Ours is to question why

Behaviour change is often the best solution, whatever the problem. Especially when the behaviour to be changed belongs to someone else.

In the wake of the steep rise in active Covid-19 cases during the second wave, there has been no shortage of advice on behavioural changes other people needed to make to ensure the whole world was safe.

“I want my courier deliveries to be accepted by the security guard at the reception and not come up to my apartment.”

Of course, I cannot stop ordering delivery service. I have some rights, do I not? Are you telling me even security guards can get infected?

“Can people please ensure that their children are wearing a mask when they go to the playground so that my children don’t catch Covid from them.”

Why should they stay at home to stay safe? Don’t we contribute to the maintenance of the playground?

“I suggest the management committee declare a voluntary shutdown so that all of us stop going and coming as we please.”

Why should I stop voluntarily when my neighbour is still going to work? Isn’t that unfair? Only when he stops will I stop.

Of course, as usual, I exaggerate. I suppose one should also not read too much into these statements and reactions. There is fear. There is uncertainty about what might happen next. Living through a pandemic is a first for all of us. No doubt there is good intent in these statements. For all I know, the solution may lie hidden in these suggestions.

Just when people had started to think about partying and travelling, the surge of infections has played party pooper. The medical infrastructure has been caught off guard with the speed and scale of the surge.

Maybe it is just me, but I find myself struggling with answers even as I see vaccinated folks, who, just a few weeks back, were promoting vaccines as the final solution and encouraging others to go in for it, equally stressed and fearful of catching the virus. When pushed for an answer, the standard reply seems to be, “Nobody is safe.”

In the post titled ‘One FLU over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ published on 30th November, a little over the halfway mark between the onset of the pandemic and now, I had posed some questions on my mind at that time, more to do with Covid-19 as another form of influenza. I am happy to say that I have got no answer to any of those questions. What’s more, I now have even more questions! Without further ado then…

  1. Is it true that every person will fall in one (and only one) of these 5 categories?

A. I am currently infected and have symptoms

B. I am currently infected and am asymptomatic

C. I have previously been infected and have antibodies

D. I have previously been infected and no longer have antibodies

E. I have never been infected

where A+B+C+D+E = 100%

2. What is the best guess at the approximate current number (percentage) in each of these 5 categories?

3. If I am infected but asymptomatic I have no risk from the infection to my own self as I am already infected. Is that correct? Of course, I can infect others.

4. The infection can further spread only in categories D and E. Is that correct?

5. People who get infected can be expected to be in a symptomatic to non-symptomatic ratio as per the population ratio. If today 80 are asymptomatic out of 100, the next 100 people to be infected can also be expected to have around 80 who are asymptomatic. Is that correct?

With the vaccination drive now on, people from all the 5 categories are being vaccinated, whether they have antibodies or not. We know that. The number of susceptible people in D and E will gradually reduce as the coverage of the vaccination increases. That is a reasonable assumption to make I believe.

Vaccinations started at least two months back now. Perhaps it is time to get some data around their performance. There are many who question the need for the vaccine, including me. If there is data that settles the issue why not put it out?

6. Out of every 100 vaccinated people, what percentage got infected, with or without symptoms?

7. How does that percentage compare with the infection percentage for non-vaccinated people?

8. The benefit of the vaccine has been understood (at least by me) to be that the virulence of the infection will be much lesser, as an explanation for the 70% and 88% effectiveness of different brands. Do we now have data on the vaccinated vs. non-vaccinated virulence?

An ICMR (Indian Council of Medical Research) survey published in February concluded that 21.5 per cent of India’s population showed the presence of antibodies for the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19). A Delhi government survey around the same time had established the seropositivity rate at 56%. There is a wide variance between the two numbers. If the percentage is indeed 56%, it would mean that despite our best efforts most people got infected without realizing that they had been. So, what is the point in following prevention protocols that do not prevent?

9. Before we reach a conclusion, should a wider survey be done to establish the prevalence?

While many of the questions are for a better understanding of the situation, there are some incipient suggestions in there as well. For example, going back to the categories in question 1, would it not be better to complete vaccination of people in D and E categories before moving to A, B and C?

And lastly, what about these mutations of the virus?

10. Does the vaccine cover these mutations or will we be developing a new vaccine every year, to prevent the popular version of last year while this year’s version will be prevented by a vaccine next year by when it would have died out a natural death and made way for a new version?

I know the answer to this one. “We don’t know what will happen in the future.”

Not one to waste a good crisis, the Delhi High Court has promised to hang the people responsible for preventing oxygen from reaching patients, as liberally provided in the Constitution, while upgrading the ‘wave’ to a ‘tsunami’ resulting in no change to the response from any government agency.

With apologies to Lord Alfred Tennyson for mixing up his words in the title.

Status Quo

After a heated, one-sided debate in Parliament, held in response to a public petition filed by concerned citizens, the Parliament has unanimously voted to speedily address the concerns of farmers protesting against the farm bills recently introduced by the government.

It was a huge help that the matters pertaining to which the resolution was passed are those of farmers in India, especially in the state of Punjab, while the unanimous vote was in the UK Parliament. Hence, once the resolution was passed, nothing needed to be done. There were high fives all around in the hallowed portals of Westminster after the vote.

Demonstrating alertness to threats to the nation from foreign sources, and taking immediate cue from the example set by the UK Parliament, India’s foreign secretary Harsh Shringla immediately summoned British High Commissioner to New Zealand, Laura Clarke, with the intention of issuing a demarche, an official protest, purposefully ignoring the British envoy to India, Alex Ellis, who may have, at least, been able to understand the issue.

As Ms. Clarke was unable to attend the meeting in person, Mr. Shringla read out the demarche to her over a phone call that included a request for the British Parliament to debate and pass resolutions on the rising fuel prices caused by escalating state and central levies, Haryana’s proposal to reserve 75% jobs for locals, the Indian cricket team representing England in Test matches in view of the English team’s recent capitulation and the widespread disbelief at replacing Amitabh Bachchan’s baritone with an unknown female voice in the mandatory-to-hear-before-every-call Covid message, among many other issues of international significance. Ms. Clarke has promised to share the message across the British envoy world, so that more and more Parliaments around the world, who have nothing to do with the issue, can pass these resolutions.

