Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The End

The end of any relationship never comes as a surprise. The signs are always there. The only problem is that we lack the courage to pay attention. We are way too focused on trying to patch up the cracks, looking for that magic antidote, hoping against hope that the silence is just a pause and that we would soon witness the rapid palpitation of life once again.

However, optimism is a strange animal that refuses to be satiated even when fed with cold hard facts. It finds an explanation for every slight, a convincing argument for every rebuff and a rationale for every rude remark spoken. It has that sunny disposition that cynics find absolutely irritating while the hopeful see in it the very breath of life itself.

Some would call it 'denial' but that would be too simplistic an assessment to make. Maybe it's just the survival instinct attempting a last stand. Or a feeble effort at trying to see something normal even when there isn't any trace of it.

I couldn't help thinking along these lines when I met this friend who told me that a relationship had ended. She seemed relieved, elated and acted as if a weight had gone off her shoulders. I wasn't surprised but I didn't say so because it would have seemed a tad inappropriate. My only thought was, why did it take so long?

I wish there were easier explanations but there aren't any. My friend's reaction, for instance, was not that unusual even though her apparent inaction seemed rather exasperating and, at times, quite annoying. It was exasperating because we couldn't imagine how anyone could be blind to some of the most outrageous behaviour. How could anyone be unaware of what was really going on? How can anyone not be rational about this?

But the cold hard fact of life is that people do not like to be rational about such things. The obvious is rarely palatable, and that's what the rational approach does – shows us a situation for what it really is and confronts us with its truth in all its gory details.

However, most people like to believe in the possibility of a happy ending. They may agree with the facts presented but they won't see it as the complete picture but only as part of the process. Excuses will be offered for any apparent deviation so that the 'perpetrator' is not seen as some sort of a villainous character. The nastiness will be brushed aside as a minor quirk, that's all.

It's part of this elaborate process to avoid disappointment even if it involves being in denial. It is not a conscious act of being untruthful even though it may appear to be so. I suppose it's one way of making it appear that one has not made a mistake, that somehow one was not made a fool of, and one's rational, cool-headed side is still quite intact.

No one likes to be considered a fool or, at least, as someone whose trust was betrayed because it suggests that one is capable of being betrayed and made a fool of. It exposes weakness at a very fundamental level and one that we don't like to admit. We like to project strength, rationality, common sense and a with-it-ness. Anything that's less would make us look stupid and weak.

Hence, when I asked my friend, 'why do you seek out wounds', she didn't reply because she wasn't ready to peer closer and inward and discover the answer for herself. Some answers do not just fall from the sky, they need to be sought with a mountaineer's determination to reach the peak. And even then, a satisfactory answer is not a guarantee. Truth rarely is. And that's the cold hard fact of life: it is not pat answers to questions that we need but truth that will set us free.

Question is, are we prepared to listen to that truth? And therein lies the crunch.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Mama Earth

Today is Earth Day. Officially speaking, it means that we're all supposed to go all-gooey about mama earth, kiss the soil and declare undying love for this planet we call home. At least, that's the image one gets when one reads about how governments and corporations and media outlets go about honouring this day.

Now don't get me wrong. I think it's a great idea because, at least, it celebrates something that's a little bigger than ourselves. All other events – including national days, birthdays, valentines day – have a narrow or a parochial agenda. They're all about celebrating one's little corner but the Earth Day forces one to expand that outlook and see the bigger picture.

But the trouble with Earth Day celebrations is that the hype rarely matches the action, and the ground reality is never the same as one that's screamed from posters, concerts, podiums and pamphlets. There's an odd disconnect between what should be and what really is. And so, I often find myself squirming when I see an Earth Day poster because, I wonder, how serious are these intentions. Are they as urgent as the words imply?

A look at the history of the Earth Day would indicate that, at least, the intentions were sincere. After witnessing the huge numbers galvanised by the anti-Vietnam protests, US Senator Gaylord Nelson felt a similar movement must be created to establish a strong grassroots demonstration on the environment. In many ways, April 22 1970 is widely seen as the birth of the modern environmental movement.

So in other words that's almost 40 years of a sustained campaign on a variety of environmental issues, from global warming, deforestation, ozone hole depletion, CFC emission, population growth, extinction of wild animals, toxic dumps and what have you. 40 years is a long time. 40 years is as old as some of us who have crossed the 4-oh mark. 40 years is as old as a man or a woman approaching middle age. 40 years is not youthful but decidedly mature.

All that's fine but what do we have to show for a movement that's as old as some of us. Have we seen a better world order? Have governments taken initiative to stop population explosion? Have industries taken the lead to protect the environment instead of looking after their own balance sheet? Are we seeing lesser number of animals entering the extinction hall of fame? Or are we still waiting for that magic moment that will change everything?

I know I sound terribly cynical here but governmental and industrial track record has not been very encouraging. It's true that some governments are very proactive in these matters and some industries are spending millions of dollars in turning their processes more environmentally friendly. But that's just a few and it's not a mass movement yet. For some odd reason, people who talk about green issues are still considered a bit odd and hippy-like. And for many people, even a simple thing like using a jute bag instead of a plastic bag in the supermarket is a big thing. Not because they cant afford but they don't feel the urgency or the need. As I said before, these actions are still considered weird and good for 'others' and not for 'us'.

