Eventually, the beauty of the solution lay in its simplicity and elegance.
But that is what leaders are for. To see what the common man cannot see. To do what the common man cannot do. To hear what the common man does not say. To take decisions where the common man needs none. And to dither and vacillate where the common man needs one to be taken.
Billions of rupees have gone down the drain in the search for solutions and cures. Numerous lives sacrificed. Decades lost.
Yet, year after year the scourge has kept coming back. Like the proverbial bad penny. Developing, evolving newer and hardier strains, mocking the advances made by society. Come monsoon, typically between June and September in most parts of the country, it bares its fangs once again and readies to strike.
Even a plethora of meticulously unresearched advice, blindly forwarded on WhatsApp groups, has had no impact. Like the one I received yesterday informing me that the mosquito responsible for dengue cannot fly above knee height, hence all that people need to do is take care to cover the body below the knees, and all will be well. In my 11th floor apartment, with the dreaded buzzing sound audible as soon as I step out onto the terrace, this message was like manna from heaven. It seems the little tyke can fly upto the 11th floor of a building, significantly higher than knee high to a person at ground level, but once it reaches that height, it loses the will to fly above knee height. I took my phone and read the message aloud to the creators of the buzzing sound on the terrace to tell them how they needed to behave. A follow-up session is scheduled today evening.
By now you might have guessed that I am talking about mosquito-borne diseases like malaria and dengue, which have traditionally held sway during these months. If malaria was more lethal in one year, it would be dengue in the next. Last year, chikungunya, an unknown new mosquito-borne disease, became the flavour of the season, eclipsing malaria and dengue. Like an unheralded Boris Becker, all of seventeen years of age, coming into Wimbledon in 1985 and laying established stars low. Who knows which disease will rule the roost this year. Online bookies are doing roaring business.
Cities and governments around the country have been trying to solve the problem through planned, scientific means, with dismal results. Just when it seemed all was lost and that we were consigned to being forever held to ransom by mosquito-borne diseases every monsoon, came an inspired, swift, unilateral decision by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) which has put the spring back in the steps of the common man. What is even more inspiring is that it appears that the decision is based neither on logic nor any substance.
Not for nothing has Mumbai been the commercial capital of the nation.
Public Health Department (PHD) officials of the BMC have come to the rescue of the common man from the annual mosquito menace and slapped a notice on a popular Radio Jockey (RJ) in the city whose satirical song on potholes in Mumbai’s roads and mocking the BMC has garnered over a million views on YouTube, for breeding mosquitoes in a clay bowl kept under the plant pot kept in front of the front door of her apartment.
Now who would have thought that mosquitoes would be bred by a popular RJ whose satirical song on potholes in Mumbai’s roads and mocking the BMC has garnered over a million views on YouTube. That too in a clay bowl kept under the plant pot kept in front of the front door of her apartment.
PHD officials can clearly make out that a clay bowl kept under the plant pot kept in front of the front door of the popular RJ’s apartment, the RJ whose satirical song on potholes in Mumbai’s roads and mocking the BMC has garnered over a million views on YouTube, is being used for breeding mosquitoes, but clay bowls kept under plant pots kept in front of the front doors of other apartments in her building, whose occupants have not put out a satirical song on potholes in Mumbai’s roads and mocking the BMC that has garnered over a million views on YouTube, are not being used for breeding mosquitoes.
The world has changed. Clearly you can’t pull wool over the eyes of officials of the PHD of the BMC any more. They know.
“When the city has several agencies controlling roads, how can BMC be blamed for potholes, even though it is our responsibility?” the BMC has shot back at the RJ. “Problems with the railways and airlines are not because of us,” the BMC has added, bolstering their argument by citing examples of services they have nothing to do with. Even the RJ whose satirical song on potholes in Mumbai’s roads and mocking the BMC has garnered over a million views on YouTube, will not be able to argue with that.
As the BMC is ruled by a political party whose founder built a reputation with scathing political cartoons before turning to politics, it is only logical that scathing humour at their expense is not to be tolerated. The party has identified that since they so enjoyed and identified with it, the video was an insult to every Mumbaikar (resident of Mumbai). It was apparently a unanimous decision taken by the leader of the party alone.
In order not to get left behind, Delhi has proactively decided to retrospectively issue mosquito breeding notices to organisers of the protest march “Not In My Name” last month, despite the monsoon becoming active over Delhi only in July, as a preventive measure.
To eradicate the menace of mosquitoes from the country, it has been decided to ban all forms of creative dissent.
