Sunday, December 14, 2008

St. Stephen's College - my Alma Mater

Today, I attended the Old Students Reunion at St. Stephen's College. And I attended every single such reunion for the last ten years.

Each year, when I go back, the experience is of being transformed many years into the past, when I was less than 20 years of age, and not only studied in St. Stephen's but practically lived a good part of the day there. 

Today, like every other time, memories came flooding by. 

Of Rev. Rajpal conducting the morning assembly for the 1st year students, and reading excerpts from the Bible in his booming baritone voice and a clipped Cambridge accent. 

Of teachers - Bhatnagar Sa'ab  - MSB to most, Dr Popli who resembled Prof. Calculus - now no more. Mathur Sa'ab trying to convince our 'blocked' minds that Differential Calculus was actually very easy.

And Dwivedi sa'ab and his 'beedis'

Of chemistry practicals being conducted by us - budding scientists, in dirty lab coats with gaping holes created by careless handling of acids and salts. Being unable to analyse the salts given to us as an exercise and then trying to 'patao' the most reluctant lab assistants to give away the answers...

Heading to the the College 'Cafe' for the delicious mince cutlets and scrambled eggs with toast. Angrily shouting at 'Chhotu' the most harassed waiter to deliver our order quickly as the next class was about to begin..

Of taking hundreds of photos with a borrowed camera, then off to Chandni Chowk's photography market to buy photography paper and chemicals. And locking ourselves up in the dark room of the Photo Society just after dinner, to come out only in the wee hours of the morning.

Of the midnight coffee making session in the hostel room, with the help of a carefully hidden heater and saucepan. To be followed by the 'Maggi' making session at 3 in the morning, before finally going to sleep.

Of Winterfest and the Shakespeare Society productions. Designing and 'doing' the stage lighting in all plays. Climbing up and hanging on precariously to the tall and seemingly fragile ladders to reach and realign the powerfully bright '1000 Watters' and halogen lights hanging from the College auditorium roof...

Of Rohtas' Dhaba and the Nimbu paani and cigarettes and the credit account..

Waiting for the 3.30 and sometimes the 2.30 Moti Bagh specials, at the bus stop just outside College.

Of the so many friends with whom so many hours of one's life were shared but most now lost in the huge World. Some very dear ones having passed on...

It all came back once again today. But memories to be experienced and shared with no one but oneself...

Would have been a far more enjoyable experience if a walk down the corridors of College and the Science block was taken along some of the closest friends...

There's next December to look forward to.. 


Wednesday, December 03, 2008

From the Taj Hotel to the Taj Mahal

Last week, terrorists virtually destroyed the Taj Mahal Hotel, an iconic structure and the pride of Mumbai. They simply came by boats up to nearby Cuffe Parade area and walked in..

This time it was the Taj Mahal Hotel. I cannot think of a good reason why not the Taj Mahal next time? Or India's nuclear installations or the Army Headquarters (If they could attack the 'Pentagon' seven years ago, well - India's is streets behind in terms of its security arrangements.

India is still reeling under the shock and anger in the aftermath of the disaster that struck Mumbai last week. The Government in power at the Center and in Maharashtra are the scapegoats.

And while the criticism and ridicule aimed at those individuals who opened their mouth and put their foot in it, is justified, wishing away politicians and politics in general is certainly not the quickest way to prevent India from remaining a 'soft terrorist target' in the future. Rather, the course of action that India must focus on should consist of the following:

1.Strike while the iron is hot - Not the military option but the diplomatic one. Today, all the powers to be - USA , UK, Australia have woken up to India's long lasting tryst with terrorism. 
Use this support to bring Pakistan on the table. And ask them to "walk the talk". If they say they want to help, tell them for instance to ensure all LeT and other terrorists training camps and headquarters are searched, sought and destroyed in a swift focused internal military action, within 10 days.
Seal all their borders too. If India's borders are porous, so are Pakistan's. If 10 terrorists carrying the burden of huge amounts of arsenal can take a boat from Karachi harbour in an east bound direction, something must be amiss. 

2. Learn - Disband all the so called 'Intelligence Agencies' on whom we have depended wholly and solely, to provide vital intelligence inputs to the security agencies. They have failed us every time.
The time has now come to first 'unlearn' everything we know in the name of intelligence gathering and sharing. Then approach Israel, US and the like and request them to teach and train us on the subjects of intelligence and anti- terrorists warfare.

Seven critical days have passed. The common  Indian has focused on venting his or her anger at politicians, and the anti-Neta 'movement' has gained some momentum. However in terms of concrete action, not much has changed in India that can provide a sense of comfort and security to the common citizen that  such a terrorist attack in the future is less likely.   

Monday, December 01, 2008

Mumbai Part IV (Monday Dec. 1, 2008)

Exactly seven years ago, India witnessed an even more audacious and 'daredevilish' attack on herself when Pakistan backed terrorists entered the Parliament House with the intention to eliminate most of the elected representatives from different parts of the Country, when the Lok Sabha was in session. They partly succeeded, in that they broke into the security cordon of what could arguably be defined as the most 'secure' establishment of the Country, took everyone by complete surprise and proceeded to create enough mayhem that ended in bloodshed and loss of many innocent lives including those of security personnel who made the supreme sacrifice in an attempt to foil the evil designs of the perpetrators.
Did the terrorists succeed in their objective? No and yes. No, because they were all shot dead before they could actually harm the VIP parliamentarians attending the Lok Sabha session. And yes, they did succeed because they displayed to India their grit and suicidal determination, and also proved to the Country how vulnerable it was.

The outcome? Some protests here and there, an immediate troops build up along the borders by both Pakistan and India. It was a matter of time before the tension along the borders was diffused, and in a little more time the entire incident was forgotten.

Amazing does it seem now that an incident having more far reaching implications and sending a far more serious message across the length and breadth of India as well as the Globe, compared to the recent attacks on the two 5 star Hotels in Mumbai (with the definite exception that many more innocent lives were lost in the latter case), did not invite the kind of protests and wrath of the common man, as happened recently.

Why didn't we? Perhaps because that incident was Delhi - a supposedly less sensitive and human city compared to Mumbai, Bangalore and Kolkata? Or because to those living in the Western and Southern parts of India, the Lok Sabha and the Central Government is something very alien?
Or, the realization that it was the lives of hundreds of 'Netas' in grave danger and not that of the common citizen. 

Whatever the case may be, it seems strange that the attack on the Parliament - probably a very challenging target to a terrorist outfit, did not shake us

Whatever the reason, had the same kind of response  been displayed then by the common man in India, it is possible that the Country could have gone in for some course correction at that stage and today, could have been better organized and equipped to prevent or handle a crisis of the kind witnessed recently.

The fact remains - we Indians chose to  ignore history were condemned to repeat it.