Saturday, May 8, 2010

I am Ajmal Kasab and I plead guilty

Inside the mind of a terrorist

Ajmal Kasab was born on July 13, 1987 in Faridkot, a village in Pakistan. Kasab, was born on November 26, 2008 in Mumbai.

While the country watched in helpless horror, Kasab and others indiscriminately fired at civilians in Mumbai. He became the lone terrorist captured by the Mumbai police after the massacre. The media repeatedly flashed a photograph taken by a Mumbaikar. Overnight, Kasab became the face of terror.

Ten terrorists opened fire at Hotel Trident-Oberoi, Hotel Taj Mahal, Nariman House, Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, Leopold Cafe, Cama Hospital and Metro Cinema Junction. They also planted bombs in two taxis which exploded killing people.

He looked painfully young to be holding a weapon. His smile gave away the charade of innocence on his youthful face. He was a boy with a gun, a man on a mission and the devil, no longer in disguise. And I often thought that the mind of a terrorist must be a dungeon of distress, dark and dingy.

May 6, 2010 saw a momentous judgment. The death sentence was awarded to Kasab who had been pronounced guilty for waging war against the State a few days earlier.

Voldemort. That’s the first name that comes to mind when I try to understand the mind of Ajmal Kasab. If you are a Harry Potter fan, you would understand. A misguided boy, handed a weapon of power. Tom Riddle had his wand, and Kasab, an AK-47, a violent mind and a numb conscience. Truth stranger than fiction?

He was 21 when he brutally shot over 60 people in Mumbai. Kasab was held at a specially-made bullet and bomb-proof cell in the high-security Arthur Road central prison. Since the trial began, 200 troops of Indo-Tibetan Border Police guarded him round-the-clock. Kasab’s statements since then have lacked consistency as he has continually changed his stand. In February, 2009, he confessed to being guilty and retracted his statement soon after. Occasionally, he giggled and then wept. On a later date in court he brokedown and pleaded that he be punished for what he had done.

His former lawyer, Anjali Waghmare said of her first encounter with the boy that she saw innocence on his face, a clueless-ness as if wondering why he was being questioned and interrogated. They say a man’s eyes are the windows to his soul. I wonder what one would see in Kasab’s eyes. Remorse? Guilt? Perhaps one would see the images of all those he had shot that night, playing in his mind like a film reel. I wonder if he smiled at himself when no one was watching.

Ajmal Kasab knew he had changed the lives of millions forever, on 26/11 and thereafter.

Ujjwal Nikam took great pride in the court’s judgment as he flashed the victory sign to the media while delivering his statement on the verdict. He went on to say that Kasab cried nothing but crocodile tears, he was smart and knew exactly what he was doing.

Or did he?

In a white kurta pyjama, he heard those fateful words. Words, had changed his life forever few years ago, when he decided to take up arms. He was ready to kill. And so he did. Here he was today, listening to the last most important words of his life. There was a day called November 26 which he didn’t quite remember but it changed his life forever. Today was the second such day of his life.

Death sentence on five counts, life sentence on five counts.

Tears trickled down his face. This was it. He wasn’t going down as a martyr, not a man dying for a cause, but a terrorist. This wasn’t the life he had imagined for himself, and now it was too late. The face of his mother flashed in front of his eyes and he wept some more. He saw the angry faces of a billion people and he could feel the air being sucked out of his lungs. And then he saw the face of 11-year-old Devika, whose leg he had wounded that night, and instantly his own young face flashed in front of him.

Ajmal Kasab had become the face of terror. His name would read hatred in the pages of history books. But the little boy he saw, was innocent.

He never told anyone what he dreamt of everyday. Did nobody notice he woke up in the night screaming? He would soon join those who died in that night, not as a perpetrator of terror but as a victim, a boy who had fallen prey to the perils of ignorance.

Whenever that fateful day is upon me, he says, when I walk to the gallows, they will witness, not a man who committed shameful crimes, but a boy with shining bright eyes as if waiting to welcome a better world, a second chance. And when they ask me if I am scared of death, I will say, no, I am scared to be alive.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Rivers and Rapids

As a child I had been forced to attend certain classes, which were conducted in a language I didn’t quite understand. I was told, it was the language of the gods. In balavihar, I soon understood what the Gods were trying to tell me in Sanskrit. Being a CHYK, or a member of the Chinmaya Yuva Kendra, helped me further unfold this secret message from the Gods. I realised He spoke in many languages, if only we could make ourselves available to His message. Through CHYK classes and camps, I was exposed to the study of a different kind of science, the science of life. My recent experience at the Youth Empowerment Programme, felt truly empowering and has cultivated in me a sense of direction, a zest to strive for perfection and overcome my limitations. Perhaps the greatest gift that CHYK has given me, is to plant in me a sense of gratitude, towards my nation and my culture and a platform to give back, through service.

