MA DURGA CAME riding on a horse this year, signalling a season of war and turbulence. When the mother brings peace, she sails in a boat.
Divinity, having let men specialise in havoc, has an explanation for death but not an answer. Old men ignite and reignite wars in which the innocent young die to appease another round of bloodlust in the history of timeless hatred: young lives lost in their infancy or prime; of innocent, hapless babies killed in the rubble of wreckage of air strikes, victims who fill silent graveyards while revenge, reborn in generation after generation, screams for blood again and again. Death turns into an arid, countless number. Television and intrusive social media have brought death into every home, which is a good thing, for ignorance is no longer an alibi. I seek the illusion of evasion when the images become unbearably searing, switching to another channel from the comfort zone of illusion, even as the mind and the heart recognise that this is the option of the coward. Is scripture any solace? No. War rages through the annals of religion, from origin to eternity; and in each narrative it is the young, still yearning for the years in which they can fulfil their dreams, who die and are quickly forgotten while the brutal old trick us by offering some meaningless medal. Heroism cannot bring you back to life.
The most famous metaphor of death is the image of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in the New Testament: death, famine, war and conquest, or death and its three synonyms. War remains the stark face of death, but its synonyms must be redefined for modern times when Big Business is the Big Power: Energy, Technology, such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), and plagues of the 21st century like Covid.
There will be many, not least those vested in the future of tech, who will object, with reason, to the inclusion of AI in the Armageddon Four. For me, the past has always been less attractive than the future; new technology is always welcome. But what is one to make of this bit of information published in the Times, London, on October 5? The chief executive of OpenAI, Sam Altman (net worth, at least $250 million and rising with every word one writes) believes that AI could cause “significant harm” to the world, even perhaps extinction. He keeps “a stash of guns, gold, antibiotics, potassium iodide and gun masks in his California home in case civilisation implodes”. Is this over the top Californian, or does he know more than he is telling?
Cloud stopped play. I suppose this is entirely logical if you are playing cricket in Paradise.
We went up to Dharamshala for the weekend in search of good cricket and found a fabulous experience. The upper range of the Himalayas was capped with a sprinkle of early snow; the hill city echoed with the cheerful goodwill that only sport, and the expectation of the national team’s impending victory, can bring. There was bonhomie in multi-tier restaurants where dosa joined eggs and toast for breakfast, and mountain trout topped the menu for lunch and dinner. The streets were alive with the sound of Tibet, thanks to the sanctuary created for the Dalai Lama and his innumerable exiled followers in McLeod Ganj, a town nestled on a higher ridge. On Sunday, the day of the match between India and New Zealand, excitement was palpable as crowds walked and motored towards the highest stadium for international cricket. The continual roar of the crowd during play was infectious. But no one was quite prepared for the sudden fairy-tale descent of clouds on the ground in the middle of India’s innings. This was not silky mist, far less a dense fog; we were inside a translucent cloud, with enough visibility for chirpy merriment but not enough for a cricket ball travelling at 140kmph. The umpires called a halt; but the unperturbed spectators used the break for analysis and diagnosis. Every Indian at a cricket game is an expert. Those spectators who did not begin as one finished as one by the time India won.
We knew the law of the skies. Every cloud is a passerby.
The hard cash for cricket comes from television; spectators bring in soft cash. The biggest spenders are advertisers who know what aspiring Indians want, not what they need. The toss-up among the spenders is between male fragrance and pan masala, a heady concoction of betel leaf, areca, clove, mint, tobacco, and much else. The whiffy fragrance is less injurious, and less lucrative, but still profitable enough.
Who would have given any odds on a homonym for fog being the name of a successful male deodorant, but there it is. If you can sell aspiration, keep walking to the bank. One advertisement for a male perfume shows a young woman being blown over by a muscled stud who has saved himself from being blown away in a sudden storm by clinging to a pole. As she walks past the she says: “Baqi sab to udh gaya, lekin aapka khushboo rah gaya [Everything else has gone with the wind, but your perfume has stayed].”
It reminded me of more than one political party: Everything else has gone, but the arrogance has remained.
LONG LIVE THE CHEESE!
Random reading is good for the soul; so thank heaven for the British media, which makes random a staple of its menu. Where else could one have learnt that King Charles III still wants to conquer France? His coronation gave everyone a chance to take another look at his motto. It is still the one thought up by Henry Monmouth, or Henry V, king from 1413 to 1422: Dieu et mon droit. God, and my right over France. It’s still written in French to reinforce the claim first made in 1340 by Henry V’s great-grandfather, Edward III. British royalty may have lost its powers, but not its airs.
It is surprising how long these fantasies lie in the woodwork, waiting for their moment. In the spring of 1940, with Hitler on the ascendant and the whole of Europe in the grip of the Nazi threat, Winston Churchill proposed to Prime Minister Paul Reynaud of France that their empires merge under a common monarch. Clever. Since France had abandoned its monarchy after Napoleon III was crushed by the Prussians in 1870, there was only one monarch left between the two countries. Paris sniffed and changed the subject. More remarkably, France revived the proposal in 1956 just before the Anglo-French invasion of Egypt. This time, the British refused. I assume they had realised that no one could rule the land of Asterix and Jean-Paul Sartre. As the French war hero and saviour of the republic, General Charles de Gaulle once remarked, “How can anyone govern a country with 246 varieties of cheese?”
De Gaulle was wrong. Not about France but about cheese. France has nearly a thousand types of cheese.
Would Yale have been Yale if it was called Dummer College? It was named after a donor called Elihu Yale who made his money in the usual dubious fashion while governor of Madras in the service of the East India Company in the 1790s. But Jeremiah Dummer had donated far more than Elihu Yale and claimed naming rights. The chaps in charge were not dumb. They didn’t think it was such a good idea to call an academic institution Dummer. Voila! Yale University.