Paris, Mumbai, and the Rest of the World

Sometimes I feel words fail us more often than they help us. Then again, when words fail us, the shock makes us remember. So our counting isn’t exactly faithful. We need words to tell us that words have failed us.
#ParisAttack seems like a distant echo of what happened in Mumbai, circa 2008. In 12 days it would be a seven year anniversary of those dastardly attacks. Last Saturday, I was in Mumbai, at Gateway of India, opposite the iconic Taj, one of the prime sites of the 2008 attacks. It was the first time after the 2008 attacks which left Taj burning for hours, and those images haunting us for days, that I was there. Standing there, between the sea, and the heritage building, what struck me was that the world hasn’t changed much.

Mumbai, for sure hasn’t. The freeway, the flyovers, and the metro notwithstanding. I got a mochi to sew my floaters for mere 10 rupees (15 cents?). When I handed him a twenty, still a pittance, he looked at me wearily, nodded, and put the money in his pockets. I thanked him for not thanking me and moved on.

Mumbai is a microcosm of our world. Living shoulder to shoulder are richest and poorest people, plush office spaces and slums. You look outta window of your upper middle class friend’s place to see a row of makeshift houses. You take a ride on the new Eastern Freeway, and see dilapidated housing colonies, a reminder of Mumbai that was, that is.

I’ve never been to Paris. But Paris, people who have been there, seems to touch them in some ways. Especially the young ones. Strike that. The young parts of everyone. There is something intoxicating about a city with never ending night life, art, high culture, and a beacon of intellectualism — whatever the philosophies. Just like Mumbai.

And yet, there isn’t one Mumbai, one Paris. Mumbai has burned due to religious riots many times before 2008. Paris has had it’s share of race riots. They both have their de-facto ghettos. They both are microcosms of our world — opening up at seams to show an underbelly that’s not in line with the romanticism of the privileged. Blast or no blasts. Attacks or no attacks.

The fact is, the world is being hurt everyday on a scale not very different from from happened to Mumbai in 2008, or Paris today. Beirut, Baghdad, just today, for instance. They don’t move us the way a Paris does, a New York does, a London does, a Mumbai does. There is a point to ponder there.

Mumbai bleeds everyday. More people die of preventable diseases everyday, than terrorism on worst days. Our response to terrorism wouldn’t be effective till we let the world let itself down, every day. Day after day. And it doesn’t move us the way the prime time images of a terrorist attack do. No this is not about whataboutery.

In such times, the social networks light up. Out comes analysis. Out come the daggers. Cheap points are scored over corpses not even buried, or burnt.

We let the words let us down. We let the words let the world down.

May we learn to use worlds to heal. We owe that to the world.

We are the word. We are the world.


The Excess of Error

For almost a week now, I’ve been enduring (along with all of you) the absolutely sensationalist coverage of the Mumbai terror strikes, in Indian television media. As if that’s not enough, I keep on finding American takes on it.

It’s amazing, how single minded the US perception of the problem is. First of all, the only reason they’re bothered (as I wrote here), is that it upsets their war plans against Afghanistan… oops, was it against terror? Yeah right. I keep on forgetting.

Another gem:

Look at the finality of the vision — look at how it starts with a declaration, not of a possibility, but a certainty.

No matter, Islamist terrorists have been bleeding India for years now, before Zardari, hell even before Mushy. Before Afgan war, before 9/11… “Undermine rapproachment” is the explanation of it all? Really?

How about this then? The Al-Qaeda wanted to undermine Iraq’s modernist government, and that’s why they attacked US? And US “fell” into their trap? Sounds so much believable, no?

Instead of rallying behind Singh’s government, the BJP has instead called for its resignation and accused Singh of being soft on terror. These tactics may well backfire, but based on the BJP’s history of populist, anti-Muslim rhetoric, we should be concerned about its return to power.

Yes, BJP’s behavior is disgusting, given its timing. But for all it’s anti-Muslim rhetoric, Mushy was given recognition and grand welcome in BJP’s regime. I can understand some third-rate Pakistani newspaper making such blanketly idiotic statements, but sadly, the mainstream US perception seems so colored by its (short term) political interests.

