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, Potshots

Lamps of Thanksgiving

Last night I had a terrible dream.

I dreamed that India was facing a pandemic from the Covid-19 virus—which was bad enough—but instead of the Modi-led NDA government, India was governed by the Congress/Communist-led UPA government.

In my dream I was at a press briefing by Mr Shashi Tharoor, Union Minister for Health, Information & Broadcasting.  Mr Tharoor was replying, in his characteristic cultured and mellifluous tones, to a question on the role of Tabhligi Jamaat in increasing the spread of the virus across India:

“May I, in the simplest possible words, categorically defenestrate the diabolical diatribes of disinformation, the extraordinarily elliptical propositions, indeed the abominable and abhorrent agglomeration of synchronized ad hominem assaults by a regrettably vociferous section of our public who hilariously profess that they alone represent the descendants of those doubtful ancestors who built the great cities of Harappa and Lothal on the Western Plains, that a certain esoteric ecumenical congregation in the Nizamuddin area of the Capital known as Tabhligi Jamaat have, in furtherance of what is after all only their honest and benign desideration to practice and observe their faith, sown and spread far the seed of the pestilence that we know as Covid-19; I say fie on these craven, communal and cavilling critics, these illiberal worthies of inchoate intellect; to them do I murmur: Factum fieri infectum non potest”.

It took a large pot of strong, haldi-laced tea and a filter-load of black coffee to replace the feverish trembling of my limbs with calming, caffeine-induced tremors of my whole body.

I don’t know about you, O most worthy Reader, but tonight I shall respond to Prime Minister Modi’s call and light two lamps on my balcony at precisely 9 p.m. I’m a little flexible on letting them blaze for precisely 9 minutes; because my lamps are LED lamps made in China, so by leaving them on for an hour I’m neither going to cause any problems to the power grid not add any additional environmental impact to that already caused by the manufacture of these lamps.

I bought my Chinese lamps from a kid at a traffic signal; his smile was a blessing that no amount of fervent prayers at any shrine, religious or political, can bring.

I’m lighting these lamps as a Pratinandana or ‘Thanksgiving’.  Like on the evening of March 22nd , when I stood – well, strode up and down – on the balcony beating away at a metal pan and a Turkish drum.

Like on that day, tonight my Pratinandana will be for nurses, doctors, ward boys, municipal sweepers, drain cleaners, garbage collectors, micro vendors of fruit and vegetables, rickshaw-wallahs, thela-wallahs, head-load workers, truck drivers, police constables, watchmen…. for little kids forced to sell Chinese lamps at traffic signals…for all the countless, forgotten millions whom we see but do not recognize, encounter but do not meet, who live their invisible lives and slave at endless, thankless jobs that ensure that you and I are healthy and secure and  well-fed and sheltered and strong enough so that we can all make careers out of criticizing the Politicians, the Government, the System, the Establishment, the Bureaucracy,  and a thousand other ‘Others’ and ‘Thems’ for not making our beloved India a better place to live in for these very countless millions.

But I shall also offer a fervent thanksgiving prayer to all Gods and Prophets  –  secular, communal and communist – for saving us from  what I believe would have been a fate even worse than a Covid-19 pneumonia: namely, if instead of the Modi-led NDA, India had been governed by the Congress/Communist-led UPA government.

Oh, just to clarify:  I’m not making any political statement by lighting made-in-China lamps. Unlike a large section of our populace (unhappily, most of them highly-educated urban illiterates), I neither believe that China has created Covid-19 to murder off most of the world’s people, nor do I believe that Covid-19 and other viruses are created wearing little molecular-sized kufi caps or vibhuti marks on their heads, or for that matter waving tiny nano-sized red flags and yelling revolutionary slogans.

Sure, lighting these lamps is symbolic. I think symbolism is good.

I believe symbolism is one of the things that distinguish the human from the bacteria and the virus.

Jai Hind.

 

 

Musings

Coronas – Stellar and Earthly

This was meant to be about the significance of corona viruses in our scheme of things and the insignificance of us in the Universe’s scheme of things.

Well, maybe the next time…

Right now I’m still a little high from viewing the skies at sunset three evenings in a row from my terrace. Here are a few photos: all I can think of now are the words of Georges Lemaitre (1894–1966): Catholic priest, mathematician, physicist, the cosmologist who first proposed the theory of an expanding Universe which has come to be called ‘Big Bang’ …

The evolution of the world can be compared to a display of fireworks that has just ended: some few red wisps, ashes and smoke. Standing on a wellchilled cinder, we see the slow fading of the suns, and we try to recall the vanished brilliance of the origin of worlds…

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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…

General ravings, Musings, Remembering

Drumming away the Blues

Right from childhood days in Shillong I’ve loved music. Around 1967/68, when I was around 11 and also a round 11 (I was fat and short), I taught myself how to play the drums.  A battered old leather suitcase made a nice snare drum; a brass table top with a couple of nails on it made for an excellent cymbal;  and for sticks I ‘borrowed’  a couple of Mom’s knitting needles (sizes 7 to 9 worked best, as they allowed a good rebound for rolls).   My musical heroes in those early days were Brian Bennett (The Shadows), Mel Taylor (The Ventures),  Ringo Starr (The Beatles), and Ginger Baker (Cream).   In 1969 I bought a pair of teak drumsticks for the princely sum of Rs 1.50.  I still have them; every scar on them brings fond and noisy memories. They worked well on my suitcase too, though I kept borrowing Mom’s knitting needles…

But the story of my musical eccentricities must wait for another time.  Why I mention music now is, music has always been my refuge, it’s brought me solace and comfort and delight. And playing the drums elevates my spirits even in the darkest of moments.

