Thursday, November 27, 2008

A conversation

The following is an actual conversation I had with a friend following the terror attacks. It gives an insight as to just how much we lie paralyzed within our own thought process. A classic example of the malaise afflicting us (mind you, this is not pointing fingers at any one person, but an exposition of the lacunae in our thought process).
Me: you guys ok?

Friend: fine buddy, how r ur folks in Mumbai?

Me: dad is ok, mum is in A'bad.

Friend: ok nice, seriously man, this city is growing from bad to worse.

Me: yeah, I know!

Friend: shootin in broad daylight is just the beginning.

Me: it’s just not the city…

Friend: security is f@#$ed up.

Me: it’s the whole nation…

Friend: yeah u r right.

Me: no, it’s not the security, it’s us

Friend: it is the whole nation.

Me: we are messed up.

Friend: y do u say dat......

Me: tell me something, why on earth would some security agency bother, when we ourselves are going to forget about this incident (as we have forgotten all the previous ones) in the next fortnight…

Friend: what can we possibly do to change the situation (This is exactly the thought that cripples us to submission); cmmon man, the incident of the 92 blast, the riots are still fresh in my mind...

Me: well, for a change, we can voluntarily bring the city to a standstill demanding from the Govt. our right to live, yes, the scene is still fresh in our minds, but what have we done about it; have we demanded an elaborate security measure, have we bothered to join hands with each and every mumbaikar, to give thumbs down to the Govt. for their ineptitude; no, we haven't, and so, we continue to get mowed down.

Friend: for dat, we have to gather people n stand together.....which probably will never happen (and since everybody believes that same thing, it never happens)

me: exactly, that thought process has already killed us, coz we believe that it won't happen but imagine, if all of us believed that it is possible…

Friend: I know it is possible......

Me: then, the situation does a volte face…

Friend: I need support I can’t do it alone (and so we wait, each for the other's support, whereas none arrive)

Me: no, you need to give support, all of us need to give support than just sit and twiddle our thumbs and wait for support to come...

Friend: hmmmmm…

To be quite honest, it’s not the government, or the fact that we are ‘common people’ that is lowering us into a morass of helplessness. It’s just that the current scenario calls upon us to relinquish the joys of our cushy ambience and take up the responsibility of holding the government accountable (After all, who would want to take up a crusade against the machinations of the state after a ‘hard day’s work'). Each one of us will need to devise our own modus operandi of contributing to each others’ safety. It’s about questioning, and if necessary, demanding transparency in matters of security. Why can’t we know precisely the roadmap that the govt. has undertaken in order to ensure that 26th. Nov. never repeats itself? (Revenues allocated to training, surveillance equipments, resources etc. Not the details, mind you, for that would be unraveling the information to thwart those plans). Why can’t I go to a park bench and enjoy a lazy evening without being perturbed by the thought that am I sitting under a nuclear warhead? It begs scrutiny, not of the government, but our own dilapidated psyche, which would do well, by recognizing that a little love, an iota of empathy, a tiny bit of quest for accountability would save us from sharing the fate of those 150 odd unfortunates, who were consumed in an inferno of spite, terror and worse of all – neglect.

A Wednesday

As a kid, Project IGI-I used to be my favorite computer game that had me hooked on to it for time immemorial. There were 15 stages to be cleared, with the last stage unsurprisingly proving to be the toughest. After one more of my innumerable failed attempts, a computer literate friend of mine introduced me to the world of cheatcodes. A quick application revealed that I could not only have unlimited power but also immobilize my enemy wherein I could pick them off at will while they would remain powerless to retaliate. Years have gone by, and while I cleared the last hurdle in my then-favorite-game (as a loyalist, I never applied the cheatcodes), the scenario has eerily come back to haunt us in real life. Bombay bleeds once again as its innocents are stripped off their right to live, while they remain defenseless, immobilized by some 'cheatcodes'.

As I write this, I realize that I have lost count of the precedents to the current mayhem dancing along Bombay's alleyways. However, if anything is more scary than the near-holocaust scenario in India's economic capital, it’s the disturbing knowledge that the greatest concern that would afflict the common man's psyche tomorrow would be whether Yuvraj would make it to the national test side or whether Lindsay Lohan would emerge a shade better than Britney from her rehab (depending on loyalties). Rajdeep Sardesai put matters in perspective when he enquired about the English cricket team departing (before suffering the ignominy of a possible whitewash) in the wake of the recent attacks. My, my! Imagine our plight. The whole of India has been robbed of the chance to watch Veeru pile on the misery on a few club side English bowlers on a Saturday morning. Now, isn't that a national tragedy?

