Arnab Goswami Interview of Narendra Modi

In the month of July, 2016 Arnab Goswami, chief editor of Times Now managed to get an interview with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The content of the interview and demeanor of Arnab Goswami, the interviewer, has come under intense discussion. Many senior journalists and editors have suggested Times Now had got the interview because of consistently promoting pro-government views. Arnab was criticised for being too mild with the Prime Minister and not countering the Prime Minister more aggressively.  Some have demanded PMO should organize press conference for question answer session with a bigger audience, instead of bestowing favor to a single channel. Arnab Goswami has defended his interview and said since his channel is most watched, prime minister chose to give an interview to Times Now. 

It is a matter of speculation, if Times Now got the interview with prime minister for cow towing ruling party line. It is also not possible to answer if Arnab Goswami was awed by prime minister. It is, however, known for a long time that a cosy relationship exists between politicians and news media.  Senior journalist, Ms. Tavleen Singh has written extensively how congress party worked to manage media, by congress president having tea with senior reporters / editors at her residence. That a cosy relationship existed between politicians and journalists also emerged when Radia Tapes emerged. More recently an ex-reporter, who is currently a faculty at Jamia Milia, has also confirmed how politicians pull strings and bestow favours with journalists at different levels, from beat reporter to channel owner. 

One journalist was compared with Christian Amanpour of CNN. Christian Amanpour shot into fame for covering gulf war live. Christian Amanpour, however, did not get any citation or decoration from Government of America. In India, journalist was awarded with Padmashree, for covering Kargil war and most likely for her coverage of Gujarat riot.

It is implicit that governments manipulate journalists in various ways. In India journalists and politicians have a symbiotic relationship. Politicians offer a good scoop, while journalist manages politicians image. Why blame Arnab Goswami for getting an interview with Prime Minister of India.
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The Republic of Dreams, speech by Mahasweta Devi at Frankfurt Book Fair

THE REPUBLIC OF DREAMS

Mahasweta Devi, noted Bengali writer and activist passed away in Kolkata. She had always stood for the underprivileged and the weak. 

Mahasweta Devi had people in tears at the Frankfurt Book Fair in Oct, 2006. Delivered with passionate heart, her inaugural speech about our freedoms still on hold stirs a kind of moral transformation. Excerpts
At 80-plus I move forward often stepping back into the shadows. Sometimes I am bold enough to step back into the sunlight. As a young person, as a mother, I would often move forward to when I was old. Amuse my son. Pretend I couldn’t hear or see. Make mockery of memory, forget things that had happened a moment ago. These games were for fun. Now they are no longer funny. My life has moved forward and is repeating itself. I am repeating myself. Recollecting for you what has been. What is. What could have been. May have been.

See the tree, the forest, the field lush with crops, a stream dazzling in sunlight. And see, the spotted deer are jumping and fleeing to the forest, the mothers are filling the pitchers from the stream, clutching their children. And the houses are the ones they left behind at Badihatta. The sun is leaning to see the earth. The peasants are irrigating their fields. What an expanse of forest. How green the hills are.

Nothing happens unless you know how to dream. The Establishment is out to destroy, by remote control, all the brain cells that induce dreams. But some dreams manage to escape. I am after the dreams that have escaped from jail. The right to dream is what allows mankind to survive. If you end the right to dream — which the entire world and everyone is doing — you destroy the world. The right to dream should be the first fundamental right. The right to dream. […]

There’s a story about Nanak — his father made him sit in a shop, told him to sell goods… dus, gyarah, barah, tera… tera, tera, tera… and he gave everything away. Everything is yours. With me, everything became tera… nothing touches the inside. Material things don’t touch me, I remain an outsider, I can’t always be an insider. Genuine warmth, real understanding, some friendship, a few strange things touch me, but I’m an outsider and an insider at the same time. […]

Since the 1980s, I have been vocal about the daily injustice and exploitation faced by the most marginalised and dispossessed of our people: tribals, the landless rural poor who then turn into itinerant labour or pavement dwellers in cities. Through reports in newspapers, through petitions, court cases, letters to the authorities, participation in activist organisations and advocacy, through the grassroots journal I edit, Bortika, in which the dispossessed tell their own truths, and finally through my fiction, I have sought to bring the harsh reality of this ignored segment of India’s population to the notice of the nation, I have sought to include their forgotten and invisible history in the official history of the nation. I have said over and over, our Independence was false; there has been no Independence for these dispossessed peoples, still deprived of their most basic rights.

Let the people trace their hands over every alphabet until they can write for themselves: 
I know, I can, I will
How to save and protect one’s culture in these circumstances? Which culture do we protect? And what do we mean when we speak of Indian culture in the 21st century? What culture? Which India? Sixty years after our hard-won Independence, the khadi sari is India just as the mini skirt and the backless choli is. A bullock cart is India just as much as is the latest Toyota or Mercedes car. Illiteracy haunts us, yet the same India produces men and women at the forefront of medicine, science and technology. Eight-year-old children toil mercilessly, facing unimaginable working conditions and abuse as child labourers. That is India. On the other hand, there is another lot of eight-year-olds who spend their time in air-conditioned classrooms and call their mothers at lunch break using their personal mobile phones. That too is India. Satyam Shivam Sundaram is India. Choli ke peechchey kya hai is also India. The multiplex and the mega mall are India. The snake charmer and the maharishi — they too are India.

Indian culture is a tapestry of many weaves, many threads. The weaving is endless as are the shades of the pattern. Somewhere dark, somewhere light, somewhere saffron, somewhere as green as the fields of new paddy, somewhere flecked with blood, somewhere washed cool by the waters of a Himalayan spring. Somewhere the red of a watermelon slice. Somewhere the blue of an autumn sky in Bengal. Somewhere the purple of a musk deer’s eye. Somewhere the red of a new bride’s sindoor. Somewhere the threads form words in Urdu, somewhere in Bengali, somewhere in Kannada, somewhere in Assamese, yet elsewhere in Marathi. Somewhere the cloth frays. Somewhere the threads tear. But still it holds. Still. It holds.

The pattern shifts, flows, stutters, forms again and changes shape from one season to the other. I see one India in the pattern. You see another. Light and shadow play. History and modernity collide. Superstition and myth, Rabindrasangeet and rap, Sufi and Shia and Sunni, caste and computers, text and sub-plot, laughter and tears, governments and oppositions, reservations and quotas, struggles and captivity, success and achievement, hamburgers and Hari Om Hari, Sanskrit and sms, the smell of rain and the sound of the sea. A seamless stitching. Many, many hands have stitched, are stitching and will continue to stitch India. My country. Torn, tattered, proud, beautiful, hot, humid, cold, sandy, bright, dull, educated, barbaric, savage, shining India. My country. And its myriad cultures. From time immemorial to now, the 21st country. From the Indus Valley to the bluetooth handset, India has seen it all, contains it all within itself and its cultures. There is room in India for all faiths, all languages, all people. Despite the communal crises, despite the fundamentalism, the backwardness of rural life, the memories of underdevelopment which are no memory but reality for us, the threat of aids, tsunamis, earthquakes, floods and droughts, farmer suicides, police violence, environmental disasters wreaked by industries and farmland being bought over by multinational companies, despite the battering by history and circumstance, India still is. Its culture still is. Hence we all still are. India has learnt to survive, to adapt, to keep the old with the modern, to walk hand in hand with the new millennium whistling a tune from the dawn of time. This is truly the age when the joota is Japani, the patloon Englistani, the topi Roosi. But the dil — the dil is and always will remain Hindustani.

As we face the future, and as I stand here, invited to speak of my country’s culture before such an eminent gathering and at such an honourable occasion, I wish to share my dream of where I would like to see my India go. I have spoken of the fundamental right to dream. I would now like to exercise that right.

I dream of an India where the mind is without fear and the head is held high. Where knowledge is free. Where the world has not been broken into fragments by narrow domestic walls. Where words come out of the depth of truth. Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection. Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way in the dreary sand of dead habit.

