Mumbai Tarnished

Posted by Yashika Totlani Khanna on 11:13 PM in , , , ,

So much has been said about the Mumbai attacks and its aftermath that it seems almost blasphemous to not write something to that effect on Reflections. For the uninitiated, here’s a quick recap of the events that have now gripped the attention of the entire nation:

On the 26th of November, what started off as stray incidents of firing at Café Leopolds and VT Station (which the media misunderstood as a gang war), soon boiled over to a full fledged fidayeen attack on a city that we best know as the entertainment and commercial capital of the country. Mumbai was under attack again and the targets this time were the elite sitting pretty in high-end hotels namely the heritage Taj Mahal and Oberoi on Nariman Point. To hurt religious sentiments, Nariman House (a Jewish outreach centre in Colaba) was also carefully selected to be included in the list of fire. The perpetrator was Lashkar-e-Taiba/Jamaat-ud-Dawah and the modus operandi was to send a bunch of fidayeens to India through the sea route whose motive was to cause maximum damage before dying in the name of Jihaad. Once the siege ended some 60 hours after the attacks started, 173 were rendered dead and over 300 injured. The list of deceased included some influential names like Hemant Karkare (chief of Mumbai ATS), Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan and Sabina Sehgal (consulting editor, Times of India). Mohammed Kasab was the only one out of ten terrorists to be caught alive and his roots were traced back to a small village in Pakistan. The incident elicited some relevant (and some not so relevant) comments from politicians in India and condemnation from across the world.
Who is AR Antulay and why he must resign
Abdul Rahaman Antulay is the 79 year old Minister of Minority Affairs, ex-chief minister for Maharashtra in the eighties, who demanded an investigation into the death of Mumbai Action Task Force chief Hemant Karkare. He questioned why an ‘intelligent, awe-inspiring’ officer like him agreed to get into a van with two of his colleagues (Ashok Kamata and Vijay Salsarkar), which is against the protocol, and proceed to a seemingly peaceful spot like Cama Hospital instead of the theatres of action like Taj and Oberoi Hotels. The ill-timed burst of inquisition has invited criticism from most quarters and now has the opposition demanding a resignation from Mr. Antulay for his irresponsible remark.

Now why is the remark ill-timed? For one, it comes at a time when India is trying to pin down Pakistan as the breeding-ground for these attacks. While Zardari must be trying his best to camouflage the civilian lack of control over the ISI by branding the terrorists as ‘non-state actors’, India was doing a good job of collecting evidence for authenticating its own assertions. Ex-PM Nawaz Sharif seemed to be playing ball too. Antulay’s remarks at a crucial time like this gave Pakistan the leeway to spin the arrow in our direction and blame India for not being serious about its crackdown on terrorism. A Pakistan Nation’s editorial blamed India of not trying to establish the truth behind the carnage by refusing to share the investigation evidences with Pakistan. It obviously also questioned the raised eyebrows on Karkare’s death. Clearly Antulay’s remarks were exploited by the Pakistani media to blunt India’s edge in the investigations.

Next, his remarks seemed to add another bead in the string of vote-bank politics that our leaders occasionally play. With the proposed insinuation that due to his involvement in the Malegaon Blasts, Karkare probably fell to a contrivance drawn by the Hindu right wing activists.. Antulay tried to generate himself some political capital within the Congress. In an attempt to build a political constituency for himself he, in a way, tried to divide the nation.

It also, to a certain extent, led to the weakening of the position of our liberal Muslim. Despite being a secular Indian, Antulay seems to have succumbed to the old web of conspiracy theories. The embarrassment that his utterance has caused to the country is reason enough for the Prime Minister to pass his resignation. The Congress, alas, is in a dilemma because firing him will cause them to lose a major chunk of their Muslim vote. Such is the tragedy of Indian politics. Icing on the cake is a regretless Antulay making regular television appearances and emphasizing that he is still ‘proud of his statement’.
Why Kasab should get a lawyer
Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab is the lone captured terrorist that carried out the Mumbai attacks. Now due to the availability of ample evidence and camera footage proving his crime, no lawyer wants to take up his case with the fear of losing it instantaneously. The few like Ashok Sarogi, Mahesh Deshmukh or KBM Lam who did come forward to take up his defense were scared away and had their homes vandalized by the Shiv Sena. In such circumstances, even the Legal Aid Panel has refused to defend him.

The argument that every accused is entitled to legal defense is an old one. Article 39-A of the constitution mandates equal justice and legal aid to all. Notwithstanding Ram Jethmalani’s statement that “even a hundered jethmalani’s can’t defend him”, we fail to realize that the sooner Kasab gets a lawyer, the sooner he will get convicted. A conviction without trial is invalid and for a speedy punishment for Kasab, a trial in the court to prove his guilt is mandatory. In an open-and-shut case like this, the only question that remains is… who will come forward to defend the indefensible?
How the response to this terror strike has been different from the previous attacks
First I take the liberty of elaborating on the measures we took to safeguard our security after terror hit Mumbai. Shivraj Patil, the then home minister, was forced to resign due to inaction. Next came RR Patil for dismissing the incident as “a small thing common in big cities”. Vilas Rao Deshmukh filed his resignation next after accusations of repeated inactivity and bringing his son and producer-director Ram Gopal Verma for a tour of the Taj after the carnage. P Chidambaram was given the portfolio of the home ministry while Manmohan himself took over the finance ministry. Such a major rejig in the higher echelons of leadership showed that the government was finally serious about tackling terrorism. Measures that should have been initiated much earlier.

Next, the JuD was declared an illegal organization across the world and all their bank accounts were freezed. Pakistan had to stay in sync with everyone and (forcefully) ban the JuD on its soil too. Least to say, it lead to a furor. Along with these positive measures, some other developments worked to India’s favor. Secretary of state Condolezze Rice on her visit to the subcontinent warned Pakistan that lest it took some serious measures against terrorism propagating from its territory, it would get no support whatsoever from the US in any future endeavors. Other top officials from the United States, like Joint Chief of Staff chairman Admiral Mike Mullen, and some major countries seemed to recognize that Pakistani military camps were wreaking havoc on its neighbor and the issue had to be nipped.

