Telegraph Calcutta

Our nation to keep and guard

From Shaheen Bagh

Someone in the shivered hubbub around the Shaheen Bagh picket did bring up the mention of Sharmila Irom of Manipur and how long she fought against the AFSPA before she pulled out the feeder tubes, ended the hunger strike and proceeded with her life. Sixteen years she battled. Irom is now off stage; AFSPA remains.

The state is powerful, in time it breaks the will and bones of those that stand in its way. But the thing about protests is not always whether they have surmounted, but often just that they have been waged.

Shaheen Bagh has been out trying to beat back the CAA-NRC regime 16 days. A mere 16 days, it might well be said, and on a far begotten precinct of Delhi, like a banner hoisted in a recess the rulers of the realm couldn’t much care about.

Shaheen Bagh is a warren best lost on those who do not inhabit it — an overcrowded, low-income barracoon wedged between the cacophony of Jamia Millia Islamia and the putrescent rubbish-lumped Yamuna bank. Besides, and probably chiefly, its populace is predominantly Muslim, the kind who famously can be recognised by their clothes; their protest is nothing to bother with. Whiners. Moaners. Outliers. Let them be. Before it became a daily dateline a fortnight ago, Shaheen Bagh was not a location anybody picked out.

But here’s why Shaheen Bagh has begun to beep and flash on locator maps. Here’s why it has morphed from forsaken ugly duckling to local celebrity. Shaheen Bagh has been out saying something for 16 days this biting-cloying winter, and it isn’t stopping to say: NO CAA!

Shaheen Bagh has now become the longest sustained protest of this chapter.

Shaheen Bagh is an untutored uprising whose spine are mothers and grandmothers arrived under the frail tarpaulin marquee from nearby homes and hearths.

Shaheen Bagh hasn’t hurled a stone, nor picked one.

Shaheen Bagh is not a rent-a-crowd station; it exists by open invitation to the willing.

Shaheen Bagh isn’t a passing gallery of the who’s who; it is native and it is rooted, possessed of its own wisdoms of why and how. “Apni maa ki kokh se kagaz nikaal ke laaoon ki uski beti hoon?” Sarvari Jaan, 81, asked me sharply. (Should I fetch papers from my mother’s womb to certify I am her daughter?)

Shaheen Bagh has become a community outside of itself — of volunteers carting food and tea and solidarity; of common-cause Samaritans and goodwill flaneurs; of aid givers and counsellors; of vigilantes of a dream they will not let turn to embers under the pressing cold.

“I am here because I want to be part of those who are doing something to save our country, our Constitution, it does not matter who they are, they are for the good.” The voice of Anshuman Mohanty, a second-year history student from Delhi University, and originally from Odisha. He stood there in a frayed hoodie, clutching a volume of George Orwell’s essays to his chest, as if for warmth.

The debris of a harsh winter’s night lay about in swirls — mussed quilts, someone’s lost sock, peanut shells, ash from extinguished fires, a naked stretch of PVC, an exhausted stove, a twisted Styrofoam tumbler, charred tyres.

Amid this rustic smorgasbord of a necessary vigil, an infant rolled up in layers and snuggled away while the mother took the barricades somewhere close. It’s that unknowing infant who Shaheen Bagh is for too. There’s a cry ringing out: “Hindu Muslim Sikh Isaai, aapas mein sab bhai bhai! Desh ke logon hosh mein aao, desh bachao, desh bachao!!”

Shaheen Bagh swells and Shaheen Bagh ebbs; it’s people who make it and people have lives — a home to order, a meal to cook, a shop to mind, a job to attend, the ill to tend, an errand to run, an assignation to keep. But they keep coming back, they have been 16 days, and they tell you they aren’t going anywhere.

“This is our land. This is our home. This is our nation to keep and guard. We aren’t going anywhere.” There’s something in the refrain of it that is unwavering. Shaheen, if you will, is Arabic for falcon.

Telegraph Calcutta

Let me vow, I am the wow cow

Moooooooooo! Helooooooooo! Frump! Frump! Frrrrrrrrrrraaaaah! Aaaaah! Swiiiiiisssh! Thop! Thop! Thop! Plop! Thop! Chhurrrrrrrrrr! And then another long Chhhurrrrrrrrrrrr!! Mooooooooo! WhoYouuuuuuuuu?

