Thursday, November 26, 2009

Why so diplomatic?

Today we are completing an year in sheer disbelief, anguish and shame, of how a terrorist attack, of an unprecedented scale, masterminded by our neighbour, executed by a group of 10 ruthless scavengers held the nation on tenterhooks for 62 hours. Toll in hundreds, bloodbath in iconic places in the financial capital, unimaginable scale of destruction to prestigious builidings, tragic loss of heroes from State Police and NSG who faced terror without the slightest hesitation, forgetting their families so that the larger population could watch their bravery on television - the thought sends a chill down our spine.
You don’t need to be a Marathi to feel this pain; you don’t need to reside in the city to share the fear, being an Indian will suffice. Every time visuals from the episode an year back, flash on TV or a 11-year-old kid quizzes on TV why his parents were killed in CST on that fateful night, you hang your head in shame to know how easily security lapses lead to such humongous loss of life. Nobody has talked of these lapses, the reasons behind not being able to uncover the operation in planning phase itself. The newspapers said that the terrorists were well versed with different places of attack, they did a recee before arriving, what were we doing when they did this recee?

We are sadly, the neighbor to a nation that foments terror every day, a nation that in spite of vivid proof tactfully declines our carefully prepared dossiers. We are neighbor to a nation that strikes terror on a visiting cricket team and thereby ruins our chances of a hosting an internationally important event, because you never know where terror will strike, you have to be paranoid. Millions of rupees as revenue from the IPL2 was lost so that loss of lives is avoided. Not bad at all, but how long do we cow down under fear and pressure? Why cannot we question from within, why are we not preparing dossiers on the officers who failed to do their duty in national agencies, who in spite of information input failed to see a catastrophe so bleak, in the making? When you have a rotten neighbor who is unrepentant for unleashing terror on your soil, why cannot you be more agile, buckle up and be prepared always?
Why this diplomacy, why mellow down as if nothing has happened at all?

Why shake hands with such a neighbor at Sharm-el-sheik? Why talk of Baluchistan, the biggest ever gaffe one can imagine? The people of India are still frustrated with what happened, they are still teeming with anger and helplessness. As an elected representative of the people of India of the highest order, is’nt the Prime Minister of India supposed to give a cold shoulder to the neighbor, shake hands with all leaders but meekly ignore the presence of this neighbor in the meeting room. I would have given a perfect 10 on 10 for such an act. Why have cultural, sports, or any ties in any field with such neighbors who cannot live and let live?

Strokes of diplomacy surface again with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to the White House. Obama gave India a nice thrashing during his visit to Beijing, bestowing supreme powers on China to poke their nose in matters related to India –Pakistan border.
Where we stand in United States perspective was evident from Obama’s Beijing visit? For a nation that treats India like a pet Pomeranian, should we not assert our position and self-respect rather than respecting an invitation to a black tie dinner at the White House?

We must not sulk, that is immature, we must treat people with respect and be diplomatic, come what may. May be this is what the head of the nation is trying to teach us all.
Nevertheless, I find it absolutely impossible to draw a trace of logic from such actions.

Why be so diplomatic? Sometimes it is important to show your anger and emotions, of course, through right channels, which is when others know you are not to be taken for granted. Ten months into presidency, Obama has started playing games with India like his predecessors. Turning down on an invitation from the White House, a never given before to invite to an Indian on the pretext of some pressing official/national work, may be some security meet to not let another 26/11 happen would have been a good reply to the world’s Big Brother.
After all we have been diplomatic for a long time now.

References : Inspired by an article that appeared on Sunday Times, 22nd Nov 2009, by Mr. MJ Akbar -

Friday, November 20, 2009

All that glitters is GOLD

My attention, in the last few months has been directed towards soaring prices of GOLD, primarily, due to my father’s occasional cribs that he missed out investing on them when it was 1150 Rs/gm. Sure, even I feel I have missed out on a golden opportunity for the metal is priced at 1700+ Rs/gm today.

