Sunday, April 3, 2011


The hangover continues as images of THE MOMENT revive the frenzy and euphoria that a 121 crore strong nation underwent and is still reeling under. I shared the golden moments of India’s historic world cup win with our team in the newsroom. I am still intoxicated , as is the entire nation .A sense of emotional vaccum slowly takes over as we ready ourselves for the aftermath of the World Cup glory.

Was watching a post-win debate on TV which brought up the very important question of the aftermath of THE MOMENT. Are we ready for total dominance in international cricket now that we have been crowned world champions? A majority agrees that we are indeed a formidable force when it comes to the batting department, with the likes of the living legend Sachin Tendulkar , Virender Sehwag , Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh , Suresh Raina, and of course, Captain Cool, Mahendra Singh Dhoni gracing the line up.This should be sufficient to sustain us as an unbeatable ODI- side but, to continue being at the top in the test side as well , Dhoni’s team will have to majorly spruce up the bowling department which has failed to deliver consecutively in the current and previous tournaments.Except for Zaheer Khan, we do not have sufficient weight in our strike arsenal. Harbhajan also needs a second spinner support.Agreed that Yuvraj, the proud man of the series, has proven his all round skills in the current tournament.We have seen him bat, bowl and field with equal élan and panache , but, a consistently aggressive bowling line up is indeed Team India’s biggest requirement on its path to total international dominance. We must not forget that it is this very drawback, i.e., a floundering bowling line up, that has led to the downfall of the unassailable and invincible Australians.

Another challenge would be finding a suitable successor to Guru Gary Kirsten who has just completed his three-year tenure. Gary Kirsten, with his unassuming, quiet and calm manner not only totally gelled with team India, but also , together with Captain Dhoni and his men, led Team India to its moment in history. Considering the fact that there have been major coach-related issues in the past, this indeed will be a very crucial factor for the Indian team. Equally relevant would be the manner in which Captain Dhoni adjusts and adapts to the changes happening around him, including his equation and rapport with whoever takes over as the new coach.

Monday, March 21, 2011


The whole world watches astoundingly as the US-led Operation Odyssey Dawn in Libya enters its third day today. American tomahawk missiles and British and French bombers are launching strike after strike on the Libyan soil from military bases in and around the Mediterranean sea. Consecutive to the air strikes, this is what a very defiant and recalcitrant Gaddafi had to say , “All Libyans are armed with weapons and are ready for battle. They will not be able to enjoy our oil. We will not leave it for them. They have to know that we will fight.We will fight inch by inch. We promise a long war. This aggression has no justification.”

Talking of justification, let’s have the explanations and the reasons that America and its allies have been citing for these air strikes. Interestingly, the Americans are refraining from calling it an all out American assault. They are preferring to call it “a UN-sanctioned multilateral international effort to allay the humanitarian crisis in Libya”. The American and British political think tank, in the same breath , sets the overthrowing of “the very repressive regime of the Libyan dictator, Muammar Gaddafi” as the coveted outcome and target of Operation Odyssey Dawn. Former US Under Secretary of State, Richard Nicholas Burns recently remarked, “If Gaddafi wins in Libya (against the rebels) , we face serious concerns of terrorism .” Mr Burns, in his statement, thus, clearly outlines the end game here, end of Gaddafi, i.e., a full on military intervention involving ground troops in the days to come. In other words, another occupation, another invasion.

According to Libyan State TV, dozens have been killed in the coalition air strikes along the northern Libyan coastline, in crucial centres of Benghazi, Misrata and Tripoli.
What then about the civilian lives and interests that President Obama and his brothers in arms, France’s Nicolas Sarkozy and Britain’s David Cameron have set out to protect? It is being claimed that the coalition air strikes are only targeting Gaddafi’s armed installations and trying to cut off logistical support to his troops. We’ve heard similar assertions in the past too, claims of protecting civilian interests, of addressing a looming humanitarian crisis preceding gory and destructive assaults . We saw this first in case of Afghanistan and then in Iraq. We have seen these onslaughts resulting not only in countless civilian casualties and serious loss of property but also leading to never ending chaotic situations in these countries.

