Thursday, March 5, 2009

Nigger, baat humri maan!

I have two minutes before load-shedding starts...
Not to blame the power situation, but I haven't been able to write well because of the constant pressure to finish and email before dark...

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Nigger, Baat Humri Maan!

--Prawin Adhikari

It starts innocently enough, a duet between a man and a woman, young in their flirtation and cooing, in a language just unfamiliar enough to paint into fascination even the most banal images. The hour isn't late enough for a lapse into stupor, neither is the music filigreed with fantastic riffs to jab at the mind for attention. Time stands as if stretched between the attentive rise of the head and its slippery descent into a chin-to-chest sleep-nod. It catches me there, in that unprotected grayness, and shocks me awake: “Nigger! Baat humri maan!”

Or, was it baat humri soon? In either case, it was a third voice, an interjection into the cooing, rustic Maithil duet that had jolted me so. Nigger? What happened to babuwa? I don't know Maithili enough to dig out another word, a better suited epithet with which to barb a friend or brother. What happened to comrade? With the thousand and one revolutions happening in the country, especially the pile of tinder that is the Terai, shouldn't comrade be the correct choice for a joshing call to a friend in arms?

It was the n-word, instead, and oddly, very much in place. None of that self-censuring guilt instilled in an American liberal arts college came when I repeated the line: Nigger, baat humri maan! It seemed appropriate that a rapper should appeal to the yokel trying to win his girl's heart: baat humri maan! To me, it said: the poetry of ages, of the mango-shade and sugarcane fields, of waiting with pebbles by the river to tease Radha as she walked to the water's edge had withered and died. The instinct for romance had died. In its place had been born the elucidation of romance; the education born of experience as opposed to inheritance, to a new way of life. I have never read Vidyapati, but I have heard Eminem rhyme, and to me he is a poet.

To me it signalled the end of a nationhood and the rise of another: where a Maithil is so casually a Negro, the “yeutai thunga” Nepal ceases to appeal to reason. Niggerdom is a condition of inequality where the politics of class alone doesn't even begin to recognize the face of the convoluted beast. The problems are rarely a question of material inequality: the injustice there is born of prejudice that lodges itself deep into the psyche, collective and individual, that marks each of us with a phobia of color, of foreign utterances, a loathing for what the others eat, wear, laugh and cry for. It assaults through the doors of the senses, of unfiltered perceptions, and teases its answers from a rubble heap of fear. It's subject is us, the self and a collection of similar minds, that sometimes unite against another group under flags that represent ideas entirely spiritual: religion, identity, race. Cricket. A comrade has but one language, that of circular reason nesting on a bed of teleology, and that doesn't even speak the same language as that of someone like a Maithil Negro, who burdens astride the pinched neck of a hourglass where the ordinary sand must decide to go up or down, to dissipate into the ether, or to settle on the pages of history.

It is the rise of another nationhood, one that defines itself increasingly in narrower, more precise terms, precise conditions. It walks away from a demand for “love-courts” to rule over what the human mind sees as universal psychic conditions: patriotism, honor, a manifest destiny. It walks towards the more urgent need of the individual: to be an individual without the trappings of roles defined by others. It walks towards water in the taps and electricity in the wires, buses running on time and the politicians be damned. It walks towards the freedom to dislike anyone instead of just on type predicated upon the color of skin or geographical provenance. It walks across and over lines drawn to divide pointy-nose from chinky-eyes, ta-ta-ma-ma from baat humri maan! It walks towards a balanced dystopia where the biggest dictator is nothing more menacing than your fat neighbor, and he is terrifying only because of his ability to tell the truth about you.

In this nation, each of us is an equal brother. Our names are of less consequence than how we treat the person standing next to us. It is a delicate web held together by the strength of that one shiny fiber that connects each to every other. Nothing more. Integrity of the individual trumps patriotism: No, Buddha wasn't born in Nepal. Siddartha Gautam was born somewhere near Kapilvastu, not yet the Buddha, and the only proof we have is the speculation of a refined bloodthirsty-emperor hundreds of years later. There was no Nepal then, no India then. Just a Nigger that walked out on his baby-mama, sat under a tree and thought real hard, stood up and said: “Nigger, Baat humri maan!”

It starts innocently enough, the discourse between the past and the present, their incestuous twist to beget a future. But, it needs us to choose a side, between The Man and the Negro. When a mob gathers in the streets to burn a business because of rumor about someone in India saying something, it is the Man in his glory of rectal-recital. In such moments, we need the wily creature that slips in and out of the shadows, seeking to poison our ears with sweet secrets. At such times, we must put our fists up in the air and ask the brother to preach.

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