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Valentines Day Vacation Spots

One can never outgrow the charm of Valentine’s Day. No matter what people say, it is a occasion to celebrate love. Add to it the fact that this year, it happens to fall on a long weekend with Friday, February 12 being Shivratri and a holiday for many. So pack your bags this Valentine’s Day and take a weekend break to one of these magical places in India, perfect for a romantic getaway.Valentine’s Day (February 14) is a great excuse to take a break from the daily grind and spend some quality time with that special someone. And with V-Day falling on a Sunday this year, it’s the perfect opportunity to skip town and head out. So we asked readers to send in their most romantic vacation spots that would make great V-Day getaways.

The Misty Hills of Shimla, Himachal Pradesh
How much ever people try to dissuade you, do not listen. Shimla, about 370 km from Delhi, is the eternal favourite honeymoon spot in North India and for good reason too. The nip in the air, the misty skies, the breathtaking views and evening walks on the Mall road make it the perfect romantic location.Must-do: Walk hand in hand with your beloved while devouring a softy ice cream from the famous stall near the church. The toy train from Kalka to Shimla is also a must do.

Where to stay: Unless you want to go the luxury way and stay at the Oberoi, be adventurous and walk down the mall towards a campsite called Potters Hill. The Swiss Tents are comfortable and the location in the middle of the pine forest perfect.

 
Marvelous Matheran, Maharashtra
Leave the hustle bustle of city life behind and lose yourself in this tiny hillock called Matheran, about 108 km away from Mumbai.The only hill station where there is no vehicular traffic allowed, spend leisurely afternoons taking pony rides or treks along the unused railway track.Matheran is delightfully accessible from Mumbai and Pune by local trains that don’t need prior booking.

Must-do: Take a walk along the lanes that wind their way through the forests, buy a guava from the stall on the way and hear the birds twitter.

Where to stay: Maharashtra Tourism has excellent cottages at throwaway prices.

Gopalpur-on-Sea, Orissa
It may sound like a description but Gopalpur-on-Sea is actually the name of this sleepy town located about 180 km from Bhubaneshwar in Orissa.Once a busy sea port, it is now a quaint and quiet beach side town. There is a lighthouse for some sightseeing but besides that, there is just the sand, the sea and you. Perfect for a quiet romantic weekend vacation packages .The waters of the sea here are a pleasurable deep blue which is rare to find in the ever crowded Goa.

Must-do: Walk barefoot in the sand and watch the sun go down on the sea.

Where to stay: Swosti Palm Resort is a nice and clean but affordable stay option here.

The Spice Route through Kerala
One would never think of Kerala as a weekend vacation. But if you happen to be in that part of the country, this is the perfect answer to your Valentine’s Day plans.What could be more romantic than a cruise in a houseboat down the backwaters at Alleppey and fresh prawns for dinner!Plan a 2-day trip to Cochin and go down to Alleppey (2 hours away) for a day’s cruise.Must-do: Visit the Mattancherry Antique market in Cochin and pick up a 200 year old souvenir to remember your trip.

Where to stay: Book the houseboat for the night and return to Cochin the next day.

The epitome of Love – Taj Mahal, Agra
It would be sacrilege to talk of romance and not mention the monument of Eternal Love, the Taj Mahal in Agra, about 203 km away from Delhi.As hyped that the monument may be, a visit to the Taj will convince you that it still remains magical in its power to amaze.Club a visit to the Taj with a tour of the magnificent Agra fort and you are in for a treat. Immerse yourself in the romance of years gone by and rediscover each other.

Must-do: When you visit the monuments, do make sure you hire a guide. They may charge an extra Rs.50 but they will help you appreciate the beauty much more than you otherwise would.

Where to stay: There are plenty of 5 star options in Agra, the best of which is the Jaypee Palace.

Seeped in history – Orchha, Madhya Pradesh
This may not be an obvious choice but it is merely a lack of marketing and not of potential. Madhya Pradesh remains one of our most unexplored jewels and Orchha may just be the crowning gem.A town seeped in history and culture, Orchha, about 170 km away from Khajuraho, is a historian’s dream.You don’t necessarily need to appreciate architecture to pay this town a visit though. The quiet little town on the banks of the Betwa river is as romantic as it gets. Orchha is best reached by taking a train to Jhansi (16 km away).

