It has been five months now, since you were jailed. Each day, I wonder if I will write something that makes sense of what these five months have meant. But context, analysis and implications have a time and place. You belong to another world – going back to my childhood. And it is from that world that I write this note.
I write to the aunt who, when I was eight, thought that I was old enough to understand primitive communism and the barter system: my first lesson in Marx. I write it to that aunt who watched old Hindi films with me. I didn’t know at the time why you were travelling between Delhi and Chhattisgarh, your trade union work, or your work as a lawyer. I heard you talk about Shankar Guha Niyogi – but for me, you were still more important when you sang ‘Ibn Battuta’ and ‘Mera joota hai Japani’: songs which will forever belong to you.
I grew older, and you became Sudha Bharadwaj. With my college days, going to Bilaspur, you finally became for me the lawyer and activist that so many have written about. I remember when you were in Delhi for a week, and some of us decided to organise a panel on the Maruti workers’ movement, and you agreed to speak. And I just took it for granted that you would. As I took for granted your willingness to work and talk with me: even if I mailed you from the US about an assignment. Just like that, the reply would come.
I don’t know whether you liked being in Delhi as much as Bilaspur: but I can only be grateful that you were around so often over the summer when I visited. I have never expressed how much you have given me: perhaps your life and commitments, which were far less interesting than the games and songs in my childhood, resonated in more ways than I will understand.
You saw a sulky, angry and stressed version of me when we last met, desperately going through research material. And you asked whether I miss the kind of political work you remembered me doing in Delhi. I wish I could tell you, and could have told you, what I am thinking, and how things are happening here – and you would have wanted to know even though we both understand the vast gap between UMass and Bilaspur.
When we last talked on the phone, you were being taken for house arrest – a quick goodbye. But what you said was, in every sense, ironic. You told me that I should make sure that I take care of myself, stop working hard and make sure that I have some fun and spare time in life. I will take that suggestion. But more than that, I hope to take another bit of advice, an always unspoken presence since I have known you – a life based on commitments, not only to specific political ideas, but to the recognition of the lives that people have, imagine and desire – wherever we all come from.
My most enduring memory of you, or the one that I think of most these days, is you singing ‘Aa Chal ke Tujhe’. I didn’t know this was a Kishore Kumar song till recently. It was always the song you sang. More and more, I find myself humming along to memories of you.
So here it is, until I hear you sing again.
All my love.
Ragini Jha is a doctoral student of history at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.