Thursday, June 10, 2010

Vote and everything will (NOT) be alright!

On my way back to Bristol I had an interesting experience at the Ahmedabad Domestic Airport. The Jet Airways flight meant to take us to Mumbai was delayed. Two elderly gentlemen (though in hindsight, it seems incorrect to call them gentlemen) were amongst the people riled up because of the delay. They started talking about how the systems in our country were bad. One was of the opinion that the whole political system was bad and that sourced all problems. The other one who seemingly was a political party member or activist opined that the former had no idea about how learned the politicians were. He went on to point out that people like “us” (meaning the crowd waiting to board the aircraft) were the least concerned about changing stuff and enjoyed complaining. He challenged everyone there to go do something small. Like for starters to go and vote. If “we” understood the problems so clearly, why did we shy away from voting when the time came to vote?

The other man continued to abuse the various politicians in Maharashtra for discriminating while allotting MHADA housing plots, in cricket and what not. This discussion, which was comical so far, took a more serious turn when the guy finally picked a specific politician to abuse. I suspect that politician belonged to the same party as the second guy. This was when he changed his relatively dignified yet vexed speech to one that overflowed with expletives and threats. A la filmi-sytle he went on to challenged the guy to dare and step out of the Mumbai airport and walk away alive having faced his men. (Maa ka doodh piya hai to bahar nikal kar dikha, kaat dunka tujhe udhar or something similar) The fight was eventually broken up at the behest of the crowd and the attention turned towards the Jet Airways representative whom they roughed up for the delay.

Only I was left with a disturbing question. In the so many years of my education, I was always told that democracy is *sic* the best kind of governance. It puts the power into the hands of the people and people alone can decide the fate of the nation. And all they have to do to achieve this is to vote. It was the magic mantra, “Vote and everything will be alright” If the people mentioned above were the populace and the governance, then there was something wrong with my core belief. I felt compelled to question it. Let me be frank. I’ve voted a couple of times. Most of the other times, I’ve been elsewhere at the time of elections. Does this mean I have denied myself the opportunity to push the gears of democracy into motion? Actually the answer is no. The constituency I belong to is the home ground of the erstwhile Leader of Opposition. Irrespective of my vote, he is bound to win. And the opponent parties field a weak candidate with no credentials whatsoever to stand against him in the election. As I vote, I am not choosing the fate of the nation; I am only making the practical choice of putting a more sensible candidate up to represent me.

With this aimed at no particular political party, my question still stays. Why does India, the world’s largest democracy become the best example why democracy is a bad idea? To date, if we were to ask each political party to weed out anyone and everyone who has ever been accused of criminal activities, the party ranks would thin out faster than trees in an autumn gale. How many times has the news of scams involving mind boggling sums of money come forth only to whimper back into the oblivion of past and the judicial back-offices? How many times we have gotten into deals with outsiders, that clearly compromise the interests of our nation and yet the people meant to protect our interests only do the contrary? What makes our foreign affairs minister so long winded in his speech that he reads from a document while the counterpart from across the border responds to media in a flamboyant and off-the-cuff way still managing to score victory anyway? Why does someone from across the border get away with calling the US Secretary of State a blathering idiot while we pander to a CEO whose company was responsible for thousands of deaths in Bhopal?

The answer to this came from a child, whom I met years ago. The child had a kite with the picture of a political bigwig on it. The child was so convinced that just the picture of the person was enough to make the kite take to the skies. And despite it being torn beyond repair, he kept on trying to make it fly. If there ever was a more poignant metaphor to our nation’s situation, it has escaped me. The picture on the kite is today’s political system, unsympathetic to its people, clueless to world affairs, blinded to its own agenda and benefits, lusting for power and unfortunately with a choke-hold called faith over most of the ignorant populace. The child in the picture is the populace in general. Some of it, like some part of the child’s brain, knows this isn’t going to work. And then the rest oblivious to everything else, hoping the magic to work and help achieve the goal of making the kite fly. And in that personal interest to see the kite fly, the child forgets that he is damaging it beyond repair. Needless to say, the kite is our nation. And this is where the saddest truth about democracy lies.