Om Birla, the speaker of the Lower House of the Indian Parliament, saluting the continuing leadership demonstrated by the UK in best practices for parliamentary democracies around the world, scrapped the day’s agenda that included a discussion on the Uttarakhand tragedy last month caused by a suspected glacier burst, and replaced it with a debate to fix responsibility for the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan ten years back. He also removed the motion to condemn suspected police atrocities against alleged Naxals in Jharkhand in favour of a motion condemning marginalisation of indigenous people in the US. He has also scheduled a motion for a peaceful handover of the part of Kashmir occupied by Pakistan, to India.

Alarmed at its Punjab farmer issue being usurped by the UK, the Canadian Prime Minister has summoned an urgent meeting of the Parliament (not yet clear which, but could just be Canadian) to pass laws to pave the way for immigration of farmers from states of India other than Punjab. This, he says, will bestow upon the Canadian government of the day a moral right to pass resolutions on how farming should be done in these states.

The US, the torchbearer of freedom and liberty, not to be left behind in the revolution sweeping across parliamentary democracies around the world, has scrambled to unanimously pass a resolution making communism illegal in Cuba. That too voluntarily. A unanimous resolution for China to accept responsibility for the Covid-19 outbreak is slated for the coming week.

Meanwhile, signatories on the resolution that led to the resolution on farming in India, in the British Parliament, have refused sponsorship to their brethren and ‘sisteren’ in Punjab looking to migrate to the UK to escape the draconian laws recently enacted. “It is for their own good,” they have clarified in a joint statement issued after Parliament passed the resolution. “If they also migrate, whose lot will we improve? They need to stay there so that we can fight for them.”

In the history of parliamentary democracies, this has been the most productive period ever. Never have so many resolutions been passed unanimously.

As a result, nothing has changed.

Adventures of an Itinerant Executive

Unlike MNC jobs, where another person doing something that you thought was your job seems threatening, writing appears to be a more cooperative activity.

I am just back from a joyful ride which Rajiv Inamdar’s book ‘Adventures of an Itinerant Executive’ had taken me on, and I urge you to do the same.

Rajiv is a senior from IIM Ahmedabad. Our careers also crossed for a few years at a big bank but we didn’t. Now he is a published author too. Stop it Rajiv!

Rajiv’s journey winds its way around exotic locales including Sri Lanka, the UK and the Middle East and, of course, many places in India, peppered with anecdotes and incidents to match, written in a delightfully humorous vein. It helps that these stories are personal, with Rajiv playing a part in many.

Even his parents are not spared! The book begins with the story of a shipboard romance between his parents that took place on a cruise from the UK to India in the 1950s.

History follows him as he navigates his way around roles in advertising, brand management and market research around the world, including the challenge of setting up Sri Lanka’s first market research company at the tender age of 25 during the worst ethnic riots that the country has ever witnessed.  In mid – career, he makes a switch to banking in the unlikely territory of Saudi Arabia where he lands smack in the middle of the Gulf war!

‘By mid-November, the Americans had sent in 230,000 troops to defend Saudi Arabia. General Norman Schwarzkopf, the chief of US forces in the region, made the basement of the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Riyadh, next door to SAMBA ( Saudi American Bank – a subsidiary of Citibank), his war headquarters.

One evening, while playing tennis at the Saudi British Bank (subsidiary of HSBC) compound when we heard a fearsome rumbling in the sky. This sounded as if a massive thunderstorm was about to burst. It was the sound of a large number of gigantic US Air Force B-52 bombers that were arriving in Saudi Arabia to defend its residents. There were so many of them that several could not land on the airport runways and had to make do with the super-wide highways around Riyadh. We knew then that war was a real possibility and wondered what was in store for us.’

One can almost visualise Rajiv missing an easy volley as the rolling thunder of the B-52s starts just as he was positioning himself for the shot.

Or forgetting to pick up the original from the photocopier as a Scud missile sent over by Saddam thuds with almost pinpoint accuracy into the building next door to his office. ‘Almost’ because it was perhaps meant for the building on the other side of his office that housed General Norman Schwarzkopf.

‘A few days after we had been lulled into complacency by American assurances, a Scud came over Riyadh and demolished a 12-storey building next door to SAMBA’s headquarters where I worked. Saddam had obviously been aiming for General Schwarzkopf’s office in the Hyatt Regency Hotel on the other side of the SAMBA building. This was pretty accurate shootin’! A day later, a Scud flew directly over our residential compound and demolished a school a few kilometres away. We were right in the thick of battle.

On one occasion, a Saudi news anchor was reading the news when the sirens went off. He was explaining how well-fortified the city was and that its residents should not panic under any circumstances. Just as he was speaking, the wailing of the siren became louder and the news anchor was seen on camera looking fearfully over his shoulder to see whether the missile was in his vicinity.’

Following  a series of adventures in Saudi Arabia, which remains an enigma to most people, he moves on to Dubai where he is put through his paces as a consumer banker working in several parts of the business including marketing, credit, credit cards, and strategy. He then returns to India to lead the largest market research organisation in the country following which he makes another interesting career switch into the field of knowledge management where he spends the last twelve years of his remarkable career.

Apart from providing insights into management challenges in many industries the book describes several hilarious incidents and exciting stories from his personal life. These include trysts with several airlines to the point that one begins to wonder whether it is advisable to travel anywhere with Rajiv. He also describes a back breaking trip to the Himalayas on a motorbike at the not-so-tender age of 51 and tells stories of golf and tennis victories. There is an almost an entire chapter devoted to a car accident the author was involved in that contains many salutary lessons for those who drive in this country.

