Monday, May 26, 2014

Guns and g(l)ory?

Justice
Justice (Photo credit: donsutherland1)
In a ridiculous profiling mish-mash, I received letters in the mail from both the National Rifle Association asking me to stand up for gun rights and the Brady Campaign To Prevent Gun Violence... on the same day.
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The NRA? As a self identified left-of-centre liberal, most of those who know me would be shocked to know that I had had any kind of association with the NRA. But I did. Thanks to Groupon.
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Last year, the NRA had organized a Small Arms Training class in a nearby Massachusetts town and I always had a nerdy engineering driven interest in guns. This was an opportunity to learn about guns hands-on in the relative safety of a shooting range under the supervision of certified instructors. I could not let this pass.
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To tell you the truth, I was mightily queasy about what an NRA "training" might entail, very much due to the biased image of the NRA I had developed from constant lampooning on the Colbert Report. Funny as Colbert is, reaching across the aisle is not his forte. Die-hard fan of Stephen Colbert I remain but my half-a-day of training left me with a mightily positive opinion of the NRA [Please read this blog post at least through the next two paragraphs for my final opinion]
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This was immediately in the aftermath of the Aurora Colorado movie theatre massacre but all the class focused on was on responsible gun ownership. Sure, there was the usual short spiel about how the gun maniacs/mass murderers only attacked places where people are unarmed but on the whole, it was about being aware of the dangers and duties of being a gun carrying citizen. The instructors were ex-cops and ex-military men. They spoke with genuine gravity about why guns were not toys. I was impressed. [Please keep reading!]
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Then came the horror at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. When Wayne LaPierre, NRA's Executive VP came up to the press and said words to the tune of "If only the school had armed guards...", my hitherto 'good' impression of the NRA was blown out of the water. If someone's solution involves employing semi-automatic rifle carrying guards at every school for toddlers across the 3rd largest country in the world, it leaves little room for doubt on whose payroll they are.
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What do I think about the right to bear arms? I think it is a law which had its roots in the time when the USA was still an unexplored frontier and self-help was the only help. Times have moved on since. People around the world know so much about the USA now that they keep requesting it to get out of their faces and want it to go do its own thing. The Wild West lives on in Hollywood and Seth McFarlane's imagination but that's about it.
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The argument for the USA's Founding Fathers supposedly wanting to maintain armed militia to 'fight' an autocratic federal government is easily dismissed. If in accordance to all government conspiracy nightmares, the Navy Seal Team 6 decides to pay you a visit in the middle of the night, hate to be the one to break it to you but no amount of civilian gun training will protect you from defeat. Ask Osama Bin Laden. Oh wait... In a face-off between well trained professionals and panicked amateurs, the verdict is easy to predict. The days of muskets and bayonets are long gone. Keep an eye out for the drones!
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The question of whether if and how such an archaic law should be restricted is a dicier one. I happen to personally know a number of gun owners who are not the slavering lunatics that some sections of the left leaning mainstream media portray them to be. But they are very very protective of their gun rights. Clubbing them with the gun loonies is downright unfair. If a compromise is really sought, badmouthing them blindly is not the way to go.
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Tradition is an important thing and for some of these folks, guns represent that tradition - passed on from great-grandfathers to great-grandsons, about memories and experiences shared in the great outdoors. Hunting is something I would have a hard time picking up as a hobby simply because I love wildlife and nature too much but it is a skill which is important to retain as a link to our past. Some of the greatest conservationists were hunters too. Charles Sheldon (behind Denali National Park) and Jim Corbett (honored by Corbett National Park) spring to mind.
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The primary difficulty which the gun rights supporters seem to have is comprehending that guns had to do anything with the crimes that were committed. If they didn't have a gun, they would have used a knife or a bomb or a car, they insist. They would point to a case like Elliot Rodger from two days ago where he stabbed 3 people to death before taking his handguns on a shooting spree killing 3 more through a college town before crashing his car in an attempt to run over as many people as he could.
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Here's where reading through the tens of thousands of words of his twisted "My twisted world manifesto" would help. The number of times the NRA was mentioned in his seething racist, class and money obsessed, inferiority complex/superiority complex infused and ultimately sad diatribe against society? Zero times. The number of sentences about guns or his love for guns in the dozens of pages of his self-obsessed vision of society and his "Day of Retribution"? Two or three measly sentences.
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Ha! We told ya! So would say the advocates for unrestricted gun rights. Just a lone loony tune in whose hands guns were just another tool. Why don't people talk about the knife that he used or the car that he plowed through the crowds? Why are the guns the focus?
