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Opinion Columnists 09 May 2020 Farrukh Dhondy: Some ...
In his words: "I am just a professional writer, which means I don't do blogs and try and get money for whatever I write."

Farrukh Dhondy: Some questions arise in intriguing Covid times

Published May 9, 2020, 6:53 pm IST
Updated May 9, 2020, 6:53 pm IST
The population of the world asks, when can we go back to normal which poses the question, when was anything normal?
Representational image (AP)
 Representational image (AP)

“Pretending to write
An excuse for drinking wine
Bark without the bite.
The classic recluse
Concludes in all solitude
Life has little use
Days melt into nights
The media has reports of
More domestic fights
Anxiety is
For those who’ve lost their audience -
We’re not in Show Biz!”
     From Baiku Chi Haiku by Bachchoo

The nation and the world may feel at a loose end but I, gentle reader, am as busy as Cinderella. And in these intriguing times when no one knows the answers and scientists, instead of finding a way to cure all viruses are in pursuit of discovering black holes somewhere in the universe, some questions come to me.


To be fair, I don’t suppose an astronomer would be much good in a genetic science laboratory, but this passing remark was inspired by the fact that doctors, whether they be gynaecologists or proctologists, are now dealing with Covid-19 in Britain’s National Health Service.

We are all today, politicians, epidemiologists and lay people like Mr Jinnah, of whom one Raj civil servant said he had a problem for every solution. If there’s a vaccine, will its immunity last?

The population of the world asks, when can we go back to normal which poses the question, when was anything normal?

The questions buzzing around my head as I go about my daily chores are very different from each other. The first, gentle reader, is stimulated by a boyhood memory.

My late friend Rashid Rashid’s family owned a bungalow in Pune with a vast garden and what was virtually a forest in the acres of land behind it.

This area was thick with trees, bushes and twisting, almost impenetrable undergrowth and Rashid’s father had hired a caretaker, a sort of forest ranger called Khadewak, to keep it free from trespassers, squatters and the like.

This keeper of the woods was from a tribe of Adivasis and, in a clearing in the forest, had built himself a hut from the materials, the leaves and branches, that the forest yielded. He also had weapons like catapults, knives and bows and arrows fashioned from nature or from the pile of junk in Rashid’s old garage.

He would gather most of his food by shooting birds and other fauna of the forest and cooking these on fires he made with gathered wood.

As young boys, possibly ten or eleven years old, we were fascinated by this way of life and hung around Khadewak with his specific and happy permission. He would feed us morsels of the barbecued birds he’d skinned and cooked and rubbed with herbs he’d gathered.

One of the delicacies he used to shoot down and cook were ‘vanvagley’ or flying foxes, hairy bat-like creatures who flew and hung upside down in trees. We ate bits of these with relish.

I distinctly remembered all of us at that age regularly fell ill with fever, sore throats and in some cases possibly heavy breathing and pneumonia-like symptoms for which we were treated. Were we then, through eating these flying foxes, been suffering from Covid-19?

The experts today claim the present epidemic started with the bat-eaters of Wuhan.

And if ours were the undetected symptoms of early and then cured or relieved Covid-19, have we/I acquired a permanent immunity from the disease?
 Of course, there is no way of testing this unlikelihood until that immunity test exists.

And even then, one will never know whether it was the Khadewak barbeque or the sore throat I’ve had for a few weeks? (No, no fever and no trouble breathing -fd. Better not! What would we do without your nonsense – Ed.)

The second question I have pertains to the UK’s politics. The information, which should be alarming, comes from the satirical and investigative British journal Private Eye  and this from its investigative section.

The question is about the company called the Halcyon gallery which has its offices and showroom in London’s Bond Street but is registered in the Virgin Islands. Halcyon also uses companies registered in Hong Kong for the benefit of billionaire customers. In the last two years, it paid out £14.4 million in dividends to its shareholders. Ninety per cent of the shares are held by an Israeli citizen called Ehud Sheleg.

Last week Halcyon gallery filed its accounts, and these showed that it was going bankrupt, but is now coming in for a bailout by the British taxpayer, of which I am one, to the tune of millions of pounds.

Gentle reader, the reason all this is interesting is that by registering the company in the Virgin Islands, with associated dealings through Hong Kong, Sheleg pays no British taxes. These are tax-dodging but, under Rishi Sunak, the Tory chancellor of the exchequer who has no plans to change it, legal tax havens for companies that make their millions through Britain.

The next fact is that Ehud Sheleg, an Israeli citizen, is the official treasurer of the Tory Party and having donated £3.8 million to the party was given a knighthood.
Now Halcyon has applied for the millions that Mr Sunak will hand out to companies that face a crisis through the lockdown.

Will he give the taxpayers’ money to Mr Sheleg’s company, which pays no tax? He knows that Mr Sheleg is not only the treasurer of his party, but also donates large sums to it. Will those facts have any influence on Mr Sunak’s decision to give our money to this enterprise, which doesn’t employ many British citizens whose livelihoods are threatened by its bankruptcy, but does trade in “art” that is being used, through large exchanges of international currency, for non-aesthetic purposes?

Unconnected with Halcyon, I once traced an art auction company in Dubai which was using unremarkable paintings to launder black money from India and Pakistan.

So, will Rishi Sunak hand Halcyon a handout? A small bet? And the third question is should Keele University, which honoured Britain’s current home secretary, Priti Patel, with a degree, be investigated by an independent body to assess its academic standards?