Sunday, December 28, 2008

Christmas has come and gone

Indeed, as the title says it, Christmas has come and gone ... this time, a little more silently than in the previous years ... at least in Mumbai, but, thanks to the economic melt-down, perhaps all over the world as well. Festivities such as having a Christmas tree, visiting Santa, giving gifts etc. will all go on, but as the pockets aren't so deep, the trees will be smaller, and the gifts, not as ostentatious as before. Travelling to a foreign country will also, I am sure, be marked by austerity and some effective use of common-sense (which is otherwise so uncommonly seen). 

Mumbai has had the terrrible terror attacks a month ago, and although people have begun to lead near normal lives, the fear and the suspicion are still there: people check under their seats when they visit a restaurant, and some will even chide the manager for not having long table-cloths under which they may hide in case a terrorist visits their restaurant. Introspection, quiet demeanour and an acceptance of Fate have all conspired to flatten the enthusiasm of the average Mumbai who wants nothing more than peace and a promise of no-repeats of what happened on 11/26.

Today is the 28th and we are roughly midway between Christmas and the New Year. I saw big crowds near the Regal Cinema, which is a stone's throw away (I know the analogy is a bit weird) from the Taj Palace hotel and the Gateway of India. Both the Taj tower and the Trident started operations and welcoming guests on the 21st of this month, and have sent a clear message to the terrorists and their masters that they will not cower down before the actions of a murderous few.

Today was also the first day of our Muslim-Bohra calendar year. Yesterday night, we had a sort of feast - a tradition that we follow every year. We create several dishes, and also dice a lot of fruit, and serve it all in small, dainty plates and bowls atop a large serving plate known as a "thaal". This large plate, mostly of stainless-steel, is circular and more than 3 1/2 feet in diameter. Along with the dishes that are served up, we also place, in the thaal, a smaller plate containing a silver coin, some raw rice, jaggery, a supari piece, a coconut, a garland and a single betel leaf: the belief is that this is a "birthday" of the thaal. You could say we are invoking Allah for his beneficence and his limitless mercy.

Generally, we count the items on the thaal and make sure we have at least 21 items, but at times, we aim for  larger number, which is usually an odd number. Yesterday, we reached a modest 25 dishes, while others aimed to go to 51 dishes or even more!

Stuffed ourselves, yes ... we did. And then, Nish and I went to attend a wedding ceremony of the son of one of our neighbour friends, where, too, we ate some food.

That's all for now. Hope you liked the entry.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Party in our building

After much vacillation between whether we should or shouldn't have a party this year, considering the terror attacks in Mumbai a month ago and the economic gloom that has threatened the livelihood of millions all over the world, the society's children and youngsters decided to go ahead with a Christmas programme that would incorporate a small memorium for the victims of the 11/26 terror attacks in addition to whatever else that they would put up for the entertainment of the members and their guests.

My younger daughter, Hannah, participated in a "Fashion Show" (with a ramp created on the stage specially for this purpose!) and also in four of the eight or nine dance items that were put up for the programme. Inas, my elder daughter, was more or less preoccupied with her college activities and also, perhaps, did not want to be an active participant this year.

In the event, the programme was very well organised. They even had a professional conductor of the entire programme, a sort of Emcee by the name of Akash. He was quite good.

There was a delightful presentation of a children's fancy dress competition to start the show. The best-dressed children were also the ones with the best performance: to wit, both the daughters of Dr. Abdul Bashir and Archana Khan. While his elder daughter depicted the attire in different seasons, the younger one showed off the various things associated with clouds. They won the events in the two age-categories and got prizes from the judges, viz. Rukhsana Bhombal (m/o Ayesha Bhombal) and Durriya, another member).

This was followed by a Fashion Show, in which about 8 "models" participated, viz. Hannah, Akshay, Aamir, Zahabiya, Nirav, Rahul, Priyanka and Rahul. Hannah wore a distinctive hair-style and her mother's black saree which suited her to a T. The models did many ramp-walks, sometimes alone, sometimes in pairs, occasionally in a group of four, or three, and finally, a row of 8, turning back into 4 pairs as they exited the stage to a loud applause.

