Cold winds blowing

Cold winds blowing
I stretch my arms
To the dawn
Yet another day to rise and shine
At a corner a dog lifts an eye
Birds humming the morning song
School children hurry
A newspaper man rushes by
A cyclist pedals fast and high
I take a sigh
Before going for a run
The day gives a big smile
Says it to me “I was waiting for you”

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Like everybody I too have dreams, but the one that I had last night stumped me. There is perhaps no rationale behind these flashyDreams images that happen to be a complete disarray of thoughts. A dream, I believe, is somehow connected to us or perhaps our deepest self. Here is what happened.

I was at the CBD Belapur station wanting to cross over to the other side of the platform for reasons unknown. The next I see is me crossing the tracks hastily, mindful of the bloody reputation the tracks have. Just behind me is a girl aged 14 or 15, an American, who is completely disoriented and frightened also wanting to cross over. I help her cross the tracks and ask her where she wanted to go. Looking around for her kin she apprehensively says, “From the place I came.” A bit surprised I question her again, “Where did you come from?” She replies, “I don’t know. I was supposed to go somewhere with my parents.” Completely shocked by her answer I think she could have possibly be talking about Panvel as a lot of out-station trains leave from there. I remember seeing the board of Dahisar. Did I just cross over from CBD Belapur to Dahisar, a good 1.5 hours from here? Let’s go ahead.

So I am finally at Dahisar as I see no station complex as at the CBD Belapur station. I see the station completely crowded with people looking at me and the young girl suspiciously. In the background a train just arrives loaded with humanity. Wanting to help, I instruct her to board a train which will take her to Panvel in just 10 minutes. WTF? Dahisar to Panvel in just 10 minutes? So here is what I do. I take a pencil; wrap it up with a paper and ask the local canteen guy for a pen to write my cell number. This was going nowhere. I want the girl to call me as soon as she reaches there. Suddenly, a couple of eunuchs appear in front of me with a small placard which said DVD. They never spoke but intended to say something. Furious and frustrated I give the one with the placard a kick. Terrified they run away. Completely bizarre, isn’t it?

After having written my cell number I ask the girl to board the train which has just arrived. But a local train, as they are known to be, was overcrowded with people. Thinking about the hassles of travelling in an overcrowded Mumbai train, I board the train with the girl. And the timing is 9.15 AM. Good Morning!

Killing my Dream

Picture 194Here I return
To the jungle of concrete
For yet another day on a machine
I surrender my benevolent soul
To an insatiable human being

Wish I could forget
The sweetness of the water
The silence of the wilderness
I miss the redolence of the air
The tweeting of the birds
The talk of the trees

I linger in a void of mundane chores
Where time flies by
And work is what life means
For I fail to see
How unreal the real world is

Here I return
Once again
From the dope of nature
To kill my dream
And capture the mortal within

Over the past two decades India’s stand on foreign affairs has undergone a sea change. Its view of the world and itself, as well as the world’s perception of India has undergone profound changes. From a country that was rather conservative in foreign matters to the present one that is actively engaging itself with world powers – it is a welcome change. The changing dynamics in geopolitics and the fluctuating economic condition has made sure that India makes the necessary correction in its foreign code to prepare itself better for the future. For years, India has tried to maintain a balance when it came to managing relations with external powers. Be it the unstable neighbors, the unreliable west or the fluctuating middle-east, India has been managing them with good care.

Dealing with international relations is a tricky affair. Any let up could scumble India’s image as an international player thereby causing harm to its political and economic interests. According to Dr. C. Raja Mohan, a leading foreign policy analyst, there are five challenges that the nation faces in the near future. These include:

•    The creation of an area of peace and prosperity in the South-Asian Subcontinent
•    The construction of a stable architecture for peace and cooperation in Asia
•    The peaceful management of Asia’s maritime commons
•    A new internationalism that will be shaped by a deepening integration with the global economy and an effective contribution to the management of global problems
•    A clear line between celebrating its own democratic values and imposing them on others.

To meet these challenges India’s foreign policy needs a pragmatic approach with dedicated efforts from all quarters of the establishment; the polity, the bureaucracy and subject matter experts. The credit to the positive change in the last few decades may well go to dynamic foreign affairs officials whose sole objective was to place India on the global map.

The first name that crops up in the list of illustrious diplomats the country has seen is that of Late Ambassador Bimal Sanyal. Mr. Sanyal is remembered as one of the most sincere and hardworking diplomat who pioneered many firsts in the service. He was the very first Secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs exclusively entrusted with ‘Economic Relations’ as a tool of diplomacy which has since become a mantra for India’s modern day diplomacy. The Association of Indian Diplomats awards The Ambassador Bimal Sanyal Memorial Medals to outstanding officers each year. It awards a Gold medal for the Best IFS Officer trainee each year and a Silver medal for the Best dissertation.

The architect of India’s modern foreign policy, Brajesh Mishra is undoubtedly the next in line. Principal Secretary to former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Mishra was also the first National Security Advisor. Known for his tough stand on various issues and his ability to make things work, Mishra built a good rapport with officials, ministers and diplomats alike. A troubleshooter in many ways, his sole motive was to make India’s position known on a myriad of issues. Mishra’s death leaves behind a legacy that has become a cornerstone for many aspiring and serving officers of the time.

