Greetings, O loyal and cherished Reader; I bring glad tidings.
At last the glorious day has dawned—a day that you fervently hoped and prayed would never dawn.
Today is the day when I present to thee, and to the rest of long-suffering humanity, my prediction on the outcome of the Lok Sabha elections of 2024.
The broad theoretical elements of my research are presented in the form of two graphics, whose various components have been filched, misappropriated and/or lifted and morphed with all the usual care from an array of unaccredited online sources—to whom I am deeply grateful.
The BJP-led NDA will be totally erased from the Lok Sabha in 2024!
Defections from Congress and other Opposition parties to the BJP–led NDA will soon reach a Critical Mass; whereupon, the defectors and defecators will take over the NDA’s DNA through cellular-level dynamic transformations that are as effective, inexorable and deadly as the processes by which a virus takes command of a healthy cell.
1. How a migrating/invasive virus or bacteria takes over a healthy host cell
2. How migrating/invasive Congress-led members take over host BJP-led NDA cell
My detailed research report is currently under review by a joint peer group of scientists from two of India’s most infamous, calumniated and globally disavowed academic institutes: the Indian Institute of Fundamentalist Sciences (IIFS), Delhi, and the Institute of Lactile Sociodynamics (ILS), Kanpur. It might be worth recalling (or perhaps it might not) that IIFS discovered two fundamentalist particles— Secularon and Minoritron—that are as important to sociologists as the electron and the Higgs boson are to primatologists; while ILS discovered the Regresson – the Backward-spinning cerebral particle, which has helped in formulation of the famous Creamy Layer Postulate regarding OBC Reservation that forms the bedrock of India’s affirmative action policy.
Disclaimer: This report is based on my independent de jure research and largely theoretical interactions with senior members of the political parties mentioned as well as other unmentionables, and backed by my professional knowledge acquired as Adjunct Liber Scholar with Master’s Degree in Prevarication & Associated Obfuscation from the globally disreputable Rannoy Poy–Khadka Butt Institute of Unhinged Psephology, New Delhi. Any inaccuracies, baseless allegations, errors, misrepresentations or incomplete data that might have crept in through deliberate inclusion are entirely my irresponsibility.
I wept all the more bitterly, because I’d never known he’d lived.
With these words – whose source has vanished from memory and is untraceable even by her exalted Holiness Google Devi – I dedicate this mercifully short ramble to the eternal spirit of one of the greatest spiritual teachers humankind has ever been cursed with: Alfred E Neuman, mascot of the long-deceased and bitterly mourned MAD Magazine, USA.
It is with the angst in these words, O Most Noble Reader, that I lament… because I’d never known how important the Uniform was, or is, to college students.
I lament as I behold the Great Non-Issue Over Uniform that started in Karnataka a couple of weeks ago and is now exciting and inflaming passions among people across India—young and old, infants and geriatrics, irrespective of our castes, classes, religions, races, sexes and all the other important and puerile characteristics that make us all human, inhuman, sub-human and uniquely Indian.
I weep in empathy with today’s youngsters, who are devoting so much of their time and creative energies in agitating for what they hold as their ‘religious freedoms’ to wear Hijabs and Scarves and Burqas and Shawls of assorted hues to their colleges and railing against the directives of their educational institutions and the Karnataka government that disallow them to do so.
But I also weep in remembered joy, at the realization that I and others of my age had experienced and practised much more genuine liberalism, enjoyed much more genuine freedom—of thought, of belief, of choice, of action— in our seemingly backward colleges in our seemingly primitive times, 50 years ago, than the agitated and agitating youngsters who inhabit today’s so-called Modern Mainstream India.
I studied in Shillong, Meghalaya from the early 1960s to the mid-1970s.
First, at a missionary-run boys’ school where we were taught, pretty early on, what the Uniform meant.
It meant just that: Uniformity.
