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.

Little Kanti’s Lemon Enterprise

His grandpa called him Kanti (so will I)––Kanti, meaning ‘glow’ in Hindi. And true to his name, he had a perpetual glow in his eyes, a glow borne of his love for knowledge. That was just one of his traits. Measuring barely three feet above the ground, he was a bundle of energy raring to be unleashed. But what is of even greater consequence than all this, is the fact that the last few months of his less than four years of existence on mother earth had been really tumultuous, and that is the subject matter of this post. And it is as true as true can be, for I have known Kanti well enough to pen this story.

First, the End of the Story

Kanti’s Lemon Enterprise

The sapling that Kanti had nurtured with so much care was now a full-grown lemon tree. It bore fruit in abundance exactly as per Kanti’s expectations. But there were many attendant problems. Balancing it on his head, as he walked around, was becoming rather difficult. Yes, you got it right! The tree was growing on his head. Entering and leaving the house with the tree on his head was a pain; he had to duck low to prevent the branches getting stuck in the doors. For some time now, Kanti had wanted his father to get the doors enlarged to enable his easy passage into and out of the house. He wanted even the window of his bedroom to be removed and the gaping hole in its place to be enlarged so that he could lie easily in the bed with the trunk of the tree jutting out of the house. Very soon the lemon tree on Kanti’s head became a source of untold agony for him. He regretted people throwing stones at him to get the fruit. It became especially unbearable when even his best friends started indulging in the obnoxious act. Kanti’s dream of generating revenue and becoming an entrepreneur by selling lemons was cracking (or had it already shattered?). The lemon tree had become a perpetual source of grief for him and his family. To, or not to, get it sawed off was the big question troubling Kanti­­. The dilemma was damning.

Now, all that was Kanti’s i-m-a-g-i-n-a-t-i-o-n. 

The Beginning of the Story and the Reality

One of the primary sources of all the world’s knowledge for Kanti was Veena, his cousin, a few months older than him. Because of the emphasis with which she always spoke, she wielded authority and her word was taken as gospel by all the children in the locality. 

One day she came out with a nugget of profound knowledge and a corollary to it. Her coterie of little friends was oblivious of both. She shared the wisdom: “When tiny seeds of plants are sown in the soil, and watered regularly, they grow into big trees.” The corollary was her derivation unbeknown even to the stream of science people call, “Biology.” It ran thus: “A plant would grow on one’s head if one swallowed a seed and drank a lot of water.” That marked the beginning of Kanti’s travails.

Armed with that knowledge, Kanti popped a lemon seed in his mouth and dabbled with the idea of growing a lemon tree on his head. He had barely considered all the consequences of implementing the plan when he accidentally swallowed the little thing. Kanti’s life changed with the crossing of the Rubicon.

Kanti drank excess water and even thought of consuming a pesticide for the health of the would-be lemon tree. That he didn’t consume any was the consequence of him not finding one. He devoted long hours i-m-a-g-i-n-i-n-g what life would be with a lemon tree growing on his head. A time came when all his thoughts and most of his actions through the day were devoted to his beloved project. The Lemon Tree Enterprise became a mania with Kanti.

Then, one day at the dinner table…

Kanti bowled over his father, Anil with a question. “Dad, does one really have to study so hard to do well as one grows up. Isn’t it fine if one starts a business early in life?”

“What do you mean? What business are you talking of?” The concerned father almost choked with the half-chewed morsel landing in his throat.

“It is like this, Dad. I want to get into the business of growing lemons and making large profits by selling them.”

Half amused, half amazed, the parents, Anil and Maya looked quizzically at Kanti who continued nonchalantly, “I have eaten a lemon seed and I am drinking sufficient water. Soon a tree will grow on my head. I expect to reap several good harvests every year which we can sell to make a lot of money.” The parents were spellbound as the little one continued, “Dad, you’ll have to get the doors and the walls modified for me to enter the house with the tree on my head. Also, you’ll have to employ a guard to prevent people throwing stones at me and taking away the lemons. If we manage it well, we’ll be rich.” With great enthusiasm Kanti talked about how he had stumbled on the great idea.

With enormous difficulty, Anil and Maya postponed their laughter to a later time when Kanti would be away at school next morning. The conscientious parents did not want to shatter their little one’s dream. It was indeed a delicate situation.

