“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 and analysis-“Notes Of A Native Son” by James Baldwin

410810

Author–                         James Baldwin

Category/ Genre–      Nonfiction/ Essays/ LiteraryCriticism/ Personal Essay

People who shut their eyes to reality simply invite their own destruction, and anyone who insists on remaining in a state of innocence long after that innocence is dead, turns himself into a monster.”

James Baldwin

Introduction

Speaking of James Baldwin, a few things that immediately cross my mind are his novel ‘Giovanni’s Room‘,  the 1941 oil on canvas painting ‘Dark Rapture‘ by the American Modernist painter Beauford Delaney of Baldwin seated as nude, his trenchant quotes and the incisive anatomization of race and identity through his spell-binding essays.

I had read ‘Giovanni’s Room‘ years back, as a young reader, and had been fixed since of the impression that I had gleaned of him as an author confessional of his sexual identity, candid and forthrightly in exploring homosexuality at a time when the very term made for moral bankruptcy and anti-Christian bearing. Then, amidst the passing years, I happened to read his quotes, essays, and most notably the critical reviews of authors about his works, Giovanni’s Room one among them. I realized its dimensions and shades that I had missed as a young reader. The reviews reminded me of the depth of his observation and experiences of the social dynamics, something crucial for a novelist and essayist, that I had failed to take note of all those years back.

Likewise, my interest in paintings and the painters and my love of painting brought me to read the articles about American modernist painter Beauford Delaney and his works. I was literally stunned to learn about his oil painting ‘Dark Rapture‘ of a seated male nude. Stunned, since, one- I had never known him painting nudes, two- that the painting was of his protege James Baldwin, three- the regality of the figure emanating confidence, and four- the dynamics of colors, red, blue, green, pink and yellow that swirl in such a manner that we are able to distinguish the figure in an entity, still inseparable from the surroundings that flow and merge with the figure. (((A slight detour…..For those interested in paintings and art, a fair and perfect foil could be found in John Singer Sargent‘s male nude study of his African- American muse Thomas E McKeller, a bellhop and elevator-attender and believed to have had intimately associated with Sargent. Sargents muse seems stressed, evidently posing as an object/ subject for the painter, while Delaney’s protege seems to confidently pose gleaming in the rainbow colors. Sargent is said to have had never openly admitted his relationship with his muse and he was casually racist as evidenced by his letters. Their intimacy could well be just a matter of conjecture, we don’t know for sure. His black male nudes are still a subject of racial tension owing to the manner in which he had represented them. Delaney was a mentor and father figure to Baldwin and the creative point where their artistic and intellectual talents intersected in mutually beneficial ways. It seems their relationship was platonic, from the available records))))

Personally, I love Baldwin’s essays. He was a playwright, poet, social critic, and activist too. His works dissect the complex racial, class, and sexual identities and questions the entrenched inequalities in society and the psychological trauma of the bleakness of societal acceptance that an individual has to bear by dint of these. He was an active participant in the Civil Rights Movement and the Gay Liberation Movement (1950’s and 60’s), an outspoken proponent of gay and lesbian rights. Born in Harlem, NewYork, he was the son of a minister and became a preacher at the age of 14 ( References to the Black Church are scattered in his writings). He moved to Southern France in 1948, where he wrote ‘Giovanni’s Room‘, the protagonist, an American white homosexual who struggles with his sexual identity and other characters predominantly white as opposed to his other works featuring blacks. He had to contend with the ire of the Black Community due to the exploration of gay themes in his works. He died from stomach cancer in 1987 in France and was buried in Hartsdale, near NewYork.

Review

The book is a collection of ten essays that had appeared previously in different periodicals.

Through them, he searches his identity as a homosexual American black and a writer, explores his experiences, criticizes the works such as protest novels and movies, discusses the socio-cultural milieu of Harlem, the strained relationship with his father, his own contradictory views that clashed with himself, the origins of racial prejudice through the mirror of his self, the definition of being a ‘native son’, and his experiences living in Europe.

The ten essays belong to different genres of literary criticism, social analysis, and personal memoir. His works are ever relevant notably at present when we read daily in the news about the institutional racism and atrocities that the black Americans encounter, movements like Black Lives Matter at the forefront of fighting these ills, putting forward the uneasy question, why after all these decades of the postbellum era the racial prejudice is hard to be wiped off completely.

In the first part of the book are three critical essays. Baldwin stresses the point that artists should better represent their work through their own personal experiences than trying to champion a social cause generally, such that the subject could be dealt with honestly and with integrity. Here, he is not telling all artists to produce autobiographical works or memoirs solely, but exhorting to mint the work through the machine of personal experience, so that the final result would be more beautiful, candid and genuine. He criticizes ‘Native Son‘(1940) a novel written by the American author Richard Wright in which Wright attributes the crimes of the youth Bigger Thomas, a black man in poor southern Chicago to the systemic degradation and ills of the society. Similarly,  the anti-slavery novel by the American author Harriet Beecher StoweUncle Tom’s Cabinhas also been criticized. The author was a white American abolitionist. But, I, for one, think that though personal experience counts, even authors without much of that in a specific area or subject could make a whole world of difference through their works highlighting social ills.  ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabinis famed to have laid the groundwork of the Civil War and helped to change the attitudes of at least some of the whites towards the blacks. Though white, she was ardently abolitionist.

