October 22, 2008

Good riddance

The recent events in Mumbai, when people of North Indian states, notably Bihar & Uttar Pradesh, who had come to Mumbai to appear for a written test for jobs in The Indian Railways, were beaten up leading to many being hospitalized was a law and order issue, plain and simple. The Maharashtra Navnirmaan Sena (MNS) headed by Raj Thackeray claims to represent the ordinary Marathi people, ‘The Marathi Manoos’.

Did he actually speak on behalf of ‘The Marathi Manoos’ when he challenged the administration calling the Chief Minister and his deputy ‘spineless’? I am not so sure that the ordinary ‘Marathi Manoos’ has such contempt for the duly elected government. Raj Thackeray has found it profitable to speak the un-parliamentary language that he is so familiar with, only because he has been allowed to get away with it so far. Had his antics been nipped in the bud he would have remained a small-time wannabe politician. The Frankenstein called Raj Thackeray would not have developed had the Congress–NCP coalition in Maharashtra not worked with the ulterior motive of splitting the BJP-Shiv Sena vote bank with an eye on the upcoming assembly elections.

As we have seen so often in the past in many places, the politicians sow the seeds of hatred for their own narrow political considerations but the common man reaps the fruits of violence unleashed by these goons.

Raj Thackeray, the head of the ‘Goon Sena’ is at last behind bars thanks to the judicial system and the few individuals who found the courage to call his bluff. He has been arrested and in due course he would be held accountable for his utterances and his unlawful activities. It is my fervent desire to see the animal of hatred tamed.

Civil society owes it to itself to prune such weeds at the right time or else the beautiful garden that we so assiduously created on the soil of parliamentary democracy would become a jungle. And we all know jungles are full of wild animals. So the choice before 'The Marathi Manoos’ is the same as choice before the Indian people: ‘Jungle Raj’ or ‘Parliamentary Democracy’.

By making a valiant effort to tame Raj Thackeray the rest of India has shown what it stands for. It is time ‘The Marathi Manoos’ tells the rest of the country what he stands for.

image courtesy : www.gulf-times.com

Keep going giant killers

October 21 2008 will remain etched in my memory eternally, not only because this day was my daughter Sanya’s fifteenth birthday but also for the crushing 320 run defeat inflicted on the Ricky Ponting led Aussies by Mahendra Singh Dhoni and his band of giant killers.

That the Mohali test would end in a result became apparent on day three of the match. One expected to see the Indian team coming under the relentless Aussie pace attack. The visitors were expected to make a match of it. In the end the Aussies wilted under the new found pace combination of the veteran Zaheer Khan and the longhaired heartthrob of Delhi, Ishant Sharma. The guile of Harbhajan Singh and the debutant Amit Mishra also proved to be too much to handle for the guys from down under.

The Mohali test match would also be remembered for Sachin Tendulkar achieving the distinction of becoming the first and only batsman to score 12,000 runs in test cricket. That he has lasted so long despite his various injuries is a testimony to his tremendous willpower and strong desire to represent India. He is an iconic star who has never been involved in any controversy whether on or off the field. He is humility personified and always willing to give credit to his team members where due. An excellent team man, he would remain a star as long as he lives. The people of India would remember his tremendous contributions to Indian cricket for all times to come.

In this moment of euphoria following the Mohali test victory and the celebrations surrounding Sachin’s achieving the rare feat of 12,000 test runs, we seem to have somehow missed out highlighting the contributions of another stalwart, The Wall of Indian cricket, ex-Indian skipper, Rahul Dravid. He has scored over 10,500 test runs at over 55 per innings, which ranks higher than Sachin and the original little master, Sunil Manohar Gavaskar. Rahul with his reserved persona and his unremitting cricketing style has somehow not become as popular with the Indian public as some of the flashier stars, however his contribution has been phenomenal and his success sweeter than most contemporary cricketers.

That his runs have resulted in more test wins than most other stars has also been overlooked. In my book he is as great a star and icon as Sachin, if not greater. May be history would be kinder to him and the Indian cricket fans evaluate his cricketing achievements better with the benefit of hindsight.

images courtesy : www.ndtv.com

October 15, 2008

Man on the moon, anyone ?

