It was exhilarating to meet him and talk to him so as to get insights into the regions that he knew best.

A week ago, friends informed me that Shakti Sinha, a close friend for long, was no longer with us. He had left in his sleep after a full day conversing with friends and planning for the morrow. Having just returned from Tashkent, Shakti was going to travel to Leh with others concerned about the situation in that part of the lovely UT with its trove of civilisational reminders of the past. It was difficult to come across an individual more knowledgeable about Central Asia than Shakti, just as the gifted Phunchok Stobdan is about Ladakh. It was exhilarating to meet him and talk to him so as to get insights into the regions that he knew best, that he had experienced and studied about for decades. Shakti was entirely without the attitude that so often accompanies an individual who comes from a VIP background. In Shakti’s case, he had married the daughter of the sister of Mrs Kaul, who had looked after Atal Bihari Vajpayee with such selflessness and care that the BJP Olympian had adopted her two daughters as his foster children. The most precious possession in life is not money or power but the love of those who truly care for you, and this was certainly the case with Vajpayee’s foster family. Forget an individual of the stature of Vajpayee, even those close to much lesser people see themselves as several notches above the rest of society, and make little secret of that feeling. This is the attitude that comes from those close to even a VIP, not to mention a VVIP such as Atal Bihari Vajpayee was. Neither of his foster daughters demonstrated any such attitude. They treated others of less influential backgrounds with regard and respect, and won the same back. Shakti was always a wonderful person to interact with, and now that option of meeting him has ceased to exist. The problem with adding more and more miles in the road of life is that along the way, people drop off when their own journeys end. Some have lived what is described as a full life, departing in their 90s or the latter part of their 80s. A few go much sooner, usually suddenly, and cause shock along with grief among those who believed that they would have the benefit of such company for decades more. Those of advanced age who are close, or those that have been having serious health issues for some time, in a sense give time to prepare for the inevitable outcome of loss. The departure of those much younger, especially when they are of excellent health at least on the surface, gives no such time for preparation, and the shock of their demise is sudden. A bolt of lightning that comes unexpectedly from the skies. Perhaps it is not logical to expect too much from the perspective of time spent with a loved person. After all, any road or rail journey (or even a flight) may end in mishap, as all too many do. Just as we take oxygen in the atmosphere, water from the taps and light from electrical fittings as given, we often do the same with life, neglecting to take account of the oft-mentioned reality that death is inevitable once life has been created. But as a poet once said, “do not go gentle into the night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light”. Each of us know those who stood up to disease and triumphed. Friends in the UK have a daughter who was diagnosed with a condition that may have led less plucky individuals to curl up and prepare for the worst. Instead, she fought back, refusing even to give up horseback riding. After a spell of treatment, she went back to her job and is doing exceptionally well in her work, as in the rest of her life. John F. Kennedy wrote about “Profiles in Courage”. Certainly, this is a girl who qualifies for that epithet.
SARS2 has made an appearance in our household. A member of the household staff came back from her village when we came to Trivandrum for a few weeks. She developed fever and was sent back to her house and tested positive. So did my wife and myself upon exposure to her earlier. Thus began a period of anxiety and uncertainty in the household that is yet to end. There is little doubt that this is a lab created virus, for nature would not design something so unpredictable and feral. It is clear that the Gain of Function experiments carried out by the Wuhan Institute of Virology in apparent cooperation with an institute in the US was avoidable. SARS2 has the deadly impact of a bio-weapon, and as such should never be the subject of experiments designed to make the toxicity even worse than it previously was. Given the tell-tale signs of joint efforts by the US lab and the Wuhan facility, it is no surprise that the investigation ordered by President Biden on the origins of the virus remains inconclusive. It was Dr Subramanian Swamy MP who first mentioned to me that he preferred economists with only a single hand. When asked why, the reply was that too many in this (and other) profession present conclusions such as “on the one hand” followed immediately by “on the other hand”, leaving the interlocuter confused. Clear conclusions were expected from the US study, and these were lacking. The conclusions were a compound of the two theories relating to the origin of the virus. That it was either from a lab or from nature. The whole investigation was a waste of time, and reflects poorly on the value of US studies ordered by the White House. The “either or” nature of the US report into the origins of SARS2 has generated conspiracy theories that the lack of definitive findings was in order to conceal the extent of cooperation between the US institute dealing with infectious diseases and the Wuhan experiments. Clearly, President Biden disagrees, as he has retained the services of those seen as having had a close relationship with the Wuhan lab and its Gain of Function experiments. In years to come, other enquiries are likely that would involve different researchers, those without any appearance of a conflict of interest such as would be caused by partnering with the Wuhan Institute of Virology in any way, including by funding some of its questionable activities. The impact of SARS2 has been so extensive that it is inevitable that such studies will get initiated. Once let loose into the population, it was inevitable that mutants would spring up, some worse than the previous strains. Fortunately, greater attention seems to be getting paid to therapeutics in order to ensure satisfactory outcomes from the disease. Across the world, doctors have been experimenting with different therapies, and a systematic approach needs to be followed in tracking and evaluating the more promising lines of treatment. The development of vaccines needs to be supplemented by a similar effort at finding out medications that are effective in treating a disease that is still largely unknown in many of its characteristics. As John Donne wrote, “no man (or woman) is an island entire unto itself”, and therefore that every death “diminishes us”. The passing of Shakti Sinha once again has illustrated the fragility of life. And the emptiness within each of us as those we love and respect move on.