I dream of an India to which the world ‘backward’ does not and cannot ever apply. I wish to be Third World no more but First, the only world. I wish for children to be educated. I wish for women to step into the light. I wish for justice for the common man. Survival for the farmer. Homes for the poor. And hope for all. I wish for debts to cease. For poverty to vanish. For hunger to become a bad word that no one utters. I wish for the environment to be protected, to be loved and restored. I wish the land to be healed, the waters to be pure again. For the tiger to survive. I wish for self reliance, for self respect, for independence from the shackles of superstition. I wish for equal medical aid for all.

For light and water and a roof above every head. I wish for more and more books to be written, to be published, in every language there is in the country. Let the words pour out. Let the stories be told. Let the people read. Let them learn to read. To trace their fingers over every alphabet until they can spell their names. Their addresses. Until they can write for themselves: I know. I can. I will. Let us fight ignorance with knowledge. Let us battle hatred with logic. Let us slay evil with the sword of the pen.

I wish for no more satis, no more dowry deaths, no more honour killings, no more flesh being bought and sold. Let no more parents sell their children to survive. Let no more mothers drown their daughters in the dead of night. Let the downtrodden awake, let the forgotten faces and the muffled voices arise to claim their own. Let the pattern make room, let these new threads find place, let new colours set afire the tapestry. Set ablaze the future. Into that heaven of freedom, let my India awaken again and again. It is a big dream, I know. But not an impossible one.

When I speak of Indian culture, then, I speak of all this. Culture is what will take us into the future yet keep us in close contact with our roots, our history, our tradition, our heritage. Culture will let us take a quantum leap and land on the moon bur first, before all that, it must help us take a few small steps towards understanding ourselves better, towards knowing each other better. Culture must once again remind us to be a tolerant and truly secular people.

I have tried in my own way to give you a picture of this culture. But how am I to even to begin arriving at a definition that will be acceptable to all across an India that is so chaotic. So calm. So flexible. So rigid. So rich. So poor. So understanding. So easy to be misunderstood. After all, there are many Indias, as I say over and over again. Simultaneous. Even parallel.

And whose culture is it anyway? Yours? Mine? Theirs? There are so many ‘theirs’ in the land of my birth who have nothing but the harsh landscape of surviving from day to day. The dispossessed remain with us after six decades of becoming possessed of a freedom we all fought for. They all fought for.

I claim elsewhere to have always written about the ‘culture of the downtrodden’. How tall or short or true or false is this claim? The more I think and write and think some more, the harder it gets to arrive at a definition. I hesitate. I falter. I cling to the belief that for any culture as old and ancient as ours to have survived over time and in time, there could only be one basic common and acceptable core thought: humaneness. To accept each other’s right to be human with dignity.

This then is my fight. My dream. In my life and in my literature.”

Kashmir Turmoil, Right and Wrong

The state of Jammu and Kashmir, to be precise Kashmir valley, is in turmoil following execution of Burhan Wani. A local Hizbul commander, Burhan had openly asked Kashmiri youth to join the struggle for Azadi. Killing of Burhan Wani by security forces had brought men, women and children on the streets protesting. Protesters had attacked and burnt police station, attacked police force, killed a police officer by pushing his vehicle into river. Protestors had also burnt the house where Burhan was killed. They have razed the orchard of the owner of the house. 

Police force had responded to protest by firing shot gun whose cartridge when explode release hundreds of small pellets. These pellets are generally non lethal but if they enter eyes they may cause blindness. It is reported that many young people were treated in hospitals of Kashmir for eye related injury. As many of forty protestors had died in retaliatory fire. 

Many questions have been raised about killing of Burhan Wani and government handling of protest in Kashmir. 

