Friday, December 11, 2009

Mr. Barack and President Obama

(Reflections on President Obama's Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech. The text of the speech can be read here)

There have been many a stirring speech at Oslo in the past, but this text lays testimony to the two personalities who converged to join the pantheon of peace prize winners. These two personalities were Barack and Mr. Obama.

History, would perhaps have the onerous task of judging these two. President Obama, sworn to uphold the principles of a nation warped by the excesses of his predecessors, and Barack - the man whose alleged unfailing personal moral compass would perhaps beckon the advent of a liberated future.

Its too early to comment on the impact Mr. Barack Obama would exert on a world his political ancestors mined for what they believed to be a self-righteous cause, but his speech resonated with the clarity one would hope from the head of a nation state that has many wrongs to right.

The intent stated in the speech would not be a bad start!

The President exuded a refreshing sense of humility by acknowledging that the award was ill-deserved and served more as an incentive towards performing the tasks expected off him than a reward for having executed them.

What was additionally heartening was Barack's candid confession on the rejection of the instrument of War. A war - holy, just, hot/cold is reprehensible, however glorious be the acts of its participants and his three step ideology aimed at minimizing the brutal onslaught every war brings alongside it, is laudatory.

What was disappointing was President Obama's defense of America as the underwriter of the world's security or upholding the non-existent efficacy of that defunct organization - The United Nations.

The U.N, for the uninitiated, was formed to prevent wars after the last great onslaught by the Axis. From its inception in 1945, the U.N has had little to cheer. Hardly surprising! It has comprised of nation states which have systematically abused its very tenets and silenced the protests against oppressions reigned in by the despots on its civilians.

The President gloated over the fact that there hasn't been a Third World War! I couldn't have agreed more Mr. Obama. As I'm sure that you would find it hard to dispute that for all its efficacy, the U.N did nothing to stop your nation from marching into a foreign country and massacring hundreds and thousand of civilians, and ruining its economy for good measures. It did nothing to stop the Khmer Rouge from obliterating its citizens in alignment with Pol Pot's (a CIA creation) back-to-the-primitive-era policies and to say nothing of the genocide in Rwanda. These are footnotes in the conscience of the U.N, but gauntlets of shame thrown at the psyche of the world by the depravity of a handful of individuals. Shame, because, the world turned its face away and pretended to not notice.

Barack's initiative of outlawing torture and the closure of Guantanamo Bay torture chamber (only the misguided would call it a detention camp) are apt responses to President Obama's blatantly falsified declaration of America's non-involvement in attacking democracies. Since the last Great War, America has been documented to have attacked no less than 40 countries under covert ops or outright invasions. One wonders that would this have not been the perfect platform for the President to have acknowledged that it was time America relinquished its divisional measures and harked back to the qualities of liberty, friendship and enlightenment as proclaimed by that statue perched near the Hudson River.

For all its Presidential constraints, this speech however, belonged to Barack the man. With remarkable humility and simplicity, he tugged at that conscience that refuses to be decapitated within us, he acknowledged the weight of sending young Americans, not unlike you and me, to the face of near certain death against his will and reminded one and all of his commitment towards building a future worthy of our capabilities as against our immoralities.

A world will wait with anxious trepidation in the hope that it was Barack and not Mr. Obama who was conferred upon with the Nobel on that hallowed turf!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Travels I - In the Land of Machines...

(Warning - Long Post)

Watching the countryside glide by in a motley hue of Grey and Green, I would have never known that we were cruising at a speed of 220 Kmph., had the speedometer of the Merc. not shaken me out of my torpor. "Welcome to Germany", I told myself, as the road snaked past the bucolic landscape of Dusseldorf on to the charming little town of Herten, a mere 150 Kms. away.

Apart from the enormity of the feeling that this was my first visit abroad (and the fact that Europeans drove on right hand side of the road, as opposed to Indians), remarkably little had been unsettling. The stopover at Dubai suddenly made me realize that coffee could cost 420 INR (after conversion) and that a Lamborghini drew in as much crowd as did a filmstar. But those were minor blips, in an otherwise, serene and eventless journey wherein I gobbled up about 4 movies during the 8 hour flight from Dubai to Dusseldorf since the air-hostesses on board the Emirates resembled their Indian counterparts, and hence, failed to entice me (it must be noted, that I had a similar effect on them).

