A Decade like Few Others



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Nobel Prize-winning American novelist William Faulkner had said, “Clock slays time.” In the unremitting flow of commonplace events, time passes by unnoticed. It is when the unpredictable hits us that a clock-stopping moment is born.

If we were to look at the number of time-pausing events in history, the decade gone by would have few parallels. When George W. Bush assumed office as US President in 2001, little did we know how dramatically American policy would transform international geo-politics and pit two civilizations against each other.

9/11 changed the world. We became more insecure while boarding planes, about trusting strangers who may appear like regular students in driving or flying schools, receiving mail and parcels that may be laced with anthrax, eating from salad bars which could be poisoned and above all about each other.

The rummage for security made the planet even more insecure. There were no WMDs in Iraq, but Saddam Hussein paid with his head. And lakhs in the country were orphaned or made homeless. No, there were no terrorists there either, none who plotted the World Trade Towers attack anyways, but many indignant about the pointless war turned into insurgents. It is said companies like Halliburton, which had links with the then Vice President Dick Cheney, became richer. So at least someone gained.

Elsewhere in Asia, Pervez Musharraf, who had thwarted Nawaz Sharif’s attempts to dismiss him as the Army Chief and in-turn sent him to exile in Saudi Arabia, became the President and one of the most powerful leaders of Pakistan ever. Shrewdly, he cultivated the Americans without doing an iota to improve the security situation in South Asia or cracking down on terrorists targeting India.

The US invaded Afghanistan and dethroned Taliban. But only to let those thugs escape into Pakistan. Especially in a devious exercise dubbed as Operation Evil Airlift. In this, it is said that Pervez Musharraf had convinced Bush to let prime terrorists escape right from under the noses of the US forces. It is also believed that if there was that one chance when Osama bin Laden escaped, it was then.

Ten years later, the Americans are losing in Afghanistan and planning a pull-out. After two wars, Gitmos and Abu Gharibs, security still eludes the US.

Musharraf may be out and plotting his comeback in Pakistan, but there is another General called Kayani in the saddle. Their personalities may be different, but their agendas are the same. The beacon of hope for democracy, Benazir Bhutto, was too dangerous for some and was wiped out soon after she set foot in the country.

Besides Pakistan, which is today one of the most dangerous countries in the world, the pangs of change in our neighbourhood were also mostly bloody. Ever since Nepal’s Crown Prince Dipendra allegedly perpetuated a bloodbath on his immediate family, the royalty is in quandary. Nepal is no longer a Hindu kingdom but a secular country, though not one with a stable government. Tamil Tigers who looked formidable once have been smoked out. LTTE leader Prabhakara is dead and the national anthem of Sri Lanka will no longer be sung in Tamil. The Myanmar Junta has released Aung San Suu Kyi but is still too scared of real democracy. On a positive note, Bhutan’s royal family introduced its people to adult franchise and Bangladesh finally got an elected government.

In India, Vajpayee - the endeared of the masses – learnt that glitzy campaigns scripted by spin doctors like Pramod Mahajan don’t strike a chord with the Aam Admi. Congress reclaimed power after a long recess and ensured that it made enough noise about the common man to win a second term with greater clout.

The economic reforms have pulled millions out of poverty in India, but the booming population ensures that millions more remain impoverished. It is the resentment of being left out that makes many see red and raise the banner of revolt. Is India today a land of million mutinies, one asks.

To be fair, on the policy front, NREGA, RTI and Right to Education have been groundbreaking. The Nuke deal was reached with many countries, but is yet to be opertaionalised with the Americans with whom it was first thrashed out. Nevertheless, the N-deal will remain Dr Singh’s moment of triumph, when he stuck to his guns and seemed to come into his own.

But UPA’s Term II is knotted in corruption cases of magnitude known never before. Rs 1.76 lakh crore, anyone? The PM’s compulsion to compromise for the sake of keeping his allies in good humour has cost him his squeaky clean image.

Besides the loss of character, we lost life and property and loved ones in incessant terror attacks in Delhi, on Parliament, on trains in Mumbai, in Varanasi, Jaipur, Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Pune and at the beloved Taj Hotel besides other locations in Mumbai in 26/11.

The riots in Gujarat will remain a blot on all of us Indians, as will the attacks on Christian nuns and churches. When we were spared by manmade tragedy, nature unleashed fury. The earthquake in Gujarat was one of the worst disasters ever. But soon we numbed about what worst meant.

The Boxing Day Tsunami, J&K earthquake, Kosi floods, floods in Europe and Australia, Hurricane Katrina, Nargis and Charley. Each year some part of the world faced the wrath of nature’s obdurate forces. Then there were pandemics and epidemics. Foot and Mouth Disease, SARS, Swine Flu, Bird Flu...

The word meltdown got associated with behemoth banks going bust and nations plunging deep into debt crisis. Starting with the US mortgage crisis and the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy, the world economy came down with a crash. Greece, Ireland, Iceland, Dubai; the list is long. While India weathered the recession, it is still clueless about tackling spiraling prices. We now live in a world where USD 100 for a barrel of crude is a reality.

China is the new economic superpower, which likes to be belligerent with its neighbours. Prominent world powers make a beeline at its door; Human Rights and democracy be damned. Trouncing the US, it is also a sports superpower, and has redefined the way sports events are organized and won.

Yes, we have made progress. India has put a Tricolour on the Moon and set a world record by sending 10 satellites into orbit in a single launch. Around the world, we have mapped the Human Gene and even created an artificial one in these 10 years. We have conducted, possibly, the most daring scientific experiment of the Large Hadron Collider and carried out the first human face transplant. We have found water on Mars and entered the orbit of Mercury and landed on Titan, Saturn’s largest moon. But we are all ill at ease with one other on Earth.

We are connected on Facebook and follow our idols on Twitter, but talk less to each other. Human isolation, lack of social mingling and self sufficiency that a laptop creates will be the new psychological challenges of this century.

The world is a different place from what it was 10 years back. Today, there are terrorist attacks over a cartoon made in poor taste by some Dutch man. And a film maker like Theo van Gogh gets assassinated for highlighting the travails of Muslim women in a film named Submission.

North Korea has conducted nuclear tests with impunity and Iran declared itself a nuke state. The US threatens them with action, but cannot get them to toe the line. A Libyan terrorist can walk free despite his proven guilt in killing hundreds over Lockerbie because the UK does not want to face a financial backlash. Middle East remains more volatile than ever before.

The US finally made peace with its past and elected a Black President, but Barack Obama admits that some in the country still speak about him “as if he were a dog”.

Michael Schumacher, Rafael Nadal and Sachin Tendulkar have touched towering heights, but fixers have made sports a dirty business. We don’t always kneel to kiss the robe of the clergy, because the Pope now makes an apology for sexual misconduct of the frocked.

Terror has left its imprint on all shores. Whether it is the UK, Spain, Egypt or Bali. Even peaceful and peace loving Scandinavian countries like Sweden now know what it is like to be targeted by a suicide bomber. That too in the Christmas season!

Ten years is a very small patch in the calendar of world history. But this decade has been unique. It witnessed wars in which half the world got sucked; wars that did not just spill blood of innocent on the streets but caused bad blood amongst the followers of two principal religions. It was also a decade that saw the Great Recession, nearly a century after the Great Depression, causing severe economic hardship around the world. This has been the decade of body scanners at airports, tighter wallets, intense cultural suspicions and virtual friends. What is ten years, but a wink when one evaluates the chronicles of centuries gone by. But in a sense when we see the seminal changes this decade has ushered in, it nearly feels like eternity.