General ravings, Potshots

Scientific Rigor Mortis

“Never try to walk across a river just because published data informs you that it has an average depth of four feet.”

—Martin Friedman

I have just gone through this learned study titled “Three New Estimates of India’s All-Cause Excess Mortality during theCOVID-19 Pandemic” by USA-based Abhishek Anand, Justin Sandefur, and Arvind Subramanian. (It is a free download at Centre for Global Development: https://www.cgdev.org/publication/three-new-estimates-indias-all-cause-excess-mortality-during-covid-19-pandemic )

I extend my fervent thanks to the authors for this entertaining study. I do believe it is hilarious enough to make a coronavirus cackle in delight.

I say this in all seriousness and sobriety, and with all my authority as a science scholar of international disrepute from the prestigious North Eastern Hill University, who has plumbed unique and unparalleled depths of non-achievement in the most obscure and abstruse disciplines.

The Introduction to the study begins with a most earnest declaration: “We want to emphasize that we are not estimating Covid-caused deaths as CPHS has no information on cause of death. Rather, we focus on all-cause mortality, and estimate excess mortality from the onset of the pandemic relative to a pre-pandemic baseline, adjusting for seasonality.” [emphasis mine]

Alas, the study proceeds to do exactly what it declares it does not aim to do. It estimates Covid-caused deaths in India.

In fact, it concludes that while India’s official Covid death count as of end-June 2021 was 400,000, the actual death toll ( ‘excess deaths’) in India are between 3.4 million and 4.9 million.

To put it plainly, the study concludes that India is hiding dead bodies. Millions of dead bodies.

How does the study arrive at this conclusion?

Well…

For its first estimate, the study blithely extrapolates death data from just seven Indian states to the whole of India to estimate under-counted deaths or what it calls ‘excess deaths’.  In other words, the study decides that the averages of death data from Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh must be applied to the whole of India— comprising 28 states and 8 Union Territories—to figure the actual ‘excess deaths’ in India. And it arrives at the estimate of 3.4 million excess deaths.

For the second estimate, the study applies “international estimates of age-specific infection fatality rates (IFR)” to India.  To translate this gobbledygook into English:  the study assumes that because the infection fatality rate (IFR) is incredibly high in USA, EU countries and so on, then that incredibly high fatality rate must be the norm that India must obey too. And so, it blithely extrapolates IFR from USA, EU and other high-Covid-fatality nations to India to estimate around 4 million excess deaths.

For the third estimate, the study analyses data from the Consumer Pyramid Household Survey (CPHS). With admirable candour, the study admits that “There is reason for caution when relying on the CPHS for mortality estimates though. While CPHS has become a critical source of timely information on labour market and consumption trends, especially in the absence of timely and reliable official data, its representativeness has recently been questioned.” But that admission has not prevented the authors from relying on CPHS data to accuse India of hiding an  estimated 4.9 million excess deaths.

 In a nutshell – a very old and shriveled peanut shell – this study rests on the three very shaky pillars of incoherence, irrelevancy, and plain immaturity , reinforced with a strong foundation of meaninglessness.  

The kindest thing I can say about this study is that what it lacks in scientific rigor, it more than compensates with deep-set rigor mortis.

In passing: I wonder why the learned authors did not apply their IFR-based logic to the People’s Republic of China where the Covid-19 virus was actually born (or created), and whose Covid-related data is rather questionable to put it mildly? 

Especially when China, with a population of 1401,000,000 (give or take a few million Uighurs and Tibetans), officially reports a mere 4636 deaths out of a minuscule 92,364 cases – thus finding itself placed at 103rd  position in the Worldometer’s country list —below countries such as Montenegro at position 100 (pop. 628,150; total cases 100,755; deaths 1623) and Cyprus at position 102 (pop. 1,216,583; total cases 93,247; deaths 391)?

I place below a simple table, with an accompanying graphic, that I hope will inspire Abhishek Anand, Justin Sandefur, and Arvind Subramanian to take a long and very hard look at China’s Covid-19 data and assess the People’s Republic’s ‘excess deaths’ with the rigorous rigor mortis they’ve applied to India.  Please note that I have renamed the ‘serial number’ column as ‘Rank of Shame’ to mirror the spirit of this Olympics season and the spirit of Abhisekh et al.’s study: ((all data from Worldometer as on 22 July 2021, 1000 hours IST) :

Rank of ShameCountryTotal casesTotal deathsPopulation
1USA35,146,476625,808333,045,503
2India31,256,839419,0211,394,272,063
3Brazil19,474,489545,690214,149,270
..and many many countries later…   
100Montenegro100,8021624628,150
102Cyprus94,2613941,216,607
103China92,41446361,439,323,776
Spot the Odd Man Out?

In conclusion, I am grateful to the authors of this study for underlining two extraordinary and enduring Laws of Credibility that are adopted instinctively by vast swathes of Indian academia and Indian media.

Law 1. Scholars, especially Indian-born scholars, are far more capable of discerning ‘facts’ and analysing ‘data’ on India when they are sitting 11,000 kilometers away from India, than if they based themselves in India and did hard data gathering and field work in India.

Law 2. The credibility and worth of any academic research focused on India is directly proportional to the distance of the researchers from India; and the credibility and worth of the research increases exponentially if the researchers are located in a generally Westward direction from India.

Jai Hind. Hail Comrade Xi.

