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Posted by Haimanti Mukhoti

The society that we inhabit today is a site of make-beliefs and failing magic realistic monotones. Antidotes to these fault lines aren’t available yet, hence the illusions are continuing to loom large on the psyche of human minds. This, coupled with state-sponsored misnomers, is putting the human conscience at stake. But does the garb of normalcy, the Foucauldian “order” make one disenfranchise a memory, a disturbing one, which is dear to her/him? Memory can be manufactured, perfected, and dehumanised even. But what about the repertoires within the mothers’ minds who earthed the seeds of “unrest” in the face of a deathly calm? Mahasweta Devi, in Hajar Churashir Maa (Mother of 1084), her 1974 Bengali novel, provides an alternative plane where these are never forgotten but nurtured like raw wounds.

Memory can be manufactured, perfected, and dehumanised even. But what about the repertoires within the mothers’ minds who earthed the seeds of “unrest” in the face of a deathly calm? Mahasweta Devi, in Hajar Churashir Maa (Mother of 1084), her 1974 Bengali novel, provides an alternative plane where these are never forgotten but nurtured like raw wounds.

Time isn’t really an omnipotent healer in these cases. 

Also read: Book Review: After Kurukshetra By Mahasweta Devi

A civilisation with its trio feathers of modernity, civility, and normalcy can be highly elusive. Here comes the necessity to metamorphose and obliterate those memories, heavy with a critique of this normalcy. The Naxalite movement, the spontaneous plot device of Hajar Churashir Maa, representative of many other past and contemporary not so pro-state movements, was such an inventory of counter state actions and narratives. Thus, along with systematically killing its leaders and participants, it became necessary to completely do away with any and every traces of memory that could reiterate its dominant being.

In Hajar Churashir Maa, after hearing the news of his murder, the instant attempt to confine all the traces of Broti, the deceased Naxal rebel, to his third-floor room by his family could seem brutal and shocking to his mother, but it was not so for the neighbours, the elements of a disciplined modern society who rather was surprised to know that this sophisticated middle-class household could house a social menace like Broti! The attempt to liquidate the existence of such poisonous outgrowths of society, both from individual and collective reminiscence, is best represented by the author in Hajar Churashir Maa when Broti’s sister’s engagement took place on the very date of his first death anniversary.  

However, as a counterpoise to that, it could never really be obliterated from the memories of the mothers. Hajar Churashir Maa starts from the inception of life, Sujata’s son Broti and the discomforting unglorified days of a mother with a child in her womb. But gradually, for Sujata through the seasons of her life and her son, with her husband and other four children settled along their lines, Broti became the only solace to whom she could return to at the end of the day and vice versa. However, the reader does not get a graphic clue about Broti’s journey into the rebel consciousness, just like Sujata’s oblivion about the same in Hajar Churashir Maa. This anguish of being numb to the constructed societal discrepancies transcends the shadow-lines of any one particular movement and embraces the placard against manufactured discipline at large. So, here Broti became a juxtaposition of all those who dared to question norms of a society, who declined to surrender to fate, whose ideas refused succumbing to lifeless bullet marks or prison tortures! 

A myriad plane accommodating Somu’s mother (Broti’s friend and ‘accomplice in crime’), his sister, Broti’s love interest, and his mother stood in the face of the civilisational silence and “betrayal” (Hajar Churashir Maa). Their crisis, desperation, love, resistance, angst resonate and attack, if not shatter, the graveyards of conscience that the society so carefully manufactures. These emotions were as multifarious as their beholders. In Hajar Churashir Maa, Somu’s mother belonging from a not so sophisticated family was way more expressive with her loss. She was like any character from a Rittwik Ghatak film, where the director focusses on the explicit expression of any and every emotion his characters’ experience.

Somu’s sister and Sujata were two sides of the same coin. Bearing with their existence and exposure to the outside world, in Hajar Churashir Maa, their processing of the grief was much more internalised and haunting to the minds of the reader, much like the short drastic mourning of Sarbajaya processing the untimely death of her daughter in Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali. Nandini was much like Sujata, she suffers but doesn’t succumb. The dissatisfaction within, fresh with the loss of loved ones still lives on in her every single breath. They live with their memories of existence, a composite being that can never give in to a constructed collective amnesia. In the state’s attempt to not build any commemorative sites of memory for such disgraceful uprising, these networks of motherhood (both biological and metaphorical) itself became such a “lieux de memoire” (Pierre Nora) or the site of memory. 

Often as explained by Yosef Yerushalmi, the act of forgetfulness is only possible for those who lived through the memory. With the succession of generation or aging of the historical agents, this forgetfulness is enabled. This anxiety culminated into an endless crisis of losing Broti again, his spirit, his essence altogether again in Hajar Churashir Maa.

Reading Mahasweta Devi's Hajar Churashir Maa: Mothers, Memories & Movement
When all the ‘Sujatas’ and ‘Nandinis’ die in the real world, this site of living memory may also perish along with them. Image Source: The Print

Often as explained by Yosef Yerushalmi, the act of forgetfulness is only possible for those who lived through the memory. With the succession of generation or aging of the historical agents, this forgetfulness is enabled. This anxiety culminated into an endless crisis of losing Broti again, his spirit, his essence altogether again in Hajar Churashir Maa. When all the ‘Sujatas’ and ‘Nandinis’ die in the real world, this site of living memory may also perish along with them. With the absence of these “memory entrepreneurs” (Jelin 50), the subjective and biased state narrative is what is made legitimate and permanent in the social memory. Their death is never ceremonial; no processions or gun salute accompany them; the state discards their identity and just assigns a serial number to the dead body stored in the morgue. Thus is created a carefully ordained narrative of the whole phenomenon which can be called a myth as far as Roland Barthes’s interpretation of myth is concerned. The movement was tagged to be emanating out of a certain group of trouble makers- the Naxals, completely neglecting rather negatively manoeuvring the causality behind its occurrence. 

Also read: Mahasweta Devi’s Draupadi As A Symbol Of Subaltern Defiance

This myth which is considered to be “the most powerful instrument for presenting and forming the past” runs contrary to individual memories. Hajar Churashir Maa can be used to debunk the gap between myth and reality of such defiance, for it provides the foundational ethos behind those ‘disorders’. Thus the mothers of many such thousand eighty-fours continue commemorating, preserving and caring all those miniscule of identities that are said to be “misinformed” and “misguided” but still are the only knights in the shining armour to get us through!  

Works Cited 

  1. Devi, Mahasweta. “Hajar Churashir Maa”
  2. Jelin, Elizabeth. “State Repression and labors of memory.” Translated by Judy Rein and Marcial Godoy-Anativia. Contradictions, Volume 18. Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 2003. Print. 
  3. Koczanowicz, Leszek. “Memory of Politics and Politics of Memory. Reflections on the Construction of the Past in Post-Totalitarian Poland.” STUDIES IN EAST EUROPEAN THOUGHT.  Vol. 49, No. 4 (Dec., 1997), 259-270. Web. 
  4. Nora, Pierre. “Between Memory and History: Les Lieux de Mémoire”.REPRESENTATIONS, No. 26, Special Issue: Memory and Counter-Memory (spring, 1989). 7-24. Web. 

Haimanti Mukhoti is a post graduate student of History in Delhi University and can be found on Facebook and Instagram

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