You Asked For It

I broke out in a cold sweat as soon as I read the email:

Your information has been updated

We have completed your request to change your address in our files from 999 Housing Society Name, Colony Name, GURGAON* to 999 Housing Society Name, Colony Name, GURGAOM*. If this is correct, you do not need to take any further action and can disregard this email.

*Note: In order to protect the security of your account, the complete address is not listed above.

If you did not request this address update, please call us immediately using the number on the back of your Card.

Thank you for your Card Membership.

American Express Customer Care”

Now, it has long been one of the many peeves of mine that I have not been hacked and whether I was not important enough to be targeted. But when it actually appeared to have happened, on 22nd September, time-stamped 11:16 AM, I broke out in a sweat. A cold one too, before I forget.

It was thoughtful of the company to have not listed the complete address in order to protect the security of my account. I believe they compressed the air out of the address text since the address mentioned in the email is all that is needed for anyone to reach it, should they desire to. Never one to follow a good practice without a struggle, I masked the address.

Unless they are referring to their cleverness in changing the city from Gurgaon to Gurgaom. That should fool the hackers and information stealers.

But American Express is a thoughtful provider. They think of everything. Below the email they even mentioned:

To Contact Us

Please do not reply to the email for any enquiries – messages sent to this address cannot be answered.

Kindly contact our Customer Service Representative on the numbers mentioned on the back of your card or alternatively you can write to us:

American Express Banking Corp.

Cyber City, Tower – C, Bldg. No 8, Sector 25

DLF City Ph II, Gurgaon – 122002

Thank you for using American Express Online Services”

Completely sensible. Sending an email to a customer and telling him that he cannot send an email back. He can either call a customer representative or send a physical mail (snail mail for those who cannot picture physical mail) to their thoughtfully provided address that they even had the presence of mind to not hide, thankfully signed off as ‘American Express Online Services.’ If you cannot send a physical mail to an online service, where will you?

But I ramble. I think it is the sense of relief after the call that I made as suggested by them. I made the call at 11:56 AM and it lasted 8 minutes and 37 seconds, the metadata to serve as breadcrumbs for retrieval in case American Express ever decided they are not happy with me.

The call was answered and I was politely advised that it could have been initiated by the KYC team.

After a moment of reflection upon receiving this immensely useful piece of information, I could only say, “Hmmm. So?”

The young man, to his eternal credit, remained unfazed. He returned in a few moments with another representative on the line, this time from the KYC team. His name was Saket. Saket said, “You don’t have to worry, sir. Based on your KYC (Know your customer) documents our back-office team did a realignment of your address. I think the city name was corrected.”

Upon more reflection I said, “’change your address in our files from 999 Housing Society Name, Colony Name, GURGAON* to 999 Housing Society Name, Colony Name, GURGAOM*’ sounds like you have changed it to Gurgaom. I believe the correct spelling is Gurgaon. I know political parties keep changing city names, but I have not heard of it changing to Gurgaom.”

“Don’t worry, sir. It was done by the backend team. You don’t need to do anything.”

“In that case, thank you for sending me this email asking me to call in case I had not initiated this address change request. Everyone’s time seems to have been put to some good use this morning as a result.”

“I am sorry for that sir. It is an automated process, you see.”

“Ah, automated process,” I said to myself and ended the call, as that explained everything. I could be faulted for believing that was the end of it. But was it?

A few minutes later, when I peeped into my inbox once more, there was another email sitting in my inbox from americanexpress@alerts.americanexpress.com, time-stamped 12:05 PM. I could feel the sweat, the cold one, beginning to form, as I clicked on it with trepidation. It said:

Your information has been updated

We have completed your request to change your address in our files from 999 Housing Society Name, Colony Name, GURGAOM* to 999 Housing Society Name, Colony Name, GURGAON*. If this is correct, you do not need to take any further action and can disregard this email.

*Note: In order to protect the security of your account, the complete address is not listed above.

If you did not request this address update, please call us immediately using the number on the back of your Card.

Thank you for your Card Membership.

American Express Customer Care”

My faith in large corporations remains unshaken. As you can make out, their processes are pretty strong and can be repeated endlessly, even if there is no need for them. Once again, they seem to have pressed the air out of my address in order to protect the security of my account.

But I am in a quandary.

Does this qualify as a request that I made?

Should I call back immediately?

Have I just caused the initiation of an endless loop?

Lifelong Learning

Did you know that smoking is injurious to health?

Don’t beat yourself down if you didn’t. How could you? Had Siddharth Shukla, the 40ish year old recently deceased actor, died ever before?

May he rest in eternal peace! Om shanti!