Baldwin is incisive about the characterization and plot of the 1954 American musical film, Carmen Jonesproduced and directed by the Austrian -born theater and film director Otto Preminger. The screenplay was based on the stage musical by the same name. The plot compares and seeks the parallels of an amoral gypsy and an amoral black woman. The fact that there are no white characters, the seemingly parodic speech of the black characters, and the absurd set designs are criticized by Baldwin as nothing but condescending. He brushes off the notion in the film that the opera has something to do with the present-day life of African Americans, As per him, the translation is false, the film lacks artistic credibility and concerns much less with African Americans than the other Americans. ( The film is available in YouTube, but I am not interested in musical operatic films and so it was difficult for me to get to his ideas and criticisms about the film)

The second part has three essays about Harlem ghetto, sociopolitical issues, and African American musicians. The last part is personal and concerns with identity, the fraught relationship with his authoritarian father, his experience living in Europe, and the race issues in Europe and America. Here, I am only expounding on the personal essay that deals with Baldwin and his relationship to father.

Worth mentioning is the manner of unflinching honesty with which he writes about his relationship with his father. Though he does not explicitly relate his father’s cruelty, anger, and alienation to the oppression and inner turmoil that haunted the black Americans, it is clear that such a relationship does exist. Baldwin lives under the constant shadow of paranoia about the inheritance of paranoid delusions from his father. Thus he makes a point that even though different disposition-wise and experience-wise, trauma is transferred through generations.

The paranoia is significant in that it creates a self-destructive cycle spoiling the relationship to the society, slashing even the altruistic and munificent arms of help from the outer world. Baldwin’s creativity was recognized first by his white teacher who encouraged him to write, but the act ironically distancing him from her and snatching the opportunity to get ahead due to the ingrained mistrust that his father had towards all the whites. We cannot blame his father here.

Another important point that he projects is about how racist societies force people to suppress their emotions. As an example, he writes about the white waiter, who though sympathetic to him could not express it due to the perceived embarrassment of serving a black diner. Similarly, so as to survive the blacks would need to suppress their rage. It is not just the alienation from society that is worrisome, but that from oneself which creates a conflict within the individual. At the same time, he feels the emotional turmoil and murderous rage that overwhelms his and other’s safety, conflicting with the guilt that he feels towards a white friend.

In his beautiful statement,’ Harlem is waiting‘, he conveys many meanings like waiting for a climactic event, for the war to end, or for racial equality since the moment of their abduction from the heart of Africa. Baldwin is brutally honest in his interpretation of hatred towards his father. As a wise sage, he understands that hatred is self-destructive, though as a common man he nurtures it since he could avoid the pain of losing his father thus preventing the establishment of a genial relationship with him.

He refuses to see his father’s body after he passed away, he could not find suitable clothes and interprets the preacher as dishonest, all alienating him from the process of mourning. Still, he experiences a sudden connection when he hears the song and identifies it as the only moment of connection that he had with his father. He realizes the freedom to be enjoyed by his father’s newborn baby, something he was denied and sees a ray of hope through a part of his father that is still alive.

He empathizes with the Harlem rioters, all the while denouncing it as only an exit of rage and a self-destructive process by attacking businesses thereby wounding the blacks and not the white oppressors. Overall, he characterizes hatred and anger as negative forces, that would only be helpful if it motivates one to oppose injustice.

Though the essay could be generally interpreted as bleak by some who are not big fans of essays, it has so many eye-opening moments of truth that stir the reader to think about the implications that the racial and other inequalities and prejudices impart to the minds of the victims.

Incidentally, while I was reading this book, I happened to watch a video of a black man gunned down by two white men, a father and a son, with a shotgun. As I read the news report from the NYT, I was shocked to learn about how the men were set free first, the institutional inertia and apathy when black lives were concerned, favoritism and cronyism in law enforcement, the manipulation of the storyline making the black man seem a menacing burglar to vindicate a criminal act carried out in broad daylight, policies promoting ingrained xenophobia and nativism and the uttermost abyss into which humans could fall while placing human life and dignity in a hierarchical system. All these, while a two minute video played the act beyond the wildest of doubts possible.

We live in the 21-st century,  we are far more ahead from the old eugenic theories and practices, we exhort that we are an educated lot, that we are at the zenith of the evolutionary process,  wonder when will we evolve into human beings!

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

52373

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.

Book review and analysis- ‘A Room Of One’s Own’ by Virginia Woolf

a_room_of_ones_own2

Author– Virginia Woolf

Genre and subgenre– Nonfiction/ Essay/ Feminist literary criticism/ Modernism

Themes– Position of women in fiction and real-life/ Sexist attitude in or towards literature/ Effect of the gender of the writer on their characters or theme or style/ Critical analysis of patriarchal society/ Women’s rights/ Materialistic approach to intellectual freedom and hence literary freedom/ Freedom for creativity in the form of private space as opposed to confinement in a common environment vis-a-vis Edwardian, Elizabethan, and Victorian women.

