All Around Us (1)

On May 13th, more than 60 people died in Jaipur in a series of bomb blasts. There were nine blasts and at least one bomb was defused. The blasts were earlier said to be of low intensity, but were then said to be of high intensity. They occurred in crowded localities of the old city (the Pink City) and I have been to each of those localities numerous times. The blasts (some of them, at least) were carried out using bicycles. And I have been to each of those localities on foot as well as on bicycle. Mostly years ago, but the last time was one and half years ago.

In almost all the reports about the blasts, the names of these localities were given wrongly. Badi Choupad was being called Badi Choupal, Choti Choupad was being called Choti Choupal, Chand Pole was being called Chandi Pole etc. Does it matter? Only if you believe that getting the details right is important if you not only want to find out the truth, but also want to punish those responsible for these acts of terror. Note that all these localities are Big landmarks in Jaipur. So much that every Jaipurvasi knows where they are. And how to pronounce them. And I am not talking about the foreign media. Nor am I talking about the South Indian media. I am talking about reporters from New Delhi, which is only a little over 250 km from Jaipur and is home to a lot of Jaipurvasis.

Soon after the blasts, as usual, we were being told who might be responsible. The same familiar names were cropping up. The same chants were being repeated. The same red alerts were issued, about which we (Indians) have been hearing for the last quarter of a century, if not more. The same kind of statements were issued.

There was one difference. As I was watching one short video on the Net (I don’t have access to TV, which is why I came to know about the blasts later than many others), there was one person who was answering questions about the implications of the blasts and what was being done to ensure security in the coming days. Then he was asked some questions, which, along with the answers given to them, baffled me completely. I finally realized (Tubelight! Tubelight!) that the man was not an official of the Home Ministry, nor was he a high ranking police officer, nor was he a politician (in the conventional sense). He was someone connected with the IPL, the new 20-20 cricket match league. I couldn’t make out exactly in what capacity. He was being asked a lot of questions by all the mediamen gathered around him, and he was answering quite confidently and with a great deal of, shall we say, responsibility.

Anyway, apart from such indications of the changes that have happened in the world during the last quarter of a century, the same records are being replayed:

  • Condemnation, dastardly, cowardly, despicable etc.
  • Appeals to maintain calm
  • Nationwide red alerts issued
  • Crackdown on ‘Bangladeshis staying illegally in India’
  • The opposition’s talk about the government’s ‘recurring failure to combat terror’
  • Demand for harsher laws to combat terrorism, to bring back the dreaded POTA, as if it had, at any point. succeeded in stopping terrorists from doing what they wanted to do
  • Demands to strengthen intelligence agencies

So on and so on. All of it is so predictable that you could almost write a program to do all these things every time a terror attack occurred.

Sure, there were some articles in newspapers like The Hindu, saying that we should try to deal with the causes of terrorism, rather than repeating the same old knee-jerk reactions. But one can be sure that they would remain unheard amidst the shouts for revenge and bouts of witch hunting.

Which brings us to another demand: Hang Afzal Guru. Supposedly it would magically reduce the incidents of terrorism. Many have pointed out that there seems to be something seriously wrong about the whole investigation carried out in the strange case of the attack on the Indian parliament building, and indeed with the attack itself. The person who was in charge of the investigation, the infamous encounter specialist Rajbir Singh, is now dead. Conveniently?

You can also read some of the ‘Readers’s Opinions’ about the blasts here. This is one good thing about the Internet. What was earlier said in private, is now often said in public. On the Net, it is quite possible and very easy (under the cover of anonymity) to make statements like ‘hang all these Muslims’ or ‘sack the Prime Minister & shoot every one suspected’. Even to say an absurdly amusing thing like ‘where ever in india a blast is done the route is from hyderaabd’. Or like ‘Root out this nuisence of hate and terrorism from Rajasthan, as Modi has done in Gujrat’.

Or like:

ITS enough yaar…..i just request our POLICE to catch those terrorists and hang them till death…

Or like:

As long as we have sikh Prime Minister and foreigner (Sonia Gandhi) is holding the power ,these thing will be very common in near future.

