Why I am not Charlie

Originally posted on a paper bird:
There is no “but” about what happened at Charlie Hebdo yesterday. Some people published some cartoons, and some other people killed them for it.  Words and pictures can be beautiful or vile, pleasing or enraging, inspiring or offensive;…

Time

Tonight, the moon shines
Just like a decade ago
With a little fire, glowing yellow
Setting memories aglow.

At my bedside, a lamp comes alive
After long; golden lines slanting
At a familiar, pleasing angle
Gazing upon these words, knowingly.

Dusted and brimming, nostalgia
Arrives — moments beam up
Floating slowly through this
Tropical air — and it is a moment, pregnant.

This rain, enthusiastic, torrential,
Seeped with the spirit of another time,
Awakens a longing, tugs at my heart,
Turns my soul on.

So much the same, so fleeting
It remains. This night must
Not leave. For as dawn encroaches,
I’ll be lost, my past vacant, yet again.

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The diaries

Last weekend, I spent an entire night going through my diaries. There are – were – six of them. I started writing diaries when i was in class 7. It was a habit i picked up from, of all people in the world, Betty Cooper. The first was a tiny little thing, with an astronaut on the cover, and a lock to keep my secrets safe from prying eyes. That night, when i was trying to get to the bottom of my chronicle-life-down-to-every-second urge, i realised i had lost the key to this one. At least this much was certain – no one of consequence was ever going to see what i had to say for my days when i was 13. It was a relief to know that only strangers would be in on this joke.
The following five were those official diaries, the kind you get as new year’s gifts from MNCs, with the year embossed in gold on leather bound covers, and the first 20 odd pages telling you all about the company. The pages are dated – and i stuck to writing in these chronologically, also attempting an exercise in brevity.
These were, in effect, my heart and soul. Or whatever i’d thought was closest to my heart and soul during my adolescence.
Mostly, this revolved around crushes, love, the beginnings of sexual adventures, friendships, heartbreak, proposals and propositions, frustrations with family, a lot of ‘nobody understands me’, ‘what is wrong with me’, other people’s misadventures… Honestly, the most inane, humdrum, everyday things that are of any significance only in the moments they are lived in.
I’d figured that if i keep it up – and i did for a whole 12 years before i finally gave up – i’ll eventually chance upon the meaning of life. I thought chronicling these boring truths, these lived realities, might some day give me an answer to those many existential questions that only multiply, never deplete, as we grow up. I even thought there might be material for a novel, a modern-day treatise on how we women of the 21st century live.
I found none of this – or if i did, it was too little to make for anything substantial. Now, it read like a little girl’s anxieties about the world she was born into, whining about this, that or the other. It sounded like a girl with attention problems. Like someone without friends to share things with.
Yet, i’d allowed 2 people in this whole wide world to read and write in it. Neither of them understood me despite this privilege.
There were others, including a couple of mothers, who read it too. They didn’t understand either. One went on to ruin a relationship i’d wanted to be in since i was 5. The other was my mother – and in this case, what she read was like acid on our relationship. It corroded its way down, and it took us a good six years to regain our trust in each other. The scars still show.
Eventually, i stopped writing diaries because what should have been chronicles and confessionals had become evidence against me. This wasn’t exactly the diaries’ fault – it was mine, for leaving them around casually. It was my world’s, for not allowing me my privacy, my secrets. What harm did i do to you if i got a little poetic about a kiss in the car on a rainy, romantic day?
It turned out to be a costly hobby. Did i figure out why i felt this urge to write my life down? Perhaps it was because i’m essentially a loner. An introvert. Shy. Unable to talk with people face to face. Perhaps it was because i felt no one was interested in what i had to say to them. Maybe it was because i’d felt this ordinary life was worth a few pages, that i should be allowed to write my own history.
Whatever the reason was, i did it. Sincerely. Stuck to it, kept going back to it, revisiting it. I’d stick roses in between those pages – and i had a lot of them. Now, they were charred, eaten through by the space and time around them. They were dead, not just dry – much like the pages they lay pressed against. Here was the graveyard of the life i’d lived so far – and i was haunted by it.
So, one by one, i ripped out the pages, tore them into tiny pieces, packed them off to the garbage dump in a giant plastic bag. All except the last one – the latest. The first entry in which is on January 1, 2007. And last, a mere 20 pages later, dated a few months ago. Seven years on one diary. Here i hesitate, but i can’t completely wean myself away from it.
I know i’ll never give up introspection – no matter how silly it might be. But i am wiser – i will never be candid like i once was. And it is the diaries i have to thank for this, and many other, wisdoms.

