Friday, May 28, 2021

Sold on a Monday by Kristina McMorris

What wasn't intended happens, and that leads the life of an ambitious journalist, Ellis Reed, on a totally unexpected track.

The setting of this historical novel is the post-depression US of 1931. 

Ellis had taken a picture of two children standing beside a signboard that read "Children for Sale". He took the photo because what he saw triggered memories of his own dark past.

The photo reaches his boss who finds the picture newsy because it was symbolic of post-depression life in the US. He wants Ellis to do a story. 

There is a hitch though. (I won't reveal that.) But Ellis finally manages to write the story, which moves the conscience of everyone who read it. Ellis's career takes off in a spectacular fashion. 

But just the opposite happens to the two children whose photo appeared along with Ellis's article. 

Overcome by guilt, he launches himself on a quest to find the two children. 

Along with him is Lillian Palmer, the editor's secretary, who is also looking to become a journalist. An unwed mother, she can relate to the predicament of the two children, and also to the plight of Ellis.

The novel is all about the efforts that Ellis and Lillian undertake to find these children. 

It's also about the life during those days; lives of children who are with a mom who can't support them versus children, who are separated from mothers, living with rich families.

Author Kristina McMorris was prompted to write this story after seeing an actual signboard of children up for sale.

I liked the way Kristina has weaved the plots in the novel and the poignant manner in which she has been able to bring out the emotions that tug at the hearts of people who are struggling to simply live.

Since the main protagonist is a journalist, there are a lot of historical newsroom scenes in the novel, which I found quite interesting.

At times, the narrative is a bit long-drawn-out, but I really liked the book.

Monday, May 24, 2021

Is it, or is it not ... ?

A few weeks ago, one of my friends had a sore throat, occasional cough and he felt mildly feverish. He went to a doctor. 

While the physician diagnosed it as a case of pharyngitis, he advised my friend to undergo a PCR test for COVID-19. (That's almost the norm now.) The test returned a negative result.

With medication, his condition improved and he resumed his normal routine.

A few days ago, the occasional cough returned. 

So uncertain are our days and lives now that the seeming indications of some sort of problem with the respiratory tract sent the alarm bells ringing in the family, resulting in discussions on the need to call on a doctor again.

But my friend fended off the suggestions, citing lack of any other symptoms like fever or throat pain.

Don't take anything lightly these days, came the chorus of warning.

His nephew who is a doctor in the US got roped into the discussions and he asked his uncle to get a blood test done.

The results indicated two parameters above normal. Sensing something wrong, the doctor asked his uncle to get a CT scan of the lungs done.

The results came negative for COVID-19. But the doctor and his pulmonologist colleague found in the images of the lungs indications of very mild coronavirus infection.

Not leaving anything to chance, my friend is now under medication for COVID-19 and has isolated himself at home, with no symptoms other than an occasional dry cough.

He found his predicament very strange -- no COVID-19, but there is COVID-19!

This sums up the situation right now in India. Uncertainty, doubts, anxiety. 

Lack of any clarity on how the virus -- which seems to have a mind of its own -- behaves is only making matters worse.    

CT SCAN

People -- who have tested negative but are suspected to be infected, because they have some symptoms -- are asked to get a CT scan of the lungs done. This is a trend that has started this year. 

The proponents say a swab test result could be inaccurate because the annoying process of taking the samples from the throat and nasal tract makes the person move back resulting in the collection of an inadequate amount of sample.

They say if there is an infection, there will be tell-tale signs in the lungs which the scan unmistakably captures.

However, the exposure of the body to radiation isn't advisable, and doctors have been warning against indiscriminate use of CT scan to detect COVID-19.

But radiologists and many general practitioners feel the benefits outweigh the risk.

LOCKDOWN

Prime Minister Narendra Modi this year resisted demands -- from even Anthony Fauci -- for a national lockdown. Instead, he left the decision to individual state governments, saying the incidence of infection isn't uniform across the country.

Now almost all the states in India have some form of lockdown in place. And as a result of that, the numbers are steadily declining.

Here in Bengaluru, the lockdown was earlier scheduled to be lifted today. But it has now been extended for another two weeks, till June 7.

That's the only thing that is certain.

Monday, May 17, 2021

Back in British Council Library

The books and magazines borrowed from the British Library, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, have been a constant companion ever since my father got me a membership there, after my tenth grade.

