There’s No Free Lunch

First Do No Harm

person holding square white ceramic plate

Photo by Edward Eyer on

Recently I found myself in an entrepreneur’s meet and quite accidentally too at that. I had come to meet a longtime friend who had shifted to the gulf countries years ago and was working for an angel investing firm. He had come over to India to meet a few prospective clients and as he was busy with his business meeting’s over on the other end of the city, the tech hubs on the east coast roads being a couple of hours at least away from the city and in back braking traffic snarls, the only time I could meet him in comfort was when he headed over to my side of town for this entrepreneurs club meet or something. As I had previously declined his advice to turn entrepreneur or to accept his offer to fund me in building a chain of clinics, I was very reluctant to meet him there as I was sure he would probably be busy somewhere in the milling crowds pressing hands and networking or doing whatever entrepreneurs do when they all get together.
Having reached the hotel lobby, I discreetly parked myself in a corner and tried to message /call my friend by phone but the cellular reception being so poor I just couldn’t reach him to let him know I was there and waiting. Once I felt that I had waited in the lobby for the decent amount of time, I only had two options either to leave without meeting my friend or to surprise him inside the convention hall. So, I decided to brazen it out past security and gate crash the meet to see what really do these entrepreneurs talk about when no one else is looking.
During the course of my evenings hobnobbing with them I can emphatically say, as an independent observer with no axe to grind, entrepreneurs as a class belong to either the criminally sociopaths or the outright psychopaths (my friend exempted). I have of course heard / read of the robber barons of the pre-depression era USA but this was the first time I realized that a whole community of people not only idolized them but also modeled themselves on them in trying to make a fast buck and exiting immediately, no matter the consequences to other people, the economy or even society as a whole. It was eye opening to realize that the very basic edifice of Silicon Valley which all these entrepreneurs in India were aping to emulate was built on the very same concept of looting money by selling dreams of a big day pay and then throwing in the towel saying the idea was just unworkable.
Fail, fail and fail till you at last hit the big venture capital or angel investment buy off success was a mantra being repeated around the room. Well hello, can your failure be restricted to yourself or at the most your immediate family? No. A failure, any failure, especially of a business or a tech company is going to hit multiple persons around, from customers to vendor to the employees working there. You can’t just plan to serially fail and not be responsible for the consequences of beggaring a lot of people around you in a quixotic quest to be the next tech titan.
The people I listened to in that room where without a doubt one of the vilest, social conscience-less people in the city without a doubt. They were absolutely uncaring for the consequences of how their reckless risk mongering or failure would impact on others’ lives. And these were the people who were moaning about the government not helping them with more loans without interest and tax breaks and tax write offs, because they are bringing investors into the economy – the very same investors they were plotting to rip off by running their companies into the ground and going bankrupt because they had abruptly lost interest in their current business idea and wanted to pursue the next unicorn on the hill.
I don’t claim to be more moral than the next person but god forbid I should turn so callous as to turn a blind eye to consequences to others lives in my quest to be the next tech billionaire. I would rather live a simple life and walk or ride a bus to work rather than buy a BMW by beggaring a hundred employees working under me because my current idea doesn’t seem to have an immediate pay off date and I would rather be off hard selling my next idea to venture capitalists to pick up my stake and allow me to exit to an island in the Caribbean.
Money, I now realize, can make people commit the most humongous financial crimes without batting an eyelid and then coolly walk away saying they were just being entrepreneurial. Thank god that I don’t have such ambitions. At least my conscience is clean and I can sleep well at nights. To conclude I remember a song from a prabhu deva film where he goes “unn panam panam yen panam, yen panam unn panam” translated as “your money is my money and also my money is my money”. that seems to be the limit of the ambition of Indian entrepreneur’s and not to build the next amazon or uber or facebook, something which will last years if not decades. All this hogwash about following your passion is code speak for money, preferably others money. It’s all about the money baby.
And I hope the government takes a strict look again at these wannabe business men instead of running after manufacturers and industrialists working in the brick and mortar industries for decades. Finally, if an entrepreneur fails, he or she must be made responsible for the failure and taught that in the real-world failure has consequences and no one can dodge them, be it their first business idea or their hundredth. The playing field should be level for everyone to do business in and not be tilted towards certain fields regardless of how attractive and modern they sound.


