Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Terror Within - A Game of Chess


As older people we can only recollect from our Brahmachari days when, as aliens in our own country, we conversed and read in a foreign language without being alienated … strangely! In the context of the images of recent terror, Eliot’s “Game of Chess” comes to mind where bottles of perfumes (read flames from grenades)

… drowned the sense in odours; stirred by the air
That freshened from the window, these ascended
In fattening the prolonged candle-flames,
Flung their smoke into the laquearia,
Stirring the pattern on the coffered ceiling.
Huge sea-wood fed with copper
Burned green and orange, framed by the coloured stone,
In which sad light a carved dolphin swam.
Above the antique mantel was displayed
As though a window gave upon the sylvan scene


There are those who would say what kind of measures you can take when individuals are willing to kill themselves. This is especially so when it is a result of training based on the accident of their birth into a particular community. It therefore becomes an onus on the community and can be very impractical. The contraposition to such an argument is how a terrorist can survive in a society in which there is very little disgruntlement. It is evident at once that the second position is too utopian (like the Gandhigiri of the gangster Munnabhai who reforms into offering roses in exchange for blows from property developers) to be practical in removing terrorism as well. Which should we strive for?

We read Marcuse’s “One-Dimensional Man” in our times (1950s-1960s) and hoped for expansion beyond the new one-dimensional commercial thought prevalent in seemingly opposing capitalism (as in USA) and communism (as in USSR). The aim of both these one-dimensional totalitarian system “… is the weakening and even the disappearance of all genuinely radical (read non-orthodox) critique with the integration of all opposition in the established system.” This is also the aim of the two chief one-dimensional Palestine-based religions --- Islam and Judaism --- who believe in a single omniscient in a single, supreme, munificent, magnificent, omniscient God (much like some of us would like to think of Rama).

I believe with perfect faith that the Creator, Blessed be His Name, is One, and that there is no unity in any manner like His, and that He alone is our God, who was, and is, and will be.

The desire for a fool-proof security system should be a result of such one-dimensional thinking with a desirable avoidance of a multi-dimensional life. This is sheer anathema to some and could be so to all. Can one imagine Bombay or Calcutta as one-dimensional cities? I am reminded of a line from one of Pritish Nandy’s more impressive early poems --- “Calcutta if you must Exile me” --- written during the internal “terrorist” Naxalite days (early 1970s) with lines such as

… the headless corpse in a Dhakuria bylane the battered youth his brains blown out and the silent vigil that takes you to Pataldanga Lane where they will gun you down without vengeance or hate…

and the last line

Calcutta, if you must exile me, destroy my sanity before I go.

The point Nandy was trying to make (perhaps) was that the “terrorism” of its Naxalites meant much less than the life and rationale of its native people. According to many, Nandy did indeed exile his sanity in exchange for a make-believe life in Bombay’s shamelessly arrogant dream world --- the Ugly and the Pugly.

How does this terror attack affect the ordinary people who have been burnt? We have our maa-kalis and the tandav of Shiva; as a result we live comfortably with the notion of the union of creation and destruction. We have been a bio-degradable country that has perhaps (it is impossible to be categorical) been based on a fearless faith in the infiniteness of our lives and a respect for all form of animal and plant lives --- even if it may be based on our (the people of the subcontinent) ingrained, native, religion-independent belief in retributions through reincarnation.

Those of us who have lived our lives freely in yoga with the environment for more than sixty years, instinctively detest being caged in gun-toting security of India. Those early days of freedom, for us, were days of walking barefoot on roads, living with many brothers and sisters in a joint family atmosphere, going through the motions of respecting the elders, washing and cleaning after use, playing kabbadi on hard grounds or hearing manga-thenga-pattani-sundal served hot on a leaf on the then pristine pure Marina beach of Madras, or mingling with the top politicians and actors and sportsmen. Our robes were sack-cloth and ashes, our meals were rationed, fresh breeze blew through our hearts and our spirits were free.

There were also those who kept the smolders of partition still burning. Is this attack on mainly upper class establishments a triumph of these fire-stokers? Or is it another manifestation of the demands of globalization in which two one-dimensional objects confront each other. The result would remain one dimensional if one is trying to spread (multiplying unities, 1 x 1 = 1) or separate (dividing unities, 1/1 = 1) such 1Ds. We can only add or assimilate one-dimensionalities (1+1 = 2) to become multi-dimensional and tolerant, which is the essence of our “unity in diversity”, the very basis of making Munnabhai’s “Gandhi-giri” believable/desirable.