Gaddafi’s statement after the coalition strikes also refers to Libya’s vast oil wealth and the allies’ eye on it. Many Latin American governments friendly to Gaddafi have
supported this argument. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, said on state television recently, “ They want to seize Libya’s oil.” There have been similar statements from
Cuba , Nicaragua and Bolivia too. The oil factor cannot be overlooked considering the fact that Libya is among the world’s largest oil economies with approximately 3.5% of global oil reserves, more than twice that of the US. With 44.3 billion barrels of proven reserves (10 times those of Egypt), Libya is the largest oil economy in the African continent followed by Nigeria and Algeria. Around 80% of Libyan oil exports are to Europe, 10% to China and 5% to the United States. Quite curious, therefore, was the manner in which French President Nicolas Sarkozy rushed at recognizing the rebel council in the Libyan region of Benghazi, which, incidentally has most of Libya’s oil reserves.

And as the crisis in the Mediterranean enters its most dangerous phase , America and its allies find themselves more and more isolated internationally. India, for once, has shown considerable maturity in its approach towards the issue .It not only abstained from voting on the UN-sponsored resolution of securing a no-flying zone in Libya, but has also, along with Russia, come out strongly against the air strikes . The Arab league has also opposed air strikes on Libya, saying that it had given initial support only to a no-flying zone and not to the bombing of the Libyan territory. This, indeed , has come as a big jolt to America and its allies, who had so far boasted of the Arab support as the one most crucial factor that set this assault apart from the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Sunday, March 13, 2011


A big hello to all of you there ! Yes, I had been away, away for a real long time, atleast by blogging standards! Work kept me occupied for most of these two years, and I guess, I took a writing and intellectual pause as well.All of us who have been in the practice of writing know that writing is a creative process that works and flows at its own speed, in its own whimsical and fanciful manner.You cannot dictate to it.It happens when it has to happen.

Talking of happening, so much has happened in the past two years ever since my pen took a pause. American troops have finally left Iraqi soil, leaving behind a mess whose end is seemingly out of sight. Egypt just saw history, Libya is on the brink of it. Pakistan has moved over from Musharraf’s dictatorship to further deterioration…violence and political assassinations becoming the order of the day. Sri Lanka has seen the end of Prabhakaran and his formidable LTTE, while Nepal still struggles and stumbles unsuccessfully on its obstacle-ridden path to democracy. We have seen China become ever more powerful, economically and militarily, while we see America get more and more jittery with sweeping developments in the Middle East, in China and with growing dissatisfaction on the domestic front with issues like unemployment waning and dipping President Obama’s popularity to an all time low.

In our own country, we saw the monster of corruption take humongous proportions as scandal after scandal emerged out of political and bureaucratic corridors.We saw the 
country lose face internationally in the wake of the skeletons emerging from the Commonwealth Games Organizing Committee’s closet.We saw the 2G scandal shake the
very core of our democracy and take the lid off the simmering and burgeoning nexus between politicians, bureaucrats and corporate and media lobbyists. We saw the holder of our democracy, the Prime Minister, become a mute spectator to rampant corruption and scandals in his government, with many of his ministers and chief ministers getting actively embroiled in controversy after controversy.We also saw him meekly utter his apologies and his helplessness at the deeply appalling and disgusting state of affairs in his government. A very bleak and unfortunate scenario indeed, nationally as well as internationally.

So is there no light at the end of the tunnel , no hope, no silver lining? The answer, I strongly feel, lies within ourselves.After all, isn’t it the regular unarmed, Egyptian on the street who became the harbinger of change and revolution in that country? And back home, isn’t it your ordinary RTI activist with extraordinary courage , who, in a quiet and resolute manner, is questioning and probing the very credentials of our corrupt representatives and deeply infected and polluted system ? Needless to write many of these probes have led to some of the most scandalous exposes of our times.And these fearless men and women are doing so without any motive and most of the times, at the cost of their own lives.Killing of such activists had become so common and frequent in Maharashtra that the government there had to actually set up police committees to look into the criminal complaints and requests for security received from these men and women of exemplary courage .Hope other states take a cue from this and follow suit so that these unsung voices continue their journey of courage and social activism undeterredand undaunted.

