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NaMo, RaGa or AAP is a question on everybody’s mind as India gears up for the big Democratic exercise. The election season is here. The list of contenders is long with national and regional players all jostling for space and attention. As one skims down the list it isn’t difficult to pick out the two important players – the Congress and the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP). The others on the list are merely extensions/partners with limited capabilities of their own.

 

Until the last elections, the key peeve that most people had against the Congress was the dynastic dominance of the Gandhis. By voting in the Congress, Indian voters have been begrudgingly acquiescing to the presence of a shadow aristocracy within the framework of a democracy. When it comes to the Congress, it really does not matter who the prime ministerial candidate is. The reins of power are firmly held by the Gandhis. A sizeable portion of the electorate found this clearly unpalatable and ended up either voting for a regional party or clinging to the only hope of deliverance from the ‘Gandhi Syndrome’- the BJP. A party with considerable national presence and excellent leaders, the BJP has always chosen to contest with a disadvantage. By playing up the ‘Hindutva Band’ it has projected a religious bias and has thus alienated a sizeable segment of minority voters.

 

But ‘Election-2014’ is different. This time BJP does not have to use the ‘Brahmastra’ to woo the Hindus. In fact, it does not have to work too hard to influence any segment of the electorate. The past ten corruption-riddled years have left the nation with extremely weak vital signs of a democracy. Multiple corruption scams, a staggering economy and worsening law and order situation have left the nation gasping for breath. The anti-Congress wave is at its peak and the electorate has been willingly swept off their feet by the Modi wave. By projecting a clean, suave and charismatic image, Modi presents a promising alternative to the current bunch of tarnished/inefficient politicians, if one is ready to ignore the Godhra carnage.

 

Modi has demonstrated his capabilities as a leader and change agent in Gujarat. He promises to replicate this model in other states as well, given a chance. But, do we need this model of success erected on the foundations of crony capitalism. One also needs to pay heed to the rumblings of dissent within the BJP. These signs of dissent are of concern when eternally loyal and respected leaders like Sushma Swaraj and L. K. Advani, among others, raise them. Is it not worrisome that those in command promptly silence such strong voices within the BJP with an impatient flick, clearly at the behest of Modi?

 

At the moment the Modi wave seems to have swept the nation but one needs to separate signal from noise. If the centralization of power in the hands of one man within the BJP is any precursor to the forthcoming power play in Central politics, Indians need to dig their toes in. After all, the ‘Putins’ and the ‘Bashar Assads’ of this world have been a creation of similar popularity waves in the past. The ‘Modi-fication’ of BJP might just herald in a ‘Modi-fication’ of the Indian democracy. Probably, it’s time to take a leap of faith and bet on the dark horse.

Alive Again

 

My eyes behold,

The striking orb of gold;

Trees ablaze,

In the golden glaze.

 

The dancing leaves,

The patterns they weave;

A dazzling display,

It’s magic at play.

 

As my tresses tease,

The morning breeze;

I stop and smile,

My heart suddenly feels so…light.

 

The smell of trees,

 And humming  bees;

The sun rays so warm,

As I spread out my arms.

 

I break through the confines,

The image, my body defines;

My heart is aflame,

For a moment, I am a child again.

Bharat Ki Jai

‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ is a slogan that fires up every Indian in every part of the world. This is the slogan that enthused our martyrs- men and women, to fight for independence. Bharat became independent in 1947 and has ever since been free to chart its own destiny. But sadly, this freedom has not touched the lives of the ‘Matas’ of Bharat. Women in today’s free India are  like secondary citizens. They have to fight for survival from the womb to the grave.

An Indian woman’s struggle for survival is well documented and there is no need for me to add to the volumes. The atrocities committed against women are so large in numbers that we accept them as a norm and this impassiveness has seeped deep into the social fabric. An average Indian scans through the reports of female infanticide, dowry deaths, acid attacks, domestic violence and rape quite nonchalantly, much like a weather report. On certain days the weather is good and there is a lot  of cheer while on others it is particularly inclement and you wait for it to pass. But then life goes on.

Let me not slight the monumental efforts put in by many to help the cause of women in our country. Steps have been taken and voices have been raised, again and again. There are numerous people and organization working relentlessly and fighting for the betterment of  women. Social perception of many evils like female infanticide and dowry has seen a positive change. We have better laws in place. But these seem to be powerless and feeble in reigning in the  widespread perversion and bestiality we are suddenly witnessing. We seem to be fighting a losing war. After the ‘Nirbhaya’ incident, laws against rape have been tightened in order to ensure that culprits get punished but the shameful and increasingly heinous incidents don’t seem to abate. In fact , since the passing of the new law , we have earned the dubious distinction of being the only nation where a village council has ordered that a girl be raped to punish her for following her free will and marrying someone of her own choice.