Well, while you decide, let me tell you, Me Mooooooo!

YouWhooooo! YouTooooo? YaaaaaHoooooo!

Do you not know?

But you should. You better. The year’s about to end, and if you don’t know me, you’re about to, you know. Know a lot. An awful lot. If you know what I mean. You mean, you don’t know me? Me? Then God be with you, Khuda Hafiz. You are spent. Gone. Khallasss! So brace yourself, and find out things. About yourself. About me. Else…

But, mooooo, that’s okay, there will be more where you are when you are not where you are. Bother about yourself. And what you say of yourself, because that you will have to. Say about yourself. Say about your mother. Say about your father. Say about your grandfather. Say about your grandmother. Say about their forbears too, who knows. And not merely say, but say with authority and with proof. Who were they? Where were they from? Wherefrom?

But there is a problem. There are problems with identity, that’s not unusual. You look at yourself in the mirror and often you wonder who that person looking at you from the other side is. And that person on the other side probably has similar wonders? You raise a quizzical brow and that other person does the same; you wink and the other one does too; you scowl and the other one does too. You have one identity, others may have perceptions of it. You may say you are this, others may say you are not this, you are that. So what you say of yourself is never the final thing; others have a say on what you say of yourself. You will say, for instance, here’s where I came from; they’ll say, no, that’s not where you came from. You’ll say this is where I belong; they’ll say no this is not where you belong. You’ll say here’s what I think of myself; they’ll say no that cannot be true because we think quite differently of you. And so, on and on and on, and so forth as well.

I may have come from somewhere else: I most likely did. And who knows where from? If I was from here, I would have been elsewhere by now. We are wandering things, we mooo and start to trek in the direction of the mooo. I don’t remember where I came from, I arrived. How am I to know where the one that birthed me and the one that sired me came from. I have no memory of them. Is that my fault? I have no notion where those that sired and birthed those that sired and birthed me came from. Who’s to know? How is one to tell? But should that mean I am illicit? Should that mean my presence here is illegal? And should that be so, where shall I go? Duh! What nonsense!

Ah, but I can say that. Not YOU, not you who I have my finger pointed at, not you who I have now learnt to swiftly mark out because the trick of how to do that has been revealed to me. I can say that because I am the privileged one you see. The mooooo. So much as touch me and see what happens. Or read up on the consequences that have befallen those who are even alleged to have done something to me. Nothing can happen to me; but something can happen to you because you have to tell us who you are and we may not believe you, hai naa? No need to flail about, no need to complain, no need to scream discrimination and all those sorts of big words or start quoting from that Book and tell me this can be done and that cannot be done. Do only as I say.

Ah because I have privilege
For I am the one who’ll tell you how;
Mind, don’t fall off the ledge
Just say you follow the cow.

Telegraph Calcutta

Yaheen to maar kha gaya Hindustan

Oh, don’t you even ask. For I cannot even begin to tell. There is a lot to tell, but I do not know where to begin. That happens. Every time a beginning occurs, another one pops up.

Too many beginnings. And no end. Or each an end in itself. I am talking about being beaten. Being beaten? Or getting beaten? I wonder. I am, as you well know by now, confused. I am confused on this one too. What’s better? Being beaten? Or getting beaten? Or, truth to tell, the question to ask should be which one is worse? Tough to tell.

There are so many choices to pick from, you see, so many times has one been beaten. Someone or the other. Here. Amongst us. Beaten. We are a beaten peepuls. Or we beat. Now look at how we are beating this register thing, batao, batao, batao! Where are you from? What is your name? Batao, bataaao!!

One register. Of that One nation. Of that One flag. Of that One law. Of that One Leedaaaah. That Register is what we are beating. And beating that One register will finally give us One people. That is what this beating is all about. So beat it, and shake it out. Are you in? Are you out? Beat this register, and you’ll find out. You are either beaten in, or you are beaten out. All the result of a resounding beating.

All this beating, it’s only in the national interest, bhai, where would we be without all this beating? We have arrived here beating our way, all the way. We beat all those piled up years of NothingHappened. We beat them, not once but twice. But some more beating is required before NothingHappened can squarely be beaten and interred six inches under. We beat the Bapus and the Chachas of the era of NothingHappened. But it seems they too require some more beating. We beat their progeny too, and they too require a little bit more beating. If we can beat them well and long enough, we will have dealt with them.

