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From the Editors

No Better Time to be Political than Now

There are times when a few lines of poetry can speak better about the trauma that we pass through and the acute need to respond to it both as writers and as citizens than many paragraphs of prose. Both the Buddha and Brecht knew that ignorance is sin and it was the latter, who said,

…the worst illiterate is the political illiterate. He hears nothing, sees nothing, takes no part in political life. He doesn’t seem to know that the cost of living, the price of beans, of flour, of rent, of medicines, all depend on political decisions. He even prides himself on his political ignorance, sticks out his chest and says he hates politics. He doesn’t know, the imbecile, that from his political non-participation comes the sex-worker, the abandoned child, the robber and worst of all, corrupt officials, the lackeys of exploitative multinational corporations.

At a time when being apolitical simply means to be a silent collaborator in the worst crimes committed by a political class that hates democracy and thinks it is born to rule; can get away with any crime from the planned impoverishment of the masses, and the irresponsible exploitation of the public exchequer to lynching of the helpless, murder of writers and thinkers and even genocide, aversion to politics is no less than deliberate evasion of one’s duty as a citizen and a human being. The destiny that awaits the apolitical intellectual has best been summed up by Otto Rene Castillo (1934-’67), the great Guatemalan poet and revolutionary martyr in an evocative and moving poem titled ‘Apolitical Intellectuals’. We quote the poem in full:

Apolitical Intellectuals

Otto Rene Castillo

One day
the apolitical
of my country
will be interrogated
by the simplest
of our people.

They will be asked
what they did
when their nation died out
like a sweet fire
small and alone.

No one will ask them
about their dress,
their long siestas
after lunch,
no one will want to know
about their sterile combats
with “the idea
of the nothing”
no one will care about
their higher financial learning.

They won’t be questioned
on Greek mythology,
or regarding their self-disgust
when someone within them
begins to die
the coward’s death.

They’ll be asked nothing
about their absurd
born in the shadow
of the total lie.

On that day
the simple men will come.
Those who had no place
in the books and poems
of the apolitical intellectuals,
but daily delivered
their bread and milk,
their tortillas and eggs,
those who drove their cars,
who cared for their dogs and gardens
and worked for them,
and they’ll ask:

“What did you do when the poor
suffered, when tenderness
and life
burned out of them?”

Apolitical intellectuals
of my sweet country,
you will not be able to answer.

A vulture of silence
will eat your gut.

Your own misery
will pick at your soul.

And you will be mute in your shame.



Githa Hariharan

K. Satchidanandan

November 2017