Politics 2020, Telegraph Calcutta

Prashant Kishor and his improbable power map

Politics is the art of the possible”, said

— Otto von Bismarck

And then there are those who make it their business to attempt the art, or risk it.

What’s the bet Prashant Kishor will pop up in Bihar next, having posed his happy hug with Arvind Kejriwal and left the celebrations of Delhi? But whatever for? He’s just been rudely cut cold by Nitish Kumar. He doesn’t have a backroom in Patna. Nor a client. He doesn’t have a party in Patna. Nor a post. What might he be headed to Bihar for?

We shall come to that presently. Ponder a little, meantime. A tip, if that helps: never underestimate the impulses of personal temperament and what they can make people do. You’d never have seen him with pen and paper but Prashant Kishor keeps notes, copious notes, and squirrels them like a moneylender squirrels IOUs.

The other thing he may have been squirrelling all this while is criticism, of which he has a richness. Could it be that he has divined in all the reproach his rewards? Could it be that he has come to inspire himself by how he is routinely damned?

Of the many reasons Kishor has been ridiculed for during his irrepressible zigzag as power strategist, three stand out, if only because they have proved the most popularly used of darts thrown at him.

Prashant Kishor is a gun for hire.

Prashant Kishor is politically polygamous.

Prashant Kishor is ideology-averse and, therefore, a freelance carpetbagger.

He has walked a trail wantonly littered with ammunition for critics to pick up and pinion him. Few have dared — often taunted — with nonchalant promiscuity to the public glare as Kishor. The first polevault from Narendra Modi to the battlements of his then sharpest critic, Nitish Kumar. From Nitish Kumar to the Congress. From the Congress back to Nitish Kumar. And from a firm perch in Nitish Kumar’s precincts, the opening of multiple dalliances — with Jagan Mohan Reddy in Andhra Pradesh, with Uddhav Thackeray in Maharashtra, with M.K. Stalin in Tamil Nadu, with Arvind Kejriwal in Delhi and, most wholesomely, with Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal.

His career and course have given incontrovertible truth to the rattle of his critics — gun for hire, political polygamy, ideological permissiveness.

But try reading that as Kishor himself might on occasion read his critics.

So I am an acknowledged gun; and I keep getting hired.

I am polygamous. But nobody’s complaining among those that court me.

I am permissive. Ideology? It’s what I tear to ribbons and make splendoured frills of. And look at the political cast that has allowed me to seduce around myself. Four chief ministers and an aspiring one. A geographic expanse that comprises in excess of 160 Lok Sabha seats.

Part of the attention, and often envy, Kishor generates must come from the uniqueness of where he has arrived doing his jagged journeys these past years. He is probably the most cross-linked political polymer in play at the moment, bewilderingly so. Forget not the investments and linkages he would have made during his years with Modi. Discount not the connect he made, and most likely retains, with the Gandhi scions. Believe not that all is done and dusted between him and Nitish Kumar. Never say never in politics, and Kishor is a politician to the core, if ever there was one. The IOUs are to be squirrelled and only tacitly employed; they are not for display.

There are, in fact, clues to suggest that Kishor is uneasy merely playing backroom strategist and seeks to move front of the table as political entity of his own. Such a shift requires, first of all, overt political positioning on extant issues, and Kishor has just assumed one — outright and outspoken opposition to the CAA-NPR-NRC project, which has the whole nation in a roil. He hectored Nitish Kumar publicly on the issue as vice-president of the Janata Dal (United), and probably even forced his early ouster from his ranks. That had two immediate and very public consequences, both of Kishor’s wanting: he was seen as clearly opposed to the pet Modi-Shah scheme, and, he was politically free. To do what perhaps he himself may not be clear on yet. But here’s the other patently political thing Kishor is doing: defining a line from those that he has chosen to work with. He has tied himself to a line and is taking sides as a politician, no longer a strategist able to pass this way and that through the ideological swing door. He has allied himself to varying degrees of opposition to the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah ambition.

That said, where Kishor is at the moment is a nebulous, unformed space rather distant even from the suggestion of turning into a prospect. But the man’s record suggests he isn’t daunted by the absence of prospects, or playing with several at the same time.

When he arrived in Bihar in late 2014, frustrated and squeezed out of the Modi scheme, Nitish Kumar looked like a political basket case. He had been pounded by Modi at home. He had given up chief ministership, handed the job to Jitan Ram Manjhi, and turned a recluse. Kishor it was who pushed him to reclaiming the chief minister’s chair. Kishor it was who, after deep initial reluctance, brokered a deal with Lalu Prasad. Kishor it was who crafted the winner Mahagathbandhan.

When the Congress was drubbed in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls in 2017, Kishor was back to where he was in mid-2014 — suddenly without visible prospect. He slid under a deep and extended cloud of introspection and reassessment. He briefly flirted with the idea of shutting shop. Then, slowly, he began to open windows anew. He joined the JDU. But clearly, he wasn’t to be contained and kept as creature of the party. The impulses of temperament wouldn’t let him be.

He’s out of the JDU now. Where does Kishor go from here? What does he do with the contrary cast he daily juggles around? Can something be done with it at all? Is there a plan? Is there a string to be found that can be run through all and make something of significance out of what are only disparate pieces at the moment?

Well, for a start, in the Kishor scheme of things, there are pieces. They can be moved. They can be manipulated. Square pegs and round holes, they can be chiselled to fit. Like Nitish and Lalu were made to fit in 2015. Who’d ever have thought that could be done? Least of all the two men central to the Mahagathbandhan plot. But they were nudged into a consequential clasp, if only for a trice, if only to demonstrate that the unlikeliest things are possible.

Just like in Bihar in 2015, a common spectre haunts the disparate pieces that Kishor has accumulated on his board. The spectre of an expanding Modi-Shah hegemony. There might now also be the additional CAA-NPR-NRC glue to work with. You need a glue when you work with scattered geographies and disconnected, if not also contrary, political egos and ambitions. Besides, and more pertinently, what pieces there are to move do not add up to anything sizeable enough. This is where what’s theoretically possible begins to get stared at by what’s improbable. This is the corridor that’s Kishor’s office.

It’s probably about to re-open in Bihar. Why, though? For a start, birds home; and ousted birds home with a vengeance. Bihar is the stage Kishor has long wanted to play on with an enactment all his own, a prodigal’s payback, if you will. Bihar is also a good place to attempt a conjuring from almost nothing. There is very little to build on. But there lies the challenge of possibilities, and its perils and charms; those are key impulses of the Kishor temperament.

Bihar is good place to begin experimenting with the impossible and get a measure of what that would take.

POSTSCRIPT: Bismarck did not stop at defining politics as the art of the possible; he went on. Here is the fullness of what he said : “Politics is the art of the possible; the attainable, the art of the next best.”

Kishor would likely agree.

LazyEye

Main ye soch kar apne dar se utha tha

There were a fair few thoughts and musings darting about there, at that point. At that moment I got up and I thought I should go. If for no other reason, to merely alter position, from a stasis of sorts to a little moving and shaking of things — feet, ankles, shins, knees, the connector bones and tendons. Is cartilage involved too? I wonder, such a supple and succulent thing. Cartilage, I mean. Anyhow, when those things move, they carry other things along, all of those things that come attached, a whole construct as big as a being begins to move. That is how we have been made, a collection of connected parts condemned to unison.

Try keeping your belly behind when you go out for a walk, if only to lighten things and be able to impart swiftness to your feet. But what would be the point of it? It’s to slash that belly that most folks go out walking, what a waste to leave it behind gathering fat and whatever else there may be on the bed? Or imagine leaving your head behind and walking off with merely your fancy wig stuffed in your pocket? But what would be the point of that either? If your head’s been left behind, what worth would be the weight of that wig? Who’d you be trying to convince about anything? That you have a thick and handsome mop of hair? But no head to plop it on?

But the strangest things happen. And that is the strange thing about strange things; they too come to happen. Sometimes body parts leave other body parts and wander off, without feet or ankles or knees or bones or tendons. Without cartilage. Without many more body parts. But one of them will suddenly and for no apparent reason, get up and leave.

The eyes leave, and begin to gaze on faraway things, vistas never before visited, locales nobody has ever showed you and you have never seen, dreams that are a shudder to dream — like dreaming that two fellows have arrived from somewhere and taken a billion people by the scruff of their necks; they are laughing and most of those being gagged are laughing too because they believe they are merely being paid attention around their necks. Such unreal, horrific dreams.

Or the heart flaps away, like a butterfly, silently, while the rest of the body remains idle. It floats and swims and then is slapped by a gust and it is either hurried back or is irreparably broken.

Or the brains toddle away, with or without that mop of hair, not caring whether a wig was in order, and begin engaging in imaginations. You’ve been static, the brain’s gone on some autonomous wander, striking conversations with back-of-the-brain ideas and folks, strange folks with whom you’d never imagine a meeting much less a conversation. Folks like BlondieDuck. Or HarHarGodi. Or OmitBlah. Or BoringBlondson. Or BiwiYahoo. Or TabiyatAurDoJaan. Or LaaDeMirPutIn. Or ImDim. Or, if you are beginning to miss him dearly in this list, ElevenTingMing, also known as Chini. How sweet! Can you imagine the nonsensical things the brain gets up to when it leaves you there and drives off on its own? But strange things happen, that is what they are meant for. Like you wake up and look up at the dawn and see a black sun rising, and everything is swathed in a light of darkness. Or you may think it is spring and rush into a garden and see ash blooming all around, and leaves the texture of dust.
Phullan de rang kaale
Surkh gulaaban de mausam vich

This season of crimson roses
The flowers have all turned black;
This season of ominous poses
Your shadows are keeping your track.

Miscellaneous

Home is where the heart is (October 28, 1995)

There is perhaps no reason for an inconsequential little dead girl to be occupying this space. perhaps the editorial pages of newspapers should concern themselves with larger things — with men and women and events that make eras and epochs and history, however horrible a job they do of it. So why this inconsequential little girl? Why Shahida? She made no history. She made nothing; her life, in fact, was a life of constant and dreary unmaking.


She became a mother before she could fully become a girl — at 14 — and died before she could fully become a mother, eaten up in a hospital ward by a host of predators, including anemia, pulmonary tuberculosis, jaundice and that most terrible killer of them all: poverty. The fact is Shahida initially only had a few burn injuries in a domestic accident, the kind of injuries that are easily treatable these days. Her real problem lay not in her injury, her real problem lay in herself: she was poor, as poor as a million others in this country who die the way she did last week at age 16. But then Shahida died in Calcutta. That gave her death a signature. 


In no other city would the death of Shahida Khatoon, pavement dweller, have made news. But here in Calcutta, she was on the front pages. Perhaps that is why she can justifiably occupy this space as well. Insensitive and crude as it may sound to Shahida’s kin, this has not so much to do with Shahida as with Calcutta. For all the stains on her stars there was one bit that shone for Shahida: she was born to Calcutta and she suffered and died there.


It rained the morning she was reportedly lying at the gates of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation headquarters. She had been very badly burnt, trying to save Jarmina, her one plus daughter, from a stove flame. She was frail and lacerated, she was in urgent need of attention and she had nowhere to go because she hd no money. The old man walking up to the gates of the CMC in the steady drizzle that morning must have read all that in the newspapers and that spirit called Calcutta must have driven him out of home, umbrella in one hand, a few crumpled notes in the other. It wasn’t a morning for limping old men to go out walking but this one was there, desperately seeking Shahida. Shahida wasn’t there that morning; the rain had pushed her out into a bylane by the piggery on New Market’s northface. Mother Jubeeda was there — she perhaps knows Calcutta well.  she knew for sure that morning Calcutta would send out a few of her human beings. She was waiting for them right there at the CMC gates, where Shahida was supposed to have been. That is where she met the old man who had come with a plamful of rupees for Shahida.


It was a classic Calcutta moment unfolding: around the face of Jubeda. The old man stood there, rupees on his palm like crushed rose petals for offering. And Jubeda stood there grabbing the notes hurriedly and pushing them down her blouse, furtively ensuring nobody saw and loudly assuring the money had gone to the right place. It was poverty extracting the price of its spectacle. It was a scene out of a Ray film, or an avant garde documentary that routinely gets lambasted around coffee tables on one side of the intellectual fence for selling poverty in exchange for pelf. Jubeda that morning was definitely the face of a woman expecting and demanding money for her misery. She was the face of stereotype that had successfully been sold off as Calcutta; perhaps a white man in place of the old calcuttan would have given that stereotype the hype and edge you sometimes require in documentaries. 


But depending where you were looking at the scene from, or depending on where the camera was positioned, there was another Calcutta moment unfolding: around the face of the old man with the umbrella and the palmful of rupees. He was no do gooderchasing fame; he had not brought reporters and camera crews in tow and it was clear he intended to do what he had come to do with the minimum fuss and in the littlest time required. He was no Richie Rich trying to get donation rebates on his taxes either; he hadn’t come with receipt books in his pocket. There wasn’t anything there apart from the crumpled notes he had come to give. He did not seem like a man who would have too many tax problems; his chappals were torn and the rain had worsted them more. Scarcely anybody noticed him arrive, give and leave. before Jubeda could put away the money he had brought the old man had become a walking umbrella among many walking umbrellas on Corporation Street. You won’t find that kind of man in too many other cities. In Calcutta, you won’t have to look too far. There is enough concern to be found, even in the time of the cholera of crime. Collapse on a street in New Delhi and collapse on a street in Calcutta, you’ll know the difference. 