Must-do: Watch the sunset over the river.

Where to stay: Book the Orchha Resort and stay in the Swiss Tents instead of the rooms. You will have your morning tea literally in the lap of the ruins.

Coorg (Kodagu), Karnataka
Referred to as the Scotland of India, nestled between teakwood and sandalwood forests, Coorg is beauty that must be experienced.A popular destination yet so abundant in natural beauty that it seems untouched. The region is known for its stunning scenic beauty and undulating coffee plantations.A comfortable drive from Bangalore (252 km)/ Mangalore (135 km), Coorg is the perfect Valentine’s Day weekend if you live in these cities.

Must-do: The Abbey Falls, near the main town of Madikeri can be reached by hiking through the cardamom and coffee plantations.

Where to stay: The best part about Coorg is to stay in the midst of the plantations. For a luxury option, the best recommended is Orange County. But if you want to save the dough, experience Coorg by staying in one of the homestays like Ashraya Homestay or the Palace Estate Homestay.

Jaisalmer, Rajasthan
Though Udaipur is rumoured to be the romantic capital of India, take a cue, bypass the city and plan a trip to Jaisalmer instead.There are few things more romantic than endless sand dunes till the eye can see, villagers dressed in the colours of the rainbow and a camel ride watching the sun go down.All this and more, only at Jaisalmer the desert capital of India Tours.

Must-do: Take a guided tour through the ancient fort of Jaisalmer, once an important stop on the trade route between India and Persia and Egypt.

Where to stay: Fort Pokaran has fabulous location and completes the Rajasthani experience. For a more budget option, stay at the lovely Hotl Fifu. Despite the strange sounding name, the hotel is well located and has tasteful rooms.

Getaway: Lansdowne, Uttarakhand
If there is heaven on Earth, it is here. Lansdowne offers majestic beauty, serene surroundings and lovely atmosphere, perfect for a couple to share their best moments with each other. It truly is one of the most romantic getaways for special occasions.

Sights: St Mary’s Church and Tip-n-Top are two of the most reknowned tourist attractions. Though Lansdowne also boasts of a quiet lake where you can find swans and ducks swimming around.

Eats: There isn’t much to offer as regards Lansdowne in terms of eateries. Almost all the hotels provide good food included in the package of your stay there. Though the ultimate fun is cooking your own food on a fireplace.

Shopping: Lansdowne has shops operated by the Garhwal Rifles from where you can buy cheap leather goods and other winter accessories like bags and boots.

How to get there: Lansdowne is about 250 km from Delhi. It is roughly a six-hour drive. The highway till Kotdwar is good. After that, for the last 40 km, the hilly terrain is really enjoyable with pines and cedars on both sides of the road.

 

Amid mountain mists
Getaway: Amboli, Maharastra

A great weekend destination worth visting.

Sights: If you like silence, if you like nature, Amboli is for you. The best thing about this place is that unlike other hill stations, this one is not yet commercialised, hence Amboli offers you natural beauty. Amboli is highly recommended if you like to spend some time in peace and would like to relax in nature. Amboli has not much to offer in terms of entertainment, but it’s a real paradise for nature lovers. Some facts about Amboli: receives the highest rainfall in Maharastra; has the largest green cover; is home to around 30 species of animals, around 129 species of birds and over 350 species of medicinal plants; is a great location for adventure tourism; has cool and pleasant pollutuion-free climate round the year.

Eats: Vegetarian food at Vithal Kamat. We were there for lunch and the only option available was Veg Thali. We asked for some other options but they had none so we had to go for the thali. They charge around Rs 35 per thali. The food was simple and good with great dessert. It is on the main road, near Sunset Point.

Green Valley Resort: This resort has an in-house restaurant. The menu offers a wide choice of veg and non-veg food(including Chinese). This restaurant has no bar. Though I tried only the veg food here, I am sure they serve good non-veg food also. Prices seemed to be on the higher side. Service was good.

Shopping: The small Amboli market has nothing much to offer except for some local masalas at Narvekar (opposite Sailee Hotel).

