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Monday, December 29, 2008

Defenceless Victims of Reckless Driving

My mother tried to coax the little one to drink some milk, but he would not come anywhere near her. She chased him for a while, but he ran into the park across the road. So, she returned to her chair in the front-yard, where she and I were sunning ourselves that afternoon. A few minutes later I saw him running along the inside of the boundary-wall on the farther side of the park. A little while after that my mother noticed that he stood at the park's corner and was poised to cross the road. We resumed our conversation about something else and then heard him squeal briefly, once or twice, like he would when his brother bit his ear too hard, while playing. We did not turn around to see what might have made him do that.

"Woh pilla aap ka hai?" (Is that puppy yours?), said a woman's voice that broke the subsequent silence. She had been pruning some of the bushes in the park. The little brown dog's body lay sprawled in the middle of the road. The driver of the vehicle that crushed him had either not bothered to apply the brakes at all or not hard enough, since we heard nothing unusual.

The pup was one of three born to a stray bitch nearly a month ago. She was killed in a similar manner, a few days after giving birth, leaving her offspring in a hole in the ground, in the park mentioned earlier. My mother persuaded a couple of neighbours to take turns with her, to feed the young ones, with milk at first and then with biscuits or bread dissolved in milk. My friend Zakhmi guarded the orphans at night, coiled up on a mound of dirt next to their sleeping-quarters. They largely remained confined to the park until very recently.

Over the past few years, I have seen many such dogs, mostly young pups, mowed down by speeding cars around where I live. The drivers responsible for the deaths have little to fear in terms of complaints being lodged with the police (I am not sure if there even is a law in this country, regarding that.) or crowds gathering to beat them up and damage their vehicles or the news-media reporting upon their deeds, as might be expected if the victims happen to be human. Their own consciences appear to be the least of their problems, in any case.

The only plausible solution, it appears at the moment, is to construct speed-breakers on the road, but I do not have the resources and other local residents do not seem concerned. Government officials do not seem to have the issue anywhere on their list of priorities.

It would obviously be much better though, if people would drive more carefully and spare the lives of defenceless creatures that obviously can not be taught road-sense in the way that humans can be. I also hope that the readers of this blog-post will help spread the word around, since none of the animal-rights organisations in India seem to focus on prevention or to campaign for punitive legislation, even though some provide ambulance services for injured animals.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A Stark Contrast

This is about two events, A and B, which took place in a country called India. Actually, both comprised a series of events, but these have been considered as single entities here, for the purpose of comparison. A large number of innocent people were killed in both these violent occurrences. That, however, is where the similarity ends. These were different in ways that include the following :

1. While A occurred only a few days ago, B occurred about 24 years ago.

2. While less than 200 people were killed in A, more than 4000 were killed in B.

3. While most of the victims in A were shot dead, in B some were hacked to death, while others were burnt alive after their hands having been tied behind their backs, their bodies drenched with kerosene and burning tyres put around their necks. The women-folk amongst the victims were, in the latter case, forced to watch the male members of their families being killed, including young children, after which they were raped and then killed. Some of the youngest victims were tossed in the air, to be killed by falling on to sharp-edged weapons like spears.

4. The victims of event A mostly included those present in the hotels and the railway station under attack, but during event B, people were dragged out of their own homes to be killed, after which their houses were set on fire.

5. While the police force fought hard against the killers in A, in event B it was either inactive or, in some cases, even assisted the killers by blocking the victims' possible escape routes.

6. While the army was called in within hours of the attacks having begun in the case of event A, it was called in after several days of the commencement of event B, in order to give the killers a free run for that long, even though it acted in an unbiased manner, once it was sent into the affected areas. It is a different matter, however, that there was not much left for it to do.

7. Whereas 9 out of the 10 killers in the case of event A have been shot dead and the remaining one arrested, nearly all of the killers in the case of event B are still at large.

8. While the alleged masterminds of A are said to be located outside India and are sought to be captured at the earliest, even if that involves launching attacks on a neighbouring country, those for B are all present within India and yet none of them have been brought to justice over the past 24 years. As a matter of fact, some of them have been legislators and even cabinet ministers in the government of India during that period.

Some of them, ironically, are protected by the men of the same elite commando force i.e. National Security Guards (NSG), which was sent in to fight against the attackers in A. The political party that these alleged masterminds belong to, won a huge electoral victory in the general election that followed event B, almost as if it was being rewarded by large sections of India's population for its 'good work' that was widely perceived to have included the organisation of the massacre.

9. Following event A, the prime minister of India declared that such events are a threat to pluralistic societies, while the (then) prime minister of India said following event B, "Jab baRaa peyR girtaa hai toh dharti toh hilti hi hai." (When a large tree falls, the earth is bound to shake.).

10. Following event A, there has been a large-scale outpouring of grief by various sections of the general public in the form of demonstrations replete with banners, black arm-bands and plenty of slogan-shouting, in addition to candle-light marches, chain-letters circulated through email, etc., while very little of anything like that was in evidence after event B or for the 24 years that have gone by since then.

11. Whereas politicians are being criticised and even being abused following event A, the politicians perceived as being largely responsible for event B were able to build up a huge fan-following, on account of which, as mentioned above, they were able to win general elections with a huge margin of victory, soon after the violence.

12. One of the most prominent slogans that have been raised after event A is, "Enough (of terrorism) is enough!", but since there have hardly been any protests after event B, over the past 24 years, except by some of those belonging to the same community as the victims, there is no question of any such slogans having been raised. However, soon before event B, one of the slogans raised was, "Khoon ka badlaa khoon se laiNgay!" (We shall avenge blood with blood (of innocents who had nothing to do with the incident sought to be 'avenged')!)

Incidentally, if event A is substituted by any other instance of terrorist violence in India and event B is substituted by any other instance of communal riots in the country, the contrast is likely to remain almost as stark.

The foremost question that arises in my mind, in view of all of the above facts, can be summed up in one word i.e. why?

Update: March 7, 2009. Apparently, I am not the only one who has noticed the contrast. The following is an excerpt from a letter published on page 14 of the March 2009 issue of the Indian edition of the Reader's Digest:
"This country is known for its double standards. Orissa was targeted by our "in-house" terrorists and no one really cared about the innocent civilians who were burnt alive or about a nun who was gang raped in front of mute policemen. But when it comes to Mumbai being terrorized, every politician is playing his part and the whole nation is voicing its opinion."

Monday, December 01, 2008

Prima Facie: A Few Observations on the Mumbai Attacks

In view of the recent events in Mumbai, in particular, and India, in general, after I put aside the feelings of pride based on the valour displayed by the officers and men of the Mumbai Police and Fire Brigade Departments and those of the Indian Army, Navy and various special forces, the staff of the Taj Mahal and Oberoi-Trident hotels, in addition to those of grief on account of the loss of so many innocent lives, I have the following observations to make:

1. Hemant Karkare, who was the chief of Mumbai police's anti-terrorism squad (ATS), died in the course of the attacks, having been shot thrice in the chest, even though he was wearing a bullet-proof jacket. It leads me to wonder whether those who were responsible for procuring the jacket decided that Mumbai's policemen did not need a jacket that could stop bullets fired from an AK-47 or whether they, in fact, accepted bribes to procure jackets that were not up to the requisite quality standards.

2. A contingent of the National Security Guards (NSG) was flown in from New Delhi to tackle the gunmen. Their flight took off from New Delhi at about 1:15 a.m. on November 27, even as the attacks had begun at about 9:15 p.m. on the previous day. They are reported to have gone into action at only about 6:00 a.m. on November 27.

The Marine Commando Corps (MARCOS) of the Indian Navy, stationed at Mumbai itself, was ultimately called into action, but that too happened several hours after the NSG contingent had become airborne.

The NSG's men are supposed to be able to get ready to board an aircraft with all their equipment within 30-45 minutes, but in this case it took much longer as an aeroplane had to be arranged for first. Later, apart from those who were dropped by helicopter on to Nariman House's roof, the rest had to be transported there by buses requisitioned from the Brihanmumbai Electric Supply & Transport Undertaking (BEST).

Apparently, no one had ever considered before that action by an elite commando force may be required in a city like Mumbai, in case of a terrorist attack, at any point of time and planned for it at all.

3. The press-conference conducted by a section of MARCOS that took part in the operations made two things very clear. They were not even provided with a copy of the building-plan of the Taj Mahal hotel, before they were sent in and secondly and even more importantly, some essential equipment that they did not have included night-vision devices.

The terrorists were able to strike at will, more or less, since they knew more about the building-plan than the commandos. It may be worth noting here that if a skilled set of commandos are provided with the layout of a building that they are about to storm, even a few minutes before they move in, a huge difference can be made in the effectiveness of their operations and, therefore, help them save more lives.

Since the MARCOS did not have night-vision devices, the terrorists could escape when they encountered the commandos in the dark and cause much greater damage later. It also led to two of the commandos suffering from serious injuries in that particular fire-fight.

The building-plan could have been provided to the MARCOS by Mumbai's civil authorities, if not the hotel's management.

As far as the procurement of essential equipment is concerned, perhaps the chiefs of the three defence services could exhibit the same kind of unity and strength of will while asking for it, as they did while trying to get a salary raise equivalent to bureaucrats and policemen for themselves and the soldiers they command. The bureaucrats and politicians in the Ministry of Defence might then let them have it.

4. The NSG not only lost one of its men during its operations at Nariman House, but also failed to save the lives of five people that the two gunmen holed up there had taken hostage, even though it managed to kill the gunmen. Another commando of the NSG was killed during its operations at the Taj Mahal hotel. Although I am not fully competent to comment on this, but I do wonder whether the NSG's skills are getting rusty owing to a lack of time and resources to practice for such situations, as a large number of its men have been employed as personal security guards for the country's top politicians.

Incidentally, some of the politicians protected by the NSG have been widely accused of embezzlement of crores of rupees, nepotism, incitement of communal riots, deliberate inaction during widespread communal violence (in which thousands of innocent people were robbed, raped and/or killed in a brutal manner and their properties set on fire) while serving in positions of power, among other such grave charges.

5*. Unlike the MARCOS, who were very careful about protecting their identities, many of the NSG's men did not wear the balaclava helmets issued to them in a proper manner, while they were in action at the hotels and at Nariman House. As a result, the faces of many of them were revealed to television cameras. A number of them spoke briefly to television news-channels after the encounter at Nariman House was over, with their faces uncovered. An injured NSG commando admitted to a hospital in Mumbai has been interviewed by television news-channels including BBC World Service and NDTV 24x7. Although they do not seem to have realised this, such actions could expose the men, while they are off-duty, as well as their families to retribution by terrorist organisations.

Perhaps it is time for their senior officers to remind them to be more disciplined, like the MARCOS.

6*. The interviews with the injured NSG commando made it clear that the NSG's men also did not have night-vision devices, just like the MARCOS.

7. When Lieutenant General N. Thamburaj, chief of the Indian Army's Southern Command, held a press conference on the morning of November 28, he mentioned that the NSG had suffered casualties, but he would rather not say whether these had been fatal or non-fatal, since that could, according to him, affect the remaining terrorists' frame of mind. I knew as soon as the words were out of his mouth that the NSG had suffered fatal casualties i.e. some of its men had lost their lives. If I could make that out, obviously the terrorists also could, if they managed to listen in to the Lieutenant General's statement.

8. The electronic news-media in India, it appears, has still not come of age. While the BBC World News channel called in intelligence analysts and anti-terrorism experts to discuss all that was unfolding, Indian television channels interviewed actors and directors from the Hindi film industry, in addition to members of the general public, to discuss the state of affairs in Mumbai, besides making an attempt towards sensationalising minor discoveries, even as bullets flew and their reporters stood outside the buildings under attack, counting the number of gun-shots and explosions that they could hear. Also, news from all other parts of the country and from the rest of the world was almost completely taken off air for the duration of the attacks, which was nearly three days.

9. I think I will not be surprised at all if it is found that the terrorists and their arsenal came in through a regular route for smuggling via sea, after the usual amounts of bribes having been paid to the staff of relevant government agencies that were on duty.

10. Not so long ago, investigations by the Hemant Karkare-led ATS revealed that recent bomb-blasts in the town of Malegaon, in Maharashtra, which led to the loss of many innocent lives, were planned and executed by certain Hindu right-wing organisations and subsequent arrests included Sadhvi Pragya Thakur and a serving officer of the Indian Army i.e. Lieutenant Colonel Srikant Purohit.

Initially, when the Sadhvi was sought to be linked to senior leaders of the principal opposition party in the lower house of parliament, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), on account of information dug-up by the news-media, it sought to distance itself from her. However, later on, when it became known that no substantial material evidence had so far been gathered against her by the ATS, the party's president, Mr. Rajnath Singh, and its prime ministerial candidate, Mr. L. K. Advani, began to defend her in a big way through public statements.

More recently, however, Mr. Karkare and his men were reported to have obtained clinching evidence in the form of video and audio recordings of meetings in which the Sadhvi, the Lieutenant Colonel and their cohorts were seen and heard planning the bomb-blasts. These were, apparently, found on the laptop computer of one of their co-accused. It was also reported that the ATS meant to make the entire plot public, after tying up a few loose ends, very shortly. If that had happened, Mr. Advani, Mr. Singh and their party-men might have found themselves at a loss for words with respect to this issue, especially while facing the electorate in the upcoming general elections.

Now that Mr. Karkare is dead, though, no one really knows as to what is likely to become of the investigation. The new chief of the ATS may not be as upright an officer and may not pursue the matter as vigorously. In any case, the accused in the Malegaon bomb-blast case and the BJP have already benefitted from the Mumbai attacks, in this respect, since the attention of the news-media has been diverted completely.

So, ultimately, the Islamist militants who attacked Mumbai appear to have come to rescue of the Hindus accused of terrorism in Malegaon. It seems as if there is greater solidarity amongst the Hindus and Muslims who are terrorists than those who are the common citizens of India. As a matter of fact, India might not have been a victim of terrorism at all if there had been greater solidarity between the majority community i.e. Hindus and the various minorities like Muslims, Sikhs and Christians.

I have seen in this country something that can only be termed as 'selective grief'. Whereas there is a huge outpouring of grief and rightly so, from all over the country, when nearly 200 people are killed in a terrorist attack, it is also true that there are large numbers of people who celebrate the killings of 2000 or 4000 people during communal riots by rewarding politicians widely perceived as having organised and presided over these with huge electoral victories, as happened in the elections for the Gujarat state legislature in 2002 and for the Lok Sabha in 1984, following anti-Muslim and anti-Sikh riots, respectively. Many of these politicians, as pointed out earlier, are now protected by personnel of the same NSG that battled against terrorists in Mumbai over the past few days. It is almost needless to add that these powerful men and women have been able to successfully prevent or stall legal proceedings against the majority of those responsible for communal violence or, when proceedings have been completed, to have them acquitted of most of the charges. Factors like these help provide fresh local recruits to terrorist organisations, in the form of actual combatants as well as those who provide logistical support.

*Updates to original blog-post, on December 04, 2008.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Punjabi Poetry From Across the Border

The following videos show Pakistani poet Anwar Masood reciting two of his Punjabi poems.

The latter poem refers to the famous Anarkali Bazar in the city of Lahore.

Recitations of some more of his poems, in his own voice, can be listened to at the website of the Academy of the Punjab in North America.

I would like to thank Asma, for introducing me to Masood saaheb's poetry.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


Gurdwara Bangla Sahib, New Delhi, photographed by yours truly on Guru Nanak Dev ji's birthday, in the year 2005.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Little Drops of Water, Little Grains of Sand…

Apart from the rather well-publicised opening of a trade route between India and Pakistan across the Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir, efforts made recently towards improving Indo-Pak relations have also resulted in the organisation of a music festival and a series of Kabaddi matches in Punjab. The latter, it appears, have not been covered as extensively in the news-media, nationally as well as internationally, as the former.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Three Centuries with the Eternal Guru

To mark the celebrations of the tercentenary of the elevation of the Guru Granthh Saahib as the Eternal Guru (teacher) of the Sikhs, a rather comprehensive yet concise write-up has appeared in the Sunday Magazine section of 'The Hindu', on October 26. In it have been described the events leading up to the elevation, those whose writings have been included in the holy book, besides the nature and structure of its contents and the manner in which these have been set to Hindustani classical music.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Where Do We Go Now?

My father and I were at a local chemist's to pick up some of my medicines, when I saw two young women leaving a neighbouring shop. One look at them and I was convinced that another sport India could possibly expect gold-medals from, as soon as it is included in the Olympic games, is Sumo wrestling. In any case, they walked away carrying polythene-bags filled with their shopping. As they did so, however, one of them dropped something. It looked like a very thick pen, but probably was a make-up tool. Since they failed to notice the loss, I rushed to pick up the instrument and return it to them. They left after briefly mumbling a few words of thanks.

A day or two later, I found out about a young lad who had tried to act as a good Samaritan, in a crowded market-place in New Delhi, and had his head blown off in the bargain.

These incidents reminded me of the lyrics of an old Hindi film song that went somewhat like:

"Ab kahaaN jaayeiN hum, ye bataa ai zameeN
Is jahaaN maiN toh koi hamaara nahi
Apne saaye se bhi loag darne lagay
Ab kisi ko kisi par bharosa nahi..."

