“Stalin is not dead”-The legacy of the ‘Man Of Borderlands’.

Stalin is not dead‘ is a poem by the Russian poet Boris Chichibabin(1959)

“It’s early still to celebrate—Let some other oracle shout out
That our old wounds will hurt no more . . .
That the dead foe’s body won’t be our banner . . .
Let him shout, but I know well—Stalin is not dead.

We know the man Joseph Stalin through books, articles, essays, films and so forth. His name is synonymous with Communism, Gulags, Famine, dicatorship and a whole lot of mostly unappealing, obnoxious terms, ones that we would wish to consign to the dustbin of history. But, burying Stalinism and his cult of personality hasn’t been that easy as burying the body of Stalin, who had died of a stroke in his Volynskoe dacha on 5-th March, 1953, aged 74. Even his body was removed from Lenin’s Mausoleum in Red Square by stealth at night by Nikita Krushchev in 1961. His successors, Krushchev, Brezhnev and Gorbachev were equally worried about the problems engendered by his legacy. The American historian Martin Malia in his book, The Soviet Tragedy: A History of Socialism in Russia, 1917–1991 quotes, ” Although Stalin no longer lived physically, he still lived, and would continue to live…. The remaining four decades of Soviet history would be dominated by one overriding problem: How to bury Stalin.

My Georgian experience

This essay is not about Stalin and his deeds, but a short reflection on how, why and to what extent his legacy had taken root and been cemented among the social and political landscapes of Russia and three other post- Soviet Union States, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. I became interested in his persisting legacy, albeit in different forms and shades,after a visit to Georgia and Armenia two years back. The references include some articles, essays and books on the subject, the links of which I have appended. This is not an all-encompassing essay on the topic, but subsumes a few notable points relevant to the contemporary political and social landscape in these countries, Russia and Georgia in particular.

It all started with a plan to visit Georgia in 2018. I try to read about places that I plan to visit, as much as possible, and suggest to my husband of my choice of places. Stalins Museum in Gori, his birthplace was top on my list. I had read that many people there, the old generation particularly, revere him still. I thought I would be able to hear something good about a cult figure loathed by many and revered by some. No reading would do justice as seeing with one’s own eyes and hearing with own ears. We got a personal guide, Gaby, a short, stout Georgian man, ex- military, in his fifities who moonlighted as a freelance guide, his main job being a military contractor coordinating supply of military personnel to the US led NATO forces stationed at the border. A well-read man, and a treasure trove of information on history, geography and politics, with an eidetic memory and an excellent command of English.( I remember him telling the exact day, date and year of events that I had randomly asked him, rather impromptu ones that he never would have expected). And he knew a handful about my place, Kerala, as a Communist state, about the 100% literacy, female literacy etc.. etc…( possibly from the many Keralites who visit Georgia especially from the ME countries. There is visa on arrival option for many ME resident visa holders).

Since Stalins Museum had state appointed guides, Gaby didn’t come inside with us, mentioning that two guides couldn’t talk at the same time and about the ensuing ‘clash of information’ (stressing the phrase with a seriousness evoking Huntington’s ‘clash of civilization’). For the past two days Gaby had been eloquent in doling out polemics against Georgian politics, economy, constantly swearing against Stalin and Communism all the while eulogizing America, the NATO forces and the US military personnel stationed in Georgia. He was more an American than a Georgian and brusquely confessed his untainted faith in the US military head stationed there( he was working for this ‘head’ whose name he did not divulge). He had been promised ‘a special visa for those military personnel who work for the NATO’, green card later on and subsequently citizenship. I didn’t intend to warn him, but did so seeing the shine in his eyes and sensing his blind belief despite his worldly knowledge. ( I had in my mind a freshly read article about how the US defence department promised visas to some of the Afghan military personnel for risky espionage operations against the Taliban. Later, after the US had had the required data, most of those Afghanis were left out and the Taliban killed many of those volunteers).

Inside the museum, a young Georgian guide started explaining about the exhibits that included among Stalin’s personal items, his death mask. Our group was a disparate one, there were Americans, Russians, Georgians, other Europeans and Indians. We moved as a mass from room to room, the guide delivering lengthy tirades against Stalin and his tyrannies,all of them cliched details available in history books, like an actor repeating the script. Almost one hour passed, no one was asking any questions. It’s not often that we visit these countries. I expected to hear at least some unique, different facts/ stories about Stalin, a balanced account of his deeds and career from his birthplace. I am no fan of Stalin, but he was not born a tyrant. Like the artist and architect inside Hitler, he might have had something good, positive, creative. So I asked the guide to mention something engaging about Stalin, afterall he was Georgia’s son. To which he tersely replied ‘nothing good about him’ .

What I had observed was the sript-like enumeration of the state appointed guide, and the hatred for Stalin among the young Gerogians in our group, and the pro-western esp. pro American and anti- Russian sentiments that Gaby and a lot of others( according to him) harbor. In the capital, Tblisi, Stalin’s footprints are hard to find, but in his birthplace, Gori, you can still find his busts, streets named after him, his pictures hanging on the walls of restaurants and shops, his handsome face etched as wall murals and graffiti, his images in the flea markets.

Post- Soviet legacy of Stalin

A poll conducted by the Carnegie Endowment in 2012, the first ever comparative opinion polls on Stalin in the post- Soviet countries of Russia, Georgia, Armenia and Azeraijan suggests a worryingly high level of admiration for him. In Georgia it is 45% and 68% called him a wise leader. He rests in a tomb in Red Square in a prominent site in Moscow. Political rallies carry his portraits still, buses carried his image in Russia during the 2013 anniversary of the Battle of Stalingrad and in a poll conducted on great figures of Russian history in 2012, Stalin came first. While, Azerbaijan showed the greatest antipathy towards him, 22% of the population( 39% of young people) didn’t know who Stalin was.

The alarming level of Stalin worship in these countries prompted the pollsters to parse the reasons. It is illogical to think that people want to go back to gulags. Alfred J Reiber, the famous American historian, in his renowned essay, ‘Stalin , Man of Borderlands‘, explains how Stalin as a Marxist revolutionary in the South Caucasus, a borderland of the Russian empire projected himself as an eclectic mix of identities, an ethno-cultural Georgian, dominant class proletariat and a Russian with Great Russia as the center of political power.

