2013, News, Patna, Telegraph Calcutta

The Big Test: Old Nitish Versus New Nitish

Patna, Nov 23: This is the most challenging and adverse power anniversary Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has arrived at in his eight years at the helm.

The deficits of a long incumbency are coming into play. The many aspirations he kindled on the derelictions of Laloo-raj are seeking fulfillment. He no longer enjoys the luxury of shining in comparison to Laloo Yadav; he is measured against his own manifesto of hope. Most of all, he must now square up to the political consequences of the ideological gamble he took in cutting off the BJP and deciding to sail solo. Nitish Kumar is on choppy waters infested with adversaries sharking in; his test will be how he negotiates them.

Continue reading “The Big Test: Old Nitish Versus New Nitish”

2013, Bombay, Reportage, Telegraph Calcutta

A Reward Unto Himself, A Reminder Unto Another

Mumbai, Nov 16: A thought may have travelled far across the globe from here and struck Roger Federer wherever he is: Time to go?

Could there be more to the reason why Federer became the first non-cricketing sportsman to tweet Sachin Tendulkar farewell than just that they have made a habit of meeting during the Championship at Wimbledon each summer? Could it also be the tennis star has sighted in the cricket icon the grey apparition impending closer upon him? Retirement?

Like Sachin, Federer has already moved into the lofty and lonesome manhattan of achievement. He has spared no trophy left to grab. His exploits have defied earthly gravity. His following is its own Christendom. His coffers must cough to suffocation. His mantel must groan with the burden of achievement. His body, like Sachin’s, has begun to reveal that unconquerable thing called age. He’s only 32 to Sachin’s 40, but if modern turns on a brutal treadmill, international tennis is rubber on an F1 lap. It burns you out.








Federer’s down seeded sixth on the ATP charts, behind David Ferrer and Juan Del Potro. He’s lost bouts recurrently to the others who make up the top five: Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovich, Andy Murray. He’s begun to snarl at play and gnash in defeat. He’s unrelenting yet to what his body might tell him. He will give up his serenity and turn to scrapping, if that’s what it’ll take hereon to bark the competition off court. He’s busy banishing approaching ghosts and said somewhere recently he is still planning, as always, 18 months ahead. Which means he’s already thinking Wimbledon 2015. Which may well mean, he’s also mulling what the arrangements of what transpired at the Wankhede this afternoon.

It came to pass that at high noon Sachin soaked up the shadows of a matchless journey under his hat and said goodbye.  A tear fell, or several, Sachin will best be able to tell, and became an ellipse of full stops. Game’s end.

A cruelly truncated end, for he may have rightfully bargained on ten last days out on the park and four last outings with the bat. The West Indies were keener on a triumphal sendoff than Sachin probably cared for. They lasted two and three quarter days at Eden and fewer here on Sachin’s home ground. Their woeful deficits made a moth-eaten series of it and ended up robbing Sachin an entire game’s playtime. It was a 2-0 defeat conceded, improbably, in the time it takes to conclude one Test.

This morning, the Best Men of Sachin’s farewell party put some of their calypso abandon on display, but none of the fearsome authority that was as much part of the West Indian credo. They extended lunch, but showed no stomach for a fight. They made a meal of themselves, bowled out for far fewer than Clive Lloyd alone hit up (242) at Wankhede’s inaugural game in January 1975. Lloyd isn’t the size that’s easily concealed, but through the course of this match, the Big Cat may have been looking for a suitable place in the Wankhede pavilion to shake off the blushes.

Came another crown a little later in the day that may have waited on the glow of Sachin’s final tryst with cricket to abate. Intimation with grace is not an undue demand to make on the highest honour this nation bestows on its citizens, a divined moment, a well-lit place, a standout assignation. The Bharat Ratna hurtled off the government’s cooling rooms to join the end of a scrummy beeline extended before Sachin: a commemorative stamp, a BCCI cap, a STAR India trophy, an MCA trophy, a Mumbai Police album, a Sri Lankan government medal, then Bharat Ratna.

