Trump-Darroch Spat & Admiral Awati

National Defence Academy, Khadakwasla (1977).

Rear Admiral MP Avati (later, Vice Admiral), the Commandant, wasn’t amused when cadets mocked him on the stage. It was an Inter Battalion Dramatics Competition and cadets acting as roadside magicians (madaris) had gone overboard with their act. With the wave of a wand one had turned an on-stage Admiral Awati into a goat; and the goat went bleating until the play lasted. The antics of the cadets were in bad taste.

Few appreciated that stage performance. Yet, to everyone’s surprise, the Admiral walked up to the stage after the play and started bleating somewhat like the cadets had done a while ago. He waited for the officers and the families to vacate the auditorium and when only the cadets were left behind in that closed space, he made another small speech, the sum and substance of which was: “Future officers of the Indian armed forces do not behave like this. I don’t approve of this sense of humour.”

Vice Admiral MP Awati PVSM VrC (graphic courtesy Latestlaws.com)

In the following days, did some heads roll? Were the producer, director and actors of the skit taken to task? Might have been; might not. Most of us never came to know. In fact, nearly half a century later, all that is of no relevance. What is really relevant is the message that went down to a thousand five hundred future officers, and through them, to thousands more. And the message was not about ‘mocking/ not mocking superiors’, but a more serious one––it was about the art of speaking one’s mind and leaving a lasting impression.

Fast-forward forty years; a different geographical location; different characters but quite a similar situation in some ways. When Ambassador Sir Kim Darroch wrote a memo to his government expressing his ‘free and frank’ opinion about President Trump and his Administration, he was performing his solemn duty as UK’s representative in the US. It is just that the confidential communication got leaked and embarrassed the governments and a whole lot of individuals on either side of the Atlantic.

The spat that followed is unprecedented. President Trump stopped short of declaring Ambassador Darroch persona non grata. Saying, “We will no longer deal with the ambassador,” and calling Sir Darroch, “Whacky,” was no less damaging. It would perhaps have been a different spectacle, had President Trump dealt with the situation in a more amicable way––like Admiral Awati––behind closed doors.

All-weather Friends?

Needless to say, at this moment the US-UK relations are at their lowest ebb since the Boston Tea Party. Yet, Ambassador Darroch’s resignation is not likely to be the proverbial last nail in the coffin of their partnership––they cannot afford to let it be. Even in times of extreme crisis these two all-weather friends have lived with certain amount of lack of trust. At the peak of World War II (1944), the Americans had put the pilots of the RAF in a (friendly) lock up in Purulia to maintain the secrecy of their B-29 Super Fortress bomber operations against the Japanese.

Country’s interest comes first!

Today, both UK and US are facing the worst crisis since World War II. The US is grappling with Iran, China, Syria, North Korea and Mexico (not to talk of the irritant that has cropped up because of President Trump’s recent racist tweets against congresswomen). The UK, on the other hand, has its hands full with Brexit and the urgency to form a new and stable government. The sacrifice of a diplomat on the altar of their mutual relations would be put on the back-burner for the time being; to be put under the carpet later.

At this juncture, any further dip in relations will be a monumental mutual loss. In a zero-sum game, who’ll gain from their strain? A third party?

मेरा भारत (वाकई) महान!

आजकल देश में बारहों महीने देश-भक्ति की लहर होती है। कोई न कोई  राजनीतिक दल या समुदाय किसी न किसी महान व्यक्ति को याद कर रहा होता है––कभी लोग गाँधी को, तो कभी भगत सिंह को; कभी नेहरू को तो कभी महाराणा प्रताप को याद करते हैं। कोई न मिले, तो लोग अपने श्रद्धा सुमन देश पर मर-मिटने वाले शहीद जवानों पर ही अर्पण कर देते हैं। देश-भक्ति के छोटे-बड़े हिलकोरों से भारत सदा मनमस्त रहता है। गणतन्त्र दिवस और स्वतन्त्रता दिवस के अवसर पर तो मानो देश-भक्ति की सुनामी ही आ जाती है।

