New heroes make northeast India a good sport

THE FLAG-BEARER of independent India’s first Olympic (London, 1948) contingent was Talimeren Ao. He was also the captain of the Indian football team that went down 2-1 to France in the second match.

In the 1966 Bangkok Asiad, Assamese sprinter Bhogeswar Baruah shaved three seconds off the record that Japan’s Y Marawi had set in the earlier edition of the Games.

Ao, son of a Naga reverend, was perhaps the ideal icon of nationalism that India overlooked at a time when the seeds of separatism were being sown across Naga-inhabited areas. And Baruah, many felt, was no ‘mainstream’ Milkha Singh to be a national celebrity.

Then MC Mary Kom happened, a star enough for Bollywood to make an eponymous biopic.

“The northeast has always produced quality sportspersons. But the spotlight on everything negative about the region made them non-entities. There was also this psychological divide between people on either side of the Chicken’s Neck (narrow strip in West Bengal linking the northeast to the rest of the country). Mary Kom changed that, allaying the feeling of alienation in the region and making others accept we are as Indian as they are despite our looks and cultural differences,” sports organiser Balen Chakraborty said.

Chakraborty organises the annual Abhiruchi Sports Day on September 23 to celebrate Baruah’s birthday.

“Much of the region’s problems are linked to joblessness. Our youth are physically endowed to excel in various sports that ensure employment. This is why sports infrastructure is our priority,” said Mizoram chief minister Lal Thanhawla.

The region has at least 1,200 sportspersons employed in the public sector besides the state police and central armed forces. Besides, some 150 footballers from Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland, Meghalaya and Assam are regulars in India’s top soccer clubs.

“The time for the northeast to be India’s sporting superpower has arrived, and it will change the perception people elsewhere in the country and beyond have about the region,” sports journalist Subodh Malla Barua said.

The region’s sporting strength was clear in the 2010 Guangjhou Asian Games that had 59 athletes besides six coaches and officials from Manipur. And in the recently concluded Glasgow Commonwealth Games, Manipuri athletes won eight medals.

Here is a list of new sporting heroes of the northeast.

Jeje Lalpheklua Fanai, 23: This striker from Mizoram is tipped to be the next big thing in Indian football, and the Indian Super League is expected to showcase his talent

Chekrovolu Swuro, 32: This archer from Nagaland didn’t just win a silver medal in the 2011 World Archery Championships in Turin; the state took pride when she qualified to represent India in the 2012 London Olympics.

Jayanta Talukdar, 28: Seeded No 1 in the 2009 Copenhagen World Cup, this archer from Assam made it to the Indian men’s recurve team in the 2012 Olympics.

Shiva Thapa, 21: Third in the bantamweight category in AIBA Men’s world ranking, this boxer from Assam is the third Indian to win an Asian Games gold and is tipped for greater glory in the 2016 Olympics.

Anshu Jamsenpa, 35: World’s first mother to scale Mt Everest twice in 10 days, this mountaineer from Arunachal Pradesh is often cited as an example of sheer grit and determination.

Yumnam Sanathoi, 27: This Manipuri might have lost her semifinal bout to China’s Zhang Luan in Sanda 52kg category in the ongoing Asian Games, but she is one of the reasons behind wushu’s popularity in India.

Laishram Devendro Singh, 24: One of Manipur’s many international boxers, he won a silver medal at the 2014 Commonwealth Games but lost his semifinal bout at the Incheon Asian Games amid controversy.

Laishram Sarita Devi, 29: Also a victim of controversy at Incheon, this Manipuri boxer is a world champion.

Sanjita Khumukcham, 21: This weightlifter from Manipur won gold in the 48kg category at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games.

Tarundeep Rai, 30: This archer from Sikkim made his international debut in the Asian Archery Championship 2003 in Myanmar, and went on to become the first Indian to win an individual archery medal (silver) at the Guangzhou Asian Games, 2010.

(A truncated version appeared in the Hindustan Times today)

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Indian rhinos have skewed sex ratio

Photos by Rajibaksha Rakshit

THE ONE-HORNED rhino has defecated its way to a worrisome revelation – its sex ratio is more skewed than that of humans in India.

The first ever rhino census through genetic analysis of dung samples collected from Gorumara National Park in West Bengal in April 2011 put the number of the armour-plated herbivore at 43. More importantly, it confirmed what error-prone conventional animal census methods said earlier this year – rhinos have a male-female sex ratio of 4:1.