A casual browse through some archives of National Geographic magazine brought me to this article – “The real price of Gold” from the Jan 2009 issue (refer and this blog post is inspired from it, a 13 page long article that kept me hooked to it despite its length.
The article opens with a narration of artisans and miners at the world’s highest town, La Rinconada in the Peruvian Andes mountains. Possesed by gold, these artisans lead their life under a cachorreo system where they toil at the mines without pay for 30 days in a month and use a single shift on the 31st day to make their fortune, dig and gather as much ore for 4 hours; carry as much as their fatigued shoulders can. All this with some coca leaves to satisfy their hunger and with constant prayers to return home alive and LUCKY.
In a town, about 17000 feet above the sea level, tunneling through curves under glacial ice sheets, at elevations where even oxygen is denied, residing at homes which lack sanitation facilities, these people set out to work every day with the hope of making a big fortune. They wait for that 31st day when the ore they carry bares some microscopic, wondrous particles of GOLD. Most artisans use mercury to separate gold from the rocks casually, inhale mercury fumes in the process, blissfully ignorant of the damage they do to themselves neurologically and to future generations genetically; to the environment, releasing the poisonous metal in liquid and gas states. Such is the frenzy for GOLD that it shrouds and suppresses all humanly instincts, that of hunger, thirst, hygiene and most importantly kindness to fellow humans and to nature. We do not require exemplary instances of the 1848 gold rush in California, the Bulgarian Gold rush, from the multiple conquests in ancient times to the many civil wars in African nations to validate this statement.
However, worse than all this is the current trend of rising GOLD prices, skyrocketing to a pinnacle that will send the whole planet plummeting to an infernal state. The article in NatGeo shifts from Peruvian Andes to Indonesia, the Batu Hijau operations by Newmont Mining Corporation. The Denver based, world’s largest mining corporation is steadily driving ecological disturbances at a determined rate through its huge open pit mines and fleet of super size Caterpillar machines.
The article provides a stark fact – to produce gold required for a typical wedding ring – 250 tons of rock and ore are removed. The people on this island Sumbawa, in Indonesia grew up hearing bedtime stories of gold cached behind the green mountains. Currently, they are employed under a foreigner to dig open the Earth’s crust to reveal this tantalizing metal. The inhabitants of this island cleared large areas of rainforest to create the open pit mine, cleared more rain forests to accomadate heaps of waste rock and ore, they being citizens of a developing nation bore the brunt of the company’s wastes disposal down into their sea floor. They are paving way for their destruction, steadily and carelessly towards a catastrophe on this earth; all in exchange for good roads, some apartment complexes, an international school, pizza restaurants for the 4000 mine workers in the town ship of Batu Hijau.
The toll will be a hefty one but it is strategically masked by a handsome and regular monthly pay sanctioned to the miners, truly a paltry amount considering the profits, the mining company churns out of its mammoth scale activities. The irony is gold is elusive for these miners at Batu Hijau, they still have not seen a speck of it. The ore with the green rock (gold is usually associated with copper) is promptly transported to smelters abroad and only the chemical wastes return days later. In Ghana, a Canadian company, Bogoso Mining Limited was in headlines for releasing cyanide from open pit mining operations into the local water supply.
So despite all this, what is it that makes us run behind this metal with the chemical symbol – Au? When we were at school, we hardly came across chemical equations having Au, typically because it is chemically inert; gold is immortal and so is its shine, the properties of malleability and ductility. We learnt that only aqua regia dissolves it and yes, we were done with this metal Gold.

How did GOLD become so significant in an educated middle class Indian family? Frankly, gold transcends all barriers in India, that of religion, language, class, race, sect, and castes. All want to possess it; from birth to death, to more importantly during the marriage phase in between. The author of the Nat Geo article ridicules the omnipotent desire of Indians to amass this metal both for adornment and investment reasons.
Take a gold loan if you cannot afford it, join a chit fund even if the agency is not reliable, but buy GOLD; particularly accumulate GOLD from day one if you have a girl child. Even if you don’t have money, buy gold on Akshaya Trithi, it brings good luck. I remember one of the Tamil movie comedies by an artist, Vivek in this reference, where he wakes up an unconscious woman, placing a loud speaker in her ears and announcing an offer on gold in shops at Panagal Park, Chennai. Panagal Park in Chennai teems with gold shops and hoardings with beautiful actresses adorning gold jewellery.
Does soaring price of gold stop this mad rush? The answer is a blatant and a quick NO.
When you are about to amass this metal, just think for a brief moment, the extent of environmental damage that you advocate. Think of nations that suffer at the hands of exploitative companies and multinational giants, lives of millions of people without basic amenities, toiling their way blindly to meet your insatiable demand for the metal.

I pray for the day to dawn in India when the government will issue statutory directives against exchange of gold in any form between concerned parties in wedding and will advocate a system of non-ceremonious/register marriages. Sadly, this day will never dawn. The metal gold is very tightly interwoven into our spirit and culture, so tightly that a mother does not mind strangulating her baby girl to death in the fear of her inability to accumalate gold for her wedding years later.

There is no exaggeration in how strongly I feel against amassing such precious metals – be it gold, or even opulent craze for platinum and diamonds. I would prefer leaving something intact behind on this Earth for the generations to come rather than photos of me adorned in gold necklaces, bangles, earrings and saris woven with gold thread.

One thing is sure – for the demand that gold has, for the rate at which these mad miners are excavating the earth, its every nook and corner; nothing will be left of it. We will be left with a solitary question, "Do we possess GOLD or does GOLD possess us? " as asked by Peter L. Bernstein, the author of The Power of Gold.