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  • FLUX · Jaishri Abichandani's Guided Studio Tour

    INTERACTIVE FLUX · Jaishri Abichandani's Guided Studio Tour VOL. 1 EVENT Artist, activist & curator Jaishri Abichandani gives us a live guided tour of her studio. JAISHRI ABICHANDANI FLUX: An Evening in Dissent A guided tour—with the famous Feminist Wall & an exclusive look at the piece Kamala's Inheritance (2021 Sculpture Wire, foil, epoxy, MDF, stone and paint), with acclaimed artist-activist Jaishri Abichandani & Senior Editor Abeer Hoque. Tarfia Faizullah: Poetry Reading Kshama Sawant & Nikil Saval: A panel on US left electoralism, COVID19, recent victories, & lasting problems. Natasha Noorani's Live Performance of "Choro" Bhavik Lathia & Jaya Sundaresh: A panel on the US Left & its relationship with media in the wake of Bernie Sanders' loss. Rajiv Mohabir: Poetry Reading SAAG, So Far: A Panel with the Editors DJ Kiran: A Celebratory Set SUB-HEAD ​ ALSO IN THIS ISSUE: SHEBANI RAO A Freelancer's Guide to Decision-Making JAMIL JAN KOCHAI A Premonition; Recollected Watch the event in full on IGTV. SHARE ARTICLE: Event Live Studio Tour Art Practice Feminist Art Practice Sculpture Painting Ceramics Art Activism Art History Politics of Art Feminist Spaces Feminist Organizing JAISHRI ABICHANDANI has intertwined studio and social practice, art and activism in her career, founding the South Asian Women’s Creative Collective (SAWCC) in New York (1997) and London (2004). Abichandani has exhibited internationally including at P.S.1/MoMA, the Queens Museum of Art, and Asia Society in New York, 798 Beijing Biennial and Guangzhou Triennial in China, IVAM in Valencia, Spain, and the House of World Cultures in Berlin. She served as the founding Director of Public Events and Projects from 2003-06 at the Queens Museum of Art, where she organized Fatal Love: South Asian American Art Now, Queens International 2006: Everything All at Once , and curated Her Stories: Fifteen Years of SAWCC . In 2017, Abichandani engineered a collaboration between the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, Asia Society and the Queens Museum to organize a three-day national convening of South Asian American artists, academics and curators; along with the exhibition Lucid Dreams and Distant Visions , in which she was a co-curator and a participating artist. In 2019, Abichandani organized a trilogy of exhibitions to inaugurate the Ford Foundation Gallery: Perilous Bodies, Radical Love, and Utopian Imagination centered the visions of BIPOC artists. Abichandani’s work is in the Burger Collection, Asia Art Archive Collection, and Saatchi Collection. She has been a resident of LMCC’s Process Space residency and an honoree of the Brooklyn Arts Council and ASHA for Women. She was awarded grants by the FST Studio Projects fund and the Foundation for Contemporary Art in 2021. 5 Dec 2020 Event Live Studio Tour Bibi Hajra’s Spaces of Belonging 3 Jul 2023 IMAN IFTIKHAR Pakistan's Feminist Wave: A Panel 27 Sept 2020 COMMUNITY Skulls 4 Apr 2023 FICTION & POETRY MORE LIKE THIS

  • Dispatch from a Village Near Hamal Lake, Sindh, in August

    THE VERTICAL Dispatch from a Village Near Hamal Lake, Sindh, in August VOL. 2 ISSUE 1 DISPATCH In the wake of this year’s monsoon, villagers in Sindh contend with the loss of their livelihoods and the ecological disaster that’s become increasingly familiar. Photograph courtesy of Rahmat Tunio. IBRAHIM BURIRO THE WEATHER in northwest Sindh remained hot and humid a month after the torrential monsoon spell that wreaked havoc in the region. Among the ceaseless deluge, the struggle to save major cities in north-west Sindh such as Dadu, Sehwan, Johi, Mehar, and Warah continued. In the aftermath, people themselves have taken the charge to strengthen and monitor flood protection bunds, reflecting a mistrust of the state and its elected officials. As per the official statistics, which are still believed to be under-reported, rainwater and floods have impacted 33 million people, displaced nearly 10 million, and killed more than 1500. 1.5 million houses and a million livestock have also been lost, and hundreds of thousands of acres of crop fields—15% of the country’s rice crop and 40% of its cotton—have been ruined. The full picture of the destruction will only emerge once the water level recedes and surveying becomes possible. On the morning of 24th August, our village, Sabu Khan Buriro, was flooded due to intense water pressure from the overflowing Hamal Lake. The rising water soon breached the flood protection bund, and as water gushed into our village, our priority was to bring our valuables and belongings to dry patches of land. Wading through waist-deep water and in some areas chest deep water, people couldn’t take anything other than bed sheets, charpoys and some rice and wheat grains. They were forced to retreat to elevated surfaces like the flood protection bunds, which were soon packed with people and their belongings. Official rescue efforts are rare in these areas, but surprisingly, the district administration sent 5 mini trucks to evacuate the village. In a state of panic and shock as the water submerged the village, the people were evacuated and most of us ended up on the road. But this is not a story about my village alone. It’s the story of an entire region dispossessed by the floods and unprecedented rains, and the specter of poor governance, unchecked capitalism, and climate disregard that has enabled ecological collapse. Mass migration has begun. Families on the roads are forced to stay on charpoys without shelter, food is scarce, and people are struggling with basic necessities. Many people left for cities unwillingly to save their lives, but still there are hundreds who stayed back in dry areas near villages to look after their livestock or moved to safer places with the help of local boats as flood water levels increased. Thanks to the timely help of comrades from the Women Democratic Front, a Pakistan-based socialist-feminist organization, in our village, my family and I succeeded in rescuing essential goods before the village was delinked from mainland Sindh. This is the story of an entire region dispossessed by the floods and unprecedented rains, and the specter of poor governance, unchecked capitalism, and climate disregard that has enabled ecological collapse. One of the biggest challenges we are facing after rescuing our families is making contact with people who decided to stay behind. When the flooding began, the elected MPA’s family, a major feudal family in the area, instructed people to leave, but many refused in order to look after their livestock and save what little grain they could. It's impossible for 'elected' MPAs and feudal families to understand the logic of village residents. Our livestock and the rice and wheat saved from last year’s harvest are all we own. It is difficult for villagers to leave the only assets they rely upon at the mercy of the government, because we’ve learned over our lifetimes that the government isn't serious about helping people in the long term, indulging instead in corruption around flood relief goods without any long-term planning. Many of the villagers migrating have brought cattle and other livestock with them, fearing the animals would suffer from deadly ailments. Caring for the livestock and arranging for their fodder has become an additional responsibility on top of people’s own survival, but to neglect them would further threaten people’s livelihoods. The livestock and the products they offer—wool, eggs, milk, and more—are not only a source of essential nutrients, but social wealth as well. With their crops destroyed and livestock impacted, people are left with no source of earning or income for the year ahead. As villages and crop fields have turned into lakes and wetlands, cities, water sieged from all sides and acting as makeshift refugee shelters for flood-impacted people, have become a breeding ground for different diseases. Diarrhea, malaria, fever, skin diseases, and respiratory illnesses are spreading, and one of the major priorities for flood-displaced people has been the provision of medical care along with food. But in addition to physical ailments, for displaced persons, the traumatic experience of losing their homes and becoming refugees has led to psychological issues that largely go untreated and ignored. In the medical camp that we organized through the Awami Workers Party and Women Democratic Front's help, many patients, unable to sleep at night or during the day, asked about sleeping pills. This trauma has been repeating, and worsening, for those living in the floodplains of the Indus. My grandfather's brother, Hakim Ali, who is visually impaired, has spent 60 years in the fields and villages of our region. He learned to herd with his brothers in childhood and then passed that knowledge onto his sons, and now grandsons and granddaughters. He has brilliantly memorized how to navigate around the village and the grasslands around Hamal Lake, and in the mountains and fields of Kachu. He says he has never before witnessed such a long monsoon. This is the first time in his life that he has had to take refuge in a city. Signs of despair and restlessness are visible in his body language, as limited space in the city has snatched his freedom to move about in familiar open spaces. The unique experiences of each impacted person tell a tale about people's relationships with their surroundings, land, and ecology. In addition to physical ailments, for displaced persons, the traumatic experience of losing their homes and becoming refugees has led to psychological issues that largely go untreated and ignored. I first experienced displacement when I was in the 8th grade due to the floods in 2007. We lost our wooden and mud huts and were forced to take refuge in Kamber city, 30 kilometers to the east towards the Indus River. Again in 2010 floods destroyed our houses, crops, livestock, and everything on which we had established our livelihoods. My parents spent the next couple of years selling assets like crops and livestock, saving up bit by bit to slowly build a solid house for us. One summer it was a mud-made room, the next, it would be a wooden part of the house. Enduring in this way, our parents made a house out of their labor, patience, care, and most of all, love. Now, a decade later, we’ve once again lost our homes and entire livelihoods. Located along the edge of Hamal Lake in Kamber Shahdadkot District, Sindh, we and hundreds of our fellow villagers have been facing an ongoing water crisis for several years now. Due to water scarcity in the Indus River and little rainfall, Hamal Lake has been completely parched for the past couple of years. Last summer many pastoral families from our village and nearby villages who completely rely on the lake migrated nearer to the Indus for grasslands and herding. When this monsoon started, the long awaited rainfall bore happiness and hope—the hope of rebuilding the lake, of rebuilding the livelihoods entirely dependent on wetlands, of food for our livestock in the arid zones of Kachu where rain creates the possibility for grasslands to emerge. In the last couple of decades, however, rain has either become scarce or bursts forth and the dry soil is unable to soak it in, leading to floods and bringing misery and destruction in another form. The rain continued for a month. At one point it rained for 72 hours without a break. As monsoon spells came to an end in the second half of August, my family, village, and nearby villagers lost everything they had invested in the land: rice crop seeds, rice paddies, fertilizers, and their labor. People here depend on crops, livestock, and Hamal Lake’s wood and fish. In these desperate times, it’s a harsh reminder of how working people and farmers suffer doubly in an extremely unequal and unjust state and society. The government has not learned anything from the floods that have marked the second half of the twentieth century. During the floods of the 1990s, 2007, and 2010, cities had remained safe, but this time, what many are comparing to a doomsday, continuous rain has hardly left any home undamaged. Other than its capital city Karachi, every sphere of public life in Sindh has been disrupted. As village life is uprooted and completely devastated, semi-urban or urban areas aren't safe as well. Food crises have worsened, and inflation is skyrocketing as wheat flour mill owners and small shopkeepers to big dealers hike up prices to cash in on the miseries of the flood-displaced population. The rain continued for a month. At one point it rained for 72 hours without a break. As monsoon spells came to an end in the second half of August, my family, village, and nearby villagers lost everything they had invested in the land: rice crop seeds, rice paddies, fertilizers, and their labor. Climate change is intensifying the monsoon spells. When Hamal Lake dried up last year, it destroyed livestock and wildlife, the livelihoods of millions of people who depend entirely on the lake to make their ends meet. The story of Pakistan's largest lake, Lake Manchar, is no different. In recent years, it has been either completely parched or filled with contaminated water. When rain is scarce, the Indus River water is diverted to upper stream areas or dammed. But this year it’s threatening to inundate two districts in Sindh. These dual problems of drying and overfilling are directly connected to monsoon cycles becoming increasingly unpredictable in nature. According to environmental scientists, Pakistan is the sixth most vulnerable country to climate-related changes. From dried lakes to heavy monsoons, scorching heat waves and extreme winters, this is already our reality. In the face of climate emergency, local, provincial, and federal governments lack preparation and their inefficiency in addressing these crises have furthered the suffering of the people. We can't let governments hide behind words like ‘unprecedented’, 'natural disaster’, or ‘punishment due to our sins’. These are man-made disasters and a crisis of governance at the regional and international level. Economic priorities of profiteering at the cost of ecological disruption have resulted in mass miseries for the working classes. In the epoch of the Anthropocene, worsening air quality, water scarcity, extreme heatwaves and unprecedented rains are becoming a regular feature, not just devastating entire livelihoods but disrupting entire populations. Rain and floods in Sindh are not natural disasters but manifestations of inadequate infrastructure planning as well as consequences of inappropriate efforts to mold and control nature. Rivers, lakes, and natural water streams pave their own ways through the land, and disturbing their natural routes is only causing disasters. If we are to save ourselves from these devastating monster monsoons—as they are being called this year—or deadly heat waves, we need to radically rethink our relationship with nature. We collectively need to reassess our misplaced and delusional drive to alter nature according to our unbridled desires. We need to call out the elephant in the room: Capitalism. And we need to put reins on the unprecedented commodification of everything. If we do not do this and organize against this life-threatening crisis, we will be left with nothing to take protection or refuge in. Each season of the year in South Asia will bring with it a hitherto unknown face of devastation. ▢ SUB-HEAD ​ ALSO IN THIS ISSUE: SHEBANI RAO A Freelancer's Guide to Decision-Making JAMIL JAN KOCHAI A Premonition; Recollected Photograph courtesy of Rahmat Tunio (2022). SHARE ARTICLE: Dispatch Sindh Climate Change Floods in Pakistan Capitalism Women Democratic Front Awami Workers Party Sabu Khan Buriro Hamal Lake Livestock Crops Trauma Displacement Anthropocene Environment Sehwan Warah Dadu IBRAHIM BURIRO is pursuing a Masters degree in Development Studies at the Institute of Business Administration, Karachi. He organizes around issues of ecology, particularly on the subject of the free-flowing Indus River, and has been active in the students' rights movement. Buriro belongs to a remote village in Sindh impacted by flooding. He writes in Sindhi and English. 12 Mar 2023 Dispatch Sindh The Uneasy Dreamscape of Katchatheevu 16 Jun 2023 JEEVAN RAVINDRAN In the Yoma Foothills 26 Feb 2023 FICTION & POETRY Climate Crimes of US Imperalism in Afghanistan 16 Oct 2022 THE VERTICAL MORE LIKE THIS

