Telegraph Calcutta

What we knew, we also forgot

There is what we know, and there is what we don’t know, and there is what we are yet to know. But there is more than that, and that is not the end of it. There is also what we knew or know and have forgotten or chosen to. The sound of grass growing, for instance. Or the emerging rhythms of water before they decided to deign to gravity and descend and make of us what water has made of us.

There are among the things that we know, or are about to know, things that we knew and no longer care to. Like we once knew, or were told, that Truth alone wins, Satyamev Jayate! And look what’s winning. Like we used to say all men, and women, are equal and that sort of thing. Which thought we have thoroughly revised now and moved on brusquely; no, nothing is equal, might is right, jiski lathi type of very convinced and confident thing. Jo hai, so hai. Or like we used to say Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, all the world is a family.

And now we have moved on to forgetting and believe that was the sort of nonsense that deserves to have been binned and shot away from vision a long time ago. VasudhaKutumb? What? Our own are not our own, or do not deserve to be our own. They need to be taught lessons in how to be our own. Hard lessons, lessons they will remember a long, long time and forget hard. There is no Vasudha. No Kutumb. Understand? There are things we may have known. We no longer know them. It does not suit us anymore. You know what suits us.

Sometimes I look at earth and the thought comes along what we might have been without earth. Not Earth, as in the planet we inhabit, but earth, with an “e” in lower case. There is, truth be told, nothing as noble as soil. But, truth be told again, we do not make it that. We begin to imagine we own nobility. We begin to imagine we own soil. Such are we; so suicidally deluded are we. We begin to assert ownership over the soil that we are going to eventually be consumed by — in a cask, in a pot, as embers and as ash. Hello, I am Soil, and who are you?

We make it my soil. We make it your soil. Which is the soil of the earth. Not with the capital E, but with the “e” with a lower case. It could be, you know, the earth on which Vetaal rests, and Vetaal is not on Earth’s earth, he, or it, is on Moon’s earth. Believe me, Vetaal has landed. On earth. On soil. But what soil? What earth? Whose soil? Whose earth? The only soil we have. We come from the soil, the soil it is that receives our ends. There is no greater truth than the soil. Not for us. We are mortals. We are of the soil. We come from it, we go back to it. As ash. As flesh. As all that happens between the acquisition of mobile flesh and flesh immobile. Soil. Dharti. Maa. It’s what begets us. It’s what accepts our remains. It’s why we worship it such: Maa. Everyone has a mother, everyone. And are we to begin to argue here that one Maa is greater than the other Maa, or lesser than the other Maa? Maa! Please do not allow me to become such a person. Please do not allow me to become a person who claims that you, Maa, is greater or lesser than another Maa, because that would mean me judging the very idea and reality of Maa, and I do not ever, forgive me, wish myself to be sitting on that sort of judgement, Maa.

Aye watan, aye watan

Everybody, sing that song

Beat your drum, swing your baton

And let’s see where we belong.

Telegraph Calcutta

So see you on the other side

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.

Bihar, Telegraph Calcutta

Lalu Prasad: Autumn of the Patriarch

The mercurial Lalu Prasad has finally been pushed off stage and an epoch is whimpering to demise

Zero. It has never been this bad; it cannot get any worse.

Or it probably still can.

It is one thing for Lalu Prasad’s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) to have drawn a blank in the Lok Sabha this summer; it is quite another for him to have nobody around to take that blank and build on it. The party, as it used to be under Lalu’s helmsmanship, is over. Bihar’s once fabled and formidable House of Yadu has become the shape of a pack of cards tumbled upon itself.

Here’s what fragments of a clan in collapse can look like up close. The confetti of serial abuse of power and public office floating about the defeated air; there are bills to be paid yet, and someone will come knocking. The unseemly rites of a turbulent son’s ruptured marriage playing out on the doorstep. Spewing from within, grim tales of competing grouses and internecine family feuding — son versus son, daughter versus mother, sister versus brother; in the absence of the arraigned father, there’s nothing to quell the quarrelling over what may remain. The man he left behind in charge having also skipped station. There’s nobody around to pick up the pieces.