Image courtesy: Pixabay
As I moved to cities like Bhopal, Ahmedabad and Hyderabad and then Bangalore, where I am now, I transferred the membership.

Meanwhile, in 2008, the library in Thiruvananthapuram and many other cities shut down following a paucity of funds. There were some hopes that the one in Kerala would be revived. But the efforts didn't fructify.

BRITISH LIBRARY, BANGALORE

My father and I regularly used to visit the library here to sit and read for some time as well as borrow books. When it became difficult for my father to travel owing to old age, I alone went and borrowed books. 

Then, gradually -- around 10 years ago -- my visits too stopped for various reasons. One, time constraints owing to the heavy load of office work. 

Two, the range of books in the library began to dwindle as the centre focused more on students aiming to appear for various English language examinations like IELTS (International English Language Testing System). A good IELTS score is mandatory to take up courses in countries like Britain, Australia, New Zealand etc.

And thereby my membership expired.  

DIGITAL MEMBERSHIP

Recently, while scrolling through my Facebook timeline, I saw an advertisement of the British Council Library's digital membership. 

In no time I landed on this page and without any second thoughts I signed up for a membership. Annual fee: Rs 1,800.

I immediately received an email acknowledging the receipt of payment. It was followed by another mail mentioning my membership/card number and a link that took me to the library website.

In August of last year, British Council Library in 16 countries including India tied up with MyLOFT, a digital library platform.  

The email had also mentioned that I would soon receive an email from MyLOFT with instructions on setting up my digital library. Owing to some technical issues, I didn't get the email even after waiting for a few days. 

LIBBY

Quite impatient, I searched the British Council website to see how I can borrow books and magazines. It took me to the website of Overdrive, a Cleveland, Ohio-based company that distributes digital magazines, books and movies. 

One can access the Overdrive resources using a library card membership. I searched for "British Council", chose India, and it took me to the library website, where I entered my credentials.

However, to borrow and read books one has to either download the Libby app or go to the Libby website. It was done without any problems. 

And there I was back in the British Library. I felt so good browsing books and magazines. I couldn't find newspapers though. That's okay.

Strangely, I can keep a magazine for 21 days, but I can keep a book only for 7 days. Normally, I won't be able to finish a book that fast. I am not sure how many times I can extend the due date. I have to figure that out.

Currently, I am reading a historical novel Sold on a Monday by Kristina McMorris. It's set in the early 1930s in depression-hit America, and one of the main characters is Ellis Reed, a newspaper journalist-photographer.

There are lots of good magazines - Time, Newsweek, Guardian Weekly, Readers Digest (various continent-specific editions), New Scientist, India Today etc. 

MYLOFT

A few days later, after reaching out to the library's customer service, I got a mail from MyLOFT. The digital library setting up process was a bit long-winded but managed to do it. 

The app is a bit more complicated than Libby, probably because it has access to a lot more resources of the library than Libby, because of the direct partnership both have. Unlike on Libby, here I can access IELTS material, research journals, watch movies etc as well. 

MyLOFT takes me to Press Reader where I can access thousands of newspapers from around the world. That was amazing! However, I am unable to access the Press Reader app via the British Library membership credentials. Reading the papers on the web wasn't a smooth experience.

So for so good. Unlike earlier, when I used to visit the library once or twice a month, now I am in the library even multiple times a day!

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Stupid questions (Repost)

This is a post I wrote on December 13, 2004

This afternoon I went to the Barton Centre. (That's a commercial complex housing shops and offices on M G Road in Bangalore.)

As I was coming down the lift from the seventh floor, I overheard this conversation between two young women who were standing beside me.


(I have disabled comments here. Please key in your comments on the original blog post page.)

Monday, May 10, 2021

Movie - 10 Jours En Or

Image from Netflix

I recently watched this 2012 French comedy-drama, 10 Jours En Or (10 Golden Days). It's about the road trip of a man and a young boy that becomes a turning point in their lives. 

Marc Bajau's (played by Franck Dubosc) stressful job as a sales professional involves a lot of travelling. He is a carefree guy and indulges in one-night stands during his road trips. 

On one such occasion in a hotel, the woman he was with mysteriously disappears. Not only she is gone, but one of Marc's pair of shoes is also missing. 

There is a note in the other shoe that the missing shoe is in a particular room of the hotel. He goes there and finds a young boy, Lucas (Mathis Toure) with Marc's shoe.

