Sunday, November 05, 2006


I recently came across an amazing article in The Statesman, and I could not resist putting it up here. The article is an excerpt of Mahasweta Devi’s inaugural address at the Frankfurt book fair this year in Germany. I felt that it would be honoring to read this one out, and also to awaken to our India. I have edited a few parts, but in its entirety, the article remains unaltered.

Extracts from Mahasweta Devi’s inaugural address at the Frankfurt Book Fair, Germany

“At 80 plus I move forward, often stepping back into the shadows. Sometimes I am bold enough to step back into the sunlight. As a young person, a mother, I would often move forward to when I was old. Amuse my son. Pretend not to see, or hear him. Flail my hands like in a blind man’s game, or make a mockery of memory. Forget important things. Things that had taken place but a moment ago! These games were for fun. Now they are no longer funny. My life has moved forward & is repeating itself. I am repeating myself. Recollecting for you what has been. What is. What could have been. May have been…”

“Nothing happens unless you know how to dream. The establishment is out to destroy, by remote control, all brain cells that induce dreams. But some dreams manage to escape, and I’m after those dreams. The right to dream should be our first fundamental right. And what I say next is an extension of those dreams”

“What do we mean when we speak of Indian culture in the 21st century? What culture? Which India? 60 yrs after our hard won independence, the Khadi sari is India just as the mini-skirt and the backless choli is. A bullock cart is India just as much as the latest Toyota or Merc. Illiteracy haunts us & still the same India produces men & women at the foremost of medicine, science and technology. Eight year old children toil mercilessly, facing unimaginable working conditions and abuse as child labor. And yet there are another lot of 8 year olds who spend their time in Air-conditioned classrooms & call their mothers at lunch break using their personal mobile phones. That too is India. Satyam shivam sundaram is India. Choli ke peechey is also India. The Multiplex and Mega mall is India. The snake charmer & the maharishi, that too is India.”

“Indian culture is a tapestry of many weaves, many threads. The weaving is endless as are the shades of the pattern. Somewhere dark, somewhere light, somewhere saffron, somewhere as green as the fields of new paddy, somewhere flecked with blood, somewhere washed cool by the waters of a Himalayan spring. Somewhere, the red of a watermelon slice. Somewhere, the blue of an autumn sky in Bengal. Somewhere, the purple of a musk deer’s eye. Somewhere, the red of a new bride’s sindoor. Somewhere, the threads form words in Urdu, somewhere in Bengali, elsewhere in Kannada, somewhere in Assamese, yet elsewhere in Marathi. Somewhere, the cloth frays. Somewhere, the threads tear. But still it holds. It holds”

“The pattern shifts, flows, stutters, forms again & changes shape from one season to another. I see one India in the pattern. You see another. Light & shadow play. History & modernity collide. Superstition & myth, Rabindra sangeet & rap, Sufi & Shia & Sunni, caste system & computers, laughter & tears, Governments & oppositions, reservations & quotas, Sanskrit & SMS, hamburgers & hari om hari. A seamless stitch. Many hands have stitched, are stitching, and will continue to stitch India. My country – torn, tattered, proud, beautiful, hot, humid, cold, sandy, bright, dull, educated, barbaric, savage, shining. So chaotic, yet so calm. So flexible, yet so rigid. So rich, yet so poor. So understanding, yet so easily misunderstood. After all, there are many Indias, as I keep repeating. Simultaneous, even parallel. India. My country. And its myriad cultures. There is room in India for all faiths. Despite the communal threats, the fundamentalism, the backwardness of rural life, the memories of underdevelopment (which are no memories but harsh realities for us), the threat of AIDS, natural & man-made disasters, farmer suicides, police violence, environmental disasters wreaked by industries and farmlands being purchased by MNCs, despite the battering of history & circumstances, India still is. Its culture still is. India has learnt to survive, to adapt, and to keep the old with the new.”

“I dream of an India where ‘backward’ does not & cannot ever apply. I wish to be Third world no more but the First! I wish for children to be educated. I wish for women to step into the light. I wish for justice for the common man. Survival for farmers. Homes for the poor. And hope for all. I wish for debts to cease. For poverty to vanish. For hunger to become a bad word that no one utters. I wish for the environment to be protected, to be loved & restored. I wish for the lands to be healed, the waters to be pure again, for the tiger to survive. I wish for self-reliance, for self respect, for independence from the shackles of superstition. I wish for equal medical aid for all. For light & water & a roof above every head. I wish for more & more books to be written, published in every language of the country. Let the words pour out. Let stories be told. Let the people read. Let the people learn how to read. To trace their fingers over each alphabet until they can spell their names, till they can write for themselves – I know. I can. I will. Let us battle ignorance with knowledge, and hatred with logic.”

“I wish for no more satis. No more dowry deaths, no more honor killings, no more flesh being bought & sold. Let no more parents have to sell their children to survive. Let no more mothers drown their daughters in the dead of the night. Let the downtrodden awake. Let the ignored & marginalized, the forgotten faces & the muffled voices arise to claim their own. Let the pattern make room. Let these new threads find place. Let new colors set the tapestry afire. Into that heaven of freedom, let my India awaken again & again. It is a big dream, I know. But not an impossible one. For any culture as old as ours to have survived over time through adversities, there can be only one basic & common acceptable core thought : humanness. To accept each other’s right to be Human with dignity.”

“This then, is my fight, my dream. In my life and in my literature.”

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