  • Between Form & Solidarity

    COMMUNITY Between Form & Solidarity VOL. 1 INTERVIEW Poet Chandramohan S in conversation with Senior Editor Sarah Thankam Mathews CHANDRAMOHAN S "One’s privilege cataracts one’s vision. Aspects of that privilege create a form of blindness, a cataracting of one’s advantage. My modus operandi is to illuminate as many blind spots as each of us have. It is not my fault that I may be born into a privilege, but it will become my fault if I do not make myself aware of it." RECOMMENDED: Love After Babel and other poems by Chandramohan S (Daraja Press, 2020) SUB-HEAD ​ ALSO IN THIS ISSUE: SHEBANI RAO A Freelancer's Guide to Decision-Making JAMIL JAN KOCHAI A Premonition; Recollected Watch the interview on YouTube or IGTV. SHARE ARTICLE: Interview Kerala Language Vernacular Literature Internationalist Solidarity Dalit-Black Solidarities OV Vijayan Dalit Literature Ajay Navaria Avant-Garde Form Poetic Form Deepak Unnikrishnan Chandramohan S is a Dalit Indian poet, writer and social activist. He is the author of Warscape Verses, Letters to Namdeo Dhasal , and Love After Babel . He is based in Thiruvandanapuram, Kerala. 31 Aug 2020 Interview Kerala The Uneasy Dreamscape of Katchatheevu 16 Jun 2023 JEEVAN RAVINDRAN Chats Ep. 1: On A Premonition; Recollected 13 Nov 2020 INTERACTIVE COVID-19 and Faith in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh 27 Feb 2023 FEATURES MORE LIKE THIS

  • Experiments in Radical Design & Typography

    BOOKS & ARTS Experiments in Radical Design & Typography VOL. 2 ISSUE 1 PRESENTLY Appropriating the predator-drone & other notes on the new design system. DIVYA NAYAR How does a magazine like SAAG understand space & geography? How does it grapple with the many South Asian communities—those acknowledged as such, and those that aren't—to begin to identify the wrongs we must right from a long legacy of media that construed and continue to construe "South Asia" so narrowly? When I set out to design a whole new SAAG, these questions were on my mind. Unconsciously, material things—street signs we passed by, patterns we'd been looking at for years but noticed again for the first time—gave me some answers that buttress our current design system, allowing for a conversation within the team from many countries. These ideas came from my own subjective personal experiences, yes, but that intimacy I felt led all of us as a team to wonder: what might everyone else find intimate? How do we bring it all together? The design system is an expression of solidarity—finding commonality in what we all see or read; wear or draw—while admitting exception and difference, and also that this is, of course, an ongoing process. Disaster Timeline: Cover Artwork Our first issue allowed us to think about space on a broader level too. More specifically we asked: How does networked space see? Through the eyes of capital and the modern surveillance state—much like the seeker-head of a predator drone—the human subject has reached the zenith of abstraction. Humanity is now a set of data points, and collective struggles, in turn, simply distant blips on a radar. Visibility doesn't come easy. In an attention economy with content tethered to the whims of capital, only the profitable survive. Large-scale disasters cannibalize attention, obscuring the slow devastation occurring across regional, social, bodily, and psychic scales on a continuous loop. It’s a circular timeline. In a sense, the apparatus of surveillance defines the contour of strife: what better way to capture that present state of invisibility than to mimic how the predator drone sees the regions discussed in the issue? Thus, the cover art for Issue 1 by Mukul Chakravarthi attempts to capture the cold cartographies of collective strife through the aesthetics of the modern surveillance state. The appropriation is an affirmation of our editorial commitment to deeply human narratives that emerge in the form of rigorous local reporting but also, critically, in the aesthetic responses of struggle and dissent, many of which you will find in the issue. The custom display-face was derived from a grid system mapping the eight main cities—from Islamabad in the west to Naypyidaw in the east—that feature in the first issue. It was an exercise conceived to be just as spatial as it was typographic. The intention was to construct a display-face that gave form to regions that otherwise figured in the margins of the globalist imagination. Iconography The iconography is the foundation of Volume 2. I truly hope you come to remember these icons and the content and forms of creative work they represent. The process began with my own archival, oral history and mixed-media research, which led to a great deal of conversation and more findings from the whole design team. The iconography is inspired by textiles across many South Asian countries and communities. It is a visual representation that interweaves recurring patterns across geographies and peoples. Each icon is a recurring motif in textiles from seven or more contemporary South Asian nations, and countless communities within them. SAAG's general approach to "South Asia" is pertinent here. We deliberately does not construe "South Asia" specifically in terms of geography. This is because we recognize, as our archives indicate, that: 1. Diasporic communities originating in the subcontinent exist in countries as far east and as far west as any map will show. 2. "South Asia" is generally conceived of as countries within the subcontinent, but the history of its terminology is often nationalist, divisive, and problematic for many peoples even within the region's most populous country. As Benedict Anderson has argued, it is also a construction to some degree of the rise of area studies; its arbitrariness can be seen in its inconveniences: some countries in what is academically considered "Southeast Asia" share more historical, cultural, and linguistic similarities with those considered "South Asian", and vice versa.* For the purposes of our iconography, we researched motifs stretching from Laos to Iran, as well as the Caribbean. Typography & Colophon ​ Our web typography was also selected carefully. Our primary typeface, Social by Dinamo type foundry, reflects the playful, collaborative spirit of SAAG as a "multi-people, multi-width mega collaboration" itself. It's also a remarkably sturdy sans that allows us to be flexible: based on the theme of each issue, we want to use a new display font entirely. We hope it keeps you on your toes. The body text for the work we publish is set in Erode by Nikhil Ranganathan and Indian Type Foundry (ITF), a startlingly original, idiosyncratic and yet almost unobtrusive typeface that we greatly admire. Meanwhile, each issue of Volume 2 will use a different display typeface. For Issue 1, we chose the spiky and precise TT Ricks by TypeType. ​ Our colophon—conceived by Prithi Khalique and designed in many iterations and styles by Hafsa Ashfaq—is a nod to our print future, inspired by one of the works first cited when SAAG began: Rabindranath Tagore's painting Head Study , a work of dazzling ingenuity that provides the metaphorical architecture for our identity. Of all the decisions we made, this one came the easiest to us. A design system that coheres around our collective past feels best to embody our aspirations for the future: we cannot predict the future, but we can take stock from the conceptual frameworks our many contributors provide to us. Moving forward, the design system will move much like the issue artwork itself: fluidly adapting to best represent the radical potential of the present in its aesthetic form. Website Our new website is a complete overhaul, and a sharp contrast to the original SAAG website as well. We think fondly of what we made for Volume 1: its maximalist, wild, and mysteriously glitchy exterior paired with very serious work and dialogue. But if the eternal doom scroll has taught us anything, we are inundated with maximalist content. What we wanted was care, intentionality, attention, flexibility: an ease to the user experience that reflects the care we took to make every choice inspired by South Asian custom, movement, or labor. We hope that our new website—designed and developed by myself and Ammar Hassan Uppal, with help and feedback from editors and designers on the team alike—flows much more organically, whilst feeling both tactile and geometric. We felt that the digital space shouldn't distract from the ideas and concepts of the difficult material discussed in Issue 1 of Volume 2 as well as in the archives. It should enhance it. What you see is also a website intended to take on the spirit of the issue currently featured, adapting at each turn. At the same time, we wanted to inject a little whimsy into the experience: easter eggs sprinkled through the website, which we hope you'll find. We hope to evoke a more orderly and idea-focused experience of SAAG’s content, and challenge the dominant sense that the "avant-garde" need be synonymous with disorderly maximalism; instead, we eschewed both maximalism and minimalism—as well as the neo-Brutalist response to minimalist design—with a warmer color palette and approachable typography. In Volume 2 of SAAG, we hope to demonstrate that we take the intellectual and conceptual happenings and developments in the worlds of design, typography, web development etc. just as seriously as anything else. Stay tuned for forthcoming content and events on the many political-aesthetic challenges contemporary designers face, as well as how they understand, learn, teach, and reckon with the histories and legacies of design. Top of mind for us throughout this process was affect and emotion: how one might feel when one logs onto the website or reads one of our pieces? We do hope you feel welcomed . ▢ * Benedict Anderson, A Life Without Boundaries ( Verso , 2018) SUB-HEAD ​ ALSO IN THIS ISSUE: SHEBANI RAO A Freelancer's Guide to Decision-Making JAMIL JAN KOCHAI A Premonition; Recollected The display-face superimposed on the cartographic grid system it arose from. SHARE ARTICLE: Presently The Editors Design Disaster Aesthetics Drone Warfare Surveillance Regimes Iconography Textiles Benedict Anderson South Asia as a Term Cartography Colophon Rabindranath Tagore Affect Web Design Design Process Typography Indian Type Foundry TypeType Dinamo Head Study Divya Nayar is a multi-disciplinary artist and designer based in Queens. 12 Mar 2023 Presently The Editors Mukul Chakravarthi is a Senior Product Designer at Fidelity Labs, a Visiting Critic at Massachussets College of Art and Design, and former Adjunct Professor at the Rhode Island School of Design. He is also a typographer, interaction designer, and architect based in Boston. Prithi Khalique is a visual designer and animator based in Dhaka and Providence. Hafsa Ashfaq is a visual artist, graphic designer, currently an editorial designer for DAWN . She is based in Karachi. Ammar Hassan Uppal is a professional designer and web developer based in Lahore. FLUX · A Preface 5 Dec 2020 DIVYA NAYAR · KAMIL AHSAN · VISHAKHA DARBHA Climate Crimes of US Imperalism in Afghanistan 16 Oct 2022 THE VERTICAL Fictions of Unknowability 28 Feb 2023 BOOKS & ARTS MORE LIKE THIS

