Sunday, July 30, 2006

Two monks and a bear

Jokes, of all things narrative, have a strange way of turning on their heads and taking gloomy proportions as the scenario and times change. The one I am talking about here is my old favorite that goes like: Once two monks were being chased by a bear; and one monk, running short of breath, says to his mate – “Hey, no use running, we can’t outrun the bear!” and the other replies, “I know dear, I am just trying to outrun you.”

In this changed world scenario, many experts have started believing that terrorism is turning out to be the bear in that joke, something that can’t be outrun and can be only avoided at somebody else’s (purely incidental) peril. The argument runs much deeper and with lots of facts and figures which show the spread of some type of ‘evil’ (will come back to this word) forces in almost all parts of the ‘civilized world’ (another phrase that needs a revisit, globally).

If you are not reading the newspaper or seeing the TV news, here’s a simple check to see the spread of terror around the world. Just go to and enter ‘terror’ in the search options. The very first page has news items from Afghanistan (“38 Talibanis Killed as 4 Al-Qaida suspects nabbed”), Israel (“56 Civilians killed in Lebanon bombing”), Mumbai (“No clues yet for 7/11 Bombings”), and Kashmir (“14-year olds recruited in terror outfits”). Okay, did you see an Asian Bias here? Then look again, it’s NATO and America (same thing, cynics will say) in Afghanistan, a pending UN intervention and passive American encouragement in Israel, a possible global terror network (somebody like Al-Qaeda or LeT) in Mumbai and Kashmir; and did we mention Iraq yet?

The questions to be asked here are – Is the world really becoming unsafe or is it just a (as human historians say) ‘Passing phase’? Which brings us to the definition of a much-used phrase now-a-days, ‘evil forces’. In retrospect, World War II was a pretty straightforward affair, with a clear distinction between ‘good’ and ‘bad’. Everybody knew who started the war, who is taking it forward, who is killing more innocent people and who is trying to stop it. But today, the order is much more complex, ‘Islamic Terrorism’ (a phrase rued by all the moderates world-around, with good reason) is evil for its victims, but US-Israel-India are equally evil for ‘Islamic Re-assertion’, believe they. The follies are not un-balanced (for every 9/11, there is an Iraq, and for every Gujarat, there is a 7/11), the provocation is not one-sided; and call it the basic principal of equality of life, the harm done to both the sides is not disparate either.

And it is this ‘I didn’t start the fire’ attitude that makes one believe that terrorism is here to stay. Add to that, the flattening of the world (Thomas Friedman’s insightful theory), and the domino-effect is ensuring that no incident is ‘stand-alone’ in this independent media world, meaning not only the pile adds up after every ‘attack’ (from either side) but also provides the much-needed provocative material for the ‘victim-side’ for a counter-attack.

And if it all sounds too gloomy, doomsday-scenario like, then trust me, we all are a part of this. Last year’s Best film at Academy Awards, ‘Crash’ points towards the changing human behavior amidst an atmosphere of insecurity and terror, and a chill ran through my bones on seeing how we all are turning into agents of hate. The opening lines of the film, “We are always behind this metal and glass. I think we miss (human) touch so much, that we crash into each other, just so we can feel something” are more than I need to explain here.

But then, worry not, because we still have one shelter. And it’s the age-old subject of Philosophy. Philosophy, by its virtue of being interpretive as well as freely-available, is the first recourse after any tragedy, and in this all-inclusive, all-explosive season, it has once again come to the rescue. Legendary Indian playwright Vijay Tendulkar, in a recent interview ( summed up the debate by saying – “We will have to learn to live with (terror). We have to take a fresh look at life and death, as all other nations will have to. No one can be sure they will see tomorrow.” A similar sentiment was echoed by former Police Chief of Punjab, KPS Gill, when he said – “Naxalites are not on-the-fringes entities anymore and you have to come to terms with that.” And I am sure (though not hoping for), in the days to come, the constant calls for better intelligence and state-alertness will be replaced by this esoteric call for new meanings of life and death.

And here’s another old joke that might round-up our story:

Once a man crash-landed on an island and was surrounded by the blood-thirsty natives armed with poison-arrows. He said to himself – ‘I am screwed’ and a voice from the skies said – ‘No my son. Don’t say that, just pick the big-stone lying in front of you and can you see the big-bellied King of natives right in front?’ Man said ‘Hmm..yes.’, and the voice of sky rose passionately, ‘then just hit that stone hard on his head, and he will be dead!’ The man did so, and the voice said resignedly – ‘Now…my son, you are screwed.’

And no need to say, the joke is on us.