Telegraph Calcutta

Pinch for punch (July 2, 2020)


Those who live by the sword don’t always die by the sword; they are able to hold on, for a time, with the pretence of a sword. It is when that pretence is no longer sustainable that they perish. Often, there is not even the requirement of a sword at that stage; the accumulated consequences of the pretence are enough to sound an end.

Scarcely a year on from his “ghar mein ghus ke maarenge” pyrotechnics against Pakistan — a hyper-chested fire-breather act post Pulwama that delivered him a handsome electoral endorsement — the strongman image of the prime minister, Narendra Modi, has suffered blows that he appears too shocked and shaken to even admit to.

The military purchase of the Balakot air-strike remains clouded in a welter of claim and counter-claim but there was a swift and dramatic response to the horrific terror-strike at Pulwama for which blame was summarily nailed on Pakistan. Fighter jets were scrambled and sent across the LoC for the first time since 1971. They did exhaust their lethal payloads over Pakistani territory before returning home. A punch was delivered, an intention stated: “Hamara siddhant hai, hum ghar mein ghus ke maarenge.” Modi received vociferous applause at every stage he mounted thereafter. He made many belligerent speeches on the back of Balakot and became the Rambo pin-up of the 2019 election. He earned a wholesome victory as Papa-Protector.

Last summer seems funnelled so far and deep in the past this summer. The Chinese — not some proxy mercenary infiltrators, as in Kargil, or a shoot-and-scoot terror outfit, as often in Kashmir, but the uniformed People’s Liberation Army — have ingressed deep into what India considered its flank of the conundrum that is the unmarked Line of Actual Control. Not at one point, and not a furtive breach. At multiple points, with a brazen dare — come get us. They have come in large numbers. They have come with construction and military hardware. They are settling down, as if it were their rightful squat. They are pitching tents where Ladakhi horses would go summer grazing, they are digging kitchens where Indian patrols would often take breathers. In the course of achieving all of this, one day they killed 20 Indian soldiers, injured dozens of others and took 10 captive, whom they later released. A few days later, Beijing’s envoy to Delhi issued a chit of paper blithely proclaiming the Galwan Valley as Chinese real estate from his office a stone’s throw away from the prime minister’s residence. 

Continue reading “Pinch for punch (July 2, 2020)”

Telegraph Calcutta

In Ladakh, Kargil echo and variance (June 14, 2020)

The reported deep incursion by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) into eastern Ladakh — now the trigger for growing concern over a full-blown military confrontation — has eerie and uneasy resonances to the origins of the Kargil war of 1999.

There is one significant, probably ominous, difference

Continue reading “In Ladakh, Kargil echo and variance (June 14, 2020)”
State of Play

A mildewed life – The migrant is trapped between the home and the world

In a succession of thousands of years,/ In years of poverty and disaster,/ What existed was not a person,/ But countless disfigured cripples.

One spent his whole life as a cobbler/ Formed no judgements higher than his boot tree./ Another turned two millstones all his days:/ Behind their pointless turning he turned grey./ A third man plowed the soil from childhood on/ And never visited the nearby town...

... And in the villages, emptied of people/ Where brutish fear of the city prevailed/ A mildewed life, barbarically wretched,/ Limped from one hut’s doorway to another,/ Like a blind old nag, ribs sticking out,

Walking in its sleep around/ The same old pile of manure:/ The wooden plow, the tavern, the priests...”

“Fragments and the Whole” — Nikolai Bukharin

We can all now sigh in relief and feel a little pleased too, why not? We are sending the workers home. They are not having to walk any more, we are sending them back in chartered buses and special trains, never mind who paid for tickets, who didn’t, at least they are going home. Washing comes highly recommended these days, we can give our collective conscience a collective wash. Very soon we will stop being haunted. We will no longer see images of our countrymen and countrywomen trudging thousand-mile routes through the heat of day and the darkness of night, often smacked or whipped along the way, often forced to frogleap, sometimes sprayed with chemicals, sometimes tear-gassed. But no longer that ghoulish everywhere spectacle of them dragging their trussed worldly goods, their bewildered kids, hungry, thirsty, hapless, exhausted, and yet so tormented by their present that it had to be fled and a future chased. A future that lay in most of their pasts, their homes, those homes that they had had to forsake to arrive here, from where they are now being driven, hither-thither, in panicked tens of thousands, like frantic wildebeest droves in crocodile-ridden waters.