  • Six Poems

    FICTION & POETRY Six Poems VOL. 1 POETRY In Ayodhya’s sacked Mogul masjid / vultures scrawl Ram on new temple bricks. RAJIV MOHABIR Ghee Persad I. You know straight away it’s ghee and not oil but you can’t eat it without gambling for the price of home-feelings, you may soon lose a toe, then a foot, then your leg. Call it faith—like drinking Ganga water? Call it an offering, like this sweet, that stood at the bronze feet of the ten- weaponed, tiger-riding Devi. You’ve recounted the tale of how she slew the demon-headed asura who made a compact with the gods so strong they trembled in heaven, how sugar is also divine and terrible. II. First hot the karahi with ghee and paache de flouah till ‘e brown-brown den add de sugah and slow slow pour de milk zat ‘e na must get lumpy. Like you mek fe you sista fust picknki ke nine-day, how you tuhn and tuhn ‘am in de pot hard-hard you han’ been pain you fe days, but now you see how ovah-jai you sistah face been deh. You live fe dis kine sweetness. You eat one lil lil piece an’ know dis a de real t’ing. Like when a-you been small an’ you home been bright wid bhajans play steady, how de paper bag wha’ been get de persad became clear from de ghee you been hable fe see you own face. III. You pass though ever kind watah, there is always new life to celebrate. Seawall At Morning Georgetown, Guyana 2019 What starts at night startles the dawn: rain water replenishes the trench lotus stalks and petals stand tall Seawall signs painted Namasté in acrylic Beyond, the sea silts brown as mud as a f rigate soars wings of stone. And beyond: a ship with sails from 1838 I look twice— an oil rig? Another form of bondage? Pandemic Love Poem One by one the yellow jackets leave their nest, a hole covered with decaying leaves that warm the ground and an inert queen they’ve fed all autumn. What sleeps inside will one day burst into a wind of wings. What will wake a sleeping queen? Beneath my waist growing larger, the sting of nights one by one, when I am stranger and stranger to you. We sleep in a converted porch, wooden siding, the wall that insulates what’s inside it which is not you, nor is it me. The bedclothes stiffen with cold. Remember me? One by one peel the yellow sheets from our nest. Prick me with your heat from sleep. Place a cardamom pod under my tongue. Come, dissolve with me. Sita ke Jhumar स्टाब्ब्रुक के बाजार में अंगूठिया गिरी गयल रे। स्टाब्ब्रुक के बाजार में अंगूठिया गिरी गयल रे। हमसे खिसियाई बाकी हमार गलतिया नाहीं । सास करइला चोखा खावे, ससुर दारू पिये। ससुराल में परदेसिया रोटी थपथपे अउर दाल चउंके। आमवा लाये भेजल हमके जीरा लाये भेजल हमके। बाकरा ठगल हमके संगे जाने ना माँगे है। गिनिप लाये भेजल हमके जमुन लाये भेजल हमके। ससुराल में परदेसिया, मासाला पीसे अउर बड़ा तले। ओरहन पेटाइहे हमार माइ के, बाबा से खिसीयाइहे। साँइया खिसियाई हमसे गलतिया नाहीं हमार रामा। स्टाब्ब्रुक के बाजार में अंगूठिया गिरी गयल रे stabroek ke bajar mein anguthi giri gayal re stabroek ke bajar mein anguthiya giri gayal re hamse khisiyayi baki hamar galtiya nahi saas karaila choka khawe sasur daru piye sasural mein pardesiya roti thapthape aur daal chaunke aamwa laye bhejal hamke jira laye bhejal hamke backra thagal hamke sange jane na mange hai guinip laye bhejal hamke hamun laye bhejal hamke sasural mein pardesiya, masala pise aur barah tale orahan petaihai hamar mai ke baba se khisiyai hai saiya khisiyaiyi hamse galtiya nahin hamar rama stabroek ke bajar mein anguthiya giri gayal re Me ring fall from me finga a Stabroek. Me husban’ go vex. He mudda’ wan’ eat karaila chokha, he faddah suck rum steady. Me na nut’in’ to dem. Me does clap a-roti an’ chounke de daal. Me husban’ send me a market fe buy mangro an’ fe get jeera. Backra been tek me ‘way wid dem come, me na been wan’ fe come ‘way. Me husban’ send me mus’ buy guinip an’ jamun. Me na no one fe he mai-baap. Me does pise de masala me does fry de barah. ‘E go sen’ complaint to me mumma an’ vex wid me faddah. Me husban’ go vex wid me but nut’in’ me na do. Me ring fall from me han’ a Stabroek. My ring slipped from my finger, in Stabroek market. My love will be angry for what was his fault. His mother’s eaten karaila chokha his father’s sucked rum. I’m a stranger in their home, clapping roti, spicing daal. My love sent me to buy mangoes, he sent me to buy jeera. Backra kidnapped me; I didn’t want to go. My love sent me to buy guinips, to buy jamun. I’m a stranger in their home, grinding spices, frying barah. He will complain to my mother, gripe to my father. My love, it’s not my fault. My ring fell off in Stabroek market. IN SHIPS [HONORING MAHADAI DAS’ “THEY CAME IN SHIPS”] West— They came dancing and despondent hungry gaunt alone do not forget the field or your blood I lost the yokes of rage in chains. Janam Bhumi In November of 2019 the Indian courts allowed the Modi administration to construct a Ram temple at the site of the demolished 16 th century Babri Masjid built by the Mogul ruler Babur. On August 5, 2020 they broke ground for the new mandir. Jai Sri Ram, now god of murder. What is real, Rushi, the forest is now deforest, home its own undoing? Trench lotuses hard as dicks release truth, even the skinks and hawks shrink back into scarcity. What of shanti—? In Ayodhya’s sacked Mogul masjid, vultures scrawl Ram on new temple bricks. Brother, from this mandir of burning, each sunrise mantra shoots itself a poisoned arrow. Each snake prays. The unlit path sparkles maya. ▢ SUB-HEAD ​ ALSO IN THIS ISSUE: SHEBANI RAO A Freelancer's Guide to Decision-Making JAMIL JAN KOCHAI A Premonition; Recollected Artwork by Kareen Adam for SAAG (Monoprinted, digitally animated collage, ink on paper, 2020). SHARE ARTICLE: Poetry Guyana Indo-Caribbean Bondage Colonialism Mahadai Das Babri Masjid Ayodhya RAJIV MOHABIR is the author of The Cowherd’s Son (Tupelo Press 2017), The Taxidermist’s Cut (Four Way Books 2016). He translated I Even Regret Night: Holi Songs of Demerara (1916) (Kaya Press 2019) from Awadhi-Bhojpuri (folk languages from the Indo-Caribbean of Demerara) and received a PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grant Award and the 2020 Harold Morton Landon Translation Award from the American Academy of Poets. His memoir Antiman (Restless Books 2021)was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award in Gay Nonfiction, and the 2022 PEN Open Book Award. His poetry collection Cutlish (Four Way Books, 2021) was longlisted for the PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry and was a finalist for the 2021 National Book Critics Circle Award, amongst other awards. He is currently Assistant Professor of poetry in the MFA program at Emerson College. 31 Oct 2020 Poetry Guyana KAREEN ADAM is a Maldivian-Australian visual artist sharing her time between Maldives and Melbourne, Australia. The experience of living between multiple cultures, particularly negotiating between the East and the West informs her practice. Ideas about transitions, cultural identity, and the juncture between 'local' and the 'visitor' emerge in her work. Her current projects explore representations of island tourist destinations and island diaspora. Kareen explores these ideas using various mediums including printmaking, drawing, painting and digital multi-media. Kareen is the creator and maker “Kudaingili”—a range of hand-made, hand-printed products. Kareen has curated exhibitions, and exhibited her art works in Maldives, Brisbane, Melbourne, Hong Kong, and the Asia Pacific region. She has a Diploma in Visual Arts from the Southbank Institute of Technology, Brisbane and a Postgraduate Diploma in Psychology from the Queensland University of Technology. Skulls 4 Apr 2023 K ZA WIN In the Yoma Foothills 26 Feb 2023 FICTION & POETRY Alien of Extraordinary Ability 13 Oct 2020 FICTION & POETRY MORE LIKE THIS

  • Chats Ep. 7: On Tamil translation & Perumal Murugan's "Poonachi"

    INTERACTIVE Chats Ep. 7: On Tamil translation & Perumal Murugan's "Poonachi" VOL. 1 LIVE On Tamil fiction with N. Kalyan Raman, the acclaimed Tamil translator of Perumal Murugan's novel "The Goat Thief". N KALYAN RAMAN A discussion on Tamil translation between acclaimed writer N Kalyan Raman and Advisory Editor Aishwarya Kumar, as well as a reading of a portion of Perumal Murugan’s story "Poonachi" with Pooja Kumar, live on Instagram. SUB-HEAD ​ ALSO IN THIS ISSUE: SHEBANI RAO A Freelancer's Guide to Decision-Making JAMIL JAN KOCHAI A Premonition; Recollected Subscribe to our newsletter for updates on SAAG Chats, an informal series of live events on Instagram. SHARE ARTICLE: Live Tamil Translation Perumal Murugan N KALYAN RAMAN has been translating Tamil fiction and poetry into English for the last two decades, for which he received the Pudumaipithan Award in 2017. Some of the fiction writers he has made accessible to an Anglophone audience include the late Ashokamitran, Devibharathi, Vaasanthi, Perumal Murugan, and Poomani. He has translated numerous Tamil poets, including forty poems by forty Tamil women poets for an anthology curated by Kutti Revathi. He received the Sahitya Akademi Award for Translation in 2022 for his translation of Perumal Murugan's Poonachi . 7 Dec 2020 Live Tamil The Uneasy Dreamscape of Katchatheevu 16 Jun 2023 JEEVAN RAVINDRAN Chats Ep. 1: On A Premonition; Recollected 13 Nov 2020 INTERACTIVE Fictions of Unknowability 28 Feb 2023 BOOKS & ARTS MORE LIKE THIS

