2018, Column, LazyEye, Telegraph Calcutta

Outsiders on the inside of the Hill

There is the CapitolHill and then there is the CapitalHill. Similar men look down the two hills, men who seem to get along like a house on fire, as they say, and since they came to assume their respective positions of vantage, they’ve caused enough fire around them, not that they mind. You get the drift, though you should be careful about keeping that drift away from fire’s way. We are talking about TheTossOfAllThings and TheBossOfAllThings, both brassy Outsider-Insiders upending their respective hills, alpha males both, one Genghis, the other Khan, although neither would take kindly to being called either name. They make that clear, unpretty clear – names, or any other thing, from that stable are unacceptable, anathema.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And so it is that they have softer, more likeable monikers – BlondieDuck and BeardieLuck, so called because he once bragged to an assembly of poll-bound people that all the luck was on his side. It came to happen that all the votes that election gathered up on the opposite end. But BeardieLuck remains a lucky man. The jury is out on how long it will take to run out on him. We are a democracy and democracies are fickle systems, picky, choosy, re-electy, rejecty. Unreasonable. Capricious. Wise men are aware of that sort of thing, or (psst) they should be for their own good. BeardieLuck knows because nobody can disagree that for all his numerous frailties, he is a wise man. He was just treated to a close shave at home. He got away pretending he’d only got himself a cut he’d desired, close-shaven, almost too close to the skin. Luck stayed, it trimmed him but it spared him any bloodshed. He’s safe on top of CapitalHill.

Continue reading “Outsiders on the inside of the Hill”

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2018, Bihar, Column, Telegraph Calcutta

Laloo Yadav, Burnished and Tarnished

The thing about Lalu Prasad is that he is a man of more parts than most others on display possess. One of those parts has been convicted and may well be ordered to prison, the part that got greedy and fell to fodder felony. Some of the other parts remain more happily located – as preponderant colour on the floor of the Bihar assembly; as irreplaceable boss of the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the state’s largest single banker of votes; as essential exhibit in the gallery of the most compelling and durable of our public entities. Nobody is taking Lalu out of there in a long time; popular imagination is a sovereignty membered by the unlikeliest heroes.

Bihar has never been at a loss for those who set out to make something of it. In the narrow firmament of Bihar’s consciousness, they make a clotted constellation of visionaries and builders, reformists and revolutionaries, samaritans and messiahs. Sri Krishna Sinha, Anugrah Narain Singh, Krishna Ballabh Sahay. Jayaprakash Narayan and Karpoori Thakur. Ram Lakhan Singh Yadav and Jagannath Mishra. They have either been forgotten, some mercifully, or live on in dust-ridden memorial halls and annually enacted rent-a-crowd commemorations. Or survive as disregarded busts routinely s**t upon by birds in chaotic town squares. For all the retrospective repute they have come to acquire, the gifts of Bihar’s league of legends don’t add up to much.

Eighty per cent of Biharis still have no access to toilets, partly also because those meant to be making those toilets have been busier making money over them. What passes in the name of education is nothing short of scandalous; Bihar’s premier university cannot fill out basic criteria for an upgrade. Its most reputed medical facilities often lack for rudiments – a saline drip, a sterilized bandage, a functional X-ray device, an urgently required LSD. No more than 20 and few decimal per cent receive regular electricity at home. A mere seven per cent live in concrete homes. Sixty five per cent possess mobile phones. That is how lopsided Bihar’s lurch towards development has been. You could be talking about Haiti where, in 2012, only ten per cent had bank accounts and 80 per cent used hand-held telephones.

For the last quarter of a century, Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar have presided over those spoils, briefly in league but for the better part at loggerheads. Bihar is still out adorned in its badge of deficits, brandishing that begging bowl for special category status. Nobody has bothered looking in the direction of that bowl. Meantime, careers have flourished and reputations built, foundation stone by derelict foundation stone. Some years ago, the state government sponsored a listing of Bihar’s leading lights and luminaries, such as they are. Bihar Vibhuti, the compendium was christened, and last heard, it had run into two volumes, each thick as a brick. There is fair evidence to suggest that the collective achievement of Bihar’s countless vibhutis has been that they came to drop; Bihar is a bonfire of those vanities.

Continue reading “Laloo Yadav, Burnished and Tarnished”

2017, Column, LazyEye, Telegraph Calcutta

A General, and retired? Hoynaki?

