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Sunday, December 28, 2008

For the Gaza victims ...


I've just heard about this emergency campaign urging for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. Already 300 people have been killed in this escalating conflict. Now is the time to issue a demand to world leaders that the spiralling violence that has characterized the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must come to an end. In 2009 let's push for real peace to be achieved between Israel and Palestine. To learn more and to take action, read the email below:

Dear friends,

As we watch the Gaza bloodshed with horror, appalled at how the crisis is spiralling further out of control, one thing is clear -- this violence will only lead to further civilian suffering and an escalation of the conflict.

There must be another way. Over 300 are dead and hundreds more injured -- rockets are striking Ashdod deep inside Israel for the very first time, and the sides are mobilising for invasion. A global response has begun, but it'll take more than words -- the immediate violence won't end, nor will wider peace be secured, without firm action from the international community.

Today, we're launching an emergency campaign which will be delivered to the UN Security Council and key world powers, urging them to act to ensure an immediate ceasefire, address the growing humanitarian crisis, and take steps to build real and lasting peace.

Follow this link NOW to sign the emergency petition and send it to everyone you know.

After eight or more years of ineffective US and global diplomacy -- and now Gaza's bloodiest day in recent memory -- we must issue a global outcry demanding that world leaders do more than make statements if they're to bring peace to this region. The UN, the European Union, the Arab League and the USA should now act together to ensure a ceasefire – which includes an end to rocket attacks into Israel and opening the checkpoints for fuel, food, medicine and other humanitarian aid deliveries.

With a new US President taking office in less than a month, a real opportunity exists to breathe new life into peace efforts. These latest hostilities require not only an immediate ceasefire but a commitment from Obama and other world leaders that resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is at the very top of their agendas. As the whole world is impacted by this ongoing conflict - we should demand nothing less.

In 2006 we mobilised for a ceasefire in Lebanon. For years we've worked to encourage a just and lasting peace, taking out billboards and ads across Israel and Palestine. Now as we head into 2009, we need to come together again to demand a peaceful and lasting resolution, instead of a further escalation of violence. Follow this link to put your name forward for peace.

All sides to the conflict will continue to act as they have in the past if they believe that the world will stand by and allow them to do so. 2009 is a year that things can be different. As we face this crisis, and the possibilities of a new year, it's time for us to demand a ceasefire and work together to finally put an end to this cycle of violence.

With hope and determination,

Brett, Ricken, Alice, Ben, Pascal, Paul, Graziela, Paula, Luis, Iain and the whole Avaaz team

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Friday, December 26, 2008

Fellow Pakistanis, rejoice ...

the ICT revolution has really come to Pakistan now:

Story #1:

Our driver, Ehsan, is literate. He reads an Urdu newspaper (sadly, the wrong one, but that's because the relatively better ones are overpriced and unaffordable for most). He loves Dr Sher Shah's short stories. He can also read English signage and headlines and has been asking me for a cheap computer for his 7-year-old child (I am looking around). He wants the child to be tech savvy, because "ab iss kay sivaa chaara naheeñ ..."

Recently his brother, who runs a cab, fell very ill and had to undergo biopsies and numerous tests. When one of the reports arrived, it contained the usual indecipherable jargon that labs use so that you have to go back to the doc (with whom it's in league and has paid commission to for recommending it in the first place). You need to do this to be able to understand even that the tests are all clear.

I looked at it and said I'd ask my friend, Dr Shamim, and Ehsan said that he'd certainly like to follow this up as the report had indicated a heart or lung problem "üss mayñ 'pulmonary' ka lafz likha haé aur maeñ nay mohallay kay ayk la∂kay say Internet par check karvaaya to yeh matlab maaloom hua."

Story #2:

Our maid, Fatima, is illeterate but not innumerate. The latter hurdle she crossed when she got a phone at home during Karachi's killer days so that she and her sons who worked in factories could communicate. (She now has a cellphone, to keep in touch with her expanding family for whom she has slogged away over years of widowhood, during which, despite increasing illnesses and weakness, she has even saved and managed to help her sons build a small house.)

The other day I bought a Sandwich Grill and decided to teach how to use it. I had hardly begun to talk while opening the box when she said, "haañ, haañ, sahab ... do. Müjh ko aata hae." Surprised, I asked her if she owned one. "Naheeñ. Apan loag iss ka kyaa karayñgay. Maeñ nay to 'BBC Food' par daykh kar samjha hae!"

Delightful, na?

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

At the Dentist

OK ... so this woman walks in and from about five feet away stares hard at me and says in a really lovey tone, "When did you get this shirt?" ... then takes another step forward while pulling out her glasses (perhaps to examine my clothing at a closer range) and then suddenly stops and steps back and says "Shit. I thought you were someone else!"

This is for her:


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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Yayyy ... 'Windmills' is back!!!

Oh, I know not all of you feel that way about my blog ... but I do ;-)

Thank you, Sabeen, for spending so much time trying to get to the root of the problem and those endless and fruitless calls that you had to make, but you've got it going ...


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Sunday, December 14, 2008

And now for a Pakistani voice of reason ...

Pervez Hoodbhoy is a much respected (and detested - if you happen to be part of the establishment) scientist in Pakistan.

A policeman scuffles with renowned physicist
and social worker Prof. Pervez Hoodbhoy at
a demonstration organized by the Balochistan
Solidarity Front in front of Rawalpindi Press Club.

He was so hated by Pres Musharraf - obviously because of Pervez's anti-Nuclear stance and activism - that, at an international education conference in Pakistan, where PH was among those invited to speak, the organizers received a call to say that he should not be present in the hall while the President visits the conference to perform its Opening. Fortunately, PH was scheduled to be at the venue much after the opening, so nothing had to be done. However, even more stupid and disgusting was the fact that the copies of sheets containing the program that were to be handed to General Musharraf, merely for his sarsaree information, had to have PH's name removed - under orders from the President's staff who, effectively, deceived their boss into believing that PH was not going to speak at all. (Of course, this could have been the case of the staff doing more than what Musharraf would have wanted ... but it did create a very negative image of him for all of us.)

Anyway, here's a PDF file that can be downloaded to read the post-Mumbai analysis by one of the finest voices of reason in Pakistan.

Oh, and here's an lovely blogpost, on the same subject, by a friend that, apart from providing links to other writings, is an excellent journey through the author's own thought processes.

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Saturday, December 13, 2008

The missing piece

I am not even sure if this post will ever show up, since the previous one (which I can see in the 'Edit Posts' section) has disappeared, along with some comments of even the post before that, from the main blog. People have emailed me to ask if I had removed it under threat or 'advice'. Nopes. Nothing as exciting to report.

I had presented some voices of reason from India in the midst of the rather painful media role there, even allowing for the justifiable shock and anger of people after the Mumbai tragedy. Watching TV from both sides of the border, I can't help but see how poorly equipped we both seem to be when it comes to handling such stressing moments. And, contrary to the view that our media, or theirs, reflects the common view or the government view, I believe that in the pursuit of sheer sensationalism to attract eyeballs that, in turn, attract advertising revenues. the TV channels forsake all decency and actually mould the public opinion into hawkish frenzy. And the hell with the consequences: Wars. Deaths. Homeless. Maimed. Orphaned. In fact, those are probably viewed as what'll provide juice for their next bit of news. The show must go on! Also: Never mind the atrociousness and incongruity of the ad for some line of fashion goodies running at the bottom - replete with a celebrity raising a toast with the bubbly - while the images in the 'package' concurrently show poor, hungry, unclothed masses being visited by some fucking minister (who is the real focus of the story).

Lest you think I am some sort of neo-Luddite bashing the new media (which would really be funny, given my background) let me share an ad in an Indian paper - The Statesman, no less -that I found obnoxiously insensitive in view of its timing. I cannot totally convince myself that the keywords in the front-page ad and the headline of the day were coincidental. In fact, I suspect that the placement was hastily engineered for maximum mileage - and that makes it all the more horrifying. Of course, I could be wrong. But, then, had I been the Editor, I'd have cancelled the placement, told the advertiser the reason, and offered them the next best spot. I am sure they'd have agreed.

In this post, I'd like to share a hastily written piece by the delightful, sensitive actor-activist, Nandita Das. It was to be the first piece in the series, but since I had received it from her as part of a personal group mailing, I was not sure if it could be shared on the net. Since then, the piece has had public circulation, so - for those who missed it - here it is.

27th November 2008- A Stream of Consciousness - Nandita Das

It hadn't hit me hard enough till Thursday morning. At a friend's place the previous night, I did see some images of injured people being taken on stretchers, police looking around clueless, panic among people, TV anchor persons speaking in the same screaming, over enthusiastic, "exclusive" voice that they use when Rakhi Sawant hits her boyfriend.

I have to say, it had very little effect on me. My predictable response was, not again...more people will die, more fear, more prejudice and more hatred. But at some level the response was instant and cerebral. But this morning when I got up things felt different. Got a message from an unknown no. “See what your friends have done.” Strangely a close friend of mine got a similar message last night, but from an acquaintance. Just because Firaaq, my film, deals with how Muslims ‘also’ get affected by violence, the terrorists are supposed to be my friends! Today a common young Muslim man around town is probably the most vulnerable. I got many messages from my Muslim friends who feel the need to condemn it more than anyone else, who feel the need to prove their national allegiance in every possible way. They are begging to be not clubbed with the terrorists, a fear not unfounded. Then of course there were tons of messages from well wishers across the world who asked about me and my loved ones’ safety. I too did the same. And strangely that was when tears started rolling down my cheek, almost involuntarily. Guess the thought that if our loved ones were fine, it’s all ok, seemed like a bizarre way to feel. When will our souls ache when anyone is hurt, even those that we have never seen and will never see? The more I wrote back in sms's and emails that I was ok, the more miserable I was feeling.

Catharsis or letting out of emotions is an amazing thing. It brings out things from all hidden corners. I always saw myself as being strong and so has everyone else perceived me as. And here I was bawling for reasons I myself didn’t understand. It was like a stream of consciousness flowing from somewhere else. At one level, felt like everything was futile. So much anger, hatred, aggression...what has the world come to. While talking about Firaaq I have often said, the one thing we can change in the world is our response to things that happen around us - violence, prejudice, hatred. The line rung in my ear and I felt ashamed of all the times I had been angry. Of course it often seems justifiable, from one’s point of view, and insignificant as compared to the acts of aggression that we have been seeing all of last night. But isn’t there a seed of aggression in many of us and in varying degrees? Doesn’t it shock us sometimes what we are capable of doing or saying? We are horrified at a young man cold-bloodedly killing people with a gun, at a man raping a small girl child, at a woman being burnt alive for dowry, but are they all just aberrations and evil people, or could they be someone we might have seen, or worked with or passed by? Individual anger also gives rise to collective anger and thereby to the politics of hate. Anyway, it is not about understanding the power of hate theoretically. I never want to water this seed of anger in me anymore. It may take a long time for the rippling effect to happen where each of our positive energies change the world. But the resolution itself is drying my tears and giving me a task to do, a reason to carry on.

