Musings, Remembering

Nation Notions

I was with a friend in her car. In the back were three more friends, all women, one of them Indian, the other two German:  a mother–daughter duo.  

It was the evening of January 25th, 2020, cloudy and chill at dusk. We were caught in a traffic jam—the only saving grace being that we were on the lovely Amrita Shergill Marg, bordering the Lodhi Garden in central Delhi, and so there was plenty of foliage (albeit blurry) to look at and discernible quantities of that rare element, oxygen, in the diesel-and- petrol -scented air. 

After about 30 minutes of crawl-and-halt, we drew alongside a small group of policemen, who were trying with limited success to keep motorists to their lanes.

“Jai Hind,” I greeted them, as I always greet personnel of our armed forces and police.

 “Jai Hind,” they responded.

“What’s going on?” I went on in my semi-tapori Hindi, “Why this jam?”

“The result of a little VIP transit, sir…it’ll all be cleared in a few minutes.”

I thanked him, and we sat in silence for a moment. And then my young German friend spoke up softly, clearly, in English: “Why did you say that to him?”

Puzzled, I looked around at her. Her Indian friend giggled but didn’t say anything. “Say what?” I asked.

“You said ‘Jai Hind’ to that policeman…why?” she murmured, now slightly embarrassed. Her mother, who spoke very little English, looked on in bemusement. Her Indian friend giggled again, in a slightly self-conscious way.

The question was simple, perfectly straightforward;   but in a flash I realized what it was she was really asking and why she was asking; and what the young Indian’s slightly nervous giggle might mean too. It was January, 2020—that was the time when the Shaheen Bagh street blockade was at its peak; when young women and men not just in India but across the world were charged up with the heady passions and revolutionary slogans of the quaintly-oxymoronic  ideology known as Left Liberalism; when any word, any sign, of showing solidarity with or pride in or support to even the idea of India was not only old-fashioned but had somehow become equated to becoming a ‘Modi-bhakt’, a ‘nationalist’, a ‘fascist’, an anti-Muslim fanatical Hindu. In India, and across the world.

It was a time when even uttering ‘Jai Hind’ more or less branded me as a narrow-minded bigot unless otherwise proven…or clarified. 

The two young women were – are- very dear to me; the question was honest, direct and clear; and so I thought awhile before I replied.  “’Jai Hind’means ‘Hail India’, or ‘Victory to India’ if you like,” I said. “I greeted that policeman with ‘Jai Hind’ because I am proud of my country, I love my country, and tomorrow is our Republic Day—the day when, in 1950, a couple of years after winning independence from British rule, India adopted its own Constitution and became a full-fledged Republic.  So then,  for the first time we Indians had drawn up and given ourselves our own rights, our own guiding principles to live by, the systems by which we would govern ourselves and so on…all the things that we had fought for and won,  and that we must hold on to and defend.  And so January 26th is a good day to remember.  A good time to say ‘Jai Hind’, and of course that’s why ‘Jai Hind’ is a good way to greet military personnel, police…”

I trailed off, wondering whether I’d made any sense at all. She’d listened attentively as I spoke; silent, clear-eyed, nodding slightly. 

“Ah yes, of course, now I see,” she murmured. In the meanwhile her mother, who had been listening as intently to our exchange, asked her daughter to explain in German, which she promptly did.

And then, both of them smiled and chanted: “Jai Hind!”

And we all chorused Jai Hind, and soon the jam cleared, and merriment returned and dissolved the tedium.

A trivial episode, no doubt; but for me it was important…and lingers in memory.  

I will always be grateful to my German friend for her question.

It helped me think a little, reflect a little, learn and re-learn and un-learn much more than a little.  About India, about what this insanely chaotic, wonderful nation means and what it is founded on, and what holds it together…and what can and does tear it apart.

Jai Hind.

Remembering

From Eternity to Eternity

I’ve never been embarrassed about wearing my sentiment on my sleeve – if only on occasion. And 26th July, 2001 was one occasion, the 2nd anniversary of Vijay Diwas – the Martyr’s Day in remembrance of the uniformed ones who gave their lives during the Kargil war, 1999…a war during which a few dear friends in Army and Air Force had played active roles. Today being 26th July, here it is: for all fauji friends, for all men and women of the fauj, past and present and future. With respect, with love.

