Blaze against the Machine: “A Burning” by Megha Majumdar

Megha Majumdar’s much-awaited debut novel, A Burning opens with the firebombing of a packed train in West Bengal which leaves social media in a flux of public outrage, calls for justice, and anger at the incompetence and alleged complicity of the local police. It is here, on Facebook, that 22-year-old Jivan uses a new smartphone purchased from her own modest salary to register her indignation: “If the police watched them die, doesn’t that mean,” she writes, “that the government is also a terrorist?” It is not much later that she, a poor Muslim salesclerk, is hauled into a police van and promptly slapped with charges of sedition, anti-national sentiment, and terrorist conspiracy.

Both the title and opening of A Burning immediately evoke the current political climate in India; the book’s urgency flaring because of its release in the wake of the recent Delhi Pogrom, which earlier this year set India’s capital ablaze into fiery violence right under the authorities’ noses, and for which they continue to arrest and scapegoat student activists such as Safoora Zargar to this day.

Art imitates life in ‘the world’s largest democracy’

The fiery plot in this book is propelled by the lives of its three main narrators, intertwined by the terror catastrophe and by their respective desires for upward mobility: while Jivan years to leave behind the poverty that renders her life dispensable and inconsequential in the eyes of the world; Lovely, the lively transgender actress whom Jivan teaches English, aspires to attain stardom of the likes of her idols, Priyanka Chopra and Shah Rukh Khan. The third character, a man known simply as PT Sir, is a physical education teacher at Jivan’s former school, whose is enticed by the power and prestige afforded to him under the thumb of an ascending right-wing luminary — even if it comes at the cost of his morality.

In fact, morality and the politics of social ascent is as dominant a strain here as the injustice meted out by a broken system. Lovely knows that Jivan is not guilty of terrorism, but her virtue and eagerness to testify in favour of her tutor is challenged when it becomes a barrier on the road to her own dreams. Similarly, PT Sir faces a choice between conscientious responsibility and expedite ‘justice’ built on lies when he becomes witness to the brutal massacre of a family on falsified, communally motivated grounds.

Majumdar’s pen is even more unforgiving when it comes to her portrayal of institutional power. The living conditions and treatment that befall Jivan’s family throughout the book shed light on the crassness of officials as well as that of civil society, while Lovely’s experiences further accentuate the perilous way in which gender, class, religion and superstition figure in such a society. The corruption and complicity of so-called pillars of democracy are laid bare as Jivan’s trial progresses. The manipulation of Jivan’s story by a journalist shows what drives the Indian media, while the Jana Kalyan Party’s burial of the family massacre reveals the malevolence of vote-hungry parties.

Underlying every moment in A Burning is a scathing critique of a rotten, corrupt system — a machine whose cogs are oiled only by show of affluence or influence and whose courtrooms are similarly compromised; a system built on the undeterred abuse of power at the expense of the poor and the marginalised, all while maintaining a façade of integrity and rectitude.

In a country where justice is perpetually delayed, it is also equally bought, sold and mispronounced, as seen in the case of some of Jivan’s prison mates who are jailed for having acted in self-defence against an abusive husband or a streetside molester; whereas a film producer found guilty in a hit-and-run case is allowed to roam free. Similarly, the government sacrifices Jivan to please an uproarious public and secure their votes in further elections, even as students protest her fate and the true perpetrators escape unscathed. Indeed, A Burning emerges as a fierce literary indictment of a sham democracy at a time when such sentiment is needed the most.

As literary as political

Majumdar’s book with its poignancy and pointed critique of turbulence without systemic change is reminiscent of the works of Arundhati Roy and Rohinton Mistry, albeit with a far sparser prose style. Immersive and intensely readable, A Burning is written in short chapters whose brevity pack a knack for attention to small details and evoke locale, mood, and character with surprising, almost uncanny, expertness; the sights and sounds of Kolkata, in particular, are rendered with an acuity that can only come from experience.

However, peculiarities of translation make it evident that this is a book written chiefly for western eyes: certain phrases, figures of speech, names of movies are translated awkwardly, and the descriptions of Indian foods are doubly so (one tends to stop paying attention to these after seeing kochuri being described as “fried dough”). A similar issue affects the otherwise remarkable characterisation of Lovely, whose verbs always conjugating in the present continuous — “With my hips swinging like this and like that, I am walking past the guava seller” — is perhaps effective in hinting at her speaking in the Bengali, but also serves to somewhat infantilise her.

Yet, it is the writing — its nuance and vividness, its empathic understanding of variant lives, its honesty and ferocity, its gripping urgency — that makes this book such an unforgettably compelling read despite what some may call a predictable plotline. In fact, the very predictability of the story makes A Burning all the more heart-rending; a fictional world that comes alive with the aim to urge the reader to question what it is that makes such tragedy predictable in the first place.

A Burning Cover Penguin

A Burning (2020) is published by Alfred A. Knopf and Penguin-Randomhouse India.

Want a copy? Please consider supporting a local independent bookstore in these tough times instead of ordering off Amazon! Click here for a list of Independent bookstores that are delivering across India.


Coronavirus and the Ministry of Utmost Priorities

In November 2019, it became public that the WhatsApp data of 121 Indians; including over 30 journalists, activists and lawyers critical of the government’s policies; was compromised through an Israeli spyware named Pegasus. Most of those affected during this ‘snoopgate’ alleged governmental responsibility and involvement in the scandal – indeed, NSO, the makers of Pegasus, clarified that the software is licensed only to government intelligence and law enforcement agencies. The Ministry of Home Affairs not only denied the involvement of the Government of India, but accused WhatsApp of not informing them in a timely fashion – and when it was revealed that WhatsApp did, in fact, notify the government of the issue twice, they said that the information was too “vague” and “jargonistic” to take action. When questioned in parliament by DMK’s Dayanidhi Maran, the MHA in a fantastic non-answer cited its powers under Section 69 of the Information Technology Act 2000, which allows government agencies to intercept, monitor or decrypt “any information generated, transmitted, received or stored in any computer resource”.

On Thursday,the MHA issued an advisory regarding Zoom, a popular video conferencing platform, citing it as “unsafe” and vulnerable to unauthorized interception, and issuing guidelines that its burgeoning private usership, increased in light of the Coronavirus lockdown and ‘work-from-home’ compulsions, can follow. At the same time, the government is pushing forward its Aarogya Setu app as a tool for tackling the Coronavirus pandemic – the app saw over 5 million downloads within three days of launch, and is being staunchly and steadily promoted on social media and through schools and government offices. However, privacy focused groups such as Internet Freedom Foundation have raised alarm due to the app’s non-compliance with globally-held privacy standards. There are widespread concerns over its scope for data collection and capacity for surveillance, the lack of transparency in the absence of a legal framework governing its use, and the lack of clarity on which ministries can access the data collected through it. Plainly speaking, the purpose of the app is vague enough to be expanded and exploited by the government.

This raises two questions about the government – and specifically the Ministry of Home Affairs – regarding their inclination to track and monitor citizens and what they wish to achieve from it, and regarding the matters they consider important enough to provide comment on.

