Staff Picks: The Best of Books, Film & TV


‘Catching up on the Angry Young Man British films of the 1960s – films like Look Back in Anger, This Sporting Life, Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner – such extraordinary encapsulation of an era and an ethos. And so different from the Indian Angry Young Man films!’ – Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri, executive editor

The Last Days of New Paris by China Miéville won’t disappoint those who have read his previous works. As for those yet to find giant squids, beetle-headed women and floating icebergs in their bookshelves, this title is a taste of weird fiction woven in rich prose. Look – it’s about surrealist artists fighting Nazis. You know you want to read it.’ – Prerna Gill, copy editor

‘I recently finished reading Padma Lakshmi’s wonderful memoir, Love, Loss, and What We Ate. It’s about food and family, love and loss, survival and triumph. Besides being a light read, it gives you wonderful recipes too.’ – Sunayna Saraswat, copy editor

‘After spending a summer month in New York with my wife, I’m now finishing the last few pages of Confessions of a New York Taxi Driver by Eugene Salomon. Salomon is full of interesting anecdotes, accumulated over forty years and told breezily. My favourite is the one about a husband and wife in their seventies who are revisiting New York after almost half a century. They ask Salomon to drive them to all the places they have fond memories of, but are heartbroken to find that none of them exist any more. So they create a new memory by making out in the back seat of his cab as he drives through Central Park. Moral of the story (mine, not Salomon’s): Keep making lots of happy memories with your loved one to replace those you may have to let go.’ – Siddhesh Inamdar, commissioning editor

‘I think everyone should read Sex Object by Jessica Valenti. It’s a profoundly personal memoir, and yet I found myself identifying with almost every tale she recounted and every idea she espoused. I think all women will see a bit of themselves in the book – and for this reason I think all men should read it.’ – Manasi Subramaniam, commissioning editor and rights manager jessica_valenti-620x412.jpg

‘Last week I saw a Spanish psychological thriller titled Sleep Tight. If you live in a building with a concierge, you may want to skip it. The character in this movie lacks the ability to feel happiness – you sympathize with him for the first fifteen minutes – and the only thing that keeps him going is making others miserable and how.’ – Shreya Punj, copy editor

‘I recently started watching The Night Of, a new mini-series by HBO. Armed with a terrific cast of characters, it’s a story about a man who believes that he has been wrongly convicted of a crime. It’s tense, well-written and has some superb performances.’ – Arcopol Chaudhuri, associate editor

OPINION | Why Are We All Afraid of Mahatma Gandhi?

(left) Tales of Young Gandhi, published by HarperCollins India; (right) Janhavi Prasada

In the run-up to the birth anniversary of the ‘father of the nation’, Siddhesh Inamdar, editor of a new graphic novel about Gandhi, introspects

We are all afraid of Mahatma Gandhi. It might be a strange thing to say about the apostle of non-violence, but it’s true. Why else would we distance ourselves from him in our day-to-day lives? It’s because he is a ‘Mahatma’, next to God, larger than life and, therefore, intimidating. He is to be remembered only on national holidays and forgotten the rest of the year.

What Janhavi Prasada’s Tales of Young Gandhi sets out to do is bring Gandhi within our reach again. It draws on his autobiography, The Story of My Experiments with Truth, to remind us that he was an ordinary man who in his younger days smoked, drank, stole money, was shy, visited a brothel and was driven mad by lust. But he experimented with his experiences to become the person he did.

Tales of Young Gandhi reminds us that we all have Gandhi within us. We share his weaknesses and strengths. And we too, like him, can sift through our baggage to become a better version of ourselves.tales-of-young-gandhi-full-copy_page_024



Tales of Young Gandhi hopes to introduce a new generation of readers to a fascinating life through a new medium – an exquisitely illustrated graphic novel – and make him relevant again at a time when the world is torn by violence.

(Tales of Young Gandhi, by Janhavi Prasada. Illustrations by Uttam Sinha. Buy your copy here:

PREVIEW | Indian Writing: Five Hot New Releases for Your Bookshelf



 From the author of the award-winning graphic novel Simian, comes an electrifying new fantasy adventure. Cartoonist and film-maker Vikram Balagopal’s latest book is an exciting read!

Akila Raina, the principal’s precocious daughter, was only ten when she disappeared. Shyam, who was with her that fateful night, is daily haunted by a dream of it – a dream more grisly than reality could possibly be. Until Akila mysteriously reappears twenty years later, grown-up and gorgeous.

She tells him of surreal worlds, her encounters with strange creatures, their own connection across the realms, and the malevolent power that lies at the heart of it all. And then she shows him…

Bold and passionate, Savage Blue is an unnerving ride into unknown worlds.

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It is 1798 and Richard Dawson, an English painter, has arrived on the southern coast of India, looking for employment. Finding his fellow countrymen unhelpful, he travels to the kingdom of Tipu Sultan to catch history in the making. Though reputedly cruel to the British, Tipu allows Richard to stay at his fort in Srirangapatna. As Dawson and his apprentice, a runaway Brahmin boy called Mukunda, experiment with Indian and Western styles of painting, they find themselves drawn into a high-stake political intrigue, leading to the last Anglo-Mysore War.


The Untitled was written over a decade and across three continents, and owes much to the city of Mysore, the National Archives of India in Delhi and the British Library in London.

Elegant and suspenseful, this evocative historical novel brings to life a momentous period of Indian history while exploring the intersection of love and art.

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‘Readers of this New Delhi-set comedy of manners are in for a treat,’ wrote the Guardian about award-winning novelist Karan Mahajan’s first novel, Family Planning.

 Rakesh Ahuja, a government minister in New Delhi, is beset by problems: thirteen children and another on the way; a wife who mourns the loss of her favourite TV star; and a teenaged son with some really strong opinions about family planning.

To make matters worse, looming over this comical farrago are secrets – both personal and political – that threaten to push the Ahuja household into disastrous turmoil. Following father and son as they blunder their way across the troubled landscape of New Delhi, Karan Mahajan brilliantly captures the frenetic pace of India’s capital city to create a searing portrait of modern family life.

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Tina Raja’s average day involves a houseful of kids, animals, fleas, leaking pipes and sundry relatives. Is this the marriage she signed up for? And anyway, with an absentee husband, can she be certain she’s married still? This funny book is an excellent option for those days when you want to lie back and enjoy the simple pleasures of reading. Jane  De  Suza has also written the crime-comedy The Spy Who Lost Her Head. Jane is a brand and creative consultant in Bangalore and also writes a blog as Superwoman.

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Life is full of surprises. We know it but we don’t want to be caught unawares. You could be struggling to gain a foothold at your workplace, or trying to find meaning in a love relationship going nowhere. You could be at any stage of your life when it suddenly hits you that something is just not right. The realization forces you to see where you currently are and what sort of reparation is required. Of course, what is destined to happen will, but what is it that you can change within yourself to reach a peaceful place.

Predictions 2017 reveals your future with Tarot cards. Know what’s in store for you professionally and in your personal life. Know if health will be a cause for concern. Will you be struggling financially or will you come into wealth soon?

Know all this and more in Predictions 2017, the perfect book that will help you look at life differently. Come, embark on a new journey!

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‘I write because I need to. I draw and paint as a means to an end’: Amruta Patil

The author, Amruta Patil

In 2008, Amruta Patil broke new ground in Indian English storytelling with her compelling graphic novel debut, Kari. Then in 2012, she uncovered Adi Parva: Churning of the Ocean, a most exquisite retelling of the first book of the Mahabharata. And it is not just a retelling, there are sly interjections by the sutradhaar of the tale, Ganga; visual cues that remind us of cultural overlaps of mythologies; head-reeling detail in costume and landscape … and now, the sequel Sauptik: Blood and Flowers is here, to be released later this month.

‘… keep your hand on the thread of the story. You will be led.’

In the final panel of Adi Parva, these are Ganga’s words to a wounded and speechless Ashwatthama. And finally, Ashwatthama is here to carry the story forward in Sauptik. And we must listen.

Sohini Basak, editor at HarperCollins India, spoke to Amruta Patil over email:

ADI PARVA credit Rohit Chawla Sauptik_Front Cover (4)

Sohini Basak: One of my favourite aspects about both Adi Parva and Sauptik is the revival of the sutradhaar for a contemporary audience. There is a lot of research on the ‘storyteller’, the archetype of the figure by the fireside, but not so much on the sutradhaar. To begin with, could you tell us why you chose the figure of the sutradhaar? And about your specific sutradhaars: Ganga who tells the story in Adi Parva, and Ashwatthama who carries it forward in Sauptik?

Amruta Patil: I am intrigued by the alertness and editorial flair a sutradhaar – thread-bearer of stories – needs while engaging with a live audience. You need to have your finger on the pulse of the audience continuously, you need to blend erudition with entertainment. Since it isn’t top-down delivery, sutradhaars must really know their stuff to engage with contrarians and seekers.

For my books, I chose two sutradhaars that are as far apart from one another as possible. Adi Parva’s Ganga was a cool-headed river/goddess, a queen, an unsentimental mother who could drown her babies unflinchingly. She straddles the worlds, involved and detached at once, telling stories to ease the journeys of those in her audience.

Sauptik’s Ashwatthama is a warrior who could never be the best, a roiling and insecure man who spent his life yearning for his father’s approval, who ended up being the assassin of his childhood friends’ sleeping children. He has a wound that will not heal, and his own journey is of tending to that wound…

SB: The concept is most fitting for the books too: being not just retellings and re-imaginings of one epic, but also of ancient oral literature, the Puranas…

AP: The device of the sutradhaar seemed ideal to me to bring the stories close to the now. The sutradhaar’s setting could be modern-day Varanasi, for all we know. The queries, jokes, disagreements and scepticism that the sutradhaars meet echo the sentiments of a lot of contemporary readers/people when faced with the epics. It is also a loving ode to the idea of discussing/debating about philosophical ideas rather than giving custody of all wisdom to miserly/bigoted/elitist hands.

009 (3)SB: Both Adi Parva and Sauptik make me think of tapestries: gigantic, intricate ones with overlapping scenes … and this makes me want to look at the other side of the creation, the complication of threads invisible on the finished side, the knots, weave crossing over and coming together … so how do you select the episodes you want to paint? How do you choose, condense, combine and then explode in lines and colours from the various textual sources?

AP: My own work process is via negativa. Reaching the essence – not through adding one thing atop another – but through continuous elimination of what does NOT belong in the tapestry.

The other analogy is (unsurprisingly) of jewels. One sieves through impossible volumes of sand from a riverbed in hope of finding the one potential jewel. Having chanced upon a keeper, there begins the tireless time in the lapidary – shining facets of raw rock until you reveal the fire at its heart. If I were to get any more specific than that, I would be tongue-tied.

