General ravings, Musings

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

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

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

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

He wanted my advice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Phir woi namak ka kahani.

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

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

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

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

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

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

We are a nation, a people in denial.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway, it’s all Modi’s fault…no?

General ravings, Potshots

Blonde Covid: a Nightmare in 280 decibels

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

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

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

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

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

Insane Sanitization

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

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

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

The Voice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That Infernal Eternal Voice

Jai Hind Jai Bharat.

General ravings, Potshots

Joyous Dog on the Street with a Thousand Lamp-Posts

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

We’ll come back to lamp-posts soon.

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

Fervid Covid Reportage

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

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

Here are my findings:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is Government of India doing in the matter?

Why have nationwide agitations not been launched on this issue?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be merry, be well.

General ravings

Lizard by the Tale

I’m always struggling to write. Not because I lack ideas – ah me, no! No! A thousand times, no!

The reason is precisely the opposite, as any writer worth two rejection slips will tell you.

I struggle to write because there are always too many ideas jostling for attention in my head, all the time, swirling around like plasma in the Sun’s core… and every idea seems as good as or better than the earlier one till the next one comes along, and all the ideas are incredibly short-lived, with new ideas popping up all the time and old ideas fading and vanishing into the Great Realm of Forgetfulness just as fast as light travels in a vacuum, and as inexorably as the Heat Death of the Universe.

I know, I sound insane.

“You don’t just sound insane; you are insane,” murmurs a voice behind me. It is a green lizard on the wall; a house-guest since the Covid-19 lockdown began.

“But then, all writers are insane,” it adds cheerfully, flicking its tongue in an absent-minded kind of way at a passing beetle and missing. “That’s why so many writers commit suicide, you know.”

I wave a fist at the beast. With a hurt look it scuttles behind a dusty portrait of a solemn-looking cat. Only its tail remains visible—I mean the lizard’s tail, not the cat’s—curved into a sardonic grin like the Cheshire cat’s.

I stare at the tail, wondering if the lizard’s right.

I have contemplated suicide on a number of occasions; usually when I’ve sat down to write an article or short story or whatever, only to discover that the brilliant idea I’d just had for the piece has vanished without trace in the cerebellum, leaving only a near-vacuum between the ears that’s as bereft of inspiration as intergalactic space is of matter.

I shake my head violently, dislocating the C1 and C2 cervical vertebra, and seek further information on writers and suicide from the Almighty Lord of Information, Google Deva.

Ha! In less than 10 seconds I find a 2012 study which clearly establishes that writers are almost twice as likely to commit suicide as the general population.

I am elated.

Now I have a perfectly sound, scientifically established reason to be insane and occasionally suicidal.

I turn to compliment the lizard for its erudition.  But now even its tail has vanished behind the portrait. Only the cat stares at me in a moody way.

Well…I’ll catch up with the lizard later.  Right now, I’ve suddenly had this absolutely brilliant idea. It’s an idea for the first chapter of a full-length novel. About an ageing writer who, after decades of driving himself nuts trying to sort out the ideas buzzing around in his head and figuring out which one to start writing on, is inspired by the words of a resident lizard during  an unexpected three-month-long incarceration at home due to a global virus pandemic…

I’ve got to put down a few points about this idea before I forget!

I yank the keyboard closer and raise my fingers to type. A soft chuckle interrupts my thoughts. I turn around irritably—it’s that damned lizard again. Now its tail has disappeared behind the portrait; instead its head peeps out, beady eyes fixed on me. I scowl at it and turn back to the screen.

But now my mind is completely blank; as utterly erased of ideas, originality and creativity as a Congressman’s head is after an AICC meeting.

I mutter curses in Tamil, Malayalam, Hindi and Punjabi as I stare at the blank screen.  

A soft crooning fills my ears.

It’s the lizard, singing the blues.

The lizard is in good voice…doubtless because it’s been snacking heartily on the pre-monsoon crickets that have started invading the premises.

Its song reminds me of ‘Spider in my Web’ by Ten Years After – but the lyrics are weirdly different.

Oh these ideas in my head

How they shimmer, blue, green and red

Oh these ideas in my head, babe

In my ageing brain that’s dense as lead

Driftin’, ever-changin’ shapes and hues

Like netas alterin’ their parties and views…

 I fling the mouse, two pens and a small notebook at the lizard.

All miss.

The lizard breaks into a short guitar riff.

Disgusted, I rise and head for the kitchen to fix a mug of healing coffee. The song follows me:

Oh yeah, these ideas in my head

They’re wild: they come ‘n go as they please

Oh help me hold these ideas in my head, honey

They’re like plankton, roamin’ all Earth’s seas

They’re hard to grasp; they tantalize, they tease

Catchin’ ‘em is like clutching a breeze

[Refrain]

Oh how can I save these ideas in my head?

Oh how can I recall ideas that’ve fled?

….