Shiv Shankar Menon, India’s present National Security Advisor is yet another torchbearer of India’s interest on the international platform. Menon was instrumental in shaping the Indo-US nuclear deal which remains a milestone in US-India relations. Coming from a family of diplomats, Menon has helped India come out of the age-old nonalignment concept which has brought India closer to the West.

The year 2012 has rather been regretful for India. The arrest of the Italian marines and the following controversy has cast a shadow on India-Italy relations. Norway’s displeasure on the cancellation of 2G licenses to Uninor, a telecom joint venture by Telenor and Unitech India, has put the relations under strain. Perhaps the only silver lining for this year, the FDI in retail, too has come under tremendous pressure from opposition parties and is giving the government sleepless nights. With the 2014 elections coming close, the year 2013 will play the decider in which way the tide moves.

India’s foreign policies must be framed around how the world stands and not what it feels it should be; a problem that still plagues the country’s leadership. Though it has come a long way from being unrealistic, India still needs to make concentrated efforts to make itself relevant on the global stage. Much of it again will depend on the men who manage India’s foreign affairs.

A copy of this article appeared on USINPAC.com

Many would say it hardly matters considering the Presidential debates never saw India figure even once. In just about four days the war will come to an end and the world will be introduced to the new President. Will it be Obama or Romney is a question better left for time and the voters to answer.

For both the candidates it’s never been an easy walk so far. Romney has had his share of issues. His handling of personal taxes, his association with Bain Capital, the unfortunately leaked video, his lack of clarity on foreign affairs and the frequent bloopers had Team Obama label him as a plutocrat who could be anybody but the President. Obama too has fallen short of being given a definite second term. He has already drawn flak for his inability to reduce unemployment. A lingering economy, a fragile market, his mishandling of the Libya and Syria crisis and the failed promises made on hope and change seems to have the odds against him.

So what’s the mood in India? Though the election result does not appear to give sleepless nights to the biggies in Delhi, there is a certain degree of excitement keeping in mind the amount of importance a President of the United States has in the world. Manasi Kakatkar, a Master in International Security and Economic Policy from the University of Maryland says, “Obama has apparently slighted the Indians both by not mentioning them enough and then mentioning them only in reference to reducing outsourcing of work. But from a long term perspective, a second Obama Presidency will be beneficial to India both economically and geo-strategically. Obama holds more promise when it comes to dealing strictly with Pakistan and terrorism emanating from there. Economically as well, he is on the right track to securing a strong economic future for the US, which consequently means better trade and economic gains for India in the long run.”

Shakti Shetty of Mid-Day too seems to echo the same sentiment though he maintains that the election results would not bother India much. “Going by the popular opinion, Obama turned out to be quite tepid compared to the bonhomie his Republican predecessor helped create. And there was always noise on the outsourcing front which obviously hurt the Indian ITES sector. On the brighter side, Obama reached out to the public during his celebrated visit, including the Parliament. But the critics always maintained that Obama provided more lip service than needed. He didn’t get too much time to express his admiration for India. At least not in practical terms. Romney may seem like a safer bet but he doesn’t have any precedent and that might work in his favor. Maybe it won’t. After all, he could have the beginner’s luck if he wins the ultimate poll.”

The view further becomes a bit of a personal juggernaut when it comes to the popular Common Man of India. Shybu Khan, a keen observer of US-India relations likes to keep things close to his heart. He says, “I would be unfruitful to think that the American presidential elections won’t affect us, and I am certainly not doing that, but the first challenge I encountered was deciding on a favorite, both for practical as well as selfish reasons.” He further elaborates, “Mitt Romney seems like a good man with good ideas and offers an alternative to what Barack Obama has expressed thus far – and that is a good thing. But in a world that we live in today, continuity and experience edges out flamboyance and experimentation. Storm Sandy – if handled adeptly — could act as a positive wave that convinces the voters and allows Obama his full term to truly perform and hopefully say, “Yes, he did.”

So the general view still tries to balance itself between the promising Democrat and the ambitious Republican. With the recent polls showing a tough contest between the two the game is evenly poised. The candidates have fought with fervor and have openly ballyhooed each other with their campaigns terming each one as regressive and siding with the bad and the evil. History says that US elections has mattered when it came to worldly affairs and there is no way it would choose to go otherwise – at least in the near future. What we really need is a leader who in principle is enterprising, human and respects the future of every man and woman. For now, India can only keep their fingers crossed and trust the Americans to choose the best.

Sitting in a coffee shop in Norway’s bustling city of Oslo, Asif was taken aback when his childhood friend Akram suddenly happened to meet him. Nostalgia sets in as Asif goes on a reverse journey back to the times when life did a flip-flop between good and bad, happiness and sadness.