Do I have a blueprint? Only hazily, a lot of editorial decisions happen on gut-level. The choice of sutradhaar is also a natural filter vis-a-vis the type of stories that particular character would be interested in telling.

SB: The jewellery analogy is great! And has this process changed from Adi Parva to Sauptik?

AP: I am older, more in control of my faculties and emotions than I was when I started off on the project. So while Sauptik was more gruelling than Adi Parva, the highs were also higher. A lot of the basic trial and error was behind me – including the knowledge of how a pipedream turns into a book – this time, I could just focus on my skill. As my understanding of the world increases, so too does the colour palette get less muddy, the forms less laden with artifice and adornment, the language more precise. It’s an ongoing thing.

SB: Right … and what are the tools of your craft? What material did you find most suitable for Sauptik?

AP: I like the physicality of ‘real’ paint and art supplies; the fact of having an object – flawed though it may be – resting on my desk at the end of a day. I have worked with acrylic paints, collage, watercolour, charcoal.

I work in actual size, except for my double-spreads which are larger to allow for detail. The visual form of Sauptik is more of a hybrid than Adi Parva. There are text pages adorned with a spare illustration, black and white pages where sutradhaar Ashwatthama interacts with his audience, and colour pages. One interesting detail is that there are no boxy panels in the book at all. Events on a page flow seamlessly, on a single page, the way they would in an Indian painting from Kangra or Rajasthan.

SB: Yes! I love how there is a stylistic/colour-coded key to the various ‘threads’ of the narrative in Sauptik. And that’s the thing isn’t it, these are books to look at again and again: we are bound to find some detail that we didn’t on the first read, something else strikes us on the third and so on.

The references to other artworks, for example, a hidden tribute to an artist: one of Henri Matisse’s paintings jumps out in Adi Parva, temple architecture in Sauptik, I see shadows of Jamini Roy’s brushstrokes in the steady glare of Draupadi, pattachitra-like frames in a sub-story, the Kangra paintings you mentioned which are great choices for the Krishna–gopis episodes … a visual syncretism almost.

From the point of view of the artwork, how do you select your influences, do they come scene by scene, frame by frame, or do you always keep the larger narrative in mind?

AP: Adi Parva and Sauptik – and, to a lesser extent, Kari – are determinedly open-source in the DNA. In effect, visually, there is a lot of crosstalk going on between my work and the work of those I admire and aspire to (more or less) be in the lineage of; sometimes between my work and one singular image encountered somewhere along the way that spoke to my bones.

You will meet them all, if you look carefully enough. Roerich-esque mountains, playful Kalighat-style Hanuman, gopis that reference abhisarika nayika (from the ashtanayika pantheon), war scenes whose composition echoes sculpture from Angkor Wat, many colours and forms from Tantric imagery. Beloved traditional representations of Gajalakshmi or the mourning Shiv with Sati’s corpse on his shoulder are tweaked and taken the extra distance. But none of these is done gratuitously, or as gimmick. I have lived with this inside me for years and allowed it to tell me what to do next.


SB: ‘Spoke to my bones’ … that’s a lovely way of putting it. And any particular book, artwork or film that you have lived with in a similar way? And do they have an effect on how you choose to tell your stories?

AP: My influences aren’t from the visual storyteller’s canon or even the mythologist’s canon. Unpredictable books have fired my synapses in the last few years. Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Antifragile. William Bryant Logan’s Dirt: The Ecstatic Skin of the Earth. Bernard Werber’s Empire of the Ants. Roberto Calasso’s Ardor. Tarun J. Tejpal’s The Story of My Assassins. Frank Herbert’s Dune books. Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Very recently, Amitav Ghosh’s The Great Derangement. Lot of non-fiction, popular science, science fiction, some poetry. These are my sustenance and benchmark. What, precisely, about them inspires me so? Their largesse, laterally-crisscrossing sprawl of ideas, panoramic vision and lion voice.

SB: That is eclectic. When we were working on Sauptik’s proofs, you did mention that you avoided reading too many Mahabharata-related works and retellings while working on the book…

AP: To clarify: I did not read too many peoples’ ‘takes’ and ‘transcreations’ of the epics after 2004. I did read straightforward translations (like Bibek Debroy’s multi-volume Mahabharata, published by Penguin) and more academic writing. It’s better that way, keeps the uniqueness of voice.

Also, since I try to retain the freewheeling way of the oral storyteller, my references come from all over the place, not just the Mahabharata (although I keep true to the soul of the epic). A lot of conversational back-forth also feeds into the book. Lot of the questions and disagreements put forth by Ashwatthama’s audience come from real push-pull online.

SB: I’m also curious about your early influences, what kind of stories did you grow up with?

AP:  I spent a lot of time outdoors and in the fold of nature as a child. Barely any TV. My parents believed in gifts of travel and experience rather than material things and store-bought toys and gadgets. Growing up in a small town meant no access to book stores or cinema houses or museums – but, really, these things can be caught up with later in life.

The sweetness of growing up with neon-green paddy fields and lashing waves in one’s vicinity, on the other hand. My mother is a natural storyteller and mimic – so even mundane things were made hilarious and animated in recounting. I also owe a debt to my primary-school teacher Neela Chakrapani for a most unusual back-n-forth written correspondence –  exchanged in school corridors at lunch break – that we had for years. And to K.T. Sandip Nambiar, who, in the course of a single Bangalore summer, introduced a fourteen-year-old bumpkin me to Salinger, Steinbeck, Winterson, Rilke, John Kennedy Toole, Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Plath… My brain was rewired that year, I think.

SB: Your childhood setting sounds so lovely.  So were you always drawing as a child? Most of us draw and paint in our childhood, at school, but then we stop. When did you decide to keep doing it?

AP: I was drawing throughout, yes. Not for pleasure (I don’t really like to draw, I like to paint. And I only started to paint five years ago) but for embellishing and clarifying. I write because I need to. I draw and paint as means to an end.

One of my regrets is not having had another profession, a separate metier – like being an environmental scientist or a cardiac surgeon – so there would have been no edge of survival-related despair to my writing and painting. I do try to keep them un-desperate, but lapse periodically, come up gasping for funds.

SB: Ahh … speaking of being an environmentalist, there is a very strong undercurrent of ecology and conservation in Sauptik, more than Adi Parva, I think. In fact, the story begins with a striking image of a tree. Was it a conscious decision to highlight the environment of our ancient tales to remind us of our contemporary crisis, our need to treat the earth, Bhoo incarnate, with respect?

AP: A thrilling realization midway through my research for Sauptik was that the avatar story was, in essence, an ecological story: the alliance between the avatar and the earth goddess – Bhoo; and with entities who are in synchronicity with nature. That was the beginning and millions of tiny pieces started falling into place after that. The way so many characters in the epics are so firmly tied with the elements (the birth stories of the Pandavs, for example).

All lore can be read on many levels; but people often ignore this Bhoo aspect in favour of sociological, historical, feminist, often-polarizing readings. I am uninterested in pulling individual characters out of their contextual location in the tale and have worked very hard with artwork and choice of tales – to the best of my limited skills – to keep flitting between purush and prakriti; deeply personal and sprawling-ly multiversal. Because that is how the gaze of wisdom must aspire to be – attentive to detail and to big picture; able to slide between one’s own eyes and the eyes of the Other. Most people get caught up with one or the other.

amruta patil FB_IMG_1467575655347

SB: That’s fascinating, the detail to flora–fauna in Sauptik is indeed a real treat. Talking about big pictures: Kari will complete ten years in a couple of years. So my final, if somewhat clichéd, question to you is: what has this journey been like, from Kari to Adi Parva to Sauptik?

AP: It has been a journey of honing my understanding of humans, their neuroses and preoccupations. And of finding my centre of gravity.

(Sauptik is available for pre-order. Order it here:

(Photo credits from top – Amruta Patil: Photograph by Rohit Chawla; all other images and photos courtesy Amruta Patil)






PREVIEW | International Picks: The Latest in Foreign Fiction and Non-fiction



Lady Athelinda Playford has planned a house party at her mansion, but it is no ordinary gathering. As guests arrive, she summons her lawyer to make an urgent change to her will – one she intends to announce at dinner that night. She has decided to cut off her two children without a penny and leave her fortune to someone who has only weeks to live . . .

Among Lady Playford’s guests are two men she has never met – the famous Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot, and Inspector Edward Catchpool of Scotland Yard. Neither knows why he has been invited . . . until Poirot starts to wonder if Lady Playford expects a murderer to strike. But why does she seem so determined to provoke, in the presence of a possible killer?

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After tasting phenomenal success with Desert God, Wilbur Smith is back, this time with Pharaoh, a new book in the Ancient Egypt series. The transportive powers of Smith’s writing cannot be emphasized enough: the action is alive with bloodlust, historical detail, the characters bold with love, divided loyalties, and the prose is thrilling.

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Fans of science fiction and fantasy immensely enjoyed Sabaa Tahir’s debut novel An Ember in the Ashes, ‘a pulse-pounding, action-packed Romeo and Juliet story in a richly imagined world’, and they couldn’t be happier now that the sequel, A Torch Against the Night, is about to release. With the rights for the book already bought by Paramount, this has all the makings of a major international book/movie franchise with the same massive following as The Hunger Games and Game of Thrones.

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It’s possibly the most growing genre in crime-fiction at the moment, and Only Daughter offers some chilling psychological suspense. 

In 2003, sixteen-year-old Rebecca Winter disappeared. She’d been enjoying her teenage summer break: working at a fast food restaurant, crushing on an older boy and shoplifting with her best friend. Mysteriously ominous things began to happen—blood in the bed, periods of blackouts, a feeling of being watched—though Bec remained oblivious of what was to come. Eleven years later she is replaced. A young woman, desperate after being arrested, claims to be the decade-missing Bec. Soon the imposter is living Bec’s life. Sleeping in her bed. Hugging her mother and father. Learning her best friends’ names. Playing with her twin brothers. But Bec’s welcoming family and enthusiastic friends are not quite as they seem. As the imposter dodges the detective investigating her case, she begins to delve into the life of the real Bec Winter—and soon realizes that whoever took Bec is still at large, and that she is in imminent danger.

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Now a major motion picture from Clint Eastwood, starring Tom Hanks—the inspirational autobiography by one of the most captivating American heroes of our time, Capt. ‘Sully’ Sullenberger—the pilot who miraculously landed a crippled US Airways Flight 1549 in New York’s Hudson River, saving the lives of all 155 passengers and crew ‘Sullenberger’s all-American life story is so compelling that it screams to be required reading for all young people, or anybody else who needs confirmation that courage, dignity and extraordinary competence can still be found in this land … [A] remarkable life story.’ —Washington Times

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The Guardian calls it ‘dazzling’, the Telegraph says it’s ‘furiously funny’ and the New York Times says Purity is ‘Franzen’s most fleet-footed, least self-conscious and most intimate novel yet’.

