Fear of Contagion

Perhaps some saw this coming, but kept their fingers crossed nonetheless, hoping that it would not happen during their lifetimes – a tiny, unknown, virus that would completely disrupt the way they, and everybody else, lives, and perhaps even kill them.  It has happened before.

It is beginning to slow down almost all of the activities that are markers of modern human existence. It is slowing them to a crawl. Travel, trade, tourism, educational institutions, the daily work scene, shopping, worship, sports, dining out, other forms of public entertainment, etc.. And some other parts of the world have already had it worse than us in this regard. People have also already died because of the virus.

At this point we are almost completely at the mercy of the new virus. We do not know the end game. We do not know as much as we need to know about the virus itself.  We may be able to slow it down by modifying our behaviors, but we cannot stop it.  We know that it has the capability to cull the already weak and  vulnerable.  The virus is, at this point, nature’s great equalizer.  It seems to have penetrated all levels of this connected society.  It has not discriminated based on privilege, power, and fame.

The virus shows us how vulnerable we really are as a species.  Even if it were not this new virus that that is causing this challenge to our systems, it could be some other kind of natural disaster, something outside of our control, that can damage and destroy our systems and our comfort on this planet.  Uniquely, this is a disaster that leaves most physical structures untouched.  Everything looks fine when it is not.

Of course, we will survive this, but at some as yet unknown cost.  And then, within just a few short years, we will forget about all of what just happened, and we will regress, and we will behave stupidly once again, even as nations.  That is a given.

Of Milk Duds and Crowns (11/20/2004)

I am willing to bet that, based on the title, you have no clue where this blog is headed.

Lets start at the very beginning, a very good place to start……..

It is cool fall day in Gaithersburg, MD, and our hero (who remains unnamed at this point) goes about his daily job, working to satisfy his boss and feed his family, making sure that he will be paid yet another week. A rather light (fat-free, I should add) lunch does not do much to quell the hunger pangs, and as afternoon turns into the evening, he is forced to go down to the fourth floor vending machines to look for something to fill the stomach. There are lots of things in the machines – sandwiches, drinks, yogurts, cookies, chips, snack bars, etc.., and then there are the Milk Duds. For the blissfully ignorant ones, milk duds are these small balls of caramel surrounded by chocolate, quite chewy and gooey. Sixty cents are inserted into the machine and out comes a box of Hersey’s Milk Duds.

As the first Milk Dud is popped into the mouth and chewed upon, our hero (still unnamed) realizes that he is chewing on some things that are hard, things that do not belong in a packet of Milk Duds. Did he get a bad box of Duds? Who knows how long the stuff has been in the machine? Frantically, he sticks his finger in his mouth to figure out what is going on. The stuff that he is pulling out of his mouth is surrounded by caramel and cannot be identified. It appears to be white and in multiple sizes. Is this time for a lawsuit? Back to the 6th floor office he goes and as he sits down at his desk, he realizes that there is a hole in his mouth where a tooth once existed. What is coming out of the mouth are pieces of tooth and filling! What has happened??!! A careful examination with the tongue confirms that a tooth that had chipped a couple of years ago (at Disney World in Florida, but that is another story), has gone into the next phase of its destruction.

A frantic call is made to the dentist. An Indian female voice answers the phone – we have no appointments before January 2005. But Madam, I am a patient of the doctor, and my tooth is breaking up. OK, you can come in tomorrow!

So here I am (Oops, the secret is out!), a week later, on a Saturday morning, typing this e-mail with a face half numb – I think I got too much Novocaine, I cannot feel my left ear. I think I gave the wrong answer when the dentist asked if I felt any tingling in my lips. I was thinking tongue when he said lips. (That should teach me to listen more carefully.) The extra dose was quite effective.

My appointment at the dentist’s office was at 8:15 am, to grind down the rest of the broken tooth and put on a temporary crown. When you are down on the dentist’s chair staring up at the bright light, and unable to say anything because you have stuff stuck in your mouth, and still able to think clearly because you do not feel pain, your mind is again free to wander. As I see smoke come out of my mouth, and I get the smell of something burning, I wonder what the heck I am doing here. How can I have that much confidence in the doctor to allow him to mess around with the insides of my mouth?
Anyway, I made it without pain through the experience and am back home safely. Police officer – “Why are you drooling”……

It is wet outside on this Saturday morning. I will probably go outside later to fertilize the lawn. I will try to find time to run tomorrow since the weather is supposed to be better.

Until next time..

