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Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Lock Coronavirus Down: The Suspense Continues!

As the 21-day lockdown in India completes the first week today the total infected of COVID-19 in the world crossing 800,000 persons with deaths at nearly 39 thousand, and in India the graph is still steady with around 1200 infected and 32 deaths. After reeling under a merciless torrent of deaths for the last few days Italy seems to have a sigh of relief with no new deaths recorded for the time being, and reduced deaths for Spain, Iran and USA—in the latter infections are still on the surge and deaths had doubled in the last 2 days, and better scenarios in terms of new cases for France, United Kingdom and Switzerland. However, absolute suspense continues in India where, experts still say that Stage-2 is not yet over and the real picture would materialize once Stage-3 is reached. The main point of interest being at the moment: has the lockdown helped India in controlling the spread of the Coronavirus. The Government of India has said that the measure seems to have a positive impact on the spread while other experts are giving the opinion that perhaps the virus is not spreading as much in India and in Africa due to the factor of increasing hot weather. Still others have painted a gloomy picture for India from April, 2020 onwards. Whatever way it goes the country, with its states and union territories is getting more and prepared for the final assault. The testing figure is increasing day by day with more kits attained and private hospitals also brought into the loop (even now, India is utilizing only 36% of its total testing capacity), the number of ICUs with ventilators has continued to increase too, tracing and quarantine being arranged all the time for suspected cases and many of the public hospitals have been converted into dedicated centres for COVID-19 all over the country. There is also the other part of the suspense drama as to what is going to happen beyond 14th April—would lockdown be extended or only temporarily lifted. World Updates:

Naturally, there had been some hiccups in the execution part for a country of 1.3 billion citizens suddenly trying to shut everyone up behind closed doors. We mentioned about the problem of migrant laborers in our last piece—this problem had magnified in various parts of the country in the last two days with thousands of workers congregating in a desperate attempt to go to their village homes. Authorities in a place in North India reportedly made a crowd of migrant workers squat on the road and then sprayed disinfectant, said to be bleach, over them. This inhuman act created a raging controversy on questions of treatment to poor workers and their supposed social status.

The police atrocities, much in the way of an old school headmaster, have also been raising eyebrows all over. While the forces had justified by saying it was absolutely necessary to make casual and ignorant public see reason and stop roaming the streets others have questioned the tactics, sometimes too ruthless and humiliating. In some parts the supply chain has been affected with people, including senior citizens, remaining deprived of essentials.

One more controversy has been raised in the aftermath of a religious congregation held at Nizamuddin, New Delhi between 5th and 15th March, 2020 with around 2000 participants from all over the country and from some foreign nation. Now, around 24 participants of the event had proved COVID-19 positive with 6 reportedly dying in various places, and questions are being asked as to how the Delhi authorities allowed such a congregation take place. Hectic efforts are underway to trace all the participants, and many are put in quarantine already. Vested interests are trying to create communal sentiments by blaming the particular religious group for endangering others.

As the authorities are constantly asking the public to not panic, stay at home and follow the guidelines strictly the locked-up millions are also having the benefit of a few feel-good factors, apart from the daily dose of ennui and looking for rations. Some of the feel-good factors, freely moving around the social media, are: quality time to spend at home, thus strengthening the fading family bonds; no noise pollution, and a discernible reduction in air pollution all around; the avian surge with the migratory birds making their presence felt this time by occupying the beautiful but empty surrounds; wild animals coming out in the human-less streets and having great fun; incredible saving of the fuel and Mother Nature asserting Her sway over a hitherto dithering humankind. And, as to the future course of Coronavirus in India and elsewhere it is up to Mother Nature only, to decide…really. 

Friday, March 27, 2020

Fight Against Coronavirus: Now’s The Time For Cooperation, Not Criticism!

Last night while watching an Indian news channel I heard one ‘expert’ criticizing the 21-day lockdown in India as an ‘overreaction’ to the novel Coronavirus. Such criticism or comment is totally unwarranted and irresponsible at the present juncture, because there is no discernible premise. We shall never know what would have happened to the spread of COVID-19 in India had the lockdown not been imposed, and due to this fact of the matter we cannot find fault with the final possible outcome of the lockdown—whether it is a success or a failure as far as checking the virus is concerned. Furthermore, we also don’t know if the lockdown would have to be extended further. This deadly human-to-human virus is having all of humankind at its mercy now, and every human must realize this fact before trying to criticize or foment dissent on it.

All of the medical and other experts of the world have agreed on one common observation: the behaviour of COVID-19 has been highly unpredictable, and that no vaccine or medicine is available at the moment to combat the viral disease. It started in China infecting over 80 thousand people and killing over 3 thousand; then it seemed to have been contained—the death rate here being not so formidable. However, its behaviour elsewhere has been very undecipherable. In the last few days there had been spurts of death in Italy and Spain—a horrifying death rate of over 10% in Italy and only slightly less in Spain. Meantime, the US has surpassed China in terms of total infections crossing 85 thousand people while, fortunately, it has given a death rate of less than 2%. In some other countries this rate has been even less than one per cent. The case of South Korea is very curious: with infections nearing the 10 thousand mark the number of dead is just 139, and the virus even seemed to have been contained. In citing these cases we are totally in the dark about its would-be behavior in the coming days. It has also been deadly in countries like UK, Iran and France in terms of fatalities to infections while in some other countries it has been milder in its attack so far. The fact remains: we just don’t know.

India, with its extremely limited health infrastructure and almost an unmanageable population, can only learn its limited lessons from the experience worldwide. As the virus is spreading slowly but steadily the country must ensure that it remains in a position of control should the virus create a tsunami of infected—like it’s doing now in the US and in UK. Therefore, the country thought it better to follow the path of precautions strictly. However improbable it might have sounded in a country of teeming millions—with more half of it poor, India have gone ahead with a total lockdown, because there is no other option available at the moment to try control the virus.

