My attempts at song recording!

Now don’t get too carried away by the exclamation mark above in the title! I know the final outcome is quite ordinary, or perhaps even worse. But anyway, I take keen ‘amateur interest’ in listening to music, and am not trained in music in any way. Nor do I even consider myself a good singer. I can hit the not so difficult or convoluted tunes more or less right, and that’s about it. But, I do not like my voice. As you listen to these recordings the reasons for that would make themselves clearer.

So, I have made several attempts in the past to record my voice. Apart from my inherent limitations, technological limitations (lack of good microphone, recording device, sound editing, etc.) also make impressive outcomes less likely. :P

I would also like to add that through my online interactions I’ve made acquaintance with many people. Some of them are such that they know many aspects of my life very well. Yet, hearing someone’s voice for the first time is indeed a revelation. So, that makes me further self-conscious to ‘reveal’ my voice to the other ‘voiceless’ acquaintances. :)

Apparatus for this experiment: (1) RecForge Lite – Audio Recorder (click) for recording using front microphone of (2) HTC One X (click), and (3) Audacity (click) software for sound editing.

Without further fuss, I present the following mp3 files for your kind auditory perusal, and unkind remarks. :D

1. Purely amplified version (click) of the recording (without any other edits) I had made in the bathroom for the ‘natural’ echo effect that could be produced. :D As you might realize one of the neighbors had felt quite anguished (hopefully not by my singing) and started loudly murmuring towards the end of the recording. As I was feeling quite inhibited, the recording is very brief, and some of the notes are subdued (thankfully for listeners, if any).

2. I had made the second recording (click) in my bedroom, added a bit of echo using Audacity, removed some erroneous pauses and done a bit of noise reduction.

The respective unedited versions of the above recordings can be found here (click) and here (click).

Your Laughter and My Wall

I had never told you before, but whenever you would be with me in public and you would laugh, your laughter would not completely register because I would not know what I would do with the amount of happiness I would feel to know YOU would have laughed. I start feeling very dishonest because I would always want to see and make you laugh, but when you actually would, I would have created some kind of wall between you and me. But, I would still keep on trying to make you laugh because it is sort of reflexive, and there is nothing else I would anyway be able to put my mind to.

What Ails the Indian Economy: An Amateur View

A few Premises

Let us start with a few premises (applicable to economies of ‘civilized’ societies):
1. We need goods and services.
2. We get goods and stuff in return of money we pay.
3. (Usually) we get money in return of something we produce (goods and services) that others ‘demand’.
4. Either we must produce those goods and services, for which demand already exists, or…
5. We must create demand for what we are capable of producing.

The Perfect Economy

In a perfectly running economy:
1. Sufficient resources would exist to produce a sum total of goods and services needed/wanted by all.
2. Sufficient number of people to produce the same goods and services should be available, and
3. Number of people in the labor force (those seeking money in return of goods and services they are capable of producing) must be exactly the same as that required to produce the goods and services required by the same population.

The Imperfect, Collapsing Economy

Let us see how, if any of the above conditions is not fulfilled, the economy would start collapsing.

1. Insufficient resources to produce sum total of goods and services needed/wanted by all

This situation is the easiest to understand. If there were to be insufficient energy sources, land (for industries and food production), water, minerals, etc., it is not difficult to understand how a certain fraction of the population would remain dissatisfied. Depending on what resource would be lacking, the people constituting that fraction would be unhappy, or fall ill, or even die. This kind of insufficiency has further downstream harmful effects, some of which may not even be quantifiable. E.g., there would be increasing collapse of the ethical framework of the society, by which I mean that the idea that – one would gain some good or service only in exchange of some good or service they produce – would be breached (e.g., stealing, extortion, etc.); productivity of the population would go down; new set of previously unrequired drains on resources would be created (hospitals, drugs, medical services, firearms, CCTVs – as an extreme example, etc.). With passing time and each passing generation, the per capita deficit between demand and supply of goods and services will widen for the worse, and that would lead to collapse. Most definitely, Indian economy is faced with shortfall of many vital resources – most prominently, land, energy and water.

Possible solution: To reduce the population. The total amount of resources would remain nearly the same, but the demand would fall, so there would be greater probability of everyone getting what they need/want.

2. Insufficient number of people to produce the goods and services required by the entire population

India definitely does not face this problem. It may seem that in some sectors (e.g., health care, education, law and order, etc.) there are insufficient people, but that would not be an accurate assessment. There are insufficient people to provide the above services either because sufficient number of people could not be trained to provide them or the market could not lure sufficient number of people to provide those services. However from what I have been able to make out, this problem (of insufficient people in the labor force) is perhaps actually present in certain European countries with negative or stagnant population growth, dropping birth rates, and effectively, the proportion of non-productive aging population on the rise.

