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.

 

 

Musings, Potshots, Remembering

Kick them in their Secular Organs

With Congress and NCP bowing and scraping before Shiv Sena for spoils of power; with even the Leftists refusing to condemn this display of political debauchery, the murderers of 1992/93— whether Hindu or Muslim— can now breathe easy…forever

I laughed, swore, ground my teeth, and swore some more, reading today’s Indian Express front-page piece with its hagiography of Uddhav Thackeray, Shiv Sena leader and Chief Minister-designate of Maharashtra.

“Behind mild exterior, a tough negotiator, tech-savvy manager,” gushes the article.

IE
The Secularization of Shiv Sena [full story here]
Not a word about the Shiv Sena’s vicious, parochial vision;  not a journalistic peep about the Shiv Sena’s violent past and present.

O tempora O mores !

Briefly, I try and recollect the ten years I lived in Mumbai, from 1984 onwards; those were busy years, wonderful years, joyous years in this greatest of cities. But now, all I can recall are the unspeakable horrors that I experienced and witnessed in 1992 and 1993, when the people of Mumbai turned upon one another in the name of ‘religion’. Horrors that were largely instigated and inflicted by the glorified goondas of Shiv Sena, BJP et al.

Hazily, I recall that the murderers of Shiv Sena, BJP and affiliated Sangh Parivar groups were clearly exposed in 1998 by the Report of Justice B N Srikrishna Commission of Inquiry. I know no action was ever taken on the Report; now I wonder, does anyone even remember it?

I abandon my cerebral search and embark instead on a quick Google search.  It appears that Great God Google remembers the Srikrishna Commission of Inquiry. Google remembers and recalls the Commission’s Report… though those of us Indians old enough to remember have forgotten, or chosen to forget, it ever existed.

Remembering SS
We may forget, but Google remembers…[click here for story]
Do forgive me, O most tolerant Reader: but after having troubled your mind with these musings, now I  turn away from the screen and put a lid on my terrible memories. I can’t delete the memories: they will endure as long as I live; but I am too weary to dredge them out and revisit the horrors; too weary to rage anymore against the dying of the light.

There’s just no point.

Because now, with Sonia Gandhi’s Congress and Sharad Pawar’s NCP bowing and scraping before Uddhav Thackeray’s Shiv Sena for spoils of power; with even the Leftists refusing to condemn this most unholy display of political debauchery, the murderers of 1992/93—whether Hindu or Muslim—can now smirk and breathe easily…forever.

As can all those who have rioted and maimed and slain their fellow Indians since then,  in the name of religion, caste, race, language.

Behold,  the Shiv Sena has been Secularized!

The media is overjoyed. It is a Victory for Secularism against the BJP!

Only the lambs are silent, fearful…for the wolves have now entered the pasture in great numbers, and the wolves are wearing sheep’s garb.

I fling the newspaper aside, open my scrapbook and reflect on the enduring relevance of Martin Niemoller’s words from 1946:

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me

And there was no one left to speak for me…

 

 

Musings, Remembering, Verse perverse

Barog: rediscovering the joy of simply being

After three days of choking-level air pollution, it’s a glorious morning here in Delhi!

Today’s the 6th of November. I began the day with 90 minutes of pre-dawn yoga, followed by a brisk two-kilometre walk. Now, energized by a hearty breakfast and healing kaapi,  I check the Air Quality Index on the Weather Bureau site. It announces that the PM 2.5 particulate emissions are a mere 210 micrograms/cubic metre at 9 a.m.

That’s wonderful… 210 mcg/m3   is not even four times the maximum safety level of 60 mcg/m3 … why, it’s almost as good as being in Bhutan!

I wipe my smarting eyes and breathe deeply of the pleasantly chill light-brown air, revelling in the tingling sensation that courses through the entire body and mind as the lungs fill with a perfectly-blended mix of SO2, NO2 and CO, flavoured with delicate hints of ozone and hydrogen cyanide and just a touch of that rare element, oxygen…

Forgive me the laboured sarcasm, O most valued Reader; but I’ve finally understood that it’s futile taking the issue of air pollution, or indeed any issue at all, very seriously  in our beloved India that is Bharat. Three years ago, in 2016, I actually took the issue of air pollution seriously enough to write about it [please click here to read it]. But now I realize that nothing’s changed since then, except for the worse.

So:

Instead of wasting my breath in gasping rants

At Kejriwal and Goel, and their many sycophants

I abandon the idiocy of all netas and affiliated fools

For the serenity of hills and rills, still quiet pools…

Let Delhi and its denizens make Haze while the Sun shines!

I’ll find refuge in flowery meadows, sighing pines…

In this illuminated and detoxified spirit, I recollect and relive four wonderful days I spent in the quiet little town of Barog, near Shimla, in late September 2017. I stayed with my dear friends Micky and Abha: their warmth, their generosity and hospitality helped me shed decades of accumulated stresses and blues, and rediscover the joy and wisdom of simply BEING.

