Friday, July 22, 2011

The Faces of Terror

Last Wednesday, when terror took over Mumbai yet again, the blasts did not just shake Mumbai, it shook and sent its tremors across the world. But, the question is: did it shake the world enough to take notice? Terror attacks, blasts, shootings and many such violent acts have become so common these days, that humanity has become numb to the pain of these terrible blows.

When the powerful earthquake and tsunami hit Japan this March, one thing kept coming to my mind all the time. Is it not enough that we are helpless in front of Nature's wrath? Innocent lives being taken by natural disasters cannot be helped. Why, then do we inflict more hurt and pain brought upon by man-made attacks? Any life is not worth being ended by some meaningless act of terror. And it should hurt us to see fellow human beings being treated like some actors in a play, whose roles have come to an end. Nobody has the right to play God and decide which character leaves the act when.

When we heard about the blasts last week, a friend of mine came up to me and said in a very concerned voice "Did you hear about the blasts, nobody has claimed responsibility for it yet". And my reply was "Does it really matter?". It really doesn't matter if it was an Al-Qaeda or a Jaish-e-Mohamed or a Lashkar-e-Toiba or  some other new branch of these terror groups. The fact of the matter is that they kill innocent people and wield weapons as though they were essential commodities. Ask the relatives of those dead in these blasts whether they really care who carried out this atrocious act. For them, their family member is gone, is never coming back and that pain can never go away. Knowing who did it and why they did it is a futile attempt to bring back happiness to them. No amount of investigations will help them come to terms with reality and it is definitely not going to bring back their loved one. So does this mean, we just look at it like an accident and move on? No, it just means: bring justice to these people by preventing such incidents. I know, it is not easy to keep such a big country secure all the time, but trying is all we can do.

It shouldn't take a 9/11 for the world to sit up and take notice of the dangers of terrorism. Why did the world suddenly become aware of this pre-eminent threat in 2001? Was it because of the scale of the attack or the big numbers? But loss of life is no different whether it was 1 or 1000. A terror victim is a terror victim. There is nothing fair or just about someone's life being put to a stop by gory acts. A victim dies an anonymous, painful, pointless, unnecessary death and nobody deserves that. You know, people can only take so much. Once they are done, they either give up, feeling helpless or rise to the occasion and take back what is theirs: justice. We are feeling helpless now, and are being exploited because of that. We have to find a way to stand up and stop this, we have to make the corridors of power take notice and do something!!!

It has only been 2 years since the last dreadful day in Mumbai, when the whole city was under attack. The wounds are still fresh from then and here they are back again to scrape the scab. It is sad that here in America, people know Mumbai because of that attack. That is not something, I would like my country to be known for. And the ironic part is, half the world does not even know about the supposedly smaller and more frequently occurring terror attacks. It is just a week from the recent blasts and this news has disappeared from the news bulletins. What is happening to our society? Why does a blow against human life become insignificant enough to disappear in the ever-changing news world? Have we made this a part of life?

The truth is "Yes, we have". People talk about the spirit of Mumbai. Mumbai does not stop for anything, it keeps going on. Is it something we should be proud of or should we be looking into the devious reality behind that? Mumbai does not stop because there is no option. No offices are closed because of a blast. Everybody goes to work because their bosses don't give them vacation for some unknown lives lost. The President of India does not declare a National Holiday, the CM does not shut down the state, so what do you expect normal people to do? It is not their choice, but their helplessness that Mumbaiites keep going on. And I am not proud of it for sure. It just shows that we as a society have become so used to these occurrences, that our minds have stopped taking notice. Mumbaikars keep leading their regular day, just hoping and praying that today will not be their unlucky day. And the day is not far, when most of us will live with that very same fear in our minds. Because terror does not see boundaries or religions, it is just pointless and irrational and if it is Mumbai today, it will be something else tomorrow.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Scientist Soap

We have seen the ins and outs of so many professions revealed through numerous soaps that cover the interesting job profiles of a lawyer, nurse, doctor, journalist, IT professional, cop, and even a chef, I think. Not many professions have been left untouched by this need for on-scene drama. That made me think about why certain professions were left out, like that of a scientist or a research student. Now I agree, it wouldn't be as dramatic and interesting as the hospital shows, where the only patients that come in are dying patients with some kind of a medical mystery (refer to House). Never do they have patients with small and uncomplicated sicknesses. So, lets not fool anyone, a scientist's job profile could never beat that.

But, if there was ever to be a show, how would it be like? There would be a lot of drama for sure. But not the kind, the general public likes to see. The sudden temperature rise in the incubator leading to no microbial growth at all, the poor research students whose lives depend on the life of these microbes, their unfailing efforts to resuscitate the microbes, bring them back to life and get some kind of visible results. Deadlines to be met for getting a paper published, one mistake and you could lose that single opportunity of getting a paper publication, it could mean the difference between a wannabe and accomplished scientist (although these cool terms do not go along at all with the job profile :D). With their, pipettes loaded, waiting with bated breath, to load the gel and hope to find that one breakthrough result, suddenly there is a power outage; now what do they do? It is dark and they are not sure which wells have the sample; one of them runs towards the back-up generator, while the other tries to see where the pipette tip was last seen loading the gel. Dramatic background score, and that week's episode stops there. What will happen next week? Will they be able to recover the gel and have genuine, reproducible results? Will their professor spare their lives? Somebody's gonna get hurt real bad!!!