On 9th October, last Thursday, on the auspicious day of Dusserah when the whole of India erupts in rapturous joy to mark the victory of good over evil, at around 0945 hours, Sonu, a small child aged 22 months fell 70 feet deep in a pit dug to sink a borewell in a village near Agra, a north Indian city made famous globally by the Taj Mahal.

The civic authorities struggled to recover the child for two days, with the help of modern machines, under constant TV coverage. On the third day they called-in the army. Valiantly the armymen endeavoured and reached the child who by then had sunk even deeper. On the forenoon of Monday, 13th October, after struggling for over 100 hours, the child's body was pulled out.

'A tragic accident'is what the poor parents would say in consolation to each other. The politicians would rush to announce ex-gratia payments to the family to atone for the callousness of the engineers of the U.P.Jal Board in digging a 150 feet deep pit and leaving it uncovered for such an accident to happen.

This is not the first such case. One remembers vividly the case of 'Prince' in another village near the national capital in Haryana when fortunately the child had not sunk so deep and where the army was called in much earlier and the child was saved. Then in another such case in U.P. a girl child 'Vandana' had fallen into another borewell pit but was rescued in two days, thanks again to the valiant soldiers of The Indian Army.

In a recent programme on 'Times NOW', an English news channel, the anchor Arnab Goswami and media stalwarts like Vinod Mehta of Outlook fame, Anil Dharkar of Debonair fame and Nalini Singh, crusader sister of former union minister Anil Shourie and daughter of Common Cause founder H.D.Shourie discussed the matter. One thing that all of them agreed upon was the role of the media. It is time that some right thinking individuals file public interest litigation (PIL) under relevant laws for 'culpable homicide not amounting to murder' against the engineers and other officials responsible for this monumental blunder and tragic loss of life. Only when a few people are put behind bars would those responsible for civic infrastructure wake up and take the steps necessary to avoid such tragedies.

It is a national shame that we have no respect for sanctity of human lives. Every year thousands of human lives are lost in needless accidents caused by the callousness of concerned officials or greed of the contractors.

While on the subject, the concrete sidewalls and railings on the Oberoi Hotel-Lodhi Hotel flyover in Lutyen's Delhi were dismantled nearly 6-8 months ago. One thought these were in preparation for erection of steel crach barriers like the ones seen on the Moolchand and Defence Colony flyovers nearby. But no such luck. Even after a long time no construction work is visible. I guess it would start a day after a drunk driver, in the dark, drives his car over the edge and a few lives are needlessly lost.

India aspires to soon launch Chandrayan, an ambitious mission to put an Indian on the moon. India which hankers for the tag of a Developed Nation, a recent opiate dished out to the poor masses by the politicians at regular frequencies, that can't put covers on its sewer manholes or on borewell pits, has no business in even attempting to conquer outer space.

Smell of the Earth !

Have you ever smelled the Earth ? If not I recommend that you listen to the creations of The Wadali Brothers. Their music is so close to the earth that you can actually smell the soil of The Punjab.

Music, created in moments, sometimes lasts a lifetime by transcending the limits of time and space. The most divine melodies reside in the treasure-chest of the Sufiana tradition, which draws inspiration from the sacred emotion of love and its power to transform the world. Wadali Brothers are the torchbearers of Sufiana music today. The Wadali Brothers are legends in their lifetime and their canvas is vast. Practising for decades, these unassuming brothers excel in all Sufi genres, from Sufiana Qalaam, Qawwali and Kaafi to Bhajans, Shabads and Ghazals.

Puranchand Wadali & Pyarelal Wadali are Sufi singers and musicians hailing from a small village called Guru-ki-Wadali in Amritsar District of Punjab, a village said to have been blessed by the Sikh Guru Arjan Dev Ji, who himself was a great lover of music. They are the fifth generation of a musical tradition given to singing the messages of the great Sufi saints like Kabir, Rahim, Amir Khusro, Sultan Bahoo, Waris Shah, Ghulam Farid & Bulle Shah. They dabbled in the most unexpected of professions before music became their religion. While Puranchand, the elder brother, was a regular in a wrestling pit for over 25 years, Pyarelal, the younger one, contributed to the meager family earnings by playing the role of Krishna in the village Rasleela.

