tourism

i) flecks of the improbable, seen
in the nonsense

light of expectation ii) tripping
solemn, light,

as if crusted day is slave to the
roving eye

iii) so many statuettes of hope,
so little time

iv) we shall agree to meet half
way and then let

time absolve us from ever having to
remember v) the

having of the needless eye needled
into extravagance

vi) spools of nervous laughter asking
more from less

vii, viii, ix) the cathedraled temple,
spectacled toyness,

dry embrace of the relicced other.

Notes from Monrovia – II

An unverified lock, at
Peace with the key of dawn, at sea, at
Tentive

To

   War as it unravels
       as it un

Derstands nothing, at
Sea;
                   the argument rolls out
                                rolls   t
Oo another seemingly benign tap
                            tap
                            tap.

Aug 25, 2016
Fresh out of a family trip to Malaysia, after taking in the expansive green, I was struck by the unapologetic African green on my hour long drive from Monrovia’s airport to the city proper. But proper it wasn’t in so many ways. The lush green of humanity that underlies all earth has its peculiar infringement here: the stark signs of an unasked for ‘development’; the fancy NGO cars contrasted with mostly older local ones; the few good expat-catering restaurants with security guards and the others unguarded, catering to locals; the expensive everything in a poor poor city.

In the sense of following two different trajectories of neoliberal development, Liberia is similar to Malaysia, only on the opposite ends of well-being; the one being a model for the other. While Malaysian greenery is being tamed to showcase exotic development, the rawness of African green has yet to be tamed; always a reminder that something more powerful lurks below the sheen that is currently being desperately aimed for.


Undone by what I admire, the in
Most anchor, the

Brass measure of all that is bold,
Is crass, is class,

The feed of foul and its brethren of
Impure, the brew

And vole that burrows each hold on
Touch and bruise.

Sep 6, 2016
Left Monrovia three days ago and came back home yesterday. Since the first impression I wrote above, I spoke with the people I worked with, getting their take on the history of Liberia and their take alone (deliberately avoiding reading up online), and this is what I got.

In the 1820s, freed American slaves (Americo-Liberians) started colonizing a number of African states including Liberia and Sierra Leone under the organizing umbrella of a religious organization, the American colonization society. By 1847, the Americo-Liberians, who had pretty much taken over the country, freed themselves of the yoke of the controlling church. This is what is referred to as Liberian Independence. More than a hundred years of being under the Americo-Liberians, the 1970s saw two favorable rulers in the 1960s and 70s in terms of having an inclusive stance towards the indigenous Liberians, especially William Tolbert who ruled from 1971 till he was executed by the ‘accidental’ indigenous military coup-leader, William Doe, in 1980. During the ten years of Doe’s rule, the Americo-Liberians tried this way and that to remove him after which the horrible civil war began in 1989, and Doe was removed by execution in 1990. Charles Taylor entered the fray during this period. In 2003, war finally ended and after a series of interim governments, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf became president in 2006 and still rules.


That poet, he don’t do justice; does
Artful thought, renaissance

Crumble on a peach souffle, does heart;
don’t do justice; does wire

frame necessity capturing mouthful of
soul, prancing about the

hoary precipices of Saturn’s myth; don’t
do justice; peachy pie – chalk;

The big man and the small small, Accra 2016 – III

(The first two posts on my recent Accra visit are here and here.)

Kwame Nkrumah was the nationalist leader who led Ghana to independence in 1957 and went on to serve as prime minister and president until he was ousted in a military coup in 1966. That was fifty years ago. I tried to bring him up in a few conversations, and the one that sticks out is one in which the great leader – and Nkrumah is the Ghanaian archetype – is extolled over ordinary people, for what do people want except to “eat and sleep!” (quoted by a Ghanaian colleague who also proclaimed, “one great man is worth a thousand ordinary people.”)

I couldn’t disagree more.

I tried to bring in Eduardo Galeano‘s words to counter this elitist search for a saviour, but to no avail. Here is Galeano on the topic:
“You and I are educated and we know the world. We are in many ways what they call the leaders. And leaders must serve their people. No matter how tough our lives are, we are not victims. Those who are suffering are the robbed, poor, uneducated people. They have to decide whether and when to take up arms and go: they, not we. If and when they decide to fight, we have to obey and lead them. Whether they will fight or not is not up to us to decide.”

