Tuesday, March 22, 2011

2012: The day we make cakes out of muffins

Apocalypse, Armageddon, doomsday or simply the End of the World: there are innumerable ways in different languages to describe the unimaginable end, just as there are a million ways of reacting to it. 

The 5000 year old, Mayan calendar comes to an end on 21st December, 2012 which triggers a series of rumours about the world's end. Quite a few believe that it will arrive in the form of a gigantic fireball as described in the Book of Revelation. Others may say that the Earth will be crossing the Galactic Equator on 21st December, 2012, resulting in severe storms, earthquakes or even a polar shift. Or even that we might ourselves destroy the Earth by polluting the atmosphere to such an extent that it would be beyond any repair. Or an epidemic in the form of an incurable virus would consume the planet. Whatever the means of attaining this global annihilation, one thing is certain that it has brought forth an unending series of debate and discussion. There seems to be no end to prophecies to the End.

What strikes me is that, do we even care? Some critics might agree that the Book of Revelation, one of the chief sources of this controversy, was written only for a specific time-period and that it wouldn't affect us. Others believe that the prophecy has already occurred. But as Mark Twain once said, 'History doesn't repeat itself, but it does rhyme'. So, our ancestors' patterns of belief may never be duplicated but they can be reformulated in parts that approximate each other. In other words, the End may occur. It is specified not only in the Bible, but also in the books of other religions like the Bhagwad Gita and the Koran, and also in Roman and Greek myths. But again I ask how many of us are actually concerned for this day? How many of us actually stop for a moment in our day-to-day lives and even think about it? The answer would be very few. 

Most of us may say that 'Jab aayega tab dekha jayega'. These replies are a slap on the face of hardcore followers, some of whom have even websites prepared with adequate counter measures. My main aim is not to become the next Socrates but yes, I do want to provide a better audience to this subject, heck it deserves a better audience. It needs ears which can understand its grave meaning. We must understand that the year 2012 may or may not be a reality. May be the day is, after all, imaginary. But everything happening now-a-days are pointing towards that sort of end. It may not occur but we may make it happen. We must understand that even if that day or time has already occurred we are repeating it just as the way Twain explained. How many predictions have we not listened to?  The United States were warned that the Japanese could attack Pearl Harbour by crossing the Pacific. It fell to deaf years. Similarly, it was predicted that these winters would not be as cold as expected and that India was vulnerable by sea. These were not made by successors of Nostradamus, but by people who are experts in their respective fields.

Similar is the case of global warming. It was warned. In other words, all these catastrophes are man-made and not some divine punishment on mankind. It is possible that 2012 may just be a test for us. A test to ask ourselves whether we can survive, like we survived all those wars, epidemics and terror attacks. If we usher it successfully, it may end up as a glorious chapter in history books, and would be celebrated as a day where people all over the world unite for one cause, a cause greater than we have ever faced in our time-line. We don't know the enemy but we do know that when it will come, we have to ready for it, and even if we fail to survive, we must ensure that our coming generations live to see better days. We must learn that these terror attacks, these monstrous cyclones we suffer these days are what lie ahead, and it may reciprocate into larger ones. 

If we could survive through them, then Armageddon will just be another day in our lives.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Japanese Puzzle


This morning I woke up to a splitting headache which got worse when I found out that instead of the usual newspaper, I would have to make content with a competitors’ viz. ‘The Hindu’. Yes people, I agree it is a more informative newspaper than the others around, but I like my news in coloured fonts. 

So, I flipped open to the one page a story grasping the world right now (actually one of two stories, the other being that of Libya), and thankfully found that the Japanese authorities confirming that the radiation isn’t a severe as estimated. As usual, my craving for information didn’t stop there. I went online and googled for Japan and the Sendai earthquake. True to the report, the radiation was a speck under control. I scrolled down to the Wikipedia link to ‘Japan’ and clicked it open. Flowing before me was the country’s past, present and future. 

As a child, we recalled Japan as the country of the rising sun and the land of kung-fu and ‘Samurais’. With age, we learnt about its involvement in the Second World War and subsequent bombings by the Allied forces on it. Surprisingly, that is the horizon of our knowledge of Japan. The question arises: ‘What do we know about the country with the currency Yen?’ Some of my friends looked upon me curiously. ‘What’s Yen?’ they asked. Ignoring their surprisingly low currency knowledge, I asked them that other than the ties involving Japan and India regarding automobiles and food crops, if they had any prior knowledge of the country. Some laughed inquisitively; others shrugged and shook their heads.