3. More number of people in the labor force than required to produce goods/services needed by the population (disguised unemployment)

Or in other words, collapse can also occur if the existing labor force with the help of all the technology they have can produce more of goods/services than what would be needed by the population. Here I am trying to elaborate on the concept of ‘disguised’ unemployment. Of the three, this is the most difficult problem to explain. Let me try to give few examples:

1. Baker versus factory. Imagine a ‘factory’ constructed by an entrepreneur ‘E’, who hopes to make profits from selling bread in a town. Imagine 1,000 units of bread are required by the town. Before the factory was constructed, 20 bakers were needed to produce that much bread daily. However now, the factory needs only 5 people to produce that much bread. For purpose of simplicity, let us assume that 5 out of 20 bakers who were initially running bakeries to produce bread, shut their business and take up a job under E. So, what happens to the rest of 15 bakers? They are still capable of producing the bread, however, either people would stop buying bread from them, or each baker would be able to sell much lesser bread than before as at least part of the demand for bread would be satisfied by the factory. If we take this situation to the extreme, each of those 15 bakers needs the bread, knows how to make the bread and is willing to do so, but cannot make money to make or buy the bread because nobody needs his service! But imagine, if there would have been only 5 bakers in the town in the first place who would’ve been sufficiently fulfilling the requirements of bread for the town, this situation would not have arose. On the other hand, let us assume that somehow people would be hesitant to purchase bread made in the factory, then, those working with the bread factory or involved in its construction and maintenance are would not find employment. In either of the cases, when more bread can be made by the available number of people and facilities than is required by the population, there is competition, and individual earning from bread making drops.

2. Multiple mobile service providers. There are many mobile service providers in India. Let us assume for simplicity that there are 10 mobile service providers all over India. It would be safe to assume that if the combined existing infrastructure (mobile towers, wires, satellites, etc. [of course, I have very little understanding of what all goes into it]) of all these mobile companies were to function at their full capacity, lot more data transfer (calls, SMSes, etc.) could be handled without significantly compromising upon the quality of services provided. So, let us presume that of the 10 providers, infrastructure of only 3 would suffice to sustain the present demand on data transfer. [Let me set out a few premises here: (a) the total generated in the country from providing mobile services is dependent on amount of data transfer and would remain constant, (b) when the number of companies is more, at least few of the tasks are such that the work needed to be done increases despite there being no increase in ability to transfer data, and (c) if the revenue of a company increases, the income of individual employees would also increase in the same proportion.] This means, infrastructure provided by the other 7 companies is going waste. It further means that at least few of the services provided by employees are redundant and going waste? E.g., if there were to be only 3 companies instead of 7, there would have been fewer advertising campaigns, or fewer engineers would be required to maintain the fewer mobile towers; likewise, fewer people would have been required to look into the accounts. Now what is the impact of these two things (infrastructure getting wasted and redundancy [competition] among employees of competing companies)? If there would’ve been no redundant infrastructure, there would have been lesser pressure on the individual companies to recover their initial investment. This would’ve had two possible results: first, the companies would be able to have the same profit margin, and yet, the cost to the customers would be reduced, or alternatively, they would be able to have wider profit margin without increasing the cost to end-customer, and at least some of the increased profits would be transferred to the employees. In the second situation, each employee would get better pay than the present situation. The outcome of first situation would be that the individual customers would have more surplus money to buy other things and that would create business opportunities in some other areas, but this kind of analysis would complicate things a lot and I won’t deal further with it. Also, if smaller number of people would be required for attracting customers, maintaining accounts, maintenance of existing infrastructure, etc., with only 3 companies competing with each other as against 10, then all the individual employees would get greater salaries. Thus, the overall impact of having 10 mobile service providers instead of just 3 is that individual employees get lesser pay and/or the individual company owners make lesser profit than they otherwise would have. Another impact, more difficult to quantify, is that the customers have to spend more money on mobile services, which they could have otherwise spent on buying some other goods or services, which perhaps would’ve added to income of some other individuals or would’ve provided them employment.