Both questions come into sharp focus in context of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and the events surrounding it. Both the violence at Jamia Milia Islamia and the riots which broke out in North-east Delhi on February 23rd came as offshoots of the government’s decision to implement a nationwide National Register of Citizens (later retracted in a mind-boggling set of contradictory statements by Modi and Shah), actions that would most drastically affect India’s Muslim population, in addition to women and the poor. The MHA’s guidelines on Zoom calls come in wake of Home Minister Amit Shah’s unwavering public silence with regards to the Delhi Riots. While Shah did make an insubstantial statement of “grief” in the Rajya Sabha a few days ago, his barely-articulate  assurances with regards to the implications of the NRC and CAA for minorities to ring hollow. Similarly, while Shah ordered the Delhi Police to take strict action against the man who fired a gun at the Anti-CAA protesters at Jamia Milia Islamia on January 30, not much progress has been seen since.

On the contrary, while panic over the Coronavirus pandemic is taking over, it is the students who were victim of these attacks that are being taken into custody under the pretext of alleged incitement of the riots. In the past week, the media coordinator from Jamia Coordination Committee has been arrested, along with at least two more students all on account of “communal conspiracy,” while over 50 students who were part of the protests have been served notices to appear for an investigation on the 20th of March even as lockdown continues to be enforced. Students in Delhi are exiting protest groups on WhatsApp en masse, alleging that members are being tracked and arrested indiscriminately. In fact, while the country is struggling to cope with the implications of the Coronavirus, law enforcement energies are being directed overwhelmingly towards arrests – recently, Dalit rights activist and scholar Anand Teltumbde – one of the people whose phones were revealed to have been spied on in November – was taken into custody by one arm of the government even as its mouthpiece, the Prime Minister of India, ironically greeted people and remembered Babasaheb Ambedkar on his 129th birth anniversary.

In all of this, the MHA’s priorities seem worrying and self-defensive. Be it surveillance or arrests, the government seems to be acting in shoddy self-interest. Whether it is also in the interest of the nation and its people is for us to truly ponder on.

A Gem from the Queen’s Necklace

Every night, tourists and Mumbaikars, young and old alike, throng to sit around the city’s iconic Marine Drive, tasting the breeze, resting their feet, and letting loose an effervescent chatter that adorns the Queen’s Necklace. Some come looking for a rendezvous by the sea, some for the picturesque view of a city they can only adore from a distance. But unlike most, for whom Marine Drive is a place for repose, 35-year-old Santosh Sabale comes here every night with vadapavs, samosas and jalebis – his ticket to education and a better life.

Night upon night, as he hawks his snacks to those lazing around the 3.6 kilometre stretch from 8pm to 5am, Sabale is buying himself a dream: come morning, he makes his way to the Kalina campus of Mumbai University, where he studies for a Masters’ degree in Political Science. As the sole breadwinner in his family with no other source of income, the little he earns at night is what fuels his ambitions to study further and pays for his education. “I buy these snacks for about Rs. 200 every morning, and on a good night, I am able to earn double that amount,” he tells me. But good nights are rare, and on most days Sabale goes back to his rented room in Thane – a room that costs him Rs. 2000 a month – with only Rs. 250 in his pocket. Some days, he sleeps on trains or on campus to save money that he can send home to his mother.

He talks with me of his idol, B R Ambedkar, and about the Indian Constitution. “I am proud of studying at a college that Babasaheb set up,” he says. Then, along with our carefully wrapped vadapavs, he hands me a fact about himself: “I wish to be like him.” There is a twinkle of sincerity in his eyes. Like Ambedkar, Sabale comes from humble origins, the son of a clerk from Rajewadi village in Sangli. Like Ambedkar, he wants to rise through the ranks through education and do something for his motherland. This year, he will sit for the Maharashtra Public Service Commission exam. “I want to become a civil servant, and to work towards making education and healthcare more accessible in my state,” he says.

However, he does his duty by his mother first. Since the death of his father in 2007, he has shouldered the responsibility of both their mouths to feed, as well as that of his unemployed elder brother. “I wish to make [my mother] happy. I dream of buying her a house of her own one day, get her a daughter-in-law and grandchildren who bring her comfort and company,” Sabale says, his voice choked with emotion. “But first, I want to have a stable income, a job,” he adds.

In January, Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray himself took note of Sabale when his story made it to a local news channel, lauding him for his efforts to gain an education and promising him financial aid and a job in accordance with his qualifications. Sabale is proud of having thus been recognised and carries around clippings of newspaper articles about the same, which he shows to me. Yet, despite his making multiple trips to the CM’s office, the offer, so far, has come to nothing. “The last time I went, I got to know that my letter is collecting dust in the receptionist’s drawer,” he tells me. “Still, I will keep trying, and I hope their response comes soon”.

Sabale proudly carries about copies of the CMO’s tweet and other newspaper clipping about him, whether they amount to anything or not.

At this point, his hands are trembling. He later reveals that his landlord in Thane has demanded him to pay him Rs. 10,000, or else to vacate his property. “It will take me months to earn that kind of money,” he says. It will take him months of starving himself, too, if he has to feed his family. Yet, when he turns to face me again, he is smiling. “Money is not that important,” he explains. “What matters to me is that when I go up, people remember me for the good things I’ve done.” His smile is radiant through its pain.

As we get ready to part ways, Sabale packs me some jalebi to take home. Then, he whips out a notebook from his bag. It is a notebook full of names. In a gesture as sweet as his jalebis, he asks for my birthday. “You know, so that I can wish you well”. I wish him well, too.

While popular culture (see: Wake Up Sid) shows us a rosy picture of Mumbai, there are very different examples one finds when looking for hope in the city.  If you happen to be passing by Marine Drive at night, do say hi to Santosh da, and have a taste of his conversations and lip-smacking jalebis!

War Cry: Within the mind of Saffron Terror

Growing up, I used to think of Saffron — the top band of the Indian national flag — as the colour of strength, of courage. Today, however, it is anything but: today, Delhi is burning with the glowing hatred that saffron has now come to symbolise. Today, I give this space to my dear friend Noumaan Anwer, whose powerful words and poetry seek to capture the colour of this fire from within the mind of its arsonists:

I write this from a national capital currently ravaged by communal riots – where entire enclaves of the city lie tarnished by flames; where sleeplessness and hunger of those pushed to the streets are only increasing; where a wave of unabashed saffron rage is ripping through the fabric of this country more viciously and explicitly than ever before.

Someone once said that every modern genocide in history started with a majority manufacturing the story of its own extermination.

In midst of this bloody pogrom, with uncertainties multiply exponentially, Delhi and India urgently seek answers. Why do the perpetrators feel that such unfettered violence was needed? Where does the justification for the slaughter of innocents come from? Why is this vengeful lust so irrepressible? What makes them push their blades deep into the heart of our country?