The Return

We are back home from our trip to India.  Truth be told, the travel involved, this time, created more of a felling of tiredness and disorder in the brain than I ever felt before. Waiting in the middle of the night at the airport to board the flight, at a time when you are normally in bed – amidst the crowd, the lights, the noise, and the nonstop activity all around you – it all disturbs the mind.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAStanding in a long and disorderly line in the middle of the night, a line that was moving slowly, among a crowd of people, many of whom were in the same zombie-like state of mind as myself, waiting to board the massive aircraft, find your seat, and fall asleep, it numbs the mind.  You just want to be done with it.  A few of our fellow-travelers were wearing masks, a sign of these troubled times.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe flights back home were themselves long but unremarkable otherwise.  But, the act of passing through multiple time zones in a short amount of time while regularly forcing the body to behave as if it were experiencing a different time of day than it has become used to – it added to the weariness.

I spent my time on the flights watching movies, taking pictures out the window,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAand taking catnaps.

Being pulled over for additional scrutiny at the security checkpoint at the transit airport made things worse.  I went through the process like a automaton, just hoping that it would be over soon.  My boarding pass had apparently been marked for the additional security check at my initial boarding point in Bangalore.

It was raining in Frankfurt by the time our flight departed for Washington, DC.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI spent the early part of this second flight watching a movie and trying to fight off the sleep that hit me at the wrong time, a sleep that could interfere with my attempt to fight of jet-lag after getting back home.  Later on in the flight, I opened the shade beside my seat to find that we were flying over the icy waters of the North Atlantic.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASoon we had reached the eastern shores of Canada.  During this part of the trip, I kept a lookout for the other aircraft that seemed to be flying with us across the ocean.  I could see its contrails just below us for a very long time. The aircraft finally came into view after we finally caught up with it when crossing the Canadian shoreline.  Here is a picture.  At this point, the path of this second aircraft was beginning to diverge from ours.  It was another Lufthansa aircraft, a Boeing 747-400, which was probably headed for Philadelphia. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI will end this blog with a couple of pictures of the sunrise taken in Bangalore.  These pictures were taken on different days from the 12th floor (according to the European and Indian system of counting floors, this would be considered the 11th floor!).OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe smoke in the first picture, and the color of the sun in the second one, were interesting. I believe that these could actually be a result of pollution and smog!

Now that I am back home, I have to catch up on a month’s backlog of things to do!  Did I  mention that I am already tired?

Still adjusting in Gaithersburg…

An Indian Uber Story

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.IMG-20200221-WA0000 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!



As Seen From a Rooftop in Chennai

The new house in Madipakkam has two floors. Its elevation provides for a different view of the area around the house than I am used to.  Here are some observations from an evening on the terrace.

There are many cellphone towers built on top of buildings in the neighborhood around us.  You can see a worker coming down from the top of this particular tower across the street.  I actually saw him at the top, but was not quick enough with my camera to take his picture while he was there.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe traffic on the main road in front of the house is a disorderly mess.  I am getting better and better at figuring out how to cross roads like this on foot. You will notice that there are two-wheelers on both sides of the white car in this picture.  One of them is parked.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn top of the building in front of the house you can see a few, small, one-room shacks that that have been added on, perhaps illegally.  I suspect that these are rented.  There must be at least four units in the picture below.  These are probably occupied by young people who have come to the city to work.  This is all they can afford under the circumstances, and it is in all likelihood better accommodation than some others on the street.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe little home captured in the picture below sits on top of another building next to the house. It is located next to, and just below, a couple of cellphone towers built on top of the same building.   The clothing hangs out to dry next to the structures.  I hate to think of the radiation that one is exposed to on a continuous basis under the towers.  People living there are probably unaware of this.  Even if they were, the decision to live here might be considered a difficult choice between two bad alternatives – affordable housing vs. long term health.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe occasional bird flew across the sky high above me as I stood on the terrace.  Sometimes it was a group of birds that I observed headed in what looked like a random direction, seemingly with a sense of purpose.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAn egret settled down on a coconut tree close to the level of the terrace I was on. It observed the human being pacing back and forth on the terrace for a while and then moved on.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMeanwhile, the the sun began its descent behind the buildings of Madipakkam at the end of yet another Chennai evening.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe cycle will continue.

Chennai Morning

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI am back home, visiting my parents once again.  I searched my blogs from the last few years, and realized that I have been making this trip more frequently in recent times.  And I have been posting pictures and writing my impressions about the experience over and over again.  It is a good thing.  The essential, core, feeling that comes with a trip home never seems to change regardless of the circumstances which bring me here, which tends to be different each time.  This time, I am here for my Dad’s 90th birthday celebration, a celebration of a life well lived, and still being lived.  I am happy to be home for the occasion.  Once again.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA