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Friday, October 16, 2020


This is also published in Outlook Magazine 15 10 2020

 व्यंग्य

विक्रम और बेताल : किस्सा वही पुराना - संदर्भ आधुनिक।
राजा विक्रम चुपचाप उठा और श्मशान की ओर चल दिया। महल के सभी पहरेदार सो रहे थे पर शहर के सारे चोर जाग रहे थे. राजा को श्मशान पहुँचने की जल्दी थी इसलिए उसने उस समय कोई करवाई करना मुनासिब नहीं समझा। सोचा आखिर प्रकारांतर से सारा माल तो सरकारी ख़ज़ाने में पहुँच ही जायेगा. श्मशान पहुँच कर हमेशा की भांति उसने पीपल के पेड़ पर झूलती लाश को कंधे पर उठाया और चल पड़ा. राजा को अपरिचित मार्ग पर जाते हुए देख बेताल ने पूछा , "ये हम कहाँ जा रहे हैं."राजा ने कहा ," पड़ोस के राज्य में एक बहुत बड़ा यज्ञ हो रहा है, जहाँ प्रजातान्त्रिक कुरीतियों , मिथ्या आडंबरों ,ढकोसलों की आहुति दी जा रही है । मैं तंग आ गया हूँ ,प्रजातंत्र की लाश ढोते ढोते । बहुत पहले जब मैंने शासन की बागडोर संभाली थी तो मुझे विरासत में इसी पेड़ पर झूलता हुआ यह शव मिला था.मुझे बताया गया कि यह प्रजातंत्र है.मैंने पूछा भी नहीं कि ये ज़िंदा है या मुर्दा ?,मेरे पुरखो ने ही इस प्रजातंत्र नामक व्यवस्था का इजाद किया था . इसलिए इस शव का अंतिम संस्कार करने का पूरा अधिकार है मुझे. मैं सोच रहा हूँ तुम्हे भी आज मुक्ति दिला दूँ."बेताल ने चिर परिचित विनोद मिश्रित गंभीर स्वर में कहा . "राजन जो सूक्ष्म है , मात्र छाया है, उसे जलने का क्या भय। स्थूल मनुजों को काया लुप्त हो जाने का भय सताता है. तुम्हारा निर्णय तो अंतिम होगा लेकिन आखिर जब इस शव को तुम इतने दिनों से ढो रहे हो तो अचानक? प्रजातंत्र जीवित है या मृत यह एक यक्ष प्रश्न है, श्रोडिंजर'स कैट की तरह .यह जीवित भी है मृत भी , परिस्थितियों के अनुसार " बेताल ने कहा" लेकिन राजन , प्रजातंत्र है बड़े काम की चीज़। जिसने भी राजा का प्रजातांत्रिक ढंग से चयन की व्यवस्था की और फिर ऐसा पेंच डाल दिया कि जो एक बार आये वह हमेशा का होकर रह जाय , वह वास्तव में एक मनीषी रहा होगा। निरंकुश ,निरंतर और निर्भय होकर सत्ता का सुख भोगने की इससे बेहतर कोइ व्यवस्था नहीं हो सकती. जब तक राज करना है राज कर जब मन भर जाय तो इसे वारिस के नाम कर। न कोई रण कौशल , न कोई शौर्य , पराक्रम का प्रदर्शन।न सपरिवार गीएटिन ( guillotine ) होने का ख़तरा .इतिहास को खंगाल राजन छोटे छोटे राज रजवाड़े के लिए. कितना खून बहता है. कई बार तो राजा और भावी राजकुमार एक साथ खेत आते हैं , वंशावलियाँ मिट जाती हैं। यहाँ तो बस थोड़ा सा काइंयापन,थोड़ी बेशर्मी , मुट्ठी भर कमीनIपन, अंजुरीभर नमक हरामी , झूठ बोलने की विविध कलाएँ , गिरगिट सा रंग बदलने में महारत , साथ में एक चुटकी धुल उड़ाकर मौसम का हाल जानने का अनुभव। बस चल पड़ी तुम्हारी दुकान. जीते तो राजा भोज नहीं तो महाराजा भोगेन्द्र। मोटा पेंशन, हवाई यात्रा की सुविधा , नौकर , चाकर , ऐशो आराम। और हाँ सत्ता के बल पर जनता से लूटी हुई सम्पदा के अक्षुण्ण रहने के पूरी गारंटी।