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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Filler Post, Apologies

I promised (to myself) that I will update this site at least once per week. A little more than a week has passed and I've managed to break my promise by not even managing to have the first post on date. That's very much like me, but the good thing is that I started working on a piece and have left it midway - due to lack of time and content/research involved. But I hope to have it by next Monday. I think it's always better to have a complete piece than a half-baked one.

Just to fill my byte quota: I'm currently reading a couple of books 1) Rise and Fall of the Third Chimpanzee by the American scholar Jared Diamond. Brilliantly written - entertaining, informative and fascinating all at the same time. 2) How to Read Better and Faster by Norman Lewis, results are already showing up and my tortoise paced reading has been kicked in the butt. The next one sitting in line is The Moor's Last Sigh by Salman Rushdie. I read about 50 pages and I'm under the impression that this could be an Indian One Hundred Years of Solitude. Rushdie has already expressed his admiration for titans like Marquez and Grass and his exposition of surrealism is just fabulous.

I've seen two wonderful movies and haven't written reviews yet, because I want to do justice to them by writing full length reviews. They're Spike Jonze's Adaptation and Inarritu's Amorres Perros. Adaptation is just brilliant screenwriting which are further emphasized by some top notch acting by Nicolas Cage, Meryl Streep and Chris Cooper. Inarritu's debut work is impressive but not terrific. He resorts to some traditional/cliched directorial techniques here, but his spark is undeniable.

I dragged my wife with me to the viewings of those two movies. She has seen movies at the rate of 1/year before we were married feels like her life is on a movie-spree and wonders how I can still be sane and have a normal social life. She wasn't quite impressed by Adaptation (may be it's a woman thing to not appreciate cine-creativity *^!#) but she has taken a liking for Inarittu. Having seen Babel, she has expressed her interest in viewing 21 Grams, his middle piece.

I'm also wondering if I should post a lot of Twitter like blogs on ScreenAct.... blogs that just run for a few lines and whenever time, inclination and writing energy meet, I can go for a big one. We'll see how this space evolves. If you're going to keep a tab on this blog, please hold on to your patience. This may take a while, but when I settle into a pattern, I should keep the current.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Perils of Time

Some of my earlier posts are so embarrassing that I wouldn't regret if I trashed my blog now. But to keep the experiment going, to check if the posts I make these days are worth reading, say after 18 months, I leave them untouched.

A Room With a View

"One-third of the real estate on your face is allotted to your nose" she said. He looked at her with a blank expression. He has done that on many occasions, when she had made a very biting remark or took a mild-mannered dig at him. And then he slowly stretched his lips as if he thought she would be pleased at some form of acknowledgement for her statement. She asked "is anybody out there with a camera? wipe that smirk off your face.... I want something interesting to eat." It was as though she was keeping the length of her teeth in check by constant chewing and biting; she ate something for every three breath in-takes. (Okay, that was an exaggeration. She just likes to try new cuisines often and resents a routine course at the food table).

She has an avid interest in reading and finished books at the pace of currency counter. He reads at the pace of a tortoise, wouldn't go into deep analysis of anything he reads and would fall asleep if he read three consecutive pages without any images. Her social graces were refined - knows what to wear, how to say and when to leave. His social blunders were, at best, pardonable. He dresses as if he has a deep distaste for harmonizing colours. Though he is mature enough to know that honesty is not the best policy, he sometimes utters discomforting truths in the middle of a party. Her fine sense of humour complements his twisted sense of ... well, let's call it something close to humour.

But when they were alone in their small little home their differences dissolved. They discuss a movie. Go shopping. (Look at the price tags and return empty-handed). Experiment in the kitchen and dissect in the dining table. Fought fights that only brought them closer. And thus they lived happily ever after.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Wimbledon Thoughts

It's difficult to figure out, for tennis naivetes like me, which aspect of Federer's game elevates him over his opponents. Gasquet, who was pure brilliance in sending Roddick off the tournament in the quarter-finals seemed to be pretty pedestrian in his performace against the No.1 in the semi-finals. This is where Nadal helps me; for without a player of his caliber, I wonder if Federer would ever put his full potential on display. Yesterday, the centre court at Wimbledon hosted a visual feast, which was served relentlessly by the top two players in the world where even after gorging in for more than three hours, everybody asked for a little more.

Though Roger & Rafael are now becoming a predictable pair at the big finals, the joy of watching them in action hasn't abated. The growth of Nadal on grass is particularly impressive - he's proving to be the only person who can make Federer sweat for his title (speaking figuratively, of course - he rarely perspires). Federer usually keeps delivering the ball to the opponent's backhand before he goes for the winner, so that in the rare event of a match entering the fifth set, the other guy's shoulders start drooping. Nadal, whose shoulder power is well known (I'm not saying he flaunts his flesh) didn't easily succumb, though I have a faint feeling that when he started grunting to answer Federer's returns, his precision was beginning to erode.

After three magnificent sets of top-class competitive tennis, Federer found himself in a situation one would rarely believe - down by four games to zero on a grass court. His frustration increased when most of Nadal's challenges to official calls resulted in Nadal's favour. He took longer strides to take the hard ones; and after smashing or slicing the tough one, he would send the ball directly into the nets or out of the court. Though he lost the set 6-2, I wouldn't call it tame. Federer must have decided to save his energy for a fresh set rather than continue to battle without any competitive edge. Nadal wasn't bad in the final set; it's just that Federer came back roaring. There was the precision of a Rolex gear (oh, the Swiss!) in dispatching the ball to the unreachable corners of the court.

Some might call Federer's resort to his service strength as un-gentlemanly. I don't listen to them. Whenever he was lagging, he punched the ball which would just swish past Nadal like a Ferrari. At the end of the match, he had 20+ aces to Nadal's one - which is another testimony to Federer's skill to position himself to reach for a service. Both players played some spectacular passing shots, cross-courts, slices and drop-shots (Federer's trademark topspinner was missing). Most of the time the younger player was a bit more aggressive in trying to reach every ball he thought was reachable, the senior, when he saw that a ball was out of his reach, judiciously didn't spend a franction of a calorie trying to get near that ball.

Both Nadal & Federer started the match chasing one of Bjorn Borg's records - it was the Lord & Master who equaled Borg's record of five successive victories at the Wimbledon. Federer said that Nadal deserved to win the match as much as himself and joked that he was able to conquer the Spanish bull when he's still young and before Federer's too old. The French title still eludes the man; observing Nadal's maturity as a player, it's going to be more difficult, not only for Federer, but for any player to beat Nadal on clay. There are some places where Nadal can't be tamed; for everywhere else, there's Federer.

*

The women's singles championship match turned out to be a damp squib. Marion Bartoli's gritty victory over Justine Henin's gracious tennis in the semi-finals promised an interesting clash with Venus Williams. The young French girl was probably too nervous to let the big event sink into her; there was a big competency gap in the way Venus and Marion played. So many unforced errors and their inability to convert ample chances into winners makes one brood for some consistent players at the top level in the womens professional tennis. There are so many from Serbia, Russia and other eastern European countries but their glory seems to be short-lived. With the exception of Henin, most of the women play a very erratic game (that includes the No.2 Sharapova).

Monday, April 16, 2007

Thank You

Today, I'm feeling grateful. What a journey it has been!! From a cynic, to a cautious pessimist to a guarded optimist and the road hasn't been exactly rosy. I'm grateful for the thorns. Grateful, for what I am, what I have, what I haven't, what I've been, what I've been through, what I've lost, what I've gained, my friends, parents, acquaintances and colleagues. What? No, I'm not from Betelguese. I'm not an out-of-work actor. I am not Ford Prefect. Still, the humanity seems to be mostly harmless to me.

I'm grateful just because whenever I feel grateful, with nothing in particular to attribute that gratefulness to, I feel peaceful and I'm grateful for that peace, which in turn... well, you get the benign circle.

-- Originally written on November 2, 2004 for LJ.

Beauty

"He continues to teach because it provides him with a livelihood; also because it teaches him humility, brings it home to him who he is in the world. The irony does not escape him: that the one who comes to teach learns the keenest of lessons, while those who come to learn learn nothing." -Disgrace, J.M.Coetzee 1999.

Stop

Stop. Don't speak. Stay calm. Approach emotionally. Don't be anxious. Remain stable. Endure. Be patient. Pause. Pause. Pause. Listen. Listen. Love.

-- Originally written on October 30, 2005 for LJ.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Nostalgia

Drops of tears ran down my cheek. The chill wind rubbed and tried to freeze those drops. I opened my eyes, and connected the stars and patterned a child's face. No. Let them be free. I let the face sink into thousands of other unborn faces. I closed my eyes again. I remember. Thank you.