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Here's why. When Elliot Rodger went to buy a knife, he wouldn't be asked why he wanted one. He didn't need to be. It for all practical purposes was to chop vegetables for his meal. When Elliot Rodger got a BMW from his parents, it wasn't really big news because he needed a ride to get to college. But when Elliot Rodger went to buy 3 handguns from 3 different shops, that was the only time the government should have asked upfront "Why?" Because guns have only one ultimate purpose and owners have to wisen up to their responsibilities.
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Yes, I understand that target practice at a shooting range is not a crime and there is a sporting aspect to it. Yes, I understand that in a remote location where police help is dozens of minutes if not hours away from arriving, having a gun cabinet makes sense. Yes, I understand that merely talking about guns & their technology is just a hobby like any other.
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What doesn't make sense is an irrational fear that a central government database is a covert Communist manifesto to eventually snatch all your guns. What doesn't make sense is that the government can't even ask why you need to stockpile a mini arsenal for which impending war. What doesn't make sense is that gun people don't see how easy it is for someone with an agenda to unleash terrible carnage by the little trigger located at the end of his fingers.
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Go back to Elliot Rodger's manifesto and read how warped his world view was - his obsession with sex and of his rejection by 'every girl in the world', girls he didn't even have the courage to talk to. Read how he turned everything into a conspiracy against his "deserved greatness" and on how on his Day of Retribution, he would be the God of the screaming masses. Read of how he was afraid of his own death but was driven by a 'higher' purpose, to rid the world of 'evil' women and put the remaining ones in their 'rightful' place, subservient to 'great' men like him.
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All the ravings of a madman, I assure you, but think of the smugness that such a man would have when he is looking at you from behind the barrel of a gun. Guns do have that peculiar charm for any madman, anyone who rightfully or wrongfully assumes that he deserves better. The great equalizer in his mad eyes, the relentless machine of death in the eyes of his innocent victims. A quick squeeze of the trigger and his violent visions of 'justice' come to fruition. 
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There is too much frustration and anger and argument in our world. Everyone has their own reasons, warped or not, to seek a solution. With a gun handy, all too often, the so called 'solution' is rash and easy to execute. The gun is more than a tool for self-defense; in the wrong hands it is a short-cut to disaster. 
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Men and women trained in the art of protection, the police and the armed forces, do need their guns but they need it only because without it, they would be unable to fulfill their duty in dangerous situations. Even they snap sometimes, they who spend day in and day out next to these metal one way solutions, they who know the true costs of pulling that trigger. They are also answerable to all for every time they touch their weapons and on how they use them.
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Why should a normal person living a normal life expect to go through his life unquestioned about this power he holds at his fingertips? Power that can be so easily misdirected, power that can be so easily brandished, power that can so easily ruin lives forever. Yes, the weapons were bought with personal money, not government but accountability for such powers is crucial and no amount of whinging can obscure that.
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The fact that the gun rights debate has been reduced to a shouting match is showing its tragic consequences, most recently in Isla Vista. On a word-by-word re-publication of Eliot Rodger's 'manifesto' on Scribd.com, there were 180 plus Likes! Kids who would not go to his lengths but appreciate his 'standing up' for them. 
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Cho Seung Hui, who in the Virginia Tech massacre of 2007 shot dead 32 people, before he was stopped, had a similar 'anti bully' agenda. These feelings of rage are real, surrounding us and unfortunately so are the tools to 'pay back'. Yes, the worst cases are cases of mental health issues too but saying these are mental health issues alone is getting a bit too difficult to give credence to.
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Liberals say that gun owners won't give an inch and gun owners say that if they give an inch, liberals will snatch a mile. Paranoia afflicts both sides equally. The gun owners have a powerful financial lobby of gun-makers and the NRA behind them. The gun restrictions lobby has the support of the people in sheer numbers but not of the politicians who depend heavily on small arms manufacturers for campaign funding. 
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A compromise, if it is ever reached, will definitely leave one side fuming but it is better than making no progress at all. As the only developed country in the world which still has such a huge gun owning civilian population, the US represents a special case. Its specific history has a big part to play in its gun culture and like all culture, it has its glaring share of shortcomings which need to be reviewed and modified. 
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The shrill claims of equating guns with freedom ring hollow when the list of men, women and children killed by gun violence keeps growing ever longer. The price of freedom is to be cognizant of the responsibilities that come with it and how those responsibilities change as time moves on. Guns are not the price of freedom, planning for their dual edged reality is.
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Monday, May 19, 2014

