31 July, 2006

no answers to photographs

I look at the photograph of two Muslim men "beaten up for no reason" in the Mumbai Mirror edition of July 27, 2006. The men were beaten up in local trains in Mumbai, a few days after the bomb blasts, by angry citizens. I've looked at the photos of the people who lost their limbs, their loved ones in the bomb blasts.

I look at the photo of mothers lined up under the banner of 'Parents of Disappeared Persons' in Srinagar in the Asian Age edition of July 26, 2006. The association claims that more than 8000 people have disappeared after their reported arrest by security forces.

I look at the photo of a father with his dead child in his arms in today's edition of the Asian Age and the Mumbai Mirror. Around 25 children have been killed in Israel's last attack on Lebanon.

I look at the photos published in the newspapers, and try to imagine what life will be like for those people, after that flash. Can I, safe, untouched, unharmed, imagine the hatred, the anger, the violence festering inside those who have been maimed or bereaved?

Can our words, our pleas for rational thought assuage the grief, of Hindus or Muslims, Israelis or Palestininians, blacks or whites, who have actually suffered?

I don't have the answers. Do any of you?
A minimalistic improvisation by Mazen Kerbaj (trumpet) and the Israeli Air Force (bombs), recorded by Mazen Kerbaj on the balcony of his flat in Beirut, on the night of 15 to 16 July 2006.

To listen to the audio, go here. Turn up the volume and push play.
Or download it (requires Real Player).

Mazen Kerbaj blogs here
BBC Report: here.

(Link credit: Harneet)

Yes, we are not happy!

They say India is not happy enough. It's little neighbors like Nepal, Bangladesh and Srilanka are happier. I say what's there to be surprised?

Since 9/11 we have been told by everyone: the government, the media and self-proclaimed foreign affairs experts, that west understands India's security concerns better now that they too have been stung by terrorism. But is that really true? Do they really understand our concerns?Then why the hell don't they all force Musharraf and his gang to kick off his "Jehadi" lapdogs?

What's worse is that we can't even now claim that ISI is behind all this destruction and they have launched what they started in Kashmir in early 90s. Because everyone wants proof! And if we give proofs, address of terrorist camps and terrorist kingpins, Pakistanis respond with equal material, however absurd it may be! And when we say that these things are nonsense, they have same thing to tell us. And on international forums they can conveniently tell the world that they are cooperating with India in its war on terror. So simple!

In the recent India Today cover story, they discussed what can be our options for dealing with Pakistan. And much to our horror, we can't do anything except putting our intelligence and couter-terrorism setup in order. We will have to talk to them, blasts and killings notwithstanding!

And perhaps the blasts have come as a reminder to the security and intelligence establishment. The allegations and rumors that some of the J&K Police and Army personnel are hand in glove with terrorists have proved to be true. Senior officers are in denial mode again about ISI infilteration in the forces and that is just too bad.

Then is it surprising that we are not happy?

Children of Qana

The world collapsed
around their dreams
with a whimper
in the sudden rain of fire
from the sky.

Reflected in their empty eyes,
the Silence of the world-
spineless, unconscionable.

Exploded eyeballs, splattered blood
scorched skin, limbless bodies,
strewn around like confetti.

So many lives, so many little lives
snuffed out
in an instant of insanity.

Who are the culprits?
Of this continual horror
Blood stained fingers
quickly rise to point to
everyone, no one.

29 July, 2006


Whats going on? Lets hazard a guess..game of chess, or worse still, a power play Bollywood style, villain vs common man? I always suspected our politicians to have serious misgivings of their heroism, not to forget their penchant for desi flicks.

But this was, lets face it, a good twist to an otherwise, drab, monotonous, predictable action movie. So it begins with a bang, err..ban.Fury unleashed via angry posts, indications of solidarity. sticky articles, beefing up for the final take. Both sides perched precariously, t.v. channels raking in the moolah. Torn between erudition over blasts or rhetoric over the ban, literary genius reaches a crescendo.

Innumerable, interviews, articles and trp's later, the ban gets lifted. Site meters go crashing, hindsight brings forth posts of futility of exercise and cynicism of public outrage. In other words, life returns to normal on the blogosphere, with a happy ending, where good has triumphed, pro active citizen is lauded and the blogger emerged victorious stroking his whiskers at 'fait accompli'...

Ah ah..but jumping the gun leads to barrings and bannings..literally. What was mistaken as the end was in fact the Intermission point.The second half is when the villain manages a coup. The first half was the 'trial run', deviously enacted to estimate strength and modus operandi. Just when all seemed cool on the western front, another ban was let loose.This time, selectively, as if to minimise backing and support. Struck by the audaciousness of the villain, hero now caught off guard and flummoxed..

to be continued..

In the circumstances, an innovative WAT idiom a la RGV, where the ending is creative, open and contiguous, is advisable.

(Our sages {my gang of five} advise two methods to dealing with madness. Counter it in equal proportion or then recall a bollywood film replete with mutitudinous tips to meet the challenge.

Btw,the trigger for this post was the ban by Incable in Mumbai on Blogger.com yet again, under directive from DoT, as of yesterday, so said an official.

Banging ones head against a wall in frustration, not considered a viable option)

28 July, 2006

We, the people


Blessed are we...!
We, who walk on two legs
Two legs to protect our ignominious groin
So that our hands can join
in worship of idolatry dysfunction
under nescient steeples...
And rise above our vacuous heads
in perspiring gatherings
to hail political pimps on scandalized pulpits
Blessed are we...!

We, who are actors
Playing heroes in ideated bedrooms
Curtaining our revolutionary impotency...
Our hands caressing breasts
of purloined pseudo-paragons
Ejaculating demented whispers
of consolation,
And dispersing them
like poisonous Rattlebox seeds
To swim and settle and germinate
in defiled uteruses

We, who shy away from the pen and sword
from hollow bellies of street children
From bits of half bodies
blown like confetti on drowsy mornings
...who sacrifice our lullabies
to songs of gun-fire
...and allow religious fascism
to gift unfinished fairy tales
to innocent children of the night.

We, who salivate at the smell
of free food dropped from helicopters
by knaves who worship
free trade capitalism.
We litter the footpaths of the nation
like crumpled paper carrying
trifling doodles
and search for our face in revolutionary poetry
on Crossword book shelves,
internet libraries,
and delectable read-meets

We should know...
that revolutionary poetry is born
in perspiration that flows inward
and fights to turn to blood
in the blind man's eye...

-©Vinod 28July2006

25 July, 2006

On the face of holocausts
and earthly terrors
I vandalise & smudge these..

"Look deep
for fear in our eyes
and you shall find none

Shells shatter
houses but not homes

Fleshes scatter
but not hope

We stand benumbed
and crimson,
for the gross we have seen

come have our blood too
for its more warm
than your wine.."

24 July, 2006

My Freewheeling Mind

Born and raised in Gujarat, communal riots with their tense prequels and vicious sequels are nothing new to me. Like any other Indian reading his newspaper diligently, with a tiny sting of conscience always pushing its ugly head into imagined peace and prosperity, the numbers of people injured, killed or reported missing become mind-numbing. Horrid but true, if today's journalism has achieved something with a cast iron stability it is this callousness for numbers. Whether five were killed or five thousand, arithmetic and its implications cease to affect us...

A freewheeling mind, according to my personal definition is one that does not get fettered with the irritations near at hand nor the massive preoccupations that keep us bogged down with scant regard for the clock's creeping hands... a freewheeling mind has its own whimsical agenda. Much like dreams, such idle thoughts come and go on their own will.

Often my freewheeling mind comes dwell on the tufts of green growing under a huge black shadow of a tongueless tree. The seeds of kindness are there everywhere in each human psyche, just as seeds of grass are there in almost every single inch of fertile land. What drives my memory to keep such images sharp and focused, eludes me, but I can always recall a stray incidence of huge human kindness whilst much larger bloodletting and uncalled for torture of innocents, fades in my memory.

During the late 1960s there were really vile sort of riots in Baroda, where I had seen things upclose and experienced quite a few unforeseen events. A few years later when the dust had settled, some political riot went out of hand and it took on the communal shade in hours... as usually hundreds of innocents, dirt poor and helpless, who must work and earn their daily bread or else go to bed hungry, were maimed, mauled, mutilated and murdered.

A group of likeminded university folks got together meeting regularly at the house of a lecturer who had relocated to Baroda after fifteen years in USA. He decided after days of deliberations, for there are always dissenting voices amongst the most likeminded folks who have come together, to take a goodwill trip to a hospital. We would visit the victims of the other community... I would comfort a Hindu lying in bed with grievous injuries, and he would comfort an angry young Muslim attacked for no reason.

It wasn't easy. It took not only guts and integrity and solid belief in face of the vile response we got from the relatives of the victims, their friends and neighbours, sometimes even the victims himself or herself...but it took constant reminding oneself that this was the only option. One has to face the flak and keep one's emotions under check. Anger breeds more anger, we knew, and often our fellow good Samaritans from other religions would have to intervene fearing a mini riot in the hospital ward itself. Things were sticky and things were reducing our communicating vocabularies to monosyllabic orgies. A lot of head nodding and futile wringing of hands would have to be resorted to.

After a couple of visits, even after a couple of patients in the first visit, the humane side emerged. I was nearly astounded to hear the voice of reason. Slowly like three day old kittens thrown to the alley cats, we too became a little bolder, asking hypothetical questions that seemed almost explosive.
" Would you require vengence as justice?" one of us blurted out, and I nearly fainted, " you wish to go and stab someone from 'their' side?"
The reply, always quick and firm was a resolute No.
Each one wanted to go back to his routine, earn his measly bread, be with his or her family, forgive the strangers who came to attack, and be much more friendly with their own next door neighbours who practised a different religion.

This led to more visits, even after hospital discharge of some of the badly wounded ones, to their homes. We were always moved to tears by the simplicity of these folks -their lifestyles, their thinking, their enormous lack of political ideas or bias...that really touched each one of us. We kept reading newspapers, listening to the radio [the television was not so common then] and we kept discussing with friends, but these simple folks were totally cut off, both Hindus and Muslims, from anything but their animal-filled living quarters and their courtyards full of peace.

My freewheeling mind wants a break....
so see y'all later !

(c) Max Babi 240706

“not silence but more speech”

I posted this on my blog a couple of days ago. On the 22nd, to be precise.

Today’s Metro Plus (The Hindu’s supplement) has an article by Anand Shankar, in which he quotes Laurence Liang, who works with the Alternate Law Forum. Liang is quoted as saying, “You must realise that the answer to problematic speech is not silence, but more speech.”

He says this in the context of Nehru’s Amendment to Article 19 (1) (A) of the Constitution, which deals with the freedom of speech and expression; and Article 19 (2), which imposes ‘reasonable restrictions’ on free speech. He says that Nehru made this amendment to Article 19 (1) (A) to ‘deal with extreme right and left opinion’.The reason why I’ve quoted him is not to argue the Amendment, about which I know nothing. I’ve quoted him because I agree with his statement that ‘the answer to problematic speech is not silence, but more speech.’

But if only all our problems were solved so easily, with a simple agreement. This whole brouhaha about the DoT blocking websites is, in my opinion, just another minor quake in our consciousness and soon we will all settle into our very democratic apathy and be moved by nothing more than the latest cricket scores.We are rarely moved to defend free speech except where it affects us personally. So if you’re a blogger and your access to blogspot or whatever you use is blocked, you become indignant and are exercised enough to mount a protest. If you’re a filmmaker whose film has been denied a censor certificate, you gather all those who are, or might be, similarly affected and take some action.

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m all for protest. I’m all for standing up for one’s right to speak in whichever medium one chooses. I support and have supported filmmakers and bloggers alike. I would, wouldn’t I? I have been a filmmaker and now I blog.

People support causes only when they see it directly affects them. We might all be in favour of free speech in the abstract, but how many of us will get off our seats to add our voices wherever and whenever a violation of our freedoms occurs? For the most part, we react, locally, in the short term.

Not that reacting is bad. But it has to be recognised for what it is: something that loses its energy very quickly. Tomorrow the govt. will unblock its ban and this noise will subside.When people are brought together for a very limited reason, and a short-term goal is achieved, a movement loses its momentum. Nobody wants this to happen, naturally enough. With the best of intentions, the fora that were set up to communicate with people all over the world united by a common cause, become babels of differing opinions.

This also is to be expected. If we are to function in a democratic manner, everyone has to have their say and most people have a lot to say. Every decision has to be presented, debated and a consensus arrived at before any action can be taken. Often this takes months and is a very, very boring process. Mostly it involves people dashing off lengthy letters to person or persons concerned, to which a large percentage of the collective will be happy to merely append their signatures. If you are on a list, most of your mails will consist of people saying, ‘please add my name to the list’.

I am being slightly facetious here, but there is more than a grain of truth in my account of processes. This does happen.

The larger point I am making here is that immediate action is energising and romantic. Sustained protest is nothing if not tedious. There is nothing exciting about sending faxes. (I’m reminded of that Calvin and Hobbes one where Calvin’s hopes of being a superhero in our times is dashed by Hobbes, who says, “Quick! To the batfax!”)

Most people are unable to look beyond their noses; which of us acts with total conviction about what the outcome of our actions will be?Ben Sandilands’ article in The Guardian talks about Antarctica being the last frontier that fuel-hungry nations are waiting to claim and exploit. Do we care enough about this to act on it in whichever way we think best? We probably do in a well-meaning, woolly-headed way. But do we really believe that raising our voices against the governments involved will result in anything meaningful?

And how many issues will we protest? About how many things will we act so that we create a groundswell of opinion? It takes way to much effort to read enough about issues to really understand them, much less talk about them.

So, though I’m with Laurence Liang when he says ‘not silence but more speech’, I’m afraid I’m also rather sceptical about it happening any time soon.

22 July, 2006

An Uneasy Calm

Like everyone else here, I too got an invitation from Dan to come and write. Frankly, the writer's block has never bothered me as yet, but even then I kept reading the posts and mentally ticking points...for days before writing a word here.

It's the writer's diarrhea that comes to my fatigued mind. When such a topic is broached, there are half a million related topics that fight very much like the poor souls of Mumbai trying to get in or get out of those claustrophobic boxes they call trains. I am likely to end up saying a lot of things that will either confuse the reader, madden him or her or cause a spurt in activity by way of comments. Hope the last mentioned one occurs.

I saw the aftermath upclose, unfortunately. Chennai to Mumbai by air is just one hour and forty minutes, a journey I postponed on 6th July and undertook it on 11th. From the airport to Versova side, a distance of no more than 8 or 9 KMs took me 3 whole hours in an auto-rickshaw -God bless the driver who agreed to come with me after 10 more had refused. The silent groups of tense young men on the road, the fatigued faces of cops tired of pushing people off the road, the hurried and harried executives walking back in the manner of a nation in exodus -but those did stop to guide anyone who enquired about buses. The buses seemed to be working frantically to repair the organisational damage caused by stoppage of trains... could not have been enough but it was attempted. Bravo BEST, I said to myself.

Young ladies walking back home or God knows where...to rendezvous points where they could get transport home or near home... it was all a crazy jumble of events that seemed pyschedelic to me. Almost surreal. Mind you I was not told of bomb blasts nor trains having been stopped. What my mind was trying to do was interpret this as a series of mini riots caused by some frustrated political party... and there are so many of them hanging about.

The auto-driver whose Hindi was beyond my grasp, blurted out finally after a KM or two that trains were off. He didn't say a word about bombs so I thought it was flooding and rain or may be power failed. After creeping and crawling like centipedes with broken legs, our vehicle reached home, not mine but my younger brother's. They blurted out the truth that I didn't want to hear.

We went to sleep in the wee hours of the morning, discussing the pros and cons and the whys and wherefores -feeling more confused than ever. The consensus was some frustrated political party must have engineered the blasts...seems almost a blasphemy to my ears but after the Gujarat pogroms, and professional doctors there telling me that political parties were paying the underworld upto one thousand rupees for a stabbing, or else how would the illiterate goons know how to apply chloroform on the tip of the knife so that the victim feels no pain? Goes home to collapse and die? After the politicization of murder in that state which is anti-India where secular credentials are concerned, anything is possible. One can pay a goon of any religion to cause a blast and he or she will do it, I have to grudgingly admit this ugly hypothesis.

I know I would get beaten black and blue if I applaud the good sense of the common man on streets of Mumbai for having restrained this time when it must have been almost logical to spill on the streets, shout slogans and force shutters of shops down... hats off to Him/Her... for the nefarious plots have been defeated. There was no backlash, no aftermath even though the blood for blood prophet from Gujarat had been invited to foment trouble.

Viva Mumbai !
India stands to learn a lot from this cosmopolitan cauldron of sheer hardwork, apt utilization of opportunity and most of all, the ability to dream on.... bollywood would have died in any other city.

Salaam Mumbai !

(c) Max Babi

21 July, 2006


Ten days since the blasts in Mumbai.

I received the invitation to be a part of this forum, from Dan on the 12th. On hindsight now, what emerges crystal clear is that machinations towards censorship were in place, even prior to widespread banning , which explains why, each time, registration failed to come through until yesterday.

There have been cries of 'democracy and freedom of speech under seige' and rightly so, across the board, against the unfair, arbitrary blocking of blogs, by those to who the voice of the common man seems a threat.

One wishes that this kind of alacrity had been displayed in arresting terrorists and their nefarious activities, this past decade or more. Without indulging in hyperbole, one can safely assert that thousands upon thousands of innocent lives would have been spared. The humiliating juncture of having to curb/stifle the voices of well meaning citizens would not have arisen!

That the masterminds behind this censorship have failed miserably in pre-empting , planning and execution, yet again, is plainly evident from the fact that nothing stopped me from writing and deterred you from reading the blogs supposedly banned. If terrorism be a hydra headed monster as oft repeated, then the voice of righteousness can boast of the same if not more. Despite subscribing to the wisdom of compassion, patience, tolerance generally, this is one war, it seems, which Indians are willing to fight till the end.

A seemingly innocuous visual of a dappled railway map of Mumbai, indicating the blast sites, in reality speak of a horrendous massacre,which begs to be the last of its kind in Mumbai, India and the world. In the war between Good and Evil, our scriptures decree success for Good.Its time that this truism attain reality.

The rationale behind censorship was allegedly an attempt to curb terrorist communication,seemingly ridiculous, especially considering that the bullet had long left the gun. But also how does one then understand the interception of the BBC/NEWS HAVE YOUR SAY page which dealt with Mumbal blasts??

So , in other words when POLITICAL WILL is present even a daunting task of censorship to this level is made tangible. Whilst the absence of it has nurtured/harboured/encouraged terrorists to have sway over India.. to the extent of conducting proxy warfare, as and to their whim. If the powers who be think that they are pulling wool over our eyes by pledging innocence, then they are at best deceiving themselves into believing that the public is a bunch of morons susceptible to manipulation.

It beehooves one to claim with certainty that those who could have averted the MASSACRE of the train blast were either not allowed to perform their jobs with a free hand OR that it entailed a section of elitist individuals to be embarassed by the revelations which emerge. Either way it was the commuter, man, woman, child who was found lying dead, maimed, ripped apart, on platforms and tracks.

This incident has once again proven unreservedly and beyond all doubt that statements such as 'caught off guard' and 'despite best efforts' or such like by the officials are not as jejune as they appear. It is clearly a case of the Intelligence or those responsible, not having lived up to the challenge of providing Mumbai, the city with the highest tax payers and the economic hub, the security it DESERVED.

What gains can accrue from censorship at this stage is not only a fruitless exercise to analyse but an infuriating one as well.

If anyhing, the terrorists, languishing in jails for the past 14 years, cleverly manipulating the lacunae of the Judicial system and its laxity, should be publicly flogged. Where is the justice in providing justice to those who have broken every law
with impunity and irreverence? Justice, innately connotes, that the guilty be brought to book and the innocent be avenged. How can justice apply to those who punish the innocent and serve the guilty???

India has become a laughing stock,not so much by virtue of dealing shabbily and ineffectively with the growing menace of terrorist and their activities, but more because of insiduous suggestions that warnings had gone unheeded and unchecked.A nagging doubt that this event was a phenomena which could have been snuffed out at the initial stages itself with finality.

The shaming incident of a foreigner raped in Jaipur, captured the indignation of the citizen of India who spared no effort to raise a hue and cry in demand for justice. Within 15 days, the guilty was arrested, indicted and sentenced with life.

Now juxtapose this on a scenario where those arrested for bombings of 1993, have been either freed for lack of evidence or are yet in jail, for the last 13 years, enjoying the snails pace of Indian judiciary which is adopted in cases where clout commands proceedings. Either that or the fact that the Judiciary is not as independent as averred. The Legislature,Political Officialdom has handcuffed Justice.

EXEMPLARY PUNISHMENT to the accused ( in the event of their unlikely capture, if current goings on are any indication) is the CRY of the hour. A signal needs to be sent out loud and clear to those who harbour plans of spreading carnage in India that we do not take kindly to insurgency. That heads will roll, if need be. That fighting against terrorism is of National concern, to one and all . That progress will not and cannot be stalled. If India is posited to be at the brink of an economic and progressive breakthrough, then that which has been envisaged, will occur. That an enemy will be hounded, and caught, no matter who its benefactors. That U.S.A. effectively prove its uprightness by disengaging in both double-speak and supply of arms to China and Pakistan. That Pakistan honour its promises and stop shielding terrorists w.e.f NOW!!

Because India has risen! (as this forum inherently suggests)


I held silence in my hand
Near the wells of reason
While golden sunbeams sung a dirge
To the victims of virtual reality

Where were the heroes?
Of time, fate and sad yesterdays
As soft petals of sorrow spread out
From burning bodies and twisted metal

We tried so hard to run away
From the sweet smell of death
But time seemed to stand still
Before the scepter of perfect doom

Slowly, the solemn skies closed over
And cried, long and hard, tears of farewell
A tormented wind rushed in to fill the vacuum
Left behind by beautiful dreams and eternal hope

India Blocks Blogs - Clarification from the Indian Consulate in New York

I think a lot of us noticed the blocked blogs ... Sree of SAJA (South Asian Journalists Associaton) was sent this clarification by the Indian Consulate in New York, which he forwarded to all associated with SAJA. I am reproducing here the entire text:

Date: July 19, 2006

Reference our discussions and correspondence on the issue of blocking of blogs in India, we had taken up the matter with the authorities concerned in the Department of Telecommunications in the Government of India and the facts are as under:

A two-page write up containing extremely derogatory references to Islam and the holy prophet which had the potential to inflame religious sensitivities in India and create serious law and order problems in the country appeared in a blog facilitated by well known search engines. The matter was immediately taken note of by our CERT (Computer Emergency Response Team) and the Department of Telecommunications (DOT) was informed of it. The DOT took up the matter forthwith with the search engines and instructions were also issued to all Internet providers to block the two impertinent pages. Because of a technological error, the Internet providers went beyond what was expected of them which in turn resulted in the unfortunate blocking of all blogs.

Department of Telecommunications have now clarified the issue and the error is
being rectified and it is expected that normalcy in respect of blogs will soon
be restored.

This is for your information.

A.R. Ghanashyam
Deputy Consul General, New York



Blind spots of the west...

The Israel-Lebanon conflict seems to be turning really nasty, what with civilians dying on both sides of the border. While the Hezbollah may not care about Lebanese civilans dying around them , shouldn't Israel start caring about the deaths of its civilians ? This particular conflict is dangerous to international politics on so many levels, that it is scary just to start thinking about the repurcussions...

The deaths of civilians on Lebanon by Israeli-made rockets, would give rise to more anger, desperation, and worst of all, more terrorists in the region. Terrorists, who will spread out all over the world to spread their "message" of death. The deaths of Israeli citizens would cause the Tel Aviv government to order more attacks and air strikes, thus ending up in a downward spiral for the entire region, while Iran, sitting pretty, laughs its head off !

The main part of this drama is being played elsewhere...in the diplomatic back rooms of the western world, where Israel has been given an unofficial additional week to try and "finish off" the Hezbollah before they get to sit down at the negotiation table. While I do not condone the actions of a terrorist orgamiztion, I wonder at the sanity behind airstrikes into southern Lebanon...rockets do not discriminate between the terrorists and civilians. The real perpetrators of the crimes are probably far off when the rockets come down. Thus, this extra week given by the west to Israel to send in more airstrikes against southern Lebanon, is probably the worst turn for the entire issue. If the Israelis were actually sending in their infantry or special forces to take down the terrorists, then I guess the extra time is a little more understandable, but not this.

While the Hezbollah must be disarmed and made to stand down by the so-called international organizations, one must try and ensure that "collateral damage" is limited and possibly avoided.

A Certain Kind of Indian

My friend, Anuvab Pal, has written this piece for a newspaper and has forwarded the same to me for posting this on our blog. I requested him to join and post it himself but I feel he is kind of shy. Anyway, here it is for you to read and comment.

Playwright and Screenwriter Anuvab Pal recounts his experiences with the Mumbai blasts and compares them to his time in New York during 9/11.

A Certain Kind of Indian

Being in New York during 9/11 and being in Mumbai on 11th July, 2006, was very different. And also not. Some of the more harrowing (and uplifting) moments came back – the cell phones jamming; friends, enemies, well wishers et al from around the world desperately trying to get through; chaotic hospitals filled with hundreds of victims and thousands of well-meaning, confused volunteers; relatives, photos in hand, on a mad search for loved ones; photos strewn for the missing across public places; gory first-person accounts of dismemberment, media frenzy around human stories of tragedy and survival; random acts of kindness (which contrary to what Readers Digest will have you believe, is a Mumbai routine during disasters). And in homes, seated around shocking, flashing images and foolish reporting (long live Fox News , available here in 3 incarnations - NDTV, CNN-IBN and Times Now) eager discussions on a certain kind of fundamentalism (both inquisitive and accusatory).

And yet, something was different. Not from the obvious nature and form of the attacks but in how I felt about the whole thing. When I initially moved from New York, I was gregarious and curious and engaged with my environment. I would claim New York does that to you - arms you with a sense of balanced, erudite, socio-economic analysis, especially when visiting other places not like it.

As the months passed, natural expatriate processes ensued. I settled-in, lost intelligence, found logical argument absent and all argument replete with bias. I declared public transportation to be medieval, finagled a car (with driver), found most 'ordinary' people lacking in basic decorum and politesse, fashionably complained about the city's ethos at art openings drinking wine ("Mumbai trains go to and from where?", a Mumbai socialite once asked innocently about the city's commuting lifeline). I made friends with other irony-loving, complaining, foreign folk or colonial remnants and found myself comfortably enveloped in the stereotype of the Bombay, upper middle class, English-speaking elite. This meant I was haughty, feudal, dismissive (of popular Hindi speaking culture), hierarchic, rude (especially to people I perceived to be in the service classes) and totally disconnected with the everyday realities of the city.

This wonderful attitude helped me conclude that I had very little in common with average Mumbaikars – a rude, savage, illiterate, superstitious, caste-ridden, trading people. I despised things claiming to be the highlights of the place - I didn't like the romanticism with the underworld, I found dance bars and the women in them, dirty; I hated Bollywood movies; didn't read the drivel passed off as journalism in local English dailies; wasn't aware of books in local Indian languages; discovered the ideas in the local theatre to be about a 100 years behind; found Indian TV dramas laughably melodramatic and distrusted anything said to me by a fat man with a moustache using bad grammar and worse syntax (that's about 10 million people).

Clearly I had much more in common with those suffering during 9/11. After all, I watched Meet The Press with Tim Russert with gravity and belief, discussed Charlie Rose guests at West Village dinners, loved the movies of Woody Allen, devoured the novels of Philip Roth, read the New Yorker religiously. I often thought my life was Sienfeld-ian, and that New York, the cosmopolitan mix of everything, home to Mira Nair and Opus Dei, was the greatest city in the world. Like many middle class Indian immigrants, I was a self-proclaimed "democrat" because I enjoyed Clinton's articulation and because most people in Manhattan were (an immigrant's first need, over food and oxygen, is fitting in). Surely, I was more like them. A dignified, graceful educated people mourning when it was time to do so, like a dignified graceful educated people.

On 9/11, when people died, the survivors quoted poets and writers I knew. People experienced a range of mature emotions I could understand, funeral proceedings I could appreciate and would myself partake in. Everyone functioned on a higher level of intelligence - we were clever together. Surely this must be home, I thought. I was moved by moments that were expected to move and saddened by sad moments and felt and mourned. There was an assumed shared aesthetic, regardless of an actual union. At some distance and experienced alone but shared nevertheless, however cerebral.

Then I saw Mumbai and the death and blood and twisted metal. Constant footage of the kind of people I had decided to dislike, some dying, many helping. I saw scores of people near railway stations throwing open their homes for relief and shelter, thousands of low-income housewives with water along the major streets, handing them to people in cars (the same elite who scoff them). I saw thousands of Muslim men at the end of the day's prayers rushing (at the risk of arrest) to help the wounded and dead, even though the police had declared the railway tracks as cordoned-off zones. I heard from a tea vendor who lives on $2 a day deciding to run around all night serving tea to the distressed at the distinct possibility of devastating his lifelong business. I saw penniless students skipping critical examinations and cooking to feed people who couldn't get home to the suburbs. I saw beggars and homeless people carrying the wounded to hospital. I saw people who hadn't eaten for days delivering hot food to the injured. I saw people who had no business and no position to give anything, give and give more. Then, I cried. Simultaneously, I discovered this thing called a gut instinct. For years I had displayed an almost stoic, near-Scandinavian sense of restraint. I was secretly proud of this almost Western value of emotional stillness. I had never cried at any set back in my life, I had never cried at a loss of a family member. I had never cried during 9/11. But here I was, a temporary resident of a city I hate, watching a TV channel I hate, watching people I hate (and share nothing in common with), crying inexplicably for the first time and feeling the saddest moment I have ever felt.

I wondered later if this is what nationality meant. This gut instinct. A reaction wholly from the heart and free of the head. One that (no matter how many books I had read or commonalities I had shared or sophisticated opinions I had formed with a wonderful, literate, accepting nation), could come only with watching the suffering of one's own people. Whoever and wherever they may be, however different they may be.

Somehow, on 7/11 (as the media here, in some bizarre and silly correlation to the US, calls it) there is something higher at work; much more intrinsic, more knowledgeable, much more tuned into the pulse of this city. Something much angrier at India's economic boom (Lashkar E Toiba, the Kashmiri militant wing, has denied involvement) and equally conscious of the affluence and education of those that might take a first class train along the western line.

Some may say that the first class is easiest to get on with an explosive-filled suitcase but I would still argue that with those eight bomb blasts on 11 th July a demographic was being targeted, as much as mass casualty. That demographic being the architects of modern India. Young bankers, salesmen, software engineers, print journalists, TV actors, call-center employees, web designers, ad film makers et al. I am not suggesting that these people are being targeted as individuals. The idea that they stand for is being targeted. The idea of an affluent, educated, young, skilled workforce that is the backbone of India's economic transformation

It was also about killing a certain kind of people that might send a message to certain other kinds of people like them. Perhaps this isn't true in terms of individualistic specifics but if one was to generalize, from Dadar to Borivali, all the stations at that hour carry the commuting milieu that could be the perfect representative sample (and explanation) of India's rise. A consumer class of ambitious, literate, work-driven, under-45, set of men and women with disposable income. The new middle class as the papers keep saying. Many rent, many are breaking traditional notions (and real estate frameworks) of joint family systems, many refuse arranged marriages, many are single. Many are immigrants (increasingly from around the world).