The more our media publicizes the issue, the stronger the voices of dissent grow against Pakistan. Tough times call for tough measures and the time has come when the world woke up to the threat the ISI poses to global security. With each passing day, the pressure is increasing from the global community on our neighbor to find us the terrorists that made Mumbai happen. After the UN, the latest reports inform us of a meeting between the Interpol and Chidambaram to tackle the menace. What sets apart these attacks from the previous ones is the fact that Pakistan is witnessing a never-felt-before anger from India. Our proactive external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee went to the extent of saying that the country was not ruling out military action against Pakistan if it failed to act effectively this time around. For once, our politicians seem to be echoing the common sentiment that being silent, tolerant spectators won’t work.

The media seems to be making up for its irresponsible coverage during the carnage by not letting go of the issue this time. The amnesia that followed every attack in the past seems to have weaned out. The Mumbai story follow-up is the headline even almost a month after it happened. Talk shows, editorials and debates are still steamy about who should be held accountable. In a way, the fraternity is seeking an apology for all the blunders it committed while covering the 60-hour onslaught.

The uproar probably stems from the fact that the ambit of victims this time included even foreign nationals and the rich. And that the siege continued for much longer than it should have. Candle-light marches and peace protests staged by the citizens show that the ‘chalta hai’ attitude is passĂ©. When terror comes so precariously close, we realize that the ‘it-could-never-happen-to-me’ syndrome is a thing of the past. Today it’s all about ensuring ones own safety. The stability of our neighbor scales high on our list of priorities to sustain our own interests. The sooner Pakistan realizes that its civilian government has no direct control on the army and ISI, the better it would be for them and for us. Because while denial leads to misconceptions… it is only acceptance that eventually leads to course-correction. And course-correction is what Pakistan desperately needs right now.


De and Maharashtra

Posted by Yashika Totlani Khanna on 8:49 AM
How okay is it to be on a talk show and be a fence-sitter? More precisely, how appropriate is it to be on Devil’s Advocate and not have a stand? This is exactly what happened when Shobha De made her debut on the show and failed to be chose what side she wanted to be on.

Now Karan Thapar is a brutal interviewer. Born in Srinagar exactly some 53 years ago (today happens to be his birthday), he graduated from Cambridge with a degree in economics. He later went on to take a doctorate in International Relations from Oxford and currently heads a firm called Infotainment Television. With these credentials, the least he deserves is a healthy discussion when he calls somebody to interview them on his show.

Shift base to Ms.Shobha De. Born in Mumbai in 1948, she managed to pick up a degree in philosophy from St. Xaviers College, Mumbai. Then to advance her career, she edited magazines like Stardust and Celebrity. Her stint with literature saw her write some socialite novels like Starry Nights and Sultry Days (which I dared to pick up and now advice everybody to stay a hundred feet away from). Never a fan of her writings, I was half expecting her to deliver a decent interview when called to comment on the goin-ons in Maharashtra.

Moving on to the crux of this post… the interview. First and foremost, it is unfair to pitch two people with such drastically unequal credentials in the same battleground. Next, it is even more unfair when the place of supremacy is occupied by the wrong person. That said, Ms.De’s views were quite interesting. Being a marathi, she agreed to the fact that Mumbai was indeed brimming with immigrants from everywhere at every corner. She said it was ‘rare’ to come across marathi-speaking population these days when it came to things like asking for directions, et al (I would personally refuse to endorse such a statement because owing to my frequent trips to the city this year, I know marathi is redundant there). Moving on, though she did say that she was against the means that Raj Thackeray was employing to rid the state of north-Indian migrants… she stressed on adding that she still understood the justification behind these means (does her being a psychology grad have anything to do with it?). Playing a rational human being, she knew that our constitution ensured the right to live and earn in any state one wanted to, but added that others were being unfair to the Maharashtra manoos by taking away their jobs. Just as Karan would fire a red-hot question in her direction, De would spoil his party by agreeing to whatever he was saying and also pitching in her own comments to supplement it. After failing to swing her in either direction even after inundating her with a volley of conflicting questions, he finally gave up and concluded the interview with a polite (and customary) “Pleasure to have you on the show” one-liner.

The interview was pertinent. Both, Karan and De, write in Sunday newspapers (Karan in Hindustan Times and De in the Sunday Times of India). Both their columns had talked about the Thackeray mayhem in their respective columns that day. What had set De apart in both quarters was her lack of substance. Rhetoric is not bad. But that holds good only as long as what you are saying is not simple common-sense. Columnists and novelists are supposed to have a viewpoint. Otherwise it’s no fun reading what they write and hearing what they have to say. De came across as one such person. The benefit I derived from all that book and column reading, it’s a fool’s guess, is zilch.

My view:
What happened in Maharashtra was sad. Not only is it unfair to try to throw out all the immigrants from India’s biggest metropolitan city, it is also reprehensible to commit murders in the name of regional loyalty. About the issue of taking away jobs, it must be emphasized that jobs be given on the basis of merit. Being from one section of the people or not is not a criteria. All the demands that the MNS makes are usually illogical. They are regressive and propagate the notion of a divided India. With so much conflict within ourselves, are we really on our way to becoming a secular nation? Powers of anti-national elements like Raj Thackeray and the MNS should be curbed. His arrest, after throwing an ultimatum to the Maharashtra government and calling Vilas Rao Deshmukh “spineless”, was foreseen. What was not foreseen was the terror and riots that gripped Mumbai city following his arrest. What was even more unexpected was the vandalism that Patna railway station witnessed after the demise of Pawan Kumar, a candidate that got killed by the MNS workers while writing the rail board exam. The bail to Raj that had to be doled out to save Maharashtra from all the violence was unfortunate. The incident elicited strong reactions from politicians across the country. Lalu Yadav called Raj a ‘mental case’. Ram Vilas Paswan and Nitish Kumar joined forces with him to fight the Thackeray menace. Clearly when the philosophies and ideologies of one party (the MNS) start hurting the entire nation, it is best to subdue its powers and order a ban on it. The fear in the minds of north Indians residing in Mumbai renders the MNS no less than a terrorist organization. And then when the constitution gives its citizens the right to live wherever they want, who is Raj Thackeray to take this right away from them? Now is the time to be a proactive nation and give this some serious thought.


Aaj Tak... (ek zamaane mein) sabse tez!

