Categories
Poetry

Double dread

By Madhu Srivastaw

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Corona cries all around

Amphan raged destruction             

Yet I am me

Living on day to day

Settling my daily scores

Domestic, parental chores

Transferred money to PM fund

Gave food to beggar that came home

Wrote a poem or two

As Amphan screeched it’s belly out

Wrenching people’s life in tears

Rendered roofless by a spat of wind

Precious trees breathing life

Uprooted, broken, lying low

Immersed in darkness of night

With cyclone screaming raging rife

I kept the kids with me in bed

Diverting them in singing sprees

My mother with her heart in mouth

Kept her fingers clasped in prayers!

It diminished slowly…flew apart

Taking away our comforts fast

Electricity snapped; network gone

At least we had our homes intact

Yet we cribbed, sulked, complained

Though hundreds had lost their homes

Torn apart by Amphan’s fury

Coastal areas lost their lives

Electric poles all headlong down

Uprooted shrivelled trees abound

Government help haplessly seek

Only God can save us now

As though Corona was not enough

He sent Amphan to double the dread!

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Madhu Sriwastav is Assistant Professor of English. She is based in Kolkata. She is a poet, translator, critic and reviewer. She has published poems in various national and international journals and anthologies. She has performed poetry in several poetry festivals. She writes on anything that touches her. She is working on her upcoming book of poems.

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Categories
Essay

Can Humanism Survive the Onslaught of Hate

By Dr Ram Puniyani

Lately when India has been undergoing the massive crisis of the Corona epidemic and the offshoots of its mishandling, we have also seen the pandemic being used to demonise a particular community in India. These hate mongers, operating through powerful medium of TV, and widespread social media which also has resorted to Fake news has intensified the Hate against religious minority. In this vast phenomenon, it seemed that all is lost as far as amity between people of different religions is concerned. Despite this broad generalisation one feels happy when one comes to know of few incidents where religious communities come forward to help each other.

The most touching such incidence of amity came forward in the form of story of Amrit and Farooq. They were travelling in a truck from Surat to UP. On way Amrit, a worker, fell sick and most other travellers, asked him to leave the truck in the middle of the night. As he was offloaded, he was not alone. His friend Farooq, another worker, also came down with him. Farooq put the sick Amrit in his lap and cried for help which caught the attention of others and an ambulance landed up to take Amrit to hospital!

In another incidence one worker, who had a differently able child, took the bicycle of another person, leaving a touching letter of apology, saying that he was helpless as he has to travel with his children and there is no other means. Many a people reported it as a theft of the bicycle while the owner of the bicycle, Prabhu Dayal took it in a stride. The one who took away the bicycle was Mohammad Iqbal Khan.

In Sewri Mumbai, Pandurang Ubale, a senior citizen died due to age related and other problems. Due to lock down his immediate relative’s could not organize the funeral. His Muslim neighbours came forward and did his last rites as per the Hindu customs. Similar cases are reported from Bangalore and Rajasthan.

In Tihar jail, the Hindu inmates joined the Muslim in keeping the Roza (fasting). While mosque in Pune, (Azam Campus) and a Church in Manipur has been offered as a place for quarantine. In another lovely incident a Muslim girl takes shelter in a Hindu home and the host gets up early in morning to prepare and give her food for Sehri, a pre morning meal before Rosa begins.

One can go on and on. Surely what is reported must be a tip of the iceberg as many such incidents must be going on unnoticed and un reported. The feeling one was getting after the section of media jumped to communalise spread of Corona, coined words like Corona bomb, Corona jihad, one felt the efforts to break the mutual trust between Hindus and Muslims may succeed totally after all. The deeper inherent humanism of communities has ensured that despite the Hate being manufactured and propagated by communal forces for their political agenda, the centuries old amity and the fraternity promoted by freedom movement will sustain itself somewhere, though it is suffering deep wounds due to the religious nationalists.

India’s culture has been inherently syncretic, synthesising the diversity in various forms. The medieval period which is most demonized, and as many of the sectarian ideologues are presenting it as a period of suffering of Hindus, the fact is that it is during this period that Bhakti tradition flourished and literature in Indian languages progressed during this period.