Origami

On my body, you will find

The lines you’re looking for. These creases

are just old enough – for the lines

To not become borders. impenetrable.

Impregnable. Trace your fingers across

My solar plexus, and you will

Find

 

[Pigeons soar alongside, I see them

Racing to stay in my line of vision

As we hurtle on, epiphanies within

Sight. They throw themselves

At me only to hit duplicitous glass. Now,

The light turns liquid and flows down

The cracks they leave behind.]

 

                                       The light

Of a million galaxies trickling down.

If you listen closely, there’s bird song

Too. You will bend me, and I will

Comply. Rehearsed; this routine isn’t

A lie. But it isn’t the truth either.

 

There are only questions in these folds.

 

These folds that are grey with age.

 

This is an age unwilling to bend.

But around the bend, lies the answer.  

Static

The drum stick ricochets off skin

Like the flutter of wasp wings.

They dance – thrust, throw, shove, grind –

Frenzied, hurried. Dirty

They’re pigeons in heat.

The tiny hair on their cheeks has risen.

Accidents happen – gaze, chests, bottoms, lips.

Around them, within them, their own blood

Turns to sweat. The air turns musky;

Their voices, husky. Zoom in, out of focus.

There’s nothing but the sound of them

Breathing. Nothing; but them. 

Small town life isn’t always as idyllic (read boring) as it seems

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(This is partly a review of Ruskin Bond’s new book Tales of Fosterganj (Aleph), and partly a trip down nostalgia, reliving my time at Landour, a small hamlet in the hills of Uttarakhand and, more importantly, Bond’s place of residence.)

Landour, the home of writer Ruskin Bond, is decidedly a sleepy little hamlet. If you travel far enough up the cantankerous Mall Road of Mussourie, you will reach a narrow, winding little street, along which sit four tiny shops selling everything from shampoo sachets and tooth-brushes to excellent waffles,aloo paranthas and vanilla shakes.

If you sit here for a couple of hours, you will eventually sample their best teas and coffees, have meandering conversations with residents of the town, and even be offered lessons in Hindi by a Caucasian woman from one of the Scandinavian countries. Sundays see perhaps the most amount of excitement, as almost the entire population, numbering a few hundreds, turns out for Mass at St. Paul’s cathedral next door.

If you go beyond a two- kilometre radius from this point, there is nothing but wind-washed pine trees, long winding roads, panoramic views and a deep peaceful silence to keep you company. Landour is just the kind of place you’d want for a quiet vacation, where nothing really ever seems to happen.

The Fosterganj of Bond’s latest novel is deeply resonant of his chosen homestead. “Straddling a spur of the Mussourie range, as it dips into the Doon valley, Fosterganj came into existence some two hundred years ago and was almost immediately forgotten…a cluster of modest cottages, a straggling little bazaar, a post office, a crumbling castle, a mountain stream at the bottom of the hill, a winding footpath that took you either uphill or down…It reminded me a little of an English village, and indeed that was what it had once been; a tiny settlement on the outskirts of the larger hill station. But the British had long since gone, and the residents were now a fairly mixed lot, as we shall see,” begins our protagonist, a writer in search of a quiet corner and some recluse from the bustle of the big city.

Charmed by the apparent stillness of Fosterganj, he rents a room above the resident baker’s shop-cum-home; and makes friends with several very interesting oddballs rolling about town: Foster, the impoverished “landowner” and mendicant, the namesake of the town, who spends his time gardening, thinking up elaborate schemes to make some money that he will then spend on his daily ration of cheap whisky; Hassan the baker, the silent, wise watcher with a brutal history and whose 11 children are a constant source of amusement for our protagonist; Vishaal, the diligent banker and accountant rolled into one, taking care of everyone’s financial matters; and Sunil, the local thief who tries to turn over a new leaf by catching lizards for a man who makes saande-ka-tel that promises to make the user’s sex life a whole lot better.

