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Raised to hide her low caste, Yashica Dutts new book traces her realisation that her history is one of oppression, not shame

Pretending not to be a Dalit took a heavy toll on the young Yashica Dutt.

Her mother, Shashi, was so determined to protect her three children from the discrimination of the Hindu caste system that relegates Dalits to the periphery of society that she pretended the family were Brahmin.

Shashi worked hard to find the money throw birthday parties, have curtains on the windows, and to follow traditional rituals correctly. But for the children it meant that one wrong word or gesture while playing with friends or buying sweets from a shopkeeper could expose the lie.

It was only after she had grown up, that Dutt, a writer and journalist, began to understand the trauma of her childhood. When she began therapy in New Delhi six years ago, she simply asked her analyst: Help me to live.

I was always second-guessing myself, wondering if I had said the right thing, asking myself would upper caste people with happier childhoods have said it better or done it differently? I had so much doubt from feeling like an imposter, she says.

Dutt recounts the story in her book, Coming Out as Dalit.It tells of her mothers ambition to overcome poverty and give her children an education, without support and with an alcoholic husband. Dutt went to boarding school and then studied at St Stephens, perhaps the most prestigious university in India. She worked as a journalist in New Delhi and pursued a masters at Columbia University in New York, where she now lives and works for an advertising agency.

In the US Dutt, 34, discovered a parallel with her own experience. She heard some lighter-skinned African Americans talk of how they used to pass as white, assuming certain habits, tastes, language and mannerisms, just as her mother had mimicked those of upper caste Hindus.

As part of her book tour, Dutt was back in India appearing at the Jaipur Literature Festival last month; when the Guardian met her in a New Delhi cafe, she cut a striking figure with her wavy hair, black leather jacket and hands flashing with chunky rings.

Guilt entered her soul early and settled into sediment, she says. First it was guilt at her mother educating her when she could not afford it. Then it was guilt at having survived and enjoyed opportunities for education that so many in her community had never had and never would.

Her parents, though poor, were educated and lived in a city (Ajmer in Rajasthan) rather than a village and that allowed the family to conceal its caste in a way that is impossible for the majority of Indias approximately 200 million Dalits who live in rural areas.

Conversely, Dutt is concerned about the absence of guilt among upper caste Indians. While some white people joined the civil rights moment in the US or the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, the upper castes are nowhere to be seen in the Dalit struggle against discrimination, she says.

On the contrary, she says, there isnt even the same kind of open discourse here of the kind you have in the US about racism, white supremacy, which is all mainstream. Instead of acknowledging discrimination, upper caste Indians, instead of taking responsibility, have deluded themselves into thinking they are already living in a post-caste society.

She marks parallels with America in the wilful innocence that James Baldwin wrote of in that white Americans failed to understand what they had done to African Americans and that the race problem was their problem.

At Columbia, she was astounded to find black, Hispanic and gay classmates openly sharing their stories of discrimination without feeling any need to hide. Their accounts did not lead to the kind of social isolation she used to fear, but rather elicited sympathy from fellow students.

Even Dutts moments of triumph as a young girl, she says, were accompanied by self-flagellation. After much imploring by Shashi, she was finally accepted by Mussoorie Public School where her mother hoped she would pick up all the remaining social markers of upper caste culture from the other girls that she would need throughout her life to blend in.

Dutt came top of her class. I felt nothing. To my mind, if someone like me could score so well, then this school couldnt be all that great, she says.

Caste haunted Dutt, who choose to work as a fashion journalist in India, eschewing politics for fear that in writing a story or expressing an opinion she might reveal her caste. The fear of being outed was a permanent cloud. If people knew, would they even sit next to me?

It was not until 2016, in New York, that Dutt felt able to come out. That year, suicide of a Dalit student, Rohith Vemula, at Hyderabad University, was a huge story in India. His last letter began: My birth is my fatal accident.

Unlike me, Rohith did nothing to bury his Dalitness. Instead, he used it to stand up for Dalit students at Hyderabad University, she writes in her book. His pride and courage despite enjoying none of her advantages prompted Dutt to write a Facebook post announcing her real caste. Vemulas death, she wrote, made me realise that my history is one of oppression, not shame.

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In conservative, authoritarian Almaty, a small techno event aims to create a safe space for activists and the LGBT community

It is a rainy spring night in Almaty, and in a small back-alley club a young DJ is playing dark British techno while wearing a T-shirt that could easily land him in jail. Im in a crowd of about 200 at ZVUK, which for the past three years has been a remarkable outlier on the limited clubbing scene of Kazakhstans deeply conservative commercial capital.

My visit to the city coincided with rare political ructions in a country where little dissent had been tolerated during 30 years of autocratic rule by President Nursultan Nazarbayev. His sudden resignation in March and stage-managed elections in June had led to two protesters being jailed for 15 days for holding up a banner at the Almaty marathon that read: You cannot run away from the truth. Days later another man was arrested for holding a banner bearing a line from the constitution: The only source of state power is the people. Protests, which reignited after Nazarbayevs chosen successor was elected in June, have been met with more violence and arrests by the security forces.

Never compromise Nazira Kassenova, founder of ZVUK. Photograph: Kasia Zacharko

ZVUK is the only party collective in Almaty with a political-activism element, and the night I attended all of its members wore T-shirts bearing the slogan, You cannot run away from the truth. As a friend of the collective put it, in Europe, people like us can express themselves and stand against the government in safety. Here we can be jailed for it.

ZVUK is the brainchild of Nazira Kassenova, an upbeat, intelligent and humorous 28-year-old DJ originally from the small southern city of Taraz. These days she splits her time between Almaty and Berlin, where she is a resident at Room 4 Resistance and a host on Radio Cmeme. She has played at De School in Amsterdam and Berghain in Berlin arguably Europes two best clubs and in January reached another milestone by contributing to Resident Advisors podcast series. The mix is a great primer for her sound: tough, angular, clattering techno and bass music with a constant, addictive groove.

Part of what made this unlikely journey possible was four scholarship-funded years at university in St Andrews. During that time she made frequent trips to the Sub Club in Glasgow, which she cites as a defining influence. She returned to Almaty galvanised and ready to do her own thing. There are three other crews in Almaty doing moderately good stuff, she says, but none of them do anything musically, politically or socially challenging. I think thats fine in places that already have liberal laws and values, but not here.

Since starting ZVUK, Kassenova has brought in two other DJs Aisha, who mainly plays acid and electro, and ET, who loves rhythmic, brutal deconstructed club music as well as four non-DJ members. It is clear that for all six recruits, as well as the partys devotees, ZVUK is a life-changing sanctuary. ZVUK inspired me to pursue my dreams and live my life the way I want, and now Im a full-time writer able to support myself and my family, Gera Nogaibayeva, the collectives operations manager, tells me.

I am a part of the LGBT+ community, she says, and we are in often life-threatening danger in our country. To be a part of something that openly celebrates my community and strives to provide a safer space to be yourself is a huge deal.

The fact that much remains to be done regarding LGBT rights had been vividly demonstrated to me earlier that week at a party organised in support of the two jailed activists. The vibe was like that of a bohemian, artistic, politically engaged gathering, but a conversation with Kassenova led to an eye-opening moment.

A life-changing sanctuary ZVUK. Photograph: Yura Matiyun

Almost the whole country is homophobic, she said, even some of the people at this party. She then collared the first person who happened to be passing, a party-hearty, vodka-swilling sculptor in his 30s. What do you think of gay people? she asked. He replied without hesitation: I think they should go and do that in some other country. We dont want that in Kazakhstan.

