Thursday, December 16, 2010

&#it happens in life

Ganesha: The Lord of good things
It's a fast paced world, and there are a million things happening at the next instant.  When I leave work, you can bet on anything in the world that I would reach home within the next hour, give or take a few minutes.  There might be an occasional stop at Dillon's, the super store, or, at the gas station so that I don't spend those precious minutes at the gas station instead of being tucked under the covers on a cold wintry morning.  Life is pretty much simple and predictable.

I was a nine year old or a ten year old, I don't exactly remember.  After much harrowing and convincing, I was given a bicycle at home.  It was the first step towards adulthood.  It was a Hero Ranger LE that had the mountain tyres (tires) with a black surface coating.  It was one of the coolest bikes of its time.  I still don't know what the LE stands for, but even those extra two letters did sound pretty cool.  During the first week, my friend turned foe challenged me for a race, which was pretty common if you are in possession of a new bike.  I was only too glad to accept.  Halfway through the race, in order to take the lead, I took acute turns and deviations, I went and rammed into a tree that was living in peace on the sidewalk.  I had a lot of bruises, and at that time, I was more concerned about whether my bike had suffered any scratches or whether any paint had withered off.  My knees were hurting, and the elbows had some weird shapes of clot.  I was more concerned about the fact that a "matter of such significance" should not be reported at home lest I lose my freedom to bike around in style.

Interiors of my Honda civic
Exterior of my Honda Civic
Last night, the temperature had fallen.  It is something not worth mentioning, as the temperature in winter is generally in the sub-zero ranges.  It is something you get used to it once you are in the mid-west or in the far east.  You stop complaining and move on hoping that coldness in the air does not introduce a coldness in character.  So, it was just another day at work, and as we(my car pool partner) got into the car, we had no inkling of the things to come.  I made the customary call to my wife and told her that I will be home in the next 45 minutes.  I made a mental note of the things I had to do the next day.  Just like the other days, I hoped things would work the next day.  The K10 highway was as usual, the 70 mph drive meandering along as though it would go on and on, finally giving way to a 65 mph stretch.  I came out of the cruise control mode, allowed the vehicle to go along at a lesser speed and adjusted the speedometer to a comfortable speed range well under 65 mph.  There was no point on the highway that I had to brake hard, so I had no inkling of how well or how badly the tyres were gripping the road.  In an unusual way, I saw a stationary car on the left lane of the highway about 500 m or 600 m away from me, and immediately, almost by instinct, my foot hit the brake pedal. The brakes were just a formality; there was nothing to gain from braking hard.  The car hurled itself across the icy surface like a rudderless boat, and there was that instant when we were hoping that almost by miracle the vehicle in front of us would move away.  Thoughts and reality reside on a different level, and under these circumstances, it is only reality that takes control of your life.  The nanosecond before the crash felt like light years.  You just want the moment to pass away; you have no idea what is going to happen.  It was worse than being in a limbo state.  The air bags shot out and it is under these circumstances, you want things to function the way they are supposed to function.  Luckily, it did.  The air bags gave out a waft of smoke, and we quickly got out of the car.  I had not broken any limbs, and neither had my co-passenger.  The guy in front of us had a few facial injuries and was bleeding.  He got back to normalcy after a few minutes.

The cycle accident many many years ago had plenty more to show on my body.    Now, there was not even a scratch or a bruise.  A highway incident without any injuries had to be something miraculous.  The car was in a bad shape.  That was the last thing I was worried about.  I just hoped all of us had come away unscathed without any major injuries.  Everything else faded into insignificance.

A goner!

What else could have broken!

A close shave

I was definitely not smiling the previous evening

Air bags worked at the right time
We thanked our stars.  My Chinese colleague was quick to tell me, "Praveen, &#it happens in life." I nodded my head.  The Ganesha on the dashboard had fallen down on to the floor, but, thankfully, he did not let us down.  He read my thoughts and translated into a simple, "Ganesh saved the day for us." I couldn't have agreed more!

Thursday, December 09, 2010

The Chinese way

It has always been appalling at the way China treats its dissidents.  It quashes even a remote hint of authoritarian overture by suppressing any speculation that could develop into a movement over a period of time.  Freedom of speech is not restricted, rather, it is something that is not even heard of.  A democratic tone is killed without any trace and the "nipping in the bud" phrase is followed in the most precise way.  If you had the guts to take on the government, you are virtually left naked.  There is absolutely no place to hide.  The jail terms can be astounding, and the jail conditions absolutely dark, literally as well as metaphorically.

As I was talking to one of my Chinese friends, I was stunned by the level of control that the government exercises on the common man.  The fundamental rights of the citizens are snatched and the suppression is taken to a level that virtually leaves a person with no way of getting information that is not government regulated.  Coming from India, and now, living in the US, this is something that is highly difficult to comprehend.  Every form of social integration is banned - no tweets, no blogs, no feeds and nothing that can even remotely induce an anti-government propaganda.  I opined that it is just a matter of time before all these things will be lifted.  After all, this is the new millennium, I said with a great degree of confidence.  He replied back saying that if I was thinking about the technological advantage, then I was wrong.  Technology is neutralized, he said.  The Chinese firewall is unquestionably strong and very carefully monitored.  So, there is no way of organizing a movement based on online forums or blogs.  Media is in the hands of the government. People see and hear what the government wants them to.  Even a simple query on the search engine can result in the internet connection being disconnected.  Ultimately, you are on the government radar.  Arrests are even more dangerous, as no explanation is given about your whereabouts, if need be.

Being deprived of the American versions of the social media, the Chinese locals have come out with their version of Twitter, Facebook and the other equivalents.  To say the least, they are making tons of money with it.  The best way to make easy money is to create the Chinese versions of the popular websites from the other side of the world.  Of course, these websites are controlled.  So, there is no way one can get involved in trash talk.  Queries like Tiananmen Square Massacre are obviously filtered.  In fact, I was told that a few days preceding and succeeding June 4th, greater number of websites were added to the watch list.  The hard to believe part is the fact that a massacre of such magnitude took place in 1989 without the slightest of concern to international reactions.  The locked up Nobel peace prize winner from China Liu Xiaobo, an open dissident of the authoritarian system is serving a 11 year term for demanding a democratic setup.  China has also asked other countries to boycott the ceremony in Oslo, and who to pay heed to the request, but countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and North Korea among the 18 countries.

In way, the Chinese setup is different, my friend remarked.  I was curious.  He replied that as a part of the growing up process, they are instilled with this belief in the strongest possible way, the non-existence of God.  "So, we don't fear anything", he said, as a matter of concern.  That does seem a bit out of the way for the government as it fears every small thing that it thinks could result in a "subversion of state power".