The beginning of migrant hatred is often benign

I follow author Puja Mehra on twitter. She has written a nice book – The Lost Decade: 2008-2018. She tweeted this recently –

Now some of you may instinctively agree with her line of thought. I would like you guys to hold on to your instinct and read my blog with an open mind to understand why we fall for this trap that sounds logical in our head – but is driven more from irritation than logic, and is often the starting point of migrant hatred / fear.

In short what a local ends up saying is – ‘if you have so much of problem, fuck off. Nobody asked you to move in anyway’. Before I explain the problem with this logic, let me share a nice video that I made about Chennai few years ago. A lot of response to this video (you can go read the comment section on Youtube) had a similar problem.

Many who you see speaking in the above video were born and brought up in Chennai itself (including some Tamils). We didn’t mention this fact in the video. And if you don’t watch the whole thing, it may look like (especially to a local Chennaite) that ‘outsiders’ are unnecessarily cribbing about a ‘great’ city and so you will find several comments on the same line – ‘if you have so much of problem, fuck off. Nobody asked you to move in anyway’.

Here’s the logical error with such annoyance / hatred – the presumptuous illusion of choice!

Just because someone has moved to a city does not mean they had the choice to work anywhere in India. Some may have that choice, most don’t! Other than job, many move simply because of marriage. Even data supports this. The thing is, shittiniess / awesomeness of a city is not the most important factor basis which people relocate and for a vast majority, that’s hardly a choice!

Here’s the second problem with such ‘fuck off’ responses – they attack only those who are not originally from the city. If you are from the city, then well, what can they be told – they apparently don’t have a ‘choice’ because they are ‘originally’ from the place. But like really? You can’t move out of Delhi just because you were born in the city? Ask around who have been buying houses after houses in Goa!

Such kind of complaints by locals, sugar-coated with logic, are essentially an expression of annoyance. They might fail the logic-test but they make the person bitching about outsiders complaining about ‘their’ city feel good. But hey, I have a news. That is exactly why anyone complains!

We complain (those of us who do) because complaining often releases stress.

It’s an emotional response to a situation. Of course, if all that we do is complain all the time about everything, then eventually we may get depressed and all that but it is one thing to be reminded of the negative effect of over-complaining and a totally different thing to be told to ‘not complain’ because ‘hey you have a choice’.

I will not blame Puja though. It is extremely easy to fall for this trap and use pseudo-logic to make the comment sensible in one’s head. It often originates from lack of empathy. When you have less empathy to relate to why an outsider complains about the city they have moved to, instead of viewing the situation as a ‘feeling’ response of the person, you end up viewing it as an ‘attack’ on your own identity. And when you feel attacked, you fight back. You tell them to go back to where they came from, or find some other city. The illusion of choice doesn’t feel like illusion at all. Some may view such a nativist rant as benign but there’s a big problem with letting it go unchecked.

When we let this nativist instinct take over, it doesn’t take much for the same argument to gradually move from a passive-aggressive tweet like Puja’s to severe case of hatred – often fueled by politicians who are masters at the art of exploiting the Us Vs. them fear.

Hostility – whether experienced by a group or an individual – stems from the same principles: seeing the adversary as wrong or bad, and the self as right and good. In either case, the aggressor shows the same “thinking disorder”: construing the facts in his favor, exaggerating the supposed transgression, and attributing malice to the opposition.

Aaron T. Beck – Prisoners of Hate

The reality is that, you will find people from Delhi working in Chennai complaining about Chennai and you will also find people from Chennai working in Delhi, complaining about Delhi. People are the same. You will obviously also have many who love their new city. There are just all sorts of people and all of them have the right to exist and be respected without being asked to fuck off (in however polite way) by any dick-acting local.

PS: Puja’s book is pretty nice and insightful – do check it out.


We cheat differently based on who we think we are.

This is part of my new series – Learnings from Human Experiments (LHE)

Researchers at the University of Zurich recruited a bunch of bankers and randomly split them into two groups.

Both groups were asked to flip a coin ten times and report the outcomes online. If they got more than a threshold number of heads (or tails) they were told they would get twenty Swiss francs (about 20 USD) for each extra head (or tail) they reported. Nobody was going to check whether or not they reported accurately, which created a very strong incentive to cheat.

But before the experiment began, one group was asked about their favorite leisure activity, highlighting their role as a “regular” person, and the other group was asked questions about their role as a banker, effectively highlighting their “banker identity”.

This is what happened in the end – the estimated cheating rate went from 3% for those thinking of themselves as regular people to 16% for those thinking of themselves as bankers! Crazy, right?

Being reminded of our profession seems to bring out a different moral self.

I came to know about this experiment in the book Good Economics for Hard Times by Abhijit V. Banerjee & Esther Duflo (Nobel prize winners).

Let’s now come to India – where a similar experiment was done, but with college students.

The students were asked to privately roll a die 42 times and record what numbers they got each time. The reward was 50 paise if the die showed one, one rupee for a two, one and a half rupees for a three, and so on.

Students were free to lie about the numbers they rolled. Roughly the same proportion as in Switzerland did lie. But here’s the difference – while those who were reminded of their identity as bankers cheated more in Switzerland, in India students planning to work for the government cheated more (this is what this experiment was designed to test).

In contrast, when the study was again replicated in Denmark, which is justifiably proud of its social sector, researchers found the exact opposite as in India: those planning to join the government were much less likely to cheat!

That’s it – wanted to note down these insights as a stand-alone clue to human nature, as part of my Learnings from Human Experiments series. Also felt like drawing a bit – just for fun. Will keep adding such short experiment based posts, whenever I stumble upon them. Hope you learnt something.


