My Father and Soumitra: Mourning and Memory

Soumitra Chatterjee, the quint.com

What a year this has been. After the loss of my father to covid 19, I watched a lot of early Bengali films that I had seen first with him. Although I started watching Satyajit Ray’s Apu Trilogy, I could not continue.
I remembered being a small Bengali girl in a white provincial Canadian suburb, harassed by passengers and bus drivers, as we went, in our “traditional garb” to distant movie theatres, dodging furious glances, and sometimes, spit.
In went the adults, looking forward to mother tongue, as a kitten does to it’s mother tongue. The corners and crevices of vowels, the cushions of soft consonants, were hiding places and barricades against this crazy colonial world of exclusion.
We were here in Canada, especial thanks due to the Commonwealth, the British Empire’s basket of plundered goods and destroyed worlds. We too, crossed the “kala pani” as adults sought their fortunes, safety, education.
But the film’s amazing cinematography and script, the tenderness of the camera, the unsentimental tragedy of Apu’s life, the unbelievable acting– all led to a tidal wave of empathy.
As a child, watching Apu’s life, Durga’s death, the ethos of a black and white nostalgia and memory–it was all too much. I was led by my poor father, sobbing and hiccuping to a dirty cinema lobby where popcorn and fountain soda had been temporarily replaced by tea and the even- then ubiquitous samosa.
There he soothed and comforted me, telling me that it was all a story. Apu was fine and grown up, Durga was alive, their mother too, and that they were acting. It was perhaps my first lesson in the power of story telling and the breaking down of the fourth wall.
Without my Baba’s intervention, holding my hand and smoking his cigarette, the perfect circles of smoke coming out of his mouth, I would have been disconsolate and lost in the story. For me, Satyajit Ray, Subir Banerjee, and Soumitra Chatterjee, are always intertwined in a pre-analytic moment of pure feeling.
Being only a few years away from India, nostalgia, sadness, half-memories, swirl with racism, and the always present sense of being unwanted and othered that haunted my child’s life in Canada’s public school system of the 1970s. Perhaps, since then, belonging has been tinged with both joy and sorrow. Rest in power, Soumitra.

https://www.cnn.com/2020/11/15/india/soumitra-chatterjee-death-covid-intl-scli/index.html?fbclid=IwAR1lEAAeOAKomv00xvTOV_VKhqmqI4JmmtEvTRmhR8YD_9P09bhN_uacaHU

Soundtrack from Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali

https://www.criterion.com/films/28021-pather-panchali

The Rest of the Trilogy
Great Kids’ Mystery Starring Soumitra Chatterjee, among others

The Parable of the Axe: Reflections From a Small Sliver

So, I was recently challenged to rethink the ideas I put forward in my blog about the 2020 U.S. elections. In fact, the very idea that “the battle is over, but the war goes on”,  is rooted in the validity of the present capitalist  system, a system that has proven time and time again to be morally and materially bankrupt when it comes to the common people—i.e., you and I. 

Dylan Miner, Harm Reduction

Under the circumstances of bourgeois democracy, it seems to me , a good moment to remember the adage ascribed to Malcom X, that our liberation, comes about “by any means necessary”. That is why my discomfort with the reigning social system and my belief in a better, more just and equitable future— is both a contradiction, and— a strategy, that doesn’t simply see the debate as being between reform and revolution. 

May Day, Historical Demands

Under this lens, I feel we should work on numerous fronts and through numerous ways to change society to be more inclusive, just and equitable. As we know, institutions will not accomodate progressive demands (the unsurvivable minimum wage is maintained, costs are going up, hydro has raised its rates in this winter country, evictions have resumed, tiny pandemic wage increases are long gone, public sanitation and hygiene appear haphazard and determined by market force)s.  The poor and working sectors are crammed onto unaffordable petrie dishes with haphazard service, ie, public transportation. Where is the pressure on municipal, provincial and federal governments? Why were we locked down in March for 2 months, with 1/3rd of the current covid19 cases, but now are laissez-faire, willing to make Darwin’s theory a eugenicist accelerationist’s wet dream?

