Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Who wants to live forever?

A question I often ask myself.

And since I was in one of my less tenacious moods today, I decided to Google my pathetic state of mind-wallowing.

[Mind wallowing is a distinct art form, btw-- Not meant for the weak of heart, or vegetarians. It involves thinking solely about your thinking. Sounds easy? Ha. Amateurs.]

Thus-- pop open firefox. Type in "self destruction".

[No caps. Heavens to Betsy, no fucking caps, please. We can all hear you.]

Voila. Page upon delicious page of possible little tools with which to shovel about in the mud even more.

First favoured link?

Narcissistic Personality Disorder: Self Love and Self Destruction.

[Expect the worst, always. As I always do. But admit it-- you love me for my honesty]

The second was a a most delicious romp through a narcissist's theme park: misanthropic site called The Self Destruction Handbook. Come see even if you're filled with cereal and Dr. Phil's tough love. The grunts and guffaws are worth it.

The third was a link on Gia. For those of you who missed it when it played on HBO, Angelina Jolie played the part of real life supermodel Gia Carangi. And for all of you who figured bulimia, designer lingerie, fake eyelashes and drinking problems were all that supermodels were made of--- Watch Gia. The woman made self destruction an art. As tragic and beautiful as it can be.

The last-- for such gets boring, even for one as self-indulgent as myself-- is a defintion:

Self-destruction (Self`-de*struc"tion) (?), n.

The destruction of one's self; self-murder; suicide. Milton.


"they also serve who only stand and wait"...

to turn the mud over with idle toesies
tea time hopes fading like burnt rosies.
And thus they bury those who dived first
before their idling brains yawn and burst.

Give me Gia any day.

Actually, just give me my bed. Am tired. Think I'll go now.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Pete Who???

So it's happened.

The man with the nose, one of the boys who slept under the flag, Pete Townsend himself-- he blogs. Here, in fact.

My first reaction was a jaw-dropped "eek!". The second reaction was to ask myself, Christ why??

My third reaction was to ask myself why I asked, at all. I realized its because part of me wondered why a famous, balding ex-rockstar would want to be part of the blogosphere. No more just ordinary people typing their weekend laundry plans. A paradigm shift, to boot!

But this made me curiouser and curiouser, because to claim there is a paradigm shift, one must assume there is a working paradigm in place.

Sure, blogs began with the unnamed mole people-- those whose names were only remembered by their mothers and their social security file. Those who communicated in C++ about gene therapy, a sovereign Iraqi state, hybrid SUV's and broadband: all things we thought would never happen.

But now-- Now everybody and their aunt blogs. Fathers recount nostalgic horror stories of initiation at hostel. 15 year olds enthusiastically type their Counter Strike captain's log. Mother's put up recipes. Goths in pink underwear describe the latest OD trip. Educators blog lesson plans. Principals post their after-hour fantasies, under sparkling nom de plumes-- things like DaRk $oR©ÉRer and Fallen_Angel.


And yes, there are even those old-school fogeys who honestly believe that their ideas, reflections, reactions, lyric choices [yes, we all love Led Zeppelin] and other such paltry scribblage are read-worthy, ergo blog worthy. Yes, I am one of them. The mob. The crowd. The mass.

A gentle mass, with some underlying system intricately woven: A & B will visit C's blog every wednesday. C returns the favour. Word verification jokes are exchanged [wtfru?? Really?? Tee hee] and then A,B & C will visit D's blog. D being something of a Blogga Daddy, F,G,H,I and P have already made it over. The alphabets in the middle haven't made it over yet, as they are all part of a group blog that's busy covering something important:
relief measures in Sudan, or the next American Idol.

Yes there are millions and gazillions and frupter-bupter-zadrillion blogs out there.
A blogger's born every 2 seconds.

But the one underlying feature of this entire burgeoning ant-hill has been the paring down of the blogger's identity to-- No, not anonymity. Unless self-chosen. Not anonymity, but a certain equality: parole officer and convict, judge and pimp, unheard priest and unpublished poet, we are all together subject to this system of online writing, this responding to comments. We are all bloggers. Together.

Enter rockstar bloggers. Royalty, Nobel Laureates, the Pope and Noam Chomsky. Larger than life already, in the blogosphere they are Gods. We tremble. We ring up their comments counter to 341 per post. And that's just the little leaguers, the station chai-wallahs.

The all stars, the cricket commentators, the Divine Cow Syndicate (DCS)-- we bow. We do not lift our eyes. And we cannot begin to scroll down the comments section. Our puny mortal pentiums pass out with the strain of it.

