Musings

Good Taliban, Bad Taliban, Nice Taliban, Shoo Taliban

…And now, a Tolerant, Secular, Gender-Sensitive Taliban?

Everything seems to have changed. Nothing has changed.

Watching Taliban take over the last few remaining bits of Afghanistan, and the live footage of tens of thousands of terrified Afghans still trying to flee the country (some killing themselves or getting killed in the process), brings to mind the identical scenes from 1989-90 when Taliban first swept to power and began their Reign of Horror in Afghanistan – under the benign watch of Pakistan and the US.

Remember: Taliban is a creation of the USA and its then-stooge, Pakistan.

Remember:  Osama bin Laden was a creation of the USA and its then-stooge, Pakistan.

It’s a good time to remember these things. It’s very important never to forget these facts.

We must not waste energy screeching ‘foul’ at USA or US President Joe Biden or his GI Joes for ‘abandoning’ Afghanistan.

Because, for the USA, its entire involvement in Afghanistan , Iraq and other regions of Central Asia and the Middle East from the 1980s till 2021 has been nothing more, nothing less, than a long-term  project aimed at securing the USA’s long-term energy security: specifically, USA’s command and control over the region’s vast oil and natural gas reserves.

After all, in statecraft there is no ‘morality’; there is no ‘good or ‘bad’, there is only Supreme National Interest.

And Taliban, Jihad, Osama bin Laden, the 9/11 attacks, the ‘War on Terror’, Hamid Karzai, Zalmay Khalilzad, Saddam Hussein…all these have been just actors and components and phases of this wonderful American-led project that has spanned several US Presidencies, both Democratic and Republican: from Reagan to Biden.  

This is a project that never ends.

Bear with me, O tolerant Reader, as I dust off and present two of a few articles I’d written on this theme for Indian Express from nearly two decades ago.   I do hope they jog thy memories as they did mine, and help discern hazy outlines of the unchanging truth from the ephemeral peta-tonnes of post-truths, half-truths and plain lies that now fill our media and numb our minds.

Free kick to Unocal!

[Indian Express: June 17th , 2002]

Saeed Naqvi’s criticism of India’s apathy and lack of vision in dealing with the post-Taliban Afghanistan (‘Mindsets with Manacles’, IE June 14) is timely, because Hamid Karzai’s coming to power has deep implications for India’s economy and long-term security.

If the USSR invaded Afghanistan in the 1980s to secure a strategic gateway on to the Arabian Sea, the US-backed mujahideen war to evict the Soviets was driven by the Americans’ desire to wrest control of the vast reserves of oil and gas in the (then-Soviet) Central Asian nations.

There were two fronts to the US campaign. On the one hand, the CIA and Pakistan’s ISI set up a vast operation to recruit, arm and train Islamic radicals from all over the world to fight a jihad against the Soviets in Afghanistan. Simultaneously, the $ 6 billion American oil company, Unocal, drew up plans for a giant pipeline that would transport LNG from Turkmenistan via Afghanistan to Pakistan, and thence, to Southeast Asian markets by sea.

Throughout the war-torn 1990s, then, Unocal busily lobbied with various ethnic factions in Afghanistan to secure its proposed pipeline. In 1995, it strongly backed the Taliban regime. Its efforts were openly endorsed by Robin Raphel, then US assistant secretary of state (South Asia), and by Tom Simmons, then US ambassador to Pakistan, who encouraged the Pakistan prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, to grant Unocal exclusive transit rights for oil and gas across Pakistan.

One of Unocal’s most able executives in Afghanistan during this period was Hamid Karzai.

On February 8 this year, Pakistan’s General Musharraf and Karzai agreed on a $ 10 million deal confirming the pipeline arrangement.

There is another strange and murky twist to the Unocal tale. The company is closely associated with Saudi oil giant Delta; and Delta is closely linked to Turki bin Faisal, who until 2001, had headed Saudi Arabia’s intelligence service Istakhbarat.

 In the early 1990s, Faisal promoted the image of Taliban as ‘liberators’ to the US, thus endorsing Unocal’s stand. But Faisal did much more (as recorded by Pakistan journalist Ahmed Rashid in his book, Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia).

At the urgings of Pakistan’s ISI, Turki bin Faisal provided a ‘royal prince’ to inspire and lead the Saudi contingent of mujahideen in Afghanistan

This ‘prince’ was none other than Osama bin Laden.

In the absence of any credible alternative, Hamid Karzai has now been chosen by the Loya Jirga as leader of Afghanistan for the next two years. Hopefully his election will bring a measure of unity and peace to the shattered peoples of Afghanistan. But his ascension to power also means that the US has finally have achieved the goal it has sought since the early 1990s — absolute control over Central Asian oil reserves.

A victory soaked in children’s blood

[Indian Express: Apr 22, 2003]

Iraq’s tragedy is symbolized by the fate of 12-year-old Ali Ismael Abbas. A Coalition missile strike killed Ali’s mother and father, sheared off his arms and destroyed his home. Ali has now been shifted to a hospital in Kuwait; there is talk of his being sent to the UK for advanced medical treatment. Surely this innocent child deserves the best care and assistance to start life anew.

But there are a thousand other Iraqi children like Ali: maimed, orphaned, homeless, nameless. What did they have to do with issues such as the removal of Saddam Hussein, weapons of mass destruction, or terrorism, issues cited by the US and UK to justify the Coalition campaign?

The military strikes are all but over. The Coalition forces have not captured Saddam or any key figures of his regime (unless an estranged ‘half-brother’ falls under the category). They have not found any WMD. The only ‘terrorist’ they have found is an ageing Palestinian who hijacked an Italian airliner 19 years ago, and against whom even Israel dropped all charges long ago. As for liberating the Iraqis, the irony is that the Coalition faced far fiercer resistance in Basra populated mainly by Shias, who were brutally oppressed by Saddam’s Sunni-dominated Ba’ath regime, than they did in Baghdad or even Saddam’s hometown of Tikrit.