Book Review- The Girl In Room 105 by Chetan Bhagat

The Girl In Room 105

girl in room 105

Writing a review for a chetan bhagat novel seems so superfluous. Reviews be damned, the man sells books and you can’t argue with success like that. Even if he is not India’s best-selling author, which he claimed once and rightly belongs to Jeffrey archer, he still sells enough books to come in the top 3 of best-selling authors in india. So the advent of any new book by chetan baghat becomes a must read event as everyone else in all the social media channels- books related- seem to be discussing it and nothing else for weeks on end. So in an act of supreme self-flagellation I downloaded his latest novel the girl in room 105 and started to read it with my usual trepidation when it’s a chetan bhagat book.
The story is nothing new. If you are looking for clichés- it’s all here, chetan bhagat doesn’t disappoint. A hindu man from a rss family falling in love with a muslim girl from Kashmir with separatist tendencies? Check. Both hero and heroine from IIT delhi? One an ex-iit’ian and the other a current iit’ian? Check. Entrance preparation for iit coaching centre where loser hero works? Check. A north Indian hero who is quite romantic but not successful financially in contrast to a south Indian villain who has no romantic streak in him but plenty of money? Check. A sidekick who seems less than bright when compared to the hero but has a heart of gold? Circuit check. Failed romance, alcohol binge, abusing exes? Check. If you have read the newspapers on all the burning issues in recent times, rest assured bhagat has touched all of them in one way or the other in this book, so much so that it seems a compilation of the headlines of the past six months or so written in an easy to read form.
For those familiar with him, Chetan bhagat doesn’t tax himself by writing new storylines. He simply rewrites the same story with newly named characters and in a way it’s comforting for you never have the anxiety of worrying about what the characters are going to do or how the story is going to end as you have read it all before and can predict at the start of the book how it’s going to turn out in the end. And to be frank the only way to summarize this book is – its everything you imagined it to be, no surprises here. If you are going to buy it, whatever I say is not going to change your mind is it? And if you are not going to buy it- please don’t.

Show Me the Money

Show Me the Money

There is a famous Tamil movie song of yesteryears where the heroine makes fun of the hero by asking him to have a bath, at least once a year on Diwali day. That song resonates with me when I start writing a blogpost again after such a long gap. After procrastinating for ages on putting pen to paper (figuratively) I have finally put my ass to the grass to write the mandatory birthday post which is a ritual I have followed religiously for the past ten years on my blog. I usually sound upbeat on such birthday blog posts reflecting on how far I have come and what I had achieved reaching that point in my life. For a change let me control my enthusiasm for saying “all is well, all is well” in a faux cheerful tone and give my dear readers a faithful summary of what the past year has brought in my life.

The one thing life has taught me over the past year is that according to all official statistics on the average life expectancy of the average Indian male, I am nearly there at the end, according to the government. I have no great hope of beating the stats and being an outlier who outlives the rest of my peer group till I am a senile fool whose death is celebrated with road-rokos and bandhs. For survival in itself is not an achievement, there are many men who have lived the lives you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy somehow clinging to life. That’s not for me. If it’s my time to go, I am ready and that’s the spirit of this post and my life over the past year.

Somehow, I have become convinced that I am going to die soon, well within the statistic determined by the government and that impending demise has freed my mind from a lot of self-inflicted misery. Let me take just one example, I have completely stopped exercising or running after fitness because if my time, my leftover time on this earth is limited would I prefer to use the time doing things I love or would I use it running on a treadmill staring at a blank wall opposite? Doesn’t justify the use of my limited time if I have to gain fitness or the admiration of my peers on how fit or handsome I look. Handsome or ugly I am going to die and as long as I don’t weigh so much that the pallbearers suggest a crane to lift me, I should hope I don’t waste any more time on earth in exercising. That’s one thing my impending death has freed me from- the pressure to look good.

