Wednesday, December 31, 2014

नया साल कैसे मनायें..

अरुणाभ सौरभ के फेसबुक वाल से उड़ाई एक पुरानी रंगउड़ी फोटो
खिड़की में जाले हों, जीभ पर छाले हों, कलेजा घबराया छाती में फड़फड़ाता हो, दिल अनथक ‘एल्‍सव्‍हेयर, एल्‍सव्‍हेयर’ बुदबुदवाता हो, जैंजीबार घूमे न हों, पनामा सिर्फ़ किताबों में पढ़े हों (या बिना फिल्‍टर वाली होंठों में बालकर कलेजा जलाया हो), जलेबी छूने से डाक्‍टर ने मना किया हो, सीढ़ि‍यां चढ़ने-उतनने से मन मना करता रहता हो, निम्‍न रक्‍तचाप इशारों से बुलाती हो, मधुमेह सुस्‍ती के गीत सुनवाता हो, हाथ में हिन्‍दी साहित्‍य आते ही मन बिछौना छोड़कर छलांगते छत पर पहुंच जाने, व वहां से नीचे कूद जाने को मचलने लगता हो, मगर कूदने से पहले ‘मान लो न मरे सिर्फ़ घायल हुए और अस्‍पताल का इतना खर्चा आया’ की सोचकर और बैंक में कितना पैसा होगा के जोड़ से लजाकर, हिन्‍दी साहित्‍य की जो-जैसी है ससुरी स्‍वीकार लेता और मोहम्‍मद रफ़ी का ‘दिल पुकारे, आ रे, आ रे, आरे’ गुनगुनाने लगता हो, इमोशनल उबड़-खाबड़ के ऐसे घनेरों में घुर्राते हुए नया साल कैसे मनायें.

या पत्‍नी उदास बैठी हो, बिल्‍ली घर से भाग गई हो, पढ़ने की मेज़ पर गौरये के एक जोड़े ने घोंसला बनाना शुरु कर दिया हो, प्रीति ने मैसेज किया हो कि सोचकर हैरान हूं कि तुम्‍हारी सोच में इतना ओछापन है, क्‍या सैक्‍सुअल ऑब्‍जेक्‍ट होना भर ही स्‍त्री की पात्रता है? स्‍त्री के मन के आकाश को झांककर कभी समझने की कोशिश की होती तुमने तब जानते कि हमारे संबंध कितने खोखले थे, प्‍लीज़, मुझे परेशान करना बंद कर दो, और पिछले महीने मैंने जो तेरह सौ तुम्‍हें दिये थे, उसे लौटाकर मेरे जीवन से बाहर हो जाओ, मैं अपने सेल से तुम्‍हारा नंबर और लैपटॉप से तुम्‍हारी मेल आई-डी हमेशा के लिए डिलीट कर रही हूं, गुडबाई एंड बेस्‍ट ऑफ लक? प्रीति का ऐसा बेसिर-पैर का मैसेज पाकर कैसे मनायें.

नया साल जब कोई गुमनाम डेस्टिनेशन लगता हो, या बचपन के किसी लंगोटिये दोस्‍त की पहली मर्तबा मिली उस बीवी की तरह जो हिन्‍दी ऐसे बोलती हो जैसे सूरीनाम या मैसाचुसेट्स से पढ़कर आई हो, या हंसते हुए कैजुयल क्रुयेल्‍टी में आप आसनसोल से पढ़कर आये हो का नतीजा आपको बिना पढ़े सुना रही हो और उसका चुटकुला समझने से हारे आप घबराकर बाथरुम में जाकर छुप जा रहे हो और दोस्‍त के दरवाजा बजाने पर शर्मिंदगी में सिर नवाये जल्‍दी-जल्‍दी उसे सफाई देने लगते हो कि पत्‍नी को पीछे अकेली छोड़े तुम कहां-कहां भागे रहते हो और घर लौटकर उसके रोते हुए के आगे जाकर माफ़ी मांग लेने की जगह कैसे पलटकर उस पर बरसने लगते हो, आदमी इस तरह नीच क्‍यों हो जाता है, बसन्‍त.. और बसन्‍त दरवाज़ा बजाना बंद करके दीवार पर मुंह सटाये चुप लगा जाता हो, शर्म के ऐसे कंटीलों में कैसे मनायें.

नहाने की सोचें और कपड़े पहनने लगें, चिल्‍लाने की सोचें और दोस्‍त की दी दारु का गिलास हाथ में लेकर दांत चियारने लगें, कविता की किताब फाड़कर खिड़की से फेंक दें की सोचें और बजाय उसे हाथ में लेकर मुदितभाव पढ़ने का अभिनय खेलने लगें, दोनों आंखों पर हथेली बांधे सांस रोके चुप रहने की सोचें और बजाय फेसबुक पर हाथ-गोड़ छोड़ते लहलहाते खेत की तस्‍वीर बनने लगें, ऐसी मुंहजलाइयों में कैसे मनायें, नया साल..

Monday, December 29, 2014

किसी एक फूल का नाम लो..

मैं जाड़े और जोड़ों की तकलीफ़ से गुजर-गुजरकर निकल व नतीजतन मचल रहा था, चिन्‍नी जाने कहां बहल रही थी (सुबह के नाश्‍ते के बाद दिन के दबे उजियारों में आदमी, या चिन्‍नी, कहीं बहलने क्‍यों निकल जाते हैं, जबकि नज़रें गड़ाये खुद को देखें तो उनके पास दहलने का इतना सामान पहले ही मौजूद रहता है?), मचलती हुई मुझसे बोली, ‘किसी एक फूल का नाम लो.’

ससुराल के मुरझाते गेंदा फूलों को उदासीन आंखों देखते मैंने जवाब दिया, ‘मधु राय के लिखे एक गुजराती नाटक का नाम है. तुम एक किताब का नाम लो..’ और इसके पहले कि चिन्‍नी बारह नामों से फुदकती तेरहवें पर जाकर बैठती, मैंने उसे टोककर आगाह किया, ‘डैम्‍मीट लड़की, हिन्‍दी का लो!’

इस पर लड़की मुंह फुलाकर बैठ गई. डेढ़ मिनिट के सन्‍नाटे को फिर यह कहकर तोड़ा, ‘किताब एक इमैजिनरी भाषा का नाम है. काल्‍पनिक, कल्‍पनाशील नहीं, माइंड इट.’

जाड़े, और जोड़ों की तकलीफ़ पर अटक-अटककर कई नाम गिरते व गायब होते रहे, मैं भावुक होकर चिन्‍नी को इस सुन्‍न शून्‍यता से बचा लेना चाहता था, लेकिन चिन्‍नी आलरेडी तब तक बदनाम होकर मेरी पहुंच से बहुत-बहुत दूर निकल चुकी थी. चिन्‍नी उठकर मुरझाये गेंदा के फूलों को हथेली में लपेट कचरे की पेटी के हवाले कर आती है, मेरी ओर पीठ किये, मुंह बिगाड़े एक चिंदी किस्‍सा मेरी ओर उछालती है, ‘देर रात को घर लौटने पर औरत की नाराजगी के जवाब में आदमी ने फैलते हुए कहा कहीं मज़ा नहीं कर रहा था, आफिस के काम में फंसा था हरामखोर. सब जाने कैसी अय्याशियों में सार्थक होते हैं, मैं दारु नहीं पीता, तुझे पीटता नहीं, मंडे के मंडे मंदिर जाता हूं फिर भी तू मेरे माथे चढ़ी रहती है, तू चाहती क्‍या है औरत. बैकग्राउंड में नाटक फैलाने के लिए किसी एक्‍टर की गूंजती आवाज़ आई- मैं था मैं हूं मैं रहूंगा, औरत ने जानते हो क्‍या जवाब दिया? लापरवाह नफ़रत में मुंह बिगाड़े बोली, फक यू.’

‘अच्‍छी बात है एक शहर का नाम लो. कहीं तो कोई एक कल्‍पनाशील कोना हो?’ यह सवाल मालूम नहीं मैंने किया या चिन्‍नी ने, मगर उसका जवाब देने की हम दोनों में से किसी ने भी कोशिश नहीं की.

खिड़की के बाहर एक साइकिल चोर खड़ा था, काफी समय से खड़ा था, और जबकि चोरी कर नहीं रहा था, हारकर चिन्‍नी बोली (मुझसे नहीं, संभवत: साइकिल चोर से ही कह रही थी), ‘सोशल, या सिविलिजेशन इवोल्‍यूशन में चलो, बताओ, हिन्‍दी समाज की क्‍या भूमिका रही है, बताओ जल्‍दी.’

जाड़े और जोड़ों से उखड़ा मैं मुर्दामन सलिल चौधुरी गुनगुनाने लगा, कहीं दूर जब..

Friday, December 26, 2014

पुराने को कैसे भूलें, और नये का किस तरह स्‍वागत करें..

चि‍ट्ठि‍यां लिखना इन दिनों बड़ा मुश्‍कि‍ल है. चि‍ट्ठी की संगत में बने रहने का मन को धीरज नहीं रहता. या उतनी देर में फ़ोन बजने लगता है. या नहीं बज रहा की चिंता उठने व उमेंठने लगती है. पुरानी पहचानों की एक धुंध-सी उठती है कि पहचानों का सचमुच का कोई जीवन था, या बीते के मन में खेले गये काल्‍पनिक खेल थे. चेहरे, दिन, जगहें उन खो गये फोटुओं की तरह स्‍मरण में गुजरकर गायब हो जाते हैं जिन्‍हें किसी और के घर किन्‍हीं अनजानी यादों की शक्‍ल में देखा था. पुराना, हाय रे, कोई और ही ज़माना लगता है. जैसे शुरू की गई और उसी में अटक गई चिट्ठी.

स्‍टील की कटोरी के सरसों के तेल में उंगली बोर, पांच मर्तबा हथेलियों में उस तेल को मलते हुए हंसुए से मां का कटहल काटना याद रहता है, लेकिन वह पैर के नाखून कैसे काटती थी, आंगन में संभाल-संभालकर रस्‍सी पर कपड़े कैसे फैलाती थी, लगता है मेरी नहीं, किसी और परिवार की मां का किस्‍सा है जिसकी कोई फोटो कभी भी मेरे देखने से रह गई.

लोहे की काली, बड़ी कड़ाही, अचार के मर्तबान, आम के एक बड़े डाल में बंधी, रंगउड़ी सुतली, धूप में जलकर पीले, सूखे घास का मैदान और उससे गुजरती एक महीन पगडंडी, स्‍कूल के गलियारे के छोर पर जंगलगी पानी की टंकी पर ब्रुश फेरकर मैं राजू, शाहिद, अनिमेष को चिट्ठी लिखना चाहता हूं, लेकिन शाहिद की बड़ी उंगलियां और उसके पैरों का कभी न बदलने वाला काला स्‍कूली जूते याद आते हैं, होली की नहान में राजू का कोयल नदी में लगभग डूबते-डूबते बच जाना और नौंवीं में अनिमेष का क्‍लास में तीसरे स्‍थान पर आने की ख़बर से शर्मिंदगी में एकदम-से रोने लगना, लगता है मेरी यादों से बाहर खड़े किसी और के जीवन की कहानियां हैं.

रहते-रहते स्‍मृति में साठ के दशक की कोई स्‍वीडिश या चेक फ़ि‍ल्‍म में दिखा देहाती मैदान का एक टुकड़ा कौंध जाता है, या कुछ वर्षों पहले पढ़ी जमैका, वेस्‍ट इंडीज़ की सांझ की उदासी में नहायी सड़क की तस्‍वीर, उसकी मार्मिकता के दबाव में अनुभूति होती है कि चिट्ठी दरअसल स्‍मरण में अटके इसी भावलोक को लिख रहे थे, राजू, शाहिद और अनिमेष को चिट्ठी लिखना तो अपने पुराने में अपने को पहचानते रहने की भोली ज़ि‍द भर थी, और यूं भी वह चिट्ठी लिखना अब असम्‍भव होता.