But why this need for thumbprintless one-with-the-worldness? Why blog, when you have the limo and the website and the book and the jet and the E! news interview waiting?

With all these thoughts buzzing through my brain, thus-- I consulted d.i about the matter. Threw it at his head, in fact, considering it was his ill-starred luck to be online at the precise moment I came across Townsend's blog.

Now, back story: I must explain that d.i is an ebullient Yoda, one who is perfect suited company for the above discussion. Balanced calmly between MSN and labelling post-production dvds, he stated the following [paraphrased below]:

1. Rockstars are people too.

2. Blogging is the celebration of individuality and the freedom of making that individuality apparent to the world.

[Ok so the ending on the last line was an embellishment. Mea Culpa.]

And he has a point. The core truth of the blogging paradigm is that there is no paradigm. There is no system of entry or exit: one either chooses to blog or doesn't. There is no hierarchy. Really. There are popular blogs, like there are only 2 favourite ways the world over to order your coffee.

All is Om. Prince William should start up a blog-- tales from the polo field, and rants against the paparazzi. Oh, and Pete aint the only one out there: the celebs are doing it for themselves. Moby, for one. Dave Barry for another.

Okay OKAY alright, so Pete is waaaaaayy cooler. Geez.

For the record: He blogs the chapters of the book he's working on. At least it aint a memoir. Here's chapter one. And he's making it all available for free.

Go, Pete. You'll always be my pinball wizard.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Of Looting and quibbles

loot (lūt)

v., loot·ed, loot·ing, loots.
1. To pillage; spoil.
2. To take as spoils; steal.

To engage in pillaging.

[Hindi lūṭ, from Sanskrit loptram, lotram, plunder.]


I didn't know that it came from sanskrit. One of the many things I seem to be learning these days.

The other thing Im learning has to do with the media and disaster management.

I have an issue. Its possibly a quibble, a technicality which in this world of live and let die, and struggling evolution means nothing. But nonetheless:

Its about painting the picture. I have no issue with the projected numbers: the death toll is how the rest of the world understands the gravity of the situation. I have no issue with depicting slow aid or angst at the government: that's how people and authorities realize how much there is to be done. Like what a bed of nails does for a sadhu, new reports keeps us from being complacent.

I do have an issue with the usage of the term "looting". As a verb the word is used as an alternative to "pillaging", "taking spoils" and "stealing".

There has been a lot of "looting" in the news recently. Photos of many Americans with arms full of stuff they didn't swipe a card for. And much horror and clicking of tongues.

Yesterday, while reading AP and Reuter news reports that described looting in Muzzafarbad, I wanted to know about the authenticity of the usage of that word. How did those news agencies use it with such sniffy, professional ease?
So I read a few of the reports, here, here, here and here.

These news reports were culled from online editions of TOI & Ontario's Chronicle Journal, as well as Sify and, two online news portals.

The headlines read as follows:

"Looting breaks out in quake-struck region" *chronicle Journal)

"Looting Erupts as Quake Victims Get Frustrated Waiting for Relief" (Arab News)

"After quake, looting strikes Muzaffarabad" (Sify)

"Looting begins in quake zone" (TOI)

If you read the articles, you will see that every declaration of looting is followed by its description, which ultimately breaks down to this: starving villagers steal biscuits and bread from a tea shop, fuel from a petrol bunk as the nights are turning cold.

Stealing. Pillaging. Taking spoils, even.

Forgive me if I have a problem with the headlines. They are needlessly sensational. They portend anarchy, instead of telling the tales of little people trying to keep what remains of themselves and their families alive.

No cars, Nikes,toilet paper or exercise bikes.
Food. Firewood.

My only question: I keep hearing tales of angry people raiding relief trucks, blankets being air-dropped, dead bodies lining the streets, clashes with sticks and stones between the hungry and the shop-keepers.

Where are the tales of those who are keeping each other safe, caring for the children, guarding their relative's houses now empty of life, but still filled with belongings? Surely these are happening?

And why this black-bad luck-crow telling of looting tales?

[And btw, anyone who believes its only poor, homeless victims of natural disaster who indulge in a little pilfering, Time begs to differ: It carried a story In May 2003, of "U.N. employees scrounging for lunch" when the food workers at the U.N headquarters went on strike — "eventually, the masses stripped the cafeterias of everything, including the silverware". Ahem. Stewart Stogel has the story, here.]

