Dancing in the sun

Dancing in the Sun

Have you ever felt the sun,
Reached out to it from the edge of your verandah,
Felt its rays
Tingling your fingertips with a shower of warmth? 
You might not have
For the sun shines almost incessantly
On the face of the earth. 

But sometimes
You need to hide away from the world
And then however splendid be your mansion
If the sun does not come to visit
You are left cold, bereft of love.

And then comes a day,
When you finally walk away,
And the rays come down one by one
Pitter patter,
Overwhelming your senses and numbing you with love.
Joyous, I danced to this rain,
I danced drenched by the sun,
I wonder what my neighbours thought
That I belonged to some crazy lot
But my mind did not venture there
For there was magic running through the air.

It was not long though that I rushed inside,
All the love was hard to take,
And I saw the birds flit from sun to shade
A pleasant gale running to my aid,
Green leaves shine brightly and shake
In the folds of my freedom.

Please do not forward—कृपया फॉरवर्ड ना करें

This will be a dual-language post to reach out to everyone. English follows after the Hindi version. Scroll down.

सारांश: कुछ भी फॉरवर्ड न करें

आज (24 March, 2020) की ताज़ा खबर है : USA के राष्ट्रपति Donald Trump और चीन के मीडिया ने COVID-19 की एक (संभव) दवाई का ज़िक्र किया। मछलियों के टैंक को साफ़ करने में इसका इस्तिमाल होता है। ये सब सुनकर एक वृद्ध ने इसे खा लिया और उनकी इससे मौत हो गयी।

अंग्रेजी शब्दों का इस्तेमाल करने के लिए माफ़ करियेगा। मैं सब तक पहुंचना चाहता हूँ। मैं आपको जिसके बारे में बताने वाला हूँ, उसके बारे में बहुत ज्यादा नहीं जानता पर आशा करता हूँ कि आपको मेरी बात समझ में आये|

हाल फिलहाल में, लोग अखबार और न्यूज़ चैनल्स पर कम और सोशल मीडिया पर ज्यादा ध्यान देने लगे हैं | इसके कई कारण हैं, अच्छे और बुरे | उनमें मैं नहीं जाऊँगा | मेरी आज की यह चिट्ठी सोशल मीडिया पर चल रहे अफवाहों पर है| आपने हाल ही में “Exponential Growth” के बारे में सुना होगा। ये केवल अभी फैलते हुए COVID-19 के लिए नहीं है । अफवाह भी इसी गति से फैलते है।

22 March, 2020

परसो, आदरणीय प्रधान मंत्री मोदीजी ने “जनता कर्फ्यू ” का ऐलान किया: 14 घंटों का कर्फ्यू, पर मानने के लिए कोई दबाव नहीं था। मेरा ये अनुमान है कि ये आने वाले समय की तैयारी थी। तभी अचानक मुझे मैसेज आया:

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जनता कर्फ्यू क्यों?: कोरोना वायरस केवल 12 घंटे ज़िंदा रहता है। इसी लिए कर्फ्यू 14 घंटों का है इसके बाद कोरोना का नामोनिशान मिट जायेगा।

यह बिलकुल गलत है। मैं नहीं मान सकता की ये एक राजनीतिक संगठन का काम है। हर बुद्धिमान समय की अहमियत पहचानता है। ये काम केवल उनका हो सकता है जो देश को हानी पहुंचाना चाहते हैं। अंत में नतीजा ये हुआ की लोग 5 बजे सड़कों पर निकल आये (मोदीजी के मना करने के बावजूद)।

मेरे एक दोस्त लिखते हैं कि उनके मोहल्ले में बहुत लोग 5 बजे नाचने उतर आये। इंटरनेट में बहुत सारे वीडियोस भी हैं पर मुझे पता नहीं की वो सच हैं की नहीं।

ये Exponential Growth है क्या चीज़?