In no ther city would Shahida have died cared for and mourned as she was here. In no other city would they have had time for her. Calcutta has time for its dead, and a little bit of honour (if space in the newspapers could mean that). Which is why life still lives here. 


For the India flying into the 21st century in Kentucky fried wings, satellite dish tucked in armpit, cellular phone in hand, this might be a great area of darkness. Why India, even for the Calcutta south of Park Street the city might be the great area of darkness where there are no air-conditioned Wimpy’s burgers and no Mexxs next to Allen Sollys. The prided Mero might have been sneaked afielf underground breaking the great north-south Calcutta barrier. But then, isn’t the poor northern underside responsible for the mess that the Metro currently is in? Those fellows in Shyambazar and DumDum do not know how to use modern tansport, they ruined it for Calcutta.
But no, South Calcutta is not Calcutta. Not, at any rate, the Calcutta that is the area of darkness, the Calcutta where life still lives, the Calcutta where Shahida belonged — vibrant, throbbing, terrible, miserable, colourful, dark, bright, dead, alive. That is the Calcutta of the street and the slum, where man comes against man without his name, address or social label attached. That is where Calcutta scores.


Bombay has its showpiece in Dharavi, the largest slum in Asia (that’s something to take pride in)  and a convenient set for the film industry. What would they do without Dharavi? New Delhi has its share of shanty towns — the JJ (jhuggi-jhonpdi) colonies they call it. When the capital holds its big festivals — a non aligned movement summit for instance — its rulers put bamboo screens across the JJ colonies so its honoured guests are spared the ugliness.


Calcutta lives with its heart poured out onto the streets, nothing comes between people and their lives, not even the misery of poverty. take a ride one late night across Park Circus and Raja Bazar or Kadapara. It might teach you that life or joy does not necessarily have to do with that thing called money. bathing under streetside gargoyles can be more fun than eating a Wimpy’s burger — at least it is more unrestrained, more unrestricted fun. Or just be in Calcutta during the puja. It is celebration and everybody celebrates. There is, after all, no toll on being festive, not yet. And during the puja Calcutta is festive like no other city can be. And the important thing about the festivity of Calcutta is that the beaten underside of Narkeldanga, tied down with all the difficulties of a dying-dead economy, can be as festive and funfilled as posh Alipore or Ballygunge, The underside certainly is more unrestrained, more felt, more pristine joy. 


Their lives and conditions would make the festivities seem so out of place — there is very little in Calcutta not to complain about. But there is very little calcuttans complain about. Perhaps because they are too busy living and making a life of it with a smile where there is so little to smile about. Shahida may be dead and a hundred others may be dying but they are less inconsequential than they might have been elsewhere. This is no dying city, this is a city trying to live. Someone got it terribly wrong.     

Telegraph Calcutta

Our nation to keep and guard

From Shaheen Bagh

Someone in the shivered hubbub around the Shaheen Bagh picket did bring up the mention of Sharmila Irom of Manipur and how long she fought against the AFSPA before she pulled out the feeder tubes, ended the hunger strike and proceeded with her life. Sixteen years she battled. Irom is now off stage; AFSPA remains.

The state is powerful, in time it breaks the will and bones of those that stand in its way. But the thing about protests is not always whether they have surmounted, but often just that they have been waged.

Shaheen Bagh has been out trying to beat back the CAA-NRC regime 16 days. A mere 16 days, it might well be said, and on a far begotten precinct of Delhi, like a banner hoisted in a recess the rulers of the realm couldn’t much care about.

Shaheen Bagh is a warren best lost on those who do not inhabit it — an overcrowded, low-income barracoon wedged between the cacophony of Jamia Millia Islamia and the putrescent rubbish-lumped Yamuna bank. Besides, and probably chiefly, its populace is predominantly Muslim, the kind who famously can be recognised by their clothes; their protest is nothing to bother with. Whiners. Moaners. Outliers. Let them be. Before it became a daily dateline a fortnight ago, Shaheen Bagh was not a location anybody picked out.

But here’s why Shaheen Bagh has begun to beep and flash on locator maps. Here’s why it has morphed from forsaken ugly duckling to local celebrity. Shaheen Bagh has been out saying something for 16 days this biting-cloying winter, and it isn’t stopping to say: NO CAA!

Shaheen Bagh has now become the longest sustained protest of this chapter.

Shaheen Bagh is an untutored uprising whose spine are mothers and grandmothers arrived under the frail tarpaulin marquee from nearby homes and hearths.

Shaheen Bagh hasn’t hurled a stone, nor picked one.

Shaheen Bagh is not a rent-a-crowd station; it exists by open invitation to the willing.

Shaheen Bagh isn’t a passing gallery of the who’s who; it is native and it is rooted, possessed of its own wisdoms of why and how. “Apni maa ki kokh se kagaz nikaal ke laaoon ki uski beti hoon?” Sarvari Jaan, 81, asked me sharply. (Should I fetch papers from my mother’s womb to certify I am her daughter?)

Shaheen Bagh has become a community outside of itself — of volunteers carting food and tea and solidarity; of common-cause Samaritans and goodwill flaneurs; of aid givers and counsellors; of vigilantes of a dream they will not let turn to embers under the pressing cold.

“I am here because I want to be part of those who are doing something to save our country, our Constitution, it does not matter who they are, they are for the good.” The voice of Anshuman Mohanty, a second-year history student from Delhi University, and originally from Odisha. He stood there in a frayed hoodie, clutching a volume of George Orwell’s essays to his chest, as if for warmth.

The debris of a harsh winter’s night lay about in swirls — mussed quilts, someone’s lost sock, peanut shells, ash from extinguished fires, a naked stretch of PVC, an exhausted stove, a twisted Styrofoam tumbler, charred tyres.

Amid this rustic smorgasbord of a necessary vigil, an infant rolled up in layers and snuggled away while the mother took the barricades somewhere close. It’s that unknowing infant who Shaheen Bagh is for too. There’s a cry ringing out: “Hindu Muslim Sikh Isaai, aapas mein sab bhai bhai! Desh ke logon hosh mein aao, desh bachao, desh bachao!!”

Shaheen Bagh swells and Shaheen Bagh ebbs; it’s people who make it and people have lives — a home to order, a meal to cook, a shop to mind, a job to attend, the ill to tend, an errand to run, an assignation to keep. But they keep coming back, they have been 16 days, and they tell you they aren’t going anywhere.

“This is our land. This is our home. This is our nation to keep and guard. We aren’t going anywhere.” There’s something in the refrain of it that is unwavering. Shaheen, if you will, is Arabic for falcon.

Telegraph Calcutta

Let me vow, I am the wow cow

Moooooooooo! Helooooooooo! Frump! Frump! Frrrrrrrrrrraaaaah! Aaaaah! Swiiiiiisssh! Thop! Thop! Thop! Plop! Thop! Chhurrrrrrrrrr! And then another long Chhhurrrrrrrrrrrr!! Mooooooooo! WhoYouuuuuuuuu?

Well, while you decide, let me tell you, Me Mooooooo!

YouWhooooo! YouTooooo? YaaaaaHoooooo!

Do you not know?

But you should. You better. The year’s about to end, and if you don’t know me, you’re about to, you know. Know a lot. An awful lot. If you know what I mean. You mean, you don’t know me? Me? Then God be with you, Khuda Hafiz. You are spent. Gone. Khallasss! So brace yourself, and find out things. About yourself. About me. Else…

But, mooooo, that’s okay, there will be more where you are when you are not where you are. Bother about yourself. And what you say of yourself, because that you will have to. Say about yourself. Say about your mother. Say about your father. Say about your grandfather. Say about your grandmother. Say about their forbears too, who knows. And not merely say, but say with authority and with proof. Who were they? Where were they from? Wherefrom?

But there is a problem. There are problems with identity, that’s not unusual. You look at yourself in the mirror and often you wonder who that person looking at you from the other side is. And that person on the other side probably has similar wonders? You raise a quizzical brow and that other person does the same; you wink and the other one does too; you scowl and the other one does too. You have one identity, others may have perceptions of it. You may say you are this, others may say you are not this, you are that. So what you say of yourself is never the final thing; others have a say on what you say of yourself. You will say, for instance, here’s where I came from; they’ll say, no, that’s not where you came from. You’ll say this is where I belong; they’ll say no this is not where you belong. You’ll say here’s what I think of myself; they’ll say no that cannot be true because we think quite differently of you. And so, on and on and on, and so forth as well.

I may have come from somewhere else: I most likely did. And who knows where from? If I was from here, I would have been elsewhere by now. We are wandering things, we mooo and start to trek in the direction of the mooo. I don’t remember where I came from, I arrived. How am I to know where the one that birthed me and the one that sired me came from. I have no memory of them. Is that my fault? I have no notion where those that sired and birthed those that sired and birthed me came from. Who’s to know? How is one to tell? But should that mean I am illicit? Should that mean my presence here is illegal? And should that be so, where shall I go? Duh! What nonsense!

Ah, but I can say that. Not YOU, not you who I have my finger pointed at, not you who I have now learnt to swiftly mark out because the trick of how to do that has been revealed to me. I can say that because I am the privileged one you see. The mooooo. So much as touch me and see what happens. Or read up on the consequences that have befallen those who are even alleged to have done something to me. Nothing can happen to me; but something can happen to you because you have to tell us who you are and we may not believe you, hai naa? No need to flail about, no need to complain, no need to scream discrimination and all those sorts of big words or start quoting from that Book and tell me this can be done and that cannot be done. Do only as I say.

Ah because I have privilege
For I am the one who’ll tell you how;
Mind, don’t fall off the ledge
Just say you follow the cow.

By Special Invitation

GRAHAM GREENE (1904-1991). THE SUPER LAUREATE A tribute on his 115th birth anniversary — By Murari Madhusudan Thakur

Graham Greene courtesy Wikipedia

Born 115 years ago, Graham Greene, the English novelist and short-story writer, managed in his last phase to cross beyond all the usual boundaries within which traditional fiction writers have generally worked. I am referring here to novels like The Comedians (1966), The Honorary Consul (1973) and specially, Getting to Know the General (1984), as also his autobiographies, A Sort of Life (1971) and Ways of Escape (1980).

Like D.H. Lawrence, Greene was a restless soul and kept travelling all around the world all his life in his quest of source material as well as travel for its own sake. Beginning with his early phase during which Greene made a journey across Liberia in 1935, described in his Journey Without Maps, he was continually on the move. Quite a few of his novels are set in countries abroad; for example, The Heart of the Matter is located in West Africa, The Quiet American in Vietnam, Our Man in Havana in Cuba, and Getting to Know the General in Central America.

Greene not only crossed over physical boundaries, he also managed to transcend cultural ones in search of experience till he had friends and loved ones in several nationalities and cultures. He literally proved in his life the maxim that great literature knows no boundaries. Of all English novelists, Greene came to be closest to becoming a truly international figure before he died in 1991 at the age of eighty seven. By the end of his last phase of writing, beginning around the mid-1960s, Greene had produced some thirty novels, ‘entertainments’, plays, books for children, travel books, collections of short stories, essays in criticism, reflections and reviews as well as two volumes of autobiography. The Comedians and twelve other novels, and two of his short stories had been filmed during his lifetime. Famous film directors and producers grew so fond of the man and his work that his The Third Man was actually written as a film treatment. From a struggling writer in the mid-1930s, Greene rose to be a celebrated world-class literary figure and lived a life of relative affluence. He was named a member of the Order of Merit, and made a Companion of Honour in 1966.

Graham Greene was never awarded the much-coveted Nobel Prize for Literature, which is generally considered the highest honour given to a writer, a sign of ultimate recognition at the global level. However, since Jean-Paul Sartre declined the Nobel in 1965, laying down a whole set of reasons why a writer must be known for his work rather than by the Nobel, the prize has come to be regarded more as a “political” choice than a true sign of literary recognition. Viewed from this perspective alone, the achievement of Graham Greene as a novelist is truly outstanding. When he died in 1991, a fellow novelist called him “our greatest living novelist until today”, a Nobel laureate for Literature spoke of Greene as “the ultimate chronicler of twentieth-century man’s consciousness and anxiety” and a celebrated actor described him as “a great writer who spoke brilliantly to a whole generation”.

Greene was the only writer of his time who made personal friends not only with fellow novelists like Gabriel Garcia Marquez, but also with dictators, rulers and generals of struggling Central American nations, with a streak of compassion for men. He was trusted by some of the latter as unofficial ambassador and one-man goodwill mission. For his own part, Greene had the love of adventure and the courage to undertake assignments fraught with danger, and returned as always with a fresh spring of creativity as a novelist. It was owing to this initiative and courage at a fairly advanced age that Greene was able to give a whole new dimension to the English novel: the novel became in his hands a portrait of people and their leaders struggling for survival and for freedom against heavy odds. It was at the same time a tool in his hands to present living and moving pictures of the neuroses of rich and famous men caught up in this age of anxiety. In some of these portraits, Greene rises to heights undreamt of by the English novelists of the past.

The only one in “the great tradition” who comes close to Greene is Joseph Conrad, but I think he goes beyond Conrad in the range and variety of his portraits.

All in all, by his unique individual talent, Graham Greene has extended and enriched the great tradition of English fiction coming down from the eighteenth century. The body of his work has come to stay.