Here's a look at our past experience of quakes:

In January 1999, a quake measuring 6.0 rocked Columbia. The death toll was no where near the toll today in the north-west frontier. There were reports of "looting" however. And this wasn't the only instance. There were reports of "looting" [yes, I will continue to use those quote marks, deal with it] in Aceh, in the aftermath of the tsunami.

Lets do a little exercise. Read the three following quotes:

"One looter said: "It isn't stealing. The store's totally destroyed, and nobody has a house, nobody has food. All this is to share with the people."

Several officials said they were reluctant to crack down on people who had spent more than 48 hours without food or drink.

"What can I do if people are dying of hunger?" asked one policeman"- BBC news report on the Columbia quake, Thursday, January 28, 1999.

'One group broke into a petrol station to get fuel to burn wood for cooking and warmth, while others snatched government cars and jeeps. “People are starving. They have lost all their family members, their belongings,” local resident Akram Shah told AFP. “Everything is gone, people are buried alive. Nobody is helping us to find them.” '- Azhar Masood & Huma Aamir Malik, Arab News.

'But help wasn't arriving fast enough for Indonesia's Sumatra island, where residents turned to looting to find food. "There is no help, it is each person for themselves here,'' district official Tengku Zulkarnain told el-Shinta radio from the island's devastated western coast... Red Cross official Irman Rachmat, also in Banda Aceh, said people on the island were in despair. "People are looting, but not because they are evil, but they are hungry,'' he said.'- Andi Djatmiko,Associated Press.

Circle the words and ideas common to all three quotes.

I came up with starvation, hunger, loss, despair. You?

Looting according to what I was taught in school, was what vikings did when they sailed in their longships to the British coast. Looting consisted of stealing gold from the church, horses from the stable and women from the men.

In the aftermath of Katrina, there were reports of people carrying household goods away from department stores. What made those stories incongruous and worthy of comment was that it wasn't just a pair of shoes, it was pairs of shoes.

So maybe its only because there is no Wal-Mart, Costco or Target in Muzzafarbad and Kashmir that people aren't walking away with blenders, bean bags and pillows. Maybe if there had been a damaged department store, people would've walked in and "looted".

But the fact is, there is no such store, and most people were taking food. Not treasury notes or government bonds. I say most, because Yahoo! carries a story here, in which the last lines talk about the main market area in the city of Muzzafarbad:
"Traders at the market complained that their shops had been looted by "outsiders" -- non-Kashmiris. "I ran a communications shop," said Shaheen Iqbal. "All the mobiles that were not damaged were stolen. I am left with nothing."

This was in the city of Muzzafarbad. One city. The worst-hit areas are those hilly and remote villages that even the army reaches only by air. Throwing around the word "looting" as a general descriptive makes the entire population of the north-western frontier appear given into anarchy completely. An aberration.

It is established that absolute despair and loss pushes the survival button within most people. In fact, the only record of any group of humans behaving differently when faced with a disaster of this magnitude, is a study of the Japanese who survived the earthquake in Kobe, 1995 (available here)-- I quote: "... There were no reports of looting. Many shared what little food they had. And even though many were very upset with how the Japanese government handled (or mishandled) their situation, they accepted what had taken place and resolved to begin anew". Is it because the Japanese (refer the Ronin legend) have had an ancient history of dignity and honor in the face of disaster? Is it because after being levelled at the end of WWII, they are prepared to face anything?

Perhaps. Good for the Japanese. I still have an issue with the wording of those headlines, though.

Maybe newspeople will tell me-- Hey. Its reporting. Our job is to get the news out and fast; its not worrying about being politically correct.

Get this, bub.

What you write, is what people who aren't present at the site take to be the truth. What you write defines thousands of victims of a great tragedy, who do not have the chance or immediate inclination to challenge or qualify your statement.

News reporting is about telling the truth, not selling a paper, or gaining hits on your website. You think its impossible to avoid sensationalizing the aftermath of a tragedy?

Here's the headline of a story covering the same details as the above four news reports. No derivative shmaltz. Just fact. Of all places, that article came off the Yahoo! news website, available here. It reads:

"Rain, scuffles adds to the misery in quake-hit Pakistani city "

This was the story that carried that incident of the cell-phone shop I had quoted earlier. It was the only one who carried this detail. It was the only one, inspite of that detail, which didnt use the word-- you know which one.

Words are connotative tools. One would think its important to be sure what image we're chiselling out, especially when we're telling people about neighbours they haven't met.

