If you have a problem, fix it. But train yourself not to worry, worry fixes nothing. - Ernest Hemingway

Tuesday, 31 March 2020

The Corona Timeline, China, and WHO

[The information below has been collated from sources like the Wikipedia, BBC, Al Jazeera, ANI, and TOI]

1 December 2019: In the city of Wuhan in China’s Hubei province, symptoms of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) were first noticed in a man.

6 December: His 53-year-old wife showed similar symptoms; hospitalized.

25 December: Two more Chinese in Wuhan quarantined after they showed similar symptoms. Later that week, hospitals in Wuhan saw an exponential increase of comparable cases.

In the same week, Dr. Li Wenliang, a 33-year old ophthalmologist, informed a group of doctors about a new virus.

31 December: The Wuhan Municipal Health Commission declared that there was no clear human to human transmission of the virus. China got in touch with the World Health Organisation (WHO). They reprimanded Dr. Li Wenliang for spreading rumours.

1 January 2020: Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market was shut down as several of those infected had reportedly worked at the market.

3 January 2020: Li Wenliang had to sign a declaration to the police that he had been spreading ‘fake information’. Same day, the Hubei Provincial Health Commission asked doctors not to test for new cases. Doctors had to destroy the existing samples. The Wuhan Municipal Health Commission reiterated its position on no human to human infection, indicating collaboration in suppression of truth.

8 January: China claimed they had identified the virus and reiterated no human to human transmission.

11 January: The Wuhan Municipality published a report stating that the infected people had a history of contact with the wet market. It reiterated the absence of human transmission.

12 January: Li Wenliang was admitted to the hospital following severe breathing problems and was put in intensive care.

13 January: Thailand reported the first case of coronavirus outside China: a Chinese woman who had a travelled to Wuhan.

14 January: WHO issued a statement saying that the preliminary investigation conducted by China showed no trace of human to human infection.

15 January: Japan reported the first case of coronavirus. The patient had no history of visiting any wet market of China. After this, the Wuhan Health Commission admitted the possibility of human transmission.

21 January: The United States reported its first confirmed case of a patient who had returned from China six days earlier.

22 January: The WHO conducts a field visit to China and concludes that human to human transmission is taking place in Wuhan.

31 January: Speaking at a news conference in Geneva, the Chief of the WHO described the virus as an "unprecedented outbreak". But he praised the "extraordinary measures" the Chinese had taken, and said there was “no reason TO LIMIT TRADE OR TRAVEL TO CHINA”. (BBC, emphasis added)

7 February: Li Wenliang passed away in hospital. Wikipedia saysA subsequent Chinese official inquiry exonerated him and the Communist Party of China formally offered a "solemn apology" to his family and revoked its admonishment of him.”

11 March: World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) as pandemic.

31 March: The virus has shut down the world, with 178 countries infected, more than 7,87,000 confirmed cases, and over 37,000 dead.


Five dates are crucial on the timeline:

1.       31 December, when China informed the WHO, but suppressed its severity.
2.       14 January, when the WHO downplayed the infectivity of the virus and misled the world community.
3.       22 January, when the WHO found out human to human transmission, but did nothing to warn the rest of the world.
4.       31 January, when the WHO refused to limit travel to and trade with China.
5.       11 March, when the WHO declared the disease as pandemic, A MONTH AND 20 DAYS LATER.

Will anyone be punished for this humongous criminal delay?

Photograph of Dr. Li Wenliang courtesy: https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=63046734

Wednesday, 11 March 2020

Picnic on the Top of a Volcano

The heading of this piece was the name of a Bangla book (আগ্নেয়গিরির শিখরে পিকনিক) written by the late economist Ashok Rudra long ago. It could have been written today. What else can better describe the fact that a majority of my educated upper-middleclass friends exchange thousands of inane jokes and are generally engrossed in trivia when 17% of our fellow citizens are targeted, mentally tortured, and some of them murdered in cold blood, with the active support of the state that is oath-bound to protect them? ... When what we get to watch / read as news is mostly government handouts … When people are sent to jail for expressing their opinion on Facebook (one of them is a personal friend, Souradeep Sengupta, a physics teacher in Silchar), while murderers roam free on the streets? … When courts have – barring admirable exceptions – abandoned their duty to protect the weak, and are bending over backwards to please the executive? … When historians and social scientists warn us that our country is at a cusp, and soon, the India as we know her might have become history?

Read “my educated upper-middleclass friends” above as “my educated upper-middleclass Hindu friends”. Lots of them have sold their souls to the ideology of hate and divisiveness; they somehow try to justify every wrong committed by the powerful. Some others are blissfully unconcerned about the mayhem around us, or at least, seem to be so. The second group reminds me of the decadent feudal families in Tolstoy novels or our own Bengali idle rich of the 19th century who indulged in, besides wine and women, ridiculous passions like flying pigeons and cock-fights while the poor lived a dog’s life.

However, on the other hand, there are lots of Hindus who believe that no one can be punished just for being born into a particular religious community. “Being born” cannot be a crime.

The two sides have been engaged in angry arguments, the consequences of which have been neatly summed up in the following message I received this morning [©Meha Dhondiyal, I have lightly edited the text for brevity.]
I know this will come as no consolation to my Muslim friends, but at least your families are together in sorrow n fear. OTOH, Hindu families have split straight down the middle on ideological grounds.
The generation brought up in Congress comfort are often rabid bigots thanks to WhatsApp-borne ignorance about Muslims, CAA, foreign affairs, and the state of the economy. The younger generation, creative people, intellectuals, and educated women are more likely to be liberal, informed and articulate, but their number is much smaller and they are likely to be outshouted.
Heated arguments on MoSha and Muslims are an everyday affair. Or else, political issues are not touched with a bargepole for fear of acrimony. Some can’t talk to parents or in-laws. Some are apologising for their rabid uncles. Friends and relatives have stopped inviting those who differ on ideological grounds. Or, liberals prefer not to visit any bhakt gathering.
I think it's better that we have ppl openly fighting their family for humanity and progressive values. In fact, there should be more such voices. But God knows, I've never seen such divisions in India everywhere: in polity, society, and family.
Ab ki baar is polarisation Sarkar!
Thank you, Aravind for sharing this incisive message. I too have been thinking on these lines. But in the following lines, I’d try to go a little beyond. On how we should handle the problem as individuals.

Fortunately, my family has much fewer bigots. Not too many fault lines there. But most of my childhood friends and former colleagues are, I believe, either bhakts, or “closet bhakts”. Some are even worse: they belong to the unconcerned people who I have tried to describe at some length above. For example, after the recent pogrom in Delhi, lots of my friends aren’t least perturbed by the planned, cold-blooded assault that lead to 53 deaths and that turned thousands of people paupers within three days. (I am not talking about the mental trauma that thousands will go through for the rest of their lives.)

I am tired of arguing with these “friends”. And honestly, disgusted. It would be easy not to carry such people as friends. But it will also mean drawing more lines on the ground, putting up more walls. Wouldn’t that be surrendering to the ideology of hatred?

I believe I have found the answer. Friendship happens at two levels. Some friendships define who you are. Discarding some friendships would amount to discarding some of your own self. Ditto, with some relationships.

No, I won’t let go such friends, even if they are fanatical lovers on Modi. My love for them is unconditional, it is etched in stone, no political dust storms can erase it. But, does everyone I studied or worked with, although technically a friend, qualify to be included in this group? The answer is a quiet No.

And with such people, from today, I won’t interact. I would simply tell them, and please forgive my language, “Fuck off!”

PS: There are people who haven’t been covered in this note, those who believe what’s happening around is wrong, but don’t speak up. The Desmond Tutu quotation is for their consideration.

Wednesday, 11 March 2020

Thursday, 27 February 2020

Playback theatre, Bengaluru

Last night, I was at a performance by Playback Theatre, Bengaluru, and this morning, the omniscient Wikipedia told me what it means: “Playback Theatre is an original form of improvisational theatre in which audience or group members tell stories from their lives and watch them enacted on the spot.”

Turning back a few pages, it was possibly in the 1980s when I watched some of Badal Sarkar’s plays after he took theatre out of the proscenium. During those performances, the audience used to sit on the four sides of a bare hall with zero props, with their backs to the wall and the actors were in the middle. They would directly interact with the audience and often, different men and women would play out different parts of the same play at the same time on two or more parts of the hall. It was an experience.

