Sunday, November 22, 2009

Book Review - Voices from the Margin-1

By Shreyashi Chettri
Perhaps it is for the first time that Indian Nepali Poetry has tried to break its silent marginal borders and handicaps and finally come out with a translation using the colonizer’s language, which has undoubtedly been given a flavour, which unmistakably belongs to the displaced and marginalized Indian Nepalese people who now refer to themselves as Gorkhalis. Such an effort no doubt reminds one of Raja Rao who in his ‘Forward’ to ‘Kanthapura’ wrote –
“How can one express in a language which is not one’s own, one’s spirit which is one’s own.”
However, this first volume of Voices from the Margin, a joint production of Remika Thapa and Manprasad Subba , translated by Dr.Kumar Pradhan and Manprasad Subba himself (with the exception of his last three poems Words, Whats in a Name? and Mainstream and Me, which were all written originally in English ), has best expressed the spirit of the repressed and marginalized Gorkhalis, who are all now living under the multiple pressures of postcolonialism, neo-colonialism and internal colonialism.At the very outset, Manprasad Subba strikes this keynote in his well articulated ‘Preface’, wherein he defines himself as a poet who writes ‘From the Margin’. Drawing from all aspects of post-structuralism, neo-historicism, post-modernism, orientalism, postcolonialism and internal colonialism with special emphasis on subaltern studies, he tells us all about how the Gorkhalis have been pushed into the margins, how our stories and myths have been buried and distorted, how we have been made faceless, identity less… other words, how we have become the ‘other’ from the so called mainstream Indians. Indeed, we have long been ‘othered’ in all political, social, cultural and economic levels that we do really begin to question as to what constitutes this mainstream ‘Indianness’. To this, Manprasad counter posits a series of questions-
“What is Indianness? Is it Aryan-Dravid feature or a concept? Appearance or a deep feeling? Just an idea or an ideal? Of course, Indianness is a concept above the feature; a feeling rather than appearance; not just an idea but an ideal. But is the present reality of Indianness really so?”
Likewise Remika Thapa, who is known to speak for the rural culture and identity of the Gorkhas , wonders when this homogeneous concept of ‘Indianness’ will give credence to the heterogeneity of our culture and identity as also being ‘Indian’ who equally contributes a distinct flavour to this ‘Indianness’-
“I am one hundred percent Remika Thapabut those who understand think me ‘else’”.
Who, sitting in the center, has decided this, eh ?Since when will the debate on my name inthe draft of the budget commence?Since when in the name of democracy,standing on the line of ‘others’,they will discuss for a national verdict to come?
- A Serious matter of NameIndeed, India refers to itself as a country which upholds the principle of ‘unity in diversity’ but if it is so then why does it deny the heterogeneous fabric of the Gorkhali culture which has been carelessly homogenized with Bengal. In a poem ‘This Stinking Coat’, Manprasad uses the powerful imagery of a second hand coat which has been thrust upon the Gorkhalis which clings so tight to their body and which ultimately mars their identity –
Thrown over me without asking for,It has stuck to my body so tightlyOverpowering even the earthly smell of my bodyThis coat stinks of rotten fish.Indeed, we Gorkhalis have always found ourselves in some odd situation where we always have to prove or reassert our identity. It is then that a bitter realization dawns upon us – that we are living at the margins, who are not authorized to qualify and speak – how we are always positioned outside the mainstream national scenario – and when we speak we have an uncanny feeling that in some sense we have already been ‘spoken for’.
In their poems both Remika and Msnprasad try to portray for us as to how from this uncanny position we are now perceiving the world around us, not from the center but from the margins. Is it always a case of ‘us/others’ against ‘them/self’ or is it also sometimes a case of ‘us’ against ‘us’. Perhaps civilization and barbarism has always occurred in alternating phases, each of which started slowly and gradually they spiralled outwards in wider and wider extremes until it finally gave way to a new and opposed phase. The center is unable to hold on its own. As a result everything is falling apart into a dismal chaos……perhaps bringing with it a new phase of violence and bloodshed.