The ZVUK party I attended was excellent by any citys standards, with tight, challenging sets and a deeply engaged and passionate crowd, all in the perfectly sized club Object, the only such independent clubbing space in the city. One of Kassenovas masterstrokes in building ZVUK has been to inject new perspectives via knowledgeable, thought-provoking international guests, among them Giant Swan, Via App and Dont DJ. In May the French/Northern Irish producer Zo Mc Pherson flew in to play, and, like many previous guests, also held a production workshop for a rapt audience a couple of days before the party.

Mc Pherson spent 10 days in Kazakhstan and offered interesting takes on the experience as we walked around Almatys top brutalist hotspots. I met a 17-year-old boy on a hike in the mountains, she said. We became friends and he came to the workshop with his mother, and the whole family came to the club night. It was the first time he had been to a club, and his mother told me I had opened her ears to a new world of listening.

She was similarly effusive on the crowd at ZVUK who were mesmerised by her hypnotic electronics-and-vocals set. I have never had a crowd dance together as one like that. Rhythmically, my stuff can seem experimental and awkward and many crowds get confused, but at ZVUK they knew how to rave very naturally to it.

With Kassenovas DJ career taking off thousands of miles away, she is determined that ZVUK will continue to be a driver of change in Kazakhstan. For a long time I lost money running ZVUK, and even now we just break even on most parties, she says. But for me compromise has always been the number one thing to avoid and it will always be that way. I could easily start flying more straightforward, commercial techno acts in, move to a bigger venue and turn ZVUK into a business. But that wouldnt help change anything, so fuck that.

Five key ZVUK tracks, chosen by Nazira Kassenova

Giant Swan IGOM

The Bristolian heavy techno duo Giant Swan played here in November and were amazing one of the best performances weve had for sure. But it was long before that that their music was played at the party and at least one GS track is played at every ZVUK, this being a big favourite.

MESH Follow & Mute

ET and I are really into whats nowadays called deconstructed club music, and this is a good example of something thats at the more experimental end of what we would play at the party.

PTU Castor and Pollux

Acid is an integral element of ZVUK, and two of our resident DJs are really into this sound. This track is a good representation of the type of acid youll hear on an average ZVUK night.

Griffit Vigo Gqomu 5

All of us at ZVUK love super-rhythmic drum tracks, but many people think they always come from the usual European or American techno sources. This is from South Africa and shows that you can find these sounds coming from almost anywhere in the world, if you look.

Jensen Interceptor Horner Acid

Electro is another signature sound at ZVUK, and this is a great example of the kind of electro we love.

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The octogenarian chef stars as a grandma MC in a video for New York-based artist Mr Cardamom

Indian actor. Hollywood star. Celebrity chef. Octogenarian rapper?

Madhur Jaffrey is surprising old fans and winning new ones with her latest guise as a grandma MC in a music video for a New York-based rapper.

The Delhi-born actor, who trained at Londons Royal Academy for the Dramatic Arts, then published a series of influential cookbooks, stars in the film clip for the track Nani Hindi for maternal grandmother by the hip-hop artist Mr Cardamom.

Im the best damn nani that you ever done see, she tells her son, after he berates her for neglecting her grandmotherly duties. Fuck top five nanis and fuck top three, Im the number one nani, dont fuck with me.

Jaffrey, who is 85 years gold, is credited as instrumental in demystifying Indian food for Americans and Brits with the publication of her 1973 cookbook, An Invitation to Indian Cooking, which along with a series of cooking programmes, helped to popularise some of the subcontinents cuisines.

She first gained fame in the west for her award-winning performance in the 1965 film, Shakespeare Wallah, and most recently starred in the NBC sitcom, I Feel Bad, that is currently awaiting renewal.

Clips from both her cooking shows and her films are spliced into the clip, as Jaffrey, in a yellow beret, roams New York demanding imperious treatment from waiters and slapping down men who dare to reach for the same vegetables in the grocery aisle.

Zohran Mamdani, the real name of rapper Mr Cardamom, told the New York Times the song is a tribute to his grandmother, Praveen Nair, who was a social worker in Delhi and the founder of a trust that assists homeless children.

He told the news outlet that Jaffrey, whose latest cookbook will be published in May, refused to accept payment, but insisted on keeping the yellow beret.

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Singer avoids last years bungled performance as revellers gather across the world to ring in 2018 with food, fireworks and prayers

Thousands of revellers packed cities across the UK to see in the new year with fireworks captivating crowds in London and Edinburgh. Crowds took to the streets to join lively celebrations amid preparations by emergency services to tackle one of the busiest nights of the year.

The firework display in London featured a soundtrack dominated by women to mark the centenary of women being granted the vote, while cities around the world also had similarly impressive displays.

More than 100,000 ticket-holders watched the fireworks explode over the Thames to a soundtrack by Aretha Franklin, Annie Lennox, Ariana Grande, Dua Lipa and Florence Welch.

In Scotland the forecast of strong wind did not end up affecting Edinburghs Hogmanay celebrations as the gales of up to 80mph confined themselves to other parts of the country. Tens of thousands saw in 2018 against the backdrop of Edinburgh Castle.

Underbelly, which was producing the event for the first time, promised the best party ever for the 75,000 people attending, with live music, DJs, street entertainment and the ultimate fireworks display.

Meanwhile in New York, throngs of revellers braved the second-coldest New Years Eve on record in New York to usher in 2018 as the glittering crystal ball dropped in Times Square.

The temperature was 10F (-12C), the chilliest celebration since 1917, when it was only 1F (-17C). Partygoers heeded warnings from authorities and wrapped up in extra layers, dancing and jogging in place to ward off the cold.

Mariah Carey successfully made it through her set on Dick Clarks New Years Rockin Eve with Ryan Seacrest after bungling it last year. Carey had technical difficulties during a live performance of her hit Emotions on the ABC show in 2016. She stopped singing, paced the stage and told the audience to finish the lyrics for her.

This year, she performed her 1990s hits Vision of Love and Hero and joked that it was a disaster when she could not get any hot tea.

Fireworks explode over Big Ben and the London Eye at midnight. Photograph: Leon Neal/Getty Images

In Paris, throngs of locals and tourists headed to the Champs-lyses to attend a fireworks show at the Arc de Triomphe. Frances New Years Eve celebrations were placed under high security, following a series of attacks by Islamic extremists in recent years, and 100,000 police officers and soldiers, along with 40,000 rescuers, were deployed across the country.

Fireworks and a laser show over the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Photograph: Guillaume Souvant/AFP/Getty Images

Germans also rang in the new year under tight security from police mindful of widespread sexual abuse of women in Cologne two years ago and of a terrorist attack on a Christmas market in 2016.

Police in Berlin put an extra 1,600 officers on duty and said that large bags and backpacks would not be allowed on the Party Mile leading from Brandenburg Gate, where thousands celebrated at midnight. Police in Frankfurt imposed similar restrictions in the celebration area along the river Main in the countrys financial capital.

In Indonesia, hundreds of couples celebrated by getting married in Jakarta in a free mass wedding. The communal event, attended by 437 couples, was staged by authorities to ease residents struggles with bureaucracy.

Many Jakartans cannot access public services because they have never legally been married, according to governor Anies Baswedan.

If they want to celebrate their wedding anniversaries, they will not only celebrate it with their families but the whole world will celebrate with them because it coincides with New Years, the governor said.

Fireworks over central Moscow. Photograph: Marina Lystseva/Tass

Celebrations in Russia were hampered by technical difficulties as Palace Square in St Petersburg was temporarily evacuated and a 25-metre (80ft) Christmas tree in the east of the country went up in flames.