Posted by Yashika Totlani Khanna on 10:32 PM in ,

“Not all that glitters is gold”--- goes the old adage. After the phenomenal success that Aaj Tak met with at its launch sometime around the 31st of December 1999, who would have thought it would end up as a bundle of bunkum some eight years later?

In the age of the Doordarshan, the TV Today Network timed the launch of the channel very strategically. The concept of cable television was new and bored with the monotonously dry bulletins on DD, a more organized news channel equipped with competitive journalists, wide coverage, superior world class technology and resources was more than welcome. Never an ardent news-watcher myself, I would sit down for hours with Aaj Tak and admire the structured approach that was still very new in those days (though the actual credit for those hours goes to dad who refused to watch anything else over the dining table during our meals). Hence, every time the channel won the ‘Best News Channel’ award by the Indian Television Academy, it didn’t come as a surprise to me (they won the award for six consecutive years). In fact I would only join in the chorus.

Now when I look back, it seems the hoopla was just because it was one of the few privately owned news channels in the country. Additionally, it was also because we had no other channels to compare its performance with (DD was hardly any competition, rest were way behind in the rat race). TRPs were not an issue, infact they enjoyed a near monopoly situation for quite some time, and hence there were on constraints on the content that they churned out. Relevant stories were fed to the viewers and the public was finding a new voice to say all that they’d wanted to say for so long. But then in some time, things started going wrong.

Inspired by the success that Aaj Tak had been bestowed with, other channels started cropping up. First Hindi, and then English, the number of players in the field is mounting even till present day. Fast losing out on viewership, Aaj Tak tried every trick in the book to stay at the top, but eventually succumbed to competition and decided to revise its contents-policy to give the viewers what they wanted to see. A clear divide emerged between the Hindi and English news watching population, and Aaj Tak was left with a measly group that demanded ghost stories, irrelevant over-analysis, an intrusion into the private lives of others and a lot of excitement through ‘breaking news’ stories (India TV had a major role in pushing Aaj Tak to the corner too). Surveys say the viewership today is about 45 million viewers tuned in everyday. Although executives like Sanjay Pugalia looked for the exit.

While the advent of Aaj Tak must have ushered in an era of a liberal journalism, it also ushered in an era where channels ran in all directions to garner viewership. As the market dynamics came into action, the pioneer itself fell prey to the dirty game of higher TRPs. In a zest to beat competition, Aaj Tak revised its core competence to ‘infotainment’. Not a bad concept per se, purists argued that the focus has shifted from hard news to human drama stories and celebrity patriotism.

A few recent examples should be fresh in our minds. Lets start with the most outrageous one, the Aarushi Talwar murder case. From presenting live dramatizations to snooping into her house to fish out her private diary and home-recorded videos… no stone was left unturned in slicing open a slain young girl’s life and splashing the most personal moments of it on national television. What’ s more, ‘exclusive’ content was the name of the game and even her parents were not excluded from the ambit of the blame game. The channel happily came up with conspiracy theories going by the few evidences collected from the site of action. In fact the public opinion was made to skew to such an extent that only a court ruling declaring the father to be innocent could later reverse it. If someone had switched on the television in those days, Aaj Tak was full of “breaking news” from all direction, highlighting even the tiniest of findings that their pesky reporters had managed to unearth. The menagerie of the bold sentences on the screen was an eye sore and the sheer ignorance towards other stories of national interest was a shame. And all of this only boiled down to Aaj Tak issuing an apology in lieu of irresponsible journalism in this case.

Another instance was the Large Hadron Collider experiment. Happening some 100 meters under the Franco Swiss border, Aaj Tak was the front runner in making a big deal about the whole ‘world-coming-to-an-end’ theory, even after repeated reassurances from scientists that such fears were misplaced. Consequently, such rumors led to a poor young girl committing suicide somewhere in the country fearing such a dreadful end to the world. The stories, that spanned over full-length days, were outrageous and repulsive.

The Jaya-Thackeray feud is another instance when Aaj Tak crossed the lines of responsible journalism. Over exposure to the case coupled with airing its own assumptions and presumptions as being that of the Bachchans, ended up with not one story being reliable or useful.

The regular ‘documentaries’ on finding ‘Ravan’s mummy’ and on village witches, or the deep scrutiny of Sonia Gandhi’s kundli a day before the trust vote on the nuclear deal in the parliament to gauze the chances of her government sailing through… it seems Aaj Tak is solely responsible for the slow erosion of the credibility that was once attached to its name.
The channel was conceptualized by Surendra Pratap Singh and is currently headed by a stalwart called Aroon Purie acting as its CMD (a student of Doon School, a B.Sc in Economics from LSE and a chartered accountant). It is owned by the TV Today group which in turn is owned by the India Today group which prints some quality material in India like the Harvard Business Review (India edition), Mail Today (a newspaper in joint venture with the Daily Mail) and Cosmopolitan magazine. Aaj Tak also runs other news channels like Headlines Today, Tez and Aaj Tak Dilli. A business channel in collaboration with Bloomberg is also on the cards. With such strong credentials, it seems the channel is ruining itself by airing what it is airing these days. A quick revision of the stories, a re-analysis of the allocation of its air-time to pieces based on their relative importance to the people and a revamp of its breaking-news strategy should do the channel some good. This way, it might just be able to win back the English-speaking viewers and wouldn’t have to resort to quality-less stuff to attract the masses. Turn on the television to see what Aaj Tak is showing right now… and give my article some thought.


Over to the rains…

Posted by Yashika Totlani Khanna on 9:32 AM in ,
2355 hrs

Upon somebody’s indirect mention today that my neglect for the blog has spilt over several months now, I feel compelled to come up here and infuse some activity into my dormant space. Time has been a slight issue ever since work started and the biggest sufferer, I now realize, has been the writer in me. So here is an attempt at a quick redress… a warm up of sorts.
After the few initial weeks of discomfort (severe, grievous, spartan), I’ve finally come in terms with this novel life in the fast lane. The clock is attuned to this new ticking and I’m beginning to appreciate the simple pleasures of life again, maybe even more than ever before. The city was thronged with receding monsoon showers today and I managed some time in the evening to come out in the open and have my share of pitter-patter gazing and wind stealing. For all those still interested… it proved soothing and cathartic. A welcome usurpation of nature after dry days spent almost locked up in a cubicle staring at my computer screen… either finishing assignments or browsing Bloomberg dissecting the Lehman bankruptcy. At a time when bad news pours in from all directions (the Thackeray’s new ploy to gain political mileage by pulling off absurd role-plays, to a super bearish Wall Street, to violence against Christians in several states by the notorious VHP, to a fragile Pakistan getting diffident by the day under unstable leadership, to bomb blasts in saddi dilli, to a mud-sling fest in the US elections)… the showers should at least give the journalists something nice to write about in tomorrow’s newspapers.

