What must the government do now?

May 15, 2020

What must the government do now?

Just run all the trains.

Forget online registration, forget aadhar card and arogya setu, forget who pays how much, just run all the trains free for a month or two.

Forget corona, forget social distancing, forget screening; it’s anyway irrelevant for them now. Just issue tokens or printed tickets at all railway stations across the country. 1200 is not the real capacity of a train in normal times. Double it or triple it. It can’t get worse than what we are witnessing on the roads now. “Indian Railways runs 12,617 trains to carry over 23 million passengers daily – equivalent to moving the entire population of Australia – connecting more than 7,172 stations,” say reports. How difficult is it for us to transport 100 million people in a few days?

Forget fear of misuse. Trust me, nobody wants to go on a tour in these times.

Let the PM appear on TV and simply assure the people who voted for him: “We shall run free trains all over the country for the next month or two. Whoever wants to go home, make use of the trains. We will ensure food and shelter where ever you are but if you want to go home, take the trains. Stop walking, reach the nearest railway station and take a train. Stay at the railway station or nearby shelters till you get a train. We have made those arrangements. Don’t rush and cause stampedes, I assure you we shall run these trains till the last migrant worker has reached home.”

And arrange shelters and food around the railway stations. If you can’t give them food, at least give them shelter till they get a train. If you can’t give them shelters too, just don’t harass them wherever they are. They can take care of themselves for a few more days. Just run those idle trains.

You can think of massive screening, testing and quarantine centres across the country after first allowing them to reach their homes.

You can think of how to revive the economy later on.

For now, just run those trains.

What else can the government do?

The TV Speech

May 15, 2020

I somehow managed to listen to his Hindi speech, which was as usual without English/local language subtitles, and understood these five things.

1. An expensive harpic package has been announced. The junior artistes will disclose the contents of the pack tomorrow.
2. Jan Dhan, Aadhar, Mobiles have landed us up in a JAM.
3. When you make in Delhi and sell in Pollachi, it is called local. Be vocal about local and change its meaning.
4. The management jargon like incremental change, quantum jump, five pillars, four Ls still have users after many decades of overuse.
5. There are good hairdressers in Delhi who are breaking the rule to work during the lockdown. One, however, has to appreciate their flawless workmanship.

I also noticed a sixth aspect. Those who are dreaming about roaming around in the vast palaces of the new Delhi vista do not have eyes for the migrants marching in the middle of the night with splintered soles. They shall not utter a single word to recognise their plight. They shall keep boasting about how their relief money has landed up straight in the pockets of those migrants too.

Two movies: Monsieur Klein & Toyland

May 15, 2020

Monsieur Klein (1976) is a disturbing French movie by the American director in exile, Joseph Losey (blacklisted in Hollywood as communist), set during the second world war during the Nazi occupation of France. The movie has an explosive opening scene in which a woman is being profiled rudely by a male doctor who inspects her nose, teeth, mouth, jaws, forehead, facial expression, body, hips and heels, and marks her as Jewish or Armenian or Arab. The woman pays fifteen francs for his services and leaves with her husband who had also come for profiling.

Robert Klein (Alain Delon) is a French art dealer who buys works of art at bargain prices from Jews who are looking to make money before escaping. He suddenly starts getting letters meant for another Robert Klein, a Jew living elsewhere in Paris. He traces his house but could not find him. He is desperate to find the motives of that person but is unable to make headway.

When Klein goes to meet the editor of a Jewish newsletter, which was sent to him unsolicited, the editor opines a friend might perhaps have subscribed for him. Klein says, “No one would play that sort of joke on me.” The editor asks the awkward Klein, “Do you think we are a subject for jokes?”

The police start suspecting Klein and ask him to prove his true-blue French identity.

Klein goes in search of the birth certificates of his parents and grandparents, and meets his old father. His father tells him there were Kleins in Holland and implies they could be Jews. He asks his father if they could be related to the Dutch Kleins and his father howls that they have been French and Catholic since Louis XIV. He is unable to get the certificate of his maternal grandmother who was born in Algiers.

The rest of the movie is about him trying to find and establish his identity, and the identity and motive of the other Robert Klein. The threat of a concentration camp looms over his head.

I cannot decide whether it is a historical or a futuristic movie. Needless to say, CAA,NPR,NRC were on my mind throughout.

Toyland – Spielzeugland (2007)

A wonderful World war II-Nazi era short flim that achieves in 12 minutes what others rarely achieve in a few hours and a lifetime.

Watch it – with children if you can.

[The film is on the link – read further after watching it, in case you are worried about spoilers.]

It’s intensely tragic but also offers a bright spark of hope. We (with our daughter) had to watch it twice back to back to let it sink in.

You can’t find a better way to tell your children people can’t be identified by their clothes and looks. And how humanity can somehow, sometimes if not always, triumph over fascism.

Notes on Corona – 5

May 15, 2020


When we went out for extracting coconut oil last week , I had also gone to the Electricity Board office to pay the electricity bill of our house owner. It is shocking that the government which asks us not to collect house rents is still collecting electricity bills. When people can’t step out of their houses, how can they pay their EB bills? Not everyone can be expected to pay their bills online. When I enquired, they said taking the readings door to door has been cancelled and we could pay the same charges as the previous month.

