|Surprise is a tactic, not a strategy|
|In March this year, members of the Pakistani establishment laid out the red carpet for an unusual visitor. The gentleman, who will not be named, was an envoy of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), an overseas supporter of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and was said to be carrying a message from Narendra Modi. As a result, the visitor was hosted to lunch by the Foreign Affairs Adviser Sartaj Aziz and the Foreign Office India desk, met with Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's key adviser Tariq Fatemi, and was even invited to the Army General Headquarters.
The message he carried was simple: that once elected, the BJP government would pursue talks and push business engagement with Pakistan. He indicated that an invitation would be sent shortly after Mr. Modi took over, to set the b...|
|Life after force-feeding|
|Does Irom Sharmila have reason to start eating again?|
|When Irom Sharmila began her "fast unto death" there was no Facebook and she was not the mascot of resistance against State atrocity she is today. The same State that she protested against spent a lot of money keeping her alive by force-feeding her, and by not resisting, as an argument goes, she has not been keen to end her life in protest.
But in the last few years, she has become a national hero with innumerable Facebook posts and media articles featuring her resistance every now and then.
She is now unarguably an icon, who has endured so much in the last 14 years during which she refused to eat for a cause that she earnestly believed in. Some, such as the CPI (ML), had the support of an ideology to praise her. She is now in the hall of fame of heroes, sharing space with people such a...|
|Oh this water famine!|
|I had but to be at Kashmir University and thank God traffic jams didn't put me very late. "What a beautiful, beautiful campus!" I remembered one old Vice Chancellor oft in ecstasy say; indeed more beautified since, greener since, it certainly is an earthly heaven.
Yet hotter it was every hour. Noon…it was as hot as Delhi's. Hotter onward, I was back onward, to an ailing friend in hospital. O thirst jammed me. Legs too slow, arms hanging, my eyes yet were too quick for finding a water tap by. They did find one, another, and then another. Dangling legs took me to them all; all were open, serenely singing sobering songs of their forced death. A thirsty crow beaked and beaked a tap to revive its life but flew off in utter disgust.
Not much far away, I happened to sight a lord, tap-pipe ...|
|SIGNS OF THE TIMES|
|Indo-Pak relations and mindless debates|
|There is a strange sort of churning on, an eerie build up. There is horrifying violence and deceit and foul play. Not just here but also elsewhere, all over this world. It gets unbearable to view those constant relays on the small screen. In fact, for the last several weeks I don't bother to watch those endless cum mindless television discussions, those big and small fights. Instead, find refuge in viewing just about two channels - Care World which focuses on the alternative healing therapies and the other, of course, is Zindagi. Zindagi serials and those single episodes of 'Kitne Girhain Baaki Hain' are so well put together that they can be termed excellent. Human relationships portrayed in all possible hues and, mind you, without pelvic or bosomy thrusts. None of the vulgar gimmicks at ...|
|The United States of Tatooine|
|"Tatooine" is, you will surely agree, a pretty stupid name for a planet, but there are so many Star Wars fans that some unfortunate world is bound to end up being called exactly that. Let's just hope that its inhabitants, if there are any, never find out. On the whole, though, giving more user-friendly names to newly found planets orbiting other stars is a good idea.
There is, for example, a potentially habitable "exoplanet" only sixteen light years from here that is currently known only as Gliese 832c. As any real estate agent could tell you, it would attract a lot more attention if you renamed it "Nirvana".
There are gazillions of stars, and only around three hundred have proper names (Antares, Procyon, Sirius) in any language. Some of the other bright ones are named after the constel...|
|VIEW FROM PAKISTAN|
|The last episode|
|The political soap opera being currently played on the capital's stage is getting more melodramatic. The story is unfolding strictly according to the script in this season of 'revolutions'. It begins with the march on Islamabad. Now we are into the second episode: the storming of the 'red zone'. What next? Breakdown of the order and entrance of the arbiter. There is little suspense about the ending, but the next episode is going to be critical.
