Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Whose entrails are these?

Do humans inhabit only one side of the wall?
Whose entrails are these in the town hall?
Do they only have mothers in Tel Aviv?
In Gaza why do so many women grieve?
Why is the civilized world so silent?
Are they immune to a million lament?
Can only white kids whimper and weep?
Can only brown children be bombed in sleep?
What is so likeable about Santa Claus?
Across river Jordan why does humankind pause?
Do they have friends in Israel alone?
Will Palestinian pals forever mourn?
Is the blood in Sderot so priceless?
Is the blood in Al-Shati so worthless?


PS: Just four months after the Palestinian national poet Mahmoud Darwish passed away, Israel began its latest blitzkrieg in Gaza. Darwish's evocative poetry expressed the pain and belonging for his homeland. 'Whose entrails are these?' is my tribute to Darwish and the innocent people of his beloved Palestine. ~ Sameer

Monday, December 29, 2008

Israel's festival of lights

Raze down those olive trees
Bulldoze those houses, please
Build the wall and damn them all
Raze down those olive trees

Israel is currently celebrating the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah. People eat jelly donuts and cheese. Families get together to light nine special candles in ornamental branched candle-stands. There are four lights on each side and a major light in the middle. As the middle candle is lit on the last night of Hanukkah, observant Jews believe that the Lord will save them from any accidental wrong doing.

Yesterday as the Jewry lit candles on candelabrums and fried more donuts in oil, 70 Israeli F-16 warplanes and Apache helicopters quietly took off and fired dozens of missiles on the occupied Gaza Strip, killing at least 235 people and injuring hundreds more. The dead included young police officers at their graduation ceremony, school children walking back from school and ordinary Palestinians returning to their homes. There was no warning. Lord doth forgive the Israelis for their transgressions. This is Hanukkah season.

More people are likely to die as the rubble is being cleared. Hospital’s are on the brink. They do not have basic facilities to cope with the scale of the catastrophe. Since 2006 Israel has led a punitive economic blockade of Gaza. That is when Hamas came to power. All imports are banned. Exports of all form are banned. Initially medicines and basic foodgrains were allowed. Later Israel moved to stop even the bare necessities. All borders are sealed. Like ugly sadists, the likes of Ehud Barak, Israel's thuggish defense minister, waited and watched the pressure-cooker situation in Gaza. Human rights went up in slow steam.

In reality Hamas proposed a cease-fire. It repeated the offer last year. A cease-fire means – as the brilliant Israeli columnist Uri Avnery explained: the Palestinians will stop shooting Qassams, the Israelis will stop the incursions into Gaza, the targeted assassinations and the economic blockade. But Israel has its own devilish plans. They don’t like Hamas, so no talks with the folks -- albeit Hamas, however radical, is democratically elected. Instead starve the population, squeeze them and when it doesn’t work – Bomb the hell out of them. This is Hanukkah season.

It is a pity that always works for the Zionist state. Israel knows full well that the neighboring thick rascal Hosni Mubarak won’t say a thing against these bombings. A few days prior to the bloody blitzkrieg in Gaza, the Israeli foreign minister – and PM designate – Tzipi Livni [Daughter of Jewish terrorist Irgun’s Eitan Livni] broke bread with Hosni. Did she explain Israel’s ongoing policy of collective punishment to the Egyptian strongman? Most Arab states remain shallow monarchies and can’t spoil Israel’s holiday party.

Israel’s collective punishment policy is a cold litmus test to see how far can the Palestinian’s take it. This has resulted in silent deaths and untold sufferings for the ordinary folk. As Ali Abunimah, author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse writes: In Gaza, Palestinians die[d] silently, for want of basic medications: insulin, cancer treatment, products for dialysis prohibited from reaching them by Israel.

What the media never question[s] is Israel's idea of a truce. It is very simple. Under an Israeli-style truce, Palestinians have the right to remain silent while Israel starves them, kills them and continues to violently colonize their land. Israel has not only banned food and medicine but it is also intent on starving minds: due to the blockade, there is not even ink, paper and glue to print textbooks for schoolchildren.

