Friday, February 17, 2017 LAST WORD

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Can this novel turn the clichés of Kashmir upside down?
Selina Sen
 
It was an overcast afternoon, the sun appearing and disappearing behind clouds. Ripples on the water caught its intermittent shine, scattering day. To their right the river swirled to laze in a marshy bank, thick with spikes of velvet bulrush. Ducks and water grebe foraged amidst the reeds. A white heron seemed transfixed by its own reflection. A kingfisher at his fishing station made a sudden dive with a turquoise flash. A lotus blossom, torn and pink, swam after them.
Rai was so enthused by the riverbank scenes gliding by that he stood up, sticking his head outside the hood of the canopy.
The gondola rocked violently, the shikara-wallah and Rashid urged him to settle down. Joya felt a fit of giggles coming on, Rashid smiled at both of them quite indulgently. Joya noticed that water seemed to have a calming effect on him.
Full Story
Selina Sen
 
It was an overcast afternoon, the sun appearing and disappearing behind clouds. Ripples on the water caught its intermittent shine, scattering day. To their right the river swirled to laze in a marshy bank, thick with spikes of velvet bulrush. Ducks and water grebe foraged amidst the reeds. A white heron seemed transfixed by its own reflection. A kingfisher at his fishing station made a sudden dive with a turquoise flash. A lotus blossom, torn and pink, swam after them.
Rai was so enthused by the riverbank scenes gliding by that he stood up, sticking his head outside the hood of the canopy.
The gondola rocked violently, the shikara-wallah and Rashid urged him to settle down. Joya felt a fit of giggles coming on, Rashid smiled at both of them quite indulgently. Joya noticed that water seemed to have a calming effect on him.
She stiffened self-consciously as a passing shikara of tourists clicked their pictures, their boatman waved cheerily at them.
Rai looked at Rashid and remarked suddenly about yesterday’s visit to the military camp, “What was that brigadier talking about? Nothing could be more peaceful than this scene. These army wallahs are all paranoid about Pakistan. I have visited Lahore and Islamabad, what hospitality and warmth! They are no different from us.”
Rashid said nothing.
Excerpted with permission from Zoon, Selina Sen, Tranquebar Press.
“Look at this river always changing, yet the views of the sky and the water and the birds seem unchanged since Zoon. It would be a great metaphor for time, its passage dissolved in the river itself. Battles, kingdoms, dynasties, even religions taking on new avatars, yet the Jhelum flows on uncaring,” continued Rai, the beauty around him making him quite lyrical.
“Men may come and men may go but I go on forever,” Joya quoted Tennyson suddenly, but Rai was distracted at this moment by a section of the riverbank which appeared to be breaking loose. They paddled faster to catch up with the twenty- foot-long strip of garden which was being towed by a doonga. Transfixed for a while by this moving bounty of fragrant mint and giant cucumbers, Rai Sahib turned to Rashid. “This is a floating garden?”
“Yes,” Rashid pointed to the six-inch-deep layer of earth, “look, it’s a framework of water weeds slapped onto a base of wooden splints with a mixture of mud and manure. There are many advantages, the plant needs no watering and since it’s floating, it does not get submerged during flooding, and reduces the pressure on land.”
“How old is this system of gardening? I mean, it would be very intriguing to use it in a background scene.”
Joya answered before Rashid could, “It’s been mentioned in the memoirs of Gulbadan Begum, Emperor Babur’s daughter, which was written generations before Akbar.”
“Good, good, we must try and incorporate it in the screenplay.”
At this point, they turned back towards Dal Gate and, for the moment, Joya too grew conscious of time’s passing; an end to this Srinagar summer. Later, when she would look back, as she often did, these days would achieve the grace of an idyll. At present, she was saddened that the phase of conception was nearly complete and that although there was much to get busy with, she did not know exactly when she would meet Rashid again.
Joya and Rashid, sat alongside very upright on the narrow seat. They were facing Rai Sahib who was sprawled across the wide-cushioned seat, practically a bed. Joya opened her notepad, balanced awkwardly on her lap.
A list began to grow on it as they thought of tasks Rashid must accomplish in Srinagar before the filming began. She struggled to ensure her writing was legible against the skiff’s gentle rocking, tensing her thighs to steady the notepad.
Tapes of Kashmiri Sufi music for the music composer in Bombay
Local musicians who play Kashmiri instruments such as the santoor and rabab (Wathora)
Examine Paintings of 15th century riverfront architecture for the set decorator/art director (Try museum)
Construction coordinator, carpenters and craftsmen to work on the set.
Make up a video tape of local men and women to play prominent courtiers.
As soon as dates are fixed block hotel and/ houseboats for crew.
 
