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People Need Love

In the USA, Paul Robeson made a soul-stirring rendering of Ol’ Man River (Oscar Hammerstein, Jerome Kern) in 1928. It had lyrics which were from the movie Show Boat, and were not politically correct euphemisms, Negroes working and Whites enjoying. Robeson did use the bass solo over the years, and the lyrics changed to  politically correct terms. But it did stir a generation.

Martin Luther King led the Civil Rights March of a couple of hundred thousand blacks (and non-black sympathisers) in Washington in 1962. Though President Kennedy was scared to death of violence of the sort that was taking place in Alabama and elsewhere, and had virtually brought Washington, DC, to a state of siege, they marched singing We Shall Overcome without any violence. Martin Luther King  was afraid to start with, but the message of Mahatma Gandhi had reached him and he could say, “We are not afraid,” in a positive way.

The Civil Rights movement did improve things.

Nearer home, I was once told by my father that his friends wanted to create3 a spoof of Ulloor Paramesara Iyer’s Uma Keralam with their own spoofed version called Kothakelam, about old social conditions  with verses like

Namboorar undu rasiche
Mattullor kandu rasiche

(Namoothiris enjoyed, feasting,
Others enjoyed watching).

And of course, I am told about Kodungalloor Kunjikuttan Thampuran who apparently wrote a book called Thuppal Kolambi (Spittoon) (I have not read it) that depicted all things that should not be done. Usually, they could bot be spoken of.

Bhupen Hazarika built a career (Gonga, boicho kano?, Megh Thom thom kore, etc) out of such sentiments as represented the spirit of Ol’ Man River and became the darling of the leftist crowd in India. Later in the seventies we enjoyed Karen Karpenter singing, what else?, Sing.

Sing a song
Let the world sing along
Make it simple to last your whole life long.
Sing of good things, not bad
Sing of happy, not sad

We sang. Sing for you and for me.

Just sing.

The idea of the establishment protecting its young and culture from the violence, terror and the language of the undesirable neighbourhoods did become unfashionable, though political speech must not change. Why not call a spade, a spade? Why not let the pain and frustration and violence and bad words come out?

The rapper had no censor watching him, and my son’s generation has grown up hearing it all, seeing it all… But have they achived anything better than bringing the language out into the open? Does it make better to sing of good things?

I had these thoughts today when I came across a Youtube video of the karaoke version of Abba’s People Need Love. Why not let groups play the video and sing good words?

Tailpiece: It would appear that the Bombay rag (that is the word I like to use about similar media including several TV channels) DNA has headlines about cyclone Phailin that scream : First, the Anxiety, then the Anticlimax. It must have been an anticlimax to see there was not much of loss of life or destruction.

Why not say: First, the Anxiety, then the Relief (or Acievement, or something positive, that some things worked?)

Tailpiece 2: My wife and I were discussing the Ratnagarh temple stampede.

Whenever and wherever in India we are in a queue, we find people physically pushing from behind. Why? Such behaviour does create problems.

If the physical pushing were an analogue of other behaviour, Indians must have become the most competitive of all the world’s people.



I checked in at the hospital for the session of chemotherapy on Saturday, the 24th. My son had come down from London. He was incredulous first when my wife called him, asking her what sort  of a joke it was.

His wife was also there, and no, nobody was mournful. I had to thank everyone for that. Others being cheerless is bad!

The doctors had wanted me to start the chemo asap, on 23rd if possible. But the availability of facilities meant post-ponement by a day. After I was admitted, the doc on duty asked for the schedule of therapy.

Schedule? I had not heard of any such thing. It seems we missed taking one from the oncologist on the date of consultation. And now the doctor was out of station and was not taking calls on his mobile phone. So it seemed I would have to lie around for a day.

But then he called back and dictated the schedule.

They first gave some hydrocortisone, antacid, anti emetic, etc, and there was a wait of three hours and one hour, and then started the treatment with taxol and paraplatin. It lasted six hours.

They had fed me a sleeping pill. It seems it gave me unusual thoughts, as my son would later tell me, with Chinese invading us and swarming all over!

I was back home the next morning. Thankfully, there has been no nausea, no pain, but just loss of appetite.

The next session is on the 13th of September.


Part I

My right ankle was giving me trouble, turning a bit stiff. Well, both legs had been alternately complaining for some time, with this or that, and I had put it down to Father Time. Grow old gracefully, these aches and pains are part of it.

So I hobbled about cheerfully. And paid a visit to the Vaidyan. He confirmed yes, it is arthritis, and prescribed some kashayam. And prescribed a diet regimen, which basically meant that whatever was tasty was prohibited.

So I went on the diet and swallowed the medicines. And the stomach started protesting. The kashayam was changed after a week with worse results, terrible gastritis. Trying to force down food that was tasteless, violent spasms resulted in a pulled muscle in the left thigh, or so I thought.

Then I decided to come off the kashayam et al and get the gastritis off. And paid a visit to an Allopathic orthopaedician. He prescribed blood tests and an x-ray of the ankle.

The blood tests showed high ESR, C-Reactive protein, stuff that showed some infection or inflammation was raging, or had raged. The ortho told me whatever I had was over, the x-rays showed a fine joint, no Rheumatic Arthritis factor, etc, that is to say, I was more or less fine. Just have wax therapy for the ankle, three sessions, repeat the blood test after a couple of weeks and see him again.

Should I see a general physician for the infection, etc? I asked meekly. “No!’ was the answer. Whatever I had was actually over.

So I had a first session of wax therapy and came home to dinner whistling a tuneless tune. I had to eat well, to make up for the several kilograms I had lost to my tummy-problems.

Part II

The next day was Independence Day. I woke up with a puffed face and neck, and short of breath. No doctor was available except the junior ones on emergency duty in casualty wards in hospitals. A homeopath gave some medicines. By the next morning, the puffing subsided, and I continued with the regimen. But on Monday the 19th, I woke up again with a puffed face and neck and short of breath. It was time to do some detailed testing.

I met a doctor at a clinic and she ordered a battery of tests and x-rays. I was happy to see most parameters turning up fine. Must be some rogue infection.

The doctor took a look at the chest x-ray and said, looks like an un-coiled aorta. Normally I wouldn’t look at it much, but with you panting for breath, I can’t let it go. Some blood vessel seems to be getting blocked. Get a CT scan, pronto. She was seeing what she didn’t tell me, probably.

She arranged for the CT scan immediately and I had it in the afternoon, at a different facility of the clinic. The report would be available the next day.

We came home, and then my wife got a call from the doctor. She had checked the scan result with the lab. She said there was a thrombosis, yes, she had arranged for an appointment with an oncologist in the morning.

Oncologist? For a thrombosis?

The next morning, in quick succession, I was led through three appointments with a medical oncologist, a surgical oncologist and a radiologist. It was confirmed to me that there was rogue tissue multiplying inside me. I had to report for a bronchoscopy the next day.

The doctor also saw me hobbling, what with my “pulled” muscle, and ordered me to get a pelvic x-ray done.

I reported for the bronchoscopy sharp at the appointed time. I was handed a form, in which I had to mark consent for the procedure, etc, and in reading that, I found I was supposed to report on an empty stomach. Well, I was still not out of the woods with my gastritis and was eating or drinking something all the time.

The doctor also arrived, all scrubbed and ready, and then I told him about my non-fasted tummy. No, he said, he could not do it like that. But he was all so nice, he said he would finish his ward rounds and out-patient duties and come back in four hours. Stay there.

Yes, I stayed, and we had the bronchoscopy in time.

The next day was a whole body PET-CT scan. On an empty stomach, but I was not told I could have water. In any case, they gave me water to drink, a whole litre of it.

The day after was again consultations based on the result of the investigations. The doctors decided to put me on chemotherapy immediately, starting the next day. And yes, I had better not put any weight on my left leg, but use a walking stick.

Things had gone in a whirl. I, who can’t really whistle, was whistling a tuneless tune barely a week ago. And here it was, a sea-change.

No, not really. The intimations of mortality had always been there. The only difference now was that I should no longer plan with an unfixed time-frame. Each day has always been a gift, all the time, but it was just a fuzzy thought. Till now.

But there were the plans to visit foreign lands and witness foreign customs and usages. There was our retirement home on the banks of the Periyar with its four balconies opening on to the river. Having led life mostly in a succession of pitiful rural and urban settings, some of them hovels, there was this place lovingly furnished with all new things.

Did it make it all so sad, so bad?

I do not think so. There was also the possibility all the time, of an uncertain future. Who knows what else lurked round the corner of dark time? I had specifically told the doctors that I was least interested in extending life at the cost of pain and disability. They said yes, we assure you quality of life till the end. I believe them,

Yes, the provisions I did make for a certain possible path. Being, as my son says, a numerate, I understand numbers, I understand probabilities, distributions, correlation and causation, ranges of outcomes. A thwarted dream is just what it originally was, just a dream. Has not every one had them? Have I not had plenty of them myself? And known that unrealistic expectation is the only source of sorrow?

And there are ways to find out what is most enjoyable every day. I have no pain. My head is clear. There is possibly even less of uncertainty than there was earlier.

The Living Fear

It may have been the bard’s invention and not historical fact.