Apart from action and thrill seekers, Adventures of an Itinerant Executive might also be of interest to management students and young business executives, as the author also manages to deliver management lessons. His hallowed alma mater would be proud!

All of the above is packed into under 300 pages and is available as a paperback and e book on various platforms including Amazon (India, US, UK), Flipkart, Kobo, Google Play and iBooks. A  Kindle version is also available.

Highly recommended!

Public Policy

“What? You must be kidding. There’s gotta be a mistake. This can’t happen.”

Though I could not hear what had been said as the speaker had plugged the headphone wire into his mobile and the other end in his ear, I could sense that my one-seat-away-on-account-of-social-distancing neighbour in the Delhi metro coach was beginning to get excited. My Indian ears perked up as another opportunity to pry into someone else’s affairs presented itself.

After a brief gap, when he was apparently listening to the person on the other end of the phone connection, he said, “You mean they are not a non-profit. That is news. Do you know what you are saying? That the sole purpose of their existence is not to selflessly serve people like you and me and that they need to earn money. I am shocked. Why did nobody tell me earlier? I am sure there is a mistake.”

After a few seconds of silence, when the voice on the other end presumably became active, he erupted, “Like hell I will agree with their updated policy. That too for free? That is rich. This is India, my friend, India! Not some first world country where these things are allowed to happen with impunity. There are laws here, OK. Laws. We don’t follow them but we have them. These companies cannot do whatever they feel like. Remember, we live in a society driven by the rules of a free market.”

During the silence that ensued while he was presumably listening to the voice on the other end, I could not help but admire his nationalism.

“Over my dead body! Next, they will ask for permission to use my phone number. Like hell I will give them permission. Do you have any idea what this number is used for? I use this number when sales people in Delhi malls beg me to fill forms with my personal information so that I can stand a chance to win a lottery. This number is the one I register with on online websites that promise to teach you tricks with which one can become rich overnight. It is personal and confidential. How can it be shared with a company whose service I am using.

It was a powerful argument. I could hear the silence on the other end.

“Just what do you mean by that? What if I did not read the T&Cs when I signed up? What if WhatsApp and Facebook already have my personal data and are using it for commercial purposes? Does it mean that whenever they ask me to agree to something, I should do it without protesting on ethical and moral grounds? No means no. I will not agree. I will not sell my soul and self-respect to a monopolistic foreign nouveau imperialist capitalist plutocratic hegemonistic…”

There was a pause. Perhaps for catching breath after the effort of stringing together so many important-sounding words together.

“…company,” he finally found the word to complete the sentence, and submitted to the voice for a few seconds, before standing up and bursting out, “Why should I move to Telegram? Or Signal? Just why? Have I done something wrong? Am I a criminal that I should seek refuge elsewhere? After this call, can you message me the URL for downloading Telegram and Signal?” He was a man of principle.

Though I could guess about the subject of this conversation, the last couple of sentences confirmed it. It was about the recent action by WhatsApp, the messaging App, of asking users to agree to their updated Privacy Policy, or lose access.

“Look, I don’t expect the common man to understand or appreciate. But I am a responsible employee of the Indian government. I can. Do you know that even for official matters I don’t use my official government email ID and instead use my personal gmail account? Even my bosses cannot see what is going on. Beat that for privacy and security.” He had continued with his principled stand.

For the first time I looked at his face. My eyes perhaps betrayed my respect and admiration as he immediately frowned and looked the other way, and, after a brief pause, continued. “What? You don’t know the changes made in the new policy? Even more reason to not agree. These companies are trying to make changes without even asking or telling us. We have to resist.”

After a brief period of “hmm”s and “OK”s, he was on the warpath again. “Let them cancel my account. I don’t care.” He paused, looked up as if in deep thought, as a realisation of the impact slowly dawned.

His voice came out softer. I had to strain my ears to keep up. “Bbb…but how will I communicate with my mates from school receiving and forwarding random messages? More importantly, how will I claim it is so wonderful to be connected again on WhatsApp? We may be connected on Signal or Telegram, but then we cannot claim that it is good to be connected on WhatsApp, isn’t it?” A dispassionate, objective analysis if there was one.

I could sense it was all getting too much for him. His eyes had turned a shade of red while he was still speaking. He could speak and think at the same time, that was certain. He could not take it anymore and started sobbing. “How will I send condolences? How will I wish people on their birthdays and anniversaries? Do you think I have the time and energy to call or personally greet people who I love so dearly? What will happen to my connections if they stop receiving my Good Morning messages with pretty flowers? How will I show my patriotism to my connections? How will I receive and forward messages that I have no clue are fake or real? How will I waste time in meetings? How? How? How?” His plaintive cries rang out in the coach.

He stopped. Everyone in the coach was looking at him. It was perhaps a common issue they were all struggling with at that moment, but he had articulated everyone’s innermost feelings. I realised I was not the only one listening in on this conversation. I wanted to hold him and express my support but the Covid-19 protocol was in operation. I could only watch him while he cried himself out. It seemed to calm him down. He blew into a handkerchief. He was able to speak in a more composed tone after that.

“They have my age? OK.” The voice at the other clearly had been active. “Sex…Music playlist on Prime…OK…Sounds good…Netflix serials I am watching,” he was perhaps repeating what he was hearing on the phone. “Location…Milk delivery time…Blood group…Bank account number…Bank account password…What I had for breakfast today…Breed of my dog…Childrens’ vaccination schedule…Websites searched…Tax returns filed…What? They know my golf handicap…That is not fair…Credit history.”

There was a pause again.

“Is that all? If this is the only data they have, I have no problem in accepting the new policy, whatever it be.”

The voice was perhaps active again as he seemed to nod his head occasionally. “There, what did I tell you? If, as you say, Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg has said that they are collecting personal data to improve their services, it must be true. He is a good man. After all, he runs a large company. It must be a non-profit like all large companies. And his sole objective must be to provide us free services and protect our interests. By the way, when are we getting free Tesla cars?”