So what has the Coalition campaign achieved?

The plain truth is, the US has secured its long-term strategic interests by paving the way for the installation of a regime that will allow it control over Iraq’s vast oil reserves.

In an energy-starved world, control over energy resources is the key to global dominance. Iraq has proven reserves of 115 billion barrels of oil (compared to Russia’s 49 billion and the Caspian states’ 15 billion barrels).

Significantly, US President Bush has appointed Zalmay Khalilzad as his special envoy to Iraq.

Khalilzad was earlier special envoy to Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan and both Karzai and Khalilzad were key advisors to US oil giant Unocal. Karzai’s installation in Afghanistan has enabled US oil majors to finalize plans to access Turkmenistan’s oil resources via a trans-Afghanistan pipeline to Pakistan. With control over Iraq’s oil resources, the US has in effect acquired a stranglehold over two-thirds of the world’s proven oil reserves. America will now use energy costs to wield global economic influence.

Today, the US and UK media strive to project their forces as saviours providing drinking water, medical assistance and electricity to Iraqis. Conveniently overlooked is the fact that the water and power infrastructure was destroyed in the first place by Coalition air strikes. Like little Ali, surely the Iraqi people need all the help they can get. But they know and the world knows that the Coalition campaign was never about saving the Iraqi people; it was about their oil.

[P.S.: Spare a thought – though perhaps little sympathy – for the Pakistani establishment: with Taliban at their gates, and no USA any more to turn to for dollars or for refuge in the short-term, they will soon learn the bitter truth of the old maxim: “Sow the wind, and thou shalt reap the whirlwind.” Of course, there’s always China...]

Musings, Verse perverse

Tumble-Wash Epiphany

Of late I’ve been experiencing a strange mental turmoil.

Days and nights have been passing in a timeless, rather pleasant blur—nothing unusual about that, as the passing of days and nights in a blur has pretty much been part of my philosophy and lifestyle since 1963, when my Class 2 teacher recognized and highlighted it with a vitriolic comment or three. But in the past few months, the blur has been interspersed with short but incredibly vivid interludes of fantasy that are as engrossing and disturbing as they are impossible to wipe off the cerebral slate.

Last night, I actually experienced intense déjà vu within dream. The weird thing is (or was), in my dream I was not myself—meaning, I was not this dusty old bandicoot who even now sits in a dusty corner of East Delhi on a sultry mid-August night writing this crap. Instead, in my dream I was a dusty old historian from South Delhi in body, mind and soul, a part-time heritage walk mentor specializing in ancient Sultanate and Mughal monuments. I was walking through the Mehrauli Archaeological Park area on a grey, misty, bitterly cold January day with a small group of men, women, children, and a few other creatures including a squirrel wearing bifocals and the crafty look of an avaricious advocate. The walk was going quite well in my dream, though I was mildly irritated by the squirrel which kept asking me searching and intelligent questions about squinches, domes, arches and other such architectural things that I knew very little about, and  that chuckled and chittered loudly and derisively whenever I fumbled for answers.

All at once, without warning, the swirling mist intensified into a white-out fog. Alarmed, I froze in mid-step and called to the others to stop …even in dream I remember noting how flat and muffled my voice sounded. And then, like the clouds of moisture-laden air that wander amidst the deep gorges of Sohra and Pynursla, the dense fog magically thinned into great billowing columns that parted like pearly curtains and evaporated into blue nothingness, and I found myself bathed in brilliant sunshine, and that’s when I realized two things:

One: I was no longer with my group in Mehrauli but standing alone, utterly alone on a vast, treeless sweeping slope strewn with scree, surrounded by incredibly tall snow-streaked mountains;

Two: I knew for sure I had never stood on that slope or ever seen those mountains in my life, yet I knew I had been there before, experienced that experience before…just as I knew exactly and fully what I would think and see and  hear and smell and taste and feel at the very next moment and at every moment from then onward, for ever and ever…

…And that’s when, even as I clutched on to that timeless déjà vu, it slipped away and vanished with the growing awareness that I must be in the coils of dream, because there was no way in which I, a heritage walk mentor, could have transported myself from Mehrauli in south Delhi to what appeared to be a steep mountain-side amidst the high Himalayas…leave alone experience déjà vu in that desolate place. And with that awareness that I was dreaming came a tidal wave of terror that I might awaken to find myself not the historian/heritage walk mentor that I actually was, but as someone else…perhaps even as a decrepit old writer lying in bed in east Delhi. And at that thought a great abyss of dread opened up deep within my mind as the tidal wave tossed and turned me hither and thither and eventually flung me, battered and bruised, on to the shores of consciousness where I lay trembling, awake at last.

How could I possibly have dreamed such a dream, in which I was not only someone else but had actually experienced déjà vu as that someone else?

I have no answers; only questions, that sound so demented I am almost too scared to voice them.

Yet I must.

Have the global clouds of angst and anxiety, spawned by Covid-19, finally overcome my cerebral defences? Do they now wait, like monsoon clouds in their brooding and silent enormity, to pour forth their giga-tonnes of fluid insanity and wash away what remains of my cognition in a raging neural flood?  

Have I waded for too long in the limpid pool of Mann Ki Baat, to now be flushed away and drowned in the foaming toilet of Monsoon ki Bath? 

Have I finally achieved the position grimly foretold for me by my class 2 teacher, and become quietly yet indubitably insane?

In the sacred name of Bakasura the Ravenous, will I ever be able to escape from this realm of Guiche into which I have wandered wonderingly and now wonder wanderingly?

