Beastly encounters, General ravings

Sustainable Municipal Monkey-Catching

[Written during a spell of occasional fever with headache…diagnosed as possibly Monkey Flu complicated by Acute Media-otic Hysteria]

Delhi is globally renowned for its brazen and aggressive motorists.  Delhi is also globally renowned for its brazen and aggressive monkeys.  Many visitors to the Capital see no distinction whatsoever between these two invasive species, whose populations are increasing in our beloved Capital by leaps and bounds (so to squeak).

And thereby hangs a tail.

Be that as it may, a recent newspaper report celebrates the fact that the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) has been catching an ever-increasing number of monkeys and rehabilitating them in the once-lovely wilderness of the Asola Sanctuary, located in the last remnants of the Aravalis between the goonda-and-politician–infested badlands of Delhi and Gurugram.  

We managed to obtain some interesting and highly improbable insights into how the MCD has achieved success in its monkey business, thanks to a brief but illuminating interview with Shri Bandarlal Poonchwallah, Senior Advisor to Commissioner, MC&RD (Monkey Capture & Rehabilitation Department), MCD.

Q:  Could you tell us a little more about the MCD’s Monkey Catching initiative?

Poonchwallah: As the name indicates, a Monkey Catcher catches monkeys. We currently have six Monkey Catchers on the MC&RD rolls. Besides a monthly retainer, our Monkey Catchers are each paid a small incentive on piece-rate basis— or more accurately, on monkey-rate basis.  The incentive ranges from Rs 1200 per monkey caught in East, North or West Delhi, to Rs 2400 for monkeys caught in South Delhi …

Q: But why do you pay Rs 2400 for South Delhi monkeys? That’s almost double the amount of incentive paid for monkeys from other parts of Delhi?

Poonchwallah: Arre bhai, you must understand that South Delhi monkeys are very much like South Delhi humans—they are much higher up in the socio-economic ladder than their cousins from other parts of Delhi. Also, like their human South Delhi colleagues, South Delhi monkeys are better-nourished, better educated, more cunning, and more well-connected with powerful members of local human communities including senior officials of Delhi Government and Union Government. So, they are much more difficult to locate and trap. For all these reasons they must be assigned a much higher monkey-rate value.

Q: Surely you can’t be serious?

Poonchwallah: (patiently) The MC&RD has well-documented evidence to support this thesis. Our Monkey Catchers often report that South Delhi monkeys look healthier and are better groomed than other monkeys; in fact, Lutyens Delhi monkeys often chatter among themselves with distinct British or American accents. Most of them scorn traditional Indian food! So, we have to procure costly international food items like thin-crust pizzas, sushi, and whatnot to entice these high-class South Delhi monkeys…whereas simple desi snacks like peanuts or samosas will do to trap, say, East Delhi monkeys. Here, I will show you… (Scrabbles among papers on desk)

Q: But…but…

Poonchwallah: (impatiently)… Wait, just yesterday I had a report from our senior-most Monkey Catcher on a young monkey he caught in South Delhi’s Nizamuddin area…ah, here it is. (Reads from note)  It seems that he—meaning this South Delhi monkey, not the Monkey Catcher who caught him—eats only organic food cooked in virgin cold-pressed olive oil, is fond of wearing Paco Rabanne perfume, and has become quite notorious for selecting and stealing only Ray Ban glasses and 5G cellphones from strollers in the nearby Sundar Nursery …

 Q: What! But…this is incredible!  

Poonchwallah: Yes! It is! I am glad you see it! (Bitterly) But no-one else seems to understand the value of the empirical knowledge and experience acquired by us in the course of our Monkey-Catching initiative. Despite MC&RD’s numerous proposals to the Delhi government and Union governments and to academic institutions like Delhi University, JNU and others,  nobody seems to be interested in funding this wonderful opportunity for conducting socio-anthropological research into how Delhi’s monkey populations are adapting in diverse ways to the rapidly changing metropolitan environment, the socio-cultural mores and fashion trends…(breaks off, sinks into moody silence)

Q: (shaken to core) Well, sir…to return to the topic …how much does this Monkey-Catching initiative cost us taxpayers?