Or a gem like this:

If god gives me one wish to fulfill in my life I will ask all these terrorist together to come face to face to me. These all enuch animals one side and I am the other and i swear I will surely clean 100% of them and i dont want this poloticians to be arround there they are worthless. I am very sure most of indians would agree with me KILL them. This is challenge to all those terrorist who r killing innocent people if they have guts and if they are not enuchs then come out you cowards and face the real MEN.

On this particular site (Times of India) alone, there are 67 pages of such comments from ordinary peace loving innocent civilian Indians who are educated and privileged and ‘developed’ enough to have access to the Net. The citizens of India Shining. A lot of them must be members of the IT industry, which has ‘done India proud’.

All of the above are Hindus, of course.

But there was a comment from one Omer Khan, NY, which went like this:

Let Indians also feel the taste of tragic killings. Read the sceanrio of Kashmir. If 80 People of jaipur are killed whole india is schocked ,what about 25000 Muslims of kashmir who are still missing in Custody & what about those 1500 People found in Mass graves. I really condemn killings but it is good medicine for those who mutiliate the facts of killings in kashmir.

On the other hand, there was a comment by one Rizwan Rafat, Karachi, Pakistan:

i am very sad to see the comment by Omar from NY. Those who died in the blast are innocent civilians who have nothing to do with kashmir. also to add to the knowledge of mr Omar, Kashmir issue has reached this point due to the Indian political mistakes, and also due to vested interest of Pakistani Army who see no gain in solving the kashmir problem and is eating the country. I am behind the people of Jaipur, may god give them patience. also i urge Pakistani government to help India in tracing these coward terrorist if there is any Pakistani connection. hindus, muslims whoever should be ruthlessly crushed to bring peace for everyone.

I looked through many pages to find one reasonable comment by a person with a Hindu name, but I couldn’t. Of course, almost all the people who have written articles I referred to, who will remain unheard, are Hindus. Is there some pattern in all this? Something from which we can learn something?

And one comment was not very clear to me:

please do not now hear talks like 1. excercise maximum restraint 2. Let the law take its own course 3. Jail the terrorists etc etc let the politicians like yada get killed – maybe we will then act?

The social subconscious spills over into the public domain. And is hard to make sense of.

While this may have been the dominant story in the last two weeks, there have been many other events which might merit some of our attention.

On 15th May, militants killed 11 persons in Assam in two separate incidents. Among the 11, there were train drivers, truck drivers and helpers. There have been a series of such attacks in recent days.

Binayak Sen, a highly respected doctor serving in the villages of Chhatisgarh (one of India’s richest states in terms of resources, but one of the poorest in terms of the well being of inhabitants, a lot of them being tribals), who is also associated with the human rights organization People’s Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL) has been arrested for being a ‘messenger’ for Naxalites, the Maoist revolutionary ‘terrorists’. He was arrested after he actively criticized the state sponsored terrorism of an organization called Salwa Judum, which consists of tribals who have been given arms by the state to fight the Naxalites (in Chhatisgarh), whose cadres also are made up of tribals. So tribals fight tribals while other tribals are forcibly (by the government) holed up in camps under conditions which you can easily imagine if you are an Indian and keep your eyes and ears open.

Binayak Sen has been refused bail even after appeals by a lot of intellectuals and activists. Even the alumni of the medical college where he had studied have come out in his support and a campaign has been launched to get him free.

On May 10th, a teenager Raj Kumar was lynched to death for picking ‘four luscious shahi litchis without permission’. His body was then thrown into a pond.

On May 11th, ‘in yet another case of honour killing, a retired army jawan has allegedly hacked his 20-year-old daughter to death for marrying against his wishes’.

On May 13th (I am not sure about the date), the car of a cabinet minister in the UP government hit a man in Lucknow (who was riding a bicycle) and left him to die on the road. The bicycle, you might recall, is one of most common modes of transport in India. And road accidents are one of the biggest causes of unnatural deaths in India. More than 100,000 every year. The majority of those who die (who also happen to be innocent civilians) are either pedestrians or those riding a two-wheeler. A bicycle, you might recall, is a two wheeler.

A Kerala godman Amritha Chaithanya, whose real name apparently is Santosh Madhavan has been accused of cheating. He has been arrested, but may go free as ‘the cheating case against him in Dubai may not have legal standing in India.’ You might also recall that the situation in India right now, as indeed at any time in history, is that of godmen galore.

