Tuesday, April 30, 2013

All in the Blood

It was a quiet day by the river Isar that passed through the Camp. I had been woken up rather brashly by Tiverium - it was my birthday. Assuming of course that Syracuse and Rorankite used the same calendar; it was amazing how I had never cared to find out. Nonetheless, it was an occasion that made Tiverium extremely happy, and that was good enough for me.

As we sat by the river, having eaten our fill of stale cake, I heard someone on horseback. This was strange for most people in the Camp did not own a horse - including myself, since my steed was killed, I have not seen a horse in these parts. I turned around to see and what I saw left me curious - there were two people on the horse, a rather old man and, embraced in his hands, a young maiden. They would've been related, he perhaps her father or even grandfather, if not for the way they were so tightly embraced.

I looked at Tiverium, hoping to find some answers. He had none. Then, the odd couple stopped near us and began to chant:

Oh see, my beautiful lily,
As how the flowers bloom!
See how the lonely go about,
Is it not so great, as we live -
Free to love, to merry, to shout?

They began to laugh - Tiverium was quite confused, but I understood. Such jest upon me, the 'lone stranger'? I had to reply:

Night and day, victory and defeat,
Two sides of a coin, I was told.
How wrong I was, lo and behold,
Shades of gray in the world between.

It worked. They stopped instantly and stared at me. Their reaction surprised me a little, they looked as though I was a ghost!

"We shall meet again, lone stranger," the man said. And with that, both of them sped away.

"That was quite smart," began Tiverium. "I don't know how you did it... but how did you learn to compose verse?"

"It always came to me naturally... as natural as breathing. But why is it so important?"

"Well, certainly, the former King of Landeb finds it important."

Bartering away India's Future

It never fails. Right from the very first one, the UPA-2 Government has been battling for survival in every session of Parliament. With every few months, this Government has outdone itself in compromising the interests of the country and its people. Whether it was the Commonwealth Games mess-up or the 2G scam, there seems to be no limit to how much Manmohan Singh's Government can fall.

The latest issues - the Chinese aggressiveness in Ladakh and the Coal Block allocation scam (or Coalgate, as it ks being called) - are pointers in the same direction. The UPA has proved, like all Congress Governments except that of Indira Gandhi, that it is spineless and does not fret when India becomes a joke in the whole world. The Prime Minister talks of India being a rising power while under his nose, the Chinese continue their aggressive stance. Why should India just react to provocation, that too using the least forceful of methods? At the very start, India should have responded by cutting-off the supply lines that the foreign troops are being sustained on, by surrounding them. True, this would have led to an escalation but since neither nor India can afford a war at this stage, it would have forced the Chinese to sit down seriously on the negotiating table. Instead, these flag meetings have come a cropper with the Chinese refusing to relent until India scales down its tactical infrastructure in the region, which is legally Indian territory.

The Coalgate scam is even more serious now, with the Supreme Court being made aware that the Government has tried to dupe it by possibly changing the report. This is akin to what the UPA did with the 2G-scam's JPC, glossing over serious issues in a very crude attempt to save itself. The fact that the Law Minister perused the report indicates that the Government is not going to let the law take its own course. Even if he made no changes to it, the intent is at least clear and that by itself is a criminal offence. The Government has made a joke of all institutions in this country.

This, India's most corrupt and incompetent government since Independence, deserves to be shown the door. Clearly, an early election is the need of the hour. 

Saturday, April 27, 2013

New Bonds

It had been years since I was exiled from Syracuse and found my way to the shelter in Camp Kam'yakha. I had received no news of my former home - that was how it was supposed to be. I spent countless night wondering how they were - the Emperor, Normander... and Anatolia. As I lay under the stars another night, the 'lonely stranger' as I was known here, I could not bit help shed a tear for all I had lost.

Perhaps it was not worth it. Was I really naive in believing that I could change traditions that were as ancient as the trees that surrounded Syracuse? The biting grind of poverty that was a reality at the Camp was not what hurt me the most - it was the loneliness. If once I had a brother-like companion to share my thoughts with, today I had nothing but the silent stars.

A rustle in the bushes. Perhaps the wind? But no, there was no wind blowing tonight. I stood up, prepared to fight the intruder.

"Reveal yourself," I shouted.

Through the bushes, I could see... that boy. Oh, him again! That silly boy, Tiverium, who had tried to steal from me at the Camp Circle weeks ago.

"Oh, it's you. What do you want?"

"Can I sit next to you?" he said. It was a surprise - I expected he wanted food or money. I nodded, for what harm could it do?

"You do not seem to have any friends, lone stranger," he said. "Call me Seleucus," I cut him off. He did not recognize the name - good. It did not have any meaning anymore, in any case. "And I do not need any friends here either," I lied.

He seemed slightly dejected. "Why are you here? Why don't you go home?" I asked.

He laughed. "I have no home here, I am an orphan here. I have lived under the stars, stealing my way to survival. In this camp of former soldiers, where is there place for someone like me? I steal, I flee, people taunt me, I often face beatings, but life goes on."

I looked at his eyes - he seemed to be in a state of deep reflection. Such a young boy, yet such deep words - life goes on. I put my arms around him - somehow, I could see myself in him, somewhere.

"I was a Prince once," I began. It was the first time I had told anyone here my full story, apart from the Camp's Keeper. I told him of my life - my early years in the palace, the Academy, Normander, Anatolia and those final days in prison and my final banishment. He listened with interest and I too felt much lighter. Somehow, sharing my tale made it so much easier.

"So will the Prince of Syracuse forgive this little thief for troubling him?" he asked, in jest. I broke out in laughter - had anyone else made a joke after my tale, I would have been rather upset. But for some reason, his joke make me happier - I could breathe again. Something had changed.

I hugged him - the first time in years I had done that to anyone. Life did indeed go on. 

May Peace Prevail


"This place, this Camp, is extraordinary indeed. But I still cannot understand... why?"

Ah, the question. Why? The Prince had finally reached what I knew he would. For, why would anyone create a haven like this and, more importantly, how did it survive the Army of Rorankite?

"Sit with me Prince, by the river, and let me tell you the tale of Camp Kam'yakha."

"The Great Northern War had ended a few decades ago, leaving Rorankite in possession of Syracuse and the unchallenged leader of the East. Yet, not all of the East was under its suzerainty - there were several villages, independent tribes, that existed with little contact to the outside world. These were the ancient barbarians that we removed from the world as we established our seven empires.

"For the most part, these small habitations were left alone, outside the borders of Rorankite. The then Director was pleased not to have to do anything with them. But after the War, Rorankite and Chymeria in particular had tasted victory - and was hungry for more. Then came the new Director and he saw great pleasure in occupying these villages.

"And thus began the most systematic genocide ever undertaken since the establishment of the seven empires. Chymeria, one of only two empires with the famed lodestones, fashioned deadly weapons unlike anything ever seen. It seemed almost as though the war on the indigenous people would never end, as village after village was gobbled up.

"And then, one soldier mutinied. He had had enough. Plurium Chavius escaped the barracks and fled to the forests, where he established a camp of refuge for those who could not stand to be part of such a dastardly design. The small settlement initially saw great resistance and constant danger of being ambushed. And then something strange happened.

"One day, centuries ago, a small mercenary force of Chymeria discovered the camp and arrived to destroy it. But before they could begin, a large force arrived from afar, not with very sophisticated weapons, but certainly with a large army. This was Landeb, Chymeria's eastern rival. They chased the mercenaries away. Landeb, Prince, is the strangest of kingdoms in Rorankite. It has a large army, but it is not very well-trained, mainly because the royalty of Landeb does not believe in violence - they refuse to use the lodestones, unlike Chymeria. They are mostly disliked by all of Rorankite, but their land is the hub of knowledge, where virtually the entire empire receives its learning from. The Landelians are famed for their knowledge.

"For reasons unknown, the Landelian Royalty warned Chymeria against any military adventures in these forests, which are within the boundaries of Landeb. They said that they wanted peace even if it came at the cost of war. Landeb was ideologically opposed to Chymeria in every way possible.

"And since that fateful encounter, the Camp Kam'yakha has remained peaceful, a place of refuge for those who abhor war."

"But the genocide continues, does it not?" he asked.

