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Excerpts: Beauty Is a Wound by Eka Kurniawan

beauty is a wound[ 6 ]

Shodancho was meditating, buried in the hot sand with only his head poking out, when one of his men approached him. The soldier, Tino Sidiq, didn’t dare disturb him—in fact he wasn’t even sure if he could disturb him. Although Shodancho’s eyes were as wide open as those of a decapitated head, his soul was wander- ing in a realm of light, or at least that was how Shodancho often described his ecstatic experiences. “Meditation saves me from hav- ing to look at this rotten world,” he’d say and then continue, “or at least from having to look at your ugly face.”

After a while his eyes blinked and his body slowly began to move, which Tino Sidiq knew signalled the end of his meditation. Shodancho emerged from the sand in one elegant gesture, scat- tering some grains of sand before coming to sit next to the soldier like a bird alighting. His naked body was skinny due to his strict regimen of alternate-day Daud fasting, even though everyone knew he was not a religious person.

“Here are your clothes,” said Tino Sidiq, giving him his dark green uniform.

“Every outfit gives you a new clown role to play,” said Shodancho, putting on his uniform. “Now I am Shodancho, the pig hunter.”

Tino Sidiq knew that Shodancho didn’t like this role, but at the same time he had agreed to play it. A number of days before they had received a direct order from Major Sadrah, the military com- mander of the City of Halimunda, to emerge from the jungle and help the people exterminate pigs. Shodancho hated getting orders from That Idiot Sadrah, as he always called him. This message was filled with respect and praise: Sadrah said that only Shodancho knew Halimunda like the palm of his own hand, and therefore he was the only one the people trusted to help them hunt pigs.

“This is what happens when the world is without war, soldiers are reduced to hunting pigs,” Shodancho continued. “Sadrah is so stupid, he wouldn’t even recognize his own asshole.”

He was on the same jungle beach where so many years ago the Princess Rengganis had sought refuge after running away, a wide cape that was shaped like an elephant’s ear, surrounded by more shell-strewn beaches and steep ravines, with only a few sandy stretches. The area was almost completely unspoiled by humans, because ever since the colonial era it had been maintained as a for- est preserve, with leopards and ajak. This was where Shodancho had been living for more than ten years, in a small hut just like the one he’d built during his guerrilla years. He had thirty-two soldiers under his command, and civilians sometimes came to help them, and all the men took turns riding into the city on a truck    to take care of their needs, but not Shodancho. His longest jour- ney in those ten years had only been as far as the caves, where he meditated, and he only returned to the hut to go fishing and cook for his soldiers and take care of the ajak he had domesticated. This peaceful life had been disturbed by Sadrah’s message. In the jungle there were no pigs, the animals only lived in the hills to the north of Halimunda, and so he would have to go down to the city. For him, to obey that order was to betray his devotion to solitude.

“This pitiful country,” he said. “Not even its soldiers know how to hunt pigs.”

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Excerpts: This House of Clay and Water by Faiqa Mansab

This House of Clay and Water (1)BHANGGI

My body, ji, isn’t my own. It’s a communal vessel for lust that finds expression in dark corners. I learnt that early in my life, na. I am like the spaces that belong to no one; a dirty thought never acknowledged.

This cage of bones and flesh that holds me prisoner . . . makes a mockery of me and my desires, destroys me daily. How can anyone be held responsible for the body they’re born with, ji? Who can help that?

Growing up, I’d watched men haggle with the older hijras, over the price of an hour of guilty pleasure. It’s the price of a life they squabble over, and it’s cheaper than an old chicken. Few hijras live past the age of forty. We trade our lives for a few rupees, ji, agree to bear the burden of desires, confidences and diseases that no one else will. Women are more trouble. More expensive too. Hijras are simpler; no questions asked, even if caught by the police—some of whom are regulars too.

Some prefer about anything else to a woman.

I watch the Nightingales every night. Once the streets are empty and everything is quiet and even the dogs stop barking, the silence is broken only by the sounds of occasional cars passing by, or a drunkard, yelling at a cat underfoot, the hijras known as Nightingales emerge from the few houses in the alley, a space that is only ours: the hijra chawl.

