There are no breaking news at the moment

“…most modern conflict has been grounded in the use of terror to control and silence whole populations. Those abusing power typically refuse to acknowledge their dead victims, as if they had never existed and were mere wraiths in the memories of those left behind. This denial, and the impunity of those who maintain it must be challenged if survivors are to make sense of their losses and the social fabric is to mend. For the names and fate of the dead to be properly lodged in the public record of their times also illuminates the costs that may flow from the philosophies and practices of the Western-led world order, ones which health workers should be in a position to influence.”

  • Raising the dead: war, reparation, and the politics of memory – Derek Summerfield (1995)[1]

Set in the context of the terrorist attack in Peshawar, where 100 students were killed, the short film – The School Bag, produced by Large Short Films, directed by Dheeraj Jindal, revolves around a simple story of a mother-son relationship played by Rasika Dugal and Sartaaj RK.

A mother well within the confines of the house waits for the beckoning of the child, a son, who calls quite incessantly and impatiently upon his return from school. He is elated about the day and wishes to let his mother know all that he did throughout the day. He was returning from a friend’s birthday party. His mother reminds him of his birthday which was the day after. He is excited and wishes to have a new bag, a big one that both of them saw at a market-place. The demand for a school bag is indeed a modest and simple one. Interspersed we find references to the father, who calls and inquires about the child. Nothing else speaks of him in the house. No trace of any physical belongings that makes one think of his presence, the duration of his stay, other limits and boundaries.

Cut to the next scene. The child tells the mother that he needs the bag and cites various creative ways to coax her. The next section of the film deals with the negotiation that the mother-son duo has over the bag. Disheartened with the lack of a convincing affirmative answer from the mother, the son goes to sleep. Next morning as he wakes up, he is perturbed. He is unable to focus on even morning prayers, refuses to speak to the mother, and locks himself in the washroom. His mother coaxes him to come out and leaves surreptitiously and the child comes out to check whether she has left. As he comes out, he sees the bag, the same nice, big bag that he so desperately wished for. He is elated and both of them share a doting few moments of love. He leaves for school. I would leave the readers at this point and urge them to watch, The School Bag[2]. Not because I believe story or plot-lines hinge on last lines, but because of the nuanced, mellow unwinding of the next few moments wherein the patience, love, waiting, care unfurl in the backdrop of a melodious rendition of Faiz’s nazm, continually and occasionally ruptured by the discrete disturbances of the radio transmission.

The film subtly reminds the audience of the space of the school, a place where he and other children go everyday – it is perhaps mundane, but not a place, which is not part of the routine, not a place that evokes suspicion. It is a place where any child would wish to display their prized possessions, it is a place from where they collect memories, a place where they enjoy and a place around which a child’s life revolves.

One might brush aside this utopic conception of school. But didn’t we imagine schools as places where children of any society as a moral ought, could participate in learning and claim education to be a fundamental right? In the current political climate, when homes, roads and universities cease to be spaces where there is no fear, schools are perhaps no different. When people kill, children who are in school, in this country or anywhere else, we destroy and defeat ourselves. When a Syrian child cries and asks from the caregiver whether he will survive, we fail. The film, without using strong imagery and a complex, packed unfolding of events, instead follows a rather usual, predictable narrative. The background score, however, reminds once again of images that capture children swept by sea, videos that show the cold-blooded murder of children in war torn areas, images of a child crying near the dead mother’s body.

Keeping this thread as a sublime background, the director, Dheeraj Jindal, has also quite aptly yet subtly pointed towards the metaphor of a container. From Palestinian folklore to stories across the world, containers and treasure boxes have been the collector of memories, often individual, yet in a sense, shared and public. While the act of collecting memories could be an individual act, when several people in a community face the same fate, the loss of their beloved, perhaps memories fail to retain their boundaries between individual, private and public; memories become shared.

The film reminds us about the loss of the guardian of memories – the loss of a child, a human life. While studies have pointed out the concerns of traumatic conditions in children in post-war regions, a paper titled, Raising the dead: war, reparation, and the politics of memory by Derek Summerfield (1995) spoke about the memories that hound the people who stay back. Often, what is left behind is used as a reminder of people who do not exist, reassuring that memories at least that they have rights onto. Revisiting Africa, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Vietnam, Argentina, Cuba and other war-torn areas (we have enough of these areas in India), Summerfield’s article allows one to conceptualise the politics of memory and how “disappearance” challenges us, makes us ahistorical, strands us in an island with no sense  of time and space. The short film brings us to such a closure, wherein, the mother drags her body towards the ground, holds the bag, clenches the bag as if to stop a violent, unforgiving storm to ruffle the memories so carefully tucked in the folds of the bag. The film reiterates, “the struggle is to get the social order to own up to what is done to reduce human beings to dust, albeit loved dust, and to the uncounted others who are not even that, merely names in the mouths of those who remember. This is a struggle without end but one that cannot be shirked”[3]. We hope these films reach us, reach them. We hope as Galeano says, we all become chroniclers of memory, amidst the struggles, never forgetting the fights, but rather, relayering the narratives of loss, love and return in to new stories of life and survival.

Rolla Das, a research scholar, has pursued her doctoral work on communication, pragmatics and gestures, under the Cognition Programme, in National Institute of Advanced Studies, India. She has a Master’s degree in Philosophy and Cognitive Science from Jadavpur University, India. Her work has been acknowledged in conferences both in India, such as the conference on Cognition, experience and Creativity, held in IIT-Gandhinagar, India, 2010, International conference on Language-Cognition Interface: State of the Art, CBCS-Allahabad, India, 2009 and abroad, such as the International Conference by International Cognitive Linguistics association (ICLC) (2011 and 2013), in the 4th and 5th conference by the International Society for Gesture Studies (2010, 2012 and 2014) and recently at the 31st South Asian Language Analysis Roundtable, 2015.  Currently, she is an assistant professor at Christ University and teaches in the department of English Studies.

 

[1] Summerfield, D. (1995). Raising the dead: war, reparation, and the politics of memory. BMJ: British Medical Journal, 311(7003), 495.

[2] Available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2oZOOKFTKpE

[3] Summerfield, D. (1995). Raising the dead: war, reparation, and the politics of memory. BMJ: British Medical Journal, 311(7003), 495.

 

One Comment

  1. K SHESHU BABU says:

    A simple film with profound meaning. The horror of children killed in Pakistan school haunt even to this day. The film with moving script depicts the inner sorrow of mother child relation marred by terrorist attacks on innocent lives