Monday, August 26, 2013

A Ramble and a Rant – Part II

This may be of particular interest to those from the Indian subcontinent.

A Ramble and a Rant – Part II

Part II – A Rant

If truth be told, the peasant, tilling land,
Has often fared no better and no worse,
When those who'd ruled from 'Pindi were replaced  \1
By those who ruled from Dhaka in their stead.

What matters it, if the Queen of England reigns,
Or mughal, maharajah?  It's only when
The Company had squeezed the golden goose         \2
To close to death, that sepoys did revolt.

To Brits, it was rebellion.  Natives saw
A chance for liberation from the yoke.
But the old colonials long have left and yet –
The brown sahibs remain.  Another joke!

If there's a choice, between the local big,
And one afar, it may at end be this:
The one at hand can only squeeze so far,
And where he drinks, he also, there, needs piss.

< start of explanatory portion, added Aug. 26th,  for stanza directly above >

So landlords buy, of what the artisan
Produces, and they also hire, at times,
The ones who're seeking work, to dig a pond
To stock with fish, or build yet one more house.

But when a cousin of that landlord builds
A factory, in Howrah, then the cash                         \3
From sales of grain to the city then will go
To earn for him the promised interest.

And so, in turn, some peasants too will move
To work in city factories or build
The quarters there for better-offs -- or join
The beggars on the footpaths or the slums.

So local wealth departs, by labor earned,
And workers follow, seeking then for work.
But if the city isn't far away,
Then hope remains that some will still return.

But when the wealth moves further, even out
Beyond a country's borders, fencing men
But not the flow of cash, to far New York
Or London, then it is forever lost.

And sons of landlords follow, daughters too,
And even more of cash is sent abroad,
So they can study and then settle there,
As native country bleeds yet even more.

And yet, with workers who are peasants still,
Remembering the ones they left at home,
Some capital may flow, from all their toil
In lands of oil and sheiks, to green Sylhet.            \4

And so do trickles continue to flow
From cities in the U.S. to the south,
Where villages, deserted by the men,
Are living now on cash that comes by mail.

And so it is in China, in the north,
As only old and children there remain,
And even in old Mexico, you'll find
The plateau's air is fouled by city's breath.

And what do cities, even capitals,
Pretend to know or care about the hicks?
Where there's a vote, with pesos it is bought,
Or with rupees. Where carrots fail, there's sticks.

So summing up, the local brigand is
A better bet than one who's far removed,
Who neither spends his wealth on local fare,
Nor cares what local men may think of him.

You say the Syrians slaughter now their own,
The Congo's been a place of genocides --
And that may be, and you can shine a light,
But stay away with bombs and troops, I pray.

Our governments have done, in places far,
What they would never do, in present times,
In their own capitals or places where
They still might be accountable.

< end of explanatory portion added Aug. 26th >

There's balance  – and a circulation, which
A Dilli or a London or D.C.
Escapes.  How long was it, before
Our bombs abroad were echoed in New York?

How many millions died, in fiery hells,
In nations far, who'd never done a thing
To harm a hair on blond or auburn head?
How many lies were told, that still prevail?

The soldier, like the teacher in the school,
Is blamed – or else the generals.
The ones, who sent them into combat, live
At ease, with both the dead and living mute.

Who dares to say the battle's lost – or war?
We click our heels, salute and go to teach.
Who cares that men are dying, needlessly?
We're paid to do.  Let those, who're jobless, preach.

There is no lack of problems, in a land,
The foreigners will never understand.
Nor does it lack that class of lords and lackeys,
Who'll take the bribes and side with global bullies.

A superpower, in a land that's torn,
Is like the bull within the china shop.
So Soviets were, in high Afghanistan.
And so were we, as Khmers saw rain of bombs.

How many Indonesias, Vietnams,
How many troubled lands of east and west!
How many more of Lebanons, Iraqs,
Before we let the tortured nations rest?

It's time to let them live and fight it out,
If not for moral sense than for ourselves.
The oceans will no longer serve as dikes.
What's done afar affects us, in the end.

We have our troubles too, no end of them.
Our wars distract us from the matters here.
It's only when we truly see, that sense
Prevails, dispelling myths – and greed and fear...

I'd tell the ones, who've suffered from our bombs
And constant meddling in their land's affairs,
“Remember this – the more you bicker, fight
Among yourselves, the longer we can stay.

“And if you have to choose, between a lord
Who is corrupt, or is a zealot, then
Prefer the first, for he may rob and reign,
But does not seek to rule your mind and soul.

