Sunday, August 21, 2011

At The Other End of Extremism

As the barren mountains of Tora Bora saw the dust settle from the rolling away of T-62 tanks of the Soviet army post the failed invasion of Afghanistan, the Peshawar Seven, comprised of seven Mujahideen warlords, capitalized on the vulnerable advantage that the new country presented. The men as well as the Afghan army resorted to killing, raping, looting and plundering whatever was left of the war-ravaged country.

The country needed a hero. A young preacher and ex-guerilla from the ranks of the Mujahideen in Quetta, Pakistan - Mullah Mohammed Omar, answered the call, and formed the ‘Taliban’. His lashkar (consisting of the youth, or the students of madrassahs from all over Af-Pak regions) had high ideals – they did not loot, did not kill the innocents and did not rape. And most important of all, they did not take money for what they did. They wanted to root out corruption that had slithered into the system of the country, and succeeded. Mostly.

That is, until, the lashkar grew, burgeoning well beyond thousands, and then started splitting into factions. Newer heads surfaced, the ones that were not incorruptible and did not even intend to be so. The ones who had forsaken ideals for the means and were well prepared to use the movement to serve their vested interests. And possibly, even the cause of the greater good, the good of the country.

And Omar himself, played right into the hands of whom he had tried to defeat when he had started his fight – hate, greed, avarice and corruption.

What was once respected and just, has now become the very symbol of savagery and prejudice – the Taliban.


Now take a moment and switch back to the Indian news channels you have been watching for the last couple of months.

How different is the situation of this Anna Hazare & Jan LokPal Bill movement from the Afghan scenario of 1994? How different an extremist hero is Anna Hazare himself from Mullah Mohammed Omar?!

Now before you get your knickers in a bunch screaming “CONGRESS STOOGE!!” I would like to remind you that extremism does not always require a gun. In fact, extremism, as Gandhi had showed through example, could be as little as sitting on a fast and never strike back – thus weakening the authority’s position every time they tried to force you into a compromise.

And how different is a man from an extremist when he imposes his views on an entire village, and flogs drunk men after tying them to temple pillars? Mind you, these men were simply drunk, and had committed no crime before the punishment was meted out. How different is a man from an extremist when he lets schools be vacated to join him on indefinite fasts?

And Mr. Hazare has been doing it with aplomb.     

As for the minions and the comparison with the Taliban, how many of the pople who are waving the flags on the streets and the people screaming “STOP Corruption” know of the weapon called Jan LokPal Bill that they are fighting with? Heck, let alone the people on the streets. I doubt even the leaders and gurus leading the pack know of the intricacies of the Bill and the long-term impact it may have on the democratic structure of the country – the very thing they are trying to cleanse! And as they grow, they will grow factions, one more orthodox and power-hungry than the other – just like the Taliban had!

It seems the whole country has been driven by blind propaganda and a general unwillingness to dig deeper than mass Email-forwards or sending missed calls to unknown numbers – for they do not wish to uncover an ugly truth beneath the carpet, that upsets the steamroller they have in their hands now – fellow Indians seething in misplaced anger with a mass misconception of having shifted the power of balance into their hands now.

Tell me, how are these men different from the thousands of young men being taught the wrong definition of Islam and Jihad and sent to die in no man’s land?! As I had pointed out, extremism needs no gun. All it needs are docile minds and blitzkrieg-like propaganda, made populist by a TRP-hungry media.

I was watching ‘The NewsHour’ and I was shocked at the lack of knowledge and reasonable answers to valid questions on the Bill, from someone who had been leading the protests in Mumbai from the front and egging bystanders to join the ‘Revolution’. What was also a letdown was the host’s inability (intentional or not remains open to debate) to call out the volunteers digressions from the topic and his rhetorical answers to simple questions like “Do you think the Lokpal drafted by the government is a failure?” 

