Friday, November 28, 2008

The incomprehensible and the uncomprehending

Couldn’t sleep last night. Though I’d heard the news, I didn’t switch on the television until yesterday. I just didn’t want to see. It wasn’t until afternoon that I finally saw. The empty streets, the burning hotels, the blood, the bodies, the funerals, the speculation. There was nothing to do but wait to hear something else.

Couldn’t help thinking of my grandmother. She used to say that not a leaf moves but for the will of god. No wind dares blow, no water dares fall, no tree dares grow but for the will of god. It is hard to deal with, this idea.

It is hard to deal with the idea of a god whose will is terror. Or a god whose allows violence along with all the other things – poetry and passion, stories and films, dance and song, flowers and fashion. It makes no sense.

Many of my friends would say, the idea of god doesn’t make sense. Amongst the many messages I got last night, there was one that said ‘if the world had followed Darwin and Dawkins, and there was no god, we would have been much safer today’. The other messages were more to the point. Some mentioned madness. Most just asked ‘are you ok?’

Yes, I’m safe.

I too sent ‘are you okay’ messages. Scrolling down my phone list and scanning names, I was reminded of the time I had sent out similar messages, when the last blast had happened in Delhi. And before that, when I was in Delhi myself, and the blasts had happened in Bombay, I had sent out such messages. And before that, there had been blasts in Delhi and I had gotten such messages. I had had a cruel thought once – thank god I don’t have close friends in Kashmir or Guwahati. A pointless, frustrated thought. Friends, cities, fear. There’s no containing them. They go everywhere, and you take a little bit of them with you everywhere too.

And everywhere, the same questions: who and why and what for? And throughout, this constant thought in my head: why don’t they get it? There’s an awful pointlessness to these attacks, which I just don’t get. Worse, I am convinced that ‘they’ don’t get it either. Whoever executes these things, I don’t think they fully understand what they’re trying to accomplish.

Terror is one of those words that seems to have exhausted itself. Terror. Terrorist. What does it mean? It means a bomb going off. It means men with rifles. It means people prepared to die so that they are able to kill. And I keep thinking, surely, they can see this – that this is all they are. People who are taking the risk of dying, just so that other people also die. People planning to kill so efficiently that they plant bombs in hospitals, where the dead are likely to be rushed. Which will ensure that more people die.

Random people. They don’t know these people. These people don’t know them. A random date and time, some chosen venues, and then its blood and funerals and fires. And television crews, and grief and more talk of the spirit that will keep the city going, because a spirit cannot be killed.

I don’t know what they want, these terrorists. I don’t know yet about their religion, their top guys, their financiers. But I do know that they’re somewhat dim. Stupid, at some level. They might know how to put together a bomb. They might know how to stay under the radar of international intelligence services. But you’ve got to be dumb not to see that whatever larger plan the terror groups had in mind when planning this madness, it is not going to work.

I don’t think they’re listening but I want to tell these people that if your plan is to make people succumb to your vision of an ideal state, you’re going to fail. If your plan is make people culturally orthodox, you’re going to fail. If your plan is to show off, to show the world how powerful you are and how a whole nation is quavering because of you, you are also going to fail. Because you will, in a few more hours, end up as a helpless corpse, dependent on the mercy of the security forces to be even granted the dignity of a shroud.

If your plan is to do something memorable, then too you will fail. It will not take two days for the headlines to change. Already the news channels have taken to expressing concern about the cancellation of cricket matches. You will be utterly forgotten, except perhaps in the nightmares of the hostages who saw your faces. Because people want cricket, not nightmares.

And if your plan is to make a nation any less democratic through your violent, undemocratic means, you are going to fail.

Can you not read the signs, damn you? Do you not even read the newspapers? If terror could truly change people, then we would not have had a promising voter turnout in Jammu and Kashmir. That was a sign. To me, it signified that people had chosen their destiny. Nobody knows yet what they chose, and whether or not the people of Kashmir really want independence, but right now, they have shown the finger to violence by choosing democracy. They have chosen to say, we’ve had enough of fear and ruthlessness, enough of being spoken for; we want to be heard now.

This isn’t about the spirit of the people. It isn’t about people feeling secure either. I see all this terror and am just exhausted. I am not feeling spirited, not at all. Yet, the only desire I have right now is to be able to get all dressed up, step out of my house, catch a train, walk into a café, chat with friends, make plans, talk about books, watch a good play. And I will. We all will. Like we did after the last blast, and the blast before that one, and the one before.