(This can be roughly translated as:

"Where do we go now, tell us O Earth
There is no one that we can call our own in this world
People have begun to fear their own shadows
No one trusts any one else any more...")

One kind of organisation that is being trusted to a great degree these days by a large proportion of India's population though, especially with respect to the arrests of several 'masterminds' responsible for bomb-blasts in different parts of India and some such men being shot down in New Delhi, is the police.

It is quite interesting to note that the police did not inspire the same kind of trust amongst the public when they claimed to have solved the murder of a teenager, Aarushi Talwar, in Delhi's suburb of Noida and arrested her father for the heinous crime, in addition to having provided 'details' of the teenager's 'affair' with one of the family's servants, who was also found murdered at the same time, as well as the manner in which her parents were supposed to have swapped spouses and performed orgies along with another couple. In fact, some senior police officials were not only transferred by the concerned state government, but also severely reprimanded for making such 'wild allegations' by no less than the Union Minister of State for Women and Child Welfare.

The police also failed to inspire the same kind of confidence amongst the public when Manu Sharma could not be prosecuted for the murder of Jessica Lal, whom he had shot dead in front of several people in a restaurant, or when Santosh Kumar Singh could not be prosecuted for the rape and murder of Priyadarshini Mattoo, in the trial courts. Both these men were convicted in higher courts only after a massive public outcry, especially amongst members of 'civil society', and an intense campaign by some sections of the news-media.

Even if one were to put aside charges of inaction and even complicity, levelled against the police, the fact remains that hardly any convictions have been secured in cases related to the anti-Sikh communal riots, in 1984, in several parts of North and Central India and the small number of convictions achieved in cases related to the anti-Muslim riots that occurred in the state of Gujarat in 2002 have largely been in those cases, which have been moved to courts in states other than Gujarat.

It is rather strange that a large number of people are prepared to accept police officers' statements as the gospel truth, whenever these are related to any action of theirs that has the words 'terrorist' and 'Muslim/Sikh' associated with it. I recall a time when, in my home-state i.e. Punjab, one could literally have any one bumped off by the police, for an appropriate 'fee'. Soon thereafter, a report would duly appear in all major newspapers, describing the deceased as a 'dreaded terrorist' who had been shot down in an 'encounter' with the police and providing details of the arms and ammunition supposed to have been found in his possession. At other times, young men from well-to-do families were picked up and demands for ransom made from their near and dear ones, threatening them to pay up unless they wanted their boys to meet a fate similar to the one described in the previous sentence. Later on, when enquiries began to be carried out regarding police excesses, some senior officers preferred to commit suicide than to face up to their past deeds. During these men's heyday, they were, of course, hailed as heroes by the news-media as well as large sections of the country's population. Among extra-judicial killings in other states, the alleged murders of Sohrabbudin Sheikh and his wife Kausarbi by some policemen in Gujarat and the subsequent arrest and trial of the errant officers have been well-publicised in the recent past. Condemnation for such abominable acts has come even from within the ranks of the police, at the highest level.

Coming to the recent 'encounter' in the Jamia Nagar area of New Delhi (which has also come to be known as the Batla House 'encounter'), the police's version appears to have been accepted completely by most Indians, including members of the news-media who had raised a lot of din regarding the investigation of cases related to crimes against Aarushi Talwar, Jessica Lal and Priyadarshini Mattoo. Questions, even as there seems to be plenty of scope for these, are being raised only by some leaders from within the Muslim community, a few politicians from the Samajwadi Party, in addition to two civil rights groups.

Although the doubts that have been raised are based on a rational line of thought, I suppose these could have been far more specific, had the questioners had a good look at Mail Today's issue dated September 24, 2008. It includes an eye-witness account that can turn the police's version on its head. However, since there appears to be little probability of the witnesses quoted in the report ever testifying in a court of law, it should perhaps be more prudent to concentrate on some of the contents of the autopsy (post mortem examination) reports of Inspector Mohan Chand Sharma (who was the only policeman killed) and one of the slain 'terrorists' that have also been published.

Regarding Inspector Sharma's autopsy, the newspaper report states the following:

"The autopsy report on Sharma, which is with Headlines Today, says he was shot at from extremely close range, no more than a few centimetres from him. He was hit by three bullets.

All of them entered through the back and followed top-to-down trajectory."

"Inspector Sharma was first shot in his left shoulder.

The next shot hit him a little lower with the bullet missing the spine and then, for the last time, he was shot just above the waist.

All three bullets exited his body from the front. No bullets were lodged in his body as an X- Ray showed. Also, the bullet wounds show that they entered Sharma’s body from a top angle. This indicates that whoever shot him had the advantage of height.

Under these circumstances, it’s very hard to say who shot the officer."
Whereas, with respect to the autopsy of one of the 'terrorists' it states that:

"The body of one of the ‘terrorists’ bears injury marks, sharp wounds and multiple internal injuries in the stomach. Doctors say such injuries are usually attributed to a scuffle, actually a violent physical assault. Someone may even have stamped on him."
For the uninitiated, the wound caused by a bullet at its point of entry into a human body is quite distinct from the wound at the point of exit, thus making it possible for experts who conduct an autopsy to clearly distinguish between the two.

So, it is quite difficult to comprehend the mysterious way in which the so-called terrorists were supposed to have shot at Inspector Sharma from his front-side, according to the police's version of the shoot-out, and yet the bullets that hit him were actually fired from behind him, as the autopsy report proves.

Also, since one of the 'terrorists' who were shot dead was obviously beaten to the ground and hit rather hard, as evident from his autopsy report, the reasons for which the police then let him go and fetch himself a gun to shoot at them are difficult to fathom. Anyhow, his being beaten up forms no part of the police's account.

If we assume that the 'encounter' was not fake, perhaps it so happened that as soon as the 'terrorists' opened the door, the policemen pounced upon them and gave them a sound thrashing (which the autopsy report provides credible evidence for), but soon the law enforcers were tired and decided to take a breather. During that interlude, one of the terrorists sneaked away and got his assault rifle and pistol from inside the house. Subsequently, he either jumped over Inspector Sharma's head or crawled between the Inspector's legs, without being seen by him (otherwise the Inspector might have turned around to face the 'terrorist'), to get behind him and then shot him three times from extremely close range. To my mind, however, it appears highly improbable, if not impossible, for anything like that to have happened, because the 'terrorist' would have had to be a comic-book super-hero with super-human powers, rather than a normal human being, in order to accomplish such a feat.

As the demand for a judicial probe into the incident is yet to meet with a favourable response from the government and the principal opposition party appears opposed to it as well, in addition to the courts not having taken suo moto notice of relevant reports in the news-media, there appears to be little hope for truth to triumph.

Besides, as shown by the mutually contradictory reports presented recently by the judicial commissions headed by Mr. Justice Nanavati and Mr. Justice Bannerjee, set up to investigate the events that led up to the anti-Muslim carnage in 2002, even judicial enquiries seem to have become politically motivated.

As the country continues to slide towards becoming a communal, capitalist, undemocratic republic, instead of the secular, socialist, democratic republic envisaged by those who wrote the Constitution of India, where does one turn to for justice, in the real sense of the word?

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The Communal Psyche

The following article appeared on page 12 in the E-Paper edition of Mail Today dated October 7, 2008. In the print edition, the article appeared on page 10, in the issue dated October 7, 2008.

Hapless Christians handy for minority bashing

by Dipankar Gupta

Why the Christians? Have we run out of Muslims and Sikhs, that a small and insignificant minority should be slaughtered, pillaged and raped at will by right wing Hindutva forces? This may sound strange, but in a real sense that the saffron mob has in deed — if not in words — run out of options. This is why they have now turned against Christians. They are the last soft target.

The Sikhs set the retaliation game in motion. They hit out, often randomly, at designated targets making it known to Hindu sectarians that taking on a Sikh will not be a picnic any longer. This stopped further attacks against them. The Muslims picked up this lead and set their own pace by orchestrating the Mumbai blasts of 1993, and several after that in quick succession. So the Muslims can no longer be hunted down either for casual Hindu amusement.

This only leaves the Christians. It must be borne in mind that Hindutva activists are at their predacious best when the kill is easy and their own safety assured in advance. This is why where Christians are in sizable numbers, such as in Nagaland, Kerala or even Goa, Hindutva sectarians dare not touch them. Instead they turn to areas like the Dangs in Gujarat or Kandmahal in Orissa where Christians are scattered and isolated. In these places it is easy to kill without the fear of being killed.