Sudarshan Reuben Durayappiah, Facebook

This is the state of affairs to which we will return under the business as usual model touted by Wall street and Biden/ Harris. How ironic that Trump’s initial run was characterized by a wall, but it is the wall of money that was behind Obama and is now deployed by his Democratic successor Biden, that may be the end of Trump. 

Of course, fascism is another thing altogether. The freeing of socially temporarily unacceptable ideas regarding race, gender, sexuality, eugenics, and social engineering– guns, pandemics, starvation, trigger happy racist policing, the expansion of self-defence laws in states such as Florida, the immense wealth of private prisons and the exponential growth of Amazon, Walmart,  Facebook, What’sApp, Instagram, etc. is a cash and data grab of immense proportions. The looters of this virus are not the poor, nor the small business sector, but the mega-rich. These ultra-affluent bastards have set the tone and the stage for the rest of us. 

Bloor Street Hoarding (Pun Intended), Kaushalya Bannerji, Summer 2020

The amount of sheer misery that haunts and weighs down our planet these days  is a collective mourning for our little daily freedoms, and our big ones, like international travel. A grief for our departed too. Of course, lockdowns and restrictions unaccompanied with food and shelter support, are fundamentally class genocide, and exercises in social obedience. That’s because while things are being strangely locked down, dedicated COVID 19  facilities have not been made, shelter has not been put in place for the homeless during the winter season, affordable housing remains as elusive as ever for  those struggling with poverty and food banks are begging those a little better off to help those less fortunate with cheap processed food—often laden with chemicals and toxins that we already know so much about. 

Meme, Pinterest

During a winter where people are being forbidden to socialize indoors, municipalities are stopping snow removal services, leaving hundreds of thousands of “inner city” dwellers with minimal ways to get around during this upcoming pandemic winter. We can point our self-righteous fingers south of the border, or also , take a moment to look down the street and see our own worlds floundering. 

https://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/canada-s-rate-of-homelessness-may-be-higher-than-reported-nanos-survey-1.5060801

It’s hard for me to end this piece on a positive note. I hope, in my lifetime we will see the world played, not as an endgame, but as the beginning of a glorious festival of labour, shared humanity, a culture of non-violence and social support and a celebration of spirit. “From each according to [their] abilities, to each according to [their] needs”. May we, trees, and slivers alike, see ourselves rooted in this grieving and resilient earth, and not wielded, by sinisterly banal elites.

Remedios Varo, Banqueros en Action/Bankers in Action, 1962
Kae Tempest, 2020

For an excellent follow-up piece with lots of information:

Naomi Klein, November 2020

The Colours of Autumn

This year the colours of autumn are as beautiful as ever. But the rhythm of the year seems so disrupted by the coronavirus and climate crisis in so many places. This year the colours of fall seem to invite one in. I return, like the seasons, to drawing parks, morning glories, evening skies, and of course, the little mews/muse! Like so many artists of colour in Canada and the USA, I join a commitment to witness both the beauty and hard times we are all going through. Resistance does not always have to be confrontation, though that too has its moments. In daily life, taking the time to feel and see the world–both inner and outer– has joined the weekly practice of the continuing semi-isolation of the coronavirus. I share some recent pieces below.

Fall at the Park, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020
The Feather, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020
Fall Kitten, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020
Autumn Glory, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020
Night Sky, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020
Dream, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Many people have started to ask me why I have not put anything on this blog in more than a month. Since I started this project a year and half ago, I have tried to respond to issues that have moved me deeply, created a moral restlessness, and an artistic response. I believe that art– visual, poetry, story-telling, music– has a great and necessary role to play as we enter a global crossroads regarding poverty, climate crisis, and social inequality, in which we are consuming a heartless and profit-driven internet and mainstream culture, driven solely by profit.

But life and love got in the way, as my dear father became ill–necessitating hospitalization, and then contracted COVID19 in a hospital in India. Today’s post is a tribute I wrote for my father, as I was stuck due to coronavirus travel restrictions, a world and oceans away. I have had difficulty finding the focus to write on other things at this time, when we are already so isolated due to the pandemic. But the love so many students, artists, writers, colleagues, and friends have shown my father, and to me and my family, through their tributes to him, has been a heartwarming experience in the middle of so much grief.

