Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Book Review: "Frontline Pakistan" by Zahid Hussain

Zahid Hussain is a veteran Pakistani journalist. He is the Pakistani correspondent for The Times (London), The Wall Street Journal and Newsweek. His book "Frontline Pakistan - The struggle with militant Islam" was published in 2007; and covers events up to 2006. It does not mention the end of Pervez Musharraf's rule and the restoration of democracy in Pakistan, nor does it mention the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. It goes without saying that the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai had not taken place at the time this book was published.

You must be wondering why this book review is preceded by this Prologue! Well, because although Frontline Pakistan does not relate directly to 26/11, it gives the reader an astonishingly detailed insight into the history of militancy in Pakistan, the unwillingness of authority to keep it in check; and thereby goes a long way in explaining the current response of Pakistan to the 26/11 attacks.

In its 11 chapters, Frontline Pakistan takes the reader through various turning points in the history of the region, including (not in any particular order)

  • 1947 and Partition

  • The political history and turmoil that Pakistan went through in its early years

  • General Ayub Khan and his decade-long rule

  • Pakistan's 3 wars with India (1948, 1965 and 1971 - the last one resulting in formation of Bangladesh)

  • Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's rule followed by the bloodless coup by Zia-ul-Haq

  • The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan followed by a long Jihad against the Soviets

  • The withdrawal of Soviets from Afghanistan; followed by rise of religious extremism in Pakistan

  • The Kashmir deadlock

  • Pakistan's nuclear program

  • 9/11; followed by Pakistan's alliance in the US War on terror.


After reading the book, I have come up with my conclusions on the prime reasons for the instability in the region. These are the opinions that I have formulated and are not necessarily stated per se in the book.

Prime Reason #1: The US-Russia cold war

When the Soviets arrived in Afghanistan in the fag end of 1970's, the CIA jumped in to "help" Afghanistan to fight the Soviets. Of course, the help extended probably had more to do with USA's eagerness to show its one-upmanship in the cold war rather than any genuine concern for Afghanistan. Help it did, but the means were questionable to say the least. USA lifted some of the sanctions which had been imposed on Pakistan when the latter had started its nuclear program in the 70's. CIA teamed up with Pakistan's intelligence agency ISI to help counter the Soviet occupation by Afghanistan. ISI, in turn, whipped up strong religious sentiments amid calls for Jihad. Weaponry was provided in abundance, tribals in the lawless region along Pak's border with Afghanistan were trained and given arms, and thus there were a huge number of volunteers to fight for Afghanistan against the Russians.

This generosity in supplying arms to religious fanatics backfired badly on USA. With the exit of Soviets from Afghanistan came the Taliban rule. For one, the Taliban was right-wing to the extreme. Secondly, the thousands of youth who had answered the call for Jihad had now become trained in arms and ammunition, even in explosives and such. The Taliban sheltered, even sowed the seeds of, terrorist groups in Afghanistan (al-Qaeda for example). The stage had been set for religious fanaticism which had nothing to do with the religion it was supposedly glorifying. This was the beginning of the perversion of the term "Jihad".

Prime Reason #2: Extremist ideology originated from, and financed by, the Arab world

A large number of mujahids who fought in the Afghan war were from the Arab world. Also, petro-dollars had made some elements in the Arab world extremely rich. The fact that some of these "extremely rich elements" also happened to be conservative extremists did not help the cause of stability in the region.

Even after the defeat of Soviets in the Afghan war, the right-wing religious ideology was kept alive by scores of Arab-funded madrasas all over Pakistan. This extremist ideology kept the Jihad flame burning for decades to come. The madrasas became breeding grounds for future mujahids.

Prime Reason #3: Kashmir

After the partition in 1947, the Maharaja of Kashmir requested Indian assistance to ward off attack by armed tribesmen from Pak's NFWP (North-West Frontier Province). A year-long war later, UN had intervened and both India and Pakistan had agreed to hold a referendum in the state of Kashmir. Pakistan's official contention is that this referendum was never held and thus Pakistan disputes India's claim to Kashmir. Two decades later, in 1972, the Shimla agreement was signed which created a Line of Control in Kashmir - thus was born Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir (PoK - which is referred to as "Azad Kashmir" in Pakistan).

This still did not seem to satisfy Pakistan - nor the extremists. There were allegations of ill-treatment of Muslims in Kashmir by Indians. In late 1980's and early 1990's, terrorism reared its ugly head in the "paradise on earth" Kashmir valley. Fodder was easily available in form of war-hardened fighters returning from Afghanistan.

