Anarcho-environmentalism allegorised

The name Anaarkali in the present context has many meanings - Anaar symbolises the anarchism of the Bhils and kali which means flower bud in Hindi stands for their traditional environmentalism. Anaar in Hindi can also mean the fruit pomegranate which is said to be a panacea for many ills as in the Hindi idiom - "Ek anar sou bimar - One pomegranate for a hundred ill people"! - which describes a situation in which there is only one remedy available for giving to a hundred ill people and so the problem is who to give it to. Thus this name indicates that anarcho-environmentalism is the only cure for the many diseases of modern development! Similarly kali can also imply a budding anarcho-environmentalist movement. Finally according to a legend that is considered to be apocryphal by historians Anarkali was the lover of Prince Salim who was later to become the Mughal emperor Jehangir. Emperor Akbar did not approve of this romance of his son and ordered Anarkali to be bricked in alive into a wall in Lahore in Pakistan but she escaped. Allegorically this means that anarcho-environmentalists can succeed in bringing about the escape of humankind from the self-destructive love of modern development that it is enamoured of at the moment and they will do this by simultaneously supporting women's struggles for their rights.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

A few moments of Peace

Yesterday I managed to sneak out some time from my never ending deadlines to visit one of the villages where we have appointed an adivasi youth as a tutor to do a surprise check as to whether he was teaching or not. This is a new scheme of mine. One of the major factors for the backwardness of the Bhil adivasis is their lack of education. So right from the beginning we have done quite a lot in this regard. The main problem with educating adivasis is that just day schooling is not enough for them given the fact that they are mostly first generation learners. So we have set up some residential schools where the students are given extra coaching after school hours also. One such school, the Adharshila Learning Centre has been phenomenally successful. However, setting up and running residential schools is an expensive proposition. Even though we insist on collecting fees from the tribals these do not cover all the expenses of running these residential schools given their basic poverty. So we have to look around for funds and these are not always forthcoming.
Consequently to increase our outreach from this year we have started a new scheme. Under this we fund a teacher near an established government school to hold tuition classes before and after school hours for the children. The children pay Rs 30 each for this while we pay the teacher Rs 1500 per month. I had gone to check on one of these teachers. Not only was the guy teaching but after news went round that i had arrived people from two adjoining villages came to meet me and asked me to appoint such teachers in their villages also. Being constrained for funds I had to say that this was not possible at the moment. Today while returning from the village after an overnight stay (the villagers insisted that I stay and witness the adults studying at night. They are paying the teacher we have appointed an additional 300 rupees a month to teach them at night for an hour)I was mulling over the success of this initiative and its cost effectiveness and on the sad fact of the resource constraint that we always face in implementing something on a large scale. But on my return to Indore I found that a friend of mine had sent a hefty cheque in response to an appeal that I had sent out. It gave me a sense of great peace for a few moments in the same way as Jibonanondo felt in the company of Banalata Sen.
One of the first modern Bengali poets to come out from under Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore's shadow in a big way was Jibonanondo Dash and one love poem of his has remained a timeless classic - Banalata Sen. Though it is primarily a love poem one can read many meanings into it. When I read this poem for the first time while I was a student in IIT Kharagpur I was far removed from love in the conventional sense and closer to high altitude spiritualism. So I interpreted it as a depiction of one's search for a mission in life and not just loving. And that is the meaning that has remained with me even though I later learned to love also. Thus the poem for me is all about the travails of living passionately for a cause and the few moments of peace that one gets when there is generous help provided by friends in the pursuit of this passion - in this case the uplift of my beloved Bhil adivasis. I am giving the poem as translated by me -

The paths of this earth have I trod for a thousand year
To the seas of Malay in the dark of night from those of Ceylon
I have travelled far; In the grey world of Ashoka and Bimbisar
There was I; And even further in the darkness in Vidisha town
A tired soul am I, amidst the foaming waves of the life ocean
The few moments of peace I owe to a maid of Natore, Banalata Sen.

Her hair was the dark night of Bidisha in ages gone by
A Sravasti sculpture her face; Like the seaman
Afar on the seas, whose navigation has gone awry
A land of green grass espies among isles of cinnamon
So saw her I in the darkness; Raising her bird's nest eyes
Quoth she, "Where have you been so long?" the maid of Natore, Banalata Sen.

At day's end like the sound of falling dew
Evening comes; The hawk wipes the smell of sunlight
From its wings; The manuscript prepares in a world bereft of hue
For a tale bedecked in the colour of fireflies bright
All birds wing homeward, all rivers; On the world's affairs fall a curtain
Leaving only darkness and for sitting face to face, Banalata Sen.


rama said...

Many thanks for this post. I hope the Adharshila School will go from strength to strength and forge a new path. Your reference to and translation of Banalata Sen - is commendable. i learnt a couple of years ago - from a lecture by Clinton Seely - that translating Banalata Sen was actually quite a project, for quite a few scholars! But you have simply cut through all that! Way to go!

Rahul Banerjee said...

In fact it was after reading a "scholarly" translation that in a fit of anger at the murder of this great poem's spirit I did this one. Banalata Sen can be translated only by people who feel its beautiful metaphors course through their blood lifting them up into a different world altogether.

bhupinder said...

You folks may already have heard it, but this was a surprising find for me: