When the Reel and the Real converge...almost




Wish the similarities of this 2011 movie plot to the Covid-19 real-life horror were in toto; wish we had a wonder doc like the film's CDC scientist Ally Hextall who bravely turns guinea pig to test a live strain and develops a miracle vaccine that moves into mass production in record time. We wouldn't have had any quarrel with this bit of fantasy in an otherwise authentic film that adequately respects science unlike most outlandish Hollywood productions of this genre. 

The film features Kate Winslet and Matt Damon in pleasantly unusual support roles that strike immediate resonance. Winslet looks every inch an epidemiologist while Damon plays the everyday man with aplomb. Wish we had his invincible immunity in our arsenal; it could have worked wonders in the slum pockets of Dharavi in particular. 

Sadly, the reigning Covid-19 havoc denies the viewer the luxury of applauding the sincere effort of the writer-director duo Scott Burns and Steven Soderbergh which almost reads like the tragic tale of the Covid-19 pandemic.

An infected bat, fleeing a palm tree forest marked for destruction, accidentally drops a banana. A pig devours it before embarking on its final journey to the slaughter-house. A zoonotic spillover ensues when an unsuspecting casino chef works on the animal in his kitchen before shaking hands with a lady guest, who then becomes the ill-fated 'index patient'. The virus spreads thick and fast, courtesy scores of 'handshaking' carriers and 'friendly' surfaces worldwide. When infections touch alarming levels, quarantines follow. Authorities across the globe struggle to find a way out amid mayhem, riots, fake news, and false curative claims.
The Reproductive number (R naught) and mortality rate of the film's virus are higher than that of Covid-19. We could draw some solace on this front! Hope all the theory of recombinant DNA techniques and primate adenovirus vectors, long list of potential drugs, antibodies and plasma therapies and the like bear fruit very soon. For the moment, we pray that the epidemiologist Ian Lipkin, the film's medical consultant who happened to test Covid positive, is on his way to recovery.  

Wistful Dahanukar Diaries

These are the dark, dreary Covid-19 times of the year 2020 calling for a spate of draconian measures in quick succession. Even as we keenly await curative breakthroughs en route various anti-Covid pathways - antivirals, immune system boosters, plasma therapies, buffy coat yield, interferon gamma, cytokines et al, off the shelf alternatives, and alternative and traditional medicine - it is not easy to keep calm and maintain composure. Although I have been in 24 by 7 online business mode since ages, and even my two-penny volunteering necessarily happens remotely, life does appear upside down at the moment.



For some elusive reason, the mind has turned more inward than usual and looking back on the years gone by has assumed a fresh, new introspective character. I take this opportunity to remember the golden moments spent with a handful of mates who were an integral part of my life throughout the five years of college.

It's sheer coincidence that I start my tribute with a couple of Tam Brams or that the first three friends were inhabitants of the same residential colony, a huge suburban expanse developed by a reputed auto major (of tractor and jeep fame) for staff members.

1. Vidya Srinivasan:
My all-time absolute favourite; she was a rare gem, mature beyond her years, delightfully enigmatic, excellent listener, caring and compassionate, and radiant and beautiful in her own unique way. Every moment spent with her has been for keeps. The best thing about her was her equanimity and no-nonsense approach to life and work. She was academically brilliant unlike me, but she was equally alive to the seemingly trivial aspects and little pleasures of life, just like me. I sorely miss her even today and wish her loads of health, wealth and prosperity. My social networking sanyas makes it impossible to trace her online, but knowing her, I doubt she would be active on the Facebooks, Instas and Twitters of the world. I presume she still prefers her staple dignified solitude. Needless to say, her prosaic autograph in cursive handwriting, spanning several pages of my memory book, is a cherished treasure: an FD and RD rolled into one and gloriously devoid of attractive interest rates or alluring tax rebates.

2. Srinivasan G:       
Chini, as we called him, was well known for his inimitable bravado and devil may care attitude. Never the one to shy away from probing every 'taboo' topic, his appetite for murky adventure was insatiable. Cosmopolitan to a tee, his secular ways and broad outlook always kept him in good stead. A great conversationalist, my time was truly well spent in his company. We often went on crazy escapades after college hours - Malabar Hill, Bombay Central, Tardeo, Heera Panna, Dadar, Shivaji Park - without rhyme or reason - talking about everything under the sun, moon and stars. I bet he will still remember the SETA syndrome (Sudden Exposure to Aristocracy) we sensed going up and down Malabar Hill. The other day, I passed through the Vile Parle samosa snack joint 'Saurashtra' and I almost heard him say 'khilavtos kay' (care to buy me a samosa plate?) in his defining mischievous tone. Had he checked his inherent tendency to be mean and menacing, I reckon many more would have found in him a friend for life. Nevertheless, I have scores of fond memories of our interaction. And his bagful of tales - 'Dildar' Uncle, 'MMS' super granny, his dad's faux pas at Madam Tussauds, London - are now part of a sanctified folklore.  

3. Harish:
90 percent of my college time was spent alongside his towering frame of six feet. Our idea of fun and frolics may seem childish to many but we cared a damn anyway! A wonderful mate in many ways, he was a compulsive party-n-picnic animal. A confirmed castiest, his pet lines were invariably centered around parochial issues, rooted in passing snide remarks about social strata, sects, creed, religion and language but playing it safe on the fence during critical times callling for litmus test interventions. And he was a self-appointed authority on all topics alien to him. Classical music, spirituality, mythology, economics, sociology, psychology or medicine, his punctured pearls of wisdom were invariably in ready to deploy mode for the benefit of humanity. Yet, I cherish every good memory linked with his association to this day, and I sorely miss the jaggery cakes of his native place, as also our countless beer sessions in umpteen dens: whether Prakash and Jai Prakash in Goregaon, Amrit in Vashi, Vishwamahal in Dadar, Foodland in Malad, or Samrat in Borivali.

4. Manoj:
For me, if there was a home straight out R K Narayan's Malgudi days, it was "Kalapi" - the Borivali residence of Manoj and his endearing parents. I can never forget the seamless fun sessions at his place and his home walls decorated with his dad's true-to-life charcoal sketches. Manoj was the ideal friend to have, cheerful and non-interfering, and always ready for harmless adventure. Now a quintessential  'Middle East' professional, I don't sense his innate warmth anymore but I continue to miss the contagious simplicity of his parents. His pencil sketch of Vidya is still in my memory, picture perfect that it was. I always thought Manoj was immutable like the Clojure functional language but how wrong I was. I always took the pithy Sholay dialogue at face value: sikke aur insaan mein shayad yehi farq hai. But now I know better: programming language aur insaan mein shayad yehi farq hai.

5. Vinayak:
The perfect gentleman among us, his mild manners and studious ways ought to have inspired the rest of us towards some positive action but sadly didn't. A loner at heart, he could unwind himself only if and when he felt at home in the given company. And he simply loved casual conversations. Precisely why I remember most of the anecdotes he shared with me en route our suburban train journeys, like the ST mishap in which a travel trunk fell on his co-passenger's jawline, or his frantic search for salt in a Gujarat township where locals knew the essential mineral only as 'mithu', not namak or meeth. Of course, these hard-coded recollections have equally to do with an inborn programing error that I am fatally inflicted with - an ever-burgeoning database bursting with a truckload of trivial memories. Vinayak is today a top-notch VC guy, bereft of his old ways. He probably thinks when people decide to look back or cite old memories, they either lack maturity or mask an hidden agenda of seeking plum favors from a 'happening' pro at a later date. So unless you 'pivot' forward with a more convincing  'proof of concept', don't expect to be invited for the seed round.