What follows are adventures of all kinds — from serious threats like a spate of rabies and man-eating leopards, to a silly scramble for lizards all over the hillside — that constantly defeat the writer’s claim that nothing ever happens in Fosterganj. Among all the stories that he becomes a part of, the one about the ramshackle castle lost in the woods stands out, even in his own experience. Occupied by a strange mother-son duo that claims to be relatives of the royal family, the place is deliciously haunted, replete with ominous crows on windowsills and skeletons inside the king’s bed.

The story of Fosterganj, then, is the story of the people that inhabit it. Building narratives around a space is a fairly popular trope — the stories in R.K. Narayan’s Malgudi Days reveal this fictional village in south India through the eyes of a group of schoolboys; Elizabeth Strout’s Pulitzer-winning Olive Kitteridge does the same for the coastal town of Crosby, Maine, through the complicated but unconnected stories of the brash junior high school maths teacher. Sherwood Anderson’s 1919 classic Winesburg, Ohio is the story of this town told by George Willard, who spends his childhood and young adulthood in the small town; Siddharth Chowdhury’s Patna Roughcut brought the capital of Bihar to life, lending it a degree of exoticism, when seen through the eyes of Ritwik Ray, the reporter who has returned to his hometown fresh after completing his master’s degree in Delhi. The charms of life in a small town, where everyone knows everyone else, are considerable; the matrix this creates becomes the sustaining force for the space. That is the essence of this genre.

As is often the case with Ruskin Bond novels, a lot of which revolve around the first-person narratives of a writer-journalist type (characters you’d suspect of having a strong likeness with the author himself), it is his own experiences in the Doon valley, in Shimla and Delhi, enhanced for your reading pleasure by Bond’s rich imagination and signature easy style of prose, that populate his latest work of fiction too. Fosterganj is effectively Landour, but perhaps a looking glass version of it — a little inverted, and therefore so much more entertaining. Time may not run backwards here, as in C.S. Lewis’ sequel to Alice in Wonderland, but this certainly is an alternative world, one which Bond inhabits as completely as his quaint hometown.

The master raconteur takes his final blow in style

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Khushwant Singh in younger days

(This is my review of journalist and author Khushwant Singh’s (arguably) last book The Good, The Bad and The Ridiculous, published in The Sunday Guardian a while ago. A delightful, pacy read, this book is for keeps.)

Among the commandments for writing good profiles, as taught to us throughout journalism school and careers, is ‘show the good, the bad and the ugly’. This basically means that someone attempting to condense a person’s life or deeds into an essay, you must be objective; show your subject as they are, not as they might want to be seen. The best profiles or biographies, certainly, are the ones that are unabashedly honest, laying criticism and/or credit where it is due. To be honest, then, requires courage, and is seen as essential to being a good journalist and a credible writer. Khushwant Singh has known this for the larger part of his long and illustrious career as both.

In the introduction to his latest book The Good, The Bad and the Ridiculous, he writes: “I have met a good number of this subcontinent’s most famous (or infamous) and interesting people. I have also suffered famous bores, and sometimes been rewarded with behavior so ridiculous that it becomes compelling…. A lot of what I have observed or found out is not flattering, but I have never held back from making all of it public in my columns and books. If what is good about a person can be written about, why not the bad? I don’t do this out of malice, only out of my firm belief in being truthful.”

Having lived for almost a century, Singh is well-placed to comment and opine on, and chronicle the life and times of the people who have shaped, or at least lived fairly public lives in, the subcontinent. He has also seen this part of the world change dramatically, from the time of British Raj to Independence to the rise of the ideological right-wing in India to the present era of globalization and liberalization. And he has kept a diary, “an extremely useful habit”, as he calls it.