A few hours back, even I would have been stumped. World War II, Sendai and cars, that’s all I knew about the Japanese. I guess it can be called as an eye opener in my case, upon leaning the Japanese War Crimes. What followed was like someone had punched me in the gut. Things described there was too horrible to jot down in my blog. The atrocities committed against the Koreans and the Chinese was nothing less than what Nazi Germany did to the Jews; some at par and others even above. It seemed Germany and Japan were hosting as massacre competition within them. Koreas, from 1910 to 1945, was a living hell on earth. Exploited, uneducated and severely exposed, the Koreans couldn’t even keep their clan names. It was compulsory to change your name or be looked as filth in the community. The Japan-Korea annexation treaty was forced under threat of murder and other officials were handsomely bribed. Hundreds of thousands of Korean males were forced into labour in Japan and its colonies all over the Pacific and South-East Asia. Children were forced to apply in the Imperial Japanese Army and fight against the allied forces. About 200,000 women were used as ‘comfort women’ in Japanese Army camps and forced in prostitution; some not even old enough to menstruate were raped repeatedly. A typical comfort woman had to ‘entertain’ 25-35 men daily, and forced to live in inhumane conditions. The chances of survival in such camps were less that 25% for the women. 

It was not just the Koreans. Japan has been reported to have killed about 10 million Chinese during the same period and similarly force Chinese women to become comfort women. It implied to Indonesia, the Philippines and the Malay states as well. Over 500,000 Chinese labourers lost their lives in Japan’s effort to build the Siam Railway line. Oppression was crushed and thousands were openly executed on the streets of Seoul and Busan, none more famous the March 1 Movement where 7000 Korean souls were lost.

Japan’s war policy was severely brutal. The Japanese Emperor considered he to be God’s chosen disciple and his word was supreme. They believed that the other neighbouring countries was full of impurity and much like Hitler’s policy with the Jews, they had to be purified. The Chinese were not considered human and the Americans were considered mongrelized apes. The Japan Navy was ordered to execute all Prisoners-of-War (POWs) caught at sea. The army was brutally brainwashed and any discontentment was satisfied with more women. A POW caught by the Americas, Britain, Australia or New Zealand had less than 4% chance of not surviving as compared to the 30% death rates of the POWs caught by the Japanese. The POWs, along with hundreds of other civilians from Korea, China and other colonial states were subject to massive cannibalism as a result of the Allied forces cutting out provision lines for the Japanese Army. They cut off body parts from prisoners, while they were still alive and leave them to die. Stories recalled from Indian and Pakistani survivors of the war from Andaman Islands provide testimony to the statements. 

Human experimentation was common in Nazi Germany was well as Imperial Japan. Unit 731 of the Japanese Experimental Unit is known to have committed possibly the most horrible of these crimes. Open vivisection was common, mostly on the POWs. Thousands were sacrificed for the practice of science leaving them to suffer from the effects of cholera, malaria and anthrax as a part of the biological weapons programmes. In order to test the effects of frost bite, civilians were forced bare naked in the cold and water splashed over them repeatedly to speed up the process, until their arms and legs froze. Their arms were amputated and next, the legs followed until only the head and torso of the person remained, which was then experimented chemically; all these being done with the person still alive. Anaesthesia was not recommended as it was said to have reduced the effects of chemicals previously.

Looting was common and thousands of Koreans artefacts worth millions of dollars still lie in Japanese museums, unreturned. Japan was subject to trials for all the above crimes by the Allied forces but only a few higher ranked officers were convicted. Lower ranking soldiers were never brought to justice. Officers and scientists of Unit 731 were tried but most of them were acquitted under the condition that they cooperate to provide the results of their experimentation to the U.S.A. Furthermore, those punished were not considered convicts under Japanese law as they were following orders in serving their country. Japan has yet not apologized to Korea, China, Indonesia or the Philippines for all the comfort women used during the war. 

The  United States, Russia, Britain and the Netherlands along with the United Nations have repeatedly asked Japan to apologise, but Japan till date deny the use of women for such purposes or for further availability to comment on the issue. In 1993, the then Japanese Foreign Secretary issued an informal apology which was later denied by Japanese authorities. Japan refused to oblige to the United States pressing of an apology stating that it could hamper ties between the nations.