Wearing the Uniform meant shedding all our conceits, all the egoistic notions we had about ourselves— our homes, our privileges, our outside lives and identities. We left all this baggage in a heap outside the school gate. In school, wearing the Uniform, we students were all the same and we were all treated the same.
We were learners, expected to learn what we’d come to learn. We were all expected to obey the school rules.
And no rule was stricter than the rule about wearing the proper Uniform…which meant complying with the strict norms regarding design, quality, pattern, and hue prescribed for everything from shoes to sweater, socks to shirt, trousers to tie to blazer.
Corporal punishment, progressing in intensity from a resounding slap to a severe caning, was the standard punishment for breaking the rules including the Uniform rule. The canes were chosen with care by the Executioner from an array of options, ranging from stout local bamboo to the incredibly flexible, excruciatingly painful Malacca cane that occupied a special place of honour in the Principal’s Office (and whose ministrations I am glad to say I escaped). The caning was administered, if you were lucky, on the palms of your hand…or else on the seat of your trousers as you helpfully if unwillingly bent over a chair.
But here’s the interesting thing: back in our time, in that school run by the strictest and most wonderful Irish Catholic missionaries, you could wear anything you felt like wearing that announced your religion or identity (or lack thereof) so long as it didn’t obscure the Uniform…and so long as you were prepared and capable of tackling the not-so-loving attentions and ragging of your colleagues.
So, in school you would see the occasional kufi caps, vibhuti marks, kadas, threads round wrists, crosses round necks, turbans, and so on…all these were just fine. The Authorities really didn’t give a damn about what religion or social stratum or whatever any of us belonged to. And because of that, all of us too very early on learned not to give a fig about what religion or social stratum or whatever any one belonged to. We studied, we played, we ate and drank, argued, raged, fought, got caned, mourned and celebrated together and as equals. Because we were taught so, we discovered and knew we were at our core all the same.
Well…that was school.
In the missionary-run college too, the Authorities were very strict about certain things: like punctuality, attendance records, class discipline, performance in the quarterly tests, and suchlike.
But we had NO UNIFORM CODE in college. Nothing was disallowed in attire; nothing was compulsory in attire.
For the simple reason that, all of us having crossed the age of 16, the Authorities treated us as reasonably sane adults, and therefore expected us to behave as reasonably sane adults in all matters including attire.
And I do believe we students kept our side of the bargain. We wore what we liked to college; I personally chose the habit of an advanced derelict (and behaved as one), which has since then become my lifestyle.
And to the best of my recollection none of us ever roamed around naked on the campus – at least not during class hours and/or when sober.
Coming back to today’s lunacy playing out over Uniform…
I am all in favour of a Strict Uniform Code in schools. Because the Uniform is an important part of creating a ‘level playing field’ in school, as it is in the military services. It helps kids shed egos and pre-conceived notions about themselves and about others, it helps them make friends and engenders team spirit, it gives them courage and wisdom to fight and win their individual and often lonely battles against prejudices and discrimination outside the campus, throughout life.
But I believe it is utter madness, sheer stupidity, for the Authorities in Karnataka or anywhere else to dictate what teenaged college students (young men and women!) should wear or not wear to campus.
For the simple reason that youngsters aged 16 years or more are maturing or fully matured; they will be opinionated and contrarian, they will be cussed, they will revel in their new-found freedom and test the boundaries of the law and the rules, they will routinely do precisely the opposite of what the Authorities in their misbegotten wisdom tell them to do.
It is Nature’s way for young adults to be like this.
To the Authorities and to the youngsters I respectfully offer a namaskaaram and a couple of suggestions that I believe will satisfy all.
To the youngsters I murmur: wear your hijabs and scarves and whatever else you like if you insist on exercising your freedom to wear your religious or secular identities on your sleeves —and on your heads and necks and shoulders and anywhere else you choose.
Only… make sure you retain the freedom to take these things off when you choose to.
To the Authorities, I say: Let these young adults be. Let them wear what they like.