Satyajit Ray had once described Dusseldorf as a city painted on a canvas. My first impression of Herten was along similar lines. Our hotel served to be the microcosm of that impression. It was a ranch styled cottage, garnished with multivariegated trees and the earthwork was strewn with leaves not unlike what we witnessed in that epic disaster titled Mohabbatein.

Castle Park - Our Hotel

The rooms were spartan, and the only object that caught my attention was a copy of the New Testament that proudly lay perched on one of the burnt wood tables of our room. The television was irrelevant as we neither followed the language nor had the luxury of time to peruse channels. A quick shower however sparked my astonishment. People actually drank from the wash basin. It turned out to be a savior, for Germans, by habit, had their water spiked with gas, and even the Abgas (German for without gas, and I'm not going to bother with the umlaut) had a fair sprinkling of carbonated water to give it a soda feel.

Herten reminded me of a time that had actually gone by. It was also a land of mystifying contradictions. Here was a place, which featured an avalanche of, what would be high end vehicles in India, that ploughed on with dispassionate nonchalance (sample this - in the first two hours of our visit, we , unsurprisingly, saw more models of Audis, Volkswagens, BMWs, Mercs, Citroens and oh yes, even one Swift DZire than we would in a month in India) and alongside, featured bicycles straddled by all shapes and sizes furiously skittering the Autumn leaves as they pedalled towards their rendezvous point. Here was a place that featured cars designed to pack the whole family in it along with the essentials for subsistence, and alongside them, ran the Smartcars, whose creators obviously hadn't taken into consideration people of my size, while designing its interiors.

But above all, what stood out, in its impressive majesty as well as humility, was that, the riches notwithstanding (its one of the most expensive places to stay in Germany), the people therein had refused to relinquish their rustic appeal. It was actually a wonder for me to see a car stop to let the passers by cross the road, and cheerfully wave to them, as he sped by; see mothers strap their pinklipped crimson cheeked blue eyed toddlers to their backs, as they swished on their purple bicycles on a biting Grey evening (in five days, we saw the sun twice, for about 5 minutes each); to see cottage styled villas have angels and carved metal butterflies adorn their doorsteps and frontages respectively, whilst an Audi TT or a Mercedes would be strewn across, with almost vulgar abandon, on the lush green manicured garden; to see the Germans huddle together with their beer in a bar cheering themselves hoarse over a Bayern Munich victory or curse them with an almost Indian-like intensity over so much as a draw (we saw both); to feel the single golden ray of the sun beam itself across a desolate European sky on my face on a blustery cold morning; to admire the cozy interiors of our hotel featuring simple artwork and tireless order that only served to emphasize upon the unwavering discipline of its creators; to eavesdrop on the whistle of the wind, as it blew across that tiny little town which had, somehow, managed to remain in a time warp to pay homage to its roots, and yet, synced itself with the luxuries of our world.

A typical German House in Herten

The Germans pride themselves on the merits of precision and system, and both were on offer in bountiful. I've never seen such rigorous discipline that was only heightened in its impact by the seemingly unassuming manner of its execution. It seemed, that if god was a planner, he had restricted himself (I'm not a sexist, this is only for the sake of simplicity) to places like the one I was in, while deputizing the Devil to plan for the place where I was born. From simple lane discipline to an assembly line at a factory, the Germans were systematic to a fault. They were robotic, and it sadly reminded me of the price we've had to pay for our brilliance, for here was bunch of people, who made the simple decision of collective improvement, rather than individual glory and hence, adhered to a predefined system with a diligence that would have shamed our flamboyance, had we been humble enough to admit it. We have much to learn.

