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-May 2021

The 2-H success formula

Watching successful people on TV channels and listening to their ‘secrets’ of success is a great joy. I happened to watch one such person, Ajay Banga, who was born and educated in India and is now a part of the Indian-American community. A Padma Shri awardee for excellence in his work output, he is the Executive Chairman of MasterCard.

Banga talked about what he called the 2-H success formula, which stands for ‘Humility’ and ‘Humour’. Humility, he said, is the real and necessary quality in any person to progress in life. And what is humility? Never to assume that you are better than others, and to remind yourself time and again that there are so many people around you who are far better than you and that you should learn from them. Humour is the ability to laugh at yourself, and to admit that humour alone makes you feel better for any challenging task ahead.

Having said that, one may point out that humility and humour are important factors but not the only ones. There are several other crucial factors for success: A clear vision, diligence, consistency and resilience. But, it is also true that each successful person has their own unique yardstick for success.

The death of a great editor

Anything that happens for the first time in one’s life leaves behind fond memories for a lifetime. For me, one such great memory of decades back happens to be the publication of my first article in The Times of India.

It was Fatima Zakaria, the then Editor of The Sunday Times, who published my article, very prominently on the Opinion Page. And, that made me feel as if I were on cloud nine. The article was on the state of affairs in Ladakh.

I recently received the shocking news that she had passed away at the age of 85. I could not believe this initially. The reality dawned on me when her famous son, Fareed Zakaria, a CNN TV show host, announced that his mother had passed away in Mumbai due to COVID-19 complications.

After completing her studies from the prestigious Yale University in the US, Fatima Zakara went on to become one of India’s leading editors. She also edited The Bombay Times for a brief period and, later, the Taj Magazine of the Taj Group of Hotels.

Her contribution to Indian journalism spanned many decades, which was also recognised by Government of India when it conferred her with the prestigious Padma Shri in 2006. She was liberal, had a great sense for news, and always tried to help budding journalists.

A pleasant summer?

Now that we are in the first month of the peak summer season, one wonders how the season will treat us this time. The very idea of two ‘killer months’ of peak summer (May and June) in the city, before the onset of the monsoon, is rather frightening.

And yet, if one recalls the last winter in the city, when it was not cold at all, one can very well hope for a not-so-deadly summer. Yes, wishful thinking but one never knows! In the last few years, all the four major seasons have been ‘behaving’ strangely. Even the month of April this time was ‘admirably good’ with the temperature never exceeding one’s comfort levels. In a way, the ‘credit’ for all this must go to climate change!

Of course, many of the city’s denizens have already planned to rush to hill stations for some respite, and even a week or two is worth it. But the point is: What about those who can’t afford it and don’t have the facilities to keep themselves cool to preserve their sanity? After all, most of the city’s denizens cannot afford the luxury of air-conditioning.

Tailpiece:

Dad: Son, when I beat you, how do you control your anger?

Son: I start cleaning the toilet.

Dad: How does that satisfy you?

Son: I clean it with your toothbrush!

By P.P. Wangchuk

The author is a New Delhi-based editor-at-large, columnist and professional speaker.

New Delhi Diary-April 2021

A new house for Modi
As the new Parliament House nears completion over the next two to three years, several other related projects will also be undertaken. The first ones would be new homes for the Prime Minister and the Vice President near the new Parliament building. Both these houses will be connected with the Parliament House through tunnels. The projects are still in the planning stage and the cost and completion time are not yet known.
Why are there no plans to build a tunnel to connect the President’s house too? Two reasons: First, the President’s house (Rashtrapati Bhavan), is already nearby, and unlike the Vice President and the Prime Minister who have to visit Parliament regularly, the President rarely visits it. The Vice President visits Parliament regularly to chair sessions of the Rajya Sabha.
The tunnels will help avoid traffic jams each time the Vice President or the Prime Minister visits the Parliament House. Currently, their ‘carcades’ bring traffic in the Lutyens’ area to a standstill for hours. Incidentally, very few people know that a tunnel connects the present home of the Prime Minister at 7 Race Course with Safdarjung Airport.

The Bamiyan Buddha comes alive!
One of the Buddha statues, destroyed by the Taliban in March 2001, has come alive through a 3-D projection that glows in the rocky alcove where it used to stand since the Sixth and the Seventh Centuries CE. These ancient statues were the world’s tallest Buddha statues till they were blown up in 2001.

