Saturday, November 29, 2008

We survived, in spite of the politicians

I'm writing this post well past midnight, when the terrorist attack in Mumbai enters its third day - more than 48 hours later, more than 160 dead bodies and more than 250 injured. Where have we gone wrong? Well, in fact, that in itself is a wrong question, because the real question is where haven't we gone wrong? The attack actually shouldn't come as too much of a surprise to us because there are so many holes in the existing apparatus (and mind you, I say holes, and not just loopholes). The Taj Mahal hotel still burns, but the scars that this latest attack will leave on the families will be permanent. I say only families because the rest of the hoi polloi will forget about all of this by the end of next week and we're all going to go back and forget about the necessities lacking by our men in uniform.

The media:
So, again, what did we see going wrong? Let's start from the coverage. We saw shots of the electronic media try to brush past hotel security and police of the Taj and/or Oberoi to find out who was firing inside. While the action on it's own can be seen as commendable, the fact that the security personnel were pleading, I say again, pleading, with them not to go closer was unheeded. Since when did the cops have to plead with someone to allow them to do their duty? We often blame our security personnel as being insensitive because of their lack, or the level of education they have received, but when educated TV journalists so nonchalantly try to brush past these men and women of the security, like it's some right they possess because they come with a microphone and a camera, it is absolutely disgusting.

Staying with the media, I was struck by the hypocrisy of certain eminent figures from the electronic media, who talked about the politicising of terror. What exactly is this 'politicising of terror'? As far as I know, and from what I've learnt in school, the role of an opposition party in a democracy is to raise uncomfortable questions of the government when it is found wanting. I understand that at the very moment of a crisis may not be appropriate, because the government would have it's hands full with dealing the situation at hand, but otherwise what's wrong? Tomorrow if the state of garbage disposal is in a bad shape, and the opposition raises a stink about it, will it be called politicising sanitation?

Rajdeep Sardesai, the editor-in-chief of CNN-IBN, was understandably distraught with the events in his hometown of Mumbai., and more so with the death of ATS chief Hemant Karkare. However, every time a member of the public expressed anger on his show at the government's apathy towards a better plan to improve the security of the country, he termed it as understandable anger and empathised with them, but when politicians of the opposition, whose job it is to point flaws in the governments' actions, asked the same questions at the government, he termed it as politicising terror. Why the double-standards Mr. Sardesai? If you cannot maintain the levels of levelheadedness required to remain neutral (at least pretend to remain neutral) while doing your journalistic duties, then maybe you should have allowed your colleagues to take over, and you could have taken a break at one of the smaller caf├ęs and chilled out a little. The last thing the gullible public needed at such a time, especially in an era where most of them (the public) have outsourced their thinking to the media, were the ramblings of an obviously emotional journalist.

Let's not leave out their old adversaries, NDTV, that constantly kept giving close up face shots of the NSG commandos. Now this may not seem inappropriate to most, but ask any security expert worth his/her money, and they'd tell you that it's not desirable, especially when the face shots are taken along with the names of the commandos printed on their tunics on the right side of their chest.

Even as the NSG were engaged with the terrorists at Nariman house, where a Jewish Rabbi and his family were the targets (and sadly, they were killed even before the commandos had a chance to save them), the public outside were cluttered around like items in an untidy apartment. Just why did the public deem it necessary to be this close to the action, where a stray bullet, or shrapnel from exploding ordinances could quite easily have killed or seriously injured. What's more, the milling crowds proved to be a hindrance to the security forces, as even ambulances couldn't get through in time, and the police had to resort to a lathi-charge! Imagine that, a terrorist crisis, and the police had to resort to use the lathi against it's own people because they were a little too curious for their own good. Such things can happen only in India - and I say this with a lot of shame.

The politicos:
Blaming the political class is something we do all the time (justifiably on almost all occasions), and at this time, it would almost sound rhetorical, so I'll keep away from it (which in no way means they are innocent and don't deserve their fair-share of blame). The amount of anger and rage against the ruling political class is near boiling point, and in some cases could well have shot past the threshold limit. I am now continuing after the attacks have ended and more the 190 people are dead, and over 300 injured.