In Moscow, the weather was less than festive. Usually blanketed with snow on New Years Eve, the Russian capital this year was suffering a long spell of intermittent rain and constant grey skies, but that did not stop the spectacular fireworks display from going ahead as planned above Red Square.

In Dubai the 828-metre Burj Khalifa, the worlds tallest building, once again served as the focal point of the new year celebrations in the United Arab Emirates, though this year authorities decided against fireworks and chose a massive LED light show.

ABC News (@ABC)

HAPPY NEW YEAR: Dubai counts down the seconds to 2018 with a humongous building-sized display.

Follow all the celebrations live from around the world:

December 31, 2017

The display, running down the east side of the tower, displayed Arabic calligraphy, geometric designs and a portrait of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the UAEs first president.

But a display of neighbouring nations flags did not show Qatars flag due to the ongoing dispute over ties to Iran and the alleged funding of extremist groups.

Meanwhile, India welcomed in the new year with midnight celebrations at popular landmarks, temples, mosques, gurdwaras and churches.

In Delhi, the festivities in Connaught Place came with heightened security as police conducted breathalyser tests, while emphasis was placed on ensuring the safety of women.

People watch fireworks over Sydney harbour. Photograph: David Moir/AAP

In Amritsar, the Golden Temple was lit up to mark the arrival of 2018. Although the festivities in Mumbai were expected to be somewhat muted following a blaze in a restaurant that killed 14 earlier this week, millions took to the streets and revellers appeared to be in high spirits on Marine Drive.

As the clock struck midnight in India, WhatsApp went down, hitting the messaging services biggest market, with about 200 million of its billion-plus users. Many users expressed their frustration on social media although normal service resumed about an hour later.

Several hours earlier, fireworks lit up the sky above Sydney harbour for the citys new year celebrations, where an extravagant display included a rainbow waterfall cascade of lights and colour to celebrate the recent legislation legalising gay marriage in Australia.

Fireworks in Auckland, New Zealand. Photograph: Dave Rowland/Getty Images

Security at the event was tight, but officials said there was no particular alert. It was estimated that almost half of those attending the celebrations were tourists.

In New Zealand, tens of thousands of people took to the streets and beaches, becoming among the first in the world to usher in 2018.

Fireworks boomed and crackled above city centres and harbours, and partygoers sang, hugged, danced and kissed. In Auckland, New Zealands biggest city, tens of thousands gathered around Sky Tower as five minutes of nonstop pyrotechnics exploded from the top of the 220-metre structure.

People shelter under umbrellas during Singapores fireworks display. Photograph: Edgar Su/Reuters

But on nearby Waiheke Island, 20 miles away, authorities cancelled a planned fireworks display because of drought conditions and low water supplies for firefighters.

In Singapore, people huddled under umbrellas to watch fireworks light up Marina Bay. Planned outdoor dance workouts and yoga reportedly had to be cancelled, but some still braved the weather to see in the new year.

Many Japanese people were celebrating the arrival of the Year of the Dog by praying for peace and good fortune at Shinto shrines, and eating traditional new year food such as noodles, shrimp and sweet black beans.

Shinto priests walk in a line to attend a ritual to usher in the new year in Tokyo. Photograph: Toru Hanai/Reuters

Barbecued beef and octopus dumpling stalls were set out at Tokyos Zojoji temple, where people take turns striking the giant bell 108 times at midnight, an annual practice repeated at other Buddhist temples throughout Japan.

In South Korea, thousands of people were expected to fill the streets near Seouls city hall for a traditional bell-tolling ceremony to usher in the new year.

The group of dignitaries picked to ring the old Bosingak bell at midnight included Soohorang and Bandabi the tiger and bear mascots for the Pyeongchang Winter Games and Paralympics in February and March.

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More than a million were killed and many millions more displaced by Indian partition. Authors consider its bloody legacy and the crises now facing their countries

Pankaj Mishra

Pankaj Mishra. Photograph: Windham-Campbell Prize

To think about partition on its 70th anniversary is to think, unavoidably, about the extraordinary crisis in India today. The 50th and 60th anniversaries of one of the 20th centurys biggest calamities were leavened with the possibility that India, liberal-democratic, secular and energetically globalising, was finally achieving the greatness its famous leaders had promised. In contrast to Indias grand and imminent tryst with destiny, Pakistans fate seemed to be obsessive self-harm.

The celebrations of a rising India were not much muted in 1997 and 2007, even as hands were dutifully wrung about the imperialist skulduggery and savage ethnic cleansing that founded the nation states of India and Pakistan, defined their self-images and condemned them to permanent internal and external conflict. Today, as the portrait of a co-conspirator in the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi hangs in the Indian parliament, it is the scale and ferocity of Indias mutation that haunts our thoughts.

But should it really be so shocking? Were we too beguiled by the intellectual complacencies of historians and journalists, who turned liberal democracy, secularism, globalisation and economic growth into articles of a new faith?

It is of course easy to ignore the malign and enduring potency of partition. Many of our everyday experiences of pluralist identities comprehensively negate it. My own life has been enriched by Pakistani writers, musicians, cricketers and friendships across borders. Yet the Hindu fanatic who murdered Gandhi for being soft on Muslims and Pakistan exemplified early the lethal logic of nation-building. So did many avowedly secular Indian leaders who used brute force to hold on to Kashmir.

In many ways, Narendra Modi and his mob are completing the unfinished business of partition: the unification of a political community through identification and persecution of internal and external enemies. In conforming to this grimly familiar historical pattern, India has outpaced Pakistan, where regional differences serve to check a ruthlessly homogenising nationalism (and Islamism), and no single ideological movement is able to colonise all key institutions of the state and civil society.

We persuaded ourselves that India was somehow exceptional, immune to the political pathologies that have infected almost every nation on earth, and entered its bloodstream at birth. It is frightening to contemplate on this 70th anniversary what lies ahead for nuclear-armed south Asia. No illusions of a liberation from history, of a rising or emerging India, comfort us today. And we Indians as well as Pakistanis are forced to acknowledge the partition as the great atrocity that decisively shapes our brutish present.

Pankaj Mishras most recent book is Age of Anger: A History of the Present (Allen Lane).

Salman Rushdie

Salman Rushdie. Photograph: Eloy Alonso/Reuters

Midnights Children was published a few months before the34th anniversary of Indian independence in 1981, and another 36 years have elapsed since then. The novel now feels like a half-time report. The second half deserves its own novel, although I am not the right person to write it.

When my novel was published, some people criticised it for ending too gloomily. Its true that much of the novel was written during the mid-70s Emergency, Indira Gandhis shameful 21-month suspension of democracy, and it bears the marks of that dark moment. But in the novel, as in real life, India emerged from the Emergency into a new day, and the narrator Saleems son Aadam represented the hope of anew generation. That new generation has grown up to inherit the world of midnights children, and India is becoming a different country. When I look at the last pages of my novel now, they feel almost absurdly optimistic.

The country is rapidly being pulled in the direction decreed by the proponents of Hindutva, Hindu nationalism, and away from the secular ideals of the founding fathers. To criticise this movement, in the age of the political Twitter troll, is to be branded sickular, or, even worse, asickular libtard. Meanwhile, in the land of the sacred cow, people are being lynched for the crime of allegedly possessing or eating beef. History textbooks are being rewritten as Hindutva propaganda. The governments control over a largely acquiescent news media (there are a couple of honourable exceptions) would be envied by the president of the United States, if he happened to concern himself with such faraway matters. The worlds largest democracy feels more authoritarian and less democratic than it should.

