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      According to the Puranas, the Kali Yug is the last age before the world is destroyed by the ‘fire of one thousand suns’, after which the cycle reaches its conclusion and time momentarily stops, before the wheel turns again and a new cycle begins. Rather ominously, the very week I decided on The Age of Kali as the title for this book, Atal Behari Vajpayee, India’s first BJP Prime Minister, let off his ‘Hindu’ nuclear bomb at Pokhran, in what some in India have seen as a sign that the Kali Yug is now approaching its apocalyptic climax.

      Following the blast, as ecstatic crowds filled the streets to celebrate – and as some BJP activists set about trying to build a Hindu shakti temple on the site of the explosion – several Indian papers quoted the lines from the Gita uttered by Robert Oppenheimer as he witnessed the first nuclear explosion at Alamogordo in 1945:

      If the radiance of a thousand suns

      Were to burst at once into the sky,

      That would be like the splendour of the Mighty One …

      I am become Death,

      The shatterer of worlds.

      Yet for all this, India has consistently defied those who make prophecies of doom for her, and sure enough, outside Pakistan and the Ganges basin, in parts of the Deccan and southern India, I saw a world where notions of a Kali Yug seemed to have little relevance. In the far south and west of the country, despite occasional political upheavals in Tamil Nadu, there was a quiet but growing prosperity and stability that defied the grim predictions of imminent apocalypse being made in Patna and Lucknow. The great question for India now, it seems to me, is whether the prosperity of the south and west of the country can outweigh the disorder and decay which is spreading out from Bihar and the north.

      This book covers so many sensitive areas that it is bound to raise a few cries of protest and dissent, particularly from Indians understandably touchy about criticism from abroad; but it is a work of love. Its subject is an area of the world I revere like no other, and in which I have chosen to spend most of my time since I was free to make that choice. From my first visit to the region as an eighteen-year-old backpacker, I was completely overwhelmed: India thrilled, surprised, daunted and excited me. Since then it has never ceased to amaze; and I hope that that ceaseless power to delight and astonish, if nothing else, is conveyed by this book.

      Over the course of the last decade, I have fallen in to the debt of many friends across the length and breadth of the subcontinent. There are, after all, few areas where people are so ready to open their house to the weary and confused traveller. I would like to thank the following, all of whom provided invaluable aid, advice and hospitality: Javed Abdulla, Ram Advani, Bilkiz Alladin, S.K. Bedi, Dev Benegal, David and Rachna Davidar, Farid Faridi, Sagarika Ghosh, Salman, Kusum and Navina Haidar, Sultana Hasan, Annie and Martin Howard, Mir Moazam Husain and the Begum Mehrunissa, General Wajahat Husain, Dr S.M. Yunus Jaffery, O.P. Jain, Nussi Jamil, Amrita Jhaveri, Gauri and David Keeling, Sunita Kohli, Momin Latif, Dieter Ludwig, Suleiman Mahmudabad, Sam and Shireen Miller, Sachin, Sudhir and Rosleen Mulji, Mushtaq Naqvi, Saeed Naqvi, Mark Nicholson, Naveen Patnaik, Ahmed and Angie Rashid, Arundhati Roy and Pradip Krishen, Yusouf Salahuddin, Arvik Sarkar, Vasu Scindia, Aradhana Seth, Jugnu and Najam Sethi, Balvinder Singh, Khuswant Singh, Magoo and Jaswant Singh, Mala and Tejbir Singh, Siddarth and Rashmi Singh, Mohan Sohai, Jigme Tashi, Tarun and Gitan Tejpal, Tiziano and Angela Terzani, Adam and Fariba Thomson, Mark Tully and Gillian Wright, Dr L.C. Tyagi, Shameem Varadrajan, and Pavan and Renuka Verma. I would like to give particular thanks to Sanjeev Srivastava, who accompanied me on all the Rajasthan stories and provided brilliant insights into the life of that state. Arvind Das gave me invaluable help with the Bihar story, which was very much inspired by his superb study of the state, The Republic of Bihar. Rosie Llewellyn-Jones provided me with invaluable contacts and advice for the Lucknow stories, as did Pankaj Bhutalia for ‘The City of Widows’, on which he has made a moving documentary. Priyath Liyanage and Abbas Nasir both helped to bring me up to date on recent developments in Sri Lanka and Pakistan. Karan Kapoor and Pablo Bartholomew between them took the pictures which originally accompanied many of the pieces in this book; they also helped set up many of the interviews, and were both wonderful – and patient – travelling companions and friends.

