General ravings, Musings, Potshots

People’s Daily goes Viral

I’m very fickle in my loyalty to media – as  I explained ad nauseum (puke puke) in one or more earlier posts. The simple reason is that I don’t trust any media house—Indian or international—to present me with the simple unbiased truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. I believe that all media sources have hidden agendas…and hidden jhandas that together bear all hues of the political spectrum.

The more fiercely any media channel or website proclaims its own integrity, the more clearly I recall the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson:

The louder he talked of his honour, the faster we counted our spoons

Yet I must know what’s REALLY going on in the country, in the world. As I’m sure you do, too.

I still trust my own common sense and ability enough to separate Truth from the Great Ocean of Media Ghoda Gobar  in which we all wallow. And so, rather than find and revel in stagnant, parochial tide pools filled with the kind of Ghoda Gobar that I would LIKE to believe is the Truth, I just commend my soul to the One and dive into the great and noisome Ocean itself, with two parallel strategies that have kept me afloat for…well…at least 15 days at a time:

  • I feed randomly on about 5–6 sources of ‘news’ each day, trying to cover the entire Left–Right political spectrum, Indian and international.
  • I switch loyalties as often and as unpredictably as I can.

Example: From February to April, my primary news feeds were Indian Express, The Wire, Republic TV, Rajya Sabha TV, CNN, Wion, and NewsLaundry.

Since May 5th or so, I’ve abandoned all but Indian Express and Rajya Sabha TV. Now I also chew awhile on DD Northeast Channel, Times Now, The Quint, Fox News, and People’s Daily (from People’s Republic of China).

It’s fun. Often, it’s hilarious. You have to try it to discover how highly renowned, greatly  adulated journalists, reporters and affiliated experts and academia the world over are manufacturing incredibly different, equally compelling narratives out of the same ‘Truths’ and ‘Facts’ and ‘Realities’ that each of them claims ’exclusively’ to have unearthed, and presents most convincingly for our education and enlightenment.

I’m getting particularly attached to the People’s Daily. True, the mountains of praise it showers on the glorious leadership and vision of President  Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party would make even the most well-seasoned Family-toadies of Indian National Congress gnash their rodentine teeth in envy. Yet, there’s something refreshing in its simple language, its directness, its unabashed upholding of Chinese interests…and particularly,  its corrosive articles on the USA and its leader President Trump in these Covid19-ravaged times..

Here are a few recent extracts from this wonderful e-paper:

Fourth question to American politicians: Why not fix your sick and twisted mind first?

[May 11]

…While rational voices in the international community have acknowledged China’s efforts and contributions to the fight against the epidemic, the U.S. has continued to defame and slander China, revealing its sick and twisted mind…

Despite having no professional background or practical experience, some U.S. officials have brazenly made irresponsible and ridiculous remarks amid the outbreak, such as recommending the injection of disinfectants into the human body to fight the coronavirus…

China leads vaccine R&D, no need to steal

[May 12: ‘Global Times’]

China’s Foreign Ministry and experts have slammed rumors hyped by the US side that Chinese hackers and spies are trying to steal their research materials for COVID-19 vaccine and drug development…

US could only harm existing cooperation mechanisms by making such ridiculous accusations against China, Lü Xiang, a research fellow on US studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing, told the Global Times on Monday. China is fully able to research and develop COVID-19 vaccines independently. If the US claims China is stealing its data, then the US needs to prove that it has achieved more progress than China, said Lü, otherwise, why would China be interested in it?

Lü said the epidemic situation in China has been generally brought under control, and daily life and economic activities are returning to normal. Meanwhile, the US has more than 1.3 million infections and the number continues to increase.

We are not the ones who desperately need the vaccine, they are,” Lü said.

 Fallacious U.S. targeting of China over COVID-19 groundless: experts

[May 18]

…From a legal perspective, the pandemic is a global public health issue, and there is no such a thing as “state responsibility” of the first country to report cases, experts said, adding that AIDS was first reported in the United States in the 1980s and has spread across the world since then, but the global community has never asked the United States to be held accountable…

 

Peoples Daily Mirth

 

The People’s Daily provides mirth, and much-needed balance to both CNN and Fox News, even as Covid19 does its Tandava across the world.

