Show Me the Money


Show Me the Money

There is a famous Tamil movie song of yesteryears where the heroine makes fun of the hero by asking him to have a bath, at least once a year on Diwali day. That song resonates with me when I start writing a blogpost again after such a long gap. After procrastinating for ages on putting pen to paper (figuratively) I have finally put my ass to the grass to write the mandatory birthday post which is a ritual I have followed religiously for the past ten years on my blog. I usually sound upbeat on such birthday blog posts reflecting on how far I have come and what I had achieved reaching that point in my life. For a change let me control my enthusiasm for saying “all is well, all is well” in a faux cheerful tone and give my dear readers a faithful summary of what the past year has brought in my life.

The one thing life has taught me over the past year is that according to all official statistics on the average life expectancy of the average Indian male, I am nearly there at the end, according to the government. I have no great hope of beating the stats and being an outlier who outlives the rest of my peer group till I am a senile fool whose death is celebrated with road-rokos and bandhs. For survival in itself is not an achievement, there are many men who have lived the lives you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy somehow clinging to life. That’s not for me. If it’s my time to go, I am ready and that’s the spirit of this post and my life over the past year.

Somehow, I have become convinced that I am going to die soon, well within the statistic determined by the government and that impending demise has freed my mind from a lot of self-inflicted misery. Let me take just one example, I have completely stopped exercising or running after fitness because if my time, my leftover time on this earth is limited would I prefer to use the time doing things I love or would I use it running on a treadmill staring at a blank wall opposite? Doesn’t justify the use of my limited time if I have to gain fitness or the admiration of my peers on how fit or handsome I look. Handsome or ugly I am going to die and as long as I don’t weigh so much that the pallbearers suggest a crane to lift me, I should hope I don’t waste any more time on earth in exercising. That’s one thing my impending death has freed me from- the pressure to look good.

The second is my acquaintance circle. During the past one year or so, I have started weeding out my circle of acquaintances and friends to those who would turn up for my funeral on hearing the news. If I believe that so and so will not take the time to attend my funeral I gently disengage with the person and ghost him or her by disappearing from their contacts list.  My standard question for friend requests nowadays is “hi will you attend my funeral? RSVP first for me to accept your friend request”. Now this has led to certain interesting conversations like the following. New friend request no.1 “hello, thanks for accepting my friend request. I would definitely like to attend your event. When is it scheduled for?” And that gave me pause and so I take my time in replying “thank you for the prompt acceptance. I would soon be creating a Facebook events page with the date, time and link for booking tickets to the event and will send you timely reminders for the event. Please make sure that you book tickets at the earliest as we are running some special offers for the early bird bookings” and I closed his chat window.

And there was the new friend request no.2 who texted me back to the standard query of “hi will you attend my funeral? Rsvp first for me to accept your friend request” with the following intelligent reply “hi I heard you are organizing an event. I am an event manager and mc with wide experience in such events, would you like me to send you a quote for the event?” and I texted her back “madam, the event is still in the conceptual stage. Once we confirm the dates and the venue I will inform you. I also need samples of your previous work in organizing such events. And as your Facebook friend I hope you can offer me some discount over your usual quote considering its going to be the last event I attend”.

Now all these queries about the undoubted commercial potential of my upcoming funeral has kindled the entrepreneurial instincts buried deep inside me that I have decided to make it a pay-per-view event for those of my enemies who are prepared to spend money to make sure that I am indeed dead and also plan to ink a deal with Netflix for live streaming the entire episode to reach my worldwide audience of ill-wishers. I also have plans to set up kiosks with my autographed photos and certified death certificate copies available outside the venue if anyone’s interested. A few merchandizing stalls are still available and you can contact me directly for the best positioned ones from where you can sell t-shirts and hats with my pictures on them. And if you advance book for the premium this-week-only tickets, I can guarantee you premium casket-side tickets where you can be just cursing distance away from me on the important day. RSVP me if you are interested in more such awesome once-in-my-lifetime deals.