  • Noted lawyer and civil right activist Mr. Prashant Bhushan had expressed his doubt on Burhan Wani killing by claiming it could be a fake encounter.
  • MrMuzaffar Baig a minister in present PDP government had claimed killing of Burhan Wani violated supreme court guideline. There was no magistrate present when encounter took place. Burhan Wani should have been caught instead of being killed. 
  • Others have expressed outrage for using pellet guns on protestors that lead to blindness. Leader of opposition in parliament, Mr. Ghulam Nabi Azad had hoped that government would stop use of pellet guns in Kashmir. Others have attributed motive to the use of pellet gun in Kashmir but not in other parts of India like during jat violence in Haryana.
To put things in perspective, use of pellet gun was not introduced in 2016 in Jammu and Kashmir to quell violent protests. Actually, pellet guns were introduced in August of 2010 when National Conference was in power in the state and UPAII was in power at the centre. So it is neither fair nor accurate to say pellet guns were used in 2016 when BJP lead NDA came to power. Pellet gun was introduced as a nonlethal weapon vis a vis other type of weapons.

It is unfair to compare protest in Kashmir with Jat agitation in Haryana or during Dalit agitation in Gujarat. Such an argument has implicit implication that police /security forces are biased against Kasmiri people? We can argue that police during Jat agitation were inept or incompetent at best complicit with rioter. Mostly they did nothing, when Jat mob was burning property and business of non Jat people. Protestors did not attack police.  When jats announced a second protest, chief minister had said strict action will be taken against hooligans. Fortunately, events did not turn ugly. Similarly, in Gujarat protestors attacked public property like a bus. Protestors did not attack police. 

Kashmir on the other hand had a history of violence against security forces. Mob comprising of men, women, children attack police with stone. Terrorists use mob as a shield and throw grenade at security forces. As a result, security forces have to come prepared expecting mob violence and respond accordingly. According to report, in 2016, around 40 protestors died, 2000 injured and more than 100 had suffered injury to eye with resultant loss of vision. In the same period, 1022 CRPF personnel were injured. Of this 956 were injured in pelting of stones in the Valley between July 8-16 during the unrest. For the rest of the year from January 1 to July 7, 22 were injured in pelting of stones and 44 injured in grenade blasts. 

Burhan Wani was a self confessed Hizb commander. His mentor  Syed Salauddin aspires to create a Caliphate along with LeT and JeM. They aspire freedom from India to create an Islamic supremacist organisation. One can shed tears for Burhan’s parents. Burhan’s Wani was a terrorist and hardcore jihadi. It is futile to debate if a terrorist should be arrested in the presence of a magistrate or if the killing was extrajudicial. India has paid very high price in the past for jailing and not liquidating Maulana Masood Azhar.

I feel sad and sorry for parents of Burhan Wani. They lost their son. I feel for protestors losing eye sight or life as a result of police firing. At the same time, violence had not been one sided. Many security personnel have also got injured. Finally, Indian security forces must use less damaging alternative to pellet gun to control riot in Kashmir and anywhere else in the country. Home minister, Mr. Rajnath Singh has also indicated the same. 

BJP Stewing in Her Own Mess

Willingly or unwillingly BJP is getting entangled in a perception of being anti-dalit and anti-muslim. Neanderthals in BJP never desist from making foolish comments that ends up showing the party with a deep  seated bias against minorities and dalits.  

Members of a cow vigilante group,  “Goraksha samiti” did not help BJP’s image, when they beat up dalit people on charge of killing cow. Repeated plea that dalits were skinning a dead cow, went unheeded. The whole incidence was caught on camera. To be fair, hooligans that resorted to vigilante act belonged to Shiv Sena, angry opposition parties wrapped BJP and Shiv Sena under one Sangh Parivar umbrella and went on the attack. Barbaric lynching of Mohammad Akhlaq a year before on charge of cow slaughter, coupled with current beating of dalits strengthen the perception that position of a cow is higher than a human life with BJP supporters. Then came utterance of BJP vice president of UP against BSP leader Mayawati. Not only the statement helped reinforce the anti-dalit stereotype, it united all opposition against BJP before a crucial election in an important state. 