I’m a die-hard fan…at least for now. As with Covid19, a fortnight’s usually the maximum time before fatigue and other warning symptoms of infection appear…

General ravings, Musings

Jhadoo-Pocha reflections

Jhadoo-Pocha Reflections

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.

[Omar Khayyam]

I’ve always enjoyed doing jhadoo-pocha ; for the same reason I enjoy washing dishes, and scrubbing the bathrooms, and watering plants, and chopping vegetables and cooking and so on.

Jhadoo pocha helps me relax; reflect on things. Today, it helped me remember Omar’s lines.

Sure, jhadoo-pocha can be tough; especially when doing the two flights of stairs, 15 steps each (I live in a duplex). But even as the cervical and lumbar vertebrae perform painful calisthenics in counter-rhythm with the swishing jhadoo, even as the knees buckle and thigh muscles catch fire with every swipe of the pocha-cloth, I remind myself that during ‘normal’ (pre-lockdown) times, my help the incredible Meera does this task cheerfully and uncomplainingly seven days a week. Not just that: Meera dusts the entire flat, and sweeps and washes the terrace too thrice a week, and then she goes and does daily jhadoo- pocha and dusting in a friend’s flat as well, before returning to her own home where she, with her eldest daughter’s help, does jhadoo-pocha and dusting and also cooks and washes dishes and clothes and goes out shopping for supplies and generally does all that it takes to take care of a family of five including two school-going children.

Jhadoo-pocha teaches me humility. Like Covid-19 does.

It reminds me to count my blessings. It reminds me to look on the brighter side of things, and I do believe there’s always a brighter side to things. Even to this Covid-19 pandemic that’s keeping half the world indoors, 24/7, for a month and more.

Like: Covid-19 has at one stroke (or two coughs if you like) solved the climate change crisis. It has achieved what hasn’t been achieved by thirty years of global bickering and conferencing on how to combat climate change by cutting down on CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels like petrol, diesel, furnace oil and gas. Thanks to Covid-19, almost all transport and industry throughout the world has come to a standstill for a month or more. So, across the world, we’re burning much less fossil fuels than usual (as the IEA graphic shows).

IEA impact of Covid19

And so, even while contemplating the possible extinction of a sizeable proportion of humanity because of Covid-19, I offer a respectful namaskaaram to the little virus for saving all Life on Earth from the devastation that might have been caused by human-induced climate change.

Of course, solving the climate change crisis will bring its own consequences. Like possible job losses to all those whose careers depend on the climate change crisis continuing to remain a crisis because of human stupidity and arrogance, so that they can research and reason and advise and argue and advocate and ideate and implement innovative ideas to avert the energy and climate change and resources crises on an ongoing basis.

People like me!

horror

I write part-time for a research institute that’s working on things like technologies to improve energy efficiency in industry, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and conserve natural resources. This writing earns me enough so that I can spend time writing what I really like most to write—crap like this—which earns me nothing at all.

So what does the future hold for me, and others like me, if climate change is suddenly no longer a big issue?

What will wildlife conservationists do if threatened species suddenly emerge from where they’ve been hiding fearfully all these decades, and frolic and cavort and thrive as they’ve started to do, thanks to Covid-19 locking up humans indoors and thereby cleansing the air and the land and forests and lakes and rivers and seas of noise and foul emissions and toxic effluents?

What will economists do if there are no discernible economies left to misdirect? What will teachers do if all kids learn what they want to learn online? How will advertisers and marketers avert starvation when no-one’s buying anything anymore because no-one’s making anything anymore and no-one’s got the money anyway?

What will become of the politicians, the religious kooks, the war-mongers, the committed journalists, and all the countless others who survive and prosper by turning human against fellow human by sowing seeds of deceit and suspicion and envy and hatred, watch the ensuing chaos, carnage and mayhem… and then, when the bloodlust is temporarily sated and the mobs vanish into guilt-ridden silence and the raging fires settle, move out cautiously to peck over the remains like buzzards over battlefield carrion, seeking glowing embers of anger and grief that they can use as seed for future anarchy? How will all these men and women survive when the common people realize – as they already are – that we are all united and equally frail, equally vulnerable before Covid-19 the Great Leveller?

