India at 75 with painting by Amitava Kumar

Amitava Kumar, Delhi February, 2021


Introduction to India at 75 »

Contributors A – G »

Contributors H – M »

Contributors N – R »

Contributors S – Z: Sabitha SatchiSaikat MajumdarP SainathSalil TripathiSalman RushdieSamanth SubramanianSandeep JauharSangamesh MenasinakaiSaumya RoyShauna Singh BaldwinShobhaa DeShruti GangulySiddharth DubeSiddhartha DebSita VenkateswarSKBSonora JhaSuchitra VijayanSujatha GidlaSuketu MehtaSumana RoySunil AmrithTabish KhairTanuja Desai HidierThrity Umrigar •  Tishani DoshiVandana SinghVijay SeshadriVishakha DesaiVivek MenezesYashica DuttZia Jaffrey 

Sabitha Satchi

Kites on 15 August

Kites flying overhead, father,
like only kites can do, controlled
yet soaring beyond boundary walls,
yet entangled with each other, terminal.
And we must still sing the freedom songs
the voice hoarse, the lines crooked, tuneless.
In her white hand-spun and broken spectacles,
I remember grandmother.


Kites have been routinely flown in India, especially in the capital city of Delhi, on the occasion of 15th August. Gujarat—the home state of both Gandhi who unflinchingly stood against religious sectarianism, and of Narendra Modi from the Hindu-majoritarian Bharatiya Janata Party—is a region that holds a celebrated kite-flying festival in January every year. The competition is both joyful and fierce. Kites that fly beyond walls and are often cut by neighboring kite-flyers, are perhaps an apt metaphor for today’s India. In the 75th year of India’s independence, we find ourselves in the darkest period yet of independent India’s political history—with alarmingly risen levels of violence against minorities, especially Muslims, and routine censorship and incarceration of dissenters and champions of human rights. There is also resistance to divisive politics from civil society, and kites do soar and fly out defiantly in the buffeting wind.


Sabitha Satchi is a poet, researcher, and cultural critic. She is an art curator based in Delhi. She is the author of a poetry collection, Hereafter (2021).

Saikat Majumdar

She talks too much. She loses the strand of her thought, moans about her aching joints, her noisy neighbors, her tattered purse, children who don’t work but fight and curse each other, bloodying faces and limbs. She pauses to pop a betel nut to suck, the babel lady, the kumbh mela of tongues—dizzying tones, pitches, accents, idioms, cries, gali, pyar, fury, sobs and snores. A seductive seventy-five, skin a bit wrinkled from the sun, teeth stained with addiction, hair starved out her scalp. Shut her shivering gums? Never. Then she becomes a doorknob, the navel that lives through the flame, the dead thing flung to the river. Her chatter lost, she’s a photo on the wall, a flesh-colored lizard peeping over her frame.


Saikat Majumdar is the author of four novels, including The Firebird/Play House and The Scent of God, a book of literary criticism, Prose of the World, a general non-fiction, College, and a co-edited collection of essays, The Critic as Amateur. He lives in Delhi and teaches literature and creative writing at Ashoka University.

P Sainath

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s lockdown speech of March 24, 2020 gave a nation of 1.4 billion people four hours to shut itself down. It would devastate hundreds of millions of livelihoods within days. Minutes after Modi’s speech, his government listed the essential services that would remain operational through the lockdown.

Refreshingly, that included ‘print and electronic media, telecommunications, internet services, broadcasting and cable services.’
In the next few months, major media houses, mostly corporate-owned or controlled, sacked between 2,000 and 2,500 journalists. They achieved much of this by extracting ‘voluntary resignations and retirements.’ The classification of media as an essential service did not save a single job. Or life. Covid-19 killed at least 700 journalists in the first 20 months of the pandemic.

All these numbers are gross underestimates. The sackings, especially. I was a member of the Press Council of India sub-committee to investigate the retrenchments; our letters seeking information from major media houses were met with anger and aggressive lawyers’ replies.
The country’s biggest newspaper group told us that the Press Council had no right to question the sackings. They were recruitment and labor issues and had nothing to do with press freedom (the Council’s purview). The government stayed silent on the sackings.

The media’s failure to cover the exodus of millions of migrant laborers from cities back to their villages was not unrelated to the Great Downsizing. These same segments of the media, too, have said barely a word in their editorials on the arrests, detentions, denial of bail, and the hundreds of cases against media persons—some under sections of laws not applied to journalists in over 100 years. The ‘mainstream’ media’s silence on the assault on democracy that India has seen for years now is not just about cowardice—though there’s dollops of that—but also about complicity and collaboration, coaxing and coercion.

Sure, there are rare exceptions—like the Dainik Bhaskar group that held out bravely despite the income tax and other raids on it. Mostly, though, truly courageous resistance has come from smaller, non-corporate media whose journalists and editors suffer severe harassment, tax raids, arrests, jailing. That have seen donors and sponsors pull their funds in fear. That are unsure of paying their staff salaries in the current financial year.

The new trend: arresting journalists and editors for ‘economic offenses’—‘money laundering’ being the official favorite. That vilifies journalists, hurting their credibility and making it hard for them to be viewed as political prisoners.

It’s worth knowing that four major public intellectuals assassinated in the past decade—Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare, M.M. Kalburgi and Gauri Lankesh—had this in common: they were journalists, columnists or writers who wrote in Indian languages. Also, rationalists who challenged religious fundamentalism.

Meanwhile, the super-rich, heading India’s biggest corporate houses, are rapidly acquiring more media properties. (With 166 of them, India ranks 3rd among nations in dollar billionaires. But ranks 131 in the UN Human Development Index). Owners whose billions flow from government contracts and huge public resources privatized for their benefit, and who contribute fantastic sums to the ruling party.

What did bother the government was the Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontieres’ ranking India 142 (among 180 nations) in the World Press Freedom Index, 2020. (This year’s rank – 150). And Twitter’s latest transparency report confirms India made more ‘legal’ demands than any other nation to remove content posted by verified journalists and news outlets during July-December 2021. We’ve also seen what amounts to months of internet shutdowns across entire regions like Kashmir.

Indian journalists can always be shown the error of their ways. The worst you can do with non-Indians is to deny them visas. Yet, they acted swiftly to rebut the RSF report and index ranking.