Demonetization was a failure but the PM is OK lying about it even after 4 years!

This is a lie because there is no data which says what was the black money in 2016 and what it is now – so nobody can say black money has reduced.

In a written reply tabled in the Parliament in Dec 2016, the then Finance Minister had admitted, “There is no official estimation of the amount of black money either before or after the government’s decision of 08 Nov 2016…”

Now there are other things for which we do have data. Let’s talk about the issue of counterfeit currency for example. PM Modi had claimed that demonetization would solve it (without any basis). It has not been solved.

Source: chart created from RBI data as presented here

Don’t forget, INR ~8,000 crore was spent in 2016-17 just on printing new notes (followed by ~5,000 crore a year after that). For what? A marketing gimmick!

Also let’s not forget that curbing terrorism was also a reason PM Modi had provided for justifying overnight demonetization.

What happened? See for yourself.

Data Source:

Before I end this post, let me sum up why black money could never have been solved by demonetization anyway (the Govt. never presented any study whatsoever to justify the move – it was an insensitive illogical idea from the beginning).

The thing is – even when nobody really knows what is the total unaccounted for income in India, almost every estimate acknowledges that a very small portion of it (~1%) is in cash. Majority of the cash that exists is accounted for. So demonetization by design was a move to harass majority of Indians by targeting less than 1% of black income. In what world is this justified? More than 99.3% of all the demonetized note came back to the banking system!

There is a reason, almost nowhere in the world, ‘demonetization’ is ever used for this purpose! Except of course, if you have the confidence to ‘market’ the move as path-breaking initiative to end corruption!

Other than the harassment that most Indians faced while getting their notes exchanged (some died too) and the unnecessary work that our bankers had to do, week after week – demonetization also had some other far-fetched consequences. It looks like it even caused increase in infant mortality rate!

What about the move towards digital payments?

I will make two comments. The night demonetization was announced, PM Modi did not even talk about digital payments as a reason to justify torturing the entire country. Two, India did not become digital overnight anyway as the below chart shows.

Source | UPI transactions were almost non-existent in 2016 – but could this have happened without the need for demonetization? Yes.

If you scroll back up and look at the existing cash in the economy (much more than was in 2016), it becomes obvious that one does not need to take away cash from the system for digital payments to work and grow. There is not a single economist who has ever claimed that India wouldn’t have made the growth in UPI transactions without demonetization. On the contrary, many studies later found the damage that the move did to the economy itself.

Dear PM, show some shame, acknowledge the mistake and move on? Or am I missing something?


Is Modi like Hitler? Yes & No. Very important to understand.

I read a very interesting and insightful book called How Democracies Die. Levitsky & Ziblatt (the authors) have analysed democracies across the globe to understand when a leader turns authoritarian, often leading to collapse of democracy. The erosion of democracy takes place piecemeal, often in baby steps.

Let me share this chart for you to get a sense of how fragile a democratic system can really be.

Let me quickly explain the three terms mentioned in the above table – a. ‘capturing referees’, b. ‘sidelining players’ and c. ‘changing rules’.


It means hijacking institutions that hold the govt. accountable (intelligence agencies, courts). It offers a powerful weapon, allowing the government to selectively enforce the law, punishing opponents while protecting allies.

By default, the judicial system, law enforcement bodies, and intelligence, tax, and regulatory agencies are designed to serve as neutral arbiters. But if such agencies are controlled by loyalists, they could serve a would-be dictator’s aims.

Tax authorities may be used to target rival politicians, businesses, and media outlets. The police can crack down on opposition protest while tolerating acts of violence by pro-government thugs.


Most contemporary autocracies do not wipe out all traces of dissent, as Mussolini did in fascist Italy or Fidel Castro did in communist Cuba. What they usually do is – ensure that key players – anyone capable of really hurting the government – are sidelined, hobbled, or bribed into throwing the game.

Key players might include opposition politicians, business leaders who finance the opposition, major media outlets, and in some cases, religious or other cultural figures who enjoy a certain public moral standing.

The Fujimori government in Peru was masterful at buying off its critics, particularly those in media. By the late 1990s, every major television network, several daily newspapers, and popular tabloid papers were on the government’s payroll.

Players who cannot be bought must be weakened. Whereas old-school dictators often jailed, exiled, or even killed their rivals, contemporary autocrats tend to hide their repression behind a veneer of legality.

Under Perón (Argentina), opposition leader Ricardo Balbín was imprisoned for “disrespecting” the president during an election campaign. In Malaysia, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad used a politically loyal police force and a packed judiciary to investigate, arrest, and imprison his leading rival, Anwar Ibrahim, on sodomy charges in the late 1990s.

Governments may also use their control of referees to legally sidline the opposition media, often through libel or defamation suits.

In Russia, after Vladimir Gusinsky’s independent NTV television network earned a reputation as a “pain in the neck,” the Putin government unleashed the tax authorities on Gusinsky, arresting him for “financial misappropriation.” Gusinsky was offered “a deal straight out of a bad Mafia movie: give up NTV in exchange for freedom.” He took the deal, turned NTV over to the giant government-controlled energy company, Gazprom, and fled the country.

As key media outlets are assaulted, others grow wary and begin to practice self-censorship. When the Chávez government stepped up its attacks in the mid-2000s, one of the country’s largest television networks, Venevisión, decided to stop covering politics. Morning talk shows were replaced with astrology programs, and soap operas took precedence over evening news programs.

