THE FALL OF THE GLOBAL EMPIRE?

WHAT LIES AHEAD?

It has always been my intention to steer clear from international affairs, not because it demands a certain kind of academic knowledge but due to the sheer complexity that is global diplomacy! However, as historians we tend to assess, analyze and draw our attention to moments that appear historic; moments that have the potential to shake hitherto established political and social systems, ideologies and even mighty empires. The historic circumstance of 2016 accentuates the relevance of international relations and directs this historian to interpret current global political situations. For it is in the prevalent times that we seek answers to the future.

Not many decades ago, a wall was pulled down. This action represented the beginnings of a new world order governed by free trade, dwindling boundaries and the intermingling of varied cultures. The wall was in Berlin and the year was 1989. The end of the Cold War ushered in the age of ‘Global Empire’. It was an empire whose physical expanse was infinite and defied territorial norms; its peoples adhering to many a religions, cultures, customs and traditions. The Global Empire was the final culmination of a process that had infact begun as early as the fifteenth century, also termed as the ‘Age of Discovery’. It, however, traced its ‘immediate’ origins to the end of the Second World War, wherein an attempt was made to create a global system that created economic dependence within nations, thereby reducing the risk of yet another bloody catastrophe.

As the world shrunk, the Global Empire flourished. When an individual, more often than not, married to or in love with someone outside his/her nationality, led a life determined by a career that was global in nature, in a country that was not his/her own, surviving on clothes, gadgets, and sometimes even food that was manufactured by a global community created a newer identity for himself/herself and became a part of this glorious empire. Amidst this economic reliance, feelings of nationalism and patriotism were redefined. The Global Empire softened nationalistic fervor – of a jingoist kind – and thrived on the principles of ‘acceptance’ and ‘tolerance’.

Revelling in the spoils of the Global Empire, many of us were oblivious to history’s devious plans. “If lessons of history teach us anything it is that nobody learns the lessons that history teaches us”, says an anonymous writer. History tells us that in every success lies failure, in every rise a fall and no matter how strong an empire it will one day concede to the vestiges of time.

That the Global Empire was treading the path of decadence was unknown until someone – a significant citizen of a western democracy and also a beneficiary of the empire’s economic success – clamoured for building walls; walls that would stall the empire’s distinctive cultural amalgamation. It was also when yet another bustling democracy voted for an exit that the flaws of the empire became more evident. Suspicion, mistrust and disturbing forms of nationalism became the empire’s saddening byproducts.

We mercilessly destroy what we create, over ideologies chosen out of convenience. Dutifully following these principles of history, we have, unfortunately, initiated the collapse of the Global Empire.What is to be ascertained now is the outcome of this inevitable downfall? And what is the future of this ‘uncertain’ present?

Every collapse is followed by tumult. The two world wars were a consequence of the disintegration of the ‘Age of Imperialism’. Are we also looking at warring times? Perhaps we are. However, like its predecessors, this war will also be unique. No, there won’t be innumerous theatres of war or blitzkriegs. Instead, there will be a ‘self-inflicted chaos led collapse’.

This chaos will be characterized by the crumbling of global ties leading to the creation of xenophobic societies and cultures. The global citizen will not only be rendered unemployed but will struggle with his/her now uncertain identity. As ‘great’ the hope of a (reclusive) ‘self-sustained’ economic prosperity promises to be, it will perhaps only lead to an unprecedented economic decay. The ongoing war of religious fundamentalism will only accelerate the collapse.

And like every collapse this collapse too will be steered not by referendums or screeching individuals. On the contrary, at the helm of this collapse will be someone waiting to take over the reins of this displaced political system and laying the foundations of yet another empire; a discreet albeit a potent adversary – a Czar like figure may be?

