D.K. Pattammal

Friday, 8 September 2017

Bishwanath Ghosh's New Book

Random Notes
By V Ramnarayan

Two men from the world of Carnatic music warmed the hearts of listeners with their concern for issues beyond music expressing it in the most eloquent yet sensitive words while discussing recent political trends in the country.
Speaking at the launch of Bishwanath Ghosh's fourth book titled Gazing at Neighbours (Travels along the line that partitioned India) at GRT Convention Centre, T'Nagar, both TM Krishna and Sriram V showed solidarity with the marginalised in our society while regretting the rising tide of intolerance that has been claiming the lives of dissenters from the mainstream discourse.
(The book has been published by Tranquebar Press, an imprint of Westland Books...Price Rs. 399)
What impressed me most about the two speeches was not just the courage it takes to make statements against the orthodox view but also the absence of finger-pointing, and the plea for love of all concerned as a means of achieving peace and amity amid communities.
In his speech, Krishna questioned the idea of nation and borders that impose artificial restrictions on people and their movements. People, Hindus and Muslims and others live in peace for centuries before an imaginary line like the Radcliffe Line divides friends and families, sundering centuries-old friendships anhe world of Carnatic musicd relationships and demolishing institutions. Sriram spoke of the unspeakable horrors of partition in some detail.
With Gazing at Neighbours, Bishwanath Ghosh has embarked on a heartwarming narrative of the partition, a narrative that focuses on those living on the border on either side of the imaginary line dividing India and Pakistan, on both the west and the east. The people on both sides view those beyond the border as neighbours and normal acquaintances if not actual friends, neighbours with whom they can coexist, even share the few essentials that they have.
On his travels, Ghosh meets many stalwart denizens, whose hearts are large and whose vision is wider than the narrow lens of partisan politics and media frenzy.
Here is a sample of Ghosh's story from page 61:
"As the conversation livened up, it struck me that even though India and Pakistan are considered long-standing enemies by their own people, there is always a bit of India in Pakistani homes, and vice versa; each day, truckloads of tomatoes and other vegetables go to Pakistan, just as truckloads of cement bags come to India.
"I found it ironical that in Punjab, where houses were destroyed because of the creation of Pakistan, homes were now built with cement from Pakistan¾and I mentioned this to the people in the room.
"Kulwinder Singh smiled and, adopting the expression of a sage, said, 'End of the day, we are the same people, only the religion is different. Pakistanis¾I am talking about the common man¾are nice people. I am sure they think the same about Indians. It is only the debates on TV that make you believe that India and Pakistan are constantly at each other's throats.'
"Harpal Singh, smiling all along, suddenly turned sombre and said, 'Common wants peace, and as far as the common man is concerned, there is peace."
Sriram, who spoke of a Hindu family he knew in Delhi protecting Muslims at grave personal risk, gave the audience a taste of the Madras connection of partition, by his mention of Lt. Col. GS Gill of Gill Nagar (sometimes Tamilised to Kill Nagar) fame, who helped the 1947 refugees from Punjab settle in Madras. I remembered that one of the greatest cricketers of Tamil Nadu, AG Ram Singh, had moved here with his parents soon after the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, fell in love with cricket, and in time founded an extraordinary cricketing clan.
Both Sriram and Ghosh made humorous references to how the refugees of Punjab and Bengal developed differently, the former working hard and succeeding in a competitive milieu, even becoming millionaires, and the latter bemoaning their fate and forever waiting for jobs commensurate with their social status.
Krishna was on the other hand reluctant to categorise a whole region as the northeast. "How can we say drought in the northeast, when we mean drought in Tripura?" he asked. He spoke of our indifference to the poor and marginalised, including the tribals displaced by progress or national boundaries.
At the end of an evening of a high level of conversation embellished by readings from Ghosh's book by Sharanya Manivannan, I came away with much food for thought occupying my mind, thanks to the courage and wit of the speakers.
These were two important voices in Carnatic music. What do they know of music who only music know?

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