Like we dealt with Mohammed Jalaluddin, also known as Akbar. We beat him good and healthy at Haldighati and now we know that Akbar was not Great after all. That sort of beating had to be done, it was waiting to be done. They had beaten us, we had to beat them. That is how it has always happened, that is how we have arrived here: beating, getting beaten, beating back.

History is a story of who beat who, and who was beaten by who. Remember that. Beating is an act for Akhand, because our hearts beat for Akhand. Does your heart beat for Akhand? Check. Does your heart beat at all? Check. Who does your heart beat for? Check. Because there is a lot for your heart to beat. Beating is what you should be doing if your heart beats for Akhand. Beat the enemies of Akhand.

You will know who they are. You have been told who they are. Those with the wrong names. Those who eat the wrong food. Those who say the wrong prayers. Those who pray to the wrong God. Those who have the wrong customs. Those who have the wrong festivals. Those who stay in the wrong places. Those who read the wrong books. Those who speak the wrong language. Those who wear the wrong clothes. Aaaaah! There. The wrong clothes, that’s the key; you can get them from the clothes they wear, and then you will know exactly who to beat.

Hey, c’mon people get this right,
We’re in it, we’re in for the fight;
Bring it on, and sing to my feat,
You got the baton, baby, you got to beat.

Telegraph Calcutta

Maneaters and other wildings

Are you ready for it folks? Excited? Just can’t wait, isn’t it? Tossing and turning in sleep and like coked-out awake, aren’t you? Like totally GobsmackedBazoookaBoomed about it and totes ticklish in all sorts of places? Man. Mayyyyn!! It’s coming. Faiiinallly!! Someone put me on speed and zoom me out there, like, you know, this is just no place and time to be, you just don’t wanna be here anymore, Mayyyyn, you wanna be out there, with it, you know what I mean? You wanna be out there, with it, Man, just speed of light fast- forward, you know what I mean? Of course you do, don’t lie, you cheat, hai naa? No? I’m flying on my wannas, don’t pull me down now. You are too, admit it, come on. You tellin’ me you aren’t? Chal jhoothey!

JungleeBook is coming. Yayyyyy!

Starring. Who else? You know who. But if you don’t — chal jhoothey, how can you not — you’ll know. I toh just can’t wait. I toh just wanna tear into time and future and anything in between and be right there.

They’ve released the rushes and I’ve seen the rushes and they’ve given me the rushes. He looks so kewl, JungleeMan, and everything around him looks so junglee, I just want to, oh, I’m so excited I can’t even explain myself. Don’t mean to get you all jealous and jam, Darl, but you know that man, that man, just to look at that man. Oh Mayyyn, he’s so irresistibly jungleee. Rough and rugged and gorgeous rustic, and naturally hewn, like the brambles he was trekking through with that sceptre of his, or actually better than that, a specially jungle-crafted spear actually. He didn’t craft it himself, the Bhalu did, but theek hai, how many people can you count that Bhalu does things for in the Jungle? But how thoughtful of him to craft that spear, with an absolutely killer tip! You know the big news, of course. The jungles are spilling over with tigers, God knows where one might pop up and pounce? Grrrrrrrr… And gone, fed to the exploding tiger population. That’s why you need that Cro-Magnon bhaala; to kill to survive, killing is the jungle’s sport. When you are in the Jungle and want to be a Junglee, you absolutely need the bare neces-sities and who better to bring them to you than the bear, or, Bhalu. Translation. Translation. Wah! Taaliyaan!

But don’t get super excited, yet, don’t exhaust your taaliyaan, because there’s more occasion for that just coming up. The jungle gear of the jungle bear and JungleeMan. Mayyyn! I mean what can you not do in that kind of gear? All that grey and grisly butch stuff they kit you out in when you tell them I am going where no man has been before, only JungleeMan. He looked, he looked, watchamacallit, drop dead dreamboat. He even got on to one at some stage, in Bhalu’s company, crossing a lake full of killer alligators with not a care on his face he was braving such peril. And heading towards far graver ones.

Guffawing. Like nothing had happened around that time other than pure junglee fun. And if something had, he was too far gone too deep to be told or to hear. Boom! What? Nothing. Lights. Camera. Action.