 

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A GENERAL AND A BAGH: GATEWAYS,HISTORIES AND MASSACRE

A selfie today defines the great Indian family vacation. As uncles, aunts, nieces, nephews, grandpas and grandmas throng to get that perfect shot, what lies forgotten is the purpose of the trip; the historical and cultural soul of the city visited frivolously hidden in the backdrop of those pouts and smiling faces. I remember a few family trips that I took as a child. Since I did not own a camera taking pictures was never a priority, but ‘observing’ was. ‘Observe the things that the city offers you’, my Dadaji would remind me in the train, ‘observe the people, the way they live, the monuments, the markets and then write something about it.’ What followed was a keen inquiry of the city and its people, a skill that was to come in handy years later during my field visits.

Years after my parents’ seamless settlement into a retired life in Pune, we planned a holiday again, perhaps to touch base with our North Indian traditions, that we were gradually consigning to oblivion. The precursor to the holiday was a splendid wedding after which our continued family visits would take us to parts of Punjab and Lucknow. Before we boarded our flight to Delhi, I dutifully remembered my Dadaji’s counsel.

But what was I to observe this time? I had explored Delhi’s history as part of my doctoral research and had intellectually pursued Wazir Ali, Saadat Ali and Wajid Ali Shah of Lucknow. The Punjab, therefore, stood ready for discernment. All that was needed now was a keen eye and Rajmohan Gandhi’s ‘Punjab’.

In my academic and leisured readings of history, the Punjab always appeared as a gateway that led to many epoch making events in Indian history. From Alexander to the Ghaznis and Ghoris, from Timur to the Mongols and the Mughals, everyone made stormy forays into the Punjab, with some only plundering and looting this rich fertile land and some marching ahead victorious and establishing powerful empires.

Gateways are galore even in Amritsar. Leading to congested alleys and bustling bazaars, these old gates around the city have been standing tall since the days of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, Punjab’s glorious Sikh ruler. A walk in the walled city of Amritsar takes one to spiritual enlightenment at the Harmandir Sahib and gets sombre when you reach yet another gateway to history – the Jallianwala Bagh.

Making my way through the crowded albeit  ‘historic lane’ at the Jallianwala Bagh, the red brick walls take me back to undivided Punjab when Akbar divided this land into a series of ‘doabs’, a tract of land lying between two rivers. Therefore, between the Chenab and Jhelum rivers lay the Chaj doab, the rivers Chenab and Ravi watered the Rachna doab, the Bari doab prospered within the region of the Beas and Ravi while the Bist doab was situated between the confluent rivers of Beas and Sutlej. The mighty Sindh Sagar doab was the land between the Indus (Sindhu) and Jhelum. Each of these doab demonstrated a distinctive culture, soaked in the rivers that watered them.

As tourists bask in the winter sun at the Jallianwala Bagh, I think of the Mughals’ long-standing political tenure in the Punjab with Akbar, Jahangir, Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb leaving behind stable and sometimes tumultuous legacies. The Mughal sway over the Punjab lasted until Maharaja Ranjit Singh procured supremacy. Losing his left eye to small pox as an infant, Ranjit Singh displayed valour as a child when he fought his first battle at age 10. In the years to come he founded a robust Sikh empire with its capital at Lahore.

My intent strolls at the Jallianwala Bagh also reveal that the garden once belonged to Bhai Hamit Singh Jallawalia “ a vakil of Raja Jaswant Singh of Nabha, at the court of Maharaja Ranjit Singh.” Situated in a narrow crooked lane, the bagh was once surrounded by the back walls of residential structures and was a mere dumping ground. Nevertheless, this rather dilapidated garden became the venue for a peaceful meeting on 13th April 1919, called in the wake of the unrest caused by the Rowlatt Act and the consequent arrests of many popular leaders like Dr. Satyapal and Dr. Kitchlew.

I turn around and once again look at the historic lane, from where General Reginald Dyer and his heavily armed forces made their way into the bagh. My wanderings take me to Devon, a small English county to which Dyer’s family traced their origins. Arriving in India in the 1820s, the family was known to have started India’s first brewery at Kasauli. Of the Dyers, Reginald was born to Edward and Mary Dyer and served in the British Indian Army. Following the disturbances in the Punjab in 1919, General Dyer arrived at Amritsar from the Jullundhar cantonment to take over the civil administration that was beginning to collapse under its Deputy Commissioner, Miles Irving.

