Wednesday, December 31, 2008

As 2008 Gives Way to 2009 - Random Reflections

Poised between the dying year and the one about to be born, the mind looks back and forward with mixed feelings. Looking back wouldn’t have been so painful had it not been for the terrorist attack on Mumbai on 26th November. The hangover of 26/11 clouds the anticipation of the New Year. The inane rhetoric from the South Block gives no cause for cheer. One would have felt much better if there had been a visible beefing up of internal security. Instead, we have the senseless needling of Pakistan, and indulging in blame game to detract attention from the Home Ministry’s lapses. If a house in not in order, the enemy will creep in. Is something being done? Will the plans for internal security never leave the anvil and get operationalised? The citizens wonder and worry while Ministers churn out plans and schemes. We, the people, need to be assured of our safety if we are to welcome the New Year with hope and without fear.

Further west, in the Middle East, Israel has started pounding Gaza strip. The human casualty has crossed 300 hundred. The Israeli Govt. has promised more. I’d always had a soft corner for the Jews. But now the questions which my mind had refused to entertain earlier, break through the barricades and challenge me. Why should the Palestinians bear the brunt of Hitler’s crime? Why didn’t the world community carve out a state in Germany to house the Jews? Aren’t Palestinians entitled to a homeland?

Guess it’s the cumulative anger against this injustice that is symptomatic of the defective worldview of the NATO, and is at the root of the Middle East trouble, that caused the American president to be the target of the footwear missiles recently. What a telling statement that was! Strangely enough, no one seems to be outraged! Isn’t that significant? That’s one image that I’ll always associate with 2008.

There is yet a world gearing itself for December 31st midnight. Fireworks will brighten up the midnight air. Church bells will ring announcing the arrival of the New Year. Bottles will be opened and Champaign sprayed over the big and small gatherings as TV screens flash live images of the hands of the Time Square clock joining to greet the New Year. The world will celebrate the arrival of the New Year. Yes. It calls for a celebration. Life is to be celebrated. But then, something nags at the back of the mind, and I pause and search my mind in order to put my finger on what’s bothering me. Suddenly it surfaces. I remember the images I saw in the news channels a couple of hours ago - of corpses of Palestinians who too must have looked forward to celebrate the birth of the new year, of the agonized women of Palestine, weeping and angry and protesting against the merciless Israeli attack.

And Israel says it has only begun!

Wonder why I have become so sensitive. Palestine is so far away.

Wish you all a Happy New Year!

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Encounter with Death - Why blog?

Playing cat and mouse game with death is no great fun – even if , at the end of it, you emerge the victor. The feeling at the end of the game is not exactly like that of a world heavyweight champion after the decisive fight. Probably because it is an unevenly matched fight. And it's more serious. Deadly serious. It's a matter of life and death with no referee to blow the whistle at the sign of danger or foulplay.
So, how does one feel at the end of the game? Well, you are left with a desire to delete the whole episode completely from your memory. Permanently.

You try hard to make a perfect erasure. You physically put out of sight the items associated with the days you spent battling with the killer disease. You throw yourself into all sorts of activities which leave you with very little time for memories. But memories don't need time space to surface. Like Aladin's genie popping up at an accidental rub of the magic lamp, some bits of memory surface without any warning, and grin down at you saying gruffly 'heh heh, thought you could get away from me, eh? No way". And you are caught completely off guard.

You tell yourself there are heartwarming memories too - like that unexpected cool breeze on a hot, humid summer's day. But then they are constantly stalked by that menacing genie - or is it that one cannot exist without the other? like twins - not identical - born of the same womb?
It’s like a chequer board of nights and days where memory with me the pieces play (forgive me, Omar Khayam :D).

Ever since I regained my health, I’ve been engaged in this task of playing the catch-me-if-you-can game with that stalker genie. Then one day ,
Chinny, my friend came along.
Now, I had never let her into my secret and very personal battle with that monster. But she is a sharp one, and has this ever-active high and sensitive antennae that plumb human emotions instantly, very accurately. She saw through my bluff and bravado.
The way out is to write about it, she said. “Just write", she said. “As and when you feel like it. Don’t write to publish. Carry a diary with you, and write when you feel intensely”

I took her advice.

Has it done me any good?

