Sunday, December 21, 2008

Zahid Hamid and His Funny Programs on Pakistani TV

If you are bored on a weekend, and want some humor, do check this lunatic who claims to be a Pakistani strategic expert called Jahid Hamid. Frankly, I haven't seen anything funnier than him on TV and best part is that he is damn serious about the whole business of his. He has incredible theories on almost all significant political events in world, which according to him are either Jews or Hindu Zionist (whatever it means) conspiracies to thwart the greatest nation on earth,Pakistan .

Yes, as per him, Pakistan is destined to be the leader of Ummah and Muslim world and the rest of the world and; Zionists , both the Israeli Jews and Indian Hindus are conspiring for decades to destory Pakistan. He tells us how 9/11 was a Jews conspiracy and how Mumbai terror attacks were actually handiwork of Hindu Zionists. He also tells us how Indian foreign policies are based on Mauryan empire of ancient India or how numerous scientist in labs throughout India are researching and studying intricate manuscripts to develop advanced weapons for army (like shoes which makes a soldier walk for miles wihout tiring) and how Indian Government is using Chnakya niti as a philosophy in Indian Diplomacy.

Jahid hamid is the most erudite, and knowledgeable security expert to have come out of great land of Pakistan. In fact , he could be the greatest Pakistani to have ever been born. So do check his videos of brasstack (his porgrame) on a Pakistani news channel called News1 on Youtube here. He talks about everything in world , ranging from Jews conspiracy to dominate the international economic system to how pimples on a Muslim girls face are handiwork of Hindu zionists.

And do check the beautiful girls acting as moderators or hosts on some of his shows. They seem to be trying hard to to seduce this dickhead , while sprouting innuendos and hatred of west in perfect westernized English. Go on Zahid Hamid...please entertain us more..........

Friday, December 19, 2008

Mumbai Attack, Shiv Sena and lawyer for Kasab

Shiva Sena has an editorial in its mouthpiece demanding an open , public hanging of Kasab. If I was asked what should be done with Kasab (Pakistani terrorist captured in Mumbai attack) soon after Mumbai attack, my answer had to be “shoot the bastard”. With some healthy dose of expletives. Such was the anger anybody would have felt. Such was the wanton violence Kasab and his cohorts had launched in Mumbai. Shiv Sena is also threatening lawyers not to stand in defense of Kasab.

But whole point of having a system is that you don’t circumvent it, you do not undermine it. We have a justice system in place and even though it is flawed and rotten and downright stupid at times with lawyers like Jethmalanis who spin incredible theories in name of criminal laws, it still is a system better than instant justice of Mullahs or Talibans or Shiva Sainiks or collective wisdom of crowds or mobs. System should not be undermined but improved. The fact is that our justice system sucks at the moment. We have had instances where a petty thief spent 5 years in jail without trial. And we have had cases where Pakistani terrorists were in our jails for 3 years before they were “rescued” by a fantastic airline hijacking. Why the heck were we keeping an enemy of state locked comfortably in our jail without convicting him, is beyond me.

What we need in case of Kasab is speedy trial and conviction which I don’t think can be anything but death. Shiv Sena’s demand of a public hanging is natural. One can not expect anything else from a party which has built its “career” on baser instincts.

The real solution of Pakistani terrorists attacking us so blatantly is to kill them in their own secret operations. Instill fear in their minds. Pursue them until they are caught or killed. There is no reason why Dawood should be alive till now. There is no reason why Maulana Masood Azhar is not liquidated. Pakistan is a failed state, state which has only exported terrorism and fundamentalism all across the world. It is also a land of amazing conspiracy theories like theory of 9/11 being perpetrated by Jews or Mumbai attack being a handiwork of Hindu Zionists. We can not except Pakistan to co-operate with us and hand over the terrorists whom it has created and nurtured. We can not expect out diplomacy to work with them . We can not always keepm running to US asking for pressure to be put on Pakistan and we can not always try to be good guys by showing so called restraint. Countries are also like men, some are reasonable and some are not. While dealing with unreasonable ass****, one has to become like one.

So yes, give a lawyer to Kasab, don’t hang him openly. But make the quick and without letting people like Jethmalanis and his ilk sprout higher wisdom in name of criminal justice. And use secret services to restart (stopped by one of our PMs) operations in Sindh , NWF and Baluchistan and bleed Pakistan. Let it know that if it can not handle non-state actors, then it has no right to exist as a state.

Addition of 10 more portly havaldars at airport, more checknakas on roads and useless frisking in cinema halls would do nothing. Nothing but covert, offensive operations can protect us in long run from terror exported from outside.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Mumbai Terror Attack and the Anger within

Dust finally seems to be settling down after a traumatic fortnight following the worst terrorist strike on India , in Mumbai, perpetrated by bunch of crazy lunatics across the border seeking their place in heaven with virgins by killing infidels in name of a God .

What can men do to find a place in an elusive paradise!!!

For past two weeks, there has hardly been anything being discussed in country other than terror strike in Mumbai. Most of newspaper pages and magzines have been full of it. Even the cookery sections started with some mention of terrorism and what happened in Mumbai. The sports commentators had more to comment on terror than the sports. Almost every Indian blog that I read for past two weeks , had a post on the incident. Even blogs which untill now only wrote poetry, could talk nothing but terror attack on Mumbai. TV news channels were obvioulsy having a field day with many journalists covering what would be thier biggest news story.

I was angry.Very angry. Like everybody else. It felt like a smack in your face. It felt like somebody barging in your house and slapping you hard. Many more were angry. Lot many, lot more. Many marched on streets with candles and many more with angry slogans and placards.

"We are angry, we need action" Many shouted.

For first time, it is been claimed that urban middleclass was so outraged that they took to mass protests. They shouted slogans against politicians, against corrupt system and our inpept leaders. The anger against terror soon turned into anger against our politicians who showed that most of them suffered from foot in mouth diesese which , proving to be highly contagious, during the crisis and afterwards spread like a wildefire. The worst hit was somebody named A- Chut-***** who went mad after being bitten by a stray dog and could talk nothing else but dogs and thier canine habits and even started barking .

So what are we angry at? No doubt, the odacity of attack created the outrgae we witnessed, but then, we have been on recieving end of this kind of cross-border terror for many decades now. and have virtually become a soft state where anybody can enter, kill and bomb. Writing in Hindustan Time, Vir Singhavi perhaps analysed it best as to why Urban middle class was so angry this time. He wrote that our anger is actually menfiestation of realisation that we are impotent. There is nothing much we can do to change the scenario or avenge the attack. We dont have visivble targets which we can go and bomb like US did after 9/11 and neither do we have the will to do that. But worse, the anger against political class, is due to the fact that we (urban middle class) know that we can hardly do anything to replace them. Most of us do not go and vote and even if we do, our votes hardly count. Politics in India is played on various fault lines and identities and not on issues. People vote to their caste, religion, sect and region. Small urban middle class hardly changes the equation and thats the reason politicians dont care about some urban youth coming on roads and shouting against them. We tend to forget easily. After every bomb blast, we feel outraged, leaders make repetitive statement and then soon it is forgotten and we get back to our internal bickering in name of region and religion.

As for as strong action against terror which is being demanded by citizens this time, I am afraid nothing much will change. We will get a central agency to unify our 100 incompetent Intelligence agencies, NSG will get cloned, we will see more policemen with bellies holdling AK-47s and thats about it. It will not change the fundamental issues of corruption, incompetence and impotence .

Corruption , because that is how our Coast guards let mafias in Pakistan smuggle diesel into India through sea route, same route through which Mumbai invaders came. Because that is how fake identity papers can be made, ration cards be bought. Because that is how millions of Bangladeshis have enteretd into India and have vanished. Incompetenece , because that is how every intelligence agency claims to have the intelligence of attack but nobody acts, Even Pannu Panwala knows about the impending attacks. And Impotence, because only that can explain our patience with anybody who tries to mess with us, again and again. Because that is how Dawood Ibrahim can still mock us sitting in his palace, because that is how Maulana Azhar Mahmood can still openly roam in cities of Pakistan and keep sending boys to attack our parliament. Because that is how ISI can do all the damage and RAW can not even know of its own officers defections.

Only option is to do what Israel Did after Black September, Go after these people and kill them in thier dens. Fear can only be faught with fear. But are we potent enough is the question!!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Home Sick

These images make me want to return home . Pictures are from cheenj, a traditional wrestling which is usually organized during village fairs in Spring season.

Where skies are clear,
and sun shines bright.
to people, so gentle
return a day, I might

These photos are taken by Himanshu Khagta, I have used them here with his permission. Much better resolution is here.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Indian State - Losing its potency?

Blame it on coming elections, in past couple of months, large tracts of India have singed in senseless violence. Many parts of India are witnessing riots between Hindu and Muslims. Violence against Christians which started in Orissa has spread to many other states. This happened after a prominent Hindu leader was killed by Maoists which have large number of converted Christian recruits in their ranks. Hindu fanatics then systematically targeted converted Christian tribal by killing them, burning their property and raping nuns.