The emcee then called the oldest guests and made them walk the walk in a parody show called the "Senior Citizen's Fashion Show", in which my dad, who had come as my guest, also participated. One lady (from 610/C) and my dad won "prizes" - a genuine surprise!

This was then followed by a slew of dance recitals, most of them, nay, all of them, based on the beat of new Hindi movie songs. Hannah participated in many of these, and several people from the audience appreciated her lissome body and beautiful and graceful dancing in their conversations with me. All the dances (barring just a few) were choreographed by Tasneem Karmalawala; she also choreographed the amazing fashion show.

I had to leave for about an hour to attend to patients at the clinic, but was back in time to partake of the delicious food that the organisers had arranged. There were five or six snacks stalls, with sada dosa, bhelpuri/sevpuri, pani puri, sandwiches, popcorn, etc. and dinner in the form of Schezwan Veg. fried rice and Hakka Veg Noodles with Veg. Manchurian balls with gravy.

All of us had hearty meals. The party closed at about mid-night, with some guests and members dancing away into the night with all the children, who danced like there was no tomorrow.

All in all, a very enjoyable evening was had by all.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Mumbai Terror Attacks: What next will be most effective as a deterrant?

Expressions of sympathy, hanging of lists of names of victims, lighting candles, going on peace marches with placards in hand ... all these are activities to foster unity amongst the members of a fractured community that is a microcosm of India. Mumbai has suffered at the hands of terrorists repeatedly, with the 1993 blasts, the 2006 train blasts and the current terror attacks at the top of a huge list. Each time, Mumbai's denizens have gone back to their routines pretty fast ... and each time, they have faced terror again, after a hiatus of months.

In such a climate, it becomes imperative to ask what we can do to prevent such an occurrence for ever? Look at the U.S. of A and the United Kingdom; they were both brutalised with the twin tower tragedy in the former and the train attacks in the latter: yet, they both have never had a further attack on their soil. Why do you think this happened?

I think the sole reason was their serious attitude and actionable activities.

Somehow, Indians lack that ability to coalesce with each other and think like a breathing, thriving, multi-brain organism.Our responses have wither been driven by rampant political drama (such as the resignations of various central and state ministers) or acts of tokenism (such as the ones I listed earlier)). The real truth is that even if there had been cohesion between people, there would have been no forward-looking dynamic action; just the acts of individuals, groups of individuals and the NGO's.

That, my friends, is the reason why I have so much anger and passion burning inside me. I participated in all the tokenist activities, but I feel as though I could have done more, much more.

How about joining self-defence classes? Joining an NGO? Giving some cash or material to recognised charities? Booking a table at one of the 5-star hotels -Taj or Trident? Visiting some of the victims' families and imparting some courage and forebearance? Filing PIL's in courts against inactive politicians and overzealous security setups? I am sure readers will think of many other things besides what I have listed.

If you do even one small thing, but do it with heart and with full feeling, it will not have been a waste.

In the end, we have to all look inside our own selves and determine what distance we are willing to travel to make that crucial difference in the lives of others, and ultimately, in ours too. Redemption of our souls will only occur when we are satisfied with what we have done. Empty actions - that is actions devoid of inner feeling - will be useless.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Dealing with sub-standard employees

This may seem like something rude to say about people who work for you, but at times, one is faced with the bitter fact that the person who is working for you and with you is not altogether competent/energetic/honest/hard-working/diligent or whatever. Now, I run a consulting practice and I have just one employee who sits outside my cabin and - takes calls, gives appointments, takes out print-outs of my prescriptions, coordinates the incoming/outgoing patients, collects my fees and so on. He/she is, effectively, more than one person rolled into one: receptionist, telephone operator, water server, etc. etc. etc.

I should be more accomodating since I am taking the work of four or five people from one person. Right? So why is it that I am saying so many negative things about this soul? Mind you, this is a general rant, and does not refer to any specific person or persons who have, at any time, worked with me or under me.

