Introducing AGITATE! Volume 5

Stories and Ecologies of Violence:
Walking Together in Solidarity and Silence/ Chup

Abdul Aijaz and Richa Nagar

I will tell you something about stories,
[he said]
they aren’t just entertainment.
Don’t be fooled.
They’re all we have, you see
All we have to fight off illness and death.

Leslie Marmon Silko, Ceremony.

What are stories, after all, if not an occasion for bringing together a community. To hold each other close in the face of a fatal threat. To huddle together when we are lost. To come together in hope… even if hope has never felt like a bigger lie before, in the face of an ongoing genocide that has scorned all systems of justice and suffocated the cries of protesting people across the world?

In stories, we gather ourselves and extend our hand to our kin on other shores, on the other sides, in other struggles, in other stories.  Where else can we look for those we have never found and to find that which is rightfully ours? Where else can we come together in the face of settler colonial, disaster capitalist, and genocidal violence that shreds into tinier and tinier pieces our humanity as well as our human and more-than-human worlds?

Stories might be all we have to live with.

Story is a way of accessing the other side of power, where it lands and leaves a mark, or where it does not land but surrounds and haunts. A story hangs where the after-effects of power linger and grow into obscene material and affective excess. A story defines the space of absence without filling it in. A story dwells on the secrets of silence without revealing them. It can be that haunting space of magic and madness where fear grapples with hope, and loss meets with love, to imagine an alternative future: an otherwise world.

This volume of AGITATE! has a story.

It begins with a desire to do justice to all that throbs in Chup, or Silence, a play that tells and hides the tales of many silences—some imposed, some internalized, others imagined, and yet others refused. We were first gifted with Chup in the streets of Karachi in January 2020, and carried it with us, first in our hearts, and then to soulmates in Parakh Theatre in Bombay, the sister city of Karachi. Parakh Theatre’s embodiment of this work gave it new meanings during the horrors of the COVID-19 pandemic. And new holes began to breathe in a Partition behind which war mongering and hate mongering masquerade as patriotism.

Parakh’s first shows of Chup were held in 2020 and 2021 as audio performances during the pandemic, with the actors appearing on stage for the first time in July 2022.  The work of staging and sharing pierced the psyches of  the performers and audiences in new ways and their joint reflections took on new meanings and possibilities. In helping to organize future shows and deepen the discussions, it no longer made sense to listen to Chup in isolation. Its resonances demanded more. So we began to seek out co-travelers on similar paths, with whom we could touch the textures, twists, and accents that make up the entwined ecologies of silence and haunting: in Kashmir, in India’s Northeast, in Bangladesh, in Sri Lanka, and in El Salvador.  We knew that the offerings of these co-travelers—strung in unbound forms, genres, languages, and scripts—would allow us to feel more fully the muffled screams buried in countless similar stories, along with their piercing murmurs of hope, their bold insistence on not erasing human life, their undying commitment to amplify protests that refuse to be stifled by systems that vow to disappear them.

The onset of Israel’s latest war on Gaza in October 2023 coincided with the time when the contributors began to work on their pieces for this volume, and the meanings—and meaninglessness—of all that occupies us as artists, academics, activists, and humans in this world churned us like never before.  What does it mean to think about the entwined ecologies of silence and haunting in the face of a genocide in which we are intentionally or unintentionally complicit? What does it mean to retell silences and hauntings while standing with Palestine? Gaza became a stated or unstated core around which the offerings of this volume struggled to express their rage and sorrow, as well as their search for adequate mourning.

You see, sometimes in the absence of a corpse
We are given to too much hope.
[1]Soibam Haripriya, In the Absence of a Corpse.

We shared Chup to weave us together in stories that contend with suffering and loss. It echoed across places and found us kin who responded by sharing essays, poems, photos, and an untitled tale, all grappling with the mundanity of violence in its multiple forms while accounting for the brutality and oppression that define our presents and pasts and shape our futures. These works of soulful retelling account for those who are left outside of state narratives, those who are  bombed and buried in mass graves, those who are forcibly assimilated into collective political identities, and those who are forcibly disappeared with little or no hope of return. The contributions resonate across regional and political borders, cultural and ideological boundaries, linguistic and generic forms, and academic and popular media. They weave our multiple silences into a tapestry of aesthetic, political, and ethical voices to contend with an all enveloping violence, in which not every community or being is asked to pay with life. We find in these stories a struggle to breathe and exist in the midst of relentless catastrophe and devastation. An insistence of finding a home in the world for those whose are martyred or have gone unaccounted, and for a return of those whose absence reverberates these tales.

We gather these tales—as they gather us—to recognize the silences that are maddening. They are an epistemology of insistence, of holding a spot in hope for those who might never return, of tracing in verse the visage of those one has lost. Feeling their faces in sands of time, the only place where their absence is not all empty nothingness. Did they write a poem about it? Possibly, they wielded their songs to scare the bombs and tanks that threatened to eat them. They put their silent, unyielding bodies in front of guns to claim their loved ones. They hoped defiantly, and occasionally “too much” to claim their dead.

We did choose the storytellers for this convening, but the stories have also chosen us. We feel honored and privileged to be conduits for these narratives, hopes, fears—and sometimes outright dread and horror—to reach the world again. We home these silences, absences, and erasures, as we search for traces of the faces that we rage and cry for.  We learn what it might mean to keep them alive in our heart, which are also the collective archive… and in the conscience of those in whose name this terror is unleashed on the people…

Sometimes stories are all we need
to push together with courage and tears
a justice walk

While in solidarity with the narrators and authors of these stories and counter histories of power, this volume also agitates dominant academic spaces as sites that suffocate and silence. For, stories written otherwise, or the stories of otherwise worlds, are precious counter-tales that defy the infrastructures of disciplinary boundaries, individualistic property rights, and masculinist regimes of political borders that rend us asunder.

In challenging propriety with playfulness, mourning with celebration, sorrow with hope, these tellings fuse genres with shapeshifting beauty. The definitions and distinctions of fiction and poetry, of prose and verse are sacrificed in search of a lyricism that is made of life, which sometimes includes long and tiring journeys through the rules of the hegemonic Anglophone academia. Too much is sacrificed at the altars of disciplined reason and bloodless logic. Too many times the soulless scope of these abstracted exercises is measured in complicated value metrics and indices. There is too much noise, too much voicing—of righteousness, of rights, of life—and yet there is too much death and repetition in the tower of babel.

And so, we have chosen to take the walk, a walk where each co-traveler is committed to clasping the hands of another, without making any claims to know the path …

Like a child who doesn’t let go of the mother’s finger,
We hold on to our placards and…
We continue to learn to walk . . . .

The walk…
The walk is crying
exhausted…
anguished…
carrying our pain.
[2]Vijayalakshmi Segaruban, Batticaloa

In walking together we register our refusal to legitimize violence as we take courage and hope from the mothers of the disappeared, who walk undeterred by the “emergency regulations” in Sri Lanka—then and now. Criminals within the logic of the state, they walk in silence, keeping the distance of one meter… between love and the law… between hope and the harm. We take hope from the justice walkers, whose feet were impelled by mourning, as they recounted the lives lost in Sri Lanka as in Palestine, past, present, and perhaps even the future, men’s and cows’ alike. And the loss of the “land of olives, sun birds and your people.” We walk for peace and justicein silence, as we ask:

What is this silence in the face of loud all pervading horror? What is it that we may be holding for the people of Palestine, Kashmir, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, El Salvador, and India? Grieving as collective healing? Oppari?[3]Women of ​​Tamil Nadu and North-Eastern Sri Lanka have long eulogized and lamented through Oppari, an ancient form of funeral singing.

Singing-crying for their dead, as ours, united in grief, we bury our dead in stories and pray that that which is destroyed is recreated, as we walk… Together apart… in healing and hope. 