The UN has asked Israel to halt its aggression but it won’t stop. You see Israel isn’t exactly Iran. It is a democracy. It can kill at will. These killings show a pattern: Willful targeting of the civilians and a clear violation of the prohibition against willful killings. Willful killings are a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention under Article 147 and therefore, a war crime.

Israel’s actions are a gross transgression against both -- humanity and its God. Even in Hanukkah!


[Let's keep the vigil, lest we forget: People in Spain protest]

[Turks condemn the killings]

[Victims of the Israeli adventure]

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas

Christmas Eve is absolutely delightful. Period. As a kid I loved the idea of a fat old man, white as snow, sledging his way from the North Pole, where he is believed to have a secret gift factory [There are people who’d want IAEA experts to go check if Santa really makes toffees and cakes and not yellowcake in there…You can never trust anyone with a flowing beard these days]. I’ve forever imagined Santa’s red coattails fluttering to a million claps by all the world’s little children. And chimney's through which the old boy slides in. Who does not love such beautiful innocent myths?

Christmas has always been about snow and Santa. And Santa’s reindeer with those weird antlers. It is that time of the year when you don stocking caps and eat cakes and sing carols. To humankind! Though it has been commercialized by the sinister market wolfs, Christmas is still loved by most people. The religious, the irreligious and the complete godless. I've hardly known a bloke who did not like the merry-making that Christmas epitomizes. And its distilled spirit of goodness.

For some strange reason Christmas makes people smile a lot. It engulfs the whole world in a congenial conspiracy of love. It is when the irrational becomes rational. An unwed mother 'Virgin Mary' gives birth to 'Christ'. The unpalatable becomes palatable and the north star appears. The unreal becomes real. Three wise men come looking for a new born. And hymns float. Snow falls. Lore becomes fact. A lone bell begins to tintinnabulate. The sheer joy of it all.

Frankly I am not very religious. I am culturally Muslim and spiritually liberal. I like Christmas for all its feel-good character.
I want a million Christmas trees to grow. The lights to glow. The bells to toll. The cakes to bake. The hymns to pop. The love to grow.

We -- irrespective of our color and belief system – are wired to celebrate the good and the beautiful. Encore.


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Soprich Gaadh

[The fish of Sopore]

Sopore is a small township in Kashmir peculiar for two completely unrelated things. Fish and burial grounds. The place is populated along mossy grave yards. So you have the main marketplace – called Iqbal market [named after the poet-thinker Iqbal] – perched on a graveyard. The Sopore hospital and fire station sit atop old graves. The degree college too borders a cemetery. So amidst the dead, Sopore lives and breathes. Along with its famous fish.

In Sopore they will make you believe that Kadal tal-chi [fish netted just around/beneath the old bridge] are the tastiest. Kashmiris generally have a strong fascination for bridges. You could be called a Kadal-jinn [demon of the bridge] if you have a particularly threatening disposition. And perchance if the bridge is blown up [which occasionally happens] boatmen would then carry you to cross the river in small boats. Ofcourse they charge you for it. That is Kadal-tar [fare of the bridge] for you. Such old world charms!

[Fish market, Sopore]

Coming back to fish, you get the world’s best fish [that is what the locals believe and I mostly agree] in Sopore’s boisterous Gaadh Baazar [fish market]. Fisher folk, sell their Kashur Gaadh [Kashmiri fish] at exorbitant prices here. The fisherwomen are fierce. One has got to be very good at haggling or you could end up burning a huge hole in the pocket. You have to be alert and keep an eye on the scales too. [Not the fish scales but the weighing scales] And if you are lucky and get a good price and your scales are not tampered with, you can lay your hands on incredibly clean, fresh fish at Sopore’s very disorderly fish arcade.