Which is why, last week, after a gap of over five years, I picked up my drumsticks and went to a jam room in South Extension where there’s a nice drum set, and I practiced playing the drums for an hour.

There were no listeners to tell me how hideous it sounded, because I was all alone and the jam room was (mercifully) sound-proofed.  I was rusty, stiff in bone and muscle and brain, I panted and gasped at the exertion, I missed a beat every nine beats on average.

But I loved it!

I emerged from the jam-room, exhausted but healed of angst, the words of Omar Khayyam  blending weirdly yet sublimely with the words of Adi Sankaracharya in my haze-filled mind:

Alike for those who for TODAY prepare,

And those that after a TOMORROW stare,

A Muezzin from the Tower of Darkness cries

Fools! Your Reward is neither Here nor There!

Bhaja Govindam, Bhaja Govindam

Govindam Bhaja, Moodamathe!

I managed to record part of my solo cacophony, and place three short sections below – missed beats and all – for your torment, ferment and comment, O patient and long-suffering reader!

 

Don’t worry, I promise you I won’t post any more of my solo practice sessions.

Oh…and tomorrow I’m going again to the jam room.  Do join in…it’ll be great!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ancient writings, Musings, Remembering

Silica Politics

With the Delhi assembly elections having gone off peacefully and exit polls predicting the return of Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party, I see a glimmer of hope for India – that we might yet see the rise and growth of a national-level political party that actually works for ALL people, and does not survive by pitting religion against religion as the BJP and Congress do; caste against caste as the Samajwadis, RJD et al. do;  or generally everyone against everyone else as the CPI(M), CPI et al. do. 

A hope that leads me to wield the cerebral shovel and excavate the following article from the ancient sand-beds of memory: it was published in Indian Express over 20 years ago. 

Building sand castles

[Indian Express, 30 November 1998]

The counting of votes is on, and the first results are already trickling in. Across the nation psephologists pontificate, analysts arrive at bewilderingly diverse conclusions from identical data, and assorted academics, political observers and journalists join in severely criticizing the electorate for not behaving according to their predictions.

And, an ancient, battered lorry rolls up a dusty track leading to the dry river-bed, lurching with a snort of relief to a halt amidst huge banks of sand. Three men  stand in the empty hold of the lorry, shovels in hand. The driver backs the vehicle till it ploughs into one of the sand dunes; and then two of the men leap onto the hillock and proceed to scoop mounds of the grey-white material into the hold. The third man – he cannot be a day older than 16 – stands in the hold and spreads the fine sand as evenly as possible about the pitted wooden floor. The driver, meanwhile, twiddles with a knob on the dash-board, muttering imprecations, till a dreadful cacophony erupts from the dusty loudspeaker above his grizzled head. He has found the local radio station.

The three men toil away, sweat gleaming on their arms and bare torsos. Now the young man in the hold is practically level with his senior colleagues on the sand dune. Presently, he leaps off to join them in flinging the mica-flecked sand into the hold. A scrawny brown dog wanders up to the lorry, flops down in its  shade and falls asleep. On the radio, now the hourly news-bulletin cuts into the music. Electoral excitement is at fever-pitch; all eyes are upon an epic battle between two possible chief ministerial candidates: one a political novice with a clean reputation, the other a seasoned old bandicoot. The music resumes, the driver climbs out, collapses on the sand and dozes. The afternoon sun beats down upon the labourers’ gleaming bodies.

At length the job is done. The labourers pause at an unspoken signal, fling their shovels down, wipe their streaming brows and flop down on the sand next to the driver. Soon they must depart for the great construction lots on the western outskirts of the City; but there is still time to stretch one’s aching limbs awhile, perhaps even smoke a companionable beedi.

The flies drone, the sun sinks lower. The young labourer sits up and listens intently to the news broadcast. And then he turns to the driver. “So, Kaka, will we now have a new ruler?” he inquires. The driver removes the beedi from his mouth, hacks and spits at the sleeping dog but misses it by several inches. “It won’t make a difference to you, will it?” he remarks. The others chuckle, but the youngster is persistent.

“In our jhuggi,” he begins hesitantly, “they say things will soon change for the better. They say that we will all soon have pucca houses…”

Arre gadhe!” the driver exclaims exasperatedly. “Don’t you see that this is all a natak? Look”, he continues in a kindlier tone, “the fate of poor people is akin to that of the river: doomed to follow the same path forever, crushing the rocks into sand and sinking ever lower. And just as politicians come to us poor people for their votes, so too men come to the river to haul away the sand; they mix the sand with lime and cement and make buildings and bungalows so that the rich among them may live in comfort.”

He pauses, his rheumy eyes far away. “Yet in time the desert winds will blow, hot as a sigri, and the great walls and roofs of the rich will crack and fissure. And then the rains will beat upon their edifices, and this happens again and again, year after year, till slowly but surely the sands are washed away into the gutters and drains, to find their way eventually back to the river. And then again the minds of the rich will turn to the river, and upon a monsoon the river will breach its banks, and when it recedes there the sand will be again…”

Presently, the men board the lorry and it roars off in a cloud of dust. The dog gazes mournfully at the receding lorry, and then wanders off. A stray breeze brings the faint voice of the news-broadcaster, announcing that the seasoned old bandicoot has won.

 

 

General ravings

Emissions of Guilt

India is spearheading international efforts to combat the threats of Climate Change. With the 25th Conference of Parties due to take place in Madrid in early December 2019, and with the Winter Session of Parliament already on, the Lok Sabha Secretariat has prepared a small glossary of select terms related to Climate Change for the enlightenment of our MPs.  Here are a few extracts from the booklet, provided to us by an anonymous and possibly non-existent source in the L.S. Secretariat:

Emissions: Emission (archaic: admission) is the same as confession. If you confess or emit to a crime, it is called ‘emission of guilt’.  It is easy to understand why emissions are bad for your health. Luckily for you, as per Indian law an emission of guilt holds no weight in Court unless the emission is made in presence of a magistrate. Hence, if you are questioned by police, CBI or Enforcement Directorate regarding scams or other crimes,  emit nothing.

Fossil Fuels: Describes the very old and seasoned bureaucrats in ministries such as coal, environment, forests, mining, petroleum & natural gas, etc., who have perfected the science  of working very hard during their tenures to achieve zero outputs while at the same time ensuring zero emissions regarding any acts of omission and/or commission. (Related term: Zero-Effect Zero-Defect)

Conference of Parties (COP):  This is a mechanism under which tax-payers across the world pay the United Nations to organize annual Parties for assorted Fossil Fuels, media-folk and other hangers-on from 193 countries in lovely holiday resorts such as Bratislava and Buenos Aires, Cancun and Cartagena, Nagoya and Nassau. Here, the Party-goers can  argue about why emissions are bad for all of us, which country is emitting more than which, and what should be done about it and by whom. Already, 24 COPs have been held. Each COP usually ends with an Agreement under which all the Party-goers agree on two vital issues: (1) where to hold the next COP; and (2) a resolution never to promise to actually do something about emissions, as this might bring to an end all future COPs (this is also known as Principle of Shared Iniquity).

Coping Strategy/Adaptation: This is the approach adopted by a politician to cope with (or adapt to) a changed, politically adverse climate. If successful, the politician is said to demonstrate ‘Climate Resilience’.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC): Set up by UN, the IPCC has been working very hard for over 30 years to try and get over 190 countries to agree on important issues such as whether Climate Change is actually real, and if so, how to measure it and what the measurements tell us or don’t tell us about our past, present and future. So far, IPCC has produced many reports describing its brave efforts to get countries to agree on anything at all related to Climate Change (assuming it is real).

Low/zero carbon economy:  Also called Zero-C, this is a cherished goal of India’s e-governance initiative, to minimize or eliminate the use of carbon paper while making hard copies of government  documents. Zero-C will save paper and precious trees, and also protect politicians, government officials and affiliated Fossil Fuels against media stings and CBI inquiries based on leaked carbon copies of official documents. Note: Zero-C is not to be confused with Zero-X (archaic: Xerox), which is a different but equally harmful leaking mechanism.

Mitigation: This is a legal strategy by which  politicians and other Fossil Fuels can cite mitigating circumstances to dilute charges brought against him/her under CrPC, IPC or even IPCC.

Renewables. These are inexhaustible energy resources for political parties. For example, in India both BJP and Congress promote solar energy, through Sun Salutations and Son Salutations respectively. Also, BJP specializes in forcing citizens to convert to biogas energy through cow protection or Gau Rakshak; while Congress and CPI(M) compete in promoting large-scale wind energy generation through Mani Shankar Aiyar and JNU Student’s Union respectively.

Clean Technology Transfer: A very rarely used term nowadays, it describes ‘clean’ defense deals where no bribes have been paid to politicians or arms dealers while purchasing military equipment/technology from abroad.

Appropriate technology: This describes  modern, anti-pollution technology that is appropriate for Indian needs – such as the N95 anti-pollution masks being bought and distributed by Aam Aadmi Party at Delhi tax-payers’ expense to protect Delhi citizens against air pollution caused largely by the Delhi citizens’ own industries, vehicles and construction activities.  However, if the appropriate technology is obtained by swindling of public money, it is termed ‘Misappropriate Technology’.

Jai Hind.