1 X 2=2
2X2 =4
4X2 =8
8X2 =16…. देखिये ये कैसे बढ़ते चले जा रहे हैं। अगर हम एक ही number से गुणा करते रहे तो ये बहुत जल्द ही दुनिया की जनसंख्या को पछाड़ देंगे । बीमारियाँ ऐसे ही फैलती हैं। एक को बिमारी होती है, उससे उसके दोस्तों को, उनसे उनके दोस्तों को… मैं आपको पूरा सत्य नहीं बता रहा, पर यह सत्य से बहुत दूर नहीं है। इनपे बहुत सारी videos हैं अगर आपकी दिलचस्पी हो तो।

अफवाहों की भी यही कहानी है । वो भी exponential growth से बढ़ते हैं । मैं अपने दोस्तों को मैसेज भेजता हूँ , वो अपने दोस्तों को भेजते हैं …. मैं कोई बहुत गंभीर बात नहीं बोल रहा हूँ, जानी मानी बातें है। Facebook और Watsapp ने अफवाहों को रोकने के लिए कई प्रयास किये हैं। पर जैसे की जनता की कोशिश के बिना बिमारियों को रोकना नामुमकिन है, वैसे ही अफवाहों को भी रोकना नामुमकिन है। चलिए बात को थोड़ी और गहराई से समझते हैं।

सोशल नेटवर्क- Marketing –> राजनीति—> Terrorism

अफवाह बिमारियों के मुक़ाबले ज्यादा फैलती हैं; Facebook और Watsapp अपना पूरा ज़ोर लगा रहे हैं इनको रोकने के लिए। इस कारण से अफवाह फैलाने वाले नये-नये तरीके निकाल रहे हैं। ये कोई नयी बात नहीं है; इस पर एक विषय है जिसका नाम है “Social Network Analysis”। जैसे एक आतंकवादी हमले के पहले सबसे भीड़-भाड़ वाला इलाका ढूंढता है; यहाँ नेटवर्क में भीड़ के केंद्र खोजे जाते हैं। आप अफवाह को फैलने वाली बीमारी के तरह सोच सकते हैं। भीड़ के केंद्र से लोग अपने दोस्तों को मैसेज भेजते हैं, वो अपने दोस्तों को, वगैरह, वगैरह… ये फेसबुक को जभ तक समझ आता है बहुत देरी हो गयी होती है; अफवाह फैल गयी होती है। मार्केटिंग में इसका भारी उपयोग हुआ है और इससे से फेसबुक की आमदनी और लोकप्रियता बढ़ी। बाद में राजनितिक संगठनों ने इसका इस्तेमाल किया। उनको ये पता है कि नेटवर्क में भीड़ के केंद्र कहाँ है। एक आतंकवादी के लिए अब बस ये ज्ञान चुरा लेना काफी है और वो अपने अफवाह का बम्ब वहाँ फ़ेंक सकता है और हमारी अर्थव्यवस्था, शान्ति और सेहत; सब को तहस-नहस कर सकता है।

तो अभ हम क्या करें?

वही जो आप COVID-19 के लिए कर रहे हैं।

फैलने मत दीजिये! थोड़ा अलग हो जाइये। अपने सगों के भी message मत फॉरवर्ड करिये। मैं नहीं बोल रहा हूँ कि फेसबुक पर कर्फ्यू की ज़रुरत है. आप अभी भी अपने दोस्तों, रिश्तेदारों से बात-चीत, हंसी-मज़ाक, खींचा-तानी कर सकते हैं; हंसीदार वीडियोस (सोच समझ कर) भेज सकते हैं। पर जो भी करें, सावधानी बरतें। अफवाह ना फैलाएं, ना फैलाएं,ना फैलाएं (वैसे ही जैसे हाथ धोइये, हाथ धोइये, हाथ धोइये)! इसमें हम सब को खतरा है, सब की हानि है। अगर आप किसी को जानते हैं जो ऐसा कर रहा है तो उनको समझाइये की इसमें क्या दिक्कत है।

तो क्या ठीक लगने वाली चीज़ें भी हम नहीं शेयर करें?