But the Modi government is popular. Its very popular. This is the greatest difference between the India of Indiras Emergency and the India of today. Back then, Mrs Gandhi called an election, wrongly believing she would win, and by doing so would legitimise the excesses of the Emergency years. But she was voted down resoundingly and driven from office. There is no sign that the Indian electorate will turn against the present government any time soon. Midnights grandchildren seem content with whats happening. And thats the pessimistic conclusion to volume two of the Indian story.

Salman Rusdhies latest novel, The Golden House, is published by Jonathan Cape inSeptember.

Kamila Shamsie

Kamila Shamsie. Photograph: Sarah Lee for the Guardian

When I was growing up, partition was not so much a historical event as a family story. Partition had made half my family Pakistani and the other half Indian; partition meant my grandmother couldnt get a visa to visit her dying mother; partition meant that while I cheered on Pakistans triumph against India in the 1987 Test series, my great-uncle, who was then visiting his sister/my grandmother, inKarachi, was despondent that his cricket team had lost. Partition also meant that I grew up in Karachi, multi-ethnic city of migrants, which I loved fiercely enough to make the loss of half a family seem like a price worth paying in a childs black and white way of seeing the world.

But at the level of official and national conversation in Pakistan, 1947 was a year to which the word independence rather than partition was attached. It was in British text books and British Raj revival films that partition almost always trumped independence. Of course it did. To talk about the independence of Pakistan and India is to acknowledge the yoke of colonial rule. Far easier to talk about partition, with its implication of everything falling apart as the British left, as though the falling apart wasnt the direct result of a policy of divide and rule. And so Ive always been uneasy and continue here to be uneasy when Im asked to talk about partition rather than independence in Britain.

But the complicated truth is that the entwined nature of independence and partition must be acknowledged. These were nations born as a result of a heroic opposition to imperial rule, but their birth was also marked by hatred andbloodshed. Contemporary conversations often focus on what that bloodshed means for India and Pakistans relationship to each other, but increasingly as I look at both nations, now so mired in violence towards their own minorities, I wonder what it means for each nations relationship to its own history, its own nature. There was never a reckoning for the violence of partition; that would have got in the way of the narrative of a glorious independence. Instead it became easier to blame the other side for all the violence, and pretend that at the moment of inception both India and Pakistan didnt wrap mass murder in a flag and hope no one would notice the blood stains.

Kamila Shamsies latest novel, Home Fire(Bloomsbury), has been longlisted for the Man Booker prize.

Mohsin Hamid

Mohsin Hamid. Photograph: Sarah Lee

Seventy years after partition, the old hatreds are alive and well. India is descending into an intolerant Hindu nationalism, apparently intent on imitating the religious chauvinism and suppression of dissent that have served Pakistan sopoorly. In Pakistan, a moment where it seemed that the press might finally become free and elected civilian rulers might regularly complete their terms has passed.

We are back in the murk of the unsaid, the unacknowledged, the undemocratic. Soldiers of both sides are firing across the line of control in Kashmir. Nuclear stockpiles grow. Rhetoric is unmeasured, indeed often unhinged. A person brought forward in time from the murderous slaughter of 70 years ago would probably look around and say, yes, this is what I expected.

What a failure. A failure for all of us, who live in south Asia. And for all of you, who live abroad, in countries whose governments see only market sizes and geopolitical advantage, and turn a blind eye to the great and mounting danger your angry brothers and sisters pose to each other.

Mohsin Hamids most recent novel, Exit West, published by Hamish Hamilton, has been longlisted for this years Man Booker prize.

Kiran Desai

Kiran Desai. Photograph: Samuel Aranda/Getty Images

Every Saturday I suffer from a depression I call my Saturday depression. The main symptom of this is that when I look inthe mirror I dont see myself, I see a ghost. The sight of this ghost fills me with fear. I know this spectre is merely the cumulative result of one more week in one more year of many years of self-imposed isolation for the sake of a book I have been working on a long while.

Last Saturday to avoid my unavoidable depression I went to the Rubin Museum in New York to see the Henri Cartier-Bresson photographs of India. One section of the exhibition displays the photographs I almost wrote paintings that Cartier-Bresson took during the last days of Gandhis life and the days following his assassination. The photographs are painterly. Rather than emphasising a passing event, they have a staying presence; while the days they were taken were chaotic, they have a composed stillness; while it was surely noisy, the photographs are overcome by a hush as ifviolence has blasted the scene still and all the millions of people in the crowds have been condemned to an eternal moment. The quantity of people is important here, and the fact that every individual in this crowd of millions appears to be missing his or her face. You cannot see the person for an emotion more primal than our human selves has consumed their individual natures to make them part of a whole catastrophic betrayal. Pandit Nehru wears the same loss as Brij Krishna, Gandhis secretary, as a man who has clambered up a tree for a view of the funeral pyre, as a refugee ona train leaving Delhi for Lahore.

I was glad to be alone for I found my face was wet with tears. But I wasnt weeping over the past, I was grieving for the present. The political wing of the RSS, the organisation to which Gandhis assassin was once a member, is the party that runs the country now, and it exults in the same vocabulary of violence now as then. The faces of the poor are the same now as they were then. An exhausted labourer sleeps on the street beside his cracked shoes in the same way. The footage of a Muslim dairy farmer, Pehlu Khan, begging for his life before a Hindu mob, one of many such attacks this year link back to these photographs as if the nation is condemned to forever return to the time of its conception. Perhaps India will never overcome this moment photographed here. Everything that has happened since feels fateful, cyclical, endless and pre-determined.

I thought for a guilty moment that I had no right to feel this for I had not been there to share it. But when I looked at these photographs, I didnt see them from a foreign distance.

I remembered the story of a grand uncle jailed by the British when he came out of prison he never left his room, he had been so damaged he stayed inside spinning khadi. He shared a special bond with my German grandmother who had sailed with a trunk full of china to marry the engineering student from East Bengal she had met in Berlin. She made a home in a country that would soon fight Germany alongside the British, became part of a family that was meanwhile fighting for Independence from the British. Everything a contradiction in ideologies, but not in the one thing that could undo it all, the personal story against all this history, all these wars.Gandhis funeral train leaves Delhi for Allahabad, the ancestral home of Nehru, reminding me of my childhood visits to my grandparents for my grandfather was a judge atthe Allahabad high court. They were also Gujarati like Gandhi, and like millions of others had made a harsh journey away from their landscape, language, religion, their notion of caste for a secular ideal of India. My parents, born in British India, saw their childhood landscapes of Delhi and Allahabad alter beyond recognition as half the population departed for Pakistan. By the time I was born, things must have seemed comparatively quiet, although it was a year inwhich India and Pakistan went to war, but I too growing up had witnessed Delhi burning in another incarnation of violence. I remember the disabled Sikh gentleman down the road from us who was carried out of his house by a mob and never seen again.

I thought of my father who taught himself to read Urdu and took pleasure in reciting Faiz and Ghalib on his rooftop on a summer night. I thought of my mothers book, In Custody, about a professor of Hindi literature trying to record the poetry of an Urdu poet. That India, the inclusive India, my natural birthright, is once again under threat, and it has always been so.

As I composed myself in the cool darkness of the museum before I stepped back into the bright summer day, I felt a private gratitude to Cartier-Bresson, for his example of an artist who erased himself becoming a ghost behind his little 35mm Leica in order to memorialise the erasure of others. While the pictures depict violence, looking at them restores one to a place of humanity.

Kiran Desai is the author of the Booker prize-winning The Inheritance of Loss.