-- Originally written for LJ on 11-12-2004

Forgiveness

A snowy evening. The shade of darkness was changing slowly. It was a small cottage in the woods, lit by lanterns with all the wilderness observing it. There was a water falls nearby and one had to walk at least ten minutes from the cottage to get to the bottom of the falls and the water ran deep into the forest. An owl glanced at the moon which was partially visible beyond the dark clouds. Silence engulfed the sound of falling water and croaking frogs.

He watched a fox pass through the creek. She was preparing a salad with the nameless leaves they had gathered that afternoon. They had spoken very less since they got to the cottage. Words seemed ineffective and futile when there is complete acceptance. Opening the mouth and producing a sound is an extravaganza. She came over and sat next to him. He wiped her tears and kissed her gently, very gently.

-- Originally written for LJ on 25-12-2004

Friday, February 16, 2007

The Blog

Let us just say, in the course of an amicable discussion, you know, like friends talking it out openly, nobody trying to offend anybody, though it takes a lot to offend somebody like you because of your thick skin and maturity and coolness... well, we're talking about our blogs and suddenly it all seems like an empty exhibition of our mundane ponderings, which I know you're going to thoroughly refute as the whole point of the existence of a blog, but still, since I know that your mental clarity is still (still, as in pond water, not the "I'm still not reading your blog") enough to see that the entries don't go anywhere and deep down you've been avoiding the question your conscience has been trying to sneak into the foreground of your thoughts - which is, "are you really going to write something worthwhile?" and you already know that nobody's interested in reviews, trivia, cross-questions, interrogations, introspections, examinations, life, love, neighbour, linux, weekends - and still (not the pond water stillness, but "I'm still reading your blog" kind) you insist on coming up with meaningless ramblings about the pointlessness of blogs in a thoroughly boring single sentence which actually seems quite meaningful in an existential sense, which is really the point, though there isn't actually any.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Dead Silence

Kameshwaram is a village south of Velankanni, the house of famous Shrine Basilica. The residents were two-fold: farmers and fishermen. The fishing hamlet comprised of 200 families before the tsunami and now, it has close to 100 or a number near that. It has atleast a hundred coconut trees and each one survived. A bulldozer was clearing the top of a hut when I arrived with other volunteers. The face masks, I don't know to what extent they were helpful in preventing air-borne germs from entering my nostrils, but they certainly didn't help with the foul smell of rotting flesh. A young girl's body was dug out, 7 days after her death. She was carried in a bedspread and buried a little far from the hamlet. Someone said "It's Moorthy's daughter".

We had some material resources, but more importantly were asked to provide emotional support(?), offer them hope and promise a better future. In a manner of speaking, I'm quite efficient in using my words with strangers. I started with a middle-aged man. He's short and a little stout and maybe around 50. His arms were like wooden logs. I enquired about food and other basic amenities. "It's been 7 days since I had food. There are many people like you who come here and offer help. We're grateful. But, I can't eat" he said. He said his stomach is petrified and the sight of food doesn't provoke anything. He was at sea on the fateful day with his sons. He could feel the unusual strength of waves, but didn't even imagine the scale of disaster.

Every fishing family had atleast 5 different fishing nets (for various seasons and fishes) and the entire cost of the nets ran upto Rs.50,000. All the nets were tangled unimaginably and were rendered useless. The hamlet in the shape of a rectangle of 1 X 0.5 km, packed with huts and a few brick houses, is devastated. Only a couple of brick houses withstood the waves with little damage. Boats were toppled, and many were in two pieces. The entire hamlet was strewn with fishing nets. We had to walk with care so as to avoid getting struck in the nets and falling down.

As I walked around, this woman who was staring at the group clamoring for buckets and mugs started talking to me without looking at me: "I lost my husband and two kids." She then turned toward a ruined hut, which I assume to be her residence. When I started to mumble "We're all here to help you. God will..." she said "I lost six goats." She hadn't listened to me. I don't even know if she acknowledged my presence. Another woman was weeping: "I want to see my daughter's face. That's all I want". I decided it was better not to waste my words of hope and future. Because no one's listening.

