Ancient writings, Beastly encounters, Potshots

In the Plutonium Doghouse

Sixty thousand years ago, our dear ancestral cave-people snarled and hurled abuse and rocks and bones at their neighbouring cave-people, even as their respective supporters cheered and goaded them on while keeping themselves at a safe distance…

Today, Russia devastates Ukraine with missiles and other frightful weapons after being goaded beyond endurance by NATO and EU and USA, and Russia and the USA and NATO and EU snarl at one another even as the USA and NATO and EU cheer on and goad the Ukrainians to fight back and pour missiles and other frightful weapons into Ukraine while keeping themselves at a safe distance…

Everything changes. Nothing changes.

Thus it is in this dog-eats-dog world that we humans have in our wisdom created…because we love one another.

Cheered slightly by these thoughts, I inflict ‘pon thee, O long-suffering and precious Reader, a piece I wrote over 23 years ago – in fact, soon after India’s nuclear tests in 1998.

Disclaimer: Any resemblance in this article to any persons or nations on Earth, however slight, is entirely intentional.

____________________________________________

A mysterious defence document has come to light of all places, in the wrapping paper used by a peanut-vendor who operates his business near New Delhi’s India Gate. Inquiries reveal that the vendor purchased eighteen kilos of waste paper from Raksha Mantralaya early in May, and noticed this particular document only while wrapping five rupees’ worth of peanuts. “The masthead on the pages was different from the usual Defence Ministry stationery,” he explained, “so I thought it might be important, and called the authorities!”

Titled “In the Plutonium Doghouse”, the document is typed on the memo-pad of the Defence Ministry’s shadowy Department of Strategic Planning and Control (DSPC), and appears to be a sweeping account of global nuclear history. With Defence Ministry officials refusing to comment on it, the document is reproduced in its entirety below.

In the Plutonium Doghouse

Delhi, May-June 1998.

Once upon a time there was a kennel, in which lived dogs of assorted size, shape, faith and hue. Oldest among the dogs were Big Yellow and Big Brown. The two were neighbours, and like most senior citizens, pretty peaceful characters; in fact, Big Brown spent most of his time sleeping. Then came Big White, Big Red and a host of smaller dogs.

In the beginning things were just fine. Each dog had its very own space, with enough food supplies to last forever if managed well. But over the years some dogs got greedy and gobbled up their own supplies, and then they took to stealing other dogs’ food. Naturally, a stage came when they were all fighting like cats over the supplies that remained.

One day, Big White dug up an ancient bone from somewhere and discovered that by blowing on it he could make a fearful racket; enough to reduce all the other dogs to quivering, defenseless puppies! Naturally, he put on a lot of dog after that. He strutted about the kennel, brandishing his new pipe and helping himself liberally to the others’ provisions. But soon thereafter Big Red dug out a terrible bone-pipe of his own, and he was followed by two smaller white dogs; and barely had the echoes from their cacophonous pipes died down when Big Yellow nearly brought the roof down with a resounding trumpet-blast of his own.

Realizing that it was futile to aim their pipes at one another, the five dogs went into a huddle and came up with a brilliant idea: an exclusive pipe-wielder’s club, from which other dogs were debarred! For a while, then, the Plutonium Club (named after Pluto, the Almighty Celestial Dog) ruled the kennel; The five P-5 mongrels strutted about the kennel while the other dogs cowered in terror.

But Big Yellow was hungry for variety in his diet, and soon his crafty eyes turned towards the mountainous stores of Big Brown (who of course had slumbered while all this was happening).

Now, there was a little brown dog aptly called Li’l Brown who lived right next to Big Brown. Kennel folklore had it that once, very long ago, both Big Brown and Li’l Brown had belonged to the same family; but then a bitter quarrel had taken place over property, and Li’l Brown had thrown a tantrum and moved out to live by himself. Since then, Li’l Brown had developed a habit of filching food from Big Brown or nipping him while the old dog was asleep (which was almost always), and whenever the old dog protested Li’l Brown would roll over and yelp, “Help! He’s bullying me!” Baffled, Big Brown would go back to sleep, but soon Li’l Brown would be badgering him again, egged on by Big White who found it all very amusing.

Big White had other reasons too for befriending Li’l Brown. Right next to Li’l Brown lived a host of small dogs with vast supplies of delicious Afghan and Mughal food. Now, both Big White and Big Red were partial to Central Asian cuisine, but being much closer to these little dogs, Big Red had been hogging the lion’s share of these goodies.

