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.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Things Fall Apart

The meeting between European Colonialists and indigenous Americans, Africans and Asians was a traumatic one for the latter. No one has documented this better than Nigerian author Chinua Achebe in his classic first novel "Things Fall Apart". His passing away on 21st March 2013 marks the end of the era of critical post colonial novels from the third world.
When I first came to live and work among the Bhil tribals in Alirajpur I did not know much about tribal culture and lifestyles. The collection of books at the Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath had a copy of "Things Fall Apart" and one of "Jungle ke Davedar" or Claimants of the Forest by Mahasweta Devi. While the first book revolves around a fictional tribal hero Okonkwo the latter is centred on the great Birsa Munda. What they have in common is the spirit with which these tribal heroes fought the British colonialists till their eventual death. Okonkwo is one of the most tragic figures of post colonial literature and it is not for nothing that "Things Fall Apart" is the most popular novel to be read in Africa. These books gave me a much better understanding of the tribal predicament in modern times and the big negative role colonialism had to play in this than any scholarly treatise could have.
Chinua Achebe later went on to write a searing critique of Joseph Conrad's classic "Heart of Darkness". I used to like Joseph Conrad a lot and relished reading his novels including the "Heart of Darkness". However, this critical essay of Achebe's showed how ingrained racism is among the whites so that even overtly progressive authors such as Conrad are covertly racist.
Achebe wrote in English which was the colonial language and not his own mother tongue which is Igbo unlike Mahasweta Devi who writes in Bengali her mother tongue. He defended this saying that - "There is a problem with the Igbo language. It suffers from a very serious inheritance which it received at the beginning of this century from the Anglican mission. They sent out a missionary by the name of Dennis. Archdeacon Dennis. He was a scholar. He had this notion that the Igbo language—which had very many different dialects—should somehow manufacture a uniform dialect that would be used in writing to avoid all these different dialects. Because the missionaries were powerful, what they wanted to do they did. This became the law. But the standard version cannot sing. There's nothing you can do with it to make it sing. It's heavy. It's wooden. It doesn't go anywhere."
In short the British colonialists distorted language also. Luckily they could not do so in India because the major Indian languages already had a rich written tradition. 
One can't help wondering where post colonial criticism through the novel has vanished today when books like Arvind Adiga's "White Tiger" which is an eulogy to capitalist lumpenism and absolute trash also get the Man Booker Prize like "Things Fall Apart" did in its time. Even Salman Rushdie's "Midnight's Children" which has won the Booker of Booker's prize is far inferior to Achebe's classic as far as critical post colonialism is concerned. 

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