2001, Archives, Indian Express, Journalism

Sudhir Mishra’s Serious Men: Watching this fine film reminded me of this story I had written in 2001. A real man – Tulsi – using his real son – Thathagat – as material for his outlandish experiments

For those that have seen Serious Men, and for those that have not: This is from the Indian Express Sunday Magazine of August 19, 2001

There is, somewhere, subterfuge stalking this story. Perhaps it has confiscated centerstage from the protagonist, perhaps it has run away with the story itself. For if this is meant to be the story of Tathagat Avatar Tulsi — at 12, the youngest postgraduate of the human race — there isn’t a story to tell. Tathagat never had a story of his own; it was always the story of Tulsi Narayan Prasad, progenitor and sole proprietor of what he calls the Tathagat Patent and what the world has called by various names at various times — whizkid, genius, aberration, fraud. Take Tulsi off the stage and Tathagat vaporizes from the plot, like a character whose role has been expunged. There is no Tathagat if there isn’t Tulsi, just as there isn’t a creature minus creator, or a puppet without puppeteer. That Tathagat story could be nothing but the story of strings with Tathagat attached. Or, shall we say, Tulsi wouldn’t allow it to be anything but that.

I go to meet Tathagat and I meet Tulsi. He is guardian, gatekeeper, regent. You talk to Tathagat  and Tulsi talks to you. You ask Tathagat questions about his work and Tulsi begins to answer them. “You see, he won’t answer all your questions because secrecy is the key to the work he is doing, don’t try to decode the secret because Tathagat will not tell you.” Tulsi is proxy and protector too. “I know more about Tathagat himself because I made him Tathagat much before he himself realized he was Tathagat. He is my programme, my product. Ask me.”

And before you have begun to wonder at the strangeness of the father’s choice of words for son, the product has responded to programming — Tathagat has slunk away like an admonished spaniel and installed himself beyond the forbidden boundary of the bedroom. Genius does not need to offer proof of genius by act of personal presence, not in the photocopy age, not when the Maker of Genius himself is notary to those photocopies. He has kilos and kilos of them, catalogued in the chaos of mouldy newspapers — certificates, degrees, marksheets, testimonials, what not. He is happy to pull them out of his pygmy steel almirah, from among uncertain texts on tantra and astronomy and Kamasutra and scatter them like confetti of self-congratulation. Tathagat is only incidental to Tulsi; and, in any case, he is currently engaged — being spoon-fed rancid kheer by his mother. The essence is here, spread out around me, a paper trail of the making of Tathagat and the glazed enchantment in the eyes of his Maker. Imagine Rumpelstiltskin on the morning after the miller’s daughter’s night of labours. “Do you know it took me almost 20 years to make Tathagat? But I made him and the proof is before you. Can you deny all this? Can anyone?”

Continue reading “Sudhir Mishra’s Serious Men: Watching this fine film reminded me of this story I had written in 2001. A real man – Tulsi – using his real son – Thathagat – as material for his outlandish experiments”
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”