Recollecting the historical facts of General Dyer and the year 1919, I observe the many bullet marks on the red brick walls, a bloody reminder of that monstrous massacre that left several dead; the well situated in the garden premises still echoing with the deafening screams of innocent women and children.

Caught amidst these myriad emotions, I am unceremoniously asked to step aside by a group of tourists who are adjusting their selfie sticks as the women practice the ‘pout’. As the cries of the martyrs of 1919 ebb, I come back to 2016 and look for my mom and dad, who are also basking in the winter sun. Walking back to them, I look at the red brick walls, think of my next blog and wonder how a General and a Bagh let me bethink of the many histories of the Punjab!

Thank you Dadaji for teaching me to ‘observe’ and introducing me to the joys of travelling, writing and reading history.

 

 

 

 

 

 

VOICES OF CONFLICT

“Kashmiriyat, Insaniyat, Jamhooriyat!”

If you’ve been closely following the ongoing conflict in Kashmir, it’s difficult to give these words a miss. They are noticeable in newspaper headlines and are voiced intensely in our corridors of power. These are “magic words” of a conflict; a conflict “handcuffed to history”.

This writing, however, does not intend to assay the conflict in Kashmir. It is, for now, beyond my capability to write on a situation so sensitive and replete with political and historical furore. It will take me years of research, readings and writings to have a firm opinion on the Kashmir issue.

The purpose of this writing is to focus on conflict and its unheard voices.

Independent for decades now, India, unfortunately, has a long-standing history of conflict. Most of these conflicts trace their origins to the administrative tumult that appeared in 1947–of integrating the many semi-autonomous princely and non-princely states of the country. A mammoth task indeed, it was successfully achieved through the painstaking efforts of our political leaders and administrative officials. It, however, brought to fore some pertinent questions raised by the citizenry of India:

Are we Indian enough to be a part of India? Shouldn’t we be a part of Pakistan? Or should we be independent and not side either with Pakistan or India? These (unanswered & unaddressed) questions snowballed into armed conflicts, later to be suppressed by the use of even more arms and sometimes draconian laws.

In the conflict that ensued for years (and continues even now in some states), there was bloodshed (on both sides), numerous rapes, countless murders, unconstitutional killings, unending lists of people who miraculously disappeared and everything that qualified as horrifying, played out in these troubled regions.

However, life moved on. Children were born and later raised in conflict. They were either witness to armed clashes or were told ghastly stories of their family’s struggle with conflict. Along with these children were ageing men and women, young boys and girls, teenagers, teachers, students, doctors, farmers, lawyers – all caught in the macabre of conflict.

I was not raised in conflict, fortunately. Brought up largely in urban India, where a mere pothole bump makes me question my nation, I am often surrounded by people who adhere to a certain form of nationalism (nationalism which I don’t wish to define). I am privileged in many ways and have a fine education system, decent medical facilities, net banking, malls, coffee shops and McDonalds, constantly at my disposal. So when this privileged soul was made to travel to two conflicting zones within her country, an eye opener was in the offing.

I travelled to two states that live in the shadows of an extremist law. I travelled not as a tourist, swamped by the excitement of a selfie, but as a researcher, on a trail to study a region’s history, culture and its people. As the travel progressed, there were stories of violence and of course violence again.

These are states abound with natural beauty. The sunrise and sunset in those rolling hills make for a picturesque moment every day. But how can I ignore the silhouettes of armed men in uniforms and the sounds of their trucks? No there is no clash, no there isn’t any protest, these men in uniforms have been here for years now and will continue to ‘guard’ these regions until they are asked to leave by those ruling the roost in New Delhi. Imagine living in such close proximity to weapons. While sipping tea offered by generous villagers, one hears stories of the myriad underground groups and organisations that exist. “ It’s a choice that we all have to make”, says one villager, “ either the underground or the government…it’s difficult, my life and my family’s life…this is a problem that you wont’ understand.”