A Postscript of Sorts

It would have been unfair on the part of the parents to destroy the persona of their child’s icon––Veena. Anil found a simpler way out of the situation. After a few days of encouragement to Kanti’s Lemon Enterprise, he convinced the little entrepreneur that his body had perhaps rejected the lemon seed. “Human body does reject things it doesn’t like,” he said. “It might have been flushed down the lavatory long ago.”

Then he educated him on the necessity of soil and other environmental factors for plants to grow.

More importantly, the young parents made a deliberate effort to occasionally elicit the knowledge their little one amassed from his peers, and tweaked it when they felt the necessity.

There are the Kantis; and there are the Veenas and there is the parental art of dealing with the two.

पढ़ाई का दबाव और एक पिता-पुत्र की समझ

वर्ष और दिनांक तो याद नहीं, लेकिन हाँ, वह अप्रैल की तपती दुपहरी थी। मैंने तीन व्यक्तियों को उस भीषण गर्मी में सुब्रतो पार्क में चलते देखा, तो कार में बिठा लिया। थोड़े संकोच के साथ उन्होंने लिफ़्ट को स्वीकारा था। कार में बैठते ही उन में से एक ने कहा, “धन्यवाद भाई साहब, मैं रवीन्द्र शर्मा हूँ, यह मेरा भाई, नवीन है; और यह मेरा बेटा अजय है (नाम परिवर्तित है)।”

“ मैं ग्रुप कैप्टन अशोक चोर्डिया हूँ…।” अपना परिचय देने के साथ ही मैंने उनसे उनके गन्तव्य की जानकारी माँगी।

“आप हमें किसी ऐसे बस स्टॉप पर उतार दें, जहॉं से हमें निज़ामुद्दीन स्टेशन की बस मिल सके; ट्रेन पकड़नी है।” वह बोला।

“स्टेशन मेरे रास्ते में ही है। मैं आप लोगों को वहीं छोड़ दूँगा।”

“ आपकी बड़ी कृपा होगी भाई साहब।”

एक लंबी चुप्पी…

वे तीनों यों गुमसुम थे मानो असमंजस में हों कि क्या बात करें? मेरा अनुभव है कि सीधे-सादे लोग अजनबियों के सामने, और विशेषकर वर्दीधारियों के सामने, मितभाषी और अंतर्मुखी हो जाया करते हैं। मुझे इनर रिंग रोड पर लंबी दूरी तय करनी थी, और इसमें आधे घंटे से अधिक समय लगना था। गाड़ी में चार लोगों का इतनी देर चुपचाप बैठे रहना सचमुच कष्टप्रद हो जाता, अतः मैंने ही पहल की–“आप लोग दिल्ली के रहने वाले तो नहीं लगते हैं?”

“जी हम लोग कोटा से आए हैं; अजय की काउंसलिंग के लिए…”

“अच्छा!? तो कैसी रही काउंसलिंग? अजय क्या करना चाहता है?”

“काउंसलिंग तो ठीक-ठाक रही… परन्तु, मैं इसके बोर्ड की परीक्षा के नतीजों से दुखी हूँ।” पिता ने संजीदगी से उद्गार व्यक्त किया।

“क्यों? क्या हुआ?”

“इसको 94% अंक मिले हैं। पढ़ने तो यह बैठता ही नहीं है। यदि यह लगकर पढ़ाई करता तो कहीं ज़्यादा अंक ला पाता। इंजीनियरिंग करना चाहता है। आप ही इसे समझाइए।”

पढाई! पढाई! पढाई!

