Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Satpura Revisited

As I write these lines, I am being attacked by a squadron of mosquitoes, armed to the teeth. No pun intended.  And, they would put the best fighter pilots to shame.

Before I dive inside the mosquito-net and tease them with my infrared-signature that they cannot direct their heat seeking missiles at, I thought that I would share a few lines from a very famous Hindi poem with you. Written by Shri Bhavani Prasad Mishra, "Satpura ke Ghaney Jangal (The dense forests of Satpura)" has become a classic in Hindi literature.

The lines below, talk about the mosquitoes in the forests of Satpura. Among other things that is. The beautiful lines are by Mishra-Ji, and the not-so-beautiful translation is mine.

                      सतपुड़ा के घने जंगल।
                 नींद मे डूबे हुए से
                 ऊँघते अनमने जंगल।

                .... (कुछ पंक्तियों  के बाद)...

                मकड़ियों के जाल मुँह पर,
                और सर के बाल मुँह पर
                मच्छरों के दंश वाले,
                दाग काले-लाल मुँह पर,
                वात- झन्झा वहन करते,
                चलो इतना सहन करते,
                कष्ट से ये सने जंगल,
                नींद मे डूबे हुए से
                ऊँघते अनमने जंगल|

                सतपुड़ा के घने जंगल।

            Dense are the forests of Satpura,
            Deep in sleep, yawning and reluctant.

            (..After a few lines..)

           The cobwebs get in the face
           and so does the hair from the head
           On it, are the bite marks of mosquitoes
           colored black and red

           They sustain the wailing winds
           and tolerate them when they can.
           With pain and sorrow in them,
           deeply they sleep.
           And yawn, with reluctance.

           Dense are the forests of Satpura.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A Libertarian Paradise?

Recently, a well meaning reader of this blog sent me a message, in which he asked me why I did not write on national and political issues. Issues, that concern the future of this country.

If I had to give him a short answer, I would say -- I used to.

But then, somewhere down the road, I realized that I did not enjoy writing about politics. And so, I stopped. I still write about national and international issues, which can be called political -- issues, that I strongly feel about. But now, I try and avoid commenting on specific people and parties.

Today, there is a lot of uncertainty about where India is headed. In the last few months, our national growth rate has been projected downwards, and that too, quite a few times. People have lost faith in public institutions. Senior politicians, have openly questioned members of the executive and the judiciary. The legislature has stopped legislating. And the so called "free press" has neither made us proud of its freedom, nor has it started printing or broadcasting anything that provides the reader with a sense of satisfaction.

So, perhaps I should ask the well meaning reader of "The Peanut Express" -- what should I really write about?! 

As a Libertarian, I would say though, that there is one specific thing in these depressing times, that makes me happy. The fact, that people are slowly realizing that a government is generally incapable of doing anything properly. So, the fewer the number of things it is asked to do, the better it is for the country.

(Picture courtesy :

In the sixty five years that have passed since we became an independent country, we have dabbled with socialism (the preamble to our constitution still includes the world "socialist"), and a rudimentary free market economy. Sooner or later, each one of our politicians, from the left, right or center, tries to publicly exude confidence in the government's ability to deliver to its people. And, regardless of the political ideology that they follow, they have been quite consistent about their stand that it is the government that needs to deliver.

And that is where I disagree.

I don't think the government should be in the business of delivering anything. Other than complete freedom from it -- for ordinary people and small businesses. A freedom, that is long overdue.

Somehow, in the last few months, I have found the popularity ratings of our ruling coalition going down, and that of the opposition going up. That, does not surprise me, since India has slowly transitioned to a "two-party" system in the last decade or so. But,  replacing one group of corrupt and inefficient people with another, has never appealed to me. And so, as impending as they might be, elections do not excite me.

During these troubled times, when people have lost faith in most government institutions, perhaps, it is time to let go of some of them. For any political party, on the left or the right, it is time to come out in the open and say that they will start reducing big government and deficit spending.

For some reason, I feel that the current political right in India is a little better positioned to do that than anyone else. To them, I have a small suggestion. It has come out in recent opinion polls that there exists a  perception amongst the people of India that the right-of-center coalition is just as corrupt as the left-of-center coalition that currently rules the country. Clearly, corruption alone, cannot be made the distinguishing factor between Tweedledum and Tweedledee. 