[mercifully…The End]

General ravings, Potshots

Reliance on Self-Reliance : food for thought

 Prime Minister Modi has done a good thing by announcing extension of the Pradhan Mantri Gareeb Kalyan Anna Yojana till November 2020 — ensuring that free food grain will continue to be supplied to more than 80 crore (800 million) people, at an additional outlay of Rs 90,000 crores.

Assuming that the scheme is implemented efficiently and honestly, this is money well spent for a worthy cause.

But what happens after November 2020?  

Covid-19 has settled down comfortably across the country and world and stubbornly refuses to go away. In fact it is proving to be as difficult to dislodge as a VIP neta or babu who refuses to vacate her/his government bungalow in Lutyens Dilli even after being de-seated and/or sacked.  

So, with Covid-19 likely to remain in the long term, how can the government raise enough money to feed India’s hungry crores—especially, children— through the years and decades beyond November 2020?

I think the Covid-19 pandemic itself has provided an unexpected and  golden opportunity to achieve this noble aim.

We all know only too well that the pandemic has brought enormous misery and suffering to the vast majority of people, especially the poorer sections of the populace. But weirdly, the pandemic has also brought about a huge increase in prosperity among the world’s richest people (read more about this here).

Among them, our very own Mukesh Ambani, Chairman of Reliance Industries Ltd, has seen his net worth burgeoning to a whopping US$ 64.5 billion, making him the 8th richest person in the world (click here to read more).

And herein lies the win-win-win-win opportunity.

I do believe Mukesh Ambani has worked hard for his wealth – unlike so many other wealthy Indians, especially among our hereditary political families, who have worked hardly for theirs. I also believe Mukesh has contributed hugely to the well-being of India and Indian people. Hence, I propose a unique, innovatively deranged scheme for feeding crores of Indian children sustainably in the long term; a scheme that I think Mukesh, as a patriotic Indian as well as shrewd and seasoned businessman, would be glad to participate in by leveraging a modest portion of his wealth.

Working it out

The first question, of course, is:  how much does it cost to provide a hungry child a fulsome, tasty, nutritious meal?

The Akshaya Patra Foundation, which feeds 1.8 million schoolchildren daily, provides a nice baseline figure:  to feed one child for a year, Akshaya Patra needs Rs 1100 (see here  for details)

So…to feed one crore children for a year, Akshaya Patra will need Rs 1100 crores.

Next question: where in Alambusa’s name can we find this kind of money – that too when the coronavirus is still doing its Tandava across India and the planet?

Answer: Self-reliance. Rather, Reliance—that’s where.

Consider Mukesh Ambani’s wealth. Applying a generous conversion rate of 1 US$ = Rs 70 (which allows enough cushion for any necessary kickbacks and payoffs to assorted middlemen, babus and politicians), Mukesh’s fortune of US$ 64.5 billion works out to Rs 4515000000000 = Rs 451,500 crores.

In the spirit of Atmanirbhar Bharat, then:

  • Government of India could float a special and aptly named ‘Self-Reliance India (SRI) Treasury Bond’ scheme exclusively for Mukesh Ambani and his Reliance Group, carrying an attractive coupon rate of 11% interest per year for (say) 10 years.
  • The SRI Bonds will have one unique and innovative feature:  the Government will retain half of the interest earned, and use the amount exclusively to feed children across the country.
  • The Government of India may request Mukesh to monetize Rs 200,000 crores of his wealth (that’s less than half his current net worth), and invest the amount in SRI Bonds.

That’s all that’s required.

I am confident that Mukesh Ambani will welcome this proposal – because there is no greater blessing to be had in this world or in any other than the gratitude of a child who has eaten her/his fill. Besides, there is virtually nowhere else for Mukesh to invest his money; banks in Europe and USA are paying zero interest on deposits or even charging customers a fee for saving their money.  Also, even the half-share of interest earned by Mukesh (5.5% out of 11%) is comparable to what Indian banks like SBI are paying customers for fixed deposits of up to 3 years.

So what are the happy outcomes of the SRI Bond scheme?

Benefits

  • The SRI Bonds of face value Rs 200,000 crores @ 11% p.a will earn an interest of Rs 22,000 crores each year.
  • Mukesh may draw his share of  Rs 11,000 crores each year and use it as he wishes. Looking at it one way: Mukesh could happily blow away Rs 24 crores daily from his share of interest –that’s one crore every hour, 24 hours a day, seven days a week – and still have over Rs 2200 crores left over from the interest at the end of the year, more than enough to add another 10 floors to his 27-storeyed Mumbai bungalow ‘Antilia’, expand his parking spaces from 168 cars to 300 and add two more helipads to the existing three…with maybe enough left over for a haircut and cup of coffee.   And after this spending spree he will still have his principal of Rs 200,000 crores intact and another Rs 11,000 crores of interest to collect and blow up the next year, and the year after that…for 10 years.
  • The Government can use its interest share of Rs 11,000 crores to feed ten crore (that’s 100 million) children every year –preferably through Akshaya Patra, to ensure that it is the hungry children who receive the nutrition rather than the ever-ravenous babulog.  