In May 2020, the government set up an ‘Index Monitoring Cell’ (IMC) on the directive of the Union Cabinet Secretary, perhaps the country’s most powerful bureaucrat. One who reports directly to the two most important men in India—the Prime Minister and Home Minister. I was one of the IMC’s two original journalist members.

In December 2020, a subgroup presented the committee with a draft report striking for the absence of the word ‘draft’ on its cover. It failed to reflect the content of our discussions. And it made outrageous claims, some of which seemed to mock the sufferings of journalists in Kashmir.

I wrote a note of dissent which, among other things, listed 100 instances of arrests of, legal notices to, and FIRs and cases filed against, journalists in the span of just some months. Such as the October 2020 arrest of Siddique Kappan, a freelancer from Kerala who had gone to Uttar Pradesh to cover the Hathras rape and murder atrocity against Dalits. He was not allowed to meet a lawyer for weeks and remains in jail 22 months later.

Or Zubair Ahmed, a journalist in the Andamans booked on multiple charges for this tweet: ‘Can someone explain why families are placed under home quarantine for speaking over phone with Covid patients?’ Ahmed died by suicide this July, supposedly in depression—but an investigation is still on.

Immediately after that note of dissent went in—the committee simply vanished and has never been heard of since. Right to Information queries have failed to elicit any reasons for this. My friends find me ungrateful. ‘At least,’ they say, ‘it was the committee report that disappeared, not the journalist.’

And so you have the Indian media @75.

For three of my four decades as a journalist, I argued that the Indian media are politically free but imprisoned by profit. Today I’d say they are still shackled by profit, but are increasingly politically imprisoned as well.


P Sainath is the founder-editor of the People’s Archive of Rural India and author of Everybody Loves A Good Drought. His new book, The Last Heroes: Footsoldiers of Indian Freedom, will be out later this year. Sainath has won more than 60 national and international awards and fellowships for his reporting.

Salil Tripathi

This, we have learned:

A closed mind is filled with fear.
It is wise to keep our heads low.
The history in our books is mythology
The legends in our scriptures are facts.
We need our border walls tall
To keep out the light that illuminates
And our windows are shut so tight
That foreign wind can’t sway us.
Retreating into our narrow selves makes us purer
And words once swallowed had never existed.
We say what we are permitted to
And repeat what is required.
Our tired arms can’t stretch far
And the sluggish stream of reason has run dry
As we think what we may be allowed to think—
But we no longer worry, we are happy.
We work more, talk less.
Discipline makes a nation great.

We are Midnight’s Grandchildren
From the land of chup
We have known no light
And we need not wake up.


My Mother’s Fault

You marched with other seven-year-old girls,
Singing songs of freedom at dawn in rural Gujarat,
Believing that would shame the British and they would leave India.

Five years later, they did.

You smiled,
When you first saw Maqbool Fida Husain’s nude sketches of Hindu goddesses,
And laughed,
When I told you that some people wanted to burn his art.

‘Have those people seen any of our ancient sculptures? Those are far naughtier,’
You said.

Your voice broke,
On December 6, 1992,
As you called me at my office in Singapore,
When they destroyed the Babri Masjid.

‘We have just killed Gandhi again,’ you said.

We had.

Aavu te karaay koi divas? (Can anyone do such a thing any time?)
You asked, aghast,
Staring at the television,
As Hindu mobs went, house-to-house,
Looking for Muslims to kill
After a train compartment in Godhra burned,
Killing 58 Hindus in February 2002.

You were right, each time.

After reading what I’ve been writing over the years,
Some folks have complained that I just don’t get it.

I live abroad: what do I know of India?

But I knew you; that was enough.

And that’s why I turned out this way.


Salil Tripathi was born in a city once known as Bombay and lives in New York. He has written three works of non-fiction, and his next book is about Gujaratis. He is a member of PEN International’s board, and was chair of its Writers in Prison Committee 2015-2021.

Salman Rushdie

On August 12, 2022, Salman Rushdie was attacked during a book talk at the Chautauqua Institution in Chautauqua, New York. Rushdie’s contribution to India at 75 was written prior to this horrific attack.

Then, in the First Age of Hindustan Hamara, our India, we celebrated one another’s festivals, and believed, or almost believed, that all of the land’s multifariousness belonged to all of us. Now that dream of fellowship and liberty is dead, or close to death. A shadow lies upon the country we loved so deeply. Hindustan isn’t hamara any more. The Ruling Ring—one might say—has been forged in the fire of an Indian Mount Doom. Can any new fellowship be created to stand against it?


Salman Rushdie was born in Bombay and lives in New York. He is the author of 20 books, including Midnight’s Children. His many international honors include the Booker Prize, the Best of Booker Prize, Companion of honor (UK), PEN Pinter Prize, PEN/Allen Lifetime Achievement Award, US), and EU’s Aristeion Prize, among others.

Samanth Subramanian

When Nehru spoke to the constituent assembly on the eve of Indian independence, the English portion of his speech began with that famous line: “Long years ago, we made a tryst with destiny…” But before that, he spoke in Hindustani, and it’s the final sentence of that brief address that truly breaks the heart today. If we proceed on the basis that India belongs to everyone, regardless of religion, we can tackle big problems, Nehru said. “But if we become narrow-minded, we shall not be able to solve them.”

The BJP has picked up that line and run with it—in the opposite direction. The narrowing of the Indian mind is now a state policy. Its aim is to shrink our empathy, to turn us against one another, to police each other on what to say and what not to say, what to eat and what not to eat. It wants to trick us into thinking that mistrust is a form of strength, when really it’s the opposite. India still has big problems. (What country doesn’t?) But our public mind, narrower and more sour, is less prepared to solve them than it was in 1947.


Samanth Subramanian is a writer and journalist. His most recent book, A Dominant Character: The Radical Science and Restless Politics of JBS Haldane was one of the New York Times’ 100 Notable Books of 2020 and among the Wall Street Journal’s Ten Best Books of 2020.