I’ve written earlier about walking up to the old army cantonment of Dagshai during this visit. [You can read it here]. Here are some more photos from that time.  A mere four days’ R&R; yet for me they evoke memories to draw on for a lifetime…

On the way up: Himalayan Queen

a1

 

In and around home

a2
Timeless mornings and evenings, lazing out on the terrace with Abha and Micky.   Tiger was usually present to test and certify quality of biscuits, pakoras, cake etc.

a5

Dagshai Cantonment – seen from terrace

mickys-sunset-point-2-1.jpg
Every evening we’d walk to Micky’s ‘Sunset Point’ and watch the clouds roll in

just walking
Just walking around…

just walking 2

Tiger doing his Think Tank act
Tiger contemplates the State of the Universe

A dreamy day in Kasauli

IMG_20170914_112143813_HDR.jpg

img_20170914_123020263_hdr.jpg
At the beautiful old Christ Church (estt. 1853)

IMG_20170914_131021886_HDR
Army Holiday Home

IMG_20170914_124422404_HDR
Kasauli Club

wild-flower-1-e1573037681340.jpg
The wildflowers run riot here!

Barog railway station

Walking down

There’s no road to/from Barog railway station. There’s only a steep, 400-metre path leading down through the forest from the Old Shimla Road.  So Micky dropped me off at a signpost showing where the path begins, and I followed the path down…and down….

1  234678

9

 

At Barog station

I never imagined I’d enjoy waiting for a train so much.  I spent just over an hour at the station, during which I met only four souls: the cheerful Asst Station Master, an ancient and sleepy gangman; the young man who presided over the station’s canteen and fixed me two cups of black tea;  and a phlegmatic dog who decided I needed constant supervision.  Nothing seems to have changed here since the 1.15 km-long Barog Tunnel was completed in the early 1900s…

10
Barog tunnel – named after Colonel Barog, British Army engineer, who was entrusted with boring this 1.15 km tunnel through the mountain.  To save time, Barog deployed two teams which proceeded to bore the tunnel from both sides simultaneously. Alas, Barog’s calculations were wrong; the two segments of the tunnel were misaligned, and when it became clear that never the twain would meet, poor Barog was fined the princely sum of Re 1 for wasting the British government’s time and resources. Unable to bear the humiliation, he shot himself, and the tunnel was realigned and completed by another engineer:  H S Harrington. Legend has it that the tunnel is still haunted by the unhappy spirit of the Colonel…

11
Station guest  house – I was told the rooms are nice, the food excellent, and the best way to visit Shimla is to stay here and take trains up and down (2 hours and a bit each way)

15b
My mentor: the slightly accusing look is because he believed (despite my strong denials) that I’d eaten the larger share of biscuits

IMG_20170916_122744194_HDR

14a
And so…time to go

Musings, Remembering

Chords of memory

It’s amazing, how quickly one’s equanimity vanishes beneath the stresses and strains of living in our beloved Rajdhani.

In the present instance, by ‘equanimity’ I mean the peace of mind that I found at the India Music Summit in Jaipur (4 – 6 October). Time flew while I was there.  Now , barely a fortnight later, all that peace of mind too has flown out the window; my Delhi window that is,  beyond which the afternoon sun is hidden by a haze made up of equal proportions of PM10 particles, toxic fumes from factories and vehicles, and toxic abuse from a million marauding muttering motorists.

Where has all the music gone?

You know how it is sometimes with a wonderful childhood experience?  You remember you had a good time; but that’s all you can recall. It’s as though all the little details— the when and where and how, the who did what with whom and to whom and why, the people and places and happenings and all the other elements— have vanished from memory; they’ve been chopped up fine and atomized in Time’s great grinder and swirled in the waters of forgetfulness, and then slow-cooked with the spices of experiences and the tadka of love and joy and sorrow (stirring frequently all the while), till everything has become like one cerebral kootu.

And so, when you try and remember your childhood experience, you can only discern the kootu; a tasty but uniform, featureless stew.

Yet it takes just a random spark— perhaps a certain aroma, perhaps the way the morning sunlight gleams on a leaf, a certain voice or giggle or chord, or a stranger’s face that reminds you of someone you knew …and at once the years and decades fall away like dream’s architecture dissolves with awakening, and for a brief thrilling moment the wonderful childhood experience of ten years or fifty years ago returns in all its intensity and washes over you and renews you;  and just as you become aware of returning memory it vanishes …leaving you smiling, longing for more.

Sometimes, of course, you can seek out the spark yourself. And with music it’s really easy, music as a spark always works for me.

That’s what I did just now;  I turned to YouTube and sought Aruna Sairam. I found a wonderful performance by her with sarod player Soumik Datta, including  songs she’d sung at Jaipur! Here are two—the 500 MWe Durga stotram Aigiri Nandini, and the Kalinga Nartana joyously and passionately recreating young Krishna’s sport with the great serpent Kalinga.