  • The Cuckoo Keeps Calling

    FICTION & POETRY The Cuckoo Keeps Calling VOL. 1 SHORT STORY Translated from the Bengali by Shabnam Nadiya MASHIUL ALAM MODHU wakes up at dawn and says to his wife, “Say goodbye.” Modina clasps her husband’s hand and says, “Not today. Go tomorrow.” The cuckoo trills from the branches of the koroi tree. Modhu doesn’t know what it means when the cuckoo calls during a spring dawn. He lies back again. Now comfortable, he goes back to sleep. The next day at dawn, Modhu again asks his wife to bid him farewell. Again, his wife says, “Not today, tomorrow.” Modhu again lies down like a good boy. Sleeps comfortably. The cuckoo calls from the tree. Modhu doesn’t hear. He is sound asleep. The cuckoo grows increasingly desperate. Coo. Coo-oo. Coo-oo-oo. Modhu sleeps, he doesn’t hear. His wife Modina lies awake; she doesn’t hear either. But Mafiz hears the cuckoo trilling in this spring dawn. He is not unromantic. He breaks into song: Oh, why do you call to me so early in the morning, oh, little cuckoo of my life? Modina doesn’t hear Mafiz’s song. Mafiz exits his home and gazes at the three-way intersection, the road that people take to reach town. Mafiz doesn’t see anybody taking that road. He walks. He places his foot on the threshold of Modina’s yard and, in a muted voice, calls out, “Brother, Modhu, have you gone to Dhaka?” Modina shoos cows. “Hyat! Hyat, hyat!” “Hey, girl, why are you shooing me?” Modina picks up a wooden stool and throws it at Mafiz. Mafiz sniggers like a jackal and leaves. As he goes, he says to himself, “No matter how many times you cut me, or hit me…” Modhu wakes up hungry. Modina serves him rice and eats as well. Not freshly cooked, steaming rice. Old rice, with water added. As he eats, Modhu asks, “Isn’t there anymore panta-rice left?” Modina bites her tongue in shame. Which means that there is no more panta-rice left. No more, meaning that in Modina’s judgment, because she herself has eaten too much, the panta has been finished before her man’s hunger has abated. Hence, Modina’s shame, hence, her biting of the tongue. “Now I need to go to Dhaka.” Modhu needs to go to Dhaka for pertinent reasons. Modina asks, “Isn’t it hard to drive a rickshaw?” Modhu knows that this is Modina being tender. Modina knows that driving a rickshaw in Dhaka city is grueling. But working the fields was hellish torment, and the wages were poor—merely sixty takas a day. One day in the month of Joishthya, Modhu had almost died while weeding the jute fields belonging to the Mondals. There was no water in the fields, there were no clouds in the sky, Modhu’s back was burning to ashes from the sun, his throat was parched wood, he was desperately thirsty, he was running for water, the solitary plains had become the deserts of Karbala, in the distance, Bacchu Mondal’s new tin shed glinted in the sunlight, there was a new tube-well near the outer yard of the house, Modhu was running towards it, stumbling on the clods of earth in the hoed field, shouting “A drop of water for me, please!” But before he had reached the tube-well, Modhu had tumbled onto the ground, his eyes had rolled back into his head, he foamed at the mouth. Modhu almost died that day. No more, meaning that in Modina’s judgment, because she herself has eaten too much, the panta has been finished before her man’s hunger has abated. Hence, Modina’s shame, hence, her biting of the tongue. So Modhu traveled beyond Kalai, Mokamtala, Bogra, Sirajganj, across the Jamuna Bridge, to the city of Dhaka, two hundred miles away. There he pulls a rickshaw, earns a hundred takas a day, counts that money each night, again and again, can’t settle on one place where he can hide this money. This is how, day after day, for fifteen straight days, Modhu drives a rickshaw. In Kawran Bazar, twelve of these drivers live in a windowless room; with them live twelve thousand mosquitoes; the mosquitoes sing, suck the blood of all the Modhus, and the Modhus all sleep like the dead. At the crack of dawn, when the tired mosquitoes are each an immobile drop of blood, the Modhus wake up; nature calls them. They not only feel the thunderclouds rumbling in their bellies, they hear them as well. They go out in a group, pull the tabans covering their asses over their heads, and they show their naked dark asses in a row as they hunker down at the edge of the Kazi Nazrul Islam Avenue, or some of them in front of the Hotel Sonargaon gate. They wipe their asses with newspapers because there is no water; not only is there a lack of water to clean themselves, the Modhus don’t have water to bathe. For fifteen days straight, Modhu doesn’t wash himself; sometimes the odor of his own body makes him want to vomit, especially when the sun is strong and Dhaka’s skies and air cease to be. This is how it is, day after day, night after night. But what happiness, what success! When Modhu returns to Modina after fifteen straight days, there is at least fifteen hundred takas in his waist pouch. Which means that for at least a month, he neither thinks of Dhaka nor speaks of it. Modhu goes to Dhaka city. The watered rice is finished, there is no more rice left in the house, Modina sits emptyhanded by the derelict stove. A cuckoo trills in a tree; Modina doesn’t hear it, but Mafiz does. It has never happened that a cuckoo sings and Mafiz hasn’t heard it. When Modhu crosses the three-way intersection of the highway and goes towards the upazila town, Mafiz peeks from behind the house. He spots Modina sitting by the stove doing nothing and he begins to joke around. “Brother, Modhu, are you off to Dhaka?” Modina turns her head. Joyous, Mafiz says, “What’s up, Modina?” “What’s your deal?” Modina scolds Mafiz in a solemn manner. “You’re hankering for a beating?” “If you beat me with your own hands,” Mafiz says as he grins with all his teeth and comes forward fearlessly, “my life would be a treasure.” “Go home.” Modina is even more serious. “Do you want a job, Modina?” Mafiz coaxes her. Modina isn’t willing to listen to anything. She threatens Mafiz, “I’m telling you, go.” Mafiz tries to get angry and says, “I’m here to do you a favor without being asked, and you want to shoo me off like a cow?” Modina asks in a serious manner, “What favor?” Mafiz responds with mystery. “You’ll get money, wheat. Want a job?” “What job?” “Shooing goats,” Mafiz says and chuckles. Although he hadn’t intended to laugh. Modina is furious. “Go away, you bastard. You can’t find someone else to joke with?” Mafiz moves fast to try to control the damage and speaks in a very businesslike manner. “Not a joke, Modina, for real! No actual work involved, just shooing cows and goats.” “Explain clearly, what sort of job is this then?” Mafiz explains it clearly. “Haven’t you seen those trees planted on either side of the highway? Those trees need to be guarded so that cows and goats don’t chew them up. That’s the job. They’ll pay cash, they’ll also pay with wheat. You sell the wheat to buy rice. And with the money, you buy beef, tilapia…!” “Stop, stop.” Modina stops Mafiz and suspicion rolls across her eyes and face. She narrows her eyes, creases her forehead, and interrogates him. “Why would anyone give me this job when there are so many people around?” “Why, I’ll arrange it for you. I’ll grab the Chairman’s hands and feet and I’ll beg…” Mafiz pauses for no reason. He can’t find anything else to say. But his plan and his words are quite clear. Still, Modina wants to hear more about this job guarding trees and the means to getting it even more clearly. “Go on, why did you stop?” Mafiz laughs and says, “I will grab the Chairman’s hands and feet and beg: Uncle, give this job to Modina, you won’t find a girl as nice as Modina even if you look and look…” Modina howls with laughter. A cool breeze wafts across the ditch and disappears. From the branches of the koroi tree, a cuckoo calls. Mafiz glances towards the tree and looks at the cuckoo. Then he gazes at Modina’s face and says in a melancholy manner, “Do you know what the cuckoo is saying? Mafiz says, “The cuckoo is crying. It’s crying and asking, Where did my own little cuckoo bird go?” “What?” There is a smile on Modina’s face; she knows what Mafiz is about to say. Mafiz says, “The cuckoo is crying. It’s crying and asking, Where did my own little cuckoo bird go?” Modina laughs again. Her laughter enrages the cuckoo in the koroi tree. Mafiz speaks the cuckoo’s mind, “Why do you laugh like that Modina?” “What is it to you if I laugh?” Modina asks cocking her eyebrow like a flirt. “My ribs shatter to bits and my soul wants to fly away,” Mafiz says. Modina laughs, shimmying her whole body. Mafiz looks at the tree but the cuckoo is gone. It has been raining all day in Dhaka; as he pedals his rickshaw Modhu is pretty much taking a shower. After getting drenched all day, all the warmth had left his body. Modhu cannot fathom where his body is finding so much heat in the evening. He feels cold, his head hurts, and soon he begins to shiver. He rolls around on the floor in the dark room, and like a child, he moans, calling out to his mother. It isn’t raining in the village of Modhupur; the moon is visible in the sky and a cuckoo is singing in the branches of the koroi tree. Mafiz stands by Modina’s window, grasping the grill and whispering, “Modina! Oh, Modina!” Scared, Modina scrambles into a sitting position, and spits on her own chest to dissipate her fear, and Mafiz whistles in the air saying, “It’s me, Mafiz!” The power has gone out in Dhaka city. In the box-like room where Modhu rolls on the ground by himself, shivering and moaning, the darkness of hell has descended: Modhu thinks he is dying. In the village of Modhupur, through the gaps in the branches of the koroi tree, slivers of moonlight land on Modina’s window; outside stands Mafiz, like a ghost, and inside is Modina. Modina’s teeth can be seen white in the shadow of moonlight, her eyes are shining, and she is pretending to be angry with Mafiz, telling him she was going to complain to Modhu when he came back, and Modhu would grind Mafiz’s bones into powder and apply it to his body. Modina purses her lips in laughter as she talks, and Mafiz says that Modhu wasn’t coming back to Modhupur anymore, he was going to die in Dhaka. Mafiz tells Modina, “Our fortunes were written together. You have no choice but me, Modina.” Modina slides her arm through the window grill and shoves Mafiz in the chest. “Go home, you stray cow.” Mafiz grabs Modina’s hand in the blink of an eye and says, “You don’t know this, but I know it for sure, Modina. I have you written in my fate and you have me.” Modina feels that Mafiz has lost his head. As Mafiz goes back to his own house, he dreams that Modhu has died in Dhaka. “He’s dead, that bastard Modhu is dead,” says Mafiz, willing Modina’s husband to die as he walks home. Right then, in Kawran Bazar, Dhaka, Modhu is freezing and shivering, and he is calling out to Allah, saying, “Don’t take my life, Khoda. Let me live this time around. I’ll never come back to Dhaka in this lifetime.” The next morning Modhu recovers from his fever; he sees that there is no more rain, the sky is a shining blue, and the buildings are all smiling. Modhu forgets his promise to Allah, and that very afternoon he goes out again with his rickshaw. He recalls the bone-shaking fever from the night before and laughs to himself. That morning, Mafiz places his foot on the threshold of Modhu’s yard and calls out in a low voice, “Brother, Modhu, are you back from Dhaka?” But Mafiz knows very well that if Modhu is supposed to be back fifteen days later, there are still three more days to go. Two days before the day that Modhu is supposed to return to Modhupur, he drops off a passenger in the inner side of Gulshan-2 and goes to grab a cup of tea at a roadside stall. He takes two sips of his tea and turns around to find his rickshaw gone. At first, Modhu doesn’t believe it. He thinks maybe someone has hidden his rickshaw nearby as a prank. But no, it isn’t that simple. The rickshaw has disappeared, meaning seriously disappeared. Modhu goes to the rickshaw owner and describes the situation. The owner points towards Modhu and orders his people, “Tie up that fool.” Before the ones under order had begun the work, the owner himself landed a kick in Modhu’s belly. “You fucking nobody, where’s my rickshaw?” A grunt emerges from Modhu’s mouth, he doubles over and grabs his mouth with one hand. One of the owner’s followers runs over and, almost astride Modhu’s shoulders, he grabs Modhu’s hair, shaking his head and demands, “Say it, you son of a bitch, to which of your fathers did you sell off the boss’s rickshaw?” The boss screams, “First, do him over real good.” Modhu is made over almost into a corpse, and thirteen hundred and twenty five takas, meaning all his earnings, are taken away from him before he is handed over to the police. The police take Modhu to the station and hit him some more in the hope of getting some money, but they quickly realize that not only will no one show up with any money for his release, the owner and his men had already beat him so much that he might very well die in the police station. In which case, the newspapers will start writing about death in police custody, and all those poor-loving human rights organization folks will drum up a furor. The police think about all this hassle and push Modhu out of the station. Modhu can’t walk; he falls onto the street in front of the police station and moans. The police feel inconvenienced and annoyed at this; they load Modhu into the back of a pickup truck, and drive around the city, along this street and that, and they focus their flashlights here and there looking for a convenient spot in which to dump him. As they search, one of them has an idea. “Well, then,” he says to his colleagues, “whose fault is it that we’re going through all this trouble?” They drive the pickup truck with Modhu in the back to the Begunbari house-cum-garage of the rickshaw owner and roar at him, “You, pal, have murdered the suspect before handing him over to the police!” The rickshaw owner doesn’t seem perturbed by the roaring police; he goes inside and quickly returns with ten thousand takas. He tucks it into the hand of one of the policemen and says, “There’s no more cash in the house, saar. Just manage the thing, please.” One of the policemen grows angry. “Is this a joke!” The rickshaw owner doesn’t quite understand what his anger means; still, out of habit, he goes back inside and returns with another ten thousand takas. Then he gets a louder scolding, and a policeman even utters the words, “under arrest.” Therefore, the rickshaw owner goes back inside again, and when he is late in coming back out, the policemen look at each other with suspicion. But before they lose their patience, the rickshaw owner reemerges with a page from his check book. He says, “Saars, an accident just happened. It is my fault, but I don’t want the guy to die. Here, I’ve written out one hundred thousand.” The policeman stops him midway and says, “Pal, you want to survive, then show up at the station tomorrow morning with five hundred thousand in cash. We don’t do checks-fecks.” The rickshaw owner says, “What arrangements for the body?” A policeman answers, “That’s the big trouble right now. What to do with this dead body, we’ve been going around all night…pal, that five hundred thousand won’t cut it. We’ll have to take care of the journalists; we’ll have to take care of the human rights people. Make it six lakhs and be at the station by nine a.m.” But Modhu isn’t a dead body yet. On the floor in the back of the pickup truck, he lies flat on his back with his neck at an angle, peering at them like a weak, sick kitten. There is still a spark of life in his dying eyes. It was the end of night when Modhu was carefully laid down behind a bush in a corner of the Suhrawardy Gardens, from the police pickup truck. Silence descended once the mechanical noise of the pickup truck disappeared in the distance. The silence reigned for a few moments; then suddenly, someone blew on the mosque microphone, and in a voice deep like thunder, began the chant of Allahu Akbar. When the quivering notes of the azaan floated to Modhu’s nearly numb ears, his eyes opened slightly. In the distance, he saw a light tremble. He tried to move one of his hands but couldn’t. He tried to move his legs but couldn’t. Modhu tried to make a noise with his mouth; he forced himself to say, Allah! But Modhu’s voice didn’t echo in the wind. Modhu would die and Mafiz would have Modina forever—this is what is written in Modina and Mafiz’s destinies. Modina doesn’t believe it but Mafiz’s faith doesn’t have an ounce of doubt. But why Mafiz counts the days till Modhu’s return is something only he knows. Two days before Modhu is supposed to come back, which was fifteen days after his departure, Mafiz, once again, stands by Modina’s window and says that Modhu will not return. He is going to die in Dhaka; and because when poor people die that far away, their bodies never make it back, Modina will never see Modhu again. When Mafiz is telling Modina all this, Modhu is rolling back and forth between consciousness and unconsciousness on the floor of the pickup truck in the streets of Dhaka. Modina protests the ill-omened, cruel words from Mafiz by scratching his chest and neck until he bleeds. But when Mafiz groans in pain, she covers his mouth with her hand and says, “Oh, does it burn?” When Mafiz sulks and wants to leave, Modina grabs his shoulder again and says, “Come tomorrow! The day after, he’ll be back home!” The next night, before the cuckoo sings in the koroi tree, three ghosts come to Modina’s house. They had whispered to each other as they came down the road that Modhu was gone. “Let’s go and eat Modhu’s wife.” These ghosts only eat people of the female gender; from age eight to fifty-eight, wherever they find a woman at an opportune moment, they eat her. These famous ghosts live in the upazila town; they came to the village of Modhupur after verifying and ascertaining the information that Modhu is absent, and truly they find Modina by herself in Modhu’s house, and when they find her, they begin to eat her. They take turns in eating Modina. After the first ghost, the second ghost, then the third ghost, then the first ghost again. While they eat Modina in turns, at some point, Mafiz shows up. Modina sees Mafiz and whimpers in the hope of getting some help, but one of the ghosts grabs hold of her nose and mouth so hard that not only any noise, even her breath cannot emerge from her. In addition, another ghost grasps her throat with five and five, ten fingers; Modina thrashes around, groans, her tongue lolls out, her eyes want to bug out. Seeing which, Mafiz, a single person, attacks the three ghosts; two of whom pick him up and slam him down on the ground; a grunt emerges from Mafiz’s throat, his eyes go dark; one ghost picks up a half-brick and smashes it down on Mafiz’s head; his skull opens up with a crack, and this encourages the ghost, so he begins smashing the brick down into Mafiz’s skull again and again. Right then, the cuckoo trills in the koroi tree. Ghosts don’t know what it means when a cuckoo sings in a spring evening. ▢ SUB-HEAD ​ ALSO IN THIS ISSUE: SHEBANI RAO A Freelancer's Guide to Decision-Making JAMIL JAN KOCHAI A Premonition; Recollected "The Cuckoo Keeps Calling" by Hafsa Ashfaq. SHARE ARTICLE: Short Story Translation Bengali Bangladesh MASHIUL ALAM is a writer and translator who was born in northern Bangladesh in 1968. He graduated from the Peoples’ Friendship University in Moscow in 1993. A journalist by profession, he works at Prothom Alo , the leading Bengali daily in Bangladesh. He is the author of over a dozen books including The Second Night with Tanushree (novel), Ghora Masud (novel), Mangsher Karbar (The Meat Market ) (short stories), and Pakistan (short stories). His translations include Dostoevsky’s White Nights (translated from the Russian to Bengali); Bertrand Russell’s Plato’s Utopia and Other Essays , and Before Socrates . Alam was recently awarded the debut Sylhet Mirror Prize for Literature. His short story Doodh, translated as Milk by Shabnam Nadiya, was awarded the 2019 Himal Southasian Short Story Prize. He is currently working on Laal Akash (Red Sky) , a novel set in the Soviet Union during Perestroika, and is based in Dhaka. 23 Sept 2020 Short Story Translation SHABNAM NADIYA is a Bangladeshi writer and translator. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, she was awarded the Steinbeck Fellowship (2019) for her novel-in-progress Unwanted ; a PEN/Heim Translation Grant (2020) for her translation of Bangladeshi writer Mashiul Alam’s fiction; the 2019 Himal Southasian Short Story Prize for her translation of Mashiul Alam’s story, Milk. Her translation of Leesa Gazi's novel Hellfire (Eka/Westland, September, 2020) was shortlisted for the Käpylä Translation Prize. Nadiya’s translations include Moinul Ahsan Saber’s novel The Mercenary (Bengal Lights Books; Seagull Books) and Shaheen Akhtar's novel Beloved Rongomala (Bengal Lights Books). Her original work as well as her translations have been published in The Offing, Joyland, Amazon's Day One, Gulf Coast, Copper Nickel, Wasafiri, Words Without Borders, Asymptote, Al Jazeera Online, Flash Fiction International (WW Norton). She is based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Nation-State Constraints on Identity & Intimacy 17 Dec 2020 CHAITALI SEN Chats Ep. 1: On A Premonition; Recollected 13 Nov 2020 INTERACTIVE COVID-19 and Faith in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh 27 Feb 2023 FEATURES MORE LIKE THIS