There are five of them, and their haunt is the crossing, where the narrow alleyways meet. Twinkling like fireflies in their sequined shirts and shiny synthetic silks, they laugh and chat as they wait for the regulars. They are prettier than the other hijras, whose job is to beg in the streets by day; they act as pimps for the better-looking ones. The beggar hijras look different. Their powdered faces look grey, and the exaggerated thick eyebrows and painted red lips only accentuate the hardness of their features. It is a poor disguise. as soon as one looks into their eyes, one knows.

They all said I was pretty too. I would be a Nightingale when it was time, not a pimp beggar. I could hardly wait. Nightingales are important. They bring in the big bucks, so everyone treats them well. They get the best bits of meat in the curry, and the best clothes.

The Nightingales stand together at the corner,  talking, laughing, and at times  a  hearty  guffaw  would  carry  in on the night air and thrill me as I lay in the small room, listening.

They were happy, I thought. as a child, laughter is all you need as proof of happiness. as a child you don’t know there are so many different kinds of laughter—like different varieties kinds of birds. Some are flightless.

They share a bidi, and the ends glow in the darkness. Sometimes they share a bottle of homemade liqueur. and I long to try both. Even though I know it is Shaitan’s drink. Or maybe because I know it is.

Gulabo, the master, the guru of our community, found me as a newborn, wrapped in a filthy bloodied towel outside the door of daata’s dargah. She took pity on me, she says. She fed me and clothed me, yes? She looked after me, even when those who’d helped me abandoned me. They didn’t want me. They didn’t want the shame that comes attached to me, a hijra.

Gulabo took care of me. She was also the one who sold me the first time, when I was eight. I was nothing more than an investment, an object to barter for little conveniences: indemnity from the police and a discount at the grocer’s for an hour every night, maybe a few rupees sometimes from a street wretch, if times were hard. That is the only life I am entitled to. There is nothing more, nothing else.

Growing up, I found refuge from the neighbourhood boys in the dilapidated junk shop with the kabbadiya. I hid there because, by then, I already knew why the bigger boys chased me. No one followed me into the dark alley where the kabbadiya lived, usually passed out on his piles of outdated books, magazines and newspapers. There was always a lantern burning low, hanging on the wall inside the shop, the corrugated-iron shutter only half closed. Two gigantic piles of newspapers, so old they were stuck to the floor, held the runner of the shutter up. I squeezed in between those two columns of newspapers, panting, listening to my thudding heart, waiting for the dreaded whispered insults of the eldest boy with the cruel eyes. Often the boys didn’t follow. They were afraid of the kabbadiya. People said he was a jinn. Few people had seen him in years.

But the kabbadiya found me one night.

I’d gone to sleep looking at the colourful pictures in a tattered, yellowing magazine. It was the smell of his  breath that awoke me. It was hot and sharp. I’d smelled it on men before, yes? It was Shaitan’s drink. I woke up with my hands reflexively covering my head to avoid the blows I knew would follow. But they didn’t. The kabbadiya pulled me out of the corner.

‘You’ve been here before, haven’t you?’

I nodded; I couldn’t get my tongue to detach from the roof of my mouth.

‘You  leave  the  magazines  lying  around.  You  wouldn’t make a good thief. You know who I am?’

I nodded again. He was the junk-shop owner. The jinn.

His eyes were sharp, dark.

‘You don’t know.’ He gave a short laugh and said, ‘That’s new. I used to be the gossip for years. Whose shame has taken over mine, I wonder, that people no longer talk about me. Well, what does it matter? There’s plenty of that to go around.’

He sat down with a big laugh, on the single, broken chair in the corner. He looked at me.

‘a little hijra, eh?’

He looked down at his hands. He had the magazine I’d been ogling. I was ashamed. It was full of pictures of women. Beautiful women, ji.

He raised his eyes to me and asked, ‘Can you read?’ I shook my head.

‘are you mute?’

I shook my head. He laughed softly. ‘Come here. Sit. are you hungry?’

I  didn’t  respond. My  legs  were  still  shaking. My  heart, curious and fearful, waited for the jinn to do something jinn- like. From a small half-broken wooden crate next to his chair, he took out a newspaper shaped into a cone and began to unfold it. It revealed two chapattis carefully nestling some vegetable curry. He gave half of his dinner to me.

‘Eat. I cooked it this morning. It’s fresh. Eat.’

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Excerpts: The Boy from Pataliputra by Rahul Mitra

Front CoverHunting

Aditya led the way and Pandi followed; eyes and ears peeled for signs of danger. Thick, green foliage crowded in from all sides as ancient trees of peepal and banyan towered above them. They were in the dense sub-tropical forests outside Takshashila.