Of course, there have been stumbling blocks coming in the way after trying to shut up 1.3 billion people behind doors—the worst hit being the migrant labourers in the urban areas, the landless agricultural labourers in the rural areas and the small-time vendors of the cities. We’re finding migrant vendors/labourers walking hundreds of kilometers homewards through lonely streets with no facility of public transport, no food and no money in pockets. The various state governments have been taking laudable initiatives in terms of providing cash, food and shelter, though it might have come a shade too late in some parts. The Government of India has also announced a compensation package yesterday promising more support in various ways. Yes, problems are numerous, but steps are being taken in earnest with all governments coming together in spite of political or ideological differences. This all-out approach is the only way forward at this crucial stage with no information if COVID-19 would explode or tread the steady path till 14th April, 2020 or thereafter.  The medical fraternity, the administrators, the law enforcement authorities are all waiting with bated breath…

Therefore, we must all come together in total cooperation and national spirit to do our best to check the killer virus, no criticism, no cynicism please. The mantra, as rightly put forward, is naturally ‘follow the guidelines religiously, stay at home, protect your life, save other lives’. Forget your social existence; forget your luxuries; forget your preferences; for now. And just: Stay Home, Save Lives, Save India…

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Fight Against Coronavirus: 21-Day Lockdown In India!

Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, in his second address to the nation, last evening declared a 21-day lockdown in the whole of India effective from midnight of 24th March, 2020—perhaps the biggest in human history. He emphasized that this is the only way to combat as deadly and fast-spreading a virus as the novel Coronavirus COVID-19—the intensity of the pandemic can at best be controlled or delayed only by this tactic. The Prime Minister also invoked the National Disaster Management Act so that Government of India declaration is binding for all the states and union territories of the country. The ‘Big Modi Move’ had been anticipated after his first address on the evening of 19th March when he appealed to all for observing a public curfew on the coming Sunday making it clear that he wanted his countrymen all-ready for any action in the coming weeks. Now, all of the 1.3 billion-strong population has been asked or rather ordered to stay indoors, for their own safety and for the larger interests of their country.

In fact, more than 30 states and territories of India had already declared lock-downs during 20-23rd March with a few more joining the lock-wagon from last evening and all forms of public transport closed already throughout the country, thus paving the way for a total national closure. A few hassles are there, of course, regarding the ‘execution’ of the lock-downs owned by either a state or the Government of India: for example, in one or two states ‘curfew’ has been declared till 31st March and how this is going to change vis-à-vis the national lockdown is not at all clear. Under ‘curfew’, as per the regulations, essential services are available only during its ‘relaxations’, and this effectively means that the concerned police forces can prevent all services ‘essential or exempted’ or not, like preventing a person from visiting a certain place for a certain purpose or preventing delivery boys from home-delivering online booking errands or order shutting down of ‘shops for essential items like vegetables, grocery and the like’ at any moment during the operation of curfew. Such a confusing state of affairs has been unfolding in the State of Maharashtra at the moment. Since ‘stay at home’ was all-important the government of India had, from the beginning, allowed e-commerce with online booking and home delivery. Now, due to police action or obstruction delivery boys are being prevented and consequently online giants are closing down their operations causing great hardships to citizens, particularly the elderly couples, in accessing their basic needs.

One more unfortunate scenario is presenting itself in rather a revolting way. While the Prime Minister appealed to all citizens to pay tributes to the ‘Coronavirus Warriors’ people in some neighbourhoods are asking doctors/nurses/media persons to vacate their rented houses or live away from their families due to the fear of infection. This horrendously unwarranted mentality shows the Indian hypocrisy inherent in all types of supposed ‘stay-united campaigns’.

To add to the horrors a racial/ethnic tinge has also been given to the virus through relentless propaganda against a country where the virus first struck, and any persons, living in any other part/region but resembling in appearance those in that country, are being abused or ostracised or harassed. All such narrow-minded selfish extrapolation must be rooted out to make the fight against Coronavirus effective and successful. We appeal to all organizations/authorities/governments of the world to desist from all such propaganda creating an atmosphere of hatred amid arguably the biggest crisis facing humanity ever. COVID-19 is a universal strain of the Corona virus that could affect/attack any race of the Homo sapiens existing on this Planet Earth, and is not a specific race or ethnicity oriented disease.

The uncertainty persists still with no answer to our earlier question ‘what lies beyond...’ with sprees of death striking Italy, Spain and the USA ominously again today. India has been trying its best to prevent such a scenario through a long planed-out procedure of control and preparation. The health infrastructure of the country also doesn't compare favorably with either of the countries cited above, and this makes it imperative that the virus is kept in control. The new deadline for India is 14th April, 2020. Rather than hoping against hope we’d better hope for the best. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Coronavirus: What Lies Beyond March 31 or 15th April?

For the first time ever the public transport system of the second most populated country and the largest democracy of the world, India, has come to a complete standstill—the biggest railway network of the world, Indian Railways, has stopped operating since the last two days and domestic flights of the country going to be curtailed completely, with exception only to cargo flights, from midnight tonight, that is the 24th of March, 2020. More than 80 cities covering 30 states/territories of India are now under total lockdown with more and more states/territories joining all the time. The fight against the novel Coronavirus, COVID-19, is in full swing—a desperate preventive drive so that the country does not suffer like Italy or Spain or Iran or USA or England in the dreaded Stage-3 of the irresistible virus. Most Indian medical and other experts are saying that Stage-3 is yet to come to India, and so, there has been an atmosphere of frightening uncertainty, suspense and morbid anticipation throughout the country. The normal or the usual deadline adopted for the lock-downs is 31st March, 2020 or in some cases 15th April, 2020. Nobody yet has an answer as to what is going to happen after that.