At home the fish is painstakingly cleaned. Inside out. For hours. Till the fish is clean as a whistle. In Kashmir people can be very finicky about these things. Then they sit down to cook the fish. It is the most flat-out, ardent exercise you’ll ever experience. Spices are carefully sifted to be tossed into the pan, while the fish is being sautéed. Vur [a concoction of specially dried herbs] and other secret ingredients are religiously mixed at various stages of cooking. Haak [Collards] is added to compliment the fish. It resembles a mini-war effort. Under no circumstances can you afford to disturb the hash slinger.

For centuries Kashmiris have invited their sons-in-law for Gaadh bata [Fish food]. The cooked fish is believed to taste better the next day. Usually relished in winters, the super-spicy, aromic, flaccid, yummy fish is always served with hot white rice. Lot of it, actually. Just fish and rice. Nothing else. It is a dish fit for the kings. Not even a nuclear war between India and Pakistan can tear you from your plate of food.

And when it comes to fish, Sopore rowdily leads from the front.


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

An Iraqi sneakers spectacle

Moab is my washpot; over Edom will I cast out my shoe
Psalms 60:8, King James Version

Bush Jr had two number 10 boots thrown at him in Iraq. Parting gift for the dog, the journalist Muntader Al Zeidi hollered, as red-faced sleuths quickly bundled him out of the conference room. The most powerful man on earth stood rather powerless, trying to figure out what is going on. In his characteristic strut Bush attempted to play down the footgear drama but the damage was already done. Unsurprisingly his yes man Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki looked utterly bewildered. The lowly boots despoiled the carefully scripted party.

The leather projectiles were a tribal Arab way of telling the big bully what they really think of him. Bush may like to believe that he has liberated Iraq but he clearly hasn’t been able to win any friends there. Reports suggest that the first shoe flew closely by his right cheek and he had to duck to avoid the second one as it whooshed over his head, narrowly missing it. Wonder what would have happened had the shoe actually hit him, a journalist friend asked rather curiously? The option of invading Iraq again is ruled out, since you can't invade a country twice, I reassured him.

They are now saying that the Al Baghdadiya TV journalist who pulled off this innovative assault was against the Iraq war. At media schools they teach you that the journalism means courage. Muntader perhaps took his classes seriously. All it took the 29 year to avenge years of misery and dolor perpetuated by Bush Jr was an audacious and a hugely symbolic act -- on live TV -- that left the whole world stunned. Muntader carefully removed his shoes, while the secret service looked away. He got 3 seconds to toss both boots at Bush Jr. In 4 seconds he was a hero. That is all it takes!

A group has been created in Face book dedicated to the journalist. It is called "The Iraqi Journalist who threw his shoes at Bush is my new HERO!” A few hours after it was created more than 630 people have joined in. Others are lining up. Several similar groups have sprung up. A middle-eastern businessman has offered US$10 million to buy the pair of shoes. Though I don’t personally like flinging shoes at presidents, I’d admit that people will throw anything at you as long as you bomb their homes and pummel their backyard.


Sunday, December 14, 2008

Delhi's Bizarre Bazzars

Text and Images: Sameer

Sandwiched between the imposing Delhi civil secretariat and Mahatma Gandhi’s mausoleum is a dusty chunk of land where all bootleggers of the world meet on Sunday. So for a change if you don’t want to blow your bucks in an upscale mall, the place to go is Delhi’s original Chor Bizzare [The market of the thieves]. I have always been fascinated by the name of the place. Why don’t the cops catch them, I asked my pals when I first heard about it many years back. Welcome to the adult’s weird piazza, came a prompt answer.

Chor Bizzare is a flea market where scraggy people get together – every weekend -- to haggle their wares. There is everything you can think of. Car-tyres. Fake chocolates. Redone stuff. Pirated CDs. Imitation watches. Nuts and bolts. Duplicate labels. Second hand rugs. Phony daggers. Counterfeit counters selling computers. In between, if you have a keen eye and know where to look, you may as well get your hands on an original. The catch is: Bargain hard. Everything is available at throw-away prices. If the shady salesman quotes a prize, immediately slash it to half and then begin by offering to pay a further Rs 50 less. It works. Actually.