Compounding the whole situation is the inability of the government to put their foot down and take a stand against such undemocratic conduct. Add to this hajaar idiotic spokespersons on behalf of the Congress making facepalmistry an art through their comments - including Manish Tiwari (He is corrupt too!), Mr. Alvi (there is a foreign hand/comspiracy) and the Hon. PM himself (well, he said nothing substantial. That’s the saddest comment right there!).  

As for the Jan LokPal bill drafted by the ‘jan-daradi’ Hazare & co., here are a few details of the bill you would love to do a reality-check against –

  • It is being suggested that The Jan LokPal will have a force of 20,000 officers, who will rush to any complainants’ rescue
How are you going to keep 20,000 men incorruptible and resistant to flirtations with money, when you can’t keep a municipality of 30 officers clean?!
  • It has been suggested that the Jan LokPal will have supreme powers – ones that can dismiss a case outright to blacklisting and penalizing a firm/individual – all on its discretion.
 How will you prevent such a totalitarian institution from becoming high-handed, or in the least-damaging scenario, corrupt?
  • The force of 20,000 Jan LokPal Bill inspectors, including the Chairperson, will be deemed ‘police officers’, with due authority and powers.
Why not do away with the Judiciary and the Police too then?! And coming back to the earlier point, what if the ‘police officer/LokPal members’ not be as corruptible as the police force of now, considering that they are being selected through the same social and ideological rungs that the IPS is chosen from?!
  • The totalitarian Jan LokPal will also have sway over the Judiciary and the PM (in its proposed version of the Bill)
Again, why will we want a new and cumbersome body to preside over issues like corruption and allied issues when we already have the Parliament, the investigative agencies and the Police?! Are these to be disposed off as the ‘third freedom struggle’?

And as a final nail in the coffin, Anna Hazare is 73. While I respect his ideals, I don’t respect his way of achieving them as well as his crony followers. When he steps down, which age will force him to do in some time, I would not want insane God-men dangling from the gates of a state penitentiary to take over the reins of an authoritative body that seeks absolute power. Am not sure the flag-whirling you would like it much either.

A more detailed and obviously much better argument against such unrealistic and autocratic pointers from the Bill has been laid out by the good Nitin Pai here. He is someone I have learnt a lot from. And as he so subtly points out, it is economical and institutional reform we need to root out corruption, not blind rage against a mythical enemy that the middle class is being tutored into.


And it is imperative for us to learn and act against this swathe of emotion. You want change from corruption and similar social evils? Be the change. Stop waving the tricolor and take action. Stop bribing. Stop turning a blind eye to issues closer to you and inside your homes – such as domestic abuse or child labor. Start being the idol you are trying to find in Mr. Hazare. And start it NOW.

As for me, I have already started it. And I hope you do so too.

For in the near future, I would not want these pseudo-Talibs to walk into a pub I am chilling in, with a beer bought with my own hard-earned money, tie me to a pillar and beat me to pulp. The police and the judiciary would be inaccessible, for these people will be THE police then, right?!

As I said, extremism isn’t always bursting out from the barrel of a gun.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Jurassic City

As the bus danced like an angry Obelix through the cacophonic roads, a lonely guard caught my eye. As nondescript as a lonely guard can be, I saw that he was manning a massive gate – that added to his non-existent existence – which welcomed nobody to a place that used to be a dreamland for kids once. Science City.

If you have ever been to Kolkata, and have ever asked anyone about the places to visit, I will be surprised if you didn’t get a mention of ‘Science City’.

When it had been set up in 1997, every single soul in West Bengal descended on it. And if you would had the audacity to say that you didn’t get the time to visit, the rickshaw-wallahs in your neighborhood would waive your fare and would ask you to take science tuition instead!

