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Awesome Ground Realities and the Dream of Literature

Sitakant Mahapatra
For some years now the world is facing the nightmare of terror almost on a continuous basis. Terror is spreading its wings almost all over the world. Gone are the days when terror and violence were occasional aberrations and human society lived in peace and mutual fellow-feeling. Today the news of terror-strikes and deaths seems to have become a daily occurrence. The battle against terror has been mounted in different countries through various mechanisms. However one is left with a growing fear that perhaps this battle is failing. According to data in the Global Terrorism Database (GTD) maintained by University of Maryland, US, incidents involving terrorists’ attacks have gone up five times between 2000 and 2013, reaching the awesome figure of 11,000. Sixty percent of these incidents have taken place in five countries namely Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria, Iraq and Syria. Fortunately for us only two of these countries Afghanistan and Pakistan are part of our SAARC brotherhood. It is not as if the remaining six countries of Saarc brotherhood are free from this nightmare. We are aware of the decades of turbulence and terror attacks in India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Luckily Nepal, Bhutan and Maldives are free from this malady and peace and happiness reigns.
Let us look around to the ground realities. We can recall the tragic, inhuman and barbaric event of a little while ago. In Peshawar Army Public School 133 school children were massacred. It is difficult to withhold tears when one sees the searing visuals of the class rooms: young, dead bodies piled up in heaps, blood streams flowing down the floors and the cry of the parents and sisters and mothers rending the sky. The perpetrators of the crime have murdered innocence. I mention only two of them. There was a five year child among the dead and it was his first day at school. Then there was Dawood Ibrahim of the 9th standard who was the lone survivor in his class because he missed going to school as his alarm clock did not work. He was so dazed at the funeral of his friends that for two days he nearly went silent. Something had died within him.
Leave Peshawar and come to Assam in India. The massacre of the innocent tribal families by the Bodo terrorists; families always living in misery and deprivation now forced to go to relief camps to survive even while mourning their dead. Some of the Bodo terrorists cross over the boundaries into Bangladesh through dense jungles and hills. We are all aware of the terror unleashed by Maoists and Naxals in India the worst being many instances of beheadings.
In Afghanistan, in the beautiful cities of Kabul Kandahar and virtually all over the country, deaths by the car-bombs are a daily occurrence. Only the numbers dying vary. One computation says so far more than 20,000 have dead over a decade. We have lost count of the organizations that perpetrate these crimes and sometimes swear in the name of their gods. Their names are now part of history. Taliban, al-quaida and so many that we have last count.
If we look back a little further we have the figure of 42000 dead in almost a decade of violence in Sri Lanka- the LTTE vs. the Government. The UN is helplessly calling for war crimes trial year after year. Sometime back two Japanese and an American were beheaded by butchers clad in dark overalls and the video picture was flashed for the whole world to witness this ghastly picture. In another cruel incident a Jordanian pilot was put in a cage and burnt like a mouse.
As I write this note I read in the papers the slaughter of 2000 persons in North Nigeria by the Boko Haram. It is in a single village called Bago where the dead bodies are piled up in the streets and the rest of the 8000 from the village have fled for their lives. I read also the massacre in Paris which is an obvious attack on democracy, freedom of speech and the sanctity of the written word. Even though it does not relate to SAARC countries it is indicative of the violence, hatred and destruction of basic human values all around the globe.
Recently Times of India featured an analysis of the reasons why terrorism is thriving. It quoted a Harvard Professor Linda J Bilmes that violence often begets more violence, as cycles of retaliation take place and escalate. Also, terrorism is “protean”- it mutates and changes continually making it difficult to formulate a coherent strategy. The strategy of invading one geographic area and driving out terrorists can secure one piece of land, temporarily, but the trouble is then migrates it to someplace else like the game ‘whack-a-mole’.