The reasons cited for Stalin worship are many in these countries and analysing them are not made easy by concurrent discrepancies. Though 45% of Georgians approved of Stalin, a much higher percentage supported democracy. Those who approved him equally disapprove his brutalities. Thus the worship there assumes a personal touch than a political one. Among the old generation in the Caucasus, Stalin veneration is higher than in Russia, as they tend to evoke the Great Patriotic War when Stalin won over Hitler, though the brunt of the damage was suffered by Russia during the war. While, the main reasons for Stalin worship in Russia are the perceived failure of democracy, Soviet- era nostalgia and love for strongmen who singlehandedly run the country. Putin has strategically revived Stalin worship projecting his image a strong man, reviving Stalin through television and other propogandas highlighting the bright and heroic aspects of the Soviet past and pushing aside the repression and genocide to the margins of the collective consciousness. In effect, an unambigous condemnation of Stalin is almost impossible in the Russian psyche attaching the significance of a great nation to the victory in the Great War, Stalin being the architect of that victory. So the ramping up of victory celebrations of May 9 in Russia, reminiscing the once superpower and compensating for the collapse of USSR.

De- Stalinization or Krushchev’s Thaw begun by Nikita Krushchev following Stalin’s death, involving discrediting Stalin, reforming Russia, dismantling the gulag system and a thaw in the cold war, was not succesful after Krushchev’s removal from power. Gorbachev‘s perestroika to restructure the Soviet state was the second attempt, but that too failed and eventually led to fall of communism and collapse of USSR. Putin too made an effort at de-Stalinization in 2010. The Russian parliament issued a formal statement that the Katyn crime (a series of mass executions of nearly 22,000 Polish military officers and intelligentsia carried out by the Soviet security police in 1940) was committed by Stalin and other Soviet leaders. Kremlin quashed a plan by Moscow city authorities to adorn Moscow with Stalin’s images at the time of the 65th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany, in May 2010. An adapted version of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago was published at what was reported to be Putin’s personal initiative, following his meeting with Solzhenitsyn’s widow to discuss how best to teach her husband’s four-volume epic about communist repression. Putin had approved the book for Russian Secondary Schools.

In October 2007, during his second presidential term, Putin visited Butovo, the site of mass executions at the height of Stalin’s terror in 1937–1938. Putin was visibly shaken. “Insanity,” he said. “It is incredible. Why [were they killed]? . . . Those who were executed, sent to camps, shot and tortured number in the thousands and millions of people. . . . We need to do a great deal to ensure that this [tragedy] is never forgotten. Contradictorily, less than two months after the visit, Putin celebrated the ninetieth anniversary of FSB, the successor of KGB and NKVD the perpetrators of these massacres. The main aim of Putin’s de- Stalinization was rapproachment with the West. Not long after the initiation Putin reinstated and revived Stalin. Though Gulag Archipelago and other fiction and nonfiction works of Stalin’s repressions are easily available in bookstores and online, surpassing them are the publications and TV shows glorifying Stalin. Books defending Stalin are displayed side by side with those condemning him, some of these Stalin-supporting books published by Russia’s largest publishing house, Eksmo. Academic research on Stalinism is unrestricted, though access to archives has been increasingly limited. Memorial, a well known NGO conducting archival reasearch documenting Stalin’s crime has been increasingly targetted according to the Carnegie report. Putins Russia was always the Soviet version of centralised, uncontested state power with the help of security forces.

For a new generation in Russia, who do not beleve in symbolism or hero worship, what the state delivers is ultimately the most important query. A significant proportion of young people do not care about the legacy of Stalin according to the Carnege poll. They were the ones in front of the 2011 protests and the recent protests exhorted by Navalny, the opposition leader.

De Stalinization in Georgia is characterized by the contradictory attitudes of Georgians to Stalin and his legacy. For some Georgians the Stalin museum itself is wrong. It was initially called History Museum. But Stalin was prescient to choose it’s location near his birthhouse in Gori. The Georgian president, Eduard Shevardnadze( Communist party leader) in 1995 planned to transform the Stalin Museum a study center of the phenomenon of Stalin. In 2004, when President Mikhail Saakaashvili‘s pro- Western government came to power, he made some attempts at de Stalinization. A banner was strung in front of the museum declaring it a falsification of history, plans were made to convert it to ‘Stalinism museum’ by including the exhibits of Stalin’s victims but opposed by the museum employees at the time, government cranes removed the six meter Stalian memorial in front of the Gori town hall overnight which was reinstated after an angry mob of 5000 people signed a petition supported by the regional parliament. Stalin statues kept popping up after it’s removal. These illustrate the national schizophrenia of Georgians towards it’s famous son. A Museum of Soviet Occupation was opened in Tblisi in 2006, showcasing the history of Soviet rule in Georgia, but excluding the Soviet era and Stalin in particular. School text books do not teach the Soviet era in depth and it is practically absent in universities. One thing was certain, with change in Presidents and government, though the attitude to Stalin changed, for many of the Georgians he is an object of devotion, his samll house in the museum, a shrine.  A picture of the powerful cobbler’s son, portrayed as a saint and patron of cobblers, still hangs in a Georgian shoe mender’s workshop next to the icon of the Virgin Mary.

Ref:

https://www.jstor.org/stable/2692742?seq=1

https://www.cambridge.org/core/books/stalin-and-the-struggle-for-supremacy-in-eurasia/stalin-man-of-the-borderlands/AE846D828F6ACEDE3282DA6A71378FAB

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/jul/10/vladimir-putin-russia-rehabilitating-stalin-soviet-past

https://carnegieeurope.eu/2013/03/01/stalin-puzzle-deciphering-post-soviet-public-opinion-pub-51075

https://www.jstor.org/stable/2009424?seq=1

https://www.thoughtco.com/de-stalinization-1221824

https://www.dw.com/en/georgias-struggle-with-the-stalin-myth/a-16992871

https://qz.com/292901/historical-statues-illegal-stalin-statues-keep-popping-up-in-gori-georgia/

https://www.jstor.org/stable/resrep21100.9?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents

 www.reuters.com/article/2010/03/05/us-russia-stalin-idUSTRE6241M820100305.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-11845315

ഐതിഹ്യമാലയും വടക്കൻ ഐതിഹ്യമാലയും – ദേവി / യക്ഷി സങ്കല്പങ്ങൾ ഒരു വ്യത്യസ്ത കാഴ്ചപ്പാടിൽ

