Drishyam 2 review : Education and social status should not hinder assessment of people

Making sequels for any movie is tough and especially more for crime thrillers. Unless the script was prepared for 2 parts like the Uma Thurman blockbuster Kill Bill, getting the flow of the story from the first movie to its sequel is extremely difficult. Even in the case of The Matrix trilogy, the struggle to take the story forward from The Matrix through its sequels The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions was very apparent. But Mollywood movie director Jeethu Joseph has done a memorable job with Drishyam 2, the sequel of his highly successful and acclaimed movie Drishyam.

The plot of Drishyam 2 is built on the fact that no crime is perfect and there could be a witness to every crime. To recap, Drishyam narrated the travails of Georgekutty who runs local cable TV service in a small town in Kerala and lives with his wife and two girl children. He is an orphan, school dropout and had found his feet on his own in a tough world. He is obsessed with movies and unknowingly picks up plentiful of cues from crime movies which becomes his mighty weapons when he has to hide a murder and protect his family from the world and keep them out of reach of the long arms of the police system breathing down their necks.

Jeethu had left the door open for a sequel with the climax of Drishyam and what is impressive is, after 6 years of making Drishyam, he has seamlessly picked up from its climax to get the sequel rolling. Drishyam had meandered a bit in the beginning as the stage had to be set before getting into the crux of the story but with Drishyam 2 Jeethu seems to have put in every effort to make the audience feel that even though 6 years have passed the continuity to the story is perfect to the inch from the beginning. Jeethu has a unique knack of making successful police stories and crime thrillers and he has ensured that new characters and new situations blend in perfectly with the original story background of Drishyam.

There will be plenty of reviews about the movie so what I want to write here is about Georgekutty’s character and I believe it is a masterpiece. Orphan, school dropout, married, running a small business. Many people who have watched Drishyam and Drishyam 2 may have found it hard to believe and digest that an uneducated insignificant man could be smart enough to take on the police on his own and outwit them twice.

Christians in Kerala, especially from the southern parts are extremely smart in doing business and figuring out their lives irrespective of their educational qualifications. Georgekutty’s addiction to crime movies and picking up so many cues from them underlines the fact that if he had a different upbringing, he could have become a successful detective, crime investigator and even be part of the police or an investigation agency. This is where our education system is failing our society. Education when done right helps in creating critical thinking ability in us which helps us in asking questions and not becoming gullible to accepting anything blindly. But the same education system does nothing to create real world problem solving skills in us. This yawning gap exists in every job sector where problem solving skills are of primary importance and so much in demand but most educated and qualified people do not have them.

Georgekutty’s character reminds me of Frank Abagnale on whose life the highly successful movie Catch Me If You Can was made. Frank became a well known conman even before his 19th birthday and never got caught by the law. Finally, the system bowed down to him and FBI enlisted his help for nabbing check forgers. In Drishyam 2 the police is seen making several good assumptions and simultaneous moves to make Georgekutty reveal the location where he has hidden a dead body, completely oblivious of the fact that he has always known that the police will constantly be on his heels and will never stop till they find the dead body. More than the police observing him he has been observing the police all the time. Staying so much ahead of the police helps him make some ingenious plans because he knows fully well that he cannot hide a crime or a dead body forever. The education system fails even the police here. They keep following standard investigation procedures and even though Georgekutty outwitted them soundly in Drishyam, they keep assuming that he was lucky and he won’t be lucky every time. Their higher education and social status comes in the way of seeing through and accepting the fact that Georgekutty, though uneducated is wily, smart and far more intelligent than them.

The police does not seem to have the ability to think out-of-the box either. Recreating the crime scene or crime situation is the key to solving a crime. Although they know Georgekutty may not have hidden the body far from his house, they fail to look back in time to find out what was the situation on the ground 6 years back. From the way Georgekutty is living confidently and the fact that construction of the new police station was underway when he hid the body, the police could have connected the dots and arrived at the suspicion that he could have hidden the body right under their feet. Georgekutty knew he was taking a grave risk by hiding the body in the police station and he knew there could be a witness or someone in the police could connect the dots at some point in time which is why he started making plans to save his family right away.

So could someone of Georgekutty’s stature have done all this? He understands crime like the back of his hand from watching movies, he knows how to make friends with people and influence them completely oblivious to them and he knows to exploit a porous and corrupt system. Sizing up the opponent or failing to do it is the sure shot recipe to success or failure as both Georgekutty and the police finds out. Do such people exist in real life? There are all kinds of people in the world and we have no clue what each one’s skills and abilities are. Only when life forces us into corners and we start fighting back does the world get to see who we really are. There is a Georgekutty in all of us, in one way or the other.

Renowned Mollywood actor Mohanlal reprises the role of Georgekutty and completely owns it. Drishyam had an ensemble cast and all the important characters have been retained along with the addition of new ones in the sequel. Both Drishyam and Drishyam 2 are intense movies like most crime thrillers and it is easy to get distracted among so many characters. Georgekutty is the pivot to both movies so understanding his character and watching from his perspective is the key to appreciating them.