पुराना सचमुच अब पहचाना भी नहीं रहा. और नया संकोच और अमूर्त अकुलाहटों का स्‍पेस है, उसमें एक जंगली बांस की डंडी घुमाते हुए मैं इंतज़ार करता हूं कि इसकी फोटो कब खिंच रही है.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

सांता क्‍लास और (हिन्‍दी) साहित्‍य..

जीवन के दु:ख में नहाये, चेहरे पर पिटे कलेजों की हाय-हाय चिपकाये सूडान और अफगानिस्‍तान के अभागे बच्‍चों के बीच आपने कभी सांता क्‍लास को दांत चियारे टहलते, भेंट बांटते देखा है? नहीं देख सकते. सूडान और अफगानिस्‍तान और चोटखायी, पिटी अन्‍य जाने कहां-कहां तक पसरा अनंतलोक सांता क्‍लास की दुनिया नहीं. इस बात को आप अपनी तसल्‍ली और होशियारी में ढंग से समझ लीजिये कि सांता क्‍लास के संवरने, सार्थक होते रहने का संसार खाते-पीते बड़े नगरों के खुशहाल शॉपिंग मॉल्‍स ही होंगे. शॉपिंग मॉल्‍स से बाहर निकालकर उसे किसी नंग-धड़ंग गरीब दुनिया में छोड़ आइये, प्‍यारे सांता की कलई दो मिनिट में खुलकर बाहर चली आयेगी. हो सकता है झुंझलाहट और रोष में पिटे हुए दलिद्दर सांता की अच्‍छी पिटाई भी कर डालें.

अभाव के अंधेरों में डूबे असल ज़रुरतमंदों के लिए सांता फकत एक रूमानी किस्‍सा भर ही रहेगा. हमेशा. हिन्‍दी समाज के लिए जैसे हिन्‍दी के नाम पर छपनेवाला पारंपरिक साहित्‍य. बीच-बीच में ‘समाज के लिए बेतरह ज़रूरी’ के ठप्‍पों से अलंकृत, रह-रहकर इस सभा और उस मंडल से ‘पुरस्‍कृत’ वह कालेजों के हिन्‍दी मास्‍टरों, आठ सौ से तीन हज़ार के सर्कुलेशन वाली पत्रिकाओं और लगभग उतनी ही संख्‍या की दलबंद रचनाकार मंडलियों से अनुशंसित, आत्‍ममुग्‍ध अदाओं में घूमता, प्रकाशक और उस पर आश्रित दस कामगारों के घर का खर्चा भले उठा सकने की काबिलियत रखता हो, सचमुच के वास्‍तविक समाज में हिन्‍दी सिनेमा की उल्‍टी–सीधी जैसी भी पैठ होती हो, साहित्‍य कहीं नहीं पहुंचता/पहुंचेगा.

अलबत्‍ता रह-रहकर हिन्‍दी के मास्‍टर अपनी तीन मीटर की दुनिया में उछलते रहते हैं कि अंधेरा देखनेवाले तेरा मुंह काला. और ‘हमारी नौकरी की ही तरह हिन्‍दी साहित्य अपनी वाजिब जगह स्‍थापित है. कैसे-कैसे निराशावादी हैं, जबकि साहित्‍य यहां से निकलकर वहां पहुंच रहा है. काशी हिन्‍दू विश्‍वविद्यालय की स्‍थापना के साथ ही पहुंच गया था और ज्ञानोदय के फलाने विशेषांक के साथ एक बार फिर उसकी पुर्नस्‍थापना हुई है. इस और उस बहाने हर तीसरे महीने हो जाती है. नज़र गई थी. एकदम भोर में दिखा था. किसी ने पढ़ी थी साहित्यिक पंक्तियां. एक कवि ने कहने जैसा कुछ सचमुच कह-सा लिया था.’

किसी कोने कभी घिर जाने पर कवि झुंझलाहट में जायसी, कबीर और तुलसीदास की दुहाई देने लगते हैं. ज़ोर-ज़ोर से प्रेमचंद की लोकप्रियता गिनाने. एक रेणु और आधे का गांव और एक राग दरबारी चिल्‍लाने. नीरज के गीत और साये और धूप और धूमिलाहटों के किस्‍से. कोई भला आदमी ईमानदारी से मुंह खोलकर नहीं स्‍वीकारता कि कैसे हमारी अम्‍माओं और बहनों की ज़ि‍न्‍दगियां गुलशन नन्‍दाओं, रानू और प्रेम बाजपेइयों की संगतवाली दुपहरियों में बीतीं. कि हिन्‍दी में कभी वह समय था कि कम से कम मध्‍यवर्गीय घरों में पत्रिकाएं पहुंचती थीं और किताबें पढ़ी जाती थीं, मगर हिन्‍द पाकेट बुक्‍स और नब्‍बे के दशक के साथ वह दुनिया अंतत: सिमट गई, और घर की औरतें जो फेसबुक पर कविताएं लिखने का अरमान नहीं पालतीं, टेलिविज़न पर पाकिस्‍तानी सिरियल्‍स देखती हैं, मटर छीलने में सुख पाती होंगी, किताबों के पढ़ने में नहीं; और घर की बेटियां अपने सपने तक अंग्रेजी में देखने का अरमान पालती हैं.

मगर हिन्‍दी में मास्‍टर, पत्रकार और रचनाकार तिकड़ी जिसने समाज में क्‍या ज़रूरी है का ‘प्रगतिशील साहित्यिक कार्यभार’ उठा रखा है, ऐसे गैरज़रूरी जिरहों में उलझकर अपना मुंह काला करने नहीं जाता. हिन्‍दी मास्‍टरों, आठ सौ से तीन हज़ार सर्कुलेशन वाली पत्रिकाओं व उतनी ही संख्‍या वाले रचनाकार गोलबंदियों के हित में उसने सांता क्‍लास से इतना सबक तो लिया ही है कि सच्‍चे, ज़रुरतमंद गरीबों की हहियाई भूखाई हिंसा से कैसे अपने को बचाकर चले. साहित्‍य-साहित्‍य खेले, जहां जैसी ज़रुरत बने उसकी इधर-उधर थोड़ी रि-पैकेजिंग करके बेचे, ठेले, मगर जब भी यह ज़रूरी सवाल मुंह बाये सामने आकर खड़ा हो जाये कि बच्‍चा, साहित्‍य सचमुच जा कहां किस समाज में रहा है? तो आंख पर बड़ा काला चश्‍मा चढ़ाकर सांता क्‍लास की तरह चुपचाप चलता बने.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

कि चलना ही पहुंचना है




















दरवाज़े के इस ओर के हताश अंधेरों में खड़े
हमेशा दिल ललकता है दरवाज़े के दूसरी ओर
उम्‍मीद का कोई चमकदार कोना होगा
सपनों के बरामदे, नेकी और मासूमीयत एटसेट्रा की अमूर्त एक दुनिया
दरवाज़े के दूसरी तरफ़ मगर फिर एक दरवाज़ा होता है
उसके हिस्‍से के अंधेरे, और अगले सफ़र का इंतज़ार

बंद दरवाज़ों का रहस्‍यलोक
और खुलते की खरीदारियों
की अंतहीन अनवरतता में
बहलता, बीतता है जीवन
कहनेवाले उसे कहीं से कहीं पहुंचने की
कथाएं कहते होंगे, जबकि वह फकत एक से निकलकर
दूसरे दरवाज़े में दाखिल होने का क़ि‍स्‍सा भर होता है

उससे आगे अपने पल्‍ले पसारे
फिर सबकुछ के खत्‍म होने की किवाड़ होती है
और सबसे गहरा अंधेरा.

[अपने मनोचिकित्‍सक के आगे निर्मम होता एक अमरीकी मरीज]

ऊपर की कलाकरी: रामकुमार की.

Friday, December 12, 2014

महाबली आयेगा, जिसको बचायेगा..

‘यह रख, वह दे. तुझे मैं यहां का देता हूं, तू मुझे वहां का देना, अब, आ, बाजू में खड़ा होकर फोटो खिंचवाते हैं, फाईन? से चीज़?’ क्लिक, क्लिक.. हें-हें फें-फें.. यह एक नासमझ बच्‍चे का लिखा बेवकूफ़ भावोद्गार हो सकता है, मगर राष्‍ट्राध्‍यक्षों का अजनबी ज़मीनों पर जाकर ताज़महल और सीकरियों की टहल करने और बिजनेस समूहों का ‘ये’ और ‘वो’ इंटरेस्‍ट फिक्‍स करने से अलग, समझदारी की, संवेदनात्‍मक कोई अन्‍य उपस्थिति बनती है भी? बन सकती है? कोई राष्‍ट्राध्‍यक्ष कभी किसी भारतीय प्रधानमंत्री के कंधे पर झुककर, कान में फुसफुसाकर सवाल करता होगा कि (चलो, बिलासपुर और बलिहारीपुर की चर्चा छोड़ो, हटाओ) तुम्‍हारे बाहरी दिल्‍ली में आजकल बिजली और पानी की सप्‍लाई के क्‍या हाल हैं? लातखाये तबकों के बच्‍चों की स्‍कूली पढ़ाई की? या कंधों के बाजू हाथ ऊपर किये जम्‍हाई लेकर सवाल करता होगा कि इस बार ताजमहल रहने देते हैं, आईएसबीटी या जामा मस्जिद से लगे झोपड़पट्टि‍यों की एक झांकी लेते हैं?

बिजनेस इंटरेस्‍ट से अलग राष्‍ट्राध्‍यक्षों के राडार पर और क्‍या, कैसी चिंतायें तैरती हैं? कोई राष्‍ट्राध्‍यक्ष इस सवाल को लेकर कभी उद्वेलित, शिक्षा मंत्री की कक्षा नहीं लेने लगता कि अबे, यही सब तुम्‍हारे यहां दिन भर टेलीविज़न पर चलता रहता है? सचमुच, यही तुम्‍हारे यहां की डेमोक्रेसी है, तब तो ये बड़ी हसीन गुंडा डेमोक्रेसी है, हं?

गोलगप्‍पों के बारे में कोई राष्‍ट्राध्‍यक्षों को कल्‍चरली एनलाइटेन करता होगा, या वो जो उत्‍तर-पूर्व की एक पगलेट ईरोम शर्मिला है, पॉलिटिकली, उसके बारे में? मुंबई में काम की हड़बड़ में भागते रेल की पटरियां क्रॉस करते और हर महीने इतना जान गंवाते मुसाफिरों के बाबत कोई सीनियर सेक्रेट्री किसी राष्‍ट्राध्‍यक्ष को पुर्ची पर आंकड़े पढ़कर सुनाता होगा, या यही कि पिछले बीस वर्षों में बड़ी कंपनियों और उनकी कमाई में इतना इजाफ़ा हुआ है, तरकारी की कीमतों और महंगाई में, आम लोगों के जीवन के गड्ढों के पूरने में एकदम भी नहीं? या यही कि कैसे हिन्‍दी साहित्‍य साढ़े सात मोहल्‍लों भर की दुनिया और तीन त्‍यौहारी पुरस्‍कारों की कोंहड़े की तरकारी जिमकर सुखी खट्टे डकार लिये अपने में मुदित रहनेवाली साढ़े सात सौ कालेजी मास्‍टरों और डेढ़ सौ पत्रकारों भर की दुनिया है?

जय संतोषी मांओं और बेदम बाबाओं के अपूर्व शाहकारों के किस्‍से किसी राष्‍ट्राध्‍यक्ष के कानों तक कभी पहुंचते होंगे? जीवन के टंटों में अपनी किस्‍मत फुड़वाये किसी गंधाते दीवार पर पेशाब करने की जगह पाकर कुछ क्षणों के लिए अपने को खुशकिस्‍मत समझ लेने की ग़लतफ़हमियों में नहाता नागरिक किसी राष्‍ट्राध्‍यक्ष को कभी दिखता होगा?

