Friday, Dec 02, 2022

Walking With Arundhati Roy

Walking With Arundhati Roy

A poet writes an impassioned letter to Arundhati Roy on her birthday.

Arundhati Roy
Arundhati Roy Outlook Photo: Narendra Bisht

I am a disowned being. Just a being, don't know whether I am fit to own the word, human. No one wants to own me! I am Bangladeshi to some, katua to my friends, and Pakistani to my classmates! I am dark for them! I am Qutubuddin Ansari, Akhlaq, Pehlu or Nazia.

I am no one. Or I am the one whom you see standing in an endless queue before the foreigner's tribunal, or standing for the Aadhar correction centre. I am Fulmati Roy, seventy years old in body, thirty years old in voter card. I am here to prove to the officer that I am eligible for an old age pension that the benevolent government of India provides. The officer is asking me for age proof. I am showing them the wizened, shrunken folds of my skin. They are refusing to believe. We need papers, they say. Papers for everything. Papers to have a breath, papers to have a funeral. Birth and death - all are papers. Documents, they say. Papers can make a living, breathing man a dog. Papers can make some Dutta a kutta (dog)! It's not about only a misplaced word, it's about replacing your identity. It's the manifestation of the power of the papers, the power of the authority which has a long hand to reduce you to what they want to - from a man to a kutta, or from a citizen to a foreigner.

I am your provider, I provide you with your attractive thalis! I sell bhindi (okra) at 20 rupees/kg, and you buy bhindi from Zomato at 100 rupees. No offence! I don't exist for you! I live on the margins, with or without papers!

I walked miles barefoot during your lockdown, a train ran over me and, then again, I am walking for a job, or I am on the Singhu border demanding MSP. Do you know what MSP is? You don't. I am one and I am no one.

I'm the woman who is either killed by family members for not being submissive or killed by my husband or partner for smoking cigarettes. I am the woman whose choice is a jihad to the state. I am the honour that can bring shame to the family and I am the woman who is killed to protect the same honour. I am the birth in death or death in birth! I am the million paperless foetuses who are killed in the dark. I am India's paperless child. I am one in no one's existence.

Then from my one and no one state of existence, a woman picks me up. It's always the woman who rescues. Mind it!

She writes, she fights, and sometimes she quarrels. When she writes, her words make noise in the ears of the deaf. You call her names. Your favourite word of abuse is ‘anti-national.’

She is Anjum! She is Tilo, She is Estha, She is Rahel. She is comrade Azad Bhartiya, She is Bhajji Bai. I am she, she is I. She is the faceless mass, she is the voice.

When she picks me up every time I fall, I ask her to let me walk with her. I walk with her in dark times, on the deserted roads at midnight when the mist makes way for the receding darkness and prepares the lights (not mornings, every morning doesn't bring light) to take charge of life. And all the fallen, paperless men join in.

Anjum still has that short hair till she returns from Gujarat. Rahel and Estha walk hand in hand. The woman with the scuffed chappal is still young as we saw her for the first time. Tilo is smoking peacefully. She has designed the architecture of a new world: the Jannat guest house. All are walking with imagination. They have all the extinct rivers, birds and forests with them. They are carrying all. Doesn't it need the imagination to keep it all alive?

A big skeleton is dangling from Tilo's neck. A tattoo is on the skeleton's forehead - the fallen empire.

Azad Bhartiya is distributing a pamphlet:

‘Another world is not only possible, she is on her way.

Maybe many of us won't be here to greet her, but on a quiet day, if I listen very carefully, I can hear her breathing.’

We, all the leftover people, are walking with her, with Arundhati Roy.

And I see a new world is rising from the graveyard, the graveyard of the dumped papers.

Yes, another world is possible and she is walking towards it with imagination.