The Book of Aleph
A sneak preview of our first list from April 2012 to March 2013.
the book of aleph ALEPH BOOK COMPANY An independent publishing firm promoted by Rupa Publications India First published in India in 2012 by Aleph Book Company 7/16 Ansari Road, Daryaganj New Delhi 110 002 Copyright © Aleph Book Company 2012 All rights reserved. Copyright in individual excerpts vests in the authors or proprietors. Copyright in this selection vests in Aleph Book Company. No part of this publication may be reproduced, transmitted or stored in a retrieval system, in any form or by any means, without permission in writing from Aleph Book Company. In the works of fiction in this book characters, places, names and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and any resemblance to any actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental. ISBN: 978-81-923280-0-3 Printed and bound in India by Lustra Print Process Pvt. Ltd, New Delhi This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser. Disclaimer: All prices, publication dates and other specifications in this volume are liable to change without notice. contents 06 08 32 56 92 132 180 214 218 223 Letter from the Publishers spring summer monsoon autumn winter spring 2012 2013 The Future Index About Us LETTER FROM THE PUBLISHERS When you are trying to break new ground, or are starting a new venture, it is inevitable that you do so in a fog of optimism, uncertainty, doubt and nervous exhilaration. When Aleph Book Company was set up last year to publish fine writing by South Asian authors (and international authors writing about the subcontinent), there were some things we knew we wanted to do. We knew that we wanted to keep our list exclusive and manageable, so that we could lavish on our books the sort of hands-on editorial care and attention to design and production quality that we are obsessive about. And we knew that we wanted to provide our titles and authors with tremendous marketing, sales and distribution support. What we didnâ€™t know was whether we would be able to find enough books to publish that possessed the literary and artistic excellence, originality and style that we were looking for: books that we would truly love, as opposed to those that were merely products occupying slots in sales catalogues, production schedules, warehouses and balance sheets. Over the past year, the doubt, uncertainty and nervousness have all fallen away. Not only have the ambitious goals we set ourselves (we wanted to launch with twelve books) been exceeded by the sheer number of brilliant and original writers who have chosen to publish with Aleph, the books themselves have turned out to be wondrously alluring creations. There are novels that capture the light and darkness of the world (and the doings of an orange-coloured cat); exquisite memoirs and works of narrative nonfiction (about birds, butterflies and the best mutton korma in the world); original ways of looking at our country, our region and ourselves (whether it is the way we make love, take decisions or draw inspiration from our crores of divinities); authoritative works on religion, politics and philosophy. And, finally, a lovely seriesâ€”a sequence of short books in which five talented writers capture the essence of the iconic cities they call home. We cherish each of the twenty-five books that we are launching Aleph with for their brilliance, insight, style, panache and sheer readability. Judge for yourselves. New Delhi David Davidar April 2012 Ravi Singh The Book of Aleph ÂŠ Manoj K. Jain 8/9 SPR ING 2012 The Book of Aleph SP R I NG between clay and dust Musharraf Ali Farooqi % In an old ruined city, emptied of most of its inhabitants, Ustad Ramzi, a famous wrestler past his prime, and Gohar Jan, a well-known courtesan whose kotha once attracted the wealthy and the eminent, contemplate the former splendour of their lives and the ruthless currents of time and history that have swept them into oblivion. Ustad Ramzi was the head of a pahalwan clan and the custodian of a wrestlers’ akhara. He was a man of frugal speech and austere habits, and appeared to some a stern man. His imposing stature, a heavyset jaw, and upturned whiskers only reinforced this impression. He was one of those men who do not accept the futility and emptiness of life, but who try continuously to give it meaning—a reflection of their own life’s purpose. Fifteen years earlier, in 1935, he had won the highest wrestling title in the land, Ustad-e-Zaman. This title was at the heart of a long struggle between Ustad Ramzi’s clan and its rivals who had defended it for years. By winning the title Ustad Ramzi had fulfilled the coveted dream of his clan elders. He had defended it many times since and cherished it as a sacred trust vouchsafed to the strength of his arms. Recently, Ustad Ramzi’s world had been shaken by the abolition of the princely states whose nawabs and rajas traditionally patronized 12/13 the wrestling arts. Many smaller akharas had closed down in consequence. The two surviving akharas belonging to Ustad Ramzi and his rival clan had also experienced the bite of hard times. Trainee pahalwans continued to take instruction, but there were fewer of them than before. One bout had been organized in the past year, and it had not drawn many spectators. The prevailing situation made the future of this sport look uncertain, at best. These circumstances, however, had not affected Ustad Ramzi’s unremitting adherence to his creed or checked his aspirations for the sport and its practitioners. The akhara was a hallowed place for him where a man made of clay came in contact with his essence. On the day he first put on the wrestler’s belt and stepped into the akhara, Ustad Ramzi made the pahalwan’s traditional pledge to strive for the perfection of his body and soul until he returned to earth upon his death. The akhara, which The Book of Aleph his patriarchs had tended with their labour and sweat, was still the mainstay of his life. It had always been guided by the example of his elders, and as it had been before, so it was now. Ustad Ramzi had continued with his absolute ways in his diminishing sphere of influence where everything was predetermined, and every act, every gesture was of consequence. This consciousness had given a fatalistic decisiveness to his actions. People coping with the pressures of life after Partition, battling harsh circumstances with all the means in their possession, had neither the use nor sympathy for such intensity of purpose. Even those close to Ustad Ramzi sometimes found it difficult to understand or appreciate his motives. For many, Ustad Ramzi’s set outlook on life had turned from a virtue to an impediment. Adjacent to Ustad Ramzi’s akhara was a private cemetery marked by an enclosure lined with cypresses, yews and banyans. It was a relic of the times when it was not unusual for people to be buried where they had worked and spent their lives. Besides Ustad Ramzi’s ancestors, other pahalwans who had upheld the art’s strict tenets were also honoured by being buried there. Ustad Ramzi did not allow sweepers to enter the cemetery for fear of polluting the sanctity of its grounds, instead, he swept it himself every week with a broom of palm fronds. He never entered it without making ablutions. He kept the cemetery rimmed by rose boughs as a sign of devotion to the memory of his elders whose lives were lived in strict conformity with their creed. He always experienced a deep sense of harmony in that place. The graves were not laid symmetrically, and the ground was a little uneven and sloped to one side. In a corner at the acclivity of the slope, Ustad Ramzi had placed two stones and surmounted them with a marble slab to improvise a bench where he kept his gardening tools. The Book of Aleph SP R I NG Musharraf Ali Farooqi’s arrival on the literary scene was like the man himself— quiet but phenomenal… © Arif Mahmood —NEWSLINE Sitting there he could see the spot in the cemetery where lay his own unfilled grave. He had made it several years earlier and exulted in the anticipation that the day he was laid there, his life, too, would have conformed to that of his elders’ existence and become a part of it. Musharraf Ali Farooqi, the author of Between Clay and Dust (the novel from which this excerpt is taken), was born in 1968 in Hyderabad, Pakistan, and currently lives in Karachi. His previous novel, The Story of a Widow, was shortlisted for the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature 2010. He is also the highly acclaimed translator of Urdu classics Hoshruba and The Adventures of Amir Hamza, contemporary Urdu poet Afzal Ahmed Syed’s selected poetry and Urdu writer Syed Muhammad Ashraf’s novel The Beast. His children’s fiction includes The Amazing Moustaches of Moochhander the Iron Man and Other Stories and the picture book The Cobbler’s Holiday or Why Ants Don’t Wear Shoes. % The Book of Aleph SP R I NG em and the big hoom Jerry Pinto % In a one-bedroom-hall-kitchen in Mahim, Bombay, through the last decades of the twentieth century, lived four lovebattered Mendeses: mother, father, son and daughter. Between Em, the mother, driven frequently to hospital after her failed suicide attempts, and The Big Hoom, the father, trying to hold things together as best he could, they tried to be a family. She was in Ward 33 again, lying in bed, a bed with a dark green sheet and a view of the outside. We could both see a man and a woman getting out of a taxi. They were young and stood for a while, as if hesitating, in front of the hospital. Then the man took the woman’s hand in his and they walked into the hospital and we lost them. ‘That’s why Indian women fall ill,’ Em said. ‘So that their husbands will hold their hands.’ ‘Is that why you’re here?’ I wanted to bite my tongue. I wanted to whizz around the world, my red cape flying, and turn time back so that I could choose not to make that remark. But Em, being Em, was already replying. ‘I don’t know, Baba, I don’t know why. It’s a tap somewhere. It opened when you were born.’ I was repaid in pain, a sharp thing. ‘I loved you. And before you I loved Susan, the warmth of her and 18/19 the smiles and the tiny toes and the miracle of her fingernails and the way her scrapes would fade within the day as she healed and grew. I loved the way her face lit up when she saw me and the way she nursed. But after you came along…’ She turned to the window again. An ambulance turned in, lazily, in the way of the city’s ambulances. Inured to traffic, unconcerned by mortality, unimpressed by anyone’s urgency, the ambulance driver stopped to light a beedi before jumping out of the cab. We watched together as someone inside opened the doors and two young men leapt out and tried to wrest a stretcher from within. ‘Was it like that?’ she asked. She had forgotten how she got to the hospital. ‘No,’ I said. ‘You came in a taxi.’ ‘What was I wearing?’ ‘The green dress with the pockets.’ The Book of Aleph She looked puzzled. I rooted about in the locker by the bed, a locker marked ‘Patient Belonging’, and opened it. I pulled the dress out. ‘Oh that one,’ she said. ‘Bring it here.’ She stroked it as if to rediscover a little more about it. ‘The tap?’ I said. ‘Sorry. I must be going mad.’ We both smiled at this, but only a little. It was a tradition: the joke, the smile. ‘After you were born, someone turned on a tap. At first it was only a drip, a black drip, and I felt it as sadness. I had felt sad before, who hasn’t? I knew what it was like. But I didn’t know that it would come like that, for no reason. I lived with it for weeks.’ ‘Was there a drain?’ ‘No. There was no drain. There isn’t one even now.’ She was quiet for a bit. ‘It’s like oil. Like molasses, slow at first. Then one morning I woke up and it was flowing free and fast. I thought I would drown in it. I thought it would drown little you, and Susan. So I got up and got dressed and went out on to the road and tried to jump in front of a bus. I thought it would be a final thing, quick, like a bang. Only, it wasn’t.’ Her hands twitched at the sheet. ‘I know.’ ‘Yes, the scar’s still there.’ We were silent. I didn’t want to hear this. I wanted to hear it. ‘The bus stopped and the conductor had to take me to a hospital in a taxi. He sat in the front, lotus pose.’ ‘Lotus?’ ‘My blood was flowing across the floor of the taxi. There was no drain there either. I remember it all, as if rain had fallen. Have you ever The Book of Aleph SP R I NG © Chirodeep Chaudhuri [Em and The Big Hoom] is utterly persuasive and deeply affecting: stylistically adventurous it is never self-indulgent; although suffused with pain it shows no trace of self-pity. Parts of it are extremely funny, and its pages are filled with endearing and eccentric characters… I cannot remember when I last read something as touching as this. —AMITAV GHOSH noticed how rain clears the air? Everything stands out but it also looks a little thinner, as if the dust had been keeping things together. I felt as if...’ Her hands twitched at the sheet again. It slipped off her foot and both of us looked at the scar that ran from under the big toe to her ankle, a ridge of scar tissue. ‘It had to be dressed every day for months. Dr Saha came and did the honours.’ ‘Don’t wander,’ I said. ‘Where was I?’ ‘In the taxi. With the world outside clear.’ She looked a little confused. ‘You said the world was clear.’ ‘Oh, not the world. Inside my head.’ Each time she had tried to kill herself she had opened her body and let her blood flow out. Was that the drain, then, I wondered, was that how it worked? ‘And this time?’ I asked her. ‘Is it clear now?’ ‘This time I heard a small voice inside my head, just as I was beginning to slip away. I heard it say, “Please save me.”’ ‘That was you.’ ‘No, I heard it.’ ‘It was you,’ I said again. ‘It must have been, no? I heard it as if it were someone else. And then you came. And Susan. I didn’t want it that way. I didn’t want the two of you to see anything like that in your lives.’ We had gone out together that afternoon, Susan and I, even though The Big Hoom was at work. It was a time of plenty. The stock market had worked in The Big Hoom’s favour and he had sold some shares. A nurse had been hired and Em was, for once, someone else’s responsibility. The Book of Aleph SP R I NG We were teens on an adventure, watching Coolie, the biggest Amitabh Bachchan hit of 1983. The Big Hoom wouldn’t have approved, and Em would have mocked, but they would never find out. We had laughed a lot, happy that we could go out and laugh, like all the others we knew who were our age. And it was a warm afternoon, the kind made for laughing. When the show was over and we came home, the nurse was asleep. She had no idea where Em was—this in a house with a single bedroom, one living room, one small kitchen, two narrow corridors, one four-by-two balcony. Susan knew. She headed straight for the bathroom. There was no reply. She called, ‘Em, Em,’ panic streaking her voice. I knocked and called too. Finally, we heard something wet and slithery inside, and the door opened. ‘I tried it again,’ Em said. She was drenched in blood. It was in her hair. It was on her hands. It was dripping from her clothes. 22/23 I pulled out the immersion rod to warm some water. Susan went for the nurse, but she, wily lady, had taken one look over our shoulders and vanished into the still-warm afternoon. Susan called The Big Hoom. I heard her in some other way, not the normal way you hear things. It was thin and distant but it was also clear. I can still hear it if I try. I don’t. Em was leaning against the wall next to the bathroom door and shivering. I guided her to the low metal stool and she sat down. Her arms dangled between her knees. I picked up one of her arms and turned it over to look. The cut was a single line, dark red. It said nothing. ‘Em tried to kill herself,’ I heard Susan say. Then she was back. ‘What did he say?’ I asked. ‘What do you think?’ she was impatient as she tested the water with her finger. ‘He says he’s coming.’ The Book of Aleph I poured warm water over Em, from her head downwards. The water ran red. Susan reached down in front of Em and began to raise her dress and petticoat. I excused myself. My mother was going to be stripped naked. I went out and made the next call. To Granny, Em’s mother, solid woman, cloth and sawdust solid. ‘Coming,’ said Granny. ‘Take a taxi,’ I said. ‘Taking,’ said Granny. I stood in the balcony for a while. The traffic flowed outside. A sparrow dropped onto the balcony. A crow followed. The sparrow fluttered away. The crow preened cockily. A chickoo seller announced that his wares came from Gholvad. Then I went to make tea with lots of sugar. I had read somewhere that sugar helps with shock. SP R I NG Jerry Pinto lives and works in Mumbai. He has been a mathematics tutor, school librarian, journalist and columnist. He is now associated with MelJol, an NGO that works in the sphere of child rights. His published works include a book of poems, Asylum, and Helen: The Life and Times of an H-Bomb, which won the National Award for the Best Book on Cinema in 2007. Em and The Big Hoom, from which the above passage has been extracted, is his first novel. % The Book of Aleph the taliban cricket club Timeri N. Murari % Kabul under the Taliban is a wasteland, its gangrenous breath reeking of explosives, smoke and despair. Its only colour comes from the roses, the sweetest-smelling roses in the world. Rukhsana, spirited and beautiful, is desperate to escape the blighted city and the attentions of a powerful Talib who fancies her, but she has a sick mother and a younger brother to care for. As life in the Afghan capital gets even worse, it is clear that she will have to flee if she is to liveâ€Ś It was four years ago, when winter hovered beyond the Hindu Kush and sent a warning chill through the streets, that I first saw Zorak Wahidi. A rumour had been spreading along the streets, slipping through keyholes, sliding under doors, over windows, and into bedrooms. It woke me while it was still dark. It told me about a crime, one that we had long expected to happen, and which none of us could prevent. I dressed quickly in jeans and a blouse and shrugged into a jacket. I wrapped my head in a chequered hijab that only partially covered my head and fell around my shoulders. I left home as quiet as the dawn, through the back door and out the side gate, while the others slept. There were no taxis waiting. I thought briefly of taking the silver grey Nissan parked in our garage, but opening the main gate would wake up the whole household. So, I caught the small, 26/27 white-and-blue tram at Karte Seh Square. A few men sat in the front, four of us women at the back. Two were nurses on their way to work; the third was a teacher with her bundle of books. I sat beside her and, after exchanging glances, we ignored each other and she sat silently as the tram swayed and tilted on its rubber wheels along Asamayi Wat toward the city centre. The tram stopped frequently, either to pick up and drop off passengers or when it lost contact with the overhead cable. At Pastunistan Square, it hesitated a long time and then the driver, instead of moving north along the road like he was supposed to, continued straight on along Awali May. ‘Why are you going straight?’ I demanded. ‘What’s happened? Is it true about ex-President Najibullah? Tell me…’ The driver looked back, and I saw the fear in his glance. The guns and rockets had fallen silent, and we sensed the eerie stillness of the city. I jumped off the tram at the next stop and walked toward The Book of Aleph Ariana Square on my way to the office, keeping close to the high palace wall that was pockmarked with bullet holes. The mist spun a ghostly cobweb over the city, and muffled figures materialized out of the wispy net, looking back fearfully, as if pursued by demons. They vanished in an instant, leaving me alone. I wished I had ignored the rumour, pulled up the covers and remained in bed. Then the mist dispersed, and I saw what I thought I had only dreamed. A handful of people crossed the road to hurry past the palace gates and turned their faces away from the mutilated corpses of ex-President Mohammad Najibullah and his brother, Shalpur Ahmadzi, hanging from the traffic-signal posts at Ariana Square. I crossed the road too, though I didn’t avert my head. They wore clothes, their mouths and ears were stuffed with money, and there were unlit cigarettes stuck between their fingers. Najibullah had been a heavyset, imposing man but death had shrunk him. I felt a sense of dread now. I had believed, like many others, that the Taliban, with their religious beliefs, would bring compassion, justice, stability and good governance to our poor nation, but the lynching of Najibullah revealed their murderous intentions. What would they do next? I wondered in fear. I had a Nikon in my bag, and thought briefly of taking a photograph, but I couldn’t film such terrible humiliation of human beings. Instead, I wept. Five Talibs with AK-47s and canes lounged by the wall, as proud of their craft as children would be of their paper puppets dangling from strings. They stopped those who didn’t have the presence of mind to cross the road, and forced them to stare at the corpses. A whack from a cane moved them on. When I turned the corner, I looked back. A fighter climbed out of a pickup and began to walk in my direction. Two of his men trailed him. I looked around. Apart from me no one else was in sight at this hour. I hurried now and caught a bus toward Sherpur Square, where The Book of Aleph SP R I NG ÂŠ Shahu John A lovely, diverting and moving tale of contemporary Kabul, about love, courage, passion, tyranny and cricket. Murari has an uncommon tale to tell, and does so with imagination and empathy. â€”SHASHI THAROOR the blackened walls on either side of the road reached up to the sky like burnt fence posts. The bus moved slowly, avoiding the potholes, and when I looked back, the three men were still following. I jumped off nimbly at my stop and ran into the office of the Kabul Daily on the corner of Flower Street. I was sure the men wouldn’t follow me inside. I hurried into the office, devastated by what I had seen, but aware of the responsibility I had to report breaking news. Yasir, the editorin-chief of the Kabul Daily, had been a friend of my father and granted me a small desk from which I reported on nonpolitical features: profiles of musicians, women’s issues, education, civic problems and movies. But last September, after I had nagged him insistently, he had permitted me to accompany him to Jalalabad to report on the fighting. We had crouched and scurried through the ruins together, talking to the wounded, tripping over the dead, being afraid, and trying to stay alive. I learned that war was chaos and no one knew who was winning and who was losing. Even at this hour, the room stank of cigarette smoke and my eyes watered. The other reporters were speaking in low whispers. ‘Have you heard…?’ Yasir asked me. I nodded. ‘I saw. It was terrible.’ ‘Write eight hundred words to start with,’ Yasir said. ‘Then you can do a longer piece. Every detail of how they looked, readers want that.’ He retreated to his office, stopped at his door, and added, ‘Let’s see what this new government will allow us to report.’ ‘It’s going to get worse, much worse, I know that. Poor Najibullah, he didn’t deserve such a death,’ another reporter said and they hurried to their desks. They pecked at their machines between puffs. The only other women employed by the paper were Fatima and Banu. They had yet to come in, and I wondered whether they would. I slipped off my jacket, dumped the hijab on my desk and removed the plastic cover from my ancient Underwood typewriter. I wished I could use my laptop, on which I could cut and paste easily… I prayed the telephone line was working—I would need it later to fax my story to HT. I reread old files, jotted down some notes, rolled paper into the Underwood, and stared at the blank space, wondering if my thoughts would flow better if I smoked. w I stopped writing when I sensed the silence, and looked up. Three men stood in the doorway, silhouetted against the morning light, black as shadows. They carried AK-47s and the leader scanned the room until his eyes settled on me. Buried in my writing, I had forgotten about them and never expected to see them here. He did not smile as he 30/31 approached my desk. I remained seated, frozen, fingers poised over the typewriter’s keys like a pianist waiting for the conductor’s baton. The man wore black from head to toe; his turban coiled like a snake on his head. He was a fierce man, over fifty, I guessed, with unusually thick lips and dark brown eyes. A scar slashed down the right side of his face, and part of his right ear was missing. He stopped at my desk and looked down at me with impassive eyes. I smelled the dust of war and blood on his clothes, mingled with sweat. Two fingers of his left hand, the small one and the fourth, were missing. He carried these badges of a warrior with arrogance. ‘Your father must be ashamed of you, letting strangers look you in the face,’ he said finally in a smoke-ravaged voice. I stood up, brushing back the hair from my eyes. ‘My father has no objection to my working. He’s proud of me,’ I replied. He looked very surprised that I would answer him back. I was proud of my profession, The Book of Aleph of my degree: a BA in journalism from Delhi, where my father was the deputy ambassador in the Afghan embassy. ‘I am Zorak Wahidi,’ he announced softly. Timeri N. Murari is an award-winning writer, filmmaker and playwright. Time magazine chose his film, The Square Circle, as one of its top ten films of 1997. His works include the bestselling novel Taj, which has been translated into twenty-one languages. The Taliban Cricket Club, his latest novel, which is based on a real-life incident, will be published around the world this year. He lives with his wife in his ancestral home in Chennai. % SP R I NG The Book of Aleph ÂŠ Manoj K. Jain 32/33 SUM MER the freethinker’ s prayer book Khushwant Singh % Khushwant Singh is an agnostic who wakes up before dawn to listen to Sikh hymns, recites the Gayatri Mantra and knows large parts of the Bible and the Quran by heart. He likes being known as a dirty old man who delights in malice but is, in fact, fanatically disciplined and generous to a fault. He has lived an extraordinary life—marked by contradiction, mischief, compassion, courage and wisdom (though he denies all these charges). Where does this man of no faith turn for inspiration? What does India’s grand old man of letters believe in? Here, he gives us some answers. Old age is a nuisance. It buggers up your life. Take it from a very old man—I am ninety-seven. Though I have not yet gone senile and I have been spared the indignity of bedpans and nurses wiping my bottom, it is now time to go. I am reminded of these lines by John Keats: Now more than ever seems it rich to die, To cease upon the midnight with no pain… There is only one thing that makes it difficult to go, and that is my lack of faith. I don’t believe in God, paradise or the possibility of rebirth. I don’t know where I will be after I die. For this reason, I have always dreaded death. As Paul Valéry put it: ‘Death speaks to us in a very deep voice but has nothing to say.’ People who have religion also fear death, but they seem to derive comfort from the belief that they will meet their Maker, or that they will be reborn in some form. 36/37 The more self-righteous among them believe they will die and go to heaven. I have no such delusion, and no such comfort. But I do not regret being an agnostic; it is the only logical choice. Even though I have retained the outward emblems of the Sikh faith— beard, kesh (hair), turban and my surname—I rejected religious rituals quite early in life. I also stopped believing there was a God. No one has seen God. No one has been able to define God, besides investing him with numerous fantastic attributes. The argument that if there is a watch there must then be a watchmaker never made sense to me. If God created everything, who created God? If an omnipotent, all-seeing God does exist, why is there injustice and suffering in the world? I cannot accept a God who is selective in granting his grace, or who is blind. Rejecting the possibility of God and giving up religion was not easy. You need faith and someone to pray to when you are afraid or in The Book of Aleph pain, or when you feel helpless. Having rejected religion, how would I fill the vacuum? Over the years I came up with a kind of religion of my own. It had very simple rules: ahimsa—non-violence—above all; work as worship; honesty (even about one’s dishonesties); helping people in need; and respecting and preserving the natural world. I may have failed to live by these rules sometimes, but I have tried to do so to the best of my ability. I also decided that since I had only one life to live, and I did not know when it would come to an end, I would try to get as much out of it as I could. I would indulge my senses to the full, feasting my eyes and senses on all that is beautiful in the world: its mountains and lakes, seashores and deserts; the break of the monsoon and the scent of wet earth; good food, vintage wines and the finest Scotch whiskey; Western classical music and shabad-kirtan; the fragrance of flowers and herbs; birdsong at the break of dawn; classic literature; and beautiful women (about whom, alas, I can now only fantasize). In all this I have derived inspiration from the words of poets and fakirs, prophets and rogues, grave men and clowns. There is a lot to be learned from both the sacred and the profane, and I am enjoying the process of putting all of it down for my new book. It is a prayer book for every freethinker. Here’s a sampling: Know him alone as a man of God who knows the pain of another. He helps those in need and shares their sorrow, but his heart is free of pride. —Narsinh Mehta (These are the opening lines of Bapu Gandhi’s favourite bhajan) The Book of Aleph SU MM ER © Mustafa Quraishi [Khushwant Singh] is a literary version of Osho Rajneesh… [the] rumbustious, Rabelaisian black sheep of the flock. —THE TIMES OF INDIA Beauty is truth, truth beauty—that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know. —John Keats Words do not the saint or sinner make, Action alone is written in the book of fate, What we sow that alone we take. —Guru Nanak People of the Book, do not go to excess in your religion. —The Quran (translated by Thomas Cleary) Your spirit is a river. Its sacred ghat is contemplation; its waters are truth; its banks are godliness; its waves are love. Go to that river to cleanse your soul: mere water will do nothing for you. —Hitopadesa Confusion’s my fate ever since I renounced wine; I’m lost and distracted, unable to work; The pious repent and vow to abstain; I, too, vowed to abstain—and now I repent. —Babur O Divine Master, grant that I may not Seek to be consoled as to console; To be understood as to understand; To be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive, It is in pardoning that we are pardoned. —St Francis of Assisi The Book of Aleph SU MM ER Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise: Which having no guide, overseer, or ruler, Provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest. —The Bible (Proverbs 6:6-8) Don’t torture this body with thirst and hunger, Give it a hand when it stumbles and falls. To hell with all your vows and prayers: Just help others through life, there’s no truer worship. —Lal Ded (translated by Ranjit Hoskote) Don’t be boastful. Don’t be short-tempered. Don’t make a short-lived attempt. Don’t expect gratitude. 