Continue reading “A mildewed life – The migrant is trapped between the home and the world”
State of Play, Telegraph Calcutta

Ruled by decree (April 3, 2020)

Where we all are today has left us deeply shaken and worried, but this will pass. We do not yet know when or how, but the Corona shadow will pass. We will still have those clouds to contend with that the pandemic swept over and temporarily shunted from our attentions and apprehensions. 

Where we all are today has left us deeply shaken and worried, but this will pass. We do not yet know when or how, but the Corona shadow will pass. We will still have those clouds to contend with that the pandemic swept over and temporarily shunted from our attentions and apprehensions. 

Continue reading “Ruled by decree (April 3, 2020)”
Telegraph Calcutta


Fact: Rahul Gandhi is the Congress MP from Wayanad in Kerala.

Fact: Rahul Gandhi is not only the Congress MP from Wayanad in Kerala.

Fact: Rahul Gandhi is nobody in the hierarchy of the Congress party.

Fact: Rahul Gandhi cannot be nobody in the hierarchy of the Congress party.

Fact: Rahul Gandhi does not want to return as president of the Congress party.

Fact: Rahul Gandhi wants to return as president of the Congress party.

Continue reading “RUN, RAHUL, RUN”
2020, State of Play, Telegraph Calcutta

The Delhi violence is a symptom of a vastly altered India (March 4, 2020)

“Mobs smash, loot and burn”

“Fires and bomb wreck town…”

“Furniture and goods flung from homes and shops…”

“Bands rove… plunderers trail wreckers… Police stand idle…”

Familiar headlines. Headlines we’ve seen leap out nearly ten days now from a strip of Delhi gone phosphorescent with hate and the mayhem it often spells. These could well have been headlines from Delhi. They aren’t. They are headlines from more than eighty years ago, from a faraway place called Germany and its overrun neighbourhood whose uneasy resonance amidst us we must begin to sense.

Here are the real, fuller headlines. Continue reading “The Delhi violence is a symptom of a vastly altered India (March 4, 2020)”

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? Continue reading “Prashant Kishor and his improbable power map”


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. Continue reading “Home is where the heart is (October 28, 1995)”

Telegraph Calcutta

Our nation to keep and guard


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. Continue reading “Our nation to keep and guard”

Telegraph Calcutta

Did we not say this about fairness?

We got slammed and flayed black and blue for this, remember? Everybody called us all manner of names; cascades of abuse, acres and acres of diatribes. We were taken to the cleaners and to the dryers, and to the washers in between. Matlab, plastered. In daylight as broad as, ah, never mind, and in full public view, neither half nor quarter, nor any portion of it; in full public view, as full as, well never mind that one either. We were deemed so bad we couldn’t get any worse; we were the exemplars of what not to be. Blots on the species.

But now you know. And most who are agreeing are shaking their heads to agree: MeTooMeTooMeTooMeTooMeTooMeToo!

They all agree this fair business is all wrong. What is this fetish for being fair? What’s this bias for what is fair? This fairness project was always wrong. What is so great about being fair? It has become an industry, this fairness thing, and a widely espoused and advocated one: We must be fair!

But why, bhaaiyon-behnon? Why must everybody and everything be fair? We believed in not being fair, and we were dragged over the coals for it. Even so, we stuck to our position because that is something we deeply believe in too — sticking to positions, come what may. Positions of power, for example. Or the position that being fair is not such a good or great thing. We have no love lost for fairness, we have never believed fairness to be a thing of virtue.