Ever since the Mumbai blasts the Muslims in that metropolis feel much safer. In many sensitive areas they have had no difficulty in increasing the plinth area of their mosques or the height of these structures. In fact, word has gone around among Muslims in the city that they can count on Shiv Sena support for these activities. If truth be told, the day after the Mumbai blast in 1993, the Shiv Sena newspaper Samna editorialized in a most conciliatory fashion asking for greater understanding between communities. Till then Bal Thackery, through this daily, was spewing hell fire and brimstone. What led him to alter his tone? What had changed?

The answer is ridiculously simple. One of the bombs in the Mumbai blasts went off outside the Shiv Sena office. This scared the Shiv Sena heroes into changing their tone and going immediately on the defensive. Something quite similar happened in Gujarat. After Godhra, bombs went off in different parts of India, including Ahmedabad, but this time there was no Hindutva “ retaliation”. If Modi could not control the Hindus after Godhra, how did he manage it in the face of a clear and direct challenge from Muslims in his own state? Clearly, fear of Muslim retaliation filled the bullying hearts of Hindutva partisans. They now realized that hate shrapnel could also be directed towards them. This took the shine off from anti- Muslim carnages. This gave them more than enough reason to pause.

And while they paused they pondered. If not the Sikhs and the Muslims, who then? Then the paisa dropped — of course, the Christians!

This is why it is important to distinguish between those who are willing to die for a cause, from those who are only willing to kill for one. Hindu extremist parties and organizations, all the way to the BJP, can encourage, condone and organize mobs to kill for Hindutva, but none of them is willing to die for it. This trait also separates fundamentalist from pure ethnic baiters. A fundamentalist like Khomeini, and even Bhindranwale, would encourage the faithful to go back to the foundational principles of their religion and draw strength from there. Khomeini said that America may be the house of the Shaitan , but Muslims must pay attention first and foremost to the five pillars of Islam.

No such catechism for the Hindutva mobs. Bal Thackeray said that to be a good Hindu one must be ready, willing and able to attack Muslims. He believed that this was the surest way of avenging centuries of hurt. It is, therefore, not necessary for Shiv Sainiks, or for most Hindu sectarians, to be well versed in Hinduism. This is why Shiv Sainiks believe that good Hindus can be in blue jeans, as long as there is hate in their hearts and saffron in their flags.

It should be clear by now that there is no social science behind the killings of Muslims, Sikhs, or Christians. Even so, academics, intellectuals, commentators and secular do- gooders are always searching for social and economic reasons behind these ethnic slaughters. What they do not realize is that the moment one gives into this kind of weak secular urges, Hindutva mobs find easy justification. Muslim terrorism today has nothing to do with Al Qaeda, Taliban, Palestine, or even Iraq. These terrorists are home bred and are direct outcomes of Babri Masjid and Godhra.


So when Christians are being killed let us not search for its causes in the rising graph of conversions. Such an exercise is not only fraught with difficulties, but it may also direct our attention to poverty- based explanations. Which in turn would be the reason for something else, and the regression exercises could go on. What such analysts should ask is: Why don’t these Hindutva activists go to Nagaland or somewhere else where Christians are in a majority and show us their nationalist derring- do there? Why is it that they are only active where their safety is guaranteed? In places where there is no administrative encouragement, sanction or connivance, Hindutva activists, of whatever description, dare not strike any minority community.

This is why such attacks take place largely in BJP run areas like Gujarat, Rajasthan, Karnataka or Orissa. Wherever Hindutva presence is built into the state administrative system, saffron forces are assured that every ethnic attack will be like a picnic. Even as L. K. Advani, Rajnath Singh and BJP national leaders assembled on September 14 in Bangalore, 16 churches were attacked in Dakshina Kannada, Chikmaglur and Udupi.


When it comes to linguistic and caste wars there is social science involved as jobs are to be won or lost on these grounds. But when Muslims or Christians are killed, nobody wants their income or livelihood. They are attacked only to make Hindutva organizations look good, and nothing else. This is why, in such contexts, social science of any kind is irrelevant. Social forensics, however, can be of some use in these circumstances. It would be interesting to know who killed whom, for how much and for what?

But it will not be a smooth run for too long. When people have their backs to the wall, they have to hit back. True, battle is not built into the Bible as it is in Sikh and Muslim texts, but that can be easily overcome. Remember the early history of Christianity is all about martyrs. In the medieval years it was about the Crusades. These are background memories that can always be enlivened.

The most effective way however is not to set up vigilante groups, or terror outfits, but to make the state responsible for protecting minorities, and ensuring that the Constitution and the law of the land are upheld. Citizenship knows no colour or creed, and if the Christians are the new Muslims of today, our state should bear the responsibility for this outcome.

The writer teaches sociology in JNU

Sunday, September 28, 2008


This amazing scene was photographed at Bangalore, by my brother.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

A Black-Out and Other Short Stories

A few days ago, I had gone to New Delhi by local train. The train took about 45 minutes to reach the Shivaji Bridge (formerly known as Minto Bridge) station. From there, I walked to the middle circle of Connaught Place, where I had to deliver some papers at an office, on my father's behalf. After that, I walked on to Gurdwara Bangla Sahib, where I spent a few minutes, before walking back to the station. Usually, it takes me about 25 minutes, either way, to perambulate to Bangla Sahib and back and the Connaught Place errand was only a slight detour.

On the return journey, there were no vacant seats in sight, so I stood with my back against a wooden partition, surrounded by other travellers. Though the fans installed in the compartment were of little help against the heat and humidity, the wind coming through the wide open doors offered relief, at least when the train was in motion. At one of the many stops on the way, I began to feel somewhat dizzy and held on to an overhead rail to steady myself. Then, it happened. It was as if my brain had switched off for a few moments, almost like a computer that gets restarted on its own. When the lights came back on, my knees were bent forward slightly, because I had slid down a bit along the wooden partition. My turban was slightly disturbed, on account of having rubbed against the partition. I tried to stand up straight and to reach once again for the overhead rail, but could do neither. Some one suggested that I should squat on the floor, which I did. Some one else offered me a drink of water. By the time the train reached the station where I had to get off, I had regained my strength and walked back home from there.

Those who have seen me might imagine that I have a black-out every other day, if not every day, on account of my ultra-slim physique. However, it came as a huge surprise to me, since anything of the kind had never happened to me before. Intense physical exercise in the past had caused weight-loss, but not a black-out. For instance, when I covered more than 100 kilometres of hilly terrain on foot, during a trek organised by the Youth Hostels Association of India in the Melghat Tiger Reserve in the state of Maharashtra, over a period of 5 days, I lost a few kilograms and probably looked even more skeletal at the end of it, but never did my brain shut down even for a single second.

The family-doctor has attributed the episode to low blood-pressure and a consequent shut-down of oxygen supply to the brain for a few seconds. According to him, my liver and intestines are not functioning at full-capacity. So, all the nutrients from the food that I eat do not reach my blood-stream. He has prescribed iron and calcium supplements along with some tablets and capsules to help the malfunctioning organs regain a healthy state and has also told me to try and protect myself, as far as possible, against infections, since any anti-biotics prescribed to cure those could harm my liver even further.

If my body were an automobile, I could have just gone and got the carburettor and air-filter cleaned, I suppose, or perhaps even the engine flushed clean of any carbon deposits, in addition to a change of engine oil, so as to restore the fuel efficiency.

Monday, September 15, 2008

A Proud Punjabi

The following article appeared recently in The Tribune, Chandigarh, India.

He proudly wears Punjabi attire

Sarbjit Dhaliwal
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, August 31
In every society, there are only a handful of people who dare to tread uncommon paths. Balkaur Singh, who retired today as excise and taxation officer of the Punjab government, after putting in 33 years of service, is one such person. Of the nearly 6 lakh employees of the Punjab government, he maintained a distinct identity.

He did not wear pants and shirt unlike most senior and junior babus in Punjab and many other parts of the country, even once during the entire tenure of service. And he did not even wear a kurta and pyjama while on duty. Without bothering about self-imposed protocol by babus, Balkaur Singh wore the traditional Punjabi dress, chadar, kurta and tilledar jutti during the period of his entire service. He was the only employee of the state government who attended top-level official meetings in the traditional attire.

Before joining service as an inspector in 1975, Balkaur did his post graduation in English and Punjabi as a regular student from Panjab University in the early 1970s. He sat in the class room in the traditional Punjabi dress without bothering about what other students and teachers felt about his dress. “My colleagues and other students in the university and during service in the excise department used to taunt me, but I did not bother as I always feel proud of my Punjabi identity,” said Balkaur Singh.