Thursday, December 11, 2014

भाषा के कुहरीले जल में..




















उत्‍सवधर्मी चिंताकर्मी हिन्‍दी पत्रिका के लिए होगी फालतू
बस ख़्यालों में होगी तैरती कविता, इम्‍प्रेशंस के लतरी जंगल में उतरती
रह-रहकर दीख जाती कुहरीले बुखारों से उबरती
पुरातन इंजन, औज़ार, डूबी नाव का इस्‍पात सूंघती
ज़ि‍न्‍दा बने रहना का ज़ि‍द किये किसी पुरइन मछली से पूछती
कि पिटी भाषा के मुर्दा कारखाने में सांस लेने की
हाथ-गोड़ पटकने की, कभी-कभी सचमुच मुदित प्रसन्‍नमन चौंक लेने की
तरकीब क्‍या है.

मछली कहेगी कुछ नहीं
सुफ़ने फटकारती नथुने का सांस उड़ाती
उड़ी जायेगी दायें-बायें सायें-सायें
पीछे टूटते पानियों में मैसेज घुला होगा
ऑस्‍ट्रेलिया फ़ोन घुमाओ अपना स्‍काइप बजाओ
बख्‍शो मेरी नन्‍हीं जान तेईस आखर
वाले मेरे जलऔंजाये गांव का सीवान
घबराये हुए बुझाना फिर सिगरेट बालना
धुआंई कुर्राई भर्राई बाल्‍टी का जल
अंतरंग की समूची नदी का नल
गोड़ पर उलीचने लगना, तक़लीफ़ में खुद को टटोलने
मगर फ़ोन नहीं करना

फ़ोन करके क्‍या करोगे
कंठ रुंधा होगा, अटकती सांसों में
कुछ नहीं कहोगे, अटपटाये-से बाजे का
एक टेक तक नहीं दुरुस्तियायेगा तुमसे
घिघियाये गाने लगोगे तू हवा है कहां वतन तेरा
या, हंसते हुए मेरा अकेलापन, और उसके बाद, फिर रोते हुए भी
कुछ नहीं कहे के औंजाये शोरिल टैपराइटर पर यह सब तेज़ी से घसीटा दर्ज़ होगा
फिर शर्मिन्‍दगी में नहाया कल-कल बहता नल होगा, निर्वस्‍त्र जल
आत्‍मा के गलियारों को रौंदते कुड़कुड़ाते बेहयायी के खूंख़ार कबूतर
कंधे पर अंगोछा लिये दोपहर का खाना पचाने निकलते होंगे
वियेना, बीजिंग, या बुच्‍चनपुर के इंटरनेटनगर से भटककर चली आई कोई चिट्ठी
हदसकर पढ़ोगे, जाड़े की छांह में कांपते बहलकर कि आखि़र इस सबका मतलब क्‍या है

बालना सिगरेट और बुझाना फिर उसी तेज़ी से
कि वह हवा है कहां वतन तेरा का तू कौन है
और वह फ़ोन जो घनघनाती रहती है सारे वक़्त
मगर कहीं जाती नहीं, मछली भाषा की जो तैरती है सारे वक़्त गरदन में कहीं
मन का अपना कभी किसी वाजिब ज़बान में बताती नहीं.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

दुपहरिये के नाले..


फोटो: पुखराज के पारुल
- दुपहरिया-दुपहरिया भर जांत घिसते रहते थे, कंधा छूटकर फेंका जायेगा जैसा बुझाता था तब जाके दम लेने को मौसी का साड़ी से मुंह पोंछकर, लोटा का गट-गट पानी पीते थे, पसीना में नहाया चेहरा पे तब्‍बो मुस्‍की खिंचाया रहता था, दीदी..!
- अब्‍बो खिंचाया रहता है.
- न्‍न्‍ना दीदी, चार-चार दिन निकल जाता है, कोई से मन का बात बोलते हैं, न कोई आके हमारे दिल की खबर लेता है. दिल, ओह, ओठ से एक ठो वर्ड बहरियाने भर से मन कइसा तो भारी-भारी हुआ जाता है. जैसे नहाने का तैयारी करके घर से निकले और कौनो अनजाना मोहल्‍ला में पहुंच गये! मन का कुआं में वीराना का डब्‍ब से कोई सूखा कंकड़ फेंक गया जैसे, सब गड़बड़ हो गया है, हम वही हैं, आपो वहीं हैं, दुनिया जस का तस अपना जगह है, फिर काहे सब गड़बड़ा, अझुरा गया है, दीदी? गेंदा में पानी डालने पहुंचते हैं और वहां जाके खयाल आता है हाथ में लोटा नहीं, कलछुल है. रहते-रहते रात को नींद उचट जाती है, होम साईंस का प्रैक्टिकल में पंचफोरन का डिब्‍बा का पीछे नीलम उंगली से निकालकर अपना अंगूठी रखी थी, उसका चोरी हो गया था, नीलम बहुत रोई थी, उसका रोना याद आता है. जबकि सोचिये, कैंसर से नीलम का जान गये भी ये अब चार साल निकल गया, फिर हाई स्‍कूल का कहानी याद करके हम अभी क्‍यों दुखी हो रहे हैं? नीलम हमारी फ्रेंड भी नहीं थी, पूरे स्‍कूल में कोई हमारा फ्रेंड नहीं था, फिर स्‍कूल और सरसत्‍ती पूजा के पंडाल के पीछे राजेश या दीपक भैया कोई जबर बात बोल दिये थे, टप-टप हमारे आंख से पानी बहने लगा था का क्‍यों याद आता है, दीदी? सच्‍ची में, हम कुच्‍छो याद नहीं करना चाहते. कोई पूछे इंटर में पंचमी तुमको कौन नाम से बुलाती थी, हम बिना एक्‍को बार सोचे साफ-साफ बोल देंगे, नो कमेंट!
***
- अच्‍छा, भैया, आपको भूटान का राजधानी मालूम है? वहां का एयरपोट का नाम बताइये?
- तुमसे हम चेकोसलवाकिया का स्‍पेलिंग पूछ रहे हैं, न?
- वहीये तो, काहे पूछ रहे हैं, जबकि आपको पक्‍का मालूम है हमको थिम्‍पू का भी इस्‍पेलिंग करेक्‍टली नहीं मालूम होगा. अरजेंटिना का मालूम है, उसको देखियेगा?
- नहीं, तुम शेक्‍सपियर, नीत्‍ज़े और गेटे लिखकर दिखाओ!
- अब यही आप अत्‍याचार करते हैं, भैया, नीशे लिखना जानते तो ऊ मैक्‍समूलर वाला हमको नौकरी पर नहीं बुला लेता? हमको तो पहिले ईहो नहीं मालूम है कि गोठे लिखते हैं कि गेटे, कि गेयेटे, आपको मालूम है, भैया? करेक्‍टली, हंड्रेड परसेंट?
***
- आपको क्‍या लगता है, पारुल जी, ये जो आपका जो भी है, नहीं, उसको उसके नाम और पोज़ीशन से नहीं बुलाऊंगा, मुंह का स्‍वाद बिगड़ जाता है, ये मूर्ख है, गंवार है, इंटर कॉलेज के किसी छात्र नेता की तरह इर्रेसपांसिबली स्‍टेज पर बांह पसारे, दायें-बायें लपक-लपककर कुछ भी बकता रहता है, छंटा हुआ गुंडा है, या दिमाग में छप्‍पन इंच का छेद लिये दुनिया में पैदलबुद्धि के नये कीर्ति-पताका फतहचांद करने निकला है, आप बताइयेगा, है क्‍या? सुन रही हैं, आप चार मिनिट के लिए निखिल बनर्जी का सितार से कान, और कमल-पुंज से आंख फेरकर सिर्फ़ और सिर्फ़ नाले की कीच की पहचान में मेरा हाथ नहीं बंटा सकतीं, ओ? शातिर शी चिनफिंग की तो रहने दें, सुलझे हुनरमंदी का छंटा हुआ दीवाला पु‍तिन तक इसे हास्‍यास्‍पद उज़बकमहान समझता होगा, फिर भी ये बालदुर्लभ उत्‍साह में पेंग मारता अपने ख़याली बेंग के गुलेल छोड़ता और विवेक और संवेदना की पीठ पर छेरता रहता है, तंग चुड़ीदार तो मालूम नहीं कैसे उन डेढ़ क्विंटली पैरों में डालता होगा, बुत्रि-बलिहारी इसने कहां डाल रखी है, इसे आप समझाइयेगा ज़रा? अरे, दो मिनिट के लिए आप कैमरा क्लिकियाना और फेसबुक पर दाल बुहारना नहीं रोक सकतीं, हं?

Sunday, November 16, 2014

आज़ादी के दायरे: एक पुरानी पिटी अफग़ानी कहानी..

क़िस्‍सा 2002 के आसपास का है. एक तरह से कहें तो क़िस्‍सा अफग़ानिस्‍तान में रुसियों के दखल और क्रूर दमन के आड़े-टेढ़े नतीजों, और तदंतर अमरीकी मदद की छांह में परंपरावादियों के सिर के बल खड़े हो जाने के और -औरटेढ़े क़िस्‍सों का है. या मालूम नहीं, शायद पचास के दशक से ही एक कबीलाई समाज के अपनी तरह से पेश आने, और अपनी ऐंठ और ज़ि‍द में अपनी जगह से ज़रा भी टस से मस न होने, हमेशा उसी तरह से बने रहने का भी है. 

बहुत सारी पेचीदगियों में उलझी दुनिया है, फ़ि‍लहाल, 2002 की एक झलक लें. आनन्‍द गोपाल की किताब का टुकड़ा है, साभार.

