Thursday, February 5, 2009

India, Pakistan and a Cancer called Terrorism

If there is one question which is almost impossible to answer even with a few answer choices, some lifelines and a more than helpful quiz master, it would be this – What to do with Pakistan? As on date, it is easily one of the most perplexing problems in world politics. And while everyone seems to have an opinion on it, no one really knows the answer. With its crippled economy, fragile political system and strong fundamentalist following, Pakistan, owing to its nuclear arsenal, is in many ways akin to a capricious suicide bomber who could self destruct any minute, taking with him everyone in his vicinity. And while those not in close proximity can choose to sit back and watch, as its immediate neighbour, that is one luxury we can ill afford. Terrorism today has made erstwhile serious issues such as drug abuse and prostitution look like nothing.

In the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks, suggestions to deal with Pakistan and pre-empt any such incidents in the future came in thick and fast from both civilians and defence experts. These included military action, diplomatic pressure, sanctions and other similar measures to further damage its already ailing economy. With Pakistan denying any involvement in the Mumbai attacks and claiming that the evidence provided by India is ‘insufficient’, these opinions have become stronger and the antipathy towards it has increased manifold.

But, truth be told, I was not at all surprised that Pakistan washed its hands off the entire incident. Why? They did not have a choice. Let me explain. First and foremost, it is imperative to understand that Pakistan’s situation is infinitely complex. Just recently, Pakistan itself suffered a terrorist attack on its soil, assassinations are not uncommon, talk of nexus between the ISI, military and terrorist groups is rife. What does all this tell you? It is not a question of choice. It is simply a matter of competency. The Pakistan government is incompetent. Period.

If they accepted responsibility, they would be forced to act against the perpetrators; something they simply are not capable of doing for fear of an insurrection, for fear of their own life. So, while economic sanctions and diplomatic pressure may have a mild effect, it is unlikely to bring about a metamorphosis because the state of the economy will matter little to the militants who in any case receive funds from the Middle East

We are then left with only one other actionable option, that of war. The problem with war, however, is that we live in a day and age where we cannot inflict pain on our enemy without suffering some of it ourselves. Hence, while that might be an option, it is certainly not a very wise one. So, is there absolutely nothing else that we can do?

Yes, there is one other thing. You may not be able to cure your mad neighbour of his insanity, but nothing stops you from locking your door and ensuring that he doesn’t enter your house. It is irrefutable that no terrorist attack can be carried out by an organization, without some sort of domestic assistance. Without a shadow of a doubt, we need to beef up our homeland security. This is precisely what the US did post 9/11 and it has paid rich dividends. India would be well advised to take a leaf out of USA’s book in this regard. But this is just about Pakistan; what about the bigger picture? What about terrorism as a threat to humanity as a whole? I believe history may have the answers.

The world is analogous to a human body, with each body part representing a separate nation and terrorism is a cancer afflicting this body. The Cancer, although pervasive, is concentrated more in certain ‘parts’ of the body, less in certain others and is yet to reach the rest. So, while the affected ‘body parts’ are crying out in pain and fighting the disease, those that are for the time being safe, are turning a blind eye and playing by ear. Sooner or later, the disease will permeate through each and every part and, if left unchecked, it is only a matter of time before the entire body falls prey to this cancer.

So, the only way to cure the body of the disease is to fight it in unison. Every nation in the world has to wake up and acknowledge the truth. Every nation has to fight it. Either we all win or we all lose, because terrorism is not a regional, religious or a cultural problem. It is an ideological problem. We are at war against a demon who has many fathers – poverty, illiteracy, ignorance and many others we might not even be aware of. We are going to need more than just weapons to kill this demon.

While guns and missiles may prove to be the shield, it will be education and development that will be the sword. The last time the world saw something similar was during the Second World War, when Adolf Hitler decided to annihilate the Jews. Terrorism could annihilate humanity. Fortunately for our ancestors, Hitler was just one lone mortal dictator. Terrorism is a demon with many names, many faces and many nationalities. There is a popular theory doing the rounds that we are nearing doomsday, that the end is imminent and while scientists are busy uncovering possible threats, it is quite strange that no one has looked seriously at the threat of terrorism, for the greatest threat to mankind may not come from outer space or emanate from tectonic plates, it may well be a cancerous demon called terrorism.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Epicenter

We live in a region of Epicenters. Pakistan has now officially become the epicenter of terrorism. Afghanistan has firmly established itself as the epicenter of Tyranny and oppression. And while China and Japan are well on their way to becoming the epicenter of trade and technological innovation respectively, India is earning the dubious distinction of becoming the epicenter of Hypocrisy.

