Chinmay Chakravarty is a professional specialized in the creative field with over two decades of experience in creative writing, journalistic writing, media co-ordination, film script writing, film dubbing, film & video making, management of international film festivals and editing of books & journals. Started career with a stint as a freelance journalist and then joined Indian Information Service. Employed by the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, Govt. of India during 1983 to 2014 . Presently posted as Director, Press Information Bureau, Kolkata. Published a book on Humor, 'Laugh and Let Laugh' by Notion Press, India, in 2017,
My Blog: Our Funarena!
You are walking leisurely or in a hurry, whatever be the situation, along a small lane which is empty most of the time, and you’re enjoying your walk. You see a big car parked ahead blocking nearly half of the lane. The moment you reach it things start happening as if it were pre-planned. You get surrounded by sudden traffic in both directions—cars, bikes, cycle rickshaws and what not, rushing and honking endlessly. You’re forced to stop behind the car, not able to walk on, as if trapped, and you start cursing if the sudden traffic movements continue for more than a minute. You’ll get angrier after you finally overcome the hurdle; because the moment you cross it the lane is again empty and quiet. You’re now convinced that it was a conspiracy of sorts, and that such conspiracies keep on happening.
Because then again, you see a street light post almost in the middle of the lane making the road narrower, and you’d wonder why the municipal authority was in such a frame of mind. The moment you approach it it’s all over again—cars, bikes, cycle rickshaws rushing honking in both directions, and even cyclists coming behind you trying to slip through the wrong side of the light post, stopping your progress altogether. You curse again if the commotion continues for more than minute, and normally it does last more than your tolerance time limit, always, invariably. And then, everything’s back to normal after you cross this hurdle.
On another instance, you see a puddle of murky rain-water or a blackish pit caused by seepage on your side of the lane that forces you stray into the middle portion in order to avoid it; but before you’re able to do that, the traffic movements would suddenly happen again from both directions, paralyzing you by the side of the puddle, making you swear in anger, frustration and absolute helplessness.
Your conspiracy theory gets confirmed, because you see such inexplicable inconveniences happen regularly, on most your walks or errands. Then, one day you decide to write about it, and want a suitable photograph to convey your conviction. So, you stand at those ‘hurdle’ points with your smartphone camera ready for action. Alas! Nothing of that sort happens this time! Now, you curse because it’s not happening—the road obstinately continues to remain quiet and desolate.
Anyway, these are not serious matters; these are normal—in the sense of ‘wrongs things happening at the wrong time’ or ‘timing doesn’t ever suit me’ or ‘that I’m always unlucky’ or like that. These things happen not only on the roads, but also at homes regularly, always, and invariably. The doorbell rings when you are about to apply the shaving razor to your face covered with lather, and your anger all the worse when you peep through finding the newspaper agent with the bill; doorbells ringing invariably when you’re in the bath, often couriers coming with important parcels, and if you’re alone in the house it’s all the more annoying; you sit by your mobile expecting an urgent call, and the moment you go away for a glass of water or to take a leak, the mobile would definitely ring making you curse as you discover the ‘missed’ call; your spouse would always ring your mobile the moment you switch on the movie channel for a favorite you waited for or as you go into the kitchen to make advance preparations for dinner; no end to such ‘inconveniences’.
It’s perfectly alright to keep on wondering over such coincidental hurdles on your way; but not at all alright if you start taking these too seriously and start cursing all the more bitterly. You surely wouldn’t want yourself stranded behind cars or puddles or dead-ends, but, in the same way, you’d not want many other situations in life too. This hurdle-race of life is not that boring either, if you anticipate it cleverly and overcome it diligently. Right?
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 colour 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!”
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 grueling 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.
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.
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 making a mockery of 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.
