Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Yes, we can!

Last night in the presence of 100, 000 screaming crowd in Grant park, Chicago, making the dreams a reality for millions of Americans and in front of billions of ecstatic viewers glued to their TV sets worldwide, Barack Obama created history. He was declared the 44th president of the United States of America.

Now, you may ask, why me, an Indian is so awed by his success as we have many achievements of our own, after being oppressed by the white Westerners because of our skin color for 300 years.

Well his race to the White House was not about race. To my utter astonishment it did matter to a few southern states like Oklahoma, Georgia or the Texan mid-west but for the majority of the Americans who followed the last 21 months of his extra-ordinary campaign, would agree with me that Barack Obama rose beyond class distinction, racial discrimination and partisan politics to say the least.

He emerged at a time when supposedly the greatest nation on Earth fought against a battered existence with millions of job-cuts, thousands of people going homeless, more
suffocating under healthcare debts, two wars, trillions of debt in the world market and the Wall Street crushing---could it be any worse?

Yet, instead of imposing fear and insecurity like the Bush regime, resisting the urge of dirty politics that was so prevalent in the Hillary Clinton campaign, not serenading the past like McCain but looking forward, ignoring the glitz and glamour quotient of Palin and the media, Barack Obama, solely, with his intellect, oratory and vision uplifted the wretched and the confused from the black holes of the past. He inspired. He illuminated. He ushered all to the arduous path to build America again from the bottom-up. He never claimed his fame. He merely acknowledged his duty with great humility.

At this juncture, I could only hope and pray that during my lifetime I’ll be able to witness a true leader, an honest visionary like Obama in my own country, who would preach the mantra of unity in diversity and bring back the lost hope, courage and dignity in the battleground of Indian politics. The stakes were high for him too. The ratios existed. (he got 96% of Black votes, 69% of Latino votes and 68% from first time voters) yet, all he could talk about during his entire campaign tenure was that he is not running for a Black America or a White America but for the United States of America. And, his thoughts reverberated through the vast domains of this effervescent country.

For once this election proved that progressive thinking triumphs over bigoted views, hope conquers over despair, that substance rules over style and honesty still has a place in the dictionary.

So, to my folks in politics back home, if you have your priorities right, we too, can make a difference. Yes, we can!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Bengal’s locus in Indian diaspora

Bengal—the name echoes of many milestones. This was the place where the seeds of freedom movement were sowed. This land procreated the fearless crusaders, passionate patriots to cast away the British mercenaries. The tender, fertile expanse of greenery once vibrated of collective resolution:
“Eka shutre badhiaychhi shahasrati mon
Eka karje shopiachhi shahasra jeebon
Bande Mataram” –Tagore
Alongside, the then extraordinary reformists initiated various societal alterations in Bengal to exemplify a new, independent era: a modernistic, progressive era devoid of casteism, Sati, child marriages, ignorance and illiteracy. Bengal pioneered women’s liberation—emancipation from the antahpur(insiders’ domestic quarters) to the mainstream gentry. With the development of Bethune College in Kolkata as the first women’s college in the country in 1871 along with the foundation of Hindu Mahila Vidyalaya in 1873 began the much coveted transmutation of gender equalization and appreciation.
In the field of religiosity, Swami Vivekananda was the first known Hindu scholar who perpetrated Hindu philosophy to the West, besides inspiring thousands of Indian youth to actualize Vedantic and Yogic principles.
The anti-establishment, anti-British imperialism sentiments catalyzed the birth and growth of yet another socio-political movement in Bengal: The Marxist/Leninist/Communist drive. Consequently, the socialist partisans, the national bourgeoisie and the massive peasantry corroborated Indian politic since 1920s. Further, in the Naxalite movement, the rustic, agrarian section of Bengal joined hands with the elite students to launch a predominantly radical insurgency against the individual “class enemies" chiefly landlords, politicians, law enforcement officers, university teachers et al.
Bengal isn’t the hub of an exclusive ethnic group but it nurtured and continues to do so, myriad of communities from various culture, creed and bearings. Subsequently, Sir William Jones, Ronald Ross, William Carey, Abu Taleb, C.V.Raman, Chandrasekhar, Sashi Hesh, Ravi Verma, Mother Teresa and many more have contributed in Bengal’s edifying omnipresence in various capacities.
Then, what triggered Bengal’s abhorrent semblance of today?
According to the latest survey in 2007 by International Institute of Population Sciences (IIPS), Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MOHFW), Government of India, out of all the 28 states of India, West Bengal ranks:
16th in terms of literacy rate
10th in terms of fertility rate
24th in terms of households having electricity
20th in terms of media exposure
The pseudo-socialist governance monopoly along with the mass exodus of sons and daughters of the soil has perhaps taken its toll on the growth trajectory of this state. Bengal’s battered present sticks out like a sore thumb amidst India’s rapid progress testimony. When, India as a nation is bubbling with optimism, Bengal, as a neglected offspring is succumbing to economic stagnation and bureaucratic corruption.
The once exalted cultural disposition is buried under the bouts of hunger and insecurity, the pillars of the glorified past are ravaged by the challenging times, the elite mercilessly suppressed under the Leftist propaganda, the poor oppressed to extinction.
The famous saying of the statesman Gopalakrishna Gokhale, “what Bengal thinks today, India thinks tomorrow” is reduced to a comical rhetoric.
Is this the Bengal our forefathers died for?

