A feeling of emptiness

The Association of Small BombsThe Association of Small Bombs by Karan Mahajan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was at my parents home, and on Christmas morning, I picked this book. A few hours later, I had read it completely in almost 1 sitting. Set in Delhi, against the backdrop of smaller acts of terrorism which seldom make TV and newspaper news for a day or two but they have a butterfly effect causing a very brutal chaos for eternity.

Karan is an engrossing story teller. Sometimes, he is too verbose, but that is Ok, if the story he writes has humanity. The book leaves you with a feeling of emptiness - that is what it was intended to. Terrorism destroys all who are touched by it. In the end, it is dark nihilism unleashed.

View all my reviews

Can't we all be human beings?

RAMCHANDPAKISTANI_STILL03_W_LOW.jpgFrom Tribeca Film Festival '08:

The most haunting frame of Ramchand Pakistani may be its first. Over a black screen, the words appear: adapted from actual events. The world is full of mad facts, but among the maddest is that in 2002, as Indian and Pakistani troops massed against each other on the countries' border, an eight-year-old boy named Ramchand wandered over the invisible line separating his own side of the desert from that of India's and was taken prisoner. Going in search of Ramchand, his father followed him across and was captured as well. They were held in an overcrowded Indian jail for five years. In her first feature film, Mehreen Jabbar lays out the political contexts of Ramchand's situation with exceptional fluidity. Titles at the top establish the geopolitics, and the more localized issues are threaded through early scenes. Most salient of all is the fact that Ramchand's family is part of a Hindu tribe of untouchables, making them both suspect and powerless in Pakistan. Bollywood star Nandita Das thus proves doubly brave .......

Trailer here

IIT Roorkee campus

IIT Roorkee campus - 2

IIT Roorkee, once University of Roorkee, and before that Thomason College is perhaps the prettiest campus in India, something like Cornell University campus in Ithaca for North America. It is a quiet, green oasis that is about 150 years old. Its history spans training engineers for canal building in India, sappers for Indian military for many wars (British India and later independent India), for huge dam making projects immediately after the independence, and now with India's economy opening up.

 

PS: I have also opened an IIT, Roorkee group on flickr.

Benazir Bhutto - Through the eyes of India

December 28, 2007 Diary

Benazir Bhutto – Through the eyes of India

Since the tragic assassination of Benazir Bhutto, I have been glued to the TV in India – listening to different channels, some Indian (NDTV, etc.), and some multinational (BBC, CNN, CNBC).  Right now, I have been watching her funeral live in Lakrana.

India and Pakistan has have had long torturous history, with a common past, common mistrust, and also common culture. Somehow, I have found information content regarding Benazir Bhutto in Indian TV channels more nuanced including her own sense of entitlement, corruption charges, mass support among poorer people in Pakistan but also evoking equal mistrust, and Pakistan as a whole currently in a quite a precarious position spiraling into anarchy as a part of complete discussion.  It is because Indian media shares with Pakistan a common language, culture, and also easy access to informed Pakistani viewpoints, especially as Urdu speakers than their western media counterparts.

Two things stuck me listening to Indian TV channels that were palatable – a) genuine feeling of loss by the assassination of her by India as a whole, b) and sense of panic that it is not out of realm of possibility that the Talibanization of Pakistan could spill over to India at some point, if left unchecked.

Benazair’s baptization to international affairs happened in India, when as a Radcliffe-Harvard coed, she accompanied her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto during the Simla accord in 1972. Even though, as a Prime Minister of Pakistan, India and Pakistan had an acrimonious record with respect to mutual relationship, and she continued making various monsters, like the future Taliban, and AQ Khan. I remember her going on anti-India tirade at her extremely well spoken talk at Cornell in early 90s.

She was in last few years a regular visitor to India who talked to Indian media very often for her future vision of Pakistan, and hinting at also creating a new paradigm for relationship between India and Pakistan, if she came back to the power again. Well, they all will be pipe dreams. Or, out of power politican's unrealistic talk with no serious thought behind. Or, perhaps, she had new ideas with respect to India.

Indian subcontinent has seen a number of political assassinations in 60 years, and so there is a sense of empathy across the continent. More importantly, Indian leaders rightfully know that the assassination of Benazir Bhutto emboldens the Islamist extremists in the subcontinent and beyond, and this is not good news for everyone – Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, and even rest of the world. No doubt, Pakistan has lost a popular mass leader, had a streak of a liberal politician (or perhaps a promise of being one, one day), and a very brave woman.