December 7, 2019

Like D.H. Lawrence, Greene was a restless soul and kept travelling all around the world all his life in his quest of source material as well as travel for its own sake

LazyEye

Darr Lagey toh Gaanaa Gaa

That word cannot be uttered. It should not find mention. That would be a violation of things, don’t you think? It will mean a violation of who we are, we the sanskaari peepuls. It is that four-letter word beginning with an F after all. We don’t use such words, naa-naa, tauba-tauba, it is not in our culture to do so. It is a sign of these lowly times and lowered standards that more and more people use that word, and it is heard more and more. But that’s not good, that cannot be allowed, that must be frowned upon and discouraged. Why? What’s the need to use that four-letter word beginning with an F? Faltu mein.

Four-letter words beginning with F tend to be unsavoury. When art begins with an F, for instance. Imagine. Would you like it used around you? Or worse, enacted? Nahin naa? Thought so. I mean that word. Being spoken out aloud all around all the time. It’s irksome and troublesome in the very least. I mean man is a social animal. And you will not find it said too often, but so is woman. And to think of that word being voiced all the time. It is not merely violative of social norms, it can be destructive of society. Too much of it being felt and spoke about can be ruinous. Of all of us. Be gone! That four-letter word beginning with F which is not the same word as art beginning with F. Minor thanks to God for that.

But no, it will not go away. Hector as you might, motion it banished, however much you may. The truth of the matter is that too many of us folks are all the time feeling that word and are talking about it all the time. And all of that has led to a deteriorated atmosphere. Things are not good. They cannot be good if everyone is sensing that word and talking about it and expressing apprehension about what that word, or the mere sense of its presence all around us, could do to us. I mean, come to think of it, it is no ordinary word. It is capable, oftentimes, of giving us the shakes and the shivers. And it most definitely impacts others. It is such a word. The very mention of it is bound to attract attention; and as I said it is getting mentioned all the time all over the place, so you can well imagine.

It has turned so rampant that it has attracted notice at the very highest levels. Needless to say, such rampant and unbridled mention of it has also rankled elements that the highest levels are comprised of. F X X X? You mean F Triple X? Nonsense. Under us? Why is this unholy chorus being sounded all around? Whose deed is this, whose conspiracy? Surely this is a plot to defame us. Surely this is anti-national. Sing the national anthem, stand up all, and sing. Now! Else you will be deemed part of this dark hatching of ominous things. Sing! Or you shall be pointed in the direction of Bakistan. F X X X? Here? You are feeling like F X X X? Go check out how things are in Bakistan, how F X X X works there! They don’t know the very F of F X X X!

These good-for-nothing traitors! How dare they even make a mention of such a word, abrogate it! There is no F X X X. Not on our watch. It cannot happen, we are a sanskaari people, we do not believe in F X X X, nor use it. But are people feeling it? Are they talking about it? Let them come to me. Send them to me and I shall take care of them, so has roared NumberToo, who is second only to the HighestEchelon in the land. Ironic, isn’t it, that most folks say they are feeling the four-letter word beginning with an F mainly on account of NumberToo. It is he who inspires all the F X X X. And he says there is no such thing, or shouldn’t be. Hee-Hee-Hee-It-Isn’t-Faannee!! He’s calling, he’s motioning, he’s saying the real meaning of F X X X he will reveal to you in your ear, go closer. And he will reveal to you the real meaning of the four-letter word beginning with F.

I’ve heard it being often used
And we’ll hear it again, my Dear
It comes from things being abused
The word you’re looking for is Fear.

LazyEye

Actually, the word for it is Hass

Go figure. Please. At your own will, in your own time. There is such a thing: Hass. Should you look around and you have forsaken your blinkers before beginning to look around, you will see them. And then you’ll have figured.

Meantime, this: Have you wondered that there might lie some good somewhere even in affairs that we have slapped with all that we consider undesirable and unworthy? For example, and by way of currency and happenstance, this business of HorseTrading. What a terrible thing it is, this business of HorseTrading! HorseTrading, chhi, chhi, gandi baat!

But think about that again, go on give it a thought, an angular one if you please. What do you do with horses if not trade them? Well, of course, a few other things as well — you rear them, you ride them, you race them. But upon all of that, you trade them, or the best among them at any rate. It is probably fair to venture that history would not have moved — or would have crawled along, akin to the pace of snails — if horses had not been traded.

History has moved longer on horses than it has on later, and arguably swifter, modes of travel. And for history to have consistently moved along at a clip it was essential that horses were reared, ridden, often raced, and eventually traded.

It’s what made the movement of Man and his caravans possible. It’s what made empires and felled others. Horses were how loves met and loves were separated. Horses were how distances were made and distances unmade. Horses were how discovery was made, and mysteries unmade. Horses were how this planet came to know this planet. Horses were how notables ascended thrones, and, on occasion, even the Heavens. And to give HorseTrading such a poor name. Imagine a world without HorseTrading. Where would we even be without HorseTrading?

The term most likely originated — where else — in the womb of all manner of enterprise and licence, America, which was not yet quite the United States. Not that it can be called that now, especially with BlondieDuck in saddle. Anyhow, it was in the early 19th century perhaps that horses began to be traded wholesale, and often, in unscrupulous fashion. Horse trading pits were also bins of other kinds of vice, such that the trade became associated with roughnecks and rough practice.

But, not being terribly familiar with the ways of HorseTrading, I am constrained to quote from the Bible of our times, aka Google: “As standards for ethical business declined in the United States in the Gilded Age, the activities of horse traders came increasingly to be seen as the natural and, in part, desirable product of a competitive market rather than as symptoms of moral depravity.” In a 1893 New York Times editorial criticising a proposed law to make it illegal for a newspaper to falsely state its circulation figures, the author declared that “if the lying were stopped by law, the business of horse trading would come to an end, and the country taverns and groceries in the Winter season would be deprived even of the limited eventfulness which they now enjoy.”

What joy, this business of HorseTrading!

Except, what are sold as horses, or bought, aren’t always horses. Go figure.

Was a fellow once who chased a skirt

Thinking it worn by a lass;

Then chasing he went to dirt

And discovered it was only a Hass.

Telegraph Calcutta

Towards the end of our beginnings

More than Time it is that flows incessant, though Time it is that chiefly flows. From no beginning, or none that we know, towards no end, or none that we know. Or yet do. Towards the end of Time we tip and tip so deep there’s no returning to tell where that end may be, if there is such an end. And then there are other things that flow, like liquid cash through cracks in fingers; pour it, do pour, and it will flow through unto something else or someone else.

Or breeze unseen, or seen only whispering in the furs of tall and implacable firs, or sweeping banks of forlorn grass, or brushing cobwebs off forsaken masonry, or tossing locks of hurriedly maidens on a dappled day. Breeze that they show you curling about in arrows on weather charts on the box, but breeze you can never otherwise see and can only feel, sometimes even creeping through and trespassing the forbidden alleys between bone and flesh, astride your blood, along your bloodline. That sort of breeze flows and you would not know where it came from, unless you believed those arrows on the box, and you wouldn’t know where it went to. But it does come and it does go. It flows.

Or the river. The river flows too. From here and there unto nowhere. And then back up there where it came from, wherever it is that it came from, astride the wind and the clouds and down again upon earth as snow or sleet, or as water and then river again. That’s how rivers flow and keep flowing. From earth and along the earth, to the sky and then back again on earth as river. Rivers flow. Rivers fly off into the sky. Ever looked up and seen a river on its way? Well it is; up there is where rivers make the coupling between supposed ends and unknown beginnings. And from there they descend onto earth, in magical translucence and begin to flow again. And they never seem to stop.

And so it is that we are coddled in this swirl of the eternal. Of Time and of liquid cash, and of breeze and of rivers, unbelieving how it is that what is is never going to end, unbelieving that it will forever flow, around us and about us, taking us in these drifts of ends and beginnings. For one thing ends and another begins. And upon every ended thing there lies an unending trove of memory and of feel, of voice and of intonation, of manner and of moments that only need a kindling to be brought back alive, like a match to cold timber or a rub to numbed palms.

And all of that renders that ended thing not ended at all but endowed with new beginning. Death, be cotton you or silken or unregarded of texture, is not a thing, for all there is is Time and Time will not countenance Death for such a thing is Time. Things come to Death and then Time revolves round clocks and brings Death to lively things.

Nothing ever stops even when it has seemed to stop, for in the end of things are beginnings, and beginnings lead to ends, and so on and on it goes and that is how it happens that we are where we are. Clock an end, and a beginning has clocked in, ready to proceed to an end. Nothing does ever stop, it’s only we who often cannot discern an end from a beginning. Look around, and mourn not what may be gone or is going.

For what’s gone and what’s going is assuredly coming back, like liquid pennies given and then given back. It’s more than just Time that flows, incessant and without end. It’s what it is, and all there is.

It goes straight

And it goes round the bend

But what’s really great

Is it never comes to an end.

LazyEye

And then there are questions to ask

What should we do? About what should we do what we should do? How should we do what we should do? Is there a way we should do what we should do? Is there anything to be done? Can anything be done?

Is it necessary to ask such questions?
Is it time to ask such questions?
But what questions?
Do we know how to frame those questions?
Do we know who to ask those questions of?
Is there anybody taking questions?
Is there someone who will ask?

How have we come to be in the volatile swirl of so many questions? Where were these questions all this while? What was keeping them from turning in a twister around us?

Why are there so many questions?
Why is there such a noise of questions?
Why is there such silence?
What brought us to such decibels of noise and such depths of silence?
What are we doing betwixt? Betwixt noise and silence? Is that a question to ask?
How did we arrive here? Is that a question to ask? Is it right to wonder about right questions and wrong questions?
Must we ponder on questions that need asking or must we just let all of that be?
Must we just keep tobogganing on and on, down, down, down, plunge, plunge, plunge, into the perilously approaching thicket, crashing into which will take us apart bone by splintered bone, sinew by torn sinew? Must we just stop worrying about everything and stop worrying about how we will soon be torn asunder?

But will asking questions help?
But is not asking those questions an option?
What questions, though?
Like what have we become? Like what have we made of ourselves? Like what have we now revealed of ourselves?

Is it right and opportune to ponder those questions? Are you getting my drift? Am I right to be wondering in this rambling sort of fashion? About whether to ask them at all? Or not to ask them? Am I getting through? Am I even sounding as if I have something to say?

Of course there are questions to ask but which ones? Why have we become so shaken and stirred about normal questions? Like: Who are we? What do we want? Where are we going? Who is taking us there? Where is there? Is it the right there or the wrong there? Or is it just a there? Where are we? Where have we been brought? Where have we brought ourselves? Where have we allowed ourselves to be brought by those who are doing the bringing? Are we happy that we have been brought here? Are we happy that this has been done to us? Is this really for our own good? Who are you? Why did you do this?

Are answers to be expected to questions we ask? As in does every question necessarily fetch an answer? Should it? Are we right to expect questions will fetch answers? Or can questions be asked and allowed to float in waves and peter out, like wind funnelling out of a balloon and the balloon becoming not a balloon at all but a sorry shrunken vestige of itself?

If agar

But magar

What maaney kya?

Bolo what maaney kya?

Telegraph Calcutta

What we knew, we also forgot

There is what we know, and there is what we don’t know, and there is what we are yet to know. But there is more than that, and that is not the end of it. There is also what we knew or know and have forgotten or chosen to. The sound of grass growing, for instance. Or the emerging rhythms of water before they decided to deign to gravity and descend and make of us what water has made of us.

There are among the things that we know, or are about to know, things that we knew and no longer care to. Like we once knew, or were told, that Truth alone wins, Satyamev Jayate! And look what’s winning. Like we used to say all men, and women, are equal and that sort of thing. Which thought we have thoroughly revised now and moved on brusquely; no, nothing is equal, might is right, jiski lathi type of very convinced and confident thing. Jo hai, so hai. Or like we used to say Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, all the world is a family.

And now we have moved on to forgetting and believe that was the sort of nonsense that deserves to have been binned and shot away from vision a long time ago. VasudhaKutumb? What? Our own are not our own, or do not deserve to be our own. They need to be taught lessons in how to be our own. Hard lessons, lessons they will remember a long, long time and forget hard. There is no Vasudha. No Kutumb. Understand? There are things we may have known. We no longer know them. It does not suit us anymore. You know what suits us.

Sometimes I look at earth and the thought comes along what we might have been without earth. Not Earth, as in the planet we inhabit, but earth, with an “e” in lower case. There is, truth be told, nothing as noble as soil. But, truth be told again, we do not make it that. We begin to imagine we own nobility. We begin to imagine we own soil. Such are we; so suicidally deluded are we. We begin to assert ownership over the soil that we are going to eventually be consumed by — in a cask, in a pot, as embers and as ash. Hello, I am Soil, and who are you?

We make it my soil. We make it your soil. Which is the soil of the earth. Not with the capital E, but with the “e” with a lower case. It could be, you know, the earth on which Vetaal rests, and Vetaal is not on Earth’s earth, he, or it, is on Moon’s earth. Believe me, Vetaal has landed. On earth. On soil. But what soil? What earth? Whose soil? Whose earth? The only soil we have. We come from the soil, the soil it is that receives our ends. There is no greater truth than the soil. Not for us. We are mortals. We are of the soil. We come from it, we go back to it. As ash. As flesh. As all that happens between the acquisition of mobile flesh and flesh immobile. Soil. Dharti. Maa. It’s what begets us. It’s what accepts our remains. It’s why we worship it such: Maa. Everyone has a mother, everyone. And are we to begin to argue here that one Maa is greater than the other Maa, or lesser than the other Maa? Maa! Please do not allow me to become such a person. Please do not allow me to become a person who claims that you, Maa, is greater or lesser than another Maa, because that would mean me judging the very idea and reality of Maa, and I do not ever, forgive me, wish myself to be sitting on that sort of judgement, Maa.

