Sunday, November 9, 2008

Freedom at Midnight

Recently I read Dominique Lapierre's Freedom at Midnight. Has anyone read this? Its a very famous one which gives ample insights into an outsider's view about India and Pakistan and their independence.

This book covers the last days of Raj - The British Rule of India. It talks about extravagance enjoyed by the British, the miseries of Indians(and the then unborn Pakistanis of course), the country with its huge population, thousands starving, hundreds living a life as good as the British. It talks about the country which once was truly called the crown jewel of the British empire. 

The tight struggle between Nehru's congress and Jinnah's Muslim league is really gripping in nature. the offers made by Gandhi to keep India united (the one where he told Mountbatten that let India be given to Muslim League's rule and he will tour the whole of country to get the leaders of Congress and common man's agreement) was astonishing in nature. It also talks about 
the experiments of Gandhi. Lapierre obviously had his share of doubts on Gandhian policies. 

The best thing about the book is its not a mere drab monotonously written historical account. Rather it is full of anecdotes dotted through out a historical account. This book is impartial in nature. It has certainly highlighted British values in some places, while denouncing its color apartheid in many. Lord Mountbatten can bee seen in a different light than what we are used to look at him with, the husband of Edwina Mountbatten who used to have an affair with Nehru. :) But Mountbatten's character and his grip on politics comes to the fore again and again in tihs book as he shapes the face of the world's largest secular country, and the second largest Islamic country. It depicts the vagaries the Europeans had to go through while in India too. 

Dominique roamed around India to different historical cemeteries. Those containing hundred year old tombs of English men in India. In one place he found tombs of two kids who died in consecutive days. there were many tombs which told many unknown stories. These in all, gives a feel of an India which was full of snakes, mosquitoes diseases and what not. 

Then there was a vast account of native states and their princes. The grandeur they lived. Their show off. The kind of riches the Nizam of Hyderabad enjoyed and the kind of cheapskate he was. The book is full of legends, anecdotes and stories about different events that unfolded during those years. The best part of the book is its lucidity and story telling. Dominic is a master at (hi)story telling. and he excels in this book. Its a must read for all Indians and Pakistanis to generate a view about themselves and to come out of the staunch feeling of nationality that we suffer from whenever we face each other.

I mean, as a Pakistani, I always try to show Jinnah as an out of the world person probably the best leader of the world. And as an Indian, the same I try to do with Gandhi. They were not super humans, and when you read about them in a book which carefully avoids the eulogy you find elsewhere, they turn out to be perfectly normal and human beings. Gandhi a social experimenter some of whose experiments brought India the much sought after freedom, while some of his experiments or rather inability of conducting those, could not stop its vivisection. On the other hand, Jinnah, a staunch believer in United India, who could not hold on to his initial ideals, and took petty party politics over his ideals which finally led to the partition. The good and bad of both sides comes in to picture pretty clearly, and its hard to close your eyes and deny that.

The book takes a dig at the pettiness with which Hindus and Muslims fought over petty things like ink pots and bookshelves when all the official assets were being divided. It also has a lot of inside stories about the scandals of the Princes of different native states. I won't tell you more about this book. Go, get it and have a pleasant read! Cheers.

The Final Tribute

When I first heard the news, of Sourav retiring, I wasn't shocked, not surprised, nor sad. From what I had learned of Sourav, I just had a very strong intuition, that it would be coming soon. This man was proud, liked to do things on his own terms, wasn't bound by anything, but for the desire to serve his country. Then how could he have endured when after one, just one bad series, the media wrote him off like junk, the selectors refused to select him for a first class match, and the country voiced their opinion aloud, Sourav should retire. 

But I, who has worshipped this man ever since my father told me how to hold the bat, felt only one emotion, emptiness. I knew this emotion only too well. It didn't dawn on me till today, when I realised that this will probably be the last time my HERO will be batting for his country, that all those emotions which I deliberately pushed back somewhere into the vacuum of my heart, came rushing back overwhelmingly and I succumbed to them. 