"Yes," I replied. "Virtually all the former soldiers in the Camp would like to fight against it, but they have no weapons to match those of Chymeria and certainly no military leadership. They choose to remain here, quiet, in hope of better days."

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Camaraderie in Dissent

It was that stranger again, the one who they say fled from Dulsburg to Rorankite. The Keeper had refused to tell us anything about him, but here he was at last! I had often seen him by the lake, examining some rocks... perhaps he was a scientist? Oh, the possibilities seem endless.

Rump-a-dump-a-rump,
Over the hills we fight and fall,
Our bodies make a loud thump,
And on their heads we leave a bump!
Rump-a-dump-a-rump!

Oh, the old fool was at it again with his song and dance. Some old commander from Chymeria, expelled from the Army and rather delusional. Well, there was nothing new about that, the Camp Kam'yakha was virtually full of soldiers who could no longer stand the brutality that they were forced to enact by the Chymerian King and the Director. Thousands of innocent villages, independent of Rorankite and with their own history, wiped out, their land annexed. It wasn't by coincidence that Chymeria became the largest kingdom in the Emptire - that was the plan.

"Ha! Ha! Jolly good!" The stranger had finally opened his mouth! And what a voice he had - oh! It was almost melodious. Pity he had only reacted to the old fool and not to pretty little me. But then, I wasn't very pretty anymore, not after I was scarred by those flames from Hobbenville. I was a sex worker, a respectable position I say!, but clearly the King had a problem with that. By what right I have no idea, he himself kept a host of secret concubines. Oh, that day I ran, I ran so fast to escape being burned at the stake. He wanted all women to be 'pure' he said. Go to hell, I said!

"HOW DARE YOU! I WILL KILL YOU!"

Oh dear, the stranger seemed to have gotten angry at a teenage boy. Well, I can't say I was surprised, the little pickpocket had been stealing at every fare since the day his mother gave birth to him. A nice woman she was, pity she gave birth to the illegitimate child of the Jacobian King - he had no choice but to finish her off. At least her child survived and reached here - but this is what he had become. A thief! He could use a sound thrashing.

"Why did you try to steal from me? Have you no shame? Shall I punish you?" the stranger shouted. Some people began to hoot - clearly, they were enjoying this. Just then the boy began to cry like a baby - a wave of laughter went through the crowd as they saw the little thief getting his just deserts at last. Imagine that, a 16-year-old crying like an infant, oh it was golden!

"No... please... no. I... I'm sorry... I had to... I am hungry and..." he broke off into uncontrolled sobbing. I could feel a stab of pity for him. Ah, but what pity? The thief deserved it!

But just then, the stranger held the boy's hand and took him to a stall. I ran to the vicinity - how could I miss this? Perhaps he was going to strike him with some metallic object as punishment? But no - wait. He bought him some food. He was feeding him! Oh dear, another crazy fool in the Camp, I really wonder how long this place can survive!

"What is your name, boy? Stop crying, it is alright. Tell me your name."
"Tiverium."

In the Realm of the Free

A lot of people were talking about him, though few had actually dared to speak to him. Even those few were rather unceremoniously rebuffed! Wild rumours flew around about him - some said he was from norther Duslburg, a spy sent on a mission to destabilize the great Empire of Rorankite; some thought he was just a lone monk, for he was often heard reciting poetry from generations past; the wildest was certainly that he was a prince who had been banished!

But whatever be the truth, I had to discover it. The Keeper of the Camp refused to divulge any details but insisted that he was a guest and therefore, should be allowed to stay here as he pleased. Indeed, we were all guests here in a way. Here, in Camp Kam'yakha, where all of us, sickened by life in the many kingdoms of Rorankite, came to find refuge. Some were too poor to pay the huge taxes and had managed to flee, while others were politically persecuted and forced to escape. And there were other stories - each one carried their own.

But what is his story? Who is he and why is he here? The Keeper might be silent, but I certainly would find out.

***

"Lodestone - found all across Eastern Rorankite. It has amazing properties of attraction and is used in many of Chymeria's weapons." He looked up at me with the stone still in his hand - he seemed confused, but something told me that I had managed to catch his interest.

"That's right," I continued. "That's the stuff that made Chymeria so powerful, its weapons the fiercest in the world. That stone there (I gestured towards his hand) won the Great Northern War. Pity Landeb refuses to use it... or maybe not. Say, where are you from?"

The last line seems to have been a mistake, for he promptly dropped the stone and began to walk off. I had to put my wits together quickly and catch up.

"Hey! That's rude! I just..." he gave me a look, the kind that told me that he didn't want to speak. But since when have I paid heed to that? "I'm Silder... just Silder. Was a fine soldier in the army of Chymeria, proud and all, you know? They would send us on these missions to fight witches and all sorts of evil things.'

He had slowed down. He seemed interested. I pressed on. "Except that, they didn't seem so evil. It felt more like we were stealing land from them. I didn't have much courage to ask then but... but eventually, I got it. They used us soldiers, those Kings and that Director. They used us to satisfy their greed. I didn't want to be used. And so I ran away. Mind you, they gave me a good chase. But nobody knows these forests, I was pretty luck to reach the Camp Kam'yakha. And I've been here since."

I looked at him, eager for some response. Not much luck there but at least I could finally see some life in his eyes. He seemed to like my story, maybe he had a similar one? I decided not to ask him, no idea what could make him upset again.

"Say, you know, you should go to the Camp Circle this evening, there's a neat little fare there."

He didn't say anything, but did stop walking. He bent down and started examining some lodestones again. 

The Camp Kam'yakha

The doctors were wrong, for once. There was still life in this boy - I could sense it. Over the last few days, as the rhythmic movement of his eyes became more pronounced, everyone was convinced that he was alive but stuck... somewhere, in some world, inside his mind. I fear what nightmares he sees. When I found him in the forest, he was bleeding profusely by his dead horse: the earthquake had taken nearly both of them. The forest is not kind to strangers.

His eyes began to move again - and so did his hand! He was convulsing, clearly emerging from the most frightful of his dreams. I held his hand. They say that a nerve links the hand directly to the brain: perhaps I could reach out to him? His mind must know that he is not alone, nobody is ever alone here. He awoke with a start, as though he had just been saved from drowning.

He tried to stand, to run, but he fell. He was too weak. I placed my hand on his shoulder and he calmed down instantly. I asked him his name - Seleucus. It sounded familiar... could it be? The Prince of Syracuse, famed for his knowledge of literature through the ages? Could he be the same Prince? I asked him... he kept silent. Yet even in that silence, I could see that he was that Prince. But why here?

"I am no longer the Syrenician Prince, I have been banished," he said, in an almost matter-of-fact manner. I was taken aback - how could any kingdom banish its heir? But I did not pursue the matter further for fear of his nightmares returning.

"Where am I? Where is this place? Is this... heaven?" he asked

I smiled - heaven. To many, it was. But not in the way he meant it.

"No, Prince, this is not heaven, this is a refuge. A refuge for those seeking to escape their fate. At the border of Rorankite, out of the influence of any of its kingdoms, we live here in peace with the forest, a place where no man will be banished, a place where all in need will be welcomed. This is the Camp Kam'yakha."

"Please do not call me 'Prince,' I have been stripped of that title," he replied, almost as though he had not heard me. I smiled and looked into his eyes. There, I saw despair and loss. Perhaps he was dejected at not being in heaven?

"It is not the wisdom without that confers a title, it is the wisdom within," I replied. He looked bewildered, as though I had spoken in a foreign tongue.

I gave him a warm smile. Slowly, as though with all his might, he returned the smile. 

Land of the Fallen

The hours had turned into days, the days into weeks, the weeks into months. The forest had engulfed everything - all around there was nothing but the forest, nothing but the sounds of strange animals and insects, the sight of wild plants and the weak sunlight that managed to get through the canopy. And then there were the monsters that roamed every corner of the forest.

My steed had lost strength, it could not go very far at a time anymore. I had lost strength, I could not think very far ahead anymore. Each time we were attacked by the monsters, we had to run and each time, we were nearly killed. They would come in all forms, sometimes from behind the trees and sometimes as the trees themselves. They would fly far into the sky or tunnel deep below the earth. The forest had death at every turn...

Yet, there was also life. My life, the life of countless others. Through the shadows you could see them, running hopelessly, diving into the rivers that appeared at the nick of time, taking them away to a safer place. For, how can the forest take away life if there is no life left to take away? Preserver and destroyer - two sides of the same coin.