May 23

To say again the all; the singe
Of song; to cry again the wary
Wail and the army's ail; the
Bemoaned are the joyous, but
They will not carve out an 
Evolutionary niche in the
Political economy of a tired
Literature and burnt poetry.

Orientalizing the small small, Accra 2016 – II

(This is the second of a series of posts on my visit to Accra, Ghana, in May 2016. The first one, introduced the sense of the small small.)

Edward Said‘s Orientalism is one of those books I have been slow reading over the years, esp. on trips where I get very little time to browse the net. The gist of Orientalism is the humiliating Othering of the conquered that provided the primary justification for colonial rule. Failure to take that into account in mainstream discourse today plays out as continued internalization of the white man’s burden by both the oppressor and the oppressed, albeit in politically correct flavors.

May 19

I will run to the carrion
   of the small justice, to

The fight that lulls the bird
   and stuns the sky; I will

Burn the carrion of a 
   smaller fire, a river

That behaves only in periodic
   humiliations; we burn thus.

May 21

The structure of fear as
   it embeds itself; its

Embers as they crown an
   uncertain glory that is

Affect, distance, porous; the
   shred of an uneven

Discourse.

My work in Accra involves collection of prices from markets. I visited the local Makola market in Accra – I was told the the largest in Ghana – with the price collection team.

Click on the Wikipedia link on Makola above, and you will find another Orientalist gem. A short introduction, but it is felt necessary to mention Anthony Bourdain’s visit to the market thus: “during the episode, Tony walked through the market, where he sampled local wares and enjoyed a condensed milk-toffee drink made with local herbs.”

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The sum of all prices is one;
The price as an asymptote
Of value; the value of all
Being is one; that of sweat
And the hum of the market,
The flailing economy of an
Unreason; that which is not one.

Eventually little remains of the local market that is not tied to the larger, more efficient, global market. And there’s the rub.

The weep is an ancient want
    Cry; an insoluble

To want to cry; the deep;
    The fallible ineffable

Articulated by an effable
    Other; the dark; the

Solder in its burn to
    Weld and weld the red.

Revisiting the small small, Accra 2016 – I

This is the first of series of posts to follow up on my recent visit to Accra, Ghana. 2008 was when I was there last, and 2002 was when Ghana introduced me to Africa. Since then, what has changed without as seen through the prism of what has changed within is written out in verse and reflection. The context has always been work, but content can change context.

May 15 – Inflight Dubai to Accra

The plumb fascination dons
   every mask, every
   trite boredom, every sink
   that wishes well, the

Plum fascination is a gasp,
   a gap of known and
   little known facts, a gap
   of missing factotums.

“Small small” is Ghanaian speak for a little quantity, small change, etc. Poetically, it captures the spirit of the Tao Te Ching, “know the high, stick to the low.” But all that has been forgotten and turned upside down historically in favor of the grand. A redemptive poetics of the small small is not possible without reaching back and bringing back to the fore the “little known facts” and the “missing factotums.”

May 16

The tailbone of the journey is far from
    Release unless you
Endear its father & soulfish its
    Ancestry; its ghoul of

Faith & train of unreason; the 
    Tailbone of your untapped
Soulwhistle is the further ash
    That trammels and pouts

As it sings, inks into the
    Untimed meter of gash
Of ink and the body of craft & pain.

A poetics of the small small is also not possible without a soulful accounting of the damage done by the patriarchal laws of entitlement and its “train of unreason” masked as faith.

May 17

The old dominion of dread is
   but half past

dead, half past the fleet of
   the unsaid, the

blue cart of a thrush's 
   unusual said, and

done and what is untrue of
   sky is true of sin,

true too of the half past
   unsung dread

the languor, the peel of
   dread and its song.

What has been damaged is felt today as dread, what Erich Fromm calls “the fear of freedom.” The machinery of sin and shame keeps that fear – though irrelevant, unrooted, out of place and time – in play.

May 18

The sin has to decide
  to drown its bellowed

Insight in the shadow
  of this here wanton

Word wanting to drift
  a broken toast, a

Wooden art and the semblance
  of a power turret

In the following posts, I will try to tackle aspects of the “power turret”, the myth of the great leader, the history of colonialism, neoliberalism and Orientalism as they relate to Ghana and as voiced by its poets.