But the question still remains, what now? Should I carry on with business as usual, not out of apathy, but to defeat the desired impact of the terrorists? Their agenda is to get us into a panic and create an atmosphere of fear. What if I refuse to give them what they want? But on the flip side, what if I am unable to go on with business as usual? What if it is anguishing me in a way that I cannot ignore it and want to engage with it. As there is always a danger of becoming self absorbed in our own narrow world. In fact that is what is increasingly happening to many of us, the privileged Urban class. Often that is the reason given to me for not watching “serious films”. Conveniently it is said, “I have enough tension, why would I want to see more of the reality instead of some escapist fun.” But then when other existing realities intrude the calm of our realities, we are unable to deal with it. So what do we do?

While struggling with this dilemma, I was at least spared the horrific images and news in the morning, as where I stay in Bombay, at a friend’s house which unusually neither has a TV nor does she get the newspaper. So I was blissfully ignorant of all the developing news. And then on the flight that I took to come back home to Delhi, I saw those horrifying images that most people must have seen all night. I could feel my stomach churn, but what churned it further were the other pages that surpassed all definitions of ‘business as usual’. One had a page about fringe hairstyle coming back into fashion. The other about some speculation about Monica Bedi wanting to marry Rahul Mahajan and other such earth shattering news. My head spun as I tried to process my emotions. Every day the paper is filled with all this and when the memory of this horrifying day will fade away, it will not seem grotesque any more to have all of that again. So then why leave it out just today? But isn’t there a day in a year that we can actually mourn and register our protest against such violence in a less matter of fact way? Isn’t there a way that we don’t celebrate for a week and somehow put all our resources to get our police better equipped with their bullet proof jackets and ammunitions? Isn’t there a way of feeling national pride by protecting innocent people from being killed with better security measures than using up crores to send our national flag to the moon? Can somebody think of a master plan by which we can all be engaged in making the world a better place? Isn’t there a way that aggression doesn’t ever take such strong roots to cause such violence?

When I see these 20-22year old boys, I am also filled with deep sadness and simple curiosity about what could have got them to where they are. Is it that we all want a purpose in life and so when a young boy caught at that crossroad is given a mission that suddenly increases his self worth, he grabs it? Is the world making them feel so small that when a particular identity is thrown at them, they want to cling on to it with all their might? No doubt that these are extreme cases and huge amount of strategic brain washing has gone into it. But as we know, no one is born evil and let’s say till 10 years a child is still a child. What is it that happens in this tender mind in the growing up years that gives him the will to even lay his life? Is there a way these misguided boys can be saved? It is not an act of charity, but if we have to save ourselves, we have to save everyone else. I got a strange message from a TV journalist that said “Forgiving a terrorist should be left to God. But fixing their appointment with God, is entirely our responsibility. - Indian Army”. Change the word terrorist to Americans/Hindus/Muslims and sign it off by the Terrorist and the meaning is not too different. Such anger, such hatred in a ‘common man’ to me is no less scary. There has to a way out of this vicious cycle, beyond an eye for eye.

I have no idea what I am feeling anymore. It is all muddled and contradictory thoughts are finding its little corners in the mind. All I know is that we can’t afford to be cynical, even in the face of so much hatred and violence, or else it will get only worse. In the morning making Firaaq seemed meaningless, but as I type away furiously, hoping to catch up with the speed of my emotions, I feel I want to share the film with everyone, more than ever before. Because I know this day will end but the residue it will leave, will linger long after, in the form of fear, anger, prejudice, revenge, and will slowly become part of our psyche. We have to save ourselves from all this and have to find a way to understand, empathise and love. All these beautiful words I know have lost their meaning and sound either clichéd or pretentious. We have to reclaim these and make it part of our life, with all our might.


Thanks, ND

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Thursday, December 11, 2008

The extremes

That there are sane voices within India has never been a matter of doubt for me. There used to be many here, too, once. But ours have been stilled over the years. Events like the recent Mumbai massacre have left many of us in shock for not just the specific tragedy but where this could lead. The insane elements, on both sides - more vocal in India in this particular case, but that's understandable in view of the nature of the event - are crying for blood and more, all the way to Simi Garewal suggesting the carpet-bombing of Pakistan. An analyst here says we should go to war because of India's accusations ... we are sure to win, he is sure, "because Hindus are cowards". And then we have the illustrious R. Vaidyanathan, a Professor at Indian Institute of Management [IIM], Bangalore, who, in his RSS-linked views offers- among a lot of other shit - this logic: "I am amazed that a country of a billion is required even to furnish proof. If one-sixth of humanity says that the terrorist state of Pakistan is the root cause of global terrorism -- it is factual."

I have often pointed my readers to my dear friend Tarun's writings and to his brainchild, Tehelka. Today I want to feature a piece by another friend, whom I admire immensely and feel very privileged to know. I am sure that many of you are familiar with the brilliant and daringly honest work of Anand Patwardhan, who tells us, "The Times of India rejected this and the Hindustan Times sat on it for 10 days but, yesterday, carried a badly truncated version." So here is what only a few of us got to read. Please give it wider reading.