पुश्त दर पुश्त के लिये. फिर भी राजा झल्लाकर बोला “वो सब तो ठीक है, लेकिन ये साली जनता जो है ,हिसाब मांगे जा रही है. ५ साल में एक बार वोट देती है और1827 दिन ऊँगली करती है."1827 दिन ? " " 5 वर्ष के 1825 दिन और दो लीप ईयर के दो और दिन। हुए न 1827? सब इसी शव के चलते। लोग रोज़ प्रजातंत्र की हत्या की खबरे उड़ाते हैं । हत्या की खबर तो पहले हमें होगी , तंत्र हमारे हाँथ में है.” बेताल ने कहा ," चुनाव से बढ़कर प्रजातंत्र का क्या प्रमाण हो सकता है. चुनाव कराओ , चुनाव जीतो फिर निष्कंटक राज्य करो । " हाँ पर चुनाव जीतें कैसे ? पहले एक युग में मैंने वही भरत वाला मॉडल अपनाया। खुद ज़मीन पर बैठा और जनता की खडाऊ सिंहासन पर। फिर पता चला पादुका तो जनता के सर पर रखनी थी और सिंहासन उनकी छाती पर. कई युगों तक ये मॉडल भी ट्राई किया. फिर उन्हें तरह तरह के अमोद प्रमोद में बहलाया , उनके लिए टाइम मशीन बनाया, इतिहास के गर्भ में गोते लगIते हुए, पुनः वर्तमान में लौटने जैसे खेल आयोजित किये . वैराग्य और आध्यात्म , धर्म और ध्यान की और प्रेरित करने का बहुत प्रयास किया। पर बार बार इनका ध्यान इह लौकिक चीज़ों पर ही जाता है. जैसे सन्निपात ज्वर में रोगी चीखता है वैसे ये गाहे बगाहे चिल्लाने लगते हैं " रोटी दो , रोज़गार दो, रहने की ठावँ दो". पहले तो स्वान्तः सुखाय की भावना से लोग बाहर नौकरी ढूंढते थे , रोज़गार करते थे , कुछ नहीं तो असीम संतोष के साथ टेम्पो में सो जाते थे। लेकिन अब घर बैठे बैठे नौकरी चाहिए। बेताल किसी गहरी सोंच में डूबा हुआ था . पर बेताल की चुप्पी ने राजा के धैर्य की सीमा तोड़ दी. राजा ने अपना खडग निकला और हवा में भांजते हुए कहा , “अबे ,मैं राजा हूँ ,बोले जा रहा हूं , पर तुम साले बेताल हो कि बकलोल, कुछ बोल ही नहीं रहे. जब मर्ज़ी आता है अपनी बकचोदी करते हो और काम की बात पर ध्यान मग्न हो जाते हो.” " राजन तुम पूरी तरह जनोन्मुख हो गए हो अब मुझे इस पर लेश मात्र भी संदेह नहीं है. तुम्हारी भाषा से आम आदमी के मजबूरी , झेले हुए यथार्थ की बू आती है. इससे प्रजातंत्र में तुम्हारी घोर आस्था तो प्रमाणित होती है। परन्तु तुम्हारा तेवर बिलकुल राजशाही है. ख़ैर जाने दो।अब मैं जो तुम्हे बता रहा हूँ उसे ध्यान से सुनो राजन. प्रजातंत्र में जनता का जगे रहना जनता एवं प्रजातंत्र दोनों के लिए आत्म घातक है., प्रजातान्त्रिक व्यवस्था माँ की तरह है, जनता बच्चों की तरह है . इसलिए अच्छा शासक वही है जो जनता को ऐसा अहसास कराये कि वह माँ की गोद में सुरक्षित सो रहा है. उसे ऐसी मानसिक बैसाखी दो की वह सोचे भी तुम्हारी सोच , देखे भी तुम्हारे सपने और तुम्हारे आनंद में उसे अपने आनंद की अनुभूति हो । प्रजातंत्र के लिए जनता का शिशुवत 24 घंटे मैं 22 घंटे सोना एक गंभीर अनिवार्यता है. चुनाव के समय उसे जगाओ फिर वोट ले कर सुलाओ ” राजा अचानक चलते चलते रुक गया। उसकी आँखे फटी की फटी रह गयी। "ऐसा हो सकता है." "बिलकुल अब तुम्हे मैं एक नमूना दिखता हूँ."
