The most interesting part of the travelogue for me was the description of the steps being taken in China to combat COVID-19. What they are doing must be having an impact based on the numbers we are seeing. We look like relative fools here in the USA. Our leadership is failing. Soon we will be number one, and it will not be a positive thing. Shame on us.
Most of us have never experienced anything like this during our lifetimes. But one should also understand that smaller outbreaks of similar nature have been taking place all over the world even in recent times. Fortunately, those were contained. It was only a matter of time.
It has been just a few weeks since the spread of this contagion started.
Already, almost everything that we took for granted in our societal interactions and in our consumer behaviors outside of the house has had to be rethought.
Lifestyles have already changed.
National economies have already been altered.
Some people’s lives have already been shattered – even if they have not fallen ill. People need to eat even when the economy shuts down. It is a matter of survival for the weakest of our lot.
Some of the changes that have happened may be here for the longer term.
And the worst is yet to come…
The people who had a responsibility to anticipate and do something about the spread of this contagion early enough in the process, to try to limit the damage, failed us miserably. They are still failing us.
I have often wondered what would happen in the world if some of the things that we took for granted go away. How would we survive? (What we are experiencing now is not the worst case of something like this happening.) Ironically, being better off as a society does not necessarily mean that we are better prepared to tackle something like this. Events like this might bring out the best in some people, but, as a group, stupidity seems to reign to a greater extent in places where people are more comfortable and well off. When your mind becomes far removed from the basics of surviving, and the less you are interested in understanding how things really work, the more stupid one seems to behave. Perhaps the brain hurts from the effort. A special mention needs to to be made of the President of the richest country in the world, and the behavior of some of the youth of the country. They have no idea what a pandemic means, and how to behave responsibly in these circumstances. And what about the people who do not seem to care for the truth, to the extent that deliberate lies and misinformation spreads, stuff that can make things worse. And then there are the stories of complete incompetence. (I am not really that surprised about this particular case. I have experienced similar frustration with the system in the past.)
Meanwhile, one is overwhelmed with information, information being forwarded from all over the Internet. A lot of it is from well-meaning people. Every vendor that has my e-mail address has also sent me a message on how the contagion has impacted their business and interactions with their customers. A lot of what one is hearing is repetitive. How much of this can you take? How much of it can you absorb? Better to watch some late night comedy shows once in a while.
In the middle of all this, we cannot forget the people who are fighting this disease on the front lines. These are the doctors, the nurses, and the other hospital staff who are taking care of the sick. They are taking a lot of risk, and they are putting in a lot of time already. They are being stretched. And their job is about to get more difficult.
It is going to get worse before things get better. A few us may not be here at the end of it all. All we can do is take care and try to be prepared. And perhaps it is good to remind oneself once in a while that one does not live forever.
It was later in the evening by traditional Chennai standards. I had just finished meeting up with some close high school friends whom I try to reconnect with whenever I visit. I always make the effort to do so these days when I come to Chennai. Much water has flowed under the bridge since the days of our youth, and these are the remaining opportunities to reminisce, and to also catch up on the stories of our own lives.
The place where we met that evening was a somewhat upscale hotel in town, a place where one would tend to see people who are generally better off than the people on the street. For me, it really did not matter where we met. I would have gone with whatever place the others were comfortable with. We spent a nice evening catching up. Soon it was time for me to return to Madipakkam. I could not delay too long. Madipakkam is located on the outskirts of town, and it is a place that could be considered somewhat remote from the city itself. Finding a ride could become more and more difficult later in the night. Because of this, I had been keeping an eye on the time through our get-together.
I have become very familiar with using the Uber car service to get around town when I am in Chennai. The request went out on the Internet for a ride to Madipakkam. I was quickly assigned a ride to get me there. My friends and I walked down to the street and waited for a driver with the name Joseph to show up with his vehicle.
It did not take too long for Joseph to arrive. I said my last goodbye and hopped into the car. I was on my way to Madipakkam. Joseph started talking to me soon after the ride began. It could have been something to do with the fact that we shared a common name that loosened the tongue. Also, unlike most of the drivers that I encounter during these rides, he spoke English, which made it easy for me to follow him. It was a sad tale that emerged.
He first asked me if I was paying by cash or by credit card. He seemed quite relieved when I told him that I was paying cash. (I had heard from another driver that Uber reimbursed the drivers for credit card payments only once a week.)