In ‘Voices from the Margin’, this new bloody phase has been portrayed by stark and grim images. Words and phrases such as ‘village of riots’, ‘illicit embryos’, ‘backyard of betrayals’, ‘broken skull’, ‘snowfalls of human blood’, ‘red and red’, ‘nudity’, ‘relished each slice of my liver’, ‘tears’, ‘festival of blood’, ‘slaughter house’ – in all these Remika paints for us the grim realities with which we are made to live everyday. For instance she does not paint the usual rosy picture of Darjeeling. Instead she asks –
Was this deprived Darjeeling always like thisa furnace of a crazy Hitler with roasting Jews?The eyes of the world are snapping the pictures of the Darjeeling of this day.”
- (Portrait of Darjeeling)Manprasad who believes that poetry should be simple but evocative where images must not obliterate but refine the meaning all the more uses all his poetic genius to talk about ‘the margin’, ‘past, present and future’, ‘primitive soil’, ‘self’, ‘other’ , ‘history’, ‘name’, ‘subaltern’ and ‘mainstream’. With regard to this Manprasad tells us how , “in Indian Nepali Lliterature there have been many poets and fiction writers who have made this ethnic suffering their subject. However, most of the poets and authors of the mid-twentieth century were dominated by their fervour......Their poetic works on this subject are replete with nostalgia, sentimentality to the point of being maudlin, yearning for a remote past, angst and agony. They lacked the spirit to squarely deal with the harsh reality. Theirs was the tendency to wash their agony with tears and turn towards their past heroes for solace.”However, it was only much later with the struggles for the recognition for the Nepali language in the Indian constitution; a new kind of poetry began to appear in Indian Nepali Writing. For the first time there was then a poetry which internalized the lived experiences of the Indian Nepali citizens.In the ultimate analysis, ‘Voices from the Margin’, is about ‘us’- the marginalized Gorkhas, ‘us’ who has been changed by struggle and that we all hope to change further for the better. It is our story which has not been written from above but from within. It is about our voices, ‘us’ who are made to identify not as Indians though being legal citizens – we who are part of its culture yet excluded by its dominant central voices – inside yet hanging outside in the margins. Indeed this joint effort and production of ‘Voices from the Margin’, now stands as a new reason or hope for us to once again rise from the margins and deconstruct the center – to once again find our voices and not be spoken for. A SERIOUS MATTER OF NAMEI am one hundred percent Remika Thapabut those who understand think me ‘else’.This else has defamed my name.That’s not enough for meto be ‘I’ or myselfI have to be a strong proof to be understood by others,Why are these slow witted amidst those who sit to know?And why are those who sit to know?Who are they who ask sitting in the middle?I’m to give answer only to what is askedI’m to explain upto what they want.I’m to clarify only upto what they wishMy testimonials to be decided by the ken of their loreand I ‘m to be decided as ever failed?When shall I be on the line of those who ask?When am I to debate?When should I put in order my thoughts?The system that allows not to sew a torn vestbeware! to be naked is not allowed.The media has a different schedule of global nudity ,rather you put on embroidered banner of your mastersuch strange fusion will be preserved in the museumand each moment puzzle game of emphaticexistence will be played with you!You bear the burden of the country but you areallowed not to lift the twig of your existence,you bear the brunt of warbut you are not allowed to prop your facewith your own palms.You talk but never raise the issue,you dream but choose not certitude.You grasp the khukuribut you count not the heads of the vultures who come to peckthe roof of your house.Who, sitting in the centre, has decided this, eh?Since when will the debate on my name in The draft of the budget commence?Since when in the name of democracy,standing on the line of ‘others’,they will discuss for a national verdict to come?
- Remika ThapaSUBALTERN’S HEADCan the subaltern speak?
Gayatri SpivakThey want to keep my head ever pressedunder the heavy subaltern helmet.Is there sky or no skyabove the helmet?Subaltern should not know.Command mounts over my shoulderswhipping my consciousnessunaccountably.Can the subaltern draw out from the depth of his chestthe voice to command?Ah! Subaltern’s salute!How smart! How delicious!Those saluted are proud.But…what is it?Sticking through the stout helmetgreen grass-leaves are out today.Suppressed for years under ironThe grass of conscience refusing to dieis now caressing its share of the sky.I’ll hurl this helmet forthwith.My sky has descendedTo affectionately fondle my head.
- Manprasad Subba.

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