Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Murder of Troy Anthony Davis

Today the state of Georgia participated in yet another murder of an innocent man. A man who remained dignified, gracious and full of grace till the end. A man who I grew to know very closely, who would at times confide things in me that he couldn't tell his sisters or mother so they would not worry more than they already did about his well being. A man who inspired millions behind bars when many of us who are free waste our time, and our lives doing nothing - a man who said he was dying to livewhile others lived and died - a man who sought to mentor kids to teach them not to make wrong choices - because being at the wrong place, wrong time, can make you another Troy Davis.

I remember my first conversation with him - his incredible faith, intelligence and dignity. I met him soon after for the first time in 2008. All I can say is over the years I learnt many lessons in resilience and honesty. Troy showed me by example not to take life seriously, to laugh even in the midst of being around death, disease and incarceration. I was amazed at his knowledge, his discipline, his optimism and his faith in God. Even on Tuesday evening when he called he said (among other things) – “no matter what happens to me, don't ever lose faith in God because God is for real”.

I saw no anger, just frustration at the legal system and more concern for my well being than his own. But that is how he always was. And that is how everyone in his family is. When his mother died suddenly, Martina called me to check on me to make sure I was okay. When the Parole Board denied him clemency on Tuesday, Troy called to check on me and my family to make sure we weren’t upset. He ended up giving us strength instead of the other way around. And at the end we were laughing.

I stood there outside the GDCP tonight, and saw the outpouring of love from everywhere across state and country lines. Troy Davis in his 42 years achieved more than many of us expect to achieve in a lifetime. He received more love than the men and women who wanted him dead would in a lifetime.

As I still struggle to accept the flaws in a system where man can play God and be the most cruel of all species, I also find peace remembering a man called Troy Davis on death row. I do not know the truth about what happened on that sad sad night in Savannah Georgia- but this do I know: we all deserve a second chance.

Amidst all the tears and the memories, I can say I am honored to have known a man who showed me that divinity can be found - of all the places - on death row. A man whose dignity, pride and faith till the end when he blessed even those who participated in his death, makes me so proud of the man he was. A man of courage who stood strong and proud in the face of so much and did not give up his integrity till the end.

I wish I could say the same for a lot of men in our legal system and even our President who chose to wash his hands of the whole business even when other Presidents didn’t.

Troy, I know you are in a better place and I know you have impacted future generations deeply. I know that they will fight injustice and will always remember that they stand on your broad shoulders.

- Kavita Chhibber.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Skepticism and Pranic Healing - A Surprising Revelation

When I decided to take the first Pranic healing course, I was pretty skeptical. But I’m also quite adventurous and if something piques my interest, I go ahead and try it. I welcome healthy skepticism - in fact, I would think something would be really amiss if someone is asked to take a blind leap of faith and would do just that - leap blindly.

And yet, closed minded bigotry or skepticism and those nay sayers of this world who just make uneducated and blind presumptions and pass judgment on someone or something, makes me realize again and again what a dangerous thing it is to have that in the world.

It’s our closed-mindedness that makes us judge people negatively and the consequences can be horrific. Look at what has happened to the Muslim community and the Sikh community in terms of violence and racial profiling in the aftermath of September 11. Look at the horrible crimes committed against the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community. It shows through in the way we look at blacks and many other ethnic groups even today.

When you look through history or even day to day life, you can see that close mindedness and the herd mentality of people. It’s often evident in the way we judge others, the way gossip spreads and how quickly many people believe hearsay. Look at the large number of people who were suckered in to experiences like the Madoff affair, the Enron debacle, the cults that sprout and many times lead to tragedy-(if you look at cult suicides on Wikipedia you’ll know what I mean). You see it in the fanaticism in religion that has cost us so much grief. I see so many people losing money, property, family ties following some gurus who later turn out to be crooks.

So it’s always good to question, research and experience something for yourself rather than take someone else’s word for it.

But what has really surprised me though with Pranic healing has been the very small number of closed minded people that I have encountered. I have met skeptics yes, but with the exception of may be one or two people, everyone has been so totally respectful and willing to hear me out. So many have gone ahead tried it for themselves, sent others to learn, that I have been taken quite by surprise. And every person I have treated has been so kind and generous in their testimonials and their appreciation of how they felt after I spent some time with them.

I was also surprised at how many celebrities have experienced energy medicine and support my work in Pranic healing, from the emails I received when they read or found out about my foray into it.

Another surprise has been the number of husbands who have come with their wives who wanted to be treated. Some are physicians and others in diverse careers, but while some told me quite openly they weren’t sure this worked they wanted to support their wives and my work. I’m really happy to say; today many of them have or are taking the course or reading the books related to Pranic healing.

There are so many people who have contacted me from different parts of the world-UK, Australia, Japan, Canada and I have given them long distance healing with startling and very gratifying results.

Many of my friends and family members tease me that if they hear one more word about Pranic healing, they will disown me. But they continue to support every adventure I have embarked on-Pranic healing being the latest.

So many physicians have heard me out, asked questions and appreciated what I’ve done for their patients. Many are learning the technique and successfully applying them on their patients. Others have referred them to me. I will be bringing you some of the stories of those people in the coming weeks and months.