राष्ट्रपर्वों पर राष्ट्रध्वज की शान निराली होती है। न जाने कहाँ-कहाँ से निकल कर तिरंगा हर हिलती-डुलती और चलती-फिरती वस्तु और वाहन पर शान से लहराता दिखाई देने लगता है। फिर झण्डा प्लास्टिक का हो, सिल्क का हो, या असली खादी का, कोई मायने नहीं रखता। देशवासियों की भावनाओं का ध्यान रखते हुए कुछ लोग कागज़-कपडे वाले मुद्दे को तूल नहीं देते, तो कुछ उस ‘तुच्छ’ मुद्दे को (फिलहाल) दरकिनार कर देते हैं। ऐसे समय तिरंगे की बिक्री शीर्ष पर होती है। और क्यों न हो, उसका एक-एक ताना-बाना देश प्रेम की भावना से जो रंगा होता है। लोग जो भी कहें, तिरंगा तिरंगा होता है, उसका भी अपना दिन होता है।

और फिर, ऐसे समय शब्द, सुर, ताल और लय कैसे भी हों––गली, नुक्कड़ और चौराहों पर लाउड-स्पीकरों पर देश-भक्ति से सराबोर गीत निर्जीव से निर्जीव व्यक्ति में प्राण फूँक देते हैं। इसी प्रकार, टीवी चैनलों पर देश-भक्ति से ओत-प्रोत सीरियलों और फिल्मों का अम्बार सा लग जाता है। एक प्रकार से देश-भक्तों में देश-भक्ति दर्शाने की होड़ सी लग जाती है।

देश भक्त फिल्म निर्माता और अभिनेता न केवल अपनी देश के युद्ध गौरव को दर्शाती बहुसितारा (मल्टीस्टारर) फिल्मों को इसी दौरान पर्दों उतरने की उधेड़बुन में रहते हैं, बल्कि सिद्धिविनायक मंदिर में माथा टेक कर उन फिल्मों की सफलता के लिए मन्नत भी मांगते हैं। भगवान फिल्म उद्योग की सुनता भी खूब है। देखिये न, लोग मेजर कुलदीप सिंह चांदपुरी को कम, सनी देओल को 1971 भारत-पाक युद्ध का नायक ज्यादा मानते हैं; मेरी कॉम से ज्यादा प्रियंका चोपड़ा को पहचानते हैं।

मेरा भारत (वास्तव में) महान है!

इन राष्ट्रीय पर्वों के बारे में मेरे बचपन की यादें सीदी-सादी हैं और आज, पचास साल बाद, भी बिलकुल स्पष्ट और ताजा हैं। क्यों न हों? बस्ते की झंझट नहीं, आधे दिन बाद स्कूल की छुट्टी हो जाती थी। ध्वजारोहण के बाद सब “वन्दे मातरं” गाते थे; प्रिंसिपल के भाषण के बाद देश भक्ति के कुछ गीत और नाटक होते थे। थोड़ी देर देश के वीर शहीदों के बारे में सोचते थे, उनसे प्रेरित होते थे। “भारत माता की जय” के नारे और वीर पुरुषों की गाथाएं बालमन को देश के प्रति उदात्त भावना से भर देती थीं। चाहे मोतीचूर के लड्डूओं के बँटते ही घर की तरफ गिल्ली-डंडा खेलने भागते थे, लेकिन भावना कुछ ऐसी होती थी कि कहीं भी, कभी भी, “जन गण मन….” की धुन कानों में पड़ती थी, तो सबकुछ छोड़ कर सीधे खड़े हो जाते थे। और फिर, पूरे वर्ष महारानी लक्ष्मीबाई, महाराणा प्रताप, शहीद भगत सिंह, चंद्र शेखर आजाद आदि की चर्चा होती थी। भावना कुछ ऐसी होती थी, जिसकी परिकल्पना सरलता से शब्दों में नहीं की जा सकती है।

मेरा भारत तब भी महान था!

फिर से वर्तमान में…

हाल ही में, मैं अपनी तीसरी पीढ़ी के एक बालक के साथ कार में सैर रहा था। बालक निश्चय ही मेधावी है। रास्ते में करीब साठ फुट ऊँचे खम्बे पर लहराता तिरंगा दिखाई दिया। झण्डा देख कर मेरा सीना गर्व से फूल गया। मैंने सम्मान से उसे निहारा और बालक से पूछा, “बेटा, जब आप अपना राष्ट्रीय ध्वज देखते हैं, तो आपके मन में कैसे विचार आते हैं?”

मेरा भारत महान!