Their father Thakur Das forced Puranchand in to music and later Puranchand went on to take his music lessons from the celebrated masters like Pandit Durga Das and Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan Saheb of the Patiala Gharana of classical music. They also claim to have learnt the nuances of the sufi folk tradition from the musically inclined kanjaris (prostitutes) of their times, some of whom they visit till today. Payarelal was trained by his elder brother whom he considers his mentor and Guru even today.

Their first musical performance outside their village was at the Harballabh Temple in Jalandhar. The duo went to Jalandhar to perform at the Harballabh Sangeet Sammelan but were not allowed to sing due to their rough appearance. Disappointed they decided to make a musical offering at the Harballabh Temple, where an officer of The All India Radio, Jalandhar spotted them and recorded their first musical rendition.

Wadali Brothers sing in the Qawwali, Gurbani, Kaafi, Ghazal, Bhajan and Sufiana genres of music. They live in their ancestral house in village Guru Di Wadali and teach music to those who promise to preserve the genre. They do not charge their disciples and lead a very simple life devoted to the divine one.

They believe in the Sufi tradition deeply. They consider themselves as mediums through which the preaching of great saints has to be passed on to others. They have never indulged commercially and they have only a handful of recording to their name. They believe in singing freely as homage to the divine one. They do not feel comfortable in using electronic gadgets in their music and stress on Alaap and Taans. They believe that spiritual heights can only be attained if you sing unreservedly, in a free atmosphere.

Completely devoted to music, the brothers move on, rendering divine melodies. They have always remained partners in rhyme, except when in May 2007 Pyarelal contacted the deadly brain fever. The medical team attending to him laboured day and night to save him. Soon upon recuperation, a dedicated Pyarelal sat alongside his elder brother to give a performance at the Shimla summer festival. Little did he know, however, that the fatal fever would relapse. This time the doctors gave no hope. Puranchand took his brother home to Guru ki Wadali and abstained from food for four days. On the fifth day, a Sufi saint from Baba Mastan Shah’s mazaar came visiting. He touched the ailing Pyarelal, sang a few verses and declared, "Shamman nu bol payega"(he will come around by nightfall). Pyarelal virtually came back from the jaws of death. Ever since, both brothers have been offering music to the Almighty more ardently than before.

Recently they stepped into the world of films with hindi film ‘Pinjar’, written by celebrated punjabi novelist Amrita Pritam, in which they have added divine dimensions to the pain of Partition, by rendering Gulzar’s soulful lyrics in their "mystical" style. Also on cards is a documentary, which the Discovery Channel is planning to make on them.

The list of their musical albums released so far is small but their repertoire is vast. They have not released any albums of their numerous live concerts, which are at the rate of 3-5 per month for nearly four decades. All these were recorded and released by Music Today, a division of The India Today Media Group, after a great deal of persuasion. Their reluctance was overcome only after India Today agreed to their terms, which were definitely not mercenary in nature.

* Aa Mil Yaar
* Paigham-e-Ishq
* Ishq Musafir
* Folk Music of Punjab

While they have never lobbied for awards and patronage they have been bestowed a variety of honours by various private and Governmental agencies. The Union government chose them for the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1991. This was followed by the Tulsi Award, an award for Folk & Traditional Art instituted by the Madhya Pradesh Government in 1998. The Punjab Sangeet Natak Akademi Award came in 2003.

Puran Chand Wadali has also been honoured by the President of India by bestowing upon him the Padam Shri in 2005. He was celebrating the achievement, thinking it belonged both to him and his younger brother Pyare Lal who is as much indispensable for Puran Chand on stage as in life. But on 26th January 2005 the morning did not dawn bright and gay in the ancestral home of the singers.

The reason is evident to those who have followed the Wadali brothers’ journey from Punjab’s akharas to the prestigious spaces of performance across the world. They have never pursued any musical ambition singly nor have they ever been separated in life, except on the Padma Shri award list which mentions only Puran Chand’s name. This is for the first time that the “jugalbandi”(duo) of Wadalis has been disregarded in the matter of conference of awards.

In 2003, the President of India jointly conferred the brothers, who have excelled in all genres from Sufiana qalaam and kaafis to bhajans and shabads, with the Sangeet Natak Akademi award. But this year, the joy of reward stands shadowed by its limitation, which Puran Chand terms as “painful.” Illiterate as he is, he could not read the Government of India communique mentioning only his name and not his brother’s in the list of this year’s awardees. But now the brothers have consented to write to the Government to award both of them.