Things are not being particularly helped by the overall world scenario—total infections racing towards the 4 hundred thousand mark; total deaths surpassing 16500; Italy continuing to suffer with deaths crossing 6000; the death spree not showing any sign of withdrawing in other countries of Spain, USA, France, Iran except for perhaps China where no new deaths are taking place and almost nil infections over the past few days; in India total infections have crossed 500 and deaths at 10 people with a surge of infections in the last two days; with the possible introduction of a vaccine at least one and half years away no one is having any idea about the future course of the virus. Our Planet Earth is still being gripped by a relentless uncertainty presenting a most bleak economic scenario in the coming months, and still with no solution in sight. You can check World Coronavirus Updates...

The Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, addressed the nation on the evening of 19th March, 2020 appealing to all citizens to observe a day of ‘Janta (Public) Curfew’ on Sunday, the 22nd of March, a unique concept that was first used by the student leaders during the Assam Movement during 1979-85, and in a way, trying to test the peoples’ resilience to more stringent measures in the coming days. If effect, this was the beginning of the lock downs with the State of Maharashtra declaring a lockdown with effect from the previous day to Janta Curfew, that is from 21st March, Saturday, in four cities. Being perhaps inspired by Italy and Spain the Prime Minister also asked people to show respect with thanksgivings to ‘Coronavirus warriors’ meaning all of doctors, health workers, administrators, police, security forces etc at 5 PM on the same day by clapping hands or clanging metal plates or blowing conch in the balconies of their respective homes. The measures really worked wonders preparing the 1.3 billion citizens for the future challenge. However, as happens with the teeming millions, some people in some pockets considered it a kind of celebration and observed it by taking out processions and even bursting firecrackers on the streets, thus negating the very purpose of the campaign. Anyway, the Prime Minister is going to address the people again tonight, the 24th of March, 2020, perhaps with new resolves, new initiatives and newer tactics to combat the never-before challenge.

And, we the people of India, in complete solidarity with fellow-citizens of other countries, are ready to make any sacrifice, sitting at home, so that humanity stops suffering more from the merciless virus. With the exceptions of some of the idle brains turning to or giving in to the ‘devil’s workshop’ most of us are doing bravely: suddenly jerked out of reverie that this is the reality, never-before in our lifetime or in the modern age, that impels us to continue staying indoors with no access to any outside activity or events or entertainment; total social distancing even with the few people we meet in a day, particularly with our dear kith and kin, giving them the message that we’d do much better being apart; being forced to shed all our eternal pretensions—the busiest of the busy, the successful of the most successful professionals, the most celebrated of the celebrities, at the moment, finding that they have nothing to do except sit at home; the old and the elderly being given special care and of course, blessed with new television and the internet so that we can keep in touch with the Planet Earth fraternity.

So then, we stay at home not knowing for how many days more; follow the guidelines religiously not believing in all the propaganda or fake news or rumors surging all around us, do everything possible at our ends to control and prevent the spread of the virus and, pray…pray continuously for the betterment of the our world…for the ultimate defeat of the virus…for the eternal spirit of humanity to thrive on…and not to think or ever panic about what lies ahead… Amen!

Friday, March 13, 2020

Coronavirus: Uncertainty Grips Planet Earth!

Pandemics, a pandemic is defined as worldwide spread of a new disease, are not new to planet earth and the Homo sapiens. The first reported pandemic was dated back to 1580 with at least four pandemics of influenza that happened in the 19th century while three occurred in the 20th century as per the data from Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The influenza pandemic of 1918, also known as the Spanish flue, infected about 500 million people, one-third of world population that time, and killed around 50 million worldwide; in 1957, a novel influenza called A H2N2 virus killed over 1 million including 116,000 in the United States; another strain of the avian influenza ‘A H3N3’ originating in China killed 100,000 there and 1 million worldwide in 1968; in 2009 a novel influenza virus H1N1 emerged which was known as the ‘swine flu’, it was first detected in the United States that spread fast killing up to half a million people worldwide. Several other viruses including the  Ebola threatened to be epidemics, but were contained, luckily. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared Coronavirus COVID-19 which first caused havoc in China and later spread very fast to more than hundred countries killing so far nearly 5000 people a pandemic on 11th March, 2020 with a few very interesting observations.

WHO finds it unprecedented because, ‘a pandemic caused by Coronavirus has never been seen before’ and that ‘other than influenza no other respiratory virus has ever been tracked from emergence to continuous global spread’, and that ‘such a pandemic that can be controlled at the same time has never been seen before’. It’s the last ‘controllability’ factor that has galvanized the modern, capable, digital world we live into revolutionary and unprecedented measures in the interest of public health and safety. And thanks to that, we’ve been witnessing a never-before scenario, that can happen only during war, with countries enforcing near-total clampdown on international travel, public gatherings and congregations, sports events, mass entertainment, institutional education and so on.  For example, in the immediate aftermath of the WHO declaration the government of India suspended visas till the 15th of April, 2020 putting a total stop to inflow of foreign tourists into the country and advising all its citizens not to undertake any international travel unless absolutely necessary; in many states and Union Territories of India including the capital region of Delhi schools, colleges, cinema houses were closed for a month; some states even closing down malls/shopping centres and social ceremonies or entertainment events for at least a week; all public events banned for a month with even the Supreme Court of India deciding to hear only urgent matters.

All sports events including football, cricket and others have been postponed globally, and on some occasions the never-before spectacle of matches being played without spectators or what is said as ‘behind closed doors’ emerging before us. Coming to the Indian example again, we must talk about the game of cricket here which is the craze of the country and the biggest money-spinner for the richest cricket board of the world, BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India). Therefore, it has been felt that perhaps cricket would continue unaffected despite all odds as if it were immune to COVID-19. And, it got proved, almost. On the day of the WHO declaration a one-day international cricket match was organized as per schedule between India and South Africa with thousands of spectators thronging the stadium going against all the precautions dictated by the authorities. Luckily, the rain-God intervened, and the match had to be abandoned. Later, the remaining two matches also got cancelled as the pressure mounted on the BCCI. On an earlier occasion too, the BCCI went ahead with an international match in Delhi when the capital city was literally suffocating under unprecedented pollution.

