About: the stories of the world, this week – weeks between 17 July and 20 August bundled-up as one.
I had been on a work and writing break travelling to London during the last week of July & early August to spent quality time with my son living and working in the United Kingdom. And this is an attempt to bring my weekly World Inthavaaram ‘up-to-week’.
School Burns, and a Flight
While I was eyeing the Anna Airport at Chennai to lift me off to London’s Heathrow, I had to drive through Kaniyamoor, near Chinnasalem in Kallakurichi, Tamil Nadu. On 13 July 22, a 17 years old girl, studying in Class 12 at the Sakthi Matriculation School Group-The ECR International CBSE (Central Board of Secondary Education) School, was found dead in the hostel premises. The girl boarding in a hostel room on the third floor was suspected to have died by suicide by jumping to the ground from her floor, late in the night. The fallen girl was spotted by the school watchman, who then rushed her to the Kallakurichi Government Hospital, but was declared brought dead. The girl is said to have left behind a suicide note saying that she was driven to the decision due to torture and harassment by two teachers, who pushed her to study harder!
The cause of death mentioned in the autopsy report was multiple injuries and haemorrhage. However, the girl’s family contested the finding saying that her death could not be suicide. In a complaint to police, the family said that she had sustained injuries prior to her death and was sexually assaulted; they held the school management responsible and refused to take possession of the body for a burial until it was investigated. This led to a hot, simmering situation.
Then events took a violent turn, when hundreds of people- mostly youngsters and juveniles – suddenly appeared like ants from an anthill. They swarmed into the school and began damaging property, burning school buses, and setting fire to class rooms and documents. The local police was found wanting, sleeping on the job, and when they woke up, the School Campus was found transformed into a war zone. A few arrests followed. And the case is under investigation. Who started the fire?
After a non-stop over 10 hours flight, on landing in the United Kingdom, I found London’s Heathrow Airport charming; Immigration was a breeze – lightening fast – compared to the long queues on departure and arrival at Chennai. I had read about the horrific chaos at Heathrow and was prepared for the worst, but was pleasantly surprised with the silk-like smoothness in Terminal 5.
A New President and Vice President for India
India commissioned a new President, its 15th, and celebrated the elevation of Droupadi Murmu, 64, as the first Indian President from a tribal community -one of the lowest rungs of Indian society – on 25 July 22. She took over from outgoing President, Ram Nath Kovind.
President Droupadi Murmu is the first person from the State of Odisha to hold the Office and the first President, to be born after Independence. That’s a lot of firsts! I am not aware of any other major nation with an indigenous woman leader. The world should bow in respect!
Meanwhile, a new Vice President of India – its 14th – Jagdeep Dhankhar, 71, hailing from the Sate of Rajasthan was inaugurated on 11 August 2022. He took over from outgoing Vice-President, Venkaiah Naidu.
Jagdeep Dhankhar was formerly a Governor of the ‘tough unruly State’ of West Bengal and also a Supreme Court Lawyer. He will need all these skills and much more: to manage and control debates as Chairman of the Upper House of Parliament – The Rajya Sabha-through which nearly all Bills, made by the Government in the Lower House, pass through before becoming Law.
Both, the President and the Vice President are candidates put-up by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and they won the elections on a cool jog, leaving the Opposition at the starting-blocks, with their tails firmly between their legs.
Over two weeks ago, The World Health Organization (WHO) declared monkeypox a public health emergency, which means that without a coordinated international response, this could escalate into a pandemic. How did we get here?
Monkeypox has been around since at least the 1970s. But it has largely stayed confined to Central and West Africa. That all changed in the past months, when cases started popping up around the world. There are now more than 20,000 recorded cases in over 70 countries. And together 10 countries account for 89% of the world’s cases, including the United States – 5175 cases, Spain -4298, Germany -2677, the United Kingdom-2546, France-1955, Brazil-1369, the Netherlands-879, Canada-803, Portugal-633, and Italy-479.