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Nipah Virus, HIV Virus and the Human Virus – Scam, Loot & Chicanery


Nipah Virus, HIV Virus and the Human Virus – Scam, Loot & Chicanery

cold winter tablet hot

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

If you have been reading the newspapers diligently and following the news on multiple media fronts- TV, social media etc. I am sure you would know and recognize the words- the deadly Nipah virus. If you still don’t remember or can’t recall it offhand, the news refers to the recent outbreak of Nipah viral attacks in the state of Kerala in south India. The vector for transmission of the virus from animals to humans was identified as bats and as there was/is no cure and no way of immunizing against the virus the outbreak was predicted to cause massive causalities as it spread like wildfire throughout the country. And then it didn’t. It burned itself out within a month and the mass casualties predicted? There were a total of sixteen deaths. Now sixteen is not a small number, no death is condonable for that matter, nut when it comes to predictive statistical analysis sixteen is not a patch on the thousands who were expected to be infected in the crowded state of Kerala merely by living and breathing in the same air as the nipah viral victims.

So how did we dodge this bullet? Reflect back a little to the Ebola virus scare a year ago, the SARS virus a few years ago, the Swine Flu some years ago- all of them were predicted to cause mass causalities as they were supposedly uncontainable. Bu they didn’t. They burnt out on their own after causing an initial few deaths. Epidemiological measures like lessening general population exposure and specific measures like better protection to doctors and nurses treating these patients certainly helped. But what really mattered was the viral outbreak burnt itself out. For that’s what viral outbreaks do. The zero patient- the index patient who first gets infected, goes onto infect a few more around themselves and gradually the circle seems to be widening before it suddenly collapses on itself. That’s how most if not all viral epidemics end. But within the short period of the start and end of the infection, there are billions of dollars to be made- by a variety of people- the United Nations, the world health organization, the central and state governments and the Pharma and vaccine makers. Hence all the hype about uncontrollable diseases with doomsday scenarios peddled in the pliant media.

The big daddy of all such scams was the aids epidemic scare of the 90’s. When the HIV infection was first diagnosed it was primarily limited to a small subgroup of populations- the homosexuals and the drug pushers using infected needles. And then when the virus crossed over into the heterosexual community there was widespread fear mongering about how the entire population of the earth will be decimated by HIV. There were billions of dollars poured into HIV research over the years- but even thirty years later there is still no cure in sight and we are all still alive. The united nation even formed a special group called UNAID which received in excess of ten billion dollars in aid every year for propaganda against HIV infection. The United States of America alone spent over six and a half billion years every year on aids.

And many other fortunes were made by NGO’s in India utilizing the aids scare and attracting foreign funds for telling people what they already knew- sex with strangers was risky. The condom manufacturers who sensed an opportunity to earn more than they were currently making zoomed in on the aids panic to make HIV infection the most attention grabbing in the planet through the use of paid media. Condom sales zoomed through the roof when people were assured that having risky sex with strangers was alright as long as you wore protection.

And the approach seemed to work initially before people started going back to their original selves and rejecting condoms whether risky or not. And you can’t blame them- when people have to choose between instant gratification and a miniscule chance of risk guess what they will opt for? Anyway the strategy of using condoms as the cure for aids slowly ran into real world difficulties as people in real life rarely correspond to advertisement led campaigns. Which led to the next big profit spin-off- anti-retroviral drugs.

Large pharmaceutical companies not amused by the profits NGO’s and condom manufacturers were making off the aids scare were just waiting for such an opportunity to jump in. they started spreading money around to convince people they “hey forget about HIV infections, just pop in a few drugs daily and you can live a normal healthy life”. And voila- the anti-HIV drug business zoomed to six billion dollars. And you know what the NGO’s who realized that they were being cheated of a part of their loot did? They cried foul. They lobbied with governments and regulatory agencies to make these drugs harder to get as long as they didn’t get their payoffs from the Pharma industry. As I keep saying the only difference between an NGO and the mafia is the mafia do their own killings while the NGO’s use lobbying to get governments do the killings on their check lists. And that’s the reason that even with the widespread ability to manufacture generic anti-HIV drugs they are still not being manufactured and supplied to those who are positive for the Virus. A few deaths here and there, despite the presence of very effective drugs to prevent them, keep the populace in perpetual fear of the disease and always in the new’s cycle.