The biggest stumbling block to the anti-virus measures was the 13th version of the Indian Premiere League (IPL) which was to start from 29th March, 2020. In terms of money, glamour and glitz  involving both domestic and international cricketers this yearly cricket bonanza called the IPL is something that all parties, namely, the franchises, sponsors, organizers, business tycoons, movie mega-stars, spectators, TV viewers wait earnestly for. And therefore, all eyes were on the BCCI for two days for their final decision. All options were being discussed in the media: would it be postponed or would it be organized ‘behind closed doors’ with only TV live telecast or how would they bring in foreign players and accommodate them and so on. And finally, the BCCI decided to postpone the tournament till 15th April, 2020, in agreement with the authorities.

As we keep on watching the unprecedented scenario unfolding before us, as also we feel scared and vulnerable within, the uncertainty looming ahead is set to continue for quite some time, because experts or doctors can neither assert about a possible containment nor can they offer a solution in terms of a vaccine. The worst hit sectors of the economy being tourism and aviation, the impact is equally felt in terms of all forms of trade—selling and buying, hotels and resorts, exports and imports, volatile stock markets and the like. In case of the Indian economy already under a spell of a sustained slowdown the Coronavirus impact could just be devastating; of course, with ifs and buts. The virus is surging yet, still rampant across the globe. The next few days are going to be crucial. We can only pray for our planet earth and us.

Monday, March 9, 2020

I Know!

Devotedly following the universal principle that ‘when there’s a life there’s to be a death’ I think it’s my celestial duty to put up a sequel ‘I Know’ to my earlier banter-piece ‘I Don’t Know’, and accordingly I’ve done justice by writing this piece for you, however contrived or artificial or egoistic it may ultimately sound! Surely, it’s not going to hurt you at all; it may only give you some pleasurable thoughts as, in India, you all are celebrating Holi—the Festival of Colours today. Well, one of the most primary human expressions ‘I Know’ can be of two main types—(1) when the person who expresses ‘I Know’ is honestly and factually correct, and (2) when the person who vociferates ‘I Know’ is exceedingly egoistic and factually incorrect.

As with thousands of languages and dialects we humans of the planet earth are basically concerned about good communication the first variety is more common. We must remember that the expression ‘I Know’ almost always is a response to queries, statements, views, information, theories and the like, and the concerned person normally elaborates further on the response as to why it is so. The traditional head of the household who says ‘I Know’ is universally accepted, because we all feel that s/he with her/his enormous experience only wishes well for us and therefore would never respond thus to untruths; this logic also applies to respected elders, teachers, parents, close relatives, bosom friends and of the like; when the office boss or the supreme head says ‘I Know’ we’re left with no choice but to accept, because we’ve to follow the universal rule that ‘the boss is always right’ and that all such examples are applicable with ‘we’ too as we also often face the question ‘do you know’ from various categories of people to which we mostly respond honestly.

There could be two exceptions under this category: (1) when we either sympathize or empathize we may not be or need not be factually correct in the most ‘correct’ sense of the term, and (2) when the cleverest politician or the government responds that way it could very well be tricky as to the final result ensuing out of the response in comparison with your expectations.

In the second category everything is uncertain. Two factors work primarily here: (1) that the concerned person is egoistic, arrogant and condescending and (2) that the concerned person has a tall claim to omniscience and that s/he honestly believes in that. You must be on your guard in such cases: you must never ask them ‘do you know’ after recounting your problem and never ever ask for solutions or their views which they might think their right to necessarily elaborate following their response.  In many cases under this category, of course, the course of the questions and responses can very amusing, enjoyable and harmless.

I remember one persisting instance, among many, long back during the Indo-Pak war of 1971. In our neighbourhood only our family had the privilege of possessing a radio set. Therefore every day, fresh with the information collated from the live morning news bulletin, when I tell my closest friend next door about the latest happenings his stock response is always ‘I Know’! I always wondered, at times bitterly disappointed, as to how on earth was that possible for him sitting idle at home, but I never contested him thanks to our great friendship. However, I had my ways of countering on later occasions like, for example, one day: I ask him ‘do you know today is our parents’ marriage anniversary’, and wait earnestly for his response, greatly amused within, and the poor thing only smiles in apparent helplessness.

I wish you all a very Happy Holi—the Festival of Colours—, because, you see, I Know! I Know too that today your community spirit is a bit subdued, obviously due to the universally ‘known’ fact that COVID-19 Coronavirus is still rampant. Be safe and enjoy!

Monday, March 2, 2020

Cricket of Whitewashes: New Zealand Hammer India 2-1!


The cricket mandarins of India, if as short sighted as the shorter formats, might as well gloat over India’s 5-0 whitewash over New Zealand in the shortest format that is the T20I Series, and might as well reason that the process of experimentation has finally given a team for the T20I World Cup coming up in October this year. However, the said team is yet a team of probables only, and the IPL starting later this month might as well throw up again a plethora of new ‘talents’ for the ‘choices’ of the worthy Indian selectors; therefore, the experimentation is far from over yet.  In the second test match played in Christchurch New Zealand has beaten India by 7 wickets in just the third day today thus achieving the third whitewash of the tour of 2-0—the second whitewash being the Kiwis’ triumph of 3-0 in the shorter that is the ODI Series. New Zealand had earlier won the Wellington test by 10 wickets. India had had their chances though in both the Tests—in the first in Wellington the Indian bowlers failed India come back into the match while in the second after the bowlers ensured even a lead for India, though the slenderest, the batsmen failed miserably to drive home the advantage. In totality, India just couldn’t cope with the three-pronged and then the four-pronged pace-attack of the Kiwis on their home turf with fast-bowler Kyle Jamieson towering above all.

