Monday, December 1, 2008


The world suddenly seems such a different place since my last post. How much difference does a week make?

The title of this post came about in a conversation recently amongst some friends and colleagues. It refers to two events. One of these was the terrorist attack on three very public places in Mumbai of which there has been saturation coverage in the media. Hundreds have again died, just months after similar though not quite the same kind of attack in Delhi, Jaipur and other places. For a few days there is enhanced security, talk of setting up an FBI like organisation, improving intelligence. Then it's all forgotten and we are back where we started, till the next attack.

The second event got little or no coverage in the press (except a bit in the local newspapers) and that was Cyclone 'Nisha' hitting Chennai. Coincidentally the two events spanned the same few days. Some of us in so called 'low-lying areas' had to leave our houses and apartment buildings and take shelter with friends, relatives and colleagues to avoid being marooned in a sea of water. Every year there is flooding and large parts of the city resemble a lake with bits of buildings sticking out from under the water. Every year the Corporation claims it has redone the storm water drains and things will be better - and they remain the same. Of course this year was particularly bad, as bad as 2005, the intervening years have been somewhat less destructive. And so it goes - people crib, complain and then finally, with no other option, grit their teeth and bear it. The total number of people who died in the coastal areas of Tamil Nadu due to this cyclone is in the same ball park as the Mumbai attack.

All this is supposed to show we are a resilient culture. But this is just wishful thinking (or to put it more politely, hogwash) - making a virtue of inaction. So I wonder, is it some kind of fatalism that affects all Indians, borrowed from Hinduism, that you suffer because you deserve it, you must have done something bad in your past life. The inexorable law of karma justifies not only the misfortune but provides an escape route from finding a long term solution to a crisis. Interestingly, I think Christians and Muslims seems also to have been affected by this ingrained fatalism bug. It's probably the price we pay for being Indians.

How many disasters, deaths, tribulations must one suffer before concerted preventive action becomes the norm? Is it so difficult to improve intelligence, to improve coordination between agencies, provide high tech equipment, take tips from other countries which are also battling terrorism. I do not advocate, unlike the BJP, something akin to the Patriot Act which throws fundamental rights to the winds and loosens the restrictions on security forces to misusing their powers. The law of the land is not the problem. It is also impossible really to completely secure open public spaces. However we can, with some effort, have better intelligence and importantly, make use of it.

Similarly surely we (or City Corporations) can make a concerted effort to improve infrastructure so that people's lives are not made a living hell with monotonous regularity. Being rendered homeless, or made a refugee even for a short period, is an experience that one can do well without.

So all this brings me to the title of the post -- forbearance. Is that then a virtue or just plain incompetence?

Tailpiece: For a different aspect of the Mumbai attack, see Martha Nussbaum's article. For a clearly balanced and non-partisan view of South Asian Jihadi Groups, read Hussain Haqqani's article. Hussain Haqqani is a diplomat who is presently Pakistan's ambassador to the US.

Comments, as always, welcome.


Sourendu said...

Take a look at Gornick in Boston Review.

[Naipaul] expects of the Third World: that it will “cure” itself, not through some long, harrowing search for self-understanding, but by an act of will that simply pushes back the hysteria of magic and myth, employing the kind of disciplined mental work it takes to create a society ruled by reason and historical analysis.

AMOK said...

Dr. Basu. Review the basic principles of any private company or defense group (read army). Leadership. Teamwork. Rewards. Accountability. Justice. Now look for these elements on the Indian scene. No doubt you can find these in the private sectors and defense sectors and some others at the local levels. In the public sectors it is "Sarkar ka Raj". What do you think will come of this initiative : here ? Any hope that Mr. Chidambaram will actually get something implemented soon? Your wise words please, O Mastah. Happy New Year.