ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Caste and the Resistance of Theatre

Body on the Barricades: Life, Art, and Resistance in Contemporary India by Brahma Prakash, New Delhi: LeftWord Books, 2023; pp 210, `325.

The author would like to thank Udaya Kumar for his careful reading and comments on an earlier draft of this review.

Towards the end of Vivek Shanbagh’s (2023: 160) novel Sakina’s Kiss, its compulsively self-exposing narrator observes, “The intensity of a life can be measured in stupid decisions. I have always been envious of those who manage to be reckless.” “Stupid” here does not mean thoughtless or banal; it means, instead, that which is uncalculated, spontaneous, without reck or care for one’s own interest. While in Shanbagh’s novel, the terrifying, yet, alluring image of such stupidity—of the ability to spontaneously risk one’s well-being or even one’s life—can be glimpsed only as a projection, a radiance foreclosed, it is at the very centre of Brahma Prakash’s astonishing and passionate book, Body on the Barricades: Life, Art, and Resistance in Contemporary India.

As the title of the book indicates, it is about the possibility of resistance in a public space saturated by authoritarian hierarchies, moralistic pieties, panic, and dread. Perhaps that is putting it a little mildly—for, in fact, the book suggests that resistance is not only possible in the worst of times, but that it may emerge most vividly and forcefully in precisely such times. This is because acute crisis produces a clarity that may be missing in a state of generalised and routinised oppression. Right from the beginning, the book invokes the COVID-19 pandemic not only as a disaster, but also as a moment of revelation, one that made visible what might have been invisible before—namely a general condition of airlessness, of suffocation and asphyxiation, daily experienced by those who enter sewers, those who live in airless shanties, and those who are throttled by the police. Its reading of the pandemic as a paradigmatic moment is predicated on two strands, two themes, if you like, that are woven through the entire fabric of the text.

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Updated On : 4th Dec, 2023
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