Archive for December, 2007

Benazir Bhutto — martyr* and metaphor

December 28, 2007

Millions of words will pour out to honor or vilify this woman of our times. Here are my thoughts on this tragic occasion.

Murder most foul? Without a doubt. But in terms of motive, hardly mysterious — her assasins are all around, lurking in those crowds and seething masses that swarm in the public spaces of urban Pakistan. Whether the security apparatus did its job, or whether Benazir herself could’ve prevented her death (by not exposing herself so wantonly), the fact remains that she was moving about in hostile territory wherever she went. Benazir, a Muslim woman and a mother of three young children, knowingly, and willingly, walked into a cauldron of jihadi terrorism. Her courage is to her credit; how else does one confront the sickness of unthinking, unfeeling terrorists who’re out to kill you? Why did she take such a risk when she could’ve led a cushy life as a happy mother and commentator-in-exile? One wonders: did she consciously and deliberately risk her life to become a martyr to the burning cause of democracy? A martyrdom that would slowly bring about the dramatic change she wanted in the coming months? If that really happens, her death won’t be in vain. After all the analysis and commentary have saturated the airwaves and print media, the real human stories in this tragedy will emerge to move and touch us all. For if we feel nothing, if we don’t have moments of self-doubt and introspection, then all the media buzz will have been just hot air. What we’re witnessing is a martyrdom, of a woman, a mother and a Muslim, that has suddenly become a painful metaphor for a disturbed world. A martyrdom that we hope lives on as an indestructible idea — one that will continue to challenge our best instincts.

a few days later: 

We naturally mourn the loss of a human life through violence, but given Pakistan’s background and the current volatile situation, there were perhaps few grounds for optimism even if Benazir had been elected as PM once again. For a persuasive assessment of the history of politics in this region, I refer readers to the best article I’ve read on Benazir: The prodigal daughter” by Vir Sanghvi (Hindustan Times, Dec 30, 2007). He puts things in real perspective.

Here’s a trenchant view by William Dalrymple, writing in the New York Times (Jan 4, 2008):

“Benazir Bhutto was certainly a brave and secular-minded woman. But the obituaries painting her as dying to save democracy distort history. Instead, she was a natural autocrat who did little for human rights, a calculating politician who was complicit in Pakistan’s becoming the region’s principal jihadi paymaster while she also ramped up an insurgency in Kashmir that has brought two nuclear powers to the brink of war.”

*It is the cause and not the death that makes the martyr.

–Napoleon Bonaparte

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Carbon footprints in the air

December 20, 2007

The Bali conference on Carbon/GHG/GW/CC (insistent acronyms of our infant century) has just ended. George Monbiot, writing in The Guardian, has a devastatingly simple — and obvious? — solution to ending carbon emissions: leave those fossil fuels in the ground and learn to do without some of the things we’ve become addictively accustomed to. Changing our lifestyle and worldview — and shifting our focus — is a sacrifice most of us are unwilling to make. The industrial revolution was itself based on greed and making money by polluting the Earth. Tragically. So we have great financial hubs like London, New York or Tokyo that feed on and sustain this pollution by making more and more goods and finding markets to sell them — but without transforming the way we source and use energy. The virus of consumption has infected most of humanity, and few are willing to let go. Simple acts have become the most difficult. Who wants to give up old-style comfort and convenience? (The irony is that this comfort is not going to last long). This consumption is born of angst and frustration, which in turn are born of affluence and past privation. Our inertia in giving it up will eventually claim us all.  Alas, consumption and, paradoxically, ‘cultural evolution’, may well succeed in bringing about our extinction. Can we embrace Monbiot and his ilk? Will we usher in a post-industrial society? Or more to the point: a post-(merely) survivable society?

Gandhi, Gujarat and Beyond

December 20, 2007

Tridip Suhrud (whose words I quoted recently in New Quest*), writing in the Indian Express under The burden that is Gandhi, opens our eyes to the ideals that Gandhi espoused and the contradicting Gujarati soul as he sees it today. A truly worthwhile view if you wish to feel and understand his pain in these exasperating MODI-fied times. Realpolitik is less important to me than the way common people express themselves to feel alive and human, even when they’re gripped by futility and feel hopeless. Suhrud speaks to me about Gujarat in a way that is unique and personal.

I’ll quote from this insightful piece and offer a comment or two as soon as I can.

*a Mumbai-based journal of ideas, literature & comment that I help edit

Charismatic Clinton

December 19, 2007

I’ve been keenly following America 2008, the U.S. presidential campaign. Bill Clinton strides like a colossus across the American political landscape — a legacy of charisma and populism Hillary must now live up to; and of shame she must live down. Win or lose, she will forever be in his shadow. And what a shadow to live in. Will she choose him as her running mate since she hasn’t had much luck with him as a bedmate? As veep, Bill would covet a role as the shadow President, and as President, Hillary would certainly get his attention — yes, even in bed. Or will that end up being an executive order?

jan 05-’08: after losing Iowa Hillary has to worry more about Barack than Bill. The veep thing can wait too.