While there is no size that fits all-no medicine or alternative medicine that works for everyone, I believe that if someone experiences even 10 percent relief with Pranic healing its been worth my time and theirs.

I happened to be reading something Master Choa Kok Sui had said. He said that people who criticize the most do the least work so stay away from them. I can add that bigotry and closed mindedness has no boundaries other than what we set ourselves. And when we open our hearts and minds to this adventure called life, the possibilities are endless. So I would encourage all of you to try Pranic healing. I know this much-many of you will be quite pleasantly surprised.

Pranic Healing Master Marilag Mendoza will be teaching a class on August 28th-30th. Go the link and sign up.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Barack Obama at Notre Dame: A Touch of Class as Always

May 17th turned out to be a gray and wet Sunday afternoon as I sat working on the new issue of my e-magazine. Buzzing in the background for the past few days, had been the incessant cacophony of voices discussing the feasibility conferring upon a President, who was pro stem cell research and believed in the woman’s right to choose when it came to abortion, an honorary law degree at Notre Dame, a fiercely Catholic institution. The noise was getting louder, protests escalating, and gossip being exchanged-“security is being stepped up, many people are not going, there is this plane flying around trailing banners with images of aborted fetuses, there is a petition signed by close to 400,000 people in circulation asking Notre Dame to withdraw the invitation, irate donors are pulling out money from the coffers of Notre Dame to punish, Father John Jenkins’ decision to invite Barack Obama, and thus choosing “prestige over truth.”

Of course having seen Barack Obama now for more than the first 100 days of his presidential run, I didn’t have any doubts that he was going to face the protesters and the issues that had disgruntled his detractors, head on. At 2 pm. EST, I decided to take a break and see what would happen at Notre Dame.

What had tickled my funny bone a few days ago had been Arizona State University’s decision not to give the President an Honorary degree at his commencement speech there on the grounds that even though he had become USA’s first Black President, he hadn’t achieved enough for them to be impressed enough, to continue the tradition of giving to Obama, what most speakers at graduation ceremonies receive-an honorary degree as a sign of respect and appreciation. In their eyes his “body of work is yet to come.”

There too Obama had handled the rebuff with his usual grace and humor, when he said “I come here not to dispute the suggestion that I haven’t yet achieved enough in my life. Michelle concurs with that assessment. She has a long list of things that I have not yet done, waiting for me when I get home.”

As I sat through the speech at Notre Dame, I found my heart warming up at the number of standing ovations Obama received. I also found myself alternately laughing at his wry, self deprecating sense of humor,( I don't know if you're aware of this, but these honorary degrees are apparently pretty hard to come by. So far I'm only 1 for 2” and “ We all know about this university's proud and storied football team, but I also hear that Notre Dame holds the largest outdoor 5-on-5 basketball tournament in the world - Bookstore Basketball. ..I want to congratulate the winners of this year's tournament, a team by the name of "Hallelujah Holla Back." Well done. Though I have to say, I am personally disappointed that the "Barack O'Ballers" didn't pull it out. Next year, if you need a 6'2" forward with a decent jumper, you know where I live.”) listening intently and being moved as images flashed before my eyes, at some of the things he said. Many sentences evoked more introspection within me.

When Obama said we must find a way, “to live together as one human family,” and added that “It is this…challenge that I'd like to talk about today. For the major threats we face in the 21st century - whether it's global recession or violent extremism; the spread of nuclear weapons or pandemic disease - do not discriminate. They do not recognize borders. They do not see color. They do not target specific ethnic groups.

Moreover, no one person, or religion, or nation can meet these challenges alone. Our very survival has never required greater cooperation and understanding among all people from all places than at this moment in history.

Unfortunately, finding that common ground - recognizing that our fates are tied up, as Dr. King said, in a "single garment of destiny" - is not easy. Part of the problem, of course, lies in the imperfections of man - our selfishness, our pride, our stubbornness, our acquisitiveness, our insecurities, our egos; all the cruelties large and small that those of us in the Christian tradition understand to be rooted in original sin. We too often seek advantage over others. We cling to outworn prejudice and fear those who are unfamiliar. Too many of us view life only through the lens of immediate self-interest and crass materialism; in which the world is necessarily a zero-sum game. The strong too often dominate the weak, and too many of those with wealth and with power find all manner of justification for their own privilege in the face of poverty and injustice. And so, for all our technology and scientific advances, we see around the globe violence and want and strife that would seem sadly familiar to those in ancient times.”

These words send me back to my childhood. Life was so easy and simple then. Everyone knew everyone, because there was no internet, limited programs on television, phone lines were hard to come by and there were no cell phones.

But what was such an integral part of our lives was the community we lived in. We had the time, before technology took over- to get to know each other and discover, that underneath our religious beliefs, our cultural diversity, we were all the same. The open dialogue, that getting to know each other, took away the fear of the unfamiliar, and peeled away the layer that makes us self absorbed and non inclusive today. When you know and love someone, you watch out for them. And in those days in my home town of Jammu, Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs all lived as an extended loving family, watching out for each other’s interests. You see, in those days we all believed in that golden rule that is, as Obama said, the underlying premise of every religion in the world-treat others as you would like to be treated.

