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Here’s our featured guest post by Rosheena Zehra. You can find more of her work at her blog here

It’s a fine bright day and the classroom discussion is about being stuck in an empty bus with only the driver, the conductor and a seedy looking passenger. The participants of the conversation sit and laugh about the number of times they have been stranded in similar situations, the fear they felt and how they are glad it all ended in a way that has allowed them to sit and chat about it in a classroom today. It’s indeed funny how the possibility of rape is part of the normative order to the point that there is no choice but to include it in our lives, garbed in the form of humour. We live a reality where it’s an achievement to survive every day without the threat of physical and sexual violence. Good, you were not asking for it by dressing in a particular manner. Pat on the back. Good, you were not out after dark. Pat on the back one more time.

It is a strange world where the eyes of a seven year old rag-picker at the nearest Community Centre have a disturbingly ill-placed maturity staring back at you.  They tell me there is no hope left for the world, but sometimes I choose to believe otherwise.  It is sad to have children lose their innocence before their due time. When a friend tries to adopt an orphan child from the same community, one of the two contenders of the struggle is the possibility of education, a stable roof over their head and regular meals on a daily basis- a phenomenon previously unheard of. However, it loses to its far stronger adversary – the addiction of sniffing a specific item of stationery.  Soon the orphan slum-child refuses to eat with you, or take the clothes you give, or attend your lessons.  He already accepted his fate somewhere during the course of his eight year old existence, and now refuses to see any other reality beyond it. They tell me there is no hope left for the world.

A country where land mines are part of the daily reality of school children is yet another achievement. Ladakh- it’s a bitter realization that there exists a world where courting death on an everyday basis is a lived reality, where warning signs of land mines are just as normal and mundane as the nearest sign post around the corner.  Kindly stay close to the main road, to avoid being blown up into chunks smaller than your pinkie. Have a good day!

A little world of comforts- which in turn gives rise to more illusions prepared, garnished and served on the silver platter of neo-colonialism, patriarchy and First World privileges- is sufficient to make us feel good about ourselves, probably even indulge in a feeling of self-importance. However, beyond this world of palatable truths lurks a reality somewhere out on the streets -that place we have never been to, completely untouched by the naiveté of the existence we are often deluded into leading.

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We Are Everywhere – Jerry Rubin and We Are Everywhere – The Irresistable Rise of Global Anticapitalism

There are two books here. Yes, with the same name and pretty much about the same thing. Each worth going through- do so with caution. Caution caution caution. Sounds like

We Are Everywhere – The Irresistable Rise of Global Anticapitalism

Very 2000’s-sy, which is to say that thanks to the flashy editing and clean, uncluttered type, this book very nearly sucks and is almost unreadable because it looks so fucking boring, but there is some very good writing in there (check out the article by Kate Evans on page 290 and the one immediately after it by Medha Patkar and other stuff I haven’t had time to go through)

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We Are Everywhere – Jerry Rubin

My kind of book, all stitched up and with pictures of kids posing with guns, using guns, getting shot by guns; though no idea what it’s about. Some stuff on Black Panthers, lots of naked hippies, writing like

“Can we take your handcuffs off, Jerry?” asked the sergeant.

“Will you behave?”

I growled.

They got the message and stood back. “Cutting our hair is like taking off your black skin!” I barked to one sergeant.

“Jerry, I wish you could,” he answered. “You don’t know how much trouble my black skin has given me”

What contempt the black bourgeoisie hold for us white hairy niggers! They have fought so hard to become an equal in the white man’s society and we are trying to give up out white skin to become a nigger.

We don’t appreciate what they want so much.

The barber made good on his whispered promise and left much of the hair on my head.

Sheared, humiliated, beaten-yet still proud of ourselves for resisting…

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Reflections: On Character

‘What do you do?’ ‘I’m a writer’

1. I’m trying to keep up but A is moving quickly. Already L had been shed from our company, lost somewhere in the bazaar behind us. It’s my turn I guess, but I’m not quite done. I catch up to him, walking briskly beside him while I try to assimilate the sentence that will get me what I want. I want two things, I want my goddamn story and I want my goddamn flip flops.

Which A is wearing. I’m wearing his- a somewhat expensive looking foreign thing all black leather and cushy and a bit too cushy for my feet. I’m not sure A is even aware I’m beside him until he speaks over his shoulder, all matter of fact-like without breaking pace, ‘What the fuck are you doing?’

Glancing at his feet, I weigh my options. It’s unlikely I’ll get both, and I’m not going to try his patience now- he’s on his way to the Holy Family clinic to see his girlfriend, she overdosed a couple of days ago and will probably raise hell if he doesn’t show up now that she’s okay. Damn. ‘Remember, I need to meet your nephew, the street racer? I want to do a story on him’

A is stumbling around the busy intersection, hanging on to the roofs of autorickshaws as he peers inside each looking for one without a passenger. If he gets hit by one, I’ll take what’s mine and he can have what’s his and that shall be the end of that. Fuck the story. But he probably won’t. Too many people know him here. Too many people fear him. The guy has clout- enough that his awkwardly bent frame shuffling furiously through the crowded market street with a head full of opiates demands no consternation, not a second look from anyone. They’ve seen the gold chains, they’ve seen the expensive watch. They know him as ‘seth’ here- boss. No, he’ll be fine. I’ll have to think of something else.