मैं हैरान था। इतने अंक पाकर तो कोई भी लोगों की ईर्ष्या का पात्र बन सकता है, और एकपिता श्री हैं जो गमगीन हैं। और चाहते हैं कि एक अजनबी उनका मार्गदर्शन करे। मुझे वह लड़का अत्यंत ही मेधावी प्रतीत हुआ; भला मैं उसको क्या सलाह देता लेकिन मैं उसके पिता को भी निराश नहीं करना चाहता था। मैंने वार्तालाप जारी रखा। जल्दी ही मैं समझ गया कि लड़का अत्यंत प्रखर था और तथ्यों को तुरंत समझ लेता था। इसलिए उसका पढ़ाई-लिखाई संबंधी कार्य अन्य छात्रों की तुलना में जल्दी समाप्त हो जाता था। एक ही बात को दोहराने में वह बोर हो जाता था और इसी वजह से पिताजी की आलोचना क्या केंद्र बन गया था। गहराई से विचार करने के बाद उसे देने लायक एक सलाह मेरे मस्तिष्क में कौंधीं। मैंने उससे कहा कि यदि वह अलग-अलग पुस्तकों से पढ़ेगा तो, तथ्यों को गहराई से समझ सकेगा। अलग-अलग पुस्तकों के प्रश्न, तथा गणितीय सवाल हल करने में आनन्द आएगा व नींव भी मज़बूत होगी। इसके उपरांत बचे समय का उपयोग अभिव्यक्ति की क्षमता बढ़ाने के लिए किया जा सकता है। अभिव्यक्ति की सामर्थ्य व्यक्ति को बहुत ऊँचाई तक ले जा सकती है, भले ही वह किसी भी क्षेत्र से संबंधित हो। तीनों व्यक्ति मंत्रमुग्ध हो कर सुन रहे थे।

“अंकल मैं ऐसा ही करूँगा।”

“बहुत ख़ूब! बेटा, आप में और बहुत कुछ कर सकने की सामर्थ्य है। आपको इसका उपयोग अपने ज्ञान के आधार को मज़बूत बनाने में, और अभिव्यक्ति की क्षमता को बेहतर बनाने में करना चाहिए।”

उस वार्तालाप से पिताश्री गदगद थे। निज़ामुद्दीन स्टेशन पर उतरने के बाद उनको (पिताजी को) अलग ले जाकर मैंने सलाह दी कि बच्चे को पढ़ाई के मामले में स्वतन्त्र छोड़ दें। ऐसा करने से नतीजे कई गुना बेहतर होगें। मैंने उस प्रकरण को वहीं समाप्त समझ लिया था।

लेकिन नहीं…

एक माह बाद रवीन्द्र का फ़ोन आया। “भाई साहब आपने तो बच्चे पर जादू ही कर दिया। वह बिलकुल बदल गया है। इस परिवर्तन के लिए मैं आपका आभारी हूँ।”

“ये तो बड़ी अच्छी बात है। उम्मीद करता हूँ कि वह इसी तरह प्रगति करता रहेगा। उसे मेरा शुभाशीष कहिएगा।” उस दिन कुछ इसी तरह की बातें हुईं।

मेरी सोच के विपरीत यहाँ भी मामले की इतिश्री नहीं हुई।

कुछ महीनों बाद फिर से रवींद्र का फ़ोन आया। “भाई साहब, मुझे आपकी सलाह की अत्यंत आवश्यकता है। अजय एक साल ड्राप लेकर आई आई टी (IIT) की तैयारी करना चाहता है। यदि वह सफल न हुआ तो व्यर्थ ही साल बर्बाद हो जाएगा। हम क्या करें? रवींद्र की इस माँग से मैं उलझन में पड़ गया। उसके स्वर की बैचेनी बता रही थी कि वह बहुत चिंतित था। मैं कुछ पल सोचता रहा। वे पल युगों की तरह थे। मैं शिद्दत से महसूस कर रहा था कि, उसको मेरी सलाह पर बड़ा भरोसा था और इसी आशा से वह मुझ से सलाह माँग रहा था। उसकी माँग को ठुकराना मेरे वश में नहीं था। लेकिन मैं उसे क्या सलाह दे सकता था? कुछ पल हम लोग इधर उधर की बातें करते रहे। इस बीच मैंने अपने विचार संगठित किए। फिर मैं बोला, “रवींद्र यदि हम नियम से रहते हैं तो 75-80 वर्ष जी सकते हैं। एक वर्ष तो इस जीवन का छोटा सा अंश है। यह महत्त्वहीन है। यदि ड्रॉप लेने की अनुमति अजय को मिल जाएगी तो वह सफल होने के लिए एड़ी-चोटी का ज़ोर लगा देगा। और पूरी संभावना है कि वह सफल होगा। फिर हमें कितनी ख़ुशी होगी। और मान लो वह नहीं कर पाया तो उसे स्वयंकी क्षमता का अनुमान हो जाएगा। और एक साल में वह जो मेहनत करेगा, वह व्यर्थ नहीं जाएगी। वह उसकी कॉलेज की पढ़ाई में सहायक होगी ही। अंत में मैं तो यही कहूंगा कि उसे ब्रेक ले लेने दो, और परिणाम की चिंता किए बिना उसके साथ पूर्ण सहयोग करो। इससे वह पढ़ाई तो अच्छी करेगा ही–आपके और नज़दीक आ जाएगा; आपको और ज़्यादा प्यार करेगा और आपका अधिक आदर भी करेगा। मैं महसूस करता हूँ कि वह आपके हार्दिक सहयोग का अधिकारी है।”

