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.

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.


April 23, 2020


Should we feel happy for these kids? One bus for every 25 students ensuring proper social distancing. Wow.


And then we have this, let alone the millions who don’t have this too. This is true meritocracy in action.


The Pyrrhic War on Corona

April 23, 2020

My essay in Tamizhini.

/Soon after the SARS-CoV-2 virus was identified in Wuhan in December 2019 and a pandemic started developing, the Indian government acted reasonably quickly to bring the Indian citizens stranded in Wuhan and other foreign countries to India, despite the risk of spreading the novel corona virus in India. Irrespective of the merits of the move, the intentions cannot be faulted. However, when a lock down was announced in India, we cared little for the millions of migrant workers spread across different parts of India./

/While the spread of corona in India and the mortality due to corona have not been as bad as other countries, the impact of the lock down has been worse. The objectionable language of war has been used frequently against corona. It must be said in the same vein, this is turning out to be a Pyrrhic war./

Notes on corona – 4: Being privileged

April 8, 2020

A few years ago, we decided to forego many of our privileges.

It is not an easy task, and to be truthful, it has been a half-hearted attempt. Privileged people don’t easily become poor overnight. Even Gandhi was privileged to the last….he was simple but never poor; he fasted but never starved.

Today I drove down our elderly house owner to a bank in a nearby village. While waiting for him to withdraw money, I went to a shop there and bought 2 kgs of red bananas at Rs.35 per kg. Less than what we pay even for other types of bananas during normal times. This would be our dinner for two days. [The prices of pulses have gone up but that of vegetables seem to have returned to normal or lower levels, despite the higher margins the traders and middlemen could be charging at this time. Restrictions on movement of vehicles are clearly affecting the perishable vegetable/fruit farmers. We are again hearing stories of farmers letting their produce to rot.]

When we came back, his wife gave me banana stem sabji (வாழைத்தண்டு பொறியல்), prepared after tedious work. She gave more uncooked stem for tomorrow. And she has a heap of bananas from the same tree and will give us a few dozens once they are ripe. She also gave us ultra sweet slices of jack fruit that filled the house with its awesome aroma. All these are from their farm.

A little later my wife returned from our farm. On the way, Parvathi, the lady who grazes her cows on our farm, gave her about 20 palm fruits plucked by her brothers from the roadside and riverside trees, each containing the juicy kernel (நுங்கு) in 2 or 3 hard casings inside the outer fibrous covering. Parvathi was overjoyed today that we have allowed her to use a part of our land this season for sowing sorghum (சோளம்), whose stalks could feed her cows for months. (Apparently there are no buyers now for their palm fruits too.) These not yet fully matured palmyra fruits are eaten by inserting our forefingers inside the casings to poke and scoop the pulpy kernel and then sucked (நோண்டி நொங்கெடுத்தல்?). They taste as good as or better than the mature fruits. Then we figured out a way of scooping with the stem of a spoon. But after poking around so much, the fingers are feeling sore now and our stomachs full. The bananas have to wait for tomorrow.

We are conscious that these are luxuries denied to the urban middle class and the poor during these dire times. We do not know how long these luxuries can last, if the lock down is extended.

When millions are starving and struggling, such unsought privileges keep leaving you with a deep feeling of guilt. Once we overcome this guilt, we may be able to articulate some solutions for the future. After corona is gone, we still have a climate emergency to deal with. The clear skies would turn hazy in no time.

Notes on Corona -3

April 8, 2020


The bar has been set so low that many of us were just relieved when the centre finally announced a relief package. P.Sainath does a deep dive into it and shows it to be woefully inadequate, and tells us what needs to be done.

/But focusing on COVID-19 to the exclusion of the larger canvas – that’s attempting to mop the floor dry with all the taps open and running. We need an approach which pushes ideas that strengthen public health systems, rights and entitlements./

/The government’s ‘package’ is a curious blend of callousness and cluelessness. It’s not just one virus we’re fighting – pandemics are also a ‘package.’ Of which economic distress can be a self-inflicted or self-aggravated part – driving us from calamity to catastrophe./


Making an apology without admitting your mistakes and then claiming what you did was inevitable is no apology at all. This means the earlier mistakes are not going to be rectified in any way and people will continue to suffer because, well, I’m sorry, it is inevitable and can’t be done in any other way and it’s for your own good. The same, ‘Oh I cry for a puppy hit by a car’ routine.

This is unpardonable. Here is a rather depressing compilation of reports on the deaths related to the poorly planned lock down in India…already nearing the deaths due to corona in India. We can argue over whether some of these deaths should be included here but…if you do argue, no point in arguing with you.


The gap between the privileged students with access to internet, books, online coaching, exponentially increased parental guidance etc., and the not-so-privileged students in their ability to crack entrance exams from NEET to Civil services is going to be widened significantly in this corona induced break.

Merely postponing the exams this year may not help. What are we going to do? This is another trigger for dramatically challenging and changing the status quo.

I am reminded of a research cited by our friend David H. Albert in his book, ‘Dismantling the Inner School – Homeschooling and the Curriculum of Abundance’. An extract from a review I wrote in 2016.

