Monday, April 18, 2011

Closure, an end

I lit one another cigarette, and was yet again engulfed in the dark cloud of smoke and despair. I knew it was senseless to wait anymore, but it was impossible not to. I continued to wait, staring out from the closed window into the dense darkness and the feeble fog of the listless night. There was smoke coming out from the house on the near-by hill, perhaps the man in family had just come in and food was getting ready for him, or maybe it was just the smoke of death coming out from the abandoned house.

We had agreed to meet here a few years ago, as we walked along the river on a cold moonlit night. She had her head on my chest and was humming her favorite tune - a jazz number from the era gone by, about lovers separated by time. The small town down the hills was already sleeping and we had absolute silence around us. As we sat right there, looking at the stars after making love slowly under the moonlit sky, she asked for this promise. It was not something she would normally do, she was just not the sort; perhaps she was just happy and content then. We cuddled into each other and agreed to meet at the same place, ten years from then. Maybe she already knew then that we won't be together for long; however, for me it was a promise in blood, and I always thought we would come here again, together...

The coffee was ready now, my fifth so far. Smoke and coffee don't always go well, but I was savoring its bitterness today; it helped me kill the time and also relive the past. I had buried it with much struggle a couple of years after she suddenly decided to leave me. The end was as torrential as our brief spell of togetherness, but the parting always remained incomplete, open. But she moved on, and eventually so did I. 

For the last one year, the itch was growing again to meet her one last time and seek answers for all my unanswered questions, or perhaps just to hold her like I did in our moments together. I often looked into blank spaces, flickering lights, and slow moving fan and wondered if she would even remember the promise she had taken from me. I knew that she would, just as I was sure she would come and meet me one last time today...

The sound of the chirping birds woke me up, and I got up with a start. Warm early sunlight was filtering into the room through the wooden blinds; somehow I had dozed off after my nth cup of coffee. Was there a faint familiar smell lingering around my chair? Had my coffee table been moved and the cigarettes collected neatly and kept in the makeshift ashtray by someone else? Everything looked just the same, but my heart was not ready to believe that nothing happened while I was living through hell in my sleep. Maybe she was here last night as I slept off on the rocking chair, maybe it was just my imagination. My heart struggled with more questions...

Already late for my train I rushed out quickly. It was finally time I moved on, seven years is a long while, and for once I was willing to start all over again. This was finally closure for me; or so I thought...

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Destroying symbolism

The Pearl Monument

The monument destroyed

The iconic Pearl Monument in Bahrain was destroyed last month by the security forces, leaving two protesters dead and scores injured. The logic behind this - it was part of the bad memory which needed to be erased because pro-democracy protesters had been camping at the site demanding democracy for their country.

Bamyan Buddhas being destroyed
Destroying symbols isn't new, often tyrants indulge in these with the hope of destroying the hearts which associate with them. Sometimes these measures fail in their ends, however, often they do achieve the objective and the the symbolism along with the thoughts behind then die off. Most often symbols are destroyed to erase the past, a case in point being the destruction of the Bamayan Buddhas by the Taliban. The Buddhas had been witnesses to the Afghan landscape from the time when Buddhism was a dominant religion of the lands and was fast spreading along with the Silk Route. For centuries there had been no local Buddhists, yet the Taliban had a point to prove to the West (and part of the East) with this destruction, which they successfully did.

Mumbai's Victoria Terminus
In India we have not been far behind, not destroying the monuments/ cities we found a more democratic route of erasing their past by renaming them to our whims and fancies. Mumbai takes the cake in this, having renamed the Victoria terminus to Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus, Bombay itself to Mumbai, and scores of other buildings and roads in the city. Mumbai's love with renaming so many things with Shivaji's name often borders obsession. Delhi also followed suit with Connaught Place conveniently becoming Rajiv Chowk. Ahmedabad may soon be renamed Karnavati, of course Madras is already Chennai and Calcutta is Kolkata. India may not be far behind too, it still carries a name which was never its own, but given by all those living beyond the iconic Sindhu (modern day Indus) - the Afghanis, the Persians and so on. Logically India should be Bharath. Most of these have been successful destruction of symbols.

Hagia Sofia in Istanbul
In the past, Hagia Sofia in Istanbul (which itself was known as Constantinople before the Turkish conquest in 1453) was renamed Ayasofia, had four minarets added to it and very successfully converted into a mosque. In India something similar was tried, though rather violently, to convert the Babri Masjid into a Ram Mandir. Historically scores of places of worship have been converted into the dominant places of worship, and much of it was pure symbolism, and a very successful one. Hindus did this to the places of worship and monasteries of the Buddhists, Muslims did it to Hindus and now Hindus want to do it again to the Muslims. In the West, Christians did to the Muslims and vice versa. Quite a vicious cycle, I must say!