A brief comment made by an English couple in 1966 changed his life forever. He was so hurt by the comment that he decided not to wear “pants and shirt” ever again. “The British couple was sitting in front of our college at Sirsa. Out of curiosity, I along with other students went to see them as we had never seen such people,” said Balkaur Singh. “As far as language and dress is concerned we are still ruling India,” said the Englishman. “Listening to that remark I felt so humiliated that I decided not to wear the attire given to us by Englishmen,” said Balkaur, who also holds post graduation degrees in philosophy, sociology and psychology.

He says public life is dominated by thugs, corrupt and dishonest people. Bureaucrats and other government officials take pleasure in harassing common people. Hypocrisy has become way of life. Ruling classes of all hues are dishonest to people to whom they pretend to serve, he says. “As I had the guts to confront dishonest people, no one asked me to do anything illegal. I tried my best to serve small traders and businessmen honestly and never harassed them. In fact, I tried to help them. I spared those who committed mistakes inadvertently, but never spared those who have been dodging the government by using influence and their status”, he adds.

Balkaur says, “I will now promote Punjabi culture and expose hypocrites, who in the name of serving and promoting Punjabi culture are playing their own politics”.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Monday, September 01, 2008

Non-Verbal Communication

The sound of my mother's voice woke me from a rather extended afternoon nap.

"TuuN B***y (my nick-name) nu milan aaya aiN, ke dudh peen?"

(Have you come to see Sidhusaaheb or have you come to drink milk?)

Shortly, my friend Zakhmi appeared at the door of my room. I beckoned him over and he sauntered up to where I sat. After getting his ears scratched and his head patted for a while, he turned around and trotted away.

A few seconds later, he stood in the dining room, facing the kitchen, where my mother was, watching her with rapt attention. (He never enters the kitchen, because the old lady has told him not to.) Off and on, he would wag his tail a bit and then lick his lips as well, very expectantly. He appeared downcast, though, when my mother declared, "Hun tainu kujh nahi milna khaan-peen nu!" (You are not going to get anything to eat or drink now!)

He went off and parked himself on the the living-room floor, from where he had a clear view of the refridgerator. When I walked up to him, he turned himself upside down and offered me one of his fore-paws, which I shook vigorously. He seemed happy and even more so when I scratched his stomach. Although he was quite engrossed in playing with me, he stopped to watch carefully and to lick his lips, whenever my mother opened the refridgerator.

After a while, my mother changed her mind and offered him a slice of bread. He sniffed at it briefly and then settled down even more comfortably. A biscuit was met with a similar response, but as soon as she cut open a poly-pack of milk with a pair of scissors, he jumped up and then followed her outside, where his feeding bowl was.

Monday, August 25, 2008

An Indo-Pak Joint Venture

This pair of sandals was purchased from Hasan Abdal, Punjab, Pakistan, in April 2006.

Recently, when the inner soles required replacement, I sought help from the friendly-neighbourhood cobbler. So, at present, this is the handiwork of Indian as well as Pakistani craftsmen.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Friday, August 15, 2008

A Secular Ruler and a Statesman

A book that has been released recently seeks to highlight the secular and meritocratic principles on which Maharaja Ranjit Singh's administration was based, besides his qualities of statesmanship that enabled him to stave off British attempts to usurp his empire, for as long as he was alive.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Connecting personally with the Tenth Master

I suppose I must have heard of him for the first time from my parents or grand-parents, while I was very young. Later on, a few years after I had started going to school, I read about his life and times in an illustrated comic book.

I do not recall how much information my text-books at school provided me about him, if at all. However, I do remember that a considerable amount of information was available in the books for the History and Culture of Punjab course that I had to take up as one of the two compulsory subjects at college, in accordance with the syllabus prescribed by the Panjab University, Chandigarh.

Although I had a fair idea of the main precepts of my faith i.e. Sikhism and the Khalsa panthh (the foundation of which marked a quantum leap in the evolution of Sikhism, in my opinion) initiated by the tenth Guru (teacher) of the Sikhs, Guru Gobind Singh, since my early days, like belief in a single, formless, indestructible, eternal Supreme Being i.e. WaheGuru, who is never born and never dies and is omnipotent and omnipresent and whom people that practise different religions address by different names, it was much later, when I actually started reading the scriptures that I realised that Sikhism is more of a way of life than a religious faith.

The Guru Granthh Saahib, I found, after I read certain portions of it, lays down a complete code of conduct that one can follow from birth to death. It will certainly not lead to the fulfilment of every wish, but can let one have something over and above that, which is peace of mind. Not every one who claims to be a Sikh these days, mostly on account of having forefathers who had, at some point of time, developed faith in the teachings of the Sikh Gurus, seems to understand that, though, and some seek alternative means for the fulfilment of their material desires. The truth is that even I did not comprehend that, until very recently, when I started reading Gurbaani on my own. At various points of time in my life, I have, in fact, been silly enough to pray for a certain score in my school or college examinations or even to request the Almighty to let some girl or the other to pay more attention to me, if not marry me! Little did I realise then that as a Sikh, when I pray for sarbat da bhalaa (the welfare of all), as a part of my daily prayers, I liberate myself from the need to ask for anything specific for my own self.

I suppose that if the entire body of knowledge included in the holy book is taken as being analogous to that acquired by some one with a bachelor's degree, then I am still in kindergarten. With the average level of intellect that I possess, I may never actually be able to assimilate all of it in my lifetime, it appears to me, let alone practise it. That realisation has brought home another more profound one, related to the wisdom of the ten Gurus of Sikhism. I have always thought of them as incredibly wise men, but this has added an entirely new dimension to that.

That the Gurus were all well-versed in music is quite obvious, since not only did they employ musical compositions to spread their message far and wide, but the contents of the Guru Granthh Saahib have also been set to music, with an appropriate raaga prescribed for each of the verses, to be made use of when these are to be recited with musical accompaniment.

Beyond that, when one tries to recall those amongst them who learnt and practised the art of war, the two names that come to mind are those of the sixth master, Guru Hargobind, who sought to combine miri and piri (the temporal and the spiritual) and raised an army of the Sikhs for the first time and the tenth master, Guru Gobind Singh, who, as mentioned before, founded the Khalsa.

Although both have been my boyhood heroes, I tend to connect more personally with Guru Gobind Singh, firstly, because I revere him for having made the supreme sacrifice (like the fifth master, Guru Arjan Dev, and the ninth master, Guru Tegh Bahadur) for the cause of righteousness and having inspired thousands of others, including all four of his own sons, to do the same. He infused a sense of immense self-belief among his followers and was able to remove fear of every kind from their hearts, including that of death, which is a source of great inspiration for me. He declared:

"Sawaa laakh se ek laRaauN
MeiN chiRiyaan toN baaz banaauN
Tabhai Gobind Singh naam kahaauN...

(This can be roughly translated as:
"I instill the confidence in each of my soldiers to be able to fight alone against even a hundred and twenty five thousand enemy combatants;
I make hawks out of sparrows;
Only then do I get to be called Gobind Singh...")

Secondly, I have had the good fortune, like many others, of course, of being afforded a good look at some of the articles of his personal use. These have included weapons of various kinds like swords, spears, guns and arrows (Tales of his skill with the bow and arrow abound, to this day.), besides clothes and other personal effects, displayed at numerous Gurdwaras in different parts of India, in addition to some exhibitions held on special occasions.

On a recent visit to the town of Mandi, in the state of Himachal Pradesh, when I visited a local Gurdwara along with my parents, I learnt that it had originally been built by a local ruler, at the invitation of one of whose ancestors the tenth master had spent six months as a guest of the royal family. Among the articles on display there, was a rebab that the Guru is said to have played himself, every evening, while reciting verses from Gurbaani. Besides that, there was a musket that Guru Saaheb used for target practice and, most interestingly, a charpoy and a mattress that were made especially for the tenth master's use, during his stay there. Most intrestingly, because it became clear after taking one look at it that the man who slept on it could not have been more than five and a half feet tall or perhaps even less than that.

At that moment, the admiration and respect that I have for the Guru increased manifold. The man with that medium-sized frame, who has been and always will be a spiritual guide to millions, was, evidently, an accomplished poet, author, linguist, musician and philosopher, as well as being a skilled horseman, swordsman, archer, marksman and military strategist.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A Thought for Today

'Power will go to the hands of rascals, rogues and freebooters. All Indian leaders will be of low calibre and men of straw. They will have sweet tongues and silly hearts. They will fight among themselves for power and India will be lost in political squabbles.'
- Sir Winston Churchill (1874 - 1965). He was the prime minister of the United Kingdom from 1940 to 1945, and again from 1951 to 1955.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Save the Hummer!

The General Motors Corporation is considering the sale of its Hummer brand or shut down of production.

