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If I can just give to the world more than I take from it, I will be a very happy man. For there is no greater joy in life than to give. Motto : Live, Laugh and Love. You can follow me on Twitter too . My handle is @Raja_Sw.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Mumbai : will Country India unite at least now ?

It is now six days since the attacks in Mumbai started – and three days since they ended. I should be beginning to get back to normal but I must admit I am still very much shaken by what happened in Mumbai. I just cannot get it out of my system. And, judging by responses of Indians on TV and on other forms of media, I can safely say that I am not alone in this disturbed state of mind.

It is not as if Indians are new to terrorist attacks on their soil or against their people. Or, for that matter, shocking acts of atrocities. Whether it is Mumbai’s thirteen bomb explosions on one fateful day in 1993 or umpteen attacks thereafter all over the country, even an attack on Parliament in 2001, Indians have seen it all. From the Indian Institute of Science campus in Bangalore to a pilgrimage site, Akshardham, from trains to marketplaces to the Charminar area of Hyderabad, no place has been spared. Indians have grieved, expressed their anger momentarily against the administration and authorities, and moved on. To the next calamity waiting to happen.

For that is what it has always been. Just a matter of time before the next wake-up call. But, just like the oh-so-convenient “snooze” button on an alarm clock, Indians have also “snoozed” each incident. As long as it does not hit home personally, Indians have not taken the time to take a step back and reflect.

This is not the slightest bit surprising. The daily grind of life demands a lot from the average Indian anyway. Whether studying or in work life or even in retired life, the pressure and need to think about one’s own self first, above all others, is often a necessity. There is no “social security system”, worth the name, to fall back on.

This has often resulted in Country India having no particular face. No identity. It is whatever the image of India is to the outside world that has defined Country India. A country of extreme contradictions. Having the richest of the rich and the poorest of the poor. Having myriad shades to it, thanks to its diverse cultures, religions, languages, art forms, even topography.

While many, including myself, are fascinated by this diversity, it has not necessarily helped in building one unified India. There is this sense of a looseness that is India – a looseness that is somehow held together, with a few common rallying points like cricket, film and a sense of history.

It is a looseness that has been repeatedly exploited by the ruthless political leaders of the country for their own political gain. Caste has been pitted against caste, religion against religion, language against language. No political party can claim exemption from this approach to vote-garnering.

But now Mumbai has happened.

The whole country has seen – shocking image after shocking image – of how its pride, its world-city, has been laid low by the most brazen of attacks imaginable. A bunch of ten armed men coming from the sea, storming into the city, shooting at random and spreading terror on its streets. Ten men holding the city hostage for three days.

I sincerely hope every single citizen of the country has seen these images. Or, at the very least, read or heard of what happened at Mumbai. Yes, that fisherman in that remote Orissa village, whose life for the last forty years, has been all about going out to sea and earning his daily catch, should be as much aware of this as the Mumbaikar. True, his life has not been affected – but the soul of his country has been scarred. And, if he considers himself even a bit Indian, he will hurt.

The country needs this awareness. It needs this sense of hurt. It is this hurt that will unite that Orissa fisherman with the Punjab farmer and with the Kerala plantation worker. Unite them with all those IT professionals in Bangalore and other metros of India. And unite all these Indians living in India with the large diaspora of Indians living overseas.

I say “hurt” and not “anger”. I choose my words carefully – for there is no emotion I have heard used more in the last few days in the Mumbai context than “anger”. And while I can fully understand this – I am not immune to this emotion myself – anger is a dangerous emotion.

In one person’s hands, it is already a dangerous spark. In the hands of millions, the collective force it carries can result in an escalation of events that could easily overtake the wheels of reason. If brinkmanship is the consequence of a deliberated strategy, then so be it. But brinkmanship borne purely out of anger is immature and unlikely to have the success it seeks to achieve.

So, I prefer “hurt” as my unifying emotion to bring all Indians together for a response to the aggression on their soil.

All Indians need to be aware – and need to feel the hurt that was felt by Mumbai in the last week.

One more thing. There is a general perception that "hurt" is a weak emotion. This is not true ! Inaction from hurt - THAT is a weak response. If kept alive, it is this “hurt” that will raise the cry for action.

For there is a lot of action required. There is a lot that went wrong, there is a lot to be done. And done fast. Not hastily but fast.

For starters, India needs to take itself seriously. For too long it has been this soft mass of land in South Asia. I am not for one moment suggesting anything jingoistic or anti-global, but if even India does not take itself seriously, no other country will.

This now seems to be as good a start as any. Getting all Indians to rally around their country is an excellent starting point to build on.

That it has taken an event of this horrific nature to bring Indians together is very sad. But, if this results in Indians striving for self-respect, not just for themselves but also for their country, in their seeking to assert themselves as fore bearers of peace in this world (remember India was the country that gave the world Mahatma Gandhi), then those lives lost in Mumbai in the last fateful week would not have been all in vain.