Peshawar 3

I have a simple question. If Muslims kill Muslims, how can all Muslims be terrorists?

Or, maybe, I should stop asking easy, logical questions. I should rather join the bandwagon, and support more war and more torture. After all, I am an Indian-American, and most Indians and most Americans are doing just that right now: calling for “exemplary punishment of the criminals.” Borrowing Cheney, use more torture. In fact, I presume, most Pakistanis are calling for it too.

On one hand, we have the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and ISIS in Syria and Iraq. They keep slaughtering innocent civilians and school children. They keep killing journalists. We have the Jamat-e-Islami in Bangladesh, and Laskar-e-Taiba and their many splinter groups in India. They have joined hands with their counterparts across the world, and created barbaric, gruesome acts of violence. If you don’t follow their trail, just know that India has seen numerous acts by “Islamic” terrorists in recent years, a flash point being the November 2008 carnage at Taj Hotel, Mumbai.

Taj Mumbai attack

As I write this article, Taliban terrorists invaded a military school in Peshwar, and killed more than one hundred Pakistani teenagers, most of whom came from civilian families. Violence and death have reached a new low.

Let me be clear: there is no doubt in my mind that Talibans are fanatic terrorists, and ISIS is beyond description. I have no soft corners in my heart for them. They are menace to human civilization. Their violence must be checked at any cost.

Yet, at the same time, I can’t resist asking these simple questions: (1) Who are these terrorists? (2) Why are they doing it? (3) Who is supporting them with weapons and money? And (4) Who’s benefiting at the end of the day?

New York Times reports on October 14, 2014: “The Central Intelligence Agency has run guns to insurgencies across the world during its 67-year history — from Angola to Nicaragua to Cuba. The continuing C.I.A. effort to train Syrian rebels is just the latest example of an American president becoming enticed by the prospect of using the spy agency to covertly arm and train rebel groups.”

We can add the Taliban to this list of groups U.S. government and intelligence have actively aided. Other than U.S. regimes’ longstanding support for the Mujahideens during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, support that many believe created terrorists like Osama Bin Laden, our American governments have also perpetually supported military regimes in Pakistan, regimes that choked any revival of democracy to death.

And these military regimes in Pakistan led by dictators such a Zia-ul Haq and Yahiya Khan (and most recently, America’s much-liked Pervez Musharraf) have not only created an elite, one percent for themselves and their cronies, creating more poverty, hunger and misery for the ordinary Pakistanis, they have also been responsible for brutality and horror elsewhere. The 1971 genocide and mass rapes in Bangladesh by Yahiya Khan’s army and their extremist Muslim operatives are too gruesome not to remember.

Peshwar 1 Peshawar 2

On the eastern side of Pakistani borders, Indian governments for their part, have always kept the animosity alive, and Kashmir has been their trump card, especially at election times. After the days of pacifist Gandhi and India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru who was socialist-minded, most other elected Indian leaders have found one reason or the other to “teach a hard lesson” to the “arch enemy” Pakistan. The two countries, since their British colonizers left in 1947 after two centuries of occupation, brutality and economic plunder, have fought three wars causing massive bloodshed. Historically, U.S. and China have always stood behind Pakistan, and the erstwhile Soviet Union has supported India.

The tide has turned 180 degrees. A post-Soviet India has decided become a close U.S. ally, and Clinton, Bush and Obama governments have used India’s neoliberal governments to push in U.S. corporations. Monsanto, GE, MacDonald’s, Coke, IBM and Disney, along with Rupert Murdoch’s media empire have reaped maximum profit, grabbed lands, and displaced people. Hundreds of thousands of Monsanto farmers have killed themselves, out of economic destitution. Union Carbide caused havoc. They have also spread their deregulated businesses across India, and helped an IMF-dictated destruction of India’s semi-socialistic economy.

Pakistan’s economy, on the other hand, has faltered even more. Amir Jahangir, chief executive officer at Mishal Pakistan, country partner for the Center of Global Competitiveness and Performance at the World Economic Forum, said in 2012: “Pakistan has lost its competitive advantage on almost all the pillars of the competitiveness index…” Pakistan’s currency now values at 100 Rupees per one U.S. dollar, compared to 64 Indian Rupees, and 77 Bangladeshi Taka. The country, with its ever-widening income inequality on one hand and medieval violence on the other, is falling apart.