So Big White made Li’l Brown his ally, promising him limitless supplies of hot dogs and cold fizzy drinks if only he harried Big Red and kept him away from the neighbourhood of the little dogs while he, Big White,instead carted off their provisions by tanker-loads and pipelines … oh, their oily pilafs were simply delicious, though the skewered meats did generate a lot of gas…

Well…such were the dog-eats-dog politics of the kennel.

But even while all this was happening, a day came when Big Yellow turned to Li’l Brown and growled, “Here’s a present for you… a little bone-pipe of your own! Now be a good fellow and wave it under Big Brown’s nose. It’ll distract him while I take a bite out of his Sikkimese pudding…I’ve been fancying it for years!”

But even as he spoke, a deafening roar shook the ticks off the kennel walls. Big Brown had sounded his very own bone-pipe; how he had dug it up while asleep, no one knew.

“Blast!” growled Big Yellow.

“Dog-gone it!” howled Big White.

As for poor Li’l Brown, he was inconsolable. “I can’t hound Big Brown any more, his bone-pipe’s bigger than mine,” he yelped and wailed. Finally Big White went over to him. “Aw, come on,” he rumbled soothingly, “tootle on that little bone-pipe of yours, chew on this nice piece of Afghan kebab, and you’ll feel better. As for Big Brown, just wait till the old duffer’s asleep and then take a nip out of his tail.”

Note from Special Directorate, Intelligence Bureau/DSPC, Raksha Mantralaya: Unfortunately the remainder of this secret document is untraceable at this point. Peanut vendors and their clients in Delhi are requested to keep an eye open, and to inform us at once in case any more pages are found.

Musings, Potshots

AAP Fails AAPtitude Test with Honours!

Under Aam Aadmi Party, Delhi has plumbed spectacular new depths in crime monitoring, water contamination and air pollution

Preamble

This short report is about Delhi, where I’ve lived for over 28 years now. It’s been written between November 16th and November 30th 2021, when the air pollution levels have consistently exceeded the danger levels by 600% to 1000%.

The report focuses on the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government of Arvind Kejriwal.

Why?

Well… The AAP government has presided over the Capital since 2015, and hence must take its share of credits and debits as well as bear overall responsibility for Delhi’s accrued virtues and vices during the past six years.

Besides, while glancing through my dusty archives of political writings during the past decade or three, I find that I’ve directed  my words of admiration and admonition primarily at BJP, Congress, CPM, CPI, the Dravida duo, RJD, and Samajwadi Party. It strikes me that AAP might feel hurt at being left out. Hence, I focus this report on examining the initiatives and achievements of Kejriwal-bhai and his co-AAPted party workers and shirkers in managing three critical domains that impact daily existence in Delhi: law and order, water quality, and air quality.

But at this point, an important disclaimer.

Disclaimer

I hereby declare and solemnly swear, with all the necessary swearwords, oaths, and imprecations,  that I have been a votary of AAP since 2013.

Rationale

I support and vote for AAP – at least in the Delhi Assembly, not because of any particular public good it’s done for the people of Delhi, but because—unlike the earlier Congress and BJP governments which did nothing for the people of Delhi but only ignored, abused, exploited, pillaged, plundered, ravaged and otherwise looted us in disgustingly casteist, communal and communist ways—the AAP too has done nothing and continues to do nothing for the people of Delhi, but it does nothing in an admirably secular way, i.e., it ignores, abuses, exploits, pillages, plunders, ravages and otherwise loots us irrespective of our caste, class, religion, or ethnicity.

By doing nothing for the people of Delhi, good or bad, AAP gives us, the citizens, the liberty and licence to do pretty much what we the people of India in general and of Delhi in particular are talented at doing and love to do the most: namely, pillage, plunder, exploit, ravage and otherwise loot one other in secular, communal, communist and other politically and socially accepted ways with no interference from our wise AAP government.

And now, I proceed to summarize the evidence of AAP’s incredible and indelible achievements so that all of us can gasp in wonder, even as we gasp for the last remaining traces of oxygen in Delhi’s air.

AAP’s Achievements

Thanks to AAP’s capable and culpable governance since 2015, Delhi continues to maintain its top position in the country – if not the world – in many spheres of socioeconomic, academic and cultural inactivity.

Here are a few prominent Medals of Dishonour that AAP has won for Delhi:

  • The most lawless and crime-infested city in India.
  • The most corrupt city in India.
  • Ranked consistently among the top three dirtiest cities in India  
  • The capital city with the worst air quality on Earth for the eighth year in a row.
  • The Yamuna river is among the most polluted on Earth

But now I must pause. I realize it is cynical and unfair to say that AAP does nothing for the people, good or bad. I herewith apologize and respectfully amend my statement: AAP actually does one thing very well.

