Oh, Those Chinese!

Believe it, or not! But, it is a recorded fact of military history and is true as true can be. The soldiers for the Chinese Federal Army that supported the Allied war effort in the Asia-Pacific region during the Second World War were recruited in a peculiar fashion.

Men, considered expert at recruiting, would suddenly descend upon a neighbourhood and cordon off a few blocks. Then they would work into the centre like beaters on a wild animal hunt. Once the unsuspecting boys were rounded up, they’d be given a physical examination to determine if they were eligible for service. This examination consisted solely of their dropping their pants. If they were old enough to have pubic hair, they were in the Chinese army.

God knows for how long after the WW II, that system of recruitment continued.

Unwilling little dragons (Graphic courtesy Printerest)

Needless to say, those youth were anything, but volunteers. The unwilling little dragons were potential hazards to military operations. For one, they were extremely fearful of flying. In one case, an aircraft crashed because several panicking recruits jumped out as their plane picked up speed on the take off run. The rest dashed to the rear of the plane to follow suite. That led to over-weighting the tail, causing the aircraft to stall into the ground.

They had a horrendous sense of humour. When they did get used to flying as passengers, they considered it a big joke to open up the cargo door of an aircraft in flight, point to something interesting below and entice a buddy to peep out, and then push him out. An occasional troop-carrying plane would arrive at its destination with one or two men short.

Scared of air travel (Graphic courtesy Printerest)

This one is even more bizarre! The recruits believed that an evil dragon was following them at all times and constantly sought to evade it. They endeavoured to stay just a step ahead. The aircraft provided a means of getting rid of the dragon. All that a recruit had to do was to run in front of a taxying aircraft. The closer he came to the whirling propellers, the surer he was that the dragon following him would be chopped to pieces by the propeller blades. Quite often, a dragon-fleeing Chinese would run into the propeller blades himself. It would make an ungodly mess, with pieces of ‘Chinese’ flying everywhere. The spectators would roar with laughter at the ghastly sight. Oh, those Chinese!

Of what relevance is the above information today to the Indian Jawan standing vigil at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) between India and China?

Well! Well!

The country we call People’s Republic of China, came into being on October 1, 1949. Going by simple logic, there is a chance that quite a few senior members of the present day People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of China might have been recruited and might have led life as described above. And for sure, all of them must have been trained and groomed by people who would have gone through the queer recruitment procedure and lived the fear of the dragon.

Again, as brought out, PLA is not a volunteer army, not a very seasoned one either (as compared to the Indian Army). It has not fought many wars. In its war against Korea, it suffered huge losses (nearly 2,09,000 dead/ wounded). In its war against India (1962), its losses were 700 (nearly half as many as India’s nearly 1400).

Psychological warfare through social media has been ‘ON’ for a long while. Chinese propaganda machinery has projected the PLA to be a ‘professional’ army. But their recent actions at the LOC suggest otherwise. They are cruel, not brave; they are unscrupulous and (we hear) they have no respect even for the dead. They have a swarm mentality.

In the words of Air Marshal Vinod Patney (the IAF veteran of Kargil fame), “The Chinese are not six feet tall.”

So?

Dear Jawan, know your adversary and know yourself. Although today’s Chinese soldier might be well trained and might wield a state-of-the-art weapon, he is not a willing and motivated being. He lacks experience too. But don’t get carried away––he is slimy, untrustworthy.

You have inherited war fighting from the best in the business. You are a professional army seasoned over many years of war fighting: in WW I, WW II and in the wars with Pakistan and China itself. Besides, thanks to Pakistan sponsored infiltration attempts, your war fighting skills have remained honed and tested. 

We hear that in the recent encounter in Galwan Valley, some rules of engagement had deferred your response to the back stabbing by the Chinese. It led not only to the martyrdom of our brave hearts but mutilation of the bodies of some of them.

Next time, if ever it comes to fighting with primitive weapons make the best use of them. But pray don’t stoop to pay back the adversary in their coin. The time one spends in mutilating a dead warrior could be utilised better to slit another (enemy) throat or chop another (enemy) head.

Just remember, you are there, not to lay down your life for the country but to kill the enemy to protect India’s territorial integrity. Jai Hind! (Author’s Note: The Chinese history discussed in this post has been sourced from “Over the Hump,” a book authored by Lieutenant General William H Tunner)

Modi’s Rabin Predicament and a Belligerent China

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s short speech this afternoon (June 17, 2020) to the nation on the border skirmish with China can be summed in just one word: “R-E-S-O-L-V-E”. “Our Jawans died fighting; their sacrifices will not go in vain,” he had said. One was reminded of a similar resolve when he had displayed exactly the same emotion after the Pulwama Terror strike and…

Resolute in Crisis

And Balakot happened.

Modi’s speech catapulted me back in time to a historical event. In July 1976, another Prime Minister in another country was faced with a crisis of similar intensity but a different dimension. A hundred and four Israelis were held hostage by terrorists at Entebbe Airport in Uganda. They were demanding release of a number of Palestinians held in Israeli jails on charges of terrorism. The deadline was fast approaching at the end of which, they had threatened to kill the innocent civilians.

