Editorial / Art of the state
Living in the Mohulla
The Telegraph Diary
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL / ART OF THE STATE 
 
 
 
 
Two hijacked planes that were made to crash into the World Trade Center destroyed the building and thousands of human lives. They also dealt a body blow to the idea of a minimalist state. In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on the United States of America, it is clear that the interventionist state had not faded away but was merely biding its times in the wings. In the measures announced for rebuilding what has been destroyed, buildings and confidence, and for prevention of a recurrence in the future, the state has emerged as the principal agency. The political importance of the state is obvious. For after all, overt and covert institutions of the state are working around the clock to devise and to deploy ways and means to eradicate the menace of terrorism. Decisions about the nature of warfare, initiatives in the realm of diplomacy to build the broadest possible front against terrorism and the setting up of intelligence networks to track the enemy are all manifestations of increased state activity. The state has suddenly become very visible. The state is active to preserve individual liberties, it has increased its sphere of activity so that individuals can pursue their interests and choices in peace. The classic polarity between the state and the individual has thus broken down.

One consequence of this coming down of the barriers between the individual and the state is the infringement on certain liberties that most Americans had almost taken for granted. The obvious example is tighter airport security. The era when passengers could saunter in a few minutes before take-off is perhaps over. Controls and checks will be more rigorous and severe. There will be inevitable complaints about harassment from a section of passengers. But they will have to accept that this is a small price to pay for the preservation of a larger freedom. To track down those who perpetrated the crime of September 11, investigators have had to detain for questioning a number of people, some of whom are completely innocent. Thus individuals are feeling the state’s presence in their lives and this is not something with which most people, in mature democracies, are very comfortable. But this will have to be accepted, at least till such time all the trails have been explored and the criminals have been brought to justice. It is clear that henceforward even in the world’s most vibrant democracy, state surveillance will increase. Big brother, cynics will be prone to say, will forever be looking over the individual’s shoulder. The heavy presence of the big brother might prove to be a necessary condition for the preservation of individual freedom.

The impact of this resurgent state will have the longest effect on the economy. It is already clear that financial institutions will be regulated and there have been announcements about massive state spending. The ailing airlines will receive $ 15 billion of public funds; this year and next defence and security will receive $ 40 billion more. More spending is on the cards and there could be a return to deficit financing to pump-prime the economy. Increased public spending, following the simple logic of Keynesian economics, will have a beneficial expansionary impact on an economy on the brink of recession. The gospel of free market economics is yielding ground to an older and much-derided school of economics. These can be seen as measures to meet a crisis. But the very fact that the state is needed in a crisis may be an argument in favour of the state’s continuing and expanding presence.

   

 
 
LIVING IN THE MOHULLA 
 
 
BY AMIT CHAUDHURI
 
 
Soon after the towers collapsed, those minarets of the “free” world, other stories began to drift in; of survivors, deaths, and of Indians. Among these first stories was one about a Sikh man, on his way to work in lower Manhattan, probably in the financial district, who disembarked from the underground to confront a disaster of frightening proportions. He found he was being stared at in a less than friendly way (all those who have been to America and experienced its prelapsarian charm, with passers-by throwing smiles and how are yous at one before they vanish, will have to contend with a new knowingness about strangers). The Sikh kept his calm; he retreated into a shop, took off his turban, and borrowed a hairband from someone; he came out after tying his hair in a pony tail, and merged with the crowd.

A week later, I saw him on television. He was sitting in a café; he repeated his tale — the ponytail had been an inspired temporary measure, but he didn’t, he said, intend cutting his hair or abandoning his turban. Afterwards, we saw the man, properly turbaned, disappear into one of New York’s “avenues”. A Sikh’s kes, his unshorn hair, is an astonishing thing; I saw it in Bombay twenty seven years ago, and haven’t forgotten it — I had gone to the house of a Sikh friend, and surprised him after a bath. He was drying his hair; it was an image of unsettling tenderness.

