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Monthly Archives: MARCH 2018


The romance of the railway station
Lahore station
23.03.18 - Asha’ar Rehman
Lahore station



EVERYONE HAS THEIR own personal monuments to live by and measure the development around them against. For instance, the railway station in Lahore has been a personal standard reference point to gauge how much the city has progressed or how true the boasts of rail officials are at a particular time. It has been a favourite stop for tea when others in the vicinity would shut down for the night, a place recently married men took their wives to late at night for a true, hurried and an affordable taste of Lahore. And much, much more.

A recent visit, however, suggested that the British-period landmark maybe losing its position as the yardstick with which to gauge how far Lahore had come. The contrast between the old building and the developments outside the station’s immediate circle is too intimidating to miss.

It had been a while. The missing visits to the railway station feature prominently in my guilt trips. The distance is a reminder about how far adrift ‘we’ had come from our old, uncomplicated life. Once we knew of no another mode of movement between cities, and at the same time, took the railway station as a place that brought together people of all kinds, a source of instant live scenes that stayed with us forever.

The romance of the railway station was just too overpowering for the impressionable to escape its magic.

There is some background to how the station made this permanent place in memory. There were two incidents — I don’t quite recall which was recorded first. The first image is that of a flame burning bright red. It was not the red worn by the coolies back then, which has since been changed to green perhaps. It was rather the passengers. It was a train full of men, all of whom looked the same, apparently on a mission to some unknown destination.

I can see him clearly. There he is, our father. He stands out among hundreds of lookalikes, under a bright red cap, all ready to set off, to Toba Tek Singh to attend Maulana Bhashani’s kissan meeting, as we later came to know. March 1970, was it? It was a salient enough moment for our chacha to haul us — me and my elder brother — to the railway station, all the way from home more than two kilometres, maybe 3kms, away to witness history in the making.
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The distance is a reminder about how far adrift ‘we’ had come from our old, uncomplicated life. 
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The second image from the same venue speaks of more settled times cosily steeped in tradition. It was a grey morning in Lahore, like the ones we had earlier this week. It was conveniently early for a boy who was not yet enrolled in school and hence was free to accompany his father to receive a guest.

The romance of the railway station was just too overpowering for the impressionable to escape its magic. The early morning sounds dignifying life were just out of this world for him, the smoke adding to the grey mystery that could only be confronted in the assured company of the man who knew it all.

The wait for the guests to arrive from a train from down-country was well worth it since it prolonged the experience, helping to cultivate a lifelong relationship between the person and the place — all places of arrivals and departures for that matter.

It is difficult to describe that scene on that distant morning in plain words but it would be incomplete without its more memorable climax. The icing came at the breakfast table where one of us went on sipping his tea and endlessly puffing away at cigarettes uninterrupted by any signs that anyone disapproved of the habit, while the other got treated to a simple yet most elegant dining experience. It was right out of an account about the Raj — spotless white china and cutlery complemented by the catering hands the likes of which have not been seen since.

The feeling has stayed with me after many years and the experience has been my little Michelin scale to assess eateries against. In the larger scheme of things, it has also inevitably been an example that has been used to compare the rather unsettling present of an adult with the serene past of a child secure in what may be called parental grandeur. Meanwhile, life itself has been moving between these two zones, of secretly craved comfort and revolutionary promise.

I recently took my daughter to the station and was more than a little appalled. Clearly, to my mind at least, it was a tough challenge for the next generation to pick up a few threads to build some fond memories on. There were simply too many distractions in the way of imagination and romance, in my reckoning. Not for the first time the picture left me a little embarrassed, as if it were my own creation that couldn’t quite live up to my high claims about it before the new audience I was desperate to impress.

The general state of the premises at the outset did not quite match up with all the good things that we have been hearing about some kind of a turnaround taking place in the railways. There have been security issues which meant that the facade of the station is underpinned by a kind of a clumsy cordon in the name of protection. But you will only notice this addition of the ugliest kind if you survive the stench and the indifferent attitude that prevails in what goes by way of parking area outside the station. It belongs to another era altogether, surely to the period before Shahbaz Sharif.

Things were not helped by the fact that we were required to proceed to Platform 14 to receive our guests. This platform by the look of it existed at a considerable distance from arguably the more presentable parts of the station and had apparently escaped the urge to clean up the act. It did offer plenty to revive old memories. Perhaps it will soon lead to an urge to conserve what is more than a showpiece of the railways.

 
The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore. This article first appeared in Dawn and is being reproduced here with the due permission of the author.
 
