Friday, January 15, 2021

Loituma's Ievan Polkka - the most famous Finnish song

A few days ago, my son sent me the following song saying: "Papa, something about this reminds me of you. Not sure if you used to play this song."

A peppy song but I hadn't heard of it. He was right that I liked such songs, and probably he had heard me play some song similar to this.

It was so captivating that I looked up the web to know more about it, and this is what I found on Wikipedia.

Ievan Polkka is a Finnish song with lyrics published in 1928 to a traditional Finnish polka tune. But it was forgotten till 1995 when the Loituma quartet released their first album by the same name. The four are: Sari Kauranen, Anita Lehtola-Tollin, Timo Väänänen and Hanni-Mari Autere.

The band was selected the Ensemble of the Year at the 1997 Kaustinen Folk Music Festival.

In 2006, the internet catapulted it to fame when a version of it sung by Loituma Girl, an anime character, was posted on a Russian Live Journal blog. I found that on YouTube.

Ever since that there have been many versions of the original song and some of the tunes were incorporated as ring tones by various European telecom companies.

The four performed on the 50th birthday of Hanni Autere in November 2019.

No wonder this is said to be the most famous Finnish song!

Sunday, January 10, 2021

No checking, monitoring of travellers by road to Kerala

In about three weeks, it will be one year since India reported its first COVID-19 case. That was on January 30, 2020 - a student of Wuhan University who returned to Kerala tested positive. 

Unlike many other countries, in India, the rise and the drop in the number of positive cases per day has been gradual. The peak was on September 17, when the country saw as many as 97,894 people testing positive. Yesterday, it was 18,222. The following is a screenshot from the NDTV website.

There have been 150,570 deaths out of 1,041,4417 positive cases. That is 1.45%. Worldwide, it's 1,919,357 deaths out of 89,209,954 positive cases - 2.15%

The following table gives the comparative figures. It's a Google News compilation by collating data from Wikipedia, The New York Times and JHU.

India is one country in the top bracket that has been showing a consistent decline over the past two months. (Probably, Italy too, to some extent.) I don't know whether that has anything to do with the very different sort of lockdown we had. It lasted in varying degrees of toughness for as long as eight months.

The strictest phase was the initial one - from March 25 to June 7, 2020. After that, there was a series of, what was called, 'unlocks', that lasted till November 30.


I, along with my wife, her brother, mother and niece, reached her home town on Friday evening around 7 pm. We drove down. We began our journey from Bengaluru in the morning around 5.

Prior to that, we registered our particulars on the designated government websites of Tamil Nadu (the state through which we transited) and of Kerala (our destination state). 

However, nowhere en route -- neither at Attibele (the point of entry to Tamil Nadu) nor at Walayar (the point of entry to Kerala) -- were we stopped to have our credentials as interstate travellers checked. Many of my friends who travelled by road to Kerala in the past one month, had the same experience.

This was not the case a few months ago. There was strict monitoring at these border check-posts. Travellers were continuously monitored by local area civic officials. My friends, who had travelled earlier, used to tell me how they kept receiving calls from health department officials, police officials and government doctors; and told about the need to stay at home, and to watch out for symptoms.

Now, the only travellers who are checked are the ones who come via flights. At the arriving airport they need to declare their travel and contact details, and are told to be in quarantine for seven days.

In compliance with the State government regulations, we are in quarantine for a week.

I am not sure why there has been such a relaxation. One reason could be that the situation in Kerala has been improving, though very slowly, after it hit a peak in October. 

The second reason could be that people have gotten used to the new lifestyle that is dictated by the safety guidelines. 

The third reason could be that people who come to Kerala by road are mostly from the two neighbouring states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, where the cases have dropped significantly. So the probability of them carrying the virus could be less.


The state is still seeing quite a high number of fresh cases daily. It's averaging around 5,000. It peaked in October when it was around 7,000 to 8,000.

When we look at the spread of this disease, it's quite difficult to see a pattern across regions. There are a number of variables that are influencing the rate of infection.

And now to make matters worse, we have seen a more virulent form of the virus wreaking havoc, especially in the UK. Some of my doctor friends have been telling me they don't know if the virus that's circulating in India itself can mutate in the coming months.

Even if the situation is getting better, it would be prudent to be cautious.

Friday, January 1, 2021

A new year like never before

Last night didn't seem like the year-end we have been used to. It was like any other day. And quiet too. Police had banned crowds of more than three people on the streets. So, the streets were largely deserted. And therefore, no mass revelry. There were no fireworks nor honking of car horns.

2020 was also a year of learning 
  • not to take nature for granted (a microscopic virus can leave millions dead in a year)
  • the importance of good health (the dangers of comorbidities)
  • of our inherent ability to adapt and survive (lifestyles changed but life went on, new ways of conducting business)
  • about cleaner environment (lesser carbon emission)
  • to distinguish between what is essential and what is not (eating out, travel, social visits)
Here's wishing you all a 2021 that will be better in every way -- fruitful, peaceful, healthier, happier!

