Nov 26, 2009
The night of 26/11.
The 60 hours of sheer terror. The shrieks of our souls. The death of our liberties.
Mumbai - and India - will never, never be the same again.
Today, let us take a moment from our lives and selves and remember.
Remember the mother who caressed her brave son's forehead as he lay in a tricolour-adorned coffin, prepared for his final departure from a nation that will forever be indebted to his 31 years of service to her. Remember Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan.
Remember the man who smilingly put duty above self, even as his wife and their two little sons were charred beyond recognition in an inferno that turned his world to ashes. Remember Karambir Kang.
Remember the men who fearlessly ventured out into a dark and dreadful night and took bullets in their chest, only to stop those bullets finding other innocent targets. Remember Hemant Karkare, Ashok Kamte and Vijay Salaskar.
Remember the lone braveheart who shielded an indebted nation from the crazed bullets of a frenzied beast, and captured one of them alive for the entire world to shame. Remember Tukaram Ombale.
Remember the little child whose world was taken from him without his knowing it, who still thinks his parents wait for him in a distant land, whose two-year-old heart could not understand how his life will never be the same again. Remember baby Moshe.
Remember the many lives that were placed on a precipice of danger simply to ensure the rest of us could breathe easier, those who put courage and grit to test and placed service before self, those who toiled relentlessly sans water or food to ensure the same for a billion other unknown people. Remember the NSG, the firefighters and the Mumbai Police. Remember the chefs, concierges and other staff at Taj, Oberoi and Leopold. Remember the announcers, porters and other staff at CST.
Remember the innocent persons who were indiscriminately mauled and butchered in a naked display of mindless violence, those who had no reason to die the way they did, those who were caught and killed in someone else's war. Remember the blood that painted a grotesque imagery on walls and flesh left to rot on the floors. Remember the screams of the victims, the pleas of their loved ones, the nightmares of those who waited, that dreaded phone call informing of grave injury or grim death. Remember the unspeakable pain of never seeing a loved one again, the unimaginable pain of lighting a funeral pyre. Remember the 189 dead and 329 injured of 26/11.
Remember the oily netas and babus who circled like vultures over the slain bodies, feeding their perverse fetish for the 'chair' from the blood that flowed on Mumbai's streets. Remember that they stay protected with the best security the nation can provide, while the very citizens they are elected to serve are exterminated like pests. Remember that not one of these 'powerful' people had the balls to venture out of the air-conditioned luxury of their hideyholes to witness the gory spectacle being played out. Remember that they could not provide our policemen and forces with even the basic necessities of combat - a weapon and bulletproof gear - and left them at the mercy of blood-thirsty AK47s.
Last of all, remember Ajmal Amir Kasab. Remember a boy turned into a beast, a mercenary on a cold-blooded mission of unfettered violence. Remember how a simple teenager was lured into a world that taught him nothing but hatred for others. Remember how this gun-toting horror casually target-practiced on innocent men and women and children, without the slightest regard to a human life. Remember that Kasab will be hanged to his death, but there are many more Kasabs still out there, waiting for their turn on this dangerously misguided journey to eternal damnation. We need to kill the terror and not merely the individual terrorist.
The capture of Ajmal Amir Kasab, the lone surviving terrorist of the 10-strong contingent that wrecked havoc on our very psyches, was a monumental instance amongst all the madness that prevailed. It has now turned into a mockery of our judicial system, and a reminder of how worthless our lives have become. At last count, an unbelievable 31 crore of government funds have been spent away to allow this 21-year-old to live out his whims and vagaries. He needs to be kept safe for all the vital information he can provide, no doubt on that. But why should that come at the expense of taxpayers' hard-earned money and due to an unnecessarily long-drawn trial? It has been a year since he was taken into custody, and the least we can do for the memory of 26/11 is to mete out the punishment Kasab deserves.