Thoughts like these fill me with foreboding…and also a mad exultation.

For 5000 years, we humans in our vanity have believed that the Great Universal Creator (peace be upon the many piece-meal names we have given It) created humans to rule Earth.

Well…Covid-19 reminds us we’ve been a tad arrogant. Viruses don’t have grandiose pretensions like we do. From a virus’ point of view, the Great Universal Creator created humans only to enable the virus to make more little viruses.

That’s all that the virus wants to do. Procreate.

From our myopic viewpoint, the virus’ way of procreating may not seem anywhere close to as much fun as our way of procreating can be for us. But then, who are WE to judge? For all we know, those little viruses are in realms of absolute ecstasy as they take control of our cells and multiply.

And what of the future?

As far as we can tell, viruses don’t think too much about the future. Indeed, the only goal of a virus seems to be to simply BE.

Curiously, learning to simply BE is also the ultimate goal of spiritual seekers among humankind.

Perhaps there’s a lesson hiding in there…

Musings

Coronas – Stellar and Earthly

This was meant to be about the significance of corona viruses in our scheme of things and the insignificance of us in the Universe’s scheme of things.

Well, maybe the next time…

Right now I’m still a little high from viewing the skies at sunset three evenings in a row from my terrace. Here are a few photos: all I can think of now are the words of Georges Lemaitre (1894–1966): Catholic priest, mathematician, physicist, the cosmologist who first proposed the theory of an expanding Universe which has come to be called ‘Big Bang’ …

The evolution of the world can be compared to a display of fireworks that has just ended: some few red wisps, ashes and smoke. Standing on a wellchilled cinder, we see the slow fading of the suns, and we try to recall the vanished brilliance of the origin of worlds…

1a23a546

General ravings, Musings, Potshots

Corona Virus, Evolution and Revolution

However much we dread the Corona Virus, we cannot mask ourselves against the truth that the virus reflects the spirit of true Indian Secularism in the way it infects all people irrespective of their race, religious belief, caste or class.

Covid-19 might not be good for one’s constitution, but in its own humble way it respects the Indian Constitution. It shows us that we are all truly One.

Which, for no apparent reason, brings us to the question: how can one teach Evolution to Indian schoolchildren?

Now, you might think the answer’s simple. You might answer as follows:

“Just write up – or better still and in true Indian tradition, plagiarize—a simple summary of Darwin’s ‘On the Origin of Species’; enrich Darwin’s ideas with Gregor Mendel’s insights into inheritance of characteristics; lead on to Erwin Schrodinger’s insights into the molecules that must make up life, and explain how his ideas and the work of Oswald Avery, Linus Pauling and others inspired the discovery of DNA’s structure by Rosalind Franklin, Francis Crick and James Watson…sparking off a vast amount of research and expansion in our knowledge of how all life on Earth is linked, so that we know today that all humans are descended from the same ancestral mother who lived somewhere in the African continent.”

Of course your answer is correct, O learned reader. Alas, translating your answer into action is not simple, because nothing’s simple in India. It’s especially hard to introduce the flavours of Truth and Rationality, seasoned with Scientific Temper and Honesty and laced with a few dashes of Fun and Adventure, into the horrifying tasteless khichdi that masquerades as our Education Policy.

Consider, gentle reader, two of the simple statements just made up there somewhere:

  1. All life on Earth is linked.
  2. All humans are descended from the same ancestral mother who lived somewhere in the African continent.

Now, imagine that we propose to set out these statements as the Learning Outcomes of the chapter on ‘Evolution’ in the NCERT textbook for, say, Class 10. Assuming further that we are not lynched on the spot by an all-party delegation of MPs and MLAs, these are the kinds of responses we might expect from two of our political parties, the BJP and the CPI(M):

BJP: It is quite correct to state that all life on Earth is linked. But our textbooks must also emphasize that these so-called discoveries of Evolution by these Darwins and Sharwins, Watsons and Whatnots, were actually made 11000 years ago by our Vedic ancestors who summarized their insights into the concept of ‘vasudaiva kutumbakam’ – One Great Family. We must also mention that Indians ruled the entire Earth in ancient times, for which evidence is everywhere to see, in our ancient epics as well as in today’s world. For example, Argentina derives its name from Arjun-Sthaan, clearly evidencing that Arjuna, the great warrior of Mahabharata, had visited this South American region in his search for divine weapons…

