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.

Smothering a Smouldering India

“The hottest corners in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis.”

~Dante Alighieri

To be able to have an opinion in times of crises, one must be in the know of things. How does one become well informed when one is not sure of the veracity of what one hears? How does one believe what one sees when there is doubt about the genuineness of the source? The faith in the media (social media, included) has eroded considerably. There’s a limit to the size of a pinch of salt with which one can accept a bit of information these days. That limit is breached so often. Truth is a casualty of our times and circumstances.

The sense that something was drastically ‘amiss’ (I do not consider myself knowledgeable and qualified to use the word, ‘wrong’) dawned on me last week when I spent nearly four torturous hours in traffic travelling from the IGI Airport to my residence in NOIDA. Google was in a state of confusion too, as I guess, three categories of people had stifled the NCR––those, who were against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), those in support of it, and the police force trying to contain the mob’s fury and to maintain law and order.

There were riots in several parts of the country; some people died, many were injured. There were conflicting claims of police brutality and counter claims of policemen being hounded and beaten. There were visuals (some ‘doctored’) to support those claims. It was time to get off the fence, out of the comfort zone, and to have an opinion.

How?

Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump

The speeches and the debates on television were high on decibel, low on content. The speakers did not sound convincing in absolute terms. Quite a few of the speeches reminded me of my visit, a few years ago, to a world heritage site in Canada: “Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump.” It is a cliff where the first nation (the native) people guised in the skin of the wild buffaloes used to mingle with the herds, cause panic and make the unsuspecting animals run through channels guiding them to their death by falling from the cliff.

Are opinion-makers guised as well-wishers driving a naïve population down different cliffs to mass deaths? Time alone will show. For now, there’s a dire need to defer the urge to follow the Pied Pipers wearing cloaks of any colour.

Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump

But how long can one be a sorry spectator and be insensitive to what is going on? A serving general officer of the Indian Army opened his mouth to air some thoughts on the issue. His own breed of men who had donned the military uniform at some point in time in the past, pounced on him, tried to shred him. I shuddered looking at his plight because I had donned military uniform for 35 years before re-attiring. Should I, or I should not, have an opinion, which in any case would instantly regard me as politically inclined (either side)?

I wouldn’t have been so indecisive even in a warlike situation; the dilemma was damning.

A Roman mosaic depicting Medusa, National Archaeological Museum, Athens

Then I saw this activist. Her countenance reminded me of Medusa, the mythical being with snakes in place of hair––one who could turn things to ashes by just staring at them. She was spewing venom; advising the youth to give incorrect information when the officials visited them to collect data. “Give your names as Ranga-Billa…,” she said something to that effect. She must have been joking, I thought, because she was smiling as she said what she said. I am sure, as a responsible citizen, she wouldn’t want the youth to epitomise criminals like Ranga and Billa. Also, if people gave incorrect information, one would be groping for reliable data in the future, to write a treatise on the “Algebra of Infinite (in-)Justice (in India).”

To, or not to, give information sought by the government is one thing; to give incorrect information, is quite the other. The latter, would be a grave mistake––could at best be avoided. On demand, we give (with proof) whatever information a foreign government seeks from us when we apply for a visa. We let open our world to Google, WhatsApp and Facebook. Some of these agencies have been found to be misusing the information.  What then, is the harm in sharing the same with our own government?

Some are wary, and are nudging others to be fearful of the intentions of the government.

We are a vibrant democracy. We have proved it repeatedly. If there is a trust deficit, when time comes, people at the helm can be voted out of power as easily as they were voted in; and others, with ‘better’ credentials can be made to replace them. If something has been done unconstitutionally, it can likewise be undone.

The constitution itself is but a document compiled by humans; there are ways to rephrase it, amend it to meet the demands of the changing times.

That said. I am still confused and undecided on the issues causing so much consternation. Until, I form an opinion, I have decided to continue to be neutral. For, in this bitter winter the hottest corners of hell (reserved for neutral people) might still provide some comfort.