Today just as technology had brought us together, it has also been used not only for the good of mankind, but often as a weapon of mass destruction. The internet is one powerful example of how on one hand cyberspace sprouts communities, but also with the same speed wreaks havoc in so many ways. It has made us reclusive, cubby holed in our own little cyber bubbles-saying what we please without considering the fact that words can be more lethal than guns when used unwisely, and that people often read things totally out of context and attack back right away, with horrible consequences for the larger world, because retaliation is only a click of a mouse or a text message away.

And while we race to the finish line, chasing material success, we lag so far behind in reaching out to others. Gone are the days of basking in the sunshine with family, holidaying together, having intense conversations about everything under the sun, eating dinner together, or praying together. I actually saw an ad which said-“No time to go to your place of worship? Now pray, and do confessions online for a nominal charge. Even the Lord now has been banished to new cyber quarters!

One of the most telling statements Obama made and it is so true in every area of life is the fact that, “ of the vexing things for those of us interested in promoting greater understanding and cooperation among people is the discovery that even bringing together persons of good will, men and women of principle and purpose, can be difficult.

The soldier and the lawyer may both love this country with equal passion, and yet reach very different conclusions on the specific steps needed to protect us from harm. The gay activist and the evangelical pastor may both deplore the ravages of HIV/AIDS, but find themselves unable to bridge the cultural divide that might unite their efforts. Those who speak out against stem cell research may be rooted in admirable conviction about the sacredness of life, but so are the parents of a child with juvenile diabetes who are convinced that their son's or daughter's hardships can be relieved.”

I think if there is only thing to learn from this President, it’s his amazing capability to be a fantastic listener, and his utter lack of ego. I don’t know how he keeps this incredible sense of detachment, humor and serenity around him, when I struggle on a daily basis to capture some of that and fail time and time again. I get hurt, shed tears, and blow my cool when I see someone being unfair or unkind. At times, I’m guilty the same and even of being impatient, and presumptuous and so much more. And here was this man, standing before a crowd where many were openly hostile and still spoke his mind in a way that was both firm and still full of understanding and empathy.

From my personal perspective, when I see severe, life threatening genetic disorders, certain types of life threatening cancers and illnesses, Christopher Reeve’s amazing battle with a spinal injury and many others like him, there isn’t a doubt in my mind that stem cell research must be encouraged to overcome disease and disability. And I also wonder, where does it say in religion that we must cling to outdated beliefs that don’t have a place in today’s world? Don’t many of us donate our organs after our death, to save lives?

Abortion too is a sensitive issue. But Obama faced that controversy straight on and said “Maybe we won't agree on abortion, but we can still agree that this is a heart-wrenching decision for any woman to make, with both moral and spiritual dimensions.

So let's work together to reduce the number of women seeking abortions by reducing unintended pregnancies, and making adoption more available, and providing care and support for women who do carry their child to term. Let's honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion, and draft a sensible conscience clause, and make sure that all of our health care policies are grounded in clear ethics and sound science, as well as respect for the equality of women."

Understand - I do not suggest that the debate surrounding abortion can or should go away. No matter how much we may want to fudge it - indeed, while we know that the views of most Americans on the subject are complex and even contradictory - the fact is that at some level, the views of the two camps are irreconcilable. Each side will continue to make its case to the public with passion and conviction. But surely we can do so without reducing those with differing views to caricature.” And he asked everyone to do it with “Open hearts. Open minds. Fair-minded words.”

I know of cases where the woman, a victim of rape has had the child and hated it every time she set eyes on it because abortion was not an option. I’ve seen and heard of cases where too many children due to religious beliefs, too close in age and not just made the woman physically and emotionally a wreck, it has sent some of them over the edge with tragic consequences.

I also think the environment and the stigma around unwanted pregnancy need to be addressed as much as the issue of pro life versus pro choice. The world can be very cruel to those who break societal norms and get caught, those who are physically or emotionally weak and those who are without a loving family support system.

So continued education and reinforcement is important, because human beings seem to have short memories about what is good for them in the long run.

Obama said so much that is true of life and important to creating a more humane society but the buck does stop with us all. “ ..within our vast democracy, … doubt should remind us to persuade through reason, through an appeal whenever we can to universal rather than parochial principles, and most of all through an abiding example of good works, charity, kindness, and service that moves hearts and minds.

For if there is one law that we can be most certain of, it is the law that binds people of all faiths and no faith together. It is no coincidence that it exists in Christianity and Judaism; in Islam and Hinduism; in Buddhism and humanism. It is, of course, the Golden Rule - the call to treat one another as we wish to be treated. The call to love. To serve. To do what we can to make a difference in the lives of those with whom we share the same brief moment on this Earth.

Because when you serve, it doesn't just improve your community, it makes you a part of your community. It breaks down walls. It fosters cooperation. And when that happens - when people set aside their differences to work in common effort toward a common good; when they struggle together, and sacrifice together, and learn from one another - all things are possible.”

