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Excerpts: Dvarca by Madhav Mathur

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Chicken & Egg

Jyoti was fast asleep in their bedroom. Baba was out for his night-shift and the children lay still, contorted and bent away from each other like the hands of a clock. It was ten- to-five. Gandharva shut Mira’s mouth and stopped Nakul from sucking his thumb. He watched them for a moment, before carrying on.

He didn’t want to risk waking Jyoti by using the toilet attached to their room and decided to use the small common toilet next to the kitchen to clean up. Rain had found a way to bounce off the window-shutters and wet everything from the lights to the floor. He looked at himself in the mirror. He was still wrapped in the foul-smelling cloth from the street. It had saved his life. He took it off and flipped it around to fold it away. His face went deathly pale when he saw the other side of his new found vestment. Something was written on the cloth. He leaned in close and read the words. They looked like scratches after a desperate fight.

‘WHAT CAME FIRST? POLITICS OR RELIGION?’

How could he have been so careless? How did he end up with a cloth that clearly came from the pariahs? He crumpled it into a ball. He panicked and splashed his face with water to make sure it wasn’t some sort of lurid Vision. Had he been seen with it? Would they believe that he had nothing to do with it?

He tried to wash off the unholy letters but they were stitched on. He looked around frantically for a way to get rid of the cloth. He could not burn it on the stove, all gas supplies were switched off after 10:00 p.m. for energy conservation. He could not carry it out and throw it away; it was too risky. He tried to flush the ball down the toilet, but it was too big. There was nothing in the bathroom of use, just some of Baba’s toiletries.

Gandharva rushed out to the kitchen and found one of Jyoti’s scissors. He hurtled back into the bathroom and pulled the door shut. He lowered the toilet seat-cover and sat down to cut the cloth into smaller pieces. The scissors had thick, blunt blades. He made some headway with them and then decided to rip the cloth with his hands. He was no Nakul or Arjun, but he tried his best.

“DETECTION: ELEVATION IN VITAL RATES. PLEASE REPORT.”

The veins of his forehead popped out like new hill ranges after a deep seismic disturbance. He quickly responded with the first thing that came to his flustered mind.

“Stomach upset. Recovering.”

He sat atop the commode with the stinking shawl in his hands. There were words stitched all over it. Some portions of the writing were illegible because of the indelible grease stains. He read a sentence.

‘YOU’VE FALLEN FOR THE OLDEST TRICK. THEY KNOW WHAT YOU WILL DO, BEFORE YOU DO IT. THEY’VE DRAWN LINES IN THE SKY AND LINES IN THE SAND, TO MARK GOD AND COUNTRY.’

Who were they addressing? Who was speaking? Why?

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Excerpts: Out of War: Voices of Surrendered Maoists by Swati Sengupta

out-of-warToofan Sahu

‘Aj kal kya kar rahe ho?’ I asked him over the phone.

(What are you doing these days?)

Kuchh nahin…gaon mein ghumta rahta hai, khet mein ghumta rahta hai…’ he tells me.

(Nothing much…I keep hanging around in the village, in the fields…)

Both of us were terrible in Hindi, but he spoke mostly Odiya and my knowledge of the language is rudimentary. So we managed with a bit of Odiya, Hindi and Bengali. Once in a while, we had to take resort to interpreters.

Here then is the story of Toofan Sahu (alias Bangra), now 22 years old.

***

Toofan sported the hairstyle of a 1980s film-star—he was likely to remind you of Mithun Chakravarty in Disco Dancer. He wore bellbottoms and filmi, oversize, dramatic jackets with frills, buttons and multiple pockets. Only, he was reed-thin, with high cheekbones, sunken eyes and a lovely bashful smile. Looking at him, you would never imagine he could as much as hurt a fly. How does a person driven to violence and bloodshed continue to look so pure? How did Toofan manage to hide so much loathing, suffering and pain? Do cruelty and suffering not reflect on the contours of the face? Were the violent acts these young men committed justified because their purpose and vision were pure?

