Nov 162015

Micheal Caine, playing Alfred tells Christian Bale, playing Bruce Wayne (Batman), about a nihilist called the Joker.

Because some men aren’t looking for anything logical, like money. They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned, or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.

What will you do to keep the world safe ?

ISIS, whichever way you look at them, are nihilists. They seek to rule the world with their warped version of religion. They have cut a swathe of terror through the regions they have captured. Look at what they have done to the Yazidis. This from this week, where they have found a mass grave with women, too old to be used as sex slaves:

A mass grave believed to hold the remains of dozens of Yazidi women executed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group was found Saturday in northern Iraq, officials said.
The grave, which has not yet been excavated, is located on the edge of the town of Sinjar, which was captured from ISIS this week in an operation led by Kurdish security forces and backed by U.S.-led air strikes.
The area is infamous for a brutal ISIS campaign of massacres, enslavement and rape against Yazidis, a minority group whose faith the jihadists consider heretical.
The grave contains the bodies of some 78 women aged between 40 to around 80, according to younger women who had been enslaved by ISIS, witnessed the executions and later escaped, said Miyasir Hajji, a Sinjar council member.

This is what they have done with millenia old history

It does something to our sense of ourselves, and of humanity, when we see pictures of men, willfully and with impunity, destroying some of the world’s oldest and rarest archeological treasures. A couple of weeks ago, it was video clips of the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham’s extremists wielding sledgehammers and drills, methodically destroying an exquisitely carved stone lamassu, or winged man-bull, at the Assyrian complex of Nimrud, which was created by artists nearly three thousand years ago. A few days later, it was the ancient temple complex of Hatra, in northern Iraq, which was built by the Seleucid Empire around two or three centuries before Christ. Hatra had been the site of a series of glorious colonnaded buildings and statues; it is reported that beginning on March 7th, ISIS destroyed what was left of them. On Monday, there were new images on social media showing ISIS extremists attacking the grounds of St. George’s, a centuries-old Chaldean Catholic monastery outside of Mosul. In this world of all-seeing, all-hearing killer drones, these acts somehow continue.

This is what they have done to people in areas they have gained control – Shias, Sufis, Christians, and anyone else who is not like them (this is last year’s HRW report, this year the toll would have gone up)

ISIS,….(has) systematically killed and threatened Iraq’s Chaldo-Assyrian Christians, Shia Shabaks and Turkmen, and Yazidis, labeling them crusaders, heretics, and devil-worshipers, respectively.

Last week they bombed Beirut, Baghdad and Paris.

The comparisons with 26/11 are natural. And also very real. It is almost as though the terror planner watched every bit of video and read every transcript of the carnage in Mumbai and planned a surgical and brutal strike. Anyone who has seen videos and pictures of the carnage of both, cannot help but make those comparisons.

And, there is one comparison above all that needs to be considered. And, that is, these people – the terror masters, and their rabid minions – don’t want to talk. don’t want to negotiate. Don’t want to listen to reason. Don’t want to have anything to do with basic humanity and decency, or even rules of war. How do you get them to stop ?

The answer is actually quite simple, if terribly brutal. The only way to stop them is to stop them. Permanently. This means multiple things.

a) War – not air cover, where hands don’t get dirty, but, brutal infantry pushbacks and clean ups. there will be blood. Some of that blood will be of those attacking ISIS.  We know this, especially of western countries, their stomach for body bags coming home is low.

b) Cutting off funding and arms – can the international community crack down on these. This will piss off some of their allies (read Saudi Arabia), it will also piss off the powerful in their own communities (read arms dealers). Is there the stomach to deal with this.

c) build intelligence resources on the ground – while it may be too late for that, in being able to deal with ISIS, going forward it is needed. There are things that computers can do – collate and sift through tons of data – and there are things it cannot do, ie, have an instinct for the situation.

d) Leave the middle east alone in terms of political interference. It is none of your concern if there is a brutal dictator or a communist don. If the people of those lands don’t want them, they will do something about it. Stop creating power vacuums. Better the monsters you know than the monsters you don’t. Stop playing a great game that the west has neither the knowledge nor the stomach to handle. If you want to interfere, go with a plan, and that plan will mean feet on the street. And, feet on the street means bodybags.

There is no point in hand wringing and angsting. Or wondering why some cults hate you – they hate you because you exist. The hate you because you breathe. They hate you because you are happy. they hate you because you are you. And, they hate you because they can, and that hate drives them. you cannot compete at that level.

So do what has to be done. strengthen your spines, talk to your people and get geared for war. And be aware, this war is not going to be pretty or nice or short. But, only go to war if you are sure you are there for the long haul.

Nov 152015

After a long time, i wrote an opinion piece for the DNA. And, it essentially was on why India was not being ruled by the Hindu Taliban.

The Indian electorate makes informed and wise decisions – it may not be as literate or as sophisticated as its western counterpart; it may neither be as wealthy, nor as involved – but, the Indian voters have tended to surprise Indian politicians, political parties, and the world at large with their choices. We vote for a direction. We vote to teach rulers a lesson. We participate in the electoral process with joy and involvement. And, we vote because it is our right to do so. There are those who many not like the outcome, but that does not mean that the voters are wrong or have voted ‘fascists’ or ‘communists’ or whatever. Accepting the Indian voters’ choice is the first step of understanding and participating in Indian democracy. The political parties have to do so, in all humility. It is time supporters of those parties did so too.