So my dear friends, as long as these conscientious marshals of social change, whether here or anywhere else in the world, keep the light burning, hope is alive and the future is still there to look forward to!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


The picture that you see here was the grim reality of Iraq six years back. Unfortunately, it is the same today. I took the picture barely a week after the U.S. led coalition forces invaded Iraq in April 2003 . In the heart of Baghdad, a shopkeeper was fighting fiercely with the American troops who had taken position outside his shop. He wanted them out of his space. They were armed with the most sophisticated weapons and he had none. But he had no fear for his life. I think this one picture describes and portrays the indomitable and aggressive Iraqi spirit most aptly. The natives of this ancient civilization that we all have known as Mesopotamia have been through so much of violence and bloodshed in their centuries old history that they have no fear left in their blood.George W Bush and his allies, in their shortsightedness and incomprehension of the Iraqi psyche and the country's deeply factious social set up , created the kind of mess in that country that his successor, Barack Obama, who assumes office today, will have a hard time clearing up.

Bush Junior's 2003 Operation Iraqi Freedom turned out to be Operation Iraqi Destruction and proved to be his regime's most aching liability. For one, it stripped the ferociously freedom loving Iraqis off their sense of freedom and sovereignty and two, it further widened the rift between Iraq's three main factions - the Shias, the Sunnis and the Kurds.In their over anxiousness to correct the historical wrong of repression and isolation of the Kurds and win over their alliance , the Bush regime gave the Kurds the lion's share in Iraq's ' America-installed democratic set up' .Doing so, it alienated the sunnis and the shias.Worse was that it did not even win them the Kurd community's loyalty to the state of Iraq.The Kurds, who have always considered themselves as separate entities did not share the American regime's enthusiasm for a democratic , united Iraq.

Between the other two communities, the majority Shia and the minority Sunni populace of the country, the American regime could not strike a balance.Shias accuse them of siding with the Sunnis, whom they consider their most bitter rivals and Sunnis, while still nursing the grudge against the toppling of their most powerful leader , Saddam Hussein, now also blame the Americans of treating them unfairly against the majority Shias and the Kurds.Result is a deeply divided and chaotic Iraq, always on the boil and on the brink of a civil war.Suicide bombings and factional clashes are the order of the day and the one lakh forty five thousand plus American troops still on ground in Iraq have little but succeeded in winning over the trust and support of ordinary Iraqis.

And therefore, Barack Hussein Obama, who assumes office today as the first Afro-American President of America has tough tasks cut out ahead for him.As a liberal, Obama has always opposed the American invasion of Iraq and later, the Bush regime's policies in the strife-torn land.In one of his famous speeches during last year's Presidential polls , he famously remarked, " I was against it in 2002, in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008 and I am going to end this war in 2009." He has even set a 16-month deadline for total troop-pullout from Iraq.Although, considering the sensitive security scenario there, analysts fear a civil war like situation in Iraq once American troops leave the country.And that exactly is Obama's challenge - extracting his troops out while ensuring Iraq's peaceful transition to democracy, with if not perfect, at least reasonable amount of peace between the three main factions of Iraq's hugely divided society , particularly between the Shias and the Sunnis.

It certainly will not be a cakewalk for the forty seven year old American President who has come to the White House riding a huge wave of change.And it is not just America that is anticipating and expecting change from Obama.It is the entire world and like the rest of the world, Iraq too waits for its moment of change. It waits for the completion of its story..for its march towards freedom and long lasting peace.