Says Chetan Joshi, their manager “Puranji was shocked to learn that the award is only for him. First he refused to believe it, then he broke into tears.

The reluctant celebrities want only their music to speak for them. One has not seen them on TV or read about them in the newspapers. The only known interview given by them was ages ago to The Tribune, Chandigarh in 2003. Here are excerpts from an interview of the two maestros. Puranchand takes the lead in answering the queries, while Pyarelal occasionally chips in to supplement the information provided by his elder brother.

Do you think you were destined to learn music?
Our father Thakur Das was a famous musician in Guru ki Wadali, our ancestral village in Amritsar. But he was unhappy because he had no child. I came as a gift of a musical offering, which my father made at the famous mazaar of Data Ganj Baksh Saheb at Lahore before Partition. I was born 14 years after his marriage. I was an impetuous child, always interested in wrestling. I would go to school but bunk classes after collecting my share of sweets and ghee, which teachers offered us. But as a fakir at the mazaar had prophesised, I had to be a musician. My father would beat me up, sometimes brutally, to force me into music. I, however, kept resisting. Whenever I sat for a session with my father, I would end up crying for hours. I remember my father taking hold of my long hair and dragging me into the rehearsal room. I was so fed up that one day I got my hair chopped off. But even that did not keep me away from music, which was to be my destiny.

How and when did you start enjoying music?
As a 10-year-old I once went to attend a fair dedicated to Baba Sadiq Shah of the Chisti lineage. The air around me resonated with music and I was compelled to pay a full-throated musical homage to God, using Sufi music. When I sang, "Mitti diyaan murtaan ne dil sada moh leya; umraan di kitte nu pal vich kho leya", people showered me with praise, gifts and money. I realized that music was not such a bad deal after all. I asked my father to buy me a gramophone on which I started listening songs rendered by famous kanjaris of our times. I also picked up renderings of Baba Bulle Shah, Baba Farid, Amir Khusro, Sant Kabir and other saints. Later I learnt music under the tutelage of Pt Durga Das and Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan Saheb of Patiala Gharana. I washed utensils at the houses of many blessed musician saints to earn their guidance.

When did Pyarelal join you?
We are four brothers, all musicians. While one of them is with a raagi jatha (a group of musicians who perform at Sikh shrines), the other is a dholi (percussionist). Pyarelal was destined to sing praises of God with me. He did not go to any guru. I am his mentor and guru. Those days it was a norm for brothers to sing in pairs. So I began signing with Pyarelal.

Pyarelal Wadali adds: As a youngster, I used to dance for Krishnaleela presentations. Das-das gaaon ekatthe ho jaate the (people from tens of villages would assemble to see me). Then one day Baba Mastan Shahji, a Sufi saint, told me to remove my ghungroos (anklets) and start singing Sufiana qalaam and qawwali. My father felt that by asking me to quit dance, he would be depriving me of a steady income. I, however, chose to devote myself to singing Sufi qalaam. Bade bhaiyya helped me. Together we made many musical offerings at the Durgiana temple, Amritsar. We even held jagratas (night long musical soirees at Temples of Goddess Durga).

When did people first take note of you outside your village?
Our admirers in the village told us of the Harballabh Sangeet Sammelan in Jalandhar. Ready to perform, we headed for the concert, where we were disallowed entry due to our appearance. We did not even remotely look like musicians, what with my handlebar moustache and all. We were attired in chadar kurta (rustic attire) and had no airs around us. When nothing worked for us, we decided to make a musical offering at the Harballabh temple, where N.M. Bhatia of All India Radio, Jalandhar, spotted us. He said that our voices ‘rang with an inner harmony.’ He took us to the radio station and recorded our first song.

Initially, you disliked the mike. Why?
We were used to paying full-throated homage to God. We thought the mike would suck away our voices. It was when Bhatiaji convinced us that the mike would only embellish our voice that we started using it. We are still not very comfortable with electronic gadgets. We feel spiritual heights can only be attained if you sing unreservedly, in a free atmosphere.