उस अपेक्षापूर्ण प्रश्न के उत्तर की प्रतीक्षा करने में मुझे कोई ऐतराज नहीं था।

परन्तु…

परन्तु, बालक ने एक बार झंडे को और एक बार मुझे अर्थहीन दृष्टि से ताका। सच मानिये, उस छोटे से बालक ने मुझे, और (मेरे प्यारे) झंडे को “देखा नहीं”, उसने असल में हमें “ताका”। फिर वह तपाक से और भावहीनता से बोला, “नानाजी, वास्तव में, कुछ नहीं; तिरंगे को देख कर मेरे मन में कोई विचार नहीं आते हैं।”

मुझ पर मानो गाज गिर गयी। परन्तु मैं भी हार मानने वाला कहाँ था? भूतपूर्व वायु-योद्धा जो हूँ।

“क्या तिरंगा आपको देश के वीरों की और शहीदों की याद नहीं दिलाता है? इसे देख कर आप के मन में देश प्रेम की भावना जागृत नहीं होती है?” मैंने बच्चे से हर शब्द पर अत्यधिक जोर देकर पूछा। मेरी उम्मीदों का बांध और ऊँचा हो चुका था।

उस बालक के उत्तर ने मेरी उम्मीदों के बांध को तहस-नहस कर दिया और उसकी तबाही से आने वाले सैलाब में मैं बह गया, डूब गया। अवाक, निस्तब्ध… मैं उसे देखता ही रह गया। वह बड़ी सहजता से बोला, “नानाजी, मुझे इतना अधिक होमवर्क करना होता है कि मेरे पास देश और तिरंगे के विषय में सोचने का समय ही नहीं बच पता है।”

हतप्रभ, मैं उस नादान को पथराई आँखों से देखता ही रह गया।

भारी मन से मैंने कार आगे बढ़ा दी।

अभी थोड़ा ही चले थे कि एक विशाल विज्ञापन-पट (होर्डिंग) पर गाँधी जी की भव्य तस्वीर देखी। मेरे मन में देश-भक्ति का उबार एक बार फिर आया। आया और चला गया।  मेरी हिम्मत नहीं हुई कि नन्हे बालक से पूछ लूँ, “ये कौन हैं?” मन में आशंका थी कि कहीं बच्चा जवाब में यह न कह दे, “नानाजी, यह तो बेन किंग्सले है।”

निश्चित ही, मेरा भारत महान है। सदैव रहेगा।

देश प्रेम और देश भक्ति पर अभी और कहना बाकी है…

(यह पोस्ट मेरे अंग्रेजी पोस्ट “I Love My India” का हिंदी रूपान्तर है, जिसके लिए मैं अपनी प्रिय बहन प्रोफेसर रीता जैन का आभारी हूँ।)

Dead Men Tell No Tales. Do Dead Terrorists Do?

There was carnage in Sri Lanka last month on Easter Sunday. The Lankans had somehow missed out on (read “doubted”) the lead provided by the Indian intelligence agencies and paid a heavy price for it (Aftermath of Lanka Blasts: Of Open Stable Doors and Bolting Steeds). Perhaps some of the blasts could have been averted had they heeded the Indian warning. Oh really!?  But then those very Indian agencies that provided a ‘clue’ to the Sri Lankans could not place a finger on the Pulwama terror attack in time. Was it a ‘lapse’ or ‘failure of intelligence’ as the media often dubs it? Can they be held responsible (squarely) for the terror strike? There are no straight answers to those rhetorical questions. There can’t really be. One can debate them, with no conclusion whatsoever, till the cows come home.

Needless to say, the job of the intelligence agencies is becoming tougher by the day. Sifting the mountains of information that they come across and zeroing on what matters, before the terrorists execute their missions, is not an enviable job. It is definitely more challenging than looking for a needle in the haystack.

Time to take stock

Dead men tell no tales but dead terrorists do. If one were to go by the media reports, the security forces have recovered a sketch from the body of a terrorist killed in an encounter in Shopian earlier this week. The sketch indicates that terror groups are planning suicide attacks at Indian Air Force bases at Srinagar and Awantipur.

How seriously, can such ‘sketches’ or any other clues be taken? Is another Pathankot, Uri or Pulwama brewing? May be; may not be. Could this ‘sketch’ just be a red herring; could the actual target be different––Delhi? Mumbai? Bengaluru? Hyderabad? Noida? Ghaziabad?