The second is my acquaintance circle. During the past one year or so, I have started weeding out my circle of acquaintances and friends to those who would turn up for my funeral on hearing the news. If I believe that so and so will not take the time to attend my funeral I gently disengage with the person and ghost him or her by disappearing from their contacts list.  My standard question for friend requests nowadays is “hi will you attend my funeral? RSVP first for me to accept your friend request”. Now this has led to certain interesting conversations like the following. New friend request no.1 “hello, thanks for accepting my friend request. I would definitely like to attend your event. When is it scheduled for?” And that gave me pause and so I take my time in replying “thank you for the prompt acceptance. I would soon be creating a Facebook events page with the date, time and link for booking tickets to the event and will send you timely reminders for the event. Please make sure that you book tickets at the earliest as we are running some special offers for the early bird bookings” and I closed his chat window.

And there was the new friend request no.2 who texted me back to the standard query of “hi will you attend my funeral? Rsvp first for me to accept your friend request” with the following intelligent reply “hi I heard you are organizing an event. I am an event manager and mc with wide experience in such events, would you like me to send you a quote for the event?” and I texted her back “madam, the event is still in the conceptual stage. Once we confirm the dates and the venue I will inform you. I also need samples of your previous work in organizing such events. And as your Facebook friend I hope you can offer me some discount over your usual quote considering its going to be the last event I attend”.

Now all these queries about the undoubted commercial potential of my upcoming funeral has kindled the entrepreneurial instincts buried deep inside me that I have decided to make it a pay-per-view event for those of my enemies who are prepared to spend money to make sure that I am indeed dead and also plan to ink a deal with Netflix for live streaming the entire episode to reach my worldwide audience of ill-wishers. I also have plans to set up kiosks with my autographed photos and certified death certificate copies available outside the venue if anyone’s interested. A few merchandizing stalls are still available and you can contact me directly for the best positioned ones from where you can sell t-shirts and hats with my pictures on them. And if you advance book for the premium this-week-only tickets, I can guarantee you premium casket-side tickets where you can be just cursing distance away from me on the important day. RSVP me if you are interested in more such awesome once-in-my-lifetime deals.

Nipah Virus, HIV Virus and the Human Virus – Scam, Loot & Chicanery

Nipah Virus, HIV Virus and the Human Virus – Scam, Loot & Chicanery

cold winter tablet hot

Photo by Pixabay on

If you have been reading the newspapers diligently and following the news on multiple media fronts- TV, social media etc. I am sure you would know and recognize the words- the deadly Nipah virus. If you still don’t remember or can’t recall it offhand, the news refers to the recent outbreak of Nipah viral attacks in the state of Kerala in south India. The vector for transmission of the virus from animals to humans was identified as bats and as there was/is no cure and no way of immunizing against the virus the outbreak was predicted to cause massive causalities as it spread like wildfire throughout the country. And then it didn’t. It burned itself out within a month and the mass casualties predicted? There were a total of sixteen deaths. Now sixteen is not a small number, no death is condonable for that matter, nut when it comes to predictive statistical analysis sixteen is not a patch on the thousands who were expected to be infected in the crowded state of Kerala merely by living and breathing in the same air as the nipah viral victims.

So how did we dodge this bullet? Reflect back a little to the Ebola virus scare a year ago, the SARS virus a few years ago, the Swine Flu some years ago- all of them were predicted to cause mass causalities as they were supposedly uncontainable. Bu they didn’t. They burnt out on their own after causing an initial few deaths. Epidemiological measures like lessening general population exposure and specific measures like better protection to doctors and nurses treating these patients certainly helped. But what really mattered was the viral outbreak burnt itself out. For that’s what viral outbreaks do. The zero patient- the index patient who first gets infected, goes onto infect a few more around themselves and gradually the circle seems to be widening before it suddenly collapses on itself. That’s how most if not all viral epidemics end. But within the short period of the start and end of the infection, there are billions of dollars to be made- by a variety of people- the United Nations, the world health organization, the central and state governments and the Pharma and vaccine makers. Hence all the hype about uncontrollable diseases with doomsday scenarios peddled in the pliant media.

