Turning, he called out to the guard outside, “Ask my special guards to meet me”.
Two robed men came in. Omichand commanded, “Follow that ayah who accompanied the English woman. Find out all that the woman knows and who all she has met over the last few days. Do what you need to do but ensure that details of Joba’s movements do not get around”.
The next morning, the Captain Commandant’s household was in a tizzy. His wife’s trusted ayah had vanished in the night. Initial suspicion that she had run away with some valuables was quickly dispelled when nothing was found to be missing. Jim got the fort security to investigate but they came up with no answers. The mystery got solved after a few days in a rather gruesome manner when the ayah’s dead body was found floating in the Lal Dighi with her throat slit.
The above is an excerpt from the award-winning, ‘The Chronicler of the Hooghly’.
The newly discovered Omicron variant of the original COVID 19 virus strain is under the microscope of genetic investigation. Initial studies indicate that the variant has a surprisingly high number of mutations ( about thirty) in the spike protein of the virus, allowing it to spread much more easily compared to the other variants. Field reports seem to substantiate this.
The world is on the threshold of the third year of the pandemic. To try and understand what might happen going forward, we could draw some lessons from the past.
The last major pandemic of the Spanish flu of a century back waned in its third year. We might wonder as to how that happened. There had been no vaccine then and consequently, the impact of the pandemic had been far more deadly in the initial years. Broad estimates indicate that 500 million people, which was a quarter of the world population at that time, had gotten infected as the virus spread around the globe through ships. Around one-tenth of those infected died which would work out to fifty million deaths! But by the third year of the pandemic, two shifts had taken place. Mankind had naturally developed antibodies and had to cope with a milder infection with the virus mutating to a much less dangerous variant which has remained with us since.
Now let’s jump a hundred years into the future to the present. The virus keeps on mutating as is its wont. We have been witness to the Alpha, Beta, Delta and now the Omicron variants. To date, the Delta variant, which has been the most aggressively predominant form, accounts for 99% of recorded infections.
But now comes the Omicron. Barely a week has passed since researchers in Botswana and South Africa alerted the world about this new strain. But the variant is already seen in more than twenty countries around the globe. Omicron is seen to have an infection spreading capability of more than three to five times that of the Delta variant. There would be no place to hide from the Omicron.
Today I read in the papers of a doctor in Bangalore, one of the two known infected individuals in that city, saying that ‘apart from body ache and low fever, he felt absolutely fine’. South African doctors too have reported that though the Omicron variant has the capability to evade vaccine induced immunity and reinfect an individual, it creates mild illness symptoms with almost nil requirement of hospitalization. Clearly, the Omicron is well on its way to displacing the Delta as the predominant COVID 19 spreader. And as it spreads and reinfects more and more of the world population, it also shows us the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel.
Why do I say that?
More than one and a half centuries back, Charles Darwin expounded his theory of evolution by natural selection. In it, he said that organisms best adapted to their environment are more likely to survive and flourish. As organisms continue to mutate and have variations, there would be the inevitable selection of those which possess advantageous variations allowing them to multiply and survive.
So, it is in the case of virus strains. That variant which can spread the most and infect the host in a manner that the spread does not get restricted would take over. This is what happened in the Spanish flu pandemic. And my sense is this is what is now happening in the current pandemic with the Omicron taking center stage. Omicron impacts humans mildly allowing it to remain undetected and spread faster and faster. With new cycles of infections and reinfections along with natural as well as vaccine induced antibodies within the human population, the world would eventually reach a sustainable balance between the virus and its host.
If my above surmise is correct, the Omicron variant might just be heralding the beginning of the end of the current pandemic.
‘The fire of communal violence was spreading. There existed enough baggage of distrust and enmity between two of the major communities in the country to fan it.
News trickled in about the incendiary speech made by the Bengal Chief Minister Shaheed Suhrawardy and the ensuing cycle of violence which would later come to be known as the Great Calcutta Killings. Since both their larger families were in Bengal, Sujit and Bina were concerned and sent postcards enquiring about the safety and health of everyone. They even offered family members to leave Calcutta for some time and come and stay with them in New Delhi. Mercifully, they got back replies by post that there was nothing to worry about at the moment and all were safe.
But the Calcutta killings and the subsequent incidents of communal violence that followed in several parts of North India were but a trailer of what was to come…………..’
The above is an excerpt from the story Ashtami, part of the Chronicler of the Hooghly.
Book of the Month, Nazm -e- Hayat literary award winner. Available worldwide on Amazon.
Crossings is a Journal of English Studies and is a crossover vehicle into the realms of contemporary English Literature.