Introduction

Virginia Woolf’s ‘A Room Of One’s Own‘ is one of the earliest and iconic texts of feminist literary criticism. It is an extended essay based on two lectures that she delivered on the topic of ‘Women and Fiction’ at Newnham College and Girton College( two women’s colleges at Cambridge University) in 1928.

It is interesting to note that the essay begins with a ‘But’- emphasizing the contrarianism in the topic of women and fiction. She explores her famous argument/ opinion, ‘ A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction‘, and develops and amends it freely through her ‘train of thought‘ method similar to the modernist ‘stream of consciousness‘ method used by James Joyce, Samuel Beckett and William Faulkner and utilized by Woolf in her novel,’To The Lighthouse‘. While developing her argument, she cautions the audience to be wary of lies that might flow from her lips amidst truths and facts and to parse the prejudices, idiosyncrasies, and limitations of her argument before drawing one’s own conclusion. And she indicates that fiction might have more truth than fact. The methodology used is historical and sociological analyses, fictional hypotheses, philosophy utilizing symbolism, and motifs. ( Enjoy the brilliant symbolisms as in the other Woolf works)

Woolf invents a fictional narrator, Mary, to serve this purpose ( Woolf tells us that her name does not matter), and a fictional University of Oxbridge. It is the character, Mary who takes the arguments forward on the course of visiting the fictional colleges and The British Museum while scouring documents for asserting her arguments.

Review and analysis

The essay starts with Mary sitting on the banks of a river near the college, lost in serious thought about women and fiction. Woolf compares the thought as ‘letting its line into the stream‘, and idea as ‘ a small fish tugging at the end of one’s line, a sort of fish that a good fisherman puts back into the water so that it may grow fatter and be one day worth cooking and eating‘.

Mary, intent on developing the thought, slowly walks over the grass turf of the college, while she is being intercepted by the Beadle with horror and indignation. He literally (and figuratively) shows her path as the gravel and not the turf and stresses that only Fellows and Scholars( all men) are allowed to use the turf. Though the turf is better than gravel for walking, it has been protected as an all-men privilege that has been rolled out in succession for the past 300 years and the interruption sends her little fish( idea) into hiding. She thinks of literary geniuses like Charles Lamb and Thakeray who had set their feet on that ground hundreds of years ago. She opens the library door and is again being intercepted by a gentleman who tells her that ladies were not allowed, but with a Fellow of the college or with a letter of introduction. Mary vows never to enter there again- ‘ let it sleep forever. Never will I wake those echoes, never will I ask for that hospitality again.’

She passes a chapel watching a congregation flow inside and hesitates to enter, lest she might be denied entry again.  Reflecting on the amount of money, gold, and silver that might have flowed into the basements of these buildings from the coffers of kings, queens, and nobles during yesteryears, nowadays donated by wealthy civilian men ‘when the age of faith was over and the age of reason had come’, who endows chairs, lectureships, and fellowships. She goes to lunch, describing the gourmet food on display that she compares with the minimal dishes for dinner in a women’s college. Suddenly she sees a tailless Manx cat walking across the quadrangle and feels something is lacking. The tailless cat is symbolic of the post-war period that changes the music of pre-war England to meaningless regular conversations. It might also be symbolic of women as second-class citizens, lacking the qualities of men and so unwelcome on the grassy lawn. The luxurious lunch is symbolic of the wealth possessed by aristocratic men whose thoughts and conversations are unimpeded unlike the dinner at the women’s college which is striking and representative of the inequalities endured by women for centuries from a patriarchal society.

The narrator searches for answers in the British Museum, London by scouring the section on women and fiction, hoping to consult the learned and the unprejudiced, thereby straining off personal, accidental, prejudiced impressions and so to reach the pure fluid, ‘the essential oil of truth’. Here, she finds institutionalized sexism, the books about women were written by men and never in the other order. Instead of answers, she starts thinking more questions, primarily why women were poorer than men. She evokes the famed authors belittling women, citing Samuel Butler (‘ Wise men never say what they think of women’), and Alexander Pope (‘ Most women have no character at all’). Napoleon thought them incapable, Mussolini despised them. Yet, some like Dr. Johnson and Goethe honored them.

Figuring the truth running through her fingers, it seems a pure waste of time to consult those gentlemen who specialize in women. ‘One might as well leave their books unopened’. She draws a figure of Professor X engaged in writing ‘ The Mental, Moral and Physical Inferiority of the Female Sex‘ as if he were killing a noxious insect, looking very angry and irritated. The figure itself was a reflection of the narrator’s anger upon seeing the title of his creation. She wonders how anger had snatched her pencil while she dreamt-‘Had anger, the black snake been lurking among the other emotions?‘. She wonders if the book had been written in the red light of emotion and not in the white light of truth.

She reads a newspaper at lunch, pervading with misogynist, patriarchal condescension and notices the presence of the professor in it in the guise of the editor, sub-editor, foreign secretary, Judge, shareholder and so forth. It was his money, power and influence talking. But, still, he was angry and this perplexes her. She concludes that one would not have been angry if the professor had written dispassionately in an unbiased manner using indisputable proofs. He might well be concerned with his superiority while insisting emphatically upon the inferiority of women. Had he been objective by not utterly focussing on the inferiority of the other sex, he would have attained the freedom of thought for literary creation. Woolf, in the same manner, remains detached from the essay in an impersonal manner, by creating a fictional narrator, though she gives voice to the narrator, and ultimately could think objectively without personal prejudices.