Old soldiers, it says in the Oxford Book of Idioms, or wherever else you look them up, never die. It has come to our notice, amid the tolling of alarm bells for those who choose to timely hear them, that of late they’ve also developed a tendency to refuse to fade away. Didn’t you hear of that Jarnail sitting across the fence in neighbouring Bakistan? Have you not made yourself fully aware of the dire peril we are faced with? Do you not lend your ear (and any other or all of your body parts should the need arise) to the DeeaahLeeder? Has nobody told you it is your national duty to pay heed, homage, attention, respect, obeisance, cess, surcharge, income tax, entertainment tax, goods and services tax, and sundry tributes?

Jaago Mohan Pyaare, the wanton delinquencies of NothingHappened are over, banished, like the thousand rupee note, by imperious decree. Wake up and prostrate yourself to new requirements, conform, don’t question. Are you anti-national? Those hostile Jarnails from across have hatched a dark plot and chickens haven’t emerged from it. Pigeons have. They are being sent across in daring droves, surveillance cams stitched into their wings, their feet strapped with sensors, their beaks ferrying sinister missives. Pigeons that fly in from the west don’t take off with olive branches. They’re olive green, OG in military parlance. And now they’re overhead, in a macabre flap of wings. All it took that Jarnail was a forefinger jab on Facebook: Post! Danger got deployed all over us. And you thought he was retired, that Jairnail, feeding benign birds in his aviary? Just because Mahadeb wasn’t at his appointed station to confirm the peril to you over your morning tumbler of tea? HoyNaKi? (Which in other geographies would translate to either convey utter astonishment or the sense that what’s been posited is unacceptable.) You don’t believe the DeeaahLeeder? HoyNaKi?

Continue reading “A General, and retired? Hoynaki?”

2017, Column, LazyEye, Telegraph Calcutta

The new, incomplete Thesaurus of Vikas

Someone asked where is Vikas. Then someone replied Vikas has become the subject of a missing person report. Like Mahadeb. There’s more concern scudding about than just over Mahadeb. Are you listening, Mahadeb? You might be well advised to learn not everybody’s riveted on your absence, so if this disappearance is the collateral consequence of some attention deficit disorder you suffer from, end the charade. Come out of it. There are enough around your shack thirsting for tea, gaping morosely at shattered remains of the last bhaanrs you served out and which lie crushed so fully that they have begun to resemble the ego of a juggernaut that lost his jugger and had no option but to hold up the naut as prize. Meantime, the search for Vikas is on in earnest.

But it turns out that it’s a most malicious and malevolent canard that Vikas is missing, just the kind of spurious concoction that votaries of NothingHappened specialise in. Vikas is everywhere, perhaps you can’t see it, that’s your problem. You can’t see God, that cannot mean God isn’t there. God is everywhere. And so is Vikas.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You thought the naut was anything but the result of Vikas? Yes, the jugger was lost, but that was on account of the wicked conspiracies brokered between the forces of HAJistan and Bakistan by PappuPaasAaGaya and his lowly (also known as neech) agents. They were plotting in league with those retired Jarnails across the fence whose specialty it is to topple regimes. And it usually takes a conspiracy at the very least, which is what they had on the table that dark and secret dinner night. But that table has been turned and all has turned out well in the end. TheBossOfAllThings still wears the crown of naut and that is the gift of Vikas. Vikas has been the story since NothingHappened was banished.

Then notes were banished. DirtyMoney was banished. Cash vanished, and beggars bought POS tabs. The nation became the shape of a queue and began to trek towards Vikas, that many splendoured, omnipresent thing we have come to be blessed with. En route, we learnt many things about our real selves, and all of those were about Vikas.