Terror: The Aftermath

The attack on Mumbai is over. Nearly 200 dead. And now, after heart-rending stories of bereavement, come the repercussions, the blame game and the “solutions”. Loud voices, amplified by saturation TV demanding: Why don’t we amend our Constitution and create new anti-terror laws? Why don’t we arm our police with AK 47s? Why don’t we do what Israel did after Munich or the USA did after 9/11 and hit terror camps across the border? Solutions that can only lead us further into the abyss. For terror is a self-fulfilling prophecy. It thrives on reaction, polarization and militarization. The only thing that can undermine it is that which least occurs to those thirsting for revenge.

The External Terror

Those who invoke America need only to analyse whether their actions after 9/11 increased or decreased global terror. The neo-cons invaded oil-rich Iraq knowing fully well that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. The war on Iraq killed over 200,000 Iraqis and several thousand Americans and allowed a cornered Bin Laden to escape. It also recruited global support for Islamic militancy, which began to be seen as a just resistance against American mass murder. Which begs the question of who created Bin Laden in the first place, armed the madarsas of Pakistan and rejuvenated the concept of Islamic jehad? Remember that at the height of the Cold War it was Communism that was the enemy and Islamic jehad, the friend.

Israel’s historic role in stoking the fires of jehad is equally great. The very creation of Israel in 1948 robbed Palestinians of their land, an act that Mahatma Gandhi to his credit deplored at the time as an unjust way to redress the wrongs done to Jews during the Holocaust. What followed has been a slow and continuing genocide of the Palestinian nation. At first Palestinian resistance was led by secular forces represented by Yasser Arafat but as Israel/America successfully undermined Arafat and secular Palestinians, Islamic forces took over the mantle. When the first largely non-violent Intifada was crushed, a second more violent one replaced it and when all else failed, human bombs appeared. 

Thirty years ago when I first went abroad there were two countries my passport forbade me to visit. One was racist South Africa. The other was Israel. We were a non-aligned nation that stood for disarmament and world peace. Today Israel and America are our biggest allies and military partners. Is it surprising that we are on the jehadi hit list? Israel, America and other prosperous countries can to an extent protect themselves against the determined jehadi, but can India put an impenetrable shield over itself? Remember that when attackers are on a suicide mission, the strongest shields have crumbled. New York was laid low not with nuclear weapons but with a pair of box cutters. Yet those who perhaps first infected the world with the virus are also ready with the anti-virus. So Mossad, the FBI and Scotland Yard have arrived in Mumbai to investigate terror and suggest the remedy.

The Terror Within

India is for many reasons a quintessentially soft target. Our huge population and vast landmass and coastline are impossible to protect. The rich may build new barricades. The Taj and the Oberoi can be made safer. So can our airports and planes. Can our railway stations and trains, bus stops, busses, markets and lanes do the same? 

The threat of terror in India does not come exclusively from the outside, no matter how quickly the finger is pointed outwards. For apart from being enormously populated by the poor, India is also a country divided, not just between rich and poor, but by religion, caste and language. This internal divide is as potent a breeding ground for terror as jehadi camps abroad. 

Nor is jehad the copyright of one religion alone. It can be argued that international causes apart, India has jehadis that are fully home grown. Perhaps the earliest famous one was Nathuram Godse who acting at the behest of his mentor Vinayak Savarkar (still considered to be “Veer” or “brave” although he refused to own up to his role in the conspiracy) murdered Mahatma Gandhi for having championed the cause of Muslims.

Let us jump to 6 December, 1992, the day Hindu fanatics demolished the Babri Mosque setting into motion a chain of events that still wreaks havoc. From the Bombay riots of 1992 to the bomb blasts of 1993, the Gujarat pogroms of 2002 to the present massacre in Mumbai, not to mention hundreds of smaller but nevertheless deadly events in between, the last 16 years have been the bloodiest since Partition. Action has been followed by reaction in an endless cycle of escalating retribution. At the core on the Hindu side of terror are organizations like the RSS and the Shiv Sena, both open admirers of Adolph Hitler, nursing the hate of historic wrongs inflicted by Muslims of the medeival past. A small irony here is that these votaries of Hitler are friends and admirers of Israel.

On the Muslim side of terror are scores of disaffected youth, many of whom have seen their families tortured and killed in more recent pogroms. Christians too have fallen victim to recent Hindu terror but as yet have not formed the mechanisms for revenge. Dalits too have not yet retaliated in violence despite centuries of caste oppression, although a small fraction may be drawn into the armed struggle waged by Naxalites.

It is clear that no amount of spending on defense, no amount of patrolling the high seas, no amount of increasing the military and police and equipping them with the latest weaponry will end the cycle of violence or place India under a bubble of safety. Just as nuclear India did not lead to more safety, but only to Pakistan becoming nuclear and both countries becoming that much poorer, no amount of homeland security can save us. And inviting Israel and America to the security table will only make us more of a target for the next determined terrorist attack.

Policing, Justice and the Media

As for draconian anti-terror laws, they too can only breed more terror as for the most part they are implemented by a State machinery that has imbibed the assumption that Muslims are the prime source of all terror. So in Narendra Modi’s Gujarat after the ethnic cleansing of Muslims in 2002, despite scores of confessions about rape and murder being captured on hidden camera, virtually no Hindu militants were punished by the State while thousands of Muslims rotted in jail under draconian laws. The same happened in Bombay despite the Shiv Sena being found guilty by the Justice Shrikrishna Commission. Under pressure a few such cases were finally brought to trial but everyone escaped with the lightest of knuckle raps. In stark contrast many Muslims accused in the 1993 bomb blasts were given death sentences.