Finally, elected autocrats often try to silence cultural figures – artists, intellectuals, pop stars, athletes. Usually, however, governments prefer to co-opt popular cultural figures or reach a mutual accommodation with them, allowing them to continue their work as long as they stay out of politics.


This essentially means somehow changing the Constitution itself. Authoritarians seeking to consolidate their power often reform the constitution, the electoral system, and other institutions in ways that disadvantage or weaken the opposition, in effect tilting the playing field against their rivals. These reforms are often carried out under the guise of some public good, while in reality they are stacking the deck in favor of incumbents. And guess what helps them most – a crisis situation.

For demagogues hemmed in by constitutional constraints, a crisis represents an opportunity to begin to dismantle the inconvenient and sometimes threatening checks and balances that come with democratic politics.

Elected autocrats often need crises – external threats offer them a chance to break free, both swiftly and, very often, “legally”.

Crisis are hard to predict, but their political consequences are not. They facilitate the concentration, and very often, abuse of power. Given that we have a crisis situation right now, had Modi been like Hitler, the damage to democracy could have been much worse.

Major security crises – wars or large-scale terrorist attacks – are political game changers. Almost invariably, they increase support for the government. Citizens become more likely to tolerate, and even endorse, authoritarian measures when they fear for their security. In the aftermath of September 11, President Bush saw his approval rating soar from 53% to 90%. Citizens are also more likely to tolerate – and even support – authoritarian measures when they fear their own safety.

The book – How Democracies Die – also talks about 4 litmus tests that can hep identify any authoritarian leader.

As per the authors, we should worry when a politician

  1. rejects, in words or actions, the democratic rules of the game (and this is why Modi is not like Hitler)
  2. denies the legitimacy of opponents
  3. tolerates or encourages violence (this is where if not Modi himself, his party is mildly like Hitler)
  4. indicates a willingness to curtail the civil liberties of opponents, including the media (again – why BJP is like Hitler).

A politician who meets even one of these criteria is a cause for concern.

Let me also share five more insights that the book offers (have contextualized it with Indian political examples, where I could).

1. Most authoritarians leaders are popular rank outsiders who have little patience with democracy.

In Latin America, of all 15 presidents elected in Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela between 1990 and 2012, five were populist outsiders: Alberto Fujimori, Hugo Chávez, Evo Morales, Lucio Gutiérrez and Rafael Correa. All five ended up weakening democratic institutions.

When populists win elections, they often assault democratic institutions.

Democracy is grinding work – it requires negotiation, compromise and concessions. But would-be authoritarians have little patience with the day-to-day politics of the democracy (and in this regard, Modi is unlike Hitler; the BJP doesn’t only understand the politics that it needs to play but works towards it diligently).

In India, the hyper liberals don’t get the difference between being a Hitler and Modi. Modi for one, is not a rank outsider. Bhakts (and even some centrists) on the other hand, fail to understand that just because Modi is not exactly like Hitler, does not mean he is all good. They take the comparison ‘literally’ and start pointing out the differences. What matters is the similarity – and that’s what is scary and that is what we should watch out for.

Let me make a quick note on most arguments around comparison of two people / entities / countries / anything.

Those who don’t like the comparison get obsessed with the difference and only want to focus on why the comparison doesn’t make sense (‘you are comparing apples with oranges’). Of course no two people / entities / countries / anything are ‘the same’. Apples and oranges are different and yet in many contexts, it makes sense to compare them. It’s unwise to willfully ignore the intent behind any comparison – which is to appreciate the similarity! When we try to see the similarity between Modi and Hitler (the short-code I am using to denote an authoritarian leader), we become better prepared to watch out for when the government ends up pushing things too far off the line where democracy ends. If we keep obsessing about how they are not the same, we won’t gain much (that is the job of Govt. mouthpieces like Arnab Goswami; not citizens).

Ok now, carrying on with four more insights from the book.

2. Politicians do not always reveal the full scale of their authoritarianism before reaching power.

Hungarian PM Viktor Orban (and his party) began as a liberal democrat in the late 1980s and in his first stint as PM (1998-2002) he governed democratically. His autocratic about face in 2010 was a genuine surprise. The 2011 constitutional changes enacted under his leadership were, in particular, accused of centralizing legislative and executive power, curbing civil liberties, restricting freedom of speech, and weakening the Constitutional Court and judiciary. He has been in power since then.

3. Democracy requires ‘gate-keepers’ to do their job.

We like to believe the fate of the government lies in the hands of its citizens. As per the authors, this view is wrong. Political parties are democracies’ gatekeepers.

An over-reliance on the will of the people can lead to the election of a demagogue who threatens democracy itself.

Collective abdication – the transfer of authority to a leader who threatens democracy – usually flows from one of two sources.

  1. the misguided belief that an authoritarian can be controlled or tamed.
  2. ideological collusion – the authoritarian’s agenda overlaps sufficiently with that of mainstream politicians that abdication is desirable, or at least preferable to the alternatives.

Trump’s rise to presidency in 2016 is a good example of consequence of ineffective gatekeeping.

Some politicians did realize the problem and did their bit. For example, in March 2016, former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney gave a high-profile speech describing Trump as a danger to both the Republican Party and the country. Echoing Ronald Reagan’s 1964 “A Time for Choosing” speech, Romney declared that Trump was a “fraud” who had “neither the temperament nor the judgment to be president.”

Other party elders, including 2008 presidential candidate John McCain and Senator Lindsey Graham, had warned against Trump too.

But the sad fact is that the #NeverTrump movement was always more talk than action. In reality, the primary system had left Republican leaders virtually weaponless to halt Trump’s rise (the book explains this in detail). The barrage of attacks had little impact and possibly even backfired where it counted: the voting booth.

