Letter To My Father

Letter to My Father 

October 2017
You once said: My reward for this life will be a thousand pounds of dirt
shoveled in my face. You were wrong. You are seven pounds of ashes
in a box, a Puerto Rican flag wrapped around you, next to a red brick
from the house in Utuado where you were born, all crammed together
on my bookshelf. You taught me there is no God, no life after this life,
so I know you are not watching me type this letter over my shoulder.

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Apolitical Intellectuals

 
One day the apolitical intellectuals of my country will be interrogated by the simplest of our people.
They will be asked what they did when their nation died out slowly, like a sweet fire small and alone.
No one will ask them about their dress, their long siestas after lunch, no one will want to know about their sterile combats with “the idea of the nothing” no one will care about their higher financial learning.
They won’t be questioned on Greek mythology, or regarding their self-disgust when someone within them begins to die the coward’s death.
They’ll be asked nothing about their absurd justifications, born in the shadow of the total lie.
On that day the simple men will come.
Those who had no place in the books and poems of the apolitical intellectuals, but daily delivered their bread and milk, their tortillas and eggs, those who drove their cars, who cared for their dogs and gardens and worked for them, and they’ll ask:
“What did you do when the poor suffered, when tenderness and life burned out of them?”
Apolitical intellectuals of my sweet country, you will not be able to answer.
A vulture of silence will eat your gut.
Your own misery will pick at your soul.
And you will be mute in your shame.
–Otto Rene Castillo

Had cadmium ever glowed so red?

I’d pretty much perfected the art. I’d go down to the newest library I could find. Become a member as quickly as I could, and armed with my new membership card head straight to section 770, the magical number for photography at UK public libraries. I would take out the full complement of 8 books that I was allowed at any one time. When the lending period was over, they would be replaced by another eight.
I devoured the books, which were mostly monographs, or ones on technique, composition or even special effects. I knew too little about photography, to know how limited my knowledge was. It was many years later, when my partner Rahnuma, gave me a copy of “The Seventh Man” by John Berger, that a new way of looking at photographs opened up. Unknowingly, it was the book “Ways of Seeing” that later opened another window. One that helped me see the world of storytelling. That was when I realised that image making was only a part of the process. Once youtube arrived on the scene, and the television series with the same name entered our consciousness in such a powerful way, his TV series “Ways of Seeing” became my new staple diet. Here was a leftie who could still speak in a language the average person could understand, and that too on a topic such as art. His fascination was neither about the artist nor the artwork itself, but how we responded to it and how it gained new meaning through our interaction. While it was art he was dissecting, it was popular culture he was framing it within.
That there was so much to read in a photograph, beyond the technicalities of shutter speed, aperture and resolution, is something my years of reading section 770 had never revealed. The photographs of Jean Mohr (The Seventh Man), were unlikely to win awards in contests, or fetch high prices in auctions, but Berger’s insights into the situations and the relationships that the photographs embodied, gave them a value way beyond the mechanics of image formation. Berger never undermined the technical or aesthetic merits of a photograph. He simply found far more interesting things to unearth.

John Berger signing book for Pathshala with Shahidul Alam, at South Bank in London. Photo by Paul Bryers

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Didi. The Street Fighter

MAHASWETA DEVI (JANUARY 14, 1926 -?JULY 28, 2016), WRITER AND SOCIAL ACTIVIST

Mahasweta Devi looking at photo exhibition catalogue "Nature's Fury" by Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
Mahasweta Devi looking at photo exhibition catalogue “Nature’s Fury” by Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