Incidentally, as TOI reminds me, today is also the day the Indian Constitution was officially adopted by our sovereign democratic republican government. The 26/11 incident remains an unseemly blot on the very ethos of this great document - liberty, equality and fraternity. It is an insult of the highest order to the founders of our freedom and our Constitution that today we are divided on every aspect imaginable - colour, caste, race, religion, gender, language, lifestyle and choices. And not just divided. We abhor, loathe, detest each other for the very diversity that we were once so proud of. We do not hesitate to hurt or even kill those who we see as even slightly different from us. We unleash terror in the name of god, disrupt any attempt at free thinking, disallow others their very basic right to choose their individual and unique way of living. As a nation so divided and a society so flawed, what chance do we then have at protecting ourselves from external forces that wish us ill? The enemy is within. The enemy is us. And the terror is far from over yet.
A year ago, there was immense outpouring of outrage and much dismay at the rotten 'system'. We grieved, we were horrified, we were very very angry. We ranted at being repeatedly betrayed by the very system meant to guarantee a safe day out and a sound night's sleep to each one of us. We felt a vulnerability we had never felt before, even though we have had a blood-splattered history of unspeakable oppression behind us. No place seemed to be safe enough anymore, no person or group or community could be spared. We shed tears and screamed abuses. We sat through candlelight vigils and gathered for peaceful protests. And then, we once more turned our backs on the 'system' and holidayed when we should have stayed back and voted for our futures.
Terror is not a partisan project. It is a national challenge. It is a question the terrorists have asked us. It is an answer the world expects from us. It is the ultimate test of how potent our anger is, of how we are a people of action and not words, of how there is much more to us than hysteria and jingoism. It is our reminder to never forget and not simply move on. Not this time. Never again.
26/11 is truly a wake-up call - not just for our porous security system, but a stark reminder of a disconnect between the average Indian and the India as a nation. That is the lesson we should have learnt last year. Neverthesless, we still can learn it. We need to fight for the right of every Indian to live with dignity. We need to fight against being taken for granted at every step - by the system, by the political clout, by each other, and by ourselves.
We need to ensure that we kindle a flame in our minds and hearts, not at India Gate or Jantar Mantar or the Gateway of India. The battle needs to be won in our own lives before it can be won across our borders. And who better than our all-encompassing, inclusive and pluralistic democracy to win it? We let down ourselves on 26/11, and we now need to truly convince ourselves that we mean it when we say "never again". That will be our true tribute to the martyrs and victims of 26/11, and a lesson for those who continue to harbour a thought of aiming for our soul again.
With the years, our memories will fade and our cries will silence out. We will move on to that which is less horrific and more comforting. We will, as we always invariably do, adjust. But it should never happen without constructive reforms in the very 'system' we have begin to loathe. We need to secure our nation. No, we needed that yesterday. Today, we need to meet our own eyes in the mirror, to acknowledge that deep down we know the fault lies within. We need to rise above our own ineptitude and bring the change we wish upon ourselves. We need to unite as a nation - a nation of individuals who are different yet whose hearts beat together. We must see each other as human first and Indian next, and nothing else thereafter. Only then we shall have truly moved on.
Aug 15, 2009
Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward into ever-widening thought and action -
Into that heaven of freedom, let my country awake.
This is indeed India! She is the land of dreams and romance, of stories and songs. She shows us fabulous wealth and abject poverty, splendour and despair, palaces and hovels in equal measure. She is draped in myth and mysticism, studded with faith and belief, caressed by the seas and the sands. She is the country of a billion people and a hundred tongues, home to thousand cultures and traditions, steeped in the history of an eternity. She is the cradle of the human race, the birthplace of human speech. She is the one country under the sun that is endowed with an imperishable interest for her own and others, for the lettered and the ignorant, for the wise and the foolish, for the rich and the poor.
India has never been the claim of any one group or community. She has been looted, plundered, enslaved and abused countless times, yet like a phoenix she manages to rise again and again miraculously. She is a nation that has seen many empires rise and fall - the Hindu kings, the Mughals, the British. A nation dotted with the signs and symbols of a glorious past at every step, she revels in being the cradle of ancient civilisation and prides in having borne the first footprints of art. She is the land of saints and scientists, of warriors and world leaders, of fields and enterprises, of the brave and the brilliant.
India is a multitude of feelings to a multitude of people. For some she is noisy, chaotic and overwhelming. For others she is mildly distressing in parts and mostly beyond any sort of rational analysis. For yet others she is all the things one may seek to keep out of their life. But I love India for precisely that reason - we live simple and boring routine lives, yet the air around us is electrified with the spirit of those very mundane lives we live. There is chaos in the calm, and serenity in the rush all around, but we all fit in effortlessly and seamlessly.