Why Team India, on top as far as Test matches are concerned in the last few years, did so miserably having the advantage of batting first on both occasions? The reasons are not far to seek. The ‘inducted’ veterans couldn’t perform as instantly as the team management wanted, you know, putting them up on green pitches suddenly out of the wilderness. Second, the consistent failures of Captain Virat Kohli contributed majorly for the batting blues. Third, injury to Rohit Sharma and the new openers not quite up to the task, particularly Mayank Agarwal, contributed to the consistent batting collapses. Fourth, India failed to have a proper pace battery to match green pitches (Jasprit Bumrah not in top form yet) and still going for the spinners who, obviously, just proved to be ornamental. And lastly, again, the selection blues: even God wouldn’t have an idea as to why the top-form KL Rahul was not considered for the Tests whereas he had proved his worthiness in Tests too earlier; why Wriddhiman Saha was not preferred as the wicket-keeper over Rishabh Pant in whose case, of course, no logic applies as far as selection (perhaps the greatest cricket talent of the millennium) is concerned.

This tour doesn’t augur well the for the away series that India is set play in the near future with even day-and-night or Pink Test matches being planned in Australia. The worthy selectors must justify their ‘endless experimentation’ saga with players rested at will, dropped at will and the seasoned campaigners not even considered most of the times. But for the looming IPL, a veritable T20 bonanza of cricket, glamour and cash, the team management would’ve learnt a few precious lessons from India Tour of New Zealand-2019/20 to prepare for the T20 World Cup-2020 which, on the earlier occasion too, they couldn’t realize in time, again thanks to IPL, to prepare well for the one-day World Cup-2019. Alas!

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Movie Thappad: A Resounding Slap on Patriarchy!


After presenting two well-crafted socially relevant films ‘Mulk’ (2018) and ‘Article 15’ (2019) filmmaker Anubhav Sinha has given to us one more realistic cracker of a family drama ‘Thappad’ which translates to ‘a slap’. The movie centres on a slap administered by a ‘loving’ husband Vikram played by Pavail Gulati to his dutiful but self-respecting wife Amrita played by Taapsee Pannu. Although based on this protagonist couple the movie also delves into the lives and times of several other couples ranging from a housemaid, continuously abused and brutalized by her husband for all her domestic labour and also earnings, to the lawyer-wife of a ‘khandani’ family, constantly advised by her business-tycoon husband to capitalize on the family name and her hard work and efforts being nuanced with a businesslike elan. Director Sinha also adds to the charms of the film by his keen eye for details and subtleties involved in domestic matters. To the credit of this movie it must be said that in its span of two hours and twenty-one minutes there seems to be not a single idle moment with every frame getting justified for the evocative story-telling except for the unnecessary background songs and perhaps the goody-goody implications at the end.

The movie has absolutely well-defined characters, tremendously anchored by astounding performances from all of the actors: Pavail as the self-righteous husband who cites the unusual circumstances and ‘only the first time’ rather than feeling or saying sorry; his mother played by Tanvi Azmi, who, away from an estranged husband, lives with his son and despite her sympathies with her daughter-in-law fails yet to blame his son for the act; Taapsee’s father played by Kumud Mishra feels for his daughter giving her all his backing and yet fails to justify himself at his wife’s subtle charges in hindsight; Taapsee’s mother played by Ratna Pathak Shah owes her conservative impulses to the prevailing patriarchal values and while entirely by his daughter’s side yet fails to advise her take effective measures; the brutalized-but-jovial housemaid played by Geetika Vidya works as one of the family of her masters’ and goes on relating her conjugal state to that of Taapsee’s, getting profoundly affected in the process; Taapsee’s brother played by Ankur Rathee and his wife played by Naina Grewal juxtapose their involvement in the slap-aftermath with their own conjugal issues. Special mention has to be made to the towering-yet-subdued performance of Taapsee Pannu who has emerged as on one of the most powerful female actors of Bollywood in both off-beat and mainstream cinema.

Most of the scenes and dialogues used are strong, poignantly emotional and realistic. We won’t run through them or the story not to rob the viewers of the pleasure of watching. Several scenes and dialogues linger and remain with us: for example the parting scene of Amrita with her mother-in-law where she says that of course, she’s been much loved in the in-laws’ family, but as Vikram’s wife only, not as her-an independent person, an entity, and that no one in the family ever chose to put the blame on Vikram for his act. The mother-in-law tearfully bids her to keep in touch and keep on visiting.

The movie, in totality, thus manages to deliver a telling blow on the patriarchal Indian society and its much-touted institution of marriage. It’s been said that Thappad is inspired by another Taapsee movie ‘Pink’ (2016) where the emphasis was on ‘No means No’ coming from a woman who is molested, and now in this film it epitomizes ‘Cannot do This—first time or any other time’ coming from a woman who is physically assaulted. Well, if it were an inspiration there’s nothing wrong in that, only good. In a country where more than half of the women faces domestic violence at sometime or other this movie is timely, thought-provoking and it delivers a powerful message to the domineering males that they have no right whatsoever to physically abuse their better halves. More of such feminist movies need to be made on a regular basis.

All wives must make it a point to take their husbands along to the theatres to watch this movie. The exclamation my wife made after leaving the theatre is set to remain with me, “Are such brilliantly realistic movies still made in this country?”

Saturday, February 29, 2020

An Ode To Arrogance!

Arrogance is one of the defining characteristics of human beings. Arrogance can be easily discerned or felt by us in every word or act or posture or gait displayed by the inflicted persons. We confront them everywhere—at home where the arrogance of the head of the household is as ancient as the homo sapiens; at workplace where the arrogance of the boss percolates down the line very often apart from the others in various sycophantic roles; at educational institutions where the most scholarly often displays the most arrogance apart from the others in various emphatic roles; in the ruling class hierarchy arrogance has been a trademark notwithstanding the transformation from monarchy/dictatorship to democracy in many nations of the world; and so on. Of course, no generalization has been attempted here: else, how on earth can we have the magnanimity of discussing it!