Protocol wasn?t Didi?s thing.?Shoitan! (Satan) she would say lovingly. And then grab you and plonk you on her lap. The fact that both Rahnuma and I were far too old, and I was certainly much too heavy, to be sitting on anyone?s lap wasn?t something she worried much about. She didn?t care much for people?s age, and what other people thought, was something that had never bothered her. If you love someone, they sit on your lap. ?You have a problem with that??
Mahasweta Devi (Didi ? elder sister ? to all of us) had been a giant of a figure in South Asian literature for as far back as I can remember.?Jhansir Rani?(The Queen of Jhansi, 1956), Hajar Churashir Maa (Mother of 1084, 1975) and?Aranyer Adhikar?(The Occupation of the Forest, 1977) her powerful novel about the Santal uprising were what we knew this celebrated writer and activist by. That she was a tease and loved to sing, and didn?t mind the odd practical joke, was a side to her that had remained private. What should have been apparent was the rebel in her; her uncompromising stand for the oppressed, and her clear position as to which side of the fence she belonged. Continue reading “Didi. The Street Fighter”

Runs in the Family

New findings about schizophrenia rekindle old questions about genes and identity.

In the winter of 2012, I travelled from New Delhi, where I grew up, to Calcutta to visit my cousin Moni. My father accompanied me as a guide and companion, but he was a sullen and brooding presence, lost in a private anguish. He is the youngest of five brothers, and Moni is his firstborn nephew?the eldest brother?s son. Since 2004, Moni, now fifty-two, has been confined to an institution for the mentally ill (a ?lunatic home,? as my father calls it), with a diagnosis of schizophrenia. He is kept awash in antipsychotics and sedatives, and an attendant watches, bathes, and feeds him through the day.

My father has never accepted Moni?s diagnosis. Over the years, he has waged a lonely campaign against the psychiatrists charged with his nephew?s care, hoping to convince them that their diagnosis was a colossal error, or that Moni?s broken psyche would somehow mend itself. He has visited the institution in Calcutta twice?once without warning, hoping to see a transformed Moni, living a secretly normal life behind the barred gates. But there was more than just avuncular love at stake for him in these visits. Moni is not the only member of the family with mental illness. Two of my father?s four brothers suffered from various unravellings of the mind. Madness has been among the Mukherjees for generations, and at least part of my father?s reluctance to accept Moni?s diagnosis lies in a grim suspicion that something of the illness may be buried, like toxic waste, in himself. Continue reading “Runs in the Family”

Embracing the Amateur

Photo: Javed Miandad Design: Mahbub/Drik
Photo: Javed Miandad
Design: Mahbub/Drik

We spot a lens peering at us from the corner of our eye. Immediately we straighten up, fix our hair, smooth the rough in our clothes, consciously make – or avoid – eye contact. Only the well trained is able to visibly avoid responding to the camera?s presence. The professional photographer prides in her ability to take ?natural? photographs, where her intervention is invisible. Yet, peering through family albums, wedding folders or a Facebook status we find ourselves actively inviting the portrayal of how we want to be seen. Whether we consider a photograph of ourselves to be ?good? largely depends on how well the photographer has represented us, as we would want it. As such the photographer?s success depends not so much on her aesthetic sense or insight, but on her ability to please the sitter. While this applies to the casual portraitist, it is much more true of the professional photographer. Her bread and butter depend on a satisfied client and as such, are driven by an external agenda. Whether it be a corporation, or an NGO or a newly wed couple, a good photographer is one who delivers what is required. Continue reading “Embracing the Amateur”

They call us?now

JULY 19, 2014 NICHOLAS ROBSON
A Facebook friend shared the following remarkable poem by Lena Khalaf Tuffaha, who is a co-founder of the Institute for Middle East Understanding based in Seattle. It catches the nightmarish absurdity of the latest invasion of Gaza.