3. Music in electronic medium. Think of times when it was not possible to ‘record’ music. Meaning, each time people would have the urge to listen to music, then, they would have to assemble at a place and pay the music artistes. So, the income of the artistes would be sort of directly proportional to the number of people wanting to listen to their music and number of times they would want to listen. But of course, now that we can record music and reproduce it at virtually no cost infinite number of times, what happens is that an ensemble of singers and musicians would record their tracks in a music studio, and they get to earn only once. Of course, the reader might point out that each time one buys ‘music’ the patron needs to pay, and part of that money (royalty) goes to the artistes. Piracy of music complicates the matters, but I would not deal with it here. However, let me elaborate upon the situation. Let us assume there are 1,000 people in a town, and all of them are willing to listen to 1 hour of music every day. Which means the demand for music per week is 7,000 man-hours. Let us also assume that each ensemble of singers can perform music for only one hour in a day, and if they were to perform live, they could cater to only 100 persons at a time. This means each group can supply only 700 man-hours of music per week. So, in the old days without the technology to amplify, record and reproduce music, at least 10 groups would have been required in that town to fulfill the music needs of the town. Let us assume that each person would be willing to pay Rs. 100 per hour of music heard. This would mean in an entire week, Rs. 70,000 would be paid for the town’s population, and thus each group would earn Rs. 1,000 per week. But now let us turn to the present situation. Let us assume that the ‘music demand’ and the amount of money people in that town are willing to pay has remained constant, and that means, even if there were to be just one music group in the town, they would have performed one hour of music once (lesser effort), and they would have been able to earn the entire Rs. 70,000 for that week. But now because there are ten groups instead of one, the income of each group would be just Rs. 7,000. So, though it would appear that the income has not decreased because of availability of technology, actually, simply because more number of musicians are available than are required, individual incomes are lower than what they could have been. Of course, what I have stated is too simplistic. Two complicating factors easily come to the mind. First is that though in the past, there were 10 groups in the town, they were not exactly competing with each other. They were the minimum required number of groups to fulfill the music demand. Whereas in the present situation, 9 groups are surplus, and they would compete with each other to provide music at a lower cost, so why would the customer continue to spend Rs. 100 per hour of music heard? And not to forget, once purchased, the original music group would never be required to perform the same track again. So, it is possible that in a week, less than Rs. 70,000 would be generated by the thousand-strong population, and the individual incomes could further drop. The second complication factor is of course that the expectations of the population would increase; they would seek greater variety, and hence artistes serving to greater number of tastes would be in demand. But there would be saturation in demand for different genres. If a population of 1,000 people would seek 10 genres of music, a population of 1 million would at the most seek 20 genres of music, and not 10,000 genres. Thus in summary, in industries like entertainment and news media, unlike the consumables, number of people (artistes) required to fulfill the demands of a population do not increase in the same proportion as the population.

What I have tried to illustrate through the above 3 examples is that as the means of production of goods and services get automated and humans would not be required in the replication, even though their demand would continue to rise in the same proportion (or even greater because of the customers becoming choosy), the number of humans required to meet the same demand would not rise significantly. However, various individuals would compete with each other to provide those good and services, and produce them at a rate lower than their maximum possible rate, and earn lesser than what they would otherwise be capable of earning. There is only so much that the demand for a particular good or service could be increased artificially (by advertising or propagating social fads) with rising standard of living. And even if the demand were to rise, it need not require involvement of too many humans to fulfill them (because of automation).

Possible solution: To reduce the population. With reduction in population, it can be hoped that fewer people would compete with each other to provide the same goods and services, would work at close to their maximum production capacity and would thus earn more.

A Side Note on Impact of Individual Poverty and Level of Ethics in Society

It is very common to see most Indians blame ‘corruption’ for the plight of Indian economy. However, what I would like to point out is that the most Indians would not have qualms associating with individuals they know to be corrupt – as friends, relatives or someone to seek favors from. I am not questioning the morals of the said people. What I am trying to point out is that though the phenomenon of corruption is unacceptable in the society at large, paradoxically, corrupt individuals are acceptable. The reason for this is that the corrupt individuals are more likely to be resourceful. What does this say about our society? I will try to explain the reason for this. When per capita income of the individuals would be less, survival and procurement of basic resources becomes that much more difficult. There is immense competition among individuals living with each other for the same resources. Most societies do have set rules on what means to procure resources, goods and services for oneself are legitimate and what are illegitimate. Most people would gladly follow these rules if following them would not make significant difference to their probability of being able to procure them. However, if they would be so poor because what they seek would very scarce, it become increasingly fatiguing to observe restraint and not procure what they want through illegitimate means (stealing and extorting). The growing kids are trained by their parents to maximize their ability to procure what they seek. An environment of mutual distrust, lack of empathy (how can you empathize with someone who wants something you yourself do not possess and want?) and cruelty is created. It becomes almost second nature to look upon at others with suspicion and as competitors. Parents would also teach their kids to consume less and to hoard whatever they could get for future. Also, stratification would be created in the society on lines of haves and have-nots. Those who would be having whatever they need (affluent stratum) would be treated with respect, and others would aspire to be like that. The affluent would know that their position is precarious, and others are in dire need of what they own. Thus the mistrust and antagonism between the two strata would be reciprocal. So, the kids growing in such an environment, even when growing up would have sufficient resources to fulfill all their needs, they would want to hoard more of all that, they would continue to think of using illegitimate means to earn as much as they could. It would take a few generations after poverty would be completely eliminated for the inculcation of mistrust and competitiveness to be removed from nurture. The problem with greater acceptability and willingness to use illegitimate means to fulfill one’s needs is that the overall production of the society decreases. To understand this, just think of a simple example of two towns – ‘A’ and ‘B’ population of 1,000 each. Town A does not has sufficient resources and means of production to fulfill the needs of all its residents; furthermore, all the individuals have sufficient money to buy what they need. Thus, in town A, fewer people would be inclined to steal – let us say, just 5 people would be ‘professional’ pickpockets, thieves or dacoits. In contrast, town B has just half the resources of town A, and which means that there would be immense competition among all its residents – for electricity, water, food, etc. They would be lot more willing to steal or physically fight each other to get what they want. Thus, it is possible that instead of 5, 100 people would be professional pickpockets, thieves or dacoits. Which means, 100 people would be lost from the workforce and effective work force would be only of 900 (whereas, it would be 995 in town A).