“But better yet, dispose of both of them!
You need your kings and presidents and worse
As much as farmers need their lords of land,
Or deer depend on wolves for wherewithal.”

But who am I to tell or to advise?
The ones afar are caught in struggles fierce,
That are connected deeply with our own.
They'll struggle through, without my glib advice.

Enough! I woke, with mind and soul disturbed,
And plainly wrote, whatever came to mind.
I leave this now, for readers to peruse
And find me mad – or put to future use.

2013 August 8th, Thu.
(stanzas 5-17, within the dividers “******”,
inserted to explain or illustrate the 4th stanza,
added August 26th, Mon.)

A Ramble and a Rant -- Part I  


1. The capital of Pakistan, following its independence in 1947, was initially Karachi, the large port city on the Arabian sea, near the mouth of the Indus river in the southern province of Sindh.  With the increasing dominance of the Panjab, the capital was shifted first, in the early 1960's, to 'Pindi (Rawalpindi) in the north, where the Panjab plain meets the Himalayan foothills, and what was then the NWFP (North West Frontier Province), inhabited by Pathans (Pashtuns/Pakhtoons)) and others.  Around 1966, it was moved to the neighboring, newborn, planned capital city of Islamabad.  So Islamabad was the official capital at the time of what was essentially a military coup, in March of 1971, against what would have been the newly elected government led by Mujibur Rahman's Awami League, which had its base in mainly Bengali-speaking East Pakistan, separated from W. Pakistan by well over a thousand miles by the width of the Republic of India.

The brutal crackdown by the Pakistani army, starting in March of 1971, in that eastern wing of Pakistan, the stirring up of religious animosities, and the ever-present scarcity of land and resources in the fertile but overpopulated delta region, led to a great number of hapless, frightened, malnourished and footsore refugees streaming across the borders into neighboring states in India (which I witnessed first-hand as a relief worker there) and quite a bit of local resistance, including from a lightly-armed guerrilla force, the Mukti Bahini (Liberation Army).  Most of the Awami League leaders, however, those not arrested along with Mujibur Rahman, fled across the border to Kolkata. The final full-scale war, involving the Indian army, that led to the creation of  Bangladesh, occurred at the end of 1971.

Although Islamabad was then the capital of Pakistan, I have referred to 'Pindi in the verse line, as that was where much of the W. Pakistani army headquarters and generals were centered.  The two cities are situated, I believe, cheek to jowl.  I gathered then, from talking to many of the refugees (mostly Hindu, but with a fair number of Muslims as well) that the lot of ordinary peasants, especially the landless ones, might not change that much if and when the W. Pakistani rulers, reigning from Islamabad-Rawalpindi, were exchanged for Bengali ones ruling from Dhaka, just as the departure of the British had, at least at that time, left much of the peasantry unaffected all over the subcontinent, still subservient to, indeed, effectively enslaved by, the feudal landlord hierarchy that had been established since before the Mughals. 

For me, this was a revelation, which I might not have had had I not journeyed, in the summer of 1971, full of youthful idealism and misplaced Bengali nationalism, 900 miles southeast by train with a Gandhian group from Dilli to Bongaon, a small town on the Ichamati river, which separated the eastern Indian state of W. Bengal from what was then E. Pakistan.  But after talking to the refugees (many of whom had received their only organized help, on their own side of the border, from the Communist Party and the National Awami Party) and after rowing surreptitiously across the Ichamati, as cannon boomed, to visit a badly shelled and nearly abandoned village, where we met a few remaining aged inhabitants and some wary youths who were part of the local Mukti Bahini, I came to this conclusion, which was, at the time, a rather sad and life-changing one for me.  I hoped then that I would be proved wrong.

2.  The reference is to the British East India Company, and to the Uprising of 1857 in the subcontinent, led by the native sepoys (soldiers) employed in the Company's army.  The rebellion was brutally suppressed.   However, the British Crown then took direct control of India, making it a centerpiece of the British Empire, taking a slightly longer view and  shrewdly reining in, to some degree, the rapacity of the colonial enterprise there.

3. Howrah is a suburb of Kolkata (Calcutta), in the state of W.Bengal, India.  It houses the main railway station and is linked to Kolkata by the Howrah Bridge, built in British times across the Hooghly river, a broad local estuary of the Ganges, navigable by ocean-going ships.

4.  Sylhet is a north-eastern district of Bangladesh, bordering the Indian states of Meghalaya, Assam and Tripura.  It is a lush, hilly region, with tea, oil and gas being major industries. Sylhet, like a few other parts of the subcontinent, has long had a large expatriate population, many of whom work in the U.K. and in the Gulf states, sending remittances home.

No comments: