New Delhi Diary – June 2021

A merciful May

Now that the hottest month of the summer (May) in the city is over, one is hopeful of a not-so-hot June. The month of May, despite its reputation of being a ‘killer month ‘with temperatures hovering over 44 degree Celsius on most days, was the coolest in 70 years this year. The maximum temperature recorded was 23.8 degree Celsius on 19 May. This was the coolest May since 1951.

Towards the end of the month, the city experienced a few days of cloudy weather with occasional spells of heavy rain. And the ‘credit’ for this goes to Cyclone Tauktae that devastated India’s western coast and caused damages of around INR 15,000 crore (INR 1,500 billion). About 200 people lost their lives, mainly in Gujarat and Diu.

Hunger for better, bigger posts

Marshall Goldsmith is an American author and coach who can be ignored only if you do not want to do anything after you have reached a good and comfortable position in life. What that means is that, for example, if you have made it somehow to the position of a CEO of a company, you may feel you have reached the pinnacle of success. The idea of becoming the Chairman or the owner of the company does not strike you. It is for such people that Goldsmith’s book, What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There, means a lot.

In other words, you have to ‘reinvent’ yourself if you want to continue growing and climbing higher. And that does not come easily unless one studies oneself critically, and prepares for the next challenge!

The best time to start is now!

Life offers us two ways of living: Work hard and passionately to achieve success or stay put and blame circumstances. Divya Rastogi chose the first option some five years ago. She could not pursue her ambitions in her younger years because of marriage followed by responsibilities for her two sons. As soon as her children were old enough to look after themselves, Divya became a student again. She took up a course in interior designing and studied hard at home with her sons!

She has not looked back. She now has an annual turnover of INR 25 crore (INR 250 million). Her passion for interior decoration and designing has paid rich dividends. She has been getting multiple contracts from multinational companies to ‘gear up’ their offices, with a balance of world-class design and comfort.

And, referring to the age, 42 years, when she started her business, she says no age is too late, and any time can be the best time!

A CM of substance!

The inimitable Chief Minister of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee, has multiple talents and qualities. Let us start with her lifestyle as a Chief Minister. She does not take a single rupee as salary, or any allowances to which she is entitled. Whenever she travels, she stays in government guesthouses and makes it a point to pay the room rent and the cost of meals. As a former Member of Parliament, she is also entitled to over Rs 75,000 as pension but she does not take that either.

How does she manage to survive? She is a multitalented person. In her free time, she pursues music, lyric writing, painting and writing. She has already written 87 books and, as she says, she gets “good royalty”. Since she does not need that kind of money, she happily gives it away in donations. Her needs are, as she says, not much, a simple white Saree and a pair of Chappals!

Tailpiece:

Student: Sir, would you punish me for something I did not do?

Teacher: No! Never! Do you think I am so stupid?

Student: Thank you, sir. I have not done my homework!

By P. P. Wangchuk

P. P. Wangchuk is a New Delhi-based editor-at-large, columnist and professional speaker.

New Delhi Diary – February 2021

A Davos to come up at Zoji-la

If all goes well, Ladakh will have a Davos at Zoji-la! Davos is a famous mountain resort of great scenic beauty in Switzerland where international conventions are held every year.

The Government of India has drawn out a plan to curve out an 18-km stretch near Zoji-la and turn it into such an exclusive resort. According to Union Minister, Nitin Gadkari, this hill station will extend from Zoji-la to Sonamarg.

According to the Minister, the hill station, with Ladakh and J&K as joint stakeholders, will be bigger and better than Davos, and it will give a big boost to the economy of Ladakh and J&K. There will be world-class infrastructure with state-of-the-art roads, transportation system, resorts and other modern facilities that will change the very dynamics of the economy of Ladakh and J&K. Situated at an altitude of 11,578 ft above mean sea level, the hill station will be surrounded by snow-capped peaks throughout the year, much like those in Europe.

The entire project will be handled by Swiss designers and architects in a few months from now. The idea is, as the union minister says, to make the best use of the unused snow-laden mountains in the region and turn them into a tourist and convention centre. In the years to come, the project can be extended to a larger area around Zoji-la, which will make it one of the biggest hill resorts with snow round the year.

11.5% GDP growth projected

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has great news for India. Its Chief Economist, Gita Gopinath, has come out with a report that India will be the fastest growing economy in the world in 2021-22, with its GDP growth at11.5%, which will be the highest growth rate in the world. Coincidentally, the recent Economic Survey of the Government of India also projected a 10% GDP growth rate in the next financial year.

India is followed by China (8.1%), Spain (5.9%), France (5.5%) and the US (5.1 %). This clearly means that India will be the only country with a double-digit GDP growth rate in the next financial year. And this growth projection is much higher than the one projected during the COVID-19 restrictions because of India’s stronger than expected recovery after the lockdown.

Reacting to these projections, former RBI Chair Professor, Mr Charan Singh, says that he had been saying this for a few months now as India’s fundamentals are strong and the economy will bounce back sharply.

Meanwhile, the UN and WHO chiefs have been heaping praises on India for its “leading role” in the controlling the COVID-19 pandemic. India had supplied all kinds of COVID-19 care medicines and equipment to 150 countries. And now, India is supplying COVID-19 vaccines to dozens of countries, and free-of-cost to its neighbouring countries.

The rise of the fifth estate

The last decade was the rise and rise of the fourth estate in the form of mainstream media like newspapers, magazines and electronic media. And now, according to global investor and commentator, Ruchir Sharma, the fifth estate has already raised its head, and will dominate the next decade.

The fifth estate refers to groupings of outlier viewpoints in contemporary society and is generally associated with bloggers and journalists who publish their work in non-mainstream media outlets and social media platforms.

The usage of the term ‘fifth estate’ goes back to the 1960s counter-culture movement in the Western world, especially to influential underground media in Detroit, in 1965. Today, web-based technology has greatly enhanced the scope and power of the fifth estate. It is said that the rise of the fifth estate will herald the ‘death’ of the fourth estate.

Tailpiece:

Man: Hey, did you hear about the restaurant called Karma?

Woman: Yea, but there is no menu there. You get what you deserve!

By P. P. Wangchuk

P. P. Wangchuk is a New Delhi-based editor-at-large, columnist and professional speaker.

New Delhi Diary – December 2020

Winter brings its own charm

Life in winter has its own unique charm. No doubt, the winter months, even in the city, has its little challenges, particularly for the elderly and children. But then, there are also many good aspects to the winter that outweigh the challenges. The best thing of winter is that one can visit places with ease without having to worry about challenges experienced in other seasons such as extreme heat and heavy rain.

Come winter and people start going out for picnics and spend the whole day in beautiful parks of which the city has several hundreds. There are sunny days for most of the winter months. And there is nothing like ‘doing or undoing’ something in the warm, winter sun.

Coldest October and November

Surprisingly, the city has already experienced some wintery days in the month of October. According to the weatherman, 2020 was the coldest October in 58 years with the minimum temperatures plummeting to 17.2 degree Celsius. The coldest temperature for October was 16.9 degree Celsius, which was recorded in 1962.

And, on 19 November 2020, the city experienced its coldest day in 14 years when the minimum temperature nosedived to 7.5 degree Celsius. Delhi’s coldest day in November was recorded on 28, November, 1938 when the temperature went down to 3.9 degree Celsius.

One wonders whether all this could be a precursor to a cold and harsh winter in the city. Who cares! Even in the coldest weather, most days in the city are sunny and benign, and there is nothing more enjoyable than basking in the sun.

A ‘rags to riches’ story

Here is a ‘rags to riches story’. Jyoti Bansal, a small town boy from Ajmer in Rajasthan, migrated to the USA in 2000 with big dreams. Recently, he sold his company, AppDynamics, to the American technology giant, Cisco, for USD3.7 billion (INR 25,150 crore).

He had nothing but his dreams, confidence and a degree from IIT, Delhi, when he left for the USA. He had to face various challenges before he found work with a start-up there. He worked with them for a couple of years but could not see his dreams coming true. He left them and started his own start-up in 2008, which he named AppDynamics. He faced many challenges in this venture before he was able to attract investors.

His efforts to attract venture capitalists met with 20 rejections. However, he never gave up. Finally, he received his first funding of USD 5 million (INR 369,750,000). This helped his project take off. Once it gathered some momentum, he managed to attract investments of USD 350 million (INR 25,882,500,000), which catapulted the company into the big league.

The company was built on Bansal’s vision to develop ‘application intelligence’ that could help modern enterprises achieve digital transformation. So, he developed a software platform to help computers monitor their mobile apps and websites for various bugs.

Before the sale, Bansal headed the company as its Chairman and the firm employed around 1,200 people. When asked what he will do now, Bansal responded, “I am not done yet. I will keep creating companies and solving problems.”

The quest for moral compass

An important part of a good life is the ability to read interesting books. My daughter recently gifted me a book called The Quest for Moral Compass by British author Kenan Malik. This book gave me several days of great reading and enjoyment. The book is about the history of moral thoughts over three millennia from Homer’s Greece to Mao’s China, and from ancient India to modern America. The book scrutinises the ideas and thoughts of various philosophers and thinkers. The question of god is discussed too but there is no sight of a definitive answer of God’s existence!