कुछ देर बाद एक घर से दहाड़ मार कर रोने की आवाज़ आयी। बेताल ने कहा" बस काम बन गया। अब देखते जाओ. “ रुदन, क्रंदन, चीत्कार के बीच रैप की तर्ज़ पर "जासु राज प्रिय प्रजा दुखारी ,से नर अवस नरक अधिकारी" गाता हुआ घर में राजा का दूत प्रविष्ट हुआ।"अरे मेरा इकलौता बेटा था. अच्छा खासा स्पोर्ट्समैन। आई आई टी का इंजीनयर ,अचानक इसे क्या हो गया।" दूत ने अनाहूत उस के शरीर का अन्त्य परीक्षण कर वहीँ का वहीँ अपना मंतव्य दे डाला । "अरे ये तो मर गया । लेकिन फिर भी इसे राज चिकित्सालय ले चलते हैं। राज वैद्य ने तो कितने ऐसे लोगों को जीवित कर दिया है।"तबतक मीडिया वाले साक्षात् शव की "लाइव" रिपोर्ट करने के लोभ में गिद्धों के भांति मडराने लगे और आकाश न सही ज़मीन पर ही आपस में टकराने लगे , एकाध सर फूटे लेकिन उनके जोश में कोई कमी नहीं आयी. राजा के दूत ने बहुत मुश्किल से परिवार को राज चिकित्सालय शव ले जाने को राज़ी किया. "मरे हुए को राज चिकित्सालय से क्या भय है ,हाँ जिस में थोड़ी जान बाकी हो तो अलग बात हैI” पड़ोसियों ने भी माँ को समझाया " अरे बावली मुर्दे का क्या बिगाड़ लेंगे, लेकिन क्या पता चुनावी माहौल है, राज चिकित्सक कोई चमत्कार कर ही डालें “ चैनल हर घंटे खबरें तोड़ रहे थे "शव का उपचार शुरू,", "शव के स्वस्थ्य में थोड़ा सुधार "शव के स्वस्थ्य में और सुधार ".टूटते हुए ख़बरों को श्रोत पर ही लूटने की मंशा से राज चिकित्सालय के पास धीरे धीरे भीड़ इकठ्ठा होने लगी." सड़क पर ही एनाटोमी का क्लास शुरू हो गया . नर कंकाल और अन्य सजीव माध्यमों से शरीर के बनावट मांस ,मज्जा, यकृत, रक्त नलिका , श्वसन क्रिया , मल द्वार , के बारे में ज्ञान परोसने लगे .पर जैसे जैसे दिन बीतते गए खबरों का ताबड़तोड़ टूटने का सिलसिला थोड़ा धीरे पड़ने लगा। सड़क पर खड़ी भीड़ घरों में सिमटने लगी। शव की हालत में निरंतर सुधार होता रहा पर जनता की करतल ध्वनियाँ धीरे धीरे मद्धिम पड़ने लगी। एंकरों का उन्माद साधारण संवाद के स्तर तक आ पहुंचा और धीरे धीरे बिलकुल सन्नाटा पसर गया। राजा ने बेताल की तरफ देखा। बेताल ने कहा " राजन, शव के अनुप्राणित होने के प्रति आश्वस्त होकर जनता गहरी नींद में सो गयी है। प्रजातंत्र के उपलब्धि की यह चरम अवस्थितिहै। जा राजन जा , अब इनके वस्त्राभूषण भी उतार ले. " राजा की आंखो में एक अजीब सी चमक आ गयी " और उसके बाद ?". दम धरो, राजन! अभी चुनाव आने वाला है। चुनाव जीत , फिर उसके बाद जो जी में आये कर ? " थोड़ी देर बाद बेताल ने कहा"हाँ जल्दी करो इस शव को जलना भी तो है. हाथरस नहीं हापुड़ ,हावड़ा ,हल्द्वानी,हाजीपुर होशियारपुर होशंगाबाद होसपेट , कहीं जला दो। सारा जम्बूद्वीप एक विशाल हाथरस ही तो है." राजा ने बेताल को कंधे से उतारना चाहा पर वह तो सामने खड़ा था। कृतज्ञता के आंसुओं से सिक्त राजा भावातिरेकमें बेताल के चरणों पर गिर पड़ा। "प्रभु इस परम ज्ञान की प्राप्ति के बाद कोई मूढ़ ही इस शव को अग्नि के हवाले करेगा. आज से बरगद के पेड़ पर झूलता हुआ प्रजातंत्र का यह शव राजचिन्ह होगा.