We learn to inhale and exhale the silence of Amaithi[4]In Tamil, Amaithi means peace, silence, calmness. to counter state imposed silences and planetary greed that produce genocidal war, erasure, absence, and grief. With Amaithi, we mourn our loss and celebrate the lives that we have cherished, in the face of the monstrous systems that crush humanity. Against the narratives of the imperial states that annihilate life, our stories claim their survival, and a place in the archive. They demand peace through addressing the traumas of collective loss. They give the courage to harbor hope in the face of unspeakable destruction and horror.

This volume of AGITATE! then, is our invitation for a walk. We ask you to come walk with us, and in walking together retell stories, spin tales, share the tangled desires, and wait in hope, nay silence, for the return of those whom we lost… Those whose absence our stories will pine for and house. We will give them a burial in the stories, in walking together, celebrating and mourning those who we will not see, or who were stopped from seeing, or those who are snatched from us, or those who we are not allowed to talk about, or those who we are made to forget…

In walking together, and weaving those stories in silence we find a ritual that might account for what we cannot really make sense of. The inhuman loss and annihilation. Of bodies, lands, rivers, dreams, beings, relations, places, and peoples. 

We are deeply indebted to all our saathis and hamsafars who walk with us on the pages of this volume, our steps, stories, and pains conjoined and unfolding as follows:

AGITATE! Volume 5

Stories and Ecologies of Violence:
Walking Together in Solidarity and Silence/ Chup

Edited by Richa Nagar, Abdul Aijaz, and Nithya Rajan

  • Introducing AGITATE! Vol 5: Stories and Ecologies of Violence: Walking Together in Solidarity and Silence/ Chup, by Abdul Aijaz and Richa Nagar
  • In the Absence of a Corpse, by Soibam Haripriya
  • Solidarity with Palestine from Kashmir: Kashmiri, Hindi, and Urdu translations of Refaat Alareer’s ‘If I Must Die’, by Ather Zia, Idrisa Pandit, Richa Nagar, and Abdul Aijaz
  • Buried Waters, by Efadul Huq
  • Act One: The Multan Railway Station, by Abdul Aijaz
  • Silence | Chup, by Fawad Khan
  • Playing Chup/ Resonance Across Borders, Karachi (Dir: Sunil Shanker); Bombay (Parakh Theatre, Dir: Tarun Kumar)
  • चुप्पी की बोली: एक मंथन | chuppī kī bolī: ek manthan, प्रस्तुति: ऋचा नागर | interwoven by richa nagar; roman transliteration by gwendolyn kirk & richa nagar
  • Playing With Silence: Fawad Khan Speaks with Richa Nagar and Abdul Aijaz
  • Carrying Silences Across Borders: Tarun Kumar Speaks with Abdul Aijaz, and Richa Nagar
  • A Haunting, Howling Chup: Literature and Ecology of Violence, by Abdul Aijaz
  • New Gaza, by Marwan Makhoul, with translations
  • New Narratives of Old Wars: Testimonios from the Co-Madres of El Salvador, by Heider Tun Tun, Ruby Steigerwald, and Inez Steigerwald
  • Untitled, by Ather Zia
  • غزہ کی خُدائی | ग़ज़ा की ख़ुदाई | Ghaza’s World, by Imran Feroze; English translation and Devanagari transliteration by Gwendolyn Kirk and Abdul Aijaz
  • Poetics is Political: Politics and Poetics of Difference Across the Borders of the Nation-States, by Papori Bora
  • इंतिफ़ादा | Intifada | انتفادہ, by Ashok Kumar Pandey; Transliteration in Nastaliq by Abdul Aijaz and Gwendolyn Kirk;  English translation by Richa Nagar and Medha Muskan
  • Amaithi as Stillness: Holding Palestine in the Batticaloa Justice Walk, by The Batticaloa Justice Walk

Notes

Notes
1 Soibam Haripriya, In the Absence of a Corpse.
2 Vijayalakshmi Segaruban, Batticaloa
3 Women of ​​Tamil Nadu and North-Eastern Sri Lanka have long eulogized and lamented through Oppari, an ancient form of funeral singing.
4 In Tamil, Amaithi means peace, silence, calmness.