Archive for category Pakistan

The Universal Appeal of Avatar …

Avatar - the movie

Avatar - the movie

Yesterday was not a good day for James Cameron.  His highest grossing, block buster movie, Avatar, was beaten to the Oscars by his ex-wife’s movie, The Hurt Locker.  As Jay Leno had predicted, he will get see these Oscars only on Wednesday evenings and every other weekend!

Last year’s big Oscar winner Slumdog Millionaire brought a gritty piece of India to the world audience. Avatar (meaning “reincarnation” in Sanskrit), on the other hand, is based on a concept of having multiple births (which is familiar to most Indians), a word that has now been adopted into the English language.

The best known Avatars for Hindus are those of Vishnu (the God of Maintenance) whose 10 Avatars (known as Dasavatars, see below) include well known ones like Rama and Krishna.

10 Avatars of Vishnu (dasavataram)

10 Avatars of Vishnu (dasavataram)



Ever since I saw the movie Avatar (in 3D), I have been pondering about the rationale for the popularity of this movie (other than the obvious entertainment value) all over the world.

One could understand its universal appeal because of the fantastic special effects but more than that, I believe everyone read into the movie whatever they wanted to, based on their own cultural values and political beliefs.

For example, the environmentalists could see this as promoting their cause of conservation.

Devout Hindus could see this as affirmation of their beliefs.  For example, an uncle of mine related the following story after seeing the movie.

The transfer of soul from one body to the other (Parakaya Pravesam) is not new to the Hindu thoughts. Adi Sankara was involved in an intelectual argument (known as Tharkasastra) with Mandana Misra at Varanasi (Benaras). Mandana Misra was a married person and an erudite scholar in Meemamsa,a science of Vedanta. He was on self immolation bid in his last stage of life,covered in a heap of rice husk,just lighted at the bottom.The fire was gradually spreading from the bottom when the argument was proceeding. At one stage when he found that he could not win over Adi Sankara in argument, said that Adisankara was an unmarried Sanyasi and that he had no experience as a Grahastha (married person) to argue on grahasth’s life. At the sametime the king of Benaras had just passed away and his body was lying in state.Adi Sankara left his own body and entered the dead king’s body.When the queen was delighted to see the king alive,Adi Sankara told her the true story to her surprise. It was just to qualify himself as a Grahastha he had performed the act and discussed with her certain relevant topics and then re-entered his own body and continued his arguments with Mandana Mishra,who was immensely pleased with Adi Sankara’s efforts to emphasize on the truth and conceded his defeat.So goes the story.

And so why would be a movie such as this be popular among Muslims (or some other religious or ethnic group) for whom the concept of reincarnation is as alien as the residents of the planet Pandora in the movie?

Well, the movie depicts a situation where natives armed with rudimentary weapons, by relying on just their religious faith and ancient culture, could defeat a mighty invading, colonial army trying to occupy their land.

Would not the movie not then inspire the Taliban (and others of their ilk) to believe that they would one day get the better of the forces that had “invaded” their land?

And the following news item (available through various media outlets) from last month seems to confirm that this theory may have some legs:

So if I was Mullah Omar watching this movie from my hideout somewhere in Pakistan, James Cameron would certainly inspire me to continue my struggle against the “infidel” powers who have invaded and occupied my land! 

And I would definitely have been rooting for Avatar to win against The Hurt Locker!!

26/11 v/s 9/11

VT Station (now CST Station), Bombay

VT Station (now CST Station), Bombay

Taj Mahal Hotel, Bombay

Taj Mahal Hotel, Bombay









Last week I was in Bombay exactly 1 year after the terrorist attacks of a year ago (26/11).  I made it a point to visit VT station and the Taj Mahal Hotel (site of two of the terrorist attacks).

VT station was its normal, bustling self.  The only signs that anything untoward had happened there was that there was one armed military person behind a stack of bags at one entrance, a few other armed policeman loitering around and strangely enough a bunch of metal detectors at the various entrance and exit points which hardly anyone bothered to walk through.  No signs any bullet holes or any indication of any kind of memorial to those 50 odd people who had been killed at this location last November.

The Taj Mahal Hotel (across from the Gateway of India monument) looked exactly the same as it did prior to the terrorist attack of last year which had left several sections of the hotel on fire.  The only changes that I saw was the side walk around the Taj was cordoned off and at the main entrance, one had to go through a metal detector and bags were also scanned separately.  On walking around inside, I met a Commander Ramamurthy who told me that he was a consultant to the Taj (presumably on security matters).  I asked him about any memorial that might be present to remember those dozens of people who had died in the terrorist attack.  He directed me towards the Golden Dragon restaurant where most of the killings had taken place and to the adjacent area where some of the terrorists had been killed.  However on going to these locations, I could not find a single indication of bullet holes or more importantly any memorial to the tragedy that had taken place at this hotel.

Bottom line – after the terrorist attack of 26/11/2008, people in Bombay had just cleaned up and resumed business as usual at all the locations that had been hit.  India had not invaded Pakistan to capture or kill the terrorists (who are clearly based out of there) and so no war had resulted which could have thrown the whole region into a turmoil.  But despite this, no further overseas based attacks had taken place a year since 26/11 either because security in Indian cities had been improved so much or just sheer luck or that Pakistan itself was now in turmoil with the home grown terrorist creating havoc there or a combination of all of these.

Compare that to the attacks on NY City of 9/11/2001.   Eight years later, the site where the World Trade Center stood is still a hole in the ground as competing interests (including politicians, lawyers, builders and victims’ groups) compete with each other to decide what exactly to build at that location.  The place has been given a new name (Ground Zero) and a grand memorial is planned to be located there to honor the victims / heroes that died there on that day.  Afghanistan was invaded to eliminate Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda but after more than 8 years of war involving more loss of thousands of US lives and billions of dollars in expense, this mission has yet to be accomplished.

Bottom line – the mark that the terrorists made on NY City continues to be there for all to see.

So why has 9/11 had such a different impact than 26/11?

In my opinion following are the reasons:

  • India has been used to terrorist attacks and mass deaths due to the same and so 26/11 quickly became just another blip in history while for the US, which considered itself fairly immune to overseas terrorist attacks in recent times, 9/11 was a seriously, unexpected shock
  • India was in no position to invade Pakistan (since it is a country possessing nuclear weapons) while Afghanistan had no such weapons to defend itself against a US invasion
  • Indian people have not yet developed the individualistic mentality of those in the US and the Indian Government was no compulsion to listen to bunch of people’s opinions as to when to rebuild and how to memorialize those who died in the attacks and so could swiftly move to restore normalcy

So while India has apparently brushed itself from 26/11 and moved on (for better or for worse), the US continues to wallow in the aftermath of 9/11 having failed to rebuild the edifice that was destroyed and getting mired in an unending overseas conflict.

So in which instance did the terrorists win?  The answer, at least in the short term, appears to be obvious …..

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