As an Indian today my head hangs in shame. We are  part of a savage society where might is right. What has brought about this bestiality? Or has it always been there like a dormant disease that has been growing strength by strength? The blatant disregard to women’s dignity is like a cancer and is spreading at an alarming rate. It is manifested in various forms-  bride burning, female infanticide, rape and domestic violence, to state just a few. It seems to be beyond cure.

We are rabidly obsessed with our GDP figures and WPI graphs. Politicians are clamoring over each other to power India to be the next superpower. These form regular front page news, updated as frequently as it is sensibly possible. Where are the social indices? Do we even bother to regularly collect data on these and, most importantly, analyze them? Even if we do, they hardly find space in the newsfeed, leave alone the front page. Who cares about the social indicators. We are all busy building our private castles, which is an easier job to do than bother about the rest of the society living on the streets. We all know that instead of fixing the economy we need to, firstly, fix our society and our legal system. Economies can hardly prosper in a lawless society where women are nothing but objects of desire. In spite of stringent laws, perpetrators walk free. This emboldens others in getting their way. I am disturbed at the rate at which criminals go scot free. What kind of a legal system do we have in place? The whole system, alarmingly, seems to be geared towards protecting criminals than punishing them. Why is it that an Indian, while in India, blatantly breaks every rule/law and the same Indian is most abiding  and respectful of the laws when he lives in another country? Each one of us knows that the entire system of governance in this country has fallen apart. Laws are  made and amended by money and power to suit a few. The corrupt system has rendered the whole legal process toothless.  Without the fear of law there is indeed no way of protecting women from this savagery.

All Indians today accept that issue of women’s safety and dignity needs to be addressed urgently but the political will to do so is woefully lacking. We are helplessly watching the fruitless political battles in an election year. While the political roller coaster keeps everyone amused, the  Indian woman is left to fight a lonely battle. If we cannot promise her a safe and dignified life, let us be honest  to ourselves. Time to drop the ‘Mata’ when we go sloganeering at the Ram Leela Maidan next time and just stick to ‘Bharat Ki Jai’.

The Greek Tragedy

This is the toughest part of every morning, thought Arushi. Everything she gulped down kept rising  up her throat. She tried to concentrate on other things.

“The papers are full of the Debt Crisis. It’s going to be difficult, finding a job in this market,” Papa was saying.

“But then one needs to try,” said Mamma matter-of-factly.

“Hmm,” grunted Pappa disappearing into the papers.

“The Greek Tragedy,” Arushi read aloud. The milk slowly rose up her food pipe and tragedy almost struck. Mom lashed out, “Enough of trying to throw up, just drink it.”

Arushi gulped some of the milk and asked, “ Pappa, what is a Greek Tragedy?”

“You will not understand,” he responded impatiently.

“I understand everything,” said Arushi trying to sound intelligent.

Pappa said looking amused, “And, what do you understand about the Greek Tragedy?”

“That, it makes you angry,” giggled Arushi.

“Pappa, aren’t you going to office?” asked Adi, Arushi’s teenaged brother.

“No, not today,” said Pappa pushing his reading glasses up on his forehead.

“But you did not go yesterday either,” said Adi suspiciously and glanced at Arushi meaningfully.

“Did you lose your job, Pappa?” asked Arushi. Pappa’s mouth fell open and his reading glasses landed back onto his nose. His expression spoke volumes.

“Is it because of the –the- C-R-I-S-I-S?” asked Arushi.

Mamma interrupted impatiently, “Look, now we have missed the bus.”

The children landed in school after the last bell. Arushi went up to her  Grade III classroom with her heart thumping wildly. Ms. Thelma did not like latecomers. Arushi reached the classroom and Ms. Thelma pounced with the dreaded question. “Why are we late today, Arushi?” she asked in her shrill voice.

Arushi’s heart skipped a beat, as she blurted out, “I missed the bus.”

“So now you have to miss the first period,” announced Ms. Thelma . Someone in the last row laughed.

Arushi could feel her ears turning hot with embarrassment and she burst into tears. “It wasn’t my fault, Miss,” she sobbed, “It was because of the T-R-A-G-E-D-Y “ she said trying hard to recall what she had read.

Ms. Thelma’s eyebrows shot up and disappeared into her hairline, “Tragedy? What tragedy??!”

Arushi sobbed louder, “The Death Crisis…. and now Pappa won’t go to work anymore.”

