The more observant and eagle-eyed amongst you, dear readers, would be asking yourselves why the innocuous headline to this essay is bookended by single quotation marks. The simple answer to that is because it is a quotation, the provenance of which is shrouded in some doubt. The best explanation I was able to glean from my assiduous research was that this expression, apparently, is claimed to be a translation of a traditional Chinese curse (nowadays we can blithely blame the Chinese for anything with impunity). Even allowing for learned scholars who attribute the epithet to the Chinese as possibly being apocryphal, the subtle meaning of the same is worth understanding. By all accounts this traditional malediction is normally used ironically, ergo, that life is better in ‘uninteresting times’ of peace and tranquility than in ‘interesting times,’ which are usually times of strife. Imagine life without war, conflict, disease, crime, chicanery and betrayal. Our news channels would be deadly dull. As the fellow facing the gallows and being given a royal reprieve at the last minute said, ‘No noose is good news.’ The fact that no actual Chinese source has been produced to prove this contention is neither here nor there. Our friends from the ‘forbidden city,’ the land that gave us Wuhan and its environs, are now fair game. Truth to tell, the origin of our headline quote predates the Wuhan fiasco by some distance. Still and all, we don’t have to be too picky about ‘being fair’ when it comes to a nation that has become a perennial pain in the posterior.
So much for that brief historical reflection. It occurs to me that by the irrefutable force of the argument just placed on the table, we appear to be living in extremely interesting times. Not a day passes when something or the other does not happen somewhere in the world that makes us sit up and take notice, usually with great concern. That being the case, I felt it would be a good idea to go through some of these events that have so enriched our lives in recent times contributing to its deserved nomenclature of being dubbed interesting. This is by no means a comprehensive list. Just a few issues that struck me off the top of my head, in a manner of speaking. I am sure you can add freely to this roster from your own varied experiences.
The continuing saga of the Coronavirus pandemic, its treatment in sickness and in health, the long and arduous wait for that magic bullet, namely the cure-all vaccine, the tragedy of millions dying around the world, the relentless fight by the medical fraternity under extreme conditions – all these have collectively dominated our consciousness for the best of part of the past twelve months. Now that the vaccine is at our doorstep, more or less, it is not all unbounded joy. Doubts are raised as to the relative merits and demerits of the different brands of vaccine on offer. There will always be Doubting Thomases. Even worse, particularly here in India, political parties could not have chosen a more inopportune moment to cast slurs and innuendoes on the soundness of the vaccine development programme, attempting to score cheap brownie points, succeeding only in leaving the populace in a state of confused ambivalence. One of the typically immature statements, one of many, that we have heard goes, ‘Why can’t the Prime Minister and all his senior cabinet colleagues take the vaccine if it was so safe?’ Asinine comments like this queer the pitch in what is otherwise being lauded, even by the World Health Organization as a job well done by India in handling the Covid19 pandemic. And word has just filtered through that the PM and his team will be putting their best arms forward, eftsoons. That should shut the Cassandras up good and proper. As the vaccination drive is well and truly launched, let us leave it there in hopes of a happy ending to this sordid chapter in human history.
Another event that has worldwide ramifications, is the result of the elections in the United States of America. Historically, these elections to choose the man or woman who would grace the Oval Office in The White House, draws billions of eyeballs around the world. Not without reason. If America catches a cold, the rest of the world usually contracts double pneumonia. They are definitely suffering big time thanks to Covid19, but the Biden – Trump confrontation has managed to hog the headlines for some months now. It was a close and acrimonious election. Biden is the popular winner while Trump comes out of it looking like a very sore loser. More so as he ungraciously decided to absent himself from the swearing-in ceremony. Newspapers are full of pun filled headlines like, ‘Don leaves. Welcome a new Dawn.’ As this missive goes to press Biden, along with Kamala, have been sworn in. Doubtless Trump will be sworn at. The Democrats ought to be celebrating, but the pandemic and Trump’s shenanigans have left little time for quiet reflection, leave alone boisterous celebrations. The latest shocking invasion of the Capitol by Trump’s supporters, leaving several dead and injured, is a shameful blot on America’s hollow claim of being the most developed nation in the world. All that excessive beef consumption might be good for muscularity, but the brain cells take a severe beating. They should eat more fish, as advocated by Jeeves. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will have their hands full repairing the damage done to their country’s image. Lest we forget, Trump’s huge voter base will continue to cast a long shadow over the new administration in the years to come.
China, apart from its seminal role in donating to the rest of the world something the world wanted like a hole in the head, continues to be a right royal pest on India’s borders. In cohorts with its faithful pet, Pakistan, nary a day passes without some skirmish or the other taking place. India is having to expend massive human and financial resources along its huge, uncontrollable and very porous borders to keep the Chinese at bay. In turn, China keeps playing hot and cold, their strength coming from their power as a trading powerhouse. Many nations, who threatened to break ties with them, continue to consort with them on the quiet. Talk about sleeping with the enemy! India finds itself between and betwixt when it comes to bilateral issues with China. Some might say, a rock and a hard place. We keep hearing about diplomatic dialogue being kept alive, like it’s on a ventilator, but aggressive postures are more than evident across the Line of Control. Once the freezing winter thaws, we could expect more action of an eyeball-to eyeball and fisticuffs nature. We will keep watching this space for more interesting news.
Other developments of interest in the country include constant bickering between political parties with important state elections just a few months away, the farm lobby not giving an inch on the Farm Laws and the Government appearing to back off from a full frontal, the hyperventilating media’s perennially angry young man Arnab Goswami’s troubles with alleged Television Rating Points manipulation and his non-stop tilting at the Maharashtra Government’s windmills, child rape and murder being reported with alarming frequency – yes, you might not be far off in saying that we are living in extremely interesting times. The stock market keeps rising so steeply and no one seems to know why. Is this a mirage or a bubble that would suddenly burst and come crashing down like a ton of bricks? That would make life unbearably interesting, as there is nowhere else to park our meagre funds to stay afloat and ahead of inflation, what with plummeting interest rates. The forthcoming Union Budget is eagerly awaited and should provide a few interesting clues.
That said, I would like to end this grim contemplation with some really good, read uninteresting, news. India’s stupendous victory in the just concluded Test series against Australia was such soothing balm for a deeply wounded and divided nation. To beat the Aussies in their own backyard, against insuperable odds, including racist taunts, which are all too well documented for me to detail or repeat here gave us so much pleasure and pride. For just one, brief, shining moment, we basked vicariously in the brilliant spotlight with this young team of cavalier and courageous colts. After Rishabh Pant’s heroics at the Gabba, the newspapers (as is their wont) went into overdrive with puns. ‘The Rishabh Pantomime,’ ‘Aussies left Panting,’ ‘Oz Pants taken off,’ ‘Blood and gore at the Gabbatoir,’ to give just four underwhelming samples. A salutary warning to those, like me, who cringe at excessive punning. Expect more. In the midst of it all, skipper Ajinkya Rahane’s wonderful gesture after the game, to present Aussie off-spinner Nathan Lyon with an Indian shirt for completing 100 Tests, was a standout moment of pure class. The spirit of the gentleman’s game was restored. All we need now is for a mischief monger to suggest that some fat cat Indian business tycoon had paid off the Aussies to tank the game. Now that would make it really interesting.
To round off, I can only say that if the mysterious Chinese wag who construed the term ‘interesting times’ is viewed as being a blight on our lives, I am all for a life of ‘uninteresting times.’ Or as Shakespeare might have put it, ‘Give me excess of it.’