The Bihar Assembly came into session this Friday. Tejashwi, who leads the Opposition benches, wasn’t there. There were rumours he’d turn up, but they turned out to be rumours. Tejashwi Yadav has been gone from the scene a long and inexplicable while. So long and so inexplicable that his own ranks have begun to wonder if he’s interested in his bequeathed job. So long and so inexplicable that Lalu no longer bothers with worrying, what would be the point? He is 71 and ill. He is incarcerated on a medley of corruption convictions and charges in Jharkhand. The circumstances of his coiled labyrinth allow him to do so much and no more. Tejashwi has stopped to heed his command. Where is Tejashwi? In Delhi. Probably. But he will come. Oh look, he has already tweeted a long distance hello to “My dear Bihar!” on the plea of orthopaedic treatment that nobody hitherto knew of. Bihar should rest assured.

Lalu wanted Tejashwi to stay on the deck and take the storm, like he himself had often done in the past. Tejashwi was in such a rush to get away, he did not wait to cast his vote this election. Tejashwi was not drawn to the hollering tragedy of 130-odd children snuffed out by encephalitis in Muzaffarpur. Tejashwi did not arrive to lead his flock in an Assembly that faces re-election just next year. Tejashwi has been gone from Patna a whole month. Tejashwi is Lalu’s chosen mantle-bearer. Such as that mantle is; it has zero freshly inscribed on it.

Political obituaries can turn treacherous on their authors. When they are about someone like Lalu, feisty and defiant through his roller-coaster life, they can turn and sting too.

This is not a political obituary. This is a Doctrine of Lapse notification. Lalu has a legacy, but those he entrusted it to have bungled it. The entity central to Bihar’s politics for three decades is tearing out like a meteor in tailspin.

This is the first election of his political career that Lalu stood barred from turning up to campaign; this is not the first time he has lost, but this is the first time the RJD can hear what death-rattle sounds like.

Consider this: Based on the Lok Sabha results — a stunning 39 out of 40 for the NDA — the RJD managed to win a little more than a dozen seats in the 243-member Bihar Assembly. Tej Pratap, Lalu’s elder and maverick son, lost the Mahua seat by more than 10,000 votes.

Tejashwi held on to Raghopur by its membranes, barely 200-odd votes. Misa, the eldest of Lalu’s children, lost the Yadav borough of Patliputra a second time running, bested once again by Ram Kripal Yadav, once Lalu’s trusted protégé.

Everything suggests a daylight heist on the Yadav vote which once kept Lalu securely banked in power. 2014 was probably the first sign Narendra Modi had disrupted traditional voter behaviour and snatched away a section of Yadav loyalty from Lalu. 2019 is resounding confirmation of not merely a drift away from Lalu but of a new polarisation behind the BJP and its Bihar allies. Nearly 40 per cent of the Yadav vote has shifted base; there is little to suggest on the ground that number will not mount. The RJD has been turfed out across its traditional Yadav strongholds — from Madhepura and Saharsa, from Saran and Siwan and Sonepur, from Maharajganj and Gopalgunj, from Danapur and Maner which, for decades was quite literally the family’s personal backyard. “Laluji ke bina ab kya raha?” asks Jitender Singh, an avowed Lalu loyalist and apologist, “Kuchh bhi kahiye, Laluji neta thhe, ab kaun raha?” (What’s left after Lalu? Say what you will, Lalu was a leader, who’s left?) We are at a tea shack in Maner, about 30 kilometres west of Patna. Jitender can’t stop ruing what’s happened and what’s to come. “I feel for Laluji, I am committed, but look at his children. Why did Misa have to contest the Lok Sabha when she is already in the Rajya Sabha. She is laalchi, greedy. Tej Pratap is a vagrant, nobody knows what he is up to. Tejashwi makes no effort at communicating, spending time with people. They control the party, but nobody has a clue what they are doing or what they have in mind. Kya future hoga?” The anger and the unease is palpable. It can no longer be called a crack in the RJD voter base, it is more akin to a sundering. “Lalu’s party minus Lalu looks like a wipeout,” a senior RJD leader and Lalu’s contemporary says, “Tejashwi and his ranks have failed to deliver, the party is nervous, its faith lies shattered, we are in a mess.”