The census was carried out by Assam-based NGO Aaranyak, which developed the technique of DNA fingerprinting by analysing dung over a year. The NGO has also provided technical support to genetic population estimation of Javan and Sumatran rhinos, the other two species of Asian rhinos.

“Dung provides the source of DNA sample of every individual and find out its sex. Besides being error-free,this method negates catching of animals which is easier said than done,” UdayanBorthakur, Aaranyak’s dung analysis expert said. “The only thing we cannot estimate is the animal’s age.”

The conventional method – headcount by field workers – applied by the West Bengal forest department at Gorumara almost matched with the genetic method. It revealed the park had one female for 3.5 males.

“The conventional method is suspect because it is not easy to ascertain the sex of rhinos in the field, particularly the sub-adults whose genitals are difficult to notice,” Borthakur said.

According to Assam chief wildlife warden Suresh Chand, the skewed sex ratio is a matter of concern since it could impact the animal’s reproduction. “The dung route to DNA fingerprinting will be taken for rhino habitats in Assam too,” he said.

Assam has 55% of the world’s one-horned rhinos, the bulk of them in Kaziranga National Park followed by Orang National Park and Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary. These three habitats together have 2,483 rhinos.

“We hope the rhino population in these preserves do not turn out to be as skewed as in Gorumara,”Aaranyak secretary Bibhab K Talukdar said.

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Crap concept 2: Mathematical

  • Trash is jabor in Assamese
  • In Bengali it’s jabra
  • Arabs found it doubly apt
  • And called their stuff Algebra
  • Tri is three, gund buttock
  • And friendship is maitri
  • So gay triangular love
  • Did sire Trigonometry
  • Butt naturally comes anus
  • And all that it releases
  • Brains who shat in the fields
  • Found in crap the plusses
  • The pyramids they left behind
  • And cylinders and pellets
  • Shaped shitty Geometry
  • Thrust down our gullets
  • A chap with semi-loose motion
  • Studied his spherical goo
  • “All I ate has come to nought”
  • The Zero he thus gave you
  • Zero’s the greatest invention
  • Despite Stats and Calculus
  • If it butts in, into your sum
  • You’re left holding your phallus
  • What zero tells us is so plain:
  • “Math is crap, you bum
  • It screws up your budget –
  • The income-outgo sum”
  • What you add up in life
  • They multiply with zero
  • So just crap your ass off
  • Not be a calculating hero
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The cow strikes back

Netted from

COWS GIVE us gobar. Bulls shit.

We weren’t aware of this gendered faecal fact when we wrote those essays in school. Heck, we didn’t even know a cow wasn’t a ‘he’ that gave us milk. Until we were old enough to find out writing on ‘The cow’ for 10 marks was basically bullshitting.

If you consider half the children on this planet went to school since 1912, the cow is the most written about earthling. This assertion is based on those who opted for ‘Our school’ but ended up writing on the cow that ate grass on the field behind/beside their school and possessed a range of assets from the grass swallower to the gobar ejector.

Before we could master B for bull – oops, ball – and C for cow (cat?), we knew the creature in old McDonald’s farm that moo-mooed everywhere and the one that jumped over the moon because the cat was in the fiddle. We could make no head or tail of those nursery rhymes, but the teachers ensured they were moosic to our ears.

As we grew older, books told us pigs, horses, dogs, cats and donkeys – rats and cockroaches too – were more equal than cows. George Orwell didn’t live long enough in his Bihar birthplace to make the Animal Farm cows ruminate on fictitious chara, but those bechara bovines were traumatised by Napoleon’s milk-pinching pigs. Walter Wangerin’s Dun Cow was more fortunate as a riddle-happy messenger god sent to help a rooster king battle the forces of evil.

Cows presumably began calling the shots after Dana Lyons and Jeff Sinclair gave us Cows with Guns, which a website said was a sure-shot Bullitzer winner. Another site listed the top 10 limericks on cows, the only printable among them being:

  • There lived a young cow in MA
  • He always had his own say
  • On the grass he would chew
  • Saying merrily moo-moo
  • He often even ate hay

Only a gai – the ‘he’ is a giveaway – could have written this limerick. He presumably hadn’t heard about Mangala’s academic appetite. If you didn’t know, Mangala is the cow that ate some 150 class 10 exam answer sheets in the western Assam town of Goalpara in March 2012.

