By Manu Mahajan

The girl would have been more beautiful had she not been sobbing for breath. She was attractive enough, though. Maybe it was the fear in her eyes that added to her vitality.

He had slept badly as usual. It had been almost sixty years since he had slept more than an hour at a time anyway. The nightmares tired themselves out after a few hours and faded when he awoke, finally and in the dark, heart pounding and eyes wide in fear and rage. He was used to this, so he had waited a few minutes as the images in front of his bloodshot eyes dimmed, as the veil lifted, as the other girl’s screams receded into memory again. His sister. “Prah ji, mainoo bachaa lo!”

Brother, save me.

Outskirts of Lahore, summer of 1947. The colonial partition of India, deliberately hasty and calculatedly inept. Sounds of gunfire and mobs in the night, threats in the morning. Hindus and Sikhs used, for months, of seeing everything through a veil of fear. And hope, until it ran out the night the mob came banging on the door. Until the night the women, with dead accusatory eyes burning the souls of their dying men forever, jumped into wells to deny the attackers access to their living bodies. Until he escaped and ran, just one more boy joining the largest mass migration in human history, each refugee carrying a veil of hate and despair that would shadow their eyes for the rest of their lives.

“Prah ji, mainoo bachaa lo!”

This other girl, today, fifty five years later, had just appeared out of nowhere. She wasn’t there when he opened the door looking for the milk that wasn’t there in this suburb of Ahmedabad, and then there she was, suddenly, like a ghost in a white salwar kameez and a dupatta covering her face, a veil, an Indian hijaab.

“Sardarji, mujhe bacha lo, please?”

Ahmedabad, beginning of March, 2002.  The mob had set the train carrying mainly Hindus alight three days ago at Godhra, a hundred and forty kilometers away. Muslims were blamed. Riots across many areas of the city, Muslims were being raped and butchered; the bellies of pregnant women were being speared, people were being set alight. Hindu mobs roamed the streets or barged into houses looking for the next Muslim, blood in their eyes as the veil of civilisation slipped once again. But unlike in 1947, the victims had nowhere to run to, the old man had thought to himself. Except, apparently, this girl, who had run, uselessly, to the wrong old man. 

“Sardarji, mujhe bacha lo, please?”

Crimson mist in his eyes. At last. Revenge at last, after so many years. “Kaun hai tu?” he asked. Who are you?  And then, quickly, he opened the door wide, a reflex invitation made before she- or he- changed their minds. Momentary hesitation and then she darted in like a bird escaping into its cage.

He shut and bolted the door.

By Jyoti Singh

As a child, I used to think that America and England were the same. Later I learnt that America was a bigger and more relaxed version of England. Then one day I found out that Americans were in fact prudes – like Indians! I had to unlearn that wearing undergarments in public and holding sacrosanct views on sex and marriage were not mutually exclusive. (As a child, marriage as a concept had seemed so Indian to me that I thought it was invented by Indians.) Soon I knew I was saying America/ England and thinking France. Referring to a continent (Africa) as a country is ignorance, but calling a country America, which is not one but two continents combined, is exactly the same. USA became America when it became great. Now Trump wants to make it great again. But then Michelle Obama came out and said that it’s the greatest. So maybe Trump should rethink his words.

I migrated to the USA four months ago. Trump had already happened, and Brexit was waiting to happen. Major cries on both fronts, even if reductionist, blamed the outsider for the disappointments of the Anglo-Saxon population. It’s a weird time to be migrating anywhere, not just the hottest migrant destinations. Nationalism is being hijacked by the oldest scam of “us” versus “them”, in a domino effect, across continents. It seems to me that the more the world interacts, the more we contract one another’s diseases, which, interestingly, has given rise to the prejudice paranoia. And then we have people who live off stoking it.

By Aminah Sheikh

Author of the bestselling coffee table book – ‘The Indians’, a lawyer of international repute Sumant Batra’s dream is to mark Dhanachuli (in Uttrakhand) on the culture map. And this he hopes to do through his various literary initiatives, Kumaon Literary Festival (KLF) being one of them. Close on the heels of the second edition of KLF, Sumant gets candid with Kitaab.

Sumant Batra
Sumant Batra, Founder of KLF 

What gave birth to Kumaon Literary festival (KLF) and how do you view it as being different from the other festivals held in India? 

In strive for economic growth, the creative aspirations of the people of India have remained unarticulated. A nation that invests in cultural development as much as it does in economic growth tends to be a happier nation and achieves sustainable development. Creative industry feeds into the country’s soft power. Given the challenging times we live in, there is a need for investment in the creative industry. The idea of KLF stems out of this very belief. There is a whole eco-system comprising of projects and activities that are not limited or confined to the 5-day festival. The institutionalised approach is aimed at maximizing impact, optimize on resources and aim for measurable and tangible outcomes that are in addition to the festival.

KLF has had a successful inaugural last year. How do you see the second edition panning out with the festival being held at two different locations?

It was less than two years ago that I presented the idea of KLF to the world of literature. We could see the green shoots emerging at the end of the first season of the festival last year. The second edition is bigger in design.  Our focus, however, remains on quality than quantity.  This offers challenges of mobilising financial support. We have, however, held our ground, avoided commercial temptations and continue to navigate our way through pitfalls. There are mammoth restrictions and logistical constraints in organising a festival of this scale in a village that is part of an eco-sensitive area.  We have stayed respectful towards the restrictions and observed applicable guidelines.

Which are some of the books slated to be launched at KLF?

Lata- Sur Gatha – the biography of Lata Mangeshkar by Yatindra Mishra, The biography of actress Rekha by Yasser Usman, Shadows of the Northland by 14 year old Vishwesh Desai, and three more.