Humanity’s fantasy world has been shattered by a virus

I had a very interesting conversation with a friend (who is going to read this) about whether COVID-19 virus is a zoonotic virus or a man made virus. There are many articles and videos that have been circulating on social media proposing to provide evidence that the virus was created in the virology lab at Wuhan, China. What my friend is worried about is, if these allegations turn out to be true, it means we have interfered in nature and tampered with the natural evolution of a microorganism. He wants strict regulations on biological testing similar to the ones imposed on nuclear and chemicals testing so that we do not end up engaging in a biological war with one another like the atom bombs in Japan and chemical warfare in Vietnam. My answer to him was in 2 parts. 1) Human interference in nature We started interfering in nature when we started cutting down trees to build our houses. We did not pause to wonder why animals are not doing the same. Rather, in our arrogance of having superior intelligence we looked down upon the supposed lower intelligence of animals. We never wondered from where did we get this ability which no other living being on the planet has. Nature will never give the intelligence and ability to any living being to destroy nature’s ecosystem. Nature is a closed ecosystem which means everything that is born or created within it will or has to return to it. Animals build nests using items available in nature which gets recycled by nature after use. When we die our bodies are recycled by nature. Fully knowing this, we created tar, concrete, plastic and a zillion other things nature cannot recycle and knowing that nature cannot recycle our waste, we keep forcing it on nature which nature has duly started returning to us during natural calamities. So we have come a long way to worry about human interference in nature now. 2) Tampering with the natural evolution of a microorganism My friend believes biological testing in labs is essential to understand about microorganisms so that we can build medicines and vaccines to protect us from them. First of all, every organism in nature is in continuous evolution. So there is no end to biological testing. Why are animals not doing the same? This is not about higher or lower levels of intelligence. Nature has a sophisticated and effective way of handling this situation. Immune system. Diseases are simply conflicts between organisms of higher and lower orders. All living beings when exposed to nature will constantly be under the attack of microorganisms. Immune system keeps learning about more microorganisms and becomes more robust in protecting us. So we do not need to test microorganisms in labs for our protection from them. The bigger problem with this is, not everyone will have good intentions. These genetically modified microorganisms could be stolen and released into nature. We will have no control over them once they are in nature and consequences could be catastrophic. We have found ways to splice genes in lab and now we are working towards repairing genes in human genetic structure that cause diseases. I am all for it because it can cure genetic diseases like diabetes permanently. But any lab experiments that can potentially involve nature has to be strictly forbidden. Even if COVID-19 is a man made virus and we let it out into nature, did it affect nature? No animal died because of it. 3 million humans and counting have died. Every time we go against nature, the consequences will come back to bite only us. Most importantly, it is inconsequential whether the virus is natural or man made because in either case it has broken the glass houses we have been living in for so long. This goes back to the conversation I had with another friend (who is also going to read this). Every aspect of human life has become untenable in nature. Our food habits have become extremely inorganic and unhealthy, our sleep cycle has vanished and our entire lifestyle is in disarray. We are no longer in communication with nature because of which our immune system gets to learn nothing and has literally become idle. One virus of moderate virulence has raised a question mark over the survival of our species itself. Diseases are one of the ways in which nature controls population of every living being. So death is inevitable. Greater the size of population higher the mortality rate and more number of reasons to die. If diseases don’t kills us, accidents, murders and so many other reasons are lurking. We do not even know if we will wake up from our sleep the next day. Common reasons for death during sleep – silent cardiac arrest, brain hemorrhage. But we are “existing” in a blissful fantasy world. We take housing loans and agree to pay EMIs every month for the next 20-30 years. In interviews, candidates are asked ” where do you find yourself in the next 5 years or what are your professional goals for the next 5 years”. Education is linked to profession which is linked to money which is linked to social status. Health has become irrelevant. We take insurance policies and swagger around in arrogance that when we fall sick, the policies will take care of us. Health is wealth has become wealth is health. We rush to hospitals where we get treated when we fall sick. Note : Hospitals are not places that ensure we do not fall sick. Doctors do not take us off tablets and tell us how to become healthy naturally. We no longer seem to remember that prevention is better than cure. Moreover what diseases are doctors and hospitals curing us from anyways? We are given medication that suppress diseases. There is still no cure available for even common cold. Google and see the classifications of headache. There is a type of headache called stress headache the cause of which medical community has no clue about. This is how little the medical community and doctors who treat us know about human anatomy. Medication for pain simply interrupt the signal to the brain that indicates pain so we stop feeling pain. This is called workaround in other professional jobs and cannot even be considered as treatment. Suppressing a disease and keeping it inside the body long enough can result in the genetic information of the disease getting encoded into our genetic structure. This is how genetic diseases are created and passed on to future generations, thereby making the entire species unhealthy. This is what has happened to us which animals with their lower intelligence avoids by identifying and abandoning/killing unhealthy offspring. Even more ironical are the facts about medication and vaccination. Diabetes is a genetic disease and medicines only help to keep it under control. Can pharmaceutical companies manufacture medicines and vaccines to repair our genetic structure? Human body is tuned to absorb vitamins from nature and food on its own. I have read about people in western countries who live on diet of vitamin tablets completely ignorant of the fact that human body is incapable of absorbing vitamins from tablets properly. I have heard of people suffering from Vitamin D deficiency in India which is literally unbelievable. I can understand this in the colder western countries where there is less sunlight but in a tropical country all it takes is soaking our body in sunlight for a while. We are all made to believe that medication will cure us and vaccines will protect us from diseases. In reality, medication and vaccines are top ups for our immune system, a miniscule external intervention which provides more information for the immune system to fight diseases and protect us. If our immune system is already weak, medicines and vaccines can never protect us on their own. These are the reasons why keeping ourselves healthy is so important for the survival of our species. We have no control over diseases and death. The healthcare system we have does nothing to protect us from diseases. All we can do is to stay healthy, maintain a good immune system and hope that it will protect us from diseases. We cannot run away from nature, live inside concrete buildings and hope to have a good immune system. People are being kept under lockdown now and are being told that staying at home will keep them safe from COVID-19 virus when the reality is governments are completely unprepared to handle a health crisis. Staying at home without enough physical activity and away from nature can drastically affect our immune system and make us vulnerable to other diseases. It is mind boggling that almost the entire human race has become so ignorant about themselves, about nature and have become so gullible to live in such an artificial world. There is a business evaluation model called PESTEL which evaluates uncertainties in the business environment such as political situations, economic conditions, etc to find the associated risks that can impact business prospects. The 2nd E in the model is for evaluating environmental factors which includes natural disasters and diseases. Very less importance is given to this as I came to understand from the experience of a local businessman. Even though some corporate companies do give importance to natural disasters, diseases are largely ignored. We saw how much companies have struggled after the COVID-19 pandemic broke out and it has taken a year for employees to get used to working from home. Just like fever is our immune system’s indicator that a foreign organism has entered our body, nature sends out signals when there are changes in its environment. Animals understand signs of natural disasters in advance and are able to protect themselves. We have lost that ability somewhere along our evolution. I do not know how useful is our higher intelligence if it does not even help us to survive in nature. I do not know if we are too late to break out of the glass houses we are living in and return to nature, but it is never too late to try.