We are not fair, and we have stuck it out firm in the belief that we shall not be fair. Only now, everyone is beginning to agree. The biggest houses of popular merchandise are saying fairness is not a thing to aspire to or advertise. Society leaders are shunning fairness, revealing to us how our obsession with fairness has historically hurt us and made us smaller and meaner. The big and beautiful celebrities of sport and cinema, of the arts and academies, of the writing world and reading world, and all the wannabes to each and all of those worlds are saying poor things about fairness and the obsession to be fair. The cries against the submission and subscription to fairness is all a rage.

We always knew. We told you. But you wouldn’t believe us. You thought we were evil and malevolent and worse. Now do you agree? That we are the good ones because we are not the fair ones? That it is actually a noble thing not to be hankering after fairness?

So we can now say it proudly and aloud: We Are Not Fair. We Do Not Believe In Fairness. To Be Fair Is Not A Virtue.

Fair methods. Fair decisions. Fair manner. Fair argument. Fair assessment. Fair treatment. Fair elections. Fair trial. Fair judgment. Fair play. Fair this. Fair that. What is this infatuation with fairness? They even had a cream for it, we are told. Apply and you and everything about you will turn fair. Blistering blasphemy! We never got taken by that campaign. We always knew fairness was a poor objective. It is a divisive thing, fundamentally. Fair things. And therefore there would be things that are not fair. And then you invent a discourse of what is good and what is bad, you apportion virtue and you apportion vice. No, no, not allowed. Fairness cannot be allowed to become the arbiter of things, fairness cannot be the descriptor of what one might embrace and what needs to be eschewed. Fairness cannot be allowed to be the repository of goodness; what is not fair cannot be condemned merely for not being fair. Hai naa? We are so glad you have at long last come to agree. Welcome to the realm that takes no pride in fairness, and is determined to exterminate what is fair.  

The way it is, go ahead be unfair
And make it seem a just share
Like, you know, I take the ride
And you it is who pays the fare.

Telegraph Calcutta

But Where Is that Kaimraa?

The one that does not lie. But the one that can be lied to. It’s a thing to be used. Or abused. It is used to that. Being put to use and abuse. Happens all the time. Just ask the Kaimraa.

It does not lie, but I can lie before it. I can do things to the Kaimraa that the Kaimraa has not yet been able to imagine. Just normal things. Normal days. Normal time. Nothing special.

You know. I am not trying to tell you anything that is out of the normal. This is normal only. This is the way I speak only. But I wanted to tell you things are normal only. Look at me. This morning. How normal I am and how normal things around me are. I am wearing my sombrero. As I always do. I am in the two-piece of the three-piece which is my normal, the third piece of the three-piece is on the clothes horse. Normal only. I am seated under a leafy plane tree, on a grassy lawn. Plane trees are the normal. They grow normally all over the place and it is normal for them to be marooned in rolling pools of grass. We live in such a grassy-green country, peace be upon us. Normal only. There are ducks waddling around me. Ask them, they are in their normal habitat. Hear them going quack-quack, those loveable rascals, they do their best to ruin my morning reading. Of the Classics, you know. They are all piled up beside me, their leather spines and their gilded lettering all conveniently angled for the Kaimraa to get a full and wholesome view of them. The Kaimraa does not lie. I read the Classics amidst the quack-quack, seated under a plane tree with my sombrero on my head. All so normal.

But there are times I do not want the ducks around. Too much of an infliction on concentration. And I don’t bother with the Classics either. Too much knowledge; a man can take so much and no more, the excess of everything is bad, it causes indigestion and that has consequences. I don’t like smell around me, surely not the smells of the excess of knowledge passing through me. Not a nice smell, if you ask me. There are times I wish to be without. Alone. By myself. With nothing other than a Kaimraa. That’s essential, the Kaimraa, for how else will the truth be told? The Kaimraa does not lie, and so the truth gets told, and that is how things should be. When I am absolutely alone, like in some cave, meditating, I am with a Kaimraa. In the interest of the truth being told, nothing else. I check. Once every while: Kaimraa hai ki nahin. I wink, I keep half an eye, in the interest of truth. I do it so diligently that it has often been used as some sort of an allegation against me — that man is always looking at the Kaimraa. Allegations are normal only. The truth is that the Kaimraa keeps its eyes on me more often than I keep my eyes on the Kaimraa. It has to do its duty.

