About -the stories of the world this week, 28 August to 3 September 2022: a third of a country under water; a flock gathers under a Shepherd; death by stalking; dying in Home, alone; and the Mark of a Man.

They say one-third of Pakistan is under water in the worst ever floods in over a decade. The United Nations (UN) which became a Word-Play expert with new names for the COVID19 causing virus, in the last season, came up with a phrase this time: “Pakistan is facing a monsoon on steroids” — said wordsmith, Secretary General, Antonio Guterres.

The floods are due to the relentless impact of epochal levels of rain: water gushing down streets, swallowing villages, and destroying bridges. More than 1,140 people have been killed since June and roads, crops, homes, and bridges washed away across the country.

This best sums up the catastrophe, said a flood-water survivor, “when the water entered my house the only thing left untouched was the ceiling fan”.

This year’s record monsoon is comparable to the devastating floods of the year 2010 — the deadliest in Pakistan’s history — which left more than 2,000 people dead. It is estimate that more than 33 million Pakistanis have been affected by the flooding. And described as a ‘climate-induced humanitarian disaster of epic proportions’.

Pakistan produces less than 1% of global greenhouse gas emissions, but ranks consistently in the top 10 countries most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. A warming atmosphere caused by climate change makes extreme rainfall more likely. The world has already warmed by about 1.2 Centigrade since the industrial era began and temperatures will keep rising unless governments around the world take action and make steep cuts to emissions.

No doubt at all that all other countries will have to work ‘damn hard’ to keep Pakistan above water!

The Pope was in an expansive mood and last Saturday in a quiet, Godly ceremony held at the Ordinary Public Consistory, Saint Peter’s Basilica, Rome, he created 21 new Cardinals to ‘bring fire to God’s love to all’.

This is Pope Francis’ Eighth Consistory and among the newly created Cardinals, 16 are under the age of 80-thus electors in a future Conclave- and four non-electors, over the age of 80. Members of three religious orders entered the hallowed College of Cardinals, and four new countries got representation: Mongolia, Paraguay, Singapore, and East Timor.

Eight of the newly named Cardinals are from Europe, six from Asia, two from Africa, one from North America, and four from Central and Latin America.

At the conclusion of the ceremony, the Cardinals approved the canonization (sainthood) of the founder of the Scalabrinians, Giovanni Battista Scalabrini, and Salesian layman, Artemide Zatti. The Scalabrinian Missionaries called the Congregation of the Missionaries of St. Charles Borromeo was founded in Italy in 1887. The Salesiaans (of Don Bosco) was founded by Saint Don Bosco in 1859, in Italy. And Artemide Zatti was responsible for an inexplicable cure of disease after which he remained a Pharmacist and healer -rather than Priest- in Argentina where he had emigrated to from Italy.

In the Cardinal list, two are from India: Anthony Poola — Archbishop of Hyderabad and Filipe Neri Antonio Sebastiao Di Rosario Ferrao — Archbishop of Goa & Daman.

Anthony Poola, 62, is the first Telugu-speaking person and also the first Dalit Christian to enter the College of Cardinals, which elects the Pope. This is a historic moment for Christianity in India.

Anthony Poola hails from Kurnool district of Andhra Pradesh. He led the diocese of Kurnool for over 12 years before being appointed as Archbishop of Hyderabad in 2020. Filipe Neri Antonio Sebastiao di Rosario Ferrao, 69 was Born in Aldona Village near Panaji and has been heading the local Church since 2003. He was ordained as a priest in 1979, and in 2003, he was consecrated as Archbishop of Goa and Daman.

In India’s State of Jharkhand, known for a history of lawlessness, a 17 years old school girl, Ankita Singh was doused with petrol and set on fire. This was by a stalker, Shahrukh Hussain, who had been harassing her to become his friend, which advances she spurned. Ankita Singh died in the early hours of Sunday in a hospital in Ranchi, where she had been admitted with severe burn injuries.

Ankita’s death has sparked protests by Hindu organisations who claim that Shahrukh, a Muslim, wanted to commit ‘Love Jihad’ by converting the victim, a Hindu, to his religion. Love-jihad is a term constantly used by Hindu groups to accuse Muslim men of converting Hindu women by marriage.

Shahrukh was arrested after being identified by the dying Ankita, and is in police custody.

Known as the ‘Man of the Hole’, the last remaining ‘nameless’ member of an un-contacted indigenous group living in the Tanaru area, Rondonia, in Brazil, which borders Bolivia, died of natural causes at an estimated age of 60.

