The Existential Crisis @ HKUST IDOL

Pakistan. May 2, 2011. Militant Islamist Osama bin Laden was killed by the U.S. forces, ending his reign of terror:

A drizzle of blood

From the skies burst

Touched his lips

And quenched his thirst

 

And as innocent blood

Wet his throat

He inspired men

With hate and loath

 

His bombs, missiles and gun barrels

Vanished cities with a blast

And the eyes of each city shone

With the ghosts of its past

 

Each man, each woman,

Each child of every faith

Vowed to strike back

And avenge their death

 

And at last as though heavens raged

In silence with interminable zest

In secrecy they sent him where

No man in peace does ever rest

 

Is this the emotion that oozes?

When you hear his name

Forgetting latent virtues

In sheer disdain

 

How many of you agree to that

Upon which the poem insists

I may, I may not, but

Isn’t there a heart in every terrorist?

 

They say probably not

 

Bin Laden’s death was a landmark; a symbolic slap on the face of terror that boosted the morale of people. It was supposed to be a harbinger of hope.

But the power vacuum

Lead the Middle East

Into a state of

War and Insurgency

 

The chasm between

The two factions of Islam

Fueled by jihadists

Gave rise to a political bedlam

 

The ISIS then emerged

In Iraq and Syria

Wishing to establish

A governance by Sharia

 

The resulting civil war

Scarred the Syrian nation

Destabilized Middle East

And invaded global regions

 

Now as the US and its allies

Launched airstrikes at ISIS

Syria became inhospitable

Resulting in a migrant crisis

 

It is the year 2016 now. This is the story of a how, a Syrian refugee who lost his family while migrating to Europe, meets another refugee settled in Germany in a similar situation

It’s those some-times

When in the quintessential hush

You whisper

From a broken raspy throat

Crackling through the silence

As though parched and raked over

Burning coals, over

Scorching summer sands

And into those silences of the desert

Your agonizing cracked voice

That has been silenced

By fate perchance

For so long

It has so much to say

It longs to, but nay

The silence of the desert

Offers no solace, no oasis

Yet you whisper

It speaks of strength

That you’re so hardened

That only you know, it’s an illusion;

Where they see courage

I see the desperation

I see you’re broken

Because I’ve been there too

The ageless quietude

Of whispering

Of wetting the throat with emotions

Buried somewhere far but not forgotten

Of wetting chapped lips with blood

That you wished was not a figment

Of your imagination

You bleed within and wonder

Why it all never bleeds out

But like a rot on the inside

It gnaws at you, it clings on, it clots

And you scrape it out

With harsh rasping sounds

And guttural cries and howls

Your throat is hoarse

Because you have so much to say

But no one to tell

So you tell the silent air

The forbidden secrets you hope

It will share

You hope that one day

You’ll get there

I won’t lie and say it’ll be fine

But it will get better with time

Your lies, your self-deception

Your ability to hide the pain

To hide yourself

From not just the world

But from yourself

 

We wish to say something to those refugees. To tell them that there is hope. That they have people out there who wish to help them.

But at the end of the day,

We are spectators; indifferent

Sympathizers; still indifferent

Commoners; who aren’t directly affected by ISIS or the migrant crisis

And this realization

That our lives are affected by petty complaints

Transports us into an existential crisis

 

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Fantine Is Still Alive

Fantine is alive not just in our memory, but in reality as well. There are many Fantines. Every person has the potential to become a Fantine. What are we doing to ourselves?

Anne Hathaway’s touching performance of “I dreamed a dream” as Fantine in ‘Les Misérables’ will remain burnt into our hearts through time. It was the raw emotion that dripped from her voice, the pain of her trials that echoed in our ears and the portrayal of her life that singed our hearts. But the silence that lay heavy in the air then, continues now. Its essence has permeated; bred through time and broken the shackles made by the blood and sweat of all those who tried to keep the monster at bay. The shackles had always been feeble anyways. And so, that silence that haunted Fantine still hangs like an albatross around the neck of the society.