It took me a lot longer to continue after I started because at most of the times, tears had filled my eyes and I just couldn't concentrate on what to write - my mind was numb! My thoughts kept returning to the television images and I kept gravitating towards the TV set in the hope that this time when I switch it on, I would hear the news I'd been wanting to hear- all over. But it took a lot longer. I vividly remember a placard held by a citizen after the ordeal. It read:
"Mr. Politician, I'm alive in spite of you". I couldn't have said it better. Hats off to you my lad, may you live for as long as you wish.

What's more, I know everyone will ask for the resignation of the Home Minister, but I have a slightly different angle to this: the Home Minister Mr. Shivraj Patil didn't even deserve to be at that post in the first place. No, this isn't the usual rhetoric that we usually hear, the usual cynical remarks from cynics like me and others. In the assembly elections that took place in 2004, Shivraj Patil lost! That's right, Patil lost the election from his constituency of Latur, but was still made the home minister because of his seniority and closeness to Sonia Gandhi. He was later elected via the Rajya Sabha, the back-channel route often used by parties across the spectrum, if they know they've got to satisfy incompetent, slobbering, egotistical , diseased-looking bastards like Mr. Shivraj Patil who exist among their ranks. So no one in the ruling UPA can claim that it's the people who voted them in, because although their alliance may have received a majority by the people, that incompetant slob Shivraj Patil did not enjoy the peoples confidence, and hence had no place in the cabinet in the first place.

The heartburn:
My sadness was for the lives lost, my sadness was for the economic impact this would have on the city and the country indeed, but most of all, it was because the Taj Mahal hotel was targeted. This hotel is the symbol of Indian defiance against the British, an engineering structure that told the occupying British that we Indians are not just as good as you, but can be better.

For those of you who aren't familiar with the history of the Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai, let me explain a thing or two to you.
>> Firstly, this isn't part of the Taj group of hotels, this is owned by the Tata group - yes, the same Tata group that will roll out the $2500 car called the Nano, the same Tata group that bought over Land Rover and Jaguar, headed by Mr Ratan Tata.
>> Secondly, and more importantly, the reason I said this was a symbol of defiance against the British, was because this hotel, which was built under the leadership of the late Mr. Jamshedji Tata, was built because of the racist behaviour faced by the late Mr. Tata. When he had visited the Apollo Hotel in Bombay (then run by the ruling British) to meet investors, he wasn't allowed inside because he wasn't white. So he had a bigger and grander hotel built, not just for Indians to visit, but also to cock a snook at the Poms to show them that we can build better structures than them.

And it was this very heritage structure of India that took a hit, and it was this very structures' devastation that burned many a heart, including mine. The only saving grace is that the plan to blow it up and bring it crashing like the world trade centers in New York failed, and so it can be looked like a silver lining in an otherwise very dark cloud.

The real heroes:
Our cops and the commandos. The defence forces are only remembered when we want them to sacrifice their lives to save ours, and at all other times we are too busy shopping or watching movies, never once giving a thought to the fact that we are able to indulge in these very activities because of these men in uniform. Hats off to the police, the Army commandos, the NSG, and the Naval Marine Commandos (Marcos), for their selfless actions.

The rogue elephant in the room:
It's about time we stop dilly-dallying about the reasons why such young youth would indulge in such dastardly acts of violence and destruction. Its quite obvious that the amount of brain-washing that would have gone into them can only be the results of one thing - what many sane and rational thinkers would refer to as the elephant in the room, and what I refer to as the rogue elephant in the room - religion. It's about time we, not just the government, but as a people who are secular in our thoughts, beliefs and actions, take initiatives and urge those involved in proselytising, fanaticism, religious indoctrination, monotheism, etc. to put an immediate end to it, or soon, vigilante justice would be meted out to those who are even remotely connected to this, and predictably, there would be innocents who suffer as well. It's time we woke up and took stock of the situation, and we'd better do it fast. That elephant seems to be running amok and no one seems to be noticing it.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Trump cards of - religions

I came across this post on the New Humanist's website, written by Christina Martin. It deals with trump cards for some of the popular religions around the world. An extremely crafty and wonderfully conceived idea, executed to perfection. May there be many more born like you Christina. Muah!