Centered around the echoing devastation that surrounds cries of ‘Jai Shri Ram’, the following poem, titled “War Cry”, attempts to address these questions. It tries to tie together justifications for ‘reclamation’ of ‘lost’ territory and supremacy and the disproportionate violence meted by the Saffron terror of the RSS, its members, and its die-hard allies. Looking at communal violence from the perspective of its perpetrators, this piece attempts to detail how emotionally invested the Sangh and its cadres are in this ‘battle’, how divisive ideas and hatred seep through their veins, and how far they will go to ensure that ‘their’ land is cleansed of those they see as outsiders.

The language of this poem, which at times confuses and enrages, attempts to capture the systematic otherisation meted out to Muslims, women, Dalits, people from the North east, Adivasis, dissident students, activists, and journalists, and any other group of people who disagree with the RSS’ message of violent exclusion. War Cry seeks to paint a picture of the sheer ruthlessness that drives those who brandish the blades of violence in Delhi today.


War Cry

“That most risky and volatile of all things a self-pitying majority”
– Christopher Hitchens




Conscripted, at birth, 

Into the Lord’s ‘brave hearted’ corps, 

Arm strength and unison, 

suppressed idea to the fore. 


Steadfast in our trenches, 

Deprivation slashes our cheeks, 

Every recollection – a tale of the forgotten, of victimhood, 

Of seeds sown for the meek. 

What for the fact, 

That our blood flows through these toiling plains? 

Progeny that fought for this dust, 

Sacred pride pumping through their veins.

Amidst nightfall’s lust, 

Stood awake our forebearers, ivory dagger in hand.

Knuckles prepared to preserve providence

From a storm of foreign sand.

Vengeance, imperative! 

For how imported thunder crushed fertility, 

Corruption emptied vaults of virtue, 

Shattered edifice; unignorable profundity. 

Regimentation of offence, 

A collective memory of humiliation, 

Yet the fibres of seven decades past –

Embroidered with their salvation. 

A hideous affront to the weighing scale, 

Of what is pristine and true

Blood traitors eulogized as founding fathers,

Ridicule of us ‘few’.


Forsaking flesh of millions, 

To fill bottomless pits sanguine. 

Spicing the soil with blasphemy, 

Nourishing it with brine. 

Their morals are of a cutthroat, 

Not a semblance of mercy in their eyes, 

Our land reeked of senselessness, 

Wholesale murder rained from our skies. 

Despair however could parch these fields, 

For only stolen stacks of time. 

Emptied now, are their lockers of good fortune, 

Down came the heavy spectre, on unforgivable crime. 

The tendons in our exploding throats, 

Came alive, out of comatose oblivion. 

Our vanguard’s steely righteousness, 

Expelled dynasts and their minions. 

Savagery – imprisoned, 

Its devotees shown the door, 

But no respite consumes our troops, 

Till nobility bleaches the stinking floor. 

Untethered courage and brotherhood, 

From which we forged sabres of gold, 

To be wielded against their injustices, 

Banish alien-ness from our fold. 

This never was, nor shall it be, 

Their playing field of anarchy. 

An end put to their uniqueness, 

Finality in our decree. 


And if they cease to set aside

Their murderous independence, 

Collective will shall push them over

To the greener side of the fence. 

The generals in command today, 

Plant triumph in our throats, 

To scream out from the wilderness, 

By pledging our priceless votes.

For who belongs, and who defiles, 

The essence of what it means to be,

Our jury shall determine, 

Our fury shows no empathy. 

By the scruff of their existence, 

Shall they be dragged out from recluse, 

For insult to our eternal glory, 

Vendetta, our strapping muse. 

Bare-breasted, now, shall they atone, 

For shameless interventions in our history. 

The power of our convictions, 

Shall not afford them amnesty. 

And when sinful realization, 

Has been thrashed out from within, 

They shall join us in our war cry, 

Or trace knife blades beneath their chins.

Noumaan Anwer is a student of History at St. Stephen’s College, University of Delhi. He has previously written for The Citizen and for The Indian Express


Narendra Modi


Whether they love him or simply can’t stand him, Indians can not stop talking about him ⁠— his skin with its delicate, distinctly fascist, saffron glow; his dead eyes and prominent mouth; his fondness for talking about his fondness for mangoes on national television on the rare occasion he decides to give an interview. Still ⁠— it isn’t as if it would ever happen, but just in case people forget his name, he wears it on his sleeve (and the rest of his three-piece suit, too).

With a chest the size of the ideal TV set in a respectable middle-class household and a wanderlust surpassing all other world leaders and Instagram influencers; NaMo is a national hero, and he could easily be a Bollywood icon, too (ref: the size of his chest; how he spurns family for the call of duty). Oh, he can cause a riot ⁠— people simply can not stop themselves when he says that golden word:


As one of the great Indian leaders (and the greatest fashion icon in politics since Jackie Kennedy) the 14th Prime Minister of India sure deserves a biography a-la-his favourite dudes, the Mughals — so I gave him one. Here’s hoping he likes it, and that it can be on the blurb for his next bestselling book — hopefully not a sequel to Exam Warriors, jeez.

The Adventures of Fyo and Ro #1: Summer Vacation

For Noumaan and Kareema, and the children who live on within all of us.

Once upon a summer afternoon in Delhi, two friends; Ro and Fyo; were sitting in the balcony with their legs crossed across their laps. School was out, and both had lots and lots of homework to do.

“This is hard work”, said Ro, sipping on pineapple juice with his eyebrows bunched up in concentration.

“What are you studying?” Asked Fyo. Fyo had to write a short story about a bunny for Ms Sharma’s English class, but was rapping her pencil on the floor and trying to write the beat for a rock song instead. When Ro did not respond; busy blowing bubbles into the juice with his straw; she looked at his textbook. He had been drawing horns onto pictures of Emperor Aurangzeb in his History textbook.

He saw her looking, and slammed the book shut with a loud papery whoosh. “It is too hot to do anything but doodle,” said Ro defensively. Fyo nodded with sympathy. “It is too hot to make a rock song”, she said.

Ro jumped up suddenly. “We must ask Mr. Sun to shine less brightly so that we can finish our homework”. They both nodded, and started jumping up and down, trying to get Mr. Sun’s attention.

“Mr. Sun, Mr. Sun!”, they yelled, but Mr. Sun didn’t listen.
“Dear Mr. Sun! Please listen to us!” They shouted, but Mr. Sun continued to shine indifferently.

Then, suddenly, Fyo had an idea. She started to wave her arms about, wriggling her fingers at the sky . “Mr. Sun! Look at my rays!” she shouted.

Mr. Sun, who used to be sad because children always wanted to imitate Ms. Windy, turned around to see.

Ro started to wave his arms, too.

“Wow, kids!” He said in delight. “Your rays are almost as wonderful as mine!”
He squealed with pleasure, shining brighter.

Fyo and Ro shielded their eyes.

“Thank you, Mr. Sun!” they said, proud at finally having been noticed.
“Thank you, Mr. Sun, but we have a request to make”, Ro added. The Sun nodded his head eagerly, pleased by the children’s enthusiasm.

“Would you please shine less bright for a while? We have a lot of homework to do and our teacher will be very angry if we don’t complete it”, said Ro.

“Yes, Mr. Sun, she will be veeeery angry”, said Fyo.