We are just beginning to heave a sigh of relief on the slowly, but surely, diminishing COVID19 pandemic and now this one is poking us!
Straight to Taiwan
While all this was happening, the water in the Taiwan Strait reached boiling point and many fish felt out of water. The United States (US) House of Representatives, Speaker Nancy Pelosi made a daring visit to Taiwan despite China trying its darnedest in preventing the visit. But, why?
Taiwan is a self-governing democracy, which China claims as its own territory. Nancy Pelosi is the highest-ranking US political person to visit Taiwan since 1997. China blew hot and cold, throwing all kinds of temper tantrums and warnings, including moving its Navy Fleet near to Taiwan, conducting war-time exercises and military drills in the Strait between China and Taiwan. It even test-firing missiles from mainland China. For a moment we thought of another ‘Russia like special operation in Ukraine’ developing in Taiwan. But then, Nancy did it, and in time was followed by another US Delegation for business-as-usual. Last heard was China’s endless growl.
Thambi’s Chess Olympiad
India hosted the 44th Chess Olympiad at Chennai between 28 July and 9 August 2022, with Thambi (younger brother – dhoti & shawl clad with a chess-horse head) as a mascot at the Convention Centre of Four Points by Sheraton in Mahabalipuram, near Chennai. The Opening and Closing Ceremony was held at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Chennai: they showcased the fabulous, rich and expansive culture of India played on a Chess Board, and the performances were like none before in a Chess Olympiad. And this is the first Chess Olympiad ever to take place in India.
Initially, the State Government of Tamil Nadu ran a parochial black & white campaign with only the State’s Chief Minister’s photograph on the posters, but was forced by the Courts to include that of the Prime Minister (and President). Well, that was obvious, wonder how they missed it, wearing dark glasses indoors has an effect on sight?
The Chess Olympiad is organised by the Federation International Des Eches (FIDE) or the World Chess Federation, which consists of Open and Women’s Tournaments as well as several events designed to promote the game of Chess. It was originally planned to be held in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia; later moved to Moscow and scheduled in August 2020. But was yet again postponed due to COVID19, and finally relocated to Chennai following the start of the Russian-Ukraine War.
FIDE has been in the business of organising World Chess Championships since 1948.
A total of 1737 participants moved their pieces in the Open and 800 in the Women’s Events. Registered teams were 188 from 186 nations in the Open and 162 from 160 nations in the Women’s.
Oliwia Kiolbasa of Poland was adjudged the best individual player in the Women’s Event. And David Howell of England was best individual player in the Open Event.
Commonwealth Games: Wealth of Medals for India
India is fast sprinting to becoming a great sporting nation, spike marks of which were visible in the 22nd Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, UK, held between 28 July and 8 August 2022, earning a ton of medals. 72 countries participated in the Games.
Australia led the medal rush winning 67 Gold, 57 Silver, and 54 Bronze, Totalling 178. India came fourth with 22 Gold, 16 Silver, and 23 Bronze totalling 61 medals, behind England (176), and Canada (92).
India won its first ever medal in the Lawn Bowls event, after the Women’s Fours team won gold besides many other amazing wins. And finished-off as the best nation in Badminton, Table Tennis, Wrestling, and Weightlifting, and second best in Boxing.
’Think thrice’ before wrestling with India?
Satanic Versus: the Return
Salman Rushdie the Author of the much banned novel, Satanic Verses, had the Satan upon him when Hadi Matar, 24, a Shiite Muslim American of Lebanese descent, stabbed him multiple times in the neck and torso, while beginning to deliver a lecture in New York, United States. He survived to live another day, and will probably write more verses in the years to come.
Indian-born Salman Rushdie spent years in hiding after Iran, under Ayatollah Khomeini, offered a bounty – issued a fatwa- to kill him over his novel ‘The Satanic Verses’, which it termed as blasphemous against Islam and insulting the sacred beliefs of Muslims.
The book follows the tale of two Indian Muslim actors who magically survive a plane hijacking. As they fall from the Sky one of them transforms into Archangel Gabriel while the other morphs into the devil. The book explores dislocation, nature of good and evil, doubt, and the loss of religious faith.