Friday, October 9, 2020

        WE MISS YOU ASHWINI .

It must have come as a shock for suicide itself to be courted by a man who had such a strong sense of joi de vivre , who radiated a playful tenderness and good cheer. But death has a hundred hands and walks by a thousand ways and springs surprises as a matter of course. Who could have thought that Ashwini, our dear friend, the purest gem of 1973 batch of IPS officers, would choose to depart like this , committing suicide by hanging himself at his Shimla home 100 meter sprint champion, dimpled athlete, a man who defied age and kept disabilities at bay, Ashwini may not have held all the four aces of a pack of cards but life certainly seems to have dealt him a good hand. Good looks , great health , a very happy and fulfilling family life, brilliant career, he went on to become the director of the CBI , was the governor of Nagaland for a while and till the time he chose to exit life by way of suicide , he was the vice chancellor of a private university. I was just ticking all the boxes , trying to arrive at a rational motive for the man who chose to take his own life when comes the news that he was ill and unconfirmed reports available with our group suggests he was suffering from clinical depression. That in itself is a hugely depressing thought as he was the bright sunlight which could dispel the deepest gloom. If the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned?
The lowest common denominator of those on the wrong side of youth age divide is the paralyzing dread of being betrayed by their own bodies, the fear of being let down by their own minds. Crippling or terminal diseases are like a radioactive presence, unbeknown to us they engulf us in the grey of depression, unwittingly we take Death’s dark-nailed fingers in ours . Depression descends on us like a “bell jar ” . One feels trapped in ones body. The sick man sitting alone in a room has more than the usual chances to disgust himself —this is the problem of the body, not that it is mortal but that in certain conditions it is mortifying.
Depression is for real, it is a reality which overcomes the primal instinct for self preservation , it is an urge that leads a person to execute oneself, the self that has been at the centre of all our thoughts, concerns, longings .There are eternal verities of life revealed to you only when your time comes to be worthy of receiving them . I have been an avid reader of Montaigne and something that I read at the age of 26 yields the full quota of it meaning in the death of my friend. We have forever privileged our minds over the bodies , we tend to deny the stupid interventions of the gross corporeal bodies on our intellectual and spiritual life. In the evenings of our lives when the light and glow of health go down ,'the undiscovered countries of pain, suffering and humiliation that are then disclosed ' overwhelm our hopes and optimism which have themselves lost their youths, the energies to mount a rebellion against pain. In a situation like this Camus , lying majestically on the book shelf as an evidence of ones being educated, and his existential philosophy an occasion for sharpening of wits , becomes a necessary manual to be having at your side. Indeed, “deciding whether or not life is worth living is to answer the fundamental question in philosophy’. To that extent suicide becomes an ordinary act, a quotidian choice, one among many possible choices.
No one can sit on judgement, Ashwini, on why you chose to undertake the celestial journey so soon. It was a choice that you made as a conscious, moral , existential agent but your family members , many friends , batch mates, admirers are devastated by your decision and shall forever mourn their loss. May God grant you eternal peace . Om Shantih.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

    The death  of SSR and the Quest For TRP  

Neal Postman said long back, in his book Amusing Ourselves To Death , ‘television is …… most dangerous when its aspirations are high,'. One may add that when it proclaims nobility of motive, it is absolute disaster. TV set out to secure justice for SSR, a very noble aim no doubt. But that justice seems nowhere on the horizon and with every passing day, like images in a hall of mirror, it is receding further away.