Siddhartha Deb

A refugee camp in Delhi in 1947. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

Baniachang, the village in Sylhet from which my fathers family came, became part of East Pakistan in 1947. Today, after the secession of East Pakistan in 1971, it is in Bangladesh. Ive never been there. How difficult was it, I thought when hearing my family talk about leaving Baniachang, for them to choose one kind of identity over another, in this case religion over language and culture? Partition, as books in recent years by Yasmin Khan and Vazira Zamindar have shown, was a different process depending on which part ofityou were caught up in. The British and Indian elites making their new nations men exemplified by the British viceroy, Louis Mountbatten, the future Indian prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, and his hardline Hindu nationalist deputy, Vallabhbhai Patel, the Indian industrialist and Gandhi patron GD Birla were all in a hurry to force the process through. Mountbatten insisted on 15 August 1947 as the date for partition, just two and a half months after the decision to divide the subcontinent had been made. The boundary commission headed by the barrister Cyril Radcliffe finished preparing their maps only on 12 August, although these maps would not be made public until 17 August, two days after partition.

By then, the ethnic cleansing was well under way. Over amillion were killed, thousands raped and abducted, and between 12 and 20 million displaced in the process. Trains criss-crossed the landscape with carriages filled with corpses. Those escaping on foot travelled in columns that were sometimes 45 miles long. None of this violence and pain has really worked its way into the official histories of Britain, India, Pakistan or Bangladesh. This is surely one reason why the partition shows an uncanny ability to replicate itself through the decades, in mini partitions, mini pogroms and the steady marginalisation and brutalisation of minorities that has become the governing spirit of nationalism in south Asia.

The Urdu writer Saadat Hasan Manto, who reluctantly moved to Pakistan from Bombay after partition and found himself utterly disillusioned in his new nation, captured the situation best in his short story about patients in a Lahore asylum being divided up as assets for the new countries. TheSikh protagonist, named Toba Tek Singh after the village he comes from, is taken to the border to be sent to India, although his village happens to be on the other side, in what is now Pakistan. Lying down on a bit of land that belonged to neither India nor Pakistan, he refuses to take part in this process of exchange that has already blighted so many lives. Seventy years after Partition, Toba Tek Singhs defiant madness evokes freedom better than anything achieved by the supposedly rational nations that came outof that bloody process.

Siddhartha Deb is the author of The Beautiful and the Damned: Life in the New India, published by Penguin. An excerpt from his new novel, set in part against the backdrop of partition, will be published in the autumn issue of N+1.

Fatima Bhutto

Fatima Bhutto. Photograph: Sophia Evans for the Observer

India takes its name from the Indus, which flows through Sindh, my hometown in Pakistan. The mighty river is a force that animates the legends of India and Pakistan. Mohenjo-daro, the seat of that ancient river culture, is shared no matter modern partitions between our two countries.

Today Hindus and Muslims gather to pray together to the saint Udero Lal, a form of the beloved Jhulelal, in the complex where both a temple and a mosque stand together. Jhulelal has many avatars: for Sindhi Muslims he is a manifestation of Qalandar, a Sufi mystic who travelled from the Middle East to our shores to bring the faithful closer to God; for Hindus, he is an incarnation of a Varuna, a Vedic god who ruled the oceans. Across the border, the holy city Varanasi isnamed partly in his honour.

I spent many days in my childhood among the bricks of Mohenjo-daro. My brother spent his teenage years journeying to Udero Lal. Both of us have driven hours from our home in Karachi to sit under the golden dome of the Sufi shrine of Sehwan Sharif, where rose petals are offered to thetomb of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar by all faiths. Last year, theshrine was bombed by Isis because of what it stood fora refuge, a site of adoration and love, for Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Sehwan, the name of the town where Pakistani Sufisms most cherished shrine stands, is believed by many to be derived from the name of the god Shiva.

Sindhs syncretic culture, its centuries of tolerant co-existence and even its turbulent present defy the sectarian logic of partition. And I have faith that it will survive the disasters designed to flow from it, even 70 years on.

Fatima Bhuttos most recent book, The Shadow of the Crescent Moon, is published by Penguin.

Nayantara Sahgal

Books by Nayantara Sahgal. Photograph: Saurabh Das/AP

I am the daughter of parents who fought for freedom under Mahatma Gandhis leadership, and my father died of his fourth imprisonment during British rule. Gandhi overturned the imperial diktat of divide and rule by creating a national movement that forged a political unity, one that rose above regions, religions and languages and recognised Indias cultural and religious diversity as the meaning of India. Thedemand for a separate country for Muslims was, on theother hand, in keeping with the divisions laid down by colonial rule.

The bizarre imperial approach to partition has been best illustrated by WH Auden in his caustic poem, Partition, in which he savagely lampoons the Englishman, Cyril Radcliffe, who had never set foot in India and was flown in to draw a line marking his idea of a boundary. The partition was an unimaginable disaster of bloodshed and suffering that uprooted helpless millions from both sides of the border and still haunts the subcontinents memory. The shock and grief live on in a poem by Faiz Ahmed Faiz, a story by Saadat Hasan Manto, a painting by Satish Gujral and in the minds offamilies torn apart. At the time, Nehru and many others, Muslim and Hindu, believed it would be temporary. For years after the event the belief persisted that this unreality would end. A centuries-old history could not thus be unwritten by a line drawn thoughtlessly between its sharers.

Its wounds are partially healed when Indians and Pakistanis meet to celebrate their joint heritage of music and dance, language and literature, and there is an emotional content to a movement in India that rejects war and calls for peace for all time with Pakistan.

But the menace of partition is again upon Indians, this time through the intention to impose Hindu nationhood on us and declare all other Indians outsiders who are here on sufferance. To foist a Hindu identity on a secular republic, one that is the worlds third largest Muslim country and has been home (as Gabriel Garca Mrquez said of his country) tothe human race, is senseless beyond belief. The mentality that murdered Gandhi now relentlessly pursues this agenda, punishing writers, rationalists, dalits, churches and all forms of dissent. Lynch mobs kill Muslims, reminiscent of the lynching of blacks in Americas deep south. On this anniversary of the partition of India, another partition stares us in the face.

Nayantara Sahgal edited Nehrus India: Essays on the Maker of a Nation, published by Speaking Tiger.

Amit Chaudhuri

Amit Chaudhuri. Photograph: Eamonn McCabe for the Guardian

When I started writing, then publishing, fiction, partition (the word always came with a capital P) was considered amajor even defining theme for the Indian novel in English. The same was true of independence. Part of this was, of course, the legacy of Midnights Children. Rushdie had done a terrifically funny job of demonstrating how each one of us might potentially be the author of modern Indias history, not unlike the way Spike Milligan had revealed his role in history in Adolf Hitler: My Part in His Downfall.

I began by ignoring history and writing about a family much like my uncles family that lived in south Calcutta. I described a visitor to this familys house: a 10-year-old boy from Bombay. I didnt date the story, but it would have been the early 1970s I was writing of. All the main characters in AStrange and Sublime Address had been displaced, and their present-day lives engendered, by partition. So it was with my family. My parents had grown up in Sylhet, which became part of East Pakistan in 1947, and Bangladesh in 1971. Ive never seen Sylhet. My parents never went back. Wewere in Bombay, and my uncle in Calcutta, because of movements in history. I was instinctively interested in the new lives these people were making for themselves. I didnt want to dwell too long on the epiphany of partition because their lives were composed of various other epiphanies.

Now, with the death of my parents in the last three years, I feel a sense of loss about their beginnings in the milieux that gave them their personalities. I think of it partly in the terms of two great languages: the near-loss of Urdu in the west; the bifurcation of Bengali in the east. Partition is not only about religion or the land that went to one side or the other; it signifies an irrevocable cultural shift. As with Europe after the second world war, what was damaged irreparably in 1947 was a modern civility that possessed aremarkable delicacy. I encountered this civility in my parents. There will be little evidence of its legacy after those who embody it, and still live in countries across the world, have vanished.