If not macabre, at the very least the situation is bizarre. Imran Khan came to storm the citadel of power and destroy the old order, but may have killed his own and his party's political future in the bargain. He is trying to rock the boat that may sink him too. His call for civil disobedience followed by the decision to resign from the assemblie...|
|Israel, Hamas and the making of the New Arab World|
|The Arab Revolt, which gave so much hope to the Palestinians, has turned out to be a misfortune for the people of Gaza. The Israeli narrative has now found wide acceptance, not only in governments, but also on Arab streets.
The latest round of fighting between Israel and Hamas has revealed a number of hidden dynamics in the Arab world, which signal increased polarization within the region, and, most interestingly, the end of Israeli isolation, not only at the level of intergovernmental relations.
Interestingly, this latest round of fighting has revealed a deep split in the Arab world, with a number of Arab regimes taking an unabashed position of blaming Hamas for the violence, and explicitly or implicitly supporting Israel. For the first time, the Israeli narrative is ...|
|Vulnerable youth, Vulnerable World|
|Youth-ages 15-24-is a key period of transition when children learn to engage with society and the world of work. In many countries the number of young people is rising. The global youth population is 1.2 billion (17.6 percent of the total population), and the regions with the highest shares of young people in their population are Sub-Saharan Africa (20.2 percent), the Arab States (19.6 percent) and South Asia (19.6 percent). By 2050 the share of young people in the total population is expected to drop to 13.8 percent, with the largest drop in East Asia and the Pacific (from 17.3 percent in 2010 to 10.7 percent in 2050). Country data also show that the share of young people in the total population is expected to fall in most regions by 2050.
Governments will need to ensure sufficient empl...|
|Symbolism in peace and war: Can we learn?|
It's strange how symbols manifest through the history and play an important role in shaping the events of the world. One could take the Eagle which has been taken up by the US as the symbol of liberty and more specifically its military insignia. The eagle was incidentally introduced by the Roman commanders who wanted their legions to have a standard to look up to.
The Romans had over 2000 years ago in their fight against the Jews, turned them out of Palestine, after a prolonged siege and much bloodshed. The Nazis too had taken the eagle as their military insignia (along with many other symbols of the Romans, like their salute, the magnificent buildings and so on. Nazis had by their programme of persecution forced many of the Jews to return back to Palestine (which for the past ...|
|Debating the Middle East conflict on Facebook|
|It's amazing watching what people reveal about themselves when tensions in the Middle East explode. Some otherwise liberal, compassionate souls with big hearts suddenly morph into raging self-appointed authorities. Others, who've suffered deeply and have reason not to be kind towards oppressors, become surprisingly gentle. Some spew invectives while others weep for dying children.
But nothing rivals what has taken place on social media since the horrific conflict between Israel and the Palestinians began. Having responded to a friend's pro-Israel Facebook post in which she equated my sympathy for the plight of ordinary Palestinians with being "pro-Hamas", a slew of opinions started flying and haven't stopped.
"It's one thing to be so-called 'pro-Hamas' but quite another to simply be ...|
|BJP versus Bhagwat|
|Has the RSS top leader, Mr. Mohan Bhagwat, sent a signal to the BJP leaders and government at the Centre that they need not be engaged in a game of self-congratulation or euphoria over the General Election victory, nor give the credit to any individual or individuals on this score?
While reminding them that it is the "aam adami" or common man who wanted a change ~ "parivartan" ~ has Mr. Bhagwat tried to deflate egos in saffron outfits and called all of them to discipline? Has he told them yet once more or just sent a signal that he calls the shots even though he stays aloof?
Has Mr. Bhagwat laid down the saffron law that no "vyakti" or particular person, no matter how great, is lord and master of the show? Does he expect everyone in the Sangh Parivar or family to be humble? Has he trie...|
|The demons of Robin Williams|
|You can never tell when children's carefree, helpless peals of laughter will turn to tears and why. Robin Williams, who entertained children and grown-up children all his life, was like a child himself. He never grew up.
Celebrating child-like innocence and insouciance in the make-believe world of the movies and making many of us forget our own, the incomparable actor apparently had had enough of the world of grown-ups.