It was well into the springtime of that first post-Taliban year before she saw a sign of change: a shipment of medicines donated by the US government arrived at the new base and was subsequently parceled out to community leaders. Heela could now prescribe iron pills. Shortly after, an NGO showed up to remove mines left over from the Soviet war. It was the first time, as far as anyone could remember, that an international aid group had ever visited the area. Then, that summer, workers from another agency appeared, to distribute seeds to needy farmers.
Musqinyar began to see the world anew. Ex-Communists around the country were embracing the US-backed government—many were even working directly for the Americans—and he didn’t want to be left behind. He began making trips to the base to meet soldiers, who were members of the US special forces, and he often took Omaid along. In the evenings, he would regale Heela with tales of his visits. Old dreams were dusted off and updated. For the first time in years, he spoke of traveling abroad. He promised that Germany awaited, and maybe even Mecca, too, where they would make their holy pilgrimage together.
And just like that, Heela felt the tug herself. That something inside her that had driven her to economics at university against her parents’ advice, that something that had given her the courage to travel cross-country with Taliban officials to study nursing—it was pulling at her again. It had now been four long years since she’d last set eyes upon anything outside the main wall of her compound, four years of births and meals and quarrels: life lived, no doubt, but she wanted more. When Musqinyar came home in the evenings, she started to beg him to take her somewhere, even just for an afternoon. She had no idea how such a feat could be accomplished, but she didn’t see why they shouldn’t try.
The trouble was, Musqinyar did not have the slightest idea how to pull this off, either. If villagers caught Heela walking about outdoors, the gossiping and backbiting and the resulting shame could be enough to tear apart the strongest family. Not long before, there had been the case of a woman of marriageable age sighted walking alone near the bazaar, prompting folks to say that she was up to no good. Even Heela had assumed so, for what other reason could there be for a woman of that age? Sure enough, it was later learned that she had run off in an unsanctioned marriage or had turned to prostitution. She was not seen again, and the family left Uruzgan in shame.
But for Heela, there was also an obstacle much closer to home: her mother-in-law, the family’s octogenarian upholder of tradition. Since marriage, Musqinyar’s mother had left her house only a handful of times in her life, and she spoke with the stubborn authority of someone who knew that this was the way things had always been and would always be. She saw it as her duty to protect the family name, especially since her daughter-in-law had arrived with her Kabul ways.
Musqinyar thought hard for some days, and then he announced to his mother one afternoon that Heela had fallen sick and needed to be rushed to a nurse on the far side of the district. The old woman demurred, insisting that exposing Heela would do the family more harm than having her sick in bed for a few weeks.
“And if she gets worse?” he asked. “Do you want to be responsible?”
She had no reply. Heela, listening in the next room, ear to the door, could not believe the ruse was working.
After dinner, she fitted herself into a mud-green burqa and stepped outside, following Musqinyar and the children. She didn’t know where they were headed, and she didn’t care.
The sun sat low and fat and pink on the horizon. Through the burqa mesh, she could make out Musqinyar’s sandals swinging into and out of view. They headed along the dirt path leading to the stream.
Holding his hand, she crossed the wooden footbridge and stepped into the backseat of the car, which was always parked on the far embankment. Musqinyar drove them to the bazaar, by now almost shut down for the night. Around this time, boys would bring their goats into town to feed on the garbage heaped by the roadside, a de facto sanitation service. The children working the shops would be busy pulling down the rusted iron shutters. Their sunburned grandfathers would be squatting nearby, repeating their tired tales. Yet even in its crumbling decay, the bazaar still showed some signs of the new era: a poster of a Bollywood starlet, a small satellite dish perched atop a shop.
They waited until the street was clear, Heela ducking out of sight, and then rolled slowly toward the shops. As they pulled up to Musqinyar’s store, she could just make out through her mesh the flowing, cursive script on the window: KABUL PHARMACY. Inside, the dusty shelves were choked with Chinese- and Pakistani-made medicines. With no hospitals for miles, this was it. You addressed your health care needs here at Musqinyar’s pharmacy, or you didn’t address them at all.
“Today,” he told her with a smile, “you are my guest. Take whatever you like.” Heela shuffled through the rows of chalky white boxes as the boys scurried here and there. Six-year-old Jamshed hoisted himself onto a chair behind the glass counter and pounded his fist. “I’m a doctor!” he announced. Heela wished her Kabul friends could see her now, out again, reclaiming her place in the world. One of the boys knocked over a pile of medicines. Heela shrieked and spanked him, but Musqinyar burst out laughing. The muezzin crooned and the sky darkened. She selected a few boxes to take home, including a drug that cured headaches and another that protected against the evil eye.
The trip lasted less than an hour, but Heela felt like the luckiest woman in Khas Uruzgan. Although she would experience much in the years to come, this would be the only family outing she would ever have.
*   *   *
It was a summer’s day in 2002, a day so hot that Heela was avoiding the garden altogether, when someone rapped on the front door. Musqinyar was at work and the boys at school, so she did not answer, but the knocking continued and finally the visitor called out her name. She pressed her face against the metal gate and carefully said, “Who is it?”
“Qudus Khan,” said the voice. It was the district governor, one of the most powerful men in Khas Uruzgan. He was also in charge of an NGO that operated on foreigner-donated funds.
“I’m sorry,” she said self-consciously, “my husband isn’t here.”
“No, we’d like to speak with you. We heard there’s an educated woman in this house.”
“That’s me,” she said through the closed door. “I can read and write.”
The governor told her that they had received funding to establish a female vocational training center and needed someone to help oversee the project. Would she be interested? Heela stood staring at the door. It took a moment for the words to register. She knew that this sort of opportunity came along only once or twice in a lifetime. But turning around, she saw her mother-in-law—standing “with her arms folded like a warlord,” she recalled.
“Thank you for your offer,” she said, “but I don’t want to work.”
Qudus Khan insisted that she was the perfect person for the job, since they didn’t know of anyone else who had experience “outside the house.” Heela was at a loss. She glanced around to her mother-in-law, and finally said, “It isn’t my decision. Please talk to my husband when he comes home.”
As soon as he left, her mother-in-law walked up to her. “What’s wrong with you? How could you let those men hear your voice? You’re going to make trouble for my son, aren’t you?”
Heela ignored her and went inside. She was feeling that tug again, and her mind raced with possibilities. Although she knew of no female in her village who had successfully worked outside the house, she didn’t see why she couldn’t be the first. Confidence was a rare currency, and ironically her stint working under the Taliban had endowed her with more than any woman she knew. That evening, Musqinyar jumped at the news. Nine years of village life had not yet eradicated the last vestiges of his former world. The two began conspiring to get Heela the job.
Fortunately, the position only required twice-monthly visits to the vocational center. The furtive trip to his shop had convinced him that if planned carefully, it would be possible to smuggle her to the center and back without discovery. The only challenge, as always, was his mother. After a day of discussion, he dreamed up a cover story: he would be taking Heela to “visit the village shrine.” When he tested the idea with his mother, she shot back, “What good is a woman her age going to the shrine? The holiest work is here with me in the kitchen.”
Musqinyar countered that, with his newfound religiosity, he preferred a more observant wife. And it was true that he had taken to the Koran, even growing out his beard like the rest of the village. Would she actually stand in the way of religion? There was nothing that could rightfully be said to this, and she knew it.
On the appointed day, Heela awoke earlier than usual and fished out her most respectable outfit, holding it up for inspection. The burqa was loose and flowing, sandy-brown like the earth. She set it aside and readied breakfast, then proceeded to finish her chores for the day. It was not yet mid-morning when she and Musqinyar and the children, along for effect, loaded themselves into the station wagon. As they drove the long back road around the village, she caught herself telling rambling stories, her habit when anxious.
The car pulled up to a nondescript house and Musqinyar scanned the area, then motioned for Heela to get out. She had taken only a few steps when a man on a bicycle appeared on the horizon, pedaling toward them. She jumped back into the car. He sped by without looking up.
Heela got out again and this time nearly ran to the gate. Inside, a group of women trainees were crowded together in a small room, hunched over sewing machines. Most were Hazaras, whose families tended to take a slightly more permissive approach to purdah than the Pashtuns of her village. Still, like Heela, they had all endured significant risks to come, and, as the machines sputtered along, the mood was tense. It was 2002, the Taliban had been gone for almost a year, and the Americans were busy building a new Afghanistan, yet in Khas Uruzgan these women had no choice but to work in secret. Everyone there knew the stakes: if word leaked, they would almost certainly be accused of prostitution—a charge that, under the strictures of village life, was usually punishable by death.
Heela was to be an auditor, ensuring that none of the students or teachers made off with the materials. As thrilling as it was, she was not happy to linger. She kept glancing at the door, expecting village men to burst in at any moment. She took down the inventory and hurried back to Musqinyar’s waiting car.
At home, her mother-in-law asked, “Did you go to the shrine?”
“Yes,” Heela replied.
“Did you pray for me?”
“Yes.”
*   *   *
One evening a month later, Musqinyar arrived home with a wad of cash and handed it to Heela. She counted it: 8,500 Pakistani rupees—nearly $150. She looked at him.
“Take it,” he said.
Heela knew that she’d be getting paid, but the amount still came as a shock. She handed it back, saying it belonged to him, the man of the house.
He pushed it right back into her hands. “It’s yours,” he said. “You’ve earned it. It’s your right.”
Heela hadn’t gone to work for the money, but, holding the cash in her hand, she felt a gravitas like she’d never experienced. Still, she knew of no women keeping money they had earned. It belonged to the family, to the husband. But it was clear to her that Musqinyar was serious. Had something like this ever happened in the village before? That night, before bed, she sewed a pocket into her dress to hide the money, as if Qudus Khan might come to his senses and snatch it back at any moment.
Every two weeks Heela engaged in a ritual of deceit with her mother-in-law, and every month a new wad of cash arrived. It felt as if she were rediscovering her old self. On those rare occasions when elderly female relatives visited the house, she spoke more knowingly and confidently. She knew that despite their age, they would never understand the world the way that she did or see what she’d seen. “I stopped thinking only about my children and my four walls,” she recalled. “I thought about my village and Afghans everywhere.”
Occasionally she sent the boys out to the bazaar to buy small gifts for Musqinyar. Sometimes they made a game of it. “We got dice and made bets, me and him,” she said. “The kids were always supporting him. I usually lost and would send the boys to buy him clothes. I think I pick out nicer clothes anyway, so this worked in my favor. Then once we played and he said, ‘If you win, I’ll buy you a necklace.’ I finally won, and it was a gold necklace. I still have it.”
*   *   *
Cut into the stream in front of Heela’s house at various points were small canals and irrigation ditches, which fanned out to the farms of the village. Few households owned plots outright. Instead, most land belonged to the khan, who functioned as a feudal lord of sorts, with villagers working as sharecroppers. Nearly every village had at least one khan; some, like Khas Uruzgan governor Qudus Khan, were prominent district-wide, but most were known just in their own village. The khans of Khas Uruzgan had risen to power only in the previous thirty years, when the old elite fled or were killed off by the Communists, and they had climbed to their positions through expert management of CIA-sourced funds and landgrabs. Musqinyar kept up good relations with Hajji Abdo Khan, the khan of their village, as a matter of politics, but he and Heela knew that he was a cause of much poverty. And when the village received aid money, it was understood that Abdo Khan would take a cut. Still, only with his tacit approval was the sewing center able to function at all.
That small room with no windows and a dozen old sewing machines was the sole space where women regularly gathered outside their home anywhere in Khas Uruzgan save the Hazara areas. A girls’ school existed on paper, but only to soothe foreign powers and Western aid agencies, as there was no actual facility. In fact, there had never been a girls’ school in the village. When the Communists declared female education compulsory, they had toyed with the possibility of threatening recalcitrant families with jail time, but a series of uprisings in Kandahari villages against the idea led them to back off. The Communists may have believed that they were imposing modernization on the backward countryside, but from the farmers’ point of view a household could not function without women doing the necessary work indoors. With no jobs waiting for high school graduates, villagers could only see potential ruin in allowing their daughters outside.
Not much had changed in the years since, except that two decades of jihadi war had left purdah with a thick Islamic gloss. So everyone involved in the sewing enterprise—Hajji Abdo Khan included—took great care to keep the effort under wraps, lest they be accused of abandoning their religion. It took nearly three months for talk to start bubbling up around the district of the strange building where women had been seen entering. Heela took the news as a sort of inevitability, as if freedom, like all things in a world forged by war, was fleeting by its very nature. Yet even after Qudus Khan shut down the center to avoid trouble, she held on to those three months and did not let them go. The tug within her was nearly constant. It occurred to her that she now understood how the sewing business worked better than anyone. She had spent hours checking machines and spool stocks and fabric supplies. She knew what risks the women were taking to learn the trade, what she was risking herself just to check on them. Why couldn’t she run a center herself, right in her own home?
Musqinyar did not even need to hear the details of her proposal. “I’ll arrange it with Qudus Khan in the morning,” he said, “and get some machines.”
The following day, under cover of darkness, Musqinyar and Omaid unloaded sewing machines from the car and carried them down to the cellar. In return for the donation, they had agreed to provide dresses for Qudus Khan to sell. The governor would quietly put word out about Heela’s “medical practice.”
On the first day of sewing class in that cramped cellar, fourteen women showed up. They would return once a month, each using her own brand of subterfuge. Nilofar, who might have been seventeen (though no one knew for sure), feigned illness to come. Mina snuck out in the afternoons, when her family was taking its midday nap, dressed in black—the color of the elderly, who were ordinarily allowed to pass without notice. Getting caught would likely have meant death, but she kept coming back. Nazo waited until the men in her house were asleep to cross the fields. At her advanced age she would not have been punished as severely as the others, but then she started bringing her two granddaughters. When her son-in-law discovered the excursions, he was incensed. With some effort, she convinced him that she needed help getting to the doctor. Nonetheless, after the third class, he began suspecting that education was involved and confronted her, shouting, “Don’t corrupt my daughters!” Nazo swore that she was doing no such thing. “Look!” she insisted. “I don’t have any books. I don’t even have a pen. I have nothing. Come check my room.”
The class, initially two hours, soon expanded to four. “At first, we didn’t talk about sewing at all,” Heela said, “but instead about how to maintain proper hygiene, how to take care of your house, keep your husband happy, time management, some useful kitchen skills, and so on. These were things I had learned in Kabul, but how could you expect these village women to know about them? I taught them about city life, about the Koran, and then how to sew. I also gave them a primary education, how to write basic things and do basic arithmetic.”
By the sixth month, the students were learning how to operate the machines and measure cloth. Upon graduating, each was granted a table, a ruler, and, to their astonishment, a working sewing machine. This created another set of difficulties, as they had to conspire to sneak the machines into their houses. Eventually the governor awarded the materials to the men of the house, under the guise of a foreign grant. Musqinyar delivered the dresses directly to Qudus Khan, who passed them on to other district officials for sale.
Heela found that she had a way with the students. For women venturing outdoors for the first time, her words came soft and reassuring. Yet they also saw in her a striking model of modernity, bedecked as she was in Kabul’s sartorial splendor: baggy trousers, ankle bells, and a daub of eye shadow. For many, she was the first woman they had ever met who had cast her eyes upon the outside world.
Class size dwindled during harvest season, when men would bring home fruit for their wives to clean and dry, and fluctuated unpredictably whenever domestic difficulties broke out: occasionally a woman somewhere in the district would get beaten or killed, scaring the students off for a month or two.
One of the students was a young woman rumored to have been kidnapped from Kabul during the civil war, and Heela was eager to learn more. During the first sessions, the woman sat in the back without saying a word. Heela couldn’t help staring at her as she worked. Did she know anyone back home? How did she end up here? On her fourth visit Heela cautiously brought up Kabul, and the woman told her the name of her home neighborhood. Emboldened, Heela decided to ask her directly about her story at the next session. But she didn’t return, and Heela never saw her again.
*   *   *
After harvest season the students returned and another class graduated, but the women were finding it ever more difficult to explain how they were mysteriously acquiring the skills to work the machines. And Heela lived with the constant fear that the sound of a dozen machines going at once could be heard from the outside. Worse yet, there was her mother-in-law, whom Musqinyar had sworn to secrecy. Although she hadn’t impeded the classes—what, after all, could she do without leaving the house herself?—she had stated in no uncertain terms that she found the whole enterprise dishonorable.
One spring day in 2003, Heela looked up from her machine to see her mother-in-law standing at the top of the stairs.
“Someone is here for you,” she said.
Turning to her students, Heela motioned frantically and they scrambled, noisily pushing their machines into a corner and taking cover behind curtains. She threw on a burqa and went upstairs. Standing glowering at the gate was Jamila, a relative of her husband—a woman “very clever and fat,” as Heela shared later.
“I killed your chickens,” Jamila said. The birds had evidently wandered into her yard. “All nine of them.” She looked furious.
“Why are you angry? I should be the one that’s angry.”
“Those infidels gave you chickens, and they damaged my garden.”
“Infidels? They were from a charity.”
“A foreign charity. Infidels.” She slowly scanned the yard. “Forget about the chickens. I heard you are working for the infidels as well.”
Heela’s mouth went dry. “I’m not working for anyone,” she said. “Someone is lying to you.”
“No, the whole village is talking about it. They’re saying that you’re working for the infidels. You better stop it. I know what you are doing.”
“I’ve done nothing wrong!” Heela exclaimed. Her mother-in-law shuffled closer to listen. “And I have an education. I have a right to work if I want to.”
“No, you don’t,” Jamila shot back. “Keep going on like this, and no one will see a single family member of yours alive.”
Heela’s mother-in-law chimed in. “Why don’t you come inside for some tea?” Heela stared at her in disbelief. Before she could say anything, Jamila strode past and made her way inside. As she sat down, she spotted a pair of baby blue burqas, puddled onto the floor.
“Whose are those?” she asked. Her eyes swept the room. In the cellar, a dozen women held their breaths. Heela tried to change the subject. “Have some tea and let’s talk. This is between you and me. It’s got nothing to do with the village. It’s my fault the chickens came to your garden. It’s really my fault, I’m sorry.” She waved her hand across the room. “Look around. Do you see a problem here? I’m just a simple housewife.”
Jamila finished her tea and left. Heela’s heart settled and she went back to her students. After a few nervous minutes, Heela continued her lesson, and the machines started up once again.
Suddenly the cellar door burst open. Jamila stood there, aghast, with Heela’s mother-in-law standing beside her. The machines stopped; the students froze.
One of them broke into tears. “I’m just a widow. I have no choice,” she sobbed, “I have no choice.”
Another said, “Please, sister. We’re poor. We just need money.”
People started speaking all at once, begging Jamila not to say a word. Women’s lives were at stake. Heela reminded her that since they were relatives, the news would put Jamila’s family in an unfavorable light as well. This, finally, seemed to cool her down, but before she left she told Heela, “It’s not just me. The whole village is talking. Don’t be selfish. Think about your families, think about your religion.” She paused at the top of the stairs and added, “I’m not responsible for what happens to you.”
Heela canceled classes for the month. But the stoning started anyway. First, rocks rained down on the window and the roof. Then, when her boys left the house, village youths hurled stones at their heads. One month rolled into the next, and the students refused to return to class.
*   *   *