Mangala probably chewed on Assamese answer papers to cownter decades of sexist exaggeration about her tribe. And on history to find out, in this land of holy cows, if the celestial Nandi and Kamdhenu were her ancestors. But experts couldn’t fathom why she also made a meal of science, if not to learn the art of making synthetic milk or to discover how security is beefed up in a rebel region.

For those bullish on education, Mangala’s was the final cowntdown for a system that has apparently discarded its archaic bovine craft to board the RTE flight. Her progeny will eventually find out if it is powered by gobar gas.

Let’s fasten the cow belt and wait until the cows come home.

(This appeared as a ‘middle’ on the edit page of Hindustan Times on 26 April 2012; RTE is Right To Education)

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On China frontier, old men handle law and order in India’s Arunachal Pradesh

gb-teamGADGETS DO the job these days. But the armed forces often rely on a 78-year-old’s eyes and ears for information on the China frontier.

As a long-time gaonbura (GB, village elder) of Mangang village, Dorjee Purba Chukla’s primary job is to ensure law and order locally. He also has to update the army, Indo-Tibetan Border Police, intelligence agencies and the local administration on any suspicious Chinese activity on the border.

Reason: Mangang, in Arunachal Pradesh’s West Siang district, is the village closest to India’s border with China-occupied Tibet.

Mangang is northeast of Mechukha, a sub-divisional headquarter 492 km from state capital Itanagar but just 29 km from the nearest point of the McMahon Line that separates India and China.

Arunachal Pradesh’s border with Tibet is 1080 km long.

“Our men are vital for the armed forces as guides and informants. They also keep a watch on the border while collecting yarje gomu (a high-altitude insect believed to have medicinal properties), which people from across the border also treasure,” Chukla said.

ramo-tribal-centurionChukla is one of 75 GBs in Mechukha sub-division who are the faces of the government in 112 villages. They are judges too, settling family and social disputes with punishments for the guilty such as fines or community service.

“We try to use our wisdom and settle minor cases. The police and magistrates take care of major law and order issues such as murder, rape and communal clashes but only after we refer these incidents to them,” Kesang Goiba, the GBs’ president, told Hindustan Times.

The GBs are a vital cog in the administrative wheel in a difficult eastern Himalayan subdivision where many villages have to be covered by foot over four-five days, said additional deputy commissioner Tungge Loya.

“We need their help in ensuring peaceful co-existence among five major tribes of the area,” Loya said. These tribes are the Buddhist Menpa or Memba, Bokar, Ramo, Pailibo and Tagin.

The Bokar, Ramo, Pailibo and Tagin are sub-tribes of the Adi community while Membas have 23 clans.

mechukhaThe GBs’ assistance is also crucial because there are barely 15 policemen for the entire subdivision straddling 83,743 sq. m of mountains at an average altitude of 6,500ft.

An army officer of a frontier unit, declining to be quoted, said the GBs are important for civic action programmes besides strategic help on a treacherous terrain. “We need the support of the local people as much as they need ours for emergency medical aid and supplies,” he said.

Goiba, 60, insists the GBs are impartial in their discharge of duties despite the fact that they are selected by a few, not elected. The all-male GBs try to be fair with cases involving women too.

“Many of the cases of crimes against girls and women we have handled have gone against males,” Goiba, who was selected GB president eight years ago, said.

A GB gets an honorarium of R200-250 from the government. It is a pittance for the trouble they take, but the social status that comes with the job is more than worth it, the GBs say.

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Confidence versus humility

“If I only had a little humility, I’d be perfect,” the media mogul Ted Turner supposedly said sometime in the 1990s, in a moment of narcissistic exuberance. While Turner has been much humbler since, today’s breed of tech entrepreneurs often display a similar arrogance. Why be humble? After all, Aristotle said: “All men by nature…

via In overvaluing confidence, we’ve forgotten the power of humility — Quartz

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Teacher: Greater than the greatest of the greats


By Rutajeet Karmakar

THE WORLD regards Alexander, king of the ancient Greek kingdom of Macedon, as The Great. But Alexander believed his teacher, the philosopher Aristotle, was Greater.