Preyer, prowler, lurking fright

In these jungles of our night

Beware you’re in the killer’s sight

Keep your torches burning bright.

Telegraph Calcutta

Towards the end of our beginnings

More than Time it is that flows incessant, though Time it is that chiefly flows. From no beginning, or none that we know, towards no end, or none that we know. Or yet do. Towards the end of Time we tip and tip so deep there’s no returning to tell where that end may be, if there is such an end. And then there are other things that flow, like liquid cash through cracks in fingers; pour it, do pour, and it will flow through unto something else or someone else.

Or breeze unseen, or seen only whispering in the furs of tall and implacable firs, or sweeping banks of forlorn grass, or brushing cobwebs off forsaken masonry, or tossing locks of hurriedly maidens on a dappled day. Breeze that they show you curling about in arrows on weather charts on the box, but breeze you can never otherwise see and can only feel, sometimes even creeping through and trespassing the forbidden alleys between bone and flesh, astride your blood, along your bloodline. That sort of breeze flows and you would not know where it came from, unless you believed those arrows on the box, and you wouldn’t know where it went to. But it does come and it does go. It flows.

Or the river. The river flows too. From here and there unto nowhere. And then back up there where it came from, wherever it is that it came from, astride the wind and the clouds and down again upon earth as snow or sleet, or as water and then river again. That’s how rivers flow and keep flowing. From earth and along the earth, to the sky and then back again on earth as river. Rivers flow. Rivers fly off into the sky. Ever looked up and seen a river on its way? Well it is; up there is where rivers make the coupling between supposed ends and unknown beginnings. And from there they descend onto earth, in magical translucence and begin to flow again. And they never seem to stop.

And so it is that we are coddled in this swirl of the eternal. Of Time and of liquid cash, and of breeze and of rivers, unbelieving how it is that what is is never going to end, unbelieving that it will forever flow, around us and about us, taking us in these drifts of ends and beginnings. For one thing ends and another begins. And upon every ended thing there lies an unending trove of memory and of feel, of voice and of intonation, of manner and of moments that only need a kindling to be brought back alive, like a match to cold timber or a rub to numbed palms.

And all of that renders that ended thing not ended at all but endowed with new beginning. Death, be cotton you or silken or unregarded of texture, is not a thing, for all there is is Time and Time will not countenance Death for such a thing is Time. Things come to Death and then Time revolves round clocks and brings Death to lively things.

Nothing ever stops even when it has seemed to stop, for in the end of things are beginnings, and beginnings lead to ends, and so on and on it goes and that is how it happens that we are where we are. Clock an end, and a beginning has clocked in, ready to proceed to an end. Nothing does ever stop, it’s only we who often cannot discern an end from a beginning. Look around, and mourn not what may be gone or is going.

For what’s gone and what’s going is assuredly coming back, like liquid pennies given and then given back. It’s more than just Time that flows, incessant and without end. It’s what it is, and all there is.

It goes straight

And it goes round the bend

But what’s really great

Is it never comes to an end.

Telegraph Calcutta

And then we went charging after it

In the beginning there was Darkness, and only that. Make no mistake about that, no need to take anybody who tells you anything else with any measure of depth, seriously. Everything has come from Darkness, we all have. We may not have a memory of it, granted, but Darkness is where we began. Before we became we, we were wombed. Wombs are made of darkness and that is the darkness we eddy in and emerge from, and because it is the darkness of the womb we come from, almost the first thing we do is to ball up our eyes and screw up our brows against the light we have come into. Next time you get an opportunity, and you well might, see what happens when you come out of wombed darkness. It is a journey from Darkness unto Light, this gift of life: tamaso maa jyotirgamaya.

It is probably to chase Lights that we come from Darkness. But it is not as if all of us carry our essential meanings and pursue them, do we? We are too many different and varied beings, we do different and varied things, we very often do what we are not meant to do, or jet off in contrary directions to our purpose. We vow to do right, we harness ourselves to the purposes of achieving wrong, we proclaim dharma and enact adharma, we feign to embrace all — Sabka saath, Sabka vikas, Sabka vishwas or some such thing has been playing wastefully on loop — and then some of them we embrace we stab in the back and leave bleeding. Happens. We are like that. We say one thing, do another. We call for Light, we proceed towards summoning Darkness.