And this is the President some people are waiting to see fail?

Friday, February 13, 2009

Beyond Love

My life has been a sonata of myriad colors and memories, the notes filled with resonance and beauty, and the emotion that fills me, is so far beyond just love. Will a Valentine’s Day be enough capture a few of those gems from the story of my life so interlinked with that of so many loving souls? And yet this is as good a time to recognize some of those special people and special moments.

They were both so distinctly different. One the diplomat, the patient one, the other blunt, hot headed and dominant. And they both left a lasting imprint on my heart, my mind, my intellect-and my soul.

Can I capture again, in the palm of my hand, their faces, the lines deepening not just with laughter, but the years that gently embraced them. Those lines that recreated the past, the present and the future for me.

Can I again stop and remember, believing that the memories that come flooding back won’t find a reason to escape through the tears in my eyes?

They were not famous, and yet celebrating their lives today makes me realize the immeasurable wealth they poured into mine-years of unconditional love, of laughter, creating a world of magical stories, transporting me to worlds I never knew existed.

Savitri and Saraswati-my two grandmothers. They taught me so much about sacrifice, generosity of heart, immeasurable patience, their pride in being women of substance. One faced adversities at a young age, and raised six sons single handedly, in a way that would put many authorities on child rearing to shame. What Saraswati, my paternal grand mother, my daadi, a young widow, brought to the table was, to never let her sons forget to always be proud of themselves, to remember that they were lesser to none, and the true measure of their worth would be only when they stood in front of the mirror and liked what they saw. She taught them to be honorable, upright, disciplined and to give everything their best shot and to love each other more than anything else-and they do-to this day. There were days when she and her sons lived in a one room tenement after partition of India and Pakistan surviving on barley soup for days.

My daadi, lived to see all of them do well, and two of her sons became military generals; one the Governor of the state she lived in for the longest time. For her the wheel came a full circle when that son, the youngest child, came to the same spot where he sat so many years ago, as a little boy on a steel trunk outside a refugee camp not knowing what his fate would be-to cut a ribbon as the Governor of Punjab and it was her picture that the major newspaper in the state chose to splash across its front page. She lived to be a 104, lucid and alert and engaged in everything around her till the end.

Savitri, my maternal grandmother, was born in the lap of luxury, married a man who was brilliant and well to do but became a young widow like the other one. She was the greatest influence in my life. I spent all my summer vacations with her and when my father, a military man stayed away in remote areas, where his family could not be with him, my mom would come and stay with her. From my naani, I learnt to love books, from her I learnt to sing hymns, and pray to her favorite Gods. She loved Rama because to her he epitomized the perfect man. She frowned on Krishna, calling him a playboy. There was not a single picture of him in our house, though funnily she named one of her son Krishna and none Rama! Go figure.

She taught me to be proud of myself in a country that considered women second rate citizens. She was fearless, independent, hot headed and incredibly well read and sharp. She refused to live with any of her sons, preferring her own family home, where two of her sons decided to come and live with-her. Every night, she would tell me stories from Indian mythology, go watch Bollywood films with me that she didn’t like much, encourage me to read as many books as I could and told me I was her most special grandchild. I still remember how she would come running out, her long hair flowing on her back, when we would come to visit and spend our summer vacations in her home to give me the biggest hug. I remember the nights she stayed up scratching my back when I had measles and chicken pox and was itchy all over. I remember the fragrance of the many jasmine plants that enveloped us as we all pulled our beds outside on her huge lawn and all the grandkids slept around her as she regaled us with stories under a full moon.

She died when she was only 62 and I a young teenager, who wasn’t told about her death for days until after she was cremated. Years have passed and I still don’t have closure. I miss them both to this day and I hope some day I will be as cool a grandmother as they were.

My hero has always been my dad. I strive to be as classy, as smart, as honorable, and as giving as him-and I wish I was half as good looking, but I fall short by miles. Almost all my memories of my father are either of him spoiling me or of telling amazing stories to us, as my sister and I lay next to him completely riveted. Little did we know he would make them up on the spot. He is a man of few words, but each word has its weight in gold. He is one of the most perceptive, far sighted people I know. He has always been right about everything and while mom and I and others have grumbled when he has put his foot down about something, we have had to eat humble pie soon after because he was right-yet again!

Strangely all my memories of my father, a tough military man are that of being Mr. Mom. If I was sick, it was dad who stayed up all night and took my temperature, paced the floor till the fever broke, took time off from work, to play board games or cards with me, while mom was much more relaxed. He has such tremendous respect for women because his biggest role model was his mother and as a result he pampered my mother to the hilt as well, nurturing her talents and finding something to appreciate even in her flaws. And he is a tough act to follow.

My mom was and is a spoilt brat! She is the youngest of six siblings, so her dad spoilt her and then did her older brothers and sisters. She then got married into a family of six boys and my dad spoilt her. She does what she wants but has supported my dad and his going overboard with resigned disbelief at times, with pride at others, but even when they disagree they kinda like each other. Theirs is one of the best marriages that I have seen and I find it funny how when they complain about each other they start laughing and then forget what it was.