I do not remember all the Badal Sarkar plays that I lived through on the first floor of the Theosophical Society premises off College Street in Kolkata. It was a fascinating combination, some guys reportedly got in touch with ghosts on the ground floor, even as Badal Sarkar’s ruthless realism played out on the first floor. I watched Michil (Procession) and Bhoma, and a few others there. But what I experienced last night was even more fascinating, and in a moment, I’ll explain why.

There were four actors, three girls and a boy in their twenties, two musicians, a boy who played different instruments and a girl who played the guitar and sang beautifully. The seventh member of the team, the anchor person, got the audience involved in the performance. Last night’s proceedings began with a simple question “How do you feel now?”

A young man sitting next to me said he had taken four Uber rides during the day, and all the four drivers had been Muslims. He said that he hadn’t interacted much with two of them, but with the other two, both driver and the passenger ended up crying together. The moment he stopped, a girl was driving a taxi and the four actors performed the narrator’s experience with an incredible degree of understanding and sophistication. I was dumbstruck. How did they work so well without any preparation? Could they read each other’s mind?

From there, the compere moved on to how the audience felt (after three days of pogrom in Delhi). From there, the discursive conversation moved on to “resistance” and how individual members of the audience was initiated to the idea of resistance. Someone got the idea from penny-less, cast-away former freedom fighter in his early childhood, someone when she studied the Jim Crow Laws at a university in the US and related the caste system she had lived through as a child without ever realising there was anything wrong about it.

The brilliant ensemble brought to life each one of those experiences.

It was so heartening to see these young men and women, who have such depth and who have to offer so much to us. Once again, I thought we must not lose hope. Our future is bright!

Thursday, 27 February 2020

Saturday, 22 February 2020

Patriotism of the Insane

[Here is the English translation of a deeply moving anecdote written by my friend Bharatjyoti Roychowdhury, followed by my translation into English.

Before going into the brief piece, here’s an introduction to the author. Bharatjyoti was a district level leader in the Naxalbari Movement in Birbhum, West Bengal. He was in prison for many years and was brutally tortured in custody.

While Bhartjyoti was in active politics, that is during the 1970s, the Congress government of West Bengal through their police and henchmen murdered thousands of young men. Once, confronted with certain death in the hands of sarkari goons, Baratjyoti jumped off a running train under the cover of darkness and, though badly injured, saved his life miraculously. We are fortunate that he did. His three-volume opus সাতচল্লিশ থেকে সত্তর এবং আগে পরে (Forty-seven to Seventy and Before / After) is an insider’s account about the Naxalbari movement of the last century. It is also an authentic document based on painstakingly researched first-hand information and statistical charts. Bharatjyoti’s book shatters many a myth about the movement. No researcher on the Naxalbari movement can do without these three volumes.]


উন্মাদদের দেশপ্রেম

বেঙ্গালুরুতে গ্রেফতার হ'ল ১৯ বছরের মেয়েটি [অমুল্যা লিওনা] দেশদ্রোহিতার অপরাধে ১৯ ফেব্রুয়ারি সন্ধ্যায়। তার অপরাধ এই যে, তার অনেক কথার মধ্যে একটি স্লোগান ছিলো ঃ পাকিস্তান জিন্দাবাদ। এই স্লোগানের সঙ্গেই আরও অনেক কথা ছিলো তার ---হিন্দুস্থান জিন্দাবাদ ও ছিলো ; সেই কথাগুলি শুনতে দেওয়া হ'ল না। মাইক্রোফোন কেড়ে নেওয়া হ' মেয়েটি দেশদ্রোহী এই সিদ্ধান্তে সুর মেলালো সবাই, ---সি এ এ, এন আর সি , এন পি আর বিরোধিতায় সামিল হওয়া হায়দারাবাদ এম পি আসাদুদ্দীন ওয়েসি (মজলিস ই ইত্তেহাদ মুসলিমীন এর প্রধান) থেকে কুর্ণাটকের মুখ্যমন্ত্রী এবং পুলিশ, --গদি মিডিয়া থেকে সোশ্যাল মিডিয়ার অনেকে এবং সেই কোরাসে গলা মেলালেন মেয়েটির বাবাও

