And then there are questions to ask

What should we do? About what should we do what we should do? How should we do what we should do? Is there a way we should do what we should do? Is there anything to be done? Can anything be done?

Is it necessary to ask such questions?
Is it time to ask such questions?
But what questions?
Do we know how to frame those questions?
Do we know who to ask those questions of?
Is there anybody taking questions?
Is there someone who will ask?

How have we come to be in the volatile swirl of so many questions? Where were these questions all this while? What was keeping them from turning in a twister around us?

Why are there so many questions?
Why is there such a noise of questions?
Why is there such silence?
What brought us to such decibels of noise and such depths of silence?
What are we doing betwixt? Betwixt noise and silence? Is that a question to ask?
How did we arrive here? Is that a question to ask? Is it right to wonder about right questions and wrong questions?
Must we ponder on questions that need asking or must we just let all of that be?
Must we just keep tobogganing on and on, down, down, down, plunge, plunge, plunge, into the perilously approaching thicket, crashing into which will take us apart bone by splintered bone, sinew by torn sinew? Must we just stop worrying about everything and stop worrying about how we will soon be torn asunder?

But will asking questions help?
But is not asking those questions an option?
What questions, though?
Like what have we become? Like what have we made of ourselves? Like what have we now revealed of ourselves?

Is it right and opportune to ponder those questions? Are you getting my drift? Am I right to be wondering in this rambling sort of fashion? About whether to ask them at all? Or not to ask them? Am I getting through? Am I even sounding as if I have something to say?

Of course there are questions to ask but which ones? Why have we become so shaken and stirred about normal questions? Like: Who are we? What do we want? Where are we going? Who is taking us there? Where is there? Is it the right there or the wrong there? Or is it just a there? Where are we? Where have we been brought? Where have we brought ourselves? Where have we allowed ourselves to be brought by those who are doing the bringing? Are we happy that we have been brought here? Are we happy that this has been done to us? Is this really for our own good? Who are you? Why did you do this?

Are answers to be expected to questions we ask? As in does every question necessarily fetch an answer? Should it? Are we right to expect questions will fetch answers? Or can questions be asked and allowed to float in waves and peter out, like wind funnelling out of a balloon and the balloon becoming not a balloon at all but a sorry shrunken vestige of itself?

If agar

But magar

What maaney kya?

Bolo what maaney kya?

2002, Ayodhya, Indian Express, Reportage

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

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

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 “This piece was first published in December 2002, the tenth anniversary of the demolition of the Babri Masjid”
Telegraph Calcutta

The cloth and the tailored cut of it

There used to be, in the era of NothingHappened, a thing, or shall we say, a concoction. It was called Incrementin — don’t want to use the real name folks, for fear that it may be construed as advertising in a space that is strictly editorial and may not be used for advertising, paid or unpaid. But you would know what I mean. At least some of you would. That was also what Incrementin did on the side, it boosted memory while it boosted size. Or at least that is what they claimed. So it may be that some of you would still remember what we are now being hectored not to remember at all.

Memory is fading. Memory is being proscribed. Memory is no longer a thing to have.

Or if memory is still a thing to have, it must be a changed memory. We must remember other things. The things we have memorised are wrong and heretical things; we must now flush them down the SwachhBharat drain and remember anew. We must remember things that never happened. We are in the process of writing what has now to be remembered. Take note, get into the WC, dump what you must dump, turn the handle, use the wipes where you have to, the polluted parts if you wish to be specifically told, run the hose to be absolutely certain, wipe all over again, come back swachh and we shall tell you what you need to remember.

You don’t need to remember Incrementin, there is no need for that now. We know Incrementin. We know what Incrementin did or was meant to. You had a few drops of Incrementin each day and you grew. Taller, if in no other way. There was that creature shanghaied, sans fee, to act as metaphor and market Incrementin. A Kiraffe. Kiraffe? Don’t know? Those gangly creatures with spots all over their bodies that like flowery donkeys neck down and become Kiraffes neck up? Ungainly unreal things if you ask me, but what are we to do with ungainly, unreal things? They are all over the place. Kiraffes are spotted and they could actually have an idiom named after them — a Kiraffe cannot change its spots. But Kiraffes are so ungainly and unreal, the Leopaaards beat them to it. There is a price to pay for being ungainly and unreal. Kiraffes paid the price. Others just keep changing clothes and hats. And keep getting away.