चलिए, ठीक है! पर आपको सतर्क रहना ज़रूरी है। अपने आप को पूछिए- इसकी क्या ज़रुरत है? इससे किसी का क्या फायदा होगा? क्या यहाँ पर लिखा हुआ सब पूरी तरह ठीक है? क्या पता कोई कहीं बैठा पैसे पीट रहा हो आपके इस शेयर से? क्या पता कोई पता करने की कोशिश में हो कि आप कितने चपेट में लिए जा सकते हैं।

शेयर करिये, मगर ध्यान से।आपको दो उदाहरण देता हूँ:

NASA ने कहा है कि कोरोना वायरस इंडिया से छटता दिखाई दे रहा है। कोई भी बुद्धिमान क्षणों में समझ जायेगा कि ये बात गलत है। हाँ! आप इसपर हंस सकते हैं पर बहुत से लोगों ने इसपर विश्वास किया है। आप के लिए यह मज़ाक हो सकता है पर कुछ लोग गलतफेमिली में पड़ सकते हैं।
इसमें कहा जा रहा है कि बिमारी के लिए किसी फ्रेंच कंपनी ने दवाई बनाई है।— इसमें वैसे कोई बुराई नहीं है। पर ऐसे मैसेज से लोगों को सुरक्षा का झूठा आभास हो सकता है, जो उतना ही हानिकारक है जितना भय!

अब प्रश्न ये रह जाता है: इसे फॉरवर्ड करे कि नहीं। अगर ये मेरे कथित दायरों के अंदर है, तो ज़रूर!

इसे भी देखिये :- कुछ ही दिनों पहले मुझपे इंटरनेट पर हमला हुआ था।

इसमें पूछा जा रहा है कि नजरबंद तोड़ने वालों की जानकारी किसको देनी है?

कुछ लोग इसपर अनाप-शनाप गालियाँ दे रहे थे। मैंने उनको चुप करने की कोशिश की। कुछ ही मिनटों में मेरे wall पर लोग एक के बाद एक गालियां लिखने लगे। फेसबुक एक को हटाती तो दूसरा खड़ा हो जाता। सब कुछ बरी सूझ-बुझ के साथ किया जा रहा था। ये थोड़ा डरावना था पर में खुश हूँ कि फेसबुक ने संभल लिया। हमें सदा सतर्क रहने की ज़रुरत है।

ENGLISH VERSION:

I am not a specialist here but just speculating. Read it with a pinch of salt.

Summary: Do not forward messages.

Latest news (March 24, 2020): After mention by the USA president and Chinese media of a potential COVID-19 drug, a person dies after ingesting an aquarium cleaner which contains it.


With the recent developments in social media, traditional forms of spreading knowledge have gotten hampered and to an extent replaced. News channels have become a source of entertainment and watsapp has become a source of news. The mediums of propaganda have changed to their more efficient avatars.

You might have learnt about “exponential growth” in the recent times with reference to the recent COVID-19 developments. Here we are going to learn about something else which grows exponentially: Misinformation and propaganda.

22 March, 2020

Day before yesterday, our prime minister Modiji announced “Junta Curfew”: A voluntary lockdown for 14 hours. I assumed that this was a drill so as to be able to impose stronger curfews later. Immediately the following messages started popping up:

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This is very far from the truth and definitely not what Modiji said and it surely came from people with mal-intentions. I would like to give opposition parties the benefit of doubt. This leaves people who want to disrupt public health in India. The lines of misinformation had its effect and people came out to dance on the streets at 5 PM (despite Modiji explicitly requesting people to practice social distancing).

I am not sharing videos because I can’t verify their authenticity

Exponential Growth

Let us discuss first what is exponential growth: Very simple! 1, 2, 4, 8, 16…. If you keep multiplying by the same number, in no time will you surpass the population of the earth. This plays an important role in the study of infectious diseases because that is how viruses spread: A person is infected. People connected to him are infected and so on and so forth. Of course I am simplifying the matter and the truth is a little more complicated but we won’t get into this. If you are interested, there are many videos explaining the phenomena.

The same is true with misinformation. Misinformation also grows with exponential growth. I send my friends a message, they forward it to their friends, etc. Of course, I am not a genius and this is not a deep fact. Facebook and Watsapp have come to realise it and have taken many steps against it. Yet, it is impossible to stop this unless people comply (as it is impossible to stop infections unless people comply). Let us understand this a little better.

