We Are Like That Only

First published in The Pioneer, September 09, 2011


A sense of deja vu has gripped the nation, which is exactly what Terrorism Inc. needs to bring a nation to its knees

Sitting down yesterday to write and reminisce about the events of 9/11 I got a message from a friend saying he had heard that there was a bomb blast in New Delhi, and that eleven people had been killed and scores injured. Technology has leapfrogged in the past decade and so it was easy to catch up on the latest reactions and responses to the Delhi blast of 9/7 sitting in my office in a small town in Virginia- more easily than it was to get news on the 9/11 events sitting in another small town, in Missouri, that fateful day ten years ago.

My first response to the terrorist attack in New Delhi on Wednesday was the same, I believe, of many millions of Indians both in India and around the world: "Here we go again". Inured to these attacks, month in and month out, year in and year out, the response by the police and the government agencies seems to have also not changed, and little seems to have been learned in terms of both tracking and hunting down these terrorists, and if found, trying them in courts. Cases have been strung along for months and years, hangings of convicted terrorists delayed, with little decisive action to send a strong message to those plotting to do more harm to India and Indians.

This strange apathy, and the politically motivated, lackadaisical responses by entrenched political forces reminds me of RK Narayan's famous response to Naipaul anxiously asking him what would happen to India if Indians continued with their ways: “Whatever happens, India will go on,” Narayan wisely remarked, and a quick glance at the headlines of Indian newspapers, a day after the Delhi attack, vindicates the astuteness of

Narayan's response. Not so well-known is another quip by another Indian, the well-known social scientist Ashis Nandy, crisply describing the Indian mindset as "anarchic individualism".

Every crisis, every major event, seems to bring out the Indian in the Indian: emotional breast-beating, grand pronouncements about finding culprits and ending menaces, visits to hospitals by netas feigning concern and announcing compensations, and finally, a call to communal harmony. The injured, the maimed, and the bereaved are all quickly forgotten, and the survivors and their families made to run from the usual pillar to the distant post seeking recompense from a callous, vulgar, and criminal political establishment hell bent on poking the eyes of the latest political adversaries.

Is the American response to crises different? Yes, of course, and not necessarily always healthy or wise but almost always decisive, quick, and comprehensive. Let me segue here to the events of 9/11. It was a quiet Tuesday morning in Kirksville, Missouri as I got into my car for the ten-minute drive across town to my university. One hour behind Eastern Standard Time (EST), on Central Time in Missouri, I heard the commentator on the car radio cry out that "another" plane had crashed into the World Trade Center, and this time into the South Tower. It was around 8:1o a.m. Central Time, and the second plane had crashed into the South Tower at 9:03 EST. I immediately turned around my car and returned home to switch the TV on, warned my wife about unfolding events, and called friends and relatives to exchange information. It was a tumultuous day but in many ways, kudos to the American pragmatic approach to life, life went on in our little university town, and I got back to my office to work and talk to my colleagues and students about the unfolding events.

Of the 2,996 people who died on that day, 2,941 were civilians, with 55 military personnel killed at the Pentagon. Of the 372 foreign nationals killed, 41 were Indian passport holders, making Indians the second largest group of victims after the British (66). It is estimated that 117 of the victims were of Indian origin, and that meant 76 of those were Indian-Americans. And there were victims in the aftermath of the events on that fateful day: Prasanna, the young widow of Vamsikrishna, who was a passenger on the ill-fated American Airlines flight 11, who killed herself 37 days later because she could not bear her loss; Balbir Singh Sodhi, who was murdered outside his gas station in Mesa, Arizona, the first victim of a hate crime following the 9/11 attacks; and Dr Sneha Philip, who was removed from the official roll of victims in 2004 after a court decided that there was no way of knowing if she was killed in the terrorist attacks, and whose family fought valiantly and successfully to have her honour restored.

Americans are always almost in a hurry, and while that helps getting matters resolved in the short run, the effects of actions taken in a hurry have their own consequences, as we all are aware now. It was easy to fund the Taliban and proclaim them "freedom fighters," as Reagan did, but it is difficult to deal with them now as they hang on to their angry God, their idea of jihad, and their surface-to-air missiles. It was easy to support the Muslim fundamentalist President Zia-ul-Haq, but darned if we know what to do with fundamentalist infiltrated Pakistani Army and the ISI. It was easy to ignore the attacks on India and the Pakistani designs on mortally wounding Hindus through a thousand cuts but darned if we know what to do with surveys indicating the abysmal percentage of Pakistanis liking America.

In the end what can we say? There was an inter-faith gathering on September 8, 2011 "to celebrate the role of religion as the country still struggles to heal from the emotional and political ramifications of 9/11," and interestingly no Hindu, Buddhist, or Jain is part of this "inter-faith gathering". Homilies will be delivered about how all religions call for peace, and how a few mistaken individuals are to blame for the mayhem in the world -­ bromides we have come to expect in our politically correct worlds... whether in India or in the US.

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