Learner

STUDENT DRIVER
STUDENT DRIVER (Photo credit: the past tends to disappear)
It was to be expected from a student driver, the occasional meandering into another lane and the overcautious approach to corners, turning and checking for hidden tigers at the same time. So too was the long line of cars slowed down and stuck behind him, cursing their luck and falsely confident that when they were at this stage, they weren't this bad. 
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There's nothing more effective than the Driving School or Student Driver board on a vehicle to add a fully aware, all senses at full alert segment into the most boring of everyday drives even for the most jaded of drivers. A student driver, especially a self proclaimed one is an element of the road who represents a mystery, an unknown quantity in this mostly orderly world. What will he do next, is the question on everybody's mind while they are trying their best to stay out of his 'attack' zone.
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Now if a 15 ton, 50 feet long bus has the words "STUDENT DRIVER" emblazoned on it, just imagine the excitement it brings with it on the average aimlessly beautiful Sunday afternoon. Every other driver on the road now has only one concern, how on earth do I get as far away as possible; possibly even the average student driver in a car is trying to do the same thing.
I was one of those other drivers yesterday afternoon and never having seen a bus driver in training before, now realized that everyone has a learning curve to follow! Sure, the notorious bus drivers of India's highways I had known and feared for a long time but I never thought that they too would have had this nervous phase, the time before they became sure that their bus was only an auto-rickshaw and drove it likewise. 
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Sunday, May 18, 2014

Duplicate Sachin

Virender Sehwag(Sihag)
Virender Sehwag(Sihag) (Photo credit: sihagjat)
The past couple of days have been quite traumatic for me, given the results of the Indian general elections. The last time I have felt as low as this was after the 2003 World Cup final in South Africa, when India was given a hiding by the Aussies. I realize the folly in comparing the result of a cricket match to the result of a general election but I bring it up only to emphasize that as a committed Indian cricket fan and a committed Indian, my stand is unchanged. I will be there to cheer for it at the best of times, I will be there to fight for it in the worst of times. No matter who is the Prime Minister.
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I still don't know how long it will take me to recover. In the Indian cricket team's case, at least the 2011 World Cup final was my redemption. Mixed feelings dominate as I have had conversations with people who voted for Narendra Modi strictly on his "development" agenda despite knowing the darker shades of his camp, but disturbingly also with the rabid anti-Muslim side who sincerely insist that the 2002 post Godhra riots were "cleaning up" activities where only people who "deserved" to be murdered were murdered & support more of the same at the India level. Time will tell.
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On such days, I give myself consolation by remembering days when I was proven wrong. One such day was a day in 2001 when Virender Sehwag burst onto the Indian cricket team.
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A 64 ball ODI century against New Zealand century caused a classmate of mine to come bounding up to my apartment. "Kyaa player aayelaa hai! [What a find for the team]", said Bhavesh all excited. I shot him down with a "Bhagg saala! Kaun hai yeh duplicate Sachin? [Who is this duplicate Sachin?]" To this day, I remember the hurt look in his eyes, and my lack of respect for his enthusiasm. In fact, I almost said sorry right then. Almost.
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Sehwag did look like a duplicate Sachin at first glance, the same physical build and the same aggressive mentality. Only that his technique was vastly inferior to Sachin's and for lack of a better word very 'raw'. How long could anyone get by with that kind of foundation?
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Boy, was I off the mark! Because Viru is not Sachin 2, he is Viru 1 (Discounting filmy Virus here). As the years went by, my admiration for Viru only grew, as did my shame at not recognizing his skill at first glance. Bhavesh, if you are reading this, I was wrong and you were right.
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The term "force of nature" is the king of cliches in the case of sportsmen but there is frankly no other way to describe Virender Sehwag. The physics defying bat speed, the smack and deliver approach and the match winning prowess - all packed in a guy as nice as Sachin in attitude. If you've read any of my blogs before, you would know how hard-core a Sachin fan I am but I must agree that Viru has been as influential as Sachin and at times more, since he started playing for India.
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The 2011 semi-final versus Pakistan may have looked like a Sachin show helped along by the butter-fingered Pakistani fielders but the real story began with the first few overs. Umar Gul, the bowler of the tournament leading into the match was taken apart by our man from Najafgarh. Once the Pakistani attack's most lethal weapon was neutralized, everyone including Sachin reaped its benefits.
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There are those who call him a "hudjudiyaa" (a term used in the cricket fields of Gujarat for the 'swing and pray' type of mindless batting). I say no hudjudiyaa in the world can score two international Test triple centuries and be the current holder of the highest ODI score in the world (219 v/s West Indies). There is method to the madness and because his technique is simplified does not mean that he is not thinking about his game.
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It's sad to see his hand-eye co-ordination desert him in his later years but that is the pitfall of being a purely natural player, a fate suffered by fellow legends like Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman. Unlike this trio, the focus on technique helped slow the decline of players like Rahul Dravid and Sachin significantly. But to each his own. Team India needs every sort to balance its needs and they have all served us well.
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He may never make it back to the international team. Much as I hope for a sparkling return to form for him, I know it's quite unrealistic a hope. But there was a unique excitement to watching Sehwag face up to the most fearsome bowlers in the world, knowing that whatever happened, nice guy though Viru was, he would not hold back when it came to his bat doing the talking. 
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Even Indian cricket's enemy number one (IMO... just kidding :D, maybe not :[ ) Ricky Ponting quietly acknowledged it one day, when he said about David Warner "We have FINALLY found ourselves an opener in the Sehwag mould..."
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For better or for worse, Virender Sehwag has only one mode. Swashbuckler.
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Thursday, May 15, 2014

