• Pash, the Predicament of the Indian McCarthyists

    "His oeuvre resists the rigidity of ideas and forms and attempts to infuse life into the morbid"

    Somok Roy

    September 27, 2017

                                                                                                                                            Image courtesy: The Tribune


    They tried to push Ramanujan into oblivion by removing his brilliant essay, “Three Hundred Rāmāyaṇas: Five Examples and Three Thoughts on Translation” from the Delhi University syllabus. Perhaps, the recovery of “little traditions” from the “peripheral zones” posed a formidable threat to the sacrosanct epic in Sanskrit. The former has survived the atrocities of forced assimilation and homogenisation, sans patronage, whereas the latter, nurtured in South Asia’s elite courts and temples, survives in the form of unstrung episodes in performative cultures. They came for D.N. Jha, for he dared to write on the dietary practices of the Early Indians, citing verses from the Rig Veda, and material remains from habitation sites as sources. They sent legal notice to Wendy Doniger, calling her approach as “that of a woman hungry for sex” for surveying works of religious erotica produced in the Sanskrit cosmopolis. They campaigned against sex education in schools, linking it to the violation of modesty of women, for they know how difficult it is to stifle a questioning voice. Sex education, as they rightly understood, is a threat to the patriarchy that facilitates the gendering of spaces, to the reign of tacit terror that ensures their rise to power. When you wield a legal provision to counter a rape threat, the public sphere inches towards equality, and equality eventually sounds the death knell for hate politics.

    The Shiksha Sanskriti Utthan Nyas, a right-wing organisation founded by Dinanath Batra, vows to ameliorate the current curriculum on the lines of the values characteristic of “Bharatiya sanskriti”. One of its central objectives is to resist the distortions (“vikritiyan”) in the realm of education (distortion of what remains unclear) by countering globalisation (“bhumandalikaran”), westernisation (“pashchatyakaran”) and the forces that seek to divide the country (“desh vicchedi prayaas”). The organisation’s objectives embody a strong nationalistic fervour, albeit sprinkled with the usual right-wing hatred, and allude to some sort of a curriculum cleansing as the way forward. The latest set of recommendations sent to the National Council for Education and Research Training (NCERT) aimed at making school text-books less “biased” and more “inspiring”. It suggests the removal of words in English, Arabic and Urdu (wonder how Persian escaped the butcher’s stroke!), excerpts from M.F. Hussain’s autobiography, writings of Tagore, causal links between the Ram Janmabhoomi violence, the rise of the BJP and Hindutva politics, details about the 2002 Gujarat riots, a couplet by Mirza Ghalib, and a poem by Punjabi poet Pash, among other things. Batra and his battalion’s discomfort with Akbar’s “sulh-i-kul” is intelligible, even the theoretical construct of an accommodative faith defiles their narrative of a despotic Islamic past. The Nyas invokes the Mughals only when it comes to instances of temple desecration, paying no heed to the dynamics of legitimisation and articulation of kingship, because it’s easier to read saffron pamphlets of the history of exaggerated hatred, than a Sunil Kumar or Richard Eaton.

    What fascinates me is the suggestion to remove Pash’s poem “Sabse Khatarnak” from Aaroh, the class XI Hindi literature textbook. Pash’s poetics of revolution is certainly beyond his initial involvement in the Naxalite movement, his oeuvre resists the rigidity of ideas and forms; it attempts to infuse life into the morbid. “Sabse Khatarnak” warns the reader of the dangers of succumbing to power and hatred; how a forced dead silence, and the subsequent death of conscience are the most dangerous things; how the mundane, mechanical functioning of our lives, devoid of the inner voice, stripped of the ability to love, goes into the unmaking of the life-force. Pash implores the reader to feel the furnace within, to shed the cloak of cold indifference and react. Perhaps, it is this infrasonic call for a collective, yet personal awakening that threatens the Nyas and its ideological collaborators, who have held the nefarious slumber 

    of sheepish obedience as the ideal comportment in Indic settings. The fluidity of Pash’s verses comes in the way of a highly symmetrical process of socialisation, juggling the hierarchies of learning by speaking truth to power. It is the optimism of the poet, his unrestrained freedom to dream that justifies the title of the poem. As Professor Chaman Lal writes, “the RSS and its cohorts are afraid of dreams, as dreams lead to inspiration, which further lead to transformational ideas of better humanity – which is dreaded by RSS like often by religious fundamentalist bodies. So the dreamer poet, who was assassinated by religious fundamentalists, now must be kept away from young minds in school.”

    Amongst people blacklisted in the McCarthy era were Bertolt Brecht, Thomas Mann, Arthur Miller, Albert Einstein, Charlie Chaplin, Allen Ginsberg, Dorothy Parker and Peete Seeger. Poet Frederick Garcia Lorca was assassinated at the start of the Spanish Civil War in 1936. In January 2003, just before the US invasion and occupation of Iraq, the UN Security Council covered a reproduction of Picasso’s “Guernica” hanging outside the entrance, in an attempt to keep the anti-war mural away from public view. In Picasso’s words, “art is a lie that tells the truth”, and thus, the attempt to censor it. Even if Pash’s poetry is removed from textbooks, he’s destined to resurface in the minds of the people, as he writes in his classic poem “Ghaas” (grass) –

    I’m grass. I’ll grow on all your deeds… reduce to dust the district of Ludhiana, my verdure will continue to act on it.


    Somok Roy studies history at Ramjas College, University of Delhi.

    Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the writer's own, and do not necessarily represent the views of the Indian Writers' Forum.

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