December 2008


In my previous post I had posted a picture of a mound peering through the morning fog and said there was a story to tell there.Well this is the story about the mound and the hundreds of others that can be still found in Bahrain. Often when one lives with history one tends to take it for granted.What if I tell you that this mound dates back to an era some 3000BC? That would make you take notice alright.

This is what the mound and its cousins(not in the picture) look like in the morning sun.Now ,what look like just some non descript heaps of sand were much higher and majestic till a decade ago.‘Development’ took over history  here in Bahrain too just as it does in other places.I post the history behind the mounds below.It has been taken from an internet site on Bahrain.

“History of Bahrain goes back to over five thousand years. Considered to be one of the many venues of Sightseeing in Bahrain, Dilmun Burial Mounds in Bahrain is the place where the ancient people of Dilmun civilization are resting in peace.

Dilmun Burial Mounds in Bahrain is one of the rare archaeological burial grounds that date back to the Dilmun era. Dilmun was an old civilization that flourished on the islands of Bahrain during the Bronze Age at around 3000 BC. The heydays of the civilization started as Bahrain was along the ancient sea trade route which linked this civilization with that of Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley Civilization. The civilization gradually phased off but their burial ground in Bahrain still bears testimony to this once mighty civilization.

Dilmun Burial Mounds in Bahrain was unearthed by a Danish team when in course of their excavation work they stumbled upon some tumuli. The tumuli contained items that proved the existence of this civilization around two thousand years before the Christ. Every tumulus housed a central stone chamber surrounded by a low ring wall with earth and gravel piled on them. The size of tumuli varies with smaller ones containing single chamber. Larger ones contained more chambers. Though there was only a person buried in each tumulus, some however contained more than one person.

The bodies found at Dilmun Burial Mounds in Bahrain represent both sexes. The bodies did not have many ornaments upon them. Neither the chambers were stacked with huge riches as were found in most Egyptian tombs. The bodies also proved the life expectancy of the then people were around 40 years. Notwithstanding that, it goes without saying that sightseeing in Bahrain is incomplete without a visit to Dilmun Burial Mounds in Bahrain.”(asiarooms.com)
 

I have lived next to these remnants of an ancient civilisation for some 14 years now.There are only 3 depressed looking mounds left now.There used to be some open ones (possibly opened by archeologists) also right behind the house and all those visiting us in Bahrain were taken on impromptu tours of these.I remember my mum noticing that the open ones had such a neat arrangement of graves that it looked as though a whole family might have been buried there next to each other and also that the stones, used to demarcate the grave spaces, inside the mound had fossils of little sea shells encrusted into them. We all then put on our (amateur archeologist)thinking caps and wonderd where the stones came from.

That was back then.Now there are large villas built over those open ones and it is only a matter of time before these ones disappear too.

All sorts of rubbish is dumped on and around the remaining mounds.You can see the construction rubble lying to the side in the picture. Cars and trucks drive all around and sometimes over them also.On summer evenings youngsters, on their noisy quad bikes, use them to do their stunts and get the thrill from racing up and down the mounds.They may not look like much in the picture but these particular ones are actually quite high.

Bahrain has one(barely) protected site of mounds  at A ‘ali where they are to be found one after another.Some particularly huge ones can be be found in Hamad Town. Initially there were great hopes that these, signposts of a past era, would be protected seriously but since then things have gone awry.The reasons are given below( from the wikipaedia entry on the burial mounds)

Attempts to protect the burial mounds have run into opposition by religious fundamentalists who consider them unIslamic and have called for them to be concreted over for housing. During a parliamentary debate on 17 July 2005, the leader of the salafist  Asalah party, Sheikh Adel Mowdah, said “Housing for the living is better than the graves for the dead. We must have pride in our Islamic roots and not some ancient civilisation from another place and time, which has only given us a jar here and a bone there .” 

When the religious leaders have such parochial views then what can one expect from the public. I took this picture a few days ago when a young local lad proudly parked his car atop one of the mounds and casually sauntered off to a nearby cafe. He is secure in his conviction that the ancient history, that he tramples upon, is not Islamic and therefore not his. A bit like the thinking behind the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas,in my view!