India is where Punjab dances in sheer abandon and laughs an equally boisterous guffaw. India is where the tameez and tehzeeb of UP would never let a guest leave hungry. India is where the intellectual Bengal comes together at an adda session to discuss everything from the Sensex to sandesh. India is where dreams are born and nurtured in the studios of Mumbai and the schools of Kerala. India is where a million colours come alive in kaleidoscopic Rajasthan and narrate the tales of valour. India is where the mellifluous Carnatic melody meets the divine rhythm of Hindustani music. India is redolent in the sandalwood of Karnataka and the apples of Himachal. India is where the sweetness of Gujarat blends with the rustic charm of MP so seamlessly they appear as one. India is where the gaeity of Goa and the sobriety of Haryana coexist in unfalliable harmony. India is where the kangris of Kashmir warm the bosom of Tsmil Nadu across thousands of miles. India is where the grace of Odissi and the poise of Kuchipudi are a sight to behold, while the lilting strains from the far East reach every heart and brighten every smile. India is where tradition embraces modernity, where religion and science intertwine, where festive cheer and sombre emotions live in sync.
India is lavish weddings and melancholic funerals. India is determined progress and persevering faith. India protests against injustice and applauds achievements on her streets. India endures scorching noons and freezing nights to toil towards a better tomorrow. She sits as one among the many who come to make themselves heard. A nation of contrasts, she lives in palatial bungalows and shabby slums, she avers a myriad cusswords and a million prayers, she plays cricket and politics with equal dexterity. India is the largest and strongest middle-class, the most number of youth and children, the fastest developing economy and the most capable workforce. She is the deprived and the nouveau rich, the elite and the wannabes, the glamorous and the earthy, the aam janta and the yuppy youngsters. She is where many worlds collide in the trains and buses, where many stories are woven in backyards and under trees, where tempers run short and teleserials long, where drama unfolds more on the streets than on the screen. India is where fact truly is stranger than fiction.
But India is not just this. She is much more. She is just like any other nation, and yet not like them. She is a conurbation where cricket and cinema reign, where commercial success can come through leisure pursuits too. Her people are volatile and articulate, and topics from global warming to the price of arhar daal are discussed threadbare over steaming cups of chai. She is more a living person than a nation, a person with varied interests and mellow moods. One simply needs to lose their self in the myriad hues, flavours and aromas of India. Her citizens exhibit a great joie de vivre firmly entrenched in intellectual vitality and an unrivalled spirit.
India remains an enigma; she continues to mystify novices and to rouse lasting nostalgia in the minds of those who have lived there. India not only openly shows all aspects of life, she also demands to act continually. She expects one and all to stretch their street wisdom to the extreme. Compare her to a fantasy park in which the theme is not a fable but all that life is and necessitates. For those who want life itself to be an adventure, India is the fantasyland to visit. Simply walking her streets has the pleasure of being in a place that is the consequence of continual human activity. And because life there demands perpetual activity, her streets change all the time - constant reflections of human understanding, perception, talents and limits. Where she demands too much of her citizens, or her citizens demand too much of their country, it shows in clear consequences. Her appeal is that she openly shows not only how we fail, but also how we cope and how proud we can be in doing so. While it may be easy to cover up the dark side and emphasize the great and good with much glitter, India balances herself between the dark and the bright, the wrong and right. If that is not attractive, I am yet to witness what is.
India is a proud nation and her pride is rooted in the totality of aspects she so clearly presents. Pride lies in the Indians feeling that, in the end, showing it all will be the basis of a sustainable nation, rather that emphasizing only one side of what Indianness is. Pride lies in the fact that India needs to be made each day; a lot does not work, but another lot does. At night too her streets do not show the sleepy quietness that is typical of sundown; they have a life of their own, and a constant passion for living it to the fullest. In India, life truly goes on in its entire miscellany. A restful night after a hard day’s work is what all seem to want. Trouble is kept far away; India believes trouble itself is trouble enough.
The spell cast upon the world by India is impossible to express in words. You must live her - intuit her, caress her, savour her, sense her - in her entirety. Only then shall you begin to comprehend her beauty, her appeal, her charisma, her charm. I can say that, for India lives in me, and I in her.