The bulk of our media, policing and judicial systems swallows the canard that Muslims are by nature more prone to violence. Removing democratic safeguards guaranteed by the Constitution can only make this worse. Every act of wrongful imprisonment and torture that follows is likely then to turn innocents into material for future terrorists to draw upon. Already the double standards are visible for all to see. The Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) was banned on grounds that could not stand up to legal scrutiny. With far more evidence against them, predominantly Hindu outfits like the RSS, the VHP, the Bajrang Dal, the Shiv Sena and the MNS remain legal entities. The leader of the latter, Raj Thackeray openly spread such hatred that many north Indians were recently killed by lynch mobs. Amongst these were the Dubey brothers, doctors from Kalyan who treated the poor for a grand fee of Rs.10 per patient. Raj Thackeray like his uncle Bal before him, remains free after issuing public threats that Bombay would burn if anyone had the guts to arrest him. Narendra Modi remains free despite the pogroms of Gujarat. Congress party murderers of Sikhs in 1984 remain free. Justice in India is clearly not there for all. Increasing the powers of the police cannot solve this problem. Only the honest and unbiased implementation of laws that exist, can.

It is a tragedy of the highest proportions that one such honest policeman, ATS chief Hemant Karkare, who had begun to unravel the thread of Hindutva terror was himself gunned down, perhaps by Muslim terror. I say perhaps because I cannot automatically believe every story that emerges from the police or from the media, however convincing it may first sound. All I will say at the moment is that the evidence on record points to another historic irony. The people who had the most to gain from Hemant Karkare’s death were the Hindutva bomb makers, sponsors and planters, from Col. Purohit to Sadhvi Pragya. It is reported that these elements now in judicial custody actually celebrated the news of Karkare’s death. Until Karkare took charge, the Malegaon bomb blasts in which Muslims were killed and the Samjhauta Express blasts in which Pakistanis were killed were being blamed on Muslim terror. Karkare exposed a hitherto unknown Hindu outfit as masterminding a series of killer blasts across the country. For his pains Karkare came under attack not just from militant Hindus but from the mainstream BJP. Such was the viciousness of the attack that Karkare was under pressure to prove his patriotism. Was it this that led this senior officer to don helmet and ill-fitting bullet proof vest and rush into battle with a pistol? Or was it just his natural instinct, the same courage that had led him to expose Hindutva terror when popular sentiment was stacked against him?

Whatever it was, if indeed he was killed by Muslim terrorists, it only underlines the fact that jehadis of all kinds are actually allies of each other. So Bin Laden served George Bush and his neo-cons and vice-versa. So Islamic and Hindutva jehadis have served each other for years. Do they care who dies? Of the 200 people killed in the last few days by Islamic jehadis, a high number, specially at Shivaji Terminus, were Muslims. Many were waiting to board trains to celebrate Eid in their hometowns in UP and Bihar, when co-religionists gunned them down. Shockingly the media has not commented on this, nor for that matter has it focused at all on the tragedy at the railway station, choosing to concentrate almost entirely on tragedies that befell the more well-to-do. And shockingly it is the media that is leading the charge to turn us into a police state where we may lead lives with an illusion of safety, but with the certainty of joylessness.

I am not arguing that we do not need basic security at public places and at vulnerable sites. But real security will only come when it is accompanied by real justice, when the principles of democracy are extended to every part of the country, when the legitimate grievances of people are not crushed with an iron heel, when the arms race is replaced by a race for decency and humanity, when our children grow up in an atmosphere where religious faith is put to the test of reason. Until such time we will remain at the mercy of “patriots” and zealots.

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Tuesday, December 09, 2008

So, it's Eed again...

At least the official day is here, whether or not we are in a mood to celebrate Eed or not, given the daily tragedies of lives the world over. That is if you care for lives other than your own.

Unless, of course, if you happen to be a celebrity who enjoys this country's support to reach fame but lives 'above' are 'aloof' from its people.

Like someone called Aminah Sheikh (sorry, I Googled her and nothing remotely relevant showed up on the first two pages so I remain ignorant about her). She is featured in today's The News | You | Starry Eid, so I assume she's a star or a model or something (and presumably not the same person I heard went to the sensitive Hampshire College). I was a bit taken aback to read her statement, "... Most people just want the situation to calm down and celebrate with their family and friends. The Muhajir-Pathan chaos is at a very distance level from all of us and none of us can really comment on the feud ..." 

(All of us, Miss Sheikh? I suspect The News must have Muhajir-Pathan readers, including some who have suffered from the results of 'the feud'. So, who is the us here?)

Or like Ali Azmat, who may further the virus of apathy between our various cities through inanities like this.

I mean in this day and age, while he is not too ill to grant media interviews, surely he could watch or hear the news and show a little more concern for a city that is home to a horde of his fans.

(To me, Ali, you are not 'sick at home', you are just sick. Period. Perhaps you and Ms. Sheikh should read the views of a Ms. Angie Marshall, who also appears in the same feature.)

As for me, I am with Mus'hafi:

(BTW, horrifying as these days are from the animal's - and humane - point of view, this link, sent in by Isa Daudpota, takes you to what else we do to the poor creatures.)