As I had written in a blog-post, earlier, the Hummer is, arguably, the best small general-purpose vehicle available to the civilian population of the world, in terms of off-road driving capabilities (even if it does not look quite as good as, say, the Jeep Wrangler). I am sure that there are many others like me, around the world, who would be saddened immensely, if the Hummer's production were to be shut down. The brand being sold off might offer some hope yet, but it is difficult to anticipate the kind of changes that a purchaser might want to bring about in the vehicle.

One can blame it all on the ever-increasing oil prices, I suppose. However, the prices of oil are expected to stabilise in the long-term and in the short- to the medium-terms, the attempts being made towards increasing fuel-efficiency of the Hummers as well as to run these on alternate fuels should have a positive impact on sales.

Buyers, especially in North America, have been known, in the past, to revert to purchasing Sport Utility/Four-Wheel Drive (4x4) vehicles, as soon as prices of fossil fuels start falling. Besides, not only has a new, all-aluminium engine (which is, obviously, much lighter and, therefore, a vehicle powered by it is likely to be more fuel-efficient than one powered by an engine made of cast-iron) been built for the Hummer H3, but I have also heard that a hybrid version of the Hummer i.e. one powered by a combination of an internal combustion engine and an electric motor that runs on batteries, is already on the drawing board.

Hummers that run on 'greener' fuels like Hydrogen and Bio-Diesel have already been widely reported about, especially because of some famous owners, like body building champion-turned-actor-turned-politician Arnold Schwarznegger, of such vehicles.

I sincerely hope that all these factors will help tilt the scales in the Hummer's favour and that production will not be shut down.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Of sleepers and coaches...

These two appeared intent upon demonstrating that one does not require a 'coach', in order to be a 'sleeper'. The location was a travel agent's office at Goa.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Trip to Manikaran

A few moons ago, my mother and I received an invitation from my father, to accompany him on one of his business tours, to the location of an upcoming hydro-electric power project in the state of Himachal Pradesh. The site lay somewhere between the towns of Mandi and Kullu and that was the chief reason for our acceptance. We hoped to go on to Kullu and then to the 'hill-station' town of Manali, where we could do a bit of sight-seeing, while my father finished his work.

So, a taxi was hired and we were off, by road, early one morning. We expected to reach Kullu by late evening. Little did we know, however, that a change of plan was in the offing. Some time after we started, I could sense a bout of gastroenteritis coming on and soon had to get the car stopped every few minutes in order to throw up some of the contents of my stomach. I suppose I vomitted, in several instalments, not only the contents of the previous evening's dinner, but also the previous day's lunch.

The disease being one that I have been highly prone to since my early days, I had the sense to keep up the liquid intake in order to prevent dehydration, which is among the leading causes of fatalities caused by it. That, though, also led the doctor, whom we consulted when we reached Mandi (where we had decided to stay for the night, instead of Kullu, because of my illness, and where my father expected that the chances of availability of suitable medical treatment were quite good), to believe that I was in better shape than I actually was. He sent me away after prescribing a few tablets that he told me to swallow at regular intervals. Later on, as the night progressed, I continued to feel worse and, ultimately, had to go to a nursing home, where I was administered an intra-venous injection that helped stabilise my condition.

The next day, I spent the morning and early afternoon lounging about in bed and watching television, in the hotel room, while my father went off to work and my mother browsed through the shops in the local market. After lunch, by when both my parents had returned, my mother proposed that we should at least visit the Gurdwara at Manikaran, even as a visit to Kullu or Manali was out of the question.

We set off at about 4:30 p.m. and I was not absolutely sure whether it was such a great idea, starting off so late. The sky was cloudy and we encountered intermittent spells of rain and shine en route. A little past half-way, the road narrowed down to such an extent that a vehicle coming from the opposite direction could hardly be passed without slowing down to a crawl. The car had to be driven very carefully also on account of the fact that on one side of the road was a sheer drop of several hundred feet, at times to a river flowing at the bottom of the valley, with the hill-side on the other. Almost all the other vehicles on the road appeared to be going downhill, as we drove uphill. We had to have all windows closed and the air-conditioner turned on, as the exhaust-fumes from buses and trucks (that often included unburnt diesel) caused me to feel nauseous otherwise, even though I continued to sip from a bottle of soft-drink to prevent the contents of my stomach, literally, from boiling over. The scenery all around was picturesque, however, and, despite everything, I managed to enjoy the view immensely, until darkness descended all around.

On the way, we passed the little township of Kasol, which appeared to be some sort of a base for trekking expeditions. I remember that I saw a banner that proclaimed the start of such an expedition organised by the Youth Hostels Association of India, which was to originate from there. I could also see that a number of the local shops stocked the kind of equipment and rations that trekkers might require. There were a lot of foreign tourists, as well, carrying ruck-sacks and the place was dotted with restaurants serving not only continental cuisine, besides Indian, but (and it came as quite a surprise to me) Israeli as well! Since there were a few mechanics running shop there, who claimed to specialise in the repair of motorcycles, I presume that Kasol might even be on a route frequented by motorcycle expeditions, though I am not sure if these are comprised mainly of pilgrims going on to Manikaran or those headed towards other destinations as well.

At Manikaran, we found the Gurdwara to be situated down in the valley, on a river-bank, and we had to leave the main road and drive along a short one that was a lot more winding and a lot narrower than the one we had been driving on thus far. We stayed there only for a rather short period of time. After a brief prayer, we went to have a look at the hot-spring within the premises, where the visitors often have a bath and vessels are lowered into the hot water to cook rice or to make tea or daal (lentil-soup). I found it quite amazing that even as a broad stream of cold water flowed just outside the premises, a bridge over which one had to cross to get to the Gurdwara, a spring of hot water was to be found inside. A Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Shiva was constructed near the spring a few years ago, we discovered, within the boundaries.

Unfortunately, the management of the Gurdwara was not up to the standards that one is used to in Gurdwaras in other parts of North India, which are managed by the SGPC. This one, I learnt, is still operated by a clique of mahants. We could not even get parshaad, as the mahants distribute it only for a few hours every day and the joRhaa-ghar, where one might deposit one's shoes, before washing one's hands and feet and entering the sanctum sanctorum, was also closed. The facilities for washing one's hands and feet were also not available right outside the sanctum sanctorum, as these should be.

The drive on our way back was largely eventless and it was close to midnight, when we returned to the hotel. The next morning, we drove back home.

Later on, I could not help thinking that had the state of Punjab not been trifurcated in 1966, every single place that we drove through or stopped by at, throughout the trip, would still have been a part of Punjab, except for the areas that lay within Delhi.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

An 'I' for an eye

The tag, this time, is about completing a series of statements about oneself. So, without much ado, as always, let us get down to business.

I am: a human being.

I think: , therefore, I am (though I do not own the copyright to that statement!).

I know: far less than I think I do, I am sure.

I want: just about enough to fulfil my basic needs as well as those of my motorcycle.

I have: a lot to thank the Almighty for!

I wish: for a lot of things, not all of which I can attain.

I hate: lies, deceit, manipulation, dishonesty, hypocrisy, corruption and nepotism.

I miss: my grandparents, all four of whom are no more, besides other family members and friends (of both the two-legged and four-legged varieties) who have gone on to the happy hunting grounds.

I fear: being forced by circumstances, more often than not created by manipulative people, to say or do something that I would not otherwise have said or done, being the fiercely independent person that I am or, at least, like to think that I am.

I feel: heat, cold, softness, hardness, sharpness, bluntness, etc., like any other person with a normal sense of touch.

I hear: all kinds of sounds that any one with a normal sense of hearing might hear.

I smell: all kinds of smells that any one with a normal sense of smell might recognise, besides a 'rat' or 'something fishy', at times.

I crave: not much for any thing or any one, any more!

I search: through Google, even as I know that I can not find all that I search for through it.

I wonder: whether the egg came before the chicken or vice versa.

I regret: not having been born in a royal family in a country with a constitutional monarchy (since it is difficult to locate one with an absolute monarchy these days!).

I love: leisure!

I ache: when I walk more than I usually do.

I care: a little more than I should, at times, perhaps.

I am not: a super-hero.

I believe: in a single, formless, indestructible, eternal Supreme Being i.e. WaheGuru, who is never born and never dies and is omnipotent and omnipresent and whom people that practise different religions address by different names.

I dance: only when dragged to the dance floor and make my escape as soon as I can.

I sing: only when there is no one within ear shot, although a lot of people have had to suffer my singing in the past, especially my mates at the hostel, while I was pursuing my post-graduate degree.

I cry: to wash away negative emotion from within myself, but only when no one is watching me, usually, except when it becomes impossible to hold back, like at my paternal grandfather's cremation (He was the only one among my grandparents at whose cremation I was present).

