WORLD INTHAVAARAM, 2021–31

About: the world this week, 25 July 2021 to 31 July 2021; stories of unrest, of change, and the thrilling Olympic Games testing our skills and resilience in various dimensions.

It started with the former South African President, Jacob Zuma pleading ‘not guilty’ to various kinds of corruption and fraud charges, during the period he was Deputy President, and President as well. He refused to appear before a Commission investigating the charges and questioned the integrity of the country’s top judges, accusing them of political bias against him. He was then arrested for contempt of court.

The arrest sparked unrest and protests leading to frenzied looting, arson, riots, and catastrophic violence — one of the worst and never before seen in South Africa, since the advent of democracy in 1994. The past weeks have been engulfed in ruthless anarchy, with the Police struggling to control the situation. Some blamed the poverty situation of the people, others said it was orchestrated, having an element of undermining the State, the Rule of Law — an Insurrection. Adding fuel to fire, racial fault lines became awfully exposed, while the mayhem ‘speared ahead’ in South Africa.

The positive outcome was that communities ended up coalescing together to protect themselves — with their spears sharpened and ready to use. And I’m confident that normalcy will return, in the coming weeks.

In India, a Mechanical Engineer who once worked for the iconic Tata Group was chosen to become Chief Minister (CM) of the State of Karnataka. This, after an old indefatigable war-horse made way for him after ‘wearing himself thin’, bringing his Party to rule the State. Basavaraj Bommai appears to be a ‘picture’ perfect choice and took oath as CM on 28 July 2021. His father, S R Bommai, too was once the CM of the State. He may thank the stars, but it’s also time to thank Dad — more real.

Meanwhile, in North-Eastern India, two States, Assam and Mizoram came to blows over their hazy looking borders killing six Police personnel in the process, and injuring many others. I wonder how people can descend to such a border level. India is one huge country, the State Boundary lines are for administrative convenience and can be drawn tight, can’t they? Why not declare such disputed territory as belonging to the Government of India and allow equal visiting rights to the fighting States?

Mizoram was carved out of the State of Assam, first as a Union Territory in 1972 and then as a full-fledged State in 1987. Could it not be handled on friendlier terms? After all, the States are not different countries. And trespassers can always be warned to mind ‘some’ line. But shooting to kill is unacceptable.

India was off to a quick medal-winning start on Day 1 of the Olympics, lifting the Silver Medal in the 49 kilogram (kg) Women’s Weightlifting Category. Mirabhai Chanu from the State of Manipur, heaved a total weight of 202 kg, to be placed second. The gold in the event was won by China’s Hou Zhihui, with a combined weight total of 210 kg.

Mirabhai picked a total of 87 kg in the Snatch part of the event and ended with a lift of 115 kg in Clean & Jerk (totalling 202 kg). She is the second Indian weightlifter, after Karnam Malleswari, to win an Olympic medal.

The win may be attributed to her ‘Olympic Earrings’ which she wore brightly. It was a gift from her mother who had lifted her to this stage, from ‘carrying-the-firewood-days’! The story goes that when she was 12 years old, she helped her brother carry firewood, which they had gathered from the forest: she did it so easily, that it was noticed as unusual for a woman, and someone said she must get into weightlifting. Ever since, her mother ensured she trained hard to become the one who lifted the weights!

The Govt of India had arranged a training stint for her, in the United States, ahead of the Olympics, and this was one of the main reasons for her weighty performance.

This time it was tears of joy, five years after the 2016 Olympics when she left the same platform in tears of sorrow following a disastrous debut. That’s heavy work done. Way to go, Mirabhai Chanu.

While a new hero was ‘biting’ her Silver Medal, a boxing legend of India, Mary Kom, 38, gave her absolute best before going down to the reigning Olympic Bronze medalist, Columbia’s Ingrit Valencia, by a split verdict 2–3 in the second round of the 51 kg category. Mary Kom was at her sporting high when she welcomed the decision with a smile and hugged her opponent. Mary’s story will ring for years to come.

With the USA, China, Japan, and other large countries leading the medals tally, tiny Bermuda, with a population of about 63,000 sneaked-in with its 33 years old Flora Duffy decisively winning the triathlon, securing a historic gold for her country — the smallest country to win gold in the Olympics. Tokyo 2020 is Duffy’s fourth Olympics.

A triathlon is an endurance multi-sport race consisting of swimming, cycling, and running over various distances. Triathletes compete for fastest overall completion time, racing each segment sequentially, with the time transitioning between the disciplines included.

Duffy battled a near career-ending injury, anaemia and depression to reach Tokyo 2020. She did not finish her race at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing after crashing her bike, and even quit the sport for a short time. Her preparations for Tokyo were hampered by a foot injury that prevented her from competing for a year.