* State by and large remained spectator. Many people commented that even though the violence is not the solution, there remains a problem with conversions. Symbol of state power, Police stood on the sidelines letting Bajrang Dal to run amok. They moved in only after substantial damage was done and “the lesson” was taught to convert Christians.

Cut to few years back, in state of Gujarat, a train carrying VHP’s Ram sevaks was burnt by rioting Muslims which sparked off massive religious riots across the state. Some say the attack on train carrying hindus was a Muslim conspiracy and some say it was a natural reaction of Muslims after being provoked by Hindus shouting religious solgans. In one of worse riots thereafter, Muslims were hounded, burnt and killed. Their women were raped and villages set on fire.

* State by and large through out the riots remained mute spectator. Many people commented that even though the violence must be condemned, the riots were natural reaction to a violent act of train burning. Symbol of state power, Police stood on sidelines letting hordes of Hindu rioters burn cornered Muslims. They moved in only after substantial damage was done and “the lesson” was taught to the Muslims.

Rewind little more, year 1984, Prime minister of India, Indira Gandhi was killed by her Sikh security guards. This was a revenge killing by Sikhs as Gandhi was blamed for flushing out the terrorists from holy Sikh temple. Ironically, the Sikh terrorist leader who was killed in raid was raised by Gandhi herself to keep Alkalis way from political power. Her killing sparked, large scale violence against Sikhs throughout the country and they were rounded up, insulted and burnt.

* State by and large through out the riots remained mute spectator. Many people commented that even though the violence must be condemned, the riots were natural reaction to a killing of popular leader like Gandhi. Symbol of state power, Police stood on sidelines letting hordes of rioters burn cornered Sikhs. They moved in only after substantial damage was done, “the lesson” was taught to the Sikhs.

This week, in Maharashtra, we were witness to ugly scenes of goons of MNS and Shiv Sena beating students from North India. The hate campaign has been going on for quite some time and North Indians have been attacked since early this year. All this ostensibly on the pretext ranging from outsiders are taking up jobs meant for Marathi manoos to outsiders diluting Marathi culture. After Raj Thackeray was arrested this week, large scale violence mainly in Mumbai erupted and ”supporters” of MNS torched and damaged taxis and autos and beat up poor shopkeepers and vendors in perfect show of Marathi culture.

*State by and large through out the hate campaign has been spectator. Many people commented that even though the violence is not the solution, the migration of outsiders remained a problem. Symbol of state power, Police stood on sidelines letting MNS activities run amok. They moved in only after substantial damage was done, “the lesson” was taught to outsider North Indians.

In all of these incidents, one thing is starkly common. The collusion of State or police with the perpetrators of violence. If you are a Hindu or Muslims or Sikh or North Indians or South Indian or Tamil, Marathi or Dalit of whatever and you are being taught a lesson, the Police will stand on sidelines and let the Law of land rip to shreds. In this country where everybody is a trying to teach lesson to everybody else, and where State has lost its potency, the only minority left is an individual. In such a lawless State where an individual and his property can not be protected, the question which needs to be asked is if such a State needs to exist or not!!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Jet Airways Layoff episode

India is increasingly becoming a country where rule of law is fast losing its meaning. From instances of crowds taking law in their hands to lynch buffalo thieves to politicians forcing businessmen in returning legally obtained land, we have numerous instances where mobocracy , loud rhetorics and petty politics is ruling the roost by subverting the laws of land. We Indians are unique for creating systems which we our self then seek to dismantle for short term gains. One such example is Jet airways fiasco where around 1800 employees on probation were laid off by Jet Airways to cut cost on its bleeding operation. Agreed that, the way Jet management handled the whole laying off episode showed off their poor HR practices but what followed after that was equally bad.

First the laid off employees suddenly became socialist in their approach, very conveniently forgetting that until few hours back , they were willingly part of a system where risk is as much part of game as reward. Then they went even a step further and managed to politicize the whole matter by begging in front of MNS's Raj Thackeray. Other parties and sundry ministers then followed the suit and jumped into the bandwagon, until Jet Airways chairman had to do revert the decision and ask laid off employees to join the duty back. Quite obviously he was pressurized by Government and politicians to do this, though, he said that it was because of his conscience (suddenly awakened).

We know that global economy is facing unprecedented downturn, most of markets are melting down and big banks have fallen down like nine pins. Effect of global recession has started to show signs in India also. So in near future, many companies might have to tighten their belts and shed excess weight to stay afloat. And it is in this regard that Jet episode has created a bad precedence. Now we know that if some employees are laid off, all they have to do is organize dharna , call the media, cry on TV and tell sob stories of how their dreams were shattered and then approach opportunistic politicians to put pressure on management. Jet employees, for their own gains have setup a very bad example by involving Raj Thackeray. It is people like these employees, who ultimately give legitimacy to such politicians who feed on opportunities to further their own petty and short sighted gains. Nobody has asked who Raj Thackeray is to threaten a company to stop its flights from taking off until employees were taken back!! Wasn’t the company within laws to lay off employees on probation, and didn't these employees know that they could be removed while on probation!! Havent they signed contract for this while joining the company!! And by rushing to MNS, Jet employees have only fed a snake which one day could also bite them.

In future if aviation industry in India does not recover and Jet is forced to shut shop, then these 1800 employees of Jet can go back and join Government services where they can live off lesser rewards on lesser risks of being terminated. And as for Jet Airways, one has to wonder if this whole episode which in hindsight looks like a drama, was put up to get bailout package from Government!! Afterall, they could have done it better by laying off employees in smaller chunks and with more civility. And if the decision to lay off was driven by economic downturn, thun how has situation suddenly improved to take these employees back? So was this episode stage managed by someone in Jet or aviation industry? Would MNS force these Jet employees to learn Marathi now? We wouldnt know, but what we certainly know is that Aviation has some very pretty faces which we can see more frequently on morning newspapers.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Jaago Re- One Billion Votes

I had seen the add on TV , but I didn't know that it was also an online campaign ; untill I got an email form one of my friends, telling me about this initiative jaago re, started by an NGO . It aims to spread awareness about voting and also makes it bit easier for first time voters to get registered on voting lists. There is lots of useful information on the site for first time voters. Considering that many of us do not vote and think that it is not going to make any difference, it is a good initiative to spread the message that voting is what makes a difference in a democracy.

I also sort of like thier site and its integration with Maps. Nice job done. It will make a difference in its own little way. For me what works is that, it brings voter registration form right upto your desk, so all you have to do is fill it up and sumbit it to office whose address you will get from the site.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Terror Crackdown - Post Delhi Blasts, A defining moment?

In a highly polarized environment, truth is often the victim. In fact in such a scenario, there are many versions of truth. The recent crackdown on suspected terrorists in India is an example of how polarized our society has become.

Following is Police version:

From SIMI to IM: It all started with death of MC Sharma, a decorated police officer of Delhi Police, who while raiding a hideout of suspected terrorists was killed by gun shots. Two persons suspected to be terrorists belonging to Indian Mujahideen (IM) were also killed in encounter and 2 other were caught. Sharma was hailed as hero by media and Delhi Police which also claimed that with this encounter they had busted the IM module which was largely responsible for multiple terror attacks in country for past 2 years or so. The arrest of terrorists soon triggered a chain of events, and in next few days many raids were conducted throughout the country and suspected terrorists were nabbed in Ahmedabad, Mumbai and other parts of country. Police claimed that the success of operation was due to inteligence sharing among various states and central agencies. The terror jigsaw is not yet fully solved but pieces are falling in place, they claim. So if one accepts police version as truth, then IM is responsible for recent series of bomb blasts in country, and is a splinter group of banned SIMI (Student Islamic Movement of India). IM was born out of SIMI soon after Gujarat riots, ostensibly, to avenge killing of Muslims. SIMI had its root in Aligarh Muslim University and had thousands of members throughout country. As per Police, SIMI was a moderate group to start with but got increasingly radicalized over the years with radical elements being driven by Safdar Nagauri, the secretary general of SIMI (a 8 years old interview with him is here, proving his radical views). The friction between Nagauri and moderate faction ultimately let to Breaking of SIMI, which police says can be compared with that of breaking up of Hamas, where one breakaway group became millitant by violence and terror tactics.