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Destined to destroy empires, Mia Corvere is only ten years old when she is given her first
lesson in death. Six years later, the child raised in shadows takes her first steps towards keeping the promise she made on the day she lost everything. But the chance to strike against such powerful enemies will be fleeting, so if she is to have her revenge, Mia must become a weapon without equal. She must prove herself against the deadliest of friends and enemies, and survive the tutelage of murderers, liars and daemons at the heart of a murder cult. The Red Church is no ordinary school, but Mia is no ordinary student.

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It’s the book that made Emelie Schepp Sweden’s top-selling crime writer in the digital charts, selling over 110,000 copies.

When a high-ranking head of the migration board is found shot to death in his living room, there is no shortage of suspects, including his wife. But no one expects to find the mysterious child-sized handprint in the childless home. That’s when the young, brilliant but emotionally cold public prosecutor Jana Berzelius steps in to lead the investigation…

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Gossip, lies, scandal? Check, check, check. Readers never tire of beautiful girls behaving badly. Set in an elite ballet school, Black Swan meets Pretty Little Liars in this soapy, drama-packed novel where three not-so-perfect ballerinas will do anything to get to the top.

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The Silliest Autobiography in the World – Winning Story


Like Dickens, I was born, except without a caul. Whether or not I am the heroine of my own story is for you to decide.
In 2012, I moved from Magnolia, Texas to Mumbai, India; that’s when the silliness started. My days were filled with futile attempts to hear the difference between d se darawaja and dh se dhan. Having failed miserably, I instead began reading books that taught me the difference between MC and BC. Now, I can swear fluently in Hindi, but I can’t tell a rickshaw driver how to get to my hotel.
In 2015, I relocated to Seoul, Korea, where I finally learned to make perfectly round, slightly chewy chapati. I used the chapati to make tacos in an attempt to appropriate two cultures while living in a third. Because Murica!
My friends have even bestowed upon me the dubious title of Grand Cuisiniere of Radial Breads.
It’s true.
I swear.
There’s even a certificate.
These days, I frequent Seoul’s ubiquitous coffee shops, where I’m pretending to write my book. In reality, I’m trolling publishers on Twitter and ardently defending the literary merits of a certain banker-turned-bestseller whose last name begins with a B.

By – Jean

The Assassination of Indira Gandhi: An Excerpt from ‘India: The Crucial Years’

On the morning of 31 October 1984, I left for Along in Siang district by helicopter. After landing there an hour later, I proceeded to Basar by road. Basar had an agricultural research centre, where there was a function requiring my presence. A little before 1 p.m., I returned to the rest house after the function and received a wireless message from my private secretary in Itanagar that Mrs Gandhi’s security guards had shot her. As is well known, her assassination was the culmination of the political muddle in Punjab of the preceding few years.

The Congress had come to power in the state, with Darbara Singh as chief minister, in 1980. There was debilitating rivalry between him and Giani Zail Singh, the Union home minister. Darbara Singh maintained links with some Akali elements. A minister in the Akali cabinet in Punjab during the Janata regime, who was later thrown out by the Akalis themselves, had managed to receive Darbara Singh’s patronage and was given financial assistance by way of contracts.

Darbara Singh was also in direct touch with Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, an orthodox religious leader and advocate of Sikh freedom, through a highly placed contact. When the World Sikh Convention was held in Amritsar in July 1981, Bhindranwale was sent word not to attend the convention as that would put Darbara Singh in an awkward position. More than anything else, there was reliable information that Darbara Singh had quietly worked out an understanding with Bhindranwale that he and his men should cause no harm to Darbara Singh and his family members in return for adequate protection for Bhindranwale and his gang.

In my note dated 1 September 1981 as DIB, I had suggested to the prime minister that she might look into the links and activities of Darbara Singh vis-à-vis the Akali politicians and extremists to see whether they were consistent with national interests.

If Darbara Singh had links with Bhindranwale through his own men in Punjab, Gianiji did not lag behind. Santokh Singh, president of the Delhi Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee, had become close to Mrs Gandhi during the days of the Janata government. Later, he became the boss of Sikh politics in Delhi. Gianiji had cleverly worked out Mrs Gandhi’s blessings for Santokh Singh in his activities, including maintaining links with Bhindranwale.

In September 1981, Bhindranwale was accused of instigating the murder of Congress leader Jagat Narain. But thanks to his ties with Darbara Singh, he was allowed to drive through the entire state and reach Mehta Chowk, about 40 km east of Amritsar, when he was to be arrested on 20 September. The issue of an arrest warrant for him was even broadcast on radio. The police officers who were to arrest him had instructions to let him reach Mehta Chowk Gurdwara safely.

In my note of 9 October 1981, I cautioned the prime minister about loose talk in the Akali leadership that the Centre was using Bhindranwale to cut Gurcharan Singh Tohra, president of the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee, and Sant Harchand Singh Longowal, president of the Akali Dal, down to size through the intermediary role of Santokh Singh. I said that Bhindranwale should be left alone to be tackled by the Akalis themselves, and that he would find his own level in about six months. I added that encouragement from outside would only help enhance his aura of glory.

In September 1981, Sant Longowal sent a list of forty-five demands to the PM to address the grievances of Sikhs. When the Akali demands came up for discussion at various levels at the Centre, I cautioned the PM that while the negotiations were on with the Akalis, it would be essential to ensure that there was no sabotage or misinterpretation in any quarter, and that the spokesmen should be specified and designated while unauthorized people should be kept out and not allowed to meddle in the matter. I was clearly hinting that Darbara Singh and Gianiji should be restrained and not allowed to bring in their personal politics and thereby sabotage the negotiations.

While Bhindranwale was held in custody, sporadic fights erupted in areas where his accomplices had gathered. He was released on bail on 15 October, Gianiji announcing in Parliament that there was no evidence against him. He left prison as a hero. Early 1982 onwards, Bhindranwale started sending feelers to the PM and Rajiv Gandhi, who had got involved in politics following Sanjay Gandhi’s death in 1980, asking to be invited for negotiations on Punjab affairs. A Punjab MP, who later became a general secretary of the All India Congress Committee (AICC) and subsequently a minister at the Centre, advocated a meeting between Bhindranwale and the PM.

In a note dated 9 March 1982, I warned that any such opportunity afforded to Bhindranwale might prove disastrous. A link-up with him was advocated by some Congressmen as they thought it would help split the Akali leadership.

A plan was worked out to arrest Bhindranwale in May 1982 when he was on a visit to Mumbai. The Punjab police had made out a case over his rabid pronouncements and taken out an arrest warrant against him. This was flown through a special messenger to Delhi and onwards to Mumbai. Meanwhile, a special cell was created in the home ministry on 1 May 1982 under my supervision as DIB.

The idea was to arrest Bhindranwale on his way by road from Mumbai to Mehta Chowk, somewhere between Nashik in Maharashtra and the Madhya Pradesh border. The Special Frontier Force (SFF) was brought in since it had special weaponry and it was anticipated that Bhindranwale would not meekly give in but open fire against the police. However, information on the issue of an arrest warrant against him reached him in Mumbai, and he boldly challenged the Punjab police to come and get him.

On 4 May 1982, I met Home Minister Gianiji, Home Secretary T.N. Chaturvedi, Cabinet Secretary C.R. Krishnaswamy Rao and Principal Secretary to the PM Dr P.C. Alexander, and told them that the plan to apprehend Bhindranwale on his return trip might become infructuous since he was already aware of the issue of the arrest warrant and the arrival of Punjab police officers in Mumbai. It was agreed at all levels that his arrest should be made in Mumbai itself, on his way from the gurdwara where he was staying to another where he was slated to appear the next day.

Gianiji was to go to the PM to get her formal approval. Soon after, Alexander sent for me and N.F. Suntook of R&AW and discussed the danger of civilian causalities in the event of a shootout between the SFF and Bhindranwale’s armed followers. While I said that the risk was there and had to be taken, Alexander said that civilian causalities in a shootout with Bhindranwale’s men might create an adverse situation and lead to criticism. He then directed that the plan to arrest him in Mumbai should be given up and the original plan to arrest him during his return trip by car a few days later should stand.

I was not sure if this was Alexander’s personal opinion or a decision taken by the PM after Gianiji met her, and whether the civilian casualty angle was Gianiji’s or Mrs Gandhi’s.

However, Bhindranwale was not prepared to oblige the Centre and its plans. He quietly travelled in one of the numerous trucks plying between Maharashtra and Punjab round the clock and surfaced at Mehta Chowk on 9 May.

There was consternation all around, accompanied by a witch-hunt. Full details of the IB staff posted to watch where Bhindranwale was staying were asked for, and I was told to initiate proceedings against the officers concerned. I had to point out that it was not correct to penalize the IB staff as these were insuperable difficulties in maintaining an effective watch over Bhindranwale. Alexander agreed with me and cancelled the instructions about taking punitive action.

A story surfaced soon after that it was Gianiji who had tipped off Bhindranwale in Mumbai and asked him to escape. Darbara Singh and some of his friends in the AICC and the PM’s house were quite sure of this. However, this was at best only a speculation.

After Gianiji moved to the Rashtrapati Bhavan from the home ministry in July 1982, one would have thought that the feud between him and Darbara Singh would taper off. Instead, it acquired a new edge, with more rumours and allegations. On 17 October 1982, an aide to the PM asked me to verify the report that Gianiji had sent word to Akali leaders not to suspend their civil disobedience campaign till Darbara Singh was thrown out. When I asked for some specific details, he said that I might come to his room and talk to the person concerned. I found a well-known senior official from the ministry of external affairs sitting there. According to him, the information was given to him by a close relative serving in Punjab. A couple of responsible officers were sent to contact this relative and his informants, and it was found that it was nothing more than a rumour.

I once put forth to Mrs Gandhi the idea of an Akali-Congress coalition government in Punjab as the only way to bring about lasting peace there. I first made this suggestion at a core group meeting held in the cabinet secretary’s room on 10 May 1982. In July 1982, Gianiji was elected president, and the home ministry was tentatively assigned to R. Venkataraman, the defence minister. Later, P.C. Sethi was appointed home minister on 2 September 1982, but by then the Punjab affairs had been effectively taken out of the home ministry’s jurisdiction and were being dealt with by the PM’s office. The cabinet secretary and the home secretary were associated, but substantial discussions took place at 1, Akbar Road, the official wing of the PM’s house, and sometimes at the residence of P.C. Alexander.