I’m deviating. Coming back to the rains… there’s something peculiar about them that make them so popular. Traffic snarls and waterlogging aside… the rains mean many more things to a shower-starved Delhi. It could be their uncanny ability to transport the free minds to more joyous terrains, or exposing the jovial ones to newer pinnacles of liberation… they’re symbolic of free spirit and romanticism. At a stage when life teaches new things at every step… today I managed to discover repose in the midst of a traffic-clogged street. Soothing music, a special presence, pitter-patter noises against the steel of a car and my raindrops-blurred vision to the world outside. The rains surely mean more things to a shower-starved city… maybe the romanticist in me has got something to do with it…


Nuke deal and political mudslinging…

Posted by Yashika Totlani Khanna on 12:32 AM in , , , ,
I just got up after watching an interesting episode of Devil’s Advocate where Karan Thapar interrogated our union science and technology minister Kapil Sibal about his beliefs and opinions on the trust vote due on the 22nd of this month. True to his prototype, Kapil displayed ardent devotee ship towards the congress and bashed the nda in the worst possible manner. He emerged victorious as one of the few speakers unrattled by Thapar’s volley of questions. Right from claiming that he personally knew quite a few young bjp mps’ who supported the deal, to alleging that the repeated ‘U-turns’ just indicated that LK Advani puts his prime-ministerial ambitions over national interest… he left no stone unturned in criticizing the opposition. He personally authenticated the happening of a upa-nda meeting on the 20/21/22nd of December last year (he wasn’t sure about the date) where, according to him, Advani first promised support to Manmohan Singh on the deal after being briefed about the viability of its contents, and later turned his back on these very promises. He quoted Jaswant Singh too where he had once (supposedly), in august 2007, given a thumbs-up on the 123 agreement to everyone - the NSA, the foreign secretary and the chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission; at a meeting organized by the pm. After the initial minutes, it became clear that he was taking this opportunity to be on a public talk show to clarify the government’s stand on the trust vote and to show that within themselves the congress is sure of winning a majority on tuesday. He also confirmed that for achieving this purpose, offering monetary inducements to undecided mps is not a part of Mrs. Gandhi’s agenda. I also remember a snide remark about bjp having ‘no real power’ and blindly doing anything to chase it.
(Corollary to this, Thapar took his word and wrote about the two meetings in Sunday Sentiments, his weekly column in Sunday HT.)

Now its one thing to be one of India’s best lawyers… completely another to maculate another party’s image in public based on fanciful statements and assumptions. How much of what he says is fact or fiction, we’ll never know. But the knowledge that a leader as convincing as him moulds public opinion in his favor by confidently delivering half-truths is disturbing. This isn’t the first time I’ve heard him talk at length. Infact a few months back when I was still an inquisitive delhi university student, he had come to the vice-chancellor’s office to impart a lecture on the nuclear deal as a part of the university’s ongoing lecture series (a series that was later graced by amartya sen, his holiness the dalai lama and many a few nobel laureates). Listening to him then and having asked him a few questions on the n-deal myself, I was quite convinced of the importance of India’s go ahead with it. So compelling were his assertions that we in the audience were left with little scope to negate him.

The spell continued for a long time until one fine day when Sitaram Yechury from the cpi(m) politburo was invited to speak in the same lecture series. He, with his speech, managed to shatter some myths. Yechury highlighted what Sibal had so effortlessly camouflaged. Though not an orator of Kapil’s stature, he still managed to drive his point across with reasonable arguments and even distributed (nominally priced) hand-outs at the end of the session to ensure that we took his wiles home to ponder (I retain my copy to this day).

Ironically both stephanians born under the zodiac sign of leo, they interestingly cut across right what the other had tried so hard to enforce. Kapil’s oratory strategy is simple- be elusive about whatever you cant answer and substantiate the elusiveness with examples, facts and figures. In the open Q&A session, he would intimidate any assailant to the extent where he would suddenly be reduced to a joker firing irrelevant questions. Yechury, on the other hand, was a little less shrewd and a lot more politically incorrect. Where Sibal weighs his words in the scales of diplomacy each time before saying them, Yechury is blunt as a knife. Name taking is common. Diplomacy can take a back seat.

While listening to them both seemed highly enriching at that time, now I realize that I had just witnessed a round of political mudslinging. In those hallowed convention halls in the heart of DU, we had been subject to what was soon going to blow up into one of India’s biggest political controversy. Fast forward to present day, in the day of rising inflation and dipping sensex… our political stability hangs by a thread. Whether the upa will be able to sustain a majority and proceed with the nuclear deal remains to be seen. What is apparent now is filthy political give and takes, where criminals like Shibu Soren are being offered chief ministership of Jharkhand by the bjp in return for pledging his mps to them for the crucial trust vote. From Mayawati to Amar Singh, the quest for poaching mps is on. If worst comes to the worst, it wouldn’t be long before Behenji takes over as our next prime minister… flying high on these very rounds of political backstabbing, switched ideologies, public glib-talking, and a few people’s zest to satisfy political vendetta.

Political equations are changing and loyalties are being tested. The upa seems all set to press the accelerator on reforms. It is now taking steps to educate the people about the intricacies of the n-deal and how it’s beneficial for the country (something they should’ve done a long time back). That explains P.Chidambaram taking over Vir Sanghvi’s column in Sunday Hindustan Times’ center page to ramble about ‘deconstructing the deal’ for common good.

It’s hard to remain aloof when all the newspaper headlines, editorials, tv reports and interviews are discussing the n-deal and trust vote. The parliamentary tamasha on Tuesday remains to unfold… but whatever be the result of the big confrontation, it seems the only real losers after the battle concludes, will be us - the junta. A weakening economy and unstable political climate later… god bless a country run by corruptible leaders and power hungry politicians. One word for the contenders of our governance – the fight for power has been shameful.