Being a vegetarian has its advantages in India (the probability of a non-veg. dish going abysmally wrong, especially in monsoons is almost twice that of its vegetarian counterpart). In Europe, and especially in Germany, wherein language is a major hurdle to overcome, being a vegetarian exposes you to its commensurate miseries. As I was to discover, the concept of vegetables simply didn't exist, and when it did, horrifyingly comprised of a very liberal dose of brinjals and carrots (somehow, the idea of an omlette cooked from Ostrich eggs and garnished with brinjals didn't exactly set my imagination or taste buds on fire). However, the presence of Darjeeling tea in the middle of Germany did bring a smile and a small illustration of globalization to my being (it was the best tea I've had in a long time). Our hostess was a fiery and yet, courteous lady, who spoke a smattering of English and German and befriended my mother on the first morning as we left for our work. On our return, my mother was full of tales of how Mariann (the lady in context) had proceeded to regale her with tales of her husband's (the hotel owner) incompetence. Certain things, I suppose, transcend beyond geographies and cultures.

In the five days that we parked ourselves at Herten, a regular feature would include long walks along the German neighborhoods, admiring not the grandeur of the structures, but its delicate preciseness. We came to understand and soak in the polite courtesy of the Germans, that was warm and aloof at the same time, the antithesis of a stone Mermaid and the Store of Sevens perched together, the ornate rose structures before the Deutsche bank, the lavishness of King's Alley at Dusseldorf (the costliest street in Europe), and the simple countryside of Herten and the many tiny differences that stacked together to fashion our cultures to be so radically diverse, and yet, perhaps complimentary.

On the final morning, as we lay dozing on Air Berlin, the aircraft taxied with bone jarring efficiency towards the same destination, where my dreams had already wafted to - Roma!!!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

God must have been a manufacturer

God must have been a manufacturer (and his quality control needs a major overhaul - aptly stated in Abhijeet's blog). No, I'm not saying this because humans seem to be churned out of assembly lines these days, but simply because of a curious parallel I've noticed in these two entities.

The manufacturing sector in India, ones that especially draw their tenets from the old school of thought (about 95% of them comprise of this sector) display a peculiar masochistic feature that is particularly difficult to explain. If a work can be done in an easy way, they will necessarily adopt the alternate route. Almost as if, a person who has not been done to death hasn't done his job. One has to only look at the triumphant smile of the supervisor as he watches his subordinates trudge of weary and haggled after a day's worth of mindless drudgery to know what I'm talking of. And no, he'll never put in his two cents worth of mind to increase the efficiency of the process and reduce the burden of his people.

Ditto for God. A perplexing query struck me yesterday. Just why on earth, did he/she go through the entire trouble of creating us, that too with varied degree of (im)perfection? What's the point of creating us and then supposedly looking down and shedding tears on the degradation of his children? What was the purpose? Simply to give us an experience? Why? Doesn't make sense. One could obviously agree that maybe he didn't create us at all. Maybe, we are a biological accident, but that is so difficult to believe. There must be a billion nucleotides in our body interacting with a cohesion, even the most advanced supercomputer couldn't dream of achieving and that can't be an accident of nature. Somebody designed this to happen. Now, why on hell's name would that person want to do this? What was the business plan?

To start off with, what was the point of the life and death cycle if at the end of it, we were meant to get out of it (please terminate us towards Salvation)? That effectively means, that this life is not a gift. Its a vehicle, which we must drive as per the rules and voila, we get to alight...for good (much like the US vehicle license test). Trouble is, that the rules are hardly clear.

One remembers Al Pacino's iconic dialogue in The Devil's Advocate. "See, but don't touch; Touch, but don't..."; Hang the chap who invented the concept of free will. Its the most confusing piece of thought, I've ever come across. If everything that happens in the world, is but a reflection of our choices, then surely destiny must be a scurrilous and insignificant term. And yet, there exists around 6 billion people in this planet with as many different lines of thinking coupled with an intransigence that can safely account for over 90% of the current problems our planet is facing. So much for free will.

If god didn't exist, this all makes sense. But if he/she did exist, then I sure would love to know, what was the purpose of creating this human race, especially so with their innumberable infallibilities and inequalities. Like that manufacturing supervisor, it would have been so much better if we were all born equals (in every way), or better still, not existed at all since that's the end goal anyway.

Any Answers???

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Well Done Pakistan!