Sometimes, it seems to me, that my grief has merged with so many others’, and my loss is both magnified by others’ and also shared. Many people are losing their loved ones due to COVID19 directly, or indirectly, as they are unable to seek help due to limited medical contact during this time of quarantines, lockdowns and widespread fear. For many of us, Facebook has become an obituary page, rather than a source of trivia or news. Honouring these strange times, I am sharing what I wrote about and for, my father.

My father and I, 1970s, Kaushalya Bannerji

The Swan Will Fly Away All Alone,

Spectacle of the World Will Be a Mere Fair

As the Leaf Falls from the Tree

Is Difficult to Find

Who Knows Where it Will Fall

Once it is Struck with a Gust Of Wind

When Life Span is Complete

Then Listening to Orders, Following Others, Will Be Over

The Messengers of Yama are Very Strong

It’s an Entanglement with the Yama

Servant Kabir Praises the Attributes of the Lord

He Finds the Lord Soon

Guru Will Go According to His Doings

The Disciple According to His.

My father, Manabendra Bandyopadhyay, was born in Sylhet in the mid 1930s, in what is now Bangladesh, but then, was British India. He came from a large family, and his mother, my grandmother, was the mother of many stepchildren as well as her own. 

A few years after the Partition of India, my father’s family left Bangladesh and settled in a small town on the edge of Assam called Karimganj. There on the edge of a river, in a small tropical town like so many, described by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, he became a student and developed friendships that lasted forever. 

I accompanied him back one year, and he was amused at my amazement when i saw elephants plowing the fields like humble oxen. My father was welcomed and feted when he returned to Karimganj, Assam and read his poetry and his work on translation. I remember we were accompanied by a group of admirers who took the bus for hours back to Guwhati, the state capital, with us, in order to spend more time with my father! He supported his own fatherless family for many years through his translations of Jules Verne, Sherlock Holmes, and others, as my grandfather passed away when my father was young and had many brothers and sisters to look after. 

He studied Sanskrit formally and was already reading and translating from English by the time he started teaching in Yangon, Burma/ Myanmar, and then eventually at the Comparative Literature Department of Jadavpur University in 1956, which he helped to shape with a group of young scholars. 

It was where he taught for the remainder of his work life, pushing his retirement back to keep teaching a couple of years more. Jadavpur University was where he challenged thinking about story-telling, translation, and language.

He was always a fighter for mother tongues and for decolonization, and a big supporter of Indigenous and so-called “Minority” rights. As a foreign student in Canada in the early seventies, he sought out and learned from Indigenous history and culture, bringing me many books and posters and giving me a life-long awareness of the land to which my mother and I emigrated. He was the first to show me the work of Norval Morriseau who he met sometimes during his years in Vancouver. 

My father loved children’s literature and knew a lot about it! He started bringing me books from the time I was a few months old, preparing me for the incredible mutliverse of literature he shared with so many, through his belief in, and love of, translation. One of my favourite books, that he gave me when I was about 8 years old is the fantastic “Happy Islands Behind the Winds”, part of a trilogy by James Kruss, a masterpiece of fantasy geared to children of all ages! 

I also was introduced to historical fiction and mystery stories, as his love of Sherlock Holmes, shared with me when I was young, underpinned my later devouring of the genre. And he introduced me to the best of police procedurals, Maj Sjwoall and Per Wahloo’s Martin Beck series. 

My father was anti-islamophobic and committed to a just, equitable, secularist world where culture would flourish because common people would flourish. 

I remember his belief in regional and south asian literature being just as fervent as his love of international humanism and peace, his belief that culture, and especially poetry and story-telling, could make a difference in our lives, that goes far beyond the page. 