Maybe, as Imran Khan puts it, Pakistan should immediately form a national consensus government formed from different mainstream political thought.

How can we help them? Any ideas

Every April, some 230,000 Indian youths sharpen their pencils and sit for the intensely competitive entrance exam to the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) -- the seven prestigious schools that train India's top-notch engineers and entrepreneurs. After the grueling six-hour test, only 5,000 students are offered a place in the IITs. Most come from middle-class backgrounds and prepare for the exams through private coaching. But in the past few years, a small group of desperately poor, talented students have made it into the IITs, thanks to the Ramanujan School of Mathematics.

How can we help them? Any ideas? Any veritable leads. Leave a comment. Spread the word.

This is revolutionary. 

Courage

_40980348_screen203.jpgMukhtar Mai was once an anonymous Pakistani villager - but that was before she was gang-raped, apparently on the orders of local elders in a neighbouring village.

From then onwards she has been determined to bring them to justice, and her fight made her an international figure.

Some of the men she said attacked her were convicted, but then the appeal court in Lahore overturned their convictions, amid an outcry from human rights groups.

Now Mukhtar Mai, who is in her mid-30s, is writing her own internet diary, or blog, about her life and her concerns, as a woman from a remote village in southern Punjab.

 

Read her words on her English and Urdu blog hosted by BBC. Via Sepia Mutiny News Tab.

Learn your lessons

singh2.190.jpgMr. Singh, whose father constructed much of Delhi, a city reinvented by the flow of partition refugees, is among the last survivors of the era. For his generation he is unusual for wanting to speak of that horror, again and again. He reminds in words what Bourke-White’s photographs seem to scream on the page.

“People should know this thing happened,” Mr. Singh insists. “It did happen. It can happen again.”

India has been reminded of the bloodshed of partition many times over its 59 years of independence by further episodes of violence, and Mr. Singh has chronicled them all.

 

Please read the NYT article. Tip from Sepia Mutiny News Tab. 

A boy who is a man all we ever will strive to be

On Sepia Mutiny News Tab, KXB has posted a haunting article from The Independent about a documentary movie "Floating Lamp of the Shadow Valley" that is about a nine year old boy Arif who supports his entire family as a boatman in a strife-ridden Kashmir. It is not only a heart-warming story made by a film maker who himself has felt the burnt of the tragedy of Kashmir but a tale of courage for a kid too young for such kind of things. Please read the article, and some excerpts for introduction:

"I have my roots," he says. "My heart belongs to Kashmir. I don't hold every Kashmiri Muslim responsible for the violence there. They too are suffering. I wanted to do something to show the world that the people are suffering. I first saw Arif in 2004. I had gone back to Kashmir on a shoot for another documentary. I saw this kid baling out his boat." [Link]

In Mr Jala's words, he is "facing challenges that have adults on their knees".

The film shows the two sides to Arif's life. At one moment, he is playing rough and tumble with his brothers, fighting over a toy gun, and crying when his mother scolds him. At the next, he is staring thoughtfully out at the lake and weighing up the family's problems like a grown man, trying to shut out the sound of his brothers playing. "I will educate my brothers and sister," he says. "We will get my sister married. I will fulfil my mother's dreams." [Link]

It is story of triumph both for Arif and Rajesh Jala. There is always hope.

The cost of being a zealot

247727.jpgSometimes, the religious zeal destroys even the most basic relationship between mother and son. Khamosh Pani/ Silent Waters by Sabiha Sumar is a story of a single mother and her teenager son in Pakistan at the time of Zia-ul-Haq's rule in around 1979 and rise of Islamist undercurrent that still looms large in South-Central Asia.

Without me giving away the story - I would encourage every one to watch the movie (also available through Netflix). A Pakistani-French-German movie also has actors from India too tells a sad tale about human tragedy that ensued India-Pakistan formation and rise of religious fundamentalism in Indian subcontinent. Dialogues are in Punjabi-Urdu but has excellent English subtitles and acting. The simplicity of the movie with allow somebody with little or knowledge about history and dynamics of the continent to understand the message and the story.