And since this was the first time he died, there was no way our venerated tabloids, journos and writers could have told us what we needed to learn from his death. QED.

We all know that the common man does not learn about the dangers of smoking from the mandatory warnings on cigarette packs, complete ban of cigarette advertising and government advertising communicating the horrifying consequences. He does not. He waits for an article in some barely-read tabloid to learn that smoking is injurious to health after Siddharth Shukla has died.

And here I was, thinking that only sporting events play this important role in our lives.

No, not winning and losing. Not displaying the limits of human endeavour either. But learning all the things we couldn’t otherwise have the foggiest about. Like the recently concluded Olympics that have been a great knowledge-imparting event. I wish the 2021 Olympics had been held in 1976, so that I could have learned all that I learned at a much earlier age.

Like what?

Like in a competition some will win and many others will not. Some might even be second and third.

Did you know that? Answer truthfully. You can lie to the world but not to yourself. This must be life-changing for the millions who play tennis and golf and everything else, knowing they will never be Roger Federer or Jack Nicklaus. And to think that they have been playing the sport just for their love for it all along. Shame on them.

Like one should learn from one’s failures.

Really? The one common thing I have seen in the (at least) thousands of people I have interacted with in my life is their steadfast refusal to learn from their failures so that their life can go downhill like a runaway toboggan. Lawyers, doctors, students, army men, politicians, priests, I believe all are guilty. Who has ever learned from failure? Isn’t one of the driving forces of human life as we know it the refusal to learn from failures?

Like associating and spending time with like minded people, those who can support you and uplift you when you need it most.

I wonder if such a drastic change in lifestyle will be possible for human beings? After all, we all know that we like to associate with people who are the antithesis of what we are. People who like to pull us down every living moment of our lives. Who rejoice at our failures and mope at successes. These are the people we hop over to the pub for a drink with. These very same people are the ones we share our most personal and precious moments with. Show me a human who is close to people who support and uplift him when needed and I will show you a Martian.

Like discipline is required for success and that many athletes get up early and work long hours to achieve success.

Who cares about discipline in the real world? The humble newspaper vendor who has to begin his day well before sunrise to pick up the newspapers and distribute them? The call centre agent who works the night shift because her employer handles calls for a client from the other side of the world? Or even the rickshaw puller who used to show up at our house, day after day, come rain or shine, to take my sister and me to school when we were kids? We went with him for several years and never once did he fail to show up. How would these poor folks know about discipline unless someone really intelligent gleaned it from the Olympics and wrote about it?

All these learnings, and all from just one single tabloid. Boggles the mind.

But they seem to be old fashioned. Publishing learnings that are meant for everyone is a dead giveaway.

Take another tabloid, for example, that has published learnings from the same Olympics, not for everyone, but only for children. Absolutely unique ones, only applicable to children.

Like in a competition some will win and many others will not. Some might even be second and third.

Like one should learn from one’s failures.

Like associating and spending time with like-minded people, those who can support you and uplift you when you need it most.

Like discipline is required for success and that many athletes get up early and work long hours to achieve success.

Never heard of them. Have you? I don’t blame you.

These really intelligent people have whetted my appetite. I wonder who will be the first to publish 5 learnings from the Tokyo Olympics for 27-year-olds. Or 55-year-olds. Or 3-year-olds. Or 5 learnings from the Tokyo Olympics for 27-year-old females born in September with a college degree in computer science. An avalanche of learning is about to hit us.

But I digress.

I now realise that sporting events do not have a monopoly on teaching us stuff that we already know. And why should they? We are in the highly developed world of the twenty first century. All major societies have rules against monopolies, enabling the largest technology companies to have gotten so big offering their unique services that nobody else does.

Celebrities, or celebrity deaths to be specific, are equally useful for the foolish common man to be taught lessons by some of our venerated tabloids and journos and writers, that they would otherwise have had to live without. That itself has been a learning for me. As has happened in the case of actor Siddharth Shukla’s untimely death.

Like what?

Like one should not over exert. Apparently hard work does help but our bodies need rest as well. Makes complete sense as I just finished reading a lesson from the Olympics: “Discipline is required for success and that many athletes get up early and work long hours to achieve success.” I will rest as well as work long hours. Elementary.

Like genes are important. We need to know about the health of our parents and grandparents and take care of our health accordingly. Makes sense as I just finished internalising another lesson from the Olympics: “Everyone has it within themselves to become someone or something magnificent (or at least better than we are now) with a ton of hard work and focused determination.” I can do it but I can’t do it. Simple. There was a bonus lesson hidden in this one; I am useless whichever way I am, because I can at least become better than I am now. Wouldn’t you pay for these lessons?

