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

Mirror, Mirror On The Wall

You know me. How could you not? If you do not know me you don’t deserve to be. How could that be? How could you be and not know me? Not possible. Either you know me or you are not. That is it. That is the sentence. As is the fashion nowadayzzz on Teetar, when they say important things. Or what they believe to be important things. Significant things. That’s it, that is the Teet. That is how they say seminal things on Teetar nowadayzzz. And so I am saying it too. After a fashion. After a way that most folks may understand. Nowadayzzz. Either you know me or you are not.

Main Aurwind Cageriwall bol raha hoon. (Cough. Cough.)

Bolo bhaiAb kya?

(Cough. Cough.) (Grin. Grin.) Grin to embarrass common man kind of grin. Fraud grin. I drive the lowest common denominator car, but when I need to, I take the VIP route and VVIP pass to the nearest and cleanest toilet to relieve myself. And security reasons have put me in this bungalow and looped me in rings of security. They call me Cageriwall. What am I to do? This is all for you only. If you hadn’t put me here, I wouldn’t be here.

I had sworn never to be here. I had sworn I would not be here because I wanted to dedicate my whole life, my every breath. Oh my breath, my breath, I must do something really VVIP about my breath. Because my breath is, each one, kasam sey, each one is for you. So I must breathe well, it is for your sake only. My every living moment is dedicated to opposing people here. People who used to be just where I am now. People who used to be just where I want to always be. I remember I swore I never wanted to be here. But that is the thing about swearing. It is a bad habit. My mother used to tell me, Beta, never swear. So if I swore, I am sorry. I will never swear again. Pakka promise. I swear, I will never swear again.

Just look at my name. Ponder. Marvel at how I was named. It’s all there. Aurwind. Then Cageriwall. How much wind. How much wall. How much cage. Can’t escape me.

Or recall my first gift to you. The topi. Not cloth. Not paper. Pure fabrication. Topi made of waste. Recycled maal. Use and throw. But in the end, I made it the shape of a topi. And all of you made it a fashion. Topi pehna diya naa! And you were all so proud to wear it. You wore it and swore to battle against power. You did the battling, I got the power.

But what am I to do? You are the ones who gave it to me. And once you had given me power you wanted me to do things with it. But so did power, it wanted me to do things with it. Like become used to it. How am I to do things with power without becoming used to it? And becoming used to power requires keeping it. At any cost. If you do not keep power however will you get used to it? I have got used to it, I am happy to report; I am keeping it. At any cost, no kampromise.

Understood? No kampromise. I am trying to explain something to you. No kampromise means no kampromiseKam, meaning little. Promise, meaning pledge. Kampromise: little pledge. I am a kampromising person, I pledge little. Little man. Little state. Little power. Little pledge. That’s me. I will praise to the heavens what I poohpooed to the gutters. I will lick what I lambasted and pliantly obey what I defied. For you. I will kampromise. I will get into kampromising positions. What matters to me is what matters to you. And to do for you what I said I would, I need to be in power. This filthy thing I never wanted. But I must keep it. For your sake. Samjha karo. Aurwind naam hai mera, Aurwind Cageriwall. And I have more topis to give away. You want? Tum mujhe power do, main tumhe topi doonga.

I know the price of throne

And so I do what I do

You may regret, you may groan

But go to hell, it’s true.

Telegraph Calcutta

What Wasn’t Written (June 7, 2020)

It makes no mention, for instance, of achchhe din, the portmanteau feel-good promise that became his pivot to power in 2014. It does not tell you in what garden the pledged golden bird — soney ki chidia — continues to elude our grasp.

It does not tell you that in the years since, India has been turned into an architecture of fractures wantonly and consciously wreaked; and that in the pursuit of fashioning these fractures, Indians have been encouraged to go after other Indians, liberally fed on lies and prejudice, exhorted by dog-whistling from the top and brazenly led to murder and mayhem by gas-lighter commanders possessed of run over the law. Indians have been killed for what they wear, what they eat, what they are called, what books they read, who they pray to. The killers have come to be treated like heroes of spectator sport; they’ve been garlanded and celebrated.

Continue reading “What Wasn’t Written (June 7, 2020)”