The Final Solution

I hope I have been able to illustrate above how reducing the population density would reduce the overall demand for scarce resources and various good and services that could be produced using them, would reduce disguised unemployment, and how that would reduce individual poverty and increase purchasing power. Also, as individual poverty would reduce, and respectful means of survival would be possible without resorting to illegitimate means, unethical practices (corruption) would become less acceptable in the society and those indulging in them would be ostracized and/or punished with greater likelihood. Fewer people resorting to illegitimate means of procuring what they want is also likely to increase the productivity of the population.

One of the ‘Aam Admis’ Views on Indian Politics

I had started tweeting about this, and thought a slightly more elaborate blog post was in order.

Today, my family had traveled to a nearby city in our car, and as nobody in my family is confident enough to drive, we had hired a driver for the purpose. He is not in our regular employment, and we had availed of his services once in the past. He is 38 year-old, married, Tamilian by mother tongue, but (perhaps, born and) brought up in Mumbai since he was aged 8 years, and had studied till class 8. I am not aware of his caste, but perhaps is Brahmin as he had mentioned “Iyengars” as his relatives. There is not much I know of him that would betray his general disposition, except that he expressed disappointment several times that he did not study beyond class 8 because he found out to his dismay that minimum qualification for many government jobs was having passed class 10. He had his run ins with corruption when trying to get a passport for himself. He had at one point mentioned that with advancing age he no longer enjoyed driving at high speeds as it would risk his life (which he feared on account of having a family to take care of), and that the basic purpose of having a car was to go from point A to B instead of depending on more inconvenient public transport, and to not “speed”. His elder son is in class 12, and younger one perhaps in class 10, and he had already tried to have financial plans in place to enable his sons to study further. I saw him getting quite agitated each time he would see the traffic policemen relegate their duty in more serious matters, and instead trying to chase someone for their quota of “targets” or bribes. At few points my father was driving the car and whenever father would get anxious (or mildly panicky) if a speeding car would overtake from the wrong (left) side, the driver would assure him to just stick to his lane and not worry about what others do – however, I would not extrapolate this to mean he would necessarily have or recommend the same attitude in other areas of life.

I had been witness to a conversation between my father and him involving the current state of politics. The driver was the more vocal one. :D My father had hardly expressed any views contradictory to his. I had deliberately stayed out of the conversation as I was finding it fascinating to hear some ‘offline’ person’s views on something I keep on discussing/debating day in and day out over tiwtter. :D So, there was little leading on by my dad. I would say that the driver was initially measured in his words, perhaps, not wanting to say something my dad would find unsavory, unaware of his political views and preferences, however, he became a bit more assertive as he saw his and my father’s views converge. The distinct conclusions I could draw from hearing him were:

1. Extreme cynicism towards Indian politicians. He was very clear that politicians work for private gains at the cost of national interest. But on the other hand, it seemed natural to him that the politicians ought to work for larger good of the nation, and not pilfer money from it. His cynicism somehow did not seem to lower his demand of the politicians that they be both honest and efficient. Furthermore, he was not willing to make any allowances to the politicians who he saw by and large as dishonest and malevolent. He wondered several times (in general about rich people [politicians and businessmen] who would amass large amounts of money through dishonorable means), “itne paise ka kya karega yeh log? Marne ke baad kahaan lekar jaayega?” [“what will these (rich people) do with so much money? Where will they take this money to after dying?”].

2. He found Sharad Pawar the most corrupt politician. He pointed out that while the Nehru-Gandhi family had several decades to amass all the wealth they had, Pawar had amassed most of the wealth in just last 5 years or so, which was astonishing to him. However, I would want to point out that the backdrop was the conversation happening in a privately owned educational institute which is rumored to have discreet stakes of Sharad Pawar, so the sprawling campus with impressive infrastructure might have skewed his views [had he seen similar ’empires’ belonging to other politicians, he might have not appeared so confident about Pawar being the greatest beneficiary of corruption in Indian politics].

3. He found the Congress totally pathetic, and the BJP hardly better. He clearly stated that it was the Congress that was responsible for the present poor plight of the nation. However, he also blamed the Indian citizens stating, “sau rupaye ke note ke liye Congress ko vote dega toh kya hoga?”. Somehow without prodding, he also added, “BhaJaPa bhi waisa-ich hai. Woh log bhi kuchh alag nahin kiya. Woh log ne bhi paisa khaaya” [“Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) is also like the Congress. They hadn’t done anything different. They had also siphoned off money”].