I could not remember what happened that day very well. We were beside another of those magical rivers, taking our fill. I went to look for some wild berries - again, with the hope that we would eventually find some place to stay, some civilization. And then the forest shook, so violently that nothing could stand. The trees fell, the wild monsters panicked and rushed to nowhere in particular. It was as though the end of the world was nearly upon us - the Dolcians called it Ragnarok.

My steed fell into the river, which disappeared with it. The trees fell and broke into a million pieces, each magically growing into a new tree that itself fell. The monsters ran amok, purging life from anything that came in their way. One of them hit me - and that was all I could recall. Perhaps heaven would be kinder. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Scene: The Cultural Council

Reading, writing and speaking have been the cultural triad I have lived by since school. It all started with a Noddy book from the library in The Scholar High School, extending to Tintin, Cartoon Network and eventually, NDTV and The Hindu. Perhaps every Bengali has a bug for literature, what with Tagore being inscribed on every other home's walls. But then, given my Bengali-credentials, I doubt that theory.

In IIT Roorkee, I was fortunate to have a galaxy of worthy mentors to take me through the literary scene here. In DPT, I was guided by the likes of Abhimanyu Lamba and Ashwin, who gave me ample opportunity to learn as a first year. Come second year and I was fortunate to have Baridhi and Vidish, who helped me join Kshitij and through it, the Cultural Council. They and others like Piyush Verma taught me the finer points of storytelling. It was for them that I continued my work in Kshitij despite the heaps of insults thrown on me once they had left.

In the Literary Section, I was not particularly enthused by the Quizzing Club, but the Debating Society enticed me. With help from Abhishek Ahuja, Vinayak and again, Baridhi, I built my way up, first as a debater and then as an administrator. I won the succession battle to head what became The DebSoc, guided it through a memorable year. And tonight, I completed the leadership transition in it.

With the Cultural Council valedictory function over, my term has just about come to an end. And with it, so has my time in the Cultural Council. It has been the main scene of my drama here in IITR and I shall greatly value the wonderful years I had here, the friends I made and the lessons learned.

Keep away from people who try to belittle your dreams. Small people always do that, but the really great ones make you feel that you too, can become great. - Mark Twain

Criminal Behaviour Online

A few days back, Rajdeep Sardesai called it quits on Twitter after massive personal attacks on him that made it impossible to carry out meaningful debate on the platform, a phenomenon that has been termed 'trolling' and was discussed in columns in publications as prestigious as The Hindu and Reuters. This is not the first time - Shah Rukh Khan did something similar after he was 'trolled' too.

Cyberspace was supposed to be the ultimate potboiler, a place where a myriad of opinions could be openly discussed, a place that gave voice to the voiceless. Unfortunately, it it fast turning into a lawless state where a small group of dedicated and highly sadistic individual - the 'trolls' - are pushing out the more serious discussions that could take place otherwise. Their activities, if carried out in the real world, could have invited serious criminal charges even in the most liberal of democracies.

According to the well-written report in The Hindu Sunday Magazine, one of the reasons people indulge in such activities is to buffer up their sense of self-worth. Most of them are people who hold a deep-rooted resentment or jealousy, which is manifested in their desire to hurt someone perceived to be far more successful than them. We must clearly differentiate between fair criticism here and outright slander - what you get in such situations is neither fair nor balanced, in fact not even biased, but plain slander. The fact that laws and enforcement mechanisms are inadequate to prevent this is a serious matter of concern.

I regularly read articles on websites like NYT, The Guardian, The Diplomat etc. and the comments sections are an outright cesspool of biased, poorly-worded slander not against just a person but often, an entire community or even nation. This matter is serious and breaks the bounds of civilized behaviour. What Sardesai went through is becoming increasingly commonplace and making the Internet a place to avoid. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Empire in Exile: Book 2


BOOK 2:
RUINS


I built my castles in the sky,
And saw them fall as the winds blew by.
But my only mistake was that I forgot,
That the tide of change cannot be fought.
And now I stand in the midst of ruin,
Where I have nothing, nothing at all.

One Stormy Day

I awoke with a start as the guards opened the gates, rather noisily. They looked at me, as though they were worried that they had made too much noise. One of them handed a scroll to me - he was half standing in attention, half bowing. Clearly, my status had changed very recently.

I unfurled the scroll and read:

"The Royal Council of Syracuse under the watchful eyes of the Emperor of Syracuse and the Governor-General of Chymeria to Syracuse, having considered the utterances of the Prince of Syracuse Seleucus, has found him guilty of treason against the Empire. The Council hereby strips him of his title and honours and decrees that he be banished to the forests of Syracuse or Rorankite with nothing more than a steed by his side. He is forbidden from ever entering the precincts of the Syrenician Empire again."

I had expected it. The Emperor would never let go of his powers. I suppose the only reason they did not hang me was because of the Governor-General. I looked at the soldiers. "This evening, my..." he said. He did not add 'Prince' to the end.

***

The entire Syracuse was in attendance - I wondered how they would see their previous Prince leave in the thick crowd! Seleucus had fallen for it, his silly ideals and his greed had finally destroyed him. The Director would certainly be very happy.

As we approached the Gilded Gates - the gateway to Syracuse - I could see the faces of the nobles. Sad, engulfed in disbelief and unsure of what was to come. The only face that stood in ever-lasting defiance was that of the young Prince-Commander Normander. He would have to be studied later though. For now, my eyes were fixed upon the sight before me: wearing the common robes of Syrenicians on a rather sturdy horse was Seleucus, the former Prince who had rebelled against the Empire.

The Emperor tried to reach out to him, but stopped himself. He knew the rules - the Prince was now banished and his very existence was to be wiped out from Syracuse. The ceremony was simple: the flag of Rorankite, which was used since the Syrenician flag was officially banned, was raised and the horse unshackled. It was supposed to speed off into the distance with its rider. It marked the victory of the Rorian way.

Unfortunately, it was raining that day, making it impossible to raise the flag. This was a problem that the rules had no answer to. I had no choice but to dispense with it and just let the horse loose.

As it sped off into the distance, I could see tears pouring down the Emperor's face. Finally, this stubborn man was defeated. Syracuse had just lost its heir and would remain dependent on Chymeria for a new one. I could probably fit myself in well, surely the Director would appreciate my efforts. By the look of the nobility here, they were in no position to rule effectively anymore.

"My Emperor, we must leave, the affairs of state await." I turned sharply - it seems one Syrenician is not stirred by the turn of events. Normander.

(End of Book 1: Home)

Broken Bonds

The Royal Council had spent the entire day deliberating on the matter; in every home and shop in Syracuse, the same matter was being discussed. The fate of Prince Seleucus, now guilty of open treason against the Emperor, lay in the balance. There was little time: Syrenician law forbid the Prince from leaving the jail that he was kept in even to testify. The whole process was amazingly one-sided. But I had to get to the answer.

I could not go into the Jail Complex in person, that would make it too obvious and put me into trouble as well. But this was an area that I was well-trained to defend and I knew every gate and entrance to it. On the far eastern corner was a tunnel that an old prisoner had once used to escape. I had caught him but let him free, for he was really too old to be kept imprisoned and was in no condition to commit any more crimes. Ironically, the Prince was being kept in the same cell; it just goes to show the gravity of his crime.

I was nearly there. I had no idea how he would react, whether he would even recognize me, given my get up. But I had to speak to him, I had to hear his version of it. I was breaking Syrenician law by doing so - that did not matter now. He was my brother, I could not let his word go unheard.

***

"You should not have come here, Normander," Seleucus said. His strategic brilliance showed clearly - he recognized me without even turning back to look at the intruder. He had expected me to come.

"I had to come, brother. They are deliberating your case without hearing you out and could banish you or worse... hang you! Tell me your side of it, I will bring it to them. I do not care what they do to me!"

"What can you tell them? They are not discussing my case on its merits, but on saving themselves. They are not interested in giving power to the people; they care for nothing more than their own aggrandizement. If something goes against that, they call it treason and end the discussion there."

"Do you really mean to say that you meant to destroy our royal system? Do you really believe these half-baked ideas? Who is feeding you all this?" I could not hide my exasperation anymore - I could not believe what I was hearing.