And after all these underground wars the surprising news from results started coming in that the AIDS scare was dying down because new HIV infections were not progressing at the levels predicted and why? Because as any competent epidemiologist or statistician would tell you – infections have these tendencies to bloom and die on their own – self-limiting in other words. As most people who infect others realize the fact and start controlling their exposure voluntarily the infected circle gets smaller and smaller and even if it doesn’t die out completely is still in too small a circle to be called a universal threat or to spend scarce resources on but having made billions of dollars on the scare can we just let it go on its own without kicking and screaming? Hence the continued tom-toming of the AIDS threat to humanity despite clear-cut evidence to the contrary and its business as usual for the UN, WHO and other NGO’s down the feeder line who like remora’s feed on the big sharks which prey on a fearful and unsuspecting public and on public coffers.

So what does this tell us? For one, that all those who cry doomsday at the drop of a hat are all talking through their hats. And for another though there are genuine microbial threats to human health its not all one sided. We haven’t survived billions of years and share the same, or almost same set of genes with the microbe’s to go down so easily without a fight. What they do, we can do. And we can do one step better. We can hang in there till they self-destruct for we humans have staying power. We can change our genes – epigenetics its called, to resist even thee toughest of microbes and make them harmless to us. And finally, the purpose of the UN, the WHO and all those NGO’s is just to make money out of our misery and it’s our fault if we believe otherwise. So next time you read in the papers about the next big threat to humanity, quietly tell yourself that someone has invented a new way to make more money.

The Dignity of Labour


The Dignity of Labour

black and white working old human

Photo by Vijay Putra on Pexels.com

Recently I was waiting for a few minutes at a traffic signal when I happened to notice an old woman selling bangles and assorted fancy items wheeling her hand cart away from the busy junction on the orders of the officious police force who didn’t want people to clog traffic right at the intersection. On a hot summer day, especially here in madras when the temperatures touch 40 degree centigrade even in the shade to see these old women push heavy hand carts laden with merchandise trying to sell them in the scorching noon sun somehow trying to make a living honestly instead of begging or stealing or praying to god for a handout made me reflect on life in general and the value we assign to dignity of labour.

And immediately, unbidden I recalled my colleagues, highly educated office workers seated in air-conditioned rooms who at the stroke of ten am or ten patients whichever is earlier close down their pens for the day saying “I have worked enough for the pittance they are paying me” regardless of the throngs waiting outside for a consultation.  And these people, the ones who work only for my salary amount kind are even lauded for their work because compared to others- the ones who sit reading the bible or divinity texts all day in the hospital and prefer to teach only bible gospels/classes to any student who approaches them with a doubt, at least the ten am workers see at least a few patients a day while the born again Christians spend all day communing with Jesus for which the government pays them a salary  and gives them an airconditioned office and a captive audience of eager young students- eager to pass somehow/anyhow.  And that this is all overlooked or justified by the higher authorities who are frankly afraid of being labelled anti-minority in the vein of excessive secularism and being politically correct towards religious minorities by allowing them to proselytize young college going kids in the classroom.

Anyway, leaving that aside, the very fact that eighty plus elder citizens are still working in the summer heat teaches us two lessons. The first is the most obvious, that there is no social security in India and you either work or you starve, even if you are a centenarian. Which means that either you work hard in your youth and middle age and save the money to tide over your old age or you try and get multiple children at least one of whom will take care of you in your old age, which explains the population problem.

The second lesson to be noted is that people in India, leave alone the officialdom, I am talking of even the common populace, look down on people who work with their hands/feet etc. There is no dignity in labour if you are not working in an airconditioned office sitting down in front of a computer. Even the most productive of manual workers, factory or industry workers or self-employed persons don’t command the respect of a say a 22-year-old software techie who just passed his arrears exams borderline or the bureaucrat who sits on his backside all day and only comes alive to demand baksheesh to scrawl his signature across a file. These are the kind of people who are most respected in India as seen by the ubiquitous engineering colleges and civil service training institutes.