Pseudo sickular ISI "intellectual"

Ashoka lions at Sarnath
Ashoka lions at Sarnath (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Modi fan boys, I confess to being a life-long member of the Pseudo Sickular ISI "Intellectual" Club (henceforth referred to as PSIIC) member, the comments section is all the way below. Your time starts now. Don't bother reading this.
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Unlike some of my club members who have only bad things to say about Modi when we meet in our CIA/Vatican/Arab/Naxal co-funded secret lairs, I see a few advantages if Modi becomes the Prime Minister. It would put to rest the false notion that education is the only measure of a man's capabilities. The last I heard of the performance of an Oxford gold medallist as Prime Minister, it wasn't inspiring news. The measure of a man is in what he does, not his last name, not whether his English pronunciation is pitch perfect.
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I also see a tremendous surge of hope among quite a few of my fellow countrymen of "Acche din aaney waaley hain" [Good times are coming] even in some people I revere & respect like Kiran Bedi. My Club members bring up the Feku [False claims] image of Modi, of his overbearing tendency to claim everything as his own doing, bear in mind, not his team's or his government's doing, but His doing.
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 "The sun sets last on Gujarat, so it has the maximum hours of sunlight in India - thanks only to Modiji. Har har Modi!" all-other-factors-be-damned sort of propaganda is definitely a pain in the ass but the truth is that democratic politics is built on hype. The people have to feel the shot of enthusiasm about their leader, contrived as it may be. Hope is something that the rest of the political establishment hasn't given us for a long long time.
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Also, there is the question of corruption and inefficiency. "But at least we have peace (sort of)", say my fellow Club members. To which I ask "For how long?"
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Kids dying after having the school mid-day meal that was supposed to be their enticement to education; gang-rape and all too frequent molestation on the streets of our very own capital; caste-based and class-based violence raging across the vast hinterlands of India fueled by the inefficiencies of thief ridden government agencies; a glacially slow justice system where only men with 'connections' can expect to get any; gut wrenching poverty with no hope of ever getting out of it except for the pre-vote freebies handed out at just the right (wrong?) time - how long before it touches our own lives and the little peace that we have?
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Modi says "Pehle shouchalaya, phir devalaya! [First sanitation, then matters of religion]" I agree. Modi says "India first!" I concur wholeheartedly though his potential ally Raj Thackeray might handle that process selectively. Modi says "Honest governance is the need of the hour, the only need of the hour." I couldn't agree more. If any religious or economic policy comes in between development of women and sustainable industrial growth, it needs to go and only strong single-minded leaders like Modi can make it happen.
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Why then a PSIIC member, you might ask? If democracy is about choosing the best of the available lot, isn't Modi our only option?
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This is where I prove my PSIIC credentials. Because I will talk about a very dark time in my life, possibly the darkest time in my almost 30 years on this planet. I will talk about 2002. This is not just some hearsay account. I speak from the perspective of having grown up in Gujarat, so bear with me if you made it this far.
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I remember the horror when I first heard of the women and children burnt to death at Godhra station by a Muslim mob. We traveled to Calcutta every year via train, my entire family, crossing the same areas. Then came the so-called "revenge" riots, as horrifying as the "trigger" event. Revenge against whom, I found myself asking, revenge for what? How does the murder of innocent Muslims in retaliation of the murder of innocent Hindus teach the monsters, the actual criminals a "lesson"?
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And all this while, the man-who-can-do-no-wrong was in charge. All this while, the "true" Hindus were cheering "payback" while the famed organizational and leadership skills of our Great Leader may have been shelved away in Nagpur. I remember the speeches by Him soon after which specifically bashed "Miyan" Musharraf as if the main issue was not that he was a Pakistani but that he was a Muslim. I remember James Michael Lyngdoh being brought up again and again in his full Christian name at election rallies when he had the gall to criticize the Great One. 