Unfortunately this solves nothing. It only lays to rest my illusion and brings me to a bleak realization:
“Vote and everything will *NOT* be alright”

The Indian Traffic Jungle

A recent Facebook post by a friend triggered a long repressed desire to write something about this. The entry goes somewhat like this:
Traffic cop (TC): (Stops the friend who is driving a car)
Friend: What happened?
TC: Broke a red light. License and registration please.
Friend: (Hands over documents)
TC: Don’t have PUC (Pollution Under Control certificate). Pay the minimum fine
Friend: Can’t we make an arrangement? (hands a fraction of the minimum fine, off record)
TC: (accepts and lets friend go)
Unbelievably this post garnered a lot of “Likes”. So what makes Indians tick in this retrograde fashion? Why are these same individuals excellent model citizens when in a foreign land and the exact opposite when back in the homeland? That is a research question and the answer to it might be simple. Indians (a lot of them) and most humans are jerks. This is exactly why we invented the concept of society, law and order.

Then there was a prior incident in Ahmedabad, my home city, and the city which doesn’t know how to spell the word ‘traffic’. I was waiting for the signal to turn green at a crossroad, next to me a pair of gals on a Honda Activa and further to the left a pair of muscle bound morons on a CBZ. The moment there was a clear spot on the junction, the morons zoomed off, without regard for personal or public safety, right in the face of the traffic cop. The only response that the traffic cop could give was to shake his baton at the duo and utter a few expletives. Since the duo’s attempt was clearly an aimed at impressing the gals, I looked at them. To my horror, the very next moment these gals took off too. And unless I had gone colorblind or insane, the signal was still a bright red. These people were younger than me. I wondered. If this is the Generation Next, the future of India is bleak. So how do we train the Ahmedabadis (and Indians in general) and introduce the concept of ‘defensive driving’ and ‘traffic sense’ to them in a binding way?

I guess, that would require the rewrite of a gazillion antiquated laws and the twisting of the will of a million office-bearers. But here are ten things that I think will make the people take a moment to think and understand the true meaning of the word ‘Behave’. I like to call it my Policy of ‘Zero Tolerance’

Traffic police system: Clearly this has gone to the dogs. Manpower and will-power lacking, clearly this is not the dream industry which many wish to enter. So the first changes need to happen there:

1. Accepting bribe is tantamount to treason:
The duty has to be respected in all its sanctity. Random sneak checks to find if on-duty cops take bribes and let off offenders. These people should be thrown out of the department dishonorably discharged and dismissed without pension + a monetary fine equaling the bribe amount while caught multiplied by the number of days the person ever worked.

2. Dress sharp and dress fit:
The high-speed chases seen on ‘Cops’ etc always show cops who can really take down an offender and do it with panache. If you can’t run 100m in less than 20s, desk job with an early retirement is what you get.

3. Well heeled and wheeled:
The fastest cars should be the cop cars. And so should be the bikes. Walkies, networked information, traffic cameras. Make technology the newest weapon in the cops’ arsenal.

4. Young blood, willing blood:
Psych evaluations on the individuals joining the force. Find the ones who are willing to do things not because it is a job, but because it is a service to the nation.

5. Fast track but fair justice:
With the technology working in conjunction, convictions should be faster and harsher. Ensure the first change however is active at all points in the system.

The 'real criminals' people: That said and done, the next question is what to do with the people who are actually spoiled rotten by the handicapped system. Clearly these are not victims of the system but rather the offenders who also deserve no mercy.

1. Giving bribes is also tantamount to treason:
Anyone offering a bribe to any officer also has to be given the royal treatment. The fine should be a hundred thousand times the bribe amount offered and accompanied by a minimum of 5 years in prison.

2. Proud father no more:
I’ve seen parents teaching their underage children to drive and show it off to others as a matter of pride. Book these people under reckless endangerment and confiscate their vehicles. If and when child services kick in, the kid gets taken away too.

3. Helmets ARE part of standard equipment:
The last time someone actually tried to make these mandatory, the Ahmedabadis turned it into a joke. If a guy is caught without one, he is made to buy one on the spot. If you have a medical reason not to wear it, same medical reason say you cannot drive too. Seat-belts are to be treated similarly

4. Tire-killers: We enforce red-lights at all costs:
Equip road junctions with automated tire-killers. These beauties will shred the tires of the moron who tries to jump the red light. If that is not lesson enough, the cop will take over.

5. Driving is a privilege not a right:
This is the most poignant line in the DMV Manual that the Americans have to obligatorily read. Enforce this. Offenders should end up paying fines, spending jail time and losing their modes of transport.