Amit Chaudhuris latest novel, Friend of My Youth, is out this month.

Mirza Waheed

Mirza Waheed. Photograph: Sutton-Hibbert/REX

In the seven decades since partition, the empire-made cataclysm that consumed millions and sowed seeds of acrimony among millions more, theres been one source of animus between the two states that refuses to lie still. Kashmir.

Its also been seven decades since Indias first prime minister, Nehru, promised: We have declared that the fate of Kashmir is ultimately to be decided by the people. That pledge we have given not only to the people of Kashmir but to the world. We will not and cannot back out of it. Hed also announced: It is an obvious fact that no country is going to hold onto Kashmir against the will of Kashmiris.

In the decades since these promises (and UN resolutions), speeches to Indias constituent assembly and broadcasts to the nation, the Indian state, including the original Nehruvian version, has done exactly that held a people as subjects against their will, and then some. And when the people have risen and exerted their voices in the parliament of the street or on the funeral ground, the state has unleashed unspeakable terror on the long-suffering people of Kashmir.

Yes, the conflict is complex, with layers of intractability, with the Kashmiri body politic battered and febrile after thewill of the people in the face of chronic denial and betrayal by successive Indian regimes turned insurrectionary with devastating consequences for all involved but primarily for Kashmiris. Yes, there is the other party (as Nehru noted in his letters to his Pakistani counterpart, Liaquat Ali Khan), the next-door twin who holds a third of Kashmir and who has tried to force the issue via primarily selfish machinations since, well, since forever. And yes, there exist schisms and perennial tensions within the historical movement for self-determination as mandated bythe UN, which India itself brought on board, but which political struggle in history hasnt.

Today, as India and Pakistan celebrate their 70th, the Kashmiri people remain colonised, killed, exiled, raped, tortured, incarcerated and, in an ignominious addition to the catalogue, blinded by nasty little lead pellets sprayed on protesters crying for freedom.

Mirza Waheeds most recent novel is The Book of Gold Leaves, published by Penguin.

Tahmima Anam

Police arrest three suspects in Punjab including shrines custodian after attack by men wielding batons and knives

Twenty people were hacked and clubbed to death after being tortured in a Pakistani shrine early on Sunday, according to local officials. The custodian of a Pakistani religious shrine and two accomplices have been arrested for the murder of 20 worshippers with knives and clubs, police have said.

Officials said the custodian gave the worshippers intoxicants before killing them with knives and batons. Some of the victims are reported to have been found naked. The worshippers, followers of a local Sufi leader who died two years ago, were accustomed to seeking spiritual cleansing by removing their clothes.

A number of possible motives have been suggested for the attack, which took place at the Sufi shrine to Mohammad Ali Gujjar in Punjab province. The regional police chief, Zulfiqar Hameed, said: The 50-year-old shrine custodian, Abdul Waheed, has confessed that he killed these people because he feared that they had come to kill him.

Pakistan shrine attack

Another local government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Waheed had told the police that Muhammad Ali Gujjar, a self-proclaimed mystic turned saint who is buried at the shrine, had been poisoned two years ago. Waheed feared he might be killed too.

Officials told media they were investigating whether the killings were an attempt to assert control of the shrine, which is located 105 miles northwest of Lahore. Among the dead was the son of Gujjar, who some locals claim is the rightful heir of the shrine.

Abdul Waheed became custodian of the shrine two years ago. He feared that the son of the saint might remove him as custodian and take charge of the shrine himself, Hameed told the Guardian.

He added that the chief suspect might have had mental health problems and had acted violently towards his followers previously. The suspect appears to be paranoid and psychotic, or it could be related to rivalry for the control of shrine, Hameed added.

Local police station chief Shamshir Joya told the Guardian: [Abdul Waheed] called on the devotees whom he was suspecting may act against him in the rivalry over the custody of the shrine, and brutally tortured them to death. Their clothes were taken off before they were beaten and they were possibly intoxicated too. Six of the victims belonged to the same family.

According to local police, the attack was reported when an injured woman managed to escape the shrine. After the attack, the local hospital received 20 dead victims and four injured people.

The dead people were badly tortured with clubs and knives, mainly on their necks and backs, said Dr Pervade Haider, chief medical officer at the hospital.

A view of the Sufi shrine where three suspects including the shrines custodian killed at least 20 people. Photograph: Israrul Haq/EPA

Waheed had reportedly been asking worshippers to visit the shrine, then attacked them. As they kept arriving, they were torturing and murdering them, the deputy commissioner for the area, Liaqat Ali Chattha, told national television.

Local rescue service official Mazhar Shah said Waheed used to meet devotees once or twice a month and used violence to heal them. Local people say that Waheed used to beat the visitors who came to him for treatment of various physical or spiritual ailments, Shah told reporters.

Television footage showed scattered shoes, clothes, sheets and cots in the yard of the white domed shrine as police vehicles and commandos surrounded the premises.

Shabbir Gujjar, a local police officer and relative of the shrine saint, lost his son in the attack. He said his family had been devoted to the shrine for 10 years. Abdul Waheed called my sons family to the shrine last night, and brutally killed my son.

The Punjab minister for religious affairs, Zaeem Qadri, said intelligence agencies, along with police and the local government, were investigating all aspects of the case. Qadri said his department managed 552 shrines in the province, but this one was not registered with it. Investigators will also look into how this shrine was allowed to be set up on private land, he said.

A case like this shows dangerous levels of ignorance, exploitation and rivalries of shrine due to booming business, a senior police official told the Guardian.

Visiting shrines and offering alms for the poor and cash to the custodians remains a popular custom in Pakistan. For centuries, Pakistan was a land of Sufism, a mystical branch of Islam whose wandering holy men helped spread the religion throughout the Indian subcontinent in the 13th century.

Sufis believe in saints they say can intercede for them directly with God. They have no hierarchy or organisation, instead seeking spiritual communion through music and dance at the shrines of the saints.

Several million Muslims in Pakistan are still believed to follow Sufism, although it has been overtaken in recent decades by more mainstream versions of the faith. The victims of Sundays attack belonged to the Barelvi sect, which has previously been the target of anti-Sufi violence. Hardliners such as the Taliban or Islamic State have carried out major attacks on Sufi shrines because they consider them heretical.

The attack comes only days after 24 worshippers were killed at another Pakistani shrine, a Shia mosque in Parachinar, in a suicide attack claimed by Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, a splinter factions of the Pakistani Taliban.

In February, 88 people were killed and hundreds wounded in Pakistans southern province of Sindh when a suicide bomber blew himself up among devotees at a Sufi shrine.

Additional reporting by Waqar Gillani

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Both are to make their first appearances in India at the Global Citizen festival this month, alongside local heroes Tendulkar and Amitabh Bachchan

Jay Z and Coldplay are to share the bill when both play their first ever show in India. The two acts are to appear in Mumbai on 19 November, and the inaugural Indian leg of the Global Citizen festival.

Global Citizen, which is intended to encourage social awareness and activism, has taken place in New York annually since 2012, with Chris Martin as creative director. Both acts have previously played the New York event Jay Z in 2014 and Coldplay in 2015. The festival is free for people who perform various charitable acts.

The Mumbai event hopes to raise money for orphaned children and provide funding for 25 childrens homes in India, via the crowdfunding site Ketto, as well as help fund education programmes in association with the non-profit organisation Miracle Foundation.

Our festival combines music with social causes that have an impact and Miracle Foundation has had a huge impact on vulnerable children, said Global Citizen Indias spokesperson Arnav Sahni. Fuelled by Kettos remarkable crowdfunding platform, we hope to raise money and awareness so the Miracle Foundation can continue to do their inspirational work.

