Year of fear

The mental baggage that we all will most certainly carry forward from ‘08 to ‘09 is fear. In the immediate past, I would compare this to ‘05 which started off with the receding waters of the Tsunami of the last week of ‘04 that converted much of coastal Asia into watery graves. Indeed many then were lucky to see another sunrise, let alone a new year. The survivors of ‘08 too would walk into the new year in tentative steps, with fast escalating anxieties writ large on their faces. For, 2008 is forgettable for many reasons, unless you belong to TN’s first family and its extensions, where it is favour and not fear that reigns. Slowdowns, slumps, strikes (by terrorists as well as unionists) and scores of other scares have left deep scars that we will nurse for many more new years. And 2008 is not over as yet.

To fear is human. And the saints, savants and scriptures of this ancient land had clearly identified fear, besides ignorance, as a huge impediment to human growth, spiritual and material. Avvaiyyar’s Aaththichuvadi starts with the invocation, Achcham Thavir — avoid fear. Bharathiyaar’s achchamillai achchamillai was a grand declaration of fearlessness even if the heavens were to fall. Swami Vivekananda has said: ‘Fear is death, fear is sin, fear is hell, fear is unrighteousness, fear is wrong life. All the negative thoughts and ideas that are in the world have proceeded from this evil spirit of fear’. Unlike some other faiths, Bharath’s religious traditions hold God as ‘that’ which is to be understood and realised, not feared. A vengeful Almighty spewing hell-fire on unbelievers is not in our scheme of divine things. But even while there is a clarion call for the abolition of fear, advocacy of reasonable restraints, within the framework of Dharma that resides in everyone’s self, also runs parallel. Thus fear here is at best a speedbreaker, not a road block.

Yet, fear of the omni-present, unknown as well as the obviously unworthy, prevails. The jihadis for instance justify their itch for mass murder by quoting scriptural as well as ‘supreme’ sanction that orders them to ‘strike terror and fear in the hearts of the infidels or else …’. Though they themselves are driven by fear of divine wrath to start with, implanting fear in others becomes a self-fulfilling religious exercise that runs on its own steam. How else can one explain the fearlessness … and foolishness with which they blow themselves up, all for the sake of a rather hazy hereafter in heaven? Again, should the non-islamic world fear the Mullahs and give them a psychological upper hand that they are grossly unworthy of? Unfortunately, instead of paying back in the same coin, the trend worldwide till 9/11 had been one of fearful indulgence to those fatwa-happy fanatics. And not just indulgence, but active material support by countries like the US for geo-political reasons too have emboldened those monsters even more! The genie is now too big for the bottle it took off from.

Well, at least the West woke up first for a change, but dawn still eludes us in the East. Remember the Danish cartoon controversy of just two years vintage? The rationale of the editor of the newspaper Jilland Posten that carried those offending cartoons is noteworthy. He said he wanted to break the shackles of self-imposed censorship, wrought by fear of Islamists! He claimed he was only trying to prove the paralysis that grips free-speech and freedom itself, when it comes to commenting on Islam. Well, one may disagree with his rather strange way of breaking chains and proving points, but the message is simple and straight. For, that paralysis is clearly a historical Indian phenomenon too and is now on parade again. But forget fear of blaspheming Islam or offending Muslims in any way, which are larger issues; are Indians, from politicians to people, scared of the jihadis, who are touted to be ‘only a miniscule minority’ within a rather larger minority? And is that fear, which started sometime in 10 AD with the invasion by Afghan tribes, likely to be an eternal way of life for Indians? For the sake of record, in 2008 India supposedly surpassed Iraq in the number of terror casualties! The tally does not count those dying of fear daily!

And this takes us to the immediate ‘fear’ that looms: War with Pak. Should we fear war at all in the first place? Of course, war is not a desirable way of securing justice or settling scores. But with Pak, it will only amount to formalising what has been happening by proxy for decades. Again, several last straws have come and gone and the country believes the Mumbai attacks would be the last of the last straws. Really? Or are we a nation without nerves? Is the pursuit of diplomacy, instead of instant retaliation, an alibi for a mortal fear of our neighbour? Will our spineless political leadership ever realise that peace with Pak is far more dangerous than war with Pak? Are then the people of the country doomed to be meek lambs in the slaughterhouses of all and sundry Kasabs? Looks so, for the gestation period for our peacenik conscience to have its play before declaring hostilities, if at all, has been too long for comfort. On the contrary, it has given Pakistan the much needed breather. It has secured its Jihadis in safe ‘jails’, covered up the terror camps and, worse, rallied all its disparate components like the political parties, ISI, army, insurgents, jihadis and even the Taliban under the banner of a battle for Islam against infidel India. It is now Pak that is ‘fearlessly’ clamouring for war and, ignominy of ignominies, it might even strike first. ‘Don’t die of fright; die fighting’ said Swami V. We kow which one is proving fatal for us today!

Other fears pale in comparison to terror and war. Still, a big worry is the economic slowdown. Fears of job losses and the resultant financial insecurity stares many in the face. For the masses, and that includes you and me, who have already spent all of their incomes of the next few years, thanks to rampant consumerism, some enticing marketing and liberal retail credit, 2009 would be fateful. Your job must be there and for that your office must be there in business. For, the squeeze is hitting the small and medium enterprises that employ the bulk of India, most. Indeed, if the Government and banks continue to dither, Indians would actually start praying for a war, but for wholly different reasons. After all, all is fair in war and that may include skipping some commitments, financial or otherwise. But for a life without skipping meals, one can always enlist. That will be one fear less for 2009. By the way, at which end of the gun is the barrel?

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Jawahar T R