CPI(M): In very simple words, we see this attempt to introduce Evolution into our school curriculum as nothing but another manifestation of Brahmanical Hegemony masquerading as pseudo-rationalism to preserve and strengthen the existing class-hierarchical model of social exploitation ; a diabolic and communal attempt by bigoted Hindutva-worshipping self-styled scholars to saffronize our school curriculum and brainwash young and innocent minds into believing the despicable lie that all Indians are equal—thereby denying the hundreds of millions of underprivileged Backward Castes, Minorities, Dalits, Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, women and other oppressed communities their just rights for reservation of jobs, educational quotas, subsidies and other forms of affirmative action under the various reservation policies. We will oppose this Hindutva proposal tooth and nail; we shall leave no stone unturned or Molotov cocktail unflung in our peaceful street marches calling for Revolution against Evolution…

General ravings, Musings, Remembering

Drumming away the Blues

Right from childhood days in Shillong I’ve loved music. Around 1967/68, when I was around 11 and also a round 11 (I was fat and short), I taught myself how to play the drums.  A battered old leather suitcase made a nice snare drum; a brass table top with a couple of nails on it made for an excellent cymbal;  and for sticks I ‘borrowed’  a couple of Mom’s knitting needles (sizes 7 to 9 worked best, as they allowed a good rebound for rolls).   My musical heroes in those early days were Brian Bennett (The Shadows), Mel Taylor (The Ventures),  Ringo Starr (The Beatles), and Ginger Baker (Cream).   In 1969 I bought a pair of teak drumsticks for the princely sum of Rs 1.50.  I still have them; every scar on them brings fond and noisy memories. They worked well on my suitcase too, though I kept borrowing Mom’s knitting needles…

But the story of my musical eccentricities must wait for another time.  Why I mention music now is, music has always been my refuge, it’s brought me solace and comfort and delight. And playing the drums elevates my spirits even in the darkest of moments.

Which is why, last week, after a gap of over five years, I picked up my drumsticks and went to a jam room in South Extension where there’s a nice drum set, and I practiced playing the drums for an hour.

There were no listeners to tell me how hideous it sounded, because I was all alone and the jam room was (mercifully) sound-proofed.  I was rusty, stiff in bone and muscle and brain, I panted and gasped at the exertion, I missed a beat every nine beats on average.

But I loved it!

I emerged from the jam-room, exhausted but healed of angst, the words of Omar Khayyam  blending weirdly yet sublimely with the words of Adi Sankaracharya in my haze-filled mind:

Alike for those who for TODAY prepare,

And those that after a TOMORROW stare,

A Muezzin from the Tower of Darkness cries

Fools! Your Reward is neither Here nor There!

Bhaja Govindam, Bhaja Govindam

Govindam Bhaja, Moodamathe!

I managed to record part of my solo cacophony, and place three short sections below – missed beats and all – for your torment, ferment and comment, O patient and long-suffering reader!

 

Don’t worry, I promise you I won’t post any more of my solo practice sessions.

Oh…and tomorrow I’m going again to the jam room.  Do join in…it’ll be great!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

General ravings, Musings

Time to get stoned!

NO STONE UNTURNEDAnd so, Delhi burns.

High time it did too, no?

After all, over two months have passed since the CAA was enacted and the anti-CAA sit-down protest began in Shaheen Bagh, December 15th 2019.

Two months…with not even one decent-sized communal riot to reward the sincere and strenuous efforts that have been made by political parties Left and Right, along with their captive journalists and intellectuals, to spark off riots.

Oh sure, a few score Delhi Police personnel—men and women—have been beaten up or pelted into coma with stones or stabbed or shot from time to time.  But then they don’t count…who cares about cops, right?

[Aside: is attacking police personnel considered ‘Secular’ or ‘Communal’ violence?]

But now at last, on 25th February 2020, hope blazes in our hearts, like the fires blazing in North-East Delhi.