It would not surprise me if all that remains of this past is soon confined to the excellent recreations of the mounds in the Bahrain National  Museum.
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Weeks have passed since the horrific attacks on Mumbai’s heart and soul. From the very moment that I first caught the ‘breaking news’ on television, on the night of 26th November, things seem to have been both frozen in time and also ironically in fast forward mode.

As a nation we were forced to do everything simultaneously; grieve the lost ones, worry and pray for those trapped inside the hotels, tend to the injured, conduct the last rites of those that fell to the terrorists bullets, keep a vigil in front of the attacked hotels and Nariman house and all this while the nation’s best were still engaged in a bloody struggle with the terrorists holed up, inside the hotels, with the hostages.

So much happened over those three agonizing day and nights and so many heart searing images flashed on the television screens, the internet and the newspaper that it seemed the only way to cope was to keep the grief and the shock on hold and concentrate on getting through the tragic days. This seemed as true for Mumbaikars as it was for those of us who watched the horror on television. Ordinary people pitched in to help in any way they could to help the security personnel and the media people.Those far away blogged, held vigils, prayed and to show their solidarity with their stricken brethren in Mumbai.

Some of us far away knew a person or persons who were directly caught up in the Mumbai horror and therefore were intent on catching every little bit of information we could find. Even if we didn’t, we just prayed for everyone from the families of the fallen police personnel to the injured of the Chhatrapti Shivaji stadium and the trapped hostages of the Taj and the Oberoi. We prayed for the Jewish people at Nariman House and we prayed for the safety of our NSG commandos.

Then after almost 70 hours, of a trauma broadcast live to us, there was an almost eerie silence as the nation counted its dead and the lucky survivors rejoined their loved ones. The next two weeks went by in a blur of protests, candle light vigils, emotional placards, TV debates and soul searching by everyone. Now the wheels of diplomacy, military options and politics are churning overtime as our nation’s leaders try and decide how best to get the message across to Pakistan that they maybe okay with the Talibanisation of their society but such an option is not for the pluralistic ethos of India and that we will do whatever it takes to turn back the tide of this religion- based fanaticism that Pakistan has, perhaps,been nurturing in the hope of using against India.

As an ordinary individual ,who was a witness to this national crisis (even though via the television), I am done for the moment with it all. There is weariness to the soul and those images that seared my heart and mind for 70 long hours are now clamoring to be understood and their significance internalized and understood.

 But which image do I pick? There is this vast montage of horrifying images that plays continuously in my brain. What do I pick out of the lot? The flames and smoke spewing out of the Taj dome, the blood spattered floor of the Shivaji terminus, the people tripping and falling on the road outside as they tried to take cover from the bullets, the taxis blown to smithereens, the ghoulish image of Kasab caught on CCTV in which he seems to be grinning as he rains death on innocent people, the inconsolable mother of police cop Salaskar at his funeral, the quiet dignity of Karkare’s wife, The forlorn young widow with an injured three month baby (Sheetal) in the hospital, the agonized faces of relatives as they waited for news of their loved ones held hostage inside ? What do I pick out of this and try to understand?

As I struggle with this montage three images keep jumping out at me again and again. These are pictures that eachone of my fellow citizens is sure to have seen. First is the image of a policeman holding an old man’s hand and leading him to safety across the blood and baggage strewn floor of the Shivaji stadium. The man is old and walks with a stoop. In the shot we just see his back but that one picture captures both the good and the ugly of this incident and our nation. We in this nation largely respect and look after our old people and this act of the cop leading a frail old man to safety captures that aspect of our ‘Indianness’ as nothing else could. That the floor is blood spattered, tells the story of our country’s troubles at many levels.

The second image comes with a heart rending wail. It is the image of the Israeli child, Baby Moshe, in the arms of his Indian nanny Sandra at the funeral of his parents both of whom were tortured and brutally killed by the terrorists at the Nariman House. As his grandfather begins to say the Jewish prayers, Moshe breaks into a plaintive cry, “Ima, Ima”( ‘mummy’ in his language). The gathered crowd goes silent and not a dry eye remains. They collectively grapple to understand the turn of events that has dealt Moshe with the cruelest of all blows, the loss of both his parents at the tender age of 18 months. He is soothed only when his nanny hugs him even tighter and covers him with comforting kisses. Here again the evil of this world is juxtaposed against the total devotion and unconditional love of Moshe’s nanny. Love  prevails and heals, even if slowly.

