Sunday, November 30, 2008

Mumbai carnage: bleeding hearts and sore wounds

The world watched in stunned silence as the financial capital of India blazed in the fire of extreme terrorism for more than 50 hours. Images of the Taj Mahal palace inferno, open firing on the streets of amchi Mumbai, terrified hostages being evacuated from Trident, NSG commandos entering Nariman house and the bodies of the deceased being recovered were flashed on national and international news channels 24x7.

What should we call Mumbai’s 9/11? A slap on the face of the Indian government, a ruthless threat to national integrity, an unprecedented attack on the world’s largest democracy – none of these phrases capture the brutality with which the massacre was carried out or the anger and anguish that the citizens of the country feel.

I think, more than the actual incident that occurred, what pains is that this was not the first time nor was it without warning. A country of more than a billion people was not prepared to combat 10 trained militants.
As we witness the funerals of the great officers of Mumbai Police and the Indian Armed Forces personnel, as our hearts go out to the orphaned kids and the families devastated, as our eyes dampen with tears watching the heroism of the “aam aadmi (the common man)”, as we clench our fists in rage at the guts of the terrorists, and as we turn our wrath on the total failure of our intelligence services, we, the citizens of India, feel cheated, let down, bruised, hurt, broken.

And if external threats were not enough, our politicians make sure we remain divided internally. Delhi blasts, Gujarat riots, Hyderabad explosions, Mumbai bombings are all opportunities to play the blame game and score brownie points against each other.
A simple gesture like opposition parties and the UPA making a joint statement or putting up a joint front against the single largest and gravest issue facing the country could not be shown.

The Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh makes his most unconvincing speech ever in the feeblest voice possible; the President, Pratibha Patil heads to Indonesia for a “meeting”, wonder what could be more pressing a subject than that of national security; the leader of the ruling party, Sonia Gandhi takes almost three days to prepare her speech; the leader of opposition, L.K. Advani sacrifices a couple of hours from his busy election campaigning to sling some mud on the government; the self-proclaimed messiah of Maharashtrians, Raj Thackeray goes underground; the Chief Minister of Mumbai, Vilasrao Deshmukh takes this opportunity to transform the ruins of the Taj to a tourism package; and finally the deputy chief minister pulls the final straw with his famous quotable quote, “Such small things happen in big cities”. This is our leadership! What a contrast to how the US reacted to 9/11 or UK to its terror attacks.

I don’t know how many noticed but there is a crushing irony about the date - 26th November. India adopted its constitution on precisely that date back in 1949. I present here the preamble just as a reminder to our leaders that what we are asking for is not a privilege. Our security is our constitutional right and every time it is violated, the ruling government should be taken to court.

WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC and to secure to all its citizens:
JUSTICE, social, economic and political;
LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship;
EQUALITY of status and of opportunity;
and to promote among them all
FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual
and the unity and integrity of the Nation;


Five days from 11/26/08, and 59 years and 5 days from 11/26/1949 - we are still awaiting a decisive action plan on combating terrorism from the front runners of this country. We are still not sure whether such an intelligence failure will happen again or not. We are terrorized with the Deccan Mujahideen threat of a repeat of Mumbai in Delhi. We are free but our freedom is fettered. Our wounds refuse to heal.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Veni, vidi, visa - I came, I saw, I shopped

Yes, I confess I am a shopaholic and guess what I am proud to be one. I can shop anytime anywhere! Shopping is always so exhilarating and uplifting. It easily qualifies as one of the most cathartic experiences I have ever had – a panacea to all my worries ever.

My earliest memories of shopping go down to my toddler years when dad and mom used to take us kids for the routine shopping rituals – uniform shopping at the beginning of each academic session in April, summer wear to brave the heat of May and June, birthday shopping in September, new clothes for Diwali in Oct-Nov and Priyank’s (my younger bro) b’day shopping in Jan and the cycle repeated year after year. Every instance was an outing, a celebration to look forward to.
New things – latest 3-d pencil boxes/cases, lunch boxes, bata shoes, school uniform, frocks, t-shirts, new socks … everything … caught my heart’s fancy back then and continue to excite me even now and I promise for many many more years to come.

School years made way for the frenzy and flamboyance of college life. Ritualistic family visits to conventional shops in Karol Bagh and Connaught Place were overtaken by group attacks to the crowded and dusty streets of Janpath, Sarojini Nagar, Central Market in Lajpat Nagar and Kamala Nagar. Rummaging through the export rejected “maal”: T-shirts and kurtas for half the showroom price, bargaining in the hot summer heat with the bhaiyaas and uncles to get the beautiful oxidized “Ashoka” jewelry – bracelets, armlets, chunky earring and stone necklaces in ‘do ka bees’ (2 pieces for 20 rupees) and finally the satisfaction of getting the embroidered bag with mirror work for the cheapest possible price made a great successful day.
Ofcourse, we also made it a point not to miss the pleasure of air-conditioned shopping experience at the more chic locales of Ansal Plaza, Fab India and Cottons and the upscale markets of G.K. M Block, South Ex, PVR Priya and Dilli Haat.
As college years threatened to come to an end, Delhi and the NCR region witnessed the surge of malls and multiplexes - (apart from flyovers, but that’s a different story altogether) – Centerstage in Noida, 3Cs in Lajpat, Shipra and many such vast giants emerged pushing the unorganized market segments to the periphery of the middle class shopping experience. Malls and the brands sold within these malls limited my choices for shopping when I started working in 2004. Haggling in Janpath et al, combining shopping with eating and merriment, and taking this time to bond with each other reminisced to a beautiful nostalgic memory – Shopping became an act of need, a job to be gotten done with...but not for long.