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

The unsung hero of 2020

We are almost done with 2020, but I don't think we are done with neither the 'new flu' nor the new life that it has forced us to adopt. 

Our lifestyle has changed irrevocably. My gut feeling is that it's going to stay this way, at least a good part of it, even after we all have got our jabs, that's not before a year, I guess.

In the first few months of this year, even scientists were divided on whether wearing a mask would help or not. Soon after, someone discovered that the virus has the potential to be airborne for a good amount of time. And that made the mask an inalienable part of our attire. This gives us a good indication of how 2020 has progressed.

Wars come with sound and fury, wreak havoc. But what we have seen this year is a silent killer wreaking far greater havoc than wars. 

I don't think we will ever get to know the real extent of the damage that has been done to everything from nations' economy to people's livelihoods and wellbeing.

While everyone -- from common citizens to health professionals to scientists -- has been battling to keep themselves and others safe, what struck me as remarkable was the scientific fact that all it takes to kill this virus is just 20 seconds of exposure to the humble soap. How strange that something that can be killed so fast with something everyone has in their homes has turned out to be so deadly!

2020 has been the year of the soap, the unsung 'hero', 'whom' we took for granted, and paid not much attention to. The assertion of its power was so much that we have all been fed with primers on how to wash our hands!

Interestingly, this is not the first time that the soap is proclaiming its prowess. Look back into history, and we see that periodically scientists have had occasions, such as we have now when they had to emphasise the need to wash hands.

Monday, November 23, 2020

The Suitable Boy

All these 27 years since it was published, I have wanted to read The Suitable Boy, the acclaimed novel by Vikram Seth. But it's too long, said to be one of the longest in a single volume; over 1,300 pages.

Watching the six-episode film adaptation is easier. And that's what I did. 

It's on Netflix everywhere, except the US and Canada, where it's being streamed by Acorn TV.

The film is by BBC One, directed by Mira Nair and written by Andrew Davies, who has previously adapted Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace, Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, William Makepeace Thackeray's Vanity Fair, George Eliot's Middlemarch, and Charles Dickens's Bleak House.

I thought the advent of web series, which can have many seasons and episodes, is a good option for writers who want to turn novels to movies. It seems Davies had written it for eight parts. I wonder why it was reduced by two.

The Suitable Boy is the story of four families -- the life of a 19-year-old college student torn by not only her mother's obsession to find her a suitable boy but also by the fact that she has three suitors waiting to hear a yes from her. She finally chooses one.

The story is also about the India of 1951, four years after becoming independent, with a heavy legacy of Hindu-Muslim animosity, a consequence of the manner in which the freedom was won.

A very well made movie; good acting; the plots jump from one to the other without creating too much confusion, and there is enough drama as well to keep one watching.

One thing though struck me as a bit jarring, especially initially -- the language. Though there is a smattering of Hindi and Urdu, the movie is originally in English. That's fine, but the accent of some of them looked a tad contrived. It made me switch to the Hindi version, just to see the difference; and that looked a bit more natural.

But I think overall the movie has come out very well. Enjoyed watching it.

Monday, November 16, 2020

Declining coronavirus numbers

The last five months of a year is a time of religious festivities in India. The globally well-known Diwali (known as Deepavali in the South) is arguably the high point. It was on Saturday. Now we have Christmas and New Year coming up.

The fear has been that the coronavirus cases will peak with the progress of the season that began in August. Usually, during this time, large crowds of people throng places of worship; friends and relatives call on one and another, or go out on vacation. 

This time, the festivities have been somewhat muted, though people are out in the markets in large numbers. As of now, contrary to fears, the numbers nationally have been on the decline over the past one and a half months. After hitting the all-time peak of 97,894 on September 16, it was 30,548 yesterday. Hope the trend continues.

Monday, November 9, 2020

Back to the 'old normal' in the US

Around three years before the pandemic struck, Donald Trump ushered in a new form of public engagement and governance in the US, in a radical departure from the past. 

A whole swathe of presidential conduct changed dramatically -- aspects ranging from decision-making to implementation; from interaction with the media to engagement with world leaders; from honouring time-tested traditions to characterising as enemies people who had divergent views.

This was a 'new normal' people in the US and many people abroad were forced to get accustomed to.

They now won't have to. It's back to the presidential demeanour and diplomacy that we have always known.

This video popped on my YouTube feed ... as if reminding me of where the thread was left ... President Obama surprising Vice President Joe Biden with the Presidential Medal of Freedom on January 12, 2017. (It's 37 minutes long.)

Fast forward three years, 10 months ... President-elect Biden delivers the acceptance speech on Nov 7, 2020.

Biden seems to have recouped his energy during the four-year break. Good for him. Hopefully, good for America and for the rest of the world.

Can't leave Kamal Harris out. A great speech.