I was delighted to see Mr. Rakesh Chandra’s review of the Chronicler of the Hooghly and other stories published in the journal of literary studies ‘Crossings’ of the University of Liberal Arts ( ULAB) Bangla Desh.
I am posting below the very detailed review of the book that has been published.
(Salutations to You O Divine Mother, I Invoke You; Who is the daughter of the Mountain; By Whose presence the whole World is filled with Joy; For Whom the whole World is a Divine Play and Who is Praised by Nandi, I Invoke You O Devi Who Dwell on the Summit of the Vindhyas, the Best of the Mountains; Who give Joy to Lord Vishnu as His sister ….)
That once a year rendition in the voice of Biren Krishna Bhadra.
Aswiner sarada prate beje utheche alokomonjir,
Dharanir bohirakashi ontorhito meghomala
(In the month of Aswin, amidst the meanderings of autumn, resounds the light of the sun like anklets
As the clouds disappear from the skies above the world)
Listening to that Chandi path chants and the music in a half asleep, half wakeful state, has always been an intensely personal and endearing experience since my childhood.
I recall my father putting on the All India Radio station at dawn all those decades back, as we all huddled back under the blankets to sleep-awake through Mahishasur Mardini during those wonderful autumn laced mornings with that slight nip in the air. I have tried to continue that tradition.
This year as I lay on my bed listening to Mahishasur Mardini, I saw in my mind’s eye folks who had been part of me since childhood. My father, my father-in-law, other family members, friends. They were standing in two rows and smiling at me. I could sense the love and the warmth seep towards me through the smiles. I luxuriated in the enveloping feeling and closed my eyes. I woke up to find that it was but a dream. Al those who I saw looking and smiling at me were no longer part of my life today, having left for their heavenly abode.
Mahalaya is the day of making offerings to our departed forefathers. According to the Puranas, our patriarchal generations come closer to the living world at this time and this is when they need to be remembered and thanked in our prayers.
Did my dream have anything to do about my remembrance of all the departed souls and them reciprocating back?
The name ‘Narayan’ literally means the Eternal Man. The name is derived from the Sanskrit words, nara, meaning “man” and ayana, meaning “resting place.” Narayan is the name of a Vedic deity who is also believed to be the supreme Hindu God, Vishnu.
Thus ‘Rupnarayan’ might be taken to imply ‘the beauty of Man in his eternity’.
The river Rupnarayan, emerging as it does in the Chota Nagpur foothills, twists and turns like a snake towards the South East till it unites with the mighty Hooghly.
The Chota Nagpur continental plateau in Eastern India is all of 65,000 square kilometres and spreads through the states of Jharkhand, Bihar, West Bengal, Odisha and Chattisgarh.
The Rupnarayan’s place of origin in Chota Nagpur holds another mystery. This is the remains of an ancient civilisation replete with its collection of artifacts consisting of copper and bronze vessels, ornaments and magical figures of men and animals. A civilisation that is believed to be contemporary to Mesopotamia, Egypt and the Indus valley.
As their waters mix, the Hooghly and the Rupnarayan would surely be murmuring to each other of the Rise and the follies of Man through the ages.
We spent a couple of days at Rupasi Rupnarayan Kuthir resort on the banks of the Rupnarayan near Kolaghat….
Collaboration between two authors can be a virtuous cycle of learning for both.
In her review of ‘The Chronicler of the Hooghly and other stories, author Manali Desai writes:
All the stories compare a time in India (especially Kolkata) from pre-independence vs now, making us ponder whether things have really changed and also highlighting the fact that ‘the past repeats itself’ and some actions/decisions have their impacts resonated through ages.
The writing style doesn’t always paint a pretty or desolate picture, but in fact, manages to preserve the beauty of simple simplicity by interlinking the heritage of Kolkata with commonality. Though the colours are a bit subdued and faded, but they carry lineage and ancestry.
The most striking feature of the book is how the author has let his creativity rewrite history. It comes out especially well in “The Chronicler of the Hooghly” where the paths have been intertwined with well-known historical figures of Bengal.
The writing is simple and yet holds the capacity to make a reader fall in love with old Calcutta making them curious about the city’s past.
The stories are thought-provoking and represent various human nature/emotions like greed, sadness, anger but the most applaud-worthy part about the actions in each story is how they bring home the message of karmic ends.
In my review of Manali’s book, I had said :
“I was coaxed to read the book by a Facebook friend. I had downloaded it in Kindle a while back but could complete the reading only today.