P.S. More on the nuke deal here.


First week at EY: Sitting duck, hunger struck!

Posted by Yashika Totlani Khanna on 7:48 PM in ,
Sitting idle, working on somebody else’s workstation… the devil’s workshop (almost established as a permanent member of ‘snoreland’ now) compels me to write about my first week in the office. Hmmm. It all began on the 23rd of June this year. Starry eyed… I made my first foray into the corporate world with tiny little footprints on the shores of a humble branch called consultancy when I entered the swanky EY office that day. A little apprehensive, slightly wary and hugely aware of the sense of achievement that engulfed me… I had little idea about what awaited me behind those glass doors.

Orientation lasted a week. ‘Orientation’ here means a plethora of presentations, a townhall on day one celebrating a merger, an inauguration on day two and a birthday bash on day five. It also included opening new bank accounts, understanding the intranet applications, a few video conferences with our people in the US, signing insurance policies, filling up a bundle of forms, a flashy fleet of cabs waiting to drive us home (based in gurgaon) and basically familiarizing us with the various departments and heads of the organization. Oh, not to forget the awesome food… rajasthani to street grub to sumptuous cakes, all within five days… it’s a virtual foodies paradise. This coupled with many new varieties of salads, rotis, paranthas, rice and sweets every day. Only glitch remains the non vegetarian food that still eludes the otherwise yummy menu :(

Today is day two of week two and I finally feel at home. An approachable manager, a friendly peer group and several supportive seniors later… working after college doesn’t seem like a difficult transition anymore. It’s comfortable, it still about manages to retain the novelty factor and it’s enriching. Net net… I think the days ahead look fairly promising.

Footnote: Stealing the opportunity to temporarily overlook the early morning wake-ups at six and the almost two hour long commutes to Gurgaon… the super strong air conditioning and uber sensitive fire alarms [=))] add more spice to the new life. Still, I’m all smiles :)

P.S. Main attraction for me are the foozeball tables on each floor.
P.P.S. I called myself an appendage to zzzzzzland because this week has been reasonably unoccupied. Got to enjoy it while it lasts… expect many new posts on yashikaworld =))


In retrospect…

Posted by Yashika Totlani Khanna on 9:46 AM in , ,
A million buried emotions,
Rhapsodic moments stashed away in the past.
Irredeemable, irreplaceable…
Now just eternal imprints on the heart.

Reminiscences recollections,
Stories scribbled on the sands of time.
A gush of waves and all washes away…
Echoes in corridors of mind, still make the heart chime.


City interrupted

Posted by Yashika Totlani Khanna on 5:47 PM in , , ,
I wasn’t going to write about this. To relieve the horrors of the past isn’t one of my favourite pastimes and I was hoping against hope that the country, along with its news agencies, would soon forget about it too. But turn on the tv and all you see is extensive coverage of the Jaipur blasts that rocked the city yesterday evening. The happenings are splashed all across the newspapers and anywhere I look, I see and hear more news coming in from all directions. It is still hard to believe that a series of blasts shook up the streets I have used throughout my growing up. Holed up in my house owing to a curfew in the old city, I see no better way to spend the evening than by following in the footsteps of our mighty politicians and ‘condemning’ the blasts some more myself...


A resident of Kanwar Nagar, I was in my car and fifteen minutes away from Manak Chowk when it happened. I was blocked out of my part of the city for three long hours. I had to take refuge at a friend’s house to shield myself from the six other blasts that followed the first blast. I heard the strongest of voices quiver… I saw terror in the calmest of eyes. I soothed the woes of concerned friends n family. It’s the next day and the phone calls still haven’t stopped. I saw the empty streets… and now I’m witnessing a curfew in the walled city that the officials say will not be lifted before 6pm today. SMS hospital needs O -ve blood. I can’t go because I’m under a virtual house arrest inside the walled city…

The aftermath of yesterday’s happenings could have been a lot worse. Being a Tuesday when maximum devotees throng the hanuman temple (one of the blast spots), it could have easily blown into a full-scale communal riot. The prevailing calm, on the other hand, reflects on the levelheadedness of the city that refuses to get instigated by such deliberate provocations. In fact the only apparent positive consequence of blasts anywhere in India is the rare display of unity and brotherhood amongst the people. Grief is the common thread that runs along them all and unites them in their hour of sorrow. It’s emboldening to see them join hands and stand united against the common element of terror. Unfazed and undeterred, they make an attempt to move on together.

The face of terror is ugly. One way or the other… there is no justification for killing scores of innocents out on the streets of an otherwise peaceful city. Was it the tenth anniversary of the Pokhran tests or was it just another attempt by HuJI and SIMI activists to make their presence felt, is one issue. The extent and reach of these organizations is another issue that is disturbing. Was it the Bangladesh based HuJI, the notorious LeT or some other terrorist organization? Investigations are on and time will tell. The chief minister put the death toll at 60 and the injured figure at 150. Mrs.Raje, actually in Jodhpur at the time of the blasts, even announced a compensation of 5 lacs for the dead and 1 lac for the injured. Never enough for the loss of a loved one… this is the government’s attempt to sideline the complacency in security measures that had crept in owing to a clean past of 280 years of no violence. Is anybody ever truly safe? Can we take our lives and the lives of our loved ones for granted? In the 21st century India… no we cant.

Delhi, Varanasi, Mumbai, Malegaon, Hyderabad, Lucknow, Faizabad and now Jaipur. It’s a disturbing trend that the focus of terror has shifted to even non-metros in the recent years. The official death and injury figures are still rising. The victims tales on television make the heart wrench with pain. A few minutes here and there and it could have been me… or somebody else I knew. In a country where life comes cheap and hangs by the thread… what pains the heart is the whole media cycle of extensive reporting in the first few days, brief mentions in the next and finally a complete lapse of memory thereafter. The amnesia ends when another attack lashes yet another city and brings back memories of the last event. What about learning our lessons from one incident and implementing them elsewhere? Why do we need these rude reminders about slack security to garner the attention of officials who refuse to harbour the notion that this could happen in their city? Is it not a shame that national disasters like these can still boil down to a filthy political blame games, like in Jaipur where a fleeting tv footage shows Vasundhara Raje blaming the center for lack of security arrangements? Somebody needs to own up responsibility and stringent security measures need to be implemented. Who picks up the baton, though, is a question that is not getting any easy answers.