4. Polarization can destroy democratic norms – the process often begins with words.

Fujinori (Peru) called his critics “enemies” and “traitors”. Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi attacked judges who ruled against him as “communist”.

Status anxiety – when a groups’ social status, identity, and sense of belonging are perceived to be under existential threat – leads to a style of politics that is “overheated, oversuspicious, overaggressive, grandiose, and apocalyptic”. A demagogue’s initial rise to power tends to polarize society, creating a climate of panic, hostility, and mutual distrust (Modi is like Hiter in this aspect).

If the public comes to share the view that opponents are linked to terrorism and the media are spreading lies, it becomes easier to justify taking actions against them.

Some polarization is healthy – even necessary – for democracy. But when socioeconomic, racial, or religious differences give rise to extreme partisanship, in which societies sort themselves into political camps whose worldviews are not just different but mutually exclusive, toleration becomes harder to sustain. As mutual toleration disappears, politicians grow tempted to abandon forbearance (see point 5 below) and try to win at all costs.

Because of polarization, Chileans who had long prided themselves on being South America’s most stable democracy, succumbed to dictatorship that lasted for seventeen years!

In the US, in 1798, the Federalists passed the Sedition Act, which, though purportedly criminalizing false statements against the government, was so vague that it virtually criminalized criticism of the government.

When norms of mutual toleration are weak, democracy is hard to sustain. If we view our rivals as a dangerous threat, we have much to fear if they are elected. We may decide to employ any means necessary to defeat them – and therein lies a justification for authoritarian measures. Politicians who are tagged as criminal or subversive may be jailed; governments deemed to pose a threat to the nation may be overthrown.

In just about every case of democratic breakdown we have studied, would-be authoritarians – from Franco, Hitler, and Mussolini in interwar Europe to Marcos, Castro, and Pinochet during the Cold War to Putin, Chávez, and Erdogan most recently – have justified their consolidation of power by labeling their opponents as an existential threat.

How Democracies Die

5. ‘Forbearance’ – and why it matters

Much before Trump, the USA faced threat to democratic norms under President Roosevelt who subscribed to what he called the stewardship theory of the presidency – all executive actions are allowed unless expressly prohibited by law.

His use of executive orders – more than 3,000 during his presidency, averaging more than 300 a year – was unmatched at the time or since.

Forbearance is the exact opposite. It means “patient self-control; restraint and tolerance,” or “the action of restraining from exercising a legal right.

Prior to the 1973 coup, Chile had been Latin America’s oldest and most successful democracy, sustained by vibrant democratic norms. It was lack of forbearance that lead to fall of democracy.

Citizens are often slow to realize that their democracy is being dismantled – even as it happens before their eyes.

One may think of democracy as a game that we want to keep playing indefinitely. To ensure future rounds of the game, players must refrain from either incapacitating the other team or antagonizing them to such a degree, that they refuse to play again tomorrow. If one’s rivals quit, there can be no future games.

The cure for the ills of democracy is more democracy.

Hope you learnt something / gained some insights. And if this topic interests you, do pick up the book.

events family.friends Goa chronicles

I’ve been hospitalized, being treated for Covid. Here’s the full story.

After months of not traveling for work, I took a wedding shoot assignment. I traveled to Kolkata. The wedding went fine. The same evening I returned, Princy and I got a chance to adopt two cute three week old pups. We named them Dona & Paula. I poured myself a whiskey. And later that night, I had fever.

Dona (black), Paula (brown)
Paula in my arms

The next day was a Sunday. I went to Manipal hospital to get myself tested for Covid. A reliable RTPCR test costs 4500 rupees there. They were closed for Sunday.

By the next day I thought of trying free testing service from Govt. health centre. A rapid antigen test came negative the same day. They also did a rapid malaria test which came negative the next day (Tuesday). I wanted confirmation, so went again and requested for RTPCR – I was asked to get it tested on Wednesday.

I gave my swab sample on Wednesday. On Thursday, I got a call saying they mixed up my sample (the result would have taken two more days). The same day, my wife paid 4500 at Manipal to get a RTPCR done and got her result the same day (she tested negative). I too decided to do the same on Thursday. I paid the money at Manipal, and gave fresh swab sample (it was a horrible experience as I coughing and the swab collecting lady kept asking me not to cough – how does on stop coughing at command)?

The result came negative the same day. But this had already been five days of nightly fever. So on Friday I visited a doctor in the hospital. He asked for a blood test. I went to him with blood test report on Saturday. My platelet counts were very low. A new blood test was taken – the platelet count was falling fast. I was tested for dengue. I seemed to have a mild trace. I was admitted. Typhoid was also being explored. Rapid test came negative and confirmatory test would last three days (eventually being negative for typhoid).

The platelet count improved in few days with medication. But I kept coughing. So a CT-SCAN was done on Monday – there were traces of Corona virus in my body. I was re-tested on Tuesday (RTPCR) and tested positive for Covid. So I was moved to the Covid ward the same evening and was put on Remdesivir (the most effective anti viral that we have so far). Fever went away (took syringes in the tummy).

It’s a Saturday as I write this. Eighth day in the hospital (five days in just one room – in the Covid ward). I can go home by Monday, I have been told. These have been two shitty weeks. Every day, few needles go through the body. I need more medicines than I eat food. But I am good. I can work all day. I am also glad I was insured. Total bill so far has been 2 lakh (two more days expense to be added) – at least not going from my pocket (at least not all of it).

The cough is there, but so is its medicine. Can’t wait to be with Princy, Dona & Paula. Princy got tested again in the mean time (free one this time) and she remains negative. Yay!