Read on, for a lesson from the past…

Target?

At a time when the World War II was peaking and the Germans and the Italians were wondering about the Allied plans in the Mediterranean, the British engineered a smart ruse. They got the body of a soldier, who had died of pneumonia and dressed him in the attire of a Royal Navy Courier and gave him the identity of one ‘Major Martin’. They secured a briefcase to his wrist, the way classified documents were carried in those days, and left his body floating at sea, off a Spanish Port. The briefcase contained ‘secret’ letters––addressed to British diplomats in Cairo indicating an Allied intention of landings in Greece. As expected, the dead Major Martin was found by some Spaniards and handed over to their Government officials. The Spaniards photographed the documents before handing over the body (and the briefcase) to the British Naval Attaché in Madrid. And again, as expected the Spaniards turned over the photographs of the documents to the Germans who took them to be genuine.

The ruse worked; the Germans were grossly misled. The British and the American airborne forces landed at Sicily and ‘surprised’ the Germans.

“Dead men (and may be, dead terrorists) can tell cooked up tales to cover their trails.”

So?

That terror groups in Jammu and Kashmir are planning attacks in the Valley is a new normal. In this instance the intelligence agencies have logically concluded that Pakistan-based groups might carry out an attack on May 23, the day when counting of votes for Lok Sabha election 2019 will take place. Although, as per the reports, Indian Air Force bases in Srinagar and Awantipur are the likely targets, nothing prevents the terrorists from changing their mind. Or, do they already have a ‘different’ plan? Who knows? Therefore, a really tough time awaits the intelligence agencies and security forces.

Three simple things that a common man can do to strengthen their hands are:

  • Share information only if it is a must, after verifying the truthfulness.
  • Travel and congregate only if it is a must––roads clear of undue traffic, and less crowded public spaces, enhance the efficiency of the intelligence and security personnel.
  • Stay vigilant.

Not a tall order?!  

Aftermath of Lanka Blasts: Of Open Stable Doors and Bolting Steeds

Forty-nine people were confirmed dead and many others injured, in the shootings in two mosques in Christchurch (New Zealand) on March 15, 2019. The shootings were a wake-up call, nay a jolt for people all over the world. In a post titled, “Christchurch Carnage: A Wake-up Call for United Front Against Terrorism” I had talked about the killings and had concluded thus:

“To conclude, what happened in New Zealand will have obvious implications for New Zealand and Australia; the rest of the world will also not remain unaffected. There are two clear options for the world at large: one, to brace for impact without really knowing where and when would the next attack take place. Or two, unite against the perpetrators and wipe out the source. Today is the day, now is the time to get into a huddle, before the Masood Azhars, the Hafiz Saeeds, the Zawahiris, the Baghdadis and the Bin Ladens unleash retaliatory strikes.”

As if that conclusion was lost in thin air.

Less than a month later on April 21, 2019 (Easter Sunday) in Sri Lanka, more than 250 people were killed and hundreds were injured in eight blasts that rocked the island nation. Churches and hotels crowded by Easter revellers were the targets of the suicide bombers. Deaths (read “killings”) continue as the search operations go on. 

Although it was not déjà vu or a case of “I-told-you-so,” many people were not so surprised by what happened in Sri Lanka. Imminence of retaliation to the Christchurch killings was a forgone conclusion. A bit surprising was the location of the strike. That the terrorists did not strike in New Zealand or Australia but chose Sri Lanka, might suggest that this wasn’t a case of retaliation. But that matters little, because those involved in terror attacks (Christchurch or Sri Lanka or elsewhere in the world) perhaps believe in numbers––“Numbers killed on one side offset the numbers killed on the other side.”

The numbers do not offset; they add (Image: Reuters)

That is far from the truth. The fact is: numbers add up. Another counter that picks up speed after every attack is the one that counts the number of neutral people jumping off the fence to join a side in the war against the other. They are the ones who can be easily poisoned and indoctrinated; and among them are the potential suicide bombers. Their number keeps swelling after each gory incident.   