Anyhow, where were we? Oh don’t even bother asking that question. Where were we? We are where it no longer is where we were. Does that make sense? No? Poor thing. Doesn’t matter, you won’t get it. Everything is changing. In many kinds of ways. We have only ever known that through time things become bigger. Hai na? Take us. Take any species. They are born and the only way they go is to become bigger. Not talking of brains, of course. We have now become used to knowing better. Not taking of anything, the risk cannot be taken. Incrementin cannot be spoken of; Incrementin is banned.

Things must not grow. They must become smaller. If they don’t, they must be snipped and cut and tailored to suitable size. Or just plain torn in two. We don’t want stuff growing; we want it the other way round. You become too big for me, I cut you down. Then, I become too big for you. Yeeeeeeeaaaaah! Bola thha. Go on now, look for clothes your size, or just suffocate in what you have, or go plain naked. That was the idea. Your size too we have rewritten; memorise it afresh.

So this is how it came to be

And is now for all to see

That when we became better

We were actually made lesser.

Telegraph Calcutta

Marlie And The Monster Factory

Welcome. We do monsters. What would we do without monsters? What would we even be there for if there weren’t any monsters? In order to be what we are, we need monsters. It is Them who make us Us. Monsters are necessary, we are if monsters are.

What size would you require? And what degree of ferocity? Don’t have cause to worry, Ladeez and Laydaaz, our products are guaranteed, ISI-marked, whatever you choose to make of that: ISI. Understood na? Indian Standards Institution. What were you thinking, you pernicious, insecure minds? When we certify things to a standard, we say ISI-marked. We do that even for our oils, let alone anything else.

Oils are important. Oils keep us going. Oils keep the factory lubricated. Without oils, they would be taken by rust and we would not know what to do, or how to proceed. Rusted things have a way of not proceeding. Like bad memories. Or bicycle chains. Ghatar, ghatar, ghatar, phisss! Won’t move. Oils are necessary. Oils are what move history. Oils are what have brought us to this pass.

We are pretty well-oiled now. We are churning. We are churning monsters with our oils. We are oily folk, but pardon us, we need our oils. Or how else would we be running this factory? There are many kinds of oils we need and use — diesel, petrol, kerosene, paraffin, mustard, sunflower, cornola, apricot, hops, barley, mint, champa, coconut, almond, walnut, mentha, jasmine, rosepetal, chilli, cabbage, garbage, rapeseed, oh baba, rapeseed too, and whatnot. Even whatnot gives oil. If you squeeze anything enough, it will give oil. Believe you me. Before it gives blood, it will give oil, tel nikal jaata hai. All manner of oils. Oils from even stuff that does not yield oil. Like BMKJ oil. That has to be churned and pounded hard but it yields results when you are done with it, this BMKJ oil. It is the preferred oil now, it is the oil whose rampant sales are raging all over and keeping the Market aloft like Viagra can keep fallen things aloft. For a while. Jai BMKJ. And so saying we make monsters that will encourage us to pronounce BMKJ even louder. And the louder we proclaim BMKJ, the more these essential oils will drip and flow.

So what we do here is this. It’s quite simple really. We catch them young. And we shut them up. And then we catch their older ones and put them through things that make the younger ones weep and wail and flail and eventually have nightmares. Then we censure them for having nightmares. We tape their eyes. We seal their lips. We suffocate them, their limbs, their speech. We chop their wings. Then, should they still try to flap about, we shoot at them and disable them. Or, very often, do worse things. We make them squirm. We make them angered. We feed their rage with daily distribution of prescribed monster factory diet. We violate simple sensitivities, one after another, trick by tortured trick, relentlessly. Our actions are so designed that they make those who we caught young react in strange and violent ways. We keep going at them, and everything dear to them, until it is so that they come at us. There. You have a monster made. Thereafter, it all becomes easier and justifiable. What do you do to monsters? What should be done to monsters? What do civilised folks do to monsters? There. That’s why we make monsters. So we can do to monsters what should be done to monsters. Samjhey, bhaaiyon-behnon?