Sandeep Jauhar

My family moved from India to America in early 1977, beneficiaries of liberalized U.S. immigration policies for scientists and academics. One of my last childhood memories of India was a talk my father, a noted plant geneticist, had with us, some days before we went to the American Embassy in New Delhi to apply for immigrant visas. In 1975, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had declared a state of “national emergency,” suspending the constitution, disbanding opposition political parties, and rounding up politicians and academics and throwing them in jail. The resources and national will to promote scientific research had disappeared, and we were going to have to leave. “It is a problem with the country,” I remember my father telling my weeping mother. “It is not my fault.”

Sadly, fifty years on, India continues to grapple with this “problem.”


Sandeep Jauhar is a doctor. His new book, My Father’s Brain, will be published in April by FSG.

Sangamesh Menasinakai


I went to donate my blood at a blood bank recently.

A Muslim person had come there, seeking blood for his father, who was admitted in a hospital. The blood bank staff suggested that he should bring a donor for replacement. I immediately decided to be a donor for him.

Later, he revealed the truth of what had happened. He had been denied blood at another blood bank, as he was a Muslim. When he had inquired over the phone, the blood bank staff had told him that the blood was available. But when he went there, they denied it to him, saying it was reserved for someone else. He pleaded for blood. That’s when one member of the staff came to him and whispered: “Since you are a Muslim, you can’t get it here. We are instructed to prioritize Hindus. So I am telling you—don’t waste your time here. Just rush to some other banks and try your luck.”

His eyes were filled with tears. My heart turned heavy.

I recalled another incident during the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. My Hindu friend was helping his Muslim friend to get blood for his ailing mother. He approached the blood bank manager, whom he knew well. “When I told him the name of the patient, he straight-away replied that if I wanted blood for Hindus, I could get it. But not for others. I felt like I am losing my India,” he told me.

I have been feeling the same in recent years.


Sangamesh Menasinakai is a journalist and writer who has written four books in Kannada, including a novel, and has translated Raziya Sultana from Hindi to Kannada. He lives in Hubbali.

Saumya Roy

I’ve always suffered from a vivid imagination. Later, I came to believe that freedom was the ability to create oneself according to one’s imagination.

Thinking of my hopes for India as it steps beyond its 75th year, I thought of the waste pickers I had written about, the shiny new India rising not far from them—always staying a little out of their grasp. They collected its detritus in their hands, it lay strewn and shimmering in the vast landfill around them.

The glowing light and dark shadows of new India played in my mind along with its idealistic constitution, Gandhiji’s Talisman (thinking of how everything we do affects the most vulnerable) and the primordial prayer to goddess Durga that I recite every night—

“When called upon to help in a difficult pass, you remove fear from every person. When called upon to help by those in happiness, you bestow a mind still further pious. Which goddess but you, O dispeller of poverty, pain and fear, has an ever sympathetic heart for supporting everyone?’”

I wish that independent India fills all its grandchildren—and their children—with a most expansive imagination, the freedom to make their country according to it and delivers freedom from poverty, pain and fear…


Saumya Roy is a Mumbai based writer and social entrepreneur. She has written a book about the city’s landfill and the waste pickers who work on it.

Shauna Singh Baldwin

A Toast for Independence Day
August 14/15

With my thanks to the freedom fighters
           who were injured or died in a non-violent
           struggle for freedom from the British
With my thanks to the 5 million people of India and the Pakistans
           who paid for that freedom with their lives
With my thanks to those 17 million Punjabis and Bengalis
           who suffered displacement by the Radcliffe border lines
With my thanks to abducted women
           never taken back by their loving families
With my thanks to men who died trying
           to protect the honor of their families

Here’s to the hopes, ambitions, and appetites of the post-Partition generations
Here’s to three countries that have gone far, but are still young
           May they grow further, may they grow in peace.


Shauna Singh Baldwin is the award-winning author of the novels: What the Body Remembers, The Tiger Claw, and The Selector of Souls. Her collections are English Lessons and Other Stories and We Are Not In Pakistan. Her latest works are a play, We Are So Different Now, and Reluctant Rebellions: Selected Non-Fiction.

Shobhaa De

Two words: ‘Memory’ and ‘Past’ make strange bedfellows. As India turns 75, those of us who cherish the emotional richness embedded in both, react with knowing looks, wry smiles and unshed tears. Being not quite a ‘Midnight’s Child,’ but close enough (I was born in January 1948), I took freedom for granted, naively believing it was mine for life, as promised by the political leaders of the time. Our ‘tryst with destiny’ was infused with hope and excitement—the almost limitless possibilities and opportunities extended by a functional democracy, cherished and protected by citizens. Today, that same word—democracy—has been systematically desecrated and ruthlessly diminished by our elected representatives who defy us to live our precious dreams—if we dare.

Yes, we dare.

Our minds will not live in fear… the ‘heaven of freedom’ must be reclaimed… and India will awake, once again… stronger than ever.


Shobhaa De lives in Mumbai. A best-selling author, popular columnist, screenwriter and editor she has published 12 popular novels, including, most recently, Srilaaji: the Gilded Life and Longings of a Marwari Goodwife, and collection of stories, including Lockdown Liaisons and ten works of non-fiction, including her memoir, Seventy… and to hell with it!. She wrote India’s first long-running soap, Swabhimaan, which ran in the 1990s and has been founder-editor of three magazines.

Shruti Ganguly

How It All Started

The handwritten sheet shook in her hands as she stood on top of the cement stairs. A dusky pre-teen girl in a dusty field in the summer heat. Everyone was dressed in white-ish. Sweat-stained shirts and sandy shorts, pleated culottes. It was August 15th at the Indian School Muscat.

The girl, who loved theater and elocution making an audience laugh and marvel with delight, was now terrified. She had won a writing contest that celebrated Independence Day, and what she didn’t realize when she turned in her pages was that part of her prize was sharing her poem, at a podium, to hundreds of fellow students and teachers. She could not hide behind the verses of William Shakespeare or Alfred Noyes. No, she had to play herself with her own words.

The microphone crackled with glee as she crept up to it. She was trembling. Dry mouth, wet eyes. A breeze crept in from the distant sea, past the mountains, into the field, picking up the smells of samosas from the canteen. Some grabbed their hijabs, others held onto their rosaries, the sand mixed in with the tikkas, oily braids lost their sheen.

The girl coughed, then cleared her throat. A realization. She loved her country, that’s why she was crying. She looked out at the crowd and began.