All pictures courtesy: Google Image Search
Jul 3, 2009
"The Constitution of India recognises, protects and celebrates diversity. To stigmatise or to criminalise homosexuals only on account of their sexual orientation would be against the constitutional morality."
The profoundness of this statement could be felt on Thursday - the day India took a giant (albeit belated) step towards true globalisation with the Delhi High Court delivering a historic judgment to amend a 149-year-old colonial law. The draconian law in question was Section 377 of the IPC that criminalises private consensual sex between adults of the same sex.
The biggest victory yet for gay rights and a major milestone in the country's social evolution, this historical step has made India the 127th country in the world to take the guilt out of homosexuality.
While all seemed well and Delhi was awash in rainbow colours of pride and hope, religious leaders across the nation instantly leaped on to the 'faith', 'morality' and 'God's will' bandwagon that they are so fond of hitching across national sensibilities. It was no surprise at all to hear them scream hoarse about how homosexuality is against the word of God. From the Crusades to the Holocaust, from the Partition to the Taliban, from 9/11 to Naroda Pattiya, the 'word of God' has been invoked to justify the most horrendous crimes against humanity. Of course, there are plenty of other convenient reasons too - gender, race, language, colour, land, water, oil, and the like. We have never yet found it difficult to explain why we hate each other. Homosexuality is just one more reason on the list, and currently carries the most brownie points.
People are very inclined to set moral standards for others. No surprises there. And we can very well say it for everyone - including ourselves. We love dispensing advise, and love to see it being acted upon even more. No harm there, I say. Everyone is free to preach/advise to others what they feel is right. Trouble begins when we begin to believe what we do/say/eat/drink/wear is right, and therefore should be adopted en masse without further ado. And when we coerce people into that adoption, covertly or overtly.
Now let us for a moment throw reason out the window and pretend that homosexuality is a sin. If that were the case, then God must punish these sinners in his/her/its own way - by making them boil in scalding oil in hell, or turning them into lizards in their next birth (though I fail to understand what exactly is wrong with being a lizard), or whatever is proscribed by the religious texts. Who are we mere mortals to act on his/her/its behalf? Let humans do what they will, and let God do what he/she/it must. Like the inimitable Robert Frost so wisely said, "I hold it to be the inalienable right of anybody to go to hell in his/her own way."
Now, by the same logic, we can let other sins like theft, deceit, greed, rape and murder go unpunished. But we don't, citing the reason that these are horrendous crimes against humans and should be punished in a fitting way in order to curb them. How come here the 'word of God' is never preached? Why, with a rape ever two minutes in Delhi, has a religious leader never come out on the street to condemn how maligning a woman's dignity through force is against God's will? Why, with Dalits and supposedly 'backward' classes being denied of a respectful existence, do religions not preach how every human is a creation of the same God who wouldn't have created a human worth being looked down upon merely on account of his/her name or profession?
Then, there are the eternal bigots who deem anything and everything that does not suit their misguided (or, heavens forbid, very calculated) agendas as being 'against Indian culture'. I, like many of us out there, have begun to find this tirade boring and repetitive now. Say, it has lost its charm after a series of recurring (and rapid) utterances. So much so, that next time they do come up with something that really IS against Indian culture, they'll be paid no heed. Just like that fabled boy who screamed 'wolf' everytime he wanted to make his presence felt.
I fail to understand how a law that was introduced by British colonial invaders can even be seen in the context of Indian culture, whether acceptable or otherwise. Section 377 has nothing - I repeat, nothing - to do with Hinduism (which for all means and purposes is used interchangeably with Indian culture today) or Islam or Christianity or any other religion. The irony truly is that while the Britons have changed their corresponding legislations, we in India are still clinging on to it for dear life. How, if homosexuality is a Western import, does it find a mention in that most ancient works of Indian literature (and culture) - the Kamasutra? How have figurines describing homosexuality, bisexuality and even transgendered humans etched themselves into the walls of Khajuraho? As far as my understanding goes, neither of these comes from the West. Surprise, surprise!