A UN report (World Economic Situation and Prospects) says that ‘about 3 billion people are food insecure‘ and that ‘approximately 18,000 children die daily as a direct or indirect consequence of inadequate nutrition’. The largest number of them are from India. Have been for as long as I can remember.

Around May 19th, at least 68 people died as a result of consuming illicit brew in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. Note that 68 is a number higher than of those killed in the Jaipur blasts. Note also that there is something in common between the two incidents of serial deaths. Both occur quite regularly in India and both are followed by the same ritualistic responses. And so it goes on. And on.

On May 11th, there was again firing on the Line of Control (LOC) between the Indian and Pakistan administered parts of Kashmir. This was also a very regular feature and is followed by very predictable responses, but this one is important because there had been a lull for a relatively long time, as India and Pakistan seemed to be heading for a better relationship, whatever be the causes of that. Combine this with the blasts in Jaipur (which is the capital of a state bordering Pakistan), and the prospects of a better relationship don’t seem so bright any more. Let’s hope this is wrong.

On May 21st, ‘forty Bhopal gas leak survivors, including 15 children and 23 women, chained themselves to the railings around the Prime Minister’s residence here on Wednesday afternoon demanding speedy resolution of their demands’. The gas leak, due to which a few thousand people had died and a lot more were left with dysfunctional bodies, had happened in 1984, the same year when Indira Gandhi was assassinated and more than 2000 people were killed during the riots that followed.

Coming back to the Jaipur blasts, there may or may not be a doubt about who was behind this attack and why, but there is no doubt at all about who is going to benefit the most from this. The elections (in Rajasthan, among other states) are coming and India’s party of Fascism-under-the-cover-of-right-wing-nationalism has sensed this and has already started to exploit this incident. If there was any chance of BJP being defeated in the Rajasthan elections, it is now gone.

This is what the terrorists have actually succeeded in doing, whatever they might fool themselves into believing.

साम्राज्य और साइकल

संपन्न शक्तिशाली साम्राज्य
जो कि सुना है
आश्चर्यजनक रूप से
सुसंस्कृत भी था
जहाँ तेनालीराम जैसे दरबारी
कुछ वैसे ही रहते थे
जैसे अकबर के यहाँ बीरबल

बड़ी घटिया उपमा है
पर मैं झूठ बोलने से
बचना चाह रहा हूं
वैसे भी मैं कवि नहीं हूं
मेरी बोली तो
खड़ी बोली है

तो खड़ी बोली में
कहा जाए तो
बारिश का मौसम है
रिमझिम रिमझिम
इतनी ही कि कैमरा भी
बचा के रखा जा सके
तस्वीर खींचते हुए भी

भीड़ वगैरह भी नहीं है
आप आराम से भ्रमण का
पूरा मज़ा ले सकते हैं

छोटे-छोटे पहाड़
बड़ी-बड़ी चट्टानें
साफ़-सुथरी सड़कें
सब तरफ पेड़-पौधे
पत्तियाँ भी घास भी
फूल भी और उन पर
मंडराने वाले भी
तितलियाँ भी होनी चाहिए
पर आखिरी दो मदों की
याद मुझे नहीं आती
भूल-चूक लेनी-देनी

ऊपर ऐसे बादल
कि तस्वीर खींचने से
मन ही न भरे
और हाँ
नदी भी तो है
अपने उफान के चरम पर
लेकिन छोटे से साम्राज्य की
छोटी सी तो नदी है
इसलिए चरम भी
छोटा सा ही तो होगा

सुना है हमेशा ऐसा नहीं होता
भ्रमण के भी मौसम होते हैं
तब हर तरफ भीड़ होती है
ऐसी सफाई और हरियाली भी
नहीं पाएंगे आप
नदी में इतना पानी भी
नहीं पाएंगे आप
रिमझिम बारिश तो खैर
नहीं ही पाएंगे आप

मुझे पता नहीं था
तकदीर (कभी तो) अच्छी थी

लेकिन एक बात है
क्या तब भी यहाँ घूमने में
इतना ही मज़ा आता होगा
जब कि साम्राज्य गिरा नहीं था

