flip through the newspaper or a glance at the evening news reveals a world in which old ways are dying and new worlds are beginning, often in the midst of violence and chaos. In the face of these massive changes and disruptions, many people are questioning their roles as individuals: Why am I here What is my purpose In Familiar Strangers, Gotham Chopra travels from China, Sri Lanka, and Kashmir to Chechnya and the Yucatán in search of answers to these age-old spiritual questions. Everywhere he goes, he encounters people who have had to dig within themselves to survive horrible realities and bear heart-wrenching losses. From his New York to Los Angeles flight on September 11, 2001 to a harrowing week spent among young boys toting guns in the contested hills of Kashmir and a sojourn in a small Yucatán village where he witnesses firsthand the collision between the romance of the past and the uncertain promise of the future, Chopra shares the wisdom, idealism, and sense of purpose he found in ordinary people living under extraordinary circumstances.
This curious amalgam of New Age spirituality and war reporting is the second book from the second generation of Chopra ruminators. (Gotham is the son of bestselling author Deepak; his first book of nonfiction was Child of the Dawn.) Its framework is ambitious for such a slim volume. Examining nine steps drawn from the life story of Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha "fare," fear, refuge, surrender, discipline, temptation, freedom, compassion and death Chopra travels to the world's hot spots (including Pakistan, China, Kashmir and the Yucat n) as a correspondent for Channel One. Although accounts of touring Chechnya with a band of unpredictable Russian guides and meeting with members of the Sri Lankan army referred to by the State Department as a "pack of bloodthirsty murderers" are gripping, Chopra's analysis of age-old conflicts seems strained and oversimplified. Unfortunately, he's not always mindful of the warning he receives from a recalcitrant Yucat n elder who accuses him of being an analyzer rather than a watcher: "There's a difference between witnessing the world as it is and trying to force your own reason around it." Chopra is at his best writing what he knows, especially when he interviews a Hindu uncle who was living in Lahore when Pakistan secured official partition from India in 1947. This account of the death of another relative at the hands of an angry Muslim mob is worthy of a book unto itself in fact, it may just be the saving grace of this one. (May) Forecast: Chopra's first effort eaked out sales based on not more than his last name. Can he do it again Moving from Amber Allen (his first publisher) to Doubleday will help, as will the September 11 tie-in. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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December 31, 2001
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Excerpt from Familiar Strangers by Gotham Chopra
On December 24, 1999, a lesser heralded hijacking took place aboard an Indian Airlines plane that originated in Katmandu, the capital city of Nepal, and was destined for New Delhi, India's capital city. At first, the media rushed to the story--it was a mere week before the new year, and news all around the world was abuzz with the potential terror that threatened to wreak havoc during the many planned new year's millennial celebrations. However, it soon became clear that this hijacking had little to do with the new year or whatever other symbolic portents it might represent or could potentially bring about, but rather was concentrated on regional politics in northern India. Within twenty-four hours of the occupation of the plane, an Islamic fundamentalist group claimed responsibility for the hijacking, and shortly thereafter they made their demands. They insisted on the release of a Muslim cleric imprisoned in India, along with a number of "freedom fighters."
Since 1948, Kashmiri secessionists have supported an independence movement that in the past decade has turned violent and deadly. Along with the Palestinian struggle, Kashmir has become a flashpoint for Islamic fundamentalist grievances against the western world. Kashmir makes up a northern region in India, the control of which has been hotly disputed between India and Pakistan for over fifty years. The predominant faith in Kashmir is Islam, as it is in Pakistan, and as a result, Muslims from all over the world--especially Kashmir itself, Pakistan, and Afghanistan--have adopted the freedom movement as a jihad, or "holy war." I was familiar with the conflict taking place in Kashmir, since I had spent some time covering the story for Channel One just a few months before.
Of course, no one could predict that the events unfolding in 1999 would so profoundly portent the violent hijackings that would take place less than two years later on 9/11/2001. Like so many other international news stories, this hijacking story slowly faded from the headlines of American news networks.
By Christmas Day, the plane had landed in Amritsar, India; Lahore, Pakistan; and Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, before finally resting atop the tarmac in Kandahar, Afghanistan. And when the first hostages were released--twenty-seven women and children--grisly details began to emerge. The group of hijackers, five young men, had boarded the plane fully equipped with hand grenades, guns, and knives. About forty minutes into the flight from the beautiful foothills of the Himalayas in Nepal they had seized control of the aircraft and forced the pilot to alter the flight course. Among the original 178 passengers and crew on board the plane were a number of young honeymooners. At least one young man--a twenty-seven-year-old honeymooner himself--had been stabbed to death when he disobeyed an order by one of the hijackers not to look directly at him. As happens with many of these terrorist seizures, this situation unwound into protracted media discussions about regional politics, national grudge matches, and international rules of terrorist protocol. By the day after Christmas, the story had become a lingering update amid headlines that were once again focusing on new year's preparations--terrorist threats and all. The chance of any deeper message emerging from the still-pending outcome of the hijacking seemed lost.