What is happening in Pakistan as reaction is that anti-U.S., Islamic extremists are gaining ground, and forging political alliance. Democratically-elected Prime Minister Nawaj Sharif’s corruption- and inefficiency-tainted Muslim League government has failed to live up to its expectations, and  found its newest rivals in cricketer-turned politician Imran Khan, Canada-originated Sufi cleric Tahir ul Qadri, and other pro-Islamic groups. This is on top of Sharif’s main opposition Pakistan People’s Party once led by former prime ministers Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and his daughter Benazir Bhutto (the father hanged by Haq courts and daughter killed by a road bomb blast).

Pakistan as a nation is at a crossroad. Administrative failures, corruption, illiteracy and poverty have only helped a rapid resurgence of ultra-religious, far right-wing groups and their Mullahs who openly preach toppling of any democratic governments, through any means. The extremist and violent Talibans have taken advantage of an unstable political situation and a very porous Afghan border, and sent in their mercenaries, just like those that killed innocent children at the Peshwar school.

India also has a rapid rise of reactionary, fundamentalist forces, and is now governed by BJP. The party and its prime minister Narendra Modi have close ties with Hindu right wing, militant group RSS. Modi was implicated in the 2002 Muslim massacre in Gujarat, and U.S. government at that time blacklisted him, and rejected his visa to travel to USA. Gandhi was assassinated in 1948 by Nathuram Godse, an RSS associate. Now, Modi is one of the global leaders sought-after by the West, and Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have both extended olive branches to him, to seize on the vast, wide-open Indian market that has fallen prey to IMF and World Bank. India’s new and upcoming young generation, with few exceptions, is rabidly capitalistic and pro-American, as well as full of scorn, if not hate, for Muslims and Pakistan. Communal violence could flare up anywhere, anytime.

Pakistan’s new Taliban barbarism could prove ominous for the entire Indian subcontinent, and it is possible that U.S. government, its war corporations and CIA could use such horrific tragedies and bloodshed to wage a new, global warfare, this time using India as its loyal ally.

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Bangladesh, 1971.

Bangladesh, 1971.

NYT pic 1I wrote this on my Facebook today.

I share it with you. This is what I am, and I am what I am.

I often look in the eyes of my next-door black neighbors in Brooklyn, and I see mistrust. I see sadness. Their eyes tell me, “How could you Indians hate us so much, when we did so much for you?” They say, “Did you ever realize had we blacks not fought for passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, you could not take advantage of the 1965 immigration law that opened the gates for you to come to America, and be equal, at least on paper?”

Their eyes silently admonish me.

Amadou DialloThey don’t know what I do, or what I write or talk about. They probably think I’m also one of those Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi immigrants, living our bodies here to make as much money as possible, while living our souls back in our home country.

Had there been a way to tell them how I feel, I’d say sincerely, “I’m sorry, man, I’m so sorry. Forgive me. Take me in. I am one of you.”

I’d say, “Give me a chance to share my life’s stories with you. You’ll know how similar they are, with yours.”

I feel your pain. I feel your suffering.

Do you feel mine?

Sincerely Yours,

Partha

Brooklyn, New York

December 11, 2014

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Emmett Till

Emmett Till

Photos from New York Times article on police brutality and killing, December 3, 2014.

Ferguson 1I originally wrote this article for Ananda Bazar Patrika, Calcutta’s leading daily newspaper. You can read the published Bengali oped here.

In 1964, America passed the historic Civil Rights Act. Fifty years later, in 2014, the Ferguson incident proved that this country did not move much.

Bronx, New York, black immigrant student Amadou Diallo was taking his wallet out of his pocket at his doorstep. Police officers thought he was taking out a gun. Forty-one bullets riddled his body. Judgement: all the policemen were acquitted.

Sean Bell, Queens, New York, a black man on the night before his wedding was coming out of a wild bachelor party. His car hit a police vehicle. What an audacity! More police cars came in no time. Pumped fifty bullets in him. Judgement: all policemen acquitted.

A report from the last seven years shows that on an average two black Americans are killed every week in the hands of white policemen. Huffington Post reports that 99 per cent of the country’s police brutality is not investigated in the state of New Jersey. (And New Jersey is one of the “liberal” Democratic state.)

