“We have already lost Afghanistan. Why are you fiddling with the
edges?” asked a British sergeant in Bagram, Afghanistan while I was
waiting to hitch a ride back to Kabul. I had spent the last six weeks
embedded with the US Army in small villages in Eastern Afghanistan,
along the border with Pakistan. The sergeant was reacting to my
experiences on the Durand Line and how Afghans regularly crossed it.
On the road back to Kabul I asked myself, Why fiddle with the edges,
along the perimeters of the hegemon’s far flung subjects, amongst
those who do not belong to her nations creed?
I spent a year thinking about the fringes and their relationship to
the state and became obsessed with my country’s birth and the
fractures it created. I had uncovered a vast labyrinth of
interconnected stories, histories and worlds along the fault lines
that explored a range of complex and layered notions around identity,
memory, myth, and territory. By serendipity, I stumbled upon an
edifice to curate my thoughts, “The Border”.
“A nation is bound not only by the real past, but the stories it tells
itself: by what it remembers, and what it forgets.” said Colin
Thubron. But it is also about the stories we constantly re-imagine and
re-tell, embellish and sometimes omit, for the sake of legacy. I took
notice of the Sergeants advice seriously and decided to do the
opposite. I decided to investigate and write about the people who live
at the state’s fringes. A story about relationships, between the
people who inhabit the border and their rulers.
I want to commit to these children of predicament, a new breed of
people and the ideas that created them, but also the ideas of
belonging and identities they have spawned since. The state abstracted
discourses of citizenship, sovereignty, and territoriality versus the
reality of living. I have embarked on a 9000 Km journey, an
archeological pursuit in search of these stories, along India’s
borders with Pakistan, China , Burma, Bhutan, Nepal and Bangladesh.
The birth of India and the borders that became of it is nothing less
of a revolution, a revolution that became banal first and then
betrayed. It then sank into the clutches of apathy, sliding slowly
into the awful quagmire of inefficiency, corruption, disillusion and
unhappiness that I see now. The state ideologically set off to build a
nation, defend its territory and provide welfare for its heaving
population, but utterly forgot the idea of giving its people
happiness. A political ideology that does not take into account the
human desire for happiness seems to me is bound to fail. Perhaps this
is why American system is poised perhaps to fare better than many
others, because it actually does talk about the pursuit of happiness
and evokes a different kind of loyalty and a sense of belonging.
Djuna Barnes, in Nightwood say’s “The unendurable is the beginning of
the curve of joy.” This is where I am today on the cusp of the
unendurable, as this project that was an idea born out of fiddling
three years ago is now a reality that demands my utmost attention.
The project’s intellectual voracity for ideas and stories; recasting
the old and subversion; has taken a life of its own. I am not a
witness, I don’t intend to carry that burden, instead I am telling my
stories as told by others and the reverse.
We all have our choice of foolishness. Having chosen mine, I have
already traveled 2500 miles along India’s Border that encompasses,
Bangladesh, China and Burma. In these travels, I have encountered
situations conjured in fiction, backgrounds you would devise for a
novel, the characters you would produce for a drama. Paul Theroux is
said to have remarked to Jan Morris, that he liked writing travel
books because it gave him a plot; he didn’t have to think one up. I
don’t have to think up a plot, I just need to be present and, banish
temptation to add that extra inch and shave a few off in conformity to
single narrative. In that tradition of veracity, the stories I
collected are not sided, they are a universe unto themselves. Some are
seamless threads that begin in medius res and haunt us. Others are
chaotic, puzzles that stopped fitting a long time ago, fraught with
multiple, equally valid competing narratives of history and memory.
I’d love to hear from you – for more information see