On the night of 26th July last year we lit two little lamps out on the balcony and gazed at the lambent flames while, and on the still air we heard the whispers of names…Clifford Nongrum, Haneefuddin, Saravanan, Kalia, Ahuja…names of men we had never met yet seemed to have known so well.

Surely, they would have been no different from any other young men in the world?  In their love for laughter and revelry, for the scents of rain upon earth and flowers in a woman’s hair, for home-cooked food, the warmth of a family gathering, a boisterous game with children…they too must have yearned for leisure, for romancing, for peace. One of them had played the guitar, another had a voice like Rafi’s. Rich and varied were their tastes in music, as indeed their backgrounds and origins. Yet fierce were the bonds that had joined these men of diverse faiths, united them in their battle to preserve this very diversity, this richness and variety.

A strange, overwhelming sense of loss came upon us even as the flames rose steady and unwavering. We glanced up at the high-rise apartment blocks all around, at their dark balconies and terraces. A stray breeze brought a brief snatch of canned laughter from some TV set in some curtained lounge. And bitterness and anger welled up, sudden and surprising. How could they all be so callous, the inner voice raged, how could they forget the martyrs of Kargil so soon.

But the self-righteous and sentimental mind’s voice was abruptly quelled by a remembered voice from childhood: easy, self-assured, slightly mocking in tone, the voice of a young soldier, slain in battle long ago.

“Listen,” he had murmured, “in life, what others think or do doesn’t matter a damn. What YOU do is the only thing that counts. Before you, before each one of us, there’s a path; the path of duty. Seek that path, follow it, all else falls into place. It is so simple…”

The voice faded back into the caverns of memory; the flames flickered. And suddenly the twisted, tangled coils of sentiment and anger dissolved into a moment of deep understanding. Indeed the martyrs of Kargil had fought obdurate foes, in the harshest of conditions. They had endured terrible pain, died warriors’ deaths. But they were men who believed – nay, who knew – that beyond death there is no joy or sorrow, neither friendship nor enmity; there are no borders or lines of control, nor remembrance nor names.

There is only the peace of Eternity.

That is why our soldiers treated even the enemy’s slain with dignity, with honour. And that is why they were victorious.

We turned away, then. Fleetingly, sadness returned as we beheld the dark balconies all around. A flicker of yellow drew our attention to the right…and we gazed spellbound.

Down there, beyond the compound wall, set in the humble doorway of a tarpaulin-roofed dwelling, two candles had been lit. Their flames rose steady and unwavering. And again on the still air came the whisper of names…Vikram Batra, Neikezhakuo Kengurüse, Kanad Bhattacharya, Vijayant Thapar, Mohammad Hussain…

[‘Slain victors’: The Pioneer: 31 July 2001]

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.

General ravings, Potshots, Remembering

Why India need not fear Islamic State or Al Qaeda

URGENT

An open letter to:

  • Shri Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India
  • Shri Rahul Gandhi, ex-President, Indian Notional National Congress [for easy comprehension, audio recording of this letter being sent directly to him]
  • All Members of Parliament
  • Cabinet Secretary, Government of India
  • Director, Research & Analysis Wing (RAW)
  • Director, Intelligence Bureau (I.B.)
  • Editors of all leading and misleading Indian media houses (online, off-line and over-the-line)

Dear Sa’ar/Ma’am,

1. On 23rd July 2020, the highly influential and largely ineffectual United Nations Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team (UN-ASS-MT) released its 26th Report suggesting that there are many Islamic State (ISIL, Daesh) and Al Qaeda cadres living in Kerala and Karnataka and plotting major terrorist attacks in India. This UN-ASS-MT Report is being widely quoted in Indian main-scream media, creating unnecessary panic among the citizenry.

2. As a responsible citizen I write this letter to assure you, as well as my co-citizens, that India has nothing to fear from Islamic State, Al Qaeda, or their affiliated kooks…because it is they who fear India!  I state this with complete confidence, because Al Qaeda founder (late) Shri Osama bin Laden has himself admitted that AI Qaeda is terrified of India. Shri Laden made this admission in August 2005 during an exclusive interview granted to the recondite and highly redacted investigative-speculative reporter (late) Ghatotkacha Hidimbi Bhimasena, who was my dear friend and in some sense a kindred soul.  