General ravings, Musings

Oxygen, Covid-19, Salt, Eggs, Churchill, and Ram Yagya

Ram Yagya called just when I’d finished yoga yesterday morning – May 4th that is. He told me he’d reached home, safe and sound.

I’ve known Ram Yagya for over 25 years. His home is near Ayodhya, 615 km from Delhi. He and his brother have some ancestral agricultural land there; but that’s barely enough to support their joint families. And so, he and his brother take turns in travelling to Delhi each year, between the sowing and harvest seasons, to supplement their household income by ironing clothes. They’ve been allotted their own workspace in our little residential colony; they’ve also taken a little room on long-term rent to stay in— in Trilokpuri, a couple of kilometers away.

Ram Yagya’s had a tough time since the first week of April this year, when he came back to Delhi to take over the reins and steam iron from his brother who returned to Ayodhya. With the complete lockdown ordered by Delhi government in mid-April following signs of a resurgent Covid-19, most people in the colony stopped giving him clothes to iron, reducing his income to a trickle. As during last year I’ve done my little bit to help him along these past few weeks: a bit of working capital, help with the rent, and so forth. But when he came to see me on the morning of May 1st, Ram Yagya was understandably anxious; the lockdown in Delhi had been extended again till May 10th,  and with this year’s virus attack being far more vicious than even last year’s, he was worried there might again be nationwide lockdown. The horrific memories of 2020 were still raw and vivid in his mind; he was scared of falling ill while alone in Delhi; he was worried for his wife, who suffers from a chronic respiratory ailment; he wanted to return and be with his family…

He wanted my advice.

I totally empathized with him. Delhi was no place for him at this awful time; it was best that he return home to his family. Ram Yagya had had one vaccine shot—but that, we knew, was no guarantee of immunity against the virus. We discussed options. An overnight journey by fast train seemed a much safer and quicker option for him than a series of uncertain, back-breaking mofussil bus journeys across the width of Uttar Pradesh, that too with day temperatures above 40°C. Besides, social distancing norms were being enforced quite strictly by the Indian Railways, at least on their long-distance trains.

The trains were running full—there were lakhs of people in the same predicament as him, desperate to get home to their families. Luckily, we managed to get a berth on the 3rd evening’s train to travel from Delhi to Ayodhya-Faizabad.

I’m glad Ram Yagya has reached home safe and sound.  

And I write this because during our chat on May 1st, he reminded me of something that I’d forgotten about: something that I believe has so much relevance, so many lessons for us even now.

We were discussing the indescribable anarchy that’s swamped Delhi, with Covid-19 cases spreading as fast as a poisonous rumour; the panic among people intensified by hysterical 24/7 reportage in mainstream and social media on lack of ambulances, lack of hospital beds, lack of oxygen, lack of medicines; the frenzied rush among people to  self-diagnose and self-medicate, to pay black-market prices and stock up on Remdesevir and other medicines that are being touted as ‘miracle cures’ by quacks and affiliated crooks; to chase and buy and hoard cylinders of medical oxygen and even industrial oxygen at astronomical prices from assorted scoundrels, irrespective of whether they need oxygen therapy at all  – even while hospitals are running out of medical oxygen and patients who really need the oxygen cannot get it.  A situation where hospitals are turning away patients seeking admission because they don’t have oxygen and/or medicines— further spurring the mad public frenzy to buy oxygen and medicines in the black-market in a vicious cycle that neither governments nor judiciary seem able to even comprehend, leave alone control.

Ram Yagya had chuckled grimly and murmured: “Phir woi namak ka kahani!”

Phir woi namak ka kahani.  “It’s that same Salt Story again.”

Ram Yagya had reminded me of something we’d experienced over twenty years earlier, in 1998. The Salt Story; the Great Salt Rush.

On a November day in 1998, a bizarre rumour suddenly surfaced and spread like wildfire across northern India that salt—yes, salt, namak— was disappearing from markets. In 1998 there were no mobile phones, leave alone social media; laptops were a luxury, dial-up connections were the norm, Mark Zuckerberg was still in school, and Google had just been created. But within hours of that first whisper, the rumour about an imminent salt shortage spread across the entire cow belt, and tens of thousands of good honest patriotic Delhi citizens were forming kilometer-long queues outside every kirana shop, every supermarket in the city, to buy salt. They were buying namak as though there were no tomorrow. And as stocks of salt disappeared from shop-shelves and shopkeepers turned people away, their panic and anger only grew and grew and the rumours only gained traction even as the government called the rumour baseless and appealed for restraint and sobriety; and  people started fighting over salt, buying salt at ten times, twenty times the usual rate…

We —my father and I—heard the rumour too mid-morning, from a kindly neighbor who expressed concern that we hadn’t gone out yet to stock up on salt. “I’ve sent my son early morning to buy twenty kilos to start with,” she informed us, and added kindly,  “If you can’t go, don’t worry…I’ll give you one or two packets.”

We thanked her much for her generosity, politely declined her offer, and assured her we had a kilo of salt which would last us at least till the following summer. Over the next hour dad and I stood at the window and watched in awe and disbelief as dozens of respectable residents streamed out the colony gates, market-bound—some on foot, others in scooters and cars—and others streamed in through the gates triumphantly bearing great treasures of salt. I’ll never forget the sight of one salt-laden rickshaw that nearly teetered over as it rounded the corner, the driver straining at the pedals, his passenger virtually invisible behind walls of salt packets stacked all around him.  