Thursday, November 13, 2014

मुंहजोरी, दो..

हवा, हवाई

एक समय था वह हवाई चप्‍पल समय
भाटा पुलिये से नभाटा के पन्‍नों तक
नीले फीतों की बहार थी
फूलदार सलवार-कुरते में संभलकर तेज़ी से निकलती लड़की
पलटकर मुस्‍कराती दीख जाती थी मुमताज़ से कम घरेलू गृहशोभा की मुस्‍कान
उससे ज़्यादा सजीले दिखते थे उसके पैरों के अहा, नीले फीते

समय अब भी वही है, हवाई
बस फर्क़ इतना है कि बीएससी और करोना बहारयुग से बाहर हैं
चप्‍पल फेंकने के काम आ रहे हैं, समय जो है यह स्‍लीपर समय है
और स्‍नीक स्निकर्स समय
डेढ़ जोड़ी मेरे यहां भी हैं, होंगे ही
कहीं तो हैं, यह और बात है कि नीले फीतों का मुझ पर भार है
स्‍लीक समय के बाजू के किसी परहेजी मोमेंट और मोमेंटम में
रिसियाये, घिसियाये सोल के ऊपर मैं भारी हो रहा हूं

रह-रहकर चप्‍पल पैर छोड़ता है कि हां, समय हवाई है
हवाई, फीतों से कस लो, आंगन की पीढ़ी
और रेल की सीढ़ी में अब भी गड़ा हूं, खड़ा
आओ, पहचानो मुझे प्‍यार से डस लो.


कचहरी के चन्‍नरलोक की खुशहाली का कैलेंडर

मेवालाल के अंधियारे घटाटोप गुमटी में मिल जायेंगे समोसे दस रुपये के तीन
जीभ पर चखते हुए तुम हो लेना धन्‍य सोचकर मत होना सन्‍न
कि बिना एक मर्तबा भी इज़रायल और चेकोस्‍लोवाकिया सोचने
और बोलने की ज़हमत से गुज़रे जीवन के पांच दशक निकाल लिये मेवालाल ने
बेटी व्‍याह ली और बेटे को इस लायक कर दिया कि लपककर मध्‍यवर्ग का पाला छूने लगे

न्‍यायहीन नंगे आयं-बायं-सायं बदलते समय में टिनही गुमटी अभी तलक बची हुई है और
मेवालाल के मुंह की हंसी किसी अजूबे से कम नहीं है, देखकर मत होना दन्‍न
कि कचहरी का बदरंग कबाड़, उजाड़ भी अभी तक वहीं खड़ा है

मेवालाल की हंसी का पौन इंच तुम भी बांट लेना, इस खुशी में
कि न्‍याय की अम्‍मां और मौसियों का तो जो होना था इतने दशकों से
हो रहा है, होता चलेगा ही आगे भी, मगर शहर के हुनरमंद दलालों ने
बोली लगाकर न्‍याय के साथ-साथ कचहरी को भी चलता नहीं कर दिया है.

Friday, November 7, 2014

वो वोदका का गुज़रा ज़माना..

ऑसिप मांदेलस्‍ताम ने कभी कहा था,'रूस ही ऐसा देश है जहां कविता की इज़्ज़त है. कविता की वज़ह से लोग जान गंवाते हैं.' अपनी कविताओं के पीछे ही मांदेलस्‍ताम को अपनी जान गंवानी पड़ी थी. जो कवि नहीं थे उनके पास वोदका पी-पीकर अपने को (जान को भी) गंवाने के मौके थे. और ऐसे मौकों का फ़ायदा उठाकर लोग नियम से जान गंवाते भी रहते थे. कहने का मतलब स्‍तालिन और पोस्‍ट-स्‍तालिन काल के लाल तारा काले-सफ़ेद उजाड़ और सियाह रूस में जान गंवाने के बहुविध तरीके मुहैया थे. फेदेयेव जैसा लेखक सरकारी भाटगिरी के कोरस में गा-गाकर थकते हुए खुद को गोली मारकर अपना काम तमाम कर ले, ऐसे सुनहरे मौकों की भी कमी नहीं थी. मगर फिर भी कुछ बेहया थे, सत्रह चोटों के बावजूद सरकार को मुंह बिराना बंद कर रहे थे, न कविताएं लिखना. साठ के दशक का समय है. आइये, एमानुएल करेर की नई किताब से उस उलझाव-घुमावदार रूसी समाज की कुछ छोटी झांकी लें..
 
“Joseph Brodsky, the young prodigy from Leningrad, as he was dubbed in the early sixties by Anna Akhmatova. Now that Mandelstam and Tsvetaeva have passed away, all the connoisseurs consider her the greatest living Russian poet. Of course there’s also Pasternak, but he’s rich, covered in honors, and insolently happy. His tardy clash with the authorities will remain civilized, while Akhmatova, banned from publishing since 1946, lives on tea and dry bread in shared apartments, which adds to her genius the aura of resistance and martyrdom. She says: “I was in the midst of my people, there, where, in their misfortune, my people were.”
In his malevolence, Eduard likes to describe Brodsky as the eternal top of the class, forever hiding behind the teacher’s petticoat, but the truth is that Brodsky’s youth was every bit as adventurous as his own. Also the son of a junior officer, he left school early, worked on a milling machine, dissected bodies in a morgue, and spent time as a geological assistant in Yakutia. Along with another young punk, he left for Samarkand, where he hijacked a plane in an attempt to reach Afghanistan. Interned in a psychiatric hospital, he was given hideously painful sulfur injections and a pleasant therapy known as ukrutka, which consisted of wrapping the patient in a sheet, plunging him in an icy bath, and letting him dry, still wrapped in the sheet. His fate took an important turn when, at twenty-three, he was arrested on charges of “social parasitism.” The trial of this “Jewish pygmy in corduroys, this writer of poems where gibberish and pornography fight for the upper hand” (to quote the prosecution), would normally have gone unnoticed. But a journalist present at the hearing wrote it all down in shorthand, the transcript circulated as samizdat, and an entire generation was electrified by this exchange: “Who has enrolled you in the ranks of poets?” the judge asks. Brodsky thinks.
“Who enrolled me in the ranks of the human race? God, perhaps…” As Akhmatova commented: “What a biography they’re concocting for him, our redhead! You’d think he was the one pulling the strings!”
Banished to the Far North near Arkhangel’sk for five years, the redhead wound up shoveling manure in a tiny village. Frozen earth, an abstract landscape marked by cold, white expanses, and the rugged friendship of the villagers: the experience inspired poems that, reaching Leningrad by circuitous routes, became cult objects for all of the more or less dissident circles in the Union..
*   *   *
There were the official writers. The engineers of the soul, as Stalin had called them. Socialist Realists who toed the line. The Sholokhovs, Fadeyevs, and Simonovs, with apartments, dachas, trips abroad, and access to stores reserved for high Party officials, whose complete works were bound, printed in the millions, and crowned with the Lenin Prize. But these privileged writers couldn’t have their cake and eat it too. What they gained in comfort and security they lost in self-esteem. In the heroic era of socialist construction they could believe what they wrote and be proud of who they were. But in the days of Brezhnev, of soft Stalinism and the nomenklatura, such illusions were no longer possible. They knew full well that they wrote in the service of a corrupt regime, that they’d sold their souls and that everyone else knew it too. Solzhenitsyn, their collective conscience, said it: one of the most pernicious aspects of the Soviet system was that short of being a martyr you couldn’t be honest. You couldn’t be proud of yourself. To the extent that they weren’t half-wits or cynics, the official writers were ashamed of what they did, ashamed of who they were. They were ashamed of writing long articles in Pravda denouncing Pasternak in 1957, Brodsky in 1964, Sinyavsky and Daniel in 1966, and Solzhenitsyn in 1969, while deep in their hearts they envied them. They knew that these authors were the true heroes of their time, the great Russian writers to whom the people turned, as they had turned to Tolstoy in former times, for answers to the questions What is good? What is bad? How should we live? The most spineless of them sighed that if they’d had the choice they’d have followed these high-minded examples, but what can you do, they had families, children still in school, all the excellent reasons collaborators have for not living a life of dissidence. Many became alcoholics; some, like Fadeyev, killed themselves. The cleverest, who were also the youngest, learned to play both sides.”