The key factor in the Kashmir issue was that the Pakistani administrations (whether during military rule or democratic rule) were openly supportive of the "cause" of Kashmir. This only spelled doom for any effort at peace in the region.

Prime Reason #4: Authoritarian/Administrative failure to contain terrorist acitvities on Pakistani soil (often deliberate)

The rulers in Pakistan have time and again turned a blind eye to the rise of militancy within the country in all its forms - home-grown in the madrasas, armed activities in the lawless tribal belt, or imported militancy in the form of al-Qaeda and others. The reasons have varied.

  • Ideological - The Paksitani army and ISI have always had several extremist-oriented members among their ranks.

  • Political - Zahid Hussain points out that Musharraf could have contained terrorism in Pak by casting a net on the activities of various terrorist groups. However, most of Musharraf's actions in the war on terror have been half-hearted - under international pressure. The real agenda was survival. Musharraf feared backlash from within the army and from the Pakistan's citizens had he gone ahead dismantling the terror network. That is the reason that although several top al-Qaeda "leaders" had been captured and handed over to US during Musharraf's rule, he had stopped short of completely wiping out these terrorist groups. In essence, Musharraf failed the world in favor of his self-interest. This, notwithstanding the fact that he had risked his life by supporting the US war on terror (several assassination attempts on him stand testament to this).


Frontline Pakistan is a must-read for anyone intending to understand the complex dynamics of the volatility in the SE Asia region; and the so-called "Islamic Terrorism". The author has conducted interviews with several prominent personalities - right from Pervez Musharraf, to several radical leaders (even leaders of groups which were later designated as terrorist groups). This lends the all-important element of credibility to the book.

I must warn the reader that even though the book looks "small" (at 190 pages), it can turn out to be a fairly demanding read - since it takes lot of concentration to grasp the enormity of some of the statements/events which Zahid describes.

The book does refer to religious extremism and Islamic militancy every so often - however, I am disappointed that there is absolutely no attempt to show the reader the moderate or liberal faces of Islam or those of Pakistan. Agreed that this is not at all the objective of the book (after all, the caption says "The struggle with militant Islam"). But, to an uninitiated reader, it might give the wrong impression of the religion as a whole. The book would have been more balanced, had the author described or even referred to in passing mention, the role of moderate or liberal Pakistanis in the fight against terror.

It is for this single lapse that I deduct one star; I rate Frontline Pakistan at 4 stars out of 5 - and of course, designate it as a must-read.


The Prime Reason #4 which I have detailed above, explains Pakistan's refusal (or rather, inability) to meet India's demands of eradication of terrorism from Pakistani soil post-26/11. While Musharraf and the military Government had considerable sway over the extremist religious parties, the same cannot be said of the present Government. Any attempt by the current Gilani Government in Pakistan to dig deeper into 26/11 and bring the perpetrators to book, will only meet with vociferous, internal opposition. We can continue to hand over dossiers and Pakistan will continue to deny the involvement of any Pakistani national, in spite of Pakistan being well aware of the attacks having been orchestrated from Pakistani soil by Pakistanis.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Feed(s) For Thought

Do any of the following lines ring a bell?

  • "Oh! {xyz} had written up on ____ (fill-in-the-blanks-with-a-topic-of-your-choice) ?? Damn, I missed it. I haven't visited his blog in the past 3 months you know?"
  • "These days I'm going a bit slow on blogsurfing. I've been wasting lot of time visiting all my favorite blogs every morning .. just to find out there have been no updates."
  • "Whoa! The list of blogs I follow is bloating. Its gonna be difficult to manage!"

Then Feed-Reader is the magic wand which will solve all your problems.

Web feeds have been around for quite some time (i've been using feed readers for three-plus years now). But it seems that the technology has not been publicized properly - a majority of my friends are not aware of such a thing. Whats more surprising is that most of them are techies themselves! Reason enough for me to write up a post on the topic.

So, how does this feed technology work?

Pretty simple actually:
1. You subscribe to a particular blog/forum/what-have-you - basically any website which provides a feed. You do this using a feed reader.
2. Your feed reader periodically checks whether there has been any new activity on that site. Of course, your feed reader does this automatically, without your intervention.
3. If there has been any new activity (for example a new blog post), then your feed reader fetches only this "new content" and stores it.
4. Next time you login to your feed reader, you have that new blog post ready for you to read!