Ms. Thelma rushed up to her all flustered, “Hush my child. Don’t cry. We will see what we can do,” she said as she gently led Arushi to Ms. Gracy, the nurse.

She then rushed  up to the Principal. “Ms. Ooman, I think we have an emergency,” she said almost out of breath. “Arushi Menon, from my class, has come to school crying. She says there has been some tragedy at home involving her Dad. “

“Ms. Thelma, if the parents have sent the child to school, I do not think we must worry our heads…. unless ……………” Ms. Ooman paused as she took off her glasses and looked up at  the visibly shaken Ms. Thelma.

“Let me talk to the child,” she said.

Arushi was ushered into the Principal’s cabin.

“What’s the matter , my child?” asked Ms. Ooman kindly.

“I missed my school bus, Ma’am and was late to school. But it wasn’t my f-f–fault……..” said Arushi wailing loudly by now.

“I am telling you, Ms. Ooman, there is some problem back home bothering the child,” remarked Ms. Thelma shaking her head knowingly.

“Do you want to go home, dear?” Ms. Ooman asked Arushi.

Anything that could keep her from standing out of the classroom looked like a great option. Arushi nodded her head and burst into fresh sobs.

So Arushi was made to sit with Ms. Gracy, waiting to be picked up. By the time a frantic Mr. Menon arrived on the scene, Arushi was busy sucking on  a sweet offered by Ms. Gracy, all her worries forgotten.

He rushed up to Arushi and asked anxiously, “What happened Aru. I was told that you were crying about some tragedy and death at home.”

“I was punished because I was late for school and it wasn’t even my fault. It was because  you lost your job due to the Death Crisis,” explained Arushi, reproachfully. Pappa’s mouth opened into a big ‘O’ as she continued brightly, “You know, Pappa, I think the Greek Tragedy  and the Death Crisis aren’t so bad.”

“H-uh??” said Pappa, stunned.

Arushi looked at him and exclaimed gleefully. “Look, you and I can be at home and have loads of fun together!”

Nocturnal Woes

Four little elves that lived on floor nine,

Couldn’t even wait for the sun to shine;

At the crack of dawn they would start to labour,

Much to the dismay of their neighbor;

Winnie would stomp around and mop,

Woo would sing with his pitch on top;

The children, like their parents, would be wide awake,

Before the birds on the trees and the ducks in the lake;

And, what a riot they would unleash,

Banging doors as they pleased;

Wee her uniform could not find,

Wong had morning blues of every kind;

Onto the breakfast table the family would then descend,

The action there, the poor neighbor just could not comprehend;

Then, one day with drowsy eyes he wrote,

And requested for some quiet sleep in a note;

Terror awaited him the following night,

When he woke up at One in great fright;

His peaceful slumber was shattered by a terrible roar;

A nocturnal Dragon  had moved in place of the Elves next door!!!

An Impenetrable Mystery

The solid metal box was most unusual, Mckeral noted. For one, it was huge, about the size of a chest of drawers, and very crudely made. It was six square sheets of metal screwed into place. But, what was most arresting was that it was right in the centre of the place where the CERN Laboratory had stood before it was completely devastated by a series of explosions . The CERN Laboratory was located on the Franco–Swiss border near Geneva. The lab had housed hundreds of scientists working on various projects. The explosions had been caused by a number of crudely designed  bombs planted all over the area. A few of them had been planted inside the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) causing extensive damage to the machine. The LHC was a 27-kilometer ring buried deep below the countryside on the outskirts of Geneva, Switzerland.

Mckeral belonged to the team of investigators pooled in from across the globe to find the hand behind the bombings. “Jake,” Mckeral called out to the photographer taking pictures of the site, “I want you to take pictures of this box here.” As Jake proceeded to do as directed, Mckeral walked closer to the box. It was severely damaged and there were several dents in the body. The box had split a little at edges and on closer observation ,Mckeral noticed stains of dried blood underneath the box. Mckeral’s pulse quickened as he tried to shift the box and found it surprisingly heavy. He immediately dialed a number on his phone and spoke, “Salman, I want you to come to the lab site. I have something interesting here.”

He then called out to some of the men around and instructed them to open up the box. He was soon joined by Salman who was a short, dark guy with an athletic built. He had typical Asian features. “What’s that?”, he asked trying to catch his breath. “This box appears to be quite strange. I am trying to have it opened. You see, the opening has a trick lock, somewhat like a self locking lever. Once you shut the lid it cannot be opened. We are trying to unscrew the edges.”

“What do you think is inside it?” asked Salman.

“A human body, I guess” said Mckeral, pointing to the blood stains under the box.