The situation in Punjab was becoming more and more explosive, with Longowal giving a call to ex-servicemen to assemble in Amritsar on 23 December. Bhindranwale’s attempts to sabotage the Asian Games in Delhi that month was backed by Longowal himself in a bid to internationalize the issue in the presence of foreigners. It was feared that a civil war-like situation was emerging. The Akali negotiating team weighed heavily in favour of extremists, and Bhindranwale was also its co-opted member. I wanted to get a correct assessment of the situation and hence worked out a meeting with a senior functionary of the Akali Dal. I asked him to clarify what direction the Akali Dal was taking.

The functionary replied that they saw no alternative except to intensify the agitation as the Centre would not otherwise bother about the Akalis. He conceded that they wanted to force the Centre’s hand and get the government to negotiate seriously with the Akalis. He went on to say that Darbara Singh would not be able to provide peace and normalcy and he should therefore go, that the chief minister of Punjab should be from the Akali Dal and that they were prepared to have a coalition government with the Congress.

He was asked to clarify why the Congress should direct its own chief minister to resign and opt for a coalition with an Akali chief minister. He replied that if Mrs Gandhi could ask its chief minister in Kashmir, Syed Mir Qasim, to step down and reach an accord with Sheikh Abdullah of the National Conference a decade ago for bringing about peace in that state, it could be done in Punjab as well. In a coalition government in Punjab led by an Akali chief minister, Bhindranwale would be made a political non-entity in no time.

The Akali functionary went on to say that Sikh leaders in the Congress, including Gianiji, Darbara Singh and Buta Singh, Union minister of parliamentary affairs, were all responsible for the present situation in Punjab. He added that if a commission was appointed to look into the various allegations, it would be proved that Gianiji was encouraging extremists, including Bhindranwale. He strongly advised that the three Sikh leaders of the Congress should be kept out of negotiations, and the negotiating team should be led by either Swaran Singh, another senior leader, or Rajiv Gandhi.

The details of discussions with the Akali Dal functionary were narrated in a four-page note and given to the prime minister the next day. She questioned me closely and asked me how sincere the functionary was. I told her that my impression was that he was serious and appeared sincere in his suggestion that a coalition government, with an Akali Dal chief minister, would succeed in bringing peace to Punjab. I cautioned her against mentioning any of this to Gianiji or Darbara Singh and said that she should take an independent view on the Akali spokesman’s plea.

Unfortunately, Mrs Gandhi did not react favourably. I strongly feel that if a settlement had taken place with the Akalis on the lines of the proposal of the functionary, the history of Punjab and India would have been different.

The intensity of the agitation in Punjab increased. On 11 October 1982, the Akalis brought the agitation to Delhi. A serious riot took place near Parliament House, resulting in police firing and four deaths. After the ex-servicemen’s convention called by the Akalis at Amritsar on 23 December, Major General Subeg Singh (retd) became the principal organizer of the ex-servicemen, and training programmes were organized at select places.

On 4 April 1983, the Akalis blocked roads in two towns of Punjab. This led to clashes between the CRPF and Akali activists, resulting in eleven deaths. A call was given for raising a one lakh-strong volunteer force and a do-or-die oath was to be taken at the Akal Takht, located in the Golden Temple complex in Amritsar, on 14 April, the day of Baisakhi, which holds special significance for Sikhs. Longowal himself came out with a statement that the deaths of 4 April would be avenged. On the night of 6 April, an armoury in Ferozepur was raided by Akali extremists, and fourteen sten-guns and twenty-eight rifles were taken away. On 23 April, the Punjab DIG, A.S. Atwal, was shot dead as he left the Golden Temple. The following day, Longowal confirmed the involvement of Bhindranwale in the murder.

The steady escalation of violence, highlighted by the massacre of six Hindu bus passengers in October 1983, led to the imposition of President’s Rule and the exit of Chief Minister Darbara Singh. Thereafter Punjab became the direct responsibility of the Centre – which in fact meant the prime minister, a few officials like the principal secretary to the PM, Rajiv Gandhi, the cabinet secretary and the home secretary, assisted by their deputies. The prime minister would not reveal her mind but would hear out everyone.

At this stage, Arun Singh, minister of state for defence in Rajiv Gandhi’s government, and K. Sankaran Nair of R&AW were brought in by Kao to take a hand in Punjab politics. Earlier these two had a meeting with Rajiv Gandhi, and they were reportedly briefed to use their own contacts and links to find out if the Akalis could be brought around. I was asked to give the necessary institutional help by providing officers and men as well as funds. However, I frankly pointed out the utter futility of such operations being entrusted to people who did not have first-hand knowledge of Punjab affairs.

On 17 May 1983, I met the PM at her residence in the evening and told her that people felt the government was dragging its feet on a settlement in Punjab and they suspected the PM wanted to polarize the communities in the state. She remained silent when I made this remark, whereas she was communicative when I touched upon some other subjects.

On 29 May, Mrs Gandhi made a day’s visit to the towns of Nabha, Ludhiana and Gurdaspur, addressing public meetings and meeting several people. I accompanied her in view of the explosive situation prevailing in Punjab as I wanted to personally ensure that everything went off all right. This was to be her last visit to Punjab. She left on a foreign tour on 8 June. In her absence, discussions took place at 1, Akbar Road, with Rajiv Gandhi ‘officiating unofficially’ in the PM’s absence.

On certain issues, the PM’s reaction was to be sought. Kao produced a new gadget, which, he assured, would ensure total secrecy of communication. He fiddled with it for a few minutes and then called his technical staff who were waiting outside. They fiddled a little more, but the instrument remained uncooperative, and no talk with Mrs Gandhi could be possible.

On 1 August 1983, I handed over my charge as DIB to R.K. Kapoor. However, during my periodical visits to Delhi to meet the PM, ministers and officials, I was asked about my views on the various developments in respect of Punjab and other matters. On one such visit early in 1984, Rajiv Gandhi asked me at the prime minister’s house if it would be worthwhile to negotiate with Bhindranwale. I told him in no uncertain terms that inviting him for negotiations would be tantamount to laying the foundation stone of Khalistan, the separate sovereign state for Sikhs that was demanded by the insurgents, and that the thought should be simply put away.

Again on 5 April 1984, Rajiv Gandhi asked me whether he, if not Mrs Gandhi, should meet Bhindranwale as he promised prospects of a settlement. I reiterated my total opposition to any such move and advised him against it. During the same visit to Delhi, I had long sessions with Alexander and Krishnaswamy Rao on various matters, but the prime topic was Punjab. I found Alexander tired and weak, and he said he was suffering from lack of sleep. Both had come to the conclusion that there was no hope of restoring a semblance of order in Punjab except by paramilitary or military forces entering the Golden Temple, where the insurgents had taken up sanctuary, to tackle them.

I met the PM on 27 May and was asked for my views on the Punjab situation. I could sense that action in Punjab was imminent. I was asked for a note, which I handed over to the PM the next day. I said that entry into the Golden Temple to flush out the insurgents would have wide ramifications and might lead to violence in Punjab and Haryana and even in Delhi, and that our missions abroad might be targeted. There might be repercussions in some Sikh-dominated army units as well as Punjab police units, particularly those of the Punjab armed police units. I said India would face the biggest law and order problem since Partition. I suggested that before the Centre took such a step, the leaders of opposition parties and major regional parities might be invited and apprised of the grave situation and the need to take determined action. I said these parties required to be convinced that the government’s stern measures had no other choice.

I added that entry into the Golden Temple might result in storming the Akal Takht, since Bhindranwale had already taken refuge there and he had said he would never be captured alive. This would be sacrilegious and would offend the religious sentiments of the Sikh community, including ‘some of the very highly placed VIPs’, and it had to be ensured that there was no serious embarrassment. This was a hint regarding Gianiji’s possible reaction and the need to take steps to assuage his feelings. I also suggested imposition of censorship in Punjab as well as debarring foreign correspondents from entering the state. I later learnt that this note was circulated to members of the cabinet committee on political affairs, which met the next day to discuss it.

On 3 June 1984, the government launched Operation Blue Star to eliminate Bhindranwale and his followers, who were armed with light machine guns and semi-automatic rifles, from the holy precincts of the Golden Temple. By this time, the Akali Dal had abandoned Bhindranwale. Lt Gen. Kuldip Singh Brar had command of action. A thirty-six-hour curfew was imposed on Punjab, with all methods of communication and public travel suspended. Electricity supply was also interrupted, creating a total blackout and cutting off the state from the rest of the world. Complete media censorship was enforced.

The army stormed the Golden Temple on the night of 5 June. The operation was carried out using tanks, artillery, helicopters, armoured vehicles and tear gas. The forces had full control of the complex by the morning of 7 June. Bhindranwale and his men were killed. Casualty figures put the number of deaths among the Indian army at eighty-three and injuries at 220. According to the official estimate presented by the Indian government, 492 civilians were killed. The military action led to an uproar amongst Sikhs worldwide. Many Sikh soldiers in the Indian army mutinied, many Sikhs resigned from armed and civil administrative office and several returned awards and honours they had received from the Indian government.

In the aftermath of Operation Blue Star, it was decided to transfer Mrs Gandhi’s Sikh bodyguards to other duties that did not require close contact with her. But when this came to her attention, she was unhappy with the arrangement. The Sikh security personnel who had been transferred away were posted back to their original positions.

On 30 October 1984, while on a tour of Orissa, she famously said: ‘I am alive today, I may not be there tomorrow … I shall continue to serve until my last breath, and when I die I can say that every drop of my blood will invigorate India and strengthen it.’

The next morning, she was back at her Safdarjung Road residence. She was scheduled to be interviewed by renowned British actor-director Peter Ustinov. Around 9 a.m., Mrs Gandhi, clad in a bright orange sari, descended the stairs from the front door of her residence and stepped onto the pathway that led through a garden. As she approached a wicket gate on the way, she saw two of her Sikh bodyguards: Sub-Inspector Beant Singh Brar and Constable Satwant Singh. She greeted them, and then, without warning, Beant Singh drew his .38 side-arm revolver and fired into her abdomen. Satwant Singh aimed his sten-gun at her body and emptied his entire magazine.

On hearing the commotion, other security guards rushed to the scene, killing Beant Singh and wounding Satwant Singh. During his interrogation, the latter named a co-conspirator by the name of Kehar Singh. Both of them were hanged in Delhi’s Tihar jail five years later.