  • Discourses on Kashmir

    COMMUNITY Discourses on Kashmir VOL. 1 PANEL Activist-scholars and journalists Ather Zia, Huma Dar & Hilal Mir discuss dominant narratives about Kashmir & what the repeal of Article 370 really meant. HUMA DAR · HILAL MIR · ATHER ZIA Just over a year after the repeal of Article 370 from India's constitution, pro-India Kashmiri political parties called for an alliance. What did it all mean? In our second panel from October 2020, Kashmiri activist-scholars Ather Zia & Huma Dar, and journalist Hilal Mir, discuss the predominant discourses of Kashmir that pervade public and international narratives with Editor Kamil Ahsan. The wide-ranging discussion discusses Indian-occupied-Kashmir, India as a settler-colonial state, journalism & how the Azadi Movement and the repeal of Article 370 are depicted, and the many self-serving narratives that don’t take Kashmiri realities into account. SUB-HEAD ​ ALSO IN THIS ISSUE: SHEBANI RAO A Freelancer's Guide to Decision-Making JAMIL JAN KOCHAI A Premonition; Recollected Watch the panel on YouTube or IGTV. SHARE ARTICLE: Panel Kashmir Intellectual History Settler-Colonialism Longue-Duree of Kashmiri Struggle Movement Organization Revolution Colonialism Burhan Wani People's Alliance for Gupkar Subaltern Studies Palestine Affect Internationalist Solidarity Media Blackout Radicalization Narratives Bollywood Occupation Genocide Pogroms Erasure Mass Protests War Crimes Movement Strategy Emancipatory Politics Humanitarian Crisis Activist Media International Law Hindutva Military Crackdown Military Operations Kashmiri Struggle Discourses of War Nationalism HUMA DAR 's paternal family was ethnically-cleansed from Srinagar, Kashmir in 1948 for demanding plebiscites under the UN Resolutions. Her maternal family, exiled from Kashmir after accepting Islam during the Dogra regime, fought for Independence from the British. With a background In interdisciplinary Studies, Dar lectures in the departments of Gender & Women’s Studies and Ethnic Studies at University of California at Berkeley and in the Department of Critical Studies and Philosophy at California College of the Arts. Dar’s work is focused on the intersections and co-formations of race, religion, class, caste, gender, sexuality, and national politics of South Asia and South Asian diasporas, centered on intellectual and political activism for social justice, especially in Indian Occupied Kashmir. Her published work includes “Cinematic Strategies for a Porno-tropic Kashmir and Some Counter-Archives” in the Journal of Contemporary Theory and pieces in several edited volumes focused on South Asia. Dar is a feature writer at Pulse Media , a collaborative political, activist, and academic weblog, and is a published poet. She is a founding member of the working group on “Muslim Identities & Cultures,” and organized the feminist conference, Boundaries in Question on the theme of Women and War, both at UC Berkeley. HILAL MIR is a freelance Srinagar-based journalist. He has previously reported for Greater Kashmir, Hindustan Times, The Huffington Post, and Kashmir Reader . ATHER ZIA is a political anthropologist, poet, short fiction writer, and a columnist. She teaches at the University of Northern Colorado Greeley. Ather is the author of Resisting Disappearances: Military Occupation and Women’s Activism in Kashmir (June 2019) and co-editor of Can You Hear Kashmiri Women Speak (Women Unlimited 2020), Resisting Occupation in Kashmir (UPenn 2018) and A Desolation called Peace (Harper Collins, May 2019). She has published a poetry collection The Frame (1999) and another collection is forthcoming. Ather’s ethnographic poetry on Kashmir has won an award from the Society for Humanistic Anthropology. She is the founder-editor of Kashmir Lit and is the co-founder of Critical Kashmir Studies Collective , an interdisciplinary network of scholars working on the Kashmir region. 24 Oct 2020 Panel Kashmir The Uneasy Dreamscape of Katchatheevu 16 Jun 2023 JEEVAN RAVINDRAN In the Yoma Foothills 26 Feb 2023 FICTION & POETRY Climate Crimes of US Imperalism in Afghanistan 16 Oct 2022 THE VERTICAL MORE LIKE THIS