4. Views on Lalkrishna Advani and Narendra Modi. I was eager to hear his views on Modi, however, I was surprised my father had not brought him up despite being quite partial to him, and the driver clearly lamenting lack of any good leaders. But after talking of the BJP’s dismal past performance, he profusely praised Atal Bihari Vajpayee (ABV) following my father praising ABV (indicating his praise of ABV was perhaps not entirely sincere). At that point the driver mentioned that there was no need for ABV to have taken Lalkrishna Advani (LKA) along with him in 1999. He said that it was obvious that nobody would’ve voted for the BJP with LKA as their prime ministerial candidate in 2009. He seemed to feel that somehow only ABV had been a sincere prime minister up till now. Then suddenly without prodding again, he turned to Narendra Modi (NaMo). Vaguely from my memory, he said, “Usne pehale jo bhi kiya, usko maalum hai ki kya karna hai. Woh kuchh toh kar raha hai.” [“Whatever he did in the past (mostly alluding to the alleged role in Gujarat riots, but with certain measure of agnosticism of veracity of those allegations or even indifference cuz of finding them irrelevant today, and also with a tinge of disapproval), he knows what is to be done. He is (at least) doing something”]. My inference: he looked at NaMo as a distinctly unique phenomenon in the present condition of Indian politics, however, he was not too passionate or expectant of him to deliver (that, despite my dad having praised Modi and sort of endorsed the kind of administrative work he’d done in Gujarat [at one point, both my parents had pointed out that the quality of roads penetrating right into the villages had improved phenomenally under his administration]). Part of his lack of excitement seemed to stem from what he had to say further: “BhaJaPa ka dusra log usko PM ban-ne nahin dega. Woh sab log ko bhi PM ban-ne ka hai, na?” [“Others (top leadership) of the BJP won’t let him become the PM. They all also harbor prime ministerial ambitions, no?]. I don’t remember his exact words, but had declared rather dreamily that if NaMo wants, he can be the PM. Why all of this assumes significance is because he is a Tamilian, hailing from Mumbai, and despite being so unrelated to NaMo, had not mentioned any other politician as part of his political wish list.

5. National media seemed to have little direct impact on his opinions. It somehow became clear to me that his primary sources of information were not the kind of mass media I would be exposed to (media houses owned by large corporations like the NDTV and the Times group). I had seen him read a Tamil newspaper, the title of which I don’t know. But it somehow strongly seemed that his inferences were based largely in what he heard from others (hearsay) – some passed on from elders in his family or neighborhood, and others drawn from the everyday chatter. However, national media might get to set the agenda for this everyday chatter.

A few disclaimers from my side:

1. It is certainly not obligatory upon any of the readers to a priori take my account as faithful or honest. However, as it is me who is reporting this, it would make no sense to bargain with me to modify some of the words I have attributed to the said driver, and any discussion on this post follows with the acceptance of a precondition that I’ve quoted the driver accurately, and also that my interpretations of his words and non-verbal means of communication were accurate. I’m sadly having to say this because I have read so many accounts in the mainstream media and sometimes even on blogs, which to me seemed at least partly cooked up. But now I am in the same shoes, as I recount something that could be politically (and also emotionally to some) sensitive, and hence, find the mistrust harbored towards others (which I continue to do) mildly embarrassing.

2. My interpretation of what the driver had meant, apart from the spoken word, was also based on his tone, mannerisms, the immediate context of conversation, etc., and hence it could be inaccurate. I had not participated till quite late in the conversation with the intent of avoiding influencing it one way or the other.

3.I do not think the driver’s views were necessarily representative of any religious/linguistic community or socioeconomic class, but I found his views instructive and valuable, because they came from a person seemingly very different from me in many ways (I am not so passionate as him about politics and governance, for one).

4. The driver did seem to be a bit reserved in his opinions, perhaps with the awareness that strong views on politicians could hurt other people’s sentiments, but I must also point out that my father had anyway hardly taken lead in any of the various tangents in the conversation. So, though his words might have not been an exact reflection of his views, they seemed more or less honest.

Twitter ‘Bio': The Old and the New

I replied something to a fellow tweeter, and realized that tweet described one of my prominent traits quite accurately. I thought that would be my apt twitter ‘bio’. And, I reached the field from where I could edit it. Exactly when I was about to use the ruthless backspace on my keyboard to send the old bio into oblivion, I realized I’d developed quite an emotional connect with it. I don’t know how many people might’ve chosen to follow (or to not follow) me reading it, how many people it would’ve intrigued or perhaps would it have made subtly smile among those who’d have understood it *exactly* the way I wanted it understood. I wanted to apologize to my old twitter bio for terminating its services so abruptly despite having served me so well. After all, I have found the Love of my life over twitter when my bio was the one I’m sending into retirement. :) I did not have the heart to wipe off its existence just like that, in few impulsive strokes, so here is the space I feel befitting for it to have a secure existence in:

My RATional brainlet is charged. It has RATions. RATions repel away the CATions – no positive attitude! Atheist.

Some readers might find it condescending to have meaning of the above explained, but precisely in light of what my new twitter bio is, I hope such readers would empathize with my desire to clarify its meaning as I prefer playing it safe. I don’t like my words to be shrouded in enigma or carry a risk of being incorrectly understood, which is reflected in the labored language I use on most occasions. So, here it is…

I wanted to indulge in some self-deprecatory humor, hence, ‘brainlet’ instead of a full fledged brain, but I also wanted to eulogise myself by advertizing how rational I think I am, and hence the personification of ‘brain’ as ‘rational’. I capitalized the RAT in RATional simply to contrast with CAT in CATions. Cations are positively charged ions, which the RATions had managed to repel away, hence my brainlet was left ‘not positive’, and hence, “No positive attitude”, which is more or less in line with my generalized cynicism. :) “Atheist” is of course, self-explanatory.