The legendary Greek ruler, referring to Aristotle, said: “I am indebted to my father for living, but to my teacher for living well.”

Alexander died young, but lived well as he conquered kingdom after kingdom all the way to India, where teachers have had a place above parents since ancient times.

Alexander was perhaps unaware that multi-cultural India was a land of great teachers – from the spiritualist Buddha, Sanskrit grammarian Panini, astronomer-mathematician Aryabhatta and economist Chanakya to the unknown shapers of mind in ancient universities such as Nalanda and Taxila.

This tradition of qualitative teaching beyond textbooks has carried on through Srimanta Sankardeva, Dayanand Saraswati, Swami Vivekanda, Ishwar Chandra Bidyasagar, APJ Abdul Kalam and Amartya Sen, to name a few.

In this line of illustrious teachers was Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, a great scholar and India’s second President, whose date of birth we celebrate as Teachers’ Day every year.

More than 100 countries honour their teachers on October 5, timed with World Teachers’ Day designated by UNESCO. This is exactly a month after we celebrate Teachers’ Day, perhaps an acknowledgement that teaching in India was once ahead of the times.

But there are countries that celebrate this day earlier in the year. Neighbour Bhutan, for instance, celebrates it on May 2 to mark the birth anniversary of Jigme Dorji Wangchuk, the Himalayan country’s third king. And Guatemala marks June 25, the day in 1944 when teacher Maria Chinchilla Recinos died protesting against an oppressive military government.

In countries such as Estonia, Teachers’ Day on October 5 is a brief affair with students granting leave to teachers in the last class and conducting lessons themselves. Others such as Saint Lucia celebrate it for a week from October 4.

Whatever the duration, Teachers’ Day is an universal acceptance that teachers – as American writer-journalist Jeannette Walls wrote – are like angels leading their flocks out of the darkness. We are fortunate to have the angels of Gurukul holding our hands in the journey towards light.

American writer William Arthur Ward classified teachers into four categories. He said: “The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.”

Our teachers inspire as they demonstrate, explain and tell with the objective of moulding us into achievers to live life well. Whether or not we become great, our teachers will always be greater.

On this great day, dear teachers, I salute your greatness.

(Son’s Teacher’s Day speech in school, doctored a bit by the father)


Mohammad Ali was not the greatest sportsman

Greatest boxer, yes.

But Mohammad Ali wasn’t the greatest sportsman though he claimed to be.

Every kid with an anger issue has thrown punches, but not everyone does the long jump or makes the football sing or throws the javelin and discus.

The greatest in my list are:
1. Jesse Owens, because he also crushed Hitler’s Aryan supremacy myth single-handed.
2. Pele, because he was…well… Pele and Edson Arantes do Nascimento sounds so un-soccer.
3. Daley Thompson, because he was 10 sportsmen in one.

Ali is probably the fourth, because I cannot think of anyone greater right now.


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They paved the way for Tripura’s gymnast wonder Dipa Karmakar


Dipa Karmakar with coach Bisweshwar Nandi at their Tripura Sports Council office

DIPA KARMAKAR is 25% short of perfection in the Produnova, considered the riskiest vault in gymnastics. Behind the 75% she has mastered is an invisible hand from Haryana.

As in the epic Mahabharata, every Arjun of Indian sports is moulded by a Dronacharya, not all – like Dipa’s coach Bisweshwar Nandi – recognised officially. Nandi’s Dronacharya was Dalip Singh, from village Bewal in Haryana’s Mahendragarh district.

Singh couldn’t quite produce an Arjun, for he had an army of gymnasts to give attention to. But Nandi, one of his better disciples, did an Arjun after donning the guru’s garb; he concentrated on and hit the eye of the bird.

That eye, gymnast Dipa, has now caught everyone’s eyes with an Olympics berth, the first for an Indian woman.

Super scout

Singh, an instructor at Pune-based Army Institute of Physical Training, came to Tripura capital Agartala in 1965 via the National Institute of Sports in Patiala, Punjab. That year, Bharat Kishosre Debbarman became Tripura’s first to win a gymnastics gold at the national championship.

“Dalip Sir was a man possessed. He would go from house to house, scouting for boys and girls who would hop, skip, jump and run about, and convincing parents that their wards have a future in sports,” 62-year-old Montu Debnath, former gymnast and Tripura’s first Arjuna awardee in 1975, said.