The big daddy of all such scams was the aids epidemic scare of the 90’s. When the HIV infection was first diagnosed it was primarily limited to a small subgroup of populations- the homosexuals and the drug pushers using infected needles. And then when the virus crossed over into the heterosexual community there was widespread fear mongering about how the entire population of the earth will be decimated by HIV. There were billions of dollars poured into HIV research over the years- but even thirty years later there is still no cure in sight and we are all still alive. The united nation even formed a special group called UNAID which received in excess of ten billion dollars in aid every year for propaganda against HIV infection. The United States of America alone spent over six and a half billion years every year on aids.

And many other fortunes were made by NGO’s in India utilizing the aids scare and attracting foreign funds for telling people what they already knew- sex with strangers was risky. The condom manufacturers who sensed an opportunity to earn more than they were currently making zoomed in on the aids panic to make HIV infection the most attention grabbing in the planet through the use of paid media. Condom sales zoomed through the roof when people were assured that having risky sex with strangers was alright as long as you wore protection.

And the approach seemed to work initially before people started going back to their original selves and rejecting condoms whether risky or not. And you can’t blame them- when people have to choose between instant gratification and a miniscule chance of risk guess what they will opt for? Anyway the strategy of using condoms as the cure for aids slowly ran into real world difficulties as people in real life rarely correspond to advertisement led campaigns. Which led to the next big profit spin-off- anti-retroviral drugs.

Large pharmaceutical companies not amused by the profits NGO’s and condom manufacturers were making off the aids scare were just waiting for such an opportunity to jump in. they started spreading money around to convince people they “hey forget about HIV infections, just pop in a few drugs daily and you can live a normal healthy life”. And voila- the anti-HIV drug business zoomed to six billion dollars. And you know what the NGO’s who realized that they were being cheated of a part of their loot did? They cried foul. They lobbied with governments and regulatory agencies to make these drugs harder to get as long as they didn’t get their payoffs from the Pharma industry. As I keep saying the only difference between an NGO and the mafia is the mafia do their own killings while the NGO’s use lobbying to get governments do the killings on their check lists. And that’s the reason that even with the widespread ability to manufacture generic anti-HIV drugs they are still not being manufactured and supplied to those who are positive for the Virus. A few deaths here and there, despite the presence of very effective drugs to prevent them, keep the populace in perpetual fear of the disease and always in the new’s cycle.

And after all these underground wars the surprising news from results started coming in that the AIDS scare was dying down because new HIV infections were not progressing at the levels predicted and why? Because as any competent epidemiologist or statistician would tell you – infections have these tendencies to bloom and die on their own – self-limiting in other words. As most people who infect others realize the fact and start controlling their exposure voluntarily the infected circle gets smaller and smaller and even if it doesn’t die out completely is still in too small a circle to be called a universal threat or to spend scarce resources on but having made billions of dollars on the scare can we just let it go on its own without kicking and screaming? Hence the continued tom-toming of the AIDS threat to humanity despite clear-cut evidence to the contrary and its business as usual for the UN, WHO and other NGO’s down the feeder line who like remora’s feed on the big sharks which prey on a fearful and unsuspecting public and on public coffers.

So what does this tell us? For one, that all those who cry doomsday at the drop of a hat are all talking through their hats. And for another though there are genuine microbial threats to human health its not all one sided. We haven’t survived billions of years and share the same, or almost same set of genes with the microbe’s to go down so easily without a fight. What they do, we can do. And we can do one step better. We can hang in there till they self-destruct for we humans have staying power. We can change our genes – epigenetics its called, to resist even thee toughest of microbes and make them harmless to us. And finally, the purpose of the UN, the WHO and all those NGO’s is just to make money out of our misery and it’s our fault if we believe otherwise. So next time you read in the papers about the next big threat to humanity, quietly tell yourself that someone has invented a new way to make more money.

The Dignity of Labour

The Dignity of Labour

black and white working old human

Photo by Vijay Putra on

Recently I was waiting for a few minutes at a traffic signal when I happened to notice an old woman selling bangles and assorted fancy items wheeling her hand cart away from the busy junction on the orders of the officious police force who didn’t want people to clog traffic right at the intersection. On a hot summer day, especially here in madras when the temperatures touch 40 degree centigrade even in the shade to see these old women push heavy hand carts laden with merchandise trying to sell them in the scorching noon sun somehow trying to make a living honestly instead of begging or stealing or praying to god for a handout made me reflect on life in general and the value we assign to dignity of labour.

