2017, Column, Telegraph Calcutta

No longer ashamed – Ayodhya at 25

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

December 6th, 2017: Down one of several stone-flagged lanes that toddle off Marienplatz, Munich town hall plaza, there still operates a rather prosperous enterprise called the Hofbrauhaus. It’s one of several kindred addresses around the area pledged to the central Bavarian celebration – the ooze and oomph of beer. They are all, each one of them, establishments of gregarious hubbub – voluptuous symphonies bound about their high-arched halls, beermaids shuffle about the tables with their jugfuls, decanting foaming oceans of the house brew. The floors tinkle, with glass and unrestrained merriment.

Hofbrauhaus is one of them and a little apart. It is patronized for more than just its beer and knucklewurst. Hofbrauhaus is where Adolf Hitler made his first address to the Nazi party in 1920. Through the flaming decades that followed, Hofbrauhaus remained a celebration of Nazi ways and values, and that’s partly what gets Hofbrauhaus its bloated clientele today. It’s a slice of Hitler. But a forbidden slice. You’ll find no trace of him or his creed. Nobody so much as whispers Adolf on the precincts, god forbid Hitler, or actually German law. Germany has institutionalized provisions called Volksverhetzung, or incitement of hatred, which prohibit all Nazi symbols, totems, hate speech, incitement, anything that is a reminder of Hitler. It’s a custom strictly adhered to in Germany.

It comes from the fear and the determination of no repetitions.

It comes from regret that’s yet unrelieved.

Most of all, it comes from a deep and collective sense of shame at the unspeakable horrors Germany and Germans once feistily brought upon. Nie Wieder, never again.

Regret can relieve wrongdoing; it implies admission of turpitude and, more pertinently, an undertaking of corrections and probably also a pledge of no repetitions.

In the 25 years since Ayodhya’s Babri Masjid was razed, our discourse has been hauled in the opposite direction – from shuddering shame to the discarding of that shame and the adoption of audacities that undermine the fundamental underpinnings of India and its Constitution.

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2017, Column, LazyEye, Telegraph Calcutta

Remember, dead men do tell tales

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is nothing as loud as the sound of wrongdoing being hushed. Nor anything as revelatory as a cover-up. The more covers you commission and deploy the bigger the body of evidence becomes. The harder you hush over something, the more you are heard. Don’t believe me? Come spend a while at Mahadeb’s, even though he’s still gone. It’s come to matter less and less that he isn’t there. His air is. It’s a place that all winds cross, and on their wings arrive intimations.

Someone died. Someone important. Someone sitting over an important matter – as important as possible murder. Then it began to dawn that he may not have died. He may have himself been murdered. Everybody’s talking about it at Mahadeb’s: Did you know? But didn’t you? But, hush, nobody’s naming names because UnmentionablePeople may be involved. UnmentionablePeople meaning mention them and, well, you don’t wish unmentionable things happening to you, do you? See how careful I am being. Learn. And please take due note, PuppyLove and NumberToo, I have not named any names. I am a careful character, clean as a barrel after bullets have been shot into intended places.

Continue reading “Remember, dead men do tell tales”

2017, Column, LazyEye, Telegraph Calcutta

Anything goes, everything is history

Mahadeb is not a historical character, at least not yet. Don’t assume his absence for permanence. He’s gone, but he isn’t history yet. One day, inevitably he will be, but that will be another day. Everything becomes history, even iPhones. A time will come when that time will be gone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Before you reach the end of this sentence, the beginning and middle of it has become history. Written, printed, read. Or even unread, which is the case most of the time. It’s gone, it’s the past. Other things have happened meantime, far too many other things. And they are being recounted as they become history, between coming to be and being dropped into that dreaded bin: history. Arguments, agreements, allegations, submissions, revolts, elections, coups, encounters, deaths, babies, babas, babes, bosses, confidences, endearments, difference, indifference, books, reviews, prizes, dialogue, dissertation, quakes, epidemics, eruptions, conquests, surrenders, uploads, downloads, virals, accidents, arrivals, departures, delays, detours, engagements, disengagements, ends, beginnings, tweets, retweets, shares, follows, unfollows, surprises, snow, drought, fog, smog, winter, summer, spring, rain, highs, lows, rapes, murders, rows, rapprochement, balls, banquets, problems, solutions, assignations, takeovers, policies, pronouncements, victories, defeats, entries, exits, secession, mergers, separations, fires, floods, food, festivals, funerals, order, anarchy, decay, renewal, wellness, illness, cigarettes, malts, memories, cheers, jeers, empires, estates, colonies, czars, kings, queens, princes, paupers, knaves, dominion, revolutions, writers, counter-revolutions, conformists, collaborators, isms, idols, painters, vanities, disputes, lore, loves, regimes, routines, calamities, appointments, disappointments, friendships, enmities, strikes, surgeries, claims, disclaimers, vacancies, insurrections, scoops, scandals, denials, disruptions, admissions, dismissals, depths, summits, celebration, mourning, waking, shitting, brushing, bathing, commuting, attending, earning, spending, dispensing, treating, maltreating, embraces, betrayals, election, referendum, selection, promotion, demotion, slaves, masters, wealth, penury, habitation, devastation, misery, bliss, benediction, prosperity, adversity, morals, mores, stations, platforms, offices, desks, designations, eminences, parties, politics, power, profit, loss, illusions, delusions, nightmares, dreams, deceptions, leaders, misleaders, rogues, ragamuffins, beauty, beasts, democrats, dictators, bigots, liberals, demagogues, debauches, delinquents, intellectuals, saints, spies, sinners, healers, charlatans, swindlers, patricians, plebians, minstrels, storytellers, sagas, chapters, closures, contents, malcontents, adventures, collisions, horrors, delights, cash, cards, ATMs, stocks, markets, sales, records, statements, petitions, affidavits, judgements, bills, cheques, receipts, journeys, places, peoples, valleys, hills, rivers, dales, meadows, floodplains, lakes, leaves, trees, timber, trunks, mines, coals, metals, topographies, tide, tempest, crop, harvest, glory, ignominy, conciliation, corruption, credits, dues, dereliction, devotion, cricket, music, laughter, tears, tragedy, comedy, bathos, pathos, families, secrets, revelations, grouses, forgiveness, desire, disdain, fondness, fealty, forgetting, remembrance, primetime, news, broken as it comes to us, bit by insistent bit, falling into that bin as more news breaks and falls. Everything becomes history. All of this is happening and passing all of the time. All of this turns to history. Even time, as it ticks upon itself and leaves time gone dripping, Daliesque.

So will Mahadeb be one day. History. He is, and therefore he won’t be. Am I overstating myself? I would think not. For even what’s not history is becoming history. As Jalaluddin Akbar’s defeat at the hands of Maharana Pratap at Haldighati. As Akbar’s rollicking love for a void called Jodha. Or the raging Khilji obsession with Padmini, neither princess nor Rajasthani nor Rajput, but the caprice of an inventive poet scribbling away at a fair remove in Jais, Rae Bareli, Uttar Pradesh. Malik Mohammed Jayasi was real enough, but he wrote unreal things. He was no historian. He’s only making history as we go along.

Who is she,
This Rashtramata,
And if she is she,
Then who art thou, O, Bharatmata?

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.

Continue reading “The mimic has now gone missing”

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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