Tailpiece:

American: Do you also call your wife ‘Honey’ in India?

Indian: No, we call her ‘bee-bee’ because she stings twice as hard!

By P.P. Wangchuk

P.P. Wangchuk is a New Delhi-based editor-at-large, columnist and professional speaker

New Delhi Diary – October 2020

It is vaccine nationalism now!

One is somewhat amazed to see that the COVID-19 pandemic has given rise to a new kind of nationalism­: ‘Vaccine nationalism’. There is a race among some nations, including India, to develop the first vaccine to ‘deal with’ the novel coronavirus!

There was a BBC report recently on the “great rush” to develop vaccines quickly. The report said that there are hasty short-cuts and “dirty tricks in the scramble for a vaccine.” And, WHO chief, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said with great anxiety, “This trend of ‘vaccine nationalism’ is very dangerous, and must end.”

As I write this column, reports say that at least half-a-dozen major nations are in the third stage of human trials for vaccines. This includes America, Russia, China, India, Germany and France. Of course, several other countries are also claiming that they have COVID-19 vaccines ‘almost ready’ but WHO and other world bodies have expressed reservations about their claims.

Even the Oxford University-AstraZeneca trial, which has a collaboration with India, had to pause their human trials for a few days after a participant fell ill in London. Experts described this as a “routine thing that happens in some cases”.

India is also developing its own indigenous vaccines, COVXiN and ZyCcoV-D through different institutes. These are now in their third human trial stage, and are likely to be ready by November 2020. The Government of India has already chalked out meticulous plans for the ‘vaccination marathon’. It is believed that by the end of November, several vaccines will be ready for the green signal. India hopes that it will be among the first ones to give a ‘deadly dose’ to the novel coronavirus!

The autumn sonata

Now that the Monsoon has almost ended, the autumn sonata has started with promises of joy, comfort and happiness. The most delightful sights are in the gardens and parks in the city. People come from everywhere for walks, yoga, meditation and exercise. What a big relief! One hardly saw such activities in the parks over the last six months, mainly due to the COVID-19 curbs and fears, but also due to heat and rain.

But what is strange is that the people seem to have become ‘immune’ to the idea of the novel coronavirus. The idea of ‘freedom’ seems to be too dear to be taken lightly, and they are using it fully despite the novel coronavirus guidelines still being in place. Surely, these are definitive signs of hope and positivity.

The word wizard

I happened to read a joke recently about Congress leader and word wizard, Shashi Tharoor, and two other persons. One of the two individuals claims that he has an Oxford Dictionary, Collins and many others to find any word and its meaning. And then he asks the other person, “What do you have?” The person replies, “I have Shashi Tharoor!”

That said, Tharoor has just released a book for his fans to charm them with his incredible ‘vocabulary power’. Titled Tharoorosaurus, the book has 53 great examples of vocabulary for each letter of the alphabet and gives facts on their origin. In one such case, Tharoor is all praise for author Chetan Bhagat’s “simple and easy but great English”, and writes to him accordingly. Bhagat is naturally very happy but requests the word wizard to express this praise in his inimitable style and mind-boggling language. Tharoor happily obliges and writes, “It is clear you are not sesquipedalian, nor given to rodomontade. Your ideas are unembellished with tortuous connotations and expressed without ostentation. I appreciate the limpid perspicacity of today’s column by you!”

One does not know whether Chetan Bhagat is overjoyed or dazzled!

Tailpiece:

Man: Doctor, when do you think the COVID-19 pandemic will end?

Doctor: I don’t know, I am not a journalist!

By P. P. Wangchuk

P. P. Wangchuk is a New Delhi-based editor-at-large, columnist and professional speaker.

New Delhi Diary – June 2020

The pain of summer blues

Now that the dreaded summer month of May is gone, the capital city is no longer ‘burning’ under an intense heat wave, better known as ‘loo’. For a few days, towards the last week of May, the city witnessed a record high temperature of 47 degree Celsius, after a decade. And that placed the city as the second hottest place in the country, after Churu in Rajasthan, where the temperature was hovering around 50 degree Celsius.

What can happen under such hot conditions? Of course, there is no denying the fact that living in the city becomes hellish, and one dreads going out even for a short while to carry out daily chores. As a result, one has to compromise on the quality of food intake during the day. And that results in one slipping into an abnormal physical and psychological disposition. One hardly manages to exist without really living and enjoying life. And that has its pernicious impacts: Like one getting out of mood and not doing anything good like sticking to one’s normal routine, or reading mindfully and joyously, or listening to music and surfing TV channels. One tries to relax and take a nap, but all efforts fail due to the abnormal conditions!