One wonders if it is turning out to be a case of jihad in Sri Lanka in reply to the crusade in New Zealand. While there are no straight answers to that question, more people all over the world are now bound to live in the shadow of fear. The many raids in Sri Lanka; banning of organisations and banning of burqua are some of the indicators of the paranoia that has set in. Similar actions with regards to ‘tightening of security’ have come into effect in other parts of the world.

Now about containing the menace: is it a case of the proverbial stable door being locked after the horse has bolted? Or, it is a case of the stable not having a door at all? Who’ll strike and what will be the next target: a mosque, a church, a synagogue, a temple or a crowded mall, a beach or a theatre/ movie hall? The question lingers menacingly as life tends to trudge back to some semblance of normalcy.     

Much has been said about the failure of the Sri Lankan authorities to act on the intelligence inputs provided by Indian agencies. Accusations are being hurled; the leadership, at different levels in Sri Lanka has acknowledged the lapse and some heads have rolled. But think of it, these were the same Indian agencies that could not see through the planning of the Pulwama Terror Strike. For that reason, the Sri Lankan security set up cannot be blamed entirely for the lapse. Intelligence reports need to be evaluated before concrete action can be taken. Many a warning in the past has turned out to be a hoax. During the Gerald Ford Presidency in the US, there was a suggestion to vacate an entire city due to the threat of detonation of a nuclear device, which turned out to be a hoax.

Dealing with intelligence reports is a rather difficult and complex issue.

In a few days the stats and the chronology of the Sri Lanka blasts will get added to the existing figures. To the rest of world they will start mattering less.

When 9/11 took place, and the whole world was sympathising with the grieving Americans, there, in some small quarters was an apparent brutal indifference manifested by lack of surprise––“What goes around comes around.” Sri Lankan blasts have proved the fallacy of that line of thought. A more appropriate way of understanding the present state of affairs would be to consider such attacks as some sort of a Butterfly Effect––An event (although not small and insignificant) in one part of the world (New Zealand) triggering repercussions in another (Sri Lanka). It matters little where an ocean gets muddied first; when the water gets contaminated the effect reaches far off shores. It is only a matter of time.

Therein lies the importance of the need of a united approach to dealing with the menace of terrorism. It is never too late to get going. The UNSC has included Masood Azhar in the list of global terrorists. One hopes that countries will continue to see eye to eye and take coordinated action to rid the world of terror groups and terrorists.

Rendezvous with a Tiger at Jim Corbett

Utterly tired and exhausted when we reached The Golden Tusk, the one and only thing on our minds was to CRASH OUT.

Like most of our holidays, this was a miserly planned one with regards to time. We had, but two days in our hands to be there and back. The one thing that reined our thoughts and discussions as Chhaya and I drove the 275 odd kilometres from NOIDA to Jim Corbett National Park, was the strong urge to spot a tiger on the Jungle Safari the next morning. I must have driven like a man possessed, a driver driving at Grand Prix for despite some traffic snarls, we made it in five hours flat. We were at The Golden Tusk at 11 am.

WeTwo at Corbett

When we arrived at the gates we did not want food; there was no desire to go sight seeing; and no wish even to meet our coordinator and know about the itinerary––those things were pretty low on our list of priorities. All that we wanted was to CRASH OUT. Was it a blunder to have set aside just two days for an excursion in Jim Corbett? May be. May not be. Read on.

Mr Sandeep Agrawal who had helped us undertake the trip at a very short notice also guided us to The Golden Tusk. Meeting the gentleman personally was a great pleasure. Moments spent at his residence on the return leg, felt like being with an extended family.

Mr Prakash welcomed us at the resort with a disarming smile that took away a part of the travel fatigue. An exceptionally cordial concierge, he made every possible effort to make our short stay memorable. Since the trip was planned in a hurry, all we were interested in was a decent place to stay for the night. We had not cared to know much about the resort. Over a refreshing welcome drink Prakash told us briefly about the available amenities and meal timings. Let alone two, we had not imagined a single swimming pool in that resort. Not to talk of a spa in the middle of nowhere. Although we were not prepared for a swim and did not avail the spa facility, even the deliberatel slow walk past them to our room was refreshing. Then there were a whole lot of contraptions and apparatuses for the children and the adventure seekers. Everything around seemed to be conspiring against the idea of a siesta––a thing that was, until then, uppermost on our minds.

