Thursday, January 31, 2008

The attack

It is biting cold. One-dog-night types. Winters in the capital are generally chilly and this year there is no let up. [I’m always amused when people say it has been colder this year] You go numb in the feet and cheeks. I see people sipping hot tea and damping their dumpling in the tea just before wolfing it down. Pop corn is an all time fave. None of this for me though. I’m always fighting against odds. This winter it has been a corny tooth.

A few moons back, a gang of germs – stupid little devils – decided to invade my teeth. I have never held any grudges against them but in an unjust world, where the distinction between right or wrong is largely blurred, the germs must have possibly identified their innocent target. A hack with a love for global affairs and coffee is -- any time -- a sitting duck.

Now an important lesson to learn is that no amount of brushing – twice a day – or gargling or mouth fresheners of the expensive variety actually helps. Means no security is completely fool proof when the attack happens. There are unguarded moments – like when you licitly nibble on a Bernachon.

I reckon one of these days when I was flattering my taste buds, the assailants sneaked in. Quietly. And they straightaway carried out their mission: Attack my pre-molars. I felt a sharp, shooting pang go through me. The epicenter was somewhere in the mouth. I popped a painkiller to alleviate the agony but the damage was already done.

My doctor was quick to diagnose some frightening medical-dental jargon and gave me temporary fillings followed by a rather painful but high tech nerve-numbing treatment. They call it RCT. While the fella was busy taking innumerable X-rays and drilling on my mouth cavities, I thought whether RCT actually meant Relief from Constant Trouble.

In reality they clean up your tooth roots, flush the cretins out, cut all replenishments and nerve support to the bacteria and secure the entire space. Sounds like what Bush did in Afghanistan but the dental cavity is no Kandahar and I hate George. So couple of sessions later, after both befriending and enriching my handsome dentist, I can now re-direct my creative energies on the ‘Obama for America’ campaign.

God, quite an invasion, it was.


Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Joy that was – Benazir

And it seems to me you lived your life
Like a candle in the wind
Never knowing who to cling to
When the rain set in
Your candle burned out long before
Your legend ever did

It has been almost three weeks to the day that Benazir Bhutto was murdered before the disbelieving eyes her people -- in the most mysterious fashion. There have been accusations and counter accusations. It looks like the world has gone crazy. The Americans are mulling a contingency plan. Musharraf, the once-charming General – and now a much reviled person -- has gone on most TV channels to wash his hands off the plot. Asif, Benazir’s widower says he doesn’t expect a Scotland Yard sergeant to tell him which angle the crazy assassin shot Bhutto from. The US House of Representatives adopted a resolution condemning the tragic assassination of Bhutto [They don’t do it for everyone, mind you]. Media is keeping the focus. Internet is replete with tributes.

Amidst all this the Bhutto magic lives on. Somehow it looks like a beautiful dream gone sour now. For once it is difficult to imagine that BB is no more. Such a bundle of joy has been cruelly snuffed out. Benazir was a medley of things in that graceful persona of hers. She represented not only PPP, the party of her iconic dad, but the unprivileged people of her homeland. The most recognized Pakistani face globally; she epitomized womanhood, emancipation and dignity.

Benazir was extraordinary in every sense. Her fight for justice is well chronicled. However many would argue that she did little to change things while in office. BB said she found her hands tied during her short stints as PM. You have to hold root to dislodge age old malpractices and clean up the act. Critics say that she didn't rid Pakistan of the gun-totting mad-men. And guns are neat little things, aren't they? They can kill extraordinary people with very little effort. And they finally silenced her.

Though she was intellectually unrivalled, I think Bhutto miscalculated it. Pakistan in 2007 was different, difficult and dangerous. Somewhere she flunked to read the writing on the wall. The Pakistan she retuned to in 1986 was innocent. The Pakistan she ruled as prime minister -- two times -- did not know about suicide bombings. Post 9/11, post-US invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, post-Guantanamo and post-rise of Islamic fundamentalism, Pakistan is another world. Bhutto’s problem was that she continued to live in an illusionary world, despite her worldliness.

Benazir belonged to a different era. She believed in idealism albeit both her terms were riddled with inefficiency. She did not have her father’s political will and providence though she shared his authoritative streak and charm. Bhutto Sr managed to change labor policy in Pakistan to increase workers’ rights. Despite severe opposition from powerful feudal landlords [of whom he himself was one], he managed to push through limits on land ownership. A proper constitution was adopted by the parliament under his leadership. He negotiated important treaties. And he stepped up Pakistan’s nuclear program, foreseeing Pakistan’s need to counter a nuclear threat. But most importantly, by basing the foundation of his party on the poor and the illiterate, on farmers and peasants and laborers and the youth, he gave these groups not only a voice, but a dignity and hope they had never enjoyed.