All my brothers and sisters, are incredibly special people. They have protected me, encouraged me, and watched over me. They have appreciated my achievements and lifted me up when I was down, letting me make my own mistakes. I realized how lucky I was much later when I saw even siblings by blood squabbling over property and money, with envy and jealousy rearing their ugly head. I always go home to my amazing family and extended family, and they put everything on the back burner to create a magical world of incessant laughter, amazing food, endless love, filling my suitcases with generous gifts till they creak at the seams.

With the exception of one amazing woman, Anees Jung, an amazing writer and human being- all my mentors have been outstanding men, starting with my brother Parvez. The rest have adopted me as their daughter, or kid sister, or close friend, showed me the way to excel and opened doors for me to walk in and prove myself and taken immense pride when I delivered without any expectations.

Most of the celebrities I have interviewed through the years have been very generous with their time, and sharing of themselves. Many have become close friends, and I have been inspired by their achievements, touched by their humility and their continued affection whenever we meet or interact.

But its some of the people like you and me, who I have interviewed, who have taught me some amazing lessons. One of my favorite people is a plastic surgeon Dr Satish Vyas in Michigan. His zest for life, his multi talented, multi-dimensional personality, his wicked sense of humor, kindness and compassion and infectious energy are qualities I remember to this day even though its been more than a couple of years since we met again. His lovely wife Kusum, the first woman he fell in love with and married is his perfect balance. Its so cool to see them together and the fact that they have been so lucky to have found each other so early on in life.

Dr Jagdish Sheth and his wife Madhu are community icons in Atlanta. Dr Sheth is a world renowned academician, but for me Madhu and he are everything stellar human beings should be. Their ability to give, their humility and their humanity is well known. I believe the true worth of a man or woman is to be judged by what people say about them behind their back, and by that token the Sheths are very special.

My close friends have been there for me for more than 2 decades and more. I’m still in touch with many of them who I have known since I was a toddler. They have been there with me through the best of times and the worst of times and the one thing that has been constant is their constancy. They know who they are and they know I cherish everyone of them.

I wrote this earlier, but I think it’s the greatest truth in my life and so I will say this again in the end.

Every experience in my life has taught me something. The good ones that there are so many miracles at every step, and so much goodness all around-and that it’s not just a matter of perception.

The bad ones have taught me that it is all a matter of perception. People are never bad, its circumstances, their own insecurities and issues that make them react in a negative way. I have never seen a happy person act mean or unkind.

My work transports me to a world that changes on a daily basis and I learn something new every single day. And I have met innumerable people that have inspired me and amazed me. I have learned that the human spirit at its best, can soar to heights you cannot even begin to imagine. It has taught me that the possibilities remain endless.

And so on this Valentine’s Day I salute every special soul who has crossed my path and added to my life.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Audacity of Hope becomes Reality

Michelle Obama recalled in an interview that the first time she saw the name, she thought - what kind of a name is Barack Obama?

Little was she to know that 20 years later that name would be on the lips of the world and he will be remembered as the 44th and first African American president in history of the United States.

I remember reminiscing that the first time I laid eyes on the President, was at the 2004 Democratic Convention and I was totally mesmerized by his keynote address. I quickly ordered his book “Dreams from My Father” while people were still asking- Barack who? Since then it has been interesting to see how intelligently he fought his way to the top, utilizing technology, inspiring a younger generation to fight his fight and the dignity that he showed when things got ugly from time to time with below the belt ads, and political nastiness that becomes part and parcel of any campaign.

If there was anything that stood out throughout, other than his intelligence, it was his dignity, and a seeming sense of calm balance. Michelle who had said this would be his only run for President because they have had to sacrifice so much, has stood beside him. She is the other superb orator in the Obama household. And in spite of impeccable professional credentials she is secure within herself to focus on family. Its obvious in the way she supports her husband and she has done an amazing job of raising two really normal daughters; and while she talked about the strain this campaign had put from time to time on the family, at the end of the day, Obama won because she was behind him always.

I remember the day Obama clinched the nomination, it was so touching to see not just the pride in the eyes of the African American community, but the joy that seemed to envelop humanity at large. At that moment, it didn’t matter who you were-the color of your skin, your status quo, your religion, all faded away- and out went many personal prejudices and personal biases.

On inauguration day, January 20th 2009, that feeling returned multifold as more than a million people of all denominations, ethnicity stood together on a freezing day to be a part of history.

The District of Columbia outdid itself in terms of organizing the perfect inauguration, but it was the people of these United States of America who joined hands as one and symbolized unity in diversity-an image that often gets lost in a world full of strife and hostility. A vast sea of humanity, old and young, and not one disruption, not a single arrest-that is the gift inclusiveness brings.

It was almost embarrassing and a bit sad to see the lack of reception ex President George W Bush got as he made his solo entry to face the public in the inauguration stand. I have disagreed with a lot of his decisions but I have always admired a couple of things about George Bush-his immense, unstinted loyalty to those who are loyal to him, and the facts that he has always had the guts to stand by his decisions right or wrong, against all the backlash. And in a strange way he did display a quality that we often lack but admire in those who have them…self confidence. His final press conference with the Press, perhaps showed President Bush as he really is. He was as accessible, warm, and much more vulnerable than I have seen him. He was still in denial about a few things, but some how for the first time, I felt a twinge of empathy for him.

