauli Review before or after this novel? What was the thought behind it?

I wrote Adivasis Will Not Dance in 2013. I wrote it after there was the foundation stone-laying of a thermal power project in Jharkhand. I thought, thermal power projects located in other states take their coal from Jharkhand, hydroelectric power projects have their dams in Jharkhand, but people in Jharkhand do not have electricity. I find this tremendously unfair. In August, a neighbouring state stopped supplying potatoes to Jharkhand, which led to a rise in price of potatoes here, and potato is an essential food item. I wonder what the scenario would have been like had Jharkhand, too, stopped all the coal from here going to the thermal power plants in that state.

An interest, or love other than writing that you enjoy.


My favourite activities are sleeping and eating. I sleep a lot; I can fall asleep in buses, trains, anywhere. I am a glutton. I find eating therapeutic. If I am happy, I eat; if I am upset, I eat. At 1 A.M., when people are tucked into their beds, you could find me munching on a kaju barfi, chocolate, or potato chips, or stirring a glass of nimboo paani.
I love watching films.

I want to learn how to knit; but all I have been able to do so far is buy a ball of yarn (the end of which I was not able to find, so I cut the yarn at some random point) and a pair of no. 10 knitting needles, and save knitting videos on my YouTube.
I think I need to stop being so lazy.

Do you believe in ghosts, spirits, witches?
Yes, I do.

(:) An edited version appeared in The Hindu here.

Firayalal shaam

IMG_20140228_175820
When I reached the control room, Upadhayayji (from Special Branch) was the first to have arrived. He put his phone down, ending a conversation with, “So, it was full of clothes, was it?” he chuckled. When I enquired what had happened, he said the bomb squad had been called in Lower Bazaar. “A black bag with wheels had been found”, he told me, “One of those bags with wheels, a trolley bag? All afternoon, there was alarm.” No one knew who had left the bag, and it could be a bomb.
The bomb squad arrived, and found the bag stuffed with clothes. Someone must have stolen the bag with a lot of hope, Upadhayaji speculated, and it turned out to have merely clothes!
“Have you heard of Kaka Hathrasi, of ‘Transistor Bomb’?” he continued, laughing. And then he recited this poem, he said he had first read in 1970: 

“Transistor bomb par likhi ghatna ek sunaayein,
agar mile koi cheez toh usse hargiz nahi uthaayein.

Hargiz nahi uthaaye, hamara Ullu bola
Bus aade pe chhuuth gaya Kaki ka jhola

Kaka pahunche bus aade pe lekar asha
dangh reh gaye wahan ka gajab tamasha!

Bheerh darshakon ki lagi, “bomb! bomb!” ka shor
kharha hua police dal iss jhole ke chahun aur!
Jhole ke chanhu aur, kissi ne nahi tatola
Visfoton ke visheshagya ne jhola khola.

Jhola le thane chale InspectorBhagwan
jaanch wahin pe karenge, tab chorhe saamaan
Tab chorhe saamaan, chale jhola sang aise
Gaaya chale karti bachde ke peechche jaise

keh Kaka unka shaq nikla thotha-chchichchla
Saare baingan kaat diye bomb ek na nikla!

Jhola le kar ghar chale prasanntaa ke saath
Kaki bhi gadgad hui, daala jhole mein haath
daala usme haath ek dam uchchli aise,
maar diya ho dank kissi bichchu ne jaise

“Buddhi ho gayi brashtha tumhari, sathiyaayein ho?
Kati-phati sabzi le kar ghar aaye ho?!”
Haath jode, hum ne kaha, mat kijiye aakrosh,
sabzi kaati police ne! nahi hamara dosh!

Baingan kat teh samay agar ho jaata dhamaka
roti rehti aap, jail mein rehte Kaka!”

One of the very few people I have met who seems to be able to recollect, recite an entire poem (:)
The activists, journalists gang arrived at the chowk soon after, beginning long gupp about election, AAP, friction among vaampanti dal, Advani, aur Chirag Paswan.

