Print Edition - 2014-12-28  |  Free the Words

Words & echoes: Sleep to dream

  • The year 2014 remained nondescript with a sense of neither going nor reaching anywhere
- Abhi Subedi
Words & echoes: Sleep to dream

Dec 27, 2014-

Feigning sleep in the form of a wake-up call is an eloquent oxymoron in literary lingo. We have examples of the dramatic performativity of youths from the past and the current centuries. The stormy short-lived youth uprising of Paris in 1968, which had enduring repercussions across the world, is cited as a classic example. In Nepal too, students used many performative protests during the 1990 and 2006 movements for political change. As a university teacher for the last four decades, I have heard and seen students making wake-up calls. For that reason, I tend to think that perhaps the students out on such protests are also those whom I meet in my classes. That is a teacher’s positive illusion and I am content living with that.

Students in Kathmandu performed an oxymoronic wake-up sleep on December 23 outside the Constituent Assembly (CA) hall to call on the CA members to wake up to the occasion and make a constitution for the land. To me, it is the most politically eloquent image of the outgoing year. I find performative modes of protests very effective; I see power in them. My theatrical association speaks up here.

Treachery of images

Some images that we saw over this last year were too tragic and the results of senseless human errors. Sights of buses going over the cliffs or colliding in the plains causing tragic and terrible deaths and injuries, almost on a daily basis sometimes, shook me to the core. There were villages submerged in water and images of young people desperately pulling their motorcycles out of garages after the river drained out by washing away the dam. I feel we have yet to reckon with the unknown avatars of calamities. Avoiding the sight of them was impossible this year because it seemed that the entire country was scattered in livid images. Writing this experience in poetry, dramas, and essays is one way of reproducing feelings in the forms of literary genres. Writers did that too.

Students sleeping with their eyes closed outside the CA hall, however, were a powerful symbolic meeting point of all frustrated attempts, expectations, coercions, and even a covert threat of taking action to persuade CA members to promulgate the constitution by the deadline, which is January 22, 2015. This sleeping image is probably the best street theatre of the year. Street theatres are politically oriented and designed to drive home messages—what you are failing to do is the most tantalising elision, and for which reason, it becomes your responsibility to correct that yourself.

Sleeping the year away

The students sleeping imagery left me brooding over the year that passed us by. The sleep imagery clearly states that responsible political parties were sleeping through the year; they were not taking up any cudgels towards making the constitution of the

land with zeal and sincerity. Political parties’ slumber is a combination of  complacency and irresponsibility.

The students’ choice of a sleep-call to wake up CA members, therefore, is the result of their understanding of politicians’ behaviour, which is symptomatic of a slumber.

It appears to me, sometimes, that students cannot do more than sleep as a form of protest at this stage, because they are all members of one or another political party. All the students’ organisations have squarely become party units, even though occasionally they voice students’ concerns in some matters. But students can generate an all-party protest march, an all-party sleep like this, and all-party call for short strikes. Nepali students are too occupied with domestic concerns and intra-party squabbles to voice concerns about the ills of globalisation, capitalist excesses in ecological destruction, and other issues about rights and educational concerns. Saarc went unchallenged by students’ regional solidarities across national demarcations. Interestingly, as students can take all-party decisions, their mother parties cannot. Their behaviour is not worthy of statesmen making history in a country watched by its people with hope and by neighbours with strategic interests. They do not even appear to be sitting together to discuss the most crucial issues to be resolved to pave the way for the writing of the constitution.

The sleep imagery evokes another meaning too. Political leaders who sleep, naturally dream, and the dreams could be pleasant or nightmarish. Uniquely surrealistic or dream politics become discernible in the senseless puerile language they choose to attack each other with. Some irresponsible remarks they make about the mode of federating the country alarms me; I am worried about the country’s future.

Broadening space

The year passed by projecting a couple of events. Nepali politicians were left guessing about the semantics of Narendra Modi’s speech at the CA during his first visit and then at the opening of the trauma centre in Kathmandu during his second. The latest discourse in Nepali politics is a question of the quality of leadership. Scholars and writers present Sushil Koirala, the prime minister of Nepal, as too weak a leader to steer the country out of the present impasse, unlike his cousin and predecessor the late Girija Prasad Koirala, under whose leadership the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed. Prachanda, who went down in history as a hero for negotiating with GP Koirala, is not given the same role by a changed history. He expresses that frustration often. Moreover, UML leaders’ blunt rhetoric dismays and worries me.

The past year remained largely non-descript. Except for the Saarc Summit and a few other events, nothing significant happened last year. Miseries and corruption multiplied. A certain sense of not going or reaching anywhere troubles me. Students slept the old year out and slept a new year in, metaphorically. Some suggestions from a teacher or literary writer are in order—broaden the horizons of dreaming and create spaces that give you flexibility. Seeing the narrowing of space, especially for political thinkers to debate, is disheartening. You cannot expand simply by multiplying in more groups. You can expand by broadening the degree of tolerance for others’ views and creating space for ideas that do not have to be the same. Let us make the New Year more productive and more memorable.

Published: 28-12-2014 10:07

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