Crisp, early morning freshness hung in the air  and the indescribable scents of wood, moss, flowers, mud, and wet leaves mingled in Aditya’s nostrils. He inhaled deeply of the cool forest air and shivered with excitement. All around them, the forest was alive, reverberating to the chirping of birds, the shrill cries of peacocks, and the chattering of monkeys.

Not a word was spoken. Now and again, Aditya pointed out something interesting to Pandi, who grinned with delight and then nodded for them to continue. Deeper and deeper into the jungle they went, till finally, Aditya held up his hand and got down on all fours. Pandi nodded. He too, went into a low crouch as they slowly crept forward.

They had come to the edge of a ravine. From here, the  rocky  land  sloped  steeply  down. Odd-looking stunted bushes and trees, curving into the most fantastic shapes, grew along the sides of the ravine, disappearing into pitch darkness at the bottom.

Both held absolutely still, straining all their senses, running their gaze over the bushes, rocks, and trees growing along both sides and staring deep into the distance, over the edge of the ravine opposite. Finally, deciding that all was well, they made their way down the treacherous slope to the bottom.

At the bottom it was dark, cool, and silent. Far above them, they saw the skyline, a patch of blue sky framed by dark rock walls, and the silhouettes of trees. On the ground, tangled bushes and rocks gave way to clear, muddy land, through which flowed a thin trickle of water. A dead tree lay right next to this water channel, its trunk half-submerged in mud and its white, lifeless branches sticking out awkwardly. Aditya squatted down beside the tree and pointed to something in the mud.

There, in the soft clay on one side of the tree, could be seen the paw prints of a tigress and her three cubs. They had emerged from the brush, and then crossing the nala, had followed its course for some time.

“It is two days old, at least,” Aditya whispered, pointing to one of the tigress’s pugmarks. The sides were already crumbling, and ants traversed all along the depression. With a jerk, he stood up, “We should get out of here.”

Pandi nodded. It was dark and cramped, the perfect place to be ambushed by a tiger. He gripped his javelin tightly in both hands and they made their way up the opposite bank of the ravine in silence.

On the other side, the forest was less dense. Stray sunbeams pierced through the forest canopy, lighting up dust particles and insects swirling in the air, and creating a mosaic of light and shade on the forest floor.

Through the trees, they could make out an open glade, which was covered in waist-high grass that had been burnt yellow by the sun. Here and there, a number of bushes and small trees stood out, breaking the monotony. As they crept slowly up to this clearing, Pandi now squeezed Aditya’s shoulder in glee. They were in luck.

A herd of cheetal was browsing contentedly near the opposite end of the clearing. Aditya picked up a pinch of dust, and lifting it to eye level, he let it go to see which way the dust would blow. They circled over to their left. The wind, little as it was, was blowing into their faces now. Rather than take their scent to the animals, it would do the opposite.

Aditya signalled with his fingers. There were twenty-five in all, including seven young ones. Pandi gestured towards one of the bigger ones, which had its back towards them, and strung his bow with one of the heavier arrows.

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Excerpts: The Devil is a Black Dog by Sándor Jászberényi

 The-Devil-is-a-Black-Dog_WEBSITE-480x748THE FIRST

The soldiers arrived in a pickup. There were five of them; they jumped from the back and entered the grounds of the presidential palace, leaving the driver to wait. The building stood opposite a sickly looking tree, which gave cover to the men who sat on the sidewalk chewing betel and spitting. The men watched what was happening with interest. The smell of burnt garbage and fruit rotting in the sun wafted through the air: it was scorch­ing hot, the start of the dry season.

The presidential palace looked like a Baroque castle, like a Ver­sailles in miniature, with a park and fountains with swans in them. We could see it as we approached, descending from the hill. The machine gun nests and six-foot-high concrete wall were the only reminders that you were in N’Djamena.

The detainees were led into the courtyard. Three men and a woman, all black. Their hands weren’t bound; they obediently fol­lowed one of the soldiers, who wore a red beret. He must have been the unit commander, because he was issuing orders.

The street had been blocked off by a military truck, and we wouldn’t be able go around it without attracting their atten­tion. Mustafa spat on the ground and turned off the engine, then leaned against the handlebars. “We’ll wait,” he said. “The restau­rant isn’t going anywhere.” He was my fixer, a Muslim. He had arranged my stay in the city.