In search of Neela…

She was six, or may be seven…
Oh! To Judge and not to Know!
You can not always judge a person by her physical development – God dwells in our mind and soul but not always does HE account for our sustenance.
She was tiny, wrapped up in rags; hair was a dirty shade of brown tied carelessly with a black string. She would always wear that printed, shabby, oversized frock.
On the first look of it, nature had abandoned her… But…He who has lost all, has got HIM
She had such large, expressive, soulful eyes, almost engulfing the hollow of her cheeks. They were the eyes of a lonely child striving to exist. To get noticed. To snatch a piece of life.
Procreation is the greatest gift of GOD to Man. It also is the greatest curse for some.
Sometimes I would over hear her mother, our domestic help, talking about their wretched existence. Abandoned by an alcoholic husband and burdened by a ‘girl-child’, she lingered through an impoverished, bitter routine.
What is bad has to be worse some day. Till we are able to come out of those dark alleys of memory and take a deep sigh and claim “I could forget”.
One fine day, all hell broke loose. She was missing! Her mother and her fellow comrades have looked everywhere in the slum area where they resided. No trace of her! Somebody said that he saw her husband loitering near her shade early in the morning but nobody could believe in the implications for sure. After all he was her father!
15% of India’s estimated 2.3 million prostitutes are children! Has her innocence been stolen too?
It’s been 14 years and I still haven’t found any evidence or indication of her presence. I would look everywhere and look closely. No, no one had those eyes… Like the millions of children who are dragged into the flesh-trade, has she been condemned to the life-long drudgery and stigma?
“Don't be like me. Salvation doesn't lie within four walls”
Can we ever imagine? ...the plight of millions of children who are lost from the face of earth? Grabbed from their day-dreams and pushed to hell…to a life full of abuse, exploitation, pain and suffering. A life which doesn’t give a second chance!
Life is fond of drama but never in the conclusion…
I’ll do all I can to prevent another life to get lost. But I regret the fact that I couldn’t change her fate. I couldn’t help her when she needed it the most. Maybe, a little attention, a bit of empathy would have made all the difference. Here, I am, leading a life beyond redemption.
Are you too?

Dedicated to all the 3429 children of Bengal who have gone missing in the last two years…

How Green is Your Valley?

My last journey from the Calcutta airport to my in-laws’ in the Eastern-Bypass is still vivid in my memory. I remember how overjoyed I was to be back home, to be in the city of joy, dreams and a feel-good sloth. As my cabbie embarked upon the highway, the Ambujas and the Hindujas ushered me with their dreams unfold: their astute billboards lure of a lifestyle that was unconceivable by the middle-class Bengalis not so long ago. They promise a living amid greenery, lakes, parks and boutique condominiums.
But reality hit me hard in my nostrils. I diverged my glance only to be smeared by gushes of smoke emitted by a racing mini bus, honking away to glory. People say that it’s carbon monoxide, I didn’t know for sure what it was, but the fumes emitted by the antique engine of the deranged vehicle left me nauseated for a good twenty minutes. By the time I regained consciousness, our cab was amongst the last ten in a long queue at the traffic signal. The cabbie mentioned nonchalantly, “there is a rally at the Science City and a subsequent protest by some other political wing”. I nodded in understanding but longed to meet my family, to crash out on my age-old bed. I gazed at the myriads of building crowding the skyline with awe. When did it all happen? Wasn’t there a lake before? And a soothing green patch just beside the road? And what about all the foliage that grew unreckoning? As far as my vision go, I could only find concrete and metals, buildings and hotels and hospitals…The lonely Gulmohar tree at the roadside looked glum, tainted and devoid of virility. Much like the fellow Calcuttans I spotted on the pavements.
I recalled the shocking statistics divulged by the BBC that some 70% of people in the city of Calcutta suffer from respiratory disorders caused by air pollution. That the ideal count of Suspended Particulate Matter (SPM) and Respiratory Particulate Matter (RPM) should not exceed 140 and 60 respectively. But Calcutta's average SPM count is 211 and RPM count is 105. And in the worst polluted traffic intersections, this count can be double the city's average during busy hours! It also said that 79% of hawkers who spend a long time outdoors have suffered damaged lungs…
Finally, we were in motion again. We sped through unruly intersections into a bumpy pathway with incessant interference by the two wheelers, bicycles, rickshaws and pedestrians. We stopped again and I noticed a toddler splashing in a reddish pool of muddy water, seeping in from a damaged water pipe. Just then, to my utter horror, I found a woman, maybe his mother, drinking from the same pipe! I shut my burning eyes but my conscience displayed the explicit headline, “14 villages in South Bengal were affected by chronic arsenic toxicity. A high level of arsenic was detected in the water from shallow tubewells (24-36 meters deep) used by those affected…” Was this place also mentioned in one of the subsequent reports? I hope not.
We traversed yet a few miles until we reached a red light in Patuli-intersection. I jarred from my slumber. Someone somewhere sounded very annoyed. He screamed with his lungs out in order to apprise the fellow citizens of his annoyance. The loud speaker reverberated with √©lan, surpassing all other background noise. It went on and on. Gosh, Calcuttans have mustered extreme level of tolerance! I remember, it was way back in April 1996, the Calcutta High Court gave strict directions to the West Bengal Pollution Control Board and Calcutta Police to be very vigilant against Noise Pollution. It’s being over a decade now since that order was passed but like everything else in this godforsaken city, rules and regulations have gone to the doldrums. Needless to say, my journey only brings back guileless memory of the mauled effigy that Calcutta showcase at present.
Today is 5th June. World Environment Day. I am sitting thousands of miles away from the city of my birth, the city which is witnessing a worse holocaust with more than 5 million Calcuttans suffocating to death. I sit with a hapless knot at the gut of my existence.
Where are those lush lawns that the billboards advertised? In which pocket, in which island in the gray smog are they going to build an unsoiled nest?
To quote my favorite singer, “the answer my friend is blowing in the wind, the answer is blowing in the wind…”