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Monday, December 08, 2008

India 5: An Uncanny Tale - The Epilogue

Well, not quite. Just sharing a few things.

The response to my Gupta Cha posts (Part 1 and Part 2) was overwhelming and completely bowled me over. And having them featured on ATP was fantastic, given the number of visitors who visit that remarkable site.

Then, just as Indian and Pakistani comments and emails about it began to understandably dwindle with time, the dreadful Mumbai Massacre struck. I blogged on the morning of December 2nd about it. The post got a few visits and drew one comment by the end of the day. After all, it wasn't a unique post. Millions were - once they got their eyeballs off their TV screens - reading the news, live accounts, conflicting reports, seasoned analysts, and far better blogs than mine.

The sole comment had come from a Sarah Islam, who, I think was a first-time visitor to my blog. This led to an exchange in the comments section that ended on a warm note. The next morning, I received an email from her ... and the few exchanges that followed are being reproduced here - with her permission (she probably succumbed to my 'threat') - as I think her story is worth sharing and contains much food for thought.

Dear Mr. Kidvai

I have just read your blog entry entitled 'An Uncanny Tale...' about Gupta cha. This is absolutely beautiful! Are you seriously working on your novel "Ships and Shoes and SealingWax"? Are you then looking for a publisher or have you already spoken to someone? I could help you look for one here in India.
You keep saying that you are a non writer, but I assure you that your writing has really touched me. I am dying to read the rest of your story and I am sure that a couple of thousand other people would be too :)

I was born in Libya in 1971 to a Punjabi mother from Lahore and a Bangladeshi father whose family had fled to Dhaka (Dacca as it was called then) from Calcutta (now Kolkata :) ). My family and I lived in Lahore in the 90's and moved back to Dacca in 1998 after the death of my father. I met my husband there and now I am happily married and live in Calcutta! So you can say that life has now come full circle for me! My husband Sukhendu and I struggled with all the prejudices that people in all the three countries live with and also certain opinions that we had been brought up with. Now I am proud to say that we have reached a peaceful stage where the blinkers have literally been taken off of our eyes :)

Sukhendu and I read your story about Gupta Cha together and cried when we reached the end. Please let us know if we can help in any way for you to finish your book and publish it so other people can also read your story.



Dear Sarah
(and Sukhendu)

I am very touched by your comments and also thank you for sharing your own past, briefly, with me.

Ships and Shoes and SealingWax is not intended to be a novel - I would not even dare undertake such a venture. It is being written, mainly, in response to pressure from my daughter, Ragni, and my almost-adopted daughter, Sabeen (both of whom you will encounter if you go through my blog archives). The book will, in all probability, be almost blog-like: anecdotal and all over the place! Though I hope to bring some continuity into it.

Do write back and tell me more about yourselves and your family. Where do you live? What do you do? Why not share stories on a blog about your own unique experiences and difficulties that you defeated to reach today's peaceful life?



Dear Mr. Kidvai

I am so happy to hear back from you!

We live in Lake Gardens which is beind Jodhpur Park in South Kolkata. I wonder if you know the place? My husband and I both worked in advertising, he is now creative director (art) at Ogilvy & Mather and I used to be a copywriter but am only writing freelance pieces for magazines now.

We met in 1998 in Dhaka where we both worked for McCann Erickson. I had a huge chip on my shoulder as I had just returned from Pakistan and him being Indian was enough reason for me to contradict everything he said ... hahaha :-) My family had returned from Libya in 1989 and decided to settle down in Dhaka. But after a few years, my mother packed off my brother Amber to Aitchison College in Lahore and my sister Reema and I to Lahore. So that is how we landed up in Pakistan. My parents joined us for a while but for most of the time, my sister and I lived with my nani amma on Nisbet Road.

After we got married in 2004, my mother was very unhappy with my decision as she had seen the carnage in Amritsar and, later on, on the train to Lahore. She was only 6 at the time but she can recall certain events very clearly. I can understand that, as the events must have been pretty horrible and must have been burnt on her brain. She met my father Dr. Nurul Islam in Benghazi (Libya) and their marriage in 1970, too, was quite controversial as there was talk of East Pakistan asking for independence from West Pakistan.

Anyway, I was brought up in a house where both cultures, Punjabi and Bengali, were very much in evidence and I was very happy as a child and most of my time was spent chasing after butterflies, making mud pies and reading from the ancient books that my grandfather had left us and the newer books that we bought every now and then. My mother was adamant that we should learn Urdu as she is of the opinion that having Urdu as our first language would help us speak beautifully and articulately. She was and still is a stickler for the right pronunciation:-) So we went to the Pak Libya School that was run by the Pakistani Embassy in Benghazi. For nurturing our Bengali heritage we were dutifully packed off for singing, dancing and Bangla lessons at Hafiz uncle's house. So at school we spoke in Pidgin Italian, a bit of Arabic and Punjabi/Urdu, at home we spoke in Urdu and English and Bengali for some of our guests and in front of my father (especially when he was cross) :-)

I was brought up in a liberal household but after my father's death in 1998, my mother suddenly discovered her Pakhtun roots (my grandfather had settled in Lahore but was originally from Swat) and started attending Quran classes and sympathizing with the radical Islamization of Bangladesh. This was a shock for me and I rebelled. Over the years my distance from my mother and her views became considerable. Now we are talking again and things are getting better :-)

In the beginning, I would get very defensive with Sukhendu whenever something like the BJP used to come up in conversations but then I was reminded of a story that I think has largely shaped my thinking. At school I learnt from textbooks that one Rashid Minhas was the recipient of the Nishaan-e-Haider and a brave and valiant soldier who had grappled with the Bengali flight Instructor, Flight Lietenant Matiur Rahman who was a traitor. I grew up hero worshipping Minhas. When I came back to Bangladesh, I was shocked to learn that for the Bengalis it was Matiur Rahman who was the hero and not Rashid Minhas, who they considered the enemy. I realized then that the history of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh is so intertwined and so full of passion and extraordinary circumstances that it is impossible to take sides. Both men as I see it today were heroes and valiant soldiers who just happened to be on opposite sides of the cause. It was an accident of birth.