കുട്ടിക്കാലത്തെ പുസ്തകക്കൂട്ടത്തിൽ വലിപ്പമുള്ള പുസ്തകങ്ങളിൽ രണ്ടെണ്ണം ആയിരുന്നു ഐതിഹ്യമാലയും വടക്കൻ ഐതിഹ്യമാലയും( children’s version). വായിച്ചാൽ തീരാത്തത്ര കഥകൾ, ഐതിഹ്യങ്ങൾ, പുരാണകഥകൾ, കാല്പനികകഥകൾ എന്നിവ കോർത്തിണക്കിയ ഒരു നീണ്ട മാല. വളരെ പുരാതനമായ ഒരു ക്ഷേത്രത്തിന്റെ തൊട്ടടുത്താണ് എന്റെ അമ്മവീട്. എന്റെ പതിനേഴാമത്തെ വയസ്സ് വരെ ഞങ്ങൾ അവിടാണ് താമസിച്ചിരുന്നത്. ദേവി പ്രതിഷ്ഠയും, യക്ഷി പ്രതിഷ്ഠയും, ഭദ്രകാളി പ്രതിഷ്ഠയും പ്രധാനമായി വച്ച് പൂജിക്കുന്ന ഈ ക്ഷേത്രം ഞങ്ങളുടെ ജീവിതത്തിൽ ഒരു വലിയ പങ്ക് വഹിച്ചിരുന്നു. പുരാതനമായ സർപ്പക്കാവിന്റെ അടുത്താണ് യക്ഷിപ്രതിഷ്ഠ, പാലമരച്ചോട്ടിൽ.

ക്ഷേത്രത്തിനെ ചുറ്റിപ്പറ്റി ഒരുപാട് കഥകൾ ഉണ്ട്. മഹാഭാരരതത്തിന്റെ സമയത്തുള്ള ക്ഷേത്രമാണെന്നാണ് പരക്കെയുള്ള വിശ്വാസം. ഒറ്റക്കല്ലിൽ കൊത്തിയെടുത്ത വൻ തൂണുകളും, ഒറ്റക്കൽ നടപ്പാതകളും , കല്ലിലും തടിയിലും നിർമ്മിച്ചിരിക്കുന്ന അകത്തമ്പലവും കേരള വാസ്തുവിദ്യയുടെ ഒരു നല്ല ഉദാഹരണമാണ്. ഇതിനടുത്താണ് പുരാതനമായ കൈപ്പള്ളി വീട്. ചരിത്രപ്രാധാന്യമുള്ള ഒരുപാട് കൊട്ടാരങ്ങളും അമ്മച്ചി വീടുകളും ഇതിനും ചുറ്റുമുണ്ട്.

സമയം കിട്ടുമ്പോഴൊക്കെ ഞങ്ങൾ കുട്ടികൾ ഈ ക്ഷേത്രത്തിലും കാവിലും ആണ് ചിലവിട്ടിരുന്നത്. അതിനാൽ തന്നെ ഐതിഹ്യമാല പോലെ ഉള്ള പുസ്തകങ്ങൾ ഒരു ഫിക്ഷൻ വായിക്കുന്നതിനേക്കാളുപരി യഥാർത്ഥ സംഭവകഥകൾ പോലെ ആണ് ഞാൻ വായിച്ചിരുന്നതും വിശ്വസിച്ചിരുന്നതും. അടുത്തയിടെ ഈ രണ്ടു പുസ്തകങ്ങളെ പറ്റിയുള്ള ഒരു പ്രബന്ധം വായിക്കാനിടയായി. പുസ്തകങ്ങളിലെ കഥകളിൽ ആഴത്തിൽ ഒളിഞ്ഞിരിക്കുന്ന സമകാലീന പ്രാധാന്യമുള്ള വസ്തുതകളാണ് പ്രബന്ധത്തിൽ വിവരിച്ചിരിക്കുന്നത്. ഇത് വായിച്ചപ്പോഴാണ് പുസ്തകങ്ങളുടെ പുനർവായനകൾ എത്രത്തോളം വ്യത്യസ്തമായ കാഴ്ചപ്പാടുകളാണ് വച്ച് നീട്ടുന്നതെന്നു വീണ്ടും വീണ്ടും ഉറപ്പായത്. കൊട്ടാരത്തിൽ ശങ്കുണ്ണിയുടെ ഐതിഹ്യമാല തെക്കൻകേരളത്തിലേയും, വാണിദാസൻ ഇളയവൂരിന്റെ വടക്കൻ ഐതിഹ്യമാല വടക്കൻകേരളത്തിന്റെയും വ്യത്യസ്ത മിത്തുകളെ പറ്റി പറയുന്നു.

