Sunday, August 8, 2010

Whispers and Howls

At a function, marked by quiet dignity, a collection of essays entitled Novel and Society was released in the seminar hall of the Department of History, Patna University. It is dedicated to one of the renowned teachers of Patna University and a polymath cultural figure, Dr. Shaileshwar Sati Prasad who headed the Department of English earlier this decade. Several men and women of eminence who spoke on this occasion, referred to the programme as significant because the commemorative volume marked the respect shown to teachers by their students at a time when various agencies have conspired to heap humiliation and indignities upon them in the public space.
The event has been covered by the media and there is not much that one can add. But many interesting things were happening at the margins of the programme. An odd comment by students and young scholars, a smirk, a knowing smile; you know those sorts of things. And then there was this thing shared among three fairly intelligent young people who were sipping soft drinks. They were speculating on how Mathematics could be taught in the years to come. And one of them inspirationally drew upon the lyrics of an old film song with some not-so-subtle changes:
Thethar ke do aage thethar
Thethar ke do picche thethar
Aage thethar, picche thethar
Bolo kitne thethar?
The change in identity of the subject from ornithological innocence to the conscious damning indifference as understood by the vernacular thethar was a critique of educational governance in this state. If such voices are heard from the margins and the voices get louder, it is a wake-up call. This state has been a crucible of dissent. From Buddha to Gandhi and JP, resistance has been articulated very radically to reject the order that felt comfortable in its own arrogance. Today's whispers may become tomorrow's howls.

Speaking West: Ayan Hirsi Ali

The most challenging philosophical problem for those who have been brought up on staples of liberal humanism is that with language being an eternal network of signifiers, most debates remain open-ended. The rational certainties of the European enlightenment cannot be as passionately defended by its devotees as they could be not so long ago. From Gary Zukav to Derrida and from J.M. Mohanty to academics in the classrooms across India and elsewhere, negotiated flexibility without foundational absolutes is the flavor of polemics. Hence, when Javed Anand views Ayaan Hirsi Ali ( Indian Express: June 5, 2010 : 25) in the stereotypical role of a contemporary Don Quixote in his review of Nomad, I cannot help agreeing with the veracity of his perspective despite her exemplary courage, particularly as a woman, in surviving a civil war, genital mutilation, brutal violence, escape from a forced marriage, cross-cultural dislocation and asylum and writing about her experiences without rancor.
Her Manichean opposition to the faith she was born into stems largely from apportioning the world into several mutually nonnegotiable compartments in the manner of Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilisations. It emerges from the Enlightenment’s rational project of putting people into bottles as laboratory specimens with non-transferable labels. This is precisely what Amartya Sen dismantles in Identity and Violence. It is based upon the notion that human beings can be categorized according to singular forms of affiliation based on an overarching system of partitioning and is a corollary to global confrontation. In leading everyday lives as ordinary people, we belong to a number of social formations without contradiction. A solitarist approach is a fundamental threat to understanding our identity in a shared cultural environment. The most glaring illustration of the inadequacy of such a perspective is located in the history of the subcontinent. Even if Ayaan Hirsi Ali is using the homogenizing principle of strategic essentialism (GS) her appeal to the white western superiority is for white men to save brown women from brown men. (Gayatri Spivak). Her resistance extends beyond the faith of the radical Islamists through selective readings of the Holy Book to term Islam a violent way of life. Islam is not only to be located within the spectrum of her experience, undeniably unacceptable in a civilized world, but in many other locations where it is a source of liberation.After all didn't the Prophet say 'the ink of the scholar is more valuable than the blood of the martyr?' While I admire her courage I do have a problem with her perspective.