This realization has, on one side, liberated me and, on the other side, saddened me beyond imagination. This means that we will always be at each other's throats and no one will see the person but only the flag that he is wrapped in. Of course I am exagerating, but I am telling my story fully for the first time. I think you will understand the confusing identities that I live with and also that there will always be people who will rise above pettiness :-)

Thanks for listening to me. God bless!


Dear Sarah

Wow! And you want me to write [down] my stories?

Blog this just the way you've written it to me. At the moment it's a request but can be used as threat by saying I'll publish it on my blog ;-) It's real tales such as yours that will ensure that the only things we all really need to burn is not each other's flags but our own if peace is what we want.

All the best.

PS: I hope you won't be offended at my saying this, but as an anti-nationalist, I would not accept that both RM & MR were heroes. They were just simpletons, brain-washed into committing such acts. But that, of course, pre-supposes that the story, itself, is true. There are some in the Air Force[s] who have, since, cast doubts on the veracity of the entire tale and think it was a crash that the PR-minded in Pakistan decided to use to advantage and the BD people, naturally, made the best of it. Who knows.

So it goes ...


I just LOVE the technology that has made all this possible, so here's to Doug Englebart, Alan Kay, the two Steves, Bill (huh? who he?), Tim-Berners-Lee, and hosts of others. May the FSM bless you all.

Oh, and Sarah now has a blog :-)

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Mumbai & The Media Circus

Enveloping that rare (and ever unconfirmable) commodity, FACT, there are rumours, knee-jerk reports, denials, counter-denials, planted stories, cooked-up videos, government leaks, 'experts' (the stress presumably on the first syllable), disinformation, misinformation, analyses that require analyses, investigative reporting tinged with biases, and soundbites from the proverbial '[wo]man on the street' - as if s/he could possibly reach an informed judgement after being subjected to the above. 

Will the truth (whatever that means) ever out? Was Sahir right: Khoon phir khoon hae, tapkay ga to jam jaaé ga ... ?

In the political and emotional aftermath that engulfed many on both sides, the larger picture has been lost. The reasons for such incidents are often traced back to the twin evils that clearly plague us on both sides: a nationalism that borders on the absurd and a fundamentalism not merely confined to religious ideas.

Religious extremism gets the bulk of the blame. But what of the causes of religious extremism itself? While religion has always provided a fertile ground to sow the seeds of hatred in, most religious people I knew in the past were not fundamentalists or extremists or terrorists. Is there a more recent malaise that has reaped the current crop? 

Those of you who have read many of my previous posts must be aware that I love Tarun Tejpal. I consider him the only male member of my 'acquired' family that boasted (until I met him) only sisters and daughters. Had rakhsha bandhan been also a same-gender practice (but all sorts of those are apparently unacceptable in our societies) I'd have formally made him my younger brother.

The Writing On The Wall

Tehelka lost a close associate in Rohinton Maloo, one of the earliest victims of the recent carnage, shot in cold-blood at the Oberoi. In writing about him, Tarun has written one of the finest pieces on the event, the most sensible and touching, so far, among those I have come across. I thought I'd share it with you all. So, please download it read it, and pass it on.

It's not just about India. It's about all of us.

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Wednesday, December 03, 2008

As I was saying ...

... and what analysis of Pakistani views on anything would ever be complete without a word from the inimitable Oracle, himself. (NFP: We all owe you one!)

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Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Hope is all we have ...

We sit and watch
In horror
As "their" Mumbai explodes.

We sit and watch
in horror
As "our" Karachi implodes.

We Sit!
And we Watch!

1.12.2008 4:32 AM

I fear that, soon, neither will remain theirs or ours.

Whatever happened in Mumbai is terrible, regardless of the deep causes or the origins of the perpetrators - and a mixed bag, they were, to be sure. But what now?

Fellow Pakistanis I spoke with - and I spoke with the educated, the politically conscious, the liberal, the peace activist - followed, for the most part, a similar pattern: Horror, disgust, sympathy. But soon, to a [wo]man, their mood changed to anger at the blame being laid upon them, en masse, by the Indian media. This attitude was triggered off by a rather quick official reaction that should not be discarded as merely knee-jerk. 

Why, thought many, should the Indian media say Pakistan did it? Where and how did they get the proof so early? Even if some or most of the culprits turn out to be Pakistanis, it does not mean that this country was/is involved, or that its people support this. Or even that an Army - trying to build its reputation back as a non-political entity (good luck!) - would encourage such a provocation. Or that the current government would have not prevented it if it could. Yes. If it could!

The fact is that the same people - what difference what passports they hold, for they are one nation in their own eyes - bomb and kill and maim people in Pakistan everyday. And blow up places all over the world.