The political right needs to come out in the open and own up to the fact that there is a fundamental flaw in the way we let our government govern us. And so, they need to go after big government, because that is what puts layers of inefficiency between the desire to deliver, and actual delivery.

A long time ago, I had a heart-to-heart conversation with a small time Desi farmer, in one of our small time Desi states. He had not heard of anything that the urban elite took for granted. He did not know what the constitution was, what rights he had and who he could vote for. He still thought of the political leaders of the country as his masters, who he called his maaliks (owners).

But then, he told me in simple terms that he did not care about who ruled him. One thing that impressed him about free India was that generally no one bothered him, no one asked him to pay taxes and everyone, including the government, left him alone. To fend for himself.

I should have told him then, that he was living in a Libertarian paradise. Wouldn't it be nice if we had a few more?!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Neil Armstrong (1930-2012)

"Blessed Saint Leibowitz, keep 'em dreamin' down there" : The last words by Colonel Randy Claggett (commander of Apollo 18) before the lunar module Luna crashed. (from Space, a novel by James A Michener).

Thanks for the dreams Neil. We will keep dreaming.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Poppy, Cannabis, Ephedra

So, what is your favorite poison?

Somehow, I keep going back to a famous statement by a German guy called Karl, that we all keep going back to. Again and again. That religion, is the opiate of the masses. Almost thirty years after the iron curtain came down and the hammer and the sickle went into oblivion, we could perhaps say that again. Even in a country like China, which has all but forsaken communist ideology, the opiate seems to be making a vengeful comeback. China seems to have its fair share of Buddhists and Christians now, and even new age religions like the Bahai faith are taking China by storm.

I keep wondering, what exactly would be the perfect opiate of the masses. Assuming that religion, is not really what it used to be.

If you take a step back and turn around, and take a good look at the world around you today, you would be surprised by what is going on. The land of the free has perhaps gone through the biggest economic crisis in its history (yes, even worse than the great depression) and most people think that it will never recover back to its glory days. Europe, is in shambles, and for many countries there, the sportsmen leaving London summed it up quite accurately, when they said, "The party is over, let's go home!" And Asia, is what we should perhaps talk about, since Asia, is the continent where most of humanity lives.

The Chinese, traditionally, have been quite used to an opiate. Of course, the original one, that kept them down for centuries, was where the word opiate came from. But then came nationalism, communism and all that stuff. National pride and nice looking gun barrels kept them going through Mao and the gang of four, and after Deng Xiaoping opened China up, it has all been about earning money. But now, China seems to be open enough to make its rulers nervous. And so, they need an opiate. To keep the masses occupied.

India has always been good at keeping a large population busy with useless things. It has barely been twenty years or so since the airwaves were opened up to private broadcasters, and even today, they seem to pretty much focus on things that the public wants to hear. Thankfully, India has cricket and Bollywood. Between the two of them, you could keep people intoxicated for years. And if they get too shifty, you could organize a three day nationwide "we hate corruption" -a-thon,  and have every television channel cover it. Once the people get convinced that all is well, and things will be done to make sure that things are done, they will get back to their opiates.

Sure, once in a while, you would have rioters taking over city centers and entire ethnic groups leaving big cities in ways that almost seem biblical, but as most deft government administrators will tell you, these are just temporary glitches. And oh yes, all, is well. 

In my opinion, the biggest problem for most large countries in this decade would have nothing to do with economics or politics. The biggest problem, would be to find a new opiate of the masses. For America, it was always three seasons (sorry Vivaldi) -- football, baseball and basketball. For communist countries, it was always nationalism. For most of the middle east, it was religion. And for India, till very recently, it was Bollywood and cricket. As the world's political leadership looks for the next opiate of the masses, to keep them busy, let me try and give them a small piece of advice.

Thousands of years ago, when the early Aryans were colonizing central Asia, and did not have elaborate codes or rituals to keep people under control, they told them that there was something better than worshiping God. If one was willing, one could see God. And, there was an ancient drink, often mentioned in the Vedas, which supposedly brought one close to God.

For centuries, historians have wondered about the composition of Soma. To most, it seemed like a hallucinogen, but what really went into it? Was it alcoholic? Did it have any of the herbs that we are now familiar with?

As it turns out, from an archaeological dig somewhere in Central Asia, news is slowly emerging. That a pit in which Soma was made, was discovered and the remains of whatever went into the heavenly hallucinogen, were analyzed. The answer, surprised a lot of people, who believed that the Soma was divine.

