Friday, October 31, 2008

Lest we forget

A hugely popular watch online shows the backward Bush timer.
As I post George Bush Jr has about 80 days and 16 hours left in office before he finally exits as one of the worst-ever presidents of the United States, and consequently the free world. History -- which Arundhati Roy calls an old house at night -- is not going to be fair on the Texas cowboy whose IQ is stuck somewhere around 30.
[I know how hard it is for you to put food on your family. Bush — Greater Nashua, N.H., Jan. 27, 2000]. Smart.

Bush Jr is going to go down in text books as someone who locked up people in America's dirty dens, in foreign lands, without an ort of guilt. Post-presidency the idiot may relax in his ranch and chomp on his daily quota of pretzels, without ever realizing how his irrational actions forever changed the lives of completely innocent people -- for absolutely no sin of theirs.

Here's an excerpt from the blog archives.

An innocent man writes in the high security Guantanamo bay, a place rightly called the 'Gulag' of our times by Amnesty International.
This clearly moved me to tears:

The...Ramadan was absolutely unique. It was probably one of the best ones that I have ever spent in my life. Despite the extreme circumstances, the cheerfulness and spirit of everybody was unforgettable. The highlight was the congregational prayer, particularly Taraweeh, the final evening prayer, exclusive to Ramadan. The usual noises of talking and shouting reverberating across the blocks was replaced by a solitary voice, melodically reciting verses of the Qur'an, which brought tears to my eyes. Who knows what those hundreds of others were feeling, remembering, contemplating, at the same time as me? But I knew one thing: everyone there had a reason to weep. And the sadness was almost sweet.

After a tough legal fight by the civil liberties guys and human rights agencies, the US Supreme Court allowed those imprisoned at Guantanamo bay to challenge their confinement. In what many experts saw as a major rebuke to the Bush administration, came as a faint glimmer of hope to those languishing in Camp Delta.

Scot McClellan, Bush's press advisor -- and White House spokesman -- for a long time wrote a compelling book earlier this year. He calls his former boss misguided. Thanks Scot, didn't we know that!


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

When morals, men and minds go to dogs

Corruption really exists in this world. It is like lava from an evil volcano which flows into the most unlikeliest of sluices. I am sure the epicenter is somewhere in Kashmir. The civil secretariat -- to be more precise. Within the concrete walls of the tallest structure in Kashmir, everyone has scruples of a pygmy. From top down they are corrupt upto their necks. The babus and their underlings. The typists and the lowly peons. Only God knows how much money is taken under the cedar tables, in between the folders of cheap file covers and under the official stationery of J and K state government.

I saw a couple of my friends being asked to pay up or wait for ever -- for a routine -- and an otherwise simple errand. They eventually paid up. “Why, I asked them, do you have to grease their fat, grimy, religious palms?” This is a corrupt island, Sam, and everyone is expected to be complicit here and if you dare to think otherwise, they simply push you into the sea, I was coldly told. The sea, may I add, is deep and dark and no one ever emerges from it.
There are no big fish to carry you on the back either. The age of innocence and lore is bygone. Welcome to the corrupt island.

Three things are very evident in Kashmir. Bad roads, religious sermons and corrupt men. I don’t know if there is any connection between the three but I am sure that the roads have been planned pre-1947 and have not changed since. The tribal raiders [who attacked Kashmir, along with Pak army regulars in October 1947] took the same roads. They are narrow, pot-holed [big enough to keep an MLA in each one of them] and jut out as perpetual eye sores.
The highways are no better. There are countless pockmarks. You can’t enjoy the scenery when every bone in you rattles by every pebble that jolts the wagon to the last frigging bolt. And I am not exaggerating. You can really keep an MLA in each one of those puddles and let them go only after they tell you the correct spelling of macadamization [Named after John Loudon McAdam, who pioneered the process of road macadamization].

Of course the Jazbe-junoon [Frenzy/nuttiness for freedom/whatever] is very alive. A clarion call from coordination committee [a gaggle of separatists, shopkeepers, advocates and the like] is good enough to get everyone rushing from behind their cedar tables in offices and shops onto the pot-holed roads. And there are slogans for Azadi [Freedom]. ’Ban-Ki-Moon visit Kashmir’…read a placard. I've studied bits of political realism. I know, for a fact, that the south Korean diplomat [and the UN boss] will never come to the valley. The good boy was put in the hot seat by Washington DC and London. Both 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and 10 Downing street won’t approve of Moon going on a Kashmir trip. For the while Kashmir has to suffice with the earth’s natural satellite and its reflection in the dirty water that collects in the big puddles on her many roads. Sad but realism, they call it.