(The preview is in French only, but the film has English subtitles)

Marc goes with Lucas looking for his mom. But not with any success. And he has no option but to take the kid along on his road trip. During his journey, he meets an elderly man, Pierre (Claude Rich) as well as a young woman, Julie (Marie Kremer). 

The journey changes the life of Marc as well as Lucas. 

Though the film packs a lot of funny moments during Marc's road trip, the underlying theme is a serious contemporary issue, which you will realise at the end.

Worth watching.

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Pandemic facts and emotions

Everyone is trying to distract themselves. So I didn't want to do a post on this. But then the dominating theme has been -- for now almost one and a half years -- what else!

There have been numerous calls and messages asking us how we are doing. So far so good. Thanks. 

Well, as you might know, things aren't looking good in India. 

Here are some figures drawn from Worldometer, an independent research group based in the US. Figures are as of 1310 IST today.

India reported the maximum number of new cases in the world yesterday -- 355,828; followed by the US -- 39,767; Brazil -- 36,524; Turkey -- 24,73 and Iran -- 20,732. India is way ahead, and that says it all, why we are currently in the spotlight.

As of yesterday, the US had the most number of active cases at 6.7 million and India was the next with 3.4 million. Brazil, France and Iran followed. 

The fact that India is the second-most populous nation in the world with 1.39 billion people, after China with 1.43 billion, and ahead of the US with 332 thousand, gives a different perspective to the numbers.

In India, there are 14,573 people in one million who are infected in comparison to the global figure of 19,779. Slovenia has 116,336, the US 99,903, Sweden 95,903, and France 86,490.

WHY INDIA IS IN THIS STATE NOW

Before that, we must remember that every nation has suffered in the same way sometime over the past one and a half years. The only difference is the way governments have reacted at various stages.

Every nation has also gone through subsequent phases of the infection after its first encounter.

India registered its first case on Jan 29 last year. Daily fresh cases touched a peak of 97,570 on September 12, and it dipped to its lowest of 9,110 on February 9. (Source NDTV)

Like everywhere else in the world, here too people were waiting to clutch that thin straw of hope. And when it came within their reach, they did; in fact, they rushed into it, with a huge sigh of relief.

People rushed out to resume their "old normal" lives. Politicians declared victory. Everyone thought the worst was over and looked forward to the massive rollout of vaccination.

Except for one group of people. That was the scientists, doctors, epidemiologists, virologists etc. They warned of a possible second wave. They pointed to the variants that had surfaced in the UK, South Africa, Brazil etc., in addition to mutations happening within the country itself. 

They warned the people, and the state and central governments not to let the guard down. 

But to no avail.

People, with and without masks, began crowding public places. Cinemas allowed full occupancy. Buses and most of the train services resumed.

Campaigning for State assembly elections in five states and one Union territory went on as if nothing had happened in the world.

So we are back to square one, in a really bad state, battered and bruised.

STRANGE GOVERNMENT LETHARGY

We all knew India's medical/infrastructure won't be able to cope if there is a massive explosion of cases. That precisely was the reason why the Prime Minister ordered a national lockdown last year. 

National lockdown did hurt the economy and people's lives. So that's next to the last option now.

But there were many alternatives -- like local/ district/ regional lockdowns depending on the number of cases. 

And, everyone missed the point about the supply chain of medical oxygen to hospitals. That's at the crux of the oxygen crisis, mainly in Delhi, but in other states as well.

But for some strange reason, the sense of seriousness or urgency, which was evident last year, is sadly this year.

EMOTIONAL DRAIN

Most of the families in India are grieving because someone they know -- a blood relation, a friend or an acquaintance -- has left too soon or is in a hospital.

Last year, when there was a national lockdown, without any warning, the abiding images were of migrant workers left in the lurch, of them walking all the way to their homes.

This year, when there is no lockdown, the abiding images are of long queues of ambulances and mass cremations and burials.

There have been criticisms of the media showing these images. But then that's the reality.

All the news media are full of distressing information. Most people are not following the blow-by-blow account of the deteriorating situation. 

Bengaluru, where I am, is in the midst of a two-week lockdown. The situation is bad but the medical infrastructure is holding up somehow. The lockdown will end on May 12, if there is an improvement in the situation.

I hope we have learned lessons from the mistakes, and the government and the people will not let their guard down, at the slightest sign of improvement in the situation.