Aye watan, aye watan

Everybody, sing that song

Beat your drum, swing your baton

And let’s see where we belong.

State of Play

Kashmir: It’s Been a Month

Human beings probably best reveal themselves in how they regard fellow humans. In pronouncing upon the other, by word or by deed, they often pronounce upon themselves. A fortnight before I watched the lockdown shroud descend on Kashmir on the night of August 4-5, I happened to be crossing the Valley on another assignment — a remembrance, part personal, of 20 years since the war over Kargil.

The Amarnath Yatra was in bustle, protected convoys were whistling up and down the road from Srinagar to Baltal, the preferred base camp to the holy cave. For a while, I journeyed lodged in the belly of one such column; the road is narrow and often only permits single-file traffic. An hour out north of Srinagar, between Ganderbal and Wayil, the pilgrim carriers came to a halt. It was a hamlet called Nunner. Habitation hugged the road close on either side; in a recess stood a copse-like opening shaded over by robust summer foliage; some village folk hung about outdoors, mostly idling. Presently, men began to leap off their buses, as if to a common trigger, and lined up along the wayside.

They dropped their pyjamas and trousers — those wearing shorts were swifter on the draw — and began to relieve themselves on the village walls, someone’s home, someone’s shopfront, someone’s little lumber depot. Some among the impromptu party chortled, their delight not entirely on account of the unburdening of bladders; their delight, clearly, also a sensation of achievement. Others wiggled their pelvises and scored abstract patterns with their discharge. Yet others called out to mates to participate in the collective and wanton violation; many declined, but some were willing.

No native of Nunner motioned them off their property, much less utter a word in reproach. The pilgrims had the company of armed jawans, in buses fore and aft. This was a secure desecration. I should state I tried to reason with their wrongdoing and suggested a more open space, just a little down the road, near Wayil perhaps, where Sindh nullah flows. I was shown a middle finger by one who wasn’t yet done fastening his drawstring. Another said, as if to spit on me: “Tuu bhi inhi mein se hai kya? (Are you also one of them?)”

The Indian male is notoriously unmindful and indiscreet about letting off pressure below his belly-button, but this was no lone-ranger act of furtive opportunism. This was a mindful, methodical dose of abuse, of which I was only a collateral recipient. That man had the bully’s post-barbarism cheer to his tone. Nunner — or Nunner by any other name — was always going to be their chosen place for defilement; there was, to the whole passing spectacle, a retributive triumphalism — here, this is what we will do to you, take it.

Nunner’s scars were already beginning to evaporate as the buses departed; the pilgrims had revealed a few indelible things about themselves.

Our book of revelations has proceeded infamously apace since that brag, brazenly made, in the summer of 2014 by one of our elected eminences — it can now be said that it is possible to have a majority government in this country without the support of… (read India’s largest religious minority; also read Majoritarianism). What did that reveal to us of the dispensation that governs us?

What do we reveal of ourselves when we ascend the high pulpit and brandish the rhetoric of paanch-pachees and shamshan-kabristan? What do we reveal of ourselves when we motion compatriots to banishment in Pakistan? What do we reveal of ourselves when we slaughter a youngster for the headgear he sports? What do we reveal of ourselves when we lynch because someone reads another book, follows another faith, eats another meal? What do we reveal of ourselves when we make a celebration of that lynching? What do we reveal of ourselves when we endorse the devilish marauders of a little girl? What do we reveal of ourselves when we make common cause to obstruct justice for the parents of that little girl? What do we reveal of ourselves when we cheer the assassin of the man we still call the Father of the Indian Nation? What do we reveal of ourselves when we collaborate to deliver landslide mandates to each and all of such unabashed purveyors of bigotry? What do we reveal of ourselves in turning lusty champions of hatred? What have we revealed of ourselves in Kashmir?

We have revealed that we can weaponize the prejudices of the party that profaned Nunner. We have revealed, too, that we can do to a whole people what Major Leetul Gogoi did to that young shawl-weaver called Farooq Dar. Only, Dar was far more fortunate. He was trussed up with ropes and was sent on one round astride the bonnet of an army jeep. Kashmir is trussed up in concertina wires, and it has been a month. Kashmir has not been allowed to speak, and it has been a month. Kashmir has not been allowed its say, and it has been a month. Kashmir is no longer Kashmir, and it has been a month. It was stripped and demoted through the mechanics of a diabolical subterfuge, and it has been a month. Kashmir’s supreme will came to reside in a governor who, until the dawn of the night of long knives, was professing he knew nothing of what the fuss was all about, and it has been a month. Kashmiris pronounced that will, through their governor, with their voices muzzled and often interned, their conversations abrogated, their movement frozen, their neighbourhoods sealed, their aspirations and anger tear-gassed, their protests pelleted, their prayers quartered. They make the biggest jailhouse of this democracy, nearly eight million inmates. It has been a month. It’s a patent lie that Kashmir is normal; to label reports of a populace seething and stifled propaganda is the most pernicious propaganda.

Kashmir is a hard and complicated place, no less because it also lies infiltrated and instigated by rogue instruments across the cantankerous fence. It is also a rending place because its soul was inconsolably cauterized by the gun-point hounding out of Kashmiri Pandits in 1989-90. Governments can be hard and complicated and rending in their ways too.

Our governments have been no exception; they’ve been serially hard on our people. In the Northeast, in Punjab, in West Bengal, in the troubled jungle geographies of Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha and Jharkhand, all across this sovereignty during the Emergency. In the “defence of the realm”, governments have employed unspeakable excesses. But seldom has the celebration of such excesses been so wide and so untrammelled and unashamed. Let Kashmiris cry. Lock them up, starve them, be done with them, we care that they should be dealt with, now or never. Let them suffer. Let them be maimed. Let them die. It’s all well and just if Kashmir can be vacated of the Kashmiris who inhabit Kashmir. Kashmir is the paradise of our lusting, Kashmiris are the parasites that need extinguishing to make way for us. It’s what we have revealed of ourselves, one human to another, this past month. You must brush your teeth before you smell the coffee each morning; one morning, look yourself up in the mirror. It’s been a month, a fair time to reveal yourself to yourself.

LazyEye

Let me tell you bedtime stories

But first you must listen to me. And do as I say. First you must get into bed. It’s only in bed that bedtime stories may be told. Where do you think you’re going? Don’t you know it’s dark outside? Did that sound like the lines of a song from somewhere? Or did it only sound dire? Dire is what I want to sound. And sounding dire would be right too. In fact I will go a step, or let’s say a word, further and pronounce it out so there is no confusion left about what the situation is that we are in. Dire Straits. Understand, do you? Don’t jump about the place thinking it’s all resham ki dori hunky-dory; it’s dire. If jump you must, jump into bed. Then I will tell you bedtime stories. Stories exclusively for you. Stories that will soothe you and be to your liking. Tales. You know what I mean. Tales.

Come, let’s fly. Baby, be not afraid. Be not led astray by what the whippersnapper newbies are telling you. Come. Let’s fly. Let me show you this serene paradise, now integrated with that greater paradise in a manner so seamless you will be aghast how we even achieved such perfect painless ecstatic surgery. We stitched it up. Some worthless folks are claiming it’s bleeding all over, but we stitched it up. Of course it bleeds in surgery, that’s part of it, but we severed things and we stitched them up all over anew. Jump into bed, become embedded, my darling, and I will show you.

Come, be comfortable with me, come away from all the rough and tumble, you don’t deserve any of that. Come cuddle with me, don’t be led astray by all that clamour and complaining. They’ve forever done that. They’ve forever provoked. They’ve forever violated. They’ve forever been beating their chests. They’ve forever been howling and crying and chanting that chant you no longer deserve to hear. Shut all of that out. Come to bed. Come be embedded. I shall tell you bedtime stories.

Look at the valley, oh how beauteous. The dales and the lakes. The torrents of spring, aqua here, aquamarine there, the tin-shed roofs glinting in the slant of the sun, the paddy fields a shimmer, those flocks of sheep, bleating about the high grasslands. Never mind the depeopled streets and village squares. They are not people you need to bother yourself with. They are nonsense people. They are avoidable people. They are people we all can do without. Should it come to that. We can do without them. This vale can do without them. I know you may have been wondering about what you heard and did not hear. The delirious scream. The muffled cry. The rage that emerged at the end of the street, and then ran away, having emptied itself in the throw of a stone, in a hoarse protest. Never mind. That is not what it is. There will always be that sort of folks. Nonsense folks. Flailing about for themselves, uncaring about anything else. There will always be those folks. We do not need to bother about them folks. We shall take care of them folks. They are not us. And those that are not us deserve to be told, in ways we know, that they are not us and will be treated in ways that we treat folks that are not us. We don’t invite into bed folks that are not us. And we don’t tell them the stories that I am about to tell you, my favoured cuddly dear. Be not afraid.
Was ever the sword that won
Never the wielded pen, shun!
Lie, lie embedded and be done
The rest, we put under the gun.

LazyEye

Birdie, Birdie, Kee Gall Hai?

Or, translated from Punglish, whatever’s the matter, birds? The answer, traditionally, in Engjabi, used to be: 

Sirdie,
Sirdie,
Seagull
Hai.

But never mind, those were the days. Days when we used to be able to crack a joke, and find a joke in it, and laugh and toss the rest of it off as if it were a joke and no more.

You crack a joke nowadays, Allah naa karey, and before the sound of cracking is over, they’ve sent a team of rack commandos to your doorstep with Burnup Khowsaymi’s outraged camera crew in tow: GET UP, STAND UP, THE NATION WANTS TO KNOW. (Translation: It’s Me Who Wants To Crow.) Which thought might lead me astray, as happens often:

Crow, crow, crow your throat
Hoarsely down the stream
Horribly, horribly, horribly, horribly,
Life is but a scream.

There. No more. So much attention. Now go, get a haircut, and ask the hajjam to chop your lamb chops, and then roast them. And sweep them into the dustbin, for roasted hair, and yours too, must belong to worse. Lambs. Chops. Roast. I mean Bakrid just went by, I mean, have I no shame? You know what I mean? Chhee-chhee! I am so shameless. But there are always folks that better me. You know, who am I, humble me?

Applause. Applause. Applause. More applause. Please.

Applause. Aaaah. Right. Silence. Silence.

Silence. Thank you. Thank you, Laydaas and Joints, thank you. We are on the renewal of oaths.

We shall speak the lie, and nothing but the lie, because if not the lie, we shall have to speak the truth. And that’s not allowed. Nor is it safe. But most of all, to speak the truth is hard and to speak the lie so convenient. Lie, and everybody’s happy. Ever looked at your face in the bathroom mirror? Come on, you must have. It lies. It makes you happy. That’s all that matters. Truth hurts, the lie comforts.

Like birds flying in a chained and gagged city. Birds are flying! Hey, how much more normal does that city want to be? Or can be? Birds have the freedom to flap their wings and fly. How much more freedom do you want than the freedom to fly the sky?

Birds fly. And birds fly. When they wish to fly, birds fly. When you fire a bullet, birds fly. There are ways of seeing a bird fly. There are ways of telling why the bird flew. There is a truth to be told about it. There is a lie to be told about it.

A bird in flight can fly. A bird in flight can be shot. Both birds have flown, both can be seen flying. You saw one bird. I saw another. Or probably it was the same bird we saw. It flew. Then it was shot, and it became the opposite of a bird flying. You saw a bird flying. I saw a bird being shot. You said birds were flying. I said birds were flying. Then I said the birds were shot. Where were you? Oh, you’d departed the scene. With your truth. Birds were flying. But that was a lie. Because the flying bird was shot. And it was just consolation for you, you had seen it flying. It was just consoling to you, the lie. For the truth was hard to tell, and there was no convenience in it. Go on, have your way. You’ll still know you lied, and did not the truth tell. That’s the thing with lying, the liar always knows. The truth, it’s a far more unsure thing.

On lies I have the authority
In me alone must you rely
’Cause should you not comply
Remember I’m the majority.


Kashmir

Notes From An Operation Theatre

This is how we did it, this is how it is usually done. There are standard operating procedures. The subject must first be prepared for what’s to come, even if the arrangements cause some consternation and distress, even if the subject appears baffled and unwilling. The subject needs to be persuaded what is being done is only for their good, there’s no cause for panic or fretting. It may hurt a little in the beginning but it will all turn out well in the end. It’s strong medicine being administered, but it’s essential medicine. Don’t worry, you’ll be just fine, this is for your own good.

Sanitisation is required. Doors need to be secured. Sounds need to be shut. Nothing may come in. Nothing may slip out. This needs clinical planning and execution. It needs trained personnel in close attendance. It needs precision tools. It needs expert minding. Nothing can be out of place, nothing can be permitted to go wrong.

Faces masked, hands gloved, anaesthesia administered: 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5… “Scalpel!”

And so it was that Kashmir was taken.

The soldiery was commandeered and deployed, so many thousands even the birds huddled close. Then, in the darkened shadows of night, an unseen hand moved to unbounded muffling: no movement, no messaging, no sound nor syllable. Landlines gone. Mobile networks gone. Broadband gone. Cable television gone. Civic restrictions on. The countdown to a comprehensive stilling. Kashmir etherised. Kashmir under treatment. Codename Operation Kashmir.

