City Requiem, outwitting paralysis to find ways to write anyway

Am pretty sure this page below is a kind of compliment, though it is an uneasy one. As I have said directly, never meant for there not to be many more inscriptions – how could I be the one to hold back the delude (apres moi?). Of course there should never be no reason to stop writing, just sometimes we could stop anthropologising (a moratorium on fieldwork!) and I always hope to write better, a forlorn task. Stereotypes-stereohypes, they keep getting back up again:

Screen Shot 2015-10-20 at 15.04.18

From the book by Ananya Roy 2003 “City Requiem, Calcutta: Gender and the Politics of Poverty” Uni of Minnesota Press, which, despite my being cast as the paralyser, also ends with some beautiful lines that capture what I to was trying to do: ‘ my narrative of the city … can only be one of multiple and irreconcilable iterations’ Ananya Roy. As I think was expressed already in Ashis Nandy’s comment on the back cover of ‘The Rumour’.

Sharmistha Gooptu’s ‘Bengali Cinema’ 2010

have just finished Sharmistha Gooptu’s wonderfully detailed book Bengali Cinema: An Other Nation, and while I understand her decision not to write about Ghatak and Sen et al, I do hope there is a follow up. For sure this will not be the first time such a lament has been aired, but I think there must be a sequel since leaving things pretty much at the end of Apur Sansar is a jolt. Even though there are a dozen pages that skim through the 70s and 80s, the text really stopped at the detailed description of Chatterjee as Apu and this suggests more to come – can only hope there is a sequel that engages with Apu’s subsequent political mobilisation…

Sharmistha Gooptu seems to be custodian of an archive of filmi memorabilia, you can see some of it here.

Shaheed Minar

shaheed minar

Already in 1990 you had to get permission from the Chief of Police at Lal Bazaar to climb this monument. A friend, Kate, and I went to see him and he greeted us with an expansive ‘So you want to see a panoramic view of my city’ – his arms opened wide in an all encompassing gesture that only accentuated his ample girth and the standard issue metro police belt that held all in place. We climbed the stairs – pretty high, it does seem more than 48 meters – and, as we were smokers then, we lingered quite some time up top discussing politics, war, freedom movements, rallying colours and of course panoramas, before we came down. Its very good news the place will be opened for visits soon once more. Site also of some of the largest rallies I’ve ever attended.

Here is the Calcutta City tours rave about it:

The 48 meter high Shaheed Minar, popularly called the “Monument” is a prominent landmark of Kolkata. Established in the year 1848, it was named Ochtorloney Monument to honour, Sir David Ochterlony who served in the Nepal War (1814 – 1816).  In 1969, this Ochterlony Monument received its new name ‘Shahid Minar’, which means “Martyr’s Tower” to honour the sacrifice of Indian freedom fighters. You have to climb 218 steps to reach the top of the monument from where you can savor a bird’s eye view of Kolkata.The architecture of Shaheed Minar shows a brilliant blend of Egyptian, Syrian and Turkish style of designing.

History of Shaheed Minar, Kolkata

It was founded in 1848, as Ochterlony Monument, to honour Major General Sir David Ochterlony’s (Commander of the British East India Company) triumph against the Gurkhas in the Anglo-Nepalese War of 1825. The architect J.P. Parker conceived the structure of this 48 meter high monument based on a blend of Egyptian and Syrian style with a dome having a striking resemblance with Turkish design. In 1969, the Ochterlony monument was rededicated to the freedom fighters of India – the martyrs who sacrificed their lives in the freedom movement of India and was renamed as “Shaheed Minar”, which in Bengali means “Martyr’s Tower.”

A winding flight of 218 steps takes visitors to the top of the tower from where one can have a panoramic view of the city. However, in 1997, a mishap occurred when a tourist jumped from the lower balcony of Shaheed Minar. From then, prior permission is needed from police to climb the monument. The last person to climb up the monument was the former Governor Gopal Krishna Gandhi along with his family.