Hitler's Lair
Not everything that happened in the past was perfect, and some of us often feel the need to correct the mistakes of the past and move forward. I am not completely against it, however those who take a judgment call on issues like these leave a lot to be desired. Sometimes it makes sense to keep the past intact to learn important lessons from it, like keeping the Auschwitz Concentration Camp or Hitler's bunkers still around, so that we can learn from the mistakes of the past and not repeat them again. Some legacy from the past is meant to be celebrated, and we must do that with respect even if we do not currently subscribe to what it stands for.

My tea is getting cold now and I am getting dangerous stares, so I guess its time to rest my point. Anyway its just an opinion, and something which should be actively discussed in Public Forums to develop opinions and thoughts. Most of us have contrasting views on this, and I would be very keen to know about those.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Anna Hazare and the Jan Lokpal Bill

For someone as complacent as me, it comes as a surprise that I am writing a post on Anna Hazare and his fast unto death for the passage of the Jan Lokpal Bill.

Anna Hazare
Anna Hazare needs no introduction for many, however some ignorant souls like me know only a little and had to google to find out more information about him. After retiring from the Indian Army, where he was a driver, he started work in the domain of social development. He is especially remembered for the development of the Ralegan Siddhi in Maharashtra into a model village.

His new andolan somehow seems to be a part of the series of spontaneous movements, fast sprouting in the Asia and Africa, largely resulting from the disenchantment of the common man with the respective governments in power. I was highly skeptical of something like this ever happening in India, yet its happening and gaining momentum withe very passing day. Especially something so big for an issue that many of us are not even aware of, the Jan Lokpal Bill. However, the fact that it's the fight against corruption at it core, is what brings us all together.  And not to mention the general apathy of the government to do anything substantial to tackle the issue.

What come as a major surprise is the attitude of the central government right now, when its in the dock for some of the biggest scams, and still not doing enough to prevent them in future. The intentions look highly suspicious, though at this stage they should be doing their best to convince public that they are doing their best. Its a good opportunity for Congress to do something to save its face, the indifference at this stage really makes no sense.

Here are pointers about the Lokpal Bill, how the government wants it and what Hazare wants:

Govt. Proposal:

1. Lokpal will have no power to initiate suo moto action or receive complaints of corruption from the general public. It can only probe complaints forwarded by LS Speaker or RS Chairman.
2. Lokpal will only be an Advisory Body. Its part is only limited to forwarding its report to the "Competent Authority"
3. Lokpal will not have any police powers. It can not register FIRs or proceed with criminal investigations.
4. CBI and Lokpal will have no connection with each other.
5. Punishment for corruption will be minimum 6 months and maximum up-to 7 years.

Hazare Version:

1. Lokpal will have powers to initiate suo moto action or receive complaints of corruption from the general public.
2. Lokpal will be much more than an Advisory Body. It should be granted powers to initiate Prosecution against anyone found guilty.
3. Lokpal will have police powers. To say that it will be able to register FIRs.
4. Lokpal and anti corruption wing of CBI will be one Independent body.
5. The punishment should be minimum 5 years and maximum up-to life imprisonment.

Read an analysis on the Lokpal bill at scribd.

References: Most information shared here has been derived from Wikipedia page on Anna Hazare. Image reference: Indiareport. More news stories in The Hindu, IndiaToday, and YouTube.

I would love to hear what everyone thinks on this, and what we can do as individuals. Also do share more information on Anna Hazare, I think there is lots more to be learnt from the man.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Sufism under attack...

One of the most amazing element of Islam happens to be its tolerance (quite against the popular perception today) to a variety of thoughts within the faith and outside. Out of this was born one of its most philosophical wings - Sufism. Its also the part of Islam least understood, and hence often misunderstood, not just by those outside the faith, but even by those practicing it.

I am no expert when it comes to Sufism, but I completely adhere to the thought behind it. Often I see myself as an atheist, yet the concept of God rarely fails to move me. And when the intentions are so noble (like Sufism), my heart reaches out to the One, while my mind holds me back.

The trigger for this post came from this news article in BBC about yet another attack on a Sufi shrine in Pakistan. I grieve too for the people, for this attack on this section of Islam which is increasingly coming under attack by the hardliners. How do we as people respond to this? I really do not care that the attacks happened in Pakistan, I see it as an attack on humanity. Bringing the perpetrators of this crime to justice isn't enough, an overhaul in our thoughts is needed to accept what we do not necessarily adhere to. I have no solutions, not even suggestions; just a hope, a hope for peace.

Rumi said this - Christian, Jew, Muslim, shaman, Zoroastrian, stone, ground, mountain, river, each has a secret way of being with the mystery, unique and not to be judged. 
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