A simple and elegant solution, wouldn’t you agree?
I used to worry about the ability of the younger generation to take responsibility. Even chiding my children occasionally, to the utter lack of amusement on my wife’s part, leading to more nights on the living-room couch.
But recent events have proved me wrong. Once again.
It seems that while I was busy worrying and chiding my children, and sleeping on the living-room couch, organisations that stand up and take responsibility have been growing and prospering, as I discovered from a friend’s recent post.
They even have a name.
They are called political parties. And governments. And they mostly do it (take responsibility) on other people’s money. And one of the key responsibilities of governments, as I have learned, is to take responsibility for what they have either done or not done, or what others have done or not done.
Were it not for the full page adverts in major national dailies, purchased with my money of course, I would not have known how responsible this government is.
For instance, I would not have known that the present government, that came to power three years back, is responsible for the unprecedented success of the space programme that has delivered unprecedented successes many times since its inception over sixty years back. Foolishly, I had assumed that it was the vision of the founding fathers that had created the space programme.
I would not have known that the present government is responsible for the surgical strikes that not only served as a strong warning to terrorists and resulted in spectacular lack of success on the Kashmir issue, but also introduced a new term to the vocabulary of most Indians. How many previous governments can rightfully claim to have expanded the common man’s vocabulary?
I would not have known that the present government is responsible for providing universal access to banking services. Not drinking water, not grid-supplied power, but banking services.
Even state governments have come to the party.
Kerala has claimed full responsibility for introducing the Fat Tax. Just imagine!
Chhattisgarh has claimed full responsibility for electrification of 98% villages. Without any responsibility for supplying power.
Bengal has claimed full responsibility for marching forward in its endeavour to make the vision of a golden Bengal come true. Not green. Not white. Not silver. Golden.
Each claiming its share of responsibility with its own paid advert in national dailies.
Even though we found out why Kattappa killed Bahubali, before the government could claim any responsibility for it, could it be possible that we have found an answer to some of the most enduring mysteries of the world?
In the seventies, a number of ships and planes are said to have vanished in the Bermuda Triangle. Could this government be responsible?
Would my childhood friend, who was disconsolate after losing his pet pooch when we were both children, get closure after all these years? Can we safely conclude that this government was responsible?
Quite a handful already, isn’t it?
But, as usual, the common man is never satisfied. He wants more. He has started expecting the government to take responsibility for even real day-to-day problems.
He now expects the government to take responsibility for the poor state of roads in Gurgaon.
He expects the government to take responsibility for the precipitous drop in water levels in rivers, ponds and lakes across the country?
He expects the government to take responsibility for the security of women.
Is that fair? After all, how much can a government do? Ourtax money can only buy so much advertising space.
But the government is game. To take on more responsibility.
Even though it expresses inability to take responsibility for real day-to-day issues, it has offered to take responsibility for having brought down the Ganga and other perennial rivers from their glacial abode in the Himalayans.
It has offered to take responsibility for designing and commissioning the annual system of monsoon rains.
It has offered to take responsibility for inventing the game of cricket and Bollywood.
It has even offered to take responsibility for the first man to be sent into space sent by Russia and for Chelsea Football Club winning the latest edition of the English Premier League football.
Can you ask for more?
With the government poised to take on so much more responsibility, the responsible common man can continue to provide proof of his nationalism on WhatsApp?
Another thriller from my long-time blogging friend Jacqui Murray hits the stands.
With Twenty-four days, Jacqui builds on and enhances the genre of “technical thriller” that she introduced in “To Hunt A Sub”.
With a daughter in the Navy and son in the Army, Jacqui is already uniquely qualified to deliver the military thriller. Add to that her work of writing tech-in-ed columns and a personal interest in thrillers, and the combination becomes even more potent. Now top it off with the detailed research that has perhaps gone into the book which allows the reader to sail through the book without questioning the events and technology and science in it.
The tale leaves the reader panting as it sweeps across the world from America through Europe and Mid-East to the Far-East and back. And as it switches between human and artificial intelligence. And ideologies and faiths.
Jacqui’s is a fresh voice in the world of thrillers that needs to be heard by everyone who has interest in the genre.
The paying public deserves better.
They (the public) paid for their lavish lifestyles. They paid for their needless overseas study junkets to Europe during the summer months. They paid for the security detail to protect them from themselves (the public). They paid for their scams. They paid for their unaccounted money stashed away in tax havens. They paid for the infrastructure that mostly did not get built.