We’d wanted to spend my last day in Chad quietly. He had decided to treat me to some local cuisine. The restaurants were on the city’s main street. We traveled on his motorcycle, as usual. Be­cause of the truck, however, we would have to wait. From where I sat behind Mustafa, I watched the scene as it unfolded.

Without a word the three men stood by the wall; only their skin had become a bit paler and sweat beaded through their shirts. The woman began to shout. The man in the red cap kicked her legs out from under her. As she fell her shirt burst open, her breasts spilling out like two black water pouches. The other soldiers got a kick out of this and let loose with boisterous laughter. A smile broke out on the commander’s lips, flashing snow-white teeth.

“What language are they speaking?” I asked Mustafa.

“Zaghawa, I think.”

The conscripts slapped their knees as they laughed, pointing at the woman lying in the dirt. The woman began kissing the com­mander’s black boots. The man enjoyed this for a bit, but when the woman wouldn’t quit, he bent down and picked her up in his arms. The woman stood without protest. Her face was gleaming with tears. The commander said something to her.

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Excerpts: The Sacred Sorrow of Sparrows by Siddharth Dasgupta

The Sacred Sorrow of Sparrows_05.12(1)IN SYMPHONIES WE FLOW

Life, in all its red-blooded bliss of ache, skin, soul, and sky is brief; wouldn’t you know…

And tonight, the night refuses to be anything but brutally young. Photographs keep washing on to the shore, and dreams keep playing truant with the light within your eyes.

As pupils blossom and in seeps the ocean’s silent sonata, you see an ancient wooden home by the waves, keeping time to the rebellious tides. You sense three stilled notes of pure, amazing grace. You uncover atonement in knowing that someone, somewhere is thinking of you at a café by the sea; wanting to be held in your arms, wanting your shoulder to rest her head on, wanting your lyrics to make up her song. That’s all there is. And you try and figure out the dots and the lines that lead to something resembling a picture; an image filtered through the rapidness of time, tide, man, and myth.

Were you destined to play the rebel to karma’s near-perfect script? Was it decreed that for this act, you be the joker of the pack; a Capricorn dissident wreaking disorder with the beautifully aged tarot cards? You cast such aspersions aside as you drink some wine and you smoke some moonlight and you try and keep innocence alive. It’s nothing. It’s everything. The ocean saves its best for last.

Beyond me, like an ancient sacred snake, winds the mighty Bosphorus. It is early morning now, and a soft layer of mist rises above the water. No life here in Istanbul is left untouched by the maiden’s majestic sweep. These are two different halves of the world, being unified by a cadence that sometimes flows in shades of pure blue, as it is doing now, or in billowing clouds of ink black, or, as when dusk is at its doorstep, in striking palettes of golden red, or, most thrillingly, as when the night is thick and filled with the moon’s romantic essence, in streaks of giddy silver.

I step on to Galata Bridge, taking the lower passage, and walk, keeping step with the shores as they flank different customs, different communities, different relationships, and even, as it feels at times, different eras. Beneath the onslaught, there are boats coming in with the day’s first catch and small ferries waiting to transport an anxious working-class horde to any of the city’s distant villages and tourist hotspots.

As the fishermen dock their precariously tiny vessels, one of them offers me a smoke. I accept gladly, and inhale the dark essence of dawn, nicotine, and rancidness. My senses are alive to every heartbeat. My ears are privy to every secret. Small makeshift cafés have already begun grilling the fish and handing them out in hastily wrapped paper.

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Excerpts: The Theft of India by Roy Moxham

The theft of indiaTHe PoRTuguese

Terror, Luxury and Decay

At the beginning of the sixteenth century, Gujarat was probably the most important trading centre in India. Broach, at the mouth of the great River Narmada, was its principal port and market. From there, goods were despatched to the Indian interior, southern and western India, Arabia, Central Asia, Europe and to the Far East. At the beginning of the century, much of the pepper and other spices of the Malabar Coast, and from the Far East, had been taken north to Gujarat for sale. When the Portuguese took control of the spice trade in Malabar and the East, and shipped directly to Europe, Gujarat’s trade suffered. Nevertheless, with its access to the routes into northern India and Arabia, Gujarat was still a major business centre.