3. Alas, Ghatotkacha’s original online post of  his interview with Osama bin Laden has mysteriously disappeared from the Internet—I suspect the Watchers of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate may have cast it into their already Laden Recycle Bin.  Sadly too, Ghatotkacha himself has vanished without trace under mysterious circumstances.

Ghatotkacha’s original post at http://creative.sulekha.com/india-too-dangerous-for-al-qaeda_102378_blog – now mysteriously vanished like him

4. Fortunately, however, I have been able to procure an offline copy of this historical 2005 interview in my capacity as Sole Legatee of Shri Ghatotkacha’s worldly and other-worldly assets.  I present below the complete transcript of the interview, and request you to give it wide publicity so that Indian citizens may rest assured that we have nothing to fear from IS, Al Qaeda or any affiliated kooks.

Jai Hind!

India too dangerous for Al Qaeda

[Ghatotkacha Hidimbi Bhimasena, 2005]

Osama bin Laden has announced that Al Qaeda will not attack India. The reason: it’s too dangerous for his terrorists.

In a 12-minute videotaped interview, aired by the little-known Dubai-based Al Nakhli channel last Friday, the tired-looking terror-lord is seen standing on a parched, rubble-strewn plain along with a masked man holding an AK-56 assault rifle. In the backdrop looms what appears to be a bombed-out house. Speaking in a monotone, and with frequent pauses to wave a fist or gaze at the sky, Laden says that he and his followers will continue to target ‘evil’ Western nations and their interests across the world. “But we will shun India,” he declares. “India is a land already destroyed by its own leaders, its people terrorized beyond our reach.”

In Langley, US anti-terror specialists have tentatively identified Laden’s masked companion as Al Kali Feroz Sulfait, an expert in chemical detonators. In Delhi, security agencies say the taped interview appears to be genuine. “Judging from the bombed-out appearance of the rocky slope in the background, the interview could have taken place somewhere in the lawless northwestern districts of Pakistan,” remarked a spokesperson for RAW. However, other officials expressed doubts, albeit off the record. “That interview could have taken place in the equally lawless mining districts ruled by Pappu Yadav in Bihar,” remarked a senior Intelligence Bureau official on conditions of anonymity. “Or perhaps, in a granite quarry in Bhai Thakur’s Bhayandar, in suburban Mumbai. My personal feeling, though, is that the tape was made somewhere amidst the bleak and rocky Delhi-Gurgaon badlands. That derelict building in the backdrop has all the unmistakable marks of a freshly-constructed DDA apartment block.”

Cynical? Undoubtedly so. Indeed, it is precisely this couldn’t-care-a-damn attitude about India’s security that distresses bin Laden. A few excerpts from the interview:

Q: Why have you spared India from attacks by Al Qaeda?

Laden: (with great bitterness). “One cannot set fire to ash. The Indians are deadened to terror. India is a land where the most dreadful atrocities are being carried out on the people daily, not by terrorists but by the government itself. Al Qaeda has tried to strike India, yes…but we failed.

Q: Could you clarify?

Laden: For instance, some years ago we set off a small improvised explosive device and sent a train off a bridge in Kadalundi, in Kerala. Our cadres claimed credit, but what was the Indian response? The railway authorities blamed the disaster on a sudden cyclonic storm that swept in from the sea and blew the train off the bridge — even though the event took place on a calm, cloudless night! As for the media and general public, from the very start they held the railways responsible for the event. They said the bridge was 125 years old and had given way under the weight of the train; they said corrupt railway officials had swallowed all the money meant for the maintenance of the tracks; some even alleged that the locomotive wheels had fallen off because they were fakes, the original wheels having been stolen and sold to scrap dealers. The more Al Qaeda tried claiming credit for the operation, the less credence was given to our claims. People went to the extent of saying the Indian government itself was putting out ‘false’ claims by Al Qaeda to deflect attention from its own failures…(shakes head in disgust)

Q: Was that the only operation you undertook?