The subaltern is credible – Vientiane, Laos Feb 2016

Work took me to Vientiane, Laos, recently (the last week of February 2016). In mid 2013, I had written a first impression piece on Muscat. This time, I thought of writing one with a power critique informing the first time visitor.

The external oppression – context
The local news was abuzz with renewed US business-related activity (Obama is coming in September) as Laos takes over the chairmanship of ASEAN this year. Although a communist country since 1975, Laos has no qualms in opening itself up to the wondrous creed of the neoliberal. A Thai consultant remarked that about 15 years ago, all he could see on the streets of Vientiane were the tuk-tuks, but now you see cars and motorbikes all over the place. Increasing Chinese foreign investment is making Vietnam, a long time Laotian benefactor, edgy. Hence the surge in US pivot-al interest. There is even talk of the US taking some responsibility in cleaning up the unexploded bombs – two million tons dropped during the secret war of 1964-73, the most heavily bombed per capita nation ever. How power revels in the forgetfulness of the powerless!

The embedded oppressor – subtext
I work with government departments (statistics and IT) in mostly African and Middle Eastern states. Strengthening the public sector – where providing service to people is part of the mandate by definition – is the only redemption for a consultant who sensibilities have been blighted; otherwise the larger aims of the agencies we work for either dovetail with the neoliberal program, or at the very least never challenged.

A salient fact, not highlighted enough, is that despite the high capability of local staff (esp. here in Laos where at the IT department of the ministry I learned a few new things from the staff), the dependence on the external, international consultant subordinates and even mutes the local voice. When I ask about their requirements, the response is something along the lines of, “what do you think?”

The international consultant is thus a modern iteration of the white saviour, and this realization, that our work is part of the oppressive fabric, is an uncomfortable one.

Government folk tend to be much more open to outsiders than given credit for. This is true wherever I have been, and Laos is no exception. On top of that, you get the much publicized mildness – however much of a tourist cliché – of the East Asian. This bit of humanity is consolation in face of the thin redemptive possibilities and uncomfortable truths that hound the work of a development consultant.

The subaltern is credible – text

The subaltern is credible
   with salt in its teeth

with humor in the tummy of
   its riverside birth its

calm solubility and harmless
   want is weak is water is

standing with the whalemouth
   reeking of the hull and

counterpoint will it will?

The token pic
I took this one on the first day as I was walking by the Mekong river taking in the novelty. The kids clicked here betray none of the famed docility. The tropes of the past stand once again to be revised.
DSC01401

an eye from a stalk

(note: if you are viewing this using the WP reader, the slideshow is hidden.)


I)
The bereft draft of a 
    drop of wet sky will tell you
    tales from a vivid north
    and it will speak the eastern vale.

When talking with clouds, listen
    to the raven wanting to
    claim attention to some space
    and a little time.

The card of a small wall of
    thistle bridges the world;
    another world opens up in
    an eye, from a stalk.

II)
The throwback to an ancient necessity
is green; the wander of an eye’s
lowering of curvature is its shell
of calm, and the quickening of
the quill is its fire.

III)
Mountain smoke gathers an
hour past the file of
germs that woo the word that
spell that glue that binds the
bell that rings the mountain quick.

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IV)
The weather stream jostles
for day in the event that
the cry for river bends
a knot, a vine, a chirp
away from depth.

Silence is the growth of a chirp, and
the tweet will whistle the
hum of the stream that brushes
past my gush of hurt, a century
of whistle.

Some rope withstands the
feel of the heart strand;
where is the kind
truth that settles my binary drums?

The valor of a purple stir is
a call to my ocean of thorns of
a valley that stirs the moan,
that fills the ink of rhythm.

VII)
Beyond the ken of power, the
    flow of the morning thrush
    is green is present is
    there willing, combing
    the steady remnants of day.

The reach of gold and
    sand that cusps the
    thread of my warm grasp
    of this broken bit of
    nuance, red with worry.

Wound up in stark volumes
    that gear up strands of
    dearness and tearing the
    filament of an unborn thought
    perpendicular to the blue veil.

(Naran and Ayubia; mid-June 2015)