I saw cops and armed troopers chasing stone throwing kids on the last Friday of my Kashmir holiday. Friday is a tough day for the police. They brace for the day in advance and oil their batons and get ready for battles that usually start just after the afternoon prayers. The kids [with the help of some adults] know the escape routes well and have their ammunition stocks [medium to small stones, bricks and slippers in jute bags] ready. One group carries these bags and positions itself at vantage points in the town. Another band, good at ‘kush’ [no transliteration: the closest would be a mix of sharp shooting and hightailing] fights the battle of wits. The teen-age crowd throws stones and used slippers at the cops and holler non-stop insults, interspersed with Azadi, Azadi. The police responds by lobbing tear-gas shells and an occasional bullet.

Two children [aged 14, 15] jumped into the Jhelum when cops tried to intercept them from both ends of the Sopore bridge. Luckily both survived and were quickly arrested. I saw a kid [aged 11] being dragged by two troopers. I reckon he was from the stone-throwing gang and couldn’t get away in time. I am sure they released him later and he lived on to fight another day. I am not too sure if he will ever learn to be cultured like the kids of the more fortunate.

Tales like these play out in Kashmir all the time. The less priveledged often take bullets for the elusive Azadi, in which [if it is ever granted] they will have no stake. The real stake-holders sit in drawing rooms, exchanging small-talk. The upscale crowd I know have stylish high-end phones that just don’t stop to trill. We talk about global financial instruments and they tell me if their investments are safe. They believe that Sarah Palin is hot and Zardari sucks. Occasionally they comment on the stone-throwing army. Intifada, I must admit, one fellow added, as he munched on roasted cashews. Yeah. They shot a kid in the right leg, last night, someone observed. The poor kid still had a rock in his left hand. By the way, Sameer, have you heard "You're Gonna Go Far, Kid" by The Offspring.
They rock, man.


Monday, October 20, 2008

The hills are singing

[Text and images by Sameer]

Kingfisher is India’s most flamboyant airlines. Vijay Maliya, the Kingfisher boss is somewhat like the Virgin boss Richard Branson. Both are colorful, extravagant and have a huge sense of splash. Oflate I’ve started traveling business class in Kingfisher. Not because I feel like to splurge but owing to some random-lucky-selection. Three times -- out of the three times -- that I flew by Maliya’s red bird in recent months, my economy class ticket has been upgraded to business. Frankly I am liking all the pampering but I still fail to understand the largess.

Relaxing on a business class king-size seat in the kingfisher’s belly, reading Aravind Adiga’s ‘White Tiger’ [The Booker boy’s book] and taking on small sips of Diet Coke, I looked out on the majestic Hindukush mountain chain, blanketing Kashmir from rest of the world. Insulating and isolating it. Every time I fly to Kashmir the sight of these lofty peaks makes something shift in me. I feel my nostalgia lifting slowly. The feeling is gemütlich. That is German for describing a blend of homeliness, coziness and comfort.

[ Upgrading the sole airport at Srinagar]

Construction is going on full throttle at the Srinagar airport, much like the Delhi airport. America may be facing financial meltdown, which the pundits say, may now well limp into the next year, but India has no dearth of development funds. Work -- to make India look like a step-brother of China, by 2010 -- is continuing like crazy. A cold but gentle breeze was blowing in Srinagar. The runway was, like always mobbed by security chaps -- Kashmiri and non-Kashmiri [easily identified by the color of their cheeks]. Everyone wore woolens. An hour before -- at New Delhi, it was humid as hell’s fifth level. No wonder, I doodled in my head, they so love the valley.

But the valley is not about fabulous climate and hissing hills. A few kilometers in Suhail’s zippy i-10, I experienced Kashmir’s naked as a jaybird hostility. Boys, as young as 16 were playing ding dong battles with the police, who chased them with bamboo sticks. Occasionally the cops fired tear gas canisters at the protestors. I later realized it was a Friday afternoon and such stone-pelting is part of an organized protest nowadays. A few kilometers ahead, in Lal Chowk [Red square -- Srinagar’s CP], a few hundred lawyers marched, raising slogans. ‘What’s this for?’ I asked Suhail. ‘Keeps happening all the time,’ came a prompt reply. Whatever it is -- frenzy, Azadi, nuttiness -- is not over yet.