Social network analysisMarketing to Election to Terrorists

Misinformation tends to be more infectious than diseases and with its analytics, social networks are doing their best to stamp it out. So these misinformers also need to have very nuanced strategies. This goes into a subject called “Social Network Analysis”. Just like a terrorist tries to find the most crowded area before an attack, similarly the task here is also to find density centres and pathways of vulnerable people. Think of information as an infection now. A person in a highly dense area of social network gets a piece of information. He passes it on to his friends. His friends pass it on to their friends… At some point Facebook figures out that this information is false and removes it. However it has been too late! Marketers jumped at this opportunity from the very beginning of social networks (and it is from their money these have grown so much). Later we saw this being used by political parties. Now if marketers and political parties have this data (density centres and vulnerable people), I just need to steal it from them and can create the chaos if I want to. In particular, I believe it is being used by misinformers who intend to disrupt public health and create chaos (or riots). Nobody is holier than the other. They will send you some information and send your friend the complete opposite.

So what should we do?

The same thing that we should do to avoid the spread of COVID-19.

Break the chain. Step aside. DO NOT FORWARD THINGS EVEN IF IT IS FROM YOUR CLOSEST BUDDY. I am not saying that you have to practice curfew on Facebook. You can have fun, keep in touch with your relatives and find interesting cat videos. Maybe share some information. But VERIFY VERIFY VERIFY. (not different from WASH YOUR HANDS, WASH YOUR HANDS, WASH YOUR HANDS). Public health is a joint responsibility. So is information. If you have a relative or friend who is breaking these norms, you need to talk to them and help them understand.

Why should I not forward things which seem okay?

You may. But you need to be careful. Ask yourself. Is it really true? What is the purpose of spreading this? For all we know, someone might be testing your vulnerability sitting up there (not in the heavens but in their offices, collecting data and printing their pay-cheques).

For instance consider the following message:

Every intelligent person will be able to deduce that this is false. However there are many people who fall for it. So even with such messages we need to be careful.
A priori this poses no harm. But suppose people start relaxing the curfew because of this forward. If the drug does not arrive we will be in bigger trouble than we are right now.



Now the question remains: Should you forward this post? Please do if it satisfies the criterion I described above.


PS: Not so long ago, I was attacked by some people on the internet.

Secret Tel Aviv is a popular social media group in Israel. A few people were writing nasty things against this post. I tried defending it. In no time, my wall was terribly maligned. Facebook responded very quickly and removed the troll. But in no time another troll appeared and this kept happening for while. It was clearly a well-coordinated effort. Thankfully Facebook was on the top but this was a very unnerving experience. So be aware: However we defend, they will come back with more involved strategies. We should be ready!

Some points for the after-crisis

First up, I am very happy with India’s response towards COVID-19 until now. There might be some disagreements but I do recognise that there also might be constraints.

All figures are percentage expenditure of the GDP. The source is the world bank figures/Wikipedia. Gross figures might be a little more depressing so I didn’t look for them.

Research&Development:
India (2015) : .85%
China(2018): 2.19%

Education:
India (2019): 3%
China(2016): 4%

Health:
India (2016): 3.66%
China(2016): 4.98%

I want our dear countrymen to remember these statistics through the COVID-19 crisis (and after). Probably in the next year budget or the year after that the government will change its tune. But we should never loosen the noose. And we should be careful; what does bringing more funds mean, how is it spent, how is it directed? Hopefully there will come a day when these issues will gain prominence in Indian politics.

I didn’t try very hard to bring out a year to year comparison. Neither did I try to prepare a more intensive study. I didn’t try to see how much of this is government and how much is private. Why? Because we all know (or hopefully we do) that India hasn’t been valuing three key areas for a while.

I will focus on what I know the most about. So! Let us get started. Why do I bring up these three sectors?

Health infrastructure is the first (and perhaps only) line of defence for any disease. The country has some excellent doctors. This isn’t the problem. The problem is their number, the number of hospital beds, ICUs, ventilators (not to forget masks). I am not going to share specific numbers because I don’t want to scare you. I hope that the army can pitch in and with the country’s large workforce somehow avert the crisis for the time being.