What really IS a part of Indian culture is its inclusiveness. We have witnessed all manners of people coming to India - the Aryans, the Mughals, the Britons - and India has taken each and every one of them into her fold. India has always taken the best out of those who came to her - art, music, cuisine, lifestyle. When we found the British cuisine too bland for our tastes and rejected it (unlike the spicier and tastier Mughal cuisine which typifies India in the West), why not similarly shun unpalatable laws?
Also, the absurd notion that homosexuality exists only in humans (and that too the 'elite', whatever that means). As a matter of fact, homosexual and bisexual behaviour has been studied and proved, with documented evidence, in several species of birds and animals, including penguins. Moreover, there is almost unanimous medical and psychiatric opinion that homosexuality is not a disease or a disorder but is simply another expression of human sexuality.
And finally, the stereotype that homosexuals are paedophiles, do drugs and have AIDS. That, more than anything else, sounded extremely dangerous to me because it comes not from religiously- or politically-motivated people, but educated and sane individuals like you and me. I'll just say that like every engineer is not a unromantic nerd and every straight man does not lech at girls and every woman in jeans is not wanting to be molested, every homosexual does not do drugs and rape kids. Why, Joseph Fritzl, as far as I remember, is not a homosexual - and he is a paedophile if there ever was one. Neither is Shiney Ahuja - and he doesn't do drugs either, for the record.
However you may accuse me of being a party-pooper, this court ruling still does not translate, of course, into social acceptability. We cannot possibly have suddenly become an enlightened society. There remains a lot of homophobia, stereotypes of gays and lesbians will abound in popular culture (read media), many young people will still discover that their sexual preference does not conform to the society's approved norms, LGBT people will still be confused and lonely and angry. But being so is not illegal any more. And that certainly is a big deal.
Also, the ruling still can prosecute coercive homsexual acts or homosexual acts with a minor. That’s just fine - the same applies to heterosuxual acts too. Just as long as consenting adults can do what they want.
The last word, really:
"The expression of sexuality requires a partner, real or imagined. It is not for the state to choose or to arrange the choice of partner, but for the partners to choose themselves."
Its been an unintended break, longer than expected. But like it tends to, life intervened. I’ve been busy with work, practically trying to keep my job in the dark economic times. Work aside, I have been suffering from the worst writer's block ever. Maybe the turmoil at work had something to do with this.
I promise to be up and shining soon, but it may take a little more time so don't forget to watch this space (and my other one too). I failed to write the last few weeks, which have been some of the most turbulent in my professional life. This, I confess, was totally deliberate. It just felt like I wasn’t doing justice to my writing if I wasn't writing with my mind and heart in it, and both these critical components of my being were kind of preoccupied with seemingly mundane issues. Nonetheless, enough excuses.
If there's one thing my being absent from the blogging scene has shown me, it is how much my writing is valued and appreciated, even eagerly awaited, by my friends on the blogosphere. Many thanks and a zillion hugs to my bestest friends here, especially Solilo, Indyeah, IHM, Masood (in no particular order). And everyone else who patiently awaited my return and regularly visited this space to check on me. I am ashamed to admit I'd actually thought my friends would have lost interest in my blogs since I'd not written for so long. I'm so very touched to see they are as loyal to my blogs as I am to theirs, even when I never announced I wouldn't be writing for a while. Thank you.
May 7, 2009
May 6, 2009
Apr 24, 2009
A dangerous website that thrives on malice, hatred and some twisted superiority complex of a particularly large section of Indian society, not to mention the propagation of superstition and blind faith, has published the following content on one of its articles:
Rahul Gandhi’s unnecessary allegation in Sangli, Maharashtra: "Though BJP is criticizing Dr. Manmohan Singh calling him a weak Prime Minister, BJP had given in to the demands of the terrorists during the hijacking of a plane at Kandahar when it was in power and had released the terrorists."
Now here are the Editor's appalling comments:
Congress ruling for maximum period made the people impotent. That is why the relatives of the people hijacked in the plane were pestering the government to release the terrorists at the cost of the national security without paying any heed to it. BJP’s decision at that time was the repercussion of the Congress party’s indecisiveness (Gandhigiri). Hence Rahul Gandhi should not cast one sided aspersions on BJP! While criticizing BJP regarding Kandahar issue Congress should not forget that it had allowed the terrorists hidden in Sharar-e-Sharif without attacking them!