The Ferguson incident, therefore, is not isolated. White police officer Darren Wilson is not brought under charges for the murder of Michael Brown. Wilson is acquitted. With the acquittal came an outbreak of violence, cars were burned, petrol bombs hurled, ammunitions were fired: all well-known images. Known story. Recognized injustice. There is not too much of a difference between the riots on the streets of America and the riots in India.

On August 9 at noon on the outskirts of St. Louis in the predominantly black-inhabited Ferguson, an eighteen-year-old Michael Brown was running away after stealing a box of cigars. Officer Darren Wilson was dispatched by wireless to catch Brown. Later it came out, that none of the store employees called police. Nobody watched the surveillance video in the shop before Brown was killed. As a result, there are pertinent doubts about the authenticity of the official statement.

The official statement says, Wilson, on a different case, was on patrol in the area in his car. Following the message from his department and GPS he saw Michael Brown and his companions on the street and asked them to stop. No one knows what happened thereafter. According to Wilson’s statement, Brown disobeyed the police, and not only that, rushed in and punched Wilson in the face. As a result, Wilson was forced to fire his gun from within his car, and Brown died was killed. Other witnesses said, however, that Brown was quite far away when Wilson shot and killed him.

No comments.

No comments. I do not support racism or violence of any kind. But facts are facts.

At the end of November came the judgment. Twelve members of the grand jury based on evidence, statements, assorted physical examination, autopsy, post-mortem etc. declared Wilson innocent.

The country erupted with turbulent protests and violence. On one hand, the police and the military came down with machine guns, tear gas; on the other, Amnesty International taking note of the gross human rights violation sent their team down to Ferguson. Obama and his Attorney General Eric Holder asked the nation to restore peace. Obama and Holder are both black.

Question is, why this happens again and again? The reason is not unknown: extreme poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, sky-high economic inequality, and consequent frustration. But on U.S. media, any such discussions are absent. No discussion on the fact that out of the developed nations, USA now is the worst place. The much talked-about “American Dream” has ended long ago.

Noam Chomsky mentioned in a recent conversation with me that what started as a tarnished chapter by exterminating native Indians continued in the next chapter by brutalizing the black folks. Half a century before the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964, and the immigration reform act came soon after. But where is equality? One million black people in America are spending their time in jail, many without trial. Civil rights leader Jesse Jackson said that more blacks in America are in prison than blacks in college. Noam Chomsky has spoken about this internal violence in USA as well as America’s global violence. Big media have ostracized him.

No social mobility in USA. What American Dream?

No social mobility in USA. What American Dream?

Ferguson. New York. Trayvon Martin was killed in Florida. Los Angeles police tortured Rodney King. Here in New York, police pushed a broom handle in the anus of Haitian immigrant Abnar Louima. American Civil Liberties Union, or the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and such groups have kept track of these brutalities. But there are more events that are hardly reflected anywhere. They remain invisible to the eye. Yes, school, college, stores, markets, bus, train or plane have whites and blacks together. No one is thrown out of a white-only bathroom anymore. On Wall Street and the stock market, black people are at high places, and black faces are visible in the world of art, music, and theater. But a large number of Americans still carry on with this discrimination, especially in the so-called Bible Belt: Texas, Mississippi, the Carolinas, Indiana, Wyoming, the Dakotas. Blacks and new immigrants live here with constant fear.

According to Noam Chomsky, a large number of White Americans are perpetually frightened. They believe that blacks and immigrants from Mexico and other countries are destroying this what some conservatives call “God’s Nation.” This justifies the storing of guns and ammunitions in their homes, which are easily available in Wal-Mart and many local gun shops.  And we all know their consequences.

If Barrack Obama can happen in this country, it also has Tea Party gaining support.  Even the notorious Ku Klux Clan is much active, supported by Tea Party demagogues and far right-wing Republicans.

It is perhaps normal to think that the Indian immigrant Diaspora will be supportive of the equality and justice cause. But oddly surprising is the thoughts of equality preserved by the Indian Immigrants. There is an anomalous attitude of being nonchalant on issues of discrimination and hatred for blacks; same mindset regarding immigrants from other countries. I have never heard non-discriminating or sympathetic views about them. Almost everyone tends to settle out of black neighborhoods. When they come to visit us in Brooklyn, many are alarmed at the presence of blacks.