If the frequency of the blasts is going up, and if there are annoying security checks even at hotels and cinemas and shopping complexes, well, we’ll go through the checks and go on living. There will be music and travel and art and blasphemy and new religions and old philosophies. There will also be territorial wars and faith-based conflict and bias and sycophancy and illegal immigration.

What kind of brainless twit cannot see that people do not change so easily? That no number of blasts can cure people of the desire for normalcy and fun. For beauty and passion and laughter. For money. And also for justice and truth.

These are the things people live for. And often, die for. If you try and take these things away from them, sooner or later, they turn upon you, disown you, destroy you. Or if they cannot do that, they exile themselves. They either leave or die fighting. Sometimes, they take years to make up their minds, even a couple of generations. But at no time in human history have the forces of violence been able to succeed in ruling people too long.

I just wanted to tell you that. Terrorists, whatever your big bosses are telling you, they’re wrong. You’re going to fail on every single count. Because you have not read enough history, or even enough religion. If you did, you could so easily have been the person you really want to be. The person everybody wants to be.

You could have been a martyr, if you joined the army or the police. Because that’s what’s happened, see? People are pouring out on the streets to pay their respects and to touch the dead bodies of the cops who died. Not yours.

You could have been an average young guy standing at VT station, waiting on the platform for his girlfriend to arrive. You could have seen her eyes light up as she got off a train, and you could have been happy. You could have danced!

You could have packed your bags and trotted off to a foreign country, perhaps. You could have sold flowers at a street corner. You could have made enough money to set up a flower shop. You could have learnt the names of all the flowers that have ever bloomed. You could have learnt to tell the difference between mogra, chameli, juhi and nargis with your eyes closed. You could have known how blessed this earth is, if you allow it to be. And you could have even looked forward to sinking into this delicious earth, which gave you a lifetime of fragrance and an impossible riot of colour.

You could have been one hardworking carpenter whose children and parents you have now taken away. You could have been a family man, patiently waiting for a train to go home for Bakr-eid, shiny tinseled fabrics folded neatly into your bags, thinking of the delighted little girls who would fight to sit in your lap and the quiet approval of a wife whose eyes hold the promise of heaven.

You could have been that man. But you are not going to be any of this, because you didn’t trust humanity. Because you didn’t trust in your own god. The one whose will decides how nations will grow and which way the wind will blow.

And guess what?

If your plan is to enter heaven, once again you will fail. Because there is no god – not even a strict, forbidding one – who takes into his bosom such scum who plant bombs in hospitals. Such scum who open fire upon anonymous old couples. Somebody so brainless, or so indiscriminating, that they don’t even stop to find out who they’re killing, and why. My mother says, god does not even reserve the right to forgive. He has said that only those you have hurt have the right to forgive you, and if they do not, then you cannot step into heaven. And nobody in this city is going to forgive you.

Don’t allow yourself the solace of thinking that you’ve done something very macho here. If all you can bring to this world is a death threat, you’re such a loser. A mosquito can do that. It is true that I am helpless against you (and the mosquitoes) or the havoc you cause in intangible, psychological ways that are may do worse things to us in the long run. But it is also true that in the long run, we are all dead.

So while I am alive, I am willing to go on trying to build the sort of world I want to live in. Who knows, if there is a god, then perhaps it is god’s will that my will be pitted against yours. And I think I am going to win.


dipali said...

That's telling it like it is, Annie!
Now if only those scum could read this....

Indian Home Maker said...

Held my breath and read to the last word ... if only they could read this.
Absolutely inspirational. Thanks, IHM

tan said...

it's heartbreaking and infuriating to see how these youngsters can be brainwashed into becoming gutless soulless blind cowards. how easily they can be convinced that slaughtering helpless unarmed innocents is an act of holy bravery. how eagerly they pride themselves over hanging their god's head down in shame and blood. how they can believe that god whispered 'carnage' in their mastermind's dreams. how they can even say god and death in the same breath. how they can so readily surrender their right to think for themselves, their freedom to make their own destiny, the will to live out the one life, one world we're allowed.

as you rightly said, the boys who die today and they better hope to die because if they're caught alive they will wish for death, the boys who die today will forever be labeled terrorists, no religion will want to own them, nobody will remember or even care to ask their names. and those who fought them will be remembered forever as men, as martyrs.

we will all live through this and tell our grandchildren that the good men took bullets in the chest while the chicken took them in their spineless backs.

Anonymous said...

Very well composed.....Mumbai meri humanity and the resilience of us Indians and particularly Mumbaikars that has been tested time and time again....

Ramya said...

