The Unclaimed hostage
The Unclaimed hostage
Over one-sixth of the world
writers are walking up to a new
thrill of freedom from fear;
but over one-sixth of India, the
creative genius lies stupefied
“Marx is dead, as far as the academic world is concerned,” comments the Times (London) reporting the cancellation, “for lack of interest”, of what was to have been Britain’s biggest debate on the philosophical legacy of this thinker.
It is doubtful if Karl max was ever quite alive in Britain after his physical death in 1883. Even elsewhere he was kept alive like a zombie, through the infusion of someone else’s genius, good or evil, for example, with that of Lenin and later that of the more formidable Stalin in the U.S.S.R. and its satellite countries. He continues to be somewhat of an icon in China, Cuba and in the offices of the parties swearing by his name in different parts of the world.
But over the vast one-sixth of the world – the erstwhile U.S.S.R. – Marx, whatever he might have meant, is politically dead and culturally dying. “It will take time for our creative writers to awaken to the new reality. Fear that haunted any writer, unless he was a non-writer pretending to be a writer with the blessings of the powers that be, have left them in principle, but it has already burrowed its way into their subconscious. It is not easy to shrug off the spectre of punishment for deviationism – even if an imaginary spectre by now – looming over our head and casting its shadow on our pen.,” said an intellectual from Gorki Institute of Moscow on a Visit to India, talking to this author.
That reminds a story from the Jatakas: There was a tyrant who ruled brutally and whimsically. He was hated and feared by all, but his son, the young prince who was no other that the Bodhisattva, was loved by all. A thousand smiles bloomed the day the tyrant died. The wise prince did not mind it, for he nurtured no illusion about his father. However, upon his return to the palace after his father’s cremation, he was intrigued to mark that one servant belonging to the royal paraphernalia looked as gloomy as ever. The servant’s job was to stand guard at the top of a flight of steps leading to the king’s chamber.
“Why do you look so unhappy?” asked the prince. After much hesitation, the young man said, “whenever His Majesty descended or ascended the steps, in his unquestionable wisdom, he found it great fun to plant a blow on me and in his unbounded kindness laughed and laughed as I rolled down the steps. The longer the interval between the blows, the heavier they became. I am dying with fear at the thought of the next blow, should the king change his mind and choose to return to life!”
The Bodhisattva took great pains to convince the young man that the king shall have no chance for doing so, for he had been reduced to ashes under tones of sandalwood.
The creative writers of the erstwhile Soviet Union will gradually get over the fear to which they had been conditioned. But the new emanations of the hostile creatures who glowered over their creativity, are now spying over the writers in Punjab, Kashmir and a few other chunks of India. What glitters in their hands are not pairs of scissors, but rifles. Who can calculate the toll this terror will take of the Indian creative genius? We have read reports on the plight of the press in these state, threatened by terrorists on one hand and suspected and censored by the authorities on the other hand, but who cares about the writers? Terrorism has taken the creative genius a hostage. Who is going to claim it and with what kind of ransom?
“Neither a man nor a crowd nor a nation can be trusted to act humanely or to think sanely under the influence of a great fear,” said Bertrand Russell (Unpopular Essays). The statement can hardly be disputed and when applied to creativity, it sounds alarming. A sudden mad explosion and the random deaths distributed by it, a mother felled by a bullet or a father led away at midnight and found hanged on the neighbouring tree, the sinister faces behind the rifles, the arrogance with which the judgment of ruination is spelt on a home, are too chilling and stunning for the young witnesses of the scenes to be able to recover from their effects. Can they ever trust the value by which civilization and culture rests? How long will it take for them to recover and normalcy and the sensitiveness necessary for appreciation of a poem or a work of art? Even if we forget the practising writers now resigned to silence or a suicidal artificial restraint, can the creative talent latent in the young who are obliged to grow up through such trauma ever thrive?
It was boredom out of a delayed flight that diverted my attention to the passenger at the farthest corner of the sprawling lounge, who, I found cut, was a Kashmiri Muslim, in the educational service of the state and a writer. Rather reluctant to talk at the beginning, he had sufficiently warmed up by the time I asked him, “What are you writing now?”
“Nothing beyond official memos,” he said with a sigh and explained, “Haven’t you heard the outbrurst of an ancient poet asking how could the Muse be expected to come to his heart when his stomach was burning with hunger? Similarly how can the Muse visit me braving the constant cross-fire?”
“Do you mean to give up writing?”
“But you cannot have the necessary mood when, around you, there is the smoke from the gun and your mind is darkened with the smoke of suspicion, fear, violence, disgust and sorrow! I will take up my pen, if I am alive, when the crisis is over.”
“when will the crisis be over?’
He sat brooding for a moment. “Perhaps not until they have achieved their goal,” he said haltingly.
“What is the goal?”
“Freedom from whom? The whole of India is free and Kashmir is not outside it! Did you really lack freedom?”
He kept quiet. But I goaded him on to speak. “Have you ever been to Pakistan?” I asked.
“More than once. Some of my relatives are there.”
“Please tell me honestly. Are your relatives happier than they would have been if India had remained undivided?”
He not only said that he had no reason to suppose so, but also confessed that a number of problems his relatives in Pakistan faced were because of the partition.
“Will you still say that a further partition will yield better result?”
“How can I?”
“How then will you describe a movement in that direction which ruins your economy, deprives your children of their studies, uproots thousands of genuine Kashmiris and stops your pen?”
“As senseless!” he said firmly in a subdued tone.
It was time for us to part. We shook hands as he said, “I cannot write what I said. Perhaps you will.”
“Can I quote you?”
He nodded. “Quote my words, but, for heaven’s sake, not my name.” He turned his face abruptly, took off his glasses and wiped his eyes and looked back with a smile- the unforgettable sad smile of a writer who must not write.