Tell us about your journey to success.
The AIR recording happened in 1975. After that we began performing across the country. Initially, our presentations were restricted to youth festivals in colleges and universities. Then we began frequenting the concert circuit with celebrated musicians. Despite several concerts, we never felt we had perfected the art of singing. Even the awards did not mean anything beyond being signs of recognition. The real blessing is the power to render divine verse. Hamara talluk to chashm-e-shahi se hai. Khuda ka sangeet behta rahe. Bas yehi dua hai. Aur yehi hamara inaam. (We draw from the eternal stream of music. We pray that divine melodies should keep flowing. That would be our real reward).

How would you describe Sufi music?
Sufi means virgin, pure, unadulterated. Sufi saints have sung verses in the praise of God. Sufi music is soaring, healing, and penetrating. It rips the sky open, revealing the radiant face of the Beloved. It elevates us to a totally different level and brings us closer to God. We consider ourselves as mediums through which the preaching of great saints has to be passed on to others, as Baba Shah Hussain said, ‘Man atkeya beparvah de naal, us deen dukhi de shah de naal.’ (Our mind is stuck on the almighty and we are one with the lord of the impoverished)

Your admirers rue the fact that there are very few records of your music. As of today, you have only about four music albums. Why have you stayed away from commercial recordings?
We were never interested in commercially exploiting our popularity. Our recent Music Today release Aa Mil Yaar was also agreed upon through friendly channels. The production company’s young staff persuaded us to leave something for posterity. We have other albums, including Paigham-e-Ishq, Ishq Musafir and Folk Music of Punjab, released by Music Today. In all these albums, the music is traditional and the orchestration minimal. Alaaps and taans dominate.

Many music directors wanted you to sing for their films. You had also been roped in for 'Ek Chadar Maili Si'. Why were you finally not heard in the film?
Believe it or not, we never watched any films, until recently. Hum to bas rab se ley lagate hain. Fakiron ki bani ko sur dete hain. Isi mein hume sukh milta hai (We just interact with God. We just give a voice to the words written by the saints. That makes us happy). The films you mentioned did not offer enough scope to sing the way we wanted to. After years, we have found something divine in the music of 'Pinjar', for which we have recorded two songs. We have also recorded for another film called 'Dhoop'.

How did you agree to sing for Uttam Singh in 'Pinjar'? How would you describe his film?
The film explores the tragedies that occurred on our own land. It dwells on Punjab before and after Partition. The music is inspired by pain, so are the lyrics by Gulzar saheb (a famous Punjabi and urdu poet and film lyricist, screenplay writer and Hindi film director). We accepted the offer because the music director did not interfere with our style of rendering. Rather, he used my technique and Pyarelal’s vivaciousness to weave scores that are hauntingly beautiful.

Tell us something about your repertoire, your children and your disciples.
Trained as we are in Hindustani music under Pt Durga Das and the great Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, our repertoire encompasses our guru’s exclusive compositions. Otherwise we sing all forms of music – qawwali, gurbani, kaafi, ghazal, bhajans and Sufiana. My eldest son is in the Army, the younger one sings pop music in Canada. Pyarelal’s son Satpal is picking up our style well. We have many other disciples, from whom we never charge money. We would be happy to pass on our legacy to those who promise to preserve it. We have some very gifted students back home in Guru ki Wadali, where we still live in the same ancestral house where we were born.

How would you describe your journey till today?
Jab tak bika na tha koi puchhta na tha; tune mujhe kharid kar anmol kar diya. (no one cared till I was sold, you bought me and made me priceless)

It is our good fortune that we live in times when such artistes are around for whom music is merely a form of worship and who bring such glory to the art form. May their tribe increase.

You can obtain free downloads of their musical offerrings from 'You tube'.

The image of the family photograph is courtesy Mr. Rajesh Sharma of The Tribune, Chandigarh. The collage of album covers is made by me from images courtesy Music Today, a division of the India Today Group.

October 6, 2008

Interesting bits

I am writing a story on the conspiracy theory surrounding the 9/11 attacks. This research started after I chanced to see 'Loose Change' a 90 minute documentary on the subject. In the meantime a few amazing details to mull over.
  • The size of the entire universe is estimated at around 150 billion LYs
  • The observable universe is only 15 billion LYs in size
  • There are over 40 billion galaxies in the universe
  • Our galaxy, the Milky Way, is 50,000 LYs in size
  • There are almost 100 billion stars in the Milky Way
  • One LY = 9.385 trillion kilometers

Thank the Lord for he allows man to think and believe that the universe revolves around him and he is the centre on this universe.