I set up a Google Alert for “Rape India” for a month and tracked 125 reported rapes. Here are some insights.

Here is the the Google Sheet link if you’d like to run your own analysis.

06 Oct to 06 Nov 2020 – 125 reported rapes / attempted rapes.

In only 5.6% of cases the rapist was a stranger (imagine all the big deal we make about unknown sexual predators lurching in the dark).

In fact chances of you being raped by a relative (7%) is higher than being raped by a stranger. >60% cases had someone known commit the crime. You can literally read about each of these 125 rapes in the Google Sheet – this is the reality of India.

Over half of the rapes that I collated, happened in rural India (as a context – 65% of India’s population is rural).

Uttar Pradesh accounted for 1/4th of all the reported cases (Gujarat at no. 2)

In Uttar Pradesh, 70% of cases were rural.

Over 60% of victims / survivors were minors (and of the minors, 1/4th were less than ten year old). Almost 1/3rd of all reported rapes were gang-rapes. Only in ten percent cases at least one rapist was a minor.

In over 10% of rapes, the act was filmed / photographed.

Only 16% of the victims / survivors were identified as dalits / tribals. Also 16% of all cases lead to death / attempted murder of the victim.

Following news-articles it’s impossible to track what eventually happens – how cases unfold. But if 4 new cases show up just in media EVERY DAY – I don’t have much hope! This is a fucking terrible country for our women. When UP Govt. tells the overall no. of rapes is dropping year after year, (so does Delhi) it’s a statistically good news to hear – but doesn’t calm me down much.

Most stupid are the men who make it about, ‘oh not all men – women misuse rapes too’. I tracked 125 rapes and there were may be 2 cases of fake rape operations – like this one about a proper gang. So the ‘exceptions’ can’t be used to trivialize a problem that predominantly burdens young women from the exercise of male power – often driven by lust.

I don’t know why I tracked these rape-news stories. I don’t know what good will come out of it. But I am moving on. There is already analysed data from 2019 – of all the actual rape cases filed (@87 per day) – you can look at that if you want to. May be I wanted to read up about each story before I turned them into numbers. May be opening up my Google sheet link will have a different effect on you, than just reading my summary of the analysis.

In parallel, I was reading two books – both on India. One focused on documenting rapists and their thought process and the other focused on the polar opposite – documenting the stories of victims / survivors. The second book (No nation for women) was so upsetting to read that I ended up crying more and reading less (have manged only two chapters as of writing of this post).

May be one day I will find the courage to read rest of the stories from this book.

The other book – Why Men Rape – on rapists thought process, is easier to digest (and also explains why it’s not as simple to solve the crisis by law & order).

I wish there was a way to sum up my thoughts / feelings as I wrap up this piece. There is none. This is an ongoing crisis and we all should investigate more time in understanding what’s really happening around us and not worry so much about how to solve it. Solution is not coming anytime soon. Not allowing 18+ year old men to venture out sounds like a good solution but the men may not agree I think! 🙂


India Covid deaths weekly projection – 11 Oct update


I have been looking at the India Covid figures since few months now. I update my projections every Sunday. This is how things look as of today.

The actual Covid death toll could be as high as twice the ‘reported’ figures, for various reasons documented here but what’s clear is that the avg daily death has been going down for three weeks now. This suggests India peaked by 4th week of September.

Graph plotted by Amrit Vatsa on 11 Oct 2020, based on publicly available data

The total reported Covid death toll for India right now is 1.07 lakh that basically translates to roughly 78 deaths per million.

In comparison, Brazil has over 700 per million dead, US & UK over 600 and Canada over 250.

One could try forecasting the future Covid deaths in India by simply using the existing rate of week-on-week growth / decline in deaths.

Chart created by Amrit Vatsa on 11 Oct 2020 from publicly available data

For three consecutive weeks, total weekly deaths in India has continued to decline.

For future, -8% (baseline), -12% (better case) and -4% (worse case) assumption for decline rate sounds good?

Below is how the forecast looks like, for those three scenarios.

Chart created by Amrit Vatsa on 04 Oct 2020 from publicly available data

The total death toll will reach somewhere around 1.4 to 1.6 lakh by 2020 end and it’s quite likely that Covid in India will be more or less over once around 2 lakh are dead. That will take many more months in 2021 given that growth is on decline.

Fingers crossed.

Let’s now try a slightly more nuanced (albeit indirect) approach to project future deaths that requires looking first at cases. Cases are important because even when you don’t die, just being infected seems to have its own issues.

From ‘brain fog’ to heart damage, COVID-19’s lingering problems alarm scientists


Like deaths, for cases too, if we look at the rate of week-on-week growth / decline, we can get some idea of how it’s probably going to unfold in the next few weeks.

5.05 lakh total positive cases were detected this week – that’s 11% lower than the total cases detected the week before (~5.7 lakh).

Let’s call this w-o-w rate of growth / decline in cases – ‘X’. X was -4% last week and -8% the week before (see the above chart). X=-11% this week. For my projection, I think I will assume a range of zero to -10% for X in the coming weeks.

Now in general, people who die of Covid in a given week, are either tested positive the same week, or the week before (just a basic assumption). Do we have some idea of what %age of such cases die? We do actually.

6,574 Covid deaths were recorded this week, which is basically 1.2% of half of total cases from this week + half of total cases from last week.

Let’s call this %age Y; Y= 1.2%.

For the future, let’s assume a range of 1.1% to 1.3%?