Last I come to the ‘green chili pickle’ woman. Many months ago I had watched a short cookery program on an Indian channel. It was just a short clip between programs but what caught my attention was the joie-de-vive of the cook as she demonstrated how to make a green chili pickle. This was no ordinary cook making an ordinary pickle in modest quantities. This was a vivacious woman with large kohl rimmed eyes who was mixing all sorts of fiery ingredients in the largest kadai I have ever seen on a cookery show. She laughed and joked in a self- deprecating manner with the hostess of the program and her love, for all things edible, shone in her eyes. Although I did not know it then, this was Sabina Sehgal Saikia the Times of India food critic who paid the ultimate price on the 6th floor of the Taj Hotel.

 Over the next two days as the media reported about her family’s frantic search of hospitals and morgues to trace her I came across her picture and knew she was the ‘green chili pickle’ woman. She was one amongst the hundreds caught up in the dreadful events but my mind chose to focus on her image as I prayed for all of them. I kept praying that she would come out of this alive and return to give me one more recipe in her inimitable style. Somehow I felt that if I kept it simple and prayed hard enough all would turn out well. It was not to be so for Sabina and her anxious husband, brother and children were left to face the dreaded reality of her joyous life snuffed out. Sabina is gone now but from the tributes given to her by those who knew her one comes to know of a woman who loved life in all its hues and who spread cheer wherever she went. For me the smile of the ‘green chili pickle woman’ lives on through the pickle I made last week from her recipe. The spice brings tears to my eyes and the taste makes me smile through those tears. That is also how life is,isn’t it?

I post Sabina’s recipe here to share and spread the joy that Sabina epitomised.

Chef: Sabina Sehgal Saikia

 Ingredients:

1 kg green chillies – chopped

1 cup salt

1/2 kg mustard oil

1 tbsp red chilli powder

1 tbsp turmeric powder

 200 gm ginger – finely ground

 250 gm garlic – finely ground

100 gm cumin seeds – roasted and ground

200 gm large mustard seeds – roasted and ground

1 cup sugar 200 gm imli (tamarind)

3 cups of white vinegar

 Method:

Marinate the chillies in salt for at least two hours.

Soak the imli in the vinegar for at least two hours and extract the pulp.

In a large vessel heat the mustard oil and add red chilli powder and turmeric powder.

Add the ginger and garlic and mix well.

Continue stirring for some time.

Mix in the cumin powder and mustard powder.

Pour the imli-vinegar pulp and mix well.

Add sugar and cook on low heat for some time.

Now add the chillies and cook for 10-15 minutes on low heat till the oil seperates.

 Serve.

Courtesy: ndtvcooks.com

Stock Photo - pair of wingtip shoes. fotosearch - search stock photos, pictures, images, and photo clipart

 

 

In the less than 48 hours that have passed since an Iraqi journalist threw both his shoes ( one after another) at the visiting President Bush, during a short press conference in Iraq, a whole industry has sprung up around the ‘shoegate’.
The cartoons were the first to take off.Hundreds of brilliant ones are already available on the net.I post one here as a sample:


This is from the site: http://politicalhumor.about.com/od/bushcartoons/ig/Bush-Cartoons/Flying-Shoes.htm
Have a look and enjoy other cartoons on this incident.

On the internet there are new games referring to Bush ‘bootcamp’, that require players to throw shoes at cut-outs of the President to get points.No prizes for guessing what gets you the bullseye score…….a smack bang hit in his face, what else? Some jokes say shoe manufacturers are offering a lifetime’s supply of shoes to anyone emulating Al-Zaidi’s feat.

T-shirts and mugs are next in line.Some T-shirts are already out bearing images of the actual incident with Bush ducking and some sport  the cartoon versions of the same.