And immediately, unbidden I recalled my colleagues, highly educated office workers seated in air-conditioned rooms who at the stroke of ten am or ten patients whichever is earlier close down their pens for the day saying “I have worked enough for the pittance they are paying me” regardless of the throngs waiting outside for a consultation.  And these people, the ones who work only for my salary amount kind are even lauded for their work because compared to others- the ones who sit reading the bible or divinity texts all day in the hospital and prefer to teach only bible gospels/classes to any student who approaches them with a doubt, at least the ten am workers see at least a few patients a day while the born again Christians spend all day communing with Jesus for which the government pays them a salary  and gives them an airconditioned office and a captive audience of eager young students- eager to pass somehow/anyhow.  And that this is all overlooked or justified by the higher authorities who are frankly afraid of being labelled anti-minority in the vein of excessive secularism and being politically correct towards religious minorities by allowing them to proselytize young college going kids in the classroom.

Anyway, leaving that aside, the very fact that eighty plus elder citizens are still working in the summer heat teaches us two lessons. The first is the most obvious, that there is no social security in India and you either work or you starve, even if you are a centenarian. Which means that either you work hard in your youth and middle age and save the money to tide over your old age or you try and get multiple children at least one of whom will take care of you in your old age, which explains the population problem.

The second lesson to be noted is that people in India, leave alone the officialdom, I am talking of even the common populace, look down on people who work with their hands/feet etc. There is no dignity in labour if you are not working in an airconditioned office sitting down in front of a computer. Even the most productive of manual workers, factory or industry workers or self-employed persons don’t command the respect of a say a 22-year-old software techie who just passed his arrears exams borderline or the bureaucrat who sits on his backside all day and only comes alive to demand baksheesh to scrawl his signature across a file. These are the kind of people who are most respected in India as seen by the ubiquitous engineering colleges and civil service training institutes.

I don’t have any solutions to offer, I don’t even know if I can achieve something with this rant of mine. But as a writer it behoves me to chronicle the times we live in for posterity and as a result I am recording this to the world wide web in the hope that someday someone in the far future will want to research why such an ancient civilization like India collapsed so suddenly and they might be interested to learn that it was because we valued shirking work more than honest labour and rewarded those who worked the least and punished those who didn’t.

Stop With The Lessons, OK?.

Stop With The Lessons, OK?.

You know what they say about life teaching you lessons and every experience is a blessing in disguise? Well I dunno who came up with such empty platitudes but take it from me it’s all such a load of bs (pardon my language). I mean who of us, given a chance wouldn’t prefer to skip over all the gory details of our lives and move straight on to the end part where we get what we deserve? On second thoughts, scratch that sentence and let me rephrase it again. Where we move on to the end part and get the victory we justly deserve?

Oh yeah right, I hear you agreeing ladies and gentlemen and I nod back. All this character building through adversity and struggle for success is also overhyped in books and media. In real life there isn’t a single one of us who wouldn’t prefer to take the ladder over the snake despite the many benefits of the snake’s lessons. If life was a movie wouldn’t you like to fast forward it through all the tough parts, the boring parts, the violent parts and prefer just to watch the colorful duet songs in Switzerland alone?

Unfortunately my life as a movie has been more an 80’s violent blockbuster type than the 90’s romantic Euro-train missing/Switzerland duet singing screenplay till now. Much against my will I seem to have been cast in the role of the angry young man, yep the role patented by Mr.Bacchan the elder, where I keep defeating gangs of ruffians and rowdies trying to do me harm and a few reels later those same set of villains keep turning up again and again to get bashed again. I mean there should be an end to the number of villain’s sent against me by life right? Or at least some variety in the screenplay? That’s not asking much is it? If I were Batman in one of the innumerable sequel movies, I would be, by now looking at the camera of my life and whining “oh the joker? Again? And the riddler? Again? And two-face? Again and again?” For that’s the kind of scam life is trying to pull on me all the time. And you the audience watching my life with bated breath for what happens next are going to be sorely disappointed at the same old faces turning up like clockwork.