The room, overlooking the swimming pool on one side and a vast green patch ending into the distant hills, had everything one would dream of (and more) after a long and tiring drive. Besides being neat and tidy, and well furnished, the accommodation was spacious with abundant natural light. There were balconies to savour the exotic surroundings.

Luxury par excellence

A warm water bath was so refreshing that we consigned the idea of a nap to a later part of the day and chose to go around the resort before lunch. The buffet was lavish––a variety of Indian, Western and Chinese cuisine and, of course, a good spread of desserts, my weakness. It was a tad confusing. What and whatnot to eat? So we went on a binge.

More out of kopophobia rather than actual fatigue, we forced on ourselves a half-hour siesta. All through those thirty long minutes we were like fidgety children waiting to get over with a forced rest period. By 3 pm we were out again taking a stroll through the local village. We experienced life––pure as pure can be. Two hours were gone in a jiffy. It was teatime.

The cacophony

Tea and really high eats! I love good food. Had a field day. Sitting by a dry riverbed on the lawns of the resort, we shared a cup of tea with Mr Sumit Lakhotia, the Director of The Golden Tusk. He floored us with his genuine concern for the comfort of the guests and his plans for expansion and improving the facilities. His regard for the environment was admirable too; he was working towards a near zero waste facility. I was specially drawn to something that he had in mind to keep the golfers entertained in the future. Wow! That would perhaps be another of the many reasons I would want to be back at The Golden Tusk at a later date. After tea, with a lot of enthusiasm Sumit showed us around the resort. On display were some rare plant species that he had procured from different parts of the world. Then he took us to a grove where, at dusk, all the birds in the area had gathered. We got an opportunity to feel a cacophony we had never experienced before. A parliament debate on the Lok Sabha television was the only similar thing we could recall.

Fine hospitality

At dinner, the smiling staff (and the chefs) displayed an overwhelming sense of hospitality. They were like hosts entertaining personal guests at home––going out of their ways to ensure that the guests tasted almost everything that was on offer and returned satiated. Extra care had been taken to ensure that even the toddlers were absolutely at home.

Toddlers at Home

After dinner, we spent some time by the poolside. The shimmering water in the subdued light, and the countless stars in the clear sky––don’t remember when we had seen such a clear sky last––was a treat not only to the eyes, but to the mind and the soul as well. Sleep had receded far behind in our scheme of things. We would have spent the entire night stargazing in the armchairs by the poolside. But the lure of a Jungle Safari––our raison d’être at Jim Corbett––coerced us to return to the cosy comfort of our room.

By the Poolside on a star-lit night

We were out at dawn, waiting eagerly to hop on to a vehicle and enjoy the Jungle Safari. Surprisingly, a feeling of melancholy pervaded the morning air. For many awaiting the vehicles, it wasn’t the first trip to Corbett Park. They had never seen a tiger in their earlier trips and were not sure whether they would ever spot one.

Talking of ‘HOPE’. I belong to that category of people who carry an umbrella when they go to a temple to pray for rains. I was looking forward to a rendezvous with a tiger. We joined two young keen bird-watchers and a guide with a driver on the Safari. It is no wonder that in the prevailing atmosphere of hopelessness (with regards to seeing a tiger) everyone burst out laughing when I asked the guide what were we expected to do if a tiger were to attack our vehicle. People were mighty amused with my hopefulness. We enjoyed the pleasant chill as we drove into the forest.

The guide’s knowledge of the flora and fauna was profound. He had been perambulating up and down that forest ever since he was a child. He knew literally all the birds and could tweet like them. He had an answer for every question. The most striking thing that endeared him to all of us was his unadulterated love for wildlife. We stopped occasionally at the behest of the two young men who would discuss the names and characteristics of the birds with the guide as they went along clicking pictures. The guide shared interesting nuggets of information as we went along. Looking at the elephant poop and the pugmarks he told us that an elephant had just crossed the road we were driving on.

A fowl in search of food

Apart from over a score of different types of birds including a colourful wild fowl, we were lucky to see a few deer and a mongoose. A tribe of monkeys with doting mothers and frolicking little ones made a beautiful sight. A winding road through the forest; scattered small bodies of water in an otherwise dry riverbed and myriad shades of green––it was a different world.

And then…

Tiger! Tiger!