Author Manali Desai took me on a journey. A journey inhabited by three millennials Ayesha Banerjee, Viren Joshi and Abhi Agrawal. A journey which spanned Mumbai, Kolkata and Chandigarh. A journey into the mind and the world of the Millennial. And I have come out enriched!
The prologue containing Ayesha’s poetry recital is at once heart wrenching, as it punches the reader in the guts. Showcase as it does one of the evils of our societal mindset.
Adopting an easy and racy writing style, Manali’s narrative does manage to operate at two levels. At one level, the tale is one of the proverbial romance triangle and what that shows up as in social interactions and conversations – during morning walks, in the college canteen and situations. At another level exists the unsureness and the confusion about making a choice. For me the end was somewhat abrupt. Apart from this a nice read.
I would urge Manali Desai to keep on writing.”
In our author collaborative session, we had an interesting discussion on the above aspects.
The Pandemic has been with us now for more than one and a half years. A virulent new strain, the Delta variant, is the new weapon unleashed by the wily COVID 19 virus to negate all that the vaccines have been doing. Conspiracy theories abound. We look on helplessly through a tunnel with no apparent light visible at the other end yet.
The West and its much vaunted ideal of human freedom is on the backfoot. As US retreats, Afghanistan has once again proved to be the graveyard of Empires- earlier the British, then the USSR and now Pax Americana. The swiftness of the Taliban takeover has been shocking as they begin the task of taking the country back into the medieval ages.
Almost two decades back, US President Bush had declared, “Engendering democracy across the Middle East ‘must be a focus of American policy’ for decades to come”. Today democracy is sputtering like a flame about to go out, with the failure of the much-vaunted Arab Spring and the Middle East in a far worse situation than previously.
We are into an irreversible global warming era, possibly the most serious climate crisis faced by Mankind. July 2021 was the hottest month ever recorded on the planet. An extreme heat wave in Canada at a searing high of 49.6 deg. C. was a one-thousand-year weather event. Floods ripped through geographically distant countries like Germany and China. Drought stalked others. It is now being widely claimed in scientific circles that the Arctic would soon be devoid of ice with the resultant rise of sea water levels and low-lying areas going under.
The above are glimpses of a frightening and dystopian future we are headed into.
Now here is the other story.
In the last month alone, one billion people have been vaccinated against COVID 19. By the end of this year more than half the people on the planet would have received the vaccine. Truly a stupendous achievement in terms of swiftness of response and effectiveness.
The COVID-19 crisis has led to a veritable explosion of scientific progress in the tinkering of genetic information flow and the formulation of proteins, the ultimate nano machines. Trials are currently being done for protein-based vaccines for diseases ranging from Cancer to HIV.
As we speak, electricity generation from the clean sources of solar, wind, hydro and nuclear has outstripped that from ‘dirty’ coal. Closer home in India, the wind and solar generating capacity has exceeded the milestone of 100GW output. In more and more countries, low carbon economy valuations are rising rapidly. The reason is economic. The average cost of power generation from clean sources is now half that from fossil fuels.
As investors spot a rising opportunity, more money is getting committed to climate investment funds in a day than used to be raised in years a short time back. Three weeks ago, two global asset managers, TPG and Brookfield, closed a combined $12.4 billion in climate investment funds.
Reforestation and conservation funding is taking place in countries as disparate as Indonesia and Bolivia who are supporting equatorial rain forests to United states and Canada who are focusing on wetlands, grasslands and coastal areas and the regeneration of flora and fauna therein.
These are but a few stories of a Utopian future we seem to be headed into.
So which future, whether the Dystopian or the Utopian, would come true?
As Morpheus says to Neo in the Matrix:
“……This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill—the story ends, you…. believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill……. and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. Remember: all I’m offering is the truth. Nothing more….”
Is our future really like the story of the blue and red pills and the need for us to make a choice of the path?
Or could it be that there is no choice after all? The two futures, dystopian and utopian, would always exist together, like the two sides of a coin. It would all come down to our world view and the context lens we choose to use. If our context was one of dystopia, we would see signals of collapse in every situation we look at. Similarly, if we were to deploy our utopian context, we would notice the signals of renewal and hope all around.
Our story, the shared and evolving narrative that it is, would always contain both dystopia and utopia, both collapse and renewal. It would depend on us which context lens we choose to deploy, which future we would wish to live into.
“What we do makes a difference, and we have to decide what kind of a difference we want to make.” Jane Goodall, English Primatologist & Anthropologist
Acknowledgement: The above piece is inspired by ‘Collapse, Renewal and Rope of History’ written by Angus Hervey, Future Crunch Journal, Aug. 24th 2021