So we can forecast now – I am going with the following 3 scenarios:

  • X=-5%, Y=1.2% (baseline)
  • X=-10%, Y=1.1% (optimistic: cases decline faster + lesser %ge of deaths)
  • X=0%, Y=1.3% (worse: cases don’t decline + higher death %age )

With the above assumptions, below chart shows the future cumulative death count.

This gives a similar estimate.

India’s reported Covid deaths would be around 1.4 to 1.6 lakh by year end.

It was interesting to see the New York Times report on the spread of Covid in rural India in pretty grim ways. This is their article from Friday (behind paywall). Number-wise things are actually getting better!

Before I end, below is a new Covid insight that you all should be aware of!

That’s it for this post. I’ll get back with updated projections next Sunday (19 Oct). Stay safe.


This is why trying to learn by ‘reasoning’ and ‘logic’ on social media typically doesn’t work.

“Rape / rape-culture is a big problem in India? Sure, we can ‘discuss’ it over comments and come up with a way that can definitely solve it”.
“Caste issues? No problem. ‘Solution’ should be the focus; what’s the point in ranting about the problem”?
“I don’t know the problem enough? Then educate me no? Tell me what is wrong in my ‘reasoning’? I am here to learn – teach me, educate me”.

We Indians love to reason. We also love to offer solutions – to every problem that we spot (especially if we are men). In fact we loving offering / talking about solutions so much that we never have the time to learn – by reading / consulting experts – about the underlying issues. We want to take the short-cut of learning by reasoning and logic.

Now if you are in a class and a teacher is teaching something, you should definitely ask questions. You should reason and try to understand the logic of what is being proposed and taught (unless obvious). You will learn better that way.

Even in case of peer-to-peer learning, say when you have missed a class and want a friend to explain the topic that you missed, you will learn better if you ask questions and get into reasoning and logic. For a short time-period this friend has essentially taken over the role of a ‘teacher’ and the nature of this relationship is well understood. And that is why reasoning works.

But that’s not usually the case with most social media conversations. There is no clear teacher-student role allocation. By default, both parties act like teachers (or so I have generally observed). And that’s why nobody ends up learning anything by reasoning and logic in most social media conversations.

The possible learning scenarios provided both parties accept their respective role in the conversation

When persons with limited knowledge (or even some knowledge) acknowledge that they are the student in a conversation, they can definitely benefit by reasoning, but only if they engage in a conversation with an expert. Such conversations rarely happen.

I often find myself in the “some knowledge” category and get turned off when it becomes obvious that the person I am conversing with has limited knowledge on the same subject. A – it is not my job to teach (it takes time and effort), B – I may not be able to do a good job of teaching them because I am not an expert yet (and possibly will never become one) and C – the time and energy that I will save from avoiding to converse with the person, can be devoted to actually learn something useful (by researching / reading more on the subject I already have some knowledge in).

When a person with limited knowledge in a subject claims that s/he is genuinely interested in learning more, I often cite point B and try to make them read good books directly (in short making them access ‘experts’). But you’d be surprised what I am often told – ‘oh I would love to learn but I don’t have time to read books and all that’.

I am of course talking about subjects / topics where a lot of research and theorizing has already been done and books after books have been written. This includes caste and gender topics. For a totally new subject, every one would essentially have ‘limited knowledge’ and reasoning and logic with a mutual learning spirit could possibly be helpful. But for well known and well researched subjects, it is usually a waste of time in most scenarios, if ‘learning’ really is the objective.

When I (with ‘some knowledge’) am conversing with someone who also has ‘some knowledge’, at times reasoning and logic is useful. This is especially true when the tone of conversation is on the lines of – ‘hey these insights that you shared are useful, and I have some more complimentary / contradictory insights to add if you are interested”.

Such tone eventually encourages both parties to go back and study specific things in more detail (source could be books but it could also be shorter stuff like blogs / podcasts / videos).

But such learning usually does not happen when the discussion is simply on the line of logic and reasoning – which often is the case when one party has ‘some knowledge’ and the other party has limited knowledge.

The language of the jackal

One of the reasons conversations on social media (where typically it’s not clear who is the teacher and who the student is) creates more conflict than learning, is because both parties end up using the language of the jackal.

(c) 2020 – Amrit Vatsa

This language theory comes from Marshall B. Rosenberg (I read about it in a beautiful short book called “The Communication Book – 44 Ideas for Better Conversations Every Day” that I had randomly picked up at an airport one day; it is part of my must-read book-list).

The language of the jackal causes the speaker to feel superior and the person being addressed to feel bad. Typical examples of jackal language are:

  • Analysis: ‘That’s wrong, because…’
  • Criticism: ‘The mistake you made was that you…’
  • Interpretations: ‘You do that because…’
  • Appraisals: ‘You are smart / lazy, you’re right wrong…’
  • Threats

The use of jackal language (aggressive) leads to counter-aggression and you can imagine how much ‘learning’ really happens once a conversation goes down that path.

By the way, the reason Rosenberg labelled the other kind of language (where one observes without evaluating, acknowledges feelings etc.) – language of the giraffe is because giraffes apparently have the biggest heart in any land animal! I had no idea; did you?

Anyway, this brings me to the last part of this blog-post.

If reasoning and logic is often pointless on social media and nobody learns much anyway, why do so many people still indulge in it?

In my observation, it’s mostly men who love debating on topics where they have limited knowledge. This could have something to do with their systemizing abilities being more than empathizing abilities (about which I have written separately). In such a scenario, men want to quickly jump to ‘solving things’ or finding a ‘net net conclusion’. The rush is so much that there is little patience to spend time in self-researching the subject at large. Logic and reasoning are mistaken as sufficient tools to extract enough knowledge from anyone so that some solution / overall conclusion can be discussed ASAP.