Sights: If you are not travelling by your own vehicle, you can hire an auto (Rs 400) or a taxi (Rs 700). It takes around 4- 41/2 hours to cover the 5-6 spots. The siteseeing locations are Hiranyakeshi Temple (a small temple where the river Hiranyakeshi originates, a beautiful location but the approach road to the location is pathetic, it is around 4 km from the Green Valley Resort); Kavalesaad Point (beautiful location with awesome views; if fogs allow, you can see the beauty of the Sahyadri range from this location; it is around 9 km form the Green Valley Resort on the highway towards Belgaum; here too the approach road is quite bad); other locations to be covered are Madhav Ghad, Raghaweshwar (Maruti Mandir) and Nagarthas Falls. The last one is the waterfall ahead of Sunset Point. Make sure you are ready to get yourself totally drenched in this beautiful waterfall. It is located 3 km away, at the Sawantwadi-Belgaum road. Thirty minutes in this fall will make you feel awesome. Have a cutting chai with some hot pakoras while you are wet, I bet you will love it.From Belgaum, Amboli is about 68 km which is covered in two hours. You can either take the NWKRTC or the MSRTC bus heading towards Sawantwadi at the main bus station. Fare is about Rs 45.Please make sure to make advance reservations if going on a weekend.

Tucked away in peaceful hills

Getaway: Writers Hill, Himachal Pradesh

Description: Romantic and peaceful

Sights: Renuka lake, zoo, campfire

Shopping: Local antiques, small carvings

Activities: Visit to Renuka Lake and Zoo, picnic by the river, fishing, trek to Churdhar.

How to get there: Writers Hill is 220 km from Delhi. Take a right turn from Ambala flyover and go upto Nahan. Writers Hill is 20 km drive from Nahan.

Accommodation:

There are three cottages with a central kitchen. Two of the cottages have a study attached and each of the cottage looks into the Jalal river valley. The mountain in front gives you a breathtaking view. With all the cottages having bay windows, it’s an unrestricted view.The cottages are large, airy and offer a simple yet very comfortable stay.Each study has a collection of books both fiction and non-fiction and in the days to come the collection will only increase and improve.

Mannavanur Valley Tours

Mannavanur valley

They say God is impartial, but there are some places on this tiny planet of ours that defy the claim. One such place is located right next to God’s Own Country  Kerala, not Africa.Just an hour away from Kodaikanal in Tamil Nadu, lies the fresh-like-a-breeze Mannavanur valley. If, instead of taking a car, you choose to get aboard the state transport bus, do so on an empty stomach. You’ll save a tonne of money but super human powers of balance and courage will be needed to withstand the ride.

The ancient bus will hurtle through winding hilly roads and hairpin turns at the speed of sound. For the duration of the ride, which is about an hour and a half, the bus driver will nonchalantly chat up passengers and conductor alike, oblivious that the bus is almost a breath away from certain disaster. But then, as Calvin’s dad would say, “It builds character.”

Expanding views
As you leave Kodai town behind, wilderness and terrace farms alternate, expanding into the valley below. But all the views and valleys and busted valves (yes, the bus breaks down from time to time) cannot prepare you for the Mannavanur valley.

The very first glimpse will ensure instant silence. The second will cause disbelief. By the third glimpse you’ll try to take it all in. The rolling grassy hills with clumps of chola forests that take over at regular intervals, a lake located in just the right spot and the Perijam forest spread out like a blanket, its edges skirting the valley. Ferns of silver, bronze, green and brown invade the hills and offset the many shades of green.

A marshy stream escapes from the lake and snakes its way between the hills, its water plants straining against the wind. The road generously curves all around the valley offering you a panoramic view before it leads you to the Mannavanur village.

Rustic setting
With over a thousand households clustered around the road and spread over the hills beyond, the village offers little more than a few condiment shops and three or four tiny hotels or chai kadais (tea shops), where you can get meals and meat, dosas and steaming hot cups of tea and coffee.

There are a few places to stay in, if you are ready to rough it out.   Otherwise, a kilometre long walk back on the bus route (or you could request the driver to stop on the way if you’re alert) will take you to Bird’s Eye, the best accommodation for miles.