Corona and new lifestyle

As if the summer pains are not enough, the lingering COVID-19 has made life quite difficult because we can’t do all the things that we love to do. This derails our lives to a point that we start feeling uneasy. And yet, there are ways to make life purposeful if you resign yourself to the new ‘normal’ ways of life. The problem arises when you expect too much of ‘goodies’ happening in your life even in these corona times! Ratan Tata says that you should be happy that you are still alive.

The worst thing that happened with me in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic is that I had to suddenly cancel my summer vacation plans. All my excitement and expectations of seeing new places with cool and natural surroundings came to naught. And, with that, I could not but rue my bad luck. The ‘stay-put-wherever-you-are’ advisory haunted me for a long time. And then I tried to give ‘reasons’ to my conscious and subconscious mind that, come what may, life has to go on meaningfully and purposefully. And my ‘obedient’ mind had no option but to listen. One had to ‘restyle’ the ways of life and do what can be fruitfully done under the restrictions of lockdown. Let me tell you that life has taken a new direction with new colours and new meanings. And, what they call the ‘new normal’ is here to stay.

A philosophic narrative

What is more meaningful: Life or death? Well, one can contest that both are interdependent and one cannot exist without the other. One argument can be: If there is no life, there will be no death! And, on the other hand, if there is no death, there can’t be any birth! But then there is always a possibility that one is more significant than the other. And that depends on each individual to decide which one is more significant and meaningful.

Life may or may not be more significant than death but one can be sure that life came into existence first. Therefore, one may reach the conclusion that without life there can be no death, and hence life is more important than death. And yet, we know that life can’t overrule death! It is here that some of the philosophers argue that death is the ultimate arbitrator!

Tailpiece:

Attendant: Madam, do you want me to cut the pizza into three pieces or six pieces?

Lady: Please cut it into three pieces; I cannot eat six pieces!

By P. P. Wangchuk

P. P. Wangchuk is a New Delhi-based editor-at-large, columnist and professional speaker

New Delhi Diary – May 2020

The Corona blues

Covid-19, the dreaded virus, has left us all standing and staring, quite helplessly! It has put us into a cocooned lifestyle that we have never experienced before. To steal Philosopher David E Cooper’s phrase, we are all “condemned to freedom.” Of course, what he means is ‘freedom of a different kind’, somewhat like the one we are making do with these days. And, as a result, our freedom to do many things has been drastically curtailed.

Much as I hate this new lifestyle, like most of you, one finds oneself getting quickly used to this ‘new normal’ life. So much so that, at times, one enjoys the ‘freedom’ to be ‘all alone’ and ‘sit within’ physically as well as mentally!

This freedom, the freedom to train oneself mentally, socially and physically has given us a new perspective to a course of life that has more thorns than roses. Maybe, we enjoyed and exploited the roses too much, to the point of being needlessly and unacceptably greedy. That may explain why nature has lost its endurance to withstand our prolonged and repeated assaults, and had to declare loud and clear: Thus far and no more! We human beings never learn. Maybe we don’t even try to learn the lessons of life until we are forced to, and we are left with no alternative but to admit and submit to the dictates of nature to live sensibly and harmoniously.

We have learnt the lesson now the hard way that if we don’t mend our ways, we are doomed. But Mother Nature is very kind and helpful. She will give us one more chance to change and make our lives more harmonious and holistic.

Meanwhile, these ‘Corona days’ have given us many interesting tit-bits. The media zealots have come out with new words like ‘infodemic’ and ‘covidiots’. Infodemic refers to an excessive bombardment of information, particularly on social media, irrespective of being true or false. Covidiots is an expression of wrath against those who indulge in rumour-mongering and in giving out unsubstantiated advice and information about COVID-19. A friend and TV personality says that in such cases one should stop calling it false news. He says, ‘false’ can’t be ‘news’ and that ‘news’ can’t be ‘false’. He adds, when it is false one should just call it ‘false content’ and not ‘false news’!

Light on the other side

A man in Australia loses his job because his employers had to shut down their factory soon after the COVID-19 lockdown. For several days, he and his family were severely stressed and did not know what to do. But, The Mirror reports that the man’s bad days did not last very long. A week or so after losing his job, he got to learn that he was the lucky winner of the AUD 4.8 million lottery that is equivalent to about INR 23.25 crore.