Tripura has only three Arjuna award winners, all gymnasts. The other two are Kalpana Debnath (2000) and Dipa (2015).

“Tripura’s journey to gymnastics glory with Dipa has to be credited to Dalipji. He was a fountain of inspiration, a legend who had unconventional ideas that helped overcome hurdles,” Manik Saha, founder vice-president of Tripura Gymnastics Association, said.


Former Tripura gymnast Balaram Shil, now DIG of CRPF

Former gymnast Balaram Shil, now DIG of CRPF, recalled how Singh would purchase logs and shape them into parallel bars for training, or gather grass to help his trainees land relatively safely. Those were the days when gymnastics meant working out in a tin shed.

The state government eventually acquired the expansive house of one Gedu Mian and turned it into a passable gymnasium.

“Whatever I am today is because of my guru (Singh). I have just added value to the skills acquired from him to train Dipa,” Nandi said.

Gouri Karmakar attributes daughter Dipa’s success to her dedication, discipline and Nandi’s unwavering attention to details. But she also believes in the power of ‘aashirwad’ (blessings) from people in India, more importantly from someone “up there” – not God but the Father of Gymnastics in Tripura.

That father is Singh, who died six years before Dipa was born in August 1993.

Bridging the gap

For 21 years since 1968, Tripura’s gymnasts swept the sub-junior, junior and senior national championships. Singh’s death in 1987 changed all that.

“Besides shaping gymnasts, Dalipji readied generations of coaches but Tripura just could not match the level of excellence achieved while he was alive,” Shil said.

Niyoti Debnath, who as physical instructor spotted Dipa’s talent as a second-grader in Agartala’s Nazrul Smriti Vidyalaya, blames it on the “job flood” in the 1980s. “All athletes got jobs in far-flung schools, in the armed forces, railways and there was hardly anyone left to train the next crop of gymnasts properly,” she said.

Tripura’s first woman gymnast, Niyoti Debnath hopes Dipa’s feat will help bridge the gap.

“What gap?” asked Dilip Chakraborty, secretary of Tripura Sports Council. The state’s gymnasts and other sportspersons have never ever dropped the intensity, he said.

Sporting parents and teacher

Parents are the biggest hurdle to talent-scouting, Nandi says. “Most athletes come from poor background. The government runs a sports school for potential athletes, but parents want regular schooling because they want their children to have 9-5 jobs.”

Dipa with parents Gouri and Dulal Karmakar

Dipa feels she is lucky to have weightlifter Dulal Karmakar as her father, a mother who understands a sportsperson’s needs, and relatives who are into one sport or the other.

“We let her do what she wanted to do, but there are many others responsible for what she is today,” the father said.

One of them is Shobhana Dutta, who retired a few years ago as headmistress of Dipa’s school. She let Dipa practice after attending only four out of seven periods every day, and miss exams if the schedule clashed with her exams.

“Dipa was academically quite good. She had the required aggregate even if she missed a few exams. That was possibly because she was as serious in studies as in pursuing per passion,” Dutta said.

Then there’s the spiritual inspiration – from Dalip Singh – whose house in Ujan Abhaynagar is barely 50 metres from the Karmakars’ two-storey building on a 1,600 sq ft plot.

Salam Susheela, wife of Dalip Singh, Tripura's Father of Gymnastics

“It feels good that Tripura’s future in gymnastics has not forgotten the past. My husband was the spirit behind many a gymnast, but it needs a spirited person like Dipa to attain new heights,” pathologist Salam Susheela, Singh’s widow, said. Hailing from Manipur, she married Singh after meeting him in Agartala in 1968.

Dipa resents the celebrity status at home because “I have miles to go”. But she has in a decade inspired many girls and boys.

“After Rio, my focus would be on eight girls who have the potential to equal or better Dipa. I am hopeful about three – Asmita Pal, Priyanka Dasgupta and Rishita Saha,” Nandi said.

Another responsibility is to train the next set of gurus for the next set of shishyas (pupils). This is something Tripura chief minister Manik Sarkar wants done as much as providing a foam pit so that Dipa can hone the Produnova at home.

“I have 25% more to go for a perfect Produnova. I will train 22-23 times a day after I reach Delhi to prepare for Rio,” Dipa said.

If the hard work pays, her mother will have to find some space to showcase the medal. She had pushed her husband’s weightlifting medals and trophies some time ago to accommodate the daughter’s.