Education : Education isn’t the ends of all means. An educated person can still be impractical, giving in to superstitions and be negligent. However a large percentage of the population, given a decent education, can understand what is going on, has easier access to information and is better equipped. The neglect of this sector is to such an extent that it seems to be done with malicious and criminal intent.

Research and Development: I have heard statements of the type: “Real science does not require money.” I am sorry, cutting edge research requires money. My friends here (in Israel) work on scales which are unimaginable by Indian standards. Diamonds don’t shine among rags and are more than often thrown to the oblivion in sacks made out of them.

Research does not work on a businessman’s model: You order something today, throw some money into it and expect results the next day. You cannot hold researchers responsible for your terrible cell phone network or lack of innovation in medicine just because you pay them. This is a long term investment which will take years to bear edible fruit. You need to fund a variety of things which you and maybe even the scientists don’t understand. Funding a gravity wave detector after it makes huge splashes in media elsewhere is not justified; this needs to be done before it makes splashes.

I was speaking to a friend who is working in the R&D team for a big multinational. I was asking the friend why corporates aren’t pumping in money to institutions unlike corporates elsewhere. The friend said that the researchers here are just not doing relevant research. But isn’t this a chicken and egg problem? From what I understand the government has been trying to push institutions to find corporate funders. This is all very good but do basic sciences have to look for corporate funding? How does one change the temperament of a ‘country of scientists’ in a single day?

In its defence, I have heard from several sources that in general the government is funding some important research and for sure we have improved immensely from back when I was a student (2004-2006). A lot of new institutions have come up. Salaries have improved immensely. My point is that it does not feel enough. Over the years a lot of countries have realised the need for innovation and changed its stance. China and Israel are prime examples of countries who have turned things around in the past years and the results are evident.

But would investing in these have helped us here? If you still do not know, let me spell that out: Y-E-S. Health systems are under stress everywhere. The same is expected in India. The lack of basic medical facilities pinch the country on a regular basis; in such a crisis I don’t want to think.

Some more educated voices in the current muck could have changed how people behaved (although this is not necessarily ensured).

Given the novel nature of this infection, my understanding has totally relied, until now, almost entirely on models made by researchers outside the Indian context. This scares me. Of course, it is not just the government to blame. I remember a conversation with an Indian professor who recently moved abroad. Her words, if I replay them now, sound almost prophetic… “if these ivory towers don’t open up and hire aggressively in areas different from their’s, we will have to rely almost entirely on models made in contexts different from ours.” This is again a chicken and egg problem though and there is no doubt that many perspectives have changed over time.

Viruses don’t see borders! This is true. However its impact depends on your preparedness. Don’t get me wrong. None of these things could have insulated us completely. A lot of (advanced) countries have been caught off-guard. Yet, a little more preparedness would have given us a cushion to absorb the upcoming shock. Maybe I am speculating too much. Maybe too little. Hopefully I am completely wrong.

Hindification

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Photograph from https://www.deccanchronicle.com/nation/current-affairs/230417/tamil-pride-not-hindi-hatred-drives-movement.html

I have heard from several sources about the “Hindification”. While I have my support for local languages I am opposed to all extremes. Here is something that I noticed recently.

Not long ago, Bangalore citizens protested inclusion of Hindi signs (beside the Kannada and English signage) in their metros.
https://www.ndtv.com/bangalore-news/no-hindi-on-bengaluru-metro-karnataka-chief-minister-siddarmaiah-tells-centre-1730482

Recently I heard from a group (the post was by Abhishek Anand):

 
“At Kolkata airport today, I witnessed an episode from far, that got me thinking…
 
A gentleman got into a verbal duel with the CISF jawan at the luggage belt, since the jawan said something in Hindi which he claimed to not understand. He raised his voice at the jawan and berated him for not knowing Bangla or English. To his credit the jawan calmly replied back: “I get transferred every two years, how many languages can I learn?” It ended with him calling the jawan an “idiot”.
 
For a honest moment, I realized the outrage that many have about the thought process of “intellectuals” is very much real. The smugness towards the jawan was laid bare and a part of me wanted to shout “Hey asshole, learning bangla is not part of his job requirement. He needs to make sure that our flights are safe and he seems to be good at it”.
 