My father committed to translating into Bangla, the stories of well known Malayali writer, Vaikom Muhammad Basheer, at a time in India’s history when the fascist gang led by the BJP was flexing its muscles by destroying the Babri Masjid and Islamophobic violence directed by Narendra Modi, among other criminals, was on the rise. I remember the nervousness of the publishers, who feared they might be targeted by Hindu nationalists for publishing his translations. But he remained steadfastly committed to an India of diversity, peace, and inclusion which did away with caste, religious, gender, and class oppression. He could often be found in the early 90s, blasting the beautiful voice of Nusrat Ali Fateh Khan or the Warsi Brothers, or the songs of Sant Kabir, on his cassette, and later cd, player. 

In his time in Canada, he enjoyed Caribbean music and culture, sharing a love of cricket with many people from the islands. He loved Bob Marley and Dave van Ronk, Osibisa, and many popular musicians he heard in Canada. 

He grew up amid the “hot winds” of independence, grief, and nation-building and never forgot to wonder at the world the city laid before him, full of ideas, talk, chess, endless cups of tea and coffee at the coffee house, or faculty club. The ability to engage with other intellectuals and artists! Bengalis do love to pass the time through adda, which is the nexus of anecdotes, philosophizing, and gossip!

He was not shy with his views and opinions and was know as a lively, engaging and perhaps, sardonic, teacher to many generations of students at Jadavpur University. Tributes from Comparative Literature Colleagues, students and other writers have poured in, from the Bangla speaking population. It’s very beautiful to feel that so many were positively touched by his work!

No mention of my father’s passing would be complete without the ugly reality of Covid19. It is devastating to have joined those hundreds of thousands of people who could not be with their loved ones in their time of need. I found a poem he had translated that speaks to my feelings about this.

A Song on the End of the World

BY CZESLAW MILOSZ

TRANSLATED BY ANTHONY MILOSZ

On the day the world ends

A bee circles a clover,

A fisherman mends a glimmering net.

Happy porpoises jump in the sea,

By the rainspout young sparrows are playing

And the snake is gold-skinned as it should always be.

On the day the world ends

Women walk through the fields under their umbrellas,

A drunkard grows sleepy at the edge of a lawn,

Vegetable peddlers shout in the street

And a yellow-sailed boat comes nearer the island,

The voice of a violin lasts in the air

And leads into a starry night.

And those who expected lightning and thunder

Are disappointed.

And those who expected signs and archangels’ trumps

Do not believe it is happening now.

As long as the sun and the moon are above,

As long as the bumblebee visits a rose,

As long as rosy infants are born

No one believes it is happening now.

Only a white-haired old man, who would be a prophet

Yet is not a prophet, for he’s much too busy,

Repeats while he binds his tomatoes:

There will be no other end of the world,

There will be no other end of the world.

Warsaw, 1944

And finally, although I have a lot of work to do, I try to believe my father’s departure from this life means that he is once more among us, in everything I see, and try to create, myself. Because the loss of his eyesight and autonomy gave him a great deal of pain, I am grateful that his physical and emotional pain are now over.

As a Bengali, my father was also an admirer of Rabindranath Tagore, and I want to end with a verse from him.

Tagore:

Peace, my heart, let the time for the parting be sweet.

Let it not be a death but completeness.

Let love melt into memory and pain into songs.

Let the flight through the sky end in the folding of the wings over the nest.

Let the last touch of your hands be gentle like the flower of the night.

Stand still, O Beautiful End, for a moment, and say your last words in silence.

I bow to you and hold up my lamp to light your way

Additionally, I include some poems I shared in honour of my father at memorials for my father organized by the Comparative Literature Department and the African Studies Department at Jadavpur University in Kolkata.

The Word

Carlos Drummond de Andrade, Brazil

I no longer want to consult 

dictionaries in vain.

I only want the word

that will never be there

and that can’t be invented.

One that would resume 

and replace the world.

More sun than the sun,

in which we all could 

live in communion,

mute,

savouring it. 

Agha Shahid Ali

Swear by the olive in the God-kissed land—

There is no sugar in the promised land.

Why must the bars turn neon now when, Love, 

I’m already drunk in your capitalist land?

If home is found on both sides of the globe,

home is of course here—and always a missed land.

The hour’s come to redeem the pledge (not wholly?) 

in Fate’s ‘Long years ago we made a tryst’ land.