रवीन्द्र ने मुझे हृदय से धन्यवाद दिया। अगले कुछ माह तक मैं उत्सुकता से रवींद्र के फ़ोन की प्रतीक्षा करता रहा, लेकिन व्यर्थ। समय बीतते मैं उन बातों को भूलने सा लगा था। तभी फिर एक दिन रवींद्र का फ़ोन आया। ”आप कैसे हैं? यहाँ पर सब कुशल-मंगल है। अजय अच्छा चल रहा है। जल्दी ही वह इंजीनियर बन जाएगा। मेरे साथ वह भी आपकी अमूल्य सलाह के लिए धन्यवाद देर हा है; प्रणाम कर रहा है।”

“बड़ा शुभ समाचार है। ब्रेक लिया था क्या? क्या उसे आई आई टी (IIT) में प्रवेश मिला?” मेरी उत्सुकता अदम्य थी।

“भाई साहब मैंने उसे स्वतंत्र छोड़ दिया था। उस से कहा कि ब्रेक लेकर मनोयोग से आई आई टी (IIT) प्रवेश परीक्षा की तैयारी करे। लेकिन उसने ऐसा नहीं किया। उसे अपनी पसंद का कॉलेज मिल गया और ब्रांच भी। मैं आपको उसकी प्रगति से अवगत कराता रहूगॉं।”

रवीन्द्र समय समय पर अपनी छोटी मोटी खुशियाँ मेरे साथ साझा करता रहता है।

(यह पोस्ट मेरे अंग्रेजी पोस्ट “Question of a Sabbatical” का हिंदी रूपान्तर है, जिसके लिए मैं अपनी प्रिय बहन प्रोफेसर रीता जैन का आभारी हूँ।)

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.       

Jay, Veeru & India-China Relations

What if the world we live in was Utopia? And the countries of the world played golf (rather than rugby)?

Utopia is Utopia. To simplify the other analogy, golf is a game in which, ideally speaking, one plays with one’s own ball, as it lies. Emphasis added on ‘as it lies’. So, what if countries pursued their agenda without jeopardising the interests of others?

Or, at least, countries did not behave like the proverbial dog in the manger––doing little on their own but raising hue and cry when another one tried to do something in its best interest. Allusion here is to the countries of the world (including India) not doing their (enough) bit to gain from the trade and commerce that is available to them but envying (read ‘being jealous of ’) China. For example,countries not doing enough to woo the Dark Continent or Latin America but raising a hue and cry when China lands there and starts reaping benefits; and sending those benefits back home to Beijing.

Another example is the Chinese initiative on the connectivity of countries of the region––Xi’s ambitious OBOR Project. The countries that have joined the mega project know what is good for them and what is not. They have got on the bandwagon with conscious volition. Period.

Why should others (read India) bark?

Because in real life, this world is not Utopian, and the countries are not playing golf. And even those that appear to be playing golf are not playing the ball as it lies––honestly. At least one American President in the recent years has been notorious for(blatantly) improving the lie of the ball. Let’s spare the US and the US Presidents for the time being, since China and India are the subject matter of this post.

It was fine so long as China was pursuing its trade and commerce for its own good in the countries surrounding India; a little adverse effect also would have been an acceptable outcome. But then,China began pursuing its interests at the cost of India’s. The GMR issue in the Maldives, for example, was a setback for India.

India-China Relations

If that was not enough, China started establishing its military bases in return for the infrastructure it developed for the host countries. Acquisition of Hambantota Port in Sri Lanka and the islands leased to it by the Maldives are some of the many cases in point. Besides, the CPEC running through POK is a cause for great concern for India. China’s initiatives in Nepal and the Doklam standoff confirm that it is not Utopia; it is not golf either.