What does the security of a country depend on? Does it depend on the trickle-down way an elected government perceives it for the benefit of its vote bank no matter how large it is? or does it depend on the base, the foundation, the very people of a united nation of independent communities.

Why blame politicians if the people choose to put their heads in holes and be very wise in hind-sights?
What makes the people of a nation --- as distinct from a security agency --- want to secure themselves? Will a people be more secure when their conscious states are always fed by frivolous images of a flippant multi-media world produced by glib advertisement gurus who benefit always from projections of conflicts in style. Page three did not die when page three edifices burnt (see image on top where first pages and page three are shown).

I could stop here. I have gone way beyond the 5 minute forty second attention span that one may expect at best. I refuse to believe this should be so or even be encouraged, not only because I am not an advertiser, but because I think people who terrorize are those who benefit from such short attention spans.

Why do we --- the silent majority as described by Ronald Reagan --- allow ourselves to be terrorized? The silent majority are silent because they have become silently terrorized in rat’s alley “… where the dead men have lost their bones … .” (Eliot, Game of Chess).

It is very ease to blame politicians and others who would instigate jehad. But why are we, as individuals, silent on so many things?. A nation is not terrorized when the individual is strong and resistant. Our jawans are brave and so are our young officers. They respond to call of duty like no one else in the world. This is an image we will keep and cherish.

What about the rest of us? Especially those from whom the leadership is drawn.

Where is the rot? Does the rot set in at the higher terrorizing echelons?

Will somebody explain to me how the heads of the anti-terrorist squads should have been the first to be killed? Did the “big-time” terrorists exploit some agents of “small-time” terrorist “supari-killing” (assassination) plots to gain access to potential security breaches?

The answers to these questions have been junked in rat’s alley.

One of the drawbacks of our society --- not only Indian --- is the way we have become de-sensitized to perceived injustice doled out from people who govern. How do we rate our intelligence and our security?

As far as intelligent scientific activity is concerned, we are now (at best) the first to be second. There has been little text-book scale post- independence original (not even wrong) scientific achievement to be proud of since (as far as I know) the late G. N. Ramachandran, the young Ashok Sen and some early mathematicians of TIFR.

There is a visible trail of sycophancy among our academics in all spheres of activity. “India would perhaps also be one of the countries at the bottom as far as ethics in science is concerned.”
The unforgivable image of sloppy short-cuts (a modern Indian idiom) is the crash-landing of our flag on the moon. We should have treated our flag more gently. The next time we will announce our conquest of foreign-controlled territory by landing our national flag on it using fire-power of Bofors gun! Why couldn’t Kalam restrain himself from imposing his rank on (terrorizing) ISRO? More importantly, why did ISRO allow Kalaam to try to steal their thunder.

Our non-military security systems do not fare any better. There is now a talk from security managers of top private companies that they should be allowed to have all the paraphernalia (AK47, grenades, satellite communication, the works) of government security systems. Is there any guarantee that these companies, which failed to see the stock-exchange collapse their financial securities, would do any better than the goondas they would hire. They do so in any case for their physical security and in eliminating competitors?

Why was our television coverage so shallow? The television images survived on irresponsible gossip. There was a cacophonous screech for attention that focused solely on the misfortunes of the rich and the famous. There was no original in-house of the attacks. Except for the bravery of its nervous inexperienced young reporters, it did little to remove doubts about the facetiousness of the lifestyles of the main TV players jockeying solely for TRP ratings.

Why did American Intelligence give much needed information on satellite communication only now and not the many earlier terror times? Did they demand a change in the home minister to a more pliable one as a precondition? Even if they did, did we have to comply?

There is a terror within us which pre-paralyzes us when asked for prompt reaction to terror without. We seem to be worried only about our immediate small-time preoccupations. To go back to Eliot’s “Game of Chess”


"What shall we ever do?"
The hot water at ten.
And if it rains, a closed car at four.
And we shall play a game of chess,
Pressing lidless eyes and waiting for a knock upon the door.

To fight the terrorists we should not wait for a knock on the door. We require playing games of chess planning many moves ahead on a board that has no set pattern and no set rules --- much like the horse race in the Palio of Sienna in Italy.

There is comfort still as long as we remain what we are, or could have been, for centuries. As Tennyson’s Ulysses said

Tho much is taken, much abides; and tho
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are,
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

In the meanwhile, if you must play games and pass time, figure out the paths and number of terrorists involved on that night from the details given (from a news paper) given at the top of this blog (hint: use Google Earth).

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