Noopur Desai

Performing ‘Now’




As I sit down to write the editorial for हाकारा। hākārā’s current edition, a recent incident at Bhima Koregaon in Maharashtra and its aftermath hovers over us. Bhima Koregaon obelisk was brought to the forefront once again with violent acts of caste conflict at the dawn of the new year.  It revealed the complex nature of contemporary politics focusing on entrenched caste discriminations, discourse on nationalism, and identity politics that is deeply rooted and is constantly being re-invoked in present times. One way of doing it is by using cultural symbols, icons and narratives to intensify these rhetorics. Although, my concern here is not if it is a myth or alternate historical narrative or whether the using of the myth/story is productive or counterproductive. Rather, what I would like to ponder upon is how do we perceive it today, 200 years after the actual battle and almost a century after construction of the event as an action against caste oppression. What kind of role does the victory obelisk play in this very moment, in constructing our ‘now’? What role does ‘now’ play in the creative construction of history or in challenging cultural supremacy by using such prominent symbolism or gestures? Does it register its presence in a performative mode that invites volatile identitarian tendencies or does it allow dalits to assert themselves in contemporary times?

Through such actions, the performative comes live through the temporal and ephemeral as it reveals itself in the present. It enacts and engages bodies across time and through memory.  This remembering manifests in documents and re-enactments which probably makes it ‘live’ or a thing in the present. In a way, it reestablishes the vulnerability of the socially and culturally engraved body but at the same time, radically interrogates modes of present structures, be it art or society, contemplating the present, the now. Though it is time adjacent to the present moment, ‘now’ requires historical explanation and a more external perspective. Here, it becomes our reality, either objective or constructed, but it does exist. It is laden with alienation, ugliness, fragmentation but also with belonging, re-interpretation and impermanency. As one realises that the ‘now’ is constructed by memories, emotions and aspirations, somehow, it almost becomes a performance of the past experiences. These experiences shape one’s beliefs that then affect one’s construct of their reality in the present moment, for example, through practices of history writing and myth making.

Another aspect of the performative in the context of our discussion on ‘now’ lies in its connection with the contemporary. It fuses time, spaces, and also realities around us. In the contemporary, the boundaries of time collapse as it is always ongoing, no sensation is the same as the previous sensation, the past lives on inside the present. The idea of performance or live art goes closer to the concept of ‘now’ where the subtle gestures, movements, or actions in a certain temporal moment and space generate meanings and provocations. An interesting example is Samuha Suresh’s walk to locate scribbling and marks by workers and inhabitants inside and under the flyovers in Bengaluru. He curated a walk-through at night where he carried a torch to show the scribbling and markings at one of the construction sites acknowledging the presence of migrant labourers while discovering drawings, texts, and stories of temporary inhabitants on the pillars and walls that create contemporary cities. The partially visible layers of histories and markings of the otherwise invisible or marginalized voices and images become evident through performative gestures in the ongoing discourse on contemporary art.

If we consider history as a creative act, then one would understand it through performative re-enactments. We realise that ‘now’ does not exist independently or by itself. The re-creation of our past moments and future imaginations conflate, preserve or disrupt its temporal and spatial groundings. Does the ‘now’ become a baggage of the past and the future? In the context of हाकारा। hākārā’s current edition, the politics of ‘now’ gets reflected in various pieces, especially Ramu Ramanathan’s play Comrade Kumbhakarna and Rashmi Sawhney’s critical essay on intersections of history, cinematic time and present moment. Located in the ongoing right-wing discourse on caste and religion, these two critical pieces unfold the layers of aspirations, conflicts, and social structures in completely two different contexts. They shape social interaction, create belief systems and social fictions that claim to be objective realities. Any alternative idea or construct ruffles these so-called ‘realities’ or ‘facts’. It becomes an all pervasive moment that swallows down everything including identities, politics, culture, language and history.

The immediacy of creating and maintaining certain dominant narratives of history in a way shape our identity and cultural ethos. Kumbhakarna, a young boy from a nomadic performing group whose name resembles a character from Ramayana, questions the mainstream version of Ramayana while claiming his own place in the historical narrative. The story keeps moving between the past and the present with reference to Ambedkar and Periyar and contemporary politics of the marginalized groups with their entangled relationship with the violent past of caste hierarchies. Here, ‘now’ becomes a site for subversive acts of re-telling the stories, reconstructing historical narratives according to their own politics. Rashmi Sawhney’s essay looks at the simultaneity of mythical, historical and technological times in cinema where a mythological character of Padmavati gets ‘historicised’ to reinforce the compelling historical narrative. It critically investigates the role of cinema in re-interpretation and valorisation of history in the midst of present-day aggressive religious biases that have implications on the unfolding of current socio-cultural and political scenario.

Image courtesy for the editorial: Lamula and Punit Paranjape


Image courtesy for ‘आता/Now’ edition

Cover images: Abhijit Kumar Pathak, Peter Briggs and Aasakt, Pune.
Section images: The Hindu Prajakta Potnis, Shrenik Mutha, Kush Kukreja, Aasakt, Pune and Abhijit Kumar Pathak

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