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Fighting the Good Fight May 26, 2006

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I had the privilege of attending a General Body Meeting at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences two nights ago. First of all, hats off to the exceptional people I met there. Nothing I could put into words would ever do those great men and women justice. Consider this: We are all – well, mostly, anyway – extremely affronted by the way the government, nay the legislature, has approached the issue of reservation. Everyone, not just the ruling parties but also the Opposition for keeping silent, is at fault. I am not directly affected. Neither are the residents at AIIMS. What is at stake is a principle. Higher education is a responsibility only those who truly deserve can shoulder. Only those who can use it for the welfare of others, only those who can realise its true worth and only those who have earned it through sheer hard work and the gift of ability should have higher education granted to them. Ceteris Paribus there is no difference between a student of a lower caste and that of a higher one – why we still talk in terms of caste is a question that merits an entire piece to itself – so why reserve seats for either? The Government submits that since several students belonging to the OBCs have not had equal opportunities for quality education at the lower levels they have to be spoon-fed at the higher levels. So, if it is being freely admitted that the fault lies in the education system and infrastructure at the lower levels isn't that where the Government's focus should be? Why then, Mr. Prime Minister, are you ruining the lives of millions and making things no better for the rest? For, we know reservations don't work. Setting aside every fact and study Karan Thapar threw at Arjun Singh in their interview the other day – the interview was basically Arjun Singh harder and harder to look like an idiot and Karan Thapar trying desperately to get out of the way (both succeeded, by the way) – our experiences from our stints of graduation and post-graduation have shown us that reservations don't work. Whether it be Osama or Bush, the world around us seems to be telling us that the only way to survive is extremism. Whether it be religious extremism (bin Laden) or extremism of stupidity (Dubbya) all signs seem to be leading the UPA to believe that only by combining extremism in stupidity, denial and a general detachment with reality can it hope to celebrate another anniversary in office. So the UPA has done what it has done and is doing what it is doing despite every academic, corporate and semi-literate advising it to the contrary. False assurances were given of maintaining the number of General category seats in every institution and now those futile promises have also been renegued. Today's announcement of increasing quotas in one go without any mention of timeframe of increasing the total number of seats is a slap in the face of not just the hundreds of thousands of people protesting Reservations but in the face of justice and democracy itself. The Prime Minister states that, "The Reservation issue is settled." How could it be settled without accommodating, in the least bit, the rightful demands of the multitudes of students whose lives they have effectively ruined?

But hark, I digress. I must pay homage to the people at AIIMS and the other institutes, medical or otherwise, who have joined them in this movement. Every regressive, divisive step by the Government has created fresh doubts in the hearts of all those who still hold the principles of equality, meritocracy and the dignity of labour sacred. Every day has brought news of despair to their hearts. Yet they have stood resolute in their convictions. The only regret they have is that while they have been claiming their right their patients have been suffering. This is not to say that the striking residents have shunned their duties. Sleepless days have given way to sleepless nights and one sleepless week has led to another. The residents have maintained parallel OPDs and no critical patient has been denied care. The only consideration in their struggle with the Government is the welfare of their patients. However, on the whole, they realise that it is better to divert a few patients to other doors today than have the incompetence of the quota-products thrust upon them tomorrow and so they have stayed firm in their path. Special mention must be made of some of the other participants in this struggle which, surprisingly, has not found much organised support from the business and academic community but I will address that later. All Government medical colleges and several colleges of the Delhi University have joined hands with the striking residents at AIIMS. The students of IIT Delhi have devised several innovative means of "affirmative protests" including shining shoes and sweeping the streets to show the Government what the meritorious would be reduced to once the quota system kicks in. A hundred students have been on a hunger strike for the past thirteen days. Of the medical students on an indefinite hunger strike in Surat one student has been admitted to the Intensive Care Unit and another has been diagnosed with acute renal failure. The media has either been gagged or has lost interest in the life and death of the only people determined to save this country from mediocrity and shame. I attended the GBM and pledged my personal support to their agitation and its demands. I swore that I would do what I could at my end. I write, but I am not content with merely writing on this issue. This is too big. This is too personal. I am working on a couple of other inititiatives but this is a fight that will ask a lot more from many more of us.