The story about the Sikh in New York, its potential comedy pervaded by its harrowing context, has brought to my mind a short story by Sadat Hassan Manto called “Mozel”. Its protagonist is Tirlochen Singh, a young Sikh (I have read the story in Tahira Naqvi’s translation); its setting, Manto’s beloved Bombay, which he left forever in 1947; and Partition the historical moment in which its action takes place. The story takes us into the heart of the lives of working-class people, with their religious adherences, political affiliations, and emotional ties, amidst whom, most often, political violence erupts, and who always face the brunt of that violence.

Manto’s Bombay, even under duress, is an extraordinary city; long before Rushdie, Manto turned Bombay into a chameleon-like metaphor that was capable of being many things to many people. Now, in this period of unrest, Tirlochen’s brother Narenjan reassures him: “Yaar, you worry needlessly. I’ve seen many such disturbances here; this is not Amritsar or Lahore, this is Bombay”... Or, as they once said, this is New York. The narrator intervenes: “What did Narenjan think Bombay was? He probably figured this was a city where disturbances, if they did develop, would disappear of their own accord, by magic.”

The story opens in this time of “disturbances”; Tirlochen is “looking at the sky” from “the terrace at Adwani Chambers”, where he lives, “so that he could think rationally in the open air”. He is engaged to a “small and delicate” woman, Kirpal Kaur, who has recently moved to Bombay from a village with her parents. She lives in a mohulla, a neighbourhood, “dominated by staunch Muslims. Several houses had already been burnt down and a great many lives had been lost… there were Muslims everywhere, and surrounded by these dangerous Muslims, Tirlochen felt helpless. In addition to that there was news pouring in from Punjab of the widespread killing of Muslims by Sikhs.”

“These dangerous Muslims” — the terrible irony of the phrase! Was Manto himself a “dangerous Muslim”? Only perhaps to the Progressive Writers Movement, which found his very individual allegiance to his craft a nuisance and a threat. The story unfolds: it turns out that Tirlochen’s first love was Mozel, who used to live in a flat in Adwani Chambers, a Jewish woman of striking physical beauty and of easy virtue; Manto describes her in an image that conflates the artifice of feminine beauty and a ghastly premonition of death: “Short brown hair covered her head; her querulous lips were covered with red lipstick which was badly chapped and caky and reminded him of dried blood.”

Mozel, the promiscuous woman, has a distaste for underwear, as she does for religion; indeed, clothing is equated with religion, and nakedness with liberation, in the story, in the way these are equated, in Western art, with culture and innocence respectively. In one of the story’s great comic moments, Tirlochen and Mozel first meet by colliding with each other, in a parody of the violence to come, and falling on to the floor: “When Tirlochen attempted to pull himself together, he realised that Mozel was sprawled over him in such a way that her legs, naked now that her dress was pulled up all the way, were spread on either side of his body.”

Tirlochen falls in love with Mozel; she reciprocates parsimoniously, with kisses and barbs: “…she raised her heavy-lidded Jewish eyes, batted her thick eyelids and said, “I cannot love a Sikh.” They have an argument during one of these interchanges; and Mozel utters a damning condemnation: “If you shave off your beard and leave your hair down, you’ll have boys running after you, I promise; you’re beautiful.” Tirlochen shouts angrily at Mozel, but she is unruffled; thus, “deflated”, he sits “quietly… on the sofa”, and Mozel approaches him. In a scene worthy of one of Bonnard’s paintings, or one of those episodes in kathak dance in which Radha is adorning herself, the narrator describes how “Mozel came and sat beside him and began unravelling his beard, taking out the pins one by one and holding them between her teeth.”

