Sankarshan Thakur was born in Patna in 1962 and went to school at St. Xavier's, Patna and St. Xavier's, Delhi. He earned a Bachelor's degree in Political Science from Hindu College, Delhi University, in 1983.
He began his journalistic career with SUNDAY magazine in 1984. He has been Associate Editor with The Telegraph and Indian Express. Before returning to The Telegraph for his second stint in 2009, he was Executive Editor of Tehelka. Thakur is currently The Telegraph's Delhi-based Roving Editor. He has extensively reported Kashmir, Bihar and socio-political conflict in the sub-continent. He is the author of Subaltern Saheb, a political biography of Laloo Yadav. He is currently working on a book on Bihar under Nitish Kumar. He has published monographs on the Kargil War, Pakistan and caste honour killings in Uttar Pradesh.
Contact: sankarshan [dot] thakur [at] gmail [dot] com
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The good news for Narendra Modi just refuses to ebb, it oozes like the viscous sweetness of summer fruit. May 23 was breathtaking beyond expectation, a second-term endorsement that rendered the parliamentary polls almost presidential. What has followed that spectacular turn at the ballot is a high-calorie spectacle of sheer and unbelievable delight for the prime minister. It has come to be revealed that Modi had not merely won an election, he had also acquired a loyal and obliging Opposition, an Opposition keen to give the truth to his every prognosis and prophecy.
Mahamilavat, Modi called the effort to build collective electoral fronts against him. And so it has turned out. A bunch of opportunists with no objective or narrative other than to pull him out of office, he called them. And so it has turned out. Outmoded dynasts deluded on priority and entitlement to power, he repeatedly railed. And so it has turned out. The Opposition is daily mimicking what Modi called it out to be.
The boldest bid this summer to stymie Modi’s run on a second term — the unlikely tie-up of the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party in Uttar Pradesh, the Mahagathbandhan, so called — has swiftly collapsed under the burdens of defeat, and become quite what Modi christened it:
‘Thugbandhan’. Bua (Mayawati) and bhanja (Akhilesh Yadav) have terminated what they briefly attempted to pitch as a heart-warming kinship and returned to default practices — blame-gaming, vituperation, renewed oaths of separation. If power isn’t the prize, what are we on stage for together? It’s curtains. Mayawati has solemnly declared, yet again, she’ll go it alone. Akhilesh, never the one to display open disregard for Buaji’s wishes, has gone off to London. It’s a summer destination he usually makes it to; the dates happen to coincide with his birthday.
In neighbouring Bihar, the turn has been slightly more bizarre. It just happens that Tejashwi Yadav, anointed scion of Lalu Prasad and lead act of the challenge to the National Democratic Alliance, was so disinterested in helming the show that he did not stay back in Patna even to cast his ballot. He saw through the campaign, but felt so weary of chopper-stopping at the end of it, so requiring of things that B-towns like Patna cannot provide, that he begged off. He returned briefly to survey the size of wounds he must now lick — it was all wound for his Rashtriya Janata Dal scored a first-time duck — and vanished again. Last heard, he was still promising a return via social media missives fired from undisclosed locales. One party elder issued a stupefying response to questions on where Tejashwi had vanished. ‘You voted Modi and you want to seek out Tejashwi?’ There. No review of what went wrong where or how, no assurance to the ranks that this coma could be temporary and critical care is on the way. Bihar goes to the polls next year; on the basis of what happened in the Lok Sabha polls, Tejashwi’s party tallied a little more than a dozen seats in the 243-member House. His legislators cannot be blamed for wondering if their future is secure under the Tejashwi umbrella, wherever it is that it currently lies pitched.
There’s a third son, the biggest, the eldest of them; he can be no stranger to the other two, they’ve all played power-power together at different times, though it can be doubted that they are able to look back on their tandems with any cheer. Rahul Gandhi, Congress president-in-resignation, is most certainly not in the mood. Not even the mandatory summertime jaunt to England, or thereabouts, has helped. He’s been playing Quits and not doing terribly well even at this from the looks of it. It has been a month since he put in his papers, but it would appear that his letter did not have a receiver’s stamp and signature. Might actually be worth a ponder, while the shenanigan drags on, who Congress presidents resign to. And who do Congresspeople resign to when the Congress president is in extended resignation mode? That too is a question worth a ponder because over the past couple of weeks a fair few resignations, or offers of resignation, lie piled at the door of the would-be former Congress president. This at a time when positions to resign from in the Congress are getting fewer and fewer.
Has any sense emanated from the Congress on what it thinks went so terribly wrong? On why nothing of what the leadership did seemed to resonate with the electorate? Any diagnosis of this debacle which, in real terms, is far worse than how the Congress fared in 2014? No. At least not yet.
What has emanated in dribs and drabs are such things: Priyanka Gandhi, party general- secretary in charge of east UP, made one trip to the truncated family borough in the vicinity of Rae Bareli-Amethi and unleashed an accusatory finger at party workers. Inspired leaks set the blame for bloated pre-poll Congress ambitions on Praveen Chakravarty, head of the party’s data cell. The shadow boxing between old courtiers and the new set is still playing out. The one-upmanship between Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot has been resumed in Rajasthan. Amarinder Singh and Navjot Singh Sidhu press on with their theatre. There are uneasy murmurs rising from the party in Maharashtra. The coalition government in Karnataka is tottering on the brink. Another set of elections looms. Nobody seems to be able to arrange a Rajya Sabha renewal for Manmohan Singh. Who’s minding the floor? Sonia Gandhi took on the job of chairing the Congress parliamentary party, but for some reason, Rahul Gandhi did not want to move up the benches and shoulder the responsibility of party leader in the Lok Sabha. Suddenly, he wants to be party MP from Wayanad, no more. And the party is lapsed into its all-too-familiar posture, prostrated at his retreating feet. Whereas it should have been at the barricades, fighting the battles it must fight. But then, a house in deep disorder must first fight to set itself right.
Meanwhile, in the five weeks that have gone since May 23, Modi has put in place a new government, appointed a new working president for his party, announced a new, expanded membership drive, re-jigged his Twitter handle and profile picture, reordered and upscaled the office around him, cleared necessary appointments at the top of the bureaucracy, addressed Parliament twice (if not more times), hosted an array of foreign dignitaries, made multiple visits abroad, posed in a Kyrgyz choga and hat, inaugurated a bromance with his Australian counterpart, Scott Morrison, guffawed with Donald Trump, been cold to Pakistan’s Imran Khan, convened meetings of the cabinet and chief ministers, confabulated with current and potential allies, extended governor’s rule in Jammu and Kashmir, relentlessly assaulted his political adversaries, as if he were facing an election and not just triumphed in one. Last Sunday, he also resumed ‘Mann ki Baat’, his version of the fireside address to the nation. It was about water. The Opposition, if indeed there is one out there, needs it dearly.