First published in, August 2020

Did the caveman laugh?

Did he have a toothache?

The cheering thing for him would have been, he would not have to visit a dentist. Or, is that a cheering thought for me? And he would continue in pain while his tooth rotted and fell! And mine gets pulled out or repaired by a dentist peering into my numb anaesthetised mouth! Which is a better option?

My sons would tell me — the dentist.

I — I am not so sure being at the receiving end of intense dental care!

I remember watching a Bill Nye show on cavemen’s diet, which is what many believe can heal obesity, but do I want to be healed off my layers of adipose built over time with the gentle nurture of gastronomical adventures and delights — all memories of happiness and indulgences beyond the wildest imaginings of many? For those who do want to be scrawny, Bill Nye showed why a caveman diet would not work.

Currently, humanity reels from a feeling of sadness brought by the relentlessness of the tiny virus that evolved mysteriously. It has changed our lives. Why is it we can’t accept that? Just as going back to a cave diet or a world devoid of dentists is a no-go, going back to pre- corona could again be fodder for humour in yet a newly constructed Bill Nye show in a future where the virus would be seen as a turning point in mankind’s history.

Let us dream of this New World and let Abhijit Banerjee and Yuval Noah Harari suggest how to make it a reality — let us put forth our vision. Here I can only dream of mine. But I urge you to dream of your utopia too. Meanwhile, let us have some fun with mine!

I read a verse in which a young writer imagined a world devoid of ugly vegetables. He dreamt of getting our fibres from candyfloss — my dream too! Rainbows and fairies from children’s writings bring a smile to our lips. But like them, imagine… And now, imagine a world devoid of poverty, hunger and of mankind living for each other — beyond artificial boundaries. Some have so much in the current order of things that they develop layers of adipose like me and some have so less that they cannot get enough food to continue living! I ask you to imagine — imagine a world free of Facebook feeds of starving children, no more Syrian refugee kids asking for medicines to kill hunger, no more migrant labourers living in drainpipes, no more deaths due to starvation reports! What could we do to make that a reality? How can we solve poverty and hunger? Banerjee has already shown us how to an extent.

Then there is the thing of travel. I am an intrepid globe trotter and one of the things that depresses me as we drive down the highway in Singapore are the planes waiting — waiting to start operation, to take off. So, I imagine again an empty airport with all the flights in the sky and one aeroplane taxiing on the runway that crosses above the highway to the airport. Can that happen again? Slowly, perhaps if the world unites and develops an open approach to fighting COVID and developing medicines and vaccines. There was a time when there were no medicines for tuberculosis, plague and cholera — all infectious diseases. Perhaps, if instead of looking for conspiracy theories and ways of isolating information, we all worked together, it could happen. So spake the great guru Harari.

Travel brings to mind a major concern of mine when I travel — sanitation and toilets. The New World would have an India where sanitation and toilets would be a norm. Then traveling within the country would be so much easier. I still have recall of toilets or the lack of them in my adventures in India — starting from my experiences in the open fields of Punjab where three decades ago as a young journalist trainee, I spent time in the open fields with village women at 4 am in vain to the water free toilets of Lucknow residency two years ago , Kolkata Botanical garden three years ago, Delhi Children’s Park near India gate more than a decade ago during our holidays in India as a family. There was no water to flush the earlier waste in any of these places and the flies buzzed over heaps — a horror that anyone would want to forget.  Thankfully, the first two were viewed not by me but by others of my family. First-hand other than the Children’s Park, I discovered even the airport at Lucknow did not at that point have proper toileting facilities. There was so much water on the floor in the airport but none in the tap or the flush!

Trains are a no go for me in India because not only are the common toilets antiquated, smelly and stained but also the stewards use a grey dishrag tucked into their pockets to wipe cutlery and utensils — the dishrag every time seems to suffer from the lack of water and soap. With the onset of corona, people will hopefully have to start believing or be educated into belief in soap and water. Even Trump understood the importance when he asked people to consume soap water or inject cleaning fluids into the lungs! So, can people dream of starting to vote for nation builders who along with electricity, roads will think of having sanitation, potable water, toilets in every home and education to villagers on why using toilets are a better option than the open field? Can we educate people on cleaning toilets and clean toilets?

Singapore actually had a clean the toilet campaign starting 1983 — and it made a difference. I dream the same for the country in which I was born. I ask you is it wrong?

I lived in China for eight years, the toilets there improved from 2006 to 2014! The changes were quite remarkable. From doorless toilets in smaller malls in Shanghai, the toilets all developed doors. Most places developed toilets we could use when we travelled towards the end of our stay. Despite its political games, China succeeded in conquering their technology and toilet issues by and large.

Once, I had a housekeeper from Sri Lanka in Singapore, who had faced terror attacks. She had left her country to earn enough to build a toilet in her home. The day she had enough, she wanted to return home to her country! True. So, why can every villager in India too not dream of having a toilet along with a dish antenna the way a billionaire dreams of gold seated toilets and Ferraris? Can we dream of this education? Though I believe some are already working towards realising this, the task is humongous and should be addressed by people as well as the government, who could explain in their agenda how they can connect places with good roadways, waterways and transport, lay pipes for potable water and electricity wires all over the country.

I realise, I spent a huge part on toilets, but that is of essence for a healthier world, just like fruits and vegetables over candy and cakes! There are things many of us do not like, like celery, but we need to take it and tolerate the unsavoury to have a trouble-free existence just as we can make a happier world by accepting all the colours provided by varied languages and cultures.

Language, faith, religion, nations — all these concepts that make for a more divisive world if we become intolerant — could evolve as binding factors to create a borderless and happier Earth if we are tolerant and humane towards our neighbours. Nations can be like economic zones and open to helping each other instead of competing to be the best. Can we make that happen? Build tolerance, humane outlook and patience into our academic curriculum over emphasising the mad race of rats that will be drowned in an ocean of greed, consumerism and hate! Teach our young skill sets that will teach them love, tolerance, kindness and they will be encouraged to develop an ability to laugh at themselves!

That is why I always loved Wodehouse …

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