But Zulfikar Ali Bhutto erred in choosing a wayward General to head the army. Alas Zia proved to his nemesis. After ZAK’s cruel death, Benazir styled herself on her legendary father’s footsteps and took on the establishment. She braved prisons and fought stoically. She lost her family but held her stead. Critics guillotined her. The generals loathed her. The clergy was skeptical but the ‘Daughter of Zulfikar Bhutto’ had a dream in her intrepid eyes. A dream for Pakistan. Alas that Pakistan perished last month with her.

And she died smiling. Amongst her people. On her homeland. After all the bad blood and exiles and showdown. Despite her luxury pads in London and New York and Dubai, her blood dropped on her own soil. In those final moments, waving to the multitudes from her SUV, she had a broad grin intact on her face.

I hope she smiles at butterflies in the heaven.

Godspeed, Benazir


Friday, January 18, 2008

Tariq Ali on BBC

Leading intellectual and historian Tariq Ali's splendid analysis on Bhutto Sr and Zia.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Remembering the pastures

As hiatuses go, it was a longish one. It has been a little less than a fortnight and I have not jotted anything. If I were to give one alibi for my dormancy – I would say: Plain Procrastination.

There were no glad tidings in the days bygone. Someone whispered to me that it is snowing back home in Kashmir. Ah, how I love the divine confetti. I wish to run in the snow meadows, stretch my arms wide, look at God, close my eyes and let the flakes kiss me.

I miss the pastures. The snow hanging onto the pines.
Cummings waxes eloquent: The snow doesn't give a soft white damn whom it touches. I agree.

Regular posts to follow.


Thursday, January 03, 2008

Just who killed BB?

It is the question haunting many. From the dark alleys of Rawalpindi to the drawing rooms of Delhi, everyone is speculating. My American pals are equally baffled. No wonder, conspiracy theorists are amused. It is godsend grist to their mills. Already a couple of confusing theories have surfaced. The Pakistan government first said something utterly stupid, correctly dismissed as ‘dangerous nonsense’ by Benazir’s aide Sherry Rehman. Soon after Cheema, the brigadier with a swagger, changed tack.

The doctors who declared her dead have now started making strange noises. One doc was reported in today’s dailies, saying that BB’s death was the first such case he had seen in his entire medical profession. Bhutto's wounds were caused not by bullets [that is what the doctors report said – no bullet wound] but by some sort of laser beam, The Nation, Pakistan, quoted the doctor was saying. Already we have a bullet theory and the now discredited bomb theory. So the moot point remains: Who the heck killed BB?

Why was there no forensic pathologist present when the doctors signed her death certificate? Bhutto was no ordinary person, after all? What was the tearing hurry? Prez Mush said last night that Scotland Yard [one of the world’s best investigating agencies] will assist Pakistani sleuths in the high profile probe. I don’t think the Pakistani government will allow an independent UN style, foreign investigation. That will show them in poor light and not in control of Pakistan, a fact they don’t like.

I don’t know whether the investigation agencies will be able to put the pieces together again. And quick. Already the crime scene has been hosed down and BB is long buried. No autopsy was conducted and the exact cause of death remains a mystery. How is the Scotland Yard going to go about it, remains to be seen?

My premise is that the attack on BB, in the garrison town of Rawalpindi, cannot be carried out without the knowledge of atleast some stealth elements of Pakistan intelligence. Prima facie, it was a daring attack, carried out in broad daylight. The suicide bomb that went off, just after the fatal shots were fired, was either an attempt to create confusion or simply to make it appear like an Al-Qaeda attack.

Anyways, it looked like a perfectly coordinated operation, carried out with pin-point accuracy. Questions continue to creep though. Why did the second guy blow himself up when he saw the original guy [in jacket and sunglasses] hit her? Their masterminds knew that BB traveled in a bomb-proof SUV and there was no apparent reason for the blast after they got their target. Did the hit-man know that a suicide bomber stood besides him or was it a double-cross game?

Why was the security so lax that a hit man could come close to the car and unperturbed raise his pistol and took aim? Terrorists are often known to panic. Was he a hitman hired by some agency? Even if he wasn't, where was the second ring of security? Where was the third ring of commandoes? How could the idiot come so frighteningly close? What was the Rawalpindi constabulary doing? Who was overseeing the security arrangements of the most important political figure in the country?

Was it the handiwork of Islamists and the military intelligence together? May be and may be not. Did the intelligence alone finish her off because she would have exposed some of them and allowed Dr Khan to be interrogated by IAEA if she came to power [which was likely]? Did they conspire to wipe out BB because of the Pak army’s visceral hatred for the democracy loving Bhutto’s? How much do the spy masters know?

Did the Islamic anarchists do it? Were they fearful that an American backed BB was a potential threat? Is Al-Qaeda involved in this? After all their brainless cadres attacked Prez Musharraf many times in the past. What does one make of that transcript between Mashud and his Taliban counterpart? Is that true or like the lever theory, another cover-up?

