And Quiet Flows the Kopili

by

Manash Bhattacharjee, 24th September, Guernica and The Wire

“To memorise the victims of history—the sufferers, the humiliated, the forgotten—should be a task for all” -Paul Ricœur, “Memory and Forgetting”

The human body is a place, and hence, an archive of memory. It records and tells the past, its own past, but with a difference—unlike record books, the body bears the real marks of memory. It becomes a site of recall, a source par excellence, where the recording of memory is indistinguishable from the intensity of feelings that lie within it. When the body speaks, it carries the effect of the voice, which contains the text of memory as it remembers the unforgettable. If forced to enter an unbearable landscape, the body often ends up a stuttering parrot of memory, falteringly repeating the event of loss. Watching a documentary which recalls more than two thousand Muslims being killed within six hours in Nellie, Assam in 1983, I felt that the victims’ and survivors’ bodies are denied any relationship with either the sacred or the profane—they have been simply cut off from all civilized life. When people recollect events of mass mutilation, bodies become insignificant objects of violence and breakage. The individual names that belong to these bodies, their social and cultural registers, are of no importance to the state. Even the family remembers and relates to these (dead) bodies differently, as if they no longer belong to a world of shared meanings.

Subasri Krishnan’s What the Fields Remember, about the Nellie massacre of February 18, 1983, is a haunting tale calmly told. It is rare to find a film documenting political violence that stays so calm. This restraint doesn’t simply come from the passage of time—more than thirty years have passed since the day of mass mutilation—but out of a conscious effort by the filmmaker to preserve the somber calmness that confronts her in Nellie and adjoining villages. Subasri’s camera pauses on the landscape before focusing on the survivors.

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