It was away from all this struggle and debate that the enormity of the situation really hit me. My grandmother passed away yesterday. She died at home, in the presence of all those who loved her and all those she had loved. But I talk of the time we had rushed her to the ICU a day earlier. With all the agitation at the Government hospitals and its effect on the services we had little choice but to take her to a private establishment. The doctor on duty at the time was not of the highest calibre and I feared for my Grandmother's life. It was then that it hit me. Once the quota system was in place and entire batches of non-merit students had joined the ranks of the doctors everyone bringing a loved one to the hospital would feel the same doubt and fear I felt for my Grandmother. When the very competence of the person in charge of a patient's life was in doubt what incentive would there be for the sick to come to the hospitals? For that matter, what faith would you repose in a bridge designed by a non-merit engineer? Would you feel safe in your car? Your home? Using your electrical appliances? Making an online transaction? Sending your children to school or college? After all, what kind of education would they receive if the competence of the teacher was suspect? What good would any education do your child anyway if you knew that he or she would end up competing with people who already had reservations in seats of higher education or private sector jobs? Wouldn't the queues move from the tuition centres to the registrar's office where you could get a caste certificate made? Albeit, for astronomical sums of money because, after all, tomorrow a caste certificate would be a guarantee of education, employment and who knows what else.

I am single-mindedly opposed to Reservation and I support every peaceful protest against it. If you wish to help go show your support to those who are fighting the good fight and ask how you can contribute. Write to your Member of Parliament and demand to know what he/she is doing about this. Write in to the newspapers and express your shame at the autocracy of the government and the dictatorial manner in which it has handled this issue and its dismal abandonment of the starving medicos. Organise groups and think of how you can help. As a last resort write to me and I promise I shall channelise your energies towards helping achieve a society based on merit. If you still haven't been moved to helping out you are either brain dead or worse – already a Member of Parliament, in which case I say Shame! Shame on you!

If you are fighting the good fight, however, I would say this to you. This cause is bigger than me. It is bigger than you. It is, possibly, the biggest cause our generation will ever have the chance to fight over. There is no putting a value to this cause. Is it worth 10 days of hunger strike? Most definitely. Is it worth 100? Absolutely? Is there a limit to how far we are willing to go to in this fight? None at all. Is it worth my life? A hundred times over. Only, you and I are most useful alive. Save your strength for we have promises to keep. And miles to go before we sleep. And miles to go before we sleep.

A Champions’ League final to savour? May 18, 2006

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In a befitting manner, it rained as Arsenal's hopes of claiming a first Champions' League title were washed away by a combination of bad refereeing, bad spirit and plain bad luck. Barcelona are to be congratulated for winning the Champions' League but if Ronaldinho's shirt stayed on and not even Barcelona fans cheered where we sat what service could such a game have possibly done to football? Eto'o and Giully and Deco and Puyol and Iniesta were all champions before they walked on to the turf in Paris. If anything, the pulp of their achievement was sucked out by the incompetence of the officials and their victory will seem hollow when they lie awake at night wondering if they were, actually, the best in Europe. So, did the best team win? I'd love to say No but, honestly, who can say? For the briefest period, when Arsenal had their first choice team of eleven on the pitch, they seemed the snazzier of the two. Arsenal went in the underdogs and they knew they would have had to put the pedal to the metal right at the start. They did. Henry had a wonderful chance in the third minute and, although the pace for the next ten minutes was controlled by Barcelona, Arsenal seemed ready for big things. Going ahead with ten men, after Lehman's sending off, was unthinkable so they did the unthinkable. They went ahead.

Lehman's sending off I will not argue. It could be argued that the advantage could have been played and Arsenal allowed to play with eleven players, albeit a goal down. However, no one can find fault with what the referee did. His exemption from blame, however, ends there. No replays of the Eto'o goal were ever shown from the sidelines to let us judge for ourselves whether there was a hint of offside. And doubt there was aplenty. To give Henry a yellow card for winning a tackle where he didn't even attack a Barcelona player and to ignore the various fouls committed by the men from the Nou Camp is nothing short of evil. While Arsenal were working their posteriors off defending and attacking with ten men Barcelona were unwittingly given a twelfth, and maybe a thirteenth and fourteenth, player in the form of the referee and his assistants.