Laden: The only direct one, yes. But our associates have undertaken similar successful strikes, only to meet with similar miserable failure in obtaining credit for the strikes. For example, a suicide team of Lashkar-e-Toiba held up a mall in Delhi. But their deaths went in vain…nobody believed the police SWAT team, which finally martyred the Lashkaris. Till today, the Indian public believes the dead Lashkaris were in fact undertrials from Tihar jail, petty pickpockets and the like, whom the Delhi Police planted and got rid off in a stage-managed ‘fake encounter’ at the mall so that they could pick up some rewards and medals.

Q: But this is terrible. Surely there must be another way to strike at India…

Laden: (Shakes fist at sky) I have torn away great tufts from my beard in trying to find another way. No, no, Indians distrust, fear and despise their own rulers far more than they fear us. Despite the most glaring evidence that we have struck, despite our most frantic and sustained efforts to claim responsibility for strikes, they stoutly refuse to believe us. They only blame their own rulers. What can one do? Is it fair on us? Is it just? (Subsides into muttering)

Q: Perhaps Al Qaeda should liberate the suffering people of India from the clutches of their oppressive rulers?

Laden: (wearily) Alas, the rot has spread too deep in India. Terror breathes deep of publicity, for that is its oxygen. How can we derive publicity in a country like India? If we bomb a bazaar, they will blame it on exploding gas cylinders supplied by corrupt government agencies. If we bring down a building or bridge, they will blame it on adulterated cement and steel used by scheming builders and contractors…

Q: Perhaps you could outsource your strikes, send funds and arms and explosives to local Indian squads…

Laden: (trembling with rage) Don’t you understand? Our methods will not work there! Would it not be utterly idiotic to smuggle funds into India from abroad, when Indians can sit in that country and raise Rs. 20,000 crores quite openly and legally like Abdur Rehman Telgi did! (Waves arms about) What is the point in our smuggling arms and explosives into India, when Indian businessmen are legally importing live artillery shells and radioactive wastes as metal scrap? No, no! I have decided that our cadres must not be tainted by India’s cynicism and corruption. Nor must my people’s lives be endangered by live ammunition discarded in public places. Al Qaeda will stay away from India! We cannot attack law and order where none exists…”

General ravings, Musings, Remembering

Drumming away the Blues

Right from childhood days in Shillong I’ve loved music. Around 1967/68, when I was around 11 and also a round 11 (I was fat and short), I taught myself how to play the drums.  A battered old leather suitcase made a nice snare drum; a brass table top with a couple of nails on it made for an excellent cymbal;  and for sticks I ‘borrowed’  a couple of Mom’s knitting needles (sizes 7 to 9 worked best, as they allowed a good rebound for rolls).   My musical heroes in those early days were Brian Bennett (The Shadows), Mel Taylor (The Ventures),  Ringo Starr (The Beatles), and Ginger Baker (Cream).   In 1969 I bought a pair of teak drumsticks for the princely sum of Rs 1.50.  I still have them; every scar on them brings fond and noisy memories. They worked well on my suitcase too, though I kept borrowing Mom’s knitting needles…

But the story of my musical eccentricities must wait for another time.  Why I mention music now is, music has always been my refuge, it’s brought me solace and comfort and delight. And playing the drums elevates my spirits even in the darkest of moments.

Which is why, last week, after a gap of over five years, I picked up my drumsticks and went to a jam room in South Extension where there’s a nice drum set, and I practiced playing the drums for an hour.

There were no listeners to tell me how hideous it sounded, because I was all alone and the jam room was (mercifully) sound-proofed.  I was rusty, stiff in bone and muscle and brain, I panted and gasped at the exertion, I missed a beat every nine beats on average.

But I loved it!

I emerged from the jam-room, exhausted but healed of angst, the words of Omar Khayyam  blending weirdly yet sublimely with the words of Adi Sankaracharya in my haze-filled mind:

Alike for those who for TODAY prepare,

And those that after a TOMORROW stare,

A Muezzin from the Tower of Darkness cries

Fools! Your Reward is neither Here nor There!

Bhaja Govindam, Bhaja Govindam

Govindam Bhaja, Moodamathe!

I managed to record part of my solo cacophony, and place three short sections below – missed beats and all – for your torment, ferment and comment, O patient and long-suffering reader!

 

Don’t worry, I promise you I won’t post any more of my solo practice sessions.

