Friday, August 19, 2016

The best part of my eight-year stint in The Times of India was the crime stories I got to edit. Most of it was regular crime – rape, chain stanching, allegations of rape, occasional incest, occasional crimes of passion, stray murders. It was all lower and middle class crime. If there was a high profile crime, it would go on Page 1 and I would not be allowed to edit it. So I edited crime stories of the margin and tried my best to make them human. And one day, working in the Gurgaon Desk, this story came to me. Two persons, accused of a murder, made a daring escape by killing two cops who were escorting them to the police station. They were arrested two years later. This was a follow-up story, and did not deserve more than a single column. I dredged the ugly past and made it a two-column item. But the story would not leave me, especially when the reporter could not give us a proper motivation for the men’s actions. So I invented a motivation; what better motivation there is than love.

My indebtedness to Divya Dubey for her courage to accept to publish the story, for it is not just a murder story or a queer love story; it contains some graphic sex descriptions banned under the Indian law. This should be motivation enough for readers. Happy reading, if you would.

No Regrets

Being locked up in Bhondsi jail is not really a bad thing. The inmates largely leave me alone. They are terrified of me. They are terrified of my reputation. I am a cop killer. Killing a civilian is different. It is normal. Killing a cop, on the other hand, can make you look dangerous in the eyes of other criminals. I killed two cops, and injured two others. I do not remember what happened exactly. All I remember is Jaswant’s terrified face, and panic rushing through my veins. I remember firing the gun until all the bullets were exhausted. I remember pulling Jaswant from his stupor and making a dash for the car.

I do not remember the incident, yet the guards on duty will not let me forget. They despise me. I am the cop killer. I killed two of their brothers and they will not forgive me. They call me names. Earlier, I would get angry. I would yell back. I would threaten to kill them in their sleep. Now, I am used to the routine. Their words do not mean anything to me anymore.

Read the complete story, published in Earthen Lamp Journal, August 2016, here,

A cipher for modern India

Name: A Life Misspent
Author: Suryakant Tripathi ‘Nirala’ (translated from the Hindi by Satti Khanna)
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Pages: 117
Price: Rs 199

A reviewer’s job is not just to recommend a good book, but also to suggest a way to appreciate it. I will recommend this slim auto/biographical sketch from one of Hindi’s foremost modern poets, the founder of Chhayavaad school of poetry, Suryakant Tripathi ‘Nirala’, translated by Satti Khanna. But how do I explain it?

In 117 pages, the book (not a novel, neither a biography nor autobiography, but a combination of all three), written in 1931, encompasses the core of the political reality of modern India, so much so that I am tempted to call it a history of India during Independence. The book has everything – the Brahminical system and the zeal to protect its hold, the reality of casteism in rural India, and the uneasy existence between Hindu and Muslim communities. The book also reveals the exact moment of the country’s willingness to break away from the feudal system (and the royalty). The book is also critical of Nehru and Gandhi, and it notices the seed of discontent in Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid.

Amidst all these, the book is the story of two men, in their 20s and 30s, struggling to survive in a world against them. A reviewer recently introduced the book as ‘biography of a Brahmin homosexual, written in the 1930s’. This may be headline grabbing, but it’s not true. We must remember that the book was written in 1930s, in Hindi, set in a remote UP village. To read the book from the prism of our understanding would be doing it a disservice.

The book is designed as a biography of a man called Kulli Bhat, the man who tried to ‘seduce’ Nirala and was thwarted, the man who over the years became Nirala’s friend and confidant. Yet, the book is more about Nirala, the man who would be the poet, and about his one great love, his wife.

Perhaps what makes A Life Misspent an important book is that raises more questions than it does answer. The interactions between these two men open up the idea of a country we will come to inhabit more than half-a-century later. It is an enigmatic cipher for the malaises of modern India.

(Published in Sakal Times, Pune, 14 August)

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

For a while now, I have been hearing about this hallowed word, ‘Sacrifice’ everywhere in the media, in the context of godmen, movie stars, politicians, soldiers… (Remember the question that everyone was asking a few months back, “Where were you in so and so year?” “What did you do in so and so year?”) Recently, in America, it was Mr Trump explaining what he has sacrificed. Then I remember this song from the 1973 movie version of ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’, and this sort of validates my feeling about it. In this climatic number, a dead Judas Iscariot descends from heaven in a white jumpsuit and asks the resurrected Jesus:

“Everytime I look at you I don't understand
Why you let the things you did get so out of hand
You'd have managed better if you had it planned
Now why'd you choose such a backward time and such a strange land?
If you'd come today you could have reached a whole nation
Israel in 4 BC had no mass communication

Don't you get me wrong....
Only want to know.....

Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ
Who are you? What have you sacrificed?
Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ
Who are you? What have you sacrificed?
Jesus Christ Superstar
Do you think you're what they say you are?
Jesus Christ Superstar
Do you think you're what they say you are?"

On the subject of sacrifice, how could I forget Elton John’s chart-topping number? The song from my agonizing teen-age years. Yes, I was young once, and it was terrible.