 Poonchwallah: (reading from file) Let’s see…between April and July last year, that is 2021, MCD caught and rehabilitated 350 monkeys. So, at an average incentive of, say, Rs 1800 per monkey, we paid our Monkey Catchers about Rs 6.3 lakhs as incentive during these four months. (looks up proudly) But during the same four-month period this year, 2022, we have caught and rehabilitated over 600 monkeys…for which we have paid our Monkey Catchers Rs 10.8 lakhs in incentives.

Q: That’s impressive! And after you catch and rehabilitate the monkeys in the Asola Sanctuary,  how do you make sure the monkeys stay there?  Monkeys are great travellers…so how do you make sure they don’t return to the City? Do you monitor them in their new home? Do you periodically count their numbers in Asola? 

Poonchwallah: (with explosive snort):  Kya bakte ho!  Do you seriously think MCD employees can go and sit in the Asola Sanctuary and count monkeys? (Continues in calmer tone) Don’t misunderstand me—I agree that this Monitoring & Evaluation task in Asola is important. And I may add that 99% of all MCD staff, including myself, would jump at the chance of a permanent posting in Asola. But this wretched Aam Aadmi Party government in Delhi simply will not give MCD the required funds for this vital component of our Monkey-Catching initiative, despite repeated demands.   Arre, these @$*@]%$&! AAP-wallahs haven’t even given us the funds to pay our municipal sweepers their wages since September 2021… (relapses into sullen muttering)

Q: But…but this means there’s a strong likelihood that the monkeys being caught now by MCD were in fact caught earlier too? That the monkeys are travelling back from Asola to Delhi just as fast as the MCD is relocating them from Delhi to Asola?!  Isn’t it possible that the MCD is catching the same monkeys over and over again, counting them multiple times, and paying Monkey Catchers for this circular exercise?

Poonchwallah: (slight hunted look) Baah! Tchah! Tut! Only a complete nutcase would want to return to this wretched City after being given a chance to leave it! No, no, I think we can and must trust the monkeys to be sensible enough to stay where they have been rehabilitated, at the beautiful Asola Sanctuary.

Q: But…but…

Poonchwallah: (unfazed, continues to rave) …If at all some monkeys are detected coming back from Asola to Delhi, that must be because of ecological destruction in the Asola Sanctuary that is being actively encouraged by these same ##$**^&!saala %$ AAP-wallahs…  

 Q: But…but…

Poonchwallah: ((warms to the theme) In fact, that explains why, as reported by our Monkey Catchers, most of the monkeys we are trapping nowadays look thin and famished! You see? Not only are these unfortunate monkeys not able to forage for food in Asola because of deforestation and environmental degradation, but they are forced to trek back over 25 kilometers all the way to Delhi! It is a shame. It is a violation of their human rights!

Q: But…but…

Poonchwallah: [clearly gone completely ape] We shall demand that Delhi’s AAP government provide MCD with a fleet of 10 AC buses so that we can transport the monkeys safely to and from Asola. Electric buses – so that we minimize greenhouse gas emissions.  Meanwhile, my MC&RD team will leave no stone unturned in trapping and rehabilitating these poor monkeys on ongoing basis. In our budget estimates for the next financial year, that is 2023–24, we project to catch around 16,800 monkeys, in anticipation of which we propose to hire 10 additional Monkey Catchers and set aside a corpus of 3.5 crores as incentives for our Monkey Catchers…

[interview abruptly terminated at this point, when  alpha-male monkey wearing Chaprasi uniform leaped in through open window, snatched away Shri Poonchwallah’s mobile phone, saluted us with a grin and strolled out through office door to seat himself on stool outside.]

General ravings, Potshots

Thou Shalt Commit Adulteration!

