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

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”
Telegraph Calcutta

So see you on the other side

Nothing’s there that isn’t without fences. There are jurisdictions in spaces, jurisdictions beyond distances that can be imagined, abstract distances. Walk a mile, then think of a trillion miles and tell me that it is not both abstract and intangible. And there are fences there too, satellites and mechanical landers and roamers and trodders flying flags and screaming nationalities: Hoorrayyyy! We were here first, and the first thing we did was to put down a fence and nail our proprietorial signature on it. But why travel distances mortal you and I cannot even imagine, or if we try to, the limits of our imagination will snap like rubber bands in an idle boy’s palms? Why go all that far? Look out the window and look up the sky. If you can, that is. If the fences already do not obliterate the sky, that is.

Put down that volume of poetry, forget the poems that yearn the freedom of the skies. There are enough of them littered about, and they’ve been feeding you erroneous and fanciful bilge all this while. Free skies. Freedom of the skies. The openness of the skies. Blah. Blah. Blah. Ah. Ah. Ah. Ha. Ha. Ha. Bunkum. What a mirage. Send up a Mirage, and see how it tears up the sky. Kryuuuuumzz! Kryooooooooomzzzooomm! Send up a Mirage and watch the fences pop up in the skies. There will be, almost immediately, a counter Kryuuuuumzzzz!! Another menacing bird in flight, another one marking the fence.

Violate the fence at your own peril, whoever it is that wishes to violate that fence. Perhaps you cannot see the fence in those open skies but the fence there is, trespassers will be deemed trespassers and most often they will be prosecuted.

A kite cuts the sky, the pigeons fall away, that’s how fences are carved in the skies. There are fences everywhere.

Often they are most insistent where you cannot see them. There is a fence between the caller on a phone and the receiver; it can be bridged, it can as easily be snapped. The throw of a switch and kooooooooon. Dead. The road in front of you has a fence. Yes, you’ve probably ridden it often at a hundred kilometres an hour, or crossed it zipper-speed, but a wire can get pulled across it. Or a barrier. Gone. Fenced. You’re done. Or that river I sit across, gurgling away, furiously frothing. That river. You crossed it yesterday. Today it’s a fence. Try stepping in; it will drown you, or sweep you away where you shan’t surface alive. Or the mountain you see across the river. Beauteous, isn’t it?

But what do you think it is if not a fence? What do you think lies beyond it? Why would you think they transgressed it? That mountain, it’s a fence and we are fortunate it is. Or the land underlying that mountain. Plain. Flat. Arable. Fallow. Placid. But land. And you see no fence? You fool! Have you read your Mahabharata? Have you measured the plot you live on, if you are fortunate to have such a plot to live on? Or family. Hmm. No fences in family? Grow up. Then talk to me. Sexes. People. Provinces. Regions. Languages. Ethnicities. Races. Colours. Nations. And nations within nations. You think there are no fences? You think those are birds? You mean you cannot see a set of barbed things? We shall talk, if we do meet. On the other side.

What are they, not swallows
Do check again your lens
Hear me and try to follow
There’s always, forever, a fence.