It’s quite possible there are hundreds – maybe thousands – of families across north India, still consuming the salt they hoarded in 1998.

Phir woi namak ka kahani.

So when Ram Yagya recalled the Great Salt Rush I chuckled grimly too, and recounted a story about how the British people had responded during the mahayudh (Second World War) when their prime minister Churchill went on radio (1942?) and appealed to citizens not to buy eggs as these were needed the most by British soldiers. Within hours of Churchill’s radio broadcast, British citizens had formed long lines outside every kirana in England, just like we Indians would have …but the difference was they’d lined up to return eggs that they’d bought earlier.

“Woh toh Angrezi hain, samajdhaari log hain,” Ram Yagya responded, shaking his head.”Hamare log kabhi nehin sudhrega,”

They were English; a people with wisdom, discernment. Our people will never improve.

I’m no cynic, I’m no pessimist. I recognize the wonderful, selfless, tireless efforts of countless Indians in Delhi and elsewhere who are doing all they can to help those in need at this terrible time.

I know the fear of not having salt or eggs is on an entirely different plane from the fear losing one’s life or a loved one’s life from Covid-19. Like you, I too have loved ones in hospitals, fighting to recover from Covid-19. I too have dear friends who have lost loved ones to the virus.

But I have to agree with Ram Yagya on this. Hamare log kabhi nehin sudhrega.

We are a nation, a people in denial.

Since last year’s Covid ‘slowdown’ we’ve all slackened from top to bottom. We paved the way for this so-called second wave; we invited it.

We’ve had millions gathering without a care (leave alone masks or social distancing) for religious (and secular!) rituals and festivities: Ganesh Puja, Onam, Id, Durga Puja, Christmas, New Year, Pongal, Holi, Easter, Baisakhi, Bihu, Vishu, Ramzan prayers.

Add the utter madness of allowing – nay, encouraging – millions from across the country to gather earlier this year in Haridwar for a week-long Kumbh Mela.

Add the insanity of holding and participating in lakh-strong political rallies from Bengal to Kerala, Assam to Tamil Nadu, addressed by the very netas – Right, Left, Communal, Communist – who preach to us ad nauseum on the importance of observing Covid-related precautions.

Add to that the mind-numbing idiocy of permitting, nay, egging on lakhs of mandi commission agents, assorted dalals and farmers to gather all around Delhi for over six months in a kind of great floating population from across the country, to ‘protest against farm laws’. [Even as I write this, ‘farmer-leaders’ in Punjab are calling for a boycott of lockdown and yet another march to Dilli].

Surely these countless millions of idiots aren’t sheep? Surely they knew what they were doing when they flaunted their ‘no mask and up close’ bravado, they knew how they were endangering not only themselves but all those around them and back home?

Yet, we don’t recognize ourselves among these people, we don’t admit their and our own collective stupidities. Because it’s always someone else’s fault: it has to be. Not mine, not People Like Us.

Anyway, it’s all Modi’s fault…no?

General ravings, Potshots

Blonde Covid: a Nightmare in 280 decibels

Bear with me, O gentle reader, while I tell you of an experience as horrific as this Covid-19 virus that plagues us all.

I do not speak lightly or frivolously. I fought and overcame this Wuhan bug last year— in home isolation, with no fever, no headache, but racked by a pneumonia with a cough so awful I injured my back. I would not wish that painful cough on anybody. Strong nutritious soups, the goodness of tulsi and mulethi brews, yoga, and above all the moral support of a few dear friends—these were the weapons with which I fended off the virulent attack. Now, even with equanimity restored and a Covishield vaccine done with one to come in a few days, I keep these weapons ever at hand.

Like you I fight a daily battle to combat and disperse these clouds of depression that descend on us from the great Mountains of Ignorance, that are borne on the strong and ceaseless Winds of Media-Reinforced Hysteria and Panic, and that constantly threaten to deluge our minds with doubt, dilute our self-confidence, enervate our bodies and destroy our equanimity. For this purpose I have strengthened my arsenal with a reinforced immunity to social and main-scream media messages; with music, gardening, writing, reflections on a life of blissful abandonment, and plenty of walking.

But yesterday, I nearly succumbed. Even amidst this resurgent wave of mass infections and lock-down, all my Covid-tested weapons proved futile against a new and deadly horror that assaulted the very core of my being at precisely 10:35 a.m.

I was at work when the cacophony began, without warning. My fingers froze on the keyboard in a hideous rictus; all thoughts of work, all ideas and rationality fled as my brain instantly assumed all the awesome cognitive power of a slightly deranged cricket. But only for an instant was I paralysed thus. Like a deranged cricket galvanized into action by the sudden approach of a lizard, I leaped to my feet, ignoring the coffee cup, reading glasses, mobile phone and three books that I swept off  the table and on to the floor, and rushed to the living room window.

Insane Sanitization

There, on the road below, was a yellow ‘sanitizer’ tanker-truck with a loudspeaker mounted on its bonnet. Two men had already leaped out of the truck and were unwinding a long, thin hose as the truck slowly reversed. The truck came to a halt…but the cacophony from its loudspeaker didn’t.  

The cacophony was a voice. And what a Voice it was! It had depth, it had passion, carrying power, it had three octaves.   Again and again the hideous metallic Voice screamed its inspirational message at 220­–280 decibels (dB) for the whole campus – nay, the whole of East Delhi to hear.