  • Disappearing Act

    FICTION & POETRY Disappearing Act VOL. 1 ONE-ACT PLAY What if I told you I wanted to join PREPAK? Fight the occupation. Kill soldiers. Would you still love me? ANONYMOUS Editor’s note: The author of this play as well as the accompanying artist elected to publish this work anonymously. In the words of the author: “It is a matter of great shame for a democracy that its writers have to submit their work anonymously.” This piece was workshopped and honed over a period of six months with SAAG editors Hananah Zaheer, Neilesh Bose, Nazish Chunara, Kamil Ahsan, Aditya Desai, along with the playwright, a dramaturge, and the artist. The world has folded. A tree in Manipur now hangs upside down above the bed in KUNJA’s room in a city in India. The tree is a Panggong Tree (Butea monosperma) used in Manipur to make effigies of the dead when the body is not found. A bed is the focus of the room. Scene 1 Projection on a wall: June 5th, 2015. Rebels ambush an army convoy in Manipur killing 20 soldiers in the deadliest attack on Indian army since the Kargil war. GAURAV is tackling KUNJA who is hysterical. GAURAV Kunja, there is no one. You are high. KUNJA Hide me! Hide. GAURAV We are not in Manipur. KUNJA They’ll catch every young person they can find. This was a big attack. They will spare no one. GAURAV It’s the drugs. KUNJA I was here with you right? You’ll tell them I was here with you. Don’t let me disappear. GAURAV manages to pin KUNJA to the ground. GAURAV You are safe. KUNJA They eat our flesh. GAURAV You’re hallucinating. KUNJA Why aren’t you doing anything? GAURAV Remember— Remember what we said? GAURAV hugs KUNJA tightly. GAURAV There is no one outside. We are here, you and I. Here, where we go out holding hands and no one harms us. KUNJA stops struggling. GAURAV In this big big city, no one can find us. No one breaks house doors down. Guns don’t exist. Bombs are fire crackers. This city is a rainbow. They speak together. KUNJA Manipur is far far away. 3190 kms. 5 hours by plane. 70 hours on a train. GAURAV Manipur is far far away. 3190 kms. 5 hours by plane. 70 hours on a train. GAURAV They can’t just come here, right? KUNJA No. GAURAV In this city, there is only police. GAURAV releases KUNJA. Both sit up. GAURAV Only police. KUNJA Only police. GAURAV Cold water bath. Glucon-D. Fries. It will pass. GAURAV gets up. KUNJA (dazed) Are you with them? . . . Scene 2 GAURAV is asleep. KUNJA is sitting next to him on the bed staring at the tree above. KUNJA One day you’ll wake up and find me gone. No body, no trace. Will you look for me, Gaurav? What do y’all do when you find out that someone has disappeared? We make an effigy of the person from the branches of the Panggong tree. Will you make an effigy of me? Keep it with you? On this bed? Beat. KUNJA This bed has been my country for a long time. GAURAV doesn’t wake up. . . . Scene 3 KUNJA is painting GAURAV ’s back. There are paint bottles strewn around. GAURAV twitches every time KUNJA touches the paintbrush to his back. GAURAV It feels icky. KUNJA You want me to paint or not? GAURAV On paper. GAURAV It helps you, right? KUNJA It helps you . You like watching me paint. Mountains. Flowers. Dicks. You think I am recovering if I’m drawing mountains. GAURAV You relapse whenever you start painting flowers. KUNJA I relapse when I think you’re going to join the army. GAURAV takes a rag and starts wiping his back. KUNJA What if they find out you’re gay? GAURAV Do I look gay? KUNJA Won’t you get expelled? GAURAV I’m only gay for you! KUNJA I had a friend Faariz in Manipur. He wanted to join PREPAK. It’s a UG. GAURAV (sighs) Another terrorist story— KUNJA We call them freedom fighters. GAURAV Wrong history books. We’re already free. KUNJA He was also involved in some tax collection things for them in college. Very motivated. Then he realised he was queer. With that he knew he could never join PREPAK or any other movement in Manipur. Forget the army, if PREPAK found out they would kill him first. I remember telling him that we don’t have to join any movements that don’t have a place for us. And I am saying that to you now. GAURAV I was born to be in the army. KUNJA You think the army has a place for you? What are you going to do when other officers bring their wives and girlfriends to army parties? Take me along? GAURAV holds KUNJA ’s face. GAURAV The results will be out in a week and I’m getting in. KUNJA Don’t join the army. The army is sick. GAURAV You are sick. KUNJA What if I told you I wanted to join PREPAK? Fight the occupation. Kill soldiers. Would you still love me? GAURAV looks away. KUNJA (shouting as if he’s sloganeering at a protest) Then how do I love you if you join the army? Army rapes us. Takes our flesh! Beat. GAURAV They’re people, you know? With wives, mothers, sons, sisters. Lovers. Like you are mine. I wanted to cry. I couldn’t. I spent the night holding you down waiting for you to come back to your senses, you fucking druggie. . . . Scene 4 FAARIZ is hanging from the Panggong tree. KUNJA is making his bed. KUNJA If love keeps people together then what does ideology do? FAARIZ Can you separate the two? KUNJA What if my freedom lies in the struggle between the two? In the middle. Gaurav struggles to keep loving me. FAARIZ Occupation takes work. KUNJA That’s not how it is between us. FAARIZ Can love erase identity? KUNJA Sometimes after an orgy, we all sit around and discuss how we started slamming. I want to tell them that I was tired of identity. The first time I slammed was the first time I had sex without identity. It was the best thing in the world. FAARIZ And then you became a slammer. KUNJA But it’s an identity without history. It’s light. Has no weight. No matter who you are, where you are from, once you get inside that’s it! FAARIZ Do you become Indian after slamming? KUNJA Yes. Till I’m high I remain Indian. FAARIZ Feels good? KUNJA Feels like community. When I first came here, a boy I met on Grindr took me for a party. I was blown away the second I entered. It felt like another nation, one where I fit in. And then I started meeting people and realised this community I so terribly want to be a part of, that I feel I’m part of, doesn’t know anything about me. Where I come from, what I have lived, what I want. And they don’t want to know either. FAARIZ Ay chinki! KUNJA It’s not just about words, it's about the gaze. You know when you first look at someone how you imagine their history? You see them at their home. You see them growing up. Celebrating a festival. Eating at a restaurant. You imagine them having sex, shaving, crying. The way people look at us here, their gaze is empty. They’re not able to imagine our histories. That’s why they act the way they act. I tried to make this country my friend. I told them about my past and showed them how I eat. But I just couldn’t fill their gaze. And then I slammed, and for the first time I didn’t look into their eyes. All I could see was dick and ass and balls. And I knew that’s all they saw. Our vision was united. Years of abandonment vanished the second I injected. I found community. Something I never had. KUNJA gets up on the bed. He looks at the audience and mimes taking a slam. His eyes start to glow. A visual is projected on the wall: A very close shot of a hairy asshole opening into a universe. FAARIZ The freedom struggle ends at a slam? KUNJA Slamming is the celebration of freedom. And it's so intense, this party, that we forget we’re not actually free. FAARIZ We also take drugs to forget about the occupation for a while. KUNJA No matter what you do, the occupation finds a way to occupy you. I’d forgotten about Manipur. My bed had become my country. And then I met Gaurav. He told me the first time we met that he wanted to join the army. Later that night when I was slammed, a soldier appeared outside the door. And then more and more. Gaurav stuck with me through all of it. Can you imagine staying up night after night trying to convince someone there is no one outside the door? FAARIZ What are you going to do if he gets posted to Manipur? KUNJA I will go visit him. FAARIZ He tortures us? Or disappears someone? KUNJA (stoically) The Supreme Court has declared that the army will be held accountable. FAARIZ Maybe as collateral damage then. In an attack. What are you going to do when he comes home after that? Beat. KUNJA Cook him a meal! Pork and bamboo shoots. Smoked. Exactly like Imaa makes it. A spicy beef salad on the side. FAARIZ He doesn’t eat those things. KUNJA I’ll make him. KUNJA starts searching for something under his bed. He messes up the bed he just made. He opens drawers and tries to empty out pockets of his clothes and trashing the room. KUNJA Why are you still here? Go home to AFSPA! FAARIZ Won’t you visit? KUNJA I don’t give a damn about that shithole. I hope they disappear the entire place. FAARIZ So many effigies you’ll have to make. Do you still do it? Make effigies? Paint on them? Give them names? KUNJA I never made an effigy of you. FAARIZ When you do, paint me with the memory of a fierce battle. Where I kill 100 Indian soldiers. Beat. KUNJA Got stuff? Just one more time. Or my veins are going to burst. . . . Scene 5 Several anxious guys enter and stand around KUNJA who takes his clothes off slowly as he speaks. In the end, he gets naked and positions himself on the edge of the bed on all fours. The men take off their clothes and slam each other. KUNJA (manic) Welcome! Everyone is welcome. Fat skinny sissy sluts down market on the market fake commercial prostitute destitute dudes studs uncles aunties boys guys hunks punks from this place that place small place no place come find a space sane sorted insane distorted models politicians auto drivers butchers bankers accountants actors liars cheat saints masters slaves herpes gonorrhea hiv syphilis tops bottoms bottoms who top tops who bottom preferably top miserably bottom white black pink yellow brown blue high caste low caste no caste hindu muslim, sikhs christians tribes even the denotified atheists monks fanatics junks english speaking and those who stopped speaking altogether 8 inch 10 inch 3 inch tight loose open close. GAURAV enters without KUNJA noticing. KUNJA From here there everywhere everyone, everyone is welcome to the ocean. Come take a dip, it doesn’t matter if you can’t swim. Just get your own stuff and that will keep you afloat. Or find someone to pay for your ticket. Three thousand rupees to take so far you will forget where you are from. Bareback at your own risk. Break the needle after one use, sharing will give you things you don’t need. If you feel like you’re losing it just smoke some weed. That’s all. Now come on! The universe is begging to get fucked. KUNJA spots GAURAV. GAURAV walks to KUNJA and helps him stand on his feet. KUNJA You were supposed to be my de-addiction program. You give me time. But no energy. GAURAV picks up KUNJA ’s clothes. He makes KUNJA put them back on. GAURAV Let’s go home? Beat. KUNJA I like the sound of that. KUNJA and GAURAV walk away together. . . . Scene 6 Bottles of alcohol and half filled glasses on the floor. GAURAV and KUNJA are in bed. GAURAV is trying to penetrate KUNJA. He can’t get hard. KUNJA It’s not hard. GAURAV Blow me. KUNJA I did. GAURAV Do it again. KUNJA We don’t have to. GAURAV I need to. KUNJA Let me clean up. GAURAV Do you clean up in a slam orgy? KUNJA Can I top? GAURAV No. KUNJA You’re not getting hard. GAURAV Why can’t you blow me? KUNJA My back hurts. GAURAV My head hurts. I need to fuck. I’m begging you. KUNJA I’ll shower and I’ll make some food. We can eat. And then fuck. GAURAV You’re punishing me for getting in? KUNJA I have made peace with it. GAURAV I don’t care about your peace tonight. This is the greatest thing to happen to me and I’m not going to let you fuck this up. Even if you are unhappy, you will smile. Even if you feel like dying, you will act like you have never been more horny. You will give me the best orgasm of my life. KUNJA What should I do? GAURAV Tell me you’re afraid that I might fuck other boys in the academy. KUNJA It’s not porn. GAURAV A tall muscular guy blowing me in the night in the bathroom and drinking my cum. KUNJA I will be happy for you. GAURAV Will you also fuck while I am gone? KUNJA I don’t know. GAURAV How will I know? KUNJA What do you want me to do? GAURAV What if you fall in love with someone else? KUNJA tries to get up. GAURAV holds him down. GAURAV Will you cheat on me? KUNJA No! GAURAV What if you feel horny? KUNJA I will think about you. GAURAV What if I cheat on you? KUNJA Don’t tell me. GAURAV Don’t ask don’t tell. KUNJA Yes. GAURAV So is that your strategy? You won’t tell me? KUNJA (exhausted) Gaurav, I need to take a shit. GAURAV Shit here. Beat. KUNJA Fuck off. GAURAV I don’t care. GAURAV goes to finger KUNJA. KUNJA resists. GAURAV pulls his finger out. It has shit on it. He brings it close to KUNJA ’s face. GAURAV Smell it. KUNJA (voice cracks) I’ll hit you Gaurav. GAURAV I will make you eat your shit if you cheat on me. KUNJA I will cheat on you, you shithead. GAURAV I know. You can’t control it. It’s in your fucking DNA. Animals. . . . Scene 7 GAURAV is holding a big paintbrush in his hand. KUNJA is standing next to him. He is naked and has some paint on his arm. They are surrounded by tubs of paints. GAURAV I’m not a painter. KUNJA You are, my love. It’s amazing what you do when you paint. When my friend Faariz disappeared, I started making effigies of him with branches of the Panggong tree. I would paint those effigies in different colours imagining I was giving the effigy things to remember. Bring it to life. When other boys were playing sports outside, I would be in my room making effigies and painting. I painted a thousand effigies. I could only paint memories onto them, give them new thoughts but I was never able to take away their pain. When you paint, you erase. It’s a gift you have. And there is so much I need to forget. Paint. GAURAV paints a stroke on KUNJA ’s other hand. GAURAV I don’t want to do this. KUNJA I give the memory of the khwairamband bazaar, running through its lanes as a kid, cruising through its alleys as a teenager eying men. GAURAV Tell me about cruising in that bazaar? KUNJA I don’t remember. Shoulder. KUNJA I give the memory of our school trip to the Kangla fort, and the one of walking through its corridors hand in hand when no one is watching with a boy I first barebacked. Back. KUNJA I give the memory of the first time I heard someone say I love you, and the memory of wanting to say the words but not being able to. Ass. KUNJA I give the memory of being beaten up by an Assam Rifles officer for breaking curfew. I give the memory of being beaten up by an AR officer for being drunk. The memory of my uncle being slapped by an officer for answering back. I give. GAURAV backs off. GAURAV I can’t do this. KUNJA Please let me. Feet. KUNJA I give the smell of Morok Mepta. GAURAV You can remember that at least. KUNJA No. KUNJA I give the sound of the Pung. I give my body memory that remembers thang-ta moves. Ankles. KUNJA I give up all that I have seen to have a new vision. Chest. KUNJA I give the trees. I will not remember their names anymore. Stomach. KUNJA The folklores, poubi lai, saroi ngaroi, the songs, I forget the lyrics to the lai haraoba ishei. Can I keep the tune? KUNJA tenses up. Beat. GAURAV Just let it go. Crotch. KUNJA I give the names of the deities. The rituals of sanamahism. GAURAV We have plenty. I’ll teach you. Thighs. KUNJA I give my father’s dreams. My mother’s voice that calls me home. GAURAV Don’t do this for me. KUNJA I am doing this for myself. GAURAV starts to paint faster. KUNJA The games we play. I give the names we call the army. GAURAV That’s good. KUNJA I give the views of the valley. The taste of our water. GAURAV Your water? KUNJA I give up. Waist. KUNJA I give up memories of driving on the highway that is still under repair after 5 years. I give up motorbike rides with friends, lovers, friends who became lovers, lovers who never became friends. GAURAV Slut. KUNJA I give up words from our language. I give up the cuss words we call Indians. GAURAV pauses, then starts to paint KUNJA faster, violently. KUNJA The dreams of freedom. I give up. KUNJA Wait—But can I keep the memory of Irom’s fast? I was a kid when she started fasting. I grew up with the fast. GAURAV Let it go. GAURAV goes to paint KUNJA ’s neck but KUNJA dodges GAURAV. KUNJA (quietly, desperately) No, please. Just that. It was a movement I felt I was a part of. I helped paint the banner for meira paibi. I was the only boy who knew about the protest. They chose me. GAURAV You can’t. KUNJA Stop. GAURAV grabs KUNJA by the neck and he paints it. KUNJA struggles to set himself free. GAURAV You have to forget. KUNJA Wait... No. GAURAV paints over KUNJA ’s neck. GAURAV Do you remember now? KUNJA Remember? GAURAV starts painting all over KUNJA. GAURAV Now forget about everything you saw while growing up. KUNJA Please— GAURAV Forget the skies. KUNJA Why? GAURAV The relationships you have to give up. KUNJA No— GAURAV The smells. KUNJA Stop. S top . GAURAV Your history. You can’t have a history. Give up the festivals. Forget about the movies you saw. The songs you danced to. KUNJA breaks down in tears. KUNJA Why are you doing this? GAURAV You were never there. Give up the sounds. The touch you cannot remember. That disgusting food you have to give up. KUNJA I can't. GAURAV You have to now! Do you remember the birds you see there? KUNJA Nongin. Thembi marikpi. Langmeidong. GAURAV You can’t. GAURAV paints on KUNJA ’s face. GAURAV Give up the language, give up the bodies, give up the dreams. I fucking need you to give up the dreams. You cannot dream like a Manipuri anymore. You will not dream. I am taking away those mornings. From now on you must only remember the nights from here. The seasons here. You will only remember this rain. GAURAV finishes painting all of KUNJA. GAURAV stands up and takes a few steps back admiring his creation. GAURAV You are one of us now. Beat. KUNJA stands up. He looks at his hands and body. He opens his right palm which was clenched in a fist. KUNJA Wait— You forgot— KUNJA This part. GAURAV picks up the paintbrush. He dips it in black paint. He gently paints a stroke onto KUNJA ’s palm. KUNJA Thank you. GAURAV steps away. Lights dim slowly on GAURAV. Slowly, he disappears. Lights dim slowly on the bed. KUNJA turns and looks around the room. His eyes fall on the paintbrush that is lying on the floor. He picks it up. He looks up at the Panggong tree. Beat. KUNJA leaves the room. Blackout. ▢ SUB-HEAD ​ ALSO IN THIS ISSUE: SHEBANI RAO A Freelancer's Guide to Decision-Making JAMIL JAN KOCHAI A Premonition; Recollected Artwork contributed anonymously for SAAG. SHARE ARTICLE: One-Act Play Manipur Indian Army Panggong Tree Effigy Queerness Love Story People's Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak PREPAK Painting Addiction Sex Playwriting Drama AFSPA Assam Rifles Northeast India Meitei Peoples Sanamahism UG Groups Insurgency Resistance Meira Paibi The creator(s) of this piece chose to publish their work anonymously. 2 Apr 2021 One-Act Play Manipur Swat Youth Vanguards 24 Feb 2024 MANZOOR ALI Bibi Hajra’s Spaces of Belonging 3 Jul 2023 BOOKS & ARTS Chokepoint Manipur 3 Oct 2023 THE VERTICAL MORE LIKE THIS