Draconian as these may seem, if implemented to the ‘T’, Ahmedabadis will eventually learn. But truth be told, at times all it takes is just one person to change. Like the one who stops at a red-light not because there is a traffic cop at the other end, but because it is the legally and morally correct thing to do. Or be the cop who says no to the bribe and makes you pay the actual fine. So all I ask my fellow Indians who might chance upon this blog:
Can you be that person?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Driver's Manual

“I simply love U.S.A.!”, I bet that when I have said these words to many of my friends, somewhere deep down in their hearts or minds, they’d have wanted to lynch me for being a traitor. Not that I don’t love India, but there are times when being in U.S.A. has its advantages. Take for example, October 2006, location: Gatlinburg , Tennessee in the heart of the Smoky Mountains. I was just starting to explore U.S. and this was one of my first outings to a scenic place. On our way back to Atlanta, we were in a Dodge Caravan, navigating the seemingly treacherous curves and hairpin bends down one of the mountains. Suddenly the wail of a siren pierced the relatively calm evening air. As it grew closer, the driver of our car grew a little agitated. He had slowed down but was looking for a place to get off the road. New to this kind of reaction, I waited for him to stop the car. We all looked behind as the wail grew louder and as if to answer my question, he said, “That is an emergency vehicle going for a rescue. We should not block its path.” A few seconds later a bright red fire truck rushed past us. I was waiting for our driver to get back on the road and he waited. He had noticed what I hadn’t. There was an ambulance following it. We waited for it to pass too, before getting back on the road.
Thinking this was a unique response, I noticed that we were not the only ones off the road. Every single car ahead and behind us had done the same. Only much later when I started reading the Drivers’ Manual (required to pass the written test for issuance of learner’s license) I came across this paragraph:
“If police, fire, or ambulance service vehicles are using their emergency lights (blue or red) and sirens, safely maneuver your vehicle out of their way. You should slow your vehicle and move over to the shoulder of the road, or if that is not possible, as far to the right of the roadway or lane as you can, and stop. You should always use caution to ensure that you do not endanger other motorists, bicyclists, or pedestrians while doing so. Do not position your vehicle so that it blocks an intersection or otherwise prevents the emergency vehicle from making a necessary turn.”
That explained a lot. But to have a paragraph in a manual and seeing the same thing occur in real life is a different story. I am pretty sure the Regional Transport Office also has such a guideline in its manual (if it existed). The irony of this incident is that just a year later, I was back on the streets of Mumbai. Waiting for my company bus to arrive, I was at the designated pickup point at the crossroad junction.
Across the road, stuck behind two cars and an autorickshaw was a fire truck. Its wailing siren had really no effect on the traffic that was blocking its path. Nor did it have any effect on the traffic policeman on watch. When the signal turned green for the section where the fire truck was, there was jostling of cars and autorickshaws clamoring for the front-most spot with total disregard for the fire truck. The fire truck’s driver was making a valiant but futile attempt to get ahead. As it disappeared from view, I could just not help wondering if someone in need of urgent assistance would have lost his/her life to the indifference of the people at that crossroads.
As I continued reading the manual, I came across another paragraph therein about safety rules regarding school buses on roads.
“When a school bus is preparing to stop so that it may load or unload children, the driver of the bus will activate flashing yellow lights. When seeing these flashing yellow lights, all vehicles approaching the school bus should slow down and be prepared to stop. All drivers should pay special attention to children who may be walking along or crossing the roadway. Once the flashing lights have turned red and the stop signs have swung out from the side of the bus, it is unlawful for any vehicle to pass the stopped school bus while it is loading or unloading passengers.”

I could but not reflect upon another memory of a driver of BEST bus in Mumbai. The driver, while driving, got into a tiff with the driver of a school bus who cut him off at a signal. The driver pulled up alongside of the school bus and much to my horror and more surprisingly the nonchalant silence of my co-passengers calmly proceeded to wheel right into the side of the school bus breaking the rearview mirror on it. He just stopped short of running the school bus off the road which would have been disastrous since the road-edge was a steep fall about twenty feet into a slum dwelling. Luckily for the kids, guess their guardian angel was around, the school bus turned off an exit lane and away from our crazed driver. I got up to give the driver a piece of my mind but was dumbed down by a barrage of invectives which fortunately due to my weak vernacular vituperative vocabulary was not understood by me at that time.
People talk to me about the spirit of Mumbai, which comes alive in times of calamity, makes me wonder. Are we so tied up in running the rat race that we can only see the benefit of co-operation in adversity and ignore it the rest of the time? And why does it take a driver’s manual along with a strict enforcement system to make us remember the basic civilities of extending a helping and caring hand to our ailing and our children? Or is it too easy for us to borrow and ape the movie-plots and latest fashion/gizmo trends from our neighbors across the Atlantic while we say, “Sorry, No Thank you!” to something so essential as civic sense?

