Society & Lifestyle
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|by Prof. Shubha Tiwari|
Continued from "Dancing in Cambodia, At Large in Burma"
The author went to Pokharan three months after the tests. The book opens with an apocalyptic vision of the Pokharan site. Ghosh openly satirizes the celebration held to celebrate the great day. Party workers and sympathizers distributed sweets to people. They even talked of sending dust from Pokharan to different parts of India as sacred soil. They wanted to build a sort of a monument of strength at the site. Even the Prime Minister is not left unscathed by Ghosh. ‘On 15 May, four days after the test [...] a celebration was organized on the crater left by the blasts. The Prime Minister was photographed standing on the crater's ruin, throwing flowers into the pit. It was as though this were one of the crowning achievements of his life' (6). But people in and around Pokharan are not happy for obvious reasons. Manohar Joshi, one of the first journalists to know about the tests, says, 'In the years after 1974 there was so much illness here that people didn't have money to buy pills. We had never heard of cancer before in this area. But people began to get cancer after test. There were strange skin diseases. People used to scratch themselves all the time' (7). Many other people of Pokharan tell Ghosh about the birth of deformed children, growth of tumor in cows and birth of blind and deformed calves.
It is so tragic that those in power, for their selfish interests, play with the lives of people. As King Lear says, 'What flies to wanton boys, are we to gods. They kill us for their sport.' How it suits the visionless leadership of India. As one parliamentarian tells Ghosh that the explosions were done to save the government from exploding from within; to quiet voices of dissent from within the coalition government. Still, many sleep in this country without food. Floods and famines are a regular feature. There is no comprehensive plan to deter these annual natural calamities. All that we are doing is adding to them by nuclear testing. For one single battle tank, one hundred schools could be opened in rural areas. And yet our annual defense budget is horribly high.
Had this mind-boggling expenditure been for defending the country, it would have been okay. But it is not so. As a noted defense affairs expert, K. Subrahmanyam tells the author, 'Nuclear weapons are the currency of global power. Nuclear weapons are not military weapons' (13). Ghosh goes on to prove that these tricks are nothing but post colonialism of the perverted order. The fifty years of unfulfilled promises, the frustration of not being able to realise potential, the growing corruption-all these find a temporary atonement in such exercises.
We can take a cricket match as a fine analogy. Defeat Pakistan and all the ills of this country vanish into a momentary euphoria. But nuclear testing is no cricket match. It is a very costly and more dangerous ploy to build our lost self-respect and nationalistic mood. As a historian tells Ghosh that with two hundred years of colonization India has lost national cohesion. With loss of self-esteem, the bomb has become a symbol of self-esteem. It is the global currency with which India wants to be a player, a manipulator of the international order. But according to Ghosh, India's nuclear program is like minting false coins to purchase, world-wide influence.
The message is clear that we can become influential only by sorting out our real problems like population, poverty, unemployment and corruption and not by these cheap (or not so cheap) stunts. Ghosh uses the discussion to show the wrong direction of our decolonization. For him, it only symbolizes the complicated mindset of the still not mentally decolonized people of India. The bomb is a false symbol of re-arrangement of global power, a political insurgency or any kind of military movement.
‘Countdown’ is a kind of shock for readers of Ghosh. He has always been an author, disagreeing with the British and the Western world in its treatment of India. His writings always depicted double standards shamelessly followed by the controlling powers of the world. But here he takes an introspective look. He is viewing Indians rather ruthlessly. But then, why not? Self-criticism can always lead to healthier attitudes and better practices. It is in this spirit, I take this book although I must admit that it is depressing in its effect.
The book succeeds in showing the mess in which we have placed our country. It boldly points out the glaring leadership crisis in India. We have politicians, but we do not have leaders. In fact, about thirty or so pages of this book deal with the author's visit to Siachen with the then defense minister of India. The author reminds the minister of his earlier involvement with anti-nuclear writings and peace-marches. But in the typical fashion of a politician, the minister says that although a bomb is morally unacceptable to him, yet India should keep all the options open and so on. The author feels that the minister is only lip-serving. Ghosh cannot conceal his severe disappointment when he says that one day we will sink, not because of Pakistan or China but because of our own acceptance of apathetic leadership. What is implied is that we do not care for our country. And let me say that these comments do not come from an Asian American standing on a high pedestal but from someone among us. Ghosh's sincerity cannot be doubted.
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05/26/2012 14:39 PM