Posts Tagged ‘Mumbai’

Please Read Responsibly

March 1, 2012

By Hasan Altaf

One of the main differences between fiction and nonfiction might be, to use the phrase of writing workshops, between showing and telling: Fiction shows us other lives, what those other lives are like, how it might feel to be living those lives; the other tells us, laying out the context, the backstory, the rules of the game. Both forms are important, but fiction seems to me the more powerful, as stories speak to us at a more visceral level than do facts – to our emotions, rather than our intellect. There is overlap between the two genres, however, and while fiction can succeed without giving us the information of nonfiction, the strongest journalism is usually that which adopts the techniques of fiction to give us both story and background – some of Arundhati Roy’s essays, for example, or Joan Didion’s – that journalism which gives us both narrative and analysis, the question and some semblance of an answer. (more…)

The Meaning of Mumbai

July 16, 2011

By Anjum Altaf

There are incidents in the lives of big cities that call for sorrow, but once the dust clears, no lamentation and no expression of sorrow can really do a city justice. A place that is home to millions deserves better. I aim to explore the meaning of Mumbai and then return to the salience of this latest incidence of violence in the frame of that larger context.

The meaning of a city like Mumbai is mirrored in a million stories. Take one, that of the renowned music director Naushad. Born in Lucknow and obsessed with music, he was given the choice between his home and his passion by his father. Naushad ran away to Bombay; the rest is history. (more…)

Karachi is a Small City

November 15, 2010

By Anjum Altaf

City size is back in fashion as a variable of interest and this time bigness is being viewed as an advantage. This is quite a change from the perspective that prevailed for years when countries, specially developing ones, were decidedly anti-urban and wished to retard migration to prevent cities from increasing in size. Size was seen as a handicap and served as an excuse to explain away the problems of big cities. How should we see Karachi in this new perspective?

Of course, well-managed big cities have been around for a long time – Tokyo, New York and London are obvious examples. But somehow it was felt that such success could not be replicated in developing countries. (more…)

Terrorism – 5: What’s Your Religion?

December 7, 2008

Here we are at the beginning of life beyond Mumbai. We have expressed our feelings, described the situation, analyzed the problem, prescribed a response, and articulated a vision for the future.

We have come out of this gut-wrenching process changed.

A fundamental truth has dawned upon us. Today, in this twenty-first century, in this global village, it makes little sense to be Hindu or Muslim, Sikh or Buddhist, Catholic or Protestant, Black or White. What matters only is whether you are for terrorism or against terrorism. If we make a false choice here, Hindus and Muslims along with all the others would go up in a ball of smoke.

There are attributes of individuals that unite them in a common humanity and those that divide them into quarreling tribes. Terrorists can strike because we are divided; terrorists will thrive if we are divided yet again.

There is a personal religion and a political religion. And the political religion will determine if we will have the peace to find sustenance from our personal religion. Today, I am a non-terrorist first and whatever else second. And I am ready to hold hands with anyone else who is a non-terrorist, no matter what the color or creed or language or ethnicity or nationality of that person, to make sure there is a future where we can live without fear and apprehension.

Is there another way forward?

Non-terrorists of the world, unite. Your lives are at stake and time is running out.

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Terrorism – 4: Reaching Out

December 6, 2008

We have stood up and we have been counted. And despite all the caveats and all the filters, there are still many more non-terrorists than there are terrorists.

So, how do we translate these numbers into the strength we need to STOP TERRORISM NOW?

Isn’t it obvious? We have to recognize each other. Then we have to reach out and hold each other by the hand. We have to project a resolve so impregnable that a terrorist would think many times before he or she would hurl himself or herself against it. And we have to work together to drain the swamps that feed the fevered causes of terrorism in our homes.

All this cannot be done in a day and yet we do not have too many days to lose. We need to begin small and have a plan to get big fast.

Here is the contribution of The South Asian Idea and its virtual partner Mehr-e-Niimroz. We will set up a website to facilitate this process. To begin with, The South Asian Idea will promote three functions: First, to be an ongoing roll of all the individuals who sign up to play a proactive role to end terrorism in the world. We will see our names spilling across pages and draw comfort from the fact that there are many of us, that our numbers are increasing, and that we are united.

Second, to be a vehicle for reaching out and joining hands. We propose to initiate this by twinning educational institutions across South Asia – school with school, college with college, university with university, one pair at a time. We will then ask each pair of institutions to facilitate the linking of individual students with each other. These unions will be the bricks of our defensive wall.