It was to emerge from that induced coma, its constitutional feathers ripped, its body carved, dismembered and downgraded to manageable contours, its prominent “anti-bodies” identified and referred to sterilised laboratories. Other known and potential “germs” scraped out and packed off to distant quarantines.

Surgical strike. This is how it happens, this is how it is usually done. There are standard operating procedures.

Post-operative remarks of the Surgeon-General on ailment and aftermath

Infection and contamination are to be prevented at all costs, anything that jeopardises the outcomes of this procedure must be proscribed. Amputation of sections cannot be ruled out because pathology suggests gangrene may have set in in some places. The requirements of critical care remain pressing; robust doses of medication will need to be pumped in for a sustained period, and there will have to be mandatory and frequent phases of sedation in order that eventual recovery on desired lines can be expected.

The chief cause of affliction by this acute malady was found to be the unfettered and long-term prescription of a feel-good drug called 370. It played havoc and triggered a rash of ruinous symptoms that were getting out of hand. It constricted and suffocated some parts, throttled the nerves. It was found that exclusive privileges enjoyed under the influence of 370 had begun to score fatal sores; it was urgent to de-clog starved channels and infuse hitherto restricted interests and influences to restore vigour and vibrancy. Overdosing on 370 had also led to bloating of some sensory organs, which in turn had prompted delusionary fits and, very often, violent lunging towards secession. External instigation was aiding these symptoms, but there were internal wellsprings too, feeding the disorder and its destructive syndrome.

Gupkar has been cauterised and cleansed. We ran a super-sopper along the length of the avenue and swept up the residue. Gupkar was a chronic trigger to Kashmiri misconduct. This is where all its rulers reigned from and took turns ruining the realm for nearly half a century: Sheikh Abdullah, Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah, Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, Mehbooba Mufti and, for an interregnum, Ghulam Nabi Azad. These three families and their legatees, their patrons and partners — the Abdullahs, the Muftis, the Nehru-Gandhis — were identified as the core of the carbuncle, a knife had to be run through their monopoly on malevolence, and the possibility of any recurrence stitched up.

Comprehensive surgical restructuring was required to ensure that. That manoeuvre was successfully conducted. One body part — Ladakh — had to be cleaved away in order that it could afford enhanced blood flow. The remaining, and chief, body part — Jammu and Kashmir — had to be radically repurposed to control recurrent paroxysms and correct faulty alignment. To that end, it was necessary that its command centre was relocated. That has been achieved. Power will no longer be located in, or issue from, Gupkar or its gallery of residents. Power will henceforth be a prescribed entity designated Lieutenant Governor who shall function under the direction and authority of a command centre self-invested with the best interests of the nation.

Should Gupkar eminences — or those aspiring to their expired authority, the likes of Sajjad Lone, even Shah Faesal — behave and reveal signs of correction, they may earn allowance to contest seats for a new confederacy of municipals which is to be called, in the aid of keeping spirits and appearances, the legislative Assembly of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir.

The Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir itself revealed imbalances inimical to the well-being of the bodypolitic; they will require to be attended to and remedied in order that proper functioning can be restored. A separate team of experts may be assigned to suggest ways so that one body part (Kashmir) is not pressing overly upon another, and under-attended body parts (Jammu, in the main) can be given their due. In the interests of good health and prosperity, Jammu and Kashmir should be read and understood, henceforth, as Jammu and Kashmir, not Kashmir and Jammu, as has, unfortunately, been the case so far. That’s a rectification we recommend to the separate team of experts to keep in mind when they go about their business of re-ordering the physical geography of this still living entity.

Post-operative conditions are usually a period demanding careful watch, monitoring and patience. This has been a monumental exercise, and despite the best efforts, there could be ups and downs. They will have to be handled firmly and resolutely.

We have reserves of strong medicine and enough well-trained personnel, there is no cause for alarm on that front. For the moment, all is well, contrary to uninformed reports you may be fed. One of the precautions we took in order to be able to undertake such a critical and vital gambit was that we informed very few. So do not pay heed to those who do not know.

Hallucinatory vignettes coursing a bloodshot, pellet-ridden eye

That lamb I had, which they commanded to silence, it bleated, and they shot it… That pigeon was the only thing I saw moving, and then something of it caught the concertina and it fluttered and then it moved no more… There was that graffiti on the wall, “India Go Back” and it had an exclamation on it the shape of a gun… then the wall turned, as if to the change of a camera angle, and it became flat as a road, and there were boots marching on it… Someone was shrieking and it was a silent shriek that did not even turn to a balloon of vapour because this isn’t our winter… I was writing an essay on Peace and everytime I wrote Peace it spelt itself Panic… I threw a stone and it took my arm away… That phone of mine, it was so smooth, and just the size, I used it as soap to bathe… None of this can be true… What is true is what I am told every time I come to… “Everything is fine, everything is calm, everything is normal, everything is for your own good, everything is under control…” …So my blistered eye is a lie dipped in a surreal slipstream, and these nightmares are a matinee screening I bought tickets for… the movies have returned to Kashmir as promised… all is well.

Kargil

Kargil

The War Of Our Times

Imagine an image airbrushed. Of warts and scars and pocks and craters, and curses that only war can spell. Then imagine the panoramic image on top. Or look at it, just look at it. When I first came upon this sight in the summer of 1999 — man to mountain — the vista looked nothing like this. It was a setting irredeemably scarred. It was littered with hollow shells and field guns, and blackened by what they emitted — gunpowder, smoke, phosphorescence, panic, disarray, dread, destruction, death. Worse. Irreparable injury. Irreparable loss. The horrific signature of war crawled all across it.

Over the autumn and winter of 1998, the Pakistani military machine had sneaked under lowered, lazy guard, and snatched vantage stations right across the range you see and farther yonder. With armed mercenaries at the front, it had breached Indian sovereignty along more than a hundred kilometres of a frozen desolate frontier, often pushing several kilometres in. They had dug in and established dozens of offensive outposts. They had come to dominate key positions above National Highway 1A, the slender and sole road link India possesses to the strategic Kargil-Ladakh frontier. The audacious adventure became a full-blown intrusion as a result of multiple lapses in intelligence and military preparedness; early alerts had been sounded but they were ignored, even scoffed at.

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LazyEye

The Upside Can Also Be Down

Where do we begin? There is no end to this, but that is not what I am at. There are, in the absence of ends, always new beginnings to make. But first they need to be found. When you have found a beginning you can begin to make it. Like roads. Where do you enter? Where do you end? What way do you go? There’s one road, but it can lead to at least two ways; and often more than two. Or mornings. Or in the mornings. Beginning. Beginnings. They can seem oftentimes like the end of dreaming and the beginning of nightmares. So? Now? What? The sardonic clock. Hmmm, shut me up again, yeah, but buddy I moved on, look where I am at. Past your resolutions, well past.

Those beginnings you’d resolved to make, all of them, past their date, past their time. It’s Sunday, for Pete’s sake. Pete? Pete. Never mind. Pete’s not a political slogan. Pete’s not a cry. Pete gets no one going, on Pete’s side or not. You don’t have to say Pete. You don’t not have to cry Pete. Nobody is saying, say “Jai Shree Pete”. Who is Pete? We don’t even know where he was born, if he was at all. We don’t have to build monument for Pete, we don’t have to demolish one for Pete. Pete is a cool guy. Pete is just one of those things, for Pete’s sake. Just let Pete be Pete. Think about beginnings. How many are there swirling up as possibilities. Which one would it be today.

A shock of fluorides. A flushing of nocturnal burdens. And why only those? Is there an end to burdens that must be flushed? Is there an end to burdens that can’t be flushed? Go on, make a list. Begin with yourself. Begin with where you live. That body. And it’s infinitesimally numerous parts. Bone, blood, sinew, cell, flesh, cartilage, vein, membrane, acid, enzyme, bile, gold, silver, copper, magnesium, potassium, oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, phosphorus, neon, dysprosium, thulium, holmium and such other and many things which it will suffice to not enumerate here. Three’s a crowd. What would you think so many, packed together into the delusion of one unit, would be? Disorder. At best, a somehow functioning disorder. Now imagine sleeping on, waking with and carting along all the rest of the time the burden of such a somehow functioning disorder. So begin with the burden count there. And while you are at it don’t forget that we have flung far too many things into the sky now, and so soon enough they will begin to fall upon us. Or perhaps they are already falling, in kilo clusters. Those burdens too should be counted, they are ours. What goes up, heavens hear my prayer, does not all come down, but some of it does. Look out the window. There; it’s light and it’s coming through the panes. And then look down. Look at the moon, down there, in the corner at the bottom, peeping out of its dark side. No you didn’t wake up upside down, everything we understood to be one way probably went the other. It’s like the road you were forever on. You walked one way, and the road went another.

This is the road then. And every bit of it can be a beginning, it’s just where you begin. And who’s to know of ends, it’s where you end it, it ends.

So be sure to think
This is where it ends
It may only be a wink
And thereon it bends.

https://www.telegraphindia.com/opinion/the-upside-can-also-be-down/cid/1695301

LazyEye

In desolate places, desperate men

One of the things men do is exceed. Women do it too. Of course they do. But when I say men, I mean it quite generously for women and then, of course, factually for men as well. Before correctness descended upon us with its callow and literal tyrannies, language had something called a metaphor, an instrument of conveying greater things with small things. Man used to mean men and women, it conveyed the sense of a collective. But how’s one to correct correctness? It’s a beast washed in virtue, and what do you do with virtue washed? That’s a vice all its own.

But I digress, as I am wont to, there being in this world of ours so many possibilities of digression and distraction. Ever been unfortunate enough to have possessed and used a smartphone? Perhaps you’d know what I mean. But even before smartphones, there were digressions and distractions. We were taken by them. We got distracted. We digressed.

We got distracted by the ugliest things. The moon, for instance. A cratered, forsaken, uninhabitable blob hanging about in space, whirring pointlessly round and round. And we made it a thing of beauty and mystique. Such are our deluded and desperate fancies. We tore to the moon, seduced by our delusions of what it might be like on the other side, seduced by what is not ours but another’s. We tore our way to the moon and we found an unliveable, ugly desolation; and once we had breached the distance and arrived there we could celebrate its beauty no more. We lose in proximity the imagination of distances, it is one of our essential follies. To venture where there was no pressing need to. To breach and to find it was never worth the effort.

But that is who we are; that is also how we have arrived where we are, into this chaotic, sorry pass. We’ve ventured where we needn’t have. We’ve regularly made misadventures of ill-thought ventures. Desolate minds will do desperate things. Willed by mindlessness, intoxicated on the farcical. We’ve waged in where even ravens don’t go. Where the sun doesn’t drop. Where nothing springs of what we can remotely call life. Where the air is so rare, you cannot bring yourself to breathe. We go looking for domain where there is no domain. We go looking for country where there is no country. We go looking to push lines where are no lines. We go looking for conquest where there is nothing to be won. We go looking for valour where there is none to be had. We go looking for God in God’s disapproval. Avarice cannot be in consonance with God’s scheme. Invasion and intrusion cannot be God’s scheme. Violation cannot be God’s scheme, violation of His spaces or man’s. Violence cannot be God’s scheme. Expansion cannot be part of God’s scheme, for where do you expand from and to what? All the realm is God’s. And so what we violate and what we intrude must be a violation of God’s scheme, and an intrusion of God’s scheme. And yet we do what we do. But perhaps what we have made of ourselves, and what we often do in God’s name, is not God’s scheme either. Look around. What heavy weather we have made of what was once the fertile birthing station of all manner of life — plant, plankton, animal, bird. Our proverbial Garden of Eden.

And we made of this tranquility
Such a waste, such a mayhem
But we so fancied our futility
We spared neither us nor them.
https://www.telegraphindia.com/opinion/in-desolate-places-desperate-men/cid/1694397

LazyEye

Water has Another Name, It’s Utter

Been wondering. Been wondering really hard and been tortured by such wondering. Should I say it? Is it not unremittingly sad that I should even have to wonder. And ponder? This question of whether I should say it or say it not? Where have we come? What have we made of ourselves? Who are the NewWe? We are not ourselves. What has brought us to this pass that we are having to raise these questions? To ourselves? And wonder? And ponder? Darn it, to the barnacles with it. Here it is. I am saying it, for this is how it was said and this is how it has best been said.

Allah megh de, Allah paani de!

There. Spoken. Said. Allah, give us cloud; Allah, give us water.
Will it not be cloud if Allah gave it to us? Will it not be water if Allah gave it to us? Forget the megh. Forget the water. Forget Allah. Will we stop to sing a song we have sung to ourselves? Will we rob ourselves the utter sweetness and pathos of it? Will we die thirsty and not sing that song which is ringing in our heads and hearts anyhow? It has rung, that song, each season since it was sung. It will ring even when you have chosen to forsake it. Remember. It will ring, it will sing, and it will be sung and heard no matter what. Believe me. When you don’t wish to hear it, you shall hear it most.

Allah megh de; Allah paani de.

Water is our community; water is not communal. Sought of Allah, it doesn’t merely fall on his sworn disciples. Sought of Ram, it does not merely fall on his sworn disciples. It falls even on those that are disciples not. Not of anything. Water is a democracy before the word was coined by, who were they, the Greeks? Water gives in equal measure; water takes away with equally ruthless measure.