For instance, if you wear a certain kind of headwear – just the kind that TheBossOfAllThings refuses to – you are likely to be mobbed, then possibly also lynched. Vikas. Or, in case you didn’t yet know, Ganesha was the construct of plastic surgery. Vikas. Maharana Pratap vanquished Jalaluddin Akbar at Haldighati, upon which Akbar retreated to Agra and tamely proceeded with the consolidation of the Mughal empire. Maharana Pratap, rooted ruler of the masses, celebrated his victory with chapatis made out of jungle grass. Vikas. The airbrushing of fraudulent history is a work in progress. We shall soon establish that the Taj Mahal is actually TejoMahal. Vikas. Meanwhile, the practice run on capturing domes (three were done in Ayodhya this month a quarter century ago) has resumed; a bhagwa was recently mounted atop a courthouse in Rajasthan. Vikas. We don’t need “their” votes. Vikas. We wear monogrammed pinstripes. Vikas. We change dresses every photo-op. Vikas. We have exchanged khadi for Fendi. Vikas. For the first time ever, an Indian hot air balloon rode piggy on a seaplane. Vikas. We have finally begun to openly deify the killer of the Mahatma. Vikas. We have acquired the capability to disguise MadeInChina as MakeInIndia. Vikas. We are going to run a bullet train so expensive its going to cost double the flight costs, but we can now afford it. Vikas. We have linked birth, death and everything in between to Aadhar. Vikas.

We will soon by law rob depositors of their life savings. Vikas.

We have the ability to shut and open Parliament as and when convenient. Vikas.

We have now achieved an Election Commission that listens and obeys. This happened briefly during NothingHappened as well, but now we have made victory of people’s will (which solely resides in TheBossOfAllThings) over such autonomies complete. Vikas. Actually, it is such a blessed thing TheMessiah finally arrived and revealed to us the truth about the derelictions of NothingHappened. That’s Vikas.

There’s one we missed out

In the long list of synonyms for Vikas

But we’ll sooner learn

It’s something that sounds like farce.

2017, Column, Telegraph Calcutta

No longer ashamed – Ayodhya at 25

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

December 6th, 2017: Down one of several stone-flagged lanes that toddle off Marienplatz, Munich town hall plaza, there still operates a rather prosperous enterprise called the Hofbrauhaus. It’s one of several kindred addresses around the area pledged to the central Bavarian celebration – the ooze and oomph of beer. They are all, each one of them, establishments of gregarious hubbub – voluptuous symphonies bound about their high-arched halls, beermaids shuffle about the tables with their jugfuls, decanting foaming oceans of the house brew. The floors tinkle, with glass and unrestrained merriment.

Hofbrauhaus is one of them and a little apart. It is patronized for more than just its beer and knucklewurst. Hofbrauhaus is where Adolf Hitler made his first address to the Nazi party in 1920. Through the flaming decades that followed, Hofbrauhaus remained a celebration of Nazi ways and values, and that’s partly what gets Hofbrauhaus its bloated clientele today. It’s a slice of Hitler. But a forbidden slice. You’ll find no trace of him or his creed. Nobody so much as whispers Adolf on the precincts, god forbid Hitler, or actually German law. Germany has institutionalized provisions called Volksverhetzung, or incitement of hatred, which prohibit all Nazi symbols, totems, hate speech, incitement, anything that is a reminder of Hitler. It’s a custom strictly adhered to in Germany.

It comes from the fear and the determination of no repetitions.

It comes from regret that’s yet unrelieved.

Most of all, it comes from a deep and collective sense of shame at the unspeakable horrors Germany and Germans once feistily brought upon. Nie Wieder, never again.

Regret can relieve wrongdoing; it implies admission of turpitude and, more pertinently, an undertaking of corrections and probably also a pledge of no repetitions.

In the 25 years since Ayodhya’s Babri Masjid was razed, our discourse has been hauled in the opposite direction – from shuddering shame to the discarding of that shame and the adoption of audacities that undermine the fundamental underpinnings of India and its Constitution.

Continue reading “No longer ashamed – Ayodhya at 25”

2017, Column, LazyEye, Telegraph Calcutta

Remember, dead men do tell tales

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is nothing as loud as the sound of wrongdoing being hushed. Nor anything as revelatory as a cover-up. The more covers you commission and deploy the bigger the body of evidence becomes. The harder you hush over something, the more you are heard. Don’t believe me? Come spend a while at Mahadeb’s, even though he’s still gone. It’s come to matter less and less that he isn’t there. His air is. It’s a place that all winds cross, and on their wings arrive intimations.

Someone died. Someone important. Someone sitting over an important matter – as important as possible murder. Then it began to dawn that he may not have died. He may have himself been murdered. Everybody’s talking about it at Mahadeb’s: Did you know? But didn’t you? But, hush, nobody’s naming names because UnmentionablePeople may be involved. UnmentionablePeople meaning mention them and, well, you don’t wish unmentionable things happening to you, do you? See how careful I am being. Learn. And please take due note, PuppyLove and NumberToo, I have not named any names. I am a careful character, clean as a barrel after bullets have been shot into intended places.