At the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, a post-mortem revealed that Mrs Gandhi had sustained as many as thirty bullet wounds. The assailants had fired thirty-one bullets at her, of which thirty had hit; twenty-three had passed through her body while seven were trapped inside her. She was declared dead around 2.30 p.m.

On receiving news of her assassination, I flew back to Itanagar at 4 p.m. The same evening, Rajiv Gandhi was sworn in as the new prime minister, and I saw the telecast on TV. I reached Delhi on 1 November and went to Teen Murti House, the former residence of Jawaharlal Nehru, where her body was laid, to pay my homage and place a wreath. Indira Gandhi’s face in death looked serene.

I returned to Itanagar on 6 November, carrying an urn containing a part of her ashes. Most of the tribals of the north-east had a special affection for Mrs Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, and I could see genuine sorrow and grief on the faces of many people.

On 5 December, Rajiv Gandhi made a day’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh during his election tour and addressed public meetings. Before leaving for Nagaland, he took me aside and said that certain steps had to be taken for toning up various things in the administration and my services might be required in this connection. Later in the day, soon after I returned to Itanagar, Alexander rang me up from Delhi, saying that the prime minister had set up a committee, that it was to meet quickly and suggest ways and means for reorganizing administration, police and intelligence, and that I was to be part of it.

The meetings of this group called the Administrative Reforms Group (ARG) took place at 10 Janpath, which was then the residence of L.K. Jha, the head of the committee, and later became the residence of Rajiv and Sonia Gandhi in 1990. Prior to the first meeting, we were given the broad outlines of our tasks by Dr Alexander in his room, with Cabinet Secretary Krishnaswamy Rao being present.

The ARG met on 11, 12 and 15 December. Our recommendations pertained to the sprucing up of administration, the need for training courses for administrators at various levels, toning up the police and intelligence machinery, and so on. The more important points of our recommendations were incorporated in Rajiv Gandhi’s inaugural broadcast to the nation a few days later.

Assembly elections for Arunachal Pradesh were held along with the Lok Sabha elections as they were due at the same time. The Congress emerged victorious with an overwhelming majority in the thirty-member assembly, and Gegong Apang was sworn in as chief minister on 7 January 1985.

Buy T.V. Rajeswar’s insightful book about at a key period — the 1970s and ’80s — in independent India’s history informed by the six decades he spent in the thick of affairs of national importance here.

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The Goddess: A Short Story by Prabhat Kumar Mukhopadhyay from ’14 Stories That Inspired Satyajit Ray’

The long February night refused to let the dawn break. Umaprasad woke up. He looked for his wife under the quilt, but couldn’t find her. His searching hand finally located his sixteen-year old wife curled up in one corner of the bed outside the warmth of the quilt. He slowly shifted towards his sleeping wife and carefully put the quilt back on her, stretching his hand towards her legs to ensure they were fully covered too.

Umaprasad was in his twenties. He had recently mastered Sanskrit and was now turning his attention towards Persian. His mother had passed away, and his father was an erudite man and an extremely pious devotee of Goddess Kali. He was, at the same time, the highly respected zamindar of the village. Many believed that Umaprasad’s father Kalikinkar Ray was a spiritually enlightened man, personally blessed by Kali herself. Every villager, irrespective of age, revered him as much as they revered their gods.

Umaprasad had only recently begun to enjoy the heady romance of newly married life, though he had been married for as many as five or six years; it was only since a short time ago that he had had the pleasure of his wife’s intimate company. Dayamoyee was her name.

Umaprasad put his hand lightly on his wife’s waist, only to find it had turned cold. Very carefully, he kissed her face lightly.

Immediately, the pace of her breathing changed. Umaprasad realized his wife was now awake. He softly called her name, ‘Daya?’

Daya said, in a long-drawn and loving intonation, ‘What?’

‘Are you awake?’

Daya gulped and said, ‘No, I’m sleeping.’

Umaprasad fondly drew his wife close to his chest and said, ‘Oh you are sleeping, are you? I wonder who responded just now?’

Daya immediately realized her mistake. She said, ‘I was sleeping earlier. And then I woke up.’

Umaprasad asked in a naughty voice, ‘When did you wake up?’

‘When do you think? Right then…’

‘When exactly?’

‘I don’t know.’ Daya tried in vain to wriggle out of her husband’s warm embrace.

For some time, Daya’s shyness wouldn’t let her say when exactly she woke up. But Umaprasad wouldn’t accept anything but a direct answer. After a few moments, she gave up and said, ‘Right then, when you—’ and stopped short.

‘When I—what?’

‘When you kissed me. Happy now? Uff…’

There were still a few hours left for dawn’s faint light to start creeping in. The couple began to talk. Much of the conversation didn’t make any sense at all, as is often the case with conversations between lovers. It’s interesting to note that hundreds of years ago, even our ancestors’ ancestors, in the prime of their youth, were as restless and as fickle in romance as we are today. Despite coming from a family with its roots so deeply entrenched in religion and philosophy, the young Umaprasad had not, even once, mentioned matters of either to his young wife.

The sweet nothings went on for some time. Then Umaprasad said, ‘I’m going to the west to take up a job.’

Daya said, ‘Why do you need to get a job? You don’t have any problems. I’ve never heard a zamindar’s son working at a job.’

‘I do have problems.’

‘What problems?’

‘If you could’ve understood my problems, they wouldn’t have been problems in the first place.’

Daya was perplexed. She tried to think, but couldn’t figure what problems her husband could be talking about.

She said in a naughty tone, ‘Are you troubled because your wife is not up to your expectations?’

Daya knew very well her remark would upset her husband. As expected, Umaprasad planted a torrent of kisses on her face to take revenge.

‘I do have a worry—and it’s about you too. I don’t get to see you during the day. Being with you in the night doesn’t suffice for me. I’ll take up a job in a foreign land where it’ll be just you and me all day and all night long.’

‘If you take up a job, how do you expect to be with me during the day? You’ll have to leave me at home to go to work.’

‘I’ll go to work, but return really early.’

Daya thought this might be possible. But there were so many hurdles on the way!

‘They won’t let me go with you.’

‘I’m not going to take you from here. When you go to visit your parents, I’ll come and we’ll elope from there.’

Daya laughed. It was a funny idea.

‘And how long would we live there?’

‘Several years.’

Daya was smiling, but she suddenly remembered something.

‘I don’t think I’d be able to stay away from Khoka for several years.’

Umaprasad put his cheek on his wife’s and whispered into her ears, ‘So why don’t you make a Khoka for yourself?’

This made Daya blush, but thanks to the darkness in the room, it went unnoticed by her husband.

Khoka was none other than the only son of Umaprasad’s elder brother Taraprasad. For several years, being the youngest in the family, Umaprasad had been the recipient of everyone’s love. After he grew up, for a very long period of time, there was no child in the house. Naturally, Khoka was now the apple of everyone’s eyes. Khoka’s mother Harasundari was proud of her son.

Daya said, ‘I wonder why Khoka hasn’t come to me yet today?’

Early every morning, Khoka came to his loving aunt. This was his daily routine. Though there was no dearth of servants in the household, Daya did most of the daily chores herself. The arrangements of her father-in-law’s daily worship and offerings especially were exclusively under her control. But, despite her busy schedule during the day, she wouldn’t let Khoka out of her sight even for a minute. Khoka too wouldn’t let anyone else other than his aunt dry his hair after his bath, or smear kohl in his eyes. He refused to finish his milk unless his aunt held the glass to his lips. Dayamoyee stayed on in his room till late at night to put him to sleep, but early in the morning, Khoka would wake up and start crying, demanding to be taken to his adored aunt. Often, Khoka got a slap or two from his mother because of such unreasonable demands, but needless to say, his demands became more strident after such punishment. Then, in a daze of frustration and slumber, Harasundari would carry Khoka to Daya’s room and leave him outside her door, saying, ‘Daya, here’s your Khoka.’ On most days, knowing the routine well, Daya was up in her bed, and would come running to open the door and receive the weeping child into her arms. She then gave Khoka some sweets, after gleefully devouring which he peacefully fell asleep in his aunt’s lap.

But today, Khoka hadn’t come yet, and Daya was worried. ‘I hope the poor child is all right,’ she said to Umaprasad.

Umaprasad said, ‘I think it’s still quite early. Let me check.’

Umaprasad got up and opened the window. Outside, there was a huge orchard, full of mango and coconut trees. The moon had not set yet but soon would. Daya came and stood by her husband, and said, ‘It’s not too long before dawn now.’

The cold, wintry breeze blew in through the open window. The young man and his beautiful wife stood there for several minutes, staring at each other in the soft moonlight.

Daya said, ‘I’m a little upset. Khoka hasn’t come yet.’

Umaprasad said, ‘It’s not time for him to come yet. He’s probably sleeping. I know why you are upset.’


‘Because I said I would go to the west. That’s why.’ Umaprasad drew his wife closer.

Daya sighed and said softly, ‘I don’t know what to think. Why do I feel I won’t be able to see you again?’

Outside, the moonlight was slowly fading away. His wife’s words made the colour in Umaprasad’s cheeks fade away too.

They stood there for quite some time. In time, the moon set, leaving the trees and plants in cold darkness. The couple returned to their bed.

After sometime, the chirping of birds was heard. Umaprasad and Daya fell asleep in each other’s arms.

Gradually, the gentle rays of the sun found their way into the room through the small holes in the windows. The couple were still fast asleep.

Suddenly, Umaprasad’s father called him from outside the door: ‘Uma!’

Daya was the first to wake up. She nudged her husband.

Kalikinkar called again: ‘Uma’. His voice was trembling, so much so that it was difficult to recognize it as his.

Umaprasad knew that his father usually didn’t call him at such an hour. And why was his voice trembling? Umaprasad quickly opened the door.

Kalikinkar was dressed in the red robe he wore during his daily worship. Why was he dressed so at such an early hour? On other days, he would not don this attire until he had had his daily bath in the river.

As soon as the door opened, Kalikinkar asked his son, ‘Uma, where’s my daughter-in-law?’

There was an unmistakable quiver in his tone. Umaprasad looked into the room. Daya had left the bed and stood at a distance from the door.

Kalikinkar had seen her too. He walked into the room and went straight to his daughter-in-law. He then prostrated himself before her.

Umaprasad was dumbfounded. Dayamoyee was equally shocked at such strange behaviour from her revered father-in-law.

After offering his pranaam, Kalikinkar put his palms together and said, ‘Ma, today I feel truly gratified. But why hadn’t you told me so far, Ma?’

Umaprasad exclaimed, ‘Baba!’

Kalikinkar said, ‘Son, bow your head before her and touch her feet.’

Umaprasad said, ‘Baba, are you insane? What are you saying?’

‘No, son, I’m not insane. I used to be insanely blind, but today I have seen the light, thanks to her.’