You can listen to it here: [Suggestion: please do listen to it at full volume…the effect and impact will be about .003% of what it was here.]

The Voice

The Voice’s message was precisely 20 seconds long, including the Voice’s throat-clearing noise. But it repeated itself non-stop, dear God in Heaven it never stopped.

I listened to the message nineteen times before what remained of my sanity fled along with my hearing. I flung the window open and yelled at the men for approximately six minutes continuously, not counting the more incendiary verbs and adjectives in Tamil, Assamese and Khasi with which I complimented Shri Bipin Bihari Singh-jee, Municipal Councillor from Patpadganj, whose generosity had brought this ‘sanitizer’ truck to us.

In rough U-rated translation, what I yelled was:

Stop that racket! Turn that &&$$#%** noise off! Are you &&%^$$# insane? You are doing good work, I thank you much for that.  I thank Shri Bipin Bihari Singh-jee much for that. Thank you, thank you Singh-jee for your generosity…may you live long to misrule us and misguide us. But we are already going nuts with isolation; some of us are already suffering from Covid; and now you are driving us closer to the gates of Yama with that infernal &*##!*& racket! What sin have we committed to deserve this punishment?  We might, God willing, survive Covid—but your noise will surely kill us.  Turn it off! Please please, shut that &&^^%%** voice up!”  .

About thirty-seven neighbours opened various windows and doors and peered out on hearing my demented yelling. All thirty-seven stared at me and then at the tanker-truck, looked at each other meaningfully across their respective apartment blocks, shook their heads resignedly and then shut their various windows and doors.  

Alas, such is my reputation and stature in the campus.

But I digress. I ran out of energy and words, and my lungs ran out of oxygen, just when the Voice screamed out its message for the thirty-eighth time and cleared its throat for the thirty-ninth time (I am being accurate when I say this: because I have a drum-player in my mind that starts counting repetitive things without being told to…and often doesn’t stop counting even when I tell it to stop.)

All this while, the two men with the hose had been gazing up at me with keen interest. The driver had leaped out of his cab at my first yell, and stood leaning against the truck, smoking a beedi. As I wheezed a final “Bandh karo awaaz!” and paused to gasp in a lungful of healing air, the two men with the hose turned away and proceeded to spray the walls of the opposite block up to a height of twenty feet with a foamy liquid; the faint whiff of chlorine identified it to be sodium hypochlorite solution.

They were spraying bleach!  On the outside of the building, up to the second floor!! They were spraying bleach…against a virus…against Covid-19!

Even through the din of the Voice, my foggy mind told me that sodium hypochlorite solution was utterly useless against viruses; that the only sure thing that damned hypochlorite would do was to eat away all the limestone in our building walls, leaving them perfectly corroded for rainwater to seep in during the monsoon.

Of course, it was possible that the hypochlorite might work on the coronavirus’ spike proteins like peroxide on hair, and give the lurking Covid-19 viruses a fashionable golden blonde hue …

And then again, the hypochlorite might help in driving away any ticks, fleas or lice that resided on the coronavirus’ spikes…

Angrily I shook off my mad reverie and drew a deep breath. “Abbe oye, kyon hypo…hypochlo…”  I began yelling again, but broke off as I was overcome by a spasm of coughing The driver removed the beedi from his mouth and politely conveyed to me, by a series of gestures accompanied by facial contortions, that I should close my window because (a) the hypochlorite fumes might make me cough more; (b) my coughs might possibly infect him or his men standing below with the Covid-19 virus.

I gasped a bit, stared at him awhile, and then shut the window.  The Voice continued to pursue me as I went to my bed and lay down. The shut window didn’t help block the Voice. In fact, in a weird way it amplified the bass notes, especially the throat-clearing bit, as the Voice roared its immortal incessant message on the kindness of Shri Bipin Bihari Singhjee, Municipal Corporation Councillor, in protecting us from the mahamaaree Covid-unnees, Jai Hind Jai Bharat.

Two pillows over the ears and a blanket over the face reduced the Voice’s power to a comparatively bearable 120 dB. I dropped off after some time, awakening from a fevered dream only when three mosquitoes assaulted me in concerted surgical strikes on my left wrist, right elbow and nose.

It was 11:55 a.m. The Voice was fading away; its ‘Jai Hind Jai Bharat’soon became a barely audible murmur that blended harmoniously with the distant cawing of noon crows.

The drum-player in my mind informed me helpfully that I had heard the Voice and its blasted message two hundred and forty-three times.

May the Creator of the Universe protect our young from this awful pandemic.

May the Great One bless us with the strength and equanimity to cope with the initiatives of well-wishers such as Shri Bipin Bihari Singhjee, Municipal Corporation Councillor, Patpadganj.

In case you’ve forgotten, here is the Voice and its inspiring message again:

That Infernal Eternal Voice

Jai Hind Jai Bharat.

General ravings, Potshots

Joyous Dog on the Street with a Thousand Lamp-Posts

O gentle and patient reader, do forgive my two-month-long maun vrat: I’ve been as busy as a Delhi dog on Janpath, the street with a thousand lamp-posts.

We’ll come back to lamp-posts soon.

This hasty scribble is inspired by a sensationally headlined article in today’s Economic Times: here it is.

Fervid Covid Reportage

The headline drew my attention because it suggests that Covid vaccines are dangerous (to put it mildly); and because on the 19th of March I had gone and got my first vaccination.