A novel way to treat COVID-19 and India’s new treatment guidelines

Dr. Shankara Chetty, a doctor of Indian origin living in South Africa has done what should have been done at the onset of COVID-19 pandemic. He has conducted clinical diagnosis to understand the different stages a COVID-19 patient goes through & has treated more than 4000 patients without hospitalization & oxygen requirement.

What has helped him conduct the study are two reasons.  

1. He lives in a community which has no access to hospitals nearby & had to place their trust in him.

2. He has limited access to medicines so he had to find out the best treatment method based on the medicines he has      access to.  

He instructed everyone to approach him as soon as they got symptoms of cold & fever. When he started treatment, he observed that health of patients improved by the 3rd/4th day & for some, fever reappeared on the 6th/7th day. They started experiencing dyspnea (breathlessness) in the next 1/2 days. As soon as patients started reporting reappearance of fever, he put them on steroids to prevent dyspnea. He is attributing dyspnea to allergy in the lungs (caused by the creation of large amounts of cytokines). Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has adopted a similar strategy & has revised its guidelines for COVID treatment. Patients no longer need to panic, they just have to observe themselves & report any changes in their condition to doctors immediately. Starting to lose smell which was identified by the Delhi government last year as the marker to test for COVID infection could be the indicator leading to dyspnea.

A contagious virus having high virulence and also having a high rate of recovery is an anomaly. High rate of infection of a virus like small pox always leads to high rate of mortality. All the panic and fear was created because no proper clinical diagnosis of COVID-19 virus was conducted because of which people could not be educated and made aware of the symptoms and the need to observe themselves. People need to be quickly made aware of this so that they do not delay in consulting doctors as soon as they have symptoms of cold and fever and starting medication.

The takeaway from the doctor’s diagnosis is not about the medicines he used. Medicines and their dosage could vary depending on demography, people’s immunity, etc. That is for the doctors everywhere else to figure out. What he wants everyone to look at is his treatment timeline. Steroids have been in use for COVID treatment but when it should be administered for best effect is what he has addressed. Reporting recurrence of fever in the first 7 days is crucial for further treatment. His diagnosis is a blueprint for doctors all over the world to use to treat COVID in the best possible ways.

The COVID pandemic is unraveling India’s freefall in every possible ways

People in India who have known me well for some time may have noted that I gradually stopped writing about politics after 2019 elections. I have never voted in my life that is how interested I have been in politics and my trust in India’s electoral system. In 2013, a photo started circulating of a supposed bus station in Ahmedabad glorifying the Gujarat Model of development which got called out as fake in a day or two. It sent alarm bells ringing through my head because only a few days back my dad was telling me that India now needs a strong leader like Modi. There was no need to use the photo of a bus station in China and try to pass it off as a bus station in Gujarat if the Gujarat Model of development was true by any measure. That is when I started taking interest in politics and started writing about it. I wrote for 5 years trying to expose all the misinformation and propaganda and hoping that it would help people make a better choices during 2019 elections. I stuck to writing in spite of being ridiculed by my school and college classmates and ex-colleagues and facing a good amount of abuses on social media. But we chose to continue to stay blinded and fooled.

All I have cared about is governance and administration largely because I have worked on projects in my jobs and I know how critical management and governance are for the success of every project. Those who are in positions of responsibility and who can influence people can do all the theatrics they want and flirt with propaganda after governance and administration. But ironically, if they focus on governance and administration they would have no time for theatrics and propaganda and all they want to do is to keep distracting and misleading people.

Everything that happened in the last 7 years has converged to the situation created by the pandemic now. India’s economy never really recovered from the devastation caused by the demonetization fiasco in 2016. The pandemic is merely an infected mole on a tumor. What the pandemic has unraveled is the depth of ignorance that exists in our society. There was a report of a political leader claiming that pouring lemon juice into our nostrils will help to protect us from COVID infection and a school teacher who had no other health issues died after trying it. People are getting infected with black fungus after they believed in the misinformation that lying in cow dung and cow urine can protect them from COVID virus. The below comments are just the icing on the “cake”.

India is in dire need of education before vaccination. The virus of ignorance is far more deadly than all the viruses in nature. But education is also complicated in India. Many of the Indians I know who vouched for the Gujarat Model are educated and are living abroad in the some of most developed countries of the world. Almost all of them are maintaining stoic silence now. Education is supposed to create the ability of critical thinking in us. Education helps us to use our rationale and logic and ask questions. But education in India is linked to jobs which in turn is linked to money and social status. An education system that does nothing for the growth of critical thinking is useless and waste of time. The country is learning many hard lessons now and I hope all the miseries people are suffering now will lead to the rise of a stronger and wiser version of India.