The Gujaratis were considerable shipowners. Moreover, the Gujarati merchants regularly travelled on business to Arabia and the Far East. In other parts of India where trade was mostly in the hands of Hindu merchants, these were inhibited by the Hindu prohibition on ‘crossing the black sea’. Hindus who did travel were liable to be ruined by being expelled from their caste. In Gujarat, not only were there many Muslims who were, of course, free to travel, but also many well-off Hindus who had converted to Jainism. To become a Jain was perfectly acceptable to most Hindus since they regarded the Jains as a Hindu sect. Moreover, they were much admired for their belief in the sanctity of all life. Naturally, adhering to such a belief meant the Jains were unable to indulge in warfare, a common occupation of upper- caste Hindus. The Jains were free to focus their energies on moneylending, banking and trade. Moreover, their religion had no restrictions on travel, so they were able to conduct business abroad. Both the Jains and the Muslims established themselves as major overseas traders.

The Portuguese, having secured domination over Malabar, wanted to gain control over Gujarat too. Their first opportunity came in 1533, when the Mughals attacked Gujarat. In 1534 the ruler of Gujarat entered into a pact with the Portuguese to resist the Mughals. In return for their help, he gave them the district of Bassein and its dependencies, including the islands that would eventually become Bombay. The Portuguese greatly strengthened the existing fort at Bassein and built many more. Two years later, they managed to obtain the island fort of Diu. The Gujaratis tried to reclaim Diu in 1538 and again in 1546. The later siege was an epic battle. The governor of India (later viceroy), João de Castro, commanded the Portuguese relief. From Bassein, he sent one of his commanders on a preliminary foray to intercept any ships taking supplies to the enemy. This he did with great savagery. The mutilated bodies of the men he killed were cast into the mouths of the rivers so that they would drift up to the towns as a warning of Portuguese vengeance. When the commander returned to Bassein, the yardarms of his ships were decorated with the hanging bodies of sixty Muslims.

It needed all the naval and military resources of the Portuguese to raise this siege of Diu, which could well have terminated their attempts at domination, but they prevailed and massively extended the fortifications. The reprisals after the second siege of Diu were savage. The governor told the king of Portugal that he had sent a commander with twenty ships to:

Burn and destroy the whole coast, in which he very well showed his diligence and gallantry, because he caused more destruction of the coast than was ever done before, or ever dreamt of, destroying every place from Daman up to Broach, so that there was no memory left of them, and he butchered everyone he captured without showing mercy to a living thing. He burnt twenty large ships and one hundred and fifty small ones and the town squares were covered in bodies, which caused great astonishment and fear in all Gujarat.

At Gogha, the Portuguese heaped up the bodies of those they had killed in the temples. They then cut the throats of cows and defiled the temples by sprinkling them with the blood.

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Excerpts: White Crane, Lend Me Your Wings by Tsewang Yishey Pemba

white-crane-3dPaul Stevens and Rilo, the old hunter, hid behind a rock and watched. Tenga Dragotsang, Mingma and some of the other Tibetan guerrillas had taken another route to go ‘hunting’ for the day. It was almost like the old days when they had hunted mountain sheep close to the Golok country, and Tenga had pretended to have hurt his leg. Paul could still see Tenga and Rilo dancing triumphantly in the flickering light of the campfire on that icy mountainside. The wily sham! Now, they hunted soldiers of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army who had come to ‘liberate’ them. Rilo had become just as skilful and uncanny in tracking down, scenting out and hunting this species of  animal as mountain sheep and  bears.

Paul brought out his binoculars but Rilo pushed them away. ‘The reflection…the Chinese may detect us…’ he explained.

‘What can you see, Rilo?’ asked Stevens.

‘Chinese Communists,’ said the hunter, shielding his eyes. ‘Ten…twelve of  them. What a feast!’

Paul peered down the mountainside but wasn’t quite convinced. ‘Paul-o, let’s go into that clump of  trees. I’m sure that’s the way they’re heading. Just the spot for an ambush.’ ‘Agreed…’ said the young American.

Stevens, Rilo and seven Khampas scampered down the slope and ran into the trees and hid behind logs and a large rock.

‘Paul-o…you fire first,’ instructed Rilo. ‘Aim for the last man in the column.’

They waited. In spite of the intense cold and the snow, Paul found beads of  sweat on his forehead. His mouth went dry.

He saw a Khampa squat down behind a rock and urinate into the snow.