Sunday, November 30, 2008

We are at it again...

60 hrs, 250+ dead and the peace shattered again. It's Mumbai this time. But here’s what’s going to happen. Glowing tributes will be showered upon the brave men of the armed forces who laid down their lives, we the Indians will fulminate for a good week or so… and then we will be back to our mundane lives. Just waiting for our peace to be shattered again. Maybe not all of us. The kin of the 250+ dead will have another path to take. The one of reconciling with the fate that their loved ones went out that day and never came back alive.

It is needless to say that this would be a good time to cut all relations with our neighbor and possibly go start a war too. It would be a great idea if we could pinpoint terror camps sitting in PoK and elsewhere on the soil of our neighbor and give them a 24 hr ultimatum to eliminate these facilities. Failure to comply would allow us a reason to respond in a manner deemed fit to protect our sovereignty. I guess most of the camps are within 150 km of our borders. I wonder what a 1000 kgs of napalm laden Prithvi missiles could do to these camps. I guess we won’t see that. Guess that takes a Texas governor who ends up as President of a nation which does that. But what we need the most, beyond wishful thinking, are the lessons learnt in this incident. All the mistakes that occurred in the run-up to this day need to be rectified. Some of those were seemingly so easily “duh you didn’t?”

Start with the response. The ATS chief had to ask his men to arrange for a bulletproof vest. Arrange? Doesn’t every man in the ATS have full battle gear? Then the hotels. The terrorists had enough ammunition to battle out 60 hrs? Unconfirmed reports say they stockpiled the weapons beforehand. Ever heard of X-ray systems? Those scan baggage at the airport? How about the police response to the Cama location. Residents had to get help from Navy barracks first after the police was a no-show for over an hour. This from a police force of a city that is regularly targeted by terrorism? The NSG did a great job but the big question. Why did they have to wait to get to the city (and reportedly travel to the locations by BEST buses) before taking stock of the situation? Ever heard of computers and internet which could have been used to give details of the plan and layout of their targets while they were airborne? Lastly, waiting for day break to storm the hotels. Why doesn’t the team have night vision goggles? And don’t tell me that the US is not ready to sell them. If the terrorists can procure weapons illegally, what’s stopping us from getting this kind of gear? Questions questions… I don’t see them answered, hope someone does try to.

The problem with countering terrorism in the guerilla form of warfare is that it is hard to counter beforehand and even harder when it is ongoing. The objective of each individual involved in the attack was to take lives. Our forces were put on back foot since their primary objective would have been to save those lives. Instead, if they were instructed to eliminate the hostile threat, irrespective of the loss of life, we could have sent back a stronger message and achieved a faster response. But such an approach would only be useful if we were also able to ensure that the masterminds would not be able to walk away alive and our leaders would ensure retribution at a later date. Given that our leaders are not capable of this, we should be happy with the lower body count. A small compromise for our inability to go elect the right people into power and opposition.

Bottom line is… extremism works… because the greatest human weakness is that we can be convinced too easily to kill or be killed for the flimsiest cause. Maybe the answer would be systematic elimination of individuals who preach extremism. Or maybe we missed something about the Gandhian message about non-violence and peace. If only the people with nothing to lose had something to cherish, something they would not want to lose, we could see a change. That would somehow make the idea of 72 virgins in Paradise not exactly the most lucrative one. Till then, if Paradise is where they want to go, let’s give them a helping hand!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Banquet Hall View