AAP has proven itself to be a master and/or mistress at Monitoring & Measuring (M&M) the many problems that have plagued Delhi since Independence (and quite possibly, since the time of Indraprastha).

Capturing Crime

Consider violent crime, that plagues our beloved city. Thanks to the tireless efforts of our AAP government, over 410,000 new CCTV cameras have been installed since 2015 across the city as of August 2021. Admittedly, these CCTV cameras haven’t stopped violent crimes—in fact, violent crimes continue to happen at accelerating rate. But these lakhs of new CCTV cameras have provided a wonderful M&M mechanism for street crimes, and a much larger number of the violent crimes are being recorded live. This enables the AAP government to compile much more accurate statistical data on violent crimes, thus providing a solid authenticated foundation for Delhi to claim and retain its top position among Crime Capitals of the World.  The CCTV footage and statistical data are also being provided by AAP to the main-scream TV news channels on ongoing basis for national and global-level entertainment. 

New CCTV cameras – strictly for the birds?

AAP has also taken pains to point out—through sustained year-round advertisement campaigns costing several thousand crores of taxpayers’ money year after year— that it has greatly improved public security by installing many thousands of new streetlights in crime-prone areas.

Critique

Some anti-AAP people (most probably nasty BJP and Congress-wallahs with hidden agendas) complain about the fact that over half the installed CCTV cameras have been imported from China—that too during the military stand-off between India and China at Galwan in 2020. They jeer at the fact that the CCTV cameras don’t capture criminals; they only capture their crimes. They even allege that the new streetlights are only helping the criminals see their victims better and plan their crimes more efficiently.

However, AAP correctly responds that:

  • Catching criminals is the job of Delhi Police which reports only to the Union Home Ministry and is thus controlled by those ☠@!##$%☠ BJP-wallahs;
  • A large number of CCTV cameras are being stolen and/or damaged on ongoing basis – most probably by dalals and stooges of those same ☠**%&☠☠ BJP and Congress saalas who want to give AAP a bad name.  
  • There is nothing wrong about importing CCTV cameras from China, because India believes in the spirit of vasudaiva kutumbakam.
  • The newly installed streetlights have not only improved the quality of the CCTV footage on violent crimes; they also enable the common Delhi citizen to take night-time selfies where night-time selfies were not possible before, to spot criminals sooner and have time to run like hell for safety before being caught, and to see and avoid pot-holes, open manholes, heaps of garbage and other hazards while running.
Big Beijing Brother is watching
Unreliable sources quote a CCTV thief as saying: “I locate where the CCTV cameras are by following the signs that say ‘You are under CCTV surveillance!”

Managing Water Quality

Another important area where the AAP government has achieved remarkable landmarks through enhanced M&M capabilities is water quality; specifically, contamination of the Yamuna by untreated human wastes (commonly known as shit).

Now, we all know the Yamuna has been filthy since probably the time of Qutubbudin Aibak. But the BJP and Congress governments did nothing to clean it up, and so when AAP came to power one of its promises was to clean up the Yamuna and make it fit for bathing in by 2020.

At this point, a little gyaan. According to norms of WHO and Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), river water is unsafe and unfit for even bathing in if its faecal coliform count (i.e. a measure of how much shit it contains) is more than 2500 (per 100 ml water)

Now, to underline AAPs success in cleaning up the Yamuna (data from CPCB report, January 2020)

  • When Kejriwal’s AAP took charge of Delhi government in 2015, the maximum measured faecal coliform count at Okhla was close to 5000,000 per 100 ml (i.e. 2000 times the danger level).
  • By 2019, the faecal coliform count at Okhla had increased by leaps and bounds to over 9500,000 per 100 ml (i.e. 3800 times the danger level).
  • In March 2021 the Delhi Pollution Control Committee reported that the faecal coliform count in Okhla was 45,000,000 per 100 ml (i.e. 18,000 times the danger level)  [data from DPCC lab report here].
Graphic by R P Subramanian. Extrapolation based on AAP’s proven performance and data from op. cit. CPCB report 2020, op.cit. DPCC report March 2021. As for flush sketch – let’s drop the matter

Critique

Thanks to scientific M&M under the AAP government, and bolstered by the AAP government’s sustained ‘Clean Yamuna’ campaign, the faecal coliform in the Yamuna has increased by leaps and bounds: from 2000 times danger level in 2015 to an amazing 18,000 times danger level by March 2021.

Instead of being thrilled by this remarkable AAP achievement, the usual gang of AAP-haters and baiters (all BJP and Congress chamchas, for sure) complain that the Yamuna’s astronomically high coliform count only shows that the river water is now at par with the stuff we flush away in toilets. They add bitterly that if the current trend continues (as it will, if AAP remains in power for another term or two as seems likely), the Yamuna’s faecal coliform count will become so high that the river will solidify into a sludge of…well…shit.