The malign, if unintended, consequence of its crusade has left the memory of the man disfigured , a legion of his admirers dismayed ,the lives of those around him, whom he may have loved ,at one time or the other, in tatters , the hitherto unknown details of his private life, his financial dealing , the bitter factitious quarrels of his loved ones at Patna and those at Mumbai are now the subject matter of salacious gossip, prurient scrutiny and idle speculation. A full retrospective on his life, is being played out, 24/7, not as an act of homage to the departed soul , but as successive fixes of ‘pudiya’ for the voyeuristic clientele.The general presumption is that the investigative agencies buckled under prime time pillory, under the plebiscitarian pressure to do something , anything to keep the lynch mob, primed up for revenge by the braying media beast, peaceful and pacified.
Whether SSR was bi polar or not is still being investigated but India itself has been split into a world of bi polar opinion . Even while the official investigation is on rival channels are holding a referendum on whether Rhea is at fault . Half-truths, facts torn out of context to fit particular narratives , half truths that further reinforce partisan beliefs, are driving viewers deeper into fanatically shared opinions. People seem to be living in different worlds of facts and judgments and no dialogue seems to be possible.
Meanwhile Chinese soldiers are breathing fire down our borders, and in their viral avatar as Covid 19 they are raging inland , the economy is tanking , distress and discontent are rising like a tide threatening to engulf the social order but we are busy marshalling arguments and support behind another war being fought on the side lines, between Ms Kangna Ranawat and Ms Rhea Chakraborty. Could George Louis Borges have scripted it better ?

Friday, September 25, 2020

 

Sushant Singh Rajput - The Revenant Guest During Election Season In Bihar
BJP's Poster Campaign on Sushant Singh Rajput

SSR , THE REVENANT GUEST 


The cultural cell of the BJP has taken out a poster of a winsome  Sushant Singh Rajput, “Na Bhoole Hain Na Bhoolne Denge”( Neither we have forgotten , nor will we let  others forget)His death, bemoaned as a huge loss is, in fact, a huge gain for the party, both in Bihar and in Maharashtra. While in Bihar the issue is expected to help them exploit Bihari sentiment, in Maharashtra it may rock the boat of its bete noir, the Shiv Sena, a bit. 

From the day a political agitation for investigating SSR’s death originated  in Bihar, one could foresee that Sushant  will be  forced to be a revenant guest,  to  help  the NDA come back to power in the forthcoming assembly  elections in Bihar. Therefore, it is only natural that the twice useful ghost of SSR should be granted, what Jacque Derrida  says , “the right. .to... a hospitable memory...out of a concern for justice.” 


What is a ghost?’ Stephen Dedalus asks in Ulysses, and promptly answers his own question. ‘One who has faded into impalpability through death, through absence, through change of manners.’ Not a figure who is entirely unreal, just one who has become a little faint, lacking in physical immediacy.     SSR was not quite as demonstrative about  his Bihari roots, as in the manner of say,  Shatrughan Sinha. He  was certainly not the most recognizable  Bihari   when alive.        But thanks to the never ending campaign(engineered?) of a section of the mainstream media  and  many groups on social network platforms  SSR  has  come to be viewed as the quintessential Bihari genius, cut short in the prime of his career by metropolitan jealousy or the machinations of a deeply entrenched mole acting on behalf of some shadowy mafia. 

The assembly elections in Bihar are  a few weeks away.     When it comes to voting ,  appeal to  the reason of the voters in Bihar  is  pointless.  Illusion is  the key, drama is  the essential  requirement ,  catchy  identarian phrases, startling images, uncompromising and simple, that should occupy his entire  mental space and nullify  the capacity of the mind to think.  The “art of impressing the imagination of crowds is to know at the same time the art of governing them, ”   and governing elites have read  Le Bon with care and with great profit. 

For fifteen years,“social justice,” a fetish under which all sorts of political fantasies and personal ambitions of the supreme RJD leader  were lumped together, but never made explicit, stoked and  sustained  the subaltern enthusiasm . It  helped create some sort  of a generic loyalty of a military kind to the supreme  leader,  ready for the moment when direct action could be taken. Primed by occasional war cries like  Bhura Bal Saf Karo(Eliminate Bhumihars,Rajputs,Brahmans, Lalas,(Kayasths ) ). But the illusion wore off when it was realized that under the garb of ‘social justice’ there marched the more dogged  political morality  of power as a means to self-aggrandizement  and  dynastic ambition. A competitive offer needed to be put in place to outwit the earlier charmer and the deeply alienated  forward caste, still a force to be reckoned with was ready to be charmed , beguiled, enchanted . 