These and other troubled musings kept me tossing and turning till dawn; whereupon, after a few cups of healing tannin and caffeine solutions, I went up to the terrace and put a load of clothes to wash.  Watching the sheets and pillow cases tossing and turning in the washing machine just as I had tossed and turned half the night, I began to feel better. Slowly but surely, that familiar old timeless and rather pleasant blur of being returned to soothe my frayed neurons, dendrons and rhododendrons. The washing machine hummed contentedly; the birds chirped happily as they hunted bugs in the foliage; a squirrel streaked across the tiles, sat on its haunches a few feet away, chirruped a series of questions and stared at me through shrewd eyes, waiting for a response.  I stared back at it, wondering why its accent seemed so familiar…but the moment passed, as did the squirrel.

My questions may have no answers; I realize that now, as I write these words.  

Indeed, my answers may have no questions.

Yet I find some blurry comfort in the immortal lyrics of that great and little-known Tamil bard of yore, Konal Kuttilingam (c. 644–596 BCE) whose octrain ‘Ode to Calavai-Pen‘ was translated and soulfully rendered by Irish blues singer Anne O’Nimus at the New Orleans Jazz Festival, 1963 shortly before her tragic demise due to an accidental overdose of pandemonium nitrate.

Wash’d like a garment might thou feel, O beloved, in this Kaveri of Life

Beaten and scrubb’d by Great Calavai-Pen* on Her adamant stone

Yet despair not! Only by this Bath of Anguish, this Path of Strife

May’st thou for many Muttal-Thanams@ of the Past atone

Be joyful, then, as She cleanses thee, wrings thee

Spreads thee to dry: do not moan and groan

Behold! the Vapours of Illusion leave thee, pure and free

To ask: “Dog without bone, or bone without dog…who is more alone?

[(Tamil) *Calavai-Pen = washerwoman; @Muttal-Thanam = idiocies; boo-boos. Translation by the late lamented & lamentable Periachandu Dorai II of Mayiladuthurai (1946 – 1997)]

Musings, Potshots

To Comrade Xi Jingping of China, with Love

Dear Comrade Xi,

How are you? I am well.

How is the weather in Beijing? It is quite sultry here in Delhi, with a lot of mosquitoes.

I hope you are not troubled by mosquitoes in Beijing? But then, considering the Great Scientific Leaps Forward achieved in China under your glorious and lifelong Supreme Leadership, I am sure Chinese virologists from Wuhan will have developed variants of the bats of Yunnan that will eat any mosquitoes that dare disturb your equanimity.

Comrade Xi, I am so happy that you have called on your Chinese officials to “create a “trustworthy, lovable and respectable image for China…and to improve the way China tells stories to the global audience”.  Indeed, China is getting a lot of abuse and bad media coverage across the world about this terrible coronavirus Covid-19; the abuse continues even after that foul-mouthed Donald Trump of USA was kicked out of US presidential office. 

Oh! Comrade Xi, I used to feel so very sad for you and for China whenever I heard ex-US President Trump abuse you last year. I used to tell my friends: “Ah! If only Trump had been Chinese! He could have immediately been sponsored by the Chinese government for a Re-Education Program under Short-Term Plan in some convenient Province—say, Uighur— and without doubt Trump would have emerged a better, quieter, more gentle and tolerant man, for such is the wisdom and benign humaneness that marks all educational and re-educational institutions of learning and unlearning under the leadership of Comrade Xi.”

But apologies for digressing, dear Comrade Xi. My main purpose in writing is to tell you that I fully endorse and whole-heartedly support your call on your officials to present a better image of China and to tell better stories of China to the world.

In this regard I am proud to declare that I am a regular reader of The Global Times, which is aptly described as being a Mighty and Virile Organ of the People’s Republic of China.  Not only do I read Global Times, respected Comrade: I also contribute an occasional Letter to the GT Editor, and it is with delight that I present my latest letter below. You will note that it was published barely a day before your ringing call for improving China’s image. I trust my letter will encourage and inspire Chinese officialdom to take one small step forward in their Long March that lies ahead.

In conclusion, dear Comrade Xi, may I narrate, very briefly, this magnificent old Chinese folk tale that has so much relevance and import for China’s image in the world, and indeed for the future of China and the world:

There once was a fine young nobleman from the kingdom of Chu, who set forth on a journey across the country. Upon a day the nobleman reached the bank of a wide river, whereupon he engaged a boatman to row him across to the far shore.

As they were crossing the river, the nobleman accidentally dropped his sword into the water. Displaying great intelligence and swiftness of thought, the nobleman at once drew his dagger and made a notch-mark on the side of the boat where he’d seen the sword go overboard. As soon as the boat reached the far shore, the nobleman plunged into the shallows and scrabbled around in the muddy waters beneath the notch-mark, looking for his sword…

May I respectfully and sincerely suggest, dear Comrade Xi, that China’s diplomats, other government officials, and in particular the senior officials and cadres of the People’s Liberation Army, draw inspiration and lessons from this folk tale as they obey your call and embark on their quest to locate and restore China’s lost respect and honour?

Strength to the People’s Republic of China! Jai Hind!

General ravings, Musings

Oxygen, Covid-19, Salt, Eggs, Churchill, and Ram Yagya

Ram Yagya called just when I’d finished yoga yesterday morning – May 4th that is. He told me he’d reached home, safe and sound.

I’ve known Ram Yagya for over 25 years. His home is near Ayodhya, 615 km from Delhi. He and his brother have some ancestral agricultural land there; but that’s barely enough to support their joint families. And so, he and his brother take turns in travelling to Delhi each year, between the sowing and harvest seasons, to supplement their household income by ironing clothes. They’ve been allotted their own workspace in our little residential colony; they’ve also taken a little room on long-term rent to stay in— in Trilokpuri, a couple of kilometers away.