Yes, I won’t understand. In fact I never understood this conflict. May be I was too busy being pampered by the gifts of capitalism, that have been so lavishly endowed upon me by recent economic developments and initiatives. Or perhaps, I so strictly abide by my definition of nationalism that I overlooked the many ‘other’ definitions of nationalism that emerged as a consequence of these conflicts.

Violence and bloodshed are the two most visible forms of conflict. However, there are a plethora of unseen ones as well.

Conflict shapes personalities, it impacts an individual’s psyche, and influences thought processes. It is a malady that passes on from one generation to another. For those living in conflict, fear lingers on forever and during times of truce and ceasefires, their gory history comes back to haunt them. From this conflict also emanate many voices. These are voices of dissent, distrust, hate, anger, loss and immense pain. These are voices that are unheard and misunderstood. These are voices that won’t go silent even when they are offered employment opportunities, hefty financial packages and shown the benefits of ‘development’ in their region. For those raised in conflict, rich or poor, young and old, material comforts matter less. What is relevant is their history, which is sadly distorted and filled with despair.

Therefore, it’s time to clear the webs of politics, curtail the use of force and control incessant fundings. It’s time to cease manipulating nationalism. It’s time to understand the ‘psyche of conflict’ and address unheard voices.

And all this for the sake of ‘Insaniyat’ and, most importantly,‘Jamhooriyat’.

WAKING UP TO GANDHI

In the days when finding Pokémon, addressing Facebook challenges, sending Good Morning messages on What’s app groups weren’t tasks that required our immediate and utmost attention, life appeared easy. There was nothing that our country could offer in terms of entertainment in the early 90s. Globalization and privatisation were yet to display their economic and social might.

In such a scenario, weekends were joyous days that we looked forward to, not for the ‘make my trip getaways’ but because they brought with it – ‘the joy of nothingness’. Weekends were a break from tedious school routines, a time to catch up with friends, play, get hurt, fight with siblings, complete school assignments and all this in the tiny confines of our rooms. Even further surprises came in the form of holidays ‘otherwise’ (national, festival, religious, bank etc.). Holidays that our country is so generously bestowed with.

I always waited for the 15th of August. It was one of the first holidays that came along soon after the start of our school session. While my friends eagerly jostled to find their way in the Independence Day celebrations at school, I merely basked in the jingoistic overtones of the day by indulging in everything mundane (the joy of nothingness!).

This joy of nothingness on our nation’s Independence Day continued until I chanced upon Richard Attenborough’s GANDHI. One of those films, quite proudly, telecasted by DD on every national holiday. “Don’t run around the house and sit down and watch what Gandhiji has done for our nation” was how my mother lured me into watching the movie.

And so it began, the journey of a man so closely intertwined with the fate of his countrymen. Silence prevailed in the house until Godse’s gunshots provided a rude awakening. The film had left an impact, a deep one, and Attenborough had done his job!

I thought about the film. The first time, several times after that, and continue to do so even now. It served as an inspiration, invoked not by Gandhi, the Mahatma, and the exceptional nature of our nation’s freedom struggle, but the manner in which the film was made.

GANDHI was Attenborough’s dream project that began after he received a phone call from an Indian Diplomat in the UK, urging him to make a film on Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. The idea, that emerged in the early 60s, received Nehru’s encouragement and support. Despite being backed by the Prime minister himself, the film got rolling years (18 it is!) after the idea was first conceived. And there began a monumental task of (re) creating the life of a man who was a Mahatma, for some, and for some, Bapu.