Man is intriguing, all around us, we try to conquer nature, try to be one up on everything external, but when it comes to us, say an emotional problem or a personal crisis, we fall, unable to row ourselves out of the rapids that life offers us. And yet, we conquer the seas and the oceans and the rivers, we play with fire, toy with nature’s bounties, believing in our absoluteness, in our invincibility.

Somewhere, we lose faith in ourselves, our abilities. And that faith is rekindled when we are tested, we see how it is born out of us, effortlessly through some innate power that drives us. The experience of white water river rafting does just this, by giving us an opportunity to act zealously, live courageously, and reflect thoroughly.

Dear Diary,

Today I saw the river in its most playful mode. It was truly exciting. As part of a Chinmaya Yuva Kendra camp in Uttarkashi, I went rafting in the holy Ganges. It was as holy as it had been the day before (when we took holy dips at Gangotri), but much less fierce (in terms of its temperature), much more friendly and youthful. I realised God spoke in many languages. He spoke to us through the trees and the nature, through this Mighty River and through our experience on the raft. We could hear him, if only we could make ourselves available to His message. Being a CHYK, helped me further unfold this secret message from God. CHYK, through its camps facilitated learning in a unique way, known as ‘outdoor experiential learning’, through rafting and other such activities, and what a learning it was.

The day began early. We reached the sandy beach and were split into groups of six, given our life jackets, and introduced to our guide. The guide carried out his duties well, and most importantly, he told us our rafting jingle! We were all enthused and prepared to take on the mighty river! As I stood on the shore, waiting for our turn, I realized the irony of the situation. We were looking forward to facing rapids. I smiled to myself and I thought, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we faced life with the same enthusiasm? Wouldn’t it be the right attitude to face the rapids in our lives as a challenge, as a thrill? What a Sport life would become, a game, a beautiful journey.

Being the last group to go, we saw the others in action. They were being told when to row, how to sit, and to be quite honest, it looked and sounded a little complicated. The guides seemed pretty tough, let me just say this was no vacation cruise on a fancy yacht.

All geared up and slightly unnerved, we pushed our raft into the river, and I took the place I was assigned. All six of us were told which direction to row in, how to sit, when to row and the speed and effort at which we were to row. And then it was the guide’s time to shine. As we chartered unknown waters I thought to myself, “This is it, from this moment on, Mr. Guide, you are my God and my life is in your hands.” With a quick prayer, I paid attention to each and every instruction we were given. The first thing he said was that now we were to act like a team, we must keep rowing at all times and that every member of the team must play his or her part, irrespective of what position they have been given. Now I have to admit, at some point I must have got distracted by the beauty of the river and the excitement of finally being in the water, but if one is to do river rafting, one should pay attention to the instructions.

So the journey began, we were one on one with the river. Through her we ran, holding our oars tight and making our way through. Each oar gave the raft a direction and our instructor led us through the waters of the mighty Ganges. It was his correct guidance that channelized our strength to row properly when the rapids came. The first rapid was the hardest, I guess because I wasn’t sure of what to do, moreover, I wasn’t sure I could do it. It was an intense moment. The leader was shouting instructions at us all, “Row faster! Right hand row backwards! Keep rowing!”, and I’m thinking, “Why don’t you do it! You are a professional!” But Voila! We made it through! It’s a great feeling, that. A strange feeling of accomplishment, to do something for the first time and to do it well.

Crossing the first rapid called for a celebration, obviously. The leader told us all to lift our oars up in the air in a huddle and along with it, we sang our victory jingle! “Go baby, go baby, Go Baby!” and once again, we were highly energised to face our next rapid, as a team.

As we went along, one of the rapids was truly challenging for me. I think it was towards the end. My arms were tired of rowing, and this rapid was either particularly strong or I was weary or both. The force of the water was strong. It was splashing both inside and outside the raft. We all were drenched and I slipped out of position and fell inside the raft. I had almost given up on the rowing, I was tired and to be honest, I didn’t think they would miss me much. The others were strong and were handling it just fine. Just then, the instructor looked at me and yelled in a most rude manner, “Row, Now!” I was taken aback, but I resumed my post and did what I was told. Dear diary, I can never forget that man yelling at me and asking me to row. There is no room to feel sorry for yourself when you are headed towards your goal. It is not about you. Your duties are your own and must be done. In a team each must perform to his potential, only then can the team overcome rapids and swim towards the goal. Contrary to what we were told in school and our workplaces, in life you are indispensible. Life is indispensible. That one line has taught me so much. How easily we make things about us, not being sensitive to our family, friends and co-workers. At the end of the day, a team can perform well, and a balance can be maintained when all the team members do their duty well. If harmony is to be maintained, duties must be performed at all times.

Lord Krishna says to Arjuna in the third chapter of the Bhagwad Geeta, “Yoga of Action”,

Niyatam kuru karma tvam karma jyayo hy akarmanah

Sarira yatrapi ca ten a prasiddhyed akarmanah. Ch 3, 8.