When I’d started expressing myself over the internet, I was obsessed with highlighting the evils of organized religion, and even personal theism. Furthermore, I find belief in a sentient, active (intention-driven), Omnipotent, Omnipresent, all-good, charitable and benevolent ‘God’ a dishonest one to harbor subject to the degree to which the believer would’ve had the opportunity to gather knowledge (largely based in science) and apply it while choosing to start believing or continuing to do so. However, I no longer get irked by manifestations of orgaized religion or theism so much as to keep ranting against them. I also had realized some theists find it offensive that an atheist would advertize so prominently their lack of belief. All in all, I had been growing uncomfortable identifying myself as an atheist upfront. So, that irrelevant identification goes away. :)

Here’s my new twitter bio:

I am too vain to want to make peace with the words I use being understood differently than what I would mean.

Ethics in Tangents – Part 5: Do Doctors coming out of Government-Run/Aided Institutes Need to ‘Pay Back’?

This in response to a very narrow aspect of Vidyut’s blog post – Globalization – Brain Drain (click).

Expense of education borne by less developed country, while fruits of the person’s service are reaped by developed countries.  Today’s outrage on Twitter was the government making it mandatory for doctors going abroad for further education to return to work in India after completing their education and reserves the right to enforce it by not issuing No Objection Certificates to doctors who don’t comply. The government of India estimates some 3,000 doctors who studied in government subsidized hospitals have left the country in the last one year. The annual cost of each student is about 31.31 lakh rupees, while fees charged are Rs.850/- per annum. The government is paying the difference per student that results in no gain to the citizens. 939 crores is no amount to sneeze at. In a country with high poverty, scarcity of medical professionals and tight budgets, this money should be better utilized or recovered.

What Vidyut says makes sense, but what about the underlying presumption that the Government actually spends Rs. 31 lakhs over each student per annum? Can that claim stand scrutiny? Using emotional blackmail, the insinuation that doctors (as against other professionals), by default, need to be altruistic (there is a difference between being humane and altruistic) and citing that doctors anyway “make loads of money” later in their lives, doctors-in-training, in my opinion, are meted out with perhaps the most inhuman treatment of all the students, and that position seems to find even accent of the society at large. The inhuman treatment I am talking of involves working hours bordering on ordeal faced in rigorous imprisonment, and the ‘bonds’ to be fulfilled because the government would have purportedly “spent” huge amounts of money on ‘making’ doctors. Hence, this topic has been very dear to me.

Though I must again clarify, I have not read Vidyut’s entire blog post. I am only responding to a very narrow aspect of the basis of reasoning in her blog post, that the government indeed spends more on ‘making doctors’ than what doctors ‘give back’.

The figure of Rs. 31 lakhs on a 5.5 years per student is a total hyperbole. I don’t think there is any way to account for that kind of spending. I have, needless to say, completed an MBBS course in a government sponsored seat (in a private college), and my annual fee for a period of 4.5 years was Rs. 15,000.

Now, the issue of “bond” has been a huge one with most young medicos, so I have pondered very much on the entire issue. I fail to see how exactly the government spends the humongous amounts on medical students it claims to spend.

Let us do a rough break up for a government/aided institute with an **attached** hospital (having which is anyway mandatory to get MCI recognition). In an average batch there are 100 students in most colleges. It is mainly only in the first year that the teachers are purely of ‘academic’ kind, meaning, they do not do anything in their routine course of work that would contribute to public health care duties [anatomy, physiology and biochemistry], of which the biochemistry staff would be involved in conducting tests on lab samples of patients from the attached hospital. Now because this a government/aided institute, the attached hospital would be also of government/charitable? So, whatever duties the biochemistry staff discharges towards the patient welfare by conducting tests on and reporting on those tests on the patient samples, is **not** in service of the undergraduate medical students? So, at least part of the biochemistry staff pay ought to be borne by the government, because it is the government that has promised universal health care for all, and not the medical students? But yet, let us for the time being forgo the duties discharged by the biochemistry staff towards patient welfare. Let us presume that undergraduate medical students be **made to** pay for patient welfare towards which they actually have no obligations. Let us assume there are approximately 4 teachers per department in the first year. So, that comes to 12 teachers. And, then there would be assistant staff also equal in number. That comes to approximately 24 employees in all. Their mean salary can be computed to around Rs. 25,000 per month (pays of teachers are pretty high, but that of non-teaching staff are very low), which comes annually to 72,00,000 for the pay of all the employees. But, let us assume that of whatever the government pays to the employees, at least 10% will come back to it as income tax, for which students must not be made to pay? So, let us take the total pay borne by the entire batch to be Rs. 65 lakhs per annum. I’m presently discounting other staff like office clerks, administrative officers, security personnel cuz the onus of their upkeep falls on students of all the years and also on the employees. Also, now let us think of the lab equipment that might have required to be spent on training of the students, electricity expense (including that of hostels), cadaver maintenance, microscopes, glass slides, cover slips, etc (most of these instruments are bought for years together and not every year; average light microscope costs like Rs. 20-40 thousand). At the outset, I would like to point out that none of these facilities were truly ground breaking or exquisitely expensive. None of these facilities were extraordinarily more expensive than would be spent on someone pursuing their Masters in some other field of science like biochemistry, microbiology, physics or organic chemistry.Yet, to **round it off**, let me take that overall expense on a batch of 100 first year students to be Rs. 90 lakhs. How much does it come to per student per annum? Rs. 90 thousand. Now we’ll keep this as template expense for subsequent years. One may quibble about the number of teachers or other staff, but let me assure you, I’ve really taken the maximum possible expense on all of this.