The narrator observes, “Tirlochen was beautiful. When he was younger, before the hair on his face appeared, he had often been mistaken for a girl when he was seen with his kes down. But now the heavy bulk of hair concealed his features.” Manto, here, is talking about the androgyny that the warring tribe of men, wherever they come from, suppress in times of conflict, the softness which is concealed like “some infinitely gentle/ Infinitely suffering thing.” He is also talking about disguise and mistaken identity; the disguises which, as we have learnt from news reports in the last fortnight, make people appear different from what they are, and the misprision due to which communities must have their identity taken away from them, and suffer for what they are not.

To woo Mozel, Tirlochen cuts his hair. He becomes, thus, according to his religion, a “patit”, a renegade; like Mozel, an outcaste. But Mozel vanishes without leaving an explanation; and Tirlochen is engaged to Kirpal, the “delicate” girl from the village. We return to the present moment of the story; Tirlochen is contemplating going into the mohulla to rescue his fiancé, when Mozel appears in the semi-darkness of the terrace. She offers to help him; they enter the mohulla together, where, in the silence, “a Marwari’s shop was being systematically looted”. They find the building Tirlochen is looking for and run up the stairs to Kirpal’s flat; as they hear men approaching, Mozel strips Kirpal Kaur of her salwar kameez, and slips her own dress over her — for clothes denote community — while she herself is “completely naked”.

In the panic and tussle that follow, Mozel falls down the stairs and, fatally hurt, begins to bleed to death; but Kirpal and her parents have escaped. It is a “filmi” moment; Manto worked for years in the Hindi film industry. Tirlochen covers her naked body with a turban; Mozel pushes it away, saying, “Take away… this religion of yours”; then she dies. Her remark is less a secular reject- ion than a deeply religious protest, emerging from a long tradition of heretical spirituality; her nakedness is a preparation for meeting with her maker in such a way that nothing, not even religion, should come between them when they meet. In a way, her mission, to save Kirpal, is a suicide mission, or at least a suicidal one, and, disturbingly, she would have probably shared with the Arab terrorists of September 11 the conviction that “we come from our maker and to Him we return”.

Two words in the story have, with great tact, been left untranslated by the translator. The first is “kes”, that untranslatable expanse of male hair, a trope for a softness concealed, “some infinitely gentle/ Infinitely suffering thing”. The other is “mohulla”, whose approximate meaning is “neighbourhood.” Since Manto wrote his story, the entire world has become a “mohulla”; but the life of the mohulla is contingent upon compromise, understanding, and interdependence between all neighbours and co-habitants. In the global mohulla, nation-states are still to acquire the capacity for sacrifice and compassion that human beings have; instead, they — whether they are Pakistan or India, Afghanistan or America — are governed by a primeval self-interest that must eventually contribute to the destruction of the mohulla. The undemocratic functioning of the global order ensures that nations are at battle with each other long before a single shot has been fired. Then comes a turning point, as we had two weeks ago: and the courage that ordinary human beings — like Mozel, like Tirlochen — are capable of is betrayed by their nations in the name of war.

   

 
 
THE TELEGRAPH DIARY 
 
 
 
 

Ways of a queen bee

Foretelling the stars. There are three of them on the Uttar Pradesh sky. The brightest seems to be Rajnath Singh, the BJP chief minister, who, his friendly foes in the party and unfriendly rivals in the electoral pit grudgingly admit, has been able to turn things around for his party in the state. Several shades dimmer is Mulayam Singh Yadav, whose campaign seems to have peaked too early, and who, in all likelihood, will fall far short of the much-hoped for majority. The one undergoing definite eclipse is Mayavati, whose party seems unlikely to bag more than 30 seats in the coming assembly elections. Looks like the BSP leader is paying the price (besides that for her expensive Shahnaz Hussain beauty care) for her arrogance and allegedly corrupt ways. Mentor Kanshi Ram is her captive of sorts, reportedly denied entry into the state without madam’s permission. The usual excuse for the restrictions is his “bad health”. Given Mayavati’s supposed propensity to stuff the party with her doormats, several senior leaders have apparently abandoned the BSP. What this all means is the BSP will not even come within smelling distance of power. What! No aroma therapy for the Dalit beauty queen?