Suddenly, the guide nudged the driver to pull up by the side of the road, and with a finger placed on his lips in the universal gesture urging observance of silence, in a hushed voice he told us to mind a sudden increase in the chatter of monkeys. They had all climbed a tall tree. Then the guide pointed at some deer running helter-skelter. “A tiger must be around,” he said. And, lo and behold, Chhaya spotted one in the distance, drinking water. Spellbound, we saw it walk away majestically after quenching its thirst. There was enough time to click some memorable pictures.

“Been there! Seen a tiger!” A prayer had been answered.

The tusker

As we moved along we saw another beautiful sight––a full-grown elephant sashaying along the road. Another dream had come true!

Soon we were running out of time––there is a provision for levying fine for overstay in the restricted area. Although we were now in a hurry, we did not miss a peacock dancing. The last memorable sight was of a large number of vultures perched high on top of the rocks. As per our guide, they were by far the happiest members of the Corbett society––there was always enough to scavenge from.

Back at The Golden Tusk, we tore ravenously at the breakfast laid for us; thanked everyone for making our stay so very special. Wheels had rolled by noon. On the way back, the traffic didn’t permit us to pick up speed. We reached NOIDA and drove into our parking lot by 10 pm. We did CRASH OUT this time.

The stay and the fine hospitality at The Golden Tusk, the Jungle Safari, rendezvous with the tiger and the drive to and fro––everything seems like a dream.       

Christchurch Carnage: A Wake-up Call for United Front Against Terrorism

March 15, 2019. Christchurch (New Zealand). Forty-nine people have been confirmed dead after shootings in two mosques. Among the many issues that have surfaced and the many that will keep arising, some deserve immediate attention.

Graphic courtesy The Economist

Terming it as “one of New Zealand’s darkest days,” the Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, said that the time had come to review the gun-laws. Now, as it always happens after such incidents, the clamour to implement stricter laws has once again reached a crescendo. Ironically, the last three times the issue came up (under similar circumstances, in New Zealand) it was shelved for a reason or the other. The opinion is divided because in the prevailing environment even the well-meaning people want to own personal weapons for their safety. It is a difficult issue to address because paranoid people with easy access to firearms are also potential threat to freedom and liberty of others. Besides, a small section of the society (some call it The Arms Lobby) has interest in promoting sales.

Yasmin Ali, one of the anguished citizens said, “We are such a suave community. We are so kind and loving… so I don’t understand why someone would hurt us like this and in such a way. Just like an animal. Why would you treat us like that for nothing?” She is so right––for no apparent fault of theirs, forty-nine people have lost their lives and many others are undergoing medical treatment. The incident has left people shocked, angry and indignant. The attack has drawn a wedge between “us, meaning the Muslims of New Zealand” and “you, meaning the rest of the New Zealanders.” The wounds will take an eternity to heal if, at all, they will; but the scars will remain forever.  

Graphic courtesy Independent

By itself the Christchurch attack would possibly have been written off as a dastardly act by some mad persons, but actions of one of the attackers have given a different hue to the incident. Brenton Tarrant, the 28-year-old Australian man, who claimed responsibility for the attack had posted his manifesto on the social media and had live-streamed the attack. He had let loose his ire against the immigrants. Thus in its goriness, the attack seems to vie with the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon. His weapons too bore messages of hatred. As if that was not enough, the man, rather than being repentant, added insult to injury by allegedly making a white power gesture from the dock when produced in the court.

The well meaning New Zealand Prime Minister has expressed her concern thus: “…Many of those affected will be of our migrant communities. New Zealand is their home. They are us.” One only hopes that her words appeal to people more than Brenton Tarrant’s provocative actions and gestures.

On request from the New Zealand Police, different social media platforms have removed the graphic content from the Internet––a belated action. In any case, it couldn’t have been possible to prevent everything going viral. Needless to say, the videos of the carnage and the echoes of the gunshots have travelled far and wide and have spread different messages depending on who the recipients at the other end are.

To conclude, what happened in New Zealand will have obvious implications for New Zealand and Australia; the rest of the world will also not remain unaffected. There are two clear options for the world at large: one, to brace for impact without really knowing where and when would the next attack take place. Or two, unite against the perpetrators and wipe out the source. Today is the day, now is the time to get into a huddle, before the Masood Azhars, the Hafiz Saeeds, the Zawahiris, the Baghdadis and the Bin Ladens join hands to unleash retaliatory strikes.

