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.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Hotel California

Speaking of anniversaries this year is also the twentieth anniversary of my first formal lesson in feminism and introduction to the concept of patriarchy. Bina Srinivasan, who was then an active member of the Inquilabi Communist Sangathan in Vadodara in Gujarat which is the Indian chapter of the Trotskyist Fourth International,tore me to shreds one day in 1988 when I visited their office in Vadodara alleging that I had no idea about the way in which patriarchal relations dominate human society and oppress women. She took me to task for having concentrated primarily on the organisation of the Bhil men and involved women only in the general struggles and not on issues of their own. However much I pleaded that as a man I could not possibly take up women's issues she lambasted me and accused me of not even having tried to understand these issues. The upshot of it all was that for the next few months I read some of the classic texts on feminism and patriarchy that Bina provided me with and then discussed them with her on my visits to Vadodara.
Bina herself was a die hard feminist and marxist at the time and tried to implement all that she understood of the theory of these two schools of thought in her personal life and in the organisational work she did with the women of the slums in Vadodara. She was also an author of short stories and a very good researcher. Over a period of five years till 1993 when I moved out of Jhabua, Bina and I met often and I must say our work among the Bhil women improved considerably because of her inputs. Indeed even later when my wife Subhadra and I worked exclusively for the reproductive health of Bhil women in Khargone and Dewas districts the lessons that I got from Bina stood us in good stead.
But what brought Bina and me really close was our love for the music of the rock group Eagles. Like the Beatles and Pink Floyd the Eagles too have combined philosophical lyrics with top class music. I had lost touch with music in the jungles of Jhabua and so it was very good to reconnect with the Eagles at Bina's home. In fact I found some new meaning when I listened again to my favourite Eagles number at Bina's home (which incidentally was an open house for run down activists of all kinds from all over the place) -

On a dark desert highway, cool wind in my hair
Warm smell of colitas rising up through the air
Up ahead in the distance, I saw a shimmering light
My head grew heavy, and my sight grew dim
I had to stop for the night
There she stood in the doorway;
I heard the mission bell
I was thinking to myself,
'This could be Heaven or this could be Hell'
Then she lit up a candle and she show me the way
There were voices down the corridor,
I thought I heard them say...

'Welcome to the Hotel California'
'Such a lovely place' (such a lovely place)
'Such a lovely face'
'There's plenty of room at the Hotel California'
'Any time of year' (any time of year)
'You can find it here'

Even though the Trotskyists were severely critical of the Soviet Union and had predicted that it would collapse some time or other because of its many internal contradictions the actual disintegration of the socialist block that began in 1989 hit them hard also. The Inquilabi Communist Sangathan saw a lot of internal upheaval and in the process Bina and a few others decided to part ways not only with the party but also with Marxism. Thereafter Bina concentrated on being a feminist and human rights activist trying to maintain secularism in the highly charged communal atmosphere of Gujarat and also campaigning vigorously against the Sardar Sarovar Dam on the Narmada river. Both activities were fraught with danger. Consequently the Gujarat riots of 2001 hit her very hard and she never fully recovered from the deep mental agony she felt at the pogroms that were conducted against the mulsims in which she lost many close friends of hers. She was also partly affected by the fact that though she was a prolific writer in magazines and journals she was not able to publish her written work as a full length book despite many efforts made in this regard. Last year finally she succeeded in this and her first book on feminism was published to good critical reviews - "Negotiating Complexities: A Collection of Feminist Essays". This seemed to lift her out of her depression considerably when she was suddenly taken ill with a severe bout of pneumonia. Inexplicably she never recovered and died in hospital after just two days leaving all her dear and near ones shocked and numbed. I can do no better than dedicate the last stanza of Hotel California to the memory of this brave and deeply human friend of mine who made me aware of many of my blind spots -

Mirrors on the ceiling, the pink champagne on ice
And she said 'We are all just prisoners here, of our own device'
And in the master's chambers, they gathered for the feast
They stab it with their steely knives, but they just can't kill the beast
Last thing I remember, I was running for the door
I had to find the passage back to the place I was before
'Relax' said the night man, 'We are programed to receive'
'You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave'

The Eagles played a new and fabulous acoustic version of the song during their "Hell Freezes Over" live tour and to see them performing live click here


lamp post said...

Their last album was "Hell Freezes Over". The song Hotel California was came back in this album , played mostly on Acoustic guiter - it is more matured and superb. It can be heard at

Rahul Banerjee said...

thanks lamps for the tip. it would indeed be fascinating to listen to the number in acoustic guitar. its interesting how one can read new meaning into a song when heard in connection with a personal event in one's life.

Vidya said...

Reading your blog has been an eye-opener in the real sense of the term. Andolans, struggles against dams were all something theoritical one read about in the news. You succeeded in bringing a glimpse into the real life to some of us. Hats off for your effort and may your tribe increase! That said, I would like to read about the lives of girls, what they think of their future and where it lies , and if there have been changes in their/ their families outlook towards girl children and women in the life of the bhils considering the other social changes that impinge on them from time to time.

Rahul Banerjee said...

on the face of it there have been changes for the better in the lives of Bhil girls and women as I have described in the next post. However, patriarchy still rules supreme and it will take some hard work to improve matters further. One area of concern is the massive spread of alcoholism. The sale of toddy is a very lucrative proposition and women also are taking part in this activity and in the process becoming alcoholics.