Jan 20th was really a blur of everything Obama. Some one jokingly said.. hey there is something like a hope hangover! But I think that day, filled a huge gaping hole in the deeply stricken hearts of Americans, who are weighed down by so much, a battered economy, unemployment, insolvency and foreclosures, depression and suicides.

The President and the first lady walked in like a ray of sunshine that bursts across the sky after a long, dark thunderstorm that has left destruction in its wake. And what’s really cool is that they seem so much like you and me.

I remember Oprah saying jokingly that he has always been Barack to everyone-he is so your guy next door..its going to be quite an effort on his part and theirs to step back and get used to calling him Mr. President.

In all the hoopla, there was this one moment, as he stood alone by himself for a few minutes waiting to be called out before he took the oath.. the camera panned on a face that was suddenly still, the eyes thoughtful and pensive and you felt that may be for those few seconds he felt the weight of all that he was about to assume along with the office. And then it was business as usual as he walked out, breaking into that infectious smile that is quite contagious.

I think if there is a moment for Barack Obama to cherish it is not the swearing in, and not the fact that an African American bi racial mutt as he jokingly called himself achieved the highest pinnacle of professional success, but the fact that he was enveloped in an embrace, a pulsating energy of love and acceptance across the barriers that separated the bodies but not the hearts that were beating as one in blessing him, supporting him and showering their love on a man whose sincerity, and balance has won over even his worst critics and political foes.

As the audacity of hope becomes a reality for Obama, my prayer is that we reach out and walk in step with not just him, but each other recreating a new path of what is best for humanity.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Mumbai Musings and talking terrorism

The past weeks since the terrorist attacks on Mumbai, have gone in round the clock interviews with people from India and Pakistan from different walks of life, talking to Dr Deepak Chopra, Pakistani cricketer politician Imran Khan, counter terrorism experts, UK businessman Sir Gulam Noon, who defied death for the fourth time when he escaped from the burning Taj in what seemed a miracle in just the way the events built up in his case and of course a cross section of people in India and Pakistan.

While you can read all the outstanding interviews and some other really thought provoking articles on my website ( in the latest issue, I remember when the initial reportage came in, having read about the previous attacks, and the flooding that left Mumbai paralyzed and other similar attacks across India, I didn’t pay much attention to the headlines for a couple of hours, thinking it was indeed some gang war as the media was reporting; until my brother’s email that one of his close friends was missing on the 6th floor of the Taj came in and that his last contact with her was at 2 a.m. The friend was well known journalist Sabina Sehgal Saikia and sadly her body was found 2 days later. Just 10 days earlier, she had gone to Ustad Amjad Ali Khan’s house to gift her new book to his wife Subhalakshmi Khan, said the Sarod maestro to me as he was about to leave for her funeral.

Soon burning questions and a burning city captured the attention of both the national and international media. Never, said terrorism expert Dr Robert Friedmann to me, has he seen such prolonged international coverage for an attack in India-not just that, he had not even seen that kind of coverage when Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in what was a clear case of political terrorism.

As I called people from all over, to get their impressions, one thing emerged with crystal clear precision-while the political leaders in India jumped the gun and immediately started pointing fingers at Pakistan, the people of India were really angry with the breakdown of the political and intelligence system in their own country.

I saw a volcanic anger that I had not seen earlier when a breakdown of infrastructure has happened in any part of India.

While there were some people from the Indian and Pakistani community that sent inflammatory articles, emails and comments to my website, by and large the majority of Indians, no matter what their background, understood that there is a need to separate the state and the government from non state perpetrators of the crime. Most Indians also made the point that they have deep love for the people of Pakistan and recalled the unparalleled hospitality they have been offered every time they visit India. They also said that they realize the Pakistani government is too weak, being run with the blessings of the Military and that the country is now as much a victim of ingrown terrorism: but most Indians were adamant that they cannot excuse the apathy of the state in eliminating these terrorists or those members of the Pakistani government or ISI, that is training these terrorists.

On the Pakistani side, the memories of the ravaged Marriot in Islamabad still fresh in their minds, people were shocked and sympathetic at what happened in India. But that shock and sympathy turned into anger and defensive defiance when the blame game began. The media reporting from India was by and large a prime example of tabloid TV and yellow journalism and a blatant attempt at garnering the highest ratings. Even veteran journalists jumped in the fray-and many people turned into self appointed experts passing judgment, giving an analysis and jumping to all kinds of conclusions while the siege was still on, and little concrete information to base those opinions on.

The Pakistan bashing brought retaliation from Pakistani news media and many Pakistanis I spoke to in the first few days, told me they were convinced the terrorists were Hindus from RSS and BJP paid to create mayhem just before the elections. One told me that Geo TV had specifically conducted an investigation and that the lone captured terrorist wasn’t even from the village in Pakistan as claimed. All these presumptions of course have been refuted, and even more so when former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif acknowledged that indeed the terrorist was Pakistani and his family has been isolated from everyone a few days ago in an interview.

