Monday, July 24, 2017


People had forgotten, he muses, that it is also possible to read through one’s ears. After all, that is how most of us begin to receive stories—listening to our grandparents. Jameel Gulrays was counting on people’s ears rather than their eyes when he started to read aloud Urdu stories on a dedicated Youtube channel. Just about a year and a half later, his channel has over 1,300 subscribers and his work has grown into a movement called Katha Kathan, which includes several other readers and stories from many other Indian languages. The no-frills homemade video series has grown into live performances at venues such as the National Centre for the Performing Arts in Mumbai; a Delhi chapter has been launched in recent weeks.

Despite its rapid growth, Katha Kathan was rooted in quiet grief and regret...

Read the full article about Jameel Gulrays' initiative to promote literature in Indian languages other than English here

Sunday, July 16, 2017

In a narrow lane

A narrow lane requires a great deal of adjustment. It can be something minor, such as needing to twist your torso as someone approaches from the opposite direction. Or it can be something big, like having snatched a chain or purse, and making a run for it, and then realising that you’re being chased and you do not have much of an escape route. It could also require a major adjustment on the part of police personnel. In Delhi, according to news reports, 70 cops will be expected to ride bicycles to patrol areas where cars cannot go. In Kolhapur too, there is a plan to get cops bikes, so they can get into narrow lanes. These are interesting developments. For one, it will be a refreshing sight to see cops on bicycles. It’s been a long time since I saw such a thing. In fact, I believe I have never in my life seen such a thing.

Some thoughts on narrow lanes and what they encompass, read the full column here:

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Of, by, for ourselves

I recently led a discussion on democracy at the immensely successful Community Library Project, at the Deepalaya/Shiekh Sarai library in Delhi. Here are some further thoughts about why, published on the project blog:

Of, by, for ourselves

It’s the simplest, cleanest, easiest to remember definition of democracy: Of the people, by the people, and for the people.

These days, I often think back to my school Civics book. On the first page was printed the preamble to the Constitution. I have to confess here that I often feel guilty for not having read the full text of the Constitution yet. Some day, I tell myself, I will. But for now, the Preamble alone suffices. The very first line reminds us of what we set out to be as a nation:

“We, the people of India, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a SOVEREIGN, SOCIALIST, SECULAR, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC…”

And so it goes on to justice, liberty, equality, fraternity and our other rights and freedoms. But here’s the key thing: we the people. We gave unto ourselves these rights. We gave ourselves our own sovereignty and our democracy.

I wonder sometimes if, in our everyday political discourse, we have not forgotten that democracy is not a gift that anyone bestows upon us. It is not a handout. It is of our own making, and if it to survive, then it must be re-made, re-constituted every single day by as many of us as possible.

One of the ways in which we renew a democracy is to engage with it. Not just about political events or elections. Democracy is much bigger than one election, or even 29 + 7 elections.

Democracy is a cultivated habit of thinking and choosing. Choice is also not just a question of choosing the better party, or the best candidate. It is also about choosing the best systems, and allowing ourselves to seek modifications in the electoral system when it serves our Constitutional ideals better.

India is known as the world's largest Democracy. This is on the basis of the sheer numbers of people who participate in the elections. We are also a nation of people that love discussing elections and politics. Yet, we have very little discussion about whether the core democratic principle – of the people, by the people, for the people – has been upheld. For instance, if our elected representatives push through decisions that are actually opposed by the majority of the population, or if the core values of equality and social justice are threatened by certain decisions, what can citizens do?

The response is: wait five years and punish the politicians. One of the major definitions of a democracy is that citizens are able to change their government. But what happens if the next lot also does the same thing? Or, what happens when the same people return to power via new alignments?

Also, how exactly does the democratic edifice hold up? Elections give us a Parliament, the state Assemblies, the Panchayats and municipal corporations. But the average citizen does not experience Parliament directly. How does democracy filter down the average citizen?

These are questions that any committed democracy must engage with, and with that hope, I had gone to Deepalaya with some notes on Democracy/Loktantra. Organised by the Community Library Project, the discussion was open to men and women, boys and girls above 18. Those who joined the discussion included teenagers, mothers, a grandmom, activists and library volunteers.

One of the areas of shadow in most political conversations is global suffrage history. I felt quite strongly that we cannot fully grasp our system, its strengths and weaknesses, unless we look at how other people have enacted their own versions of democracy and what it leads to. So we traveled the distance from ancient Greece and Rome to England to India and Australia.

We had very little time (just about an hour), but we talked about half a dozen key aspects of democratic systems – limited forms of suffrage/disenfranchisement, party funding, preferential voting, protest votes, distance/postal votes, and the role of the media as the fourth pillar of democracy. 

It was an invigorating hour, edged with questions that spilled over into tea. I am hoping those conversations are spilling out further, out of the library and into the suburb, and out into the city, and further, and further.

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Just thinking

शायद आप में और मुझ में इतना ही फ़र्क़ है, जितना सपना और स्वप्न में। या शायद इतना, जितना सपने और ख़्वाब में. इतना फ़ासला नहीं, जितना अच्छे और बुरे सपने में होता है. रत्ती भर का फ़र्क़ समुंदर नहीं, जिसे एक सांस लेके पार न किया जा सके।

The difference between me and you is the difference between 'Sapna' and 'Swapna'. Or the difference between 'Sapna' and 'Khwaab'. It is not the difference between dream and nightmare. This fine shade of difference is not an ocean; it can be conquered with a single breath.

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