We are delighted to publish this photo essay by Parnab Mukherjee on the Punjabi poet Baba Lal Singh Dil- ” who touched the abyss, rose like a phoenix time and again, who did not know where his next meal was to come from and yet carried on writing verse, the only way he could liberate himself “.
This is a part of the series of writing called Urban Body : entrapments & releases.
Baba Lal Singh Dil uncut: For Nirupama Dutt
A photo-essay by P. Mukherjee
there old haggard men who can barely walk
roam on the outskirts of the villages
Gandhis do not have the liberty
to walk into enemy camps and discuss the hanging of Bhagat Singh
Cut to a national highway road meandering into a township called Samrala
A series of crisscrossed wires and the half-baked road
Houses are a set of delicately kept matchboxes lined up on space
each supporting the other
a tilt here and a tilt there all could end up falling…
There is this open kiosk…actually many open kiosks
the temporary stall of the papaya juice vendor jostles with the semi-permanent set-up of local kirana shop
shadows keep walking on the road
greeting, debating, fornicating and making love other shadows
the shadows in Samrala are working with all kinds of hormonal harmony
and then there is a pause and softly and a man called Lal Singh Dil replies:
From where shall we fill the stomach of the pigs
Shall we go to a goshala to the market or to the fields
……..By the way who’s this bloke
Lal Sing Dil
Lal Singh Dil is a stubborn man
His tea shack has long shut down
Neighbours find him passé, old, finished, famished, gone, not-yet-dead, dead-yet-living
Cut to Dil; Lal Singh Dil is a stubborn man
Every morning for him, the river is the glass of water
and the sunrise is the liquor froth that breaks into small bubbles
before being gulped down
A radio blaring in front a small table as Geeta Dutt croons: waqt ne kiya..kya haseen sitam
Heaps of magazines
Army of trunks with a few thousand books and insects residing inside the pages of the lost revolution
A lonely chair in the terrace; low dangling bulb
giving short specific shadows
Darkness within: Darkness without
That empty chair lying empty in the terrace
Darkness of the Kang mohalla grips Samrala
deep inside from an unknown mazaar in an unknown destination
the voice of Manto reaches us saying that between me and Dil
this sleepy town has given birth
to two of the biggest literary bastards of our time
Dil quips that the operative word is ‘biggest’
Cut to Samrala
The quivering hands catching the cigarette inside the holder
and that small sarcastic smile hanging on to the corner of the nicotine-stained lips
and a broken extreme tooth
Lal Singh Dil is a stubborn old man
He is a proud stubborn man
In general people call him a loser and the losers call him great
Dil does not mind because he is clear that
if you have not sat in front an angrezi theka with a glass of liqour
if you have not read Kumar Vikal stopping the traffic at a loud corner of a louder road
if you have not dumped your awards with great disdain at one corner of the room
if you have not had a kadak nimbu chai at a busy road divider
then you cannot fathom Lal Singh Dil
Cut to a conversation
The path is correct says he: the path of that long Naxalbari road
I ask are the means to reach that valid
He says we can’t reject the means too because for that time those were the means
Who are you reading nowadays?
Dil looks at me; looks at the liqour
the fan inside the room apologetically moving
take a deep breath and declares: I am reading myself
Yes, he speaks in halting English
Cut to the Kang mohalla
the loudspeakers still play Harbhajan Mann
and some of the old timers still talk about 1984 in hushed tones:
Cut to Dil
Lal Singh Dil is a stubborn man
People call him loser
Dil is 64
In the land of serpents, he has invoked anacondas of his choice
Dil, that radical slim of a man
who saw a crescent in his palm and embraced Islam
Dil still walks inebriated
The lakes come out of his pockets
A long convoy of the dispossessed walks from Singur to Moga..from Bhatinda to Tipaimukh
as pots, pans, undernourished voices clings on to Dil’s lines
Cut to Nirupama sharing a smoke with Dil and discussing the labourer woman
Yes, the labourer woman
who roasts her heart on the tawa as the errant moon laughs behind the not-so-errant tree
Nirupama you must be laughing as long names become shorter
as night falls on the tar lined road and as we drive around the nasty Chandigarh
Some day we will pass by the Baba Lal Singh mazaar
and like Nirupama we will try to throw red flowers or maybe flowers of some other colour at Dil’s resting place
fairly melodramatically, Dil will pop up from the grave and say:
flowers hurt me, don’t throw them
and then he admonishes us saying: Don’t you know I’m busy
I ask: busy how?
He says: Have I become a relic or do all dreams become stale and then one fine day you start collecting nightmares.