Sisterly act

n Phoolan Devi amar rahe. At least her family is ensuring that this solemn wish of her pall-bearers comes true. The other day, Phoolan’s sister, Munni Devi, addressed the press with some fresh “revelations” about the murder. By the by, the Delhi police has already worked on numerous leads with not much success. Munni however claims that the Chhattisgarh CM and Balco basher, Ajit Jogi, together with the Congress war horse, Arjun Singh, had approached her. Apart from condolences, the two are alleged to have asked her to get vocal against the Samajwadi Party. There has been no confirmation of the meeting from the Jogi Singh side. But given that the UP polls are hotting up, there is no trick political rivals would not try out, especially if they belong to the side of the sure-losers.

A short course on the taliban

A class on theory. That was probably what K Natwar Singh, former diplomat and Congress foreign policy expert, mistook the recent all-party meet on terrorism to be. Singh came armed with three books. When it was his time to speak, he apparently started quoting from Ahmad Rashid’s book on the taliban. The attendant parties were aghast as he proceeded reading from one book to another. That is till someone could muster up enough courage to tell the class teacher that the assembled were not his students, neither were they interested in his lecture on the subject. They don’t need no education?

Who’ll pay for it?

Anyone remembers Vir Bahadur Singh, the one time CM of UP who opened the gates of the Babri Masjid and thus the floodgates of sectarianism? He has a son, Fateh Bahadur Singh, now industry minister in the Rajnath Singh government in UP and member of the Lok Tantrik Congress. Sometime ago, Fateh Singh was in New Delhi, where he apparently went on a shopping spree. He shopped for himself, his wife, his children — clothes, blouses, petticoats, undergarments and sundry. The expenses were allegedly billed to the Noida authorities for payment without the batting of an eye. Surprised, already? Look at what followed. A gutsy additional chief executive officer of the Noida authorities is said to have refused to sanction the bill. The bills were reportedly sent back to Fateh Singh and a copy of them sent to the CM for his kind perusal. The kindness will hopefully not flow towards the big shopper.

Our men overseas

It’s not only our politicians who live off us, our diplomats too seem to be doing that. They are given allowances for their residence in exclusive enclaves, chauffeur driven limousines, retinues of servants, huge entertainment allowances, a part of which invariably finds its way into the pockets of our men abroad. Even then they prove hard to please. One story doing the rounds in the South Block is about an Indian ambassador in a major east Asian capital who sought nearly — hold your breath — Rs 3 lakh to fumigate his official residence. This was because His Excellency’s sleep was being disturbed by some ill-mannered mosquitoes. Obviously, our diplomat hasn’t heard of the mosquito repellants easily available in the market. The demand has been shot down, but shouldn’t the MEA send him bulk consignments of Indian repellants to save diplomatic ties with east Asia?

Out of sight and out of mind

Dead and gone. The death of Congress stalwart Vijaya Bhaskara Reddy seems to have gone unnoticed in the AICC. There was no condolence meeting, not even the lowering of the flag. When scribes pointed out the absence of even a picture of the dead man, the media department ran from pillar to post for it. Finally, someone in the TDP government in Andhra Pradesh condescended to give them one. Kotla, as he was called, had seemingly died a disturbed man. He has wished YSR Rajsekhar Reddy be replaced as the legislature party leader. When the YSR Reddy camp heard his plea, it is supposed to have commented that the change would let the old man regain his strength. The ungrateful living!

Footnote / For the sake of some justice

A reputation killed. During the recent cocaine scandal in the capital, a vernacular daily is reported to have wrongly named the demure Satya Narain Jatiya, social justice and empowerment minister, as one involved in the racket. Even his worst critics cannot imagine Jatiya snorting coke. But the damage was done. That, however, did not exhaust the quota of humiliation in store for him. More followed. On the national Hindi day, Jatiya was late for the mega-function and found all the front seats, reserved for VIPs, occupied. He tried to sit at the back, but a man snubbed him, saying, “Yahan kohi sajjan baithe hain” (someone is sitting here). Jatiya very politely tried to explain that he was a Union minister, but the occupant of the seat was not impressed. He remained firmly positioned in his kursi. The minister kept standing while the function proceeded to its conclusion.