When a person ends up indulging in this reasoning-based learning again and again, he often ends up believing that he now ‘broadly’ knows all the ‘key things’ there are to know in the subject. With this attitude (and false confidence), his subsequent conversations with others become even more arrogant and jackal-ish (in spite of no real knowledge – just reasoning).

The worst lot take it upon themselves to ‘educate’ everyone else. It’s mind-boggling – the confidence of these reasoning-based pseudo learners – especially if the person happens to be an upper caste male in India. What has gender and caste to do with the person’s confidence? See the figure below (another communication theory from the same book).

Mikael Krogerus, Roman Tschappeler – The Communication Book

So yeah, that’s all for this post. The next time someone asks me to educate them on a topic because I know so much, I will just make them read this piece! Good idea? 🙂 Or that would be too jackal-like? 😀


Why men often assume that when a woman shares a problem, she’s asking him to propose a solution?

If you are a woman, you would have observed it yourself. If you are a man, it is more than likely that you are wondering ‘what is even wrong in that’? Before I explain why men do this (or what is wrong about it), let me add that it has indeed been shown through various ways (lab observations / studies / surveys etc.) that women in general are better at empathizing and men in general are better at systemizing.

Empathizing Vs. Systemizing

Empathizing is the drive to identify another person’s emotions and thoughts, and to respond to them with an appropriate emotion. It occurs when we feel an appropriate emotional reaction, an emotion triggered by the other person’s emotion. And it is done in order to understand another person, to predict their behavior, and to connect or resonate with them emotionally.

Systemizing on the other hand is the drive to analyze, explore, and construct a system. The systemizer intuitively figures out how things work, or extracts the underlying rules that govern the behavior of a system. This is done in order to understand and predict the system, or to invent a new one.

I have borrowed the above explanation from Simon Cohen’s “The Essential Difference: Men, Women and the Extreme Male Brain”. Simon shares his own studies on this difference between men and women.

Males score less than females on empathizing skills
Females score less than males on systemizing skills

Just to be clear, not every man is poorer at empathizing than every woman. Most men are. Likewise, not every man is better at systemizing than every woman. Most men are.

And now, before we explore the ‘why’ of it (which to be honest is not that important in my opinion), let me share the problem with this urge to offer solutions (which you would do when you have lower empathy skills and higher systemizing skills; E < S).

There are three kinds of conversations that we have –

  • the “what happened” conversation – on things like who did what, what cane be done about it, who should take up the job etc.
  • the feeling conversation – how is one feeling (angry / hurt / disgusted / unsafe / loved etc.), is it okay to feel like that? and so on and so forth; and
  • the identity conversation – where we discuss about the implication of a given situation on us – are we being good? are we doing the right thing? are we competent? and other such things.

I borrow this classification from a wonderful book called “Difficult Conversations” by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton & Sheila Heen that I think everyone should read.

Since most men are not as good empathizers as women, they are not able to realize when a particular conversation is a “feeling conversation”.

When a woman is having a “feeling conversation”, she wants you to acknowledge that she has been heard. She does *not* want you to offer solutions. But that’s exactly what men end up doing – treating every conversation / discussion like a “what happened” conversation where the objective, for the man, immediately shifts to doing something about the situation. This upsets the women and the man wonders – how can she get upset when I was offering a solution to the problem she just described? I was trying to help! Some men even want to have a ‘logical’ argument about it so that they can see the issue in their ‘reasoning’.

See the thing is, ultimately, everyone does want their problems addressed. But when you move to “what happened” before spending enough time in acknowledging the emotions, the conversations go nowhere and in spite of your great intention of doing something for the other person, you make it worse.

Alright, now that you are aware of this issue, I hope that if you are a man, you will henceforth try harder to listen and try to control the urge to offer solutions. Listening is not as simple as it sounds and if you really want to get better at it (for your own good), I urge you to pick up the “Difficult Conversations” book that I recommended earlier. It’s an eye opener. Not just for men, but for women too.

And now the last part – the ‘why’ bit. Why are men like this? The answer is what you would expect – a bit of biology and a bit of social / cultural setup.

The biology

Let me tell you the story from a psychology experiment (borrowing again from the ‘Essential Difference’ book that I earlier mentioned).

In the Rosie Maternity Hospital in Cambridge, England, two researchers (Jennifer and Anna) videotaped over 100 babies who were just one day old.

The babies were shown Jennifer’s face, smiling over their crib. Her face moved in the natural way that faces do. The babies were also shown a ball the same size as Jennifer’s head, with the same coloring but with her features rearranged, so that the overall impression was no longer face-like. Let’s call this ball a ‘mobile’ face.

The idea was to compare the baby’s interest in a social object (a face) and a mechanical object (a mobile).

In order for the experimenters to remain unbiased, mothers were asked not to tell the researchers the sex of her baby. This information was only checked after the videotapes had been coded for how long each baby looked at each type of object.

So the question was, would babies look longer at Jennifer’s face, or at the mobile?

When the videotapes were analyzed, it was found that girls looked for longer at the face, and that boys looked for longer at the mobile. And this sex difference in social interest was on the first day of life!

This difference at birth echoes a pattern we have seen right across the human lifespan. For example, on average, women engage in more “consistent” social smiling and “maintained” eye contact than does the average man. The fact that this difference is present at birth strongly suggests that biology plays a role.

