Musings, Verse perverse

Tumble-Wash Epiphany

Of late I’ve been experiencing a strange mental turmoil.

Days and nights have been passing in a timeless, rather pleasant blur—nothing unusual about that, as the passing of days and nights in a blur has pretty much been part of my philosophy and lifestyle since 1963, when my Class 2 teacher recognized and highlighted it with a vitriolic comment or three. But in the past few months, the blur has been interspersed with short but incredibly vivid interludes of fantasy that are as engrossing and disturbing as they are impossible to wipe off the cerebral slate.

Last night, I actually experienced intense déjà vu within dream. The weird thing is (or was), in my dream I was not myself—meaning, I was not this dusty old bandicoot who even now sits in a dusty corner of East Delhi on a sultry mid-August night writing this crap. Instead, in my dream I was a dusty old historian from South Delhi in body, mind and soul, a part-time heritage walk mentor specializing in ancient Sultanate and Mughal monuments. I was walking through the Mehrauli Archaeological Park area on a grey, misty, bitterly cold January day with a small group of men, women, children, and a few other creatures including a squirrel wearing bifocals and the crafty look of an avaricious advocate. The walk was going quite well in my dream, though I was mildly irritated by the squirrel which kept asking me searching and intelligent questions about squinches, domes, arches and other such architectural things that I knew very little about, and  that chuckled and chittered loudly and derisively whenever I fumbled for answers.

All at once, without warning, the swirling mist intensified into a white-out fog. Alarmed, I froze in mid-step and called to the others to stop …even in dream I remember noting how flat and muffled my voice sounded. And then, like the clouds of moisture-laden air that wander amidst the deep gorges of Sohra and Pynursla, the dense fog magically thinned into great billowing columns that parted like pearly curtains and evaporated into blue nothingness, and I found myself bathed in brilliant sunshine, and that’s when I realized two things:

One: I was no longer with my group in Mehrauli but standing alone, utterly alone on a vast, treeless sweeping slope strewn with scree, surrounded by incredibly tall snow-streaked mountains;

Two: I knew for sure I had never stood on that slope or ever seen those mountains in my life, yet I knew I had been there before, experienced that experience before…just as I knew exactly and fully what I would think and see and  hear and smell and taste and feel at the very next moment and at every moment from then onward, for ever and ever…

…And that’s when, even as I clutched on to that timeless déjà vu, it slipped away and vanished with the growing awareness that I must be in the coils of dream, because there was no way in which I, a heritage walk mentor, could have transported myself from Mehrauli in south Delhi to what appeared to be a steep mountain-side amidst the high Himalayas…leave alone experience déjà vu in that desolate place. And with that awareness that I was dreaming came a tidal wave of terror that I might awaken to find myself not the historian/heritage walk mentor that I actually was, but as someone else…perhaps even as a decrepit old writer lying in bed in east Delhi. And at that thought a great abyss of dread opened up deep within my mind as the tidal wave tossed and turned me hither and thither and eventually flung me, battered and bruised, on to the shores of consciousness where I lay trembling, awake at last.

How could I possibly have dreamed such a dream, in which I was not only someone else but had actually experienced déjà vu as that someone else?

I have no answers; only questions, that sound so demented I am almost too scared to voice them.

Yet I must.

Have the global clouds of angst and anxiety, spawned by Covid-19, finally overcome my cerebral defences? Do they now wait, like monsoon clouds in their brooding and silent enormity, to pour forth their giga-tonnes of fluid insanity and wash away what remains of my cognition in a raging neural flood?  

Have I waded for too long in the limpid pool of Mann Ki Baat, to now be flushed away and drowned in the foaming toilet of Monsoon ki Bath? 

Have I finally achieved the position grimly foretold for me by my class 2 teacher, and become quietly yet indubitably insane?

In the sacred name of Bakasura the Ravenous, will I ever be able to escape from this realm of Guiche into which I have wandered wonderingly and now wonder wanderingly?

These and other troubled musings kept me tossing and turning till dawn; whereupon, after a few cups of healing tannin and caffeine solutions, I went up to the terrace and put a load of clothes to wash.  Watching the sheets and pillow cases tossing and turning in the washing machine just as I had tossed and turned half the night, I began to feel better. Slowly but surely, that familiar old timeless and rather pleasant blur of being returned to soothe my frayed neurons, dendrons and rhododendrons. The washing machine hummed contentedly; the birds chirped happily as they hunted bugs in the foliage; a squirrel streaked across the tiles, sat on its haunches a few feet away, chirruped a series of questions and stared at me through shrewd eyes, waiting for a response.  I stared back at it, wondering why its accent seemed so familiar…but the moment passed, as did the squirrel.

My questions may have no answers; I realize that now, as I write these words.  

Indeed, my answers may have no questions.

Yet I find some blurry comfort in the immortal lyrics of that great and little-known Tamil bard of yore, Konal Kuttilingam (c. 644–596 BCE) whose octrain ‘Ode to Calavai-Pen‘ was translated and soulfully rendered by Irish blues singer Anne O’Nimus at the New Orleans Jazz Festival, 1963 shortly before her tragic demise due to an accidental overdose of pandemonium nitrate.

Wash’d like a garment might thou feel, O beloved, in this Kaveri of Life

Beaten and scrubb’d by Great Calavai-Pen* on Her adamant stone

Yet despair not! Only by this Bath of Anguish, this Path of Strife

May’st thou for many Muttal-Thanams@ of the Past atone

Be joyful, then, as She cleanses thee, wrings thee

Spreads thee to dry: do not moan and groan

Behold! the Vapours of Illusion leave thee, pure and free

To ask: “Dog without bone, or bone without dog…who is more alone?