To the average hippie who attended wood-stock, there was no surprise. The Soma, was a potent cocktail of three herbs that we all know about -- poppy, cannabis and ephedra. Each, loaded with its own stockpile of chemicals, which takes the word opiate to an entirely new level. Together perhaps -- they make the drink of the Gods.

So, to beleaguered governments around the world in search of a solution, I have only one suggestion for an opiate of the masses. Soma. Three potent herbs cannot go wrong, all at the same time.

Friday, August 3, 2012

The giant mosquitoes

"Oh man, these mosquitoes are slowly beginning to look like rats with wings!" Ashutosh complained as he crawled inside the mosquito net. His wife groaned something in her sleep and turned over.

It was about 1 AM, and both Ashutosh and his wife had no idea that the pharmaceutical company, which had a "white-collar" research facility in their neighborhood, had actually made a breakthrough in growth hormone research that evening. They were hoping to market it to cattle ranchers around the world to increase their meat output.

And, the pharmaceutical company had no idea that the freshly prepared barrel of the experimental drug was somehow labelled as "waste". Of course, as pharmas working on low-budgets do, they paid an out-of-work newspaper vendor to pick up the waste every night and dump it in the lake behind Ashutosh's house. So, at 2 AM that night, a barrel of concentrated growth hormone was dumped in a lake, that already produced mosquitoes that looked like rats with wings. And the world, was on its way to being taken over by a mutant specie.

Ashutosh woke up early in the morning, to the sound of what seemed like fighter jets. There was an air force base close by, but he had never seen the jets come so close. As he moved the curtains, he saw a strange sight. His neighbor was being impaled by a buffalo sized giant mosquito. With a proboscis, that looked like a spear.  And the rest of them were flying around, sounding like jets.

The giant mosquitoes were growing in numbers by the hour. People were running for their lives. And, in a few hours, it looked like the entire planet had fallen to the power of a flying insect. No known chemical or mechanical weapon was able to do anything to them.

Ashutosh's turn came eventually. His entire family was hiding in the kitchen, but a giant mosquito had broken the window to get inside the house, and it was slowly making its way to the kitchen. It was crawling, since it was too big to fly inside the house. As it came within a few feet of Ashutosh, he heard a scream.

His wife saw the mosquito, and panicked. Then, she picked up whatever she could lay her hands on, and threw it at the mosquito. Suddenly, the room got very red, and Ashutosh started sneezing. It seemed like his wife had tossed a can full of red chili powder.

As the dust cleared, they saw the giant mosquito. It was dead.

Soon, Ashutosh was calling every TV station he could reach. The armed forces moved swiftly. Within a few hours, the sky was red with chilli powder. The roads were red with tomato chili ketchup. And everywhere the eye could see, there were giant mosquitoes, that looked like buffaloes with wings. And they were all dead.

The world was free again, thanks to a toxin in chili powder, that worked only on mutant mosquitoes.


"Nonsense! Absolute Nonsense!!!"

Sharma-ji was yelling. "Gupta, after all these years, how can you possibly write such a stupid story? You want me to make a movie out of this shit? Do you even know how much money people lose in Bollywood when a film flops nowadays?"

Sharma-ji was the producer, and very often, he also sat on the chair that said "director" behind it. In capital letters. Obviously, he couldn't be wrong about these things.

Before he tossed Gupta's file across the room, he was listening to the story with his eyes closed. From time to time, he would open them, only to pick up yet another pakoda from the giant plate in front of him, liberally dab it with tomato-chili sauce, and pop it into his mouth. Sharma-ji loved his chili more than anyone else.

 "But sir, everyone is doing science fiction nowadays. We could become the Spielbergs of India!"

"Let me tell you something Gupta, the people of India neither know science, nor fiction. Just give them the shit that you always gave them. Throw in a few bare-chested hunks and bikini-clad beauties, and deposit your checks in the bank. Yeh science-whince peh time waste mat karo!"  

Gupta picked up his file, looking very glum. Sharma-ji's voice softened a bit, "Are suno yaar.  What was that shit in the tomato sauce you wrote about, you know, the one that killed the mosquitoes? Will that kill humans too?"

Gupta opened his mouth to say no. Then, he saw Sharma-ji pick up his last pakoda to wipe the remaining tomato-chili sauce with it. .Gupta thought, "If Sharma-ji was a giant mosquito, by now, he would be dead."