The event brought some simple questions up for glaring scrutiny in my muddled thought process. Questions like, "Who is to blame for this?" Is it the terrorists? Oh come on! We are trying to be rational over here. Those chaps would be without a job (and 72 virgins if their training tales are to be believed) if they weren't spraying the streets with bullets. Is it the Government? That's an interesting one. 24 hours after the attack, the PM issued a 'strong condemnation' statement, adding for good measures, that the attacks were an event to 'destabilize the nation'. Excuse me Mr. Prime Minister! With due respect to your unending gold laden resume (that I still respect and admire), we are no yokels to interpret the sight of a police jeep filled with 'Deccan Mujahideens' mowing down innocent civilians as an endeavor to beseech the Nobel Peace Prize. What we would like to know is exactly what have you done to institute countermeasures against such barbaric acts? Your prime opposition, after having taken his usual potshots at your party, has appealed for communal harmony (imagine, of all people, him, talking about communal harmony). As if the whole diaspora was incomplete without the communal angle. What was sickening to note was their itinerary which granted Mumbai their blessed presence on a Friday, after the current engagements with the terrorists had reached their logical conclusion. It seems that Mr. Advani was scheduled to visit the city today itself, but opted to postpone the visit at the behest of the PM’s request (that, it gave him a perfect shield to stay away from an event that could remotely be of harm to his physical being was entirely a matter of inexplicable coincidence). But, unfortunately, even they aren't the answer. They are, well, politicians and no adjective would so succinctly sum up their inadequacies as their own profession.

So, who is to blame? I remain numb, searching in a vacuous sphere within me, until, in an impromptu seizure of horrifying clarity, the revelation hits me. It’s all of us who did not die in those blasts. It’s our collective nonchalance that wrote those cheatcodes that condemned the hundred odd (and the 500 odd before them in the last couple of months) to stay immobilized in the face of gun toting madmen. It is our refusal to share their plight that has boosted the confidence of those deranged fanatics to strike at will, knowing that we will remain spineless in the face of such dastardly provocations. They know, that tomorrow, "Mumbai will again be up on its feet (never mind that the world has been yanked off beneath those feet) and indulge in its daily routine of driving out Biharis/Assamese and all non Marathi-manoos whereas the rest of the country will laud its spirit". They know that no matter what, the common man will not rise above his rhetorical platitudes and coerce the powers-to-be to set up a dragnet that will effectively obliterate the very notion of an attack on its existence. They know that the average Indian, with all his excess of intellectual and moral refinement will once again fail to empathize with the loss of a fellow Indian who has lost a near and dear one. It’s because, the hundred odd who died in yesterday's attack (a mere blip in a city of millions) were not my husband/son/father/mother/brother/wife/daughter and so it’s ok to give lip service and get back to Ekta Kapoor's serials (or the erstwhile Splitsvilla - Ironic choice of names, isn't it?). And so they strike, merrily, almost carefree, without breaking a sweat, comforted by the knowledge of our insouciance.

It’s interesting to note that the divisive forces tearing away at the crux of our stability never seem to affect these 'loony tuned madmen'. I wonder, for a bunch of religious fanatics, how come they never seem to have problems with their faith? Or caste, creed, region? Ever heard of a terrorist being thrown out of Laskhar-E-..whatever because he was not a local from that region. How about reservations? 80% recruitment based on whether you are from a particular geography, caste or creed. Rest 20% on merit i.e. when they measure your viciousness against the U.S or its allies (sadly, India is bracketed in that category). It begs curiosity to imagine if they have a 'godmen' amongst them. No sir. No such nonsense amongst such 'backward people'. Single minded, dedicated, focused and ruthless they remain in their pursuit of 'avenging their brothers and sisters' whereas we relentlessly continue to desert ours.

A friend asked me, "But what can we do? We are after all common people". I ask, why we can’t declare in one voice, “We want our right to live restored? Why can't we force the government to establish a security force that will fight this war on terror, and make no mistake - It is a war, on equal terms. How is it that every time there is an attack, some group or the other claims responsibility (while others altruistically relinquish theirs – “hey, that wasn’t us, that was XYZ Mujahideens. We gotta get better and achieve more body counts next time in our endeavor”) but never once have any agency from our side claimed responsibility for thwarting an attempt to dismantle national peace? Yes, our beloved democracy would perhaps suffer, but isn't that an insignificant price to pay in exchange of being able to roam the streets without being paralyzed by the fear of being reduced to a severed arm and a limb and a mass of mangled flesh?

I hope, in this lifetime I get an answer, so that the question may not haunt my next generation. As I conclude, a small news trickles by - "Bollywood fears loss of revenues due to terror attack". A few million of INR less in the coffers of some poor billionaires. Sigh! Maybe Saif won't be able to take Kareena to Haiti to celebrate the New Year. So much for empathy...

Saturday, November 22, 2008


I couldn't have timed my MBA worse. Its placement weeks and exam schedule, almost conspiratorially clashed with the Indian marriage season (I have always been perplexed as to why humans, specially Indians, unlike other species seem to have a wedding season but no scheduled mating season) and I missed what was arguably the most important event for that year - Liz's marriage...