I once saw a Venus Fly trap. That, it’s a carnivorous plant, however fails to detract an onlooker's attention from its captivating beauty. Those violet tendrils snaking from its interiors execute a graceful arc, almost Victorian in nature, & puts to shadow its murky intent of trapping any unsuspecting insects in those cushy pods.I was struck by the conflicting nature of the interpretation of an image and the truth that lay miscast beneath. It was the case of judging an alligator by the handbag made from it. Its apparent beauty would have never provided an inkling of the viciousness of the beast. Most of us sadly remain contended with the impression garnered from the handbag. They remain satisfied with a banquet hall view of life, one wherein comfort meets intellect and between the two fashion a world that apparently highlights the pinnacle of our progress.Six years back, a tragedy shook the nation and six years hence, its repercussions, amongst other things, lifted that banquet view from my eyes. I would not get into the analysis of the right and wrong, the accused and the misrepresented of Godhra. We have had ample evidence of that, thanks to the likes of Tehelka and others. If there is one conclusion that can however be solidly evidenced from all reports, it is that the truth - the cold, factual, absolute truth has been banished in a dark corner shorn of any identity and recognition. Nobody would lay their hands on it in an era of Goebbelsian propaganda for each has a motive, allegedly far higher than adopting an orphan called truth.What I however would like to highlight are two factors - namely, the media assuming the right arm of anarchy, and the state of a nation whose collective conscience could do with a much besought wake up call.The much touted media of our nation could perhaps do well to revisit the roots in which its principles lie enshrined. The tenets of just and equitable coverage of events have been dispatched with such impunity that it makes one wonder just how sinister must the underbelly of such a system be, that could coerce an institution so mighty as the media to submission. In sync with the powers to be, they fanned the rage emanating from the smoldering ruins of an express train in 2002 by publishing graphic images and fanciful tales that could churn the knots of the stomach of even the most hardened veterans. What followed was unsurprising. 2000 Indians, mind you, not Muslims, Christians, Sikhs or Hindus, but Indians were massacred. 2000 lives were extinguished in an act of unparalleled savagery. Surely, no God would have permitted this. Surely, no conscience would have tolerated this. Then, how is it, that we, as a nation, one that is apparently recognized as a tolerant and progressive one, can live with this in our conscience?Which brings me on to the second factor emerging from our "tolerant ambience".I once walked on a street in Mumbai that served to be a microcosm of what Indians have become today. One side of the street sported a mansion of a hotel, resplendent as much in its splendor as in the ostentation of the guests thronging it. Across the other side lay a shack of hovels with rickety people scuttling about them and gathering fuel for their waiting chulhas. The stark antithesis of the two worlds lay in the utter lack of acknowledgement each had for the other. I suppose, while this particular case could perhaps be excused owing to the existing paradigms, what puzzles me the silence that seems to choke every sane mind in the face of events of the likes of the Godhra tragedy.From brutal gang rapes of members of a community (Orissa) to daylight massacres of dalits (Khairganj), from inflammatory speeches that incite such blithe acts to the barbarism of its executions (everywhere) , the covers that clouded the shimmering hatred of each group (Its shameful to realize that we have degenerated into being just "groups") seems to be coming off and every ghetto is giving vent to their collective rage. We have seen all this and in what can be perhaps the most appalling transgression of justice, have chosen to remain silent about it. We chose to blind ourselves to the savagery of the state's machinations and in doing so gave the dogma "see no evil" & "hear no evil" an entirely new meaning, one, that its creator would have been profoundly ashamed of. Let no soul overlook the fact that when stripped of the layers of justification every leader, religious and/or political has applied to such dastardly acts, they remain in its basest form, remnants of the primeval human wants & needs satiated at the expense of innocence as well as, on a holistic basis, the progress of the state.And yet, hope springs forth, alike a lonely geyser spraying atop a rocky plateau. In pockets, from outrage at the spurious claims made by the Nanavati commission, to the hundreds of unknown faces working tirelessly to apply the balm of love and care on those mutilated wounds, inflicted as much upon the psyche as on the skin, that nurse faint hopes of seeing the light of recognition or justice. We need to bolster these endeavors, for in a society that tethers on the brink of insanity, these acts of altruism are sonnets of peace that still bind the tag of civilization to our identity. And maybe, in the process, knock the banquet hall view of life off our eyes...

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Vighaharta ki Vighnakarta? (The destroyer of obstacles or creator of obstacles?)