The American saga of racism, discrimination and violence on the poor goes on.

Two Men are Lynched in Marion, Indiana

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English Translation: J. Bagchi.

With the Living Legend.

With the Living Legend.

On Saturday, 15th of November, 2014, I had a chance to speak with Noam Chomsky — one on one.

It was an opportunity of a lifetime. For me, it was a memorable day.

And two friends helped me to record the half-hour conversation on camera. And they also put it on YouTube.

I hope you have time to watch it. I would greatly appreciate if you do.

The link is here.

One person has so much education and insight that informed people compare him with Plato, Aristotle, Russell, Marx or Einstein. I compare his ocean-deep knowledge with poet Tagore, and his global peace activism with Gandhi. But U.S. media including CNN and New York Times censor his views, and exclude him from their list of experts.

If this is not bizarre and depraved, then what is?

Noam Chomsky asked me to call him Noam, and not Prof. Chomsky. So, Noam and I had a one on one video interview, then walked over to Plymouth church for his talk at Brooklyn For Peace on its 30th anniversary. I sat with him at the front table, and spoke on various subjects including war and peace, immigration and labor, media and Manufacturing Consent, and India and Bengal. And about his legacy. Got his signature. He pronounced my name the proper Bengali way, and referred to my introduction in his speech. I always lamented that I did not meet Tagore, Gandhi or Einstein. He filled up that emotional void. And his wife asked for a copy of my introduction to his speech.

Truly, and I repeat, it was a memorable day in my life.

Thank you, Noam. And thank you, Brooklyn For Peace.

Manufacturing Consent

Bowing my head to him.

Bowing my head to him.

On Saturday, November 15, Noam Chomsky came to New York. 

Brooklyn For Peace, a grassroots organization, celebrated their thirtieth anniversary. On that occasion, they presented Chomsky with their Pathmaker to Peace award.

My wife and I have been involved with Brooklyn For Peace for a long time. I was its board member for a few years, and worked on its immigrant rights committee in the aftermath of the September Eleventh tragedy. The group reassured me and comforted me that there are a lot of mainstream Americans who are not hateful about Muslim and Arabs. And they do not consider them as “perceived criminals.”

I am neither a Muslim nor an Arab. But I feel a lot of togetherness with them. Just the same way I feel a lot of togetherness with African Americans and other marginalized groups. Latinos, Chinese, Sikhs…

Noam Chomsky is one of the most important scholars and intellectuals of all time. He is perhaps the most important linguist of our time. And outside of his M.I.T. linguistic studies, he is known worldwide as a leading voice of dissent against U.S. foreign policy and war diktat.

People line up for hours to get a ticket to hear him — all over the world. Scholars compare him with historic figures such as Aristotle, Plato, Russell, Tagore, Gandhi or Einstein. But U.S. corporate media despise him, because of his strong, fact-based, objective analysis of the media. Chomsky’s media expose Manufacturing Consent is a must-read, must-watch. You’ll know why U.S. media hate him.

And because of the blanket exclusion of Noam Chomsky by U.S. corporations, media, and the two big parties, most ordinary Americans do not know much about him. And the elite, status quo — both in the U.S. and across the world — are very happy that they don’t.

Speaking with yours truly.

Speaking with yours truly.

On Saturday, November 15, I had a chance of a lifetime to talk to him for a few hours. Some of it was, blessed I was, one on one. I also had a chance to interview him on camera, one on one. I shall post it when it is edited and ready to publish. I want to thank Brooklyn For Peace for that privilege too.

I’ve known the living legend since when I was a student at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. I had my first chance to hear him a few months before I joined the school, when he came to the university to speak, along with late professor Edward Said on Palestine and Israel. In April of 2000, I organized a student meeting at the department when he came and spoke to the students of the department for the first and only time. Since then, I’ve kept in touch with him, and for the past six or seven years, I’ve kept pushing him to come speak at Brooklyn For Peace.

Finally, it all worked out. And I had my chance of a lifetime to sit down with him at the dinner table, and discuss many important subjects, including politics, economics, U.S., India, Bengal, and all. We particularly spoke about immigration, labor and their place in human history. We talked about the history-depraved U.S. education system too.

