2017, Kashmir, Reportage, Srinagar, Telegraph Calcutta

Valley Voices

Last fortnight, I spent some time in Kashmir, trying to sample opinion on the Centre’s new effort to open dialogue.

 

Dineshwar Sharma landed here last week as a text message. A couple of days before New Delhi’s newest emissary to Kashmir presented his person to the Valley, telephones of local notables began to simultaneously ping – mainstream and separatist politicians, opinion leaders in the media, academia and the bar, hand-picked retired civil servants, all from a list of numbers that Sharma had been handed. ‘Could we meet? Want to talk? I’m coming,’ is how Sharma was sounding out his target audience.

The response he received was, to put it mildly, lukewarm, especially insufficient in dropping early winter temperatures. Separatists rejected the overture out of hand; mainstream entities like Omar Abdullah of the National Conference showed little eagerness, settling down for a ‘private call on’ only because Sharma had gone knocking his door; among others in the intelligentsia, few obliged, opting to sense the depth and drift of Sharma’s enterprise before they revealed their minds. Those that arrived at his heavily secured VVIP perch at Hari Niwas – many dozen delegations, authentic and adulterated – had mostly been herded and nudged to Sharma’s presence by administrative fiat. On the eve of Sharma’s arrival, the office of Divisional Commissioner Basheer Khan, occupied itself shooting off directives to any outfit worth the name to present themselves to Sharma – Bakerwal and Gujjar tribesmen, boatmen, tour operators, hoteliers, motley sets of tillers, women’s and youth groups, government-funded NGOs, even a dubious crew of young journalists nobody seemed to know existed. As Sharma laboured on in his exclusive bungalow, trying to shore up respectable numbers of the interested, The Telegraph spoke to a cross-section of those not on his telephone log – young unaligned professionals who remain invested in Kashmir and count among stakeholders as any other. This is what they had to say on New Delhi’s latest venture:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rashid Rather, Sociologist: Kashmiris love talking, we’ve been talking since 1947. The issue is what about. To me the problem here is not about how to deal with separatists, it is how Delhi has dealt with mainstream parties, right from Sheikh Abdullah to Farooq Abdullah to the present generation of leaders. They have been pressed to the wall. Delhi has failed the Kashmiri mainstream consistently, it was made to fail before the Kashmiri people to a point that it had no credibility left. From Indira Gandhi to Rajiv to P.V. Narasimha Rao to Atal Bihari Vajpayee, everybody made promises and turned on them. That is what has created the space for separatists. There were always separatist pockets here, but they were pockets. New Delhi-inspired failures of the mainstream have expanded the separatist constituency. My message to New Delhi is: don’t be bothered about separatists, look at how you have treated the mainstream, how you have manipulated and emaciated it. But they are not prepared to learn any lessons, they are going on repeating the same mistakes. They have played with the mainstream leadership. Such a record inspires no confidence in us. The new emissary has met many so-called delegations, nearly 40 in two days, but is this a railway platform? What is he trying to do meeting so many delegations in such a short time? Are we to take this seriously? It has become a joke. Please do not come to Kashmir without examining your own record, it will serve no purpose. Go back, introspect and if you realise you’ve made mistakes, a start can probably be made.

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2017, Column, LazyEye, Telegraph Calcutta

To the gas chamber, you termite

Not everything can be about Mahadeb. Not when he has forsaken his calling, left his votaries forlorn and proceeded on furlough with no forwarding address or the faintest idea with anybody on when he may return. If that. Chaiwalas can’t do that. There are obligations that come with the job. Look at other chaiwalas, or The Chaiwala. Does he leave your side even when you might want him to? Never. He is there, at the throw of the television switch, harnessed live to cause and country, relentlessly serving chai. In the process, serving the nation.

Mahadeb has behaved badly. But while he is missing, we shan’t remain in unanimated suspension around the void he’s left behind. Attached to his bereft cart, after all, is a whole nation lumbering under the rank deficits of NothingHappened. The situation’s worse; we are beset by catastrophic prospects. Correction is required, we need to move. Nothing needs to be replaced with Something. NewIndia’s calling. And thank heavens there’s somebody heeding that call with all the urgency and innovation it requires, laying out the road ahead, picking out the pitfalls.

What would have become of us if we hadn’t been recently alerted to the rife and fatal perils of termites?