I don’t have any solutions to offer, I don’t even know if I can achieve something with this rant of mine. But as a writer it behoves me to chronicle the times we live in for posterity and as a result I am recording this to the world wide web in the hope that someday someone in the far future will want to research why such an ancient civilization like India collapsed so suddenly and they might be interested to learn that it was because we valued shirking work more than honest labour and rewarded those who worked the least and punished those who didn’t.

Stop With The Lessons, OK?.


Stop With The Lessons, OK?.

You know what they say about life teaching you lessons and every experience is a blessing in disguise? Well I dunno who came up with such empty platitudes but take it from me it’s all such a load of bs (pardon my language). I mean who of us, given a chance wouldn’t prefer to skip over all the gory details of our lives and move straight on to the end part where we get what we deserve? On second thoughts, scratch that sentence and let me rephrase it again. Where we move on to the end part and get the victory we justly deserve?

Oh yeah right, I hear you agreeing ladies and gentlemen and I nod back. All this character building through adversity and struggle for success is also overhyped in books and media. In real life there isn’t a single one of us who wouldn’t prefer to take the ladder over the snake despite the many benefits of the snake’s lessons. If life was a movie wouldn’t you like to fast forward it through all the tough parts, the boring parts, the violent parts and prefer just to watch the colorful duet songs in Switzerland alone?

Unfortunately my life as a movie has been more an 80’s violent blockbuster type than the 90’s romantic Euro-train missing/Switzerland duet singing screenplay till now. Much against my will I seem to have been cast in the role of the angry young man, yep the role patented by Mr.Bacchan the elder, where I keep defeating gangs of ruffians and rowdies trying to do me harm and a few reels later those same set of villains keep turning up again and again to get bashed again. I mean there should be an end to the number of villain’s sent against me by life right? Or at least some variety in the screenplay? That’s not asking much is it? If I were Batman in one of the innumerable sequel movies, I would be, by now looking at the camera of my life and whining “oh the joker? Again? And the riddler? Again? And two-face? Again and again?” For that’s the kind of scam life is trying to pull on me all the time. And you the audience watching my life with bated breath for what happens next are going to be sorely disappointed at the same old faces turning up like clockwork.

To tell the absolute truth (is there anything else I ever say?) I am frankly bored of the old villains turning up again and again to thrash me and put me in hospital and then when I get discharged and released out again the same set of villain’s are waiting outside the gates to send me back into the hospital ward which I just said a cheery farewell to. I wonder don’t they ever get bored of swearing revenge against a single individual and move on to others once they have had their fill of me. Even villains (/essess) should be given a chance to randomly select fresh targets instead of wasting all their hate and time on an old and well dusted antagonist like me.

And as for me, well, if I haven’t learnt my lessons by now, doesn’t it mean I am not the learning type. So stop with the lessons and bring on the end credits already, fate or destiny or whatever you are. Be warned.

Travels in Sikkim-3rd Part


Travels in Sikkim-3rd Part

So what is the first thing you do when you hit the north east? You give into the clichés and eat momos right? And of course that’s exactly what we did once we exited Bagdogra airport. But first there was a minor kerfuffle in locating our driver who was supposed to pick us up at the airport. Not having visited the north east before we had to trust travel websites to decide our place of stay and itinerary. Thankfully a friend in Kolkata gave us the contact details of a well-established travel agency conducting tours of the north east and we made the arrangements – even paying the fee upfront for an airport pick up to airport drop trip entire travel experience.

And then when we landed at Bagdogra we couldn’t locate our driver outside the airport. I kept getting calls on my mobile from an unknown number – someone called Pandey (according to true caller) who kept saying something in Hindi, but as the only Hindi I knew was limited to Baba Sehgal singing “aaja mera gaadi mein betja” I couldn’t understand what he wanted me to do. I mean, I had expected the driver to stand outside the airport arrivals with a big board bearing my name – as seen in numerous movies. I hadn’t expected him to call me and give me directions (in Hindi) to go somewhere. So laden with luggage, I did the only possible thing which came to mind.