The Onset of Hunt: IM was unique in the way that its members were educated youth, many of them even engineers and MBAs. They operated in small and largely independent modules. The anger which Muslims felt after Gujarat riots was used by people like Nagauri to get young , educated members into his unit. He also specifically looked for technically qualified youths and those who had some angst or grudges against the state or police. IM also got hooked to LeT (Lashkar e Toiba) which helped it with initial trainings and funds. Trainings were conducted in various parts of country in Jungles of Kerala to Karnataka. Recruits were taught to swim, fire pistols, and make bombs. After a camp, these recruits would then fan out to many places and build their network of terror. Police started the hunt after the bomb blasts in UP and name of IM for first time emerged. Unlike in past, when most of bomb blasts used to be handiwork of Pakistanis, this time evidence was pointing out to homegrown terror groups. As many bomb blats followed in many Indian cities, Police found it tough to crack the cases and it was due to nature of IM and how they operated. Things were also tough for police as the intelligence was scattered and every state police acted independently. The real break came with arrest of Safdar Nagauri a secretary general SIMI from Madhya Pradesh and then later with arrest of Abu Bashar a recruit of IM , soon after Ahmedabad blasts. These two key members provided vital clues in functioning on IM and after Delhi blasts, the proverbial camel's back was broken. There was tremendous hue and cry throughout the country to act tough on terror. The central government which was slack in taking tough steps until now (perhaps thinkning that it will upset muslim community) was jolted out of its reverie. All states were asked to coordinate their efforts, share intelligence and act as one team. The bits and pieces of intelligence collected over the years by various state police were sewn together and sketchy leads were formed, good enough to act upon. And this is how MC Sharma was asked to raid a flat in Delhi which eventually led to killing of 2 suspected IM terrorists and capturing of 2 more. Unfortunately, Sharma who was not wearing his Bullet proof jacket also lost his life. Two suspected terrorists were reported to have escaped during encounter. Sharma was hailed and quite deservingly, a hero, and his funeral was attended by many politician including home minister, who untill few days ago was about to be ejected out of his office.

The Jigsaw getting solved : There have been various press conferences by different state police, and the final picture is pretty much consistent, albeit with some loose ends which could raise doubts. I think it is primarily due to the fact that even though various states collaborated in operation, the news conferences were done independently and in hurry. So we had a scenario that mastermind of terror was changing every day. In my opinion, considering the sensitive nature of crackdown, police should have been more careful with press conferences. One gets an impression that either state police departments were competing against each other, trying to stake the claim of cracking the module or they were pressurized by Government to go public, keeping in view of the upcoming election. Regardless of this, If one has to believe this version of police story as the truth, and I use if because, unfortunately, past shenanigans of Police in India, do not give it much credibility, then the picture of terror in India looks frightening and grim. Terror now is pretty much home grown. The catchment area of terrorists seems to be in UP and profile of terrorists have changed dramatically. They are now well educated young men with normal lives. An MBA here, two Software engineer there. So are these guys terrorists? If we believe police, then yes, they are. They are driven by hatred for Government and for majority community and they want to avenge atrocities which they think are done on their community. They are also fed by people like Safdar Nagauri to do jehad for Muslim Caliphate. They are indoctrinated to extent that they place bombs in children's parks and even hospitals. They plant bombs, come back to their normal lives, watch blasts news on TV and celebrate their success.

The another version:

But this is one version of truth. There is another version which in unfolding on Muslim blogs and discussion forums and generally in that community. They believe that recent crackdown are nothing but part of conspiracy to corner the community. Many of them have raised doubts about authenticity of Delhi encounter and they suspect that it is fake. In fact many don’t suspect but believe that encounter was fake and many conspiracy theories are doing rounds. They would even believe that Sharma was killed as part of larger plan to pass the encounter as real and to use it to target muslims. They think that people caught by police are innocent young Muslim men and they are being targeted for being Muslims. They even question why terrorists were paraded in muslim scarves (even though I have seen otehr criminals being hooded in same scarves).They ask questions of how good students, doing their MBAs could be terrorists. People of Aajamgarh, the native place of most of terror suspects, dont believe that there is any iota of truth in Polcie version. They think that thier good studious sons have been wrongly caught or killed and made a scapegoat. Many theories are doing rounds and generally the community is in fear and suspicion. They suspect the Police, the media and the Government. Even a legitimate voice trying to reason often gets lost as the level of mistrust are high.

And the Politics :With upcoming elections, when all parties would try to consolidate their vote banks, the polarization is bound to increase. The BJP would pressurize governments to have tougher terror laws. Muslims would perceive tougher terror laws as being a tool to harass them. Police, will catch some more terrorists including some innocents who will be counted as collateral damage. Muslims would huddle together and raise noise about them being targeted. BJP would raise fears in majority community by citing resistance of Muslims against tough terror laws. Jamia Milia Islamia would stand by its students caught as terrorists and Hindu Nationalists would brand it as against national interests.

And to those who care, let it be known that this is start of a defining time in life of this secular republic.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Delhi Bomb Blasts and well attired Home Minister

It has almost become a monthly ritual now. Bombs go in tandem in an Indian city, scores of people are blown to death, hundreds are maimed and scarred, Media goes into tizzy, mobile network get jammed and Government issues same old statement about its resolve to fight terrorism. And then in couple of days everything is forgotten. In fact, with bomb blasts happening with this alarming regularity, I wonder if terrorists have to think of something else to really shock and scare us now!!

The face of terror has changed: Last Saturday it was turn of Delhi to be targeted. The pattern was same which has emerged in recent few blasts and is being credited, if one might say so, to SIMI, albeit this time rechristened as Indian Mujaheedin. Locally assembled bombs are placed in crowded places on cycles, stolen cars, dustbins and then an email is sent to news channels just before or after the first bomb goes. The terrorists have become more tech savvy also. The terror emails are sent through hacked wifis networks to avoid tracing and usually with MPEG files and videos to prove that they are the real perpetrators. This time the email had a chilling message to authorities "Stop us if you can". They also opened up thier email box for eevrybodyto see. These are not some kurta payjama wearing, bearded, madarssa educated, brain washed kids doing a jehad against India. No, these guys are educated, are from middle class families and are tech savvy. The face of terror in India has long changed. It is now home grown, de-centeralised and far too dangerous and ugly. These guys are also more perverse, as they don’t think anything about planting bombs in a children’s park.

Remove Home Minister: As if seeing the footage of Bomb blasts scenes on TV is not enough to make one angry, one has to endure listening to inane and often-repeated statements from Home minister Shivraj Patil. After every bomb blast he mouths the same pattern of words “I am sorry for this. We will spare no effort and will catch the culprits…..blah blah". Do we really need a Home Minister to repeat same excuses every time? Why not hire a school kid who can perhaps do better on TV and atleast think of a different excuse every time!! I don’t think this man has any clues, whatsoever, about what we are dealing with here. He seems more bothered about his attire and specially his white bandgallas and shoes. I remember vividly watching him accompany Sonia Gandhi to a hospital in Ahmedabad to visit blast victims. He seemed more bothered to avoid a rain puddle which could soil his immaculate white shoes while escorting Sonia Gandhi across the road to hospital. This time around also, if you were watching him on TV, you could see him changing his clothes between his appearances on TV. I know that no politics should be played on Bomb blasts, but enough is really enough. This home minister should be removed as he has been an utter failure and even seem insensitive to occasion. Or atleast please someone bar him, from appearing on TV and press with his inane statements after every bomb blast.

Update: 16th Sep,2008 Mr. Patil's regular dress changes appear to have been caught by many people inculding national press and opposition parties. And this man still doesn't get the irony of it all. He thinks that he should not be criticised for his attires as he likes to be neat and clean. WTF!! He is more bothered about his personal cleanliness when bodies of indians lay scattered in roads and parks?? And on top of that he thinks that he is answerable to leadership. No, you are answerable to people of this country, Mr. Patil, not to your Madam.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Abhinav Bindra win Gold at Olympics - A tipping point?

Ok, I had to write about this as it is all over the news. Abhinav Bindra won gold medal in rifle shooting event at Olympics. India's first individual gold medal in many years and India's first gold medal in many..... Whatever. Let’s face it. India is not a sports country. Our sportsmen and their achievements can be counted on fingers and about our show in Olympics, less said the better. The causes of our dismal performance are many but I think it is perhaps best summarised by a wisdom (if it can be called so) which was deeply ingrained in our psyche and was found scribbled on many government school building's till not many years ago. The wisdom of "Padoge likhoge banoge nawab , Kheloge koodoge, hogey Khrab " , roughly translated as "Study and you will become a king, Indulge in sports and you are ruined".

There was some truth in this indeed. After all, regardless of what Steven Levitt says in Freakonomics, conventional wisdom can sometime be true. The truth in this slogan was simply the reality that Sports in Indiacould never be adopted as a profession for reason that it was not professionally managed and there was hardly any money in it. So even if you were good at some sports while at school, there wasn’t any incentive for you to pursue it seriously and professionally and become world class. There was no social incentive either. Society didn’t respect sportsmen; it valued academic achievements more. For few of those who played any sports, it remained a hobby and some of us who were good at some sports, used it to land a safe government jobs using sports quota. Some more became sports teacher in schools and colleges and for many others it became a weekend hobby. Sports were and are not taken seriously by our society.

Has it changed? Or is it changing? I don’t know. India is changing in many aspects. Economy is far better than it has even been. There is enough money which can chase good sportsmen now and it is not limited to cricket alone . Though we havent become a sporty country but we don't hear slogan I mentioned above that frequently now. So when are we going to see a tipping point for sports in India? Well, Unless we undertake a massive overhauling of sports management in this country, we will continue to remain a laggard in international sports and have to be satisfied with occasional individual brilliances. I think we could do well by learning from China which systematically adopted an Olympic program, identified sports where they had more chances of winning medals and pumped money. They even skipped one Olympic to concentrate on long term preparations.