40/41 —The Dalai Lama A droplet of dew with reflected sun ablaze! The talk of life and death sounds a fairy tale. —Asghar (translated by K. C. Nanda) Born in Punjab’s Hadali village (now in Pakistan) in 1915, Khushwant Singh has acquired an iconic stature: he is, today, India’s best-known and most widely read author, columnist and journalist. He was foundereditor of Yojana, and editor of The Illustrated Weekly of India (which he made India’s most popular and talked-about English-language weekly), National Herald and Hindustan Times. His first book, The Mark of Vishnu and Other Stories, was published in 1950, and he has published several acclaimed and bestselling books of fiction and non-fiction in the six decades since. The best-known among these are the novels Train to Pakistan, I Shall Not Hear the Nightingale, Delhi, The Company of Women and The Sunset Club; his The Book of Aleph autobiography, Truth, Love and a Little Malice; and the two-volume A History of the Sikhs. He has also translated the works of major Urdu and Punjabi poets, novelists and short-story writers. Khushwant Singh was a member of the Rajya Sabha from 1980 to 1986. He was awarded the Padma Bhushan by the Government of India in 1974; he returned the award in 1984 to protest the siege of the Golden Temple by the Indian army. In 2007, he was awarded Indiaâ€™s second-highest civilian honour, the Padma Vibhushan. % SU MM ER The Book of Aleph ÂŠ 2000 Sooni Taraporevala chronicle of a corpse bearer Cyrus Mistry % In 1991, the author was commissioned to write a proposal for a Channel 4 documentary on corpse bearers in Bombayâ€™s Parsi community. The film was never made, but one story he heard in the course of his research stayed with him. The story was about a middle-class Parsi dock worker of the last century who married the daughter of a khandhia (corpse bearer). The person who narrated the story was son to this improbable marriage. The authorâ€™s deeply unsettling new novel takes its inspiration from this story. Inside the stone cottage, in the centre of the floor lay the dead man, stretched out on an iron bier. Nearby, a small fire crackled in a thurible on a silver tray. The cleansing smell of smoke and incense and sandal was everywhere. Three sides of the room—Buchia was right: the mourners, present and waiting—were crowded with women of various ages draped in freshly laundered white saris: swans, elegant in their grief. They sat shoulder to shoulder in closely arranged wooden chairs, their hair covered by scarves or the bob-pinned trains of saris, contained, like their grief, in an orderly, well-adjusted decorum. Some of them conferred in whispers. The men wore spotless white as well, but ambled outside or stood around in random clusters on the crowded veranda. Some of them wore tall, brooding headgear. Most knew each other, and exchanged pleasantries or condolences in muted murmurs. Everyone’s head was 44/45 covered, and many were bent in prayer. Must have been an important bawa, this big man, I thought to myself, to have attracted such a large and well-decked retinue of mourners. Standing outside the funeral chamber, I hurriedly untied and re-knotted the sacred girdle around my waist. Fardoon was already there, waiting. He’s a nussesalar, too, though at least twenty years my senior. Presently, we entered the stone cottage together. Gripping a hefty, three-inch-long iron nail I had collected from the storeroom on my way up, I got down on my haunches, and described a circle on the floor at a radius of about three feet around the supine body in an anticlockwise direction. Fardoon tagged behind me at the end of a long white cloth tape, both of us softly reciting, in tandem, thirty-three Yatha Ahu Vairyos—one of the prescribed ancient hymns that keep the demon of foulness at bay. This magic circle, once drawn, firmly seals in the invisible contamination emanating from the corpse, The Book of Aleph or so it is believed. This was all pretty much routine. I wasn’t going to be needed again, until it was time to carry the corpse up to the tower. And I was thinking, perhaps there might be just enough time to catch a nap…? One of the khandhias—Bomi or Fali perhaps—would have been assigned the task of bringing up Moti the bitch on a leash, to show her the corpse once the priests were through. But before we could make our exit through the crowded funeral cottage, two robed priests padded in, not willing to wait anymore. They seemed to be sulking, impatient about the delay I had presumably been responsible for. Holding a long white handkerchief between them, they swayed from side to side, chanting a prayer of penitence beseeching forgiveness from the Almighty on behalf of the large, dead man whose name was Peshotan Pavri. Meanwhile, a young girl, possibly a granddaughter of the deceased, began wailing. An older woman sitting beside her put an arm around the young girl and squeezed her comfortingly, while another, in front of them, turned in her chair and began whispering urgently: ‘No, no, my dear, mustn’t cry like that…’ ‘Papa’s happy, darling, what’s there to cry about?’ said the other woman. ‘If you shed tears, they’ll only become like heavy boulders pinning his soul down to earth… Let him go, let him soar up, Ruby…’ Presently, the young girl’s sobbing softened to a whimper, became more sibilant, elegiac. People never give a thought to death while there’s still time, I reflected, as the priests droned on… And when it comes upon you unannounced, there’s shock and disbelief, and a great gnashing of teeth. As Fardoon and I withdrew from the crowded funeral hall, the congregated mourners shrank perceptibly, leaving a clear, if narrow, The Book of Aleph SU MM ER passage for us to walk through. I was thinking of my own little girl, who must be awake now, perhaps sitting in her grandpa’s lap munching on those two slices of bread… Despite my misgivings about the man, I felt grateful that Temoo was there to keep her company; that Coyaji had allowed the dotard to stay on in his quarters even though he’s too old for any real work. Lost in thought, I didn’t notice a particularly lean, cadaverous man with a large mole on his forehead seated on the veranda among crowds of family and friends; nor did he see me approach. Perhaps he was merely inattentive or too abstracted from long hours of prayer? One leg hoisted over the other, vigorously wagging his cocked foot at the ankle while silently moving his lips, he was completely engrossed in a thick but diminutive prayer book. As I passed him, my leg brushed against his oscillating shoe. Accidentally, of course, but the man who had seemed so lost in prayer, 46/47 so oblivious of his surroundings, suddenly sprang to life. With the suddenness of a spring-operated toy he leapt to his feet, and began trembling like a leaf. A few other mourners noticed that something out of the ordinary was going on. Now the bony figure started making loud and insistent buzzing noises, like an incensed bee. He was saying something to me, abusing me in all probability, protesting his defilement at my hands—but all of it wordlessly, without parting his lips which remained tightly pressed together. Having once trained for the priesthood myself, I was familiar with this routine practised by the most devout: the hallowed chain of prayer they have been so diligently weaving must not be interrupted by the profane utterances of everyday speech: hence, the buzzing. In a ferocious dumb charade, the man was urging me to keep my distance, to take my unholy self out of his sight, disappear from the very face of the earth (if I read him correctly)—all the while flailing his arms The Book of Aleph Cyrus Mistry’s new novel shines a light on a the Parsi community. It is brilliant and unsettling. —KHUSHWANT SINGH To those who've followed his work, Cyrus Mistry has long been known as perhaps the best writer of his generation. Set in Bombay in the first half of the last century, against the backdrop of the independence movement, his riveting new novel takes us into the hidden world of a Parsi 'untouchable', the corpse bearer of the title, who is employed to bring the Parsi dead to the Towers of Silence. The subject is unusual and the telling, as sad as it is funny and irreverent, starkly real. There's more magic in Mistry's realism than in magic realism. —ARVIND KRISHNA MEHROTRA © J. K. Johnson little-known segment of and fists in the air like one possessed. Other mourners stood up too, shocked. The man whom I had thus desecrated by the graze of my shin against his polished leather shoe seemed angry enough to strike me, but fear of further despoilment rendered him impotent, and apoplectic with rage. I felt an urge to break into guffaws of laughter. I felt like embracing this strangely awkward man so terrified of the ‘demon’ of putrefaction, smothering him in a friendly bear hug and saying: Do you seriously believe you won’t need me one day? Astride those emaciated shoulders rides the ghost of a corpse. You don’t see him now, but it’s only a matter of time, believe me, before your blood turns to ice, your limbs harden like wood. Then, ask yourself, will your near and dear ones wash and clothe you for the final goodbye? No, sweet man, you’ll have to depend on one of us. And then, we’ll have to rub you all over… 48/49 Of course, I didn’t dare deliver that tirade; instead, only mumbled contritely: ‘Forgive me, please. My mistake, bawaji, please forgive…’ and bowing low, quickly took my leave of him, as the rest of the grim congregation on the veranda glared at me. Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer, Cyrus Mistry’s second novel, is set in his native Mumbai. Mistry began his writing career as a playwright, freelance journalist and short-story writer. His play Doongaji House, written in 1977 when he was twenty-one, has acquired classic status in contemporary Indian theatre in English. One of his short stories was made into a Gujarati feature film. His plays and screenplays have won several awards. His first novel, The Radiance of Ashes, was published in 2005. % The Book of Aleph of birds and birdsong M. Krishnan % One of our greatest naturalists, M. Krishnan was also â€˜the finest nature writer of his timeâ€™, according to Ramachandra Guha. This masterly essay on gamecocks is peppered with his trademark literary allusions and caustic humour, and never fails to surprise and delight. By a twist of fate the one time I had the chance to acquire a gamecock official prestige barred me. I was a magistrate then, and my fondness of livestock had already drawn comment. My racing homers had been invested with the aura of respectability by the local Boy Scouts using them for their pigeon post (a post suggested and mainly run by me), but the goats were less easily justified. There had been emergencies when I had to herd my goats myself and, however unostentatiously a magistrate turns goatherd, news of the event gets abroad. I had a polite, unofficial note from my chief which said that rumours (which, of course, he discounted) had reached his ear that I had been seen in the scrub jungle piloting a number of goats with bucolic shouts, and that while he appreciated my right to do what I liked outside office, such capricious behaviour on the part of a First Class Magistrate was, nevertheless, ill-advised. There had been a pompous paragraph on the official proprieties and the dignified and unbending countenance of justice, and, evidently pleased with the etymological aptness of the description, he had repeated the words ‘capricious behaviour’ several times. So, when a case of betting on a cockfight came up before me, and a magnificent bird was produced in evidence, I resisted temptation firmly. My clerk, whose adjective law was superior to mine, assured me that the thing to do was to confiscate and auction the fowl besides fining the owner—I still doubt the legality of this procedure, but it had been followed by my predecessors in office, and who was I to try to act wiser? There were people present in the court who would gladly have bought the gamecock at the auction and, after a discreet interval, sold it to me at a formal profit—and somehow they had sensed my interest in this piece of evidence. But I was firm. I contented myself with sharing my lunch with the haughty bird during the afternoon recess, and with admiring it. The The Book of Aleph SU MM ER iron spurs, which were also filed as ‘material objects’ by the police, were interesting, about an inch long, made of mild steel, and really sharp. They were encrusted with blood and had already begun to rust, but I wanted to keep them, as a souvenir of my triumph over temptation. I was denied even this satisfaction. My learned clerk said the rules decreed that such objects, which could be used again to commit an offence, had to be destroyed. Only once, as a schoolboy, have I seen a cockfight, and have confused and almost staccato recollections of it—the crowd in the bylane, people squatting and standing in a ring around two gamecocks, the earnestness of the men, the indifference of the birds to each other, then, unexpectedly, the spontaneous flare-up of combat, the incredibly swift and savage attack, flailing legs and flying feathers and blood, the sudden collapse and death of one of the combatants in an unrecognizable shuddering mess of dishevelled plumes and slashed 52/53 flesh. I have seen dogfights, ram-fights, partridge-fights, even a brief tussle between two circus camels, but for sheer shock and impact and savage fury that cockfight was unapproachable. Blake must have known its violence and gore at first hand, to have written: A gamecock clipped and armed for fight Doth the rising sun affright. Naturally, the law takes a grave view of cockfighting. It is a rather horrible sport, but even I, who feel revolted by its carnage, realize it is a sport, the kind that stimulates speculation and betting. Once zamindars and other rich, leisured people were much given to patronage of cockfighting, but those days are past. The gamecock is a rare bird today, and getting rarer. It is said that domestic poultry originated in India, and our junglefowl go a long way towards proving this claim. However, it is in The Book of Aleph © T. N. A. Perumal Every piece in this collection has something original even for the seasoned naturalist. —from the foreword by ZAFAR FUTEHALLY …as a naturalist [M. Krishnan] had no equal. —E. P. GEE, author of WILDLIFE IN INDIA other countries that fine and specialized breeds of domestic poultry have been built up and stabilized. True, we have no native breeds to compare with those tender-fleshed egg-layers, but in our gamecock, purely the product of indigenous breeding skill, we have a bird second to none in looks and power. The gamecock is essentially the same all over India, a tall, hard-muscled, brown-and-black bird with a long, graceful neck, a broad keel and great, columnar legs—the legs and spurs are the features of the breed, and are most impressive. The hen, as in all gallinaceous birds, is smaller and much more modest in looks. The reason why this superb and wholly indigenous breed is almost on the point of extinction is that it is of no use except in a fight. Obviously its flesh would be too tough for the table, and the small eggs have no appeal to the poultry farmer. However, a gamecock would make a grand pet, and the race can be saved if only people would 54/55 keep it for its looks and its temperament. After all, utilitarian worth is as out of place in a pet as in sport, and the gamecock is a bird of real quality. It is capable of deep attachment to its keeper, and intolerant of strangers and intruders. A gamecock parading one’s compound lends more than picturesqueness to the place; it lends it security for, believe me, it is a formidable watchdog. M. Krishnan (1912-1996) is widely regarded as one of the finest naturalists the country has ever produced. A brilliant writer and photographer, his writing was showcased to fine effect in a newspaper column called ‘Country Notebook’ which appeared continuously in the Sunday Statesman for about forty-six years. Although two posthumous books that feature his photographs and writing have been published—Nature’s Spokesman edited by Ramachandra Guha and Eye of the Jungle edited by Ashish and Shanthi The Book of Aleph Chandola and T. N. A. Perumal—Of Birds and Birdsong is the first collection of Krishnan’s writings that focuses exclusively on birds. Krishnan was awarded the Padma Shri in 1969. % SU MM ER The Book of Aleph ÂŠ Manoj K. Jain 56/57 MON SOON ÂŠ Maithili Doshi Aphale business sutra making the goddess of wealth walk our way Devdutt Pattanaik % The ancient sages of India communicated their ideas about wealth, transaction, governance and leadership through a jigsaw puzzle of stories, symbols and rituals. Business Sutra is the authorâ€™s attempt to show how these ideas can provide an alternative framework for business and management in the twenty-first century. Modern business practices, which evolved in the West and spread across the globe, base themselves on linear thought patterns found in Biblical and Greek narratives. These are very different from the cyclical thought patterns found in narratives of Indian origin, and so they will always be resisted or subverted in the subcontinent. The need, here, is for wisdom of local origin. This wisdom can also benefit global businesses that are currently trying to solve new problems of cultural diversity using the old tools of industrialization and imperialism. What distinguishes traditional Indian thought from modern business practice is the value placed on subjective truth, or belief, over objective truth. It offers a chance to transform business from a battleground, or rana-bhoomi, where only some people win, to a playground, a ranga-bhoomi, where everyone is happy. Business is, in essence, a yagna, the ancient fire ritual described 60/61 in Vedic scriptures. Into the flames, the yajaman, the patron, makes offerings exclaiming: ‘Svaha!’—This of myself I offer! And as he does so he hopes that the bhagavan, the deity he has invoked, will be satisfied with his offerings and emerge from the flames and say: ‘Tathastu!’—So it shall be! Modern management science begins with the outcome already in mind, the desired tathastu. The svaha is accordingly designed. Great attention is paid to the offerings, gestures and exclamation of the yajaman. But no attention is paid to the yajaman himself. His beliefs do not matter. His feelings and fears do not matter. Only immediate growth in the business is of value. The yajaman is relevant, but replaceable. Ancient Indian thought values the yajaman over everything else. It pays attention to his bhaav, his sentiment and feelings, which are rooted in his fears, which in turn are rooted in his beliefs. His beliefs are his subjective truth. The yagna has no independent existence The Book of Aleph In [Devdutt] Pattanaik, Indian civilisation has found an articulator of the calibre of Will Durant. â€”INDIA TODAY outside the subjective truth of the yajaman. When the yajaman grows, when his fear wanes and wisdom waxes, the svaha improves, the bhagavan is happier and so the tathastu is better and genuinely lasting. As is belief, so is behaviour, so is business. This is Business Sutra. Dr Devdutt Pattanaik is a mythologist, leadership coach and Chief Belief Officer of the Future Group. Trained in medicine, he worked for fourteen years in the pharmaceutical and healthcare industry, followed by a brief stint with Ernst & Young, before joining Kishore Biyani who persuaded him to turn his hobby into a vocation. He writes and lectures extensively on the relevance of myth and mythology in modern management. His bestselling works include Jaya: An Illustrated Retelling of the Mahabharata, 7 Secrets of Hindu Calendar Art and Myth=Mithya: A Handbook of Hindu Mythology. 62/63 % The Book of Aleph accidental india a history of the nation ’ s passage through crisis and change Shankkar Aiyar % In this brilliant and learned book, the author uses specific milestones—such as the Green Revolution which freed India from the fear of famine and delivered food security; the midday meal scheme which spurred school enrolment and literacy; the nationalization of banks which democratized capital; and the software revolution which transformed the country’s Third World image—to demonstrate that India’s ascent has been driven not by ideology or programmed initiative, but rather by serendipitous events that delivered change. The best-known example of the country changing course as a result of circumstancesâ€”rather than by designâ€”is the liberalization of the economy. India was once one of the worldâ€™s most globalized economies, but war and the pernicious effects of colonization had put paid to that. In 1947, when the country gained independence, it should have opted for a free and open economy, but pride and paranoia prevailed and economic freedom was surrendered to state control. For forty-three years successive governments existed in denial of their appalling record when it came to economic governance. Scarcity was the norm. It was also the basis for business and politics to sustain profit and power. Then, in 1991, the financial crisis and the collapse of the existing political order led to the moment of truth. 6 p.m., 20 June 1991 12 Willingdon Crescent Road It was a typical Delhi summer day with the temperature in the thirties. The rasp of starched khadi blended with the rustle of raw silk, the thud of car doors closing bounced off the walls of the colonial mansion. Nervous laughter mingled with faux bonhomie and the air was heavy with the obsequiousness unique to the Delhi Durbar. P. V. Narasimha Rao had been anointed prime minister just a few hours ago and the pilgrims lined up to pay obeisance. Ironically, just a few weeks earlier, the wily hermit of the Congress party had been nudged into retirement to write his book, through which he hoped to relive his days of political glory. Tragedy and fate willed otherwise. As India lurched from turmoil to trauma on 21 May, following the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, Rao returned to centre stage. In less than a fortnight he engineered his resurrection, outwitting Sharad Pawar, a much younger challenger, through a combination of The Book of Aleph MO NS OO N sheer guile and intellect. Patiently, Rao allowed the aggression and disruption that Pawar represented to threaten the Congressmen. Arguably the most qualified practitioner of Congress politics, the polyglot managed to communicate to the MPs and the first family that their best interests lay with a tried and tired status quo. The dictates of the moment, though, left no room for any sort of status quo. India may have emerged from its worst political crisis in recent history, but it was trapped in an economic crisis that compelled an agenda for disruption. In less than twenty-four hours Rao would be sworn in and would have to select a team that was acceptable to the fragile coalition of parties that supported his government. After sundown that day, all hangers-on at his official residence were shepherded away and Rao asked for his soup. In a quiet chamber, along with another wily old campaigner, Sitaram Kesri, he awaited the return of P. C. Alexander— 66/67 his aide de campaign—from a critical mission. Just then, an usher walked in to inform Rao that an important visitor had arrived and was waiting for an audience. It was Cabinet Secretary Naresh Chandra, an accomplished bureaucrat. As chief of the bureaucracy, Chandra had witnessed the most tumultuous period of his career since taking over in December 1990. India would see its third prime minister in eighteen months. Its economy had already been downgraded twice in six months from stable to speculative by the rating agencies. Its foreign exchange reserves were enough to cover just fifteen days of imports. Inflation was rising and the government was on the edge of bankruptcy. Rao called him in. After the usual pleasantries, Chandra discussed the plans for the swearing in. Everything seemed in order— inasmuch as the chaos that defines politics would allow. The list of forty-five ministers was yet to be finalized and it would, as always, be The Book of Aleph a last-minute affair. Chandra then pulled out the file he had brought with him and handed it over to the prime minister-in-waiting. It had two notes in it—one was a detailed account of the economic crisis; the second laid out the blueprint for the revival of the country’s economy. Narasimha Rao recognized he had been presented with a fait accompli. The draft for economic revival was the New Delhi Consensus, a promissory note India had committed to while seeking financial assistance from the Bretton Woods twins, the IMF and the World Bank, in January. The Government of India had already availed of two tranches of loans from these bodies as emergency funding to prevent a financial meltdown. But it needed to do much more. On the verge of default, India had committed in principle to mend its ways of managing the economy. To effectively defuse a crisis of this magnitude, Rao needed both political empowerment, ideally through a parliamentary majority, and the room to manoeuvre, but he had neither. He owed his crown to a covenant of loyalty to the Gandhis, and he did not have the freedom to act without let or hindrance. But not for nothing was Rao legendary for his political acumen and his ability to turn perilous situations to his advantage. He sensed the opportunity to dismantle not just the apparatus of state control, but an entrenched political class. However, in order to put his plan into action, he would first need an effective firefighter. Even before the final word on his coronation was out, Rao had approached the famous economist and former Reserve Bank of India governor, I. G. Patel, to join his team. Patel, ever the pragmatist, had begged off and suggested another career bureaucrat, Dr Manmohan Singh, as a possible choice. Rao’s need was for someone who was an acceptable face to the IMF and the World Bank, who knew the economy and understood the web of levers that controlled political decision making. Singh qualified on all counts. He had served on every The Book of Aleph MO NS OO N rung of hierarchy and was familiar with the interlocutors in the FundBank dispensation. As secretary general of the South Commission he had interacted closely with Bank officials and IMF Managing Director Michel Camdessus. A major point in his favour was that he was known to harbour political ambitions. Singh was on a flight back from Japan. The next day, at 5 a.m., Alexander rang him to say he wanted to see him. Alexander turned up at Singh’s house at 7 a.m. and offered him the post of finance minister. Singh, says Alexander in his memoirs, replied with a classic bureaucratic poser: ‘What do you think?’ His concern: would Rao and he get the political backing they needed? It was more a rhetorical poser than a real concern. After all, Singh had survived every political whim—from the nationalization of banks to ‘Garibi Hatao’ to partial liberalization—of successive governments for over two decades. He owed his survival to his ability to make a distinction between his 68/69 opinion and the expediency his political masters expected of him. An economist as ambidextrous as any, he knew his ‘on the one hand and on the other hand’ arguments well. Most importantly, as adviser to a former prime minister, Chandra Shekhar, he knew the lie of the land, metaphorically and literally. w The parlous state of the economy was never a secret. The meltdown of 1991 was a consequence of the crisis of thinking on the part of successive governments for four decades and more. Since 1947, India had believed in the mythological power of the state to deliver prosperity. The cult of nationalism was replaced by the church of socialism. To consolidate their hold on their parish, the evangelists of the middle path used every crisis as an opportunity. Each time the economy stalled, these pundits argued that more control was The Book of Aleph ÂŠ Bandeep Singh needed, although the crux of the problem was located in the reality of India being a resource-starved economy. The country had always needed foreign exchange for imports and to sustain its economy. The strategy of import substitution (through, among other things, the maintenance of a licence-and-control raj) precluded competition, promoted inefficiency, hindered exports and aggravated the countryâ€™s dependence on aid. As a result, every external shock or internal failure produced an economic crisis. India became a regular visitor to the soup kitchen of multilateral institutions and had been on the verge of bankruptcy five times. Each visit to the world lenders of foreign aid resulted in the same prescription: remove the controls on the economy. w Rao was sworn in around noon on 21 June 1991. Among the first decisions he took was to astutely retain the portfolio of industries 70/71 minister. He had already chosen Manmohan Singh as finance minister. He then brought in another savvy, result-oriented individual, P. Chidambaram, as commerce minister. His choice of the team to effect change was defined by his need to ring-fence executive decisions from political baggage and influence. Rao instituted a steering group within the Prime Ministerâ€™s Office which met every week to discuss and debate the architecture of what would eventually be hailed as the liberalization of 1991. It was decided that the government would present its budget on 24 July, which left the team less than a month to get everything in order. In the final days before the budget was to be presented, the steering committee met many times every day to fine-tune the political language of the package, particularly the new industrial policy, as this would be critical to ensure its smooth passage through Parliament. For, in effect, what the policies that Rao and his team The Book of Aleph were contemplating were about to do was overturn everything the Congress had stood for. Eventually, Rao and his team decided to deploy the optics of politics to make their proposals acceptable. Obeisance was paid to Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira and Rajiv Gandhi in both the new proposed industrial policy and the budget. In his budget speech Manmohan Singh said: ‘Thanks to the efforts of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, we have developed a welldiversified industrial structure.’ The 1991 economic liberalization plan was portrayed as a tribute to the aspirations of Rajiv Gandhi built on the foundations laid by Nehru and Indira Gandhi. On 24 July 1991, thanks to the political acumen and determination of Prime Minister Rao to take advantage of the crisis that had engulfed him to bring about change, the Indian economy was finally unshackled. Concluding his budget speech, Finance Minister Manmohan Singh quoted Victor Hugo: ‘No power on earth can stop an idea whose time has come.’ The crisis was deployed as the clinching argument for long-awaited change. Journalist–analyst Shankkar Aiyar scooped the news of India pledging its gold reserves with the Bank of England in 1991 during its worst economic crisis since Independence. His exposé of the hush-hush operation brought home to Indians and the world the magnitude of India’s woes. As an award-winning journalist and columnist, Aiyar specializes in the interface of politics and economics. He has broken numerous front-page newspaper stories and has written over a hundred magazine cover features. Accidental India: A History of the Nation’s Passage through Adversity and Change is his first book. % The Book of Aleph MO NS OO N ÂŠ Prabha Mallya the wildings Nilanjana S. Roy % In the gallis, parks and ruins of Nizamuddin, a clan of cats lives a rich, secret existence far away from human view. When Southpaw goes on his first hunt as a kitten, led by the more experienced Siamese cat, Miao, they run into an unexpected stranger. The tomcat watched the pair as they left, the old queen and the young half-grown kitten, their silhouettes fading away into the darkness. He felt a small pang as he remembered his first hunt, and he hoped Miao would be kind to Southpaw. The night was humid, the air scented with raat ki rani and mogra blossoms. There was a half-moon, partly obscured by clouds. As they slipped away, Southpaw felt his fur tremble with excitement. ‘Miao, where are we—?’ The older cat turned sinuously and cuffed him, her claws out just enough to leave a thin red line on his neck. ‘The first rule,’ she said. ‘No mewing. No whisker linking unless I say so, because your prey is small enough to pick it up. And smart enough to make a run for it.’ She cuffed him again, this time slamming his head to the right and holding it down so that he could see a frightened grey musk shrew 74/75 scutter away into the safety of the lantana bushes. Southpaw’s flanks were heaving from the pain, but more than that, the kitten was in shock. Miao had washed him every day from as far back as he could remember, her tongue gentle as she teased out the tangles in his fur. She had brought him his first piece of mouse, which tasted heavenly, and fed it to him herself. She had let him play with her tail and pounce on it, only lifting him gently away when he nipped too hard. The older cat had never rolled him on the ground, as Hulo did when he exasperated the tom, or smacked his belly as Katar often did, or so much as nipped his neck in warning. For a while he followed her in miserable silence, his head still ringing from the blows. The earth was cool under his paws, and when they crossed the stone path, he followed Miao’s example, retracting his claws. The Book of Aleph Gradually, his mind cleared and he began to watch Miao more closely. She appeared to glide swiftly over the ground, and he realized that she set her paws down as lightly as she could, often switching pace mid-stride in order to avoid stepping on leaves, twigs, slippery mud, paper bags, or anything that might make a sound. Twice, she froze in mid-glide, once to allow an unknown stray dog to trot past—luckily, he didn’t even see them—and once for no reason that Southpaw could tell. She listened, the second time, with her head to one side, her whiskers stretched tight, and whatever she heard appeared to satisfy her, for they continued along the hedge, following its curved path all the way to the empty lot that stood in between and yet away from the Bigfeet houses. Southpaw’s tail, which had been dragging sadly on the ground, began to rise ever so slightly. The empty lot was on the edge of the wide stretch of scrubland that lay between Nizamuddin and the next set of buildings. It was a kind of nocat’s-land, as wild as the grounds of the Shuttered House, but much less threatening. The real badlands lay just beyond, where lantana and keekar had grown into a bristling tangle, and where the whippy untamed branches of raat ki rani bushes wound their way around the frame of a Bigfeet building, abandoned halfway. The kitten had only been here once, briefly, when he had followed Katar furtively as he prowled the long grass in search of prey. This was at the outer limit of the territory of the Nizamuddin cats—beyond this, and they ceded ground to the canal pigs. They were moving into clumps of tall sarkanda grass, its purple plumes transformed by the dimness of the light into nodding shadows waving far above Southpaw’s head. Miao suddenly stopped, taking cover behind a pile of wood chips, paper and plastic bags and other Bigfeet detritus. She signalled to Southpaw that he should listen, and he could see from the way the fine, tiny hairs in the inside of her The Book of Aleph MO NS OO N ears rippled and stood up again that she was excited about what she could hear. He concentrated, but the sounds that came to him were the ordinary sounds of the night. The far-off clamour of car horns from the road, the cheerful chirruping chorus of the locusts, the occasional rustle in the dry grass. From above, the owls called at random intervals, their soft solemn cries breaking the silence and rippling into the night… Miao radiated a deep quietness as she settled in to wait. She was almost invisible against the long grass, and once, a moth settled on the top of her head, fluttering away in alarm when the older cat twitched a whisker. A rough map of the place began to form in Southpaw’s head. There were many rats here, or had been: he could sense their runways, and was startled by how orderly and widespread their lanes seemed to be. Many of the trails led to the very back of the 76/77 lot, and when he closed his eyes and inhaled, it seemed to the kitten that he could smell the odour of old droppings. Some of the holes smelled different, though, and were away from the rat runways, with a more oily set of rub marks. The scent was tantalizingly familiar and yet alien: it took a few seconds before the kitten, allowing his night vision to expand enough to let him see the holes more clearly, placed it. They were almost snout-shaped, and the odour was—he’d got it! Bandicoots lived here. And there was something else that the kitten couldn’t place: a dark scent, powerful but not evil, sending warning drumbeats out into the air. Miao sent out a quick warning, and then the older cat was crouching, her belly flat on the ground, hindquarters waggling, claws out and ears pricked. Southpaw found his teeth chattering like hers in excitement, and dropped to the ground himself—just in time to see a bush rat shoot across the path, its tiny black eyes panicked. The Book of Aleph Miao’s paw moved so fast that Southpaw didn’t see the action. Nor did the luckless rat, its body flying up and landing with a small thump on their right. Southpaw forgot his manners and bounded towards the rat’s body, driven by an urgent need to get his teeth into its flesh. There was a hiss, and then Miao swatted him, right across his tender nose. ‘Never do that!’ she said. ‘Always check that your prey is dead, not just stunned.’ Moving warily forward, she watched the rat for a few seconds. Then her paw shot out and she flipped her prey through the air. It came down on Southpaw’s flank. Miao held back. When Southpaw looked at her for direction, she said nothing, and her eyes were opaque. ‘Your kill,’ he said politely. ‘Owwwwwwww!’ The rat had sunk its yellow teeth into his rump, and was trying to scurry away. ‘It’s nobody’s kill until it’s dead, Southpaw,’ Miao said. He looked at the rat, and the rat looked back at him. Its eyes held terror and anger in equal measure, and the kitten hesitated. His instincts urged him to kill, and he could feel the saliva at the edge of his mouth at the thought of tasting its blood and flesh. But the rat was bigger than he’d imagined, and its teeth were sharp; the blood he could smell in the air was not just the rat’s. Southpaw put his whiskers out and almost lost one more as the rat ran towards him instead of away, against all expectation. Its eyes were glazing from the loss of blood, but it nipped as hard as it could at his face, and skittered past his left flank. The kitten wheeled; the rat wheeled too, staying near Southpaw’s back paw. The kitten twitched his tail out of the way just in time to prevent himself from being bitten again. The pads of his paws were sweating. He could no longer see Miao, and he was not aware of the path, the runways, the rat holes, The Book of Aleph MO NS OO N the lantana bushes or the grass. All he could see was the rat, its body tensed as it prepared to circle around, behind him—and he swung around in a fluid arc, catching the rat by surprise, his paw connecting with its body, his claws out. The rat flew through the air again, but this time, the body was limp and still. Southpaw wasn’t taking any chances. He batted the corpse twice, thrice, before he was sure it was dead, and then, though his mouth was salivating in anticipation, he exerted a great effort and turned to Miao. ‘Your kill,’ he said. Miao came up and examined the body. She patted it twice, too, to make sure it was dead. Then she carefully tore out the throat, considered a delicacy. Southpaw looked away; only young kittens would drool, he told himself, trying very hard not to drool at the prospect of a tender, fresh-killed rat dinner. 78/79 ‘Yours, I think,’ said Miao. She dropped the morsel of flesh from the throat in front of him, and when Southpaw did nothing, she pushed the kitten’s mouth gently downwards. He needed no further bidding, and they ate companionably, Miao feeding from the rich stomach, Southpaw relishing the back and tail. ‘It was a good kill, for the first time,’ said Miao when they were done. ‘Room for improvement, could’ve been better, but not bad, young Southpaw.’ Southpaw rubbed his face against hers gratefully, purring his thanks. Miao allowed him to take the next two kills—a mouse and a shrew, both easy once he’d got the hang of swatting with claws extended. Each time, the kitten was scared—even the smallest prey could cause damage, especially when it knew it would be fighting for its life. But Miao watched him face down his insecurities, and she thought to herself, this one would make a good warrior. In her The Book of Aleph ÂŠ Kavi Bhansali experience, it was never the bulk of the cat that counted or even the speed of the paw, the sharpness of the claw, as much as it was the ability to conquer one’s fear. They began to stroll back home; the moon was passing behind clouds and its light was touched with purple and yellow, like an old bruise. They had almost reached the road to the canal when Southpaw felt all his fur stand up at once, Miao whirled, and the air filled with the thick aroma of damp fur and cedar. Behind that was the powerful, warning, dark scent he’d smelled before, drumming through Southpaw’s head. He turned, not wanting to see whatever was there. Miao had hunched her shoulders up, her face was down, her teeth bared, and she was growling in a low, deep voice. But Miao was to his left and a little behind him. Whatever it was that had spooked Miao, he would face it first. 80/81 The first thing the kitten noticed was the creature’s eyes— inquiring, intelligent, assessing. Its face was neat, the fur beautifully combed in bristles of brown and silver, the whiskers black and questioning. The ears were round and made it look almost cute; but the creature was nearly their size, it rippled with muscles, and Southpaw gulped as he noticed the claws. They were thin, like curved stilettos, and he sensed they would be razor-sharp. ‘Don’t even think about touching the kitten,’ Miao said, moving up to stand beside him. ‘Whoever you are, you’ll have to get past me.’ The creature cocked its head to one side and considered her with some amusement. ‘I could rip both your throats out, Cat,’ it said, speaking in Junglee, the common patois that all animals used. ‘But I have made my kills for the night and the bloodlust has dimmed. As it has for your kitten, I see. One kill or two, boy?’ The Book of Aleph ‘Three! And it’s my first hunt!’ said Southpaw, forgetting for a second to be afraid. The creature’s eyes crinkled. It turned to Miao. ‘It is good to be young and out on your first kill,’ it said. ‘I’m Kirri, of the Clan Mungusi. Perhaps we can find a way to end this evening that does not involve bloodletting, perhaps we can’t. What do you say, O Cat?’ Miao had stopped growling, though her fur was still spiky in warning. ‘Hail, Mongoose,’ she said pleasantly. ‘I am Miao, and it has been many years since I met one of your kind. Are the snakes back in Nizamuddin, then?’ Kirri gave her a long considering look. ‘Not here,’ she said. ‘But over there, where the Bigfeet are building yet another of their warrens, I met an old Nagini—old in years, not too old to fight—and how we danced! She had me pinned, but I wriggled free; I had my teeth at her throat, but she threw me off balance with her tail. It was a dance such as I haven’t danced in months. She is dead and I have dipped my muzzle in her blood, but she was a worthy warrior.’ ‘I have no doubt,’ said Miao, ‘that you have killed many snakes, and been a mighty warrior yourself.’ It was just common politeness, but the mongoose looked pleased. ‘So I have, Miao. You may not be of Clan Mungusi, but you are indisputably a huntress yourself, a member of Clan Scar. You and the boy may pass unmolested this night, and because I have killed well and so has this young warrior, he may ask me a question.’ Miao turned, and nodded at Southpaw. From the set of her shoulders, he picked up her anxiety: the mongoose, so relaxed now, might be quick to anger, and the kitten knew without being told that The Book of Aleph MO NS OO N he must get the question right. Should he ask Kirri how one killed a snake? Should he ask for advice, what the best killing moves were? To his horror, Southpaw found himself asking none of these questions. Instead, he said: ‘If you please, Madam Mongoose, might I look at your mind?’ The mongoose’s eyes went black. She stretched and stood up on her hindpaws, letting the scimitars of her claws show. ‘You ask to link with my mind? A kitten asks this? Of me?’ Barely twitching her whiskers, so quietly that Southpaw was almost sure Kirri hadn’t heard, Miao said: ‘If she attacks, run. I’ll take care of her. Run the moment you see her move, don’t wait.’ Every muscle in her body was tense, and looking down, Southpaw saw the ground near her paws go dark from the sweat. The kitten took in the mongoose. Everything about the creature terrified him; the patches of blood on Kirri’s fur near her mouth, 82/83 the wicked claws, the body that was all muscle, no fat. But he straightened his whiskers and said: ‘You had one kill today, Madam Mongoose. I had three, and one of them was my first. I beg pardon if what I said was wrong, but I just wanted to know what a true hunter’s mind looked like.’ The mongoose stood down, and her black eyes looked deep into the kitten’s blue ones. Southpaw shivered, but he held his ground. The mongoose showed her teeth, and said: ‘So you want to know what a hunter’s mind is like, kitten? Come. Come inside, little one.’ She fixed her stare on the kitten, and Southpaw found himself looking back into her intense black eyes. The first impression was of hardness and sharpness—like standing in the middle of an obsidian plain—the mind of the mongoose was smooth and opaque, like black glass, and the kitten felt as though The Book of Aleph hidden claws combed his fur very, very lightly, as the mongoose let him link. Kirri’s memories were carefully organized. The kitten found himself looking at receding images of snakes, rats and smaller prey— first images of the living, caught in mid-battle, then of the dead, often bloodied, often snarling. Another set of memories filed away battle plans: how to twist in mid-air, how to stalk one’s prey from behind, how to dance with a cobra. ‘Southpaw, that’s enough.’ He ignored Miao’s voice, and moved a step forwards, fascinated. There was something in the centre of the plain that the kitten was drawn towards. ‘Come,’ said a voice softly in his head, and the kitten looked deeper into Kirri’s black eyes. ‘Come closer, little one. See what you want to see.’ ‘Get back, Southpaw!’ It pulsed, reflected back in the black glass; Southpaw sensed the predator’s arrowhead mind, the single-minded focus on making a clean, good kill. The link between them was strong; he wanted to move closer, to see more. A sharp pain in his flank made him howl. He leapt backwards, and felt the mongoose’s teeth—so close, far too close!—snap shut on one of his whiskers. Southpaw yelped and backed away, feeling the whisker tear. A paw slashed at his ear, but the curved claws just missed him; and then Miao was there, calmly smacking at the mongoose’s belly. For a second, there was a blur of brown fur and white fur—and then there was nothing. Miao blinked. Southpaw blinked. Kirri had vanished, melting away into the whispering grasses. The Book of Aleph MO NS OO N This excerpt is taken from The Wildings, the first book in Nilanjana S. Royâ€™s trilogy featuring an array of remarkable cats. Writing about animals was inevitable, she says, as they are a lot more fun than humans. She has worked extensively in publishing and journalism, and currently writes regular columns for Business Standard and the International Herald Tribune. Her writings have appeared in several publications, including Caravan, Civil Lines 6, Guernica, The New York Timesâ€™ India blog, Outlook and Biblio. She is the editor of A Matter of Taste: The Penguin Book of Indian Food Writing, and can be found at twitter.com/nilanjanaroy. % 84/85 The Book of Aleph the kingdom at the centre of the world journeys into bhutan Omair Ahmad % Bhutan, the landlocked Himalayan kingdom, has often been described as one of the worldâ€™s most isolated nationsâ€” isolated by choice, living by rules and realities very different from the rest of the world. The truth, writes Omair Ahmad, may be quite the opposite. Located at the intersection of several political, cultural and religious currents through the centuries, Bhutan may, in many ways, be a place where history as it is made has always been clearly visible. ÂŠ Ami Vitale There are dragons. There are kings. These are the truths we learn as children: the cunning hero outwits the giant; the barefoot penitent wins the crown. Over time we lay these stories aside, sometimes reluctantly, sometimes in pursuit of a harder truth, full of sharp reason, that is considered necessary to carve out our space in a world already overcrowded with survivors and achievers. And yet, in most of us, those other truths are not set wholly aside. We long for the clarity of a world in which deeds are written through blood and fire, and the future pivots on the action of singular human beings. In Bhutan all such stories are true. This is the shock that most visitors struggle with, and never quite overcome. A saint arrives on the back of a flying tigress, lamas engage in black-magic wars, while empires scheme and clash to conquer each other and the world. Myths and legends lie so thick over the landscape that the immediate reaction is to reject them all as mere folktales of a credulous people long isolated from the world: a Shangri-La, with all the naivety that the term implies. And yet, Bhutan has never been as isolated as all that. Its myths are often better guides to local and international history than the official versions we hear. The saint who rides a flying tigress turns out to be the great scholar Padmasambhava, often called the Second Buddha, who merged the teachings of classical Buddhism with local beliefs, and set in train the expansion of Tibetan Buddhism. And the tigress is his Tibetan consort. This is a truer history than we are told, because Buddhism spread across the Himalaya in the eighth century on the back of a new Tibetan empire whose ruins are still being disputed by the Asian giants India and China, and whose impact is felt by hundreds of millions today. The Book of Aleph MO NS OO N ÂŠ Vidura Jang Bahadur Most of the other stories, and much of the history behind them, is more recent. The barefoot penitent is none other than Ugyen Wangchuck, who displayed his humility by standing unshod before the nobles and religious heads of the country in 1907. For this, he won the crown of Bhutan and become the first king of the remarkable Wangchuck dynasty that has ruled the country for over a century. This is the true story, but behind it are other true stories: of the Duar Wars of 1864-65 in which the small Himalayan kingdom fought the British Empire to a standstill; of the Opium War that Britain fought with China, a war which was also about tea; of the Great Game that was played out as Russia expanded, China dwindled, and the world staggered towards the Second World War. Over the last few years as I have researched and journeyed into Bhutan, I have often felt that the kingdom throws back to the world stories that should be at the centre of our understanding of our times. In 2003, for instance, as the Americans marched on Baghdad, Bhutan, too, went to war. Except, in the case of Bhutan the standing army was all of six thousand soldiers, and it was led by the king himself, accompanied by a priest. It was the task of the priest to give a sermon before the battle, and he asked the soldiers not to kill, for the opponents were also sons, brothers and husbands, and their deaths would cause great sorrow. For those who know little of Bhutan, this story could be just another myth, but it is also realpolitik. The opponents were rebels from the Indian state of Assam; a state with a population fifty times greater than Bhutanâ€™s. Every death would have created a family of enemies. So Bhutan went to war thinking of peace, and the border has been silent ever since. There is much that we can, and should, learn from Bhutan, in economics as much as war. At the start of the twenty-first century, as the global economy struggles with the financial mess that few truly The Book of Aleph MO NS OO N ÂŠ Sampurna Chattarji 90/91 The Book of Aleph understand, Bhutanâ€™s vision of a politico-economic model that puts the happiness of its citizens at the centre of its governance suddenly seems to shine that much brighter. It is said that the destiny of the world is written in each atom of dust. And yet, there are few places in the world where you can see the rush and hear the roar, or feel the subtle drift, of history as it is made. Bhutan, a small, landlocked and isolated Tibetan Buddhist kingdom, offers such a vantage point. To journey into Bhutan is to journey into history, into myth, into yourself. And it is here, in Bhutan, in this kingdom at the centre of the world, that you are forced to ask yourself the question whether all of these journeys are one and the same. Omair Ahmad is the author of Jimmy, the Terrorist (winner of the Vodafone Crossword Award for Fiction and shortlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize) and The Storytellerâ€™s Tale. He grew up in Saudi Arabia and India, and has been a journalist, policy analyst, bartender in a coffee shop and semi-employed in a variety of odd vocations in a few countries. He currently resides in Delhi with multiple plans of escape on his mind. % ÂŠ Manoj K. Jain 92/93 AUT UMN a song and two seasons Chetan Raj Shrestha % Nestled in the lap of the Himalaya, Sikkim is one of Indiaâ€™s most beautiful states. The Lepcha people, its original inhabitants, call it Paradise, but the reality of the lives of its poor is often grim. In this story, which is visceral in its immediacy and power, a shocking act of violence on New Yearâ€™s Eve destroys the family of Puran, a small-time Sikkimese policeman. Kamla waited in the dust for her husband. When she heard a taxi pause on the road that ran above the house, she knew it was him. He had said he would come home on Saturday when she had called him from the phone in the Panchayat office. Puran and Kamla’s house was a small cottage with two rooms, constructed in the style of the local poor, with a wattle-and-daub façade and a tin-sheeted roof. A kitchen, made of concrete, had been added on later. Across the mud courtyard were an external toilet and a bath, both makeshift and ramshackle structures. Maya and Thooli were spinning in the courtyard, round and round, shrieking with dizziness. Their play stirred up the dust their mother waited in. The girls completed a round, stood still, staggered, and pretended to fall down dramatically. It was a new game and Maya was learning from Thooli, her elder sister. Maya stood up and swayed drunkenly. Thooli, also reeling, shouted as she saw her father coming down the 96/97 twisted declivity that led to the house. As Puran came up, Maya hid behind her mother and sucked in the snot coursing down to her upper lip. Thooli went up to him and bowed. He put his hand on her head. Puran did not expect his wife to do the same—their last exchange on the phone had been rancorous— but she surprised him by bending down to touch his feet, exposing a now defenceless Maya. The girl now heard her father say her name softly; she ran and hugged his leg, shouting, ‘Appa! Appa!’ Thooli laid claim to the bag in Puran’s hand. ‘Be careful with it,’ he said, as he let it go. ‘Why? What’s in it?’ Thooli asked, opening it. She took out a packaged cake. ‘What is it?’ Kamla asked. ‘Don’t you know, woman? Today is the last day of the year. From tomorrow onwards it’s another year. I’ve got a cake.’ The Book of Aleph ‘Only you seem to know such things. I’ve lost all my memories,’ Kamla said. She had grown up in Namchi, a large town that was the capital of South District, where her father had a tailoring shop. Puran and she had eloped to his village after a week’s courtship with plans to return and settle in Namchi after the storm had died down. She had been waiting for the move for nine years. In the meantime, her in-laws had died in quick succession, the caretakers for Puran’s fields had proved too expensive to maintain, her own brothers had married and settled happily in Namchi, she had had two children to whom her parents and brothers were indifferent, and her husband had been transferred to Gangtok, a posting against which he lobbied without conviction for a transfer closer to home. Fate had installed her in the isolated house, without neighbours, that she lived in now. ‘And such sweet memories you had,’ Puran said. He was amused. He hadn’t expected the barb to come so early. The formalities before the battles, one for every visit, usually consumed some time. Not that he minded the formalities. The arguments that he didn’t win, he deflected into beatings. Over the years he had learned to deal with her sullen sarcasm and occasional, ineffective violence through a mixture of resignation, disdain and violence of his own. What else could one do with a short-tempered wife who insisted on being beaten? He said, ‘Woman! In every shop and hotel in Gangtok they are asking people to prepare for this night. The newspapers have advertisements telling them to dance through the night. There must be a reason, no?’ Kamla looked around; the children had disappeared into the house to paw through the contents of Puran’s bag. She said, ‘Maybe. I’ve heard it’s another life there. We used to burn tyres in Namchi and sing around them.’ The Book of Aleph AU TU MN ‘I’m not here just to enjoy myself. I have to report to the thana tomorrow with some documents regarding a rape case.’ ‘Did you commit it?’ Puran found this funny, and he thought of saying something to provoke her further but restrained himself. He did not want the New Year to begin with the aftermath of a quarrel. It was a common truth that the year streamed whatever mood it received on its first day. He turned to cajoling. He said, ‘It doesn’t matter, woman. There has to be a celebration. We’ll try.’ The children pattered out of the house. Maya asked Thooli, ‘What does celebration mean?’ ‘It’s like a Happy Birthday,’ Thooli said. ‘Whose Happy Birthday?’ ‘It’s the Happy Birthday of the next year,’ Puran said. Maya was satisfied with the explanation. 98/99 Night arrived quickly. The world was all sound, even as the wheezing of passing vehicles stopped. The insects in the forest sounded like the gnashing of some monster’s teeth. Jackals howled and dogs barked non-stop at each other. And behind these was the distant roar of the Rangeet. Puran sat in the living room on the secondhand sofa, a bottle of rum, a full glass and a jug of water on the table by his side. Maya ran in. He straightened up on the sofa and curved his feet into a seat, which Maya straddled. He caught her hands, gently see-sawed her and sang: Resham Firiri. Resham Firiri. Oodeyra jaun ki danda ma bhyanjang. Resham Firiri. Kamla had slaughtered a hen in the evening and Thooli had plucked and prepared it. These were jobs for a man, but the only man in the house was almost a guest. Puran wanted a dish of fried The Book of Aleph gizzard and intestines with his drink. When Kamla came into the living room to serve him his snacks, he said, ‘We must teach our children traditional songs.’ Kamla said, ‘I don’t know any. You can stay here and teach them and I’ll go to Gangtok and work.’ He ignored her and repeated the verses of the song until Maya could sing along. She climbed up on to his chest and fell asleep. This, too, was a ritual and soon Kamla came to take the girl away and leave Puran to his drinking. The house was silent as Thooli helped her mother in the kitchen. Puran counted the minutes. He looked at the clock. It was 8.30. The cake still waited on the table. He looked at the clock again at 8.35 and back at the cake. Its presence was now a reproach to the smallness of his life. ‘Budi. Ay Budi! Bring me some more snacks.’ He called her Budi—wife—as a provocation. ‘It is ready, Maya ko Bau. I’ll wake the children up and then we can eat.’ She called him Maya ko Bau—Maya’s father—when he irritated her. ‘Why did you let them sleep? We are celebrating,’ he snapped. Kamla came to the doorway of the living room and shouted, ‘How will they celebrate? By looking at your face? There is no television, not even a black-and-white one. No radio. They wake up at four in the morning. Thooli spends her morning with the cows. She failed this year. Did you know that? Why should they stay awake? What is there to celebrate? You were drinking, the children are frightened by what you do after you drink. Or did you expect them to talk with the night insects?’ Puran straightened up and snarled, ‘What did you say? Say it again! Tell me! Is someone plugging your hole while I’m away?’ The Book of Aleph AU TU MN Vulgarity is often a woman’s weapon, not a man’s, during a fight; its power is in its ability to shame. A man has rage, the strength to hurt; if he adds filth to his arsenal as well, he cannot be defeated. Silence, then, is the best defence. Kamla held her sharp tongue. She glanced at the clock on the wall; it was only 8.40. They would fight tonight, there was no doubt about it, she had quite a few things to say. But the earlier they fought, the longer would be the beating she would have to endure. ‘No,’ she said simply. ‘Let’s eat. I’ll wake the children.’ Kamla returned to the kitchen. It was a spare concrete room, with uneven walls and an earthen stove which had firewood stacked above it. There were some low stools lying around. Thooli had fallen asleep watching the chicken boil. When she ushered the children into the sitting room to eat after five minutes, Kamla was surprised to see that the wall clock showed it was fifteen to twelve. She looked at Puran 100/01 who caught her eye and made a winding movement with his hands. ‘Apuee! It’s about to ring twelve,’ Thooli said. Kamla improvised: ‘Ho ta chhori. We’ve stayed awake like the bazaar people.’ At Maya’s request, her father sang ‘Resham Firiri’ again and she danced. Thooli joined her and sang a recent hit. At the children’s urging their father joined the dancing. Kamla left the room to check on the cooking. Soon Thooli called, ‘Aama, please come. It’s about to be Happy New Year.’ Joyful shouts filled the house soon after. The children were put to sleep by 9.30 (Puran had changed the hands of the clock back to the correct time). Kamla came into the room to clear the table. Puran tapped the seat beside him and she sat down. Their knees touched. Puran’s expression softened. Kamla smelled the kitchen’s odours on her hands and felt unlovely. The Book of Aleph ÂŠ S.T. Gyatso ‘You will be staying for a few days?’ she asked. ‘Should I stay, then?’ ‘If you want to. You are our honoured guest.��� She got up and moved across to the blue plastic chair opposite the sofa on which Puran was sitting. ‘Meaning?’ He was glaring now. ‘We rarely see you. We three women are fine with each other. I seldom remember you at night. And the days pass. The beatings, too, were never welcome.’ She paused, then said, ‘I would…’ ‘You whore!’ Puran shouted. His cry of rage echoed off the walls of the house. The children twisted in their shallow sleep. He made a wild lunge towards Kamla, caught his foot in the loose cover of the sofa and fell clumsily, hitting his head on the armrest of Kamla’s chair. Anyone intruding at that moment would have thought they were 102/03 witnessing a scene of private contrition and forgiveness. ‘You whore. You whore. You whore.’ Using the words like a battering ram, Puran stood up. His wife remained seated. He slapped her, then slapped her again. He grabbed one of her braids and pulled her up to her feet with a jerk. With his foot he pushed the centre table away, giving himself more room to manoeuvre. He swung a leg and kicked her hard. Once. Twice. In the groin, in the stomach. The kicks drew the first cries of pain from her. She twisted and turned to avoid his feet. Soon enough, some of his blows began to miss her, and the ones that landed on her were softened by drink. The abuse that accompanied the blows stopped, but the beating went on. An open-faced slap, a backhanded slap, a fist to the face that tore her lips, some more kicks. Kamla, at a defining moment, slumped to the ground. It was an admission of defeat and a cue for him to stop. ‘Appa!’ The Book of Aleph Puran turned towards Thooli’s voice. She stood in the doorway with her teeth clamped around the door’s wooden frame. He paused, his body warm from his exertions. He realized he had an erection, and sat down on the sofa with one leg over the other to camouflage it. His mouth dribbled some spit. He began abusing his wife again, viciously—words that his daughter would repeat calmly in the police station the next morning. Kamla was on all fours. Her posture aroused him. It reminded him of earlier fights, when Thooli was Maya’s age. Then the fights had ended in violent lovemaking. Hazily, he remembered another night when she had crawled up to him and bitten him on the shin. He drew his legs in. Kamla crouched, then leapt up like a frog and straddled her sitting husband. She tore at his hair, scratched his face and bit his nose, which began to bleed. Puran realized it was an invitation to a second round. He threw her off and stood up. Kamla turned to escape. Puran put an arm out to restrain her, but only managed to tear her sweater and a piece of her blouse, exposing her right breast. She passed her screaming child as she darted into the kitchen. ‘Enough of your hatred,’ Puran shouted, as he chased her. He wiped his bloodied nose and entered the kitchen. He locked the door and looked around for a weapon. There was a bamphok lying on the ledge next to where the hen had been slaughtered and cut up. He would have liked to get his hands on the bamphok, but his wife crouched next to it like a wounded animal. A khukuri was closer to him, and he got hold of it, waved it about and said, ‘Now what do I do?’ ‘Hit me, eunuch,’ she hissed. He advanced and in a sweeping, graceful movement brought his weapon down on his wife and missed. Because of his drunkenness, and his inexperience with the khukuri, he had used the weapon The Book of Aleph AU TU MN clumsily, like an axe. He recovered and cornered her. He brought down the khukuri again. She raised her hand and arrested the downward slash of his arm momentarily, between her thumb and forefinger. Then she let go, slipped out from under his arm and bent to grab the bamphok. She rotated her body as she stood up, and at the end of her twirl, struck him in the face with the bamphok. She slashed his cheek, his nose, and his left eye. She saw the white flash of bone. Both had used their weapons ineffectually. The khukuri should be swung at an angle and the bamphok with a rigidly vertical swipe. No matter, she had struck first. He wailed and doubled over. She slashed at the base of his neck. His hand left his face, reached for his neck, returned to his face, and went to his neck again. He waved the other hand at her blindly. She struck the arm he was gesturing with at the elbow; she could hear the bone crack. He screamed and struggled towards the door. He 104/05 collapsed after a step and grunted as he went face down on the floor. She knelt over her husband and hacked at him with the bamphok. His body jerked with each cut, but soon the jerking faded into the twitches of a slumbering man resisting a summons. She hacked at him even after the twitching had stopped. Eventually she sat down with her knees bunched together and, resting her head on them, she slept. This story has been excerpted from the first of the three linked novellas that constitute Chetan Raj Shresthaâ€™s debut book A Song and Two Seasons. He was born in 1978 in Gangtok, Sikkim. He is a trained architect (his specialization being conservation architecture). He has lived in Darjeeling, Bangalore, Mumbai and Sydney, and is currently working in a collaborative architectural practice in Gangtok. % The Book of Aleph filomena ’ s journeys Maria Aurora Couto % In 1935, Filomena Borges married for love and moved from her village, Raia, to one of Goa’s most prominent and fashionable towns of the time, Margão. This move, from rural peace and simplicity to urban buzz and formality, was the first of many physical and psychological journeys she would make through a difficult life. Years later, when Filomena’s eldest child sets out to tell her mother’s story, she finds that the source of Filomena’s extraordinary strength and resilience may have been her childhood in Raia. A stormy night. Windows rattle; chinks in ancient doors let in the whistling wind; rain seeps through the roof at the rear of Avo Eliza’s house. Wind-lashed palms drip and keel; rainwater floods the long veranda; tiles fly off the close-knit roof and crash into soggy mud. Raia, like other villages in Goa, stays calm through such nights despite the fear of thunderbolts and lightning strikes, and prayers are mumbled for the monsoon’s blessing on field and orchard. On a night such as this, three years earlier, in 1909, Filomena—Lilia and Crisologo’s fifth child—had been welcomed into the family, her first cry drowned out by September rain. But it was much worse this time, with the last baby, the sixth child. Filomena’s older sisters used to whisper their memory of that fateful night: ‘That was the night our mother was taken away.’ Rita, Filomena’s eldest sister, whose graphic recall could not be matched by Laura and Alzira, had given her the details: ‘You have no idea, you were too little. We shivered and prayed, cried and knelt down; there was nothing we could do except stay silent and invisible so as not to add to the anguish within Mãe’s room. We were sent to bed early, but we curled up and forced ourselves to stay awake, listening to footsteps in the corridor.’ At every sound they hoped that the bedroom door would open and Avo would appear, smiling in relief. ‘Avo pretended to be calm, but we could guess that she was not.’ Decades later, Filomena would wonder whether the tumult of the night that ushered her into the world had prefigured the storms in her own life. Though her mother had survived her birth, to young Filomena the loss of her mother and her own birth were twinned; she had heard accounts of the two stormy nights in ways that in her mind they were conflated. Back then, immersed in responsibilities of the present, Avo did not talk much. Yet, once in a while, especially on a rainy night, the past sprang to her mind unbidden. Filomena would listen as her The Book of Aleph AU TU MN Avo relived accounts of the night when her mother had slipped away, left them forever. Avo recalled her own concern and disquiet of the morning while she went about her duties instructing farm workers and Conçu the cook; how unease had grown into a sort of lump within her, a weight she could not fathom. ‘By dusk, I was inarticulate with anxiety,’ she said. ‘I could barely keep still. I shuddered with each clap of thunder and tiptoed so that the children playing across the corridor should not be disturbed.’ ‘Do you know how difficult it was to deal with Santan, the midwife?’ Avo asked. She wiped her brow at the memory of her desperation. ‘With her kapod hitched up Santan collected towels and buckets, kept hot water on hand, organized disinfectants and stools. Though she looked impassive, her darting eyes revealed her agitation. Can you imagine what I felt when, much too soon, my beloved daughter’s waters flowed? She writhed in pain; weak with exhaustion, she 108/09 slumped after each attempt to push. Santan’s experience told her time was running out. I could see that she willed herself to keep calm despite her fears and exhorted me not to worry and to pray.’ With kerosene lamp in hand, peering into her patient’s face, Santan reassured Avo: ‘Count the babies safely delivered over all these decades, at the midnight hour, at dawn, dusk and high noon. Rain or sunshine made no difference. The call was answered, bai, God was praised, and so it will be this time.’ As she put the lamp on the bedside table and got to work, she muttered between sighs, ‘A new life to be welcomed by the family, bai. Just pray.’ Yet the ceaseless sound of rain on the roof and Lilia’s pale face disturbed her concentration. ‘The moans and low screams of your dear mother!’ said Avo. ‘She was my youngest child. I could not bear the sound of her voice, faint, exhausted. I dropped to my knees at the foot of the bed. Who could I send to fetch a doctor on a night such as this?’ The Book of Aleph By dawn it was all over, the cries stilled. ‘What can I say, bai,’ Avo sighed. ‘I held my daughter’s limp hand, mopped her brow while the storm raged and life ebbed out. I prayed over the stillborn baby boy in my arms. Francisco, I called him, beloved child, the boy we had all been waiting for. Then we bustled about and tried to keep our wits while coping with death. Two deaths. God’s will... Later the neighbours asked why we had not woken them up, they could have run for the doctor, done this and that, but there had been no hint of disaster until it was too late. Your mother, my Lilia, was frail and delicate but she had wafted through five pregnancies before this, delivered her children and resumed her housewifely routine within days. Besides, there was no hint of difficulties at all this time.’ Thinking back to these conversations sometimes, Filomena remembered a look of pained surprise on her Avo’s face, a defensiveness in her voice. She wondered what Avo had seen in her own—in Filomena’s—eyes back then. Had there been an accusation in her eyes? Perhaps. But no, there couldn’t have been; she loved her Avo. Besides, she was just three when it happened. As a child, Filomena did not understand death, but it was, in a fundamental way, the defining reality of her first years in the world. The night her mother died was vivid in her memory, as if she had witnessed it all. Even as an adult, through the years that she birthed and nurtured her own children, she could not dispel the scene. Her mother’s village, Raia, embodied loss. And yet, this ancient village was also where she gained the inner strength and resilience that would sustain her through the most difficult years of her life. Raia had grace and tranquillity. Its inhabitants, whether batcar or mundcar, were usually at peace, reassured and sometimes sustained by neighbours, except during such emergencies when tragedy was destined. Friendly neighbours were not the only people who were missing on that tragic night. Lilia’s husband, Avo’s son-in-law, the man of The Book of Aleph AU TU MN the family, was also absent. There were times, as a young girl—in church, praying for the dead and the living, or wandering among the coconut palms trying to gauge the number of coconuts for the next plucking season—when an image came to Filomena. She saw her father’s slight frame, not tall, as he walked up to her Avo’s house. His face lit up when he reached the doorstep, but then clouded as everyone crowded round him. At times she could not see his face, but felt his presence, her baby hand firmly in his as he walked in. He paid no heed to her brother and sisters… Then he let go of her hand and disappeared. Filomena’s father, Joaquim Crisologo Borges, generally addressed as Crisologo, loved his wife in a quiet, undemonstrative way. Emotion—the expression of it—was reserved for amateur stage productions. He was a dreamer with literary ambitions, and it is likely that the temptation of working at his manuscript had kept him away 110/11 at that critical time—the birth of his sixth child. There was also the printing to be attended to. He owned a printing press, and though he worked hard, though his work consumed him, it wasn’t a successful business. His inadequacies haunted him. He sighed, anxious to master the intricacies of typesetting; the two hours of work he had promised himself stretched into the night. He was alone, coping with the crackling machinery; its rattle grated on his nerves, disturbed his concentration. He felt his mind split into shreds with each clap of thunder and the drip, drip, drip of water from the leaky roof, behind his chair. He knew he ought to be at home. So many girls, he thought. Perhaps this time, it would be different. Perhaps. He needed tranquillity, peace to complete his task, to plan the layout. Santan had thought otherwise. Avo recalled that she had banged the door shut, and muttered to herself to give vent to her resentment and frustration. ‘Should he not have been here? He was so certain The Book of Aleph that it would be another son this time.’ Santan had seen his face light up in animated anticipation when talking about this possibility with his wife one Sunday when Santan had dropped in to discuss the due date and prepare herself. Lilia had said to her husband that they should pray for a healthy child, a safe delivery. Gender did not matter to her. Her only son and four daughters were all beautiful—‘My blessings,’ she called them, although there were trying times when she wept with exhaustion and exasperation. Later, the memory of his absence on that night would not let Crisologo be. Taunted by demons of guilt, listless and restless with anxiety, he tried to reach out to the living. Yet, the laughter of his children bouncing through the sala and into the backyard often strained his nerves. Except the sight of the little one, Filomena. He would watch her, unsteady on her tiny feet and fearful, her hands stretched out to find reassurance from walls, furniture, a dog in her path. He would see her staring at him and force himself to smile, but he couldn’t bring himself to approach the child and clasp her to relieve the icy chill within him. He dreaded being asked: where is Mãe? He feared the night. The recurring scene. It was always the same: Lilia smiling, bowl of canji in hand, the little frock she has embroidered for the baby on the chair by the bed. He stretches out his hand but he cannot touch her, she’s made of air. He often woke up screaming. His brooding despair began to affect his work. Pedro, who helped him with the press, would find him staring into space, the morning’s work untouched. He worried about the haunted look on his patrão’s face. He watched him crumble into himself. Tears flowed freely each time he recalled the morning he found his boss slumped in his chair, forehead icy cold, eyes staring into space: what had patrão done? How could he have abandoned his five children, he who was so kind and thoughtful? In later years, Filomena never spoke of her father except to say The Book of Aleph AU TU MN elegance and sensitivity, a felicity of touch that masks the labour of archival research and fieldwork. —RANJIT HOSKOTE, THE HINDU © Tashina Singh Her writing is distinguished by an that he was a gifted writer. If any of her children wanted to know more and pestered her, she warded them off without losing her temper. All she did reveal was that his death had been ‘a great tragedy’. Once she let slip his age: still in his forties when he died, four years after his wife. Questions about Filomena’s childhood were always deflected. She was happy to talk of the village, her cousins, her beloved uncle and aunt, her grandmother, but then came a quiet smile and steely look to signal a change of subject. Too much prying into the past did no one any good, she always said. Perhaps she did not know much herself. But some facts of Joaquim Crisologo’s brief life are recorded. Filomena was eighty years old when her daughter Maria Aurora, her firstborn, found a book with a brief mention of her maternal grandfather, about whom she had been told so little. His life was rarely discussed, and there was always an air of secrecy around his death. Aurora had chanced upon the book by accident while researching Goan cultural history. But when she tried to show it to her mother, Filomena refused to read or to listen. ‘Don’t bother me,’ she said to her daughter. Aurora went back to the book, Dicionário de Literatura Goesa, The Dictionary of Goan Literature. It said that her grandfather had been the proprietor of a printing press, Tipografia Central, and a journalist—the Margão correspondent of the periodical A India Portuguesa. The entry described him as intelligent, hard-working, a talented actor and a popular figure in amateur theatre circles, and suggested that the death of his beloved wife and lack of support for his children may have led to the early end of his troubled life. What did ‘troubled life’ mean? What did it have to do with his death, and what was the nature of his death? And what did ‘lack of support’ imply? His mother-in-law lived only a few kilometres away, as did numerous relatives who were an emotional support. It seemed more likely, to Aurora, that, as an amateur actor and underpaid journalist, The Book of Aleph AU TU MN he had despaired of raising five young children in precarious financial conditions. Or, maybe, the slide had begun much earlier and his wife’s death was the trigger, not the reason. Crisologo’s talents as an actor and journalist must have meant that his social circle stretched beyond the confines of his village. His aspirations would have led him to places where he would have felt inadequate—ill-equipped both socially and financially: newspapers of the time were owned by wellheeled landlords; those who participated in theatrical productions belonged to the leisured classes of Margão, an elite whose lifestyle aspired to European cultural and social mores. For Crisologo, burdened with children, without the financial security of his peers in the professional and social worlds he sought, life must have seemed cruel and unfair. His daily routine itself may have required a constant switching of roles. His wife Lilia’s was a world without affectation 114/15 whereas his working life took him, on the one hand, to a world of ambition, political intrigue and quest for power, and on the other, a world of artifice and high style. But all of this, Aurora realized, was conjecture—her grandfather would remain a mystery. The most that her mother had offered was that he was known to write well. All other facts, perhaps even memories, about him had been buried. Or had Avo and other relatives protected Filomena and her siblings, shielded them from a tragic truth with silence? Even later in life, how much of her father’s inner conflicts and despair did Filomena really understand? It is difficult to tell. Filomena never lied, but she did keep much to herself. Perhaps she did not admit some things even to herself. Nor did she pause to brood—even as a young girl, before the troubles of her marriage consumed her, life was busy, full of relatives and friendships, duties and rituals—activity that filled her days and occupied her mind. The Book of Aleph By the time Filomena was seven years old she had lost both parents, nor could she recall them clearly. In the lost innocence of childhood she learnt to cope, and found strength in religion, in a way of life dominated by her God-fearing grandmother. Her doting Avo, and her maternal uncle and aunt, drew a loving circle around her. And there were cousins, a close-knit group who met as often as possible. There were feasts and fairs, birthdays and holidays, christenings, weddings and funerals of family or friends in the village. They arrived full of excitement or sadness depending on the occasion. ‘Dedication, duty, prayer, obedience and acceptance of God’s will,’ Avo would say to the girls every evening after the rosary. ‘A woman’s life is to endure, remember that. You will marry, have children. There will be crosses. Look at my life. Never be afraid. God is always by your side. He will protect you.’ She taught each of them to lead the rosary in Konkani, followed by the litany in Latin. They sang a hymn every night. And then Avo would lead them into singing a mando, tell them stories about her own childhood when there was much more fish in the rivers, more mangoes on the trees and more foxes howling in the night. It was a perfect end to the day for this household of mostly women. This is an excerpt from Maria Aurora Couto’s Filomena’s Journeys, a portrait of a marriage, a family and a culture that is based on the life of her parents. She studied in Goa, Dharwar and New Delhi (where she later taught English literature at Lady Shri Ram College). She is the author of the widely acclaimed Goa: A Daughter’s Story and Graham Greene: On the Frontier. % The Book of Aleph AU TU MN days and nights at the savoy Ruskin Bond % On a misty winter morning in 1900, the first train came to Dehradun, carrying, among other passengers, Cecil D. Lincoln, proprietor of Lucknow’s Carlton Hotel and part-owner of Calcutta’s Great Eastern. Two years later, he would open one of Mussoorie’s most celebrated institutions: The Savoy. In the forest, the animals raised their heads as a strange sound assailed their ears. It was dawn, and the jungle was coming to life. A sambar belled. A leopard coughed. A tiger yawned and said: ‘Aa-oonh!’ A herd of spotted deer streamed across a forest clearing. A peacock shrieked. A wild boar grunted, wanting breakfast. Then that strange sound again, almost like an elephant trumpeting. But the elephants did not like it. They stamped their feet, annoyed, and raised their trunks and signalled defiance. Between the elephants and the approaching monster there would always be trouble. It was daybreak on a crisp December morning, and the night train from Delhi was on its inaugural run, panting and snorting as it took the final incline before its swift descent into the valley of ‘Deyra Dhoon’—for that was how it was spelt in the year 1900, when the train came thundering into the valley. 118/19 The animals were perturbed by the hoot and whistle of the approaching steam engine; but they were not the only ones to be taken by surprise. The villagers from Raiwala and Doiwala and Harrawala streamed out of their houses to wave and gesticulate and marvel at this huffing, puffing wonder that was going to change their lives. Some years earlier, the trains had come as far as Saharanpur and Ambala, soon to be busy junctions. In just a few years, a mountain railway, burrowing through a hundred tunnels, would open up Simla to the rest of the country. And to the east, lines were being laid through the forests of the Terai, to Lhaksar and Hardwar, Kathgodam and Kotdwar, making the hills more accessible. Dehradun would become the railhead for Mussourie, uncrowned ‘Queen of the Hills’. (Simla was the summer capital, the haunt of viceroys and phantom rickshaws; Mussourie in spite of its many churches—or because of them—was for fun and frolic and the occasional scandal, and therefore equally important.) The Book of Aleph Soon that December morning, the sun came up with its usual splendour, first as a crimson glow on the horizon, then a gentle parting of the valley’s mist, and finally a glorious onslaught on field and forest and human habitation; and the little railway station, receiving a passenger train for the first time, came to life with a burst of music as the band of the Gurkha regiment struck up a familiar air. Some seventy years before, at the conclusion of the Gurkha War during which fierce battles had been fought in the Doon and in the hills of Kumaon, Garhwal and Sirmur, the disbanded Gurkha soldiers had been taken into the army of British India and had proved their mettle in Afghanistan, Burma and beyond. Dehra was the home of the regiment, which boasted a band that had played at many a parade and polo match at bases as distant as Cyprus and Malta. The regiment’s present commandant, Colonel Shakespeare, was popular with the troops. For many years he had wanted a son, and one of his soldiers had suggested that he perform a puja in the temple in the Gurkha lines. This he had done, earning for himself the sobriquet of Devi Sahib. A son was born. In time, the little boy romped about in the Gurkha lines, where he was popularly known as Devi Sahib ka chhokra. Now three, he stood restlessly beside his parents on the Dehradun railway platform, while the band played tune after familiar tune: ‘D’ye Ken John Peel’; ‘Loch Lomond’; ‘Comin’ Thru’ the Rye’; ‘Rule Britannia’; and by way of relief, a popular number straight from the music halls of London: ‘Has Anybody Seen Our Nelly?’ The little boy wanted to run off and play, but was held in check by his mother. ‘Shh!’ she said. ‘The train is coming. Can you hear it?’ It was difficult to hear anything above the wail of the bagpipes, but presently there was a loud hoot and a prolonged whistle, and the band stopped playing. Before it could start off again, there was another blast The Book of Aleph AU TU MN of the engine’s hooter, a roar from the small crowd on the platform, a whoosh of air, a trembling of the rails. And then, like a dragon of old, the red-and-gold steam engine burst through the receding mist into the sunshine, gliding to a stop beside the decorated platform. Stationmaster Mukherjee dashed about on the platform, unable to contain his excitement. ‘It’s here, it’s here, the Doon Express, God bless us all!’ Mr Mukherjee, a good-natured man, was always showering blessings on people. It was also rumoured that he wrote poetry in secret. Colonel Shakespeare, although distantly related to his namesake, did not write poetry, but was engaged in penning a history of the Gurkha War and recent military engagements in Afghanistan and Burma. His wife was writing a cookbook—Custards, Jellies and Jams in a Hot Climate. There were a number of other VIPs on the platform—a magistrate, 120/21 a railway superintendent, a nawab from Purkazi and a raja from Bijnor—and several on the train, including a well-known big-game hunter. But we are concerned here with a certain gentleman, very English-looking, in tweeds and plus fours and wearing a deerstalker hat in the manner of Sherlock Holmes—an English country gentleman about to make the rounds of his estates. Which was exactly what he was about to do. For this was Cecil D. Lincoln Esq., proprietor of Lucknow’s palatial Carlton Hotel, and part-owner of Darjeeling’s Everest Hotel and Calcutta’s Great Eastern. He was in his mid-thirties, balding slightly, and tall, but with a slight stoop acquired after years of bending to negotiate entrances and exits that had been designed for smaller men. Now, on his way to Mussourie to open a new hotel, he had already made a note to the effect that all doors must be large enough to allow both the tall and the broad to pass through comfortably. The Book of Aleph © Ganesh Saili Ruskin Bond is the most endearing literary icon of India…writing for over sixty years now, delighting one generation of readers after another. —THE HINDU Two years previously, the old Mussourie School, Maddock’s, had closed down, its owners having run into debt and then lost all their savings and assets when the Alliance Bank collapsed. Lincoln had snapped up the school’s extensive buildings and spacious grounds for a song. He had spent much more on renovations and restructuring. The buildings were almost ready, and over the winter months they would be furnished, redesigned and decorated. The gilded gateway already displayed the name of the hotel: The Savoy. It would open in April, before the start of the summer season. As Mr Lincoln descended from his railway carriage, a swarm of barefoot porters surged forward, eager to handle his luggage. On earlier visits, when he arrived in Dehra by the horse-drawn coach from Saharanpur (at least two sturdy stallions were needed to pull the carriage up the steep incline of the Mohand Pass), he had always carried plenty of luggage and was a generous tipper. Now, while the 122/23 porters took care of his trunks and holdalls, he stepped forward and introduced himself to Colonel Shakespeare and the others. There were not a great many passengers on this inaugural train. Most of them had got down at Hardwar. Dehradun was still a very small town. But in the summer months, holidaymakers—British and Anglo-Indian and the more prosperous Indian families—would head for the hill station, and then the train would be full. Stationmaster Mukherjee had laid out a sumptuous breakfast for his special guests, and this was served in the newly opened Refreshment Room, where a portrait of a plump and ageing Queen Victoria gazed sternly down at her subjects. It did not affect anyone’s appetite, and as most of those assembled had so far only had their chhota-hazri, mere tea and biscuits, they were fully prepared to take on the barra-hazri: tea, toast, eggs boiled or scrambled, or half-boiled in egg cups, more toast, marmalade, a local jam, tomato chutney, The Book of Aleph more toast and a second cup of tea, thank you. They fell upon it with enthusiasm. Mr Mukherjee had heard that Englishmen liked kippers with their breakfast. ‘What’s a kipper?’ he had asked an Anglo-Indian engine-driver. ‘It’s a fish, I think,’ the driver had said, ‘but you won’t find it in our rivers.’ Mr Mukherjee had thought of serving up sardines, but they weren’t available either. Not to be discouraged, he had the local fishermen bring him a supply of tiny mountain trout, and these were deep-fried and served with tomato sauce. Unfortunately, these little fish contained a multitude of tiny bones, barely visible but everpresent. The magistrate’s wife choked on one, couldn’t stop coughing, went into convulsions and collapsed in a planter’s armchair. It was her good fortune that the local surgeon, Dr Butcher, was next to her. He turned lazily in his chair and considered her for a long moment, as if deciding if he should bother. Finally, he stuck one fat finger down her throat and removed the offending fish-bone, almost suffocating the lady to death in the process. Dr Butcher then returned to his breakfast. He had a voracious appetite and attacked his food ferociously, as though it were an enemy he had to defeat. In ten minutes he demolished five pieces of buttered toast, six boiled eggs and three ‘kippers’, bones and all. Meanwhile, young master Shakespeare, Devi Sahib’s chhokra, had broken two egg cups and polished off the marmalade. The train, the station, the breakfast were all pronounced a great success, and the company dispersed in good humour. Only Mr Lincoln remained on the platform, surveying his belongings which had been arranged in a heap in the middle of the platform. Something was missing. ‘Where’s the piano?’ he asked. At that moment two struggling porters emerged from a rear compartment, bringing out a handsome new piano, which nearly lost a leg as it crash-landed on the platform. The Book of Aleph AU TU MN ‘A beautiful instrument!’ exclaimed Mr Mukherjee. ‘Do you perform on it, sir?’ ‘No, I’m tone deaf. It’s for the hotel. Next summer we’ll open with a grand ball. I’ve engaged Jack Hilton and his orchestra for the season. But we must have our own piano. The trouble is—how do we get it up the mountain? There’s no train to Mussourie, and no motor road as yet.’ Mr Mukherjee considered the problem. ‘There is a train, sir,’ he said with a smile. ‘It’s called the “bullock cart” train. It’s run by Mr Bohle and his brewery. He won’t charge much, provided you place a good order for his beer.’ ‘Is it any good, the beer?’ ‘Terrible stuff. But the soldiers up in Landour drink it. They don’t have a choice, Solan being too far away.’ ‘Up there they’d be better off with some rum from Rosa. But we’ll do our best to please Mr Bohle. The Savoy will need everyone’s good 124/25 wishes,’ said Mr Lincoln. Soon after, he was in a buggy to Rajpur, where a sturdy Deccan pony waited to take him up the steep bridle road to Mussourie. This vignette has been drawn from the opening chapter of Ruskin Bond’s new novel Days and Nights at the Savoy, inspired by events at Mussoorie’s famous Savoy Hotel. One of India’s finest and most popular storytellers, he is the author of several bestselling novels and collections of short stories, essays and poems. These include The Room on the Roof (winner of the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize), A Flight of Pigeons, Time Stops at Shamli, Our Trees Still Grow in Dehra (winner of the Sahitya Akademi Award), Rain in the Mountains, Roads to Mussoorie and A Little Night Music. Ruskin Bond was awarded the Padma Shri by the Government of India in 1999. % butterflies on the roof of the world a memoir Peter Smetacek % Bhimtal, in the western Himalaya, has more species of butterflies than most countries in Europe. It was in this lepidopterist’s paradise that Peter Smetacek’s father decided to settle and raise a family. In his heart-warming memoir, Peter, who inherited his father’s (and grandfather’s) passion for butterflies, writes about a life devoted to the study of butterflies and moths, and the rather eccentric people and animals the family homestead attracted. In this excerpt we read about how Peter’s father escaped from Hitler’s Gestapo and arrived on the shores of India. Father arrived in Calcutta on a merchant ship at the end of August 1939. It was his first visit to Asia, perhaps the second last place on earth that he wanted to be. The last place he wanted to be was back home, where the Gestapo wanted to interview him rather closely about a potential attempt on Hitler’s life. In the early summer of 1939, a rumour spread through the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia that Hitler was going to visit the area. Father and his friends decided to do something about it, but they were amateurs. Their attempt to mine a railway tunnel had come to the knowledge of the occupying Germans, and they knew they had no option but to flee. He had been luckier than his friends and had managed to get out of his father’s house—actually walking past the agents on their way to apprehend him—faking a limp. Having got past the first hurdle, he hid for a few weeks in a cowherd’s camp deep in the forest. Then, dressed in rather disreputable clothes contributed by the cowherds, he set off to escape the Nazi dragnet, staking his life on flucht nach vorn or ‘an escape forward’. This essentially means: to flee towards the enemy rather than away from him. The Nazis were well-aware of this tactic, but had a different point of view on the matter—for them, the recently annexed Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia was, naturally, Germany; so was Austria. Therefore, their vorn or ‘forward’ was towards Russia or the Balkans. For Father, who was born an Austrian before the First World War and later became a Czech citizen, the enemy was the Nazi Party and therefore, his vorn was towards Germany. So, while the borders east were closely watched, he slipped into Germany, to Hamburg where he had friends. One of these friends, a peppery old salt, ran a seamen’s home. Sheltering there, he waited as his anti-Nazi friends attempted to get him on a ship. They first managed to get him a temporary job on a docked ship. For a fortnight, he was holed up in Hamburg The Book of Aleph AU TU MN harbour, even as the search for him was being conducted far to the east. After the temporary job was finished, he waited on shore for another fortnight. Then his friends found out that the Lindenfels, a large transport vessel of the Hansa Line, was bound for the East. It was imperative to get Father aboard this ship. The method employed was ingenious. A sailor was ‘detained’ on shore just as the ship was about to set sail. The captain, wishing to sail with a full complement, naturally sent to the seamen’s home for a replacement. Father presented himself with all the papers that were required and got the job. Within hours, the ship sailed and Father was out of the net. As long as they were in the Mediterranean, Father and the rest of the crew were obliged to give the usual ‘Heil Hitler’ salute on board. As soon as they were through the Suez Canal, there were no more German consuls in the ports and the next morning, the captain was greeted with a polite ‘Good morning’. 128/29 ‘Good morning?’ asked the captain. ‘Yes, good morning,’ replied Father. The ship sailed on, calling at Madras and then Calcutta. Father wanted to reach South America, where he had been for several years before my grandfather called him back to spend ‘one last hunting season together’. However, when the ship was in Calcutta harbour, Father noticed that it was secretly being prepared for flight. Sensing that war was about to be declared and that, in all probability, a signal had been received asking all German ships to leave British ports as soon as possible, Father quietly jumped ship, taking with him his cameras and a few clothes. The same night, his ship hoisted anchor and sailed away to Sabang in the Dutch East Indies, which was still neutral at the time. Although Father was widely travelled, at the time of his arrival in India, he knew practically no English. He had been raised with German The Book of Aleph and Czech in the Sudetenland and learnt Spanish in the course of his South American wanderings. After the British authorities confirmed his anti-Nazi credentials, he was sent to the only Czech organization in Calcutta, the Bata Shoe Company. Father was assigned the job of transport supervisor, which brought him into contact with a large number of people. In order to be understood and understand Calcutta life outside the confines of the Czech-speaking factory, he had to learn two languages simultaneouslyâ€”English and Hindustani. Within a year, he managed to do that and felt confident enough to leave Bata, to take over an ailing business called Phelps and Co. Thereafter, he set up a contracting and manufacturing business in partnership with another Czech, J. Kaplanek, supplying the Allied armies with everything from flying suits and uniforms to other clothes and hardware. This eclectic range of goods and services caused some confusion from time to time. There was a time when he got an order for five thousand brassieres. He could not imagine what in the world the army wanted these for, but he knew that one does not ask questions during wartime. So he wrote back asking what sizes were wanted. Back came a rather stiff reply that there was only a single, standard size of brassiere. Father always stood up for the underdog. He could imagine the discomfort the recipients would experience because of the ignorance or prudery of one officer. Ignoring the specification of the order, he had the desired objects manufactured in several sizes and dispatched. Incidentally, they were made from parachute silk, which was made available since the army was ordering them. A few weeks later, the consignment was returned to him, with a blistering note from the concerned officer, who wanted to know just what in hell was going on. It soon emerged that what the army actually wanted were braziers! These were duly obtained and sent The Book of Aleph AU TU MN ÂŠ Kanika Smetacek off, leaving Father with a rejected consignment of brand new, silken undergarments at the height of the war. No sooner were these objects of desire put on the market than they were snapped up and everyone was happy. Peter Smetacek was the first Indian to discover and describe a new butterfly, Neptis miah varshneyi, in 2004. He has published several papers on butterflies and moths in well-respected scientific journals, has an extensive reference collection of butterfly and moth species, and is a recognized â€˜determinerâ€™ for lepidoptera. % AU TU MN The Book of Aleph ÂŠ Manoj K. Jain 132/33 WIN TER ÂŠ National Museum, New Delhi on hinduism Wendy Doniger % ‘The genius of Hinduism,’ says Wendy Doniger, is its ‘malleability and diversity’; it is not one but ‘many Hinduisms’. In her new book, one of the world’s most celebrated and renowned scholars of the religion writes on its many fascinating aspects: from ancient Indian creation myths to the roots of yoga; from the iconography of Shiva to stories about Sita; from the Laws of Manu to the representation of Dalits and tribal peoples in Hindu texts. THE HISTORY OF EKALAVYA Introduction1 How does one go about telling the story of the Hindus by including the maverick as well as the mainstream in the story? The ancient Sanskrit texts, usually dismissed as the work of Brahmin males, in fact reveal a great deal about the marginalized, especially the lower castes, and are often very sympathetic to them. Tracing these stories through the centuries, we can see how the attitudes to these oppressed groups constantly shifted. One important group of oppressed peoples is constituted by the Adivasis (original inhabitants), the so-called tribal peoples of India, on the margins both geographically and ideologically, sometimes constituting a low caste, sometimes remaining outside the caste system altogether. There have been protests against the mistreatment 136/37 of the lower castes from a very early age in India, though they generally took the form of renouncing caste society and forming an alternative society in which caste was ignored; no actual reforms took place until the nineteenth century. Yet the lower castes leave their traces in upper-caste literature. The Brahmins did produce a great literature, after all, but they did not compose it in a vacuum. They did not have complete authority or control over the minds of everyone in India. They drew upon, on the one hand, the people who ran the country, the political actors, and, on the other hand, the non-literate classes. Because of the presence of oral and folk traditions in Sanskrit texts, the lowest castes, including the people called Pariahs or Dalits or tribals, do speak, not always in voices recorded on a page, but in signs that we can read if we try. Such texts represent a beginning, a prelude to reform; they do change the world, even if only by imagining a world in which people treated Pariahs well. The Book of Aleph Ekalavya Let me take as my main example the story of Ekalavya. The story is told in the Mahabharata, the enormous epic poem composed in Sanskrit, in north India, between about 300 bce and 300 ce. It goes like this: Drona was the archery tutor of the five princes called the Pandavas, and one of them, Arjuna, was his star pupil. One day a boy named Ekalavya, the son of a tribal chieftain, came to them. When Drona, who knew dharma, refused to accept the son of a tribal as a pupil, Ekalavya touched his head to Drona’s feet, went out into the jungle, and made a clay image of Drona, to which he paid the respect due a teacher. He practised intensely and became a great archer. One day the Pandavas went out hunting with their dog. The dog wandered off and got lost; he came upon Ekalavya, who was black, wrapped in black deerskin, hair all matted, dressed in rags, his body caked with dirt. The dog stood there barking at him until the tribal shot seven arrows almost simultaneously into the dog’s mouth. The dog, with his mouth full of arrows, went whimpering back to the Pandavas, who expressed their admiration for the man who had accomplished this amazing feat of archery and went to find him. They found him and asked him who he was, and he told them he was the tribal Ekalavya, a pupil of Drona’s. Only then did they recognize him. They went home, but Arjuna kept thinking about Ekalavya, and one day he asked Drona why he had a pupil, the son of a tribal, who was an even better archer than he, Arjuna. Drona then resolved to do something about this. He took Arjuna with him to see Ekalavya, and when he found him he said to Ekalavya, ‘If you are my pupil, pay me my fee right now.’ Ekalavya, delighted, said, ‘Command me, my guru. There is nothing I will not give my guru.’ Drona replied, ‘Give me your right thumb.’ When Ekalavya heard this terrible speech from Drona, The Book of Aleph WI NT ER he kept his promise. His face showed his joy in it, and his mind was entirely resolved to do it. He cut off his thumb and gave it to Drona. And after that, when the tribal shot an arrow, his fingers were not so quick as before. Arjuna was greatly relieved.2 This is a brutal story, even for the Mahabharata, which is all about the brutality of war. How are we to understand it? First of all, who is Ekalavya? He is a prince among his own people, but that wins him no points with the Pandavas. The tribals here are a low-caste group who embrace Hindu dharma and Hindu forms of worship. For such a person to stand beside the Pandava princes in archery classes was unthinkable; that is what Drona, who ‘knew dharma’, realized. And so, in order to protect both dharma and the reputation of his own world-class archery student, Drona claims his retroactive tuition—the guru-dakshina, the gift to the guru. Of course we are shocked, but where is the author’s sympathy? It is hard to be sure. 138/39 It is uppity of Ekalavya to push in where he does not belong; he cannot be a royal archer, for he was born into the wrong family for that. But Ekalavya does not act uppity. His outward appearance invokes all the conventional tropes for tribals; he is made of the wrong stuff (or, as we would say, has the wrong genes). He is literally dirt. But his inner soul, reflected in his behaviour, is pious and respectful; he does what the teacher tells him to do; not only is he a brilliant archer, but he is honest and humble. To this extent, at least, the Mahabharata likes him and, presumably, pities him; it refers to Drona’s command as ‘terrible’ (daruna). Yet the act by which Ekalavya proves his mettle as an archer is one of gratuitous and grotesque cruelty to a dog, the animal that is in many ways the animal counterpart, even the totem, of a tribal. The dog barks at him, betraying the class attitude that dogs often pick up from their masters; the dog doesn’t like the way Ekalavya looks The Book of Aleph and, probably, smells. Does Ekalavya’s unsympathetic treatment of this dog cancel out our sympathy for Ekalavya as the victim of interhuman violence? Does it justify Drona’s cruel treatment of him— what goes around, comes around, travels down the line—or, at least, remind us of the cruelty inherent in the caste-specific dharma, the sva-dharma of a hunter? But the text shows no sympathy for the dog, and therefore, no condemnation of Ekalavya. I read the text as deeply conflicted; it assumes that this is the way things must be, but it does not like the way things must be. It paints Ekalavya sympathetically despite itself. In the face of his defence of the caste system, the author of this story saw the humanity in Ekalavya, saw that Pariahs were human beings of dignity and honour. It doesn’t necessarily mean that tribal people tried to break into the professions of the class of nobles and warriors. Nor does it mean that nobles went around cutting off the thumbs of tribal people. It means that the author of this text imagined the situation and was troubled by it. The people who heard and, eventually, read the text must have seen that too; maybe some of them, as a result, treated the Pariahs whom they encountered with more humanity. The imagination of a better world may have made it a better world. Moreover, during the long history of this story, different people did read the story differently; the reading of the Brahmin was certainly not the only one. The Legacy of Ekalavya Whatever the spirit in which the tale of Ekalavya was originally told, it continued to be remembered among people crying out for social reform. A glance at later versions of the same story supports some of the hypothetical meanings that we have hunted out of the original telling and suggests, but certainly does not prove, that the seed of those later responses may already have been there in the Sanskrit text, or at least that there may have been other readings of this The Book of Aleph WI NT ER episode besides the original one we have, with other evidence of moral conscience, to bridge the gap between the first recorded telling and the later version that explicitly calls out for justice. There is a Jain text from the sixteenth century that begins much like the Mahabharata story of Ekalavya, but then gives the protagonist a different name and veers in a very different direction: In Hastinapura, Arjuna learned the entire science of archery from Drona and became, as it were, another image [murti] of Drona, and honoured him with many gems, pearls, gold, elephants, horses and so forth. The guru said to him, ‘Arjuna, choose a boon.’ Arjuna replied, ‘Sir, if you are satisfied with me, let there be no one but me who knows such a science of archery.’ Thinking, ‘The words of great gurus can never fail to come true,’ Drona agreed. One day, a certain tribal, living 140/41 on the banks of the Ganges, came and asked Drona to be his guru; obtaining his promise, he went back to his own place and made an image of Drona out of mud, and honoured it with flowers and sandalwood and so forth, and said, ‘Drona, give me the knowledge of archery,’ and practised the science of archery in front of him. And with his mind and heart full of the emotion of passionate devotion to him [bhakti], the tribal after a certain time became like a second Arjuna. One day, Arjuna, following Drona who had gone in front to take a bath in the Ganges, saw that the mouth of his own dog was filled with arrows that had not pierced his upper lip, lower lip, palate, tongue or teeth. Thinking, ‘No one but me has such a power,’ he was amazed, and going forward by following along the arrows from his dog’s mouth he saw the tribal and asked him, ‘Who shot these arrows into the The Book of Aleph dog’s mouth?’ ‘I did.’ ‘Who is your guru?’ The tribal said, ‘Drona is my guru.’ Hearing that, Arjuna reported this to Drona and then said, ‘Hey, master. If people like you leap over the borderlines of words, then what about us wretched creatures?’ Drona went there and asked the tribal, ‘Where is your guru?’ and the tribal showed him the representation that he himself had made and told him what he had done, saying, ‘Arjuna! This is the fruit of my bhakti.’ But the sneaky, cheating Arjuna said to him, ‘Tribal, with your great zeal, you must do puja with the thumb of your right hand for this Drona whom you met through us.’ The tribal said, ‘Yes,’ and did it. But then the guru said, ‘Arjuna! You are a sneaky, cheating city slicker, and you have deceived this artless, honest, unsophisticated forest dweller. But by my favour, even without a thumb these people will be able to shoot arrows.’ And as he said this the guru gave the tribal this favour and went back to his own place. And so, even today, a tribal can shoot arrows using his middle finger and his forefinger.3 The entire moral weight has shifted; now it is Arjuna, not Drona, who makes the cruel demand, and Drona who objects to it and calls Arjuna deceitful and cunning, in contrast with the artless, honest tribal, who does not hurt the dog, as the text takes pains to tell us. Indeed, Drona has agreed to be the tribal’s guru at the start, and, at the end, grants him superior skill in archery, despite Arjuna’s attempts to nobble him. The image of Drona that the tribal makes of mud is now matched by other, flesh-and-blood images: Arjuna is the image of Drona, and the tribal is the image of Arjuna, hence of Drona. Altogether, the tribal comes off smelling like a rose, and Arjuna does not. The Book of Aleph WI NT ER Knowing all of this, we can see other possible multiple readings of the story even in the Mahabharata. There is a two-way conversation going on between the Hindu and Jain texts, an intertextual conversation. The Jain text quotes the Hindu Mahabharata, an example of the widespread intertextuality between religions in India, not just within Hinduism. But Hindus would probably know the Jain version too—a supposition justifiable on the basis of our understanding of the relationship between Hindus and Jains at this period; and this may have contributed to the eventual use of the story of Ekalavya by Dalits. For contemporary Dalits do indeed use the story of Ekalavya for their own purposes. They want him to do what the myths did not reveal him doing: revolt. One poet says, ‘I am conscious of my resolve, / the worth of the blood of Ekalavya’s finger.’4 Another writes at greater length: 142/43 If you had kept your thumb History would have happened somewhat differently. But…you gave your thumb and history also became theirs. Ekalavya, since that day they have not even given you a glance. Forgive me, Ekalavya, I won’t be fooled now by their sweet words. My thumb will never be broken.5 The Book of Aleph © Damayanthi Niles With her vast erudition, insight, and graceful writing laced with gentle wit, there is no one better than Wendy Doniger to convey the richness, depth and diversity of Hindu texts and traditions. —SUDHIR KAKAR Doniger is an unstoppable teller of tales and a brilliant interpreter of them. —SUNIL KHILNANI in OUTLOOK And here is another: Eklavya! The round earth. A steel lever in my hand. But no leverage? O Eklavya, You ideal disciple! Give me the finger you cut off; That will be my fulcrum.6 In the realm of social action, too, Ekalavya lives on. There are Ekalavya educational foundations in Ahmedabad and Hyderabad. The Ekalavya Ashram in Adilabad, a northern district bordering on Maharashtra on the banks of the river Godavari, is a non-profit, tribal welfare 144/45 facility established in 1990. Run by people from the local business community, it serves underprivileged tribal people who cannot afford to educate their children. There is also an Ekalavya cricket team. The ancient story lives on in a new and liberating form. Endnotes 1. Parts of this essay have been adapted from my book The Hindus: An Alternative History (Penguin, 2009) and from an essay published in Tarikh: The History Journal (2008-9, Special Issue on Myth and History, St Stephen’s, Delhi), 34-6. 2. Mahabharata (Critical Edition, Poona), 1.123,10-39. 3. From Hemavijayagani, Katharatnakara, Banasakantha: Omkarasahiyta Nidhi 1997, story no 163, ‘The Story of the Bhilla’, 185-6. 4. Gail Omvedt, Dalit Visions: The Anti-caste Movement and the Construction of an Indian Identity (Orient Longman, 1995), 78, quoting an untitled poem by Waman Nimbalkar (called ‘Just Poem’), translated by Graham Smith, Vagartha 12 January 1976. 