He wouldn’t go on the record yet with his fears and misgivings, but he believes that time is near. “People in the party will speak out, they will have to. If for nothing else, for sheer survival; Assembly elections stare us in the face and we have just taken our severest blow. What do these results tell the aspiring RJD contestants? That they should be very nervous. What does the response of the party leadership tell them? That they should seek answers and correction.”

Failed Four: Tej Pratap, Misa, Rabri and Tejashwi. Photograph by Sankarshan Thakur

Some of the murmur is already bubbling up in anger. RJD elder and spokesperson Shivanand Tiwari turned blunt at a recent party meeting. “We should take a hard look at how the party is being run,” he is reported to have said, “Laluji’s absence has been a big jolt to us, but we have to figure ways of dealing with that, and if we don’t do that it is over… yeh hamare astitva ka sawal hai… this is a question of our survival.”

Tejashwi has made himself deserving of an in-house chargesheet; it cannot be that the clamour hasn’t reached him, even in his removed camp addresses.

— He ignores his father’s counsel

— He doesn’t consult or respect party elders; he did not allow them to campaign when they were eager to

— He is opaque and often unapproachable; he is also tight-fisted with resources

— He did not take allies on board during the campaign for fear that he would have to share the accolades

— He has made little effort to build a connect with his constituency

— He took whimsical off-days during the heat of the campaign

— He has neither energy nor gut for a fight

— He has no blueprint hereon, none that anybody knows of

— He appears not accountable for the debacle he has presided over

— He is swiftly scattering his inheritance away, at the cost of the party.

“Does Tejashwi know how to win elections, even his own?” That’s a close confidant of Lalu for decades asking. It is probably the most damning question the leader of a political party can be asked. But that question is being asked of Tejashwi by those in the boat who still reckon it can be saved from sinking. “Through the campaign, Tejashwi and his camp kept telling us we were doing well. It turns out we never did as badly. He was either bluffing or was deluded, in both circumstances, his leadership needs to be questioned.”

The worry and scurry in the RJD ranks is not merely on account of the Assembly polls next year. It is not merely because MLAs have begun to individually and collectively wonder if the RJD is a good ticket to ride on, or should the opportunity to jump be taken. It is equally because of the overt manoeuvres they see the adversary making.

From the time of his first foray into Bihar as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate in 2013, Narendra Modi revealed a focused intent to woo Yadavs away from their chief and loved patron. “Yaduvanshi bhaiyon!” he called out to them; he flagged the mythology of Krishna and Dwarka to kindle a kinship. He kept at it, as a work in progress. It wouldn’t be easy to wean Yadavs away from their anointed benefactor, but he has worked with time and with ways. “Don’t forget Yadavs are the most privileged among the backwards castes and they have become used to the stakes and fruits of power,” says a Lalu-era bureaucrat who likes sailing close along the power corridors, “But for a brief spell, Lalu has been out of power nearly 15 years now and his successors hold out no hope they might deliver it any time soon. Lalu may yet enjoy their unshaken sympathy, but that is translating less and less into votes. That’s one key takeaway from this election. The Yadavs will want to stay close to power.”

Narendra Modi may only be too keen to demonstrate to them how. One clue might be the elevation of Nityanand Rai, a Yadav MP from Ujiarpur in north Bihar, as central minister of state for home affairs. Another could well be Bihar’s verdict on the RJD itself: Zero.

Telegraph Calcutta

Lost, then found, forever lost

We lose things. Like a game. We find things. Like fame at a game. We lose things. Like temper. We find things. Like temper. We lose them, and we find them. It is a rite of recovering, what is gone returns. But often what is gone does not. Often what we lose cannot be found again. Or, if it is found it is found in a state that it has been lost. Lost far beyond recovery. Lost forever. It is like memory. Maybe.