  • Exhaustion & Emancipation

    BOOKS & ARTS Exhaustion & Emancipation VOL. 1 ESSAY Interpreting Rossana Rossanda & Ernest Wamba-dia-Wamba to answer: what allows emancipatory politics to start, and what prevents it? ASAD HAIDER CONSIDER THE militant who wakes up exhausted. Every day and night in the streets, perhaps marching back and forth with painful restraint, perhaps building barricades in spontaneous moments of affinity with those whose rapid “learning processes” have demonstrated the rationality of slowing and obstructing the police. Sore muscles the next day arguing in meetings and studying the classics for guidance. Despair at the emptying of the streets, the guilty capitulation to apathy, and the devastating disintegration of the organization. Consider what intervenes between politics as event: the knocking of doors, the apocalyptically slow process of persuasion, the daily strain to survive one’s own declining fortunes, the sheer emotional intensity of attempting to maintain fidelity and hope in the empty and seemingly endless interval. We know such exhaustions. Alongside these exhaustions which punctuate the lives of those who have dedicated themselves to politics at an everyday, grassroots level, the residents of the United States as a whole seem to have entered a state of exhaustion. It is in no small part provoked by the series of drastic political shifts that are marked by the fluctuating fortunes of the parliamentary system and its parties, parallel to the ebb and flow of social movements outside state boundaries. This exhaustion seems to be a broad phenomenon—caused by an affective investment in the outcomes of elections and the trajectory of social movements. But in fact, we must think of exhaustion in a different, highly specific way if we are to understand its contemporary political centrality. Exhaustion, in fact, has something like the status of a historical condition, a status that is a consequence of the termination of emancipatory politics. In this sense, exhaustion shifts from the moment which marks the termination of a political sequence to what appears to be the very impossibility of politics. Contrary to the popular opinion which dictates that “everything is political,” politics is not always taking place—politics, by which I mean specifically emancipatory politics, is an exceptional phenomenon. It does not happen with frequency. Just as it has to appear, it also fades away. Exhaustion shifts from the moment which marks the termination of a political sequence to what appears to be the very impossibility of politics. Of course, to understand any of this, we have to specify what politics means in the first place. In embarking on this task for the present moment, I want to pay tribute to two comrades who left us last year: the Congolese philosopher Ernest Wamba-dia-Wamba, and the Italian Communist Rossana Rossanda. Together they help think through the questions the militant faces in every moment of political action, even in what seem to be unremarkable and everyday practices: what is an emancipatory politics? What allows it to take place—and equally, what prevents it? The problem of emancipation animates the whole history of politics and political thought—but somehow, its place in our thinking and its relationship to social analysis often remains obscure. This slipperiness of emancipation presents a crisis for political thinking today. It is not difficult to see that a resurgence of authoritarian populism, the breakdown of the existing political system, and the approach of ecological apocalypse, all require concerted and creative theoretical efforts. But alongside the catastrophe of the present is the parallel emergence and disappearance of unexpected social movements—like those that recently peaked in the extraordinary mobilizations against racism and police violence. Our capacity to theorize our reality will be limited by our ability to formulate a vantage point of emancipation. This vantage point is not one which we could step out of history to assume, but rather is one which appears in particular moments, and ultimately recedes. We also cannot simply take contingent aspects of any particular social movement to represent the intrinsic characteristics of emancipation. Horizontalist forms of organization, for example, though there is certainly no reason to dismiss them out of hand, nevertheless do not automatically guarantee a movement’s emancipatory character. It is possible for such organizational practices to foster broad and egalitarian popular participation, in a way that appears to “prefigure” an emancipated society. But it is just as possible that they will devolve into proceduralism, endless meetings, debilitating indecision, and the reassertion of the same old hierarchies and stratifications that characterize existing society. In this sense, perhaps counterintuitively, instead of embracing specific forms of movement democracy as good in themselves—which, more often than not, brings us back to abstract and ahistorical norms—we have to situate them within political sequences. It is within these sequences, and only within these sequences, that they take on a political meaning. Our capacity to theorize our reality will be limited by our ability to formulate a vantage point of emancipation. Such a vantage point of emancipation is different from any social analysis that serves as a guarantee for a particular political program. In my book, Mistaken Identity: Race and Class in the Age of Trump , I declined, much to the chagrin of certain critics, to explain the relation between the categories, now so frequently paired, of “race and class.” It seemed to me that to describe the relationship between two abstractions—which are only articulated in concrete and specific historical circumstances—would be a logical error. Instead, I concerned myself with the articulation of struggles against racial domination and class exploitation in emancipatory social movements. I briefly alluded to the vast literature on the social and historical construction of race, and at the same time, in archival work on the history of the 19th and 20th century workers’ movements for Viewpoint Magazine , I attempted to describe the social and historical construction of class, by reviving the method of “class composition.” At the time, it seemed to me that the erasure of class in “identity politics” had neutralized the revolutionary character of movements against racial domination. Since then I have been reminded that struggles founded on class can also be neutralized, as the history of the workers’ movement makes clear. It seems to me now that emancipation is foreclosed by any foundation, whether “identitarian” or “materialist,” and that the axes of political struggle cannot be aligned by an empiricist social analysis, but only from the vantage point of emancipation. I have further been led to understand that my description of the depoliticized moment of the present requires further explanation. I do not mean neutralization as the search for an already neutral domain, or the evasion of conflict, as in the canonical account of Carl Schmitt. His diagnosis of “the age of neutralizations and depoliticizations” is grounded in a general theory of “the political,” while I am concerned with the singular events of “politics.” My theory ends up diametrically opposite to the jurist. What I mean by neutralization is a force which renders opposition ineffective. It is distinct from the potentially moralistic idea of co-optation, which presumes some authentic belonging of the object. Opposition is neutralized not through appropriation, but through the formulation of an effective reactant and the transformation of each element into a new compound. Neutralization is restricted, while depoliticization is expansive. Neutralization comes from the top. It contains and redirects opposition into the harmonious diversity of the system. Exhaustion, then, is part of a constellation that includes neutralization and depoliticization. In order to distinguish this theory from preceding accounts of neutralization and depoliticization, it will be at the center of our inquiry. Emancipation Ernest Wamba-dia-Wamba’s work is not widely known in the “West,” despite the important influence he had at University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania and the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa in Senegal. His writings form part of an essential global dialogue on emancipatory politics. Wamba offers an indispensable statement on emancipation in his discussion of Lenin’s proposition that politics happens “under condition”: The political attitude is not accommodating; the state of affairs in the world does not have to remain so because it is so. People may live differently than they live. Politics is not expressed through the spontaneous consciousness. It is an active prescriptive relationship with reality and not a reflection or representation in consciousness of invariant structures (economic structure or level of development or the state). Politics is a creative invention. Let us do something about the situation! characterizes a political attitude. And so Wamba beautifully condenses a number of points on which to elaborate. Wamba emphasizes, drawing on Sylvain Lazarus, that “people think,” and that without this point of departure we inevitably end up in an elitist politics. Consequently there is a sense in which politics is thought—but thought is not, in some dualist framework, separate from reality. People’s thought is part of reality, and this is a materialist and egalitarian proposition. It rejects the idealist and elitist notions that “theory” is disconnected from people’s thought, and that only the party or the state can think. Emancipatory politics, then, based as it is on the “active prescriptive relationship with reality,” is not the expression of a social foundation. And because it starts from the premise of people’s equal capacity for thought, it is a mass politics—not a populist politics in the sense of “the people,” but simply generic “people.” Because emancipatory politics starts from the premise of people’s equal capacity for thought, it is a mass politics. Not a populist politics in the sense of “the people,” but simply generic “people.” But even once we have affirmed that people think, we are forced to reckon with the fact that something is not always being done about the situation. In other words: is politics always happening? Wamba notes that the existence of a social movement does not automatically imply the existence of politics; the latter requires a “subjective break,” the development of an antagonism to the whole political order which “is revealed through militant forms of thought… and not through the movement of history.” Thus Wamba argues: Emancipative politics does not always exist; when it does, it exists under conditions. It is, thus, precarious, and sequential: it unfolds until its conditions of subjective break disappear. When people lose the consciousness of subjective break by ceasing to be involved in political processes, emancipative politics disappears. The completion of a sequence of progressive politics does not lead automatically to another. In the absence of emancipative politics, the state problematic or the imperialist influence prevails in the treatment of matters of politics. To reduce every political capacity to a state capacity is to abscond from politics. Politics is not the political order of institutions. This much is already determined by the affirmation of people’s thought. But just as significantly, it does not always exist. When it does, it appears in sequences with a beginning and an end, and advances categories specific to its situation. But there are also modes of politics which are not emancipatory: the single-party, party-state model of state socialism, and the multi-party parliamentary mode. Let us put the term “democracy” in suspension for the moment, because the equation of democracy with multi-partyism and parliamentarianism naturally absorbs it into the state. “The multiparty system is a form of the state and not independent of or antagonistic to it,” Wamba writes. “Legal and constitutional dimensions, separation of powers, recognition of freedoms of association, expression, religion, etc., are structural traits of the state. They do not identify a mode of politics which has to be grasped through its subjective dimension.” Politics is not the political order of institutions. This much is already determined by the affirmation of people’s thought. But just as significantly, it does not always exist. In other words, politics in parliamentarism is reduced to voting. But it is only from the viewpoint of mass organization, Wamba proposes, that it is possible to speak of movements for democracy in Africa. The imposition of Western models of liberal democracy continues a fundamentally colonial relation which does not reflect the capacity of African people to constitute their own politics. “What are the conditions in Africa,” Wamba asks, “for emancipatory politics to exist?” He adds: Our starting point must be: in Africa too, people think and this is the sole material basis of politics. We must investigate the internal content of what they actually think. It is through an analysis of these forms of consciousness that we will grasp the forms of political consciousness characterizing the antagonism with the existing overall socio-political order. To fail in this task would be to “abscond from politics, reducing politics to a state capacity.” This, then, is our basic framework for understanding depoliticization. In line with Wamba’s reasoning, Michael Neocosmos provides important developments in his aptly named Thinking Freedom in Africa . Depoliticization is “the inability to maintain an affirmation of purely subjective politics” when “state politics reassert themselves because of the gradual linking of politics to social categories.” This problem, Neocosmos elaborates, is tangled up with the rare and sequential character of politics. How do we understand a political sequence? Along these lines, Neocosmos proposes, the end of the national liberation sequence in Africa 1960-75 need not be understood in terms of the “failure of nationalism” but as “the saturation of the politics of national liberation and their gradual exhaustion as pure politics.” Conventional wisdom on historical revolutionary sequences of the 20th century revolves around a fundamental, flawed dichotomy: either the beautiful soul which remains unsullied by their dark side, or the sensible pragmatist who understands that every attempt to change the world ends in disaster. But one can both reject the nihilistic conclusion that no politics ever took place in a completed political sequence, and understand the consequences of the end of the sequence in terms of the risk of depoliticization. This is a pervasive problem which we encounter with the exhaustion of the great political sequences of the 20th century, even of the great socialist revolutions. This is how exhaustion becomes a historical condition and results in what we described above as the seeming impossibility of politics. The sequence of revolution which stretched across Eastern Europe, Africa, Asia, and Latin America in the 20th century proposed not only the overturning of the existing societies but also the transitional processes of socialist construction which would yield an entirely new kind of world beyond capitalism. But now we are in no such historical phase—and the affective experience of exhaustion is tied to this condition. Nowadays, everywhere, there are attempts to disavow histories of the attempts to construct societies beyond capitalism—often with the easy narrative of “totalitarianism.” Such views simply repeat a traditional kind of fear of the masses which sees every collective body as a threat of mob conformism. This worldview seeks to defend representative, but essentially oligarchic institutions in which the educated elite protects a formal democracy which conceals the real dictatorship of capital. Anti-democratic views of this kind are in fact at the center of the dominant “democratic” ideologies which accuse every attempt to change the world of being fundamentally “totalitarian.” Theories of the political mired in this oligarchic sensibility, even if they appear on the left—such as it exists today—ultimately rely on teleological conceptions of history. Unable to comprehend the novel political declarations and actions which gave rise to the historical revolutionary sequences, they also cannot allow for the rare and exceptional emergence of politics in the present. Exhaustion, in this sense, is understood through what Lazarus has called the “method of saturation”: affirming that politics “took place,” while also noting that its existing categories and sites, which constituted a “historical mode of politics” have come to an end. In particular, we have to grapple with the saturation of the long sequence of the 20th century revolutions which revolved around the revolutionary working-class party seizing the state. Exhaustion, in this sense, is... affirming that politics “took place,” while also noting that its existing categories and sites, which constituted a “historical mode of politics” have come to an end. These are the conditions of depoliticization. But one need not lay blame on the historical figures who frequently reached a scale of human achievement unimaginable to us, to simply recognize that emancipatory politics is precarious and sequential. Exhaustion How does the condition of exhaustion operate on the concrete level of movements and the state? Here we can follow our second departed comrade, Rossana Rossanda of il manifesto , the dissident group pushed out of the Italian Communist Party in 1969. In 1983, reflecting on the long, turbulent sequence of political upheaval in Italy of at least the preceding two decades Rossanda identified two fundamental political problems: the dissipation of social movements outside the state, and the consequences of left-wing parties attempting to enter the state. Of course, the situation in Italy, characterized by perpetual strikes and a mass Communist Party approaching the seat of power, is not the same as the ones we know in the United States. Nevertheless, the juxtaposition of the rise and fall of the Bernie Sanders campaign and the mass protests against police violence demonstrates the ongoing salience of Rossanda’s reflections. The Sanders campaign, of course, attempted to pursue a social-democratic program within the parameters of the bourgeois state— subsequently followed by the eruption of social movements outside the state. This dynamic, even if in a drastically different form and context, sheds light on the problem of the relationship between party and movement—or to put it another way, between the political (parliamentary) forms of the existing state and the social (extraparliamentary) basis of autonomous mobilization. For Rossanda, in the aftermath of the crest of the European workers’ movement the very form of the party, manifested in the Communist Parties, was in crisis. Already in 1968, from Paris to