(एमानुएल करेर की एक बतकही है, यहां है)

Thursday, November 6, 2014

चीनो अरब हमारा, खरब सरग भी, हमारा..

भ्रष्‍टाचार का आंकड़ा रह-रहकर हमें दिखता है, मगर उसका स्‍थापत्‍य, उसकी कुशल कारीगरी की थाह हमें कुछ हो पाती है? पिछले पोस्‍ट का अंत किताब की जिन पंक्तियों के साथ किया था- “By 2012 the richest seventy members of China’s national legislature had a net worth of almost ninety billion dollars—more than ten times the combined net worth of the entire U.S. Congress.” – इसका ठीक मतलब क्‍या हुआ, हमारे माथे में पहुंच रहा है? पहुंच रहा है तो हम सीधे-सीधे उसे पचा ले पा रहे हैं?
अस्‍सी के दशक तक चीनी रेल की कहानी हिन्‍दुस्‍तानी रेल की कहानी से बहुत अलग नहीं थी, कुछ मामलों में संभवत: बदतर ही रही होगी. मगर नब्‍बे के बाद से यह नज़ारा बदलना शुरु हुआ. नई लाईनें बिछाई जानी थीं, हवाई तेजी हासिल करनी थी, सब जल्‍दी जल्‍दी. ज़ाहिर है जहां इतना पैसा खपना था, भ्रष्‍टाचार भी नई ऊंचाइयां अक्‍वायर करती, आइये देखें, इस रेलीय नव-भ्रष्‍टाचार का स्‍थापत्‍तीय शिल्‍प किस खूबसूरती में ढला था..
“Until recently, China’s trains had always been a symbol of backwardness. More than a century ago, when the Empress Dowager was given a miniature engine to bear her about the Imperial City, she found the “fire cart” so insulting to the natural order that she banished it and insisted that her carriage continue to be dragged by eunuchs. Chairman Mao laid tracks across the country, partly for military use, but travel for ordinary people remained a misery of delayed, overcrowded trains nicknamed for the soot-stained color of the carriages: “green skins” were the slowest, “red skins” scarcely better. Even after Japan pioneered high-speed trains, in the 1950s, and Europe followed suit, China lagged behind with what the state press bemoaned as two inches of track per person—“less than the length of a cigarette.”
In 2003, China’s minister of railways, Liu Zhijun, took charge of plans to build seventy-five hundred miles of high-speed railway—more than could be found in the rest of the world combined. For anyone with experience on Chinese trains, it was hard to picture. “Back in 1995, if you had told me where China would be today, I would have thought you were stark raving mad,” Richard Di Bona, a British transportation consultant in Hong Kong, told me. With a total investment of more than $250 billion, the undertaking was to be the world’s most expensive public works project since President Eisenhower’s Interstate Highway System in the 1950s.
To complete the first route by 2008, Minister Liu, whose ambition and flamboyance earned him the nickname Great Leap Liu, drove his crews and engineers to work in shifts around the clock, laying track, revising blueprints, and boring tunnels. “To achieve a great leap,” he liked to say, “a generation must be sacrificed.” (Some colleagues called him Lunatic Liu.) The state news service lionized an engineer named Xin Li because he remained at his computer so long that he went partly blind in his left eye. (“I will keep working even without one eye,” he told a reporter.) When the first high-speed line debuted with a test run in June 2008, it was 75 percent over budget and relied heavily on German designs, but nobody dwelled on that during the ceremony. When another line made its maiden run, Liu took a seat beside the conductor and said, “If anyone is going to die, I will be the first.”
That autumn, to help ward off the global recession, Chinese leaders more than doubled spending on high-speed rail and upped the target to ten thousand miles of track by 2020, the equivalent of building America’s first transcontinental route five times over. China prepared to export its railway technology to Iran, Venezuela, and Turkey. It charted a freight line through the mountains of Colombia that would challenge the Panama Canal, and it signed on to build the “pilgrim express,” carrying the faithful between Medina and Mecca. In January 2011, President Obama cited China’s railway boom in his State of the Union address as evidence that “our infrastructure used to be the best, but our lead has slipped.” The next month, the governor of Florida, Rick Scott, blocked construction of America’s first high-speed train by rejecting federal funds. Amtrak had unveiled a plan to reach speeds comparable to China’s by 2040.
*   *   *
From Beijing, train D301 sped south and east across emerald-green paddies toward the coast. To Henry Cao, who was seated beside a window in the last compartment of the second car, the train seemed to float, describing long elegant turns and shuddering now and then with the whump of a train going in the opposite direction. As the sun set, a summer storm was gathering, and Henry watched lightning flicker across the clouds. He stretched out on the fold-down bed in his carriage. At his feet, his mother sat upright. She had short wavy hair and wore a blue-and-white striped shirt. She’d lived nearly half her life in America, but she retained the habits of a Chinese traveler, and she carried more than ten thousand dollars in cash, as well as gifts of jade jewelry, in a fanny pack. Her husband sat across from her, with his iPhone. He captured a wobbly snapshot of the digital speedometer at the end of the carriage; it showed the kilometer equivalent of 188 miles per hour.
At 7:30 p.m., on the outskirts of the city of Wenzhou, lightning struck a heavy metal box beside the tracks. The box, the size of a washer-dryer, was part of a signal system that lets drivers and dispatchers know where trains are. Because tunnels block a radar signal, trains rely largely on hardwired equipment such as the box beside the track, which helps drivers and dispatchers talk to each other and controls a traffic signal, giving the drivers basic commands to stop and go. When lightning struck the box, it blew a fuse, which caused two catastrophic problems: it cut off communication and froze the signal on the color green.
At a nearby station, a technician picked up garbled signals from the tracks. He ordered the repairmen into the storm to investigate and reported the problem to a dispatcher in Shanghai named Zhang Hua. The train carrying the Cao family was still miles away, but another train, D3115, also bound for Fuzhou, with 1,072 people aboard, was ahead of D301. Zhang called D3115 to warn the driver that, because of the faulty signal, his train might shut down automatically. In that case, he should override and run it at a cautious speed until he reached a normal section again. As predicted, the computer brought the train to a halt, but when the driver tried to get it moving it wouldn’t start, despite repeated attempts. He called Shanghai six times in five minutes but couldn’t get through. On his train, a passenger uploaded to the Web a picture of the carriage in darkness and asked, “What happened to this train after that crazy storm?? It’s running slower than a snail now … Hope nothing is going to happen.”
Zhang the dispatcher was juggling ten trains by now. Hearing nothing further from D3115, he may have figured that it had restarted and moved on. The train carrying the Cao family was already half an hour late, and at 8:24 p.m., Zhang cleared it to go ahead. Five minutes later, the driver of the first train finally succeeded in restarting his engine and began to inch forward. When his train reached a normal section of track, it suddenly appeared on screens across the system, as if from nowhere, and a dispatcher saw what was about to happen. The train behind it had a green light and was charging down the track. The dispatcher alerted the driver: “D301, be careful! There’s a train in your zone. D3115 is ahead of you! Be careful, will you? The equipment—” The line cut off.
The driver of D301, Pan Yiheng, was a thirty-eight-year-old railway man with a broad nose and wide-set eyes. In the final seconds, Pan pulled a hand-operated emergency brake. His train was high atop a slender viaduct across a flat valley, and immediately ahead of him was train D3115, moving so slowly that it might as well have been a wall.
The collision impaled Pan on the brake handle, and it hurled Henry Cao into the air. His body tensed for impact. None came. Instead, he was falling—for how long he couldn’t tell. “I heard my mother’s voice shouting,” he told me later. “And then everything went black.” His carriage and two others peeled off the tracks, tumbling sixty-five feet to a field below. A fourth car, filled with passengers and spewing sparks, was left dangling vertically from the edge of the viaduct. Henry awoke in a hospital, where doctors removed his spleen and a kidney. He had shattered an ankle, broken his ribs, and suffered a brain injury. When he was alert enough to understand, he learned that his parents were dead. In the chaos of the rescue and recovery, his mother’s ten thousand dollars had disappeared.
*   *   *
The Wenzhou crash killed 40 people and injured 192. For reasons both practical and symbolic, the government was desperate to get trains running again, and within twenty-four hours it declared the line back in business. The Central Propaganda Department ordered editors to give the crash as little attention as possible. “Do not question, do not elaborate,” it warned. When newspapers came out the next morning, China’s first high-speed train wreck was not on the front page.
But instead of moving on, the public wanted to know what had happened, and why. This was not a bus plunging off a road in a provincial outpost; it was dozens of men and women dying on one of the nation’s proudest achievements—in a newly wired age, when passengers had cell phones, and witnesses and critics finally had the tools to humiliate the propagandists. It was only three years since the earthquake in Sichuan, which had had an incomparably larger death toll. Yet the train crash reverberated across China in new ways.
People demanded to know why a two-year-old survivor was found in the wreckage after rescuers had called off the search. A railway spokesman said it was “a miracle.” But critics jeered, calling his explanation an “insult to the intelligence of the Chinese people.” In the days after the crash, the subject of the collision generated ten million messages on Weibo, from people across the country, with sentiments such as this: “When a country is so corrupt that one lightning strike can cause a train crash … none of us are exempt. China today is a train rushing through a lightning storm … We are all passengers.”
At one point, the authorities dug a hole and buried part of the ruined train, saying they needed firm ground for recovery efforts. When reporters accused them of trying to thwart an investigation, a hapless spokesman replied, “Whether or not you believe it, I believe it,” a phrase that took flight on the Internet as an emblem of the government’s vanishing credibility. (The train was exhumed. The spokesman was relieved of his duties and was last seen working in Poland.)
Within days, the state-owned company that produced the signal box apologized for mistakes in its design. But to many in China the focus on a single broken part overlooked the likely role of a deeper problem underlying China’s rise: pervasive corruption and a moral disregard that had already led to milk tainted by chemicals reaching the market, shoddy schools in the earthquake zone in Sichuan, and unstable bridges rushed into service to meet political targets. A host on state television, Qiu Qiming, became the unlikely voice of the moment when he broke away from his script to ask, on the air, “Can we drink a glass of milk that is safe? Can we stay in an apartment that will not fall apart? Can we travel roads in our cities that will not collapse?”
Prime Minister Wen Jiabao had no choice but to visit the crash site and vow to investigate. “If corruption was found behind this, we must handle it according to law, and we will not be lenient,” he said. “Only in this way can we be fair to those who have died.” When people asked why Wen had waited five days to visit the site, he replied that he had been so ill that he had spent the past eleven days in bed. (Online, people dug up headlines and photos from those days showing him greeting dignitaries and presiding at meetings.)
The public didn’t forget Wen’s pledge as the first deadline for the investigation came and went, and they continued to demand a fuller accounting. At last, in December, authorities released an unprecedented detailed report. It acknowledged “serious design flaws,” a “neglect of safety management,” and problems in bidding and testing. It also blamed fifty-four people in government and industry, beginning with Great Leap Liu. When I spoke to an engineer who worked on the railway’s construction, he told me, “I can’t pinpoint which step was neglected or what didn’t get enough time, because the whole process was compressed, from beginning to end.” He added, “There is an expression in Chinese: when you take too great a leap, you can tear your balls.”
*   *   *
The railroad minister, Liu Zhijun, did not initially look like a candidate for a dramatic public disgrace. Liu was a farmer’s son, small and thin, with bad eyesight and an overbite. He grew up in a village outside the city of Wuhan and left school as a teenager for a job walking the tracks with a hammer and a gauge. He had an innate sense of the path to power. Good penmanship was a rare skill in the provinces, and Liu perfected his hand, becoming a trusted letter writer for bosses with limited education. He married into a politically connected family and was a Party member by age twenty-one. He was a tireless promoter of the railways and of himself, and he ascended swiftly, heading provincial bureaus on his way to the seat of power in Beijing. By 2003, as railroad minister, he commanded a bureaucratic empire second in scale and independence only to the military, with its own police force, courts, and judges and with billions of dollars at his disposal. His ministry, a state within a state, was known in China as tie laoda—“Boss Rail.”
Liu kept his hair in an untidy black comb-over and wore a style of square horn-rimmed spectacles so common among senior apparatchiks that they were known as “leader glasses.” A colleague of Liu’s, a railway staffer who worked closely with him, told me, “Ever since the revolution, most Chinese officials look alike. They have the same face, the same uniform, even the same personality. They work step-by-step, and they are content to sit back and wait for promotions. But Liu Zhijun was different.” If it was possible to invest a railway job with glamour, he was determined to do so. He liked to convene meetings after midnight and make ostentatious displays of his work habits. Even as he approached the highest ranks of power, he never stopped flattering his superiors. When President Hu Jintao was returning by train to Beijing one summer, Liu hustled up the platform so frantically to greet him that he nearly ran out of his loafers. “I shouted to him, ‘Minister Liu, your shoes! Don’t fall!’” the staffer recalled. “But he couldn’t be bothered. He just kept grinning and running.”
Liu’s success benefited his brother, Liu Zhixiang, who joined the ministry and soared up through the ranks. He was wisecracking and volatile. In January 2005 he was detained for questioning about embezzlement, bribe-taking, and intentional harm regarding his role in arranging the killing of a contractor who sought to expose him. By then, he was vice chief of the Wuhan Railway Bureau. (The victim was stabbed to death with a switchblade in front of his wife. According to an official legal journal, he had predicted in his will, “If I am killed, it will have been at the hand of corrupt official Liu Zhixiang.”) The minister’s brother was embezzling such a large share of the ticket sales that he accumulated the equivalent of fifty million dollars in cash, real estate, jewelry, and art. When investigators caught him, he was living among mountains of money so large and unruly that the bills had begun to molder. (Storing cash is one of the most vexing challenges confronting corrupt Chinese officials, because the largest bill in circulation is a hundred-yuan note, worth about fifteen dollars.) He was convicted and received a death sentence that was suspended and later reduced to sixteen years. But instead of serving his time in a facility for serious offenders, he was transferred to a hospital, where he reportedly continued to conduct railway business by phone.
*   *   *
Back in Beijing, Minister Liu surrounded himself with loyal associates. The capo di tutti capi was the chief deputy engineer Zhang Shuguang, who once arrived at a railway conference in a fur coat and a white scarf and liked to describe his approach to negotiations as a “clasped fist.” For much of his career, he ran the passenger car division, which gave him control over colossal spending choices. “It was all up to a nod of his head,” Zang Qiji, a retired member of the Academy of Railway Sciences, told me. Zhang knew little of science, but he aspired to credibility and attempted to secure membership in an élite academic society by having two professors write a book in his name. (He fell short of membership by a single vote.)