Without waiting for a response, he added, “And why not? Do we pay for Google? Do we pay for Facebook? Do we pay for WhatsApp? We sign-up without reading the T&Cs and use. Why should we pay for Tesla?” as he got up to get out of the coach.

Everyone in the coach was smiling. Having just accepted the new WhatsApp policy, they were perhaps busy choosing the colour of their free Tesla car.

Positive Spin

Covid-19 is a cute little virus. And playful too. It likes to jump. It jumps from one person to another. I think it likes to play games with us because sometimes it jumps and sometimes it does not. Perhaps it wants to play a guessing game with us.

Because of Covid-19 children don’t need to go to school any more. They can pretend to study from home. Some can’t do that as they cannot afford the devices and bandwidth needed for online studies. These children can play all the time. So wonderful.

There are so many nice people who are getting salaries without having to do much work. And there are so many nice companies that have perhaps saved much money by retrenching staff they did not need.

It has brought many families back together since migrant workers, after retrenchment, had to go to the place they hail from.

So many people have become rich. The soap and sanitiser makers. The mask makers. The infrared thermometer makers. The hospitals. The foot sanitiser makers. The bandwidth providers. The virtual application makers. The personal vehicle makers. The software makers. So many people have also become rich by not buying things they did not need.

It has allowed interested individuals to beat pots and pans along with the Indian PM for a wonderful purpose explained by the PM and understood by these people that others could not. When has the common man ever got the opportunity of beating pots and pans along with their PM? And Corona made it possible.

It even made it possible for people in Delhi to breathe, even if it was only for a few days. But I will not focus too much on this aspect because it had an unintended negative fallout of indoor air purifier sales falling during that period.

The metro ride in Delhi is now so comfortable since only a few people are riding.

So many people have become knowledgeable and popular overnight and are now followed by thousands, in India’s case millions, of others. People who say that we will all die if we move an inch or take a breath. People who say this is a farce and nothing will happen as long as we behave sensibly. People who say that only cures based on ancient wisdom of a culture with a proud history that only they know about will work. People who say that only cures based on modern medicine will work. People who provide instant cures for conditions like low immunity that treatment of tens of years has not been able to fix. And, above all, positive people willing to believe anything and everything while giving a complete rest to their grey cells!

Thank you Covid-19. Thank you Corona.

How is that for some positivity at the start of the year? Or even day? Or hour?

“Why are you always so negative?” “Why can’t you be more positive?” I hear these remarks ever so often. Because of what I write. Because of what I say. Because of, I guess, how I think. And, in fairness to myself, it always sets me thinking.

Now I have decided to act.

Earlier, I might have said, “How is that for some positivity in a year that is seven days old?” No longer. Old? Smells negative, doesn’t it?

It puts historical events in perspective.

Mahatma Gandhi was being negative when he led the Dandi March opposing the unilateral imposition of taxes on salt, He should, instead, have sent a Thank You card to the British authorities for their wonderful thoughtlessness in trying to enrich themselves at the cost of others.

What about Hitler? Who would dare to call him evil and risk the ignominy of being termed ‘negative.’ Wasn’t he the guy with the cute moustache who devised unique reasons and ingenious methods for murdering human beings?

I am beginning to get it. And enjoy it.

Thugs of Hindostan was a great movie. It just did not get viewers because people did not like it. But it was a great movie. Even if nobody believes me. It was still a great movie.

The national football team of an unnamed country is a great team. It makes its opponents feel good and happy after each game.

I can now see positivity everywhere. Even the daily newspaper I read has a section where celebrities give out positive messages like “focus your energy in bettering your life” and “stay happy always” and “don’t let negativity get you down.” Not once in a while but every day. Who would have known such things otherwise?

Reminds me of the Extrovert and introvert equation. The way it is always introduced in a conversation by a self-proclaimed extrovert only for the purpose of proclaiming himself to be an extrovert and, by extension, a gift to society, and the ‘talkee,’ me in these cases since I am recounting the experience, as the introvert and therefore a lesser human and a burden on society. Of course, I have been a witness to exchanges where the ‘talkee’ has talked himself blue in trying to contend that he was, in fact, an extrovert. The exchanges, at some point got so evolved that whenever two people met, there was a healthy battle of wits to be the first to introduce the term extrovert or introvert into the conversation so that the introducer could paint himself as the rockstar extrovert and the introducee as the introvert who needed to be pitied and helped. The roles kept changing with each meeting.

There are obviously no shades. Extrovert or Introvert. Positive or Negative.

Wonder if my condition will last long? Wonder if it is contagious?

One FLU over the Cuckoo’s Nest

The website of India’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MHFW) gives us the lowdown on the status of Covid-19 in the country, in numbers. The status on the morning of 30th November is:

Active cases4,53,956
Recovered cases88,02,267
Died1,36,696
Reported93,92,919
Tests done13,95,03, 803
Population (inserted by me)1,35,26,00,000

Numbers often do not leave room for doubt. Everything else seems to.

Of course we know:

  • This data would include tests initiated by an individual as well as tests done as part of random testing and sero surveys or as part of some regulation, like asking air travellers to produce a negative certificate before boarding. It is possible that self-initiated tests have a higher incidence of positive cases, but that cannot be established from this data.
  • Cases reported as positive include asymptomatic ones as well. The person would have gone about normal life without feeling any difference till told he was a ‘case.’
  • There could be many untested cases that could not be established as Covid-19 cases. Even deaths. Though the government did put in a protocol of testing dead bodies for Covid-19.
  • While the cases and deaths and recoveries are all person specific, and should not have any double counting, it is possible some people have been tested more than once. Elon Musk apparently had 4 tests in one day with the verdict of him being infected split right down the middle. Thankfully Mr. Musk is not part of the numbers on the MHFW website.

So?