Concerns about COVID testing and vaccines

Its been a year and a half since the pandemic began and ironically, information about the COVID-19 virus, the tests done to identify infected people and the vaccines is becoming more hazy and confusing with time. First, about the virus. There is a whole lot of noise and fear being driven into people through the media about the virus mutating and taking more deadlier forms. As a contagious virus spreads it does mutate and this is not new to the COVID-19 virus. The fear is being amplified with the information that the vaccine currently rolled out will not be effective against the new mutated forms of the virus and more doses of vaccine will be required. A virus, no matter how many times it mutates will have a specific genetic marker. Coronavirus is a family of viruses that includes the COVID-19 virus. They all have the same genetic marker which is why they are grouped under the coronavirus family. All of them cause respiratory diseases starting from common cold. If the genetic marker also changes during mutation then it will become an entirely new virus. Vaccines are developed specifically using these markers so logically it makes no sense in the claim that currently vaccinated people are vulnerable to mutated versions of the virus. Before getting into the testing part, it is important to understand some basics of nature and human anatomy. Our body is not built in a way to prevent microorganisms from entering it. Rather, it allows entry so that the immune system can keep getting more information, evolve and become more robust in protecting us. This is evolutionary and is the same in all animals. The analogy to this can be seen in the antivirus systems we have created to protect our computers. Even computer viruses have specific markers like the genetic markers viruses in nature have. The first antivirus software was created by collecting all the prevalent computer viruses and finding out their markers. Antivirus software have to be updated daily with the information of existing viruses and markers of new viruses. What we do not have in nature is the concept of firewall which prevents all information from entering and exiting a computer and can be fine tuned to allow only certain information to pass through. So when a microorganism enters our body, the immune system immediately goes into alert mode. Depending on how adversely the organism can affect us which we call virulence in the case of viruses, the body signals in the form of fever to indicate that the immune system is at work. There is no need to take tablets for fever. We take paracetamol tablets so that we can move around. When the same happens to animals, they immediately isolate themselves because it is considered by default in nature that any disease could potentially become contagious. The immune system works entirely using blood and the body directs a major part of blood in fighting the organism. So it is important to not burden our body with digestion of food which also requires a large quantity of blood. This is why animals stop eating when they are sick. It is also important to keep ourselves protected but at the same time we get enough sunlight and air. We are being told to do all these now if we are infected with the COVID-19 virus when we should have been doing these every time we fall sick. Most of the time, we fall sick because of seasonal changes. As our body adapts to changes in our environment we become more prone to be attacked by microorganisms. This is why there is autumn between the transition from summer to winter and spring between the transition from winter to summer. But in tropical regions, there is no winter season instead those regions have rainy season.  There is no autumn and spring seasons either. Rains continue for 6 months and as rain decreases, summer slowly starts. These climatic differences in different parts of the world has tremendous impact on people’s health. Most of north India has entered into summer season which will peak in June whereas summer peaks in April-May in south India and starts moving towards monsoon by June. Entire country is transitioning with climate changes now and there will obviously be spike in diseases. I have been wondering what the COVID-19 lab tests are all about and what exactly are they checking for to identify if someone is COVID +ve. Turns out the symptoms are fever, headache and sore throat. These are the symptoms of common cold and flu which affects large number of people during periods of above mentioned climate changes. There are no COVID specific symptoms and hence no COVID specific tests.  I was initially under the impression that the differentiator for COVID-19 virus would be respiratory issues when hospitals in Delhi got inundated with people for testing last year and Delhi government had to ask people to isolate themselves for flu like symptoms and only get themselves tested if they lose their sense of smell. But it seems that all viruses in the coronavirus family can potentially cause respiratory issues. The virus passes through our nostrils and gets lodged in the wind pipe. If a weak immune system is not able to eliminate the virus it will eventually travel into the lungs. Any microorganism that enters an internal organ can cause serious and life threatening situations. In my neighborhood a family had common flu and cold. They isolated themselves and informed the government health center. People came from hospital, tested them and marked them as COVID +ve. They recovered within a week’s time. Everyone who has cold and flu symptoms are probably getting marked as COVID +ve which is why we are seeing huge spike in the number of infected people and high recovery rate. The numbers will reduce considerably if only people with cold and flu symptoms and respiratory issues are tagged as COVID +ve. Even more bizarre is the case with asymptomatic cases. Just because one person came into contact with another who was identified as COVID +ve, that person need not be asked to isolate without showing any COVID specific symptoms. Even if the virus has entered that person’s body, there is no way to check if the person’s immune system has developed antibodies for the virus. Antibody testing cannot be completely relied upon. Showing symptoms of fever and cold after a few days could also be because of a common cold infection or another health issue and not necessarily because of COVID infection. Because people have different immunity levels, the effect of a virus could be vastly different between people. Now to the COVID vaccines. First question is, if pharma companies could take so much effort and come up with vaccines in a year’s time, why not use technology to create masks which will prevent the virus from passing from one person to another? Simply because there is way too much money to be made with vaccines. None of the vaccines for any diseases does anything spectacular. Vaccines are now made by stripping out the genetic markers of the viruses from their DNA. Injecting the genetic marker into the body will apparently help the immune system in understanding the genetic code of the virus and build immunity for it without having to dissect the entire virus to understand its genetic code. What is weird though is the instruction to continue staying at home, using hand sanitizers and maintaining social distancing even after COVID vaccination. We have taken vaccinations in the past and used to have body pain and fever for a day or two after which we used to resume our normal lives. Scientists don’t yet know if we can still transmit the virus to others after we have been vaccinated. Scientists cannot simply ask people to do things when they themselves are not sure about what they are asking for. Yes, this is a contagious virus but with more than 99% recovery rate. What they are asking for would have been understandable if it was similar to small pox virus. So if vaccination is just a training program for our immune system to understand and fight a new microorganism why are we being given two vaccination shots and possibly more in the future? From the recovery rate it is obvious that COVID-19 is a very mild virus when compared to the small pox virus, yet we have all had only one vaccination dose for small pox. It is a well known fact that the current vaccines are not adequately tested. Phase-3 trials have not been satisfactorily completed. We are a population of over 7 billion and sampling size for testing the vaccines was in 100s or a few 1000s. Strength of immune system and their response to diseases varies widely from person to person. A 2nd and 3rd dose will reinforce immune response is what they are claiming based on testing the vaccine on a very minor part of the population. This is very abstract and there is no way to confirm their observation after rolling out the vaccines for large scale vaccination. There is no clarity on the time duration between 2 doses of the vaccines and it is being changed randomly now. Moreover, increasing cases of mortality after the first and both shots of the COVID vaccines are getting reported which included a well known south Indian film actor. There are more such deaths reported by individuals on Twitter which won’t appear on mainstream media. There are also several reports of serious side effects of vaccines getting reported from European countries. Did those people die purely because of COVID virus or did they have comorbidities? Did they get infected by the virus externally after vaccination? This means the vaccine is playing a part in reducing our immune prowess. Or did the genetic marker introduced into their body through the vaccine grow into a full virus and overwhelm their immune system? Both scenarios are equally terrifying. Even more scary is the fact that vaccine manufacturers are not able to say if there will be long term adverse effects of the vaccines on us. In the light of so much information, it is my responsibility to ask questions about the virus and the efficacy of the vaccines. My purpose of writing this is to stop all the panic that is going on now and make people understand to go to hospitals only when the viral infection persists for some days and they start developing respiratory issues. We are being told to vaccinate in a way that our immune system is incapable of eliminating the COVID virus on its own. As the recovery rate shows, that is clearly not the case.  I believe current COVID vaccines are less effective and more detrimental to our health now. I am not against vaccination but my question is why vaccine for a viral infection with more than 99% recovery rate? Isn’t a medicine enough? We treat common cold mostly naturally and with tablets then why vaccine for COVID-19 when both viruses are from the same family of virus with very similar virulence? If vaccines are required for every disease then why haven’t vaccines been developed for common cold and flu yet? It is important for us to avoid forming large crowds, maintain hygiene and social distancing at all times. During yearly migration of birds, they flock together in large numbers and that is when their mortality rate increases due to contagious diseases. We celebrate festivals with massive congregations like Kumbh Mela in India every year in complete ignorance that an epidemic can break out any time in nature without any warnings. The most important issue is with our population size which continues to grow unabated. As population size of any species increases its mortality rate also increases. Humans are the only species that pass on diseases genetically which adds to the possibility of more diseases arising among us. Staying healthy is the key to having a strong immune system. It is the only way to survive in nature that is extremely hostile to all living beings, something we are blissfully ignorant about.