Now if you are reading so far, you may wonder why I am posting this here. Well, I am pretty sure this gentleman is an “ISI friend”. I was a bit further down the security line and did not get a chance to speak with him. So I will give the benefit of doubt and he hence will go unnamed. Since the incidence got me thinking about our conscious or unconscious bias, about being intellectually superior, I though about posting it here.”
 
I have heard people protest against a Namaste instead of the Nomoskar.
 
Of course this is only one facet of the story and there are many others. I am not a mouth piece for Hindi nationalists nor speaking for Hindi imposition. I am fully opposed to making Hindi compulsory all over India. I am opposed to officials who berate people for not knowing Hindi. I am opposed to something like: https://scroll.in/article/897947/a-vegetarian-durga-puja-fortune-foods-apology-for-ad-showing-bengalis-eating-fish-sparks-anger . I am opposed to statements like that by our honourable minister: https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/english-language-has-resulted-in-loss-of-our-culture-rajnath-singh-528874
 
Yet.
 
Hindi movie industry is large and its glitz naturally attracts a large populace (the same way Hollywood has an overhauling influence on the world). So naturally a lot of advertising is in Hindi.
 
A large workforce for the nation comes from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar who are majorly Hindi speakers. Should all of them (who come for temporary work) be forced to learn the local language? It is perhaps ideal that all government employees be conversant in both English and Hindi but given the state of our education this is a distant dream and vacancies are very hard to fill.
 
There have been other facets of such protests.
 
 
I fail to understand why a vegetarian Malabar dish leads to such a huge outcry.

Not lately a few days back, people were arguing why it is justified to use the Swasthika as a Nazi symbol in the protesters against CAA-NRC.

and many more…

Protest. Use all means to protest. But can you think for a few minutes before protesting?

Delhi Sultanate and our government

jnu
May this image remain forever alive

 

12th century: Army of Delhi Sultanate ransack the University of Nalanda.

21st Century: Armed assailants ransack JNU under the watchful eyes of the government.

Where do you take your lessons from government?

कहाँ-कहाँ से सीख लिए हो सरकार?

सुलतान, अंग्रेज सभ हो गए बेकार,
दहशत होगे अबकी बार,
हो जाओ सावधान,
हमारी सरकार!

मष्तिष्क पर घोर किया है वार,
मत बैठो तुम कृपया लाचार,
आवाज़ उठाओ ज़ोरदार,
“हो जाओ सावधान,
हमारी सरकार!”

धर्म-जात का करे व्यापार,
छल-फरेब का करे प्रचार,
हो जाओ सावधान,
हमारी सरकार!

खून-खराबा, अत्याचार,
सहन सीमा है हो गयी पार,
ज्वाला भड़की है धुआंदार,
हो जाओ सावधान,
हमारी सरकार!

 

The Sultans and the Mughals have disappeared in the fire,
You are now seeking your own pyre,
Prepare, prepare,
Dear government, I dare.

The country has been struck at its head,
Don’t you be quiet like a wastrel,
Raise your voice beyond your walls,
“Prepare, prepare,
Dear government, I dare.”

Religion and caste, you exploit,
Chief architects of bloody riots,
Spreading the web of lies and deceit,
Prepare, prepare,
Dear government, I dare.

Too much blood has already been spilt,
How do you think you will repay?
No boundaries can this fire contain,
Prepare, prepare,
Dear government, I dare.

Vikas is Missing

Disclaimer: This will not make much sense if you are not from India or not attuned with the recent developments in India. Some basic knowledge of Hindi will help.

Finally,

 
All references and similarities in this story are totally intentional and not coincidental at all.

A burning village by Silent Monkeys: https://www.flickr.com/photos/silentmonkeys/2455627910

Vikas did not come to play

Vikas did not come to play and we lost the final. The din of celebrations from our neighbouring village and the humiliation of defeat put us to shame. Masterji came seething in anger, “Where is Vikas?” We stared at each other in dismay. Nobody had any idea and slowly our shame turned into anger.