Clearly, these men were here only to destroy, 

a mosque now the dust of a prejudiced land.

Will the Doomsayers die, bitten with envy, 

when springtime returns to our dismissed land?

The prisons fill with the cries of children.

Then how do you subsist, how do you persist, Land?

“Is my love nothing for I’ve borne no children?”

I’m with you, Sappho, in that anarchist land.

A hurricane is born when the wings flutter … 

Where will the butterfly, on my wrist, land?

You made me wait for one who wasn’t even there 

though summer had finished in that tourist land.

Do the blind hold temples close to their eyes 

when we steal their gods for our atheist land?

Abandoned bride, Night throws down her jewels 

so Rome—on our descent—is an amethyst land.

At the moment the heart turns terrorist,

are Shahid’s arms broken, O Promised Land? 

Wislawa Szymborska, Poland

Possibilities

I prefer movies.

I prefer cats.

I prefer the oaks along the Warta.

I prefer Dickens to Dostoyevsky.

I prefer myself liking people

to myself loving mankind.

I prefer keeping a needle and thread on hand, just in case.

I prefer the color green.

I prefer not to maintain

that reason is to blame for everything.

I prefer exceptions.

I prefer to leave early.

I prefer talking to doctors about something else.

I prefer the old fine-lined illustrations.

I prefer the absurdity of writing poems

to the absurdity of not writing poems.

I prefer, where love’s concerned, nonspecific anniversaries

that can be celebrated every day.

I prefer moralists

who promise me nothing.

I prefer cunning kindness to the over-trustful kind.

I prefer the earth in civvies.

I prefer conquered to conquering countries.

I prefer having some reservations.

I prefer the hell of chaos to the hell of order.

I prefer Grimms’ fairy tales to the newspapers’ front pages.

I prefer leaves without flowers to flowers without leaves.

I prefer dogs with uncropped tails.

I prefer light eyes, since mine are dark.

I prefer desk drawers.

I prefer many things that I haven’t mentioned here

to many things I’ve also left unsaid.

I prefer zeroes on the loose

to those lined up behind a cipher.

I prefer the time of insects to the time of stars.

I prefer to knock on wood.

I prefer not to ask how much longer and when.

I prefer keeping in mind even the possibility

that existence has its own reason for being.

By Wislawa Szymborska

From “Nothing Twice”, 1997

Translated by S. Baranczak & C. Cavanagh

Home, by Warsan Shire (British-Somali poet)

no one leaves home unless

home is the mouth of a shark.

you only run for the border

when you see the whole city

running as well.

your neighbours running faster

than you, the boy you went to school with

who kissed you dizzy behind

the old tin factory is

holding a gun bigger than his body,

you only leave home

when home won’t let you stay.

no one would leave home unless home

chased you, fire under feet,

hot blood in your belly.

it’s not something you ever thought about

doing, and so when you did –

you carried the anthem under your breath,

waiting until the airport toilet

to tear up the passport and swallow,

each mouthful of paper making it clear that

you would not be going back.

you have to understand,

no one puts their children in a boat

unless the water is safer than the land.

who would choose to spend days

and nights in the stomach of a truck

unless the miles travelled

meant something more than journey.

no one would choose to crawl under fences,

be beaten until your shadow leaves you,

raped, then drowned, forced to the bottom of

the boat because you are darker, be sold,

starved, shot at the border like a sick animal,

be pitied, lose your name, lose your family,

make a refugee camp a home for a year or two or ten,

stripped and searched, find prison everywhere

and if you survive and you are greeted on the other side

with go home blacks, refugees

dirty immigrants, asylum seekers

sucking our country dry of milk,

dark, with their hands out

smell strange, savage –

look what they’ve done to their own countries,

what will they do to ours?

the dirty looks in the street

softer than a limb torn off,

the indignity of everyday life

more tender than fourteen men who

look like your father, between

your legs, insults easier to swallow

than rubble, than your child’s body

in pieces – for now, forget about pride

your survival is more important.

i want to go home, but home is the mouth of a shark

home is the barrel of the gun

and no one would leave home

unless home chased you to the shore

unless home tells you to

leave what you could not behind,

even if it was human.

no one leaves home until home

is a damp voice in your ear saying

leave, run now, i don’t know what

i’ve become.