They both looked sad and sweaty.

The Sun felt bad for them. “Sorry children”, he said. “I went to the beauty parlour very recently, and the kind lady there said my radiance will last for a couple of weeks. There is nothing I can do.”

Fyo and Ro looked sadder and sweatier. “Please, Mr. Sun, it is too hot to do anything but doodle”, said Ro.
“and write rock songs”, said Fyo.
“And our AC is broken”, said Ro.

They looked at him with puppy eyes.

“Sorry, kids. Only Ms. Windy can help, but she has gone away for summer vacation. Nobody knows where she is”. And with that, Mr. Sun flew back up in the sky, waving them goodbye.

“Oh no!” said Fyo and Ro. There was a lot of homework to do. Ro scratched his head, wondering what to do. Fyo fanned her face with her hands.

Suddenly, they heard the sound of TV coming from inside the house.

“Cyclone Fani has arrived at the coast of West Bengal”, it said. “Heavy rains are to be expected in Kolkata”

Ro and Fyo turned to face each other. “Rain!” shouted the latter.
“In Kolkata”, said Ryo. “I wish we lived in Kolkata,” he sighed.
“Me, too,” said Fyo. “But we wouldn’t have Soupy the dog there”, she added, tapping her chin. Soupy was their neighbours’ pet, and the children used to play with him every evening.

“We could take Soupy with us!” said Ro.
“But he wouldn’t come without old Mrs. Singh”, said Fyo.

“We could take Old Mrs. Singh with us, too!”

“But what about Old Mr. Singh?”

They both stopped.

“Oh no, we can not take him with us”.

The children did not like Old Mr. Singh, for he shouted at them for playing in the park. Old Mr. Singh was very, very old, and he did not like children.

“But Soupy the dog won’t come without Old Mrs. Singh, and Old Mrs. Singh won’t come without Old Mr. Singh,” they concluded, sadly. It would be no fun playing without Soupy the dog, even if it was in the nice rainy weather of Kolkata.

“It is unfair that they get so much rain and we get so much of Mr. Sun”, said Fyo. Ro nodded. “It is. It really is”, he replied.

Then, he had an idea.
“Fyo, didn’t the TV say that Kolkata will get lots and lots of rain?”
“No, Ro. It said they will have heavy rain”, Fyo responded, feeling smart.

Ro looked at her funny. He knew that ‘heavy’ was the adults’ way of saying ‘a lot’.

“What if we bring some of the rain from Kolkata back to Delhi?” He asked her.
Fyo’s face lit up the way it did when she got to eat some mango ice cream.
“Then Soupy the dog can also enjoy with us!”
They both clutched each other with excitement, and started to jump up and down.

“We will bring rain for Soupy!” they chanted.

“We’re going to Kolkata to get rain for Soupy!” they screamed.

But how would Fyo and Ro get to Kolkata?
They both kept jumping and thinking, trying to find a way.

Suddenly, Fyo stopped.
“Ro! What if we stop jumping up and down and try jumping up and up?” she asked. Ro nodded, and they jumped up. Lo, and behold! The upper they jumped, the higher they got.

And so, they jumped and jumped and jumped, and reached Kolkata.

“Look! There is Mrs. Fani!” exclaimed Ro, pointing east, where Cyclone Fani was turning round and round in circles like a classical dancer.

“Mrs. Fani has a lot of clouds in her bag. If we are nice, she might let us take some back to Delhi!” responded a very excited Fyo.

Fyo started jumping towards Mrs. Fani. Suddenly, Ro held her back.
“Careful, Fyo!” He said, wisely. “If you get too close to her, Mrs. Fani will make you spin round and round with her!”

Fyo shuddered. They both decided to call Mrs. Fani in their nicest good-girl and good-boy voices.

“Mrs. Fani! Mrs. Fani!” they shouted, like good girls and boys, but Mrs. Fani was too busy spinning in circles.
Then, Ro started moving his hips like he did with the hula hoop. Fyo giggled at him, and then started to do the same.
“Look, Mrs. Fani! We are cyclones, too!”

Cyclone Fani saw the children and slowed down her spinning, pleased.
“Wow, kids! You make excellent cyclones!” she exclaimed in adoration. Children rarely wanted to be like her, and it warmed her heart to see Fyo and Ro imitate her.

“Thank you, Mrs. Fani!” said the children. Mrs. Fani nodded, and was getting ready to spin fast again, when Ro chimed in sweetly:
“Mrs. Fani, we have a favour to ask”

Cyclone Fani, who was still pleased with the children, nodded.

“Mrs. Fani, we wanted to ask if we can borrow some of your rainy clouds. We don’t have any of them in Delhi, and it’s too hot to do homework”, said Fyo.
“Or to doodle,” added Ro.
“Or to make a rock song” added Fyo, importantly.

Cyclone Fani slowed down her spinning even more. She looked very serious, and the children looked at each other, scared.

“I am so glad you asked!” Cyclone Fani said excitedly. “I’m afraid the clouds have made my luggage too heavy, and they will stop me at immigrations in Bangladesh”, she added. “You see, I’m on a tour of South Asia”, she explained, seeing the confused looks on the children’s faces.

“Yippieee!” shouted Fyo and Ro, looking very happy. “We will take rain back to Soupy the dog!”, they jumped about, rejoicing.

Mrs. Fani handed them the clouds mid-spin, and Fyo and Ro held their grey, cottony mass with both hands, still jumping. They were heavy, and both of them felt their knees shake with the weight.

Suddenly, the weight made them realise something: how would they take the clouds back to Delhi?

“These clouds are too heavy to jump up and up with”, observed Ro.
“That’s because they are filled with rain,” said Fyo, feeling smart.
“Mrs. Fani! We don’t know how to take our clouds back to Delhi!” They both shouted.

Mrs. Fani stopped spinning. She didn’t know how to help the nice children who had imitated her.

But Fyo and Ro looked at her, their mouths gaped open with excitement, for they saw what they did not expect at all: Mrs. Windy was there, spinning with Cyclone Fani!

“Ms. Windy!” They screamed.

Ms. Windy waved at them, and they felt their hair blowing about.

“Ms. Windy! You’re vacationing in Kolkata!” They exclaimed. Ms. Windy nodded.
“Tickets were cheaper for two,” explained Mrs. Fani.

Fyo and Ro smiled at each other, and then at Ms. Windy.
“Ms. Windy, we want to take these clouds back to Delhi,” they told her.
“Say no more!” said Ms. Windy. She then took a huge breath of air, and blew it out in the children’s direction.

Fyo and Ro clutched at the clouds excitedly. To their amazement, they were flying back to Delhi with the wind!

Ms. Windy and Mrs. Fani started spinning again, and they got smaller and smaller.

Soon, Fyo and Ro found themselves back in their balcony, with Soupy the dog barking nearby.

“Soupy! We have a gift for you!” said Ro excitedly, letting his arms open and releasing the clouds.
“And for Old Mrs. Singh!” added Fyo. They watched the clouds they had carried climb up the sky, where Mr. Sun was still shining brightly.