Oh, yes. It has. I can now include oats in my diet without memories of chemotherapy triggering off a wave of nausea. I can now put on those clothes I had once put away for fear of resurrecting the ugly genie.
I think Chinny’s therapy worked.

And now, I have decided to blog my jottings. Some one suggested I publish. Initially I thought it was a good idea. Then doubts assailed me. Who on earth would want to read the not-so-pleasant stories of a nonentity who fought cancer, because she was left with no choice but to fight it?
Besides, publishing means a lot of hard work. It requires a perfection that blog does not require. Publishing is engaging with the public sphere whereas blog is essentially a private sphere, and optionally public. The difference is huge. Blogging makes no demands on me as a writer. It requires no chronology, no style sheet, no rules of grammar. It gives me the power to withdraw the whole or part as an afterthought.

So why take the risk and effort of publishing when I can be the lord of what I blog? (Should i have said 'lady of what i blog'?:D)

I have begun to post the story of my encounter with cancer under the blog name
Rage to be, which can be accessed through or

My first post is on the doctor who treated/is treating me – Dr. V P Gangadharan. I chose to do this just to emphasise the truth that for a person suffering from the most dreaded disease of our times, it is important that the doctor who treats is both a competent professional and a sensitive human being.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas 2008

The story of Christmas

And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
And the angel said unto them,
Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

Luke Chapter 2 verses 7-14


Note that there is no tribalisation of peace and goodwill. Those are the birthright of every people who walk the earth at all times.
Let no one be put off by the 'city of David'. Every new born needs a recognised local habitation. That's the way of the world. It does not mean that the city or people of David have proprietorship over peace and goodwill . They are for all human beings.

Today's newspapers are shedding tears over the toning down of Christmas celebrations around the world on account of the global meltdown. Let's not add to this flood of media tears. If the one whose birth we celebrate was born in a stable, penury is no sin. In 2008, let the world celebrate Christmas the way it should be ideally done. Low key, no splurging in the name of a person who walked the earth teaching the virtues of penury; let it be an occasion to recall his frequent reminder about the maya like nature of glitter and pelf.

For the world trembling before the threat of violence generated by hatred, this is an occasion to recall that he had only one message. The message of love. His rhetoric did not provide for hatred and violence, murder and mass murder? This is the occasion for the world to remind itself that to kill and conquer in the name of this person who preached 'love unto death', is a gross disservice to him.

So what is the message of Christmas? The parable cited below gives the answer in no uncertain terms.

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?". "What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read it?" asked Jesus. The man answered: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" "You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live." But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" In reply Jesus said: (the parable starts here) "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead with no clothes. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. 'Look after him,' he said, 'and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.' "Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?" The expert in the law replied, "The one who had mercy on him." Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise." Luke, chapter 10, verses 25–37

So, let us not us shed tears that global meltdown has decreased our purchasing power. Instead, let us be the good Samaritan and keep our eyes wide open today for those with less purchasing power than us.

Peace to you all.

Happy Christmas

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Chandy Cooks Dinner

I'd always known that my nephew Chandy is extraordinarily brilliant. But I discovered yesterday that his brilliance was not confined to academics alone.

He is brilliant in the kitchen too.

On a two week vacation from work, Chandy came to spend a couple of days with us. In his typical quiet unobtrusive way he said, “Ammai, if you want, I’ll cook dinner”
“Wonderful”, I said.

I was happy but a little apprehensive. I told my cook that my nephew was taking care of the dinner, and suggested that she keep a standby dinner ready before she leaves, just in case.

At 4 PM, Chandy in his usual, quiet much-ado-about-nothing manner came to me with a list.

“Ammai, these are the things I want. What’s in the house and what do I have to buy”

He sat there scoring off whatever he didn’t need to buy. Then he went out to buy them.

He came back in half hour, left the purchases in the kitchen and went in for his shower.

I began to get nervous. It was five o clock. Does this guy know how much time cooking takes? I went into the kitchen and washed the chicken and left it to drain.

Ten minutes after that, I saw Chandy walk into the kitchen with his laptop.
What on earth is going to do with the laptop, I wondered. Then I heard music coming from the kitchen.

I waited for him come to me asking where the things were kept. He didn’t turn up. I was planning to go in when he called me, and hang around and clean up the mess untrained people create as and when it was created so that the kitchen wouldn't look like the Armageddon.