AAP is unfazed by the criticism. Flushed with enthusiasm (so to speak), it has vowed to continue its ‘Clean Yamuna’ initiative. On November 19th, Chief Minister Kejriwal declared that “the Yamuna will be cleaned by 2025”.

We’ve heard that one before, haven’t we? 🙂

Managing Air Quality

Nowhere is AAP’s uniquely dismal aptitude (AAPtitude?) in governance more clearly visible (at least, on the 5-6 days in the year when an object 2 metres away is clearly visible through the smog) than in managing the quality of Delhi’s air.

The AAP’s sustained, hyperbolic and mutually contradictory efforts at combating air pollution during the last six years essentially boil down to the following:

  • Strenuous advertising campaigns that urge the Delhi citizens to use public transport like buses and Metro instead of private vehicles.
  • Reducing the fleet-strength of the city bus operator Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) from around 6000 buses in 2015 to 3000 buses as of today. [AAP’s Rationale: these old buses are inefficient and add to air pollution! Result: more people buy scooters/bikes and cars, adding more to air pollution.]
  • Opposing the expansion of the Delhi Metro’s Phase 4 corridor. [AAP’s Rationale: the Metro Phase 4 construction will require felling of several hundred young trees planted during AAP’s afforestation campaigns, mainly on wastelands. Result: as above. ]
  • Strenuous, continuous and almost completely useless efforts over the last six years to purchase 8000 new CNG buses (so that the DTC fleet can be increased to 11,000 buses). Not one new bus has so far  been procured. However, as a sign of great progress, AAP recently announced (November 6th, 2021) that 190 new CNG buses ‘will be inducted’ starting next year, i.e. 2022.
  • Setting up two ‘smog towers’ (in Connaught Place and in Anand Vihar) at a cost of Rs 40 crores while ignoring all warnings and criticisms including mine. These smog towers have proved to be a complete farce, as predicted. For instance, on November 6th, the smog tower at Connaught Place delivered ‘clean air’ which had a PM 2.5 level of 453 (against the maximum safety level of 60). See the report here.
  • Blaming previous BJP and Congress governments for not doing enough to clean up Delhi’s air, thus burdening AAP with a ‘legacy’ of air pollution
  • Blaming the BJP-ruled Union Government for not giving enough money to the AAP government of Delhi to fund its essential public-interest advertising campaigns in electronic and print media by which it attacks the Union Government for not giving adequate funds to the AAP government of Delhi to help combat various problems such as water and air pollution
  • Blaming the BJP-ruled governments of the neighbouring states of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh for encouraging/allowing farmers to burn post-kharif harvest stubble in their fields and create smoke that adds to Delhi’s air pollution.
Smog tower at C.P.: A great place for a smoke-up?

Critique

The plain and bitter truth is, Delhi’s own traffic alone contributes to anything between 65% and 85% of all air pollution including particulates, depending on the time of year. Hardly surprising, considering that Delhi had nearly 12 million registered motorized vehicles on its choked roads as of March 2021.

The Delhi NCR’s own industry and construction sectors contribute most of the remaining air pollution throughout the year. Stubble burning contributes a maximum of only about 30%—that too for barely three weeks in a year! Likewise, the admittedly noisy and smoky but much-maligned Diwali crackers contribute no more than 10–12% of air pollution—for three days in the year!

The scientific studies are all out there, in public domain.

JFGI. If you dare.

O Gentle Reader, just imagine 12 million vehicles on jam-packed roads day after day, all that diesel and petrol and CNG burning, the CO2 and CO and particulates shooting out of those millions of exhaust pipes…

Yet, we Delhi-wallahs dare blame the farmers for stubble burning?

Who among us has the courage to call a spade a spade (instead of a spatially challenged diamond) and blame ourselves for spawning this choking horror that hangs over the city?

A word of praise is due to the media, for providing enthusiastic support to the AAP government in blaming everybody but the citizens of Delhi themselves for Delhi’s air pollution. Particularly noteworthy is Times of India’s ‘Let Delhi Breathe’ campaign, under which the most creative headlines, well-spun graphics, cunningly twisted data and plain fake news are combined to create a narrative that Delhi’s air pollution is entirely due to all those nasty stubble-burning farmers from Punjab, Haryana, and western U.P.