But if the Earth Day has to have any meaning or substance, then, this is the battleground because all the other issues like legislation, picketing outside factories and the like are just minor. The day everyone starts believing that environmental issues are as necessary as brushing our teeth, eating healthy food and wearing sun glasses in summer... that's the day when Earth Day will have acquired its meaning and will fulfil its purpose.

Until then, we need to keep on trying.

Re-wind

It's funny in a weird sort of way that my return to blogging has to do with an election story. The last time I wrote anything with any degree of passion and interest was during the American election circus: Palin's bloopers, Obama's eloquence, McCain's blunders and Hillary's desperation were too good to resist. It was like Survival and Bold & Beautiful rolled into one.

Well, a lot of water has flowed under the bridge since my last post, and the world has seen a lot many changes. Some of these changes nearly got commented on this blog but due to this facility called 'incomplete posts', most of those comments are still at the drawing board. Life has a way of intervening and postponing even the most serious commentary on life.

Obama was elected and is now the most powerful person in the supposedly free world. Thanks to the current economic recession, the idea of a 'free world' does need some serious re-definition. For too long, the western world sold the idea of a free world where customers are kings, market forces are the great levellers and governments not being the ones to decide how one lives one's life. With rising debt, defaults and possible liquidation of large corporations, this 'free world' appears neither 'free' nor charming anymore.

It's not that there's an alternative out there somewhere and that's the bummer because one cannot imagine the present system to continue with the same laissez faire approach as before. Communism was tried and tested but failed to make the grade and reached its end twenty years ago this year. So that option is ruled out and one has to only watch and wait how things unravel in the months to come.

However, on the plus side, Obama has been using the right rhetoric so far, and one can only hope that the man combines style with substance and delivers the goods.

And this brings us to the election story. India will soon elect its prime minister and the world's largest democracy will either have a new leader or the same faces will return to Parliament House in New Delhi. These are not ordinary times for the elections because the global economic crisis has spread its tentacles far and wide, and India is not immune to these events. If the western markets experience a slow down and consumers buy less, it will have an impact on exports and delivery of services at the backend offices.

So in other words, if we celebrated the virtues of globalisation for the past two decades or so, now we are all looking at its downside. Or rather, the globalisation of a collective mess. Whoever comes to power in New Delhi has to address this issue as a priority and ensure that the downturn doesn't impair productivity, jobs and economic momentum.

India and China have, so far, been touted as the next big economic superpowers and it would be interesting to see how leaders from both countries address the current crisis. The actions they take – or do not take – will have an impact on the kind of role the two countries will have in the next fifty years. If this is supposed to be the Indian or the Chinese century, then, the quality of that century will be determined by the policies and programmes enacted by the respective leaders of the two countries.

For this to be clearly articulated, the next prime minister whether it will continue to be Dr. Manmohan Singh of the Congress led UPA coalition or L. K. Advani of the BJP led NDA will need to move beyond petty brinkmanship, narrow populist postures and be more proactive in declaring the kind of leadership they want India to have in the coming decades.

However, another issue that the next prime minister must address is terrorism and Pakistan. While both issues are not necessarily inter-related but the Mumbai terrorist attack last year made it clear that while the Pakistani government may not have been directly involved in the attacks, there are forces within Pakistan that are determined in unleashing violence and mayhem. This cannot be ignored nor wished away.
And as the recent events in Swat Valley have shown, the Pakistani political establishment is also facing its own existential threat with a resurgent Taliban and appears helpless and impotent in addressing this crisis. The Pakistani Talibans want nothing more than a takeover of the entire country and would like to overthrow the current political establishment.

If that happens, then, it will be a bigger crisis for India than anything the country has experienced before. Not only because the ragtag militants will have access to nuclear weapons or they'd be zealous about unleashing havoc on the infidel regime next door, there will also be social and political unrest throughout Pakistan resulting in influx of refugees and possible violence, too.

The Taliban are as much a threat to Pakistan as they are to India, and so it would be in India's best interests to stop the 'blame game' for any acts of violence and instead work alongside Pakistan's political establishment in curbing this threat. Not doing so will be disastrous in the long term even though talking tough to Pakistan right now might, in the short term, gain the political parties some brownie points amongst the vote bank.

It will be necessary to take decisive action with the terrorists but vital to be conciliatory towards elements within the Pakistani establishment that agree with the terrorist threat.

Whoever will be the next prime minister will not have an easy job because the conditions worldwide are not as simplistic as before. It requires someone with a progressive mindset, who understands the bigger picture at stake here, who knows what India's role ought to be and, finally, should be someone who is recognised as working for the benefit of Indians – rich or poor, Hindu or Muslim or Christian, rural or urban.

Maybe what India needs is another Obama like figure who can restore hope and confidence amongst its citizens. Sadly, neither Dr Singh nor Mr Advani fit the bill because so far they haven't captured the imagination of the young or the idealists (not necessarily one and the same, by the way). And that Obama space is still vacant.

It's not that Indians didn't have an Obama type experience before. It happened more than 20 years ago when Rajiv Gandhi became prime minister and brought a youthful vigour to the political order. But sadly the Indian Camelot didn't last long, he lost the subsequent elections and could have possibly emerged as a better prime minister in his second outing but a suicide bomber put an end to that dream.
Let's only hope that the next government will not spend its energy on dreams and hopes but on policies and programmes that deliver the goods... for the short term but most importantly for the long term.