We lose memory, and we recover it. But sometimes we lose memory and never find it again. And at other times yet, we want to lose memory because it is not a memory we want to keep. We lose it and we do not wish to have it back. It helps to do that. It helps to not have some memories regained, or recovered. Memories can be precious. Memories can be poor. Sometimes they can be both, and on such occasions it is possible to wonder whether those memories should be fondled or forsaken. What do you do with the memory of the dead? Or the memory of the dead who may not be yet? Who knows? Would you lose it? Would you want to find it? Would you even know if it is only a memory and nothing but? What we lose and do not find may not be forever lost; what we lose and find may not be what we lost to begin with. We have to wonder about what we have lost, and what we have found. We have to wonder about what we have lost and not found. We have to wonder about what we have lost and what of it we have found, how much of it.

There is the debris. The torn feathers of that big bird. Torn and scattered. Where but? Oh there, right there, between Mt Perhaps and Mt WeDon’tKnow, between those two. Perhaps. We don’t know. But there is the debris. Found. From what was lost. And lost, from what was once not even to be found, it was just there. Not lost. But there. The big bird. That flew. And flew. And eventually fell because it could no longer fly. But why? But where? Who knows? Mt Perhaps. Mt WeDon’tKnow. Betwixt? We do not know.

It flew from warm climes, but it flew with a well-clad cargo. Cold bird that, made of aluminium and glass and powered by cold fuels. An untrammelled bird, not pressurised; they knew she would climb and her belly would get cold at those heights. They were prepared, the cargo. Let’s just say cargo. It’s easier. Now that all’s been lost. And found only to reveal that all is lost. Torn to smithereens and scattered like confetti from a demon’s feast. Or icing on a cake for a wake.

But who knows? If they are lost? Or cannot be found? Who knows what happens? In this twilight between being and not being, between being what requires no finding and being lost. They flew. They were to land. They were lost, they were to be found. Between take off and landing there lay no mystery. What goes up must come down; it’s only a flight. Happens all the time. Flights take off. Flights land. Go to the FlightRadar. You’ll know just how many are flying all the time all across the face of the earth. You’ll know just how many are landing. On any day everything that flies eventually comes to land. On some days, some don’t; or one doesn’t. It comes to be lost. Not found. And very often, when that lost thing comes to be found it is only a debris of lost things. No longer its shape, no longer the sum of its parts and what those parts contained. Lost. Found. But lost.

But who’s to tell? Who’s to tell what happened between Mt Perhaps and Mt WeDon’tKnow. What perished, what survived. Who’s to tell? Perhaps something’s survived. Perhaps nothing did. We don’t know. A life? A limb? A living, flailing limb? Or a living something or the other. Calling out. Calling out to say they are not lost. Calling out to say they need to be found. Calling out against being forever lost. And being found when being only and utterly lost.

We see things here and there

And then we see them not

We think: what happened, where?

And that is what’s our lot.

Telegraph Calcutta

We beat them, but now for some more


Oh we did. And how we did. Yeaaaaaah! Come on then, BullWorkerMan, come on, show us what used to be 56 and might now be… What is it now… measure, measure, stretch the measuring tape. And you, the rest of you, get a measure of things. Get ready. More ready than you have been. More ready than you thought you ought to be. Get ready for what is to come.

We beat you. But we want to beat you more. We want to beat you like there was no beating. We are on top. We do not want to leave this position of vantage, the vantage of heights. If you have the heights you have the advantage. We have the heights. We want the advantage. We will make the most of it.

In all combat there is this thing called being on top. It is not a frivolous thing. Being on top. We know who is on top of Kailash. We know what He can do from the top of Kailash. We have drawn our lessons on the advantage of heights from the one who is on top of Kailash. Period.