Paul’s heart thumped and his hands trembled as he waited. He heard voices approaching. He checked and rechecked that his rifle’s safety catch was released. He saw Rilo waiting behind the stump of a tree, gesturing to him excitedly that the Chinese were close. Every Khampa was ready for the kill, waiting tensely.

The Chinese platoon came along in a single file, their rifles slung behind their backs, talking casually to each other; unaware that they were walking into a Khampa guerrilla trap.  The air  was bracing and cold. Occasionally a clod of snow fell off an overladen branch and sprayed the air with a shimmer. The sun was shining brightly and the glare from the snow had induced one or two of the PLA men to don snow-goggles. Some of  them were vigorously thumping their gloved hands together to keep warm. They were rosy-cheeked, their breaths vaporous in the clear Tibetan morning air as they laughed and turned to each other, joking and poking fun.

Paul raised his rifle and took careful aim at the last man in the column, following him in his sights as he walked up the forest track—a young boyish-looking soldier. Paul fired and saw the soldier twist and stumble and the serene stillness of the mountains was shattered by the sounds of rifle fire as more Chinese soldiers went down. But they were not all dead or severely wounded for, in an instant, the Chinese fired back. Some Khampas darted out and ran from tree to tree, inviting more enemy fire mostly from automatics. And then the firing ceased.

‘Paul-o! Paul-o!’ There was loud whispering close to him.  He turned and saw Rilo just a few yards away, flat on his belly. He was smiling and appeared triumphant. A good kill… ‘Some Communists behind that log there…’ he whispered, prodding into the distance with his forefinger.

‘Where?’ whispered Paul.

‘That log…behind that log…’ said Rilo hoarsely. ‘Paul-o… I’ll go from behind. You stay here. Don’t move…don’t show yourself…’ Paul nodded. Rilo wriggled away in the snow, the jagged scar across his face showing white against his ruddy skin. Paul waited. There was a soft thud close to him as if a stone had been thrown at him to draw his attention. He turned, thinking it might be a Khampa warning him of danger or perhaps a lump  of snow fallen from a tree. In an instant he saw it was a grenade. Paul lay flat on his face and instinctively covered his head with his hands as at the same instant the grenade exploded with a tremendous roar, scattering snow and fragments of earth in a wide arc. The next moment bursts of automatic fire came from all sides and Paul looked up and saw a Chinese soldier dashing towards him, so close that he could have stretched out his hand and touched him. Paul fired, saw him lurch, stumble and disappear behind a slope. And then from every direction he saw his friends running, shooting, and shouting in excitement, and Paul realized the Communists had been overcome.

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Excerpts: The Exodus is Not Over by Nandita Haksar

exodusAtim had not thought of herself as a Naga. She knew she was a Tangkhul  and she also knew that her people were fighting  for freedom. While she was studying in Holy Spirit School in  Longpi,  near  Kalhang,  her  mother’s  village,  the  girls exchanged stories about the heroic tales of the Alungpashi     or the people who live underground, sometimes known as Ishipashi or ‘our people’. Atim had assumed ‘our people’ meant Tangkhuls, rather than the Nagas as a whole.

There was a senior student called Rachael. She would tell the younger girls about the valour of the underground. She said there was one man called Yarchung who was identified by the Indian army by the mole on his cheek. But when they caught him, he jumped down the hills from a moving jeep and escaped. Rachael said that three Tangkhul freedom fighters could kill a hundred Indian soldiers. Her audience listened in awed silence.

The girls would practise Kung Fu moves that they had seen in the movies and were absolutely enthralled by a Tangkhul movie called Ramchoramrin. It had scenes of real ambushes carried out by the underground.

Except for one incident, Atim had not personally encountered the Indian army. That had happened when she was with her mother’s elder sister in the paddy field in Kalhang. When the other women started running away because the army was coming, her aunt was not scared. She stood in the field and the soldiers called out to them. The aunt told Atim to ask for roti and the little girl called out, ‘roti dedo’. A soldier gave her two rotis which she ate hungrily.

Atim had childhood memories of hearing shots at night in Ukhrul when the Indian army exchanged fire with the Naga militants, and on one occasion two people had hidden in their house for several days. One of them was injured. That was the day when they heard that one of the underground had worn a Haora Tangkhul shawl and calmly walked to the army post and shot some officers. Another time, when there was curfew in Ukhrul town and one of her mother’s friends needed to go somewhere urgently, she had put ash in her hair and pretended to be a madwoman.

