Dear Abdul Nasser Maudany,
You have spent yet another new year’s day in prison. After the first allegation against you, for which you were locked up for nine and a half years as an under-trial and then acquitted of all charges and released, this, as we know, is your second incarceration without a trial. All the charges and evidence have been fabricated and surreptitiously manufactured by the police, making your imprisonment a horrendous violation of human rights and personal liberty. This December will make the second wait almost five and a half years, and I doubt whether I have even begun to fathom the pain that you have been plunged through. Let me begin with this confession.
When I look around me – unlike you, a free man – what I can see are pockets of resistance in a sea of oppression. These pockets – at least most of them – have been shoved to the end of a precipice. All of us who are waiting for a new world are desperately looking out for glimmers of hope, through all means available. For myself, I chose to write to someone. As I was ruminating, I heard the muezzins call – the Maghrib – from the mosque next to my home. And then all of a sudden, your name arrived in my mind (I have read that you have been a muezzin in your hometown) – hence this letter. Here, I want to talk to you about many things, which may seem stratified and uneven and sometimes mundane. But this letter, I hope, will give us the liberty to talk without any prerequisites on structure and nuance.
Firstly, I want to talk about time. My decision to do so is because of my never content curiosity about Time caused by its multi-dimensional existence – cosmic, spatial and personal (which includes many forms, but the most intimate to me has been poetry) and its intrinsic ramifications on life itself. And it’s this presence of personal renditions that make us able to distinct time from the solipsism of stories and the distance of the other dimensions. The time of the mortal body is transcended by the time of the mind. John Berger (who introduced me to many of the stories of this world) said that the “time of the story goes beyond, far beyond, the time of the telling”. Also, you, Maudany, are someone who have lived, or sometimes forced to live, in spaces where varied encounters with time are present. The voluntary terrain of your public engagement has been always with the people on the periphery of existence. The forced one has been a prison cell. A few days ago, I was listening to the now archived speech you had delivered at the site of the Chengara land struggle, on July 11, 2008, where you pledged you solidarity to the adivasis who have been enslaved by every predominantly existing political entity – the Congress and the Communist Party of Kerala, and a couple of hours later, I was watching the reporting clippings your deportation to the prison by the police. These two poles – the first one of resistance and the latter one of captivity, signify two interpolations of time. And the variations that are bought in these stand at distinct stations that are capricious. Research in neuroscience confirms the existence of different ‘clocks’ within our brain, which means that distinct experiences gift us varied notions and velocities of time. There also exists mediums and channels that help us transcend the flow of time. Berger thinks of music as perhaps the “strongest weapon against the inexorability of time”. Within these tentacles of arrests and forced exile, how have you been experiencing time? Relative to the presence of time in a ground of freedom and solidarity, how does time feel inside a square bound by iron? We have literature that weaves together the tales of time in exile and longing – Osip Mandelstam, Mahmoud Darwish, Agha Shahid Ali, Edward Said, and countless others who always longed to go back. How often does your heart ache to go home? How much do you now yearn to caress your family? How fast does the clock tick inside a prison cell?
I remember hearing you speak after your release from prison after more than nine years. Keeping aside the mental and physical torture, those years gifted you solitude, within the cocoons of which you could read and write quite a lot, you had said. Yes, solitude is indeed the most cherished thing for a reader. “Reading is solitude”, Italo Calvino has written. But I am certain that he had a very idiosyncratic definition of solitude to offer when he wrote that. Solitude comes with its own spine’s, like a beautiful rose having cruel thorns. I have heard you son reading out the letters you sent him while you were in prison. One can feel the melancholy in those words. I am now trying to contemplate of a way to differentiate solitude when it is voluntary and when it is forced. You could see your wife Sufiya and your son only after four years after your first confinement. You have wept when you told us that to touch your second son Salaludin Ayoobi; you had to pass your palms through those iron bars. Salaludin learned to walk in prison premises, you have told us. And when you got bail after four years, Sufiya “could not believe that you were with them”. I have listened to both your parents weep imagining the torture that you would have to undergo in prison and not being able to see you for years. Such is the affliction of solitude when it is forced upon. How do you embrace solitude now, having been imprisoned without a free trial for close to two decades now? Have you thought of it as a curse, ever? Now, instead of you welcoming it, have you felt as if this gloom and isolation have started to suffocate you? Or are you still clinging to what you always believed – to literature and your faith? Being a Christian, I now know that our faith does not disappoint us. And I grew up in Malappuram (which those Hindutva fascists describe as “a mini Pakistan within Kerala”), where I now try and pray each time I hear the muezzin’s call. As I read, I sometimes get the feeling that even literature strives to look out for God and perhaps we can always find God in good literature. Dostoevsky persistently did that with so much patience. Critics claim that this curiosity in the search for the numinous has decreased drastically in contemporary writing, the ramifications of which already there on the pages. If Literature itself has forsaken him, where else will God disappear?