Reasons for India’s COVID part deux – Failed governance, irrational people & complete ignorance about nature

The second wave of COVID-19 pandemic is upon India with greater ferocity. The pandemic started in late 2019, had spread from China to Europe and had just touched the shores of the USA. The Government of India was warned and was well aware of the impending crisis but it dithered in closing down international borders. The result was an epidemic like situation which resulted in harsh lockdown of people and millions suffered in the aftermath with unemployment and hunger.

This time around, the reason for the lockdown is even more ridiculous. Restrictions were eased, life seemed to be getting back to normal and the government even boasted that India had beaten back the virus without any supporting evidence. Festivals were allowed to be organized and state assembly elections were announced by the Election Commission. There was massive congregation for Kumbh Mela festival and huge election rallies in 5 states. It is peak summer across most of India at this time and people are vulnerable to falling sick. People tend to eat less food and sleep less when weather becomes hot which results in reduced immunity. So it is no surprise that COVID-19 has reared up its ugly head again.

Lockdowns are essentially government’s way of saying it is incapable of handling an escalating situation, abdicating responsibility and passing the buck on to the people. In simple terms, diseases are conflicts between higher order and lower order organisms in nature and along with the food chain is how nature keeps the population of every living being under control. Microorganisms are constantly mutating and evolving in nature. A disease of any magnitude could break out any time in nature. We have always been living on this ticking time bomb. Even if the government does not understand this, it is its responsibility to constantly improve and ramp up the health infrastructure of the country. In India, in most of the states, education and health are on the lowest side of the government’s priority list. So will the government be ever prepared for a pandemic? This governance failure is passed on to people and people are made to suffer. Locking people up inside their homes has the detrimental effect of lowering their immunity level and making them vulnerable to more diseases but the government is shortsighted enough to focus on winning a battle now and not being able to see a war coming in the future.