Catering for crew/ Transportation coordinator
Interpreter and general dogsbody for Sheridan. Should be fluent in English and be able to arrange trout fishing trips, not too far from location.
Rashid read through it, tore out the page and put it away neatly folded in his breast pocket. “It should be no problem, inshallah.”
Joya coloured slightly at the thought of her words folded above his heart.
She was acutely conscious of his hand loosely curled on his thigh, flanking hers. She felt an instant of elation, and wished to prolong this present precious moment. She could stay here forever, feeling the tug of attraction in the pit of her stomach. Shaking her head slightly, she looked away, squinting across the sparkling water.
The clouds had dissipated on their return. The sun streaked the water with a coral hue. The Zabarwan hills above the Mughal gardens seemed to melt into shadow as evening fell. A lonely fisherman on his skiff flung his net; for an instant, it was spreadeagled against the sky, his catch the setting sun. The fading light was moist, changeable.
Rashid lived in Hasanabad behind Rainawari. On this, their last evening in Srinagar, he had invited both of them home for dinner. He had asked them a few days ago, shyly, veiling the apprehension in his eyes with lowered lids; perhaps they might refuse. Joya watched his stillness as he waited for Rai Sahib to reply and learnt to recognize another little trait of his, anticipation made him freeze.
They stopped at Amira Kadal bazaar where Rai Sahib wanted to pick up a gift for his wife. At a tiny silversmith’s where every piece was carefully crafted by hand, he picked up two silver leaves in velvet boxes. One was the outstretched hand of the chinar, veins marked strongly enough to delight a palmist, and the other a fragile lotus leaf for Rashid’s mother. Joya chose a pair of onyx and silver drop earrings for her friend Poonam.
At Jan Bakers, on the junction where three roads meet, Joya bought a honey almond cake to gift Rashid’s mother, he was smiling as she paid for it, very pleased. The blue shikara, which had waited for them as they shopped, passed now under a slender bridge.
“As children we would jump off this bridge and go swimming,” Rashid told them. Joya wondered at his childhood so different to her own, surrounded by water, the element lapping always at the edges of every day. They glided past his aunt’s house, her living room lights reflected in the lake.
A series of wide steps led down to the water’s edge, dark brown pottery urns with glazed detailing of vines and grapes were crowned with scarlet geraniums. It was a picturesque place with rambling pink roses and a row of bee-boxes. She sold lotus honey; Joya and Rai were interested to learn that honey came in different varieties governed by the flower on which the bee sucks. Her house disappeared from view and they disembarked minutes later to walk the rest of the way.

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Why dictatorial tendency rising in India, Germany and US?

Menaka Guruswamy
Scroll.In
 
Earlier in January, the German constitutional court rejected a proposed ban on a far-right party accused of neo-Nazi links, because its members were deemed too ineffective to pose a real threat to democracy. The Independent reported that the court rejected an attempt by the Bundesrat, comprising Germany’s 16 states, to outlaw the National Democratic Party, which has been described by intelligence services as racist and anti-Semitic. But the far right is growing steadily in Germany.
The day after, the New York Times had a chilling story of the extreme within the far right party, the Alternative for Germany or AfD – of an even more radical figure, Björn Höcke. Höcke talked of the “vanquished German psyche” and criticised the national culture of atonement for the Holocaust.
Full Story
Menaka Guruswamy
Scroll.In
 
