Saturday, April 29, 2006

This thing called 'nostalgia'

Nostalgia is not the same anymore. It used to have a jaded and sepia tinted look with scratchy audio to go with it. Not anymore. These days nostalgia wears a familiar face and can be easily recognised as a childhood friend or as songs and movies that defined our growing-up years, or as old fashion statements that once wowed us but now look decidedly dated and passé.

There was a time, not too long ago, when nostalgia seemed to be the sole monopoly of our parents and other grown-ups. Of course, they called it something else. They called it ‘the good old days’ and used this phrase to remind us of how fabulous life was during their salad days, and how things are just not the same anymore. Talking to them, it would seem as if our generation was primarily responsible for ruining this idyllic landscape that they and their elders had so lovingly created.

But fast-forward twenty-two years later, and it’s quite likely that we’d be talking the same lingo as our parents and other grown-ups. Our language, too, begins to, eventually, acquire a slightly greyer shade, and we end up talking the same lingo as our parents and other grown-ups from back then.

What a déjà vu moment.

The only difference being that it's us in the dock and not somebody else. We are the ones who are talking the boring language, and the younger lot are the ones looking at us the way we did at those who were older than us. Most of us fail to catch the irony in the situation because we are so caught up in the heat of the moment that we are left unaware of what we are actually doing. Nostalgia does that. Or at least, our love and passion for nostalgia makes us behave and act like that.

Nostalgia produces strange effects on people. And naturally so. It is, perhaps, the only means by which we can connect ourselves to a remote and inaccessible past and bring back pleasant memories of all that happened back then. As we grow older, our kinship with nostalgia gets that much stronger and our relationship with the present gets marred by disenchantment, cynicism and disappointment. We become acutely aware that things are just not the same anymore because the familiar will no longer make a return journey.

Some are able to adjust and adapt, but many cannot because of cherished memories. They end up living in two worlds, and exchanging few words with them makes it pretty clear where they actually reside, emotionally speaking, that is.

For the past three - four months, I've been, somewhat, occupied with nostalgia as well. Now I'm not sure if I'm behaving like some of the people I've described here but you never know. A number of factors and events have just collided in just the right proportion to produce this effect.

All of a sudden - and completely out of the blue - I got in touch with some of my old batchmates in school, and after exchanging notes, pictures, comments with friends I thought I had lost forever made 1984 seem like 'yesterday once more', to quote Karen Carpenter. And if this wasn't enough, I began receiving VH1 and Boomerang on the Showtime network. Both channels with their emphasis on classic music and classic cartoons conspired to drag me further into the past. They gave a cultural context to my nostalgic trip and, in a sense, provided appropriate background music to the things I began to remember from my childhood and teenage years.

It's amazing how nostalgia, inevitably, forces us to examine the present and look at it from all possible angles. Now I am not the type who cherishes romantic ideas about the 'good old days' because I know it wasn't all rosy back then, but a casual observation makes it clear that 'the more things change the more they remain the same'.

We might be slightly older now, but we still cannot escape peer pressure, the senseless hankering for applause and acceptance, the need for more toys, the desire for company, and the occasional need to be alone. Of course, we give different names to all these urges because, as adults, we have given up childish ways. Or so we like to remind ourselves but we know better, don't we?

But if there is one thing that has changed in the past 22 years, it is this... the world is technologically more sophisticated in its desire to inflict cruelty on the innocent. Compared to present-day terrorists, their counterparts from the 70s seem almost coy and innocent. There is an aggression bordering on madness, and even many governments seem to be borrowing the same style and tactics. A vicious cycle that often leads to an orgy of senseless and endless violence.

In such a scenario, nostalgia is comfortable because it provides an escape from the present. And such escapes are worth pursuing because they show us that human beings were capable of leading sensible lives at one time.

Talking to old friends just makes it a lot more fun and enjoyable as well as adding that much needed human touch into the equation.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Technical Problems

Whenever an editor uses the term ‘technical problems’ to explain erratic delays, linguistic bloopers, missing punctuations and wrongly captioned photographs, you can be safely assured that there is more to it than meets the eye.

At best, it can be a genuine problem involving printing machines that require lubrication or software that suddenly decided to wobble a bit. Or at worse, it can be one of those reasons that drives editors round the bend and turning them into raving lunatics.

But conspiracy theories being one of the latest in pseudo-scientific studies, it is but natural that ‘technical problems’ become fair game to these dubious theorists and scientists. Explanations can range from the involvement of the Abominable Yeti or aliens from Alpha Centauri, wrong configuration in some distant constellations, bad placement of furniture to the Flying Dutchman making an onshore visit.

‘Technical Problems’, as we all know, is the perfect term for any unforeseen emergencies of the unsavoury kind. The phrase is not meant to be  but has certainly become a ‘euphemism’ for absolutely anything we can think of.

It has become a general excuse that can be latched onto any mishap whose explanation cannot immediately be made available. It is easy and precise, and gives the impression of a genuine calamity without actually giving anything away. Besides, there are few people who would actually ask for a full technical explanation because people, by and large, do not like to appear ignorant. They’d much rather smile and offer consolation, and hopefully dig for an explanation through innuendo. Sometimes it works and at other times, it remains as engrossing as a stimulating debate with a stone-wall.

