Wednesday, July 19, 2006

A Message for Our Times

My friend Viji Ghose forwarded a message to me from a friend of hers, Indrani Robbins. I don't know Indrani, but I wrote to her immediately asking if I could post her heartfelt e-message on my blog, and she very kindly agreed. I have not changed a word of her e-message, but I have added a space between the first and second paragraphs because they ran into one another after being pasted here.

hello my friends: i received the following from
another friend and it sort of disturbed me. no one can
disagree with the problem here, but the solution. ah
the solution. well, given all this hoohaa about
democracy and me a citizen of the largest democracy,
etc. (who of course has never voted because one might
have attained the age but attaining a ration card or a
voter identification card... that's another epic
heartpour), i thought i'd present my pov on this prob
of our times.

why am i doing this to you guys? this long laborious
email? this rant about a situation that we seem
powerless to do a thing about? to the point that we've
almost stopped caring? because i'm disturbed enough to
want to talk about it, write about it, and being my
friends you gotta suffer. lots of love

POV 1: this is what i received

"I am an Indian citizen. One among 1 billion of us.
When somebody bombs us we die. Just like Americans did
when the Al Qaeeda drove their planes into the WTC.
Just like Londoners did when terrorists attacked the
city last July. But while Americans have the right to
retaliate and bomb Afghanistan off the face of the map
because the terrorists HQ was based there, we Indians
have to negotiate, talk, send peace buses, and "build
confidence" with the government across our border -
the Pakistanis who are supporting the terrorists with
money and explosives.

The world applauds how resilient we are in the face of
our tragedy, how quickly we go back to "normalcy".
Ironically we ourselves applaud our resilience. The
fact is that the world expects us to be less than
human - hey you fella, so what if you lost your
colleague, friend, partner, husband, wife or brother,
get on with it old chap, that's it my boy! No time to
mourn. No time to fume and rail at the injustice being
meted out, no time to even call the terrorists the
filthiest of names, no time to give incompetent
politicians and policemen, intelligence agencies and
the powers-be a piece of our mind. (Shivraj Patil, our
honourable defence minister said something to the the
effect that we knew that an attack was planned but we
didn't know the time and place.

Really! What did he expect - a phone call from the
terrorists giving him the details of the local trains,
timings and compartments in which the explosives would
be kept! We also have to prove to the world that we
are RESILIENT. Be happy with Musharraf's "quick
condemnation" and go back to the business of dealing
with old betrayers. After all we cannot "change the
region's positive course", as LA Times' editorial put
it. So what if a few hundred Indians die - Indians who
are not into big time negotiations. Indians who just
want to earn their living and return home to their
families after a hard day's work. But well no,
Musharraf and his terrorist friends will deny them the
luxury of going back to his family because en route
the train blows up! And our incompetent politicians
and policemen will let terrorists do their horrific
jobs and launch a hunt post-facto...

So Bombayites died for a cause: for the peace of the
region! As did Delhi-ites last year before Diwali. As
did people in Bangalore when Pakistan-supported
terrorists hit the city. As did Indian tourists who
had gone to Srinagar for a holiday....And as many many
more will die...Wow, that's some consolation! If you
feel as angry about what's happening to us, please
feel free to pass this on. If your reaction is: "hey
nothing is going to change - this is India," feel free
to delete the mail! "

POV 2: here's what i'm thinking.

i was born in what we call independent india. my
earliest memories include hiding in darkened corridors
in our home in duliajan, assam during the '65 war with
pakistan (earlier of course, my mother along with me
and my 2-month old brother had to be evacuated from
assam during the "chinese aggression", while my father
stayed back to blow up the oil installations and
storage tanks in case the chinese marched right up to
them. needless to mention he and a handful of his
colleagues were prepared to sort of die in the
process). then came the '71 war, the creation of
bangladesh, memories of rushing out of the car on
parliament street, new delhi to take shelter as
pakistani bombers flew low over us. later, in 1980 we
lost our father in the midst of yet another strange
sad war between two peoples of this independent india.
what was stranger re the last incident was that our
fam didn't raise a cry of "badla badla badla" a la all
good hindi films one had ever seen. all my mother
wanted was to raise us in peace.

but even before all this, i think my subconscious
picked a word that i'm today struggling to bring into
a more visible, conscious place. and the word is,
"partition". no this is not a nice kashmiri walnut
wood screen. this is what happened to, dare i say
these words? guess i will: my land, my people. why it
happened and how, we could again go on and on about.
but to whom it happened. to our grandparents'
generation, our parents', yes, but did it end there?
the madness, the mayhem, the hatred that starts at the
bottom of our being, almost genetically coded: muslims
are bad bad bad, hindus are kaffirs, sikhs are this
parsis are that. did it really end there?