Women are emotionally fragile. They're inconsolable. But the men are emotionally strong. I was amazed at their courage. Jayapal has lost six members from his family. He is Moorthy's brother and it was his brother's daughter who was found that morning. The corpse was washed atleast fifty metres from their home and gotten struck in another hut. Jayapal who was on the shore that morning started running as soon as he saw the tsunami. Water receded in five minutes, he said. When he ran back, his house (brick) was flattened. He found his mother dead near his house. His brother and sister-in-law were washed far away. His father was hurt and he took him to the nearest hospital and battling death for 6 days, his father relented. While he had taken his father to the hospital, the farmers, who were deep in the village had come and looted Rs.50,000 and gold laces from their iron shelf, which had remained intact.

Jayapal, who is shattered at the loss of his family is least worried about the material loss. He showed the cardboard case of a new LG engine which he had bought for his boat at Rs.40,000. He said the engine could be lying beneath the debris. I asked him: "Would you go back to the sea". He thought for a while and said: "We've had bad days at sea. But nothing like this. I now fear the sea. But I don't have many alternatives. I could open a shop here, or go to the city and find a job..... I've been a fisherman all my life. I guess I'll go to the sea again."

I moved. Volunteers were talking to this guy, and I didn't get his name. "I started climbing the tree (coconut) as fast as I can. I could hear my neighbors crying for help. But, I was helpless." Tsunami which was high enough to drench the 40 metre trees left him without his shirt and lungi. "I could see bodies all over the place from the tree top." There are many survival stories and many death stories. They all sounded the same and somehow, each one is different, as if every single death and every single survival had it's personal tsunami.

The government officials!! How could I not write about them. These are people following orders. An order issued by the local chief officer, who was instructed by the district collector, who received an order from the state chief minister. On the night of new year's eve, we were transporting clothing materials from Nagapattinam to Velankanni, when this police officer (who is celebrating the new year) who should have drunk to his neck started harassing the truck driver with bullshit questions. The driver, who should've seen many such police officers in his career, deftly handled him. Even in Kameshwaram, a couple of police constables who were supposed to route the relief supply vehicles to the fishing hamlet segment of the village, simply rerouted the government supplies to the local farmers. Later, we were told that the police have a connection with the farmers who bribe them for a variety of reasons (illegal arrack, etc) and the police were only expressing their gratitude.

What we volunteers did, you ask!! Thanks for asking. The answer is bare minimal. We distributed water packets, cleaned houses that seemed usable, went door to door educating people about epidemics and requesting them to get inoculated, transport clothes and rice sacks and a few more trivial acts. For most of the time, we were listening to them speak. And that was the most difficult thing.

Still with me? Great! I appreciate your patience. Have a wonderful 2005!!

--Originally written for LJ on 04-01-2005

Quake Hits Me

My city, Chennai (Madras) in South India is one of the worst hit parts by the tsunamis triggered by the quake. Marina beach, which I frequent a lot is throwing up dead bodies since yesterday morning. Water has come into the city. The beautiful beach road is partially submerged. Hundreds of fishermen are missing, the media says, and we know what became of them. The official toll, so far is 2500 in TN, my state. Since the chief minister has announced Rs.1,00,000 for every family that has lost a member, the official toll would in no way near the real figure.

My uncle residing near the beach said that he woke upto a rude but brief jolt and found everything okay after a while. Then, the tsunamis, the giant killer waves, slowly showed their presence. Nagapattinam, home of around 5000 fishermen is very badly hit. Many were at sea and their families lived close to the shore. The hospitals are ill-equipped to handle such big-scale emergencies. The top bureaucrats would see this as an opportunity to swindle from the emergency relief fund. Thanks to the public that are providing fantastic humanitarian assistance. They need to be educated about the potential outbreak of epidemics (open drainage mixing with water and flowing around the streets) and the means to prevent them.

Whenever I saw a bunch of corpses that belonged to Palestine or Sudan, I would go 'Oh my god! It's terrible' and continue my routine. Today morning, brushing my teeth, I didn't find the usual boring face in the mirror. I was unusually very aware and conscious of my morning routine activities that 'routine' seems an inappropriate word to describe my yoga and shitting and bathing and eating. Yes, I'm alive.

--Originally written on 27-12-2004 for LJ.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Walk

The sand is white, dirty white, as far as I can see, where it merges with the clouds in the offing giving the impression that I am walking on a flat world, a world of absolute homogeneity where the dirt dissolves into cleanliness and the vastness of the landscape imposing, while I walk, and walk and keep walking.

-- Originally written of September 21, 2005 for LJ.

Hanumantha Days

My grandfather passed away on the night of the 11th of August. He was survived by two sons, two daughters and eight grandchildren. He was 75.