After reading this article and performing various clinical self-checks to ensure – with some lingering doubts, I admit – that I am still among the living, I applied some fairly straightforward Class 4-level mathematics to examine the veracity and sanity of the article’s argument, using Covid-related statistics available in public domain: for instance, here.

Here are my findings:

  • From the start of India’s vaccination campaign on January 16th up to March 16th 2021, a total of 34,811,861 vaccinations had been administered. As of March 16th, according to the ET article, a total of 89 people had died from ‘adverse events following immunization’ (AEFI).
  • From March 16th to March 29th, another 26,064,874 vaccinations had been administered. During this two-week period and as of March 29th, according to the ET article, another 91 people had died from AEFI.

It is terribly sad that 180 people should have died from AEFI after taking the Covid vaccination.

Yet, it is important to look at these mind-numbing numbers in perspective.

If 89 people died out of 34,811,861 vaccinations, that translates to one death from every 391000 vaccinations given. To put it another way: the chances of my dying from AEFI post-vaccination during the period Jan 16-March 16 were 0.0002%.

If 91 people died out of 26,064,874 vaccinations, that translates to one death from every 286,427 vaccinations given. The chances of my dying from AEFI post-vaccination during this period March 16-March 29 were 0.0003%.

By the Nine Sacred Whiskers of the Holy Bandicoot, what this means is that the chances of my dying from AEFI because I took my Covid vaccine on 19th March have increased from 0.0002% to 0.0003%. That’s a whopping big jump of 0.0001%.

An increased chance of my dying, of one in a million!!

What is Government of India doing in the matter?

Why have nationwide agitations not been launched on this issue?

A gentle chewing noise distracts me from the screen. It is the Resident Gecko, sprawled on the wall and nibbling contentedly on a small fly. “A pedestrian analysis,” it murmurs. “Why don’t you compare your mortality statistics with the number of pedestrian deaths on Delhi roads each year?” It swallows the fly and disappears behind the curtain.

I follow my colleague’s advice. It turns out that 678 pedestrians lost their lives on Delhi roads in 2019 – the latest data available.

Imagine that: 678 unfortunate pedestrian deaths in a population of 19,000,000. That’s…wait a minute…one pedestrian death among every 28,023 people living in Delhi.

Which means…the chances of my dying from being run over by an SUV, a road roller or even a camel are higher than 0.003%; that’s thirty-in-a-million chance of dying.

That’s nearly 10 times higher than the chances of my dying from AEFI.

So, I think I will go get my second vaccination as scheduled on April 29th. Of course, I’ll try hard not to get run over on the way to the vaccination centre.

As for the ET article, I can only apply Andrew Lang’s observation: “it uses statistics the way a drunkard uses lamp-posts: for support, not illumination.”

Be merry, be well.

General ravings, Potshots

Municipal Kosher

The Municipal Corporation of Delhi has provoked this beef.

A few days ago, the MCD ordered that all meat-vendors and all restaurants in the Capital must forthwith declare whether the meats they serve come from animals that have been slaughtered by halal or jhatka.

Why is the MCD so concerned about our diet?

Well, the MCD says that this rule is important because for religious reasons, Hindus and Sikhs are not supposed to eat halal meat but eat only jhatka meat; whereas for religious reasons Muslims are not supposed to eat jhatka meat but eat only halal meat.

The execrable sketch below—created from elements I’ve stolen from the usual (quoted) sources and embellished to suit the context—expresses my views on this subject of paramount municipal importance and notional nutritional significance.

[Thanks to: wwww.vecteezy.com (hen); drawingtutorials101.com (buffalo; depositphotos.com (pig); kindpng.com (goat)]

As diet—especially anything that is said or written about things like beef or pork or halal or jhatka or non-veg or veg—is also an area of paramount national sensitivity, and I don’t wish anyone to take offence at this cartoon and chase me through the streets with long sharp weapons with intent to deprive me of my sacred, albeit ageing, secular organs (whether by jhatka or halal or both), I hereby hastily and solemnly swear and declare as follows:

  • That I have eaten, eat and shall eat anything at all that is served with affection and love.
  • That I have enthusiastically and of my own free will been non-vegetarian since the age of four, when my dear lifelong friend and sister Ranjana (then five) fed me on regular basis with an assortment of beetles, bugs, ants, and miscellaneous fauna painstakingly gathered from our garden in Shillong (they were quite tasty, I recall…though I’m not sure whether they were halal’ed or jhatka’ed).
  • That I have cooked, do cook, and will cook food— vegetarian mainly but also non-vegetarian—for my own survival and for friends (who have so far survived my cooking)
  • That I make utmost efforts to be gentle, humane and cause minimal pain when I cut, chop, break, crack open, peel, or otherwise assassinate the raw materials – be they cabbages or coconuts, eggs or eggplants.  
  • That I count, among the greatest honours I’ve received in life, the privilege to hold the halal knife on the occasion of Bakr Id, when a lamb was sacrificed at the home of my dear lifelong friend and brother Nisar (the ceremony was profound; the lamb was delicious). 
  • That I still do believe and hold true the principle that my vegetarian parents taught me as a child—that what a person chooses to eat or not eat is entirely his or her personal business, just as what religion a person believes in or does not believe in is entirely his or her personal business.

In conclusion, may I offer the following haiku to the Officialdom of the MCD:

Free thy Municipal brains

From rank abattoir strayings…

‘Stead, clean the choked drains!

