Monday, August 17, 2009

Prejudice, Paranoia or Protocol?

News channels had a field day as they shifted focus from swine flu and created a hue and cry about a rather unpleasant situation. The incident ruffled feathers and got the claws out in all classes, from the elite, the ‘aam junta’ and babudom too, more so, because it revolved around a huge iconic figure - Shah Rukh Khan, no less.

Shah Rukh Khan was detained and interrogated for two hours at an American airport, apparently due to his last name. Ironically, the star will soon be seen in a film titled ‘My Name Is Khan’. How apt. Anyway, this provoked such indignation in India (and among Indians across the world) that the Indian Government has decided to take the matter up with the US. Quotes are flying left, right and centre.

For us, the name Khan is synonymous with Bollywood, but for the paranoid angrez it spells terrorism and security concerns. Now, keeping aside our outrage at what happened to our beloved movie star, what the incident really brought to light is how the common Muslim is viewed in America every single day. Granted that after 9/11 things have changed drastically and such protocol is just part of national security. But the fact that anyone with a Muslim 'name' is put under the scanner, is quite disturbing.

Have we reached a point where Muslims, including myself, should accept that we will always be looked upon with suspicion and never whole-heartedly be welcomed in some countries? I have never been to the US, but if and when I do, will I be meted out the same treatment as Shah Rukh? At the heart of all this, lies a very sensitive issue, as things like prejudice, paranoia, or protocol for that matter, are not easy to alter.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Fear in its Present Form

Fear is an all-consuming thing. It overtakes our senses much like anger does, and hampers our activities. It seems like every other day we are consumed with a new fear. It could be a personal fear – money shortage, family issues, health concerns, or mass panic – like the virus that has been dominating headlines lately, with grim news of victims succumbing to it everyday.

Like the earlier viruses, we joked about swine flu too. That was when it seemed far, far away. But right now the fear in major cities like Pune, Mumbai, Bangalore, and Delhi is palpable. In fact, the virus seems so close that I fear if I stretch my hand out the window there are chances I could catch it. I’m too afraid to take my daughter with me while I shop for groceries. As I write this, 4 lives in Bangalore have already been claimed by it. Children seem to be the most vulnerable to the virus, making parents worry sick about them going to schools and the possibility of them getting infected through someone. Every cough, every rise in body temperature, every ill person is looked upon with fear and dread.

Fear paralyses people into either inaction or drives them towards the wrong kind of action. While several people choose to shelter themselves by being cooped up at home, many are hitting the drug stores for the anti-virus or the diagnostic centres to give samples for testing. Fear is blinding them from the fact that this is putting an enormous strain on the fragile infrastructure present to handle the virus, and many ‘deserving’ patients have to unnecessarily wait their turn to be tested.

As the world waits for this particular wave of swine flu to blow over, I wonder what manifestation fear will take on next?

Saturday, August 15, 2009

India’s Own View from the Top

Google Earth better watch out. It’s got competition. India jumped into satellite imagery waters with the launch of ‘Bhuvan’ (Sanskrit for Earth), a virtual globe-mapping application website like Google Earth. Excited, you ask? That’s an understatement. I’m ecstatic. This application marks a milestone for India and can put it happily chugging up the road to developed country status.

When Google Earth was released in 2005, people were awe-struck. Google gave every individual with internet access the privilege to see what astronauts see. We were give access to see our world from space; to view continents, countries, states, cities, villages and even our homes from a completely fascinating top view. We were given wings and could fly around the world to see what the streets of Paris and New York look like, and fly back and see the tops of our own houses; all this while sitting in front of our computers. To me, this represented a part of our future. A glimpse into the enormous strides and greater privileges our children would get to witness. Also, a glimpse into one’s finiteness and how we could wrap our whole world onto our computer screens. Today, it’s earth, tomorrow it could be our galaxy and, dare I say, beyond.

Google Earth shrunk our world and presented it to us with neat packaging and great features. Today, India has gone beyond that giving us rich features including superior zoom capability of 10 meters (as opposed to Google Earth’s 200 meters!), multiple views from different angles apart from the default top-down perpendicular view, thematic information on soil, wasteland, and water resources, and special emphasis on the Indian terrain.

This is what I’ve heard, from news reports. Of course, actual implementation remains to be seen. As with a lot of things Indian, there are those blasted glitches and potholes. Getting Bhuvan to actually work on your computer seems to be a bit of a mystery and online reviews will vouch for that. But we’re getting there. I still stick to rooting for ISRO. Bhuvan is a giant feather in the organisation’s cap and this Independence Day I earnestly pray that the application will deliver all that it claims to and more.

Better Late Than Never

Yes, I’ve been quite lazy about jumping onto the blogging band-wagon. I have thought about it innumerable times, wondering what exactly I wanted to tell the world but I never could quite put my finger on it. At long last, today, thanks to my friend Kavita, I decided to kick procrastination aside and give this global publishing phenomenon, identified by the inconspicuous name blogging, a shot.

Believe me; I didn’t plan to time the debut of my blog with patriotic dates. But, remarkably, today is India’s Independence Day. Quite poignant, don’t you think? I think fate has a message there for me, but I’m missing it right now. So, I’ll try and be a little clever and write about something connected to India, something that makes me proud to be Indian. So let’s begin, shall we?