Telegraph Calcutta

The new improved tapeworm epidemic

This was always going to happen. We spoke. We spoke sharp words. So we were spoken to. We were spoken to with shrapnel words. Cuts were caused, and worse: gashes, and a cleaving of flesh and soul, as you might often have witnessed being caused at the back of a butcher’s. Seldom a civilised thing for the exchange of words to become the consequence of the exchange of weapons. But it happens often.

And that may also be because we are no longer talking civilisation. We may be talking the clash of civilisations. And when civilisations clash, we have known most often for them not to clash with words; the words are there, of course, this Book versus that Book, but for each Book, there has been blood to be let. Those Books have blood on them, the blood of those that the Books were written for as scripts of salvation: humans. Us. We fought for Books and we bloodied each other. Through time that is longer than time we can measure. Those Books were written with pens. The battles over those Books were fought with swords. And those battles have not yet been resolved or rested. The Pen is still battling the Sword.

But, ah. There are better means of battling, more approved ways. There’s Democracy. Hai naa? We have moved in from medieval ways and mores. We are more civilised. We are democrats. We have constitutions and all the provisions it may contain, or may be amended to contain.And constitutions are not medieval things: they are agreed upon things. Benign things.

They eddy with words. And the violence of words. There can be nothing as violent as words. Not violence itself. Non-violence is the most effective form of violence, we know that, do we not? It is that violence we employed to throw off Empire. Hai naa?

So here’s the constitution, again. You were cut? You were slashed? You are bleeding? Hmm. Constitutions can do that, used in the right fashion. Or abused. You know what I mean. Let us help. Let us stop the bleeding. Let us sew up the cuts and slashes and gashes. There is the thing called tape. Bleeding? Bring the tape. Quick. Groaning? Bring the tape. Quick. Complaining? Bring the tape. Quick. Talking? Oh please bring the tape. QUICK. Going to court!? QUICK. QUICKTIME. Bring the tape. Stick it. Plaster it all across, and securely. Tape. Tape. Tape.

Do you not know how to treat a patient suffering? Do you not know how to treat a patient complaining? Do you not know how to treat a patient bleeding? Do you not know how to treat a patient? Even if it is a patient of your own creation? Even though it is a patient you bled? Even though it is a patient you caused pain? Even though it is a patient you brought in here? Even though it is a patient you wanted put to death? But no, this is a patient you want out to death but you want the world to believe you are bringing to life. Trying your utmost to keep smiling and saying, ah, what loveliness this punishment is, but I shall survive, in the larger interest. In the interest of the nation, whatever nation it is that you wish to call it. There, you said it. There, you nailed it. There, you said it like what it is.

Because nobody says it like it is. Put a tape on it. And that will take care of it. Tape things. Tape those bleeding hearts so they are able to speak no more, only beat. Tape. And eventually it will all stop.

They say I use chains

But never believe their lies

That hurts and that pains

Look! I’m liberating butterflies.

Telegraph Calcutta

The new improved tapeworm epidemic

This was always going to happen. We spoke. We spoke sharp words. So we were spoken to. We were spoken to with shrapnel words. Cuts were caused, and worse: gashes, and a cleaving of flesh and soul, as you might often have witnessed being caused at the back of a butcher’s. Seldom a civilised thing for the exchange of words to become the consequence of the exchange of weapons. But it happens often.

And that may also be because we are no longer talking civilisation. We may be talking the clash of civilisations. And when civilisations clash, we have known most often for them not to clash with words; the words are there, of course, this Book versus that Book, but for each Book, there has been blood to be let. Those Books have blood on them, the blood of those that the Books were written for as scripts of salvation: humans. Us. We fought for Books and we bloodied each other. Through time that is longer than time we can measure. Those Books were written with pens. The battles over those Books were fought with swords. And those battles have not yet been resolved or rested. The Pen is still battling the Sword.

But, ah. There are better means of battling, more approved ways. There’s Democracy. Hai naa? We have moved in from medieval ways and mores. We are more civilised. We are democrats. We have constitutions and all the provisions it may contain, or may be amended to contain.

And constitutions are not medieval things: they are agreed upon things. Benign things.

They eddy with words. And the violence of words. There can be nothing as violent as words. Not violence itself. Non-violence is the most effective form of violence, we know that, do we not? It is that violence we employed to throw off Empire. Hai naa?