The father does not mind the memories of his flyweight and featherweight days going into trunks or the storeroom. “I want every father in India to see his child outdo his achievements,” he said.


  1. Dipa Karmakar with coach Bisweshwar Nandi at their Tripura Sports Council office in Agartala.
  2. Former gymnast Balaram Shil, now Deputy Inspector General of Central Reserved Police Force.
  3. Dipa with parents Gouri and Dulal Karmakar at their Ujan Abhaynagar home in Agartala. (This pic by Abhishek Saha)
  4. Pathologist Salam Susheela beside the photo of her late husband Dalip Singh, who came to Tripura from Haryana in 1965 to become the landlocked northeast Indian state’s Father of Gymnastics.

(A variant appeared in the Hindustan Times on 24 April 2016)


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My India: My view

(By Rutajeet Karmakar, my elder son)

Rutajeet on the banks of river Beas beyond Manali in Himachal Pradesh.jpgVariety is said to be the spice of life.

India, the most diverse country on earth, ensures variety.

So India is the spice of life.

Rather, India is life – my life and yours.

India’s variety enables us to enjoy similar things in different flavours.

Our BHOGALI BIHU, for instance, is celebrated as MAKAR SANKRANTI across the Hindi Heartland, UTTARAYAN in Gujarat, SHISHUR SAENKRAAT in Kashmir, MAGHA SAAJI in Himachal Pradesh and PONGAL in Tamil Nadu.

The rituals are different, the food is different but the essence is the same – celebration of a good harvest.

Bihu brings us to rice that turns from an everyday staple to delicious festive PITHA. Festivity also turns rice into beer or wine elsewhere in the Northeast, PAYESH in Bengal, KHICHDI in Uttar Pradesh, VAGHERELO BAAT in Gujarat, BISI BELE BATH and ARISI PARUPPU SADHAM in southern India.

Yes, there’s BIRYANI too for a festival of a different kind.

And biryani has Northeast Indian variants, such as JADOH of the Khasi community in Meghalaya.

The cuisines underline the linguistic, ethnic and religious diversity of India, matching her geographical diversity – from snow-capped mountains to the sea shore with desert and fertile plains in between.

India’s variety with a common thread is like the seven colours of the rainbow that combine to produce white, the symbol of peace and purity.

Ours is a difficult country to manage, just as white is a difficult colour to keep stains away from.

But India has a way of getting over social, economic and political stains. It also has a way of emerging stronger from adversities – from attacks by the Greeks, Huns, Turks, Mughals and colonisation by the British in the past to homegrown enemies now.

This is because India, like a mother, teaches us unity in diversity – unity to work for her development and defence, to lighten her sorrows and to celebrate her joys.

Or in other words, live a life called India.

(Disclaimer: The thought and rough draft was entirely his, helped a bit with the rewriting)


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From nigh-watchman to chief minister: An Arunachal Pradesh orphan who hoisted national flag to survive and study

Kalikho Pul.jpgUNFURLING THE National Flag isn’t just a show of nationalism on the border with China. For an orphan who is now the chief minister of Arunachal Pradesh, it meant an insurance against starving.

Kalikho, a blend of Assamese and Mishmi words, means ‘better tomorrow’. But every today for Kalikho Pul became a nightmare after his father, Tailum, passed away when he was barely six years old.

His mother, Koranlu, died when he was only 13 months old. “I don’t know how she looked, but she must have had a reason to name me Kalikho,” Pul, 47, said.

The name meant nothing when, after his father’s death, he fetched a bundle of firewood from the jungle adjoining his village Walla in Anjaw district’s Hawai circle bordering China-controlled Tibet.

It prevented him from going to school, but ensured a meal at the house of his aunt, who had his custody. “It was like – no firewood, no food,” he said.

The name made a little sense when, as a 10-year-old, he underwent a two-year training in carpentry at the Hawai Crafts Centre and got a stipend of Rs1.5 per day. “I would have fallen back on my carpentry skills had things not turned out the way it has,” he said.

He still has all his carpentry tools, “just in case”.

At the crafts centre, young Pul had to interact with many army and paramilitary officers who came to place orders. The compulsion to speak in Hindi and English made him take admission for night classes at an adult education centre.

