The Golden Legend is Scary and Yet True

Nadeem Aslam’s recently released ‘The Golden Legend’ is scary and yet true. It is the story of our times. Killings on the name of religion, nation, prophet and cows. They are all there in the novel. The landscape is oozing and overflowing with blood. That doesn’t deter the lovers. They keep loving. It is love and the memories of love which matter the most.

There is an elaborate description of violence. The reader is pushed to the wall with many existential questions. Is there any value of human existence? Are our destinies pre- determined by the geographies we are born in. Are religious men cause of all violence? Or is there something more to religion? Are those skull cap wearing Mullahs, with rosaries in their hands and long white beards dictating bloodshed or are they marginal players, victims of the circumstances, they have been pushed in?

There aren’t any clear answers, neither in the book, nor in life. There is hope, as some of us are carrying those questions, and there are few, who may have answers- “How one person carried the answer through his life until he met person who was carrying the question.”

The protagonists of the novel are like real people. They are daring. They keep the flame of love alive, even in the hurricane of violence. Story moves between five individuals, and memories of many more. All busy in saving their lives. They escape to save themselves. Their escape is not escapism. Some are able to save themselves, some return as ghosts.

Novel challenges us, it forces us to take stand. The story is located in Pakistan. What is happening in Pakistan is happening in India too. Blasphemy laws, cow protection laws. Killing of humanity for some abstract ideas. It is happening everywhere. There is a global civil war and world is bleeding.

“Everything this land and others like it were going through was about power and influence. All of it. And these struggles of Pakistanis were not just about Pakistan, they were about the survival of the entire race. They were about the whole planet.”

In these circumstances, we can’t be escapists. This need to be confronted.

“It felt strange to think this about a place that could be violent, but most of the time there was a deep desire to avoid confrontation in Pakistan. Ordinary people wished to be left alone, and wished to leave others alone, finding pockets of love and comfort within the strict laws that governed them. They had been owned and abused so often that at the most basic level ownership and abuse meant nothing at all. It also mean, however, that loud, belligerent individuals and groups could remain unchallenged.”

We need to be daring, daring to fall in love and love which breaks boundaries. It’s only love which can help us survive the age of anger and hatred. And Aslam’s novel is all about the survival of love in the world blinded by violence.


Women’s Movements and Engagement with Economic Equality Question

It’s a bit strange when big shot academicians say women’s movements in India have done very little to address economic questions of ‘the other sex’ and go on further stating that the only achievement of feminist movements is that they have pressurized for social change through framing of laws like Sexual Harassment at Work-place, Protection of Women from Domestic  Violence or the ongoing movement against Triple Talaq and entry in religious places etc. etc. The given critique of feminist movements in India restricts the social, culture or say ‘sexual’ space as their only sphere of influence.For that matter even in the given critique, the struggle against Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act in Kashmir and Manipur by women including the participation of Irom Sharmila and fight of Soni Sori, Dayamani Barla against corporate and Indian state’s hand in hand oppression is not included at all. Mum! about it.

According to men of papers, the women movements have undertaken the struggle without addressing structural economic questions. I can be wrong, but I feel it is misplaced judgement, starting from the struggle of beedi workers in 80s, Chipko Movement in 70s, (we only know two names- Sundarlal Bahuguna and Chandi Prasad Bhatt, nothing against them, but those are just two men in the movement of hundreds of women), creation of Mahila SEWA Bank 1974 (10 years before Yunus Khan thought about smaller credit -unfortunately called micro-finance loans, which apparently are given at skyrocketing rate of interests from the grants Mr. Khan received from aid agencies) to recent policies for domestic workers, Street Vendors law and wastepickers inclusion in Solid Waste Management Rules, women were and are in the center stage of the struggle, tragedy is that the understanding of these initiatives is made gender neutral by the men of words. All these struggles are exemplary example of the fact that women’s movements have pursued for ownership of means of production and incrementally worked towards greater economic equality, which is a distant goal but not unreachable.

Sadly, female academicians too fail to recognize the same, and rarely talk about it. One reason of it can be is that these struggles were and are waded by women who don’t necessarily speak English and also at times are not ‘literate’ thus their feminism not worth discussion  in academic spaces. This post by no means demeans of what has been achieved in the form of laws penalizing violence against women and push for social equality, instead it rather adds that there is more to the story of feminist movements in India, not visible to English Speaking Male Dominated Academia.