There are no answers, only fear that your own vision may have tricked you, that you had not been able to sense his suffering. These thoughts flitted through my mind as I sat in front of a quiet and withdrawn Toofan. He had travelled all the way from Ganjam district to Rayagada town. It is a beautiful town, 400 kilometres from Bhubaneswar, cradled by mountains on all sides. He had come to meet the police superintendent, Rajesh Pandit, who had, in fact, arrested him during his previous posting as Ganjam SP.

The boy shuffled his feet and spoke without looking up from the durries spread on the floor of an office at the Rayagada district headquarters. It was difficult to get Toofan to speak even a few words at first. But once in a while, when he talked through an interpreter, a police constable he had known for a while, he was more vocal. Perhaps at that point he felt he was not really talking to me, but blurting out his innermost thoughts to someone else. Once he was well into the story of his life, Toofan was charged with emotion. He looked up from the durries and began to talk directly to me, even while speaking in Odiya. Our eyes met, and from this moment onwards he spoke to me as if he had known me for years.

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Excerpts: This Wide Night by Sarvat Hasin

this-wide-nightXII.

They were married there in Paris, just the two of them with Khalajaan and witnesses gathered from the local mosque. It was not the wedding he remembered her having talked about as a girl; she’d wanted a grand reception at the Metropole and large golden-yellow tents. She’d wanted white silk tablecloths and rose petals down the middle of the aisle. I want a palanquin, she’d insisted, even when Maria had pointed out they had no male relatives to lift it.

There’s Papa and Jimmy, Leila said. That’s only two.

I’m sure you’ll all be married by then, she’d sniffed.

Your husbands can help.

And there she was in the small clerk’s office, dropping her head with the anachronistic coyness of brides. At dinner, Khalajaan told them to be good to each other and asked no  questions  about  anything: not  the  rush, not  the  secrecy, not  the  dumb fact of it here in a city that did not belong to them. Her hands folded on the tabletop, the glow of her rings in the candlelight. She looked at them with an indulgence he hadn’t expected, a flash of warmth in her smile like butter in a pan. She was fond of Leila, he knew. She was the only one of the girls who had followed, in some way, in her image.

Marriage is hard, she said, and she pointed at the space between them with her fork. You will have to work hard. You will have to compromise.

She had never been in his room before. He realized then, as she stood by the windowsill with her hips angled against it, that they had never really been alone together. Only in parks and restaurants, never in the deafening silence of a hotel room. She shifted in the window till she was the whole room, all he could see. He sat down, held on to his bed.

Did you mean what you said about loving me? she asked.

Her question small, and nearly swallowed up in the space between them.

They came together as lonely travellers will do. The ugliness of his proposal was buried under the language of their bodies. This time when he reached out to hold her there was a sureness to it that seemed separate from the wreckage of his nerves. He felt disconnected from his body, as if he is watching them from a great distance: the two of them in the empty room. Her body shivered, his hands shook.

Leila curved into him, fit a hand along his waist. The boldness of her touch pushed him back into the room. Here it was cold and she was near enough for his mouth to catch her breath if he opened it.

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Excerpts: The Essential Ambedkar by Bhalchandra Mungekar

ambedkarIntroduction

Since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, the tempo of the world has been accelerating forward at a breathtaking speed. However, in India, an indigenously created caste-based segregation, our version of racism, a minute and comprehensive form of discrimination and oppression that has existed for millennia, has been at work with the same speed, but unfortunately in the opposite direction. For the section classified as the Depressed Classes, day-to-day life is in itself a grave struggle, a manifold fight for survival.

In every modern, democratic nation, people want to feel fully alive rather than merely survive. In order to for them to do so, the polity is required to imbibe a sense of socio-economic and political equality, as well as liberty. However, in India, this is not, and has never been, the case, and there is no way to know how long, in the ongoing civilizational process, this human greed for adoring and enjoying certain privileges over others is going to last. But as long as inequality and discrimination exist, a struggle to get rid of this yoke by the deprived masses will certainly continue to be part of the socio-political fight for generations to come.