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I remember seeing a very young brother playfully grab his even younger sister from behind the neck and growl "Hoon Muslim choo! Hoon Muslim choo! [I am a Muslim! I am a Muslim!]" in my own 'Hindu' area of Bharuch and I remember the very real screams of terror from the little girl. That is the hate filled legacy of 2002 and no Supreme Court judgement will ever wash that out of my mind. 
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And when someone refuses to vote for this man, they become the "wrong" kind of people - anti-development, pro-Pakistan? And when this man claims that since the people of Gujarat have resoundingly voted for him (maybe India in a few hours) therefore he cannot have done any wrong, should we believe him? Oh! But that was 12 years ago or Rajiv Gandhi did the same thing with his appalling "When a big tree falls, the ground will shake" comments post the 1984 anti-Sikh riots are arguments which seem ridiculous to me. I am not an amnesiac and so I am a PSIIC member.
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In the interest of fairness, I must say that I have never lived in Gujarat post 2002 when I left for my engineering degree, only occasionally visited, so my only memory of Modi is of that terrible time. Infrastructure wise Gujarat has made giant strides since then if my friends who stayed behind and unbiased news reports are to be believed. Here's the caveat though. Gujarat has always been a shining beacon of industrial development. It was 1986 when my dad moved from the industrial badlands of Calcutta to the engineer's bounty that was Gujarat. I take not-so-secret pride of having grown up in Gujarat, admiring their practical approach to life when contrasted to our artsy complicated Bengali way of theorizing, but not doing too much else. So the Modi story I would take with spoonfuls of salt.
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My parents taught us to understand that good people are good and bad people are bad irrespective of their larger religious or regional identities. They taught us that the worst of the lot are those people who play on this hatred to create divisions within us. They taught us that people of the ilk of Akbaruddin Owaisi and Praveen Togadia are equally worthy of contempt and punishment. They are sure to survive every riot, as no one will be able to get to them. The innocent man on the street will not and these miscreants will cause even more tragedy using the same innocent man's dead body as fuel for the flames. I guess that makes our entire family "sickular"? Should we now book our tickets on the train to Pakistan?
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But guess what? We ain't going nowhere. Corruption is still an issue if certain industrialists get special deals. Why should someone who is a billionaire many times over still need to skim illegal profits from gas which basically belongs to the country? Arvind Kejriwal does not become an ISI agent for raising any such pertinent questions. Equality of opportunity is not a Communist or "intellectual" pipe dream, it is the only ideal worth aspiring to. The environment is still an issue which cannot be sidelined in the interest of 'development'. The surging stock market is great but how many of the hundreds of millions of our poor are investing in the BSE as of now? Development is meaningless if not inclusive and sustainable. 
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The most important point of all is this. Secularism, no matter how much the right-wingers try to club it with the words - corruption, inefficiency and anti-India - is not a foreign 'import'. It is an idea as Indian as can be, older than the hills, fresher than ever and never any less relevant. It is India's greatest strength and its greatest limitation but without it India wouldn't be India. We are a nation possessed with both teaching and learning skills like no other. We represented the future of a globalized world before globalization was even a word.
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To actively seek peace is not a weakness, it is the most difficult and most human of achievements, the only true way to wisdom and virtue. Many have come and gone before in this great country of ours, trying to let loose the rivers of hate only to realize the foolishness of their ways. For this is the land of Krishna, Buddha, Ashoka, Kabir, Guru Nanak, Akbar, Vivekananda and Gandhi. We are watching you, Mr. Modi and you would do well to never forget that.
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Magic faraway trees