I can already visualize fingers gliding across keyboards and producing an article on ‘Five lessons on resolving conflict between five lessons from a sporting event and five lessons from a celebrity death.’

All for the foolish common man, who just does not seem to learn. Olympics have been held for over a hundred years to produce lessons for him. Celebrities have been dying, some young and some old, for centuries, producing lessons for him.

5th September, marked as Teachers’ Day in India, has just gone by. On this day, we should be celebrating our venerated tabloids and journos and writers for teaching us these life lessons and making lifelong learners out of the common man.

My new video tour of London

I am a longtime follower of Stephen and his always interesting perspective on places and things of historical or common interest. He conducts tailored tours around the UK. Unfortunately, because of the pandemic, tourists have dried up all over the world, severely impacting his work and income. In his own words, “Given the total lack of tourists still in London and my now approaching almost 19 months with no work or any form of government support, I’ve been busy working on my latest video tour.” But it seems he has many ideas up his sleeve, like this video tour he has created. London in particular and the UK in general are a wonderful holiday destination, to which I can vouch from my own experiences. This video might be a great way to get to know London, or to get to know it better, the Stephen Liddell way.

Stephen Liddell

Given the total lack of tourists still in London and my now approaching almost 19 months with no work or any form of government support, I’ve been busy working on my latest video tour.

This one is based on my original 3 hour walking tour and visits just about every famous sight in Westminster (London) though it turns out with no crowds or tourists, I do this tour in just under 2 hours on this video.

I filmed this tour back in November 2020 at the very height of lockdown and at a time when London usually looks quite beautiful, with the colourful autumnal leaves falling in the parks and the white stone buildings coming into their own as they do in the winter months.

Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament

It’s all filmed on a 360 degree camera so you can scroll around in every direction as the…

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Pro Bono

Excuse me for feeling privileged, or entitled, as some like to say.

I believe businesses that deal with consumers, or individual customers like me, reserve their choicest services for my exclusive use.

OK I exaggerate. Exclusive is a little over the top.

My recent experience with Payoneer, that describes itself as a “financial services company that provides online money transfer, digital payment services and …” has only served to confirm my suspicions.

There is some business consulting and freelance writing work I do with a couple of overseas businesses. When you work on a commercial basis, there is a financial angle that becomes a part of the deal. A European client prefers to remit the money to me through Payoneer, one of the many ‘fintech’ companies that have emerged in the last few years, giving a run for their money, pun unintended, to the seemingly change-resistant big old banks.

Being in India, which is an exchange-controlled environment, where one cannot freely buy and sell foreign currency, receipt of foreign currency requires some regulatory compliance. The one that I daringly got involved with Payoneer for is the obtention of the Foreign Inward Remittance Certificate (FIRC). In simple terms, once you have an FIRC mentioning you as the beneficiary, it is certified that you were responsible for the receipt of that amount in foreign currency, resulting in boosting the foreign exchange reserves of the nation. You also become eligible for certain relaxations, like Goods and Services Tax (GST) compliance for such receipts.

The saga commences with my email of 27th June to Payoneer, after a reasonably fruitless phone conversation that yielded no results.

27th June – My email

Hi, I have not received FIRCs for the last 3 months.
Can you please make them available.

30th June – Email from Payoneer

Thank you for contacting us. My name is Adrian from Payoneer Customer Care.

We apologize for the delayed response.

We are aware that it might be long for you, and we would like to reassure you that we do everything we can to improve our timeframe.

We have taken note of your request and we are delighted to assist you.

After verifications, I confirm that you have received by email the FIRC’s corresponding to the last payments.

Please check the notification emails sent to download the documents, or you can contact your bank to provide them to you.

Thanking you for your understanding and cooperation.

For any further information, do not hesitate to contact us.

Silly me. He is right. For payments listed on my Payoneer account I have the FIRCs. My issue is the payments not listed on my account. Going back with a response on his ability to confirm what I have received and what I have not received will need to wait.

1st July – My email

Thank you for your response. I will disagree. 

Sharing an example: I have received the following message yesterday re. a transfer:

(payment message enclosed)

I confirm the credit in my account. However, this transaction is not reflecting on my Payoneer account. Neither is the FIRC. There are many other transactions not reflecting.

Can u help.

5th July – Email from Payoneer

Thank you for contacting us. 

Your request is not clear as you keep providing us in this case with different information. 

The screenshot you provided us does not match your request for the FIRC, as the email you are referring to is not regarding FIRC but when the withdrawal should arrive to your account. 