The rescue operation 3000 odd kms away from Israel entailed flying through hostile Arab territories. An error of judgement could cost lives: lives of the hostages, lives of the rescue team. So he––supported by his Cabinet, and the opposition led by Menachem Begin––decided to capitulate to the terrorists.

For Rabin, 104 Israeli lives were precious. He also knew that his decision (to capitulate to the terrorists) would mean the collapse of Israel’s policy of not surrendering to terror––a policy it had taken years to build, at a formidable cost in innocent blood (Note: Israel has swapped terrorists for hostages in extremely rare cases). Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was caught between the devil and the deep sea.

Yitzhak Rabin

While the preparations were still on to negotiate the release of the hostages, Rabin ordered his men in uniform: “Bring me something we can implement.” Circumstances pushed the terrorists’ deadline back by a few days and the military came up with a daringly dangerous, but workable plan. There could be up to 20 casualties (hostages) under normal circumstances. But, if the terrorists had even a minute’s notice, everyone could be killed, including all the commandos.

While giving a go ahead to the military, Rabin kept the Israeli parliament informed. Without doubt, it was one of the toughest decisions ever taken by any Israeli government. Rabin made it clear that if the raid (Operation Thunderbolt, later rechristened, Operation Netanyahu) failed, the government would have to resign. But when the final vote was called––kudos to a very sensible and well-meaning opposition––all hands were raised in favour of the Prime Minister’s decision. None doubted his intentions; none asked him to pledge his head.

Rest is history.

Returning to the India-China standoff in the Galwan Valley. China has orchestrated the standoff at a time when the world, including India, is busy fighting the Covid-19 pandemic. China thought that it would be able to get away with ‘murder’. It was a miscalculation, for if, one were to go by unconfirmed media reports, China too has suffered substantial losses.

The Chinese Foreign Minister is now talking of de-escalation. Going by the antecedents, any such Chinese suggestion needs to be taken with extreme caution. In fact, looking at China’s most recent belligerence, it would be prudent to carry a gun in one hand when the other one holds out an olive branch. It has become imperative to prepare militarily for a long haul. While at it, the diplomatic corps could get into overdrive and help China arrive at its Champagne Moment (read post titled “China’s Champagne Moment”). Now is the time!

Think of it… today Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s situation is not much different from Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s. In this moment of crisis, he (Modi) has displayed great resolve. We, the people need to stand by him. While the military and the diplomatic corps go for the dragon’s jugular, the least that the rest of us can do is: “TO-BE-OUR-BEST-SELVES.”

Need that be elaborated?

Again, like the Israeli parliamentarians in 1976, the elected representatives of the people of India will have an opportunity to prove their worth when they meet on Friday, June 19, 2020 to discuss the standoff at the behest of the Prime Minister. History will judge them (and Prime Minister Modi) by their actions on that day.

Postscript

After reading this post, one of my dear friends concluded that I was suggesting that the opposition parties must support Modi and that they would be judged in the future on that basis. He did not agree with the suggestion for the opposition parties to prove themselves. In his opinion, Modi must first win the trust of the people. He added that lately he has taken the people for granted. He has the penchant for being in the limelight at the expense of everything and wants people to believe that he can do no wrong. He needs to learn to be humble, promise less and do more. He can’t keep experimenting with lives of the people without being accountable.

Is Mr Modi listening? People aren’t just looking up to you; they are ‘watching’ you.

To my concerned friend: When I said ‘Modi’, I meant ‘the Prime Minister’. I would have made the same suggestion (to support the man in that office/ chair) had the PM been Mr Rahul Gandhi, Mrs Sonia Gandhi, Mr Kejriwal, Mr Surjewala, Ms Mayawati, Ms Rabri Devi, or anyone else for that matter. I feel that it does no good questioning the leadership in the midst of a grave national crisis (two in this case: Covid-19 pandemic and the standoff with the Chinese). If people feel let down today or in the future, they’ll have an opportunity to replace him in the next general election. Let’s not forget, when time came, the docile Indian democracy showed the door to the likes of Mrs Indira Gandhi. My suggestion to the parliamentarians is to stand by Modi, the PM (not Modi, the man) when it comes to make a difficult choice in national interest. Remember, Winston Churchill was shown the door by the British people despite England’s victory in WW II.

China’s Champagne Moment

Champagne!

Champagne in his Good Days
Champagne, in good days

Do not be misled; I am not talking about the sparkling white wine, which comes from a region of that name in France. I am talking of the stray dog, also of the same given name, Champagne who shares the space with a score and more of potted plants placed at the entrance of my house. He quietly occupied that spot more than half a dozen years ago, and before we could realise, started staking a claim on it as ‘HIS DOMAIN’. We didn’t mind his presence there because he barked at every moving thing that crossed our entrance, giving us a vague sense of security. Soon doles of leftover food became a routine and Champagne started demanding them as his right. Passers by started treating him with the regard due to someone’s pet; unknowingly, other dogs started paying obeisance. Our occasional unintentional good treatment and cosseting led to further closeness with the cur. Our affinity notwithstanding, Champagne has bitten nearly a dozen unsuspecting humans including my dear wife and yours truly.