The word ‘arrogance’ has, logically, numerous synonyms. Here we’ll mention a few examples so that our discourse is easier to understand. These are: Haughtiness, Condescension, Egotism, Swagger, Snobbishness, Superciliousness, Mocking, Sneering, and Big-headedness. Based largely on these we can list out a few characteristic features of the arrogant as below:

·    The ideology or the ideals they adhere to are the perfect which everybody should follow unquestioningly. They know everything, and are absolute scholars, philosophers and writers.
·            What they do or say or imply is always right and no living soul should ever vouch on the contrary.
·         What they eat, what they wear and what styles or standards they adopt are the most discrete ones, and no one should ever think disobey.
·         They are extremely intolerant of others’ opinions, forget about dissent which you only think is the hallmark of a democracy, and anyone who dares to contest gets condemned as unfaithful or criminals or traitors.
·          They are also extremely capable of making fun of others—that they possess an indomitable appetite to go on mocking others with an omnipresent all-knowing grin; if they are forced by circumstances to give befitting replies to daringly democratic voices.

As we had mentioned earlier we meet arrogant people at every walk of life. At best, we can get over them with slight inconveniences; at worst, we get affected by them so grievously that our life gets derailed or even damaged—all such situations being at a personal level though. However, if arrogance takes over at the macro level, meaning at the level of state administration or governance then it’s a recipe for absolute disaster. Unfortunately, such kind of ‘governance with arrogance’ has been happening in many places across the world: bulldozing public opinion or protests or democratic traditions or basic principles of humanity. The tragic consequences are all there to behold: use of the time-tested divide-and-rule policy, particularly during elections; unparalleled display, preaching and spread of hatred; racist and communal violence; mob fury, lynching and riots; and of course, tragic loss of innocent lives—so unnecessary and so eminently preventable.

Why then ‘an ode’ to such an undeserving phenomenon? Well, democratic sentiments are still embedded in numerous souls of numerous hapless subjects like this writer, and so, we, some of the people, still strive to respect the spirit of a democracy. We’d earlier said about the unfortunate phenomenon of  ‘governance with arrogance’ seen in quite a few countries of the world, and what is doubly unfortunate is the fact that large chunks of subjects tend to support or vote for the phenomenon. These large chunks often prove to be the majority in respective countries. In a democracy we respect all sections of the society—their needs, interests and opinions, and therefore, if the majorities themselves are with the ‘change’ then how on earth could we ignore such overwhelmingly democratic spontaneity!

It’s altogether a different matter if the majorities fail miserably to distinguish the ‘right’ from the ‘wrong’. And, it’s altogether a very justifiable matter if we decide to use the ‘an ode’ prefix.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

I Don’t Know!

Although the phrase ‘I don’t know’ seems to be a straightforward and simple expression of human ignorance, at times its connotations, hidden meanings and subdued emotions can vary dangerously. At the simplest level it’s a frank and honest admission, and we good people mostly adhere to it while making such an expression. However, it differs with the persons one makes this admission to: if you’re forced to make it to your teacher or boss you’re a little ashamed of yourself, and you try always to make it the briefest, and the mildest expression as far as your vocal chords are concerned. To your parents or siblings or friends you tend to be a little angry as if they deliberately selected the areas in which you are deficient—to tease or taunt you. Sometimes, in general, you give a broad grin as if it were a joke at you being asked a certain question to which your answer ‘I don’t know’ cascades out in turbulent of waves of uncontrollable laughter: of course, such a reaction of yours need not always be factual. Reactions emanating from the other parties involved would be dependent on various factors, in all cases. The utmost efforts ‘to hide your ignorance’ are mostly rampant; also, a weak smile defends your ‘answer’ the best with robust pride.  

The dangerous levels of ‘I don’t know’ manifest themselves in at least two typical cases: 1. When your spouse is involved in this process you tend to become ferociously indignant that s/he may choose that types of questions—so often, repeatedly and with derisive pleasure; 2. In the second case it may amount to a brazen display of abominable arrogance even, when an expert or a scholar or a politician has to make this expression after being asked a question. The reasons, the second case, for such unwarranted arrogance could be these: that s/he really doesn’t know the answer and is dismally irritated at being forced to respond; or that s/he may think it’s ridiculous to be asked such a glaringly plain question and her/his expression ‘I don’t know’ could cross the permitted decibel level so as to convey ‘how dare you ask me that question, don’t you know who I am’, the factual position be anything, as always; or lastly that s/he’d rather make a shrieking arrogant mockery of  you for your supposed impudence or ignorance to put such a question, whatever be the factual position.

If you pester me for more details, I’d also respond, “I don’t know!” in perfect calm though.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

No Eating Standing!

Kolkata (Calcutta of yore) is still called the city of joy, in my view, for one basic reason: things are very cheap here considering the fact that it is one of the four metro cities of India—apart, of course, from its treasure house of classic and progressive literature, three Nobel laureates, its enriched culture and heritage. To retain our emphasis, it offers the cheapest options in almost all fields of life: for example, metro train fare is still pegged at minimum five rupees which you’ll find nowhere else; other public transport fares are also the lowest in comparison with other Indian cities, it is a different matter altogether if the comfort quotient here is probably pushed into oblivion; auto-rickshaws are mostly shared for which you need       only a few coins in your pocket, and the app cabs are also forced to abide by low fares due to which the aggregators indulge often in orgies of mad surge prices, picking any occasion or the time; if you are a voracious reader you can find all of types of books at throw-away prices with a novelty of book-vendors enticing you to shop books; and of course, the culinary delights at mouth-watering prices. Basically, it seems that the enlightened people of the city are averse to paying high prices for the basic amenities which they consider their rights, and for that life-support system they are ever ready to sacrifice all thoughts about comfort or luxury. The governments or the authorities, therefore, think thrice before deciding to increase any public utility charges, and there ensues the politics of pricing, if we can say that. This is public knowledge that the metro railway fares in the city could recently be increased only after decades of indecision: interestingly, some of the people who think too much about the indignity of being pushed or crushed on a daily basis had been crying hoarse for years urging the authorities to please increase the fares. Anyway, here we intend to deal only with the eating part—that is, eating outside, to be specific.