Liu bet everything on high-speed railways. To preempt inflation in the cost of land and labor and materials, he preached haste above all. “We must seize the opportunity, build more railways, and build them fast,” he told a conference in 2009. Liu’s ambitions and Chinese authoritarianism were a volatile combination. The ministry was its own regulator, virtually unsupervised, and the minister and his aides had no tolerance for dissenting voices. When professor Zhao Jian, of Beijing Jiaotong University, publicly objected to the pace of high-speed-rail construction, Liu summoned him and advised him to keep quiet. Zhao refused to back down, and the university president called him. “He told me not to continue to voice my opinions,” Zhao told me. The professor resisted, but his concerns were ignored—until the crash. “Then it was too late,” he said.
The obsession with speed was all-encompassing. The system was growing so fast that almost everything a supplier produced found a buyer, regardless of quality. According to investigators, the signal that failed in the Wenzhou crash was developed over six months, beginning in June 2007, by the state-owned China Railway Signal and Communication Corporation. The company had a staff of some thirteen hundred engineers, but it was overwhelmed by demands on its time, and crash investigators discovered that those in charge of the signal had performed only a “lax” inspection, which “failed to discover grave flaws and major hidden dangers.” The office in charge was “chaotic,” a place where “files went missing.” Nevertheless, the signal passed inspection in 2008 and was installed across the country. When the industry gave out awards for new technology that year, the signal took first prize. But an engineer inside the company subsequently told me that he was not surprised to discover that the job had been rushed.
There were other suspicious factors. In April 2010 the chairman of Central Japan Railway, Yoshiyuki Kasai, said that China was building trains that drew heavily on Japanese designs. When Kawasaki Heavy Industries threatened to sue the Chinese for passing off its technology as their own, the Railway Ministry in Beijing dismissed the complaint as evidence of “a fragile state of mind and a lack of confidence.” Kasai also pointed out that China was operating the trains at speeds 25 percent faster than those permitted in Japan. “Pushing it that close to the limit is something we would absolutely never do,” he told the London Financial Times.
In the days before the crash, the rush to build the railways added a final, lethal factor to the mix. In June the government had staged the debut of the most prominent line yet, Beijing to Shanghai, to coincide with the ninetieth anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party. A full year had been slashed from the construction schedule, and the first weeks of the run were marred by delays and power failures. According to a manager in the ministry, high-speed-rail staff were warned that further delays would affect the size of their bonuses. On the night of July 23, 2011, when trains began to stack up, dispatchers and maintenance staff raced to repair the faulty signal and ignored the simplest solution: stop the trains and repair the signal. Wang Mengshu, a scholar in the Chinese Academy of Engineering who was deputy chief of the committee investigating the crash, told me, “The maintenance people weren’t familiar enough with their jobs, and they didn’t want to stop the train. They didn’t dare.”
*   *   *
When the crash occurred, Great Leap Liu was no longer running the Railway Ministry. In August 2010 the National Audit Office had reviewed the books of a big state-owned company and came upon a sixteen-million-dollar “commission” to an intermediary in return for contracts on the high-speed rail. The intermediary turned out to be a representative of a woman named Ding Shumiao, who perhaps more than anyone embodied the runaway riches created by China’s railway boom. Ding was an illiterate egg farmer in rural Shanxi—five feet ten, with broad shoulders and a foghorn of a voice. In the 1980s, after Deng Xiaoping launched the country toward the free market, she collected eggs from neighbors to sell on the sidewalk in the county seat. This was illegal without a permit. Her eggs were confiscated, and years later she still talked of her embarrassment. In time, she came to run a small, thriving restaurant, where she gave away food to powerful customers and exaggerated her own success. “If she has one yuan, she’ll say she has ten,” one of Ding’s longtime colleagues told me. “It makes her look more influential, and bit by bit people began to think that they could benefit from their friendship with her.”
Her restaurant became a favorite with coal bosses and officials. Soon she was involved in coal trucking. Then she was “flipping carriages,” as it’s known in the railway business: working her connections to get cheap access to coveted freight routes and, according to Wang, the investigator, reselling the rights “for ten times what she paid.” She became friendly with Great Leap Liu around 2003, and with her ties to the railway business, she prospered. Her company, Broad Union, signed joint ventures and supplied the ministry with train wheels, sound barriers, and more. In two years, Broad Union’s assets grew tenfold, to the equivalent of $680 million in 2010, according to the state news service.
Ding’s given name, Shumiao, betrayed her rural roots, so she changed it to Yuxin, at the suggestion of her feng shui adviser. She was easy to lampoon—Daft Mrs. Ding, people called her—but she had a genius for cultivating business relationships. A longtime colleague told me, “When I tried to teach her how to analyze the market, how to run the company, she said, ‘I don’t need to understand this.’” The Chinese press chronicled her audacious social ascent. To gain foreign contacts, she backed a club “for international diplomats,” which managed to attract a visit in 2010 by Britain’s former prime minister Tony Blair. Her lavish receptions drew members of the Politburo. She joined the lower house of the provincial legislature and made so many charitable gifts that in 2010 she ranked No. 6 on the Forbes list of China’s philanthropists.
Ding was detained in January 2011, and eventually indicted on charges of bribery and illegal business activities. She was convicted of paying fifteen million dollars in bribes to Liu and others to help twenty-three companies secure railway construction contracts worth thirty billion dollars. For her services, her haul was impressive: she received kickbacks from contractors totaling more than three hundred million dollars. Like many others, Ding had discovered what government auditors found out only later: China’s most famous public works project was an ecosystem almost perfectly hospitable to corruption—opaque, unsupervised, and overflowing with cash. In some cases, the bidding on contracts was truncated from five days to thirteen hours. In others, the bids were mere theater, because construction had already begun. Cash was known to vanish: in one instance, seventy-eight million dollars that had been set aside to compensate people whose homes had been demolished to make way for railroad tracks disappeared. Middlemen expected cuts of between 1 and 6 percent. “If a project is four and a half billion, the middleman is taking home two hundred million,” Wang said. “And of course nobody says a word.”
One of the most common rackets was illegal subcontracting. A single contract could be divvied up and sold for kickbacks, then sold again and again, until it reached the bottom of a food chain of labor, where the workers were cheap and unskilled. Railway ministry jobs were bought and sold: $4,500 to be a train attendant, $15,000 to be a supervisor. In November 2011 a former cook with no engineering experience was found to be building a high-speed railway bridge using a crew of unskilled migrant laborers who substituted crushed stones for cement in the bridge’s foundation. In railway circles, the practice of substituting cheap materials for real ones was common enough to rate its own expression: touliang huanzhu—“robbing the beams to put in the pillars.”
With so many kickbacks changing hands, it wasn’t surprising that parts of the railway went wildly over budget. A station in Guangzhou slated to be built for $316 million ended up costing seven times that. The ministry was so large that bureaucrats would create fictional departments and run up expenses for them. A five-minute promotional video that went largely unseen cost nearly $3 million. The video led investigators to the ministry’s deputy propaganda chief, a woman whose home contained $1.5 million in cash and the deeds to nine houses.
Reporters who tried to expose the corruption in the railway world ran into dead ends. Two years before the crash, a journalist named Chen Jieren posted an article about problems in the ministry entitled, “Five Reasons That Liu Zhijun Should Take Blame and Resign,” but the piece was deleted from every major Web portal. Chen was later told that Liu oversaw a slush fund used for buying the loyalty of editors at major media and websites. Other government agencies also had serious financial problems—out of fifty, auditors found problems with forty-nine—but the scale of cash available in the railway world was in a class by itself. Liao Ran, an Asia specialist at Transparency International, told the International Herald Tribune that China’s high-speed railway was shaping up to be “the biggest single financial scandal not just in China, but perhaps in the world.”
*   *   *
In February 2011, five months before the train crash, the Party finally moved on Liu Zhijun. According to Wang Mengshu, investigators concluded that Liu was preparing to use his illegal gains to bribe his way onto the Party Central Committee and, eventually, the Politburo. “He told Ding Shumiao, ‘Put together four hundred million for me. I’m going to need to spread some money around,’” Wang told me. Four hundred million yuan is about sixty-four million dollars. Liu managed to assemble nearly thirteen million yuan before he was stopped, Wang said. “The central government was worried that if he really succeeded in giving out four hundred million in bribes he would essentially have bought a government position. That’s why he was arrested.”
Liu was expelled from the Party the following May, for “severe violations of discipline” and “primary leadership responsibilities for the serious corruption problem within the railway system.” An account in the state press alleged that Liu took a 4 percent kickback on railway deals; another said he netted $152 million in bribes. He was the highest-ranking official to be arrested for corruption in five years. But it was Liu’s private life that caught people by surprise. The ministry accused him of “sexual misconduct,” and the Hong Kong newspaper Ming Pao reported that he had eighteen mistresses. His friend Ding was said to have helped him line up actresses from a television show in which she invested. Chinese officials are routinely discovered indulging in multiple sins of the flesh, prompting President Hu Jintao to give a speech a few years ago warning comrades against the “many temptations of power, wealth, and beautiful women.” But the image of a gallivanting Great Leap Liu, and the sheer logistics of keeping eighteen mistresses, made him into a punch line. When I asked Liu’s colleague if the mistress story was true, he replied, “What is your definition of a mistress?”
By the time the libidinous Liu was deposed, at least eight other senior officials had been removed and placed under investigation, including Zhang, Liu’s bombastic aide. Local media reported that Zhang, on an annual salary of less than five thousand dollars, had acquired a luxury home near Los Angeles, stirring speculation that he had been preparing to join the growing exodus of officials who were taking their fortunes abroad. In recent years, corrupt cadres who sent their families overseas had become known in Chinese as “naked officials.” In 2011 the central bank posted to the Web an internal report estimating that, since 1990, eighteen thousand corrupt officials had fled the country, having stolen $120 billion—a sum large enough to buy Disney or Amazon. (The report was promptly removed.)
In the months I spent talking to people about the rise and fall of Liu Zhijun, his story seemed to confound both his enemies and his friends. His rivals acknowledged that, unlike many corrupt officials, Liu had actually achieved something in office: he had produced a railway system that, even with problems, was fundamentally changing the sense of distance and time for ordinary people across the country. On the other side, his defenders found themselves awkwardly saying that he was doing nothing that his peers were not. Liu’s colleague, an affable former military man, told me that at a certain point corruption had become difficult for Liu to avoid: “Inside the system today, if you don’t take bribes, you have to get out. There’s no way you can stay. If three of us are in one department, and you are the only one who doesn’t take a bribe, are the two of us ever going to feel safe?”
Not long after the crash, I met a subcontractor for the railway and I asked him if things had been cleaned up since Liu’s downfall. He let out a humorless laugh. “They made a show of it, but it’s still the same rules,” he said. “They caught Ding Shumiao, but she’s just one person. There are many, many Ding Shumiaos.”
*   *   *
Several weeks after the Wenzhou crash, the Railway Ministry announced a series of steps in the name of safety: it recalled fifty-four bullet trains for tests; it halted construction of new lines; and it ordered trains to slow down from a top speed of 217 miles per hour to 186. But before long the railway boom resumed, and the first anniversary of the Wenzhou crash was tightly managed. The state press was ordered not to visit the scene, and survivors were warned to keep their mouths shut. When one of them, a man in his twenties named Deng Qian, tried to visit the site that day, he was tailed by police, who videotaped his movements. “Their message to me was clear: I am now their enemy, their threat,” he told me. “I think they will keep an eye on us forever.”
Henry Cao spent five months in a Chinese hospital recovering from broken bones, neurological damage, and the loss of his kidney and spleen. After returning to his family in Colorado, he had to close his camera supply business. He and his brother, Leo, flew to China to retrieve their parents’ bodies. They asked to hold a memorial in their ancestral village in Fujian, but the government forbade it; the parents were buried in a cemetery on Long Island.
Liu Zhijun would eventually go on trial. The verdict was no mystery—98 percent of Chinese trials end in conviction—but a reliable predictor of Liu’s fate was that the Party had already embarked on one of its most enduring rituals. Just as technicians once airbrushed political casualties out of the archives, censors had already taken to the Web to begin excising years’ worth of glowing news reports and documentaries that hailed Liu’s accomplishments, leaving behind only squibs about his arrest. Before long, Great Leap Liu had been expunged so thoroughly from the history of China’s achievements that you might never have known he existed.
By that point, the Wenzhou collision had already come to symbolize the essential risks facing the Communist Party. The crash struck at the middle-class men and women who had accepted the grand bargain of modern Chinese politics in the era after socialism: allow the Party to reign unchallenged as long as it was reasonably competent. The crash violated the deal, and for many, it became what Hurricane Katrina was to Americans: the iconic failure of government performance. It was a merciless judgment. Gerald Ollivier, a senior infrastructure specialist at the World Bank in Beijing, pointed out that trains in China were still by far one of the safest means of transportation. “If you think about it, the China high-speed railway must be transporting at least four hundred million people per year,” he said. “How many people have died on the China high-speed railway in the past four years? Forty people. This is the number of people who die in road accidents in China every five or six hours. So, in terms of safety, this is by far one of the safest ways of transportation. The accident this past year was certainly very tragic and should not have happened. But compared to the alternative of moving people by car, it is safer by a factor of at least a hundred.”
And yet, in China, people were more inclined to quote a very different statistic: in forty-seven years of service, high-speed trains in Japan had recorded just one fatality, a passenger caught in a closing door. It was becoming clear that parts of the new China had been built too fast for their own good. Three years had been set aside for construction of one of the longest bridges in North China, but it was finished in eighteen months, and nine months later, in August 2012, it collapsed, killing three people and injuring five. Local officials blamed overloaded trucks, though it was the sixth bridge collapse in a single year.
People were no longer satisfied simply with the fortune delivered by China’s rise. The fall of Great Leap Liu had dramatized a culture of entitlement run amok. For years, Liu had dedicated himself to enhancing his own prospects along with those of the nation. He had lost his sense of proportion, and the question was whether the government he served had, too.”
वही, इवान ओसनोस की ही किताब से (इवान 2008 से 2013 तक चीन में ‘द न्‍यूयोर्कर’ के संवाददाता रहे थे).

