Coronavirus: A Tale of Two Charts

Coronavirus, COVID-19 to be specific, has a deep impact on all our lives. The rapid spread of the disease shows just how vulnerable we are even in this day and age.

The following two charts indicate where we stand as a country w.r.t other countries and our preparedness.

Three action items for you –

  1. Take good care of yourself, your family and your community
  2. Do not panic
  3. Have faith and hope for the best

More data points and charts at https://ourworldindata.org/coronavirus

What does our recent treatment of Jeff Bezos signify?

TLDR; nothing. Move on.

Here are two different views about the treatment meted out to Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon during his recent visit to India.

A couple of facts –

  • We are a country that attracted an average of ~1.5B investment considering from1995, which has ballooned to 3B / month in recent years
  • We receive a large amount of FDI money and continue to hold a significant sum (19th place in the world to be exact)
  • There was ~16% of investments increase in 2019

Before you go on to celebrate and scoff at the mere $1B investment promised by Amazon, know that –

  1. Amazon is a large investor in India – committed $5B in 2016 (I don’t know what materialized, and whether the interim millions or billions of investments are part of that $5B)
  2. Amazon is seen as a business of the modern world – it has good and bad, but how we deal with Amazon will impact how we are seen as a nation

No one will quite panic by the recent developments. Amazon will likely continue to invest and do business unless the Government does something radical.

That said, the whole incident was not the best behaviour.

  • I am not undermining the protest from retailers, but there are too many instances of how these protests are underlined or undermined by those in power
  • It is stupid to undermine an important business leader who is visiting the country since one of the businesses he owns criticises unrelated Government policies

It is painful to see arrogance and lack of finesse when dealing with matters of importance. We can boo all we want, call it fake news, and wish away the significance of the act, but our treatment of business leaders will be watched and there will be consequences. We live in an increasingly integrated World with no significant resources of our own – like it or not, that is the reality and we cannot just say “we don’t care”.

And.. Amazon is just not retail – they have significant interests from technology to space exploration. It is a wasted opportunity to have not exploited the “feel good” factor to push into new areas, but to have focussed on what the Washington Post said (or didn’t say) about Internet in Kashmir.

At the end of the day, a party and the people that cry hoarse about Hinduism should have better known one the many things upheld in our ethos – about how we treat guests visiting our home, regardless of the said guest’s past deed.

CAA and NRC: An FAQ

Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) have caused quite a bit of commotion in India in the year 2019. The commotion is dying down – I mean, people and monkeys always move on to the shiny new thing.

But it so happens that people of any repute including politicians, the great youth of India, the intelligentsia, technologists, neighbourhood vegetable vendors, security guards, the traffic cop who caught me standing on a zebra, spiritual Gurus (w/ a capital G), Martians, Dwarves and the puppy that I abandoned – all had to say something or a lot of things about CAA/NRC/both. They continue to do that about a ‘so 2019’ thing and there is no way I can ignore such a matter of great discussion.

And, there is also this matter of me not able to stay away from the lure of idiocy from time to time (or always?). After all, I lay claim to the elite branch of that general group and that group thrives in all “discussions” and “debates”. This post is a general FAQ to my future self on CAA/NRC.

If it’s not clear enough – I am not an expert.

If you are any kind of expert (most are, so it is best to double-check with your mother, neighbour or nearest mirror), if you passionately love/adore CAA/NRC/both, or passionately hate CAA/NRC/both – close the browser, take a deep breath, and fuck off in whatever general direction that you can find.

No one asked me for my opinion. And, no one asked me to breathe or to act stupid. Yet, I continue to dole out such acts of magnificence.

CAA/NRC is so 2019. Why do this now?

Well, as I see it – we are getting started with the two acts and with 2020. I want to leave my mark on stupid-land.

Also, there is quite some way to go. NRC is complex. In Assam took some 50,000 officials and a long time, and we did not get it right so far. If at all we want to go the way of extending it to all states – grab a truckload of supplies (popcorn/chips/nippattu/other?) and dig in to watch the fun over 3-10 years or more.

What is CAA/NRC?

They are laws enacted by the Government of India.

NRC: Register citizens of India.

CAA: Reduce residency time requirements to get Indian citizenship for refugees.

Aren’t these functions covered elsewhere?

Yes and no.

NRC: There are functions and artefacts like Adhaar, passport, voter’s card and a myriad of others that “prove” Indian citizenship as of “that” date.

CAA: People apply have been applying and will continue to apply for Indian citizenship like they always did. CAA just flexes requirements for particular groups.

Are CAA and NRC linked?

No.

Our Government says they are distinct, are not related and wonders why anyone would link them.

There are some who say they are dangerous when linked together and everything is context.

