Friday, December 12, 2008

Some food for thought on our identity post-26/11

The Campion family lost Sunil Parekh (Class of 1978) and his wife Reshma in the attacks at the Oberoi, and Patrick has a nice tribute to Sunil and Reshma, with a video celebrating his life. The part of the video showing Sunil in full form at a class reunion was touching to say the least!

It's been very interesting to see some articles being posted on the Old Campionites Association website. The batch of 1987 has been the most active, with Aashish Contractor (Britto) and Jai Natarajan (Xavier) writing two brilliant articles (in my humble opinion) capturing the essence of the change we need, and 'change we can believe in'! My venerable schoomaster Mr. Indrajit Panjabi (litterateur and librateur sans pareil) called them pieces worthy of TIME/Newsweek!

Aashish was on the scene at Leopold helping out (he's a doctor), and first wrote about his first-hand experiences here. He has hit the nail on the head in saying that over the past fortnight "One of the greatest hurdles that faces us as a nation today is our tendency to obfuscate issues, and no one has given us greater training in that art, than our politicians." The departure of Mr. Beautiful Idiot (aka Shivraj Patil) and the other Patil (RR) were steps taken forward, but sleepwalked back again (to quote Floyd, and Amit Varma). He goes on to talk about our 'chalta hai' attitude, accepting everything which comes our way, be it the corrupt police-force or lack of basic facilities for half the population, as long as we can live in our plush environs. The solution he proposes, of giving every person a sense of ownership of the safety and prosperity of the city might be a tad tough to accomplish although. I am not sure whether the 'communal issues' went up in flames in 2002, or whether it's been on low simmer since 1990-91 when Mr. Advani decided to go retro in his rath.

Jai on the other hand, has written a more emotional article, mincing no words in stating that "Mumbaikars over decades of greed and rapacity, have destroyed rule of law and corrupted the systems which should have protected us. We are the system. We are the reality of Mumbai. We are its pestilence. It is convenient to demand action, to demand results, somehow, anyhow. Can we believe in a fantasy that a bureaucracy, government and law enforcement apparatus which have never delivered anything meaningful, which we have ourselves strangled over the years, can suddenly start delivering results in one narrow sphere of security?"

He has taken a dispassionate view on the situation, hitting a raw nerve, and I guess a lot of folks will be up in arms after reading his post. What he writes does largely hold true - l do believe that the nation suffers from a slight lack of unity as a whole. And the only reason why such a hue and cry is being raised is due to the fact that the places hit were hangouts and the rich and famous (with all due respect to the people who perished in those unfortunate circumstances). As Jai wrote:
"Neither Mr. Tata with his billions nor Mr. Bachchan with his pistol was there to save us on Wednesday night. We were saved by lower middle class jawans who on a normal Sunday would not even be allowed to enter the Taj or Oberoi by the security, who cannot even afford a Thums Up at Souk. Do we even deserve these amazing young men to fight and die for us when every public figure and Page 3 celebrity is on air spewing verbal diarrhea about our fear and trauma?". This is probably the first time we have seen the Page 3 varieties of Bombay come out from their coccoons and speak out. It has always been the common man who has been caught in the crossifire, and I am skeptical about any reasonable 'change' happening (not even Rata Tata as the next Obama).

And so to the solution: Unless we re-engage our civic society as responsible and honest citizens of our own free will, we cannot expect better from our institutions. Let’s start with the hard, thankless and unglamorous task of fixing the broken windows and potholes. We have a very long way to go before reclaiming our Maximum City from what we have allowed it to become. Only then can we show the lead to the rest of the nation as we have always prided ourselves on doing.

Much as this makes sense on paper, I am not sure how practical it is. There is a dire need for us to make our nation more 'secure'; the pothole and window fixing will follow automatically. I know of folks who used to stay at the Oberoi, but then shifted to the Taj Heritage as there were rumors floating around about people of 'questionable character/antecedents' living at the Oberoi on a long-term basis. The agencies probably knew, but they never followed up. Why? Because of the general 'chalta hai' attitude which has percolated throughout our society.

And where does the change have to come? To a large extent, the common man is finally showing signs that he is sick and tired of the politicians who have gotten our nation into this quagmire, and although an honest politician is an oxymoron, realization has finally dawned that we don't need Judas-es. It is clear that corruption needs to slowly weeded out, especially in places where it involves national security. And of course, the security forces need to be prepared for any eventuality and properly equipped to handle it.

We cannot afford to let another 26-11 happen to our nation, at any cost. The signs are there for all to see, the action(s) remains to be taken.

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