Oh we do specialise

In what we reduce

We cut you to size

And monsters we produce.

Telegraph Calcutta

Let us go then you and I etherised

History has a dustbin, we have been reliably told, although what is reliable and what is not is difficult to tell in these times. But in these times we have no choice either. We are told what we are told and we must believe. Like: People are HappyHappy. No? To the dustbin then!

But look! There is more than just us here! Arrey wah, there is that cloud here too, that same cloud. The cloud on which we put a fat big silver lining, so fat and so big that you know what that cloud eventually was able to achieve. Arrey wahi, KalaCoat cloud, the cloud that wore a kala coat, and on which we put the silver lining which did all the shining for us. That cloud is here. In the dustbin. Where it should be. Because it has been used now.

There is also this gandi naali ki gas. It cannot be seen because it is what it is: gas. But it smells. Colourless, but not odourless. Remember your Kaymistri? No? Oh, babaGandi naali makes gas. Gas is hot. Hot gas goes up. It is energy. Ooooorjaa! Attach gandi naali to a pipe. And pipe to kettle. And voila! Chhooo Mantar!! GiliGiliChhoooo! What do you get? Chaiwala! What Kaymistri!

What is Kaymistri? Don’t know? Don’t you read your prescribed books? We changed things. And we put a lot of old things in the dustbeen. Right dustbeen. We put them so phaar away you can’t even see them with a doorbeen. That is where we put the papa of Kaymistri, also known in those times as Chemistry. But those times are gone! Banished! Tata!! Tudlup! Pippip!! Cheerio!!! And when times are asked to go you know where they go! Into the dustbeen of history! Hai naa?

Three went there. Seven went there. Zero went there! Hahaaah! And there were some lesion-like attachments to Three and Seven and Zero that also went there. Into the dustbin. Forever. Listen to me. Repeat after me. For. Ev. Err. Haaah! HaHaaah! Hum apne zamaane ke Jailor hain, aisey-waisey nahin! Hah! HaHaaah!! Three, left chalo! Seven, right chalo! Zero, merey peechhe chalo! KadamTaal! Right, Right, Right, Right, Right, Right, Right, Right, Paraaaaaaaade! What now? What do we do now? Hariram, where are you? Saheb, I am here, behind you, the Zero. You said. Hariram! NamakHaraam! To the dustbeen!!

Hazaar also went there. To the dustbeen. And DoHazaar came in his place. Hazaar was horrible. Hazaar was being misused. Abused. Against us. Hazaar was a horror. Hazaar had been duplicated. Hazaar was being peddled as Hazaar. Hazaar had to be banished. To the dustbeen. And we got DoHazaar. Hahaaah! And now DoHazaar has also been duplicated. DoHazaar has also been copied. DoHazaar is also being misused. DoHazaar is also being abused. Against us. So? Should we? Should we chuck this traitorous DoHazaar also into the dustbeen? So far deep that no doorbeen can see and it cannot be copied or duplicated? Let DoHazaar be evaluated by the CharSauBees. We should wait upon good advice. Hai na!

Meantime, what else is there in the dustbeen, Hariram? Oh, is there? Can you see it? No? Can’t even see it? No? Can NASA see it? No? What happened? Oh. Try the doorbeen. No? Nothing? You mean total dustbeen? Hmmm. Gas? GandiNaaliGas? Not to be seen? Okay. Let’s make chai.

Did you not know

I am your elected mistry

And now I will willingly show

The dustbin of history.

