“What are the reading lists of your reading group” one veteran queried as the Indian community gathered in the house of the Indian Ambassador to celebrate Republic Day after a gap of two years.
In the year gone by
This celebration is special and I still remember the turbulent 2011 days when only few die-hard medical staff remained in Tripoli and we would sometimes go to the doors of the Indian embassy only to find a single Palestinian running the show. The Indian staff was in Tunis.
In early 2012 one charge-de-affairs was sent on an initial mission. I still remember him multi-tasking with great efficiency, from door keeper to record keeper to making entries to doing some consular work to giving diplomatic dispatches on the rapidly changing complex scenario on the ground.
Last year, See blog : https://prashantbhatt.com/2012/01/27/reflections-on-our-republic-day/ our reading group had discussed the word Proletariat on the occasion of the Republic day of India and tried to contemplate on the meaning of this word for millions of Indian Diaspora.
We had compared two famous essays-Chris Harman’s “The Prophet and the Proletariat” and Ronald Barthes’ “The Poor and the Proletariat”.
Ronald Barthes analyzed Chaplin Man as being interesting and complex because he is still outside the revolution.
He argues that the Poor Man essayed by the legendary comedian is successful precisely because this character “is always just below political awareness…still outside the Revolution.”
Although ‘fascinated by the problem of breadwinning’, Chaplin-man is “as yet unable to reach a knowledge of political causes and an insistence on collective strategy.”
A film such as Modern Times is powerful because it foregrounds the humanity of its worker protagonist:
“Other works, in showing the worker already engaged in a conscious fight, subsumed under the cause and the Party, give an account of a political reality which is necessary, but lacks aesthetic force. In other words, it is the visible space between the aesthetic and the analytical that makes a work truly revolutionary in the sense of being ‘politically open to discussion’
( As quoted in Literary Radicalism in India.Pages 143-144 by Priyamvada Gopal)
We again revisited the meaning of proletariat in today’s world on the 64th Republic Day of India.
Revisiting “Chaplin Man”
All the “King’s” men..the Indian community gradually re-organizing…
Who is invited and who is ‘not-invited’ to the evening reception is a buzz which keeps on in some circles of the Indian community. However, some medicos who serve the population, both Libyan and Indian noted that even the morning celebrations at the Indian ambassador’s house usually have only the more elite and well-to-do members of the Indian community. In the ten years I have stayed here I have still to see some workers who live in the camps to come to such a gathering though the morning flag-hoisting does not require a special invitation.
Some Indian camps around Tripoli have been attacked, the workers beaten up and some vehicles have been looted. Security around Tripoli remains a big issue. It is even more perilous if one tries to go towards the Nafusa mountains or South-Sebha region. In Benghazi and Derna regions there have been evacuations of foreigners due the current unrest in North Africa. Though the main targets are the nationalities whose armies are now waging war in North Africa, as a precaution some medical workers have left Benghazi.
In the past months there was intense fighting in BenWalid and some workers still take refuge in the quarters associated with the Church in Medina as they find themselves jobless and homeless in a foreign land.
Some people still face arbitrary transfers and harassment as they wait for their long-term dues and gratuity to be cleared.
“It is not possible for me to go without my gratuity. This is my life’s saving. However, if I resign,then I will be further delinked from the different bureaucracies. If I do not resign, then they say that they will process as it is done for others.That is a time consuming process” one veteran told of his worries, not having seen his family for almost two years, when they were evacuated and he chose to stay behind.
These circumstances, sometimes tragic, sometimes comic, give a flavor of what it is for some Indians who are not connected to big companies or in powerful positions in government sectors.
Ronald Barthes’ “Chaplin Man” came back talking to me in many different ways as I heard the talks of persons from Ben walid, Sebha, Jadu, Benghazi.
In work and play, education and prayer
In the past year we continued the theme of observing people in work and prayer and took interviews of persons of different faiths. Though the initial Mass observation project which started in UK in 1930s involved Christians, in Tripoli region we have expanded this to involve Muslims, Hindus and Christians of different churches.
Revisiting Historiography is an interesting theme we have started engaging in as we go deeper than the usual questions of “Hello..how are you? …How is your work..”
Adding Mass observation to the theme of “Tripoli Reading Group” made an interesting mix as we revisited some Oral History works of the great American Writer Studs Terkel and dissected the difference between the Marxist historiography and the Subaltern historiography movement of Antonio Gramsci and Ranajit Guha.
See the following blogs for further details
Remembering Studs Terkel
In Search of the Unknown Worker
Dissecting meanings of “intellectual terrorist”
“You are an ‘intellectual terrorist’” one friend told me a few weeks ago.
Over a few meetings he made me listen to a virulent recording of a RSS ideologue who talked about Hindu Rashtra and repeatedly told about the subversion done by “Intellectual terrorists”.
While some friends started attacking the virulent speech even before it was complete I told them to be a bit patient and let her run through her great arguments. After listening to the whole speech silently, (though I guess the hearing had been arranged especially for me as I had been labeled ‘intellectual terrorist’ before the hearing) I asked our learned friends
1. If we take this logic of ‘intellectual terrorist’ further won’t we probably be labeling even Mahatma Gandhi in the same vein?
2. Do these persons go into the complexities of what drives internal migration to big cities, the type of feudal exploitation which makes workers prefer to rough it out in slums?
3. If we carry this logic to the Indian Diaspora won’t they be in a big disadvantage in areas where people of different faiths are in dominant position?
We shall continue the discussions further.
Amartya Sen’s “Identity and Violence” and “The Argumentative Indian” will be essential reading for the persons who are quick to label. Hopefully after going through those works and trying to understand the complexities, they will be a bit less quick in labeling persons.
As we went beyond labeling, after some heated discussions, I opened another chapter of our reading group…the Nature of religious Historiography.
Charles Darwin ‘s Origin of Species spelled out the revolution which has provided enough evidence against the “Creationism” theory. How will the “Hindu Rashtra” people explain the historiography of mankind in terms of their religion? This led to some agitation amongst the members of the “Reading Group” (some may never return) as they realized that the explanation of even the Indian civilization cannot be completed logically by subscribing to some of the mythological texts which may give good moral metaphors but do not explain things logically.
Add to it the historiography of Chinese, Western, Jewish, Moslem traditions and the gaps are so glaring that any logical person will try to look for answers other than the traditional religious historiography to try and understand the evolution of the different societies.
The celebrations of the Indian community on the Republic day are unique and very relevant to the Libyan Arab society today as they try to draft and agree upon a Constitution. If what is happening in neighboring Egypt is any barometer things will take time to settle down. Is it right to try and force things and blame every wrong on a new government.
Some in Egypt seem to be playing the game in a manner which reminds one of the dictum
“Play the game as I say, otherwise I will take my ball home”
The new dynamism of the staff at the Indian embassy has given an enthusiasm amongst the community. However, there are concerns of security, arrears and new contracts, both at individual and company level. Meanwhile through methods such as “Mass Observation” and “Reading Groups” we will continue to interrogate the different layers and flavors of Tripoli and Mediterranean region.
For those interested you can see the blogs tagged
Mass Observation https://prashantbhatt.com/tag/mass-observation/
Tripoli Reading Group https://prashantbhatt.com/tag/tripoli-reading-group/
And also visit the Archives for articles under different headings. https://prashantbhatt.com/archives/