A different perspective
It’s pretty rustic as well, with bare stone cottages on a hill side with mattresses and coarse blankets on stone beds. But there are three things that redeem it. First, true to its name, a 200-degree view of the valley greets you every time you step out of your cottage. Second, there’s no back-breaking climb to get there. You cross the road, step off, and you’re in the valley, bounding over hills, racing towards the occasional trees carpeted with fluorescent fungi. There are several rough paths made mainly by zealously grazing cattle and, other than the marsh, there are no dangers you’ll encounter on your way. Third, the loos are fabulous. Richard the caretaker, doubles up as cook and the man will bring you warm water whenever you want. If you take your own supplies, the kitchen can also be used for an extra fee.

The magical nook
There are plenty of hidden surprises to uncover your tour, so if you have your own vehicle, explore the hills and valleys on your wheels. If you choose to to travel by walk, then do visit the magical enclave I stumbled upon.

A couple of kilometres beyond the village lies a path into a magical forest with plants and nooks the likes of which are rarely seen. And it all starts with a stream. Follow the stream and discover a wonderland that goes on and on, every turn revealing new curiosities and colours. Numerous visits aren’t enough to explore this pretty patch. Other than leeches in the rainy season, there’s nothing here that can bother you. With so much to explore, tremendous positive energy, an explosion of life and many scenes to drink in, Mannavanur is a place that promises to draw you back time and again.

Getting there
From Mumbai, Bangalore and Chennai, there are daily buses to Kodaikanal and trains to Kodi Road Junction located at the base of the hill, three hours from the town. The Nagarcoil Express leaves from CST on all days except Monday and Tuesday.

Getting around
There’s a bus that leaves every couple of hours from the Kodaikanal bus stand. The ticket costs Rs 30-40. Taxis are also available and are a more comfortable option. They cost anywhere between Rs 800-1,400 depending on the driver, your bargaining skills and the time of the year.

Important information
The best time for vacations is between March to August, before the rains begin. There’s a tiring 23km trek or jeep ride to Perijam lake but I wouldn’t even speak of it in comparison to this forest close by. Permissions are needed from the Government of Tamil Nadu Tourist Office, Annasalai, Kodaikanal, Ph: 04542- 241675.

Filling the Big Empty

The following article was written 4 days after the terrorist attacks in Mumbai and appeared in The Hindustan Times

Standing at ATS Chief, Hemant Karkare’s funeral, I was struck by the people who had gathered to pay homage to one of the most upright, secular and committed officers of the Mumbai police. Politicians, college students, leaders of the Muslim community, activists, and other members of the police. And then the questions. Why does it take such an immense tragedy to unite us? Why does this sentiment snuff out seconds after the occasion? What is it in our DNA that allows leaders to walk into our rooms, rape us, leave and come back again when the need arises? Here are my thoughts about 26/11 and its aftermath:

This is the greatest psychological blow that the city has received. People say the country, but I disagree, the fall of the Babri Masjid and the Gujarat riots have left deeper wounds. But as far as Bombay is concerned, 60 hours of television have brought the beginning, middle and end of this tragedy into our living rooms. We have seen guns, shootouts, murders, fires, commandos, traumatized survivors and destruction of every kind. And so have our children. My belief still remains that the practical effect of the attacks will be less than the effects the 1993 and 2006 bombings had on the common Bombayite. Then it was a direct connection to fear – should I go back to work in Zaveri Bazaar? Should I send my children on the trains tomorrow? Now those fears are more general – anything can happen in this city, be careful. The psyche of Bombay will take a generation to recover.

The success of a terror attack is determined by our response to it. An angry, uncontrolled, violent and irrational response means the terrorists have succeeded. A constructive, passionate, unflagging response that results in a safer, better life for Bombayites and for Indians, and we have won the battle. So what is constructive? One million citizens peacefully assembled for the day outside Mantralaya? The crowd would stretch from the sea near the Air India building to Oval Maidan. One demand. 90 days for the Government of India to come up with an anti-terror plan. A plan that looks at deterrence and preparedness. 90 days. We overlook for now your neglect of the city. Its floods, its traffic, its filth, its pollution. Just deliver to us a world standard anti-terrorism plan.

