An Attack of Nostalgia

Another nostalgia attack. While preparing a set of assignment questions on Frankenstein I happened to check the gmail archive and guess what I found there– a soft copy of a seminar paper presented by Shreya Prabhu Jindal (who was my batchmate at Stephen’s, also a co-class representative, and now a promising author) on the same novel sometime around in the last term of our BA final year. That was five years back. As much as her work makes me nostalgic, it also invokes a sense of loss and lament at the gap between an academic culture and pedagogy that nurtured us and an academic practice that we now confront at the moment. In those five years a lot has changed. That was a time when the “annual” mode was the order of the day with its three neat sub-divisions into “terms” based on the seasonal rhythm of autumn, winter and spring. We all miss those bygone autumn and winter breaks!

That was a time when we could spend months on a sonnet, where we could “itemize” (as the late professor Dr Ashish Roy would often call it) each and every imagery/metaphor in Neruda’s poems to blend a personal saga of love with a political narrative of identity. That was the time when the reading and teaching was done leisurely and yet it was close, critical, insightful and thought provoking. That was a time when several drafts had to be approved before the final submission. And that was a also a time when an emotional bond was formed during the undergrad seminar sessions where the paper presenters found support in the assuring gestures, curious questions, responses and smiles and even in moments of conspiratorial silence (in the sense – you are not to ask me difficult questions !) That was a time when pedagogy and the classroom was an immensely emotional, celebratory yet cerebral space.

And slowly things changed. “Semester” became the new word of the changing epoch. Elaborate discussions were transformed into a mechanical process of “structuring” a text, the Odyssean journey was cut short, the Woolfian moments of illumination were reduced to three months, “godot” arrived in the form of two- semester exams, students found Joycean epiphany in the “scores”.

What are we looking forward to? Marquezian years of solitude. To look back in time and to be removed out of one’s time. Nostalgia is a tale of loss-ness, even as it claims to compensate that loss. But thanks Shreya, for offering me (and for a lot of us I believe) a hope and an urge to resist the changing times, for making us “look back in anger” and also look back in beauty !

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A snapshot of one of my old college assignment !

In Search of Catharsis

And when I entered the class today to teach Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein I experienced a surreal moment where my personal self was at odds with my professional self… There were these momentary pauses now and then as I mentioned those words– aspiration, creation, devastation, monster, loner, sublime, companionship, downfall……. Perhaps at that moment I was able to understand the novel in its deepest essence and in a way I probably have never done before.. And even as I carry the responsibility of teaching a paper on Romanticism I also believe those shocking moments of my personal and our collective life/s will somewhere deepen my understanding of life and poetry. Probably I need not even consult the margin notes any more… At his point of time my irrational mind is inclined to construct some paranormal pattern in the ongoing scheme of tragic events– the reading of gothic tales, the brooding of the Romantics, and the soul shaking events of life. A few weeks back we even talked about the famous painting “The funeral of Shelley” by Louis Édouard Fournier….
However there was a heart warming moment when one of the students could sense my unease – even as I was at the best of my composure- and said innocently “Sir, I think the novel is not good for you at the moment. Something is wrong about it…” And then immediately a friend of hers responded –“No, it’s just a co-incidence.” They both gently smiled at me. That was truly the moment of catharsis for me. As I said grief brought us together and made us capable of an ethereal communication. While I was dealing with two losses, they too were grappling with the departure of their much loved teacher Bijoy.. Bijoy was my colleague and friend and for them he was the ever inspiring “Bijoy sir”…
In that one hour lecture perhaps we transcended the teacher-student binary, the so called apparatus of pedagogy, and made a spontaneous attempt for a collective “re-reading” of life.. I threw a question at them “So is Victor to be blamed for his ambitions? So is tragedy inevitable?”… And as expected I in fact got a very serious answer.. “Sir, we need to keep our dreams alive. Only a courageous soul can aspire…” Precisely that was the answer I’ve been wanting to hear from them.. And I was glad that they could take out a very powerful meaning from a shared loss. I assume this will inspire them to understand life not just in terms of those mind boggling “concepts, jargons and theory”, but rather in its simplest and most elemental sense— the simple proposition that life is always in the present, in the moment, the truth of a moment , the beauty of a moment which is the eternity of life.. Taking it from there I’m sure they will celebrate the poetry of Shelley, Byron and Keats……. Be it the Keats-ian nightingale —
“Was it a vision, or a waking dream?
Fled is that music:—Do I wake or sleep?
or let them be inspired by the Tennyson-ian moment of reconciling faith with doubt–
“to strive, to seek ,to find, and not to yield”
I am also reminded of Bijoy’s own research on the concept of “paratext”—it basically looks at how the real meaning of a text lies in its not-so-significant elements.. And one of my colleagues (Anchala) had succinctly evoked this metaphor in her condolence note for Bijoy… I agree with what she had said– Life too is profoundly paratextual, the mundane moments of life are in fact the most magical”
In the span of four days as friends, colleagues, teachers we have experienced an intensely painful but richly meaningful truth of life… In the chaos of nostalgia, in the storm of grief, catharsis is possible………

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The Funeral of Shelley by Louis Édouard Fournier….