Telegraph Calcutta

Khol do: Saadat Hasan Manto

They are open. Did you hear that? They who had been shut down are now open. It has been so proclaimed to the public at large and has since become a fact known to all who care to keep themselves informed. Even teetar, that most reliable bird, has been warbling aloud: teet, teet, teet, teet, teet, teet, teet… like the ticking of a bomb to countdown, and then TWEET!! Boom!! The shutter blown. But there were several shutters, and not all of them have been blown. It takes more than a boom to shatter all the shutters. But there has been the sound of one boom and that boom has opened one shutter. There. Declared open. And we must trust this opening because it is those that shut the place who have now announced it open. You can go. We can go. Shall we go?


But? What but? It’s butt, not but. That’s the way to spell it: butt. Not buts. They are open. You can go. As a matter of fact, and of diktat, you must go. It is your national duty to go. You will be failing in your national duty if you do not go. And should you fail in your national duty to go, you know what will follow. You will be asked to go to Bakistan instead. Samjhey? You can be one of two things — national or anti-national. If you are national, you head to where it has just been opened. If you are anti-national, you must travel a little farther. Step across the Line. You know what lies across that Line. The Line of no returns. Samjhey? Chalte bano, get going.

Should we go? They are now open.

Yes, of course. We are now open. We have been commanded: Khol Do! Come. Visit us. Have what you can of us. We know we are open because we now have no option. We only ever know what we are told. We only ever do what we are told. Khol Do! We have been normal for many, many weeks now. And now we are also open. Welcome! And bring nothing along, for we have all that you will require. You see, things do not work here the way they work where you might be. The thing is things do not work here. Nothing works. That is the way we are, so bring nothing along because nothing will work here. And we do not have use any more for all those things that do not work. And that is just as well. We do with far fewer things. We do with far fewer words. We do with no news, which is good news. We are the good news. Welcome to good news. Which is the same thing as silence.

We have been altered and amended since we were shut down. Cut to size and calibrated in entirely new ways. We have been rendered more wondrous than we could, ever could, have hoped to become. Our lakes and rivers now flow vertical, ramrod straight, our bridges stand tall, our birds coming flying in tilted against the sky, like fighter-bombers swerve and swivel in a dogfight and leave the enemy stunned. Our skies, well of course, our skies are to our left, our ground to our right, we hang betwixt, magically suspended, sideways, mind you, looking down upon a bottomless abyss (because, in truth, there is no ground beneath our feet) where fish are flying, and look up to… we cannot yet make out what it is above us that we look up to, but it could well be those that shut us down, and those that have now declared us open. That’s where the sounds of command come from: Khol Do! That’s where the announcement came from, like Aakashvaani: We are open. We had a period of normality, but now we are open.

Open Sesame

Open Sesame!!

But what’s this darken hollow?

Please! Just tell me its name.

