2020, Bihar 2020, Column, Telegraph Calcutta

Bihar2020: Naya Bihar is down to Biharis, not to the state’s politicians alone

Elections can be, in a manner of speaking, occasions for diagnosis and prescription —what’s wrong, what can right it. The people do it, and they do it very often with contrary, even conflicting, assessments of disease and cure. Bihar has lived a schizophrenia for three decades now, bossed in equal measure by two remarkably different men. One, a man of spellbinding charisma and chutzpah who came from nowhere to unleash a ruling manner all his own. Subaltern hero, unshakeable guardian of communal concord, a captivating political entity. But he was woefully lost on governance and often in abject abuse of power. The other, an introvert, almost babu-like of mien, a dour doer, who made correction and revival his mission, a power-beaver adept at locating the means to back his ambition. But he turned out a whimsical proposition, implacably averse to conference, loose on convictions and so spectacularly promiscuous to the purposes of personal power that he lost way and political credibility to the left and right of him. Neither Lalu Prasad nor Nitish Kumar brought to the table what they began by promising its people: ‘Naya Bihar’.

For the better part, this piece must be a repetition of things already said, for Bihar often seems struck by amnesia over its own sorry past; the more things refuse to change, the more they seem to forget what hasn’t, the more they remain swayed on the disarrayed booty of their unfulfillments. We can still be moved and motivated by the promise of drinking water, as if it were a promise of magical novelty.

The ‘Naya Bihar’ slogan is an old one. Every time it rings off a new throat, Biharis begin to stir with hope like only the hopeless can — this time, surely. They’ve discovered, unfailingly, that the shimmer that promised to relieve them of their scorched lives was a mirage, no more. I am part of the ineffable construct of what it must mean to be a Bihari. I can begin to exult in the smallest things at home — a length of pucca road, a stable hour of electricity, a school that has students and teachers in it, a health centre that isn’t padlocked, an office that isn’t a runaround, an officer who minds an office. Can that happen? And when that happens, will it last? The Bihari cheer always comes stained with doubt: how real or durable can any of this be? That doubt has reliably and regularly choked the prospect of cheer.

Continue reading “Bihar2020: Naya Bihar is down to Biharis, not to the state’s politicians alone”
2020, Bihar 2020, Reportage, Telegraph Calcutta

Bihar2020: The BJP has a bunny in Bihar, the name is Nitish Kumar

Or, why the chief minister is headed for drastic diminishment even if he were to secure a record fourth term

Chief minister Nitish Kumar has become the hare of the Bihar campaign, the BJP its hound. The two are running together; it doesn’t test imagination to tell how hare and hound tandems usually end.

Bihar has turned into a teeming melee, thick with the kicked-up dust of battle that defies clear deciphering, just as it also defies cognition of a rampant and killer pandemic.

But the verdict on Nitish Kumar already lies inscribed in bold letters on the unintelligible skirmishing for Bihar’s honours: he is headed to drastic diminishment. Should Nitish manage to secure — as Union home minister Amit Shah has publicly promised — a record fourth term as chief minister, it will be as chosen bunny of the BJP.

The Nitish who used to dictate terms to the BJP is long history; the Nitish now in the making — or unmaking —  is one who will take dictation. Amit Shah’s guarantee on Nitish becoming chief minister again “regardless” of who gets how many in the alliance must be read as just that — a chief minister on Amit Shah’s guarantee, an office granted at his pleasure.

The one clear message ringing out from Bihar is that Nitish’s public image has nosedived — “sushasan babu” has become a thing of ridicule. He has been mocked and taunted during election outings, angrily motioned to go back where he came from, called, among other things, a “chor”.

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2020, LazyEye, Telegraph Calcutta

LazyEye: Let us do some Tann ki Baat

The thing is that it is not a thing to last. But while it lasts it is the thing you might hold most dear. Because it is the thing you are, this tann. You know that, of course. If you didn’t you wouldn’t be reading this. It is because you know that, because you have a tann, that this is a thing that can be conveyed. It is because you know that you can receive. Without the tann, that would not be possible. Not for me to tell, not for you to hear.

Lots of things would not be possible without the tann, it is the vessel of our beings, the house where we house ourselves while the tenancy of life lasts. Tann is the factory floor on which we become who we are, it is where we might do the things we might do, or mightn’t, it is the womb of our souls. And then the soul escapes the womb one day, of course, and leaves the tann behind. That is what we call death. The expiry of functions of a most complex concoction of things, innumerable things, let’s not even begin to count or draw an inventory of the tann, there would be no time for that. The tenant departs, those quarters would no longer admit another occupant. End of tann.