The nature of the struggle by the sieged population fighting to annihilate these caste fortifications has always been defensive rather than offensive. The credit for this civility goes to  Dr Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, one of the tallest, yet most neglected and often misunderstood intellectual-political leaders in the mainstream socio-political discourse of modern India. Perhaps because he fundamentally challenges the iniquitous Hindu social order, he has been rendered the most controversial of the mass political leaders in India. However, the fact remains that his key text, The Annihilation of Caste, contains persuasive arguments, heavily supported with solid facts, as well as a sophisticated, logical tone. This seminal book on the one hand depicts a rebellion against caste and untouchability and wants to destroy it; and on the other, it advocates non-enmity with coercion towards the tormentor, implicitly advising that there are always other practices available to push forward a struggle for justice responsibly rather than indulging in punitive violent measures. So the epoch-making approach Ambedkar adopts, though corrective and hence confrontational, is both a peacemaking as well as peacekeeping one.

Ambedkar  and Gandhi

Ambedkar was the pioneer intellectual in the study of caste and untouchability. He delved into such details that with all their possible and conceivable dimensions, he fought caste discrimination at all given levels: social, political, economic and educational. His Annihilation of Caste is both an illuminative as well as a redemptive text. Ambedkar used his writings and lectures to confront a world of indifference and betrayal in order to pursue his reformative agenda, equal in dimension to that of Gandhi’s. The power of his reason was such that Gandhi described him as a ‘challenge to Hinduism’. But unfortunately he did not receive the attention, the critical acclaim, or the adulation he deserves, the way Gandhi did. Ambedkar was of the view that political safeguards for Untouchables were necessary as the Untouchables constituted the largest minority, and that without these safeguards they would not be able to enjoy political and social freedom. This was viewed as a direct challenge to Gandhi’s unchallenged leadership and therefore the conflict between the two was inevitable.

Being a multifaceted personality—an economist, a sociologist, a barrister, an editor, a constitutionalist of the first rank, a professor, an able parliamentarian, an educationist and a commentator on Buddhism—Ambedkar was predestined to engage himself beyond personality conflicts and look into the problems of India from both a macro as well as micro perspective.

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Excerpts: Amba: The Question of Red by Laksmi Pamuntjak

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The Third Man

When a woman wavers between two men—the one she didn’t get and the one who didn’t get her—she usually encounters a third. This is how the third man came into Amba Kinanti’s life and how his story should be told.

*

For Amba it started with dreams both foul and fair.

In the days following Bhisma’s disappearance, her heart sick with sorrow, Amba started having vivid dreams. Maudlin, abusive nightmares with baby-burning witches and gods with deformed cocks. Nostalgic images of Kadipura, of her parents and her sisters and her corner on the porch where they took their tea in the afternoons, the lakeside where her father and she often sat, her father opening The Mahabharata.

Once, Bhisma and Salwa appeared together in her dream, as the book dictated. But instead of taking up arms and hacking at each other, they were sitting down under a vast banyan tree, the way warriors always do, talking about great revolutions and ideas that would transform the world. Meanwhile, she was peering at them from behind another tree, eavesdropping. She could hear every word. The Amba of this dream looked sad, disheveled, and old, and her purpose was vindictive: to aim her arrow at Salwa’s heart. She would wait for the right time and kill Salwa first and then herself, and then the gods could have a field day blaming one another for the loss of a very important thread in their celestial narrative. She, Amba, would be the noble princess who exited the world so that Bhisma, the ultimate warrior-healer, the man who saved lives, would prevail. Because he must. She was going to take Salwa with her to end his suffering in the world, his and Bhisma’s, from everything that she had done.

Suddenly, in the dream, she saw Bhisma lean toward Salwa, the man who was supposed to be his rival, his fiercest foe, and say, ‘She doesn’t know it yet, but I must leave her. I must leave so she will have a future.’