In the last few days––since the lockdown due to Covid-19 pandemic came into effect, to be precise, there has been practically no human footfall in the Amity University campus where we live; stray dogs and birds have been ruling the roost, almost. While strictly observing social distancing norms I have been taking occasional walks. A few days ago, Champagne started accompanying me on these walks.

Champagne expanding territory…

The other day I found something strange in Champagne’s behaviour––he was stopping every now and then, smelling something and peeing on objects. It wasn’t once or twice––he did it more than ten times in the span of an hour. I thought it was unusual. I wondered and pitied, “Was he suffering from some ailment of the urinary system? Do dogs suffer from prostate?” Concern for the poor dog led me to Google the issue and also consult my ‘genuine’ canine lover friends. I discovered that the act of peeing was a dog’s way of marking its territory. Over a few days in the past, he had been trying to expand his geographical area of influence.

You got it right. It’s time China appeared in this discourse…

Champagne was behaving exactly like China––flexing muscles and grabbing territory altering geography. It’ll be easy to recall China messing affairs in Tibet, Taiwan, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Japan, the sea to its south (some people inaccurately call that region, South China Sea), Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Nepal, Doklam and Ladakh––the list is very long. Not to talk of the US, whole of Europe and many other countries all over the world whose economies have been dealt a near death blow by Covid-19 pandemic––allegedly triggered by China.

And by doing so, Champagne, like China, was getting on the wrong side of many who were affected by his belligerence.

Then…

Then, yesterday something happened which made me wonder about China’s immediate future.

Champagne Cornered
Champagne cornered, pays for belligerence…

All the dogs of the area––the strong and docile dogs who had been sitting quiet all the while; the weak dogs who were whimpering but had felt helpless; the couldn’t-care-less dogs; the happy-go-lucky dogs… all the dogs, all the dogs without exception––got together and attacked Champagne. In their offensive action they were fierce like wolves; even the weak and meek ones. They barked in chorus and vied for their turns to bite Champagne. Some, who could, went for his jugular; they wanted to shred him to pieces, smithereens. My effort to save him from the wrath of the angry pack was just about sufficient to save his life.

Champagn'e Jugular
Jugular… almost gone!

Now…

Champagne is licking his wounds (except the ones around his jugular). His body language suggests that he is ruminating, “What went wrong?”

Everything about the recent happenings suggests that China’s Champagne Moment is near, very near.

Will a crystal gazer bury the doubts about ‘when’!?

World Leadership Beyond Covid-19

The 9/11 terror attacks led to killing of over 3000 Americans in New York. The US reacted; formed a coalition and vowed to avenge the strikes. In a response that was largely punitive for the mastermind and the abettors, who were still invisible, Uncle Sam went pounding and pulverising Afghanistan. As if that were not exemplary enough for the rest of the world, an enraged George W Bush went about setting his own standards for the world’s behaviour. He threatened the comity of nations: “Either you are with us or against us.”

Arrogance!

The outcome was much expected: In a moment of America’s extreme sorrow, the world responded with sympathy on the face and a subdued indifference in the heart. The feigned feelings made little difference to the US.

The US was the (mind the strikethrough) a Super Power then. The world looked at that country with awe, and respect, born of fear of its military and economic might rather than reverence for a true leader.   

In its effect, the Covid-19 pandemic has been more devastating than the 9/11 attacks––the death toll in the US has exceeded 10,300. It is more than three times the lives lost in 9/11 and the figure continues to rise harrowingly. The catastrophic effect on the economy will be more evident as time passes. In denial, President Trump first called the pandemic a hoax and, in a matter of days changed tack to declare that it was horrific.

With a difference though, this pandemic is indeed America’s 9/11 (Version 2.0).

In 2001, without a second thought, the US began bombing the perpetrators of 9/11 allegedly hiding in Afghanistan. In this instance, although President Trump has blamed China for the spread of the pandemic, and has gone on to call Covid-19 as the Chinese Virus, he has displayed no desire or keenness to punish that country. As it appears, the US contemplates enough before punishing and chastising countries for errant behaviour. China is certainly not Vietnam, Korea, Panama, Guatemala or even Iraq.

There are stark reasons for this reluctance. The years gone by have exposed the rot setting in and have proved the powerlessness of the most powerful nation on the earth. Whether it is Paris Summit on Climate Change, or it is the Nuclear Deal with Iran, or it is trade war with China, or it is the affairs of the NATO, or it is China’s expansionist actions in the Sea in the South of China or it is intervention in a war-torn Syria, the US has gradually relinquished its leadership role. There are allegations that in the last few days, American firms have got a few consignments of medical equipment, meant for Europe, diverted to the US (of course, unscrupulously). Needless to say, these are acts unbecoming of a world leader. In hindsight, Hollywood’s projection of Uncle Sam as the saviour of the world looks comical.