Soupy wagged his tail in excitement. Fyo and Ro held their breath.

Suddenly, a raindrop landed on Ro’s cheek with a Pitter.
Then there was a Patter, and soon the pitter-patter song of the rain started falling from the sky.

“Hooraaaay!” shouted the children, running around the balcony. “Hooraaaay!” they shouted, as Mr. Sun’s dazzle yellow rays met the pitter-pattering raindrops, and made rainbows in the sky.

“Hooraaaay!” they went, as they sat down to complete their homework. Ro studied about Emperor Aurangzeb, and Fyo finished writing a story about bunnies for Ms. Sharma’s English class.

“Wow! We had a real adventure today!” said Fyo
“Yes! It was a solid one!” Ro responded.
“I think it was a liquid one”, said Fyo, feeling smart.
Ro yawned at Fyo’s terrible, terrible joke. Fyo yawned because she was tired.

And then, because they were good children who had had a very long, tiring, adventurous day, Fyo and Ro changed into their pajamas.

Plonk! went Ro.
Plop! went Fyo.

They fell onto their bed, and into deep, dreamy sleep.

The End

Category 4 Cyclone Fani, which is fast moving towards India’s eastern coast, is expected to hit Odisha and West Bengal in the coming days. Schools in Kolkata have been declared shut in anticipation of the same. With this story, I hope for the safety of all living in the affected regions. Sometimes, childlike hope gets us through the biggest disasters.

Cult of Hatred: Pulwama, Terrorism and the unsteady politics of Nationalism


A convoy carrying CRPF personnel in Pulwama, Jammu & Kashmir, is infiltrated and attacked by a suicide bomber belonging to the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad, killing over 40 jawaans. This is one of the worst terror attacks faced by India in decades.


Mobs and processions throughout the country proclaim Pakistan Murdabad: Death to Pakistan. Debates on television call for war.


Veteran Cricketer-turned-Comedian and Politician Navjot Singh Sidhu condemns the attacks, and asks if it is justified to hold an entire nation responsible for the acts of some. He is immediately branded pro-Pakistan – and therefore, for many, anti-national – and faces massive backlash on social media and elsewhere. A day after the remark, Sidhu is speculated to be sacked from the television comedy show he has been associated with for years.


Amid mob action by ABVP, VHP, and Bajrang Dal, two colleges in Dehradun – Baba Farid Institute of Technology, and Alpine College of Management and Technology – declare that they would not be admitting any Kashmiri students into their institutions starting the following academic year. Meanwhile, demands are made for the dismissal of all Kashmiris who are currently studying here.


“How’s the josh?” echo the voices of the millions who are yet to recover from the hangover of the catchphrase from the propagandistic movie Uri and from our Prime Minister. There is talk in India that war is imminent, and even necessary – that Pakistan’s crime is so heinous that it demands blood, even if it has to include our own. “How’s the josh?” shout some mourners at a martyr’s funeral, weaving irony by calling for more war and battle – more bloodshed.
How can we possibly avenge martyrdom by creating more martyrs?

When on the 14th of February, terrorists killed over forty personnel of the Central Reserve Police Forces at Pulwama, the wave of anger and mourning rising in response coagulated into two extremely dangerous kinds of hatred – that against Pakistan, and that against the people of Kashmir. Unfortunately for nation, this cult of hatred appears to be unsuspectingly and consciously cultivated.

There are levels to the wrongness of the discussions we are having as a nation at this time of crisis. The fact that a blind chant for “showing Pakistan its place” is catching on makes one more and more aware of the acute impact of exaggerated nationalism under sway of the current government. In the environment of a constant us-versus-them that we are in today, very biased and miopic opinions are magnified and disseminated. The focus today is on building militaristically strong states – hence the inordinately high emphasis on defence and armament everywhere. When you bring this form of post-Cold War power-fetishism together with the polarizing forces of nationalism, a potent hunger for war is formed. It is this hunger that is being fed to the masses. At the core of it all, it is still a hunger borne of hatred.

It is a strange kind of hatred, too. It may be less evident in the case of Pakistan, whom Indian governments have strategically learnt to hate; apparently in order to survive; but whom the BJP has time and again wished to ‘bring back’ under the fold of an Akhand Bharat. The strangeness is even more pronounced in the context of Kashmir, whose people have been consciously othered even as every attempt is made to keep them within the confines of India. The infantilisation of Kashmir in the Indian political ethos is heartbreakingly paradoxical: the idea is that Kashmiris don’t know what’s best for them, they cannot fend for their own selves, and hence must bow to whatever forms of protection India, the looming patriarch, provides them – especially against Pakistan. However, no stone that leads some of them to gravitate towards rebellion and militancy is left unturned, with the AFSPA, the contentious ground of Section 370, and the constant associations of Kashmiris with Pakistan muddled together with the constant attempt to dissociate the two completely and antagonistically. The hatred that is cultivated when a Kashmiri youth like Adil Ahmed Dar – identified as the suicide bomber employed in the Pulwama attacks – reaches its most unreasonable peaks when all Kashmiris are associated with militancy and terrorism. Ironically, most Indians do see the flaw of that logic when faced with the anti-Indian Armed Forces sentiment that prevails in many parts of Jammu and Kashmir due to the actions of some of its men.

Unsurprisingly, then, when Navjot Singh Sidhu asks if it is correct to blame the people of Pakistan for the acts of terror outfits and its possible sponsorship by their government, Indians choose to ostracise him instead, forgetting his call for strong action against the perpetrators. We choose to mob up and say Pakistan Murdabad, and to denounce all Kashmiri within the state and elsewhere in the country, and to call for war.

Let’s try to remember what we are forgetting. Of course, taking firm action against the perpetrators is necessary. Firm action has already been initiated against Pakistan, first in terms of India’s withdrawal of the former’s status as Most Favoured Nation in trade and of hiking up the customs duty on imports from the country by 200%, and later in terms of a diplomatic push to Indian allies – already affirmatively responded to by the US, France, Russia and Iran – in restricting engagement with Pakistan. This economic pressure on the Imran Khan government’s already precarious financial position is supplemented by the high probability of Pakistan being blacklisted for terror financing under the Financial Action Task Force, which could have very serious implications. Thus, conditions are being created for Pakistan to take fast action against its terror-breeding enclaves, or to face international isolation on a scale that could wreck fatal havoc for the nation if substantiated. Pakistan has already called back their ambassador in India for consultation, a visible result of this pressure.

In such a situation, the idea of ‘limited war’ – which is unfortunately and alarmingly being advocated through the media – needs careful reconsideration. While all sorts of military action, if taken, could lead to a restoration or rise in the Modi government’s receding popularity right before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections are to be held, war will also be detrimental to the Indian economy – even if conducted on a limited scale – in ways that could set us back by decades. Moreover, with the Donald Trump presidency in the US, chances for US intervention in an Indo-Pak militaristic conflict resolution are bleak, especially in context of the US wishing to withdraw completely from Afghanistan. In fact, in case of an escalation of conflict, China – who has strong ties with and major investments in Pakistan – will be the intervening party. This can lead to a complete overturn of the dynamics at play, and not in a good way for us.