For instance, today (30th November), stubble burning contributes barely 2% to Delhi’s the PM 2.5 load. In other words, 98% of Delhi’s air pollution is of our own creation! But instead of headlining this, TOI obligingly plays up the stubble burning through crafty graphics and a headline that reads ‘Smoke without fire: AQI very poor’.

Times of India’s version of honest reportage: graphic from 30 November 2021, when SAFAR reports that stubble burning contributed only 2% to total PM 2.5. Notice the cunningly highlighted text!

Afterword

Enough. Bus ho gya.  

I have, after years of thought and dilly-dallying (Dilli-dallying?) resolved to move out from Delhi. Inshallah, by 2023…assuming I survive 2022.

Even as I write this, the prospect of leaving Delhi brings a wave of deep sadness; so deep that I wonder whether I should explore the Dark Web for a small but effective dose of potassium cyanide.

I gaze out the window at the dismal, grey-brown murk enveloping the sky…a darkness at noon … and then I cackle in glee.

I don’t need potassium cyanide to end it all.

All I need do is open the window and breathe deeply….

SamAAPt!

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.

Musings, Potshots

To Comrade Xi Jingping of China, with Love

Dear Comrade Xi,

How are you? I am well.

How is the weather in Beijing? It is quite sultry here in Delhi, with a lot of mosquitoes.

I hope you are not troubled by mosquitoes in Beijing? But then, considering the Great Scientific Leaps Forward achieved in China under your glorious and lifelong Supreme Leadership, I am sure Chinese virologists from Wuhan will have developed variants of the bats of Yunnan that will eat any mosquitoes that dare disturb your equanimity.

Comrade Xi, I am so happy that you have called on your Chinese officials to “create a “trustworthy, lovable and respectable image for China…and to improve the way China tells stories to the global audience”.  Indeed, China is getting a lot of abuse and bad media coverage across the world about this terrible coronavirus Covid-19; the abuse continues even after that foul-mouthed Donald Trump of USA was kicked out of US presidential office. 

Oh! Comrade Xi, I used to feel so very sad for you and for China whenever I heard ex-US President Trump abuse you last year. I used to tell my friends: “Ah! If only Trump had been Chinese! He could have immediately been sponsored by the Chinese government for a Re-Education Program under Short-Term Plan in some convenient Province—say, Uighur— and without doubt Trump would have emerged a better, quieter, more gentle and tolerant man, for such is the wisdom and benign humaneness that marks all educational and re-educational institutions of learning and unlearning under the leadership of Comrade Xi.”

But apologies for digressing, dear Comrade Xi. My main purpose in writing is to tell you that I fully endorse and whole-heartedly support your call on your officials to present a better image of China and to tell better stories of China to the world.

In this regard I am proud to declare that I am a regular reader of The Global Times, which is aptly described as being a Mighty and Virile Organ of the People’s Republic of China.  Not only do I read Global Times, respected Comrade: I also contribute an occasional Letter to the GT Editor, and it is with delight that I present my latest letter below. You will note that it was published barely a day before your ringing call for improving China’s image. I trust my letter will encourage and inspire Chinese officialdom to take one small step forward in their Long March that lies ahead.

In conclusion, dear Comrade Xi, may I narrate, very briefly, this magnificent old Chinese folk tale that has so much relevance and import for China’s image in the world, and indeed for the future of China and the world:

There once was a fine young nobleman from the kingdom of Chu, who set forth on a journey across the country. Upon a day the nobleman reached the bank of a wide river, whereupon he engaged a boatman to row him across to the far shore.

As they were crossing the river, the nobleman accidentally dropped his sword into the water. Displaying great intelligence and swiftness of thought, the nobleman at once drew his dagger and made a notch-mark on the side of the boat where he’d seen the sword go overboard. As soon as the boat reached the far shore, the nobleman plunged into the shallows and scrabbled around in the muddy waters beneath the notch-mark, looking for his sword…

May I respectfully and sincerely suggest, dear Comrade Xi, that China’s diplomats, other government officials, and in particular the senior officials and cadres of the People’s Liberation Army, draw inspiration and lessons from this folk tale as they obey your call and embark on their quest to locate and restore China’s lost respect and honour?

Strength to the People’s Republic of China! Jai Hind!

General ravings, Potshots

Blonde Covid: a Nightmare in 280 decibels

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

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

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

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

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

Insane Sanitization

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

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

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

The Voice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That Infernal Eternal Voice

Jai Hind Jai Bharat.

General ravings, Potshots

Joyous Dog on the Street with a Thousand Lamp-Posts

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

We’ll come back to lamp-posts soon.

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

Fervid Covid Reportage

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

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

Here are my findings:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is Government of India doing in the matter?

Why have nationwide agitations not been launched on this issue?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be merry, be well.