But if you want them notto wear something to college, don’t ban it – instead make it compulsoryto wear.
And if you want them to wear something to college, don’t make it compulsory – instead ban it.
Maybe, maybe then, the Authorities can get back to doing what they ought to be doing: improving curricula and faculty and infrastructure.
Maybe, maybe then, the youngsters can get back to doing what youngsters naturally love to do: running wild, breaking bounds, perhaps learning something in the interim, and driving each other and us crazy while taking charge of the future…which is their birthright.
[O most valued Reader, of late I’ve been feeling that everything’s going to the dogs… the world, the environment, politics, society, and of course my writing. An appropriate time, then, to present this short essay – published in May-June 1995 by my dear friend Uma in her magazine ‘Small Change’]
We’ve at last come to realize that humankind is not the sole intelligence in the universe.
Consider the tick.
Now, anybody who owns a dog or who’s ever had anything to do with dogs will certify the truth of the following statements:
1. Ticks love dogs.
2. Ticks feed on dogs.
3. When full, ticks drop off dogs and crawl up walls.
A tick not only crawls up the wall; with grim determination etched upon its face, it continues to crawl (upside-down) across the ceiling till it reaches some predetermined spot. And there, it settles down and waits.
The question that arises naturally is: waits for WHAT?
We asked the vet. He looked surprised and immediately replied: “For a dog, of course!”
We were nonplussed. We sought urgent clarification. Surely, we stressed, ticks might not have our levels of intelligence, but even they would know that dogs preferred to walk on the floors and were in fact rarely found scaling the walls of a room, forget the ceiling?
The vet chuckled and said we’d missed the point.
“It’s like this,” he said. “The tick, having fed on a dog, falls off the dog and on to the floor, right?”
“Now, then, the tick naturally needs to rest awhile and digest its food. But at the same time, it must be in a position where it can find a dog at short notice…so it doesn’t die of starvation, right?”
We nodded again.
“Now, if the tick remains resting on the floor where it’s fallen, two serious problems arise. One: even if a dog passes it by frequently, it’s not going to be easy for the tick to get back on board the dog; after all, the dog will be moving pretty fast compared to the tick, and so there’s not much chance for the tick to hop on to a passing paw or tail. Two: while the tick remains lying there, there’s every chance that it will be stepped on by a careless boot, or swept away or swabbed or vacuumed into oblivion.” He paused for breath.
“You mean…the tick knows all this?”
“Of course it does! Believe me, that little tick is mighty sharp. And so, what the tick instead does is, it heads for the nearest wall as fast as it can. Then, it crawls up the wall all the way up to the ceiling, and it crawls across the ceiling till it reaches a spot from where it has an uninterrupted view of the floor below. And there it waits…for a passing dog. Sooner or later, a dog will walk beneath it; whereupon, the tick judges the dog’s velocity, matches it against the estimated distance to the floor, swiftly launches itself…and lo! There the tick is, safely back upon the unsuspecting dog’s back for another enjoyable season of feeding…”
We were awestruck. “So….that explains why we sometimes find a tick or two crawling about on our arms when we visit people who own dogs,” we muttered. “The ticks must have fallen off the ceiling on to us; they must have miscalculated their launch angles and velocities, maybe leapt too soon or late…”
“You’ve got it all wrong!” the vet spluttered. “If and when a tick lands on you, it does so deliberately. You see, the tick knows you like dogs…or at least it knows that you know the owner of the resident dog. And so, the tick knows that sooner or later you’re going to meet the dog, or the dog’s owner. And what better launching pad could the tick have to board its dog from, than your shoulder, or arm, or neck, or hair…”
At which point we fled.
Yesterday we read a news item headlined: ‘Search for Intelligent Life Continues in Outer Space’.
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?
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 Shame
..and many many countries later…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’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:
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.
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 34,811,861vaccinations had been administered. As of March 16th, according to the ET article, a total of89people had diedfrom ‘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.”