Later, when she was older and living in the Greenland locality of Ukhrul town, she used to see a very well-dressed young man. It was whispered that he was in the movement   and had a reputation for his acts of daring. He even tried to  get Atim and her friends to join the organization, but they  were not willing to leave their families. Later, they heard he was killed. Atim had also heard of a legendary Naga freedom fighter called Livingstone who, it was said, could turn into a fly and enter the Indian army camps. Atim’s father used to tell her about how he had secretly met Muivah himself at Shirui village.

Sometimes, when Atim was angry with her parents, she would threaten that if they did not listen to her she would join the underground. At the same time, she knew that the life of a freedom fighter was not easy. She had also discovered that there were divisions among the underground. Her mother had told her a story that made Atim’s spine tingle with fear.

Atim’s mother’s friend, Thing Thing, was in the NSCN and living in a camp deep in the forests on the India-Myanmar border. Once, when the women had gone into the forest to collect banana leaves to use as plates, they heard their camp being attacked by the Khaplang faction. All the men, mostly Tangkhuls, were killed. The women ran deeper into the forest. They had no food to eat. One of the women, Ngalangam from Khangkhui village, did not have boots and her feet had started to fester so she could no longer run; she told the others to leave her. They put her under a tree and managed to reach a village to fetch help. When the villagers reached the spot where she had been left, they could not find her body and they assumed that wild animals must have attacked and killed her.

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Excerpts: The Party Worker by Omar Shahid Hamid

The Party WorkerThe batsman at the other end, your captain, says something to you but it doesn’t register. It doesn’t matter, it can only be some inane observation. The bowler returns to the top of his mark, licking his fingers and massaging the red ball. Here he comes again. Watch the ball. It’s tossed up. Move forward, bring the bat in a full arc and connect. There, it is now a red dot hurtling through the sky, over the bowler’s head, out of the ground for a six. The perfect shot. Suddenly, the heat doesn’t matter. Your captain’s prattling doesn’t matter. The bowler’s prior performance doesn’t matter. Your name is Asad Haider, you are nineteen years old and you are the best batsman in the world. That is all that matters.

‘That Asad Haider is the best batsman in Nishtar Park.’ ‘Arre choro yaar. That boy can only play on these dead pitches. Besides, he’s a bloody charsi. Always high as a kite. No proper coaching either. He wouldn’t survive five minutes on a real turf wicket.’

‘Still, I’ve never seen anyone with such a natural eye. And just look at the grace in his shots. And the pitch isn’t easy. The old concrete slab is falling apart. It’s not easy to maintain your technique on that surface.’

‘Arre, who ever heard of a six-foot-four-inch opening batsman. All the great batsmen were short men. Gavaskar, Bradman, Miandad. That’s what makes them compact players. This boy should have been a fast bowler with his height. But saala lazy hai. He doesn’t want to work hard. Just wants to bat and smoke charas.’

A third voice pipes up. ‘He’s nothing more than a khatmal goonda. Goes around the area with his little band of khatmals, shutting down shops and threatening the traders every time the Fiqah-e-Jaaferia decide to call a bandh.’

‘Saale badmaash khatmal thugs. Such are the times we live in, that every time something happens to one of them anywhere in the city, these pups who’ve barely started shaving start bossing around respectable people. At least, we didn’t have this kind of thing when Bhutto was still alive.’

‘Bhutto was a Shia too. He didn’t do anything to restrain them.’ ‘Yes, but all this started when Zia put his hand on the mullahs. Then this lot started acting up.’

‘It was the bloody revolution in Iran. That’s when things started going bad. Besides, these fellows have the biggest mullah. That fellow Khomeini.’

‘Don’t you dare blaspheme against the Imam! We will tolerate a lot of your rubbish but we will not accept any insult against the Imam. And you better be careful. Half of us living around Nishtar Park are Shia.’

Aleem Siddiqui walks into the small makeshift pavilion that has been set up under a bright red shamiana at the very moment that the cricketing debate turns into a sectarian confrontation. His trademark polyester shirt is plastered to his back and two huge sweat stains expand like ink blots under his armpits. It is not just the heat that makes Aleem sweat. It is fear as well.

Getting between the two offensive debaters, he ensures that neither will be able to deck the other. ‘Excuse me, sirji, I am very sorry but can someone please point me to where Asad Haider is? Has he left the ground already?’

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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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