If only closed minds came with closed mouths! So if I have a parent or a sibling or a spouse or an offspring in a life-threatening situation of national magnitude, I should not make all efforts to ensure the safe return of my loved ones. I should also not try and mobilise all the support I can gather to force the government to even consider action. What's more, I shouldn't inform the government of my intense desire to see my loved ones again. In fact, I shouldn't allow myself to worry sick and abandon any pretence of assurance from the high and mighty political clout. More so, I must not lose touch with reality, even if I know I might not see my loved ones again. And of course, at a time like this I must eliminate all fear from mind and make a decision that panders to the reigning government, even if such a decision comes at the cost of my loved ones' security or even life. Since when was survival even an instinct? Then again, I should realise and accept that common individuals in India are aplenty and dispensable.
In many ways this statement is a turning point in the history of a modern, independent and progressive India. Not because of the depth of irrationality or the intensity of hatred or the extent of stupidity that this statement represents, but because of the direct threat that the ideology behind it has posed to the very concept of the modern Indian state.
This threat does not arise from death and destruction caused by rampaging mobs. Nor does it arise frombombs or guns or lapping flames. The tortuous history of the Indian sub-continent has witnessed many a bloody event. But the threat here arises from the concrete manifestation of a lethal ideological agenda with an express objective of destroying the present Indian state and its constitutional fabric. Any secular-minded Indian who believes in a pluralist democratic India must take this statement as a wake-up call. Here, what is at stake is the very existence of the Indian Democratic Republic, and such high stakes calls for equally radical and unorthodox measures.
Any liberal society that cherishes freedom of speech and dissent must learn to draw a line between legitimate expression and a motivated propagation of malicious prejudice and irrational hatred. Not to mention unabashedly irresponsible accusations against other ethnic/ religious/ cultural groups. Once the fine line between insanity and reason is allowed to cross, it wrecks the very fundamentals of civilised existence. Any irrational ideology would be free from hurdles like self-doubt or reasoning and offer precariously simplistic alternatives based on half-baked truth or blatant lies. When such an ideology piggybacks on mass polarisation, the combined effect is that much more vicious. Then, all that is needed is the slightest of triggers to set up a conflagration - triggers that may not even be remotely relevant.
The statement above is living proof that a constitutionally established republic can allow blatantly anti-constitutional acts to be perpetrated and even justified. Such groups would subvert the constitution where it serves their strategic interests, and it does not require an artist's imagination to visualise what they would do if allowed to flourish so.
Communalism in India is usually regarded as a socio-political issue and its virulent propagation is not dealt with the severity and gravity it warrants. In fact, there exists no substantial section of the legislation to curb and punish communal unrest. One of the largest oversights of Indian politics is to see even communal political parties as democratic, while they are really an oligarchy of assorted non-accountable individuals who thrive on a soap-bubble ideology of misguided supremacy of a particular section of the nation. Though these groups pay due lip-service to democratic values, their polity is hardly so. The power of governance should be used to combat the threat of communalism in every manner possible.
The time has come for a de-facto congregation of secular and tolerant individuals and groups to come together. Why, that time was yesterday! Nevertheless, this force should evolve a stringent law to recognise any activity that begets hatred or prejudice as "Constitutional Terrorism". A focused de-infiltrating of communal elements from governance and social institutions would help identify and thereby eliminate the former. The objective would be to create a climate hostile to the subsistence and functioning of communal forces. In a country where influential tactics can mobilise a billion-strong population in one go, a strong platform of secular-minded citizens can act as a powerful pressure group to raise a voice against communalism. This pressure group can influence political parties and governments to fight communal forces in a coordinated manner.
It is very important that the real story behind each incident of communal unrest is brought to light, so that our people are able to appreciate how flimsy the foundations of hatred can be. More importantly, the culprits need to be identified and appropriately punished to prevent re-runs of those incidents. While the governments at the Centre and the affected state would stonewall the process, it is imperative that a public investigation be launched to bring justice.
Lastly, any communal force would do better to understand this and commit it to memory: "It is better to have an intelligent and criticizing enemy than a foolish and all-agreeing friend." Always...
Facts courtesy: Gaurang Mehta