Musings, Potshots

AAP Fails AAPtitude Test with Honours!

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

Preamble

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

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

Why?

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

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

But at this point, an important disclaimer.

Disclaimer

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

Rationale

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

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

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

AAP’s Achievements

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

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

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

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

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

Capturing Crime

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

New CCTV cameras – strictly for the birds?

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

Critique

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

However, AAP correctly responds that:

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

Managing Water Quality

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

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

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

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

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

Critique

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

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

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

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

Managing Air Quality

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

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

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

Critique

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

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

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

JFGI. If you dare.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Afterword

Enough. Bus ho gya.  

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

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

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

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

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

SamAAPt!

General ravings, 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?

Musings, Remembering, Verse perverse

Barog: rediscovering the joy of simply being

After three days of choking-level air pollution, it’s a glorious morning here in Delhi!

Today’s the 6th of November. I began the day with 90 minutes of pre-dawn yoga, followed by a brisk two-kilometre walk. Now, energized by a hearty breakfast and healing kaapi,  I check the Air Quality Index on the Weather Bureau site. It announces that the PM 2.5 particulate emissions are a mere 210 micrograms/cubic metre at 9 a.m.

That’s wonderful… 210 mcg/m3   is not even four times the maximum safety level of 60 mcg/m3 … why, it’s almost as good as being in Bhutan!

I wipe my smarting eyes and breathe deeply of the pleasantly chill light-brown air, revelling in the tingling sensation that courses through the entire body and mind as the lungs fill with a perfectly-blended mix of SO2, NO2 and CO, flavoured with delicate hints of ozone and hydrogen cyanide and just a touch of that rare element, oxygen…

Forgive me the laboured sarcasm, O most valued Reader; but I’ve finally understood that it’s futile taking the issue of air pollution, or indeed any issue at all, very seriously  in our beloved India that is Bharat. Three years ago, in 2016, I actually took the issue of air pollution seriously enough to write about it [please click here to read it]. But now I realize that nothing’s changed since then, except for the worse.

So:

Instead of wasting my breath in gasping rants

At Kejriwal and Goel, and their many sycophants

I abandon the idiocy of all netas and affiliated fools

For the serenity of hills and rills, still quiet pools…

Let Delhi and its denizens make Haze while the Sun shines!

I’ll find refuge in flowery meadows, sighing pines…

In this illuminated and detoxified spirit, I recollect and relive four wonderful days I spent in the quiet little town of Barog, near Shimla, in late September 2017. I stayed with my dear friends Micky and Abha: their warmth, their generosity and hospitality helped me shed decades of accumulated stresses and blues, and rediscover the joy and wisdom of simply BEING.

I’ve written earlier about walking up to the old army cantonment of Dagshai during this visit. [You can read it here]. Here are some more photos from that time.  A mere four days’ R&R; yet for me they evoke memories to draw on for a lifetime…

On the way up: Himalayan Queen

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In and around home

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Timeless mornings and evenings, lazing out on the terrace with Abha and Micky.   Tiger was usually present to test and certify quality of biscuits, pakoras, cake etc.

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Dagshai Cantonment – seen from terrace

mickys-sunset-point-2-1.jpg
Every evening we’d walk to Micky’s ‘Sunset Point’ and watch the clouds roll in

just walking
Just walking around…

just walking 2

Tiger doing his Think Tank act
Tiger contemplates the State of the Universe

A dreamy day in Kasauli

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At the beautiful old Christ Church (estt. 1853)

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Army Holiday Home

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Kasauli Club

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The wildflowers run riot here!

Barog railway station

Walking down

There’s no road to/from Barog railway station. There’s only a steep, 400-metre path leading down through the forest from the Old Shimla Road.  So Micky dropped me off at a signpost showing where the path begins, and I followed the path down…and down….

