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”
2015, Book Excerpts, The Brothers Bihari

Patna: Return to Good Riddance

The second excerpt from The Brothers Bihari in the run-up to elections in Bihar. This one on my beloved hometown, and a few other things new visitors to Patna might want to keep in mind and see for themselves.

Patna is not a nice place to be. I was born in Patna, it’s where I came to formative consciousness. While my father waited upon my birth in the corridors of Patna Medical College and Hospital (PMCH), material for a series of reports on the state of healthcare in Bihar’s premier hospital gathered around him. They were published in Indian Nation, the most read local daily of the day. One of his reports was written around the photograph of a dog scurrying away from the maternity ward of PMCH with an umbilical chord in its jaws. Many years later, when I was researching my book on Laloo Yadav’s Bihar, I saw stray cows pulling sheets off comatose patients on rusted gurneys.

About the first story I reported from Bihar was about a man called Bir Bahadur Singh. He was an independent MLA from Bhojpur in central Bihar, a big fellow with a straggly beard and moustache-ends that sat like coiled centipedes on his cheeks. He wore colourful bandannas and dark glasses and loved having pictures taken with his guns and his private guards. He would look into the lens as if the first thing he intended after the picture was taken was to shoot the photographer. One late evening Bir Bahadur Singh walked into a four-star hotel in central Patna with a band of roughs. They had brought along a goat which Bir Bahadur’s sidekicks proceeded to slaughter in a corner of the lobby. The party lounged while the goat cooked in the hotel kitchen; they had scared the lobby empty, it was theirs while they wanted it. They feasted, and a few hours later, they rolled out in an acid-cloud of burps. That is what my early story was about. Patna is an education; it still is.

Continue reading “Patna: Return to Good Riddance”
2013, Essay, New Delhi, Telegraph Calcutta

2012: The Big Crossover Bid–From Rishi to Raja

Jan 1, 2012: The hubbub of political power in India, or its predecessor entities, has seldom existed unaccompanied by the corrective — and often contrary — decibel of the moral voice. Rajas had their rishis, the sultans their sufis, even the merchant-kings of Europe came informed by more than just the motive of profit; they had the Church and contentious burdens of the White Man.

Kejriwal: Rishi? Raja?
Kejriwal: Rishi? Raja?

Elected Prime Ministers have civil society. Under the current one, the moral voice is an entity called the National Advisory Council, institutionalised under the tutelage of Sonia Gandhi, dowager-regent of the UPA. It could well be that such co-option of civil society created a counterblast whose implications we are probably yet to fully understand.

When the Anna Hazare-Arvind Kejriwal duo raised their standard of reform two years ago they grabbed the nation’s eyeballs and the Establishment’s neck. It was a stir that led many — from callow idealists to disruptive town criers — to mistake it as India’s Tahrir Square, a burgeoning bivouac that would close siege on the institutions of state and eventually impose on them a new Magna Carta of “people’s power” whose central edict would be the “Jan Lokpal”. Continue reading “2012: The Big Crossover Bid–From Rishi to Raja”