Ladakh Review, one of its kind
When you think of Nawang Tsering Shakspo, the first thing that comes to mind is his annual publication called Ladakh Review. Its seventh volume was recently released by the Hon’ble Lieutenant-Governor of Ladakh at an event in New Delhi. Like previous volumes, this one too provides fascinating accounts of Ladakh and the author. The present volume is partially an autobiography in which the author makes it clear that he remains undaunted despite various challenges he has faced.
Secondly, he has stood by his conviction on the official language for UT Ladakh. All these decades, he has been advocating that ‘Ladakhi’ should be declared as the official language of Ladakh. This is based on sound logic. Both the principal communities of Ladakh speak Ladakhi, and most of them want ‘Ladakhi’ to be declared as the UT’s official language.
I am very happy to agree. Any other name like Bhoti, Bodhi, Tibetan, etc. can become a bone of contention and Ladakh will have no official language for the lack of consensus. Moreover, Ladakh can’t remain united with a ‘divisive’ official language. Therefore, ‘Ladakhi’ is the only language with no religious or communal implications’.

The highly-paid bodyguards
I recently discovered that the bodyguards of Bollywood stars are paid very handsomely. For instance, Shah Rukh Khan pays his bodyguard INR 2.6 crore (260 million) annually. And, Salman Khan and Aamir Khan pay their bodyguards INR 2 crore (20 million) per annum. Among the female actors, Anushka pays the highest (INR 1.2 crore or 120 million) to her bodyguard followed by Deepika and Katrina who pay INR 1 crore (10 million) each.
Why are bodyguards paid such large salaries in this industry? The reasons include that Bollywood stars are high-risk individuals and the bodyguards are highly-trained in martial arts and safeguarding practices.

Tailpiece:
Wife: Did you have your lunch?
Husband: Did you have your lunch?
Wife: I am asking you!
Husband: I am asking you!
Wife: You are copying me?
Husband: You are copying me?
Wife: Okay, then let’s go shopping!
Husband: Yes, yes, I had my lunch!

By P.P. Wangchuk

The author is a New Delhi-based editor-at-large, columnist and professional speaker.

New Delhi Diary-March 2021

The pursuit of the good and beautiful

It was quite a joy to welcome the spring season with a book that I have always wanted to read. Marcus Tullius Cicero’s book, On the Good Life, went well with the expectations of a better year after one traumatised by the COVID-19 pandemic. Cicero, a Roman statesman and one of the first-known philosophers, tells you, without the jargon of philosophy, all about life and its goodness and beauty.

According to Cicero, a good life is one that is full of morality. Now, one has to understand this point of view of those years before the Common Era (BCE) when humankind had hardly formed any opinion about good and bad, forget about philosophical writings to have a life that is purposeful and meaningful.

But Cicero had given to humankind, all those centuries back, everything about morality and the goodness of a purposeful life. And he was very dynamic also in his views. At one point in his life, he happily admitted that his thoughts had undergone drastic changes. In fact, he says that the dynamics of life is such that without changes, nothing good remains good forever.

The broad picture that he presents in the book is that just being good is not good enough. That has to be morally good as well. A perfect moral goodness lands one directly into a world of happiness and contentment. Here, contentment does not mean that one does not do anything after sometime, and feel happy in not doing anything. It means that while one is not unhappy with what one has at any given point of time, but one never stops in the pursuit of all that is good, beautiful and meaningful.

The joy of spring season

The word ‘spring’ itself is full of positivity and hope. Anything associated with ‘spring’ is assumed to be dynamic and progressive. It is in this context that one hails spring season across the globe. This is because spring season is associated with ‘revival’ of life, a fresh lease, after the hardships of winter. Spring comes with a riot of colours, and nature gets decked up in a variety of colours, letting everyone know that everything is fine with the world!

But there are disturbing reports that Delhi and several other parts of the country and elsewhere have had ‘no winter’ this time. Climate change across the globe has wreaked havoc in the last one year. America, Australia, parts of Africa, Siberia and several other regions were ‘afire’ for months. And, recently, in Uttarakhand, snow-slides created havoc in the Chamoli area, killing more than 200 people, and destroying properties, according to one estimate, worth Rs 20,000 lakh.

That was bound to happen. January 2021 was the hottest winter month on this planet. And in India too, according to an IMD report, January 2021 was the hottest month in 62 years, since 1958. The average minimum temperature was 14.78 degree Celsius. As a result, Delhi too had no winter this year! The cold wave that the city normally witnesses, especially for a week or two in January, was altogether missing this time.

Slaves to our habits

Why are we slaves to our habits? We are dictated by our habits, and our habits are what we are. Our very identity is linked to our habits in many ways. For instance, you are known by what you do, mostly. That is to say, if I go to a religious place often, my first identity would be of a religious person. All this and many other insights on habits are given by American journalist, Charles Duhigg, in his book, The Power of Habit.