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

चीनी धुआं है, संभल के, आंखों में चुभकेगा..

अस्‍सी के दशक तक ‘वामपंथी’ बाबुओं को एक कार्टन डबल हैप्‍पीनैस सिगरेट और लाल तारा देसी दारु की बोतल पिलाकर नौकरी का तबादला और वाशिंग मशीन का कूपन हसिलयाया जा सकता था, मगर नब्‍बे में निजी उद्यम का रास्‍ता खुलने और खोलने के साथ ही इस छोटी-मोटी खवाई-खिलाई के नियम भी उल्‍टे-सीधे हो गये.. देखिये, अपनी किताब में पत्रकार इवान ओसनोस क्‍या टीपते हैं..
Double Happiness cigarettes eventually gave way to Hermès bags, sports cars, and tuition for children studying abroad. The larger the deal, the higher the cadre needed to approve it, and the bribes moved straight up the ranks. Officials and businessmen looked out for one another by organizing themselves into “protective umbrellas,” a step in what Chinese scholars called the “Mafiazation” of the state.
If the effects were abstract at first, they soon became vivid. In case after case, the disasters that enraged the Chinese public were traced back to graft, fraud, embezzlement, and patronage: The schools that collapsed in the Sichuan earthquake had been compromised by kickbacks; the train that crashed in Wenzhou was managed by one of the country’s most corrupt agencies. In the case of the tainted infant formula that killed children in 2008, dairy farmers and dealers first bribed state inspectors to ignore the presence of chemicals. Then, when children fell ill, the dairy company bribed news organizations to suppress the story.
With creativity, anything could become a bribe. Businessmen arranged poker games in which the officials were guaranteed to win. Alcohol was such a reliable choice that the state media conceded that sales of the country’s most famous liquor, Kweichow Moutai, was “an index for China’s corruption.” It was selling so well in 2011 that the company paid the largest dividend in the history of China’s stock markets. Demand was heavy enough that the company had to ration it to stores.
I once dropped by the home of Mao Yushi, a liberal economist who happened to live near the headquarters of China’s powerful planning agency, the National Development and Reform Commission. He pointed out that the commission was surrounded by gift shops selling alcohol and porcelain. Citizens seeking help knew to stock up before going in for their meetings. “All these people from out of town enter the building carrying big bags and small bags, and they leave empty-handed,” the economist observed. “When the cadres get off work, they leave the building carrying all the big bags and small bags, but they can’t possibly consume everything, so they sell it back to the gift shops, who in turn sell them to yet more people on a mission to Beijing. That’s what our street has become.”
Public servants—officially earning twenty or thirty thousand dollars a year—became such frequent shoppers at Gucci and Louis Vuitton that high-end boutiques in Beijing ran out of stock whenever the National People’s Congress was in session. (Politicians learned to call ahead to reserve their favorite items.) In some cases, a businessman would accompany an official through the aisles, but if that was too conspicuous, he could leave a credit card on file, to be charged as needed. Most of the time, it was hard to know who was paying whom, but occasionally a court case provided a peek at how the money was changing hands. When police in Macau arrested Ao Man Long, the region’s secretary for transport and public works, he had a collection of what he called “friendship notebooks,” which documented a hundred million U.S. dollars in kickbacks.
*   *   *
For outsiders, the scale of political corruption in China was often difficult to comprehend, in part because most were insulated from it. Visitors to China, compared to other developing countries, were not hit up for small bribes by customs officers or street cops; unless foreigners used Chinese schools or public hospitals, they didn’t feel the creep of bribery into virtually every corner of Chinese society. On paper, Chinese public education was free and guaranteed, but parents knew to pay “sponsorship fees” to gain entry to top schools; in Beijing, the fees reached sixteen thousand dollars—more than double the average annual salary. Nationwide, 46 percent of parents said in a survey that strong “social connections” or fees were the only way to get their children a good education. By 2011, according to a report by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, authorities were opening corruption cases at the rate of one a day for department-level officials, the equivalent of a city mayor.
Paying for power was so common that in 2012 the Modern Chinese Dictionary, the national authority on language, was compelled to add the word maiguan—“to buy a government promotion.” In some cases, the options read like a restaurant menu. In a small town in Inner Mongolia, the post of chief planner was sold for $103,000. The municipal party secretary was on the block for $101,000. It followed a certain logic: in weak democracies, people paid their way into office by buying votes; in a state where there were no votes to buy, you paid the people who doled out the jobs. Even the military was riddled with patronage; commanders received a string of payments from a pyramid of loyal officers beneath them. A one-star general could reportedly expect to receive ten million dollars in gifts and business deals; a four-star commander stood to earn at least fifty million.
Every country has corruption, but China’s was approaching a level of its own. For those at the top, the scale of temptation had reached a level unlike anything ever encountered in the West. It was not always easy to say which Bare-Handed Fortunes were legitimate and which were not, but political office was a reliable pathway to wealth on a scale of its own. By 2012 the richest seventy members of China’s national legislature had a net worth of almost ninety billion dollars—more than ten times the combined net worth of the entire U.S. Congress.
*   *   *