Henry's comments after the game were noteworthy. Speaking of the referee he said, "If he didn't want us to win it he should have said so at the start." This from one of Europe's most soft-spoken footballers is more than an indictment of the travesty that was the officiating at the stadium of Paris.

It was a depressing game to watch. Of course it was depressing for every Arsenal fan. It wasn't very rewarding for the Barca fans either and the match was a disappointment for every fan of football. But, and take a moment to think about this, can you imagine how it must have felt for Robert Pires to have had to watch the match helplessly from the sidelines for no fault of his? For what it is worth, Pires, I am sorry.

The silver medals around the Arsenal necks must feel heavier than lead. The hearts are heavy. Henry may move to Barcelona. For all Arsenal fans out there one wonders what there is to look forward to, if anything at all. Congratulations, Rijkaard. Well done, Ronaldinho.

Single-serving poetry April 19, 2006

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Different mooods, five minutes of intense scribbling, some sort of satisfaction with the result, hence the post.

Xanadu

‘Tis Xanadu, where I
and you reside, the sky
this wondrous piece of firmament
to this love is testament
This Earth, once barren and mean
now flows vast, pregnant and green
The birds, they flock in wondrous feather
for you and I are now together.

The Furniture and I

I flipped the switch and lo,
the world was plunged into darkness
The furniture tiptoed – silent and slow
and moved in ways I can but guess

The chair stuck out its wooden leg
and sent me crashing to the floor
Your pardon, it said, I beg
and rocked in silent uproar

The wooden chest was just as cheeky
and opened a drawer above my head
and the carpet – prostrate yet sneaky
sent me crashing into the bed

When skin and wood met, the wood
won fair and square, I must confess
I found the switch and flipped it good
My state, at best, a holy mess

What terrors awaited me in slumber
I could not fathom, and oh, my pain!
Would the demons me outnumber?
I dared not flip the switch again

The Anthem of the Almost-mediocre March 28, 2006

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I have been having so much fun over the past few months that I’ve been in Bombay that I’m sure there must be a law against it somewhere. These extremely hectic weekends are mainly why I haven’t been able to update the blog. I would apologise but I’ve simply had too much fun to regret. You can read all about some of our adventures here and here. About the rest, you’ll simply have to take my word for it. Here’s a tip, though. Riding in the front seat of the upper tier of a double-decker through South Bombay in the evenings is, without a doubt, the most fascinating way of seeing the city. Take a camera with you. My slick DSC-T9 is always by my side. And some of the photographs we’ve managed are simply breathtaking. Have a look at some of them below:

We all muse in different ways. We have different ways of achieving our breakthroughs: those moments when you simply have to shout “Eureka”. When I start thinking I start dreaming. It isn’t till I have to put something into words that I actually force my brain to think constructively. Consequently, its often when I’m talking to friends that I come to significant realisations. Such a moment was sitting at the Gateway of India watching the boats dock, fill up with people and leave; watching the tide rise higher with every crashing wave and watching Orion tilt further into Sea. We were humming some stupid and some not-so-stupid songs when we got down to talking. Here’s the realisation I’ve reached. I call it “The Anthem of the Almost-Mediocre”.

I’m smart (this is, obviously, despite the title, not going to be a post drenched in modesty). I’m one of the smartest people I know. I say this confidently despite the fact that I know some very smart people. Actually, I think we all think the same way. We are smart. Very smart. Yet, we don’t think we’ll ever be great. The world will not remember us five hundred years from now. The only people we are likely to be heroes to are our families and friends. No books will be written about us. No poems and no songs. In all probability we are the 99 out of every 100 people who end up as a statistic. Our parents wanted us to be world-leaders. We will probably disappoint them.

We know we have responsibilities. We respect our responsibilities. But we will never let our responsibilities become the millstones around our necks that we see so many people bogged down with. We will never become slaves to the system. Not even when we control the system. And mark our words, we will.