The crown Sachin has signed off wearing is mostly the aggregate of his own singular labours; the Bharat Ratna could have displayed lesser haste than to lunge and want itself pinned on it rightaway.

Today, Sachin could have been afforded just his own radiance, just his own easy eloquence which few knew existed until he began to speak, just the gathered rewards of his own realm — a cuddled family, an engaged coach, a praying mother, a father somewhere in the radiance overhead, a fondness of mates past and present, a reclusive mentor-brother somewhere in the shadows, a lachrymose constituency rooted round the stands interminably long after Mohammed Shami had castled Shannon Gabriel and coaxed a Peter Pan cackle of joy from the 40-year-old at square leg. He’d only just retired and was clapping his own curtains down.

PS: If Sachin Tendulkar is synomous with Indian cricket, it remains, hearteningly, on good shoulders: his last lap of honour Sachin concluded borne by two men named Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Virat Kohli.  Roger Federer will have to trek off court solo, whenever he calls it quits, and with his own shoulder to carry the kitbag on.

2013, Bombay, Reportage, Telegraph Calcutta

Pablo Neruda’s Swan, Sachin Tendulkar’s Song


Mumbai, Nov 15: In his redolent memoir of a life fully lived, Chilean poet Pablo Neruda recounted a childhood fragment of hunting swans — big unwieldy birds, clumsy of flight, easy to strike down. As a boy, Neruda once tended a battered swan as big as himself for several weeks, until one day its neck twisted and the swan keeled. “It was then that I learned,” Neruda wrote, as only he could, “that swans don’t sing when they die.”

Should some quirk of magic-realism have brought the laureate to the Wankhede for Sachin’s swansong this morning, he may have considered revising his evocation of how swans die.







This one danced all the way to sudden death, laying back, stepping down, swinging, twisting, flicking, flickering on like a flame nobody save eleven West Indians on the park wanted put out. He brought the spectators tiers to sing and swing along. He was on a waltz that held the swell and ebb of a million pumping hearts, temporarily the sole conductor of diastoles and systoles.

Continue reading “Pablo Neruda’s Swan, Sachin Tendulkar’s Song”

2013, Bihar, Essay, Telegraph Calcutta

Bihar’s Chhatth: Pre-Vedic Gift To Post-Modern Consciousness


“Chhatth ke argha taa deyli babua,

Tabhiyo Bihar naa sudhri…”

(I’ve done the devotionals of Chhatth, young one,

But even so Bihar shan’t redeem itself)

— play on the refrain of a popular self-deprecating Bhojpuri ballad


For far too long Bihar’s name was, in good measure, infamy. It exported hungry migrants, bad news and an outcrop of civil servants. The first two did Bihar little credit. The third came at such a premium it became not a Bihari thing but exceptional of Bihar — they were uber-Biharis, those that had overcome Bihar rather than come off it. Bihar: boondock of malignant cargo.

That unseemly signature has begun to cure itself lately, and may already have become a stylized curl along fringes of water across the land. From the Juhu beachfront in Bombay, to the Ganga ghats of Varanasi and Calcutta, to the shallow moats of Delhi’s Boat Club and punctuations of rivulet, stream and pond strewn betwixt, an iridescent frill has erupted and put new colour and contour to what Bihar or Bihari might mean — pre-Vedic Chhatth has brought to its devotees the gift of a post-modern consciousness, the opening of a grand frontier of their mostly hard-pressed migration.

It’s what N.K. Singh, technocrat, politician and notarized fellow of Bihar’s ruling elite, calls a “cultural watershed” in the annals of his people. “The journey of Chhatth out of Bihar and to far places is, finally, evidence of the confident assertion of Bihari identity,” he says, “It represents a phenomena far beyond migration, this is high-value migration. Like Diwali has travelled to the White House, Chhatth has taken others parts of India in its sweep.” What Singh picks out as most remarkable is that “Chhatth is not something Biharis are sheepish any more to observe outside their domain, they are doing it with pride wherever they are.”