So, what could or should be India’s approach?

Those who occupy offices in the North and South Blocks and steer the destiny of this country know it best, but here is a simple suggestion for whatever it’s worth.

Jay-Veeru Relations

For a moment, recall the Jay (Amitabh Bachchan), the Veeru (Dharmendra) and the Mausi (Basanti’s Aunt) of the Bollywood classic, Sholay. Recall also, how Jay paints a (dark) picture of Veeru for Mausi: “…a good guy until he drinks. He drinks when he is sad. He is sad when he loses money… gambles, visits brothels, blah… blah… otherwise a good guy.”

Can India do to China what Jay did to Viru? Can India paint China’s character for its prospective host countries the Jay way: “China coming to your country would be a great thing. You’ll be able to boast about enviable infrastructure. Your country will progress in leaps and bounds. But of course, the Chinese will use their work force and machinery and building material. So what if your people don’t get employment, they’ll learn good things by being (sorry) spectators. Besides, there will be signs of prosperity, so what if you have to seek more loans to pay the interest on the Chinese debt…. After all being in perpetual debt is not all that bad a thing for a country. Things could be even worse. Haven’t Sri Lanka, the Maldives and even Pakistan benefitted from Chinese largesse?”

Two things need to be borne in mind while dealing with China…

One: For long India has been responding (reacting) to Chinese moves. Pre-empting China on known turfs will consume much less effort than dowsing the fires it lights for India in the future.

Two: Countries are run by people. By human beings who are made up of flesh and bones and blood. And they have a mind. And they have a mind that knows (learns) fear. The fear of notional (and national) loss and slavery is a fear. It can give nightmares, if not to (a corrupt) leadership, at least to the intelligentsia of a country. That fear is the key.

A conscientious three-pronged effort by the diplomatic corps, by those who pursue national interest on parallel tracks and by those who promote people to people contacts with other countries, can go some way in dealing with a less sporting neighbour.

Aborting Crime

Last week the scourge of deadly knife crime in the UK tried to vie with the Brexit issue for space in the British polity and life. An alarming 285 stabbing deaths were reported in the year ending March 2018––the highest number of such killings within a 12-month period since record keeping began in 1946.

Critics blame the austerity measures to reduce UK’s debt levels following the global economic crisis of 2008 for the increase in violence. They say cuts in support services and opportunities for children have left communities increasingly disadvantaged and fearful. Disaffection, anger, fear and the lack of positive alternatives could also be causes of children’s violent behaviour. Desperate circumstances might be nudging children to form gangs and resort to knife attacks.

Graphic courtesy CNN

Some believe that cuts in police staffing levels have aggravated the problem. The number of police officers in the UK has fallen from 1,71,600 nine years ago to fewer than 1,50,000 last year. Some think that a diminished police force has led to low detection and prosecution rate for crimes.

“We will only defeat the scourge of violence if we understand and address the complex root causes,” said Prime Minister May. She rejected direct correlation between falling police numbers and violent crime. London’s Metropolitan Police Service thought otherwise. Boosting police funding as well as widening controversial stop-and-search powers to tackle knife crime has been recommended as a way to deal with the menace. The defence secretary has offered to send in the military to assist the police to deal with the menace.

It is a complex issue.

Needless to dive into statistics; the situation in India is equally alarming, if not worse––from petty thefts and chain-snatching to robberies, rapes, murders and gang wars, we have them all. Rapes, domestic violence, and crimes against women, is a category in itself. While the Brits have to concentrate on one type of crime, namely knife attacks, Indians have a wide range to deal with.

To look for answers, it would be worthwhile to look at the crime graph in the US in 1989 when it had just about peaked––violent crime had risen 80 per cent in the preceding 15 years. Then, in the early 1990s the crime rate started falling, or rather plummeting. The fall was so sharp that analysts ignored the drop and continued to predict worse days ahead until the crime rate stabilised at a very low level and people started walking the streets without fear.

The natural questions were: “What happened?” “Where have all the criminals gone?”

Graphic courtesy The Hindu

The answers were obvious: “Innovative policing strategies and larger police force; drug controls; aging population,gun control laws; economic growth; and a whole lot of other ever-soobvious reasons.”