For one, Covid-19 has broadened our daily-use vocabulary. Who used, or had even heard of, social distancing or quarantine or self-quarantine or community spread or flatten the curve or contact tracing or super spreader or antibodies or asymptomatic or case fatality rate or herd immunity or incubation period or PPE or shelter in place or ventilator. Rarely, if ever, have so many words been added to the common man’s vocabulary in one year.

The government has been able to make guidelines and rules. Unopposed. For once, they have been encouraged, nay forced to.

  • Guidelines for international arrivals. Then revised guidelines for international arrivals.
  • Standard Operating Procedure for passenger movement post embarkation.
  • Travel Advisory. Additional Travel Advisory. Another additional travel advisory.
  • Guidelines for workplaces. Then updated guidelines for workplaces.
  • Guidelines on containment of local transmission.

So?

Hmmm. Not quite sure.

Before going deeper, let me state clearly that I am not a doctor. I probably won’t even know my Femur from my Tibia, assuming the body still has bones by these names, that I picked up in Biology class in school many moons back.

I am trying to make sense of the paranoia surrounding Covid-19, instead of playing dead and blindly following the blind. The blind who make loud noises to hide their blindness.

Have an ache, pop a pill.

Have a sniffle, pop a pill.

Have a reaction to a pill, pop a pill.

Unable to fight the next illness because it is now dependent on pills…you know the answer.

Of course, the rest of the world should do the same. Else they are irresponsible.

With the government, and big business, happily complying and salivating at the prospect of total control over the lives of people. Who you are. Where you live. What you ate today. Where you went today afternoon. Sorry, you cannot board that flight because the last vaccine shot was on Tuesday, 5th May, more than six months back.

You asked for protection, did you not?

Comfortingly, one of the vaccines mankind has set its hopes on has shown success rates of 90% apparently through a dosage combination arrived at scientifically as the result of an accident.

And all vaccines, at least from a lay person’s perspective, are aiming at a moving target, as apparently the virus keeps mutating while jumping from one human to another. So, the shot you eventually get might be effectively protecting you against a virus that was there last year. I think it has a 100% chance of success against a virus no longer there.

The data shared earlier is for a period of 9 months, give or take, since the, issue, started around end February and we have almost rounded off November.

I have annualised the data to make it more easy to understand and compare, since historical data is not normally be maintained for 9 months and 11 days or any such odd period. If 100 people have contracted Covid in 9 months, assuming the same rate of infection, for the full year, the number would be 100×12/9 = 133.

The annualised data now looks like:

Active cases6,05,274
Recovered cases1,17,36,356
Died1,82,261
Reported1,25,23,892
Tests done18,60,05,070
Population (inserted by me, probably increased since then)1,35,26,00,000

In a year, less than 1% of the population would be infected with Covid-19, and 0.0139% of the population will die. In other words, 0.139 people in a thousand or 139 people in a million will die of Covid-19. Based on 1,81,600 projected Covid-19 deaths in a year.

How does this compare with other causes of death in India?

178832 (1.78 lac) people are killed in road accidents in a year

15.4 lacs on account of Heart disease

7.2 lacs due to Diarrhoeal disease

5.1 because of Respiratory system issue

4.5 lacs owing to Tuberculosis (TB)

2.5 lacs caused by Diabetes

This is based on a study published in the Times of India in March 2020.

As many people die of heart diseases in India daily, as do people of Corona in the whole world.

But comparisons are odious. Of the above, only TB is communicable.

What should we compare with, if at all? What about influenza, the flu? The common flu. Which seems to be the closest cousin of Covid-19. Everyone in India gets it. Many get it multiple times a year perhaps.

Why don’t we have a comparison of Covid-19 with the common flu? We have many articles and reports and opinions, but little ‘data.’

Maybe because common flu is just that, common. According to the Centers for Diseas Control and Prevention (CDC) of the US, “each death due to influenza in the U.S. does not have to be reported, so there is never a direct count…Conversely, each death due to COVID-19 is being recorded.” In India, even testing the dead for the infection.

So, how does one get perspective? Should one bother about perspective? As they say, perspective is not popular at the best of times.

No answers. All I have is questions.

If two groups are constructed of a million people each, with a comparable distribution of age, precondition, etc., and exposed, one group of one million people to Covid-19 and the other to seasonal flu, in each group:

A. How many will not contract the virus?

B. How many will contract without symptoms?

C. How many will contract with symptoms?

D. How many in each of the three categories above will die?

E. People in which of the categories above, A, B and C, will be transmitters? For what duration?

G. If category A did not contract the virus, can they be considered to be immune? For how long?

H. Will people in categories B and C become immune as a result? For how long?

On to the vaccine now. The one with a 90% success rate.

It now seems increasingly apparent that everyone will need to take the vaccine.

Like to eat out? Have you taken the shot?

Fly to Mumbai? Taken the shot?

Attend college? Taken the shot?

Ride the metro? Taken the shot?

Without a vaccine, in a million people, 9590 get infected, and 990410 don’t. And 139 die.

After the vaccine is given to all million, whether they want it or not, and possibly lowering their immunity a notch for future mutations, at the 90% rate of success, 900,000 will be immune and 100,000 will not be. Which 100,000 we don’t know.

Out of these 100,000, 959 will get infected, and 13.9 will die. Which 13.9 we don’t know.

So?

Silly Girl

I am beginning to understand why many parents in India don’t want girls. At least Hindu parents. Who don’t want Hindu girls. This is not a blanket pronouncement on them being misogynistic and being against girls in general as there is no data on them not wanting Muslim girls or Christian girls or Shinto girls. What is known is that they don’t want Hindu girls. Of their own.

The reason for it is also becoming clear. They don’t have a brain of their own. The Hindu girls. Now, who would want a child without a brain? Even if they had one at birth, by the time they turn eighteen, the legal age of maturity in India, it seems it inevitably dissipates to a mushy nothingness inside their head.