As the (new and rapidly expanding) real estate that lines and surrounds these stations suggest, they are people who are changing the very nature of India's social ethos and thereby the nature of the city that houses them. Bandra, Khar, Santa Cruz, Andheri, Borivili are constantly evolving and advancing townships and the people who live in them are constantly evolving and advancing economically and intellectually as well. Lots of young couples live there. One can tell by civic amenities, restaurants, malls etc that keep popping up in these suburbs. The idea of south Bombay being the nerve center of the city is recently dead and city-dwellers have known this. This is information about the underlying trend within a city's pulse - recent news, often changing within a day, road gossip, stuff you overhear at bars or dinners or the Midday rag or from drivers and dabbawallahs (Mumbai's famous food delivery men).

Clearly these people who put these bombs stayed here long enough to understand trends and to feel Mumbai almost as a 20-year resident would. Could it be that these killers factored it in while planning? These bombs are much more than just a strike at the heart of Mumbai's suburbs; they are a strike at the heart of a new India. An India a lot of people under 40 are trying to create, an India their parents never knew or expected. An India busy with new corporations, new ethics and skilled labor, free of cheap religious strife or ignorant feudalism. An India with young love and unlimited energy, free of nonsense casteism and ignorant racism. A melting pot of bureaucracy-free achievement, hard work, entrepreneurial innovation and new, relentless dreams. Whoever did this, doesn't like where India is going, as a young, hopeful, confident, people.

It seems by getting on those trains the day after the attacks these same young hopeful people, (who perhaps can afford to miss a day's work though most companies recorded 90% attendance), collectively seemed to say, "Hell with you - we've got a materialistic, capitalist fun country to build because we're real tired of the old socialist one. Take your bombs and keep exploding them, we've got cell phones to buy, girls to date, malls to shop in and job interviews with multinationals which will triple our salaries. No matter what the you do Mr. Terrorist Person, we'll be out and about - the new India is here and you can't stop us".

Anuvab Pal is a playwright of Indian origin based in New York City. He is currently living in Mumbai for a year working on the production of 2 Independent films he has scripted.

20 July, 2006

Where now is the fervor?

Where now is the fervor?
Does the smoke appear less striking,
Less black against azure horizons?

From afar I see the smoke
It billows night into the day
It cleaves the sky
Coalescing with that of other fires
An amalgamation of animus
Holding ransom the sun

I witness in despair
The world become the oil fields of Kuwait
Black pillars suspended by acrid skies
Children strewn like confetti
Homes and lives turned to rubble

And all I do is write
Whisper against roar of machines
And wonder
If throwing a stone will make a difference

It is difficult to not fall prey to anger
When it hunts the tall grass
The air sweet with the smell of blood
Summoning the primal
Why resist natural inclinations

They won't stop while I breathe
Till my flash is gnashed between their teeth
Or I am one
Of them

Light does not destroy the dark
It merely brushes to the side
Finding corners
Only darkness consumes darkness

What good to crush the cockroach
When for each
A hundred more infest the walls
Except for the pleasure
Of crushing
That taste of bile as teeth grit

I feel myself descend the staircase morose
I wade into seething
My supposed values trail behind me
Clamoring cans on a string
Beckoning me
As they
One by one
Fall off
Fading into deep waters

Ban Bane

The question which most of my blogger buddies and friends who know that I blog, ask is: doesn't the government understand that this ban on blogs is a serious contravention of our Fundamental Right to Freedom?! Evidently, the answer is not. This is the third straight day of the ban on blogger and other blog-engines in India, and the Delhi government is still to come out with a proper statement. The government still insists that only 20 or so 'religiously extremist' blogs have been censored, while the ground reality is a total blanket ban.

So what's with these jokers?

Time to look into the mirror. I've been the goody-goody guy for as long as I can remember. The only time I seriously broke the law was when I was in a car speeding along the East-Coast Road outside Chennai, drunk like a fish, and doing some pretty bad (on hindsight) making-out in the backseat. So I got scared when the police pulled us over then. Today, it's different. Today, there's outrage. And honestly speaking, it still hasn't sunk in completely. I was arguing with a friend yesterday when he suggested that blogs were banned and that's why I couldn't access mine - I told him, it was idiotic to think of that drivel in India - and barely five minutes later I had to eat crow.

They say that mainstream media has been following up on the Blog Ban. Well, evidently, they haven't had that big an effect. Maybe, when push comes to shove, they look at the statistics: as far as population figures go, how much do bloggers actually compromise, anyway? And in looking at the numbers, that's where they slip up and fail to realise that they've compromised on the Fundamental Rights for all. The way I express my fundamental right may be different and more advanced technologically than the method adopted by a voter from a village in North Bihar... but my rights are no less important, no less sacrosanct than his. And that's something that the mainstream media seems to have forgotten in its tame coverage of the blog ban, and something that the government doesn't seem to care about at all, in this age of Reservation.

There are more kinds of terrorism than just bombs in a train.

19 July, 2006

Mumbai, Mayhem & T.S. Eliot

Last night I read Eliot.
These are strange times to read him
and more to discuss him with a friend at Marriott
as we sip wine and eat lamb-steak,
expostulate (that’s a big word) against double-speak,
heresy, hypocrisy, a bureaucrat’s bid to block blogs,
America’s complacency, Israel’s capacity to bamboozle, shock.
My friend chuckles, he’s recently been to Tel Aviv,
is well acquainted with Israel’s potential for mischief.
And then, my friend burps, sighs,
“Aren’t we lucky to be alive?”
But then when were the trains our aspirations in rush hour drives?
We’re probably waiting for the Metro
for us to shift to public transport,
aspire then for a workplace
between Versova and Ghatkopar.

(…the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherised upon a table

The conversation shifts to extra-marital affairs, orthopedic surgery –
Professor Matuknath Chaudhary’s love discourses for his paramour Julie.
(I think Matuknath has balls
to turn his life into a brawl
and stand for what he believes
while the news channels gloat at this sleaze.
But it is politically correct to take pot-shots
at him and I further it with parental duty, guilt.
I talk about my mother’s rheumatism, her knee…
Why is it that women suffer more from arthritis?
Has there been a medical research on this?
My friend shrugs, I don’t know though my mother also suffers from it.

(We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!

The bill is paid. We step out in the early morning rush.

(Half-past two,
The street-lamp said,
“Remark the cat which flattens itself in the gutter,
Slips out its tongue
And devours a morsel of rancid butter.”

I am grateful to my friend, and
he says thank you for that rib-tickling performance.
This is the best we can offer to each other –
Moments like bric-a-brac, friendship as a tag –
A mathematician and a stand-up comedian.

I stand smugly satisfied at this sight.
The rain assumes the muggy Mumbai night…

(Wipe your hand across your mouth, and laugh;
The worlds revolve like ancient women
Gathering fuel in vacant lots.

© Dan Husain
July 19, 2006

*From T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”
**From T.S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men.”
***From T.S. Eliot’s “Rhapsody on A Windy Night.”
****From T.S. Eliot’s “Preludes.”

18 July, 2006

Bypassing the ISP firewalls

I am appalled at the depths to which the government of this country is sinking in order to curb freedom of speech. The Sri Krishna Commission Report is allowed to gather dust by labelling it classified. Fanaa and Da Vinci Code get “banned” in certain states in the country. Now, less than a week since the Mumbai train bomb blasts, ISP’s across the country are confirming that according to a DoT directive they are banning sites hosted on Blogger, Yahoo Geocities and Typepad – all mainstays of the country’s blogging population. The reason is probably the horrified reaction that the people have expressed through their weblogs.

What Mr. Manmohan Singh and his pathetic excuse for a government have failed to realise is that geeks rule the world today. Any attempts to play Big Brother will be ruthlessly routed.

If you wish to read a weblog hosted on any of the above mentioned sites, use any of the numerous proxy services available. My personal favourite is http://www.shysurfer.com. Simply open this site, and enter the url of the website you want to view and submit.