Novelists, Academics, and Journalists who dared criticise or question Islamic beliefs have faced similar treats or condemnation from Islamic religious heads. They are either murdered, arrested, flogged or forced into hiding or exile.
India, under Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, was the first country to ban the Satanic Verses just nine days after it was published. Those were the hey-days of misadventures by Rajiv Gandhi when he had a brute majority in Parliament and when he overturned a Supreme Court ruling which ordered maintenance to be paid to a divorced Muslim woman, Shah Bano.
India @ 75
India celebrated its 75th Independence Day with the Tricolour (Trianga) flag flying all across the country like never before. People enthusiastically hoisted the national flag atop their homes, business places, and offices. Others flew the flag in their social media profile pictures. And suddenly the flag was visible everywhere. What does the Indian flag mean?
The top most colour Saffron means strength and courage, renunciation and disinterestedness; the middle White means peace and truth, light to guide; and the bottom Green means fertility, growth, and auspiciousness of the land. The central Dharma Chakra, Ashok Chakra, with 24 spokes means the Law of Dharma. The wheel represents the dynamism of a peaceful change, which India must not resist and move forward. Life in movement, death is stagnation. It also signifies the Wheel of Duty: 24 religious paths of duty. E.g., the first is Chasity – live a simple life, 2nd is Health…
When India obtained its independence from British Colonial Rule it consisted of about 562 princely states, each with its own army, police, stamps, and currency. It is well known that Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel- called the Iron-Man of India, as India’s first Home Minister was singularly responsible for bringing all these States together to unite as the Republic of India.
Behind the iron-man, there is one man, almost forgotten and an unsung Architect of the India integration story, Vappala Pangunni Menon (V P Menon) who dextrously stitched India together, along with Patel. Menon was Vallabhbhai Patel’s chosen Secretary who he personally requested to be allocated to him from the then Civil Services that the British had established and left behind.
Previously, before Independence, Menon had put together a plan for transfer of power to India and Pakistan, furiously drafting it on his typewriter working on a punishing schedule. His plan was the chosen one. And after independence, Menon was hoping to retire into the sunset, but was called to rise to action by Patel.
Vallabhbhai Patel and Menon spent an insane amount of time travelling to the various Indian Kingdoms goading them to fall in line and integrate with India by signing the Instrumentation of Accession Act. They used a carrot-and-stick approach spending over two tortuous years engaging in negotiations with the eccentric princely rulers. While Patel wore the tough face, Menon was the lubricant, mixing subtlety, charm, and even ruthlessness. In about 2 years, 500 princely states dissolved and re-formed as 14 new States of India. The rest, they say, is History.
V P Menon, who had not gone to college, began life as a worker in a gold mine and rose to the top of India’s Civil Service over a period of 37 years. He began his career in the Imperial Bureaucracy as typist, stenographer, and clerk. Menon served as the Constitutional Advisor to the last three Viceroys during British Rule in India, and he was the only Indian in Mountbatten’s inner team. And being in rooms with different personalities and big egos taught him about negotiation and drafting. He learnt, absorbed, and adapted. He famously said, “You can only learn if you start at the bottom”.
After 1947 he faded away from the limelight and received no official honours for the stupendous work he had done. He died aged 75 leaving behind three children from two marriages. His funeral was small and private.
How many of us remember V P Menon? The Statue of Unity misses a companion! With so many statues coming-up all over India why not one for Menon?
The United Kingdom – Now
The race to become Prime Minister of the United Kingdom has narrowed down to former Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak and former Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, with the former reported to be a step ahead, on votes. Meanwhile, the outgoing Prime Minister Boris Johnson is keeping the Conservative Party Seat warm. The new Prime Minister is expected to be announced on 5 September 2022, when the Tories vote for a new Leader.
More colourful stories, sewn together from all over the world, coming-up in the weeks ahead. Live with World Inthavaaram.