Friday, February 27, 2009

Notes of a sick boy

Wintertime is up. It has started to get hot in Delhi. Soon this city will be a big blazing bakery. Heat and grime shall appear. The Sun will become a torrid oven that gets hotter each passing day. I’m frigging scared of the wicked Indian -- summer -- sun. It simply kills you.
The sky becomes a shade of alabaster from the crisp blue of winter. The clouds kind of jar and jam in summers and you can’t see any clouds shaped like forest animals. It gets that uninspiring.
And it lasts more than 222 days. That is abominable.

I was knocked out by a brief viral attack. The cretins have an old enmity with me and are almost always on an ambush. I don’t know I must have wandered close to their turf [Did I drink from something infected or was the air laden with some bug barf, I can’t remember] and these hideously pathetic creatures suddenly lunged at me.
My unsuspecting immune system must have fought gallantly, my FRCP accredited doc comforted me but you see the invading bugs are far stronger. End result: I was done in. Fever gripped me and I was in bloody pain.

Well, about twenty five years ago there was this guy. He noticed some mold growing on his bread and he started feeding it to people. Everybody said he was stupid. You know what it turned out to be? Aspirin! I popped in aspirins and several potions of that wonder drug called antibiotics before I could get back to my crazy work schedule. Life has again streamed into a rhythm.

I’ll back anon.


Thursday, February 19, 2009

Dancing with the Devil

Pakistan political bosses take their Machiavellian lessons seriously. Earlier this week they simply handed over the beautiful valley of Swat [in the North West Frontier Province] to the Taliban on a platter. They say – if you can’t fight them, worm upto them in the hope that they will rot away someday. Under the fresh deal –- cracked over cookies and tea -- by Zardari’s men and the clerics led by Mullah Sufi Mohammad, Swat, a princely state till 1969, will now have the Sharia [Islamic law], implemented by the close-minded Taliban.

Though Swat’s borders are not contiguous with Afghanistan, the Pakistan Taliban is known to have very close ties with their bearded brothers across the non-existent Durrand line. For many the resurgence of Taliban will mean nothing more than ritualised lynchings and whipping. For the NATO troops, patrolling the badlands of Afghanistan it is alarm bells. No wonder the international community [read the US mostly] is aquiver -- like an angry cock. Neighbors like India see red.

Swat itself is a region inhabited by extremely good looking Pashtoons and Kohistanis with blond hair and blue eyes [the place was a stop-over for many invading armies – like those of Alexander the Great. Some scholars attribute the beautiful genes to the king of Macedonia’s armies]. 2,300 years later the area has become a fiefdom of rabid Mullah’s. Sufi, the white-beard – for instance – is the father-in-law of Mullah Fazlullah, another creature who is more famous for his mountain side mobile radio station – preaching hell-fire and damnation -- earning him the nickname Mullah Radio.

So Sufi – boss of the rather longish-named party Tehreek-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat Muhammadi [TNSM] was recently released from jail where he cooled his heels for six long years. [The old man had apparently herded thousands of his followers to fight the US – over the craggy hills -- to the neighboring Afghanistan in 2001 when US attacked the country -- and got them all killed]. He is the peacenik in black turban now.

The plan is that in return of the imposition of Shariat in Swat, Sufi will persuade his son-in-law [the radio dude] to make peace, who in turn will encourage Baitullah Masood, the head of Taliban in Pakistan [accused of masterminding Benazir Bhutto’s assassination, a charge he denies] to drop arms. There is one common thread binding all the beards – they owe their unflinching allegiance to Mullah Omar [one eyed boss of the original Taliban, who was last seen escaping on a Honda moped post 9/11].

The brouhaha of the Mullah's cannot be really passed off as some major peace deal. This is no truce. These are Daedalean power games. The surging of Taliban is a very bad omen. Let loose, these guys can prove to be very thorny. What is happening now is that each side is trying to buy time. We'll soon be back to square one.

‘But pray we had elections in this area, I asked G Parthasarthy [ex-diplomat, author and former consular to Pakistan], and these people returned the liberal Asfandyar Khan’s party [ANP] to power. How come this shift?’ ‘Pat, Partasarthy [badly beaten up during his diplomat days in Pakistan] said, the Pakistan Taliban’s fear is total in Swat. They've driven elected legislators away from their homes’.
I checked the reference. For once, the hawkish security strategist, was right.

The Taliban are phantoms of the hills. The Pakistan government is dancing with the devil! It should watch out for the steps.


Saturday, February 14, 2009


Like every year 2/14 has been special. Natives call it Valentine’s day. Love day. Every teenager -- and most adults cued-in to the big media – wait anxiously for the D-day to dawn. Bakeries bake hot cakes, mostly shaped like a human heart and balloon sellers sell heart-shaped balloons by the dozen. Malls throw open their heart plastered doors and the ubiquitous metro is crammed full with mushy-eyed, love birds. Love is literally littered everywhere.

2/14 is practiced with much markedness. Everyone is out.
The brouhaha is maddening. Cupid hangs from roof eaves and cafés. It was almost carnival like in the new-age malls where everything possible is made out like a heart – streamers, coffee froth, shoe laces, belts. Completely lost- in-love, made-in-heaven couples stroll about, surveying the merchandise. Queues for movie halls [where popcorn boxes are heart-like] get more serpentine than ever.