Rewinding back to the old days, I started watching cricket when I was 5, and one of my earliest memories of cricket are that of Sourav making a century on debut. Yes that was the time as a kid that I started getting inspired by someone who wasn't anything to me. As I grew up, I saw Ganguly develop into a potent middle order batsman in tests, and the other half of the greatest ODI opening pair the game has seen. In 2000, after Sachin failed and gave up on his captancy stint, and Indian cricket was being pulled into a hole, BCCI was looking for someone who could pull it back and re-instate the order after the disgraceful match fixing fiasco. 
Ganguly and Dravid were the top contenders, but BCCI chose Ganguly, and they got more than they had hoped for. Ganguly far from re-instated the old order, he did better, he did something that no captain of India before him had been able to accomplish, he gave them a gift of aggression. Yes Indian cricket started rising back from the ashes, under the surveillance and guidance of this great leader. He looked for young talent, developed them to his liking, supported them beyond reasonable against the board and made great cricketers out of them. The likes include Virender sehwag, Yuvraj Singh, Harbhajan singh and many more. But unfortunately, when his own form slumped, there was nothing but sympathy for Sourav, and that couldn't do anything for him. It seemed as if all hope was lost for Sourav, critics not giving him a even a second glance, even his fans gave up wishing his comeback, but it is not for nothing that this guy was crowned comeback prince.

After a draught of 8 months, the selectors called upon him, while looking for a saviour who could save the Indian team from deep dark clutches of humiliation at the hands of South Africa. He played that role perfectly. For the next two years, Ganguly almost became a dream batsman for Indian cricket, with contributions in almost every match, be it an ODI or a test. He won the test series for us against england, helped us save face by drawing the series against South Africa. Then came the Sri Lanka series. It spelled disaster for Indian cricket. Sourav failed to perform in a single match. The echoes of the critics, the media, the fans came alive again, Should sourav retire? The selectors, for reasons unknown, dropped Ganguly from the Irani trophy squad whil retaining Dravid and Tendulkar, whose performances were as abysmal as of Ganguly. This was the final blow the BCCI could give to Ganguly's pride. Then, a new selection committee was appointed which brought back Ganguly into the team. But alas, it was too late. The free bird couln't bound itsef to someone's petty discretion and go on playing with leased time. He decided it was time to go. And for one last time, he was determined to win a series for his country; for his fans. He played a very decisive hand in the match in Mohali and scored a century, and the match was won by India. It seems as if Sourav is waving a final goodbye to the world of cricket, and wants to give it a last gift. Even as he goes, he supports another youngster, Vijay, who was reccomended by Sourav first when BCCI had to appoint an opener for one match. So much for thinking for the bettermeant of Indian cricket, always.

By all the cricket lovers, players, commentators, critics Sourav will be portrayed as someone who changed Indian cricket for the better, as the best and most passionate leader in Indian cricket, as some1 who gave the most historic moment to Indian fans including the Natwest Series win in England in 2003 and as DADA, Prince of Kolkata, Comeback Prince and what not. But for me, I will remember him as someone, who unknowingly changed me into a person with better grit, more determination, better self control and played a huge hand in making me the individual I am today.
I want to say, Thank You DADA, for making my life better.

Dada serving his country for a final time:-

Friday, November 7, 2008

Not on!

Pakistan is going through one of the worst financial emergency to hit the country. Escalated terrorism had brought the country’s economy to a fester, only to make it even worse with the worldwide recession. Pakistan is dreadfully seeking help not only from international financial institutions but also from the ‘friendly countries’ or ‘Friends of Pakistan group’ as they would call it. Country, they say, is at the verge of a bankruptcy since they do not have enough dollars to support even one month’s import bill.