Ram Yagya’s had a tough time since the first week of April this year, when he came back to Delhi to take over the reins and steam iron from his brother who returned to Ayodhya. With the complete lockdown ordered by Delhi government in mid-April following signs of a resurgent Covid-19, most people in the colony stopped giving him clothes to iron, reducing his income to a trickle. As during last year I’ve done my little bit to help him along these past few weeks: a bit of working capital, help with the rent, and so forth. But when he came to see me on the morning of May 1st, Ram Yagya was understandably anxious; the lockdown in Delhi had been extended again till May 10th,  and with this year’s virus attack being far more vicious than even last year’s, he was worried there might again be nationwide lockdown. The horrific memories of 2020 were still raw and vivid in his mind; he was scared of falling ill while alone in Delhi; he was worried for his wife, who suffers from a chronic respiratory ailment; he wanted to return and be with his family…

He wanted my advice.

I totally empathized with him. Delhi was no place for him at this awful time; it was best that he return home to his family. Ram Yagya had had one vaccine shot—but that, we knew, was no guarantee of immunity against the virus. We discussed options. An overnight journey by fast train seemed a much safer and quicker option for him than a series of uncertain, back-breaking mofussil bus journeys across the width of Uttar Pradesh, that too with day temperatures above 40°C. Besides, social distancing norms were being enforced quite strictly by the Indian Railways, at least on their long-distance trains.

The trains were running full—there were lakhs of people in the same predicament as him, desperate to get home to their families. Luckily, we managed to get a berth on the 3rd evening’s train to travel from Delhi to Ayodhya-Faizabad.

I’m glad Ram Yagya has reached home safe and sound.  

And I write this because during our chat on May 1st, he reminded me of something that I’d forgotten about: something that I believe has so much relevance, so many lessons for us even now.

We were discussing the indescribable anarchy that’s swamped Delhi, with Covid-19 cases spreading as fast as a poisonous rumour; the panic among people intensified by hysterical 24/7 reportage in mainstream and social media on lack of ambulances, lack of hospital beds, lack of oxygen, lack of medicines; the frenzied rush among people to  self-diagnose and self-medicate, to pay black-market prices and stock up on Remdesevir and other medicines that are being touted as ‘miracle cures’ by quacks and affiliated crooks; to chase and buy and hoard cylinders of medical oxygen and even industrial oxygen at astronomical prices from assorted scoundrels, irrespective of whether they need oxygen therapy at all  – even while hospitals are running out of medical oxygen and patients who really need the oxygen cannot get it.  A situation where hospitals are turning away patients seeking admission because they don’t have oxygen and/or medicines— further spurring the mad public frenzy to buy oxygen and medicines in the black-market in a vicious cycle that neither governments nor judiciary seem able to even comprehend, leave alone control.

Ram Yagya had chuckled grimly and murmured: “Phir woi namak ka kahani!”

Phir woi namak ka kahani.  “It’s that same Salt Story again.”

Ram Yagya had reminded me of something we’d experienced over twenty years earlier, in 1998. The Salt Story; the Great Salt Rush.

On a November day in 1998, a bizarre rumour suddenly surfaced and spread like wildfire across northern India that salt—yes, salt, namak— was disappearing from markets. In 1998 there were no mobile phones, leave alone social media; laptops were a luxury, dial-up connections were the norm, Mark Zuckerberg was still in school, and Google had just been created. But within hours of that first whisper, the rumour about an imminent salt shortage spread across the entire cow belt, and tens of thousands of good honest patriotic Delhi citizens were forming kilometer-long queues outside every kirana shop, every supermarket in the city, to buy salt. They were buying namak as though there were no tomorrow. And as stocks of salt disappeared from shop-shelves and shopkeepers turned people away, their panic and anger only grew and grew and the rumours only gained traction even as the government called the rumour baseless and appealed for restraint and sobriety; and  people started fighting over salt, buying salt at ten times, twenty times the usual rate…

We —my father and I—heard the rumour too mid-morning, from a kindly neighbor who expressed concern that we hadn’t gone out yet to stock up on salt. “I’ve sent my son early morning to buy twenty kilos to start with,” she informed us, and added kindly,  “If you can’t go, don’t worry…I’ll give you one or two packets.”

We thanked her much for her generosity, politely declined her offer, and assured her we had a kilo of salt which would last us at least till the following summer. Over the next hour dad and I stood at the window and watched in awe and disbelief as dozens of respectable residents streamed out the colony gates, market-bound—some on foot, others in scooters and cars—and others streamed in through the gates triumphantly bearing great treasures of salt. I’ll never forget the sight of one salt-laden rickshaw that nearly teetered over as it rounded the corner, the driver straining at the pedals, his passenger virtually invisible behind walls of salt packets stacked all around him.  

It’s quite possible there are hundreds – maybe thousands – of families across north India, still consuming the salt they hoarded in 1998.

Phir woi namak ka kahani.

So when Ram Yagya recalled the Great Salt Rush I chuckled grimly too, and recounted a story about how the British people had responded during the mahayudh (Second World War) when their prime minister Churchill went on radio (1942?) and appealed to citizens not to buy eggs as these were needed the most by British soldiers. Within hours of Churchill’s radio broadcast, British citizens had formed long lines outside every kirana in England, just like we Indians would have …but the difference was they’d lined up to return eggs that they’d bought earlier.

“Woh toh Angrezi hain, samajdhaari log hain,” Ram Yagya responded, shaking his head.”Hamare log kabhi nehin sudhrega,”

They were English; a people with wisdom, discernment. Our people will never improve.

I’m no cynic, I’m no pessimist. I recognize the wonderful, selfless, tireless efforts of countless Indians in Delhi and elsewhere who are doing all they can to help those in need at this terrible time.

I know the fear of not having salt or eggs is on an entirely different plane from the fear losing one’s life or a loved one’s life from Covid-19. Like you, I too have loved ones in hospitals, fighting to recover from Covid-19. I too have dear friends who have lost loved ones to the virus.