"I meant every word of it, Normander. I spent days, years even, thinking over it. I only shared my ideas with the Governor-General, who gave some very useful ideas. This royal system is unjust and has no place in our..."

"Enough! You consulted only the Governor-General? You trust him more than you trust the Emperor? You trust him more than me?"

He was silent. And his face showed defiance. It was over - there was no message to carry. He had said whatever he wanted to. I turned around in silence and returned. The Council would come out with a declaration soon. I would abide by it. I have no intention of committing treason. 

The King's Rebel

"Hear ye, all ye men! Work hard, work sooner, for this evening we will all go to the Royal Grounds to listen to our Prince."

It was to be a historic day in Syracuse today - our Prince Seleucus had invited all his subjects to hear him speak. Nobody was sure what he was going to say, but we all hoped that it would be a fitting reply to the Governor-General. What happened that night at the feast was a shame on Syracuse, an insult to all of us. Rumour has it that in today's speech, the Prince would unilaterally declare his succession without the consent of the Governor-General.

The workers at the mills had to work twice as hard today to attend, of course. Orders do not wait, not even for royal decrees.

***

They were on the dias - the Emperor, the Prince and the Governor-General. As far as my eyes could see, the royal grounds were full. Virtually all of Syracuse, from the rich nobles of the Central City to the reclusive people of Facchua, had assembled for the great speech. Tension was in the air as expectations reigned high. And then the Prince came to speak. We held our breath in collective silence.

"My people of Syracuse," he began. "In the august presence of the Emperor and the Governor-General, I have called you today to share a dream. I dream of a Syracuse that belongs to the people. A government not borne of royal power but of public will."

We continued to remain silence. Something was wrong - what was the Prince trying to say?

"For too long, the will of the people has been crushed by royalty; their minds have been bartered to the demand for unquestioning fealty. But today, the world is changing. My people, to the west of the Discovered World lies Keiyo, a once-mighty empire that now elects its leaders. In Magdeburg, a popular revolt seeks to establish a similar establishment. Yet in Rorankite, of which we are a part, it is royalty that matters more. It has been that royalty that has kept the people of Syracuse away from their brethren in Rorankite.

"The time has now come to change. After extensive discussions with the Governor-General, I have come to the conclusion that my succession to the royal throne will be the single-greatest mistake that I could make, one that would but reinforce the notion that royal will is above popular will. And therefore, I abnegate my succession to the throne and instead, call upon the Emperor and the Governor-General to make way for a popularly elected Government. In the mean time, I shall work tirelessly to unite our peoples of Syracuse and Rorankite, who have been together for nearly a thousand years now."

I had no idea what to say. It sounded as though the Prince was asking us to rebel against him. How could this be? Had he gone mad? Instead of teaching the Governor-General a fit lesson, he was siding with him to destroy Syracuse's Dolcian heritage!

The crowd was becoming angry. Some people started to protest against the speech, while some tried to defend it. The armed forces were already sending people away, but it was apparent that something was going to go wrong soon. This was very, very wrong.

The Emperor rose suddenly. His face bore no expression, but he wanted to say something. He approached the dias and pushed the Prince aside.

"Arrest him," he boomed, pointing towards Prince Seleucus. We stood stunned - the royal soldiers, led by the Commander himself, surrounded the Prince. As they led him away, somebody in the crowd managed to reach the dias.

"Banish the rebel Prince!"

Monday, April 22, 2013

In the Dustbin of History

Former Pakistani dictator Pervez Musharaff's attempt to reinvent himself and storm the political theatre of the nation has been given a worthy blow by the ECP and the Pakistan Supreme Court. Musharaff, who has been living in self-imposed exile in London, was slapped with charges of treason by a lawyers' group and is now under house arrest.

Pervez Musharaff, to his poor luck, has come back to a different Pakistan from the one he has left behind. While the Army is still all-powerful and dominant in every sphere of life, the space for democracy has significantly increased. The country is witnessing its first democratic transition. Civil society is beginning to find its voice again. True, there are many serious challenges: the economy is in a shambles and investors are just too scared to invest, while the law and order situation is getting worse. The American withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014 is sure to shake up the entire subcontinent.

Yet, none of these are challenges that a civilian administration cannot handle. In fact, given the complex and often competing nature of these challenges, only a civilian administration can create an atmosphere where these can be solved. The no-nonsense, brutal way of handling affairs that Musharaff demonstrated time and again will simply not work anymore and will instead throw the country into greater chaos.

From a legal perspective, Musharaff had committed an act of treason by suspending the Constitution of Pakistan and detaining over 60 judges in the 2007 Emergency. He deserves to be punished for this. Therefore, the charges imposed on him should be dealt with. After over 60 years of Independence, Pakistan needs to find its feet and get back on the path to democracy and that cannot happen unless dictators like Musharaff are rightly relegated to the garbage heap. 

The Last Trip... 2

Well, the thing about the last trip to the Saharanpur Campus is that one post is simply not enough to cover it. In less than 24 hours, I relived an entire year. And, true to tradition, it began with some excellent bakar to catch up with the events gone by since I last came to DPT. A lot has changed (again) with a new cafeteria that by far is the best I've seen in IITR, new faculty homes that demonstrate the planned expansion of the campus, a better sports ground and (still) the best mess in the institute.

And then came the preparations for the Bhawan's Day. In DPT, the day is actually a farewell for the final year batch. In my first year, the first ever batch of PST was set to graduate, I still remember that day clearly: Manas '10. And I remember my freshers night as well, Etincelle. And now the time came for my own farewell. My friends there were nice enough to let me have a role in the show - co-anchor, the role that was always mine in the first year. It was a good way to end it: if at Etincelle we were drowned out by the hooting, at Manas '13, it was all part of the act.

I was asked by my former Physics professor about how I felt about my first year at DPT. I put it in the only words that I felt would suit - crucial. A tree whose roots are rotten will not stand for long. It is important to start off right - be it in academics, friends or extra-curricular activities. At DPT, I made the right friends, I met the right seniors, I participated in the right activities and I gave due importance to my academics thanks to some inspiring teachers (and also some not-so-inspiring ones). That, I would say, is the secret of my future successes at IITR. I was happy to see that some faculty members even remembered me... just goes to show what a wonderful place it is there.

But perhaps the most important part of the day was meeting all my old friends. Snigdha, Subrajeet, Aniket, Narayanan, Sreedhar and everyone else who, just a few years back, were an integral part of my life, people whom I met everyday, people I grew up with. Time has created a chasm - that was inevitable - but the warmth of the Saharanpur Campus makes it feel so very small. For a few minutes I could sense even that chasm bridged, I could feel myself back to those golden days. Perhaps that was the moment that I had longed for so much. I was also informed that I have a 'fan club' in the Campus, juniors with whom I spent ample time!

Walking through the Campus, I could recollect my days there. The road from the hostel to the mess, from the mess to the academic block, from the notice boards to the staircase that led up to the classroom, the side-door to the examination hall, the auditorium, the old canteen... every moment was clear as crystal in my mind.

My Saharanpur Campus chapter is over, all that remains now are the people and the memories. And those, I will cherish forever. 

Here Comes the End

The last ETE in IIT Roorkee begins this Saturday, but it does not even feel like it. Someone is busy getting drunk every other day while someone else is planning parties. When you have just three subjects and a guarantee that you are going to pass no matter what you submit, that is bound to happen. Of course, I do not enjoy such a luxury given my ambitions, but my high attendance takes care of that.

I have high hopes pinned on CE-462, with near-highest marks throughout. Given that the 10% rule is now history, I am looking for a straight A+ in this one. A similar story awaits in CE-406, with excellent marks and high sessionals. In both of these, I just need a good ETE to seal the deal. Sadly, IBM-06 is exactly the opposite. With average marks in the MTE, good marks in the project and low marks in the Quiz, I see nothing more than a B+ even if the ETE goes very well. I tried to work on this subject and I still believe that I am the one who has understood it the most, but it demands that you think like a manager and not an engineer and I simply cannot do that.

Of course, the ETE is not the end of my troubles. CE-402 is the real beast to tame and that process will start right after the exams. The show has just begun. 

Closing the first Chapter

IIT Roorkee Saharanpur Campus - the home away from home that I had for such a short span of time. In the years since I changed my branch and left the satellite campus, I have been through many ups and downs because of it. Second year had the phase when I had to try my best to hide my origins for fear of being ostracized. After all, I was trying to create some space for myself and in the cut-throat politics in the Cultural Council, any small matter is enough to shatter those chances.