Noam Chomsky is now almost eighty six years old. But he is still doing okay, Thank God. He is speaking, he is writing books, and he is also traveling. A proverbial intellectual and scholar with ocean-deep knowledge is still around us, among us. Mainstream, corporate media and establishments will never like him. But let them dislike him. We love him. We absolutely love him. And we don’t have to agree with him one hundred percent on every issue.

I have never met Tagore, Einstein, Russell or Gandhi. But I have met Noam Chomsky. I’ve known him for quite some time.

And it’s by God’s grace he has also known me. And gave me his blessing and indulgence.

Know this great man.

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The Great Master of Human Conscience.

The Great Master of Human Conscience.

Shishu NiketanIt’s all about love.

I have started writing about my life in India. My early years in Kolkata.

And I have started doing it with special, caring mention of my childhood.

Because my childhood is so special that I must write about it with special care.

Now, perhaps you’re all going to say, “Well, isn’t that how it is for everybody?” You’re perhaps going to say, “Why do you think your childhood is any more special than us?” You might say, “Our childhood was special too. It was a lot of fun.”

Sure, no problem. I’m not here to quarrel about whose childhood was more special. All I’m saying is that mine was special. Very special. It was a lot of fun. It was a lot of love. Happiness. It was something I now miss a lot, having spent a very long time, in a relatively less-loved, less-happy way.

Of course, this unhappiness did not begin only after I came to America. Unhappiness perhaps began for me, now that I look back, when I grew up and got into a very turbulent world, full of real pain, violence and economic hardship. When I was a child, I think my world was much more peaceful and loving.

Well, then, you might interject, “Like I said before, yours is no different than ours. So, don’t brag about it.”

I’m not bragging about it. I’m trying to remember as much as I can, stirring up my memories, one memory at a time. And by doing so, I’m trying to get back to some of that peace, love and happiness.

Right? Any problems with that?

No? Okay, great!

Pyari RowHow far back can you go down memory lane? What is your first childhood memory? How old were you at that time? Could you talk? Could you stand up? Could you walk? Could you read? Could you write? Could you tie your shoe lace, or button your shirt? Could you sleep by yourself, away from your mother?

Yes, think about it. Try, and try hard. Go as far back as you can. Far, far back down into your childhood. Try to remember some of the oldest things that happened in your life. And remember those who were with you at that time.

You need complete focus, and you need complete tranquility. And you need a lot of love to do it.

Do it.

You can close your eyes. But you don’t have to. You just need some solitude. It’s a beautiful meditation.

Do it.

I’m doing it right now.

It’s beautiful…peaceful…loving…soft…caring…kind…affectionate…

The weather in it is always beautiful. It’s always, always pleasant.

Mother Nature is waiting for you to be in her embrace.

Just the same way your mother waited for you when you were a child, coming back from school.

It’s all about love.

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Peace. Photo by Ajoy Konar.

Peace. Photo by Ajoy Konar.