Melbic Maibam…….. The person I knew…………….

A dusky, spring evening…. semi-warm tea, peacocks, and a group of MPhil  scholars pondering over their “response papers” . I commented “It’s all performative after all.” Melbic nodded, approved. It meant a lot when he would validate my point… And slowly we dispersed…………

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(Photo: with our course supervisor Dr Brinda Bose)

It’s difficult to re-assemble, re-member a person…. And particular when a carefree continuity of life  is halted by a sudden arrival of death. I’ve never been able to deal with death. I have nothing to philosophize. I remember writing an obituary in 2013 when I for the first time confronted the reality of death when one of my professors breathed his last. Till today I haven’t been able to accept the absence, the vacuum ………….the disbelief refuses to  fade away….

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(In Brinda Mam’s room….. Woolf gazing at us………… A terrifying foreshadowing)

I don’t wish to continue with these wayward musings….

All I know is my heart wants to be poured on a page. I just want to remember Melbic as a friend, as a person, as a guardian figure… (sounds strange but it’s true)

An introvert’s experience of friendship is slightly different… I knew Melbic through his words, his innocent yet subtle comments, his sense of humour, his passion for life, a genuine simplicity and that assuring smile….  It was in the summer semester of July 2012  when our batch was enrolled for the M.Phil programme. Melbic was a stranger then…..But in the world of ideas, thoughts  and images, friendships can begin with ease, particular when two people share common areas of interest……….Once during a metro ride we ranted and raged against those hyper-masculine cultures, and a so- called breed of “alpha males”… “That was the phrase– hegemonic masculinity….”, Melbic laughed… …. Hence the friendship began…With jargons, with dialogue, with compassion………

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(Photo– JNU during the Visual culture course… Yet again with Brinda Maam.. He had a great sense of humour….. He once told Maam about how the gang of male students in the group are popularly known as “Brinda Boys.” Candid…… Innocent………

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(Photo– DU conference)…

Melbic ,I remember your literary jokes——- Modernism and Desire (jokes)…. Seminar jokes….. Your popular, mischievous catchphrase “Desiring and Desirous”…. And deep down you had a passionate desire for life……… And yes, alcohol jokes… In the course party you whispered “Deep, try some breezer.” And I got drunk with life…………~

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(The Breezer Moments………….. for a recluse each friend is precious…………..)

You always made me feel special….. People would tease me “Deepu, you look younger than your age.” Melbic would assure me “Deep, you are evergreen.” In the summer of 2014 due to health reasons I missed the MPhil dissertation deadline……. He would phone me during those days— “No worry…. You can do it…. Relax…. There is a great future lying ahead for you…………”            His words  meant so much to me………..

December 2012……… I called Melbic from my hometown– “Hey, need a favour.. could you submit my long papers?”….. “anytime…” was the reply………Every ready to help I never heard him utter a single, sarcastic word….. Always benevolent and calm………..

I can’t define Melbic  through words……… He had vibrant shades…. Isn’t his life so complete? He had a JRF, got an M.Phil degree for his engaging dissertation on Manipuri politics and history, his mind  filled with aspirations……..

At the moment we are devastated……….After all it’s so damn unfair, ruthless and bizarre… But pausing for a minute I asked myself————– wasn’t there something Keatsian about his life? A great sense of fulfilment……….. He found meanings in friends, in love, in research, in a relentless dedication…………….

Melbic…….i know you are there buddy…………. You have contributed a lot to my life…………………..

May you rest, a loving, peaceful soul..

Autumn Fragments

Will the dhak be heard

In those endless nights.

Will you come

Before the Mother departs?

 

 

 

(Note: In the eastern region of India during the early autumn Goddess Durga is worshiped as a divine Mother and during the ritual ceremony the dhaks (auspicious drums) are played.  It is believed that in the last day of the festival Mother Durga finally departs from the earthly realm to her celestial home)