Life is short. We know that. Too short to waste on hating people. Too short to waste on chasing money or fame or power or the adulation of the masses. Too short to look back every now and then and regret the choices we have made. Too short to worry about Heaven and Hell. Too short for political correctness. Too short to feel inferior or inadequate. Too short to waste sleeping. Too short to waste sitting in the sidelines. Too short to worry about tomorrow or the day after.

Life is a journey. To where? We don’t care. What we do know is that we are not going to spend it flying Business Class. Life is a huge grassland and we will run through it amok with the grass between our toes and the mud kicking up from our heels. Life is the sea and we will thrash our way through it, taking in huge mouthfuls of all it has to offer us. Life is the Crystal Maze and we will knock at every door to see what treasures are hidden behind it. Life is an orange and we plan on extracting every last drop of juice.

There are only three rules in our lives: First and most importantly – Be Good. Its a lot harder than it sounds. You can only do no evil if you mean no evil. So mean no evil. You must love the man on the street, the shover on the bus, the rude lady behind the counter, the guy whose trumpeting won’t let you sleep at night and (Gasp!) even your boss. Respect each and every one of them. Each of them is to his/her family what you are to yours. This rule defines your responsibility to what they call God. Treat every creature in God’s creation as part of that Supreme Being. Don’t do this because otherwise you will go to Hell. Do it because it is the right way of being.

Second – Take care of the people who love you and depend on you. Again, a lot harder than it seems. Its not about the money. If they love you they probably don’t care for the money. You must provide for them. But, more importantly, you must give yourself unto them. They all deserve your time, your effort, your respect, your admiration and your willingness to let go when they need to be free. That is, probably, the hardest. This rule defines your responsibility towards your kith and kin. This is the one that tells you that you must make a success of yourself if only to be able to provide for and take care of your loved ones.

Third – Enjoy yourself. This rule defines your responsibility to yourself. Read. Travel. Listen to music. Watch movies. Learn. Just for the heck of it. Make new friends. Dance. Paint. Write. Have opinions. Love. That above all else.

These rules are in the order for a specific reason. We will never have fun at the cost of taking care of our loved ones or by inconveniencing our fellow man.

The results of these rules are twofold: One, we are almost always happy. Simply because we realise that nothing is worth doing if it doesn’t make us happy. Two, we are not people of waste. We are either working our posteriors off or having fun like nobody’s business. We do not deal in moderation and we do not waste time languishing. We do not look for rest. We are fun. And when you are with us you have fun. Period.

So this, ladies and gentlemen, is the anthem we live by. We apologise if we have spoiled any plans. We are sorry if you are, in any way, inconvenienced. But the time has come for us to take our rightful place at the head of the pack. I declare today Independence Day.

The World’s Largest Fundamentalist State? February 9, 2006

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Consider the word “Fundamentalism”. Just let it run through your head for a bit. What are the images that come to your head? Osama bin Laden would be a common recurrence. If it is images of protests against supposedly derogatory cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in a Danish paper; of self-immolations and burning of embassies and high-commissions, I would not be surprised. If it is the sermons of the cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri talking about killing the “infidels” your brain would be on the right track. After all, all of this is fundamentalism. This is what has damaged the image of the religion – Islam, in this case – in the eyes of the world. But there is a more subtle and, hence, more dangerous type of fundamentalism operating in today’s world. One that operates slowly, demanding less, seemingly innocuous things with loftier aims and greater delusions than we dare speak of. One that speaks a more secular language that hides its cloak-and-dagger intentions. This fundamentalism lives in the corridors of power, in the living rooms of ordinary homes and the churches and schools regular people attend. It lurks in our shadows and looms large in front of our faces yet we do not recognise it. It wins elections, it starts wars, it kills blameless soldiers and it ruins the minds of succeeding generations. Welcome to the world of American Fundamentalism. Don’t confuse this with Christian Fundamentalism despite the fact that there is considerable overlap. The tenets of the two are very different and, hence, the motives and the desires are completely different too.

