notre dame

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fifteen years ago

i took this pic

lucky to see this beautiful church

feel terrible at its partial destruction…

but…

twin bell towers are safe

 organ is safe

rose window is safe

bell Emmanuelle seems safe

 cross is safe

nail from crucifixion is safe

crown of thorns is safe

paintings are smoke-damaged, not fire-damaged

copper rooster safe

flying buttresses look okay to me in images, hope they really are too

 loss of the spire is very sad, but was newer, so hope it can be constructed again…

Wishing France the best in her plans to restore Notre Dame, a happy Easter, a new beginning…

 

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apologising for jallianwala bagh massacre

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Jallianwala Bagh today

Today is the centenary of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. Exactly a hundred years ago, on this day, Col. Reginald Dyer and his army shot down thousands of Sikhs gathered at Jallianwala Bagh to celebrate Baisakhi. At the time the House of Lords in England lauded his action; however, a year later, the House of Commons – probably more decent folks ­­– condemned it, and he was dismissed from the Army.

Now Jeremy Corbyn has asked Teresa May to apologise to the Sikh community. The Sikh Federation UK has asked for an apology too. Among Indians, Shashi Tharoor and an MP from Kerala, M.B.Rajesh, have brought up the issue in the Lok Sabha. That’s it, two people out of one billion plus people! There could be another five thousand people I haven’t heard about, but even that would be a small number!

What purpose does this apology serve? Churchill already called it “a monstrous event”, the Queen called it a “deeply shameful event in British history” when she visited Amritsar in 1997, and Cameron expressed “deep regret” in 2013. All of them have dutifully mouthed the words they were required to. Maybe they even felt a twinge of sadness because, after all, they are human beings. But it might be too much to expect them to relate to the sufferings of ‘natives’ whom they never understood in the first place.

What value can an apology have if it is grudgingly given, when a fine distinction is made between “deep regret” and an “apology” just to make it clear to the receiver that it is only a formality, not a heartfelt expression of empathy? Doesn’t it humiliate the receiver even more? I believe an apology can only be from actual perpetrator to actual victim, in the spirit of what Jews call teshuva, so an apology by present-day Brits, even if it were offered, would be redundant. You can’t ask for an apology; it has to well up in a truly contrite heart, and has to be expressed without needing a nudge from someone else.

The Jallianwala Bagh massacre was just one event, like the Bengal famine, India’s partition, the Boer War, the uprising in Kenya, the partition of Iraq and Syria, the decimation of the aborigines of Australia. . . etc. Truly, how many misdeeds can one country apologise for, especially when there is a very long list of them? They need to be getting on with their Brexit, not tendering apologies around the world for their sins! From their point of view, this is no time for a debate on the feelings of a small community belonging to a developing country. Teresa May has to keep her eyes on the Brexit ball if she doesn’t want Nicola Sturgeon to start the process of balkanisation of her country.

Sikhs are among the bravest people in the world. Our Indian Army is full of them. So was the British Army, by the way! It’s possible they were sent out as cannon fodder into WW1 & WW2 on the more dangerous expeditions that lily-livered Limeys couldn’t face. I mean I wouldn’t put that past the Brits of those times. The remains of Sardars are still being unearthed in Europe and are sometimes sent back to India to be laid to rest in a more befitting and respectful manner.

This is a Sikh prayer written by Guru Gobind Singhji himself, shared by a Sikh friend. All it asks for is courage. Not for food, not for wealth, not for forgiveness, not even for God’s protection! Just more courage to add to their stockpile of it. Tell me, who else says a prayer like this?

