TODAY -

Letter from the Republic of Dust
- Part 1 -

Rajendra Kshetri *

Thick smog enveloped Imphal city, especially along the airport road, reducing visibility to near zero :: Dec 11 2012
Thick smog enveloped Imphal city in December 2012 :: Pix - TSE



You have heard of or/and seen 'banana republic'. You have 'republic of darkness' in India. India, to Naipaul and his horde of admirers is 'an area of darkness'. The same 'area of darkness' which, to Basham is "the wonder that was India". Who on planet earth does not know that India is the land of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi- the apostle of peace – the man who brought down the mighty British Empire – where the sun never sets – to its knees. The land of non-violence where violence pays. The land of 'Ahimsha' where the language of violence rules the roost.

Not everyone fully appreciates though, that this too is the land of 5 Cs – Corruption, Commission, Committee, Cricket, and Coalition – which complements one another. Who was that diplomat who said something like India is NATO – No Action Talk Only, a different but an apt acronym of North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Wasn't that Galbraith – the American Economist – turned – diplomat, a one-time ambassador to and a long- time friend of Nehru's India, who said a long time ago that "meetings are indispensable when you don't want to do anything". Did he have India in mind when he remarked this?. So, there, you have the 5 Cs in the land of Buddha, Ashoka and Gandhi. Is it any wonder then, that, this land of Buddha and Mahatma always takes "a decision not to take a decision as a decision"?. That is how and why it was enshrined in the Constitution : 'India, that is, Bharat'.

Have you ever heard of or come across a 'republic of dust'? A corner in the land of 5 Cs where 'dust' reigns supreme, rules and lords over the land and people. Freely. Unchallenged. Unquestioned. A corner in the world's largest democracy where 'dirtyisation' is a process and 'dirtism' a way of life. Sixty three years of independent India's five- year developmental planning have not been able to rein in the reign of dust in the Highways – national and international – the streets, the lanes and bylanes. So resilient is this 'republic of dust'. So rooted is this republic of dirt.

You must have definitely seen 'Zorro' – the mask-man (in movies) or at least heard of him in story books, taking on the baddies. But it is doubtful whether you have seen, read or come across hundreds of thousands of Zorros walking, pedalling and driving on the highways, streets and lanes. No, these Zorros do not take on the baddies, they learn to live with 'heat and dust' and move on. You don't like to see this far-flung corner in the land of 5 Cs where every fifth person, irrespective of age and sex, is a Zorro. Interesting, eh ?

But you are scared, no ? I know you are scared. May be you are not. Hesitant ? Yes, that's it. You are hesitant to have a feel of this land of Zorros. Obviously, you have read or/and heard those 'paid' news and channels that covered only the dark side of human development. Of course, you have a point to justify your reluctance. This plot of land in the land of 5 Cs is a place where every alternate day, bomb blast, killing, extortion, kidnapping, fake encounter, extra-judicial killing, murder, bandhs, strikes, protest rallies, sit-in-protests and blockades take place.

But, my dear mainland friend, these are mundane affairs, routine ordinary stuff to and for the residents of this 'republic of dust'. You see, 'dust' had made them blind, irrational, illogical, insane, but at the same time strengthened their perseverance and resilience – the two key elements for development. But, development in the land of conflict, violence and terrorism ? More to the point is it serves as a booster to their immune system to ward off any possible attack by AIDS. No, no, don't look frightened by the mere mention of AIDS. Just maintain your moral and keep it flying high and you are absolutely safe. From AIDS, yes. But not from the 'dust'. Not yet. You will have to master the art of survival as the residents of this 'dust republic' have done.

You always asked me how these people have survived three/four months of economic blockades, when the land was totally cut off – no, no, not by any natural calamities, nature is very kind to the land and its people, for that matter, but by a handful of local bigots – from the rest of the country. But as is wont with you and your ilk/tribe ( I mean no disrespect) from the mainland you will ask and simultaneously fire fusillade of answers of your own. 'Essential Commodities, food were airlifted from and by Delhi', 'geographical proximity to south-east Asian countries', 'international border trade relations with Burma'.

Reasons that you have cited, with some air of seemingly superior knowledge to drive home your all-knowing attitude. Recall how I have maintained a stoic silence and parried all your bullet questions. Because, I wanted you to come and the physically feel the pulse, the environment, the atmosphere of the land and people of this 'dust republic'. Since you are still hesitant, no, no, don't try to put up a brave face, I could see your eye movement. You see, my friend, eyes never lie. I will tell you the secret of their survival. For one thing, they work, labour, toil, innovate and produce. And they only consume what they produce, especially in times of crisis. For another, they know and are fully convinced that any crisis is a temporary phase that could be turned into an opportunity.

