Friday, 27 August 2021

A Picture Worth 1000 Words

This could well be one of those epoch-making images that history throws up once in a while, especially during crisis situations such as war, calamities, or rebellions. These images stand out from the routine ones churned out by photojournalists and others to describe the situation of that time.

They capture the joy, pain, hope, and despair of the people who are caught in that particular crisis. They stand the test of time and have a better recall value than others.

This image released by the US air force is part of a video that shows Afghans swarming the Kabul airport tarmac as a Boeing C-17 Globemaster III tries to take off.

The Taliban’s capture of Kabul has evoked despair among the populace as the horrors of their earlier rule two decades ago is still fresh in their minds. Hence they desperately want to get out of the country whatever it takes. This particular image vividly captures that desperation.

As the US air force aircraft rolled down the tarmac of the Hamid Karzai International Airport, hundreds of people ran alongside the plane while some even gained a foothold on its undercarriage. It almost resembled the people clinging on to the windows and roofs of a suburban train in Mumbai - but in this case, death was a certainty.

US air force officials later said the crew decided to “depart the airfield as quickly as possible” that day because of the deteriorating security situation. Crushed human remains were found inside the wheel well after the transport plane landed in Qatar. Media reports later said almost all of them fell to their deaths in and around Kabul city. 

This image is in league with that of the anonymous ‘tank man’ who stands defiantly as armoured carriers rolled into Beijing before the Tiananmen Square massacre of agitating students in 1989.

Or the image of a young Vietnamese girl running down a road naked along with others following a napalm attack during the infamous Vietnam war. Or moving further down the history, the photo of a US sailor kissing a woman in a nurse’s uniform in Times Square on Aug. 14, 1945. The picture evoked relief and euphoria marking the end of the horrific World War II.

These photos were captured on the spur of the moment, like any other image, by nimble-fingered photographers, but they soon developed a life of their own and the rest is history.

Also Read: Bangalore Short Takes

Sunday, 2 May 2021

Pandemic Shadow Over Twitter


Logging on to Twitter is like a Faustian bargain with time. You hope you can 'timebox' your Twitter time, but nine out of ten times this micro blogging site gnaws into your daily schedule. The tasks listed in the to-do list either are scratched off for another day or done well behind the schedule and in a hurried manner.

However, these days scrolling Twitter posts is heart-wrenching. Newspapers and other publications provide an occasional quote and statistics related to the havoc caused by the second wave of Covid-19. But Twitter on the other hand provides the human side of the tragedy that is unfolding in our homes, neighbourhoods, hospitals, crematoria and burial grounds, and often narrated in first person. Those tiny 280-character long posts, sometimes with a photo or video, provide us a glimpse of the scale of tragedy that has befallen our country.

Though the second wave is barely few weeks old, it has dwarfed the first one with a manifold rise in the number of daily new cases and fatalities. It made its presence felt around Feb 15 and took off after March 10. The second wave pandemic graph now loosely resembles a pencil-sketch outline of Dubai's Burj Khalifa tower.

During the peak of the first wave last September, the number of new daily cases were less than one lakh and fatalities rarely crossed 1000. But this time the daily new cases are topping three lakhs and deaths exceed 2,000.

This is also getting reflected on Twitter, with almost every second member either infected or has some close relative battling the virus. The health infrastructure of almost every city is creaking under the heavy influx of patients with the deadly British variant and the triple mutant viruses wreaking havoc across the country.

The Twitter posts can be broadly divided into two categories. Firstly, conscientious members admitting that they have tested positive for the virus and requesting all those who came in contact with them to get tested. Or their spouses and relatives have tested positive and they have gone into self-isolation. They range from random guys to influencers, journalists, stand-up comedians and others with thousands of followers.

The second category makes a much more disturbing reading. Members making fervent pleas for hospital beds, oxygen cylinders, drugs like remedesivir or tocilizumab and plasma for themselves or for their next of kin. In some cases, it is from families where all members have been infected and can't step out or for families that have already lost one member and another one is in serious condition. The requests are from everywhere - from cities such as Delhi and Mumbai to smaller towns like Faridabad, Patna, Bhopal or Kanpur.

These messages follow a similar template: It provides details regarding patient's name, age, oxygen level, contact number, hospital and often end with a 'please retweet and amplify' plea. The sheer volume of such posts points to the extent to which our health infrastructure has been overwhelmed.

A few posts do appear of members profusely thanking Good Samaritans and NGOs for timely help in getting a hospital admission or oxygen cylinders. Some volunteers also post 'This is sorted. Hence deleting the tweet' after successfully providing relief to the Covid-19 infected.

But for every such tweet there were numerous others which did not have such happy endings. In some cases, the members tweet that they no longer need any leads on beds or cylinders as their kin passed away. So, it is not exactly the virus, but failure to get oxygen or timely medical help that proved fatal.

The virus has decimated many families, with some losing their aged parents in a matter of few days, or even worse minors becoming orphans. While for others ‘normalcy’ may return after the current Covid-19 wave ebbs in a few months, but for these families the scars will remain for long.

The mounting death toll, officially above 200,000 after the pandemic started last year, is making crematoriums and grave yards work overtime and it is extracting a heavy toll on the grave diggers and crematorium workers. They are also exposed to a greater risk of contracting the virus. There is also a shortage of firewood in many places and some graveyards don’t have any space left to bury the bodies.

For the bereaved families, the duration between death and last rites is getting longer as body bags line up at cremation and burial grounds.

A positive fallout of the unfolding tragedy has been the rise of volunteerism and altruism on Twitter. Common folks are trying to help out each other. And it is no longer confined to supplying oxygen cylinders or medicines. Some are offering meals to Covid patients who are single and not in a position to cook. Others are offering free online consultations and counselling to Covid-affected families. There were also Tweets offering boarding facilities for pets of these families.

The downside is that several fraudsters are also around to make a quick buck from hapless patients. They promise oxygen cylinders, medicines at exorbitant rates and vanish once the advance payment is made. Quite often the drugs they supply is also spurious.

Though Bollywood and cricket stars are treated like Gods in this country, they were totally missing in action. They wield huge influence on Twitter with a large army of followers, but the silence of their handles has been deafening. Barring just one or two, nobody has spoken a word about the unfolding health crisis, probably the biggest since Independence.

In fact, some of the Bollywood stars were clicked by the paparazzi at the Mumbai airport leaving for safer environs of Dubai and Maldives to escape the pandemic. The cricket stars, until recently, were busy playing the Indian Premier League  and enjoying the best-in-class Covid-19 safety and treatment protocols. However, the wily virus has even breached those bio-bubbles and the tournament had to be put on hold. Even some of the retired stars, who still enjoy popularity, appear tone-deaf to the plight of their countrymen.

Lastly, one really wonders how the non-Twitter universe is coping with this calamity. Many reside in small towns and villages where the health infrastructure ranges from patchy to non-existent. For them it may be a much more uphill battle against the deadly pandemic, and their suffering rarely creates a blip in the Indian media's city-centric radars.

Also Read: Bangalore Short Takes

Sunday, 4 April 2021

An SOS for spellings


The advent of SMS in early 2000 spelled doom for spellings. To be fair the existing spelling conventions in the English language are far from perfect and laden with eccentricities. Many words are not spelled as they are pronounced; alphabets get pronounced differently in different contexts and of course there is this lurking 'tsunami' of silent alphabets - the most notable being 'queue' where except 'q' the rest of the letters are silent.

In fact, the spelling convention lives up to George Bernard Shaw's famous dig that 'fish' should be spelled as 'Ghoti'. According to legendary playwright if you take the "gh" from "rough", the "o" from "women" and the "ti" from "motion" you end up with the same pronunciation as 'fish'.

However even the worst critics of spelling convention would now cringe at the way spellings are getting mutilated and phrases are being ground and powdered to mere 3-4 letter acronyms during instant messaging. And Wren and Martin purists must be agonizing over the thousand cuts their beloved English is facing on a daily basis.

In the first wave it was the shortening of words as the newly-introduced short messaging service had a 160-character limit and keying in letters in the pre-Qwerty push-button keypads of the good old Nokia 3310 or Samsung R220 feature phones was quite an effort.

Hence a 'where' or 'were' got shortened to 'wer', message to 'msg', 'are' to 'r', 'you' to 'u', 'see' to 'c' and even 'ok', which was already a short for 'okay', became 'k' as users tried to pack in the maximum bang into a their SMS buck to save on their phone bills. Back then, text messages were charged, though the tariffs were not as high as voice calls.

Soon this SMS shorthand began evolving into a full-fledged lingo and acquired a trajectory of its own. The practitioners stumbled upon the idea of usage of numerals, and found they were of great utility value. So 'before' became 'b4', 'weight' lost many calories to 'w8' and 'too' and 'to' got reduced to '2'.

Soon the popularity of this lingo spilled over to MSN and Yahoo messengers and other chat platforms, even though they were free from the tyranny of character limit, nor were they charged per message. The sheer convenience of typing fewer letters was too enticing. Soon offices too joined the bandwagon and began tapping chat platforms for seamless communications between various departments and branches.

The next frontier of short-form lingo was reducing phrases and sentences to acronyms. One of the early acronyms in the official chats was GM (good morning), GN (good night), TC (take care), TY (thank you), BRB (be right back) to inform colleagues that he/she is away from the computer and TGIF (thank God it’s Friday) in anticipation of the much-awaited weekend. Angry bosses wanted glitches to be fixed ASAP (as soon as possible) and PFA (please find attached) became part of the email etiquette.

In personal chats one of the early acronym entrants were LOL (laugh out loud), ROFL (rolling on the floor, laugh), as 'ha ha' or 'he he' became passé, and BTW (by the way). Then there was a cloudburst of such acronyms and the ingenuity to coin new ones continue unabated. Some like IMO (in my opinion), TBH (to be honest) and FYI (for your information) have now gained wide currency and no eyebrows are raised. Same can be said about social media related acronyms like DP (display picture), RT (retweet) or DM (direct message).

In business circles terms like B2B (business to business), B2C (business to consumer) or ROI (return on investment) have now become well entrenched in day-to-day conversations. While techies cannot do without mouthing terms like OS (operating system), SaaS (software-as-a-service), HTML (hypertext markup language) and XML (extensible markup language).

But some acronyms like AFAIK (as far as I know), ICYMI (in case you missed it), YKWIM (you know what I mean), YOLO (you only live once) or GOAT (greatest of all time) don't ring a bell unless you happen to be born after 1995 or an Instagram freak.

The recent Covid-19 pandemic brought its own share of acronyms. WFH (work from home), a term that only the techie class related to became much more prevalent and acceptable. Other terms such as WFA (work from anywhere), SFH (study from home) and PPE (personal protective equipment) too gained traction.

Thus, the chat lingo continues to evolve and acquire weird forms. And one has to keep eyes and ears open to keep tabs - or risk falling prey to FOMO (fear of missing out).


Also Read: Bangalore Short Takes