To earn the 30 points necessary to qualify for the draw to win two free tickets, fans have to undertake a variety of mainly online tasks they can reach the target by tweeting their support for a variety of causes.

As well as Coldplay and Jay Z, Demi Lovato will be appearing at the Mumbai festival, along with a score of leading Indian artists and celebrities, including composer AR Rahman, film star Amitabh Bachchan and cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar.

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Suspicion falls on Russian hoaxers after caller claiming to be Kyrgyzstan leader speaks to Petro Poroshenko for an hour

It was a routine bit of international diplomacy: two presidents speaking for an hour about topical issues of the agenda of Ukraine-Kyrgyzstan relations, as the press release on the website of the Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko, put it on Wednesday.

Poroshenko asked his counterpart about potential support for a forthcoming Ukrainian initiative at the UN to condemn Russian human rights abuses in annexed Crimea.

The only problem is that the Kyrgyz president, Almazbek Atambayev, says he never made the call.

Ukrainian authorities are scrambling to work out who Poroshenko spent an hour on the phone with. Suspicion is likely to fall on a pair of Russian hoaxers who have made a habit of embarrassing world leaders with fake calls, and whose pranks often seem to align with Russian state interests.

Alexei Stolyarov and Vladimir Kuznetsov, better known as Lexus and Vovan, made the headlines last year when they called Sir Elton John pretending to be the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, and his spokesman, Dmitry Peskov. Putin later called the singer to assuage his embarrassment at falling for the hoax.

In April, editors at the New York Times held a conference call with a man claiming to be Poroshenko, after the newspaper received a letter complaining about coverage of Ukraine in its pages. It transpired the call was a hoax.

Poroshenko has attracted the attention of the pranksters on numerous occasions, but previously he has been impersonated rather than pranked himself. In February, Stolyarov and Kuznetsov reached the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoan, pretending to be Poroshenko.

Alexei Stolyarov (left) and Vladimir Kuznetsov at a cafe in Moscow, showing video of a prank on Ukrainian oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky. Photograph: The Guardian

Stolyarov declined to comment when asked by the Guardian whether he was responsible for the fake Kyrgyz call.

It is one thing to fool a newspaper or celebrity, and quite another to be able to place hoax calls claiming to be a president calling his counterpart in another country. Such calls are usually set up using elaborate protocol and using special secure lines, prompting many to believe the pranksters must have help from Russias FSB security service.

Stolyarov and Kuznetsov have denied claims they work for or with the FSB. We work for ourselves, nobody else, Stolyarov told the Guardian in March.

The news item about the call was quietly removed from the Ukrainian presidents website, and on Thursday the Kyrgyz and Ukrainian foreign ministers spoke by telephone and attempted to smooth over the incident.

A Ukrainian foreign ministry spokeswoman said: Both we and the Kyrgyz side are looking into this planned provocation. We will work out all the circumstances, including the technical details. Its already clear that the goal of this kind of action is to disrupt Ukraines important UN initiatives over Crimea.

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In Kyrgyzstan, amid flaming horsemen, yurts and guest of honour Steven Seagal, 40 nations compete in eagle hunting, stick wrestling, and goat-carcass polo

The Rio Olympics might have had Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps and the Copacabana beach, but for fans of stick wrestling and horseback battles over a dead goat the shores of Lake Issyk Kul is the place to be this week, as Kyrgyzstan hosts the second World Nomad Games from 3 to 8 September.

The games, designed to celebrate the nomadic heritage of the Central Asian nations, kicked off with a lavish opening ceremony on Saturday night.

Forty countries are participating, some of which have long nomadic histories. Others are mainly there for the fun of the games. Sports include eagle hunting, bone throwing and mas-wrestling, a mesmerising game involving two competitors attempting to wrest control of a small stick.

Riders in traditional dress perform stunts on horseback at the opening ceremony. Photograph: Viktor Drachev/TASS

The biggest draw and most fiercely contested of the sports is kok-boru, a violent Central Asian form of polo in which two teams battle for control of a decapitated goat carcass. Taking possession of the goat is a tricky manoeuvre in which the rider gallops past the carcass and swoops down to grab a leg and pull it up. There follows an almighty horse melee in which punches are thrown, whips fly and the goat is tugged back and forth, before one horseman emerges in a cloud of dust to gallop towards the goal, shaped like a paddling pool, and dunk the goat in to score.

Kok-boru games are being held at a brand new 10,000-seat hippodrome in Cholpon-Ata on Issyk Kul, a high-altitude lake four hours drive from Kyrgyzstans capital, Bishkek. The hippodrome was also the site of the opening ceremony, which featured hundreds of whirling nomad women, stunt horsemen galloping across the arena with their clothes on fire, and graphics on a vast screen telling the story of the Kyrgyz nation, which has a long and storied history as a rugged nomadic tribe, before Central Asia was conquered by Tsarist Russia and then absorbed into the Soviet Union.

If Genghis Khan were alive, hed want to be here, the announcers voice boomed out as the ceremony got underway.

Location of Kyrgyzstan, and Lake Issyk-Kul.

In the modern world, people are forgetting their history, and there is a threat of extinction for traditional cultures, Kyrgyz president Almazbek Atambayev said at the opening. Nomadic civilisation is an example of sustainable development, which is what all of humanity is looking for today.

As the ceremony drew to a close, shaven-headed security guards frantically cleared a corridor in the media area of the stadium, and with a burst of dramatic music, Steven Seagal entered the arena atop a horse, clad in the armour of an ancient Kyrgyz warrior. After the excitement of the Kyrgyz riders, he looked somewhat incongruous gingerly trotting along, but the crowd enjoyed it.

Steven Seagal, right, at the games. Photograph: Viktor Drachev/Tass

Seagal was the guest of honour at the games, with no heads of state attending. The actor has made a bizarre habit of popping up at various events in former Soviet territories of late. Adding to a warm friendship with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, Seagal was spotted in Belarus last month, being fed carrots by the countrys dictatorial president Alexander Lukashenko. It was unclear why he had top billing at the nomad games.

Nations appear to approach the event with varying levels of seriousness. The Pakistan and Turkmenistan teams arrived in the stadiums in sharp, matching official teamwear, while the Italians looked dressed for a summer garden party. The Emiratis entered the stadium together with their hunting falcons, while the Madagascans entertained the crowd with a group dance. There were surprisingly large contingents from India and the United States, and plucky one-man delegations from Botswana, Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of Congo (though the latters participant looked suspiciously Kyrgyz).

Dancers at the opening ceremony on Saturday. Photograph: Igor Kovalenko/EPA

The first kok-boru qualifier came on Sunday morning and pitted the US against Russia, which in many sports might be a major grudge match but in kok-boru was a mere appetiser before Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Afghanistan featured later in the programme.

Creed Garnick of Wyoming, the US captain, was the only one of the eight-man team to have even played the sport before, having spent two years living in Central Asia.

Its going to be quite a challenge but were going to enjoy it, he said the evening before the game, as his team-mates looked on with expressions of mild alarm.

The mission of the games is to promote the revival and preservation of the historical heritage of nomadic people. Photograph: Igor Kovalenko/EPA

Russia is not exactly a big kok-boru nation either, but the Russian team was entirely made up of ethnic Kyrgyz living in Russia, and it soon became apparent they knew what they were doing.

The Americans struggled to gain possession of the goat at all, so, despite a valiant rearguard movement, it was only a matter of time before they conceded. The first score came after seven minutes, and after a quarter of an hour the Kyrgyz-Russians were already leading by five goats to nil. The Americans received warm applause for effort a US player broke a finger during the match but an elderly Kyrgyz man in the stands shook his head reproachfully at the standard of play.