Simon Baron-Cohen, The Essential Difference

And if biology is at work, there will be evolutionary theories to explain why women and men ended up happening different kinds of brains. I don’t want to go there (read the quoted book if you are interested) because this makes it easy for a man to just say ‘that’s how we men are’ – which then becomes an excuse to continue acting like an asshole! And in any case, biology is just one way to understand the difference.

The social / cultural influence

With or without the knowledge of the biological difference, most parents typically hold in their mind some notion that boys are wilder or greater risk-takers and therefore need more restrictions. This leads to boys growing up in ways where empathy matters less and systemizing matters more.

Growing up, it has been found that more men choose to work (when choice is there) in “dominance-oriented” occupations (i.e., those emphasizing social hierarchies and the control over others), while more women choose to work in “dominance-attenuating jobs (i.e., working in a team of equals with others, and / or working with disadvantaged people). In essence, more men end up getting socially / culturally influenced and encouraged to let a skill that they are already likely bad at since birth, further deteriorate.

So yeah, that’s the explanation. But what I believe is more important is for men to try to become better after acknowledging this problem of lower empathy. Not only will it help you in general in all conversations, it will be immensely helpful in your relationship with your girl-friend / partner.

The most romantic gift: to listen to another’s anxieties for one hour, without judgement or “solutions”, as an analyst might.

Alain de Botton

Systemizing is a great skill to have (and useful in many things), but it gets you almost nowhere in most day-to-day social interaction. I especially want to encourage all the ‘good intentioned’ men out there, who ‘genuinely’ want to offer solutions to problems that predominantly impact women. Please learn to listen more than you think is necessary. There is no other way for you to really understand the problem (that you so earnestly want to solve) because unlike women, you don’t have access to the lived-experience they have! And when you don’t understand the problem well, all your systemizing will be useless in bringing in any real change.

All the best, men.


India Covid deaths weekly projection – 04 Oct update


My big question every week (since May) has been, when will India cross 1 lakh total reported Covid deaths? It happened this week.

The actual Covid death toll could be as high as twice the ‘reported’ figures, for various reasons documented here.

On a global level, if you just look at total number of reported Covid deaths, you will find that India is at no. 3. But the moment you adjust for population (which makes more sense), you realize that India is in a much better position (the pink line; US is dark blue, Brazil green, UK light blue and Canada red).

Source – FT – Plot generated and screenshot taken on 04 Oct 2020

1 lakh total deaths for India translates to 73 deaths per million (Brazil is 900% higher than India’s per million deaths).

It will take many months for India to reach the kind of deaths per million figures that Brazil or US have already seen (if it ever does). After looking at data from the present and previous weeks, it doesn’t look like things will ever get that bad in India.

In any case, there are many countries doing better then India and there are many others that are doing worse (once you adjust for population and compare).

One could try forecasting the future Covid deaths in India by simply using the existing week-on-week growth in deaths.

Chart created by Amrit Vatsa on 04 Oct 2020 from publicly available data

For two consecutive weeks, total weekly deaths in India has continued to decline. This never happened before! And this is great news!

For future growth / decline estimate, -2% (baseline), -4% (better case) and +2% (worse case) assumption sounds good?

This is how the forecast looks like, for the following three scenarios.

Chart created by Amrit Vatsa on 04 Oct 2020 from publicly available data

It is quite possible now that India’s total death toll may not cross 2 lakh (145 deaths per million) this year. Both US and Brazil are already over 600 per million dead.

If what I am saying happens, chances are we will flat out below 200 deaths per million (similar to Canada that peaked after crossing 200 – if you scroll up and check the FT chart I put up).

Fingers crossed.

Let’s now try a slightly more nuanced (albeit indirect) approach to project future deaths that requires looking first at cases. Cases are important because even when you don’t die, just being infected seems to have its own issues.

From ‘brain fog’ to heart damage, COVID-19’s lingering problems alarm scientists


At a global level, when adjusted for population – total reported cases for India (pink in the below chart) are low when compared to the worst performers (US – dark blue, Brazil – green) but already higher than Canada (red) and could cross UK (light blue) soon.

Source – FT – Plot generated and screenshot taken on 04 Oct 2020

Anyway so like deaths, for cases too, if we look at the week-on-week growth, we can have some idea of how it’s probably going to grow / decline in the next few weeks.

~5.7 lakh total positive cases were detected this week, which is 4% lower than the total cases detected the week before (~6 lakh).

I am aware of the issues with low testing but I am not sure that’s the only explanation for decline in weekly cases.

I think India is now approaching the peaking point.

Let’s call this w-o-w growth in cases – ‘X’. X was -8% last week and +2% the week before (see the above chart). X=-4% this week. For my projection, I think I will assume a range of -2 to +2% for X in the coming weeks.

Now in general, people who die of Covid in a given week, are either tested positive the same week, or the week before (just a basic assumption). Do we have some idea of what %age of such cases die? We do actually.

7,463 Covid deaths were recorded this week, which is basically 1.3% of half of total cases from this week + half of total cases from last week.

Let’s call this %age Y; Y= 1.3%.

For the future, let’s assume a range of 1.2% to 1.4%?

So we can forecast now – I am going with the following 3 scenarios:

  • X=0%, Y=1.3% (baseline)
  • X=-2%, Y=1.2% (optimistic: growth in cases declines + lesser %ge of deaths)
  • X=+2%, Y=1.4% (worse: cases grow + higher death %age )

With the above assumptions, below chart shows the future cumulative death count.

We will see around 50,000 more deaths by November, but once India crosses 2 lakh, the toll would not increase much beyond that.

Before I end, below is a new Covid insight that you all should be aware of!

That’s it for this post. I’ll get back with updated projections next Sunday (11 Oct). Stay safe.