Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Blood on my lips, holy red wine

It is dark outside, and I am lost in my own private purgatory.

The rain shatters against the thin glass of the window; the tiny droplets slapping against the clear panes before trickling down in tiny rivulets while the lightning paints silver zigzags against the dull grey of the overcast sky. I am lost in my own musings, wondering about life in general. The brightness of the giant screen in front of me flickers, it seems in tandem with the jagged lightning and occasional thunder that makes its way through the thick glass, the city laid out behind my back in amber puddles and silver glass.

You are close enough to tantalise me with a taste of your fullness; the acrid bite of your soft sweat tickles my nostrils, while the ripe perfume of your hair fills me with longing and desire. I can see a glimpse of crisp hair in the corner of my eye, and so too can I see your gently sashaying walk as I turn my head to get an eyeful of you. But you, wilful, cunning, seductive and purely a beautiful fantasy in my own head, are not even in the same room, building, city. I seek you everywhere I go, looking for you in the hordes that pack the trendy clubs all over Chelsea and Greenwich Village, Mayfair and King’s Road. I have travelled continents, gone to cities that I would never have imagined, and only occasionally have I found you, your presence lingering in a dark and seedy bar, luring me in with the idea of your symmetry, and leaving just before I get there. I clutch at straws, the barman sadly telling me of all the tricks he’s seen walk through his doors, before pausing long enough to hand me my standard gin and tonic, Rick-like, his warm and sweaty hand lingering too long over mine as he takes his payment. “Don’t wait for the love of your life,” he says heavily, the curly hair of his chest curling with droplets of sweat that show through the open checks of his undone shirt, “they never stay long enough to cause you anything more than pain”.

And so he leaves me, as always, in the darkness of my barstool, the bland bitterness of the Gordon’s biting into the back of my tongue, and I am left to contemplate the brutality of human emotion, of the sentiments that drive us to seek ever more meaning in our diurnal ellipsis of life. The snake always swallows its own tail, I muse, swigging ever-increasing gulps of my drink as my jaded eyes scan the dark solitude thrown up by the shadows in this, a bar like many other bars. Where and when you will be is a question that I can never answer, but it is one that I seek to find eternal responses to each night that I go out on the hunt. Perhaps the irony of it all is that the only immutable part of our petty and insignificant lives is in our hunt for immortality, that never-ending quest for love, longing, fulfilment and completeness. The snake will swallow its own tail, but only because that tail is no longer part of the same snake when it makes contact with its lips.

Is that then the bitter poignancy, the arid desperation of our lives? That we go out hunting for ourselves each night, condemning ourselves to failure because if we cannot find the person we were five minutes ago, how can we find someone else? That the snake swallows its tail, not out of any other reason but a desperate urge to find something, and only through this wilful act of self-destruction is it possible to find itself, to consume itself, its own essence, its complete being? Is that the ultimate aphrodisiac? I cannot have you, but I can consume myself, so that I am a giant star imploding in on itself, gorging myself on the sweet succulence of my own flesh, tasting the veracity and feral tanginess of my own life fluids in my mouth? Could I drink a case of you?

A Case of You
Just before our love got lost you said
I am as constant as a northern star
And I said, constant in the darkness
Wheres that at?
If you want me Ill be in the bar.

On the back of a cartoon coaster
In the blue tv screen light
I drew a map of Canada
Oh Canada
And your face sketched on it twice...

Oh you are in my blood like holy wine
Oh and you taste so bitter but you taste so sweet
Oh I could drink a case of you
I could drink a case of you darling
And I would still be on my feet
Oh I'd still be on my feet

Oh I am a lonely painter
I live in a box of paints
I'm frightened by the devil
And I'm drawn to those ones that aint afraid
I remember that time that you told me, you said
Love is touching souls
Surely you touched mine
Cause part of you pours out of me
In these lines from time to time

Oh you are in my blood like holy wine
And you taste so bitter but you taste so sweet
Oh I could drink a case of you
I could drink a case of you darling
Still I'd be on my feet
And still be on my feet

I met a woman
She had a mouth like yours
She knew your life
She knew your devils and your deeds
And she said

Color go to him, stay with him if you can
Oh but be prepared to bleed

Oh but you are in my blood youre my holy wine
Oh and you taste so bitter, bitter and so sweet
Oh I could drink a case of you darling
Still I'd be on my feet
I'd still be on my feet

(Lyrics by Joni Mitchell)

Friday, April 18, 2008

Quote of the Year...

"The meek may inherit the earth, but only the shrewd will collect the rent...."

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Ab Dilli door nahin...

And so the day approaches.

