In Memory of Rohith Vemula
By Himanshu Upadhyaya
O Dear Rohith,
I have been reading the lips of those who have been framing an academic analysis of your death.
There are those who wish to scrutinize the stylistics of the slogans shouted by your friends.
Then, there are those who keep staring at the words that were struck out from your suicide note.
They witness my eyes gazing at their moving lips,
They keep repeating, “No, no that is not what I meant to say”,
They say, “Hmm, you have misunderstood my point of view.”
My eyes keep gazing at their moving lips,
Which do a magnanimous lip service to the cause;
Your cause as well as my cause.
None of them have come around to hold a conversation
With this Deaf friend of yours.
They think I have broken all barriers of exclusion,
They claim that you and I shall not complain,
They whisper, “Look at that Deaf friend of Rohith’s,
Didn’t he master lip reading,
And reach the stage of doing a PhD in disability studies at a central university?”
Those Hearies, among themselves, continue this chain of whispers,
“Where is there any institutional exclusion here?”
The other day, after doing a lot of lip reading,
(Even of the whispers being staged away from my gaze),
I came back to my hostel room,
Faced the mirror, and started signing at a wild pace,
“Professor, I refuse to lip read your aatlaami
(How movingly my late mother would sign that Bangla word, which means intellectualisms!),
From tomorrow, I will go back to the world of composing soliloquies,
Yes, I have no desire to be heard any more.
Now what would you call that Rohith?
Silencing, Frustration, Death Wish or a Murder of my voice?
Full disclosure: The poet is not a born-Deaf person. But he emotionally commits to inhabit the world of soliloquies and fantasizes having conversations comfortably in Indian (and other) sign languages with Deaf friends, in a somewhat authentic manner, before death strikes him down. He teaches at Azim Premji University, Bangalore.
Himanshu Upadhyaya works at Azim Premji University, Bangalore. He has a keen interest in pursuing scholarly studies in linguistic ecology, Indian Sign Language, and Deaf Studies.
For more stories, read Café Dissensus Everyday, the blog of Café Dissensus Magazine.