ഭൂതകാലം ചരിത്രത്തിൽ മാത്രം ഒതുങ്ങുന്നതല്ല. പുരാണങ്ങൾ, ഐതിഹ്യങ്ങൾ, ബഹുജനവിശ്വാസങ്ങൾ, സാമൂഹികരീതികൾ, കുടുംബങ്ങളിലെ രീതികൾ , ആചാരങ്ങൾ എന്നിങ്ങനെ പല ഇഴകൾ കൊണ്ട് നെയ്തെടുത്തതാണ് ഭൂതകാലം. ഈ കഥകളിൽ നിന്ന് പല ഉൾക്കാഴ്ചകളും നമുക്ക് ലഭിക്കുന്നു. ഉദാഹരണത്തിന്, ദേവീപൂജയും സ്ത്രീകളുടെ സാമൂഹിക അവസ്ഥയും തമ്മിലുള്ള ബന്ധം, ക്ഷേത്രാചാരങ്ങളും ജാതിവ്യവസ്ഥയും ആ സമയത്തെ മറ്റു രാഷ്ട്രീയ സാമൂഹിക സാമ്പത്തിക വ്യവസ്ഥകളുമായുള്ള ബന്ധം, എന്നിങ്ങനെ. Caste and Gender dynamics നെ പറ്റിയും, കഥകളിൽ ഒളിഞ്ഞിരിക്കുന്ന സാമൂഹിക സാംസ്കാരിക പാശ്ചാത്തലങ്ങളെ പറ്റിയും വ്യക്തമായി നമുക്ക് മനസ്സിലാക്കാൻ സാധിക്കും. ഈ രണ്ടു പുസ്തകങ്ങളിലും ( അധികവും ഐതിഹ്യമാലയിൽ ആണ്) ദേവികഥകളും, യക്ഷിക്കഥകളും വായിക്കാൻ സാധിക്കും. ദേവിയെയും യക്ഷിയേയും മാനവീകരിച്ചാണ് narrate ചെയ്തിരിക്കുന്നത്. ഇതിലെ ഐതിഹ്യങ്ങളിലെ ദേവി പുരാണങ്ങളിലെ പോലെ ഒരു consort അല്ലെങ്കിൽ ഭഗവാന്റെ നല്ലപകുതിയോ അല്ല. മറിച്ചു, കരുണയുടെയും ദയാശീലത്തിന്റെയും രൗദ്രതയുടെയും സമ്പുഷ്ടതയുടെയും ആശയങ്ങൾ ഈ ദേവികഥാപാത്രത്തിലുണ്ട്. ദേവീപൂജ അന്നത്തെ സമൂഹത്തിലെ hierarchical pattern നെ കാണിക്കുന്നു. പൈശാചിക ശക്‌തിയുള്ള യക്ഷി uncontrollable sexual urge നെ സൂചിപ്പിക്കുന്നു. ഇത് പല വ്യാഖ്യാനങ്ങളിൽ ഒന്ന് മാത്രമാണ്. അക്കാലത്തു പ്രബലമായ ഹിന്ദു ആഖ്യാനങ്ങൾ, ആചാര നിഷ്ഠകൾ എന്നിവയോടു ഇഴുകിച്ചേർന്നു നിൽക്കാതെ സ്വന്തമായി ഒരു വിവരണ രീതി ഉണ്ടാക്കുകയും പ്രാദേശികമായി ഇതിനെ ക്രമീകരിക്കാൻ കഴിയുകയും ചെയ്തു എന്നതാണ് ഈ പുസ്തകങ്ങളുടെ പ്രത്യേകത. നൂറ്റാണ്ടുകളായി കേട്ട് പോരുന്ന വായ്പാട്ടു രീതിയിൽ ഉള്ള നാടോടിക്കഥകൾ തന്നെ ആണ് ഈ പുസ്തകങ്ങളിൽ പറഞ്ഞിരിക്കുന്നത്.

ദേവി അഥവാ ശക്തി പല സമൂഹങ്ങളിൽ വ്യത്യസ്തമാണ്. ഗ്രാമദേവതകൾ, വ്യത്യസ്‌ത ഗോത്രങ്ങൾ പൂജിക്കുന്ന ദേവികൾ എന്നിവക്ക് പ്രമുഖ ഹിന്ദു സംസ്‌കൃത ദേവിപൂജാരീതികളോട് പല സാമ്യങ്ങളും വ്യത്യാസങ്ങളും ഉണ്ട്.ഐതിഹ്യങ്ങളിൽ നിന്നും നാടോടിക്കഥകളിൽ നിന്നും ഗോത്ര ദേവി ആരാധനയിൽ നിന്നും കടമെടുത്ത ദേവീസങ്കല്പങ്ങൾ ലക്ഷ്മിയായും , പാർവതിയായും കാളിയായും ദുർഗ്ഗയായും ഹിന്ദുമതത്തിലേക്ക് കയ്യടക്കപ്പെട്ടിട്ടുണ്ട്. ദേവി സദാചാരത്തിന്റെയും സദ്ഗുണത്തിന്റെയും മാതൃകയാകുമ്പോൾ യക്ഷി പൈശാചികശക്‌തിയോ, തിന്മയുടെയും ദയയുടെയും നിഴലുകൾ ഉള്ള ഒരു അർദ്ധദേവതയോ ആണ്. ഈ ഐതിഹ്യങ്ങൾ വഴി സദാചാരം, മനുഷ്യന്റെ പല കഷ്ടസ്ഥിതികൾ, അജ്ഞാതവും ഗൂഢവുമായ കാര്യങ്ങൾ, ആചാരങ്ങൾ എന്നിവ മനസ്സിലാക്കാൻ കഴിയും.

സ്ത്രീയുടെ ചാരിത്ര്യവും വിശുദ്ധിയും ദേവി / യക്ഷി കഥകളിൽ ആവർത്തിക്കുന്ന വിഷയമാണ്. ഐതിഹ്യമാലയിൽ യക്ഷിക്കഥകൾ ഉണ്ടെങ്കിലും വടക്കൻ ഐതിഹ്യമാലയിൽ അധികവും സ്ത്രീസ്വഭാവരീതികൾ ചാർത്തപ്പെട്ട ദുര്ദേവതകളും ബാധകളും ആണ്. ക്ഷേത്രങ്ങളും കാവുകളൂം ദേവിയുടെയും യക്ഷിയുടെയും വാസസ്ഥലം എന്നതിലുപരി ആ പ്രദേശങ്ങളിലെ സമ്പദ്‌വ്യവസ്ഥകളിലും കാര്യമായ പങ്ക് വഹിച്ചിരുന്നു. സ്ഥലമായും സ്വര്ണമായും ആനകളായുമൊക്കെ കിട്ടിയിരുന്ന സ്വത്തു, മതവിശ്വാസം ലൗകികമായ കാര്യങ്ങൾ തീരുമാനിക്കുന്നതിന് ഉത്തമ ഉദാഹരണമാണ്.

കുട്ടിക്കാലത്തെ എന്റെ ഓർമ്മയിൽ തെളിഞ്ഞു നിൽക്കുന്ന ഒന്നാണ് ക്ഷേത്രത്തിലെ വെളിച്ചപ്പാട് തുള്ളൽ. ദേവിയും യക്ഷിയും ഈ മാധ്യമങ്ങൾ വഴി സംസാരിക്കുന്നതും, അത്ഭുതങ്ങൾ പ്രവചിക്കുന്നതും ഒക്കെ ഇന്നലെയെന്നത് പോലെ ഓർമയിലുണ്ട്. പല രക്ഷാകർമക്കൾക്കും ഇവർ വിലയിടുന്നത് സ്വര്ണത്തിന്റേയോ സ്ഥലത്തിന്റെയോ രൂപത്തിലാണ്. ചോദിക്കുന്നത് ദേവിയാകുമ്പോൾ ഇതെല്ലാം മറുചോദ്യമില്ലാതെ ക്ഷേത്രത്തിന്റെ കൈപ്പിടിയിൽ എത്തുന്നു. അതുപോലെ തന്നെ അസുഖങ്ങളെയും യുദ്ധത്തെയും ഒക്കെ ദേവീശാപമായി ചിത്രീകരിക്കുന്നത് വഴി നീതിയുടെയും നീതിശാസ്ത്രത്തിന്റെയും ഒരു പ്രബോധനം ആണ് കഥകൾ വഴി നൽകുന്നത്.