Biopics are not easy and require intense research and for GANDHI, this came in the form of trunks filled with books. Books written on Gandhi and India’s history of the freedom struggle. In an interview, Rohini Hattangadi, who essayed the role of Kasturba mentioned, that every time there was a query on a certain historical fact, sometimes as small as ‘whether Gandhi wore a Janeyu or a string of Khadi around his neck, what was his caste, how did he walk’, the book trunk and a an expert came to the rescue. What followed was hours of research unearthing answers to the insurmountable questions that the cast and crew were confronted with at every stage of filming. (A tip which could perhaps be used by some of our film makers – that period films require serious research and not just dramatic sets and dance numbers)

This research translated on the screen through the remarkable performances by Ben Kingsley, Saeed Jaffrey, Roshan Seth and a plethora of budding actors, who were either students of the prestigious National School of Drama or were at the start of their acting careers. These included – Amrish Puri, Alok Nath, Om Puri, Mohan Agashe, Pankaj Kapur, Neena Gupta, Supriya Pathak, Alyque Padamsee and many more! One can’t also miss Ravi Shankar’s melodious music.These efforts culminated in 8 Oscar wins and of course worldwide appreciation.

I wake up to GANDHI every Independence Day (or even Republic Day or Gandhi Jayanti). How Gandhi, the person, has influenced me, are writings reserved for another blog. However, GANDHI, the film kindles a unique spirit. It urges me to think, of the man and his times. It instills within me a sense of tenacity, to achieve a form of perfection that is not just backed by material comforts but by passion, spiritual connect to the subject at hand and of course the willingness to get to the crux of the matter.

So, if you’ve not yet given in to the pleasures of the long weekend, then wake up to GANDHI this Independence Day, not to revel in the spirit of patriotism, but simply to get inspired by a masterpiece!

 

 

INDIA’S (UN)-EDUCATED YOUTH!

“Congress main ek alasya sa aa gaya hai” (a sense of laziness has swept into the Congress) pointed Ravish Kumar, on his 9’ o clock daily, as he and the other panelists discussed the much-awaited U.P. elections, to be held next year.

In this battle for the ballot, which some say also decides the fate of the incumbents at the Centre, the Congress party is pitted against, amongst many others, the BJP, which has also launched a vehement election campaign. Ravish and his panelist discussed agendas, covertly masked behind those election rallies and token visits to ghats and memorials of some of India’s men (and women) of history. It all comes down to votes that are not entirely decided by issues of social and economic development, but sadly, ones caste and religion. “Brahmin vote, Dalit vote, Yadav vote, Muslim vote…” the panelists excitedly discuss, as I think of my own religion and caste, something, which is of acute irrelevance to my family and me. Sadly, it continues to be that one crucial factor, which every five years decides the fate of our country.

In the backdrop of Ravish’s discussion and my own thought process, U.P. burns and is marred by communal violence, caste based atrocities and uncontrolled rape cases. What follows is the usual political gossip on national television, mud slinging and blame game.

How is it that we let our religion, caste, community and gender dominate every aspect of our life? How is it that we still can’t rid ourselves of social evils? How is it that our economic progress has not wiped out our trivial socio-cultural rules and regulations?

Are ambitious politicians and politics always to be blamed? May be not!

This time I choose not to blame any political party (although they are at the very core of this crisis), I do not wish to point at any ideology, which is being forced down upon this nation, any wave, any personality, any leader, any organization, anything that has the slightest of connect with our political system.

It’s time I analyze the role of my own people – the youth!

It is the youth that gives a nation, an identity, a thought process and decides its present and future. It is the youth that works hard, earns and brings about economic prosperity. India treads on a successful economic path and our well-educated youth are definitely a relevant part of India’s many success stories.

But there are also stories that India may not be very proud of. These are stories, akin to the ones brewing in parts of UP and Gujarat. Stories that sometimes also acquire forms of social injustices, honour killings, female feticides and infanticides, dowry deaths, rapes, religious intolerances and many more. These stories are not always determined by the generation that precedes us or any political organization, but the youth.

That these issues continue to haunt India, emphatically points at the many failures of our educated youth. Unlike, post independent India, when education was still a belonging of a privileged few, the youth today has access to a fine education system. This education, that they receive at private, public, government run and sometimes even illegal institutes, not only hones their latent skills, but also assures them of hefty pay packages. What follows is a technology driven life, investments, stocks, foreign travels and of course blaming the government for all the wrongs that surround us.

Despite this exposure of a unique kind, the youth continues to be dictated by social and cultural norms that are bound by caste, religion, community, gender and more.