One would expect the government to take desperate measures to solve the liquidity crunch and to bring back the economy on track. Things like cutting down on avoidable imports for a while, lessening non-developmental government expenditure, efforts to save every penny in the exchequer that can be etc. But what do we see instead? A cabinet expansion in the central government; by not just one or two, but by forty ministers. A fifty member cabinet now increased to a big fat 55, with as many advisors inducted by the Prime Minister with all the perks and privileges that come with the designation. What an open and cold-blooded injustice with the tax payers’ money, as ten million rupees is the budget for each minister for a period of one year.  

There is still a likelihood the number of ministers may swell up to seventy, once two othercoalition partners of the government are accommodated in the federal cabinet. Nepotism at it’s worst.

What one fails to understand is that what do they actually plan to do with all these ministers? If Chinese government can run its country, rather successfully, with only twenty five ministers, if Japan can do exceedingly well with only eighteen, if Germany is content with a fifteen member cabinet, why does Pakistan need fifty five? The other thing that one needs to know is the credentials of all those ministers and the basis on which they were chosen to lead a particular department. One would also like to meet the genius who invented portfolios like ‘Ministry of Population’.

If that was not enough, Mr. President – the Fresh King of Islamabad, Asif Ali Zardari took an army of 200 delegates with him on a chartered flight to meet the King of Saudi Arabia just to get concessions on oil payments.

How long will nepotism rule the roost in this ‘Land of pure’? How long will it take before our taxes would actually be spent on us? I hope I live to see that day.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

End of an Era...

Anil Kumble has decided to retire from all forms of cricket after the ongoing test match. The injuries sustained by Kumble on the fourth day of the match seems to have sped up the decision or maybe he’s simply too tired to continue any further. But the fact remains, we are bidding farewell to two of India’s most illustrious captains in this series.


                                 For most Indians, an Indian spin attack without Kumble is unimaginable. For a long time, I would be unconsciously hoping for Kumble to come and bail us out when India goes wicketless. But on a more serious note, I was hoping that Kumble would retire by the end of the series on a winning note. This was a shocker still. But what better place for the Great man to retire than the Kotla where the leggie bamboozled the Pakistani team for a Perfect 10 !!

           It was accepted long back that Kumble would always be second to a more illustrious Shane Warne and Kumble too knew this. He never was blessed with the genius of a Warne or the guile of a Muralitharan. But what made Kumble achieve such heights was his big heart and his perseverance.

        Looking back, Kumble was never involved in any scandal or a public spat , never breached any code of conduct nor was he ever involved in a drunken brawl. Always a great ambassador of the game, Kumble played his cricket the hard way.


  For me, my best memory of ‘Jumbo’ would be that LBW of Brian Lara when Kumble had returned to bowl with a fractured jaw. That was probably the only LBW that Kumble got without appealing vehemently, because he was bandaged. On one knee, Kumble only looked at the umpire in an anguished appeal…. and got the wicket.

Of Mumbai and the Rest of India...

Some time back, our city was known for it’s accommodating nature. The way Bombay welcomed everyone with open arms and embraced their culture, was what defined it. Our culture was a tad different from the rest of India and so was our language..and yes, the Mumbaikar was proud of it. It was the city where dreams were made and shattered daily. A city that created Bachchans and Ambanis ,  Shahrukhs and Tendulkars out of common men.

What has happened in the recent times is shameful and has destroyed what Mumbai has stood for so long. I knew that there will be ugly repercussions , but what has again hurt me is the apathy of the Police and the authorities.

The loss of property was enormous. Some lives were lost too.

1. MNS workers beat up Railway applicants from UP and Bihar at the Kalyan railway station. One Man succumbs to his injuries.

The Police say that this was a railway accident.

2.  Well, some educated guy from Patna holds a bus to ransom and tries to do a “Rang De Basanti” in real life. Shoots a commuter in the leg out of panic.

Result : The Police fire  5 rounds into his head and body.