Shruti Ganguly is an award-winning filmmaker and writer based between Oslo and New York City.

Siddharth Dube

How very different India’s 75th anniversary feels to its 50th anniversary.

There was a hopefulness 25 years ago on the cusp of the new millennium, apparent even to those like me who worked on poverty and marginalization. I was not caught up in the boosterism of that era—the notion that India was set on the glorious path of becoming an economic and political powerhouse. I knew that notion was misplaced, as my research invariably reminded me that all of India’s gargantuan failures on poverty, illiteracy, ill health, hunger and inequality were bound to persist. But, what inspired me nonetheless were all the thrilling signs that democracy had become a reality even in some of the most hostile and unlikely of settings.

I witnessed sex workers in West Bengal demanding complete equality—demanding respect, decriminalisation and other rights, fair pay for the work they did, and an end to violence. To my astonishment, in November 1997, just months after India’s 50th anniversary, I saw the incumbent union home minister, the legendary Communist leader Indrajit Gupta, officiate as chief guest at the sex workers’ first national conference in Kolkata.

In UP, in the remote Awadh village where I had lived for several years, I saw the Dalits begin to succeed in their unrelenting, day by day fight against the elite-caste landlords who had oppressed them for centuries. For the first time ever that they could recall, Dalit men and women exchanged blows with the landlords—a turning point that marked the end of the landlords’ tyranny in at least this one small village. That transformation was mirrored on a far vaster scale by a young Dalit woman, Mayawati, rising to become the chief minister of this mammoth, unruly state.

There was so much hope then—but today there is none.

Today, after years of bullying misdirection by Narendra Modi’s government, India has become a society that has turned on itself. It devours its best people, the Sudha Bharadwajs, the Stan Swamys and the Anand Teltumbdes. It devours the defenseless: Adivasis, Buddhists, Christians, Dalits, and Muslims, women and men and children alike. It devours all those who fight for India’s good.

There were many things to celebrate at our 50th anniversary. There is nothing to celebrate at our 75th.


Siddharth Dube is the author, most recently, of An Indefinite Sentence: A Personal History of Outlawed Love and Sex.

Siddhartha Deb

I am not allowed to say the name of the person who told me, years ago: “India is not a nation. It is a prisonhouse of all possible nations.” Now this person is incarcerated, but I can’t describe the specifics of their suffering. What if these words are read somewhere in the command tower of that vast, subcontinent-sized prisonhouse also known as India, and orders are then passed demanding more suffering. As Colonel Joll puts it in J.M. Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians, “First I get lies, you see … first lies, then pressure, then more lies, then more pressure, then the break, then more pressure, then the truth.”

That is the sort of truth that has led to thousands in Indian prisons at the same time as India supposedly celebrates 75 years of freedom. “Ignorance is Strength.” “War is Peace.” And, of course, “Freedom is Slavery.” But still there are some names that can be said, should be said, in case we forget these prisoner citizens whose crimes include being opposed to Hindu majoritarianism and to capitalism and wanting justice for the most immiserated, marginalized sections of India’s vastly unequal society.

I can say the name of Stan Swamy, incarcerated and, eventually, killed by the Indian state on July 5, 2021. I can say his name because his life, if not his memory, is beyond the reach of the prisonhouse. Father Stan, dead at 84 because those running India are terrified of a Jesuit priest whose life was dedicated to working with indigenous people brutalized by Hindutva, the state, and the market. Father Stan, suffering from Parkinson’s, but denied bail by “His honor The Special Judge Dinesh E. Kothalikar,” who called it an “alleged sickness.” Say Father Stan’s name. Say it.

I can say the name of Arun Ferreira, who writes about his incarceration in his memoir, Colors of the Cage: A Memoir of an Indian Prison and who was back behind bars before I had time to write the foreword to the American edition of his book. Say his name. Say it. And say the names of Umar Khalid and Rona Wilson. Say the names of Anand Teltumbde and Surendra Gadling, of Sudhir Dhawale and Shoma Sen, of Mahesh Raut and Jyoti Jagtap, of Gautam Navlakha and Hany Babu and Sagar Gorkhe and Ramesh Gaichor.

Say the names, known, unknown, of thousands of political detainees in India’s prison system. Say the names of the people of Kashmir.

Say the names of the half a million people in prison for non-political crimes, among which being poor, being Dalit, and being Muslim rank the highest. Even if we don’t know the names, say them all.

Say the names of those not yet in prison but on this list or that list, those in the cross-wires of the National Investigative Agency, the Central Bureau of Investigation, and the Uttar Pradesh police, those who give the political leaders of the Hindu right indigestion and bad dreams.

Finally, say your own name because you sometimes worry that one day they will come for you as well. Say your name because you think, late at night, that you might be reported for what you wrote, for what you said, for what you thought. Say your name because you can’t help wondering if they will come for you, if they will stop you from flying out, or if they will stop you when you are coming in. This is how you know that you may be against prisonhouses posing as nations, but that you are always on the side of the many worlds that are possible.


Siddhartha Deb was born in Northeast India and lives in Harlem. He is the author of two novels and one work of non-fiction.

Sita Venkateswar

Poem by Sita Venkateswar


Sita Venkateswar is Programme Coordinator of Social Anthropology at Massey University, Aotearoa New Zealand. She is the author of Development & Ethnocide: Colonial Practices in the Andaman Islands and has co-edited The Politics of Indigeneity: Reflections on Indigenous Activism and Globalisation and the Challenges of Development in Contemporary India.


I am not a true global citizen, equally at home anywhere. The whole world is a feast, but only India flows in my veins in a particular way. India, Maharashtra, aamchi Mumbai. Home. Sublime, tragic, hilarious. Neon rice fields simultaneously soothing and electrifying in the monsoon light. Shrieking and playing Holi with lurid pink potions. Burying my father with an orchid and a feather. Afternoon light playing golden tricks in the banyan leaves where I knew as a child there were secret kingdoms. Itchy school uniforms. The pure, purely demented cry of the Malabar Whistling Thrush. Vada pav and biryani and idli-dosa-hot-samosa-Bombay-merihai. Singing hymns, chanting bhajans, reciting duas. The whole 8th standard class sharing one jhoota raw mango with chili powder. India, you color the world, glorious, cruel, kaleidoscopic. The sun sets, the moon rises, painting the sea and polishing the sky. I have bled and broken on your rocks, danced and shouted on your sands.