As writers we know that every death reduces each of us. Every death is yet another reminder that respect for life seem to be receding further and further. It is a challenge to our basic values of society, literature and culture. Secondly countries so affected have to mount attacks on terrors and strengthen internal security and preserving the lives of innocent citizens. The cost of fighting terror is mind-boggling. According to a professor of Boston University the world wide cost of fighting terror is around three trillion dollars. Of course it leaves out the additional cost of medical and other benefits to the suffering millions. Needless to say the world is short of capital for fighting poverty and want. Time we come together and join hands to prevent that human destiny and the future of our children is less fearful and troublesome. Time that we spare no efforts to ensure that they live in peace and enjoy the benefits which mother earth grants us plentifully.
As a writer I have a lurking fear that perhaps the world is looking at the numbers as abstract figures of the dead and dying. Each death is unique, each death shatters a little world and each death destroys the dream of literature. It is not a number game flashed through print and electronic media. We are afraid that perhaps human conscience is getting deadened in the process and the media can do precious little to combat such deadening. I wish dear friends, we could say with Neruda

I am here not to solve problems
I am here to sing
and make you sing.
I am sure he said that in an unguarded moment for, apart from singing for us and making us sing, he was also in the fore front of the human struggle for a better world.
In our troubled, tumultuous times writers have a sacred obligation to prevent the death of conscience. We still believe that there is inherent goodness in each human being which needs to be protected, nourished and awakened. That small voice is our ultimate defense against death and darkness. There are forces which spread the three elements of fear, hate and despair. Our battle is against these forces to defend hope, love and peace. As a writer I have always believed that love is the only thing which is supernatural. For love negatives the fundamental law of nature that the more you give away the less you have. In love the more you give away the more you have. As writers we have the ultimate responsibility to preserve the sanctity of the word and the unblemished authenticity of love.
Nadine Gordimer, the South African novelist has sought to define our role as wordsmiths: that we have to live in both hope and history. Human history is replete with cruelty, death and depredation and our job is reminding ourselves and mankind that hope is still a living force. Gordimer quotes the beautiful lines of the Irish Poet Seamus Heaney :
History says, Don’t hope
On this side of the grave,
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up,
And hope and history rhyme.

We all long for the day when hope and history will rhyme. But for that we have to put our faith in the ultimate victory of hope , love and that little voice within man we call conscience. Literature like any other creative art, assumes the temporality of human life and its being subject to the flux of time. This, however, need not lead us to a sense of despair, angst or rootlessness. What is important is to realize the possibility of creative delight in experience and to assert, almost against the whole range of myth-makers and media-managers of modern society, the supremacy, uniqueness and communal character of shared experience.

It seems we do not visualize the awesome and cruel reality staring us in the face. Bob Dylan in his unforgettable lines has told us of this reality:

How many times can a man turn his head
And pretend that he just does not see;
How many deaths will it take till he knows
That too many people have died.
The answer, my friend, is blowing
In the wind; blowing in the wind.

We have continued to turn a deaf ear to this answer and it is high time we listen in to the answer and prevent the future of our children being doomed.

About Editor in chief

Ashok Palit has completed his graduation from Upendranath College Soro, Balasore and post graduation from Utkal University in Odia Language and literture.. He has also carved out a niche for himself as a scribe of eminence after joining the profession in 1988. He is also an independent media production professional. He brings loads of experience to Advanced Media, Ashok Palit as a cineaste has been active in film criticism for over three decades. As a film society activist, he soared to eminence for his profound commitment to the art film appreciation and aesthetics of cinema. His mode of discourse is often erudite but always lucid and comprehensible marked by a perfect acumen so rare in the field. A film aesthete with an immense fond of critical sensibilities, he wrote about growth and development of odia cinema in New Indian Express, The Times of India, The Hindustan Times, The Asian Age and Screen. He has been working as an Editor for Cine Samaya from 2002-2004.. He had made solid contribution on cinema in many odia Dailies and weekly such as Samaj, Prajatantra, Dharatri, Samaya, Satabadi, and weekly Samaya.

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