About: the world this week, 22 August to 28 August 2021, hunted down stories of Afghanistan, the coronavirus, the Paralympic Games, and what it means to have a heart of gold.


I couldn’t help returning to the COVID-19 story – we have become keep-the-distance friends, and it just keeps coming back.

We got into the pandemic mode in January 2020 and have been living it through with new gadgets – face masks, new techniques – physical distancing and washing our sins as often as possible. Then we learnt to bare our arms to get vaccination shots, beginning at the end of the year 2020. It’s a tribute to human ingenuity that we could find a medicine to counter the effects of the infection and begin a scientific fight against the coronavirus so quickly. Vaccines were green lighted for emergency use across the World after the mandated testing and trials, and the number of shots made, were added to the daily COVID-19 scoring sheets all over the World.

This week, finally, one Vaccine made it to the fully approved status: Pfizer’s COVID-19 Vaccine. The United States gave the approval on Monday, potentially boosting public confidence in vaccines. Before Pfizer’s vaccine gets lonely, finding a spot to jab, I’m sure others will join the ‘fight for the arm’.

I still find vaccine hesitancy a problem to deal with in my region of Salem District, Tamil Nadu, India. My ‘on-call’ car driver refuses to take the vaccine and has become awfully inventive in finding slippery excuses. I have told him that he will not be called to drive until he gets vaccinated: hope that drives him to take the vaccine. Many other stories are doing the rounds, with people typically saying, “nothing’s gonna happen to me, I won’t get infected”. Good luck to them!

Meanwhile, India achieved the milestone of giving at least one shot to more than half of its eligible population. And on Friday did a historic 10 million vaccination shots (equivalent to two New Zealand’s) on a single day. That’s path blazing!

Over the past weeks, one State in India, Kerala, stood as an outlier, steadfastly running away with over 50% of the total COVID-19 load in India. Looks like Kerala is determined to get everybody infected – for ‘natural’ vaccination – and the rest vaccinated by the newly discovered vaccines. You can reach the ‘famous herd immunity in double-quick time’? After previously winning many awards and citations for its ‘Model’ handling of the COVID-19 in the first wave, maybe Kerala is trying a new Model. God’s own country’s Model?

On another side of the World, another Model country, New Zealand, which recently went into lockdown over a single COVID-19 case, is seeing the numbers climb. And like the hard-to-come century in cricket, New Zealand is batting not to hit one – staying at the wicket. The are focussed on ‘zero – stump out’ the virus, whenever and wherever it enters the field.

We simply cannot declare victory over the coronavirus, not yet. In these infectious times, any time seems too soon. We need to make our own model of living with it, adopting best practices, based on evolving knowledge and the science of things.

Exit Afghanistan

The exodus from Afghanistan continues this week following the Taliban swinging into a power hold in the country. People fear a difficult, miserable life, under Taliban Rule, even as the Taliban asked the US not to encourage Afghans to leave the country. We need them, says the Taliban.

More than 111,000 people have been evacuated by the United States which vows to keep the deadline of 31 August 2021. The wild scenes outside Kabul Airport, of people clamouring to get inside the Airport and thereafter into a Plane out of the country was heart-wrenching.

The Afghanistan situation got into a messier quagmire when on Thursday over 170 people including 13 US service members were killed and about 200 wounded, when two suicide bombers and a gunman struck one of the main entrances to Kabul’s International Airport. This was just hours after western intelligence agencies warned of an imminent threat to the ongoing evacuation operation. Children were among those who died.

The IS (Islamic State)-Khorasan, a local branch of the dreaded ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham) claimed responsibility calling it a ‘martyrdom operation’.

Hardline fanaticism in any religion is unacceptable and religious heads should rein-in the extreme out swingers.

United States (US) President Joe Biden vowed to hunt down the killers, but is sticking to his target of getting US out of Afghanistan. Never has the US been in such a dire situation, in the recent past. And this is the deadliest attack on the US in Afghanistan. And it stings all the more, as it happened just when the US is a few days away from fully exiting the country, after 20 long years.