दो हज़ार साल पहले के
रोम में भ्रमण का मज़ा
कितना आता होगा
यह किससे पूछा जाए

साम्राज्य और साइकल

दो-तीन राजधानियों की बात
तो जानता हूं मैं
चतुर दरबारी तो
वहाँ भी बहुत से हैं
लेकिन भ्रमण तो …

जाने दीजिए

मेरा तो मन हो रहा है
मैं भी एक साइकल
किराये पर लेकर
फिर से घूमने निकल जाऊं

वाहन पर चढ़ कर जाऊं वहाँ
पहले पैदल गया था जहाँ

कुछ तो तुक हो

थक जाने पर साइकल को
पेड़ के नीचे खड़ा करके
आराम किया जा सकता है

पतन को पा चुके साम्राज्य में
रिमझिम रिमझिम
बारिश के मौसम में
लगभग आकर्षक रूप से
घुमावदार और चढ़ावदार
लगभग स्वाभाविक रूप से
कच्ची और टूटी-फूटी
सड़क के किनारे
लगभग अपेक्षित रूप से
धीर-गंभीर और छायादार
लगभग निराशाजनक रूप से
छोटे और हल्के-फुल्के
एक पेड़ के नीचे
खड़ी हुई एक साइकल

सड़क के होने का
रहस्य बताते हुए

और शायद साम्राज्य
के न होने का भी

जहाँ साम्राज्य था
वहाँ अब साइकल है
पर मुझे कुछ खास
अफ़सोस भी नहीं है

यहाँ तो फ़िलहाल मुझे
साइकल, पेड़ और सड़क
काफ़ी भा रहे हैं
जहाँ पृष्ठभूमि में स्थित है
साम्राज्य का एक अवशेष



Mr. Harvey, I Presume

I have been wondering for a long time who it is that keeps pitching in with some (written) comments (in italics) in the middle of my blog posts. The fact that I usually ignore him doesn’t seem to have affected him.

The consolation is that at least someone is reading what I write.

But still, I wanted to know who it is. And I think I might have the answer now, after watching the movie ‘Harvey‘ starring James Stewart, an actor with one of the most likable screen presences. He doesn’t play Harvey, by the way, he plays a person (Elwood P. Dowd) who was “oh so smart” till he was thirty five, but who recommends oh so “pleasant. And you may quote me.” after that, in the company of an invisible friend called Harvey, who is a six feet three and a half inches tall rabbit, visible only to Dowd, but occasionally also to his sister, and finally even to the top Doctor of the ‘sanatorium’.

At the end of the movie, he (Dowd) is saved from being given a serum that will “stop him seeing the rabbit”. He is saved by the mouthing of the experiences of a cab driver who warns Dowd’s sister, who wanted him cured so that she and her daughter could have a social life, which is denied to them due to the craziness of her brother. The cab driver says that Elwood will become “just a normal human being. And you know what stinkers they are.”

A lot goes on, obviously, between the beginning and the end of the movie. But I am not going to talk about that right now.

Self indulgence! I, I, me, me, my, oh, my!

So what I thought after seeing the movie was that perhaps this commenter-in-italics is Harvey. Not the same Harvey, of course. A great deal of water has disappeared from the rivers of this planet since that movie was made. The political and other maps have changed a lot. The Big Weapons have spread around some more. Newer kinds of wars have been invented and still newer may be on their way. Lots of us are working hard towards that. More jungles have been cleared for the onward march of the civilization. ‘Battlegrounds’ is now an insufficient term as real battles with weapons can now be fought far above the grounds, up among the stars. People have become much more polite and they now know how to be racist, sexist, fundamentalist, Fascist etc. without saying any bad words. So the progress goes on.

Naturally, then, the Harvey that is appearing on my blog is a different version. He’s is not even similar to the one that was seen in Donnie Darko. He seems to be of a post-modern (or perhaps a post-post-modern) variety.

I must confess that I don’t like this Harvey as much as Dowd liked that Harvey. But there he is. And I have to bear with him.

As I said, at least someone is reading and even commenting. So I dedicate this post to the post-modern Harvey.

Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you to my not-friend, Mr Harv…

Quick! Someone call the sanatorium!

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