It is unfortunate that BJP is getting entangled in a mess of its own creation. BJP of all parties must understand importance of making foolish utterances. Intelligent people and parties learn from past experiences. The narrative created before Delhi and Bihar elections that BJP is anti-minority party should have been kept in mind. How can anyone forget how BJP had to pay dearly in these elections. BJP has done well by sacking the errant functionary. It must make sure other loose cannons do not fire out of turn. If they do, exemplary action must be taken. 

Media is having a field day. It is predicted that BJP will pay dearly in coming elections. Honourable BSP supremo claimed dalits all over India think her as a devi. Such a megalomania is not unusual for dalit leader known to erect her own statue complete with a purse on public parks. Nevertheless, dalits did vote her out in election on issues related to corruption. So devi ji is not unbeatable and public is not naive. 

I think it is premature to link dalit protest in Lucknow to potential electoral verdict. Public memory is short and men and women in public life often shoot themselves on foot by making unnecessary statements. One such statement announced a cash prize of 50 lac rupees in return for BJP leaders tongue. Many such and more bizarre and more obnoxious statements will be made in future. This is just the beginning. At stake is the state of UP.

Train Travel Leaves Me Disappointed

I love to travel by train. I have fond memories of train travel. Over time train travel has evolved for passengers. Many of us have moved from non-airconditioned coaches to airconditioned coaches. We have moved from slower trains to one that offer faster travel and better convenience. As a nation we are even thinking of bullet trains that may travel at a very high speed and compete with air travel. 

Yet, every time I travel by train, I feel sad and depressed. Sorry state of affairs cannot be shut out by sealed window of an air conditioned coach. 

  • As train approaches any major station, we do not see anything attractive and beautiful that can make us proud of the city. Instead, we only see both sides of the track full of slums and shanties. None have access to basic human necessities like a toilet. In the morning, people attend call of nature in the open. While adults use nearby bogs and fields, children ease themselves on tracks. Looking at these sights is not pretty. 
  • Both sides of tracks are littered with plastic and sundry waste. Smaller towns have pigs roaming around filth and muck. It is politically incorrect to talk about such human misery. Politicians will romanticise about how desperate people trying to eke out living under trying conditions. No one will answer why people are in such a state. Why no effort is being made to improve lot of people that have come to cities to improve their income. Why railway land is allowed to encroach upon? Is hoping to see something good, something pleasing to eye is too much to ask?
  • Train tracks are dirty because human waste from train toilets are deposited on the track. Why toilets are not locked before train arrives at a station? This could be a low tech solution. Alternatively, technology that is used in airplane or even luxury buses can be employed in trains. After nearly sixty years post independence, effort is being made to degrade human waste using microorganisms to water and gas. Such a container is being attached to trains. Still most of the trains are yet to to be fitted with a waste box. So human waste will fall on the tracks for quite some time to come. In stations if your window is facing a track, it will be advisable not to watch. 
  • Even after so many years we have not been able to provide clean washroom in trains that can be used without squirming. Many long distance trains are providing an attendant to clean washroom at regular interval as well as on demand. Still, I more often that not desist from using washroom in a train.
  • Many long distance trains, specially superfast ones, provide breakfast, lunch and dinner. These foods are loaded right next to a toilet. Given my antipathy to train toilet, I feel disillusioned to even look at train meal. I fail to understand, why food cannot be carried on a trolley like it is done on a plane. 
  • Food supply and food service has probably been outsourced. Many caterers are poorly trained or untrained. On a recent train travel, I requested for a coffee instead of tea. I was told bluntly it will take the person to fetch a coffee bag by travelling three coaches. So I have to make do with tea. In the same journey, I asked for a non-vegetarian meal. Even after my copassengers had finished their meal and were ready to retire, I did not get my meal. Strangely, the same person brought me a coffee bag in the morning and asked for a tip for his service. I think railway should discourage this practice of asking for tip by people who are getting paid for doing their job. On one side we do our job poorly, on the other we demand a tip for doing what we are expected to do in the first place.
  • Another point of disappointment is after a passenger comes out of station. There is in general chaos to get a transport. Local enterprising auto rickshaw and taxi drivers try to catch a passenger much before they come out of the platform. Such people fleece passengers. Pre-paid service usually does not work. Many auto drivers openly flout regulations set by pre-paid system. Why can auto and/or tax be regulated by lining up and picking up passengers by turn? Such a system operated in domestic airport of Delhi. Why can it not be enforced in railway staitions?

