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As I have mentioned earlier, prior to the branding of Jaffna Street, our area was notorious, constantly attracting search operations. In the summer of 1992 the security apparatus launched ‘Operation Tiger’, which achieved notoriety for allegedly bumping off insurgents rather than capturing them. The operation  was initiated from our Noor Bagh area and its first casualty was a local lad, a big fish, a much-wanted insurgent leader of the Al Umar insurgent group that controlled the entire downtown area. Earlier that same night, our next-door neighbour, Yusuf, an affable and mild-mannered artisan, died in a concomitant raid   by the Indian armed forces to trap a group of armed insurgents. Giving no heed to his or his parent’s protestations, the militants had forcibly entered his home to stay the night.

Weeks before, my sibling and I had finagled our way out of another army cordon using our exam slips. Allowed at first to leave, we were then detained along with a host of others at the Noor Bagh chowk. An autorickshaw driver who had inadvertently walked into the cordon had been forced to sit under a horse cart. Irate soldiers playfully made our release from the cordoned area  conditional on our setting the range plates of  their  AK 47  rifles to the correct measure; a sure way of self-implicating. In  the afternoon sun we watched in trepidation as the soldiers cursed and accused us of studying during the day and fighting them at night.

But afterwards, with the changing contours, even as foreign fighters started pouring into the Kashmir theatre of operations and Srinagar itself, the assassinations of former militants and people accused of snitching were regularly carried  out  by  a new insurgent crop. Ironically, though, the spate of extortions and carjacking that had been the norm ceased. The racketeer insurgent lot steered clear of our area for fear of being shot in broad daylight.

The increase in insurgent activity again led to an increased level of cordon and search operations and arrests by the paramilitaries and the military. Their lack of hard intelligence  led to indiscriminate and random arrests; many of my own friends and acquaintances were also taken in and had to weather vicious interrogation techniques in makeshift detention centres during the two- to three-day mopping operations. Many had to be carried home, so broken and battered, unable to even  stand. Many a times I thanked my stars for never having to go through these ordeals.

In June 1995, I stood in the large crowd in the main square on Nalamaar Road. My previous attendances in the cordon and search operations had left me with a sunburnt face and arms so    I was trying to find a place to perch and protect myself from    the summer sun, which in a few hours would attain a furious face, enough to melt the surface of the tarmac road.

What  I  hadn’t  considered  was  that  my  dandyish  though worn-out attire, complete with Lacoste and Levi’s components, would mark me out in the crowd. Within moments, a young officer in cammies wigwagged his fingers, signalling me to come forward. Ever the cocky person I was in those days, I blurted, ‘What am I supposed to do,’ in English. The officer retorted in   a serious tone, ‘I will let you  know.’

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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.

By Nilesh Mondal

lankaIt is no easy task to write an epic, but a job more difficult than that would be to attempt retelling one of the most complicated and incredible epics to ever have been written. Kavita Kane does exactly that, although to her credit, she already is an established name in terms of retelling Indian mythology. One can only assume it was this confidence that made her choose to venture into the retelling of the Ramayana, the exploits of the Prince of Ayodhya and his nemesis, the king of Lanka. A retelling of such an enormous, extensive and breath-taking epic can be a hit-or-miss situation, where on one end lies the risk of falling prey to clichés or getting lost in the convoluted plot of the original epic, and on the other, the befitting reward of satisfaction.

Kavita Kane tackles this opportunity head on, and fortunately ends up with something of high finesse and value.

Lanka’s Princess takes us through the life and times of Princess Meenakshi, the only daughter of Rishi Vishravas and sister to Ravan, Kumbhakaran and Vibhishan. Meenakshi, born in a family no stranger to war and dark secrets, is regularly neglected by her mother and brothers, and reprimanded by her father. Her chances at a happy life are cut short repeatedly, driving her into a corner where hatred and spite engulfs her soul. The way these circumstances mould her character and prepare her for her role in the battle between Ram and Ravan, are fascinating and suspenseful to watch unfold. The slow transformation of kind and compassionate Princess Meenakshi into the ruthless and vengeful Surpanakha is heart-breaking to follow, and imparts a well-founded depth to her character, which makes it inevitable for us to sympathise with this deeply troubled villainous protagonist.