I looked around till I could find a south Indian looking army officer (it shows in our faces right?) and I explained my predicament to him. The army officer (he was keralite by the way) took the next call from the driver and gave him an earful in Hindi such that the driver was present in front of us within the next five minutes. We learnt that he had parked way down the road to avoid the parking fees at the airport parking and had hence been giving us directions to exit the airport and walk down the Siliguri road to where he was parked. We communicated to him in our broken hingilish that we didn’t mind paying the parking fee in future if it means avoiding the long walk uphill dragging heavy luggage. And with that sorted out we began our journey into the hills.

Now the first order of business was to get some hot food inside as we had travelled by a budget airline in economy class and they basically will give you nothing but water for the entire flight. So as we travelled on the road to Siliguri we broached the topic of a late lunch/early evening tiffin. Meanwhile our driver asked us the passport size photographs the travel agency had recommended us to carry for applying to get a permit to travel to the Tibetan border. As a couple of us were not carrying two passport size photos per head we decided to get it taken in Siliguri itself along with all the Xerox copies of the various documents required and so, we first made for a fast food joint were we ordered momos with hot sauce- authentic Tibetan style and meanwhile got our pictures taken.

I have never had much taste for momos, but given the cold weather and our empty stomachs since breakfast, those momos disappeared fast. And then we had that most magical of drinks- authentic Darjeeling tea for after all we were in Darjeeling weren’t we? And then we were on our way hoping to reach Gangtok in time as the travel time – optimistically from Siliguri to Gangtok up in the hills was five hours when there were no landslides or accidents. We had travelled a long way to get to the Himalayas and just couldn’t wait to see the famed hills.

And that’s how our trip up that long, narrow treacherous road into the hills began. But you just had to roll down the window and look outside to forget all the dangers and get mesmerized in the beauty of the landscape you were passing along. The mighty Brahmaputra roaring out of the gorges, the long beautiful tea plantation’s everywhere, tiny streams and thundering waterfalls everywhere. Not to mention the cold, the bone freezing chill as went ascended up into the hills, clad in singleton t-shorts appropriate for hot and muggy Kolkata from where we had come.

 

How History Is Written- An Explainer


How History Is Written- An Explainer

The king was sitting impatiently in the audience chamber while the nobles around him argued loudly back and forth. One of them shouted “but we can’t keep allowing these migrants to invade our country, they might soon overwhelm our native population at the rate at which they breed. The best way to stop them is to build a wall across the border and make them pay for it”. Another minister screamed even more loudly “and their culture is so primitive- they worship the fire and offer sacrifices- animal and human to it. They don’t have gods like us”. Meanwhile a third noble stood up and said “but my lord we have to remember that these are peaceful refugees, they are unarmed. We cannot in good conscience turn away starving women and children who are fleeing famine from our bountiful lands”.

Another minister offered his view “he is right my king, these refugees prefer to settle in the forest areas by clearing the plantations. They don’t trouble our native populations except to work for them or to trade with them”. And one of the other ministers tried to interject “and they bring certain useful animals with them. That horse animal they have domesticated for sacrifice that seems to me a far more practical animal for travel than our own native racing bulls”. At this a whole host of voices tried to shout him down as a “barbarian lover”.

Meanwhile the king scratched his head and asked “so what do you want me to do? I don’t think these tribes are any threat to us in our strong citadels. They might trouble a few far-flung villages but we have received no news like that till now. Can we postpone making any decision for later?”. The general of the army stood up then and said “why not send a warning my lord?” the king looked at him hard and long “what kind of warning?” the general, who was a pretty bloodthirsty one as generals go “ the kind of warning these half naked fire worshippers will understand. Pick the next batch of refugees illegally entering our border and kill them to send a message to make sure that others don’t follow them”. The king frowned “women and children too?” the general shrugged “of course, elsewhere is the message that our borders are inviolable? We can’t allow any tom, dick and harry to cross our borders”.