‘Meet with L and give me a call in the evening, you can meet my nephew then.’

I say nothing, and taking one last look at his feet, I turn around and head back. He’ll find an auto eventually and take it to the girlfriend. He kept referring to her as the girlfriend , the female.

When I’ll call him at around 8 that night, he’ll be with her, still obstinate and still high, and his voice still like jagged stone- just like I had left him, and I shall know that nothing that I had felt earlier had been an exaggeration or a play of memory. The fear, the danger had been real. I had spent the morning with the wolf, and I was not yet done. He still had my story. He still had my flip flops.

‘Who the fuck is going to read your magazine?’

2. It was about 10:30 in the morning, L had asked me to come in and meet A, whom he had introduced as a guy that was starting a rehab clinic. I had been interested in the process and had set up a meet with him at L’s place- a rundown hovel of a room in one of the side gullys of the main market without water or electricity and a filthy mattress for a bed surrounded by strange trash that I couldn’t guess the purpose of if I tried. L had showed me the place a few days ago- pointing at the door he’d said that A had donated it a year or so back, and he’d made do with a curtain for the last 22 odd years. L thinks very highly of A, he thinks of him as a brother. But then L thinks very highly of me, and thinks I have been sent by God, because we had ended up talking once in the back lot of a nearby church, a place he hadn’t been for 15 years. He took that as a sign, even though I’d really only asked him if he knew a quiet place we could sit and smoke. I had been interviewing him for a small story-he had seemed to be an interesting character. ‘I really like you,’ he had told me at our first meeting, ‘if you ever need any help… if you ever need someone killed…’ His eyes had trailed off and the quick, excited smile that played on his lips when he would have a generous thought faded, ‘Yeah, I’ve been looking for a job these days,’ he’d said, the creases on his face returning until his face was quite lost in the intersecting folds of skin that seemed to lay the geography of his difficult life. L is 60, looks 30, and is insane; but he’s a nice fellow. But I won’t get into the things he told me about himself, or even the things that I understood because this is not his story. This is mine.

It was bad politics to hang out with L- I’d been told (and he’d told me as much) that he’d been in jail a couple of times, most recently for slashing a man’s stomach with a thermocol cutter. L is kind of an interior designer. The bazaar is a close-knit community where word travels fast. But he’d seemed interesting and I figured it was worth the damage. When he started speaking of A, I thought I’d hit a new break, found a greater perspective to the story. And yeah, I guess I did.

Right on time, I found my way to L’s door; it was open and the curtain that was usually drawn in the doorframe was pulled backwards and swung over the door to let the breeze in. I found the two of them sitting cross legged on the mattress with L holding up a thin folded sheet of aluminum and running a wax match under a fat drop of brown sugar that A was chasing with a small chillum fashioned out of a playing card. So much for the rehab clinic, I thought as I took a seat beside them.

‘What do you do?’

‘I’m a writer’

I lit a cigarette as I watched them continue, absolutely unabated by my presence or that of the chai walla that brought me a cup of tea on L’s insistence, or the few that paused in the door and looked in or the many that did not. A asked if I was a teetotaler when I declined his offer to have L bring some whiskey for me. Before the shock wore off, A explained what a teetotaler was and I mutely agreed. A would demonstrate his literacy and acumen several times in the next three hours. He recommended the novel ‘Valley of Dolls’ and spoke at length of an old de Palma film I had not seen. As he dived into the heroin again, I asked him if he was aware of Killer Joe, attributing it incorrectly to de Palma. He was. Great movie.

He had a thick gold chain around his neck and a couple of bracelets, also gold, also heavy, on his right wrist. He wore a beautiful watch on his other wrist that he told me was worth a small fortune. Its pale metal gleamed dangerously in the hole of a room we were sitting in. I wondered what a man of his stature was doing in a place like that. He began to tell me of a film script he’d been approached to write but refused to because the money wasn’t enough. I said sometimes you’ve got to take what you get. He said he didn’t need it. Said I didn’t know who he was, at which point L introduced him. Yes, I would say he was a big shot gangster. But I would say that he was a big shot gangster. He was in construction now- screaming at people on the phone, promising to hang them from the roof of his office. I made note to myself- Never go to his office. His ringtone was the cry of gulls.

I looked him in the eye, the casual slits he was talking from shining eerily in the light of the single candle L had set up on a plastic bottle for some reason. The glint made him look powerful. I wondered what he could do for me. I asked him if he would write an article on the state of the drug trade, that he had been a part of back in the day, in the city today. He said he wanted to co-author a book with me about the rise of the drug trade in Bombay from the 1950’s until today- naming names, all that. I said that sounded dangerous. He said if I put his name on it, no one would come after me, no one would kill me. I said I wasn’t willing to bet my life on that. And I was too busy with my magazine.

‘How many people do you think would read your magazine?’

