Stairway to Heaven

The resurrection of Led Zeppelin at their 02 Arena event evoked long suppressed memories that lurch from the awful to the wonderful. In the awful column: bad versions of ‘stairway’ being hacked out by spotty youths in guitar shops (and now, I am appalled to report, regurgitated by buskers on the London tube where everyone is well sick of Crimbo carols – do these people know any good songs? we need a better soundtrack for the struggle home from bargain shopping/return of dodgy gifts).

And in the wonderful column, Led Zep’s return reminds me of this picture of a spiral staircase that once stood on the corner of Stuart Lane and Sudder Street in Kolkata (pic is from a slide, now covered in dust – click to enlarge). This as not, I hasten to add, a functioning spiral, nor have I gone all otherworldly heaven-oriented god-botherinly religious for the silly season – though the disorderly mental state of some denizens of the lodge in those days (circa 1988) might have meant several attempts to climb this thing were made. There was quite a bit of paranoid anxiety that perhaps suggested to some that escaping the mortal coil was a viable flight path (‘I’m a jumbo jet, I’m a jumbo jet’).

As everyone will no doubt gather from their papers this morning, South Asia in the news a lot today – Bhutto family rivaling the Gandhis for martydoms; cricket (India needs 499 runs to save the series); anti-tourist campaign in Goa – awful, wonderful and comic this time.

Awful: Benazir was memorably described as ‘the virgin iron pants’ by [Shlomo] Rushdie, which is now disturbingly ironic given Rushdie is firmly in the maw of the US ideological project, but in a lesser way than Bhutto, even as she was ever a pawn in the superpower democracy-terror game. Rushdie cowered down and changed sides, from left-ish wag to playboy gimp. She, however, only ducked occasionally, and seemed far more concerned with her power moves. Super-pawn might be a better description, since she saw her way to power paved with compromises born of Washington. Certainly we can be skeptical of her democratic record (awful and awful), elected to rule at Oxford Union and Pakistan (twice). Surely when we think of the democracy drive in Pakistan or elsewhere, supported generously by both the US and UK[!], we should wonder why personages, such as the General or the Iron Pantaloon, are so keen to play this figurehead role. Head of the People’s Party or General-not-in-uniform Musharraf, neither seemed likely to be able to do much more than the bidding of imperial masters.

No surprise that I’d say this is not democracy in any radical sense – as none of us know it. In Pakistan, as elsewhere, there is no disarticulation from the colonial machinations of ‘the great game’, of the border writing routines, of the geo-political intrigue (and yes, we also need a democracy movement in the UK). It is time again to ask why we have these pantomime leaders, whether local despots or their Global avatars – why are they tolerated at all? Why do we put up with these ‘leaders’? I am reminded of Voltaire’s suggestion for those who wonder why monarchs do not give up their hereditary power when most people would ‘prefer’ a republic: he said we should go ask the mice who wanted to put a bell round th neck of the cat…

Cricket: I also recall that there is a Led Zeppelin tune called ‘Kashmir’, and I am fighting temptation to dig it out to listen for any hint at all of people’s movement. In 1987 I also visited Srinagar and thereabouts, stayed on Dal Lake – and got to met some of the Kashmiri separatists. The place is again in the news today as the Indian Army are apparently ‘suppressing’ protests in the wake of the Benazir assassination. (I remember Yusuf Chopra who ran a Houseboat called The Neal Armstrong – there was a gold framed letter in the guest house from NASA pointing out that ‘Professor Armstrong thanked Mr Chopra for the invitation, but had no intention of visiting’). The soldiers patrol the Lake today (it freezes over in December, we played cricket on the ice – hence years of bronchial bleargh…hack hack).

Anyway, tourism to Kashmir was scuppered after 1989 (and today Goa, for different – SEZ – reasons, may soon be off limits), but the problems of Kashmiris have not been settled – go ask Mohammed Afzal. Again a set of troubles that reaches back to superpower geopolitics and the consequences of Imperial border design.

My grandfather once wrote of seeing a Zeppelin in WW1, saying his elder sister called him inside from the road when the Zeppelin drifted by, saying ‘ere Tommy, come orf the road before yer get bombed’ – no doubt in a Geordie accent I cannot reproduce.

The Goa protests, and the comedy antics of white dreadlocked waifs on winter sabbatical from Manali, will I hope be reported by Lia – I’ll put a link on the links page when that comes through.

4 thoughts on “Stairway to Heaven”

  1. This pulls all your putrid interests together doesn’t it – music, tourism and cricket as terror and all of it as the great game. You only neglect the obligatory declaration of sympathy for those who mean well but end up going the wrong way. Oh, and also William Burroughs could have hooked up here – Hasan i Sabbah

    On assassinations in South Asia in general, see here

    “Red Salute” from HD


  2. My grandfather once wrote of seeing a Zeppelin in WW1, saying his elder sister called him inside from the road when the Zeppelin drifted by, saying ‘ere Tommy, come orf the road before yer get bombed’ – no doubt in a Geordie accent I cannot reproduce.

    Back in those days, people knew what’s good and bad for them. *sigh* how did we get so stupid that we now merely gasp in awe at all the rocket-shaped things flying through the air (most likely carrying rockets, the mere form of the thing signaling what’s in store)? “Its silly, no?/ When a rocket ship explodes/ And everybody still wants 2 fly”.



  3. The Goa SEZ story goes: up to 18 SEZs (special economic zones) were proposed for Goa as part of the central government of India’s 2006 economic development policy. These zones were to augment infrastructural facilities, build industrial estates and offer tax incentives for export production, and were expected to bring large dividends to the state in terms of economic and industrial development and the generation of new employment opportunities.

    Goa’s BJP opposition party, environmentalists, activists, many villagers and the Catholic Church strongly oppose SEZs in the state, claiming questionable economic benefits, unfair land deals, loss of farmland, environmental damage, and inevitable influx of migrant labour, leading to a proliferation of slums and increase in crime, theft and garbage. Many of these people support the protest group ‘the Goa Movement Against SEZs’, which threatened an intensified month-long agitation against SEZ proposals, asking tourists to leave Goa by December 28th, with former Tourism Minister, Matanhy Saldanha warning that “things could turn ugly”.

    Later protesters decided to hold off the agitation until after New Year’s, so as not to disrupt holiday celebrations.

    Following protests voiced so far, however, the Goa government has agreed to scrap SEZ proposals, although the legality of this is being disputed by SEZ supporters and developers. Future reaction by the central government of India remains to be seen.

    So it wasn’t an anti-tourism protest per se, more like a threat to take tourism economic hostage.

    cheers… Lia.


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