I don't know you, just as I don't know many people who fell to the whims of these peabrained idiots. But, I love that you wrote what many of us have wanted to say...Now if only this could get into a newspaper or something...

Anonymous said...

Bravo as someone said. They say god listens to prayers.. if you pray with all your heart and need and want..what was that line again..?
Itni shidaat se main tumhe paane ki koshish ki hai, ki har zaare ne mujhe tumse milane ki saazish ki hai

Anonymous said...

heartbreaking, soul-stirring and eloquent

many thanks for such powerful, passionate words, may they reach out and touch the world

agnom_teenup said...

Paraphrasing here....

"...That nothing can cure people of the desire for normalcy and fun. For beauty and passion and laughter. For money. And also for justice and truth....These are the things people live for. And often, die for. If you try and take these things away from them, sooner or later, they turn upon you, disown you, destroy you. Or if they cannot do that, they exile themselves. They either leave or die fighting...."

are we too far from realising why the "terrorists" act this irrationaly? you might have inadvertently peeked into the mindscape of a "terrorist" in your words above... it may not really be the truth, but it is drilled in him as his truth... and hence the senselessness.

Shelly Jain said...

Brilliant, Annie!

Anonymous said...

your words--all so true. Great thoughts.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

you're a real muslim. you know what your religion is about. and they don't.

more than that, you're a real committed human being. and we don't have many of those left around anymore.

thank you for writing this. we need more sanity in this crazy world we're living in. we really do.

its heart rendering to see people come out on the streets and showing their spirit and their love for life, their love for their country. you switch on the television and you see people, real people, ordinary people, who choose to go out there and who choose to be defiant and say that hey, i'm standing in front of the taj, and let me see what you can do about it.

they can bomb us, they cannot bomb our spirit. even though they won't reach your words, your spirit and love for this country will.

Arun.N.M. said...

Wonderful post.Realy coming from the heart.

Chase your passion not your pension said...

Dear Annie
Very well written, I agree and disagree with you at some levels. Here is where I disagree. Reading your post and reading the comments I get a feeling that none of your dear ones have been lost to this battle, respectively. Yes indeed thank god you don’t have close friends in Kashmir or Guwahati. Because If their plan is to do something memorable, it is. For those who have survived such an encounter, or worse still have lost someone they loved in it. For them it is not the cricket match cancellation that is important. It is the nightmares that haunt them after. They lose the desire to be able to get all dressed up, step out of their house, catch a train, walk into a café, chat with friends, make plans, talk about books, watch a good play. Because every time they do they wish that their lost one had not on 6th December 92 and every other horrible date after that. I think that is because our leadership is so neutered that time and time again, the mumbaikar spirit/ resilience of indians, has been raped. And instead of celebrating the martyrdom by retaliating 9/11 style or like the Israelis did after the Munich Olympics massacre, so that the aggrieved can find closure. We have moved on….done nothing….to make it memorable in the minds of these terrorists.
If you saw the movie a Wednesday. I think it high time we make a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday & Sunday and by January this problem will be over once and for all.

Diwakar Sinha

Deepa said...

A must-read for every terrorist in the world. Bravo Annie! I am virtually giving you a standing ovation. Every word was so powerful.

I really hope you are going to publish this in a mainstream magazine or newspaper.

1conoclast said...

I won't pretend to know too much about God but here are a few thoughts:
1. There is a God. He's just different from what we grew up believing him to be. It doesn't make sense to us yet.
2. But consider this:
Hemant Karkare died so that the mask would be torn from the faces of advani, rajnath, modi, thakre etc.
Bombay burned so that raj thakre would lose standing.
3. Bombay burned so that we would wake up & ask for answers. Maybe India did need it's own so-called 9/11... (God forbid, but maybe we will need our civil war too...).
I believe we will now become stronger. What doesn't kill us, only makes us stronger!

Nothing happens without a reason? Possibly. We may just not know the reasons.

R. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Desmond.Macedo said...

Dear Annie,

God is difficult to understand.

What we can try to understand is why we've been so useless at fighting terrorism.

I have tried to understand this in a short piece on my blog.

You may like to read it.

Regards, dez

Your's Truly said...


Brilliantly written. Envy your ability to put your anger, frustration, hate and love for life into words - all in a single rhythm.

But as some people have already said, I just hope at least now, not just politicians, but even civilians unite against anything that threatens humanity.

May be now people will help a poor guy whose car breaks down in the middle of a traffic jam, instead of honking at abusing at him.

May be now people will not look at a security guard outside a hotel with condescension.

May be now, Hindus will rent out their houses to a needy Muslim family.