Therefore, a well accomplished government officer harassing his wife for dowry, or caste and religion being the deciding factors for social union such as marriages, or honour killings or the continuance of xenophobic ideologies shouldn’t come as a shocking surprise!It is also the educated youth who overwhelmed by their own ideas of jingoism fail to recognize that what they perceive as being anti-national, are actually monumental failures of the state. It is also the same educated youth that sometimes praises and whistles for those who humour rape and walk free despite killing humans and animals!

While education has put India’s youth on the world map and given them an exposure of a unique kind, it has perhaps fallen short at various levels.

Education should be such that empowers opinion, harnesses strong principles and creates a being who is willing to take a strong and absolute stand against all the social ills that masquerade as familial, societal and cultural traditions.

Instead, our education system produces money-making robots! It is perhaps due to the presence of these robots that our nation continues to thrive on intolerance, which is not a politically generated concept but a feeling that resides within all of us, young or old, political or non – political, literate or illiterate.

Having said all of the above, I still wouldn’t blame the youth for everything. The youth today does make an effort to unshackle the burdens of the past and voices its opinion for a better future. Over the past few months, there has emerged a youth brigade in this country who’ve managed a political and social uproar. I do not entirely agree with their political gimmicks, however, it is comforting enough to know that these youngsters may not own a flat in Greater Noida, have a lal-batti at their disposal, or walk around in their crisp corporate attires, but instead have the will to stand up for their principles and are in the real sense of the term, India’s educated youth!

 

 

FROM A CONCERT TO AN EXIT:EUROPE’S MANY FACES

Brexit is old news and I do not wish to indulge in details tracing the events that led to the foundation of this geo-political establishment. Many of you may well be aware of the complexities of this economic and social union.

What I do wish to highlight upon, albeit briefly, are the factors that created an ‘exit atmosphere’. Rising immigrations, red tape-ism within the EU, the financial and economic burdens that the EU imposed upon the UK, strict regulations are some of the many arguments cited by the British to leave this historic organisation.

While these factors impinged upon the daily life of those who voted to leave, the Brexit also, exposes the many frictions that lie within Europe; frictions that have been at play for millennia now, have changed the map of Europe several times, and all this much before the idea of a European Union was even remotely conceived.

This discord is not a recent one and goes well back in time. For now, let’s affix 1789 as the year, which was to become a paradigm shift in Europe’s history. It was the year when the French revolted against monarchial absolutism and fought for their social and democratic rights.

The glory was ephemeral as France came under the shadows of Napoléon Bonaparte, who initiated an era of battles and wars. Dominating the years of 1803-1815, the Napoleonic Wars, fought between France and other European countries, changed the map of Europe. In the wake of the Napoleonic Wars, it was found imperative to devise a diplomatic policy that ended this decade long conflict and maintained peace.

And thus came about a ‘Concert’ that was to see the beginnings of all diplomacy in Europe. Termed as the ‘Concert of Europe’, a Supreme Council, consisting of Great Britain, Austria, Prussia and Russia, was formulated in order to prevent any further aggressions from the French. Being an innovative political experiment, the Concert of Europe called for a series of conferences and congresses to deliberate upon the welfare of Europe.

Mutual jealousies within Europe were to see the end of this Concert. The Concert and the injustices that it carried, led to the Unification of Italy and Germany, which until now were divided into several confederacies; the movements yet again altering the face of Europe.

As these dissensions within Europe became more apparent, Bismarck, the face of German Unification, shrewd diplomat and statesman foresaw a war, which was unprecedented. He thereby forged alliances with Austria and Russia to form the Three Emperor’s League, and the Triple Alliance with Italy and Austria.

This system of forging military alliances was to mark a new trend in Europe’s diplomatic policy. These alliances, which according to Bismarck were an expression of common interest, also served the purpose of safeguarding oneself in times of diplomatic unease and anxiety. In the wake of this proliferating acrimony, Europe became divided into two major armed camps, known as the Triple Entente, represented by the English, French and the Russians and the Triple Alliance, formulated between the Austria, Germany and Italy.

