2013, Reportage, Telegraph Calcutta

For Bihar’s Muslims, A Double Whammy of Silence

Darbhanga, (North Bihar): The tea arrived quickly, with slices of lime and freshly fried savouries. Beyond that, there was nothing on offer on the bare patio of Nafees Haider’s home in Bisunpur. “Kaahe ko mushkil mein daalte hain?” (Why do you want us in trouble?)

Reclined in a charpoy in a near corner, Haider’s wizened uncle, Khudabaksh, spoke into the silence, but only to buttress it. “Aap to sab samajhte honge, hum kuchh bhi bolenge ulta pad jaayega, dil ki baat dil mein hi rehne dein. Hamari soch sab par zahir hai. Chai peejiye.” (I am sure you understand everything; anything we say we turn on us, let our thoughts remain in our hearts, everybody knows what our thinking is. Have your tea.” They wouldn’t talk, the wouldn’t have a picture taken. “Kaahe ko?” Why?

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The formalities of hosting done, Haider courteously escorted us up the slope from his hamlet to the road winding one way to Darbhanga, another to Patna. “Jo hoga chunav mein to pata chal hi jaayega,” he offered as parting shot; what’s to happen will be clear in the elections.

Continue reading “For Bihar’s Muslims, A Double Whammy of Silence”

2013, New Delhi, News, Telegraph Calcutta

At Jallianwala, Sorry Fades from the English Dictionary

OR, A BRIEF INVENTORY OF CONTEMPORARY APOLOGY

British Prime Minister David Cameron has joined a sparse line of compatriot eminences to hang their heads at the ringside of a most ignoble theatre of Empire but return without shaking it in regret.

Over nearly a century now, British protagonists have approached the 1919 massacre ground of Jallianwala Bagh thumbing the thesaurus for an appropriate word to pick. Sorry has not been among them.

The feisty imperialist and then Secretary of War, Winston Churchill, described Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer’s shoot orders on the unarmed Baisakhi-day gathering as a “monstrous event”. His disapproval seemed to stem not so much from the hundreds dead and injured as from his considered view that the slaughter did not represent “the British way of doing business.”

Around the time Churchill made his annotation on that disgraceful chapter of British dominion over India, Dyer, though relieved of charge, was being feted as a hero on his home island; among the tributes he was showered with was a 26,000 pound sterling purse. Fifty of those crowns had come from Rudyard Kipling, who called Dyer “the man who saved India” and initiated collections for his homecoming prize.

Continue reading “At Jallianwala, Sorry Fades from the English Dictionary”

2000, Essay, Guns and Yellow Roses, Kargil

Kargil: One Side of a Bleeding Fence

A fragment from a long essay on the Kargil War: Part 3. The essay, Guns and Yellow Roses, was published in an eponymous collection on the Kargil War by HarperCollins India in 1999

Among some of the friendliest creatures on the Kargil frontier
Among some of the friendliest creatures on the Kargil frontier

Kargil: For most of us, Kargil was the biggest story we had been on. It didn’t take the daily whoops of the youthful Gaurav Sawant of The Indian Express — “Guys, guys I’m so thrilled it’s my thirty-third front page byline in a row, I have never had it so good” — to make us realise this. War hadn’t ever happened between two nuclear powers. And this war had happened to everybody — the army and the media — quite suddenly, without chance for preparation. Initially, and fortuitously for some of us, the army was too busy getting its act together to bother about the media. They tried to impose restrictions for a while but realised they would be better served by organized media exposure. Kargil became the most freely reported war — and the first televised — on the subcontinent. Continue reading “Kargil: One Side of a Bleeding Fence”