Personally I don’t think we have the ability to think straight over a period of three months. So, I would not prepare for the apocalypse.

I am a citizen of India. Am I impacted?

No.

At least not in the physical sense.

CAA is applicable to the entire country.

NRC is applied to certain regions. The stated intent is to extend NRC to the entire country.

If you are one of those types who boasted about our country being non-discriminatory based on religion – yes, you should arm yourself with some more information to participate in useless discussions and debates on social media, and over coffee or alcohol.

But, seriously? Did you think all this time that we were not discriminated based on anything? Do you live in India and on this planet at all?

  • Schools, your workplace, your apartment, and your dog want to know your religion, race, creed, mother tongue, caste, state, region, language, skin colour, eye colour, whether you do nail polish and whether you indeed eat mangoes in winter (it is called pickles for a reason, you savages)
  • You are given privileges or you forego privileges based on religion, region, caste and creed. Groups often fight to secure a better percentage of said privileges
  • Entry to establishments (religious or otherwise) is linked to religions, regions and such.

I am an Indian non-Muslim / Indian Muslim. Should I be bothered?

Did you even read the previous question?

Be warned – If you keep answering “yes” to this question, and keep going back to the previous one – that is an infinite loop and your brain could explode.

So, why are Indian Muslims worried?

I can’t speak for Muslims as one among them. But, that does not keep me from blabbering on.

At a superficial level – I don’t like it if someone takes off any privilege for a group that I identify with. Even if I am not impacted by the said privilege.

Let’s say I am a Wood Elf and bonafide citizen of Pluto. Pluto is a haven for all but suddenly recognizes that it could be a haven for even more people who walked over from the so-called planets. You, of course, welcome the intrusion if it doesn’t threaten your livelihood, and way of life. But, you would not be so excited if it contained a clause like so – “all are welcome except wood elves”. That clause “kind of” challenges the superiority of your identity (“All wood elves deserve Pluto today and heaven later”) regardless of assurances that existing wood elves continue as-is until the sun gobbles up the entire solar system.

Next level: when individual ties his identity to a “thing” and perceives any act to be threatening to the “thing” – the said act is perceived to be threatening to the individual. This works for the most part in nature – a tiger is equally threatening to all rabbits. But, that does not carry the exact same meaning for “what happens next” story in one’s brain. Perceived threats are amplified since that’s how humans evolved in the physical realm.

.. so, why is the so-called intelligentsia worried?

  1. At a superficial level – people fear that the acts imply discrimination based on religion – no matter the target audience
  2. There is a perceived fear for the future where such discrimination is extended to more factors

That’s a load of bollocks. People are always nice and don’t do any such thing.

  1. How long ago did you check whether you are human?
  2. “Us” vs. “them” is a great galvaniser from time immemorial. Recent history has examples like Nuremberg laws. Yes, this is not a direct comparison – it goes to show how privileges can be taken from people based on religion

.. but what about all those persecuted people?

The people from other countries who seek refuge and apply for citizenship from India – do they not live second-hand lives just because there is no CAA?

  1. Refugees are granted citizenship even today – takes longer to get around though. Meaning a citizenship act was present already and this is an amendment
  2. Official estimates put impacted people to be ~30K+ and maybe lakhs (?) queued up. As far as I can see (and I am near-sighted) – people are not making a beeline to enter India
  3. There are far more problems that need immediate attention. But hey – whatever rocks your boat harder can be the problem of the day or moment.

.. should I be worried?

Of course not.

You should be worried about the deeper philosophical implications of “I” rather than two acts passed by a country’s Government.

.. should I be worried about humanity’s future?

Again, no.

We need experts to understand a language commonly spoken 500 years ago. Regions and identities form and break up all the time. So, I don’t think you should worry about humanity’s future.

Also, you have many things that you can be distracted about – AI, an asteroid hitting earth, solar flares, people returning to being savages in Star Wars, and onion prices.

At a deeper level: identifying with anything is “attachment”. Getting attached causes suffering. This is yet another example of how Buddha was thoroughly effective in communicating matters of great significance in simple terms.

Digging further, because, why not. If all reality, all past and all future are something that we perceive here and now – this is only a moment that the universal consciousness experiences while moving to other exciting, boring, scary experiences.

Does this mean you hate your country?

Also.. in other words –

  • Do you want to move to “XYZ” country or Mars?
  • Are you <insert oh-so-smart name-calling here>?

No.

So, shouldn’t you be not talking “bad things” about country, Govt. & people?

No.

And.. “what!?”

Should I participate in “hot”/”chilly” debates about this topic?

Sure.

.. with you?

No.

.. but, why?

Is it because you are afraid to lose in the face of great arguments?

Absolutely.

What message(s) should I carry from this post?