This, as any person with a brain would be able to understand, leaves them exposed to manipulation and all its evil consequences. Otherwise, why would they be forever getting into trouble by running away with boys. To add insult to injury, boys of other religions. And not of their own accord, or free will, or after a reasoned evaluation of alternatives and choosing the running away option as the best choice for themselves and their loved ones, but on account of being lured to run away. They don’t have a choice in the matter. They are sitting ducks. The Hindu girls.

Despite having achieved the legal age of maturity and being permitted to vote.

Despite the love and care they are brought up with, which could include frequent reminders of them being a burden which the parents look forward to getting rid of one day.

Despite the best cultural traditions they are exposed to, that require them to ensure that they do not embarrass their family members with frequent reminders of how the burden of the family’s reputation rests on their shoulders.

Despite the stinging rebukes behind closed doors each time their world view collides with that of the parents.

Despite the parents having had eighteen years in which to earn their trust and confidence and influence their world view.

This clearly proves the absence of a brain in these girls. Can they not see the evil plan hatched by other religions to lure Hindu girls? Which parent in their right mind, or brain, can remain unaffected?

And while a brainless Hindu girl running away with a Hindu boy may still be countenanced, a brainless Hindu girl running away with a boy of any other religion is not an issue of parenting and relationship between parents and their offspring, it is an affront to the whole society and must be reined in.

And when it is an affront to the whole society the responsive political leadership must respond. As the elected governments of Uttar Pradesh (UP) and Haryana have done, promising to bring in legislation to address this affront to the whole society. Since the present laws addressing kidnapping, physical and mental abuse and torture, violence, confinement by physical force, use of weapons, etc. are obviously inadequate.

Why is it an affront to the whole society?

When an affronted Hindu parent, who forms the core constituency of the present elected government in the two states, says it is an affront to the whole society, it is one.

But it need not always be. Hindu parents are reasonable and flexible. Just as it is not an affront to the whole society when brainless Hindu girls take up well-paying jobs in businesses with a majority non-Hindu holding, or when they seek migration for better opportunities to nations and societies not primarily Hindu in composition, it need not be an affront to the whole society if the boy and his family are from what is referred to as a ‘better family,’ which usually means richer.

Apart from taking away the right to decide on marriage and cohabitation, the new legislation is expected to take away their voting rights as well. Why would a society give voting privileges to a brainless person, since they are susceptible to corrupting external influences despite the best efforts of their parents? These rights will be given back only when they have become the mother of an eighteen year old Hindu girl themselves, as the brain starts to grow back when one gives birth to a Hindu girl and is fully developed by the time she turns eighteen.

The legislation is expected to address many other issues festering for centuries. Of Brahmin Hindu girls running away with Vaishya Hindu boys, of Punjabi Hindu girls running away with Tamil Hindu boys and of Shaivite Hindu girls running away with Vaishnavite Hindu boys. All for the good of the brainless Hindu girl. After all, these are not issues of parenting and relationship between parents and their offspring, to be discussed, debated and introspected upon for resolution, these are issues that need the state machinery to mediate between parents and offspring.

The Ministry of ‘Permissible Thoughts, Feelings and Behaviour between Parents and Offspring’ is about to be born. As always, we asked for it.

Tuning In

Another sensational high profile suicide or murder?

Or is it yet another ghastly rape?

Or, could it be the discovery of another wrongdoing by Bollywood, like being involved in making movies that people like?

Of course, the unmasking of another attempt at influencing the presidential elections in the US cannot be ruled out either.  

These were the thoughts uppermost in my mind as I sat down and dug my eyes into the newspaper report headlined “Cops summon three over TRP scam.”

“At least three channels have manipulated TRPs,” the article quoted the Mumbai Police Commissioner, confirming my worst fears. Concerns for the law and order situation started running through my mind, painting dire doomsday images. Who cares about whether Rhea procured drugs or not, when channels are busy manipulating TRPs. “There is a need for further understanding the situation,” the same article also quoted Karti Chidambaram, a Congress MP. Challenge that for a sentence laden with meaning, if you can.

I made some surprising discoveries.

There are a few businesses in the, well, for want of a better alternative, business, of TV programming. In an economy that operates on the principles of a free market? Can you believe it?

These businesses, being businesses, try to increase revenue and keep costs under control so that their investors can generate handsome returns. Ever heard anything as preposterous?

These private businesses have collaborated to form a body known as BARC, short for Broadcast Audience Research Council, which also comprises of advertisers, ad agencies and broadcasting companies. BARC is a private body, classified as non-government company. One of the things BARC does is collect TRPs, short for Television Rating Points, a proxy for popularity of different programmes based on time spent watching them. This is done through installation of measuring devices in 40000 TVs. 40000 installed devices that represent 200 million households and 800 million individuals. Isn’t Statistics a life saver? Or a money saver? Depending on whether you are an individual or a business organisation.

These businesses, the ones creating programmes for TV, let’s call them channels, vie for an advertising (on TV) pie that is estimated at about INR 300 billion (USD 4 billion) annually. As the potential gains are substantial, it has always made sense for everyone involved to keep the 40000 households off the gravy train. The 40000 households that, by sharing their consumption data, make these revenues possible for TV channels, and enable spenders to believe they are doing it scientifically.  

Channels are interested in high TRP ratings as that will lead to more advertising revenue. It has been argued that they have offered financial incentives to participating households to tune in to certain channels. It seems offering financial incentives is a crime. I am wondering if I should cancel the Smartphone I ordered on Amazon yesterday. Mr. Bezos could get into trouble for offering a financial incentive. It was at a handsome discount. I am in two minds.

The spenders, or businesses who spend on advertising on TV, are represented on BARC, and are also private businesses who don’t have to worry about the financial situation of farmers in rural India, or hardships faced by migrant workers during the onset of the pandemic. They have not been forced to take decisions based on BARC data. They choose to. Hence, it must be an issue of national importance that ratings have been manipulated.

It appears that the government also bases its ad spend decisions on TRP ratings. One can never be sure, but it is believed that they were also not forced to. They could follow the established practice of ‘positive mentions’ of the government by a channel to allocate their advertising spend. Of course, it helps if the two are the same.