It is also important to remember the human costs of war. Bloodshed and martyrdom cannot be avenged by its larger-scale repetition. While the military is ready to lay down its lives for the nation, it shouldn’t have to, in face of other alternatives. Thus, the cry for war seems like a bad idea on almost all fronts – a good idea only for nationalistic political players, and not the nation itself.

Let us refer again to Sidhu, who is on the receiving end of massive flak for making some well-reasoned arguments. Speaking to the media outside the Punjab Assembly where he is minister, Sidhu reminded the media that it was the BJP government in 1999 that released Masood Azhar, chief of the outfit which has taken responsibility for Pulwama, in exchange for Indians held hostage at Kandahar. Of course, Kandahar was a high pressure situation with the immediacy of nearly 200 civilian lives at stake, but the NDA government’s Crisis Management Group did let the situation elevate when it could have been resolved at Amritsar, where the hijacked plane carrying the hostages first landed. Sidhu’s remark thus indirectly leads us to another important aspect of assessing the Pulwama attacks that is amiss in the angry Indian political consciousness right now: that of questioning those responsible from within our system.

One facet of the current wave of nationalism is the equation of the government with the nation in absolution, which has given rise to a trend where citizens are discouraged from questioning the government. However, it seems highly unlikely that a security attack on such a scale could have been carried out without some kind of help from insiders. How was the Indian intelligence unable to respond to such activity, which requires intensive and long-term planning and was detected and warned against? It is impossible for the suicide bomber in a private vehicle make it to such a high security area with staggering the amounts of explosives employed in the attack without either gross negligence or corrupt associating from within. A truly benevolent brand of nationalism would push for questioning in regard to these intricacies so that justice can be sought for the martyrs and the nation, and further crises avoided.

Meanwhile, it is also important to be cognizant of the many divisive politics being played out behind the angry mask of anti-terrorism: the harassment and antagonism against Kashmiris in specific and Muslims in general in light of the attack is a result of a mentality that seeks to divide and rule. It only helps the cause of radical militants on one hand and religious nationalism on the other. It is imperative that we do not let these truly anti-Indian elements win.

A situation such as the one in India right now calls for rationality, not only on part of the government but on part of the citizens it responds to. It is important not to give into the instigatory narratives disseminated through the televised media and through angry mobs, but to push the government into striving for better, more effective solutions.

You may follow updates on the events around the Pulwama attacks here.

Staying Informed in an Undeclared Emergency

On Tuesday, concurrent raids were made on the houses of activists in various parts of India, and five of them were arrested, allegedly for their Maoist connections to the Bhima-Koregaon riots if the police is to be believed. It isn’t — none of the arrested people seem to have any relation with Bhima-Koregaon (contrary to the allegations of involvement in the violence, all of them have decades-long engagement in working for the upliftment of the poor and the downtrodden; for the dalits, adivasis, farmers and other marginalised voices). Yet, the mainstream media reported them as such. The word ‘alleged’ was barely used, or used without conviction — what is this but a media trial?

Headline in the leading national daily Hindustan Times [29 August 2018]

The Malayalam language daily Maathrubhoomi reads, ‘Maoist connection: Raid in 6 cities. 5 human right activists arrested’ [29 August 2018]

Hindi language newspaper Hindustan reads, ‘Raids Across the Country on Naxal Supporters’ [29 August 2018]

What else was amiss in the manner of reportage about the topic is the fact the raids were conducted unlawfully, often in the absence of the residents and always without a producible charge against them — an exploitation of the Unlawful Activity (Prevention) Act, i.e, the anti-terror legislation — or how some of the arrested were made to sign documents written in languages that neither they nor the magistrate understood.

In these times of ‘Undeclared Emergency’, as it is increasingly being called, the mainstream media seems to be unbothered about the visible dissipation of civil liberties. This is because with their corporate and political overlords impacting their neutrality, they do not possess these freedoms themselves. In times like these, and in the hands of political parties, the media can itself become a vicious tool of spreading selective bias and propaganda: televised news is susceptible to unprecedented sensationalism, and print to the distorting forces of language.

This, of course, is what is happening today. With a major section of the mainstream media being owned by corporates and people with political leanings, selective or biased reportage and the propagandization of facts begin way before the news goes out into the world. This is a new form of censorship that we are slowly getting used to, and just as gradually raising the temperature in a boiling pot can kill one inside before they can begin to suspect it, our rights to freedom of expression and dissent are dying without us knowing.

When even the media — the very tool of shaping millions of people’s opinion — is tampered with, what does one do? To blindly trust the mainstream media at this juncture would be a blunder against the just democratic function of constitutional rights. I say this because groups have faced public persecution before solely on the basis of the media’s heavily opinionated distortion of events, and despite having done nothing wrong. We have already seen what an uninformed or biased media coverage can do to issues: think, for instance, of student protests at JNU, and the more recent ones at Ramjas College, that were appropriated by media coverage into ideological battlegrounds, into debates on Nationalism.

For those of us reading this — those with the privilege of having access to an extra slice of technology — it is a possibility to look at independent alternatives or do our own research, and to combat fake news, misreporting and propaganda using the wide powers of the internet. But how long before that power is also snatched away? Moreover, for millions of people on the margins such as the poor and the inhabitants of remote areas — and even the uninitiated, for they are on the margins of knowledge — regional print and televised news is the only source of information. For them, independent media and tools for research are inaccessible; neither are they expected to conduct research when our belief system inculcates in them them that the media is a fact-reporting machinery. And hence begins a process of brainwashing the public that ultimately ends with the crowning of fascism on all seats of power.

However, conformity cannot be manufactured for those who dare speak against it. If the media cannot express our dissent, we ourselves will have to rise for it — and rise before the foundations of our Democracy are made to shrivel and die.

On the 28th of August 2018, a wave of multi-city raids conducted by the Pune (urban) Police led to the arrests of five rights activists namely Sudha Bharadwaj, Gautam Navlakha, P Varavara Rao, Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira. All the aforementioned have been vocal in their criticism of the government in power before. Their arrests come after a string of attacks on the country’s rationalists and other significantly alarming events, and have raised wide outcry from intellectuals and civil society.

Why Women Wear Short Clothes, And Why Men Need To Stop Answering This Question For Us

Popular internet platforms; and indeed the entirety of the offline world; are flooded with male wisdom seeking to explain women’s behaviours to a baffled audience of men who are unable to wrap their head around the idea of them doing certain things for their own selves – dressing up, for instance. It is unsurprising that these ‘explanations’ take up a characteristically male-centric approach, and end up projecting men’s own anxieties with regards to losing control over women onto the actions of the latter. Therefore, while women wear short clothing for a variety of reasons, it is boiled down in general understanding to a ‘provocative’ aim. This is done to the point where most men believe that short or ‘revealing’ clothing is worn for the sole reason of inviting sexual advances from them.

Short clothing is ascribed by men as a uniform donned by women of loose morals; a sign of sexual invitation and promiscuity.