  1. Dogs are infinitely better than cats
  2. The Matrix is the best movie ever made
  3. You shall see whatever you want to see
  4. Don’t change the world. Change yourself.
  5. We are not that significant and important as we think we are. “I” am everything and needs better attention in the world

I may not have elucidated as much – but they are true and matter to a lot of people.

And, this makes sense..

So does this..

We suffer more often in imagination than in reality.

– Seneca

The Bribelands

Recently I completed the circle of life in handing out bribes and I want to pay homage to the “system”. A system including myself that puts the onus on the receiver to reward the provider for performing an act. An act which was part of the duties of the said provider and which was already being compensated for.

For the sake of legality and sanity, read this like a story. All these are alleged acts that may or may not have transpired in real life. If you are a person with any kind of office – treat the content below as pure fiction and the ramblings of a mad man. You can stop reading at this time and go back to work or entertainment.

For the rest of you at the same position as me – you will understand the exact message that needs to be told.

After all, we live and die in such a world.

The Trigger

So, this happened.

I handed over five times the stipulated amount to the concerned at a certain crematorium for the last rites of a loved family member.

I did not blink at being asked for “something”. I had forgotten to show emotions or even twitch at the act. It was all but natural.

I come home, the process through the thoughts for a few days, and then it dawned on me. I had achieved a milestone in life – I had completed the circle of life in handing out bribes.

The Re-realisation

I come from the Great Indian Middle-class of 1990s. While I did not have money to spend on clothes, movies and stuff, I had enough support to spend on college tuitions, books, cable TV and the like. While we did not have enough money to buy a house during my college days, we had enough to get through an occasional trip, visits to the restaurant, or to afford a then super-expensive computer – thanks to my parents.

And that just enough money also meant we valued time and convenience. Also, the Indian newspapers tell a decent enough story for anyone intelligent to understand what’s going on without as many words in print.

So, I was not new to the world of bribes. A world was not narrow by any extent but was mostly the domain of my parents. That changed when I started handling life events by myself.

I was part of a well-established tradition and well-oiled system. I was never far from the way things worked at key events.

  • Get a health certificate to join Engineering degree course. And yes, this has to be from a qualified professional in a Govt. institution
  • Get a driving license for a bike
  • Receive my marks card from the university after a 2-month delay (at the risk of losing my job offer on-campus)
  • Lodge a police complaint about a lost mobile phone/documents
  • Buy a bike and then a car
  • Buy a house
  • Get a marriage certificate
  • Get the birth certificate of my kids

Or, for most mundane of activities –

  • Cleaning the street and clearing out garbage. Cleaning the clogged pipes on the street, or fixing street lights
  • Getting an over-due payment for services/products

The system feeds itself and all its stakeholders at every level. A person who accepts a bribe for overlooking faulty road repairs is not enjoying that by himself, but pools it for his peers, supervisors, politicians at local, state and centre levels. Ask any of the people in institutions like RTO, Sub-registrar offices, or RTO – accounts are kept and “income” distributed amongst all, with a percentage pushed up the chain.

There is no consequence

I don’t see anyone flinch when a politician or an official of any authority takes a bribe – even in a cheque. We don’t get shocked by unaccounted money buried in toilets, their lands, and even in walls/house compounds. I don’t see any adverse reaction to people in power spending extremely huge amounts of money for parties and festivals other than the lip service offered at the altar of no one in particular.

I saw only people having a good laugh about it all when RTOs got occasionally raided by anti-corruption units and money was thrown out of windows. Or, when officials literally ate the money so that they were not caught with proof of the act.

All that considered I wonder my India is not the deepest of red in the index.

Source: Wikipedia. By SSYoung – Own work [1], CC BY-SA 4.0

There is no consequence of taking bribes – as long as the power sides with the person.

People have been dropped from investigation for no reason, people are investigated later for no apparent reason, and criminals and hapless foot-soldiers are secretly interviewed for future leverage.

Everyone at the receiving end of an unfair advantage realises just that one thing – have power, have leverage and face no consequences. Institutions, authority and power are used towards achieving that objective. Every, effing day.

Lalu Prasad Yadav is a good example of the rise and fall of a person who did what he did and landed where he is today. Things can go south and they keep going south all the way to the pole and beyond.

But, there are do-gooders

While I hold on to my cards about the system being too far ahead to change, there are plenty of examples shining through the darkness.

Our Passport office is one of the early success stories. The intervention through technology brought about a thorough change to queuing, processing and delivery systems.

IT department is yet another good story of transformation. Everything digitised = no visits to the department for silly reasons = no bribe changing hands.

