Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Hemlock Destiny

“Why do you say every man is a planet?” the demon asks him, licking his scalpel.

He lies on the ground, wounded, bruised, tattered, crippled, fragmented, nauseated, destroyed. He passes a faint smile at the demon. “Leave that, tell me, where does one get strength?” he asks.

“It’s too late for you. Ha ha ha,” the demon laughs. And then he stops. “But why do you ask?” he is greedily looking at his flesh, whatever is left of it.

“To listen to Rachmaninov,” he replies.

“Your mind is your boon and bane, you fool,” the demon is shaking with rage. “You want to clean your bag with soap and water. Then you look at the mirror work on your pillow and want a tear drop to fall on it. Then you wonder about the phrase ‘the fat lady has not sung.’ And then you want to wriggle out wax from your left ear. The bed sheet is not properly tucked in, and it worries you. Then you look at the idols of God. You pretend to talk to them as if they were your drinking buddies. Stop it, stop it. It is consuming you.”

“Will you let me drink some tea?” he asks feebly, feeling his lips with his tongue.

“You know when you were in your mother’s womb, she used to have a lot of watermelons,” the monster says. “Would you like some?”

“Here drink this hemlock, you fool,” he says. “Stay like this.”

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Fever is a jilted lover

It is so tough to unsettle the haze, he thinks. The haze inside his chest. Sometimes it scares him. And then he has to close his eyes and imagine light - red light - surrounding him, like some sort of celestial shower. When there is haze, no song stirs his soul. The blue-chested bird perched on the high-tension wire evokes no feeling. A young girl in school uniform only makes him aware of lost youth - of family that could have been, of that feeling of oneness that he knows would never dwell in his heart.

Out of sheer habit he gets up, struggling on his feet, on to the kitchen, to prepare coffee. He imagines pictures on the door of refrigerator, like the ones his friends put up on theirs, stuck with magnets - pictures he associates with that oneness; portraits of time spent in quaint hill stations, or in bright-coloured rubber rafts in foaming waters, or posing in front of an antique shop in some exotic foreign land.

He comes out on the balcony, holding his cup. Amidst empty shoe cartons, beer bottles (one of them is half-filled, he notices), old newspapers, a discarded lampshade, he sits quietly and lights a cigarette. If the haze can't be unsettled, it can be thickened at least, like some story plot. The thought makes him smile.
He coughs a little.

Bright red flowers in dried milk tins, typewriter, silver paper cutter and someone complaining of knee pain - this imagery would only exist in his dreams. This is his parallel world, his live phantasmagoria. Here, on this balcony, there is only loneliness, like a vague toothache.

He remembers he had planted a few tree saplings in front of his house a few months ago. Now he realises they are gone, chewed to death by stray cows, crushed under the wheels of a car parked in hurry, or just because of his indifference. He looks at his right foot. He imagines it frowning at him, as if it had a mind of its own. It reminds him of a woman's foot - a rebel guerilla's. He had met her many years ago in a jungle of Sal trees. She had dipped it in a streamlet while she cleaned her gun. Would she be alive, he doesn't know.

The coffee is over. The cigarette as well. He feels his forehead. The fever has returned. Like a jilted lover, it too takes its revenge.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

The Long March

Walking with Maoist guerillas along a flooded river, somewhere along the
Maharashtra-Chhattisgarh border

Among the guerillas

With Maoist guerillas somewhere on the Maharashtra-Chhattisgarh border

The Absent State

My book, "The Absent State" (with Neelesh Misra) is out in book stores now. Hachette India has called it the non-fiction book of the year. It has already topped the non-fiction list of The Hindu.
Here are some reviews of the book:

Filmmaker Sudhir Mishra in the Hindustan Times
Ved Marwah in Tehelka
Nithin Belle in Khaleej Times
Shylashri Shankar in The Financial Express

You can buy the book online from here.

Monday, August 02, 2010

बारिश का एक दिन

आज बारिश बहुत हो रही थी. तुम भीगते हुए पहुंची और कैफे के दरवाज़े पर मुझसे लगभग टकरा गयी.

मैं वहां खड़ा तुम्हे दूर से आते हुए देख रहा था.

बहुत सुन्दर लग रही थी तुम...

मन हुआ तुम्हारे बाजू पर स्माल पोक्स के टीके के निशान को चूम लूँ.

कैफे में मुझसे रहा नहीं गया. मैंने इधर-उधर देखा और हाथ बढाकर उस निशान को छू लिया.

तुमने फ़ौरन मेरा हाथ झटक दिया और बोली "शट अप".

"पर में तो कुछ बोला नहीं."

तुम बस मुस्कुरा दी. तुम्हारे चेहरे पर लाली उभर आई.

मैंने कहा: "शट अप बहुत बोलने लगी हो... क्या उसे भी शट अप कहती हो."

"नहीं उसे शट अप नहीं कहती क्यूंकि वो अच्छा है," तुम बोली.

एक लम्हा गुज़रा. और तुम फिर बोली:

"और तुम्हे शट अप इसलिए कहती हूँ क्यूंकि तुम मुझे बहुत अच्छे लगते हो..."

Friday, April 16, 2010

Everything ends with Formalin

The police arrived and went straight to Bajirao Potawe’s house and beat him up. “With their boots and lathis,” he says. “They said bad things to my mother and sister, called me a bastard, and said how dare my family accuse them of rape,” he recounts. Then they made him run errands like fetching water to cook a meal of dal and rice they had brought along. Potawe himself hasn’t been able to eat such meals for a long time.
Post-Dantewada impressions from Gadchiroli. Read here.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Times of Parting

Love dies slowly. Like an ember. More strands of hair have turned grey – the right temple looks like a blooming cotton field. There is dust on bookshelves. Pens look pensive. Empty notebooks lie moth-eaten.