How optimized food adulteration can make India a sustainable nation

Abstract

This paper presents an innovative approach to tackling the issue of food adulteration that causes so much stomach burn in India. It explains how, instead of griping about all the problems and dangers related to food adulteration, we can identify the hidden benefits of the adulterants being used, and find ways to recover, recycle, and reuse the adulterants to improve our individual and collective economic and gastronomic well-being. Thereby, we can increase overall resource efficiencies, contribute to India’s GDP,  and enable our country to become a ‘net-zero’ economy by 2070 as announced at the Glasgow Climate Change Conference (COP-26).

Introduction

Adulteration is manifest in virtually every sector of India’s economy. It is indeed one of the pillars of our glorious heritage and culture. Historical and archaeological records reveal that indigenous and ingenious adulteration technologies and practices have been developed and successfully applied since 7800 BCE by Indian farmers, industrialists, merchants, retailers, middle-men, crooks, and other important stakeholders, and are constantly and enthusiastically being innovated upon  to achieve maximum returns with minimum investments and efforts. As a result, today India has set global benchmarks for adulteration of materials, commodities and products in every sphere of human activity:  from eggs to edible oils, cement to steel, cereals to spices, milk and medicines to condiments and condoms.  

Alas, confusion still remains in policy-level circles on the exact meaning of adulteration.

In the course of researching this paper, the author invited a few Members of Parliament (MPs) from diverse political parties to share their views on adulteration. Here are their responses (names withheld in the interests of self-preservation and general social harmony):

MP 1: (brusque): “Why ask me about Adult Rating and such sensitive issues? (Irritably) How can I comment on what is adult content and what is not?  I am a busy man; I have no time to see films, let alone Adult-rated films. You go and ask this question to the Film Censor Board…”

MP 2: (relaxed, courteous): “I think adulteration should be tolerated; is not India a land of tolerance and secularism?  Yes, I know nowadays many men and women are adulterating freely and without care. But I say: It is all right! What is there? It is their personal choice, no? I always say, better to co-habit than to pick up bad habit!  (Hastily adds): But speaking on my own behalf I do not adulterate. I believe in the holiness and wholesomeness of marriage, so I commit adulteration only with my wife… (Looks reverentially at sky)  Do not all our great epicses and religious bookses say the same thing: ‘Thou shalt not commit adulteration?’

MP 3: (In great bitterness with much gnashing of teeth): Adult Ration is nothing but another big lie told by the communal BJP government to fool the people. You should ask your question to P.M  Modi-jee and his friends, who keep shouting and screaming like anything about giving ‘Free Ration For All’! Arre Modi-jee, where is your Adult Ration?  Who gets it? Do I get it? And why only give Adult Ration? Why not Children’s Ration?  (Waves fist) I demand that central government should also give Minority Rations and Backward Rations with retrospective and retrogressive effect…” (relapses into unprintable muttering)

Clearly, there is urgent need for a massive nationwide awareness program to deepen understanding among the people— in particular, among our political leaders—on adulteration and related matters. Efforts in this direction are beyond the scope of this paper (and indeed, beyond the imagination and capacities of the author). However, using as examples a few commonly adulterated food products (milk, fruit & vegetables), the next section illustrates how adulteration can support highly profitable and sustainable business ventures with minimal investments and innovative technological interventions. These adulteration-based business ventures can be taken up by young Indian entrepreneurs under schemes like StartUpIndia  and MakeInIndia.  Such businesses will help create new jobs without threatening the livelihoods of the millions of hard-working people who currently depend on adulteration and allied activities for their income.

Adulteration-based business opportunities  

Milk

Common adulterants:  gypsum; urea.

Gypsum

Gypsum is a useful mineral, made up mainly of calcium sulphate. The gypsum in adulterated milk can be easily separated out by allowing the milk to stand awhile. The gypsum settles as a cloudy white precipitate, and can be recovered by filtration and dried out into a fine powder.