Lately, the state government of West Bengal has taken initiative to open up the monument for both local public and tourists. The work of refurbishment has started in late 2011 and will be accomplished in two phases. After the completion of the work, both tourists and local people can climb up to the top of the monument. There are also plans to set up stalls in front of the monument. Initiative is also taken to clean the pathways and beautify them with flowering plants.

The vast field lying towards the south of Shahid Minar is popularly called the Shahid Minar Maidan or the Brigade Ground. The place hosts political rallies for several decades. The first political meeting on Shaheed Minar Maidan was headed by Rabindranath Tagore, where he condemned the assassination of a young man in Hilji by the British in 1931.

Quid pro Quo – Subversive Festival, Zagreb (2nd vid)

Screen Shot 2014-10-26 at 14.39.22

My third talk in a series of three on capital was at the Subversive Festival in Zagreb. The second talk is here (Translating Capital in Context) and it makes sense to see the second talk first [the first one in Rijeka was not recorded, but was based on my text on Citizen Kane], not least because it will help explain why the conceit in this third talk has Marx relocated to India, which of course he was always deeply interested in, but he never went, only picking up bits of info, and some myths – eg the horror stories of Jagannath etc – from his wide-ranging and varied reading. I think it is justified to deploy Marx to Calcutta, at least in fantasy, though its true not even Engels took his father’s advice to go to Calcutta to start in business. The old boys were European bound, but this did not mean they did not seek out the revolution elsewhere.

What also should be mentioned (the parts here are – great job – edited and slightly reordered, and the opening by Bernard missed) is that in this talk I set out to look at three different moments. 1) the arrival of Clive in Calcutta after the ‘sham scandal’ of the Black Hole in 1756; 2) the first all-India war of Independence, the so-called ‘mutiny’ 100 years later and; 3) the quid pro quo return of originary capital to the site of the East India Company shipyard in London in present times, under the aegis of the Farrell’s development of Convoys’ Wharf, Deptford, for Hutchinson Whampoa.

I am slowly writing this out as a long, too long, chapter, so this version is pretty schematic, but you will get the drift of new work. Thanks for stopping by. Thanks also to the crew at Subversive, especially Karolina Hrga, and Bernard Koludrović who was chair.


“Marx writing on India is key to understanding Capital. My argument is that we can make sense of Marx today by examining his theoretical and journalistic work together, each informed by an emergent anthropology, by historical hermeneutics, by a critique of political economy and by attention to a global political contest that mattered more than philosophy. Marx reading history, already against the grain and without being able to make actual alliances, is nevertheless seeking allies in a revolutionary cause. Is it possible to observe Marx coming round to realise, after the shaping experience of the 1848-1852 European uprisings, the possibilities for the many different workers of the world to unite? I consider the sources Marx finds available, what he reads, and how his writing practice parses critical support as habitual politics, and how far subcontinental events, themes and allegories are a presence in the key moves of his masterwork Capital almost as if India were a refocused bromide for Europe, just as slavery is for wages. I will take up four cases – the ‘founding’ of Calcutta by Job Charnock (disputed); the story of Clive sacking Chandernagore and going on to defeat Suraj-ud-duala at Palashi/Plassey in 1757 in retaliation for the ‘Black Hole’ (did it exist?); Disraeli verbosely saying nothing about the so-called Indian ‘mutiny’ 1857 (‘the East as a career’); and the question of legalizing Opium in China and the advent of Matheson-Jardine Company after the East India Company comes to an end (‘quid pro quo’). All of this brings us back to the realities of global investment and regeneration in Europe today, as international capital returns to the port of London to redevelop the old East India Company shipyards in Deptford.”

15/5/2014, 21h, Cinema Europa, Zagreb, Croatia
John Hutnyk: Quid pro quo: the East as a career
7th Subversive festival: “Power and Freedom in the Time of Control”
Moderator: Bernard Koludrović