 Rahul said “He must have chickened out.” We all nodded that this was unlikely. Gyaan retorted “He is not a chicken like you. He is not afraid of anyone.” This wasn’t quite true. Everybody knew that he was afraid of Ram. But Ram was on our side. I never quite understood how someone can be scared of their own team mate. Maybe Vikas had come to believe the rumour that Ram had bullied some of the others into leaving. In our confused dismay, someone shouted “I think I saw him with Gita this morning.” In unison we shouted, “Let’s beat the bastard to pulp.”

Collecting stumps and bats, we made our way to Vikas’s house. In great rage, we banged the door open and brushed aside anyone who came in our way. But we searched and searched, Vikas could not to be found. Aunty sat sobbing on the floor. Ram shouted loudly, “Where the hell is Vikas?” Aunty railed, “Go and find him. If you find him then burn him alive and then burn me on the same pyre as well.” We were awed into shock and we dropped the stumps. Gyaan (who had been trying hard to make us believe that Vikas wouldn’t desert us like this) asked aunty, “What is wrong aunty? Did something happen to Vikas?”

 

Aunty broke into a loud wail and Rahul got her some water. It turns out that aunty had sent Vikas to buy some onions and he hadn’t come back ever since. Vikas was missing!

 


 

Ram’s father becomes the village chief

Aunty was helpless without Vikas and had had no food. We were all helpless as well. If Vikas was indeed lost, we would never win another match. We brought her some food for the time being and decided to trace his steps. We walked to the vegetable store and asked the owner if he had seen Vikas. The store owner smiled wryly and said “Why would anyone buy onions nowadays?” In all this confusion some of our elders gathered and enquired why had we been running around the village like madmen.

“Vikas is missing!” The entire village came to stand still. “Maybe he was kidnapped.” “Maybe he ran away.” “Maybe he is out with Gita.” Gita loudly objected as tears ran down her cheek. All sorts of rumours were rife and among them the Panchayat was called. Everyone admonished the elders for the lack of safety and security. Ram’s father was especially eloquent in the admonishment and roused everyone’s respect and anger. In unison the panchayat was dissolved and replaced by Ram’s father. With humility, Ram’s father took up on the responsibility to find Vikas.


 

We loose Gyaan

Ram’s father was known to be a serious man. He ruled his household with an iron fist and made sure that no outsider could peek inside. We were hopeful that he would now extend his abilities to the entire village. Ram’s father started out by informing the police and there was a major combing operation in the village and close-by areas. It was not common for our elders to involve the police in private matters of the village but in general people were happy that we finally had a strong leader instead of a divided Panchayat. However the operation came to nought and we were helpless again.

Gyaan was Vikas’s closest friend. We had seen him growing weaker by the day. While we were all sympathetic towards Gyaan’s loss, Ram would often complain during practice sessions “How is that one doesn’t know where his closest friend is?” The suspicions grew slowly but surely till one day we found Gyaan talking to people from our neighbouring village. A huge roar ensued and the people scampered in fear. We gathered around Gyaan and started beating him mercilessly. In no time, Gyaan turned limp and we raised his body in loud celebrations. But Gyaan was not dead. Later in the evening he was revived by our doctor Ved-ji. Ram’s father sat next to him and asked him kindly, “Tell us Gyaan, where is Vikas?” Gyaan replied imploringly, “Vikas is my friend. I would tell you if I knew.” Ram’s father said in the same tone “So, will you not tell us?” Gyaan pleaded that he did not know. Ram’s father said “Oh well!” and left. We did not see Gyaan again.


 

To rid us of our Demons

Vikas was still missing. We thought that Gyaan would lead us to Vikas but  Alas! Alas! Ram’s father called us for a meeting and in a somber tone he said, “I think Vikas has been taken over by the Demons because of our sins. We need to vanquish the Demon as soon as possible. To do this, we need to cleanse ourselves of our sins first. Each one of you will be lashed a 100 times.”  There was a visible unease among the villagers but yet we queued up, willingly or unwillingly. The lashings began. Waiting for the lashing was impossible. People talked about all sorts of things in the queue. We heard that people who had been lashed eventually became brand new sinless people; this cheered us up. Astonishingly though, the ones with clothes bore it with a smile but for others the pain was unbearable to see. The chants began, “All for Vikas! All for Vikas! All for Vikas!…” But the Demons did not release Vikas even after the lashings. There were some murmurs about Ram’s father being too superstitious and that our divided but rational old Panchayat should be brought back. But all the murmurings were put to an end by Panditji “I had a vision today. Vikas is still with the demons but is treated much better now. He looks happy.” We sighed in relief.

