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"The bomb blast missed my father by three seconds, maybe four." Did you say that? Did I? I did, but as you know, my friend across the border, it could have been you. You say we share history? I say we also share a common language of exclamation - the two d's: desensitisation and despair. We the damned. We the desperate.
Writing this a day after a terror attack, targeted by another acronym, outside the High Court in the city of Delhi where I live, I write to remember the years between us since we saw the towering inferno. It seems like yesterday. Did we know then that this was the end of innocence?
Since 9/11 we have exchanged many things. You have sent us mellifluous singers, sometimes heaving, haranguing starlets, we have sent you dreams in pirated DVDs. We have loved and loathed our cricket 11s. Then, so enterprising were we, that we had our own 11. 26/11. After the terrorists attacked Mumbai, together we scared the world.
Cricket 20/20 was invented. We took turns in winning it. We exchanged petulance. Our cricketers seemed to exchange notes about wannabe-actor (actually maybe wannabe-wannabe, you know what I mean) girlfriends. We gave you Sania Mirza. You gave us Shoaib Malik. Touché. We exchanged caustic comments and crowns. When 9/11 happened, we were still closer you and I. Then the war against terror came to your courtyard. We escaped that. You were embroiled.
Ten years later, we have grown so far apart that there is no way but to come closer. But, you ask, how? Shall we start with the number 11? In all our anxiety about 11, here's one 11 we forgot. I call it the Eleven Principle. These days when you say 7/11 to anyone in India, we remember the 188 people killed in serial terror blasts on city trains in Mumbai in 2006. And yet, think of what 7/11 used to mean, and still does, in most parts of the world.
It means perpetually open for business. The idea of convenience. The idea of transaction. The idea of 'I want something and you have it. And vice-versa.'
So I write to say that 10 years after 9/11, we must reinvent the meaning of 11 in our lives. At a time when we are eager to ring the death knell to people-to-people contact, what about buy-sell-sell-buy contact? If we can do business with a country, which ruled us for, what was it, 200 years, why can we not do business with each other? What are we afraid of? Some people say if we let you sell us cement, terrorists will send bombs in it. Some people say if you buy medicines from us, some enemies will poison them. Those who say this do not understand trade. They do not understand that the root of money, trade, exchange, is trust.
What we exchange, buy and sell, does not even come to two billion dollars. I know people who are worth more than that. So do you. Hey, we do more, much, much more business with the United Arab Emirates and Switzerland!
I was in your country last year and someone told me the story of the kind of engineers you bring for advanced work in your factories. They are from the West. They want business class, even first class travel. They want mineral water and five star rooms. They think your food (our food) is too spicy. They work only eight hours a day. They don't even understand kaam chala lo. They don't get jugaad.
"If only," said this person, "we could just get Indian engineers - no problem! They are happy to travel economy. They understand jugaad. They love the food!" But you and I know our visa system. Mostly it says police reporting.
Anyone who has ever bought cotton fabric from you (and has attended the lawns), will buy little else. I bought a blue leather pair of pathani chappals from Junaid Jamshed in 2008. They have been through hell and Mumbai rains. They are as good as new and only seem to get stronger.
I have friends in your country who joke - keep Kashmir, give us Janpath (market in Delhi) or Aishwarya Rai or Priyanka Chopra. They are joking of course. As if we could solve you and us so easily.
But maybe we can make a beginning, can we not? Maybe you could take Rakhi Sawant and not send us Veena Malik. Now that would be a confidence building measure. That's too much to ask, isn't it?
Let us begin then with more mundane things - cement and cotton, medicines and machinery, songs and films. As we transact, so shall we tolerate. As we exchange, so shall we elucidate.
The 11 principle then is all about reinventing the cliché. Like in the Harry Potter movies, it can be our Patronus charm that is evoked to dispel our deepest fears. At the moment, it is the number 11.
So maybe we ought to reinvent the 11 in our lives. And think of how it could mean that we are open, accessible and ready to buy and sell till the 11th hour, always.
The writer is senior editor at Fortune magazine, India, and the founder of Whypoll, India's first citizen networking platform. His new book 'The Liberals' is out in spring 2012.
Tuesday, September 13, 2011
Page 202 of 174
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