In India, we need to create both monetary and social incentives so that more kids participate in sports and also pursue it professionally. And yeah, all those politicians falling over each others now to announce cash rewards for Abhinav Bindra, will do well to know that he belongs to a millionaire family already. He wasnt playing for money but someting more......pride, ...just for heck of it...for love of it ...!!! And, well done Abhinav Bindra.....

Monday, July 14, 2008

Aarushi Murder Case - Media circus and Police incompetency

So Finally Aarushi Talwar murder case is solved. Finally I hope. Unless there is some other hidden twist in this tale. After all, what can you expect when a murder investigation is done in full public view and media glare and when every day you have a new person being suspected for murder? It is not unusual for some investigations to take longer but Arushi murder case stands out not for investigation but the way it was (un)done by Police and circus which media created around it. Every news channel followed this "breaking story" like a mad hound. As if it was only murder committed in this country. What was even worse was the way all news channels shamelessly hounded Talwar family and others involved and ran theories as breaking news. There were stories of Aaruhsi's father being the murderer, insinuation of his affair with a woman and worse of all stories on Aarushi's character and hint of incest.

That there is something rotten with law and policing in this country is not something unknown. This is a country where suspects can be kept in jails for years waiting for their cases to be judged, police can be easily bribed and investigations are often botched up and superficial. But in Arushi's case, the media had created an unholy alliance with incompetent Police to feed us half cooked stories and lies as breaking news just to keep their 24 hours channels running. Every news channel was trying to come out with its own version of truth and investigations. Investigations, done in studio rooms with graphics and animation and by hyper news presenters asking viewers to vote who they think were the murderers. An Entire nation was turned into detective. A new form of collective wisdom perhaps where murder mysteries would be solved in news rooms and by news polls and not by hard and objective investigation. All ethics of journalism were compromised on alter of one- up-manship and TRP race. Firstly, illiterate police officers leaked absolutely private details of Arushi to media and then Media did nothing but feed on it. Whatever happened to a minor's rights of privacy? Few things come out of this case for us a society to introspect:

police force is unable to do any investigation in a scientific and modern way. They are too prejudiced and biased to employ objective judgement to crack a case. They also appear virtually illiterate and have no knowledge of a person’s (dead or suspect) right to privacy. If CBI has to be called out in every other case, then what happens to all those cases which don’t get as much press and CBI involvement as this one did? And when police officers who botched up the case would be punished, if at all? Dont we need massive overhauling of our police force to bring them out of medieval mindeset and methods or is it that Police has forgotten how to investigate as it has beocme merely a coercise tool in hand of state?

News Media is fast turning out into a parody and circus of speculations and theories. It has forgotten all journalistic values and ethics and is high on its power and privileges. It thinks nothing about runing speculations as stories on a 14 years old girl's private life. It thinks that it is not answerable to anybody and can do anything in name of freedom of press. It is not able to self-regulate it and it is about time that someone else (State!!) did it. As my friend, says "you can’t really expect bunch of kids to self-regulate, they need bit of parental control". And presently, Indian news media, especially news channels are nothing more than quarrelsome bunch of kids. They need little rap on their knuckles.

There no privacy laws in this country. Anybody suspected of anything can be hounded by media, their names and pictures splashed 24 hours on TV. All kinds of insinuations can be mixed with fiction and drama to cook up a truth. Can Talwars now sue all those news channels which ran day long stories on them and had camped in front of their house? And why not!

A voyeuristic society ? As the case was unfolding "live" on news channels, there were reports of some production house planning to make movie or TV show based on Arushi's life , even before truth was revealed and investigations were over. That was clearly insensitive and indication of how voyeuristic we have really become . Afterall, if there is 24 hours coverage of a murder , trial by media and attempt to make TV shows on a tragedy, then there must be because many of us want to watch this on our TV sets. Is it an indication that we are becoming a voyeuristic society now where news , entertainment, gossips, halftruths are all mixed together in a heady concoction of 24 hours news sprinkled with advertisement breaks?

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Reality Kid Shows - warped reality anyone!

\Eliminated \

The recent incident of a 15 years old girl from Kolkata losing her voice due to reprimand by judges during a Bengali reality show is being widely discussed in TV and print media. Central Government has announced that it would soon come out with guidelines and regulations for such reality shows on TV where minors and kids are involved. Even as girl is being treated at a Bangalore hospital for reportedly severe mental shock, the show producers and parents are blaming each other in media. Times News ran the snippets of event last night with English subtitles and seeing them, I think the comments passed by judges were little harsh considering that the girl was in tears and visibly shaken.

Both the parties are to be blamed here. Both the Producers of such shows which try to make money by staging drama by encouraging unnecessary provocation and comments and parents who are ready to go to any extent to ensure that their kids become celebrities. Most of reality shows for kids are about songs and dances where kids enact popular movie numbers. Shows are sold to audiences as a quest to search for new talent and parents go to any length to make their kids participate in them. Some parents even quit their jobs to support their kid in this quest of this mini-celebrity hood. Now I might be little slow here in understanding but I don’t understand what sort of talent is found in these shows!! Often you see kids dancing to raunchy numbers which they don’t even perhaps understand. There are little girls who sing "beedi jalile jigar se piya...." and judges comment "fantastic...your expressions were excellent". That is preposterous. How can little kids be expected to or even required to understand such songs and then emote them either through song or dance!

In India parents often derive their own sense of achievement or failure by what their kids achieve or don’t achieve. This adds lots of pressure on kids to perform. You could see this behavior on so many reality shows for kids. You can see parents fighting with show organizers when kids get eliminated as if their whole world has crashed down. You can see parents staging emotional drama or using parchocial appeals to get votes from audiences. What sort of reality does it create for a kid who is still trying to get any comprehension of world around him/her?

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Euro Cup - Nearing Climax

What a fascinating contest Euro Cup is turning out to be. Most of matches I have seen have been cracker of games like previous night's semi final encounter between Germany and Turkey. Even though Turkey had done well in last matches, nobody gave them any chance against Germany, me included. But they turned out to be more than a match for Germans. In first half they had as many 14 shots at goal and German had only 5 or so, if I remember right. Last 15 minutes of the game was absolutely fantastic, if not for quality of play, then for goals scored and the drama. Bad luck for Turkey, but I think It will set a great final on Sunday, with Russia. Obviously I am supporting and hoping that Russia beat Spain tonight. Russia versus Germany in final, what a treat it would be. Podolski, Ballack and Schweinsteiger running against Arshavin and Pavlyuchenko . Russians were such a treat to watch against Netherlands , they virtually outran the Dutch. But before that, Russians have to outplay Spain tonight. And player to watch out would be Arshavin...He is best player on display at the moment and hopefully he will do the trick tonight with his tireless sprints and skills with Ball.

I hope that ESPN doesn’t keep getting blacked out like last night. Even though it happened due to electric storm in Vienna, their overall coverage of Euro has been pathetic. Agreed that Football is nowhere near Cricket in terms of popularity in India, but there are a million fans that follow and watch Football in India, and EPSN would do well to deck up their coverage. Their presenters look sleepy and bored. May be they need a Mandira Bedi for Football.
Update, Jun27: Spain roasted Russia 3-0. Russia was completely outplayed. I was wondering if it was the same team that I had seen earlier!!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

India-US Nuclear deal - Roadblock on Left

Henry Kissinger once said that foreign policies should not be governed by emotions but should be dictated solely by cold logic of a nation's self interest and strategic objectives. He could be right or wrong depending on how you look at it. From American's perspective, He was right. Americans have followed it to the hilt and have always pursued thier own interests even if meant using brute force or undercover operations. If you are non-American, you would despise their foreign policy as is widely done in middle East, Iraq, Iran and so many other parts of world. Even in India, for various reasons, there has been an American phobia for long time. I think somewhere deeper; it has got to do with clash of civilization values. Eastern and western split. Materialism versus spiritualism. It also did no good to our relations with America that, soon after Independence, Nehru sided with socialism and became friends with Soviet Union. In era of cold war and bipolar world, India had clearly chosen its side even though ideologically India was never in any club and proclaimed its non-alignment. India's closeness to Russians led Americans to make Pakistan its ally. During 1971 war with Pakistan, Americans showed their intention by moving their naval fleet towards Karachi, a definite low point in Indo-American relationship.