Tomorrow, on the 17th of April, 2008, the latest leg of the Torture Relay will take place in New Delhi, capital city of the world's largest democracy.

Tomorrow, on the 17th of April, 2008, over 13,000 security personnel will line the broad expanses of Rajpath down to India Gate, creating a corridor for 70 Indian citizens to carry the torch of shame, each of whom will have hopefully searched their consciences about the moral and ethical implications to have made an informed decision.

Tomorrow, on the 17th of April, 2008, thousands of free Indian citizens and our Tibetan friends will be denied their legal right to protest in the vicinity of the torch, which has now been reduced to nothing more than a crass symbol of authoritarianism and jingoistic nationalism for one of the most tyrannical regimes in today's world.

Tomorrow, on the 17th of April, 2008, thousands will watch across the world as New Delhi delivers, at a governmental level, the greatest slap on the face of democracy and Indian suzerainty, as elite commandos from China's special forces escort the torch on Indian soil.

Tomorrow, on the 17th of April, 2008, the world will watch the Government of the Republic of India, (led by, lets not forget so easily, the only political party in India to have voluntarily suspended the Fundamental Rights of the Indian Citizen through the declaration of an Emergency in 1975) as it genuflects before the Communist Party of China, accompanied in its prostrations by its supporters in the Indian communist parties.

Tomorrow, on the 17th of April, 2008, the world will watch as India turns its back on the greatest opportunity to break out of the shadow of its eastern neighbour and demonstrate to the wider world at large that while the globe can talk of "China & India" in the same breath, the two are fundamentally different countries, cultures and regimes. Tomorrow, the world will watch as the Government of the Republic of India voluntarity subsumes itself to the dictats of Beijing, while absolving itself of any responsibility to uphold freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of political thought, freedom of peaceful dissent, and most of all, freedom of conscience.

But that is not all. Tomorrow may be a day of despair, but it is also a day of glory.

Tomorrow, on the 17th of April, 2008, the world will watch runners cobbled together by the Indian Olympic Committee, but will remember that four Indian citizens chose not to participate in the Torture Relay. The world will watch and will think of Bhaichung Bhutia, Kiran Bedi, Soha Ali Khan Pataudi and Sachin Tendulkar. Only Bhaichung has cited his support for the Tibetan cause, but the gradual withdrawal of the others is yet another moral victory for those of us who would draw attention to the crass politicking of the Chinese Communist Party in its attempt to turn what could have been a great opportunity for change into a despicable attempt at projecting hegemonic glory while seeking political acceptance from the six continents of the world.

Tomorrow, on the 17th of April, 2008, the world will also watch as (hopefully) thousands of free Indian citizens and our Tibetans friends will congregate separately to lead a freedom rally, away from the main tunnel of shame. Tomorrow, on the 17th of April, 2008, the world will watch as the stands surrounding the tunnel of shame stay nearly empty, with the Government of the State of Delhi announcing today that schoolchildren will not be sent to attend the the Torture Relay. Tomorrow, on the 17th of April, 2008, the world will watch as Delhi and India turns its back on the torch, sending the clear message that even when the Government does not raise its voice in conscientious disagreement, the citizens of India will.

So if you are reading this from India, from Delhi, then go and show your support for the thousands who will follow the torch of freedom, who will stand in solidarity against a mighty military empire with nothing more than the strength of their convictions as their weapons. Go and show the world that India is the world's largest democracy, the only country in the world to have defeated the world's greatest coloniser with the power of the conscience, the land of the Mahatma, of ahimsa, of satyagraha, of the Buddha and Mahavira, of Meera, Ashoka and Parashurama. Go and show the world that even if the rest of the world will capitulate in the face of economic and military power, India will not.

And make sure that tomorrow, on the 17th of April, 2008, your voice is heard.

(The title of this post is taken from vernacular references to the 1847 War of Independence, when sepoys from Meerut headed towards Delhi to crown Bahadur Shah Zafar the Emperor of India. No reference to violent protest is implied, and the author completely disassociates himself from any violent protest - violence is not something that would make The Buddha Smile)

Monday, April 07, 2008

Why Tibet Matters

It's been almost fifty years since the 1959 invasion of Tibet by China, an act of aggression which merely formalised the sustained political, military and social pressure that an increasingly strident Communist government had been applying for several years to the isolated country. The political and religious elite fled soon thereafter, crossing into India where they were granted political asylum, setting the precedent for a stream of over 1 million Tibetan refugees over the years. However, after capturing the attention of the world for a few brief years, the Tibetan struggle for independence soon fell by the wayside, as more and more governments sought to form stronger ties with a China that was growing at a sustained pace never recorded before in world economic history. Who cared about the concerns of a small minority, whose only claim to fame was that their temporal leader was also one of the most influential figures in Buddhism, itself a religion easily relegated by the more rigid of thought to a less than serious status as the manna of a hippie fringe seeking enlightenment?