Duffy was coached by her husband, South African triathlete Dan Hugo, who was there to see it all happen. And she gave him the medal!

Condoms come in handy and can be ingeniously useful-depending on the user. And women seem to be discovering better ways of putting them to work than men. Ask Australian Slalom Canoeist Jessica Fox, 27, who recently won a bronze and a gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics — and she has a condom to thank for it. Earlier this week — before Fox won her first Olympic gold medal in the women’s C1 Canoe Slalom and bronze in the Canoe Slalom K1 final — she was filmed fixing her kayak with a condom. A video shared by the athlete shows her carefully sliding the condom over the front of her kayak after applying a carbon mixture to the area — to secure it. We learn something new every day! Condoms can be an inspiration.

She is called GOAT (Greatest Of All Time): US Gymnast Simone Biles, 24 years old, withdrew from the Gymnastics Event, saying, “I have to focus on my mental health.” After scoring 13.766 — her lowest Olympic vault score — Biles left the arena, but returned to support and cheer her team-mates as they took the silver medal.

Biles is a 30-time Olympic and World Championship medallist, and needed four podium finishes in Tokyo 2020 to become the most decorated gymnast — male or female — in history.

Sportspersons across the spectrum praised her decision for prioritising mental wellness over everything else. It was a courageous decision given that Simone Biles has reached all five individual finals in the Tokyo Olympics.

We live with ‘that thing between our ears’ and we need to give it the respect it deserves. Sometimes stepping back for a while may actually be a great leap forward.

After months of COVID-19 lockdown induced strangulating travel restrictions, I took a drive to the small Town of Tiruchengode near Salem, Tamil Nadu, for checking out a new Fabric Supplier. And to get back into the groove, as they would call it.

Tiruchengode is famous for the ancient hill-top Ardhanareeswarar (man-woman) Temple, mentioned in one of the five Great Tamil Epics, Silappadikaram, as Neduvelkunru. Ardhanareeswarar is a manifestation of one of the Hindu Trinity Gods, Lord Shiva, representing the unity of Shiva and his consort, Parvati. The equally famous Chenkottu Velavar Temple, dedicated to Lord Murugan (son of Lord Shiva), is situated on the same hill.

Tiruchengode is also home to the Rig (bore well digging) Business and Truck Body Builders, which is a thriving business — blessed from the hill above.

With the Gods watching over me from their Rocky residence, I took the road from Ariyanur, going through Attayampatti, Mallasamudram to Tiruchengode. On the way I stopped by at Attayampatti to grab the famous ‘murukku’ ( a rice flour fried snack wearing a twisted shape)- bought a ton — and cracked upon it, through the drive.

There is also the famous Kalipatti Temple, on this route, which is run by a classmate of mine from Boarding School. He is the high priest of the Temple, owned by his family, for generations. He succeeded his ‘also high priest’ father who used to come over to the School, in Yercaud, driving a Fiat Car with an Apache-feathered head on the bonnet. I guess, Apaches are closer to the Gods-they talk to Him in mysterious ways.

The two-lane route was verdant, having some of the best stately trees growing on either side, forming a natural umbrella. And the undulating profile of the hilly area probably kept the roads naturally clean. The Mahendra Educational Institutions are planted on the sides, beyond the trees, and it seems an ideal location for learning and study, with the stillness of the nearby hills and the quietness of the neighbourhood permeating the soul.

On reaching Tiruchengode, I was stunned to see well-laid, clear roads, marvellous shops and business establishments, and the Paramathi Vellore Road even had a wide pavement (a rarity in these parts) on one side looking like a movie set. I almost expected an Actress to jump out dancing and singing, and grab a pole. The place I was visiting was a large mansion on one of the by-streets and the location was a delightful place to be in. The Owner besides showing us Fabric (and her 11 years old precocious kid) also showed-off a great roof-garden with plants hanging out their stems and leaves, banana, pomegranate, lime, and orange ‘trees’ crowded the terrace.

It was near about five years since my last visit and I must give credit to the previous Government, that ruled Tamil Nadu for the past ten years, for the stupendous development. They have done a fabulous job. It speaks on its own. And I caught the story, didn’t I?

On the return, after lots of munching, my stock of murukkus was down by a few kilograms and I chose to replenish it on my next drive, which I must make. I’m sure the Gods will approve.

More road and ‘murukku’ stories coming up in the weeks ahead. Stay flexible and keep pace with the Olympics.

Once an Engineer, now a Make-in-India Entrepreneur; Wordsmith; Blogger; maybe a Farmer!