2011, Egypt, Reportage, Telegraph Calcutta

Go-go dance and a doubt – Throng wonders what will make Mubarak go

These pieces under the tagline “Ringside at Tahrir” were first published in The Telegraph in February 2011.

Feb 5, Cairo: Towards the end of it, as a darkening chill fell over Cairo and mob clashes crackled on the eastern fringes of Tahrir Square, the lament of the elderly man pulling home from the proceedings, told the day.

“If people dying won’t make Mubarak leave, people dancing won’t.”

Youm-el-Raheel, or President Hosni Mubarak’s “departure day”, was petering off in trails drifting away from a thundering six-hour “Go, Mubarak, Go!” vigil.

But the besieged dictator is still in saddle and Egypt’s turmoil still lies coiled around Cairo’s heart, refusing to go anywhere. If this is the successor to Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution, it sure is living up to its given name; jasmine comes tortuously slow to colour and scent.
Continue reading “Go-go dance and a doubt – Throng wonders what will make Mubarak go”

2012, New Delhi, News, Telegraph Calcutta

The Violence of the Lambs

Sankarshan Thakur

New Delhi, Dec. 29: Well before the candles were lit this evening, the one at the centre of it all had been blown. Jantar Mantar was aglow with the light of the extinguished one — a suffering life that had stopped to struggle in the dead of night and given on to a morning of outcry and crying, condoling and condemnation.

Well before the Singapore hospital gurney was cleared of the remains of a feast of cannibal lust, well before she returned home for her final journey, her tragedy had been robbed the courtesies of silence, her wake abducted to a raucous stage of bickering over who’s to pay. Continue reading “The Violence of the Lambs”

2006, Essay, New Delhi, Tehelka

This Christmas, Santa’s Claws

This piece was first published in Tehelka in the December of 2006.

Since her first yule’tide, my daughter has had a little Christmas tree. A couple of years later, my son joined her under it and quickly effected unwritten but unambiguous joint ownership. Although both have now shot taller than the tree, I somehow always imagine them crawling under its jagged circumference. The tree has a wooden base, now cracked under several sibling topplings, and faux conifer leaves woven into branches made of wire. They wrap neatly on the trunk and, end-January, the tree becomes a stump three feet high to be put away to hibernate the hot months. Winter’s a wee and special season and almost unknowingly a little family tradition has sprung around that tree: winter arrives the day that stump becomes tree again, shedding summer dust, untwining trussed wings, becoming a magical corner in the house under coaxing from my children’s still quite little fingers. But the stump becoming tree is not the entire unfurling of our winter ritual. Perhaps it’s just the start of it. A little red sack with a bell on its back is evacuated from some recess — there’s forever this forgetting about where it was stashed — and its contents poured out. A litter of baubles — berries, mistletoe fronds, miniature pinecones, little fairies, stars in silver and gold, bells big and small and, of course, socks. They are crimson, velvet, embroidered with golden thread. The trove is then quarrelled over — who gets to festoon the tree with what. Battles of mine and thine are fought. That’s how that base got its cracks. That’s how the slow pirouette of our celebration begins.

Further on into the season, on a colder and preferably foggy night, the tree gets lit. It usually also is the night the fireplace gets going and between the timber and the tree, there is no requirement for lights anymore. There used to be little coloured bulbs alternately twinkling but those lights went dead in their box sometime between last winter and this one. This year there are ochre-white lights on it, little capsules of them, like an invasion of fireflies.

And the other day, I bought Santa hats to make Christmas warmer for my children, soft, red, with snow-white pom-poms. They came off a little girl at the traffic light. Fifty for a pair, she said and I haggled. Forty then, she said. I haggled. Twenty? No, she said, but take, for your children, thirty, last price. Twenty-five, I said. I gave her thirty and she handed me the hats and a five-rupee coin. I took both and shamed myself. That unclad child was cold on the street.