The majority of his tribe are believed to have been killed in the 1970s by ranchers wanting to expand their land. In 1995, six of the remaining members of his tribe were killed in an attack by illegal miners, making him the sole survivor, and ever since — over 26 years- the man has lived in total isolation. He earned the nickname ‘Man of the Hole’ because he dug deep holes, apparently to trap animals or for hiding in them, himself.

His body was found on 23rd August in a hammock outside his straw hut, covered in macaw feathers. There were no signs of violence. And the finding was that the man knew his end was coming and prepared for it.

Brazil’s Indigenous Affairs Agency (Funai) became aware of his survival only in 1996, and had been monitoring the area ever since for his own safety. It was during a routine patrol that a Funai agent found the man’s body, which has now been sent for a post-mortem. And maybe used for research…to fill the holes in his life and his origin.

This week, Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev, the Soviet leader who helped end the Cold War, died at 91, of a ‘serious and protracted disease’ after a period of illness. He presided over the dissolution of the Soviet Union-Union of Soviet Socialists Republics (USSR)-that had existed for nearly 70 years, dominating huge parts of Asia and Eastern Europe. Gorbachev was one of the most influential political figures of the 20th Century.

Most of us would remember that the most distinguishing feature of Gorbachev’s appearance was a large, deep red blemish on his almost bald forehead. The mark started high on his head and came down to a little above his right eyebrow: it was a birthmark called a ‘port wine stain’, a name that is derived from the way it looked. That mark marked the man.

Gorbachev was born in March 1931 to poor peasant parents who worked on Collective Farms in the village of Privolnoye, Stavropol Krai, when Russia was under the violent rule of Joseph Stalin. Russia and the Ukraine were then living through one of the most brutal acts of political terror ever devised: with Stalin forcing the population into, what was called, Collective Farms, purging successful peasants and creating an artificial famine, which killed millions.

Gorbachev had one sibling-a brother called Alexander -who was born 17 years after him. And maybe there was a total disconnect with Gorbachev, because of the gap.

Gorbachev’s maternal grandfather was a committed communist and became the chairman of a Collective Farm. He was a solid influence on Gorbachev’s early development, providing him with advice on farming and opening him to good books such as Pushkin’s poems, Lermontov’s ‘A Hero of Our Time’ from the farm’s unusually good library.

Gorbachev excelled in academics in his village school, where he learnt to read voraciously, moving from the Western novels of Thomas Mayne Reid to the works of Vissarion Belinsky, Nikolai Gogol, besides Alexander Pushkin and Mikhail Lermontov.

After primary school he moved to the high school in Molotovskoye where he stayed during the week and walked home 19 km every weekend to be with his parents. Over the course of five consecutive summers, from 1946 onward, he returned home to assist his father in operating a combine harvester in the Collective Farms, during which time they sometimes worked 20 hour days. In 1948, they harvested over 8,000 quintals of grain, a feat for which his father Sergey was awarded the Order of Lenin and he, the Order of the Red Banner of Labour.

In June 1950, Gorbachev became a candidate member of the Communist Party-the only Party in Russia. About that time, he also applied to study at the prestigious Law School of Moscow State University (MSU). And secured admission without appearing for an exam — likely because of his worker-peasant origins and his possession of the Order of the Red Banner of Labour.

At MSU, Gorbachev, met Raisa Maximovna Titarenko, a student from Siberia who was studying in the university’s philosophy department, and they began a relationship, which progressed to marriage in September 1953. Perhaps it was love at first sight, or Raisa was struck by the mark of Gorbachev, and he in turn by her classic looks!

After graduating in 1955, he returned to Stavropol and then began a rapid ascent through the ranks of the Communist Party, rising to the very top.

Gorbachev was expected to succeed Yuri Andropov when the latter died in 1984, but instead, the ailing Konstantin Chernenko became General Secretary of the Communist Party because it was thought that at 53, Gorbachev was too young. Within a year, Chernenko too was dead and Gorbachev, the youngest member of the Ruling Council called the Politburo, succeeded him — being the personal choice of both Andropov and Chernenko.

In March 1985, Gorbachev at 54, became General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party, and de-facto leader of the country, up to collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. When he reached the top of that hierarchy he began to transform the world’s last empire, reshaping not only the foundations of his country but also the assumptions of his youth.

He was seen as a breath of fresh air after several ageing leaders and the stagnation of the Leonid Brezhnev years. He was the first General Secretary to have been born after the 1917 Russian Revolution.

Gorbachev’s leadership style differed from that of his predecessors. He would stop to talk to civilians on the street, forbade the display of his portrait at the 1985 Red Square holiday celebrations, and encouraged frank and open discussions at Politburo meetings. Gorbachev’s stylish sense of dressing and direct manner, was also unlike those before him, and his wife Raisa was more like a warm American first lady than a cold General Secretary’s wife. And she had a high public profile of her own.