Earlier in January, the German constitutional court rejected a proposed ban on a far-right party accused of neo-Nazi links, because its members were deemed too ineffective to pose a real threat to democracy. The Independent reported that the court rejected an attempt by the Bundesrat, comprising Germany’s 16 states, to outlaw the National Democratic Party, which has been described by intelligence services as racist and anti-Semitic. But the far right is growing steadily in Germany.
The day after, the New York Times had a chilling story of the extreme within the far right party, the Alternative for Germany or AfD – of an even more radical figure, Björn Höcke. Höcke talked of the “vanquished German psyche” and criticised the national culture of atonement for the Holocaust.
Dangerous political trends
The AfD has grown in prominence over the last two years due to their venomous opposition to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s refugee policy. More distressing, given that national elections are only months away, is the New York Times reporting that polls indicate the party (AfD) has a 15% approval rating. Germany has famously eschewed charisma-driven politics and opted for the more low-key, thoughtful, clever and efficient manner of Merkel and a consensus-oriented coalition form of parliamentary government. But, Germany’s list system, (not a first-past-the-post option), also means that a party that wins 15% of the vote will be represented in Parliament.
In 1997, Fareed Zakaria, writing in Foreign Affairs, said, “From Peru to the Palestinian Authority, from Sierra Leone to Slovakia, from Pakistan to the Philippines, we see the rise of a disturbing phenomenon in international life – illiberal democracy.” He was responding to concerns that free and fair elections might result in racists and fascists being elected to office. Over the last year, I have watched as India, Germany and the United States, three well-established democracies, have steadily either started falling to or slowly settled into a comfortable illiberalism.
In 2014, the Bharatiya Janata Party, led by its charismatic leader Narendra Modi, came to power in India. The party advocated a resurgence of Hindu nationalism, including contested constitutional claims over consumption of beef, dominance of the Hindi language, and curtailment of free speech. Dissent from a nationalist agenda was often met with abusive trolls, parroting the age-old Partition-era abuse of “go to Pakistan”. But, this robust Hindu nationalism, the kind rejected by the drafters of India’s Constitution, came with a modernising package of an embrace of big business and the world outside.
 
Bleak future knocking
In November, as I watched the US election results pour in on television, Donald Trump swept the electoral college, if not the popular vote, on a strident platform of muscular Americanness and a demonisation of immigrants and minorities, with sexism thrown in for good measure. Swathed in a hue of being a big successful businessman, Trump promised more trade protections and to keep much needed manufacturing jobs in America.
The United States, Germany and India are great constitutional democracies, whose apex courts enjoy uniformly high approval from their respective peoples. West Germany’s Grundgesetz or Basic Law was adopted in May 1949 and India’s Constitution followed soon after in January 1950. German constitutional values provided for equality, life and dignity, and in contemporary times, the country also made a definitive choice to establish a national culture of the memory of the brutal Holocaust. India’s Constitution was adopted eschewing any politics or constitutionalism of the memory of Partition, but also committing to quintessential liberal values of equality, life and, with time, a more radical agenda of redistribution of socio-economic resources.
While these two countries picked different but also similar paths, America’s founding in 1789 was substantially less liberal, reflecting the times. The American Constitution, made primarily for white landed men, soon transformed with hard-fought-for amendments to also reflect the rights of women and African Americans – essentially all citizens.
Yet, today, all three countries are united by a failure, of varying degrees, in national politics to successfully reflect a discourse of liberal constitutionalism of equal respect, tolerance and dignity that their constitutions committed to and their highest courts enforced.  Part of the reason for this failure is the loss of a tradition of the charismatic lawyer-politician, like a Jawaharlal Nehru or Sardar Patel, who while adroit at the use of legal methodology to craft a unifying constitutional dispensation, were also adept politicians who could communicate and shape populist political discourse. Bruce Ackerman, Sterling Professor of Law and Political Science at Yale University, credited charismatic constitutionalists like Nehru with successful constitution-making in India.
 
Constitutional liberalism degrades
With the end of Barack Obama’s term, America loses its rather popular community organising-law professor president, who was firmly committed to a progressive liberal agenda. But, the lack of a certain kind of constitutionalist-politician doesn’t entirely explain the steady degradation of constitutional liberalism as a national political ideology.
Some part of the blame must also be borne by lawyers and legal academics. We write and work exclusively in forums that are not accessed by the majorities of our peoples, in subscription-only legal journals or appellate courtrooms far away from people. Most legal scholars do not write in the popular press, especially in local language newspapers/media in India, which have a far greater reach than the English press. The language of Indian appellate courts is English and their judgements are rarely translated. Many lawyers and scholars never reach out to their people in any meaningfully accessible way – to discuss constitutionalism and the founding of our countries. This has enabled the terrain of the mainstream political discourse to be influenced largely by charismatic nationalists and other politicians who have little interest in constitutional values.
As India celebrates its Republic Day, one wonders at the irony of the constitutional republic that is India, imagined and founded by lawyers like Nehru, Patel, BR Ambedkar, C Rajagopalachari, Rajendra Prasad and BN Rau amongst others, rendering our constitutionalism increasingly irrelevant. For Germany and the United States, time will tell how their own liberal constitutionalists respond to the challenges of the politics of demonisation, misogyny and charismatic non-constitutionalists.
 
Menaka Guruswamy practices law in the Supreme Court of India, and is a fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin for 2016-’17.

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