So, let's be realistic.

The Indian public reaction was, totally understandably, one of absolute shock, disbelief, and fear. Anger is always a natural response. And there was a lot of it. Against a weak and failing government - and one that the BJP/RSS-infested Maharashtra would like to see the back of. Against a poor intelligence system that let so many terrorists in and recce the place and plan this dastardly act almost at leisure. Against a retaliatory force that just wasn't equipped as finely as the terrorists. Against the unfulfilled promises of security. And, yes, against Muslims and Pakistan. 

A quick bit of choreography is all it takes, on either side, to turn the focus of all our hatreds to the other side of the border. It helps avoid looking internally. There is a slight difference, though. Our ills (including the latest Karachi riots) are declared to be caused by 'Foreign Hands', but India comes in at 2nd place, after the USA-Israel (aka Jews ... aka Zionists) nexus. And the local Hindu population is never 'suspect'. In India, by contrast, it's always Pakistan. And the local Muslim population gets to bear some of that brunt. Read the recent Tehelka stories about SIMI that have angered many.

Even before one of the humans in these sad dramas dies, Truth is laid to rest, killed by that most potent of weapons: Rumour. Government officials, worried that their asses are on line, rush out to make several contradictory statements and a gullible, hungry-for-something public, instead of logically seeing that such mutually exclusive bits can only be lies, mixes them all up into one big conspiratorial khich∂ee and swallows it.
I recall that when a mandir was attacked by some militants in India, the terrorist gunned down was alleged to be a Pakistani because a Lahore cinema ticket was found in his shirt pocket. Why the eff do these idiots need to carry ID cards, passports, and other things has always puzzled me. But a cinema ticket? And that, too, of a movie house that closed down years ago? That's really pushing it. When I informed my Indian friends (I was in Dilli at the time) about the cinema house's non-existence, they laughed and said "yaar yeh to tüm bhi kartay ho!" ... True. But laughable? In the comfort of that merry drawing room, yes. But, do they not understand that, outside somewhere, some Indian Hindu, misled by this, is about to hit back at an innocent Muslim, whose family - in turn - will kill another innocent Hindu, soon.
While reporting/commenting on these incidents, the electronic media has another problem: It has to 'beat' its competition by reporting things before they do, accuracy be damned! And every rectoid in town wants 15 minutes of glory to be on TV, to be hailed as an analyst. This last word describes some of them better if  broken into two syllables. 

Flicking to an Indian TV channel, I saw a General from Kolkata ... (I assumed from the "Retd." on the ticker that he had retired, though listening to him I wondered if the abbreviation was for 'Retarded') ... holding forth, as they generally do. (Who, other than a Pakistani, can say this with authority gained from experience?)  --- After having watched the repeated images of the young gunmen - one looked like just a teenager - I found it incomprehensible when this nutcase suggested that these were all Pakistani Servicemen with years of training (the ticker said "7-10 years") who were probaly sent 'on leave' by the Pak army to take part in this. Aaargh.

Minutes later, I switched to a program on Dawn TV, where a panel of distinguished Pakistani journalists (in my order of preference: Talat Husain, Naseem Zehra, Hamid Mir) had a discussion on the Indian Media's reporting of the Mumbai tragedy. Agree with them on everything, or not, the discussion was worth hearing. Talat was lucid and clear. Naseem was honest and straight-forward. However, given that I rate HM as the lowest among them, I thought he was being just plain stupid when he stated that the reason some Indian media may have jumped to the conclusion that the Deccan Mujahideen were Pakistani was because they did not realize that Hyderabad Deccan was not the same as Hyderbad Sindh. "Aww. C'mon. Gimme a break!" I thought.  But my apologies to Hamid Sahab. What happened soon after would make me believe anything. A senior Indian Journalist from CNN IBN was asked via phonelink for his comments about this quick-to-blame game ... and he said that numbers on the terrorists cellphones had been traced to "Jalalabad and other Pakistani cities".
Talat was quick to point out that, until 30 minutes ago, when he last looked, Jalalabad was still in Afghanistan ;-)
Fact-checking is a no-no in neo-journalism - particularly the electronic media, where the reporting needs to be instantaneous. With mushrooming channels and minimal training, in a society where it is assumed that (and I was told this, by the head of a channel, in defense of a wrongly reported item) "Loag to jaldee bhool hee jaatay haeñ - no harm done! Ha Ha!", how does one alter these things? I find no ready answers.

"Media rarely pauses to analyse itself as it hurtles from one breaking story to another", says Kalpana Sharma, in Tehelka, whose editor, Tarun, continues to pay a heavy price for his bravado and commitment. (He is now accused by Hindutva assholes of being an ISI and SIMI collaborator!)

We all - on both sides - need to be clear that this is not merely a cross-border battle. It is part of a much larger game in which we are both victims. And the stakes are getting higher by the minute. As Nandita Das wrote at the very end of her email to some of us on the morning after:
We have to save ourselves from all this and have to find a way to understand, empathise and love. All these beautiful words I know have lost their meaning and sound either clichéd or pretentious. We have to reclaim these and make them part of our life, with all our might.
I'd like to point readers of this post to three other pieces: A Stratfor analysis that Awab has quoted in full. A post by Fawad which includes a bit by Deepak Chopra (he's not my kinda guy, but this is worth a listen). And this statement of concerned citizens across borders.


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