But now—What is next? Rules may change but I will not. Whether you hold me close or spit me out, I will always belong to you.


SKB has published fiction as well as non-fiction books. She hates to be anonymous but feels she must.

Sonora Jha

Do you long for me, India, the way I long for you? Where once I was your daughter, obedient, am I now the sister who ran away, wild? Or may I be the mother, shaking my head, never quite landing that silly threat of “one tight slap,” loving you beyond love and from within an aching heart that imagined you could be so much more if you’d only get out of your own way? Would I be the journalist who stayed to tell your best stories or the one you threw into prison for telling the true ones? Would I be the feminist unworthy of your protections, not quite the kind of beti to bachao (daughter to be saved)? May we now go in search, you and I, for The Others you burned or denied or drove out?

At 75, my mother, are you worthy of being mine and I yours?

If I come back, will you abandon me again within your own borders?


Sonora Jha hails from Bombay and teaches journalism at Seattle University. Dr. Jha is the author of the novels The Laughter (forthcoming Feb 2023) and Foreign (2013) and the memoir How to Raise a Feminist Son: Motherhood, Masculinity, and the Making of my Family (2021).

Suchitra Vijayan

Age 21
They arrested me
for holding a
blank paper.
No words,
just a blank paper.

The charge:
arrested for standing in silence,
provoking peace without words,
and protesting without a permit,

I stood at a street corner
with a blank paper
held above my head.

Who knew you could censor silence?

Age 32
Protesting for peace
became hate speech.
Arrested for the offense
of demanding dignity.
Bail denied.

Age 55
A government order —G.O.—
proclaimed that they had
no record of deaths,
no one died of anything.
Dead bodies are no longer proof of death.
Data was declared anti-national.

Age 31
Memory became excess baggage.
Record keepers vanished
Writers: disappeared
Poets: disappeared
Journalists: disappeared
Bards: exiled
That’s what happens when you
tinker with reality too much.

Age 46
They accused him of pelting stones
and then bulldozed his home.
No law sanctioned it.
No judge, jury, or facts were
involved in the matter.
Punishment delivered
for a crime he couldn’t commit.
He had no hands.
They called it
bulldozing justice.

Age 57 and 60
The court fined a citizen
for seeking justice,
sent another to prison.
Lordships had confused
vengeance for verdict

Age 71
Then I stood on a street corner
in protest of nothing.
They arrested me.
Inquilab Zindabad!


Suchitra Vijayan is a writer, essayist, activist, and photographer. She is the author of Midnight’s Borders: A People’s History of Modern India.

Sujatha Gidla

Seventy-five years ago, my uncle Satyamurthy, an untouchable sixteen-year-old and the first in his family to go to college, dressed in his best and joined the throngs on campus celebrating India’s liberation from the colonial yoke. Now that the British have left, he naively believed, there will be no more poverty, no more caste oppression. Many among the downtrodden shared his hopes on that day, even as millions were forced to flee in the bloody partition of the country on sectarian lines. In this year of Amrit (elixir, or nectar) anniversary, India has the highest number of extreme poor, caste violence is worse than ever before, and Muslims and Christians live under existential threat, while activists such as Teesta Setalvad and those framed in the Bhima Koregaon1“After an incident of caste-based violence in 2018, the government arrested activists, human rights defenders, writers, and lawyers, alleging that they were part of an anti-national plot. The cases have not been brought to trial. Of the 16 arrested, one died in custody and bail has been granted to one activist, but the rest remain in custody, without formal charges being framed against them.” case face severe repression. Indians still await that elusive freedom.


Sujatha Gidla was raised in Kakinada, Andhra Pradesh, and lives in New York. She is the author of a family history, Ants Among Elephants.

Suketu Mehta

The Hands From The Trains

The manager of Bombay’s suburban railway system was once asked when the system would improve to a point where it could carry its ten million daily passengers in comfort. “Not in my lifetime,” he answered. Certainly, if you commute into Bombay, you are made aware of the precise temperature of the human body as it curls around you on all sides, adjusting itself to every curve of your own. A lover’s embrace was never so close.

My friend Asad bin Saif works in an institute for secularism, moving tirelessly among the slums, cataloging numberless communal flare-ups and riots, seeing first-hand the slow destruction of the social fabric of the city. Asad is from Bhagalpur, in Bihar, site not only of some of the worst communal rioting in the nation but also of a gory incident where the police blinded a group of petty criminals with knitting needles and acid. Asad, of all people, has seen humanity at its worst. I asked him if he feels pessimistic about the human race. “Not at all,” he responded. “Look at the hands from the trains.”

If you are late for work in the morning in Bombay, and you reach the station just as the train is leaving the platform, you can run up to the packed compartments and you will find many hands stretching out to grab you on board, unfolding outwards from the train like petals. As you run alongside the train, you will be picked up and some tiny space will be made for your feet on the edge of the open doorway. The rest is up to you; you will probably have to hang on to the door frame with your fingertips, being careful not to lean out too far lest you get decapitated by a pole placed too close to the tracks. But consider what has happened. Your fellow-passengers, already packed tighter than cattle are legally allowed to be, their shirts already drenched in sweat in the badly ventilated compartment, having stood like this for hours, retain an empathy for you, know that your boss might yell at you or cut your pay if you miss this train, and will make space where none exists to take one more person with them. And at the moment of contact, they do not know if the hand that is reaching for theirs belongs to a Hindu or Muslim or Christian or Brahmin or untouchable or whether you were born in this city or arrived only this morning or whether you live in Malabar Hill or Jogeshwari; whether you’re from Bombay or Mumbai or New York. All they know is that you’re trying to get to the city of gold, and that’s enough. Come on board, they say. We’ll adjust.


Suketu Mehta is the author of Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found, a Pulitzer Prize Finalist, and This Land is Our Land: An Immigrant’s Manifesto. He teaches journalism at New York University.