Redwood cathedral
Redwood cathedral (Photo credit: Kid Cowboy)
Think of the West Coast of the USA and the first images that float up are those of the Pacific Ocean and its restless shade of blue. The mysterious rock formations and formidable cliffs lining the coast only make the already dramatic landscape even more so.
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Driving along Highway 101 towards the Redwoods National Park enthralled by the many wondrous views of the ocean, I wondered if it was really worth leaving this heavenly strip of asphalt to take a look at what amounted to tall trees. Tall trees? Meh, how impressive could those really be?
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As I got nearer Jedediah Smith Redwood State Park, I became aware that my not-so-tiny Dodge Journey was submerged in giant shadows. It is usual not to be able to see the tops of trees lining the road when driving along it. It is not usual is to be unable to see even the beginnings of the first branches of those trees.  They had me surrounded yet all I could see so far was their ankles.
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Within the first couple of stops inside the State Park, including at the simply named cedar tree "Big Tree" my skepticism waned as rapidly as my eyes grew ever wider with wonder. The scale and size of these trees was hard to compare against anything else I had seen before. These trees, it seemed, were designed for a different planet.
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The Lady Bird Johnson Grove in the Redwoods National Park was the culmination of all that is magnificent about these groves of giant trees. I arched my neck a little, looking up, then some more and then as far as I could. No luck. I arched my back now as far as I could. Now I could finally see the top of these trees and gasp at their size. I also knew that the tallest trees in these forests were not even in this grove! They were unmarked, looming somewhere out there in the acres of surrounding forests; unmarked to keep them off the map of photo-op hungry tourists.
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At their feet, a few other dazed puny humans like me wandered around, wondering, how on earth were they supposed to explain THIS to the world beyond? Photographs wouldn't suffice and descriptions would fall woefully short. They wanted to let the world know, to shake everyone they knew and shout in their faces "Go! I can't explain how amazing this place is! Go! See it for yourself."
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An information board at one location talked about how silent these redwood forests seemed when compared to the nature's noisy squabbles in a tropical forest. The tops of the trees and their first branches were so high up that they did not afford the animals living on the ground the chance to quickly scamper up their great trunks to safety. Hence the quietness. 
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The quietness came from the deep feeling of awe generated when walking under the gaze of 200 foot plus observers, most of them over a 1000 years old. The quietness came from the perception that if a tropical forest were Mother Nature's version of a bazaar, this was her version of a monument. The quietness came from the strong connection that exists between nature and us making words seem superficial.
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Anything else would be a violation, a crude disrespect of this true magic, ancient, strong and eternal.
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[http://virtual-inksanity.blogspot.com/2014/05/magic-faraway-trees.html]
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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Tiru Uncle

Salim Ali
Salim Ali (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Before Dr. Brady Barr and Steve "Crocodile Hunter" Irwin; before Jane Goodall and Diane Fossey; even before Jim Corbett and Salim Ali; long before we were old enough to spell 'conservation', we knew what it was all about. 
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In a small town like Bharuch, legendary status is tough to obtain. People meet each other all too frequently on the streets and know of each other's most embarrassing secrets all too well for that to happen. But the mind of kids is a different matter. A professional snake wrangler is pretty assured of super stardom.
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This is all I knew about Tiru Uncle and it was enough : he was a cowboy hat wearing individual, the one to call in case a snake showed up in your neighbourhood. Correspondingly, I also knew that it was wrong to kill a snake, no matter how poisonous and evil and slithery it looked. Because Tiru Uncle would swoop in and take it away to let it live in the snake enclosure of his Deer Park, the closest thing we had to a zoo in our little town in southern Gujarat.
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One day, a silvery snake came wandering about a construction site near our neighbourhood. Not being the best as far as eyesight goes, it thought it could camouflage itself in a dune of construction sand. Bad choice. The alarm was raised and the saviour was hailed. Tiru Uncle armed with only a gunny sack & a long rod solved the situation, saving lives, both human and snake. 
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Impressed as I was, I noted with some dismay, he wasn't wearing a cowboy hat the one time I saw him and he was balding. It did ruin just a little bit my Indiana Jones image-by-imagination of him.
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It is National Park Week in the US from the 19th of April to the 27th, a time for all nature (and history) lovers to rally behind all that is precious but has no price tag. Conserving nature in all its glory is a relatively new idea. Most of human history we have spent planning how to conquer it.
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As long as there are people like Tiru Uncle bustling about in every remote corner of the world, and there are such people, we stand a very good chance of preserving what we have left. We are lucky to have some wonderful roommates on this planet of ours and some wonderful human beings who fight for them. If there is one place where the wild & free have a permanent place, it is inside the child in us all. Once that flame of wonder is sparked, there's no shutting it down.
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Sunday, April 13, 2014

