An announcement that may prove to be very interesting to many people related to in some way or the other to Barak Valley’s cultural spaces – Mr. Saptharshi Bhattacharjee of the Department of Visual Arts, Assam University, Silchar has recently started a visual biography project on the Language Martyrs of Barak Valley. And it makes us very proud and happy to report that he is progressing very fast on that front. We are sincerely hoping his book “Unishey May: A Photobiography” will be ready for publication along with Mr. Jhalak Das’ book on Shonbeel.
What is so striking about fifteen dead men and women who were shot down in cold blood at different times by the usually manipulative, then aggressively confrontational Congress state government of Assam?
Nothing much, apparently. But for anyone who has ever beheld the public adulation directed towards sundry commemorative altars called “Shaheed Bedi” anywhere in Barak Valley on the three days of May between the 17th and the 20th, it will be easy to imagine what exactly is the song that these thousands of hearts, conscious in their Bengaliness sing on the day of the 19th of May every year. It’s this evasive definition of a song and its romance with the forcing heart that is at the core of the sentiment, call it that if you will, that is Unishey May or the 19th of May.
This year, a colleague commented, and on the 19th itself, that the true date of observance of the martyrdoms in question should be 4th Jyesthha, according to the “Bengali” calendar. I did not reply, or comment, of course, the introverted geek that I am. But does it matter anyway? Is not the rituality and the annual rememoration of an tragedy important enough? Does it have to be something politically correct in order to manifest its mnemonic potential?
One thing that memory, or material memory, or embodied memory cannot be used to justify is the spatial duality that most public celebrations in India or similar countries with a colonial past are essentially supported by and support. It is therefore important to be able to look, observe and connect to the diversity of the images of these public commemorative actions.
And Mr. Bhattacharjee in the mentioned book has tried to do exactly that. He has ventured the narrative of a commemorative ritual and not a historical incident. For histories are meant to be ruptured, a la mode de Koselleck, and challenged and subsumed by thought and evidence and deduction. But the memory of a place, a time in a place, a place in an era and an era gone away but living on in the contemporary, all in all the cultural memory of anything cannot be ruptured. Simply because it has no linearity to lay claim to. But also because of the fact that memory, by dint of its pervasiveness, leaves no nook untouched. Where history will or may reject, memory is like the ball of mercury that gathers and grows as it goes.
We are all looking forward to Mr. Bhattacharjee’s book, and we wish him all the best for all his future projects.
Here’s a screenshot from from the mentioned book’s preliminary layout.