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.......

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Murder On Beach - Goa, is party over?

A young British girl, Scarlett was raped and murdered on a beach in Goa and murkier side of Incredible India bared its face for all to see. It is a face we all know. It lurks behind all the time, behind those shiny visit India tourism posters and beneath glossed up broachers. One would say…..hold on; one swallow does not make a summer. After all, it is just one silly, drugged girl who died in way that she could have died anywhere in world. If you are a foreigner in a strange land you need to be careful where you go at midnight and what company you keep. The girl paid the price for being indiscriminate, gullible and reckless. Horrible that it might sound, it is akin to playing with fire and hoping that you don’t get burnt.

White Skin fascination: That is only one face of story, especially in context of scene of crime, Goa. Goa is a heady mix of pristine beaches, easily available drugs and accommodating locals. But, The undeniable fact is that this incident only adds an embarrassing chapter in already growing book of what foreigner female tourists are facing in India. Many incidents of sexual harassment of foreigners have been reported in past one year. From backwaters in Kerala, to bazaars of Orissa, foreigner women (mostly white skinned) have been bottom-pinched, squeezed, raped and murdered. The reason being given is that Indian men have a thing or two about white skinned ladies. They have this notion that these women are an "easy lay" and that they have lose morals and hence easily beddable. Most of Indian men , and I mean men in bharat, not just those living in shining India have only one source of their knowledge of western culture , and that is through cheap, pirated C-grade porn movies available in most of India's small towns. And all the foreigners they see in those movies are...well quite obviously sexually busy, promiscuous and "lose". All these white foreigners do is, take drugs and have sex. This becomes their only truth about how they perceive westerners, especially women. So it is not hard to fathom what would happen if Incredible India campaign succeeds in bringing in more tourists to India and opens up those places in hinterland for tourism which were till now undiscovered. In a country like India which is prudish and even balks at couples holding hands in public, influx of westerners would open up murkier sides of Indian society. If most Indians equate westerners with sex and drugs, then most Westerners have the notion that India is all about spiritualism and yoga. When twain shall meet, we shall see.

Chor Sipahi: Coming back to Goa, it seems that Goa is up for a massive cleanup, triggered by recent and some past events. Cleanup of Indian kind. It means that Police would now patrol beaches and harass tourists in name of protection. All bars and those gorgeous shacks would be closed before 11. No music would be allowed to play after 11 again and everybody would be asked to switch off their lights and sleep . Partying would be outlawed and you would be watched. You have to explain to Police your motive of roaming on beach if you are caught after 11. You will be asked to cover your bodies so as not to offend Indian culture and you would be asked to keep short hair. Preferably you would only be allowed in Goa with your mommy in tow. The biggest party place in world would be shut down. And all this would be in pretext of cleaning up Goa. Right. But who is going to do it? Police? Same police which is hand in glove with drug runners, pimps and all those who provide the infrastructure for illegal activities. Everybody in India knows that Police is one helluva corrupt institution. All local drug dealers and mafia are let to operate with full knowledge of local police for a hefty sum of weekly money. If it was not true, then why did Goa Police initially try to suppress the truth about Scarlett's murder as a drowning death!! Because they wanted to protect their own!!

There, You can't have the robbers doing cleanup. All it means is that people who want to enjoy a midnight stroll on beach with couple of beers would be put in jail and all those who want to be little nasty would still do that , behind closed doors under protection for little more money than before. In India cleanups are about shoving dirt beneath the bed.