2002, Ayodhya, Indian Express, Reportage

“What Do You Do, Even the Gods are Locked in Dispute”

This piece was first published in the Indian Express in December 2002, the tenth anniversary of the demolition of the Babri Masjid

Sankarshan Thakur, Indian Express AYODHYA

You will go back disappointed, said the former Raja of Ayodhya. Nothing here ten years later, he said, the action was further west, in Gujarat, where Babri VIPs were lining up to cheer their new hero. So Sankarshan Thakur and photographer Prashant Panjiar let Ayodhya’s residents tell their stories: from an ailing architect of the Ramjanmabhoomi movement to boys who sell Babri demolition cards they can’t read. From a Muslim shoemaker who watched his shop burn to a mason who’s chipping away at the pillars of a very real and, at the same time, a very imagined temple.

The time was about right, we were told, but we had got the place terribly wrong. However could we have mixed up Godhra with Ayodhya? That is where it is all happening this year, isn’t it, in Gujarat, that last surviving fortress where a make or break battle rages. In Ayodhya it was going to be all symbolic and this time, unlike December 6, 1992, they honestly meant it. There weren’t enough of them around to manage anything beyond the symbolic. Continue reading ““What Do You Do, Even the Gods are Locked in Dispute””

2006, Baroda, Reportage, Tehelka

The Secular Lies of Vadodara

Sankarshan Thakur visits a torn city whose communal neuroses go beyond Narendra Modi and recent riots. First published in Tehelka on May 20, 2006.

The driver’s saying, no way, his taxi isn’t going any further. He is shaking his head and looking as if to say, “You must be mad even to ask.”

Champaner Gate? “Nai saab, apun kaa jaan kaa bhi to fikir hai; biwi, baal-bachcha hai, nai saab, yahin chhodo.”

We walk the teeming rivulet lanes of the old town, a crazy baroque of medieval finery embossed with coarse masonry; carved timber held together by garish tiling, a block of cement smothering evidence of a fallen balustrade, a rusty water-cooler rammed into what was once some refined Parsi’s gable, style choked by substance.

We return late afternoon near-swayed by the intransigent driver’s reason. Champaner Gate isn’t so much the opening on a wizened town breathing through layer upon layer of coexistent time. It is more a gash cleaved in the minds of its people. 1969. 1971. 1978. 1982. 1983. 1987. 1991. 1992. 1993. 1995. 1998. 2000. 2002. 2002 again and again. 2005. April 2006. The tear has been ripped too oft, too savagely for sutures to work. Continue reading “The Secular Lies of Vadodara”

2007, Baroda, Reportage, Tehelka

How to Elect a Fascism

Narendra Modi has married progress to Hindutva with a diabolical brilliance the Congress has offered few answers to. SANKARSHAN THAKUR reports.First published in Tehelka on December 29, 2007

Mask of the Man
Mask of the Man

MR MEHTA told me a simple and quite stunning thing: To understand Gujarat, understand Gujaratis first, there is nothing that matters more to them than dhando and dharma, business and religion. Would it be in that order, Mr Mehta? Quite, he said, what dharma are you going to do on an empty stomach? But please understand this carefully because a lot of you don’t, Gujarat is what Gujaratis make it, not what people like you want it to be, don’t fit our image to the requirements of your frame.

It had begun with a casual remark on the flight from Delhi to Vadodara, but slowly turned into a long and blunt discourse on understanding Gujaratis. “So you are one of those people,” he had said, with no wish to veil his sardonic tone, “You will go to Gujarat and tell the world what a terrible place it is, what a terrible people Gujaratis are.” Continue reading “How to Elect a Fascism”

2006, Ahmedabad, Reportage, Tehelka

Who Killed Haren Pandya?

The probe into the murder of Haren Pandya closed in just six months. But, as the POTA trial against 18 men progresses, too many doubts have arisen about the prosecution’s case. Sankarshan Thakur investigates. First published in Tehelka, 19 August 2006.

haren-pandya-225_082911115106
Fact: this is how Haren Pandya was found in his white Maruti 800 (GJ 1 AP 4606) near midtown Ahmedabad’s Law Gardens by Neelesh Bhatt, his secretary for close to two decades, a little after 10 on the morning of March 26, 2003: shot, sprawled, apparently dead, on the driver’s seat, his head rolled to the left, his feet almost stuck into the steering.

Continue reading “Who Killed Haren Pandya?”