Eyewitnesses say that the Man (Hell, he was only 23) was repeatedly yelling that he would harm nobody. A la Rang De Basanti climax from the Police still.

3. Some goons bash a poor guy in the train just because he is from North India. He loses his life.

The Police attribute this to a fight over a window seat. They say that it was not a hate crime.

This is not a state of denial by the Mumbai Police, but mere hogwash. The rise of regional terrorism has damaged the very social fabric of the city. I know some people stand to gain from these moves and most of them have been largely successful. Raj Thackeray has certainly managed to hog the national headlines. From being the sidelined Thackeray, he has emerged as the roaring cub who is willing to fight for the Marathi cause. From being a rip off to the Shiv Sena, the Maharastra Navnirman Sena has now carved off an identity of it’s own. Mayawati’s BSP would now fight for the Bihari cause whereas the Congress has divided the Shiv Sena’s Marathi Vote and the and Mayawati’s Dalit Vote by giving Raj a free run. That was a nice political move. I know that a sense of morality was never there but this unabashed display of apathy towards the National cause has hurt me.

The hatred that one attributed to political parties and fanatics has slowly started seeping into the common man’s mind as well. The hate has trickled down to households now.  I have seen instances of educated individuals indulging in discrimination and also the educated being discriminated against. No place in Bombay is bereft of hate now. Trains, buses, schools , BPOs you name it, the hateful propaganda is running successfully everywhere.

But one can’t confine hate to a particular community. Most of the Maharashtrians I know are disgusted with the way the things are turning out to be. I for one, am ashamed for having hailed the formation of the MNS once. For me, Bombay without the quintessential Bhaiyya is not Bombay. We all are the “Sons of the Soil” so what if the language spoken is a tad different? I’d rather not be a part of a Bombay that is not welcoming anymore. I would rather settle in a hated Patna than be a part of a hateful Bombay.

I hope. I pray that sanity prevails.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Hope - All's lost or All that remains?

It has been a year and a half now. It all started with that gloomy morning of March 9th last year when (ex) President Musharraf decided to dismiss then Chief Justice of Pakistan, Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chauhdary, and we haven’t had any respite since then.

It seems as if we have gotten into a never ending cycle of disappointments, disasters, depression and dismay. Suicide bombings, processions on roads, strikes, political tug of war, assassinations, economic melt down, flight of capital, earthquake and what not has stricken this ‘Land of pure’, since then, all of which earlier seemed to have been doing quite well, atleast since 2001. Musharraf, a dictator, had everything under control, apparently, until his decision to sack the Justice. Things just never got back on track, if they ever were, but deteriorated with every passing day.

We saw a panel of Supreme Court judges reinstating their ‘Boss’ back onto his position only for a couple of months before they all were to go because of an ‘emergency’ imposed by the former President/Army Chief of Pakistan. Country was back on streets, chanting anti Musharraf slogans and reciting revolutionary poems in corner meetings, from Khyber to Karachi. All of a sudden ‘Army ruled-Land of the Pure’ had found new saviors in form of leaders of protesting lawyers. Nawaz Sharif, former Prime Minister, ousted by Musharraf in a bloodless coup back in October 99, attempted to come back to the country he once ruled  after an 'exile’ of about seven years, only to find him thrown on a Jeddah bound flight just an hour after he touched Islamabad. He eventually was allowed back again, in a month’s time, after dew deliberations by ‘foreign friends’ of the ‘Holy Land’.

Benazir Bhutto, too, ended her self imposed exile and came back to Pakistan after a deal brokered by British, later hijacked by the Americans to lead the supposedly ‘planned’ setup that was to form after the polls. She was greeted by thousands of people and a bomb blast in Karachi.

Unfortunately we lost her in the following month in a successful assassination attempt. No one has yet claimed responsibility of this murder. This brought Asif Ali Zardari, the ‘unpopular’ widower of late Ms. Bhutto into the forefront of Pakistan's political wrestle mania. In the aftermath of Bhutto’s assassination, country saw widespread lawlessness for at least three days, especially in her native province, Sindh. Polls were delayed for a few weeks. 

