By Ankita Banerjee

The skyscrapers along the nameless street grew four times bigger that afternoon, like a dozen of Hulks coming to life all at once. I picked up pace, but tripped over something and fell down on the sidewalk.  The result was a palpable twinge on my left arm. There was a clothesline tied across what seemed to my eight-year-old self as two gigantic green  skyscrapers and on it hung my mother’s petticoats and a pair of her old red ribbons. “Slow down, it’s going to pour,” she called out to me from faraway. But I was so close to where I wanted to be; I couldn’t wait.

“Fresh catches for only 50 taka (rupees in Bengali) per kilo!” fishmongers cried from the ferry terminal down the street. I walked down gingerly through its slushy stairs. Across the mighty river, Chandannagar sparkled with lights that brought to life mythological birds and animals and vivid blooming flowers sketched on display boards. And then I saw the silvery hilsa (fish found in the Indian subcontinent) — gleaming with a touch of regal pink, stacked all around.

I was still eight, sitting at the doorstep of my mother’s old kitchen and watched her fry ring-shaped pieces of the hilsa in mustard oil. She put two heaped spoons of steamed rice on my plate and mixed it with the oil of hilsa roe and a pinch of salt with her turmeric stained peaky fingers. “Let me pick out the bones for you,” the warmth in her voice echoed from the other end of time and coiled into a globe of ache in my chest. The pain on my left arm was no longer obscure.

By Aminah Sheikh

iceLadakh district — a bikers’ paradise and the dream destination of travel junkies — prides itself in not only the gigantic mountains of the Himalayan range and its enchanting sceneries, but also in a historic place — Kargil. Kargil lies in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, and stands witness to infiltrations, the Indian armed forces guarding the borders and the lives of locals that are mired in politics. Lives that come under the scanner for merely having homes in sensitive regions; the mysterious deaths of locals that get swept under the carpet as deaths caused by “suspicious activities”; images that echo across media channels, if headline worthy.

Praveen Swami’s short story “Ice: A Farooq Reshi Investigation” published by Juggernaut Books is thought-provoking. An expert on Islamist terrorism, Praveen is known for his skilled investigative journalism in conflicted regions of India. “Ice: A Farooq Reshi Investigation” draws upon various dimensions from his years of award-winning reportage, and provides a fresh perspective on grave and sensitive issues with non-intrusive slap-stick humour.

The story is written as a personal account, or rather, a narration by the protagonist Farooq Reshi, Kargil’s Superintendent of Police, as he is pushed out of his lazy chair to investigate the case of four dead “Buddhist” shepherds, assumed to have been killed by Lashkar terrorists. Infamous among peers for his obnoxious behavior when drunk, Farooq’s demeanor reminds the reader of Sherlock Holmes, as he goes about solving the case.

“Nothing happened in Kargil. Nothing that concerned the police, anyway. Every once in a while, someone would get drunk and beat up someone else, or someone would run off with someone else’s wife, and there would be a bit of a to-do about it, and somebody or the other would disappear, never to be heard of again. No one troubled us for assistance on that sort of thing, though: they’d realized it’s faster, and a lot cheaper, not to involve the police in their problem.”

…This sets the tone of a story that is gripping in its revelations. It mocks the hypocrisy of authorities with simplicity in expression – an underground bedroom, reserved for newly married officers to protect them from Pakistani troop’s artillery, bears “loud-red Tibetan kitsch dragons, playfully curled around mirrors…”

By Aminah Sheikh

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Let’s get down to brass tacks. Why do you write?

I guess I am expected to say: “I write because I love to”. But that’s about as true an answer as “I went into politics because I wanted to serve the country” or that “my father is a film-star has nothing to do with my decision to go into films”. The reason I write is to get published, and the reason I want to get published is to be read. So the actual answer to the question is “I write because I want you to read.” There is no greater high than the knowledge that someone invested the most precious resource they have, namely their time, in something you created, and hopefully obtained a satisfactory return on that investment.

Tell us about your most recent book or writing project. What were you trying to say or achieve with it?

My next book The Mahabharata Murders, a serial killer mystery, comes out in 2017 from Juggernaut, and I have done only one round of edits. At the moment, I am writing the next book in the Sultan of Delhi series, Sultan of Delhi: Resurrection, and for that I had to put on the back-burner, another project that I had finished quite a bit of—Shakchunni, a horror novel, set in 1930s Bengal.

Describe your writing aesthetic.

Conflict, characters, ending.  The inherent conflict, internal as well as external, must be well-established, the characters must have arcs (no static cardboards please), and the ending must pack a punch. Did I forget something? Oh yes. Conversations. They must be the primary vehicle for moving the story forward.

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From Mining to Militarism 

Mining and militarism have a deeply intimate history. In 2003, when India liberalized its mining policy, the de facto Maoist control over the region was seen as constituting a major obstacle to rapid industrialization and land acquisition. Industry associations like the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) explicitly supported the government’s offensive against the Maoists and called for the involvement of the private sector in this effort:

The growing Maoist insurgency over large swathes of the mineral rich countryside could soon hurt some industrial investment plans. Just when India needs to ramp up its industrial machine to lock in growth and when foreign companies are joining the party – Naxalites are clashing with mining and steel companies essential to India’s long-term success.

Human rights activists argue that it is not a coincidence that Salwa Judum began just when the state government had signed a memorandum of understanding for a steel plant with the Tatas in June 2005. Around the same time, Essar was acquiring land for another steel plant in Dhurli and Bhansi villages, and both the Tatas and Essar were given captive iron ore mines on the Bailadilla hills. ‘Public hearings’ were held in Lohandiguda, Dhurli and Bhansi, in order to fulfi l the offi cial requirement under PESA of eliciting villagers’ ‘consent’:

The villagers under the leadership of Dantewada Adivasi Mahasabha and Sangharsh Samiti Dhurli, said that on 9th September the police forced them to sign No objection letters. Two constables were posted in each house. No outsider was allowed at the meeting place. People were not allowed to leave their homes or to talk to each other. According to villagers, at 9 a.m. they were forced into vehicles, and taken to the meeting location. Supporters of the opposition leader (Mahendra Karma) also helped the police in this process. The villagers related that they were taken into a room in twos, and pistols were placed at their temples to make them sign where told.