This is possibly a quibble, a technicality which in this world of live and let die, and struggling evolution means nothing. Or not.

You tell me.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Will someone please tell me..

...If this aid worker realizes what he's doing?

Why this burden of rock and then man? Though Im sure the one who lies underneath doesn't feel it. But why this forced oneness of dust to dust?

All around us, death-
you balance on broken heart.
I help, lying still.

My first haiku. De profundis, domine.

"The heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to the earth, the more real and truthful they become"- Milan Kundera.

Tell the fat white man to move, please. He's stepping on my heart, and its already been glued back many times, glue chipping away.



Kilgore Trout's 2BR0TB

Trout's favorite formula was to describe a perfectly hideous society, not unlike his own, and then, toward the end, to suggest ways in which it could be improved. In 2BR0TB he hypothecated an America in which almost all of the work was done by machines, and the only people who could get work had three or more Ph.D's. There was a serious overpopulation problem, too.
All serious diseases had been conquered. So death was voluntary, and the government, to encourage volunteers for death, set up a purple-roofed Ethical Suicide Parlor at every major intersection, right next door to an orange-roofed Howard Johnson's. There were pretty hostesses in the parlor, and Barca-Loungers, and Muzak, and a choice of fourteen painless ways to die. The suicide parlors were busy places, because so many people felt silly and pointless, and because it was supposed to be an unselfish, patriotic thing to do, to die. The suicides also got free last meals next door.
And so on. Trout had a wonderful imagination.
One of the characters asked a death stewardess if he would go to Heaven, and she told him that of course he would. He asked if he would see God, and she said, "Certainly, honey."
And he said, "I sure hope so. I want to ask Him something I never was able to find out down here."
"What's that?" she said, strapping him in.
"What the hell are people for?"
Vonnegut, Kurt. God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater(pages 20-21)
New York: November 1978; Dell Publishing Co.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

سورة الزلزلة

It was the night when everything is so grey that there is no different between sleeping and day.

I was awake. The howling winds coming off the bay rushed up the slope towards my dorm, cursed and yelled outside my window and then rolled on over the little pond, through the trees brittle with dead leaves.

A friend told me his brother has smsed about a tremor, just then. O Fearful Connectedness of Googletalk. We both cursed. And waited. He got to the news link first.

And even as it unfolded, the next few hours, deja vu started rolling film. The same emotions: the same checking to see if loved ones were ok. The same reading of cautious local news websites, letting the numbers flow through their fingers slow at first. Checking BBC-- updates, eyewitness reports, pictures.

Geological discussion: young fold mountains this time.

Group mails, receiving replies: some light-hearted, some in fear, some waiting, like me, for news from the places that were still ominously silent.

Receiving an IM: yes, a help blog has been started.

I have seen all this before. This has happened all before.

The Eurasian fault line runs through the area. Tremors happen here all the time. New Zealand quivered too, measuring a 3.9. Bangladesh recorded tremors at 5.4, causing high waves in the bay.

But this one was a 7.6. And the death toll projected by international news agencies is at 2000. According to the the Director of the Weather Office, its the biggest quake in 120 years. International agencies are claiming that the Pakistani Govt are remaining "eerily silent" on revealing a realistic death toll: I quote--
"But oddly enough, no one was talking about the human toll.

It was almost as if no one wanted to talk of the death and destruction that the quake could have caused

A reporter working for the state-controlled PTV said he had seen "30 to 40" dead bodies himself in the Frontier town of Mardan.

But it was never repeated".

PM Shaukat Aziz said it was too early to talk about the death toll, rescue operations were still on to pull the living from the rubble.
An appartment complex fell down. School children were crushed. Landslides have taken whole villages made of straw and mud down into ravines and a river.

The worst hit are those living in the heavily militarized zones of PoK and along the border of Kashmir. Thank god, that unlike what happened in Aceh, the military and aid workers are going in together immediately to carry out relief measures.

The relief measures in inhabited areas began immediately. One must be glad.
The actual death toll in the northern interior regions cannot be known immediately. God be with those alone and cold and scared, and with those who are trying to bring them to safety.

The red cross and red crescent groups are out in their ambulances, tending to trauma cases. Every hospital in the affected areas has patients being treated outside, for fear of another after shock.

Information rolling. Deja vu.

No tears came during the tsunami's aftermath, midst all the reading writing talking and running around that accompanied it.

