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

LazyEye

The Small Book of Maalik’s Wisdoms

People call me Maalik, believe you me, they do; Maalik is probably also my name but I cannot be sure. I will have to ask. For in reality I am not Maalik, the reality is something else. The reality is always something else. Reality is a surreally changeable and capricious thing, especially in unreal places such as the one I boss over. It is for good reason they call me Maalik, although that reason may well be that Maalik is my given name. Or so I have been made to believe. I am not my own being, I am not allowed that, although you know very well I am allowed many other things. You suffer the consequences my allowances, so you should know. To me are attributed things that I do not know I have done. I am the one who signs on to all the things that we tell you are unutterably good for you. Look how many garrisons of olive and of green, or very often a bespoke amalgam of the two, I have marshalled in the service of your safety and security. Look how much I have saved for you in fuel, and in telephone and and Internet bills. And in your breakfast and butcher bills. No butcher, no meat, no money spent. See? No shops, no expenditure. See? No movement, and you all have the rare gift of quality time together as family. No news, but that’s proverbially good news. See? On the contrary. On the contrary, because we must consider contrary things and prospects all the time, especially in an unreal and unlikely place such as this, contrary truths are also true. For instance, the less you are able to speak to each other, the less the pain you cause each other. When we talk, we mostly cause each other pain, or envy, or anger, or affront, or irritation, or antipathy and all manner of other pathys, would you not agree? So the less you are able to speak to each other, the more peaceful you are. Imagine not having to speak to your wife (or husband), by law decreed. Bliss. Wouldn’t you agree?

To those who do not agree, I have this to say, firmly and unequivocally: I am the appointed tyranny of the unelected. Do not even dare those things that you propose to dare me with.

Pachtaaogey, bahooot pachhtaaogey.

But misunderstand me you should not. You may not. I am your Maalik, but I am not my own Maalik. You see? There’s a problem. I resemble, I sometimes think in my dimmer moments, the logo of a certain gramophone company. You do not know gramophones, I know. You may not recall that logo, I grant you that. But to cut a not so long story very short, it was about making a metaphor of a mammal and a far more manipulative mammal called man. The lesser mammal being a dog. A loyal mammal, given the occasional bone, and the occasional bashing. I am often reminded that I am a close resemblance to that mammal. I am unstintingly loyal. I bark. When commanded, I bite. But look at me. I am so loveable, ain’t I? Until you let me sniff in you something sinister. Until I am commanded to smell something sinister. And thereafter commanded to bite. Then I bite. And I bleed. And I maim. And I will not stop short of killing, brutally, tearing with my fangs whatever it is that I have been commanded to tear asunder. But it will all be for your own good. So have I been commanded to perceive the situation I am in. So have my masters decreed my mandate. I will whisper to your dying declaration that everything is well. I will admonish your wounds and ordain them obliterated because everything is normal. I will clap my paws on your clamour of protesting because what you call protest is propaganda. I am your Maalik, you see. But in truth I am really a mule, and not even a dog.

Behind my toothy smile

I keep secure my tongue

For it allows me to lie a mile

With all my heart and lung.

LazyEye

And the stories we are telling

But we are not telling them. Or we are telling them and we cannot ourselves hear the stories we are telling. The wind blows away our words and makes an indecipherable howl of them. Then it drags those howls so high into rarefied thinness they cannot breathe anymore and fall upon the earth in a shower of wheezing.

We can make neither head nor tail nor midriff of our stories because nobody has a notion what shred came to drop where and where the other tattered pieces of such wanton obliteration might be. Someone ventured out. Someone else did not return. Someone waged an argument. Someone else was silenced. Someone chucked a stone. Someone else lost an eye. Someone put out the home lights. Someone else set it ablaze. Someone lit up a lie. Someone else paid for the truth. Someone crossed the line. Someone else crossed over. Someone committed treachery. Someone else was proclaimed traitor. Someone arrived to hug. Someone put a dagger in the back. Someone cried blood! But someone else lay bleeding. Someone wept at the graveside. Someone else was digging graves for the weeping. Someone cried out “Martyr!” Someone else said “Maar, aur Maar!” Someone asked how many more must die. Someone else said bring on the dead. Someone counselled peace. Someone else heard panic. Someone said it’s done. Someone else said it’s just begun. 

We gathered for prayer, and we all began to cry. We had come for solace, and we knew at once we were all hapless. We are all Someone. We are all someone else. We are tangled. We are enmeshed. Toppled upon each other, unable to recognise ourselves, unable to discern our body parts from parts of other bodies, unable to recognise whose soul it is that is soughing here. But do we even have souls? 

We qualified for this stage that rivets the world by having our souls leached. We are the opera of extinguished souls. We call ourselves Concertina. We mime and motion to the tinkling of empty bottles of booze, those bottles they glugged down their gullets and put out to hang on the wires so when something moved to violate the realm of the wires, they’d tinkle and that tinkling would signal alarm. When the bottles begin to sound is when we resume our ballet of the bound. “Kaun hai? Who’s there!!” “The Concertina Troupe, mai-baap, Sir, Karnail, Jarnail, jo bhi aap bolenge,Sir! We came to tell the story we cannot tell, will you please, manaa to mat karogey, Sirji, we won’t make a sound, this is a silent story, we don’t have a voice, though we still have a story. It’s not like we can hear our story, but we still have a story. You know, dikkat mat hai aapko? Here’s our new one. 

We slept, as in we really could, you know, amidst all of this. Chemists help. Prescriptions help. We ate our prescriptions and slept. And we dreamt we had turned the shape of phones, the old ones, receivers that would curl like embryos and sit on the ringer-dialler box. Remember? So we all became phones. And because we were all phones, we were dead, and because we were curled by design, we looked like dead embryos. And then we were told, get up, all is fine, and so we rose and began to ring and dance and the moment we looked like we were happy someone shot us. And we all fell dead on the Concertina and it began to chime again like an orchestra, or no, opera, or whatever… we don’t know, we are confused too, and dead too…”

When it has turned all too gory

And lives have dripped or flown

Will only then be told our story

As triumph of He on the throne? 

Kashmir

Diary of Srinagar lockdown I & II

A reporter’s worst nightmare is not being able to tell the story; this week, the powers enacted it coldly, and with singular completeness. But it’s poor form to complain of being pinched when everything around you is being hammered. The reporter in Kashmir this week was a niggling collateral to seismic enactments whose impulsive after-tremors have been stilled by jackboots and commanded at gunpoint to behave.

These are fragments from a diary that lay proscribed for days:

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Shortly after I arrive in Srinagar mid-afternoon, a friend of several decades comes around and insists on ferrying me home. “No point getting locked up in a room with nowhere to go. It isn’t safe, a big lockdown is coming.”

“How do you know a lockdown is coming?” I ask him, a little irritably.

“If a lockdown isn’t coming, why are you even here?” he retorts.

Argument over.

Continue reading “Diary of Srinagar lockdown I & II”