His joy knew no bounds, and now, he is, as he says, again at a loss as to how to go about life with his big bounty. This, in a way, tells us that one need not worry much about changes in life because life has to be ‘dynamic’, and any change should be accepted as a chance to do better, and that there is light, always, on the other side of the tunnel.

Summer jottings

The city is already in the midst of the peak summer months. The month of May is usually the severest month in terms of fiery heat that sometimes touches 44 degrees Celsius. The world within and outside your house becomes a hot chamber wherein you feel that your body system is about to ignite! Now, that might be a slight exaggeration but still useful to express the difficulties one faces.

That is not all as everything has a brighter side. For me, the brighter side is that these weather conditions force you to retreat to the hills, particularly to places one has never visited. As a tourist, I always make it a point to never go back to a place for the next 10 years. It must always be a new tourist destination. And that is always rewarding. You get to know things that you would never discover in books or through TV.

Tailpiece:

Teacher: What do all political parties have in common?

Student: Sir, our hard-earned money!

By P. P. Wangchuk

P. P. Wangchuk is a New Delhi-based editor-at-large, columnist and professional speaker

New Delhi Diary – April 2020

India No.1 superpower?

Most ‘thinking Indians’ have one question: When will our country be the number one economic superpower? Well, it does not seem that we will have to wait for long. The PwC, an international professional services firm, says that within the next 30 years, the world’s largest economic powers will be those that are emerging today, surpassing the current behemoths like the US, Japan and Germany. By 2050, the global economy will be double in size. And the happy news is that the firm predicts that India will be the second largest economy after China. The US will be relegated to third position. They predict that the top 10 economic powers in the world over the next 30 years will be China, India, the US, Indonesia, Brazil, Russia, Mexico, Japan, Germany, and the UK, in that order.

The question stands: When will India become the No.1 economic superpower? Well, there is no answer yet. Perhaps, we will have a more definitive answer when we are the No.2 economic superpower!

The most influential people

HH the 14th Dalai Lama has once again been voted as the most influential person in the world in 2020. The list was compiled by London’s oldest bookshop, Watkins, that has been compiling this list since 2011 and publishing it in the magazine, Watkins Mind Body Spirit. The magazine reports that HH the Dalai Lama’s influence cuts across continents, religion and race. The other top influencers include Pope Francis, Greta Thunberg, Eckhart Tolle, and Oprah Winfrey. The most influential Buddhist leaders in the world are listed as HH the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh, Robert Thurman, Pema Chodron, and Ajahn Brahm.

This list is compiled using multiple different metrics and qualifications. There are several other organisations that compile their own list of the most influential persons and these lists differ vastly.

Lessons from Covid-19

We Indians are not only an argumentative lot but also an unruly one. However, the COVID-19 pandemic seems to have suddenly changed our erratic ways and behaviour. To begin with, we must admit that the countrywide lockdown has given us a sense of discipline and hope that if we follow the guidelines, we could contain the dreaded COVID-19 pandemic.

Secondly, we Indians have come to learn the value of time, and how ‘a lot of time’ at home can be well-spent in doing what one has not been able do all these years. And thirdly, as a little birdie says, “When and where do we get such a long period of the whole family staying together and enjoying a curfew-ed life”!   

City spends a day laughing!

I had a funny but greatly enjoyable day recently in the city. Thanks to Khushwant Singh Humour Festival that was organised by stand-up comedian Maheep Singh. The idea behind the show was to let people vent their pent-up feelings and frustrations of their daily lives. And it seemed to have been a great success as people swore that they were extremely happy at the end of the two-day festival.

Maheep Singh said, “We are all here to cheer up and celebrate life even though there is too much of violence all around.” Several stand-up comedians like Amit Tandon, Rahul Ram, Danish Hussain, Rajneesh Kapoor, and Gurshiman Khamba ensured that the audience laughed “their hearts out” endlessly. The good news is that the city is going to have more such events managed by different organisations. This kind of stand-up “comedy culture” has become a part of the city’s ‘must-have’ events because of their popularity among the youth and senior citizens. While the youth find it “great to take part in”, the elderly find such events better than other events that “lack a direct appeal”!

Tailpiece:

Coronavirus found Donald Trump quite lost, and in a sad mood. Coronavirus laughed and laughed endlessly till Trump asked in great agitation: Why are you laughing at me like that?

Coronavirus laughed again, and said, “Why are you so helpless? Where are your fighter jets, missiles and nuclear weapons?”

By P. P. Wangchuk

P. P. Wangchuk is a New Delhi-based editor-at-large, columnist and professional speaker