യക്ഷിക്കഥകളിൽ ആവർത്തിച്ചു കാണുന്ന ഒന്നാണ് ദേവിയുടെ സഹായത്തോടെ യക്ഷിയെ മെരുക്കുന്ന ബ്രാഹ്മണൻ. ഉയർന്ന ജാതിക്കാരനായ ബ്രാഹ്മണന് അടിമയാകുന്ന യക്ഷി അയാളെ സേവിക്കുകയും, അയാളുടെ കുഞ്ഞുങ്ങൾക്ക് ജന്മം കൊടുക്കുകയും ചെയ്യുമെങ്കിലും ഒരു ഭാര്യയുടെ നിയമപരമായ അവകാശങ്ങൾ അവൾക്കു ലഭിക്കുന്നില്ല. രാത്രികാലങ്ങളിൽ മാത്രം ബ്രാഹ്മണനെ സേവിക്കാൻ അവൾ വിധിക്കപ്പെടുന്നു.

ദേവിയും യക്ഷിയും സൗന്ദര്യത്തിന്റെ മൂർത്തീഭാവങ്ങൾ ആണെങ്കിലും ദേവിസൗന്ദര്യം സ്വർഗാനുഭൂതിയും യക്ഷിയുടേത് നരകത്തിലേക്ക് വശീകരിക്കുന്ന ഉറവിടവുമാണ്. ദേവിയെ പ്രതിഷ്ഠിക്കുന്നത് അകത്തമ്പലത്തിലും യക്ഷിയെ പുറത്തുമാണ്. ഒരു സംസ്കാരത്തിലെ gender role ഈ രണ്ടു കഥാപാത്രങ്ങളിലും നിഴലിക്കുന്നുണ്ട്. രണ്ടു പേരിലും മനുഷ്യ നന്മകളും തിന്മകളുമുണ്ട്. അസൂയ, ആസക്‌തി, കുരുതിയോടുള്ള താല്പര്യം, മാംസാഹാരം, മദ്യം എന്നിവയുടെ ഉപയോഗം എല്ലാം ദേവിയിൽ കാണപ്പെടുന്നുണ്ട്. യക്ഷിയെ ഒരു erotic force ആയിട്ടാണ് കഥകളിൽ ചിത്രീകരിക്കുന്നത്, consummate and consume ചെയ്യുന്ന ഒരു entity . യക്ഷിയുടെ ഈ രീതിയിലുള്ള ചിത്രീകരണം സ്ത്രീകളുടെ sexuality യെ പറ്റിയും സ്വാതന്ത്ര്യത്തെ പറ്റിയും സമൂഹത്തിനുള്ള ഭയപ്പാടാണ് വ്യക്തമാക്കുന്നത്.

ജാതിവ്യവസ്ഥയും അധികാരക്രമവും ലിംഗക്രമവും എല്ലാം കഥകളിൽ വ്യക്തമാണ്. അകത്തമ്പലത്തിൽ പ്രവേശനം ബ്രാഹ്മണന് മാത്രം, മാരാർക്കു പാട്ടും കൊട്ടും മാത്രം, സ്ത്രീകൾക്ക് മാലകെട്ടലും വിളക്ക് ഒരുക്കലും മാത്രം.. ഐതിഹ്യമാലയിൽ ധാരാളം കാണാൻ കഴിയുന്ന കഥകളാണ് ബ്രാഹ്മണരെ പറ്റിയും നമ്പൂതിരികളെ പറ്റിയുമുള്ളവ. കുഞ്ഞുനീലി എന്ന പുലയപെണ്കുട്ടിയുടെ കഥയിൽ, ഉയർന്ന ജാതിക്കാരായ പുരുഷന്മാർക്ക് വഴങ്ങിക്കൊടുക്കാത്തതു കാരണം അവർ അവളെ വഴിപിഴച്ചവളായി മുദ്രകുത്തുന്നു. നീലിയുടെ അച്ഛൻ അവളെ കുരുതികൊടുക്കുന്നു അങ്ങനെ അവൾ നീലിയമ്മ എന്ന ദേവിയായി മാറുന്നു.

മുടിയേറ്റും കളമെഴുത്തും ഞാൻ ഇന്നും ഓർക്കുന്ന രണ്ടു rituals ആണ് . ഈ പുസ്തകങ്ങളിലെ കഥകൾ ഐതിഹ്യം എന്നതിലുപരി എനിക്ക് യാഥാർഥ്യങ്ങൾ ആയിരുന്നു. ചിലതു ഒരു lived experience ആയിരുന്നു. കഥകളിൽ പലതും ഇന്നും ഒരു മങ്ങിയ film പോലെ ഓർക്കുന്നു. വായനക്കാരെ അവർ സൃഷ്ടിക്കുന്ന മായിക ലോകത്തേക്ക് കൊണ്ടെത്തിക്കാൻ കഴിഞ്ഞു എന്നതാണ് ആ എഴുത്തുകാരുടെ കഴിവ്.

Book Review- “The Argumentative Indian: Writings on Indian History, Culture, and Identity” by Amartya Sen

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Author–                         Amartya Sen

Category/ Genre–      Nonfiction/ Essays/ Writings on Indian History, Culture and Identity

Awards/ Recognitions–   Nobel Prize in Economics(1998)

First published–             2005

 

Author Biography

Amartya Kumar Sen, the Indian Economist, 1998 Nobel Prize winner in Economics, was born in Santiniketan on the campus of Rabindranath Tagore‘s Viswa Bharati(both a school and college). Originally his family is from Dhaka( now the capital of Bangladesh). His father was a Chemistry professor at Dhaka University, his maternal grandfather taught Sanskrit and ancient and medieval Indian culture in Viswa Bharati University, where his mother was a student.