A few days back some ‘custodians of Indian culture’ were struck by a sudden fit of moral responsibility and members of an outfit called ‘Sri Ram Sene’ raided a pub in Mangalore attacking and assaulting its guests for apparently violating and desecrating the sanctity of ‘traditional Indian values’. The guests, especially women, were publicly humiliated, manhandled and allegedly molested and all this was caught on camera. As always, numerous political parties issued statements condemning the incident but unusually, there were more than a handful of big shots from the corridors of Power who in a sense condoned this atrocious act by placing the blame squarely on the ‘pub culture’, holding it responsible for ruining our society. It is extremely disconcerting to see people in positions of power endorse such senseless views and make such irresponsible statements, for such statements not only create social unrest but also act as impediments to development and modernization. Now before you jump on to the bandwagon of “the pub culture is not a measure of a country’s modernization”, please allow me to explain. Neither wireless internet nor Tequila nor trance is a measure of a society’s sophistication. The most accurate measure of a society’s development and modern outlook is the level of education prevalent in it. And the ultimate objective of education, as Lincoln once said is not, knowledge or wisdom, but tolerance. And, anyone who is incapable of being tolerant to ideas and ideologies that are alien or even unacceptable to him, incapable of acknowledging, accepting and appreciating another man’s point of view is uneducated irrespective of whether he is literate or not.

But the point in question here is why do I call India the epicenter of Hypocrisy? As I understand it, the prime concern of the extremists in our country is that the ‘pub culture’ is fostering promiscuity. That being the case, if these ‘embodiments of purity’ have such a problem with dance and discotheques how is it that they seem to have no problem whatsoever with sex and sleaze in bollywood. Surely, it must have some role to play!!! Afterall, more often than not, it is bollywood numbers that these people are dancing to. Well, the answer to that question is fairly simple. You can barge into any pub drag any random person out and do as you please under the pretext of morality and walk away scot-free after ofcourse some ‘rigorous investigation’. You, cant however, do the same to a Katrina Kaif or a Mallika Sherawat or anyone who belongs to the film fraternity simply because these people are not only wealthy, but are also well connected and if you tried the same with them, you might not get to see the light of the next day!! So, it is not so much an issue of morality as it is an issue of politics. And what adds fuel to the fire is the fact that all this is done either in the name of culture or religion or both since more often than not the two are intertwined. If there is anything that our culture teaches us, it is to be peaceful, tolerant and to live and let live. Apparently, our moral custodians have conveniently become oblivious to that. Ideally, the ones culpable for this outrageous act must be incarcerated and taught a lesson but it will come as no surprise to me if they are let off easily and come back again to strike another pub somewhere else in the country.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Act 1 Scene 1

If you live anywhere in India and happen to surf news channels even sporadically, chances are rife that you have heard about the buzz that ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ has been generating what with all the critical acclaim and the 10 Oscar nominations, not to mention the 4 Golden Globe awards. It then seems extremely ironical that most movie buffs (myself included) I speak to opine that although ‘Slumdog’ is a good movie, it is’nt what you would call a classic. What is even more surprising is the attention the music of the movie is drawing. Before you jump out of your seat in sheer outrage, let me make a disclaimer. I believe, A R Rahman is a genius. He is right up there with Al Pacino, Sachin Tendulkar and Zinedine Zidane. In a desert of mediocrity and banality he stands out as an oasis of excellence and originality. But even Rahman would admit that the “Jai Ho” track and the background score of ‘Slumdog’ are far from his best. In fact, I dare say, by anyone’s standards the music of ‘Slumdog’ can at best be described as above average. It’s the kind of music that Rahman could have made in his sleep. And anyone who is an ardent fan of A R Rahman would find it hard to refute this claim. The popular theory doing the rounds is that, although not scintillating, the music is good and since the movie is going places the music is sort of tagging along. But, I must admit, the success of the movie itself, in the first place, has intrigued me for neither the rags to riches storyline nor the victory of the underdog in the end is new to the world of cinema. In fact, these are the two pillars that most Indian movies brace themselves upon. The suggestion that nothing captures the attention and imagination of the west like a rather graphic and candid depiction of the deplorable living conditions of people in developing countries seems both weak and unsubstantiated. Although, history has evidence pointing to the contrary. What with almost every movie in the past made either in or about India that has received approbation abroad has had an underlying poverty & persecution theme. Mother India, Salaam Bombay and Lagaan to name a few. Yet, somehow, that suggestion does not convince me. The performances of almost the entire cast of Slumdog was fantastic. No denying that. But, is that enough to warrant 10 Oscar nominations? Are’nt there numerous movies with mindblowing performances that have’nt got nominated. I don’t know, your guess is as good as mine. To cut a long story short, the journey of ‘Slumdog’ thus far has been a little bit like its very own storyline. I’m almost certain that the makers of Slumdog were neither expecting nor prepared for its overwhelming success just like the protagonist of the movie kept surprising himself with every passing question. I know that what I’m about to say next will be unacceptable to a lot of you and I will be accused of trivializing and simplifying the reason for the movie’s phenomenal success. But, if I was in the ‘Hot Seat’ of “Who wants to be a Millionaire” having exhausted all my lifelines and the screen in front of me read

What is the reason for Slumdog Millionaire’s stupendous success?

  1. Its got a great plot and features some memorable performances
  2. Its extremely unique
  3. It highlights the dismal plight of a major section of the population of contemporary India
  4. It is written

No prizes for guessing what my answer would be.. ;)