 The successor  NDA government  promised to inaugurate the millennium which  would take care of present miseries  and future problems . It dedicated itself to the task with gusto and Bihar  seemed  to be well on course  to a glorious future but in the absence of a credible opposition and a fawning  media  it gradually  lost steam.  The illusion was  however sustained by means of  emotional stimuli of Bihari pride , and tremendous media  out reach. Together with the accompanying spectre of a return to the nightmare and undifferentiated chaos of the Jungle Raj kept the people interested in the  idea of  Sushahsan.  

The  images of  of the migrant workers,  “the invisible” Biharis , who contribute heavily to the domestic economy by their remittances, undertaking  impossibly long journeys  back home on foot shocked the global imagination. Many of these stragglers were reduced to being  mendicants on  charity of strangers  and it  blew  away even the fig leaf form the already  frayed  vestment of Bihari pride. 

 In this stark setting  the most visible achievements of the government , monuments , museums , mediation centers,  forced the realization that Bihar was so heavily invested in the “past” that our present concerns , woefully inadequate  medical centres and no prospect of getting absorbed in gainful activities at home  seemed to have been neglected . In an atmosphere like this the illusion of  Sushasan  as a  march to  ever more promising future  would  have been  difficult to sustain. “Justice for  SSR”  appears to  have just the right proportion of   sentimentality, generalized grievance and unfocussed resentment  to  anesthetize  the questioning mind.

Whatever the final outcome of the case the pot can at   be  kept boiling till the elections.  After the elections getting rid of a ghost which has served its purpose, would be that much easier, because ghosts leave behind  no  dead bodies, no evidence , set in motion  no official  enquiry . The Biharis would be depended upon to disperse to the four corners of the country in search of jobs, education, health care after having performed their most sacred civic duty.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

देश में व्यक्ति-पूजन का जो दौर चल पड़ा है इस सन्दर्भ में यह तथ्य ओझल हो गया है कि वह व्यक्ति वस्तुततः क्यों पूजित हुआ? हम भारतीयों की तो बस एक ही आराध्या हैँ - भारत माता। जो भारत की अखण्डता की रक्षा करेगा वह हमारी नज़रों में सर्वश्रेष्ठ होगा। जो निजी राजनैतिक स्वार्थ या अपनी छवि धूमिल होने के डर से राष्ट्र के हितों के विरुद्ध कोई निर्णय लेगा , वह चाहे जो भी हो , उसके प्रति हमारी कोई निष्ठां नहीं होगी. यदि देश किसी व्यक्ति में अपनी संपूर्ण आस्था व्यक्त करता है तो वह भी अपने समर्थकों पर विश्वास करे, उन्हें राज़दार बनाये. मैं मान सकता हूँ की समसामयिक परिस्थितियों में भारत चीन से युद्ध नहीं लड़ सकता , इसके लिए अनेक सामरिक एवंअन्य कारण हो सकते हैं परन्तु उसके लिए ऐतिहासिक तथ्यों की बलि चढ़ दी जाय , हमारे जवानों के बलिदान की परिस्थितयों को विवादित कर दी जाय , यह अस्वीकार्य है। यह कहना कि चीन ने अतिक्रमण किया ही नहीं यह अपनी नाकामियों पर पर्दा डालने से विलग आने वाली पीढ़ियों के साथ अन्याय होगा. वीरगर्भा भारत कभी तो निस्स्वार्थ भाव से मातृभूमि पर उत्सर्ग होने वाले नेता पैदा करेगी,कभी तो एक दूसरा मानेकशॉ पैदा होगा। लेकिन जब हम खुद अपना दवा खारिज कर देंगे तो क्या बचा? कल मैंने अपने वाल पर अपनी पीड़ा व्यक्त की थी। १० वर्ष की उम्र में ही ६२ के ज़िल्लत और भयंकर अपमान का दंश झेलने वाली पीढ़ी यह आस लगाए बैठी थी कि शायद हम लोगों के जीवन काल में ही उस अपमान का बदला ले सकें। साथ ही मन के कोने में यह भी आशंका थी की कही और दुर्दिन न देखना पड़े। वह भी देख ही लिया।I