Few leaders have had such a profound effect on the global order, but Gorbachev did not come to power seeking to end the Soviet grip over Eastern Europe. Rather, he hoped to revitalise its society.

His first task was to revive the moribund Soviet economy, which was almost at the point of collapse and nowhere near being any kind of a competition to the booming economy of the United States. He was also shrewd enough to understand that there needed to be a root-and-branch reform of the Communist Party itself if his economic reforms were to succeed.

Gorbachev’s solution brought two Russian words that Russia and the world became familiar with. He said the country needed ‘perestroika’ or restructuring and his tool for dealing with it was ‘glasnost’ — openness.

“You’re lagging behind the rest of the economy. Your shoddy goods are a disgrace. Some of you look at the market as a lifesaver for your economies. But, comrades, you should not think about lifesavers but about the ship, and the ship is socialism”, he told his communist bosses.

But it was not his intention to replace state control with a free market economy. His other weapon for dealing with the stagnation of the system was democracy. For the first time, there were free elections for Russia’s Congress of People’s Deputies.

Gorbachev also wanted to end the Cold War, and successfully negotiated with US President Ronald Reagan for the abolition of a whole class of weapons through the Intermediate Nuclear Forces treaty. And he announced unilateral cuts in Soviet conventional forces, while finally ending the humiliating and bloody occupation of Afghanistan.

However, Gorbachev’s efforts became the catalyst for a series of events that brought an end to communist rule, not just within the USSR, but also across its former satellite states.

Here openness and democracy led to calls for independence, which initially Gorbachev put down by force. The break-up of the USSR began in the Baltic republics in the north. Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia broke free from the Soivet Union, starting a rollercoaster that spread to Russia’s Warsaw Pact allies. It culminated on 9 November 1989 when, following mass demonstrations, the citizens of East Germany, the most hard-line of the Soviet satellites, were allowed to cross freely into West Berlin. Gorbachev’s reaction was not to send in tanks, the traditional Soviet reaction to such blatant opposition, but to announce that ‘reunification of Germany was an internal German affair’. And then the Cold War era German Wall was broken and Germany became one.

In 1990, Gorbachev was awarded, deservedly so, the Nobel Peace Prize for the leading role he played in the radical changes in East-West relations.

But by August 1991 the communist old guard in Moscow had had enough. They staged a military coup and Gorbachev was arrested while holidaying on the Black Sea. The Moscow party boss, Boris Yeltsin, seized his chance, ending the coup, arresting the demonstrators and stripping Gorbachev of almost all his political power in return for his freedom. But in the new Russia that emerged after 1991, he was on the fringes of politics, focusing on educational and humanitarian projects.

Despite warnings from his wife Raisa, he stood for the Russian presidency in 1996 and received less than 5% of the vote. During the 1990s he took to the international lecture circuit and kept up contacts with world leaders, remaining a heroic figure to many non-Russians.

Gorbachev doted on his wife Raisa, whose constant presence at his side lent a humanising touch to his political reforms. And when she died in 1999 of leukaemia, he suffered a personal blow. They’d been married for nearly 46 years and from the tender way in which he talked about her, in later years, it was clear that Gorbachev missed her deeply.

Gorbachev maintained a close relationship with his only daughter, Irina Virganskaya-Gorbacheva. After her mother fell ill, Virganskaya-Gorbacheva was tapped by her father to be the vice president of his organization, The Gorbachev Foundation, which aimed to help children who have leukemia — the same form of cancer that killed her mother.

Said Gorbachev’s biographer, William Taubman of him:

“Gorbachev succeeded in destroying what was left of totalitarianism in the Soviet Union; he brought freedom of speech, of assembly, and of conscience to people who had never known it, except perhaps for a few chaotic months in 1917. By introducing free elections and creating parliamentary institutions, he laid the groundwork for democracy. It is more the fault of the raw material he worked with than of his own real shortcomings and mistakes that Russian democracy will take much longer to build than he thought”.

What ordinary Russians thought of him was perhaps encapsulated in a Pizza Hut advertisement-designed for the US market-that he took part in 1997.

In the advertisement, diners debate the chaos unleashed — or the opportunities created — by the end of the USSR, before toasting him.

Gorbachev indeed left an indelible mark on the world. Unforgettable.

I had planned to write on NASA’s Artemis Mission to the Moon, which was to be launched early this week. But the lift-off was put-off to end of the week, due to a technical defect, which was subsequently set right. I hope NASA launches Artemis on the 3rd September, as scheduled. Good luck to them. Return to the Moon.

More ‘marking’ stories coming-up in the weeks ahead. See the world with World Inthavaaram.



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

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Kumar Govindan

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