If you do not have continuous internet access you can have the weblogs emailed to you via www.web2mail.com. Open your email application or web-based email website. Compose a new email and address it to www@web2mail.com. In the subject enter the url of the website you want to view and send. The email body can be left blank.

The url for Writers Against Terrorism is http://writersagainstterrorism.blogspot.com. If you think that people may not remember the url to your blog and wish to you have it listed for reference please leave a comment here. I'll be glad to be of help.

17 July, 2006

Partners in Failure

After the initial frenzy, media has settled in finding facts and more importantly the people who should take the blame.

Hindustan Times (Big Story,Sunday,16th July) accused National Security Advisor M.K. Narayanan for letting the good work done by his predecessors, Brijesh Mishra and Late J.N. Dixit (who left us when we needed him most!). Earlier Times Of India had reported that Maharashtra Government did not do the neccessary follow up of the central intelligence operations which aborted attack on RSS Headquarters in Nagpur and led to recovery of cache of arms in Ahmednagar. It said that Government has been using the state intelligence for spying the opposition's moves and the units have got very less time, personnel and motivation to locate and neutralize the umpteen sleeper cells ready to strike. Indian Express too expressed more or less similar sentiments.

But what was most worrisome for me, was the BJP deciding to play hate card. You don't need to
be Sherlock Holmes to understand motive behind Narendra Modi being brought in Mumbai. Almost all my news feeds in Live.com have been screaming that police and intelligence agencies were on the edge due to Modi's rally and hence increased chances of communal tensions and riots. I don't want to go in the warp of Godhara and its aftermaths but really by encouraging communal divide Modi and his counterparts in other parties have given terrorists precisely what their bosses in Pakistan had prayed for. And they might even have got unexpected friends like U.P. Chief Minister!

Maybe heads will roll in the intelligence and security establishments. Narayanan might go, Maharashtra and other states may have their intelligence and security measures beefed up, but what about these politicians? Who will make them accountable?

Terrified Of The Aftermath

The evening the blasts took place, I sent frantic text messages to friends in Bombay. Most replied as soon as they could and said they were fine. One friend said he was all right, but was ‘terrified of the aftermath’.

I didn’t say this to him because he was clearly distraught, but I thought to myself cynically, that there would be no aftermath. Naturally not – Bombay had to display its famous resilience and it did.

But it takes a different degree of cynicism to know that though the aftermath did not take the form of riots, there is one and we see it all around us. After all, we’ve got used to institutionalised pogroms; we know which slums the cops will visit first. We’ve got used to segregating ourselves into our own little ghettoes. (After December 1992, when I was house hunting in Bombay, I was shown one unlovely flat on the ground floor with an open drain running sluggishly outside and a kitchen that doesn’t bear talking about. The broker enthusiastically extolling its virtues, pointed out to me that here there were only Hindus. “Not one single Muslim here, madam.”) We’ve got used to eyeing each other with suspicion and muted hostility. In the 60’s it was the Tamilians, then Muslims, now North Indians (and Muslims; I think we can take that as read). Everywhere we see enemies.

The aftermath of a terrorist attack is all around us, no matter how easily we appear to have recovered.

The most horrific thing about an act of terror is that you can only react. I’ve been trying to think of ways in which we could avoid or prepare for a future attack and I’ve come to the sad conclusion that there are none. Everything that one could possibly do is a reaction to violence with not strength enough or conviction enough behind it to remove the cause of it.

What could we do? Provide more security? Great. But where would we provide it? Have we accounted for every possible place the terrorists could have thought of? How much security is enough, so that we do not cross over the line from protection to invasion of privacy? How many of our freedoms will we willingly forego so that we might be safe?

We know where the camps are, people say. Bomb the bastards. Smoke them out. Like the US did in Afghanistan and Iraq, no doubt.

The trouble is, to destroy your enemy, you have to become like him. And then who will you destroy?

Introspection at a time when everyone is clamouring for action and results might seem self-indulgent. But I don’t see a way around it. How does one respond to terrorism except after the fact of it? And how does that help?

I don’t know. But I’m beginning to see how terrifying the aftermath is.

The Value of Human Life in Islam

I was once fortunate to hear Maulana Syed Kalb-e-Sadiq, Senior Vice-President of the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board, at a Shia congregation. The Maulana was speaking on Jehad and terrorism. I do not recall much of his speech except a portion where he expatiated upon the idea of human life in Islam. He said that the most important aspect of a Muslim life is to believe in the principles of Islam and the articles of faith. For a Shia these will translate into the roots of religion and the branches of religion. (You'd find the explanation to these on the same Wikepedia link that I gave for the principles of Islam and the articles of faith.)

Now let's take an example of a devout Muslim, the Maulana said, who follows these principles to the last word. Let's say this man is preparing to go for Haj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, and has his passport with a valid visa and his plane ticket in his pocket. He has money that he has kept aside for religious alms in his pocket, is fasting as it is the month of Ramadhan and decides to offer Namaaz, the daily prayer, at the banks of Gomti river. As he begins offering his namaaz he hears a splash in the river and a shout for help from a man drowning in the river. Let's say this man drowning is Bal Thackeray. Clearly, a man whom any average muslim does not see as a friend. Now what should this devout Muslim do? Should he abdicate his mandatory religious duties to save a man whom he sees as his foe or should he just carry on with his prayers and let Bal Thackeray drown thinking this must be some stroke of luck: The Divine Will?

No, the Maulana insisted. It is mandatory (read religious duty) for this devout Muslim to break his namaaz, jump in the river and break his fast, let his passport, plane ticket and money get wasted and save Bal Thackeray from drowning. This is what the value of human life in Islam is. I wonder Maulana why your words don't reach these self-proclaimed Jehadis who won't flinch from placing a bomb in a rush-hour train and blow to pieces few hundred innocent citizens. May be the Muslim Ulemas (read clerics) like Maulana Kalb-e-Sadiq need to use the mass media more effectively to propogate their words.

Amitava & I and The Demons We Fight...

I wrote this piece long back but I feel some of it has relevance today. I am cross-posting this from my blog. If it interests you, you may read the rest here.

The relevant section is as follows,

I remember in one of the articles that Amitava wrote, he mentions it in his latest book ‘Husband of a Fanatic’ too, he reminisces his interaction with a Pakistani taxi driver. The driver said something about Americans, though not being Muslims, practice Islamic teachings in their social and civil behavior more. They give fair wages. I recall my mother echoing same sentiments after her first visit to the US though she didn’t speak about fair wages specifically. My apologies if I have hurt the sensibilities of non-Muslim readers. The idea is not to monopolize civil behavior as Islamic but understand our perceived realities. What I realized when I read about the taxi driver and heard my mother was how contact between diverse set of people change their perceived realities about each other. Prolonged non-contact leads us to look for stories elsewhere and we fall prey to media, stereotypes and our self-created demons. We construct our realities not on first hand experience but on heresy. And thus the enemy loses his or her face. The enemy becomes a perpetual demonic entity epitomizing everything evil that we are not. It becomes easier to hate the enemy, to fight him, to decimate him once he loses the face. In Amitava’s words we have a textbook enemy at hand. Easy to comprehend and perpetuate hatred against. And once this has been achieved even if textbook enemy surfaces as a face in real life, it is easier to ram a cricket stump up her vagina or chop off his body in six pieces even when he is dead. It becomes easier to lob a bomb in a shanty settlement as people sleep or walk in to a worship place and fire indiscriminately. (For details read Amitava’s first-hand reports in his book ‘Husband of A Fanatic’)

A friend chuckled and said one of the reviews said Amitava has overdone it this time. He is playing it to the galleries. No madam! Amitava has not overdone it this time. He is only highlighting the imminent danger if we do not fight this hate factory churning out textbook enemies. He is only giving a face to the enemy, making him or her more human through his personal interactions and in the process perhaps exorcising the ghost of textbook enemy. The demon is this ability of ours to create stereotypical enemies of chimerical proportions. Let us make the enemy more human. Perhaps, we will have fewer reasons to hate then.