The shopaholic spirit in me was aroused and awakened - completely - when the wedding bells rang. Amidst the old Delhi colorful charm of the lehengas of Chandni Chowk, the bright bangles near Hanuman Mandir, the silks of Nallis, the chiffons, crepes and georgettes of Meena Bazaar, the gold and diamonds of Tanishq, the bandhinis of Jaipur the banarasis and kanjeevarams, the tanchois and the lehariyas, was revived the passion I had for the art, the skill, the experience – shopping!

“Whoever said money can't buy happiness simply didn't know where to go shopping.” I so agree with whoever said that – a big hug for you!

Work and personal life, actually, married life has taken me to some of the most amazing and unique shopping destinations (apart from Delhi, which continues to remain no. 1 for me) – entangled streets of Hazrat Ganj in Lucknow, the long stretch of Jauhari Bazaar in Jaipur, the fashionable Fashion Street in Colaba Bombay, the always-busy Pondy Bazaar in T.Nagar Chennai, rustic Khurja in UP, the glamorous Night Bazaar in Bangkok, the never-ending shopping arcades in the world-famous Bloomingdale’s and Beverly Hills to name a few in the shopper’s paradise - Los Angeles, the expanse of Union Square in San Francisco, the noisy Beale Street in Memphis, the stylish Michigan Avenue in Chicago and the countless factory outlets and malls in the many states of US.

As opposed to many anti-shopping tirades in this universe (including those of my husband’s), I have a very holistic view to the distinctive concept of shopping. And my close shopping mates – voluntary – school/college friends, mom and involuntary – my poor brother and hubby – will agree.
While shopping you get to witness the miraculous creativity of us human beings as we see all kinds of people with varied tastes, backgrounds and budgets, trying to find the best fit, the perfect combination, the ultimate gift. Moreover, shopping brings out the best in people…I mean c’mon have you heard of someone saying let me buy this, it accentuates my paunch or hey let’s buy this for so and so, it will make her look uglier? No, right? That’s exactly my point.

I love the hustle and bustle of the swarming market places, the constant fretting of young teenagers to get into size XS or Petite-S, the forced hurrying by the dads and hubs, the worn-out look on the toddlers’ faces, the candyman at the corner trying to boost his sales, and finally the big sign boards with the golden four letters “SALE”.

Veni, vidi, visa - I came, I saw, I shopped.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Does originality exist in this world?

Or are we living in a world of plagiarism and undetected plagiarism?

The dictionary defines originality as “ability to think or express oneself in an independent and individual manner; creative ability; freshness or novelty, as of an idea, method, or performance.”

I am a die-hard optimist who sincerely believes in the greatness of the human race but the question from my mom yesterday, “Does originality exist in this world?”, left me baffled. I had no clear answer. I look around, trying hard to find one instance of originality. I cannot. Have we exhausted our distinguishing characteristics as human beings – innovation and uniqueness? When was the last time you witnessed the power of independent thought and constructive imagination?

I still cannot tell originality from innovation. Not sure if these are different. I try to argue with myself an original way of thinking is as original as an original thought but I end up tying myself in knots! I am beginning to believe that Originality is Dead. The original thought or the first instance of creation, that unique moment where all potential existed is lost.

We are living in a world of remakes, plagiarisms and inspirations (basically where the copyrights can be violated legally). From the Anu Malik and Pritam numbers to Hollywood copies in Bollywood; from the stories of Ramayana and Mahabharat retold and repackaged by the B.R. Chhopras to Ekta Kapoors and Sooraj Bharjatyas. And no, am not being harsh on us Indians or Bollywoodians. Even the so called virtuosos of Indian Classical, Western Rock and what not genres of music accept the fact that the seven notes of music can create only so many permutations and combinations and that those may have already been exhausted by the likes of Mozart and Beethoven. Forget the more obvious spaces of music and movies where it is too easy to substantiate arguments of intended and unintended copies.

Picture this, a teacher asks a class of 6 year olds to think of a story on their own. One kid comes up with a story that talks about a brother and sister who get lost in the woods and encounter many adventures on their way including deep dark woods, a witch living in a chocolate house. The child has never read Hansel and Gretel before but is this original thought or influenced by some other version of the story told? Even if this story has not been told to the kid in any form, the fact that the story existed before he thought of it takes away the originality? How do I distinguish between what is original, copied, influenced or inspired?

Is there a possibility of original thought when the minute we are born, even before we develop our faculty to think, information is fed into our systems continuously - a horse is a horse, the sun is the sun, the color red is red. Do we get a chance to cultivate originality; what is originality anyway?
Is originality then overrated? Is there nothing original to create? Do we rather reorganize and use instances of creation to present that instance in an infinite number of combinations?

…And is this a thought that has been thought before and therefore not my own, not original?


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