Continue reading “Remember, dead men do tell tales”

2017, Column, LazyEye, Telegraph Calcutta

Anything goes, everything is history

Mahadeb is not a historical character, at least not yet. Don’t assume his absence for permanence. He’s gone, but he isn’t history yet. One day, inevitably he will be, but that will be another day. Everything becomes history, even iPhones. A time will come when that time will be gone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Before you reach the end of this sentence, the beginning and middle of it has become history. Written, printed, read. Or even unread, which is the case most of the time. It’s gone, it’s the past. Other things have happened meantime, far too many other things. And they are being recounted as they become history, between coming to be and being dropped into that dreaded bin: history. Arguments, agreements, allegations, submissions, revolts, elections, coups, encounters, deaths, babies, babas, babes, bosses, confidences, endearments, difference, indifference, books, reviews, prizes, dialogue, dissertation, quakes, epidemics, eruptions, conquests, surrenders, uploads, downloads, virals, accidents, arrivals, departures, delays, detours, engagements, disengagements, ends, beginnings, tweets, retweets, shares, follows, unfollows, surprises, snow, drought, fog, smog, winter, summer, spring, rain, highs, lows, rapes, murders, rows, rapprochement, balls, banquets, problems, solutions, assignations, takeovers, policies, pronouncements, victories, defeats, entries, exits, secession, mergers, separations, fires, floods, food, festivals, funerals, order, anarchy, decay, renewal, wellness, illness, cigarettes, malts, memories, cheers, jeers, empires, estates, colonies, czars, kings, queens, princes, paupers, knaves, dominion, revolutions, writers, counter-revolutions, conformists, collaborators, isms, idols, painters, vanities, disputes, lore, loves, regimes, routines, calamities, appointments, disappointments, friendships, enmities, strikes, surgeries, claims, disclaimers, vacancies, insurrections, scoops, scandals, denials, disruptions, admissions, dismissals, depths, summits, celebration, mourning, waking, shitting, brushing, bathing, commuting, attending, earning, spending, dispensing, treating, maltreating, embraces, betrayals, election, referendum, selection, promotion, demotion, slaves, masters, wealth, penury, habitation, devastation, misery, bliss, benediction, prosperity, adversity, morals, mores, stations, platforms, offices, desks, designations, eminences, parties, politics, power, profit, loss, illusions, delusions, nightmares, dreams, deceptions, leaders, misleaders, rogues, ragamuffins, beauty, beasts, democrats, dictators, bigots, liberals, demagogues, debauches, delinquents, intellectuals, saints, spies, sinners, healers, charlatans, swindlers, patricians, plebians, minstrels, storytellers, sagas, chapters, closures, contents, malcontents, adventures, collisions, horrors, delights, cash, cards, ATMs, stocks, markets, sales, records, statements, petitions, affidavits, judgements, bills, cheques, receipts, journeys, places, peoples, valleys, hills, rivers, dales, meadows, floodplains, lakes, leaves, trees, timber, trunks, mines, coals, metals, topographies, tide, tempest, crop, harvest, glory, ignominy, conciliation, corruption, credits, dues, dereliction, devotion, cricket, music, laughter, tears, tragedy, comedy, bathos, pathos, families, secrets, revelations, grouses, forgiveness, desire, disdain, fondness, fealty, forgetting, remembrance, primetime, news, broken as it comes to us, bit by insistent bit, falling into that bin as more news breaks and falls. Everything becomes history. All of this is happening and passing all of the time. All of this turns to history. Even time, as it ticks upon itself and leaves time gone dripping, Daliesque.

So will Mahadeb be one day. History. He is, and therefore he won’t be. Am I overstating myself? I would think not. For even what’s not history is becoming history. As Jalaluddin Akbar’s defeat at the hands of Maharana Pratap at Haldighati. As Akbar’s rollicking love for a void called Jodha. Or the raging Khilji obsession with Padmini, neither princess nor Rajasthani nor Rajput, but the caprice of an inventive poet scribbling away at a fair remove in Jais, Rae Bareli, Uttar Pradesh. Malik Mohammed Jayasi was real enough, but he wrote unreal things. He was no historian. He’s only making history as we go along.

Who is she,
This Rashtramata,
And if she is she,
Then who art thou, O, Bharatmata?