2001, Archives, Indian Express, Journalism

Sudhir Mishra’s Serious Men: Watching this fine film reminded me of this story I had written in 2001. A real man – Tulsi – using his real son – Thathagat – as material for his outlandish experiments

For those that have seen Serious Men, and for those that have not: This is from the Indian Express Sunday Magazine of August 19, 2001

There is, somewhere, subterfuge stalking this story. Perhaps it has confiscated centerstage from the protagonist, perhaps it has run away with the story itself. For if this is meant to be the story of Tathagat Avatar Tulsi — at 12, the youngest postgraduate of the human race — there isn’t a story to tell. Tathagat never had a story of his own; it was always the story of Tulsi Narayan Prasad, progenitor and sole proprietor of what he calls the Tathagat Patent and what the world has called by various names at various times — whizkid, genius, aberration, fraud. Take Tulsi off the stage and Tathagat vaporizes from the plot, like a character whose role has been expunged. There is no Tathagat if there isn’t Tulsi, just as there isn’t a creature minus creator, or a puppet without puppeteer. That Tathagat story could be nothing but the story of strings with Tathagat attached. Or, shall we say, Tulsi wouldn’t allow it to be anything but that.

I go to meet Tathagat and I meet Tulsi. He is guardian, gatekeeper, regent. You talk to Tathagat  and Tulsi talks to you. You ask Tathagat questions about his work and Tulsi begins to answer them. “You see, he won’t answer all your questions because secrecy is the key to the work he is doing, don’t try to decode the secret because Tathagat will not tell you.” Tulsi is proxy and protector too. “I know more about Tathagat himself because I made him Tathagat much before he himself realized he was Tathagat. He is my programme, my product. Ask me.”

And before you have begun to wonder at the strangeness of the father’s choice of words for son, the product has responded to programming — Tathagat has slunk away like an admonished spaniel and installed himself beyond the forbidden boundary of the bedroom. Genius does not need to offer proof of genius by act of personal presence, not in the photocopy age, not when the Maker of Genius himself is notary to those photocopies. He has kilos and kilos of them, catalogued in the chaos of mouldy newspapers — certificates, degrees, marksheets, testimonials, what not. He is happy to pull them out of his pygmy steel almirah, from among uncertain texts on tantra and astronomy and Kamasutra and scatter them like confetti of self-congratulation. Tathagat is only incidental to Tulsi; and, in any case, he is currently engaged — being spoon-fed rancid kheer by his mother. The essence is here, spread out around me, a paper trail of the making of Tathagat and the glazed enchantment in the eyes of his Maker. Imagine Rumpelstiltskin on the morning after the miller’s daughter’s night of labours. “Do you know it took me almost 20 years to make Tathagat? But I made him and the proof is before you. Can you deny all this? Can anyone?”

Continue reading “Sudhir Mishra’s Serious Men: Watching this fine film reminded me of this story I had written in 2001. A real man – Tulsi – using his real son – Thathagat – as material for his outlandish experiments”
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.

2015, Bihar 2020, Book Excerpts, The Brothers Bihari

I often get collared for criticising Bihar, but I do that only because of my investment in Bihar and Biharis

Or, why the “Naya Bihar” story still awaits the courtesies of its people

Excerpt Three from The Brothers Bihari in the run-up to Elections 2020

Someday soon these men will slip out of these pages and become greater or lesser. There are no last words on lives; they end in ellipses, often suffixed with a question mark. The protagonists of this volume are a work in progress; when the last word has been written, a trail would already have leapt off it. There will be more to tell. Part of the charm and challenge of this pursuit has been the chase itself.

Laloo and Nitish together make a seamless continuum of the narrative of contemporary Bihar. Two of its great sons, who embossed the state with their imprint on either side of the millennium. One made a story of hope wantonly betrayed, the other ventured its unlikely kindling in the mire of collective cynicism and resignation. They make a strange diptych, Laloo and Nitish, a fracture of the same bone, separated by radical contrasts yet locked on the hinges by an uneasy sameness. For far too many reasons, understanding Laloo is critical to understanding Nitish, and very often the opposite is equally true. One significant change they have together wrought on Bihar is that, like in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh, upper-caste dominance of politics has become a thing of the past. In the twenty-five years since Laloo came to power in 1990, the transfer of power hegemony from the minority upper castes to backward and Dalit representatives has become complete; that process is in irreversible stability.

When I wrote The Making of Laloo Yadav: The Unmaking of Bihar in 2000, Nitish Kumar was barely necessary to the narrative; he made sundry appearances, very often roaming the footnotes. By the time the book was revised and reincarnated in 2006 as Subaltern Saheb: Bihar and the Making of Laloo Yadav, Nitish occupied the better part of two new chapters. In 2006, Laloo was gone, swept aside by a dam-burst of unfulfilled aspirations; Nitish had begun to step ahead, squeezing Laloo out to the footnotes of the new Bihar story.

But should we call it that yet—The New Bihar Story? A part of me hesitates. A part of me celebrates. I am attached to the Bihar story because I was born a Bihari and proudly remain one. I am part of the ineffable construct of what it must mean to be Bihari. I can begin to exult in small things—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. But the cheer always comes stained with concern. How far will the new road penetrate into the dark and flung corners of Bihar? How durable is any of this?

Continue reading “I often get collared for criticising Bihar, but I do that only because of my investment in Bihar and Biharis”
2015, Bihar 2020, Journalism, Patna, Telegraph Calcutta

Bihar2020 from Bihar2015: The Artful Dodger called Mukesh Sahni

When I first met him, this young man had merely dipped a toe into electoral waters. It appears he liked what he sensed and had the resources to indulge his fancies. Here’s Sahni, “Son of Mallah”, who now heads Bihar’s VIP, and has extracted 11 assembly seats from the BJP. A throwback piece from the 2015 campaign.

This is the story of the negotiator of this election. He belongs to no political party, has zero political lineage and next to no grooming in rough and tumble. But he has bargained artfully with Bihar’s big adversaries – the NDA and the Mahagathbandhan – switched loyalties with aplomb and extracted more purchase and notice than might be expected of a 34-year-old Bollywood set decorator.

Mukesh Sahni, “Son of Mallah”

Meet Mukesh Sahni, also known as “Son of Mallah”, consummate “apolitical” politicker, a man pursued alike by Nitish Kumar and Amit Shah, a man who shuttled tantalisingly between both before agreeing to be seduced by the latter. “I am no politician,” he says, “All I had were votes, I went for the one who gave me and my community the better deal. Did I do any wrong?” Money? And how much? “None,” he counters, “Not a pie, I am not for sale, I am here to secure the best for my Mallah (boatmen) brothers. I have made money, and I am aware what happens once you’ve sold yourself.”

Continue reading “Bihar2020 from Bihar2015: The Artful Dodger called Mukesh Sahni”