Mumbai Expressions – Anju Makhija

The past few months,once more,have revealed that fighting for causes is indeed a very complex matter.  India is a country in which one can get involved with a hundred issues.  While poverty has always been first on that list,in recent months, other causes have come into the limelight like the secret files of Subhash Chandra Bose.   He died of third degree burns after a Japanese plane crashed in 1945, but the subject has been revived by both the BJP government and the family. Conspiracy theories appeared within hours of his death and many inquiry commissions were set up, one of which stated that Bose had faked his own death!The issue was never resolved fully and now, there is an outcry for the declassification of his ‘secret’ files. Prime Minister Modi announced that it was the country’s responsibility to present the truth to the family. As expected,it has become political issue with the BJP and Congress attacking each other.Untitled-1 copy

 

 

As for our cultural community–well-known, Mumbai-based filmmaker Shyam Benegal(who had directed The Forgotten Hero based on Bose’s life), is among those who has commented about the declassification.I had the opportunity to meet Benegal personally and asked him about the issue.  As one of our most socially-conscious filmmakers, he feels that both political parties and journalists are just making a big deal of it.According to him: the Bose family already has access to most of the files and, in a hundred years, they will be open to public anyway.  Also, some family members have been trying to rekindle the legacy for personal reasons.  Bose had over several siblings, so there are lots of nieces and nephews scattered all over the world.  The Asiatic Society, too, has decided to dig into the Russian archives again, a search that was abandoned in 2001.  A drama of international dimensions has opened up.

 

 

Recently, I visited south India and there was another controversy developing–aSatyagraha for the economic independence of handloom weavers.   Creating a global market for khadi has had little impact on the lives of these workers.  For every shirt sold in the market, the weaver gets less than 10% of the price for dyeing, decorating, designing and stitching the garment.  We all know that the humble khadi fabric has found favouring fashion cities like Mumbai, Rome and Paris. Theatre personality and social activist, Prasanna, who had spear headed the movement to revive handlooms in the country, is now fighting for the weaver’s rights.According to him, handloom is the second highest rural employer after agriculture.

 

Prime Minister Modi at International Yoga Day

Innumerable Non-Government Organization (NGOs), supporting various causes, have also come under the axe.  The government has started cracking down on US-based funding organizations like Ford Foundation and Greenpeace International(their bank account was recently frozen and the agency is facing shutdown).  In a war of words, they accused the government of putting ‘every Indian civil society group on the chopping block  and stated that the home ministry was trying to ‘strangle by stealth, because it knew an outright ban was unconstitutional’.The move has distressed many local NGOs whose funds are drying up. New regulations for foreign contributions and income tax payments are having a far-reaching effect.

 

Annie Zaidi Subhash Chandra Bose

The US state department has protested against putting the global NGO, Ford Foundation,on its watch list.  In defense, the Indian authorities government stated that the establishment, as an NGO donor,was not allowed to make donations for political causes to ‘companies’–it was a violation of regulations.  Other discrepancies of the organization have also been shared with the US officials.The Clinton Foundation is also under the scanner.  In the book,Clinton Cash, released here about two months ago, author and activist Peter Schweizer, has explicitly linked it to the US-India nuclear deal.In a chapter,entitled, ‘Indian Nukes: how to win a Medal by Changing Hillary’s Mind,’ Schweizer suggests that Hillary Clinton, after initially opposing the nuclear deal, reversed stand after a substantial Indian contribution was made to her Foundation, possibly routed through Non-Resident Indian  accounts.It is indeed quite horrifying to see that those who are supposed to serve society may be doing otherwise.  But then, what’s new? The web of human greed is ever expanding!

 

 

Poets are also coming under attack. Marathi poet, Vasant Dattatray Gurjar, who had written a political satire on the father of the nation, will now face trial for using obscene words. According to the Supreme Court,freedom of speech and expression cannot be ‘absolute’ under the Indian Constitution. Apparently, Gurjar had used a surrealistic voice that suggested Gandhi was involved in appalling acts.

 

 

In this rather negative scene, some worthwhile books have been released.  Unbound edited by Annie Zaidi, is a collection of women’s writing in India from the poetry of Buddhist priestesses (written 2000 years ago) to contemporary fiction.  Writings from several languages are included: Tamil, Hindi, English, Kashmiri and others.  Amitav Ghosh also released the final book of his Ibis trilogy with a critique of colonialism:Flood of Fire, the much-anticipated last instalment has been very well received.

 

 

Another insightful book published is In Search of Freedom. Author Sagari Chhabra has researched and spoken to members of the Indian National Army (INA) in India and Southeast Asia. In the book, freedom fighter Momota Mehta speaks about her days in the Indian Army.   Presently, she is 90 years old but continues to live by Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s vision of India.   Perhaps it is from Bose that she imbibed this spirit of a fighter when she joined the INA in 1943 in response to his call, ‘Tum mujhekhoon do, meintumheazaadidoonga’.   Momota was only 16 and studying at the Bengal Academy School in Rangoon–Netaji’s charisma was clearly a huge influence on many youngsters.

 

 

We all fight our external battles–big and small—but the major one surely is the internal one: how to find equilibrium in today’s world.I certainly laud Prime Minister Modi’s decision to make yoga compulsory in schools and government offices.International Yoga Day was celebrated in a big way on 21stJune in New Delhi–an overwhelming crowd of nearly 40,000 people, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the lead, exercised together. After seeing the massive yoga demonstration in the capital, Marco Frigatti of Guinness World Records, who had come to monitor the event,said, ‘I don’t think this record will be broken anytime soon. ’But, there was opposition even to this event! Some feel yoga is only for Hindus.

 

 

Anju Makhija is an award-winning poet, translator and playwright based in Mumbai. Her translation of the 16th century, sufi poet,Shah Abdul Latif, won the SahityaAkademi  English Translation Prize (’12).She has written/edited books related to partition poetry, women and children’s verse and Indo-English plays. Her  columns have appeared in several publications. anjumakhija17@gmail.com

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