What are habits and how does one form them? They are a result of four simple steps: Cue, craving, response and reward. The cue triggers the brain to initiate the behaviour. The craving acts as the motivator. And the response to the craving is the actual habit you perform. And, finally, the reward is the end goal of every habit.

Tailpiece:

Woman: Why don’t you take me out for dinner?

Man: I don’t take married women out for dinner!

Woman: But I am your wife!

Man: Yea, but I make no exceptions!

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 – January 2021

Wishes for a better year

Let me begin this column with my heartiest New Year greetings to my readers, hoping for the best of luck and a joyous life. Let’s forget the year that is gone as a bad dream, and wish for a brighter year.

As a New Year is heralded, most of us build up hopes and dreams to be fulfilled. Many of us draw a list of New Year resolutions and see how our aspirations can be realised. I too have listed 12 ‘things’ to be achieved over the next 12 months. Some of them are quite easy while others are mostly ‘impossibilities’. But I have learnt to understand that nothing is impossible!

Similarly, assuming that I live for another 10 years, I have drawn up a plan of 10 objectives to be achieved. One of them is to travel around the world, and that seems to be the easiest one. For me, 2020 has been the most unsatisfactory as most plans remained unfulfilled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

But that does not cow me down. I am a rabid optimist, and hope the years to come will fully compensate the losses of last year!

Life quality best in Mumbai

In India, the quality of life is the best in Mumbai, and Delhi is rated No. 2. The IIT-Bombay, in a study of 14 cities in the country, says in its ‘urban quality of life index’ report that the objective was tailored to the reality of life, and to see, with several parameters that truly mattered in life, in big cities.

The study gave great importance to women and their life style conditions. Chennai is the best city for women, where people are most “women-friendly.” And, Patna is the worst city for women in terms of respect, education etc. Jaipur has the highest rate for crime against women, and Chennai has the lowest.

The most tweeted-about persons

Donald Trump was the most tweeted-about person in 2020. According to a Twitter report, Joe Biden is second in the list of 10 most tweeted-about persons. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is listed at No. 6. Similarly, Kamala Harris is at No. 10. Over 700 million tweets were recorded globally in 2020, and most of them were about the US elections.

A rebel girl’s story of riches

Chinu Kala, 15, from Mumbai, had a bitter argument with her father one fine morning, which resulted in her leaving home. But she did not know where to go, and only had INR 300 in her pocket. Somehow she reached a railway station in the city, and it was quite late in the night. She was frightened and yet she was in no mood to go back home.

A kind lady happened to see her, and talked to her. The lady took pity on her, and directed her to a place where she could work and live in a dormitory, for INR 250 a day. Days and years passed, and she was nowhere near her dream world.

But she kept her dreams alive, and one day, in 2004, she got married. Brighter days greeted her, and she started taking part in beauty contests, and that opened the doors to success.

She says that it is not beauty alone that makes one a Miss India or a Miss Universe but a lot of other things like ‘beauty accessories’. She jumped into the ‘beauty accessories’ business, and now she earns around INR 15 crore a year. Today, as she looks back, she is thankful that she had the courage to rebel and leave her home!

Tailpiece:

Wife: Hey, why don’t you think a woman can make you a millionaire?

Husband: I am very sure a woman can make a man a millionaire if he is a billionaire!

By P.P. Wangchuk

P.P. Wangchuk is a New Delhi-based editor-at-large, columnist and a 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 – November 2020

The new work culture

Ever since the novel coronavirus spread its tentacles across the globe, a large number of people have been asked to work from home. In the beginning, it was a big thrill and a reason for celebration. But the joy of working from home seems to have faded away!

A private TV channel has reported that those who work from home “are not happy to be home all the time”. They feel isolated, and boredom, despite in a family environment, has hit them hard. At least 11% of such people have gone into depression, and 74% feel that they are “suffering from stress or anxiety”.

Many of them are sad that they are not able to work smoothly due to technical glitches and patchy internet services at home. And others have complained that they “have lost their creativity” which comes by being in an office environment where one can have discussions with colleagues over a cup of tea!

The lingering effects of COVID-19

It looks like we are going to live with COVID-19 for a long time and most of us have made it a part of our daily lives. We hear dreadful reports of the effect of the novel coronavirus. Many of those who have contracted the virus suffer serious impacts. There are many who recover from the disease but continue to suffer from various lingering medical and psychological ailments. Some of these people, reported from various parts of the planet, are no longer the same individuals. They suffer from memory loss, speech impairment, regular bouts of dizziness, and no longer feel like their normal selves.

One such person in India was discharged after he was ‘cured’ of COVID-19 but is no longer his previous self. He can’t talk the like he did but he can sing as well as he did in the past. He fumbles and has lost his coherence. Doctors say that the ability to speak and sing are controlled by separate parts of the brain. He is said to have lost his ability to speak due to a clot in his brain. Similarly, there are reports of people who have recovered completely from COVID-19 only to have a heart-attack some few days later.