The horror of that dream had woken her. The horror of how in the dream Amba, on hearing those words, had changed her aim in a sick split instant, and the desolate sound of Bhisma’s groan before his body hit the earth.

Some nightmares were grimmer. In one she saw her father dashing through the dust in a smoky battlefield, amid the ringing sound of gunfire and the swish of arrows, soldiers screaming and falling around him. He had in his trembling hands an open page from The Mahabharata, something he seemed to want to get rid of but couldn’t. Soon a naked woman who looked like Rinjani, a perfection of limbs and breasts, appeared. She began to devour soldiers, both dead and alive.

In another, Bhisma and Salwa appeared in her room, their faces dewy and transformed by lust. They offered to take turns fucking her. ‘Why not?’ they said when she protested. ‘Won’t it be fun?’

*

After the chaos at Untarto’s funeral and Amba’s sick moment of realization that Bhisma was not with her in the courtyard, she swallowed her fear and frantically began looking for him.

The streets had almost emptied. No one wanted to be part of more trouble. Yet she went around anyway, asking each person she saw if they knew, or had seen, Dr. Rashad, describing his appearance. Each time she was met with a shaken head, a blank stare.

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Excerpts: The Golden Legend by Nadeem Aslam

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The doorbell rang at last. When she answered it she found a boy of about eleven or twelve standing in the lane, with several bags of food and a thick bushel of reeds.

‘You should be at school,’ she said when she brought him in- to the kitchen.

He did not respond. His face was beautiful and doll-like and he was looking towards the bird wings hanging on the pink wall. He had placed the bags on the dining table and was using his grimy sleeve to absorb the perspiration from his forehead and upper lip, holding his gaze on the wings. He went towards them and reached out with a finger and touched the lime green feather of an Alexandrine parakeet.

‘Does the man with the straw hat live here?’ he asked. ‘The one with the elastic going over his shoulders.’

‘They are called braces. Or galluses.’ ‘Gal…lu…ses.’

She held up the bottle of Rooh Afza he had brought, crack- ing open the seal on the cap. ‘Would you like a drink of this?’

He seemed uncertain. ‘I overheard the lady mention some- one named Helen,’ he said. ‘Is that you?’

‘Yes.’

‘Are you an infidel?’

Helen had been looking into one of the bags. She raised her head but not her eyelids. At the beginning of high school, when she was fourteen years old, a teacher had asked her to stand up in class and ‘justify taking the place of a Muslim’.

‘Are you a servant here?’ the boy continued. ‘You don’t look like one.’

When she finally glanced at him he nodded towards the Rooh Afza bottle. ‘I am a Muslim, I can’t accept a drink from your hand.’ And he added, ‘You should know that. Shouldn’t you?’

At nineteen, Helen was old enough to remain unsurprised by occasions such as these. She had always known them and could not have separated them from the most basic facts of her existence. Still, sometimes she was caught off guard.

She watched him from the kitchen window as he crossed the garden at an unhurried pace and left the house, stopping twice on the semicircular path through the grass, to look up at the ripening fruit or some creature moving in the branches.

She put away the items of food, and divided and bound the river reeds into brooms. Afterwards she carried the alumini- um stepladder to the study and unfolded it below the model of the Hagia Sophia. She stood there for a few moments: even from the topmost step of the ladder, the book would be too high up. She needed something to nudge it with, and she went back to the kitchen and unhooked the giant wing of the trum- peter swan and returned with it, the feathers blindingly white when she walked through the rays of the sun on the veranda, almost a detonation.

As she climbed up with the four-foot wing she thought of her mother who would use this ladder to dust the upper reaches of walls and shelves in this house. She recalled the story of her parents’ first meeting. Grace had been fifteen years old at the time and was a servant in someone’s house, and she had approached a passing policeman one day in a distraught state and demanded that he arrest a certain seventeen-year-old gardener’s boy from a nearby house. ‘I cannot stop think- ing about him!’ she had declared. ‘Each night the thought of him keeps me awake, and all day I long for him. I demand justice!’ Looking for a few moments of amusement, the police- man had followed the spirited, indignant girl as she led him to her criminal. He was entirely unaware of her, of course, and was speechless now, to find himself accused of being her incre- mental killer.

