2006, Essay, New Delhi, Tehelka

The Tailor Of Telinipara: On Blood Brothers & MJ Akbar

A 2006 piece on what MJ Akbar meant to a generation of journalists and consciousness

Life is not an equal opportunity employer. Literature is an even more discriminating concern, for the press of dubious claimants at its gates is frenetic. MJ Akbar is a Brahmin of that world, although he would have us believe he is a Mussulmaan descended from Kshatriyas born of the arms of Brahma. In truth, he came from the mouth of the Creator, already possessed, in the dreary deficits of an eastern jutemill slum, of a sense of preordained priority… “I was born a Capricorn, with Scorpio Ascendant along with Scorpio Navamsa and Pisces Dreskana in the fourth house of Anuradha, indicating that I would have fame, travel, wealth, worldly comforts, energy, determination, and the comforting ability to convince others of a course of action while nursing an alternative idea in the quiet depths of my heart, making me practical, self-motivated and therefore successful…” Only a Brahmin can arrive so anointed with entitlement. This, mind you, is the meritocracy of the Word, a reservation from which Mandal remains providentially banished. Rights of Admission Deserved.

As a sample of what conditions apply, this from Blood Brothers:

“Starvation is a slow fire that sucks life out in little bursts, leaving pockets of unlinked vacuum inside. Death comes when the points of emptiness suddenly coalesce; there is a silent implosion. The worst is in the beginning, when the body still has energy to rebel and the mind enough hope to fear. When hope fades, fear evolves into a dazed weariness. You turn numb and it no longer matters whether you are alive or dead…” Continue reading “The Tailor Of Telinipara: On Blood Brothers & MJ Akbar”

2006, Essay, Tehelka

Orhan Pamuk: Prize and the Literary Pursuit

This piece was written at the close of 2006, the year of Pamuk’s Nobel Award.

A snow twist in Pamuk's Kars
A snow twist in Pamuk’s Kars

There is an eccentric paradox embedded somewhere in the business of writing. All writing is a function of solitude, a private ramble between writer and daguerreotype, at once alike and apart. Yet writing can seldom hope to achieve its station unless it is able to evoke from its isolations the utterly universal.  Aloofness and belonging are like atom and whole to writing, one doesn’t quite make sense without the other. We have no agreed answers on what makes writers out of people. Perhaps the search for contexts is one of them: Where do we fit in, where does anything? Writing is only minimally the physicality of it, it’s never about a set of words strung into grammatically correct sentences, it’s about the ideas they might, or might not, contain. Continue reading “Orhan Pamuk: Prize and the Literary Pursuit”

2006, Essay, New Delhi, Tehelka

This Christmas, Santa’s Claws

This piece was first published in Tehelka in the December of 2006.

Since her first yule’tide, my daughter has had a little Christmas tree. A couple of years later, my son joined her under it and quickly effected unwritten but unambiguous joint ownership. Although both have now shot taller than the tree, I somehow always imagine them crawling under its jagged circumference. The tree has a wooden base, now cracked under several sibling topplings, and faux conifer leaves woven into branches made of wire. They wrap neatly on the trunk and, end-January, the tree becomes a stump three feet high to be put away to hibernate the hot months. Winter’s a wee and special season and almost unknowingly a little family tradition has sprung around that tree: winter arrives the day that stump becomes tree again, shedding summer dust, untwining trussed wings, becoming a magical corner in the house under coaxing from my children’s still quite little fingers. But the stump becoming tree is not the entire unfurling of our winter ritual. Perhaps it’s just the start of it. A little red sack with a bell on its back is evacuated from some recess — there’s forever this forgetting about where it was stashed — and its contents poured out. A litter of baubles — berries, mistletoe fronds, miniature pinecones, little fairies, stars in silver and gold, bells big and small and, of course, socks. They are crimson, velvet, embroidered with golden thread. The trove is then quarrelled over — who gets to festoon the tree with what. Battles of mine and thine are fought. That’s how that base got its cracks. That’s how the slow pirouette of our celebration begins.

Further on into the season, on a colder and preferably foggy night, the tree gets lit. It usually also is the night the fireplace gets going and between the timber and the tree, there is no requirement for lights anymore. There used to be little coloured bulbs alternately twinkling but those lights went dead in their box sometime between last winter and this one. This year there are ochre-white lights on it, little capsules of them, like an invasion of fireflies.

And the other day, I bought Santa hats to make Christmas warmer for my children, soft, red, with snow-white pom-poms. They came off a little girl at the traffic light. Fifty for a pair, she said and I haggled. Forty then, she said. I haggled. Twenty? No, she said, but take, for your children, thirty, last price. Twenty-five, I said. I gave her thirty and she handed me the hats and a five-rupee coin. I took both and shamed myself. That unclad child was cold on the street.

2006, Baroda, Reportage, Tehelka

The Secular Lies of Vadodara

Sankarshan Thakur visits a torn city whose communal neuroses go beyond Narendra Modi and recent riots. First published in Tehelka on May 20, 2006.

The driver’s saying, no way, his taxi isn’t going any further. He is shaking his head and looking as if to say, “You must be mad even to ask.”

Champaner Gate? “Nai saab, apun kaa jaan kaa bhi to fikir hai; biwi, baal-bachcha hai, nai saab, yahin chhodo.”

We walk the teeming rivulet lanes of the old town, a crazy baroque of medieval finery embossed with coarse masonry; carved timber held together by garish tiling, a block of cement smothering evidence of a fallen balustrade, a rusty water-cooler rammed into what was once some refined Parsi’s gable, style choked by substance.

We return late afternoon near-swayed by the intransigent driver’s reason. Champaner Gate isn’t so much the opening on a wizened town breathing through layer upon layer of coexistent time. It is more a gash cleaved in the minds of its people. 1969. 1971. 1978. 1982. 1983. 1987. 1991. 1992. 1993. 1995. 1998. 2000. 2002. 2002 again and again. 2005. April 2006. The tear has been ripped too oft, too savagely for sutures to work. Continue reading “The Secular Lies of Vadodara”

2006, Ahmedabad, Reportage, Tehelka

Who Killed Haren Pandya?

The probe into the murder of Haren Pandya closed in just six months. But, as the POTA trial against 18 men progresses, too many doubts have arisen about the prosecution’s case. Sankarshan Thakur investigates. First published in Tehelka, 19 August 2006.

Fact: this is how Haren Pandya was found in his white Maruti 800 (GJ 1 AP 4606) near midtown Ahmedabad’s Law Gardens by Neelesh Bhatt, his secretary for close to two decades, a little after 10 on the morning of March 26, 2003: shot, sprawled, apparently dead, on the driver’s seat, his head rolled to the left, his feet almost stuck into the steering.

Continue reading “Who Killed Haren Pandya?”