Saturday, December 20, 2008

Irrational anger?

It is almost end of 2008; what a year! It is 7 months since our move from Houston to Mumbai; a move many in my family and friends feel is a mistake. Favoring their rational is the recent senseless and brutal attack of November 26 that killed and maimed so many. However, we are beginning to settle, Maaha Zainab is busy with her friends and I am getting into a routine which is so busy, I am beginning to think I will not have enough time to complete my mission before I die...

What really amazes me is the illogical ranting by what I, until recently, believed to be a professional and balanced Indian press. The daily headlines and fine print against Pakistan, for perceived or real harboring of militants and implicitly in the attack is bizarre, to say the least. While I can understand the patriotism the reporters must feel at the brazen attack at their symbol of wealth and elite landmarks; there must be balances with some common sense, surely? How about admitting India's errors (there were oh, so many), put in progression plan to minimize the impact of future possible attacks (you will never be able to stop them until there is resolution to the Kashmir issue) and move on?

Here are some issues I have with the press:

1. They allege that ISI (Pakistani spy agency) left clues of their involvement - as if either of the spy agencies would leave clues after an operation in either countries. Give the respective agencies credibility of having at least some intelligence.
2. That India should bomb Pakistan because the killers were Pakistani nationals. It would then figure that USA should have bombed the hell out of Saudi Arabia because almost all 9/11 attackers were from Saudi Arabia; the US bombed the hell out of Afghanistan. I have a suggestion: why don’t India go and bomb the restive border areas between Pakistan and Afghanistan; perhaps they can do a better job of eliminating Al Qaeda and the Wahabees than Pakistan?
3. Lets face it; 10 determined killers were able to infiltrate the borders of India, then proceed to kill and maim hundreds of innocent civilians and then, amazingly, hold the country to ransom and make fools of security personnel and elite commandos for 3 days before being overcome. I shudder to think what could 1,000 radicalized, determined Muslims do? Violence begets violence. This Mumbai massacre was permutated by animals; so was the destruction of Babri Masjid and its aftermath; so were the massacres of Gujarat. These animals roam free as leaders of States within India and there is not a word of protest from the press. Muslims in India must be assimilated and treated as dignified equals for there to be sustainable progress in taming the enemy within.
4. There remains a lot of outstanding questions that need answers; questions that have been asked by the media and others that the State and Union authorities have no plausible answers. How could 10 killers armed to their teeth slip into a country without getting any attention? It makes no sense these men were able to come in, stay in Mumbai hotels for 2 days and then disburse to the 4 - 5 locations and begin shooting without being noticed. Once the shooting began, why the responses so pitifully slow? So disorganized? So uncoordinated? Why the top cops were send on a wild goose chase only to be killed?
5. Here is what bugs me the most; almost all attention is and has been paid to the elite and rich killed at 5 star hotels. Were the people killed at the train station less humans? Conveniently dispensable perhaps because they were poor? So it hurts when the cream gets whipped up, yes?

It has been an interesting year, all right. I look forward to 2009.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A Mumbai Train Ride

It is 21:30 and I want to return home to Andheri after burying my friend Aliakber's dad at the Masgaun graveyard yesterday. My friends suggest I go by train, since it after "rush" hour and it would be fastest. There is some sort of a Sufi Urus festival going on in Mahim, they say, and the traffic would be terrible. Well, for those of you not familiar with Mumbai, a cosmopolitan cocktail city of almost 13 million, there is always a festival going on somewhere and the traffic is almost always terrible. Still, the prospect of sitting in a hot, smelly cab for the usual 90 minutes it takes and likelihood of delays due to the Urus makes me consider the train; perhaps my eight year old Maaha Zainab will still be awake for me to horse around with. However, my last escapade with a local Mumbai train from Bandra to VT (Chatraparty Shivaji now) in 1996 cautions me. I vividly remember the pain and torment I went through that day. My good friend Badami reassures; It will be okay, it is past rush hour, and I will accompany you; I relent.

The 10 minute walk to the station via a Muslim slum gives me warning signs and my disquiet increases as our walk progresses. Mr. Badami is oblivious to the obvious signs of poverty along the way; the wet, littered streets as if it has just rained, the sounds of humanity in crowded place as they jostle for non existing space to maneuver in tiny, cramped hovels, the carefree laughter of dirty, half naked children as they chase each other amongst the squalor, precariously very close to 2 way traffic that miss them by inches, men bathing in public, their lower bodies covered in soap studded lungis, the acrid smell burning of firewood mixed with that of garlic and onions and spices and rotis...and shit. The smell of all omnipotent shit of Mumbai; you can’t escape it, ever; it follows you around like a shadow, if it is cloudy during the day, it will make sure it catches up with you when the moon shines bright at night.