In the second year, there are pathology, pharmacology, microbiology, and forensic medicine & toxicology (FMT). It is again only pharmacology staff that is usually not involved in patient care. FMT people, in many but not all colleges, serve other obligatory duties not directed towards student education, like performing autopsies, being involved in medicolegal cases, serving as forensic experts, sometimes managing cases of poisoning, etc. But pathology and  microbiology staff do indeed contribute significantly to patient care. So, what portion of pay that pathology and microbiology staff get is for training students, and what portion of it is towards caring for the patients that government had promised to care for, and towards which the medical students have no responsibilities? In an average year, there are no more than 200 lectures and demonstrations/practicals per subject. So, one teacher would not be usually engaged in teaching/training activities for more than 100 days (towards that batch), but whereas they are on duty for patient welfare on all (working) days of the year, which means they’re putting in more working hours towards patient welfare than on students. So, what portion of their pay as well as the pay of non-teaching staff be borne by the students, and what portion by the government/patients? Again, to be just harsh on the students, let us say, half would be paid by the students. So, that again comes to Rs. 72 lakhs of pay to be borne by students (of the Rs. 96 lakh salary paid, in all), and after deducting income tax, that comes to Rs. 65 lakhs. We’ll assume other costs to remain the same. So, again per annum each student ought to pay Rs. 90 thousand as fee. But the second ‘year’ is of actually 1.5 years, so make it Rs. 1.35 lakhs.

Coming to the third year. It has ENT, ophthalmology and preventive and social medicine (PSM). In a government/aided college, all the third year departments are heavily involved in patient care activities. So, half of their pay should be borne by the government? Unlike in the first year, there are no elaborate ‘experiments’ to perform for any significant expenditure to occur. So, students should pay for Rs. 32.5 lakhs for staff pay (half Rs. 65,000 that was calculated for the first year)? Rest of the expense we’ll keep nearly the same. So, total spending on the 100-student batch is of Rs. 60 lakhs. Per student per annum that comes to Rs. 60,000.

Coming to the final year: there are four major subjects – internal medicine, general surgery, obstetrics & gynecology and pediatrics. But, there are some ‘allied’ subjects as well – anesthesia, orthopedics, radiodiagnosis, etc. But very, very few lectures and clinics are conducted for allied subjects. So, if we club together the allied subjects as one single subject (in terms of cost of the staff members to be borne by students), then we have five subjects. Total pay of staff comes to Rs. 1.2 crores, of which **half** is to be borne by the students – that comes to Rs. 60 lakhs. After income tax deduction that would be Rs. 54 lakhs. Rest of the expenses remain constant, so that comes to around Rs. 80,000 per annum per student.

How much the total comes to? Rs. 3.6 laksh! But, but, but we’ve not included the pay of librarians, cashiers, security personnel, administrative officers – etc., most of who work not only for the students, but also for the employees’ and patients’ benefit. We’ve not included the costs of library – new books, subscription to periodicals, etc (which are used by the teachings staff as well and not just the students). Still, to make the students shoulder some of that burden, we will ask the students to pay one more lakh rupees? How much that comes to? Rs. 4.6 lakhs. But in this country where we like no accountability and answerability, we can throw around figures the way we like. So, we make the **total** expense of four-and-a-half years of academic component of the MBBS course to be Rs. 10 lakh! How does this compare with that figure of Rs. 31 lakhs?

Even if I were to assume that I’ve forgotten some significant costs (which I’ve not because I’ve been in this course, and observed these things myself) and also because I’ve actually been on the ‘lavish’ side of making students pay, how much at the most the max expenditure come to? Rs. 10 lakh per student? So, what is the need for a more than seventeen-fold exaggeration? Why 10 lakh be made 1.7 crore? What does this state about the possible intent of the minister/officer making such a claim? And then, why not say that the government spends Rs. 15 lakhs on each student passing some commerce or science or humanities degree? What does the government do to the MBBS course to be spending so much?