There are always these koschans being asked about why the Kaimraa is looking at me and why I am looking at the Kaimraa. What is the Kaimraa to do? It is there, exclusively assigned for me, so each moment I discharge in the service of the people can be captured. That is the job of the Kaimraa. Do you think the Kaimraa travelled all that distance to take photus of peepuls in some hospeetal ka ward or whatever it was? Who would pay the bills? And why would those hospeetal peepuls have photus taken? The Kaimraa went with me, on my plane, free of cost, meaning, I mean at your cost. And the hospeetal peepuls got those photus because I was there. The Kaimraa was on me. That is the job, see. And I was on the Kaimraa because I wanted to ensure that having travelled all the way on public money, I mean your money, it was always on me. That is my job, and I take the job seriously, especially when the Kaimraa is around. Otherwise it becomes a waste of your money.

So I told you about the angle
Look before the lens you dangle
Your neck I will myself mangle
If just the pose you can’t wangle.

Telegraph Calcutta

The word best not spoken

Some tea this Sunday morning? Sure. Milk? A little, yes, a little milk would be fine. Sugar? What? Noooooooooo! No, no, no, please no. Spare me. Perish the thought. Don’t even mention it. That hurts. Just the mention of it does. Chini. Petrifies me. Chini does horrible things. Terrible things. Abominable things. Just look what Chini has done to me. Don’t mention it. I don’t mention it. I get the shivers and shudders at the mention of it: Chini.

God knows why I actually believed it to be a good thing. I would, believe you me, actually like it. I merrily kept its company and it seemed to have no complains about me. It was all over me. And I was loving it. Pure sweetness it was. ChiniChini here, Chini there, Chini everywhere. You know what I mean, it was sweet. Everything was sweet. Everyone was loving how sweet it was. The sweeter it got, the more they loved it. Chini-Chini Chai-Chai! Chini and Chai; what a combination we made. And then they made some sort of a personal anthem of it, they loved it so much: Merrrraa naaam chini-chini chu, chini-chini chu, or some such thing, I can’t be bothered to recall.

But no Chini in my chai, no, excuse me please. I’ve had enough. So much that, well you know, let me not even say it out loud. That thing has done me enough harm. And I see you have Chini tea sets too, I mean Chini Mitti tea sets. Oh the horrors. Chini Mitti! I wish we knew where it was.

I wish the Chinis knew where it was, Chini Mitti I mean. They don’t seem to. I mean Chini Mitti is on Chini side. Our mitti is on our side.

There is actually a difference between Chini Mitti and our mitti; with Chini Mitti you can make pots and cups and saucers, with our mitti you make bhaanrs. Get the difference? But who’s to tell them, make them understand? Chinis have enough Chini Mitti but now they seem to want our mitti as well. And they are forcibly taking it. Are they now manufacturing bhaanrs? Who knows? They may well be. Another indigenous enterprise gone. Now Chini bhaanrs. Cheaper. Well. Matters most, the price. No? Not when they are claiming our mitti? Oh, okay then. That is why I am telling you: no Chini, no Chini Mitti, and no Chini in Chini Mitti. Go Local, Be Bhocal. Say it out loud: no Chini.

But what will you say it on? There’s no, whatchmmmacallit, that thing anymore. You know what I mean, that thing on which you did all your song and dance: Chik-Chok. That was also Chini. It has been banned. It was a big security risk, it was allowing Eleven PongPing to listen in on what your wife did not cook for dinner. That sort of deep secrets, the kind you keep buried deep in your heart, the kind you do not even tell your wife about. Because. Because. Oh ri baba, simply because telling the wife what she did not cook for dinner would have consequences. Severe ones, you know that. Nothing one should be putting out in the public domain. But everything is in the public domain, even secrets about what is happening where our mitti meets Chini Mitti. It is all becoming Chini Mitti. 

