This is to say hi

I loved you in the morning, our kisses deep and warm
Your hair upon the pillow like a sleepy golden storm
Yes, many loved before us, I know that we are not new
In city and in forest they smiled like me and you
But now it’s come to distances and both of us must try
Your eyes are soft with sorrow
Hey, that’s no way to say goodbye

Leonard Cohen

Perhaps this is a way to say hi. We are a long way from goodbye.

What does it mean to say hi on an anniversary? How and what does one remember now that it has come to distances? What does one wish for oneself when wishful thinking is all one has done? If finding new name, and a new home for the idea of equality, is an act of conversion, as B.R. Ambedkar would say, how do we commemorate the day of naming Navayana as such and such publishing house seventeen years ago on this day?

It means conversion; but if you do not like the word, I will say it means new life. But a new life cannot enter a body that is dead. New life can enter only into a new body. The old body must die before a new body can come into existence and a new life can enter into it (Annihilation of Caste).

Navayana renews itself each time it offers the world a book. Each book an arrow with no calculable target apart from causing a new vital wound of thinking, as teacher and philosopher Soumyabrata Choudhury would say.

Looking back at the last seventeen years, things haven’t changed much at Navayana in The Order of Things. We have grown from one person to a team of three. Our output averages five titles a year, six at best—a small step for capitalist productivity, a giant leap for Navayana. Yet our strong backlist, and the flow of reprints, keep us alive. Each new book is a kick of life: no book is less urgent than any other, no book more urgent. Our readers—amorphous and mysterious, not quite capturable as data and yet so real—almost always make sure we know that.

Those with neoliberal ideas of growth and success would look pitiably at our production models and profitability. From within this ideology then, let us consider a ‘cost-benefit analysis’ as our beloved author Anand Teltumbde is wont to say. Why should Navayana exist? What is its ambition? To sell more books and become a brand that progressive virtue signallers can latch on to? Corner this market, appropriate it, and monopolise it? Even for such ambitions we lack the resources, leave aside ideological qualms. What of effecting change in thought, revolutionising thought, a vanguard for the world to come? A noble enough aim, but in the face of the fascism of everyday life, this can seem self-aggrandizing and delusional.

In Soumyabrata Choudhury’s new book Now It’s Come To Distances: Notes on Coronavirus and Shaheen Bagh, Association and Isolation we get an inkling of what we are doing—giving duration to thought, and giving thought duration. When all seems lost and nothing seems possible, we sit in the interstices of existent reality and stretch out its logic.

In March 2020, the Shaheen Bagh event collided with the coronavirus pandemic. As associated life went into isolation, teacher at JNU Soumyabrata Choudhury was making notes and sharing them with students, to whom he is Shomo/Shomu. They were rethinking fundamental questions: What is a constitution? Can social life also be an isolated one? What makes people citizens? Why were some abandoned to the streets while we remained indoors during the lockdown? Does the ‘new normal’ immunise us to all encounters: politics, love, art? Choudhury asks if there can be social distancing in a society to which one does not belong. This diary—read an excerpt here in The Philosophical Salon—traces the challenge posed by an incandescent and immortal association like Shaheen Bagh in the face of a dictatorship of mortals that rose with the pandemic.

In June 2020, Navayana offered free masks with books, forging an alliance with our tailor-neighbours, asking you to ‘Mask Up, Read On’. Come November, we are offering you a book that demands that you ‘lower the mask of new normalcy and expose yourself to the upsurge of thought’. And without irony, this book, too, comes with a free mask from Shahbaz Tailors.

The book has inspired a video essay by Prabuddha Collective that attempts to audio-visually think the broad conceptual contours, mood, tonality and the overall thought-movement of the book. It organises the popular imagery circulated during the pandemic into the thought-world of Now It’s Come to Distances.

Now that it’s come to distances, both of us must try. This is just a way to say hi.