New Delhi Diary – August 2020

The joy of e-reading

Wow, what a change has come to pass, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic! For over four months now, I haven’t been able to have the pleasure of visiting my favourite markets to buy new books. As a result, I had no alternative but to choose the option I have been resisting for a long time: e-reading.

Now that I have been forced to take up e-reading, I am happy to say that I got used to it in no time. It has helped me in several ways: E-reading is kinder on my pocket as it is much cheaper, and it is very convenient to read anytime, anywhere, and does not require any extra space as you can use your smart phone.

Another advantage is that one can read it in bold letters, which means one does not need spectacles to read as is necessary for some printed books. And lastly, one can also derive some happiness from the fact that a digital book can’t be ‘lost’ to a friend or a relative who, in the case of printed books, pretends to ‘borrow’ them for a week or so, but never cares to return them! One hesitates to give them a gentle reminder because that is generally not taken kindly. It is quite likely that you lose not only a precious book but also a friend!

The mysteries of nature

How many of us, and how many times, notice the strange things that happen around us in the world. I guess most of us miss them because of “various and strange reasons.”

The other day, I was watching an international TV channel non-stop because it was broadcasting a programme on the bizarre and ‘unlikely’. One of such ‘unlikely’ things was a ‘miracle boy’ who was born in Germany in the first week of July with three eyes. The third eye was on his forehead and in perfect symmetry with the other two to form a perfect triangle. The boy, only a few days old, looked cute, and all his eyes moved together in any direction.

And there were reports that Indian saints had predicted, a long time back, that such a ‘phenomenon’ would happen. The reports also said that many Hindus believed that the boy is an ‘avatar’ of Lord Shiva.

There can be several scientific explanations for such a phenomenon. However, it will always remain a mystery despite the numerous ‘guesses of possible’ explanations put forth by various individuals and organisations. A friend wondered if we can have such three-eyed children in the future with the help of the German child’s genes.

Good food in bad days!

The Corona days have been very harsh with normal life being put on hold. But, if one speaks about the brighter sides, there are many. For me, a zealous foodie, there is nothing more enjoyable than cooking. Therefore, one can say that, in a way, the COVID-19 times have given each of us an opportunity to cook one’s favourite food and have the best fruit cocktails. Very rarely do we get an opportunity to pamper ourselves.

At times, one follows the best recipes eagerly and ‘obediently’, while at other times, one experiments and follows one’s own imagination. As a result of such experiments, one gets the pleasure of enjoying different varieties of ‘goody-goody’ food! Each new day means a new kind of food, and one did not know what kind of food one will have the next day. That depended entirely on one’s ‘crazy mental waves’. Indeed, if there were any good time for the kind of a ‘Khao, pio, aish karo’ (eat, drink and enjoy) lifestyle, it has been the last few months. And the hope that life can be better, easier and smarter in the post-COVID-19 days, gives one more ideas for experimentation!

Tailpiece:

A: Why did the terrorist blow up his own house?

B: He was asked to work from his home due to the Corona pandemic!

By P. P. Wangchuk

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

New Delhi Diary – July 2020

As if COVID-19 was not enough!

Is 2020 going to be the worst-ever year, particularly for India? COVID-19, Cyclone Amphan, Cyclone Nisarga, Chinese intrusion into Ladakh and the subsequent killings of soldiers on both sides; 17 earthquakes over three months in northern India, and locusts creating havoc in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Haryana. As a result, we are now facing an unprecedented economic meltdown.

It is feared that we are in for bad days for the foreseeable future. Even then, there is a brighter side. As a friend says, having braved all these difficulties and hardships, we will learn some lessons, and be able to live a ‘better normal’. The phrase ‘better normal’ is an ‘improvement’ over the popular phrase, ‘new normal’ that has become a buzz word under these new circumstances.

And then came, as if to our rescue, Zoom, Google meet, webinars, and various other online means to ‘hold’ a ‘virtual conference’ enabling hundreds of people to talk with one another and discuss critical issues like ‘life betterment’ under stressful conditions.

Booked and hooked!

Here is a book that kept me hooked and booked, and prevented me from descending into insanity during these lingering Corona days: The Path of the Buddha: Writings on Contemporary Buddhism, edited by Renuka Singh, a former JNU professor. True, the book may not have anything new for someone who is already familiar with Buddhist philosophy, but what comes out brilliantly is the way each topic, from birth to death, karma to undoing of bad karma etc. has been dealt with by writers of eminence. It not only works as an introduction to Buddhist philosophy but also introduces one to the relevance of the need to have a ‘different-angle’ look into the mysteries of the mind and matter.

Mind and matter are, normally, two different things, and each has a tendency to ‘stay away’ from the other. But when matter, let’s say our physical body, particularly the brain, is made to look for that dynamic energy or force within us, then there is a union of mind and matter, even if for a moment of one’s consciousness!

Monsoon blessings

The city was blessed with monsoon showers a week before its scheduled time. The month of July gives the city a new and fresh appearance. It glows in the charm of lower temperature, intermittent rain, parched land turning green, and birds and other animals in their best spirit. And, we, the 1.9 crore denizens of the city, enjoy a cloud-speckled sky with promises of imminent rain and cool, refreshing air. Since Monsoon is so kind to us this time, life has become a little more comfortable. With the intense heat of May and June behind us, one tries different ways to celebrate life, and hope for the arrival of better days soon.

And yet, despite so many problems, the clouds that come and go without any ‘convincing’ reason, give one the satisfaction and the understanding that nothing is permanent and that the good and the bad in one’s life is to make one a little more careful and loving so that one doesn’t mess up with life and nature!

Inner voice vs. outer voice

People often wonder: What is our ‘inner voice’ and how does it differ from our ‘outer voice’? Until one thinks over it seriously, one can easily get lost in search of an answer. And, as a result, one might conclude that these are silly questions and that there is no point in pondering over them. And whoever has heard of this ‘outer voice’? But if we mull on these questions more seriously it does reveal many dimensions. The nearest and the most convincing answer could be this: Well, inner voice, when given an expression and accepted by others, becomes an outer voice. And, an outer voice, accepted by an individual and given an expression becomes an inner voice. Well, it is so very complex, but, my dear, philosophy is always like that!

But, in a way, the ‘inner’ and the ‘outer voice’ support each other in gaining acceptance, and for the greater good of mankind. Both help one realise one’s own self and expand one’s consciousness.

Tailpiece:

Doctor: Ma’am, good news. Your husband is COVID-19 negative.

Wife: How does that change anything? He has been a very negative person all his life.

By P. P. Wangchuk

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