"মেয়েটি দেশদ্রোহী এবং মাওবাদী" ----বললেন কর্ণাটকের মুখ্যমন্ত্রী (যেখানে যা কিছু ঘটে অনিষ্টি, মূলে কে তার কমনিস্টি কমনিস্টি)। অনেকেই তাকে পাকিস্তানে পাঠিয়ে দেবার পরামর্শ দিয়ে দিয়েছেন

বেশি কথা না বলে, আমার স্মৃতিতে উঠে আসা একটি দিনের কথা এখানে উল্লেখ করতে চাই। ১২ ডিসেম্বর ২০০৩ পাকিস্তান ইণ্ডিয়া পিপলস ফোরাম ফর পিস অ্যান্ড ডেমক্রেসি র পক্ষে প্রয়াত অধ্যাপক অশোক মিত্রের সভাপতিত্বে ভারতবর্ষের আরও প্রায় ২০০ জন প্রতিনিধির সঙ্গে আমি সকাল ৯-০ টায় করাচি রেল স্টেশনে নামি। ১২ -১৪ ডিসেম্বর, ২০০৩ করাচিতে অনুষ্ঠিত হয়েছিলো ষষ্ঠ যুগ্ম সম্মেলন

ট্রেন থেকেই আমরা দেখতে পাচ্ছিলাম ভারতীয় প্রতিনিধিদের সম্বর্ধনা দেবার জন্য বিশাল মণ্ডপ এবং জমায়েত। সে সব কথা বিস্তারিতভাবে এখানে বলার সুযোগ নেই। ফিরে এসে আমি একটি ছোট বই প্রকাশ করি ক্যাম্প থেকে 'ওয়াগার ওপারে' নামে। সে সব কথা সেখানে বিস্তারিত ভাবেই বলা আছে। আমি শুধু একটি স্লোগান এখানে উল্লেখ করতে চাই, যে স্লোগান টি সেদিন পাকিস্তানের উপস্থিত জনগণ, পাকিস্তানের প্রতিনিধিরা এবং ভারতের প্রতিনিধিরা এক সাথে মুহুর্মুহু দিচ্ছিলেন, --আমিও ঃ

জীবি জীবি পাকিস্তান

জীবি জীবি হিন্দুস্থান


Patriotism of the Insane

A nineteen-year-old girl, [Amulya Leona] was arrested and charged with treason in Bengaluru in the evening of 19 February. [She has been sent to 14 days’ judicial custody.] Her offence was that among other things she said, she chanted the slogan “Pakistan Zindabad!”

Amulya Leona said many other things besides those two words, including “Hindustan Zindabad!” But we were not allowed to hear the rest of her speech as the microphone was snatched away from her. Lots of people, from the crusader against CAA-NRC-NPR and Hyderabad MP, Asaduddin Owaisi to the BJP chief minister of Karnataka, quickly concluded that she was indeed a traitor. From Karnataka police to the lapdog media to many on the social media joined in the “traitor” chorus, including Amulya’s father. 

“The girl is a traitor and a Maoist,” proclaimed the Karnataka CM. (It reminds me of an old Bangla doggerel, which in a free translation into English could read, “Whether it’s an ulcer or a cyst, there has to be a communist.”) Many have suggested that she should be sent to Pakistan.

Without going too deep into the incident, I would like to share with you an occasion that floats to the surface of my memory. I, along with 200 delegates of Pakistan-India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy under the leadership of our president, late Ashoke Mitra, got off the train at Karachi on 12 December, 2003 at 9 in the morning. The sixth joint conference of the forum was held between 12-14 December.

Even while we were on the train, we could see a huge gathering to welcome the Indian delegates and an impressive stage. Let’s not go into those details. After coming back, I published a short book titled ওয়াগার ওপারে (On the other side of Wagah). That book contains details about the conference. Here, I would just like to mention a slogan, which was repeatedly shouted by the Pakistani people present at the station, the Pakistani delegates, and every Indian delegate, including me:

Jeebi Jeebi Pakistan!
Jeebi Jeebi Hindustan!

[An endnote from the translator: When I began reading this, I considered another heading for the story “Welcome to Hindu Pakistan”. But when I reached the end, the thought comes to my mind that perhaps we are worse than Hindu Pakistan! Gentle Reader, what is your call?]