It is what We drink and it is what They drink. It is what We die for the want of. It is what They die for the want of. Water is such a thing. It does not select and feed. Water is such a thing. It does not select and kill. Water is such a thing. Ever seen the shape of water? It is the shape of what you will make of it. You can make a killer cannon of it. You can make it the shape of a drip that sustains life. You wash in it in the uzookhaanas. You wash in it on chosen riverbanks. You never ask of it wherefrom it came. It never asks of you wherefrom you came. From your God or the rival God. Off your prayer or the rival’s prayer. Waters have poured. Waters have parted. Waters have cradled. Waters have consumed. Waters are who we mostly are. Look around you, you marooned fools, all around you are waters. And fortunate you are, for if you weren’t marooned, and if there weren’t any waters, you’d have by now been cinders. Cinders twisting about. Imagine water. Then imagine yourself. Most of it is water. You are water. The utter unmitigated gift of it. There isn’t much of it around for much longer. Which means there isn’t much of you around for much longer. Pray for water. Pray to who you can or wish to. But do not forbid another’s prayer for it, for when that prayer is answered it shall be answered for all. Rain and rivers, lakes and oceans, they don’t ask who you are when they give. Or when they take.

And so it comes to drop
With a sameness on all
And when it comes it says plop
Come one, come all, let it fall.

https://www.telegraphindia.com/opinion/water-is-what-we-drink-and-it-is-what-they-drink/cid/1693930

Bihar, Telegraph Calcutta

Lalu Prasad: Autumn of the Patriarch

The mercurial Lalu Prasad has finally been pushed off stage and an epoch is whimpering to demise

Zero. It has never been this bad; it cannot get any worse.

Or it probably still can.

It is one thing for Lalu Prasad’s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) to have drawn a blank in the Lok Sabha this summer; it is quite another for him to have nobody around to take that blank and build on it. The party, as it used to be under Lalu’s helmsmanship, is over. Bihar’s once fabled and formidable House of Yadu has become the shape of a pack of cards tumbled upon itself.

Here’s what fragments of a clan in collapse can look like up close. The confetti of serial abuse of power and public office floating about the defeated air; there are bills to be paid yet, and someone will come knocking. The unseemly rites of a turbulent son’s ruptured marriage playing out on the doorstep. Spewing from within, grim tales of competing grouses and internecine family feuding — son versus son, daughter versus mother, sister versus brother; in the absence of the arraigned father, there’s nothing to quell the quarrelling over what may remain. The man he left behind in charge having also skipped station. There’s nobody around to pick up the pieces.

The Bihar Assembly came into session this Friday. Tejashwi, who leads the Opposition benches, wasn’t there. There were rumours he’d turn up, but they turned out to be rumours. Tejashwi Yadav has been gone from the scene a long and inexplicable while. So long and so inexplicable that his own ranks have begun to wonder if he’s interested in his bequeathed job. So long and so inexplicable that Lalu no longer bothers with worrying, what would be the point? He is 71 and ill. He is incarcerated on a medley of corruption convictions and charges in Jharkhand. The circumstances of his coiled labyrinth allow him to do so much and no more. Tejashwi has stopped to heed his command. Where is Tejashwi? In Delhi. Probably. But he will come. Oh look, he has already tweeted a long distance hello to “My dear Bihar!” on the plea of orthopaedic treatment that nobody hitherto knew of. Bihar should rest assured.

Lalu wanted Tejashwi to stay on the deck and take the storm, like he himself had often done in the past. Tejashwi was in such a rush to get away, he did not wait to cast his vote this election. Tejashwi was not drawn to the hollering tragedy of 130-odd children snuffed out by encephalitis in Muzaffarpur. Tejashwi did not arrive to lead his flock in an Assembly that faces re-election just next year. Tejashwi has been gone from Patna a whole month. Tejashwi is Lalu’s chosen mantle-bearer. Such as that mantle is; it has zero freshly inscribed on it.

Political obituaries can turn treacherous on their authors. When they are about someone like Lalu, feisty and defiant through his roller-coaster life, they can turn and sting too.

This is not a political obituary. This is a Doctrine of Lapse notification. Lalu has a legacy, but those he entrusted it to have bungled it. The entity central to Bihar’s politics for three decades is tearing out like a meteor in tailspin.

This is the first election of his political career that Lalu stood barred from turning up to campaign; this is not the first time he has lost, but this is the first time the RJD can hear what death-rattle sounds like.

Consider this: Based on the Lok Sabha results — a stunning 39 out of 40 for the NDA — the RJD managed to win a little more than a dozen seats in the 243-member Bihar Assembly. Tej Pratap, Lalu’s elder and maverick son, lost the Mahua seat by more than 10,000 votes.

Tejashwi held on to Raghopur by its membranes, barely 200-odd votes. Misa, the eldest of Lalu’s children, lost the Yadav borough of Patliputra a second time running, bested once again by Ram Kripal Yadav, once Lalu’s trusted protégé.

Everything suggests a daylight heist on the Yadav vote which once kept Lalu securely banked in power. 2014 was probably the first sign Narendra Modi had disrupted traditional voter behaviour and snatched away a section of Yadav loyalty from Lalu. 2019 is resounding confirmation of not merely a drift away from Lalu but of a new polarisation behind the BJP and its Bihar allies. Nearly 40 per cent of the Yadav vote has shifted base; there is little to suggest on the ground that number will not mount. The RJD has been turfed out across its traditional Yadav strongholds — from Madhepura and Saharsa, from Saran and Siwan and Sonepur, from Maharajganj and Gopalgunj, from Danapur and Maner which, for decades was quite literally the family’s personal backyard. “Laluji ke bina ab kya raha?” asks Jitender Singh, an avowed Lalu loyalist and apologist, “Kuchh bhi kahiye, Laluji neta thhe, ab kaun raha?” (What’s left after Lalu? Say what you will, Lalu was a leader, who’s left?) We are at a tea shack in Maner, about 30 kilometres west of Patna. Jitender can’t stop ruing what’s happened and what’s to come. “I feel for Laluji, I am committed, but look at his children. Why did Misa have to contest the Lok Sabha when she is already in the Rajya Sabha. She is laalchi, greedy. Tej Pratap is a vagrant, nobody knows what he is up to. Tejashwi makes no effort at communicating, spending time with people. They control the party, but nobody has a clue what they are doing or what they have in mind. Kya future hoga?” The anger and the unease is palpable. It can no longer be called a crack in the RJD voter base, it is more akin to a sundering. “Lalu’s party minus Lalu looks like a wipeout,” a senior RJD leader and Lalu’s contemporary says, “Tejashwi and his ranks have failed to deliver, the party is nervous, its faith lies shattered, we are in a mess.”

He wouldn’t go on the record yet with his fears and misgivings, but he believes that time is near. “People in the party will speak out, they will have to. If for nothing else, for sheer survival; Assembly elections stare us in the face and we have just taken our severest blow. What do these results tell the aspiring RJD contestants? That they should be very nervous. What does the response of the party leadership tell them? That they should seek answers and correction.”

Failed Four: Tej Pratap, Misa, Rabri and Tejashwi. Photograph by Sankarshan Thakur

Some of the murmur is already bubbling up in anger. RJD elder and spokesperson Shivanand Tiwari turned blunt at a recent party meeting. “We should take a hard look at how the party is being run,” he is reported to have said, “Laluji’s absence has been a big jolt to us, but we have to figure ways of dealing with that, and if we don’t do that it is over… yeh hamare astitva ka sawal hai… this is a question of our survival.”

Tejashwi has made himself deserving of an in-house chargesheet; it cannot be that the clamour hasn’t reached him, even in his removed camp addresses.

— He ignores his father’s counsel

— He doesn’t consult or respect party elders; he did not allow them to campaign when they were eager to

— He is opaque and often unapproachable; he is also tight-fisted with resources

— He did not take allies on board during the campaign for fear that he would have to share the accolades

— He has made little effort to build a connect with his constituency

— He took whimsical off-days during the heat of the campaign

— He has neither energy nor gut for a fight

— He has no blueprint hereon, none that anybody knows of

— He appears not accountable for the debacle he has presided over

— He is swiftly scattering his inheritance away, at the cost of the party.

“Does Tejashwi know how to win elections, even his own?” That’s a close confidant of Lalu for decades asking. It is probably the most damning question the leader of a political party can be asked. But that question is being asked of Tejashwi by those in the boat who still reckon it can be saved from sinking. “Through the campaign, Tejashwi and his camp kept telling us we were doing well. It turns out we never did as badly. He was either bluffing or was deluded, in both circumstances, his leadership needs to be questioned.”

The worry and scurry in the RJD ranks is not merely on account of the Assembly polls next year. It is not merely because MLAs have begun to individually and collectively wonder if the RJD is a good ticket to ride on, or should the opportunity to jump be taken. It is equally because of the overt manoeuvres they see the adversary making.

From the time of his first foray into Bihar as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate in 2013, Narendra Modi revealed a focused intent to woo Yadavs away from their chief and loved patron. “Yaduvanshi bhaiyon!” he called out to them; he flagged the mythology of Krishna and Dwarka to kindle a kinship. He kept at it, as a work in progress. It wouldn’t be easy to wean Yadavs away from their anointed benefactor, but he has worked with time and with ways. “Don’t forget Yadavs are the most privileged among the backwards castes and they have become used to the stakes and fruits of power,” says a Lalu-era bureaucrat who likes sailing close along the power corridors, “But for a brief spell, Lalu has been out of power nearly 15 years now and his successors hold out no hope they might deliver it any time soon. Lalu may yet enjoy their unshaken sympathy, but that is translating less and less into votes. That’s one key takeaway from this election. The Yadavs will want to stay close to power.”

Narendra Modi may only be too keen to demonstrate to them how. One clue might be the elevation of Nityanand Rai, a Yadav MP from Ujiarpur in north Bihar, as central minister of state for home affairs. Another could well be Bihar’s verdict on the RJD itself: Zero.

https://www.telegraphindia.com/india/lalu-prasad-autumn-of-the-patriarch/cid/1693429

Politics 2020, Telegraph Calcutta

A ‘prayog’ against polarisation

Twice in successive Lok Sabha and Assembly rounds, Delhi has voted with instructive schizophrenia, endorsing Narendra Modi unreservedly at the Centre, effusively rejecting him in favour of Arvind Kejriwal for the state.

The number of those who vote bigamously depending on the election must remain astoundingly high.

Tuesday’s resounding verdict for the AAP suggests that while Modi remains unchallenged by party or person nationally, a credible regional dare to him can hold ground. And handsomely, as Kejriwal’s second sweep of Delhi demonstrates.

It probably also suggests, not for the first time, that an established governance record, tempered with the right political strategy, can defeat the most blatant and belligerent attempts to polarise the electorate and extract majoritarian victories.

This is how the first electoral shock was delivered to Modi post his 2014 steamroll — working to strategies worked out by strategist Prashant Kishor, Nitish Kumar deftly joined hands with arch rival Lalu Prasad and punched Modi down in the 2015 Assembly elections.

Just as in Bihar in 2015, the BJP appeared desperate enough to grab Delhi to resort to the ugliest tricks in the book; its campaign was littered with personal slander against opponents, unembarrassed attempts to communalise the campaign, bellicose intimidation of the minorities who were, through the canvassing, also the lead act of the anti-CAA protests in various parts of this city.

Okhla’s Shaheen Bagh, where ladies have led a defiant picket for close to two months now, became the central metaphor of the BJP’s campaign, an omnibus code-word for pinioning the minorities as troublemakers, anti-nationals and card-carriers of Pakistan.

Amit Shah exhorted Delhi to vote with a vehemence that would send electric currents to Shaheen Bagh. Modi warned ominously that Shaheen Bagh was an “experiment, not a coincidence” — “sanyog nahin, prayog hai”.

The shrill “goli maaro saalon ko” cry resounded from many a BJP stage. Kejriwal was labelled a terrorist and the battle for Delhi itself was projected by some BJP leaders as a battle between India and Pakistan.

Delhi spurned that. The biggest victory the AAP recorded was on the Shaheen Bagh seat. But that only tells part of the story of how the BJP’s bid to polarise the vote has failed. Handier proof is probably this: the Muslim population of Delhi is shy of 13 per cent; the AAP’s total vote share was nearly 54 per cent, the BJP scored 38 and a few decimal per cent.

But there is another way of looking at this. The Congress has lost more than half of its 2015 vote share; the BJP has gained, most likely at the Congress’s expense.

The exhilaration in the AAP camp, and the fervid felicitation of Kejriwal from the likes of Mamata Banerjee, Chandrababu Naidu, Jagan Mohan Reddy, Hemant Soren, M.K. Stalin, Akhilesh Yadav and Tejashwi Yadav might suggest that the non-BJP, non-Congress parties are probably drawing a fresh breath of hope from how Delhi has voted. But there is very little to suggest that the AAP’s victory can be interpreted as a sign of a larger political shift.

The Congress, drastically reduced but yet the only Opposition party with a national footprint, is leaderless and directionless. It lacks a narrative, it makes no pretence of working on one. Today, it was left trying to derive solace from the defeat of the BJP’s divisive campaign, but it is not the party that was even able to play a minimal role in that. Strong regional groups are unable to agree on an umbrella under which they can gather with common purposes; each is busy trying to survive in its bastion.

Bihar, which is the next big stage for electoral duelling, itself offers reasons why the opposition to Modi and his BJP should remain wary of over-reading the meaning of its victories.