In a sense, Singh fits the ‘been there, done that’ bill perfectly. One only needs to go through the 35-strong list of names he has written on in this book to see how, as editor of some of the country’s most notable newspapers (such as The Illustrated Weekly of India and The Hindustan Times), he has come into close contact with figures as powerful as Mahatma Gandhi, as revered as Faiz Ahmed Faiz or as celebrated as Protima Bedi.

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The book cover

Of these 35 profiles, some are scathing, others admiring, still others are a smooth blend of both – but they are never conjecture. Instead, they are a (reliable) peek into the private lives of the rich and the famous, of political honchos and celebrities from the worlds of cinema and literature – and he never deters from that other commandment of profile writing: Know thy subject well. He talks of film director Chetan Anand’s sexual promiscuity in the same breath as of poet and fellow-journalist Dom Moraes’ Anglo-Indian arrogance. He recounts a drunken, humiliating episode with actress Begum Para as vividly as he remembers the blackheads on Amrita Shergill’s nose.

He also retells, in chilling detail, his encounters with Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, the man who held the entire nation hostage from his ‘holy’ seat in the Golden Temple; a confrontation with Indira Gandhi where he pleaded for the release of Bangladeshi prisoners of war, where she admonished him for trying to lecture her on morality, followed by another encounter where she met him warmly at a party; and a summons by Jawaharlal Nehru in London while he (Singh) was PRO for the Indian embassy, after his affair with Lady Mountbatten had become public.

Singh talks about people who have entire books, films, even institutions dedicated to unearthing every tiny detail of their lives – such is the hold they have over public imagination. His profiles, then, become more like excerpts, snippets from entire lifetimes, the aankhon-dekhi that only he can elucidate upon. In that sense, The Good, The Bad and The Ridiculous can also be read as an autobiography of sorts, for it also gives us a peek into the mind and heart of Khushwant Singh.

For instance, we learn of his sympathies for ex-defence minister George Fernandes and ex-President Giani Zail Singh, his deep admiration for social workers Mother Teresa and Bhagat Puran Singh; his attempts to trace the roots of Phoolan Devi’s criminal career tell us of his ability to look beyond the given picture; and those to revisit his blind faith in Sanjay Gandhi, unapologetically stating that “he was loyal, and so was I”, show us a man of conviction, but equally open to criticism; and his piece on L.K. Advani is a veiled apology for supporting the man who triggered this wave of ideological polarization – something that he regrets not writing about more, as he has stated in past interviews.

During the launch of the book at the Khushwant Singh Literary Festival in Kasauli, Himachal Pradesh, earlier this year, his son Rahul Singh announced that this may well be his last book, citing health reasons for his retirement. For this reason alone, The Good, The Bad and The Ridiculous demands a read – to see the world, one last time, through the hawkish eyes of this doyen of Indian journalism. As for the generous sprinkling of gossip and scandal throughout – which is delicious to read, nevertheless – an old man can be allowed his indulgence, once in a while.

Suspended on Beliefs: Riding the faith cycle in Madhya Pradesh

(This. Because I’m on a nostalgia trip. Also because I’m wanting to run away from Big City right now. But mostly because this is one of the most memorable trips of a lifetime.)

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Our little boat is silently making its way across the river Narmada. The only sounds audible are of geese squawking farewell to each other in the distance, the melodic strains of the oar splicing through the water, and the rapid clicking of a camera — it is a beautiful clear sunset in the tiny town of Maheshwar, the kind that occurs the day after torrential rain. Our destination is the 200-year-old Baneshwar temple situated in the middle of the river, one that the more modern motorboats only circle around for the benefit of tourists. “Once we get there, take your time, take as many pictures as you want, there’s no hurry,” says Kaluram, our wizened 60-year-old oarsman.

He has an ulterior motive — while we do a quick round of the temple and dismiss it as just another one of Madhya Pradesh’s countless shrines, he shrugs off his holey rubber chappals, does swift ablutions in the river and gets on with lighting diyas, offering flowers, perambulating the temple with folded hands and eyes devoutly shut. Sheepishly, we look the other way, perhaps not wanting to invade his privacy. Once he’s done, Kaluram crouches on the steps of the temple, lights a beedi and proceeds to give us a brief history of the place.