World has changed since then. Cold war is over. Soviet Union is thing of history. China is rising and India is on the move. Changed equations have brought India and America closer. Our foreign policy towards America has seen this tilt of close cooperation for mutual benefit and this has been true regardless of which political party has come to power. BJP started this and Congress followed it up. A new beginning was expected when Manmohan Sign signed Nuclear treaty with Bush, but the soft speaking Sardar had not counted that he had party poopers in his own alliance in form of left parties. The days of Ideologies are long gone but not for the communists in India. They still live in ancient world of Carl Marx. They still thrive on anti-Americanism, their mistrust of everything American and their love for China. These leftists have no solution for anything other than striking work in their states, perennialy asking for subsidies and inventing ways of keeping poor always poor. How is that West Bengal which left has ruled for so many decades is still economically backward? The same Left, still stuck is some bygone era, has also managed to derail the nuclear deal and from recent reports in press it looks like that deal could be virtually off.
To ask few questions. How many people in this country actually know about what Nuclear deal is? I don’t know. But I don’t care. I would rather trust people like Manmohan Singhs and Kalams and country's nuclear and energy scientists than listening to some Karats and Basus. 80% people of this country don’t know or care what Nuclear deal is about. In fact they might not know what nuclear is about. Rest 20% who might have some idea what it is, don’t ever vote for left parties. So why do we have a situation that a party of men stuck in past and confused by manifestos of last century denying us a deal of mutual benefit? All for an ideology!!
There can't be an ideal situation. America might not be the best loved country in world but if nuclear deal is inline with country's strategic objectives, then why not pursue it by cold logic of self interest, keeping ideologies apart.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Speaking Sai- India TV gone bonkers

It is difficult to gauge where does India TV stand in plethora of Hindi news channels in India, which mostly cover nothing else than banal to Bollywood. Is it news channel or is it gosssip channel or is it live circus ? It frequently runs stories which verge on sensationalism, presented in most bizarre fashion by presenters who are TV equivalent of quacks. While browsing Tele for news, I came across two stories on this channel. One breaking news story was showing a video grab of dark, rain heavy, clouded sky and anchor was claiming that cloud was a giant demon (daitya) in sky. The cloud indeed vaguely resembled face of a man. Anybody who has ever looked at clouds in sky would know that traveling clouds can take many shapes. You can see dogs, cats, humans, war scenes or anything you can imagine. But India TV would have you believe that there was a Giant in sky in form of clouds. Story Anchor (are these guys worth calling journalists?) was repeatedly insinuating that cloud was a giant in sky and then it was asking viewers to call teh cahnnel and discuss if this was indeed a Giant in sky?

"Kya ye eak Daitya hai?"
"Kya apne kabhi aisa Daitya dekha hai?"
"Dekhiye kitna daravna hai iska chehra"
"ye deikhiye dataiya ke hoth, uski aankhen, kya ye hum se kuch keh raha hai?"

The very next day, in another breaking new, India TV ran another video which was sent to it by some viewer (picked from YoutTube as posted above) and which had Sai Baba moving his lips and ostensibly speaking. The Breaking story ran for good 3 hours and Channel was asking its viewers to call and discuss the speaking Sai baba video. What was most bizarre and ir-responsible was the way in which whole story was run with sensationalistic headlines, a ludicrous anchor and equally ridiculous voice over.

Dekihye , Sai baba ke hoth hil rahen hain. Unki Ankhe bhi hil
Rahi hain. Kya Kah Rahen hain Baba?

For an un-initiated viewer, the story would have come across as some sort of Miracle that Sai Baba was speaking in video. It was very obvious that Channel had clear intentions of grabbing eye balls by playing on gullible viewer's religious sentiments by hiding facts and presenting them in a way which would have a Sai baba devotee think that some sort of Miracle had taken place. In a country where large number of people can believe on anything in name of God, running such a story was tantamount to deliberately creating sensation. The height of stupidity was reached when competing news channel AajTak also picked the story and was keen to declare that it had reached the truth of "speaking Sai".

Towards end of the story India TV started claiming that it was showing the video in interest of nation and devotees of Baba and all it wanted to do was properly investigate if this was a real video. So is this what India TV finds worth investigating? An Animation posted on You tube? A video which anybody in first look would have said was work of an Animation? A video which is posted on Youtube with heading of "SaiBaba Animation" ? The very next day Channel again ran same story with "fresh claims" that after its pain staking investigation the truth was finally out and that India TV can now proudly say that it had found out the truth that Video was an Animation. And then it claimed that Saibaba is real and so is this video.

"India TV ko apni Tehkikat par garv " (India TV is proud of its Investigation)
What Investigation? If there was anything to be investigated, why did you moron showed the video before finding the truth? What was the urgent need of showing video? And why present a simple story in a way that it will sound fantastic? Why to run Animation with Sai Baba Bhajans in background? Would India TV show any video sent to it by any viewer and run it for 3 hours in name of investigation?

"Age bhi jari rakeha a jung" (Channel will continue this in future.)
Of yes. Grab animated videos from You tube and start investigations and run them as breaking news.

"karodon bhakton ne abhar jataya" (Millions of Devotees thanked India V)
This is as preposterous as the story channel ran. Do they know how much is one crore? How did channel find out that there were Crores of people thanking it? Did it talk to crores of people? And what were devoteed Thanking India TV for? Pointing them to YouTube?

"India TV ke tehkikat ka asar" (Effect of India TV's investigation)
What effect and on whom. Does India TV think that showing videos of vanishing statues, magicians, flying men and animations amount to Investigation!

"Sai bhi Sach or Video bhi Sach" (Sai Baba is real and so is video)
How did Channel reached on conclusion that Sai baba is real? Was that under investigation at all?

Rajat Sharma, perhaps its time that you retire or perhaps you have lost it. Otherwise how can you be in channel which seems to be infested with dementia stricken people in guise of journalists? But the malaise doesn't seem limited to India TV alone. Other Hindi News channels like Aaj Tak and even IBN7 are equally culpable. At time when India TV was showing Speaking Sai as breaking news, IBN7 had "messages from aliens" as breaking news.IBN7 claimed that it was doing "Duniya ka sab se bada khulasa", "world's biggest expose". Well. What next are we going to see as breaking news ...UFOs, invading aliens, Barmuda Triangle??

Shame on you India TV. Shame on your journalists. You don’t deserve privileges granted to Fourth Estate. If you don’t have anything worthwhile to show as news, you can do a little favor by not creating controversies and feeding on them.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Attack on Loksatta Editor

Somehere in rural Maharashtra, near a tiny dark hut, a woman is sitting , using her pallu to fan her little baby to comfort her from crippling heat and darkness, occasionaly looking at the shadow of tree in courtyard, with hint of tears in her eyes. There is no power in the village and the tree in the courtyard sometime metamorphoses and looks like her husband who hanged himself on it , just a month back. Hanged himself on same tree, when he was driven to penury, when his sugarcane crop was not bought by the sugar mill owner to avenge the caste which had not voted for the mill owner's politician father. In distant corner of the village, near the small cluster of shops which are unlit and dark due to perennial power shutdown, stands a tall statue of great marathi warrior Shivaji.

In a democratic setup, everybody has right to have an opinion and say. But increasingly, in this country, fringe lunatic groups have shown that they can shout few slogans, hurl few stones and generally have thier way to stifle any voice they precieve being in disagreement . Yesterday's attack on Loksatta editor Kumar ketkar is one such example. As reported in Media, his satirical political piece on present Government where he questioned rational of building a 100 crore statue of Shivaji instead of solving real problems state is facing, was picked up by "Shivaji" brigade as insult to Marathi pride and Shivaji. Some unknown group then marched to his house and almost killed him in front of TV crew which they themsleves had brought to scene.

What a bunch of jokers, these men. They can't find any other source of their manhood than a dead hero of past. In text books , childern of this country read about Shivaji as an indian hero. But some people in Maharshtra have hijacked him and have almost turned him into a provincial God. So much so for pride!

Monday, June 2, 2008

Nepal - new Secular Republic

What a monumental day of hope and new beginning for a country of brave men and beautiful mountains.

Nepal, the only Hindu kingdom became a secular republic by abolishing monarchial rule of hundreds of years. The royals of Nepal who were once worshipped as reincarnation of Lord Vishnu have now become ordinary citizen and have been asked to vacate the royal palace. On a trip to Nepal recently, I could sense a general mood of a hope. The current king is widely hated but previous king Birendra is still respected. One can see his photographs in Nepali homes and shops. It has been general hatred of King Gayanendra among Nepalis that has made Maoists do away with royalty so easily and quickly. Even though Nepal has been a functioning democracy for sometime, the political environment has never been stable with many governments in few years falling due to internal bickering and cheap politicking. The Maos who have been waging a battle for long time in hinterland have won handsomely in recent elections. This had made people of Nepal believe that a new era is upon them. A new communist government in times when communism is on wane sounds ominous. Prachanda, the leader of Maoist has said that they will allow private business to go on until a time is reached when a true communist state with public ownership can be created. It means that one can start and own a business now but later state can come and take away the ownership. I dont know how many businessmen would be excited about that. But at this moment of their history, Nepalis perhaps want to be optimistic about their future and they believe that Maos would deliver on their expectations. As one, who likes Nepal, one can only wish that it happens and those land of Brave Gurkha warriors, friendly people and snow clad mountains become prosperous.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

How Internet is redefining Enviornmentalism

Walk into any neighbourhood cybercafe at noon and you would most certainly find bunch of school kids playing games on internet, quite obviously bunking school. Or they would be on orkut scrapping, many of them with hundreds if not scores of online friends. Life is going digital. Connected we are like never before. Connected through rings of phones, crackling of keyboards. One can spend entire life online. There are sites which offer virtual world where you can buy virtual property with virtual money!! You can create your own meta world and inhabit it. The magic of internet makes it all happen.