Yeah, I know. He said he knew a publisher in Dubai that would buy the manuscript guaranteed for a crore. It was a story that would sell, and I knew it. We’d split the money even. I said I wasn’t ready for such a big commitment, especially on such a dangerous subject.

‘How much are you going to sell your magazine for?’

Nothing. It’ll be free. There’ll be a page at the back with information on how to donate.

‘How much does a printing press cost?’

A lot.

‘I can put up that money for you’

Fuck you.

‘I’ll give… lend… you this book called Acropolis, by Julius Caesar. “You too Brutus!” Kya line hai!’

L pitched in, taking his turn on the foil with the heroin.

‘If-you-stick-by-this-man-he-will-help-you,’ he droned, his voice shaking tersely, strangely elongated from the smoke he was inhaling even as he spoke.

I am Faust, about to make a deal with the devil? No.

‘You’re not an optimist,’ I pointed out, coming back to the magazine.

In his voice like gravel he spoke with an intelligence that frightened, intrigued me, ‘I believe that black is black and white is white’

What I saw was a 50 year old man sitting in baggy boxer shorts and a pink shirt smoking cheap heroin with a junkie in a slummy room surrounded by trash. Yes, I’d be in his 2 million dollar flat (next to his other 2 million dollar flat) in an exclusive part of town the next day, hoping to meet his nephew, the real story, the feature story for my magazine. But he’d be wearing the same clothes. Actually so would I and it was only L who had seemed to have changed his shirt into a white t-shirt with a large black screw printed on it under the word ‘WANNA’ in bold. I’d also get my flip flops back, but just barely.

He pressed me on the book, said it would be my ticket. He was right, but I wasn’t interested. It was pissing him off that I wouldn’t see reason. I told him he was a businessman, I an artist, we have a fundamental difference in perspective. But then I wondered, why was I there? If I never wanted to meet the likes of him what kept me there on that damp, disgusting mattress? Did I need him? We exist in different worlds- he, of actions and consequences- routine and I, of chaos, medley, a very pleasant and very comfortable and very generous kind of madness, where I do nothing and prosper, where I commit grave action and mistakes to no consequence. I could not say to him, to his face and mine, ‘Who you are looking for to write this book is a man, not a boy.’ Too big too fast- the way things can work sometimes in this city, but I will not yield to just any tide.

He’d been on and off the phone with his girlfriend a few times. ‘Kaun hai abhi tumhare saath?’ He got up suddenly and made to leave, in a rush putting on my flip flops instead of his slippers, and was out before I realized he wasn’t coming back.

L and I raced after him, I needed my appointment and footwear and L, I don’t think L knew what he was doing at this point. As I caught up to A, I realized he looked dofferent. In the market, in the bright light of day, this dominating, serious man had been reduced to a worn out shell struggling through the crowd. In his boxers and pink shirt, he looked pathetic and weak- a hunched, beat figure squinting in the sun. Where was the ‘seth’ now? Where was the snake eyed man that had frightened me?

It wasn’t until I called him later that day, imagining the wistful serenity of his ringtone as the bell rang, and spoke to him that I was reminded of the gravity of my situation. It was real. It returned. Did A carry his strength in his voice?

Suddenly I was very weary, and wanted nothing more to do with L or A or his nephew. I wanted the moment to pass and leave no refrain. Nothing. I had to set the alarm for 8:30 when A had said he’d meet me at L’s, but I didn’t want to associate that hour with him. In the morning I was 4 hours late, but I don’t think he noticed.

And what about my magazine? The one no one will read and I’ll give out for free?

The one with news but not hard news. The one with writing but nothing that would put me in harm’s way.

Won’t I need a graphic designer?

I don’t know. I can hear him taunt me, and he’s right. Maybe I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing.

Hatred is an institution. We’re all playing catch up.

Hear – Advised on Urbanity

And here’s our first guest post- a poem by Alia Sinha, a student of Media and Culture at the TATA Institute of Social Sciences

Listen,
Before you spill your secrets to strangers
Or to me
This is the wrong time to be thus-
Wandering with swollen ankles and
Looking through curtained windows
For love.

Towers are crumbling into light splinters as
Helicopters crash in fields of wheat
While all along
Sorrow plays out in pink brassieres
Sold on the sides of streets

Here steel-shod golden eyed
Electric-lit
Monsters stand
Breathing mad music into sweet wine
Breathing sweet melodies into the night
They cannot roam with you
They can only grieve or charm.

Once
Dreamers owned these once-forests
Fire they cried. They were not wrong.
But so what?
Weep no more for the sensuous or the tender
Only remember
Once
They were strong.

Meanwhile torn-eared hyena be
With gilded fur and moony eyes
With delicate shoes
With throaty cries
Grin yellow toothed for cameras,
and acknowledge irony.

Semiotext(e) – Schizo-Culture

A sort of magazine I came across looking for pirated copies of Semitoext(e) books, after finding them all on Flipkart for over 1000 rupees each (recently I got some twenty books altogether for similar money). Some repeats from Hatred of Capitalism but interesting entries from John Giorno and Kathy Acker amid other, unspeakable things.

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