Before choosing to study and research in Economics, he flirted with Sanskrit, Mathematics, and Physics for a while. Much of his childhood years were spent in Dhaka and later his educational attitudes were formed in Santiniketan. The schooling in Shantiniketan, according to Sen, was progressive, co-ed, and emphasized in fostering curiosity and thinking over competitive excellence and grades. The school curriculum included India’s cultural, analytical, and scientific heritage along with Wester, Eastern, South East Asian, West Asian, and African cultures. Later he would write to his friend that it was this kind of diverse exposure that helped him identify himself with the cultural diversities of the world.

Tagore’s “idea of India” was against the culturally separatist view “against the intense consciousness of the separateness of one’s own people from others.” He resisted the Hindu- Muslim communal identity from the very beginning. Sen saw his teenage years marking a great divide in diversity, a belligerent and divisive communal hatred sweeping through India. The communal violence that engulfed the 40′ s India left a deep mark on young Sen’s mind. He gives an example of a Muslim laborer knifed to death by Hindu mobs, only for the reason of the religion he followed. The unfreedom of poverty that forced the man to seek work in a hostile area, thereby endangering all his other freedoms thus having had to pay with his life devastated young Sen.

Another event that influenced his thinking greatly was The Bengal Famine of 1943. He was struck by its class-dependent nature. Only those at the lowest rung of the ladder were affected. The political convictions that he had subscribed to as a student in Calcutta college and his ideas of constructive political opposition happened to be in tandem with the political liberal ideas of the post-Enlightenment Europe and the tolerance and diversity in Indian culture.   As KingAshoka had put it in the third century B.C.: “For he who does reverence to his own sect while disparaging the sects of others wholly from attachment to his own, with intent to enhance the splendor of his own sect, in reality by such conduct inflicts the severest injury on his own sect.” According to Sen, it was a serious mistake to see tolerance just as a Western liberal idea.

Sen’s research encompassed welfare economics, economic inequality, and poverty, famines as the manifestation of poverty, democratic social choice, cited by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in awarding him the Nobel. Kenneth Arrow‘s path-breaking study of social choices in his work ‘Social Choice and Individual Values‘ influenced him and his friend. Later, in Cambridge Trinity College, the political-economic debates about Keynesian theory among the neo-Classical Keynes skeptics supporting capital theory and neo-Keynesians against the capital proved to be a victorious battleground for Sen in developing his research.  The genial co-existence and tolerance of the supporters of different theorists were notable in Cambridge.

He did PhD in research and studied  Philosophy in Calcutta later and went to work as a professor of Economics in the Delhi School of Economics until 1971. His ideas of the social choice theory were developed here in-depth. In his 1970 book,’ Collective Choice and Social Welfare, he has tried to explain the social choice theory. He moved to London in 1971, while he had been suffering from serious health problems as a result of earlier radiation treatment to his oral cancer. He developed bone necrosis of hard palate for which plastic surgery was required.

In Oxford, he expanded his research from the theoretical social choice to applied and practical sides of inequality, unemployment, personal liberty, basic rights, and poverty. He worked on gender inequality, causation and prevention of famines, hunger and deprivation, and development. Notable was his studies on the nature of individual advantage in terms of the substantive freedoms that different persons respectively enjoy, in the form of the capability to achieve valuable things.

He moved with his two children to Harvard in the late 1980s after the death of his second wife from cancer. Up to 1991, he was much involved in analyzing the overall implications of the perspective on welfare economics and political philosophy. He is currently the Thomas W. Lamont University Professor and Professor of Economics and Philosophy at Harvard University. He is also a senior fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows and a Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, where he previously served as Master from the years 1998 to 2004. He is the first Asian and the first Indian academic to head an Oxbridge college.

Sen heralded the area of Qualitative Economics as opposed to the for-profit Quantitative Economics based on mathematical calculations and taking their cue from Wall Street. He introduced the humane element in Political Economics thus spearheading the branch of Welfare Economics. “The Human Development Index” used to rank countries based on human development was his contribution along with the Pakistani Economist Mahbub ul Haq. Amartya Sen’s books have been translated into more than thirty languages. He is a trustee of Economists for Peace and Security. In 2006, Time magazine listed him under “60 years of Asian Heroes” and in 2010 included him in their “100 most influential people in the world “

 

Analysis

The work is a collection of 16 essays on identity, culture, and Indian history. The first four essays explain the principle theme of the book- India’s long argumentative tradition. The focus is on the long history of argumentative tradition in India, its contemporary relevance, and the neglect in cultural discussions. Sen drives home the point that Indian heterodoxy and dialogue give rise to many convictions and viewpoints.

In the preface, the author contrasts the politically charged ‘ Hindutva’ movement,  – a narrow Hindu view of Indian civilization that separates it into pre and post-Muslim conquest periods invoking holy Vedas and the Hindu epic Ramayana in justifying their actions like mosque demolition, with the integrationists who view these as unwelcome intrusions into secular society and question the partisan, factional nature of invoking Hindu Classics time and again.

The author in addition to stressing the import of the epics on Indian literary and philosophical texts, folk traditions, and dialectics, points to their role in Indian culture. He gives examples of the fourteenth-century Bengali translations of the Hindu epics, Mahabharata and Ramayana by the Muslim Pathan rulers of Bengal out of pure love of Indian culture. Similarly, he contends, The Upanishads, the philosophical part of the Vedas was first translated into Persian by the Moghul prince, Dara Shikoh, the eldest son of the Emperor Shahjahan and Mumtaz Mahal, in the seventeenth century.

The epistemological nature of the Vedas paving way for the argumentative and dialectical tradition in Indian culture is stressed. The author writes that such a tradition is in full view in Ramayana itself, where Rama is considered a fallible human and an epic war hero and not divine by the pundit Javali who explains in detail that ” there is no afterworld nor any religious practices for attaining that and the injunctions about the worship of gods, sacrifice, gifts, and penance have been laid out in the Shastras( scriptures) by clever people to rule over other people”. According to Tagore, the epics should be taken for what it is- a marvelous parable and cultural heritage than a document of supernatural veracity.

Sen contends that skepticism, dialectics, debates, violence, and wars had been a part of Indian history since the beginning and it would be counterproductive to signify the latter over the former in social and political discourse. Similarly, the long tradition of heterodoxy in Indian thoughts and beliefs, and the co-existence of different religions which were debated are writ large on annals of history not to be ignored into a single orthodox legacy of Hinduism, which is a much later term according to the author. There were Buddhists, Jains, Agnostics, and Atheists in the mainstream that debated with each other and with Hinduism followers. He observes that the dominant religion in India was Buddhism for almost a thousand years, and the Chinese in the First Millenium CE referred to India as a Buddhist kingdom.