Umaprasad had no idea what his father was saying. He asked, ‘Baba, what are you talking about?’

Kalikinkar said, ‘Uma, I’m truly fortunate. Our family has been blessed by divine grace today. As a child, I had been initiated to worship Kali, and all those years of worship and devotion have paid off today. The holy mother, Kali, the goddess herself, has descended to my household in the mortal form of my daughter-in-law. Last night, the Mother herself sent me a message in my dream. I’m truly blessed, son.’

In a matter of moments, the flesh-and-blood Dayamoyee was branded as the goddess.

'Devi', the film that was inspired by Prabhat Kumar Mukhopadhyay's short story
‘Devi’, the film that was inspired by Prabhat Kumar Mukhopadhyay’s short story

In the next three days, the word spread far and wide. Hundreds of devotees travelled great distances from other villages for a glimpse of the goddess who had been installed in the household of the famed zamindar, Kalikinkar Ray.

Dayamoyee was literally worshipped, with all the rituals a rich zamindar usually employed to offer homage to his deity. Incense sticks were burned, flowers and fruits offered and several lambs sacrificed right in front of her.

The sudden, shocking attention paid to her all day long made Dayamoyee weep constantly. She hardly ate or slept. She was in such a state of fear and shock that she had completely forgotten the prevalent decorum of covering her head and face in front of men. All day long, she simply stared at unknown faces with expressionless eyes. She hardly spoke, and when she did, she mumbled. Her bloodshot eyes had swollen from all the crying, and her clothes were in disarray.

In the dead of the night, a small lamp burned dimly in a corner of the prayer room. On a thick mattress covered with a silk cloth lay Dayamoyee, her body covered with a blanket. The door wasn’t latched, and opening it softly, Umaprasad crept into the room, his manner suggestive of a thief’s. Once inside, he locked the door.

Umaprasad came and sat by his wife’s bed. He was meeting her for the first time in three days. Dayamoyee was awake. On seeing her husband, she sat up on the bed.

Umaprasad said, ‘Daya, what has happened to you?’

Aah! After three long days, those fond words from her husband shattered her trance-like state, and the sixteen-year-old girl hid her face in her husband’s chest.

Umaprasad repeated in an anguished tone, ‘Daya, what has happened to you?’

But Dayamoyee was silent.

After a few moments, Umaprasad asked his wife, ‘Daya, do you think this is true? Are you not my Daya, are you truly the goddess?’

Daya finally spoke, ‘No, I’m nothing but your wife. I’m nothing but Daya. I’m not a goddess, I’m not Kali.’

Umaprasad kissed his wife and said, ‘If that is the truth, then let us escape from here. We’ll go and live in some faraway place, where no one will be able to find us.’

Daya said, ‘Yes, let’s go. But how do we go?’

‘I’ll arrange everything. I’ll need some time, though.’

‘When? When will we go? Let’s run away soon—or I won’t survive. Even if I don’t die, I’ll surely go mad.’

‘Don’t worry, Daya. Give me seven days. Today is Saturday. I’ll come visit you next Saturday, and we’ll leave this house forever. You have to be strong over the next seven days—please, my love.’

‘All right.’

Umaprasad said, ‘I’ll leave now. Someone might see us.’ He embraced his beloved wife and disappeared into the darkness outside.

The next morning, as the rituals of Dayamoyee’s worship were coming to an end, an elderly man, about eighty years of age, walked up to the prayer room. Copious tears fell from his old eyes. Prostrating himself in front of Dayamoyee’s temple, he said, ‘Ma, I’ve worshipped you all my life. I’m in trouble today, Ma. Please have mercy on this devotee.’

Dayamoyee blankly stared at the old man. The priest said, ‘Why, brother, what’s troubling you?’

The old man said, ‘My grandson has been suffering from high fever for the last few days. The doctor gave up this morning. If my grandson dies, I’ll have no posterity left. I seek Ma’s mercy on my grandson’s life. I beg of her.’

Kalikinkar, who was chanting mantras, was visibly moved at the old man’s pleas. He turned to Dayamoyee and said, ‘Ma! You have to save the old man’s grandson.’ He then turned to the old man and said, ‘Bring your grandson and leave him at the Holy Mother’s feet. Even death can’t cross the doorstep of this room.’

On hearing this, the old man looked as though a weight had fallen off his shoulder. He leaned on his walking stick and hurried home.

After some time, the old man returned with his widowed daughter-in-law, who was carrying the sick child. The dying child was laid near Dayamoyee’s feet. Every now and then, the priest would pour some charanamrita between the child’s quivering lips from a vessel.

The child’s mother was a young widow, roughly the same age as Dayamoyee. The pain and grief on her face aroused a strong sense of sympathy for her in Dayamoyee. She turned towards the unconscious child, and her eyes welled up with tears. In her mind, with all earnestness, she started praying, ‘Oh God, I don’t know who I am—a goddess, a mortal woman, Kali, or Daya—but whoever I may be, please save this poor child.’

On seeing tears in Dayamoyee’s eyes, everyone present began to say in unison, ‘Ma has had mercy on the child; she is weeping. Hail the merciful Mother. Hail Ma Kali.’

Kalikinkar continued to chant his mantras with renewed enthusiasm. As the day progressed, the sick child’s condition gradually improved. As dusk began to fall, the people there said the child was now out of danger, and could be taken home.

The news of Dayamoyee snatching a child back from the jaws of death travelled far and wide, even more swiftly than that of her being the goddess incarnate. The very next morning, another villager approached her to save his daughter who had been in labour for the last three days and was close to death.

Kalikinkar said, ‘That’s not a problem at all. Take some charanamrita from Ma’s feet and feed it to your pregnant daughter. She’ll be fine.’

Carrying the charanamrita vessel on his head in a gesture of respect, the teary-eyed devotee went home. After a few hours, news came. Apparently, within a few minutes of her being fed the divine medicine, the devotee’s daughter safely delivered a beautiful and healthy baby boy.

Saturday came. Tonight, Umaprasad would escape with his wife. He had made all the necessary arrangements. He had collected some money. He wouldn’t make the mistake of fleeing to Murshidabad, Rajmahal, Burdwan or any such large neighbouring town, for enquiries would certainly be made in such places. He would rather take the boat—and go westwards. Where? He hadn’t decided yet—either Bhagalpur or Munger. He’d have to look for a job there. He had enough money to take care of the travelling expenses. His wife’s ornaments, if sold, would fetch enough money to last them around two years. Wouldn’t he be able to secure a job in two years? Of course he would. Nothing was impossible.

Umaprasad spent the day juggling such thoughts in his mind. That evening he planned to watch the worship of his wife by devotees. He hadn’t yet witnessed these evening rituals. When the conches started to blow, he always walked away from the house towards the very edge of the village. This evening was the last worship of the mistaken deity. This evening, he would watch it from a distance, with nothing but contempt. Umaprasad tried to imagine the expression on the priest’s face the next morning when he would find out that the goddess had vanished.

When the night fell and the household was fast asleep, Umaprasad left his room as stealthily as a burglar, and cautiously moved towards the prayer room. He softly opened the door and entered the room. The lamp was burning in one corner. Umaprasad went up to Dayamoyee’s bed and found her sleeping. He lightly kissed his wife and tried to wake her up. Dayamoyee sat up in her bed.

Umaprasad said, ‘Daya, get ready, we have to go.’

Looking surprised, Daya asked, ‘Where?’

‘Where! We are leaving in another minute, and you’re asking me where? We’re taking a boat to the western states.’

Daya sat in silence, thinking. Umaprasad said, ‘Come on, hurry up. This is not the time to sit and think. I’ve made all arrangements. Come on now.’ He held his wife by her hand and tried to pull her up from the bed.

Suddenly, Daya wrenched her hand free from her husband’s grip and said, ‘Don’t touch me as you’d touch your wife. Am I your wife? Or am I really the goddess? I’m not sure any more.’

Umaprasad laughed, and tried to draw his wife close in order to kiss her. But Daya shifted uncomfortably to a distance and said, ‘No, I can’t do this. Who knows what curse may come upon you?’

Umaprasad was shocked. He said, ‘Daya, have you gone crazy too?’

Daya said, ‘How do you explain so many people getting cured? Hundreds of devotees come to catch a glimpse of me every day. Is everyone insane?’

Umaprasad tried his best to reason with his wife. He pleaded with her and beseeched her. But Daya continued to say the same thing over and over again, ‘I can’t see any harm coming your way. Perhaps I’m not your wife. What if I really am a goddess?’

Finally, Umaprasad said, ‘Had you really been a goddess, you wouldn’t have been so hard-hearted. I’ve been pleading with you for so long—if that hasn’t melted your heart, what will?’

Bursting into tears, Dayamoyee said, ‘Dear one, don’t you understand why I’m saying this?’

After some more pleading, Umaprasad managed to convince his petrified wife to come along with him. It was a short walk to the riverbank where a boat was waiting for them. But after walking some distance, Dayamoyee came to a sudden halt and said in a confident tone, ‘I won’t go.’

Umaprasad tried to reason with her again, but she said, ‘If I’m really a goddess, why don’t we stay back here and accept the devotion of these people? Why do we need to escape? How can we break the hearts of so many people? I won’t run away, let’s go back.’

Umaprasad had reached the limit of his patience, and said in an anguished tone, ‘I’m not going back. If you want to go back, you’ll have to go back alone.’

Daya said, ‘So be it.’

Both the lovers were so upset—one at the prospect of leaving thousands of people in a state of despair and hopelessness, the other at his beloved spouse’s intractability—that they walked away from each other, both disappearing into the darkness.

There was just one more person in the household other than Umaprasad who did not believe Dayamoyee to be the incarnation of Kali. This person was Harasundari, Khoka’s mother. Towards the beginning, Dayamoyee would go to her and weep. Harasundari would console her, saying, ‘Don’t cry, sister, too much piety at this age has made Khoka’s grandfather blind to reality. He has gone insane.’

Two weeks had gone by since that fateful night. In the third week, Khoka got a high fever. With every passing day, the condition of the child continued to deteriorate.

The doctor came, but Kalikinkar sent him back. He said, ‘The Holy Mother herself resides in my house. She has cured dozens of terminal diseases. We don’t need a doctor.’

Harasundari pleaded with her husband Taraprasad, ‘Please take our son to a doctor or he won’t survive. Daya won’t be able to cure him.’

Taraprasad was extremely devoted to his father. His father’s ideals and beliefs, and the goddess’s blessings were paramount to him. He told his wife, ‘Don’t say such things, or Khoka will earn the wrath of the Mother. I’m confident that she’ll cure him.’

