One of favourite my jokes, on Pythagoras Theorem, goes like this. A young man wants to become a mathematician and works hard at it. But he is not able to comprehend Pythagoras Theorem and fails his exams repeatedly. Shamed and frustrated, he decides to take his life. He takes a boat and in the mid sea jumps out to drown. A tribal man from the nearby island rescues him and takes him to his place. He gets fed and is taken to the chief, who asks him why did take the decision. The Math student explains his frustration on not able to understand the Pythagoras Theorem. The chief says, “It is very simple. I will explain. Answer this question. I have a squaw who sleeps on buffalo hide. She bore me a son. I have another squaw who sleeps on deer hide who also bore me a son. I have a third squaw who sleeps on Hippopotamus hide and she bore me twin sons. Now summarize this.” The student replies, “The sum of squaws of two hides is equal to the squaw of Hippopotamus hide.” The chief says, “That’s it. Now go home and take your test.”
If you have ever thought understanding Pythagoras theorem or deciphering Einstein’s E=MC2 is the most difficult thing to understand in life, a good place to start will be understanding the lockdown regulations/relaxations that’s being put out in Chennai. Sample this: Yesterday the government decided to start the suburban services and sent out guidelines who can travel when.
Women can travel at any time during the day at whatever time we run the trains.
Women with children can travel but need to prove the children who accompany them should be less than twelve and need to produce proof that they are indeed less than twelve.
Pregnant woman can travel but they are advised to travel only if it is unavoidable at any time.
Men can’t as a rule travel unless they have just arrived at interstate train terminus and want to take a train to reach the suburb in which case they need to prove that they had just arrived in the train terminus and continuing the journey to home.
If you are a man but you work for a Government organization then you can travel but you need to produce ID proof and that your department is indeed working during the lockdown.
Young adults cannot travel in trains but then if you are young adult and female you can travel because you fall under women category.
Men can’t travel unless otherwise you have taken a long distance train and completing the journey through a suburban train. But then there is also a rule men can travel only during non peak hours. So we are not sure if we can allow you under the rule which states men can travel at any time as they are completing the journey or we may not allow you because you are trying to travel during peak hours.
And the list goes on and on.
All rules published and revised every day to avoid typical Indian Suburban Train Journey.
So if you are a passenger and arrive at a station, and try to read/understand which category you fall under, three or four trains may leave. Bad luck if you are a man, because by the time you figure it out, peak hours may start, so you cannot travel anyway.
I believe the lockdown regulations in Chennai and Tamilnadu or for that matter in almost all states are probably larger in length than the constitution of many countries. And then this keeps changing. What was applicable last week will not applicable this week and next week we may go back to same set of regulations published five week back.
It is not just not trains. India thrives on small, medium, big and mega shops. For decades we followed one simple rule. Shops will be open from seven in the morning till nine at night. This is true especially in southern part of the country which doesn’t have severe winters. So shops open early mornings and close late night. Now the whole understanding has turned on its head. We have different time for Provision stores, hardware stores, electrical shops, saloons, Parks and gyms. While the government advises you not to venture out unnecessarily, you may have to go out three times just to complete your shopping because all operate under different hours. Also you need to know whether the shop you intend to visit, comes under small/medium/big or mega category. The one you intend to visit may not have been exempted to open.
Already confused, it doesn’t end there. You need to know what’s the category of the shop you visit and you might not have cared to take a note of all these years. I frequent a shop in my area who sells cut vegetables and grated coconut. This shop was closed during full lockdowns during Covid-19 epidemic, even though provision and vegetable stores are allowed to remain open during lockdowns (mind you not full lockdowns but lockdowns, there is a difference). Couple of days ago, I visited the shop to buy cut vegetable which was not available. The saleslady told me to come in the evening. I asked her should I come before seven PM deadline. She said, “No sir. We are allowed to open till 9 PM as we are a sweet shop also which comes under restaurant category.” It was the same reason that the shop was closed during lockdowns when vegetable stores stayed open because you see their license was for sweet shop. That’s some learning after sixteen months of lockdown.
So one must keep a photocopy of the licenses of all the shops nearby and compare it with the guidelines produced every week to understand which category the shop comes under and till what time you are allowed to visit the shop.
Imagine the logistics nightmare for the distributors who fill up these shops with goods. They must be carrying guidelines as thick as old telephone directories to figure out to whom they can supply to and when.
And then ePass system. If you are an electrician or plumber, you can apply for ePass to visit your customers in the city as there are travel restrictions across the city and you need a reason and a document to travel. Since we don’t have a register of freelance plumbers and electricians, anyone can apply online for an ePass stating that he/she is a plumber or electrician and travel within the city with the pass without worrying if they would be detained. I am told, suddenly Chennai city has become a city of plumbers and electricians and the number of ePasses issued to them exceeded the number of houses in Chennai. The system of ePass is another gem of an idea. The passes are issued without any checking and you can write any reason. People have got ePasses stating whatever reason came to their minds, from ‘Going to buy alcohol’ to ‘going to vote in US Presidential election.’
I asked Mohan Ram yesterday, “Assume I have boarded the train during non peak hour but then after few minutes the peak hour starts. Can I continue my journey or should I just get out in the next station which is not my destination?” He said, “I have no clue. I am actually wondering, how will you scrutinize if you are eligible to travel. By the time you check five people three trains may enter the station and leave without passengers. But then, that’s the idea isn’t it, keeping the passengers socially distanced?”
If you think Siri or Alexa or Google assist will help you, my advise is don’t even try that. With all the trillion terabit servers they have, all the computing power they possess and assisted by AI, these servers will come crashing down, if someone is going to upload all the lockdown logic and guidelines on to these servers. You ask, ‘Hey Siri, is Surya Greens open now,’ the next thing you do will be to visit to mobile phone shop to buy a new phone, but then you are not sure if the shop is going to be open.