She uses the ‘looking-glass‘ metaphor here-‘ Women have served all these centuries as looking-glasses possessing the magic and the delicious power of reflecting the figure of man at twice its natural size’. So, if she begins to criticize men, the figure in the looking-glass shrinks. She emphasizes the power of money/ inheritance on the freedom of thought, something valuable than the right to vote-‘ Remove the protection from the other sex and expose them to the same activities and exertions, make them soldiers and sailors…..’. Woolf stresses money as a means of personal freedom and thus creativity and the aesthetic ideology is conveyed as metaphors of the brilliant light on the sky as ‘ a fiery fabric flashing with red eyes, a tawny monster roaring with hot breath……’

The narrator is perplexed with the perennial puzzle of why no women wrote a word of that extraordinary literature or why the details about the life of women are completely absent from literature during the Elizabethan period. Woolf uses the metaphor of the spider web to describe the imaginative work needed for fiction, its intricacies, attached as it is to the various points of realities of life. Creating fiction is totally unlike the dropping of a pebble as science may be. The narrator finds a book titled ‘History of England’ by one Professor Trevelyan, in which issues like wife-beating, lack of freedom to choose a husband, marriages made out of family avarice and not personal affection are discussed. He mentions a paradox in which fictional women, Shakespeare’s heroines, for example, were never wanting in personality and character. Cleopatra, Lady Macbeth, Desdemona, Rosalind….. all of them have burnt like beacons in fiction. Thus a queer, composite individual emerges who has the highest importance in imagination, but worthless in reality, ‘ An odd monster that one made up by reading historians first and poets afterward, a worm winged like an eagle.’ One needs to think prosaically and poetically to conjure up this queer creature. She is a passing shadow, whisking away into the background, concealing, a wink, a laugh, sometimes a tear.

Thinking of an old gentleman, a bishop, who declared that it was impossible for any woman, past, present or future, to have the genius of Shakespeare, she conjures up an imaginative character, Judith, Shakespeare’s sister, with the same genius as himself. The privileges consigned exclusively to the male sex transforms him to the Bard, while she, struggling to surmount the obstacles, is nipped in the bud. Thus she concludes that a genius like Shakespeare’s is not born among laboring, uneducated, servile people except for some rarities sometimes. She mentions Jane Austen, Bronte sisters, Robert Burns as novelists who transcended the many barriers to create fiction. Chastity was something to be guarded, in addition, that anonymity was the preferred mode of escape from slander- Currer Bell, George Eliot, George Sand….. and many others were victims of this inner strife. With this, the narrator asks a pertinent question- what is the state of mind that is propitious to the state of creation?

Though we do not know what Shakespeare, Carlyle, Flaubert or Keats went through while composing their masterpieces, the narrator presumes from the enormous modern literature of confession and self-analysis that ‘to write a work of genius is almost always a feat of prodigious difficulty’. Both material circumstances and the physical and psychological environment might have impeded them at their task. “ And mighty poets in their misery dead”- William Wordsworth( Resolution and Independence, stanza 17.

And the obstacles might have been formidable for women writers without a supporting income or a room of her own. The world was indifferent to Keats, Flaubert, but outright hostile to women writers. This presumption and declaration of the intellectual inferiority of the female writers and outright environmental hostility must have ‘lowered her vitality and told profoundly upon her work.’ Nick Greene had said that a woman acting reminded him of a dog dancing. Here, she offers a slice of advice to writers to ignore the criticisms leveled against their works. Still, she maintains that it is the men or women of genius who mind most what is said of them and that it is the nature of an artist to do this. ‘ Literature is strewn with the wreckage of men who have minded beyond reason the opinion of others’.

The actual gravestone text of John Keats reads:

This grave contains all that was mortal, of a young English poet, who, on his death bed, in the bitterness of his heart, at the malicious power of his enemies, desired these words to be engraved on his tombstone
“HERE LIES ONE WHOSE NAME WAS WRIT IN WATER.”’

Here, Woolf brings out the light symbolism again. She writes, ‘ the mind of an artist in order to achieve the prodigious effort of freeing whole and entire the work that is in him must be incandescent like Shakespeare’s mind. There must be no obstacle in it, no foreign matter unconsumed.’ The works of Shakespeare do not reveal any personal grudges compared to those of Ben Jonson or Milton. Hence the unimpeded flow of Shakespeare’s poetry. His mind was incandescent. Woolf is at odds with criticism, which dilutes the incandescence according to her. Contemporary feminist and minority literature theorists disagree. They use protest literature to reclaim their voices.

Discussing the freedom of female writers, the narrator mentions about aristocratic women who would take advantage of their comparative freedom and comfort to publish something without the risk of being stamped as a monster or witch. She mentions Lady Winchilsea who wrote poetry during the 17-th century, who was noble by birth and marriage, childless, all fruitful environs for her writings to flourish, still the indignation was palpable in her poems. Alexander Pope or Gay is said to have satirized her as ‘ a bluestocking with an itch for scribbling’. The incandescence in her is consumed by hatred for the opposite sex.  Woolf equally mentions this point for both male and female writers. Another gifted female writer, Dorothy Osborne, out of sense and modesty, wrote letters instead of books. And the narrator discusses the works of Aphra Behn( Oroonoko,  The Rover), which was a turning point in female literature. She, after the death of her husband, wrote to make a living and raise her children.