I met Liz when I was a little boy and she was a beautiful girl, albeit only a couple of months senior to me, and by that logic, little. In all these years, only the "little" part of it has changed. Liz still remains gorgeous, or at least she was when I saw her last year. Back in the little years of our lives, when our ages had just barely reached double digits (and the only concern in our lives was how to emerge a winner in a game of gully cricket), Liz was a revelation as she scurried along the alleyways of our quaint little settings with the agility of a rabbit and the grace of a gazelle. It was her smile that I still remember vividly, for she seldom needed much motivation to break into peals of laughter that would quickly invade the stiffness we guys used to possess and the whole group would subsequently indulge into a merry banter without a care in the world.

I was strangely attracted to Liz for it was an association devoid of the boy-meets-girl romance types. We were a witty lot, with me being additionally chivalrous in letting her get the better of some of our verbal skirmishes but for two people who shared a vast expanse of their lives with each other, we were inexplicably distant, as if restrained by some invisible constraints that never allowed us to be closer than we were. Be that as it may, Liz was special, for she formed a pivotal section of my childhood. We had shifted our residence and the only reason I'd go back to our old place would be to meet her family and those weekends would simply pass in a blur as Liz, her brother and me would tee off on a variety of topics, that ranged from the conventional gossip to career choices that none of us were clear about at those times (I have subsequently discovered very few individuals who are yet clear about their career goals, which makes the acceptance of a lack of clarity that much easier). I don't know how many guys have ever pretended to be an astrologer to hold a girl's palms, but I can guarantee that it’s pretty effective, or at least it was in my case. Sometimes, the most puerile moments of our childhood becomes the most cherished memoirs in the coming years.

The first time Liz and I went out on our own, was when she was going to tell me that she was in love. Booh Hooh? Not really. I was never in love with her, but I somehow felt that I was going to miss a friend (it’s entirely a measure of how good Liz is that till date, I have never felt that she is away) and right from the time the alliance was cemented, I drew flights of fantasy of her marriage. For some unknown reason, I always imagined Liz walking down the aisle of a magnificent church in a traditional Christian attire, and I would be her best man, never mind, till then I had never attended a wedding, much less a Christian wedding.

Nothing that I imagined came true as far as Liz is concerned. The aisle, the Church, me as the best man, never happened. In time, I realized that it was irrelevant, for all my fantasies stemmed from one single desire - to see her happy and smiling, which I know she is. There is only one last thing for me to do as far as Liz is concerned. That is to let her know that she has been one of the most special friends I've ever had and that, it would take an exceptional person to command even half the feelings that I have for her. In a way, almost cruelly, I can see the brighter side (if one can ever exist) of not making it to her marriage, for it left my imagery of Liz unaltered. In the palace of my imagination, Liz is still walking down the aisle, resplendent in a traditional attire towards her marriage, with me as her best man.

Friday, November 21, 2008


I went to watch Dasvidaniya after some colleagues specifically warned me against viewing a film that dared to explore a subject as morbid as death. I must confess that Vinay Pathak was the sole reason for inspiring such bravado and he mercifully helped me retain the modicum of hope I continue to harbor for Bollywood (I mean, they did come out with Dostana, didn't they?)

Contrary to all the feedback I'd received prior to the film, I found it reveling in life. It was a splendid exposition of living our dreams while the clock ticks away to its inevitable showdown with the greatest leveler life has seen - death. It made me wonder, just why are people so fascinated with death for its certitude lends a certain level of mundane halo to its aura. Its life that one should explore in all its reverie of uncertainty. Its life that should pique our interests, for its in life that the "Amar Kaul in all of us thrives".
The film explores the life of Amar Kaul, a decrepit soul bludgeoned into submission by the forces that be of life. The final straw comes when "a minor stomach problem" translates into a terminal case of stomach cancer giving him only three months to live. The deadline should have been the knockout punch. Instead, it invigorates him to take on life with a zeal that knew no equal. So, Amar embarks on his ensemble of wishes (which previously comprised of repairing geysers and getting all vegetables except for turrai - whatever that means) that takes him on a foreign trip to meet his best friend, fall in love with a Russian courtesan, buy a new car (with a payback of three months EMI), take up guitar classes to play for his mum (who promptly summons a witch doctor when she learns of Amar's condition), pour a bottle of cold drink all over his boss in an act of unparalleled defiance and a few more whose beauty lay in its simplicity.

The film scores in numerous areas, notable among which are the performances from the lead and the support cast as well as a well written script but what takes the icing is the foundation of its thought process. The inherent message, that life is beautiful and we only need to stretch our thoughts beyond the humdrum of our own interpretation of 'success/fun' to realize the simple joys in watching the sun come down and feel the caress of the balmy breeze on our faces. As Amar quotes poignantly from the balcony of his flat overlooking a magnificent view " You know, I took this flat for this view thinking that every day, I will come back from office and stretch my legs while sipping on to my evening tea. In all these years never once have I been able to do so. I came to this balcony to take my towel and all I noticed were the stains therein. Now, I sit here every day and watch the fountain come up and the kids frolicking in pure bliss. Life can be very beautiful".

I couldn't have agreed more!