Book Review: Edward Snowden’s ‘Permanent Record’

My first writing for public platform.
This review is special because I read this book in the hospital ward

Cafe Dissensus Everyday

By Rashid Abbasi

Imagine an omniscient surveillance system in which all your online activities are being recorded without consent and become a permanent record. And a search engine used by government that returns results from your emails and messages. Constantly evolving technology creates new ethical puzzles. The State is perceived as a necessary evil, but the question of how much privacy of the individual the state has a right to breach has developed into numerous facets. Edward Snowden’s memoir Permanent Record is about his courageous attempt to unmask the unethical approach of the United States (US) and the corporate entities towards mass surveillance of citizens. It is about his journey from a well-established and high profile government employee to a whistleblower and citizens’ rights activist living in exile.

The autobiographical account begins with his childhood. He grew up in North Carolina and his parents worked for the government. He loved…

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One night in Jaipur

I was in Jaipur only for a night and was preparing to get sleep in the hostel. I was supposed to present a paper in Kolkata. At the reception there was a well dressed group of people getting ready for a party. Hesitatingly i asked them if I could join. They welcomed me but the problem was that I was without a partner. Apparently stag entry was charged for around 2500 and was only free if there was a woman with you. We reached there anyway and a fellow hosteler requested a group of women if one of them could pair with me. We entered and it felt like any place in Hauz Khas in Delhi. I do not dance but had to pretend that I can; to stay with the group. Although I really like to sit and enjoy by watching people enjoying. Plus, it was very crowded. I could smell the typical perfume mixed with sweat in the environment. Any shitty song would sound nice in such setting and lights were making everyone look good especially the women wearing red lipsticks. Although they all looked similar to me. Drama unfolded after a while with entry of a woman who was so drunk or high that she was hugging random guys. She was not hugging in a ‘Free Hugs’ kind of way but was using random shoulders to fall asleep. Maybe it was a prank or something but I am not sure. However I preferred to stay away from her path. One side of bar counter was full of women. They were being served for free. On the corner there was a woman with lips like permanent pout and was enjoying kind of dry humping with a guy. She was much taller than him and I never saw his face because in whole party he was behind her. She was continuously looking at her appearance with the front camera of her phone and was checking everyone around with an inviting gaze. That made me think that she could be an escort/prostitute and my friend agreed with me. Most memorable for me was another woman who was dancing in an extremely provocative way. She was wearing backless dress and shorts. I would say she was kind of fearless and original in her attitude. Guys were greeting and dancing with her. It looked like she was regular there. She was accompanied by two tall and bulky guy, for her security, because I overheard her saying to my japanese and Korean acquaintances that, “I am alone.” While dancing, she offered drink to my fellow hosteller and he replied, “I don’t drink.” She asked his name and when he said, “Faraz,” She said,” Wah…Muslim!…you are so cute” and kissed him on the cheek. Faraz would never forget her I am sure but the guy was really decent and sweet. While dancing in an unusual way sometimes she was sticking her tongue out and used the pole to show her pole dancing skills. Another moment, we were sitting on a sofa and a girl with a group of friends put her hands on my thigh. Then she moved to another guy from the hostel who, in my opinion, resembled the actor Ranbir Kapoor. He embraced her and after a while they were into each other. Something I did not dare to do. She was disturbed by something and opened up about tragedies of her life, as the guy told me next day. She repeatedly kept complimenting him. I felt that conversational skills of (sasta) Ranbir Kapoor consoled her. Next day he told me that she took his number and they will be on a date. I remember he emphasized on ‘she took his number’ and he was actually not interested. I remained mostly dazed and silent, like a meditating Gautam Buddha unaffected by dancing apsaras. Something you can expect to be in such scene after months of spending time in libraries. It felt like alternative epicurean world, where connection was easy to establish especially if you look good, have a good personality and can dance well. But as I said, the lights made everyone look good.
I was back to hostel around 4 in the morning. Next day I was supposed to reach Kolkata for an experience that was polar opposite and tragic enough that I can only dare to share as a fiction someday.

OPEN LETTER 

Dear future wife,
I wish I can call you by name. Such a terribly cold and lonely night and I am thinking of you. I wonder if you like to stay up late night or wake up early in the morning. I can’t even guess how you look like, what language you speak and what religion you profess. I wonder if you often think about me and are concerned about your career in the similar way. I wonder if you drink a lot of tea or prefer coffee. Well, I often try to cheat my mind by having hot water like I am doing now while writing this. I had too much of tea today. If you smoke a lot then I must tell you that too much smell of nicotine really puts me off. So never anticipate a kiss from me after smoking. Once I asked a crush of mine if she likes poets or philosophers. And she replied, “Poets”. I read Diwan-e Ghalib to impress her. I actually discovered the book those days and that generated my interest in poetry and other disciplines. I supplied her a lot of poetry. It worked for a while but not after I ran out of comprehensible stuff and she totally lost interest in me. Now i laugh at myself when I think of those days. I don’t want to say much but her car driver was earning more salary than I was. Anyway, I am a grown up man now and I don’t read to please anyone. I read like my life depends on it. And my life now depends on my PhD and the choices I will make in this period. Do you also often think that nobody understands you? And that is not easy to express the way you feel but the same time that helps you to have empathy for others? I have always found kind and intelligent woman extremely attractive and you must be the epitome of those qualities. I admit that I am not so clear about you. If you exist, you will uncondition me from one secretly held perception of mine that every woman I find attractive is attracted towards the other guy, who often seem to me either rich, or popular. I still do not underestimate myself too much. This letter is an example that my idealism is not dead yet. It will not die as long as I am reading good stuff, thinking better thoughts and friends around showering me with their love. I need a lot of improvement and i wish to learn from the qualities of the different people I meet. I try to understand what is likeable or interesting about them. Someone is energetic, someone is generous, someone is so well read, someone is so eloquent and someone is so focused on their work. Nothing is as encouraging as great qualities (that most of the 99 names of God also talks about) are visibly embodied in the people around you. I wish I can I incorporate those qualities in me. I have lot of interesting and secret experiences of mine to share with you as a single man looking for love. I understand money is important, but lusting after fame, money and power is not my style and I am sure yours not too.

Hope to see you in the future,
Rashid
8/9 January 2019

WOMAN OBSERVED AT BATLA HOUSE*    

She appeared-
as my hope for the colors
of the ghetto’s narrow labyrinthine lane
a noisy dullness-
teeming with men and veiled women
Her white scarf-
green-blue flowers and fringes
draped over her head and shoulder
A jacket-
dark blue
A long skirt-
kaleidoscopic print over pale white
The stalls-
selling clothes, bangles
and other adornments
fluorescent, or incandescent light above them
ensuring their bright appearance
She walked slowly-
observing-
not looking ahead
bending over a little
looking more closely
Her small, deft hands
over bangles
At our closest distance-
I saw the calm grace
of her face
A sudden sparkle
from her nose-pin-
broke my gaze

Colors that reached my eyes-

reflected subtraction
 of the absolute light
Colors she kept behind
to herself-
non-visual
unrevealed-
painted a mystery transfiguring
I was back again
to the dullness
My holey boots-
rambled
in the crowd
over my hesitant shadow
with hands inside my pockets
Inexplicable to my mind-
the afterglow of colors
Sparkle
of her nose-pin-
revealing itself
as my clear moment
with the light.
*Batla House is a Muslim ghetto in Delhi.