Nobody bothered warning us all this while what an apocalyptic end termites have been plotting. We are teetering on a hollowed out precipice and nobody told us. Such were the reckless botch-ups of the epoch justly called NothingHappened. All through NothingHappened, termites happened, and they were allowed to continue happening. As their nomenclature vaguely suggests, termites terminate. We were being voraciously had. But since we have given unto ourselves TheBossOfAllThings, he’s given unto us reason to feel secure. He’s let out the war cry: Exterminate before they terminate.

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2017, Column, LazyEye, Telegraph Calcutta

The mimic has now gone missing

An anxiety beginning to mount, like the cash-machine lines of yester. A shiver having trespassed time and arrived out of turn, this nowhere season ahead of winter, this Dreiserene interregnum between glare and gloom. That shiver then having crept up the spine like poison ivy on wet ventrals and turned the insistent shape of a question: Where’s Mahadeb?

Mahadeb having been gone an inexplicably long while by now. So long his signature has become a void. The holes on his leftover lungi having turned imperially expansionist and claimed the whole of it, the tatters having turned to bare thread and dropped, like expiring worms, onto his cold forsaken hearth. The coals in it having turned to ash, the ash having been cajoled by kindred elements to become its destined part – ash unto ash, the final truth. Also known as the heartily consumed tip of my cigarette.

But that’s indulgence; it’s up to nothing. It’s no help to this untimely and uncontainable anxiety, beginning to mount, cold and forlorn as Fujiyama. Where’s Mahadeb, the long and inexplicably gone one? Where, more pertinently, is Mahadeb’s tea, Mahadeb be damned. The loyal votaries wondered long. They waited long. Then said so long. They forgot the taste of tea and took to coffee. Off mechanised vends; frothy on promise, watery on delivery. But how long were they to wait? Nobody waits upon another too long, they proceed to other things – the intermediate truth. Also known as the cigarette after this one’s turned to ash and been flicked.

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2017, Essay, Telegraph Calcutta

I, PROMISCUOUS Power and the Improbable Amorality of Nitish Kumar

My take on Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s turncoat vault back into the lap of the BJP

Nitish Kumar on top of the Taxila ruins in Pakistan in 2012. Photo by Sankarshan Thakur.

His first chosen partner was, believe you me, the CPI(ML). His current chosen partner is a BJP as approximate to the RSS as it can get. Between them, Nitish Kumar has run the entire political spectrum, picking this one, ditching that one, in the pursuit and possession of power – from the provincial rogue called the Bihar People’s Party to national players like the Congress and the Left, each seduced at one time or another to afford him his embrace of the chair.

Nitish’s record of serial dalliance and ditchery springs from good reason, though. For, if power has been the central theme of Nitish’s career, the inability to secure it on his own is its central truth. Astounding as it may sound, the man who is in his third successive term as chief minister and who for a good while fancied himself as prime minister in waiting, has never won his home state singly. At his best he never had enough to propel him anywhere close to office; 17 per cent, never more. He needed booster feeds, he always needed an ally. Not a fanciful token as the CPI(ML) in 1995 – that effort fetched him the princely Assembly tally of seven of 324 seats in pre-Jharkhand Bihar – but a significant, bankable one.

He found not one but two.

Both would be handed good reason, at different junctures, to believe our chosen headline sits aptly on the man. For he has, at different junctures, found reason to kiss, then kick both.

It’s fair to reckon he’s not done with them yet; nor they with him. The guillotine-drop on Lalu Prasad mid-week and the immediate garlanding of Narendra Modi is by no means the last that’s been heard of Nitish Kumar in their annals. Not too far ago in the past, it was Modi under Nitish’s guillotine-drop, and Lalu the one getting the garland. There are scores here that await settlement.

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2017, Column, LazyEye, Telegraph Calcutta

A lungi and a monogram of holes

Not everyone reports to work each day of the week. The sun does, and sundry others do. Mistake. Hold yourselves, trolls, wait a moment before you slay me on your keyboards and earn your daily pay. It wasn’t me, just cussed auto-correct. That should read The SundryOther, there’s only one that reports to work each day other than the sun. And that’s not a brag, Ramkasam no; it’s a fact notarised each day on the national register, previously known as television. There is the odd day the screen falls silent and bereft and you begin to fear the world’s going upside up again, but then there’s also the odd day of eclipse caused by cloud or lunatic concatenation. Doesn’t mean the sun isn’t there. So fear not that dull day on television, SundryOther is somewhere or other at work and the world remains assuredly upside down.