He asked me if I knew of any job opportunities. I told him I was just visiting.
The rest of his story emerged. Joseph informed me that he had hit rock bottom in his life. He was a college educated professional who had, at that point, been out of a job for a couple of years. He had just started driving for Uber. He had no money, and was desperate. He was driving his friend’s vehicle for a living, and had made some sort of an arrangement with him that involved his actually handing over some of the money he was making as a Uber driver back to his friend.
Joseph was originally from a place outside of Chennai. He had done his college studies in Chennai, receiving a professional degree at its conclusion. He had worked in the industry on non-IT backend systems. He had worked for a few firms. And then he had lost his job. He had been looking for jobs for a while, but the companies were only interested in hiring new graduates and paying them less than they would have to pay a person of his experience. His friends had also not be able to help him find a job.
As we drove through Adayar, and then on through the now almost empty streets of Taramani, further details of his life emerged without my prompting. He was looking for a person to pour out all his troubles to. All I could do was lend a sympathetic ear. There was no concrete advice or suggestions that I thought I could offer.
He was married, but his wife had left him to go back to her father’s place. His mother had actually left him a house, but his father-in-law had needed some money, and he had taken a loan out on the house to help out the father-in-law. Since his lost his job, the father-in-law was now insisting that he pay off the loan before his wife returned to him. When he had been working, and had money, he had not saved much of it, using whatever he earned to buy his wife whatever she desired. He made the dramatic statement that he had found out the hard way that money is everything, and that love meant nothing.
I had no reason to disbelieve what he was telling me. He certainly sounded very sincere. He sounded downbeat. But, at the same time, I felt that he had been a little naive to be taken for a ride in the manner he was describing.
He said that his mother had passed away a year back. He had no other family, and he was all alone.
There was more silence in the car towards the end of the ride. I did not know how to respond to the story, and changing the topic to something else in light of everything I had heard seemed a little trite and insensitive. I was no good in this situation. At the end of the ride, on an empty Madipakkam street, all I could offer was some encouragement. I told him not to let people push him around, and to take what was his. As I closed the gate to the compound of our home behind me, I saw that he was still seated in the car – under a streetlight, looking at something in front of him. Perhaps, he was counting his take for the day.
There were two very different reactions when I related this story to two of my friends the next day.
One of them asked me if the person had asked for some money at the end. He mentioned that it was not uncommon for people who, when they met up with others who they thought were better off than them, hit them up for some cash, even if they were strangers. People called it a request for a loan, but most had no intention of making any repayment.
My other friend was more sympathetic. He said that the situations that I had heard about were not that unusual. This kind of stuff happens to many people. I said that some of this sounded like it was straight out of a soap opera. He responded that the difference between this story and a soap opera was that you could turn off the soap opera any time you wanted. My friend’s conclusion was that there was really no fairness in the world. Some of us just happen to be better off because we are more fortunate in life. Now, ain’t that the truth!
Another Christmas vacation has gone by, another family gathering with siblings and families has happened, this time in Florida. It was during this occasion that the fact that I was the oldest person in the group hit me a little harder than I expected. Maybe it was something that somebody said, or something that I noticed in the mirror. Seniority was not something that I had paid much attention to in past years. But this year something led to a moment of contemplation on the subject. Perhaps the age threshold that one had reached in September was not as much of a artificial artifact as one tended to consider it. Many of us are getting along in years, and there are consequences. For some, it happens so slowly that you do not realize it is happening, and then, suddenly, BAM!, there it is! You take notice of how much you have changed since you last checked – perhaps when you were a youth. You can no longer play the pretender. Your mind catches up with your body.
And at this point in life, after having achieved seniority of the senses, and after many other such Christmas vacations with family, I am in such a state of mind that I am there simply to enjoy the company of the family. I have not planned to do much other than relax. I do not need any additional “entertainment”. I just need the time to chill out. If people plan something that interests me, I can participate. The others in our group all have it all under control. I only needed to keep an eye on the liquid refreshment.I was prepared to help where needed, but there hardly seemed to be any need for that. I did cook dinner one evening. If somebody had asked, I would have cooked again without feeling any pressure about it. Heck, if there was not a list of dinners generated ahead of time, I could have even volunteered once again.