Sunday, January 18, 2009


It was like one of those stray thoughts that begin quite randomly and carelessly and before you realise or take serious notice, overtake your mind and senses and soul completely.I was reading a description on the ancient and holy city of Varanasi (Benaras) when a quote by the acclaimed American author, Mark Twain caught my attention , " Benaras is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together," Without saying much, these words conveyed everything and filled and possessed me with the overpowering desire to explore the legendary, ancient and holy land of Lord Vishwanath.

And so in the last week of the year's last month, we set out on a curious and inquisitive journey to the holy city of Varanasi, which is also known as Kashi in Hindu scriptures.But late December in northern India is not a very good time to undertake long journeys.Dense clouds of fog and smog envelop towns and cities and due to poor visibility, more often than not , trains and flights get delayed, sometimes for hours and hours at a stretch.In our excitement at exploring the legend and antiquity of Benaras, we failed to foresee this cumbersome reality of north Indian winter.And as a consequence, ended up spending a good twenty hours, either waiting for the train or languidly whiling away time in our compartment once it started the journey.All this while, the anticipation and excitement continued to build up.

We finally reached Benaras at night the next day instead of the scheduled early morning arrival the same day ! The body was tired but the mind felt surprisingly fresh and active.Did it have something to do with the cool and sacred breeze coming from the direction of the holy Ganges or had the resilience and quiet strength of the ancient city of Lord Shiva started rubbing on to us ? Afterall, it takes an exceptional and extraordinary amount of physical, material and spiritual strength to be the oldest surviving city in the world !

The first sight that caught the eye as we set feet in Benaras was that of the imposing structure of the city railway station.The building modelled like a temple complex was certainly the most innovative design for a railway station that I had ever seen.There was a chill and sharpness in the wind and I shrunk further in the warmth of my jacket.We took an auto rickshaw and set out on what turned out to be a two-hour long hunt for a decent hotel through the narrow lanes and bylanes of the city.It was way past nine pm and the darkness and the fast thickening fog were making the search more difficult.We finally found a place to check in barely three hours before the pre-dawn Mangala aarti at Kashi Vishwanath. We had just about two hours to freshen up and absolutely no time to catch a nap.

Packing ourselves in layers of clothes, we took a cycle rickshaw ride to the temple at about two in the morning.It was a brief but very quiet and contemplative ride through the empty, fog laden streets of the city.The temple is located in the heart of the city on the western bank of the holy Ganges.The area is old and congested and like all holy places, no vehicles are allowed inside.Besides, the lanes leading to the temple are too narrow for any vehicle to be able to move about freely.There was heavy security at the entrance to the pathway to the temple even at that early hour.Heavily armed security personnel guarded all the important points leading to the temple.We were told that the security at Kashi Vishwanath was particularly beefed up after the terrorist attack on another famous temple in the city, the Sankatmochan temple, in March 2006.

After all the security checks, we were finally ushered inside the small Kashi Vishwanath temple complex where the jyotirlinga of Lord Shiva is enshrined.It is said that one can earn the merits of darshan of all the twelve jyotirlinga sacttered in various parts of the country by a single visit to Kashi Vishwanath and therefore, every day, thousands and thousands of devotees from all across the world throng the temple complex to seek spiritual peace and divine blessings.This Shiva temple is believed to have been there in the site for thousands of years.But due to invasions, it has been destroyed and rebuilt a number of times.The current structure is believed to have been constructed by Maharani Ahilya Bai Holkar of Indore in 1780.The Vishwanatha temple consists of a mandapa and a sanctum.The sanctum has a linga set into the centre of the floor in a square silver altar. The Linga is of black stone.

Once inside, we joined other devotees at one of the four entrances to the sanctum.The Shringar ceremony of Lord Vishwanath had just started amidst chanting of holy mantras by the group of priests performing the pooja.The linga was bathed with water, milk, ghee, honey and then decorated with offerings of fresh flowers and garlands.Fresh new clothes were placed on each side of the linga within the silver altar.There was a magic in all those chantings and prayers and as I looked upwards , I saw the most beautiful site of my life..through the early morning fog, the golden temple spirals glistened and sparkled majestically as the leafless branches of an old tree caressed them softly.

