It seemed a straightforward question, but I got no response other than that arc. Standing around a small fire, some homebrew in hand, he had been talking steadily, almost compulsively, until that question. Thereafter, I could see only the tip of his cigarette arcing through the darkness, backed by what might have been the pale glint of firelight reflecting off his open palm. A pushing-away: a response of subservience, maybe, reconciliation or pleading. Maybe a hint of tightly coiled fury, a threat to whatever fates might be watching, that he was now beyond their reproach. Who could tell in the darkness?
He was an old friend and we knew much about each other. Either way, the question was the obvious one at the point he’d gotten to in his story. That’s the way it is in conversations: you give and take, you foster things along, like coaxing a finicky, delicate flower out of stony soil. His story had already taken so many twists – the fingernail moon, the young girl’s evening song, the roar of a wave that could drown the whole world – that I had to keep him on track. I’m a journalist, after all – it’s my job.
Anyway, just standing with him in the glow that night was success enough for me. He’d been missing for four, five days – we’d all assumed that we’d never see him again. And when, that night, he finally started to talk, warm in the fire’s embrace, it all tumbled out, a disjointed rush. I just had to prompt every now and again – Who? What? When? Where? How, how, how? And, Why? But that last one stopped him completely – just that arc, arc, arc in the darkness. It suddenly looked like it was coming from very far away.
This image is by Shishir Bhattacharjee, a Dhaka-based artist, and is part of Himal’s commentary on artwork from the Faculty of Fine Arts at the University of Dhaka.
Mixed media on canvas, 2001.
Romila Thapar addresses invitees at the
Southasian relaunch of Himal Southasian,
IIC, New Delhi, January 2013.
The archive: 25 years of Southasia
China, Southasia and India
On May 19 2013, newly appointed Chinese Premier Li Keqiang arrived in New Delhi for a series of meetings with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The visit is Keqiang's first outside of China since assuming power in March.
From our archive:
Purna Basnet discusses Chinese engagement in Nepal vis-a-vis security issues in Tibet and broader geo-strategic plans in Southasia (April 2011).
Fatima Chowdury relates the story of Calcutta's Indian Chinese community through the lens of political and economic upheavals in Southasia and China (May 2009).
Simon Long notes the importance of the Sino-Indian relationship for the rest of Southasia (September 2006).
J.N Dixit ruminates on the strategic concerns of the 'Middle Kingdom' in the wake of India's 1998 nuclear tests (June 1998).