Even Persian, which was used in the court of kings interacted with Awadhi and produced the Urdu, which is an Indian language. It is in this period when the most popular story of Lord Ram was written by Goswami Tulsidas. Tulsidas himself in his autobiography Kavaitavali writes that he sleeps in a mosque. As far literature is concerned many outstanding Muslim poets wrote wonderful poetry in praise of Hindu Gods, one can remember Rahim and Raskhan’s brilliant outpourings in praise of Lord Shri Krishna.

The food habits, the dress habits and social life emerged with components from these two major religions. The sprinkling of Christianity in different aspects of Indian life is as much visible. It was the symbol of deep interaction of Hindus and Muslims that Muslims followed the Bhakti saints like Kabir and many a Hindus visit the Sufi Saint Dargahs (Shrines). This interactive element is vibrantly visible in Hindi films. Here one can see the outstanding devotional songs in praise of Hindu gods composed by Muslims. One of my favourite’s remains, ‘Man Tarpat hari Darshan ko Aaj’ (My soul is longing to see Hari). This song was written by Shakil Badayuni, composed by Naushad Ali and sung by Mohammad Rafi. The latter must have sung innumerable devotional songs.

Our freedom movement, despite the divisive role of British, the Muslim communalists and Hindu communalists, brought together people of all religions, in the struggle against colonial powers. Many a literary people painted the beautiful interaction of diverse communities. During freedom movement, and in the aftermath as communal violence flared up, the likes of Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi, and towering above all Mahatma Gandhi tried to douse the fire of violence through exemplary efforts, efforts in which Muslims and Hindus both reciprocated despite the hate spread by the communal forces.

One recalls here the efforts of those friends, who laid down their lives to combat the fire of Hate. In Gujarat the names of Vasant Rao Hegiste and Rajab Ali will always be remembered as they laid down their lives, as a team, to restore sanity. This interaction is very deep and the present Government cannot tolerate the impact of Islamic-Muslim component in our culture. That’s precisely the reason that attempts are on to change the names of cities (Faizabad-Ayodhya, Mughal Sarai-Deen dayal Upadhyay etc).

The deeper interaction of communities is present in all facets of our society. The examples during Corona crisis have again brought to fore the fact that Indian culture is essentially a product of synthesis of different aspects of many religions prevalent here.

Dr Ram Puniyani was a professor in biomedical engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, and took voluntary retirement in December 2004 to work full time for communal harmony in India. Email: ram.puniyani@gmail.com

This article was first published in Countercurrents.

Categories
Essay

Rebuilding After Corona

By John Scales Avery

A better world is possible!

It is hard to predict how long the terrible COVID-19 pandemic will last, but at some time in the future it will end, and we will be faced with the problem of rebuilding the world after the enormous economic and human destruction which the disease will have left in its wake. The pandemic has thrown light onto the world’s political and economic systems, and has shown them to be wanting. Most people today do not wish to return to the old normal. That “normal” was part of the problem. The post-pandemic world must be a new and changed world!

Is a better world possible? Of course it is! Our present world is filled with an almost unimaginable amount of injustice, greed and folly. Why is our present world so full of glaring faults? One reason can be found in the slow rate of change of genetic evolution, compared with the lightning-like rate of cultural evolution. We face the problems of the 21st century with an emotional nature that has not changed much since our ancestors lived in small tribes, competing for territory on the grasslands of Africa. Our emotional nature contains an element of tribalism to which militarists can all too easily appeal.

Recovery offers climate action opportunities

When the COVID-19 pandemic is over, governments will be faced by the task of repairing the enormous economic damage that it has caused. The situation will be similar to the crisis that faced US President Franklin D. Roosevelt when he took office during the Great Depression of the 1930’s. Roosevelt, encouraged by John Maynard Keynes, used federal funds to build much-needed infrastructure around the United States. His programs, the New Deal, ended the Great Depression in his country.

Today, the similar concept of a Green New Deal is being put forward globally. This concept visualizes government-sponsored programs aimed at simultaneously creating both jobs and urgently-needed renewable energy infrastructure. The Green New Deal programs could be administered in such a way as to correct social injustices.