I mock the condemnation expressed by our leaders because that is all that they seem to be doing these days. When they can easily beef up security across the country by installing CCTVs and metal detectors at busy places, approving more stringent identity checks in inter-state travels, enhancing security norms and providing increased patrolling… they consider their job done by simply expressing disapproval. (The infiltration on the borders, especially across Jammu & Kashmir, is another deranging concern…. but that is outside the scope of this article). Help and support from foreign countries is not enough and our leaders need to realize that they are as much a part of these tragedies as the aggrieved. Efforts need to be made to protect the lives of ordinary citizens like you and me. On our part, we must stay informed and be alert. Exercising caution is half the battle won.

From the twin tower tragedy in the US to the train bombings in London… every nation has had its share of terrorism. Needless loss of human life is a malady that demands immediate attention. A lot needs to be done in this regard, for there is no shame bigger than a nation’s incapacity to sustain life and make its citizens feel safe.


T20 Cricket - DLF IPL Clash of the Titans

Posted by Yashika Totlani Khanna on 10:58 PM in , , ,

The first face-off at Kotla Stadium, Delhi

Moochu Singh at the SMS Stadium, Jaipur
19th April 2008
Delhi Daredevils Vs Rajasthan Royals
Feroz Shah Kotla Stadium, Delhi
Braving a nasty traffic jam and reaching the stadium about an hour late… I’d missed most of Akshay Kumar’s stunts, the much-touted cheerleader hip-swinging and some other stunning performances. The only consolation that cheered me up was the debut of my homeland team, the Rajasthan Royals, and in the offing was a probable win that promised to make my evening woes look insignificant. Comfortably seated by 8.20pm on the chairs that my friends had (thankfully) saved for me, I was cherubic and excited about the 8.30pm commencement of the game. One look around and it became apparent that almost everybody present in my stand, and at the stadium, was rooting for the daredevils. Shrugging it off as an obvious consequence of delhi playing at its home turf, I made up my mind to cheer for the royals anyway. That kind of confidence was backed by my faith in the team and the captaincy of Australian skipper Shane Warne. Then of course my Rajasthani roots, that the three years in Delhi had failed to blur, came calling.
As scheduled, the game kicked off at exactly half past eight. With a less than enthralling opening, it became clear early on in the game that delhi definitely had an upper hand and the royals were in for a tough time. Initially at the edge of my seat, I hailed every four and six that the batsmen so sparingly blessed the few royals supporters with. As the game progressed it became clearly evident that the royals were in for a pasting and my enthusiasm, in sync with the enthusiasm of the small bunch of royals supporters in the ground, fizzled out… and though the cheering didn’t stop completely, our vigour definitely toned down.
The abysmal total of the royals at the end of the innings was hardly an inducement to stay on till 11:30 to watch the entire game, and having entered the grounds on a complimentary DDCA pass (thanks to an uncle currently in the US, owing to whose membership of the club I diligently get passes for every event at the kotla), I decided to push off and watch the rest of the match on my television over dinner. The spooky delhi roads at night also helped me take my decision of leaving the grounds at a decent hour. On reaching home, true to all speculation… the royals lost out to the daredevils in a one-sided game by 9 wickets and all my enthusiasm about my home team, and IPL per se, nose-dived. My confidence in the team was shaken and little did I know that it would take three entire matches to be won by the royals thereafter to restore my befuddled faith in the team.
Scene shifts…
11th May 2008
Rajasthan Royals Vs Delhi Daredevils
Sawai Man Singh Stadium, Jaipur
Similar setting and the same teams, the only thing different about this 33rd match of the IPL was the steady progression of the royals to reach the top slot at the tally tables. A much stronger team now under the effective captaincy of Shane Warne and the humble presence of cricketing veterans like Shane Watson… the sentiment on the ground was optimistic. This was rajasthan’s second stint with the team that had raised several questions on its genius in its opening game and the royal hit-back was more than expected. The daredevils were also comfortably placed on the charts, figuring among the top slots, playing second fiddle only to the royals.
The match started with the daredevils batting first and their slow crumbling became evident around the 15th over. Then towards the end, they picked up momentum and dazzled the crowds with a host of fours and sixes. Wrapping up the innings at a decent 156 runs, Warne’s boys had no scope to get complacent. After a weak opening and much after delivering IPL’s lowest five overs score ever, the royals recovered fast and moved on to conquer the score that delhi had set for them.
Watson showcased another brilliant performance but was eventually declared out after a mammoth 74. The team was marching towards a much-deserved victory and the crowds were clearly getting more ecstatic. The cheerleaders were going ballistic, as so were the team mascots (men masqueraded as mascots, actually). So while ‘Moochu Singh’ delighted the crowds with his early victory jigs… Mexican waves and boisterous hooting characterized the home crowd. A lot of romping and thumping later… the royals had clinched the game with a neat 3 wicket victory over the once insurmountable daredevils. This also ensured their ticket to the semi-finals. A perfect ending to a perfect saga of loss, determination and victory of arguably the best team in the IPL so far.
Just because some Rajasthan Royal’s players don’t find a mention here doesn’t mean that their efforts are overlooked or disregarded. Promising players constitute the team and each one of us supporters are continuously observing, and appreciating, their performances.
A word on T20 cricket:
Thrills, chills and state loyalties aside… my views on the T20 format of cricketing essentially remains the same. In this world of instant gratification… we get what we don’t mind spending (squandering?) money on. Paisa phek tamasha dekh. Have money… will spend on catching a four hour game that offers lots of fours and sixes here and there, glitzy fireworks, raunchy cheerleaders, celebrity endorsement, team mascots and oodles of sponsor advertising. Flashy teams are fast transforming into brands… while good cricket has taken a backseat. Teams now claim victory owing to the scores mustered up by single run-hitters alone. Previously unthinkable run-rates are being achieved and the concept of cricketing legends is being redefined. Case in point being Shane Watson, who up till now has been accredited with three of the many rajasthan wins and has been awarded the Man of the Match title an equal number of times. Does that make him the new T20 badshah? Subjective issue that only time will give an answer to. Many others like him are fast swooping their teams to easy victories and what worries me is the possible overlook of forthcoming talent, as also the gross neglect of the other maladies that might plague the team. Does that make me a purist? A pseudo-purist for sure.
Then again, my views are my views alone and can be passed off as initial hiccups that have since forever marked the beginning of great new things. I’m fully aware of the possibility that whatever is a con for me, might be a pros for somebody else. In fact I’ll refrain from brandishing the whole concept altogether because, and this is an honest confession, I quite enjoy all the T20 games myself. So here’s hoping that all my apprehensions about this format of cricket are proven wrong with the passage of time… and it does evolve to become as popular a form of game as did the ODIs (that FYI, have had their own share of misgivings at their inception way back in the 1970s). With that little bit of information in mind… lets sit back, reach for our beers and enjoy the game! Cheers!!