True HD

Harley Davidson
Harley Davidson (Photo credit: Moyan_Brenn (back soon, sorry for not commenting))
Nomad. Drifter. Escapologist.
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Stillness means death. Purpose ruins pleasure. Escape, shed some wheels.
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Often times, I had noticed the signal passed between two of a kind passing each other on twisty little roads. A little upside-down 'V' with the fingers and an acknowledging nod of the head on both sides. Ride safe or welcome to the brotherhood, what it meant I was really not sure.
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On a beckoning September weekend, I was freed. Sure there was still gravity, always ready to bring me down at a moment's notice. But there was also the caressing wind. Sure, there were those that rolled their eyes at the folly of picking two wheels over four. What good could possibly come of it, what logical reasoning? With every twist of the right wrist, the sticky swamp of logic fell further behind.
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The motorcycle by its very existence angers the sorry school of "But is it necessary?" No, it is not necessary and for that very reason, necessary. For it is freedom, for it is flight, for it is fantasy.
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The backroads of Massachusetts were haunted by more madmen of my ilk on that weekend and I did not lose any opportunity to flash the sign or reciprocate. The thrum & the roar of the engine, the delicate balancing act between hero & zero and the persistent excitement with which the world is experienced astride this cure of all cures. Those car guys? The sorry saps don't know what they are missing.
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Sunday, April 6, 2014

Jogi

Mahendra Singh Dhoni at Adelaide Oval
Mahendra Singh Dhoni at Adelaide Oval (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
"[Insert swear word], isko kyun bowling de diyaa?"
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It was year 2007, a bad year for Indian cricket fans already. A first round exit from the World Cup in the West Indies, to be followed by a poor decision. Mahendra Singh Dhoni was a weird choice for captain of this new cricket variant called the T20. The senior pros Sachin, Dravid and Ganguly had decided to sit out and let the kids play this kids' World Cup. Why not Yuvraj Singh, I had asked?
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Then came the final over of the final with Pakistan a boundary away from victory. Dhoni turned to a terrified looking Joginder Sharma. That was it. I was convinced. What a disaster this new captain was!
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As it turned out, Misbah-ul-Haq committed hara-kiri. Sreesanth was waiting to pick up the death certificate. Of course, we were overjoyed in that moment, the trio of old school friends who danced the Russian Cossack dance out of sheer relief in front of the TV. How lucky was MSD to get away with that! Winning helped temper down too much criticism. It always does.
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Soon we were to learn that our new captain embodied Kipling's
"If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same" advice to the E.
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And he kept getting away with a lot more. The most stressful job in all of India did lead to the greying of his now trimmed hair but as far external signs were concerned, that was all. Because nothing it seemed could shake MS Dhoni. Victory did not make him exult, defeat did not make him whinge and anger could not escape whatever dark prison it finds itself imprisoned within Dhoni's inscrutable face.
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We the Indian cricket fans, the loudest, the most rabid, most passionate sports fans in all of the world are a better nation because of it. Dhoni is the kind of captain that India needed but did not know it did.
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The IPL investigation has opened up a can of worms destroying permanently that image of Dhoni's perfectness. I would still like to believe that it was solely because of the corruption indulged in by his boss, Srini that Dhoni finds himself in the mess that he is in. I also understand that facts are not always in sync with what I would 'like' to believe.
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What cannot be doubted that Dhoni is a player with only specific and limited cricketing talent. What also cannot be doubted is that what he had achieved with that talent is extraordinary, an inspiration for everyone from the Joginder Sharmas to the Virat Kohlis. Effort and hard work, he just cannot be faulted on.
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7 years later, another T20 World Cup final is at hand but the world has changed a lot since. On current form, India is almost expected to win and with that will grow the whispers of how India's victories tie in closely with Srini's toughest phases of legal trouble (Pssstttt... fixing).
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Dhoni is a hero in my book, Srini is the criminal. Justice is blind to past achievements so sad as it makes me to say it, in case of any wrongdoing, Dhoni must pay his dues. The Indian cricket team is my team because it is India's team, not Srini's no matter how much he tries to bathe himself in reflected glory. The team of 11 players is still going to put themselves on the line hoping to bring temporary joy to those insatiable fans of theirs.
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Victory today should not drive the issues of the rot within the BCCI to the background but unfortunately it will. Defeat will most likely result in people gleefully cheering for Dhoni's downfall and clubbing him with miserable lowlifes like Srini. Neither outcome is to be celebrated too enthusiastically in my opinion.
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Despite the efforts at finding a balanced approach, I find myself wearing my "lucky" Indian team jersey from the 2011 World Cup final today. Despite knowing the darker side of politics in cricket, I want to focus solely on the next 40 overs as we take on an able & oft-seen rival in the field. Despite all my rationalizing and eulogizing, this is still my team and this is still my country.
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"Jeeteygaa bhai jeeteygaa, India jeeteygaa [Repeat]"
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Thursday, April 3, 2014