Burn your demons this Dusserah

The last few days have witnessed hectic festivities across the whole country. The Muslim community celebrated Eid-ul-Fitr with lavish feasts after fasting during the month of Ramadan. The whole of India is currently celebrating Durga Puja and Navratri, which will culminate in the grand festivities around Dusserah. Diwali is also around the corner. I sincerely hope the farmers bring home bumper harvests so that they can celebrate in style. I also fervently desire that nothing mar these celebrations across India.

In the last week one saw a few newspaper stories that brought out India’s truly secular ethos like no amount of bombastic speeches by politicians can ever hope to achieve. Three stories stand out which I found very motivating:

The first was about a small hamlet with a mixed Hindu-Muslim population called ‘Bakshi-ka-talab’ on the Lucknow-Sitapur highway, about 15 kilometers from Lucknow. In 1972, a local Muslim trader started a Ram Lila, an enactment of the life and accomplishments of the Hindu Lord Rama using locally available talent. The Ram Lila usually lasts three weeks leading up to Dusserah when Lord Rama slays the evil king Ravana. This Muslim trader played the part of Lord Rama while he was alive. After his demise, the family continued to organize the Ram Lila with family members playing key characters. This year the month of Ramzaan coincided with the Ram Lila.

On a particular day last week the audience of the Ram Lila grew restive when there was an unscheduled break in the proceedings. The audience was unaware and thus started shouting and booing. In a bid to control sentiments the organizers had to announce that the break was needed because Lord Rama had to break his fast and was partaking of the Iftaar, the ritualistic evening meal. The audience was immediately silenced and waited patiently for Lord Rama to finish Iftaar before Ram Lila resumed.

The Second story is about the Muslim community in Bhubaneshwar, the capital city of the eastern coastal state of Orissa. In one colony of the city every year a Durga Puja is arranged by the Muslim residents since last over 40 years. This Puja celebration has witnessed increasing number of mostly Hindu visitors each year to make their offerings to Goddess Durga over five days of festivities with no untoward incident ever reported.

Most of the artisans who create idols of Goddess Durga for these festivities in Orissa and Chattisgarh states are Muslim.

The third story is about the Muslim artisans from a village near Amroha in western Uttar Pradesh who come to Delhi each year to make the simulacrums of King Ravana, His son Indrajit also called Meghnad and his brother the mighty Kumbhkarana. An actor playing Lord Rama in the local Ram Lila destroys the effigies on the day of Dusserah to epitomize the victory of good over evil. On Dusserah Goddess Durga also slayed the demon Mahishasur after nine days of battle.

All the above stories symbolize the secular culture of India. India has over centuries built it so as to make communities inter-dependent and thus avoid skirmishes of any sort. Let no shortsighted political force ever destroy this cherished secular fabric of our society. Let every Indian pledge to burn the demons of communal hatred as we burn the effigies of Ravana, Meghnad and Kumbhakaran and immerse ourselves in love and fellow feeling as we immerse the idols of Goddess Durga so that India can awaken to a new dawn of harmony and peace.

I am sure there must be many more stories of this kind that need to be told. Any reader who knows some similar story, which highlights the secular tradition of our great country, can write in his comments.

October 1, 2008

Just another Tuesday

The 30th of September 2008 marked the first Navarati. It was just another Tuesday in the lives of the 10,000 or so people who had lined up to seek the blessings of the Hindu Goddess Chamunda Devi at the temple inside the historic Mehrangarh Fort near Jodhpur. A rumor of a bomb planted somewhere in the temple complex started a stampede that killed over 147 people and injured many more. Many are struggling for their lives in hospitals that are ill equipped to handle such a rush of patients. It would be a miracle if more people were not killed by lack of medical facilities and proper treatment.

A study that Times of India, a highly credible newspaper in India, published today shows that in the last ten years 4341 people lost their lives in 14 incidents of stampedes. It is no solace that 690 deaths occurred in India and the rest overseas since precious human lives were lost needlessly, which I think is criminal. In contrast the World Trade Center strikes on 11th September 2001 killed around 2792 people according to CNN.com.

