It is a festival that marks the end of an exile, the return of glory to Ayodhya, as well as a grand homecoming. This special issue follows these three strands of the Ramayana myth. It leads us to the in-between lives of the exiled, from two Bangladeshi writers banished from their home, to the two lives and two tragedies of a Chin refugee family, to the foods left behind at home by several refugees.
What is Ayodhya to us now? Why has it new, divisive meaning in a hyper-religious, hyper-patriotic time? When did the slide begin, from pilgrimage spot to a contested place in history?
The state of exile is one of a search for a home. Those expelled from Muzaffarnagar and Shamli by the 2013 riots have found theirs and are starting afresh. For some others, more fortunate, the home is where the bickering is–with the sister and the mother and the bragging friend. Isn’t Diwali about these simple pleasures?
Read their stories here:
THE GAME OF THRONES by Mrinal Pande
A visit to Ayodhya is a journey into the depths of time. Its history is a complex skein of various religions and philosophy. How did it become the line that divides us?
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Ayodhya is one of the seven holiest cities offering ultimate release to believers (mokshadayini saptnagari), a tirth for Hindus, Jains and Buddhists. It has a long history of contrasts, contradictions and conflicts. Nothing about Ayodhya is unambiguous. Nothing here fits a formula. And what the late philosopher Ramchandra Gandhi called the “unself-restrained causality of bigotry’s oratory” bars any real spiritual or secular dialogue with it. Liberals of both the Hindu and Muslim communities have been firmly marginalised in the city since the demolition of the Babri mosque in 1992.
The name Ayodhya means a city against which no war may be waged. As a city, it predates its most famous divine progeny: king Ram, son of the Ikshvaku king Dashrath. Read more
WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM MY FAMILY
As in everything else in India, there is scope for diversity in Diwali too.
When I was growing up, Diwali was a festival I really looked forward to. It was also a festival I couldn’t wait to be done with. It was a festival of lights, sound and fury. The fury came mostly from my exhausted mother. Exile didn’t seem so bad then — in fact, we almost longed for it. Going off to a dark quiet forest, away from lecturing parents, what’s not to like? Read more
RISING FROM THE ASHES
How families, who fled from Muzaffarnagar and Shamli during the 2013 riots, are rebuilding their lives and homes.
Rayisa remembers the time when she celebrated Diwali — her grandchildren would burst crackers and friends would drop in to distribute sweets. During Eid, her seviyan would travel to their houses, their homes filled with the aroma of cardamom and rose water. But on September 8, 2013, the air changed direction. Rayisa was among the about 1 lakh Muslims who fled from Muzaffarnagar and Shamli, Uttar Pradesh, during the riots that year.
The 62-year-old lost her husband. She was left with her sons, Shahzad, Kallu and Zahid, and their families. She had to flee Kutba, the land of her ancestors and the epicentre of the riots, leaving behind memories, the jewellery she wore as a bride and her favourite neem tree. Read more
A MAN WITHOUT AN ADDRESS
Bangladeshi writer Daud Haider, in exile in Germany, writes about why he is no longer a world citizen.
My classmate at Jadavpur University in Kolkata, Saraswati Narayan, who went by the pet name Chachu, asked me, “Are you from Bangladesh?”
“Where are you from?” I ask her.
“We are from south India.”
She didn’t say, “Indian”. Which means, Saraswati Narayan’s identity was of a south Indian.
She was from Kolkata, but her family was internally displaced, in a manner of speaking. Her father had moved there for professional reasons. Maybe, one day, he’d go to some other city. But their identity would always be “from down south.” Read more
TASLIMA NASREEN: STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND
Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasrin hasn’t visited her country in 22 years. But what good is a homecoming when there is nothing to return to?
Taslima Nasrin was forced to leave her desh 22 years ago. She has never since returned to Dhaka, where she worked as a doctor and a writer of feminist columns. Neither has she gone back to Mymensingh, the town on the banks of the Brahmaputra, where she grew up. “It was a large house, one of those old zamindar houses, with high ceilings and shuttered windows. There were niches, spiral staircases and wrought-iron railings. There were many fruit trees and plants. The Brahmaputra was a walk away. We would play on its banks. Whenever I see a river, I think of the Brahmaputra. It always surfaces in my poetry,” she says, when we meet at India Habitat Centre, Delhi…. Read more
WE WERE WHAT WE ATE
Four members of refugee communities settled in Delhi talk about the food they left behind.
‘We never ate out of the fridge like our children in Delhi do’
For 35 years, the Tibetan refugee colony at Majnu ka Tila in north Delhi has been home to 82-year-old Eshe Shutum. Her hands resting on her yellow-ochre skirt, she sits outside the Buddhist temple at the centre of the colony. At the thought of the food she last ate in Tibet, her black eyes gleam.
“The food back home was not very different, but the taste was,” says the octogenarian, “We ate everything freshly plucked from our farms. Whether it was cabbage, cauliflower or potatoes, they were tastier in Tibet,” she says. Shutum was 26 when she left Tibet, and lived in Arunachal Pradesh and Dharamshala before settling in Delhi. A few metres away, on a bench outside a food stall, sits Samden. “We never ate out of the fridge like our children in Delhi do,” adds the 83-year-old. Eating out was an alien concept… Read more
TWO LIVES: A GRANDMOTHER AND GRANDSON REFLECT UPON THE LIFE THEY LOST
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, there are approximately 5,000 Chin refugees in this country.
‘I can’t think of my children anymore’
Esther Par Lai wakes up at 4 am, when the neighbourhood is asleep. She walks around her flat, closing windows and pulling curtains. Then, the former “headman” of a village in Myanmar shuts herself in the kitchen and draws the latch behind her. She feels safe — it should be alright to make the traditional dry fish curry for her grandchildren now. “The landlords complain about the smell of the fish curry we cook. They force us to shift. I cook for my grandchildren. This is their food,” she says. They have moved home 13 times in eight years… Read more