Literary Animal: Reading India, Part IV

Literary Animal: Reading India, Part IV

This installment of the Literary Animal: Reading India blog series is set in Walavati, India in Maharastra State.

Part IV: On Bird Flu and Terror

Amitava Kumar’s book, A Foreigner Carrying in the Crook of his Arms a Tiny Bomb, is about the global repercussions of the war on terror, not about bird flu, but the two subjects intersect briefly in the prologue.

Kumar interviewed the Haspatels, who had been wrongfully detained and subjected to torture. At their home in Walavati, he met Abul Jalal, a poultry farmer, who told him, “What the Americans were doing in Abu Ghraib, they learned from our policemen here.” Kumar refers to Jalal as a “harmless fabricator of history,” realizing his fabrication:

“was only trying to link what had happened in Walavati to the wider world. Abu Ghraib was a name that people all over recognized. The torture practiced there had attracted universal condemnation. Could Walavati, too please get its fair share of outrage if not justice?”

Similarly, I’ve wondered if the environmental and social impacts of industrial animal agriculture are becoming more widely understood, if at some point will there be a sense of condemnation of these practices in places like India, where western methods of factory farming are on the rise.

Kumar begins his book by acknowledging the players in this story about the global war on terror: the “non-experts” (“their collective work is not a matter of expertise, but instead, an act of troubled witness”), the “losers” and “the small people.” Kumar describes Jalal’s role in this narrative:

“Abul Jalal was undeniably a minor fabulist, spinning a striking tale that tied his village to a distant prison where a people, and arguably, a faith, were being treated as the enemy to be broken and humiliated. I think of him as a humble participant in the struggle over the meaning of September 11 and its global aftermath.”

The story of the ramifications of the globalization of industrialized animal agriculture perhaps also is comprised of non-experts, ‘losers’ and ‘small people.’ The spread of zoonotic diseases such as avian flu H5N1 and swine flu H1N1 is just one of the many unintended consequences Brighter Green’s case study notes:

“After H5N1 decimated chicken populations in Maharashtra state’s Nandurbar district in 2006, the government attempted to stop its spread by restricting imports of meat products, birds, and pigs from countries where H5N1 had been documented. However, additional cases occurred, and avian flu penetrated the poultry sector in West Bengal, Assam, and Sikkim in 2008 and 2009, with 11, 18, and 152 outbreaks respectively. These are extremely costly’not only in the loss of human and animal lives, but also to the agricultural economy, and particularly small producers. In West Bengal alone, nearly four million chickens were culled as a result of the flu, many from small, backyard operations.”

In the story of animal agriculture in India, perhaps Jalal plays multiple roles: a troubled witness, a humble participant, one who bears his share of losses:

“The arrival of avian flu earlier in the year had made it necessary for Jalal to kill all the chickens on his farm.”

I recently contacted Amitava Kumar to find out more about what happened to Jalal and his farm. He kindly offered some contacts in the region who may be able to put me in touch. For now, we leave Jalal here, where his role in one story ends and begins in another.

To read the other posts in this blog series, Literary Animal: Reading India, click here.