And so it may have been - for over thirty years, the world turned a blind eye as the population of ethnic Tibetans remained stagnant at just over 5 million, while the number of ethnic Han Chinese in the territory has increased several fold. The world ignored Tianenmen Square, and also the brutal suppression of protests in Lhasa in 1989. The world ignored the Chinese crackdown on Falun Dafa, as it ignores the continued arrest, torture and detention of Chinese human rights activists; the recent imprisonment of Hu Jia is only one of many such acts. In fact, not only did the world ignore these excesses, it was often complicit in them: multinational companies, including Google and Yahoo, were too eager to bend over backwards and provide sensitive information to Chinese authorities regarding political dissidents in their attempts to avoid being kicked out of an increasingly attractive market. Economics, or so it appeared, had won the battle for the world's willingness to engage with China. The manner in which Chinese support for a regime supporting genocide against its own people in Darfur has stymied international intervention over the past two years seemed to indicate that the Red Dragon had won, and nobody would quite be willing to take a stand against what is most likely going to be the hegemon of this century.

So why bother? And does it matter whether or not the world takes up the Tibetan cause?

The answer is that it does matter. In fact, it is of crucial importance that the world engages with China (and when I say China I refer to both its government and its people) if we are to influence the the world we will live in tomorrow. Globalisation is often touted as a recent phenomenon, something that really only became a reality in the latter part of the twentieth century. This is, however, only partially true - the only thing that is recent about globalisation is its democratisation, and the flexibiltiy with which both human and financial capital can now be deployed around the world. Technological advances have made it much easier for individuals to move and travel, while access to information is increasing exponentially (provided you're not sitting behind a Chinese government firewall in Shanxi or Guangzhou).

What is a much older phenomenon is what I could call the authoritarian part of globalisation, where the fates of millions were decided by decision makers in places often thousands of miles away. Jewish populations in Lithuania and Italy were condemned to gas chambers by policies agreed in Berlin; millions of Indians died of famine during World War II thanks to Winston Churchill's economic policies, while Palestinians today live in refugee camps or in ghettos in the West Bank and Ramallah thanks to the Balfour Declaration made in London. Iraq is burning today thanks to decisions made in Washington DC, and even as we speak, it is difficult to guess where Iran will be in the next few years. The impact and influence at any given time that the world's current hegemonic power has over the rest of the globe is immense and often immeasurable; just watch the fascination with which media organisations cover US Presidential elections around the world; elections in which only a few hundred million will vote to choose a leader with the greatest global impact worldwide.

And this is why Tibet matters. IR theorists have been debating whether or not America's role as the world's sole superpower, a position of preeminence that it has enjoyed since the collapse of the Soviet Union, is coming to an end or not. What is not being debated is China's inexorable rise as a military and economic power; as time goes by, the extent and strength of the influence it will exert in global discussions will only increase.

And so the question we must ask ourselves is what sort of global power do we want to be active in the world over the next one hundred years? Do we want the worlds that we and our children will live in to be shadowed by the presence of a large, largely democratic state that values human rights, encourages dialogue and freedom of speech, and values the individual's right to life, liberty and property? Or will we be happy to have the greatest influence of global discourse on trade, defence and economy to be an authoritarian state, where torture in prisons continues to be an endemic issue, where arrests are sudden, unprovoked and where shrill government spokespersons are the only sources of information, where free speech does not exist, and where critical thinking is not tolerated?

So the issue of Tibet is now much more than how China chooses to engage with demonstrators in the territory. While the protests surrounding the Torture Relay are as much about the brutal crackdown on clergy and laity alike in Tibet and China's western provinces, the issues has magnified into something much less tangible, but with far greater repercussions on all of our lives. How China deals with Tibet has become part of a broader discussion of the shape and form of the world that we want to live in. Tibet is no longer an issue between two Asian countries. And if you think that Tibet is someone else's problem, you only need to look at the streets of London yesterday, where a large Chinese security detail, part of the government machinery that uses brutal methods against its population, jogged with impunity through the streets, while protestors wearing "Free Tibet" t-shirts were ordered to leave the area. Democracy is a very fragile institution, and it does not take much to descend into authoritarianism (and if you disagree with that, I'd only point you towards Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib). The question is, at what point does it become important to speak out?