Helen arrived at the top step of the ladder – ‘This is where the wolf lives,’ Grace would say – and she stretched the wing of the swan cautiously towards the book on the small windowsill. The tip of the last feather fell just short of making contact with the book’s spine, and she raised herself onto her toes to attain the extra inches. There was a dull, indistinct noise from some- where below her at that moment, and she glanced down to see that the boy from the shop had appeared at the door to the study.

Carefully she brought her heels back down to the metal sur- face of the step. She had neglected to lock the door after his departure.

‘Did you forget something?’

He was looking at her and the expression on his face was somewhere between a sneer and a swoon, his body partly con- cealed in the shadow being thrown by a shelf. As he advanced into the room Helen saw that he was in fact trembling, the sharp length of the knife in his right hand moving to and fro as he approached the ladder.

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Excerpts: Sultan of Delhi: Ascension by Arnab Ray

9789351950929 Prologue

There were no stars in the sky. There was no moon. Just the wet cold seeping through thick cloth and bone, and the fog slowly smothering the night.

Every once in a while, a truck would grope forward over the broken road. Sometimes a long-distance bus would rumble by, but no sooner would its headlights pass than the fog would flow back denser than ever before.

Milte hain dil yahaan, milke bichadne ko

Kishore Kumar’s voice floated from the direction of the ramshackle bamboo structure that lay fifty yards to the side of the road, perceptible through the fog only because of a Hasag lantern that was hung to its front, illuminating a sign that read ‘Exide Batteries’. fte small shop, one of the few that still operated on this side of the highway, sold batteries, torches, kerosene, hot tea, pakoras and, if you knew what to say and how much to pay, desi hooch. It was closed now, the coal ashed, and the front covered with tarpaulin.

But it was not empty.

On a charpoy, at the front of the shop, sat two men, one hunched slightly forward and the other leaning back and looking up at the sky, holding in his right hand a small transistor radio.

‘Why don’t you turn the radio off? Or at least change the channel. I hate Kishore Kumar.’

‘It’s my radio. It plays what I want it to.’

fte first man pulled his monkey cap closer to his skull and clenched tightly the two thick shawls draped over his body.

‘Tell me why you like Kishore Kumar again,’ he said, tapping the ground rapidly with his feet in a desperate attempt to stay warm. ‘Because he has a great voice.’ In sharp contrast to his companion, the man with the transistor had on, as his  shield against the numbing cold, only a flimsy grey sweater.

‘Because he has a great voice? That’s it? I mean that’s all you can say about the great Kishore Kumar? A ten-year-old would give that answer! Tell me the reasons why you like him, explain it to me.’

The man with the transistor said nothing.

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Excerpts: Gandhi on Non-Violence edited by Thomas Merton

gandhi-on-non-violence_front

The political scope of non-violence

Gandhi does not envisage a tactical non-violence confined to one area of life or to an isolated moment.

His non-violence is a creed which embraces all of life in a consistent and logical network of obligations. One cannot be violent, for example, in interpersonal or family relations, and non-violent with regard to conscription and war. Genuine non-violence means not only non-cooperation with glaring social evils, but also the renunciation of benefits and privileges that are implicitly guaranteed by forces which conscience cannot accept.

Austere political implications of the non-violent way of life are suggested in some of these texts.