“One day, the centre hosted an official function that Khapriso Krong, the then education minister and the district’s deputy commissioner DS Negi attended. I delivered the welcome speech in Hindi and sang a patriotic song,” Pul said.

Impressed, Negi sent a radio message to the Hawai circle officer from Tezu, the district headquarters of Lohit district from which Anjaw was carved out in 2010, and told him to have Pul admitted in the day school.

“it was a middle school, so I was enrolled straightaway in Class 6,” he said.

While studying there in 1981, Pul got the job of a night-watchman at the Hawai Circle Office at a monthly pay of R212. His job was to guard the office between lowering the Tricolour at 5pm and unfurling it at 5am every day.

“From a chowkidaar of a government office for 12 nocturnal hours, I am now the chowkidaar of this state 24 hours a day and with much greater responsibility,” Pul said.

“The National Flag that I unfurled every day for survival and study, now adorns my official vehicle, my office, and everything that this chair is associated with.”

Chief minister of Arunachal Pradesh.jpgBut the journey in between wasn’t smooth. He became a petty contractor, making bamboo fences and thatched houses, and sold pan and tobacco to eke out a living. He graduated to making roads and building concrete structures. By the time he reached Class 11, he was the owner of four second-hand trucks and a concrete house in Tezu town.

But pursuit of financial stability did not kill his urge to acquire knowledge. He earned a degree in economics from a college in Tezu and went to a law college in adjoining Assam. Circumstances, however, forced him to leave halfway through his law course.

Before graduation, Pul contemplated committing suicide by jumping from a hanging cane-and-bamboo bridge over river Lohit, one of the three main tributaries of Brahmaputra.

“I was suffering from gastric ulcers, but had no money to undergo treatment in Dibrugarh (Assam). Two relatives offered me just R7, making me realise I was dreadfully alone in this world. I made up my mind to jump into the river, but every time I tried someone came along to stop me. I gave up after 32 minutes,” Pul said.

Negi, the deputy commissioner he had met in school, again came to his rescue and lent him Rs 2,500 for treatment. He sold a mithun – a semi-wild bovine creature that in olden times was used as currency – and slogged to return the money, earning enough to help orphans and people too poor to afford medical care.

Pul’s popularity grew, and it showed in the record margin with which he won his maiden assembly election from Hayulliang in 1995. He has maintained a 90% victory margin since in a constituency with less than 10,000 voters.

“I have been a minister for 22 years out of my 23 years in electoral politics. I take care of even those who do not vote for me, because I have gone through a lot of suffering to understand I have no right to make life difficult for others,” he said.

He has virtually turned his official residence in Itanagar into a hospital to show he means what he says. Dozens of patients stay there every day for medicines and other assistance.

“What is power and money if they don’t help others?” Pul, a father of five, said.

(A truncated version appeared in Hindustan Times on 22 February 2016)

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Regional writers handling revival script for Congress in Bihar

What Ashoka Road and Akbar Road in Delhi are for BJP and Congress, Patna’s Beer Chand Patel Marg is for all political parties that matter in Bihar. It is the state’s rajnaitik dil or political heart.

The Congress has no place in this heart because Sadaquat Ashram, its headquarters with a view of river Ganga is 5km north – quite a distance in a congested city where squalor rules the roads.

The 20-acre ashram is part of Congress’ history in Bihar. Mahatma Gandhi had established it in 1921 on the land donated by his close associate Maulana Mazharul Haque.

The history has a post-1990 gloomy chapter that the Congress wants rewritten. Handling the script, for now, are two regional allies in its Mahagathbandhan or Grand Alliance (GA) – chief minister Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal-United and his predecessor Lalu Prasad’s Rashtriya Janata Dal.

The headquarters of the JD-U is on the western flank of BCP Marg as one turns south from the Income-Tax roundabout, one of Patna’s busiest. Diagonally across the road, about 50 metres away, is the RJD headquarters almost adjoining that of the BJP.

The pre-poll GA has virtually erased the road between the RJD and JD-U headquarters. But there are too many streets and lanes between them and Sadaquat Ashram.

“Physical distance is no barrier when minds meet,” says Suman Kumar Mallik, Bihar PCC spokesperson.

The Congress, he adds, is the smallest of the three mismatched cogs in the GA wheel. But they will roll “smoothly together” to stop the BJP train from chugging into the Rajya Sabha via the 243-seat Bihar assembly.