The fierce class pride of chamar in Dil, the Islam in Dil, the Marxist Dil
Yes, he is laughing and his out-of-stock books
are still in demand
when bestsellers have faded from the stockpile of amnesia
and rot in the dusty warehouses of our collective memory
Why is this cranky old man still saying:
When the working woman heats her soul on the tawa
from the back of the tree….: the moon giggles
Lal Singh Dil is a stubborn old fool; He just refuses to die
Comrade, let’s live for one last time; Comrade, let’s just embarrass people
Open your basket and throw you snakes
your poetry still hisses
About Parnab Mukherjee
A spoken word performer, independent media analyst, curator and a performance consultant by profession, Mr Parnab Mukherjee is one of the leading knowledge consultants and alternative theatre nomads of the Indian sub-continent.
He is an acclaimed practitioner on Badal Sircar’s theatre practice, Shakespeare-in-education and specialises in theatre-of-conflict and theatre-of-the-campus. Having directed more than 161 productions of performance texts including six international collaborations.
He has devised, conceived, designed and directed/collaborated both experimental performances and workshops for a number of institutions, activist groups, support groups, schools, colleges, youth groups and social movements across the country.
A performance text writer and charismatic performer, he has diverse experience in non-proscenium, verbatim, site-specific and physical theatre.
Currently, roving editor with two initiatives, he has earlier worked for a sports fortnightly, a chess tournament bulletin, The Asian Age, Kindle India and Sambad Pratidin.
He has directed text, installation performances, physical theatre, space-specific interventions, youth theatre, schools work, radio, live art, interdisciplinary performance and site-specific work, as well as writing for stage and performing in a range of collaborations experimental non-verbal movement piece to physical theatre, solo improvisation to spoken word.
Some of the most memorable productions of the collective include Where is Imphal? (For Birla Academy of Art and Culture), Trilogy of Unrest (Hamletmachine, Necropolis, This room is not my room), River Series (used as a exploratory advocacy tool by UN for Women, UNODC and Kripa Foundation), Only Curfew, Rehearsing Antigone, Raktakarabi-an urban sound opera, Buddha Files, Kasper-dipped and shredded, They Also Work, Dead-Talk series, Conversations with the dead, Crisis of Civilisation, Shakespeare shorts, Man to Man talk, Inviting Ibsen for a Dinner with Ibsen, Your path wrong path and And the Dead Tree Gives no Shelter.
Four of his major workshop modules: Freedomspeak, The Otherness of the Body, Conflict as a Text and The Elastic Body have been conducted with major theatre groups and campuses all over the country.
As a journalist and human rights activist, he has extensively worked on the dynamics of human rights and economic systems of the country. His writings have mirrored the aspirations of the fringe in the nation state especially as into the parameters of economic growth that fails to mirror the widening chasm between the haves, have-nots, have-beens and yet-to-be.
He has developed theatre advocacy tools for international agencies including UNoDC and UN Women and has run a large number of voice-work and performance-training residencies Five of his major workshop modules: Freedomspeak, The Otherness of the Body, Free To See: Reading conflict- as-a-Text,Treading on the Toes and The Elastic Body have been conducted with major theatre groups, visual art collectives and campuses all over the sub-continent.
As a theatre soloist, he has extensively travelled with his repertoire and has performed in a range of cities including Bali, Surabaya, Tehran, Mashad, Chittagong, Biratnagar, Cardiff, Colombo, Negombo, Batticaloa, Dhaka, Copenhagen, London, Liverpool, Dili (East Timor), Ottowa, Manchester, Singapore, Bangkok, Patumthani, Montreal, New York and Vijlandi (Estonia).
He has written five books on theatre. And have contributed to a range of publications including Dancing Earth-An anthology of poetry from North East India published by Penguin India, Tehelka, The Spectator-London, Montreal Serai, Imphal Free Press, Chandrabhaga-Cuttack and Hard News.
He is a core part of Culture Monks.
A note on Urban Body : entrapments & releases
70 years after freedom, India is clearly an important part of the global development paradigm. The trajectory is gradually but surely moving, tending towards an universalized architecture of urbanity.
Yet pathways to future seems to be determined but not self -determined. The position of liberties which freedom offers are constantly evolving through a continuous discourse amongst diverse forces.The urban spaces meanwhile are mangled, chaotic, polluted, dystopian – much an result of sudden influxes and accidental growth rather than of planned development – merely factories and supermarkets of bodies in motion – plugged effectively to a matrix which is centralized and oriented towards productivity.Urbanity – symbolic of progress is also the colonization of the body, mind & soul.
It is the desecration of the soul, deconstruction of the body and remolding of culture. 70 years after independence the urban body is entrapped, colonized, by powers which are invisible yet more efficient.Hence we look at writings which examines this entrapment and the quest for release – to liberate. Writings which helps us to negotiate, envision and determine – to love , to live and progress as individuals & as a collective, in and from – this urban dystopia.
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