The ‘data mining’ menace

The words ‘data mining’ has lately become a very popular topic for discussion on TV channels or in private conversations. That is mainly because ‘data mining’ has played havoc on people’s privacy. Data phishing is now become rampant as companies use your personal data for advertisements and other forms of marketing.

And then, we have reports that banks and companies that have our data sell it for hefty amounts. So much so that many social media users have started closing their accounts for fear of such unscrupulous activities.

A little birdie states that data is gold, and that social media giants are “playing this game like never before.” And she adds, privacy is a “myth” on social media and these companies have emerged as the biggest spies around!

The aerotropolis wonder

The word ‘aerotropolis’ is not really a familiar or common word for most of us. Yet, one has heard it fairly regularly in the last few years. The reason: India too will have a couple of aerotroplises over the next few years. One of them will be established in Uttar Pradesh. The first aerotropolis project in India is coming up in Durgapur, West Bengal.

What is an aerotropolis? It refers to a super-city, which is a level above a metropolis. An aerotropolis is designed to provide all kinds of luxurious business facilities to busy business travellers who cannot afford to waste time travelling to distant hotels in a city. Such cities have top-class hotels, clubs, gymnasiums and convention halls. They also have entertainment centres including cinema theatres and the like.

Tailpiece:

A young girl was talking on the phone for about an hour.

Father: Wow, how come you stopped talking so quickly? Normally, you speak on the phone for hours!

Girl: Oh no, dad, that was a wrong number!

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 September 2020

The currency of the future?

Will ‘crypto-currency’ be the currency of the future? The world economy is taking hits repeatedly at short intervals and the monetary system has become notoriously volatile. In light of this, some European and American economists have started questioning the security of the financial system in its present form.

As a result, all major economies have now started taking the crypto currency ‘business’ a little more seriously even as they tread cautiously till they understand it better. However, there is no denying the fact that crypto currency is here to stay and is doing ‘big business’. A serious issue that has been raised, of late, particularly in the western countries, is: Can it be a security threat? The answer seems to be yes, it can become an ‘uncontrolled menace’.

If you are not banning it, as no major country has shown any inclination to do, then there is a need at least to have a law to control and regulate it. Without that kind of safeguard, crypto currency is going to pose a ‘volcanic danger’ especially for democratic and liberal countries like India and America.

A season of twin blessings

The denizens of the city are grateful to nature for its ‘twin blessings’ this year—the summer was difficult but not very hot, followed by a good monsoon. The city, but for a day or two in May when the temperature soared to 47 degree Celsius, experienced tolerable temperatures for the rest of the summer. And then there was ample rain in the months of July and August. It rained almost every other day but very gently, which ensured that the city did not experience any problems. By the end of August, the weatherman reported that the city had received more than its full share of rain this year.

One fails to recollect such a good summer and rainy monsoon in the recent past. A friend says we are lucky that we had a good summer/monsoon in the city this time while many places in the country and abroad experienced abnormally high temperatures and devastating floods.

Milton lost and regained!

The last time I had read John Milton’s epics, Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained, was way back in my college years. Till recently, I had some vague ideas of their themes, and the fact that they were ‘difficult-to-understand’ books remained etched in my mind.

Now that I have read fresh editions of the books, I was quite excited to realise that, this time around, I thoroughly enjoyed reading them and also managed to understand them to a large extent. And, the credit for this goes entirely to my ‘accumulated knowledge of poetic literature’ over the years.

Most critics agree that John Milton is perhaps the most important figure in English literature after Shakespeare. Both his books deal with serious issues of good and bad, moral and immoral, life and death etc. Paradise Lost is, for instance, about man’s disobedience and revolt, sin and innocence etc. The main theme of Paradise Regained is Christian heroism with the character of Jesus Christ portrayed as the epitome of Christian glory. As such, the book is centred on enduring faith in God, the power of prayer, and spirituality.

Digital reading gets a boost

Like many of my friends, I too stopped reading physical newspapers with the onset of the novel coronavirus pandemic. This led to a natural shift to reading digital newspapers. I must say that digital newspapers do not give one the joy one experiences when reading a physical newspaper. Maybe, I am yet to develop a ‘taste’ for digital newspapers!

However, one thing that I do like about digital reading is that you have the option of reading any newspapers anytime, anywhere, and with great ease. And, it does not pinch your pocket too much either!

Tailpiece:

Teacher: What is the longest word in the English language?

Student: ‘Smiles’ as there is a ‘mile’ between the first and the last letters!

By P. P. Wangchuk

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