Perform your obligatory duty, because action is indeed better than inaction.
Even the maintenance of your body would not be possible by inaction.

Wherever we are in our lives, we have been stationed for a purpose, why not explore our potential and live our purpose.

We reached the shore after fighting some more rapids and occasionally jumping into the river where it was calm. At one place our guide told us to jump off the raft and it was toppled over. It was thoroughly exciting. All of us worked together to turn the raft over and pulled each other back into the rafts, right before another rapid waited to greet us.

We were tired when we reached but exhilarated. One cannot say what we enjoyed more, the rapids or the occasional swim, and I would have to say both, as it all culminated into a grand experience. While we rowed through the last stretch, it wasn’t the destination that we looked forward to, we rowed because that’s what we had to do. The Bhagwat Geeta also teaches us not to be driven by the end product, rather enjoy the process of getting there. We rowed because we must. The enjoyment of the process, the experience of getting there is more important than the end result. So, we must perform our actions and carry out our duties efficiently rather than worrying about the results. The journey is what made the entire experience exciting, not the destination.

My reflections on what the rapids taught me!

Have the right perspective: A slight change in the way we look at things, can change everything. It is really up to us whether we see a situation as a crisis or as an opportunity to grow and learn. Albus Dumbledore says to Harry Potter, “It is our choices that make us truly who we are, far more than our abilities.” Choosing the right attitude, builds character.

Be Bold: When the sea of life faces a storm, be bold and stand your ground. We might be surprised to see what we are made of. Let us understand that every rapid that comes to us, makes us stronger.

Play your part, and play it well: At all times, we must perform our duties. Living our dharma is the only way to maintain a harmonious balance between the individual and society, lest the raft of life, topple over.

Be one with the moment: Let us not fall prey to worry and anticipation. Live in this moment, “Let your mind be where your hands are”, Gurudev says. Enjoy both, calm waters and rapids equally, for it is all part of the experience. Remember, the journey is more important than the destination.

Faith: Virtually all tasks are possible with this key ingredient. Have faith, in yourself, in your team and most of all in God. He will guide you to your destination, provided you are willing to row the boat. There is a much larger plan, and you are a part of it.

A pen, paper and a back-pack

Some of us, rather most of us are waiting to find a job that pays us to do what we love. It is rather rare, but it does happen.

There is one thing common between travelling and writing: they both require a sort of free spiritedness. Most great people, saints and other learned men, travelled extensively and wrote with great fervour about their travels. On reading such a book of experiences, what comes through is not an itinerary of their travels, but something much more subtle: A glimpse into the soul of the writer and into the places visited.

Here’s welcoming you to the never static, ever-dynamic journey that is the life of a travel writer.

Travel literature today is much more commercially viable than it perhaps was just a decade ago as tourism reaches new heights. People are going places, and writers are telling people where to go.

However, the art of travel writing is more spiritual than anything else. A writer can bring in a third dimension depending on his ability to capture the pulse of the space he is in, whether it is a five star hotel or a village hut, the travel writer is first a traveller, ever ready to explore.

The three-fold mantra:


You don’t need to save money to take a trip to a resort in Singapore or a haveli in Udaipur to be inspired to write. Start simple, perhaps a trip to a local monument or a nearby town. Remember, travelling and writing have much to do with exploration within and without. While exploring a place, its nooks and corners, conversing with the locals, is an ideal way to capture its pulse, writing requires a different kind of exploration, a journey within. A good travel write up is thus, a perfect balance between exploration and introspection.

Travel is not just the movement of the body but also of the soul. Simply put, a travel journalist must take all he can from the outside, mix it with what’s on the inside to produce something extraordinary.

Words of caution: All tourists are not travellers, all travellers are not tourists.

"A good traveller has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving." - Lao Tzu


Research always makes for good writing. But if I wanted just information, I would google it and toss your write up in the bin.

While research can get you only so far, a unique style of writing can get you further. Add to that a unique perspective and you’ve got an article with personality.

A good write up is not only informative but should also have the ingredients to inspire the reader to travel.

Point to remember: It’s not the place that makes a man, but the man who makes the place.


There is good and then there is great. An extraordinary article is made of not three but four dimensions, one which comes only with experience and exposure. Fortunately, a travel writer’s job is all about exposure.

A person who has an adventurous spirit and a polite independence is born to travel. Blend it with a passion for writing and you’ve got a travel writer good to go. An experienced traveller has that extra zing in his writing, which makes for a write up hard to forget.

Few words of wisdom: A seasoned traveller finds the excitement in the journey, not just the destination.

Travel often; getting lost will help you find yourself.

Institutes offering a course in travel writing:
The college of the world

Qualifications required:
A mandatory degree in free-spirited-ness
Must own or (have the ability to borrow) a bagpack
A sturdy pair of walking shoes
And a flair for writing

When and where can you start:
Here and Now.