I wasn’t sure I’d be up to addressing something this big. At some level I realise that I’m not qualified to comment on fundamentalism, being an atheist myself. My knowledge of American society is all second-hand. If you feel these are big enough shortcomings feel free to ignore this post. That said, political commentary isn’t my thing either. My sole foray into something related was a lampooning of the White House trio of “Dubbya”, Rice and Powell in an earlier post. I don’t even comment on politics in India. No, political commentary is, definitely, not my thing. But social commentary is. I have strong beliefs about what is good and bad for society today and society tomorrow. The war has been talked about enough. Bush’s election does not bother people enough any more. Dead soldiers do not weigh heavily on anyone’s conscience. But what I will not accept is the interference with the minds of our next generation; the theistic subversion of Science. In short, I stand in direct opposition to the Intelligent Design Movement.

Again, do not confuse this with Intelligent Design. ID has fair claims to being a science, albeit one on the wrong side of proof and one I do not subscribe to. Its proponents believe that no amount of coincidence could be responsible for such great complexity in design in nature or gradual reduction in entropy that must have been at the heart of Evolution. Their agenda is limited to academic interest. The Intelligence Design Movement, on the other hand, is dedicated to “defeat the materialist world view as represented by Evolution” in favour of “a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions”. To understand how this falls within the purview of American Fundamentalism, as I call it, let’s go back to the tenets of this fundamentalism. While all fundamentalism stems from chauvinism, American Fundamentalism goes that extra mile by believing that it is not just the White Man with his burden, it is the American White Man who bears the burden of furthering society and urbanising the rest of the “savage” world. And this burden stems, no less, from the divine right/responsibility bestowed on the American Man by God himself. That God being a far superior God to the British one or the French one; certainly superior to any God the Muslims might invoke; or the Hindus. And as the child of a greater God the American White Male is a human superior to any other out there. Evolution is the study of the chance events that led to life on this watery planet. And if life is the result of a series of fantastic coincidences it is devoid of purpose. Or so believe the Creationists. Evolution, thus, is in direct conflict with the American White Male’s belief that he was put on this Earth with a purpose – that of edifying the brutes that surround his homeland on all sides. It is the underlying assumption of America’s delusion of grandeur. And it is this delusion that sent American troops looking for Weapons of Mass Destruction that never existed. It is this delusion that has America forever looking outward, conveniently ignoring the problems that plague it at home. It is this delusion that Osama had the nerve to challenge. And it is this delusion that the American White Male is looking to pass on to the next generation through the study of Intelligent Design in the Science curriculum in primary schools.

My favourite dysfunctional cartoon character, “Dubbya”, did this debate no good when he went ahead and said, on record, that Intelligent Design should be taught alongside Evolution in schools. He added that students should be “exposed to different ideas”. Either he’s a complete idiot or he’s much smarter than most of us are able to fathom – I’m tending towards the former. The point that he’s missing here, as are most participants of the debate, is that one is a scientific view while the other is a religious one. And never the two should meet. The President’s irresponsible comments could easily be followed by a Government directive to introduce ID into the school syllabus making the position of the ID proponents all the more creditable.

The problem with arguing against Intelligent Design is that you run the risk of legitimatising their position. These people are smart. They’ve realised that there’s no such thing as bad publicity. Every argument against ID is, in fact, a step towards a mainstream debate where it will not be the merits and demerits of ID as a science being discussed but a battle between two lobbies, which is what everything in America comes down to. With true scientists on one side and the Church and the State on the other – because it is, after all, they who are propagating the ID Movement – it is clear who will win. The ID Movement’s main backing seems to come from The Discovery Group but you can rest assured that as time passes, and this matter becomes more about passion and less about reason, the support and the lobbying for ID will only increase. America is caught in a downward spiral and there seems to be little anyone can do about it. Scientists have never been very good at PR or propaganda. What they need is the support or clear-headed people – clearly a dying breed in America.

Does it bother you that three out of four Americans don’t even believe in Evolution? That just under half of them believe that God created the world in six days as proposed in Genesis? That they believe that the Earth is only three thousand years old? Does it bother you that not only are they proposing to teach this religious propaganda in schools but under the science curriculum, of all places? And does it bother you that they’re getting away with it? That district after unsuspecting district is actually introducing creationism into its science syllabus? Well, it should.