Aphra Behn thus changed the landscape of female literature and in the later 18-th century women began talking, meeting, writing based on the solid fact that women could be financially independent by making money by writing. ‘ Money dignifies what is frivolous if unpaid for’. Middle-class women began to write. Here, the narrator turns her attention to the four famed female writers- Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Emily Bronte, and George Eliot. Their masterpieces definitely echo the collective voices of the female writers who came before them like Fanny Burney, Eliza Carter, and Aphra Behn.

She saunters to the section of 19-th century literature by women and wonders why all of them were novels but not poetry, with a few exceptions. Nothing seemed congruous about the four writers mentioned above except for the fact that all wrote novels, all four were childless. A middle-class family in the early 19-th century possessed only a single sitting room and amidst the interruptions cutting short their concentration, it would have been easier to write prose than poetry or play.  Jane Austen is said to have hidden her manuscripts while there were visitors to her house. Their only training was in observing the character and analyzing the emotions, naturally, the prose for fiction came easily to them. Still, they might have been capable of other pursuits like poetry, play, history or biography, could they been given a room of their own. Jane Austen and Shakespeare share the qualities of writing without hate, bitterness, protest or without preaching. In fact, they had consumed all their impediments.

Opening chapter twelve of Jane Eyre, the narrator’s eye gets stuck at the sentence ‘Anybody may blame me who likes’. She wonders what they were blaming Charlotte Bronte for. Laying the book beside Pride and Prejudice, the narrator infers that Charlotte Bronte has more genius in her than Jane Austen, still, it is not being expressed whole and entire as a result of her indignation and rage that deforms and twists her characters by infusing herself into the pages. She reflects on the range of freedom of life circumstances offered to men and even they commit sins, never do they need to seclude them from the righteous or else Tolstoy could scarcely have written ‘War and Peace‘. Life conflicts with something that is not life in a novel. What holds the work together among the readers is its integrity. It is the ‘invisible ink that nature traces on one’s mind, a premonition which these great artists confirm’. This is what makes War and Peace a masterpiece, she concludes. On the other hand novels with bright colors and dashing gestures bring to light only a faint scribble on the mind, a blot over there, a failure that comes to grief somewhere.

The narrator wonders how the sex of the writer interferes with the integrity, how the imagination falters under strain, confusing the insight to distinguish between true and false. Anger was clearly impeding the integrity of Charlotte Bronte in ‘Jane Eyre’. She left it in the midst to attend some personal grievance. Anger tugged her imagination, swerved and deflected it from its path. But, there were many more, ignorance for instance. She draws the portrait of ‘Rochester‘ blindly, in the dark, we feel her fear, a ‘buried rancor smoldering beneath her passion, contracting those books, splendid as they are, with a spasm of pain‘.

And next, the narrator links the difference of value among both sexes, transferred from life to fiction, ad how the critic evaluates the significance of the work according to these. For instance, football and sport are ‘important’ while the feeling of women in a drawing-room, what she does, how she feels is not. Woolf thus vindicates writers like Charlotte Bronte, who had to fend off these barbs by aggression or conciliation, docility or diffidence, anger or emphasis depending on what her temperament dictated. The flaw in her work comes from her head, from the center- ‘ Think of all the women’s novels that lie scattered, like small pock-marked apples in an orchard, about the second-hand book shops of London. It was the flaw in the center that had rotted them. She had altered her values in deference to the opinion of others’. The kind of genius and integrity to ward off the criticism in the midst of a patriarchal society without withering is a commendable feat. Only Jane Austen and Emily Bronte did that. They wrote as women write and not as men write, a feather in their caps. They were deaf to persistent admonitions, pedagogueries, patronizing speeches. She quotes Egerton Brydges, the English bibliographer, and genealogist- ‘female novelists should only aspire to excellence by courageously acknowledging the limitations of their sex’. This sentence was written not in 1828, but in 1928, the narrator stresses. She calls those defiant women novelists, firebrand, to say to themselves that literature is open t everybody. ‘Lock up your libraries if you like, but there is no gate, no bolt, no lock that you can set upon the freedom of my mind’.

Now, she comes to another difference between men and women writers- the absence of sufficient precedent for women writers and the mind of the two sexes. The pace/ stride of a man’s mind is too unlike her own to use any of his words or style, ‘The ape is too distant to be sedulous’. There is no common sentence ready for use. Thackeray, Dickens, and Balzac created their sentences with their own tint without ceasing to be common property. A man’s sentence is unsuited for women’s use. Charlotte Bronte, a genius, but she fell with clumsy use of the words. Geroge Eliot committed atrocities with them. It was Jane Austen who with her freedom and fullness of expression, shaped the words into her own squares, circles, arcades, and domes. So, with less genius that Charlotte Bronte, she got said more. She could build sentences and not just write. Thus, all the other forms of literature except the novel were shaped and hardened by her male peers by the time she started to write. Only the novel was pliable, young and soft in her hands to be shaped into one that she desired. Woolf laments that poetry was still denied an outlet from women. She hopes for a future where they would compose epics in verse or prose when she will be free to use her limbs to knock them to shape. Woolf herself provides the example by not just copying the Modernist ‘stream of consciousness’ style, but, modifying it into a free indirect discourse in her novel ‘ To The Lighthouse’. One of the great English stylists, she shaped her works with wit, elegance, and focus into natural cut out sentences.