Just when they (the public) felt they could sit back and let political leaders pay some dividend on the investment by making a fool of themselves by making needless, irrational decisions that are likely to be scoffed at by all sections of society and may soon need to be reversed, the rug has rudely been pulled from under their feet.
Throwing caution to the winds, the Supreme Court has decided to take upon itself the mantle of making needless, irrational decisions that are likely to be scoffed at by all sections of society and may soon need to be reversed.
Political leaders are running scared. Never before has there been such an open challenge to their rights. This move of the Supreme Court strikes at their belief system and the core of their existence. Most of them have beaten a hasty path back to their constituencies to convince voters that they will continue to disappoint them with their unfulfilled promises and irrational decisions. The Supreme Court decision should be seen merely as a one-off, an aberration.
In a bold decision that appears to be in response to a petition from no part of society, the Supreme Court has decided that there should be no liquor vends within 500 metres of any national highway. This, apparently, was the missing piece of the jigsaw that will bring down accidents on national highways. Conducting driving tests and antecedent verification before issuance of licences was considered as an alternative solution but, since it appeared to hold promise of solving the problem, it eventually went where such alternatives need to go; the reject pile. Existing liquor vends should be moved a minimum distance of 500 metres from the highways. Moreover, since many of the existing vends appear to have been created after taking due approvals from authorities, they will need to be shifted overnight.
When the going gets tough, the tough get going, they say.
In keeping with the “spirit” of the order, several states have moved to denotify national highways and classify them as “tiny local roads” instead. The Supreme Court has lauded the move and acknowledged that the threat of accidents owing to drivers consuming liquor from vends on roads called national highways does not exist from drivers consuming liquor from vends on roads called tiny local roads, which carry as much traffic as national highways.
Pubs and restaurants falling within the 500 metre zone have, “under the influence” of the order, also moved to shift their entrance gates to beyond the 500 metre line. It is common knowledge based upon detailed studies of human behaviour that once you have moved (or have been moved by someone) a distance of 500 metres after consumption of liquor, the inebriation vanishes and you become, strangely enough, “sober as a judge”.
Hotel Management schools across the country have introduced a new course on teaching students the metric measurement system. Especially for the purpose of measuring a distance of 500 metres. The humble metric measure is enjoying a revival amongst bar owners who have only known the inches to be poured down a glass. Catering students are being taught the difference between national highways and tiny local roads and how to identify each.
The sagacity of the decision can be judged from the fact that India remains one of the most densely populated large nations in the world with, among nations with 100 million plus populations, neighbouring Bangladesh being the only one more densely packed, leaving enough space to move anything upto 500 mm (millimetres; 1 metre = 1000 millimetres) in any direction. Hence, moving a vend 500 metres away can be considered a wise and reasonable decisions, taking liquor vends only closer to schools, homes, religious places, etc. And we know our children and people not barrelling down national highways are mature enough to resist the lure of the drink. In fact, liquor vends can be setup at a distance of 100 metres from schools. QED.
In a strange coincidence, the day this order was announced, a small outlet started coming up close to our building, at a point visible from our terrace. Yesterday the signboards have been put-up. And, lo and behold, we now have a liquor vend right next to our building! But I exaggerate. It is not right next to our building. It is about 100 metres away. From the place in the compound where youngsters play football, a good kick could land the ball, and some chasing youngsters, into the vend. But so what? Are they grown-ups travelling down national highways who will be lured by liquor and cause damage to themselves and others?
It is mainly drivers of vehicles on the national highways that we worry about. Drivers who we have chosen to give licences to drive motorised vehicles ranging from two-wheelers to twenty ton trucks. How can we trust them to resist the lure of liquor.
The Supreme Court means business. It has also banned signboards which started mushrooming along remaining national highways (the ones not converted to tiny local roads), pointing to the nearest liquor vend 501 metres away. It is expected that demonstrating foresight and wisdom borrowed from political leaders, they will issue a pre-emptive order for banning signboards which point the way to the nearest signboard which points the way to the nearest liquor vend.
But the paying public is not happy. They have paid so much money to see politicians make of fool of themselves. They cannot countenance the Supreme Court denying them their fundamental rights.
The Supreme Court, cut to the quick by the spontaneous censure from all over the country, is trying to limit the damage.
They have clarified that liquor is good because it generates a huge amount of revenue for the government. Our fight is not against liquor. Do you not see the rapid expansion of liquor vends near schools, houses and religious places, at least in modern cities like Gurgaon? If we have our way, no citizen of the country will need to travel more than 100 metres in any direction to reach a liquor vend.