Read the full piece here

Nov 102015

The Offerigs at the Aarti - Benaras (1 of 1)

My earliest memories of deepavali, were being woken up at the crack of dawn – have oil put on my head, a mixture of haldi and chandan on the face and body, and dragged into a bath. I must have been 3.  Post bath the goodies – new clothes, sweets and lehiyam.

But, Diwali in our families was always subdued. a) for us, it was only one day’s celebration. b) it was not the most important festival in our lives – Navratri was. c) there was usually very little money for fire crackers. My father ran a big family on one income, and we were brought up hearing, crackers are a waste, and you can’t shouldn’t burn Lakshmi.

Also, for us, the celebration of Diwali was Satyabhama killing Narakasura. So this entire North Indian festive season that is centered around Ram, and that starts with Navratri, culminates with the Death of Ravan and then the journey home to reach on Diwali day, that is part of the socio-cultural ethos, doesn’t exist. Over the next few centuries as India adopts common myths, it may. If i am not mistaken Kritikay – that marks the birth of Kartikeya used  to be far bigger a celebration.

But, big or not, important or not, it was a family thing. We celebrated diwali together as a family. Wherever we were. Mom still woke us up bright and early for Ganga Snanam. We still lit the single sparkler. We still lit diyas all over the house. we still ate all the sweets.

This is the first year, in a very long time, we aren’t celebrating.  For a festival that wasn’t so very important, suddenly it is. Ultimately, this, like every other festival is about family. About togetherness. About love. and, sharing. And, we terribly miss the core of our family, the man who generated the joy and laughter.

Next year is another Diwali. And we will celebrate it well (Inshallah).

For this year – Happy Deepavali to you and your family, and may there be peace and prosperity in your lives

Nov 072015

so, there was a march today, to prove that India was tolerant.

and, while on the face of it, it was a good idea – who can disagree with the concept of ‘marching for tolerance’, it has gone wrong  in terms of basics – don’t lose your temper, smile, wave, come across as reasonable. This march should have been less about the sense that India is insulted and you have to take up arms against those you think have insulted it; and more about reaffirming the civilisational ethos of tolerance. Somewhere it got muddled.

There are things you don’t do when you are marching for tolerance, you don’t call into question the right of other people to hold views, no matter how offended you feel about it. Nor do you rage at those you oppose. Or call them names. I am not sure of what the takeaway of those who walked for tolerance, as opposed to those who viewed it on their screens – i daresay it would be different. What came across as news feeds, from reporters on the ground, from other media houses – was the same kind of anger that one sees on social media every day. And, that kind of anger is off putting. It may attract those who are already angry or raging, but, it really doesn’t do too much for the rest of the people.

On the other side, it is the same story. The desire to label somone as ‘fascist’, a stormtrooper, bhakt and other things. The screechy pitch of wanting to demonise rather than understand. And, this sense that if you are not in complete agreement you are outside. The feeling that George Bush put rather crudely, but succinctly,  “you’re either with us, or against us”

All there is, is rage in the discourse. That desire to shout someone down, rip out their hand and hit them on the head with it. Sometimes that bothers me the most. where does this rage come from. Has it always been there? And, this rage is not specific to one side. It is almost like everyone is having a monologue in raised voices, with other people having their own monologues.

Tolerance is the absence of anger, a certain understanding & empathy, and the sense that we will live together in relative harmony. It is an active state, and should not be mistaken for apathy. A view that says, that i am benevolent, and you can hold your views because of my benevolence, is not tolerance, it is arrogance.  And, this is a problem with both extremes.

There is polarization and intolerance. And, it isn’t religious or caste. It is between those who controlled the narrative in the past, and those who want to control the narrative now, and going forward.  And, in this battle, the doublespeak is phenomenal, the positions are carved in stone, and the middle-ground is shouted out or down, or just put off by the ugliness and leaves. The tendency to quote out of context and fan flame is great; as is the ability to take offence and flame people. All in all it is ugly, and it is going to get uglier.

Mumbai - fire in the sky2

and why this picture, because in all this screaming and shouting and general purpose ugliness by both sides – i feel kind of adrift in the ocean :(



Nov 042015

And, there are some more shots. I have been practising night shooting. It is fun, especially trying to capture varying degrees of brightness at different points of the skyline.

A lot of photography is framing. It is the same premise as when you frame a shot. How should the shot look? What are the elements you want to capture in the shot, and where do you want the audience to focus. This is kind of difficult when you start out with photography, but, as the years go by – and you shoot and analyse what you have shot, and more importantly, analyse what you have got wrong – it becomes easier. Almost instinctive.

But, an equal part of photography is also technique. How bright do you want the picture? how saturated? should you go with a lower ISO (less sensitive to light) or a higher ISO (more sensitive, but also gives more ‘noisy’ output). What kind of shutter speed should you use for that capture. This does not come instinctively. This has to be understood and practiced, and practiced some more.

It is when the two are combined – framing and technique – that i get a photograph that i put up on flickr or some other site.

How do I improve both framing and technique – i consume photography content. I look at how it was shot. I look at the EXIF data (where available). i read about photography. And, i try and shoot regularly. Most of what i shoot, i discard. But, i practice. Or I try to.

So this is what i practised (and didn’t discard).

Reflections - The Night skyline_

This is from the terrace on our floor. I found the juxtaposition of reflections and reality quite fascinating.

Dusk turns to Night

This is the other part of the view from the terrace.  I found this to be slightly Gotham like. All that is missing is the bat sign between the ITC hotel and the three towers

The streets paved with Gold

And, then there is this picture. I found the stream of gold, cutting a swathe through the city. I can see the city of Gold analogy in this

Traffic -_

Where I decide to turn acrobat for a shot :)