Kerala government is coming up with weird rules as it began a state wide lockdown yesterday. Unlike during the last year’s lockdown, when supermarkets were allowed to function, this time supermarkets have been closed down. Supermarkets are the best places to manage crowds and enforce social distancing. Now, people are rushing to the local stores where crowd control and social distancing is impossible. Opening supermarket stores will distribute the people among the supermarkets and local shops and reduce the possibility of transmission. In a nearby local store, two customers were apparently squabbling over one remaining packet of bread. I wrote to the district collector to consider opening supermarkets and received no response. Now, the government has come up with a website portal for generating e-pass for emergency travel within respective cities and towns. The instructions state that even for medical emergencies, people have to apply for the e-pass, wait for approval, then print it and carry with them. The irony here is, the government seems to be expecting everyone who has internet access at home to also own printers. Printing is usually done at local internet browsing centers which are all shut down now. Upon enquiry, I was told two things. 1) To call the local councilor and he/she will make all arrangements 2) A self written affidavit is enough for medical emergencies. They are expecting someone to sit and write an affidavit or call the councilor and wait when their father/mother/sibling needs emergency medical care. This is the level of incompetence and complete lack of rationale that plagues India’s civil administration.

The virulence of COVID-19 virus is of very small magnitude when compared to the virus that caused small pox. Millions have died because of small pox and my granny used to say that wailing could be heard from every other house because death was everywhere. When a foreign substance of any form enters our body, our immune system immediately mobilizes itself to fight and destroy it. Our body is a sophisticated system and our immune system is designed in such a way as to aggressively restore the balance of the body when something causes an imbalance. The first step is to isolate the foreign substance and prevent it from multiplying and spreading through the blood. Once this is done, the immune system will eliminate the foreign substance. In the case of COVID-19, the first step is failing so the immune system tries more aggressively to attack the virus. This is resulting in the immune system losing focus from other diseases people are suffering from and the subsequent complications led to most number of deaths in the first wave.

After the second wave has started, I am hearing about younger people and people without comorbidities getting
affected. There seems to be only one reason for this. Rapid urbanization has revamped people’s food habits and lifestyle completely which has alienated people even further from nature. Our immune system stays efficient only when it comes into contact with different types of microorganisms constantly, fights them and adapts itself to new diseases. This is all about information, so the greater information our immune system has about microorganisms the better it will be able to protect us. When a boxer quits fighting he invariably gains weight and becomes sluggish. The same happens with the immune system when we spend our entire time holed up in A/c rooms and travel in A/c vehicles. Then, when our junk food and “eating-at-whatever-time” lifestyle leads to diseases like cholesterol, diabetes, high BP and cardiac issues, the immune system is in no state to fight them. On top of all this, when a new virus attacks us for which the immune system needs time to fight, we can only expect the worse to happen to us.

The entire Indian system is at fault for this second wave. The Election Commission should not have gone ahead with the state assembly elections without a clear green signal from the medical fraternity. Even when the elections were declared, no political party showed any inclination to oppose the decision knowing fully well that election rallies are inevitable in the electoral process in India which always leads to massive uncontrolled crowds. Every political party is hungry to win elections and grab people’s power no matter what the situation is. Even the Supreme Court did not choose to step in, cancel the elections and order incumbent state governments to continue as caretaker governments. We, the people did not bother either. We knew what happened last year yet we chose to go for election rallies and on election day to vote in large numbers. Add to this, Indians are addicted to festivals and festivities. Even pandemics don’t matter because Gods will protect us.

The disaster the world is witnessing now has been in the making from the time of India’s independence from colonial rule. India is a democracy only by it’s Constitution. “Rule” is still the word used instead of “govern”, especially by the media. India is “ruled” by central & respective state governments. People’s representatives become people’s rulers & become inaccessible & unaccountable after they win elections. Corruption has become an incurable disease. Religions driven by blind belief take precedence over law & order. Orders passed by courts are imposed by civil administration which is controlled by the government so courts do not have the power to punish lapses in governance. So warnings of a second wave of the pandemic were conveniently ignored for conducting elections & festivals and the entire country is suffering again. Calls for Modi to resign are insensible because replacing leaders without reforming the system is not going to change anything.

Finally, what is incomprehensible is the fear of death among people which the media is amplifying and driving into everybody’s minds. Death is a natural conclusion to life in the entire universe. Our Sun will burn out and die in a few billion years. The Universe itself is supposed to come to an end. Millions of animals and human beings are dying every day because of a variety of reasons. Diseases are one way of population control in nature. This may not be to everybody’s taste but this is how nature works. I say this knowing fully well that my parents and I could also get infected with COVID-19. Nature follows the golden rule of “Survival of the fittest”. Only the strongest will survive in nature. We moved away from nature and forgot the golden rule and to keep ourselves healthy at all times. I hope this pandemic will be a reminder for everyone to return to nature, understand nature better and improve our lifestyle drastically. Our lives hinge on abiding and living by nature’s rules and flouting them will only lead to our own destruction.

Human fixation with building houses – an evolutionary perspective

I was travelling by train when I saw the chandelier like hanging nests of Baya Weavers for the first time & I was absolutely spellbound at their sight. It has taken me a few years to finally get their shots but it has been worth the wait. Ever wondered why building houses is so important for us? Why owning a house is an important parameter in marriage? Primates such as apes and gorillas build nests but are rudimentary when compared to the complexities involved in the nest building process of birds. Male Baya Weavers build partial nests before starting to woo females who in turn inspect the nests before agreeing to mate. Then the males go on to complete the building of the nests. One important aspect females apparently look for is the distance of the nest from the branch or the pole to which it is tied. More distance means the chicks are safer from predators like reptiles and can be protected better. So males that make better choices about where and how they build their nests and can make stronger nests wins over the females. Owning a house is an evolutionary trait which we believe will help us raise our children safely. Our evolution is mind boggling because we have inherited traits from so many different beings. We diverged from nature when we started cutting down trees and destroying nature to build our houses which requires ability and intelligence nature has never given and will never give to any living being because it is a simple self destruct button. This is where human creation theory truly trumps over human evolution theory.