Reposted from New Humanist:

I'd marry this Christina Martin if she were available, and was willing to marry me. Why can't we have more creative people like her?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Women, vegetarianism and diamonds

I’ve had an interesting time during the past three weeks. I’ve had conversations with two very beautiful and smart ladies about vegetarianism. Well, one’s a tomboy actually, so I don’t know if it counts, but both are intelligent, beautiful and opinionated (a dying breed). Both were born into families that were vegetarian, and as it usually happens, they towed the line and as with most ‘born vegetarians’, they started looking for reasons to back their decision to walk down the path they’d chosen. And trust me, this isn’t a veg vs non-veg issue.

The arguments always start off with “being against the perceived cruelty towards animals”. And when I point out that “I” am not the one being cruel to the animal (trust me, it’s well past dead when it reaches my plate), then the argument jumps to pointing out that if we didn’t want to eat them, they (animals) wouldn’t have to be culled in the first place. Sounds good, but then I point out that “…people require proteins…”, and before I can complete the entire explanation, they were at my throat (thankfully I had the conversations separately, on different days) with suggestions of tofu and pulses and other fancy things which are sources of protein that don’t involve the killing of animals. OK, fair enough, but if only they’d allowed me to complete my statement, they’d have heard me say “…and not everyone can have access to processed food stuff like tofu, and pulses aren’t available everywhere… so economics comes into play… so some people would do what’s easier and cheaper, like a person on the coast will catch fish, etc”. Well, it never got to that when I first discussed it, because women (almost) never allow men to complete what they want to say (now you know the reasons for ‘communication failures’). When I managed to say this to one of them, I got a reply “…but economics can’t be an excuse to kill animals”. Intelligent, beautiful, opinionated and cut-throat! Sweet. Easier said than done though, because then by the same logic, we shouldn’t kill plants either, because they too have life, and then we’re back to square one.

A few other points were raised about how could someone allow this to take place and that a compassionate person’s conscience would be pricked to know what’s done to the animals. We went back and forth over how plants too are living things and just because they don’t bleat or yelp while being cut, you can’t say that it’s OK to end its life. And to take forward the ‘pricking of the conscience’ concept, I have something that would (and should) prick the conscience of every starry eyed woman out there. Would you give up diamonds, your best friend(s)? Not because I or the millions of men out there cannot afford them or wouldn’t want to make an effort to get one for you ladies while we’re popping the question, but because of the baggage that comes attached with the diamonds. Everyone has watched the movie Blood Diamond (and if not, then go watch it), and there isn’t a lot of exaggeration in it when it comes to what is done to procure the diamonds from the mines in Africa.

The movie shows the cruelty behind the clarity, the cuts behind the cut, the carnal instincts behind the carat, and the crude and cruel use of children that brings out the colour, covering the four C’s of a diamond, not to mention all the gore behind the glitter and the sweat behind the sparkle. I told another female friend about this (another vegetarian), about how the mine owners (rebel warlords) would cut off the hand of a person who wouldn’t work for them to mine diamonds, and waited for her reaction. I could see the pupils of her eyes do crazy things, and I thought to myself “Looks like you’ve got her there!” But what followed was one of the craziest things I’ve ever heard, and I kid you not. She looks at me, all sad and with Bamby eyes and asks, “They cut off both hands is it?” @#!%?&^*. What?!?!? Does it freakin’ matter??? It’s not like having only one hand to eat, shake, and wipe your back side with are considered cool.