Cricket has a strange way of thumbing down its detractors. Nothing epitomized this more than the two teams who squared off at the hallowed turf of Lords on the evening of 21st June 2009 for the World T20 finale. One, bloodied by a civil strife that has earned itself the inglorious sobriquet of being a commensurate end to a decade long of human sacrifices. The other, just a little more than a month back, must have been wondering if they would have a country to go back to, should they ever leave it. As if, it were not enough, these were the very individuals who were victims of the horrific incident at Lahore where cricketers came under fire, this time from real bullets and effectively pushed back Pakistan's chances of a hosting any home series to the stone ages.

And yet, they were there, shoulder to shoulder, head to head, man to man! Pakistan and Sri Lanka, at Lords (how I wish it was at the Gadaffi or at Kandy), at this hour, have proclaimed to the world, that Cricket would tower over all, and should it be besotted by the evil machinations of depraved souls, it would, by its inner cosmic brilliance, that we otherwise know as the human spirit, triumph over such dastardly acts with characteristic panache.

Sri Lanka started off as favourites, alongside South Africa after the poster boys of the games were sent packing. West Gayle Indies kept the Caribbean Calypso humming whilst Ireland demonstrated how a ragtag bobtailed, but committed outfit can upstage the best at the highest stage. However, no one, not even their most ardent supporters would have given Pakistan a ghost of a chance to qualify for the semis, let alone get past them. Their preparation was chickenfeed compared to the kind of practice other teams had received at the international arena and it was by and large accepted that the only green at the World Cup Semi finals would come from the South Africans. The thought gained ample credence with their first match and while Younis Khan didn't exactly meet Yatzhak Rabin's fate after the latter's fatal handshake, he realized the full fury of a nation dismayed at the F word. Somehow, they stumbled, whined, dropped catches, fielded abysmally, spoke in Hindi and Urdu at presentation ceremonies and yet managed to get to the semi finals, surprising aficionados before exploding into an array of brilliance that has defined Pakistan cricket's soul. Be it Gul's rapier like thrusts at the death or Afridi's vaunted batting abilities, South Africa would rue the fact that once again, when it mattered the most, individual brilliance laid low all the previous hard work that they had put in.

And so the supremely disciplined warrior met the brightly plumed Phoenix rising from the ashes. I can't recall when was the last time, I'd followed a cricketing event that did not feature India, so keenly (probably the '05 Ashes).

Dilshan discovered the law of averages catching up with him, as his favourite scoop shot landed in the fielder's hand before a run had been scored, instead of over the ropes where he intended to send it. Match on! Like his team, Abdul Razzak was back after a hiatus, and he expressed himself alike a performer who needed to remind the world what a loss his absence had proved to be. The opening bowlers came steaming in and by the end of the Powerplays, four of Sri Lanka's feared top order were back in the, dugout.

Enter Sangakarra, and Lord's was swathed in sheer class and mesmerism of his batsmanship. While the Men-in-Green kept it tight, Sangakarra shepherded the innings with an elan that would have probably prompted the great Sir Neville Cardus to say, "Is this really happening, or is it a Midsummer's Nights dream?" He found an Angel(o) in Mathews and the duo plundered 59 in the last 5 overs to give a fighting total for the bowlers to defend.

It was not to be. This was to be Pakistan's day and nothing, and nobody was going to take it away from them. Pakistan, never really had understood the merits of teamwork. They have however, more than made up for it with their individual brilliance (unsurprisingly, most of them have come against India). The first of it, today came from one of their openers - Kamran Akmal. The Sri Lankan bowling attack would give any team a run for their money and win nine out of ten times. Today was the tenth time! The opening stand of 48 in seven overs gave Afridi the perfect pad to launch his onslaught. He reserved himself for delivering the knock out punch and with uncharacteristic restraint, displayed a facet of his game that can restore his image of being the feared batsman that he once was. The Lankan bowling gave nothing away and on the field, they swooped upon the ball like hawks on their prey. This wasn't a finale to be remembered for breathtaking strokes, endless sixes, booming drives and ridiculously impossible totals. This climax was ordained by sheer grit, tussle and ultimately the passion of one triumphing over the tactical error of the other.