In the same context, the high death toll in Europe (in Italy, Spain, France and the UK in particular) has laid bare the hollowness of the superiority of the West over the rest of the world. Last month, the Italian Prime Minister, Giuseppe Conte was heard saying, “If Europe does not rise to this unprecedented challenge, the whole European structure loses its raison d’être for the people.” The Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic was scathing: “European solidarity does not exist… that was a fairy tale. The only country that can help us in this hard situation is the People’s Republic of China. To the rest of them, thanks for nothing.”

The Covid-19 pandemic curve for China is flattening. Beijing has already begun extending medical support to countries all over the world. Its economy will soon get off the ventilator and show signs of improvement. But, if the news of dissent brewing in the Chinese population is to be believed, the peacefulness of further rise of the People’s Republic of China would be in doubt.

The leadership in India took timely and daring steps to fight the pandemic. Until now Prime Minister Narendra Modi has taken the population of 1.3 billion along by exploiting the ancient art of ‘saam, daam, dand, bhed’ (साम, दाम, दंड, भेद) literally meaning: “by hook or crook, or any rule in the book.” His leadership will be put to an even greater test when the storm has gone past and it is time to pick pieces and revive the economy.

It will be a while before conditions start improving in the US and other parts of the world. As it appears, Post Covid-19, US will not be automatically restored to its Super

IMG_3980
Leadership in the Post Covid-19 World

Power position. Perhaps the world will look for a replacement for its desiccated and introverted leadership. Also, in a world that clamours for human rights and democracy, Russia and China will have to work overtime to prove their credentials to be accepted as the Number One. Perhaps it would be a leaderless world until a truly deserving country occupies that first-among-equals status. Perhaps the pace of life will slow down. Perhaps people will be more inclined to family values and spirituality….   

Did someone say (…more loudly, this time), “It will be an Asian Century?”

All said (and hinted), it would be naïve to assume that the leadership of the post Covid-19 world would be up for grabs. It’ll have to be truly earned.

For the Eyes of Modi & Shah

Not because ‘Brevity is the soul of wit’, but because time is running out, I’ll be brief.

It is true that Corona virus cannot kill a person unless it spots one. You have got the first step right––ordering a lockout. The Junta Curfew was a smart way of getting people on board and administering the bitter pill to the willing (?) population subsequently. The success of the effort will depend on adherence to the lockdown in letter and spirit.

There are two chinks in that armour.

It will take a handful of desperate people to undo the collective effort of the entire country. There are more than a handful of them waiting helplessly huddled (with frugal supply of food from well meaning people) in pockets in different parts of the country. These are the homeless or the migrants stuck away from their homes. In the absence of train/ bus service some of them are daring to walk miles back to their homes. They need food and shelter and space in which they can afford social distancing.

The video in my previous post (Reason Why Prime Minister Modi’s Initiative Deserves Whole-Hearted & Unconditional Support by Every Indian) shows how a single infected idiot can accelerate the spread of infection. The well-meaning Pradhan Mantri Gareeb Kalyan Yojna addresses the issue in a very big way; yet not in its entirety. Paper money will not satiate the hunger for food. Besides, people will have to move around to get their entitlement of rice/ wheat and pulses. Requirement of proof of identity to avail the benefits is likely to stymie the effort. This will be an inappropriate time to stress the requirement of a national identity card (and related issues) for the benefits to reach the deserving.

During this lockdown period, it is an urgent and dire need to bring under control the number of infected cases within the capacity of the medical teams to handle else, 21 days (now 18 days––the duration of Mahabharata) later a few infected people travelling criss-cross will spread the pandemic afresh.

The other very important issue pertains to foreseeable excessive load on medical and affiliated services. Addressing the personal and psychological needs of the personnel involved is as important as the need of adequate numbers of testing equipment, ventilators, medicines and protective clothing.

Morale boosting messages by celebrities will prepare the masses mentally; the effect of their words will only wane with time. Monetary and material support rather than lip service and sermonising is the need of the hour. There’s something to learn from Federer who has pledged USD 1 million to fight the pandemic. The government alone might not be able to handle the enormous burden of the cost.

Today is the day, now is the time.

Religious institutions across the country could be urged to rise to the occasion (all the Gurdwaras of the country and some temples and mosques are already doing their bit) and cater directly to the current needs of the society. A single speech to the Jewish community in the US in 1948 had enabled Ms Golda Mier to muster millions of dollars the Israelis needed to support their fight for survival. Likewise, Prime Minister Modi’s oratory skills are needed today more than ever before to achieve this end. If what we hear is correct, the coffers of our religious institutions can bail out the economies of several small republics. Today is the time to put them to their best use to provide succour to our own people.

The poor people suffering because of the lockdown have no claim on the coffers of the wealthy. In response to Prime Minister Modi’s clarion call, some business houses are already fulfilling their Corporate Social Responsibility.

But that is a trickle.