However, there are times where is actually no plausible explanation for a ‘technical problem’, and in such cases, the term actually helps in identifying and sorting out possible problem areas. It becomes a rallying point to get something done and fast. And in such cases, it can actually be a very helpful term because it provides a springboard for corrective action.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Eid Al Fis'ah Mubarak

Among the many different terms used to describe "easter", none appeals to me so much as what the Arabs use when they greet each other to celebrate Jesus Christ's resurrection.

"Eid Al Fis'ah", as a friend explained to me the other day, means "festival of forgiveness" and, I think, it correctly expresses the reason behind His resurrection and a gentle reminder as to how we ought to live, in a forgiving gentle spirit that's ever merciful, ever kind and ever loving.

We are living in an increasingly unforgiving, ruthless, bigoted world and that makes His message that much more relevant and necessary. Let us pray that we will remain true to our calling and remain faithful witnesses of His love to our broken hearted
world, and shining examples of His mercy to a world that's crying for redemption.

So to you all, my friends who are celebrating Christ's resurrection, may this "festival of forgiveness" be a blessing and may you continually enjoy the presence of His Immanuelness wherever you go and wherever you are.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Riting Nglish in SMS :-)

Language purists often decry the corruption of the English language through SMS and email. The argument goes that the so-called messages passed to and fro via this media cannot be considered English. They aren’t just spelt incorrectly but there, also, appears to be a total absence of syntax, punctuation and grammar. And to make matters worse, the messages don’t even look English!

But this argument has a curious history and goes back, at least, fifty or sixty years since popular culture became an intrinsic part of people’s lives through cinema, radio and television. Back then, it was popular culture that was vilified for its so-called corrupting influence and blamed for promoting slangs and colloquialisms in everyday speech.

Of course, the nature of popular culture was also undergoing a seismic shift during this period of time and the reaction was understandable. Entertainment was becoming less elitist and market forces became a determining factor in deciding what’s in and what’s out. And as far as language was concerned, the prescriptive approach found no takers and so culture began to find its inspiration in imitating the sounds and rhythms of the common man.

Hence, standard English, for example, was no longer seen as the ligua franca of popular culture but became just another means for denoting a character belonging to a particular social class and/ or, having a particular kind of education.

In this context, the so-called English used in SMS and email raise certain valid questions.

Are we looking at a dialect spoken by a new sub-culture? Does this dialect require such linguistic anarchy to justify its existence? Is this a shining example of the way people communicate in the twenty-first century? And, most importantly, are we faced with a new linguistic tool for today’s popular culture?

But before we ponder hard over these questions, it is worthwhile to remember that laziness, sometimes, plays a crucial role in mangling grammatical forms and in omitting punctuations. Economics of space, connection speed and the crushing need to rush through time are, also, seen as fellow culprits.

But if we are honest enough we need to ask ourselves: no matter what, can we truly justify the absence of grammar and punctuation in our need to communicate as quickly as possible?

Saturday, April 08, 2006

The Aftermath

It is one week since the ferry disaster, and the tragedy it appears has begun to lose its urgency. The international news networks no longer include updates in their coverage. And the local papers are not finding anything new to say about the disaster. The boat owner’s arrest made people think of ‘divine justice’ for a change but now even that has become old news. It is clear that a month or two later, the entire episode will either be forgotten or will be included as a statistic whenever ferry deaths are mentioned.

But for the two Brett boys who will now live with their grandparents in UK, life will not be the same anymore. At a very young age – only four and two – they lost both parents with the kind of unexpectedness that must seem rather baffling to their young minds. It will take a long time – perhaps never – for them to fully recover from this loss and comprehend what actually happened on that fateful night. And who can explain to those two little girls whose mother was buried in Thailand and their father in Ireland that they will now be living in Thailand with their mother’s sister. Will they ever understand why a strange new country will now be their home? Or will that American lady and the two Indian survivors ever forget the sight of their friends and colleagues trapped in the lower deck and beating the glass compartment without any success?

These and other stories of tragedy, survival, courage and rescue underline an undeniable truth. They indicate that disasters have a human toll as well. It is not just individual lives that are lost due to mistakes made by phoney ship ‘captains’ but their deaths causes a ripple and impacts numerous other people and organisations, too. No one and nothing exists in isolation, and John Donne was right in asserting, ‘no man is an island’ because we can never be. We are all connected by each other and, somewhat, linked by ties of faith, love, affection as well as indifference, remorse, and hate. Loss is felt because it eliminates a certain potential for good or bad. It is felt because it demonstrates the absence of that possibility ever coming into fruition. It is felt because it shows that people are always missed.

