MARLON JAMES AND THE ATROCITY TIME TABLE

MARLON JAMES, WHO WAS RECENTLY AWARDED the Man Booker Prize for his novel “A Brief History of Seven Killings” (based on Bob Marley, the Reggae Superstar on whom there was a murder attempt in December 1976) had several insightful things to say in his interview to Neville Hawcock, the Deputy Books Editor of the Financial Times (FT Weekend October 17/18).

THE JAMAICAN NOVELIST UNDERWENT A LOT OF FRUSTRATION when he faced rejection from many publishers for his first novel “John Crow’s Devil” (2005).  But as with all great writers, the strength of his inner conviction egged him on to keep writing. “I just thought,” James says in his interview, “well, if 70 people didn’t think this was a book that was worthy, then clearly it would’nt possibly be good. But sometimes, “majority” can mean all the wrong people are on the same side.” It would have indeed been literature’s loss had it not been for James’ steadfast belief that he had a distinct voice, which one day, the world will have to pay attention  to. What James’ says about the “majority view” is also worth pondering in these troubled times when majoritarianism drowns voices of sanity and dissent in the interpretation of events – both historical and contemporary. Well-meaning dissent is being slowly but inexorably forced out of discussion rooms.  It is even being smothered and we have to really take great pains to find out, let alone understand, what is actually happening. As I said in my earlier post, we have several Rashomon-like versions for pretty much every unrest in any part of the world today.

MARLON JAMES, ALSO WROTE A BOOK ABOUT slavery in 19th century Jamaica titled “The Book of Night Women” (2009). While discussing this book with Neville Hawcock, he coins an interesting term :  Atrocity Time Table.  He elaborates the concept : “Atrocity time table is when people who have not been through an atrocity or hardship or an injustice still feel they should dictate when we should stop talking about it. For example, people who have never experienced slavery and never had to live with the legacy of it say : I think we’re done talking about it.”  How very true !

WE ALREADY SEEM TO HAVE AN ATROCITY TIME TABLE for several outrages that have occurred in India.  Be it the Anti-Sikh riots of 1984, the Gujarat pogrom of 2012,   Turkman Gate, Marichjhapi, Moradabad, Mandai, Nellie, Malliana, Hashimpura, Bhagalpur, Gawadakal, Mumbai, Bijbehara,  or Sopore (borrowed  from Tavleen Singh’s recently compiled list cited in her column in Indian Express (October 18).  When we draw up our own Atrocity Time Table we should however remember that for those who have survived these atrocities their whole world-view would have undergone a sea change, their lives scarred forever, and without any reparation and rehab, the seeds of violence and retribution may have been already sown in the midst of their own helplessness.

WE DO NEED TO ALSO KNOW THAT IF WE DO NOT  talk about the truth, it will not simply go away although the spin doctors of today’s political parties and their cohorts in the media think otherwise.

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