He provides two examples, that of the Buddist emperor of India, Ashoka, who in third century BC outlined the principles of tolerance, rich heterodoxy, and rules of debates, dialectics, and disputes. Similarly, the principles of tolerance and separating religion from the state were cemented by a Muslim Indian emperor, Akbar, in 1590 s, at a time when The Inquisition was in full swing in Europe.

The essays assert the contemporary relevance of dialectics and heterodoxy in a democracy, public reasoning, secularism, resisting inequities, removing poverty, and in the pursuit of justice. He disagrees with the notion of elitism in arguments, that it is a realm accessible to the literate and affluent in contrast to the common men and points to the way this leads to cynicism and impassivity. He reminds us that the critical voice has always been the right of the repressed and oppressed and an opportunity to be utilized and not a necessary skill. Even though, the documentation of arguments tends to be biased in the route of articulations of the powerful and well educated, many interesting accounts of debates in the past involve disadvantaged groups.

He contends that the nature and strength of the argumentative tradition in India are greatly ignored on the premise that the country is a land of religions, uncritical faith, and unquestioned practices. The practice by some theorists in suppressing India’s intellectual heritage by highlighting the faith-based unreasoning culture of the East does injustice to the argumentative tradition of India in the past by simply contrasting the East-West culture in a fixed and preconceived manner through the prism of religion. A great deal of our past and present is intentionally or unintentionally getting effaced by this practice. The names of the great Aryabhatta, the Mathematician, and Kautilya, the political economist are evoked by Sen during the discussion.

There are four parts, each consisting of 4 essays. The first two essays deal with pluralism and dialogic tradition in the support of democracy, secularism, the pursuit of art and science, and social dialectics in seeking social justice. Essay 3 is about the significance of understanding heterodoxy as against the parochial religionistic approach through the lens of Hinduism. Essay 4 is about the ways to understand Indian identity.

Part 2 is about the role of communication in understanding and development of cultures. Essays 5 and 6 deals with the insights on communication from the works of Tagore and the Indian film director Satyajit Ray. The 7th essay is about the impact of imagined India in Western perceptions on the Indian mind during the colonial and post-colonial periods.  Essay 8 is about the intellectual, religious, and trade relations that China and India had for a thousand years from the early part of the first millennium.

Part 3 has four essays that deal with deprivation and security after the development of nuclear weapons. The last four essays are about the import of reasoning in identity, secularism, multiculturalism, and the calendrical variations that allowed to fix the principal meridian for India at Ujjain(the basis for Indian Standard Time five and a half hours ahead of GMT).

Review

As one of the most influential public thinkers and intellectuals of our times, a Nobel laureate, the very first quality that is seen mentioned about him, anywhere his name or the critical reviews of his works appear, is his humility and humaneness. He is still an Indian citizen, he has not given up the Indian passport despite having been living and teaching abroad since the 1950s. He is a man whom Cambridge and Harvard are said to have fought to offer an appointment. He returns to Santiniketan every year working for a trust he had set up there with the Nobel prize money. A true patriot, he is unassuming and has an unparalleled knowledge in Indian History, Philosophy, Economics, and Culture.

In the book, the author tries to upend the stereotype of India from its exotic, mythical place to a rightful one. He is careful not to overemphasize the past triumphs at the same time criticizing the Western oversimplification of the realities like James Mill‘s History of British India. Sen warns not to oversimplify the notion of democratic India as a Western gift to a country suited to democracy by virtue of its rich history and culture. He disputes the ideas of Hindutva propagated by the Hindu nationalists and refutes the Western idea of India as a Hindu nation.

With the help of a vast array of references, he invokes rulers and emperors like Ashoka and Akbar, dissects the epics Ramayana and Mahabharata to delineate the facts of inclusivity and accommodation to dissent and skepticism in the broad and magnanimous Hinduism and criticizes the notion of bellicosity, divisiveness, and exclusionist sentiments and agendas of the Hindutva movement.

The part where the only Indian literature Nobel laureate in India is being discussed, he is unambiguous in criticizing and vindicating the poet, novelist, short story writer, essayist, and playwright. Though versatile, Tagore was mainly known for his poetry in the West. The Western judgementalism and revisionism of Eastern writers are being thrown to light through his own prism. Tagore was the recipient of both these while alive. Ezra Pound and WB Yeats were champions of his works earlier, but they pilloried him later on thus making his works oblivious to the world outside India. Sen adds his own vindication for this while he mentions the untranslatability of Tagore’s works. At the same moment, he criticizes the Western literary world in trying to categorize the great author into an Eastern, mystical, exotic, sage-like niche while they missed noticing a liberal, rational, humane thinker.

Invoking the filmmaker Satyajit Rai, Sen draws the conclusion that his triumph in the midst of world movies is drawn from a heterogenic approach, not remaining inside the bounds of what one normally expects as an overdose of Orientalism from an Asian filmmaker, and eclectic experimentation by learning and blending from other cultures.

The relevance of the book in contemporary India cannot be overstated. A well of knowledge and wisdom, the author has, with meticulous research, driven home the basic understanding of ideas like pluralism, heterogeneity, heterodoxy, secularism, and inclusivity by digging into history, identity, religious identity, and culture, while underpinning the significance of dialectics and debates in sustaining these and defenestrating preconceived and prejudiced Western notions of all these with respect to India- ancient and modern.

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review “Regarding The Pain of Others” by Susan Sontag

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Author–     Susan Sontag

Category/ Genre–      Nonfiction/ Essay/ criticism

Awards–    National Book Critics Circle Award Nominee for Criticism (2003),

Susanne K.Langer Award for Outstanding Scholarship in the Ecology of                                  Symbolic Form (2004)

My Review 

On June 24, 2019, an extremely heart-wrenching photograph by the journalist Julia Le Duc was published by the Mexican newspaper, La Jornada, of the bodies of two Salvadorans, Oscar Ramirez and his two-year-old daughter, Valeria Ramirez lying face down, her tiny body tucked inside his T-shirt and her arm around his neck. Oscar was trying to cross the river Rio Grande to reach the US. The poignant picture painted the plight of Central Americans trying to reach the US and sparked charged debates among the US polity.