To the people for whom this context is lost due to cultural differences, this is about the Ganesh Utsav (festival) that is a standard fanfare of the devout Hindus of Maharashtra and Gujarat. As a kid and as a student the lord of knowledge, Ganesha was always a source of awe and wonder. The 10 day celebration that goes with the birth of the lord was a time of merry making and fun. And yeah, the ‘bundi ladoos’ were the added attraction. Ok, for the orthodox, the ‘modaks’ are the official sweets to be associated with the lord, but I am partial to the former. The celebration of ‘Sarvajanik Ganesh Mahotsav’ was intended to bring together the people of the village or community and add to the feeling of unity. It was an excellent concept brought about by the great freedom fighter Lokmanya Tilak.
Note the ‘was’. More on that later. The fun part was about sitting on the petrol tank of dad’s trusty Crusader motorcycle and going on a ride around the Ahmedabad city catching glimpses of the deity’s different poses. Each group or ‘mandal’ would hotly vie the top spot as the most creative representation of the god. In those days, we used to have free prasad (read ‘ladoos’) from the mandal’s designated priest and the viewing of the lord’s idol was easy. Any person walking down the road could have an excellent and unrestricted view of the idol and pray obeisance without having to do anything special. Life was simpler then and the god demanded precious little.
But time is something that changes everything. Cut to today in Ahmedabad and I found myself facing a crowd of brainless ‘devotees’ performing Garba to the tunes of Suneeta Rao’s “Pari Hoon Main”. Not that I am orthodox or anything. I’d have not minded if these lunatics were gyrating to the tune of “Valentine’s Day”. My problem was simpler. My watch read 12.30 A.M. and if I had a decibel meter, it would have been pointing to ‘ear drum damage’ level. I like most sane individuals would prefer to sleep peacefully at night. Instead I had a choice to either ignore this din which had kept me awake for the last few nights or go ‘talk’ to the organizers. My very devout neighbors chose to bury their heads in satin pillows and snore the night away. I didn’t have one and so I was faced with the obvious choice.
Long story short, the morons at the pandal turned down the volume after offering lame excuses that the volume control knob didn’t work and that their kids were studying too. I had to counter with a response stating that Ganesha had amply huge ears and could do without the 140 dB pop music. As I walked back to my home, I wondered. Where is it actually going wrong? I wondered if this kind of flagrantly idiotic behavior would make Lokmanya Tilak turn in his grave. Would he have tried to imbue the concept of unity in some other way if he had a way of knowing what his approach would turn into?
And before the people from Mumbai snicker at the foolishness of ‘Garba before Ganesha’ prevalent in Gujarat, wait to hear what I have for you. Ganesh Utsav was supposed to bring the community together irrespective of caste, creed and wealth. Mumbai too has forgotten this. The mad rush of people, trying to buy Ganesh idols on the night of Ganesh Chaturthi with a blatant disregard for the civic order and traffic rules, was example enough how wrong the festival has turned out to be. Nowhere in the melee did I feel the presence of unity. Instead it had turned into an all out mines-bigger-than-yours run with an objective of creating the maximum ruckus while bringing home the deity’s idol at 2 AM. Frankly, if the real Ganesha could hear this, he’d probably consider conversion to Islam (No offense meant, but the idol-less worship concept seems much greener now). And these were only the idols headed for homes.
The mandals for ‘Sarvajanik Ganesha' have a more novel idea. Not only do they block critical parts of over-congested roads, they also have turned the festival into the very thing it should not be. Out of the 3 Ganesh Utsavs that I have seen in Mumbai, I have not caught glimpse of a single idol in due course of the 17 km bus ride from office to home, even once. Gone are the days with the wind blowing through my hair, legs tightly wrapped around the petrol tank of the Crusader, I could join hands to pay my respects to idol after idol as I whizzed past the pandals.
In the land of uber-babugiri, the pandals are no longer open door affairs. The lord is shrouded behind a closed door and the entry is restricted. I don’t know if the door keeper asks for donations to get inside. I have been an agnostic for too long to visit one of these places. Yeah, don’t blame me. I grew up and started getting thoughts. Last I heard about Ganesha was that he was the lord of learning, the destroyer of obstacles. Then where does this obstacle of hiding the lord behind a curtain come into picture? It reminds me of Kanakdasa for whom, legend says, Lord Krishna’s idol turned 180 degrees, tore down a wall and appeared before the lower caste devotee. Nothing like that happened with me. This goes on to prove one of two things. Either, I am not Ganesha’s favorite devotee, which possibly figures from my agnostic approach to life. Or, Ganesha himself probably chooses not to ‘reside’ in any of these idols. Guess he’s allergic to Plaster of Paris!
Either ways, as in the movie Wild Hogs, where Damien Blade tells the Del Feugos to go remind themselves what being out on the open road is about, it’s time for a reminder. Ganesh utsav is not about harassing the neighborhood with loudspeakers and ostentatious display. It is to celebrate the birth of the lord who destroys obstacles. Not exactly the kind of God who expects a flyover to be demolished (and then take a painful 2 years to get back up) just because his idol cannot pass underneath it. Not exactly the kind of God who puts on a veil and allowing ‘darshan’ to only those who stand in line for hours together. Not exactly the kind of God who likes a crowd of nubile youngsters performing ‘Garba’ to the tunes of pop music. Maybe the Ganesh I knew was just a simpler God who liked ‘bundi ladoos’ and whose form inspired a feeling of wellbeing and pleasantness. Guess this is what they call getting old, because I miss the good old days already.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Do we lack the killer instinct?