But I have to agree with Ram Yagya on this. Hamare log kabhi nehin sudhrega.

We are a nation, a people in denial.

Since last year’s Covid ‘slowdown’ we’ve all slackened from top to bottom. We paved the way for this so-called second wave; we invited it.

We’ve had millions gathering without a care (leave alone masks or social distancing) for religious (and secular!) rituals and festivities: Ganesh Puja, Onam, Id, Durga Puja, Christmas, New Year, Pongal, Holi, Easter, Baisakhi, Bihu, Vishu, Ramzan prayers.

Add the utter madness of allowing – nay, encouraging – millions from across the country to gather earlier this year in Haridwar for a week-long Kumbh Mela.

Add the insanity of holding and participating in lakh-strong political rallies from Bengal to Kerala, Assam to Tamil Nadu, addressed by the very netas – Right, Left, Communal, Communist – who preach to us ad nauseum on the importance of observing Covid-related precautions.

Add to that the mind-numbing idiocy of permitting, nay, egging on lakhs of mandi commission agents, assorted dalals and farmers to gather all around Delhi for over six months in a kind of great floating population from across the country, to ‘protest against farm laws’. [Even as I write this, ‘farmer-leaders’ in Punjab are calling for a boycott of lockdown and yet another march to Dilli].

Surely these countless millions of idiots aren’t sheep? Surely they knew what they were doing when they flaunted their ‘no mask and up close’ bravado, they knew how they were endangering not only themselves but all those around them and back home?

Yet, we don’t recognize ourselves among these people, we don’t admit their and our own collective stupidities. Because it’s always someone else’s fault: it has to be. Not mine, not People Like Us.

Anyway, it’s all Modi’s fault…no?

Musings, Potshots, Remembering

Harvesting Human Riots?

This one is especially for my dear, tolerant and genuinely Communist friends  – who I believe are as different from today’s ‘Left Liberals’ as Indrajit Gupta was from Lavrentiy Beria

I’ve been filled with a sense of foreboding since yesterday, December 10th.   Filled with memories of January – February 2020.

On 31st January, 2020, after two  months’ mixed feelings and foreboding about the nature and direction of the anti-CAA protests at Shaheen Bagh and elsewhere, after two months’ of being buffeted and thoroughly addled by conflicting high-decibel media messages all purporting to present truth, I took a train down to Shaheen Bagh to see  and judge for myself what was going on there. I spent half a day wandering around in Shaheen Bagh and its neighbourhood.  I was appalled and disgusted at what I saw and learned from that visit; I wrote that the so-called anti-CAA protest in Shaheen Bagh was in fact a brilliantly conceived Pilot Project for Mass Murder, a plot to spark off countrywide Hindu-Muslim riots.  I also pointed out who I believed were the primary organizers of this diabolic Project: assorted self-proclaimed Left-oriented riffraff, including university students’ unions, rabble-rousing university faculty, and their obedient faculty-challenged followers.

I was also convinced, and wrote so, that besides the Left, every other political formation in India—including the ruling BJP —supported the Pilot Project for Mass Murder in Shaheen Bagh, overtly or covertly.

Because, with the Ayodhya–Babri Masjid case resolved once and for all thanks to the Supreme Court of India, all politicians and their hangers-on, Left and Right and Communal and Casteist, were desperate to find a lasting inflammable issue that could keep the fires of communal division burning between Hindu and Muslim, to be conveniently fanned at will in future election campaigns.

And what better long-lived inflammable issue than a good old-fashioned communal riot?

It didn’t take long after my visit for the Pilot Project to be implemented.

Communal riots began on 23rd February in Delhi and raged for the next five days. Officially, 53 people were killed.  

The organizational skills of the street-smart Left had proved their mettle yet again.

Of course, there’s no evidence that the Left were behind it all.  There never is.

For the simple, time-tested reason, that when the forest fire finally dies after raging for days, no one really cares about or looks for the little matchstick that started it in the first place.

No one really cares or looks…especially when all political parties and their captive media houses have benefited from the fire.

And so, 53 murders and nine months later, there are still hundreds of families in grief and pain in Delhi…and so one is responsible.

I declare without shame that even in my horror at the carnage, I was relieved the toll in the riots was ‘only’ 53 and not 530, or 53,000.  

Because, gentle reader, I do believe that that was what the politicians would have liked: to see thousands dead, tens of thousands maimed, lakhs displaced.

Especially, the politicians of the Left and the Congress.

Because, for these two formations, BJP leader Narendra Modi’s greatest crime is that under his watch as Prime Minister since 2014, there has not been a single major riot comparable to the great riots of yore: Gujarat 2002,  Bombay 1992-93 (oh…no one talks about that anymore, because the murderous Muslim-hating Shiv Sena is today Secular), Ahmedabad, Hyderabad and Meerut 1989, Bhagalpur 1989, Delhi 1984 …and so on ad nauseum back to Partition 1947.  

For Modi’s rule to be without riots goes against the Left—Congress Narrative, you see. 

According to the Left–Congress Narrative, the advent of Modi Sarkar should have heralded the murder of Muslims and other minorities on a scale that would make Comrade Stalin appear to be Mother Teresa.

By the Grace of Allah and Krishna and Marx large-scale communal rioting hasn’t happened yet…despite the best efforts of gau rakshaks, Shri Ram Sene and other fanatical Hindu groups.

But the fear-mongers of the Left and Congress haven’t stopped trying.  They just love their Narrative about Modi.

So much so, they will alter Reality to suit their Narrative; they will use Fear, and its dread sibling-twins Hatred and Rage, to push innocent people to the brink of unreason.

And that’s why again I am troubled and filled with foreboding.

I fear that where they failed in pitting Hindus against Muslims, the Left Liberals now seek opportunity in pitting Farmers against Government.