Hope, that for the first time since Gujarat 2002, we can all get to watch real-time large-scale Communal Riots on Prime Time.

Yayyyy.

For the looming Riots, we must thank our beloved political leaders who always have the strengthening of Human Riots  uppermost in their minds –  like Kapil Mishra of BJP and  Waris Pathan of AIMIM.

And unlike in the primitive days of Gujarat 2002, when people didn’t even have mobile phones (imagine that! How Jurassic!)   we can not only follow the Riots as they unfold but safely participate in the Mobs, too! Thanks to Social Media.

We can create and spread poisonous rumours, we can ignite murderous rage, at the speed of electrons, without messing up our hands with blood and gore …yucccckkk. And without any danger of getting caught by the police, either…assuming there are any police left to catch us, of course…Ha Ha Ha.

Hail the glory of WhatsApp!  Oh, the joyous anonymity of end-to-end encryption!

And hail the wondrous power of Instagram too!  Don’t you just love those multi-media Instagram ‘Stories’ that self-destruct within 20 seconds so there’s no evidence left?  Stories that you and I can create and forward to spread the most unspeakably violent videos and messages, the most cruel propaganda, secure in the knowledge that in less than half a minute the Stories will vanish with nothing to show the stories ever passed through or even existed in our phones? Or in anyone else’s phones?

Forgive the flippancy, gentle reader…but the situation today merits graveyard humour.

Because the danger is real…especially to the ‘young’ who more or less live in the virtual worlds of their mobile phones and Social Media.

Because Social Media does give each one of us the wild, untrammeled irresponsibility of the Mob member.

And Mobs are frightful.

The very nature of a Mob can transform us, however rational we might think we are, whatever be our social and economic status, into creatures capable of terrible violence.

A Mob offers anonymity and provides a feeling of security by its sheer numbers. It removes our sense of individual responsibility, and thereby dismantles the elaborate codes of ethics and morality that govern ‘normal’ conduct.

Nobel Laureate Elias Canetti viewed the Mob as a ‘biological entity’, something qualitatively different from the simple sum of its parts. His description of how a quiet street-corner gathering develops into a violent Mob is chillingly familiar. [quote from a 2002 edit-page article I wrote on Gujarat riots ]

Nothing has been announced, nothing is expected, but suddenly the street is transformed. Windows are thrown open, people come out of doors and alleys — streaming in from all sides as though streets had only one direction. At first the only noticeable property of this composite creature is its urge to grow. It wants to seize everyone within reach. Anything shaped like a human can join it. It knows no limits and admits of no restrictions. It does not recognize houses, doors or locks, and those who try to shut themselves in or deny its hunger are immediately suspect

‘‘As long as the crowd is growing, it feels secure. But as soon as growth becomes restricted, as soon as it runs out of its natural food, it gets irritable and develops a sense of persecution. It becomes hostile and then it starts to break things. Windows of shops and houses, windscreens of cars are the first to go because they provide such a satisfying sound. Doors, gates and fences, anything that represents a boundary, become the next target and are torn down and trampled underfoot.

And finally comes fire. Of all methods of destruction, this is the most impressive. It can be seen from far off and attracts even more people. It destroys irrevocably; nothing is the same after a fire. A crowd setting fire to something feels irresistible. It is. The quiet evening street is now a district in riot, an environment inhabited by an organism that is out of control…”

The rioting Mobs of Delhi 1984, of Bombay 1992-93, of Gujarat 2002, left thousands dead, tens of thousands maimed, and a nation in despair. But who were the Mob members? Who were those tens of thousands who pelted stones and firebombs, who fell upon their fellow Indians and beat them, molested them, raped them, killed them?

Within hours, within a day or two, they were all back to their ‘normal’ selves — lawyers and laundry-owners, teachers and traders, students and shopkeepers, professors and paan vendors, bankers and businessmen, writers and rickshaw pullers. Nice ‘respectable’ people, young and old.

People just like us. Their faces are our faces.

And what of the evil men and women who sowed the seeds of the Mobs, who broke the reservoirs of violence with whispered rumours and words of poison?

They vanished without trace, as they always do.

As have vanished the evil men and women who planted the seeds of communal violence in Shaheen Bagh.