The usually placid Arab street that  never comes out to protest anythng strongly except maybe the publication of the cartoons in Denmark or some other real or perceived insult to THE religion, is out in jubiliation hailing the journo Al-Zaidi as an Arab hero.(God help a people whose hero is a shoe thrower!)

Now a Libyan charity has decided to bestow an official honor and a medal on the journo for his act of ‘bravery.’
(Says a lot about the concept of heroism in these parts,doesn’t it?)

A Saudi man is offering $10 million for the shoes that Al-Zaidi threw at President Bush.He says he is ready to sell off all his properties and busineses to buy up these shoes that he describe as “medal of freedom”.Hassan Mohammed Makhafa’s fellow tribesmen also support his move and are ready to pitch in with money.If successful in getting the shoes he wants to keep them in a palce that would become a shrine to these

‘symbols of freedom.’

Hugo Chavez, the Bush hating Venezuelan president, who never loses an opportunity of Bush bashing has also called the act ‘courageous’.

The Arabs, with all their money power, have never really done anything seriously helpful for the Iraqi or the Palestinian causes except keep their news on the front pages of the national dailies to keep their own local junta distracted from the issues at home but they become heroes of protest when all it requires of them is to insult USA or Israel via some flag burning or some effigy burning. Now ofcourse they can add shoe throwing to their “frightening’ arsenal of protest. Business should improve for shoe companies.

I  also think that the act of this lone journalist is brave but I also feel that only the Iraqis can claim him as a hero.It is their suffering and their frustration that this man’s act symbolises.Ever since the ill-fated invasion of Iraq on the faulty( or fabricated) intelligence of weapon’s of mass destruction, it is the people of Iraq who have paid a price in absolutely horrifying amounts.That they were repressed under Saddam is not contestable but they did not ask for this ‘liberation’ that has meant hundreds of thousands dead, millions displaced internally and externally,the country in tatters, with Al-Qaeda and Iranians busy furthering their agendas on its soil and no hope of peace in the forseeable future.

The rest of the Arab and Muslim world can just enjoy the piggy back ride on this man’s act and exchange funny sms jokes and cartoons and give awards but morally they have no right to the significance of this incident.
For the Iraqis the significance of this act of defiance is similar to that of the Chinese man who stood alone in front of an advancing tank of the People’s Liberation Army in Tianamen Square.

Muntadar Al- Zaidi may or may not get any punishment for this act of his but the deed has been done and will go down in history in all its visual detail. The joke industry will derive ‘masala’ f rom this for years to come.The one positive to come out of it has been that Bush, very belatedly, at the end of his blighted Presidency has suddenly been declared ‘articulate’ and intelligent’ for the comments he made in reaction to the leathery missiles hurled at him. The word lame duck presidency has taken on a totally new meaning with Bush’s expert ducking of both the shoes!

Also all those rubbing their hands in glee at having seen Bush humiliated, Bush had a point when he said this is what free societies are all about.Would any man have lived to tell the story had he hurled a shoe at Saddam Hussein? There’s a thought!

And Bush has learnt a lesson on how dangerous it can be to go in on the basis of faulty intelligence…….you see he was not sufficiently warned about the existence of shoes of mass destruction lurking in the secure Green zone of Baghdad.( From the Gulf News editorial) 

Personally, I wonder if this act of a lone Iraqi will mean that all press conferences world wide will have to declared shoe-free areas before any spin doctors can take the stage. That  the well heeled of the world may all be forced to go shoeless in future might end up being the unintended consequence of this Iraqi born jootagiri.

This is probably why Reliance Fresh and its counterparts have had so much dificulty in establishing their retail feifdoms.Inspite of the stories of gloom and doom about the impending death of the chota dukaan wala and the rehriwala this unorganised retail industry has continued to carry on its business, serving every nook and corner of the country, where there is a demand for their produce.Absolutely fresh and crisp, juicy apples (unwaxed and inexpensive-unlike their imported, American counterparts now selling in supermarkets) were being sold all the way between Meerut and Modinagar and all the way further to Muradnagar and Ghaziabad.(our return route)

These amroods (guava) are the pride of the area around Moradabad.In my childhood we used to gorge on these delicious,almost seedless beauties on every visit to my Dad who was then working in a small place Raja-Ka-Sahaspur.It was so much fun to be kids once again on this trip and gorge on fruit and moongphali (peanuts) all the way to our destination (the retribution for all this gluttony would come later.)
 