Recently, China scuttled the effort of major world powers to declare Masood Azhar––a proven perpetrator of terror––as a world terrorist. It is time that China realises that the possibility (now) of the terror outfits in Pakistan luring the extremists from Xinjiang for a greater cause has become ever so strong. In the interest of world peace, and in its own interest, China needs change its stance.

Does this appear to be a motivated call by an Indian? Yes? No? May be?

So be it.

What is more important at this juncture is: Is China prepared to reap the harvest of its approach to global terrorism this far? Is Xi listening?

Water Conservation: the ‘Marwari’ Way

“Will a village go thirsty? You decide,” is the catch line of a Hindustan Unilever Limited corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiative on water conservation. The video, available on Youtube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5npuHpHDLE0) conveys a strong message, at least to those who care. The message––as well as the graphics (in the end)––that leaves a lasting impression reads: “start a little good.”

Another video (one of the many), doing the rounds is about the water crisis in Cape Town last year: “Cape Town Is 90 Days Away From Running Out of Water” by Aryn Baker January 15, 2018  (http://time.com/5103259/cape-town-water-crisis/).

Videos of this ilk have the power to scare the heavens out of the timid and make the well meaning sapiens wonder, “What can be done to avert the scary situation?” Needless to say, doomsday is not round the corner; but would be knocking at the door soon enough, unless the wake-up calls are responded with concern.

As is often the case, the well-meaning-and-the-concerned on the social media point (and rightly so) at what South Africans did to overcome the crisis. Others direct the gaze at what the Israelis do to make the best use of their limited water resources and to conserve them. It is perfectly fine to emulate the best practices from wherever possible. Of course, copypasting water management techniques from other parts of the world would require certain amount of tweaking to suit our conditions.

How about looking at and learning from people and communities within India who are known to manage water efficiently? The canvas is large. Here is, but one, simple example to illustrate the possibility.

Marwaris of India are known for their thrift. A typical Marwari of yore (say, half a century ago) used to take only as much food as he would want to eat. He would rather take a second helping than waste even a grain. He would wipe his plate (thali) with the last bite of roti. He would then rinse his thali with a quarter of a pint of water and drink it––leaving his thali sparkling, literally. Normally he would also have a grandchild (or two) sitting and eating from the same thali. The person designated to clean the utensils would then scrub them using the dry ash from the hearth (chulah). The utensils would then be wiped with a clean cloth to remove all the ash. One could term the process: Dry Cleaning. Very little water would be used to rinse the utensils just before being put to use again.

Those who find this idea of drinking the water used for rinsing the thali repulsive would appreciate that this used to be the situation in villages where the ladies had to travel miles in the hot sand to get water for all the needs of a typical household.

Straying away from the Marwari for a bit. Reportedly, a thirsty Yasser Arafat drank his urine once, when his aircraft crashed in the Libyan Desert and he could not be found and evacuated for long hours. Recently, Marcelo Balestrin, pilot of a crashed Brazilian aircraft, survived similarly.

Desperate times demand desperate measures.

What can a conscientious sapiens do when times are not (so) desperate? The answer is simple: Do what a Marwari of yore would do if he were to travel in a time machine and be with us today––use water as if it were the last sip one had.

Here are some very simple tips––a drop in the ocean:

  • Use least number of utensils while cooking/ eating food, and wipe them clean with a (used) tissue before depositing them in the sink. Rinsing/ cleaning them before they dry up would save water.
  • Use a single tumbler to drink water through the day; every glass deposited in the sink adds to requirement of water.
  • Children returning from school could empty their water bottles into the flowerpots or flowerbeds rather than throwing the leftover water into the kitchen sink.
  • Bathing (or washing a car) with water from a bucket consumes far less water than from a running shower (or a hose).
  • Send clothes, towels and sheets to laundry when they need cleaning rather than after each use. Hotels have already begun making a similar suggestion.
A Marwari knows the true worth of water

This, last one, might sound bizarre: ‘Bathe if, and when, you must––not daily or twice a day as a matter of habit.’ I know a person who was so genuinely concerned about water conservation that, for last seven years of his long and meaningful life, he stuck to sponge bath… only when necessary. His skin was glowing when he passed away (at 93), and his body was offered to a medical college as per his last wish. He would have been a role model for Hindustan Unilever.

He was a Marwari. He was my father.