I think railway provides a cost effective mode of transportation in India. But to become a world class transporter, railway has a long way to go in terms of speed, efficiency and quality of service. If anyone has seen, even on TV, European and American trains, I think we should not have such discussion.

Burhan Wani, Terrorist or Freedom Fighter

Kashmir is on the boil again. As security forces had cornered and killed Burhan Wani, commander of Hizbul Mujahideen, protests have erupted. Young men and women as well as adults have attacked police force. One police officer was killed as his vehicle was pushed into river. House where Burhan Wani was killed has been burnt. Orchard of house owner has been razed. In a moving piece, Mr. Prem Shankar Jha has described Burhan Wani to be a young man. He should have been advised to shun violence. Protest over Burhan Wani may go out of control. India may be eventual loser.

 Question remains, is Burhan Wani a freedom fighter or a terrorist? Burhan Wani had picked up gun. He died by gun. Burhan Wani was a Hizbul commander. He had photographed himself and his colleagues in army fatigue and automatic weapons. These weapons were not for display as a toy. Obviously, Burhan and his organisation had an action plan. Burhan Wani has been replaced by his colleague as next Hizbul commander for the valley. For Indian state Burhan Wani was a terrorist because he and his organisation wanted to secede from India using force.

Burhan was fighting for freedom of his people. According to Mr. Prem Shankar Jha, Burhan was humiliated by police. So he picked up gun. In India, police is poorly trained, overworked, corrupt, and underpaid. Many Indians are poorly treated by police. Not everyone picks up a gun. It is puzzling what were Burhan and his fellow travellers fighting for, when 

1. The state of Kashmir is a muslim majority state. 
2. Kashmir has its own constitution. 
3. Kashmir enjoys special status within Indian union. People from rest of India cannot settle in Kashmir valley. 
4. In a worst case of ethnic cleansing, Hindus in Kashmir valley were driven out. Many are living in refugee camp in their own country. 
5. Most recently, Kashmir had its free and fair election. People of Kashmir valley had chosen their representative in PDP. Chief Minister of Kashmir is from PDP.  

Aspiration of Burhan Wani and his fellow Kashmiris to get freedom from India may be legitimate. Once one partner decides that a relationship is not working, then separation may be the right way. It is important to know if all people in the valley wants to secede from India? For that to happen, guns must fall silent. Violence must stop. Still, India will never agree to secession of Kashmir for the following reasons:

1.  People in Jammu and Ladakh may want to stay with India. Kashmiri separatists want whole of Jammu and Kashmir to move out of India. Issue of democratic rights and human rights will not count for Hindus living in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. 

2. If Kashmir is allowed to leave India, because majority muslim population in Kashmir cannot live with Hindu majority India, the whole idea of India will be at stake. Any region/state/district of India where muslims are a majority, they may want to secede. For example, North Bengal, Lower Assam, Mallapuram in Kerala, Hyderabad, and other areas where Hindus are not majority may want to secede from India. At this rate nothing will remain of India. 

For average Indians, Burhan Wani will remain a terrorist. Because he wanted to break India using violence. Like Naxalites, violence of separatists will be met with police violence.

Train Journey, Fun Has Gone Out

Since childhood I liked train journey. I was fascinated by engines. Earlier there used to be steam locomotives of two different models. One with tapering front end with headlight at the centre. My aunt told me once, this engine was called Canadian engine. I never asked why, but I was attached to this model. With a deep booming whistle, I felt, the engine had a personality of its own. Second engine was called Chittaranjan engine. This engine was manufactured in Chittaranjan locomotive factory in West Bengal. I did not like this model with headlight on top of the body of engine, like hood of a snake. Then came a third kind. The diesel locomotive. Madras mail, travelling from Howrah to Madras and back, was pulled by this engine. I saw one in Balasore. Though sleek compared to a steam engine, I never did like diesel engine. I felt it was too impersonal and lacked character.

