Thursday, June 19, 2014

A Portrait in the Slaughterhouse

A Portrait in the Slaughterhouse

Reyazul Haque
It seemed inevitable: the day he breathed his last and bid adieu to his memories was the day when one of the largest democracies in this world sought the mandate from its people to elect a mass murderer as its Prime Minister.  It was the day when there was a surge in the profit margin of Reliance, the corporate giant, who among others runs the Indian parliamentary democracy.  It was the day when 3 were killed in one more bomb blast in the history of imperialist extraction and devastation in US occupied Iraq.  It was the day when US federal court approved plans to sell assets of Iran, apprehended to be the next chapter in the book of US imperialist attacks.  It was also the day when over 80 Dalit families were forced to flee to Delhi from their village in Haryana to sit on protest demanding justice, after they were allegedly threatened by Jats for protesting against the abduction and rape of four Dalit women.
Such was the day, though one among many, in the slaughterhouse.
Not because the cotton crops of Maharashtra reaped the suicides of yet another 100 farmers in this season like the previous ones . Not because 25,000 Syrian refugees displaced by the war imposed by US forces to overthrow its president are being forced to eat animal feed to survive in camps. Not even because people from Palestine, Kashmir, Tibet and elsewhere are subjected to everyday brutal military occupation. We live in a slaughterhouse because it is a fitting image – a figurative landmark that serves to direct those in search, to the treacheries of death, displacement and destitution that so earnestly daunts every waking step in this world.
A modest scene from this slaughterhouse- blood and ash smeared across ruined houses and broken lives. The specters of prisons and nooses hang low on devastated villages and deserted fields. Vigilante gangs and encounter killings rising in number. Starvation, illness, treatment and draughts compete with the construction of more dams and nuclear power plants. Depleting forests and melting ice are devoured by open caste mines and sold bauxite capped mountains. Newspaper and round the clock channels continue to censor the breaths and gasps of millions while the information revolution feigns state of the art ignorance.
John Berger is indeed mistaken when he calls this society a prison house.  A prison is not associated with mass murders, genocide and starved deaths; but a slaughterhouse is. A slaughterhouse where one can extinguish races and lives with a single gesture and in return procure the Nobel Prize for peace. A place where one can drain an entire river in the name of conservation; where fantastic stories subsume reality in the name of realism; where unequal and expensive education is legalized in the name of democratizing it. It is the place of many hundred deaths foretold; where lives of millions of people continue to tell the tale of misery and deprivation.
But there is a refreshing portrait in this slaughterhouse. One that rents the mist of desperation and exhaustion, one that singes money and speculative capital of the usurper, one that undermines cash on delivery and cheap monthly installments, one that stretches beyond the genocidal rate of national growth and income, five star medical resorts and retail chains…there is a portrait in the wall of slaughterhouse.
New Marquez
There is a portrait of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, of magic that turns words into dream, dreams into reality, and the solitude of exploited and oppressed into solidarity and discontent into struggles.
There indeed is a portrait of a writer whose words speak against imperialism and the oppression of people, one that outlines the dehumanizing character of imperialist occupation and exploitation. He chronicles the stories of those people who were robbed off histories, cultures and memories by giant corporations and empires to plunder their resources and labor for profit. His stories articulate the loneliness of people deprived of food, social justice, liberty, happiness, love and dreams and their struggles of resistance. He was a writer who wrote about social prejudices that shape consensus in an unjust society where encounter killings, murders, displacement and massacres are orchestrated in the name of ‘collective conscience’.
The words of Garcia Marquez stare unflinchingly into the eyes of a dictator who runs the countries in the name of democracy and development, strength and unity, security and sanctity. The function of the portrait is to challenge the continuation of the status quo, break it, historicize it and continuously remind the viewer about the transitory nature of what is being viewed. It stands to remind the viewer that the present has its vestiges in the past and the future will cleave itself from the residues of the present.
A portrait could reiterate stories of violence. There is violence when slices of history fail to be etched in the representation of reality in portraits. Violence is committed when time and history are conflated into one where experience is rendered meaningless. History at times cannot be retrieved from memory because the act of remembering is also an act of forgetting. The history of injustices, promises, dreams and planning should not be forgone when history reshapes itself within new structures of power.
A portrait preserves a moment for a long period. It preserves traces of injustices and helps memory to preserve moments of injustices from being obliterated in history. Thus a portrait enables people to read time and history separately, which are otherwise made invisible by governing classes in various time periods. It imbues the people with the strength for resistance, the aspiration for struggle and strength, and the dreams for future. It instills the hope for justice among them.
The hawk eyed owners of the slaughterhouse may love this portrait for its finesse and perfection. But, we know what this portrait means to us. In the battlefield with its fronts and vanguards, among dropping bombs and mortars, inside trenches and traps, enduring wounds and blasts, through darkness and blackouts, we have a master story teller among us who invigorates us with the resolve to struggle, and to fight successfully to win. This is no less significant. He may have lost his memories before death, but we know his memory can be made immortal only through the struggles of the oppressed in the world.
Berger, John, Meanwhile, Drawbridge books, London, 2008
Berger, John, Understanding a Photograph, Penguin UK, London, 2013

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