(L) milk adulterated with gypsum; (R) gypsum separated as precipitate

This gypsum powder may then be converted along parallel production lines into various high-value products such as:

  • Plaster-of-Paris, which is extensively used by orthopaedists in making plaster casts for setting broken bones.  As explained in the next point, there is immense potential to create an ever-expanding market for Plaster-of-Paris in India and abroad.
  • Gypsum blocks, slabs, tiles etc. for use in making pavements, cycling tracks, floors, walls and other such applications in the construction industry.  Usually, for such end-uses the gypsum is refined to remove impurities like calcium carbonate which make the gypsum brittle and prone to breakage. However, in the present context  it is better to ensure that the gypsum products contain calibrated amounts of calcium carbonate and other impurities (if necessary, by adding them); because this will ensure that the brittle gypsum slabs and tiles will soon fracture and break, as will the bones of people walking on them. Thus, by paving the ground – so to speak – for an ever-increasing number of people to fracture and/or break their bones, we can create and sustain high-volume demands for Plaster-of-Paris from the orthopaedists to whom these afflicted people will rush for plaster casts.  
  • Gypsum (‘chalk’) crayons and pencils for diverse uses: on blackboards, by teachers in schools and colleges; by pavement and wall artists; by police to mark crime scenes and accident sites; and so on. Here, the gypsum powder extracted from adulterated milk can be blended with the waxes, spent mobile oils and furnace oils, and various dyes and pigments extracted from adulterated fruit & vegetables  (see below), and moulded into crayons and pencils of various sizes and colors.
Milking profits – gypsum crayons made from adulterated milk

Urea

Urea is a very important nitrogen-rich fertiliser. In India, urea is manufactured and sold at heavily subsidized prices to make it affordable for use by farmers—and of course, by milk adulterators, who by one estimate account for 44% of total annual urea consumption in India (Milavat Ali Khan and Saand Roy. 2011. “Milk adultery in India”.  Al Nakhli Press, Delhi).

Urea is also a very important raw material for other industries like adhesives, paints & coatings, plastic, textiles and so on.   Since Independence, these industries have prospered by buying urea meant for agriculture in huge quantities at the same highly subsidized prices.  Unfortunately, the current evil and communal BJP-led government has prevented these industries from buying cheap urea, by making it mandatory for urea manufacturers to coat their urea granules with acrid-smelling neem oil. While farmers are happy with this ‘neem-coated urea’ as neem acts as a powerful, non-toxic natural pesticide,  the industries and milk adulterators find it very difficult and expensive to separate the neem from the urea granules. Hence, they have to buy pure urea at much higher prices; sometimes they even have to import it. Due to high urea prices and crippling urea shortages, many of these industries and milk adulterating units—most of which are MSMEs—have suffered severe production losses, and some have even had to shut down for long periods, adding to unemployment distress.

This situation presents a huge business opportunity for young adulteration-based business entrepreneurs.

Urea, which is very soluble, can be recovered easily and economically from adulterated milk and purified for sale to industries. The purified urea can also be sold back directly to the milk adulterators.  It is envisaged that in due course the milk adulterators and industry end-users of urea could form mutually beneficial consortia with the urea-extraction businesses, supported by suitable risk financing under ESCO-type models.

Organic urea made from best quality adulterated milk

 In the long term—perhaps by 2070, to coincide with India’s becoming a ‘zero carbon economy’— the system can be streamlined with such high efficiency that the milk adulterators, urea-extraction businesses, and industries can achieve near-perfect circularity in resources management, eliminating the milk consumers entirely from the picture.  By then, it is hoped, organic and eco-friendly milk substitutes such as desi tharra (indigenous whiskey) and bhang sherbet will be available in adequate quantities and at affordable prices for all.  

Fruit & Vegetables

Common adulterants:  wax; spent engine oil and furnace oils; grease; shoe polish;  metanil yellow (pumpkin, capsicum); iron oxide (carrots, beetroot); malachite green (lady’s finger); oxytocin growth hormone (all vegetables and fruit); etc.