Excerpts from a reviewer @ Amazon site:

This is undoubtedly one of the most important films of to come out of Pakistan. The film which is set in a small village in Punjab is shaped by the political context of General Zia 's military coup which overthrow Pakistan's elected prime minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. Zia used "Islamic"ideology to justify his rule. There are two parallel but interrelated stories in this movie . On the one hand it is the story about a young village boy (Saleem) and how he gets involved with political Islamists from the city. One the other hand it is about the thousands of Sikh, Muslim and Hindu women (represented in the character of Salems mother Ayesha)who were either killed or left behind on the wrong sider of the border at partition. [Link]

Originally, I came to know about this movie through a review at Desicritics. Please read their review too.

Has India started to move into another league?

In light of President Bush's visit to India a few days ago and the new nuclear deal inked, lets highlight some far-reaching consequences that could play out. From International Herald TribuneAndy Mukherjee's article:

If India can use the accord to overcome its energy crisis, there is a lot that its fast-growing economy can buy from the rest of the world. That will be the ultimate economic prize for the global economy if it accepts India as a de facto nuclear-weapons state. 

Whether the prize is worth the risk of "tempting" states without nuclear weapons to give up their "self-restraint," as Talbott puts it, is for Congress to decide.
 
The same concerns being raised in Washington about doing a deal with India were debated in 1985 about the wisdom of sharing fissile technology and equipment with China.
 
Although it took 13 years to complete the U.S.-China nuclear cooperation agreement - it had been submitted to Congress when Ronald Reagan was president and it was implemented in 1998, under Bill Clinton - the deal went through. Reservations in the United States about China assisting the nuclear-weapons programs of Pakistan and Iran did not scuttle the agreement.
 
With no skeletons in India's nuclear closet, the United States may find it a lot easier to end the Indian blackout.

Has India started to move into another league, slowly and tentatively? Perhaps, yes.  I do not think the nuclear agreement deal itself is the silver bullet but could be chain reaction to important developments in Asia. More importantly, change in perception.

Priates of the Middle East - The Curse of the Black Gold

From Pirates of the Caribbean, The Curse of the Black Gold

Jack Sparrow: Worry about your own fortunes gentlemen. The deepest circle of hell is reserved for betrayers and mutineers.
[pirate grabs Jack's throat to reveal a skeleton arm]
Jack Sparrow: So, there is a curse? That's interesting.
Koehler: You know nothing of hell.
Jack Sparrow: That's VERY interesting

The deepest circle of hell is reserved for betrayers and mutineers. - that is the politics of oil and natural gas.

Fact 1: But do we know the hell of oil intrigue. President Bush promises US to wean-off of Middle East by 2025. Let's see what FACTCHECK.org has to say:

The President voiced a "goal" of replacing more than three-quarters "of our oil imports from the Middle East" by the year 2025. He did not mention that the US has grown more dependent on imported oil and petroleum products since he took office.

According to most recent figures from the Energy Information Administration, the US imported 60 percent of its oil and petroleum products during the first 11 months of last year, up from just under 53 percent in President Clinton's last year in office. Last year, of all the oil and petroleum products consumed in the US, 11.2 percent came from Persian Gulf countries, according to the EIA. That is actually down somewhat from Clinton's last year, when the Persian Gulf countries supplied 12.6 percent.

Whether imports from the Middle East can ever be "a thing of the past" is open to question. It is true that the US currently imports nearly as much oil from nearby Canada (2.1 million barrels per day last year) as it does from all Persian Gulf countries combined (2.3 million barrels per day), but that's still a lot of oil to do without.

Fact 2: On the other hand, it seems Middle East's role in energy equation will become more significant with time. Using EIA, Department of Energy analysis:

It is generally agreed that the location of proven world crude oil reserves is far more concentrated in OPEC countries than current world oil production. Note that estimates of reserves vary; EIA does not assess oil reserves, but does list several independent estimates here. According to one independent estimate (Oil and Gas Journal), of the world's 1.28 trillion barrels of proven reserves, 885 billion barrels (69 percent) are held by OPEC, as of January 2005. The non-OPEC reserves include Canadian non-conventional reserves. Not including Canada, according to this estimate the world's proven oil reserves are about 1.1 trillion barrels, of which OPEC holds 84 percent. In the future, the inclusion of non-conventional oil reserves for other countries may also significantly impact OPEC member Venezuela, as well as non-OPEC countries such as Australia. Non-conventional reserves are generally more expensive to produce than conventional crude oil reserves and may require special facilities and technologies. Because non-OPEC countries' smaller reserves are being depleted more rapidly than OPEC reserves, their overall reserves-to-production ratio -- an indicator of how long proven reserves would last at current production rates -- is much lower (about 26 years for non-OPEC and 83 years for OPEC, based on 2004 crude oil production rates). This implies increased OPEC production as a proportion of world production over the long term.