February 18th was the D-Day. People voted. Pakistan Peoples Party of the deceased former Prime Minister won a majority in the centre and Sindh, with Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) coming in second lead in centre. Musharraf backed party, PML Q was voted out but not completely. Sindh went entirely to the PPP, where as Punjab got a coalition government as did NWFP and Balochistan.

People held high hopes of this new government, rightly or wrongly, and the whole nation seemed up beat, which wasn’t to last long. A tug of war started between PPP and PMLN on over the issue of deposed judges. Governance was ignored all this time. A sudden flight of capital started from Pakistan and within months Pakistani rupee devalued by some thirty percent. Federal reserves decreased by half and country came on the brink of bankruptcy. In the midst of all, Musharraf ‘wilted’ under the pressure put by the ‘democratic forces’ and resigned. This brought Asif Ali Zardari, aka Mr. 10%, at the helm of the affairs as he was crowned as the ‘Fresh King of Islamabad’. Rupee devalued even further, stock markets crumbled, industries closed down when democracy finally ruled the 170 million frustrated people after nine years. International financial conditions and oil prices didn’t help either. As of today, Pakistan has agreed to enter in a support program with IMF, an institution Pakistan had got rid of only two years earlier. 

 All this time, western borders of the country adjacent to Afghanistan have seen an intense fight between Pakistani forces and ‘Taliban’. Conditions have been sores then ever before with people being killed day in and day out in this ‘holy war’ of sorts which doesn’t seem to be ending anytime soon.

It has been several months since the inception of the new ‘ray of hope’ government, but things have gone worse. Economy and terrorism are the two bleeding wounds draining this overly populated country of ours, Pakistan.

So, should we lose hope? I don’t think so. I am hopeful that things would change – for good- if we pull up our socks and take on all these problems head on.



Saturday, November 1, 2008

The Shallow Limits

About 60 years ago, when, at the time of partition, the nationals of the India & Pakistan were replete, not with satisfaction, but with hatred towards each other, no-one could have imagined that normal, middle class people from both the countries, who didn't have even distinct political bearings or interests, could ever agree or have a sensible dialogue about any issue.

For years after the partition, and after many demolishing wars that left both countries piteous, people of both the countries could not be reposed at the mention of any one or thing across the border. Outraged were people from the left and right of the border.

To some InP is just an online community where they browse to pass their time, but they are surprised when they get really involved. Here at InP, as we converse, as I write this, and as you read it, I think we are proving many wrong, who could lay their life's savings betting on infinite wars between the two countries. True, there have been many attempts, valiant and vague, but none quite like ours, for who would think that best friends would be from across the borders and not on the same side? Who could think that a Pakistani would fend for an Indian quarreling with another Pakistani? No, it was quite an absurd thought, but, in ancient times. Today Inp is here for bridging the gaps, filling in the borders, and digging out the inherent brotherhood among long lost brothers.

Let me share my own experience. When I first entered InP, a high-headed teenager with seemingly low levels of intellect, I couldn't help thinking about the fate of this separate brave attempt and smirking to myself. I did not doubt it even for a moment that the outcome would be like the previous ones, ending with war of words, filthy thoughts & undesired wishes. I was all but right. What I witnessed was unexpected.

Discussions, sometimes serious, many a time light, love for each other, life-long friends across the borders, and a few small arguments which are inevitable when so many people with many different experiences, thoughts and emotions converge. But unlike others, in this case it was love that prevailed and hatred perished.

Practicality and rational thinking, religious, intellectual, scientific, current affairs are some of the cherished forte of this community. At this, I would like to convey my gratitude and love to InP and all those part of the InP family and shout out my lungs saying...

InP Zindabad!
Cheers Inp!


"Indians & Pakistanis" (InP) is a community @ Orkut.