It wasn't even April

David Attenborough 1
David Attenborough 1 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The scene was, as the cliche goes, idyllic. Rolling meadows of green blending into the even more picturesque White Mountains. Stunningly beautiful horses- jet black, chestnut brown, almost silver - roamed the hillside, surely aware of how lucky they were to live on a farm like this, especially on a perfect day like this.
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Said Byron , "Do ya notice something odd about these horses?"
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Not being an expert on the subject, I could only shake my head. My interest was piqued. Animal facts are usually awesome.
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He continued "Notice how the right side legs, front and rear, of the horses are significantly shorter than the left side legs. This is so that they can easily graze on the steep hillsides of New Hampshire."
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My mind was *blown away*! Hurray for evolution! What an awesome fact!
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There are no nature documentaries on the Granite State that I can think of. Yet in my head I heard David Attenborough's British voice say "Deep in the mountains of New Hampshire, horses have developed a special adaptation..."
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The look of wonder on my face must have been pretty evident. Because Byron started shaking, slightly at first, before spilling out into all out laughter like a madman.
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It wasn't even April but boy, was I fooled!
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Friday, March 21, 2014

Wenga Boys in Blue

ARSENAL!!!
ARSENAL!!! (Photo credit: rohan-04)
Two teams disturbingly similar. Two teams that you cheer for and fear for. At exactly the same time. Sometimes I wonder what life is like for fans of 'winningest' teams like the Australian cricket team or Manchester United. I pity those fools.
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Being a sports fan is all about being completely emotionally invested in the fortunes of a team or player, yet having absolutely zero control over it. Ups and downs, high-fives and stabbings which one needs to put up with for no reason at all. Emotionally investing in Australia or Manchester United is as exciting as watching paint peel. Yes, every 10 years, a flake or two will fall off but do you really want to keep your life so short of drama?
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For drama, triumph and tragedy, we must turn to Messrs. Indian cricket team and a little football club in North London called the Arsenal Football Club. A common criticism amongst their detractors of whom there are many is that they lack 'guts' (in foreign conditions/in high stakes matches). For them, sports is all about the numbers, wins v/s losses; a cold, dry mathematical anything-goes-to-get-a-win way of life. For the second time within the same blog post, I pity them.
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Sport is more than just mathematics. Mathematics tells us what happened in the end, not how we got there. It's like watching only the final scene of "The Matrix" where Neo flies off into the sky and claiming that was the only part worth watching. There is beauty in the passes, there is magic in the flowing drives, there is sweet redemption for the mercurially talented - all lost to the numbers obsessed "Winning is all we care for" mafia.
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India, as always, steps into a World Cup tentatively, its fans unsure of what to expect, if anything at all. Arsenal play Chelsea tomorrow with the Stamford Bridge boys likely to put their all behind staying on top for the final few games. 
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In India's case, my favourite Indian captain of all time has a lot of pressure piling onto his overworked back both on field and off. Despite everything MSD has done for India, to his less-than-sharp critics, he will always be 'lucky'. I only wish him more 'luck'.
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In Arsenal's case, the future of a brilliant man hangs in balance, a man committed to the strangely idealistic notion of nurturing his own talent. Arsene Wenger is the reason behind Arsenal's 'beautiful' football, not gutsy enough for some, not realistic enough for others. But his brand of football is what makes Arsenal Arsenal as we have known for the past 20 years.
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Will it be glory? Or will it be gory? I should have been used to this feeling of hopeful despair by now. But I guess I never will be. It's not like I haven't been here before.
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Monday, February 24, 2014

Illusion

Quiet Please - Sheepcote Street - sign
Quiet Please - Sheepcote Street - sign (Photo credit: ell brown)
Silence is an illusion. No matter how quiet it gets, it is never perfectly quiet. Complete silence may be a possibility in the depths of outer space but since I have never been there, I cannot confirm.
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Waking up in the dead of the deadest night, I can still hear the tick-tock of the wall clock as it goes about its dreary duty, the rubbery sound of car tires returning home after a long night out or a train's distant whistle. In remote corners away from civilization, there is still no escape from the world of sound, the crack of a distant twig, the burble of a flowing stream or even the sound of my own breathing inside the sleeping bag always punctuating the wild domains of the moon and starlight. The camper may be in search of peace but there is always sound surrounding his world, albeit of the more pleasant kind.
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Silence is a deep tide continuously flowing in, seeking to cover in all its wake yet allowing the smallest of objects to bob up. At times, the flotilla overwhelms the surface making us forget the power underneath. As the world goes to sleep, one bedroom light at a time, it becomes the primal force roaming our deserted streets and parks leaving us, the nervous sound-makers strictly in the minority.
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