So long as I lived under a system of government based on force and voluntarily partook of the many facilities and privileges it created for me, I was bound to help that government to the extent of my ability when it was engaged in a war, unless I non-cooperated with that government and renounced to the utmost of my capacity the privileges it offered me.            I–73

There is no escape for any of us save through truth and non-violence. I know that war is wrong, is an unmitigated evil. I know too that it has got to go. I firmly believe that freedom won through bloodshed or fraud is no freedom.      I–75

Merely to refuse military service is not enough…This is [to act] after all the time for combating evil is practically gone.     I–106

Non-cooperation in military service and service in non- military matters are not compatible.        I–108

Non-Violence to be a creed has to be all-pervasive. I cannot be non-violent about one activity of mine and violent about others. That would be a policy, not a life force. [1935]

I–110

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Excerpts: Things to Leave Behind by Namita Gokhale

leave-behind

A howling rage took possession of the physician. ‘I’ll cure you, you glutton, for once and forever,’ he muttered to himself, and repaired to the pharmacy in the palace grounds. There, he took off his clothes and rubbed the scurf from his unwashed skin (he was not a man who favoured cleanliness) and rolled this body scurf into four miniscule pellets. These he further wrapped in silver foil, with a little cumin and asafoetida pressed in for good measure. While at it he added some anardana, the dried pomegranate seeds being his favourite ingredient and cure-all. Returning to the palace, he confronted his king. The four doses were placed on the royal tongue at quick intervals, while the fierce physician muttered curses and imprecations under his breath. These were, of course, taken as being addressed to the demon of ill health, for no one could possibly presume to be so rude to His Majesty.

By the time the third pellet was pressed into his mouth, the king was already feeling better. He beheld his loyal physician Jeewan Chandra Pant with gratitude and ordered that a bag of gold coins be given to him. The courtier who was summoned to bring the coins from the royal treasury appropriated five, but a bagful was still a bagful. The Vaidya was immediately moved to better humour and contemplated buying his beloved Pokhara mistress a gold hansuli, to frame her plump, pretty neck. Later, he was to wonder interminably about the possible conjunction of astral influences, the conspiracy of constellations, that had effected his radical cure. For the king’s digestion now flourished, the royal robes layered in purple velvet and satin rested gently on his reposeful abdomen; the queens, the prime minister, the ladies of the harem, all enjoyed the reprieve from his colic- induced cruelties.

The unexpected success of his unorthodox medicine prompted Jeewan to research further. He dreamt of formulating the perfect aphrodisiac. A Tibetan herbalist in Pokhara had told the Vaidya about the highly efficacious horny goat weed he had learnt of in China. The plant   grew in profusion around the Pokhara lake, and the royal physician had concocted a rasayan using the distilled weed and small quantities of the pink bell-shaped valerian flowers of Jatamansi. The king was offered the experimental potion, and it worked wonders. A certain royal lady-in-waiting whose husband was a confirmed catamite found herself   the subject of the monarch’s unexpected favour. He visited her bedchamber three nights consecutively and found his veerya, his royal libido, functioning as capably as that of a young man. The lady had a mole upon the inside of her left thigh, and this mole became the subject of his immediate and compulsive attention. The mole, he decided, in some leap of intuition or madness, held the key to his destiny as a monarch.

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Excerpts: Lanka’s Princess by Kavita Kane

lanka

Prologue: Kubja

He spotted her immediately. He could not tear his eyes away from her distant figure. Leaning against a roadside tree, she stood out in the thronging crowd on the streets of Mathura. Krishna stared at her for a long, thoughtful minute before he started to move  towards her.

‘Where are you going?’ asked Balram, perplexed. He looked at his younger brother, a darker version of himself. ‘We will be late. King Kamsa is waiting to meet us at his palace.’

‘Just a moment…’ replied Krishna, his eyes still seeking the woman. She was still standing near the tree, watching the bustling crowd around her, as if enjoying the street scene. She ignored  the young street urchins giggling at her. One attempted to throw a stone at  her.

She looked distinctly surprised as she saw a young, dark, handsome boy approach her. He could not be more than seventeen, his face boyish, with a wide, warm smile but there was a quaint air of maturity about him. It was his eyes—smiling yet mocking in their solemnity. He looked eerily familiar but she could not place him. Not that she could have forgotten such a good-looking face, she reflected, feeling a strange emotion rise within her.

‘Do you  live  here?’ asked Krishna politely,  smiling.

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