 

Disclaimer : PunjabToday.in and other platforms of the Punjab Today group strive to include views and opinions from across the entire spectrum, but by no means do we agree with everything we publish. Our efforts and editorial choices consistently underscore our authors' right to the freedom of speech. However, it should be clear to all readers that individual authors are responsible for the information, ideas or opinions in their articles, and very often, these do not reflect the views of PunjabToday.in or other platforms of the group. Punjab Today does not assume any responsibility or liability for the views of authors whose work appears here.

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Punjab Today believes in serious, engaging, narrative journalism at a time when mainstream media houses seem to have given up on long-form writing and news television has blurred or altogether erased the lines between news and slapstick entertainment. We at Punjab Today believe that readers such as yourself appreciate cerebral journalism, and would like you to hold us against the best international industry standards. Brickbats are welcome even more than bouquets, though an occasional pat on the back is always encouraging. Good journalism can be a lifeline in these uncertain times worldwide. You can support us in myriad ways. To begin with, by spreading word about us and forwarding this reportage. Stay engaged.

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FOREIGN POLICY
Bringing up Modi, diplomatically
13.03.18 - Latha Jishnu
Bringing up Modi, diplomatically



CONSIDER the past and you shall know the future, says a Chinese proverb. That is something the Narendra Modi government did not keep in mind when it embarked on its ill-considered move to confront the Chinese on the Doklam border row last year. An aggressive stance as India knows to its cost since the bruising 1962 war has never helped it to get the better of its large and more powerful neighbour; patient negotiation, on the other hand, has enabled it to deal successfully and quietly with China on border skirmishes.
 
The success lies in the fact that the two countries have managed to live with the world’s biggest boundary dispute these many decades without letting it affect the cultural bonds they share or cramping trade relations. Both have, in fact, flourished in recent times.

But the past was ignored by the BJP regime which has thoughtlessly needled the Chinese over the past three years. There was the frequent feting of the Dalai Lama including a much-publicised visit to Arunachal Pradesh, the sensitive border state, and a meddling in affairs that were best left alone, such as the South China Sea problem.
 
New Delhi also cocked a snook at Beijing by reviving ‘the Quad’, an informal — and pointless — alliance of the US, Japan, Australia and India formed primarily to counter the rise of China. When a party plays to its domestic gallery it tends to forget the strategic costs of immature initiatives.

The nadir was reached with Doklam. In mid-January, the Modi regime’s attempt to stare down China on a border dispute involving Bhutan and China ended in a major embarrassment for the country when China began building a huge military complex in Doklam, close to the site where Indian troops had been despatched rather impetuously to stop the construction of a road in July 2017.
 
While asking India not to interfere in ‘legitimate’ infrastructure development in its sovereign territory, Beijing also administered a sharp rap on the knuckles to Modi’s handpicked chief of army staff Bipin Rawat. "The Indian senior military officer has recognised that it was the Indian border troops who crossed the border … This incident has put bilateral relations to … severe test. We hope the Indian side can learn lessons from this....”

Some lessons appear to have been learned. India is now going all out to address China’s sensitivities even if it means stepping back from the muscular nationalism that has characterised the BJP’s approach to neighbours. Institutional frameworks that were given short shrift earlier are back at the centre of a more realistic policy that is being pieced together by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) since there is a realisation that not much has worked to India’s advantage with the exception of relations with Iran.
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With ties to all its neighbours in tatters — the latest to thumb its nose at India is Maldives — and allies turning hostile, Modi, who often appears dazzled by his proximity to world leaders, is staring at a largely blank balance sheet.
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The architect of the salvage mission is new foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale, a seasoned China hand, who appears to be well regarded by the authorities in Beijing. Last month, Gokhale’s meetings with top Chinese officials resulted in a decision by the two sides to initiate a sustained level of dialogue which will include a visit to China by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj who has been kept in the shadows by a prime minister determined to play the sole starring role on foreign policy. It is hoped that by the time Modi meets Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit in June in Qingdao, relations between the two countries would have been set on a firmer footing.

The question is how willing Modi supporters and the BJP’s ideological mentor, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, are willing to accept the new reality. Convinced of their latent superiority, the saffron brigade of Hindu supremacists believes China is a competitor that needs to be contained and that India and the US are natural allies in such a project. To concede that China is more powerful and far too rich to be considered in the same league as India is anathema to it. Besides, there is the deep-rooted yearning to avenge the defeat of 1962.