Dawn of Darkness ngugi wa thiongo, Kenya/UK

I know, I know,

It threatens the common gestures of human bonding

The handshake,

The hug

The shoulders we give each other to cry on

The Neighborliness we take for granted

So much that we often beat our breasts

Crowing about rugged individualism,

Disdaining nature, pissing poison on it even, while

Claiming that property has all the legal rights of personhood

Murmuring gratitude for our shares in the gods of capital.

Oh how now I wish I could write poetry in English,

Or any and every language you speak

So I can share with you, words that

Wanjikũ, my Gĩkũyũ mother, used to tell me:

Gũtirĩ ũtukũ ũtakĩa:

No night is so Dark that,

It will not end in Dawn,

Or simply put,

Every night ends with dawn.

Gũtirĩ ũtukũ ũtakĩa.

This darkness too will pass away

We shall meet again and again

And talk about Darkness and Dawn

Sing and laugh maybe even hug

Nature and nurture locked in a green embrace

Celebrating every pulsation of a common being

Rediscovered and cherished for real

In the light of the Darkness and the new Dawn.

Rainbow at My Back, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2019

https://frontline.thehindu.com/dispatches/eminent-writer-translator-manabendra-bandopadhyay-dies-of-covid-19/article32278845.ece?fbclid=IwAR2OS2iEDCQ3KYtFTaznmj__VIxdFG9GM8VqV6sS3b2FJUg1IAjREsaW_9Y

Learning to See

I am learning to see the intricate movement and colours of plants. I sometimes wish I had learned photography, but sometimes the impressionistic approach I take, must do instead. I think of their root communities and networks, their beauty and seductiveness, the scent and shape of petals and leaves. Pandemic life must be one that tries to find moments of joy or peace from the cruelty of a world that puts people below profit.

We are living in the age of human sacrifice to capital. The stock market, always oiled by blood, sucks the life out of humanity. Yet the earth continues its ceaseless spin and our days get longer, climate change brings droughts, heat waves, tornadoes, cyclones. But the plants have been enjoying the recent heat waves. Even the storms recharge them and gift them a shiny contented green. Raspberries and zucchinis show us the beauty of edible plants and mint has filled the corner , exhaling her cooling freshness. We are not yet in the dog days of summer, but sometimes it ‘s good to just look down and around to see, with our human imperfect eyes, not through the capture of the perfect machine.

Twilight. July 2020, Kaushalya Bannerji
Evening Pears, July 2020, Kaushalya Bannerji
Even the thistle looks for love, July 2020, Kaushalya Bannerji
Clinging Clematis, July 2020, Kaushalya Bannerji
Dance of the Tiger Lilies, July 2020, Kaushalya Bannerji
Blooming Days, June 2020, Kaushalya Bannerji

Death on the Tracks

This week the world saw a phenomenal rise in COVID19 infections and many countries are debating whether to end the lockdown or endure mass starvation/homeslessness. Couched within this dilemma, is really a variant of the age old question beloved by teachers of political science, “Reform or Revolution?”

We already have calls to sacrifice “the weak” and the elderly for the “sake of the economy” coming from the United States. In India, the lockdown policy has already starved hundreds of thousands, if not millions, with no plans, food, shelter, testing or treatment in place for millions of Indians who travel from one province to another, searching for work and food. This phenomena is witnessed in many large third world countries, and highlights regional disparities in capital investment, agriculture, employment, and centralization of state and government services, a management tactic inherited from previous colonial administrations.

Anti-Lockdown Protesters, Tennessee, April 2020

Regardless, the seven weeks of lockdown in India and in the U.S. has engendered a schism in capitialist society’s stories about itself. It is impossible to look at COVID19 statistics and not see how racialization and caste-ization of poverty throughout the world accounts for communities who are suffering disproportionately under the brunt of this virus, though it was supposedly the rich, whose travels in the age of global neo-feudalism, that are responsible for outbreaks outside of China. In India, such politics are complicated by the rise of an Islamophobic government on the best of servile terms with the ruler of the United States.