Yours truly was not one of them. And thankfully so, as one of the fondest memories, etched most vividly in my head, is that of me and Typo going to Science City with Ma, Baba & Chotomashi. What had initiated this trip from the languid, laidback town of Kalyani (almost 60km away from the capital), was a Steven Spielberg film – back in the days when he was the source for directorial-cliches rather than being the one emulating them. Jurassic Park

Now the thing is, with path-breaking CGI and a compact out-of-this-world narrative, the film had already blown collective minds. Science City, with a magical swipe of the government hand, pulled off an advertising coup of the decade unlike any other public sector initiatives of the kind before or after – by incorporating the Jurassic Park concept of ‘dinosaurs in theme parks’ in the City itself!

Okay, okay, Enough with the background.

As we entered the huge campus with two fantastic grass Tyrannosaurus Rex-es doffing their hats and ushering us in, I almost had an intelligence-quest-orgasm in anticipation of what lay inside those walled gardens.

There was a bamboozling collection of dinosaurs – right from the massive Diplodocus to the eerily confrontational Stegosaurus – all mechanized yet almost life-size models of the pre-historic beasts. Me and Typo ran from one to the other, taking in all the information from the plaques, displays and the volunteers. There were books, maps, AV displays – it seemed like a poor man’s Jurassic Park itself. We even tried to smuggle out a Dino egg but the genius that my brother is, he decided to smuggle it hiding it in his pants, freaking the elderly guard out as he had never thought that a kid aged five can have such bad man problems.      

There were other super stuff inside too, one of the highlights being the temporarily set-up Room of Mirrors. But we didn’t stay long there, as you really can’t digest 24 versions of an ugly kid with his brother digging his nose in tow. So we left in a hurry. (Did I forget to tell you that Chotomashi passed out inside the room, because she thought from the reflections that the small pimple on her forehead had assumed such gigantic proportions overnight? No? Okay.)

There was also a 3D Dynamotion thing, which let me experience how Harry Potter feels when he is on a crazy broom with shit controls zooming inside a pyramid. I barfed inside the purse of the lady beside me, but she said that it was okay because she had thrown up on Typo’s head too. People used to be so nice and understanding back then. Sigh! After we got out, Typo asked me if I had seen any sign that said free hair gel was being offered with the 3D trip, but I ignored him.

And as a final part of the dream we were living, there was a Ropeway too! There is nothing like being an eye in the sky and checking out every babe in the vicinity of the whole campus. I would have jumped out like a paratrooper if there was a chute in the cable-car, but there was none and so I didn’t. Typo insisted that a real paratrooper needed no chute and asked me to be a man, but I ignored him like always.

As I left the gates and the dinosaurs behind, fully content with the trip and actually looking forward to the 3-hour trip back home, I had already hatched plans to come back here again next weekend.  

That was never to be.

After our entrepreneurial adventures failed, we moved away from Kolkata, and came back only to find myself buried deep in adulthood and cynicism to revisit this place.

I travel every weekday by this giant scientific dream-turned-daydream, and can only see that its grounds now host romancing couples instead of inquisitive kids. Probably they have planned it right – to romance in the gardens of science itself, so that their kids are born Einsteins, Teslas and Edisons.

Science City, for me at least, symbolizes the happy and carefree curiosity I have left behind in time. It symbolizes the Paper Maps and the little World Globes I have left behind on my desk in my search for success in the real orbs of life. It symbolizes the pre-historic times when I used to have weekends that did not reek of work and evenings were unadulterated fun. Maybe, I never visited again because I was too scared to burst those little bubbles of joy, trapped in a head that has turned arid with time.

Science City, as I pass by you in a purple haze, racing to lynch deadlines and back, I find your charm is still the same. The only thing that’s changed is me. But that is the perfect way to be.

I want to go back there, and yet I don’t. In times when every key on every Smartphone is a Science City in itself, in times when you can't read up old books while searching for another one because Google is so accurate, I have kept my dinosaurs safely tucked away in my memories. 

For you are no plain “Science City – Phase I” to me, No.

You are my very own Jurassic City!