Continue reading “LazyEye: Let us do some Tann ki Baat”
2020, LazyEye, Telegraph Calcutta

Ek ladki ko dekhaa to aisaa lagaa

What we also do to our girls

As if a… hmmmmm. As if a monster need. As if a vandal greed. As if a trickster tryst, accidental, at unplanned crossroads. As if a meeting that should never have been. As if a crossroads nobody should have been despatched to. As if a place that is no meeting place. As if a place that needs abrogation. As if a place we are fortunate not to know the address of. As if a crossroads we are fortunate to have no roadmap to. As if another name we cannot print. As if another tale we should not tell. As if another dare we must defy. As if another law that’s no more than a flaw. As if another bell ringing. As if a need to respond. As if a jab and prod — wake up, if not now, when? As if a last call. As if a no, no, no, no, nooooo of disbelief resounding. As if a yes, cold as reality, cutting as the truth. As if a victim. As if a villain. As if a lone victim. As if a number of villains. As if a victim wrecked. As if a villain revelling. As if a cry. As if a cry of relief. As if a cry that is rending. As if a cry of protest. As if a cry of surrender. As if a cry after which there will no crying. As if a cry after which there will be more crying. As if a cry that will not be heard. As if a cry in vain. As if a tear welling. As if a tear that dried before its dropping. As if again. As if another one. As if a thing that will not stop to happen. As if a thing just waiting to happen. As if a thing that was always going to happen. As if a thing that has no end and leaps from one satanic end to another. As if another name that will not be taken. As if a name already banished. As if a name already silenced. As if a name that haunts from that pyre of proscriptions and banishments. As if a name that will now not be gone. As if a name that will insist. As if a name that will tug. As if a name that will ask. As if a name that will implore. As if a name that will look you in the eye. As if a name you cannot excise from your eye. As if a name that will not be rubbed away. As if a dream. As if a darkening dream. As if a tumult under the eyelids. As if a piercing. As if a pain. As if a devil in it. As if a devilish devouring of a dream. As if a thing done to death but not quite yet. As if a thing still of use. As if a thing still to abuse. As if a little more. As if a life not yet entirely throttled. As if a life not yet gone. As if a life requiring snuffing. As if a hunger not yet fully fed. As if a thirst not yet slaked. As if a lust not stopping to ooze. As if a breath of spring she never breathed. As if a winter she did not shiver. As if a raindrop she never drank. As if a summer never burst her cheeks to redness. As if a spring never relieved her. As if a tune she did not hum. As if a dance she did not dance. As if a thing to drool over. As if a thing to paw. As if a thing to slap. As if a thing to smother. As if a thing to cut. As if a thing to bruise. As if a thing to knead. As if a thing to scratch. As if a thing to sandwich. As if a thing of appetites. As if a thing to squeeze. As if a thing to bite. As if a thing to bleed. As if a thing to drug. As if a thing to dig. As if a thing to pinch. As if a thing to twist. As if a thing to tear. As if a thing to impale. As if a thing to rupture. As if a thing to break. As if a thing to plunder. As if a thing to silence. As if a thing to throw. As if a thing of no life. As if a sign. As if a signature. As if a body of proof, a body quite done, a body quite dead. As if a reminder to who we are. As if a claim to fame. As if a bleeding medallion of infamy. As if a rage rightly exhausted. As if a vengeance robustly wreaked. As if a collective conscience fed. As if a diktat of burial. As if a censor on the senses. As if a scale turned off-balance. As if a pronouncement blind by a bench blinded. As if a truth we do not wish to countenance. As if a name we cannot print. As if a forlorn grave. As if a gravestone with no name on it. As if a burning. As if a smoke. As if a sight that will live. As if a smell that will travel. As if a stench that will hang. As if again.
As if a demon’s feat
As if a human defeat
As if an ugliness, nothing neat
As if a sordid repeat.

2020, Column, State of Play, Telegraph Calcutta

Gandhi. JP. Lohia: Wolfed legacies and our necessary hypocrisies

This month, we observe the anniversaries of three eminences in ways that have turned farcical, even fraudulent. It would have been a mercy had we stopped at lip service as the annual rites of remembrance; we’ve brutally wolfed those legacies.

The first among the three is, of course, the man who has become familiar to us, courtesy his round-rimmed glasses embossed on ‘Swachh Bharat’ tumblers and streamers. October 2 became an occasion to trigger a rampant online celebration of his assassin, such is also our manner now of greeting the man we call Father of the Nation.

The other two are entities we routinely invoke and consign where they belong for safekeeping — in the shuttered almirahs of necessary hypocrisies. One belonged to Akbarpur in east Uttar Pradesh and died on October 12 nearly half a century ago. The other came from Sitabdiara, a riverine island between the Ganga and the Ghaghra on the shifting margins between eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. He was born on October 11.

Both travelled West to study as young men during the first half of the twentieth century. Both turned to public life during the freedom movement under the Congress canopy. Both were protégés of Jawaharlal Nehru and occupied the socialist precincts in the party. Both rebelled in later years, turned critics of Nehru, and became rallying posts of anti-Congress politics.

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