Condoleezza Rice arrived and added fuel to the fire by jumping on the “blame Pakistan” wagon. Rice reprimanded the government like a school Principal scolding an errant child, instead of trying to cool tempers and act as a mediator, and as a representative of a global super power, that would in times such as these, be expected to want peace in the subcontinent and would work towards that-especially when the two countries are nuclear powers. And of course accept that US has to accept a lot of the blame for the current chaos in Afghanistan which has flowed into Pakistan.

But then the reason why a large part of the world, hates America, is because America, said Dr Deepak Chopra to me in a conversation-has only self interests and no allies or friends. He made a lot of sense when he said to me “Right now America’s interests are the World’s interests; our economic system, the economic melt down is telling us now that there is only one economy, the weather patterns are telling us that there is only one ecology; when are we going to learn that there is only one humanity?”

There were many discussions on global terrorism and its Islamic face. Imran Khan the cricketing legend and now the only Politician people of Pakistan and India respect, because of his honesty and integrity, said for the umpteenth time that terrorism has no religion-a sentiment shared by many across the board. He also added that the youngsters many of whom are university graduates, and from middle class families don’t even fit the stereotypical image of the so called Islamic terrorist with a beard. There is a lot more to learn why things are the way they are today.

The spirit of Mumbai was invoked by some, and dismissed by others who said every big city has a similar spirit, where people want to get back to normal, but what remained simmering was an anger at the political system that nurtures corruption and is caught napping again and again at times of need.

The good thing, said one interviewee is that the elite have been hit this time, and so those who fill the coffers of these politicians, especially the corporate head honchos are now taking a second look at security and terrorism. There are also lawsuits asking for regulation and a strong criticism of the way the media handled coverage, disclosing crucial and sensitive information, that may have caused the death of many in the two hotels as their location and how many security personnel was involved in counter attack came tumbling out on real time reporting.

There was a conciliatory email by Barkha Dutt, a journalist I used to admire once upon a time, but who has joined the ranks of tabloid reporters, where she said that the media reported only what was told to them. At no point were they briefed to keep things off record. While she has a point and this opens a new discussion on how to train the media and have a close relationship with it in case something of this nature occurs again-it does not take away from the disservice Dutt and similar veteran journalists like her have done. Someone with her experience, should instinctively know when crucial information if reported, can endanger the lives of others and not wait to be spoon fed by those in authority at what she should and should not say. Unfortunately, her apology came a bit too late and as a preventive measure because public opinion against her may make her head roll as well.

I would like to share some lines from 3 of the interviewees that sprung out at me when the interviews were being conducted.

Dr Deepak Chopra:

The first important question is- why is global terrorism predominantly an Islamic phenomenon?
Secondly, what is it that radicalizes young Muslim men in relatively middle class families in Europe, Britain and other places?
where is the money coming from? It’s very obvious this takes a lot of training, this takes a lot of organization and it is clear that the money pipeline starts in Saudi Arabia in which case we should be asking- what role does the US play in this,

So as long as America thinks only of its own interests, its never going to have a complete understanding. Right now America’s interests are the World’s interests and they don’t understand that; our economic system, the economic melt down is telling us now that there is only one economy, weather patterns are telling us that there is only one ecology; when are we going to learn that there is only one humanity?

Imran Khan cricketing legend and Pakistani Politician:

Terrorism has nothing to do with religion. All root causes of terrorism lie in politics

When they say Islamist terrorists and start looking for a cure in Islam, they are surprised to find that these young terrorists don’t fit the stereotype of the Islamic terrorist with the big beard. Then they are even more shocked when they find that most of the suicide attackers-one half of them according to one estimate-are university graduates. What is happening is that Muslims are getting radicalized and it’s not because of Islamic extremism, it’s because of political issues which are unresolved.
You can always talk about moderate Islam but the struggle between Israel and Palestine is not going to go away unless there is a political resolution; All religions-not just Islam, preach about compassion and justice-no religion wants anyone to kill innocent people or patronize injustice.
To blame a religion is the biggest injustice we do on people of a certain religious community. So when you say Islamist terrorist and try to find solutions in religion you actually make the situation much worse because among the Muslims this war on terror after 9/11 is being perceived as a war against Islam, and when it is perceived as a war against Islam, there will be no shortage of Muslims willing to kill themselves may be to protect their religion. So terrorism needs to be de linked from religion.
Dr Robert R Friedmann: nationally renowned expert on criminal justice and counter terrorism:
The implication then is that just because someone is poor they have a justification to become a terrorist. That is atrocious and a tremendous mistake to suggest that. One has to look at political interests, ideologies, who benefits, what are the strategies; just because someone is poor they become terrorists is simply not backed by any facts.
The first distinction is that all terrorist groups have local interests, though I hesitate to say that about Hamas and Hezbollah because if you look carefully at their writing and ideology they clearly veer into the globalization of terrorist objectives.