In the third year, I was determined to rebuild myself. Safe in the knowledge that hardwork could speak volumes, I designed a strategic framework that I called, the Working Model. It assumed the worst about people here and led me to the conclusion that I had one year to wipe out my dependence on others. I also planned a show of strength, an opportunity that came to fruition at IITR MUN '12. With adequate planning, I went from strength to strength, eventually winning the succession war in LitSec and playing a dominant role in secretarial appointments in Kshitij.

But it was in my final year that I could finally come out of the cocoon that I had imposed on myself. No longer was I to hide that I was from the Saharanpur Campus - in fact, I was to flaunt it. To mock others who, despite their magical first-mover advantage, could only dream of reaching where I had. It did generate anger no doubt - but the Working Model envisaged a complete break-off from most people, which meant that their anger would hardly hamper my goals. Breaking off from the politics of Civil '13 was perhaps the hardest move, but also the most necessary. This is a class full of people that I do not consider even half as good as I am, a class that has given me almost nothing more than anger and pain and a class that I do not consider worthy of my indulgence, with a few exceptions here and there.

This weekend, I returned to the Saharanpur Campus one last time. Much has changed their - there is life, there is movement and there is that all-pervasive sense of belonging that has not left the place. Every time I go there, I distinctly feel at home, a far cry from the constant tug-of-war in Roorkee. But now, with my last goodbyes met and final thanks declared, that phase has ended. The first chapter in IITR (I still remember driving into those gates in the Ambassador taxi) has come to its logical end. A painful chapter, a lovely chapter, a chapter that I wish could have been much longer.

I have always wondered why I spent a year in DPT if it was going to end in Roorkee. I now know the reason. The most important lesson it has taught me is to take pride in my self, in my origins. Never hide who you are from the world, never try to be a different person so that you can fit-in. Be proud of who you are, flaunt it, shout it out from the rooftops. Celebrate yourself, just as I celebrated my time in IITR, Saharanpur Campus. 

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Battle Ends

The Literary Section. Ground zero. It all began with a Kshitij GM side-by-side a PD and I saw, for the first time, that such a thing did exist here. A very secretive group, highly elitist. But one that I knew, almost instantaneously, was meant to be mine. And thus started a battle to unseat the powers that may be, an epic battle that knew no bounds.

The Literary Section was my Mahabharat - my struggle to realize a dream that I knew I deserved. Not that I chose it for that - I did genuinely enjoy debating and the 3-on-3 format was particularly grand. But come third year, after my grade was unceremoniously cut, and with Kshitij having turned sour, I decided to take matters into my own hands. It started with the Freshers' Debate and ended with me reaching the top - the Chief of the Debating Group.

That of course, seems like history now. Much has changed over the year. For one, we are now The DebSoc and I was virtually left as the only one who still called it LitSec. We increased our membership to a point wherein we discouraged new people from joining. After a lot of difficulty in getting a room, we finally settled for the old UG Club with the hope that the MAC will end all our problems in a few years. The average quality of debating fell though, partly due to a larger intake and partly due to the general falling standards of students in IITR. But we did have green shoots and surprising successes. We had a terrific Thomso and a humbling Cognizance. But most importantly, we had fun. All of us.

After a conquest comes Empire. There are those who believe that the Secretary should not be actively participating in a section, but should just give orders. I disagree. Unless I was busy with some competitive exam such as GRE or GATE, I attended every debate, I screened all motions, I stayed in touch with the FacAd... this was the section I had rebuilt, it was my creation. My year of Empire was historic, it taught me lessons to keep forever.

And then, with our first BP and one contri-chapo, it all ended. But I will forever say, with pride and no sense of anguish that comes with Kshitij, that I was a debater. I headed The DebSoc. I tasted victory. And now, I have left it in safe hands. 

Friday, April 19, 2013

आओ चलें

आओ चलें  हम घर चलें,
नदी  के उस पार, साथ बढ़ें ।
जिस तट पे सालों तक टहले,
जहाँ मिटटी में बने ऊंचे सपने ।
जिस आसमान में स्वप्न हमारे उड़े,
जिन पथ पे हमने पदचिन्ह रचे ।
जहाँ पेड़ों की छाया के तले,
हँसी-खेल में हम जुटे रहे ।
आओ चलें हम लौट चलें,
इस लम्बे सफ़र का अंत लिखें ।
आओ चलें  हम घर चलें,
एक नई कहानी की प्रारंभ करें ।

- सुशोभन सेन




Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Best and the Worst

Kshitij batch of 2013 had it's annual farewell theme party this year, with the theme being 'Comic Characters.' Well, unfortunately, the imaginative members of the official literary magazine used a little too much imagination and took some popular characters that didn't really come from comic books. But no harm, the essence of the celebration still remained.

Kshitij parties have changed considerably. When we once had the standard four-circle configuration (each cell in its own circle), this one was a far more mixed affair. In particular, it was heartening to see that the first years knew each other so well. On the other side were the people from my year: disparate, disillusioned as ever.

I carry a mixed baggage from Kshitij. There are the wonderful memories of my 2nd year, with my seniors. There are the horrors of 3rd year, when I came so close to leaving the group, only to be pulled back into the politics in it, stronger than ever. I worked selflessly, yet took my pound of meat in the end with the secretarial appointments. But that's not how it was meant to be.

The Kshitij Farewell was a strange experience. As expected, the tradition of the English Ed DP came to an end. It was cold between myself and the Ed, except with Abhinav, for who I have some degree of liking and respect, ironically. But with the kids in the other cells, it was as magical as ever!

The farewell was a very special occasion for me. I cannot imagine IITR without Kshitij - it was my anchor to a world turned upside down after the first year. It helped me get back on my feet and prepared me for my ultimate battleground - the Literary Section. 

Sunday, April 14, 2013

IOTY12: Ad of the Year


The ad of the year this year goes to Hum Mein Hai Hero for Hero Motocorp. Released to commemorate the rechristening of Hero Honda as Hero Motocorp (with Honda's exit), the challenge was to breathe new life into what has become a household name in India and several countries.

The ad was created by Law & Kenneth keeping this in mind. The idea was less to position the product and more to show the Indian characteristics of the motor giant. The tagline  is thus, apt. The ad won the award based on how well it could relate to its customers, how well it projects the brand itself and lastly, for the catchy tune provided by the Mozart of Madras. 

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Poison


He was smart, of that there was no doubt. He was also ambitious. As he stood in front of me, I could see how he reacted. While the pathetic Emperor would always hold forth his aggressiveness, the successor to the Syrenician throne was clearly of a different breed.

"You have such bright ideas, Prince Seleucus, pity you can't do much about them in little Syracuse."
"Oh, but why not, Governor-General?" he asked me. "The days when kings ruled their people with impunity are fast-ending. Look at Keiyo, which now has no royalty but elects its leader once a decade. The time is ripe to bring that to Syracuse."

The fool. He quotes Keiyo, forgetting that it was one of the powers that led to his empire's bondage to Rorankite. But then again, he is discussing these things with a representative of Rorankite!

"No, Prince, Syracuse is very small and simple, you cannot have such a complex system here. Rorankite, perhaps there, but then, how can you reach there?"

I enjoyed taking such potshots at the Syrenician royalty - these Dolcians were proud of their royal heritage, they were after all a part of the great Empire of Dulsburg once. Until we crushed them, of course.

"How can I reach there, Governor?" he asked. I was stunned. I had not expected this - Syrenician royalty openly looking for a greater say in Rorankite. I should have silenced him right there. But then... why not have some fun?

"Well, Prince, there might be a way," I began, taking care to observe every reaction. "Some of the kingdoms in Rorankite would welcome someone as intelligent as you to their fold. We Rorians value talent. But I'm not sure what the Director would think..."

"Oh, Governor, please find a way." I saw it! In his eyes - desperation. He wanted power.

"Governor, our people have been kept apart for too long. Syracuse became a part of Rorankite nearly a thousand years ago, why must we lead separate destinies like this? If you could ask the Director to bring their royal families together, I'm sure he'd see the sense in it."

I smiled. This was going to be interesting. 