I waited for half hour. Chandy did not seek my help. Does he know he has to rinse the vessels before using them? Does he know dhanya powder from garam masala powder. Getting a little jittery, I went into to see what he was up to. Virtual cooking? Thank God I'd asked the cook to have something ready in reserve.

I saw him chopping onions as though he was born chopping them. The chicken was deeply marinated in curds with reddish tinge. And the music played in the background.

Pretending I wanted the recipe, I asked him what he'd added to the curds.

“Only chilly powder and salt, ammai”
“From where did you get chilly powder?”
“There” he said, pointing to the shelf where it was usually kept.

How did he know where it was kept?

I hovered around, talking about music and other stuff – excuses to monitor him and help him.

The boy did not need my help. He knew where everything was kept. He knew all the rules of hygiene. He knew that if he didn’t clean up the mess immediately, the kitchen would look like a battlefield. He knew his way about in the kitchen.

And he moved around, quietly, confidently. By 8.30 pm a fabulous dinner was ready. He set the table and the spread was complete with a delicious raitha.
The chicken curry was simply out of this world. Said it was a Pakistani preparation customized to the Kerala palate. The chilly paneer was simply divine.

“Where did you learn to do all this, Chandy?”

He answered with his sweet unassuming smile.

He is truly a genius. I guess for a PG electronic engineer from BITS Pilani, holding important engineering position in one of the best Oil companies in the world, making a few dishes neatly is mere kid’s play.

And I make such a song and dance about cooking!

I got a little nervous cooking breakfast for him this morning. Didn’t dare to ask him if the food I cooked was tasty.

I have decided that hereafter I shall carry my laptop to the kitchen when I cook fancy dishes. Cooking to the sound of music, I guess , will make them taste exotic.

Chandy is on my blogroll. Twenty Five thoughts.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Beware of Gurumurthyism and Gautierism

Words. More dangerous than bullets and bombs. Terrorists bank on the power of words to expand their cadre. The lone survivor of the Mumbai carnage was inducted into jihadi by a CD he bought from the roadside of Karachi. Decades back, words turned a whole nation’s value system topsy turvy resulting in the worst holocaust in modern times – in Hitler’s Germany. People in positions of influence – be it activists, politicians or journalists- must be held accountable for irresponsible rhetoric that trigger off violence.
Following the Mumbai carnage, Gurumurthy went on the rampage. In this, he had an able(?) lieutenant in Francois Gautier, that French “friend “of India. With his bigoted logic, Gurumurthy churned out a disgusting piece in The New Indian Express titled ISOLATE TERROR, DO NOT SECULARISE IT!(The NIE, Dec. 1, 2008). Here, he rightly points out the knee-jerk reactions of the government of India while the terror was on. If he had stopped there, it would have been OK. But then he forays into his usual anti-secular ravings in his perverted, hate filled but brilliant language throbbing with his customary revulsion for non-Hindu Indians. Referring to the PM’s rather strange invitation(or summons? that’s what it sounded like to me) to the ISI, Gurumurthy says: Did he(Manmohan Singh) think that the ISI has suddenly shed its enmity and turned its admirer under the secular leaders Sonia Gandhi, a Christian, and himself, a Sikh?
His tirade continues. It is the Indian Polity’s inability to say plainly that Islamic terror is a global phenomenon, and it is extending itself into India through global Islamic network. Result, instead of isolating terror, the national political discourse began secularizing it. And then in his usual God-is-love-love-is-blind-therefore-god-is-blind type of logic he goes on and on, hammering the secular forces in India for not coming down heavily in thoughts, words and deeds on Muslims. The article concludes with Terror stands secularized, not isolated in secular discourse! How will India fight terror with this cerebral paralysis?

What on earth does this fanatic want? Charge Indian political discourse with virulent communal sentiments? Posit a communal worldview as the ideal one for India? Does he realize that the demolition of Babri Masjid is the start point of the entry of jihadis in India? Does he want the government to harass Muslims in India, isolate them and start a communal war in the country? Does he want to see normalcy in the country completely destroyed so that predictability on a day to day basis is forever banished from the life of every Indian? Is that his idea of Ramrajya? Why doesn’t he understand the government(be it BJP or Congress) is always skating on thin ice and every patriotic citizen should refrain from making this task more difficult for them? Well, how can he when his brain in infected by communal bigotry leading to cerebral paralysis, which has rendered one portion of his thinking process non-functional?