And, there are shining stars of human beings. There are quite a few good officers in RTO, in Police, in sub-registrar offices, and other such institutions where corruption is universally accepted phenomenon. I had a pleasure to meet and interact with really good human beings who extended courtesy even when I was wrong. I hold them in high esteem for doing that to the commonest of the people.

But, but.. there seems to be no light in end of the tunnel

The current system is far too entrenched in its current doings for its own good. In all my optimism and for all of the peoples’ complaints, I do not think anyone wants any change.

People with means keep bribing others for convenience or to look the other way –

  • Get ahead of the queue for anything that legitimately requires a queue
  • Not renewing auto-insurance on time or for jumping the traffic signal
  • Getting certified on a skill without undergoing the due process to earn the certificate

And, for the most part – the system will not go away because we breed that with inaction.

  • Keep falling from our bikes at the same potholes
  • See our elders and children get hurt by the same footpaths
  • See the same garbage day after day, lying by the side and dumped on vacant lands
  • See people expecting even more rewards and feeling cheated when not being compensated enough – when their duties include compensation by the employer

We value convenience and we suffer because of it. We are not fully aware of our situation and “feel for the discrepancies” enough to care.

And please – don’t get overly defensive or offensive about any of this. It is not about which party or influencer came when. It is about the current state and what we are doing about it. You can feel disgusted and close the browser, but if you had been living in so-called “third world” country – you exactly know this. Don’t blame me, my society or my country.

So, what gives?

We can speak all we want about digitising the entire economy and start tracking the micro-transactions, but there are plenty of examples today where bribes are in services, in gold, or in farm animals.

Nope. I offer no solutions. Just – “wake up”.

Or, shift to a developed country where corruption is not as rampant and not in-your-face.

Let technology help to write your rama naama’s

I was cleaning out my code repository the other day and found this ‘raama naama generator’ that I created a few years ago.

I have open-sourced the program out of concern for the society – so download it today (or) go through the complicated code – if you are into such a thing.

tldr;

Accumulate just enough punya – quickly and without boring sadhana using the generator. You can do all this in the comfort of your own home.

What’s a rama naama generator?

Easily generate a million raama naama’s at the click of a button. Yes, you heard that right.

It is equivalent to writing all those mantras in tens of books. I have taken great care to automate that and make it easy.

  • No more worries if you have been busy and could not complete the allocated number of mantras in a day, week or month
  • No spending time on writing
  • No pains in the wrist
  • No impact to environment – no papers wasted, no ink spilled and no plastics used

What is the objective of such a generator?

There are three key objectives –

  • Save your time
  • Save your energy
  • Help save our environment

Is enlightenment guaranteed after using this program?

Assured. Never guaranteed. YMMV.

Religious practices are serious business. Is this all joke to you?

No, and no.

Enlighten me more about this program and why use it?

Yes, this is sarcasm – dummy. But sarcasm of the serious kind. I am a great arm-chair philosopher and will take nothing less.

My mother and I discuss a lot many things. Among them was a topic about how we think about things and utilise time in our lives.

One of those things that we find around us is to write many many Rama naama’s. When I say “around us” – I mean the narrow world that my family and I have carved around us in a South Indian state, at a time that probably has no meaning even if I say it loud (well, 21st century – just for the records).

There is this custom of writing many (I mean many) naama’s (a prayer that you write in the book) and submitting those books to a temple. The prayer goes something like –

“Shri Rama, Jaya Rama, Jaya Jaya Rama”

Translation: Glory be to God – this is referring to one of our revered Gods – Rama.

After the writers write their many lines and books, they submit it to a near by temple. The temple performs a big ceremony at the very end, distributes ‘prasad’ and everyone goes out happy.

  • Devotees get the satisfaction of a few weeks well spent
  • Template trustees feel elated on making devotees out of mere mortals
  • Priests get to recite the holy mantras
  • Singers get to sing some classical, devotional songs
  • Speakers at the occasion get an opportunity to reaffirm their beliefs and seek a few followers

I did not quite understand what happens to the books thereon, but the fate of the books is immaterial to the conversation. But, I do know that there are banks (like this) that keep track of the naama’s written and punya accumulated.

So, it was that we debated about how we choose to spend our time, and to what benefit.

  • Is it because we try to discipline our mind to think the same thing (much like mantras, but with writing + mantra both)
  • Is it to slow our thinking and calm our minds?
  • Is it because we want to enforce the belief that we stand for something greater than ourselves (as in humans)
  • Is it because we want to take up something that we see as “big” and prove a point?

This generator was just a prankish way of saying times have moved on but has our life progressed well in line with those “times”.

What if we had a program that generated a 100, 1000, or a million naama’s in couple of seconds. Does it say anything about the journey vs. destination debate?

Happy to say – we never found the answer and the debate continues. But, there was no way I would miss that opportunity to share something invaluable with y’all.