Mohammed Ashraf is short and stubby, with a narrow but muscular chest and small, broad hands balanced on strong, flexible wrists. But Ashraf does not grudge the throw of the dice that has made him a safediwallah with a mazdoor’s body. A small man’s body can do things that a slenderchamak-challo cannot even contemplate.
A small man carries the ground close to him wherever he goes, even as he hangs along the side of a building three storeys high. The memory of the ground that allows him to crawl into crevices, perch on narrow ledges and balance on wobbly parapets. A short man knows the limits of his body, the extent of his reach, the exact position of his centre of balance. Unlike the tall man, he holds no illusions regarding his abilities or his dimensions; he will never overreach, overextend or overbalance.
A Free Man, my first book, should be in stores this July. Read the rest of the excerpt
Two sisters live in a clearing in the forest about 10 km beyond the abandoned houses and empty yards of Mukram village in Chhattisgarh’s Dantewada district. A third young girl cowers in the courtyard of her aunt’s house in neighbouring Tokanpalli. Between 14 and 18 years of age, Kose, Rame and Hidme (names changed) say they fled their homes in Mukram after they were sexually assaulted by Special Police Officers of the Chhattisgarh Police on May 22 this year.
“We can’t return to Mukram,” said Rame, “If they [the SPOs] find us again, they said they would cut my body into pieces and bury it in cement and no one would ever find it.”
It’s midnight: An aspiring model cooks up a batch of Fem Bleaching Cream; an actor rehearses his dialogues to the sounds of manic laughter, “Oh tell them all it is I who is God,”; a fourteen year old feigns sleep as his father looks on, wondering what has prompted his son to abandon his studies and look for work; a woman throws her abusive husband to the floor and whips him with his belt.
In the morning, a young man will awaken at the crack of dawn and walk down to the slaughterhouse; an empty street shall bear witness to a middle aged woman’s defiant declaration, “I will work. I don’t care what you think! I don’t care what the world thinks.” The muezzin will call the faithful to prayer. A bulldozer will plow through the heart of this twenty five year old settlement: clearing space for the 2010 Commonwealth Games, altering these lives forever.
In February 2006, the residents of Nangla Maanchi, a working class settlement of migrants in Delhi, were confronted by a signboard: “This land is the property of the government. It should be vacated.” By August that year, Nangla was bulldozed to make way for an “athlete’s village” to house this year’s Commonwealth Games.