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I wonder how far back in history we can go with this Apology Drama. Should France apologise to the British for the Norman Conquest of the 11th century? Should Italy apologise to them for the Roman atrocities of the 1st century CE? Should Scandinavians apologise to the Scots for the Vikings of the 9th century? The Portuguese have not apologised to me for torturing my forefathers through Francis Xavier’s Goa Inquisition in the 16th century, but it doesn’t matter. Honestly. If the Bible is right about the sins of the forefathers being visited upon their descendants, we can leave retribution in His hands and move on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

grimsby

It’s Sunday afternoon. I’ve been reading about Brexit and can’t help thinking it’s a terrible idea. How will they opt out of hundreds of agreements with the other countries in EU? What a nightmare that must be. No wonder they call it a divorce. And there’s a child too, the Irish backstop. Reading about Teresa May’s recent visit to Grimsby brought back memories of the few hours I spent there long ago.

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Our ship was berthed at the port of Immingham. It was June and the weather was pleasant. My husband and I hitched a ride to the Seafarers’ Club from where we caught a bus to Grimsby, about ten miles away. It was a double-decker and we had front seats on the upper level. Oh, the countryside! This was my first time in the UK and all the imagined landscapes in English storybooks from childhood came alive.

We walked around Grimsby town, shopped for – I remember – a box of oil paints, turpentine, oil and paintbrushes, ate lunch at Wimpy’s and headed back towards the bus stop. But we couldn’t find the bus stop. So we asked people for directions. They all looked puzzled and repeated “Bus?” Finally I requested someone to wait for a moment while I found a twig and drew a bus in the sand at the edge of the road. “Oh? You mean a boos?!”

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We got off the bus at Immingham town and walked around for a couple of hours looking at the pretty little houses and gardens. Another short bus ride, and we were at the docks at sunset. It was one of those perfect days when you feel happy just to be alive, and don’t wish for anything to be added to your life.

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I can’t imagine what will happen to small towns like Grimsby that largely depend on fishing, or any other one thing that gets taken away because the world is changing.

Our ship used to visit a small village in Newfoundland called Come by Chance, where there was an oil refinery, and the lives of everyone there revolved around it. A few years ago I read that the refinery was closing down. Once, while driving through the Las Vegas/Hoover dam/Lake Mead area in the US we passed many places that began as housing for employees of manufacturing units and factories. Like, Kingman came up in the late 1800s for housing railroad workers, Henderson was settled during  WW2 as a housing area for employees of a Magnesium plant, etc. They went through crises when the reason for their formation ceased to exist, but reinvented themselves and are involved in other pursuits now. I guess that’s what could happen to Grimsby and other places that will suffer if Brexit happens.

 

 

 

 

dear world…

Dear World,

This is not Trump’s failure. These things happen. Talks sometimes fail. And you have to walk away and look for a way to do it right, to ultimately get results that benefit all involved.

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Dear World, you keep advising India and Pakistan to talk. We have. Umpteen times, when we believed that talks could help.

We don’t want a war. From what I hear, citizens of Pakistan don’t either. But see, cross-border firing is a daily occurrence here. Soldiers and civilians die almost every day at the border. And this has been going on for decades. And now, this big suicide attack at Pulwama, followed by Balakot, then Abhinandan’s capture and return. So what will Sushma Swaraj and Shah Md Qureshi talk about, that hasn’t already been discussed to bits? There is a stalemate here.

Dear World, as you all have borders with other countries you can imagine what it must be like to have this happen to your country. A small country like Hungary has borders with seven countries; Zambia has seven or eight. The Filipinos have more than seven thousand islands to defend. Every country is vulnerable to attack by rogue elements, the way we are at the mercy of next-door neighbours on our street, and will suffer if they decide to keep throwing their garbage into our yard. Or their rowdy young kids play cricket in the yard with the batsman facing our windows. In Bangalore, where I live, I hear that every apartment block has one troublesome, dysfunctional resident who has been informally diagnosed Narcissistic Personality Disorder by the Residents’ Association!

Look how much heartburn the Mexicans are giving Trump by illegally crossing over into the US to work and live. Here we have people illegally crossing our border with an intention to cause havoc and death with  guns and grenades. So, please Dear World, don’t dismiss us like we are children fighting in a playground, don’t say “C’mon now, be good children, hug and make up. Talk . . . talk . . .” We have done everything by the book so far. If anything, we might have erred on the side of caution by not pushing back enough.