I have just finished reading Roberto Bolano’s novel 2666, a hallucinatory ride. There is one peculiar thing has to be said about the book – it has a curious preoccupation with dreams, both dreams of the night and of the daytime, which act as premonitions for real events in the book. Dreams for Bolano are like apparitions signalling an upcoming tremor. John Berger wrote about dreams as periods where “the past and the future coexist” and that “nothing is insignificant in a dream”. How are your dreams these days, Maudany – serene, obscure or grotesque? Or do you dream at all, since the last sight you see before closing your eyes has been the cemented roof of a bordered room, for many haunted nights now. Talking about dreams of the daytime, we all dream of a different, better world don’t we? But these wishes seem to be more distant every day. Look how many comrades we lost just last year – Praful Bidwai, Avijit Roy, Fatima Mernissi, Sabeen Mahmud, Ninan Koshy and many, many more. The world is looking like a darker place at nightfall. And listening to the Islamophobic rhetoric around the world – in Paris, United States, across India, and our very own Kerala, has been nauseating. I’m sure that you read about the Panayikulam verdict. Can our courts and societies be more prejudiced? They were arrested alleging that they held meetings of a banned organization. But I have friends who went for that meeting. It was an event publicized across town and even posters were made. The police then made it look like a clandestine conspiracy, and picked up those men. The five accused have found guilty and gruesome punishments have been brandished across by our honourable judges. There is also a pernicious attempt to side-line Islam and its believers into ravines of stereotypes, most recently in the progressive land that is Kerala. Christ believed in solidarities across faiths and actions, Muhammad did too. But we are failing them, in the most outrageous of ways. Attempts to silence dissident voices are now permeating into the public discourse without a slight trace of shame. The war and land acquisition in Central India has given fresh momentum.Professor G. N. Saibaba has been denied bail and has been sent to Nagpur prison. Arundhati Roy, who wrote about his detention and the government’s attempts to sell off the hamlets of Chhattisgarh and Odisha to the corporations, has been gifted with a contempt of court notice. Kashmir is boiling. And in the North East, it is the army that is ruling. Impunity, that contagious evil, has replaced democracy in this new India. Are our dreams obsolete already? Are they now anachronisms within fields of brutality and bloodshed?
Let me end here. These are times when people whom we held as companions have begun to betray us – I can see it closely here, where your faith, Islam has been made the villain. Blinding you was their foremost ambitions. All political parties – the Congress, the CPI-M (which is giving a pathetic name to Marx) and the other Party where murderers discuss genocide over tea have surrendered to this amalgamation of upper caste Hindutva nationalisation and neoliberal capitalism. What you feared and had predicted has now arrived, in a march encompassing religious chauvinism and economic totalitarianism. Your absence has created an abyss of silence across all of us. I sometimes wonder that had you remained as a mere Muslim cleric, no harm would have happened to you. But what you did was more, much more – peeling clear the hypocrisy and opportunism of those political contestants on the left, right and the centre. And that echoes in your historic proclamation: “Power to the suppressed castes and liberation to the enslaved.” This is what provoked most of them on the other side, and their silence explains their complicity. Memory has been tamed and put to guard the gates of silence. Amnesia, a contagious plight, is looming over.
And in the end, all of us owe you for everything you have left us. I shall pray for yourself and your release. I hope that your health is improving. Let me end with a verse borrowed from Agha Shahid Ali. This was written by Shahid as a Ghazal for Edward Said, and it shall reverberate for you and the many others for whom the only end is justice for your fellow travellers:
Will you, Beloved Stranger, ever witness Shahid –
two destinies at last reconciled by exiles?
Ajin K Thomas
[Authors note: The author wishes to express his gratitude towards filmmaker K. P. Sasi and his documentary Fabricated for imparting the intricacies of the issues surrounding the state manufactured allegations against Abdul Nasser Maudani.]