Oh…and tomorrow I’m going again to the jam room.  Do join in…it’ll be great!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ancient writings, Musings, Remembering

Silica Politics

With the Delhi assembly elections having gone off peacefully and exit polls predicting the return of Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party, I see a glimmer of hope for India – that we might yet see the rise and growth of a national-level political party that actually works for ALL people, and does not survive by pitting religion against religion as the BJP and Congress do; caste against caste as the Samajwadis, RJD et al. do;  or generally everyone against everyone else as the CPI(M), CPI et al. do. 

A hope that leads me to wield the cerebral shovel and excavate the following article from the ancient sand-beds of memory: it was published in Indian Express over 20 years ago. 

Building sand castles

[Indian Express, 30 November 1998]

The counting of votes is on, and the first results are already trickling in. Across the nation psephologists pontificate, analysts arrive at bewilderingly diverse conclusions from identical data, and assorted academics, political observers and journalists join in severely criticizing the electorate for not behaving according to their predictions.

And, an ancient, battered lorry rolls up a dusty track leading to the dry river-bed, lurching with a snort of relief to a halt amidst huge banks of sand. Three men  stand in the empty hold of the lorry, shovels in hand. The driver backs the vehicle till it ploughs into one of the sand dunes; and then two of the men leap onto the hillock and proceed to scoop mounds of the grey-white material into the hold. The third man – he cannot be a day older than 16 – stands in the hold and spreads the fine sand as evenly as possible about the pitted wooden floor. The driver, meanwhile, twiddles with a knob on the dash-board, muttering imprecations, till a dreadful cacophony erupts from the dusty loudspeaker above his grizzled head. He has found the local radio station.

The three men toil away, sweat gleaming on their arms and bare torsos. Now the young man in the hold is practically level with his senior colleagues on the sand dune. Presently, he leaps off to join them in flinging the mica-flecked sand into the hold. A scrawny brown dog wanders up to the lorry, flops down in its  shade and falls asleep. On the radio, now the hourly news-bulletin cuts into the music. Electoral excitement is at fever-pitch; all eyes are upon an epic battle between two possible chief ministerial candidates: one a political novice with a clean reputation, the other a seasoned old bandicoot. The music resumes, the driver climbs out, collapses on the sand and dozes. The afternoon sun beats down upon the labourers’ gleaming bodies.

At length the job is done. The labourers pause at an unspoken signal, fling their shovels down, wipe their streaming brows and flop down on the sand next to the driver. Soon they must depart for the great construction lots on the western outskirts of the City; but there is still time to stretch one’s aching limbs awhile, perhaps even smoke a companionable beedi.

The flies drone, the sun sinks lower. The young labourer sits up and listens intently to the news broadcast. And then he turns to the driver. “So, Kaka, will we now have a new ruler?” he inquires. The driver removes the beedi from his mouth, hacks and spits at the sleeping dog but misses it by several inches. “It won’t make a difference to you, will it?” he remarks. The others chuckle, but the youngster is persistent.

“In our jhuggi,” he begins hesitantly, “they say things will soon change for the better. They say that we will all soon have pucca houses…”

Arre gadhe!” the driver exclaims exasperatedly. “Don’t you see that this is all a natak? Look”, he continues in a kindlier tone, “the fate of poor people is akin to that of the river: doomed to follow the same path forever, crushing the rocks into sand and sinking ever lower. And just as politicians come to us poor people for their votes, so too men come to the river to haul away the sand; they mix the sand with lime and cement and make buildings and bungalows so that the rich among them may live in comfort.”

He pauses, his rheumy eyes far away. “Yet in time the desert winds will blow, hot as a sigri, and the great walls and roofs of the rich will crack and fissure. And then the rains will beat upon their edifices, and this happens again and again, year after year, till slowly but surely the sands are washed away into the gutters and drains, to find their way eventually back to the river. And then again the minds of the rich will turn to the river, and upon a monsoon the river will breach its banks, and when it recedes there the sand will be again…”

Presently, the men board the lorry and it roars off in a cloud of dust. The dog gazes mournfully at the receding lorry, and then wanders off. A stray breeze brings the faint voice of the news-broadcaster, announcing that the seasoned old bandicoot has won.