The Congress is contesting 41 of these seats while JD-U and RJD are contesting 101 each.

Congress leaders say it is not a bad bargain for a party that, despite having ruled Bihar the longest, has no leaders of the stature of those of its allies and rivals. But they admit they have been allotted seats that are the toughest to win.

“There’s no point ignoring the reality. We can start rebuilding in Bihar if we get close to 50% of our seats,” Harku Jha, former Congress MLA, says.

The party is wary of its 2010 performance. It had won only four seats that year with 214 of its 243 candidates losing their deposits.

“We are campaigning for each other to ensure maximum seats and keep the communal forces in check,” says JD-U president Basishtha Narayan Singh.

But three chunks of voters have moved away from the Congress in the last three decades just as the Ganga – a stone’s throw from Sadaquat Ashram earlier – has shifted to an alignment 2 km north. These are the Muslims since the 1989 Bhagalpur riots, the backward castes who found a messiah in Lalu Prasad in the 1990s and the upper castes believed to have gone with BJP.

Rajendra Prasad, India’s first President spent his last days in Sadaquat Ashram. He was a Kayasth, an upper caste that is a potent voting force in Patna.

Therein lies the irony for the Congress.

(This appeared in Hindustan Times on 19 October 2015)

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Bihar ballot battleground: Where VIP is a party with BED fellow

IF DELHI has Aam Aadmi Party, Bihar has Aam Aadmi (United). And BHAJP in the state is not Hindi for BJP; it expands to Bharatiya Jagaran Party.

Political parties are born by the baker’s dozen in Bihar, particularly in the election season. Some like former chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi’s Hindustani Awam Morcha align with major parties in a bid to become key regional players.

Most end up as also-rans.

In 2010, Bihar recorded an average 14 contestants per assembly constituency. Of the total 3,523 candidates across 243 seats, 591 represented 70 unrecognised but registered parties.

These included Vanchitsamaj Insaaf Party (VIP), Sarvhara Dal, Garib Vikas Party, Lal Morcha, All India Babu Jagjivan Ram Saheb National Congress, Akhil Bhartiya Atyanta Pichhra Sangharsh Morcha Party and Bharatiya Ekta Dal (BED).

Barring eight, all the candidates of these parties had their deposits forfeited. But they did account for 3.89% of the total votes polled.

Mandate 2015 has seen newer parties join the fray. A few have found it hard to get candidates, others claimed to have been spoilt for choice.

The Bharat Nirman Party, for instance, has shortlisted the “best of candidates” to contest seven seats – one in the first phase on October 12 and six in the third phase on October 28.

“Our agenda includes shutting down 70% liquor shops in Bihar, criminalising conversion and creation of a Bharat Nirman Sena towards ending unemployment,” party president Shiv Bihari Singhalia told HT.

The Arakshan Samarthak Party, or ASP, intends to field at least two candidates in each of Bihar’s 38 districts, but is sure of only one candidate – Renu Kushwaha from Patna’s Kumhrarh assembly constituency – as of now.

“We want to guarantee government job for at least one member of each family in the state, build toilets at every crossing and rest houses for poor daily-wagers who come to the cities from villages,” Uday Shankar Mehta, ASP spokesperson, said.

The Bahujan Mukti Party wants to do away with the creamy layer of OBC and MOBC (More Other Backward Classes) if it comes to power.

“We hope to put up a tough fight in the 32 seats we are contesting in the first two phases,” party chief Vijay Kumar Singh said.

Other similarly ambitious parties include the Rashtriya Yadav Adhikar Manch, Janta Dal Rashtravadi and Sarvajan Kalyan Loktantrik Party.

The Non-Political Front is not contesting, but it has been campaigning against 33 MLAs who have changed parties. “We are also asking people not to vote for political families and candidates with criminal records,” Om Prakash Mehta, the Front’s coordinator, said.

Besides, the Front plans to move the EC for making the Mizoram-style campaigning mandatory across India.

In that north-eastern state, social organisations impose certain restrictions on political parties. Accordingly, candidates are not allowed to badmouth each other, and campaigning usually means sharing a common dais where each candidate is given a chance to say why he or she deserves to be voted.

(A truncated version of this story appeared in Hindustan Times today)

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India’s Swachh Bharat list of cities has Nagaland capital wrong

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