They had kept a bucket of water and liquid soap outside the office. Everyone was expected to wash their hands before entering the office. We had visited this office last month with the house owner. They had started this practice even before the lock down. They had kept a soap bar then [கட்டி in Tamil means both a solid bar and hug. Hence the ‘hug soap’ 🙂 ]. The house owner went inside while we stayed in the car. A person came on his motorcycle. When others instructed him to wash his hands and enter, he was very reluctant and kept grumbling.

“If I keep on washing my hands like this, my palm prints are going to vanish,” he mumbled.

He somehow managed to bend over his large paunch and washed his hands.

Meanwhile, our house owner returned and I started the car. The motorcycle was blocking the way a little. The person came running to move his vehicle.

“If you touch your motorcycle, you’ll have to wash your hands again,” I said and started driving away to the vegetable shop.

“What, yet again?” He was standing there, stunned.


Even in the middle of major disasters, or perhaps, especially during such disasters, governments and politicians and the police cannot curb their urge to clamp down on the freedom of expression. Even a small media outlet in a small city is not spared for the smallest of criticisms.



Arogya setu is mandatory for all employees? Gosh, I have never felt more relieved that I am not employed.


This report came up on my timeline and is slightly dated but the situation could not have changed much by now.

The impact of such a skewed representation in the highest layer of bureaucracy on the various decisions taken by the central government (this and the previous ones) that affect all sections of the society, especially in situations like the current one, cannot be ignored. When over 50% of the central ministers also belong to the upper castes, the problem is exacerbated. No wonder the central government did not anticipate or, if it did, did not care about something as huge as the migrant crisis and has responded to it poorly.

Among the English-speaking elite, caste is an issue that is discussed the least in the open. But it remains a huge factor in our country at all levels. It maybe subtle or crude, covert or overt, conscious or subconscious, but it pervades everywhere.


/Only one of the 89 secretaries posted at the Centre belongs to the Scheduled Castes (SC), while three belong to the Scheduled Tribes, latest government data tabled in Parliament shows. None of the secretaries belong to the Other Backward Classes (OBCs), according to the data compiled by the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions. /

/The representation of SC/ST/OBC officers in central government ministries/departments is lopsided even at the additional secretary, joint secretary and director levels. For instance, of the 93 additional secretaries in central government ministries, just six are SCs and five are STs, while there are no OBCs of this rank either.

Among the 275 joint secretaries, 13 (4.73 per cent) are SCs, nine (3.27 per cent) are STs and 19 belong to the OBC category./





Wow, India is such a happy and prosperous place to be in during lock down.

Interview with the Chief Economic Advisor of India.


P.S.: It was unbearable to watch the full interview. Those who care for the nuances can do it here . There are enough indications that the next stimulus package (note: stimulus, not relief – though M.S. Ahluwalia objects to this word for different reasons) will focus on the big industry. Both of them keep talking about stimulating demand. This sort of economic approach and jargon sounds so vulgar and insensitive in these times of distress. Oh, but the Jan Dhan data proves there is no distress. People just have to withdraw money from their accounts and spend. Direct benefit transfer to the poor is merely to exploit the high marginal propensity to consume among these sections, and not exactly to help them survive. [To me the JDY data just shows that the relief money of 500 and 1000 that the government gave to the women did not reach them fully.] M.S. Ahluwalia also does not have any radical solutions.

There are questions to the CEA from industrialists. How about some questions from the migrant workers?


Covid has shown us that we don’t need much money to live and that money is not everything. The demand for suspension of labour laws and the deliberate, sinister attempts to detain migrant labourers have shown us that the suave, modern industrialists are no different from the caricatured greedy industrialist villains of yesteryear movies who crushed union leaders through conspiracy. It has exposed their self-serving idea of growth. Jobloss is the threat with which they try to rollback hard-won labour laws.

The industrialised economy as we know it was raised on the foundation of slavery and imperialism. The champions of this economic model still clearly believe in soft slavery.

It is an opportunity for us to reimagine and recreate our world. Big industry is not essential for our wellbeing, and if anything, is only detrimental to our survival, as the climate emergency has shown. To save our economy, the failing exploitative industries should be saved at any cost is a politically sacrosanct idea which needs to be challenged. It’s time for the alternative ideas regarding decentralisation and self-sustained local economies to be mainstreamed.


Homework before 8 p.m. Please watch this.

/t was past one in the morning. I was on the road in our car trying to make it our next stop. Suddenly, near Bhiwandi, in Maharashtra, I was woken up by the sound of a child crying. This is what I saw-in the dead of the night. Haunting.
– Barkha on Twitter/


I wish the year was 200200. We would have got 200 lakh crores.

200-200. 200 lakh crores.
100 percent of GDP.

Now, FMji, go figure. No typos.


A large number of migrant workers have started walking back towards home from Chennai too 😦

These friends are genuine people doing more than what they can. Anyone who wishes to help, please reach out to Anantha Sayanan.