So here’s the constitution, again. You were cut? You were slashed? You are bleeding? Hmm. Constitutions can do that, used in the right fashion. Or abused. You know what I mean. Let us help. Let us stop the bleeding. Let us sew up the cuts and slashes and gashes. There is the thing called tape. Bleeding? Bring the tape. Quick. Groaning? Bring the tape. Quick. Complaining? Bring the tape. Quick. Talking? Oh please bring the tape. QUICK. Going to court!? QUICK. QUICKTIME. Bring the tape. Stick it. Plaster it all across, and securely. Tape. Tape. Tape.

Do you not know how to treat a patient suffering? Do you not know how to treat a patient complaining? Do you not know how to treat a patient bleeding? Do you not know how to treat a patient? Even if it is a patient of your own creation? Even though it is a patient you bled? Even though it is a patient you caused pain? Even though it is a patient you brought in here? Even though it is a patient you wanted put to death? But no, this is a patient you want out to death but you want the world to believe you are bringing to life. Trying your utmost to keep smiling and saying, ah, what loveliness this punishment is, but I shall survive, in the larger interest. In the interest of the nation, whatever nation it is that you wish to call it. There, you said it. There, you nailed it. There, you said it like what it is.

Because nobody says it like it is. Put a tape on it. And that will take care of it. Tape things. Tape those bleeding hearts so they are able to speak no more, only beat. Tape. And eventually it will all stop.

They say I use chains

But never believe their lies

That hurts and that pains

Look! I’m liberating butterflies.

Telegraph Calcutta

What we knew, we also forgot

There is what we know, and there is what we don’t know, and there is what we are yet to know. But there is more than that, and that is not the end of it. There is also what we knew or know and have forgotten or chosen to. The sound of grass growing, for instance. Or the emerging rhythms of water before they decided to deign to gravity and descend and make of us what water has made of us.

There are among the things that we know, or are about to know, things that we knew and no longer care to. Like we once knew, or were told, that Truth alone wins, Satyamev Jayate! And look what’s winning. Like we used to say all men, and women, are equal and that sort of thing. Which thought we have thoroughly revised now and moved on brusquely; no, nothing is equal, might is right, jiski lathi type of very convinced and confident thing. Jo hai, so hai. Or like we used to say Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, all the world is a family.

And now we have moved on to forgetting and believe that was the sort of nonsense that deserves to have been binned and shot away from vision a long time ago. VasudhaKutumb? What? Our own are not our own, or do not deserve to be our own. They need to be taught lessons in how to be our own. Hard lessons, lessons they will remember a long, long time and forget hard. There is no Vasudha. No Kutumb. Understand? There are things we may have known. We no longer know them. It does not suit us anymore. You know what suits us.

Sometimes I look at earth and the thought comes along what we might have been without earth. Not Earth, as in the planet we inhabit, but earth, with an “e” in lower case. There is, truth be told, nothing as noble as soil. But, truth be told again, we do not make it that. We begin to imagine we own nobility. We begin to imagine we own soil. Such are we; so suicidally deluded are we. We begin to assert ownership over the soil that we are going to eventually be consumed by — in a cask, in a pot, as embers and as ash. Hello, I am Soil, and who are you?

We make it my soil. We make it your soil. Which is the soil of the earth. Not with the capital E, but with the “e” with a lower case. It could be, you know, the earth on which Vetaal rests, and Vetaal is not on Earth’s earth, he, or it, is on Moon’s earth. Believe me, Vetaal has landed. On earth. On soil. But what soil? What earth? Whose soil? Whose earth? The only soil we have. We come from the soil, the soil it is that receives our ends. There is no greater truth than the soil. Not for us. We are mortals. We are of the soil. We come from it, we go back to it. As ash. As flesh. As all that happens between the acquisition of mobile flesh and flesh immobile. Soil. Dharti. Maa. It’s what begets us. It’s what accepts our remains. It’s why we worship it such: Maa. Everyone has a mother, everyone. And are we to begin to argue here that one Maa is greater than the other Maa, or lesser than the other Maa? Maa! Please do not allow me to become such a person. Please do not allow me to become a person who claims that you, Maa, is greater or lesser than another Maa, because that would mean me judging the very idea and reality of Maa, and I do not ever, forgive me, wish myself to be sitting on that sort of judgement, Maa.

Aye watan, aye watan

Everybody, sing that song

Beat your drum, swing your baton

And let’s see where we belong.

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.

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

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? 

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.