So, dear reader, if you live in a country where you will not be jailed for raising your voice, for wearing your beliefs on your t-shirt, where it is legal to stand in the street and chant, "Tibet will be free", and if you are in a city through which the Torture Relay is scheduled to pass, then as a citizen of the world, as a friend to those millions who cannot wave a simple cloth without fear of detention, torture and summary execution, in solidarity with the people of a country where it is illegal to have a photograph of the Dalai Lama, go and protest. Do so nonviolently, because violence only begets violence. Go and stand in peace, in harmony and in solidarity. Go and protest the rally, not just for your Tibetan brethren, but for the millions of Chinese citizens who are currently locked up in prison for having the courage to express their views in public, for challenging their regime through peaceful protest and dialogue. Go and protest to send a message to your government and that of China's, and other authoritarian regimes like it, that the voice of millions cannot be discounted. Do not despair - it was after all the student protests of the 1980's that finally forced an economic embargo onto the apartheid regime in South Africa, which crumbled in the following decade.

Do not be silent, because that is another name for complicity. Protest, for the millions in bondage around the world. Protest, but not just for the millions in bondage around the world.

Do it for yourself, and do it for your children.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Torture Relay

Almost a month after protests to commemorate the 1959 invasion of Tibet by China turned violent in Lhasa, we are seeing no resolution to either the tension within the territory, nor to the growing complexity of international politics surrounding China, Tibet and the upcoming Beijing Olympics. Activists and supporters of many causes, including Darfur, Falun Gong, the environment and general human rights, had so far struggled to broadly link the Beijing Olympics with China's generally dismal record of not respecting individual civil liberties, while supporting regimes that indulged in the genocide of their own populations. Darfur was perhaps the strongest rallying point for activists worldwide, in no small way due to the tireless efforts of celebrity campaigners including, among others, Mia Farrow. China has been able to avoid significant censure from governments on the strength of its economy.

But Tibet is proving to be a thornier issue to resolve. Perhaps as a result of, or directly due to, the stature of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, China has struggled to both brutally prevent protests in Tibet and to present a less than completely negative image in the international press. A carefully choreographed visit by foreign journalists to the Jokhang temple complex in Lhasa backfired badly when resident Tibetan monks, at no small risk to personal safety, chose to break through and directly address the journalists in an attempt to present their side of the story.

And the protests continued today in London, as the Olympic Torch completed its 31 mile tour of the city. Protestors lined the streets along the circuit, starting from Wembley Stadium, through West London, across the heart into the East. News reports suggest that over 35 protestors were arrested.

I went to the protest at Queensway station, just down the road from Notting Hill and the more exciting events of the morning, where protestors attempted to put out the torch with a fire extinguisher at Holland Park. Queensway was a surprisingly bourgeois scene, where pacific middle-aged professionals lined the streets, huddled under umbrellas while waving Tibetan flags. Some more dedicated protestors had loudspeakers and led the slogans, while a handful of Metropolitan policemen (approximately 10) were designated to control a crowd of well over 100.

A few memorable moments:

1) A Dominican friar, out in full regalia, including hood and cassock, distributing Free Tibet lapel pins

2) A family with a baby waving small Free Tibet flags

3) A woman with two dogs, both of whom followed the sloganeering with great interest

4) A police photographer openly videotaping all protesters...

I will write a further post about what I believe needs to be done as the Torch wends its way across the globe, most notably in India, but for now, I leave you with some photographs from the demonstration this morning...

Thursday, April 03, 2008

The Bollywood Samba

So I was browsing the net trying to find the Tibetan name for India, which, if memory serves me well, means "the Land of Dance". However, old age and the stress of the current markets is obviously catching up with me, and as a result, I'm reduced to random googling to get the answers to many of my questions about Life, the Universe and Everything.

Having said that, the joy of random googling is the serendipity with which I occasionally run across the most fascinating and/ or unexpected websites out there. My search for the land of dance led me to the site Bollywood Brazil, which is a site set up by a Sao Paolo based production company, and aims to increase awareness among Indian television and film producers about the potential of filming in Brazil. After the runaway success of Dhoom 2, which was extensively filmed on the beaches near Rio de Janeiro, I guess the potential revenues associated with more Bollywood productions being filmed in Brazil was too juicy an opportunity to resist. I'm also beginning to wonder how popular Bollywood films are in Brazil; I know for a fact that Latin America is a significant foreign market for the industry, and that the first language that Kaho Naa... Pyaar Hai was translated into was Spanish, primarily to cater to this audience, but there definitely warrants more exploring...

And to make sure that this post is of suitable intellectual quality, can I just add a comment on how this is yet another example of how globalisation is fostering increased South-South trade....