“Every year, there’s a flood in this river — banks, houses, trees are all washed away. When the tide ebbs, this little shrine is the only thing still standing. We think of it as a miracle — which is why I come here to pray every day,” he explains. From our vantage point in the dimming light, Ahilya Bai Holkar’s massive fort looks dwarfed in the distance. Under a starry, moonless sky, we quietly make our way back to the ghat, now thronged by people sending off little betel leaf boats loaded with flowers and incense sticks into the river.

Maheshwar is a small town, quite off the beaten track, that thrives on a special kind of textile crafted here and because of adventurous tourists, mostly foreigners. Ahilya Bai Holkar, after being appointed ruler of Malwa in 1767, set up her capital here. Inside the fort, one of the few living ones in the country is a little house with a blooming angan where she used to live.

This space is now a museum stocked with her sparse belongings, countless portraits, posters and canvasses printed with poetry in praise of her piety, simple beauty and valour. Inside the fort are also countless shivlings, a school for girls, a Maheshwari cloth workshop run by old, widowed women and the poshest restaurant in town.

The people of the town seem to follow Ahilya Bai’s example dedicatedly — their visits to the smooth sandstone riverside are a daily ritual, says Kaluram. Not only does this serve as a release from the humdrum of everyday life, but it also acts as a binding force, instilling a sense of community. This spirit is quite in contrast with nearby Mandu, a more popular destination thanks to some wonderful historic architecture marvels, but which we are repeatedly warned away from due to brewing communal tensions. The issue at hand was a Hindu opposition to the Muslims offering namaaz at the local Bhojshala temple, a tradition that has continued for ages.

We’ve arrived here after a week of haphazard travelling — having hopped onto a train to Jhansi from Delhi, we headed to Khajuraho, “the land of the Kama Sutra”, as an American girl on the train put it. Khajuraho is, of course, particularly popular with the foreign tourists because it is a window to India’s heritage that celebrates all that is carnal. We cycle around the tiny cosmopolitan village that has cropped up between the eastern and western temples, populated with little hotels and restaurants serving a global menu. The temples themselves are beautiful — cut in sandstone, with statues depicting sexual positions studding the tall structures. Even the Jain temples to the west, known to be a tribute to sacrifice and abstinence, are designed thus, inspiring a sense of awe for those who are acquainted with the ways of the Hindu religion.

Pachmarhi, the Deccan’s only hill-station, is known to be an important destination on the Shaivite pilgrim’s map. Deep in the Satpura jungles is a cave, popularly known as Jatashankar, where you descend into a wet crevasse to discover a small shrine to the lord of destruction, guarded by tridents and a stalactite that looks like the hood of a cobra snake. An old woman wrapped in blue plastic sits on a rock and sings bhajans in a startlingly clear voice. When we compliment her, she gives us a toothy grin and demands I take a picture of her. Calling herself shankarji ki bhaktan, she says, “I’ve been here since I was a little girl — never married, no kids. He is my lord, my soul. I sing for his pleasure.”

Near the cantonment is the town Church, among the few survivors of the British contribution to this town. From a distance, it looks enticingly haunted, half-obscured by tall poplars, and we can catch glimpses of pretty stained-glass windows. But a woman selling cigarettes in front of the church intercepts us and, after some discomfiting questions (“Where are you going? Are you Christian? Catholic?”), tell us that tourists aren’t allowed in anymore. We find out much later that her tale of a mob coming and vandalising the church, post which it was only open on Sundays for mass, is a complete hogwash and just a ploy to earn some extra money on the side.

Our sojourn into the heart of India was not meant to be a religious one, but it seems that in Madhya Pradesh, faith just happens to be the driving force for pretty much everything. We leave Maheshwar with a heavy heart — our agnostic souls found peace sitting on the steps of the fort, as we watched breathtaking sunsets in silence. On the bus to Indore, the closest stop for a railway connection, we meet a maulavi dressed in a black achkan and white pyjamas, his silver beard flecked with red. We offer him our breakfast — delicious sweet and spicy poha wrapped in newspaper, for the princely sum of Rs. 5 — at which he smiles and begins talking about politics, religion and education, exalting the virtues of the Mahabharata, the Bhagvad Gita and the Quran in a single breath.