Cranking up the pressure on Pakistan may fit the public mood in India — and it may be smart politics for Singh and his ruling Congress Party — but it is folly as policy.

This, when there is zero International pressure on Pakistan to clean up its act (what act? you ask)? What options does India have? To wait for American war with Afganistan to end, by when Pakistan will be able to concentrate more on co-operating with India? That, I guess would not be a folly?

Who benefits in Pakistan when tensions with India rise? Precisely the anti-democratic hardliners in the military and intelligence services, and the Islamic hardliners who are their sometime allies, that India should want to see marginalized.

Well India have been wanting to see them marginalized for fifty years now. Or sixty? Well we’ve lost count. Why will it suddenly happen in the near future? Given the short-sighted foreign policy that US has specialized in, in the past, and present? This myth of a Pakistan that is suddenly going to transform into a democratic state, and marginalize its rouge elements (including ISI and army!), is the figment of western imagination.

As one South Asia analyst told Reuters, “The forces that are threatening the West, the forces that are threatening the civilian democracy in Pakistan and the forces who are acting against India are all interlinked to each other.”

What an insightful comment! Only the tense is the problem. And that tense betrays a lot: yes. They “have been” interlinked, all this while. Only now, post 9/11, there is even an accpetance of that.

If you can’t help us, leave us alone with our follies.

More drivel

When you start looking, you find gems everywhere:

Internationally, this event will further aggravate Indian-Pakistani relations, making it harder for the incoming Obama Administration to effect a rapprochement between the two countries, necessary for progress in Afghanistan, where the two subcontinental states are engaged in a proxy struggle that goes on behind the immediate conflict between the United States and al-Qaeda.

Yes, there it is for you in plain and simple words: internationally, this matters, because without it, United States will have problem fighting Al-Qaeda. Thanks guys. Keep the insightful analysis coming.

It’s no surprise that islamic terrorism thrives in the world. They can keep blastic the hell out of different places, based on changing dynamics of International power games.

Engaging with Pakistan

For a while (especially since Clinton-Obama battle reached epic proportions) I’ve been following the Daily Dish by Andrew Sullivan. It’s still sitting in my reader, the feed, and I do see interesting posts every once in a while. The Dish, as he calls it, is a sane opinion, almost all the time.

However, enter India-Pakistan, and the link I get there is this, as “disturbing analysis”:

If Pakistan truly wishes to turn back the tide of fundamentalism in its country, and stop exporting violence overseas, then it must have proper support and assistance from India. (emphasis mine)

Did I read that right? Is it only me who seems pissed at this? Imagine saying something like this: “If you have a serial rapist in your family (whom you’ve used to raping and abusing your neighbors every once in a while when it suited you), you need to have a proper support from those he raped and abused, for you to turn your back on him, effectively”.

What exactly is this “proper support”? Do they want our commando teams in their territory, in a joint mission with Pakistani army to root out the terror camps? I’m sure Indian government will be all ears and more. Do they want Indian commandos and special forces, and spies to hunt for Dawood and other gangsters/terrorists hiding in Pakistan? I’m sure, again, Indian government will be more than willing. Do they want Indian air-force to destroy the terror camps by carpet bombing? I’m sure …

The sooner India and Pakistan publicly announce a joint, high level work force to defuse the situation and engage in some serious counter-intelligence in anti-terrorism activities between the two countries, then the sooner the sorts of scenes that has been displayed across the world the past few hours can be put to one side, and the basic fundamentals of a peace accord between factions within the two countries finally be implemented. It needs to happen fast.

Diffuse the situation? What the fuck is this situation? Global fanatical Jihadi terror? Terrorism (and terrorists) systematically nurtured, almost as a state policy, with ISI support, for years, by one country, which now needs ‘proper’ support of the affected country to even turn it’s back on the terror network, not even to crack down on them?