The narrator finally gets to the shelves of contemporary writers, men, and women, she finds that women no longer write solely novels. There are Jane Harrison‘s books on Greek archaeology, Vernon Lee‘s books on aesthetics, Gertrude Bell‘s books on Persia. There are poems, plays, and criticisms, history, biography, and philosophy. She has begun to take writing as an art, something for a living and not solely as a means of self- expression. Here she creates a fictional author, Mary Carmichael who wrote’Life’s Adventure’, her first book. The narrator starts reading and wonders if the author has a pen or a pickaxe in her hand. The sentences lacked the melody of Jane Austen, to read her was like ‘out at sea in an open boat’. Maybe, she was being too conscious of the flowery prose in female literature and wants to provide a superfluity of thorns instead? The sentences and sequences were broken. Then she stopped at the sentence ‘Chloe liked Olivia’ and the immense change struck her. Sometimes women do like women, she thinks and muses how completely Antony and Cleopatra would have been altered if Cleopatra liked Octavia instead of feeling jealous of her. Excepting a few like Diana of the Crossways, in Racine and the Greek tragedies, almost without exception women were shown in relation to men. Even Proust is hampered and partial in his knowledge of women as a woman in her knowledge of men. Carmichael’s female characters like each other, they share a laboratory and are working mothers. So much has changed in the course of years in female literature. Woolf once again uses the light symbolism, of Carmichael lighting a torch in the half-lights and profound shadows inside serpentine caves. The narrator watches curiously as the author captures ‘the unrecorded gestures, unsaid or half said words, which form no more than the shadows of moths on the ceiling when women are alone, unlit by the capricious and colored light of the other sex’. 

The narrator heedlessly starts to praise women as ‘infinitely intricate’. ‘highly developed’ and so forth, but realizes the absence of yardsticks to measure the qualities of a good mother, devotion of a daughter or fidelity of a sister. Yet, greats like Goethe, Carlyle, Cowper, Sterne, Shelley, Voltaire, and Browning have for one reason or other admired, sought out, lived with, confided in, made love to, written of or trusted in women, and not all could be said as platonic. And from these relationships, it was not just flattery, comfort or pleasure that those men sought, but some stimulus for renewal of creative power which only the opposite sex can bestow. The narrator hopes for Carmichael to be a contemplative novelist rather than a naturalist one as she needs to draw a lot of pictures of characters from the drawing-room to the street. Each gender has a blind spot ‘the size of a shilling on the back of their head‘ but through mutual observations, they can gain full enlightenment. The narrator dares the author to go behind the head of the other sex and point out the black spot. Reading further, the narrator compares Carmichael to other authors and notices that she had no love of nature, the fiery imagination, the wild poetry, the brilliant wit or the brooding wisdom of her predecessors. Nevertheless, she had certain advantages which women of far greater gift lacked— fear and hatred to men had gone, or if present in traces were shown in a slight exaggeration of the joy of freedom, a tendency to be caustic or satirical. She had that capacious sensibility that brought buried things to light and she mastered to write as a woman without conscious of being a woman. The narrator hopes for Carmichael to do her best in the test, to ignore the bishops, deans, professors, patriarchs, and pedagogues warning and shouting at her, to not stop or curse, to not laugh or fumble, imploring her to think of jumping over the fence and she flew like bid over the fence. But, there were many fences beyond the first one, and though her staying power was doubtful, she did her best considering she was no genius, but an unknown girl writing her first novel without a room of her own or five hundred bucks a year income. Give her these and in another hundred years, she will be a poet.

In the final chapter, the narrator discusses  ‘the unity of mind‘, a hypothesis that she puts forth, the mind having both male and female components in both sexes and which need to be united in harmony in order to attain satisfaction and happiness. She refers to Coleridge‘s saying that ‘ a great mind is androgynous‘. She infers that a purely masculine or feminine mind could not create. By the term androgynous Coleridge had meant a resonant, porous mind transmitting emotion without impediment, naturally creative, incandescent and undivided. Shakespeare’s mind could be taken as an example, but, it is difficult to say what he thought of women. She thinks of how much harder it is to attain a state of mind now than before, that does not think specially or separately of sex. The books by the men on women on the shelves is an example of this. She blames the Suffrage campaign for this, one which roused self-assertion in men by challenging them. The response has been excessive since they had never been challenged before.

She reads a novel by a well-respected male writer, written clearly, strongly, using a free mind, but balks at the self- assertive ‘I’ that pervades the novel. This feeling of superiority, that hides the other sex in its shadow impedes the creative energy of the author and he is protesting equality of the other sex by asserting his own superiority, The narrator hints that Elizabethan literature might have been different if the women’s movement had begun in the sixteenth century instead of the nineteenth. Thus, the author writing with only the male side of the brain will never be understood by female readers, the sentences fall plump to the ground. But with Coleridge’s sentences, the mind explodes and gives birth to all kinds of ideas and this sort of writing has the secret of perpetual life. She notices that the works of Kipling and Galsworthy cannot find in them the fountain of perpetual life, they lack the suggestive power and cannot penetrate deep inside the mind.