The easiest way to see this in action is to use Google Reader. All you need is a Google account. Go Ahead. Try it out. It only takes a couple of minutes.

As an example, follow these steps:
1. Go to Google Reader and log in using your Google account.
2. Click on "Add a subscription".
3. Type a feed URL to which you want to subscribe. The feed URL can be found on the site to which you want to subscribe. It is normally marked by the Orange "Feed" Icon -. For this example, enter the following feed url in the text box: http://feeds.feedburner.com/Blogsarovar
4. Click on "Add".

Thats it! Next time a new post is added on BlogSarovar, it will show up in your Google Reader.

So, what did I gain by using a feed reader?

Well, to start with - suppose there are a dozen websites you follow regularly. If you subscribe to all of them using a feed reader; all you need to do is login to your feed-reader to know who's updating what. You do not need to open one dozen websites every morning!

There are other advantages. If you are behind a firewall and do not have access to certain news/blog sites; but you do have access to Google Reader. Then you get the updates from the sites without having access to them!

What Next?

Start using web feeds NOW and save time and energy; not to mention preserve your patience :D. The list of feeds one has subscribed to can be exchanged between various users, so one does not need to start from scratch and manually subscribe to each and every feed! In Google Reader; this can be done under Settings-> Import/Export

Advanced Topics

There are various forms feed readers take. Google Reader is a web-based one. The advantage of this is that you can read your feeds from anywhere - all you need is a computer with an internet connection.

Then there are desktop feed-readers. An example of this is Omea Reader. The advantage of desktop readers is that they can access feeds within the corporate firewalls. For example, if you want to subscribe to a blog hosted on your company intranet; then Google Reader might not be a good choice - How will the Google Reader server access your company intranet? The other advantage of desktop feed-readers is that you do not need to be online to read your feeds. Many desktop readers pull the data and store it offline for you to read whenever you are free. (Semi-connected technologies like Google Gears are blurring this line between web-based and offline readers).

Other than this, feed readers could also be integrated into your other day-to-day applications - your email client, IM client, Office suite, browser, media player ... the list goes on ...

One point to remember is that the authors of the feeds have control over the amount of information published as a feed. For example, Blogger allows you to specify whether the entire post should be included in the feed, or only a summary. If the author chooses to publish only a summary, then you would still need to visit the original site to read the full post. However, your feed-reader is still useful in the sense that it still informs you when a new post has been published on the blog. You do not need to keep "polling" to find if a new post has been added.

One final consideration while using feed-readers is that of authentication. Some feeds might not be public - an example is feeds from a private blog on Blogger. Reading posts on this blog would require you to login with a username/password. The same applies to feeds from such a site. Feed-readers have a feature wherein you can save the credentials for a particular feed - so that the reader automatically signs in and fetches the feed for you.

I'l conclude by saying that I hope to see you on the Feed bandwagon!

Sunday, August 31, 2008

The debsoc experience

There is something called as debsoc. For people who don’t know, this sophisticated abbreviation stands for-debate society. There had been meets in our college during the 2nd sem. But it lasted only for sometime, because we had our end sem exams coming up.
Anyway, it resumed in the holidays and I missed a few meets. I wanted to join debsoc, cause I thought I had a flair for it. I had done some debates in school before--- but then they were pathetic kind of debates---unlike the ones in professional colleges.