Support Bangladesh

Tahreer Square seems to have come to Bangladesh, with the tiny South Asian country standing at a crossroads. Since it was created in the bloody Liberation War of 1971, in which the Allied Forces defeated the Pakistani Army, the country has never seen such popular protests against the extremism that seems to be spreading fast through the region.

Sadly, the creation of groups like Hifazat-e-Islam spells dark days ahead for the country. While on one side you have those who were opposed to the Liberation War, on the other, you have the 'Facebook generation': young Bangladeshis who want to preserve the secular foundations which their country was built on by punishing the criminals of 1971.

It is essential for India to support its neighbour in this situation. The Haseena Government will find it difficult to stand up to the violent, powerful extremist groups in the country unless India is seen as clearly backing them. India's policy of not taking sides will simply not work here, for we cannot afford to have another Islamist regime at our eastern border, that too a border that is shared by such a large number of states. Whether it be economically or politically, it is essential for the Liberators of Bangladesh to win this second war as well if the region is to maintain peace. 

Pointing to the future

May will be an exciting month in the Indian political calendar as Karnataka goes to the polls to elect a new Vidhan Sabha and State Government. With the ever-troubled BJP Government managing to (miraculously) complete its five year term, it will be a grand triangular contest.

On the face of it, it seems that the BJP is all set to face a disaster. Its image is at an absolute low, with surveys ranking it as the most corrupt government in the country, even more than the UPA itself! And it is because of that perception that the Congress seems to be on the upswing. Although the JD(S) is the real opposition party in the state, the current scenario seems to allude to a coalition of the Congress-JD(S) coming to power. As to how stable such a coalition will be is to be seen.

But Karnataka has one additional and more important outcome: the exact date of the General Election. Beleaguered by opportunistic coalition partners and a sinking economy, it is apparent that the UPA Government needs to look for a fresh mandate. If rumour mills in Delhi are to be believed, a victory in Karnataka for the Congress could be the catalyst. The state is important for the BJP as it has a large share of MPs - without them, it would be hard for the BJP to reach the 180 figure that a party would need to lead a government, effectively pushing it out of the calculus.

In addition, the Congress is also looking to precipitate a crisis in the NDA by advancing the elections - that would force the BJP to make up its mind on Narendra Modi, which could lead to either the Gujarat CM running for Prime Minister and thus breaking up the NDA; or it could lead to a much weaker candidate from the NDA, both of which would be good for the Congress. Although many in the Congress do not believe that it can win another term, and certainly not under Manmohan Singh, they do not mind installing a puppet government of the kind Rajiv Gandhi had.

Thus, the Karnataka elections will be important from a national point of view - a clear arrow to predict what will happen this November. 

What the CPM stands for

The current round of political violence in West Bengal has once again brought the focus back to the culture of violence and impunity that flourished under the 33-year Communist rule in the state. The death of an SFI activist supposedly at the hand of the state police and the violence that followed show how little respect the Communists have for law and order, which they used for their political machinations until they were ousted by the TMC regime.

As if the violence in Kolkata was not enough, when Mamata Banerjee and her Finance Minister Amit Mitra came to New Delhi to visit the Planning Commission, they were heckled, with Mitra's kurta being torn/by Communist goons. This is uncivilized behaviour not befitting our democracy (which the Communists have very little belief in anyway). Political differences are one thing but to heckle and lynch an aged minister on official duty is absolutely unpardonable.

The most amazing part came after that: Sitaram Yechury of the CPM actually condoned the act by refusing to condemn it and instead, went on to play politics with the situation. It was this move that caused the dastardly violence in Presidency University. Thus, once again, the Communists have recreated the atmosphere of violence and fear that they pioneered.

It is time to act tough with these Communist goons who do not understand the rule of law. Although they claim not to believe in violence like their Maoist comrades, they do everything they can to live up to those low ideals. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Looking at the End

It's almost time to say goodbye to IIT Roorkee and my four years here. Goodbye of course comes in rather celebratory ways in India: the farewell week. That week of the year when all the restaurants in Roorkee are completely booked as each and every section in the institute gives one night away to their seniors.

It's also the most politically-charged week in the Cultural Council. For one, new posts have to be assigned for the next year. True, there is an interview and all, but it's completely rigged except for Music Section. In all other cases, it is up to the current Secretary to choose. And that choice, though it should be based on merits, is eventually a political one. Now, don't start to associate everything political with the term diabolical: politics is what happens when there are too few resources and too many contenders for them. It is inevitable and necessary.

Then there are the grades. IIT Roorkee has this silly system of proficiency grades that I have always felt do more harm than good. Most grades are awarded based on the proximity to the secretary; some faculty advisers force the secretary to assign an A+ to a favourite student. It's all a mucky world and thankfully, they are going to phase it out. But for now, I have gotten some requests for a good grade, but I am still looking to make it as objective as possible (except for myself of course).

The farewells bring with them the need to dress up in funny costumes - a nice little custom, though one that English Ed never really follows. It will be funny being back with the Ed on Monday. Not that I missed them much, after the sad events of August, I have never been happier to be out. Yet, as always, I am fascinated by the first years there, who seem to be equally fascinated with me for some reason! Somehow, my destiny became entangled with those of this group and perhaps that's why I should go - to untangle it and finish it forever.

LitSec does not generally have a farewell, though the juniors might want to plan something. In any case, I would like to see my promised of a BP in IITR being fulfilled. It would be an immense push to the section to try a new format (all thanks to NLSI for bringing it to us). Despite the politics that has defined a rather shaky leadership transition, I am confident that the DebSoc will endure.

And then there is the Saharanpur Campus. It will be my last visit there, ever, and I am already a little nervous. People have changed, the campus has changed, and yet I cannot but forget those wonderful memories I have of that one, exceptional year. That was my past, a past that I am supremely proud of and relish in my dreams. It will be the most important and emotional farewell of all. 

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Person dies, The Era goes on

Baroness Margaret Thatcher
1925-2013
Remembered by those who value freedom and liberty

There are many leaders who, in their time, have changed the course of history. There are some that did not make much of an impact in their time but whose ideas went on to change history And then, there is Margaret Thatcher: daughter of a grocer, the first woman and longest-serving British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher passed away yesterday, marking the end of a figure who defined the political right-wing throughout the world.

To be fair, Thatcher was not very popular in her time. True, she led her Conservative party to three successive victories, but she was ousted by that very party once her authoritarian style became too much for them. She crushed unionism and decried socialism, inviting the wrath of the working class in Britain. Yet, she stood firm, convinced that free enterprise was paramount for the industrial revitalization of Great Britain. Some of her most famous quotes - "The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people's money" or "There is no such thing as society" - are as relevant today as they were in her day and age.

Thatcher demonstrated confidence and resolve when she deployed the British Navy to reclaim the Falkland Islands. Although Britain's territorial right over them is questionable, the fact remains that it was an illegal military invasion that led to the Argentine occupation and therefore, despite the lack of support even from the US, the British had to reclaim them. Her daring leadership proved invaluable at the time and eventually led to the virtual rebirth of Britain itself.

Her role in the Cold War can never be forgotten. Staunchly against Communism, she worked tirelessly to isolate the Soviet Union and uphold individual liberty and democracy. But she did not have an institutionalized hatred for the Soviets, which was clearly demonstrated by the way she was ready to 'do business' with Gorbachev. For her, principles came first, as is should be.

To us on the political right, who value individual freedom, democracy and liberty as much as we value ourselves, Thatcher's ideas and actions will live beyond her. She remains, despite all the criticism that mounted over her, and inspiration for generations to come.  

Monday, April 8, 2013

The Heat is On

April is well into its nascent stages this year and so its eternal companion: the summer. Yes, it's that time of the year again when, to quote a friend from Madras, "you can't tell sweat apart from water"; when a walk in the sun can cause a heat stroke; and when water comes at a huge premium in India. It's another Indian summer.

This is also the season when global warming takes on its most literal definition: over the years, India has been getting hotter and hotter. I remember the time, maybe 10 years or more back, when the summer temperature in Hyderabad would barely cross 35C. Today, it hits 40C in February and the peak can go beyond 45C. Attribute it to increased pollution, diminishing tree cover, American lifestyle or a combination of such things, but that's the truth: it's just too hot right now.