Continue reading “Bihar’s Chhatth: Pre-Vedic Gift To Post-Modern Consciousness”

2013, Calcutta, Reportage, Telegraph Calcutta

Straws Between The Hawa And the Zameen In Bihar

Driving about in North Bihar: The countryside lies liberally sign-posted with the clarion of a flaming war — hunkar! khabardar! lalkar! parivartan!

From the ultra Left CPI(ML) to the ultra unpredictable Laloo Yadav to the ultra nationalist Narendra Modi, a multitude of armies is laying siege to Nitish Kumar’s shaken bastion. A tussle unlike Bihar has seen in recent years is in the works.

At the Hajipur crossroads between the districts of Purvanchal and Mithila, Narendra Modi bears down a gigantic vinyl billboard, fist clenched, gaze belligerent, cry vociferous: “Hunkar Utha Bihar!” It may be no more than visual symbolism, but Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s smiling visage on a welfare banner flutters dwarfed underneath. A rag-tag red flag party is filing past, en route to yet another rally in Patna.


It’s months to go for the Lok Sabha poll, but in Bihar the trenches have been dug. “Nayi khalbali machi hai rajneeti mein, gathbandhan tootne ke baad sabko chance nazar aa raha hai,” the Bihari street oracle has spoken almost before the question can be popped, “Bahut dangal hone wala hai.” (A new scramble has broken out in politics, after the alliance broke, everyone is seeing a chance, we are in for a freestyle bout.” Bitter this campaign will be, and for the combatants also wearying, but whenever have Biharis been averse to an extended dose of political drama? They are almost smacking their lips at what could lie in store.

Continue reading “Straws Between The Hawa And the Zameen In Bihar”

2013, Reportage, Telegraph Calcutta

For Bihar’s Muslims, A Double Whammy of Silence

Darbhanga, (North Bihar): The tea arrived quickly, with slices of lime and freshly fried savouries. Beyond that, there was nothing on offer on the bare patio of Nafees Haider’s home in Bisunpur. “Kaahe ko mushkil mein daalte hain?” (Why do you want us in trouble?)

Reclined in a charpoy in a near corner, Haider’s wizened uncle, Khudabaksh, spoke into the silence, but only to buttress it. “Aap to sab samajhte honge, hum kuchh bhi bolenge ulta pad jaayega, dil ki baat dil mein hi rehne dein. Hamari soch sab par zahir hai. Chai peejiye.” (I am sure you understand everything; anything we say we turn on us, let our thoughts remain in our hearts, everybody knows what our thinking is. Have your tea.” They wouldn’t talk, the wouldn’t have a picture taken. “Kaahe ko?” Why?

photo (1)

The formalities of hosting done, Haider courteously escorted us up the slope from his hamlet to the road winding one way to Darbhanga, another to Patna. “Jo hoga chunav mein to pata chal hi jaayega,” he offered as parting shot; what’s to happen will be clear in the elections.

Continue reading “For Bihar’s Muslims, A Double Whammy of Silence”

2013, New Delhi, News, Telegraph Calcutta

Now, An Opinion War Over Opinion Polls

New Delhi, Nov 4: Pre-election opinion polls have opened a flaming opinion war among political parties. It is no more an academic argument over the merits or precision of psephology; it has become a full-blown debate over freedom of speech and media rights.

The BJP’s prime ministerial aspirant, Narendra Modi, assumed pole position on the issue today, slamming the Congress’ advocacy of banning opinion polls and holding the party up as traditionally opposed to institutions of freedom. “The biggest casualty of the Congress Party’s arrogance while in power and its tendency to trample over institutions has been our fundamental right to free speech,” Modi wrote on his blog. He had no particular “affinity” to opinion polls, he said, and was aware of their chequered history and limitations, but that could not be grounds to proscribe them. “There is an important principle and ethic here that holds true for every party and government. From Bhishma in the Mahabharata to Kautilya in the Arthashastra we have been taught how important it is for those in government to be attuned to public opinion. A government that is in denial over where the public opinion really stands is doomed to be thrown out of power,” Modi wrote.

The BJP leads and the Congress lags across all opinion polls broadcast in recent weeks.

Continue reading “Now, An Opinion War Over Opinion Polls”