You called up the other day. You sounded tired. Perhaps if we were together, I could have made you some tea. Or I could have made you laugh over some silly joke. Or I could have just curled up next to you, holding your breast in my hand, kneading it softly till all thoughts ebbed away from you.

But I am away. You are away, and you must invent your own remedies. Or just learn to live with pain as I have. In the quiet afternoon, when the sunlight blinds one, I sit with my back resting haphazardly against a crumbling bean bag, facing a window dazzled with light. And I let Susheela Raman’s voice play games with me.

In times like these, earlier, I have run away from everything, taking refuge in hills or hemlock of whisky. Or both. But how many times will I run away? The hills don’t turn me back. But they make my pain so faint, I can no longer recognise myself in the mirror. Your pain gives me identity which the face never gave. So, as long as the pain is there, I can be anything. Like the rebel with a beard, which I sport these days, dreaming of such chaos which throws everything behind us. You and me.

In that chaos we will find each other. Then it will be only a matter of a cup of tea. Or of your breast in my hand.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

My name is Dharmendra Kumar

The media is overwhelmed with Shahrukh Khan. I mean, I care a damn if his film does not work. Or that the multiplexes are not able to run his film. In any case, the government is so pusillanimous that it won't touch Bal Thackeray. Meanwhile, see what else has been happening in this country:

Dharmendra Kumar, 18, was carrying a light on his shoulder and walking next to the groom’s horse-drawn carriage in Gurgaon when a celebratory shot fired from the carriage accidentally struck his face on Thursday night.

Kumar, who collapsed on the road, died a few hours later in hospital.

A resident of Aligarh in Uttar Pradesh, Dharmendra had come to work in the Capital last week — he had found employment with a tenthouse agency, Krishna Light and Bhaggi, in Gurgaon. Read more...

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Trader of stories

It is 3.45 am. Give me some coffee. Or, can I have some silence, please? I am tired of the noise around me. It makes my head spin. I can feel the bile in my mouth. The noise enters my body and hides in my guts. God, can someone give me shelter? I can trade my stories for a peaceful stay.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010


I am writing today because my body is sort of forcing me into it. I have this sinking feeling that refuses to go away, and I think writing – punching the keypad hard – would at least partially take away that feeling. I have also been scared that if I continue like this, not writing at all, my readers will permanently disconnect from me.

It’s not that I have had nothing to say to you or share with you through these weeks. But it’s just that I didn’t know whether my words would be of any importance to you; whether they had the power any longer to inspire you, titillate you, or make you close your eyes and throw your head backwards for a short while. I was not sure. But I should have written anyway. I didn’t, and on that account I am guilty.

Last night it rained in my part of the city. I was caught in it, wholly drenched in it, and through the slush it created on the roads, I moved about, with no particular aim. Actually, I had to run an errand, and after I was done with it, I simply walked to a market complex I used to frequent fourteen years ago when I landed in this city. In ways I’ve changed, the market has changed as well. We have both aged gracefully, I suppose. I went to a bar, and the old waiter recognised me. I ordered some rum, and watched the rain wash over the window panes.

Outside, young boys and girls drank coffee from Styrofoam cups and held hands. Sometimes, they locked lips as well. I watched them from the window of the bar, with a feeling which I thought was a mixture of nostalgia and envy. Neon billboards flickered, displaying discounts on jeans, shoes and Zippo lighters.

In some time I was out. A cab I had called to take me home had been delayed by more than an hour due to traffic jams caused by the sudden downpour. I waited outside for a while, watching two shop attendants planning to fill coke bottles with rum and sipping it on their way home. A team of police swooped upon a gang of Nigerian drug peddlers, pinning them down on the slushy ground, and then pushing them into waiting cars. My cab arrived and I was on my way home thinking about one of the peddlers, a thin boy who moaned in pain caused by a policeman’s foot over his belly.


Five days ago I turned thirty-four. Just before that, I made a journey. I think it is sometimes important to undertake journeys – journeys which may not be necessary at all. So you make up your mind, and still, you are not sure about it at all. That is a situation best avoided, more so when journeys which are not necessary at all need to be done. Once the tickets are done, and you take print-outs, the fate is more or less sealed. Still the doubts may lurk but they don’t come in the foreground.

You tell your friends about the journey. By now, probably, you are excited about what the journey may behold for you. A part of your excitement rubs off your friends. They egg you on – offering advice, forgetting the fact that the place you’re visiting is not new to you. Nevertheless, they offer you tips about best hotels, cheap modes of journey, best taverns and eateries. Then their own nostalgia raises head. They have memories attached to certain places you may have been thinking of visiting.

“I used to live just two blocks away.”

“Remember that café, I used to date her.”

They talk mist-eyed about their former beloveds – beloveds now married to somebody else, sharing the photos of their tenth marriage anniversary on the Facebook.

You listen to them in the beginning, and then your own memories lay siege. Then you only pretend to listen. Inwards, you are lost in your own thoughts. Scenes of your own life flash in front of you – of places you had lived in, and cafes you had frequented.

When that happens, you know you will make that journey.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Khaki Fidayeen

The Khaki Fidayeen: Five policemen from Kashmir who have broken the back of militancy in the valley.

Read here.

Pic: Shome Basu