I pray to God to grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference. In my own small way, I have taken it upon myself to urge people––regardless of their stand on the issue––to refrain from burning buses, pelting stones and causing disruptions. I firmly believe that any increase in my ilk is sure to help smother a smouldering India. In the final analysis, whichever side prevails, we all will have to pay for the senseless losses the country is incurring today.

A Mender of Soul

Sitting on the corner of D-Block Market of Sector 27, Noida is a mender of soles. Since the days of Julius Caesar, and before, people have called a person in that profession, a cobbler. Yesterday when I went to him for a minor repair work, I saw a half rusted last that had apparently not been put to much use in the last many years. A torn hundred-rupee note lay half dead next to the last.

At long last

The adhesive he was using to revive ‘Gandhiji’ was the same as the one he uses to repair the soles for people. He calls it ‘solution’.

I wished his ‘solution’ could repair the souls of the country’s people, and the economy, too.

He took nearly fifteen minutes to do my work and demanded Rs 10/-. I took out my wallet to pay him when I saw his children playing in his ‘shop’ which measured not more than four feet by four––a girl in school uniform, and a boy.

I felt a lump even as I paid the man Rs 20/- and told him to keep back the change.

One would be miserable if one were to take such things to heart. With a little deliberate effort, I managed to erase that memory for there were other things on my mind. A day to go, I was still waitlisted on the train to Bhopal; I was eagerly looking forward to being with my folks. I had not yet received the RC Book of my new car; I was praying to get an odd number. Why ‘odd’? Elementary, my dear Watson!

Television news and the Whatsapp messages were full of rage, discussing the recent rapes and murders. There was a deluge of solutions––hang them; chop their arms; improve policing; treat everyone equal; fast track the process…. I switched off the set.

No uniform; no school

I slept soundly, but certainly, not peacefully. Was I becoming immune to what was happening around me? 

This morning I had to get some photos printed. I was back in the same market. The lab attendant at Anjalis was busy so I took a walk to while away the time.

As luck could have it, I crossed the same cobbler again. He looked at me with an expression that said, “So you’re here again?” I exchanged half a smile and was about to pass on when I saw his children playing like the previous day. Without actually wanting to get an answer, I asked him, “Kids, haven’t gone to school?”

“Sir, only my daughter goes to school. She has one set of uniform. She has not gone to school because it has been washed. She’ll go tomorrow.”

“How much does a uniform cost? You must ensure that your child does not miss school….” I knew, those questions and sermons were meaningless.

He shed a tear when I placed a currency note on his palm, ‘requesting’ him to get another set of uniform for his child.

I had found a way to spend the extra penny I make by writing.

Who knows: “A child going to school today might be a criminal less in the street tomorrow.”

Apostrophe Catastrophe and the Impending Tsunami

The iToon in today’s (Monday, December 2, 2019) Times of India struck a chord.

Tongue Twisters of Sorts

For many years, I was hesitant ordering food in restaurants. I owed that behaviour to my inability to pronounce the exotic names of some of the equally exotic dishes. To me their names were tongue twisters. They still are.    

I am reminded of Mr Jagjit Singh, our French Professor at the School of Foreign Languages (SFL); he retired two years ago. A true teacher to the core, he had an agenda beyond teaching us how to read, speak and write––he wanted us to learn how to ‘communicate’. A near hundred per cent daily attendance, and a high degree of punctuality through the year was a tribute to his ability to elicit interest.

One Tuesday morning after exchanging the usual niceties, he posed a simple question to the class: “Est-ce mardi? (Is it Tuesday?).”

He turned to Amit Mittal (name changed) for an answer. Amit was a young engineer about to join a French power tools company, was at the SFL to learn the language, which would stand him in good stead later in his career. The young man scratched his beard, which he had started sporting to look like the French novelist, Émile Zola. Not to talk of the round lenses of his specs––equally French. Forget the looks, words evaded his lips.

As if to throw a hint, a smiling Jagjit Singh, looked at the calendar hanging from a nail on the wall and repeated the question: “Est-ce mardi?” There was an extra effort to pronounce the letter ‘r’ in ‘mardi’, the way French pronounce it.

Murmuring grew in the class because almost everyone knew the ‘expected’ answer: “Oui, c’est mardi.” (Yes, it is Tuesday). The names of the days of the week and the months of the year were taught to us three days ago––most of us knew them by heart. Therefore, the question was a no-brainer.