Let us not take any names here. There are names and there are names. And there are sacred names and there are names that are unmentionable names. They can also be names that are at once sacred and unmentionable. So we are not mentioning names. We know. We know who is on top of Mount Kailash. We know what advantages he enjoys. They are, in most part, the advantage of heights. So if we are on top it is inevitable that we will beat you. I have been close. Or as close. You would recall my effort, of course. At getting close. All attired and and almost as if I were retired. But not retired, of course, have no worries. I have responsibilities. I can be spiritual, but I am mostly temporal.

So I did go. As close to the heights as the cameras could get. Because there is no point in going where the cameras cannot. What is the point if I cannot show you where I am? What is the point if you cannot see where I am? What is the point going where the cameras cannot? I have to show you. You have to see. I am not God. I am one of you. I am human. I am not God. I am only pretending to be Him. Or Her? They do say these things these days, don’t they? Every Him has become Her. Every He, She. Wonder why? Upturned times. Kalyug. Such things happen. Hoy. We had been warned. Kalyug aayega! Aa gaya hai kya? Is Kalyug already here? Her. When Him would have done just well enough. What more evidence should we require of this being Kalyug, of Kalyug having arrived? What nature produces, man perverts. Or woman does. Let it not be man taking the knock for this one too, let it be woman. Everything has become what it used not to be. Caves have become air conditioned and en suite; cavemen have got civilisations to lord upon.

They have beaten the rest. Bored into them with their horns. And they are not stopping there. They are saying we need to beat you more. We have the advantage of heights. And we have to now beat you into the depths. Such depths that you shall never be able to emerge from, such depths that you shall have to raise your arms to wear your shoes or tie your laces.

Presuming you still have shoes to wear. Presuming you still wear lace-ups. Presuming, most of all, that by then you still have feet to put footwear on. We have knocked you down to your knees, but now we shall knock you down legless. Footless. Restful. Completely so. Or restless in ways that you cannot imagine it is possible to be restless.

We have won. Yes, but that may not mean we have beaten you. Not in the way that we want to beat you.

Look where I have come

Oh Mai, Oh Mai, Oh my

I may almost be done

Really, I am now feeling so high.


Telegraph Calcutta

These were no ordinary elections; these are no ordinary times

I can't say I do without you! (2).png

Perhaps the most telling public message Pragya Thakur sent out after establishing dominion over Bhopal was a visual she tweeted. It had photographs of Giriraj Singh, Sakshi Maharaj and herself. It had their Lok Sabha victory margins superimposed: 4.19 lakh, 3.65 lakh and 4.01 lakh, respectively. It also had a caption emblazoned in saffron that read: “Yeh aankde bahut kuchh kehte hain… (these numbers tell a lot)”. Indeed they do. So too Pragya’s chosen trio — Giriraj Singh, Sakshi Maharaj and herself, all outspoken Hindu majoritarians who have made political careers taunting, bullying and baiting minorities; Pragya stands accused of worse, of having masterminded the Malegaon blasts of 2006 which claimed 40 lives. But here she was, rich and righteous in proclamation, underlining to whoever cared to listen the meaning of the landslide margins for the three — it was the unabashed, unapologetic Hindutva arrowheads that had won big in 2019, get the message from the mandate if you haven’t yet: jo Hindu hit ki baat karega, wohi desh par raj karega.

And guess who tip-toed to the centre stage from behind such chilling chorus just days later? Pratap Chandra Sarangi, newly elected MP from Balasore in Odisha, called out on the Rashtrapati Bhavan forecourt to take oath as minister of state in Narendra Modi’s second government. Sarangi of the bedraggled mane and beard has come introduced to the uninitiated as a devoted, austere, even saintly figure whose lifetime’s leitmotif has been simple living. There is another way Sarangi must be introduced. He was chief of the Odisha chapter of the Bajrang Dal when the Christian missionary, Graham Staines, and his two boys were burnt to death in 1999. Later, in 2002, Sarangi was charged with rioting, arson, assault and damaging government property. The government property in question happened to be the Odisha state assembly, which a violent VHP-Bajrang Dal mob had attacked. Sarangi too is to the hardened Hindutva manner born, a recruit marked out for services rendered and patted into the Lok Sabha and public office from the same stables as Pragya and other such notables.