Around the world, the cry of “Will we die by hunger or by COVID?” is matched by dairy farmers and egg famers throwing away production in an age of unaffordability, Nestle giant Coca Cola sucking water dry from the earth and poisoning the earth in other places.

https://www.ctvnews.ca/health/coronavirus/nowhere-for-it-to-go-dairy-farmers-dump-their-milk-down-the-drain-1.4884951

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/coca-cola-mexico-wells-dry-bottled-water-sucking-san-felipe-ecatepec-chiapas-a7953026.htmlhttps://www.thoughtco.com/coca-cola-groundwater-depletion-in-india-1204204

And we all saw earlier this week how in India sixteen workers, travelling with no support, by foot back to their village walked dozens of miles to Aurangabad, Maharashtra station, where they hoped the Central Government would allow trains to run to transport people back to their villages. Assuming that the lockdown meant that no trains were running at the time, the men fell asleep at the tracks and were killed by a train.

Rotis on a Railway track where 16 workers were killed, The Wire, May 18, 2020

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-52586898

https://www.livemint.com

I am ending this piece with a triptych called COVID19: Sacrificial Journey, drawn in response to current events.

Sacrificial Journey 1/The Long March, Kaushalya Bannerji, May 2020
Sacrificial Journey 2/The Long March, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020
Sacrificial Journey 3/ The Tracks, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020

Quartraits

More drawings of my time in self -isolation. After nearly 2 months, it’s been a time of many moods, thoughts, hopes and fears. Some pictures show the despair and anxiety of loneliness– as the essence of our default humanity is to run towards each other. Those who manage COVID 19 have demanded we give that up, the first step in dehumanizing us as their neo-feudal subjects. Yet, we long to be held and comforted. No, not back to exploitative and oppressive normalcy, but back to our own better, happier, more generous selves.

And yet to be human is to be restless, to want, to dream, to hope, and to communicate. I have attended some online seminars, heard some special music, re-read books from childhood, with their scenarios, characters and plots, wholly unlike our times. I learned that children are drawn to codes and secret languages because language still has secrets for them. This, perhaps, they share with poets.

Both the ability to escape, and the need to be present, have been part of my survival. I have meditated and prayed, cleaned and cooked. I have depended on people like never before, yet been utterly alone. It’s been surreal at times.

I have gone for walks and both longed for, and been scared by, human interaction. The message of physical distancing must not steer us toward psychological distancing. We have to fight ourselves, sometimes, to get out of the pit of despair that seems like this pandemic’s social engineering. But going for walks whose purposes are simply to move, to breathe, to act, to exist, to see, are different than walking with friends or partners, to grab a coffee, run an errand, or buy something. If there is something I’ve learned, it is that living with minimum consumption feels alien, when our previous conviviality in the neighbourhood meant going into the small stores and cafes, living an existence of consumption that was outside the big box.

These drawings are for all of you, who may have felt both so alone and so accompanied during the days of self isolation. They are drawings of the heart!

Quartrait 1/At the Window, Kaushalya Bannerji, April 2020
Quartrait 2/ Sleep, Kaushalya Bannerji, April 2020
Quartrait 3/Bad Night, Kaushalya Bannerji, April 2020
Quartrait 4/The Pandemic is the Portal, Kaushalya Bannerji, April 2020
Quartrait 5/The Question, Kaushalya Bannerji, April 2020
Quartrait 6/Quompanion, Kaushalya Bannerji, April 2020
Quartrait 7/Dream, Kaushalya Bannerji, April 2020

Dream of a Common Language

While the Coronavirus, Covid 19, lays bare all our inequities and fears, spring is still springing in the Northern hemisphere. Bit by bit, crocuses and bulbs are beginning their annual preening, though this year, it seems they have less admiring audiences as the streets are more empty than I’ve ever seen them. Ever so gradually, the tiniest of brown and green fuzz sprouting on tree branches and bushes will uncurl to show the little green of newly born leaves.

