Gregor Samsa Must Die, photo essay by Tuhin Bhattacharjee
In Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore’s poem ‘Flute Muic’, the narrator, a junior clerk who earns twenty five rupees a month and dreams of the girl in a Dacca sari he could not marry, describes his companion in his cramped rented room thus: “Another creature apart from me lives in my room/ For the same rent;/ A lizard”, before going on to add with a wry humour, “There’s one difference between him and me:/ He doesn’t go hungry.” There is empathy in these lines, however ironic, and a sense of silent companionship, sans any form of malice for the little reptile. Bengali literature is replete with insects and vermin, their narratives interwoven with human lives, often in innocuous love-hate relationships. In Nabarun Bhattacharya’s fiction, we find a rich world of termites, gnats, and cockroaches, though the picture here is not half as romantic as Tagore’s. They also feature in folklores around the world, like the character of Anansi in African folktales who often takes the shape of a spider and is considered the source of knowledge and wisdom.
All this, however, is hardly a reflection of the relationship we actually share with our ‘less evolved’ co-inhabitants. Our art is our ally in eliding the narratives of violence. Spiderman is cool, but real-life spiders and cockroaches are met only with hostility (read pest-repellants). I myself abhor household bugs (obviously); they carry bacteria and spread disease, but most importantly they damage the aesthetics of my room. Not even the environmentalists are interested in taking up their cause. They say that while these pests have huge ecological importance in forests, deserts and elsewhere, we can safely eliminate the roaches in our homes, and there’s no need to feel guilty about it for there’s no great ecological value to them. So basically they don’t stand a chance. There is no (human) ethical standard to vindicate their lives. We don’t need them, just as Gregor Samsa’s family didn’t need him anymore. The verdict has always been clear. Gregor Samsa must die.
But then sometimes, and only sometimes, I have an eerie wish. In our mythology, we hear of Bhramari Devi (the Goddess of bees), an incarnation of Shakti, who according to the Devi Bhagavata Purana, summoned an army of countless bees, hornets, termites, spiders, and mosquitoes, in order to sting the demon Arunasur to death. My uncanny wish is the realisation of this story. That like the birds in Hitchcock, these insects too will rebel one day. A rebellion of all the household insects and reptiles of the world against the human species, against our anthropocentric ethics, which has destroyed their habitats, colonised their spaces. That will be the Day of Judgement, when God will appear to us, not as the scriptures describe Him, but as Ingmar Bergman saw Him. As a giant spider.
Gregor Samsa’s will rise from the grave. The Second Coming shall be their revenge on humanity.
(by Tuhin Bhattacharjee)
Q&A with Tuhin Bhattacharjee
Photography, for me, is all about interrogating the gaze. As Susan Sontag writes, “to photograph is to appropriate the thing photographed.” This appropriation, I believe, takes place in the photographer’s subjectivity, which is in turn influenced by ideology and leaves its impression on the image. Through photography, I try to engage with the question of the subject’s gaze and locate it within the photo-text itself, thereby situating the image at the liminal space between the personal and the political.
Photography and writing…
To me, both writing and photography are forms of what Jacques Derrida defines as ‘arche-writing’. The image, like the word, is a signifier without its own signified. The processes of infinite referral from one sign to another are the result of a primary absence that informs all elements of the symbolic order. But it is this very absence, this ‘originary’ lack, that produces desire. Both my writing and my photography are attempts not to capture but to mediate my desires through the image and the written word.
Who left the biggest impression on you?
I have been most influenced by the photographs of Antoine D’Agata, Cindy Sherman, Nan Goldin, Ronny Sen, and Santasil Mallik. Besides, the theories of Jacques Derrida and Jacques Lacan have left a lasting impression on the way I think and articulate myself.