But yes, news events eventually get forgotten, and this tragedy, too, will reach the same end as other disasters that once flooded our TV screens and newspaper pages. It will make way for the next big bad thing to happen, and then that too, will make way for another bad thing, and so on and so forth. When the sensational ceases to sizzle, it will disappear. It has to, and it will. The news media lives on a diet of the immediate. What’s now and what’s bad will gobble the eye balls. And if more eye-balls stay glued, the advertisers will be happy and the management will be satisfied. Reflection of past events is not the media’s prerogative, it is the historian’s task to assign meaning and motives to all that happened . The media may, perhaps, offer a better package to the historians in making their presentations, but one shouldn’t expect that. Media will do so only if the past event has some relevance to the present or, perhaps, someone in the senior management feels indulgent with the funding. But otherwise, we shouldn’t expect the media to remain perpetually preoccupied with any singular disaster. It would be naïve to have such hopes.

However, people who lose their loved ones will feel the loss for a long time, and long after the media has decided that the ‘disaster’ is no longer the ‘top news of the day/ week’. Like the Brett boys, the disaster will remain an open sore as they feel the absence of their parents as they cope with the difficulties of growing up, of struggling in school, of falling in love, of entering university, of finding a job, of getting married, of entering a career, of just existing without parents. To them and others that lost their loved ones, healing will take a long time but, hopefully, it will.

After all, life has to go on.

Sunday, April 02, 2006


I was quite annoyed with the non-coverage of the ferry disaster on some of the Indian news channels that we receive on the Pehla network. I found it very puzzling that despite the death of 21 Indians, these networks chose to sideline the disaster completely. I wrote a letter about the matter to Peter Griffin, a friend in Bombay who is not just an active blogger but very much involved in the media as well. He directed me to a few blogs and sites, and asked me if he could reprint my letter in "We, the Media", one of the media blogs of which he is a member. Since the matter is relevant to a wide circle of readers here in Bahrain, I have decided to post it here as well.

I am extremely angry with the kind of shallow, superficial and senseless 'reporting' that seems to go on. Yesterday, a ferry capsized in Bahrain and among the 62 dead were, almost, 21 Indians. And yet... none of the Indian new channels that we get here (NDTV, Star News, Zee News) bothered to even give it the kind of saturation report that CNN and BBC and Al Jazeera did.

Ofcourse, while questions were raised about the safety of the boat and Bahraini officials were grilled to reveal the nationalities of the victims... what do you thiink the Indian channels were showing? Some conclave of some BJP legislators and some other shenanigans of the folks from Delhi. Oh yes, Star News had this interesting story on a little girl who was trying to stand on her feet or something. Very touching but I sat there with my mouth wide open.

Now I am not much of a fan of these Indian news channels, and so I checked the websites of some of the newspapers... and what do I find? The news is tucked right under some very important news like the next cricket lineup, political party soap operas, Gandhi-Bachchan feud... and it was 'agency' news as if the newspapers wouldn't even be bothered by the death of 21 Indians.

Contrast this with CNN and BBC, and it was amazing to see how they picked up the story, followed the threads, asked the right questions, brought clarity, embarassed a few people, and in short... made us, residents of a small country, feel that our disaster was not insignificant at all.

As Gulf based Indians, we are more than aware of the indifference and apathy we experience at the hands of the Indian establishment. Just because the bulk of Indians in our part of the world are the labour class, it is assumed (I guess) that we don't matter in the wider scheme of things. But when it comes to investments in real estate, mutual funds, or just plain seeking money from us, then, they remember us with such devotion that one would want to weep with joy.

We are expected to be loyal and to remember the country at ALL times, especially when there is natural disaster, war or any other calamity but when something hurts us... complete indifference.

The irony is that the same Indian media and 'personalities' are the ones who cry hoarse against CNN, BBC and other multinationals using words like 'imperialism' and other kind words. And yet when the time comes to establish their own credibility they are found seriously wanting.

It is easy for them to accuse CNN or BBC to be western oriented but that doesn't explain why the Indian media choose to ignore and sideline the deaths of 21 Indians. I am, also, upset that a close friend died in this disaster and it pains me to see that his death and that of other Indians would remain a mere footnote and not the tragedy it really was.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

List of survivors

This is a list of survivors that I have received today. Will update more - as and when - I get hold of more information.

Filipinos who have survived:
Lilia Hermoso
Bayani Hermoso
Lanette Salgado
Segunda Siena
Hyacinth Dacay Perez
Abigail Silva
Pamela Belardo

Bahraini Survivors:
Khalil Mirza

Indian Survivors:
Jaikumar George

Source:ABC News

Singaporean Survivors:
Ng Khee Seong
Cindy Liau

Source:Channel News Asia

Ferry Coverage

For a more comprehensive coverage of the ferry disaster, do check the truly marvelous work Angelo Embuldeniya has been doing here. You will find updates from the first news that came in to the more recent.

I will be collaborating with Angelo in providing some more news and comments as and when I hear something new.

Today's Gulf Daily Newspoints out that the 'captain' of the dhow was not licensed and that he is now arresed. It is obvious that he'll take the lion's share of the blame and, rightfully so, because a captain (licensed or not) should have the final say in matters relating to the ship. But some questions need to be answered. Who authorised a sailor to act as 'captain'? Who gave him the right to take this role? Were the management of the touring company aware that unqualified people were acting as 'captains'?

Questions. Questions. Questions.