And so Delhi burns…

 

Ancient writings, Musings, Remembering

Silica Politics

With the Delhi assembly elections having gone off peacefully and exit polls predicting the return of Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party, I see a glimmer of hope for India – that we might yet see the rise and growth of a national-level political party that actually works for ALL people, and does not survive by pitting religion against religion as the BJP and Congress do; caste against caste as the Samajwadis, RJD et al. do;  or generally everyone against everyone else as the CPI(M), CPI et al. do. 

A hope that leads me to wield the cerebral shovel and excavate the following article from the ancient sand-beds of memory: it was published in Indian Express over 20 years ago. 

Building sand castles

[Indian Express, 30 November 1998]

The counting of votes is on, and the first results are already trickling in. Across the nation psephologists pontificate, analysts arrive at bewilderingly diverse conclusions from identical data, and assorted academics, political observers and journalists join in severely criticizing the electorate for not behaving according to their predictions.

And, an ancient, battered lorry rolls up a dusty track leading to the dry river-bed, lurching with a snort of relief to a halt amidst huge banks of sand. Three men  stand in the empty hold of the lorry, shovels in hand. The driver backs the vehicle till it ploughs into one of the sand dunes; and then two of the men leap onto the hillock and proceed to scoop mounds of the grey-white material into the hold. The third man – he cannot be a day older than 16 – stands in the hold and spreads the fine sand as evenly as possible about the pitted wooden floor. The driver, meanwhile, twiddles with a knob on the dash-board, muttering imprecations, till a dreadful cacophony erupts from the dusty loudspeaker above his grizzled head. He has found the local radio station.

The three men toil away, sweat gleaming on their arms and bare torsos. Now the young man in the hold is practically level with his senior colleagues on the sand dune. Presently, he leaps off to join them in flinging the mica-flecked sand into the hold. A scrawny brown dog wanders up to the lorry, flops down in its  shade and falls asleep. On the radio, now the hourly news-bulletin cuts into the music. Electoral excitement is at fever-pitch; all eyes are upon an epic battle between two possible chief ministerial candidates: one a political novice with a clean reputation, the other a seasoned old bandicoot. The music resumes, the driver climbs out, collapses on the sand and dozes. The afternoon sun beats down upon the labourers’ gleaming bodies.

At length the job is done. The labourers pause at an unspoken signal, fling their shovels down, wipe their streaming brows and flop down on the sand next to the driver. Soon they must depart for the great construction lots on the western outskirts of the City; but there is still time to stretch one’s aching limbs awhile, perhaps even smoke a companionable beedi.

The flies drone, the sun sinks lower. The young labourer sits up and listens intently to the news broadcast. And then he turns to the driver. “So, Kaka, will we now have a new ruler?” he inquires. The driver removes the beedi from his mouth, hacks and spits at the sleeping dog but misses it by several inches. “It won’t make a difference to you, will it?” he remarks. The others chuckle, but the youngster is persistent.

“In our jhuggi,” he begins hesitantly, “they say things will soon change for the better. They say that we will all soon have pucca houses…”

Arre gadhe!” the driver exclaims exasperatedly. “Don’t you see that this is all a natak? Look”, he continues in a kindlier tone, “the fate of poor people is akin to that of the river: doomed to follow the same path forever, crushing the rocks into sand and sinking ever lower. And just as politicians come to us poor people for their votes, so too men come to the river to haul away the sand; they mix the sand with lime and cement and make buildings and bungalows so that the rich among them may live in comfort.”

He pauses, his rheumy eyes far away. “Yet in time the desert winds will blow, hot as a sigri, and the great walls and roofs of the rich will crack and fissure. And then the rains will beat upon their edifices, and this happens again and again, year after year, till slowly but surely the sands are washed away into the gutters and drains, to find their way eventually back to the river. And then again the minds of the rich will turn to the river, and upon a monsoon the river will breach its banks, and when it recedes there the sand will be again…”

Presently, the men board the lorry and it roars off in a cloud of dust. The dog gazes mournfully at the receding lorry, and then wanders off. A stray breeze brings the faint voice of the news-broadcaster, announcing that the seasoned old bandicoot has won.