Perhaps the channels who are a part of BARC have signed a specific clause to not influence behaviour through financial incentives. Always a great idea to insert terms calling for unnatural behaviour into commercial contracts so that taxpayer money can be spent in unravelling them. And it must be treated as a crime, so that our perpetually understaffed and overworked police force can get involved, as soon as they are done checking on Rhea’s drug usage.

Just as well, though. Can you imagine the pandemonium it could unleash if left unchecked? Viewers having to watch a commercial for Dove soap instead of the rightful Pears during their daily dose of the ‘saas-bahu’ ‘soap.’ Or, being forced to watch a Trivago commercial during the news break when it should have been Makemytrip. Or, even worse, being exposed only to Samsung phones during IPL cricket matches. The common man needs to be protected.

So, it was for a good cause. I calmed down somewhat.

And, of course, it is scientifically justified. After all, science, and statistics, have helped in designing the system in a way that a few rogue households can poison the entire data. It is science, after all, which mandates that if more than 40000 devices are installed, the cost will go up and profit down. And science again which decides that the participating households should not be equitably compensated.

Such being the case, who can argue with the government getting involved.

I am looking forward to some honest and fair news coverage on the channels being probed for the TRP scam.

Off With His Head

It appears they have filed for copyright protection of ‘statue destruction as a method of protest’ and asked destroyers to pay them royalty. “We gave this to the world,” the filing says, and draws attention to the two Buddha statues of sixth century vintage, in Bamiyan in Afghanistan, then the highest standing statues of Buddha in the world, that they reduced to rubble in 2001, against entreaties from around the world. “And you said we were off our rocker then.” So, does the Taliban get the last laugh?

Could they have taken their cue from developments in the land of the free where pulling down statues is rapidly gaining favour as the means of righting wrongs? Or is it the other way round? Difficult to say. Easier to say that traditional forms of protest have been found to be ineffective.

“Merely saying sorry is not enough,” as Bill Maher, the American TV host, so eloquently said in a recent talk. “Statues have to be pulled down,” as he equally eloquently did not say.

“Sorry” does not quite have the same impact, as India realised when it asked Theresa May, then Prime Minister (PM) of UK, to apologise in 2019 for the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in Amritsar in 1919. A year later, who remembers the apology, or expression of regret as it was called? For that matter, who remembers May? It would have been a lot simpler to build a statue of May, who was not even a gleam in her parents’ eyes in 1919, and then pull it down. The good thing with this form of protest is, it can still be done. And again. And then once more.

Full marks to the UK for having retained its basic political identity during the hundred year period so that they could be held liable. Makes one wonder what would have happened if, say, an apology was expected from Yugoslavia? Would we ask Bosnia and Herzegovina, or Croatia, or Macedonia, or Montenegro, or Serbia, or Slovenia, to do the honours?

“Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come.” Victor Hugo may not have realised the significance of this declaration, his own, but the modern human certainly does.

As demonstrated by the expression of regret by the then PM of UK, descendants can now be held accountable for crimes perpetrated by a person. Not merely the immediately following generation, but coming at any point of time in the future. Not merely direct descendants, but anyone either remotely connected in any way or not remotely connected in any way. In short, anyone can be held responsible for anything.

Talk about beauty, apart from lying in the beholder’s eye, being in simplicity. This law, presently in the early stages of conceptualisation, would be hard to better for its simplicity.

As can be forebears. Not merely the immediately preceding generation but having existed at any point of time in the past. As pulling down of statues demonstrates.

In these charged times, Christopher Columbus has emerged as an unlikely favourite. Indigenous people of America are pulling down his statues as they blame him for discovering America which led to their displacement and marginalisation. Minority groups are pulling down his statues for discovering America that led to centuries of colonisation and segregation. And, believe it or not, Indian officials are preparing to erect statues of Columbus so that they can be pulled down. Why? For setting out to find India, but discovering America instead. “How dare he? Because of him losing his way, India lost the opportunity of becoming America. He has much to answer for. We all know what happened after that. Babur showed up in a few years with his hordes from Central Asia and the rest, which would have been history regardless, is history.” Descendants of Columbus are trying to come to an agreement on whose statue to erect for destruction. “Why was India not where he went? He had to discover America instead, where he is now a reviled figure. India needs to answer for that.” 

There is urgency and palpable excitement everywhere. The Orissa government has commissioned a statue of Emperor Ashok for waging the bloody Kalinga war in the fourth century BC, so that it can be taken down. Statues of Kauravs, from the epic Mahabharat, are sprouting up around the country like weeds during the monsoon, to be pulled down for their criminal acts against the noble Pandavs. The PM designate in the newly formed government in Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapaksa, has vowed to create statues of Ram, Laxman, Hanuman, and all major characters in the epic Ramayan. You guessed it…so that they can be pulled down, for showing Lanka and Lankans in poor light.

In a far-sighted move, and recognising the problem being faced by people in having to erect statues that need to be pulled down, the Indian government has decreed that every individual sculpt a bust of themselves and deposit it at the newly constituted Bust Bank (not to be confused with any Nationalised Bank, though both might mean the same thing) so that many years hence, when it is realised that the twenty first century human indulged in despicable practices like binge-watching Netflix, endlessly swiping mobile screens with one finger, running behind a bouncing round object on a football pitch, or even trying to meet with other people face to face, and the need arises to pull down their statues, they are readily available. The PM is expected to bless the initiative by giving it a name which, after a few days, he will explain the real meaning of.

Even as the present day rulers erect statues of invaders who repeatedly, well, invaded (is there a better suited word?) Indian territory for several centuries starting about 800 AD, to pull down in protest for being the cause of the misery faced by its people in the twenty first century that they are unable to solve, the common man in India, has, finally, started to ask for identification of the self-serving rulers who failed in their primary duty of protecting their people and real estate from invaders, and capitulated, repeatedly, for several centuries starting about 800 AD. To erect their statues and then pull them down.

