Saturday, 29 November 2008

An evening on the couch in front of the TV

NDTV 24X7. 14:38 GMT. Random questions raised by some of the news flashes on the bottom of the screen:
(On which, by the way, I think the words 'Breaking News' have been running for a record 3 days. Come off it now. Too much live news = no real new information.)

- Mumbai Police: Terrorists between 18 and 28 years old

When did the youngest start training? At 16? When did he start swallowing whatever poison so fills you with hate? At 15? 14? Younger? Was he born with it? Or just born into an inevitable trajectory? (And therefore, aren't we all complicit even if he is entirely to blame?)

- 183 dead, over 300 injured in Mumbai attack

It's not the number; it's the fact that there was a Finn, Israelis, Indians, Englishmen, Americans, chefs, karate teachers, a food critic, businessmen, students, doctors, lawyers, receptionists, commuters, backpackers, millionaires, wives, husbands, lovers, friends, relatives, with things to say and do and forgive and be forgiven for and people to meet and people to leave and travels to take, books to read, walks to take, a life to live. It was people who travel by over packed l0cal train to work and people who fly across the world for business meetings. It was people who grew up in small co-operative societies in quiet towns and people who had a silver spoon in their mouths all along.
People who never speak across the divide died in the same room.
183 people gone means an unknown number of individuals in 183 families grief-stricken and an unknown number of friends circles grief stricken. An attack of this nature means everyone with a TV, newspaper or pair of eyes is deeply unsettled. The dichotomy between 'direct' and 'indirect' effects seems too crass to make at this point. We can, however, say that we observe the insidious and sinister ripple, ripple, ripple that highlights the connections between us all.

- 'Terrorists planned to kill 5,000 people'
(I'm really not sure how they - either the terrorists or the media arrived at this figure, but I'm guessing it's just approximate?) One is too much. One terrorist giving up his or her (err.. curious - have there been any female terrorists?) life, one victim being robbed of his or hers - is too much.

- R.R. Patil / Mumbai Police: Terrorists had college ID cards
Ah, this pricks, for some reason.

MANJULA BAI: "This is all Pakistan's work, isn't it"
"I don't know."
"I do. It was written in the newspaper this morning."
I didn't ask, but I should've: What if my newspaper said otherwise? Would our newspapers fight? If the newspaper said it was actually little green men (ahem), would their faces suddenly turn emerald?

Vikram Chandra on a panel asking 'How we can win' against 'the Terrorists': If you were given a blank piece of paper, could you write on it, onetwothree, these are the things that we should do.'
Wow. Is there really one 'we' versus one 'them'?
My sister wants to know "...who are we REALLY fighting???"
Here's my list of things we need to change (not fight):
- Our own prejudices and pigeonholes
- Our purchasing decisions
- Our public services and infrastructure which are about as inclusive as the eye of a needle
- Our inferiority complex as a country: we can't even call this the worst attack we've ever suffered. We have to qualify it by saying it's "our" 9/11. We have to suggest that we have something like the US Department of Home Security because 'they' could 'successfully' prevent a terror attack since 9/11, so why can't we. They haven't fought terror, dudes, last inkling I had, they live in constant fear.
- Our tendency to point a finger at everyone but ourselves. We're a democracy. Ideally, this means rule of the people by the people for the people. An informed (not necessarily literate) polity. And above that, a concerned and united polity. A polity who cares sporadically will sporadically be shaken and shocked sporadically, their only option at that time being to throw their hands up and blame two constructed 'thems': the terrorists and the politicians. We're the polity in the politician. Pick a paper and read it and be curious enough to follow up stories that grab you. Volunteer, to teach someone to read. Smile at a stranger. Resist at every turn being reactionary (says a blogger), or angry before you're curious, or knee-jerk before you've considered what's going on and why. Change your mind every time you find yourself forcing someone into a pigeonhole just because of how they live, who they pray to or what they wear or what language they wear.
It's not easy, and I haven't done it yet.
But I have a feeling that no amount of money, guns, Homeland Security or NSG commandos can
protect us from our neighbours and vet our friends and flush our restaurants and give us a good night's sleep. We need to win this first in our own hearts and minds, even if they win battles against urban guerrillas in our hotels.

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