Two moments were game breakers in the Pakistan innings. Both were engineered by Afridi, and it was as much a testimony to his skills and belligerence as to his emerging maturity as regards the game. With the asking rate creeping up, thanks to some restrictive bowling, Sri Lanka called upon that old Wizard, Muralitharan, to knock the stuffing out of the opposition. In a rare moment, it was Murali, who was taken apart by Afridi as he blunted the master bowler, depositing him over midwicket and then scything past extra cover. Its a tribute to the Lankan attack, that throughout, they didn't loose their grip on the match, any assault notwithstanding, upto the last three overs, where the requirement was still 26. It was here, that I felt, that the Lankan Capt. committed the greatest blunder by giving the ball to Udana, especially as he had overs left from Jayasuriya, whose final analysis read - 2-0-8-1. Afridi tore into the greenhorn's inexperience, and the latter in the face of such a relentless hammering, succumbed by dishing out juicy full tosses that were also deemed as no-balls. By the time, the over ended, Pakistan had the match in the bag, with only 7 to get. Malinga, who had rocked South Africa in the World Cup two years back was called upon to do an encore, but ended up with a delivery down the leg side that left the formalities to be fittingly concluded by the Maverick who went by the name Afridi.

It was important for Pakistan to have as much applied the ointment of victory on a nation craving for some achievement, as it was to have exorcised the ghosts of the defeat at the hands of India two years back. Against all odds, the bubbling bunch of ill-matched and temperamental world beaters came together to tango in a rhythm that saw them get the better of a Lankan team that was the closest thing to perfection. The image of Afridi's outstretched hands, as his team mates ran out, endeared itself to my memory, as I realized that I was about to say something, I'd never envisaged myself to be capable of - WELL DONE PAKISTAN!

April 2010 beckons...

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Death, Be not proud

I read Tuesdays with Morrie on a Sunday and I finished it in one session, a testimony to a brilliant piece of work. However, that is not the subject of this post. The book unearthed a memory that was cocooned in my mind for the last decade. A memory that, like others of its time, shaped me as the person I'm today.

I was never into "days". To me, the idea of correlating a particular day to any person (father's day, mother's day e.t.c) seemed to inflict an insult on the remaining days of the year. As if, they didn't deserve the privilege of the love we showered upon our dear ones (a reason, why I believe that every day should be alike a birthday, never mind that you run the risk of being broke by sunset). Gammy, my best friend, was typically my polar opposite and infuriatingly better than me, an aspect that split over on to our debates. She never failed to remind me, that for those unfortunates, who never had even that one day, these occasions were like an oasis amidst the ceaseless cruelties of life.

It was Mother's Day and I knew how much it meant to Gammy. She had lost her own mother before she completed high school, and I knew the duo shared a relation that transcended the realms that words can contemplate, or comprehend. Listening about her mum, made me realize just how much strength the lady had channelized into her lovely daughter. Quiet, dignified, and a gracious aura, that's what engulfed her. She was my first lesson in death, and the first time, someone taught me, that death was a subject that could be spoken and discussed at length, that it was not morbid, that it was the greatest equalizer, that it taught us how to live, how to be strong and most importantly, how to feel alive. That afternoon, I drew her close to me, and whispered the silliest (and extremely sincere) query I could come up with - "You miss her, don't you?" For a second, as Gammy stood transfixed, I was horrified at the utter insensitivity of the question. She, however, calmly retorted in as many words - " Yes, I do. But I've spent 16 great years of my life with her and I've learnt from her for all these years. She lives through her lessons. It'll suffice for this lifetime". Trust her, to put forth the most profound of the thoughts in a manner so simple, that it heightened the aura of the moment. I've learnt many aspects concerning attitude from her, but that day, Gammy had transcended even herself.

Two years later, Gammy died. Five months after that, a friend came to visit me, and in due course of our conversation, asked me with equal sincerity "You miss her, don't ya?" I guess, I knew the answer to the question even before I was asked. "I spent two great years with her mate, and she taught me a lot more than I could ask for. She lives though her lessons. It'll suffice for one lifetime." I replied, knowing that Gammy would have approved of the answer.