Sumana Roy

Third Molar

‘Infiltrators are like termites in the soil of Bengal … A Bharatiya Janata Party government will pick up infiltrators one by one and throw them into the Bay of Bengal.’ — Amit Shah, April 2019

When I open my mouth
he mentions my brother
—just his name—
and my mouth almost shuts.
‘Who’s older?’ he asks.
‘I …,’ I say, unsure,
suddenly forgetful of my long—longer—life.

‘It’s exactly the same,’ he says,
‘The inside of your mouth, yours and his—
the way your teeth sit on the lower jaw.’
Nose, eyes, forehead
—all of these that ferry resemblance—
Teeth? I swallow spit.

In front of me hangs
a map of India,
its mouth wide open:
Goa, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa,
Bengal—the lower jaw.
Bengal-Bangladesh, the third molar …

‘Yes, yes, here,’ I say in pain,
That’s where it hurts …’

The dentist writes a prescription.
‘I’ll extract it …
It’s the third molar,’ he says.
I think of my brother
and all my relatives,
everyone with mouths like mine,
waiting to get Bengal extracted.


Sumana Roy has published a novel, one work of non-fiction, a collection of short stories, and two volumes of poetry. She teaches at Ashoka University.

Sunil Amrith

To my colleagues, who have been harassed, hounded, and detained—

In the face of crass brutality, you uphold grace and humor. You confront the erasure of history with the stubborn insistence of memory. Your testimony speaks of lives ruined and communities torn apart. You shine a light on the rivers mined for sand, the forests felled by dams, the species driven to the brink. In your work and in your words there lives another India: an India more just, more fully alive, more open to the world.


Sunil Amrith was born in Kenya to Tamil parents, grew up in Singapore, and teaches history at Yale University. He is the author of four books.

Tabish Khair

The shrinking strip between
The saffron and the green
Still offers space to write
What once was meant by white,
Before three gunshots (loud)
Turned it into a shroud.


Tabish Khair was born and educated in the small and historical town of Gaya, India. He remains an Indian citizen though he now teaches in Aarhus, Denmark. Author of thirteen works, he is a novelist, poet and critic. He has published a new novel, The Body by the Shore, in 2022.

Tanuja Desai Hidier

Sooji, Sakar, Badam, Ghee

75 years ago, my future mother was living in Kolhapur, India. Childhood sun still upon her cheek, taste of that time, her tongue, she speaks:

Of August 15.

Indian Independence. It seemed.

School commenced with prayer: Vande Materam. My little-girl-mother, in khadi sari skirt, blouse, envisioned this motherland a goddess. Bejewelled; abloom. Golden-sari-swathed. Wide wise eyes; sweeping smile assuring worlds of delight.

After: Ah! Teacher distributing laddoos from magic-hat barrel.

Sugar-lipped, salt-skinned, she imagined this boon in the hands of all! The Catholic schoolkids, too, tucking in. Polish children from the nearby refugee camp, with their fascinating faces and beautiful Marathi, in the semolina savoring a hint of the kasza manna from the homeland they’d been forced to flee.

This—no flag-hoist, headline, parade—my mother’s image of Independence:

Sooji. Sakar. Badam. Ghee.

A treasure in her, every, palm.

A taste of sweeter days to come.

In the months after, tragically, that scent, sense, gave way to another: Ash-acrid. Bitter-burn. neighbors’ homes, set afire. Others, too, through Laxmipuri. Kolhapur.


One day, my future mother and best friend Mumtaz were Hide-and-Seeking when Mumtaz’s brother fetched her away, despite please-let-us-plays.

Increasingly: Hindu families forbidding their ‘issues’ to see Muslim children, too.

Two little girls no longer allowed to meet.

All hide. No seek.

Childhood games tainted. Sides violently delineated.

Why couldn’t we just…be? That laddoo-promise—an India mothering, nourishing, freedom, inclusivity—was given to Mumtaz and me.

Now, that childhood goddess: Hair matted. Sari shredded. Body plundered. Eyes red.

Gone the gold. Sparkle. Smile.

Scent of jasmine, jamrukh, tea? Blood-sweat-tear gas. Artillery.

And we must renew her, come through, allow all to breathe.

Safely. With dignity. Coexisting peacefully.

All rivers to the sea!

The innocence of children at play in the street: Seek.


A childhood memory: a metaphor for what still could be?

Please, dear India, this anniversary:

Reach into the barrel, bullet-free.

Sooji! Badam! Sakar! Ghee…

Ring in the sweet.


Tanuja Desai Hidier is an author/singer-songwriter. Her pioneering debut Born Confused—the first South Asian American YA novel—was named an ALA Best Book for Young Adults. Sequel Bombay Blues received the South Asia Book Award. Tanuja has also made ‘booktrack’ albums based on the novels. She lives in Maine.

Thrity Umrigar

I have loved two countries in my life and they have both broken my heart. One bills itself as the world’s oldest democracy, while the other is the world’s largest democracy.

But both nations have been bedeviled by ghosts they refuse to confront and transcend—the U.S. by the original sins of slavery and racism, and India by caste divisions and Islamophobia and anti-Christian sentiment. Unfortunately, the current Indian government is actively ensuring that these poisons spread throughout the body politic, by suppressing civil liberties and making minority citizens feel like strangers in their own country. From the promulgation of the reprehensible Citizens (Amendment) Act of 2019, to the jailing of journalists and activists, the vandalizing of churches by mobs, and the demolition of Muslim homes and businesses by the police, the repression of minorities bears the full imprimatur of the government.

I still hold out the hope that Hindu citizens of India will speak out against policies that target minorities, and work to make modern India live up to its potential and promise, to become the secular, pluralistic nation imagined by its founders.


Thrity Umrigar was born in Bombay and lives in the United States. She is the author of 13 books, including The Space Between Us and Honor.