Woolf stresses the necessity of financial independence in creativity, the symbolic five hundred bucks a year and a lock on the door for the power to contemplate. She quotes the Cornish writer, Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch next. ‘ Poetical genius bloweth where it listeth and equally in poor and rich, holds little truth’. ‘ The poor poet has not in these days nor has had for 400 years, a dog’s chance…..a poor child in England has little more hope than had the son of an Athenian slave to be emancipated into that intellectual freedom’. Intellectual freedom depends on material things and poetry depends on intellectual freedom.  Of all the great poets of the last few hundred years only Keats, Browning and Rossetti had not attended university. Of these three poets, only Keats was not well- to do and he died young. Women had even less intellectual freedom than sons of Athenian slaves. And women have always been poor.

Thus, Woolf makes her case on stressing on the material aspects of life- a room of one’s own and 500 bucks a year- for intellectual freedom. She urges women to write and read. And she explains that when she asks women to earn money and have a room of one’s own, she means for women to live in reality. She exhorts women to utilize the privileges of education, to bear fewer children, to escape the common sitting room and write what one thinks is right. Judith would come again ‘if we worked for her, and that so to work, even in poverty and obscurity, is worthwhile’.

Ref:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Going that extra mile in search of lost times

                      In case you happen to be a travel or tourism aficionado, there are around 85 different varieties of tourism to select from, enough to fill and make your wish list full to overflowing. From atomic tourism to whale watching, the list takes in activities as commonplace as just visiting new places to bizarre ones like booze tourism( colloquially known as ‘booze cruise’ in Britain for the trip they used to take to France or Belgium in the ’80s and ’90s to booze it up, owing to the low price of alcohol there), enotourism (this one is for the classy ones, in highly polished terms, to imbibe the wisdom of wine-making/ booze-distilling, plunging oneself into that well of knowledge while participating in the whole process, though the final approach to crash-landing is towards the same runway as booze tourism), glamping( glamorous camping) and a litany of other strange ones.

                       I, for one, am a happy camper indulging myself in the visual, virtual tour through the fine print than the real one. That would seem to qualify for the profile of a dreamer( as per myself) or damper( according to the other half ) and I admit it as a bit of a maverick trait. On those rarest of rare occasions, when a confluence of serendipities strikes hard enough at the roots of my complacency, I do take pains to travel, but never would I go for the sort of buccaneering trips that I jovially watch on television via the National Geographic or Discovery Channel. And those rare happenings almost always turn out to be a sort of edifying trip, when I insist on visiting historical sites, exclusively focussing on the war relics and remnants of ancient dynasties and kingdoms( not sure if this would pass for history tourism), while I see to it that I read the history of the whole thing before setting out to explore them. Not contenting myself with just reading and visiting, I deliver an impassioned homily about the whole history to the other two hapless beings( my husband and my son) with meticulous attention to all the details. Though in the end, I watch those vexed faces, imploring implicitly not to bore them to tears, exhorting explicitly that they had had enough and more of history lessons while at school. In short, planning our trips, by the very fact that they are usually mini-trips, struggles to take into account the different tastes of all three of us, my son preferring soccer related tourism and my husband opting for ‘tourism photography’.

                       I still remember our 2016 trip to Dachau concentration camp in Bavaria( a site that I had long wished to visit). My choice of places included Dachau and the idyllic castles of Germany built by the odd ‘Fairy Tale King’ of Bavaria, Ludwig 2. The choice of the castles were fine with the other two, but the suggestion of the concentration camp raised those four eyebrows in front of me, and my husband tried to goad me out of that by proclaiming the nature of the camp premises as nothing extraordinary, but exactly like the Central Jail in our place( as if he was well versed with the jail premises). I dug in my heels and the visit had in me an experience of a lifetime, where I literally went through the pangs of the Holocaust. Now that they are accustomed to my immutable nature and an anachronistic existence, my preference for historical places is included in the menu-card, albeit their level-headed counsel to come out of the past and step into the present.

                      I am a history fanatic, so the rare occasions of tourism for me is something like viewing for real those things which I had seen through the print and screen only. But, I just wish to take them in visually, to an extent experience them conceptually and apprehend the physical torments one suffered, such as in a war zone and not to experience it totally in the fullest sense of the word. Recently, while reading a New York Times article, I came face to face with the term ‘dark tourism’ ( Oxford Dictionary defines the term as ‘ tourism that involves traveling to places associated with death and suffering’). In the article, just to give a few examples, they have included places as Dealey Plaza in Dallas where President John F Kennedy was assassinated, Nazi death camps like Auschwitz in Poland, Tuol Sleng Prison in Phnom Penh, Cambodia( a school turned into torture and extermination center by Khmer Rouge in the 1970s).

