MANY YEARS AGO, I heard some buzz around Mukul Kesavan’s first book—a novel titled Looking Through Glass (1995)—and hastened towards a copy, only to throw it aside and retreat in bewilderment not long after. I was then an exacting young man who read Science Fiction and took it Very Seriously, and I got rather cheesed off with the way he treated the sacred trope of time-travel. The narrator falls off a bridge across the Gomti and finds himself in the year 1942. No clarification was offered for this mysterious event and the book rapidly lost my favour after that. I remember being annoyed enough to black-mark the author quite emphatically.
That opinion changed a bit when I came across his 2001 tract, Secular Common Sense, a few years later. Kesavan argues here that we must look more carefully at the Congress-led formulation of nationalism—that it was an “original” formulation in seeking to remedy economic subjection and colonial imperialism, unlike the line toed by the party’s competitors, who merely borrowed at will from European nationalisms based on “mystical and mystifying notions such as blood, soil or national essence”. The secularism that issues from this original formulation is constituted by one practical purpose—that of making the republic credible to all its constituents and is thus a work in progress—while the ‘real’ secularism of the right-wingers aims at no more than giving Hindutva (rather than Hindu) grievance priority over the process of building that republic. It was a stirring defence of an idea whose sheen had been rather successfully tarnished by the hot air of the 1990s. I decided that he wasn’t such a bad sort after all.
I came across his byline occasionally through most of that decade, and read him in somewhat desultory fashion. Perhaps I didn’t follow his writing more carefully because much of what he wrote appeared in The Telegraph, a newspaper a whole continent away from east Bangalore then, as it is now, despite all the twittering on my timeline. Or because some part of what turned up as email forwards then—and as retweets now—was his cricket writing. That black art causes me to switch off and walk away each time. Cricket became unwatchable a moment after I saw a dejected Javed Miandad depart during the Bangalore quarter-final of the 1996 World Cup, thus ending a decade of exacting hatred and fascination, and now I can only fall asleep when I hear people bandying about opinions on the game.