Once you clarified the request we can review is and assist accordingly. 

Have a nice day!

Silly me again and even more. How dare I confuse them.

5th July – My email

Sorry that you found it confusing. Here is a clarification:

In your message dated 30th June you stated: “After verifications, I confirm that you have received by email the FIRC’s corresponding to the last payments.”

In my message dated 1st July I disagreed with the above statement. I provided your message dated 30th June as an example to challenge your statement. I meant to say that my account is not showing all payments sent to me through Payoneer.

The question, once again, is: Please tell me why the payment of Euro XXX, as per your message enclosed with my response on 1st July, is not reflecting on my Payoneer account.

Call me impatient. Call me foolish. Not receiving a response for 4 days induced me to open up another front in the battle. Imagine one of the parties in a battle locked in a hand-to-hand combat with the enemy, suddenly finds that the same person is coming at them with a raised sword from the left. Would you not be unnerved? To their eternal credit, Payoneer remained unfazed and responded with an email which still gave no evidence of trying understand or solve my issue.  

9th July – Chat transcript (Pleasantries have been deleted)

Ankur Mithal: I have received an email from Payoneer for a transfer
Ankur Mithal: I have received the funds in my bank account in India. However, the transaction does not show in my Transaction History on Payoneer.
Paulo: Hello, how are you?
Ankur Mithal: Payoneer mail dated 1st July
Ankur Mithal: Amount Euro XXX

Paulo: Thank you.Please stay on the line while I investigate this case on your account
‘The file Payoneer email of 1 July.docx (232.09KB) was received.’
Ankur Mithal: Sure. I have sent you a screen print of the email from Payoneer on 1st July.
Paulo: As long as you received the payment, then there is nothing to worry about

Ankur Mithal: OK. So here is the problem. I need an FIRC certificate for the payments I receive in any foreign currency. For payments listed on my Payoneer account, Payoneer has made an FIRC available that I can download. For money received after February, remitted through Payoneer but not showing on my Payoneer account, how do I get the FIRC certificate? 
Paulo: Hold on
Paulo: I will forward this matter to our support team for your request. Kindly wait within 24-48 hours for updates via email
Ankur Mithal: All right. Thanks for your help.
Paulo: You are welcome
Paulo: Anything else I may help you with today?
Ankur Mithal: For the moment this is all. Depending on the response I get there could be other queries. Thanks.


9th July – Email from Payoneer

Hello, this is Maia, Payoneer’s Supervisor. I hope this email finds you well.

Please find the attached FIRC documents per your request.

Thank you for your patience and have a good day.

The FIRCs turned out to be for the payments till February. I had already received these FIRCs. But at least they promoted me. I am now getting an email from the supervisor.

9th July – My email

Thank you for your message.

Why exactly am I being sent these two FIRC documents? Did I ask for them? Would you be kind enough to please share my request asking for these two FIRC documents please.

16th July – Email from Payoneer

Thank you for contacting Payoneer, this is Jes one of the representative from Customer Care. I will be more than happy to assist you. 

Our sincere apologies for the inconvenience and for not getting back to you sooner. We are trying our very best to answer all of these the soonest we can.

I understand that you have inquiries regarding the FIRC document. Rest assured that I will do my best to assist your concern.

Upon reviewing the account, it appears that we have sent you the FIRC document as per your request. 

We appreciate your patience and cooperation in this case.

Should you have any questions, please let us know. Feel free to reply to this e-mail, or contact us via phone or chat so we can continue to assist you. We value your business and we make sure to support you in any way possible.

Thank you for doing business with Payoneer. Have a great day.

16th July – My email

Thank you once again for responding without bothering to understand the issue.

Can you please share with me a copy of MY REQUEST where I asked for THESE FIRCs. I have asked the same query in my earlier email as well but it appears the query has been ignored or not understood.

Two requests:

Once again, please share with me a copy of my request based on which you sent me the two FIRC documents (refer Maia’s email of 9th July in this email trail). If it was sent randomly, without my asking for it, you can just say it was an error and maybe even apologize.

The FIRC I DO WANT is for the payment of Euro XXX on 1st July. For your reference and ease, a copy of Payoneer’s email advising me of the payment is attached. 

I do hope this email will reach someone who can bother to read and make an effort to understand a customer’s issue BEFORE responding.


The wait begins once more.

Will they read my email?

Will they read AND understand my email?

Will they read, understand AND provide a coherent response?

Will I get the FIRCs that I am looking for?

And, most importantly, if a client offers to pay through Payoneer, should I offer to work pro bono?

Adwords

Political dirty linen is beginning to be washed in public. And hung out to dry. Yet again.