More importantly they believed in their power of resilience, perseverance and ability to outlive such crisis. Something they are demonstrating in the kingdom of 'Babupara babus' and its army of dust atomic particles. This, after all, is the land that had not only survived the Seven Years Devastation during the Burmese occupation in the nineteenth century but produced Heerachandra, the warrior prince, who introduced and practiced the art of what is now globally known as guerilla warfare, against the invading forces, centuries before 'Che' was born, practiced and wrote 'Guerilla Warfare'. This may cause a small flutter of disbelief and shock to you because I know how dearly and closely you hold 'Che' in your heart. So do I. 'Che' was/is my Youth Icon. My hero, my champion.

In my book, 'Che' is the only figure who embodies the absolute meaning of a true genuine revolutionary. Not Lenin. Not Mao. And definitely not Castro and Ho-Chin-Minh. Don't you want to come to the land of prince Heerachandra-the father of 'Guerilla Warfare'? Don't you want to see one of the hillocks that Heerachandra frequented and used for his guerrilla activities-which, by the way, is at a stone's throw from the place where I hang my hat. It is another matter that the very hillock is today occupied by the army of Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA).

But, of course, I must not forget to mention that the rulers of this 'dust republic' have constructed a 'water reservoir' on the hill top and provides to the residents potable water of yellowish colour. Have you ever seen or come across, let alone drink, potable water of yellowish colour. Once in a while the residents are given bonus when atomic dust particles visits the pipe. Don't look askance ! This land has no blue oceans and seas. Only hillocks, mountains, lakes and rivers under the caring care of 'republic of dust'. Water, potable or otherwise, cannot, must not and should not, therefore, be blue and crystal clear. Something cross your mind ?. Yes, I know what you are thinking.

An awareness campaign through graffiti: Blue, clean, crystal clear water is injurious to health. And you think the 'republic of dust' will honour you with some civilian awards in recognition of your service to the people's republic, right ? Wrong ?, unless you are a contractor. This is the land of contractors. Every one who is somebody or/and aspire to be one, from academic, artist, bureaucrat, insurgent, militant, politician, student, technocrat, to writer, is a contractor. Must be a contractor. You see, this land thrives on contracts and contractors drive and thrive on this land. Didn't you know, yet, that this republic has one of the biggest, if not the biggest, industries in the land of '5 Cs'.

Insurgency. This is the industry that keeps the entire State (not excluding non-state) machineries alive and kicking. You have some inkling as to what/who is helping the industry grow at a geometrical progression?. You are right, my dear Watson, it is elementary, it is the AFSPA. You see, this prized possession of the world's largest democracy is a double-edged instrument and serves a dual purpose. On one hand, it dehumanizes lesser mortals-like you and me-and on the other hand, helps establish an industry for the super mortals.

Now, don't say it. I know what is going on in that little inquisitive mind of yours. You want to meet or/and seek an appointment with Sharmila-the living symbol of indomitable spirit of human resistance against the oppressive regime. But why do you want to meet/see her? Obviously, you want to do a story on her, show solidarity, pour (more) accolades, denounce AFSPA with a half-baked promise that you will take Sharmila's fight to the rest of the country. This is the standard practice and I know you know it that you are no different from the crowd. Your command over the language is very good, I would even say, excellent, no less than Nirad Choudhury, but you don't speak with that 'oxbridge' accent and that is your disqualification.

Did you know or do you care to know how these 'oxbridge' accented elite group of academics/journalists/activists from the capital of the world's largest democracy have mastered the subtleties of championing (read) monopolizing Sharmila's cause and are now telling the world from their air-conditioned ivory towers, the story of Sharmila-the 'iron woman', 'the longest hunger striker', 'the Iron Irom', the 'anti –AFSPA crusader'.

The beauty of their story telling is that they tell it only when and what they want to tell at their convenience, pace, time, place, and not when and what the issue, the situation demands and needs to be told. You can't blame them, though, as they are less concerned with this frail Mongoloid woman and her cause-to put an end to the rule of AFSPA-than their Ivy- League image and appetite to stay in the limelight. So, Sharmila, who fights for withdrawal of the Act from this republic of dirt and dust and looks/searches/appeals for support and means, herself has become a means for academic and media elite to stay in the limelight and hogged the prime time panel discussion on TV channels.

They are in a league, big league and their monopolization of Sharmila and her cause is so complete and so skillfully and subtly managed that you just can't walk in and enter.

It is nothing short of Drona's 'Chakraviyu'.

They won't allow you to speak for and on behalf of Sharmila. Unless, of course, you are an 'Arjuna'.

(To be contd)


* Rajendra Kshetri wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is a Professor of Sociology at Nagaland University is the author of "The Emergence of Meetei Nationalism". This is an extract from his forthcoming book "Wonderland: Thy Name Is Manipur".
The author can be reached at aardhikshetri(at)gmail(dot) com
This article was webcasted on Ocotber 24, 2013.


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