While Prime Minister Modi is concentrating on the larger issues, Home Minister Amit Shah can address a different class of people and ‘make offers which they cannot refuse.’ The allusion to Don Corleone (in Mario Puzo’s The Godfather) is intended. At this moment, the country needs all of Mr Amit Shah’s abilities to convince people.

Support from the religious institutions and the business houses at a later date will be meaningless.

To sum up, an army marches on its belly. Every Indian in the war against Corona pandemic is a soldier whose belly must remain filled to enable him to stand and fight. The leader must use every weapon in the armoury to win, and to win without bloodshed (least casualties).  

Reason Why Prime Minister Modi’s Initiative Deserves Whole-Hearted & Unconditional Support by Every Indian

Kudos to the person who has made this presentation (I wish I can find him and thank him for his effort) to explain the complex issue of the Corona pandemic. It is very simple, even President Trump––who, at present seems to be more interested in the health of the US economy rather than the health of the american people––should be able to make sense of it.

Lockdown explained for dummies

COVID-19, India’s Options: Fight, Flee, Pray, or…

A slave went to his master in Cairo with a request to save him from ‘death’.

The wretched man shivered as he narrated his encounter: “I met ‘her’ in the marketplace during my morning errand to buy grocery. ‘She’ was giving me threatening looks. I guess my time has come.”

The master, a benevolent man, gave him the best steed in his stable and advised him to ride to faraway Basra. He owed that kind gesture to a man who had served him devotedly for two decades. “Abdullah, I don’t think death can reach you that far,” he said as he waved the grateful slave good luck.

Abdullah galloped away into the horizon leaving a cloud of dust.

It was a matter of chance that the master too came across ‘death’ when he went for a stroll in the evening. He couldn’t help question the menacing looking ‘creature’ in her black cloak, “Why did you scare Abdullah. He is such a pious Moslem, prays five times a day; follows all rituals; is kind hearted and has served me so selflessly all these years?”

“Why? Why at all would I scare such a good being? I had only one thought when I saw him perambulating here in the streets of Cairo this morning. My appointment with him is in Basra over the next weekend. I was wondering how he would reach Basra in such a short time for our scheduled meeting.”

That was an Arab folklore.

There’s a real story too; wonder if it is true:

Among the victims of the Ukranian jetliner that got shot in the Iranian airspace recently––in the aftermath of the killing of Major General Qassem Soleimani––was an individual who had texted his friend before boarding the ill-fated aircraft that he was concerned about the mounting tension between the US and Iran and wanted to leave Tehran before the situation worsened.

That was for the preface.

In dealing with COVID-19, things cannot be left to fate. Everything good, bad or ugly will not happen automatically. Not luck, but actions taken now will determine the outcome.

उद्यमेन हि सिध्यन्ति कार्याणि न मनोरथै ।

न हि सुप्तस्य सिंघस्य प्रविशन्ति मुखे मृगाः ।।

The essence of this Sanskrit Shloka can be summarised thus: Physical action is essential to fulfil wishes. A deer does not walk into a sleepy lion’s mouth––even he (the lion) has to hunt to satiate his hunger.

The global war against Corona Virus is on. Deliberate and conscientious action can spell success. Today, the worst affected countries are China, Italy, Iran and South Korea. Each country is doing its bit to keep the epidemic at bay. Chinese efforts stand out in as much as there’s a decline in the number of new cases. A close scrutiny reveals that unmindful of the ‘world opinion’ they have resorted to dictatorial (draconian, for some) methods of implementation of the medical directives to succeed in their endeavour. Tough times require tough measures. While the end of the crisis is not in sight yet, it is possible to review our own actions thus far and take mid-course corrections to arrive at the desired destination.

Schools have been closed and use of biometrics for identification at entry/exit to offices has been suspended. Teams of doctors, the Armed Forces and the paramilitary forces have been pressed into action. The checks at the airport have been made stringent. There is a suggestion to close the Taj Mahal to tourists. The government has issued an advisory to: “Avoid mass gatherings.”

But, as brought out in an earlier post (“Salam, Namaste Kovid-19”) either the magnitude of the problem has not sunk in, or the attitudinal deficiency has still not been made up. Congregations are still taking place. Recently there was a ‘Page Three’ kind of wedding attended by the who’s who of Delhi. The very people who (supposedly) are to lead the lesser mortals to salvation were visible engaging in apparently long firm ‘handshakes’. Still later they were engaged in more serious and essential meetings elsewhere in Delhi to restore normalcy in riot hit parts of city.

All are equal in the eyes of the Corona Virus

Likewise, there was another mega event where the country’s sportspersons were honoured and people mingled. In the larger national interest such gatherings may well be avoided. A lot depends on the willingness of the people at the helm.

Elsewhere, people with colour-smeared faces could be seen throwing caution to the air––the mood to celebrate Holi has already taken the better of people. Hand sanitisers and facemasks have disappeared from the shelves. More and more jokes and cartoons laced with cynicism and weird remedies like names of some herbs, alcohol and cow’s urine etc. (rather than useful tips) are being shared on social media.

