Gitanjali Dang and Khanabadosh curate this series — Invisible Light — under which various themes will be introduced. Jagte Raho is the opening theme. Read an overview of the curatorial concept, here.
Also view 'Jagte Raho' —
Chapter III: Amshu Chukki looks at a protest that never happened
Karnataka has a rich and long-standing political history of people’s movements. The predominant approach towards understanding and seeking allegiance with this common past is via legacies of individuals and movements. This holds true even of books such as Saki’s Making History: Karnataka People & Their Past Volume 1 and 2 (1998 and 2004), about which Gauri Lankesh said, “The two volumes of Making History are remarkable for looking at Karnataka’s history from ‘below’.”
Amshu Chukki’s ongoing interest in these histories is routed via the site. More specifically, sites of protest scattered across the state capital, Bangalore. “This act of recollection through site produces a sensorial texture that maps the histories and politics of the city, and the several layers in which these sites are enmeshed. Here I feel the site becomes the protagonist,” explains Chukki.
The opening protagonist of choice: The Ravindra Kalakshetra. The theatre opened in 1963 and has since become an important site of congress.
Keen on making sense of these sites through reflections and poetry, Chukki invited into the mix poet, translator, activist and writer Mamata Sagar, who is also Chukki’s mother.
“Kota Shivaram Karanth, Gopalakrishna Adiga, P Lankesh, Siddalingaiah, Devanuru Mahadeva, Vaidehi, OV Usha, and other poets and writers have been responding to socio-political movements through their writings,” Chukki takes us through the backstory of his invitation to Sagar. “In turn, the literatures from, and in response to, these movements have also set the ground for an inclusive people’s movement in Karnataka.”
In their freewheeling interview — of which, Footnotes, 2018, is but an excerpt — Sagar touched on a range of subjects, including the role Dalit and women’s movements played in vocalising the desire for a more inclusive society throughout the 80s and 90s.
(Above: Amshu Chukki, Footnotes, 2018)
The interview is in Kannada. Unlike her activist writing, which is in English, Sagar writes her poetry in Kannada, a language Chukki is at home with but cannot read and write. Consequently, he has read Sagar’s poetry only in translation.
Chukki explains, “We just jammed. Amma read out several poems and Kalakshetra conjured up memories and stories. At a time when the government is trying to build these national narratives, I am also interested in engaging with the site specifically through the regional language, in this case Kannada. What does it mean to be local? Work with different immediacies? Amma’s reading in Kannada, her voice and the hand gestures have a special texture."
“Eventually, I decided on focusing, at least for now, on Amma’s memory of the time when she heard the news of Saketh Rajan’s killing, and ‘Haadu Biddaga’ (Song-Slaughter), the poem she wrote in response to his death and the events that followed.” Or as in the case of Rajan’s death, the events that did not follow.
In 2005, Prem — State Secretary of the CPI (M) — was killed in an encounter in Karnataka’s Chikmagalur district. The news that Prem was, in fact, the nom de guerre of Saketh Rajan came as a jolt to several. Rajan was known as a brilliant student who read voraciously and ditched engineering for literature. To those who were in the know, it came as no surprise that Rajan aka Prem under the nom de plume of Saki would go on to write two significant volumes on the history of Karnataka.
Once the news of Rajan’s encounter spread, people started gathering at Kalakshetra, thinking the body would be brought there for the people to see him one last time. Instead the police cremated his body in secret, and with that it did away with evidence of the torture that was said to have been inflicted on Rajan, before he was shot dead.
In the aftermath of Rajan’s death, Gauri Lankesh — who had interviewed him in 2004 — wrote in Tehelka, “It was as if in death, Saket had begun to shine as the new star on the Karnataka sky. The mapping of the intellectual and activist in one person — a rare combination in the recent political culture of Karnataka — has stirred the hope and imagination of a people who looked in vain for some ideal. That such a man had been brutally felled by police created a sympathy wave for the Naxal cause. It was then that the police panicked.”
Earlier this year, Chukki translated an excerpt of a speech Lankesh gave in Kannada and slipped it into the interweb where it viralled. At some point in the her speech Lankesh states, “If I resist violence and counter-violence and say Karnataka should not take the path of Andhra Pradesh, I too will be a Naxalite in their eyes.”
When Sagar’s 'Haadu Biddaga' was first published, the footnote, which stated that Saketh Rajan was brutally killed by the police, was censored and edited out.
No Wikipedia entry exists on Saketh Rajan.
They say: If you are not searchable on Google, you do not exist.
What then does it mean when you don’t exist on Wikipedia, the fifth most visited website in the world and an online encyclopaedia driven by collectivity?
Artist in focus:
Amshu Chukki’s work has mostly been a site-specific or site-informed film/cinematic practice employing collaborative tools through exercises in speculative fictions, research, and social engagement. He featured in the Forbes 30 under 30 list, 2016. His work has been shown at The Darling Foundry, Montreal; Asia Film Focus, Singapore; Chatterjee & Lal, Mumbai; Khoj International Artists’ Association, New Delhi, among other venues. See more here.
Gitanjali Dang is a curator, writer and shape-shifter. In 2012, she founded Khanabadosh, an itinerant arts lab. More here.