A responsible son of a proud and kind father, Asif’s life in a humble village of Afghanistan was more than just ideal. A loving mother, caring father, playful siblings, a trustworthy friend along with the shade and the warmth of the mulberry tree made him a boy that anyone would be jealous of. Things looked good until the communists lead by People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) overturned the people friendly government after brutally executing the then President Sardar Mohammed Daoud Khan and his family members.

Life took a tumultuous and ugly turn as the Red Wrath wrecked havoc in the nation taking the people along its path. Asif would soon see his dear ones getting separated from him in the most painful manner. The death of his father and little sister had Asif stare at his future in horror. But Asif’s determination and his strong will to have a good future for his family and himself takes him to Pakistan and then to Norway where he tries to collect the pieces of his life and bring them back to life.

Author Hatef Mokhtar’s The Red Wrath: A Journey Between Two Destinies is a heart-wrenching story of courage, bravery and hope on one end and of brutality, death and darkness on the other. Chief Editor of The Oslo Times, Hatef is definitely a brilliant observer of the little things in life as his comprehensive narration makes the story come alive. A work of class, Hatef lays Afghanistan literally in front of you. Its culture, faith, people and the lovely landscape gives us a virtual glimpse of a land where love and respect are considered supreme. The book is a must for those who know little about Afghanistan and its people. It’s a story which inspires you to do the unthinkable when life is not so kind. Reading this work is an experience in itself. Certainly a Fiver!

2003: A Horror Story

It was December 2003. As wannabe engineers we were made to attend a conference on electronics and nanotechnology – or so I guess. Needless to say we spent the whole time yawning, sleeping, making mindless cartoons and wondering what was happening. The conference was also attended by students who had come from other branches of our university elsewhere. After a tiring day everybody was ready to die on bed until a psychopath suggested something nasty. To play a prank on our guests!

My college was an unusual one, kind of an all-in-one superstructure. Frankly, it was a useless shopping complex turned into a local university. Geeeee! From the library to the classroom, from the labs to the washrooms and from the conference rooms to the hostel, all were loaded in one building. The basement was the library; the classrooms occupied the 1st and 2nd floor with the mezzanine floor for the administration and the professors. The girls were placed on the 3rd and the guys on the 4th, 5th and 6th floors. Finally, the management was stacked into the 7th. For the day the guests were accommodated on the fifth floor, a makeshift arrangement.

The plan was to scare the hell out of the visitors and give them a memory of a lifetime. Entry Balwinder Singh Bhandechha aka Ballu; our chudail

Da blood thirsty chudail

who was thirsty for some fresh blood. Honestly, it didn’t need a whole lot of make-up to make him look like one. We strapped him with a white bed sheet, let his hair down and made him hold a torch as he stared and blew his tongue at his victim. The sight still frightens me and many who played accomplice on that scary day. Protagonist done; it was now time to set the stage for the play.

Starters of the tube lights were removed, lifts were made dysfunctional by letting them remain open, wolves and chudail sounds tested, ghostly mist was to be produced using potassium permanganate and glycerine and volunteers were placed to keep a tab on a possible raid by watchmen and the warden.

All set, we moved towards the fifth floor towards our victims. Our first target was the Cochin team. It failed and failed miserably. Reason; those creepy mallus did not wake up. But that did not stop us from another attempt. Bangalore was our next stop. Things went as per plan. Everything worked as usual and they even opened the door. But that did not scare him. Disappointed, we decided to give it a final try. Cometh Hyderabad, cometh climax!

The Hyderabad operation was a difficult one. The room was situated in a narrow lane that ran 10 metres and had a width of approximately a meter. Running back from there meant covering a minimum of 5 to 10 meters. Common sense pleaded us to drop the plan. But for wannabe engineers, biotechnologists and designers, common sense was not at all common. We were soldiers. Failure was not in our dictionary. We were destined to win. Glory awaited us. In short, we were fools!

Ballu walked towards the door. Ali frantically blew the whole chemical and kicked the door thrice with full force. The air was thick and black. Ballu wanted to run back but then the door opened. The music of the wolves and the chudail made the background score. A short and stout man in his vest opened the door. We held our breath and watched from the corner. Ballu flashed the torch on his face, stared furiously and blew his tongue and made a screechy sound like a real chudail. Rage was written on his face. The man was stunned beyond imagination. He knew the bitch was after his blood. Shocked, he stood like a stone. It was picture perfect. Ballu slowly moved back and walked towards the stairs – and ran back to his room like a mad dog. So did we. It was a huge success.

As we basked in the glory, surprise awaited us the next day. Little did we know that the person who opened the door was not a student but in fact a professor from the Hyderabad campus. Most amusingly, we learnt he was scared. Blussshhhhhh!

A year later Ballu was back again to play chudail. Our target, our juniors. Ballu gave a flawless performance at the very first shot. The boy screamed and yelled. Guess what happened? Scared, ballu ran away…:P

Note: It’s been almost a decade after the incident. Please forgive me if I have missed or added something that does not relate. Mohsin Mukadam aka Moosa, Praveen Nair aka Ali, Harshal Joshi, Rahul Poonia, Asmit Hadke, Sumit Burukul, Binu Jacob, Tushar Saxena and some others were part of the conspiracy.

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