In 1965 a few of us were fortunate enough to win scholarships awarded by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations. Prior to leaving for India, we were invited by the Indian High Commissioner, Mr Mani, for a briefing at the seat of the Indian High Commission in Port Louis.
After we had been welcomed in and made comfortable, Mr Mani addressed us. The first thing that he told us was that we would find that ‘India is a land of contrast’. I cannot recall now what he said next, but I am sure he must have given us some examples by way of illustration. The idea must have been to soften the blow of first contact – and we must have registered this mechanically, not knowing what that contrast meant until we actually reached India and stayed on to pursue our studies.
Since then I, as I am sure many of those who studied there, have been going back and forth regularly, having family links and friends with our spiritual Motherland. Mr Mani’s words proved to be true in more ways than one, as we found not only contrasts but controversies as well. However, as time went by and I visited other parts of the world, I have come to realise that this is true of not only India but several other countries too. And courtesy the advances in technology, one doesn’t even have to physically visit a country to visualize and appreciate what is happening there: information in real time on a 24/7 basis allows us to be informed about what is taking place around the world. This was the first instance of virtual reality that we were served, before the latest version allowed us to surf imagined worlds through the use of special helmets and goggles. Or should we say ‘googles’?
As far as India goes, in addition to listening to Mr Mani I also went to see a few Hindi films, thinking I would have a fair idea of India through them. Like the Indian wife of a colleague, who was told the Mauritius is a land of shooting stars and thought she would see stars (actors) shooting films here (which she soon realized did not happen!), I also thought that I would find star couples romancing on the streets and so on. Instead, what I encountered was people and people and people! And heat and humidity, but also bitter cold and snow in other places. People sleeping on the pavement outside well-appointed apartments, gleaming hotels and non-descript shacks comprising the slums that swarmed with more people – and the list could go on. Nevertheless, India thrived, and continues to.
A streak of ‘unpatriotism’
Some day, perhaps and hopefully, the disparities and contrasts will fade. In the meantime, they have been supplemented by controversies, and the latest one to occupy the national scene is not only most unnecessary but alas most unfortunate as it exposes a streak of ‘unpatriotism’ in those who have raked it up. In response to a terrorist attack at an army base in Uri, Kashmir, the Indian army carried out what has been termed ‘surgical strikes’ at several locations used as terrorist launch pads across the Line of Control (LoC) in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK). The country was duly informed by the DGMO (Director General Military Operations).
However, instead of trusting their military and accepting the word of their DGMO, parties opposed to the government have queried whether the strikes actually took place, claiming that previous governments also had carried out similar military operations successfully. It’s the Indian version of ‘pasmoisalisa’ (‘it’s not me/us, it’s him/they’) in an inverted form as ‘paslisamoisa’ (‘it’s not him/they, it’s I/us’). Commentators have called this playing politics with terror and politicizing the surgical strikes.
At a time when the country needs to speak with one voice against the non-stop terror attacks that are taking place across the LoC, and the latest one at Pampore, and rally behind the national leadership which is trying to safeguard its borders, a dangerous game of brinkmanship is being played out. It undermines not only the image but more fundamentally the security strategy of the country as it struggles to counter the terrorist scourge on its border. No further comments.
The ‘new normal’
When we were at school in the pre-independence days, the prevailing bias made us look up to the West as the ideal in every manner, and we looked forward to an opportunity not only to study but if possible to work and stay there. Broadly, this still remains true. But for a good while now things have begun to change there too, sadly for the worse. Both in Europe and in America, terrorism has practically become the ‘new normal’, and no location is as safe as used to be the case before.
Even small towns, in Germany and France, are not spared – example: the elderly priest who was attacked and killed in a small village near Rouen. The banlieux in France have become no-go zones for policemen and other law-enforcement officers, and in a latest attack in Essone in which a police car was burnt down, from the rioters it was heard that ‘un bon flic est un flic mort’ (‘a good policeman is a dead one’)! The Scandinavian countries that used to be hailed as havens of peace are not spared by a similar phenomenon, with murders having taken place against wardens in refugee shelters. As for Belgium, it is now reckoned as a hotbed of recruitment for jihadis wanting to join Isis in Syria.
Add to this the controversies about refugees that keep pouring in by the millions, all of whom are not considered to be genuine, and we get a picture of an unravelling European Union whose member states are in the throes of redefining their national identities. To the extent that the UK decided to do a Brexit, and France too is considering a Frexit. The very idea of European ‘unity’ is now debatable, and the values of individual countries are not necessarily deemed compatible with those of ‘Europe’ let alone with those of other member states. There are increasing rumbles about being dictated by the bureaucrats of the European Commission, and of decisions being imposed by the European Parliament. What a change from the rosy version of the Europe that had always been projected to us in our college days! The road to a sustainable integration of Europe looks increasingly steep.
Darker clouds on the US
Further west in America, the richest country on earth and reckoned a model of a functioning democracy, there are darker clouds on the horizon after the earlier ones that led to the great financial crisis of 2008. Three trends seem to be defining America currently: one is the Black-White divide of its cities arising from the confrontation between a predominantly white police force and black individuals many of whom have been killed in such encounters.
The second one is shooting incidents that result in mass killings in a variety of locations including workplaces and school/college campuses. And the latest one is the level to which American politics has sunk. In the second debate opposing Republican nominee Donald Trump against Democrat Hillary Clinton, the latter cited the wife of President Obama, Michelle Obama, as advising that ‘when they go low, you go high’. No doubt during the debate she tried to do that, emulating debates in earlier elections which could be looked upon as ‘civilised’ ones.
Unfortunately, though, this one has been marred by allegations of sexual misbehaviour on both sides. After the release of a tape in which Donald Trump is heard speaking disparagingly about women, and which he defended as being locker-room talk, Trump raised the impeachment of Bill Clinton for sexual impropriety when he was President. This controversy is not over, as each side is now busy trading sexual and other lowly accusations against the other in public. A campaign that ought to have been about crucial issues for America’s future is now focused on sexual politics. Sylvio Berlusconi must be having a good laugh?
Perhaps never before has so much of uncertainty hung about the outcome of the US election, but whoever wins, the image of America will for long remain tarnished.
On the other hand, here is a country, the most advanced in the world, which could not foresee the ravage and extent of deaths cause by cyclone Katrina in 2005, and which has since had to face more and equally deadly storms, such as Sandy in the north-east a few years ago. Currently cyclone Matthew has left a trail of damage in Florida, and North Carolina is under heavy floods with thousands of people in shelters and nearly 20 people dead.
One can only pray for a turnaround to a safer and saner world. It is anybody’s guess whether and when this will take place.
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