Friday, June 19, 2020

Meditations In The Time Of War


I was a ten-year-old, but the memories of the ‘62 debacle are eidetically etched in my mind ; that feeling of helplessness of the elders, their sense of shame, the silent imprecations, the muted curses in private but dignified poise in public, were a temporal marker in the growth of my consciousness as an Indian. The short war, while it lasted, was an unending season of solemnity and sadness. My father tried to explain to me the enormity of the loss, the depth of our humiliation. I don’t know how much of it sank in me cognitively, but the emotional equivalent seeped through me, as if by a process of osmosis. That moment forever lodged itself like an iron in the soul. My young mind, perhaps in a compensatory behaviour, supported a belief that someday, we will be able to pay back the debt of history.
As I grew up and became wiser in the ways of the world - especially when I became aware of the contretemps of political power play and the metrics of military confrontations - I modified my unstated wish into a more moderate plea: Oh,God, please don’t let us face the same humiliation, at least not in my lifetime.
The recent traumatic events of our soldiers fighting, unarmed, under some weird protocol, against a devious and barbaric enemy, soldiers being clubbed , being pushed off cliffs and dying of hypothermia, though not in same category of misfortunes, are rooted in reasons quite similar. I was reminded of Brigadier Dalwi's lament in The Himalayan Blunder, “This is a record of the destruction of a Brigade without a formal declaration of war”. This time round, at least twenty Indian soldiers died, and many more were injured, in an ‘absurd’ engagement, without so much as a chance for our men to fire a shot - something straight out of an Italo Calvino or Kurt Kusenburg story.
In 1962 we had a Prime Minister who felt more at home strutting on the international stage, peddling his peculiar nostrums of non-alignment and Panchsheel to enhance his personal standing in the world. Getting China - which was perceived to be an enemy by everyone else except him - its due place under the sun was his seminal concern. Despite repeatedly being warned of the bellicosity of the Chinese by those who knew, he refused to square up to the reality, because how could he - a man of peace - countenance the thought of war? It seems he was prepared to lose territory rather than lose his face. His paranoia about the military eyeing his ouster led him to deliberately starve it of resources and stunt its growth. Finally, when the moment of reckoning came, he entrusted the conduct of war to those who had no other credential than that they enjoyed his trust: Krishna Menon & General Kaul. But talent for intrigue and currying favour does not come in handy in fighting a war. The rest, as they say, is history.
We have now a high profile PM who is also a global player, bonding on equal personal terms with POTUS. At the same time, in a seemingly deft act of diplomacy, he sleeps with America’s and our own arch enemy - China. Reportedly, he has established a personal equation with President Xi Jinping. But other than diplomacy, he has also let himself be known as a decisive man of war, and has tried to live by this image. All the spectacular military feats against Pakistan, our idée fixe - are supposed to flow from his iron will.
General Kauls seem to be an undying tribe in the army, and even now, reportedly, an unhealthy proximity between the military and political leadership has grown. And it has consequences. History bears witness that China strikes at an opportune moment (in '62 the world attention was riveted on the Cuban missile crisis, today the world is snowed under the Wuhan Virus avalanche originating from China) and in such a manner that the ‘friend’ feels obliged to cover up for the enemy and go into denial for fear of losing face. 2020 is not 1962, and such matters are independently verifiable. Hence his government has been in denial, and has felt obliged to prevaricate, obfuscate, and tell downright lies to domestic audience. Now that the truth is out the government finds itself hard-pressed to admit and explain the killing of soldiers. From denial, the government has come down to the familiar mournful tune of 'stabbing in the back.' When a war seems to be the only course of action, policy planners seem to have discovered that the national interest is best served by diplomacy, peaceful negotiations and avoidance of war. And China loves, as always, has plotted the mortification of its ambitious neighbour just as it did in '62 ; it is China's way to tell the world who is the hegemon The situation is still live, and one can’t look into the seeds of the time, but there does not seem to be much cause for joy.
But what about the simulated war being fought with greater seriousness within the borders of the country? Going by the social media posts, one would think that a large number of Indians take the reality of the disputed “Modi jee’s 56 inches” quite seriously. The mobilization on both sides is impressive; a sizeable population is attacking their bête noire with all they have : invective, satire, mockery and moralism, and an equal number defending their bête noire with all they have - lies, chicanery, and recourse to the history of Congress. Of course, Mr. Modi’s jugular is quite a prised trophy for his detractors, but it is way too insignificant compared to the Chinese jugular. Of course, political scores need to be settled but not when we are in the process of a debt that the nation owes to history. Admittedly it is a lying, self-obsessed government, but unfortunately this is the only government that we have at the present time, and the conduct of war is in the hands of this government. Persistent questioning is all right, the right to be told the truth is spot on, but this rubbing brings in defenders, the battalion of Bhakts, and the discourse becomes divisive when the call of the hour is to put everything in abeyance. Similarly, the Bhakts who try to hang their “56-inch” on any peg that is available, are sure to bring, in retaliation, the demolition squads in droves.
On Twitter there was a bare as bone tweet - “twenty soldiers killed in Ladakh.” Pat came a retweet form a journalist of repute, a leading light of the left liberal brigade, with the following comment: “Knock, knock, Modi jee, are you there?”
Social media is overflowing with callous and crass remarks and this is just an emblematic example. But little do they realise that they are trivialising the tragic death of our soldiers fighting under impossible constraints. To offset it, there is another example of a paid, commissioned anchor of a Hindi TV channel trying to salvage the image of the government by shifting the blame on to the Army. Whose war are those brave men fighting anyway?
I remember the emotional climate of ’62, and I can definitely say that a feeling pulse in our national heart has atrophied, gone dry. The difference in the public mood between ‘62 and now is dramatic. In ‘62, Indian women - for whom gold means a part of their lives - came forward to freely donate it to the national defence fund without demur. (When boycott of Chinese goods is mentioned today, figures and fine economic calculations roll out . This gestures of solidarity against the enemy is not economically feasible, we are told!) The unlettered, untutored masses knew that it was matter of life and death and the nation spoke in a chorus of approval for the nation , for the army. I exclude the communists, because they are a class apart, a different species.
If ever there was a case of not learning the lessons of history, this is the one . Or is it that in a globalised world profit is placed above patriotism? May be some favourable economic deal with the Chinese will act as a healing balm and we will again be dining with the Dragon till such times it makes a decent dinner of us.
Tonight I will tell my God that He should consider my unstated prayer as withdrawn.