He was born into a financially healthy, traditional, south Indian, brahmin family in a village near Arani. His childhood was marked by extraordinary insistence on Hindu rituals and shastras that he lacked any understanding of the society and the way it worked. In his teens, when his father left the family for good with a seer, he was abysmal in managing the abundant arable land and scores of cows. In a few years most of his wealth was gone, thanks to the shrewd villagers, and he started wondering what he was destined to do with his life. It is that thought which led him towards astrology, palmistry, numerology, and other occult sciences. Later he strengthened his knowledge on the Vedas, Upanishads and other sacred Hindu texts. He earned his living by actively practicing horoscope analysis and purohitam. True to his name, he was a very active persona - he had visitors even a week before his death and he had commitments for the coming weeks.

He made the whole village his home. When his wife passed away in 1980 and the rest of the family decided to move to Madras for reasons of progress, he insisted on staying in his home (but for the last two years of his life). He led an ascetic life since then, living alone in the village, in his village, where his popularity as an astrologer grew to greater heights that people even from top political circles came to get his opinion. Needless to say, he was the first one to be consulted in any good or bad event in all the surrounding villages. Later he groomed a few purohits and delegated his responsibilities citing his schedule. When we all requested him to come join us in Madras and explained him the amount of money involved, he simply refused to budge. Talking of money, since he grew up in a village and most of his customers are villagers, he never demanded money for his services. He would humbly accept whatever was given to him.

Because of his hard-core values, in his initial days, he didn't allow the cleaning lady into the kitchen or the helpers into the house. But with time, his values eroded/upgraded and the cleaning lady had a free hand when it came to the pooja room and the kitchen, and his helpers sat next to him and ate the food he cooked. When we informed about his death to the village head, the news quickly spread, and about 25 of them took a bus at 1:00 a.m and after a few transits, made it to our home by 5:00 a.m. When his children showed tremendous courage and checked their tears, these people were beyond themselves and did cry hard.

I was his first and favourite grandchild. In the bigger tree of our family, everyone knew that he had a soft corner for me. I've had numerous discussions, dialogues and arguments with him over our rituals, cultural heritage and the advent of modern values and we never came to a conclusion. In the last two years, when we finally managed to pull him out of his home, I simply refrained from opposing his ideas. Whatever he said I'd agree on his face, even if I were dead against the thought. There were times when he would wait for my return to home to accompany him to the local health clinic for regular check-ups, refusing help from other family members.

He was an excellent cook. His rasam is worth a patent. He would simply walk to the backyard, pluck a few leaves and add it to the boiling ingredients and that would give a supreme flavour to his rasam. He was an excellent story-teller too!! He had the knack of elaborating one line jokes into stories with an excellent narrative. (His horoscope interpretation techniques were so thorough that I would sometimes joke that he told a good story to his visitor). He had a marvelous command over Tamil literature. He went to school only for a few years, but he read most of the literature out of interest and whenever someone gave a wrong interpretation for a line in Thiruvasagam or Silappadhigaram on the TV, he'd laugh and tell us the right meaning. But his most striking aspect was his simplicity. Not just his outlook, but his requirements and his home and his ideas and the way he carried himself around. Simplicity has never added so much to one's charisma.

-- Originally written on the 13 August, 2005 for LJ, in memory of my grandfather.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Engleesh Eatouts

Now, this one's embarassing:

The last few years have seen a lot of coffee shops, food chains and speciality restaurants cropping up that cater to the upper-middle class which finds itself with a lot of money than ever before. These places are typical hangouts - well maintained, clean, have some low-volume music in the background, the bearers are courteous, parking hassles are minimal, etc. But more than anything, your privacy is ensured - unlike Saravana Bhavan where somebody can sit next to you or your girl friend, these new eat-outs respect the need for private conversations with our family and friends.

Good. So far. In an effort to make the educated, ready-to-spend circle respected and feel welcome, they speak English. I guess they assume that it would be an insult to converse in Tamil (or the regional language) with the clientele. Bad. Their English is not only 'not good' but very artificial. It's okay if they speak English to a customer who is not familiar with Tamil, but when I respond to a couple of questions in Tamil and when they insist on carrying on in English, that leaves a bad taste - an artifical flavour of the language that does a bad imitation of American accent. Instead of 'would you like' we get ' you wanna'. Utter 'cool' which sounds totally uncool. Explain a dish/drink in rapid strides that demands you to ask for a slower, clearer explanation.