IMG_20140228_185840
IMG_20140228_185649

no copyrights

expandedmapsociocultural

Baarish mein nadi mein Latehar patrakaar

Was reporting in Latehar in west Jharkhand earlier this week. Crossing Koel on foot here and then crossing Chaupat river a few meters beyond this point is a routine on all trips to this part of Latehar as there are no bridges close by. But now in monsoon the river swells up and is in spate. Here Manoj Dutt, contributor to ANI from Latehar, gets by with a little help from mischievous friends as I follow the gang on foot.

Kids from Dhomakhar in Kotam panchayat in Latehar help us get Koel-paar.

Kids from Dhomakhar in Kotam panchayat in Latehar help us get Koel-paar.

Aur doob gaye toh? Across the Koel in Latehar.

Aur doob gaye toh? Across the Koel in Latehar.

nichodna etc. nadi paar.

nichodna etc. nadi paar. the motorbike sputtered and coughed long on new ground

aaj ki nadi kamaai. next!

aaj ki nadi kamaai toh done.

Parha jatra, and politics

Ravindra Bhagat, the political successor and son of former Member of Legislative Assembly from Mandar Karamchand Bhagat rides a wooden horse as the parha raja at the Bero yatra.

Ravindra Bhagat, the political successor and son of former Member of Legislative Assembly from Mandar Karamchand Bhagat rides a wooden horse as the parha raja at the Bero jatra.

The parha jatra, a congregation of 5/7/12/21 villages which form a parha, has been celebrated in Oraon and Munda villages since long. But what was traditionally a religious congregation has also become a rallying point and an occasion for political leaders to assert clout.
In 1967, Congress MLA Karamchand Bhagat supported and oganized the parha jatra in Bero for the first time. At the time, the police had imposed a curfew after six adivasis of the area were killed in police firing. Bhagat supported the village parhass efforts to organize the jatra to defy the curfew. Since Bhagat first supported it in Bero, it has been organized at the Bero market in Ranchi every 3rd June. Bhagat, who later joined the RJD, died a few years back and this year’s jatra was organized by his son Ravindra Bhagat.

Paika dancers wait at the parha jatra at Baridih, two kms from Bero, which was first organized by support from former Jharkhand Mukti Morcha MLA Vishvanath Bhagat to counter the bero jatra supported by then Congress MLA Karamchand Bhagat. Photos by Anumeha Yadav

Paika dancers wait at the parha jatra at Baridih, two kms from Bero. On June 3, Congress, BJP, RJD leaders attended the jatra at Baridih organized by Vishvanath Bhagat. Photo by Anumeha Yadav

In 1989, Karamchand Bhagat’s political rival former Jharkhand Mukti Morcha MLA Vishvanath Bhagat started organizing the same parha jatra at Baridih, in a ground two kms from Bero, notes anthropologist Alpa Shah in her 2010 book on Jharkhand. (In the Shadows of the State: Indigenous Politics, Environmentalism, and. Insurgency in Jharkhand, Durham NC: Duke University Press, 2010).

As the villagers celebrate, the head of the parha , the parha raja and the parha dewans ride wooden horses and elephants supported on sticks by their supporters. In Bero Karamchand Bhagat started use of political flags at the jatra and political leaders occupied the place of the parha rajas in jatra, something that Vishvanath criticised him for. In Baridih, only children of the parha rajas appointed by the village occupy these seats at the center of the processions even now.

Bero and Baridih are now the site of the two biggest pahra jatra in Jharkhand. Villagers come from 30-40 kms away to attend the jatra which has the atmosphere of a carnival with stalls selling snacks, toys, ferris wheel rides.

Parha rajas arrive on a wooded elephants carried by villagers at Baridih. Unlike Bero where Karamchand Bhagat started use of political flags at the jatra and political leaders occupied the place of the parha rajas in jatras, only children of the parha rajas occupy this seat at Baridih. Photo Anumeha Yadav

Parha rajas arrive on a wooded elephants carried by villagers at Baridih. Photo Anumeha Yadav

Parha Jatra June 2013-AY 028