We see cases of domestic abuse, molestation, rape and so on fill the pages of the newspaper. It chills us to the bones. For a moment we are skeptical of what remains of humanity in this world. We wonder why our society makes monsters of good men. Well, there are a number of different theories.

Some argue that it is conditional behavior. Those men observe that most of the crimes (at the rate of one molestation every 15 minutes; one crime against women every 3 minutes; one dowry death every 77 minutes; one rape every 29 minutes; one murder every 16 minutes; and one sexual harassment case every 53 minutes) go unpunished, and instead, the victim is blamed. They deem it acceptable in their mind.

But here, we wonder whether they have any discretion, any rational thought to counter it. Well, that thought is perhaps trampled by what they are taught to practice; subtle gender inequalities that over time begin to seem commonplace to both genders. It gradually becomes a part of their culture. It transforms their mindsets into that of the oppressed and the oppressor. For instance, in 2004, the NHFS reported that at least 35% of the women being abused thought that they deserved a brutal beating from their husbands if they neglected the household chores or children, while 51% of such husbands also deemed beating their wives acceptable if they disrespected the in-laws. It is no wonder that according to a UN report, 6 out of 10 men in India commit domestic violence.

Here are some more unsurprising statistics about the attitude towards gender equality in India (published jointly by United Nations World Population Fund (UNFPA) and Washington-based International Center for Research on Women):

  1. 93.6% men believe that a woman should obey her husband
  2. 86.2% men believe that the most important role of a woman is to take care of the home and cook for her family, against 74% women who said the same.
  3. 74.6% men and 65.1% women believed that if a woman does not physically fight back, it is not rape.
  4. 93% men felt that ‘to be a man, you need to be tough’ compared to 85% women.

Look closely at the 4th finding mentioned above. It shows how both the oppressed and the oppressor are in fact oppressed and shackled by the parochialism of a society that unknowingly perpetuates the aforementioned inequalities. The quintessential male is limited to a gender role defined by high aggression, independence and an unemotional countenance. This is one of the main factors for a higher rate of suicide among men than among women, since it prevents men from seeking counselling against depression.  Gender roles indeed play a major part in the increasing incidence of related crimes.

But not all women or men are the quiet martyrs of yesterday. The Fantines of today are trying to break the silence. One out of every four Fantines in India is speaking out against the atrocities. Can you hear their voices?

I can, and I tried to capture the story of one of them in the following video. And while these modern-day Fantines are slightly different from Hathaway’s Fantine, the similarities in their circumstances are heart-rending, as is the fact that they still exist.

I hope that we begin this new year with the hope to bring about a change and make this world a better place to live in.