Of exhaustion, cuisine and balls of steel January 19, 2006

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OK. So I’ve been under the weather these past few days. My doc says its all the exertion. Seems I’ve been living it a little too large these past few days. Do you blame me? There’s just so much to do in Bombay. Apart from the not-so-regular trips to the gym there’s movies, theatre, shopping and cooking. No, I’m not gay. Not even (ugh) metrosexual. I just happen to love coming up with new (and old) stuff in the kitchen. Last week, for example, I borrowed a recipe from Kylie Kwong, Discovery Travel and Living’s very own Cordon Bleu. I threw in some elements from Jamie Oliver’s sea-food recipes and came up with prawns in chilli-flour batter and cooked in honey and lemon and some basic tomato-based vegetable pasta. Add to that a bottle of decent white wine and good fun was had by all. Currently I’m being introduced as the “dude that kicks ass in the kitchen”. I love it.

We had a little soiree where I did this cooking. By little I mean, of course, an hour and a half of looking for all ingredients in the supermarket and another hour toiling over the stove trying to make do with all the equipment you’d normally find in a bachelor pad and making do without all the stuff (and there’s a lot of that) that you wouldn’t expect to find. Anyway, it was all worth it in the end, if the testimonials of the gang are anything to go by. Speaking of the gang, I must share a story of great grit and of balls of steel in these times of corporate whoring. I have tremendous respect for those who choose to do their own thing. For those who choose not to be chained to a desk or a title or, most importantly, the safety of a regular income. And above all, I respect those who have tasted success in the corporate sphere and choose to give it up anyway only because it wasn’t their calling.

Such a person is Sidin Sunny Vadukut. I have had the privilege of being his friend. The world has had the privilege of reading his blogs here and here. And now, Sidin has decided, we shall have the pleasure of curling up by the fire with yet another Sidin masterpiece. For Sidin has decided to write. Not scribble random thoughts and short pieces as he has been doing thus far. That shall continue, no doubt. What Mr. Vadukut has decided is to quit a well-paying, fab-sounding job as a consultant and dedicate himself to writing a book. What makes this most interesting is the fact that, as far as I know, he doesn’t know what the book is going to be about. Nevertheless he has taken the plunge and I wish him all the best. You can show your support by logging on to his blog and posting an encouraging comment. I’m sure he’d appreciate it. Hats off to you, Mr Fat Cat.

That’s all for now. I’ll see you guys soon.

Hello and Welcome Back January 4, 2006

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First of all, thank you for being with me through this transition. Its like changing cellphones except that here, everyone on my list needs to call in. I’m glad you could join me. I promise to try and be more regular in my blogs. Feedback I got included, “Damn, dude, you can really rant on, can’t you?” and “Dude, long time no see.” Its hard to reconcile the two but I will try. The long posts will continue to live large at this address. But they will be peppered with smaller, bite-sized posts for when I’m not feeling so verbose, or inspired, as the case may be.

I’ve realised that I need to be a tad more serious in my blogging. To that end I felt I needed a more serious blogging platform. I have nothing but the best regard for Blogger but once I ran into the Blog Software Comparion I knew I was going to have to shift. WordPress is a powerful platform and I could play with my blog in ways not yet possible on Blogger. Add to that the support WordPress has in the developer community and you have a very convincing argument for my move.

Next, let me try and explain why I’ve been AWOL for this long. My apologies but a lot has been happening in my life. I finished my stay in Bharatpur, discovered I was in love with the same woman my best friend was in love with; proposed to her; got turned down; moved to Mumbai; shuttled between a couple of houses; populated, decorated and broke the house in; celebrated New Year’s with friends and family; travelled around Bombay with my sis and began my Marketing Assignment at the office. All this not including a battle I’m waging with a certain credit card company that keeps billing me despite the fact that I’ve never even activated the damned card, refuses to answer my queries and has the worst customer-service of any Indian credit card company. And that’s really saying something. More on that later, depending on how they respond to my latest “request”. You can read about people who claim to have faced problems with the same bank here and here.

Finally, for those who have been with me through this transition from Blogger to WordPress I have the greatest gratitude. For those who have just stumbled on to this blog, please feel free to go through the beginnings of this blog at The Fungual Journals @ Blogspot. I welcome feedback, or so I think. And I just adore prase. So knock yourself out. I’ll see you soon.