On account of his less than kosher behaviour, as viewed in today’s context, Maher had the temerity to suggest rehab and sensitivity training for God, his God, to the point of saying “God is cancelled.” Should we open up other Gods for a twenty first century performance evaluation? Or, let sleeping Gods lie?

Truth Will Out

It seems that people who make Hindi movies, do so successfully, i.e. make movies that make money for the makers, have been doing so for many years, with actors vying for getting roles in their movies, do not value talent. They routinely ignore talent, ignore suitability of actors for roles in their movies, and instead cram their movies with untalented actors, typically younger relatives of people already working in the film industry. Their main objective is to make movies that will fail.

Not only do they not value talent, they also have no ability to judge the ability of actors. It is actually the common man, or other actors who do not get roles in these movies, who are the best judges of an actor’s ability and suitability for a role in any movie.

These people, the people who make Hindi movies successfully, are not running businesses or business organisations. They are actually running charities whose job it is to continuously scan the market for everyone just got off the train from Patna or Hyderabad or Ambala or Chittorgarh or Dhanbad, at Dadar or Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST), with stars in their eyes, dreaming of making it big in the film industry, enable them to realise their dreams by casting them in their movies over other actors who may be more suitable for the role, especially if these other actors happen to be younger relatives of people already in the industry. All million of them who are estimated to arrive in Mumbai every year to make it as big as Amitabh Bachchan or Shahrukh Khan.

Adults, the million who come to Mumbai every year to be a part of the world of movies, come armed with a right, somewhat equivalent to the right of first refusal, for movie roles, especially in movies made by repeatedly successful producers and production houses who make movies that make money and who have no value for talent. This right makes it a duty of producers to give roles to people from outside the industry who have come there forsaking family and other opportunities, before they even begin to consider actors who have been associated with the industry far longer or are younger relatives of people in the industry, and do so repeatedly, till they are as successful as imagined by them before embarking on the journey.

It is unfortunate that these lessons have been learnt in the immediate aftermath of the death of Sushant Singh Rajput, a popular young actor in Hindi films, who apparently committed suicide over a month back. He may not have been in the top rung of stars, but he would certainly be considered an aspirant for the top rung. Wildly successful. What would one call a guy who just showed up from wherever he was and in about ten years played several lead roles in Hindi movies, yes Hindi movies, including that of India’s cricket captain, in a movie on his life. Who apparently had 15 crores (about USD 2 million) in his bank account that was seemingly transferred out. 15 crores sitting in the account? More than what 99% of Indians will earn in a lifetime. Remember ten years back he was perhaps one of the million who arrived at Dadar or CST. Unusually academically bright. He dropped out of the undergraduate engineering programme he was enrolled in at one of the top engineering colleges in India to make a life in the movies. As most will understand, a necessary precondition for dropping out of an academic programme is to have secured admission to it first. Through perhaps one of the most challenging academic entry paths in the world.

Likely candidate for a suicide?

Shakespeare would be proud. Unlike the ghost of Hamlet’s father who kept appearing only to his son Hamlet, Rajput’s ghost seems to be appearing to several near and dear ones.

To his girlfriend, exhorting her to write to the Union Home Minister, to seek help in understanding what led him to take the extreme step.

To his father, exhorting him to file a First Information Report (FIR) with the police authorities of Bihar, where he lives, a thousand miles away where, and not Mumbai, where he chose to reside and make a life, against his girlfriend, contending, among other things, that she had befriended Rajput to further her own career.

To the Enforcement Directorate (ED), the feared central agency, whose cases hold suspects guilty till proved innocent, and not the other way round as in the case of normal criminal proceedings, exhorting them to initiate proceedings under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA).

To the Chief Minister of Bihar, exhorting him to offer help in requesting the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the other feared central investigating agency, to take over the case if the family requests, even while the earlier request for CBI’s involvement, apparently made by the girlfriend, seems to have fallen on deaf ears.

To his sister, exhorting her to write to the Prime Minister requesting his intervention in ensuring justice is done.

And leading to more lessons for the common man.

It is a part of the Home Minister’s job to help people understand the reason for a near and dear one taking the extreme step. One can involve the Home Minister and Prime Minister in solving wrongdoing by any authority in the country by posting messages on Twitter with hashtags like #VandeMataram and #SatyamevJayate. Much like Indians in distress overseas could post to the Twitter handle of the then Foreign Minister who would, in a blaze of media glory, rescue the people in distress. The nation does not need any other process to make justice available to the common man and let him sleep in peace. Except a few Twitter handles.

ED is a vigilant organisation. If there is a possibility of misappropriation of 15 crore Rupees (USD 2 million) in a case of death seen as a suicide, they will jump in. Wrongdoers, be warned! People with suicidal tendencies, don’t take the final step unless you have 15 crore Rupees in your bank account.

Adults can be befriended by members of the opposite sex at will, to advance their own career, and they will have no say in the matter. Adults who have probably been considered responsible and mature and allowed to lead an independent life.

Really?

Aishwarya, here I come. To use you for furthering my career in Hindi movies. You have no choice in the matter. Or should I target Alia Bhatt? There is a much greater age difference between me and her. Will look more natural in the movies.

And, most significantly, any event can be used for settling political scores, especially where different political parties are involved, like the BJP led Union government, Shiv Sena led Maharashtra government and JDU led Bihar government in this case. There is value in multilateralism.

Don’t get me wrong. It is tragic. Any unnatural loss of life, any loss of life in its prime, is tragic. As is Rajput’s. While one can understand heightened emotions of near and dear ones, one expects governments and government bodies to behave in a judicious and equitable manner which is what eventually allows the common man to feel safe. Of the more than hundred thousand suicides in India every year, I wonder how many get investigated by the ED and CBI.

Hopefully, as Shakespeare says through Lancelot in The Merchant of Venice, the ‘truth will out.’