Magic in life is not virtual but real, though. The magic of nature. The sights and sounds our planet offers us are to be experienced and not just merely "seen" in virtual world. The damage our lifestyle is causing to environment can only be understood when we spend some time in communion with nature, in physical world, outisde of our cocoons. If we have to do something about our environment, it has to primarily happen through individual and community based initiatives. It is here that, Internet, the master and lord of digital world can be of great help. Internet is a great medium for people to form communities and collaborate socially to produce collective output and gain. Slide show below is a interesting view on this. It describes how "DIY (Do It Yourself) environmentalism" can be achieved through internet. Presentation profiles some businesses and projects that are harnessing networking power of internet to tackle enviornmental problems.

An interesting piece of text from it is "Buy Less stuff- iTune is projected to be 25% of music business by year 2012. That would mean de-materialization of 25% of music records on Plastics". But then not everything can be de-materialised in world. Interesting views nonetheless.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Consumerism consumption and waste - Template for development?

As per Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), as the world's leading spenders, Americans (5% of world population) use:
  • 20 % of the world's metals,
  • 24 % of the world's energy
  • 25% of the world's fossil fuels.
  • Own twice as many cars,
  • Drive two-and-a-half times as far
  • Use 21 times more plastic than their 1950 counterparts.
  • American ownership of air conditioners also increased from 15 to 64 percent between 1960 and 1987; color TVs from one to 93 percent.

In past few months , increasing food prices have made headlines throughout the world. US president Bush even blamed increasing prosperity of Indian middle class for food shortage. In India itself, Agriculture minister has attributed food crisis to India's changing diet patterns. South Indians are eating more wheat and north Indians are cooking more rice, he said, leading to food crisis. Indian Prime minister, on other hands think that food crisis is due to diversion of arable land from food crops to bio-fuels. In this spate of global blame game, Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general said something which should have been so obvious to all, that "world has consumed more than it has produced."

Increasing Consumerism - Who is world's largest consumer? Without doubt it is USA and then Europe. In decade of 1990, 20% of world's population (mostly in USA and west) consumed 80% of world's resources and generated 80% of world pollution. USA which is template for modernity and progress in our times is biggest glutton of all.In modern world which we live in, progress and development is often equated with increasing consumption. I am not economist, but don't most of economic indicators like GDP, PPP etc.. ultimately indicate a society's "capacity to consume"? The more you can consume, the more developed you are. India is developing at rate of 8%/year and China is probably 10%/year. It means demand and consumption is increasing at same rate every year. Same is true for most of other developing and developed countries. Consumerism is at all time high. The whole society seems to be in a big orgy of demand and consumption. Wanting more is fashionable. "thode main hi satisfy kyon ho? " SRK tells us on TV. All pervasive advertisement machinery keeps blaring messages of new wants constantly. Not needs, but wants. You are constantly reminded that you need to buy, you need to consume. Creating collective illusions of needs. It keeps society moving. Like electric current needing potential difference to flow , wants and consumption is what we need to move.

Urabanisation boon or bane? - Economics tell us that Modernity has always come with urbanization. Most of modern countries are hugely urbanized with mega cities. Cities which are are den of consumerism and consumption. Cities which are collection of men living in concreted forts, in their own self obsessed cocoons. Cities demand and consume, very often never being aware of environmental cost at which demands are met. Cities only see finished products, never the process or the waste. Shopping malls sell products you would never need. Be modern, buy tinned food. Buy more plastic. Blinded by gloss, glitz and lights of city , its denizens are on self administered anesthesia, never aware of pain. Cities, for whom, environment is nothing more than artificially created gardens , ponds and caged animals in zoos, all within its perimeter.

Led by USA, more and more countries are adopting a template of development which in long run is going to harm our collective well being. unfettered Growth, voracious consumption and consumerism has already made a serious impact on our environment and there are enough signs of fragile balance of our ecosystem being dented. Annual growth, increased productivity, urbanization, would ultimately lead us where? How long would it continue? Isn't it time to stop for a while and think!Instead of copying a model of development which is undeniably focussed on materialism, isn't it time that we also look into some eastern thoughts which have always preached a simple, balanced lifestyle in harmony with our nature!!

Is it a time to downshift !

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Annapurna Base Camp Trek

It was on a quirk that I decided to join guys on trek to Everest base camp just when my 2 weeks vacation was coming to an end. Soon I was on flight to Kathmandu where I met Barada and two other guys Arvind and Rohan.

Day -3 (April 22nd ): I Reached Kathmandu in evening and met Barada, Arvind and Rohan; all of whom came on different flights from Delhi. I had arrived 1 hour earlier; I was loitering about in airport compound being continuously pursued by omnipresent hotel/taxi /trek guides and agents. One of the guys struck some interesting conversations, quite predictably about Bollywood, khans, cricket am Prashant Tamang. Once other guys arrived, we went to domestic airport to book flight to Lukla. Lukla is a the starting point for treks in Everest region and can only be reached by small propeller planes. I heard of this place for first time but for next couple of days Lukla was to acquire a hallowed status of a mystical place in our mind. There are around 3 local airlines operating flights to Lukla, but all of them fly before afternoon so we booked the early morning flight on Yeti Airlines for next day.

(In Thamel, Kathmanudu's main tourist place)

At night we checked into a hotel in main tourist destination in Kathmandu called Thamel. Like any other tourist hub, Thamel has many budgets hotels, lodges, restaurants and dance bars. After some nice dinner in forms of Thupkas, Barada and chief organizer of Trek Aravind started planning the trek. The problem was that Everest base camps needed minimum of around 13 days with couple of days of height acclimatization thrown in , but we had just 9 days. We decided to push harder on certain sections of route and if required spend just one day for acclimatization. We had a rather lavish dinner at place called oak tree and retired for night.

Day -2 (April 23)
We reached airport to catch the flight to Lukla. As it turned out the weather at Lukla was bad and flights were not able to land there. We waited till noon, when flights were finally cancelled for the day. Since we had squeezed trek into 9 days, it was a bad news for us. Reaching Lukla by road was out of question as it took 2 days of trek to Lukla from its nearest road head. We re-scheduled our flight to Lukla for next day. Since we had time to spend, we walked from airport to top of a hillock and down to famous temple of Pashupatinath. Temple looks quite stunning from inside and is worth a visit. Though it could be cleaner and more inclusive as only Hindus are allowed inside the temple. The ghat near the temple reminds one of Varanasi with burning pyres, final destination of all men kings or paupers.

(Pashupatinath from outside)

We spent the night in Thamel again treating ourselves to yet another lavish dinner and drinks with some nice live music. It was second night in Thamel and we were starting to behave like tourist and not trekkers.

Day -1 (April 24): We were back at airport for early morning flight. We were quite apprehensive if flight to Lukla would be possible today and the fears of another day going waste appeared real when flight was delayed by 2 hours. I and Aravind went out of airport to bring some breakfast as food at airport was costly. When we returned after hearty Bread omelet, to our horror, we realized that the flight to Lukla had waited for us and eventually taken off. Barada and Rohan had boarded the flight and we had missed it. That was ominous. We could get our seats adjusted for another flight due in an hour's time. As we were waiting, we came to know that Barada and Rohan had come back as their flight couldn't land at Lukla. It was as near as any of us could get to Lukla. The weather at Lukla had turned bad. To add to our misery we came to know that a flight which took off barely 15 minutes before our flight could land at Lukla. Had we not gone out for breakfast and had the flight not delayed due to us, we could have been on the flight which had landed. Around noon it was declared that flights to Lukla were cancelled for day. Another day wasted. Lukla started to sound like a place where we just couldn't get to. Or was somebody stopping us from reaching there. There was a decision to be made. Either we wait for another day to try reaching Lukla or change our plans or do some other trek. Annapurna trek is what Barada thought we could do in time which we had. But Mystery of Lukla was too overwhelming and we decided to try another day to reach Lukla and do a curtailed trekking in region but not actually doing base camp. We took a taxi to a place called Swambhu, a famous Buddhist shrine on top of hill.

(All of us at Swyambhu Budhist temple)

At night we stayed at heart of Thamel, had beer , got stoned and watched "Touching the void" on Barada's laptop. A fantastic account of two guy's climb of a Peruvian mountain gone horribly wrong. It is a must watch movie as it shows the strength of a man’s will power in surviving against all odds.