Why did the Trump-Kim talks fail? Because Kim demanded something that Trump couldn’t give him. Our talks with Pakistan failed because some of them want Kashmir, which belongs to us, and we will not hand it over. Perhaps this is an oversimplification; there’s more to this demand, a lot of history, and I understand that. But this route? How can this strategy even work? Imagine Kim is peeved with Trump and decides to keep up a low grade torment by lobbing grenades or what-have-you into towns and villages along the coast of Alaska, and he does this for the next fifty years, throwing in a few suicide attacks for good measure, killing thousands of American citizens. That wouldn’t be acceptable, right?

People in the political world might know exactly why the outfits that cause mayhem in Kashmir cannot be neutralised, as they call it on TV nowadays. All I know is that the terror-manufacture company has many shell companies; when one is banned by the UN, funds are transferred from it to one that isn’t banned, members are given aliases, and it’s business as usual.

Dear World, we know that France, Israel, the UK, Saudi Arabia, the US, Russia and others have stood by us this time, despite many of them having to simultaneously deal with internal problems back home. Our heartfelt thanks for that. For those who don’t want to help, please don’t bulldoze the simple dreams of ordinary Kashmiris to give shape to yours.

India has been struggling alone for decades. We rely totally on our Armed Forces. A doubt often pops into my mind – if the world couldn’t help Ukraine five years ago, how can we trust that it will help us? The only answer I can think of is that the stakes here are higher. As nobody wants a nuclear war, maybe the international community will work out something before things spin out of control and we are all sucked into a war that will wipe out all of us.

 

 

kashmir, 1988

In November 1988 I met a little Kashmiri boy of about eight in a local bus in Srinagar, Jammu & Kashmir.

Unasked, he informed me in Hindi, “I’m Pakistani”.

I naïvely asked why he was visiting India.

He gave me an insolent look and said in a curious singsong voice in Hindi, “I will live in India, I will eat of India, but I will remain Pakistani!”

He surely didn’t come up with that himself. It even had a tune like a much-repeated jingle, the kind that you can’t help saying like it sounds on TV, like ‘washing powder Nirma, washing powder Nirma’.

And this was in 1988, two years before the Kashmiri Pandit genocide.

I think the whole system on which Jammu & Kashmir runs is rotten from top to bottom, from the top person in government, to indoctrinated kids like this. You don’t expect a fine yield if a wheat crop is affected by blight when young shoots are emerging; the grains will be nubbins. And it looks like it’s been this way with such children in Kashmir since 1947.

This was not all. On a sightseeing trip around town our bus once got stoned by a bunch of people. Another time, when the tour operator had stopped by a shop that sold silk sarees and scarves, we saw our bus suddenly lurch out of its parking spot with some of our group trying to scramble up its steps. We were still inside the shop. Local men were chasing the bus and pelting stones as the driver increased speed. The shop-owners hustled us to the back of the shop and hastily downed shutters. Then they called for a cab (or maybe somebody’s car), peeped out furtively and sort of smuggled us out into the car. We were too dazed to even ask what happened. These people were probably average Kashmiris who were not anti-India and were protecting us – Indians from other states ­– the way the rest of India is now trying to protect Kashmiri students from angry, unhappy citizens baying for Kashmiri blood.

So you see, stone-pelting in Srinagar is nothing new. I saw it with my own eyes in 1988. Thirty years ago.

One evening there was an explosion in Lal Chowk in the city centre. Luckily, we were staying in the cantonment area in an Army guesthouse a few kilometres from downtown. We weren’t affected except for having to make a number of phone calls to our anxious parents and others who knew we were in Srinagar. I can only imagine how much anxiety families of army and CRPF men posted at Jammu & Kashmir live through.

Like most Indians I am deeply saddened by the killing of more than forty jawans by an Indian hireling of a bunch of subversive elements. Their modus operandi is simple: a psychopathic coward programs a less intelligent being to kill. Adil Ahmad Dar is described as a shy, introverted high school dropout with average intelligence. A perfect candidate for a fall guy.