The day after this article appeared came another one from Francois Gautier titled SONIA’S PRESENCE IN DELHI IS COSTING INDIA DEARLY (The NIE, Dec 2, 2008). Very much in bad taste on account of the very personal attacks on Sonia Gandhi, the atrticle gives the impression that this French man is trying to out herod herod to please this newspaper which has hired him, paying, no doubt, an obscenely fat fee in order to recruit a white man to lend greater credibility to its communal agenda. Gautier indulges in a litany of I accuse Sonia, which despite its mischievous intent, is uproariously comical by its very ridiculous, puerile melodramatic tone. For a sample:
I accuse Sonia of being responsible for the tragedy of Mumbai
I accuse Sonia and her govt.of having made NSG the laughing stock of the world
I accuse Sonia of having her Christian and Western background, in four years, divided India on religious and caste lines in a cynical and methodical manner
I accuse Sonia of weakening India’s spirit of sacrifice and courage - - -
I accuse Sonia of always pointing the finger at Pakistan when terrorism in India is now mostly homegrown.
I accuse Sonia of being an enemy of Hindus - - -
I accuse Sonia of taking advantage of India’s respect for women -
I accuse Sonia for exploiting the Indian Press’ obsession with her
After this hilarious litany fit for high school declamation contests, Gautier goes on to make vitriolic personal attacks on her.

Not that I am fan of Sonia Gandhi, but this is bad journalism. Will some one tell The NIE, that readers are discerning and when an obsession becomes a paranoia with a journalist, the reader only goes tut tutting in pity?

Why is NIE wasting its space on such maniacal assault on secularism while its editorials go tom tomming secular ideals? Why this Janus like position?

If the NIE wants to divide the country along communal lines, it should rope in journalists who know their job better, and do not lower the quality of the paper. Or is it quality at the altar of Hindutva?

Previous posts on Gurumurthyism :

Sunday, December 14, 2008

A Friend's Visit

Like a reminder of my lost world
she came

All the way

Forenoon was music time
A new picture emerged
as music released memories
of her lost world

of a little mallu girl in Borneo
peeping through her window
watching people dance
in the forbidden world
as Frank and Nancy Sinatra crooned
‘Something Stupid’

She enjoyed my biriyani
which was not my best
Then from the beach
we watched the sea

And then she said
‘Confront yourself
how long can you hide from yourself?
Your tete a tete with death
write it down
all of it”

True, I told myself
all of us have a tale to tell
but do I want to tell mine?

She left by the evening train

I was touched.
Coming all the way
just to see me

‘Tell your story’
her words kept coming back to me
To be rid of them niggling at my brain
I started my story

Saturday, December 06, 2008

We The People Demand

Listen. I pay my taxes to the government, year after year, no default. Surely I am not committing a mortal sin in expecting the government to take care of my security? What are you doing for the country, some wise men ask. Well. I pay my Taxes. I abide by the law of the land. That’s good enough, I should think. Good enough to ensure that the bullet proof vests that our policemen wear when facing AK 47/56 are truly bullet proof; to ensure that our policemen don’t go around chasing terrorists with sticks: to ensure that our coastal guards have at least enough kerosene to operate the dilapidated prehistoric boats; to ensure that the coastal policing agencies have enough hands to at least push these catamarans into the sea.

I have a right to expect that my coast is not left porous, welcoming with open arms LTTE and Jihadis and drug peddlers and smugglers and God knows what.

And today, there goes our leaders blustering about Pakistan all over again. Do they think we are such fools that we can't see that they are trying to deflect attention from the unpardonable mammoth lapses that led to the massacre of innocent citizens and tourists who paid their bit to get protection for their lives from the Government of India?

We, the citizens are still reeling under the shock and baying for blood of the political leadership which let us down completely. But is the so called leadership concerned? They are back to their old games. The whole gang in Delhi (including the Defence Minister) gets closeted for three days discussing -- - - emergency ways and means of beefing up internal security?? No. NO NO and NO. It’s Party matters, please. They have to find a political heir to Deshmukh, an heir who will make the party position safe in the next elections. In the meanwhile, the NCP made its position safe for the next hustings by picking as deputy CM a person who should be behind bars for corruption. And a footloose CM aspirant, totally impervious to the feeling of the nation, rebels against Delhi. What timing! What sensitivity! Amazing. Unbelievable.

