Friday, November 28, 2008

Black Friday

As I type this, the TV is beaming out pictures of commandos dropping out of helicopters onto locations in the heart of Mumbai, of smoke and flames billowing out of probably the most beautiful hotel that I have ever seen amidst reports from various governments giving a body count of how many of their citizens have been killed. It is hard to believe all this is happening in India and not the Middle East. Of course, this is punctuated by the best deals for buying the cheapest products this season.

I was wondering why the Americans call a day of happiness, when they do most of their shopping before the festive season, "Black Friday". I don't care anymore. I know what I will remember the rest of my life when I hear the words "Thanksgiving" and "Black Friday".

My thoughts are incoherent right now. I was not in South Mumbai like a celebrity blogger when this happened, nor do I have the superb writing skills of another celebrity blogger to properly explain my feelings of anger, sadness and frustration that I feel right now. However, there is one thought that crossed my mind as I watched the TV reports call this "India's 9/11".

This is my request to the news channels: please don't call this India's 9/11. You are insulting all the martyrs of 9/11 and making a laughing stock out of India. The 9/11 attacks sparked off the war in Afghanistan. It removed the Taliban rule and forced Bin Laden to flee (I know that's not exactly success, but... whatever). Irritated as I was with President Bush's comment that "Either you are with us, or you are against us," I could not help admiring the US government for showing the world what happens to people who mess with their country.

Now we will show the world how we treat people who mess with our country. India in a peace loving country: we believe in Gandhi. If someone attacks Mumbai, we will turn another city on to them. Our Prime Minister will probably visit the country behind these attacks on a bus or train, and try to establish loving relations with them. If we feel very angry, we will probably cancel our next cricket series with that country. And yes, we will condemn the attacks in the strongest terms. Already the Intelligence Bureau has confirmed that this is a terrorist attack (it's quite amazing how fast they can find out things these days!). When all we need is a good old fashioned war, we will be doing everything other than just that. I am no expert, but it does make me wonder why we pour out all that money on our defense budget every year if we don't have the guts to go out and fight.

Did US intelligence cooperate with the Afghan intelligence agency (if such a thing existed) after 9/11? I never heard that they did! However, reports just in say that the chief of Pakistan's intelligence agency ISI is coming to Mumbai for cooperating with India in combating terror. Now that's what I call good news. That just shows how committed Pakistan is towards eradicating terrorism. Of course, things are not going too well with our poor neighbour: the news channels here in the US and even some government agencies have already started accusing Pakistan directly for the attacks (an ex-FBI man actually said "That's hogwash!" on TV on hearing the news that Pakistan has no information of the attackers' mother ship leaving Karachi). But I'm sure our government will not be swayed by these facts. India is the land of Gandhi. We take pride in the fact that we have never attacked a country in recorded history, and surely we cannot let that nice fact get destroyed now by a rash decision.

All that is fine with me. I do not expect anything else. I only have one request.

Please do not call this India's 9/11. It is not. Not until we have something like the Afghan war following it. 9/11 was a decisive incident in the history of the world. The Mumbai attack is just the latest one among the hundreds of insignificant attacks on India over the last 60 years. Let it remain that way.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


First the air became chilly. Then the days became shorter. The wind whistled in the trees all day long. Then the trees blushed a deep red before shedding their covering, and soon all roads, lawns and fields were covered with tonnes of dried up leaves. This is fall.

Back in India, I had seen wallpapers and calendar photos of trees in fall. I knew the leaves were going to turn red and drop. However, I had no idea of the magnitude or the extent of the phenomenon. What started as a few reddish clumps randomly scattered among the vast covers of green on the hillsides when I visited Niagara at the end of August gradually grew and engulfed all vegetation in sight from big oaks to tiny creepers.

I live close to a large county park, the oldest in the US. I was very interested to see how fall comes in the park. As if to oblige me, a few maples near my house coloured up first and the best among all trees in the park. They turned orange, and one of them bright yellow. Soon, they started shedding their leaves and the whole world was a mess of raining leaves. The government tried to clean up, but they couldn't catch up with Nature. When we look at a large tree, we do not realize how many leaves that tree has. However, when all those leaves are spread over the ground beneath, the quantity seems overwhelming.

I won't say the park offered breathtaking fall colour viewing because I have seen photos of the same phenomenon in upstate New York, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania or even some places in New Jersey. However, whatever there was, was more than enough for me. I took a few walks through the park in the near zero temperature in early mornings to take photographs. The grass and the fallen leaves would be covered with ice crystals and frozen dewdrops.

Just as the best performance in a show is saved for the last, a week ago, after many of the trees in the park had become brown, the large tree in our garden changed colour. It turned the brightest red one can imagine that dazzled the eye in the early morning sunlight.

I wrote the above part last week and paused, thinking of a suitable ending. Good thing I did, because otherwise I would have had to write a second post on Fall. I was yet to see the grand finale of this amazing show.

By the end of the last week, the weather turned rainy and windy, and the weekend could be best described as gloomy and bleak. During this weather the trees, as if in a final attempt to protect mother earth from the weather, simply dropped all their leaves overnight! As I type this, the sidewalks are covered with several layers of leaves. So are the fields and the lawns. Most of the trees around me now have shed all their leaves. Some have a few still clinging, reminding me of one of my favourite stories of all time. Some, of course, are late as usual and are still catching up with the rest.

It's amazing how perfectly Nature's clock runs. Today, after the wind and the rains cleaned up the trees and the skies became clear again, the first snowflakes of the season arrived. They were too light and too few to be termed a snowfall, but they were noticeable and brought the news about things to come. I was in my room when I saw the snowflakes fall. I had never seen snow in my life, so I ran and opened the window and stretched my arms outside. The snowflakes melted almost before they touched any surface, and soon the sun annihilated them. But I'm still very much excited and I am dying to see the first proper snowfall of my life.

Fall was breathtaking. I hope winter will be even more so.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Something to learn from the US?

"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said that in 1963. Yet forty-five years later, as Americans go to elect their forty-fourth president on Tuesday, the biggest factor influencing people's choice seems to be the colour of Barack Obama's skin. It seems very very strange to see the most powerful democracy in the world forget everything about the candidates' policies or their past records and concentrate primarily on race. While in India, I had a misconception that "black" was a politically incorrect word to refer to people. Well, that, as I said, was a misconception. All the magazines and TV channels here are conducting pre-poll surveys like "What percentage of white women over thirty will vote for Obama?" or "How many black voters will vote for McCain?" Time Magazine even ran a cover showing Obama's face painted white.

I am new to this country and in no way competent to understand the nuances of American politics and the policies of the different parties. I personally have no idea who is better for USA (or for the world) - John McCain or Barack Obama. But considering the fact that US is the most powerful nation on earth, there must be some logic in the way voters choose the most powerful person of that nation. I have never seen any prime ministerial candidate's race or caste or religion become the major issue in an Indian election (BJP tried that against Sonia Gandhi last time, but they lost). Since America is successful, maybe it's time we took a page out of their book and decided our next prime minister based on his/her race or caste or religion rather than the party agenda.

By the surveys here it seems Obama is going to win after all, but that's only because of the economic crisis. Before that, it was assumed that Obama was going to lose because of racism, and McCain may even make it now. This post is not about supporting one candidate over the other - I don't have the knowledge needed for that. This post is meant to make people ponder about how progressive America really is, and if we Indians should backtrack on our paths and become a little 'less progressive' about equality of people. Maybe racism has its good points after all, because the citizens of the most powerful country in the world can't all be stupid!