NYC Marathon 2014 women 1   I went to watch the New York City Marathon run today, here in Brooklyn. It was an incredible experience. It was perhaps after two or three years when I got to be a part of the crowd again. And again, I felt the same excitement. I felt like I was in the middle of a massive, youthful, vibrant crowd — people who are celebrating life, and celebrating health and happiness. And it didn’t matter that I was not running, but I was only watching. It did not matter that it was very cold and very windy, and my fingers were freezing up quickly taking the pictures. Marathon has always been a great source of inspiration for me. I remember when I was growing up in Calcutta, my father first took me to a late night movie where they were showing a documentary on the Tokyo Olympics. Perhaps it was 1966 or so, and I was only a small kid. But I still remember how that film gave me goosebumps. The long jump and high jump, the pole vault and the hurdle race, the sprint and the middle distance runs, the javelin and discus, and then, finally, before the games came to close, they had the marathon down the streets of Tokyo. BikilaAbebe Bikila, the legendary barefooted runner outpaced everyone, and became the champion. The fact that he was from Ethiopia, and not from USA or then USSR, and the fact that he was running twenty-six miles barefooted was something special to remember. I remember for the first time in my life, I saw how support staff for the runners set up streetside tables to serve water and juice to the thousands of athletes running by. They whisked those paper cups, drank some, and threw the cups away. Today, after being in the United States for over twenty-five years, and watching many such events, it has become all too familiar. But back in those days, growing up in North Calcutta with nothing, it was something to remember through months and years. Childhood years want to use even smallest things to be awed about, and feel excited about. NYC Marathon 2014 1 Yet, after so many years being in America, and going through so many exciting, global events, marathon runs somehow bring back the same kind of awe and excitement for me. And today, it was no different. The patrolling police cars with their sirens, the hovering helicopters, the streetside crowd’s cheer, bells and whistles, and then the first pack of world-famous runners — first women and then men about half an hour apart — just incredible. Seeing those famous runners — most from Kenya, Ethiopia, smattered with a few American, European, Mexican and Chinese or Korean faces, blitzing by in just a few seconds in a closely packed, very strong flight of legs — their special sneakers making a subtle pattering noise on the asphalt street…and then they are gone. You see them disappear down the street, escorted by time-tracker trucks and police cars, and they are gone. Mary KeitanyWilson Kipsang of Kenya. Mary Keitany of Kenya. There he is! There she is! Wow! Wow! And then slowly comes first a dozen of professional runners, followed by hundreds, and then thousands, and thousands, and thousands of young men and women, and some not-so-young men and women, running down the street — in the midst of continuous cheering of onlookers, friends, relatives, family members — some with signs with the runners’ names, and some with flags of their countries. An ongoing, oncoming traffic or healthy, strong, determined, upright, happy, proud men and women, from all over the world. It is truly, truly a celebration of life. And I am in the midst of it — absorbing every single second of it. And rubbing the awe and inspiration and life on me, and my soul. Drinking it all — bottoms up. Thank you, New York, and thank you, America, for showing me this side of you. Here’s to heart, happiness, and health. Here’s to life. ### NYC Marathon 2014 2

Diwali blog 1Diwali, the Festival of Lights, is here.

And India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and people from those countries living in other parts of the globe are celebrating it with food, festivities and fun.

And firecrackers. Firecrackers are a huge part of Diwali celebration.

The little-noisy crackers they call patka. And the big, very noisy crackers, like chocolate bombs and bottle bombs and the two-repeat and three-repeat bombs, driving people crazy. Noise pollution at this time takes on an unimaginable level.

And the beautiful, noiseless fireworks, like the flower glitters or phul jhuri, colored torches or rang mashal, floor spinners or charki, and fire fountains or tubri. The blue-green-red-n-yellow, fun match sticks made especially for this occasion. The earthen lamps and candles lightening up each porch, terrace and verandah. The spring-up, black snakes or saap baji. The rockets. You name it. The underground, illegal varieties too.

Phul Jhuri

Phul Jhuri

And then, expert artisans make all kinds of incredible fireworks to lit up the dark, new-moon, autumn skies. Some go way up in the sky, and then make shapes of famous leaders and celebrities. Gandhi, Tagore, Modi, Shah Rukh Khan :-)

But behind all this explosive happiness and gaiety, very few remember the poor workers who make these little and big fireworks and crackers that the affluent and middle-class families and children play with on Diwali. Most of them do not know or care about the fact that a vast majority of these behind-the-scene workers are hapless, poor children who can’t go to school or get enough to eat. Most of those celebrating the Festival of Lights do not remember that for these poor child workers and their families, there is hardly any festivals and any lights.

Diwali blog 2In fact, these children cannot afford to pay for the high prices for those firecrackers. If anything, they pay for them with their own lives. They die a slow but sure death because of the extremely toxic environment they work in, and the often-carcinogenic chemicals they use. And often in India, fireworks factories explode because of unlawful chemicals wrongly used, killing scores of these child laborers. It has now become a commonplace tragedy, happening every year in India, over a few weeks before Diwali.

Nobody really pays any attention. The fun show must go on.

This Diwali, even though I’m all for celebrating it, inviting everyone from every religion and non-religion to be a part of it, I’m also inviting you to remember this untold, dark side of the festival. Think about how you can improve their lives. Think about how we can find an alternative, healthy life for these children and their families so that they don’t have to die working with poisons. Can we send them to schools they deserve? Can we find them money to eat a good lunch and dinner?