I don’t know how the place got its rather quirky name. I don’t quite think people sell only pilfered wares at Chor Bizzare although some of the stuff may be purloined. A few pairs of shoes, sold at dirt cheap prices, looked original without a dot of imagination. Old timers recall that the market used to be set up around Red fort but was eventually moved to its present location by the police.

Frequented by the have-nots, students, curious and the sundry, Chor Bizzare is worth a visit. Pity I returned with only a layer of dust on my coiffure.


Chick fashion: Treadstones and zippers await customers

Shades and daggers: Buy one, get one free

Cigars, any one?

Kiss me, Hug me Teddies

PC pedestals: Open air computer peripheries

Thursday, December 11, 2008

It is December!

Festivals are perfect excuses to turn into a glutton. I don’t think people do much more than gormandize on vast amounts of food. So Eid came and in keeping with the tradition I very much wolfed lamb. And I didn’t for a moment think of calories. I ate as if I was competing in a food Olympiad. And now I’m feeling guilty as hell. It always happens.

I’ve been wanting to travel for a while now but can’t seem to tear myself from work. A great part of one’s time on earth is spent in trying to eke a living. It is a slow, gradual process and you don’t even realize when time flies by. And we continue to work. Oscar Wilde, that brilliant Irish boy, perhaps got it right. He says work is the refuge of people who have nothing better to do.

It is the onset of winters and I am not experiencing the writer’s block. Perhaps I don’t seem to even-steven it. Stuff happens. I’ll be back!


Thursday, December 04, 2008

Bullets at the Ball

It has been a week of profound agony. All of us feel violated. It appears as if something deep within has suddenly snapped. That ten men armed with rage and AK-56 guns came stealthily in the dark of the night in dirty rubber boats and highjacked the collective conscience of a billion people looks astonishing. Many things changed on that fateful starry night. Not only did the bullets fly thick and fast in the ball room at Taj, cutting the guests to an instant death, massive holes were made in many hearts.

A full one week after the Bombay [I prefer Bombay to Mumbai] mayhem, a startled citizenry is still numb. There is fear and anger at what has happened. Last evening at a prayer meeting for the much-loved Sabina I looked on helplessly as the renowned columnist Baachi Karkaria broke down. She said she felt so guilty to have invited Sabina to her son’s wedding to Bombay. Perhaps we are all guilty at some level, I wanted to assure the elegant Baachi. I couldn’t. She was inconsolable. Just in front of me Ustad Amjad Ali Khan wept slowly. At the illustrious Lady Sri Ram College, today, each eye was tenderly moist. Is it a catharsis for losing our innocence, I can't say?

The media is full of horror tales. I’ve stopped reading the blood-cuddling accounts. It makes me go queasy in the stomach. I don’t understand the vanity of it all. What justifies the bloodshed? The answers, I know, aren’t easy to come by. The static is uneasy.

The lone idiot our notoriously ill-equipped cops managed to lay hands on has apparently blurted out that all nautical routes lead to our neighbor’s shores. I give the civil society in that poor country the benefit of doubt. They must be equally appalled as we are. However, as we know well, and others around the world may confirm, the sinister cabal, which plots and schemes this ugly terror, is mostly based out of Pakistan’s badlands. It is time the network is smashed. Who does it, can be debated.

Back home we need to fix our old hatchways.

Terrorists are cold, cruel and calculated. They kill at will. They foist their hate colored flags on our bodies. We can’t afford to stay indifferent. We can't afford to allow them to cut us to death while we are eating in a restaurant or drinking in a café or shopping at a mall. We can’t afford to let them snatch away our lifelong friends from us. We cannot afford to allow our cherished freedom to be held ransom to some twisted, idiotic ideology. We can’t afford to fear a psychotic who kills a sick woman, sleeping in her bed, to prove that he is a man. Or a martyr.

In grief
And memoriam

To humanity
And goodness
And to all those innocents whose lives were mercilessly snuffed out during those dreary days of Nov 26, 27 and 28.