General ravings, Musings, Remembering

WTF should I WFE when I can WFH?

A ramble in 23 disconnected parts

One of the major impacts of the Coronavirus Era is that a whole lot of people are now working from home (WFH). 

I realize, with considerable delight, that WFH is what I’ve been doing since 1993.

That was when, after just about 13 years as a lowly and descending-ever-lower State Bank officer, I awoke one day to the realization that, judging by my precipitous career graph and the learned and corrosive opinions of several influential senior management functionaries, I was both unlikely and unfit to become even the part-time trainee-assistant to a certain peon who had been placed under suspension at the bank’s Thalayolaparambu branch for interesting-sounding offences such as  ‘moral turpitude’ (I was informed by usually unreliable sources that the peon later rose to be the chief vigilance manager of the bank).

It was an epiphany of sorts. I suddenly became aware that all that I’d ever wanted to do since the age of six was to work as  engine-driver or coal-shoveller in the Indian Railways—preferably on the wonderful WP/M Class 4-6-2 Canadian steam engines that hauled express and mail trains.

Or, as Plan B, I wanted to be a writer. 

And so, to resounding cries of joy from the senior bank management functionaries and other colleagues, I quit my memorably erratic and obscure career in the world of banking and finance in September 1992 to begin a new and even more erratic and obscure career as a writer—my dreams to join Indian Railways having, alas, been derailed because I had no engineering or coal-shovelling qualifications, and in any case by the early 1990s almost all the coal-fired steam engines had been phased out.

And so, O Patient and Worthy Reader, here I’ve been ever since then—WFH, scribbling and clacking away with pen and keyboard respectively, often disrespectfully, and sometimes retrospectively on almost every subject under the sun and a fair number of objects well beyond the sun too.

The Coronavirus Era is indeed terrible. Yet,  I’m happy that millions of others can at last discover the joys and benefits of WFH, even in these viroid paranoid times when people can’t sit together in persona to waste pleasant and unproductive hours in meetings, workshops, seminars and conferences, but are forced instead to sit in separatum (or alag alag, beleg beleg or taniya taniya) in their own respective abodes and waste even more pleasant and unproductive hours Zooming and MS Teaming and Webexing their angst at not being able to sit together  in persona to waste time. 

I just love WFH. I believe WFH is infinitely better than WFE (working from elsewhere).  

Join me in a few whoops of ‘WTF should I WFE when I can WFH’!   

Of course, I realize that WFH has been quite different for me than it is for most other people today, in two fundamental ways:

1.  I chose to WFH; a virus didn’t make that choice for me.  

2.  I’m doing something totally different while WFH (writing) from what I was doing before WFH (being a banker); whereas a lot of people WFH today are doing the same things that they were doing before WFH.

So, I’m fully aware there’s no comparing my WFH with your WFH. Still, I dare say there are a few wonderful joys of WFH that all we WFH-ers share.  Like:

  • Avoiding the drudgery and tedium of spending hours driving or otherwise commuting scores of kilometres to and from work—in uncomfortably close proximity with thousands of co-commuters of assorted aggressiveness, aromas, and angularities.
  • Doing the same amount of work – or often, much more work – from the comfort of home, where you can take breaks for tea and coffee  and snacks and a stroll and a quick goof-off or even nap as often and for as long as you like.
  • Learning new or long-forgotten skills – like listening to bird-calls, sharing comfortable silence with a friend, chuckling to oneself, reading, reflecting, simply being. 
  • Breathing deeply – even if only through a mask – for scientists claim to have found increasing traces in the air of the rare element oxygen (alas, that blissful state has long since been obscured in Delhi by vehicular and political smog). 

WFH gives me the chance to work flexible hours. I can better manage my time, and so create time in which to do more of what I like to do, as well as explore doing all kinds of new things I always wanted to do but couldn’t or didn’t because of lame reasons like “Got to get up early” or “I’m too tired” or “Where’s the time for that?”

And it’s funny, but even though I’ve been WFH for over two decades, I’ve got more work done since March 2020—during the Coronavirus Era— than I have during the same period in earlier years. 

By ‘work’ here, I mean writing stuff about clean, energy efficient technologies, which I do for a research institute that has – much to my pleasant surprise – retained me as a consultant for over 25 years.

Could my improved productivity be some weird synergistic effect of WFH and Covid-19?  

Many a night these past six months have I tossed and turned sleeplessly while exploring this idea; twice have I fallen right off the bed and into deep sleep. But still I have no answer.

Enough to say that besides posting a dozen blogs since March, I’ve also started to write about seventeen much longer pieces about far more serious things as well. Things like:

  • The rapid spread of Left Liberal ideologies among red ant colonies in the National Capital Region
  • Violent conflicts over power stealing and parking rights among members of Resident Welfare Associations and Cooperative Housing Societies in Delhi, and their striking parallels with violent conflicts among members of Lok Sabha, state assemblies, and media houses over power broking and barking rights
  • An interim report on my ongoing psycho-sociocultural study (tentative title: ‘Growing Influence of News-Reader Squirrels on Main-Scream Indian Media: is Democracy Safe?’ ), which focuses on the behavioural characteristics of squirrels that perch at great heights on trees and buildings and chirrup the day’s news loudly and aggressively with threatening tosses of their heads and tails—mannerisms that have been adopted with great success by leading TV news channel hosts such as Navika Kumar of Times Now and Arnab Goswami of Republic TV.
  • The urgent need for government to seize the opportunity provided by social distancing norms in offices and public places and public transport systems, and implement a National Awareness Mission for EBOLA-PS (Eradicating Body Odour and Like Aromas in Public Spaces)