I do not always: do all that others expect of me.

I fight: when I have to.

"Jab aao ki aaodh nidhaan banay, att hi rann maiN tab joojh maroN"

(This can be roughly translated as, "When the limits of tolerance are crossed, I shall engage in battle and fight till the end.").

- Guru Gobind Singh

I write: using a computer's keyboard, mostly, nowadays.

I win: when I least expect to.

I lose: when I really want to win.

I never: garnish chocolate ice-cream with powdered chillies. Coming to think of it, I never do that with any other ice-cream flavour either.

I always: try to be as honest as I can, even at the cost of hitting others where it hurts.

I confuse: people's names sometimes. For instance, I have a hard time remembering whether a particular ghazal singer is named Peenaz Masani or Meenaz Pasani. I do remember, however, that she has an unruly shock of hair and that I do not appreciate her singing at all.

I listen: to music.

I can usually be found: on planet Earth.

I am scared: of doing anything that might trouble my conscience later.

I need: food, water, clothing, shelter and petrol (for my motorcycle, obviously!).

I am happy about: having all that the Almighty has blessed me with!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Riders On The Storm

A chameleon appears all set to operate the accelerator, while another looks ahead, as they ride my mother's rusty, old moped that lies disused in a corner of our backyard.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Surface Transport

I was reminded of this on account of the recent increases in the prices of fossil fuels, to exorbitant levels. I had borrowed my brother's camera to shoot this, at Ooty, since mine does not have optical zoom.

Friday, June 06, 2008


Over the past few days, I have been reading through the first issue of the news-magazine Covert, after I received a three-year subscription from my friend Siraj Wahab, as a gift. Siraj bhai, himself, has contributed a couple of pieces, which appear on page 51 of the maiden issue. One of these, as a matter of fact, has been published on his blog as well, in the form of the blog-post dated May 19, 2008.

The magazine, apparently, has been started by veteran journalist M. J. Akbar, who is listed as the Chairman and Director of Publications. The first thing that struck my mind, when I looked at it, was that it is a fortnightly, unlike most of its major competitors, which are weeklies. I wonder if that is likely to change at any point of time in the future, especially when advertising revenues increase. The advertisements in the first issue are limited to the inside of the front cover and on both sides of the back cover.

The USP or unique selling proposition of the magazine seems to be that it not only contains rather interesting columns written by veteran journalists and writers, but those by prominent persons from other walks of life as well. The columnists include M. J. Akbar, Kuldip Nayar, Yashwant Sinha, Seema Mustafa, Akhilesh Mithal, Saeed Naqvi, Teesta Setalvad, Brahma Chellaney, Suhel Seth, Arif Mohammed Khan, Pawan Khera, Farzana Versey, Khushwant Singh, Joginder Singh, Jaswant Singh and Prakash Karat. The magazine could very well have been named as The Columnist's Fortnightly, perhaps. It remains to be seen, however, whether all such columns are going to be a regular feature or that many are meant to be a part of the first few issues only. I, for one, would certainly hope for the former to be the case.

Apart from the columns, I found the contents to be rather lack-lustre. The cover story, which is about the illegally-acquired wealth of a politician, for instance, seems to have been based entirely on hear-say or interviews with opposing politicians, besides circumstantial evidence. The magazine appears to have no documentary evidence to back its claims, other than a copy of a public interest litigation that has been filed against the man, which can hardly be considered as such, since the matter is sub-judice. The allegations that have been made are probably genuine, as the public generally knows more about the ill-gotten wealth of politicians and bureaucrats than those who have the power to prosecute them for such misdemeanours, but are unlikely to stand in a court of law, unless some material evidence is available.

The rest of the contents are based largely on politics and on sports, to a lesser degree, in addition to entertainment, lifestyles and astrology. The politics-based content, though, is mainly in the form of commentary or a compilation of gossip, rather than objective reporting.

Above all else, I am not sure whether making the contents of all columns available for free on the magazine's website is a good idea, if the magazine is meant to remain in circulation over an extended period of time, unless, of course, the website is to have a revenue model of its own. If one can read all one's favourite columns online, there hardly remains any reason to subscribe to the magazine or to purchase a copy from the news-stand. I believe that some of the competing magazines allow access to online content only to those who have a valid subscription number.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Indiscipline amongst Sikh Sangat

The Sikhs have fought and won numerous battles in past, often against heavy odds. This has been possible, I believe, not only on account of immense courage, but also a strong sense of self-discipline. Sadly, many of those who call themselves Sikhs, nowadays, seem to have given up the latter, along with their Kesh (unshorn hair and, in the case of men, beard as well).

The following photgraphs were taken at Keshgarh Sahib, a few days ago. The painted signs are meant to request members of the Sangat (congregation) to deposit their shoes at the designated place, from where they could collect these before leaving the premises, simply by returning a token issued against the shoes. The service is provided free of charge.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

A Common Thread

A book has been published recently, which presents its author's attempts to explore the thread of commonality that runs through Islamic and Sikh precepts.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Figure of Eight

This is the second one of the two tags that were pending. I would like to offer my sincerest apologies for the delay in doing this one.

Eight things I am passionate about:

1. Doing nothing.
2. Relaxing.
3. Watching movies. One fine day, when I sat down to list the titles of the movies that I have watched, I was able to write down about 200.
4. My motorcycle (12bhp, 135cc, single-cylinder, 2-stroke, 4-speed manual, kick-start). I bought it in 2001.
5. Animals (excluding humans). Love them and they love you back unconditionally. They bear disease, infirmity and suffering with the utmost grace and when death comes calling, they go along quietly. They behave more like true gentlemen or have more lady-like qualities than most humans seem to, nowadays.
6. Travel. I try not to miss any available opportunity to go to a place I have never been to.
7. Photography. I purchased my camera-phone only so that I can have a camera in my pocket, wherever I go.
8. Being a couch potato. My favourite television channels include BBC World News, NDTV 24x7, Star Movies, HBO, Discovery and Animal Planet, even as I spend a good deal of time channel-surfing, in general.

Eight things I want to do before I die:

1. Stay alive.
2. Stay alive.
3. Stay alive.
4. Stay alive.
5. Stay alive.
6. Stay alive.
7. Stay alive.
8. Stay alive.

Eight things I say often:

I do not have any pet-phrases, presently.

Eight books I have read recently:

I have not read any books recently.

Eight songs I could listen to over and over:

1. 'Vindicated' from the original sound track of the movie Spiderman.
2. 'Imagine' by John Lennon.
3. 'Man Who Sold the World' by Nirvana.
4. 'Mann Kunto Maula' in Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan's voice.
5. 'Allah hoo' in Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan's voice.
6. 'Shabad-kirtan' (recitation of verses from the Guru Granthh Saahib, with musical accompaniment), provided the Raagi-jathha follows the Raaga prescribed in the Guru Granthh Saahib, for the recitation of each of the verses.
7. 'Bulla Ki Jaana MeiN Kaun' in Rabbi Shergill's voice.
8. 'Dilli' by Rabbi Shergill.

Eight things that attract me to my friends:

The one who has tagged me has consulted her spouse, while filling in this section, whereas another blogging buddy she has tagged has asked her friends to provide inputs. Since I do not have a spouse or too many friends of the human kind, I decided to ask my animal friends and here is what they had to say.

1. Woof, woof
2. Woof, woof
3. Poof, poof
4. Poof, poof
5. Moo, moo
6. Moo, moo
7. Meow, meow
8. Meow, meow

Monday, April 28, 2008

May the tribe of nomads prosper!

This tag is one of the two that are pending and I am attempting this one first only because the questions appear easier to answer than those in the other one.

Last movie seen in a theatre?


What book are you reading?


Favourite board game?


Favourite Magazine(s):

Reader's Digest, India Today

Favourite Smells:

Lime, Cocoa

Favourite Sound:

The exhaust note of my motorcycle, guitar riffs accompanied by drums

Worst Feeling In The World:

The burning sensation that follows having found out that something I would never have wanted to happen has happened and when I can not seem to either laugh or cry.

What Is The First Thing You Think Of When You Wake Up?

Is it morning or is it afternoon?

Favourite Fast Food Place:

McDonald's and the most likely purchases there include Chicken McGrill, Cold Coffee, Vanilla ice-cream with hot chocolate sauce.

Future Child’s Name:

We shall cross that bridge when we come to it, if at all.

Finish This Statement. “If I Had A Lot Of Money I’d…”

...spend it on myself and on friends and family.

Do You Drive Fast?

Not really. I have never driven faster than 110 kilometres an hour, even on a national highway.

Do You Sleep With A Stuffed Animal?


Storms-Cool Or Scary?