Sadly, April is also the busiest month of the year: from bank audits to entrance exams to IPL, everything happens at this time of the year. And of course, in the less privileged strata of society, it's just another day, a lot hotter though. For university students, it's usually the last month of classes, which means you are expected to move around a lot, which is a bad deal as such, but students usually find some way to adjust to it (like with most other things).

I still remember my first summer in Roorkee, when I was giving my MA-102 exam and was sweating like a pig. My answer sheet was soggy with the sweat that it had absorbed from my hands, which I had placed on the sheet to avoid it from flying away due to the (ineffective) fan. It was an exceptionally humid day at that, which made it worse. With an 89/100, it was not a bad exam at all, but still, it was not exactly the best of conditions to give an exam.

My final year has been somehow well correlated with the first year. I hope this anecdote was an exception though. 

Sting Like a Bee

Rahul Gandhi's maiden speech to India Inc. at the CII Conclave can be best described as a let down, a speech by a low leader in the Opposition ranks and completely devoid of any substance. His strange choice of metaphor, describing India as a 'beehive', adds to the surrealism that shrouded his talk and the answer to the two questions that he took.

We need to look at the speech from a contextual point of view - Rahul Gandhi is VP of a party that has ruled India for nearly half-a-century and the scion of a family that has been at the helm of that party for most of those years. For him to go about peddling ideas and asking questions to those out of power is ironical. What made it worse was that he did not provide any answers to his own questions or those that he took. On Centre-State relations, which has become a serious issue in India's political landscape today, he virtually ignored the question and went into a monologue on his favourite (and unrelated) subjects.

His speech was full of assertions without any practical basis. He said that India can solve all its problems 'in a jiffy' if all its people were empowered yet, he did not talk about the structures needed to get there. He did mention the Panchayati Raj system, but even there he quietly admitted that the Congress Party had failed its own initiative. He did not discuss inflation, economic stagnation, International relations... in fact, he did not discuss anything worthwhile at all!

A funny connotation of his speech was that he kept drubbing his own party and family at every stage possible. From talking about the political class that controls the fate of a billion people, the lack of intra-party democracy to the lack of empowerment in India, Rahul Gandhi virtually decried his own family and party, actually giving us more reasons to be weary of him than to take him seriously. For a politician, this is a fine mark of naivete indeed! 

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Evidence is Mounting

This week, a committee appointed by the Supreme Court found that six encounters by the Army in Manipur were fake and none of those killed had any criminal connections. It was an act of cold-blooded murder, but one where the victims could not seek justice because they were behind the Iron Curtain of India.

The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 is that Iron Curtain that has kept Manipur locked out of Indian democracy for over half a century now. Caught between the security forces and insurgents, neither of whom has any reason to spare any civilian lives, the people have Manipur have had their voices stifled by an Indian Government and people who simply do not care two hoots for this desolate corner of India. They call us the largest democracy in the world, but in this part, there is no democracy and no freedom. The fear of the gun rules - every baby is born with a death note hanging above its head, approved by Parliament and endorsed by the Supreme Court.

Clearly, AFSPA is a huge crime against our own people in Manipur. The findings of the report should, hopefully, shake the Supreme Court enough to make it take action against the soldiers who massacred innocent civilians and remind them which nation they are the soldiers of. But such short-term measures will only do so much: the ultimate solution lies in political reconciliation and a repealing of AFSPA. The entire country is watching even as the MHA pleads helplessness in the face of a belligerent MoD that simply refuses to see that you cannot win a fight against an insurgency by terrorizing the local population (which is also a War Crime).

We demand change - active, political intervention in Manipur to bring a lasting peace; dismissal of the hugely corrupt Ibobi Singh Government that has entirely disregarded the Constitution; and repealing of AFSPA. Nothing else will change the situation there. 

The Curse of Victory

It was an easy task, not something that would demand the personal intervention of the Prince and the Prince-Commander. Some so-called witches in West Talbore,  a desolate part of the Syrenician Confederation, were supposedly kidnapping and killing young children. Or so the locals had informed; they were not be taken at face value, of course: such crazy tales were heard everywhere in this backward area.

Prince Seleucus led the small force to meet the King of West Talbore. This was the poorest and most backward part of the confederation and therefore, protocol was spartan. We marched behind the Prince-Commander Normander, who personally protected the Prince. The locals say that the forests of West Talbore are infested with so-called witched: old, ragged women who play around with strange herbs. We soldiers were ready to stop them if they tried to harm us, although we were instructed not to kill anyone.

At the royal palace (which was just a large hut, nothing in front of the grand palace in the Central City), the Prince was welcomed. After some deliberations, we were informed that we would split up into five teams to find five children who had been kidnapped by the witches: hopefully, they were still alive. We were to be tough and violent to scare them, but not kill them.

As we combed through the forests, it became apparent why the civilian defense could not do it: the West Talborean forests are thick and treacherous, full of secret caverns and booby-trapped vines. We could only move ever-so slowly as we combed the area in five closely-spaced concentric circles. I was in the third circle, which proved to be exceptionally difficult due to an array of booby-traps. Obviously, they were somewhere around here.

***

I had lost my way through the last cavern. I was not scared - I was a soldier of fine Dolcian blood, after all. But what I saw scared even me: around the corner, hidden behind some trees, was a strange light. As I approached its source, I saw them: witches! Five of them - they walked like humans, but they were not humans; their bodies had mutated. They were much smaller than humans, but their faces were hideous, their noses appeared to be made of metal.

They were surrounding five young children, who were tied up after having been dressed up in strange, colourful leaves. If I had not known better, they were being readied for a sacrifice! I turned around to bring reinforcement, but a twig broke under my feet. They had heard it and, as I began to run, they conjured up some strange smoke that blocked my view. In fear, I shot a flare into the sky - we had prepared for an ambush.

As the witches approached, I kept my gun ready: we were told not to kill, but I could kill them in self-defense. One of them lifted what seemed to be a human skull from her pocket. I was ready to retaliate.

"In the name of the Emperor of Syracuse, desist." It was our Prince - he had joined his forces.

The witches turned towards them, the Prince and the Prince-Commander. They were alone: certainly, this was a grave breach in these dangerous forests. Someone would pay dearly for this later. But for now, the witches prepared to attack. Smoke rose from the ground and took the form of strange creatures. I admit, In was scared: I was trained to fight armies, not smoky demons!

"Fire!" our Prince ordered. Instantaneously, the three of us fired at the witches, taking care to avoid hitting the children. They fell at the very first bullets; it seems they really were nothing more than charlatans. The Prince was the first to approach them.

"For your crimes against the fair people of West Talbore, this is what you deserve," he said, as the Prince-Commander and I stood ready to counter any surprise attack. But none came - they were nearly dead.

"The fair people of West Talbore?" hissed a witch. It was an unearthly voice, as though its spirit was speaking. We shuddered, but stood our ground.

"And what of our fair people? This was our land before your people came and took it from us. History is written by tyrants in the blood of the defeated. But we will not be defeated today, Prince Seleucus. You shall have your victory, today and forever. But you shall never have your peace. You shall be the greatest conqueror in history, but you shall never know joy. You call us witches, we call you invaders. Today we have fallen, tomorrow it shall be you."

"Enough of this," Prince-Commander Normander shouted out. He shot each of them one more time; they died instantly. The three of us made our way out in complete silence as we met the search party. Inquiries would be held soon, but I could not but stare at the Prince-Commander. He seemed to have been shaken.

"Seleucus, this is not right. They were innocent people, you should not have ordered their killing. That curse..."

"Normander, I forbid you to ever repeat what that hag said. They are barbarians, the kind that we eliminated when we established the Seven Empires. The children are safe, that's all that matters."

The Prince-Commander was not convinced, but he could not overrule the Prince. As for me, I knew when to keep my mouth shut.  

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Heading to the IMF?

The Hindu today carried an article, outlining the events that led to the 1991 IMF-prodded restructuring of the Indian economy that saw what many called a 'failed state' turn into one of the engines of the world's economy. As the article suggested, those events seem eerily similar to what we are seeing today.

A Government that put politics ahead of the economy; an International community that was fed up with trying to convince Indian leaders that they have to take tough decisions; and a hard, embarrassing run to the IMF with a begging bowl: these are what characterised the events that took place when Rajiv Gandhi, accused in the Bofors Scam, refused to heed the sound advice of the Finance Ministry and head to the IMF for help when that help could've made some difference. When the National Front Government came to power, India tried to obtain some aid from the Japanese, all in vain. And then came 1991 and India was broke. To put it in the words of someone who was in his teens at that time - we could not repay our debts even if we sold off half the country.