Despite being a retelling, or rather reimagining of the mythological epic, this story handles other contemporary sensitive issues with profound understanding and space as well. This is a revelation for the readers, as we are made to realise that issues of feminism and prevalent gender discrimination, insecurity based on looks and skin colour, honour killing, taboo on sexuality, sexual violence, and many others were alive and well even in the times of Shree Ram. The writer however, tackles these issues subtly and with much tact, weaving them into the narrative and not making the whole story about one particular issue alone, or appearing outright judgemental at any point of the narration.

By Manisha Lakhe

feet-in-the-valley

You don’t have to read the writer’s bio to figure out that the writer is a civil servant. The book, Feet in the Valley by Aswini Kumar Mishra, is an ode to the “sarkari daftar” and its ways and means of working less and making more money.

Somen, the protagonist of the book doesn’t start out as being likeable, because he fails his exams and generally seems to not care whether his family has to put up with hardships due to his “studies” late into the night. He takes it for granted that his parents and sister would be crammed into one room in order for him to study into the night. When he fails, you wonder if his mother’s love for him (she feeds him pakoras and samosas and cut fruit – by her own hand – at different points in the book) is deserved. He is 28 years old and seems to be self-centered and “useless”, and it seems to be a patriarchal setup because his sister Minati seems to have more brains than him.

Somen’s father works in the Railways, and the working ways of the booking office creates a fine picture of bribery and corruption. It is so beautifully written that you feel that you are standing in the booking queue, waiting for your turn, witnessing the way government offices work (or don’t). It is a record of frustrations with the system. Even the details in the offices of the Block Development Officer and the nexus between the different departments and the avarice of the people, with utter disregard to the welfare of the people they are meant to serve is wonderfully depicted in the book. You feel every bump in the road, and hear the music played by the crooked owner of Hotel Amar (where everyone goes, from the BDO to the contractors and the subcontractors and the Tehsildar and his cronies and anyone with money and interest in making money off the government).

“At times, it was discovered that Nanda’s motorcycle ran on the fuel supplied by Patnaik. When relatives arrived at the resident of Rath, another JE, Mishra the Sub-Contractor, provided the entertainment packages. As soon as the office opened, Patnaik would arrive, with folded hands to greet both Nanda and Rath.

‘Yes… Patnaik.’

‘Sir, namaste… My bills, sir.’

‘Not prepared yet, please come later.’

‘Sir… I badly need the money to pay my labourers.’

‘But the BDO is out of station.’

‘No, but he sure to return soon… Sir.’

‘Oh! You are so bothersome, as always.’

‘Sir, please.’

Patnaik laid a packet of cigars on Nanda’s table while suggesting the mode of preparation of the bill. Nanda, puffing a cigar from the pack, asked Patnaik to leave the room so he could go ahead with the present task. Patnaik left immediately. Nanda once again shouted at him, ‘Please ask for some coffee.’”

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.

By Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé

jessica-faleiro-pix

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

To do otherwise would be to deny an integral part of myself. I write because I must, because of my addiction to the feel of an ink pen between my fingers scribbling word-code onto one blank page after another. To me, writing is an aesthetic pleasure that sets every fibre of my being into vibration, when I’m actually doing it. The other reason I write is to be able to make sense of my own thoughts and feelings, and creatively express them onto the page or screen. Sometimes, just the writing process is a form of catharsis for me, even though my scribbles make no sense.

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

My last book, Afterlife: Ghost stories from Goa, published by Rupa (2012) is a novel that follows the lives of X generations within a Goan family. At a get-together to celebrate the patriarch’s 75th birthday, there is a powercut that leads organically to the family swapping ghost-stories. Through the process or sharing oral histories, the family history and some secrets are revealed. The structure became an important part of telling the story of the family; I used a frame narrative device to interlink the individual stories. It’s more of a commentary about the social mores of South Goan society, diasporic culture and religious aspects among other things. My intention was to create a story that wasn’t just about ‘ghosts’ but about the things that haunt us emotionally and psychologically.

Describe your writing aesthetic.

Excavating words to reveal complex layers of emotion. At least, that’s the aspiration!

The HindusAleph has put out a statement on the Times of India reporting stating that it is not aware of any such matter.

The statement released on Facebook reads, “This refers to the report by Rajiv Kalkod (“Another Doniger book pulled out”) published in your newspaper today. We are not aware of any such thing except that we are looking forward to the right resolution of the situation.’-Authorised statement of R T Das, Rupa Publications, Regional Manager, South India.”