Talking of moongphali, I found this unusal combination of moongphali and bolied eggs being sold near Hapur.Notice the red crisp packets being sold in the kiosk next to the cart? This is the resourcefulness of the Indian dukaan wala. From these two ramshackle outlets (the cart and the kiosk) the guy has managed to stock whatever a hungry traveller might need on the more desolate stretches of the highways. 

This is where we hit the jackpot.My brother insisted we stop here to have lunch instead of the more formal and sanitised hotels in the area.This is the favorite haunt that he and his colleagues stop at on their way to their work place in Kashipur.It comes somewhere after Gajraula. Bhajans has a very basic menu but what he does he does well.We had the stuffed tandoori kulchas with some pickle and curd.We had mooli,aaloo and gobi kulchas and my vote would be for aloo kulcha followed closely by the gobi one.

 

 

Have a look at the menu.I love this guy for his sheer chutzpah.Notice the Cha-Sha; Thanda-Wanda; Meetha-Sheetha;bread de item on his (ahem) well used menu card.

 I am a stickler for my tea bag wali chai with exactly 1 teaspoon of milk added.I travel the whole world with my Lipton Yellow Label tea bags tucked away in my luggage.After we had finished with the lunch  the guys ordered their sweet lassi, I asked for chai.My brother knowing my absolute dislike for oversweetened milky chai warned me that this was not the place to ask for the beverage.I stood my ground, asking for chai as without it I usually get a bad head ache and then I give everyone around me a bad headcahe.

Husband dear resorted to cracking poorjokes about women and their nakhras but my brother(God bless him) got into action and mustering all his organisational skills, asked the waiter to get some hot water.The waiter had one look at my very urban persona and giving a resigned shrug of his shoulder went to fetch me the hot water( I guess I was not the first nakhre wali madam at his joint ).While I dived into my suitcase to get the teabags the guys exchanged some jokes on my expense.When I returned to my chair there was a glass of piping hot water with a bowl of sugar and some milk waiting for me.I finally got meri wali chai !!!

While I have my chai, please have a look around the precincts of this Bhajan eatery.He has rented out some shops( I am sure he gets a cut out of the business generated due to the fame of his eatery) and runs one or two himself but what a business enterprise!!! There is one outlet exclusively selling achaars (pickles). You can get the standard Pachranga or you can go esoteric and ask for teent ka achaar (sorry,I have no idea what the english word for teent is but they are small green things like oversized peas that grow on bushes in the North)

Then there was this gift cum souvenir shop that sold everything from Khurja pottery (atleast I hope these are not some cheap knock offs from China) to ceramic kullads (of the Laloo Yadav fame.Remember he introduced the mitti wala versions in the railways for some time). BTW, Khurja is a small town near Bulandshehr whose mainly Muslim craftmen produce a certain type of blue pottery (although modern tastes have seen other colors come in) that is akin to the Persian one.I am reminded of the Chinese one too although the motifs are distinctly of Islamic tradition

We are still on the Bhajan eatery property.This music shop was selling CD’s and cassettes.We were first treated to some Kishna bhajans and then he switched to latest numbers from Dostana and that ‘talli’ number from the Mallika Sherawat film (can’t remember the name).
Next door was a general store selling everything from Pan Masala,bottled water to crisps, namkeens and chocolates.This is what we could see.I am sure his ‘under the shelf’  inventory is even more detailed.
I haven’t got the pictures but on the other side was a pan wala and a supari and chooran shop that sells a staggering variety of these things.I am told that the thing to buy when travelling these parts is one Damroo chooran that is supposed to cure every sort of stomach ailment ( ok I am not giving any details here although by the end of the trip I was myself a candidate for Damroo chooran)

Okay onwards after cha-sha.We settled back into our seats content and comforatble.My brother ofcourse had the driving to do.The roadside retailing kept bringing one amazing product after another into view.This grand Durbar of regal seating was one of the many mooda stalls that line the highway.They come in all shapes and sizes.You can get one to seat a little doll and ones that would do a shahanshah proud.I couldn’t help noticing that the one shaped like a recliner, that was selling here for about Rs.800 (pre-the grand indian tradition of haggling), sells in  the Fab India outlet near my home for over Rs.3000.