Ultimately, it was Vijay Goel, BJP leader, who spotted him in a corner, apologized, brought him to the front row and asked people curtly to vacate a seat for the honourable minister. Some social justice finally.

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Glad to have him back

Sir — The report, “Sachin return major boost: Sourav” (Sept 25), would bring back smiles to the faces of our Indian players. Tendulkar had a long lay- off as a result of a toe injury and missed some crucial matches recently. This break was desperately needed by the “little maestro”, who has been playing the game for a pretty long time. His consistent performance and his understanding of cricket make him indispensable to the Indian team. The skipper’s remark shows that the return of the batting genius would provide a great deal of moral support for Sourav Ganguly too. The Indian team seems to have its share of injured youngsters, and much now depends on the willow of our blue-eyed boy.

Yours faithfully,
Aparna Kapadia, Mumbai

Anger inscribed

Sir — The National Democratic Alliance has been facing severe criticism from all fronts for its alleged failure to cope with insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir and the Northeast. Terrorism has been haunting the people of Jammu and Kashmir for the last two decades or more. The Northeast has been witnessing insurgency for the last five decades. Jawaharlal Nehru took the initiative to carve Nagaland out of Assam to accommodate just 4 lakh people. It did not stop there. Another half a dozen tiny states came into being.

The news from Manipur is equally disappointing. The report, “Scribes strike” (Guwahati edition, Sept 27), shows that journalists have launched an indefinite strike, demanding that militant outfits stop interfering in their work.

Two underground organizations were at loggerheads over observing the “rising day” by the office-bearers of the Manipur University Students’ Union. One outfit wanted the media to boycott the event but another insisted that it should be given front-page coverage.

The media were afraid of being blamed if they complied with either. They went on an indefinite strike in protest. This is an unfortunate incident. The Manipur government should prevent such things from occurring in the future.

Yours faithfully,
V.A. Gopala, Bangalore

Sir — The majority of the Manipuri population is not supportive of any revolutionary or militant organizations. The recent event at Manipur, where journalists were forced to take a stringent step by going on an indefinite strike shows the appalling state of affairs. It is absolutely wrong to make the media the scapegoat of a conflict between two outfits, whose irresponsibility has led the media to declare a strike. It must be remembered that the media comprise a tool through which the common man is enabled to express his opinions. This is especially important for the people of the Northeast.

Yours faithfully,
Sapam Nandiker, Imphal

Sir — The news report, “N-E student jolted by admission bar” (Guwahati edition, Sept 20), seeks to bring to the notice of the people of India the injustice suffered by the scheduled caste and scheduled tribe students of the Northeast, who want to pursue higher studies in a city like Calcutta.

The students from the Northeast, are forced to migrate to other states because of the political turmoil in their respective states. And the government of India’s order denying “out of state” benefits for SC /ST categories makes it particularly difficult for them when they do migrate.After so much is promised by the Centre to promote a balanced education policy for SC/ST candidates, a move such as this reflects the hollowness of its rhetoric. Does the government think that it is enough to provide facilities for basic education alone to students from backward classes? All students, irrespective of their background, should get equal opportunities to pursue higher studies.

Yours faithfully,
Sareng I. Michael, Shillong

Parting shot

Sir — What sins did the Bengalis commit to deserve a leader like Mamata Banerjee?

Yours faithfully,
Jayanta Banerjee, Calcutta

Letters to the editor should be sent to:

The Telegraph
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Calcutta 700 001
Email: [email protected]
Readers in the Northeast can write to:
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