Living under the biggest lockdown of the world ever is not at all easy. To be honest, it’s been extremely difficult, inconvenient and stressful. Things we could never imagine in our wildest nightmares are happening now. Just imagine the very basic things we are deprived of life now: like that innocent morning newspaper; forget about all other associated things. As a result several mental states of affairs like boredom, anxiety, frustration, desperation and even anger are bound to grow stronger. With the abundant time we suddenly had at our disposal many of us, particularly engaged in the professional fields, thought and planned many creative pursuits, but finally discovered nothing of that sort was possible as the mind was always preoccupied with the virus and its antics. For example, as a writer with all the time in world I wanted to finish all my pending writing work and start new ones, but couldn't progress thanks to the same reason. Whatever I did manage to write was always on Coronavirus, nothing else. I seemed to have lost my sense of humor even. Many others manage to be productive with ‘work from home’; but think of all others who have no ‘work’ to do once their offices shut down. Just yesterday I saw a report on ‘increasing domestic violence’ in Indian homes which was only waiting to happen. Then again, think of millions of not well-to-do Indians who have to live in cramped flats or tenements with 5-8 people crowding barely a 100 square feet space, mostly members of three generations living together. With temperatures beginning to soar think of such people having to spend 24 hours inside. In general, only the main person of a family, in the appropriate age bracket, can move out for the most quintessentially existential job: queuing up and getting rations, medicines or the essentials.
Besides, various incidents of violations all over the country keep on irritating us further. We constantly nurture a feeling of self-sacrifice for the larger cause of saving more lives and finally our country: we are dismayed and greatly saddened by the orgies of death in Italy, Spain, USA, France and United Kingdom. That very spirit of sacrifice or solace is mercilessly hammered out of us by co-citizens brazenly ignoring social distancing and other guidelines or some fundamentalist religious sect performing an act of gruesome foul play and endangering in the process the whole of the country or significant failures on the part of the authorities and governance. In our lockdown-induced mental frame we constantly need ourselves to be reassured, encouraged and congratulated—however improbable or impossible it may sound. We do get the very important information from the media, Health Ministry updates, updates from related government organizations and also from the authorities of the state/union territory governments, but all the same we do get desperate for a word of complete certainty from our head—the Prime Minister of India.
The looming and continued uncertainty is nobody’s fault and however desperately we need to be solaced or comforted or reassured we cannot get this for the most obvious reasons on display all around the globe. We are only half-way through the 21-day lockdown, and so far it seems to be successful in at least delaying the scary Stage-3 or the start of community transmission so that the country gets fully prepared, medically and administratively, for the final assault of COVID-19. We also hope for another hope: that the onslaught of Coronavirus may not be as severe in India where early steps like the lockdown had been taken as in the USA or in the European states where the virus was ignored in the initial stage—for democratic reasons as well as for reasons of lifestyle, luxury and market economics. In any case, the intricate interplay of optimism and pessimism keeps us agitated and stressed.
Such a locked down mind also leads one to cynicism. We had seen earlier all political parties rallying behind the government of India on steps taken irrespective of ideological differences. That mood doesn't seem to be working now. For example, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi, perhaps sensing the public mood, suggested an evening of ‘lights off and prayers with traditional lights’ the main political opposition parties asked him to ‘get real’, that is to say, to give practical tips or promises on the medical and management fronts. Surprisingly, a large section of the public too seemed to be not agreeing to his ‘supposedly spiritual or astrological’ gesture, and demanded solid promises delivered and, as we mentioned earlier, a word of complete certainty and assurance. At the moment, we are mortally bothered about the possible lifting or extension of the lockdown—and, heavens, both scenarios scare us like hell.
Well, there seems to be nothing wrong in encouraging the 1.3 billion Indians, under closure, engage themselves in a new activity which promises indeed to strengthen the bond of cooperation and unity, and also allowing an outlet for relaxing the mind. We must brace ourselves for the next half of the lockdown, and be in readiness to face any situation before or after that. For the time being, cases of Coronavirus are on the rise everywhere in India with infections crossing 3000, deaths at 62; although a good part of the increase is sought to be attributed by some to the indiscriminate goings-on of the Tablighi Jamaat at Nizamuddin Markaz, right in the national capital Delhi, that chained in almost all of the Indian states in a vicious circle of infections and deaths—for example, the state Assam where there was not a single infection saw a sudden spike thanks entirely due to the ill-fated international gathering happening right in front of Delhi Government and the government of India in the middle of March, 2020.
Things are really at a head now: some crucial economic and medical decisions like announcing a more generous cash package for the Indian poor or taking a decision on ‘how, who and where’ of the imminent harvest season or empowering the states with more money and resources for vigorous ground exercises or steps to ensure enough masks, ICUs with ventilators and personal protection equipments for the doctors and health workers must be taken at the earliest. While diversions of the ‘lights off’ kind are okay for a feel-good factor the government cannot afford to procrastinate on the ‘now or never’ policy decisions and concerted actions.