– Akanksha Gupta

To Sleep, Perchance To Dream

Once, I dreamed a dream like none other

Even if the dream would seem like any other

In my heart I knew it was quite well and true

And yet not too true that it be a lost wonder

I’d known it to be a world of many vices

Of slippery tongues, of bruising avarices

I too was tainted, but not entrenched or entangled

Perhaps just too naïve to see through the disguises

My dream, while true, knew it was tainted too

Its innocence couldn’t stand in a world of you

You who came and ripped it apart so brazenly

You who felt no shame, while I felt abused

My dream lay forgotten, as I remained comatose

A dream of your horrors began as the sun rose

My nights, sleepless and red rimmed, ghosted by

I gave up the ghost; reckoned you’d never feel remorse

I used to pray before God died as a folly of my past

Perhaps a part of me lamented but I was already too aghast

Now I could only see a world filled with the likes of you

You disabused my rosy view and gave me a cynical start

Yet every night I eluded sleep, for such were my dreams

A hardened soldier could weep hearing the silent screams

Of incredulity, of helplessness and agony, of vain pleading

As the sadistic pleasure in your eye would mockingly gleam

The others tried every other cure; law has always been invalid

And psychiatric help at the very best can be futile and insipid

It wasn’t until I met someone who’d met someone like you

That I felt I was being quite self-absorbed and painfully stupidz

I realized by wasting away life I was making a huge blunder

A victim I may be but you would win if I would surrender

My dream may have borne spite, but it was born incorruptible

It would withstand your terror, it would not be torn asunder

My glasses never were rosy, but selectively typhlotic

Before you came I was apathetic, when you left I was pathetic

It wasn’t until I met someone who’d met someone like you

That I realized I wanted to be that someone; someone empathetic

In a world filled with the likes of you, lone victim I cannot be

Yes, I’m a victim due to you, the law, the society, but never due me

I’m an atheist, I’m a believer, I’m a man, I’m a woman, I’m a survivor

You’re none; you’re a soulless monstrosity; and that’s all you’ll ever be

– Akanksha Gupta

THE VOICE OF HUNGER

This post is a part of the blog-a-thon by World Vision India on Youth Ki Awaaz

Do you know what hunger feels like? Do you know what it is like to work without food and sleep on an empty belly? Do you know how those millions of people who struggle for every single morsel every single day of their lives feel? Through the story of a young girl, travel through the bitter palpable taste that shocks your senses into numbness:
 

VIDEO TRANSCRIPT (FOR POETRY)

Behind the curtain of brackish brown hair
Caked with the breath of a dying hope
Meshed like the wires of a broken basket
That I sometimes see that lady carry
Across the street, filled with apples
And apricots and cherries and all things good,
My mouth salivates,
But then,
I wonder how I must look in the mirror;
No, that lady didn’t bring that basket for me
Why would she?
I chant it like a broken tape recorder
She doesn’t know me and if she ever looks at me,
All she must see is one of those nameless faces
In the crowd, whose eyes peek out
In longing, like the fruits from her basket,
And she sneers; does she think we are thieves?
Well, she’s not wrong, we might as well be, if –
If we could get away with it, and as such
There’s been a thought or two in my head
That consumes my entire being
Whenever that eternal gnawing in my belly
Whenever that dull ache, whenever that stubborn throb,
Once in a while, becomes a mute struggle
Of not keeling over with pain,
I persevere, I persevere, I persevere
Nothing can be done;
I want to cry, but you can’t hear,
My voice doesn’t touch an apathetic ear
The tears have dried; my heart is hollow,
And I’m still standing hunched over a puddle of blood
Clutching my big bloated belly with bony hands
That are still bleeding from last week’s labor,
And now my mouth is also shining red,
I wonder how I must look in the mirror;
I am burning up,
My breaths are shallow, my head is dizzy
But I – I’m still working
So that I can at least fill my belly
With a stale bread at night
You see, I’ve stopped stealing half-eaten dinners
From the bins across the street
Last time my friend did it she slept
And in her sleep
She tossed, she frothed and she bled
And she never woke up again
Sometimes I wish I had been in her stead
Because I can’t bear this hopelessness alone
I can’t return from this godforsaken shantytown
Languishing in the heart of a merciless city
To my home in the village with my parents
Who a few years ago had sold me, the seventh daughter
To some company, for a few thousand dollars
And I – I forgave them, you would too if you saw their
Skeletal ghostly frames, hungry stomachs and lifeless eyes
Hanging onto this earth by a stroke of misfortune,
You see, we the poor, we the hungry, we the malnourished
We the society’s dregs who are kicked daily by the mercenaries
By the law, by the war, by our poverty, by your apathy,
We, who barely survive by the day at the precipice
And barely get sleep with this empty belly at night,
We either live like the roaches or die like the moths
We are as desensitized to life as we are to death
Perhaps that’s why I can admit that today –
Today, I’m feeling a little too drained
And dizzy and drowsy
I’m still burning up like the sun
And I think I might just pick up something from the bin
For I think this is my last breath, yes tonight,
I won’t wake up again, and I – I’d like it
Of my own volition, of my own choice, of my own desire
I’d like to be able to choose to die
As I couldn’t choose to live

-Akanksha Gupta