I am presenting the above SRI scheme idea as a proposal to the Government of India for urgent consideration and action.

I will suggest to the Prime Minister that the SRI Bonds may be opened up to other Indian billionaires in due course: as the table shows, they have plenty of resources to invest and plenty to gain too.

India’s 10 richest people – Forbes list for 2019

RankNameNet worth (billion US $)
1Mukesh Ambani51.4 [now, 64.5]
2Gautam Adani15.7
3Hinduja brothers15.6
4Pallonji Mistry15.0
5Uday Kotak14.8
6Shiv Nadar14.4
7Radhakishan Damani14.3
8Godrej family12.0
9Lakshmi Mittal10.5
10Kumar Birla  9.6
 Total173.3
Source: https://www.forbes.com/india-billionaires/list/#tab:overall

O patient and worthy Reader, any feedback from you will be welcome.

[P.S.: I shall be grateful if you would add a few onions to the tomatoes and eggs that you hurl…my omelets and my happiness will then be complete].

Jai Hind.

General ravings, Potshots

Dreadlock Visions during Lockdown

[or, Hair Today…Gone Tomorrow]

When the Union Government announced extension of the Covid-19 lockdown till 17th May, I felt a sharp prickling sensation in the back of my neck.

The prickling sensation wasn’t because of fear. It was a familiar and increasingly irritating reminder that my haircut is long overdue— and that now I’ll have to wait at least two weeks more to have one.  It’s a hair-raising prospect; especially because for the last 40 years, I have with clockwork regularity gone to the barber every 45 days for a “double fauji bina kanghee wale” job.

I do believe short hair lightens the pressure on the brain. Deliberately shorn hair also helps when my hairline is receding just about as fast as my intelligence and memory.

Anyway: with every passing lockdown day, what remains of my hair grows in about thirty-seven different directions at varying rates in five distinct shades of grey and white. I can’t do a damned thing about it, because barber shops have all been closed,  and ‘social distancing’ prevents me from seeking the amateur assistance of a friend who has volunteered to do the job with garden shears.

Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t mind enduring this minor discomfort—after all, overgrown hair is such a trivial issue when millions are undergoing such hardship  in these difficult times.

But I am chagrined that even as my hair runs riot and my face increasingly resembles that of a depressed and slightly deranged hedgehog, I see a large number of public personalities—political leaders, celebrity journalists and the like—appear with perfectly coiffured hair on TV and online screens every day.  In fact, these women and men look exactly as well-groomed as they did in December 2019!

Me
(L) Me; (R) Hedgehog (image courtesy medicine.net). Note: I apologize for any unintended hurt feelings, injured egos or ruffled quills that I may cause to hedgehogs by drawing this comparison.

It is obvious to me that these well-groomed public personalities are flouting social distancing norms! Their haircuts are just too good; they can’t be lawnmower jobs done by family or friends. I am convinced that these women and men are covertly availing the services of professional hairdressers, so that they can look suave and well-trimmed while the rest of us watch our own faces disappear under the overgrown undergrowth on our scalps.

Unfair?

Perhaps…but  I don’t grudge these fine women and men the privilege of getting their hair groomed while the rest of us can’t. After all,  they are respected and popular figures who are doing all they can to boost the morale of the Indian public in these trying times. Naturally, they must look their best.

Still, it’s tempting to know what these public figures might have actually looked like today, if they had not availed the services of hairdressers during the lockdown.

And so,  I’ve created projected images – crude, but hopefully indicative – of what a select few politicians and journalists would have looked like today WITHOUT their haircuts.  To create these projected images I’ve used the beta version of an Algorithmic Profile Projection software, code-named ‘Tonsure 101’, that is being developed for the Intelligence Bureau by the internationally derided Prof. Iqbal Taklu and his team under a shadowy India-USA security cooperation  project that is so secret that it does not find mention in any public or private records, and indeed may not even exist.

I plan to crowd-source bail bond funds in my next post.

Actual look                                               Projected image

Union Home Minister Amit Shah
Amit Shah, BJP M.P; Union Minister, Home

 

Rahul Gandhi
Rahul Gandhi, Congress M.P

Mamata Bannerjee
Mamata Bannerjee, West Bengal Chief Minister

Pinarayi Vijayan
Pinarayi Vijayan, CPI(M); Kerala Chief Minister

Uddhav Thackeray
Uddhav Thackeray, Shiv Sena; Maharashtra Chief Minister

Shekhar Gupta
Shekhar Gupta; Editor-in-Chief, The Print

Arnab Goswami
Arnab Goswami; Editor-in-Chief, Republic TV

Jai Hind!

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…