Archive for November, 2009


Posted in India, Politics with tags , , , , on November 27, 2009 by salaamreaders

It has been a year since 26/11/08, when a city, of almost two crore people, was held hostage for sixty hours by ten gunmen. The carnage left over 350 people dead including nine terrorists. The macabre drama was televised, live, by a host of TV channels- all promising exclusive action by their intrepid correspondents. Frankly, it was a little sick for them to have jostled for prime positions to cover it as if it were some theatrical performance. It seems, that, the terrorists were watching the show themselves and getting valuable updates on what the police were doing to flush them out.

The authorities were caught with their pants down-as always. The terrorists had managed to travel from Karachi to Mumbai, after hijacking an Indian fishing vessel, inspite of the Navy and the Coastguard. They managed to land on the shores of Mumbai, carrying arms and ammunition, without being challenged once by any of our policemen; who otherwise can be found harassing the common man everywhere. It was only at CST that a RPF policeman had the guts and the gumption to fire at them. But they walked away after mowing down innocent passengers in a hail of bullets.

It was after several hours that the police could make out that it was a well planned and executed operation  carried out by a suicide squad having some semblance of military training. By then the police had lost three senior officers who had been gunned down by two of the fidayeen. It looks as if these officers had no idea what they were up against. Imagine a vehicle full of armed policemen being cut down by two men, who had the time to throw out the bodies before driving away in the police vehicle! By the time anti terrorist squads could be deployed, hundreds had been killed by the terrorists. The situation came under control only after two and a half days. Nine terrorists were killed and one captured alive. The manner of his capture showed what normal policing could achieve. It was no fancy sharp shooter who captured him but an extraordinary policeman who had the courage to grapple with the armed terrorist. It was not institutional excellence but personal bravery which had carried the day for Mumbai police.

The sheer lack of common sense of the authorities was displayed by the way in which television crews were allowed to film the whole episode as if it were some tamasha. The streets around the epicenters of action were crowded by thousands of people who had come to have a dekho at what was happening. They were not a help in any way but a hindrance to the authorities who did nothing to keep these curious bystanders away. It looked as if a movie was being shot and not a life and death situation.

It’s been a year since then. As expected, it’s time again for the glitterati to adorn television studios. They are not amused, no sir, for the battle was carried to their haunts- South of Mumbai- this time. No one has heard one practical suggestion from them so far. They are all mouthing the well-known cliches-about how the political and bureaucratic classes are corrupt, how we must take the war deep inside Pakistan, etc. But what analysis can one expect from television debates where the issue hangs from one commercial break to another?

It is the time to face the truth. This was not the last outrage of this kind. There will be more in the future, not only in India but abroad also, for the perpetrators are willing to die in their so-called holy war. And we must be prepared. It is not the government alone who have to fight this war but common people also. We must be prepared to undergo the inconvenience of body frisking, intrusive camera surveillance, and police check posts-the works- while in public places. We must be prepared not to let our curiosity get the better of us and crowd places as we did during the last carnage. We are quick to appreciate the Israelis or the Americans on their handling os similar situations, but how many of us are prepared to face conscription like the Israelis or show the same kind of civic responsibilities as the Americans? Let us also be like them.

It’s also time to remember those who died in vain, for no fault of theirs. They were just unlucky-to have been in the wrong place at the wrong time. It could have been any one of us in their place, really.


Are you superstitious?

Posted in Trivia with tags , on November 26, 2009 by salaamreaders

My left eye was twitching  a few days ago and I was afraid, that, something was going to go amiss. That’s what I had been brought up to believe, you know. Much as I would have liked to believe, that, it was all nonsense, I could not get that persistent feeling of impending doom to go away. However, once I got busy in the tedium of the daily routine, I promptly forgot about the whole thing. It was later in the evening when someone scraped my car, in an area without much traffic, that I remembered the twitching eye again.

When I think about it, with my rational thinking cap on, I come to the conclusion, that, it was only an accident. One that could have happened, and had happened earlier also, on any given day irrespective of the twitch in the left eye. It had happened because the other driver was not driving carefully and it had nothing to do with my eye. I berate myself for falling prey to such superstitions, not befitting a rational and educated person. But somehow despite all the rationalization, there is that nagging feeling that maybe there is some truth in these matters. Maybe, it’s the way we have been brought up. It is difficult to wish away a life time’s training which inculcates these beliefs.