Human destruction of nature – a historical and religious angle

I was on my regular morning walk yesterday looking to photograph anything interesting happening in nature when I suddenly heard a short whirring sound which sounded familiar. I looked around and saw a huge mounted electric transformer on the side. It was the deathly sound of a bird getting electrocuted. Because of overhead transmission cables and transformers kept in the open, house crows keep getting electrocuted all the time.

The crow that was with the one that died was in total shock and was making different kinds of sounds. Helplessly I stood there for a while wondering why do we create and construct things that we know will harm animals but do not care. So many different types of birds die every day because of our fishing nets alone. Why do we have scant respect for nature and animals?

When we look back at our history, we start from the point where we were afraid of everything we did not understand. We do not know when and why but we started worshipping natural elements like fire, rain, thunder and lightning and animals by creating Gods for them. The most probable reason is lack of scientific understanding of natural elements and the higher sensory abilities of animals. This is what became known as paganism. Though we started cultivation and raising livestock with time, in the name of worshipping all the Gods, we conserved and protected nature.

But pagan cultures developed deep flaws with time. To understand and relate to Gods, we started reducing Gods into human forms which resulted in idol worship. Emperors and Kings started calling themselves as Gods on Earth who could communicate with the Gods that were being worshipped. All of these eventually led to the evolution of monotheism, the concept of one God. Monotheism, introduced by Christianity became dominant with the advent of Islam and spread all over the world. As the world gradually moved away from pagan culture, it has had a significant impact on our perception of nature and wild animals.

Then, there is this critically important part in the Bible.

Genesis 1:26-28

26 And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion (7287) over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

28 And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it (3533): and have dominion (7287) over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.

First of all, the first 5 days of creation as explained in the Bible does not have scientific merit. The Earth and everything we see about it has evolved over billions of years. Then, God says Let “us” make man in “our” image, after “our” likeness. So “God” apparently is made of blood, muscle and bone and looks just like us. Note the usage us and our. So it was not just one God. There were others who were equally powerful as the God and powerful enough to create us. This is a question mark over the concept of one God espoused by Christianity.

Then comes the most important part of giving us the control (dominion) over the planet and all other living beings. To have such control, we needed to possess far greater intelligence than all other living beings on Earth. We have to notice here that we have been given the ability to control only the living beings, not the ability to control nature and natural elements. This could be the reason why we cannot understand natural disasters in advance and cannot escape from them. To understand nature through animals may be the reason why we were given control over them. It may have been left to our interpretation and could be the decisive factor in determining the survival or extinction of our species. We cannot destroy nature and other living beings and survive on the planet. We were given intelligence so that we can understand this as we evolve. This is why by destroying nature and wild animals we are setting the premise for our own extinction.

While I do not intend to state that the Bible is the reason why we are destroying nature and killing off wild animals, the shift from pagan culture to monotheistic belief has definitely had it’s influence on how we see and treat nature. With the tremendous growth we have achieved in science and technology especially in the last few decades, we need to urgently start looking at nature through the lens of logic, commonsense and rationale and understand ancient texts from the scientific perspective.

Human-wildlife conflict – Are animals in conflict with us?

Human-wildlife conflict has been a growing concern globally especially in the last few decades. We are coming across more wild animals in towns and even cities which can create nightmarish situations if predators like leopards enter crowded residential areas. What exactly is human wildlife conflict? Earth is 70% water and 30% land all of which is not habitable. Our global population has crossed 7 billion and continues to increase unabated. We have stretched the planet to its limits as we continue to exhaust its natural resources to the point of depletion. Nature as we see it is not the creation of a divine being. It is a closed loop system that learns and evolves continuously. Complex life forms have existed in nature for at least a billion years. To maintain nature’s ecosystem it evolved different ways of controlling the population of all living beings in it, mainly through diseases and predator-prey relationships. This is from where “Survival of the fittest” has originated. To sustain nature’s balance it is imperative that only the healthiest and the strongest in every species procreate and pass on their genes to the next generation. This is why genetic diseases are not seen in nature. The rest of the population has to die from diseases, injuries and at the hands of predators. Our evolution and existence on the planet has been a matter of great debate which has given rise to the Creation Theory which opposes the Evolution Theory. The scientific world hasn’t been able to explain the sudden development of our advanced and sophisticated intelligence and communication skills using Evolution Theory. Moreover nature will never give any being in its ecosystem the intelligence and knowledge to cut down trees and destroy nature to build its own houses. With our intelligence and knowledge we have built societies and towns and cities thereby escaping from nature’s food chain and by creating medicines we have developed the ability to treat many of the diseases that afflict us. Not being part of nature’s food chain and treating diseases has led to the explosive expansion of our population. We are left with no choice other than encroach increasingly into nature to accommodate ourselves and to keep meeting our perpetually expanding needs. “There is enough for everybody’s needs but not for anyone’s greed” are wise and enduring words from Gandhi about nature which we have conveniently ignored. As we keep consuming more of the habitat areas of animals, we are bringing ourselves deeper into the so called conflict with the animal world. The problem I have and the reason I am writing this blog is the word conflict. We can use the word conflict to highlight an ongoing issue between two or more parties having similar levels of intelligence. Animals do not have our level of intelligence then why do we say animals are in conflict with us? Because of our lack of understanding about nature in general and animals in particular. My mom feeds a variety of birds every day that includes crows, mynas, cuckoos, treepies, bulbuls, babblers and coucals. What is interesting about watching them eat is, even when they feed on the rice and chapathi (Indian bread) pieces, they are on the lookout for worms and insects. As their habitat area keeps shrinking they cannot stay adamant on eating one type of food. Animals reproduce only when there is availability of food and safe place to rest. Scarcity of food forces them to stop reproducing and focus on their own survival. So to avoid scarcity of food, they are being forced to expand their menu of food items. What we are seeing is animals being forced to adapt to us or face the prospect of extinction. Indian Paradise Flycatchers are usually seen in wooded areas where there is lot of green cover. My ancestral house used to be covered with trees and when I showed photos of the Flycatcher to my mom recently, she immediately said they used to come to our house. With the development of the town, they have kept moving away into wherever the wooded areas are and have gone far away from the town area. While crows, bulbuls, mynas and many other birds and animals adapt to us, the ones that don’t are going to find it difficult to survive with steady loss of habitat. We need to understand very clearly that animals are not eating our crops and livestock and wandering into our settlement areas with the intention of creating conflict with us. Animals have only two needs, eat food and procreate so that their species can survive. What is driving them towards us is pure survival instincts. When we are faced with the same situation animals are facing now we too will show our survival instincts. Instead of understanding their plight and showing empathy towards them, we are treating them as threats to us and killing them. Where do we go from here and what is the way forward? We cannot destroy nature and survive on the planet. We need to reduce our population drastically and there is no way to do it. A global war will destroy us and nature equally. The only plausible solution is to learn as much as we can about our planet quickly, use our knowledge of technology to find another planet that resembles Earth, make it habitable (terraforming) and escape from here. Earth has survived 5 mass extinction events in the past. According to scientists and researchers, 99.9% of all lifeforms that ever existed on Earth have become extinct. Life forms become extinct and new ones take their place. We do not need to conserve nature to protect trees and animals. We needed to protect nature for our own survival but we did not understand this. The damage we have done to ensuring our survival on Earth is far greater than our current understanding and there is no going back from where we are now. It is either escape or extinction. P.S. A friend read this blog and told me that we will destroy the planet we go to as well. Most probably we won’t. When we get something without any effort we usually end up destroying it because we never understand its value. When we take the effort to build a planet for our own survival we will treasure it.