Day 1 (April 25) From Kathmandu to -Pokhra - To Ghandrug
Early morning and with an unsaid trepidation we reached airport again and hoped that flights to Lukla would take off today. As the destiny would have it, the flights started getting delayed, a pattern we had got accustomed to in past 2 days. Since we were desperate to do some trekking now and Everest base camp trek was out of question, we changed our plans to fly to Pokhra and do Annapurna base camp (ABC) trek. Pokhra is second largest city in Nepal and is hub for trekkers in Annapurna region. We could finally land in Pokhra at noon on Yeti's jetstream aircraft which took 25 minutes to reach Pokhra from Kathmandu. Barada's ever planning mind (thanks to guide books) had thrown another idea of doing a wilderness trek and camping in the Himal peak instead of doing a tea-house trek to Annapurna Base camp (ABC) . We rushed to tourism office in Pokhra where Barada and Aravind collected information about logistics and cost of doing a camping trek with porters and cook. In an hour we realized that Camping trek would be costlier and also we possibly wouldn't be able to climb a trekker’s peak as it needed some technical climb in certain stretches. By now the desperation to do hit the trail was running high and we registered with TIMS and took taxi to Nayapul. We reached Nayapul at around 2.30 pm. This was to be start of trek at height of 800 mt.

From Nayapul we walked to Birthanti in 20 minutes and another 50 minutes walk took us to Sayali bazar. This was the beginning of hard trek as from Sayali bazar to Kimche village was a steep hike. It was a back breaking climb made more difficult by the fact that we were climbing stony staircase . Half way up the climb and I found myself panting, sweating and cursing. My fitness level was down to zero due to many months of sedentary lifestyle and my body was complaining against sudden burst of hard climb. We finally reached Kimche at 1530 mts., after 2 hrs of Trek. The trail though steep and uphill, provides one of good view of fertile terraced fields and small villages around them. Kimche provide a good view of Modi river valley around Birthanti from where we had climbed 700 mts. After resting for a while in Kimche we decided to push for another hour and reach Ghandrug for night halt. The trail from Kimche to Ghandrug is again uphill and it takes around 1 hrs to reach Ghandrug from Kimche. The night was falling and I had to wait for Rohan who was walking on steady pace. Walking at night with torches on, with a star lit sky and gentle breeze blowing was a fascinating experience. I and Rohan reached Ghandrug around 8 pm and all of us stayed at very first lodge we could find in Ghandrug (2000 mts). IN about 5 hours , we had gained a height of around 1200 mts. After Dinner we had random and sometime heated talks on religion, nature, population and politics and it was to become more or less norm for rest of trek. We had best of sleep at Ghandrug.

Day 2 (April 26): From Ghandrug – to- Chomrong
We woke up pretty early and we had our first look at the distant Snow clad mountains. In this season it is only during mornings that one can have a clear view of mountains. After noon, they are covered by clouds and mist in valleys makes it impossible to see the mountains. From Ghandrug we started trekking at 7 am. An uphill climb of 1.15 hours took us to Komrong Danda at height of 2240 mts. We had possibly one of worst breakfast here. The musli smelt foul and I almost threw up. From Komrong Danda we had to descend by 500 mts to reach Komrong Khola (river or stream). The descend was easy and we reached Khola in 45 min. We had a refreshing bath in the Stream and then started one of steeper uphill trek to Chomrong. Since we hardly had any breakfast and sun was beating hot ,the climb was painful and dehydrating. I and Aravind ran out of water. We should have been carrying minimum of 2 liters of waters on each person as on this trail there is no water midway. Dehydration makes every single step into an agony.

(On way from Ghandrug to Chomrong)
We finally reached Chomrong after 2.15 hours of trek from Khola and drinking lemon water was akin to drinking nectar. Thanks to Komrong Khola our net height gain was almost 0 as Chomrong is at same height as Ghandrug. Chomrong has many lodges and is spread across the hill with some of nicest lodges situated on top of hill. Chomrong is an interesting village as lower Chomrong is around 300 meters below the upper Chomrong and is connected to it through a never ending stone staircase. Barada had read that Chomrong guesthouse prepares delicious pizzas and we started looking for it. The first look of Guesthouse disappointed us as it looked desolated and haunted. Its business seems to have been snatched by more appropriately situated lodges at upper Chomrong, but pizzas which lady of the guesthouse prepared were absolutely fantastic. Best pizzas after Pizza hut and quite unexpected food while on a trek. We stayed for night in excellent view lodge in upper Chomrong. From Chomrong onwards prices of food items were to rise as everything has to be carried by porters and Simple Daal-bhat cost as much as 200 NR.

Day 3 (April 27): From Chomrong -to -Deurali
We woke up early at 5.30 am and were greeted by stunning view of Machhapuchre and Annapurnas.The sight of first rays of rising sun falling over Annapurna and golden hue thus created on them is a stunning visual spectacle. For some it could be a spiritual sight, for others nature at its best and for some others, it can be poetic. If these mountains were to be Gods and trekkers were to be their devotees, then early morning is the time when Gods give their devotees a divine darshan.

(Sun rise on distant Annapurna seen from Chomrong)

Chomrong is the last village in the region and for rest of trail we wouldn't see any other village after Chomrong. All the lodges on trail beyond Chomrong are owned by villagers (mostly Gurungs) from Chomrong. We started from upper Chomrong at 6.45 am and descended by a stony staircase to Chomrong khola and then did a steep climb up to Sinuwa. Sinuwa is practically at same height as Chomrong. From Sinuwa we passed through a beautiful up-down tree covered trail until the Khuldi ghat. From khuldi ghat we descended further to Bamboo which gets it name from Bamboo forests in vicinity. We reached Bamoo at 10am and it was slightly chilly and a cup of hot ginger milk tea was a welcome relief. From Bamboo we started climb to Dovan and then Himalya. We stopped in Dovan for our lunch By the time we reached Himalya at around 3pm the weather had turned bad and it had started raining. The chill in air was palpable and jackets were out. Even though we had decided to stay at Himalya, Barada wanted to push till Deurali which was at height of 2900 mts and could be better option to spend night and get some acclimatization before climbing up to the base camps. Barada was particularly scared of anyone getting AMS or altitude sickness and wanted to take precautions of not gaining height rapidly. Aravind stayed in Himalaya for night and rest of us pushed to Deurali. The weather by now had gone bad and hails were raining down on us. I particularly enjoyed hike from Himalaya in deteriorating weather and fading light. The vegetations on the trail were becoming sparse and mountains were becoming barren and had snow deposited on them in patches. The whole spectacle around us was mystically beautiful.

(on way to Deurali)

After the steep hike we reached the Hinku Cave from where we could see Deurali with its 3 lodges. From the Hinku cave to Deurali there is a avalanche and landslide prone area. When we reached Deurali, we got little scare as two of 3 lodges had no rooms. We finally got room in 3rd lodge. It was very cold and snow had started on mountains. We moved to only heated area in the lodge which is like a big dinner room in front of kitchen. A kerosene stove is put under the huge table which is covered by clothes from all four sides. Trekkers sit around the table and can put their hands and feet beneath the cloth to warm themselves. Cost is 70 NR for every person. No wood fires are allowed in Annapurna sanctuary region Two of lodges here have solar powered electricity. In lodge where we stayed there wasn't any electricity. After hot and spicy daal-bhat, we retired to bed in darkness. It was raining outside with thunderstorms, the cold was increasing and seeping into primitive lodge and ambience was prefect to share some ghost stories. We found harder to sleep, possibly due to cold or due to height.

Day 4 (April 28): From Deurali to MBC-ABC
Arvind joined us from Himalaya and we started trek to Machhapuchre Base Camp (MBC). From Deurali, towards MBC, there are quite a few avalanche prone areas and trail first climbs gently through a river bed until it rises steeply over the mountain side towards MBC. 30 mins walk away from Deurali; we found ourselves in middle of river bed surrounded by giant looking mountains with their upper portions covered by snow and lower portions showing stony barren features. When the sun arose, the snow on mountains shone and river valley was filled with warm sun rays. The spectacle was exhilarating. It was quite indescribable in fact.

(On trail from Deurali to MBC)

The hike to MBC is tiring but the views keep one going. We reached MBC around lunch time and had our first close up view of majestic Machhapuchre. It looks stunning and when you are that close to a peak, standing right at its base, you realize how hard it must be climbing these giants. They look unreachable. Machhapuchre looks like a huge column of rock and snow with razor thin ridges. How can anybody climb it!! What strength and stamina one must have to climb such peaks. I think one must be mad to climb. Barada wasn’t feeling very well and though he was suffering from some altitude sickness and wanted to rest for day before going to ABC. But after couple of hours rest, we decided to push forward to ABC.

(MBC base camp)

From MBC to ABC trail is pure magic. Vegetation disappears sans some grassy patches on ground. You see snow boulders melting and forming small gurgling water streams. Many such streams from melting snow collectively form rivers downhill.