I clicked enough pictures of these for the other occupants of the car to protest that I was going plain crazy with the camera.

 

 
 This is it folks for the time being.You take a seat here and have cha-sha while I go to work on my next post of the series

My life in India and visits to India are generally confined to its metros and other larger cities so like any urban metro-wasi my thoughts and concerns also tend to be city centric.I huff and puff about the power failures, the poor infrastructure, poorly set up and managed transportation systems and when the talk veers to progress, usually the sprouting of Malls and the new flyovers and 4 lane highways come up as examples of how India is progressing.

 Well India is progressing without a doubt but India is too large and too many people live outside the relatively charmed circle of the cities for one definition of progress to apply to the whole of it.

Over a series of blog posts I present my ‘view’ of India as seen from the back seat of a car being driven at moderate speed through the vast and endless plains of Uttar Pradesh,right upto and beyond the point where U.P turns into Uttaranchal.We travelled from Gurgaon, through Delhi on to Hapur and many small towns and villages till we reached our destination of Kashipur in Uttaranchal.

Enough is known and written about what is lacking in the towns and cities of india but this first post in the series makes an effort to highlight how india and the average indian copes with that lack and gets on with his /her life.While in Delhi we bemoan the fact that the metro(train) is about 20 years too late, have a look at how the other Indians cope with lack of basically every form of infrastructure but still seem determined on making the effort  required to break through to a more promising and bountiful tomorrow.

You will have to excuse the poor quality of the pictures as they were taken from a moving car and the atmosphere was also very hazy.

1) It was very early in the morning when this picture was taken somewhere between Ghaziabad and Hapur.One has to admire the grit of these students who take this bumpy,impromptu ride everyday to reach their schools,usually long distances away from their homes.In spotless uniforms they set out daily for that prized,’English medium’ education that is unavailable in the ramshackle, government schools in their villages.
 
 
 
 

 

2) Further ahead it was amazing to see how the girls seemed to outnumber the boys in this quest for a good education.Standing in small groups on forlorn roads they wait for the public buses,tempos,rickshaws,tongas…anything that can get them to their gateway to a better future.

3) As the day progressed further and the sun got higher in the sky there were armies of men on cycles pedalling long disatnces to the factories and workshops that dotted the highway we were travelling. With their lunch boxes strapped to the bikes they make their way to work, probably in the hope of sending their children to the kind of educational institutes advertised on the hoarding on the side of the road.
 
 
 
 

 

4)In total defiance of the laws of the land and the laws of gravity trucks like these in thousands criss cross the land carrying goods from one end of the country to another.Instead of the old ‘buri nazar waale tera munh kala’

kind of slogans I found Chak De India painted across most trucks.
 
 
 
 

 

5) This part of U.P is also the sugar belt of the north and we found ourselves stuck now and then behind trucks and carts like these.The abundance of the produce of this fertile land has to be seen to be believed.
 
 
 
 

 

 

6) While the titans of organised retail fret about supply chains and logistics and storage facilties, this is how Bharat goes ahead with its supply mechanism. Early morning is the time when you see incredibly fresh produce making its way from farm to markets, big and small.
 
 
 
 

 

7)I have no idea what the guy below was transporting or if he was just catching a ride with the tractor wala but he certainly was making the most of it,snoozing in the warm winter sun.
 
 
 
 

 

8)Family transport is truly a private enterprise in most of India in the absence of regular bus service on the road networks that lie off the main highways.There seemed to be some village ‘mela’or ‘haat’ (informal and shifting village market) on somewhere in the vicinty as we saw lorry load after lorry load of colorfully dressed women all travelling in the same direction.
 
 
 
 

 

9)The Muslim women in their monochromatic hues were out, too, headed in the same direction.
 