As the Shringar ceremony got over, all of us looking at it from outside the sanctum were asked to come one by one for darshan from closer quarters and for making whatever offerings we had brought for the Lord.At the crack of the dawn,accompanied by the unintrusive and soft strains of tanpura, the legendary M S Subbulakshmi's soulful rendition of the Kashi Vishwanath Suprabhatam announced yet another spiritually enlightened morning within the sacred premises.It was the beginning of just another ordinary day in Benaras, but to my deeply awakened mind and senses, it seemed the most important moment of my life.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


Phew!!! It's been a whirlwind time as I just wind up my fifth journey in the last few weeks! Yes, I have been travelling most of last month, sometimes for work and sometimes, for reasons personal. It all began with a trip to Amritsar early December, in fact, I wasn't supposed to travel to Amritsar. It was to be a quick trip to Kurukshetra.We finished in Kurukshetra quite early, and as luck would have it, caught glimpse of a milestone that said 'Amritsar 380 km'. Something clicked inside, I now call it the pull of ' Darbar Saheb ' (The Golden temple), and we immediately decided to drive all the way to the holy city for darshan.

It was a long but pleasant journey and we managed to reach the quaint town before dusk.Checking into a hotel close to Darbar Saheb, we decided to visit the holy shrine early next morning.At night, a stroll through the narrow lanes and bylanes of Amritsar took us back to the times when this historic border town had not yet seen the bloodshed and violence of partition.Nothing seemed to have changed , yet everything had changed .There was an unmistakable calm and serenity surrounding the city.One did come across the ocassional mall and Mcdonalds, but the city, it seemed, had succeeded in retaining and preserving its heritage and old world charm.

Community work (Sewa) lies at the heart of the Sikh religion and hence, early next morning, as we walked through the gates of Darbar saheb, we saw Sikh men and women, young and old alike, washing the marble walkways along the sacred pool with milk and water.The Golden temple, splendid and magnificent in its divine aura, sat in the middle of the crystal clear waters of the sacred pool. The entire atmosphere was reverberating with recitations from the Guru Granth Saheb by the granthis inside the sanctum.

Legend has it that before his death, the tenth Sikh guru, Guru Gobind Singh, told his people that there would be no more living gurus after him and they must follow the Guru Granth Sahib ( the Sikh holy book).From that point on, the text remained not just the holy scripture of the sikhs, but is also regarded by them as the living embodiment of the Ten Gurus.The Guru Granth Sahib consists of more than one thousand pages of teachings, guidance to good living and hymns.The hymns and teachings are called ' Gurbani ' or ' Word of the Guru '. To the Sikhs, the Granth Sahib is more a living saint and therefore, every morning, it is carried in a procession to the sanctum and put to bed at night.

We watched the ceremony in the morning with much reverence, heads bowed and eyes half closed in worship.There was still some time for sunrise and as we sat along the peaceful waters of the beautifully illuminated holy shrine, I marvelled at the never failing ability of faith and religion to soothe and calm the human soul.Although a Sikh shrine, Darbar Saheb is visited by people from all walks,sections and faiths of Indian society and I caught a pleasant sight of some young Buddhist monks posing for pictures.In their curious and happy faces, I could see all matters of religious dispute and conflict evaporate.Pluralism, I concluded , however problematic it may seem, also happens to be the biggest strength of this country.

Later that day, we embarked upon a pilgrimage of a different kind. Close to Darbar Saheb, is the Jallianwala Bagh. Through the busy early morning streets, we covered the small distance on a cycle rickshaw. The rickshaw puller was an old Sikh man with a flowing white beard. He told us that he had also lost an uncle in the brutal massacre and to this day, his large, extended family worships him as a hero and martyr.