i am told more than 90,000 people have died in the
kashmir tragedy. we know people die every day in our
country, thanks to the unfriendship we share with
pakistan (and bits of bangladesh). and yes it is
bloody unfair that the americans can do what they have
to any place on earth they've ever felt like doing
anything to. i know we are always uncomfortable when
we meet a pakistani, sometimes even a bangladeshi. i
keep hearing the "pakis" are our enemies, no doubt
they believe we're the original baddies of the world.
so what should we do? let's go to war. again. let
people die. again. let bbc and cnn make money. again.
let's not solve the problem. sorry for this tautology,
but yes, again.

or. take a look at that word we say so easily:
partition. take a look at what it did to us. how it
hurt us, all of us who live in our fabulous
subcontinent (c'mon guys, eat the food of our nations
and you'll know no mean small culture could have
thought up that stuff). feel this word, yes feel the
sadness that was and is "partition". swords, knives,
blood, trains filled with bodies crossing borders,
fathers beheaded, sisters raped, daughters abducted by
the "other" and forgotten by their own, lahore never
to be visited again, dilli gone forever, goodbye
mymensingh, farewell kolkata, mindless anger, flaming
red rage, miles of tears, not a single smile anywhere,
what a time it was that time. only 59 years ago. yet
to most of us on my mailing list it's just a word. a
fact. the begininning of lifelong enmity.

my mind keeps saying it is time to look a "paki" in
the eye and feel our real feelings. we are one people,
torn asunder, still bleeding. time to heal. time to be
intelligent and strong. not with guns. but with

it's time to seek forgiveness and forgive. "partition"
needs closure (yesyes i don't like this v irritating v
american word, but in this case, i think it works
beautifully, so ta america). and it's only after that
we can really start talking. without clutter and
confusion. no we won't be able to resolve all our
probs, some yes, the others we'll agree to disagree on
and carry on as most friends do, with differences but
not mindless hatred.

and it's definitely time to stop looking to our
politicians for any kind of anything.

so what's going to happen if three or two or one of us
feel this way? how will it change things? i don't
know, just this something in my head heart gut that
keeps saying these things. it says war is yesterday's
thinking. anywhere on earth.

once upon a time there was undivided india. today we
are pakistan, india, bangladesh. three nations, could
one day be three great nations.
if we are truly independent india, let's free
ourselves of our baggage. here's to all of us.


The Visitor said...

Hello MA,

Reading this post of yours makes one feel so inadequate and anything and everything seems pointless.

Maybe the same post may mean something to somebody else and spur her/him into some positive action.

Thanks for posting.

Marginalien said...

What I liked about the post is that it was written by someone whose life has been raked by violence and yet she has not succumbed to the ugly mathematics of vengeance -- the eye-for-an-eye response of POV 1.

Nuff said, I think?

Anonymous said...

un42n8ly its a pity that in a war of ideas - it is people who get killed.

i completely abhor the status of the world in general at least in its recorded history. having lived now on three continents, i truly believe that this is a consequence of male domin8ed thinking (destruction - territory, my ahem ahem is bigger than his ahem ahem; my wise MAN in the sky has a bigger ahem ahem than your wise guy in the sky).

we live in a pathetic world and teach our children to promote the same ugly nonsense that we were taught. all the poetry and quantum mechanics, calculus and surrealism can not oblivi8 the regretable loss of any innocent life. some one once wisely said - i hate man but i love mankind.

i am saddened of the behaviour of my fellow earthlings and hang my head in shame. i believe that much of our terror exists today because we see ourselves as "belonging to a country" or a particular "ideology".

the race is on - the human race - and we are heading towards some pretty sorry st8s. was it jerry garcia, gr8ful dead, who said "--- going to hell in a basket"? gt

Anonymous said...

gt says - not wanting to end in a desper8 note. heres something from the other side -
A Prayer
Thousands of times, and in both of the languages that are a part of me, my lips have pronounced, and shall go on pronouncing, the Paternoster, yet I only partly understand it. This morning – July 1, 1969 – I want to attempt a prayer that is personal, not inherited. I know such an understanding demands a sincerity that is more than human. First of all, obviously I am barred from asking for anything. Asking that my eyes not be filled with night would be madness; I know of thousands of people who can see, yet who are not particularly happy, just or wise. Times’ march is a web of causes and effects, and asking for any gift of mercy, however tiny it might be, is to ask that link be broken in that web of iron, ask that it be already broken. No one deserves such a miracle. Nor can I plead that my trespasses be forgiven; forgiveness is an act of the other, and only I myself can save me. Forgiveness purifies the offending party, not the offender, who is virtually untouched by it. The freeness of my “free will” is perhaps illusory, but I am able to give or dream that I give. I can give courage, which I do not possess; I can give hope, which does not lie within me; I can teach a willingness to learn that which I hardly know myself, or merely glimpse. I want to be remembered less as a poet than as a friend; I want someone to repeat a cadence from Dunbar or Frost or that man who, at midnight, looked upon that tree that bleeds, the Cross, and to reflect that he heard those words for the first time from my lips. None of the rest matters to me; I hope that oblivion will not long delay. The designs of the universe are unknown to us, but we do know that to think with lucidity and to act with fairness is to aid those designs (which shall never be revealed to us).
I want to die completely; I want to die with this body, my companion

Jorge Luis Borges

sharathraoblog said...