 
 

10) As we moved closer to Kashipur via the road through Thakurdwara the modes of transport mingled into one big jumble that is a hallmark of most Indian roads.The absence of impatience was what was different from the metros.Everyone just waited for their turn to make way ahead.

 

11) Trucks and small motorbikes  seem to form the backbone of most of the transport of India and its goods.
 
 
 
 

 

12)This is the main traffic junction of the town.I loved this all in one transportation of school children,house wife and the cattle.
 
 
 

13) But for sheer sense of humor I must give it to the driver of this small lorry who honked and trailed us for a considerable distance on a narrow stretch of the road.
After all the blowing of his horn and flashing of lights, when he finally overtook us, he left us staring at this únbelievable message.!!!

“Hamein Jaldi Nahin hai”

REALLY !!!! He could have fooled me.

 

In the days since the long nights and days of Mumbai terror strikes, a volcano of raw emotions has erupted all across the land. From the streets of Mumbai to the open spaces around India gate in Delhi, the citizens of India are coming out in large numbers to protest against the state of our country’s security and the lackadaisical attitude of the politicians towards issues that are of importance to the Indian citizen.
 
The reaction to the current strikes has been more strong because:
1) we really seem to have got to the rock bottom and are now trying to rise up and fight back 
2) the strikes for the first time have hurt the affluent and the well connected so the reaction has come from the well heeled who till now were content to give only a few sound bites to the media.
 
There can be no doubt about the depth of the emotion and the severity of the anger of the denizens of India’s main cities and towns, one must at these times remember that a even larger number of India’s citizens live outside the comparatively privileged borders of these cities, big and small. The media would do well to record authentically the reactions and coping mechanisms of these Indians too,especially, in areas where populations of the two communities live together and where the nature of the local economy ties them in closer bonds then perhaps in the cities where seperate ‘mohallas’ have become the norm.

Equally important would be to highlight and present to the public the steps,big and small, taken by members of the Muslim community to protest these attacks and to condemn them.Media all too often teeters between the extremes of either an over kill or complete oversight. While many of us in the majority community, have often protested the ‘silence’ of the Muslims in the face of this terror that derives its succor from extreme Islamic ideology, not enough of us give credit to the community when they do speak out against it.In the last few months the clergy (mainly Deobandis) have made public statements that must be given due media time so that just as negative ideas and viewpoints gain currecy due to over exposure so do the positive trends get a chance at taking roots by reaching all corners of the country.

Some main items that caught my attention:

1)The meet of the clerics and Muslims in Delhi condemning terrorism (some months ago…I have not kept a record of the exact dates).

2) The meet recently in Hyderabad where muslims from all over the country gathered to listen to a similar condemnation of terror.

3) The statement a few months ago from Deoband asking muslims to refrian from cow slaughter if it goes against the sentiments of the majority community or flouts any laws of the land.

4) The clergy asking the people,in the wake of the recent Mumbai terror attacks, to wear black arm bands to express their sorrow and stand against the terror.

5) The latest call by the Deoband clerics to Muslims not to slaughetr any cows this Eid in order to respect the sentiments of the Hindus. 

 
These may not sound like much given the scale of the trouble but small steps can lead to big strides and some start has to be made to knock down the walls of mutual suspicion and distrust.

Just yesterday I had posted colorful,happy pictures of the blooms in my garden and had intended for that to be my last post while I travelled for a week and hopefully gathered more joyous,life affirming scenes on my camera.

Well,that was in the morning yesterday.By evening, things in India had taken an (by now very familiar) unfortunate turn. A very well planned,well funded and well supported from within the country, attack was unleashed on the city of Mumbai last evening. At the moment, of my pounding on the keyboard in frustration, the operation to flush out the terrorists holed up in various locations (mainly 5 star hotels) in the city is going on.

Three senior security personnel have been killed so far. One of these three was Hemant Karkare of the (by now controversial) Malegaon bomb blasts probe by the ATS. The latest count of dead stands at over107 (although the figures vary between different news agencies) and about 400 injured. Even for a city like Mumbai,long a target of the terrorists, this attack has been a shocker.The citizens of the city are speechless in shock and horror at the apparent ease with which batches of terrorists have breached the security of the country and the hotels.