The Nitish-led Mahagathbandhan’s victory in Bihar had held out hope for a wider formation that could credibly take on Modi. But it was short-lived; the BJP was able to lure Nitish away from Lalu Prasad and now dominates the course of the coalition in the state.

Modi has suffered reverses in many states since he came to the helm in 2014, most famously at the hands of the Congress in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan just months ahead of the 2019 election. But when Modi himself came onto the poll ticket as prime ministerial candidate, he faced no competition.

As one Congress leader said privately as he watched his party washed out a second time and the AAP cadres exhort Kejriwal to higher ambitions with cries of “PM! PM!” at his victory appearance: “Kejriwal himself would do well to remember what happened when he tried to expand his footprint the last time. He quickly became wise to the idea that he better stick to Delhi.”

But who’s to prevent a renewal of wider ambitions on the anvil of such a spectacular victory? Especially with the likes of Prashant Kishor juggling away with the poll Rubik in the backrooms.

His recent ouster from Nitish’s JDU notwithstanding, Kishor remains a strategist at play with envious cross-connections and influences. He began to work for Kejriwal a few months ahead of the elections. He has been micro-managing strategy for Mamata Banerjee. He plotted Jagan Reddy’s march to power in Andhra and remains in close touch. He has active links with the ruling family of Maharashtra, the Thackerays. He remains fired by the imagination of fashioning a political alternative to the Modi-Shah project.

As the AAP celebrates, Kishor would most likely have moved to mulling what next.

LazyEye, Telegraph Calcutta

A few rather dangerous folks

There is no cause for worry now. There was. It was such a near thing. But we have it all under control now. Worry you not. You are in good hands. Sturdy hands. Hands that can turn unsparing when need arises, when you and your well-being is put to risk. Raise your hands, you who feel at risk, there must be millions, we know. Such are the times we live in. Raise your hands, let us have a look. Feeling threatened? Good thing. The better thing is we are here. We shall take care of you. The more you feel threatened, the more we shall rise to protect. Now look around you, see for yourself. The threat looms everywhere. Can’t see it? In that case let us help you. With a little assistance you will begin to see the threat and feel scared. And that is when we shall come to protect you.

So raise your hands again, those that are afraid, and those that would like to be, so that they may begin to feel more protected and safe. When it is the coldest is when it is possible to feel the most warmly cosy and snuggled. Think of snuggling in the heat. Bah! And likewise, when the peril is at its peak is when you can really sense the worth and value of being protected.

So here. Here is what you should be afraid of. And here is how we are protecting you.

Consider this most alarming specimen. He has charm. He has popularity. He has a following. People listen to him. Can you tell what a deep danger that constitutes? People listen to him. They actually do. They even take risks, personal risks, to turn out to vote for him. And most often their votes make him win. In an election!! Tauba! He can lure people, this man has macabre powers, he is actually, watchamacallit? A Democrat. Drat! My, my. Maiyya re maiyyya! Can’t have such people floating about.

What if he is able to make friends and influence people again? What if he has read Dale Carnegie and absorbed it? What if he… No no, let’s not even get there. Let’s not contemplate what dangers he might bring to bear upon us. Let’s just put an end to it, naa rahega baans, naa bajega besuraa! We mean to say, you know, we cannot afford to have a pied piper kind of bloke floating about free, playing his charming tunes of democracy. Off to the gaol! And to make things doubly sure, we have put his father in too. This man is a chancy charmer himself, imagine his pop. Woh to isska baap hoga! We bundled him in too. Just so. You know. We should be sure. No more of this.

We take prisoners. We are good and fair people. We do not believe in taking no prisoners. We take them. We take as many as we feel the need to. You have to be, and feel, protected, you see.

There is that other one, for instance. Her father’s daughter. How do they say it in this language? Daiddi’sGurrl or some such thing, pardon my English. She is her father’s daughter, her real father’s real daughter. And she fancies herself. She prefers radical colours, colours like you know how greenery looks like, what’s that colour called, I forget. But that colour, the colour that greenery is. Greenery! It would remind you of jungles and all that lurks about in jungles. She was such. A jungle creature in radical jungle colours. We tried and tested her out, we tried reforming her, remember we must be gentle and patient with ladies. We gave her time and opportunity. But eventually, we had to command her to the dungeons. We got her too. It has been said that they have their constituency. Well. But we have our own constituency.

The wolf cried sheep
And promptly turned to weep
But then it bared its teeth
And revealed what lay beneath.

State of Play

The government has become a spur to disruption and chaos

A fair lot has happened in the six months since India’s crown was sundered, downgraded and hammered into a prison-house sans parallel. Today is six months since the hobnailed silencing of Jammu and Kashmir. That silence has since flown the imposed suffocations of the Valley and become an uproar ringing across the nation: Aazaadi! It’s not a cry seeking secession, it is a cry seeking riddance of what is palpably cold and hard-hearted. Like tiny tots in a school being hectored in and out of police interrogation rooms by a State that has skewered them on the needle of sedition. Or grandmothers out shivering on a justice picket jabbed with daily insult and invective. Like a young scholar bashed to bleeding by a mob, then handed a ticket for violence. Like a pacifist shot at close range by a fanatic, then told his oozing blood was pretence: tomato juice. That cry echoing all around is a denunciation of such prejudice and excess and an assertion of what’s rightful. It’s a cry provoked by the agonies of calculated intimidation under the triple-antigen of CAA-NPR-NRC. It’s a cry bemoaning the fundamentals of this nation being thrown to the bonfires. It’s a cry leaping off the Preamble to the Constitution, it is being fanned by the Tricolour. It refuses to die because it is sought to be killed. The nation has these past six months been subjected to recurrent ugly whiffs of the Kashmiri condition.

Never has a government, the custodian entity of the nation, turned so menacing and merciless on its people. It has turned into a bully State that will gleefully torment and torture. Its chief actors are dog-whistlers and gas-lighters, they are inspiring marauders – a lone-wolf here, a choleric mob there – to medieval ways of settling medieval scores. Let there be little doubt about this: a government recently and resoundingly entrusted with the safekeeping of the national contract is actively tearing it to shreds. It has become a spur to disruption and chaos. It has tossed away sanity as a thing of repugnance. Notice the number of pleas and petitions written out these past weeks piled up discarded in the bin. Read through the list of signatories – teachers, writers, poets, artists, jurists, diplomats, bureaucrats, scientists, historians, economists, some of the finest observers and interpreters of society, the learned and the educated.

But education is ‘elite’ and therefore effete. Education isn’t what we need, what we need is eradication. “When you decide to paint your house anew, the first thing you do is scratch out the walls and cast the old away.” That was the prime minister, Narendra Modi, at an election rally in Delhi this week. It’s the kind of diabolical metaphor that Modi excels in. It is also, on the evidence of what has transpired since 2013, spectacularly effective; it has caught the populace in a reckless hypnosis. It is a hypnosis that will readily prompt a delirious scratching of the house walls in the quest of the new one Modiji has promised. That hypnosis is the womb of the “goli maaro saalon ko…” clamour. That hypnosis is what twists young men like Rambhakt Gopal and Kapil Gujjar to fits of violent lunacy.

In Modi’s house of hypnosis, it no longer sounds odd or objectionable that the prime minister demonizes a whole section of people, India’s largest minority, by calling them out for what they wear and how they look. It appears only normal for Amit Shah, the home minister of the country, to refer to opponents of his divisive project as termites, or rodents and reptiles. It has also become a thing of applause that he prescribes electrocution of the adversarial electorate. It is just fine that Anurag Thakur whips up frenzies of “goli maaro saalon ko…” from the election stage, then preens up with slicked hair and crisp jacket and assumes the chair as junior finance minister for an explanation of the Union budget – schizophrenia personified, you couldn’t connect one Anurag Thakur with the other. Nor do these acts of hypnosis seem ever complete without the appearance on stage of Adityanath, the man who has turned India’s largest state into a blistered showcase of chauvinism.

When he was handed reins of Uttar Pradesh, it was clear Modi had brought the D word to Uttar Pradesh’s centre stage – not development, as he had promised, but divisiveness, as he had always threatened. Few can match the unwavering sectarian virulence Adityanath drags into the public discourse.

About the only institution Adityanath, aka Ajay Singh Bisht, originally from Garhwal, had ever presided over before becoming chief minister was Gorakhpur’s Gorakhnath Math. As mahant of the Math, he had become used to wielding unquestioned authority and expecting blind obeisance. Such, that he often brooked no restraint from the law and flagrantly violated it. Jailed once in 2007 for encouraging Hindutva rioters and flouting prohibitory orders, Adityanath has often not been ashamed to play outlaw. He hasn’t baulked at bringing peril to social peace. He has shared a stage with hate preachers and those that have made open exhorts to violence against minorities. Much of what Adityanath has to say from the public stage probably deserves no repetition because it is patently violative of constitutional values, the law and good sense. But for those that might seek a sense, social media sites store an abundance.

Adityanath has, in the past, compared Shah Rukh Khan to the JuD chief and terror patron, Hafiz Saeed. He had pejoratively labelled Kairana, a Muslim-dominated pocket in western Uttar Pradesh, as Kashmir, a “hub of anti-nationals”. He is the one who inspired the “love jihad” campaign a few years ago, blaming upon the minority community a civilizational conspiracy to gain ascendancy of numbers. Later, using “love jihad” as leitmotif, he played militant proselytiser, peppering the heartland with aggressive calls for a counterblast – “We must do the same with their girls, I will celebrate each one of their girls that comes into our homes, each one that becomes a Hindu and enhances our national pride!” Asked during the run for Uttar Pradesh if he believed India was for Hindus alone, he batted not an eyelid and said: “India and Hindus are two sides of the same coin. India belongs to Hindus, the time has now come for everyone to accept and follow this.”

When Adityanath is commissioned to come campaign for the Modi-Shah bid to grab Delhi from the Aam Aadmi Party, his opening gambit is: “Boli se nahin maanega to goli se to maan hi jaayega… (If they will not be persuaded by words, they will be persuaded by bullets…)”

But if it can be unembarrassed about its bigotry, the Modi cast is capable of an unashamed vulgarity as well. When photographs emerged recently of a robustly bearded Omar Abdullah serving incarceration in Kashmir, Giriraj Singh, another eminence in the Modi government, tweeted: “We have abolished Article 370, not razor blades.” The Tamil Nadu chapter of Modi’s party, perhaps on cue, couriered to Abdullah’s address a whole set. It’s those razors whose edge they’ve put this nation on.

The shadows that dropped on Kashmir six months ago have only just begun to darken.

State of Play

India is complicit in the dismemberment of the Idea of India

“Ye daagh-daagh ujala, ye shab-ghazeeda seher/ Wo intezaar thha jiska, ye wo seher to nahin (This stained pitted light, this night-bitten dawn/ That we were waiting for, this is not that morning).”

Traitorous felony as it might have become to a fair many to quote Faiz Ahmed Faiz – Communist, Pakistani, Mussalmaan, in other words, as vile an alchemy as it can get – there it is, as apt a description of our station as it can get this New Year’s morning.

The year just gone by was The Year of the Taking Down of India. Or, at any rate, the unabashed inaugural rites of it. That requires a single testament to assert, no more: Indian rejoicing the plunder of another Indian with whetted wickedness. It has been the year, let not the crossroads eruption of current vigils delude us, that Indians wholesomely mandated a regime to go after Indians. The reasons that powered Narendra Modi’s 2019 romp to power were radically different from those that secured him helmsmanship in 2014. These reasons were not about vikas, these reasons had nothing to do with rage or ennui at a dispensation that had descended into corruption and paralysis, these had nothing to do with hope or aspiration for a surging modern India. Modi had not delivered credibly on any of those to have secured a more robust endorsement. What he had begun to deliver on was his core, and often deceitfully unspoken, promise: Hindu rashtra.

The rushes of what was to come had been screened ahead of the vote of 2019; it should be none of Modi’s fault that folks did not see or absorb the meaning of it. The sectarian lynchings and the recurrent commendation of crime. The spur to ‘Go to Pakistan!’ The oft-repeated rhetoric of paanch-pachees and shamshaan-kabristaan, as naked a trope for minority-flogging as it gets. The showcased dishonouring of sacred customs and symbols. The deification of Nathuram Godse and the flagrant belittling of Nehru. Sniper attacks on the Constitution from the ruling ramparts. The promotion of Adityanath, hate monger and avowed chauvinist, as potentate of our most populous province. Any surprise that the paragon of uncouth prejudices, Pragya Thakur, followed suit into Parliament on a record vote?

The outcome of May 23, 2019 brought just reward to the potential the Modi regime had demonstrated in the preceding five years, the potential of what it could wreak upon India given another opportunity and a more robust mandate. To me, the single reason Modi was voted back resoundingly still resonates in the words of a young man in Varanasi.”Ek kaam 70 saal mein nahin hua thha, woh ek kaam Modiji ne kar diya.” (There was one job left undone in 70 years, that job Modiji has done.)

There’s no code to understanding what job; it’s an open-code thing, it’s the thing that chorused from the rostrums throughout the campaign just gone. But if it still needs explaining. No need to specify what’s that one thing; everybody knows. It’s the pointed exclusion and Othering of India’s largest minority, its formal notarizing as the unwanted and dispensable ones, even as the ones that constitute the useful construct of the enemy.

That ticket handsomely encashed, Modi has lost no time in bringing to bear the promise to his votaries. This has been the year of the bearing of bitter fruit; the year of one Indian privileged with the plucking of it, another Indian pulverized with the stuffing of it. This has been the year of the applauded throttling of India. This has been the year of the scalding of her soul. This has been the year of the gnarling of her body. This has been the year of the perversion of her mind. This has been the year of the poisoning of her voice. This has been the year of the mutilation of her crown.