When he couldn’t bear the whispering around him anymore, he nodded in a universally accepted gesture that conveys: “Y-E-S.”

The class exploded into laughter. Prof Jagjit Singh waited for us to calm down. And when the class became quiet, he asked us the reason for the laughter. A girl sitting in the front row, still giggling said, “The answer is: ‘Oui, c’est mardi’.”

Prof Jagjit Singh: “What did Mr Amit say?”

The girl: “He just nodded.”

Jagjit Singh, a little seriously, “What do you think that meant?”

The girl replied rather reluctantly and grudgingly, “Of course, it meant ‘Y-E-S’… but he didn’t say the full sentence: “Oui, c’est mardi.”

Without ado, Jagjit Singh explained the importance of learning a language. He said it is to communicate with people: “The aim of learning a language is to share ideas. For a communication to be effective, the receiver (of the communication) must understand the intention of the initiator of the communication and give a feedback to that effect; and act accordingly, if possible. In this case, I asked a question; all of you, including Mr Amit Mittal understood my question; and all of us understood what he conveyed by nodding his head.”

Then smiling again at Amit and addressing the entire class he said, “Notwithstanding your ability to share thoughts with gestures and pictures, it is always advantageous to know the right words and expressions. That enhances your ability to communicate.” Through his small monologue he impressed upon us that most important purpose of learning a language (i.e., to communicate) must remain uppermost in the minds as people go along building a vocabulary and learning the grammar.

That pearl of wisdom from Prof Jagjit Singh is a valued possession of all his students.

To the chagrin of the language purist similar realisation is dawning on people. In the latest instance, the ‘Apostrophe Protection Society’ has eased its grip on the use of the APOSTROPHE, the little thing that hovers above the letters and hides at the end of words and keeps confusing people. As per Duncan Kennedy (of the BBC), John Richards, the 96-year chairman of the Society––having agonised over the issue for two decades––has given up the struggle to revive this endangered species of punctuation marks.

The apostrophe catastrophe is a gimme, to say the least. The lingua franca of sms, Twitter and WhatsApp will ensure it and take more toll of spoken and written language. The changes that are causing ripples will turn into big waves some day, if not, tidal waves or tsunamis. To nod (due to ignorance) and watch, would not be a good choice.

The sooner one picks up the jargon and the grammar of the emerging language(s), the better of one would be in the New World. 

Stumbling on a Purpose at 60

Like any other day, I woke up early and got down to my routine; brushed, and made myself a cup of tea. I felt a pleasant nip in the air when I opened the door to fetch the newspaper. Soon it’d be winter. There was no breeze; a thick layer of dust had settled on the leaves. People like robots had started walking the street in front of our house––the safaiwallahs, the housekeeping staff and the sleepy guards trudging or riding rickety bicycles enthusiastically to handover charge and go home. A dog yawned, another peed on the revered Tulsi plant from which, thanks to Baba Ramdev, passers-by have been plucking leaves to ward off many known and unknown diseases; some others barked, exercising their lungs. A bird chased by a dog, chirped and hopped from a branch to another as it mocked its canine adversary.

Champagne in his elements

It was like any other day.

Then came Champagne, running. He licked my hand as I bent down to pick up the newspaper. He was all over me, wagging his tail. He calmed down and sat by my side only when I gave him a caress that he considers his birth right. Champagne is an affectionate stray who stakes claim (with authority) on the membership of our family.

Chhaya, all smiles, walked in as I settled down to read the newspaper. “Good morning dear,” she said as she gave me a warmer-than-usual hug. “Happy birthday! Many happy returns of the day….” She was lavish with her wishes. “So, now you are a senior citizen…. Unh!” She added with a meaningful, yet guileless smile. With that, not only did she make my day but also triggered a chain of serious thoughts.

Now, I was 60. I had heard a lot about the woes of the elderly. Most of them related to issues concerning health and relationships. A major concern was finding a suitable job to remain ‘occupied’.