/Brick fifteen: School can fix everything and if things are not going well, the solution is more of it
David says, schools have become the chosen venue for interventions in the life of our communities far beyond their more narrowly defined educational purposes. He cites a research published in 2001, by Karl Alexander, a sociologist at John Hopkins University. Alexander followed 650 first graders and found that, after five years, children from low socio-economic class backgrounds, after starting with only a small deficit, were well behind those from higher ones. But he also found that cumulative classroom learning over the five-year period was virtually the same. The difference was a result of what happened to the reading scores of the two groups during summer vacations.
On that basis, it is asserted that keeping the kids (especially the poorer ones) in school would help bridge the gap. But rich kids gain most when they are not in classroom. So, the question should be what can be done in their homes, families, and communities outside of school and instead of school to improve the quality of their living and learning environments./


This is increasingly turning out to be a lock down of the privileged for the privileged by the hardships of the poor.

/Sanitation workers in Chennai are walking long distances to work during the lockdown, or journeying on garbage lorries. Taking leave for a day during this period invites penalties, even sacking/

/the sanitation workers are finding it hard to get even drinking water in the lockdown period. “Earlier, they would be given water by local residents in the colonies where they work. But many have been saying they are refused water these days.”/


Aruna Roy and Nikhil Dey have worked with/for the common man for many decades and it shows in every word of this empathetic essay. When the social distance between the government and honest people on the ground like Aruna Roy or Harsh Mander increases, when you turn a deaf ear to a P.Sainath or Jean Dreze, this inhuman situation is what we would end up with time and again, while the mindless patriots go about banging their plates and setting fires and defending their Supreme Leader, come what may.

As/if the corona and hunger moves down the pyramid, we need to listen to these sensible and knowledgeable voices on how to alleviate the immeasurable pain and anxiety created by it amongst the poor.

/COVID-19 is a disaster that came with prior warning, and therefore did not warrant an arbitrary, unplanned and ill-prepared decision./

/This lockdown is shaping itself as the expedient response of an elite terrified of falling victim to a virus. There is clearly little imagination or application to work out a plan of action based on compassion and understanding of conditions on the ground./

/The propagandists uttered platitudes of support reiterating mandatory ‘social distancing’. The pretended ignorance of how the labour force lives — crammed together, 10 in a room — makes such statements pointless. In the slum or basti, social distancing is a non-existent concept. No order will work unless the government recognises and addresses the dire circumstances of the so-called informal sector. Those secure in isolated rooms in spacious homes, with a huge food stock, cannot wish this problem away./

/Desperation has not robbed them of dignity or independence. There is surprisingly no anger being expressed — yet. All they want is to go home./

/Draconian orders and platitudes will not work. Governments must show leadership, resolve, commitment, and compassion. Resources have to be effectively and optimally used. /

Tell me this is fake news. This is unbearable. Inhuman.


No lock down for us. The lock down has helped unlock and unleash latent energy.

Corona or no corona, coconuts have to be collected and farming has to happen. [And there are two special spectators – Mottled Wood Owls – to watch the spectacle.]

Prime Minister-ji, farmers are also rendering an essential service. I request you to come up with some brilliant 2-in-1 measure to show solidarity with farmers working in the sun and to fight corona. How about sunbathing on roof tops at noon for half an hour? Surely sunlight should be more powerful than diyas and candles in combating corona. Strict social distance to be maintained while taking selfies. Traditional dress to be worn.


Banging the plates seemed to be a harmless indulgence which we could simply ignore. Then we saw processions of people clapping and banging and dancing and marching.

Candle lighting also seems to be another harmless fiddling indulgence to keep the supreme leader happy and proud. I hope there are no candle light marches against corona, or worse, a grid failure, as some experts are warning.

The TN Electricity Board and many experts are advising us to keep our appliances on. I have poor knowledge of electricity and grids, and hence please disregard what I say if it doesn’t make sense to you and don’t ask me, ‘what about earth hour,’ et al.

We don’t have too many appliances at our house to keep on – two ceiling fans, one borrowed Amma table fan and a mixer/grinder. The last time when there was a high voltage due to some repair work in the neighbouring area, my laptop charger and mobile charger both got burnt. The Mac (my bloody old white elephant) adaptor cost Rs.7500. The fans ran at scary breakneck speeds. The PCs at our learning centre have also been damaged a couple of other times due to high voltages, and possible improper wiring – we have just been too scared to use them after that, deciding to wait till we get the wiring checked/fixed or buy some stabilizers.

Follow what the government and your electricity boards are saying, or do your own fact checks. However, having been bitten many times, we are going to be selfish and careful – sorry, we cannot afford to take any chances with any of our devices this time. And in any case, there are no power consuming devices we have that we can run at that time.

If this whole business is fraught with risk for the grid, dependent on citizens taking patriotic precautions at personal risk to their appliances, with no apparent benefits for anyone except the PM, there is still time for the PM to call it off gracefully. And focus on the real issues of the poor.

We have frequent power cuts at night and I hope the electricity board will save me from taking any anti-national decision.

We are going to switch off everything (which we do frequently), go up to our house owner’s terrace, lie down watching the stars and sleep. I do not think all the lights on the farms and the village will be switched off (unless there is a powercut). Yet the sky will be lovely as always. More lovely if the lights go off. The almost-full moon will be bright and will dispel all darkness.,

The sudden clouds masking our evening sky today may have other plans though.


Another sad ‘I told you so’ moment about candle marches.

I don’t know the authenticity of all the videos on this thread (on comments). Nevertheless, the way crackers were burst allover India, even in villages, it is clear we have an Unplanned Lock down and Planned Entertainment.

Did anyone shout, ‘Yay, we have crossed 4000!’ I wouldn’t be surprised.

Meanwhile, one analysis, shared by Yogendra Yadav, put the death count due to the lock down at 77 in the first week alone, not far behind the corona related deaths.