India is no longer a composite geography whose longitudes ring with the romance of Kashmir to Kanyakumari; now, if at all we celebrate a diversity, it should be termed a Ladakh to Lakshadweep diversity. Get used to the ring of it, for Kashmir is no longer our prided crown, it is a castrated, humiliated Union territory which can, at best, aspire to the will of a municipality. A muffled, jackbooted municipality that does not even enjoy the right to transmit its voice to itself, much less to the world. Such is the thing we have made of what classical metaphors named paradise. Ayodhya was ceded, by the fiat of a judiciary that cannot bring to effect the fundamental writ of habeas corpus, with no apology, much less punishment, for the unembarrassed vandalism of December 6, 1992. And then comes the toxic triple-antigen called CAA-NPR-NRC, a separator vaccine administered to the body politic with no intent other than to render it rabidly torn. Everybody, proponent and opponent, is aware of the reasons and results of that triple-antigen: civil war is being injected into this nation’s bloodstream. It is the ‘Othering’ litmus, you are either us or you are them. Recognize them by their clothes, those clothes are not us. And the sight of those clothes will beg that infamous question asked in Nazi Germany of the Jews: “Your papers please?” Those clothes have already enacted before us the roll-out of our own Kristallnacht. Recall the wanton lynchings. Please pay heed to what has recently happened in minority precincts in Adityanath’s Uttar Pradesh. Sectarian vilification. Organized violence by uniformed men in select localities. Targeted arrests and torture of Muslims and their sympathizers. Unlawful, and showcased, collection of protection money from the community. The replay of human power and prejudice in a transferred geography, in transferred times, is shudder-worthy. And yet we seem to be, largely, at peace with what transpires around us, quietly pleased, if not merely indifferent. This is what Daniel Goldhagen wrote of the state of mind of Germans during Nazi ascendancy in his critical work, Hitler’s Willing Executioners: “[T]he evidence indicates not Germans’ ‘indifference,’ but their pitilessness. It is oxymoronic to suggest that those who stood with curiosity gazing upon the annihilative infernos of Kristallnacht… looked upon the destruction with ‘indifference.’ People generally flee scenes and events that they consider to be horrific, criminal, or dangerous. Yet Germans flocked to watch the assaults on the Jews and their buildings, just as spectators once flocked to medieval executions and as children flock to a circus.”

All of this, the vocal excess of the people of India validated and voted for, let there be no mistake. This is of our making. But let us be warned for what we applaud; let us give ourselves no excuses for saying we did not know. We do know. And we are happy for it, for the dismembering of who we are. The 2019 Modi manifesto was a ‘keh ke lenge’ manifesto, it laid bare the ominous plans he had. This nation endorsed it; the consequence of that endorsement this nation must bear. Or denounce.

But is there a denouncing of the ‘keh ke lenge’ manifesto anywhere in evidence? Doubtless, the eruption of protests across datelines has revealed a rebellious bone in us. But not yet a spine. Are we to believe that a people who handed Modi formidable numbers just half a year ago have had a sudden change of heart? A change of heart has perhaps indeed happened, but that change is that we have revealed ourselves to be heartless.

The temptation is to resort to the dark audacity of rephrasing Faiz: “Ye daagh-daagh ujala, ye shab-ghazeeda seher/ Wo intezaar thha jiska, ye wohi to seher hai.”

Have a peaceful and prosperous year ahead, country people; and remember that governments come and go, nations, good nations, transcend them.

State of Play

Happy Birthday Bapu: The nation and its practitioners of unspeakable things

Several years ago, in a rural recess of Bihar where I come from, a girl, barely ten, woke up one morning and slipped out into the open to relieve herself. Returning, she came upon a crop of spinach and coriander leaves. She gathered a clump in her palm and pulled at it. She was caught in that act. They chopped her fingers off, as they would the spinach and the coriander.

We are the practitioners of unspeakable things.

In 1989, in a village called Logain near Bhagalpur, a mohalla was set aflame. When the rage had calmed, the dead, probably even the near-dead, were carted to a field and shoved under the earth. Presently, the field was seeded with mustard and cauliflower. It was kites and vultures hovering overhead that caught the stench and blew the cover on the crime.

We are the practitioners of unspeakable things.

Returning home one evening last month – to a precinct of Gurgaon, the ‘millennium city’ – I heard the destitute wailing of a man. It came from the belly of a jagged circumference of folks, arranged as though riveted on a snake charmer’s tricks. There was, instead, an auto-rickshaw with a shattered windshield. There were two youngsters in shorts and Ts, their limbs gym-toned to envy, their forearms and biceps copiously tattooed. They stood over a man sprawled in the dirt, bleeding. The wails came from him. They were taking turns to pummel him, a burst of fists, then a knock of the knee. One would retreat to a gleaming motorbike parked to one side, wipe his arms and watch. The other would take over. The auto-driver was a bag, a yowling, bleeding bag. Nobody said a word. Nobody moved. This was a spectacle unfolding, cold, focused violence. The boys looked nowhere but at their victim; this is how it is best done, a blood ritual, with singular attention. There was nothing to suggest they would heed or halt. But one of them I was able to persuade to tell me the reason for their gory enactment. He took me to his bike and motioned to a splash of mud. It had rained. There was slush on the roadsides. The auto-driver had driven past with a spray of muck. It had landed on the boys’ bike; a few specks had also strayed onto the pillion’s shins. Therefore. “Don’t mess with these boys,” one from the crowd cautioned me, pulling me by the arm, “They are known goondas, they have backing, they will come back and touch you later.” Those words: they have backing. They will come back and touch you. The police, if it arrives or acts, will arrive and act later. By then, the boys will have “touched” you.

We are the practitioners of unspeakable things.

A girl complains of serial sexual abuse by a charlatan who is also a well-connected political thug masquerading as a sanyasi. The thug first takes ill and has himself wheeled into an air-conditioned hospital chamber. From there he manipulates power levers to have the girl arrested for extortion. Her father is warned of consequences if he speaks out. Another young victim of rape. Another thug from the same gang. The girl loses her father, then gets smashed by a truck on a highway, loses her aunt and ends up precariously injured in hospital.

Videographed ceremonies are carried out by monsters of their primitive headhunting – fellow humans cursed, humiliated, kicked about, slapped, knived, killed. Those monsters are then either draped in the national flag or garlanded in the name of a Mata whose provenance is at best ambiguous and whose blessings for such savagery have nowhere been explicitly or implicitly cited.

Photographs have floated up of a certain Ratan Biswas, his ribs pressed hard against the membranes of his flesh, his skeletal wrist chained to an iron bed, his expression drained of the last dregs of hope. He is in detention in Assam for the alleged crime of not belonging, a prisoner of our collective prejudice. We plan to put many more where we have dumped Ratan, in huge facilities we have designated camps but where our unwanted human beings will be penned like livestock, like cows that have ceased to bear milk or offspring.

But we’ve already created the blueprint for such a human pen, have we not? It is the heaven called Kashmir, where we have driven the clamps on eight million people we call our own. For close to two months now, they have not been allowed the common courtesy of free communication with each other or the outside world. Their movements have been restricted, for the better part frozen. They live razor-wired and bayoneted. They have been stripped of political stature and personal dignity. They have been forbidden expression. They have been forbidden protest. They have been turned into an agency of dictation. They have been told it is bad manners to complain; you’re alive, be thankful. They have been interned sans allegation, imprisoned at home or thrown into faraway cells. On occasion, their dare has been brutally pelleted. But nobody has been hit by a bullet above the chest, we have been assured on good authority; what would we do for the lack of such favour? We are told they are happy. The sense of siege is the figment of a “few minds”. What is being done is for their best; this persecution will teach them a lesson they long deserved to learn, they will emerge better citizens from it. We love Kashmiris, we should hug each Kashmiri. Conditions apply. Abominable conditions.

We are the practitioners of unspeakable things.

Last week, two Dalit children were beaten to death by villagers for defecating in the open. Their family had been denied toilet facilities by the panchayat, and so they went out. And paid. We have been told we are already an open-defecation-free nation. But we are routinely told lies. Those kids were done to death. There is another way of looking at how this works. You die defecating, you may also die clearing defecation. Fifty people died trying to clear the waste excreted by our bodies in the first half of this year, consumed by noxious sewer gases, hydrogen sulphide in the main. In ‘Swachh Bharat’, 740078 households still require manual removal of human filth each day; 182505 families in rural India earn their livelihoods yoked to daily manual scavenging. This nation stinks.

Someone just got awarded a high-voltage global honour for a slogan that our filthy reality daily mocks; it must by worn, if at all, as a badge in memory of those who are still dying trying to put away what we daily excrete. That same someone is also sought to be supplanted on this nation as paterfamilias, dislodging the noble one whose 150th anniversary it happens to be today.

Happy Birthday Bapu,

We remain,

Yours ruefully,

The Practitioners of Unspeakable Things

Politics 2020, Telegraph Calcutta

Modi an Indian colonising India: Aishe

A university student has articulated probably the most stinging critique of Prime Minister Narendra Modi yet, saying a “new internal colonialism” is being unleashed on India under him.

“We are being colonised by our own and are being hurled back to the era when we enjoyed no independence,” Aishe Ghosh, president of the JNU Students’ Union (JNUSU), told The Telegraph. “We are at a critical juncture, India is being colonised by its own leadership.”

Asked how she could be calling Modi, who fashions himself as an ultra-nationalist, a “colonialist”, Aishe argued that the similarities between the strategies and intents of British imperialists and the Modi government are strikingly similar.

“You could perhaps call it a modern sort of colonialism, or an internal colonialism, but Modi is doing exactly what colonial powers did. Divide the people to entrench yourself in power. Discriminate against sets of people to shore up support. Unleash harsh laws and the brute power of the state to demoralise and control people. Impoverish large sections for the benefit of a few. Revise and rewrite history. Encourage loot of public resources. It is all the same thing, except Modi is an Indian doing it to Indians, which is much more alarming.”

Aishe, who became the worst victim of mob violence on the JNU campus on the night of January 5 — she suffered a forehead gash from repeated rod blows and a broken arm — spoke to us shortly after doctors at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) had clipped open the sutures on her temple. She arrived at our rendezvous with a couple of mates looking just how the nation has come to recognise her this past fortnight — a chit of a girl, her crown marked out by a strip of gauze, her left arm in a cast and a sling, hair in dishevelled rebellion against her pony-tail, a shawl she couldn’t be less careless about draping, a wounded waif, you’d think. Until she begins to speak.

Aishe speaks in the same breath of the agitation against the fee hike she has led on the JNU campus and the turmoil spreading across datelines; to her, they are part of the same malaise, triggered by the same overarching motive — “Drastically alter and reduce India and what it means.” She is deeply invested in the JNU agitation, but she sees it as seamlessly linked to larger issues; she can join the dots.

“You might think our fight is only for a few rupees students are having to pay as fees. Yes, it very much is. But it is about much more. It is about the arbitrariness and violence with which decisions are being taken and imposed, it is about an undemocratic unilateralism that is being thrust upon us everywhere, in JNU and across the country, it is all linked. They are openly raising ‘goli maaro’ slogans. Today they have come on the campus with rods and sticks, tomorrow they could come with guns and kill us too. But the fight is not only on the JNU campus, the threat is everywhere, terrible things can happen, we are seeing them happen.”

It seems of little relevance to Aishe to be asked if she’s in pain. “I’m fine, it’s healing. This is not about me, this has to be about why this happened. Everyone should know why this happened. Why this happened in JNU, and why this is happening across the country. That is where the challenge is and the battle is.”

So, why?

“Because our most fundamental values, our most fundamental rights have been brought under grave threat, we are today in danger of

losing our citizenship, our Constitution, actually everything we gained after becoming an independent country. The design of the CAA-NPR-NRC is a design to pit Indian against Indian and imperil India itself.

“Yes, our current battlefield is JNU, but clearly our current battlefield is also this whole nation. The JNU struggle is very important to us, but so is the wider threat. People should be able to see what is being done to them, how they are throttled and undermined. And they are seeing it, that is why there are protests all around. The challenge is to save the nature of JNU and equally to save the nature of India. Their effort is to make JNU a thing of the past, some sort of fairytale, their effort is to make India as we know it a thing of the past too. That battle will have to be fought in every campus, on every street.”

The frail bundle next to me has morphed into Ms Spitfire; her plastered arm is itching to mimic the animation of the arm that survived the assault.

“We have been taking slow blows a long time, but the blows have come harder. Please understand that January 5 (the night of the masked mob mayhem) was not the first blow on us, it was the final hammer, and it was encouraged and ordered by the power at JNU, it happened with the collusion of the vice-chancellor (VC). He is part of the same mindset that is now the Establishment, that is why we are demanding his removal.”

But clearly, what Aishe calls the Establishment is having none of her arguments or demands; VC Jagadesh Kumar has been endorsed by the powers and appears well entrenched.

“Well, of course, he is, but that does not mean we will drop our demand. They all belong to the same project that is ruining JNU and ruining this country. Somebody has to speak up and protest, and we are not alone in this. Why do you think we have received support from campuses across the country, including IITs and such institutions? We have become part of the discourse, and the wider struggle, everywhere. We are not alone, and our battle is valid, it is a battle with good reason.”