It's very clear that these people are trying to create a conducive atmosphere for couples on a date or replicate a scene that is seen in English movies. These acquired mannerisms are what they are - 'acquired'. Sometimes I feel that I don't belong there. I feel welcome where the hotel management does what naturally comes to them. Waiters using vernacular with a smile on their face speaking understandable words is million-fold better than 'youwannamochaoralatte'.

-- Originally posted on CP on 20th September, 2006.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Salman & Samarra

The recent bombing of a thousand year old Shia mosque in Samarra, Iraq brought the country to the brink of a civil war. More than hundred Sunni's were killed and the so-called round table talk between leaders of the sects were stalled, with each sect demanding apology from the other. As a result, hundreds of Sunni mosques were damaged. To put a temporary full stop to the crisis, leaders of Shia and Sunni non-moderate organizations have called for peaceful dialogues and have come up with new slogans against George Bush.

The recent cartoon crisis generated a tsunami of a reaction from the Islamic world and has already distanced itself from the common public in the Western world who agree that the cartoons were blasphemous and also strongly condemned the extremist reaction from the Muslims. The Scandinavian belt has remained together during the cartoon crisis inspite of their nationals and products disregarded vehemently in many Islamic countries.

That brings Salman Rushdie into the picture. Rushdie is a radical muslim, but not in the sense of the word that is commonly implied. His 'Satanic Verses' earned him a fatwa (death sentence) and international fame. The Nobel prize winners are very much decided by the Scandinavian scholars but heavily influenced by the Westerners. When I zoom out and look at the proceedings, I think Rushdie stands a very good chance of getting his prize in the next three years. But there will be controversies surrounding the choice because of his anti-Islam thoughts and people will forget that he's a genuine writer who desereved the prize. Remember, you heard it here first.

-- Originally written on 28th February, 2006 for CP.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Cartoons, Secularism & Islamophobia

Now, this is something I'm proud of. Written less than a year ago, this post holds on:

In September of 2005, the Danish daily Jyllands-Posten published a series of cartoons making fun of Prophet Mohammed and Islam in general. They are available here. I find it hard to dismiss the publication of these cartoons as freedom of expression and I think the editors knew that the cartoons are very well capable of offending the sensibilities of Muslims. Later, when Muslim organizations in Denmark demanded an apology from the Ministry of Culture, their request was turned down. Danish Imams took the task of spreading the word across the globe and the cartoon row is now a high-decibel news item.

I personally feel that the cartoons are blasphemous and provocative. I have regards for Islam and thier culture. My dad has served in Iraq and he has told me numerous stories of their top class hospitality. When I was a student in the US a few years back, I had a friend from Pakistan who was as cordial as anybody can be. I have spoken to US soldiers who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan who have good words about the tradition and values in an Islamic world.

I will quote three prominent personalities in the wake of the cartoon issue:

a) Mahmoud Zahar, Leader, Hamas: "We should have killed all those who offend the Prophet, and here we are demonstrating peaceably."
Other than the Danish flag being burnt along with the American and Israeli flags, numerous churches in many Islamic nations were burnt down. Christians have become target in Nigeria, Indonesia and a few other countries. Anything belonging to the western world is an object to be torched down in NW Pakistan, Syria and Lebanon. At least 30 people have died so far in relation with the cartoon crisis. If this is what Zahar addresses as 'peaceably', I don't know what he would mean by violence.

b) Yaqoob Qureishi, Welfare Minister, UP: "Rs 51-crore reward for Danish cartoonist’s head."
It is one thing for radical fundamentalists calling for the beheading of an anti-Islam in a country like, say Afghanistan or Iran. But, in a pluralistic society like India, a minister elected through democratic means putting a price tag on a cartoonist's head is an unequivocal incitement to murder. And there have been no stern warnings from either the state's chief minister or from anyone in the centre.

c) Farid Mortazavi, Editor of an Iranian newspaper: "The Western papers printed these sacrilegious cartoons on the pretext of freedom of expression, so let's see if they mean what they say and also print these Holocaust cartoons."
Some of the Egyptian and Gulf newspapers have this hobby: satirize holocaust, christianity and western civilization. This happens regularly and nobody raises a finger about it. (There was a cartoon which showed Hitler in bed with Anne Frank in retaliation). Mortazavi calling for a dozen cartoons making fun of the holocaust is a tit-for-tat act, to say the least and it is exhibits the shameless immaturity of an editor who is responsible for educating his country's citizens through information.

