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When the curtains come down

Sir — What do actors and entertainers past their prime do to grab attention' They cross over to the wrong side of the law — not that they are always on the right side during their heyday — and while the police round them up, their names are back in the newspaper headlines again. George Michael is on the much-trodden path, with a lewd-conduct-in-public-place (remember Hugh Grant') charge of 1998 beginning to dog him with a new vengeance (“George Michael faces suit”, Dec 5). Only a couple of weeks back, another “falling” star, Michael Jackson, tried a few stunts by holding his baby son out from the third floor balcony of his hotel room. The act earned him some strong rebuke, but also front-page photographs. Maybe, if the emphasis is more on their work than on their lifestyles and sexual orientation — which is another way of saying that the media and the paparazzi left them alone when the celebrities are not working or have ceased to work — they may learn the art of surviving away from the limelight yet.

Yours faithfully,
Monsoon Zariwala, Mumbai


A time to remember

Sir — The Bharatiya Janata Party thinks that there is an apparent duality in the opposition’s stand on the Godhra outrage on February 27, 2002 and on the Babri Masjid demolition on December 6, 1992. It feels that on the one hand, the opposition wants Godhra to be set aside as an election issue for the ongoing campaign for the Gujarat assembly elections, while on the other hand, it has no qualms in raising the Babri Masjid issue, which is now ten years old. One would be led to assume that the length of time that has passed is what is important. But the BJP should realize that the Babri Masjid issue will remain relevant till the structure is rebuilt on its original site, as ordained by the Supreme Court and promised by the P.V. Narasimha Rao government.

However uncomfortable it may prove to the BJP and its allies, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal, the 10th anniversary of the demolition of the Babri Masjid is a national issue which will be difficult to confine within the ambit of the Gujarat elections. Godhra also is too recent a sore to be allowed to be claimed by the BJP/VHP combine with a view to reap communal advantage by artificially and deliberately pitting the majority against the minority.

The BJP has also alleged that by raising the Babri Masjid issue every now and then, the Congress defames India in the international arena. The best way to clear India’s name would be to arrange for the reconstruction of the mosque. This is something only the BJP, many of whose leaders participated in the demolition, can bring about. But will it'

Yours faithfully,
Ghulam Muhammed, Mumbai


Sir — It is unfair on the part of the opposition to raise the issue of the Babri Masjid demolition every year on December 6 for exploiting minority sentiments. All this is part of its vote-bank politics. This year being the 10th anniversary, that too falling on the day of Id, there was a predictable increase in enthusiasm. The same opposition parties are scared of highlighting Godhra in its election campaign in Gujarat, lest it loses Hindu votes. No doubt the BJP will get the advantage.

Yours faithfully,
Subhash Agrawal, Dariba


Sir — With the long-awaited trial of the Babri Masjid demolition case about to begin, the deputy prime minister-cum-home minister, L.K. Advani, becomes the only holder of a high office to undergo trials for the act of December 6, 1992 (“Advani trial on Ayodhya anniversary”, Nov 30). It has taken exactly a decade to bring the suspects to a trial. Is there any reason for the people of the country, particularly Muslims, to hope that the trial will bring justice'

With the Gujarat elections only a week away, the BJP leaders will use the situation to their advantage, claiming to be some kind of martyrs for the cause of Hinduism.

Yours faithfully,
T.R. Anand, Calcutta


Put things on track

Sir — Introducing a special train named “Chetana” to keep a tab on and arrest ticketless travellers on local trains is all very well. But the incidents of violence that followed the checking drives and the arrest and assault of a woman at the Dum Dum station were not desirable at all (“Ticket drive sets off rail rampage”, Nov 17). On November 25 too, trains were suspended along the Budge Budge line causing trouble for people returning from work.

Ticketless travel is a criminal offence, and it is admittedly quite common among Indian railway passengers. Regular ticket checking also replenishes the railways coffers. But railway officers need to wake up to another reality too — that of the pitiful condition of the local train compartments. Fans are invariably out of order, excreta of animals and even human beings are found inside the compartments, not to talk about the general filth all around. If ticketless travellers deserve no better than this, then the railway authorities must also keep in mind that the passengers with valid tickets are bearing its brunt. Moreover, trains hardly ever run on time. These grievances have so far fallen on deaf ears. Had it not been so, I have no doubt that people like us, who pay for their tickets, will have no objection to stringent ticket checking on local trains.

Yours faithfully,
Debal Kumar Chakravarti, Calcutta


Sir — The “ticket checking special”, popularly known as lal gari in West Bengal, has struck terror among the ticketless poor and unemployed commuters. While the drive against ticketless travel is justified, the attendant harassment cannot be commended. But apart from hauling up the poor travelling on trains, what are the railway authorities doing to improve the other conditions of rail travel, and ensure that a journey is accident-free' Rail officials are often rude, refuse to accept soiled currency and refuse to offer change even when they have it.

The ticket-checking is causing immense convenience to valid ticket-holders. The former railway minister, Mamata Banerjee, had suggested the introduction of Rs 15 monthly ticket for the poor and the unemployed, but nothing much has been done about it. If the railways can charge the money that is its due, can the passengers also not demand that they get the minimum comfort of rail travel'

Yours faithfully,
Tapan Kanti Nandy, Barasat


Known words

Sir — Although Sonia Gandhi’s address at the Oxford University was much publicized — with the Bharatiya Janata Party trying to upset her travel plans — her views on terrorism did not turn out to be radically different from those of the Vajpayee government in international fora. There could not have been a better platform than the Oxford University, the intellectual hub of the West, to put forth India’s view on terrorism. It is unfortunate that even the educated among Indian politicians were unable to rise above parochial interests and use this opportunity in the greater national cause.

Yours faithfully,
M. Akhtar, Bhubaneswar


Sir — Sonia Gandhi’s speech at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies could not provide a different take on the biggest problem facing India and the world now (“Speech for India, not party”, Nov 30). By saying clichéd things like “terrorism has no religion”, she only confirmed that speeches of politicians are nothing but empty rhetoric.

Yours faithfully,
Shiv Shanker Almal, Calcutta


Death by oil

Sir — The picture of the crude oil-soaked helpless bird on a beach in northern Spain on the front page of The Telegraph on November 22, 2002 speaks of an impending environmental catastrophe. The picture in fact reveals only the tip of the iceberg. Such oil spills have the potential to wipe out marine life through asphyxiation. Aquatic plants and preening birds are killed by poisoning from contact and ingestion. Even a fraction of this oil which dissolves in water is lethal to fish and the invertebrates which die of hypothermia. Oil coating destroys the insulation mechanism in sea and coastal birds, causing death. Those which escape direct influence may suffer from belated reactions like loss of fertility. Billions of dollars are spent on clean up operations, rescue and rehabilitation. Although oil spills often occur from tankers which sink, the problem sometimes lie elsewhere. As in this instance, the tanker was not sea-worthy and should not have been allowed to sail at all. However, the risks were ignored by the traders for a neat profit.

Cleaning up the water will be difficult and painstaking. In this case, the cold, strong wind and rain will hinder the work. Use of hot water jets, although an effective device, kills many shore animals. Sadly, a little precaution would have saved the world from a disaster which now involves huge environmental and fiscal costs.

Yours faithfully,
A.K. Bhattacharya, Calcutta


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