Anyway, coming back to the meet, I decided on a Friday that I would attend it. I went there just in time. I saw many new faces, acquaintances and also two of my friends whom I knew very well. We all started arranging benches, desks…..on the top floor of our LHC-lecture hall complex, and people were randomly deciding on who would be what, and stuff like that….
I was confused…
Finally someone in some corner of the room declared that I would be the “ADJUDICATOR”.
I was shocked. I wasn’t prepared for it… I was only mentally prepared to speak either for,
“FOR” or, for “AGAINST”, like I did in school…
I just knew, that, an adjudicator gives judgments, based on the evidences-- technically speaking.
After all this, I realized that they had decided on doing a PD- parliamentary debate and that’s why I became an adjudicator…
Some three members sat on one side, and three other members, ran right across the hall to decide on a topic.
After some 20- odd minutes, they made a grand appearance and took their seats.
One girl came and told “THIS HOUSE WILL GAG YOU” …..
Something which made absolutely no sense to me..
I was even more confused. Have I been sleeping too much, or all what she had said, just made any sense?????
Moving on………………
She gave another statement which sounded rhetoric-“THE UNIVERSITY STUDENTS”……..BLAH….BLAH….. “U.S. PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS”……
Honestly this is all what I heard…
Trying to make sense out of it……..hmmm……lemme see……………………………...
It didn’t make any sense at all!!!!
How on earth, are university students, related to the u.s. presidential elections???
Even if it had a relation ……..what has it got to do with “THIS HOUSE WILL GAG YOU”????? It was becoming more and more convoluted. And I didn't have the faintest idea of what she was talking about.
She gave some, 7-8 minutes of long speech……..of which I could understand very little..
The other three members, were busy cramming some notes, into a sheet of paper…….fighting over a pen to write…….Honestly, don’t these people get all their accessories???
All of a sudden, a member from the other team, stands up in front of us and tells something….
He made some sense to me, because, he and his team, also hadn’t understood what the girl spoke…as in…. what the girl spoke, was not very clear to them…
AH!! WHAT A RELIEF!!! I wasn’t alone in this dire situation…
But still, they did continue to debate –although I felt, there was nothing more left to debate on.
Alternately, members from each team, made an appearance and told the same things over and over again---just to kill time---I suppose.
I felt like, I was amidst a fleet of BMW’s……… and there I was sitting ……………
Amidst this wilderness, I heard some loud banging noises on the benches and desks.
When I thought, that a person was making sense, and that, the next sentence, he would speak , would make things a little clearer- people thumped on those benches as loudly as possible-I still don’t know, in appreciation or otherwise.- and I lost it again. Things came back to square one, and I was as confused as ever...
All six members finished their turn alternately, and it was the turn, of the adjudicators to give in their final decision.
In such chaos…….I had forgotten to do one thing….
TURNING TO MY RIGHT, where my co-adjudicators were sitting. I saw that they had their notes ready, scribbled in some illegible writing ---god knows what. And they were ready with a decision.
I then realized, I had to make some notes too---just scribbled the last few words, the last member had said.
And in the whilst of making my notes, I heard my co-adjudicator saying “ IN MY OPINION, THE PROPOSITION TEAM SHOULD WIN, BY A FAIRLY LARGE MARGIN………” BLAH…BLAH…
DAMN!! I didn’t even know, that the team was called the “proposition”. I had named them
team -1 and team-2, according to my convenience.
Before I could realize, it was my turn. And I heard myself saying,
pointing my finger, at team-2, whom I thought should win…
I ended up, making a fool out of myself. And I had sunk into an abyss of embarrassment.

After all this, one thing I realized, is that, even if you think, you are good at something, there will always be a person, better than you, in the same job...
But you should never be intimidated by them…
There is always a time, when, you will have to exorcise your daemons.

Secondly, a commendable job by the debaters –who made me realize, that, they were capable of debating on anything and everything---no matter how abstract or ridiculous it may sound.

Thirdly, I learnt that, just by listening to them speak, I had gained so much knowledge…
I realized, how people can think, in so many different ways—their views, their whole new perspective…….
I got a panoramic view of what a PD actually is…

I might have learnt all this from this experience…

But what I know better is……….. It gave me something to write in my blog……….. which I had abandoned for quite sometime…….and I regret having done that………

Friday, August 15, 2008

Happy independence Day!

I don't know the reason, but somehow this day each year spurs me to write something. I feel the strong urge to let my beloved friends know of my dreams and thoughts about our great country.

Before I go any further - Wish you all a very happy Independence Day! India turns 61 today.

Today, we get a chance to bow in reverence to the thousands of freedom fighters who put their homeland before everything else and fought the British oppressors. Their struggle finally bore fruit and we got our Independence 61 years back on this day.

Today, we also get a chance to look back and evaluate ourselves. Have we fulfilled the dreams and visions of our freedom fighters? Would our freedom fighters feel proud about the state of our country today? Or would they feel sad that their supreme sacrifice went in vain?

It is but natural to say that the feeling would be mixed.

They would be extremely happy and proud of a number of things that our country has achieved. India has become an economic superpower. Our business houses are expanding their footprint all over the globe. We have several great people who have made a mark on the global front. Our forex reserves are overflowing. India has become the global technology hub which engages in cutting edge R&D activities. We will shortly have the world's biggest refinery for crude oil. We also got a major break at the Olympics - Abhinav Bindra won India's 1st ever individual gold medal at Olympics. Yes, one gold for a billion people may still be bad - However, a beginning has been made and hopefully this will have a cascading effect to produce more medals.

Sadly, the story does not end here - Our freedom fighters would feel extremely sad and ashamed to know that their country is still suffering from a number of ills.