Running Orders, by Lena Khalaf Tuffaha


They call us now.
Before they drop the bombs.
The phone rings
and someone who knows my first name
calls and says in perfect Arabic
?This is David.?
And in my stupor of sonic booms and glass shattering symphonies
still smashing around in my head
I think ?Do I know any Davids in Gaza??
They call us now to say
Run.
You have 58 seconds from the end of this message.
Your house is next.
They think of it as some kind of
war time courtesy.
It doesn?t matter that
there is nowhere to run to.
It means nothing that the borders are closed
and your papers are worthless
and mark you only for a life sentence
in this prison by the sea
and the alleyways are narrow
and there are more human lives
packed one against the other
more than any other place on earth
Just run.
We aren?t trying to kill you.
It doesn?t matter that
you can?t call us back to tell us
the people we claim to want aren?t in your house
that there?s no one here
except you and your children
who were cheering for Argentina
sharing the last loaf of bread for this week
counting candles left in case the power goes out.
It doesn?t matter that you have children.
You live in the wrong place
and now is your chance to run
to nowhere.
It doesn?t matter
that 58 seconds isn?t long enough
to find your wedding album
or your son?s favorite blanket
or your daughter?s almost completed college application
or your shoes
or to gather everyone in the house.
It doesn?t matter what you had planned.
It doesn?t matter who you are
Prove you?re human.
Prove you stand on two legs.
Run.

Intelligent People All Have One Thing In Common: They Stay Up Later Than You

When the moon beckons

Intelligent People All Have One Thing In Common: They Stay Up Later Than You
LIFE?????

There?s an electricity in the moon. A pulse, a magic, an energy. A bewitching entrancement unlike that of the sun.

The moon is for things unseen, things done in the shadows and beneath the fog. Under bridges and beneath bed sheets ? it?s for wild hearts and unconcerned minds. It?s where plans are made in dark alleyways and secrets revealed under the soft haze of light coming through the cracks of closed shutters.

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Gaza

by Sudeep Sen
 
Soaked in blood, children,
their heads blown out
even before they are formed.
 
Gauze, gauze, more gauze ?
interminable lengths
not long enough to soak
 
all the blood in Gaza.
A river of blood flowing,
flooding the desert sands
 
with incarnadine hate.
An endless lava?stream,
a wellspring red river
 
on an otherwise
parched-orphaned land,
bombed every five minutes
to strip Gaza?of whatever
is left of the Gaza strip.
With sullied hands
 
of?innocent children,
we strip ourselves
of all dignity and grace.
 
Look at the bodies
of the little ones killed ?
their scarred faces?smile,
 
their vacant eyes stare
with no malice
at the futility?of all
 
the blood that is spilt.
And even as we refuse
to learn from the wasted
 
deaths?of these children,
their parents, country,
world? weep blood. Stop
 
the blood-bath ? heed, heal.
 
Sudeep Sen?is widely recognised as a major new generation voice in world literature and ?one of the finest younger English-language poets in the international literary scene? (BBC Radio).?
 

Picturing Abortion

by?Sarah Ackley

Hipocrite Reader?ISSUE 14 | INNOCENCE | MAR 2012

The stunning fetal images by photographer?Lennart Nilsson, first published in the?April 3, 1965 issue?of?Life, have become iconic in the anti-abortion movement. According to Life Site News, Nilsson is credited with?taking??photographs that the pro-life movement has found priceless: the earliest and most compelling visual images that give intimate detail and clarity to the humanity of unborn children in the womb.? Rev. Thomas Euteneuer, President of Human Life International, an anti-abortion advocacy organization, has said, ?Images such as those created by Lennart Nilsson absolutely reaffirm the humanity of unborn persons, which is why they are so unpopular with pro-abortion forces.?
Nilsson certainly wasn?t the first to photograph the fetus. A number of photographs of embryos and fetuses appeared in the?July 3, 1950 issue?of?Life?magazine, but Nilsson was thought to be the first to photograph live fetuses in the uterus. The editor?s note of the 1965 issue of?Lifereads,

The opening picture in Nilsson’s essay, a live baby inside the womb, is a historic and extraordinary photographic achievement… [A] doctor said, ?As far as I know, in utero pictures such as Nilsson’s have never been taken before. When you take living tissue in its living state and view it in its natural surroundings you can see things you can’t see afterward. Being able to view the fetus inside the uterus, and being able to note its circulatory details, is rather sensational from our point of view.?

 

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