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…

General ravings, Musings, Potshots

Corona Virus, Evolution and Revolution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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