Poverty is the biggest problem facing our nation today. About 30% of the people in the country earn less than Rs 10 per day. These people are in a dire situation. Many of them are homeless. They don't have even one proper meal a day. Their health is fragile and the conditions they live in is pathetic.

Education is the next big problem. India is projected to be a country with the most number of youth by 2020. This is a huge advantage which will be squandered if we dont educate this large pool of young people. Though the situation is improving, India still has one of the highest number of illiterate people. We also have a high number of school dropouts. There are several reasons behind this - The most important one is the poverty at home which forces parents to look for additional income.

Corruption is something which we should all be ashamed of. Transparency International ranks India at a paltry 72 out of 180 countries. Our politicians are one of the most corrupt in the whole world. Each one of us is to be blamed for the pathetic state of affairs. We always seek the easy way out of any government work by paying bribe. This emboldens the corrupt officials who don't do any work without taking a bribe. Corruption has the potential to bring the progress of our country to a stand still. We have taken a few good steps towards eradication corruption - Like the RTI act. However, more needs to be done. Most importantly, we need to empower our Lok Ayuktha to prosecute corrupt officials.

I have deliberately omitted terrorism out of the list above. I strongly believe that if we eradicate poverty and educate people, terrorism will automatically disappear from our country.

All this makes me wonder how we - the citizens of this country - can contribute to make the dreams our great freedom fighters come true. There are a number of little things which we are capable of doing -

Firstly, we all should vote without fail. Voting is the most powerful way to influence our country's future. By consciously voting for good candidates we can ensure that this country is run by those who really care for it.

We (by we, I mean the people who are lucky enough to read/write this post), are the beneficiaries of the economic growth of our country. Yes, we are very talented people who made our own destiny by working hard. However, I would urge each one of us to spare a thought for the rest of our society. Economic inclusiveness is extremely important for a society to exist in harmony. The communal tension, crime and violence all around us is because all the sections of the society have not benefited from development.

No, I am not telling that we must donate our salary or our car to someone poor - Instead, I am asking us to empower the poorer sections of our society to raise their standard of living. Each one of us can ensure that our maid servant's children are attending school. We can also make sure that she has an investment plan for the future. We can ensure that the security guard at our apartment is adequatly insured so that his family does not suffer in case something untoward happens to him. We can spare some time to serve at an NGO and make a difference to some people.

I have little doubt that if at least some of us come together for this noble endeavour, our country would be able to overcome most its problems. We owe at least this much to the brave hearts of our Independence struggle.

Jai Hind.

Saturday, August 9, 2008


Update: This post been cross-posted at YouthKiAwaaz


This is something which I have been thinking about for quite some time now. How much do we Indians really know and care about the North-East? I personally feel that the seven sisters and Sikkim (maybe with the exception of Assam), have been a neglected lot in our country. This goes not only from development point of view, but from other aspects as well like sports, culture, entertainment – Sikkim, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Tripura, Nagaland, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh – are pretty much obscure as far as the rest of the country is concerned.

Lets start with the example of Television. All movies, serials, news channels concentrate on “mainland” India. Its all set in Delhi, Mumbai or Punjab. These days even South India is figuring in movies and television. But, what about the north-east? The consequence of this is not limited to entertainment alone. Thanks to TV, your average Indian aam admi in the Rest Of India (ROI - I call it that for a want of a better term – no intention of “dividing” NE from the ROI) has a fair idea of what life might be in Mumbai, Delhi, Punjab, Gujarat etc. This is true even if that average Indian has never been to any of these places. But, do we have even a remote idea of what its like in the NE? The only TV program where I have seen extensive coverage of the NE is the travel show called Exotica, on StarOne.

Now come to sports. Other then Baichung Bhutia, the football star of India who hails from Sikkim, there's hardly any mainstream sportsperson from the NE. I cannot recall any cricketer or tennis player or even hockey player from NE (again, that might be due to my ignorance too). I suppose there are a few names from NE in the athletic and sports meets who get us medals at SAARC games etc (for example in sports like archery) – but hey don't u know that in India, “sports” equals “CRICKET+Tennis+hockey+f1” ?? The rest of them dont qualify – their achievements are not counted. Anyways – that's not the topic of this post!

I am unaware about how ROI is perceived in NE. Is the influence of Bollywood present in NE? Does the aam aadmi in NE have a fair idea about life in ROI? Do they follow cricket and national politics just as we in ROI do?