Levitt and Dubner, in their book titled Freakonomics came out with an explanation––beyond the obvious ones mentioned above, and the many more propounded by experts––for the steep fall in the crime rate. They drew attention to an unforeseen long gestating demographic change that had reduced crime, perhaps more than all the other efforts put together.

On January 22, 1973, the Supreme Court of the US legalised abortion (Roe vs Wade case). Levitt and Dubner explained the judgement thus: “When a woman does not want a child, she usually has good reason. She may be unmarried or in bad marriage. She may consider herself too poor to raise a child. She may think her life is too unstable or unhappy, or she may think that her drinking or her drug use will damage the baby’s health. She may believe that she is too young or hasn’t yet received enough education. She may want a child badly but in a few years, not now. For any of the hundred reasons, she may feel that she cannot provide a home environment that is conducive to raising a healthy and productive child.” Levitt and Dubner observed that before Roe vs Wade, only the daughters of middle or upper class families could arrange and afford a safe illegal abortion.

Children born to women who wanted to abort pregnancy (but couldn’t) were likely to grow up to be criminals. There is a data galore to arrive at that not-so-pleasing inference.

Levitt & Dubner conclude: “When the government gives a woman the opportunity to make her own decision about abortion, she generally does a good job of figuring out if she is in a position to raise the baby well. If she decides, she can’t, she often chooses abortion.”

In the parting wisdom on the subject, which Levitt & Dubner share in their book, perhaps India, UK and the world can find solution to the problem of crime: “But once a woman decides she will have her baby, a pressing question arises: what are parents supposed to do once a child is born?”

MiG-21 Bison & F-16 in the Eyes of a Goof

A New Golf Set

My pride in my brand new Grand Slam Powerbilt golf set was blown to smithereens when I saw a caddie––in tattered trousers and oversized shoes––lob a golf ball beautifully over a bunker on to a practice green. The club he used was not a branded lob wedge but the branch of a tree, which resembled a walking stick. I was incapable of performing that feat.

Unbelievable, but true!

Although the golf set I was using was gifted to me by Mahesh, my nephew, that incident, more than a dozen years ago, made me wonder, “Was it worth it to invest a couple of thousand rupees in a costly golf set, when a similar result could be obtained with an ordinary old set (or a stick)?” The example of the caddie lobbing a ball with a stick was playing on my mind. Secretly, I envied that urchin to no end.

I’ll give a pause to golf for the time being for there’s a more pressing issue to discuss.

The Indomitable MiG-21 Bison

The other day, an Indian Air Force MiG-21 Bison downed a Pakistan Air Force F-16. That’s what they say, and that’s what my feeling of nationalism, which is overflowing at this moment, makes me believe. In the many debates that ensued on the prime time television and in the electronic and print media, I found some people suggesting that MiG-21 aircraft was a match for the F-16. In fact, it was the other way round. They said, “F-16 is no match for the MiG-21 aircraft.” Mind the subtle difference!

F-16

Some suggested that Indian fighter pilots––with their Su-30 Mk I, Mirage 2000, Tejas and MiG series of combat aircraft––were too good, and were capable of matching any adversary. Hesitantly though, some experts broached the subject of urgency to procure the Rafale fighter aircraft. They felt that it was important to remove the doubts about the kickbacks before procuring the aircraft.

In a vibrant democracy people are not only entitled to opinions, they’re free to air them too.

Returning to golf. In due course of time I realised that the youngster could do little more than lob the ball a few yards away with that stick. To strike the ball long, or putt it, he needed a proper club––a stick of any shape or size was no good. When I gave him a pair of better shoes and one of my golf clubs, he displayed even superior prowess.

I set aside my envy and focussed on my game with the new set. My spirit was high; and my game improved––a few more pars and an odd birdie on the whole. I started winning more games against my usual partners. Interestingly, the scores of some of my opponents dipped. “How can we match your superior new golf set?” said one.

To conclude: Ability of the man behind the machine (equipment) matters; it is of utmost importance. But good equipment not only improves his performance but also raises his morale and goes on to intimidate the adversary. It’s time to address the equipment needs of the Indian armed forces in the right earnest. Today, the morale of the adversary is at a low ebb. Delay in enhancing our capabilities will give time to the adversary to recoup and re-muster its strength.