If Pragya was a dagger brazenly wielded in the face of the conscionable and the correct — how could one accused of terror plots, one who hero-worshipped the assassin of Gandhi, be endorsed for the Lok Sabha by India’s ruling party? Sarangi was a dare, revealed on the honours list at Rashtrapati Bhavan. They were both tools, as it were, of pushing the boundaries of public discourse; it’s done to award a Lok Sabha ticket to a terror-accused, it’s done to honour a belligerent sectarian with a ministerial berth. That’s the direction to head in. But this is neither about Pragya Thakur nor Pratap Sarangi. This is about their enablers and promoters, namely Narendra Modi, prime minister of India, and his effective Number Two and home minister, Amit Shah. This is about the project that they have been systematically, and successfully, pursuing a good while now. This is about the euphemism they call New India. Do not be confused about it, New India is nothing like the New India Indians adopted and swore themselves to on January 26, 1950. This New India is a work in progress; it has consumed two general elections and the spaces in between. It will consume more, not slowly and steadily but speedily and sweepingly.

Violent street oppression, even lynching, barely makes news or gets notice, it has been pushed to brief mentions in the inside pages, if that. You can be beaten up, even killed, for what you wear because in doing so you have publicly identified yourself as the Other. Nobody cares. You can be harangued and threatened into forsaking your faith, if only temporarily, and paying obeisance to another. Nobody cares.

Godse worship has leapt out of closets and now occupies more than just one seat in the Lok Sabha; many more than one, if only the Pragya example would encourage others to come out. Marginalization of the minorities is a badge proudly worn by the ruling party; it’s almost a manifesto resolve of theirs, we don’t want their votes, strong majority governments can be achieved without them. In fact, they can all go to Pakistan, so can those who espouse their constitutional rights. All of this has swiftly become the new normal over the last five years.

But more is to come, inevitably. For what Modi began in 2013 is only understood in part if it is understood as a quest for power. It was a quest for empire. We have seen two general elections in that period, but what we may be missing out on is the referendum that was simultaneously triggered and has not come to the end of its course yet. It is a referendum that seeks to establish a majoritarian India. It is the quest for an empire that predates the many empires that ruled these parts over the last eight hundred years or so, empires fashioned by those that came from land, and empires fashioned by those that arrived via the seas. The little problem with those that arrived from land is that they stayed; they became part, and even when they parted, more chose to stay than go away. That problem needs solutions.

And so what has rolled out between the general elections of 2014 and 2019 is an undeclared open-ended referendum on what the arrival of Narendra Modi in power should really come to mean. These were no ordinary elections. Their meaning needs to be understood beyond the numbers in the Lok Sabha and the arrangements of executive governments. The time that passed between the arrival of the first Modi government and the installation of the second also needs to be carefully grasped. This was no ordinary time. And the time to come may be even less ordinary. For if there is one thing the last two general elections have done, it is this: validate the values Modi and his worldview embody and vacate the values of several, or all, of his prviaedecessors. Majoritarian India has never been so audaciously enthroned. The majoritarian ethic has never appeared so unflinching in its determination to impose itself. It has promised not to stop doing so, and is in a daily dare to those who will come in the way. The proliferating use of the ‘Jai Shri Ram’ cry as a heckler hoot is merely the street symptom of it. There’s more in the works where that came from. There is the promise to dismantle Article 35A of the Constitution which enshrines special guarantees to Jammu and Kashmir; there is the promised push for a Uniform Civil Code; there is the issue of space for the ‘Mandir’, of course, forever on the board; there is too the foregrounded pledge to effect a National Register of Citizens, herald of an indigenous lebensraum. It’s part of the playbook of the powers, now better than ever abled with 303.