It’s easy to say, “Ban Child Labor!” That is the cry the affluent, bleeding-heart liberal cry. But then what? If not an economic way out for them, what other choice do they have?

Diwali is not, and cannot be the Festival of Lights, unless we bring light to illuminate this deep darkness.

Wake up to this reality.

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Diwali blog 3

Theft 1EVERYTHING I wrote in this blog: about the massive corruption in India, police inaction, mob lynching, violence on women, lawyer and government office dishonesty and all, I wrote from my personal experiences, and not on the basis of newspaper or TV reports or hearsay. It does not mean India is full of dishonest people only. How can I say such a thing? My father and my teachers are still alive. So are some friends and friends back there who could have become millionaires had they chose to be corrupt, given the powerful positions they are (or were) in. Yet, I must tell you what I have gone through in my life. That honesty and transparency are the real strengths of my writing. And I am proud of that.
________________________________________________________________

Don’t be surprised when you read this. Just know that it is all one hundred percent true.

In India, or the ancient Land of Bharat, grand, subtle theft has always been an art (centuries before they wrote Ocean’s Eleven or The Great Train Robbery).

In the famous Sanskrit play The Little Clay Cart (Mrichchhakatika), thief Sharvilaka enters merchant Charudatta’s house at night, and steals the jewels, for he wishes to buy his girl Madanika’s (a beautiful slave) freedom with the stolen jewels. One of the best plays ever written.

In the Bengali novel The Nightly In-Law (Nishikutumba), author Manoj Basu illustrates the art in an exquisite, elaborate way. He had received the prestigious, National Academy Award for the novel. Wish someone did a new movie on it.

The Clay Cart. Exquisite, sensual romance.

The Little Clay Cart. Exquisite, sensual, romance.

But that was then. What is happening in India now is not theft anymore. It is an historic level of “grand larceny” and “high-noon robbery”, in every sphere of life.

Let me give you some recent examples.

If you play “professional” cricket in India, you can make millions by underground gambling. That’s now all too well known.

But you can also make millions by bribing the international cricket board that would banish a certain, dangerous bowler just on the eve of a crucial game, and make the other team and its big-name captain win — a team bookies and corporations had put huge, huge bets on. Allegations. But no investigations.

If you are a government executive or minister, you can scrap an international trade deal on technical or legal grounds, and then after getting an incredible sum of money from the international trader, re-instate the deal quickly, overturning the ban.

Big media knows it, but avoids questions. In fact, some big-media journalists have themselves been implicated in underground deals. And we have every reason to believe that big media is bribed by national and international corporations; heck, some of them are now directly owned by big, global corporations such as Rupert Murdoch.

And then, there is all-pervasive bribery across the board: you need to bribe a government officer to get a completely legal contract validated, because without it, they have the power to sit on your files for the rest of your life.

My high-school English teacher did not get his pension for twenty years after his retirement, and only got it a few months before his death (he was lucky), perhaps because he refused to bribe anybody.

No caption needed.

No caption needed.

You need to pay back your lawyer to evict your unlawful tenant or tenant’s tenant, or they can make your life miserable, by getting kickbacks from your adversary, and working for your defeat in court.

You have one burglary at home (like the one we had during our 2007 visit), and you shall need to buy off the entire police station to even record an FIR, let alone have them do any investigation. We did not buy them off, and we did not get any justice.

Your village cousin is molested? The law enforcement and administration will molest her five times over again, physically or verbally, unless you have the money to move the case forward. Just read some of the recent incidents in West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and such Indian provinces.

And I’m not even talking about some of the more well-known cases of high-noon robbery that got exposed only because the robbers — politicians or executives — got up on the wrong side of the bed that unlucky day (or could not strike a deal on time). Nobody in the seat of power — any power — gets caught in India, or punished. Biggest robbers get court bails quickly, and eventually get a slap on the wrist, before they come back to steal again.

Mob police beating thiefSmall thieves do get caught and punished, and the Indian mob will likely beat them to death in broad daylight. I have seen a few such incidents with my own eyes, and wrote about them in my to-be-published memoir. Medium-level or high-level thieves and robbers, with any political or media connection — small or big? Forget it.