It is not my brief that what the attackers did in New York was in any way justifiable. It definitely was an attack on the United States and the American way of life. It was certainly a criminal act that needs to be condemned vociferously and the culprits, whoever they may be and wherever they may be hiding, need to be brought to justice and punished severely after due process of law. I am certain the American people and their judicial system ensured a fair trial to all accused.

Consider for a moment the amount of media space spent in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. If one tracks column centimeters, 9/11 would have generated more than a few million pages in the American newspapers indicating the angst of the American people. Simultaneously security in public places was beefed up and systems put in place to prevent any such incident. In almost seven years since 9/11 those systems seem to be delivering expected results.

In contrast we see lop-sided media coverage of incidents in India. Twenty dead people in a bomb blast in Delhi get extensive coverage lasting for weeks. Readers are given news, background stories, expert views and political statements, opinion polls etc. on various aspects of the incident. Seven times more people died in the Jodhpur stampede. The story made the front page today. But there were no screaming banner headlines like September 14 2008, the day after the recent bomb blasts in Delhi. The story will in all probability go cold in 2-3 days and a week later Indians would be hard pressed to recall where the Chamunda Devi temple is.

It is ironic that a few people killed in a bomb blast triggered by a terrorist outfit gets so much attention and media space & time. The politicians get hyperactive and are seen baying for blood, but such incidents of stampedes in congregations at places of worship that happen with alarming regularity evoke nothing more than tokenisms. It must evoke a strong sense of outrage and collective anger. No sincere and visible effort is made to ensure that such incidents do not recur. Till such time that we continue to be fooled by tokenisms by the ruling elite, human life will continue to be lost. Only when the administration is held accountable and made to pay for their lapses would such avoidable deaths end.

On closer and rational analysis this kind of incidents can be easily avoided. A study of the practices adopted at some places of worship like the shrine of Lord Venkateswara at Tirupathi, the Golden Temple at Amritsar, the shrine of Khwaja Chisti at Ajmer Sharif and Mata Vaishno Devi temple amongst many others will show that a few simple practices can lead to orderly conduct of large congregations.

The religious shrines are managed by boards, which have local eminent persons as their members. These are mostly local merchants who work voluntarily, part-time and with an aim to gain social acceptance. Most of them are also patrons and fund many projects undertaken by these shrines and they want to do an honest job. It is equally true they are not trained administrators. In public interest the government should bring an ordinance that mandates the following acts in such shrines:

1) All shrines must record the daily count of all visitors to the shrine with a view to proper planning of facilities and operating procedures.

2) All shrine boards must have a member who has served at least at the rank of Inspector of Police to advise the shrine boards about crowd management. They must be registered with the central government and made to undergo periodic training on these skills.

3) All shrines must seek permission of the local administration for organizing such congregations after they have demonstrated compliance with crowd management systems as indicated by the ex-police officer member of the board.

4) All shrine boards must be permitted to charge a nominal amount for entry to finance crowd management systems. Public address systems must be installed at all shrines. Shrines must permit entry of a small batch of people only. Proper barricading and fencing must be installed to ensure stampedes are arrested at the outset. All structures must be periodically tested.

5) All shrines must arrange suitable number of volunteers to assist the police in managing and guiding devotees. Adequate number of ambulances and doctors should be on call as per established norms whenever permission is granted to arrange such large congregations.

6) In the event the shrine board defies norms the board must be superseded and the administration should takeover the shrine. Any board that is in charge of a shrine at any time must be held accountable for the safety and security of the devotees. A board that is not able to cope with the sudden surge in number of visitors should be allowed to temporarily close down the shrine.

Many multinational corporations these days devote a large amount of money and time to meet Health, Safety, Security and Environmental (HSSE) concerns. At Castrol BP, my previous employers, no meeting would start before the HSSE Manager had briefed the assembled people about the safety procedures to follow in case of a fire and the location of exit points. When the practice first started we would mock the company’s paranoia about safety but once the realization sank-in we became the torchbearers for the cause of health and safety.

Making schoolchildren study HSSE would ensure that we have a crop of young men and women who as they step into adulthood are aware of the steps to be taken and avoid the safety pitfalls and ensure precious lives are preserved. I feel any amount spent in this effort would be more than recovered even if one human life can be saved.