Pakistani terrorists do not equal the Pakistan State. This is not the time to rake up old terrorism/infiltration issues with Pakistan. Let us judge the facts coldly and solely on this attack. If the link goes back to state-sponsored terrorism then follow all the diplomatic, international and trade sanctions you want. But if there is no incontrovertible link to the Pakistani government then stop Pak-bashing. Understand that that country is fighting a war within – between moderates and extremists, much like parts of this country are too. Remember that the Pakistan President lost his wife to a terror attack planned and executed by Pakistanis.

Indians have to learn from our security forces. The police, the MARCOS, the Army, and last but not least, the National Security Guards. We have to learn to do our duty without the slightest complaint. We have to learn to be compassionate at all times so that others may not suffer. We have to learn to make sacrifices, of food, sleep, even survival. Listen to how many survivors who tell the tale of an NSG commando shepherding them safely out of the buildings with one laconic sentence of reassurance – ‘Don’t worry. Nothing will happen to you. If a terrorist fires, I will take the bullet.’ We have to learn that the reward for saving countless lives, Bombay as well as the soul of this country is just that. And half a cup of tea in a tiny white plastic cup that I saw these men joyfully sip at 8.20 am outside the Taj on Saturday morning.

The one square mile that makes up the tourist district of Bombay encompasses the area of my sports-filled childhood, my film-and girlfriend filled teenage years, my theatre-and-advertising working years upto now. Buying cassettes at Rhythm House. Eating fish ‘n chips at Wayside Inn. Performing on stage at the NCPA. Getting drunk at Leopolds. Wooing girls at the Taj’s Sea Lounge. Racing cars through Lion’s Gate at night. Rugby at the Bombay Gym. My first film’s, (English, August), premiere was at Regal Cinema. A red carpet went from the road to the hall. My debut directorial venture’s tickets sold at Sterling (‘10 pm crème-de-la-crème show’) for 500 rupees. And then the dome of the Taj burning. A dome I have walked the inside of and marveled at its architecture. Burning, burning. Shots, blasts, chatter of guns, explosions. More burning. Shouts, screams, tears, silence. A big hole in the one square mile fabric of my Bombay. A big hole in the heart of India. Love, justice, hard work and memory will repair it. They have to.

Are we prepared?

I read somewhere in the context of spiritual teachers that we often call "Guru" in India:

"Like a potter before making the pot, lots of kneading occurs to prepare the clay and when the pot is begun, he keeps a hand inside so that it will not collapse."

After this point, life tests the pot (disciple). It has to be well-dried and prepared enough to hold what it is supposed to (here self knowledge). A well prepared pot not only holds but can also be used repeatedly to share the contents among fellow beings to quench their thirst. Premature filling can only splash the contents crashing the pot and disturbing the immediate surroundings.

Preparation is a must for not just spirituality or knowing what we all are here aspiring for but also for almost all other aspects of this world. It has been said that when a student is ready, the teacher appears. I have always dwelt on Guru aspect being much more than just a form. A day to day event can serve as a Guru. Everything gives you knowledge when you are sincerely seeking. As and when you get ready for more, it is usually given at that right time. This is the rule that nature follows and each one of us sooner or later will come to that point given that we are in an evolution.

Sometimes knowlege comes to the unprepared as calamities to the living beings. Putting things more into perscpective here, had we been decently prepared for terrorism from the border knowing that we have had several attacks in past., we could have dealt with the recent Mumbai blasts much better.

It is wise to keep preparing ourselves to what the surroundings are going to offer us speculating more and more from statistics or otherwise using memory and intellect.  It is better to get prepared for what we aspire to acheive in our life span- personally, professionally, socially and spiritually.

It has been said about meditation and practices that teach you to lose yourself much before than you actually lose your body. All spiritual practices are nothing but a preparation.

Most of the times it so happens that we are so busy pursuing something that we lose the reason as to why we wanted it in the first place, forget about preparing for when it actually comes to us.

Deciding on what we want and then doing our best meanwhile preparing for receiving it becomes really important for anything to have a meaning. That is why often we see when we get something we are not as happy and excited as we were in the pursuit of it. To graciously receive and maintain, demands lots of preparation on every aspect of humanity.