‘25 blasts in 24 hours, what next?’ screams the headlines on one news channel. ‘14 blasts, 14 dead, 140 injured’ screams another. People rush to condemn the dastardly act of bombs being set off in a hospital’s trauma wing. ‘How can they do it?’ is the common refrain. My question is ‘Why not?’ A terrorist has only one objective in his mind. That would be to terrorize. Ever heard of a peaceful terrorist who leaves roses inside the abandoned bag? No you won’t. Because then you won’t be scared of him and he’d be out of a job.

17 is the final count of blasts as I finally give up listening to the news channels. This seems familiar. Roll back to 2006. Mumbai saw something similar. Train after train was hit. Their timing was off on a couple of trains. Else the body count would have been more than 9/11. I wonder what we did after that. Did our intelligence bureaus become smarter? I’d love to imagine so. But to this date, the intelligence agencies of other nations command better respect. I’d love to talk about the exploits of CIA and MI6 but that would be too clich├ęd. Instead there’s one closer home as a nation and its intelligence agency that seems to be working better than its more famous cousins.

1972 Olympics would long be remembered for the deaths of innocent athletes. Yet their nation took the pledge to avenge their deaths. With blurring memories of the actions, clouded by intrigue and secrecy, it is hard to contemplate the exact details. But it does show that there was enough collateral damage to the perpetrators to force a paradigm shift in their path to attain their objectives. In 1976, the same nation said, “Hell no!” to a group of hijackers sitting half a continent away. Not only did they successfully recover the hostages, they also went on to slaughter the terrorists. And yet we sat mute witness to a group of 5 terrorists walk away into the Kandahar sunset, as our leaders did nothing. Not only did we do nothing then, we did nothing later on too. The prisoners we released are still standing. USA, even in their most controversial stances, still went and blew up $10 tents with $10000 missiles post 9/11. It was a statement that was needed and they made that statement. Come what may, if you strike us, we will not hesitate to retaliate wherever we deem suitable.

All in all, it makes me wonder. What makes our nation an epitome of perseverance? Why do I feel that the perpetrators of today’s event will live to tell about it to their grandchildren? Way back in time, when there were rumors that the plague in Surat was in fact a biological weapon tested by our enemy countries on us, I used to wonder. What if there were people, covertly yet totally insanely dedicated to only one cause? And that cause would be the protection of our nation from all enemies foreign and domestic. I had a rather humdrum name for it, ‘CDAC’ or the Comprehensive Defense and Attack Committee. It was to consist of brains from all fields. There would be political experts, economists, biologists, engineers, software specialists etc. All would be working together contemplating the different ways the country could be attacked, plan the countermeasures and then plot retaliation.

“No it can’t be done”, that’s all I have heard till date. I would love to imagine that it is being done. Not that I see it working, but then it is achieving its objective of being a covert operation. Then again the channels report that there is widespread horror and terror amongst the people, even the ones who were not affected by the blasts. The perpetrators responsible for this would just need to switch on their television set and flip to a news channel to see their work succeed. Truth be told, I’d have loved to see at least one man not try to steal his 15 seconds of fame with a scare story and rather just stick up his middle finger and say, “Fuck you! You can’t scare me with this. You’re gonna pay for this” and then later on someday have the news reporter cover a retaliation by the nation. That would get the attention of the terrorists. Not only would they see failure in being able to terrorize innocent public, but also not be sure when they would be on the wrong side of a ticking explosive device.

Somewhere in some darkened room that is owned by the nation’s rulers, they should be planning retribution. If the credit for this dastardly act is being claimed by an outfit operating right on our soil, we should dedicate our efforts in eliminating such pestilence. And this should not be stopped even if these elements exist on a foreign soil. While these individuals send boastful emails to media, where are our NSAs and NROs tracking down the origins of the emails, sending out S.W.A.T. teams authorized to use deadly force against the senders? With an IT industry boasting 300K+ workers, why is it so hard to engage in surveillance of electronic communication with an objective to catch such activity? Why do we see our government websites defiled while we so tolerantly let their websites stand?

So what do we need to do? Frankly, nothing significantly different. We still need to keep our plans for Sunday on track. We still need to venture out into the market and buy whatever we planned to buy. We need to show, as the common public, that this was not something that scares us. Let’s not have the news channels report that life is limping back to normalcy. Let us show that we took a running start back into it. At the same time, we need to understand what is to be done. We could be more vigilant about our surroundings. A suspicious package needs to be cordoned off. Don’t contaminate a scene by trying to be Sherlock Holmes. There are people with that job profile, who’d appreciate it if you left the things as they were. If you can’t help, you are better off out of the way. Bottom line is, “Be smart not scared.”