But because of the repeated pleadings of Khoka’s mother, Kalikinkar once asked Daya in all humility, ‘Ma, do we need to call a doctor to treat Khoka?’

Daya said, ‘No, I’ll cure him myself.’

Kalikinkar was relieved, as was Taraprasad.

One day, Harasundari sent one of her maids to the doctor’s house with a detailed description of the symptoms of Khoka’s disease and a request for medicine. The doctor bit his tongue, touched his ears and said to the maid, ‘When the goddess herself has pronounced that she will cure the child, who am I to interfere?’

Gradually, a stage came when Harasundari pleaded with whoever she met, ‘Please give me some medicine. My son is going to die.’ But everyone’s response remained: ‘You shouldn’t say such things. Why are you worried? The merciful goddess herself is about to cure your child.’

Khoka’s condition worsened, and he lapsed into a constant state of delirium. Dayamoyee said, ‘Bring Khoka to me.’

Dayamoyee sat through the day with Khoka in her lap. The sick child seemed to get some relief. But towards the night, his condition became very serious.

With all her heart, Dayamoyee blessed the child she doted on, showering all her love on him, holding him to her chest throughout the night. But that very night, Khoka died in Dayamoyee’s arms.

Taraprasad was the first to confront Dayamoyee. He said, ‘You wretched demon! You had to devour my son, didn’t you? You just couldn’t let go of him.’

Harasundari was shell-shocked. When she came to her senses, the only thing she told Dayamoyee was: ‘You’re no goddess—you’re a witch, nothing but a child-eating witch! You’ve devoured my Khoka.’

Kalikinkar came to Dayamoyee with tears in his eyes, and said, ‘Ma, please bring our Khoka back to us. His body has not begun to decompose yet. Please bring him back, Ma.’

Dayamoyee wept. Alone in the prayer room, with the corpse of the child in front of her, she first angrily ordered the god of death to restore the child’s life to his body. When that didn’t work, she pleaded with the god of death, but the pleas of even the most powerful goddess in the universe did not bring the dead back to life.

At the end, Khoka’s body was taken away. That day, no worship was offered to her. No devotees came to catch a glimpse of her, or to pay her homage. Dayamoyee sat in the prayer room all day and all night, amidst heaps of flowers and sweets from the day before.

The next morning, when Kalikinkar opened the door of the prayer room, he found the goddess hanging by the neck from the ceiling.

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The Legacy of DIBs

T.G. Sanjeevi Pillai

It would be of some interest to discuss the legacies of the six directors of the Intelligence Bureaus (DIBs) who occupied the high office before me. T.G. Sanjeevi was the first DIB after Independence. He was an upright person – stern, firm and incorruptible. He was also a rather vain person and could outdo the white sahebs in keeping a stiff upper lip. I believe he insisted on being received by the administrative officer of the IB every day on his arrival and being conducted to his room.

In his younger days in the undivided Madras Presidency, he was assistant superintendent of police in Bhadrachalam, a famous temple town. While attending to office under a banyan tree in the winter months, an orderly used to be on duty to chase away crows so that he would not be disturbed.

He fell in love with a married lady, whose husband held a somewhat junior post. Sanjeevi remained a bachelor, and many years later when the lady’s husband passed away, he married her and took over the care of the family, which included her son, who rose to become the chief executive of a public sector undertaking of the Government of India. Sanjeevi used to exhibit great regard and affection for his wife. She was somewhat imperious and easily alienated the wives of her husband’s junior colleagues.

As the first DIB, he was not only directly in charge of the Delhi Police but also chief of the Special Police Establishment, the parental body of the CBI. During the Delhi riots following Partition, Sanjeevi is said to have dealt with the law and order situation with a stern hand. As DIB, he made an official visit to the US and took his wife with him. There were some queries from the home ministry about this, and Sanjeevi felt humiliated. He sought reversion from the Centre to his parental cadre and returned as IGP of Madras in 1950.

The first inter-state police meet was held at Vellore in the winter of 1951, and I happened to be there for a training course. I was drafted to assist in organizing the prestigious sports meet since all the senior officers were present, and the event went on nearly for a week. I had several occasions to meet Sanjeevi and his wife during this week. I found him extremely courteous and with a sensitive heart behind his hard exterior. In later years, he and his wife live in splendid isolation with hardly an old friend to meet him.

B.N. Mullik

B.N. Mullik was one of the two deputy directors in the IB when Sanjeevi was the DIB. The other deputy director was M.K. Sinha. Both were from the Bihar cadre. M.K. Sinha’s father was the first Indian to hold the post of IGP and wrote an interesting memoir. Mullik became DIB at a very young age, and he remained in this post for nearly fourteen years. His books under the series titled My Years with Nehru throw considerable light on his character and personality.

He was totally devoted to his work. Except for five or six hours of sleep, he spent the rest of his day and night doing IB work. The Mulliks had no children, and Mrs Mullik died of cancer in 1962. Following her death, he was haunted by a feeling that he had not given due attention to her welfare and happiness. He would always keep a picture of her with him, and once during a tour, he was seen placing a bowl of milk in front of the photo. The Mulliks had adopted a relative’s daughter many years earlier. She later got married to H.A. Barari, an IPS officer who joined the IB and rose through the ranks to become DIB in 1984 and governor of Haryana in 1988.

Mullik was referred to as ‘God’ by the junior officers, and some had great regard and admiration for him. Many others hated him equally. There was, however, one exception to this rule in the person of T.R. Subedar, an IPS officer on deputation from the then Central Provinces, who was in charge of administration in the IB. He used to often refer to Mullik as ‘the man in the corner room’.

Mullik rarely smiled and seldom permitted arguments or disagreements with his views. He could be quite tough with those who fell out of favour. Slowly groupism emerged in the organization, with senior officers arranging themselves in two broad groups. However, the groupism was rather nebulous as no one would dare to even claim that such a thing existed, but one could sense it in the air. The birth of the Research and Analysis Wing in the mid-1960s owes its origin, to some extent, to this atmosphere of groupism and animus in the IB those days.

Mullik was probably the most extensively travelled DIB. He visited a large number of check posts along the Indo-Tibetan border. Mullik was, therefore, up-to-date and well informed on border affairs. But after the Indo-China war of 1962, his position in the IB became rather tenuous, as the agency was responsible for foreign intelligence gathering until the creation of R&AW. However, so long as Nehru was prime minister, he could not be touched.

Nevertheless, in the aftermath of the war, a scheme was prepared to educate and train the people in the border regions in self-defence in the event of external aggression in future. It was blessed by foreign experts and well-wishers, including Lord Mountbatten, India’s last viceroy and first governor-general, and J.K. Galbraith, an American economist and diplomat. Biju Patnaik, the chief minister of Odisha, was drafted to assist Mullik in this task. Both of them made a trip to the US and held discussions in this connection. Later, Mullik and Patnaik visited a number of border areas, including Sikkim in late 1963. After Nehru’s death, Mullik became the director general of the Security Directorate, which was outside the IB. It later bloated to gargantuan dimensions with more and more sub-wings.

After his final retirement, which he accepted with ill grace, Mullik turned to religion. He found in a Bengali guru a source of mental peace. Mullik, however, was not a man who would enter any field without trying to dominate it. He soon became his guru’s chief disciple and would fix up his programme and other arrangements whenever he visited Delhi or other places in the country. I met his guru a couple of times and found him to be a genial old man with locks of matted hair rolling over his head. He was in frail health. He could hardly walk and was sometimes carried by his disciples, most of whom were Bengalis and had great affection and regard for him.

Mullik had in fact found this guru a few years before his retirement. Some of the senior officers in the IB and the Security Directorate, which he headed after leaving the IB, had also become disciples. Whether they believed in the guru as much as Mullik did was open to question. This was amply illustrated by the case of a retired army officer who became a disciple at the instance of Mullik but later tried to sideline him and organize an important function in Delhi which was to be attended by several foreigners. I was then the DIB, and Mullik phoned me to find out whether the foreigners could not be prevented from entering the country. I expressed my inability to intervene in the matter as there was nothing objectionable found.

Mullik tried to enlist me as a disciple of his guru, but apart from being respectful to his guru as well as to Mullik, I evinced no interest in his guru’s preachings or publications. Mullik, however, would not give up. One Sunday, he asked me to come and meet his guru as there was a special discourse organized near Gole Market in central Delhi. I told him I would be busy at work till about lunch time and that I would come and meet his guru before going home.

When I arrived at the spot, the discourse had ended, and people had dispersed. The organizers were having a meal. Mullik and another Bengali gentleman then took me to the guru, who lay on a cot. Mullik spoke to him in Bengali and apparently told him I was keen to become his chela. The guru extended his hand while my head was more or less pushed down to it by Mullik and his friend. He uttered a mantra and pressed his thumb on my forehead and gave me a rosary. I felt extremely awkward and embarrassed.

After coming out of the room, Mullik’s friend gave me a torn piece of blanket, which was said to be specially blessed by the guru. I was asked to sit on it every morning and remember the guru and say whatever prayers occurred to my mind. They told me they would put me on to the guru’s teachings in due course. I was quite taken aback and was on the point of protesting at what they were trying to do to me. Out of sheer regard for Mullik, I did not say anything and left the place with the piece of blanket and rosary, which I quickly threw away.

A few days later, I told Mullik’s son-in-law, H.A. Barari, who was then a joint director in the IB, what had transpired and that it was wrong of Mullik and the others to try to force their belief on others. Barari was equally averse to what Mullik and his friends were doing and asked me to forget the entire thing like a bad dream.

Mullik had some land allotted by the Delhi Administration near the Sainik Farm area for building a Kali Bari temple. He also started a school with about thirty students drawn from neighbouring villages, and he insisted that Sanskrit should be taught as a compulsory subject. Later, he started a couple of Sanskrit schools, including one in Tamil Nadu which was being run by a retired IB officer. The school was almost a non-starter as there were only a few Brahmin boys, but whenever Mullik visited it, which was probably once a year, the retired official would spruce up the place and put a few boys on the premises for his satisfaction.

He would collect donations from well-to-do people to run the school and the temple. On a couple of occasions, some charity dance performances were organized. During the festival of Navratri, Mullik would fast rigorously and conduct the puja in his temple himself. On Ashtami, or the eighth day, some of his erstwhile officers in the old departments would attend the puja, and that would make him very happy.

Mullik’s life was a strange amalgam. In his days of power and glory, he was very stern and rode roughshod over his colleagues and subordinates. He was thorough and up-to-date and did not tolerate inefficiency anywhere. Those whom he considered shirkers were hounded out by various means, including consistent adverse remarks in the annual confidential reports. At the Friday meetings, which used to be a ritual and continue to date, when desk officers explained the highlights of events pertaining to their respective charge, Mullik would ask searching questions and judge the ability of the officers more or less on that basis. Careers were made and unmade in the Friday meetings presided over by Mullik.