So, Amitava and I finally meet. I sit through the book release listening intently to whatever is being spoken. One constant observation by many readers was Amitava’s intimate writing style. How he shifts from a general commentary on a political or a literary issue to a personal experience thus vacillating between an essay and a memoir. Readers found it hard to classify his work. Is it an essay, a personal memoir or may be part fiction? I could feel their discomfort. And I amusedly wondered why such an issue over his writing style. Why this urge, instinct, imminent need to classify, categorize, catalogue one’s work? A writer only speaks his or her mind whether it is a hard-hitting analysis or a personal experience or a fictitious tale. He or she knows no barriers. He or she will transcend them, flow lucidly through genres, keep writing till the myriads of emotions welled inside flow out as words on paper. This urge to classify is similar to our primal instinct to seek security, to draw the unknown in to the known. This insistence to adhere to the known, to conventions, to the practiced is a reflection of how we have become a stickler for nomenclature, systems, dogma, etc. We ought to be somebody – an essayist, a novelist, a critic, a Muslim, a Hindu, a South Asian, an American – any of this but how can we assume plural identities. And the moment we do this there is a violation. It is the same instinct that engenders an appetite to create textbook enemies. A writer strives to fight this. He or she strives for a borderless world where our identities don’t define us, our humanity does.

Murtaza Danish Husain
September 18, 2004
New Delhi

16 July, 2006

Blogspots Blocked By Some Service Providers in India

Just when we thought we have a blog going we’re faced with this irritant hurdle of censorship. Many here in India have not been able to access any site with the trail blogspot.com for last three days. Initially, I thought it was particular to me till I reached the Google help thread and found there are many who’re suffering. One person on the thread even claims that her service provider confirms a government diktat to block sites with the trail blogspot.com. These might be used by terrorists to communicate. But this is preposterous. There are hundred other ways of communicating on Internet. I wonder how many of them will be blogging and surely blogger.com is not the only service that provides you with blogging facility.

Further, Neha Vishwanathan is keeping a tab on this. You may check out the progress here. I wonder, is there a way we can make our voices reach the Indian government and the blogger admin? Any suggestions?



Today is the 5th day after the blast. A lot has happened since then. Night of 11th passed when people came out providing succor to those who were left stranded in the streets. They distributed food and water, opened up their homes, offices, colleges for people to rest in, queued to donate blood, provided help to those who were making rounds of the hospitals/railway stations to find information about their loved one. In the hour of crisis, they did what came naturally – acted in a humane way.

The next morning people were back to work, kids were back to school and the markets, the streets, the railway of Mumbai was back in business. A display of the 'never say die' spirit of Mumbaikars? Or was it simply that there is no other way of being? Work had to be done, money had to be earned, classes had to be attended – and one needed to travel to accomplish all this. So they were back to the crime spot, taking the very trains in which a few hundred had lost lives just a few hours ago. They clamped their mouth shut to prevent any screams from shattering the bauble of normalcy at display. And they calmed their fears, hoping to reach home safely and live another day.

Along came TV channels and their psychedelic interviews with people from all walks of life. Numerous forums sprung up condemning the act of terrorism, the terrorists in general, the dictators who unleashed mayhem to make a point, the leaders who thought they knew what was right and what was wrong and pushed countries to war. A lot of words have been generated; a lot of heat has been built up – BUT TO WHAT GOOD?

Will things change by carping about them? Will they change by holding others to blame? Will our leaders become responsible by creating a noise about their acts of irresponsibility? I don't think so. If we are really serious about wanting to see a change in the current scenario, if things have to change then we need to become part of the process that brings about change. We need to become active and create a country that we would like to live in. We need to define such an India and then see what we can do to make sure that it becomes so. Rather than raging, I'd rather be part of a group that gets down to making a difference in this lifetime.

Enough of waiting for me. I have dreams. I want to see India which is generous, strong, ambitious, humble, full of vitality, spiritual, responsible to it's citizens, the world and the universe; India which has a responsible leadership that it's citizens and world looks up to; India where people dream beautiful dreams and find support to make these dreams become reality; India which uses it's strength with discretion and intelligence; India which has faith in itself and inspires the same faith in others. I'd rather spend my energy creating a brilliant shinning India. Utopian dreams? Till they aren't achieved they might appear so to a few but they can be achieved or at least I can work towards making it come true.

And if we are not ready to take the responsibility to bring about a change, if we are not ready to act so that we create living conditions to our liking, it's time to keep our mouth shut! Either we learn this time and act or accept that someone or the other would kick us where it hurts - again and again.

Well, I am going to make this dream come true. I am going to create an India that I want to live in!

Surviving the New World

At the latest, confusion reigns in the circus that is Indian politics and TV news TRPs are shooting beyond all glass ceilings. Sounds like any other day in our country, doesn't it? But it isn't any other day. At the time of writing, it has been only 75 hours since a terrorist attack caused the death of close to 200 and injury to over 700 innocent people in Mumbai. Yet, apart from that horrific statistic, nothing in the lives around me are reminiscent of such a tragedy.

Is this indifference gradually killing Mumbai?

Every tragedy Mumbai faces (and our city has been through quite a few in the years gone by) throws up a bone to chew on while we avert our eyes from the dead and dying. This time the pet contention is the merit of Mumbai's resilience.

Much has been said about it on every media possible, so let's not convolute the issue further. The Oxford dictionary defines 'resilience' as the ability to recover quickly from difficult situations. Mumbai, as a city, is resilient in numbers. When 200 people die in train blasts, 200 more will arrive the next day to take their place in the trains. This is not surprising, neither is it really commendable. It is just a logical statistical fact. To say that the people of Mumbai are resilient, we would have to compare the resilience shown by those who sat at home on Tuesday and saw the tragedy unfold on their television sets with those of the families who lost their loved ones. It will be an unfair and impossible comparison. When people boarded the trains on Wednesday, it was not a testament to resilience as much as it was a comment on our overpopulated over-competitive world that could, put quite simply, care less for their expendable lives.

Today, the people of Mumbai (as with the rest of the world) have largely been desensitized by constant media exposure of random acts of violence. We are gradually losing the essential quality that makes us human - that of empathy (amidst an abundance of sympathy). When we compare the lifestyle of Mumbai to a rat-race, we should also acknowledge what that makes of us, the people. We have become animals - constantly racing toward some finish line or the other. In the larger socio-economic machinery that we move through, we have reduced ourselves to replaceable bits and pieces. It is heart-breaking (albeit cynical) to point out that the city of Mumbai will not miss the 200 who lost their lives.

That said, the media cannot be unequivocally blamed for turning viewers into heartless zombies - they are there to report facts. If violence is a fact, it is their responsibility to report it. As a conscientious audience and as a part of the world population, it is important to keep this fact in mind. The world today IS a world of violence. We cannot escape it. Somehow, while we went on about our daily lives, a new world has emerged. It is a world of unpredictable chaos.

As US soldiers panicked under guerrilla warfare in Vietnam, the world today quakes under this new form of warfare - terrorism. However, we have not been able to move away from conventional methods of combating this situation and if we do not wake up to the challenge soon, we too will crumble under its threat as the US did in Vietnam. The new world of chaos needs to be met with a new approach to combat and survival.

It needs to be understood that terrorist attacks cannot be given a face. While we instinctively bay for blood when hurt, we must understand that in the case of terrorism it is not a person or a group of people that are to blame. Terrorism has its roots in hatred, illiteracy and poverty. When we punish a person or ban a group involved in a terrorist attack, we do no more than lynch one head of the hydra that is terrorism. A new head is born before we are even done dealing our brand of justice. We cannot stamp out terrorism by killing terrorist leaders. There will always be newer ones to take their place. We cannot stop terrorism by banning or arresting terrorist groups - other groups will emerge to replace and avenge them.