Society cannot afford to let terrorism become a part of normal living and treat it like vehicular fatalities and do not do too much about it.
I don’t believe that US, Europe, South Africa or Australia, for that matter anyone else can influence Islam and I don’t think it’s their duty either. I would shy away from religion or religious wars. I think what needs to be done is to let moderate voices within Islam carry that battle inside and not to have outsiders tell the Muslims what to do.
Today there is no safe place in the world….While the public safety community understands the threat, I don’t think the public does, in any part of the world-even in Israel.”

While questions, allegations continue, I believe that in the end it boils down to personal responsibility whether it’s a journalist or a politician or the common man who chose the corrupt or inept politicians who rule, who adds to the ratings of sensational programs by watching and listening to them, the rich who pay to get things done. We have in the end become victims of our own apathy and our own disability, to be , as Gandhi said, the change we want to see in the world.

The buck begins and stops with us all.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Flying Shoe-cers

And the look on the face of George Bush as America hit (!)a new low in more ways than one-was priceless

What’s been even more interesting is the comments of most people of a diverse mix, who’ve seen the video and have spoken to me.. Its mostly “ Too bad the reporter guy missed!’

While my bleary eyes(working on interviews related to the Mumbai attacks) took in the video and my lips had their moment of mirth, many more comments and phrases and posts flew across the internet and hit their mark.

I hope I don’t tread on too many toes-after all it’s the President of the United States. But here goes:

“It gives fresh meaning to the phrase shooed away.

"Bush's Ducker T-shirt" puts his head on a tee ducking a barrage of shoes

It would have been even more funny, had President GWB asked that man for his socks!!!

The jokes and the shoes were flying on the late night talk shows Monday night. The comedians couldn't get enough of that shoe-throwing incident in Iraq.
President Bush was shown over-and-over ducking the shoes thrown by an Iraqi reporter during a Baghdad news conference.

Jay Leno wants to know where was the Secret Service. He asks shouldn't they have "at least jumped in front of the second shoe?"

David Letterman was impressed by the president's quick reactions. Letterman says Bush "hasn't dodged anything like that since, well, the Vietnam War."

Conan O'Brien says the shoe-thrower is being hailed as a hero by some in Iraq. O'Brien adds when the man dies, "he'll be greeted in heaven by 72 podiatrists."

Newspapers across the U.S. had headlines saying shoe-icide attack, shoe-nabomber and even
Meanwhile Americans are having their say on what should be done with the shoes.
Some tell CNN they should be put in the Smithsonian, be impeached along with Bush, or should be auctioned off with the proceeds going to the auto industry.

Seriously. Say what you will about Dubya, he’s in his 60s and has the reflexes of a cat.

Who woulda thunk that ducking a shoe would actually help the public’s perception of W?!

Bush Iraqi shoe attack: Why didn't the Secret Service take a loafer for the president?

George Bush does a shoe dance.

And this from Chris Bucholz-

So Someone threw their shoes at the President this weekend. Shoes. The President. I know. We wouldn’t really be a comedy site if we didn’t discuss this at least a little bit, would we?

Anyways, here’s the facts: During a press conference, an Iraqi reporter carefully removed both his shoes, stood up and proceeded to throw them, one after the other, at President Bush. The President responded, sensibly, by ducking twice. His attacker, now out of ammunition, then responded by being tackled to the floor by a team of Secret Service Agents. And aside from some glib shoe puns, that was the end of it.

Right off the bat, my first reaction was to be marginally impressed at the President’s reflexes. Bush has taken a lot of stick for being a terrible president, which is probably fair, given his generally high levels of terribleness. But did you see the speed of that duck? That was Mortal Kombat fast. I half expected to see a harpoon come flying out of his coat sleeve after the first shoe sailed past.

Second reaction: Where was the Secret Service? I gather they’ve taken some flak already about this, although mainly from pencil-necked pundits and bloggers like myself, nattering away safe in our beds. Just milling around the Internet, I’ve seen lots of sweaty outrage about “the second shoe” today. It does seem a little surprising that a guy could fire two whole shoes at the President of the United States before someone stopped him. What if they were one of those knife boots the kids are into these days? That could have done some damage.

But upon further reflection, the Secret Service agents probably handled this as effectively as possible. The guy was throwing shoes - although they probably could have shot him before he got that second shoe off, what do you have then? A dead guy with no shoes on, that’s what, and then you’re asked to leave the country and never come back. Considering how widely loved Bush is in Iraq (check back this time next year for the Iraqi’s first National “Fuck Bush Day”) it’s probably a minor miracle that he’s able to go there at all and come home alive, much less with a tread mark on his skull.

Third reaction: Oh, good work Bundy. The Iraq war has kind of fallen out of the American public’s consciousness the last year or so, mainly because it just leaves everyone feeling kind of bummed I guess. So this little stunt has, on the surface, brought it back to the forefront. But in a completely trivial way. Like every other type of protest, the only thing people talk about is the protest itself, not the message being raised. There are a lot of things about the Iraq war that deserve to be treated with a certain level of seriousness (all the dead people for one.) But instead of talking about that we’ve now got newsrooms across the country racking their brains looking for shoe puns.”

And shoe... eh so it goes.