by Eric J. Weiner
Ghazal: India’s Season of Dissent by Karthika Naïr
This year, this night, this hour, rise to salute the season of dissent.
Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims—Indians, all—seek their nation of dissent.
We the people of…they chant: the mantra that birthed a republic.
Even my distant eyes echo flares from this beacon of dissent.
Kolkata, Kasargod, Kanpur, Nagpur, Tripura… watch it spread,
tip to tricoloured tip, then soar: the winged horizon of dissent.
Dibrugarh: five hundred students face the CAA and lathiwielding
cops with Tagore’s song—an age-old tradition of dissent.
Kaagaz nahin dikhayenge… Sab Kuch Yaad Rakha Jayega…
Poetry, once more, stands tall, the Grand Central Station of dissent.
Aamir Aziz, Kausar Munir, Varun Grover, Bisaralli…
Your words, in many tongues, score the sky: first citizens of dissent.
We shall see/ Surely, we too shall see. Faiz-saab, we see your greatness
scanned for “anti-Hindu sentiment”, for the treason of dissent.
Delhi, North-East: death flanks the anthem of a once-secular land
where police now maim Muslims with Sing and die, poison of dissent.
A government of the people, by the people, for the people,
has let slip the dogs of carnage for swift excision of dissent.
Name her, Ka, name her. Umme Habeeba, mere-weeks-old, braves frost and
fascism from Shaheen Bagh: our oldest, finest reason for dissent.
As democracies wither and die throughout the world, Karthika Naïr’s ghazal is a passionate and timely celebration of dissent. The places, peoples, and languages of India dance, crack, bleed, demand, and sing their dissent. Soaring through and beyond the borders of India’s post-colonial history, dissent is the oxygen of freedom, scoring the sky with “words, in many tongues.” The “winged horizon of dissent” delineates “what is” from what should be; it is a practice of the radical imagination, an articulation of audacious hope in the long shadows of broken promises and paralyzing fatalism. As the malcontent’s muse, dissent drives the radical desires of dissident artists and intellectuals, the pedagogues of utopic possibilities at a time in which, as Naïr pointedly says,
…there are no small freedoms…I think that India is unfortunately right now living proof for anybody who wants to see the chronicle of an ascension of totalitarianism. This is the chronology: the loss of greater freedoms comes in the slipstream of the denial of perceived “smaller” freedoms. It’s an incremental approach. First, almost always, they come for the books, the art, the movies, the seemingly frivolous things. I would trace it all the way back to the first book banned in independent India, whatever the reason. Because if you can police the imagination, control the freedom of the mind, then everything else will fall in line. There can never be adequate protection for, or vigilance over, these.
Naïr’s poem is also a warning that without dissenting voices, bodies, and minds the promises—explicit and implied—of democracy, like the bones of a malnourished child, will break. Its demise is barely audible against the pitch of rage spewing from the mouths of autocrats and their sycophants throughout the world. These “dogs of carnage” are unleashed, roaming urban streets and dusty squares, rabidly tearing the flesh of hope from the bones of people who have the audacity to dissent. Read more »