It is not that only Indians are superstitious. It is a world-wide phenomenon. The forms may vary but their essence is the same. How did superstitions grow in the first place? I think they may have evolved because of our collective experiences. Man-kind must have observed a pattern of events over a very long period of  time and may have come to associate certain effects to specific causes. That is why it is cultural. All societies have their peculiar experiences leading to typical forms of superstitions. Indians would like to believe that if a cat were to cross your path, the work you were going for would not be successfully accomplished. The cure, it seems, is to either return or take another route or even wait till someone else goes ahead of you. Another one is that if there is itching in the left palm, one is going to have to spend some money. If the itching is in the right palm, you are likely to get some money. In fact, anything to do with the left side is usually considered inauspicious.

One also likely to believe more in these things if one is feeling low or if things are not going his way generally. Maybe at such times, one feels more vulnerable and fears the worst. He would, therefore, not want to take any risk and try to resort to a remedy to overcome the bad effects of such omens. It is interesting to note that most ill omens have a remedy to overcome their ill effects. They were prescribed by the shaman or the medicine men and have continued since then.

If these are just superstitions without any rational basis, the only way to overcome them is not to teach them to our children and hopefully, they would go away in a generation or two. But it seems unlikely to happen, keeping in view how widespread they are.





November Musings

Posted in Books, India, Trivia with tags , , , , on November 25, 2009 by salaamreaders

When I started this blog, a friend said that statistics proved that most people gave up writing after a few posts. The reason was that they were discouraged by the luke warm response to their blogs and were, therefore, discouraged. I told him, that, I intended to write regularly and was not going to give up even if I did not receive any response. But it seems that my friend was right afterall! This post comes after a long hiatus. Actually, for some time after my last post, I was caught up in various professional matters. Later, when I  was relatively free, ennui and the sheer tedium of writing had overcome the desire to write. But, here I am again, after casting all self doubts aside. Hope I would not give up again.

I read somewhere that history was a nightmare from which people were constantly trying to awaken. How true! The way history is taught in our schools, it is one of the most boring subjects for many students. Frankly, I hardly remember what little history I was taught in the school. And I think I am not alone. Jawahar Lal Nehru, who wrote the most interesting books on history-Discovery of India and Glimpses of World History-  said that he “came late to history” as he did not learn much of it while at school. The same is true for most of us as we find history an endless succession of dates and dynasties only. It was perhaps this realization that made Nehru take up the writing of his books on history which became so popular the world over. The other books on Indian history that I have enjoyed reading are “The Wonder That Was India” by Basham and Rizvi. Actually, these are two books-Part I by Basham and II by Rizvi.

Thinking of Nehru, much as many people would like to debunk his politics, it has to be said that no other Indian politician, then or since then, except Gandhi, had written so extensively on such a variety of subjects. His felicity with the English language was wonderful and he had such a simple and lucid style which touched the hearts of his readers. How many politicians can you think of who had such breadth of vision and who expressed themselves so copiously and expressively?

November 14th was his birthday which is celebrated as children’s day in India. But gradually, it seems to be out of favour for when we were children, it was celebrated on a much wider and grander scale in schools. Apart from some token events, it seems to have been forgotten entirely. And it is no wonder because we have other more important issues to debate than infant mortality, malnutrition, female foeticide,illiteracy, problems of street children and the like! In fact, these and other children related issues hardly ever become the focus of our attention, even at election times, when all political parties are at their best in inculding as many issues as possible in their manifestoes.

It is late November and winter seems to have set in the North. The days have become shorter and it gets dark by 6 pm. Migratory birds have started arriving for their winter sojourn in the ponds and lakes of North India. We have roses blooming and the winter annuals are eagerly awaited. It is the season of weddings too. Marriage halls and other venues are bedecked like the brides themselves and marriage processions can be encountered on roads with the groom astride the white mare. Now a days these processions or baraats as they are called do not evoke the same interest as in earlier days. A baraat used to be an event calculated to show off. The more the merrier used to be the mantra then. Brass bands, shehnai, chariots, elephants, fireworks-all were employed to impress the bride’s people in particular and every one else in general. In fact, a baraat coming down the street with the band playing popular bollywood tunes used to be an occasion for the neighbourhood to come out on their balconies to watch the extragavanza. Now many grooms refuse to sit astride mares and lead a procession of drunk relatives jiving uncontrollably through the streets. But times are changing and we must change with them.

Soon we will be in the grip of cold wave and await Santa with his sackful of goodies. So long then.

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