[(Tamil) *Calavai-Pen = washerwoman; @Muttal-Thanam = idiocies; boo-boos. Translation by the late lamented & lamentable Periachandu Dorai II of Mayiladuthurai (1946 – 1997)]

General ravings, Potshots

Scientific Rigor Mortis

“Never try to walk across a river just because published data informs you that it has an average depth of four feet.”

—Martin Friedman

I have just gone through this learned study titled “Three New Estimates of India’s All-Cause Excess Mortality during theCOVID-19 Pandemic” by USA-based Abhishek Anand, Justin Sandefur, and Arvind Subramanian. (It is a free download at Centre for Global Development: https://www.cgdev.org/publication/three-new-estimates-indias-all-cause-excess-mortality-during-covid-19-pandemic )

I extend my fervent thanks to the authors for this entertaining study. I do believe it is hilarious enough to make a coronavirus cackle in delight.

I say this in all seriousness and sobriety, and with all my authority as a science scholar of international disrepute from the prestigious North Eastern Hill University, who has plumbed unique and unparalleled depths of non-achievement in the most obscure and abstruse disciplines.

The Introduction to the study begins with a most earnest declaration: “We want to emphasize that we are not estimating Covid-caused deaths as CPHS has no information on cause of death. Rather, we focus on all-cause mortality, and estimate excess mortality from the onset of the pandemic relative to a pre-pandemic baseline, adjusting for seasonality.” [emphasis mine]

Alas, the study proceeds to do exactly what it declares it does not aim to do. It estimates Covid-caused deaths in India.

In fact, it concludes that while India’s official Covid death count as of end-June 2021 was 400,000, the actual death toll ( ‘excess deaths’) in India are between 3.4 million and 4.9 million.

To put it plainly, the study concludes that India is hiding dead bodies. Millions of dead bodies.

How does the study arrive at this conclusion?

Well…

For its first estimate, the study blithely extrapolates death data from just seven Indian states to the whole of India to estimate under-counted deaths or what it calls ‘excess deaths’.  In other words, the study decides that the averages of death data from Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh must be applied to the whole of India— comprising 28 states and 8 Union Territories—to figure the actual ‘excess deaths’ in India. And it arrives at the estimate of 3.4 million excess deaths.

For the second estimate, the study applies “international estimates of age-specific infection fatality rates (IFR)” to India.  To translate this gobbledygook into English:  the study assumes that because the infection fatality rate (IFR) is incredibly high in USA, EU countries and so on, then that incredibly high fatality rate must be the norm that India must obey too. And so, it blithely extrapolates IFR from USA, EU and other high-Covid-fatality nations to India to estimate around 4 million excess deaths.

For the third estimate, the study analyses data from the Consumer Pyramid Household Survey (CPHS). With admirable candour, the study admits that “There is reason for caution when relying on the CPHS for mortality estimates though. While CPHS has become a critical source of timely information on labour market and consumption trends, especially in the absence of timely and reliable official data, its representativeness has recently been questioned.” But that admission has not prevented the authors from relying on CPHS data to accuse India of hiding an  estimated 4.9 million excess deaths.

 In a nutshell – a very old and shriveled peanut shell – this study rests on the three very shaky pillars of incoherence, irrelevancy, and plain immaturity , reinforced with a strong foundation of meaninglessness.  

The kindest thing I can say about this study is that what it lacks in scientific rigor, it more than compensates with deep-set rigor mortis.

In passing: I wonder why the learned authors did not apply their IFR-based logic to the People’s Republic of China where the Covid-19 virus was actually born (or created), and whose Covid-related data is rather questionable to put it mildly? 

Especially when China, with a population of 1401,000,000 (give or take a few million Uighurs and Tibetans), officially reports a mere 4636 deaths out of a minuscule 92,364 cases – thus finding itself placed at 103rd  position in the Worldometer’s country list —below countries such as Montenegro at position 100 (pop. 628,150; total cases 100,755; deaths 1623) and Cyprus at position 102 (pop. 1,216,583; total cases 93,247; deaths 391)?

I place below a simple table, with an accompanying graphic, that I hope will inspire Abhishek Anand, Justin Sandefur, and Arvind Subramanian to take a long and very hard look at China’s Covid-19 data and assess the People’s Republic’s ‘excess deaths’ with the rigorous rigor mortis they’ve applied to India.  Please note that I have renamed the ‘serial number’ column as ‘Rank of Shame’ to mirror the spirit of this Olympics season and the spirit of Abhisekh et al.’s study: ((all data from Worldometer as on 22 July 2021, 1000 hours IST) :

Rank of ShameCountryTotal casesTotal deathsPopulation
1USA35,146,476625,808333,045,503
2India31,256,839419,0211,394,272,063
3Brazil19,474,489545,690214,149,270
..and many many countries later…   
100Montenegro100,8021624628,150
102Cyprus94,2613941,216,607
103China92,41446361,439,323,776
Spot the Odd Man Out?

In conclusion, I am grateful to the authors of this study for underlining two extraordinary and enduring Laws of Credibility that are adopted instinctively by vast swathes of Indian academia and Indian media.

Law 1. Scholars, especially Indian-born scholars, are far more capable of discerning ‘facts’ and analysing ‘data’ on India when they are sitting 11,000 kilometers away from India, than if they based themselves in India and did hard data gathering and field work in India.

Law 2. The credibility and worth of any academic research focused on India is directly proportional to the distance of the researchers from India; and the credibility and worth of the research increases exponentially if the researchers are located in a generally Westward direction from India.

Jai Hind. Hail Comrade Xi.

General ravings, Musings

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

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

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

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

He wanted my advice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Phir woi namak ka kahani.

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

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

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

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

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

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

We are a nation, a people in denial.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway, it’s all Modi’s fault…no?

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.