Of flags, faces and fascism

When we were younger, T-shirts hung from our bodies like flags at half-mast, unlikely symbols of procrastinating rebellions. A rude message, a shocking colour, an unwashed tone, an abrupt tear, an untidy tuck – these were all part of the vocabulary of a teenager's kitchen-sink revolutions. Such battles were waged against parents, mathematics teachers, school bellboys, prudish girlfriends and evasive boyfriends, but most often against the reflections of boredom in our bathroom mirrors. Very rarely were these cheeky messages directed at notaries of institutionalised power or political nannies. Occasionally a Che would appear on a black T-shirt, or a Save Tibet or Palestine – both places as distant to our schoolbook imagination as was their imagined existence on a map. These white fingerprints of a bony hand on black fabric were our markers of protest, individuality, solidarity – and, often, our cries for help.

The recent sequence of violent events in Nandigram brought back sudden memories of our use of cloth as markers of 'protest'. Under the direction of an absurd dramatist – a stubborn chief minister sponsored by his arrogant politburo – farmers and their families were being banished and then returned, all of which culminated in an epilogue of the planting of red Communist Party of India (Marxist) flags all over the place: in front of houses, on electric poles, bridges – even at the mouth of a broken well.

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Himal Southasian