Any kind, as long as I am at a secure location.

Do You Eat The Stems On Broccoli?

I have never eaten Broccoli.

If You Could Dye Your Hair Any Colour, What Would Be Your Choice?

I am not sure if I would ever want to dye my hair.

Name All The Different Cities/Towns You Have Lived In.

Hardwar, Chandigarh, Indore, National Capital Region of India.

Favourite Sports To Watch:

I am not particular about watching any sport any more. While I am channel surfing, however, I am likely to stop if I come across a telecast of motor-sports of any kind or Football (Soccer) or Cricket.

One Nice Thing About The Person Who Sent This To You:

He writes very well.

What’s Under Your Bed?

There is nothing under my bed, but inside it are the quilts and blankets that are likely to stay there until next winter.

Would You Like To Be Born As Yourself Again?

Only if I am born with a large inheritance, the next time round, so that I never have to worry about making a living.

Morning Person Or Night Owl?

Night Owl

Over Easy Or Sunny Side Up?

Sunny Side Up, with a generous sprinkling of salt and pepper.

Favourite Place To Relax:

Any place with a couch and access to a few newspapers, magazines, a computer with an internet connection, besides a television with a cable-television connection that shows my favourite news-channels and the appropriate appliances for climate-control (which could actually be a ceiling fan or a room-heater, depending upon the weather conditions). A large window offering a nice view would be a bonus, of course.

Favourite Pie:

Apple pie.

Favourite Ice Cream Flavour:

Vanilla with hot chocolate sauce

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Corn-cobs, anyone?

These goats were lounging about on the foot-path besides one of the main streets in Ooty, until one decided to inspect the stock, when a corn-cob seller stepped away from her stall for a while.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Southwards bound: At Cochin

After having enjoyed an interesting journey from Delhi to Goa, seen some marvellous specimens of architecture there, made some new friends and having enjoyed some of the sea and sand at Goa's beaches, we went on to Cochin. It was a little more than an overnight journey and we arrived there on a rainy afternoon.

Lunch, comprised of traditional South Indian fare including rice, daal (lentil soup), curd and pickle, was had at the Ernakulam railway station itself and then an auto-rickshaw was hired to take us and our luggage to a budget hotel. By the time we had checked in, relaxed for a while and freshened up, it was already evening and we decided to set out to explore the place.

The driver of the auto-rickshaw that we hired to go to the nearest point on the sea-shore turned out to be quite gregarious. He told us about the antipathy between the local people and migrants from the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu, who are mainly engaged in unskilled and semi-skilled labour.

As we drove over a bridge across a channel to reach a man-made island created by the British from the materials dredged while deepening the port in 1935-39, where the headquarters of the Indian Navy's Southern Command are also located, we could see a couple of naval boats that had been painted completely grey to match the colour of the sea. Many other multi-coloured civilian craft bobbed up and down around them.

We saw several colonial-era buildings on the way, some of which, I believe, were occupied by the Indian Navy. The style of architecture certainly appeared somewhat different from that of those we had seen in Goa. That could have been because apart from the Portuguese, Cochin had been occupied by the Dutch as well as the British, during different periods of time in its history. We passed a museum, as well, but it was closed, either because it was well past its closing time or it was meant to remain closed on that particular day of the week.

At the sea-side, there was an elevated, paved path along the shore that was separated from the edge of the water by rocks and pebbles of all shapes and sizes. In the distance, we could see some ships at anchor. As we walked along, we came across several wooden platforms that were supported by wooden poles and extended well into the water. At the far edge of each of these, were fishing nets of a peculiar kind that had been mounted on large wooden frames.

A dog hopped, skipped and jumped over the rocks to find its way to a shiny little fish that lay dead on one. It is difficult to imagine whether it was already dead when the waves deposited it there or it died later as the tide receded or if being smashed against a boulder made it lose its life.

Soon, as it began to get dark, we returned to where the auto-rickshaw was parked and asked to be driven back to the hotel. The driver, however, had another idea and took us to the baazaar (market-place), where he knew of a shop that sold a huge variety of the most exotic of spices. My mother was obviously pleased to be there and made several purchases.

A gigantic structure that we saw while getting there, my father told us, was part of a ship-building facility. I also noticed that several of the buses plying on the roads did not have any glass window panes and had tarpaulins instead, which could be folded up to let in plenty of the breeze, in order to provide some relief from the hot and humid weather.

Finally, we bade farewell to the taxi driver and went for dinner at a restaurant near the hotel. We had biryaani and Kerala paraathha, a variant of the Punjabi paraathha that Keralites have devised.

Early the next morning, we left for Ooty.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Golden Oldie - II

Here is another rare gem that I have been able to unearth, once again, with the help of Tasveerein on the B4U Movies channel on television.

Film: Funtoosh (1956)
Singer: Kishore Kumar
Music Director: S. D. Burman
Lyricist: Sahir Ludhianvi

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

'V' for Victory

It was his birthday on March 21 and that reminded me of the fact that we have not communicated with each other for several years now.

We met for the first time in late 1989, soon after I moved to Chandigarh, along with my family. He was among my class-mates at school. Both of us lived in the same sector of the city and used to ride our respective bicycles together every day, at least on the way back home, since I was almost invariably late in the mornings. We were in standard IX then.

After completing standard X, he got himself admitted to a college, while I remained at the same school as before. Within the next three years, we passed the standard XII examinations and then spent a year without having joined any educational institution as he meant to re-appear and improve his scores and I hoped to be able to prepare better for the tests for admission into an engineering course.

During all those years, we remained the closest of friends. Besides being together at school and, later, going for private tuition classes, we used to spend a lot of time in each other's company. He would often come to visit in the evenings and remain seated on his bicycle (which was replaced by a scooter, after he got a driving licence) just outside the gate, while I stood inside, and we would talk for hours on end, even as we ogled at passers-by. At other times, I would visit his place and we would sit in his room and chat, while munching on some tasty snack or the other that his mother plied us with.

More time at hand was filled with long walks or skating along the periphery of the Sukhna lake or hanging out at the piazza in sector 17 along with some other friends.

I often remember some of the pranks that we played on unsuspecting people and smile to myself. For instance, one fine day, when my family as well as the nice folk who lived upstairs had gone out, we climbed up, through the cutout, to what could perhaps be termed as their back-yard, using a stool to get on to the upper rail of a window sash and then clambering up a wall and walking carefully across its narrow top-surface, almost like real-life commandos. We had carried along his .22 calibre air-rifle and a box of lead pellets, in addition to a pair of field glasses. The parapet had been constructed in such a way that there were gaps between the bricks, large enough to pass the barrel of the gun through and take aim without really being seen, except from a very short distance.

We took turns shooting at the window panes of a house across the road. The air-rifle was not powerful enough for any of the shots to break the thick glass across the distance of about 100-150 metres, however, a loud noise was produced each time a pellet found its mark. The occupants of the house must have been flummoxed! At first, an old woman came out to investigate, but went back inside within a minute or two. We shot a few more times. Shortly, her beautiful grand-daughter stepped out to try and locate the source of the noise. That was when the field glasses came in handy!

There were many other such incidents, which I can not recall without a chuckle, during those four years or so, at the end of which my friend joined the Merchant Navy, like his father and elder brother. I recall that I had written "V for victory and V for Vishal" on the card that I gave him, to wish him for his birthday, soon before he left.

Subsequently, I joined a local college to pursue a bachelor's degree in arts, having realised that being the teetotaller that I am, science and mathematics were not really my cups of tea. I did not get to see him until when I was in the third and final year, as he completed his training and then continued to sail from one port to another. Unfortunately, during the days that he came to visit the hometown, I was preparing for the entrance examinations for a post graduate course in management, besides preparing for those of the final year of the graduate degree, and was not able to manage to spare the kind of time for him that I should have. He left without saying farewell, at the end of his vacation.

Soon thereafter, I moved to Indore in the state of Madhya Pradesh where I had secured admission in a C-grade business school. I had taken his mailing address from his mother before I left and wrote to him from there. We corresponded a few times after that and also spoke to each other over the telephone, even after I completed the course and moved to the national capital region, where my parents had shifted residence to by that time.

Then, his brother got married and I sent a congratulatory note. He wrote back to regret the fact that he had not invited me. I responded with a letter full of anger. He never replied. Since then, I have written several times, to wish him and his family a happy new year or to wish him a happy birthday, but have not heard from him. His father was kind enough to call me once to enquire after my well being and to assure me that he would pass my message on to Vishal, which I am sure he must have done.

The Almighty alone knows whether I shall ever be re-united with my friend, but the effect that having lost a friend has had on me is that I have become more forgiving and receptive to sincere apologies.