Who is answerable? A discredited Pakistan govt? Even if they come up with the best investigation possible, everyone will rubbish their account. Scotland Yard, who are flying in this weekend, are coming a tad too late -- a good ten days after the incident. Much of the muck has already been swept under the carpet. Their best hope would be exhuming BB’s body. I don’t think the PPP will ever let them. The mystery shall remain.

There are too many questions and confusions but no credible answers. Methinks only an independent UN enquiry – a La Rafiq Hariri, the ex-Lebanese PM – will throw some light on the most sensation, diabolical, scheming political assassination of the 21st century.


Post Script: Newsweek US, adds [Jan 5, 2008]: The Pakistanis know very well how to protect people," U.S. official(s) said. Not only were the assassin and a suicide bomber able to penetrate an official Pakistani security detail, said the official, but Bhutto was attacked at the precise moment when her security guards should have been most on alert. "She's attacked at the moment she was most vulnerable...Every security person knows you're most vulnerable when you're getting into and out of a car. This was negligence."

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

New Year and coffee wafts

New Year’s Eve.

The idea of fun in this country is very strange. These days everyone is high on some kind of dope. The junkies go ecstatic as the countdown to the New Year begins. I can’t fathom what has exactly led to this relatively new phenomenon but I’ve no doubt that the funny stuff they smoke – leading to the brouhaha -- is courtesy corporate media. India, if I may add, is in a transition phase, going from a staid, slow country to a consumerist, globalizing one -- hence a fertile territory for any takeover [cultural, economical and physical]. Easily put, we we are up for grabs.

A smart but notorious nexus controls our hearts and minds: Market forces-corporate media-ad gang. As soon as they sniff an occasion they up the ante. Frenzied TV reporters – with IQs ranging between 15 and 30 -- hit the marketplace with amazing alarcity and start shouting into their dirty microphones [not metaphorically, the mikes are grimy really]: New Year is coming. New Year is coming!

Basically ordinary people in this country are too busy trying to eke a basic standard of living, not withstanding India's impressive economic growth rates. Returning home completely petered-out, there is an idiot box awaiting them. It is – trust my word on this -- a constant bombardment of standard rubbish: Are you going out? What are your plans tonight? Everyone is offered two choices: either come out and have ‘fun’ [party hard, that is the exact expression used] or stay back and feel deprived and wanting. So everyone is compelled to make up his/her mind: ASAP. Urgently, because you need to grandstand next morning in the workplace/college.

Again there are two choices. Either go to one of the happening places and allow yourself to be fleeced. It could be a disc, pub or a party where everyone and his uncle has already descended, drunk, behaving plain weird. Or go to a public place, park, an open air theater, mall or a concert and meet the funniest human creatures you’ll ever bump across in your life. Either ways, every glade of earth is crowded, cacophonous and commonplace on New Year’s. It gets colorless because there is too much of humanity looking for 'fun' and most of it is spiritless.

Let me be honest here: I did go out on the New Year’s. Pals insisted. Perhaps the deprivation albatross hung around our necks. We decided to go to the heart of the city: Connaught Place. It is Delhi’s lifeline and was considered the most fashionable arcade in North India before malls sprung up everywhere. But we found all exits and entrances to CP, as Connaught place is lovingly called, sealed. When an entire armada wants to assemble in one small square, what options do the cops have? We nonetheless managed to sneak in.

It was the most amusing sight in my life. The great march of lemmings. Just too many of them. Blaring, throwing up, walking aimlessly. Going to nowhere in particular. Seeking deliverence, perhaps. Some looked up in the sky, searching for New Year. I was instantly put off. I winked to my chaps. We left the mobbed venue.

There was no Plan B but luckily, I spotted a cosy cafe'. So at the out start of 2008, I sat amidst cappuccino wafts, cracking jokes with friends. Impromptu moments are so much fun. The ambience was just fine. But in the middle of our chatter, my attention went to a stocky, middle aged, bearded, tall man, clad in a black Pathani dress, walking into the café. I looked at my friends. I knew they were all thinking what I was contemplating. Could he be a suicide bomber? What else do you make of a man 50+, dark, somber, religious-looking, bearded, wrapped in a shawl, in a café at mid-night?

Undeterred we cracked more jokes, some on the poor man. My chums often accuse me of being cavillous. I was merciless, as usual. I went on: Imagine he explodes, and we all die, just like Benazir’s supporters. We laughed out loud but a part of me was sad too. Isn’t it so paradoxical: The fear-factor, the stereotyping, the terror phobia? In the end, the gentlemen sipped his New Year coffee and nothing went off.

We drove back at half past one. Expensive cars lined outside many venues. The golf club parking was chock-a-block. Nothing much. Must be a scantily clad dancer, in the January chill, jiving to a large, loud crowd of liqueur smelling Delhiites, I reckoned. Good way to greet the New Year. Means you are not deprived. Also means you can splurge in the night and go home and sleep for the whole day.

I’ve always believed that it is much more fun to regale in the company of your loved one’s and together welcome new dawns over hope, laughter, familiarity and love.

Happy New Year