Waxes and oils

Many kinds of waxes and oils are used to polish eggplants (brinjal), tomatoes, gourds, apples, pomegranates, etc. and give them that special sheen so attractive to consumers and so toxic to consume. These waxes and oils represent high-value resources that can be recovered and reprocessed to bring significant profits and other benefits. 

The waxes and oils can be extracted by simply warming the fruit and/or vegetables inside a dry container placed within a large pan of hot water (about 70°C). The wax/oil will soon melt and drip off the skins of the fruit/vegetable and collect as a congealed mass at the base of the container, from where it can be removed from time to time. [Warning:  It is important NOT to use a direct flame for the wax/oil removing process; as applying direct high-temperature heat may end up frying the vegetables/fruit in their own waxes and oils, thereby reducing energy efficiency and also adding to India’s overall carbon emissions.]

The de-waxed and de-oiled fruit & vegetables may be sent for cooking, and the wax/oil pressed into small cakes and briquettes and sold as a high-calorific-value fuel to a range of end-users: from industries that can use it to fire furnaces and boilers, to street-vendors serving momos, chicken tikkas and dosas. Alternatively, the wax/oil briquettes can be sold back to the fruit & vegetable adulterators, thereby achieving circularity of resources.

High-energy fuel briquettes made from adulterated brinjal

It is worth underlining that the waxes and oils used in food adulteration not only contain high percentages of carbon, but are manufactured by highly energy intensive processes that consume huge amounts of fossil fuels such as coal, coke, and natural gas. Hence, the recovery of waxes and oils used as adulterants, and their recycling and reuse in such virtuous cycles, will contribute hugely to reducing India’s overall carbon emissions, and ultimately save the world from global warming.

Looking ahead

Based on the visible evidence in our food products, coupled with the invisible but often-painful evidence during our daily ablutions, it is clear that food adulteration poses grave dangers – and indeed cremation dangers– to the health of India’s body politic as well as Indian bodies corporeal.

 However, as shown by the examples above, food adulteration also present exciting new opportunities for future generations to leverage the beneficial end-uses of food adulterants with innovative business models, and thereby create sustainable livelihoods as well as help India achieve its climate change commitments and  become a circular economy. 

It is hoped that the Union and state governments will borrow lessons from the highly disclaimed and globally discredited Universal Adult Education program, and launch a Universal Rapid Education on Adulteration (UREA) program that will create widespread awareness on the vast potential benefits offered by food adulteration. The UREA program could work in synergy with entrepreneurship development initiatives such as MakeInIndia and ZED. This Holistic approach will, we hope, enable India to assume a leadership role in making Adulteration For All a global movement, and benefit the world as a Hole.

Acknowledgements: The author has been greatly inspired by the collective wisdom of the late philosopher George Carlin as well as urban-based environmentalists, sociologists, journalists, academicians, developmental economists, the United Nations Organization, Greta Thunberg, Arundhati Roy, Dr Amartya Sen, and affiliated charlatans, conmen and con-women who (like this author) constantly struggle to ensure that humankind remains steeped in depression and teetering on the brink of crises —existential, emotional,  environmental, ecological, sociological, biological, and/or scatological—so that we can all  make successful,  sustainable and  lifelong careers in ensuring that humankind neither falls over the brink nor steps back from the brink, either of which situations would greatly threaten the livelihoods of future generations who might wish to follow our noble career paths. 

General ravings, Potshots

My predictions for Lok Sabha 2024!

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.  

My Prediction

 The BJP-led NDA will be totally erased from the Lok Sabha in 2024!

Rationale

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.

Transformation and takeover of BJP in progress

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

Afterword

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.

General ravings, Musings

A lament for Civil Uniform Code

I wept when they told me he was dead.

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.

“What..me worry?”

 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 not to wear something to college, don’t ban it – instead make it compulsory to 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.

Jai Hind.


[1] Alfred image from https://www.usatoday.com/story/entertainment/2019/07/04/mad-magazine-quits-newstands-after-67-years/1650759001/

Beastly encounters, General ravings

Tick Talk

[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?”

We nodded.

“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’.

They’re looking in the wrong place!

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?