As we get closer to the highway, we spot a poster by a local political party, calling for an end to namaaz in the Bhojshala temple and sporting one of the ‘sexy’ figurines from Khajuraho. While we’re busy guffawing at this, our new friend finds this violation of amity atrocious. “What is the point of religion if all it makes you want to do is force your ideas upon others?” he demands, his voice quavering. “I teach my pupils all the holy texts — and the only way to find true faith is to sieve the good out of these, because, I must warn you, they aren’t without flaws,” he asserts. It was ironical — he used the very factors that drive us ‘secular’ city folk into disclaiming religion to inspire a pluralist sensibility. But then again, in this land of convergence, such a manifestation of faith can hardly be surprising.

Uzuri: The goodness of the wild on your plate, Masterchef style

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The terrace at Uzuri

South African chef Guy Clarke finished 11th on Masterchef South Africa’s last season. He was rather popular on the show—mostly because he is cute as a button. Now, he is set to have the folks of Delhi eating out of his hands at Uzuri, the new restaurant in town that he has crafted the menu for, in collaboration with Michelin starred chef Rishim Sachdeva, one of Heston Blumenthal’s sous chefs, who has worked at The Fat Duck and The Savoy (UK) in the past.

Uzuri has had a lot of people eagerly waiting for a while now – not only for the brand names attached to it, but also for the kind of experimental, never-seen-before cuisine it has on offer. They call it ‘Euro-fusion’, which basically means African and European sensibilities on one plate. This, obviously, promises to be quite a novelty for an audience that has practically no exposure to African food.

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Salmon fillet salad

But there’s no yams and foo-foo to be found here. On their brief but drool-worthy menu, you find staples of European cuisine – steaks, tenderloin patty, quinoa salads, pastas, an abundance of meats, seafood and vegetables – but then, there’s something different. For example, the salmon fillet salad comes with a pickled kohlrabi (that vegetable that looks like Sputnik) which is super-tangy and spicy at the same time, thin slices of cucumber, fennel, sesame seeds and horseradish vinaigrette. On the whole, this makes for a really sour dish which, for a country that eats pickles with every meal (sometimes even as a tea-time snack) is quite palatable. Then there are the artisan breads – three kinds of breads, one made of sourdough that is left to rise for 48 hours, with toppings of wild mushroom and truffle ragout (perfect for ketchup lovers), cottage cheese and chilli, and smokey coleslaw and chilli garlic infusion.

For mains, there’s a variety of meats where the African influences rise to prominence. The tenderloin steak comes glazed in a film of coffee powder and paprika, with a chunk of truffle butter smoked a moment before it arrives at your table, marrow roast potatoes and vegetables ­— and it is pure rapture slicing through the perfectly roasted meat.

This goes for the sous vide chicken breast too – the meat is wonderful, but this dish disappoints because it is too dry. The truffle gnocchi and wild black cabbage sides can do with a thinner sauce, or a glass of wine on the side. But, as chef Sachdeva informs us when he arrives with dessert (a dreamy dish involving strawberries, lemon marshmallows, berry and basil coulis and pecan ice cream) for a chat, they’re still experimenting and fine-tuning their dishes to Indian tastes. This, then, is perhaps why we’d urge you to try Uzuri (Swahili for goodness) – for artistic food at a no-reservations, humble space.

Living Room Conversations in 2013

“It’s pretty clear now that Modi will be our next Prime Minister.”

*grudging nods*

“But you have to see, no, how these Congress people have sold off our country. The BJP, whatever else it may be, at least has sound minority upliftment policies.”

*grunts of derision* “And what might these be?”

“They don’t believe in any of this wishy-washy business of reservations. You know, reservations and quotas and all these fillips have actually harmed the minorities. They’ve become comfortable with the way things are. Expect the government to hand everything to them on a silver platter.”