Sand sculptures of Kyrgyz heroes in Cholpon-Ata ahead of the games. Photograph: Igor Kovalenko/EPA

In the womens heavyweight mas-wrestling, for those weighing 85kg (13 stone) and over, the crowd was disappointed as the local competitor managed only second place on Sunday morning. Some of the contests saw epic struggles for control of the stick, but the eventual winner, Tatiana Grigor, of the Russian Republic of Sakha, swept aside all competition easily, plucking the stick from her opponents hands in a matter of seconds. A rogue Icelandic competitor amid the post-Soviet specialists came fourth.

As well as the lakeside hippodrome, a mountain pasture at an altitude of 2,000m hosted other sports, including eagle and dog hunting. Nearly 300 yurts were pitched in the valley and there were performances of traditional drama and music. At a nomad catwalk, burly men in felt gowns, and grannies in embroidered shawls and oversized hats, strutted their stuff to the accompaniment of twangy strings and throaty vocals.

Much of the encampment had a kitsch vibe, with camel rides, eagle selfies and hand-embroidered portraits of Central Asian luminaries (and Vladimir Putin) for sale. But there were occasional moments, as Kyrgyz horsemen galloped past and the smell of grilling meat wafted across the hillside, that it was possible to imagine a medieval yurt encampment on the spot.

These are Kyrgyzstans second nomad games; the first were held two years ago, but were much smaller in scale. Some Kyrgyz critics of the government questioned the huge funds earmarked for the games and wondered whether the impoverished country might have found better use for the cash. But there was no doubt that the full house for the opening ceremony and packed crowds for the events on Sunday were enjoying themselves.

I feel so proud to see how beautiful they have made everything, said Kairat, a 44-year-old from Bishkek, who had brought his family to see the games. Little Kyrgyzstan has put on a show for the whole world to show them our great traditions.

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Strongman leader of central Asias most populous country has no official successor

Uzbekistans veteran dictator, Islam Karimov, has died, leaving central Asias most populous country in a state of turmoil and political uncertainty.

Turkeys prime minister, Binali Yldrm, announced the news in a televised meeting with his cabinet, declaring: May Gods mercy be upon him. The announcement confirmed speculation that Karimov had suffered a fatal stroke earlier this week.

The Uzbek government did not confirm the reports at first but played funeral music on state channels. Later on Friday the government eventually released a statement saying the 78-year-old president had died.

According to the government Karimovs funeral would take place on Saturday in his home town of Samarkand, where his mother and two brothers are buried. Photos showed frantic preparations at the citys cemetery, with workers and diggers brought in to clear up the historic site.

Ambassadors in the capital, Tashkent, were told to turn up on Saturday morning at the railway station. Samarkands airport was shut to non-official traffic.

Uzbek workers clean an area of the central cemetery in Samarkand in photographs posted by the central Asian news website Photograph: AP

Russias president, Vladimir Putin, called Karimovs death a great loss for the people of Uzbekistan while Russias prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev, is to attend the funeral.

The Tajikpresident, Emomali Rahmon, confirmed he will attend while Turkmenistans president, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, was also reported to be planning to attend.

Kyrgyzstan, Belarus and Kazakhstan all former Soviet states said they would be sending delegations headed by their prime ministers.

Mikhail Gorbachev, the former Soviet leader, who appointed Karimov in 1989, told the Interfax news agency that Karimov was a competent man with a strong character.

Karimov has no official successor. The most likely candidate to replace him appears to be Uzbekistans long-time prime minister, Shavkat Mirziyoyev.

Mirziyoyev is believed to enjoy support from Uzbekistans powerful intelligence chief, Rustam Inoyatov. A classified 2008 US diplomatic cable said Inoyatov had sufficient compromising information on Mirziyoyev to ensure his own interests are protected. Another contender is the finance minister and deputy PM, Rustam Azimov.

There were few official clues as to how Uzbekistans new leader may be picked. All week the state media has refused to comment on rumours that Karimov who had been in hospital since Sunday had suffered a brain haemorrhage. His daughter Lola broke the news on Instagram.

It is widely assumed that the countrys elites will agree a new president, with their own economic and business interests paramount. Mirziyoyev has flown to Samarkand to take charge of funeral arrangements, putting him in pole position.

Uzbekistan map

There is little prospect that the country of 31 million will democratise, after a quarter of a century characterised by repression, the boiling of prisoners and unflinching authoritarian rule. Even by the standards of the region, Karimov treated manifestations of dissent harshly.

In 2005 his troops shot dead hundreds of protesters in Andijan. The massacre led to a breakdown in relations with Washington, which had previously seen Uzbekistan as a strategic partner in the war against terrorism. Ties between Washington and Tashkent cautiously improved after 2007. Uzbekistan has been an important supply hub for the US-led war in neighbouring Afghanistan.

Cultural, economic and political ties with Moscow have been close but at the same time Karimov often regarded the Kremlins intentions with suspicion. According to US diplomats, he bitterly criticised Russian attempts to carve out a sphere of influence in its near abroad and bristled at what he perceived as Russian Slavic condescension.

Uzbek opposition bloggers said the authorities appeared to be cracking down on communications channels. Internet speeds had slowed, with government officials told to switch off their phones, they said.

Karimov at Uzbek independence day celebrations in 2014. Photograph: Xinhua/Rex/Shutterstock

Its like the dark days of Kremlinology. Well have to see who is standing where and who says what at the funeral, said Deirdre Tynan, central Asia project director at the International Crisis Group, based in Bishkek in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan.

If it goes to plan it will be as smooth as it was with Berdymukhamedov, Tynan added, referring to the president of Turkmenistan. The former dentist and minister of health took over from the longstanding dictator, Saparmurat Niyazov, after the latters death in 2006, and went about establishing a personality cult every bit as overblown as that of his predecessor. However, few people have insight into the real tensions in the opaque nations inner circle.

Just because we cant see it doesnt mean that there hasnt been a lot of tension and horse-trading behind closed doors, Tynan said.

Nothing is known about the current whereabouts of Karimovs older daughter, Gulnara Karimova. For a long time she was considered a potential successor to her father and was a highly public figure, launching a fashion brand and a music career under the name Googoosha. She even released a bizarre love duet with Grard Depardieu.

In 2014 Karimovas son, Islam Karimov Jr, who was studying at Oxford Brookes University, told the Guardian he feared for his mothers life, and revealed an extraordinary feud brewing in the first family.

He explained how he and his mother had been kept from visiting his grandfather, the president, by armed guards, and that when they finally did get an audience there was a showdown involving the president, his wife, and their daughter. Shortly afterwards Karimova was placed under house arrest and nothing has been known of her whereabouts since.

As well as the internal situation, regional analysts say it is worth watching the situation on the border between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. Many ethnic Uzbeks live in southern Kyrgyzstan, where ethnic violence in 2010 led to more than 400 deaths. The situation on the border remains tense and in the past fortnight a standoff has developed over a disputed section of the border, with four Kyrgyz nationals detained and currently held in Uzbek jails. Kyrgyz officials fear any new Uzbek president might see the ethnic card as a good way to rally the nation.

Uzbekistan is a clannish, ethnically diverse country with regions that were rival khanates for centuries and still have conflict potential, Tynan wrote this week, giving the example of separatist tendencies in the north-west Karakalpakstan region.

The densely populated Ferghana valley is haunted by the legacy of [the] 2005 government crackdown Incomes across the country have declined in the past year and mass arrests of alleged Islamic extremists have contributed to a sense of fear and distrust, she said.

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