On September 2, 2015, the Turkish photographer, Nilufer Demir hauntingly captured the limp, lifeless body of three-year-old Alan Kurdi, a Kurdish-Syrian child, who died off the coast of the Greek island of Kos while seeking refuge in Europe.

 Nick Ut’s 1972 “Girl in the picture” of the screaming 9-year-old Kim Phuc, her clothes and body burned by napalm bomb dropped in South Vietnam by the US military became the defining image of the Vietnam war and exposed the horrors of war to the American public. There are many examples like the 1989  “Tank Man” refusing to move away from Chinese military tanks, during the Tianmen Square massacre, by the American photojournalist, Jeff Widener, a 1993 NYT photograph of a plump vulture stalking an emaciated Sudanese child on her way to a feeding center in Sudan by Kevin Carter(1993) opening the world’s eyes to a crisis few were aware at the time, “The Hooded Man” picture(2004), one of the many leaked from Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, of a hooded man posed with outstretched arms holding electrical wires, standing on a box, and tortured by the American soldiers which tore the facade of human rights advocacy of the US…… ..and many more. And there are photographs that have not become iconic like those mentioned above but still captures the grim reality, like the long walk of migrant laborers on feet treading hundreds of kilometers with their sparse belongings and children on the shoulder to reach their villages during the unexpected lockdown post corona in India. A reality baring the extent of inequality and inhumanity that exists on and below the surface of societal fabric.

What do all these photographs have in common? They are a powerful graphic portrayals of suffering and they stir the empathy of viewers and rouse the policymakers into action. Ideally, things should drastically change for good, from the visual impact. Though, this may not always be the case.

Susan Sontag in her 2003 book-length essay ‘Regarding the pain of others‘ explores how far and to what extent the medium of photography effects changes in the mind and policies. This is an addendum to her “On Photography“, another essay collection on photography, though both convey radically differing views.

She begins the book with a discussion of”Three Guineas” by Virginia Woolf, reflecting on the roots of war. Woolf wrote the essay as a response to a letter received from a London lawyer who asked the question “How in your opinion are we to prevent war?” She wrote the essay while fascism was on the rise in the European continent and it was published in 1938. Her perspective on the answer is a feminist one. She writes about the photo of a mutilated human body in the newspaper, that could as well be of a pig. She writes about the emotional and intellectual realm of a woman that inevitably delayed any political or military action as the consequence of the evil that the photo represents. She concludes that such an action was open to men only, women being limited by their household realm. Towards ending the essay, Woolf points to a photograph of Hitler in military uniform and asserts a responsibility from the part of common humanity to identify with the perpetrator among us, along with the victims.

Sontag intends her essay as an epilogue to Woolf’s essay and looks at length if photographs could be used as tools to prevent wars by public protest against human misery. She tries to answer how these photos make us feel and act. She gives a brief history of photojournalism, discusses the Crimean war and other civil wars, Operation Iraq,  pictures manipulated for a greater dramatic effect, the staging of photos for emotional appeal, and so on. She concludes that we see only what the photographer wanted us to see since we are only as much nearer to the tragedy as the newspaper or the TV screen and could not feel that in its actual horridness.

Though she has debunked some common misconceptions about these photos and underscored the importance and chipped away at attributing too much hope as to the lasting effects of these photos, she does not give definite answers to questions like the extent of the impact these photos have on people, the understanding of the limits to which democracy or human rights could erode,  about the photographer in the specific environment like a warzone or the site of a tragedy, etc.

Sontag explains how the media enjoys and gloats over the horror and disaster, training the readers to transform intolerable reality to tolerable fiction. She gives the example of 9/11 pictures that seemed more unreal and fanciful, remote from reality. Sontag mentions how the Pentagon creates an aura of apocalyptic scenarios of events, like giving titles such as Operation Desert Storm for their military incursions. She blames the eyes of the viewer for the lust shown for horrid pictures. A comparison is given of the perverse philosopher Georges Bataille who was obsessed with the photo of a Chinese criminal rolling his eyes heavenwards in transcendence while being flayed.

The falsification of visual images from war zones is exemplified by the actions of Roger Fenton in Crimea, who supervised the cannonball placement on the road through which the Light Brigade charged while deftly avoiding evidence of the carnage. Similarly, after WW II victory, the famous photo of the Russians hoisting the RedFlag over the Reichstag was directed by a Soviet war photographer. Amidst, such a culture of spectatorship, Sontag wonders if we have lost the power to empathize. So long as we are at a safe distance, according to her, the victims are people we do not know as Neville Chamberlain famously said about the Poles. We have seen the pain inside the incisive eyes of the Afghan girl photographed by Steve Mc Curry for The National Geographic Magazine, but as long as we do not personally feel her pain, we fail to empathize with her.

She contends that war photographs of Robert Capa or David Seymour belong to newspapers and not magazines which juxtapose them with glossy advertisements and images. She asserts that photographs are more helpful than verbal slogans as the totem of causes as photos can arouse strong sentiments. (But, even before photography, slogans had lent their power to many famous revolutions and battles in history)

In the end, she proposes that serious images like the walking cadavers at Buchenwald and Dachau photographed by Margaret Bourke-White and Lee Miller, Matthew Brady‘s dead soldiers from the Civil War or  Nicholas Nixon‘s Aids victims should not be exhibited in museums like an art that could be viewed or ignored, but solemnly honored in a book.

Coming back to empathy and policy change, psychologists claim that our empathy and responses are short-lived, especially when we feel helpless in changing a situation. Though, one photograph is much more powerful than statistics. 250,000 Syrians were killed before Kurdi’s lifeless image made its round in newspapers, but the numbers did nothing to effect any significant policy change. This is due to the inability of numbers to convey meaning when compared to graphics. Kurdi’s image changed the migration policy at least for a short time. Merkel opened the borders of her country enabling more than one million Syrian refugees to enter from Turkish refugee camps. The public opinion was galvanized that led to donations to humanitarian organizations and the topic of migration was given importance in many summits. The trajectory of the Vietnam war changed after the public had seen Nick Ut’s and similar pictures. But, change and a permaenent one at that need not always be the case.

The book does not answer the questions clearly but provides statements for us to think about third-hand viewing of disaster and how that affects us when we are only as close to the newspaper or TV screens, without actually feeling the event.