I am at loss to fathom this spectacle. Why should we go out and walk with hips joined like Siamese twins on this particular day? Why must we sit in the gardens – which are so filled with humanity on 2/14 – and flirt with each other's locks? What is so special about this day that we must mandatorily wolf down heart-shaped pancakes [ridiculously priced]? Why should we practise our emotions like a mass ritual?

Love is such an uncommon sentiment. We love people for what they are. Erich Segal, author of Love Story [New York Times top selling work of fiction for all of 1970, the book was translated into more than 20 languages worldwide] writes about love thus: Love comes quietly, without banners or flashing lights. If you hear bells, get your ears checked.

Love is -- in reality -- inexplicable. It is romance, it is fun and it is madness – yeah. But do we need one day in an entire calendar year to express it? Isn’t love eternal? Do cakes and cut flowers and candies and coffee constitute love? Part of the problem is that we are taken in by advertisers. As a society we have flunked to balance it. In doing so, we are completely overwhelmed by market forces who give us only two options -- either splurge or feel wanting.

No wonder the idiot box is relentless and the newspaper columns persistent. FM jockeys are hollering love before and after every song they play for you. If you don’t go out and participate in the make-believe pageant, you are doomed! In times of consumerism, the wholesale import of culture does not come as a shock to me. Commodifying emotions do.

I reckon love is more than just ribbons, bouquets and the heart panoply on sale. We have come to such a pass where we need to shell out quick bucks [and that is the real reason for this show-boat] to express our love. Love has -- alas -- been reduced to packages!

The great French dramatist Jean Anouilh waxes eloquent,” Love is, above all else, the gift of oneself’.

Happy V-day.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Kill a Turk and rest a while

You are killing people
~Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Israeli President Shimon Peres at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland

There is an old Jewish tale. A Jewish mother bids farewell to her son, who has been drafted into the Czar's army to fight against Turkey in 1877 [Russo-Turkish War of 1877–1878]. The mother is reluctant, as all mothers are, at the prospect of her son going to the war. On the morning of her son’s departure, she says to him: ‘When you get to the front sonny, kill a Turk, and rest’. After you rest go in there again and kill a Turk but don't forget to take a rest. Remember, kill a Turk, and rest a while. ‘But Mother,’ replies the son, ‘what happens if while I'm resting, the Turk kills me?’ ‘Good God,’ says the mother, horrified, ‘why should a Turk kill you? What did you do?’

I was reminded of the Jewish joke when the Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan stalked off the stage this week at Davos, not before reminding the old warhorse Peres [President of Israel] that Israel is killing innocent people in Palestine. A packed power audience that included the likes of UN boss Ban Ki Moon appeared stunned as Erdogan put all niceties aside to tell the old Jewish soldier on his face: ‘There have been many people killed. And I think that it is very wrong and it is not humanitarian’. The penny dropped. The Zionist media screamed in disgust. Someone had the moral courage to tell the emperor that he was stark naked.

[Thank you, I am off]

[PM Erdogan storms out of the discussion]

It is a very strange globe we inhabit. If you talk menacingly about people, you are perceived to be tough. The Israeli’s have always denied the existence of Palestine [a land they grabbed in the first place]. The first Israeli government to talk passingly about a Palestinian state was the ultra right-wing government of Benyamin Netanyahu in 1996. When asked ‘Could Palestinians have a state?’ Peres -- who preceded them – plainly said, ‘No, never.’ And Netanyahu's spokesman was more clear, ‘Yeah, the fragments of territory that we leave to them, they can call it a state if they want. Or they can call it fried chicken’. Prof Noam Chomsky of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology minces no words in a recent interview: ‘Well, that's basically the Israeli attitude’.

Therefore it is paramount that people with a conscience speak up against this attitude. Turkey is especially strategically placed in this respect. It was the first Muslim country to have a full diplomatic relationship with Israel. For years now both countries have shared steady ties, which have been mostly based on a quid pro quo: Turkey had access to Israel’s advance weaponry while Israel got a foot hold in the Muslim world. That is the reason US values the Israeli-Turkish relationship above everything else. There are commonalities betwixt the two countries – in the middle of the Arab world; neither Muslim Turkey nor Jewish Israel is Arab.

Turkey and Israel also find common ground in their western cultural values and political standards. For decades, Turkish governments stayed out of the Arab-Israel conflict. But that was changed in 2002. The arrival in power of the Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi [Justice & Development Party / AKP] spelled the beginning of a dramatic change in Turkey's historic stance toward the region. At a much fundamental level the Turks have always had an emotional attachment to the Palestinians [deriving from intermingled histories and religious connections].

There could well be other aspects to Turkey’s pro-active stance vis-à-vis the Palestinian issue. Turkey has a seat in the United Nations Security Council – from January 2009 -- for a two-year period. And since the country has close ties with both parties to the middle-east conflict, the world will sit up to watch how Turkey takes up this century’s single most important challenge.

There had to be a start. President Obama looks sincere. George J Mitchell has started doing the rounds in the troubled region. Someone had to tell the regional bully that it is behaving ugly.
I’d say Erdogan has begun on a right note.