Well, the sorry fact is that some of the people who have worked with me have really, really been horrid. Either they are plain stupid (in which case, I should be called the bigger fool for having employed them!), but some of the others are wily, lazy, pre-occupied with their own things or simply, so truant that I am paralysed without their presence. On the other hand, even when they are around, they are so incompetent or adverse to improving that they end up giving me grief and stress.

How does one deal with this kind of mess? I cannot well throw them out for I need them too, to carry on with the mechanical work that forms a lot of the work that they do. I also consider the fact that I am not paying them top rupee, since most of them are students who come to work for me in their spare time, and a few are really needy people with families who it would be heartless to throw out of job. Thus, I continue to tolerate them till I can, or till they themselves realise their fault and ask to be released from the job.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Choosing the Right Career

I have seen the ridiculous matter of my elder daughter (Inas) slogging away, reading for the Common Entrance Test (CET) to gain entrance in a Medical College, and then, changing her mind a few weeks before the exam and finally, once the results were in, she switched over to a three-year course in Hospitality Sector (hotel management, catering and tourism). Initially, my wife and some other near and dear ones protested against her this decision, but later on, things became all right. Inas has begun to well and truly like the new line of studies. Doing projects, going for "waitings" - i.e. going to wedding and other functions where her friends and she wait at buffets to serve the guests - and earning money at each of the waitings - is something that she has begun to not just adjust with, but also enjoy.

Having said that, let me also say why she shifted away from a career in medicine: the following things repulsed her: a long duration of studies, which can stretch to 8-10 years if one does even basic post-graduation; or, to 11-12 years if one does Masters in a super-speciality; the prospect of very heavy books and very serious studies; the very idea of leaving social duties and being available to one's patients for emergencies at all hours of the day (or night); the requirement to stay in student hostels for 6 months per year or more; and finally, the fact that one doesn't earn anything till the entire course is over and internship has commenced (thus, after 5-6 years of joining). In addition, if one studies in Maharashtra, one has to compulsarily serve a rural area for one year after completing the internship, or pay a penalty of Rs. 10 lacs to the government in lieu of the same.

I think most of the objections outlined above have strong logic, so I respected her decision and decided to show her the green signal to join the hospitality course. Today, she goes for waitings about once a week and has begun to earn money that she can use for out-of-pocket expenses or fun, or even save for a rainy day.

Feelings of Anger at one's "impotence"

Lest you think I have problems with "that" kind of impotence, well ... no. I was referring to the feeling of anger that one gets when one feels unable to do anything for people or for one's own self after incidents like huge natural catastrophes, grave personal disasters or dangerous confrontations, after a lost argument when one knows one was right but just ... less powerful, after attacks of terror in one's city or after attacks on one's personal liberties by the insensitive acts of governments or police.

Have you also felt such impotent rage? Do share your experience(s) with me on the comment form. I have felt this recently, after the attacks by terrorists in the city of my birth and stay - viz. Mumbai. It wasn't just me ...but the vast majority of Mumbai's citizens have gone through/are still going through the same rage at the inability to do anything more than wear black bands, write angry letters to newspapers, mouth off obscenities to the nameless perpetrators, and light thousands of candles. Can all these things bring back the things Mumbai lost in the 11/26 attacks at various locations across south Mumbai? I don't think so.

I think what is needed is concerted action by the government, not just resignations by ministers of the cabinet at the centre or the state; joining hands for rehabilitation, not just to sing songs or light candles. Those things are not totally useless, and I am not saying that. However, they have token value. Imagine the difference between - saying "I will pray that your fracture heals" and - actually taking the poor fracture victim to the hospital and paying for his complete treatment. That is the difference I am talking about.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Face of Terror

Starting on the eve of the 26th of November 2008, Mumbai city came face-to-face with stark terror: a group of well-organised terrorists landed at Sassoon Docks and proceeded to different places from where they masterminded attacks that left hundreds dead and many more injured; what I want to say about the actual attacks is already on my other blog in the form of three entries that are here, here and here.