However, since it is unfair to pay heed to a fish’s opinion on flying, I asked some women on my social media to elucidate their reasons for wearing short or ‘revealing’ clothing, and to thereby bring some clarity to this table of very opinionated fish. All women cited a combination of the heat, their personal comfort, the occasion-appropriateness of clothing with regards to making them fit in or stand out in a situation, and keeping up with fashion trends as their reasons. A surprisingly large number of men also commented; despite not being invited to; and cited women’s need for ‘sexually-motivated attention’ as the primary motivation for wearing such clothes. In corroboration with my findings; a study conducted on a far greater sample size by Avigail Moor (2010)1 reveals a gender-based attribution gap wherein men report such dressing styles as indicating an interest in sex and an intent to seduce, whereas women cite their wish to feel and look more confident and attractive (and reject the seduction claim entirely).

So why does this gap exist?

The findings of Moor’s study tell us that a majority of the men involved in the experiment found themselves to be highly aroused by women in revealing clothing. Other studies2 reveal that men attribute more sexuality to both the sexes than women do. One can stand to reason here that men’s own stimulation and/or their misperception of women’s sexuality leads them to erroneously project their own arousal onto women as the latter’s goal for seduction. Therefore, short clothing is ascribed by them as a uniform donned by women of loose morals; a sign of sexual invitation and promiscuity. Curiously enough, despite all their other claims the male subjects of Moor’s study did not think that revealing clothing leads to men losing self- control. The passionate rage against women’s fashion choices which denounces clothing as the top cause of rape and sexual violence, is, then, rooted in the power-struggle between the sexes rather than having any causality in women leading men astray. Rape-culture is bred not by the manner women dress in, but by ages of female objectification and sexualisation under patriarchy. This objectification and sexualisation is ingrained further into modern societal consciousness by the popular media and culture’s portrayal of women.

While most women do not wish to sexualise themselves or invite ‘sexually motivated attention’ for their choice of clothing, it is true that the popular media’s sexualisation of their bodies does play a role in this choice. However, this role is rather indirect, and not significant in a majority of women’s actual reasoning for choosing revealing clothing. Because the popular media is insistent on the sexualisation of women to the extent that it uses their image to sell absolutely unrelated consumer items such as bikes or paan masala, the prevalent codes of fashion have made these short, body-revealing clothes into elements of the standard female appearance. The pressure on women to adhere to such standards of feminine normalcy – not to mention beauty – is what makes them follow these trends. Moreover, keeping abreast of contemporary fashion trends is not a characteristic specific to women – just as women, men also choose to highlight their ‘best features’ according to current fashion (such as broad shoulders or muscular biceps) through various styles of clothing, some of which may ask them to bare more than the others would. Thus, being up-to-date with fashion trends and thereby projecting affluence and a cultivated sense of aesthetic is what makes women – and men – choose ‘revealing’ clothing. Clothing has much more to do with social and class conditioning than with sexuality.

Even when a woman dresses with a man on her mind, the aim is to attract, not to seduce

As John Berger said, “A woman is always accompanied, except when quite alone, and perhaps even then, by her own image of herself (…) She has to survey everything she is and everything she does, because how she appears to others – and particularly how she appears to men – is of crucial importance for what is normally thought of as the success of her life” (1972)3. Thus, the historical perception of women has led to the image-conscious womanhood of today. Women do pay attention to how presentable and attractive they look – often subconsciously so.

However, even when a woman dresses with a man on her mind, the aim is to attract, not to seduce (this is also dealt with at length in Moor’s study). Many women said in response to my survey on social media that their choice in clothing has a lot to do with their personality – this is merely a practical extension of the adage about one’s appearance giving away our attitude. For most women, to choose body-revealing attire is a sign of their rebelliousness against socially-ascribed female modesty. While for many it is also a symbol of empowerment against male-dictated norms on female sexuality (and seeks to say that all women, regardless of their sexual choices, can wear such clothing), it never means licentiousness. Often, women are not even attempting to display a confident personality to the benefit of others, but for their own selves. For women who have experience of being shamed or feeling conscious about a certain section of their bodies, revealing these sections with help of fashionable clothing (or highlighting assets that they are proud of) can lead to a positive boost in their self-image.

The situational aspect influencing a choice in revealing clothing is even harder to ignore – in hot or humid weather, or in situations that demand greater physical exertion or movement such as at discotheques or gyms, ‘less’ clothing usually means more efficiency and comfort; while women are busy dancing or exercising they hardly have any time to plan the seduction of their male counterparts and thus any such motive is out of question.

Any advice which seeks to protect a woman from unsolicited sexual advances through means of modest clothing also ends up saying that such advances should rather be made unto a woman dressed less-modestly.

The popular male argument against body-revealing clothing disregards all these factors in favour of sexuality when explaining the motive for women choosing them. Moreover this sexuality, rather than being that of the women, is more often than not a projection of their own. Some well-meaning men may even argue that for women to dress modestly is for their own protection from other men (who are uncontrollable and unreasonable). Honestly, I get this argument: there are predators out there on the streets, so it’s probably more practical to wear clothes that are not revealing. But there are also people who believe that women shouldn’t be out of doors after sundown; maybe women should only step out when there’s light outside. But some believe that women shouldn’t go out alone at all. And some believe that they should only stay indoors, get married as soon as they gain any semblance of womanhood, and set to the manufacture of babies. And that is how we tumble back into the Dark Ages if we keep listening to the men on the streets.

It cannot be overlooked that any advice which seeks to protect a woman from unsolicited sexual advances through means of modest clothing also ends up saying that such advances should rather be made unto a woman dressed less-modestly. The idea of modesty itself is something that springs from cultural notions of decency, and differs between various cultural units – women’s jeans are considered indecent by many Indians, while it is a staple wardrobe item for women in the west; a saree reveals more of the midriff than a crop-top may but is nevertheless considered more decent than the latter. To value women’s ‘modesty’ over their other traits in an assessment of their worth – as is done in our schools with the absurdity of dress-coding and the shaming of those students who wear short skirts – will never be a progressive; or even a ‘safe’ idea.

In the end, the best way to know if a woman – or anyone at that – is aiming at sexual behaviour is to exercise the social skills gifted to us by millions of years of evolutionary progress, and just ask them.

1 Moor, Avigail (2010). She Dresses to Attract, He Perceives Seduction: A Gender Gap in Attribution of Intent to Women’s Revealing Style of Dress and its Relation to Blaming the Victims of Sexual Violence. Journal of International Women’s Studies, 11(4), pp. 115-127.
2 Abbey,A., Cozzarelli, C., McLaughlin, K., Harnish, Richard J. (1987). The Effects of Clothing and Dyad Sex Composition on Perceptions of Sexual Intent: Do Women and Men Evaluate These Cues Differently. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 17(4), pp. 108-126; & Johnson, C., Stockdale, M., & Saal, F. (1991). Persistence Of Men’s Misperceptions Of Friendly Cues Across A Variety Of Interpersonal Encounters. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 15(3), pp. 463-475.
3 Berger, John (1972). Ways of Seeing.Penguin Books, London, pp. 45-64.