[Lawyers protest in Lal Chowk]

There are a myriad vested interests operating in this small dell at any given point in time. Some trade in gold, others in land and yet others in Azadi. Two types of people exist. One, who are ever-willing to be exploited and consequently the first ones to fall to a stray bullet -- in a procession -- by a trigger-happy cop. The second types lead. They plan and organize the chaos and become richer by the day. They drink coffee in plush café’s and hold press conferences by pool-side in upscale hotels. Pity, they are ever willing to exploit and consequently fear no cop. Infact the cops protect them.

Talking of coffee, Suhail and me managed to drive past the hollering advocates, stone pelting teens [most of whom, I am told belong to the exploited class] into the confines of the Broadway café’ -- nonchalantly -- called Coffea Arabica [Coffee of Ethiopia and Yemen, less on caffeine]. NDTV’s local bearded correspondent was readying himself by the hotel porch for his two bytes in his punch-drunk accent. The coffee was well-blended but they give no spoons to stir the sugar [sugar-free in my case]. Instead you blend it with ice-cream sticks. The ambience is intimate and frequented by the well to do kinds. On my way out, I was struck by the instruction card on the pool. No lifeguards. Who needs a lifeguard, I worked a silly smile, when life’s so darn cheap, in Kashmir.

[Coffea Arabica -- like any 'cool' cafe in Delhi]

[They use a lot of wood in Kashmir, Coffea Arabica]

[Instruction board -- No life Guards. Thanks]

[Pool side: Fav venue for press conferences]

[Coming up: On screwing all spellings, corrupt old men and the oddity - that is Kashmir]


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Love thy neighbor

Allow me to explain my indolence. I have been suffused with loads of work and whatever remained of my time -- went to the understanding of ‘History of God’ by Karen Armstrong. I've read Armstrong previously and I think -- in this case -- she has a beautiful and enlightened comprehension of both -- the concept and the history of God. I like her arguments, which kept me engrossed in all my unslept hours during this past week. Consequently I continued to remain in a state of bloglessness. [Phew: What an excuse!]

For quite some time now I have been wanting to blog on an insecurity that seems to have crept overnight in our lives like an untamed creeper. This is about the Muslim vulnerability after the recent bombs in Delhi. They are feeling victimised and estranged. Although not very visible, the funk is subtle and prevalent. I can gather the sentiment from the pamphlets that have suddenly appeared in the upscale Muslim neighborhood I live in. The Jamia Milia Islamiya has also put up banners extolling its secular credentials. Elsewhere there are hushed whispers. There is a talk of victimization and identity. The PM spoke about it the other day. The mass media and cheap bollywood fare is adding to this sensation.

It appears funny though. How could a spate of bombs -- even if planted by a handful of misguided Muslim men -- shatter the confidence of an entire community. Are India's societal bonds so weak? The Muslims, perhaps, think about the Sikh predicament in 1984, following the killing of Mrs. Gandhi. She was gunned down, as is widely known, by her Sikh body guards but why did 2,800 Sikhs have to die for the dastardly act of a handful of their co-religionists. That was about 24 years back, you try to assuage. Gujarat was recent, the Muslim mindset appears to say. In both cases, Delhi 1984 and Gujarat 2002 -- the police sided with the goons.

Perhaps we are not a civilized society after all? And all this cloying talk of secularism and plurality goes for a toss, with the hiss of a tyre blast. I flunk to understand: Is this a lack of civility and values [the muddle-heads are the first ones to resort to violence] or a problem with our collective perception [most of the middle class feeds off the idiot box and the crassness emanating from it]. Or some concoction, with a dash of our religious prejudices. Is this a nation of morons?

I've never felt alienated in any way -- during all my years in Delhi -- but it would be unfair to assume that everything is hunky-dory. There is a shift taking place, somewhere deep, very subtly, like the crack of ice in early spring. One can notice it in the number of suspicious glances drawn by the mere sight of a skullcap in a restaurant. The mention of a Muslim first name is enough to make the other person look at you -- over again, may be with a mix of horror and unease. Is this the end of all commonality?

Politics in India is shallow business. The right-wing crap generates a lot of excitement amongst the masses. Electronic media is totally gross. Mutual suspicion is growing. Tempers are frayed. It just needs a tinder. Another blast, may be, before we openly bay for each others blood.

The colorful, multi-thread fabric of India is decaying.