The Reluctant Fundamentalist

Posted by Yashika Totlani Khanna on 9:13 AM in
The Reluctant Fundamentalist
-Mohsin Hamid

The first book review from my stables, for the blog…

Low-down on the author:
Mohsin Hamid is a Pakistani British author. His first novel was named ‘Moth Smoke’ and was published in 2000. His second piece of work, ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’, was published in 2007 and earned him a Booker Prize nomination the same year. An Ivy League graduate, he studied at Princeton University till 1993 before attending Harvard Law School and graduating in 1997. After working with McKinsey and Company as a management consultant in NYC, he soon moved back to Lahore and undertook freelance journalism. Currently he resides in London and works as a part-time consultant.

* Spoilers begin here *
The protagonist, Changez, hails from the Punjab district of Pakistan. He gets admitted at Princeton University, New Jersey at eighteen and packs his bags to come and settle down in the US. After graduating with straight As’, he joins the most reputed valuation firm of his time in New York. He proves his mettle at Underwood Samson and also falls in love with a lady called Erica simultaneously. Erica is a white woman and hails from an affluent American family. She had been with Changez at Princeton and was reeling under the emotional trauma of dealing with the sad demise of her childhood boyfriend Chris due to cancer. Just when Changez’s life graph is all set to skyrocket… the 9/11 tragedy strikes and all goes haywire. Erica, who had been slowly recovering owing to Changez’s presence in her life, is thrown back in time and is reminded of the period when she had lost her boyfriend. One thing leads to another and it all boils down to Erica entering rehab at a far of institute and curtailing almost all contact with Changez. While his love life is on the rocks, Changez visits his family in Pakistan and is plagued by pangs of guilt on his way back because India is threatening to wage war against his country after an unabashed attack on its parliament. A victim of brain drain, he soon realizes that his motherland needs him more than the US and he quits his job to return home. He tries one more time to re-establish contact with Erica only to find out that she went missing some time back and circumstantial evidence point its finger in the direction of a possible suicide. Changez, disillusioned and gloomy after hearing about Erica, is in for another rude shock when he notices America’s indifference towards protecting its nuclear ally Pakistan against India. Its diplomatic impassivity evokes disdain in him and he comes back to Lahore to teach finance as a university lecturer. Perceived as a pioneer in starting a new wave of agitation against the Americans, he bears the brunt of being candid and fearless with a probable undercover assassin, masqueraded in the garb of an American tourist. In the end, Changez is culled for delivering an articulate and appealing media interview bashing America and its unwarranted interference in the affairs of other nations, most particularly Asian.
* Spoilers end here *

The entire story is narrated in the form of a monologue. It’s a literary feat to deliver a tale this fast paced and captivating with just the support of a single man’s dialogues. Riveting read that demands your attention and at the same time allows you to glide with the words with flummoxing ease. A Booker nominee… this book is a healthy departure from the stereotypical, hard-core Booker novels like those of authors like Kiran Desai and Salman Rushdie. It doesn’t require you to sit with a dictionary and look up every ninth word to make sense of the story. Talking of the story, Changez’s backdrop is highly autobiographical and corresponds well with Hamid’s vital stats.

Exponential human emotions have been highlighted delicately throughout the course of the novel. Take for the instance the emergence of subtle arrogance as a natural by product of talent; the amazement and the sense of achievement that tags along with attending an Ivy League college, joining a reputed firm that pays eighty thousand dollars per year and flying business class for the first time; the plight of falling in love with somebody who is still in love with somebody else and the frustration of knowing that the rival ‘somebody else’ doesn’t even inhabit the planet anymore; the vagaries of an educated mind; the upsurge of love for family at a time when the threat of a war looms large on the heads of the people who matter the most; the feeling of betrayal at seeing the apathy of the country you are serving towards the country you hail from; the occurrence of a terrorist attack that brings the world’s most powerful nation to its knees; the gory aftermath; its toll on the lives of others; a brainflash that washes away all traces of a preceding binge of braindrain; a woman’s dilemma at almost loving two men at the same time and altering loyalties between both; the feeling of defeat at not being able to pull the woman you love out of depression; the sense of pride at showcasing your exotic country to a foreigner; the intricacies of a high pressure job in a even more richly competitive environment; and the trade off between doing the right thing and giving up everything that glistens like gold…

The narrative is smooth and we are reminded repeatedly that it’s a monologue being delivered in Old Anarkali (Lahore) to an American tourist who clearly suffers from xenophobic paranoia. Owing to incidents like the decapitation of Daniel Pearl, the American journalist who was investigating the possible links between Islamist terrorists and Pakistani intelligence services in 2002, his jitteriness is completely in sync with a foreigner’s psyche. Though the concluding pages are unforeseen and unexpected. The candidness and honesty that comes attached with the protagonist (Changez) and his near assassination in the end forces one to reconsider abiding by one’s virtues in extraordinary times. Are we to be on our defensive during testing phases and curb natural tendencies in favor of what is politically correct and pleasing to the people in power? Broadening horizons and expanding the purview… will Pakistan ever see the light of being a truly democratic, secular and sovereign nation? Will the US ever confess that its an imperialist and loosen its grip on the nations that it constantly demands ‘cooperation and support’ from? Will it look beyond immediate gains to consider the well-being of these nations that suffer under its constant, unbridled whims? What does the future hold in store for Iraq? Will the world see more Changezes who give up a golden life in a far off country to come back and serve the interests of their own nation? Will reverse brain drain, as a concept, flourish? How many reluctant fundamentalists do we have amongst us?