The war against terrorism cannot be waged by armed forces. It cannot be won by weapons. We cannot fight on their turf. We must understand it and supersede it. All conflicts beings clashes of differences, we must work at resolving the differences that lead to terrorism. Terrorists cannot be terrorized. Violence will only beget more violence and the rift between the perennial 'Us and Them' will continue to widen with innocent blood to pay. We must combat the elements that bring about terrorist acts by spreading awareness, providing education and bettering the economic standards for citizens of the world - it is the lack of these very facilities that breed the manpower behind every terrorist attack. Sounds quite utopian, doesn't it? How can we expect the entire world to turn Gandhian? Yet, Gandhi was a man with utopian principles. Not meaning to split hairs and question the Indo-Pak divide that we still suffer from, the man with utopian principles did win his fight and inspire others like Martin Luther King Jr to win theirs.

Yet, the government of India (should I also point to the US?) will not pay heed to the principles they export in the image of the 'Father of the Nation'. We are instead led on a wild goose chase across countries and communities to find the people behind the attack. Eventually a few arrests will be made to appease the bloodthirsty public, a few bans will be imposed, countries, communities and people will be blamed. Soon, we will forget this ever happened - till another terrorist strike wakes the media to dredge up statistics of this tragedy as they do now with the '93 attack. The dead will enter the books as numbers and the numbers will pile on till the entire world implodes with violence one fateful day that no one will be around to record.

It saddens me to see that the Tuesday attack is being used as an excuse to delay peace procedures with our neighbouring nation when it should be more of a reason to speed things up. Selfish, jingoistic patriot politics can be done without in the new world. In the new world, we stand united or we die. To combat terrorism is to combat hatred. It requires dissolving boundaries. There cannot be a country against terrorism. There can only be a united world against terrorism.

In the new world, we are responsible and should be held accountable for the overall development of all countries and people. That is the only way to combat terrorism. Yet, the priority remains fixed on discovering which people, group and community perpetrated the Tuesday attacks. Should these villainous people be allowed to go free, then? No. Justice must be handed out. Innocent blood has been spilt and the murderers must be found and adequately punished as decreed by law. However, this cannot be championed as a solution to terrorism. It is not even anywhere in the right direction. The sooner the citizens of Mumbai, India (and, subsequently, the world) learn to make the difference between justice, revenge and the solution to terrorism, the better are our chances of surviving in the new world.

What steps has the government taken to combat terrorism? What steps has the government taken to ensure the safety of the citizens? Is it enough to install a few CCTV cameras at four railway stations? Or is it a futile knee-jerk reaction meant to pacify the easily distracted citizens of Mumbai? Will the terrorists attack the trains again? Or, will they target some other sector next? What if they target malls and multiplexes? How difficult would it be to leave a package unattended inside a department store? What if they were to attack hospitals? What if they attacked schools? Or housing complexes? Is the government really taking honest steps to ensure our safety? And, I reiterate, is it really doing anything to combat terrorism?

Or is it dangling a carrot of revenge, quick-fix safety and temporary patchwork on terrorist activities to appease the general public?

In the new world, I wake up every morning to the reality that I may lose my life today. It is a reality that must be embraced and logically considered. I may lose family and friends. They might lose me. And what then? Will all be forgotten once the perpetrators are caught? If I die of a terrorist attack, I would much rather the government spends its resources on making sure my family and others live to see a safer day tomorrow. What else could be of greater importance?

Yet, the prospect for such reaction by the government looks bleak. Vested interests, ignorance and egoistic differences of opinions run cracks through the government we have elected as it also divides us, rendering both governments and citizens ineffective. We cannot afford to look up to our elected godfathers for help anymore. They are only as much flesh and blood as we are. The emergence of the new world demands accountability of every one of us as citizens for our own safety. We are responsible for our own future. To survive the new world we need to become proactive citizens.

The key to proactive citizenry lies in proactive empathy. What we do or do not affects the entire population, as it does us individually. Citizen initiatives like the mumbaihelp blog as well as the compassion displayed by the people at and around the blast sites on Tuesday are sterling examples of proactive citizenry. These acts of empathy can serve as motivation to snowball an outpouring of human compassion that can overcome any obstacle thrown at us. However, these sparks of humanity are pocketed, reactionary and largely quick to expire. In the new world, proactive citizenry must be a permanent condition.

A proactive citizen is responsible for the safety of the entire world. If the world we live in is secure, so are we. Citizen initiatives must be undertaken to ensure the safety of our homes, offices and modes of transport. We, the citizens, must come forward to pursue and spread awareness of a world view. We must actively work at providing education and employment to all. Our compassion toward others must not only be present at all times but be aggressively employed against all odds.

Proactive citizens are also, finally, responsible for their own safety. If we secure the world for ourselves, we secure the world for others. Since as far back as I can remember, railway officials have insisted on the citizens' responsibility to ensure safe travel. How many of those safety norms have we flouted and how many have we seen flouted without protest? How many of us really keep a look out for abandoned packages and how many of us bother to inform authorities when we see one? The new world demands a proactive vigilance. Ever since the BEST bomb incident, I have always pushed a foot beneath my seat to check for planted parcels when travelling by bus. I call this a healthy paranoia. We have nothing to lose by it except for a complacent sense of well being that we, frankly, can do without.

The next time a tragedy like this occurs, we will have no one to blame but ourselves.

The war against terror can only have one victory - peace. This war has already begun and, whether you like it or not, we are all soldiers in this war. If we are to survive this war, we must wake up to our responsibilities as soldiers of peace. It is not an easy task. We have been wronged, you and I, in so many ways. It is not easy to forget those scars. Yet, if we want to score victories for the world, we must start on a clean slate. We cannot walk into the future with one foot in the past. This is a new world. This is a new war. We must shed our civilian skins and be reborn as soldiers of humanity. We must become proactive citizens of the world.

It is not an impossible feat. It will be difficult. It will be painful. Yet, it is not impossible.
I dream of a day when we can live without the shadow of mortal fear upon us. There is a long way to go yet. That day will not dawn on us while we sleep. We must wake up. Wake up and question your animosity. Wake up and question your apathy. Wake up and question your helplessness.

I urge you. Wake up. Wake up to the reality of the new world. Wake up before it is too late.

To Speak

This post is an extension of the previous post by Dan. To clarify, the poet he menions there is me, and the poem in question is this, which drew this comment. I'm overwhelmded by the way Dan has come to my defence. Thanks, Dan. You've eloquently made your point about virtual terrorism, and you're absolutley right. Like I said in our correspondence, I was shaken by that strange comment. I would normally not have paid much attention to something like that, but this blog is different from a personal blog, and we all realize that there is a stated purpose behind any writing we put up here. Literary this blog might be, but given the import of what brought it about, each word put up here must have the gravity of chiselmarks on granite. And so, I did for a moment falter and question myself- did I anger someone who perhaps had been too close to the brink of the madness that day, and to whom it might have seemed facetious? And that let me take another long, hard look at the 'poem'. I do not know whether it qualifies as 'poetry', if there are any yardsticks for passing that judgement. But I do know that those words were wrenched out of my, in a blinding madenning stomach churning motion, even as the darkness closed around me. What darkness?, it may be asked. After all, I was sitting here in the comfort of this far-flung city, so far away from that grisly rite of passage. But we do not live in the flesh alone. And to live in times like these, to see that paegant of death in a procession of image after insensate image on one's television screen, is to begin to lose one's tenuous grip on sanity. Yes, I was pretentious- I was pretending to hold on to sanity in a world which has forgotten the meaning of that word- I was trying to claw it off from the clouds. As I said in that piece, words are such frail, fragile things, and when so many lie maimed and mutilated, to rattle of words might seem like mental masturbation. But we are made by words, o anonymous commenter, and they are the flickering screen through which we look out at the world of the exterior. Do not forget that behind the deafening blasts, behind the faces masked in hatred, lie words- words of bigotry, words of intolerance, words of blind, hideous malice. And to counter them, it is important that we also counter with those same fragile weapons- because when flesh and bone decay and are translated back to the elements from which their syllables were formed, words still remain as echoes of lost songs. I may not be able to do much, but I can still speak, and to speak is to begin the process of reaffirmation.