Time to issue advisories has long gone

If only people could understand one thing: “Corona Virus is socialist and secular in the true sense of those terms––it is going to spare none. The adage: “Example is better than precept,” was never as relevant as it is today. The chosen and the educated few who can make ‘the difference’ must lead by example. For the government, the time to issue advisories has long gone. These are tough times; tougher times are yet to come. Firm directives rather than suggestive advisories, is the need of the hour. Not prayers but action alone can save this country despite the blessings of the 54,000 and more Gods and deities taking care of its destiny.

Salaam Namaste COVID-19

Ever wondered who could have been the most harried Indians over the last two months? The answer might not come easy because of the way most people look at things, and act (or react) to situations. The answer is not Modi, not Shah, not Kejriwal and not even Rahul Gandhi.

It is the team of doctors like Dr P Ravindran (Director, Emergency Medical Relief Department), Dr Sujeet Singh Rajput (Director, National Centre for Disease Control) and the medicos of the Directorate General of Health Services (Ministry of Health) that has been having sleepless nights. They, amply supported (as always) by the Indian Army, the ITBP and RML Hospital etc. are in the forefront of the fight against Corona Virus in India. It is a challenge, the enormity of which, it will never be possible to appreciate entirely. Providing medical services is one thing, motivating doctors and nursing staff to work in an environment threatened by the virus is quite another. The diplomats, the bureaucrats and the political leadership are all playing their assigned roles to the best of their abilities but one thing is certain––the credit for the success (if, and when, it is achieved) against the epidemic will go to those at the helm and the brunt of the failure (if any) will be faced by those actually fighting it out.

Bearing the Brunt

To add to the woes of Dr Ravindran and Dr Sujeet is the attitude of some medicos who have said that they would go on strike if masks were not made available. Beyond an iota of doubt, masks and protective gear are an undeniable necessity for the medicos. But at this juncture, going public with this attitude of refusing to work under constraints will prove more contagious and deadly than COVID-19. Those at the helm must do everything in their power to equip the frontline workers appropriately and adequately. They would do well if full control is given to the doctors rather than the bureaucrats or the politicians. It is equally important to allay the fears and anxiety of those in the field.

The fight against COVID-19 is going to be tough. The antecedents of the last few days will establish where we stand in this fight.

Efforts in right earnest have been on to contain the spread since the threat became evident. It is an acknowledged fact that one of the likely reasons for its spread is proximity and physical contact with the affected individuals. Yet the first lot of people evacuated from China, and quarantined on arrival in India, were seen mingling and frolicking. The video of people dancing together in an isolation ward is horrifying to say the least. On exit from quarantine, one of them compared the life ‘there’ as: “Being a part of the television serial, Bigg Boss.”

Naïve? Stupid? Callous?

Naïve? Stupid? Callous? Or, all three at the same time?

Under the circumstances, let alone people in quarantine, even others (everywhere) must ‘maintain distance.’ Even the media could be denied access to the people in medical isolation––recorded press releases must suffice.

In the recent past a few gatherings took place where people came in close proximity of hundreds others and in physical contact with equally large numbers. Here are some that come to mind:

  • The youth festival at Gargi College: the ‘reverie’ was disturbed by hordes of goons who entered the campus and assaulted the students. In the ensuing melee, people in large numbers came in physical contact with each other.  
  • Thousands of Delhiites at Ramlila Maidan gathered to witness the oath-taking ceremony of AAP: People were urged to come with families and children.
  • Nearly 1,00,000 people gathered in Motera Stadium in Gujrat to welcome President Donald Trump on his first ever visit to India.

Giving a rational (and a dispassionate) thought to the antecedents––after the threat of COVID-19 became evident––the above mass gatherings and many others, which are potential hazards, could have been scrupulously avoided. Schools are now being closed and conferences, sports meet and military exercises are being called off. It could be a case of ‘too little, too late.’

For the same reason, prudence demands that celebration of Holi be postponed to coincide with success against COVID-19.

Further, the disruptions caused by the many pro/anti CAA gatherings and rallies have led to rioting, which in turn has flooded the hospitals with casualties. The attention of the medicos and other support agencies that are expected to fight COVID-19 is divided.

There’s an urgent need to regain focus. While some schools in Noida and Delhi have been closed as a ‘precautionary measure,’ avoidance of congregation and travel of any type––besides sticking to the medical advisory in letter and spirit––would help combat spread of COVID-19.

Lastly, ‘Saluting’ or extending a ‘Salaam’ as a Jawan does, or joining hands in a ‘Namaste’ to greet people could be a much better option than shaking hands to avoid physical contact. Besides, the art of saluting will come in handy in the not too distant future when there’ll be a natural urge to SALUTE those on the frontline of the war against COVID-19.

Discovery of a World Away From the Humdrum of Daily Life

I can barely distinguish an oil painting from watercolour; a sculpted statue from a moulded one; Paper Mache from origami… I remember having embarrassed an artist once, who was using his fingers to give some effects to his painting by asking him if he didn’t have a paintbrush to create the broad strokes he was intending to achieve. For long, I have also pitied artists using charcoal, wondering if it was because of their inability to afford colours.