Are we prepared?

 

Mallika Chopra: Which actors deserve a Golden Globe this year?

A few weeks ago, I asked our community to share their favorite movies over the last year.  The responses were fantastic, and I have a new list of movies to see now!

Today, the Golden Globe nominations were announced.  While I have not seen most of the movies – the reality of being a parent with two young kids – I was very happy to see that Slumdog Millionaire was nominated for Best Drama, Best Screenplay, Best Director and Best Original Score.  You can see the full list here.

For those of you who haven’t heard Gothams interview with Danny Boyle, the director of Slumdog Millionaire, I encourage you to listen.  His passion, intellect and commitment to good storytelling were very inspiring!  He captured part of the soul of India and the human need to survive and live in such a touching and powerful way.

(And, I have to add, we are so excited about AR Rahman being recognized for his incredible talent.)

I plan to take advantage of visiting my parents during the holidays to sneak out and watch some more movies. 

In the meantime, what performances do you think were amazing this year? 

I think Heath Ledger in Batman was amazing, and his nomination is well deserved… Seems both Kate Winslet and Meryl Streep gave great performances in films this year as well.  Would love your thoughts…

Mumbai: Terror by Highly-Trained Terrorists and Misguided Journalists

India watched in horror as images on our TV screens showed NSG commandos being dropped from a helicopter onto the rooftop of Nariman House. We counted the number of commandos, could see their landing spot and the doors behind which they disappeared. So perhaps could the terrorist masterminds directing their operatives inside Nariman House through satellite phones. At Nariman House, we lost five innocents and one commando.

The terrorist masterminds had a clear mission- to create mayhem and spread fear. In their quest for higher ratings, did the Indian media become an unwitting partner in the terrorist masterminds’ quest?

There are cases of high-profile persons found murdered inside hotels, whose presence in the hotels had been revealed on television while terrorists still had control of the hotels. In some cases, relatives had been interviewed and these interviews were repeatedly broadcast. Even if the harried relatives did not have the clarity of thought at such a traumatic time to withhold the identity and last known location of their loved one, isn’t there a media code-of-conduct in place that instructs editors of news organizations to muffle such stories till the missing person is out of harm’s way? Is it possible that carrying such information on TV- that is easily accessible to the terrorists- may have put some missing person in jeopardy?

What do our NSG jawans think of the media’s minute-by-minute reporting of their strength and movement inside the Taj Hotel while their operation was underway? Did such reporting compromise a single effort or put a single life at risk?

We have heard that the authorities asked all media outlets to stop such reporting and desist from showing images of locations where security forces were operating. Sadly no media outlet complied, atleast not for long.

Official briefings by security forces, including the police, the naval command, the Army and the NSG were not enough to fill the 24×7 coverage, which the viewing public was clamoring for. Did the competitive zeal of journalists, their rivalry for breaking news and the pressure from viewers hungry for information, provide the terrorists with more information than they would have otherwise had?

Sadly, we must also consider the tone and tenor of the reportage, especially when we hit day two and three of the siege. As a filmmaker, I know a bit about using words, visuals and sounds to draw emotions in audiences, but then, I work in the realm of fiction. In the last few days, we have witnessed audio-visual tools used in fiction, being applied to news reports. One television promo was set to a powerful soundtrack of well-edited gun shots, rising to a beautiful crescendo, leaving the viewer quivering in his chair. Anchors and editors lost their voices and composure repeatedly, leaving the audience disconcerted. Our channels repeatedly showed the same images, as if they were happening over and over again, without the required caption stating “Repeat Telecast.”

The effect: passions were fanned and fear was stoked.

A woman crying for her missing husband became the focus for an entire hour on our TV channels- her personal grief turned into national drama. A gentleman searching for his wife (who was later reported dead) was asked, “What are you telling your children?” at which point he broke down; instead of letting him go, he was repeatedly asked by the journalist “Have we upset you? We think we have upset you. We must have upset you. We don’t want to upset you.” As hapless survivors were led out of hotels, journalists thrust their mikes and bodies in their way demanding exclusive interviews.