It just won’t do, not reporting to work each day, after decade upon disastrous decade of NothingHappened. Lights! Action! And please keep the cameras at ready. NewIndia has deep deficits to overcome. But Mahadeb won’t listen. Now and again, taken by bouts nothing short of anti-national, he vanishes. He jolts NewIndia. He triggers punishable lapses into NothingHappened. It’s unpardonable recklessness on his part to believe he’ll be gone from station and it will still be business as usual. Agreed, Mahadeb is not the only chaiwalaaround, but he is a chaiwala who still serves chai. Sundry others have stopped and moved on to serving entire nations. Now nations don’t come in bhaanrs; even if they did that would be a terribly impolite thing to try to achieve, you wouldn’t tell the nation ” bhaanr mein jaao“, would you?

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2017, Column, LazyEye, Telegraph Calcutta

My chaiwala and Our Chaiwala

Every once in a way I feel the need for a little bit of Mahadeb. Just a little bit, no more than what, if we are still allowed the use of imagination without violating the law (or the sanctioned lawless), could have been at a certain hour a vodka shot. But for the hours that he has it on offer, Mahadeb’s stuff can be no less stimulating. It helps that he hasn’t yet banished puffs of nicotine from floating about him.

Wellbeing tyrants would better know what that does to the body, but what my soul wants I want to know best: it needs, every once in a way, a Mahadeb break.

Mahadeb serves out off-the-coals tea in bhaanrs, which in other geographies some may recognise as tiny earthen tumblers; he’s a chaiwala. That can be a famed and fortunate thing to be. Chaiwalas go far. Or some do. Or one did. That one isn’t Mahadeb.

Mahadeb made critical career errors, not that he appears to terribly care. He never wrestled alligators as a child. He didn’t climb three-fourths of the way up Mt Everest’s torso wearing slippers. He didn’t feed soldiers departing to blow the Chinese off our frozen frontiers. The 56-inch claim that is Mahadeb’s to make is that he is probably that high sans shoes that he doesn’t anyway possess. He didn’t lead the Indepen-dence struggle of NewIndia after sixty years of NothingHappened. He never did his mentors the necessary pupil duty of relieving them of the burdens of such nettle-ridden things as crowns; or of easing them into protectively mothballed duvet-comforts so their late life turned a calm and restful place, unvisited by the exhausting demands of office, or the ambition of someday having to achieve it. He can’t be bothered inventing new charms – or dares – to seduce television each day. Mahadeb has never ever been on television. You ought to understand you are nobody if you are not on television. Mahadeb is less than a nobody. He’s not on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, YouTube, Instagram, Periscope, SnapChat, Telegram, LinkedIn, nowhere. Is Orkut still around? Mahadeb was never on Orkut either. The only platform he is on is a knocked-up tin and timber kiosk grouted into the pavement. Chaiwalas have gone far but Mahadeb isn’t going anywhere; he’s a goner.

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2015, Nepal, Reportage, Telegraph Calcutta

Anger of Quake Hit Nepalis Comes Home To Nepali Leadership

Kathmandu, April 30: At the Tudikhel tent shelter mid-town last evening, Prime Minister Sushil Koirala had

A day before, deputy Prime Minister Bamdev Gautam nearly pulled out of the completion rites of a major rescue mission near the Shobha Bhagwati Bridge on the capital’s outskirts for fear of being heckled; he had to be assured by senior Indian officials in charge of the operation no harm would come to him before Gautam agreed to go.

On the boundary rails of the Singha Durbar, seat of Nepal’s government, Kathmandu residents have put up a missing-person notice as taunt to their representative in the Constituent Assembly: “Dhyan Govind, where are you? And where is the aid?”

The quake-hit remains of the Gorkha Boys School at Rani Pokhari in central Kathmandu.
The quake-hit remains of the Gorkha Boys School at Rani Pokhari in central Kathmandu.

The quake has opened a chasm between Nepal’s political class and the people that’s brimming over with ire and indignation.

“Our leadership has collectively retreated from responsibility in a time of grave crisis,” says Kumar Regmi, one of Nepal’s better-known constitutional lawyers.

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