May be now, people will vote (and stop excusing themselves with words like "there's no one worth voting for").

May be now, we will change.

I just wish, instead of demanding security, trust and harmony from politicians, people like us will contribute towards building of a nation that we all wish for.

And even though it goes against the spirit of humanity, and in favor of "terrorists" - I wish they shoot that Kasab in the head, and show in live on TV.

The one who has loved and lost said...

That was truly inspiring.
Thank you

'Tis a beautiful life! said...

this is so beautifully written i don't know what else i can say

Anonymous said...

wish this could be drilled into those losers!
of the many e-mail fwds i have been receiving on the mumbai blasts - something which hit me - "Our Govt gave 3 crores to one shooter (Bindra) for winning the Olympics - and 5 lakhs to another shooter who gave his life for the country during the mumbai seige - hats off to our Govt - Hats off to India"
Ironic how our security / police forces whose job is to protect our country, our lives and maintain law and order for our safety - earn such meagre salaries!

Sharath said...

Is there any point trying to reason with the unreasonable? How do you argue with a fundamentalist?

If the Quran truly says everyone who doesn't follow Islam deserves to be killed, do we even have a leg to stand if we are to indulge in debate with the fundamentalists?

You said they won't go to heaven, but they will show you the passages in the Quran that assure them that they will as long as they're 'cleansing' the world of infidels. In their eyes, and they truly believe it, it is YOU who is unreasonable, it is YOU who is incomprehensible, it is YOU who is the scum of humanity (and I daresay, of Islam).

As I type this, I can visualize a terrorist writing a similar blog post about how incomprehensible the rest of the world is. How do you answer them? Can you really convince a fundamentalist Muslim (or a fundamentalist Christian, or a fundamentalist Hindu) that the doctrine he lives by is wrong or inconsistent?

It's impossible. If it were not, we would not have had the Crusades, we would not have had the caste system, we would not have had the Dark Ages, we would not have had - I could go on forever.

Don't blame the terrorists for what is a deeper malaise - terrorism is just a symptom. The disease is religious fundamentalism.

And I daresay, as long as religion exists, religious fundamentalism will exist. And the symptoms will keep coming back - make no mistake.

You know how you said you will keep picking yourself up and keep fighting to live a good life? Fundamentalists will do the same. They will keep fighting for the cause they believe in, they will keep believing in their doctrine, they will keep committing acts that convince them will take them, and their brethren, to heaven.

And you know what? They're not listening to you. They're not listening to any of us.


Amrita said...

You have said it like it is - simply and beautifully. So true.

Anonymous said...

True...!! So true!

Stephen James said...

"If all you can bring to this world is a death threat, you’re such a loser. A mosquito can do that."

What a kick-arse statement! :-) That was a brilliant comparison and totally made the point.

WillOTheWisp said...

Sharath : As I type this, I can visualize a terrorist writing a similar blog post about how incomprehensible the rest of the world is.

Annie :So while I am alive, I am willing to go on trying to build the sort of world I want to live in.

Sharath : And I daresay, as long as religion exists, religious fundamentalism will exist.

I'm not so sure it is fundamentalism that is at issue. You get to meet plenty of fundamentalists that are content to be non-violent in a physical sense. But I certainly can can tie in with the first quote from Sharath and see someone sitting up and doing what he/she is doing simply because - " So while I am dying ( which is what we all are, while living ), I am determined to go on trying to destroy the kind of world that I would not like to die in. "

Maybe if we all stopped trying to do anything and stood still to take stock of what we have around us ... It has been a frenzy for the past two millenia ... Always trying to get somewhere, trying to escape the fact that there is nowhere to go ... but here.

But the above would be an idle escapist fantasy ...

Anonymous said...

Have read so many of similar pieces over the last few days, or actually years. but this one stands out. More power to your pen.

Manish Bhatt said...


Unknown said...

nice thoughtful post/page.

regarding god/religion:
may be this interests you.. Jonathan Haidt's moral mind. talking about liberal & conversative. but take-away related to this post is: religion is social structure/order created to bring moral into lifestyle.

jonathan haidt on the moral mind

regarding terror/terrorist: you are taking rational arguement to irrational people. but ofcourse that's doesnt explain exists of %of population who want to harm with some objective, sensible planning and motivation to die for the cause.

i found this article, an interesting read: how to defeat terrorism

Anonymous said...

Annie that was really powerful. Will resonate with everyone who reads it. Who knows, it may stop some young boy somewhere in his tracks and make him think twice before he allows himself to make a fatal choice.


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