Monday, December 1, 2008

We, the 'notion'

I’ve been too upset to write. Smile even. How would you feel if armed men barged into your living room and took you hostage; merely because you were pig-headed enough to allow those responsible for your security to make you believe that no one could get to you at home? It’s what I have been feeling ever since I turned on my TV on Wednesday night. Enraged. Helpless. Vulnerable. Violent. Violated. And intensely stupid for allowing things to get to a point where a bunch of sadistic men could drag a country like ours down to its knees.

In the last few days, I have sat at my workstation as blaring televisions and uncaring news anchors wove a tragic web around what I consider as the most serious affront to our nation, unable to go through words that needed my attention, yet unable to tear my eyes away from the events (and their reportage) long enough to have a good cry. I have sat stunned with friends who, with their eyes brimming with tears, have variously screamed obscenities at politicians of all faiths, the central government, Islamic fundamentalists, Hindu apologists, Pakistan, the intelligence apparatus and even defunct metal detectors and dopey security guards. But somehow I can’t shake off the feeling that the blame must lie collectively with all of us who call ourselves Indian. It’s all very well to blame Pakistan and lament the futile inhumanity of terrorism, but we have enough self-goals on the board to disqualify as the deserving citizens of a mature democracy. Without any help from the Pakis. And this is our wake-up call.

I ask myself this. How can we blame our leaders for politicising terror, while we continue to allow incendiary politicians to ghettoise us against those with whom we don’t share a caste, state or religious beliefs? Can we really blame the electronic media for allowing crucial rescue operations to be compromised, even as we are so apathetic that accident victims lie on roads for hours while we all try to overtake ambulances carrying critical patients? How can we blame terrorists for leveraging the indifference of a nation, while we continue to feed the frenzy of 24 hour news updates, yet don’t report swerving drunks flashing beer bottles in cars to the nearest police post for potentially endangering lives?

How can we completely dismiss the notion that some of our own might be involved when we all have, at some time in the past, argued with or thrown big names and petty cash at a policeman simply for violating traffic rules? How can we theorise about porous borders while we continue to balk at security checks in public places? How can we blame corrupt and inefficient politicians even as we continue to think that it’s okay to not vote for all the difference that it won’t make? Most of all, how can we allow ourselves to forget that this has happened before and will happen again, lest we forget.

Through all the despair, the courage of ordinary people, doing what they do best – whether it is protecting, defending or serving others – is what I wish to choose as my enduring memory from the horror of the past days. In fact, I was most struck by a statement made by a British gentleman who was rescued from the Trident/Oberoi. After praising the hotel staff for their courage and service, under fire, he said something to the effect that it is this Indian spirit that the tourism industry should flaunt as its USP. I use the word 'spirit' in as far removed a manner as it has been (ab)used by our impotent politicians. I speak of it as our only hope. For the tragedy and loss is not Mumbai's cross to bear alone. Nor is the ‘spirit’. And that is something we tend to forget too often.

A recent personal experience has made me realise that neither the arrogance of ‘this can’t happen to me’ nor the confused vulnerability of ‘why me’, can shield us from what lies in store, or prepare us for the tough battle ahead. Sadly, we in India have chosen for too long to be victims of both.

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