I want to keep it simple these days. I just wanted to be able to lounge around, and to be able to do my daily exercise, a routine that I am having great difficulty keeping up with recently. The over 40 miles of walking and running that I accomplished during the holiday, some of it even under rainy conditions, was worth it. I could have spent more time with the others on the beach, but I chose to be lazy, and, as a result, perhaps also a little anti-social. Its OK, the old man needs his nap time and rest to recover from his exercise routine.
I did catch a sunrise,but missed all the sunsets. The pool at the back of the house provided the opportunity to chill out. We listened to music. We even listened to the changing sounds and rhythms emanating from the starlings sitting on the tree beside the pool.(This recording is from Youtube.)
We enjoyed our time playing with the young’uns. The laughter that results from all involved is pure innocence. The older kids have all grown up. There seems to be a deeper sense to togetherness. It must be encouraged. Hopefully we can continue to meet during our Christmases so that they continue to get the opportunity to further bond and support each other. We celebrated Christmas as usual. We celebrated the usual birthdays. We went to the usual services at church.
Games were played and dinners were consumed.There was the trivia competition (where I was reminded that the number 1 is not a prime number!). There was the gingerbread making session where the sampling process that was going on as the dough was being prepared had me concerned. The baking process took care of my concerns.
We went out to a restaurant for dinner only once this year, there being no undue pressure from anybody, or on anybody, (from what I could see) to have to do so. I think most were content to hang out at home and on the beach. Perhaps we might even skip eating out the next time and still be happy as a group.On the other hand, it can truthfully be stated that the cooking efforts at home resulted in top-notch dinner fare and many original culinary masterpieces that everybody enjoyed. Yum!
The family gathering happens these days without my having to do much. The old man is just along for the ride.
We had just arrived on a very early morning flight. We were walking across the Atrium of the Domestic Terminal at Atlanta airport with breakfast on our minds. All of a sudden I noticed that she was no longer walking beside me. She had stopped to talk to somebody sitting on one of the sofa chairs in the atrium. I guessed that the person had caught her attention while we were walking by. I also guessed that the person was asking her for something. We should just walk by, I was thinking to myself. You cannot stop to help everybody who tries to get your attention. But I, of all the people, should have realized that this is the kind of person she is. She helps everybody.
I kept walking for a little bit and then stopped. The conversation was still going on behind me, and I was getting annoyed. She had basically left my side without a warning. We have things to do, I was thinking to myself. In reality, we had a lot time on our hands while waiting for others to arrive.
When she finally finished and walked to where I was waiting for her, I was a little angry.
We sat down for breakfast. She asked me why I had gotten angry. I said that you cannot help everybody.
“What did he want?”
“He just wanted some food.”
She reminded me that she was carrying a stash of snacks for the trip. She had stopped to give some of this to the person who had asked for food. Sitting at the table while anticipating a special breakfast treat (at an IHOP no less!), I felt a little ashamed of myself.
I immediately realized that my response to her action had been completely inappropriate. I had been wrong. I had been selfish. If you were going to be true to yourself, you have to not just talk the talk, but you have to also walk the walk. One should try to do better all the time, not just when it suits you.
A friend of mine from high school days passed away very recently. I had visited with him in 2014, the last time I met him. He had been ill even at that time. I wrote this to our classmates then.
I jumped at the opportunity when Srini suggested the trip to the grounds of the Theosophical Society this morning even though I would have to leave home at the unearthly time of 5:15 am to get there early enough.
It is amazing that in spite of having lived in Chennai for so many years I have not been to this wonderful place. The peace and quiet in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the city is truly calming. The greenery is wonderful. And there are also enough interesting trails to give you a good workout. There is amazing flora and fauna, and the birds are constantly chirping. Can any of the intrepid botanists in this group identify this flower?
Certain portions of the grounds look as if they are straight out of the set of an Indiana Jones movie. (The picture below reminds me of a Star Wars movie!)We went to the beach and also walked along the beach to the Adyar river estuary. It was a beautiful morning, and people were paying their respects to the rising sun with exercise and meditation routines. We dipped our feet into the waters of the Bay of Bengal.I enjoyed the walk and the exercise, and I recommended to Srini that he try to visit these paths at least once a week so that he could stay in good shape. Maybe other folks in the area would like to give it a try (and perhaps give Srini company in this regard if he would like it).