Not Sanju, But the Media: How the Sanjay Dutt biopic shifts its dishonesty onto other shoulders

Celebrated director Rajkumar Hirani’s biopic of controversial Bollywood actor Sanjay Dutt, Sanju, has hit the cinemas and been declared a massive box office success. However, not quite delivering the honesty promised by it, Sanju is Ranbir Kapoor’s shot to critical acclaim at best and a highly defensive hagiography of Dutt at its worst. But far more disappointing is the film’s lack of genuine efforts into creating a case for Dutt’s innocence. Instead, it relies heavily on techniques for inducing the audiences’ tendency to sympathise, and pushes all the blame over to the media.


In reality, this act of the filmmakers feeding our disgust for media sensationalism is also snidely influencing us into seeing the actor’s vices and misdeeds through the rosy lens of sympathy – and even endearment.


This strategic move against the media is underscored in the credit song of the movie, ‘Baba Bolta Hai Bas Ho Gaya’. The song has Ranbir Kapoor appearing alongside the very actor he plays in the movie: together the two Sanjus poke fun at the media for allegedly spreading fake news about celebrities; taunting their ‘sources’ and their exaggerations which create masala out of thin air to serve to the public; and finally, thrusting their newspapers straight at the camera. This slamming of the media could not be better timed, for the issue of fake news is indeed a pertinent question being recognised today. But for a movie like Sanju doing so, the reasons are not so noble.

The smartest part of this full-frontal attack at the media is that nothing it now says about the nature of the film itself will be paid any heed to. Of course, the primary goal of the move is to absolve Dutt of any blame whatsoever – and paint a misunderstood-at-best image of the star – by shifting it to the easiest possible target. Because a sizeable section of the Indian media is indeed deplorably sensationalist, anyone feels drawn to the idea of cursing at it. In reality, however, this act of the filmmakers feeding our disgust for media sensationalism is also snidely influencing us into seeing the actor’s vices and misdeeds through the rosy lens of sympathy – and even endearment.

[Video: the credit song to ‘Sanju’ pokes fun at a sensationalist media]


In fact, cinematic liberties; quite like the question marks used in news headlines which have been so attacked in the film; are a great way to simply do away with some crucial facts and details from the biopic in order to paint a rather likeable, honest-but-flawed image of the superstar. The very creation of emotional appeal in the film that makes it entertaining also renders it merely an appeal that bases itself solely on the audiences’ emotional understanding of the star. No stone is left unturned to portray him as an ordinary man – indeed, from ‘Sanjay Dutt’ he is changed completely into ‘Sanju’, with nothing in the movie showing the effects of wealth and stardom on his personality where there must have been at least some.

Even those things that the Indian society at large considers to be definitive signs of vice are presented to viewers as misguided virtue on the part of Sanju: from drugs and womanizing, to his connections to the underworld; things that are normally considered signs of a detestable character are shown as acceptable ‘mistakes’ through elements of comedy and fetishisation, even as these are not accepted as mistakes for literally anyone else who commits them — not such an ordinary man, then, is he?

Dutt’s character in the movie is essentially a man-child, who is just under so much pressure of living up to his parents’ expectations and legacies. This is made clear in an abundance of excessively emotional, and even slightly artificial scenes in the movie.

The angle of Dutt’s trouble with pressure and ‘bad choices’ is played out from the very beginning of the film, which starts with the launch of the star’s acting career and his drug addiction amidst the failing health and eventual death of his mother, the legendary actress Nargis. The first half of the movie follows only the trajectory of his spiraling into addiction, peppered with enough scenes of friendship and comedy that not only entertain adequately, but also ensure that the audience attaches itself to the character. This is because the second half relies purely on this attachment and subsequently, on the sympathy it is able to generate for Sanju – who, through a quick succession of events and scenes is convicted for possessing an AK-56 assault rifle and a hand in the 1993 Mumbai serial bombings, and then is able to acquit himself of any mal-intentions (and terrorist activity) by proving that at its worst, everything was the fault of the media’s thirst for creating masala. The AK-56s were acquired to protect his family from the threat of harm from those against father Sunil Dutt’s humanitarian work post-Babri Masjid: in the end, ‘Sanju’ is just a man deeply sensitive and emotional, who cares for his family and wishes to protect it.


Cinematic liberties; quite like the ‘question marks’ used in news headlines which have been so attacked in the film; are a great way to simply do away with some crucial facts and details from the biopic in order to paint a rather likeable, honest-but-flawed image of the superstar.


This image of the family man is, too carefully constructed through certain cinematic liberties of omission. While Dutt’s third wife, Maanyata (played by actress Dia Mirza), is portrayed as his rock throughout the scenes from the movie’s present; all mention of his first two wives and his eldest daughter is conveniently missing. The strong ‘differences’ – both personal and political – between Dutt and his siblings; especially Priya Dutt; are also omitted through the marginal presence of his sisters in the movie. After all, the very ploy of showing how Dutt only acquired the guns for his father and sisters’ protection requires all of them to not only have a great relationship with the star, but also be dependent on him. Priya in the film is bereft of any dialogues or real presence, but increasingly seen accompanying her father and brother in scenes from the second half – a deliberate move to counter the reality of their relationship. The movie also fails to mention the (later withdrawn) statement made by Dutt to the police about possessing some licensed guns apparently due to his love for hunting sports, in addition to the AK-56s. This omission can possibly be explained by the fact that the statement makes blurry the need for acquiring the weapon which he was convicted for possessing in the first place. Yet, in spite of all these discrepancies, the blame for dishonesty is put squarely on the media since the burden of proof of honesty is too much for the movie to attempt to address. It is notable that even Anushka Sharma’s character as the well-known biographer sought after by Dutt is unconvincing and relies solely on the ‘truth’ of the story that Sanju narrates to her himself. The logical end is that since it takes this biographer no more proof to believe in Dutt’s honesty, it shouldn’t take the audience anymore, either. It is ironic that the media, which reports news mostly on the basis of similarly verifiable sources, is attacked for doing the very thing by the film which the film itself does.

But perhaps the greatest device in the movie for Dutt’s redemption in the eyes of the public is his face in the movie: Ranbir Kapoor’s performance in his subsuming completely into the personality of Sanju overshadows most other things – good and bad – about the movie. Indeed, he makes Sanju’s vices and his mannerisms appear almost charming. Of course, the role of the charming man-child is Kapoor’s strong suit, but despite the limited script he does bring the character fully to life – any less than this performance would have likely led to the sympathetic angle falling through. In that case, the only thing that keeps Sanju‘s attack on the media standing and even immune to question is the convincing power of Ranbir’s acting.

All of this is not to say that there seems to be no truth in Sanju‘s attacks on the media’s sensationalist tendencies itself, but to put all the blame entirely on the news is too escapist of a movie that earnestly claims honesty. Percase if Sanju was presented more as the realistic ‘ordinary’ man that he was intended to be and less as the victim/saint, there would be more credibility awarded to this lambasting of the media. After all, there can’t be news without the newsmaker.


What did you think about Sanju and its take on the media? Feel free to share your views in the comments below!