5. Gail Omvedt, Dalit Visions, 98, citing Shashikant Hingonekar, ‘Ekalavya’, Asmitadarsh, April/May/June 1989; translated by Gail Omvedt and Bharat Patankar. The Book of Aleph 6. Tryambak Sapkale, born 1930, was a ticket taker on the Dhond-Manmad railway line until his retirement. This poem is from Surung, Aurangabad: Asmitadarsh Prakashan, 1976, and was translated by Jayant Karve and Eleanor Zelliot. ‘The History of Ekalavya’ is an essay from On Hinduism, a magisterial volume that brings together over forty years of Wendy Doniger’s writings on this ancient religion, many of them never before published. She has to her credit several acclaimed translations of Sanskrit texts, and books on Hinduism, which include The Hindus: An Alternative History, Siva: the Erotic Ascetic, The Origins of Evil in Hindu Mythology and translations of the Rig Veda and the Kamasutra. She is currently the Mircea Eliade Distinguished Service Professor of the History of Religions at the University of Chicago. % WI NT ER The Book of Aleph Pavan K. Varma is the author of several acclaimed and bestselling books, among them, Ghalib: The Man, The Times; Krishna: The Playful Divine; The Great Indian Middle Class; Being Indian: The Truth About Why the 21st Century Will Be India’s; Becoming Indian: The Unfinished Revolution of Culture and Identity; and a novel, When Loss is Gain. He has also translated into English the poetry of Gulzar, Kaifi Azmi and Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Pavan K. Varma studied history at St Stephen’s College, Delhi, and took a degree in law from Delhi University. A member of the Indian Foreign Service, he has been press secretary to the President of India, the official spokesman of the Foreign Office, as well as the director general of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations. He is at present India’s ambassador to Bhutan. a new arthashastra for the crisis within the modern indian republic Pavan K. Varma % The Arthashastra, one of the most famous works of classical Indian thought, was composed somewhere around the fourth century bce by Kautilya, a scholar from Taxila who mentored Emperor Chandragupta Maurya, the founder of the Mauryan Empire. Kautilyaâ€™s masterpiece (which is divided into fifteen books) focuses on statecraft, economic policy, military strategy and the science of politics, among other things. Masterfully analysing the prevailing situation in India in all these areas, Pavan Varma then provides solutions in great detail to the problems that need to be addressed. ÂŠ Rachel Ford James tamil summer and other erotic tales Aranyani % For several hundred years, the freewheeling, unabashed sensuality of the country was lost to the arts due to the prudishness of emperors like Aurangzeb, the Victorians and latter-day religious fundamentalists and self-appointed middle-class gatekeepers of society. Today, though, artists of every stripe are beginning to represent sex and sensuality in their work. This story is representative of the bold new direction Indian fiction in English is gradually beginning to take. Parvathi, squat, generous-hipped, sweaty, is scraping seeds from the flesh of a papaya. She is working slowly, attentively, her brow furrowed in concentration, as she strokes and probes with her curled brown fingers, her hands tracing slow ellipses to pull the glittering seeds from their sticky embrace with the sometimes red, sometimes orange flesh. At its wet centre, the fruit is exactly the colour of her santra-red sari and blouse. Sitting across from her, Meenakshi, equally full of figure, still dusted with talcum powder and carrying the Mysore-sandal scent of her morning bath, is speaking. She is talking about papayas: how this yearâ€™s bumper crop has dropped the prices and rendered accessible to everyone the exotic fruit that is usually the preserve of the wealthy; how, if plucked early, the hard, sour fruit makes for good pickling. It is mostly a monologue. Parvathi keeps working as she listens, 150/51 but doesnâ€™t say much; all through her chatter Meenakshiâ€™s eyes are riveted on her companion. Though she is silent, Parvathi speaks with her body. Her thighs flex and twitch under the tightly wound cotton sari; a roll of flesh slick with sweat trembles just below the edge of her blouse. And now her feet flatten and dig into the tiled kitchen floor as she begins to juice the pile of lemon-halves she has sliced earlier. She twists and grinds the hard yellow rinds on the mound of the ancient glass juicer, until the pulp yields its tart juice into the waiting saucer. As she works, her breasts move within the enclave of her blouse, the cotton alternately caressing and chafing her nipples. The cool black floor the two women sit on is not their usual working place: today, their stern mistress Mrs Subramanium has dispatched them to help her daughter Sunita prepare for one of her high-society luncheons, and though the kitchen is smaller, and it The Book of Aleph takes the women longer to find the vessels that they need, both are grateful for what is almost a holiday. ‘Where is Uma?’ Meenakshi mutters to herself. She knows that if Uma, Sunita’s own maid, does not show up this morning, of all mornings, it will fall to her to pick up the girl’s cleaning tasks, with Parvathi at once chef and sous chef. The morning’s sensuality seems to fade as she is reminded of the drudgery that kitchen work can be when performed under stress. The consternation Meenakshi feels distracts her from Parvathi’s rocking buttocks and her hands that are deftly massaging the last of the lemons. She stands up and looks around the kitchen in dismay. Although she is oblivious to the precise nature of Meenakshi’s thoughts, Parvathi senses them: a soupçon of irritation has crept into the other woman’s body, where before there was a languid stillness. She looks at Meenakshi standing, tapping her foot, and then instinctively, and without knowing why, she stands up and places the weight of her own foot on the tapping one, stilling it and instantaneously reclaiming the sensual atmosphere of the kitchen. Meenakshi puts a kilo of potatoes to boil on the gas stove, and Uma enters the kitchen to the screams of the pressure cooker. In her bedroom, Sunita, dressed in an emerald-green silk tunic—her final choice after an hour of looking-glass trial and debate—falls back on her bed and turns on the television, flipping channels till she finds something to hold her interest: a nature show about the mating habits of lions. Transfixed, she watches as the male lion brings himself and his partner to orgasm in what seems like a few frantic seconds. If the television could gaze back at her it might see her thighs roll inward just a little and her pubis lift: her physical response to the footage. The Book of Aleph WI NT ER If Sunita could switch off the television at that moment, her slightly raised hips would become visible to her in the smooth, black, silent screen. But as it is, there are no witnesses to Sunita’s momentary arousal, the tiniest unfurling of her sex. She doesn’t notice it herself. Then the thighs relax, the sacrum sinks, the moment passes. Sunita switches the television off, briefly consults the clock and then heads down to the kitchen to check on preparations for the luncheon, making a mental note to ask Uma to restore her room to its customary order after the meal. In the kitchen, the sight of the counter strewn with coriander— Uma has left the partially de-leafed herbs there to take her second bathroom break of the morning—annoys Sunita intensely. ‘Eppo- dhaan chutney aarambichchacha?’ she demands. ‘Samosa filling ready-ah? Uma yena time vanthaa?’ Meenakshi snaps to attention and scurries around, propelled by the pitch of Sunita’s voice. ‘Juice 152/53 aarambichchacha? Modhalai juice pannu.’ Parvathi continues to chop the boiled potatoes into tiny cubes, unaffected by the sudden commotion. Her unconcern, bordering on disdain, angers Sunita, but she finds herself unable to lash out at the woman. Instead, she snaps, ‘And where is Uma?’ Uma bustles into the kitchen just then with a triumphant announcement: ‘Juice is ready, madam. Fridge-ullai irukku.’ Sunita opens the fridge and bends over to peer in. The juice that Parvathi had squeezed from the limes has been transformed into a frosty affair with ice, sugar and mint leaves. The cubes of papaya have been diced into a salsa according to the recipe she had pulled off the internet. Sunita sighs in relief, and something in the way her shoulders relax under the green silk makes Uma walk up and stand behind her mistress. She leans forward to point out the chutneys that have also been prepared and poured into the green ceramic bowls reserved for guests, and as The Book of Aleph she does so, her soft belly fits perfectly into the curve of Sunita’s lower back, and her breasts rest on the bump of Sunita’s upper back. The ringing of a phone breaks the moment and Sunita straightens up sharply, bumping into Uma. By the time she reaches her cell phone, charging on the bookshelf in the corridor, it has stopped ringing and she stares at it, unable to decide whether or not to return the call from a number she does not recognize. Uma stands in the kitchen doorway, watching the other woman, marvelling at how similar their shapes are. When Sunita finally looks up, another moment of wordless understanding passes between them. The phone rings again, and habit trumps instinct: Sunita says roughly to the woman in whose presence she has just felt herself unfolding, ‘What do you want?’ I want to keep looking at you, Uma says with her eyes, refusing to avert them or respond with words to Sunita’s attempt at reasserting the hierarchy between them. Sunita looks away and picks up the phone. It’s her mother. Uma doesn’t look away. As she watches Sunita transform into a schoolgirl talking to her Amma, one hand on her left breast, as if checking her heartbeat, she is reminded of an afternoon two summers ago. She had walked into the bedroom to clean it and found Sunita before the dressing table, trying on new bras. In the mirror, Uma had seen a pair of chai-coloured breasts topple out as Sunita peeled off a flesh-coloured bra to try on a lacy grey-and-black one. Uma had never seen a bra like that, one that cupped Sunita’s breasts with the gentleness of a sensitive lover, that did not pull them up tightly like the stiff white bras that Uma herself wore. She had also noticed how similar their breasts were: firm yet supple, the colour of perfectly brewed tea, and topped with dark chocolate-coloured nipples. Even the space between Sunita’s breasts matched her own perfectly: a canal just wide enough for a man’s hardness. The Book of Aleph WI NT ER The object of Uma’s reverie, meanwhile, is rapidly and busily checking off items on the luncheon list, responding to her mother’s directives like an anxious obstetric-medical intern who, having delivered his very first baby, must make sure the creature is intact: yes ten toes, yes ten fingers, yes two areolae, yes a fold of skin between the legs that curves out and then in… Hours later it seems like no time has passed, except that now Uma is exhausted—sitting on her haunches, her sari hoisted up to her knees, its folds bunched between her sweaty, tired thighs. She’s watching Sunita on the phone with her mother again, in the aftermath of the party. This time it is Uma who is counting. She’s calculating that it will take Sunita exactly five more minutes to render the post-mortem of the afternoon to her mother, another ten to fetch the hundred-rupee 154/55 tips she will give Parvathi and Meenakshi as they leave, and then, perhaps, just two minutes more before she will ask Uma to make her a fresh tea and come up to her room. About seventeen minutes in all. And then, maybe—who knows? Uma has a brief vision of her face buried between Sunita’s damp thighs. But something different is going on today. On the phone, Sunita is protesting, ‘No Amma, not necessary,’ but Mrs Subramanium always has her way, and Uma watches the daughter give in and say, ‘Okay, okay, I will ask one of them for a massage, and yes, no oil on the head in the evening. I understand.’ And then Sunita is calling for Parvathi and Parvathi is on the phone with Mrs Subramanium saying, ‘Yes madam, ah Dhanwantram thailam irukku madam. Cheri madam, okay madam.’ When she understands what is about to happen, Uma’s heart sinks. Suddenly, she is more exhausted than she had been even The Book of Aleph immediately after she had cleared up the mess of the afternoon’s lunch party. As the disappointment washes over her she hates herself, a top-worker, trained only to wash dishes and wipe floors, incapable of reading the labels on the bottles of Ayurvedic oil that Mrs Subramanium buys at Ayur Vaidya Shala and has chauffeur-delivered to her daughter. The hopelessness churns up from the pit of her stomach to the centre of her chest, and she can barely hear Sunita asking if she could stay until after the massage, because Parvathi will need someone to help her wipe down the oily rubber sheets and clear the massage table. ‘Just rest and I’ll call you when we are done,’ Parvathi says kindly to Uma as Sunita tips Meenakshi, who is bone tired and relieved to be leaving but cannot resist casting one last, longing look at Parvathi’s wide buttocks. Parvathi begins to prepare the double boiler in which she will warm the oil for the massage. Uma is watching through the keyhole. At first she can only see Parvathi—drawing the heavy curtains so that the room is in darkness, lighting the fat orange scented candle that sits beside the massage table, and then waiting, patiently, for Sunita to emerge from the bathroom. Sunita comes out wrapped in a Sarthy towel—one of those thin, mill-made affairs that absorb so much water they are soaked after one wipe—a superfluous covering because she must shed it almost immediately so that Parvathi can help her with the massage langoti—a thin piece of muslin that Sunita will pass between her legs and fasten around her waist to cover just the dark triangle between her thighs. Mesmerized by Sunita’s naked body, by her breasts, Uma bends further towards the keyhole. Were the women inside the room The Book of Aleph WI NT ER ÂŠ Lucille Beazley 156/53 to look back at her, through the door, they would see the sensual curve of Uma’s own breasts, optimally exposed at that angle, sweat pools gathering at either edge of her pink choli, and three beads of perspiration sliding down to her navel. Sunita sits on a stool and Parvathi begins with long, gentle strokes on her angular neck and shoulders. Her skin receives the oil gratefully, like a thirsty man receiving water. The buzz of the afternoon’s conversation is ringing through Sunita’s head. Her friends had been talking about men: how today’s men were becoming more sensitive, less patriarchal, but still had a long way to go. She had been unable to focus on the little fragments of conversation that spiralled up from every corner of the room, torn as she was between wanting to be the perfect hostess as her mother would have wished and wanting to participate in the happy chatter. But now, Parvathi’s skilful massaging begins to calm her down. Parvathi asks Sunita to lie on her belly on the massage table. Her strokes grow even longer, re-establishing for Sunita the reality of her body. She finds she can think clearly about the afternoon now— she wonders why so many of these ladies’ lunches revolve around the decisions of their men: hers and hers and hers. Or their own decisions made without the knowledge or the approval of their men. Or their decisions to live without men. There seemed nothing outside the kingdom of men; even the space inside the head of every woman there appeared to be the kingdom of some man, or a few men. ‘Shaapadu nalla erundhudha?’ Parvathi asks, as she runs her hands up and down Sunita’s back, and then her arms: from the shoulders down to her fingers, then up again, her thumbs grazing the sides of Sunita’s breasts, not furtively but with confidence. ‘Yes, the food was good,’ says Sunita reassuringly, and then a sudden need to confide makes her say: ‘Ellorooun aambilai patheea paesinaangae.’ The Book of Aleph WI NT ER Parvathi is moved at being allowed in so close. She shuts her eyes for a second, picturing herself talking with the group of smartly dressed and perfumed women at lunch. She does not know what comes over her then, for she says: ‘Eppodhoon appadee-than! It’s always like that, every woman talking about men. Don’t we have cunts, after all? Kadaaseelai aambilai pathee-thaan paesuvom.’ Is that what it comes down to? Even as Sunita asks herself the question, the firm pressure of Parvathi’s fingers on her inner thigh reminds her of something she has forgotten all day. She thinks better of pursuing the conversation, surrendering instead to the energy being pushed towards the place that Parvathi has just named. She gives herself over completely into feeling the one place that her mother has never given her any instructions about—except to cover it, close it, keep it tightly locked. For the first time in a long while, Sunita allows herself to sink into 158/59 the smell of herself. And then, slowly and deliberately, she distinguishes her own smell from the trifold scent of the Dhanwantram oil and two sets of armpits, her’s and Parvathi’s. Then, as Parvathi’s fingers probe her flesh more urgently, she begins to recognize two Parvathi smells. The first comes from her unshaved armpits, sweaty after the day’s labour. And then there’s the other Parvathi smell—unmistakably the smell of cunt, slightly tangy, perhaps a little metallic, and carrying in it a whiff of damp earth. Where do I remember that from, wonders Sunita, and even as she thinks about it Parvathi is rubbing more oil, her body is getting heavier and each stroke begins to separate her thoughts, allowing her to luxuriate in each of them individually. She begins to focus on one particular thought, which grows from the encouragement like a fondled phallus that grows with each caress. She remembers the smell. She remembers it rising from between her own legs the first The Book of Aleph time she climbed up into the loft of her parents’ bedroom using the window grill as footing, looking in those black-and-white cabinets for Sidney Sheldon novels, which she flipped through until she found the words that had drawn her to that dark and secret place, words that released exactly this smell right there in her body, and released the moisture that accompanies it, this smell, and the sweetness that floods her being when she rubs the source of the smell—as she had done that day for the first time and brought her fingers to her mouth afterwards to taste. Parvathi is massaging up from her ankles now, up past the back of her knees to the inside of her thighs and Sunita is wet but Parvathi is business-like. When Parvathi’s thumbs come dangerously close to the langoti the second time Sunita absolves herself of the supervisory responsibility she took so seriously in the kitchen, thrusting the onus upon Parvathi and feeling quite sure that the maidservant can be counted upon to check herself. Just in time, each time. Parvathi moves her thumbs in crescent-moon part-circles that start at the back of Sunita’s upper thigh and find their way slowly to her inner thigh. She barely touches the thin muslin that guards the lips between Sunita’s legs before she lifts off and starts all over again at the outer thigh, each time advancing closer and very slightly deeper into the folds of the langoti. Sunita’s eyes are firmly shut, and even as it occurs to her that she might be soaking the langoti with her juices, the thought is erased by the motion of Parvathi’s kneading, now on her buttocks, down and across, up and across and then in gentle circles around her sacrum. Sunita can smell her own juices now, and as Parvathi straddles her to finish massaging her upper back, Sunita finds that if she loosens her belly, the weight of Parvathi’s buttocks on her own and the long, searching strokes that are now being applied from lower The Book of Aleph WI NT ER to upper back create a delicious sensation in her cunt. As her pelvis jams into the weathered rubber mat that is on top of the massage table, subtle but nevertheless perceptible movements allow her to reap the harvest of oil that has collected in the mat from months of use—providing a complementary lubricant to the juices that are now matting the hair of her cunt. Just as she is beginning to pant a little, teeth grinding, mouth determinedly shut, stomach beginning to spasm, Parvathi suddenly stops. This story has been adapted from ‘Stolen’, which is part of Aranyani’s debut collection, Tamil Summer and Other Erotic Tales. Aranyani is the nom de plume of a native of Tamil Nadu who makes her home in Goa. A different version of ‘Stolen’ has appeared in Venus Fly Trap, an anthology of erotica published by Zubaan. 160/61 % The Book of Aleph everyone in their own lives Manjushree Thapa % Tara and Bishnu, who share little besides their Nepali origin, return to the country of their birth: she to start a new life after separating from her husband in Toronto; he to settle his half-sisterâ€™s future upon his stepfatherâ€™s death. When her work with an international aid organization brings Tara to Bishnuâ€™s village, their lives intersect, bringing into sharp focus questions of identity, freedom and belonging, and the stark social and political realities of contemporary Nepal. ÂŠ Eitan Simanor, Getty Images Maleah, Maleah: if she could see where he was from would she love him more, would she love him less? She of the tides and oceans, of fishing boats and papaya groves: what would she make of these backbreaking hills? Would she find them as bitter as he did? Or would she see beauty in them? Would she ever even come here? Bishnu bathed at the tap, the water stinging his flesh, quickening his pulse and reawakening him to the world of desire. His limbs were swollen from lack of salt, and his body was stiff from the thirteen days of austerity that he had observed for his stepfather’s mourning. As he towelled off and dressed, he looked out at the spread-out gulmohar trees near the old mud huts. Several concrete houses had cropped up since his last visit three years ago. The terraced fields were covered, in this season, with corn. Beyond lay the blue hills with their sparse forests, where he and his friends used to pick gooseberries as boys. How green everything was here, even in the wintertime. He’d forgotten that. Or he had grown unused to such greenery in the desert. Granting him leave from Five Spices, Harkrishan Dulal had said to him, ‘Exactly thirty days, son. If you don’t return in thirty days, then…’ Bishnu had told Maleah he would be back after the funeral. He had not specified when; and she had not asked. Arriving in Nepal he had steeled himself for the worst—and yet, from the first glimpse of Kathmandu through the airplane window to the long, winding drive back to the village, he had found himself staring at the greenery, astonished by its feeling of abundance. He had to remind himself that it was deceptive. From a young age he had turned away from here. It always surprised him when he returned. He had reached the village just in time to say farewell to his stepfather. He had had his hair shorn, dressed in white, and lit the The Book of Aleph WI NT ER pyre—as a son should—placing the first flame in the mouth of the man who had raised him. And as a son should, he had spent the thirteen days on a thatch mat, receiving the company of mourners. At mealtimes he had eaten only the plainest food. He had slept under thin, meagre blankets. These austerities had freed him. His stepfather’s wish had been fulfilled. Bishnu’s responsibilities here were almost met. As he finished dressing, Leela called out to him from the porch of the family house: ‘Dai, hurry up! The food is getting cold.’ She was standing with her hands on her hips, as their mother used to. Since Bishnu’s last visit his sister’s features had sharpened, her dark eyes and full lips an exact recall of their mother. In her manners, too, she brought back their mother, though Leela was more fine-boned than their mother had been. At twenty she looked barely sixteen. 164/65 ‘Aren’t you done bathing?’ she said. ‘This is your first proper meal. I’ve made all your favourite dishes!’ Bishnu gathered his towel, soap and razor, and followed Leela into the house. She bustled about, serving the meal. ‘It’s nice to see you back in normal clothing, Dai. All these old rituals… I hated seeing you in white.’ She placed a chair for him at the head of the table, the chipped laminate table just as it had been when Bishnu had come into this house. Bishnu still remembered the day his mother fled her first marriage by eloping with his stepfather. She had brought along Bishnu, aged four and a half. With this he had lost his biological father and relatives, his birth village, his past: all unspeakable and forever unmentioned after the scandal. ‘Would you like hot water with your meal?’ Leela asked. ‘Cold is fine,’ Bishnu said. The Book of Aleph She poured him a glass, and served the meal—rice, black dal, cauliflower and potatoes. Then she served herself, and for the first time since his return they ate together. They did not broach any big subjects—How long will you stay, Dai? What will you do now, Bahini?—but lingered, instead, on diversions. Leela asked Bishnu about the Oasis Hotel, the Five Spices Bistro, his life in the desert, and he was happy to tell her about it: ‘All the kitchen staff are Nepali, Bahini, every single one. We live in the same house, sharing rooms. We talk our own language, eat our own food. If it weren’t for the heat, some days it’s like we’re living in Kathmandu.’ ‘Is it really, really hot?’ ‘Unbearable in the daytime.’ A vision of Maleah came briefly, powerfully, to Bishnu: Maleah in the hallway, laughing, showing him the goosebumps raised on her arms by the hotel’s air conditioning. He saw the moles on her inner arm: two of them, side by side. He smelled the scent of her skin. He waited for the vision to pass. ‘What about you, Bahini?’ he said. ‘First you took care of Muwa, then you took care of Buwa. The past few years have been very hard for you.’ ‘It was hard after he was bedridden,’ she said, but she did not dwell on the subject. Instead, she told Bishnu about some kind of study tour she had been on. ‘They took us out east,’ she said, a smile brightening her face. ‘It’s not like here, Dai, it’s completely different there, they don’t farm just for food, the way we do. They plant fruit trees and cardamom and broom—and mulberry to feed silkworms. They think of the market. They focus on cash crops.’ She uttered the words market and cash crops in English, with special emphasis, Bishnu noticed. The tour had been organized by their Thulo-buwa, the The Book of Aleph WI NT ER © Daniel Lak A distinctive and elegant writer at the top of her game. —INDIA TODAY Manjushree Thapa details her characters with a thoroughness and finesse that leaves the reader gasping. —DECCAN CHRONICLE chairman. ‘He funds his politics from the money he makes through this organization,’ she explained. ‘In the beginning everyone was saying seebeeyo, seebeeyo, and I didn’t understand, but it turned out they were saying C-B-O in English. Community Based Organization!’ She laughed. ‘The CBO gets funding from Kathmandu for its projects. It has this useless women’s committee. I’m not part of it… I wouldn’t have been able to go, Dai, but some of the members of the committee backed out, so Puspa Bhattarai, the old widower, he’s the secretary of the CBO, he put my name on the list. It was me and thirteen other women on the tour.’ Leela’s eyes flashed at the memory. ‘Every night we stayed in a new hotel, Dai, sharing rooms, two to each room. We spent five days there. Everything was so different out east. They’re so lucky, Dai. Everything they produce they sell on the market.’ Bishnu noted, with a pang, how memorable this five-day study tour had been for his sister. How small and protected her world had been. Whereas he had always drifted. After completing high school he had gone to Kathmandu to work at a lodge owned by their Thulo-buwa, and to study if he could. A course in culinary art had eventually led to a degree, and a job in a five-star hotel in Kathmandu. And that had led to similar jobs in the desert: Qatar, then Kuwait, and then, for the past few years, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Leela got up to serve seconds. ‘Have more food, Dai.’ ‘No, I’m full, Bahini.’ ‘You didn’t like it? Wasn’t it good? It’s not like the food you make in the desert, is it?’ ‘It was delicious. I’ve just had enough.’ Bishnu picked up his plate. Leela immediately drew it away from him: ‘I’ll wash up, Dai. Leave it to me.’ The Book of Aleph WI NT ER ‘Eh, Bahini,’ Bishnu laughed, ‘all these years I’ve been washing my own dishes in the desert, and the dishes of so many others besides…’ ‘But you’re at home now,’ Leela said, suddenly becoming grave. ‘You know, Dai, it’s just you and me now. We’re all we’ve got left.’ She turned away abruptly, but not before Bishnu saw the glitter of tears in her eyes. 168/69 Manjushree Thapa is one of Nepal’s best-known and most respected writers. This is an excerpt from her forthcoming novel Everyone in Their Own Lives. Her previous novels are Seasons of Flight and The Tutor of History. Her other published work includes a collection of short stories, Tilled Earth, and four books of non-fiction—The Lives We Have Lost: Essays and Opinions on Nepal, Forget Kathmandu: An Elegy for Democracy (shortlisted for the Lettre Ulysses Award), A Boy from Siklis: The Life and Times of Chandra Gurung and Mustang Bhot in Fragments. She has also compiled and translated The Country is Yours, a collection of stories and poems by forty-nine Nepali writers. Forget Kathmandu and The Tutor of History will be reissued by Aleph in May and October 2012 respectively. % The Book of Aleph dreams of a hindu rashtra the story of hindutva Malini Parthasarathy % The Hinduism that I grew up with in the sixties is less of a religion than a worldview which embraces diverse strands of faith, and accepts a wide range of divinities. It is essentially pantheist, believing that the ultimate mission of the human journey is to discover the sacredness residing in oneâ€™s soul. This benign accommodation of various icons and forms of worship, whether it be Shiva in the remote Himalaya or Murugan in rural Tamil Nadu, makes it practically impossible for Hinduism to be conceived of as a uniform set of doctrines anchored to one scriptural authority. My first acquaintance with Hinduism as a toddler on my mother’s hip was a magical one. Looking up at a cloudless night sky studded with stars, I remember my mother pointing to the brightest of them, the pole star, and telling me the story of Dhruva. The little boy was spurned by his father and forthwith plunged into a deep meditation on Lord Vishnu, seeking his help to win back his father’s affection. That powerful meditation ‘shook the three worlds’ and caused a concerned Vishnu to appear before the child. When the awestruck boy was asked what he wanted, he forgot his original yearnings and instead asked for a life in which he could be of service to the Lord. According to legend, Lord Vishnu, pleased by the child’s selfless devotion, promised Dhruva an eternal place in the heavens, and he was said to have become the pole star after his lifetime. What was striking about this tale, as also about the story of little Prahlada—tied to pillars and tormented by demons, but sustained in his forbearance by his overwhelming faith in Lord Vishnu—was the emphasis placed in these childhood fables on austerity in the form of tapas, devotion in the form of bhakti, and the underlying moral suggestion that an unselfish life was ultimately the most prized one. Developing a personal rather than social value system is at the heart of the Hindu narrative, as reflected in its folklore, mythology and scriptures. In Hinduism, the individual’s quest is always seen as a personal rather than a collective one. Although I grew up in a South Indian household, which had a largely Tamil Brahmin lifestyle, religious rituals were fortunately not part of the daily routine as might have otherwise been the case. That was because of the strong influences of Gandhi and Nehru, whose impassioned urgings to jettison the enslaving doctrines of caste and religious differences had struck a deep chord with my family. Quite in the spirit of Mohandas Gandhi’s creative adaptation of the Raghupati The Book of Aleph WI NT ER Raghava bhajan which pointedly ended with the chant: Ishwara Allah tero naam, sabko sanmati de bhagavan (Ishwara and Allah are your names, Lord, give everyone this wisdom), it was made clear to us from early childhood that we might be Hindus in our homes, but we were also citizens of a great nation that was avowedly cosmopolitan and egalitarian. Most urban Hindus growing up in an India basking in the optimism of a forward-looking democracy, two decades after Independence, had no trouble in negotiating these dual identities, one as a private person with a cultural or religious affiliation, and the other as a citizen inhabiting affiliation-free public space. Especially in the south of India, religion has been less of a presence in public life than casteâ€”a result of the vigorous Dravidian movement which identified Hinduism with Brahminical dominance and successfully banished it from the public sphere. 