Successive governments at the Centre have been announcing special economic packages for the development of NE. I am not aware of how much of this has really translated to results. Maybe the one aspect that stands out in this regard would be the road infrastructure development projects (NHDP) – these seem to have made a positive impact during the last few years.

The encouraging trend is the good representation of NE in reality shows. Remember Amit Paul from Meghalaya who was the runner up in Indian Idol 3? Remember the host of singers from Assam (Debojit, Kalpana, Prakriti to name a few)?

The reasons for the negligence about NE in ROI could be many. For one, the North-Eastern states are geographically isolated from ROI. They are “connected” with ROI through a narrow strip which is just 20-odd kms wide (this is called the chicken's neck and is situated in Siliguri in West Bengal with Nepal in the North and Bangladesh in the South). Secondly, the NE states are culturally very different from the ROI – the culture here has elements of South-East Asia and China (Tibet in particular).

Nevertheless, the NE states are part of India; NE contributes to a sizable chunk of the India - area-wise, population-wise and culturally. Thus it is imperative for ROI to start viewing NE as they would Rajasthan or Punjab or Tamil Nadu. And also for people in NE to get a feel of what life is like in ROI. Only then would it be possible to foster a sense of unity and oneness. And, in my opinion, the media plays the most important role in increasing awareness .

ROI needs to know that just like elsewhere in India, NE too has a diverse culture. That there are several languages spoken here. That the climate, vegetation, topography, flora and fauna are as varied here as in ROI.

ROI needs to know about Assam's natural beauty, the tea gardebns, about Kazhiranga and the rhinos, about the ULFA's, about the political scenario and about the issues facing the nation along its border with Bangladesh.

ROI needs to know about the Chinese Government's claim to Arunachal Pradesh and about how the Army is on its toes there to prevent China from making mischief. About the sixth Dalai Lama being born here in AP. That there exist places in India where your constitutional “right to freedom of movement anywhere within the country” is restricted – that one needs a permit to enter some places in AP.

ROI needs to know about the mostly Himalayan state of Sikkim, the second smallest State in India by size and the least populated. ROI needs to know the history of the Nathula pass, the flourishing trade route which passed through here, and not to forget the Kanchenjunga, the third-highest peak in the world.

ROI needs to know about the WW-II battles fought in Manipur which stalled Japan's progress and which had a major impact on the outcome of the war. About the history of the princely state of Manipur (just like many more in ROI) before it was integrated into the republic of India. About the UNLF, its demands and its activities in Manipur. About the troubles along the border with Myanmar.

ROI needs to know about the history of the mountainous state of Nagaland, about the Naga tribe, about how Nagaland was part of Assam and underwent lot of unrest before being declared a state in early '60s. About the present-day culture which still revolves around the tribes and their shawl-weaving tradition. About the 90+% Christian population. About the Nagamese language – which is not the mother tongue of any of the tribes in Nagaland, but is the common language spoken everywhere in the state.

ROI needs to know about the plateau of Meghalaya, the Garo and Khasi hills. About the matriarch system followed by many of the more populous tribes in the state. About Cherrapunji, which was once the wettest spot in the world.

ROI needs to know about Tripura, the second-most populous among the NE states (even though it is relatively small in area). About the Bengali-dominant culture of the state (Tripura is surrounded on three sides by Bangladesh and is around the same latitude as West Bengal); about its festivals, indigenous dance forms and music. About its millenia-old history (Tripura is said to have had mention in Mahabharata).

ROI needs to know about Mizoram, the Indian state with the highest literacy rate. About the events which led to the formation of the state (famine, insurgency, bombing by the Indian Air Force to quell this insurgency); about the largely unexplored bamboo forests which covers about one-third of the state.

I think that Indians need to take a keener interest in the North-East. Probably if a few people from NE broke into the scene in some mainstream field, then that would function as a catalyst to increase the visibility of the NE states among ROI. This does not mean that they have to deviate from their culture and adopt cricket as a religion or get Bollywood-crazy. The NE is rich in dance and music. It would help if the media and entertainment industry took the initiative to showcase this cultural diversity to the rest of the world.

With the spurt in domestic tourism, more Indians are exploring “far-flung” regions within the country, including the NE. So also more people from the NE states are flocking to the mainland, be it for tourism, education, business or jobs. This exchange will only be for the benefit of either side.

I am hopeful that there will be more cultural, economic exchange between the NE and the ROI in the near future. Looking forward to an India where there is tighter bond between North-East and the Rest of India. JAI BHARATH.