“A man! In that box!!” exclaimed Salman.

“Could be a woman,” remarked Mckeral. Salman nodded in agreement.

Mckeral impatiently urged the men to work faster as they looked around for further clues connected with the box. At length, the men managed to unscrew one of the sides to reveal a gory sight. Bloody remains of what obviously had been a man, trapped in the box, were found along with a few strange objects. Mckeral instructed that the objects be cleaned and brought to his cabin.

Few hours later, the team assembled to study the items found inside the metal box. There was a watch, mangled remains of the man’s spectacles, a shoe, a wrench, an electronic gadget with a few buttons on it and a metal tube. It was evident that the man in the box had probably set off the explosions with the electronic gadget. While the other objects were pretty commonplace, the wrench and the metal tube were puzzling. The man had probably locked himself in the box hoping to survive the massive explosions, they figured. It was obvious that the key to the mystery lay in the metal tube, which was duly pried open. Mckeral straightened out the  sheets of  paper that fell out of the tube. The roll of sheets, neatly stapled together, were filled with writing on all sides and dated 14th April. Mckeral proceeded to read it out.

“I will be the happiest person who died on the face of this planet if this memoir serves the purpose it is being written for. I am writing in the queerest of circumstances which I will proceed to describe in the successive paragraphs, not to justify my actions but as an attempt to warn mankind.

I dislike making mistakes and I believe that I seldom do. But this time I have no qualms in admitting that I am guilty as sin to have assisted in committing the biggest blunder. And, after what I have witnessed last night, I have no doubt in my mind about the course of action to be taken. But, for you to understand me clearly, let me start at the beginning.

It was only a few days ago, on the 31st of March to be precise, when I and the other scientists working on the Large Hadron Collider were seated at the press conference held here at CERN. The reason behind the press conference was the first high magnitude collision that had taken place inside the LHC on that day. The collision set a new world record for the highest-energy man-made particle collisions. It was a momentous day for all of us working on the project.

An ecstatic Dr. Selvum declared, “We have done it. The LHC has delivered its promise. The first successful collision is a giant step for mankind toward finding out how life evolved on our planet.”

“Doctor, can you please explain to the layman, just what we have achieved by this collision?” asked the bespectacled journalist in his twenties.

“A lot, young man,” assured Dr. Selvum. “The data has just started flowing in. I am sure with successive stronger collisions; we will be in the position to unravel the greatest mystery facing mankind.”

“That’s what you say, Doctor,” countered the journalist, “Many learned men across the globe have warned that this experiment could lead to the planet itself becoming a black hole. Do you think generating explosions of the huge magnitude, as proposed, at the core of the planet, is advisable? Is this experiment really worth undertaking at the risk of destroying our planet?”

“You may probably be unaware that such explosions are constantly taking place in the universe,” replied Dr. Selvum , “I absolutely rubbish the claims made by these learned men. We do not perceive the risk of our planet being destroyed.”

“Doctor, there have been several reports of seismic activity in various parts of the globe ever since the LHC first recorded a collision in 2009. Would you like to comment on this?” asked another young reporter from the BBC. Dr. Selvum dismissed the reports as natural disasters that had nothing to do with the  LHC.

Here, I feel it necessary to explain  how and why the experiment came into being. Very few may know that the project was the brainchild of  the three of us:  Shyam (Dr. Shyam Pai), Dr. Selvum and myself. My association with Shyam dates back to our days at the university as students of particle physics. We worked together and earned a great reputation and admiration from colleagues and intellectuals all over the world. It was this popularity that led to our interaction with Dr. Selvum, the godfather of particle physics, in the winter of 1976. In him, we found the same qualities as ourselves with an additional one, a passion to discover the elusive particle, the Higgs Boson and thereby unravel the mystery of evolution of life on the planet. We joined him in his research and as we progressed,  his passion slowly turned to obsession. One day he suggested that we try and smash a couple of atoms at the greatest possible speed and replicate the Big Bang.

The idea was lapped up by the scientist fraternity at CERN and we were invited to join in the greatest experiment of all times. That was sometime in 1980.  In the years that followed, the LHC was constructed, and was expected to be the world’s most powerful particle accelerator. We predicted that its very-high-energy proton collisions would yield extraordinary discoveries about the nature of the universe. More importantly, it was anticipated that the collider, among other things, would either demonstrate or rule out the existence of the elusive Higgs Boson and thus explain the origin of mass in the universe. The project received an official approval in 1994.Our idea became a reality in November, 2009 when the first collision took place inside the LHC and today we had witnessed the second and a much stronger one . This, second collision, had undoubtedly been a grand success.