                         By and large, the article cites a Sarajevo hotel in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where the concept of dark tourism has been stretched to the extremes. Here one could literally experience war as it occurred during the 1992-95 Bosnia war. I admit I am not one in favor of that though. The hotel manager’s website boasts of a memorable stay in a bunker( yes, an original bunker with no proper food, light, windows, washroom, pillows, sheets, cots) with an added advantage of a piped-in din of gunshots and explosions 24/7 that helps sleep run for the hills. He claims that millennials rush to experience the effects of sleep deprivation and self-denial through abstemiousness. But he does acknowledge that they could do away with all the above-mentioned temporal add-ons but not wi-fi. So, he was forced to offer this luxury to attract young customers who wanted to have the war zone experience with a 24/7 wi-fi network.

                       I fail to grasp the kind of adrenaline rush these youngsters experience from a simulated war site with wi-fi facility. It is true that at worst they get to feel a slice of the torment experienced in person by the survivors of the war and at best practice a kind of spartan lifestyle, even as it would last for a short duration only. As per the article, dark tourism had its origin in Bosnia where, during the war and siege, sadistic Orthodox Christian fanatics from Russia and Greece arrived with sniper rifles and anti-aircraft guns to take a pot shot at the Muslims of Sarajevo, for a fee.

                    As you search the net for Bosnia, one of the questions that pop up is whether it is a safe place to travel or not? From what I have read and watched in TV programmes, Bosnia and Herzegovina or BiH as it is called is a beautiful country with a troubled past. Citing possible terrorist attacks and presence of old landmines and minefields, the US Bureau of Consular Affairs advises level-2 caution(to exercise increased caution), the UK too cites the same reasons as security concerns for travelers. Those who have direct experience visiting the country considers it safe in the cities and cautions to be careful in the countryside and hilly areas where landmines are still an issue.

                     Until 1908 Bosnia was ruled by the Ottoman Empire when Austria- Hungary annexed its territory. There are three main ethnic groups, the Muslim Bosniaks, Catholic Croats and Serbs who are Orthodox Christians. And the 1992-95 war occurred following the break-up of Yugoslavia resulting in differences among all three by virtue of nationalism, ethnicity, religion, and secessionism. During the war, as it happens in any war, ethnic cleansing, genocide, sieges, deportation, and rape were allegedly committed by Bosnian Serbs that included the genocide of 8000 Muslim Bosniak men and boys in Srebrenica in 1995 ( notorious as Srebrenica genocide). The Serbs contend that they too had been tortured, raped and killed by Bosniaks. The country is an independent one now though partially under international oversight under the terms of 1995 Dayton Peace Accords, the US-led treaty that ended the war. Geographically, Bosnia and Herzegovina is a European country in the southeast of Europe and Northwest of Balkan peninsula. It is a potential candidate for EU accession. The ethnic and secessionist tensions still remain, with the Bosnian Serb leaders raising the specter of secession from what according to them is a failed state.

                      Almost 50% of the total population is made of Bosniak Muslims, 31% Serbs and 15.5% Croats( as per 2016 statistics). According to the World Bank, the economic challenge for Bosnia after a post-war slowing of the economy is a model favoring public than private policies, import more than export and consumption more than investment. The war caused production to plummet by 80% and unemployment to soar. As per EPALE (Electronic Platform for Adult Learning in Europe 2018), almost 60% of the young people are unemployed (overall unemployment rate is 20.5% according to Bosnia State Statistics Agency). In response to the high youth unemployment, a UN programme funded by Spain helps people find jobs and develop skills. Skilled and educated youngsters migrate to other European countries to find jobs leading to a considerable brain and talent drain. There is a widespread sense of hopelessness among the unemployed youth( according to EPALE survey) and in the survey, more than half of the participants said they would leave the country if they had a chance.

                     It was amidst this situation that the 27-year-old Arijan opened the War Hostel Sarajevo in the Bosnian capital. He should be applauded for the ingenious idea of avant-garde tourism, upending the normal and conventional in any tourism industry by taking an axe to the very root of it, that is, hospitality. According to him, locals are least interested in visiting the bunker ( of course, they had lived every moment in the horror of war and those who had gone through the torments could not be expected to come and stay there to relive the experience). Many of the visitors are from Europe, the US and Australia and most of them are youngsters, who are happy to forego all material things barring wi-fi. Arijan makes sure that his guests are incessantly pummelled with gunshot and explosion sounds through sound blasters such that they forget even the shadow of sleep. In addition, he pumps some kind of choking fog inside the bunker to suffocate his guests and emulate the smoky environment of wartime bunkers! No less of a blissful experience for a sleepless tourist! ( Is there something like ‘torment tourism’ in the A to Z of tourism index? I have to check the list again.)

                      I can understand very well that this twenty-seven-year-old Bosnian need to lead a decent life as other men of his same age the world over and he came out with this innovative idea of avant-garde tourism, handed out to him by the past of his country. But for the youngsters willing to put up with insomnia and choking spasms to learn about history, I still can’t come to terms with whether it is a fad that would pass away once they return back home and get a good nights sleep or whether it is some sort of a masochistic personality disorder punishing oneself to self-hurt or a Buddhist way of abnegation of hedonistic excesses even if for a short while.

                   Or could it simply be the hard way of treading those extra miles in search of lost times?