Murthy is one of my oldest acquaintances. I’ve known him for so long that I forget how and when we first met, but he’s changed little over the years. He pops up without warning, always on his way someplace else. He spends a couple of hours with me, talking all the time.
His answers to questions are long, for, as he once asked me, “Why use ten words when you can use four thousand?” He always takes his leave promising to get in touch next week. But next week comes only after a year or two or even more. No matter, though, because he’s a great idea man, always worth listening to, and, besides, never lets events weigh him down.
The lockdown has got him confined to his flat in Thiruvananthapuram, cramping his style a little. But he doesn’t let that affect him. He spends his time on long phone calls with all his old friends.
And he has a lot of old friends. He knows ministers and secretaries and industrialists and all kinds of influential people. And a few humble commoners, like me.
He called me the other evening. “How’re you doing?” I asked when I recognised his voice.
“Fine,” he said. “Absolutely fine. Having fun!”
“Fun?” I asked, surprised. It’s hard to think of someone of even his sanguine temperament having fun in the lockdown. “How?”
From then on, he was in his element. He went on like a verbal steamroller. “Oh, collecting conspiracy theories. Have you head the latest? It seems the patent on Remdesivir is with somebody called Unitaid, who happen to be a sort of branch of Gilead.
And Unitaid get a lot of donations from Bill and Melinda Gates, George Soros, WHO, and the Peoples’ Republic of China. And you’re not going to believe this, but Unitaid apparently have a lab somewhere near Wuhan...
“Unitaid and Gilead supported Hillary Clinton’s campaign, you know. And guess who authorised millions of dollars for the Wuhan Institute of Virology’s research into coronaviruses? Anthony Fauci, that’s who! The same guy who recommends Remdesivir and slapped down hydroxychoroquine!”
He paused for breath and I managed to slip in a question before he started talking again. “And what do you believe of all this?” I asked.
He replied as if I were a slightly challenged five-year-old. “I go by the evidence,” he said. “Like there are these other theories. There’s one that the US government unknowingly outsourced its research into coronaviruses to China. It seems there’s some professor at Harvard, named Charles Leiber, who was arrested and let out on bail. The charge is that he got grants from the American National Institute of Health for some research.
That grant required him to tell them about foreign sources of funds for his projects, but he didn’t tell them he’d been part of a Chinese strategic science program since 2012. Actually he’d worked through the Wuhan University of Technology. Yes, Wuhan again. I’m curious how he raised the million-dollar bail, by the way.
“Then there are these scientific or pseudo-scientific theories. There’s the 5G connection. There are people who say that radio frequency radiation that 5G generates is devastating. It causes all kinds of problems in living beings, ranging from mutations and genetic defects to oxidative stress, whatever that is.
There’s this doctor, or ex-doctor, who claims that the last pandemic we had, the flu of 1918, came just after the electricity network grew to cover large parts of the earth. So there’s some connection between electrical activity and radiation and epidemics.
And you know what? The first city to go completely 5G was none other than Wuhan. So they want to stop the spread of 5G and we know that the Chinese won’t like it because it’s their Huawei who are leaders in 5G technology.
“You know, there are all kinds of minds with nothing to do in the lockdown but think of coronavirus and some of them have tied it up to religion. You know, apocalypse and the pralaya and so on. There are these guys who found that the Indian government was investigating people from the US and China who were working on the possibility of bat viruses in some part of Nagaland where the local population have developed immunity to these viruses jumping to humans. So some guys began to say that this isn’t a virus, it’s actually Kalki, who’s going to destroy all the non-believers.
So they’re praying to be saved from the deluge at the end of the world. And it’s not just Hindus. There are Christians and Muslims who believe that the virus is a weapon that their respective gods are using to rid the world of the ungodly.
“To these guys it’s easy to tell who’s good and who’s not. If you’re alive at the end of the pandemic, you’re good, and otherwise you’re dead.
He had to pause again for a breath and I managed to slip in another quick sentence. “You never told me what you believe, after weighing the evidence and so on.”
“No?” he asked. “Well, there’s this 14-year-old boy astrologer who's been uploading lots of videos on YouTube. He predicted the beginning of the pandemic, and he says things are going to get better after the end of May. I think I believe him.”
I heard his doorbell ring in the background. “I’ve got a visitor from the government,” he said. “There’s a case of Covid-19 nearby and they check from time to time... Gotta go!”
He didn’t get back to me after that. I’ve tried calling him many times, but his phone is always busy, so I’ve never been able to ask him about the evidence that that 14-year-old was right...
Shashi Warrier has written fairy tales, thrillers, a semi-fictional biography, satires, and a love story. Besides writing, he teaches strategic communication at a business school....