In this entry, I am about to share with you the metaphysical dimension of the attacks: we all saw, over the days that the attacks continued, the aggressive attitude of the terrorists and in contrast, the fear and panic on the faces of the citizens of Mumbai, many of them dying unnecessarily in the random shooting of the terrorists. At the C.S.T. railway station, Ajmal Amir Kasab and his accomplice shot people waiting for their trains so cruelly and randomly that the victims never saw it coming. Here is a photo of the surviving terrorist Kasab. As you can see, he is a fairly handsome young man of about 22-23 years' age. Hailing from Faridkot district of Pakistan, he was one of the ten young men who devastated some of the most cherished buildings of south Mumbai. They - i.e. the terrorists - were clinical and brutal in their demeanour and in their action. Gone was even a shred of conscience as they set about killing people mercilessly - unaware that by killing even one person, they were changing or, dare I say, killing humanity as we understand it. Equipped with AK-47 machine guns, grenades, grenade and bomb launchers, satellite phones, and what not, these ten killers descended upon unsuspecting travellers on the railway station, watchmen, patients and doctors at a nearby public hospital (the Cama and Albless Hospitals), pedestrians, adults, men, women and children on the roads near Cafe Leopold and the Metro Adlabs cinema, guests, staff and security men at the Taj Mahal Palce and Tower Hotel, the Trident Hotel and the Oberoi Hotel, and finally, the residents and others at Nariman House where 6 innocent Jews were killed in cold blood.

In addition to the hundreds of Indians who died, some while eating, others while just going about their way towards home, several tourists from many different countries of the world also died within the hotels that they were staying at or visiting.

Staff of all the hotels died, some entire families, such as that of the General Manager at the Taj Palace - except that the father survived. At the C.S.T. railway station, entire families were killed in the gunfire, which, although it seemed random, was actually precise and targeted to cause the maximum amount of panic and psychological damage.

Through it all, most Mumbaikars stayed away from the roads, for over 2-3 days, watching the "drama" unfold over television, as the armed forces and the NSG began their rescue operations. They would finally emerge victorious after nearly 2 1/2 days, but during those 60 hours, ordinary Mumbaikars lived and died a thousand times: stories of carnage intermingled with tales of heroism and supreme sacrifice as several distinguished city policemen and some NSG guards fell to the bullets of the terrorists. In addition, several less well-known policemen also died. And we, the ordinary citizens, watched wide-eyed, our hearts in our throats, tears in our eyes, and an anger that gradually welled up inside us as we prayed that the aggressors got their comeuppance and were killed.

A terrifying week indeed. Heads rolled in the government - both at the state level and at the center, as chief ministers, home ministers and bureaucrats resigned. Homage was paid to the heroes of the nation and they all received state burials. And we, the common citizens, watched it all from home on the various news channels.

After three to four days, people gradually started going back to work, still depressed, dizzy, worried for their safety, panicking at the slightest rumour, and above all, angry at the inefficiency of the government, the intelligence department, the bureaucracy, the politicians and the armed constabulary.

But that is another story, for some other day.

Monday, December 08, 2008

A cousin, a doctor and a gentleman is no more: Dr. Altaf Savliwala

A dear colleague of mine, Dr. Altaf Savliwala, son of Safakathusein and Sofi S. Savliwala, a Pediatrician by profession, and a soft-spoken and gentle human being, died on Sunday, 8/12/2008 in the early hours of the morning due to a massive heart attack. I came to know him about 36 years ago, when I was but a boy of 13. I still remember his soft-spoken nature and kindliness. When a particularly nasty illness struck me at the age of 15, he was studying to be a doctor at the Seth G.S. Medical College and the K.E.M. Hospital. It was he who got me evaluated by his boss (Dr. P.D. Anjaria), and looked after all my needs over the next several visits to the hospital.