The governments of the BJP-ruled states of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat have been caught with the smoking gun. They have no place to run, neither to hide. Sedition is the unspoken thought in many impressionable minds.

Only the state governments of Uttar Pradesh (UP) and Uttarakhand (UK) have come out smelling roses, their patriotism and good intentions beyond reproach. Only the state governments of UP and UK have bothered to publish half-page advertisements extolling the central government and its efforts in rolling out the world’s largest free vaccination campaign. With a photograph of the Prime Minister (PM), apart from their own Chief Minister (CM).

One is published on the page facing the one where the central government has placed a half-page advertisement extolling its own efforts in rolling out the world’s largest free vaccination campaign. The other is published on the page just behind the central government advertisement. And I am referring to The Hindustan Times here, the daily newspaper I read. I cannot say which other daily they are not published in.

Finish reading the central government ad, spend a moment in contemplation of your blessings, after you have already read the UP government ad and spent a moment in contemplation of your blessings, turn the page and the UK government ad catches you smack in the face, forcing you to spend yet another moment in contemplation of your blessings.

Did I even turn the page? Am I seeing double? Or triple? The insecurities of advancing age also come rushing back as the same ad stares back page after page.

But I guess I am missing the point, as usual. After all, unless three government advertisements say the same thing in the same edition of the same newspaper on the same day, how is the common man to understand?

To make sure the common man understands, since they understand the common man so well, they have taken the trouble to ensure that not a shred of additional information is shared in either of their advertisements. The copy is exactly the same as in the central government ad. Except for the “Thank you PM Modi!” extra line over and above the exact copy of the central government ad that both the state government ads have.

Check it out for yourself.

Can the non-Indian readers identify the central government ad out of the three?

This is clear evidence of both the state governments, even the central government for that matter, having independently conceived the idea and worked on the creatives. One cannot even begin to imagine the senior leadership time that would have been spent in fine-tuning the language of these ads. Publicis, Dentsu, WPP, Omnicom, Ogilvy and Euro RSCG, your loss of creative advertising talent has been the Indian common man’s gain of political talent.

Coming as it does on the day the central government has told the Supreme Court that they cannot make ex-gratia payouts for Covid deaths, as provided in the Disaster Management Act of 2005, as it is ‘beyond fiscal affordability’ of the government, it has particular relevance for the common man.

Fiscal affordability?

The centre, as well as the UP and UK state governments, have risen above the challenge of fiscal affordability and issued these ads.

Are the other states trying to convey an impression that they understand what it actually means? There will be hell to pay. Central governments have rarely been bothered with such trifles.

Besides, not taking up opportunities for publishing advertisements with a picture of the PM, preferably preening with a peacock…sorry, with a preening peacock, when the opportunity presents itself, could well be made an act of treason soon. These state governments are not trying to become test cases, are they?

I heard from a cousin that his children have questioned his claims about graduating from a prestigious college in Delhi University. “But where is the PM’s picture?” they asked him when he proudly showed them his graduation certificate. The children, adults now, had just received their Covid-19 vaccination certificate with the PM’s mug. Never mind that in the early eighties when he graduated the PM was not the PM, not even the CM of Gujarat. He was probably not even an elected representative of a municipal corporation at that time. Poor chap has returned his degree certificate and requested the University to issue a fresh one with the picture of the PM.

I believe from the next renewal, all driving licences issued in India will have the picture of Mr. Modi, instead of the driver.

And silly me. I never realized that PM Modi is funding this vaccination drive out of his personal fortune. I am sure if that was not the case the ads would have said “Thank you, central government!” or “Thank you, government of India!” Simple man that he is, he has never made a hue and cry about his fortune. Messrs Ambani and Adani have much to learn from him.

But I must admit that I was caught off guard by the declaration of this being the world’s largest free vaccination programme.

If you have the world’s largest population, or thereabouts, how can you have the world’s largest free vaccination drive as well? Isn’t something amiss here? Should you not be having the world’s smallest free vaccination drive while the world’s largest free vaccination drive is carried out in Singapore, or Luxembourg, or Vatican City? Especially when the government that is implementing it has been elected by the largest voter list in the world.

It’s a bit like proudly claiming in a public-money funded ad and thanking the PM for India having the world’s largest number of children. Or the largest number of adults. Or the world’s largest number of employed people. Or the world’s largest number of unemployed people. Or the world’s largest number of construction workers. Or the world’s largest number of non-construction workers. Or the largest number of children in school. Or the largest number of children not in school. Or the largest number of, well, anything.

Wouldn’t you be surprised?

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?