A sustainable economic system

Economists, with a few notable exceptions, such as Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen, Aurelio Peccei and Herman Daly, have a cynical tendency to confine their discussions to the short-term future. With self-imposed myopia, they refuse to look more than a few decades into the future. This allows them to worship growth, and to advocate perpetual growth. But endless growth of anything physical, on a finite earth, is a logical impossibility.

Our present financial system is unsustainable, and it works for the interests of a few very rich people.  For the sake of the long-term future, we must build a sustainable, steady-state economic system, an economic system which reduces inequality, and which serves the broad public interest, an economic system with both a social conscience and an ecological conscience.

A new freely downloadable book

I would like to announce the publication of a book, which discusses the changes that we must make to create a better world after the pandemic has ended. The book may be freely downloaded and circulated by clicking on this link.

http://eacpe.org/app/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Rebuilding-After-Corona-by-John-Scales-Avery.pdf

Other books and articles about  global problems are on these links

https://wsimag.com/authors/716-john-scales-avery

https://wsimag.com/authors/716-john-scales-avery

I hope that you will circulate the links in this article to friends and contacts who might be interested.

I hope that you will circulate the link in this article to friends and contacts who might be interested.

John Scales Avery is a theoretical chemist at the University of Copenhagen. He is noted for his books and research publications in quantum chemistry, thermodynamics, evolution, and history of science. His 2003 book Information Theory and Evolution set forth the view that the phenomenon of life, including its origin, evolution, as well as human cultural evolution, has its background situated in the fields of thermodynamics, statistical mechanics, and information theory. Since 1990 he has been the Chairman of the Danish National Group of Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs. Between 2004 and 2015 he also served as Chairman of the Danish Peace Academy. He founded the Journal of Bioenergetics and Biomembranes, and was for many years its Managing Editor. He also served as Technical Advisor to the World Health Organization, Regional Office for Europe (19881997). http://www.fredsakademiet.dk/ordbog/aord/a220.htm. He can be reached at avery.john.s@gmail.com. To know more about his works visit this link. http://eacpe.org/about-john-scales-avery/

First Published in Countercurrents.org

Categories
Poetry

Fear in Times of Corona

By Amit Shankar Saha

 Fear in Times of Corona

Wish Fulfilment

Today when you read your poems and I am far away

the rains will bend their direction to mourn the distance,

the lights will sit heavy on the evening of remembrance,

a lake in Kashmir will abruptly freeze in sorrow,

a mirage in Kutch will waylay a traveler for water,

memory will weave a flower patterned chintz curtain,

the dreams of the curtain will cover the world like a storm,

a poet will squeeze the universe in his palms and say,

“Today when you read your poems and I am far away

I wish the words that escape your lips come all my way.”

Quarantined Night

Fear of your inexistence
surrounds me at night
like muggers in a dark lane.

Fear that hoods my head,
covers my eyes, pummels
my chest, kicks my gut.

Fear that leaves me bruised
with no one to accuse
in a dark lane of the night.

This night I quarantine the night
in the madhouse of viral nightmares
between pillows of sleep and death.

This night isolated from all
other nights of quarantined darkness
reminds of one who died distanced.

This night the dead poet awakes
from Rome's Protestant Cemetery,
breaks the distended curfew of death.

This night I too break the curfew
and in my viral thoughts visit you
to write my name in water.

This night that brings a latent promise
and footsteps of familiar delight
is the madhouse of saddest sighs.

Amit Shankar Saha is an award-winning poet and short story writer. He has won the Poiesis Award,, Wordweavers Prize, Nissim International Runner-up Prize. He has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and the Griffin Poetry Prize. He is the co-founder of Rhythm Divine Poets and Assistant Secretary of Intercultural Poetry and Performance Library. His poems are in Best Indian Poetry Anthology 2018 and he has read at Sahitya Akademi. His collections of poems are titled “Balconies of Time” and “Fugitive Words”. He has a PhD in English from Calcutta University and teaches in the English Department of Seacom Skills University.

Categories
Musings

Corona and my uncle

By Archana Mohan

Apparently, my 75 year old uncle, Kailash, is immortal.

His astrologer, the one whose perennially hanging VIP undies on the terrace are a Google Maps landmark, told him so.