Third, to be a forum where these pairs and unions will begin to open their hearts and minds to each other, to air their best hopes and their worst fears, to talk to each other, to raise the tough issues that need to be raised, to discuss the strategies that need to be implemented, to become friends, to fall in love, to provide the mortar that would make our wall of defense impregnable.

Every individual can do but a little. Together we can do a lot. We invite you to reach out and join hands with us.

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Volunteers who wish to join this effort should send an email with suggestions and a description of the skills they can contribute to

A discussion group (South Asians for Peace) has been set up as a first step to facilitate an exchange of ideas about more specific initiatives for the future. Do join and contribute your thoughts.

Terrorism – 3: Turning In

December 5, 2008

There is a huge wave of anger, frustration, and fear welling up in South Asia.

Will this wave peter out only to arise again after the next incident of terrorism? Will it spiral out of control, plunging our region into further chaos and doing even more damage than terrorism alone could have achieved? Or will it be channeled into a force that would move us to a better and more secure future?

To some extent the outcome will depend on what we, the citizens of South Asia, do or do not do today. Let me propose a two-step agenda: turning in and reaching out. In this post I will elaborate the first of the two steps.

We have to begin by asking ourselves a simple question: Are we against terrorism or not?

If we are, we have to be against terrorism wherever it exists, not just across the borders of our own countries. It is quite irrelevant whether Lashkar-e-Tayyaba or the ISI were implicated in the Mumbai carnage. The fact of the matter is that Pakistanis know terrorist training camps exist inside Pakistan; the government has abetted them at times and ignored them at others. Pakistanis against terrorism need to state, loudly and clearly, that they wish such camps to be closed down. Pakistanis need to march down the streets if that is what it takes to close down such camps.

Indian citizens against terrorism need to articulate, equally loudly and clearly, that there is no place for the likes of Bajrang Dal or the violent wing of Shiv Sena on their soil. Indian citizens need to direct their anger at the sources of violence in their own country.

If we do not stand up against terrorism in our own countries, we are not really against terrorism. We are using the anger stirred by terrorism to settle scores with some ‘Other’ whose antipathy is burned into our psyches by personal experiences, false renditions of history or indoctrination and which is inflamed by ignorance, intellectual laziness or dishonesty.

This is a very sobering conclusion. If this is so, then we are no different from the terrorists we are opposing. The emotional forces of hatred that are driving us are the same. We are not directly using the violence that terrorists have been employing but we are urging violence used on our behalf to settle the scores that deep down we wish to have settled.

Let us be clear if this is the case. Let us ask ourselves again if we are really against terrorism or not?

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Terrorism – 1: How Do We Respond to Mumbai?

November 28, 2008

Mumbai is big but not as big as New York.
11/26 is huge but not as huge as 9/11.
India is powerful but not as powerful as America. 

What does this set of propositions tell us about how we should respond to 11/26 in Mumbai?

Think it over. There are two choices. We can root out terrorists or we can root out terrorism. They are not the same.

Powerful America responded to 9/11 in New York by vowing to root out terrorists. Pledging to get Osama bin Laden, dead or alive, it launched the War on Terror. Seven years later, there are more terrorists than ever before, more Americans have died than in 9/11, the number of innocent victims has been lost count of, the entire world is in turmoil, and the economic and financial systems have broken down.

So, when one hears Dr. Manmohan Singh state that he would get the perpetrators of 11/26 and Barack Obama repeat that he will root out terrorists, it gives one pause.

It is not difficult to understand the anger and the frustration, the visceral desire to tear the terrorists from limb to limb, to rip their livers from their abdomens and feed them to the vultures. But ask, the morning after, if this would root out terrorism.

It is quite natural to play a tragedy of this order for political gains, to not look beyond its implications for the next elections. But would that root out terrorism?

Would an Indian campaign to root out terrorists meet with more success than America’s War on Terror? Despite all the rhetoric surrounding every incident, has terrorism been on the rise or on the decline? Would a vengeful response buy security for India or a future filled with uncertainty and fear?

Does India see anything in the mirror of Israel?

Think over the two choices. Ask yourself if rooting out terrorists is the best way to root out terrorism. If not, channel your anger into a strategy that stands a better chance. Put yourself in the shoes of an uninvolved outsider and ask how you would begin to root out the curse of terrorism.

When we stop playing into the hands of terrorists, we would take the first step towards a secure future. It is a tough choice, but it may be the only choice.

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