      Mehra Dalton of the incomparable Greaves Travel arranged (and on one occasion even sponsored) the travel arrangements.

      Lola Bubosh, Nick Coleridge, Jon Connel, Deidre Fernand, Ian Jack, David Jenkins, Dominic Lawson, Sarah Miller, Rebecca Nicolson, Justine Picardie, Joan Tapper, Robert Winder and Gully Wells all commissioned articles from me, and/or have generously given permission for them to be reproduced, although what is published here is in some cases very different from what originally appeared in the articles’ first journalistic avatar: pieces have been edited, trimmed and rewritten; some have been wedged together; others, where appropriate, have been suffixed with a new postscript to bring them up to date. ‘The Age of Kali’ was first published in Granta; ‘The Sad Tale of Bahveri Devi’, ‘Caste Wars’, ‘Baba Sehgal’ and ‘Finger Lickin’ Bad’ in the Observer; ‘Benazir Bhutto’, ‘Warrior Queen’, ‘The City of Widows’ and ‘Shobha Dé’ in the Sunday Times Magazine; ‘Up the Tiger Path’ and parts of ‘On the Frontier’ in GQ; ‘Parashakti’ in the Independent Magazine; ‘Imran Khan’ in Tatler; ‘Sati Mata’ and parts of ‘Imran Khan’ in the Sunday Telegraph Magazine; ‘On the Frontier’ in Condé Nast Traveller; ‘The Sorcerer’s Grave’ in Islands Magazine; ‘At Donna Georgina’s’ and parts of ‘The Age of Kali’ in the Spectator. In all cases the copyright is retained by the original publishers, and the pieces have been reprinted with permission.

      Pankaj Mishra, Patrick French, Philip Marsden, Sam Miller, Jenny Fraser and Lucy Warrack all kindly spent hours going over typescripts, while Mike Fishwick and Robert Lacey both performed sterling service with the red pen during the final edit. Mike and Robert, together with Annie Robertson and Helen Ellis, and also Renuka Chatterjee of HarperCollins India, between them provided everything an author could possibly want from a publisher. To all of them, many thanks.

      Most of all I would like to thank Jonathan Bond, who has put me up, for weeks at a time, in his wonderful house in Sundernagar ever since I finally gave up my own Delhi flat. He, Jigme and Tipoo have all put up with invasions of babies, wives, ayahs, journalists, friends, colleagues and debt collectors from Airtel, at any hour of the day or night, summer or winter, with almost surreal calm and forbearance – particularly on those occasions when the babies decided to rise before the dawn and make their presence volubly known.

      Finally, as always, I must thank Olivia, who accompanied me on almost all the trips, edited and helped rewrite all the articles, and who again provided all the artwork. Only she really knows how much she has done and how little I would be able to function without her. To her, Ibby and Sam, yet again: all my love …

      William Dalrymple

      Pages’ Yard, September 1998

1 The Age of Kali

       The Age of Kali

      PATNA, 1997

      On the night of 13 February 1992 two hundred armed Untouchables surrounded the high-caste village of Barra in the northern Indian state of Bihar. By the light of burning splints, the raiders roused all the men from their beds and marched them out in to the fields. Then, one after another, they slit their throats with a rusty harvesting sickle.

      Few of my Delhi friends were surprised when I pointed out the brief press report of the massacre, buried somewhere in the middle pages of the Indian Express: it was the sort of thing that was always happening in Bihar, they said. Two thousand years ago, it was under a bo tree near the Bihari capital of Patna that the Buddha had received his enlightenment; that, however, was probably the last bit of good news to come out of the

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