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Mumbai…the fire within!

By Ajith Vijay Kumar | Last Updated: Thursday, December 11, 2008 - 13:13
Ajith Vijay Kumar
To The Point

We want peace, terrorism knows no religion, it’s a handiwork of foreign nationals…these words of wisdom are almost clichés in the times we live in. Amidst all this glib talk, the realization has dawned upon me and many others in the country that the time to act is now.

But are we serious? Scores died in Mumbai and many more die across the world due to senseless acts of terror. But who cares? Do we? Yes we do, is the common cry after the latest round of attacks.

Scores of people engulfed the Gateway of India waterfront with placards calling for peace and denouncing politicians for all the ills.

It’s fashionable these days to accuse politics and politicians - they are in vogue as punching bags.

I respect the protestor’s sentiment; they have a point as politicians have absolute power in our federal setup and as it’s famously said: “Absolute power corrupts absolutely”.

But, who chose them to be where they are; the MPs and the MLAs are our representatives. They have not landed from the moon to rule over the country, they are part of the very society we live in.

That’s why, when we choose them, we too are accountable. Majority of the A-listers of our society, who are so enraged by the attacks in Mumbai, don’t even go out to vote! And can now be seen giving sound bytes about how the country is going to dogs and our politicians are such bad people.

Undoubtedly, the Taj and the Oberoi-Trident are iconic. They are potent symbols of a proud India. However, for the A-listers, these places are very close to their hearts - places that were second home, where mega deals were signed, guests entertained.

Earlier too, countless have died on the streets and markets of our cities, but did anyone care then. After all, why would they? They don’t travel precariously hanging to local trains; they don’t go shopping to Sarojini Market.

Terrorism was not something that was affecting them directly; it was hitting the lowly mortals who run a family of six on Rs 5,000 – an amount that was not even sufficient for a night’s dinner at the Taj.

And, for the man on street…Let’s accept it, 99% of our countrymen have never set foot in those hallowed precincts. For them, the Taj is, at the most, a favourite backdrop for the pictures taken while munching peanuts by the Gateway. That too with a hope that one day they will be rich enough to dine there.

So, those who belong to the Taj are enraged because it’s their home and the rest because it represented their aspirations. I may sound too promiscuous but isn’t it the truth?

Even media’s spotlight remains centred on the five star hotels, where the dead and the survivors are humans too, but are a bit more sophisticated, a bit better looking.

On the flipside, the media focuses where the action is. Seize at the hotels and the Nariman House was nerve-wracking and that probably lead the cameras there.

But, the point I am putting forth is not per se to question the seriousness of the situation at the Taj. Yes it was grave and shocking; all I am trying to highlight is the all apparent lack of sensitivity towards people who are “not so” camera friendly.

How many stories have we read about the attack on the CST? Do we know anything about the people who lost their lives there, their aspirations, their dreams?

Think for a second, a fortnight after the deadly attacks, which image keeps recurring as the symbol of the dastardly act? Isn’t it the Taj up in flames? Why are the pictures from the CST missing after all close to 60 people lost life there too.

I know I am running the risk of being labelled as someone who is dividing society during such grave times. But, the picture I am drawing is not an anthology of the proofs of the rich-poor divide, but an attempt to look at the mirror…the mirror called society.

Not convinced yet that we as a society don’t care unless it’s high profile? Just yesterday, 63 people were charred to death when the bus they were travelling in Firozabad in UP was burnt to embers. Heard this news? Not really…right? If it was a plane crash instead of the rickety bus in which hapless villagers were packed…then?

The whole media would have been after the story with exclusive scoops and the works! It’s not that media per se wants to focus on such issues, but it serves us what we ask for. Bus fire is common…aircraft, well that’s big news!

Agreed aircrafts don’t crash often and that’s why if they do, then its big news. But aren’t the people, the aspirations that get extinguished the same whether it be a bus or an aircraft.

We as a society have to change first and be more empathetic to our fellow countrymen. And, the change ‘should’ start from the upper echelons, and then only we can expect it to percolate down to the entire society.

That’s because, those who have the wherewithal to dine at the Taj, invariably, also have the power to influence polity at the highest levels. They have to understand, if it was Taj this time and if things don’t change, then next time around it could be their homes!

The common man on the street, he leads his life by example. If Shahrukh asserts Santro wale always kush… he believes him. The rich and the famous have sway over commoners and if they decide to change, others will change too.

However, amidst the prevailing sense of despair, something great happened this week. The power of vote at its best.

For once, the flickering wish in me to see my country prosper has gained strength. People rewarding leaders like Sheila Dixit, Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Raman Singh purely on account of their positive governance and pro-people policies is a signal of the maturing of the political process in the country.

It’s easy, as it happened after Mumbai attacks to castigate the political leaders, but it is easier still to make them accountable.

In the larger context of terror, alienation of Muslims, and the existing religious divides in the society, I believe that the time has come that we do an Obama in India. How about a Muslim at 7 Race Course Road?

First Published: Thursday, December 11, 2008 - 13:13

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