Category Archives: Politics

One world

Many thousand kilometres from my home in the Deccan, I sit under a clouded English sky, ancient hymns playing the background, reading about elections in Israel, chatting with a colleague from Pakistan.

And fail completely to understand why we war.

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Bangalore, Ahmedabad

Update: This was written soon after the Ahmedabad blasts, when the toll hadn’t risen beyond 12.

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I haven’t been reading the reports. I can’t bear to. Yes, they were low intensity blasts, yes, fewer than twenty people died. In a country that regularly loses hundreds to floods, train and bus accidents, and spurious liquor, this seems like nothing. A friend in Bangalore called it a “lame attempt at terror”. Indeed. The dead barely ran into double-digits. When did we become so cynical?

But Bangalore is almost home. Madivala is where the KPN office and pick-up point is. I’ve sat on the steps of that complex dozens of times, unwillingly waiting for the 10.30 pm bus back to Madras. Adugodi is where I took many a flirty walk with a suitor, winding our oblivious way through narrow, noisy, dusty streets where every other shack is a two-wheeler garage. Mysore Road is where, years before the maddening traffic arrived, newly bought two-wheelers were driven way above the speed limit, causing me to feign fear and tighten my grip on his shoulder.

And Ahmedabad. The city of my childhood. Raped and pillaged, not by barbarian hordes from central Asia, but its own people. An Ahmedabad I have been terrified to visit in recent times, for in my mind, rivers of blood still flow on the ‘city’ side of Ellis Bridge. But also an Ahmedabad I knew when it was gentle, laid-back, generous and most of all, safe. An Ahmedabad of summers that began right after the riotousness of Holi, where sand storms blew grit through the windows, into your teeth. An Ahmedabad of spectacular processions and never-ending dandiyas, where, yes, Muslims too danced the night away.

I cannot help but wonder – the Bhajpa is in power in both places. Is that why? Is this revenge? Is this the beginning of a counter strike? In which the targets are so random, so unspecific as to be almost democratic? Is this a message – vote killers into power and prepare to die yourself? The murmers have always existed, haven’t they? But one only begins to hear and fear them, when they are uttered so close to home.

You mean Imphal is not a state?

The closer my deadlines, the stronger the urge to ignore them and blog-surf away, especially when it is late at night. Usually a cloud of all-forgiving benignity settles over me at this time of day and I am willing to overlook the world’s faults rather than get all worked up as I normally do.

But not today. There has been a largish dose of what Krish Ashok calls the Paratha-Parotta war in the world of blogs, and I feel compelled to add momos to the menu.

Despite having lived in the north for more than a decade and having learnt to fight in Hindi before I learnt a single cussword in Tamil, I used to get rather pained by the broad-brush painting of half the country as ‘Madras’ and all the other displays of geographic and cultural ignorance so well-detailed in the blogs linked to above.

But that was until I began working in the north east of the country. Before I went there for the first time, innumerable people asked me if it was safe travelling in ‘tribal areas’. If I would get anything other than raw meat to eat. If there were roads to the places I needed to go. What language would I speak to the ‘tribals’ in? What would I do if I fell ill? And so on. Initially I delivered long lectures on how the north east is perfectly safe, in fact safer than many other parts of the ‘mainland’, told them that the people I was going to work with all spoke not only Hindi but also fluent English, that they have some excellent roads up there thanks to the Border Roads Organisation. After about a week and twenty such encounters, I stopped. I snapped if the mood demanded it or merely smiled and said nothing.

So what is my point? That most of the people asking these questions were supposedly ‘knowledgeable’ and ‘culturally aware’ south Indians. Why is our collective ignorance about the north east somehow less offensive than the Delhiite’s uninformed view of Madras?

We snigger at Americans who don’t know that you can’t drive a Hummer to Eye-rack, but how many of us know the capital of Tripura? Who among us can name all the north eastern states? Hell, do you even know how many there are?

But it doesn’t matter, does it, because all those places and people are really Chinese.

Zimbabwe

Fifteen years ago, in a small country, nearly a million people died. In ten months. Three thousand of them a day. Violent, gory, gruesome, horrific deaths. Swords, spears and daggers butchered them, cut their bodies, disfigured their faces. Few had the luxury of a swift bullet.

When the blood dried, one in every eight Rwandans lay dead.

Years later we justified our silence and our inaction, we assuaged our guilt, we consoled the bereaved with the excuse that we did not know, we had no idea how bad it was while the genocide was on.

But what will we say to Zimbabwe? We have not only known, our editors and analysts have vied with each other to predict how bad it could become. Yet we stand and watch. We say it is Africa’s problem, that the continent’s struggling and barely stable neighbours should help each other. We find an easy scapegoat in Mbeki. He’s a readymade villain already tainted by his theories on AIDS.

The truth is that we don’t care. Zimbabwe has nothing to offer us. Certainly no oil. Not even coffee. Or cocoa. For those we loot other Africans.

Their real estate has no value. They haven’t heard anyone say: location, location, location. They aren’t neighbours with China. Or Russia. Or even Venezuela.

Their bombs are primitive, not good enough to do more than kill and maim a few hundred at a time. Their guns are from European landfills. Not flashy. Not nuclear. Not worth the trouble of taking away.

And oh, they are black. Silly of them. If they were brown, we might have considered looking in their direction. Doing a little more than filling newspaper op-eds with their story. If they were yellow, we might have talked to their leaders. Perhaps sent in the UN.

And if they were white, our armies would be there already.

Oh we know your blood is red, but we can’t see it. It hides beneath your clotted skin.