In front of this lap-top, watching grainy BBC reports, I havent been able to stop. Misery because its the end of the world? PMS? nope.


people on cellphones from under the rubble, calling to say they're alright. Policemen digging with their bare hands, not bothering to wait for equipment. Children wide-eyed in terror. A group of dusty men and boys yelling and heaving a part of a concrete wall, one two three together. British citizens of Pakistani descent praying together, getting visas together, blocking phone lines together, collecting aid together, and jack straw adding a chorus to them all:

"But in this particular case, because so many people in this country - so many of my own constituents - hail from Pakistan, or their families do, of course the anxiety and the shock is even greater," he said.

"My message to them is that we're going to do - and we are doing - everything we can for British people of Pakistani heritage, number one, and two, for Pakistanis of whatever connections."

The london blasts saw tremors of a different kind run through UK's ethnically diverse population. From the pain of those accusations, from the threat of racist violence against pakistani/bangladeshi/indian citizens, to this coming together.

There hasn't been a single report, local or international, of crimes being committed in the aftermath of the quake. No looting, no murders. My friend tells me of houses lying open, all their valubles exposed, and passers by standing guard at the entrances, to keep safe the belongings of the dead and dying.

The apocalypse haven't won yet.

Midst all this loss and terror at shifting continental plates, with the many who broke their fast around the world, I give thanks. We give thanks.

Chapter 99 of the Qu'ran is named سورة الزلزلة(Az-Zalzala) which means 'The Earthquake':

When the earth is shaken with her (violent) shaking,
And the earth brings forth her burdeens,
And man says: What has befallen her?
On that day she shall tell her news,
Because your Lord had inspired her.
On that day men shall come forth in sundry bodies that they may be shown in their works.
So he who has done an atom's weight of good shall see it.
And he who has done an atom's weight of evil shall see it.

This is my version of dhikr for today: thanks be for the fact that even while in the mud, we are haunted by the stars.

In order to contribute to the Red Cross and Crescent networks active in the affected areas, please contact the following:

· In Islamabad: Khalid Kibriya, Secretary-General, Pakistan Red Crescent; Phone: +92.51.925.7404;

· In Islamabad: Asar ul-Haq, Disaster Management Officer, Pakistan Delegation; email:;
Phone: +92.51.925.0416; Mobile: +92.300.856.8136;

· In Delhi: Uzmat Ulla, Head of Delegation, India Delegation; email:; Phone: +91.11.2332.4203

· In Delhi: Nina Nobel, Programme Coordinator, South Asia Regional Delegation; email:;
Phone: +91.11.2685.8671

· In Kabul: Fatima Gailani, President, Afghanistan Red Crescent; Phone: +

· In Kabul: Vincent Toutain, Programme Coordinator, Afghanistan Delegation; email:;
Phone: +93.7001.8727

· In Geneva: Charles Evans, acting Head of Asia Pacific Department; email:;
Phone: +41.22.730.4455

Visit here for more details.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

The Bali Bombings

"The police found a total of six legs and three heads but no middle bodies, and that's the strong sign of suicide bombers"*

lets do it.

The others nodded.

Arms adjusted slowly into velcro black vests strung with explosives. A penis, one of the younger ones, suddenly needed to go, and was let out into the garden. With a sad cold nose, it was let back in 15 seconds later. Toes gripped in dank cotton socks. Hands carefully pulled the big roomy winter jackets over the vests.

Noses sniffed. One mouth shaped words of a song in silence.

A finger was bit, a little too hard, taking away the hard skin, and opening out a tiny red well underneath. Proof of life. Bleeding, and stuffed into a pocket. Uncomplaining.

In the absence of hugs, faces were laid against faces-- In the dark, two mouths met, quick and dry, old greek priests after mass.

Heads nodded. Feet shuffled nervously, and were pushed forward by knees eager to end the waiting.

Lights passed by, cold air, cars as flashes of sound. Sounds of the dancing multitudes. Muffled bass, and more lights.

In three different streets, three different hands reached into three different pockets, and pressed down.

The heads looked around at each other, smiling and nodding over the screaming flying air and sparks that traced their arc.

Squinting, the eyes made out the waving legs below, who tangoed for three seconds before falling to the ground, exhausted.

Thump THump THUMP. They landed like potatoes in a field of cobbled stone.

I'd give it an 8.5, a mouth said.

The others nodded, rolled over, and then fell asleep.


*Raymond Bonner & June Perlez, quoting presidential spokesman Dino Djalal, Jakarta 2 Oct, 2005. For the NYTimes.