The ending depicts the sanguinary side of the rivalry between the east and the west. In an atmosphere of suspicion and distrust, over-optimists pay the price for their overtly hopeful dispositions. Spruced with noteworthy lines everywhere to constantly keep the reader at his toes, I feel compelled to share a few of these lines with you-

· “… it is not always possible to restore one’s boundaries after they have been blurred and made permeable by a relationship: try as we might, we cannot reconstitute ourselves as the autonomous beings we previously imagined ourselves to be. Something of us is now outside, and something of the outside is now within us.” (On Erica)
· “…the lives of those of us who lived in lands in which such killers [terrorists] also lived had no meaning except as collateral damage.” (A reflection on life in Pakistan)
· “... I smiled. Yes, despicable as it may sound, my initial reaction was to be remarkably pleased ... I was caught up in the symbolism of it all, the fact that someone had so visibly brought America to her knees.” (On the 9/11 attacks)
· “I had always resented the manner in which America conducted itself in the world; your country's constant interference in the affairs of others was insufferable. Finance was the primary means by which the American empire exercised its power” (A third world national’s views on imperialistic America)
· “Every fall, Princeton raised her skirt for the corporate recruiters who came onto campus and—as you say in America—showed them some skin. The skin Princeton showed was good skin, of course—young, eloquent, and clever as can be—but even among all that skin, I knew in my senior year that I was something special. I was a perfect breast, if you will—tan, succulent, seemingly defiant of gravity—and I was confident of getting any job I wanted.” (On placements at Princeton)

If this has managed to wet your appetite even slightly, pick up this book… it shouldn’t take more than two and a half hours for a comprehensive read. I’ll give a 3.5/5 rating to Hamid’s ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’. Still can’t think of any genre of readers who wouldn’t enjoy this breezy, intelligent and highly engaging piece of fiction.

I received this book from a close someone who insists that I infuse more opinions in my posts. Here's promising the saviour that I will try...


Mystique of the Bombay waters…

Posted by Yashika Totlani Khanna on 4:57 AM in , ,

There’s something about Bombay that draws me to it…
3:30 at night, sifting through my albums, looking for snaps to pass on to a friend… I’m reminded of the two wonderful days that I spent recently in the maximum city. Reflecting on what enthralled my senses the most, the answer emerges almost effortlessly when I think of the sea. From carter road to marine drive… the sea held my attention for unusually long spells, much to the dismay of my Bombay relations who loathed the idea of even setting foot on the beach. So while the world was busy shunning away the waters, I rolled up my jeans and stepped in without any inhibition.
Two tranquil evenings in Bombay, both spent on the beaches, pondering over the vagaries of the everyday world. Standing on the shoreline, I had the hustle-bustle of a very busy metro city on one end… and the comfort of a serene endless sea on the other. Why am I going gaga over the waters? Well for one, having spent almost my entire life shuttling between Jaipur and Delhi, the absence of beaches or any other form of water-body made its presence felt early in my existence. Second, and this realization is relatively new, I recently discovered my love for Mother Nature.
Standing at the shore with the water hitting my legs and then retreating gently while slowly taking away with it the sand from beneath my feet, I shift my weight from foot to foot… staring aimlessly at the seams of the sea blending subtly with the blues of the sky at the horizon. Marine drive, famous as the queen’s necklace, affords the most scenic pleasures that the eyes could ask for. While progressing from evening to night, watching the sun disappear behind the high-risers and skyscrapers that define the Bombay skyline… I pat my back for having reserved an isolated spot on marine drive for soaking in the view that I knew I wouldn’t be seeing again in a very long time. While my friends grumble from behind that Goa has all the real beaches and this place hardly qualifies as even hygienic… I ignore the ranting and continue to revel in the moment. I think about Dharavi, and I think about the Taj. I think about gloominess, and I think about delightedness. I think about what lay buried deep inside the Arabian Sea waters, and I think about the untold secrets that the endless skies held up there for us. I feel like a free bird for whom the entire ocean spread ahead, while simultaneously I also feel like an insignificant speck in contrast to the spread of the whole wide universe. The senses betray each other. While the ears are engaged by the stillness of the sea, occasionally stirred by the sound of the waters hitting the shores… the eyes see the moving cars and constant motion in a city that is touted as never being asleep. There’s something about Bombay that draws me to it… the compounding of two polar fantasies here on the beach might have something to do with it…


Mumbai Reflections...

Posted by Yashika Totlani Khanna on 2:27 AM

Phoenix Towers, Lower Parel
Mumbai 29th Jan 2008
Looking down from the 24th floor… seeing life slowly fade away from a city that is touted as an eternal insomniac. Sitting in the lap of luxury, the Mumbai skyline reminds of the view that I saw from atop the Empire State Building in New York a few years back. Fortune favors the brave… and one such legend sleeps peacefully across the hall from my bedroom. Heaving sighs of relief and content at a life well utilized. I feel silent admiration swelling up inside me. Is this how the ‘view from the top’ feels like? Nothing less than pure elation…
Today proved to be a dreamy day. A heady bus ride from Pune(my home for the last 4 days) to Mumbai in a Asiad Volvo… the scenic pleasures that NH4 could afford…reunion with somebody who forms an essential part of me(so I realize now)… a shopping spree at Bandra west… a walk on the Carter shoreline… accommodation in one of the finest places that the city could afford… a skyline view that brings back nostalgic memories of cherished days gone by… a laptop (with a data card, mind you) to work on at the end of the day… the presence of a special someone who I can relate to with illogical ease… affection from previously ignored quarters… and a dynamic somebody else who snores peacefully in her room across the hall. Life has been more than generous of late. Looks like fate is trying to make up for all that I have been made subject to in the recent past… a past that is finally well behind me.
Tomorrow comes with more promises attached to it... more things to look forward to. Leopolds, Marine Drive, Juhu Beach, Church Road and Dalal Street… a package that others would kill for. Add to that the company of the people who matter the most, the sweet taste of independence and the constant nurturing offered by endless luxury. I couldn’t be more content. But if life is as perfect as it seems to be… how do I explain the feeling of incompleteness that envelopes me on repeated occasions… a void that dwells deep inside me even while looking down from the 24th floor of Phoenix Towers, Lower Parel Mumbai…? I still look for my answers…
P.S. Happy Birthday, new phone.

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