MEA, naturally, is taking a more pragmatic view of geopolitical realities. The official release on Gokhale’s talks in Beijing notes the "need to build on the convergences between India and China and address differences on the basis of mutual respect and sensitivity to each other’s concerns, interests and aspirations”. That explains why MEA was able to persuade the government to issue a circular asking senior officials not to attend functions marking the 60th anniversary of the Dalai Lama’s exile in India — an unexpectedly dramatic shift for a regime that couldn’t have enough of the Dalai Lama in the past three years.
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 Gen Rawat’s claim that the Indian Army was ready for a "two-and-a-half-front war” was dismissed by the chief of the western command who said it was not a "smart idea” at all. Instead, he suggested that India should improve ties with China because it would also help in resolving the Pakistan problem.
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With ties to all its neighbours in tatters — the latest to thumb its nose at India is Maldives — and allies turning hostile, Modi, who often appears dazzled by his proximity to world leaders, is staring at a largely blank balance sheet. Disillusionment with Trump is ineluctable as the US pushes an aggressive ‘America first’ policy and warns of trade war against India (and China). Modi supporters who offered ritual prayers for Trump’s victory in the presidential election are now at a loss to understand why Trump not only mocks Modi publicly but also threatens sanctions against India.

The reset in relations with China is likely to have an impact on Delhi’s dealings with Islamabad, too. The more remarkable development has been the unexpectedly public criticism by the army brass of New Delhi’s policies and of their chief’s hawkish stance on neighbours.
 
Gen Rawat’s claim last June that the Indian Army was ready for a "two-and-a-half-front war” was dismissed recently by the chief of the western command who said it was not a "smart idea” at all. Instead, he suggested that India should improve ties with China because it would also help in resolving the Pakistan problem by giving India the best possible leverage.

The frustration with the government’s inability to deal with the volatile Pakistan border prompted another general to state that "restoring ceasefire requires statesmanship, not brinkmanship.” Both generals were speaking at an open conference and they were clearly sending a message to Modi: reset foreign policy to meet India’s goals.

 
  
The writer is a journalist based in New Delhi.
 
 

This article first appeared in Dawn.
  

Disclaimer : PunjabToday.in and other platforms of the Punjab Today group strive to include views and opinions from across the entire spectrum, but by no means do we agree with everything we publish. Our efforts and editorial choices consistently underscore our authors' right to the freedom of speech. However, it should be clear to all readers that individual authors are responsible for the information, ideas or opinions in their articles, and very often, these do not reflect the views of PunjabToday.in or other platforms of the group. Punjab Today does not assume any responsibility or liability for the views of authors whose work appears here.

_______________________________________________________________

Most shared Punjab Today articles: 

AMARINDER GOVT's LOVE FOR FARMERS, AND MY DAD's FOR HIS SCOOTER

SUPER EFFICIENCY ONBOARD CM’S CHOPPER

OF SUNNY KID & HORSE SENSE: The Punjab-Punjab Ties: The Coordinated Silence of Amarinder Singh & Badals

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NEW DELHI V/S OTTAWA — WILL QUEBEC DEFEAT INDIA?        

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Congress upset due to Priyanka’s cleavage on calendar 

RENUKA'S LAUGHTER: Thank you for your guffaws. We needed this non-violent weapon.

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MANJIT SINGH CALCUTTA– THE DISSENTER

PUNJAB FARMERS AND IPL CRICKETERS - Finally, they can stand like equals

Mr. CHIEF MINISTER, PLEASE CALL OFF JANUARY 7 FUNCTION. My teacher is not alive, but you please call it off!

SUKHBIR IS RIGHT – On 97th anniversary  Panth Khatre Vich Hai. Where does this threat come from?

THE LOOT THAT RAJASTHAN COMMITTED – An insult bigger than Bollywood’s Padmawati! 

THE FINAL HONESTY CERTIFICATE: ISSUED BY THE TRIBUNE

NO TIME TO READ THIS STORY? – That’s OK - Please do not feel guilty 

BAD, BAD WOMAN! – Punjab’s top playwright slams woman complainant against Langah

MR PRESIDENT, PLEASE TAKE BACK HIS GALLANTRY MEDAL – On Amod Kanth’s badge of shame

RELAX! ALL 30 WERE DERA PREMIS – Panchkula says something stinking about its conscience

PUNJAB: AN IDEA IN SEARCH OF WORDS: Punjab, more than a poster boy of progress or a renegade from modernity

_______________________________________________________________


Punjab Today believes in serious, engaging, narrative journalism at a time when mainstream media houses seem to have given up on long-form writing and news television has blurred or altogether erased the lines between news and slapstick entertainment. We at Punjab Today believe that readers such as yourself appreciate cerebral journalism, and would like you to hold us against the best international industry standards. Brickbats are welcome even more than bouquets, though an occasional pat on the back is always encouraging. Good journalism can be a lifeline in these uncertain times worldwide. You can support us in myriad ways. To begin with, by spreading word about us and forwarding this reportage. Stay engaged.

— Team PT    

 




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