Though we were pleased with our success, some of the reports of shifts in the tectonic plates from several parts of the world perturbed Shyam and me. We spent the next two days studying these activities. Our  findings made us arrive at the conclusion that the increase in the seismic activity could very well be a result of the explosions within the LHC. Armed with our findings we entered Dr. Selvum’s chambers.

I was shocked to notice the change in his appearance. His cheekbones jutted out  prominently. There were dark circles around his eyes and they had a devilish glint. They were the hungry, desperate eyes of a mad man. His overall appearance was unkempt and ghastly and that of a man who had probably not eaten or slept.

“I hope you are keeping well, Doctor?” I asked, concerned.

“Of course I am,” he barked impatiently and looked at me with a gaze that held me transfixed, “But, we are not happy with the progress.” Before I could seek a clarification on the ‘we’ in his statement, he hissed through clenched jaws, “The tunnel has to be ready for the next explosion. We need to bang the damned beams fast. Time is running out.”

Shyam intervened, “But Doctor, you need to look at these reports. We feel that it is a strange coincidence that there has been a such a marked  increase in seismic activity across the globe ever since the LHC began its collisions . We should not proceed unless we research this further….” Before  he could complete, Dr. Selvum lunged toward him and seized him by the collar. He swung his arm with a manic force and sent Shyam flying to the other corner of the room where he passed out in a heap. As I rushed to his aid, I could hear the Doctor scream, “We are not in the mood to tolerate any nonsense. We want to see more collisions happening. Enough of  the analyses.”

The voice sounded inhuman and froze my blood. I swung around to see his retreating back as he left the room. Matters took a strange turn after this. I know I may sound like a mad man, but I swear to God that whatever I am recording here is true. I slowly felt a change come over most of the scientists at the CERN Laboratory. They exhibited physical changes similar to those I had noticed in Dr. Selvum. I would still, in self doubt, have watched everything helplessly had it not been for what I saw last night.

I had been working till late in the night. A deathly silence prevailed as was expected at that hour in the lab. The hour hand must have just crossed One when a sound of deep anguish and terror cut through the silence. This was followed by sounds of struggle and a loud tormented shriek, beseeching and revolting at the same time. In a trice, I jumped up and followed the sounds of struggle. My sprint ended in front of Dr. Selvum’s door. I hesitated for a few seconds before quietly pushing the door ajar. I can’t describe the horror that gripped my soul at the sight I beheld. I saw the scientist prostrated on the floor with his eyes rolled back with only the whites visible. His mouth was open, arrested in the position after the bloodcurdling scream had left it. The most frightening sound emanated from deep down his throat and as it rattled off instructions I realized that I had heard the inhuman voice before. What was most horrifying was the sight of the bunch of creatures (that is the only term that comes to my mind for the deadly beings), clinging to his head like a pack of leeches. They seemed to bore deeper and deeper into his head as the voice grew stronger. Not able to stand the terrifyingly repulsive sight I retreated rapidly but the words haunted me. “We need more strength. One strong blow to the magnetic core and we will be released from our accursed existence. You will help us evolve. Your time on the surface is over. You must make way….”

I spent a restless night and after pondering over the events in the morning, was inclined to dismiss them as a nightmare. But during the course of the day, I have heard that voice speak to me repeatedly. It appears to originate from somewhere deep inside my head. It instructs me to move ahead with the experiment and help in the further evolution of the solar system. I wonder if I am sane. I am sure I am while I am writing this, but I am not sure for how long. I cannot take a chance. I have decided to stop the experiment before things get out of hand. I fear most of us here, at the CERN Laboratory, are in the grip of a force beyond our understanding. We have unleashed the dark energy that has set off a process of evolution of a new life form that threatens to destroy all the existing ones. I could be wrong but, frankly, I do not care. I have made arrangements secretly i.e. without the knowledge of my fellow scientists, to destroy the Laboratory and the LHC. But I cannot hide my intentions from the force that is now present within me. It probably knows. But I am sure it cannot stop the process of destruction that I have set off. Before long, this whole center along with the LHC will go up in a smoke. Probably, I will be gone too but this account of the events that caused it should reach mankind if I succeed.

I fear it may be dismissed by many as hallucinations of a schizophrenic, but I sincerely implore to the scientist fraternity to err on the side of caution. I trust that this memoir will serve as a future deterrent to anyone who may harbor a wish to replicate the whole experiment.

Dr. Atul Parasnis”

Mckeral looked up at the stunned faces surrounding him. The mystery had been solved but had revealed a deeper, darker and impenetrable one.

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