I realised, I had been happy blogging, reading, writing odd articles, and editing books. A lecture here, a seminar there, or a talk to students/ young officers once in a while had been keeping me occupied. Since it is fashionable to be working after retirement, I have broken my vow (of not picking up a nine-to-five job) and have consented to being an adjunct faculty in a College––to share my life’s experiences with students, twice (emphasis added on ‘twice’) a week. Period.

Inspired by my late nonagenarian father’s zeal to learn, and motivated by my niece Swati, I am also planning to enrol into a ceramic art class. I wonder if I’ll be left with time to do more things concurrently.

Sharpening the brain?

Everything looks yellow to a jaundiced eye.

As if the thought of being a Senior Citizen came to me to stay, and nag––a news item in The Times of India that day read: “For sharp memory in old age play a lot of board games.” “Why board games?” I question that finding as I do so many others. I vie with Chhaya to grab the newspaper and solve Sudoku, Kakuro, Hitori, Spellathon and Jumble. We solve them not because researchers say solving puzzles sharpens the brain, but because we enjoy both––haggling for the newspaper supplement, and then solving the puzzles. Besides, for several years now, Lumosity, a set of online brain games has been keeping our grey matter in good condition. Another habit––playing rummy and a few other card games before hitting the sack, keeps our minds active.

A set of stretching exercises, as I listen to the BBC News podcast, is the next ritual of the morning. Incidentally, a news item on my birthday had to do with the life and woe of a senior citizen. A burglar who had made a forced entry into an 82-year lone woman’s house was thrashed and clobbered by the lady after she blinded him with hand wash until the cops arrived. Bravo! I am inspired!

Family and extended family apart, friends don’t look for reasons to get together––we meet fairly regularly. An occasional cup of thoughtfully brewed green tea with my NDA coursemate, JK Kaushik in the afternoons is another ritual I look forward to. Arun and Prashant both of whom I had met during a train journey (1993) are best of friends, a phone call away. Akhilesh Mishra, whom I met at the reception of CLOVE Dental Centre, is another friend I just added to my list.

Blissful on railway platform

In the last few days, I have come across children who have nudged me to think. Last month I saw two children (about six years of age) lying on a sheet on a platform of Nizamuddin Station, glued to the screen of a mobile phone. Their mother was breast-feeding a third one. I pitied them. Then, more recently, at the Wedding Asia Exhibition, I came across children playing video games on mobile phones; their ‘educated’ parents were engrossed in appreciating flashy haute couture presented by reputed designers. At least one of those children wore glasses with thick cylindrical lenses. Need I elaborate?

Engrossed

In another instance, in different circumstances, a wretched boy, barely ten, nose running, sitting in a roadside puncture repair shop where I was getting a flat tyre repaired, drew my attention. Vidhyanshu’s school had been closed due to heavy air pollution in the area. I felt sad for him. I certainly did not expect him to think about making up the loss of studies sitting at home or in that shop. I got into a conversation with him and, while at it, I made a paper ‘bird’ (origami) that could flap its wings. I do it quite often. Happiness was writ large on his face when I gave him the bird for keeps. Then I gave him a pen to write his name on a piece of paper, which he did fairly legibly. I was trying to relive one of my childhood memories when I appreciated his handwriting, and told him to keep the pen. I could read on his cheerful face, he was thinking of more possibilities with paper (origami). He displayed a great sense of pride in getting a pen as a reward for writing his name legibly. Nose still running, his unadulterated smile was a big reward for me. The incident gave me a purpose in life––60th birthday was but a catalyst that helped me crystallise my thoughts.

A precious smile

Post that incident, Chhaya and I decided to skip my birthday bash; and share some time cheering the underprivileged students of a school run by an NGO. Some origami, an odd magic trick, some eatables and a hamper of items of stationery, is what we have in mind.

That much on ‘stumbling upon a purpose on my 60th birthday’.

An epilogue of sorts…

A reward

We had a quiet dinner on my birthday––just the two of us. Chhaya presented me with an automatic car. “I hope now you’ll have no excuse to skip a game of golf due to your joint pain?” She had said slyly eluding to the excuses I make to skip golf. She believes that driving an automatic will help relieve my joint pain.

What more do I need at 60?