Shakespeare has Sir Pierce Exton say King Henry IV said ‘Have I no friend will rid me of this living fear?’ and looked at him. (The Life and Death of Richard the Second, Act V Scene IV).

Henry of Bolingbroke had usurped the crown from Richard and imprisoned him. There was no “legal process” to execute the past king, but Richard, still alive, was a threat. So Exton took it upon himself to rid Henry of the living fear. No legal process.

With all the legal codification, and the endless adjournments and change in politically appointed prosecutors, the legal process seems to be very slow and ineffective in prophylactic sterilisation of the environment. There must be impatient policemen – or would there be 555 cases of alleged fake encounters in less than four years?




Data from answer by RPN Singh, Minister of State, Home Affairs in Lok Sabha to unstarred question No 1368 – 5/3/2013

Is it the speedy non-judicial dispensation of justice, without the complexities of the Evidence Act?

Or is it zealous officials protecting the State? It seems the largest number of these is in UP (138 cases). Then why is Gujarat (8 cases) getting all the negative attention? The answer must be blowing in the wind.

But there is an interesting aspect. Assuming threats to the State were eliminated by intelligence agencies or the police, and the news presented to the leader, may be the President, the PM, or CM, or whatever. Would they behave as Bolingbroke did with Sir Pierce when Richard’s coffin was brought? Shakespeare’s version is interesting:

EXTON: Great king, within this coffin I present
    Thy buried fear: herein all breathless lies
    The mightiest of thy greatest enemies,
    Richard of Bordeaux, by me hither brought.

HENRY BOLINGBROKE: Exton, I thank thee not; for 
                thou hast wrought
    A deed of slander with thy fatal hand
    Upon my head and all this famous land.

EXTON: From your own mouth, my lord, did I 
    this deed.

HENRY BOLINGBROKE: They love not poison that do 
                poison need,
    Nor do I thee: though I did wish him dead,
    I hate the murderer, love him murdered.
    The guilt of conscience take thou for 
                thy labour,
    But neither my good word nor princely favour:
    With Cain go wander through shades of night,
    And never show thy head by day nor light.
    Lords, I protest, my soul is full of woe,
    That blood should sprinkle me to make me grow:
    Come, mourn with me for that I do lament,
    And put on sullen black incontinent:
    I'll make a voyage to the Holy Land,
    To wash this blood off from my guilty hand:
    March sadly after; grace my mournings here;
    In weeping after this untimely bier.


The leader may choose to travel on a pilgrimage to his own Holy Land!


“Rapacious” Development?

Uttarakhand has been in the news over the last fortnight and for the wrong reasons. Or are they good, right reasons to pay attention to?

Local politicians and administrators make the point that tourism and dams and mining and agriculture are required for the economic sustenance and development of the local people. There is at least one special interest group (it masquerades as a political party) in Kerala that thinks the land in the Western Ghats should all be tilled. There are those who have made a career out of opposing anything in sight  and decry every developmental activity. And then there are those who want to tread a middle path and think of having laissez faire  with a policemen standing somewhere in the middle. The environmental issues are there not only in the  hills, the Himalayas and Western Ghats or Khasi and Jaintia, but some mining activities like surface mining destroy vast tracts even in the plains.

It is interesting to see that the “Central” government wants to appear to be fair and look after the environment as well as economic needs. So they have environmental clearance procedures and appoint committees to get around blocks. Projects are cleared with archaic data (like in the case of the water flow assessed at Athirapally a dozen years before upstream dams were built) or with “public” hearings that are essentially hidden.

And when the appointed committee writes something the establishment dislikes, you can appoint another committee. Like you appoint the Kasturirangan Committee to assess the Madhav Gadgil committee (Western Ghats Ecology Experts Panel)’s report. No matter the second committee (High Level Working Group, if you may!) has experts on the weather in Tierra del Fuego or outer space and not on the subject matter of the first! A wag was wondering why Gali Janardhana Reddy was not the chairman of the second committee ; he at least knows his mining in the Western Ghats.

Appearances. We  need to keep up appearances.

Another interesting thing I noticed was that the disaster in Uttarakhand was pronounced as man-made by “rapacious” development  by the loud electronic media looking at parts, not digesting the whole. May be it was; may be it was man-made just because even the extreme-weather warnings available were not acted upon. But where did you assess it?

Regardless of all the righteous anger, I find it amusing to note that Bhoomi Devi, Gaia will survive all the developers, contractors, profiteers, politicians and environmentalists.

If you do not take care of the environment, the environment will take care of you.

Tailpiece: All nations spy on each other, says Barack Obama. But PRISM is different (good), and what the Chinese do to US is different (bad).

