It is an honour, comrades and friends, to be given an opportunity to participate as more than an observer in the unfolding histories of JANAM and LEFTWORD, histories that have been rich and complex, and which continue to be inspired by, even as they take forward the legacy of, among others, Safdar Hashmi’s progressive leftwing open-mindedness, non-sectarianism, compassion, boundless energy and creativity.
It is a pleasure to participate in this process as a barista, even if this will happen only erratically, because:(1) for years now I have found the dance of baristas behind counters fascinating, and I enjoyed swinging to the rhythms of making and serving coffee during a three year stint as barista at Sarai; (2) the coffee counter, from behind the counter, has appealed to me immensely because even though it is a barrier separating the barista from the customer, it ends up, strangely enough, becoming the very opposite: urging many who come to rest their elbows upon it, to share secrets and strike intimacies with the barista that would otherwise be unimaginable between strangers; and (3)—to be taken with fistfuls of salt—coffee and cafes have been to the international labour movement and the left, what beer and beer halls have been to fascism and the right! This may be really stretching things, but I feel it’s still worth saying, thinking about and researching.
I hope that the dream for this café in the bookstore-café Mayday, will remain, to create for all those who work here and come by, aromas, tastes, textures and an atmosphere that add substantially to whatever it is that all of us come here for, while also nudging comrades, friends and strangers to remember that coffees and teas, like everything else, come out of global social histories, pasts and presents bloodied, on the one hand, by forced labour regimes, sites, on the other, of inspired protests, rebellions, dreams and practices for emancipating heady use values like coffee from the commodity form and labour from wage-slavery. The 1950’s struggles of workers employed in coffee houses run by the Coffee Board of India, leading to the Nehru-Gopalan Pact in 1956, and the subsequent handing over of these coffee houses to employees organized in newly formed workers’ co-operatives is just one among many tales that can add up to a disturbing and fascinating story of coffee.
I hope too, that this bookstore-café Mayday, inaugurated on Mayday 2012, 128 years after it was first proposed in 1884, that May 1, 1886 be the day on which workers across America strike work demanding an 8-hour working day; 126 years after the Haymarket affair in Chicago which was a direct outcome of the huge strikes that engulfed the US on May 1, 1886 in which anarchists played a critical role; and 122 years after the internationalization of Mayday in 1890, following the call given to this effect by the First Congress of the Second International on July 14, 1889 exactly a hundred years after the fall of the Bastille, I hope this café bookstore will remind us everyday—not just on May 1—of Mayday. I hope it will remind us of the waves of worker self-activity and the rich debates and polemics between different political strands within the international labour movement that Mayday emerged from and in turn inspired. I hope it will remind us of the immense creativity, ingenuity and changing demands and forms that have been integral to the history of Mayday demonstrations and celebrations, and absolutely central to helping Mayday survive as a living, breathing tradition instead of ossifying into meaningless ritual. Finally, in these times of economic and political barbarism when the left appears to have lost its way just when the need for progressive left alternatives is the greatest ever in recent memory, I hope the everyday presence of Mayday in our lives will remind us of the urgency to revisit and engage critically, fearlessly, ruthlessly and open-mindedly with the wider history of the international labour movement and left politics so that we may begin to find ourselves, and inspire once again with ideas, example, visions, joys, dreams, words and everyday democratic practices and cultures.
All the best to the bookstore-café Mayday, and warm congratulations to all who have dreamt up this space and brought it into being, especially to you, Sudhanva, for your refusal to stick to the straight and the narrow and the audacity with which you have always tried to strike new ground in your journeys, since the time we first met at Ramjas College during the mid-‘80’s, I a long-haired young teacher and you an even younger earnest student, until the very NOW. As for all of you, comrades and friends, the young and the old, and all those who may have already come and gone, a very big thank you for giving life and hope to Mayday with your songs and spirited presence here today. Thank you very much.
Mayday 2012 at the Bookstore - café Mayday.