Tishani Doshi

Cento for India’s 75th

O mystic mother of all sacrifice!
At first, my encounters on the thoroughfares
of your country were quotidian: the threshing
thighs, the singing breasts, the snap
of wheel on rutted stone into that heaven
of freedom. These were my homes then,
though I did not know. As we enter the era
of the assassin, someone says from behind,
You are Hindoo, aren’t you? The land yields
in places, deliberately, knowing there is never
a single point to any story. A mirror shakes
in recognition. All these burning afternoons
later, your room is always lit by artificial lights,
your windows, always shut. I’d like to believe now
I have nothing to do with you. I tried to keep
my nostrils above mud. All of India’s become
like that—bursting like an apple on the table
keenly to be killed. The question of being
drowned or afloat does not really matter.
Badshah, I say, to no one there,
Go quickly and look at your sky.
What can trees do in such a place
except light their own fires?


with lines from Sarojini Naidu, Bhanu Kapil, Nissim Ezekiel, Vivek Narayanan, Rabindranath Tagore, Vijay Nambisan, Robin Ngangom, A.K. Ramanujan, Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, Arundhathi Subramaniam, Adil Jussawalla, K. Srilata, Kamala Das, Jayanta Mahapatra, Meena Alexander, Hoshang Merchant, Srinivas Rayaprol, Mona Zote, Jeet Thayil, Shreela Ray and Eunice de Souza


Tishani Doshi is a novelist, poet, dancer, and teacher. She has written eight books, including four volumes of poetry and three novels. She lives in Tamil Nadu.

Vandana Singh

Freedom Song

They called me Mother. I was forests and grasslands, lakes and rivers, clouds that carried promises to parched earth. Elephants, like mountains, moved to shape the forests; the birds, and slender-footed deer followed in their wake, and butterflies danced in shafts of sunlight. Humans lived in city and village, forest and meadow. There were kingdoms, incursions, wars and confluences. There were ancient oppressions, dividing lines. The land was bountiful and made no distinctions.

Then came the colonizers from over the oceans. Gazing with mechanistic eyes, they carved me up, crisscrossed my body with numbers and lines; this, my verdant body, redolent with life, became ‘resource’ and ‘raw material.’ They caged my humans in prisons of body and mind; deepened rifts to keep their hold. It took lifetimes to drive them out. Mother! You are free, my human children said, drunk with visions of possibility, as they danced in the streets.

Now, too, you call me Mother. You celebrate freedom, my children, as your leaders dismember my body, cut off my limbs to sell to the highest bidder. My craggy crown of snow, my heart, the Hasdeo forest, my outflung arms, Kutch2Desert region in Gujarat, bordering Pakistan. and Dehing Patkai3Forest in Assam, in India’s northeast., my sandy feet, washed by waters of three seas; all for sale! Your billionaires raise phallic towers of triumph on the bones of the poor. Gluttonous greed devours entire landscapes, leaving devastation, dispossession and misery. The elephant cries for the lost forest, the kharchal4The great Indian bustard, a rare bird. contemplates extinction with sorrow-bright eyes. And my defenders, the people of forest and desert, grassland and mountain, village and city, the truth-tellers who march with sore feet over kilometers to seek justice; those you silence, entomb them in prison walls.

Is this freedom?

Tell your leaders this: I am more than Mother. I am thunder and avalanche, I am the secret only the deep forest knows. I am the fury of surging water. I am the gale that topples your delusions. I am the flood that uncovers the graves of your victims. I am the truth that burns down your palace of lies. No name, no boundary can contain me. No lines of hatred, no waving pennants, can define who I am. If you wish to know me, my children, you must come to me with empty hands, like a child, to learn. To learn to spell Freedom, you must open the prison gates, you must speak to the grassland, acknowledge the dignity of trees and elephants, rejoice in the variegated colors of human difference, let go of greed and hatred and fear.

Only then will you be free.


Vandana Singh was born and raised in Delhi. She teaches physics and climate change at a public university in Massachusetts and writes speculative fiction. Recent work includes a collection titled Ambiguity Machines & Other Stories.

Vijay Seshadri

My parents left India in the nineteen-fifties—my father first, in the middle of the decade, and then my mother, at the end, with me in tow. They brought the country with them when they left, though—its habits of mind, its customs, patterns, and ideals, especially the moral and political ideals of the young Indian Republic. They were people who took politics seriously, and those ideals and that early high-mindedness might, in fact, have been the most Indian things about them. My father was born soon after the Non-cooperation movement; my mother during the First Round Table Conference. My father was a Marxist when he was young, of a not uncommon Indian scientific and intellectual type of that era. My mother was impatient with theorizing. Instead, she participated and participated. In India as a young teenager, she demonstrated. In America, she volunteered and registered voters, canvassed for candidates, and at election time for over thirty years could be found sitting at a table in a polling station on behalf of the local Democratic club, to record the signatures of voters on voting rolls. Her political activity had a little something to do with American politics. Mostly, though, it had to do with universal democratic work independent of any particular circumstances. This is what grown-up people did. They engaged in making social choices and in exercising their choices in an ordered arena. They didn’t submit to cults. They participated in their communities through rational processes and kept those processes alive and rational by their participation.

My parents were pacifists and internationalists. They were strongly pro-labor. Their notion was—or at least this was the way they expressed it to me when I was a child—that the government of a country was meant to represent its poor people in the inevitable scrum of competing interests of a democratic society. Though they were orthodox South Indian Vaishnavites, they knew that the place of religion in politics should be small and carefully circumscribed, and that communalism was by far the greatest danger India faced. They were proud of the India of the Independence movement and the early Republic—threadbare and struggling materially but rich in ideas and ideals and destiny, with a sense of its own dignity and profound historical depth, a dynamic (however inconsistently applied) progressivism, and an astonishingly sophisticated (the sophistication most fully apparent in the Ambedkar Constitution) accommodation of Indian complexity and variety and multitudinousness.

I’ve lived out of India for over sixty years now. By my estimates, I’ve spent during those years about ten months in the Subcontinent, five of which were in Pakistan, in Lahore, on a grant to study Urdu, and almost all the rest of which were in Bangalore, at the other end of the land mass, where I was born. An Indian living in India or someone out of India but much closer to the country or, even, a detached observer could make a case that people like me don’t have any standing to criticize or deplore Indian political developments. While I don’t buy this argument, I understand its reasoning. But though I might or might not have the standing to speak for myself, I can definitely speak for my parents. If they were alive, they would be appalled at what’s happening in India now—the harassment of writers and the suppression of dissent; the encouragement, the positive embrace, of communal identity and antagonisms; the encroachments on and manipulations of the judiciary; the tone of anger, frustration, resentment, even rage, that underlies and poisons political discourse; the growing violence. What might most dishearten them is the willful repudiation on the part of Indian “leaders” of India’s inherent and inalienable complexity and subtlety for the sake of a single, simple-minded, primitive story about the country. For them, an India that wasn’t complex, that wasn’t too complex to be subordinated to one idea of it, too complex to be grasped except by the most vigorous effort of the mind, wasn’t India at all, and never could be.