And in less time than it takes the law-abiding but stressed-out Delhi motorist to yell “Abbe saale, wrong side pe kyon chalaa rahe ho!”, all my stresses and strains have evaporated. 🙂

I can’t wait to attend the 2020 Summit.   To temper my impatience, I just listened to, and share here, the ethereal voices of the Shillong Chamber Choir singing Vande Mataram:  as they did in Jaipur; singing here on another occasion, when Chandrayaan II silently circled the Moon and the Lander Vikram was lost; evoking what their songs always evoke in my mind, the embracing and celebration of Life with all its ups and downs, the joy and awe and grandeur of Eternity.

Musings, Remembering

Shrugging away our Atlas

The other day I was looking at a world map. A ‘Mercator Map’, which is the nice rectangular map all of us are familiar with and which is still used in our school atlases to teach Geography.

Mercator Map
Mercator Map [Source: http://www.thetruesize.com]
Of course, we all know (though I for one rarely remember) that the Mercator map presents a cockeyed picture of the world’s continents and countries, because it shows a 3-dimensional spheroid Earth as a flat surface.  In depicting the world as a flat rectangle with the Equator cutting across its midriff, the Mercator Map utterly deforms the comparative sizes and shapes of all the continents (and therefore, all countries). The further you move away from the Equator, the more the Mercator Map exaggerates the sizes of countries;   that’s why China and India look much smaller than they actually are compared to, say, USA; that’s why Greenland looks bigger than the entire continent of Africa!

There’s a wonderful free-to-access site, www.thetruesize.com,  that lets you shift around countries on the Mercator Map and figure out the actual size of a country compared to other countries/continents. Do visit the site: it’s fun, and also a real eye-opener!  Here are a few screenshots showing  how big India actually is compared to Europe and Greenland, and how big Brazil is compared to India [all images captured from http://www.thetruesize.com]

India - true size

India and Europe

Greenland - true size

Greenland and India

True size - Brazil

Brazil and India

Some say the European colonizers used the Mercator Map to boost the apparent sizes of their own countries and thereby belittle (literally!) their African and Asian colonies.  That’s a matter of perception: but I don’t think we can really fault the man who created the Mercator Map in 1569 – geographer and cartographer Gerardus Mercator of Flanders (Belgium) – because his sole and very honourable aim was to make a map that would help voyagers from Europe navigate the oceans more easily.

Besides, as an Indian I personally believe we Indians are masters at belittling ourselves at the drop of a hat – or more accurately, at the slightest hint of ‘Western’ disapproval –  and that we should cure ourselves of this low self-esteem rather than pretend that it is some kind of genetic disease impregnated in our Bharatiya DNA by Thomas B Macaulay.

Anyway, while playing around with the Map and reflecting on how easy it is for me –  perhaps for all of us – to be misled by warped imagery and memory, by ignorance and illusion, by prejudice and propaganda, I remembered an article I’d written for the Indian Express over 15 years ago – written in deep angst because the media at that time seemed focused on whipping itself, and indeed the entire population of India, into a frenzy of self-flagellation following the hideous Gujarat violence of 2002.

Here’s the article: reading it again, I get the feeling nothing much has changed….good or bad.

What do you think? I’d love to know…

THE GOOD SHIP INDIA

Indian Express: Nov 27, 2003

[http://archive.indianexpress.com/oldStory/36064/]

At times of internal strife one sometimes wonders: will India ever be united? Open the atlas and look at Europe. Start at Ireland, and trace a path eastwards across the Irish Sea to England, and onwards across the Dover Straits through Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and Poland. Turn southwards and wander through the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary; wheel west into Austria, and again south to explore Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Serbia, Albania, Macedonia and Greece. Skim across the Adriatic Sea to travel through Italy, cross the Alps into Switzerland, cut eastwards to sweep across France, and then veer southwards over the Pyrenees into Spain, and finally, Portugal.

A long journey across a vast terrain, to be sure. Yet all those lands we traversed would together fit into the territory of India with room to spare. What’s more, India comprises people who differ from each other in far many more ways than the peoples of Europe: in race, religion, language, culture. To the wonderment of the world, the good ship India hangs together! Battered she is by violent storms of communalism and sectarianism, tossed to and fro by the conflicting pulls of her bewilderingly diverse populace, yet India sails on, her billion passengers united by a Vision.

A Vision, of a land in which all are equal and enjoy equal rights.

The Constitution of India, which we gave ourselves on 26 November 1949, describes this Vision in great detail. It crystallizes the most sublime ideas of millennia. It tells of a just and humane land, where we may dwell and think and speak and follow our chosen beliefs and faiths freely and without fear. The Constitution alone binds us together. It expresses our shared vision, and contains the blueprint for the ship that will help us realize that vision, the ship we have named the Sovereign Socialist Secular Democratic Republic of India.

The unity we seek is alive in the Constitution; in times of strife, internal and external, we must reaffirm our faith in this great Book. Amends must be made for past wrongs; walls of prejudice that have hardened over centuries must be dismantled not by force but with understanding. There will be upheavals and unrest; hurdles posed by the corrupt, the jealous and the slothful, by those who interpret freedom as mere licence. But as long as the Constitution and its vision are alive in our minds and our hearts, India shall prevail.

And her 5000 year-old voyage will continue.