Eventually, I was to study medicine and pediatrics in the same medical institutes and pass out in 1986. Over the years, I came to know more and more that he was a gem of a person. Never one to show anger publicly (or privately to me or anyone not of his immediate family) or create any form of friction between him and others, Altaf was the epitome of geniality, cordialness and humility.

I salute this kind soul who Allah called to His presence rather prematurely and early. He was only 54, physically trim, and healthier than most middle-aged people I know; also, he was a calm and careful person, and it seems cruel that Allah should snatch him from among us with the first cardiac arrest of his life.

Altaf left behind his wife Fatema, daughters Tasneem and Zahara and grand-daughter Umme-Hani (born of Tasneem and her husband Ali-Asgar).

May his soul rest in Peace.

Mufaddal adds this:

In continuation to Dr. Taher's views, Dr. Altaf's death has left a deep void in my life. Altaf was a thorough gentleman, well matured, cool and composed person. I remember all the good days that I had the pleasure of spending with him during my visits to Lonavala.

Fate has dealt us a very hard and a nasty blow and snatched away from us a great human being. I pray that his soul rests in Peace and God give strength to Fatema, Tasneem and Zahra to cope up with this tragedy.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

A Brutal Assault III

Three more days have passed since the paramilitary forces such as the National Security Guards (NSG) finally took control of one structure after the other after a struggle that lasted for nearly 60 hours. The Oberoi and Trident Hotels are not as damaged as the Taj, which took the maximum damage; Nariman Building, which, it turns out, was the command center of the terrorists and the place from where their leader watched TV news and guided his "men" on how to move and where to attack, is almost completely damaged and in danger of falling.

At the end of all this, and the investigations that are going on, the National Home Minister (similar to the Minister of Home Security in the U.S.) has resigned; so has the state-home minister. The state's chief minister has also resigned on the 3rd of December evening. People, however, believe that resignations are nothing but political ploys to defuse the peoples' anger, and as such, serve only as "palliative changes" and not as real change.

News culled from various sources have thrown out many shocking details of the terror attack: the technology used by the terrorists was state of the art, their shooting skills, superb, their strategising, totally geared to cause maximum damage, and their planning, very, very detailed. They had even created their own escape routes, should they succeed in hoodwinking the security forces. They were to return to Karachi in Pakistan - once again, by sea. Their use of advanced AK 47 machine guns, satellite phones, grenade launchers, credit and debit cards from Indian banks, Indian SIM mobile phone cards, motorised rafts, false maritime licences, etc. point to an amazing level of planning, and correspondlingly, an amazing lack of intelligence by Indian authorities. It has become evident that their boat was challenged in the Mumbai waters by the Coast Guard, but they were let off once they showed the licences, which were forged = professionally.

On the eve of the 3rd of December, more than a lakh people, angered at the lack of proper security and the insensitiveness of the politician-class, lit candles and gathered en masse at the Gateway of India, just adjacent to the cordoned-off Taj Mahal Palace and Tower. Some of the men and women were celebrities, and had come to the spot because they felt passionately about the issue, but the vast majority were common Mumbaikars who were there to show the victims' families that they were with them at this hour of personal grief and tragedy; they wanted to display that they were Indians first; they wanted to tell off the politicians and bureaucrats who had failed the nation; and finally, they wanted to unite with each other and rise above the parochialism of caste and class. I was there, too, and felt a sense of terrible loss but also a sense of unity and pride in the spirit of Mumbaikars, who had finally had enough and wanted firm and decisive corrective action by the government.

As I write this on the eve of the fourth, I wish to say that two more bombs have been found, containing the lethal RDX, at two different locations visited by the terrorists on the night of the 26th, on two different days - yesterday and today. These bombs remained unexploded, probably due to some error, or else, they would have caused still more deaths and tragedy.

More than 180 dead ... and the nation continues to mourn. Mumbai is back to normal, but it is not the normal normal that I have seen earlier. People are subdued, they are morose, not joking or enjoying life as usual. The wounds of the dastardly attacks will take a long time to heal, and the scars may never fade from the memory of the present generation of Mumbaikars. Questions still remain to be answered, but that is another story.