I quote my uncle verbatim. “My Jupiter is in the 6th house and even if I want to, I cannot get killed this year.”

And so, whereas we ‘snowflakes’ stay at home and wash our hands till the fate line disappears, cool dude Kailash walks around the empty streets every evening without a mask or care in the world.

Do you know a Kailash? You probably do.

Do you mutter under your breath when they wash their hands and fail to do a rotational rub of their thumb clasped in the other hand’s palm? Ah! Newb.

Do you roll your eyes when they dismiss it as a ‘made in China’ defective virus?

And when they send you forwards on Whatsapp about the power of raw ginger juice in keeping the virus at bay, what do you do? Do you smirk, ignore and go back to the Mexican drug cartel show you have been binge watching?

Congratulations! People like Uncle Kailash aren’t the problem. You and I are.

We mock these senior citizens about being PhDs from Whatsapp University but forget that the same university sends them gory images of victims and statistics that probably scare the daylights out of them.

They know that people of their age, especially those with underlying health conditions are twice as likely to develop serious outcomes from the corona virus as compared to otherwise younger, healthier people.

And that is why they forward messages that claim to know ‘nature’s cures’. They aren’t stupid. They are scared.  And raw garlic, gives them hope.

The virus wasn’t made in China. It is being made here, at our home, everyday. For when an ‘Uncle Kailash’ acts out and refuses to conform to the lockdown, he isn’t ‘pig headed’. He is scared.

Scared that 200 people in your area have been quarantined. Scared that he and his family will be one of ‘those’.

He doesn’t have the luxury to switch off from the crisis and ‘work from home’ as you do. He cannot meet the friends who sail on the same boat as him. He struggles with video calls. He is worried sick about his daughter in the States. He keeps checking his medicine cabinet. Anything can happen.

He hasn’t told you but he knows that even though his astrologer says he is immortal, he really isn’t. He knows that life is like a mutual fund investment. It is subject to market risks and even if you read all scheme related documents carefully, you could still get burnt.

He is so petrified by what is going on, that he cannot sleep. He has questions. Many, many of them and he is afraid to know the answers.

He is dying to speak. To unburden. He yearns for a kind word. A reassuring pat. A kiss from a grandchild. A cup of hot tea, with extra ginger. New gossip about the neighbour. Anything. Even an off-color joke about his favourite actress just to lighten up, to take his mind off the fear. Even if, for just a few minutes.

But where to start?  He sneaks a look at you. You are wearing headphones.  Your eyes are glued to your device. You are probably busy. He really doesn’t want to intrude. He backs off.

Later that night, he sees that your phone is charging. Perhaps he could try one more time. He gathers courage and sends you a forward.

Ting!  A new Whatsapp message.

‘Congratulations! UNESCO has declared ‘Jana Gana Mana’ as the best national anthem of the world,’ it reads. You read it but don’t react. Old Uncle Kailash at it again. These oldies! The worst mistake we made was introducing them to Whatsapp.

87% charged. That’s good enough.

You plug the phone out from the charging cable and get back to your binge watching.

You are watching ‘Contagion’, a 2011 movie about a deadly virus that is about to cause misery to the entire human race.

Unknown to you, there is a deadly virus in the other room eating up an old, terrified man.

It is called loneliness.

Archana Mohan is  the co-founder of Bookosmia (smell of books) a children’s content company that delivers brilliant content to the world through Sara — India’s first female sports loving character. Her book Yaksha, India’s first children’s book on the dying folk art form of Yakshagana received wide acclaim. She has worked as  a  journalist, corporate blogger and editor working with names like Business Standard, Woman’s Era, Deccan Herald, Chicken Soup for the Soul and Luxury Escapes Magazine.  She won the Commonwealth Short Story contest’s ‘Highly Commended Story’ award in 2009. She loves interacting with budding writers and has conducted journalism workshops in colleges.Do check out Bookosmia’s website https://bookosmia.com/about-us/ for more information.

Categories
Musings

Corona in a teacup!

By Nidhi Mishra

As I write this, I am sitting at my workstation at home, a cup of hot green tea in hand, like any other day. But that is where ‘like any other day’ ends.

