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”
Bihar 2020, News, Telegraph Calcutta

Polls2020: The Method in Bihar’s Madness

Or, why the state’s election battlefield makes you wonder who’s fighting who

Those familiar with the serial adventures of Asterix of Gaul would perhaps best be able to visualise the emerging contours of battleground Bihar. Multiple armies converging upon each other in raucous streams with no cognition of ally and adversary, heft or hollowness, as if animated solely by the prospect of an anarchic enactment.

What looked like a humdrum contest between two alliances until last week has overnight been transformed into a shambolic melee that has so blurred the battle-lines that it is tough to tell who’s fighting who. Bihar is headed towards an onomatopoeic crescendo ringing with comic-grade sonics — Piff! Paff! Bong! Aaaargh!!

Raring mid-battlestrip is the exaggeration called Chirag Paswan, a political rookie handed reins of the LJP by his ailing father, the veteran Ram Vilas Paswan, who passed away in a Delhi hospital on Thursday evening. 

The young Paswan is clearly punching impossibly above his weight or his party’s. The LJP’s Assembly numbers have been steadily tumbling; from an all-time high of 29, they plummeted to two in the 243-member house in 2015. On such a match-box presence, Chirag has unveiled ambitions of erecting a mansion — the LJP will contest 143 seats, in abject violation of reason and of accepted coalition norms.

But to focus on Chirag’s implausible leap of political pretence — probably buoyed in some measure now by sympathy sentiment — is to lose sight of the launch pad that has shot him towards distances way beyond his horsepower. Chirag’s sudden voracity of appetite and his violations of NDA entente are a thing of the BJP’s encouragement.

Continue reading “Polls2020: The Method in Bihar’s Madness”
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.

Continue reading “Gandhi. JP. Lohia: Wolfed legacies and our necessary hypocrisies”