Oh!, Iran.

Fact 3: In the mix, India and China are the new players in the game of energy cloak and dagger with some added complication. From IHT article, you get the picture:

According to Worldwatch Institute, a research group based in Washington, if every Chinese and Indian consumer in 2030 were to use the resources that each Japanese consumer uses today, the two countries would need the entire planet for themselves. Since 1990, carbon emissions by India have risen 88 percent and by China 67 percent, compared with a 19 percent rise in the United States. China has 16 of the world's 20 most polluted cities. Time for sustainable development?

Getting along: In the end, China and India need each another, despite their rivalries. This month they signed on to a joint approach to securing energy supplies, which could create a hefty rival to U.S. energy diplomacy. A road link could be next.

So, there is a curse? That's interesting. 

India and China - traditional rivals or friends or betrayers. Should they even listen to USA on energy issues?

My Question to you is:
Are American politicians being candid enough ?
Also, do Indian and Chinese leaders have long-term picture in mind or are just running around with a shot-gun approach.
Or as Jack Sparrow would say, That's VERY interesting.

Cross-posted @ Desicritics.org 

None of us are Bill Hickok or thought like Elliott Marston

6304414099.01.LZZZZZZZ.jpgI always thought immigration to America was and is always primarily driven by economic opportunities, tight supply and demand for specific skill sets at that time in America, personal affiliations, quest for distinctive political and religious expressions, and recently also through diversity lottery. However, I have been recently told by educated people who think immigration should not primarily have an economic angle and should really be made for people "who were born in societies for which their personalities are incompatible, and they ought to be able to move to more congenial ones". This premise or similar elitist or exclusivist notions are so half-baked ideas that it reminds me of Quigley Down Under - a fine movie nevertheless and a classic. Here is the scene I am talking about:

Elliott Marston: [O'Flynn and Dobkin prepare Quigley for an old-fashioned duel] I seem to remember you're not too familiar with Colonel Colt's revolver, so this will be your first lesson. Don't worry. Mr Dobkin and Mr. O'Flynn will ensure that it's a fair contest.
Elliott Marston: [Marston starts walking backwards] I'll just back up a few paces... And to your left a bit, that's it... Now you're right in front of my old pistol target.
Elliott Marston: [Marston slips his coat back to reveal his holster] Some men are born in the wrong century. I think I was born on the wrong continent. Oh, by the way, you're fired
Matthew Quigley: This ain't Dodge City. And you ain't Bill Hickok.
Matthew Quigley: [Quigley shoots Dobkin, O'Flynn and Marston before they can even aim their guns, then walks up to a dying Marston] I said I never had much use for one. Never said I didn't know how to use it.

None of us are Bill Hickok or thought like Elliott Marston- yet people immigrate to United States for different personal reasons that are deeply personal to them - be it a farm laborer from Peru or a doctor from India or a physicist from China or a fisherman from Vietnam or a nurse from Russia. None of them are necessarily special creed or misfits or on the run or prosecuted (only rarely) in their home country either. Often, their ability to immigrate is also tied to their economic status at home - a very poor villager in India does not even have an option to immigrate from India to America unless they get educated in elite institutes. But then getting admitted in these elite institutes in their countries is not entirely a level playing field. Poorest of the poor try illegal immigration route as seen often on the southern border. For some family responsibilities in their mother country will not allow them to immigrate even if the opportunity presented itself.

Nor they stop loving and caring for their native country either ever once they immigrate. Irish-Americans have played a very decisive role in the emergence of Ireland as an economic power. Also, none of them are Bill Hickok or were closeted gun slingers destined for Dodge city. Definitely, not an immigrant from Botswana through diversity lottery - yet he carries rich dreams. In all these process, he enriches and also develops a deep love for America.