But liquor drinking is bad. Our fight is only against drinking liquor. That too by mature adults who have been adjudged fit to be issued driving licences. That is why liquor advertising is banned on all media. We will soon issue orders to ensure that the government introduces a tax to uniformly collect liquor revenue from each citizen so that the state can continue to finance its charitable activities and development agenda, without anyone ever needing to consume it.
I opened the door leading out with trepidation. I did not know what to expect. It was not a situation I, or, for that matter, any other modern human, had been in, ever before.
I breathed in. Tentatively at first. Half expecting the atmospheric oxygen to have turned to chlorine, burning up the trachea even before the passage was traversed. And a painful death. Fists clenched and eyes shut, I braced for the burning sensation.
“Are you feeling OK?”, a passer-by enquired solicitously.
I could hear. I was alive. The air had not turned to noxious fumes while I had started that fateful journey almost an hour back. I gulped mouthfuls of air greedily.
I did not see the speaker as I was looking down. Even if I was looking up I would not have seen the speaker as my eyes were shut. But I managed a weak smile.
I was in the open now. I looked up, still cautiously, to see the setting sun, which was higher when I had gone inside. Evidently, the Earth had not stopped rotating during that hour.
I have never jumped into the cage of a tiger. With the tiger present. Or without.
I have never dived down to the Marianna Trench, stripped down to my shorts, just holding my breath.
I have never cartwheeled down Mt. Everest. Or Kanchenjunga and K2 for that matter.
I don’t know if others have, but I have not.
It is not that my life has been a series of predictable, boring events, bereft of those magical moments of human endeavour, flirting with danger and excitement, that give meaning to life. I have been brave, when the need for being brave has arisen.
‘Twas me who, once upon a time, in college, had answered “Present sir” on behalf of a classmate missing from an Accounting class.
‘Twas me again, chipping in from a point just off the green from where I could just as easily, and with better results, have putted.
I get goose pimples just thinking about these incidents and look forward to the time when I will recount stories of these extreme adventures to my grandchildren, with a fire crackling in the background.
It is the daring and adventurous spirit of motivated individuals that has made the human story that much richer. Individuals who sailed the deepest oceans, climbed the highest mountains, trekked through the densest jungles, with scarcely a thought for personal safety. In short, boldly went where no man had been before.
Mankind has often found itself at a crossroads, where selfless sacrifice and the daring spirit have lit up the way for future generations.
Another such crossroads had been reached by mankind.
Unanswered questions had been gathering. Dust. The thought that mankind might never know, had been disturbing me no end.
Cometh the hour, cometh the man.
Not one to be cowed down in the face of danger, as readers would have realized by now, I made the ultimate sacrifice. So that future generations do not have to live in the dark. So that the human story can continue.
Throwing caution to the winds, I left my mobilephone in the locker when I went to the gym for resuming my losing battle with creeping unfitness. For an hour.
Yes. You read that right. I left my mobilephone in the locker when I went to the gym. For an hour.
To seek an answer to the question that had been disturbing humanity ever since the invention of mobilephones, and one that no human had dared to seek an answer to, “What disaster would befall humanity if I stopped peering into the mobilephone for a short while?”
As soon as I shut the locker door…Silence…More silence.
Imagine images, perhaps blurred, moving in circles in slow motion and incoherent sounds emanating from them. As happens at a momentous turn of events in real life, as we know from Hollywood and Bollywood movies. Like when Harry Potter went looking for the Horcruxes. Like when Ram unleashed the arrow that eventually felled Raavan.
By now we all know that I survived the ordeal. But only I know how long that hour was. Everywhere I turned, there was a caring human tightly clutching his mobile to ensure that atmospheric oxygen does not turn to chlorine; or one looking at his mobile screen every three seconds to ensure the Earth does not stop rotating; and yet another continuously talking on it to prevent an alien invasion. I felt like a total misfit there. I was surrounded by accusing eyes inside the gym. Right under the myriad signs pasted on the walls that said “Do not use mobiles inside the gym”.
The effort, the moments of self-doubt, the hours of indecision, have taken their toll on me. My nerves are shattered. I don’t know how many more posts I can write.
How will posterity judge me? I hope as a person who made the ultimate sacrifice. Of staying away from his mobilephone for an hour to seek answers to questions important for mankind and light up the way for future generations. And not as one who put mankind in danger because of his cavalier attitude. After all, anything could have happened in that hour.
At least I will have another story to tell my grand-children. I stayed away from my mobile for an hour. Do you think they will believe me?