Yeah right. Serious counter intelligence. Against ISI? Against infiltration? Against those terrorists in Kashmir, who’ve crossed the line of control, after taking training on that side? Against Indian Mujahiddin/Laskhar/…? Against terror camps that are still brewing inside the POK and the rest? What exactly is this joint counter-intelligence we’re talking about? Please? What exactly in it is on India’s plate?

I mean what the fuck? Why the fuck does a Pakistani involvement in anti-terror initiative have to be conditional (more below)? If they’re serious, it has to be unconditional, unilateral, urgent, unequivocal. Enough of India should do this and India should do that, from all these cronies.

So here is the reason, according to the cronies, why it has to be conditional: hold your breath:

Yet meeting just last week with Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif, the Chief Minister of Punjab, I was reminded just how Pakistan itself hurts from extremism. Whilst looking to attract foreign investment into Pakistan, he acknowledged, as did the Ministry of Commerce and several other high ranking officials as part of the official government delegation visiting China just how much the country felt ‘embarrassed’ by violence.

Yes, embarrassed! This time, the emphasis is original, mind you! You’d think anyone who has the sense to put embarrassed in quotes like that would get the joke. Pakistan hurts from terrorism it actively supported, time and again, as a matter of state policy, to bleed India. It has been at a low intensity, and unilateral, war with India for last god knows how many years. Unilateral, unabashed, unapologetic, unembarrassed, too. Now that some chickens are coming home to roost, they’re embarrassed! And that’s enough for these cronies. Now that they’re embarrassed, all is forgotten. Now, India must “engage with Pakistan to root out militancy“. Classic.

Like US has engaged with Vietnam to root out communism? Like US has engaged with Iraq, and Afghanistan, to root out nuclear weapons and Islamic terrorism? Or would that embarrass the Pakistani government even further?

A Wednesday

Did they have a — what could only be described as cruel — sense of irony, those terrorists who attacked India’s financial capital on a Wednesday?

Mumbai — the most multicultural, most vibrant, most crowded, most forgiving, most abused, most accommodating, most burdened, most resilient city in India. The one for whom, as expected, change of name hasn’t brought any change of fortune. If was targeted then, again and again, it is targeted now, again and again. Maybe, when they changed the name, they forgot to ask those numerology experts.

But that it had to happen on a Wednesday — which was supposed to be the counter-attack by the common man, who finally said enough is enough. Alas, screen will be screen, life will be life. And in real life, it doesn’t matter how many times the common man says enough. Those who matter, will not listen. Because they’re busy with issues of religion, caste, region, class, and what not.

I said somewhere today that this is India’s 9/11. What we do now, and what we don’t, will define us. Another friend commented to me that there is, after all, a silver-lining in that the people are getting disturbed, and not getting used to this routine. That something might change.

That something ought to change is uncontroversial. After all, when if not now?

But therein lies the fear: that people, who had nothing to do with this, apart from their birth religion, will pay the price. Because, blood for blood, is the present mantra. Whose blood doesn’t really matter — so far as they can be defined as they. We’ve seen lot of blood on the TV channels, that are beaming it repetitively. That blood needs accounting. And I’m scared shit that that accounting will go horribly wrong. Blood. More blood.

As we wait, the siege is still on. So is the media circus, even though a little toned down. Maybe they’ve met their eyeball targets for the day, even the week.

Tomorrow, or day after, Mumbai will be back to normal. After all, with such a twisted normality that it’s used to, nothing seems too scary. In a few more days, we’ll be back to election sloganeering, posturing, and local petty issues – marathi here, kannada there. How long till the next attack? Now that it’s shown, if ever needed, what a child’s play it is.

At this moment, it’s hard to believe things will change. Those of us who want them to change, probably don’t value it enough. The common man still isn’t ready say: it’s enough. In words, maybe. In deeds?

A black friday, a red wednesday, a gray tuesday … It’s hard to feel optimistic.

Some posts:

Sonia Falerio asks familiar questions.

Dilip shares a story of hand on his shoulders.

Atul is pissed with a fucking cliche.

Anumita is yearning for freedom to die — without getting killed.