Luck is not on my side; this is nothing new, luck has been very reluctant to befriend, being reclusive throughout my life, gracing me with its luxury very occasionally. 2 trains to Andheri have been cancelled, so we have to wait for the next one which will be by in about 15 minutes. This has gotten Badami Saheb nervous; for he keeps assuring me (and himself in the process, perhaps?) that "rush" hour has passed and I'll be fine. When the train does come in, sounding and looking wounded, tired, it's packed; people crammed inside and many more clinging to whatever they can at the entrance. Badami Sahem hustles in and I follow, using him as a shield. In the struggle and myhem to get in, I get an elbow on my nose that makes my head spin and eyes water, I feel suffocation settling in. Miraculously, I find myself inside the cabin, pinned in between a pot bellied man oblivious to the world as he bobs his headset head to old Hindi songs that is audible over the rattle of rail tracks and a very dark Tamil whose visible armpit hair I desperately try to keep my head averted from. It is warm, made warmer by the crush of bodies and the stench is unbelievable. Between the garlic fumes from the pot bellied hero who mouths lyrics, to stale sweat, to hundreds of body odors to unwashed feet, it hits me very hard and I feel like swooning. At the exact moment, a miracle occurs and a man shoves himself out of the middle seat and into the aisle preparing to get off at the next stop and I get squeezed into the vacant spot and out of danger; I begin breathing again.

I am now confronted by a feeding mother who stares at me unseeingly as her baby gets nourishment while another child, not much older than the one on her other lap, sleeps fitfully on the other as the train sways him side to side. The obvious father, a protective arm carelessly thrown over his wife’s shoulders sways to the rhythm as well, jerks his head up every time we stop at a passing station only to nod of to a dancing sleep as soon as the train starts moving again.

Mercifully, this all ends in about 40 minutes and I reach Andheri in one piece, with a sore nose and very crumpled clothes and terribly desperate for fresh air. I hire a waiting rickshaw, the driver speeds through the relatively light traffic and I get the cooler wind effects on my face.

At home, Maaza Zainab is still up and in a playful mood so I enjoy...

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Mumbai massacres

Humans became animals on November 26 when a few of them got together to gun down innocent people traveling in shabby trains or dining in upscale restaurants in Mumbai. Supposedly from Pakistan, these murderers sneaked past horribly inept Mumbai port security to launch an audacious attack at the heart of Mumbai’s hospitality, to its elite and upper crust. Mowing down over 170 people in cold blood and then kept the city hostage for over 3 days, while the entire city, country and the world watched in horror and awe as the supposedly elite commandos and pathetically untrained and under armed police battled it out with ten well trained, well armed, unmoved killers bent on a single motive - to slay and destroy any and everything in sight.
I was out of the country but called to calm my eight year old daughter’s fears and insecurities everyday. But how could I explain the seemingly senseless brutality that got captured onto hundreds of cameras and repeatedly beamed to all television clued audiences in the country? What could I say? If it was beyond me, a well rounded and seasoned man of 51, what could I say that would calm or comprehend an eight year old mind? Maaha Zainab had already seen more than her share of human violence and tragedy in our short six months stay in India. The bombings and killings in Gujarat, in Delhi, in Bangalore and other cities between June and October in India shook us all, shook me hard. I began to seriously wonder if our move to India was a wise one.
Reprehensible as this attack on the innocent was, I cannot but know beyond doubt that violence begets violence. It was precisely because this particular attack targeted the rich establishments and its clienteles that it got more than the usual attention of the press and, especially, the top brass. Past atrocities were equally, albeit less passionately, condemned, yes, but easily, conveniently forgotten. Who can forget the Babri Masjid atrocities and who can ever forget the anguished cries of pregnant women who were either cut or burned alive in the Modi spearheaded culling of Muslims in Gujarat?
Then, it were the politicians who masterminded the massacres and got away with murder, scott free; now, young savage thugs, under a religious cover or otherwise, be they Indian in India or Pakistan or Pakistani in Pakistan or whatever, who will get away with murder.
I for one, Muslim or otherwise, am ashamed of what we humans have become, ashamed of humanity that can be so feral and savage. Or have been trained to be, forced to be so. For, looking into my daughter’s innocent face, I am absolutely certain that humanity cannot be so inhuman.