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Two Short Of Three Score And Ten

When I was young, I crossed my rivers,
sprinting down bridges,
though bridges there were none.

Now, I hesitate on banks of rivers.
They drag me across, saying the rivers are in my mind.
Under my steps there are none.
Years have come and years gone by.
Never cared once, as to whence they came, whence did they fly.

In the evening of my life, I thought it was time to consider.
“Where are my years,” I asked fellow traveller, Time,
“I could account for none.”

He just fixed me with a mirror. “Your silver hair”, he said,
“it takes some doing, it takes all of days and all of nights,
all your yesterdays and all your yesteryears to paint them white,
something that was jet black.

And that frown? No amateur’s act is that.
Pencilling each single line, folding every individual wrinkle,
then laying them in layers, nicely papered,
it is them that account for your days, months and years.

I am a tidy record keeper.
No cuts, no erasures, no crossing out nor clerical errors”,
he said, laying down the mirror.
“The small gifts that I bore you, from year to year,
Though you flung them into the cellar, they add up my friend, they add up to a lot ,
and turn up when you have the time to consider.”

“You stole in on your tiptoe, you sneaked in like a thief.
“I didn’t, weary traveller, you were busy with your affairs,
I walked by your side but you watched your shadow
Shrink or grow in size or just take fright
And collapse at the approach of night.
You were carefree, you were blithely unworried ,
you were not taken for a ride.”

“Now, what?”
“Now nothing. Now is no time to consider,
Now is no time to defer or to dither.
It is no part of living to go search for lost years.
Live your life as you’ve done all these years.
Just let them glide by.”