From what has been unfiolding on our television screens for last 35 hours( now) it is clear that extensive preparations had gone into this attack and it could not have been carried out without local assistance.I doubt anyone in India can walk right into a Taj or an Oberoi hotel with grenades and AK 47’s ! The last time I went my small handbag was searched and I was made to pass through a metal detector.

Many hostages,including a group of Israeli guests are being held by the terrorists in one hotel and the scene is no better at other locations.So, what happened?

So far the news is of terrorists having been brought by ship (most likely from Pakistan) into Indian waters and then being brought to the city in batches by speed boats/dinghies. Some who were shot dead by the police at one location had some material including a CD with them that has led to this initial release of information.Given the sensitivity of the communal situation in India, the media is being careful of over- mentioning the Islamic angle(Al -Qaeda,Lashkar-e-Toiba) to this attack.I have no issue with this because the last thing we need in our country now is the communities declaring war on each other.But I also wonder what happened to that need for carefulness in the last month when Hemant Karakare led ATS was busy leaking selective,misleading and often down right false( Samjhuta Express blast) bits of news to the media and whipping up a frenzy of media speculation around the newly coined term,’Hindu terrorism’?

As the nation mourns (atleast some us still do) the fallen security personnel (total number 14) I can not help wondering if Mr. Karkare wouldn’t have been wiser to have investigated the ‘jehadi  terrorism’ with the same zeal that he was showing for the Malegaon blast. 

I am not denying (like some of our politicians) that some Hindu elements could be involved in those blasts but why was that one blast so important for the investigators when a series of other blasts that have tormented the nation for years, languish,investigated half -heartedly at best? How long will our ruling government, led by the Congress go on playing this dangerous game of being soft on the overwhelming threat of Islamic terrorism unleashed on our country from beyond our borders? Isn’t there any constructive way of wooing the Muslim voters in these pre- election months? Why is the Indian muslim being encouraged to get tarred by the same shameful stain of terrorism by being soft on terrorism and thus making the Hindus more vocal (and maybe more pro-active) about fighting this threat of radical Islam? Even if their is an underworld and mercenary angle to all this,as the media is mentioning,may I ask who shelters these dons? Many of them are in Pakistan and the remaining are the guests of Dubai!!

So far the Hindus who are a majority ( and this is a fact of India) have been very restrained but increasingly the shriller groups in it are gaining space at the centre of Hindu politics.Is this what is the intent? Make the Hindus angry enough to resort to the same methods of retaliation as the aggressor; make the Muslims feel vulnerable by bringing them in the line of criticism for their ‘silent’ endorsement of terrorism and thus pit the two communities against each other?

As I write this, an Indian  plumber, with his Muslim, Pakistani assistant are doing some repair work in my house. They are aware of what is happening in Mumbai at the moment as they continue to work together…. but in silence this time ….what is missing  is the easy banter in Punjabi that they, usually, indulge in while working. What can these two ordinary men say to each other at this time?

Its the same across the length and breadth of our nation, isn’t it? The average Hindu, living and working with his average Muslim fellow countrymen, as they go about the daily business of trying to eke out a living….but in a wary,uneasy silence?

Who and what will break the silence is the million rupee question now? Will our politicians jump in to reap a bloody political harvest or will some moral men and women amongst them  stand up and take a stand against terrorism ( without making it sound like  an anti -muslim  or anti Hindu stand) and put to the nation an agenda that involves the concept of ‘a secure India for all Indians’.

Or will this go the way of the Parliament attack (where the government won’t execute the main accused) or the Batla encounter way where the death of a police man was attributed to his fellow policemen? Wil the lack of bullet proof jackets (in some cases) again be used by opportunistic and downright evil politicians, as a proof that these fallen heroes were not really killed fighting anti national forces? How many vice chancellors and human rights groups  will now stand up( who were conspicous, by their silence, in the case of the army colonel Purohit and Sadhvi Pragya) and make a hue and cry for legal and monetary assistance for those that might be caught alive in the ongoing operations? 

Only time will tell but somehow there is not much optimism in my heart that any lessons will be learnt from this ghastly episode.