The board at the entrance to the historic site read – ' This soil has been made pious by the blood of nearly two thousand patriotic men, women and children .' My heart skipped a beat and I gave out a sigh.Closing my eyes, I tried to picture those violent moments of terror , exactly eighty nine years ago, when the British Army Commander General Dyer made the reckless decision of ordering his troops to open indiscriminate firing at an unarmed gathering of innocent men, women and children.Their mistake – they had gathered there for a peaceful pro – independence meeting.Records say that the firing lasted about ten minutes and more than sixteen hundred rounds were fired in that small duration.One could still see bullet marks on the walls ,carefully encircled.The only exit passage from the park was blocked and the poor people holed inside had nowhere to go.We also saw the well within the premises in which many of them jumped to escape the bullets only to perish in its never ending hollowness.And as I looked down into the well, I could hear echoes of voices calling out for help.They were all unsung heroes of our freedom movement and it truly felt like a pilgrimage visiting the site of their martyrdom !

P.S. - I wish all my fellow bloggers and readers a very happy and fulfilling new year !

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


November is here and brings along chilly mornings and cold evenings.The woolens are still not out in their entirety, but a thin shawl is the order of the day.Getting out of the cosiness of the bed in the mornings is becoming an increasingly difficult exercise.Day's first cup of tea loses its heat fast and I have to settle for a second one in quick succession ! I sit cosily wrapped in the warmth of my shawl, fingers clasped firmly around the tea mug and as I look out into the view from my cosy little balcony, the mind wanders off to winter mornings decades ago when I was a schoolgirl in Jammu.

Suddenly Haauu comes back to life in my vision in the flashback. Haauu was a thin, small woman, around fifty years of age.She was our domestic help.Years of hard work and toil had wrinkled her face, although her hair was still jet black, not a single grey strand there.She came originally from Bilaspur, miles and miles away from Jammu.Her husband had left her and their three sons for another woman years ago.
Devastated and left alone to fend for herself and her children, Haauu left the shame and poverty of her village one fine day and came looking for better prospects in Jammu, where many of her village folk did small and menial jobs.

Ours was many of the households that Haauu did domestic chores in.Early morning tea with us after finishing her work was almost a daily ritual.And many a winter mornings, she would regale me with stories about her ' des ' (village) in a strange sort of dialect which I didn't understand much.Neither did she understand my language much, yet, quite strangely, everything got communicated and understood. To everything that I said, she would nod her head and with a big smile, say 'haauu' (yes !). That was how we started calling her Haauu ! Her original name was Phoolbai.

Haauu told me stories about the river ' Mahanandi '(Mahanadi) flowing by her village and menacing tales of the river's fury during the rainy season. She told me stories about her husband and his family. Her poor parents had married her off when she was a little girl.And as she would drift off in her mind to those blissful early days of her wedded life, her eyes would gleam and the smile on her face would widen a hundred miles.Haauu's husband was a much older man,yet she loved and served him wholeheartedly till he dumped her for another much younger woman.The glint in her eyes would now get clouded by the shadows of sorrow and mouthing choicest abuses against her husband, she would bravely fight her tears back.

Haauu always wore a thin saree tied a few inches above the ankles and wrapped just a torn shawl around her slender shoulders even in the harshest of winter months.She wore no socks, or rather, could not afford a new pair.I did once give her an old pair of mine, but she never wore them herself. Ever the sacrificing, suffering Indian woman, she gave them to her youngest son.She wanted him to study and become a babu when he grew up.She kept him away from the sweat and toil that she and her other two sons endlessly went through.She had high hopes from the youngest and was terribly heartbroken when she discovered that her 'bitwa' had fallen in bad company and had taken to excessive smoking.

I saw her last during one of my trips back home.She had grown further old and I could see a few silver strands also in her hair , but her smile was as charming and disarming as ever.Bitwa was a fully grown man now and yes, he could not become a babu.

Very recently, I went to Chhattisgarh for a pre-election opinion poll and as our flight hovered above the jungles and villages of the young state, I thought about Haauu and her village and the fury of Mahanadi.