These are just three isolated incidents in the sea of outrageusly exagerrated reactions by Muslim extremists all over the world. Does anybody remember M.F.Hussain's nude portrait of the Hindu godess Saraswati? How many were killed in response to that painting? Zero. Remember Piss Christ, Serrano's crucifix immersed in urine? How violently did the devout Christians react? It probably didn't make it to the Indian media, huh.

I don't mean to say that religious fanatics are the sole property of Islam. There are the RSS and Bajrang Dal for Hinduism. Probably there are low profile agitation groups operating clandestinely for protecting the sanctity of Zionism and Christiantiy. But they are such a minority that they don't dictate terms to the government. But in an Islamic world, it's different: the iron-hand police force of Syria was not able to stop the burning of it's Danish embassy. The hardened military man Musharraf of Pakistan cannot control his country's college students who literally brought all foreign (read Western) businesses to standstill. The Indonesian president is walking a tightrope.

In a manner of speaking, these protesters have justified the cartoons which portrayed prophet Mohamed as a bomb about to go off. The best response would have been a peaceful, non-violent march. If that ever happened anywhere, it's all lost in the extensive fodder thrown to the media by the frenzied mob. If at all they perceive the cartoons as an offense to Islam, I think the sectaraian violence between Sunnis and Shias is a great insult to their Prophet. Why aren't there any demonstrations in Indonesia when Sunnis bomb Shias or viceversa in Iraq or Pakistan?

A peaceful protest is the best means of registering their anger and telling the world that you're willing for a meaningful dialogue for an amicable resolution of the problem. This sort of reaction exhibited so far is a clear signal that they're not ready to take offense and imply that Islam is not a tolerant religion. I believe that only around 10% of the Islamic population are on the streets causing mayhem listening to their senseless radical/extremist leaders like Zahar. And by getting on the streets and burning a McDonald's they're not only alienating themselves from the Western civilization, but more importantly they denigrate the remaining 90% of moderate Muslims who would have magnanimously forgiven the cartoonists and conveyed that the whole episode was in bad taste.

Doyle wrote: "Religion is a vital living thing, still growing and working, capable of endless extension and development, like all other fields of thought." Religion is not a prescription for the mankind through the Gita or the Koran or the Bible. Religion is an ever-evolving guideline for a peaceful life in our short stay. To constrain that guideline to a text written centuries before and insisting on mindlessly obeying it verbatim is not common sense in my opinion. As times change, the universal truths presented in those timeless scriptures take a modified interpretation. And I know very well that a modified interpretation of a scripture in Koran says "treat people belonging to other religions as your brothers and sisters."

-- Originally written on February 21, 2006 for CP.

Cartoon Crap

Hugh's gapingvoid, was, until a few days back a fun site with good marketing/blogging ideas sprinkled with some wonderful dry satire cartoons. Recently, he's been on a cartoon spree, and most of them are dry without his trademark satire, don't have that roughness or rudeness or arrogance or irreverence that he's known for. The spate of cartoons are tamed versions of inane ideas. I don't know what struck him or who he's dating...

--Originally written on March 01, 2006 on CP. Hugh posted the message in his site here. I followed it up with this comment:

What struck me was that so many people sympathizing with Hugh and asking him to not take my comments personally. My understanding of the man is that he was born with a thick skin. It's one thing to be infatuated with his cartoons, but I don't understand these people who can appreciate his 'throw that stupid out of the world' cartoon and at the same time sympathize for him when I haven't even said anything offensive.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Do You Listen?

I believe that when somebody speaks to us, 95% of the time we don't listen. Listening is a supreme art. We usually have a stack of images in our brains. An image about our society, American society, an image about our wives, our husbands, kids, friends, gods, nature. When somebody speaks to us, the image corresponding to the speaker pops in front of us. That image is nothing but the result of a collection of our experiences with that person with our unique characteristic features in receiving/accepting/rejecting/adapting to those experiences. Our mind processes the words of the speaker through that filter of image and we actually listen to an interpreted version of the spoken words.

I believe, that in rare circumstances, say, when we are in a meditative state (when you're 100% devoted to your task, that is meditation!!) or in a trance (I forget myself when I am seeing a very good movie, listening to very good music) or at absolute peace with ourselves, all those images are numbed and we can listen without any hindrance to what is being said. I believe we all rarely listen. But I can't prove it.

--Originally posted on CP on 10th April, 2006