Ageing in China and Elsewhere

The Hindu says a new law in China makes it compulsory for children to visit and take care of their old parents emotionally. Maybe not really a new development, they have been speaking of it for the last several years.

When I was in Singapore a few years ago, a local citizen showed me the over-twenty-storeys residential blocks that also had multi-level car parking – mostly vacant. He said Lee Kuan Yew wanted people to visit their parents over the weekends, and lack of parking should not be an excuse. (True, to own a car in Singapore is a rare privilege, and a good thing it is so; the place is not choked with private vehicles). I do not know whether the story is true, but then Singapore is a funny place, a fast-paced capitalist city state that also has compulsory primary education, compulsory Central Provident Fund, and compulsory you-should-paint-your-house-once-in-two-years rule. If you did not, the government would do it and charge the cost to your CPF. The only dirty building I saw in Singapore was the Railway Station – but the Railway is owned by Malaysia and Malaysia probably does not have a CPF account in Singapore.

And then I have been reading stories that the less educated old in Singapore are working as cleaners and toilet attendants as their accumulated savings can’t take care of them. They are selling flats and downgrading, to get cash. No welfare state, there are no old age pensions there. And life expectancy is about 80 to 90 years!

Well, anyway, China is really making the law. With the one-child norm, the ratio of those over 60 to the total population may grow to 30% by 2050, it seems. I do not know whether they will also establish a penal code for violators, and stipulate financial support in addition to emotional one for aged parents.

India, at least most parts of it, does not seem to be in danger of the retired elderly being a burden on the young workers any time too soon. The way they breed in most places, bacteria can’t keep pace. But urbanisation is creating nuclear families both in high end housing and in slums. Intervention may come both regarding parenting and supporting parents.

Modern social systems seem to be facing the question of free choice and compulsory duties for individuals everywhere, in the first, the second and the third worlds.

Tailpiece: Beware, all you philanderers (in India)! Having sex with a promise of marriage and then not marrying can now be criminal according to Delhi High Court. But that may not be possible, as according to Madras High Court, you automatically get married to the partner when you have sex.

Death of the Telegraph

The telegram service is to be discontinued in India by BSNL in the middle of July. The telex service already having been discontinued a few years ago, one more of modern inventions has become redundant.

One can mouth inanities like the over-worked phrase “the old order changeth…” And take solace in the manner of the telegraph/telegram’s demise, that old soldiers but fade away.

The growth of technology after the start of the industrial revolution is exponential, and Moore’s Law may also get swept away soon. But my aim is not to pontificate on how matter, after it started in its human-agglomerated-form to contemplate its environs and itself, does not know where the contemplation will take it to.

My aim is only to pontifcate on what might have been, if the East India Company had not introduced the latest technology like railways and telegraph into India at what in those days prior to the telegraph and radio and what else, was lightning speed. It took less time for the telegraph to come to India in the nineteenth century than the common-rail diesel engine took in the twentieth. Was the difference the powers that be, for the time being? The Company was the de-facto emperor of most of India by the middle of the nineteenth century. Who was the de-facto emperor in the latter half of the twentieth century in India? Don’t tell me it was “we, the people”,

Well, what might have been?

It may not be widely appreciated that the rising of 1857 was put down by the telegraph, that villain, that stooge of commercial imperialism. More than to take stock of its wares in “factories” and godowns all over India, more than to improve its logistics in operation, the Company’s directors must have recognised the role of the telegraph in ensuring the security of the trade and its margins. To wit, to be master of whatever added environs helped create its margins.

So when the rag-tag armies of a few score disgruntled local rulers added renegades and victims of bigotry from here and there, and marched aimlessly over parts of north and central-east India, and a vainglorious poet-dissolute-rump of a dynasty thought he would be emperor again in Delhi, the Company’s wires dot-dash-dotted intelligence and instructions to its cantonments. From Calcutta to Cawnpore to Delhi to Meerut to… I know I will be crucified about 1 billion times for saying this, once by every Indian, fed as we are on the theory of the War of Independence in 1857. (But all of them will not read this, the readership of my blog can be represented by a single digit, base 10 system). My early political education also shared this view. I have since seen documented histories that show sepoys being motivated by a promised pay of 15 annas a month to change sides, among other things.

So the superior intelligence, planning, training, availability of ammunition and commercial motivation won. Not that there were not several genuine patriots in the midst of the unorganised rising. But technology won, and in this case, the telegraph, introduced but a few years earlier, did it.

So what might have been if the telegraph did not come to India in the 1850’s? Instead of the few months it took the Company, supported by various indigenous vilains vying for patronage, it would have been years before they could re-establish their commerce, re-establish their ascendancy. Perhaps, the hundreds of chieftains would have regained their territories, and gone on fighting each other…