172/73 Hinduism, which is inherently an amorphous and uncodified collection of beliefs, worship, doctrines and gods cannot be encapsulated into a single entity as the BJP-led campaign for Hindutva has sought to do. Hinduism has never made temple worship mandatory, nor does it demand adherence to particular rituals or codes of conduct. It is a religion that pretty much allows its believers to shape their beliefs in the manner they want to. The myths and icons of Hinduism also take different forms in different parts of the Indian subcontinent and often the significance of particular deities draw from local tradition and folklore. Thus, anybody who has honestly understood the essence of this wide-ranging inheritance called Hinduism knows that it is a travesty of its essence to try to co-opt it in the public arena. To suggest that â€˜Hindunessâ€™ is a necessary element in Indian nationhood not only goes against the course of Indian history as is widely known, but also the core of Hinduism as practised in India for centuries. The Book of Aleph As someone who has understood the essence of what is loosely called Hinduism to be an essentially private spiritual quest in which the seeker is allowed to decide how to take it forward, I consider it an affront to the substance of that ancient wisdom to attempt to metamorphose its character into something it is not. Unlike other religions, which have advocated or at least experimented with theocracy, Hinduism has never been embodied as a political entity, nor has it had any formal association with statecraft. Even the famous ancient encyclopedic political treatise, Kautilya’s Arthashastra, does not speak in terms of a Hindu kingdom. Much as the latter day champions of Hindutva would yearn for such a sequence of events to have taken place in our ancient history, there was never a sense of ‘Hinduness’ pervading our ancient kingdoms even if they were ruled by monarchs who were Hindus. The idea of a Hindu nation is, therefore, an extremely modern invention by the BJP and its allies, seeking to superimpose on a cultural tradition a concept that is not part of its essential substance. The nature of the subterfuge being perpetrated on the Indian nation by the campaigners for Hindutva or a Hindu nation is visible in the manner in which the peaceful symbolism and imagery of Hindu mythology have been distorted and misconstrued to inflame communal sentiment among Hindus and threaten non-Hindu minorities. The Ayodhya campaign was the first sinister manifestation of this strategy. The Rama Temple movement, launched by L. K. Advani’s Rath Yatra, aimed at consolidating a Hindu majority vote bank for the BJP, decided to appropriate the concept of Maryada Purushottam Ram to make the claim that ‘Sri Rama is the unique symbol, the unequalled symbol, of our oneness, of our integration…’ In fact, what Advani and the BJP were doing was standing this concept on its head. Advani was making a claim that Lord Rama, as a Maryada The Book of Aleph WI NT ER Purushottam, was a symbol of Indian nationhood. This is a complete distortion of the phrase as it was originally conceived and situated in the Ramayana narrative and handed down through generations. The phrase ‘Maryada Purushottam’ referred specifically to the Prince of Ayodhya’s scrupulous adherence to a code of conduct and his insistence on honouring his commitments, including accepting his banishment from the kingdom. The BJP and Advani have done a disservice to the higher moral values of renunciation and withdrawal, implied in the description of Rama as a Maryada Purushottam, by planting instead an image of an embattled and fearsome Rama in their political discourse, the sole result of which is to incite ill-feeling towards the minorities and intimidate them. Equally disturbing is the corrosion of the imagery relating to Hanuman, traditionally seen as a devoted servitor of Rama and Sita, who has been extolled for his extraordinary faith and willingness to 174/75 ‘move mountains’ for his gods. Again, the Hanuman of the Ramayana has been an inspiring symbol of devotion for millions of Hindus who attach great spiritual significance to Rama’s first bhakta. The Bajrang Dal, the violent and destructive offshoot of the Hindu nationalist campaign that was involved in many incidents of communal violence in the nineties, had no compunction about naming its militant wing after the mythological monkey-warriors, the Vanaras of the Ramayana and adopting Hanuman as their symbol. The worst abuse of the Hanuman myth manifested in the Gujarat pogrom in 2002 when roadside Muslim shrines were razed and Hulladiya (riot) Hanuman idols forcibly installed in their place. This ugly misappropriation of Hindu religious imagery and symbolism was an insult to Hindus and Hinduism. As unsettling as the subverting of the religious sensibilities of millions of Hindus was the distortion of the historical circumstances The Book of Aleph that had culminated in the birth of India as an independent nation. India’s democracy, brilliantly crafted by visionaries who wanted to avert the danger of further fragmentation, was carefully placed on the pillars of secularism, regional autonomy and social justice. Acutely conscious of the legacy of the freedom movement which had promised empowerment and sovereignty to the people as a whole, the framers of India’s Constitution acknowledged that the nature of the social contract that had brought India into being as a nation was one between the people of India and the new Indian state. There was no question that the primary identity in the new India would be that of the citizen whose rights were based on his or her having being born in this territory. That India belonged to all Indians was seen as a selfevident truism right from Independence. The sense of history and excitement of our founding fathers is palpable in the words they chose for the preamble to the Constitution, which declares proudly: ‘We the people of India…’ and promises to secure to its citizens justice, liberty, equality and fraternity. All other notions of nationhood were not even considered by the men and women in the halls of the Constituent Assembly as they debated the contours of the new state. It was clear from the start that India’s freedom was the result of the hard work and struggle of all Indians. Partition and the birth of Pakistan were seen as the flawed culmination of communal politics gone too far—not just Muslim separatism but Hindu cultural nationalism, too. The idealism that was reflected in the framing of fundamental rights for all Indian citizens, and the visionary dreams of the Directive Principles laid out in the new Constitution left little room for doubt that the India that was being envisaged was to be secular and pluralist in spirit as it was to be humane to its underprivileged and compensatory to the disadvantaged. The new Indian leadership, scarred by the bitter The Book of Aleph WI NT ER experience of Partition, was determined to insulate this ambitious experiment in democracy from the various fragmenting and disintegrative impulses that might be at work beneath the surface. Creating an affiliation-free public culture that would only be ‘Indian’ in essence, was seen as key to the effort of strengthening India’s fledgling democracy. The genius of the new nation state was meant to reflect in its gigantic democratic experiment, in which every citizen was empowered by his or her vote to fashion the destiny of Independent India. An emotional Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister, speaking in the Constitution Hall of Parliament on 13 December 1946, summed up the collective mood when he asserted: ‘We have met here today because of the strength of the people behind us and we shall go as far as the people—not of any party or group but the people as a whole—shall wish us to go.’ Hinting strongly that the project to build a 176/77 state founded on civic and secular parameters would not be allowed to be derailed, Nehru said pointedly: ‘It is at the same time manifest that when a great nation starts to advance, no party or group can stop it.’ As a citizen and as a journalist, I have been proud of India’s singular achievement as a democracy; it has made a great effort over the decades to fulfil various aspects of the social contract signed with the Indian people on 15 August 1947. The success story of India as a rising economic power, a democracy with an enviable track record of coexistence and integration and, above all, a nation that has a heart and hears its disadvantaged and its deprived, could never have come about without the fundamental values that have stood us in good stead— pluralism, secularism and regional autonomy. Secular and civic nationalism has powered India’s journey these last several decades. As the bitter historical experiences of many other failed societies have The Book of Aleph ÂŠ Prashant Sareen 178/79 The Book of Aleph shown, cultural nationalism, whether of an ethnic or religious hue, cannot provide the adhesive required to bind a heterogeneous and diverse society together. It is vital that our democracy continue to be anchored to the core values of secularism and cultural pluralism if the success story of India as a nation is to continue. Because of its inherently limited scope in terms of its appeal only to a specific group, cultural nationalism can never be the basis for enduring nationhood. Hindu cultural nationalism, as it has waxed and waned over the decades from the forties to the present, can never hold the key to India’s future. Malini Parthasarathy’s work in progress, Dreams of a Hindu Rashtra: The Story of Hindutva, is a book that breaks new ground on the subject of Hindu cultural nationalism, while at the same time providing the reader with a comprehensive view of the origins and rise of Hindutva as a political phenomenon. She is the former executive editor of The Hindu and has been a political journalist for the past twenty-eight years. She has an MS in journalism from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism and a PhD on Hindu nationalism from the Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University. % ÂŠ Manoj K. Jain 180/81 SPR ING 2013 ÂŠ Mustafa Quraishi india in love love , sex and marriage in 21 st century india Ira Trivedi % Economic prosperity and urbanization have had a tremendous impact on our society, and many of the nationâ€™s traditional values have been jettisoned or entirely reinvented. Nowhere is this more visible than in the way we fall in love, view marriage and disregard sexual taboos. In her path-breaking book, the author explores, through reallife stories, phenomena like gay love, the mating game on college campuses, arranged marriage, divorce and the burgeoning porn industryâ€”to present a comprehensive portrait of love, sex and marriage in todayâ€™s India. Beaming like a newly wed bride, Gunita eagerly shows me around her 1BHK apartment in Model Town, New Delhi. Her home is decorated with black-and-white pictures of her and her partner Karan—Gunita and Karan on a beach holiday; a lovingly composed shot of Gunita gazing into the distance; Gunita and Karan hanging out with their friends—photos typical of a young couple in love. Carefully tended money-plants bloom in wine bottles and a radio warbles out old Hindi tunes in the background. A tabby cat is fast asleep on Gunita’s lap while Karan plays with a small kitten on the zebra-print futon. It is nuptial heaven in this small apartment, except Gunita and Karan never want to get married. They have been living together for the past fourteen months. When I ask Gunita about her thoughts on marriage, she grimaces. ‘I don’t believe in marriage. Marriage stagnates. It slows you down. I believe in living life in small instalments.’ Karan, listening intently in 184/85 the background, adds, ‘We believe in living life light, marriage makes things so heavy. This is much simpler. Who wants to bear the brunt of eventual marriage, eventual in-laws, eventual children, eventual grief?’ Gunita, 26, is a lecturer at the prestigious St Stephen’s College in Delhi, and Karan, 27, is freelancing as a photographer, taking a sabbatical from his PhD in sociology at Jawaharlal Nehru University. The couple met six years ago at university, and started dating almost immediately. ‘For six years we practically lived with each other in Karan’s hostel room. Getting an apartment together was the natural next step. We give each other a lot of space because we know that couples can easily end up taking over each other’s lives. We don’t want that,’ says Gunita. I ask them how their traditional families, Gunita’s in Calcutta and Karan’s in Meerut, and their friends view their relationship. ‘It was a The Book of Aleph little problematic in the beginning. It was tough to find an apartment, most brokers immediately denied us a place when they found out we were not married. There was a sort of general objection by the community to what we were doing. But now our place is party-central, all our friends are following suit,’ says Karan with a sardonic smile. As for parents, perhaps the most serious threat to the future of the relationship, Karan shrugs and says, ‘Her parents are cool. They know she is a career-oriented woman, she has proven herself and they have always respected her decisions.’ Gunita adds, ‘I don’t talk to his parents about my personal life. And they don’t ask.’ Couples like Gunita and Karan, who enjoy all the trappings of marital bliss without being married, are slowly widening the painfully narrow spectrum of socially acceptable relationships in the country. Young Indians, particularly educated women like Gunita, are beginning to question the notion of marriage—the once inevitable social contract that their mothers and grandmothers succumbed to. Like my mother did. A bride at nineteen, a mother at twenty, my mother often tells me the story of how she was once a career-oriented woman, set to go to law school, when my grandfather arranged a meeting with my father. She says, blushing, even after being married for thirty-two years, that the moment she looked at my father, so young and handsome, his feet pink as freshly picked guavas, she had no option but to agree to the match. Growing up in India, I was taught from a very young age that the only route to happiness was marrying and keeping one all-purpose, all-important partner who would meet my every emotional and social need. Those who did not have this, like my recently divorced aunt, were to be pitied. In school, dating was only for the ‘fast girls’, and sex was never discussed, even amongst my closest friends. When The Book of Aleph SP R I NG ÂŠ Hari Nair I went to college in the US, I was far behind the curve in terms of experience, since most girls had already had their firsts and many more. I pretended my way through conversations on sex, shy to admit to these new American friends that I was a virgin, afraid to reveal that I had only had my first boyfriend the summer after high school (thank God I had quickly kissed him). Today, the values that I grew up with are being unequivocally challenged, and a new morality is feverishly in the making. Indeed, it could be said without much exaggeration that relationships between Indian women and men have changed more in the early years of the twenty-first century than they did in the several hundred years preceding. The mating game once began with marriage—arranged by the family, based purely on considerations of religion, caste and economics—was followed by sex, usually for the first time, and then blossomed into love, if the couple was lucky, based on a shared sense of duty and responsibility towards the family and community. Now, the game has changed perceptibly among significant sections of the urban middle class. Many Indians are beginning to believe that love is the central pillar of all relationships, particularly marriage. And, as arranged marriages shatter and divorce rates soar, new relationship paradigms are being enthusiastically tested. Take the example of Shammi and Suganda who were married at twenty-one after being introduced to each other by their families. They agreed to marry after a single meeting, but ten years later they have willingly chosen to live within an open marriage. I meet Suganda at her apartment in Gurgaon, that expanding and incongruent metropolis on the edge of Delhi with its gigantic office complexes, fluorescent malls and gated apartment buildings. She is in the midst of launching a fashion label and her ringing BlackBerry, The Book of Aleph SP R I NG which explodes into the popular Black Eyed Peas song ‘I Gotta Feeling’ whenever she gets a call, constantly interrupts our conversation. ‘We have both had affairs, but we remain committed to each other. We are both open-minded individuals in creative fields. We have an open relationship, one in which we are free to explore connections with other people while remaining honest about what is going on in our respective lives,’ says Suganda, BBM-ing ferociously throughout our conversation. I ask her if friends know about their arrangement. ‘Some do. Many found out, you know how gossip travels,’ she laughs. ‘Most people are shocked. I don’t care, though, our relationship is honest and happy, which is a lot more than most of our friends can say about their marriages. Ours is a case of modern love.’ Shammi, her husband, is a DJ at a Gurgaon nightclub. He is tall for an Indian man, with a hard body that speaks of many hours spent 188/89 at the gym. He’s wearing a faded black vest with a pair of fatigues, and sports an untrimmed beard. A large eagle tattoo is embossed on a sinewy bicep. ‘Suganda and I were very young when we got hitched, yaar,’ he says, chain-smoking cigarettes from a pack of Marlboro Reds. ‘We did it for our parents, not for ourselves. That’s cool, though, we really love each other, but life is all about experiences and we don’t want to deny that to each other. Life is short, and we both want to live it.’ What all of these propositions—live-in relationships, open marriages, serial dating—have in common is an attempt to wrestle with the traditional concepts of love, sex and marriage as they have existed for centuries in India. In 2008, the Supreme Court gave livein relationships the same legal status as marriage. Going a step further, the ruling stated that children born to such parents would be deemed legitimate. Divorce, a word that just a decade ago scandalized The Book of Aleph middle-class society, is no longer seen as shocking or abnormal. As the struggle between old values and new escalates, what is clear is that the traditional pillars on which personal relationships in India rested—financial security, the approval of family and community, a favourable alignment of the stars, the requisite matching of religion, caste and sub-caste—are crumbling and being replaced by something that is vastly different. There is an electricity, an almost irresistible energy about this new India in love. Ira Trivedi is the author of There is No Love on Wall Street, The Great Indian Love Story and What Would You Do to Save the World: Confessions of a CouldHave-Been Beauty Queen. She writes extensively for publications such as the Hindustan Times, Outlook and Forbes. She is currently based in New Delhi. When not writing, she is travelling or teaching yoga. % The Book of Aleph SP R I NG ÂŠ Prashant Sareen mutton korma at shokkys ’ five seasons in old delhi Pamela Timms % The author and her family left damp and dour Scotland, where jobs were scarce and sunny days even more so, ready for an adventure of epic proportions in India. A year later, she was heading for disappointment, with life in Delhi’s expat bubble offering little chance of experiencing the ‘real’ India. And then, unexpectedly, she found a kind of refuge in the medieval chaos of the Old City where she stumbled upon a secret world that would fundamentally change her life. The huge slice of tree trunk that serves as a chopping block is so close I can smell the decades of blood and membrane trapped in every gash. Next to it is an enormous slab of marble resembling a Mughal tomb from which dangles a fluffy tail, a defiantly lively tuft still attached to the rear end of its recently skinned and dismembered owner. It’s the height of Delhi’s searing summer; inside and out the temperature is in the mid-forties centigrade, testing even the marble’s resolve; dust, dirt and diesel fumes fly in from the teeming bazaar outside. Like his father and grandfather before him, Mohammed Gulrez Qureshi sits atop the counter, cross-legged behind the block, toes just inches away from the fresh goat carcasses. A young apprentice looks on as the master butcher sharpens his knife and coolly reduces a whole rack and shoulder of mutton to a neat pile of pot-ready chunks. I’m vaguely aware that for many Delhi expats, 11.30 a.m. on a boiling hot Sunday in May means either the first glass of champagne 192/93 at an air-conditioned brunch in a five-star hotel or a visit to friends with swimming pools, rather than a close encounter with a bloody cleaver in Old Delhi, but I’m staring at it as if it were the Holy Grail, hoping that this tiny shop in Qasab Pura, a teeming butchers’ colony, will hold the secret to a perfect plate of mutton korma I ate a few months before. Could it be the chopping block, well-seasoned by sixty years of butchery? Is it the fact that Qureshi’s goats are fed on grass rather than grain? The angle of his blade as it meets the flesh? w My relationship with food has always been close. I grew up in a family that discusses the options for dinner over breakfast; at university, I made Sunday roasts and afternoon tea when other people were sleeping off hangovers; the baggy clothes I brought back from a year as a student in Paris were evidence of more time spent in the city’s The Book of Aleph food markets than Sorbonne lecture halls. Having a family of my own has been a wonderful opportunity to feed people every day and I’m delighted that my own children phone daily on the way home from school to ask what’s cooking. My family indulges me in planning holidays primarily as an opportunity to take in new cuisines rather than monuments, museums or landscapes; self-catering holidays involve packing up and shifting almost the entire contents of the kitchen (I recently came across a holiday inventory which runs to several pages and lists everything from three types of sugar, bouillon and mincemeat to muffin cases, measuring cups, a food mixer and an electric oven). The only diary I’ve ever religiously maintained is my food journal. In it, I plan family meals at least a week ahead, document everything we have eaten or ever could eat, rate newly tried recipes, list meals at restaurants and other people’s houses, paste recipes snipped from magazines. It’s often the first thing I look at in the morning and the last thing at night. Nothing, though, had ever come close to the obsessive quest that led me to spend brunch-time gazing at the business end of a butcher’s cleaver. A few months earlier, I had eaten something that fundamentally changed how I think about food. Lahori Gate is a remnant of a wall that once enclosed the city built for a Mughal emperor. Within this boundary, if you squint and strain and cover your nose, it’s still possible to imagine Shahjahanabad: an ornate balcony peeking through the dense undergrowth of tangled electrical wires, a stained and chipped marble fountain piled with grain sacks in a once-tranquil courtyard, or a glimpse of a courtesan’s ghost in Chawri Bazaar. The Khari Baoli spice market is a daily opera in which the flower sellers provide the overture when they cut open giant sacks to display a tricolour of marigold, jasmine and rose, more than enough to supply every temple and shrine in Delhi. Then, as the spice vendors’ shutters go up to The Book of Aleph SP R I NG reveal hundreds of small pyramids of dried fruit, nuts and spices, a cast of thousands begins to emerge. The spice merchants tend to their puja, praying for prosperity and garlanding portraits of their ancestors; the chai-wallahs crouch over small stoves, hurrying to make the spicy brew which will get the market on its feet, even as scrawny porters, mostly migrant workers from impoverished farming communities, drag themselves from sleep. The lucky ones are curled up on a handcart that serves as both home and workplace. Once the reviving tea gets to work, they’ll load up with sacks and boxes several times their own body weight, and race backwards and forwards to nearby railway stations. When the work runs out or complete exhaustion takes over they’ll park the cart, sit on it to smoke a bidi, and eat their only meal of the day. In the evening the cart may host a card game after which it will be time to strip down to their baggy mud-coloured chaddis and bathe at a standpipe. The porter’s single set of clothes 194/95 will be washed and hung to dry on the cart before he collapses again into a profound and blameless sleep. The less fortunate have to carry huge loads on their heads or backs, eat, sleep and socialize on the pavement, and hang their washing from the tangled electrical wires overhead. Throughout, the wary spice traders drive hard bargains, count money and never move from their cash registers. Bewildered tourists click their cameras and get in the way of the porters. If the spice market is charismatically chaotic and endlessly photogenic, the area just beyond Lahori Gate, Sadar Bazaar, is thought of, if it is considered at all, simply as an area of intense and prosaic commerce. One weary Indian journalist wrote: ‘Sadar Bazaar…is so ugly that any newcomer in Delhi reels, wondering how the capital of India can look this bad.’ Local shoppers as well as traders from all over north India flock to its warren of streets determined to nail the cheapest prices on crockery, glass, steel kitchenware, ironmongery, The Book of Aleph ÂŠ Tom Pietrasik stationery and fireworks. The road that connects Old Delhi to Sadar Bazaar is marked by a slight incline and a gridlock of cycle rickshaws, market porters, bullock carts and shoppers on foot. Suddenly the spectacular mounds of Afghani apricots, Kashmiri saffron, Kerala cashews and the choking fumes of a thousand sacks of dried chillies give way to plastic trinkets from China, second-hand dentures, knock-off perfumes and cheap decorations for whichever festival is just around the corner. Despite the punishing April heat, Rahul Pal, my rickshaw driver, powers through the nursery slopes of Sadar Bazaar dismissing all offers to dismount. Not until we reach our final destination does he concede defeat and ask me to walk the last few yards. Apart from being unusually steep, Subhas Chowk is a relatively quiet, nondescript street; on one corner a sweet shop is doing brisk trade in paneer pakoras; on the other, I make a mental note about dessert as I spot a 196/97 vendor setting up his jalebi cart. Heading upwards, I notice the gradient has caused a fast-flowing rivulet of waste from a tea stall, where a young boy crouches over the gutter and scrapes steel plates and cups before rinsing them in a plastic tub of murky water. It takes a few minutes to find what I’m looking for—a grimy sign announcing Ashok and Ashok Meat Dhaba. The shop itself is still sealed with a battered steel shutter—a local tells us we’re early, the shop doesn’t open till 1 p.m., so I grab a cup of chai from the tea stall and find a ledge to sit it out. Groups of hungry-looking men start to arrive, but almost an hour later there is still no sign of life. Suddenly a skinny young man appears, hauls out two battered folding tables, erects them next to the poisonous gutter and gives them a cursory wipe with a dirty rag. Soon, about twenty men, a macho-looking bunch, have filled up every inch of table space and more are hovering near the counter, all wondering aloud about what could be causing the delay. Many have The Book of Aleph been coming for years, one tells me that he and his team of travelling salesmen have compiled a list of the best places to eat all over India and that ‘Shokkys’ is definitely in the top five. In fact, he says, this is where he and the lads come for their office Diwali lunch. No one can quite put into words why Ashok and Ashok’s korma is so special, but the words ‘tender’, ‘rich’, ‘spicy’ and ‘ghee’ are uttered with a faraway look in the eyes. Just as it seems the mounting anticipation may topple over into unrest and anarchy, a surly unshaven young man, unperturbed by the mounting tension, makes his way through the crowd. First, he releases the steal shutter to reveal a high counter behind which hangs a large portrait of the shop’s two founders, Ashok Arora and Ashok Bhatia, keeping a beady eye on the new generation. Oblivious to the restive crowd, the young man slowly and reverently performs his puja. After an age he turns and gives a sign and the huge degs of korma are borne in, trailing wafts of ghee and spice; I half expect a drumroll. The waiters start to throw plates of sliced onion and lemon down on the table, but our interminable wait is still far from over: a murmur ripples through the crowd that the rotis have been delayed and all eyes turn accusingly to the young Nepali man hurriedly slapping discs of bread into a tandoor oven a few doors away. Our collective shoulders droop: apparently Shokkys’ korma is nothing without bread to make sure that no drop of the precious gravy goes un-mopped. Bottles of Coke are ordered, mobile phones are fiddled with, mouths water, fingers tap; as Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin said: ‘To know how to eat well, one must first know how to wait.’ The korma arrives—two modest pieces of mutton in a lake of shimmering mahogany sauce—so far removed from the anaemic, gloopy, bland concoctions that go by the same name in British curry houses as to be an entirely different species. A nervy silence grips the diners, then finally, armed with a piece of hot, crisp, coriander-laced The Book of Aleph SP R I NG roti straight from the tandoor, we all dive in. Some immediately start chewing on the bones but most of us make straight for the sauce. The first taste is eye-wateringly spicy with enough chilli in it to take my breath away, but quickly tempered by a nutty depth and layers of more nuanced, elusive ingredients performing a devilish dance with ghee.The meat itself has been cooked long and slow and abandons the bone easily at a nudge from the bread. No one utters a word; we pause only to signal to the waiters that more rotis are required. Too soon, we are again staring at empty plates, this time with no hope of a refill—the enormous pots are already empty, much of the korma having been pre-ordered for delivery. Food can be a powerful trigger—just ask Marcel Proust. It can transport us back to childhood, honeymoon, a mother’s kitchen, recalling times of harmony and happiness, a moment when we loved and were perfectly loved in return. I don’t know whether it was the 198/99 agonizing wait which had heightened my senses and appetite or the surprise at finding one of the best mouthfuls of my life in the least salubrious setting, but that first taste of Ashok and Ashok’s mutton korma will forever invoke a sigh of remembrance, a moment of revelation, and the start of a journey that would change the way I thought about food forever. Pamela Timms is a Scottish-born journalist who became a food writer when she moved to India and discovered a passion for its street food. She studied at the University of East Anglia and the Sorbonne, before beginning her working life in Paris. She returned to London to work for children’s charities before moving back to Scotland, where she became a columnist with the Glasgow Herald. She did a masters in creative writing at Glasgow University before moving to India in 2005 and starting the food blog ‘Eat and Dust’. She writes the ‘Piece of Cake’ baking column for Mint newspaper and organizes Uparwali Chai or high tea events in Delhi, where she lives with her husband and three children. % degree coffee by the yard a short biography of madras Nirmala Lakshman % Madras, which was renamed Chennai in 1996, is one of Indiaâ€™s oldest cities, and has been a major administrative, cultural and trading centre from approximately the first century ce. The seat of various Tamil dynasties, it was the first substantial stronghold of the British Raj, and has been the capital of Tamil Nadu since India achieved independence. It has about it several unique characteristics which set it apart from every other major urban agglomeration in the country. ÂŠ Prashant Sareen It’s five in the morning on a nippy January day. An unusual drop in temperature does not deter the walkers on Marina beach. It is still Madras at this time of day, still the city of my childhood, and if I close my eyes for a moment, nothing comes between the sand, the sea and me. Dawn has already broken, and as the night’s dark skies dissolve into silver and a tremulous sun gathers strength for its usual vigorous passage across these southern skies, I see the walkers strung out across the sands. The Gujarati lady, unselfconscious in a violent yellow sari and walking shoes, the selfimportant businessman, more intent on his mobile communications device than his prescribed exercise, and the little fisher boys who run the length of Marina, their voices full of laughter as they weave their way through the walkers, distracting their attention with their acrobatics. This morning, the more recent statues on Marina remain a blur, so it is easy to pretend that they are not there, and that this is the city I knew as a child, when there was only Gandhiji on his plinth by the quiet oceanside. There was no tiled pavement in those days, just the jagged sidewalk broken by pale yellow and burnt pink stone. You had to be careful not to step on the cracks in case someone you loved suddenly died. And then you had to skip down to the beach below to smell the salt sea spray. The sands were whiter then. If you looked back, you could see the sunlight bounce off the tall columns of the police headquarters and the lone policeman in his ludicrous khaki shorts and his preposterously tall hat standing at perennial attention. In the evenings the balloon man would come, and along with him the man with the small cart selling thengai, mangai and pattani sundal, which we were of course not allowed to eat; but he would always hover temptingly around us twisting old newspapers adeptly into conical containers. These things were our Madras. The Book of Aleph SP R I NG On this early January morning, it is easy to think for a minute that this is still that city of vivid people, unhindered stretches, canopied trees, ancient temples and gracious white buildings. Before the swell of morning walkers increases, one can easily imagine that Marina is still the grand promenade dreamt up and built by Governor Grant Duff in 1884 to rival the best of those in Europe. Later, in the early decades of the twentieth century, the fires of freedom were set ablaze on it as hundreds of people thronged the beach to hear the passionate speeches of Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Bipin Chandra Pal against British rule. Gandhiji’s Salt Satyagraha, paralleled by the Vedaranyam March in south India, had its echoes in Madras when the satyagrahis broke salt on Marina. Today it is one of the few stretches of road that stand testimony to the continuity of history, despite the creeping kitsch of stainless steel railings and obtruding statues. There is much in the Chennai of today that is still Madras. 202/03 Orhan Pamuk writing on Istanbul, his home of more than half a century, speaks of the spirit of that city and its stabbing beauty, its ‘huzun’, a kind of communal melancholy and ‘a way of looking at life that implicates us all...a state of mind that is ultimately as lifeaffirming as it is negating.’ In recognizing this, he pays homage to the splendours of an older civilization, the ruins and remains of which are visible everywhere in the Istanbul of today, overlaid though they are by a more dismal and confused modernity. Similarly, in Chennai, though there are no visible ruins, the spirit of old Madras leaps out from unexpected corners. It hovers in the smoke-filled mornings the day before Pongal, the festival of abundance, when the sun moves to the northern hemisphere and people filled with the resolve of new beginnings burn old rubbish in their houses; it exists in the stillthriving kili josiyam or soothsayer parrots who, with clipped wings and starved bodies, are trained at the behest of their owners to pick The Book of Aleph cards that will tell your fortune; you can see it in the eyes of young girls brightened by kohl or kan mai, their dark plaits thickly woven with fragrant jasmine strands. It rises from hot, freshly ground ‘degree coffee’, an import from Kumbakonam, cooled in roadside tea stalls with the expert hand movements that make passers-by gawk at them. The echoes of old Madras also persist in the alleyways and streets of extended neighbourhoods, in small white houses—with green louvred window shutters ablaze with red bougainvillea climbing on the roof—sometimes lost between the ungainly concrete and steel of tall buildings, but still standing. There is also a way of life in Madras that Chennai continues to uphold. The best cricket is still played in historic Chepauk Stadium, where legendary players beginning with the great M. J. Gopalan once entranced crowds of frenetic cricket fans. For many of us, memories of Test matches include afternoons sitting in the pavilion eating buffet lunches and watching the exploits of the men in white, most memorably the magnificent Gary Sobers smashing ninety-five runs on one never-to-be-forgotten occasion. Our real hero, though, was the dashing Nawab of Pataudi, whose elegant strokes the crowd would applaud with raucous delight. In December, the city’s great traditions of art and music come alive, a tradition that began in the early twentieth century. From the august Music Academy to the more modest thatched-roof halls, every year, both locals and outsiders, including non-resident Indians, get their fill of dance and music. Along with symposiums discussing the intricacies of tala and tani avartanai, the rhythmic beat and the extended solos of expert musicians, connossieurs savour a range of tiffin, the medhu vada and masala dosai being popular favourites. The mamis with their diamond nose rings and silk saris, for once, abandon their homes and the ubiquitous Tamil serials on television The Book of Aleph SP R I NG ÂŠ S. R. Raghunathan to savour the delights of the season, trading gossip as well as, in a more serious vein, discussing the passions of Andal the Vaishnavaite woman saint as expressed through Tiruppavai, the poetic composition, and critiquing the Bharatnatyam performances on display. Growing up in the sixties and seventies, going to ‘town’ to find bargains in the wholesale markets was a regular weekend activity for those of us who lived in South Madras. Finding unexpected treasures in the bookstalls of the now extinct Moore Market was one of the chief delights of a Saturday afternoon. Adjacent to Moore Market was Central Station, the pivotal point of travel in the city, from which we would make the annual holiday journey to the hills to escape the city’s stifling summer. Beyond Central Station, in historic George Town (originally known as Black Town), with its maze of streets and localities, every neighbourhood remains a testament to the advent and contributions of various visitors who decided to make the city their home. Armenian Street, Mint Street, Coral Merchant Street, Sowcarpet and Popham’s Broadway—the names conjure up stories and images of travellers stumbling on to Madras’s shores from as far away as Armenia and as close by as Gujarat and Rajasthan. They traded their wares and skills and found a warmth and friendliness among the local people that led many of them to settle here. George Town is also where the city’s first commercial establishments took root. It is possible for the discerning visitor to recognize that there are spaces and buildings in George Town that retain some of their original character; in the crumbling façade of buildings and in the charm of old street houses there is an unspeakable sense of poignancy. This was once meant to be the heart of the city, yet today it seems to stand at the edge of the city’s consciousness. Further north are Perambur, Vyasarpadi, Tondiarpet, Ennore and Tiruvottiyur, with their congested The Book of Aleph SP R I NG roads and railway settlements—gateways to the areas of darkness in North Madras. Here the grime from factory smoke blackens the walls of dilapidated houses and permeates the souls of their despairing inhabitants. Children with matted hair from the teeming slums forage in piles of rubbish for food and other takeaways. Their parents toil for meagre daily wages in the wholesale markets, the industrial estates, the mills and small factories that crowd the landscape in this part of the city. This is still Madras, and yet, it is another country. 206/07 Nirmala Lakshman is a journalist and director of The Hindu, and has held senior editorial positions at the newspaper for more than three decades. She founded The Hindu Literary Review, and conceptualized and developed Young World, India’s only children’s newspaper supplement. She is the editor of an anthology of contemporary Indian journalism, Writing a Nation. She has a PhD in postmodern fiction from Madras University and a master’s degree in English from the United States. She serves on the Board of Trustees of the National Foundation of India and is the chairperson of its Media Fellowship Programme. She is also on the board of Pradhan, a prominent development organization. Besides Degree Coffee by the Yard: A Short Biography of Madras, she is working on a novel. % The Book of Aleph this unquiet land dispatches from india â€™ s fault lines Barkha Dutt % For a decade and a half, Barkha Dutt, one of the countryâ€™s best-known and most decorated journalists, has reported fearlessly from deep within the fault lines that scar our complex, unequal, bloodstained nation. In her first book, she takes us from the ravaged heights of Kargil to the riot-torn streets of Gujarat, from the violence that seethes beneath the surface of Kashmir to crimes against women and the poor. Here, we accompany her on an unforgettable journey to the heart of war. He spoke in brusque, staccato sentences, his matter-of-fact tone in dramatic contrast to the enormity of the moment. To some he would have seemed clinically cold, his face and manner shorn of any obvious emotion. But all I saw was the gentleness and lack of guile in his eyes. And, as the roar of guns forced his voice down to a barely audible whisper, he suddenly seemed childlike and vulnerable. He was twenty-two years old. I was twenty-six. It was 1999. We were huddled together in the safety of a tiny underground bunker, seven men and I—soldiers and journalists—brought together in a moment of unexpected intimacy by the vagaries of war. Outside, cloud bursts of orange lit up the skies over the mountains of Drass and Kargil, as Indian soldiers crept up the jagged slopes to reclaim territory from Pakistani intruders. The deathly silence of that long night was broken by the intermittent thunder of the Bofors gun and the sharp sound of the multi-barrel rocket launcher slicing through the air as it catapulted ammunition into enemy lines. As the earth trembled, we hunkered down and waited for the crackly update that would come in on the internal communication line. An old Kenny Rogers song played on a decrepit cassette recorder, lending an eerie and illusory normalcy to the setting. At first we didn’t even know the names of the men who had saved our lives. Just an hour earlier, I had been holding my satellite phone up to the sky, trying to bring it into signal range. I needed to let the news desk in Delhi know that the assault to reclaim Tiger Hill—the mountain peak perilously close to the national highway—had begun. Shells from the Pakistani side poured down on us as I frantically tried to relay information back home. Then, a long arm lunged out and pulled me back, unfailingly polite even in that frenetic moment—a life-and-death moment, I was to realize in hindsight. ‘Ma’am, you’re standing next to an ammunition dump,’ said the soldier. ‘If a shell hits The Book of Aleph SP R I NG the target, this place will explode.’ He literally pushed us down into the shelter of his own bunker. And it is here that we spent the next forty-eight hours trying to make sense of the war. More than the politics of conflict, which was self-evident in many ways, what I was really trying to understand was the complex relationship between valour and vulnerability that these young men— boys-who-would-be-men, really—exhibited and seemed to have come to terms with. Vishal, the young man with the gentle eyes, was explaining how a soldier standing on the edge of death dealt with fear. He knew that when the night turned to day, it would be his unit’s turn to march up into the mountains. He was aware that his life was destined to be fleeting when he signed up to be a soldier. ‘Right now I can see my entire life—my family, my friends, my loves—race through my head like a short film,’ he told me, even as I fought back the tears that I 210/11 thought would tag me as being too much of a girl. ‘But this is our purpose in life; this is what we were trained for. How can we fail?’ This was the first battle between the two countries to be captured live on television. It began in the highest reaches of the Himalaya, but much of the fighting unfolded on the national highway that linked Srinagar to Leh. This gave network television reporters like us, who were willing to risk being there, the opportunity to report at first hand the dramatic reality of conflict. The crash of the Bofors guns, which marked stretches of the highway like new milestones, the retaliatory Pakistani shells that lashed the advancing Indian soldiers like deadly hail—these, and a myriad other images of terror, agony, courage and sacrifice, were recorded by our cameras and beamed into the living rooms of the country. However, this was still the era before high-end technology had transformed the industry. We did not have iPhones or BlackBerrys, not to mention portable satellite dishes, to allow for The Book of Aleph live transmission. Consequently, we would ferry many of our tapes to the studio on choppers that flew the dead and the injured back from the front. These drawbacks notwithstanding, the TV coverage of Kargil relayed the horror of what was taking place to Indians everywhere with a visceral immediacy. It changed forever the way we looked at our soldiers and at ourselves as a nation. It would build a new narrative of patriotism, it would force us to confront the ravages of war, and it would leave a festering wound in the damaged relationship between India and Pakistan. But what it did, more than anything else, was throw up young heroes for a bruised, shaken nation. Men who were able to elevate an advertising jingle to a national motto. I met Vikram Batra at a base camp in Ghumri in the early days of the war. His was my first major interview with a soldier on the front line. His would also be the first obituary I would write. He and his men had just returned from 212/13 a successful assault and were trading tales around a shared, dogeared copy of Cosmopolitan in a faded white tent that looked like a tiny snowdrop on the green and brown expanse of mountains. He wore his courage lightly, throwing back his head in uproarious laughter when I questioned him on fear and vulnerability. ‘Yeh dil maange more,’ he told me with a toothy grin, hours before he would die trying to save a fellow soldier who had come under enemy fire. Later, his ageing parents would share his last words before he had left them for the front. Vikram told them that he would either unfurl the Indian flag to mark victory or come back home draped in one. Barkha Dutt, one of India’s leading journalists and television anchors, is Group Editor with NDTV, the country’s premier news and current affairs The Book of Aleph network. She became a household name with her reporting from the front lines on the Kargil conflict between India and Pakistan in 1999. Since then she has reported from conflict zones across the world, including Kashmir, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Egypt and Libya; in addition to her war reporting, she has reported from the field on virtually every important national story. Her work in the studio is as distinguished as her reporting. She hosts two highly regarded shows, We The People, the country’s longest running talk show, and The Buck Stops Here. She has won over forty national and international awards including the Global Leader for Tomorrow award from the World Economic Forum, the Commonwealth Broadcasters’ Award for Journalist of the Year, and the Asian Television Award for Best Talk Show. She is the youngest journalist to have received the Padma Shri. She was educated at St Stephen’s College and Columbia University’s School of Journalism. % SP R I NG The Book of Aleph THE FUTURE We are determined to keep the great books coming at Aleph. And although it will be some months yet before the line-up for our second season is final, we felt this would be a good time to announce some of the highlights of 2013/14 and beyond. Where fiction is concerned, we are delighted to welcome to the Aleph list the extraordinary South African novelist, Damon Galgut, who has won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, been shortlisted for the IMPAC Prize and been twice shortlisted for the Booker Prize—for The Good Doctor (2003) and In a Strange Room (2010). His new novel, Arctic Summer, is his 214/15 first to be set mainly in India, a country he has spent substantial lengths of time in. Nilanjana S. Roy returns with the second volume of her enormously imaginative trilogy featuring the unusual cats of Nizamuddin; Omair Ahmad, the acclaimed author of The Storyteller’s Tale and Jimmy, the Terrorist (winner of the Vodafone Crossword Award 2010), publishes The Fabled City; and Chetan Raj Shrestha follows his glittering sequence of novellas with a collection of short stories. m a r k t u l ly g u r c h a r a n da s sudhir kakar da m o n ga lg u t Award-winning novelist Shashi Deshpande releases her new novel in 2013, as does Mamang Dai, the distinctive prose stylist from Arunachal Pradesh. Rounding out the complement of fiction titles is the definitive anthology of Hindi fiction, translated and edited by the eminent writer and translator Gillian Wright. As to non-fiction, we are looking forward to publishing Salil Tripathi’s gut-wrenching account of the rape of Bangladesh, and its aftermath, The Colonel Who Did Not Repent. Told in the vein of Ryszard Kapuscinski and Philip Gourevitch, this is a book that will haunt the reader long after the last page has been turned. Another book we’re excited about is a path-breaking biography of the Buddha by the noted poet, critic and cultural theorist Ranjit Hoskote. The new season will see the publication of four more works in the cities series: short biographies of Bombay, Delhi, Patna and Calcutta by, respectively, Naresh Fernandes (Taj Mahal Foxtrot: The Story of Bombay’s Jazz Age), Malvika a r u n ava s i n h a gillian wright p r a n ay g u p t e s h a s h i d e s h pa n d e Singh (New Delhi: Making of a Capital, Delhi: Red Fort to Raisina), Amitava Kumar (A Foreigner Carrying in the Crook of His Arm a Tiny Bomb, Husband of a Fanatic) and Indrajit Hazra (Bioscope Man, The Garden of Earthly Delights). These will be followed by two of the biggest nonfiction works it has been our privilege to publish at any point in our careers. Astonishingly, there has been no major biography in the past twenty-five years of arguably the world’s most powerful and storied political family, the Nehrus and the Gandhis. The Dynasty, written by bestselling author and internationally renowned journalist Pranay Gupte (Mother India: A Political Biography of Indira Gandhi), aims to fill that gap. Based on numerous interviews and unprecedented access to 216/17 the country’s circles of political power, it tells in forensic and credible detail the story of a remarkable political dynasty. The other big non-fiction book is another true cause for celebration. In 2014, one of our most distinguished journalists, Mark Tully, will complete fifty years of observing and reporting on and from his adoptive country, India. To mark the anniversary, we publish Mark’s new book on the seminal events he covered and the most unforgettable characters he has indrajit hazra s a l i l t r i pat h i The Book of Aleph r a n j i t h o s kot e m a m a n g da i metâ€”which is both a professional memoir and a portrait of the subcontinent since the 1960s. In 2014, we launch two new series that showcase the literary skill, scholarship and insight of some of our most original minds. In Hindu philosophy, the four purusharthas are considered to be the ultimate goal of a life well lived. From a contemporary vantage point, Gurcharan Das analyses artha (or financial prosperity), Wendy Doniger writes about kama (or material pleasure), Arundhathi Subramaniam probes the notion of dharma (or right action) and Sudhir Kakar examines moksha (or spiritual liberation).The second series we are launching (guest-edited by well-known translator and critic Arunava Sinha) is called the Aleph India Library, and will comprise the essential writings of the subcontinentâ€™s defining writers and thinkers, introduced, annotated or translated in a way that brings them alive for the twenty-first century reader. The first three works in this series will feature the indispensable work of Mahatma Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore and Munshi Premchand. m a lv i k a s i n g h naresh fernandes a m i tava k u m a r a r u n d h at h i s u b r a m a n i a m SP R ING 2012 p11 Between Clay and Dust MUSHARRAF ALI FAROOQI Format: Demy Hardback 216pp Price: Rs 450 Publication date: April 2012 ISBN: 978-81-923280-1-0 Territory: Indian subcontinent (excluding Pakistan) p17 Em and The Big Hoom JERRY PINTO Format: Demy Hardback 232pp Price: Rs 450 Publication date: April 2012 ISBN: 978-81-923280-2-7 Territory: Indian subcontinent p25 The Taliban Cricket Club TIMERI N. MURARI Format: Royal Hardback 336pp Price: Rs 495 Publication date: April 2012 ISBN: 978-81-923280-3-4 Territory: Indian subcontinent (excluding Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bhutan) S UM MER 2012 p35 The Freethinker’s Prayer Book KHUSHWANT SINGH Format: Demy Hardback 224pp Price: Rs 450 Publication date: May 2012 ISBN: 978-81-923280-4-1 Territory: World p43 Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer CYRUS MISTRY Format: Demy Hardback 224pp Price: Rs 450 Publication date: July 2012 ISBN: 978-81-923280-5-8 Territory: Indian subcontinent p49 Of Birds and Birdsong M. KRISHNAN Format: Royal Hardback Illustrated 304pp Price: Rs 595 Publication date: July 2012 ISBN: 978-81-923280-6-5 Territory: World MON SOON 2012 p59 Business Sutra: Making the Goddess of Wealth Walk Our Way DEVDUTT PATTANAIK Format: Demy Hardback 224pp Price: Rs 450 Publication date: August 2012 ISBN: 978-81-923280-7-2 Territory: Indian subcontinent p63 Accidental India: A History of the Nation’s Passage through Crisis and Change SHANKKAR AIYAR Format: Royal Hardback 352pp Price: Rs 695 Publication date: August 2012 ISBN: 978-81-923280-8-9 Territory: Indian subcontinent p73 The Wildings NILANJANA S. ROY Format: Royal Hardback Illustrated 256pp Price: Rs 495 Publication date: September 2012 ISBN: 978-81-923280-9-6 Territory: Indian subcontinent p85 The Kingdom at the Centre of the World: Journeys into Bhutan OMAIR AHMAD Format: Demy Hardback 240pp Price: Rs 450 Publication date: September 2012 Territory: Indian subcontinent and Singapore A UT U MN 2012 p95 A Song and Two Seasons CHETAN RAJ SHRESTHA Format: B Format Hardback 208pp Price: Rs 350 Publication date: October 2012 Territory: World p105 Filomena’s Journeys MARIA AURORA COUTO Format: Demy Hardback 288pp Price: Rs 495 Publication date: October 2012 Territory: World p117 Days and Nights at the Savoy RUSKIN BOND Format: Demy Hardback 208pp Price: Rs 395 Publication date: November 2012 Territory: World p125 Butterflies on the Roof of the World: A Memoir PETER SMETACEK Format: Royal Hardback 256pp Price: Rs 495 Publication date: November 2012 Territory: World WIN TER 2012 /13 p135 On Hinduism WENDY DONIGER Format: Royal Hardback 600pp Price: Rs 995 Publication date: December 2012 Territory: Indian subcontinent p147 A New Arthashastra for the Crisis Within the Modern Indian Republic PAVAN K. VARMA Format: Demy Hardback 208pp Price: Rs 395 Publication date: January 2013 Territory: Indian subcontinent p149 Tamil Summer and Other Erotic Tales ARANYANI Format: Demy Hardback 208pp Price: Rs 395 Publication date: January 2013 Territory: Indian subcontinent p161 Everyone in Their Own Lives MANJUSHREE THAPA Format: Demy Hardback 256pp Price: Rs 450 Publication date: February 2013 Territory: Indian subcontinent p169 Dreams of a Hindu Rashtra: The Story of Hindutva MALINI PARTHASARATHY Format: Royal Hardback 304pp Price: Rs 595 Publication date: February 2013 Territory: World SPR ING 2013 p183 India in Love: Love, Sex and Marriage in 21st Century India IRA TRIVEDI Format: Demy Hardback 288pp Price: Rs 495 Publication date: March 2013 Territory: Indian subcontinent p191 Mutton Korma at Shokkys’: Five Seasons in Old Delhi PAMELA TIMMS Format: Demy Hardback 288pp Price: Rs 495 Publication date: March 2013 Territory: Indian subcontinent p199 Degree Coffee by the Yard: A Short Biography of Madras NIRMALA LAKSHMAN Format: Demy Hardback 160pp Price: Rs 295 Publication date: March 2013 Territory: World p207 This Unquiet Land: Dispatches from India’s Fault Lines BARKHA DUTT Format: Royal Hardback 304 pp Price: Rs 595 Publication date: March 2013 Territory: Indian subcontinent Reissues Forget Kathmandu MANJUSHREE THAPA Format: B Format Paperback 350pp Price: Rs 295 Publication date: May 2012 Territory: Indian subcontinent The Tutor of History MANJUSHREE THAPA Format: B Format Paperback 400pp Price: Rs 395 Publication date: October 2012 Territory: Indian subcontinent ABOUT US Aleph Book Company is an independent publishing company founded in May 2011 by David Davidar in partnership with R. K. Mehra and Kapish Mehra of Rupa Publications India. Ravi Singh joined the start-up about six months later as copublisher. Aleph will publish approximately twenty-five books a year in these subject areas: literary fiction and quality nonfiction in the following genres—history, biography, memoir, narrative non-fiction, reportage, travel, current events, music, art, science, politics, nature, religion, sociology, psychology, philosophy, and business. For further information on how to submit your manuscript and where to buy our books please visit our website www.alephbookcompany.com Everything we do owes much to the efforts of the team of professionals who make the firm what it is. The founders and directors of Aleph Book Company would like to gratefully acknowledge the contribution of the following people who were instrumental in putting together, marketing and distributing The Book of Aleph: Volume One and the books on the company’s first list. In alphabetical order they are: Aienla Ozukum, Aishwarya Iyer, Ankit Pahwa, A. K. Singh (and his team), Amar Srivastava, Aruna Ghose, Chandramouli Bhattacharya, Hina Mobar, Kanika Kalra, Meenakshi Singh, Neeraj Gulati, Rahul Verma, Raj Kumari John, Simar Puneet, Sudeshna Shome Ghosh and Vijay Sharma (and his team). The Book of Aleph: Volume One was designed by Bena Sareen, Creative Director, Aleph Book Company. The Aleph logo was designed by Rymn Massand. PHOTO CREDITS Unless otherwise specified all photographs are courtesy of the respective authors. Endpapers © Prashant Sareen Flyleaves © Sana Design/Shutterstock.com Page 42 © Sooni Taraporevala, from her book, Parsis: A Photographic Journey. Reproduced by permission of Good Books, Mumbai, India. Pages 214-17 Mark Tully © Vivek Singh Sudhir Kakar © Vijay Pandey Damon Galgut © Nigel Maister Pranay Gupte © Paixao Ivan Dsouza Salil Tripathi © Preston Merchant Ranjit Hoskote © Nancy Adajania Amitava Kumar © Madhu Kapparath