I’ve also read more books these past eight months than I read during the five year period 2014–2019. These come to mind:

  • The Greatest Show on Earth—the evidence for evolution [Richard Dawkins]
  • Amusing ourselves to death—Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business [Neil Postman]
  • Bridge of Clay [Markus Zusak]
  • Biology of belief [Bruce Lipton]
  • Permanent record [Edward Snowden]
  • Last chance to see [Douglas Adams & Mark Carwardine]

Oh, I’ve also been reading—rather, re-reading with renewed enjoymenta few books that I’d first read in the 1970s and 1980s: like Opus [Isaac Asimov], A History of England [G M Trevelyan], Tribal folktales of Assam [S N Barkataki],  and The Deadly Element [Lennard Bickel].  Oh, and a P G Wodehouse anthology or two, too, in between.

And then, I’ve taken some guitar lessons. From Fender, the US guitar makers, who in April 2020 offered three months’ online lessons for free to people across the world, just to cheer us up during the pandemic!  So I registered at once, and hauled out and dusted off the old guitar, and logged in about 37 lessons.  I’m not sure how much I’ve learned, but I’ve certainly unlearned a whole lot of wrong ways of playing guitar that I’d taught myself 50 years or more ago. And then, while I was still practicing to transit smoothly from G to C, suddenly it was October, and I realized that my three months’ free lessons had long expired and I’d been taking lessons for nearly three months without paying one paisa or cent to Fender.  So I checked with Fender, and learned that they’d quietly and generously extended my free online lessons by four months.

 Just like that. 

That little thing that Fender did meant so much to me.  The memory still brings a warm glow. As do the  countless such little acts of generosity, insaaniyat, kindness and selflessness that millions and millions of people have done and are doing for others, for complete strangers around them and across the world, without fuss and without making a big noise about it and without expecting anything at all in return, least of all publicity.   It restores hope and courage, strengthens faith: that even amidst the roiling clouds of violence and war and hatred and selfishness and cold cynicism that seem to be engulfing the world and filling the minds and hearts of young ones with hopelessness and apathy and numb terror, the essential ‘goodness’ of people will surely endure, shine forth, evaporate the clouds as the warm light of dawn disperses night.  

More on that anon…

In conclusion, O patient Reader, here’s something else that I’ve tried during WFH in the Corona Era: writing a diary.

In junior school, in class 3 or 4, an enthusiastic teacher gifted each of us a diary and asked us to write down something in it daily – thoughts, poems, a paragraph, a line – and read aloud from it after a week or two. Each day’s effort was to be addressed to ‘Dear Diary’. Alas, driven insane by our inane and incoherent ramblings, our teacher soon abandoned the entire project and my diary became a rough book duly filled with doodles and scribbles. But Demented Desire for Dear Diary has blazed on in the heart for over five decades, like a young love remembered.

And so I found a battered old notebook and wrote ‘Diary’ on the cover, and scribbled my first diary post. Here it is, typed verbatim from the original scrawl:

Dear Dairy,

How are you? I am fine.

It’s now just after 23.00. I’ll keep it simple and try to summarize what I did today.

  • Woke at 05:45.  Popped in daily thyroxine goli, dozed off again.
  • Re-woke at 06:20 with rush of energy from thyroxine and smarting elbow from mosquito bite.
  • 06:25–06:50.  Brush-wash routine; brewed pot of tea with ginger shavings, quaffed large mug-full.
  • 07:00–08:00.  Yoga on terrace.
  • 08:00–08:30. Pottered around terrace and balcony, getting some ultraviolet; watered plants on balcony, gave sunbirds a shower, chittered mild colloquial Malayalee insults at squirrel which chittered chaste Gilayree insults back at me in a distinct Haryanvee accent.  
  • 08:30–09:15. Ate a few walnuts and a couple of raisins. Brewed coffee, drank a cup. Shaved. Showered.
  • 09:15–09:40. Made and ate breakfast—a toasted cheese-chilli sandwich, carbonized to nano-scale at the edges, with a fried tomato. Quaffed shot of coffee.  Cooked up lunch (tomato peppery rasam; chaalu sabzi from one small leftover brinjal, one carrot, one potato, segment of lauki; confirmed plenty of rice leftover).   Washed dishes.
  • 09:50–10:15. Settled down at desktop. Read headlines on People’s Daily, The Quint, Indian Express, Times of India. Posted comment on The Quint, knowing full well it might disappear without trace (it did). 
  • 10.15–13:15. Worked at desktop.  In between, took tea and biscuit break, and goofed off to:
  • read blog-post by colleague-writer
  • play one game of chess with computer-jee, which I won in 18 minutes, hitting ‘undo’ only once after making colossal blunder on move 14 (record now: 51% wins and 10% draws at Level 7…haw, preen preen). 

13:15–13:30. Stared at emails, phone messages, small wolf-spider on wall. Processed, replied to and archived/deleted all but the spider, which scuttled off in hot pursuit of energetic ant. (When reports last came in, ant was leading by several spider-stride lengths).

13.40–14.20. Lunch. Aimless one-kilometre stroll around terrace and balcony.

