Cuba, the Final Frontier

imageTo use Star Trek language, imagine Captain Kirk of the Enterprise relating his mission in 21st century Cuba. “This is the story of Cuba, the final frontier, where modern man has never been. Our mission is to enter it, hunt for archaic humans, modernise them and change the culture to modernity. Our goal is to make profits out of that modernity, by bringing consumerism.”

That is the sort of briefing which must have been given in the White House a few weeks ago, as Obama flew across to meet Raul Castro. The first US President to visit since almost ever.

The BBC was recently running a series of pictures from Cuba. It is fascinating. Garish coloured cars from the 1950s, probably shipped across from US, in the days when this was a US backyard. Old men sitting smiling, chewing on their cigar. Old women dancing and younger school children studying in schools, which could well be from early 20th century. This is a place which has no money, an infrastructure which is minimal and whatever is available, is abysmal. There is no consumerism, no malls, no retail giants. The television is archaic and the internet almost non-existent. So, it carries all the pain which poverty brings. But, they seem happy and their lives belong to them. The rat race has not descended on this last bastion of antiquity.

There is a blue print of just such a place. Pre 1975, Hunza, a region in Northern Pakistan, was remote from the world. Some millenia ago, roaming bands of Greek army (invading India) or maybe Albanians or Eurasians, wandered past the Hindu Kush range and entered the Hunza valley in the Karakorum Mountains. They settled there and were remotely administered from the world. When civilisation finally caught up with them in 1975, they found people over a hundred years of age working out in the fields. They were blessedly happy, totally ignorant, healthy (there were no recorded cases of cancer for instance) and lacked stress. They lived long and did not prosper in terms of commerce. Our assessment? Of course they needed to be helped and brought into modern life! It was our mission to do that. Today, they are not as happy, live shorter, catch all the modern diseases and while they have some of modern life’s trappings, are still not prosperous. They have lost a lot and gained little.

My fear is that this is what is going to happen to Cuba also. A place of poverty and happiness, is going to be converted into a modern commerce centre, where no one will be happy and once the worlds great MNCs have taken their share of profits out of it, will be in debt and not prosperous either. Sadly, the final frontier will be conquered, and much that is human will be gone forever. It has been so for successive civilisations, including the Red Indians, Mayans and tribes in Africa. Look what happened to them. Allah forfend!

As a footnote. Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones visited Cuba to do a free concert in Havana. Chanel and Lagerfeld have held fashion shows, with Paris haute couture on display, along with the stick thin modern models. That is what I mean. They are bringing happiness to the Cubans and will go away with their souls. Cuba, the final frontier! Wish they would let them be as they are.

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Mr Spock of Star Trek

imageFor a young kid, logic had no meaning. But when it was portrayed as the next best thing to sliced cheese, by a pair of slanting eyebrows and warped ears, it certainly fitted into a space in the brain. Since that time, many decades ago, its remained there and has played a part in my life. Leonard Nimoy (Mr Spock to hundreds of millions), the purveyor of this logic has died. There is a strange sadness worldover, for he touched the lives of many around the globe.

Few will remember so far back, to a sultry Karachi evening in 1970, when Star Trek came to town. A black and white TV – I think it was a Philips make- and there on the screen was one of those dramas from the serial. It was immediately more than just a scifi show. It took over life. Kirk, Spock, Doctor McCoy, Sulu, Uhura, Scotty and Chekov became a part of all of us. It also finished too quickly and was gone. But repeated shows all around the world and later, the Star Trek movies revived it. And bore it through the decades of various off shoot series and movies. Till today.

In those years it became a constant of life. These great fictional travellers, again and again, came into our lives, portraying the best of humanity. Whether, they were exploring the universe, or fighting for survival, or taking on the Klingons, it taught us great lessons on teamwork, living in adversity and about a greater cause. It embodied our dreams of goodness.

Central in that theme were two characters. A leader extraordinaire Captain Kirk, who life long has stood as the model of leadership for many of us. But the character who carried the embodiment of goodness, of selflessness and of doing things the right way was Spock of Vulcan. This Spock with his logic, his strange powers and dry humour. He won the heart decades ago of almost all who watched him. Mr Spock also taught us lessons which we carry through our daily lives. I too try to think logically when making decisions, for teams and for greater good and when I do so, sometimes the lessons taught through childhood by Mr Spock subliminally pop up in my brain.

Sadness is a lot of things to a lot of people. To me just now, sadness is the end of something that counts in my life. For me and hundreds of millions others, in this present world, Mr Spock is one who counts. Leonard Nimoy who so ably over five decades, portrayed Mr Spock, is gone to a more permanent abode, and with him has finally gone one of the most enduring fictional characters in history. It will not be possible to replace him, who has been there in our lives for so long and taught us so much.

So now who will take the starship Enterprise on a journey, where no man has ever been? And who will teach us logic? A personal thanks to Leonard Nimoy, for having been such an important one in so many lives.

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