And of course, the all-essential portion of every soap. Who is linked with whom and the multiple love interests! That would be the most exciting part of the scientist's life. He/she started off work with Influenza Virus A  and has got nothing but love and loyalty from this wonderful virus. But, what about the younger, more confident and smarter strains? How long could anybody keep their hands off the H1N1, H1N2 and H3N2 viruses? Anybody would get attracted to these and be lured to betray their original ally. But, this could turn into fatal attraction. Do you think H1N1 can stand H1N2 being given so much importance? What would happen if all of them came to know about each others' existence? How could the scientist do this to them after all their support in getting papers published? Will they accept this betrayal lying down or will they plot against the scientist and teach him/her a lesson?

With all these dramatic issues revolving around, there is the constant drama of lost time. When you are in a research lab, it feels like time has come to a standstill. There is no need for time travel. No matter how many years have passed, the situation remains the same. Years pass by working on the same project and you still might not have substantial results. It is like time is going against them. What will happen to these young scientists? Will they ever get their youth back? What is the mystery of the youth-eating phenomena? Can they ever get off this island (refer Lost)?

Now, come on, don't tell me all this does not excite you. What could be more dramatic than these scenarios? Who would not want to watch so much drama wrapped up in such innocent looking people? Who wouldn't want to know the answers to these tense, mysterious questions? Who wouldn't want to know why all these people opted for such a career?

I for one, would definitely want to know. But, until someone dares to enter this unexplored arena for a potential television drama, I only have the following words for all the scientists "Hats off". Dealing with so much drama and yet relentlessly working on sometimes unforgiving projects is something ordinary people cannot do. You really are the unsung heroes of the society, who work hard, without expecting much from this commercial world. And, you don't need a T.V. show to prove the worth of your profession . You ROCK!!!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Celebrating Independence

When you live in a certain country, over the years, you start participating in their festivities and celebrations. You also start to realize that there are differences in the way people celebrate occasions and mark the importance of that day. It hasn't been long that the American Independence Day passed by and one more time the glaring differences stared me right in the eye.

Year after year, American people enjoy the fireworks, the barbeques, the music concerts and other little things associated with this holiday. Every store, home and office gets the star-stripe fever and you see red, blue and white colors everywhere. Days before the holiday, every store starts carrying July 4th themed items, ranging from clothes, to mugs, to patio furniture, to kitchen accessories to everything imaginable. Now, some may term this as commercialization, but to me, it is just a reminder of the holiday and the importance of it. It might be commercialization, but what is the harm if it makes you feel happy to be part of this event. 

If you ask an Indian, what their Independence Day means to them, you would hear so much about the sacrifices made by our ancestors to gain freedom. It is an emotional topic and still a sore point with a lot of Indians. As opposed to that, when you witness the American Independence Day, there is a stark difference of emotions. You see pride, happiness and gaiety around. What is it that makes our independence so different from theirs? I realize that our fight for freedom was a much longer and painful one. But, isn't it time we got over the hurt? And by getting over, I do not mean, to forget our special day and move on, but, to look back at it with pride. Look at India today; how far has it come from 15th Aug 1947. That was a time when we had fought for our existence and survival and look at 2011. It is a time when the world takes notice of us and looks at us to solve problems of economic and technological survival. Just that thought makes me proud. That is what we should be thinking about on 15th Aug of 2011. It should be a happy moment for us that we have brought this country so far and yet so close to what out forefathers had dreamed it to be. 

When I was young, I remember schools organizing functions where there would be speeches and songs about what our parents, grandparents went through for us to be able to see this day.There was an attempt to inculcate guilt so that we could value our freedom and act responsibly. There was so much hurt and sorrow on this great day. Why? Why could we not celebrate as if it was the birth of a new and empowered India? And by we, I mean all the citizens of India, not just school children. Once I graduated from school, I realized, that it just becomes a holiday and nothing else for adults. I desperately wanted to go back so that I could be part of the flag hoisting ceremony, because it was unlawful for people to hoist their own  flag in their own country. Isn't it ironic that we stop our own citizens from marking this occasion rather than giving them a reason to celebrate? The biggest problem is that we take offence very easily and carry our hurt. A few years back, it was considered disrespectful to wear scarves or clothes with the Indian tricolor on it. At the same time, we would feel hurt, if Indian youth wore T-shirts with the American flag on it. What else do you expect? You wouldn't let your own people sport their own flag, so they would pick up the most easily available and least controversial flag.

We have to learn to move on and take pride in who we are. Salute the people who contributed to the success of India and commemorate their efforts by celebrating and being happy. It should not just be a government holiday for others and an event for school children. It should be a day where you rejoice and look back at the achievements of this nation with your family. You should celebrate because you have the freedom to enjoy with your loved ones, and to exert the freedom of speech and expression. That is what I like about the fireworks here, everybody comes together, enjoys the moment, cheers the celebration on and sings songs of American Independence not because they have to, but because they feel like. It showed me that you do not have to be a part of an official function to celebrate the occasion; you can just enjoy the small pleasures of life and be grateful for all the privileges that you have because of your ancestors.

When I see little children wearing stars and stripes, enjoying the fireworks and other July 4th traditions like lemonades, barbeques and family time, I wish for the same to happen to children in India. 15th Aug should be a day, children look forward to and where adults make it special by remembering what a great country they are part of. Having a gala time, enjoying with your family and some common celebration that brings the whole nation together would be a perfect way to mark this historic and happy day.  That would be the true celebration of Independence!
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