Most of the public eating places here consist of road-side joints, mobile vendors and make-shift claustrophobic interiors claiming to be restaurants. When you look at metros like Mumbai you find restaurants of all grades offering a range of prices for various categories of customers at almost every street or lane or stations. You realize the crux of it the moment you compare the cost of eating outside: here in Kolkata road-side joints you get even tastier and steaming-hot items at one-third of the price you pay in a Mumbai restaurant. Locals here, of course, caution you: the kind of oil that the eateries use is of the lowest quality and the kind of meat they cook is of a very suspicious nature which can make you sick, if you gorge on the incredibly-priced dishes of all kinds; but as far as they themselves are concerned they say they have got immune to it through decades of gastronomic economy and so, nothing happens to them. Whatever be the way of life here, you’re bound to get angry, irritated and disconsolate at times, because it doesn’t suit you all the time.

That day I had an errand to accomplish in the afternoon session, and after a gruelling three-hour engagement I finally freed myself. As I pondered whether to head straightaway to the metro train station or to try fulfill an uncontrollable desire building up inside my noble soul I finally voted for the latter which was very simple and humane: I just wanted to sit at a nice eating place and have a steaming cup of tea with perhaps a snack. And then the ordeal!

I walked up and down, across, and around all the streets or lanes in the congested locality—searching for a restaurant where I can sit in comfort. An hour elapsed, my legs aching in protest; and I could find not a single place where I could sit to drink-eat. All the while the road-side joints, the stalls displaying all kinds of food and vendors carrying five-buck teas and cakes beckoned me, invited me or even mocked me. But no, I’ll not eat standing, I need to sit and eat like a human being who really needs to sit down on various other occasions, I decided firmly. My decision was to no avail as the city dogmatically refused to yield me a place, and finally I had to trudge up a distance again to the metro station to take a train home—joyless.

On another day, to make matters worse, I had my wife with me. We went to visit a museum, and my wife having taken extreme pain to inculcate the ideals and meanings inherent in all the architects on display our sojourn got expanded to several hours of moving around standing with the pangs of hunger suddenly starting to torment us. When, finally, we hit the narrow and high-traffic street outside we were ravenously hungry and desperate to sit down, again at a nice restaurant, and have a meal. Someone advised us to take a stroll towards the nearest metro station by means of which we would definitely find a hotel—he was sure one good hotel existed.

It turned out to be an endless stroll; and again, only the vendors or tea-makers accosted us. My wife starting to curse, and we nearly out of patience, finally we did find that good hotel. My discerning eyes, however, could find nothing ‘good’ about the much-hyped place: the lone hotelier or the manager or the cook was crouching behind a glass-paned wooden box displaying a few cooked items, and there were only a few metal stools looking up to an elongated desk across the side wall—supposedly the sit-and-eat positions. I took a courageous step inside, and asked the person as to where be the menu or the items available at that late-lunch hour. The hotelier or the manager or the cook, chewing a paan (betel nut-leaf mix) in delicious abandon, looked annoyed, and asked me to read the board displayed outside. In fact, I noticed the longish board fixed quite high up outside while entering the place. Unfortunately, reading the board would involve craning the neck to such an acute upward angle that there was the risk of falling backwards and that was even more dangerous as the traffic roared just by the side of the tapered stone pavement. I decided to give up; my wife having already taken the decision to walkout on hygienic consideration—the paan-chewing visage of the hotelier or the manager or the cook presenting a rather dirty picture for her.

However, we were still firm on our stand—we won’t stand and eat. Finally, again, we had no option but to trudge up to the metro station to take a train home—joyless.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Cricket Of Whitewashes—Now New Zealand ODI-Swamp India 3-0!


After India whitewashed New Zealand by 5-0 in the T20I Series now New Zealand whitewash back with a 3-0 triumph over India in the 3-match one-day international (ODI0 Series. In the third and final match today at Mount Maunganui New Zealand thrashed India by 5 wickets, despite a challenging target of 297 put by India. With NZ openers Guptill and Nicholls going-great-guns the Kiwis overtook the target with relative ease. In the first match the hosts assailed India’s target of 347, the stiffest and highest of the series, with quite a few balls to spare exposing the visitors’ bowling woes. Some Indian commentators have once again played with the word ‘complacency’ saying that perhaps the Indians were a bit complacent after the T20 whitewash! Well, over the decades this writer has been utterly unable to understand how a professional team affords to be complacent against another professional team in very competitive international matches. The hyped products of experimentation like the Sainies or the Thakurs hardly able to do anything to justify the exclusion of Test pacers. We’d also like to know what has happened to Khaleel Ahmed and others who were experimented relentlessly in a two-year countdown to the ICC World Cup-2019.

Of course, you can say Team India is depleted with both the openers—Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma—out due to injury. Of course! But if you’ve been experimenting consistently over the years where are your performers then? This proves again that the selectors have been just blindly trying to help the IPL youngsters without getting into the ‘performance’ track. The set No.4 batsman Ambati Rayadu was banished into oblivion before the World Cup and thus artificially creating the No.4 syndrome. Moreover, why are Test-tested batsmen like Ajinkya Rahane and some of the bowlers are permanently dropped for the shorter formats? Again, if we look closely into the ODI series it is more of bowlers’ failure than batsmen’. I still stick to my view that excellent Test performers can always excel in any format of the game. As for New Zealand, they have set in order the inexplicable batting blues displayed in the T20 series.

Now with the two-match Test Series between Indian and New Zealand coming up, the same ‘dropped’ veterans will be inducted into the team, and the selectors would want them to perform instantly while depriving them of good exposure in the shorter formats. If you’re doing experiment which you’ll continue doing since the T20 World Cup-2020 is coming up, then why restrict it only to IPL ‘talents’, why not open it up to veterans too? Anyway, now over to Test cricket! Should we expect the hat-trick of whitewashes? Nothing wrong in having great expectations!

Monday, February 3, 2020

Brown Sugar And The Olden Rage!