It was difficult to get appointments from him even to discuss official matters, and requests for appointments were invariably granted after a couple of days. He would greet people walking past him down the South Block corridor where the IB office was with a faint nod of his head and nothing more. The transformation of such a man after his retirement into almost a sanyasi was interpreted by many people in different ways, but the most commonly held view was that Mullik was atoning for all that he did.

S.P. Verma

Mullik was succeeded by S.P. Verma of Bihar in 1965 and was selected by the advisers of Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri.

S.P. Verma had earlier worked as central intelligence officer in Patna, a junior position in the IB, but reverted to Bihar Police to become IGP Bihar many years later. Verma was of the plodding kind, and being a transplant in a senior position at an advanced age, he could not really come to grips with the organization or the ministries concerned.

The IB’s responsibilities were increasing manifold, and new problems were cropping up everywhere. It used to be said that the golden age of the IB was prior to March 1959 when the Dalai Lama entered India, having fled from Tibet. Subsequent events led to the Sino-Indian war, crisis in the central cabinet, Nehru’s death, the Indo-Pak war of 1965, Lal Bahadur Shastri’s death, succession problems at the Centre leading to Mrs Gandhi becoming prime minister in 1966, the devaluation of the rupee that year, the consequent inflation, price rise and economic chaos, the estrangement between Mrs Gandhi and K. Kamaraj, the emergence of the kitchen cabinet in the prime minister’s house, and non-Congress governments coming to power in a number of states in the country.

Verma was the DIB during this crucial phase, but he was hardly the person who could handle all these challenging problems. He retired in 1967 and went back to Patna.

M.M.L. Hooja

Verma was succeeded by M.M.L. Hooja. Hooja had hoped to take over from Mullik himself, but Verma was brought instead and Hooja temporarily went over to the Security Directorate founded by Mullik. Hooja was DIB from January 1968 to mid1971, a period during which a crucial split in the Congress took place in 1969 in the aftermath of the presidential election that year.

Y.B. Chavan voted for Neelam Sanjiva Reddy in the parliamentary board meeting at Bangalore to decide the candidate, after promising Mrs Gandhi that he would vote for Jagjivan Ram. She stripped Morarji Desai, who had also voted for Reddy, of the finance portfolio, which led to his resignation. As for Chavan, she quietly divested him of the intelligence and investigation units like the IB and CBI and made them directly responsible to the prime minister. This was brought about with effect from 25 June 1970 on the advice of her powerful adviser,

P.N. Haksar, who was in turn assisted by a small group of officers of the IB and the Security Directorate who had developed direct access to the prime minister’s house.

This was the period when a need for a parallel intelligence organization, ostensibly for collecting external intelligence, particularly military intelligence on the Indo-Pak and Indo-Tibetan borders, was put forth. Mrs Gandhi realized that even though the intelligence organizations had been brought directly under the PM’s office, they had to be part of the home ministry and whoever was the home minister could not be totally deprived of certain basic elements of intelligence, which would trickle down to him in any case.

It was therefore decided to set up a parallel organization, though the emphasis was to be on external and military intelligence. However, it was very much involved in internal intelligence also. R&AW was set up in 1968, and Ram Nath Kao was chosen to head the organization.

Around this time, a report reached the prime minister that Hooja was not passing on all information to the prime minister and was keeping her in the dark on important developments while giving all the essential intelligence to Home Minister Chavan. The cabinet secretary was asked by the PM to conduct a discreet enquiry. The IB chief was fully exonerated, though the mischief had been done. Mrs Gandhi was just the person to believe rumours, particularly when they related to issues of loyalty and trust. Hooja was posted out to the Committee on Police Training, with Professor M.S. Gore of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, as chairman and Hooja as vice-chairman.

Atma Jayaram

Hooja’s successor in the IB was Atma Jayaram from the Andhra Pradesh cadre. He had been inducted into the IB almost simultaneously with R.N. Kao soon after Independence. Prior to his entry into the police service, Jayaram had studied at Cambridge University in the UK. Because of this, he was chosen for a foreign assignment in one of the few posts which the IB then had. Jayaram had two stints abroad, in Beijing and Cairo, and returned to the IB in 1967.

When R&AW was being formed, Jayaram was senior and had a superior claim to become the deputy to Kao, who, however, chose K. Sankaran Nair. Both Kao and Nair had served in Ghana as security advisers to the nation’s leader, Kwame Nkrumah. Jayaram was adjusted as IGP in Andhra Pradesh, and he left in early 1969. He returned as DIB in November 1971 and remained there till August 1975, when he retired.

It was during this period that R&AW became the superior intelligence organization in the country, eclipsing the IB even in its legitimate areas of functioning. R&AW set up its offices in particularly every state, something which an external intelligence agency does not do in any other country. The security liaison work which was being done for many years by the IB in collaboration with the internal intelligence organizations in the UK and US was also taken away from the IB. Jayaram did not raise any objections to this, even though some of the senior officers felt quite upset and outraged over the slow depletion of the IB’s responsibilities.

What was, however, most galling was the functioning of R&AW as a parallel IB. Unfortunately, it was Mrs Gandhi herself who was responsible for this as she used to ask both IB and R&AW for reports on men and matters, including reporting on Congress people. R&AW also carried out election analyses. Mrs Gandhi thought she should have assessments and reports from two organizations, that this was one way of balancing one against the other and in the process getting as much information as possible.

Jayaram’s tenure as DIB was a tensionless period, and he did not get excited or unduly upset even when serious problems cropped up. In fact, he was the only DIB who could leave the office by 5.30 p.m. and also not attend office on Sundays and second Saturdays. He did not expect any senior officer to stay late hours either. His equation with the prime minister and her secretariat had perceptibly slid down in sharp contrast to that of Kao. Top secret notes meant for the prime minister were invariably sent to P.N. Dhar by Jayaram, and for months the DIB neither asked to meet the prime minister nor was he sent for.

I told him once that he should try to meet the PM and tell her of some of the important happenings instead of merely communicating with her principal secretary, but he did not pay heed. He probably thought there was no use asking for trouble from higher quarters.

S.N. Mathur

Jayaram was succeeded by Shiv Narayan Mathur of the Punjab cadre. Mathur belonged to the 1948 batch, the first of the post-Independence era. From Punjab, he was earlier drafted as deputy director in charge of Jammu and Kashmir. He was in this post for about four years before he was promoted as joint director in the IB. He, however, later returned to Punjab as IGP. When the search for Jayaram’s successor was on, Om Mehta, who was the minister of state in charge of the department of personnel and occupied a powerful position at that time, suggested Mathur’s name.

Mathur was asked to take charge in the IB as an understudy for three months before he took over in August 1975. Mathur was a studious and hard-working man with immense patience. I was only one batch junior to him and was the senior-most officer in the IB. Right through the Emergency years, Mathur and I worked in close collaboration.

After Mrs Gandhi’s crushing defeat in 1977, when I was singled out and sent out of the IB, Mathur intervened and asked for me to be retained since I was the joint director in charge of elections, and elections in the states had been announced for June 1977. He probably tried to retain me but could not succeed. After I proceeded on leave, he came to my residence and expressed his regrets that he could not protect me.

He continued as DIB in the Janata regime, and this did not come as a surprise to many, as Mathur and Charan Singh’s son-in-law, S.P. Singh, who was an IPS officer who had earlier served in the IB, were close friends. Moreover, Nirmal Mukherjee, who was chief secretary of J&K when Mathur had been deputy director of the SIB there, had assumed charge as cabinet secretary during the Janata regime after having been shunted from the home ministry to tourism and civil aviation by Mrs Gandhi during the Emergency.

The Janata regime was smooth sailing for Mathur. Unfortunately for him, Nagarkar, a batchmate of mine who had been overlooked for promotion earlier, moved to my desk after I left the IB. Nagarkar had links with political bosses as he was a freedom fighter and Y.B. Chavan’s jailmate during the 1942 Quit India movement against the British. He had established a direct line of communication with the office of Prime Minister Morarji Desai.

As mentioned earlier in the book, he was the prime mover of the report that was leaked to Arun Shourie and published in the Indian Express. The report – about Mrs Gandhi’s ill-gotten wealth – was based mostly on hearsay and backed by very little hard evidence, but it was sent to Prime Minister Morarji Desai and Home Minister Charan Singh by Mathur with his signature. He also simultaneously wrote to C.V. Narasimhan, CBI director, for initiating action on the basis of the report.

After Mrs Gandhi returned to power, the document stood in Mathur’s way of continuing as DIB. He was reverted to Punjab as IGP. I was recalled to the IB and I took charge as DIB in 1980.

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A Barbarous Situation: Excerpts from Nayantara Sahgal’s letters to the Authors’ Guild of India in 1975

Excerpts from Nayantara Sahgal’s letters to the Authors’ Guild of India in 1975, protesting against the censorship and suspension of civil liberties. She resigned membership of the Executive Commiittee of the Guild when the guild refused to put on record a protest against checks on freedom of expression.

Since 26 June we have an ‘Emergency’ in this country and the government has imposed censorship and suspended civil liberties. Tens of thousands have been imprisoned without trial. I consider this a barbarous situation. I personally cannot associate myself with any organization that seeks government patronage in these conditions much less be present at any function presided over by a member of this government. I would venture to suggest that there are issues at stake in India today that the members of the executive committee would do well to think about, particularly as to how they will concern writers in future, quite apart from how they will affect the entire country.

We are not faced with a ‘political’ issue in a normal political situation. We are faced with a dictatorship which has ruthlessly demonstrated its policies and intentions. No further proof is needed of any government’s utter immorality and shamelessness. I think myself, the country is more important than the Authors’ Guild. It is in any case absolutely vital for all thinking, educated persons to declare themselves at such a time and not to fall meekly in line with the tyranny that now rules us.

The Emergency has made it clear, if any clarity were needed, what kind of government we are dealing with in its naked disregard of democratic functioning and human rights. I feel it would be totally lacking in self respect to seek any assistance from it, much less make a patron of it. The Western democracies you mention are democracies. They have not raped the decencies or destroyed hard-built institutions. There is simply no comparison between them and the present Government of India. I hope this situation will change but no change is brought about by a servile population and certainly not by an educated elite that falls in line with every excess a dictatorship commits. I am very certain that I can be no party to any of this.

Buy Nayantara Sahgal’s ‘The Political Imagination: A Personal Response to Life, Literature and Politics’ here.

the political imagination nayantara sahgal