And then today the PM goes ranting against Pakistan again.

Ha! All this-excellent stuff for a slapstick comedy.

Mr. Prime Minister. You do your bit and then ask Pakistan to do theirs.

We, the citizens, demand that you take our security seriously. For a change, take your eyes away from the vote bank and listen to us. As tax payers and law abiding citizens, we demand that you get your act together. Create a ministry for internal security if you have to, and undertake the task of tightening security on a war footing. Immediately.

And the members of the ruling party, stop behaving as though sitting in the opposition will cause blisters to break out on your seats.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Mumbai Terror - A Week After

Am still shell shocked - for even a knee jerk reaction in the blog sphere. I open the net only to check mail. For most of those sixty hours, sat in my cane chair stunned, watching the battle between my country and terror.

Today my son called me to ask why I did not post a blog on the terror attack. Another blog visitor asked me about my ‘deafening silence’. That’s when I realized my views too matter- at least to a couple of people.

And so I post a blog, tho ill prepared for the exercise.

Every terror attack sends a chill down my spine – and with passing years it gets chillier and chillier. But when terror strikes familiar places it freezes you. Leopold was our favourite haunt. After bargaining on the roadside for trinkets for my daughter or popping in at some of the many exciting places in Colaba, I am joined by my husband whose office is in the parallel street and we have a quick bite at Leopold. This used to be a routine while we were in Mumbai.

My niece once took me to the Taj beauty saloon for a hair cut. I have had a dinner there once – a dinner sponsored online by my NRI daughter.

I went into Oberoi restaurant once to find out if a cup of coffee tastes different when you pay Rs.150/ for it; have been to its lobby a few times to meet someone or other.

Trivial things to talk about in the face of the terrible human tragedy. I wondered why I, like many, speak of places and structures when human beings were brutally mowed down. Looking into myself, I realized that this is the way I shield myself from the impact of the terrible truth – the vulnerability of human lives, the targeting of human lives to make a statement; the blinding hatred to which I too could have been a victim had I been at the wrong place at the wrong time. Yes. It’s easier to cry for CST and the Taj and Oberoi. It hurts less. Much less.

There is anger in the real and virtual world. Two types of anger. One good and one bad.

The good anger is what made a Patil’s and Deshmukh’s heads roll; it made Karkare’s wife reject Gujarat Chief Minister’s compensation of crores. It made Unnikrishnan’s father burst out at Kerala Chief Minister. It made Arnab of Times Now think aloud about the inappropriateness of politicians visiting the terror site while the encounter was on. It made me send text messages to NDTV and Headlines Today to the effect that as a citizen, tax payer and voter, I plead with the politicians to keep away from the scene of encounter, refrain from blame game and divisive politics.

This collective anger against the utter failure in governance is positive energy. It should be sustained. It should not be allowed to die. It will make the politicians accountable. This positive energy now pervades the atmosphere in big cities and in the blogshere. What can we do to keep it going? If we the people of India don’t act now, Mumbai will bounce back, we will go back to our daily chores till - - - - God Forbid!

The second anger. Anger against Pakistan. WE are furious. We want to attack Pakistan. In the discussion held outside Taj by Barkha Dutt after the terror strike, Simi Garewal was fuming. She wanted India to deal with Pakistan appropriately. I beg to differ. I feel we have to accept the hand of friendship extended by Pakistan. The statements made by Pakistan Foreign Minister who was in India at the time of the terror attacks can be taken at face value as they were spontaneous, and therefore honest. We are all victims of the same terror, he said. Let’s join hands and fight this together. To which Headlines Today‘s anchor’s remark was ‘let him walk the talk by destroying the terror camps in POK’. If it is as simple as that, won’t Pakistan do it? On account of political compulsions, our government began a blame game to which Pakistan promptly responded in a similar manner. Indo-Pak relationship is back to square one. Will/should India attack terror camps in POK? Will that solve this problem as many seem to think? Is a clash of two nuclear powers the only way out? I don’t know. But one thing I know. I don’t want to get annihilated in the process of teaching Pakistan a lesson. I want to live. I want India to live.

In the meanwhile, divisive elements have begun their mission. That’s for my next post.