I would travel at least three times a year from Kanpur to Howrah and back. Those days our favourite train was Toofan express. It was not the best train or the fastest train. Those in a rush could avail  Howrah – Delhi – Kalka mail or Deluxe express, nowadays called Poorva express. Rajdhani express had just been introduced into service. But most people from our social strata felt Rajdhani express was for the rich and powerful and was beyond our reach. A bogey would be attached to Toofan express, as it came from Delhi, at the Kanpur station.  Most people like me who were travelling from Kanpur would avail a booking in this bogey.

Unlike the name suggested, Toofan express hardly moved like Toofan. It would take close to twenty four hours to travel from Kanpur to Howrah. Most often it used to be late. Much to the annoyance of people that would come to pick me up at the Howrah station. Those days there was no internet, no SMS, basically no way to tell if train is coming on time or not. There was rudimentary phone service. Most of the time it was not answered at the station. Most families did not own a telephone set at home. One had to be physically present at the station to know the status. Except when there was an accident, people would hear it on radio and later see it on TV, those who had access to a set. I did not care if train got late. From my perspective if the train ran late, my vacation would be extended that bit longer. 

Most of us used to travel in a three tier compartment. These compartments were not air-conditioned. Not that I ever felt the need. All I cared was to have a window seat. So that I could see the engine chugging along at bends from my compartment window. I would crane my neck and strain my eyes to watch the engine as it chugged along at the bends whistling all the way. Engine smoke would carry coal dust. By the time I reached Howrah station my face would turn blackish. 

Engine would be changed at Mughalserai and at Asansol. I also remember between Jhajha and Shimultala, in present day Jharkhand, Toofan expressed would be pushed by a second engine from behind. I would pray to god please let our engine/s be a Canadian engine. I would make it a point, as I got out of the train and moved towards the exit at Howrah station, to see which engine was pulling us.  If I saw a Chittaranjan loco was pulling our train, I would feel really sad and humiliated. How is Toofan express different from an ordinary passenger train, if it is being pulled by a Chittaranjan engine?

These days life has changed. I do not travel by train as much. Whenever I do, I travel by A/C two tier or three tier. Toofan express still runs and runs late often. Not many people I know travel by Toofan express. Most people do not even consider travelling by  Delhi Kalka mail and Poorva express.   Most of us prefer Rajdhani and Duronto express. Reduced travel time and improved convenience have become major determining factors.   Steam engines have been replaced by  diesel and electric locos. There is no way of watching the engine from compartment because windows are sealed. There is hardly any scope for face getting blackened by coal soot. Tea vendor or snack  vendor cannot be accessed sitting inside compartment.   Trains do get late even today. But that is more of inconvenience and less a matter of fun. Fun actually has gone out of train travel. 

Blood Lust in Dhaka

On a Friday evening on the last day of Ramadan, a group of ten young men walked into Holey Artisaan Bakery in Gulshan area of Dhaka. These young men were armed with machete  and automatic firearms. They chanted “Allahu Akbar” and took hostage men and women in the eating joint. Believers were separated from non believers by their familiarity with verses of holy Quran. Faithful were allowed to leave. Nonbelievers, Japanese, Italian and and Indian were executed. Faraaz Ayan Hossain, a muslim man who did not want to leave his friends Tarishi Jain, an India, and Abinta Kabir, was also killed. Eventually, Bangladesh security forces stormed the bakery killing terrorists and arresting one.

Terror attack in a restaurant in Gulshan area of Dhaka puzzles me. Unlike terrorists that attacked Mumbai, atleast three boys – Nirbas Islam, Samih Mubashir and Rohan Imtiaz, were from well to do families. All of them were well educated. They attended English medium schools and went to college. Parents of some boys were important official in Bangladesh government and members of ruling Awaami League party. 

How did well educated boys got radicalised enough to kill fellow human beings? Who trained them? Where did they get access to guns? It was reported that boys went missing for sometime. Where did they go? Did they leave country? If parents of boys were influential, how could they not find out where there sons were? Does this not indicate complicity?