COVID-19 has brought into focus the importance of business risks due to natural disasters and epidemics

Back in 2018, much before the pandemic began, a businessman I know told me one day that his company was taking up the franchise of Wrangler, the leading international apparel brand and he was setting up a showroom in my hometown. When people look for more choices & one brand doesn’t fit all, I asked him why had he chosen to invest in a single brand & not a multi brand store. He had no answer. What baffled me was when I asked him about his operational costs. Since it could take up to 3 years for a business venture to break even & become profitable I asked him how had he planned to meet his operational costs till he reached break even & if he had ensured he could raise enough money every month. All he could do was to roll his eyes at me. Clearly, he was expecting to make enough sales from the first month itself to meet the expenses. To top this, he had started a slew of footwear shops in shopping malls across the state. The pandemic was an unexpected event but the demonetization fiasco in 2016 had sunk the Indian economy & he had made all the investments in bleak market conditions.

Last week, he called me to tell me that Kontoor Brands India Private Limited, the owners of Wrangler and Lee brands is moving it’s business online and has sent a letter to all it’s franchisees to close their stores. What struck me immediately was, in the franchisee agreement he signed with Kontoor, the ownership of business risk in the case of a large scale disruption may not have been mentioned. Even in rare cases, when a clause for natural disasters such as earthquakes and floods are added, epidemics are never even thought about.

He has invested more than Rs. 1 crore ($135,256) till now and he hasn’t made any profits from the store yet. My home state was hit by devastating floods in consecutive years in 2018 and 2019 and before businesses could recover from them, the pandemic struck. Kontoor is unlikely to pay any compensation or make a very small compensation offer and would argue that loss of business from their own and franchise shops and growing number of customers online due to the pandemic is what has forced them to move their business completely online. His only recourse lies in proving in court that the business agreement he signed with Kontoor Brands is invalid as it is one sided and mentions only about conditions and risks for his company and nothing for Kontoor Brands which throws the validity of the agreement into question. The agreement was signed for a period of 5 years and the franchisees are deprived of the right to cancel the agreement for any reason but this restriction does not apply for Kontoor Brands. The agreement has been written under the assumption that in the 5 years, nothing can or will go wrong with Kontoor Brands. For example, what if, due to financial irregularities, Kontoor Brands goes bankrupt? Do the franchisees have to bear the risk of business issues Kontoor Brands face? Companies use the franchise model to extend the reach of their products into the market and thereby increase their sales and revenue, so if a franchisee store gets damaged by a natural disaster, will the company have or will take complete or partial ownership of the damages? None of these business risks have been mentioned in the agreement. If he had spoken to me before signing the agreement, he may not have signed it at all.

If this issue goes to court, only someone who is a lawyer and has worked as a legal advisor in the corporate sector can clearly argue for the franchisees. But the bigger quagmire is, if Kontoor Brands has to compensate every franchisee for the investments they made, it will go bankrupt. There has to be a middle path and franchisees are going to have to swallow half of their investment or even more as loss.

This is going to be a hard and bitter pill to swallow for all the businesses that ignored diseases and took nature for granted when signing business deals. Natural disasters and epidemics can strike us anytime and business fortunes fluctuate with each passing day. The COVID-19 pandemic has put these aspects into sharp focus. Business risks have to be clearly identified using the PESTEL (Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Environmental, Legal) model and listed out clearly in the business agreements along with the ownership of each business risk. This is going to be the only way forward for companies to do business together amicably.