It’s the 11th of December. It’s three days since the Bharat Bandh that was called by Congress, CPI(M), and affiliated political riffraff on December 8th to express their ‘solidarity’ with the farmers of Punjab and Haryana who are camping peacefully on the borders of Delhi and seeking repeal of the recently passed laws that they believe will threaten their (farmers’) interests and livelihoods.

I’ve been filled with admiration for the farmers and their collectives, for stoutly refusing to allow any political parties or political voices to hijack their own peaceful movement.

I was filled with joy on 10th December: because the Bharat Bandh had arrived and departed like an autumn cloud, with much noise but no rain; with much Opposition chest-thumping but without any major violence or loss of life.

But today, December 11th, I see the unholy Left groups gathered alongside farmers belonging to the Left-backed Bhartiya Kisan Union (Ekta-Ugrahan) at Tikri, on Delhi’s borders.

I see the same people and hear the same voices that whipped up paranoia and anger over CAA among the bewildered Muslims of Shaheen Bagh during prime-time hours. They wave posters of their heroes—among them well-known Gandhians such as Sharjeel Islam, Varavara Rao, Sudha Bharadwaj, Gautam Navlakha, Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira—and demand their release from jail where they currently await trial for planning or instigating large-scale social discord including riots.  

Photo: courtesy The Wire; https://thewire.in/rights/farmer-protests-arrested-activists-academics

Asked what their heroes or indeed they themselves have to do with the farmers’ movement, the Left supporters declare that they are simply observing ‘Human Rights Day’.

I wonder: do the Comrades actually mean ‘Human Riots Day’?

To them I say – foolishly and wistfully hoping they might listen to counsel from a 64-year-old fossil who hath seen much death, much pain:

Anarchy’s Romance rebounds as Terror, tears reason asunder

Hymns of Peace will not then calm thee to slumber

Beware, Truth’s Bell will not rouse thee, from pretended sleep

Deceit’s Seed thou soweth; a Violent Harvest shalt thou reap

.

General ravings, Musings, Remembering

WTF should I WFE when I can WFH?

A ramble in 23 disconnected parts

One of the major impacts of the Coronavirus Era is that a whole lot of people are now working from home (WFH). 

I realize, with considerable delight, that WFH is what I’ve been doing since 1993.

That was when, after just about 13 years as a lowly and descending-ever-lower State Bank officer, I awoke one day to the realization that, judging by my precipitous career graph and the learned and corrosive opinions of several influential senior management functionaries, I was both unlikely and unfit to become even the part-time trainee-assistant to a certain peon who had been placed under suspension at the bank’s Thalayolaparambu branch for interesting-sounding offences such as  ‘moral turpitude’ (I was informed by usually unreliable sources that the peon later rose to be the chief vigilance manager of the bank).

It was an epiphany of sorts. I suddenly became aware that all that I’d ever wanted to do since the age of six was to work as  engine-driver or coal-shoveller in the Indian Railways—preferably on the wonderful WP/M Class 4-6-2 Canadian steam engines that hauled express and mail trains.

Or, as Plan B, I wanted to be a writer. 

And so, to resounding cries of joy from the senior bank management functionaries and other colleagues, I quit my memorably erratic and obscure career in the world of banking and finance in September 1992 to begin a new and even more erratic and obscure career as a writer—my dreams to join Indian Railways having, alas, been derailed because I had no engineering or coal-shovelling qualifications, and in any case by the early 1990s almost all the coal-fired steam engines had been phased out.

And so, O Patient and Worthy Reader, here I’ve been ever since then—WFH, scribbling and clacking away with pen and keyboard respectively, often disrespectfully, and sometimes retrospectively on almost every subject under the sun and a fair number of objects well beyond the sun too.

The Coronavirus Era is indeed terrible. Yet,  I’m happy that millions of others can at last discover the joys and benefits of WFH, even in these viroid paranoid times when people can’t sit together in persona to waste pleasant and unproductive hours in meetings, workshops, seminars and conferences, but are forced instead to sit in separatum (or alag alag, beleg beleg or taniya taniya) in their own respective abodes and waste even more pleasant and unproductive hours Zooming and MS Teaming and Webexing their angst at not being able to sit together  in persona to waste time. 

I just love WFH. I believe WFH is infinitely better than WFE (working from elsewhere).  

Join me in a few whoops of ‘WTF should I WFE when I can WFH’!   

Of course, I realize that WFH has been quite different for me than it is for most other people today, in two fundamental ways:

1.  I chose to WFH; a virus didn’t make that choice for me.  

2.  I’m doing something totally different while WFH (writing) from what I was doing before WFH (being a banker); whereas a lot of people WFH today are doing the same things that they were doing before WFH.

So, I’m fully aware there’s no comparing my WFH with your WFH. Still, I dare say there are a few wonderful joys of WFH that all we WFH-ers share.  Like:

  • Avoiding the drudgery and tedium of spending hours driving or otherwise commuting scores of kilometres to and from work—in uncomfortably close proximity with thousands of co-commuters of assorted aggressiveness, aromas, and angularities.
  • Doing the same amount of work – or often, much more work – from the comfort of home, where you can take breaks for tea and coffee  and snacks and a stroll and a quick goof-off or even nap as often and for as long as you like.
  • Learning new or long-forgotten skills – like listening to bird-calls, sharing comfortable silence with a friend, chuckling to oneself, reading, reflecting, simply being. 
  • Breathing deeply – even if only through a mask – for scientists claim to have found increasing traces in the air of the rare element oxygen (alas, that blissful state has long since been obscured in Delhi by vehicular and political smog). 

WFH gives me the chance to work flexible hours. I can better manage my time, and so create time in which to do more of what I like to do, as well as explore doing all kinds of new things I always wanted to do but couldn’t or didn’t because of lame reasons like “Got to get up early” or “I’m too tired” or “Where’s the time for that?”