“Okay, let me stop you right there. Reservation as a policy may have gone wrong in our country, that’s another discussion. But if the BJP is against it, it’s not because they genuinely care about the Muslims or other minorities, but because they want votes. Hindu votes. Lots of them.”

“No no, that is rubbish. The party may have started out with the Hindutva peg, but look at how they’ve changed. Look at what Modi has done in Gujarat, he has transformed it. What development!”

“There are actually reports saying other-….”

“Have you been to Ahmedabad recently? Looks like Europe only. Beautiful. The roads, the cleanliness! And I hear they have great infrastructure too.”

“But that’s only in areas that are non-Muslim. There are reports that say Muslim areas have been ghettoised. That there were boycotts and Muslims were discriminated against for the longest time. For all you know, this is still true. The man is just cashing in on the UPA’s weak moment.”

“And he might as well. Such brilliant governance. He will turn the country around.”

“But there is still a large number of people, at least I know several people, who are dead against him coming to power. He and the party he hails from are divisive forces. If we think six degrees of separation…”

“But why? Till when are you lot going to harp on 2002? Godhra wasn’t the only such incident that happened in the country. The Congress also allowed all those Sikhs to be killed in 1984 when Indira Gandhi died.”

“But look at the scale of violence! Two wrongs never make a right. No one’s saying that 1984 was acceptable. But neither can 2002 be, right?”

“They started it. They started it by setting fire to that coach full of men, old and young, women, children. All those poor souls did was go to Ayodhya…”

“So then it was a retaliation to the Babri Masjid episode…”

“In which no people died. All they did was demolish that mosque!”

“But why? Why do that? Why did it matter so much? Doesn’t that just show you what they’ve thought and wanted to do with the minorities all along?”

“No! There was a temple earlier. It belonged to us, that land! Those bloody Mughals came and plundered through everything. During Ram’s time, there was a temple there…”

“What?! How can you possibly know what was there in the time of a mythological character? This is such ridiculous conjecture!”

“But they did have it coming. And how can you take their side? They don’t even let their women study, or breathe in peace. They’re such a patriarchal lot, and so extreme! They don’t really want to live here also. But India’s government made it so convenient for them. Being secular means they get the best of both worlds. They’re far away from the troubles of Pakistan and here they can be as ‘Muslim’ as they want to be.”

“But…? What best of both worlds? They make up the larger part of our poor classes.”

“And whose fault is that? Because of these reservations, they don’t have the incentive to work hard and move ahead in life. Their basic survival needs are met by the government. And you don’t know, but they also get a lot of opportunities. So many seats in the UPSC and in public sector companies and schools and colleges lie waiting for them to come and simply take. And they wouldn’t even have done anything to deserve it.”

“But even if what you’re saying happens, these ‘benefits’ can only be reaching a small percentage of people. I’m sure a lot are still not even aware of what all they have a right to.”

“No, all that’s rubbish. They all know. They’re very cunning. They send their kids to these madrasas, where they learn the same codes of conduct that existed 100 years ago. Empty minds are the devil’s paradise.”

“BUT WHAT ARE YOU SAYING? THIS IS A COMMUNITY LIKE ANY OTHER MINORITY THAT IS MINORITISED! THROUGH STATE ACTION, THROUGH STATE TERRORISM, BY THESE SANGH PARIVAR TYPE PEOPLE WHO HAVE SUCCESSFULLY BRAINWASHED MIDDLE CLASS EDUCATED PEOPLE LIKE YOU…LOOK AT ALL THE INCIDENTS OF VIOLENCE THAT HAPPEN IN THIS COUNTRY, THE MINORITIES SUFFER MORE EVERY TIME. THIS IS A DANGEROUS TREND….”

“Listen, calm down. We don’t know who’ll be PM yet. But it’s quite certain that Modi will be our leader. We need a man like him to come to power. He will save the economy, and put up a brave face in front of China. He is what this country needs.”

*Resigned to our fate, we reconsider our options. Much to our horror, we realise, there are none.*

There is no point of history. History is the past becoming the future becoming the present all over again, all the time.