But, as a young friend wondered with infectious sadness, why is it that people who are all the time cheering up others often find themselves so unhappy and depressed? Why indeed?
Someone who spread pure joy and boundless happiness all around was so incredibly, incurably sad himself and died so unhappy--can there be a greater tragedy and irony than this?
Having long w...|
|VIEW FROM THE GALLERY|
|Can United Front of secular parties work?|
|Cries of unity to face the onslaught of BJP are being heard in the entire Hindi belt. What started in Bihar when Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad decided to bury the hatchet to join hands to fight the by-elections in the State is now spreading. This showed that both have realised that BJP which has combined with Ram Vilas Paswan has become a formidable force as shown in the poll for Lok Sabha in which secular parties like Congress, Janata Dal United and RJD suffered losses while BJP swept the polls in the entire Hindi region and improved its position in Western, Eastern and Southern States.
The Bihar leaders have also addressed a joint meeting to start with. But the question mark remains if the unity achieved at the top will be acceptable to the cadre who have worked against each other for o...|
|Grandpa and Amma Checha!|
|"Hey anu yoor chare (Give it to me, muttonhead)!" said the kid, around 9. The addressee was his own grandpa in a highly respected company. The object referred was a cellphone.
The kid given the cellphone, he pressed some buttons, in quick succession, set it all OK, and "Ratew Jenab (Have it, Sir)" addressed his grandpa. "Charges Rs 5 only; the mechanic wouldn't charge you less than 100." Grandpa gave him a 20-rupee note. "Thanks, thank you again!" said the kid and darted away.
Grandpa had just received a call. Had pressed some wrong keys two or three and the instrument had declared utter disobedience.
Grandpa was an octogenarian, a scholar of repute, a noble soul, envied by many indeed. O a "muttonhead" but he was to the kid - not able to control the little defiant cell!
|Good ally, bad enemy?|
|"Anti-western propaganda was often unleashed precisely so Pakistani officials could argue that the United States had to support Pakistan against India, so as to preserve its alliance with them. Few Pakistanis knew how much their country and its armed forces had become dependent on US assistance." (Husain Haqqani, Magnificient Delusions)
One of the most important planks in Pakistan's political history is the role that Pak- US relations played in affecting Pakistan's fortunes domestically and abroad. Two recent books, one by former Ambassador Husain Haqqani (Magnificent Delusions: Pakistan, the United States and an Epic History of Misunderstanding), and the other by Carlotta Gall (The Wrong Enemy: American in Afghanistan, 2001-2014), help us understand this awkward interaction in greater ...|
|The incurious case of Dinanath Batra|
|Dinanath Batra is yet again in the limelight due to his Hindutva agenda. This time his voice is more dominant due to the fact that there is a Rightist government at the centre which is backing him. He wants to afflict the entire education system with his narrow minded, communal agenda. He dreams of creating an undivided India (Akhand Bharat) on the basis of "Indian cultural values". Dinanath Batra, an active member of the RSS, has been working for the "betterment" of the Indian education system through the Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samiti, by which he aims to imbibe Indian values not only in the education system but also in individual personalities.
He believes that children in school should be taught to draw an undivided map of India which should include Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Bh...|
|Roll of honour|
|Rachna Bisht Rawat's book, The Brave, chronicles the heroism of the 21 men awarded India's highest military decoration for valour in the face of the enemy, the Param Vir Chakra|
|Far away in snowbound Ladakh, beyond the cobalt blue Pangong Tso, stands a memorial inscribed with words from Lord Macaulay's poem, Horatius.
How can man die better/ Than facing fearful odds/ For the ashes of his fathers/ And the temples of his gods.
The memorial commemorates the heroic stand of Major Shaitan Singh, PVC, and the brave Ahirs of C Company, 13 Kumaon Regiment. In the dark days of 1962, Major Singh and his men, grossly outnumbered, were brutally massacred by the Chinese, and died following the orders, "You will fight till the last man and the last bullet".
It is this enigma of war - what makes some run, others stand their ground, and a remarkable few display astonishing courage - that Rachna unravels in her first book.
When Penguin Books thought of this project, Rachn...|