 


 

Graam- Seva aur Tyaag

 

Our relief was short lived though. Nothing seemed to bring back Vikas and we were loosing hope. Ram’s father and Panditji decided that they needed to meditate on the problem in the forest. Village life slowly fell back to routine when suddenly Ram’s father came back with Panditji. An urgent meeting was called and  Panditji announced “Vikas has been kidnapped by the Demons not just because the Demons are bad but also because we are careless. If everyone did their duty properly there was no chance that the Demons could have gotten to Vikas. So today I announce “Graam- Seva aur Tyaag”. It will be run be a benevolent association which will ensure utmost discipline in our society. If anyone wavers from their path, they will be whipped publicly.” We shivered in fear. Although a similar idea had been touted for a long time and we all knew of the benefits of discipline the sudden introduction sent jitters through us. Public whippings became a common sight and crowds would gather around to see them, cheering and jeering loudly. Sometimes the Chief whipper would pass the whip to people in the crowd and it was a privilege to whip till your hands bled. Sometimes crowds would gather somewhat arbitrarily and whip people. Clothes somehow still made the difference and however hard be the punishment or heinous be the crime, some blood refused to spill.

 


 

 

 

But we still did not see Vikas and we continued to loose our matches. Aunty kept relying on the small trinkets that we would bring her. Sometimes among us, we would argue that the old Panchayat was better but Ram would bully us into silence. Rumours about Vikas would rise and fall and we went with the news. Gita cried herself to madness and was taken for treatment in the city. One day Panditji was giving a sermon and said “True grief is the strongest thing in the world. If Gita’s grief was true, wouldn’t Vikas have come back?” Somedays later it came to be heard that Gita got married in the city and was never coming back. In any case, we never saw Gita again.

 


 

The great purge

Ours was a large village and people from neighbouring villages would often wander into our region in search for better lands to farm and raise cattle. Their houses were considered dens of crime and immorality and it was forbidden to mingle. As our options ran out, we had started to believe that it may have been them who had kidnapped our Vikas. In crowds, these outsiders would be singled out and tortured for the whereabouts of Vikas. I heard that some of these torturers were punished by Ram’s father but I never found out who these were. Suddenly Panditji announced “I had a vision and I have identified which of these outsiders have take our Vikas. Let us burn their houses and they shall give us our Vikas and go back where they came from.” We were roused and crowds gathered to light up their mashaals. As lightning we thundered onto the borders of the village. “Burn! Burn! Burn!…” ran the cry. In this frenzy I saw Vikas tattered but returning to the village. But the crowds were blind and trampled on him. I fell as well and couldn’t get up under the weight of their feet. The last thing that I saw was fire catching up to my house.

Rolling stones

Rolling stones

She bore the sweat of the summer heat
And the chill of the winter wind,
With the whistling spring she bloomed again
Rolling stones up the stream.

Gestation, oh you funny thing,
The cords you brought do bind her still
For when her muscles were yet unformed
You pulled for her those stones uphill
But as with time her ambition grew
Those cords you laid did backward drew,
Let me remind you
The stones are heavy and the toil is hard,
And if she were to rest in a pleasant shade
Whenever she would look away
The stones, her work, would go astray
And we would have to roll them up again.

And while she riles against the stream
Your weighty cords sag and sway!

“Whither”, you ask, “the stones must go?”
“Whither”, she says, “the wind must blow?”
“Whither”, I think, “does the river flow?”
That what is downstream must upward float,
And while they won’t on some whim or cry
If those cords don’t pull away
I see half the stones rushing to the ocean wide
Swept to nothingness by the tide.

This comes from an evening on the sofa brooding about a friend and how things about her seemed to me. I guessed that this was not the story of just one individual and decided to publish it here. While I recognise the many nuances involved, my sight here is set on a rather coarse and rigid stance. I hope that some day the world will follow.