Telegraph Calcutta

Allowed One Word Every Sentence

Sentenced. Punished. Done. Taaaliyaan! Done. Finger. Fingerprint. Fist. Fisted. Gone. Article. Signed. Sealed. Delivered. Devastated. Faith. Future. Divided. Demoted. Diminished. Defaced. Dumbed. Downed. People. Babies. Toddlers. Flailing. Falling. Unknowing. Children. Boys. Girls. Teenagers. Distraught. Men. Women. Women! Elders. Dying. Bereft. Blind. Destitute. Arrivees. Departees. Folks. Hugs. Meetings. Partings. Laughter. Tears. Notes. Syllables. Broken. Sundered. Endearment. Entrapment. Truth. Treason. Souls. Bodies. Eyes. Brows. Ears. Lobes. Noses. Nostrils. Limbs. Skulls. Faces. Cheeks. Chins. Necks. Armpits. Shoulders. Bones. Chests. Ribs. Bellies. Bulk. Abdomens. Sagging. Kidneys. Livers. Intestines. Big. Diseased. Small. Insufficient. Orifices. Privates. Hmm. Backs. Thighs. Muscles. Knees. Shins. Calves. Feet. Hands. Palms. Lines. Futures. Veins. Arteries. Surgeries. Hearts. Loves. Jokes. Ours. Theirs. Friends. Relations. Acquaintances. Cold. Calm. Cautious. Enemies. Nobodys. Somebodys. Appearances. Disappearances. Priests. Pagans. Charlatans. Messiahs. Doomsayers. Innocents. Infidels. Invaders. Infiltrators. Insiders. Outsiders. Vigilance. Violence. Locks. Chains. Shutters. Wires. Spools. Guns. Swords. Daggers. Mallets. Pellets. Muskets. Shadows. Stones. Spoils. Cities. Towns. Neighbourhoods. Villages. Hamlets. Riverbanks. Lakesides. Meadows. Fields. Harvests. Gold. Sun. Sky. Cloud. Silver. Mud. Moons. Lunacy. Flies. Fires. Fumes. Fuming. Homes. Rooms. Doors. Stairs. Bricks. Mortar. Timber. Floors. Roofs. Chimneys. Smoke. Hearths. Warmth. Wariness. Weariness. Dovecotes. Divides. Mezzanines. Walls. Partitions. Suspicions. Families. Frailty. Fratricide. Company. Solitude. Highways. Streets. Alleys. Nooks. Corners. Culdesacs. Footpaths. Slopes. Climbs. Confidences. Silences. Screaming. Moaning. Weeping. Fearing. Dreaming. Nightmaring. Blinking. Shutting. Imagining. Hell. Imagining. Heaven. Imagining. Then. Imagining. Now. Imagining. Tomorrow. Oh! No. Retract. Rewind. Back. Back. Back. Back. Okay. Paradise. Past. Gone. Rabba! Dead. Everything. Phones. Lines. Wires. Cables. Signals. Snapped. Screens. Smart. Hah! Really? Smarting. Gagged. Dead. Messages. Missives. Threats. Admissions. Revelations. Information. Conspiracy. Whispers. Collaborations. Contrary. Conflicted. Belonging. Betrayal. Fences. Crossings. Voices. Words. Urgencies. Pleas. Pleading. Prayer. Cries. Outcry. Outrage. Smothered. Speak! Yessir. Speak!! Don’t. Howl. Rage. Rant. Ravage. Well. Well. Depths. Darkness. Echoes. Escapes. Returns. Abyss. All. Down. Lost. Bellowing. Hollering. Bellowing. Hollering. Silence. Silence. Silence. Birds. Mallards. Ducks. Pigeons. Cranes. Swans. Owls. Singing. Songs. Hoot. Hoot. Dying. Wings. Flapping. Arriving. Diving. Swooping. Swimming. Settling. Laying. Warbling. Waddling. Unaware. Wings. Clipped. Shot. Fluttering. Squawking. Bleeding. Done. Downed. Unbothered.

Unconcerned. Colours. Carmine. Darkening. Shrouds. Blacken. Swooping. Muffling. Wails. Wailing. Breasts. Beating. Breasts. Feeding. Breasts. Stilled. Breasts. Eaten. Breasts. Thrown. Breasts. Enjoyed. Breasts. Bereft. Breasts? No. More. Ventricles. Cold. Dry. Khushk. Seasons. Trees. Colours. Shades. Leaves. Rusting. Roosting. Flaming. Falling. Shrivelling. Apples. Ripening. Dropping. Rotting. Juices. Oozing. Seeping. Flowing. Drying. Wasting. Stinking. Labours. Lost. Favours. Denied. Fears. Found. Detention. Arrest. Gates. Closed. Concertina. Cuts. Curtained. Laced. Access. Blocked. Orders. Pronounced. Boots. Polished. Armour. Plated. Intention. Unmoving. No. No. No. Help.

Sought. Plea. Made. Petition. Filed. Justice. Hugs. Recommended. Manacles. Employed. Numbers. Dialled. Dialled. Dialled. Dialled. Again. And. Again.

This. Call. Cannot. Be. Completed.