We had about ten minutes before joining the boarding queue. Although we had a good breakfast at the hotel the running-around packing, carrying/arranging the baggage and the fairly tedious taxi drive to the airport made us hungry again. The prices on board are exorbitant which means we will remain hungry for at least three hours before we reach our destination—not to mention one more tediously long taxi drive home, I reason. Therefore, we decided to have a quick bite; accordingly, leaving my wife with the bags I ran to a fast-food stall at the airport lounge.

I ordered two chicken puffs and a cup of tea: cannot pay so much for tea, and so one cup will have to provide the rudimentary sips for the two of us. After taking custody of the puffs and large paper cup of tea I looked around for the sugar sachets. I picked up a sachet, tore it up and as I started pouring it over the cup of tea I suddenly stopped. The contents that came down looked brown and I found the color suspicious: thought it could be some kind of spices. I threw the packet away, and finding another tray with other sachets picked up one, and to my satisfaction this time it was white and homely.

I was not aware of a customer standing alongside me. His words addressed to me made me look at him, found him to be a security or police person as he was in that khaki uniform.
He was saying to me, “Don’t throw that. This is brown sugar, and it is very good for you old guys—very healthy indeed!”
His expression ‘old chaps’ hit my eardrums with an absolutely adverse impact, and it made me angry instantly. How dare you call me old! However, I kept my decency; but I had a point to catch him off-guard, so I cried in feigned surprise.
“Brown sugar! How do you mean?”
“No, no! It is not that brown sugar! This, you know, is made of gud (jaggery) which is good for people even with diabetes. In your age you must know about this!”
“Yes, I do know. But I don’t like it with tea, I like the rosogollas made with gud, no doubt!” I neatly collected my precious items and left in a hurry—more to avoid speaking again to that ‘insulting’ personage than for the time constraint. As I was walking away with long strides I could still hear him commenting on various other sweets made with gud.

I rejoined my wife with a grave expression on my face, but this apparent oddity at that hour escaped her attention altogether as she was busy talking on her mobile. The serpentine queue at the boarding gate was already formed, and so we started attacking the puffs furiously while indulging occasionally in the limited sips available with the tea. All the while on this act I couldn’t help myself muttering within mouthfuls, ‘you loathsome fellow! Call me old, damn you! So openly, brazenly! Old will be thy father, not me, dude! Will see you when your time comes, it’d serve you well!”

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Union Budget-2020: The Optional Personal Income Tax Regime In India!

Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman today presented the Union Budget for 2020-21 in Parliament. A few novelties are seen immediately: the Minister’s budget speech of more than 160 minutes proved to be the longest one in history; for the first time the Budget was presented in three innovative categories—Aspiration India, Economic Development and Caring Society with their divisions and sections; a new scheme of setting up solar pumps for farmers having barren lands thus allowing them to earn even without cultivation; identifying 100 water-stressed districts of the country for action in light of the looming water crisis; and a lucrative income tax regime of lower rates which only turns out to be optional. While economists and corporate stalwarts had been shouting all these months about boosting up the demand factor in view of a slowdown and growing unemployment the Budget didn’t list out specific measures to increase consumption or to provide more employment opportunities apart from continued focus on infrastructure investment, continuing with lower corporate tax rates, special emphasis on rural development & agriculture, abolition of the Dividend Distribution Tax as a relief to companies, the direct tax concessions and a few others. The opposition parties slammed the budget on these grounds with a few economic experts also joining in saying that it is another missed opportunity for Modi 2.0 to check the slowdown. While the details of allocations will give the final picture on this we will here concentrate only on the complexities inherent in the optional personal income tax regime.

People of India, particularly middle-class salary earners, have been expecting some income tax benefits since years. The government also from time to time promised reforms in personal income tax structure and its simplification. Today, people got ecstatic while watching live television where the Finance Minister announced major tax cuts. Unfortunately, they were blissfully unaware of the rider attached to the concessions. It was only after the news channels started elaborating on the issue that they finally seemed to see the real picture.

The proposed income tax rate cuts come in these slabs: for annual income of Rs 5—7.5 Lac it is 10% as against the earlier rate of 20% for income slab of 5—10 Lac; for income of 7.5—10 Lac it is 15%; for income of 10—12.5 it is 20% as against the earlier rate of 30% for any income above 10 Lac; for income slab of 12.5—15 Lac it is 25% and for income above 15 Lac it is same as the earlier rate of 30%. The earlier decision to exempt taxpayers having a total income not exceeding Rs 5 Lac per annum has been retained while for others the new rate is 5% for income of 2.5—5 Lac as earlier. Straightaway, we can arrive at sizable cash benefits for taxpayers at every income level, and this was bound to cheer the salary earners. But then the rider!

The Finance Minister, after announcing the huge benefits accruing from the rate cuts, clarified that to simplify the tax structure she had removed about 70 exemptions associated with income tax, and that the new tax regime means taxpayers would no longer be able to avail of such exemptions. She further said that taxpayers are welcome to choose—they can stay on with the old tax regime or can opt for the new one. This has set in motion a calculation spree among people which may well continue or even intensify in the coming months.

We will take a few examples of exemptions not to be granted in the new tax regime which include deductions under 80C or 80D, Leave Travel Concession (LTC), house rent allowance, entertainment allowance, professional tax amount and so on. Now, for a big family the LTC amount, if they want to avail the facility at least once a year, will be quite high and if the salary earner of the family opts for the new regime this full amount will be taxable, as per the rate applicable depending on his/her total annual income; this holds for other amounts too relating to other abolished exemptions. Similarly salary earner of a family living in a rented house will not be able to file for house rent exemption if s/he opts for the new regime. Therefore, it is bound to involve complex calculations as to which regime will be better under what conditions or lack of conditions.

For the first time in India an option is being offered for different income tax regimes, and the taxpayers at the moment are unable to rejoice at the proposed ‘bonanza’. The Finance Minster asserts that this is only the beginning of direct tax reforms in the country and of a simplified tax structure to be realized in near future.  

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