I am poverty stricken in matters of art.

So, I was a tad worried, a tad concerned, when Shovin Bhattacharjee invited me to ‘Sculpt for Delhi-III’––an exhibition of public art in the Art Gallery of India Habitat Centre.

For me it was less important whether or not I understood the works of art on display. But I didn’t want to embarrass my artist friend by asking him silly questions. So, I decided to stay quiet through the evening, although keeping my curiosity under check has always been a difficult proposition for me.

Out of a different world

‘Being overwhelmed’ would be an understatement to describe my state of being as I went around seeing the masterpieces. To begin with, I remained glued to a bronze sculpture ‘Couple with Apple’ for what appeared to be an eternity. I was humbled by the demeanour of Arun Pandit, its creator. He obliged me by letting me click a picture with him by the side of his work.

Shovin Bhattacharjee’s work stands out because of its signature metallic dazzle and cute statuettes of himself with his trademark hat. They attract people from miles. I was treating my soul with one of his several works on display when I saw him. A warm friendly embrace and a disarming smile was all that I needed to cast aside my vow (to keep my mouth shut). I started off with: “Those regular shaped things appear to be buildings––concrete jungle?” What is the significance of red colour… blah blah blah….” And soon I was in my elements. Shovin kept answering me like a grown up would respond to a child’s queries. Shampa, Shovin’s wife and an artist of repute herself, was amused by my ignorance.

Masterpieces…

Each artwork in the hall had the power to mesmerise mortals and Gods alike. I spent a lot of time opposite each. In fact, I returned several times to some of them. The hour hand had swept the face of my watch twice before I realised it was time to leave. Much against my wish to call it a day, I bade bye to Shovin and set course for Noida. The time that I spent at the exhibition––away from the cacophony of Delhi––was indeed refreshing and rejuvenating.

The purpose of the exhibition is to get creative minds together and churn up ideas to put life into the public spaces of Delhi. Shovin’s ‘Mystery of Life’ series is already enthralling people in Chennai’s IT Park.

…and the masters

My mind sped ahead of my car as I drove homeward. Only a week ago, fascinated by the carving my Prosthodontist friend Dr Aman Kathuria does––he moulds and carves teeth and gums in different materials––I had requested him to get me a carver and some carving wax to try my hand at carving. For some days I had been itching to use the carver. Meeting with Shovin, Pandit and others at the exhibition was the tipping point that had nudged me to get going.

Back at home, I rushed to my workstation, took out a piece of wax crayon and started carving. I decided to make a miniature replica of the Oscar statuette––going by the reputation the award has earned over the last few days, none would mind a distorted version of the popular figurine. Time flew. The exercise that stretched into the wee hours of the morning had a liberating effect on me.

“The Oscar”

With the excitement of a child I showed the outcome of my maiden effort, my still-unfinished labour of love, to Shovin. He responded with: “Great.” That remark coming from my friend, mentor, motivator and guide was a great encouragement, almost like winning an OSCAR. Now I am looking forward to immersing deeper into this new found passion. Thanks to Shovin and Dr Aman, I have discovered a zone of peace––a world away from the humdrum and the din of daily life.

Viva Delhi Traffic Police!

The lecture hall of the Delhi Traffic Police Headquarters (PHQ), Dev Prakash Shatri Marg, Pusa, New Delhi is like any other classroom, anywhere––a table, some chairs, a rostrum, a whiteboard with markers and a stand-alone computer terminal connected to a projection system. Leaders of India’s freedom struggle look down (pun intended) upon the occupants of the room from the posters mounted on the walls. For a facility, which is much in demand for continuation training of cops and for educating errant drivers, and is in use seven days a week, it is fairly well maintained. And, like a Catholic church, it doesn’t discriminate between people on the basis of their caste, creed, colour, sex or status. For the training sessions, sweaty drivers of trucks, taxis and auto rickshaws are huddled in that room and democratically share the limited space with smartly accoutred chauffeurs providing proxies for their rich masters and, of course, with the snobbish who call themselves ‘educated’.

Avoidable!

When the room is packed to more than its capacity and the lights are switched off for audio-visual training, the darkness and the half asphyxiating stench of sweat, Banarasi paan, bidi/ cigarettes, Rajnigandha and the cheap make-up and deodorants attack senses and sensibilities alike. They remind of parts of The City of Joy described so vividly by Dominique Lapierre.

There, in that room, the traffic police instructors ‘try to’ re-educate several hundred wayward drivers daily.

That chaotic situation as described above, is not the doing of the PHQ. The ever-increasing number of unruly drivers causes the mess in that under-sized room as it does on Delhi roads.   

Now, how and why I landed up in the ‘that’ lecture hall is unimportant. Suffice it to say that I was an utterly harassed sapiens by the time I reached there after running from pillar to post for three days. And, before you draw any conclusion, let me also tell you that whatever I was getting by way of treatment was my absolute entitlement––I had earned it by dint of my ignorance of the procedure to get back the driving license confiscated by a vigilant cop for a traffic violation.

