Prague Winter

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The past was to be deaf and dumb to them. It was neither heard nor spoken” – for many survivors this is the wretched life after war. This is the strongest emotion that drives us to be vigilant of our leaders and never to repeat the blunders of the past.

Madeline Albright, a Czech born American citizen who served as Secretary of State under the Clinton government revisits her roots in this remarkable story of adventure and passion, courage and tragedy set in the backdrop of World War II and communist post war Czechoslovakia. Although the book recollects all important incidents that shaped the nation one cannot dismiss this book as a war journal. (Just as we cannot dismiss Schinder’s list or Life is beautiful as war movies.)

It is no doubt an incisive work on history but one that delves deep into the human psyche. What prompts one person to act boldly in a moment of crisis like Maria did in sheltering the Czech parachutists or to succumb like Curda who turned against his peers? Why do some people become stronger in the face of adversity like the countless survivors of Camp Terezin or Auschwitz while others quickly lose heart? What separates the bully from the protector? Why do we make the choices we do? Is it our education, spiritual belief, parents, friends circumstances or an amalgamation of all of these?

Albright begins her book from the earliest place in her birth in her home country Czechoslovakia. The founder TG Masaryk, the shameful Munich pact, Hitler and sudetland, World War II, President Benes, Jan Masaryk, Allied forces and finally the Communist thrust.

Czechoslovakia stands at the cusp of east and west, nestled and nudged it has strived to act as a western democratic state but often courting eastern communist security. Even though history dealt a losing hand, the country and it’s leaders have risen to become a beacon of character and spirit. (The Velvet Revolution that scissored Czech and Slovakia and President Havel are mentioned throughout).But history transpired from the eyes and life of Albright, her family with her father in government service paints the picture vividly.

Prague winter is a book that details World War II with a breathtaking combination of historical and political perspectives. But the moral choices that hinges between the words and the confrontation of brutalities that ceases to end even today makes this book a must read.

Other recommended books on Prague – Prague by Richard Burton & Time’s magpie by Myla Goldberg.

All aboard the Modi Express

220px-ABD_0165You can like him, hate him but you cannot afford to ignore him. Narendra Modi, the chief minister of Gujarat may very well beat the Indian electoral system for the third consecutive time. So it may come as no surprise that he will emerge as the undisputed winner even before the votes are counted in the Gujarat assembly elections.

Narendra Modi started his political life as a RSS member and slowly rose to the higher ranks in the BJP. LK Advani picked him as the face of the party in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh in 1998. By 2001, in less than three years, he would be leading the state as the chief minister. Such was his charisma. Although Modi faced heated criticism in 2002 during the Godhra train carnage and communal violence in Gujarat and subsequently resigned, he was elected back to power. Several investigations tried to link him to the carnage but none were successful. Despite his fanatic religious dogma, Modi has the charm that most politicians in India lack to lure both the rural and urban Indian alike.

Internationally, Modi was a pioneer in attracting foreign investment to Gujarat. He made visits to China, Singapore and Japan and claimed to be instrumental in the release of the Indian diamond traders jailed in China. Due to his linkages to the 2002 riots, the UK and US refused direct links with Narendra Modi. Although the UK withdrew its policy, the US still refuses to grant tourist/diplomatic visa to Modi. Narendra Modi wields tremendous power in Gujarat that even the Congress treads carefully while campaigning against him. Rahul Gandhi makes an appearance in Gujarat short enough to silence any reports of real apprehension but not long enough to directly contend with Modi. Every time women race from behind the drapes to take active part in politics, candidates run for cover. But not Narendra Modi. Neither Jagruti Pandya nor Shweta Bhatt can rock this man’s cradle hard enough to topple him.

To really understand Narendra Modi’s hold over his audience one only has to attend his rallies. His oratorical skills captivates the audience making the sway like snakes to the charmer and when he is finished there is only one word ringing in Modidom – MODI. He doesn’t preach, he doesn’t promise, he simply asks the questions. Will we leave Gujarat in the hands of strangers? Reminding them that he has been in power as their longest serving chief minister. He makes a mockery of Sonia ben and Rahul Baba, India’s first family in politics and gets away with it.

Narendra Modi is also extremely tech savvy. He conquers the youth and elite population by tweeting from his @narendramodi account. His website http://www.narendramodi.in is frequently updated and he might be the only politician to actively congregate using Google hangouts. Modi’s Sabarmati waterfront project won the hearts of many and Ahmedabad’s thriving skyline stands testimony to his keen business acumen. By bringing manufacturing hubs like the Nano plant, he delivered a home run. Although rural Gujarat is infected by similar woes that the rest of the country is engulfed in, Modi has learnt to play right into the hearts of Gujarat’s nobility. Urban Gujarat chants the Modi mantra vigorously and rural Gujarat grudgingly accepts their fate for a Modi rule.

Modi might not be the torch bearer for Indian politics. In a country where most politicians are con men and there is no real choice in candidature, any progress that a politician promises is a good sign. Indian politics is plagued by hooligans trying to augment just their bank balances, the country be damned. So while Narendra modi is not the perfect choice, he might be Gujarat’s only choice for a future. While most politicians seek shade under the party umbrella, Modi has shunned both party and politics and reached directly to the people. He understands that this is what counts in the end. Even as the boat rocks during this election, there is no doubt that Narendra Modi will dock safely.

But will his sail soar high enough to reach the chambers of Delhi? Are we ready for him to lead the nation? India, is Modi really the best you have? I sincerely hope not.

(This article is my first foray into politics and was published here in www.behindindia.com. By this time, Modi had a hat trick victory in Gujarat and reinstated in his throne.)

Savita Halappanavar: The Ugly Math

A woman’s life is hard as it is. Why would we want to inflict more pain with politicians and laws deciding what to do with ourselves when we go through a single life transforming event like pregnancy? Frankly, Mr, No Uterus, No Opinion.

The recent US elections enraged women and made feminists delirious. With Senator Todd Akin’s ill informed remarks about rape and abortion and Mitt Romney’s circus dance around women’s rights, Republicans were doomed to lose. On the other hand, when Michelle Obama took the stage on the Democratic National convention and declared that her husband trusted women to make that crucial choice about their bodies, she not only won the crowd’s applause but their votes as well.

We live in the information age and women are raring to go places. There are very few aspects in life that impedes us. Biologically, pregnancy affects only the mother. Therefore, deciding to go with it or end it should be a personal and private choice taken within closed doors. It is surely not a political point worthy of debate neither should it be a legal binding that encompasses all.

In talking pro life, who’s life are they talking about? When the couple decides that they do not want to bring another life into this world, why does government want to decide otherwise? The acts of personal pleasures are not an agenda for political reform. And most definitely not a topic worthy of debate just to amass vote banks.

The trauma that Savita Halappanavar underwent in the Irish hospital is a nightmare for women everywhere. This was a joyous phase of her life where she was nurturing another life within herself. But when things went downhill, the medical personnel should have showed better judgement. We trust our lives with doctors and when they hide behind religion and laws, it is a sad day for mankind.

Pro life and pro choice are terms that look fancy on campaign flyers but are warrants of life and death for women involved. Even when the decision to end a pregnancy is made it is not a happy day but a day filled with tears and heartbreak. Let us not worsen it by muddling it up with politics and religion. To state that this is a Catholic country to a women’s plea for life is not the way God intended mankind to treat fellow humans. Show some respect, some remorse and more compassion. A life could have been saved, instead we lose two. No matter how we look at it, the math is indeed ugly.

(An edited version of this article was published in Women’s Web.)