And it’s funny, but even though I’ve been WFH for over two decades, I’ve got more work done since March 2020—during the Coronavirus Era— than I have during the same period in earlier years. 

By ‘work’ here, I mean writing stuff about clean, energy efficient technologies, which I do for a research institute that has – much to my pleasant surprise – retained me as a consultant for over 25 years.

Could my improved productivity be some weird synergistic effect of WFH and Covid-19?  

Many a night these past six months have I tossed and turned sleeplessly while exploring this idea; twice have I fallen right off the bed and into deep sleep. But still I have no answer.

Enough to say that besides posting a dozen blogs since March, I’ve also started to write about seventeen much longer pieces about far more serious things as well. Things like:

  • The rapid spread of Left Liberal ideologies among red ant colonies in the National Capital Region
  • Violent conflicts over power stealing and parking rights among members of Resident Welfare Associations and Cooperative Housing Societies in Delhi, and their striking parallels with violent conflicts among members of Lok Sabha, state assemblies, and media houses over power broking and barking rights
  • An interim report on my ongoing psycho-sociocultural study (tentative title: ‘Growing Influence of News-Reader Squirrels on Main-Scream Indian Media: is Democracy Safe?’ ), which focuses on the behavioural characteristics of squirrels that perch at great heights on trees and buildings and chirrup the day’s news loudly and aggressively with threatening tosses of their heads and tails—mannerisms that have been adopted with great success by leading TV news channel hosts such as Navika Kumar of Times Now and Arnab Goswami of Republic TV.
  • The urgent need for government to seize the opportunity provided by social distancing norms in offices and public places and public transport systems, and implement a National Awareness Mission for EBOLA-PS (Eradicating Body Odour and Like Aromas in Public Spaces)

I’ve also read more books these past eight months than I read during the five year period 2014–2019. These come to mind:

  • The Greatest Show on Earth—the evidence for evolution [Richard Dawkins]
  • Amusing ourselves to death—Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business [Neil Postman]
  • Bridge of Clay [Markus Zusak]
  • Biology of belief [Bruce Lipton]
  • Permanent record [Edward Snowden]
  • Last chance to see [Douglas Adams & Mark Carwardine]

Oh, I’ve also been reading—rather, re-reading with renewed enjoymenta few books that I’d first read in the 1970s and 1980s: like Opus [Isaac Asimov], A History of England [G M Trevelyan], Tribal folktales of Assam [S N Barkataki],  and The Deadly Element [Lennard Bickel].  Oh, and a P G Wodehouse anthology or two, too, in between.

And then, I’ve taken some guitar lessons. From Fender, the US guitar makers, who in April 2020 offered three months’ online lessons for free to people across the world, just to cheer us up during the pandemic!  So I registered at once, and hauled out and dusted off the old guitar, and logged in about 37 lessons.  I’m not sure how much I’ve learned, but I’ve certainly unlearned a whole lot of wrong ways of playing guitar that I’d taught myself 50 years or more ago. And then, while I was still practicing to transit smoothly from G to C, suddenly it was October, and I realized that my three months’ free lessons had long expired and I’d been taking lessons for nearly three months without paying one paisa or cent to Fender.  So I checked with Fender, and learned that they’d quietly and generously extended my free online lessons by four months.

 Just like that. 

That little thing that Fender did meant so much to me.  The memory still brings a warm glow. As do the  countless such little acts of generosity, insaaniyat, kindness and selflessness that millions and millions of people have done and are doing for others, for complete strangers around them and across the world, without fuss and without making a big noise about it and without expecting anything at all in return, least of all publicity.   It restores hope and courage, strengthens faith: that even amidst the roiling clouds of violence and war and hatred and selfishness and cold cynicism that seem to be engulfing the world and filling the minds and hearts of young ones with hopelessness and apathy and numb terror, the essential ‘goodness’ of people will surely endure, shine forth, evaporate the clouds as the warm light of dawn disperses night.  

More on that anon…

In conclusion, O patient Reader, here’s something else that I’ve tried during WFH in the Corona Era: writing a diary.

In junior school, in class 3 or 4, an enthusiastic teacher gifted each of us a diary and asked us to write down something in it daily – thoughts, poems, a paragraph, a line – and read aloud from it after a week or two. Each day’s effort was to be addressed to ‘Dear Diary’. Alas, driven insane by our inane and incoherent ramblings, our teacher soon abandoned the entire project and my diary became a rough book duly filled with doodles and scribbles. But Demented Desire for Dear Diary has blazed on in the heart for over five decades, like a young love remembered.

And so I found a battered old notebook and wrote ‘Diary’ on the cover, and scribbled my first diary post. Here it is, typed verbatim from the original scrawl:

Dear Dairy,

How are you? I am fine.

It’s now just after 23.00. I’ll keep it simple and try to summarize what I did today.

  • Woke at 05:45.  Popped in daily thyroxine goli, dozed off again.
  • Re-woke at 06:20 with rush of energy from thyroxine and smarting elbow from mosquito bite.
  • 06:25–06:50.  Brush-wash routine; brewed pot of tea with ginger shavings, quaffed large mug-full.
  • 07:00–08:00.  Yoga on terrace.
  • 08:00–08:30. Pottered around terrace and balcony, getting some ultraviolet; watered plants on balcony, gave sunbirds a shower, chittered mild colloquial Malayalee insults at squirrel which chittered chaste Gilayree insults back at me in a distinct Haryanvee accent.  
  • 08:30–09:15. Ate a few walnuts and a couple of raisins. Brewed coffee, drank a cup. Shaved. Showered.
  • 09:15–09:40. Made and ate breakfast—a toasted cheese-chilli sandwich, carbonized to nano-scale at the edges, with a fried tomato. Quaffed shot of coffee.  Cooked up lunch (tomato peppery rasam; chaalu sabzi from one small leftover brinjal, one carrot, one potato, segment of lauki; confirmed plenty of rice leftover).   Washed dishes.
  • 09:50–10:15. Settled down at desktop. Read headlines on People’s Daily, The Quint, Indian Express, Times of India. Posted comment on The Quint, knowing full well it might disappear without trace (it did). 
  • 10.15–13:15. Worked at desktop.  In between, took tea and biscuit break, and goofed off to:
  • read blog-post by colleague-writer
  • play one game of chess with computer-jee, which I won in 18 minutes, hitting ‘undo’ only once after making colossal blunder on move 14 (record now: 51% wins and 10% draws at Level 7…haw, preen preen). 