Beijing “the party-form was put into question ” in no small part by the independent initiatives of workers. This occurred without the guidance of parties and unions, and alongside an unprecedented level of protest by youth and students which had an uneven but frequently fecund relationship with factory struggles. This crisis of the party-form was a critique of its fundamental political model; it was, Rossanda wrote, “the refusal of any delegation of power, whether it be a party or state, henceforth treated as ‘other’ in relation to the new subjectivity of these social agents.” During this particular crisis, the working class was engaged in the “refusal of work” rather than following the lead of unions in pursuing a minimal program of delegating the negotiation of new contracts to the labor bureaucracy. The student movements, meanwhile, helped realize the potential of the workers’ movement to pursue an independent path by advocating for autonomy and cultural transformation. The process of getting these votes within the limits of the existing political system determines the party’s framework and ideology, and this takes priority over the political demands of its working-class political base. But while the “new social movements” outside the party provided a vitality to the independent movements of the workers, they also relied on the mass organization of the working class that was inextricable from the political party, even if the latter operated as a force of containment. This contradictory relationship, also witnessed in the May 1968 revolt in France, was exacerbated when the parties confronted the implications, throughout the 1970s, of actually entering into the capitalist state. What could they achieve within the very bourgeois form not only of the political party itself, but parliamentary politics as a whole? Rossanda pointed to the simple fact that in Western societies representative democracy is a structure within which parties must attempt to get votes. The process of getting these votes within the limits of the existing political system determines the party’s framework and ideology, and this takes priority over the demands of its working-class political base. For this reason, whatever tactical potential there might have been in participating in elections, it was nevertheless the case that a very different kind of working-class political power would have to emerge in order to overturn class society. Within this structure, contemporary socialists have aspired to reproduce the history of the mass working-class political parties: garnering votes, aspiring to enter the state. In short, despite the fact that the very notion of a Communist Party entering the state seems unimaginable, when and if they succeed, contemporary socialists will eventually confront the problem of the form of political power that will be required for structural transformation. It wasn’t just the party that was in crisis. Extraparliamentary social movements had a prospect of overcoming bureaucratic ossification and reorienting the parties in a revolutionary direction. But movements were also in crisis. Movements leave an “active sedimentation” in society and its institutions “at the molecular level,” as Rossanda put it. They are that part of society which “transforms itself, calls for change, assembles and gathers people together.” Yet the movement, Rossanda reminds us, “does not last”; its “dramatic and destructive ebbs are as important as the sedimentations it creates.” Movements leave an “active sedimentation” in society and its institutions “at the molecular level,” as Rossanda put it. They are that part of society which “transforms itself, calls for change, assembles and gathers people together.” Yet the movement, Rossanda reminds us, “does not last”. There were, furthermore, important historical shifts at work as Rossanda was writing. Until the mid-twentieth century, Rossanda argued, movements “arose from sudden bursts from the margins of society” but were then “predisposed to become a party or merge with an existing party.” In this sense they provoked a transformation in the state which also generally represented their absorption into the existing institutions. Yet the new movements of the 1970s did not operate according to this logic. They “tended to express subjects and needs that the dominant social bloc, namely the parties and the state, could no longer absorb in a timely manner without abnegating itself.” The movements did not institutionalize themselves, either by building new institutions or by entering existing ones, either because they were not capable of achieving this or simply did not aspire to, and without articulating a project or alternative, they “withered,” and the existing power structures solidified in response. In Italy the parties were incorporated into the increasingly repressive state—the Italian Communist Party itself playing a leading role in repression of autonomous movements—and capital succeeded, by the late ‘70s, in breaking the power of labor. Even if the parties and unions had operated as a force of containment and absorption into bourgeois parliamentarianism, their mass membership also functioned as a political anchor, so their crisis was also the crisis of the movements. As they went on the retreat, movements fell prey to a general social anomie and atomization. Here I must beg your patience in referring to a dense and lengthy passage which provides the key formulation: A diffuse politicization remains, skeptical in regards to the left if not openly hostile, as does an intense depoliticization, a kind of active negation. The “movements” are no longer “movements” (which would suggest that they are only movements insofar as they retain the implicit hope for a way out or transfer to other “forms of politics,” or a certain trust in the permeability of the institutional network which has disappeared today). They are becoming fevers, “latencies,” partial cultures or subcultures, acting creatively but molecularly, contradictorily. Rossanda is pointing us here to the molecular level of depoliticization: not the macroscopic, historical scale that is the condition resulting from the end of a historical mode of politics, but the immediate, on-the-ground level of practical activity of the movement’s participants. What she calls the “diffuse politicization” of the movements is oppositional to the existing society. But in their fragmentation, the movements no longer move from the margins into the institutions. As Rossanda had argued of movements in the first half of the 20th century, this shift into the institutions had a dual character: the existing institutions neutralized these oppositional bursts from the margins, while at the same time also necessarily being transformed by them. While the autonomy of the emerging movements may have circumvented this neutralization, they also did not find a new way to compel the institutions to resolve the problems raised by their revolt, refusal, and demands. Now the movements came to exist as latencies alongside the sturdiness of the institutional order, and this order appeared to take on a despotic permanence. Rossanda’s insight into the complex relations between class and party, party and movement, remain crucial for socialists today who ask themselves: how should we organize? Endings & Beginnings In this essay, I have meant exhaustion in three senses. The first, at the level of the immediate practical activity of the militant, is the waning of the political capacity for commitment or the devolution into factionalism. The second, at the level of the political sequences within which militants act, is when an existing historical mode of politics comes to an end and a new one is not yet apparent. The third, at the level of history, is the condition which results from the seeming impossibility of political sequences of a scale and depth comparable to the 20th century revolutions. Does exhaustion constitute a period of history, an “age”? Periodization is tricky. All periodizations are schematic. It is extremely complicated to determine how the logical relationship between categories is aligned with a certain period of time, especially for events so tumultuous that they constantly defy interpretation. Though this may seem counterintuitive, periodization at its best does not exactly identify periods, within which every phenomenon expresses the totality in a particular stage of development. Rather, it provides specific and distinct descriptions of uneven and structurally interrelated processes, which have moments of rupture and discontinuity. There are thus interwoven threads throughout these periods, untimely divisions and amalgamations. Those of us living through a period between sequences which announce shared reference points for a global political subjectivity can choose between being faithful to the emancipatory project and the various forms of capitulation to exhaustion. In trying to revive politics, exhaustion overwhelms us: the closure of revolutionary history, the unavailability of the forms, resources, and means which might be utilized in its continuation, an unhealthy relationship to past failures. With this we are all exhausted. What we are left with are simply various forms of pseudo-politics. In trying to revive politics, exhaustion overwhelms us: the closure of revolutionary history, the unavailability of the forms, resources, and means which might be utilized in its continuation, an unhealthy relationship to past failures. There are three such pseudo-political sensibilities: adjustment, which claims to advocate for adjusting the existing reality, but actually enjoins us to adjust ourselves to it, on the basis of convenient normative principles (democracy, even socialism); personalization, the reduction of politics to individual behavior and identity, determined by a range of categories to which a person might be said to belong; and pragmatism, which dictates that since it will not get better, you must unencumber yourself of principles. In the interval the choice is not easy. Perhaps more dangerous than resignation in the face of exhaustion is to perform the rituals of depoliticization. Consider how these sensibilities are practiced. First, adjustment appears in the condescending rejection of any organizational process which does not have the state as its object. It generally means that an aspiring bureaucracy closes ranks and insists that all other political practices should be dropped every few years when, as Marx put it long ago, the people are permitted to decide which member of the ruling class will misrepresent them in parliament. Experiments, necessary for any process of organizational invention, are ridiculed and dismissed in comparison to an ideal model which exists nowhere in reality, but which we are assured is the only practical solution. The stubborn repetition of norms, both political and social, guarantees the despotism of the model. Walter Benjamin recounted what he called a Hasidic saying (but which he actually heard from his friend Gershom Scholem), that when the messiah comes, the world will be just as it is now, “only a little bit different.” From the perspective of adjustment, it will not be even a little bit different. Second, personalization operates the reduction of politics to interpersonal relations, resulting in factionalism and conformism. Factionalism and conformism are not unusual in the history of politics, even emancipatory politics, but today they happen without the processes of total social upheaval that framed them historically. As a result, individuals and groups act like states without achieving any substantive change, enforcing unwritten laws with informal social punishments. In the place of the aspiration for structural transformation there is the centering of politics on the person, on the person of the adversary, whose offensive proclamations and style of speaking may provide the opportunity for a self-satisfied disgust, insofar as our experiences and self-designations are seen as spontaneously political rather than themselves the construction of political procedures. Third, pragmatism is the most widespread sensibility among intellectuals, from the media to the academy, who adopt political language but drain it of any idea, and laugh at those who have the courage to believe that a truly political idea is worth defending. As Alain Badiou puts it, the imperative of capitalism, “get rich!,” today translates into: “Live without an Idea!” Even in the pages of our most traditional newspapers, no less than in what Byung-Chul Han calls the “shitstorms” of social media, we can read condemnations of oppression and privilege, we can see debates over the abolition of our society’s most violent institutions, we can rejoice at the toppling of the latest petty tyrant with the misfortune of being randomly exposed. Yet if we were to don the fabled sunglasses of They Live! , we would read, in bold and colossal type: “Live without an Idea!” These sensibilities correspond in certain respects to different political tendencies, but they also fuse and intermingle in various ways. In social movements, forms of organization, whether they are bureaucratic or horizontalist, frequently revolve around the persons who lead or represent the movement. Competitions between factions, the decisions about which persons will occupy the positions of leadership, displace debates over strategy and program; activists are required to perform lengthy confessions of their privilege instead of recruiting new members (who are almost universally repelled, entirely justly, by such religious procedures); and purges and expulsions are performed to cleanse and redeem the community, instead of fostering environments which encourage free and open discussion. If we were to don the fabled sunglasses of They Live! , we would read, in bold and colossal type: “Live without an Idea!” All depoliticization leads back to the state, and its rituals, no matter how molecular, only enforce its hegemony. In periods of the intensification of opinion, of the back and forth which is not genuinely political, the greatest temptation is withdrawal—to maintain the conviction that a genuinely emancipatory politics is necessary, to recognize that it has taken place in the past, but then to conclude that it will not take place again. It is difficult to dictate to others whether it is better to enter the fray of opinion or withdraw into the isolation of one’s bunker. And indeed, I have no political prescription to make. I am unable to conclude with a clarion call, to rally new energies to a resurgence of politics. But this is not because I view emancipation as illusory, inherently flawed, or doomed to failure. In reality, it has been exhausted, in a way that perhaps we are still unable to fully comprehend. In the absence of events which inaugurate a thorough break with the existing order, I can only try to remain faithful, to the extent that my energies allow, to the emancipatory statements that Wamba articulated: that people think, that they may live differently than they do, and that politics is the creative invention which says: let us do something about the situation! And the questions which immediately follow these statements are: what are the conditions for emancipatory politics to exist? What are the militant forms of thought which make it possible for masses of people to make a subjective break from the existing state of things? What are the sites of politics which allow us to take a distance from the state, and how do we prevent politics from being reduced to the state when a political sequence comes to an end? The energies for fidelity, however, do not remain stable in our turbulent reality. A kind of ordinary steadiness, perhaps, can be drawn from Rossanda’s analysis of the organizational processes underlying these conditions. If depoliticization overwhelms us, it is not a matter of historical necessity, but of everyday relations, of the way we organize our relations to each other in the process of organizing politically. From the working class to the new social movements, from unions to assemblies, there is the patient work of building collectivities that last and the sober analysis of the exigencies of organization. And once again, many questions: what will fill the empty space left in history by the party? How can movements avoid neutralization while still compelling the transformation of existing institutions? What can prevent movements from being consigned to the margins, where they watch power solidify and harden? I remain convinced by these insights, but it would be a mistake to pretend that we have answers to the questions that follow. False certainties do not result in correct actions, and we gain little from arranging our ideas in such a way as to give ourselves the gift of optimism. Exhaustion, perhaps, is not eternal; we have no evidence to conclude that it is. But as capitalism, in its automatic and impersonal nihilism, accelerates its exhaustion of the planet, and the rituals of depoliticization foreclose the declaration of any political idea, there appears almost to be a nobility in withdrawal. And yet, this appearance is illusory, because one of the few truly meaningful questions in an otherwise meaningless and mediocre existence is this: what can we do about the situation? Answering that question means reckoning seriously, and disturbingly, with exhaustion. Time will tell—but not too much time—if we are up to the task. ▢ SUB-HEAD ​ ALSO IN THIS ISSUE: SHEBANI RAO A Freelancer's Guide to Decision-Making JAMIL JAN KOCHAI A Premonition; Recollected Artwork by Mon M for SAAG. SHARE ARTICLE: Essay Political Theory Emancipatory Politics Rossana Rossanda Ernest Wamba-dia-Wamba Congo Italian Communist Party Tanzania Senegal Carl Schmitt Lenin Sylvain Lazarus Marxist Theory Michael Neocosmos Il Manifesto Bernie Sanders 1968 Workers Movements Depoliticization Affect Historical materialism Walter Benjamin Movement Organization Movement Strategy Revolution Histories of Revolutionary Politics Temporality ASAD HAIDER is a founding Editor of Viewpoint Magazine , an investigative journal of contemporary politics. He is the author of Mistaken Identity and a co-editor for The Black Radical Tradition (forthcoming). His writing can be found in The Baffler , n+1 , The Point , Salon , and elsewhere. 10 Mar 2021 Essay Political Theory MON M is an organizer, writer, and illustrator from Bangalore, India currently organizing around surveillance, ending jail expansion, and prisoner support programs in Lenapehoking/New York City. Her work focuses on undoing the reformist creep of progressive criminal justice institutions and policies, as well as on abolitionist feminist strategies for ending the carceral state, and anti-caste solidarity within the South Asian diaspora, as a Savarna individual. She is a co-author of 8 to Abolition , as well as a founding co-organizer of the National No New Jails Network , and Free Them All for Public Health . Skulls 4 Apr 2023 K ZA WIN In the Yoma Foothills 26 Feb 2023 FICTION & POETRY Scenes From Gotagogama 23 Feb 2023 THE VERTICAL MORE LIKE THIS

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