Before signing off, a note of caution for readers, who would do well to understand that the acts of bravery described in the article were performed by experts. Or, at least people claiming to be experts. Any attempt to perform them unsupervised could lead to grievous injury and harm.
Moreover, in order that mankind is not put to any more undue risks, people should ensure that the following guidelines are religiously adhered to:
- Do not, ever, attempt to walk across a busy road without being glued to a mobile screen.
- Do not, ever, go without your, or anyone else’s, mobile, to the gym where signs of “Do not use a mobile” are plastered on the walls around you.
- If your mobile does not ring noisily inside the cinema hall, make sure you let other viewers feel safe by making a call every few minutes and talking loudly so that they know you are “on the watch for mankind”.
- Drive a car only when you have text messages to type on your mobile. Even better, drive a two-wheeler while typing text messages.
Is a little bit of individual sacrifice for the greater good of mankind too much to ask for?
A restarted, and perhaps soon restopped, Delhi – Lahore bus service could not do it.
The Samjhauta Express train service through the Wagah-Attari border crossing could not do it.
Shimla and Agra accords could not do it.
Handshakes at Davos and the UN could not do it.
Having a PM on one side and President on the other, born in territory on the “other” side, could not do it.
Yet, the unthinkable has happened. Catalysed by an unexpected event.
Extreme right-wing groups, that comprise most of the relevant population in each country, the ones supported by democratic governments, the ones who know what is good for everyone else and do not hesitate to intimidate others into agreeing with them, in antagonistic neighbours India and Pakistan, are now fighting for a common cause.
Can you believe it?
It is apparently a cause worth fighting for. After all, in a modern society, do you really have a cause, that will be supported by the democratic government of the day, if you do not intimidate others into agreeing with you, for their own good of course?
It passed this litmus test of worthiness.
No, it is not Kashmir that we are talking about.
Not even Baluchistan.
We are talking about Valentine’s Day celebrations.
The Islamabad (capital of Pakistan) High Court has banned Valentine’s Day celebrations at public places in Pakistan acting on a petition claiming it to be un-Islamic.
Apparently, it was important that it was banned because it was providing enjoyment for youngsters without throwing bombs or undertaking suicide missions while celebrating. Not even intimidating others into joining their celebrations.
It was important it was banned because businesses, without threatening or intimidating customers, were managing to sell everything from roses to cars to houses to salt to mobilephones to shoes to vegetables to floor tiles to butter to light-bulbs. This could only lead to greater economic activity and economic liberation. Who has it ever helped?
It was important it was banned because in a modern society, often claiming to be democratic, only expressions of hate are to be allowed in public places, especially when backed by tactics of intimidation.
It was important it was banned because youngsters were spending their own time and money on the celebrations and letting others live. Who in a sane, modern society can call this a celebration? Especially if you are a leader of some sort who knows one can celebrate only when one gets to spend other people’s money.
Though initially stumped by the verdict as it took away the primary reason for their existence, of Pakistan-bashing, groups on the Indian side of the fence have displayed their maturity by applauding the decision and calling upon the Indian government to consider meritorious judges of the Pakistan High Courts for the many positions lying vacant in the Indian High Courts. As the request was backed by violent demonstrations and looting and arson, the government has agreed to consider the request sympathetically.
In deference to the secular nature of Indian society, these groups have refrained from calling Valentine’s Day celebrations un-Islamic or un-Hindu, plumping for a secular un-Indian instead. They have also identified it as an insidious western ploy to capture the minds and hearts of our responsible, intelligent, sensitive youngsters. Our responsible, sensitive and intelligent youngsters do not know what is good for them, one of the main reasons we allow them voting rights. We do. We will not let western culture corrupt our youngsters, debase our religions and denigrate our culture.
We know how. As do our political leaders.
We will shamelessly pander to rich companies in the West. We will change rules to make it possible for them to come and invest in our country and create opportunities for them to bribe decision-makers. We will raise a hue and cry when a western society seeks to reduce the number of Indian job-seekers and immigrants. So that our youngsters can get more jobs in western companies and promote Indian culture.
We will continue, year after year, to go to Davos and other destinations outside India that claim to be solving the world’s problems, on taxpayer money, to be clicked with the rich and famous and get our children admitted to Ivy League colleges. We will continue to send large delegations to western countries, especially in their pleasant summer months when it gets very hot in India, to learn about things that we will never implement here.
We will not let our youngsters be corrupted by western influence.
We wish you a Happy Valentine’s Day.