While alliances and understandings were being established between European powers, empires were crumbling, and the map of Europe continuously changing. The empire in question being that of the Turks, the disintegration of which led to the dissemination of Balkan states such as Greece, Serbia, Bulgaria and Montenegro.

An uneasy calm prevailed over Europe, until the morning of 28th June, 1914 when an Austrian heir to the throne was shot dead along with his wife. And there began a summer of war; unprecedented in nature, a rarity that the world would witness for the first time.

Witnessing a colossal participation of the armed forces from around the world, and killing millions, the IWW ended with a treaty and a league. The League of Nations, as it was called, functioned more or less on the lines of the Concert, with the aim of maintaining peace and preventing any such bloody calamities. It quite evidently failed, for two decades of peace only gave way to the rise of extremist ideologies in Europe, once again pitting several European powers against one another and resulting in yet another war, fought between 1939-1945.

The outcome of this war was another organisation, with an international stature. The aftermath of the II WW also saw the beginnings of the European Union, with the intention of creating an economic dependence and binding between these countries.

However, the United Nations, as the international organisation was called, could not curtail the descent of an Iron Curtain, which created a strong divide between a Communist Soviet Union and the rest of Europe. The period stretching from 1945 till the late 1980s, when the Soviet Union disbanded giving rise to many independent European nations, came to be known as the Cold War.

In this context, the Brexit seems like a part of a political and historical process that is continuous and has been driving Europe for over centuries now. It only, once again, displays longstanding misunderstandings and distrust that have existed within Europe’s corridors of power. Only this time, the distrust was expressed through a referendum and not war.

Europe’s geo-political situation now looks uncertain. Perhaps, it’s best that two dynamic women decide the future course of action and give Europe yet another face(lift)!

 

MISSING: GABRU

I belong to Punjab or that’s what I have been told. Growing up in India’s many urban cities, we needed an emotional anchorage; an anchorage that was our village, our place of origin, and our belonging. “Where’s your native place?”, my brother and I were quite often asked by a legion of kids we went to school with. The answer to that question was a confused smile or in my brother’s case a facile reply, “We don’t know!”

Always a curious historian, I asked my mother about our rather muddled roots. “Tell them you belong to Punjab!” , she exclaimed. We did belong to Punjab, although our Punjab was far away, across the border; but fixating ourselves to a place abound with agrarian lands and rivers, that not only fed the people who inhabited its banks but also stood witness to several historical events, seemed convenient.

As we grew up, Punjab was glorified, largely in films. The films, opened into a mustard field, an omnipresent yellow, and there emerged a young man, adorned in a pathani kurta, tending to his land. Enter ‘gabru’, the simpleton, who swore by his community, took immense pride in his land and swept many girls off their feet.

Quite smitten by the gabru , I once agreed to be squired around the state, the supposed place of our ‘nativity’. Perambulating through many, almost desolate pinds (villages), and overwhelmed by hospitality, that is unprecedented, my search for the gabru began.

During our visits to rock gardens, lakes, and intermittent indulgences in lassi, paranthas, generous quantities of butter, home made paneer and so on, the gabru was not to be found. As the travel progressed, it was slowly and sadly revealed, that gabru had gone missing, many years ago.

Where was the handsome lad who sauntered through his fields?

He was perhaps hiding from his own men, who now satiated themselves with alcohol and banned substances, instead of lassi, from his men who replaced their imposing tractors with sleek ‘s classes’ and pretentiously macho SUVs; he was running away from those who maddeningly migrated to lands abroad for odd jobs, in a bid to establish a newer identity, an identity that had a mark of a foreign citizenry, he was avoiding those who chose baggy jeans, diamond studs and underground music over mystic sufi verses and a white pathani. The gabru had succumbed to years of conflict, ill planned money laundering revolutions, rampant migrations to foreign lands and unemployment. He had paid a price for distancing himself from his fields, his land that fed his family, his village, his state, and his nation at large.

My search ended in vain, for the gabru went missing, carelessly slipping into oblivion!