Dear Kamran Baradaran,
Your question is complex—“what does it mean to be a philosopher in the middle of a pandemic in India”.
Philosopher has no adjective—national, linguistic, and even of schools. In your question “the pan” or “the whole“ of the “pandemic” (what has befallen the whole) speaks of that which exceeds adjectives such as national boundaries. However, “the pan” exists as that which is found as the varying swaying silhouette of all the individual existences.
The extraordinary calamity that is unfolding in India is due mainly to the political conditions of Hindu fascism which is letting the coronavirus ravage through millions. It is a project reliant on the invention of Hindu religion. Hindu religion masks the fact that the real majority of the subcontinent are the lower caste people, the 90%, and the 10% minority of upper castes have been oppressing the former for millennia. To ensure upper caste rule Muslims and other religious minorities were invented as the enemies of the ‘Hindu nation’. RSS (National Self-server’s Corp) is the parent organisation of this government in India, and they are enabled in projecting the hoax of a ‘Hindu majoritarianism’ by the media which is owned by the upper castes. Therefore, even in the middle of this calamity the scale of the sufferings of millions is hidden away by the media; we get our news from international media. They must hide it because for the sustenance of the Hindu hoax the RSS and Modi cannot show that they are causing misery to the majority; misery must be reserved as a spectacle for the religious minorities.
Here the fascist cronies, who have now been made gods, but of a lesser stature than Modi, are profiteering from the sickness and deaths of the poor; and we will soon have new coronavirus billionaires in India. There are people selling living breath for hundreds of thousands of rupees here. At this very moment Modi is continuing the construction of a coffin shaped prime ministerial palace for himself in violation of Delhi’s lockdown rules which is costing billions of dollars. As the poet of this calamity, a grieving poor woman named Neena, said of Modi, "He has lit funeral pyres in everyone's home". Then it is appropriate that Modi will soon address India from his new coffin palace!
This is the ground from which philosophy speaks the voice of the pan right now. Since parking lots, parks, pedestrian ways and animal burial grounds are now cremation grounds and cemeteries here the voice of the pan speaks from the ground of millions of deaths, a megadeath ground. In this moment philosophy takes the ancient aesthetic form of the lament—the Moiroloi, the lamenting of that which disposes us.
There was a time when Moiroloi in the Mediterranean region was perceived as the art of women who helplessly expressed all the realities which were hidden by men in power when wars and calamities ripped open these hoaxes and veils of power. However, this freedom was possible then only in the circle of time opened by deaths and destruction. On the other hand men who lamented were mocked by poets as those “liquified” by sorrow into femininity. Homer was embarrassed by Achilles when his warrior-being was liquified by the news of the death of Patroclus, and he lamented in great sorrow. That is, Moiroloi seizes a body made rigid and blinded by heroic masculinity into something liquid which is able to enter the hidden corners of the veils of power. Even if it could eventually destroy everything Moiroloi shows us the future from the edges of the end.
This new Moiroloi of India has something to say for the whole world. You know that in the subcontinent only Brahmins were allowed to think and write, and they did only that, ensuring that their writings not only did not disturb the social order of caste oppression but fortified it with magical and mystical pronouncements. This Brahminical style is akin to the masculine poetry which opposed itself to Moiroloi, which was praise poetry. Indian subcontinent had always been the land of praise poets.
But today, philosophy everywhere risks being abducted away from politics into praise poetry, in which case it cannot be philosophy. It exists as the reception of the “exalted ones” who merely think thoughts about thoughts, which will create something resembling what India is right now by abandoning the polis for the collegium of Brahmins.
So, to answer your question again—To be a philosopher anywhere now means this: to be an ambulance driver, a primary school teacher in a village, a carrier of the dead, recipient of the beatings of the fascists, agitator, the agonist of unnamable sorrow which snatches the soul away from the call of the dead to mourn for them because there are worse days still ahead. Then this is what a philosophy must do—be seized by Moiroloi, holding itself out to the edge of stasis in order to be received by anastasis, that which overcomes the stasis.
Wishing you the best
Shaj Mohan is a philosopher based in the subcontinent. He is the co-author with Divya Dwivedi of Gandhi and Philosophy: On Theological Anti-Politics (Bloomsbury UK, 2019), foreworded by Jean-Luc Nancy. Tweets @shajmohan
The above text is an email response from Shaj Mohan to Kamran Baradaran, a journalist and translator of the philosophical works of Jean Baudrillard, Antonio Gramsci, Paul Virilio and Slavoj Žižek.
Image: Photograph, by the Associated Press (AP/Altaf Qadri), of a ground that has been converted into a crematorium in Delhi, India.