13:15–13:30. Stared at emails, phone messages, small wolf-spider on wall. Processed, replied to and archived/deleted all but the spider, which scuttled off in hot pursuit of energetic ant. (When reports last came in, ant was leading by several spider-stride lengths).

13.40–14.20. Lunch. Aimless one-kilometre stroll around terrace and balcony.

14.25–1715. Back to work at desktop and later at writing desk. 

17.15–18.00. Coffee. Guitar lessons, a bit of practice.

18.00–1840. Walked 4.8 km. The circuit, repeated nine times:  downstairs bedroom – drawing room – kitchen – back to drawing room – up the stairs – { [terrace –  upstairs bedroom – balcony] × 3 } –  down the stairs – drawing room – kitchen – back to drawing room – bedroom.

18.50–19.15. Relaxed on terrace; watched sunset with assorted fauna.  Ate apple.

19.30–20.45. Drummed on clay pots, doumbek, chairs and tables; played kartaals.  Listened to music.  Long chat with brother Bala. Roasted up some murmura with hing-kari patta- peanuts;  ate a kinnam-full.  Sipped mug of chai. Fixed dinner : four geographic chapattis (two shaped like Australia), masur dal.

20.45–21.15. Watched TV: Wion, CNN, Rajya Sabha, Republic TV.  Yelled encouragement at Arnab Goswami as he launched a spirited argument with himself and lost it.

21:15–21:40. Showered. Dined. Washed, dried and put away dishes.

21.45–23.00. Read about 12 pages of book. “Amusing ourselves to death”.  Now scribbling this.

23:00 – Now a little sleepy. Tomorrow I plan to wake early and fnm with rjo3pvm ssokwmd bfs

[Incomprehensible hereafter]  

This diary post is dated Saturday April 11th 2020.

It is my first diary post since 1965.  Alas, it’s also the last.

WFH is wonderful, but in some ways WFH is no different from WFE— a never-ending battle against procrastination.

Jai Hind, Happy WFH-ing, Happy Deepavali.

Musings, Potshots

Ayodhya: a child’s view

Now that the Special CBI Court in Lucknow has exonerated all the accused BJP and VHP leaders of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement from any charges of ‘criminal conspiracy’ in the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992, We the Wee Wee and Pee Pee People of India may heave collective sighs of relief that the 28-year-old case is over and pray silently and fervently for peaceful times to come.

Alas, we may also rest assured that with this verdict, our wretched politicians and their media-marketing chelas of every hue – saffron, green, white and red  – will only redouble their efforts to fatten themselves and their vote banks by fanning the fires of Hindu and Muslim religious fanaticism, so that the atmosphere remains charged with political lightning, TV anchor thunder, social media storms and affiliated atmospherics till the next Lok Sabha elections are held in 2024.

‘Tis an appropriate time to reflect on how everything seems to change but nothing really does; and conversely and perversely, how everything seems the same but nothing is unchanged. 

So, my dear and long-suffering Reader, here is an article I wrote for the Indian Express back in 2005, on how the infantile religious kooks among us might yet learn a lesson or three about true faith from infants.   

Child’s play

[Indian Express, January 13th 2005: http://archive.indianexpress.com/oldStory/62556/]

Watch a toddler at play with building blocks. She picks up a red block and places it on a yellow one. After deep thought, she selects a green block and sets it down next to the yellow one. Frowning in concentration, with an occasional gurgle of contentment, she continues to build her little edifice of blocks in this way. At length she is satisfied and leans back to admire her creation, a magnificent three-storied edifice.

And then… she brings her little clenched fist down upon it. The structure disintegrates even as she claps her hands and squeals in delight before gathering the blocks again to build another edifice.

The toddler’s just taught us a valuable lesson. That we must not get too attached to human-made things like shrines.

 Sure, it’s fun to build a pretty shrine. Every stone and brick, every cut of the chisel and stroke of the paint-brush, expresses our passionate faith in a loving, all-powerful Protector of the Universe. But when we build our shrine we must remember that its truly enduring value lies only in the very act of its creation.

The blocks and rafters with which our shrine is made will not endure, nor will the sculpture and ornaments that adorn it, nor even the icons we place within it. In time, all these things will crumble even as we, the creators of the shrine, must die. After we are gone, after our shrine has crumbled to dust, the only thing that will endure is the love and inspiration that drove us to build it in the first place.

Does this mean it’s perfectly alright to start tearing down religious monuments all over the place and building others on them?

Of course not.

All it means is that we must not suffer from the delusion that a flesh-and-blood Protector dwells within our shrine, or that She/He is destroyed when our shrine is destroyed!

That One, from whom all creatures and all creation have sprung forth, surely cannot be confined by the walls of any shrine, however magnificent it might be. Or by the codes and rites of any one religion, or by human-made borders.

That One dwells within every speck of life and matter in this Universe.

It’s hard for us adults to see this. But it’s child’s play for kids!

Maybe that’s why the toddler shrieks in delight and claps her hands as she destroys her building-block shrine with a single blow.

I am Creator, Sustainer… and Destroyer!” is what she says. “I create because it’s so much fun… and I break because only by breaking can I make again!”

Maybe all our priests and sants and mullahs should learn from the wisdom of the world’s toddlers.