Those who cannot see the fracture between Modi bowing before the Indian Constitution in the Central Hall of Parliament and the Modi that prodded the likes of Pragya and Sarangi into our top legislative House are deluding themselves. Or perhaps, and unfortunately, they see it and like what they see. Pragya Thakur was probably right to put out the image of that trio of which she is part; it proclaims not the victory of the BJP but of those in the ranks who won bigger than most… yeh aankde bahut kuchh kehte hain.


Telegraph Calcutta

Departed. Arrived. Departs, Arrives


Someone has been through here, someone has travelled. What you see is an image of that passing. Or a shadow of it. Or a remnant. Things remain. Nothing goes away. Even when things have passed, they do not go away. Even when folks have passed, they do not go away. They remain. In shadows. In imprints and embossed. In memory. What you see could be any of those things. What you see is, most certainly, a sign of someone having been through here.

Kolyma comes to mind. Nobody’s mother, this Kolyma. In fact, an entity mercilessly adept at making anyone feel motherless, this Kolyma. Know Kolyma? No? Let’s go there, briefly. Let’s go to the far Russian Far-East. Far, far up and away from everywhere else. Edged close to the Arctic. Probably. Not sure. But yes, closer to Arctic climes than to any other clime.

The tundra. You know what the tundra is. First know your tundra. Do not tell me I have a foreboding about the tundra without even knowing what the tundra is. That is typical. A foreboding about something you know nothing of. A manufactured foreboding. A pretended foreboding. A vacant, farcical, vacuous foreboding. Foreboding is not the critical word. Tundra is. And Kolyma. Then say you have a foreboding. Else, buzz off. Because if you do not know tundra and if you do not know Kolyma, you do not know the F, or the effing eff, of foreboding. Kid yourself in your quarters, with your fare. Boiled eggs and cakes? What else? Kid yourself in your prescriptions and proscriptions. Don’t do this. Don’t do that. This cannot be done. This is not how it is done. Leh. Who said? Ke bollo? Radhaballabi? Eat it. You would not even dare do that. You cannot even eat a radhaballabi and you are warning folks who can afford a million times less not to have their gulp of water off the lion-headed water hydrant on the street. “Baagher mukh theke jol khete nei!!” Tahole? “Tahole, kee? Aamar boye gaychhe.” Translated: live up to my fork and marrow-spoon standards, or DIE. Who cares, Marie? Who even cares, Antoinette?

Right? Yes. If you know the tundra. If you know Kolyma. Foreboding is the only thing you can have.

Because nature wasn’t the harshest aspect of Kolyma. Man was. He made a prison of it. A remote, frozen, bleak, depressing, diminishing prison. An open prison. So open. So vast. So cold. So inhospitable. So unending. Such a prison that there was no running away from it. Where would you run from Kolyma? In Kolyma, when you run you only ever land up, breathless and panting and completely trounced on intention, in Kolyma itself. Or some part of Kolyma. Kolyma is such a place. Kolyma is abomination. Kolyma is beyond most imagination. But Kolyma is. Google it. Gospel it. Gospel meaning Google; Google, the Gospel of Kalyug. Look at Kolyma on a map. You will find it. It is a huge unendurably cold geography. Most folks do not know Kolyma because most folks who know Kolyma do not survive to tell what Kolyma is. Some do. Some told the tale. But not many read them. They thought them incredulous. They thought them too noir. But in actual fact I shall reveal to you why they did not read the Kolyma tales. Or tell them aft.

Because they were too afraid. Too so. Even their worst imaginations feared to tread where the Kolyma tales began. But I shall tell you the beginning. One morning in Kolyma, a schoolgirl setting off to school told her mother she was in for a thrashing. But why do you say so, my dearheart, the mother asked. But don’t you see the shape cut out through the frost on the street, Maman? That is the shape of the headmaster. He has gone through here and reached school and left his shape behind. I am late. And therefore… Kolyma. Departed. Arrived… and thereafter

When the wind is down

Row, row, just row,

The signs are up all over town

And they just grow, grow, grow.