In the journalists’ defense, they were working in extreme situations for 30-40 hours without a break. Can you blame them for losing their composure and falling victim to melodrama on national TV? The entire media machinery, each producer, reporter, editor, assistant and office boy who is a part of that machinery, has worked very hard during the last few days and for this they deserve our admiration.

But these individuals and organizations also deserve better guidance that puts their talent and hard work to best use. They deserve a clearer leadership from their owners and managing editors who should urge them to follow a code-of-conduct that is beneficial to society, especially when calamity strikes.

Will the owners and managing editors stand up at this time in Indian history and take responsibility for their hasty reporting of the Bombay tragedy? Can they rise above the TRP race and together create a Common Code of Media Conduct Manual for the future?

A guiding light for such a manual can be: Don’t upset the viewers, inform them. Don’t tell them what to feel, give them facts. Fan their minds, not their hearts. Don’t manipulate. Don’t dabble in emotions- leave that to the fiction departments. Don’t use images, words and music to terrorise.DON’T SPREAD TEARS AND DON’T SPREAD FEAR.

The terrorists have done enough, the media must not carry on their mission. Media’s terrorism must stop now.

-Madhurika Sona Jain 

Mumbai: Talk Is Cheap, Lives Are Not

The article appeared in the Hindustan Times on Nov.30th, 2008

The last few days have been devastating for every Mumbaikar. All our hearts go out to those who have lost their dear ones. I’ve been awake since 8 a.m. on Wednesday, barring a few hours of interrupted sleep on Thursday and Friday nights, and have witnessed the most horrific yet moving events of my life.

Immediately after the news broke, my partymen and I prevented a mob outside Nariman House from becoming an easy target for a grenade attack, had a narrow escape when a seized police Toyota Qualis vehicle hurled grenades at the car we were in, assisted shattered relatives identify bodies of their family members, and helped government hospitals mobilise resources from other hospitals that weren’t as inundated with dead bodies.

We must never take for granted the efforts of Mumbai’s indispensable uniformed personnel: the police, the Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS), the National Security Guard (NSG), Army and marine commandos, firemen and the staff of hospitals and others, especially those who are martyrs.

Unlike previous terrorist strikes in Mumbai, Wednesday’s was targeted at Mumbai’s well-to-do. The nature of the attack was also different from anything that the world may have ever seen. The encounters were deliberately prolonged by the terrorists to create a spectacle on television that would last for days.

Barring a few credible news channels, the electronic media began acquiring perspectives on the terror strike from the usual ‘Page 3’ suspects who know nothing about intelligence or policing. The stereotypical questions from such panelists included, “Why can’t India secure her borders like the US?”, “Why do Western countries have better intelligence than us?”, “Why wasn’t a hostage negotiator used at the Taj and Oberoi hotels?”

Please allow me to put things in perspective. India shares her land and maritime borders with more than a handful of politically unpredictable nations, many of whom aren’t too fond of India. The US and Europe don’t. If America’s borders are impermeable, how do illegal immigrants from Mexico enter that country? Finally, if all the might of the US, Britain, Australia, Japan and other developed nations combined hasn’t been able to catch Osama bin Laden for over seven years, why do we have unrealistic expectations from India?

I’m in no way saying that we should stop expecting our state and central governments to guarantee our safety. We must remember that countries like the US benefit from effective intelligence because their global strategic partnerships allow them to share information with friendly nations. Intelligence gathering, especially when it relates to threats emanating from abroad, can’t happen effectively if we work in isolation. India is working towards building important global strategic partnerships that will give our intelligence establishment access to the best information. All this will soon give us an edge when it comes to filtering through information and acting upon it decisively. However, these global partnerships would be futile unless we free our security establishments from political interference and corruption.

When I visited The Oberoi Trident Hotel with its general manager and the Union Home Minister shortly after the encounter was over, the scenes were horrifying. I don’t wish to divulge graphic details but I can assure you that it was clear that the terrorists weren’t interested in negotiating with the government. They were cold-blooded murderers. I was very pleased to shake the hands of the NSG commandos who had fought in the encounter.