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At Barog station

I never imagined I’d enjoy waiting for a train so much.  I spent just over an hour at the station, during which I met only four souls: the cheerful Asst Station Master, an ancient and sleepy gangman; the young man who presided over the station’s canteen and fixed me two cups of black tea;  and a phlegmatic dog who decided I needed constant supervision.  Nothing seems to have changed here since the 1.15 km-long Barog Tunnel was completed in the early 1900s…

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Barog tunnel – named after Colonel Barog, British Army engineer, who was entrusted with boring this 1.15 km tunnel through the mountain.  To save time, Barog deployed two teams which proceeded to bore the tunnel from both sides simultaneously. Alas, Barog’s calculations were wrong; the two segments of the tunnel were misaligned, and when it became clear that never the twain would meet, poor Barog was fined the princely sum of Re 1 for wasting the British government’s time and resources. Unable to bear the humiliation, he shot himself, and the tunnel was realigned and completed by another engineer:  H S Harrington. Legend has it that the tunnel is still haunted by the unhappy spirit of the Colonel…

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Station guest  house – I was told the rooms are nice, the food excellent, and the best way to visit Shimla is to stay here and take trains up and down (2 hours and a bit each way)

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My mentor: the slightly accusing look is because he believed (despite my strong denials) that I’d eaten the larger share of biscuits

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And so…time to go

Musings, Remembering

Chords of memory

It’s amazing, how quickly one’s equanimity vanishes beneath the stresses and strains of living in our beloved Rajdhani.

In the present instance, by ‘equanimity’ I mean the peace of mind that I found at the India Music Summit in Jaipur (4 – 6 October). Time flew while I was there.  Now , barely a fortnight later, all that peace of mind too has flown out the window; my Delhi window that is,  beyond which the afternoon sun is hidden by a haze made up of equal proportions of PM10 particles, toxic fumes from factories and vehicles, and toxic abuse from a million marauding muttering motorists.

Where has all the music gone?

You know how it is sometimes with a wonderful childhood experience?  You remember you had a good time; but that’s all you can recall. It’s as though all the little details— the when and where and how, the who did what with whom and to whom and why, the people and places and happenings and all the other elements— have vanished from memory; they’ve been chopped up fine and atomized in Time’s great grinder and swirled in the waters of forgetfulness, and then slow-cooked with the spices of experiences and the tadka of love and joy and sorrow (stirring frequently all the while), till everything has become like one cerebral kootu.

And so, when you try and remember your childhood experience, you can only discern the kootu; a tasty but uniform, featureless stew.

Yet it takes just a random spark— perhaps a certain aroma, perhaps the way the morning sunlight gleams on a leaf, a certain voice or giggle or chord, or a stranger’s face that reminds you of someone you knew …and at once the years and decades fall away like dream’s architecture dissolves with awakening, and for a brief thrilling moment the wonderful childhood experience of ten years or fifty years ago returns in all its intensity and washes over you and renews you;  and just as you become aware of returning memory it vanishes …leaving you smiling, longing for more.

Sometimes, of course, you can seek out the spark yourself. And with music it’s really easy, music as a spark always works for me.

That’s what I did just now;  I turned to YouTube and sought Aruna Sairam. I found a wonderful performance by her with sarod player Soumik Datta, including  songs she’d sung at Jaipur! Here are two—the 500 MWe Durga stotram Aigiri Nandini, and the Kalinga Nartana joyously and passionately recreating young Krishna’s sport with the great serpent Kalinga.

And in less time than it takes the law-abiding but stressed-out Delhi motorist to yell “Abbe saale, wrong side pe kyon chalaa rahe ho!”, all my stresses and strains have evaporated. 🙂

I can’t wait to attend the 2020 Summit.   To temper my impatience, I just listened to, and share here, the ethereal voices of the Shillong Chamber Choir singing Vande Mataram:  as they did in Jaipur; singing here on another occasion, when Chandrayaan II silently circled the Moon and the Lander Vikram was lost; evoking what their songs always evoke in my mind, the embracing and celebration of Life with all its ups and downs, the joy and awe and grandeur of Eternity.