To tell the absolute truth (is there anything else I ever say?) I am frankly bored of the old villains turning up again and again to thrash me and put me in hospital and then when I get discharged and released out again the same set of villain’s are waiting outside the gates to send me back into the hospital ward which I just said a cheery farewell to. I wonder don’t they ever get bored of swearing revenge against a single individual and move on to others once they have had their fill of me. Even villains (/essess) should be given a chance to randomly select fresh targets instead of wasting all their hate and time on an old and well dusted antagonist like me.

And as for me, well, if I haven’t learnt my lessons by now, doesn’t it mean I am not the learning type. So stop with the lessons and bring on the end credits already, fate or destiny or whatever you are. Be warned.

Travels in Sikkim-3rd Part

Travels in Sikkim-3rd Part

So what is the first thing you do when you hit the north east? You give into the clichés and eat momos right? And of course that’s exactly what we did once we exited Bagdogra airport. But first there was a minor kerfuffle in locating our driver who was supposed to pick us up at the airport. Not having visited the north east before we had to trust travel websites to decide our place of stay and itinerary. Thankfully a friend in Kolkata gave us the contact details of a well-established travel agency conducting tours of the north east and we made the arrangements – even paying the fee upfront for an airport pick up to airport drop trip entire travel experience.

And then when we landed at Bagdogra we couldn’t locate our driver outside the airport. I kept getting calls on my mobile from an unknown number – someone called Pandey (according to true caller) who kept saying something in Hindi, but as the only Hindi I knew was limited to Baba Sehgal singing “aaja mera gaadi mein betja” I couldn’t understand what he wanted me to do. I mean, I had expected the driver to stand outside the airport arrivals with a big board bearing my name – as seen in numerous movies. I hadn’t expected him to call me and give me directions (in Hindi) to go somewhere. So laden with luggage, I did the only possible thing which came to mind.

I looked around till I could find a south Indian looking army officer (it shows in our faces right?) and I explained my predicament to him. The army officer (he was keralite by the way) took the next call from the driver and gave him an earful in Hindi such that the driver was present in front of us within the next five minutes. We learnt that he had parked way down the road to avoid the parking fees at the airport parking and had hence been giving us directions to exit the airport and walk down the Siliguri road to where he was parked. We communicated to him in our broken hingilish that we didn’t mind paying the parking fee in future if it means avoiding the long walk uphill dragging heavy luggage. And with that sorted out we began our journey into the hills.

Now the first order of business was to get some hot food inside as we had travelled by a budget airline in economy class and they basically will give you nothing but water for the entire flight. So as we travelled on the road to Siliguri we broached the topic of a late lunch/early evening tiffin. Meanwhile our driver asked us the passport size photographs the travel agency had recommended us to carry for applying to get a permit to travel to the Tibetan border. As a couple of us were not carrying two passport size photos per head we decided to get it taken in Siliguri itself along with all the Xerox copies of the various documents required and so, we first made for a fast food joint were we ordered momos with hot sauce- authentic Tibetan style and meanwhile got our pictures taken.

I have never had much taste for momos, but given the cold weather and our empty stomachs since breakfast, those momos disappeared fast. And then we had that most magical of drinks- authentic Darjeeling tea for after all we were in Darjeeling weren’t we? And then we were on our way hoping to reach Gangtok in time as the travel time – optimistically from Siliguri to Gangtok up in the hills was five hours when there were no landslides or accidents. We had travelled a long way to get to the Himalayas and just couldn’t wait to see the famed hills.

And that’s how our trip up that long, narrow treacherous road into the hills began. But you just had to roll down the window and look outside to forget all the dangers and get mesmerized in the beauty of the landscape you were passing along. The mighty Brahmaputra roaring out of the gorges, the long beautiful tea plantation’s everywhere, tiny streams and thundering waterfalls everywhere. Not to mention the cold, the bone freezing chill as went ascended up into the hills, clad in singleton t-shorts appropriate for hot and muggy Kolkata from where we had come.