Like an agent convincing a flop actor that he has hundreds of fans, his handler wooed him with dreams of success and fame, and a place in a mythical heaven. So he agreed to ram a car loaded with explosives into a convoy of his own country’s soldiers. Before doing this he recorded a little speech and put it on the internet. His fifteen minutes of fame. Poor little minion, a weak Indian kid whose diffident soul fell prey to a depraved person’s machinations.

Tourism is all that Kashmiris have. They don’t produce anything that we can’t easily get from elsewhere. For example, we get apples from Himachal Pradesh and we import California walnuts from the US. And the wool for Pashmeena shawls sold in souvenir shops in Srinagar comes from Ladakh, not Kashmir. But Kashmiris get most of their daily needs from the rest of India.

A genuinely important cash crop they grow is saffron. Indian saffron is considered the best, supposedly better than Iranian and Spanish saffron. Apparently saffron crops are currently suffering because of corm rot and a lack of water. A little R&D might help the saffron farmers of Kashmir, but who will set up a lab in a place like that?

When I visited Kashmir in 1988 I was advised to avoid buying saffron because what they were selling as saffron was actually a box of hair-thin strands of cardboard dyed red! What a perfect metaphor for Adil Ahmad Dar and his ilk.

 

thin crust

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A few days ago I was at Trichy, a city about 350 km from Bangalore. One of the places I visited was the Rock Temple. The Ganesha temple stands on a rock that is 3.6 billion years old! This is considered one of the oldest exposed rocks in the world and belongs to Earth’s infancy, the Hadean eon. It’s only a few million years younger than the world’s oldest exposed rocks that are in Australia and Canada apparently, and a lot older than the sedimentary rocks of the Grand Canyon.

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Sedimentary rock layers of the Grand Canyon

As I stood outside the temple at the top I felt the ancientness of India in my soul. Looking down at the town spread out below me I was overcome by the sense of transience that assails me now and then. The spot where Trichy lies has been inhabited for hundreds of years; there are references to its existence in records from 2nd century BCE. A lot is known about Trichy from the 5th century CE, when it was ruled by a string of kings from different dynasties. But two thousand years is actually not a very long time.

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Unfinished cave temple from 650 CE carved during the reign of the Pallava dynasty

When you come down to it, India is just a 100 km thick layer of crust-and-mantle floating on the Earth’s surface. It’s called the Indian plate and is half the thickness of the more robust China plate. Underneath it is viscous gunk that can liquefy anytime and send the Indian plate sliding under China! Geologists say our little chip rifted from Africa about 55 million years ago and was rapidly scooted northwards by mantle plumes deep under the ocean till it rammed into China, partially slid under China, and created the Himalayas.

The Indian tectonic plate doesn’t have deep lithospheric roots unlike the China plate. I imagine India spinning its wheels trying to find purchase, pressed against China by subterranean forces. On the surface of the earth India and China squabble over tiny bits of Arunachal Pradesh and Jammu & Kashmir. They are forced to diplomatically make the relationship work like two fifth-graders punished with detention for fighting over a desk to sit at. One day the whole of India could suddenly slide, i.e. subduct, under China and cease to exist! This is probably the wrong lens through which I should view international relations, but when I hear the things people running the world say, I  wonder if the economics of oil and weapon sales is the only lens that is approved.

Knowing that I live on this fragile little piece of the earth’s crust gives me a sense of impermanence regarding our continents with their tidily drawn lines that separate countries into independent entities, each with its own government, people and culture. We confidently declare there are 195 countries. We live like it was this way since the beginning of time. And we make nukes to ‘protect’ ourselves from our bogeymen countries, when the odds are already stacked against our little Lilliputian race of Homo sapiens.

It took four eons to reach where we have. One eon is about a billion years. Should any of us even consider damaging the one and only beautiful, fragile blue-and-green marble we call home? Imagine if we could think of ourselves as Gondwanites, Laurentians or, even better, Pangaeans with no borders, or even merely earthlings!