Meanwhile the last standing bastion untouched by the Taliban, The Panjshir Valley, is holding-up. It has been surrounded by the Taliban and it is more 444 hours since the 4 hours deadline to surrender was shouted out by the Taliban. Maybe the Lions of Panjshir could do a No.300 Spartan story here that would reverberate throughout History, as much as the original.

I thought for a moment on what I would do if I were the President or Prime Minister of a Country. Three things rush to my mind: 1- Recognise the Vice President of Afghanistan, leading the Panjshir Resistance, as the President/Government of Afghanistan; 2- Open refugee corridors for those resisting the Taliban, and 3- Impose sanctions on Pakistan and mobilise other countries to do the same. The World should be on the same page on militancy and terrorism. One man’s terrorist cannot be another man’s freedom-fighter.

Paralympic Games

Paralympics are international contests for athletes with disabilities that are normally held immediately after the Olympic Games, called the Paralympic Games.

The Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games finally opened on 24 August 2021, about a year later than planned – a year besotted by all kinds of difficulties.

These were the words of the Organisers: “Paralympic athletes know that no matter which way the wind blows, its power can be harnessed to move forward. They know that by being brave and spreading their wings, they can reach extraordinary heights.”

The opening ceremony was full of colour and celebration, strung on the concept of ‘We Have Wings’ intended to raise awareness of the courage of Paralympians. There were no crowds to watch the opening ceremony, as will be the case throughout the Games. The paralympic cauldron, placed lower than its Olympic counterpart so that competitors can feel closer to it, opened like a flower to embody vitality and hope, and was lit by a trio of Japanese Para-athletes.

In all, about 4,400 athletes from 162 national Paralympic Committees of countries will compete in 539 medal events across 22 sports in Japan’s Tokyo, the first city to hold the summer Paralympics twice, having first done so in 1964.

The Indian Oskar Schindler

With stories of exodus of people from Afghanistan hogging the media, I came across this beautiful story and it touched my heart. Most of us must have seen the Academy award-winning Steven Spielberg’s Holocaust movie, Schindler’s List, where a German Industrialist and Nazi Party member tactfully outmanoeuvred the Nazis and saved thousands of Jews from the harrowing death camps.

My story is based in India and how one man showed ‘pure gold good-heartedness’ to save nearly a thousand Polish refugees from the same Germans.

During the Second World War when Adolf Hitler attacked Poland in 1939, the Polish Army gathered about 500 women and 200 children and put on them on a Ship which they left at sea, to save them from the invading Germans. The Ship’s Captain was told to take them to any country that would be glad to give them shelter. The last thing the families told those leaving was, “if we are alive or survive, we’ll meet again”.

The Ship, with the Polish refugees onboard, set sail but was refused entry by many European and Asian Countries. It sailed on, and after a long journey and reached a Port in Iran, where it was again denied entry and thrown out. After wandering about in the sea, the Ship arrived at the Port of Bombay (now Mumbai) India. Most of India was then under British Rule and the British Governor of Bombay also refused permission.

The news then reached the ears of the Maharaja of Nawanagar, Jamnagar, Gujarat, Digvijaysinghji Ranjitsinji Jadeja, or Jam Saheb, as he was called. He became genuinely concerned, sent word and allowed the ship to dock in his Kingdom at a port near Jamnagar. He provided shelter to all the Polish woman and children and also arranged free education for the children, at an Army School. They were very well taken care of by Jam Saheb who regularly visited them with presents, and was affectionally called Bapu. He told them, “you may not have your parents, but I am now your father”.

The Polish refugees stayed in Jamnagar for nine years until World War-II ended and then returned to Poland. One of the refugees later became the Prime Minister of Poland. Even today, the descendants of these refugees come over to Jamnagar, every year, to pay their respects. That’s a wonderful India-Poland connection.

In Poland there are many roads and schemes named after Maharaja Jam Saheb and he is fondly remembered for the ‘goodness of heart’ of that day.

The Maharaja was awarded The Presidential Medal, Poland’s highest medal, when Poland broke the shackles of its wretched government at that time.

India’s School History Books need to be rewritten to reflect such glorious stories – many of which are yet to see the print-ink on paper, rather than the mischievous deeds of invaders.

More gold-tipped good-hearted stories, up ahead in the coming weeks. Stay with the World Inthavaaram.


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