The wise chief minister stood up then and said “if that’s the course you follow your majesty, let me add a small piece of advice. These fire worshippers would like nothing better than to burn their bodies in their fires, so deny them that and just bury those bodies in plain view outside our citadel as a warning to further intruders.” And so it was done and a refuge band of fifty men women and children were massacred and buried outside the citadels walls as a warning to others.

Four thousand years later a group of archeologists were excavating the area and they accidentally chanced upon the citadels walls and the graves nearby. Excitedly they dug up what was left of the buried remains and sent them to foreign universities for DNA analysis for identification. The next day all the newspaper headlines screamed in bold letters “Aryan migration theory disproved by new DNA Evidence- Aryans have always lived here” “DNA analysis conclusively proves that it was the fire worshipping pastoral Aryans who were the builders of the great Indus Valley Civilization”. “The Indus valley civilization was a myth- it was the Aryans all along says DNA evidence” etc. And that’s how history is written – by whatever/whoever survives.

Dedication : To Tony Joseph for his piece in The Hindu on the IVC excavations.

Travels to the North-East- Part 2


Travels to the North-East- Part 2

As they say to travel to the north east, you have to first head east. And the gateway to the east is the magnificent megalopolis of Calcutta, nee’ Kolkata as its now pronounced. For those who don’t know, including me till this visit (although I have been to Kolkata before), the city is actually two, twin cities- Kolkata and Howrah joined together by the iconic Howrah bridge. Like all good things ruined by communism the leftists had ruined the once thriving capital of united Bengal into a bursting at the seams poverty ridden provincial township. Thankfully after the departure of the socialist regime lock, stock and barrel, things seem to have taken a turn for the better.

Kolkata now, on this visit, seemed filled with huge skyscrapers and long flyovers reducing the traffic snarls to manageable levels. There is also a general bustle in the streets and a sense of optimism in the people. Say what you will about Mamata di, the city of Kolkata looks spic and span in the brief period she has ruled over the state even if she prefers to stay over in Howrah and commute across to Kolkata to work daily. I was told that this was one another way for her to differentiate herself from the snooty communist bhadraloks who used to look down on the old city of Howrah while preferring the Victorian era genteel Kolkata.

I spent a day touring the tourist favorites like the Howrah Bridge and the Victoria palace and even ventured over into the old city of Howrah to see the authentic old gallis which Dominic La’pierre had written about in the bestseller novel ‘city of joy”. I came away with a sense of completeness to my journey into the Bengali consciousness as evinced by their pride in their capital Kolkata. And most surprisingly my taxi driver with whom I tried to communicate in English /hinglish ended up talking to me in my mother tongue telugu as he was a migrant from Andhra Pradesh. He informed me about the large number of migrants from Andhra who were living in Bengal for generations with just a remembrance of their language to connect them to their ancestral state. So instead of learning Bengali from my taxi driver as I had planned to I ended up speaking in a language I was comfortable with since childhood.

Having done the official part of the trip successfully, and with a win in the elections under my belt it was time for the actual vacation to start. And where better to head rather than the hills. The mighty Himalayas beckoned and from Kolkata I took a 45 mins flight to Bagdogra airport in north Bengal- an area called 24 parganas for reasons lost in the mists of times. It was a pretty short flight to say the least. I had just plonked down on my seat on the flight, adjusted my seat belt and got comfortable after the seat belts off sign came on, when the pilot again announced the seat belts on for descent into Bagdogra airfield.

For those who have never visited Bagdogra airport take it from me that it’s the size of Koyambedu bus stand in Chennai but serves a lot of important tourist spots in the north east –Siliguri, Darjeeling, Gangtok etc. Its approximately 20kms away (and one hour away depending on the traffic) from the nearest city- Siliguri and from there it’s all uphill into the Himalayas. Siliguiri is the last place you see the plains and as soon as you leave the city and head into the outskirts you can see the tea plantations start- the famous Darjeeling tea. And then you run smack into the largest landmass feature of India- the Himalayan ranges. More on my next post into the hills.