The fabled, subtle art on those Sanskrit or Bengali or Tamil acts of theft has disappeared, to be replaced in India by the largest, in-your-face industry the country has ever seen. The new prime minister has promised to cure and cleanse India of this systemic cancer, but we have heard such rhetoric from Indira Gandhi or Sonia Gandhi before.

Today, India’s supreme court has released one of the biggest, convicted robbers in history on bail. Done very quickly: no questions asked.

In this socioeconomic structure, which has not changed a bit through elections, no real cure is possible.

Just like the U.S. Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, Lehman Brothers.

Same stories, different scenarios.

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Big-name politicians. Convicted of mega corruption. Quickly released on bail.

Big-name politicians. Convicted of mega corruption. Quickly released on bail.

kids-diwali-photosA SINCERE PROPOSAL.

No, not to big politicians or big media. They are too busy, and their priorities are too different.

I am making this humble request to you: my friends, colleagues, supporters and well wishers. I propose that we all celebrate Diwali — the Festival of Lights — here in USA, the Land of Diversity. Celebrate it as a secular, social festival. I invite everyone: Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists, socialists, greens.

Light up. Lighten up. Have a party. This year, October 23 is the day. Mark your calendar.

Even though Diwali has a deep connection with Hinduism, and it always falls on the day after the auspicious Kali Puja or the worship of Goddess Kali the Demon Slayer, Diwali is now a pan-Indian festival, both in India and all over the world, wherever Indians are. And you can find us everywhere: America, Europe, Australia, Brazil, New Zealand, Zambia or Zanzibar. And people from all religions celebrate it with much fanfare. In fact, in my opinion, perhaps next to Christmas, Thanksgiving, Halloween, Eid, Kwanzaa and Yom Kippur, Diwali is a festival that many Americans are aware of.

Of course, thanks to a blanket exclusion by corporate media, even those who have heard about Diwali and know that it has something to do with India or Indians and Hindus or Hindi do not know what it is really all about. So, every time somebody asks me what is the occasion they saw fireworks over the Hudson next to Brooklyn Bridge, I take the time to explain to them that Diwali — the Festival of Lights — is an autumn festival when people all over India lighten up their houses with small or big lights, and celebrate with fireworks, followed by fabulous food and sumptuous sweets.

I then take the time to explain to them that it is a symbol for the victory of the good over evil, or for the more religious, triumph of good karma over bad karma.

Then everyone understands, and greets me, saying, “Happy Diwali.” And that makes me happy too.

:-)

Diwali fireworksNow, fireworks, followed by sweets are big in India. Here in America the so-called Land of Freedom, they have imposed so many restrictions on our lives that we don’t even know how restricted we are. We can’t blow our mandatory Hindu conch shells outside of the temples and designated schools or community halls where we’re having our celebrations. We can’t lighten up our pious, ceremonial, invocation firewood almost anywhere, let alone outside the designated areas. Fireworks, even the silent, small and beautiful ones, our children can’t play with without having special permission from the city administration. You can’t even buy fireworks in New York City for Diwali, unless you are a big business group, and have resources and connections and permissions to do it over the Hudson next to Brooklyn Bridge.

Truly, believe it or not, even for the less-religious like me, it’s mighty stifling.

But no, I’m not proposing that we be given permission to crack our fireworks anywhere we like. I’m not even proposing that we be given permission to light up our ceremonial, religious fire inside our wooden houses. I know how dangerous it can be. Just like any responsible New Yorker, I would be very reluctant to undermine the safety of me, my family, and my neighbors. We are responsible, enlightened citizens.

All I’m proposing that let us all celebrate Diwali — the Festival of Lights — in its true, secular, inclusive spirit, inviting everyone in America to be a part of it. Let us observe Diwali this year, and every year, to show our real spirit of inclusion and diversity, and make this colorful, social festival a known event in the American household.

Happy-DiwaliAnd if not for the fireworks, approved or not by the government officials, let us rejoice Diwali at least for its food and sweets part.

If Yoga can be a popular, household practice for today’s America and especially its open-minded young generation, why can’t Diwali? Both are spiritual. Both are secular and inclusive. Both celebrate life. Both inspire health and happiness.

And if you are truly worried about your health and happiness due to the plentiful of Indian food and sweets, we shall make them low-calorie for you.

Heck, we could even make them totally fat- and sugar-free.

:-)

Let’s celebrate Diwali this year.

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