And we have done this so long now we have mixed up Light and Darkness, we do not know which is which. We have wounded Light. We have dealt sores in Darkness. Go chasing Light someday, and you will know. A good place to do that is in the sky. Lift yourself up. Up, up and up, through the dust and the smog and whatever muck there is, and through the clouds and the layers of wind below and above that make a flaky sandwich of clouds, and then through the clouds above the clouds until you are where there is nothing above but layers of Light and layers of Darkness. Try getting there for a start. Keep an oxygen mask handy, be warmly clothed and shod, it’s cold there, like mercury dripped, frozen and fallen kind of cold. So take care while you journey up.

Once there, you will find Light and you will find Darkness. In equal measure or in differentials of more and less. If in Light, there will forever be darkness to chase. If there is Darkness, there will be Light somewhere round the bend. That’s how things are, where there is Light, there will also be Darkness for each gets distinguished by the other. One separates from the other and then merges into the other. That’s how it is, you’ll see it up there. A darkening of things. And a lightness, a crystal lightness curling away. And there is Darkness, boring into itself, like marks of wounds, or like evidence of deed wrongly done. And there is forever a line which tells one from the other, and those lines mark the choice between one thing and another. And while up there between layers of Light and layers of Darkness, the choice is clear, you pick one or the other, and you become who you are.

If the fight’s in fitness

And if it’s a fight for right

It can’t be for darkness

It must be for light.

Telegraph Calcutta

The cloth and the tailored cut of it

There used to be, in the era of NothingHappened, a thing, or shall we say, a concoction. It was called Incrementin — don’t want to use the real name folks, for fear that it may be construed as advertising in a space that is strictly editorial and may not be used for advertising, paid or unpaid. But you would know what I mean. At least some of you would. That was also what Incrementin did on the side, it boosted memory while it boosted size. Or at least that is what they claimed. So it may be that some of you would still remember what we are now being hectored not to remember at all.

Memory is fading. Memory is being proscribed. Memory is no longer a thing to have.

Or if memory is still a thing to have, it must be a changed memory. We must remember other things. The things we have memorised are wrong and heretical things; we must now flush them down the SwachhBharat drain and remember anew. We must remember things that never happened. We are in the process of writing what has now to be remembered. Take note, get into the WC, dump what you must dump, turn the handle, use the wipes where you have to, the polluted parts if you wish to be specifically told, run the hose to be absolutely certain, wipe all over again, come back swachh and we shall tell you what you need to remember.

You don’t need to remember Incrementin, there is no need for that now. We know Incrementin. We know what Incrementin did or was meant to. You had a few drops of Incrementin each day and you grew. Taller, if in no other way. There was that creature shanghaied, sans fee, to act as metaphor and market Incrementin. A Kiraffe. Kiraffe? Don’t know? Those gangly creatures with spots all over their bodies that like flowery donkeys neck down and become Kiraffes neck up? Ungainly unreal things if you ask me, but what are we to do with ungainly, unreal things? They are all over the place. Kiraffes are spotted and they could actually have an idiom named after them — a Kiraffe cannot change its spots. But Kiraffes are so ungainly and unreal, the Leopaaards beat them to it. There is a price to pay for being ungainly and unreal. Kiraffes paid the price. Others just keep changing clothes and hats. And keep getting away.

Anyhow, where were we? Oh don’t even bother asking that question. Where were we? We are where it no longer is where we were. Does that make sense? No? Poor thing. Doesn’t matter, you won’t get it. Everything is changing. In many kinds of ways. We have only ever known that through time things become bigger. Hai na? Take us. Take any species. They are born and the only way they go is to become bigger. Not talking of brains, of course. We have now become used to knowing better. Not taking of anything, the risk cannot be taken. Incrementin cannot be spoken of; Incrementin is banned.

Things must not grow. They must become smaller. If they don’t, they must be snipped and cut and tailored to suitable size. Or just plain torn in two. We don’t want stuff growing; we want it the other way round. You become too big for me, I cut you down. Then, I become too big for you. Yeeeeeeeaaaaah! Bola thha. Go on now, look for clothes your size, or just suffocate in what you have, or go plain naked. That was the idea. Your size too we have rewritten; memorise it afresh.

So this is how it came to be

And is now for all to see

That when we became better

We were actually made lesser.