Which brings me to another point, namely, as part of being politically correct, a lot of people subscribe to the fable of ‘women are smarter than men’. Now in the 21st century, why do we go around comparing the sexes? Ask a guy if he thinks men and women are equal, and you’ll most likely get a sound that’s a combo of a laugh, a grunt and a guffaw. Stupid? Yes, extremely. Ask this to a woman, and you’ll most likely get to hear “Of course men and women are not equal… we (women) are better!” Stupid? Hell, yes! In this day and age, in the 21st century, does it really matter who is smarter? Because if there’s a prize that was announced, I certainly missed the announcement. And also, isn’t it the norm to compare apples with apples? And if women are really smarter than men, then why is it that they still seem fascinated by small, shiny objects, just like a mynah or a magpie?

So let me ask the question that is the obvious implication from all the banter here: would women who claim they are vegetarians because they are against cruelty towards animals stop using diamond jewellery because of the cruelty towards humans? Or for the ‘clever’ ones who are going to say “Well, I don’t use diamond jewellery”, would they put forward the same conscience-pricking argument to their mothers, relatives and friends (and this is open even for the vegetarian men)? And since we just concluded festivities for Deepavali, the festival of lights here in India, let me throw in an addendum (again, open even to the veggie men): would you stop bursting crackers because of the use of child labour and the inhuman conditions that the children are kept in to get the crackers ready each year, let alone the pollution aspect? And if economics can’t be an excuse to kill animals to feed yourself and your family, the need to look pretty doesn’t warrant the execution and torture of thousands of fellow human beings (and this isn’t even taking into account the cruelty towards animals that are used to test several cosmetics), and I don’t even know why we started bursting fire crackers during the festival of Deepavali, because it’s supposed to be the festival of lights and nowhere is it mandated that fire crackers need to be a part of this.

A nice way to evade answering the questions (for women) would be to shoot a question back at me and lecture me about why I’m not asking this question to vegetarian men, and why the topic specifically targets women. Good point, I will, but I need to find an Achilles heel of sorts for men like diamonds are to women, so until then it’s going to be only the fire crackers part and therefore only some indirect heat on them.

After talking to my two lady friends I mentioned at the start, both of who by the way, said they’d drop diamonds for something else, like amethyst or emeralds or just platinum (I don’t know if there’s any ugly baggage that comes with any of these), I was also told that it would eventually boil down to an individuals’ choice. So one may be an animal lover and not buy leather products of alligator skin boots, but if he or she likes food, then they could possibly decide to give the whole ‘cruelty to animals’ thing a skip, and the same would hold good for women who adore diamonds: they could still go gaga over the shiny stones and not think twice about all the blood left in its wake. Ditto with bursting fire crackers. So then the obvious conclusion one can draw is that it’s nothing short of hypocrisy. If morality were truly in the fray, then it would be based on principle, and principles don’t (shouldn’t) change from food to jewellery to bursting fire crackers. Does that mean morality is dead? I should hope not, but we’re certainly witnessing a steady but certain change in how we choose to manifest our morals into actions. Cherry-picking where we would want to exhibit our morality and where we choose to ignore it isn’t indicative of a moral person, and at the risk of offending even some of my friends, I’ll go ahead and say it is indicative of hypocrisy and nothing else. I won’t buy the argument that a little nuance is called for here because otherwise we will not be able to do anything without doing something ‘wrong’. Sorry, no can do, because I’m not the one peddling the moral/ethical issue here. So the next time someone you know tells you that he or she is a vegetarian because of morals and what not, and you know that they are exhibiting the same cherry-picking attitude I’ve spoken about, you can either smile at their idiocy, or just give them the finger.

*Note*: Before you start commenting, know this: I am NOT saying that vegetarianism is good or bad, and this is NOT a “veg vs non-veg” or a “which is better” thingy. No, it isn’t. If you thought it was, please read the article again. It’s obvious a veg vs non-veg article would have taken a different path. All I’m doing is comparing an action done under the banner of morality or ethics with certain other acts where the moral/ethical standards seem to have been disregarded, and have arrived at the conclusion that more often than not it is sheer hypocrisy and nothing else. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, comment away.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

On second thoughts...

... why don't I continue to blog here as well? That's it, I'm continuing here as well, although, it may be a week old after posting it at Politically Don't Care. So I hope I haven't chased the few people who visit this place .
Provided by site.