(on way to ABC)

After a hike of just 30 mins or so, we could see the Annapurna Base camp at far side of trail. Finally we were to reach the basecamp. It took us another 30 min of slightly labored walk to reach basecamp and it was an exhilarating feeling. Here we were at 4200 mtrs height surrounded from all sides by huge snow clad Annapurna. From here only trained climbers can scale the peaks. It started snowing soon after we reached the camp and in few minutes the whole area was covered in whiteness.

(Annapurna Base Caamp at 4200 mtrs)

We stayed in one of 3 lodges and straightaway made ourselves comfortable in warm dinner room. There were some interesting discussions happening there among a motley group of residents. There was an old Russian who had climbed Everest twice before quitting climbing, a lady trekkers who was hooked to Yoga and natural way of living and an American TV cameraman climber who was in basecamp since a month as part of expedition to climb Annapurna peak. The poster on wall was reminded one that this camp which is destination for trekkers is just a starting point for climbers. Those men who climb these huge peaks of snow. It is here that you realize how hard it really must be to climb. It is here that you see the actual scale and sized of these peaks. Those men who need to be absolutely fit and strong to conquer the peaks. These mountains with their vagaries are ultimate arena for men to test themselves, physically and mentally. These are the mountains where strongest of men can die by just a lose stone falling.

Day 5 (April 29): ABC – to- Dovan
Barada and Arvind had problem sleeping at night and Barada in particular wasn't feeling good and though it was because of altitude sickness. Nonetheless we climbed another 150 mtrs on a ridge overlooking the base camp and views from there were stunning. All around us where the huge snow clad mountains. The Machhapuchre ,Annapurna south, Annapurna 1, Hinchuli and other peaks.

(Arvind and Barada on ridge with Annpurna in background)

The basecamp looked tiny and ephemeral in such surroundings. Around 11 am we started to descend from ABC to MBC, Deurali, Himalya and finally to Dovan. Even though we could have gone till Bamboo, we decided to stay for night in Dovan.

(Way back from MBC to Deurali)

Day 6 (April30) Dovan to Chomrong
We started leisurely from Dovan and descended to Bamboo. From Bamboo we trekked up to steep Khuldi ghatStaircase and rested for one hour on a beautiful fountain. Form Bamboo we trekked back to Sinuwa and then descended to Lower Chomrong and from there familiar thousand stony steps took us to Upper Chomrong and we had pizza again at Chomrong guesthouse. The local wine was nice but only after surviving first few bitter swigs. We stayed at Chomrong at same lodge where we had stayed while trekking to ABC.

(Trekking down to Chomrong)

Day 7 (May1): Chomrong to- Jhinu – to--Birthanti- Nayapul-Pokhra
Form Chomrong we took a different route and instead of going to Ghandrug, we descended to Jhinu Danda. 15 mins walk away from Jhinu Danda is Jhinu hot springs. Our original plan was to have a rest day somewhere on the trail but we changed plans and decided to end the trek on same day.

(A Neplai village house on way from Jhinu Danda to New bridge)

So we trekked from Jhinu danda to New bridge and then to Kyumi village where we had beer and lunch. After lunch and towards evening we started trek to Sayali bazar and then down to Birthanti.

(While going to Birthanti from Kyumi village)

By the time we reached Nayapul, it was dark and late in evening. We saw the buses and taxis and trek was finally over. Taxi driver were haggling for price to take us to Pokhra and buses were overcrowded. On spur of moment we decided to travel on roof of a bus and it was fantastic. With some rum mixed with coke, jokes on Barada man and some songs, the journey through the Pokhra valley in darkness on top of bus roof was the very apt end of a wonderful trek.

Day 8 (May 2): Pokhra –to-Kathmandu

(Pokhra on lake side)

Our return flight from Pokhra to Kathmandu was at 4 pm and as luck would have it flight was cancelled due to heavy rains and bad weather. Couple of Nepalis girls at airport offered to share taxi with us to Kathmandu and soon 7 of us were in a mini van (called Micros by locals ) driving in rains to Kathmandu. It was a fun ride with beer and music and we reached Thamel around 10 pm.

Day 9 (May3) Kathmandu -to-Delhi
We did some shopping in Thamel and took our respective flights to Delhi to return to world of frenetic jobs, noisy traffic and maddening rush. The mountains were left behind. I felt as if a part of me was left behind too and I know that I will return soon. If not to Annapurna then somewhere else in Himalayas. Nepal is trekker’s paradise, people in its hills are simple and friendly and there is no other way to un-clutter yourself than to trek in wilderness away from TV, phones, internet and luxuries of modern consumerist life.

Just like in most estern civilisations, Nepalis treat Annapurna and Macchapchure as Goddess or abodes of Gods. Reason is that these are not ordinary mountains. These moutains sustain human life. Every morning the skies are clear and sun shines brighter on them. The sun heats the snow on peaks and clouds form bringing fresh snow and rain. Snow and glaciers melts to form streams and then rivers which flow to plains giving us water to drink and water to produce grains. If we temper with this cycle, the repurcussions could be imagined.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Tibet Unrest - Ginger and herb people

My very first impression of Tibetans was from my childhood days when every year in winters, a group of "Potlus" as they were called by locals, use to descend in our village bringing with them an assortment of Himalayan herbs and much sought after ginger. In my childhood naïveté, for long time I related potlus with ginger. And that they looked very unlike us, with their squinty eyes, red skin and strange clothes (or robes), coupled with the fact that ginger tasted rather strange and pungent, it created an impression on me that Potlus were somewhat more than us, like some sort of mystical people who knew the source of strangest of herbs which nobody else did.

When I was in my junior school, for first time in my Aunt's Reader's Digest magazine, I read a story of a Tibetan who was jailed by Chinese and kept in a labor camp under extreme conditions. Though then I couldn't understand nuances of political background of story, but moved by the torture and details in story, I could sense that Tibetans must be wronged and persecuted people forcing them to roam like nomads. Moved by the story, I wrote a "letter of mercy" to "Chinese consular in India" and posted it on address which was give at the bottom of story. I never told it to anybody and my instincts warned me that I would never get any reply and one day I might be picked by Chinese secret police and sent to labor camp as well. With Chinese, either you were with them or against them. They were bad people, as I thought then.

People in Exile: But that was long time back. Since then I have read bit of history and traveled little more. Now I know that ginger is not after all mystical and that Tibetans don’t just sell ginger. They also sell sweaters, woolens, shawls and stones in numerous Tibetan markets found in many Indian cities. And when they are not doing any trade to keep the bread coming, they spend life as monks, meditating and rotating prayer wheels. Regardless of what they do for living, they have always appeared to be as mystical as the majestic mountains where they now live (or once lived). Many years ago, when I visited McLeodgunj for first time I was fascinated by little town which looked remotely Indian or even Himachali. It appeared as if an entire people had been uprooted en-mass from some foreign land and planted on top of a Dhauladar Mountain. McLeodgunj is about 45 mins , almost vertically steep road trip away from Dharmsala town in Kangara Valley. In fact during winters and rainy season when the clouds are low, a stranger to valley would not even know that there was a town little further up inhabited by people who were once driven out of their homeland in upper Himalaya by marauding Chinese. That was about 60 years back. Since then Tibetans have nestled almost incognito in lower Himalayan foothills of Kangra, setting up a replica of their Tibetan culture and way of life . A new generation of them has been born there with nothing but just emotional links with people back home in homeland Tibet. Since occupying Tibet in 1950 , it is alleged that Chinese have killed around 1.2 million Tibetans. That is staggering 1200,000 people. Chinese have meddled into Tibetan’s religious affairs, imposed Chinese language and like all conquerors, have taught a new generation of Tibetans a different version of their past and history. China being an autocratic communist country, an iron veil has been put on Tibet so that outer world would never exactly know what Chinese do in Tibet. The recent unrest in Tibet has sparked major violence there and there have been demonstration worldwide. The new generation of Tibetan youth feel that Dalai Lama's path of non-violence struggle against Chinese would not work and they have to become more aggressive or else remnants of their culture in homeland would be wiped out. Chinese quite predictably, have unleashed armed troops in Tibet and shut down all communication channels.

Only Profit matters in Capitalist Economy: One would have thought that there would be widespread international condemnation of this and Unites Nation would take a notice. But everybody is silent. Prakash karat, major leader of Indian Communist Party , said that it is an internal matter of China. Same Prakash karat who can bring parliament to halt if a single Muslim is killed in Gujarat, is silent on what is happening in Tibet. What bloody double standards. This is the time that Tibetans would realize that regardless of Unites Nation, Human right Groups and world is ruled by only one power. Power of Money. Chinese are economic superpower. Americans and Europeans can not offend China. India is in a strange position. It can only offer some spiritual solace but can not afford to spoil relationship with Chinese. In Capitalist society, only economic gains matter. Profits drive people and nations. If Silence on Tibet is the price to pay, it is a small price. Few thousand more Tibetans would be murdered and China would in couple of month's time would showcase its glowing progress and power during Olympics and everything would be forgotten.

And I wonder if some impressions could stay just the same. Impression of a mild, gentle Potlu selling ginger.......