It is not clear what did terrorists aimed to achieve? Bangladesh is not under occupation force, unlike Syria or Iraq.  Of late, there has been increase in killing of non muslims, atheist muslims and secular muslims in Bangladesh. Are these terrorists aiming to enforce Sharia rule in Bangladesh? Why not fight and win election and change law of the land? 

Who is behind such indoctrination of young minds? Some say, ISIS ideology is gaining foothold in Bangladesh. Government officials believe, invisible hand of inter services intelligence of Pakistan working in tandem with Bangladeshi oppositon parties. here may be some grain of truth to this theory. Pakistan has not reconciled to creation of Bangladesh. Those Bangladeshi citizens who collaborated with Pakistani army during Bangladeshi freedom movement, are being tried for war crime by present government. It is possible that Bangladeshi opposition party in league with Pakistani ISI may work towards destabilisation of Bangladesh government.

In India young men and women, following ultra left ideology, have picked up gun. At least, these men and women can claim they are fighting for people who are weak and helpless. Members of ultra left usually fight with security forces. They do not take hostage of ordinary men and women. 

Terrorists in Dhaka killed innocent people. That too in the holy month of Ramadan, when believers spent time remembering prophet. How can a muslim kill another human being, that too a muslim, in the month of Ramadan? Is this an ideological war or simple blood lust?


Brexit and English Decline

Civilisations and societies move in cycles. Is Brexit vote an indicator of British decline? Not long ago, Great Britain used to rule most of the world. So vast was the expanse of the British Empire, that it was often said “Sun never sets on the British Empire”. Even now, Britain is a nuclear power, a member of security council, an economic powerhouse, a major political ally of the US in world affairs. Yet, post Brexit are we going to see a divided United Kingdom and not an United one? Scotland has expressed commitment to stay in European Union and indicated a referendum to separate from United Kingdom. Will that leave only England and Wales as remnants of one time mighty Great Britain and United Kingdom? How will this affect England?

Post Brexit, England may not have similar economic, political and military clout as Great Britain united and as part of European Union. In the short term, many have projected dire economic consequences for England. Leaders of European Union have declined to give England access to common European market. Value of pound as a global currency has taken a beating. In the long run, prosperity enjoyed by citizens of erstwhile United Kingdom likely to decline, post Brexit. 

Politically, US has expressed its commitment to relation with Britain post Brexit. Militarily and economically weakend Britain may face difficulty negotiating with friends like US. More so when protectionist tendency is rising in the US and demography of US is undergoing a change. Germany and Japan had become economic superpower, post world war II. Both countries did not spend as much on military and did not have a great political influence in the world. Israel has also survived in a hostile environment with active US support. Politically, Israel does not have much say in world affairs beyond middle east.

A small nimble England, free of bureaucratic fetters, may outshine itself. It can trade with whomever it chooses to without agreeing to conditions that will slow her down. Like post world war II Japan and Germany, England may emerge as a major economic superpower.  English men had shown great character in the face of adversity in past centuries. They have conquered the globe beating great competition from French, Spanish, Portuguese and Duth colonisers. English had overcome local resistance also successfully.  There is every possibility that England will shine as a small independent country. Problem, is world has changed greatly from the time, early settlers went to conquer the world in the guise of trade. Or has it really? Only time will tell. A great historical moment is being enacted.

Is this how civilisations and societies decline? Once adventurous all conquering English men are unwilling to face challenges offered by new world. They re unwilling to acquire new skills. It is said that mostly elderly, retired and unemployed voters have swayed Brexit vote. Are English men becoming inward looking, unwilling to look  beyond its border and ask for protection? English have become suspicious of foreigners and immigrants. This is evident from the report of racist abuse / attack on foreigners post Brexit. This is not the England world knew. This is not the England that conquered new worlds and ruled them. This is not the England that had lead from the forefronts of scientific discoveries and invention. Are we witnessing the decline of a great society and people?