That is another reason I say no chini. It is mitti. You want to give me mitti? You want to put mitti in my tea? No. Flatly. No. I won’t have it. Not until it is no longer possible to say no because chini is so all over the place that it becomes untenable to not have chini. When you have to have it, you have to have it. Just enjoy having it. But till you can say no, keep saying no. No chini. Poison. It pretends this sweetness and it mixes itself into all things and it goes all over your body and does all sorts of things. Never heard of the harmful effects of chini? Wait. Let me introduce you to diabolites. Here, this is the beginning of your end: Diabolites. It is a chini thing. Sweet. Deadly.  

I made the terrible error, I do have to say
I jumped up-down and cried ‘Chini, come!’
How was I to know they’d come all the way
And then say thank you, we’ll have some.

Telegraph Calcutta

Oh that line, it has been crossed!

You see that line? That’s the critical thing, to keep your eye on the line. There are lines. You must know that if you were properly brought up. You must have been told about lines, and what lines never to cross, what lines never to allow others to cross. Well, that’s what it is about. Lines. Having said that, there can be many kinds of lines. Straight lines. Unstraight lines. Curved lines. Criss-cross lines. Perpendicular lines. Horizontal lines. Vertical lines. Lines that are neither horizontal nor vertical. They could possibly be called slanting lines. Or diagonal lines. Depends on where you’re looking at them from. There can be other kinds of lines. Jagged lines. They go this way now, and then that way and nobody can tell which way they will go next. A bit like life, you know. Jagged lines. You could call them life lines. (Statutory Warning: Don’t go asking a palmist about lines, he or she will only hold your palm while they, you know, like what it feels to be holding your palm.) There are lines that change. There are lines that can be changed. There are lines of control. But they may not be really lines of control because uncontrollable things can happen along those lines. But then, glory be Ooperwaale, there are some lines that are called lines of actual control. You know, Actual. They can actually be controlled, such lines are they.

But sometimes, actually, truth be told, even lines of actual control cannot be controlled. Such is the human condition, there is control and actual control but there comes a stage when you cannot control. You know what I mean. You’ve been there. Somewhere along a highway sometime when there was nothing to the left and nothing to the right, and everything was building up between what lay to the left and what lay to the right, and it built up and built up to a point where it all seemed like it had built up to a Holocaust and there was no point bothering about control or actual control because it could not be controlled at all, hai naa? You’ve been there. You’ve known that. You’ve needed to go. Or you’ve done it. Then. And there. You’ve crossed the line and messed it all up. Hai naa? Hoy. It happens. We cannot always see it coming. But there are lines. And they come. And then it is all upon us.

Sometimes we see and sometimes we do not, or are not able to, but what happens does happen whether we see or do not see. We do not see, at least most of us don’t, what’s happening beyond that lake, in those folds of barren hills, in those valleys and gorges cut by rivers and shallow streams, but what is happening is happening. It seeks no validation from witnesses, it’s a force of its own, it’s happening. We may not choose to see it. We may choose to look the other way. We may be told there is nothing there worth seeing. We may believe there is nothing there worth seeing. What is happening is still happening. There may not be a line. But, blimey, they crossed the line.

But what line? Where? Who told you? I don’t see a line. They don’t see a line. Nobody sees a line. But they crossed the line. Ab kya hoga, Mataji? They crossed the line, oh no, what have they done! How do they say it? Hum kisi ko kya munh dikhaayenge, hum kisi ko munh dikhaaney ke kaabil hi nahin rahey! Isn’t that how they say it? In the movies? And they are talking about the whole kalooney, you know neighbourhood, I mean? They crossed the line. It’s all over, let us go. But there is nowhere to go. The moment you begin to go, the moment you step out, they will mark you out, they will say, look, look, there, they are the folks whose, you know, line was crossed. And they no longer have lines any more. The only thing, probably or perhaps, for them to remember then is this happy thing. There are lines and crossed lines, but there are also lines that can sometimes be erased. End of all troubles. Erase! No lines. No fences. Nothing fenced.

No this is yours and this is mine

No lines, not black, not carmine

Imagine just saying all is fine

I take yours and you take mine.