The events of today seem to run parallel. UPA-II, under the ineffective Manmohan Singh, has wasted too much time dilly-dallying with coalition politics. Key reforms have come in too little, too late. From half-hearted FDI reforms to subsidy reforms, everything was done at the last minute, with improper guidelines and a lot of red tape. Key committee recommendations were ignored ant then resurrected only when it was too late to make much of a difference.

The India growth story is over and everybody knows it. Nobody is going to take our bid for a permanent UNSC seat seriously, and neither is the West going to ignore our numerous human rights violations in Kashmir and Manipur for much longer. International investors have dumped India and the Indian businessmen have been bogged down restrictive labour laws and downright impossible land acquisition rules. When politics rules the day, the police force continues to be outdated and the judiciary is unable to live up to its expectations, we can safely say that India's days of glory are over.

And, to complete the chain of events, we may even say that the day is not far when India has to rush to the IMF for aid, after being a net contributor to the Fund for over a decade now. With the latest CAD number of 6.7% failing to shock the political class into realization that populism will drown the nation, the day is not far when we shall head into another deep crisis. As The Hindu's article implied, P Chidambaram was back in Japan, asking for investment, sounding rather desperate even. It will be the IMF soon. 

Of Nirvana and Unplanned Roads

This weekend, I had the pleasure of visiting the historic city of Amritsar to see the Golden Temple, the Jallianwala Bagh National Memorial and the Beating Retreat at the Wagah Border. More used to travelling outside India than inside it, it was a good experience as I managed to authenticate my knowledge about all things Punjabi, starting with the language.

The Punjabi Language belongs to the Indo-Aryan line of languages, but its connection with Hindi is rather weak. So when the rickshaw puller tells you that he will charge you 30, it does take some time to make out what he is trying to say! Despite that minor irritant (which is a very common thing in India, actually), people there were extremely helpful. And so we reached the Golden Temple (Harmandir Sahib), a beautiful place befitting a great religion.

The one thing that was strange about the Golden Temple was the utter lack of security there - for such an important place to have no metal detectors or frisking seemed strange. It could be that they trust in the goodwill of the devotees, but that's not convincing in times like these. After much searching, I managed to find a single CCTV camera! The Temple is also amazingly crowded, almost never sleeping, with most of its staff consisting of volunteers, managing everything from the community kitchen to the water coolers, cleaning and shoe racks!

From the Golden Temple, we made our way to the Jallianwala Bagh National Memorial, the site of the massacre of innocent civilians at the hands of the British General Dyer. Now that was a calming place, particularly the site of the Martyr's Well, where over a hundred people died, caught between the devil and the deep sea. You could sit in the stands and imagine the scene, or just go to the makeshift museum to see an artists' rendition of the scene.

Finally, we went to the Wagah Border, one of the few gates between India and Pakistan, to see the Beating Retreat ceremony. Over a thousand patriotic Indians from across the great country came together in jingoistic fervour to praise their motherland as the gates were closed. Honestly, I thought it was just silly and should not last longer than two minutes. What is the point of charging up the audience, it's not like you're going to win any war? And during times of peace, it is actually counterproductive. For once, the Pakistani stands were full too and so it was a battle or words on both sides. Ironically, Mahatma Gandhi's picture faces that of Md. Ali Jinnah's, a strange comparison if you see the subcontinent's history holistically.

Amritsar is a strange city. Around the Golden Temple, there is so much energy and everyone is devoted to keeping themselves and their surroundings tip-top. Yet, barely 100m out of the 'exclusion zone,' you have narrow bylanes, open drains, dogs and wine shops... it seems the city has grown beyond itself. May the Gurus take note. 

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Nobody Wants a Manmohan Singh III

A lot of talk going around in political circles in Delhi of late has been centred around what role Prime Minister Manmohan Singh would play in the next Lok Sabha elections. As such, it seemed as though he would be put on a forced retirement, giving way to Rahul Gandhi. However, since Narendra Modi joined the BJP Parliamentary Board (and raised the pitch of those wanting him to run for PM), the Congress appears to have done a U-turn and might just support Manmohan Singh for a third term.

That would be disastrous for India, of course. Dr. Singh, for all his personal integrity, has proven time and again that he lacks spine and cannot control his cabinet or the bureaucracy. Starting from the 2G scam, in which The Hindu released new evidence to prove mishandling at the PMO, to the S-band affair and much farther, his leadership has provided a veneer for all sorts of illegal activities that have come to characterize this, Independent India's most corrupt government. His repeated whining over the 'realities' of coalition governments merely points to the fact that he has no control over the political landscape and is nothing beyond a technocrat, which is hurting India very badly.

The Congress argues that the 'dual-centre' model it has invented has proved to be successful. Yet, it is the Congress itself that wishes to elevate Rahul Gandhi to PM and thus, eliminate that model. And even without the Congress' fickle opinion, the system has failed. The PM is a political post, it requires deft handling of political situations and public sentiments. A hands-off, outsourced approach will not help but will lead to paralysis, which is precisely what has happened under UPA II.

Let us be clear - after this disastrous government, nobody wants to see Manmohan Singh back at the helm of affairs. His age being an additional issue, he should know when he is not needed and quietly resign. 

Monday, April 1, 2013

An Avoidable Tenure

April 1, 2013 will go down as a watershed day in IITR with the end of the tenure of one of the most controversial Deans of Students' Welfare in history. In keeping with the typical, top-down bureaucratic style that the now former Dean encouraged, I shall not be taking any names but I trust that, like everyone else who saw no point in complex bureaucratic procedures, you too will get the point.

They say that you should not promise what is not in your hands. In the summer of 2012, when there was a huge ruckus over the question of shifting B.Tech 3rd Year students to the south of the campus (the 'sheher'), the former Dean categorically stated that since LAN was the only reason there was any resistance, all the older hostels would get LAN as well. And it was on that specific, unconditioned assurance that the matter died down. In his parting letter, the former Dean expressed regret that he could not fulfill his assurance due to 'technical objections.' Well, as much as he would like to think otherwise, the fact is that he gave a categorical assurance (and this is to a batch that spent an unprecedented year without any Internet connection in the hostel) that there would be LAN and so, while he cannot be blamed for the fact that it did not come, he can and should be blamed for putting the cart before the horse.

Then came l'affaire Saharanpur Campus, possibly his true Waterloo. While he states that he has always had some deep, hidden affection for the campus, the fact remains that until the historic hunger strike there, he was not even interested in listening to the Campus' problems, as clearly demonstrated by repeated resolutions at the SAC that went unheeded. During the protest, he went down as the only DOSW in history who, after two difficult and burdensome sojourns down to Saharanpur to negotiate, ordered a closure of the campus. Quite a lot of affection there.

Speaking of SAC, seldom has there been a DOSW who held the body in so much contempt. He used it in every way possible, including as a spy agency to get information about students and their activities. He coined the new phrase 'unbecoming of an IITian' and branded anything that he disliked as that, thus inviting the wrath of his 100 marks. He refused to consider repeated requests from the Cultural Council, a body that he held in the highest contempt, for more working space while under his very nose everything from SAAR to the Counselling Cell was allotted space in the IIT Mandi Cell. He refused to allow Thomso to be a three-day affair, thus forcing the organizers to rejig everything at the last moment.

But perhaps the worst part of his tenure was his unshakable belief that everything about students was bad and that anything that did not fly by his desk had an ulterior motive. His vengeance over a silly flex that he approved and then forgot about; his centralization of tasks of various bodies under SAC and indeed, sidelining of SAC itself; and his near-scrapping of the Bhawan Day system all go down that very lane. A person tasked with taking care Students' Welfare does not have an iota of trust that students can ask for anything genuine and then claims that he tried his best to 'understand' our dreams and aspirations - can anything be more ironic?

In all, it is a bright light at the end of a dark, poorly-ventilated tunnel as Prof. Ravi Bhushan takes over as the new DOSW. After what was a terrible, forgettable tenure, it is hoped by all the well-wishers of IITR that the stifling bureaucracy and atmosphere of distrust created between students and the Dean of their Welfare can be overcome.