And next time some television reporter wants you to recant the tale of horror, please do stick up
your finger to the perpetrators and say, “Up yours!”

Note: To the families of those injured or killed in these incidents, let there be the strength to come to terms with the tragedy and go on. To the families of the medics who lost their lives while tending to the wounded, let there be pride in the knowledge that they performed their jobs beyond the call of duty in the face of an enemy who didn’t stop at performing inhumane actions.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Tryst with Ignominy

Three score and a year more ago we made a tryst with destiny, redeeming a pledge to will for a nation conceived on the principles of democracy and equality of men and their religion. At the stroke of the hour, when the world watches, India awakens not to freedom and life, but to its darkest hour as a test. It is a test that others have stood through and barely passed before us. A test of whether a nation, so conceived on ideals can long endure the vagaries of human vice like the greed for power. It is a test for a nation to endure thus and still stand true to its commitment of common good by a handful few. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, where we bear mute witness, the end of an age where the keepers of the bastions of the nation were dedicated to its upkeep, and watch hapless as the soul of a nation, thought to be free, finds suppression without remonstrance. It is fitting that at this solemn moment we take the pledge of dedication to ensure that the keepers of our nation’s bastions are in their basest interests only dedicated to the service of the country and her people, free of hunger of power or money, unhindered by their prejudices and aligned without question to the only cause of our nation’s progress.

We need not meet on a battlefield of a war fought amongst us or against invaders, for this battle is to be fought in our hearts and minds. The brave men, living or dead, who struggled to achieve our nation’s freedom, have consecrated with blood and sweat this nation, far above our poor judgment of selecting the people to lead it forward. The world will little note, nor long remember what is said here, but it can never forget what they did. It is for us, the people of the nation, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to remind ourselves of the unending quest of a nation through trackless centuries to strive in face of countless odds, emerging victorious or failing, yet never losing sight of the quest or lay down the ideals of peace, equality and oneness with nature, which are her strengths.

In a global arena, we stand at the start of a period of ill fortune, wrought with problems of poverty, population, global warming, energy crisis and inflation. These problems are not the result of divine wrath upon humanity, but brought upon ourselves by our thoughtless pursuits suiting our selfish interests and behavior contrary to our ideals. This should provoke us to will the end of this era and rediscover ourselves as individuals capable of doing the right thing, to be wanting to awaken our real conscience and no longer take pride in the ability to break the rules and get away with it. And so listening to it, we strive forth not alone, willing others to fall behind, but as one state, one country, hand in hand, towards the quest laid down by the founders of this great nation. The achievement of such unity will only be a step, an opening of opportunity, to the greater triumphs and achievements that await us.

Are we brave enough and wise enough to grasp this opportunity and accept the challenge of the future? The service to India no longer means the service of the millions who suffer. It is no longer prudent to aim to wipe every tear from every eye. It is a larger effort of uplifting each one and in the process, each mind, to want to not bring a single tear to any eye. We need to labor and work hard, walk a path potholed with our own desires, asking us to shy away from sacrifice for a greater good, asking us to be morally weak just because someone else was too. And yet we may falter, succumb to our inborn weakness momentarily, we need to remind ourselves to rise above it and make amends.

Let us not give to the future generation the reason to add from our generation people to the ranks of Jaichands and Mir Jaffers and instead rejoice in the fact that we as a generation went on to rebuild the foundation of a nation aimed at becoming the most revered nation that led and not just aimed to lead the progress of humanity. Once committed to such a cause, let us remind ourselves to purge ourselves of the sins committed by putting the future of our nation into the hands of people who believe not in its progress but only their own. Let us ensure that we do not rejoice the existence of a government and its opposition who hold amongst their ranks convicted criminals. Let us not rejoice in the fact that scammers are in charge of the decisions that affect the progress of a nation. Let us not rejoice in the fact that the leaders we elect are ones who only espouse the cause of fragmentation of the nation by creed or language or caste, or those who hold dear the progress of a community instead of the whole nation. Let us for once put the ‘we’ before the ‘me’. Let us awaken to a future we would promise to the future children of this nation.
Only when we start on this arduous journey, shall we hallow our respect for the ones who gave the last full measure of devotion to this nation and thus solemnly resolve that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not only not perish from the earth, but shall be the greatest one ever conceived.

Note: This 'speech' is totally inspired from the 'Tryst with destiny' speech by Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru and the 'Gettysburg Address' by Abraham Lincoln and is a result of the events that unfolded in the hallowed portals of the Parliament on and before 22nd July 2008.