All this leads to the point that while we, Mumbai’s educated middle-class, must make ourselves heard, we must also study facts before appearing in TV debates, otherwise succumbing to the anchor’s sensationalism. We love to criticise Lalu Prasad, Shivraj Patil, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena campaign, and speak liberally about how terrorism has no religion. Yet on election day, why do we vote for parties keeping our own religion in mind?

Immediately after a terrorist attack, we point fingers at a particular community or country, but when those from the ATS, who died fighting for us, pointed closer to home, why did we refuse to listen to them? While one politician states that India needs a strong national anti-terror law (which already exists), another leader asks each state government to cooperate with the central government in creating a national investigating agency along the lines of America’s FBI.

Do we formulate our opinions regarding which option will benefit India on facts or on uninformed chatter? Sadly, we have allowed religion and politics to enter the terrorism debate. As a result, expecting politicians to put aside their differences and work out a solution requires that we change our old ways. If we can’t get over our prejudices and spruce up our own intelligence before participating in the rumours and politics of terrorism, how can we expect it from the establishment?

Mumbai, like any great city, will confront and overcome many obstacles. Hopefully, before we look for places and people to point our fingers at, we will learn to play a more constructive role.

Milind Deora is a Member of the Indian Parliament. He represents the Mumbai South constituency

Mallika Chopra: UPDATED WITH VIDEO: Gotham and Deepak on O’Reilly Factor Tonight (12/9)

I wanted to let our community know that my brother (Gotham Chopra) and my father (Deepak Chopra) will both be on The O’Reilly Factor tonight on Fox News.

The show will address much of the discussion we have had here on Intent – and other sites – about the Mumbai terrorist attacks.

Here is are some links to the popular stories of the past two weeks.

Mallika

 

UPDATED WITH VIDEO:

Gotham’s Response to the Wall Street Journal

What Happened in Mumbai is Very Personal

The Taj is Burning

Gotham Chopra: Danny Boyle — Slumdog Millionaire

Let me start with this disclaimer: I loved the film SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE.

I’m not the only one. The indie film about a Muslim kid name Jamal Malik from the slums of Mumbai who earns his way through the popular TV show Who Wants to be Millionaire has garnered accolades from audiences and critics since it’s first showing, culminating with this week’s receipt of the prestigious Nbr (National Board Review award) which apparently, amongst those who know, is generally considered a solid prognosticator for the Oscars.

I already blogged a few days ago about Slumdog after I saw if for the first time. I’ve subsequently seen it two more times, dragging my wife and then another family member to insure that they too would see it. I’m that guy in the theater that leans over to the person sitting next to me whispering: “this scene is my favorite…check this out…wasn’t that awesome…I love this song…etc.”

But I’m blogging again now because today I had a chance to talk to Danny Boyle the film-maker behind Slumdog about not just the film, but the deeper story and context behind it and why he does what he does. Click on the link to hear the whole interview which touches on a variety of things, but most notably the idea of story-telling and how it can change the world.

Without getting all heady on you, here’s the jewel in the crown. We live in conflicted times. Economies and ecologies are crumbling. Wars are raging and Mavericks and Martyrs, sinners and saints, Jihadis and jingoists are all separated by a razor’s edge. Still, some stories rise above the noise and make a difference, contribute in a way to a planetary dialogue about who we are, where we are going, and why we believe that no matter the dire circumstance we may find ourselves in, there is always the chance that we might endure it and succeed. Danny Boyle gets this. Slumdog is a courageous film, a “rags to Raja” tale that combines the best of Hollywood and Bollywood in a way that no other film I have ever seen does. It’s a triumph in every sense of the word.

But more than that, Slumdog is part of an emerging mythology. Beyond the perfectly executed melodrama of Jamal Malik and his brother Salim is a tale that is raging all across our globe, in bustling metropolis’ just like Mumbai where today even kids from the slums can dare to dream about winning it all. Right now, we need that dream more than ever.

Listen to the interview. Watch the movie. Become a Danny Boyle fan. You’ll feel better about the world and feel better about yourself. Chances are I’ll be sitting in the theater right next to you whispering: “I told you so…”

 

Listen to Gotham Chopra’s interview postcast with Danny Boyle

Read more blogs by Gotham Chopra

Interview transcription courtesy of kavitachhibber.com

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