In this Issue - Non-Fiction

 

Par Da Lek hadn’t seen any of this violence, but nonetheless there were strange rumblings in the village. Over the two days prior to 12 June 2012, men had been shuttled on buses to downtown Sittwe. Ko Myat would watch them go in wave after wave. They were goaded onto the buses and away, he said, by the village administrator, the chief authority there. For those two days, he had stood at the entrance to the village, where the road rises up on a bank above the busy marketplace. Buses would come and go; the men who stood there waiting empty handed would be given weapons – sticks and machetes – before climbing aboard....

 

 

‘It’s nothing to do with the Taliban or Al Qaeda. We just want to support our football club,’ one of the supporters told me with a broad marzipan smile. It was like visiting a film studio and wandering off a Southeast Asia set onto another recreating the deserts of Arabia. Over coffee in a restaurant overlooking Malioboro Street, the city’s main thoroughfare, a soft-spoken Muslim scholar, Muhammad Fajrul Fallah, tried to explain these puzzling changes to me....

 

 

I was reporting on India’s 2014 general election, the one that would bring a tough-talking man named Narendra Modi to power. Sultanpur was a dingy, noisy town with narrow streets, filled with honking motorcycles and stray cows and donkeys eating garbage. Outside the congested lanes of the town, the country roads were potholed and meandered through villages with names like Teergaon and Isouli. Men here wore white turbans and women arranged their saris to veil their faces and buffalos dozed placidly in village ponds. This was what journalists always called the 'heartland of India'. It was my first time in the heart of the heartland. Born and raised in metropolitan Kolkata, I already felt like a fish out of water here.

 

 

'I met Mr Li one smoggy Beijing summer’s evening, outside a streetside noodle shop at the end of my hutong, in the city’s maze of narrow alleyways. I was eating a bowl of biangbiang noodles – a flat wide kind whose name is written with a fifty-eight-stroke character that is onomatopoeic for the slapping biang! sound they make when whacked against a kitchen counter to stretch them out...'

 

 

 

Ah, it’s a foreigner, I think immediately. Then I catch myself, and the ridiculousness of my own thoughts comes back round to strike me. After all, I remind myself, so am I.

It’s not something I go around thinking about much from day to day. In fact, it’s fair to so say that most of the time, I’m oblivious to the legal fact that in Japan, I am a foreigner.

I look down at my Alien Registration Card on the desk in front of me, with my name, my date of birth and my nationality printed on it. Just minutes before, I’d handed this card, issued to me by the district office in the area where I live, to the clerk behind the renewals desk. Glancing repeatedly between the card and her computer screen, she’d typed something into the computer. The procedure took less than a minute. Then she handed me a long, narrow slip of paper.

‘Could you please check this for any mistakes?’