Almost three centuries back, the celebrated poet John Donne wrote a poem whose concluding lines still throng the memories of the elites and the plebeians. Gammy knew what those lines meant, and after she went, so did I - "Death, thou shalt die"!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Palestine Post

"Tonight, you don't go..."

Shimshon Lipshitz's daily routine on that cold night of February 1948 was subjected to an unusual intervention by his wife, who had glossed over every detail of his household for the past eighteen years. Her trepidation stemmed as much from premonition as it did from the knowledge that the half an hour walk that Lipshitz was scheduled to undertake was, like hundreds and thousands of fellow Jerusalemites, prey to Arab sniper fire. Yet, her words beckoned him away from his greatest source of pride. Since the day of its inception, Shimshon Lipshitz had never missed a day as the chief printer of Zionism's foremost English language newspaper north of Cairo - The Palestine Post. Even Lipshitz mustn't have realized the epoch making era he lived in, as he deftly assembled blocks of lead that served to record the remnants of a history whose violence was rivalled by the resurgence of its characters. Tonight, as his pride drove him towards the three storey red stone building that served to be the Post's headquarter, his wife's gaze lingered on, as if to personally guard her love from enemy onslaught.

Two miles away, Abou Khalil Genno lit a cigarette near the village of Shofat, on a ridge north of Jerusalem. The cloak of the night had shrouded his identity, safely wrapped underneath the British uniform he had managed to procure from the two deserters who were about to aid him in an endeavor for which the trio had been specifically handpicked by the Mufti. As the British prepared to move out of Jerusalem, the Mufti had contemplated terror bombing to drive the Jews out of their promised land. Tonight, through Abou and the British deserters, the Mufti was poised to send an indication to the Jews of Jerusalem of the price they were going to have to pay for obtaining their Promised Land. The truck with its load of TNT which Abou Khalil was going to drive to its intended target lying two miles away saw one extraordinary sight. A group of black robed women, rushed wailing out of the shadows. They chanted some ancient indecipherable incantations, mumbled a verse from the Koran, and as a final act of blessing, splashed the wheels of the departing vehicle with a bowl of goat's milk.

Ted Lurie, the chief correspondent of the Post was crossing Jaffa street, when he saw a British police truck go lumbering by, smashing the concrete on the turn to bits. "Sure is in a hurry to get somewhere", thought Lurie as he crossed Zion square and made his way to Ben Yehuda street. As he was about to step into a roadside cafe, the explosion caused by Abou's TNT laden British truck, ripped into a deafening roar, sending Lurie sprawling to the ground. Scrambling to his feet, he rushed to a nearby phone to find out what had happened. To his chagrin, the number to the Post was busy. Furious, he dialled twice and then hung up. As he started to dial for the third time, the truth hit him - "My God"! He exclaimed. "They have blown up the Post".

By the time, Lurie had reached the headquarters, flames licked the debris. Almost the entire frontage had disappeared. The building which had served to document such memorable eras in history seemed to have itself been consigned to history, as onlookers stared in disbelief. Locals rushed in to cater to the wounded and cleared the dead bodies. Amidst the bedlam, Lurie's wife tugged his sleeve - "Ted" she asked, " what are you going to do about the news"? "Are you crazy" asked an incredulous Lurie. A moment later, he realized that she was right. The Post was more than a paper. It was the voice of a race that refused to buckle under the many persecutions it had been subjected to through the annals of history. He set up a temporary newsroom in a nearby apartment. Within hours a printing press was located. Two of his reporters rummaged to find any remnants of the carbons for the night's stories while their girlfriends retyped the scraps that were salvaged. By six 'o' clock, faithful to its daily rendezvous with the people of Jerusalem, the paper was on the street. Not even the excesses of the Mufti's terror tactics could blot out the proud logotype of the bedraggled, but unconquerable news paper. The Mufti had not succeeded in his major goal. He had demonstrated that, while he was capable of penetrating the city, he could not silence its spirit - The Palestine Post.

Shimshon Lipshitz had one of his eyes blown away in the blast. Typical of the man, he returned, his remaining eye bolstered by a magnifying glass, and like the Post, his indomitable spirit saw him place the blocks of type that announced the birth of an independent Jewish State later that year.