I do feel sorry for the tragedies that have beset you in your personal life but I must add something else too.

There hasnt been a single time in history where there has been no conflict/war in some part of the world. As long as there is scarcity of resources, as long as there are different ideologies, there will be conflict. Very sad but mostly true.

How many nations do we know that have the diversity that we in India have and at this scale ? Liberal western style democracy presupposes certain homogeneity in demographics and a certain standard of living - everywhere else it has failed - except in India. ( Even America is largely christian and of European descent and doesnt have the baggage of a few thousand years as India does - 150 years after slavery abolition and 40 years post-segregation the African-Americans who are still struggling ...but hopefully they will be better off in a few decades )

That we have managed to live as a nation with unfavorable demographics and so much potential for unrest and mischief is one of the wonders of this century. Nobody in 1947 even gave us a chance. I see dark days ahead if nothing much changes.

Aswin Cletus D'Souza said...

very well written i must say! if only the world were this simple

Anonymous said...

the world is actually this simple but it is "us" the people that insist on making it seem complicated.

look, my friend, 100 years ago in 1906 there wasn't one single person around as compared to today (well, maybe a few) and yet we "carry all this baggage?" why are we carrying baggage that stinks? especially if it seems to be blowing up little boys and girls? how come the things that all the other people on earth thought about then - are still important today? they aren't!! except that somehow all the hatred still oozes out through the cracks and festers and is indeed flourishing.

we are taught all these volatile contemptous ideologies ---- because so and so did such and such to your gr8 gr8 gr8 gr8 gr8 gr8 gr8 grandfathers???? so bomb or maim them their progeny's progeny's progeny's (better cut it here or it might not pass muster through the cybercensorshipcontrolconduit) progeny? nomakes sense?. be proud that you are an indian/pakistani/french/english/african/???
and be willing to KILL someone who doesn't fit the shoe?? say that your country of birth is so gr8 that you'll kill someone else to maintain it? pretty steep don't you think? kill?? we're not talking detention after school here. this is serious.

in biology there has come up a term - called meme - its a "unit" of information that gets socially transmitted - just like DNA,{dictionary def of meme: a cultural unit - an idea or value or pattern of behavior- that is passed from one generation to another by nongenetic means (as by imitation) memes are what you transmit down socially and genes are what you transmit genetically. some memes like lets say the foundation of physics are kind of are good memes - they work well most of the time . but the same memes can also be used to make bombs. not good.

however the poisonous memes (according to me) are those of religion, patriotism, jealousy... the list is large but i name those that seem to cause the most havoc today.

take a hint from john lennon - imagine gt

Marginalien said...

Well said, gt! Thanks for the Borges quote earlier.

Thanks for posting comments sharathrao and Aswin Cletus D'Souza. Sharath, I hope it is clear that the personal tragedies reported in the main post are not mine -- if you read my introduction to the message, you'll see that the bulk of it was written by Indrani Robbins, not me.

indrani robbins said...

I want to attempt a prayer that is personal, not inherited. I know such an understanding demands a sincerity that is more than human.

The designs of the universe are unknown to us, but we do know that to think with lucidity and to act with fairness is to aid those designs

thank you for that prayer, dear anonymous.

"to think with lucidity and act with fairness," wouldn't it be wonderful if one could do that. actually, i'm sort of convinced one can. even two, three, five billion, and a few more.

the world is perhaps not that simple today, but yes, some day it will be.

a dear friend of mine says: the dinosaur he did not change... that he's extinct is not strange.

we, i think, will change, slowly, crawlingly but certainly, for therein possibly lies the secret of survival and evoltion, who knows.

Anonymous said...

true - perhaps human beings are merely an evolutionary step for the growth of computers? todays bionic woman - with teflon joints, artificial organs and tissues, retinal implants, dental fixtures and prosthetics, replacement of damaged tissue, skin or bone with biomaterials, is being sculpted to create the new age babe>>>>>>>>>>

and tomorrow the global cyber brain evolving from our biological heritage will emerge controlling the awry evolutionary quirks (those malicious memes?) that human traits seem to have mistakenly picked up?

unless the fanatacism that seems to stick to some humans condemns us first? great thinkers of our age are already proposing that we should start thinking of seeding the universe with human life - let it out - let it move away from earth - for who knows whether we will perish or not?

Anonymous said...

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;

Where knowledge is free;

Where the world has not been broken up

into fragments by narrow domestic walls;

Where words come out from the depth of truth;

Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;

Where the clear stream of reason

has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;

Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action---

Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my planet awake.

--Rabindranath Tagore