Vijay Seshadri is the author of five books of poetry and many essays, memoir fragments, and reviews. His work has received a number of honors, including the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. He teaches at Sarah Lawrence College.

Vishakha Desai

When India achieved freedom from the British rulers in 1947, the whole world was in awe of the ancient culture and an infant nation. It was not because India was rich; the colonial masters had made sure that the country was far poorer than when they rushed to it. Troubled as the region was with an ill-planned partition, all eyes were on India because of the moral authority of the Gandhian principle of Ahimsa, freedom through non-violent means.

Growing up in a household of Gandhian freedom fighters in the early years of Independence, I was proud to know that my young country aspired to live up to the famous Vedic verse inscribed at the entrance of its parliament, Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, treating the whole world as family. It was important that respect for cultural diversity and protection of minorities was a fundamental part of the country, as enshrined in its new constitution.

Seventy-five years later, how sad it is that such noble ideas and actions are conspicuous only by their willful and persistent erasure in the land that birthed them.


Vishakha Desai is Senior Advisor to the President and Chair of Committee on Global Thought at Columbia University. She is the author or editor of five books, most recently, World as Family: A Journey of multi-rooted Belongings. Raised in Ahmedabad, she lives in New York.

Vivek Menezes

India’s smallest state didn’t get that famous “freedom at midnight” in 1947, because the Portuguese dictator António de Oliveira Salazar refused to countenance decolonization, and the 451-year-old Estado da India was invaded and conquered only in 1961, after Jawaharlal Nehru finally sent in the Indian Armed Forces.

It’s a great pity it had to happen that way because—as Salazar was repeatedly advised—Goa overwhelmingly supported Independence, and diaspora Goans were already contributing mightily—far out of proportion to their minuscule numbers—to the grand experiment of the Republic of India. Nonetheless, instead of the appropriate negotiated merger (as happened with French India), there was only annexation—the official legal term—with all terms imposed directly from New Delhi.

Even then, there was huge optimism. The tiny territory, which became a full-fledged state in the Indian Union in 1987, voted in the first government with the Bahujan Samaj as its main base of supporters in modern Indian history, and implemented a remarkable raft of land, healthcare, and education reforms. Unfortunately, none of that proved sufficient to stave off the cynical depredations of the 21st century, as the politics of division have taken root in dark and dismaying ways. At this point, the future does not look good at all.


Vivek Menezes is a widely published photographer and writer, columnist for the 120-year-old O Heraldo newspaper, and the co-founder and co-curator of the Goa Arts + Literature Festival.

Yashica Dutt

What does freedom look like? To a people whose sovereignty lives on borrowed time, when anyone walking by, can clank our metal cages they named caste, rattling our very belonging in this country they declared free a long time ago.

In ‘47, we heard freedom was fought for, hard-earned, won. Ours was still at bargain, with a republic, whose zeal to be the ‘world’s largest, brightest, newest’ couldn’t conceal the chains of caste they never considered breaking.

Freeing us too, would make us all free, with no one left to look down beneath, from above the slippery ladder of caste they sit on, defining their world, and ours. Redefining their existence, rearranging the illusion of ‘upperness’ that gives their life any meaning, would be excessive. We must wait for our turn for freedom. Asking for it too soon makes us greedy. Always asking, always demanding, to rupture the only order that ever made sense to them.

They say things are worse now. They’re right. Illusory, phantom or evident, all freedoms now lie at stake. Freedoms fought, won and bargained evaporate as we watch. Like a brass tap dripping through the night, and then, all at once. We have been here before. WE have always been here. It’s worse for some, not all. It never is.

“Will she lose it again?” Ambedkar had asked about India, months before he declared her, and her Dalit children truly free, with democracy. She is losing it now. But freedom, even at a bargain, is priceless, worth striving for. As people in waiting for 75 years to be free, we’d agree.


Yashica Dutt is a journalist and award-winning author of the best-selling memoir on caste, Coming Out as Dalit. She is a leading anti-caste expert and lives in New York.

Zia Jaffrey

Memory, Delhi, 2014:

We were on the lawn. It was warm, though winter. You turned, in your light blue sari, and said, All the trouble in the world today has been started by Muslims, hadn’t I noticed? And then: We just want them to sign a piece of paper to say they will abide by our laws—this is a Hindu country—we are the majority—and if they don’t, they can leave.

How could you utter such words so casually? In front of your grandchildren, who are part Muslim? In broad daylight. When you know my last name. Do you not see that I am shaking now? I am so terrified, I cannot speak. Do you even believe these words? Or are they the words of a Mrs. Jones, the Joneses, said almost amiably, without consequence? Are we in Rwanda? When did it become permissible to speak this way? I must say something. But where are my words? I cannot find them. It’s an old position from childhood. That is not true, I say, feebly. I am still shaking. I don’t hear what she says next… In this moment, though I identify with my mother’s side of the family, culturally, which is Hindu, I am Muslim. I am Muslim.

The lawn, the light, the people—they feel sinister now. I seek out a familiar face. Or perhaps his eyes find mine. Her in-law. It feels conspiratorial. What’s wrong? he says. I explain. How do you stand it? I ask. He shakes his head softly. We just agree to disagree. We try not to speak of such things at family gatherings.

In the car, I cannot stop speaking. Someone says, she means, those other Muslims. The religious ones.

Who is ‘our’? Who is ‘they’? Who is ‘we’?

I am reminded that in Rwanda, people were ‘primed’ for genocide. There were phases, over the years, in which it became possible to kill. The radio, the media, helped. Will today be my day to die? So that when it came, the negotiation was not about the fact, but about the manner of death. How well will you kill me? Will you kill me well?


Zia Jaffrey is the author of The Invisibles, a book about the hijras of India. She has written cover stories, features, and reviews for many publications. Her work has most recently been anthologized in Toni Morrison: The Last Interview. She has covered Israel/Palestine, South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings, and AIDS. She is writing a book about Palestinian-Americans. She teaches in The New School’s M.F.A. program.


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