My husband is working from home, no longer out on his weekly tour. The kids are no longer at school. We are watchful of every sneeze, alarmed at every cough. At least, three sanitisers would greet you on the way from my apartment, down the elevator to the ground floor reception. An email from Google is asking me if my business is affected because of corona virus; forwards from well meaning (and often ill-informed) relatives detailing baffling ‘facts’, even the magical cure of ginger garlic. WhatsApp groups are full of passionate debates about the ‘right’ degree of panic this should evoke. I myself am struggling to find the ‘cool’ response to this crisis, while chiding a friend in Philippines for not panicking and taking the next flight home, even though it will mean fourteen days of quarantine for her. Tom Hanks contracted the virus. The Canadian Prime Minister’s wife also did.

I am terribly hooked to Stephen Colbert’s daily monologue at the Late Show. It works like a wonder to cheer me up on my worst days. Today, as I turned to my daily dose, it took me steeply downhill as the host put up the gloomiest narrative, struggling to do a live show where a live audience is no longer allowed.  This was it for me! I do not know if the virus has physiologically affected one or not, it certainly has in every other way — professional, parental, societal. It seems to be everywhere.

Some of my friends love to read and exchange pieces of thoughtful good writing. A few days back, we discussed one such piece and immediately agreed how cosmologists have the most beautiful commentary on life, as they can distance themselves from the myopic view of daily human life and zoom out into the universe. It must be easier to lose that momentary angst when you realise what a minuscule spec you are on a little dot.

I often say I am not as good at writing as I am at reading. So here is a bit by physicist Brian Green that I particularly loved. “Most of us deal quietly with the need to lift ourselves beyond the everyday. Most of us allow civilisation to shield us from the realisation that we are part of a world that, when we’re gone, will hum along, barely missing a beat. We focus our energy on what we can control. We build community. We participate. We care. We laugh. We cherish. We comfort. We grieve. We love. We celebrate. We consecrate. We regret. We thrill to achievement, sometimes our own, sometimes of those we respect or idolise. Through it all, we grow accustomed to looking out to the world to find something to excite or soothe, to hold our attention or whisk us to someplace new. Yet the scientific journey we’ve taken suggests strongly that the universe does not exist to provide an arena for life and mind to flourish. Life and mind are simply a couple of things that happen to happen. Until they don’t.” That last line in there is the only truth, the only take away, the only lesson. It is the same for all of us. Whether you are in Italy or India or Iran.

Corona virus has taken our nationalities, religion, colour, all away from us. It has levelled us all as equals, trying to make sense of a common enemy. We are now the same. Of course how we deal with it may differ, but only in degree. We are the same parents who worry for their kids, the same tourists who feel unwelcome, the same travellers who long to make it home, the same businesses that suffer, the same patients who are isolated, the same clueless heads trying to figure this out.

Corona virus has rendered us all the same — the human species – what we were when our kind started inhabiting the Earth.

Almost every industry in the world has been impacted — from sports to the financial markets. But through it all, we still turn to our phones to see that message of concern from friends, that well meaning (maybe ill-informed) forward from relatives, that email from an employer on how to keep yourself safe, that beautiful write up from a psychologist, that Google alert on the latest celebrity to contract the virus.

The talking. The reading. The communicating.  

Never has it seemed more important than today, to keep that conversation going, to make that long due call, to show that concern, to fuss over that loved one, to accept that helplessness, to find that common ground in not knowing.

Nidhi Mishra is an ex-banker who pivoted from a 10 year banking career to her passion for reading and luring others to read through her startup Bookosmia (smell of books). Bookosmia, a children’s content company has grown at a furious rate in the last two years, building an enviable bank of 270+ Intellectual Property, focused on bringing. She went to Lady Shri Ram College , Delhi University to pick up an Honours in Mathematics and a feminist flair on the side. An MBA from IIM Lucknow took her to a decade long career in the financial sector, finally quitting as VP, HSBC as she suffers from a (misplaced) sense of satisfaction and a drive to do something meaningful with her time. You can write to her at nidhi@bookosmia.com. Nidhi’s first children’s book “I Wish I Were” is retelling of an old Indian folklore in partnership with Parvati Pillai, ex-design Head of Chumbak received much global acclaim and is available on Kindle.