The March 11 Sendai Earthquake and Tsunami diverted all our attention once again to Japan after a seemingly long time. Indeed the country has prospered to become one of the leading forces in Asia and a leading economy of the world. But is the present worth the past? Japan is facing a crisis perhaps never witnessed before. Humanity is their chief concern today, an ironical statement as compared to their dark past. The decision to understand and logic rests in our hands. Both the Koreas as well as China have offered massive help campaigns to the country. In fact, it is the people of the country who are subject to help. We can turn our backs and be angry at what they did, or choose to forget, at least for those who are suffering there. 

The question, again, is: ‘What do we know?’

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Charm Caster

This one time I was really upset. Things were simply not going according to plan. My life was morphing into a major hub of procrastination and lethargy. 

There I was sitting at my favourite table in the restaurant near where I lived, analyzing other possible alternatives for my career. A plump man walked in, closely accompanied by a young, attractive girl. Her face appeared astonished, just like a five year kid who had just stepped into Disneyland, yet she charmed a cloud of mystic beauty as she walked by. He reached for her hand, (to which she grasped rather frantically) and signaled the waiter, probably for the usual. They occupied the table next to mine, enabling me to eavesdrop on them. The pretty girl went on blabbering how grateful she was to have met him, to which the man just gave short grunts of acknowledgement. 

This went on for a while after which the waiter showed up with the order, a glass of champagne and a peg of what looked like the finest scotch, The girl excused herself for the restroom, enabling me to steal a glance at the supposed-tycoon, to which I was quite taken aback. He was smirking at me beckoning to join him. I hesitated for a fraction, but then obediently walked over. He smiled and his shinny white teeth gleamed in the evening light. He asked me if I was confused and curious. I hesitated again and then blurted out, “Who are you?” He raised his eyebrows and chuckled. I explained I was a regular in that shop and never had I seen him any time before. “Are you somebody rich and famous?” I asked stupidly. “I’m nobody”, he said as he took a sip from his drink. My first impression was modesty; all celebrities were when quizzed about their achievements are. I laughed sarcastically and urged him to reveal his identity. The truth was bizarre. He confessed he was no Bill Gates, but pretended to be one since the day he lost his job three summers ago. He had worked as a chef in a rich man’s kitchen and awoke one pleasant Sunday morning with the news that he was fired. The abrupt dismissal was brought about due to the incident at previous night’s dinner. The millionaire’s daughter had fumbled while eating, staining her expensive gown, and blamed the fish gravy of being too thin which prompted her to err. 

However bizarre the acquisition, he was made to quit. He worked between jobs since then, all in some money man’s house. He had developed an unusual trait of stealing his bosses’ tuxedos, renting expensive cars in his masters’ names, and driving to well known pubs in the area and that is where his true talent emerged. A bureaucrat from Canada or an Italian Pizza Giant, he would say.  Amazingly his acts assured a very high success rate, so high I was beginning to doubt him. Believing was entirely my own opinion, he convinced. He winked and sank back to his chair. But then, the girl? Just someone he met at the bar, there were loads of pretty faces waiting for rich guys just to slide into their arms and be rewarded with expensive gifts and probably even being sponsored to exotic holidays over the weekend. After a while, his date returned and I left them to their privacy. They finished their drinks and the bloke tipped the waiter handsomely as he left, too much for a person claiming to be a part time apprentice. I marveled at his undiminished confidence and silently applauded at his supreme dedication to his acts each time he performed them, if he was indeed such an illusionist. He left in a flowing black limo and as I sat there sipping the remainder of my coffee.

Suddenly life seemed to open new doors for me. I felt livelier. This total stranger with his crap story had something more. I was surprisingly able to infer a moral from him. No, I wasn’t going to steal laundry or rent a chauffeur, but he showed that I could be anyone I wanted. It was just the ambiance I would provide after I had changed, that would determine my outcome. Confidence was a skill far more superior to talent, and worked as a chisel perfecting the latter’s quality. I finished the cappuccino, just as the waiter handed me the check and reached for the day’s newspaper. A few glances and I found the perfect job, wondering why it was so difficult to locate that advertisement just a few minutes ago.