14.25–1715. Back to work at desktop and later at writing desk. 

17.15–18.00. Coffee. Guitar lessons, a bit of practice.

18.00–1840. Walked 4.8 km. The circuit, repeated nine times:  downstairs bedroom – drawing room – kitchen – back to drawing room – up the stairs – { [terrace –  upstairs bedroom – balcony] × 3 } –  down the stairs – drawing room – kitchen – back to drawing room – bedroom.

18.50–19.15. Relaxed on terrace; watched sunset with assorted fauna.  Ate apple.

19.30–20.45. Drummed on clay pots, doumbek, chairs and tables; played kartaals.  Listened to music.  Long chat with brother Bala. Roasted up some murmura with hing-kari patta- peanuts;  ate a kinnam-full.  Sipped mug of chai. Fixed dinner : four geographic chapattis (two shaped like Australia), masur dal.

20.45–21.15. Watched TV: Wion, CNN, Rajya Sabha, Republic TV.  Yelled encouragement at Arnab Goswami as he launched a spirited argument with himself and lost it.

21:15–21:40. Showered. Dined. Washed, dried and put away dishes.

21.45–23.00. Read about 12 pages of book. “Amusing ourselves to death”.  Now scribbling this.

23:00 – Now a little sleepy. Tomorrow I plan to wake early and fnm with rjo3pvm ssokwmd bfs

[Incomprehensible hereafter]  

This diary post is dated Saturday April 11th 2020.

It is my first diary post since 1965.  Alas, it’s also the last.

WFH is wonderful, but in some ways WFH is no different from WFE— a never-ending battle against procrastination.

Jai Hind, Happy WFH-ing, Happy Deepavali.

General ravings

Of a Chinese Egg Poacher & Big Brother

Bala is mad.  He has gifted me an Egg Poacher.

Don’t get me wrong.  Bala’s gifts have always been wonderful and welcome— if extremely original and unusual at times— during the 64 years we’ve voyaged together round the Sun on this planet-sized spaceship.  Bala’s my friend and brother, elder to me by two-and-a-half years.  From as far back as I can remember, Bala’s regarded me as a special uniquely challenged  child who needs kindness, patient mentoring, discreet supervision and occasional interventions.

Hence, his thoughtful gifts, aimed at improving the quality of my life.

I hope to provide more details on Bala and life in my forthcoming book ‘The Brothers Cannabinol’ (any resemblance in the title to a certain book by one Fyodor Dostoevsky is completely intentional), whose synopsis is even now fermenting in cerebral vats before it is distilled, refined and sent for summary rejection by leading international publishing houses.

“No!” I yelled, when Bala called to tell me of the Egg Poacher’s impending arrival via Jeff Bezos’ gargantuan river of merchandise. “I don’t want an Egg Poacher. I don’t need an Egg Poacher. I don’t even like poached eggs.  I prefer omelets or boiled eggs…”

“Exactly,” he interrupted cheerfully. “This Egg Poacher boils eggs too… and does much more besides. In fact, poultry farmers from Guangzhou to Guwahati report  that their hens are clucking in joy and laying twice as many eggs when shown Instagram photos of this fine device. You’ll love it!”

The Egg Poacher arrived two days ago. Clearly, it has been manufactured in the People’s Republic of China; for, extreme care has been taken not to provide trivial and useless information such as the manufacturers’ name and address, date and place of manufacture, and so on. However, it conforms to the Chinese Executive Standard GB-4706 and its ‘Operating Instruction’ leaflet contains a ‘Circuit Schematic’ – both of which are a complete mystery to me (photos below).

Staring at the box, it strikes me that the name ‘Egg Poacher’ translates to Anda Chor (egg thief) in Hindi if you interpret it in a certain way. ..and Anda Chor is such an appropriate name for a Chinese device, at a time when the People’s Liberation Army of People’s Republic of China is trying to poach great chunks of Indian territory from Ladakh to Arunachal Pradesh…  

Oh, don’t get me wrong.  I really like Chinese-made products, as I have since schooldays in Shillong in the late 1960s when we walked down to the sidewalk vendors in Police Bazaar and stared longingly at sleek-bodied, sharp-nibbed, exquisitely-smooth Chinese-made Wing Sung fountain pens which, at nine rupees each, were way beyond our lean resources. The only affordable option most of us had then was to buy the desi Sulekha pens, which were as fat-barrelled as Congressmen, leaked like the Defence Ministry,  and had broad and scratchy nibs that dropped off at the slightest excuse like a flasher’s dhoti or delegates at the UN General Assembly.  

But I digress. Behold: the Chinese Egg Poacher!


And now that I have studied the box and its contents thoroughly and conducted a trial run of the Egg Poacher, I must admit that Bala was right: I love it! Not only because it boils eggs most beautifully; but because its box and its leaflet of instructions have dispelled four months of coronavirus-induced gloom in less time than it takes to … well… boil an egg.  I’ll allow the photos to speak for themselves.  

Inspiring quote (perhaps it is Comrade Xi Jingpeng’s?). It is repeated 11 times on the box and in the instruction leaflet.
Have fan in the DIY…particularly the Egg Custard
Alexipharmic nipples?!
I’ll fill in my warranty card as soon as I know who cares about it
Steaming the eggs
Fan DIY breakfast

Afterthought: Maybe Alexa would know what alexipharmic nipples are? Will someone ask? The term seems to have faded from public mammary…er…memory…