What followed when I reached the PHQ might be of relevance for those who aspire to learn from the experience of others.

To begin with, the nearly 30 kms drive from my residence in Noida to the PHQ was a nightmare. Well-meaning activists, both pro and ante Citizenship Amendment Act, had ‘unintentionally’ caused clogging of roads. Google Maps had gone crazy suggesting different alternatives every few minutes. I still arrived at the destination on the prescribed date and time. In the absence of an authorised parking for visitors, I parked my car on the roadside, half a kilometre away––at ‘owner’s risk’. And, for the next four hours, a part of my brain was occupied; worrying about the well being of my new car.

I had paid a fine of Rs 1000/- online to be eligible to attend the corrective driving training session at the PHQ and stood at the end of a very long queue to register for the same. A mixed feeling of torment and humiliation swept over me like a little tsunami as I stood in that line (mind the stress on the word ‘that’). For once, I wanted desperately to take advantage of my being a senior citizen but couldn’t do so as there wasn’t a separate line for senior citizens. There was a shred of preferential treatment for women, though. A stern cop appeared every once in a while and chastised the men trying to jump the queue.

Deterrence!

All that huffing and puffing and pushing around at 2:00 pm was for a class that was to commence at 4:30 pm. The anxiety of the people in the queue was comparable to the hurry of the drivers trying to get past a crossing when the amber traffic light is blinking––about to give way to red.

I heard bits of interesting conversation as I waited for my turn. Here are some excerpts:

“They caught me for jumping the traffic light whereas they left the guy behind me who was guilty of the same offence.”

“I have been fined for over speeding… I was driving at 80 km/h on DND on an empty road, absolutely no other vehicles. They said, the speed limit is 70 kms/hr.”

“We know what they are going to teach us now… They’ll only sermonise us. Their aim is to torture us for one hour… Close to 150 people, waiting for nearly two hours each… So much time is being wasted… It is criminal. Why don’t they charge us another hundred bucks and let us go.”

And then the masterpiece that drew a laughter even in that not so friendly atmosphere––“These guys are too much, they are not even accepting bribe to let us go without attending the corrective training.”

The PHQ, in its own simple ways, was encouraging entrepreneurship: A typical chotu was minting money, selling tea, samosas and bondas. Young men sitting with inkjet printers/ photocopiers in shacks by the wall were producing facsimiles of documents––RC Book, Aadhaar and Driving License etc––doing good business. Some men who were helping others to fill the various forms and documents, I guess, were doing so for remuneration.

After a wait of about two hours and a half, at 4:30 pm sharp, the door to the lecture hall was opened. There was a clamour yet again to get inside the room and occupy a seat. I was rather lucky to find a seat in the front row.

The cacophony in the room died down to a pin drop silence when a Police Officer––an Assistant Superintending Inspector (ASI) walked into the room. He was tall and well built. He spoke Hindi with a heavy Haryanvi accent. His delivery was laced with humour that only a Haryanvi can generate.

He spoke with authority; was polite and firm at the same time. He snubbed and put in place an odd participant who tried to mock the training process. He reminded me of my drill instructor at the National Defence Academy who appeared tough (and sounded rude at times) but was tender hearted; his only aim being: to train us to be ‘officers and gentlemen’. The ASI was attempting a similar feat with regards to our driving habits. I learnt later that he was a Yoga Instructor too, and had mastered the art of staying calm amid chaos and cacophony.

He spoke with passion about the concern of the Traffic Police and the Honourable Supreme court about the deaths and injuries in road accidents and the traffic jams that are becoming a norm on Delhi roads. A spellbound audience listened to him as he suggested simple tips to avoid mishaps and holdups on roads.

So far as communication of message is concerned, ASI Rajesh Grewal’s performance was as good, if not better than that of Akshay Kumar. Don’t forget, the latter has the advantage of star appeal. What Grewal speaks, flows straight from his heart. He speaks with conviction and there is passion in his appeal.

After making his point the ASI got the ceiling lights turned off and projected videos of real accidents captured from cameras installed at accident-prone crossings. Those clips, which shook and jolted most of us in the audience, were followed by a documentary made by the traffic department of New Zealand (or, was it South Africa?). All the videos were rather old, dark and blurred but conveyed the intended messages aptly––careful driving and adherence to traffic rules is the key to road safety and fuel economy.

Notional income through careful driving

I took the advice to heart (the fuel economy part, in particular). Following the driving tips given by ASI Grewal, I have improved the efficiency of my car from a mere 12-13 km/litre to 20-22 km/litre. Thus, I have more than recovered the thousand bucks I had paid in fine. A process of notional earning has begun. I am certainly more peaceful when I take the wheel now; a tangible gain indeed. I owe my peace of mind while driving to the training session at the PHQ.

After about a fortnight, I attended another class at the PHQ; this time, of my own accord––to consolidate my gains. Also, as a return gesture, I have offered the training staff my assistance and cooperation in improving the training films.