Like the poet Adrienne Rich exhorted us so many years ago, we must “dream of a common language” in the face of this pandemic. A pandemic whose elite narratives exclude and disregard the vast plight of world humanity. Our common language must include compassion, humanity, mercy, and kindness for the most vulnerable during these terrible times. Unemployment, food insecurity, lack of housing, the loss of loved ones, lack of access to widespread testing, the uncertainty of various social messages about how to best protect ourselves; these are truly sad and sometimes, enraging, times.

And yet, in spite of all that naked greed has done to devastate our surroundings, the earth is still here, beneath my feet when I go for my solitary walk. Birds and urban mammals are rejoicing. Bird song is louder than it’s been in the city! This is a visual piece, a homage to our planet, whose beauty can give us something to strive for, when the social order seems senseless…

Dream of a Common Language 2020, Kaushalya Bannerji
Dream of a Common Language 2020, Kaushalya Bannerji
Dream of a Common Language 2020, Kaushalya Bannerji
Dream of a Common Language 2020, Kaushalya Bannerji
Dream of a Common Language 2020, Kaushalya Bannerji

The Soloist

I’ve been having a hard time with this solo-self-isolation. All members of my family are thousands of miles away, experiencing their own lockdowns. Music, books, cleaning, and cooking are losing their charms after the 2 weeks I’ve been doing this! And I fear there will be weeks more. 

As a person with disabilities that make life unpredictable at the best of times, getting sicker and sicker has already meant losing my social life, long before this coronavirus even hit. 

People do not call you if you’ve cancelled at the last minute, or don’t even have the words to articulate what you’re feeling after a while. Causation is tiring to constantly explain or reason out,  when you have fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, active arthritis, and bell’s palsy. As such, navigating this time with the few good friends I have is crucial. 

Trying to figure out the every “why” of my body’s reaction had me going to doctors for years with questions to which they did not have answers. Things have changed a great deal in ideas about fibromyalgia and ME or chronic fatigue syndrome since I was first diagnosed in 1998. 

But the symptoms have not. In fact, they’ve gotten much worse. And sadly, I suspect as a woman of colour, I have probably not gotten the help I might have. I know very clearly that privilege and hierarchy play a huge role in accessing adequate healthcare. The best health care I ever recieved was when I was a law student, and the words engendered respect in doctors! However, that feels like another lifetime ago. 

Being in this situation has meant that all systems are go! Both the physical activity of carrying on solo life and disinfection under self-isolation, and the emotional stress can be a trigger to increased pain, fatigue and brain fog. 

The protocols of this COVID 19 time are alienating and isolating. Staying strong means breathing, eating twice a day whether one’s hungry or not, going out on the balcony for air a few times a day, and walks, weather permitting.  Staying hydrated. Getting vitamins. And listeneing to some other beautiful soloists! 

Staying strong means listening to some beautiful jazz in an impromptu concert by piano maestro Chucho Valdes! 

Staying strong means listening to the wondrous voice of the great Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.

Staying strong means listening to the  intricate and soothing ragas of Indian classical music and Pandit Bhimsen Joshi. 

Staying strong means listening to the beautiful cello solos of the imimitable and compassionate Yo Yo Ma!

Staying strong means listening to the latest piece from Chilean Popular artist, Ana Tijoux

Staying strong means listening to the wonderful contemporary Cuban-Mexican singer-songwriter, Leiden!

Staying strong means clanging pots and pans with my neighbours to honour our health care workers, and all those working and risking their health and lives— so people like me, and the elderly, who are most vulnerable — can stay home. 

Staying strong means signing petitions against homelessness, hunger, lack of basic human rights, and drinking water on First Nations lands, not only in the time of the Corona virus, but for all time. 

Staying strong means demanding those who rule us are accountable in making domestic policy that is fair, equitable and just for the most vulnerable in our society! 

Staying strong means supporting alternatives to our current way of cruelty, I mean, life, under profit and the cash nexus.

I wish all of you a safe and well time during these uncertain and dystopian days. May you be surrounded by the love you need!