And yet, I have not taken into account internship. Internship is a period, which in most government college hospital entails that the intern work for inhuman hours. They do **real** work. They get paltry sums for that because they are **training**. The fact is almost every district/government hospital would totally collapse if it were not for the interns and junior residents (pursuing their postgraduation). How much is the stipend paid for internship? I don’t think it is on an average more than Rs. 5,000 per month in most states for internship. Can the government defend putting real patients’ health at risk by letting their care fall in hands of ‘trainees’ as part of ‘education’ of MBBS interns (that they’re trainees is the reason they get such dismal pay, right?)? I hope the reader must have got the point! Government cannot indulge in farce of saying that it is providing public ‘health care’ by opening up government hospitals for the tax payers and then also claim that the tax payers are experimental subjects for trainees? Either the government has opened these hospitals for patient welfare or for training. It cannot be both at the same time. If it is for patient care, then, the real work done by interns for real patients (not dummies, as ‘training’ would ideally entail), then the interns’ work should be recognized as real labor and be compensated appropriately by paying close to what they would pay to a medical officer, which would come to around Rs. 40,000 per month. But if the government is not treating the work done by interns as real work, but only a part of their hands on training, then the same should be displayed openly on the notice boards outside government hospitals that the patients are getting subsidized treatment because they have consented to be experimental subjects of interns who’re getting ‘trained’. Would the government ethically and legally be able to do that? No! But, because the interns need to be under ‘supervision’ (they get a provisional medical license to ‘practice’ medicine and surgery under supervision) for a year, so let us say that they ought to be paid only half of what a medical officer gets paid, which comes to Rs. 20,000 per month. I think this is reasonable. If there are any contentions to this point, they’re invited. Which means, on an average, the government is already taking away some Rs. 15,000 from each intern’s pocket! That comes to some Rs. 1.8 laksh. But the government officials are ever so ready to point out the ‘free’ electricity that they provide to students and the accommodation (which trust me, hardly ever actually gets provided, and of course is not of that tune. I mean, how can a student in a hostel where no refrigerators or air conditioners are allowed end up spending Rs. 1,000 worth of electricity every month?).

So, in the end, of some odd Rs. 10 lakh the government **at the very most** could be spending on a medical student, which certainly it does not, the government is already taking away some odd Rs. 1.5 lakhs from the student.

Most of the above calculation was actually farcical. I personally feel, the most that the government spends on an MBBS student in the entire course is like Rs. 2.5 to 3 lakhs. Of which the government anyway takes away Rs. 1.5 laksh during internship. And furthermore, in states like Maharashtra, as far as I know, the present annual fee is Rs. 40,000, though I’ll have to confirm (which comes to Rs. 1.8 lakhs for the entire course). So, if one is reasonable, an MBBS student from Maharashtra, by way of simply completing the MBBS course, is already paying the government some Rs. 30-40 thousand! So, this talk of student having to ‘pay back’ the government is total crap!

Likewise, if we give same consideration to the postgraduate courses, most of the junior residents are on round-the-clock duty and for all days of the year. Is a stipend on scale of ~ Rs. 30,000 per month justified for the kind of labor extracted out of them [it is mandated that no Indian worker (there is no reason why trainees/interns wouldn’t fall in the ambit of this provision) should work more than 48 hours per week, and absolutely not more than 60 hours a week. Any hours in excess of 48 have to be considered ‘overtime’, and paid for at higher rate than routine pay accordingly]? So, even through a post graduation course (PG) the government is actually extracting more out of the PG students than it is ‘spending’ on them. In fact, in PG courses, there are hardly any official lectures or ‘practicals’. There is virtually no ‘lab equipment’ for ‘experiments’. ‘Training’ involves **routine** work of a government-managed hospital **meant for patients’ welfare** getting done in which PG students are observers/supervised laborers. Other costly machines like CT scanners, MRI, PET scanners, PCR facility, automated assays are **for patients** and not for students to **learn** by treating patients and data generated from them as **experimental subjects**. So, if at all, all ethical and legal issues are considered, I feel, it is the government that would end up feeling obliged to significantly raise the pay of the PG students and also reduce their working hours, rather than throwing tantrums and asking for ‘money back’.

In fact, medical and related courses are unique in that just by the process of undergoing training, the students end up doing lot of service to the society at large. I do not know, for instance, if as part of their routine ‘service to the society’, law students are expected to help fighting of cases for ‘underprivileged’ suitors/defendants. Or if electrical engineering trainees have to do maintenance work for a thermal power station operated by the government.

But even if we were to assume that the government indeed incurs the cost that it claims to do in training of medical students, and that by way of that, it is ‘indebting’ the medical students in certain way, then there should be the option of student not getting indebted? Why subsidize the education compulsorily? Why should the student not ought to have option of taking an education load and not taking ‘favors’ from the government,and actually paying the fee **while** undergoing the course?

The fact is: this is an elaborate scam! Please read my comment on Wise Donkey’s blog post on dismal health care facilities in village here for maternal health here: Roots (click).

Coming to the more practical issues. As long as the government does not incentivize medicos going to the rural areas (e.g., by providing tax benefits, higher pay and good infrastructure), there is no point in sending highly trained doctors to places where their training would go waste because of lack of equipment and something as basic as electricity! The foreign-trained doctors coming back to India would anyway end up serving only the affluent class (where actually lot of competition already exists to ‘serve’ them), unless the government shows some more imaginary expenses in having subsidized those doctors’ flight tickets and makes it mandatory for them to join district hospitals or primary health centers!

So, while the issue of dismal health care delivery system for poor and rural classes is a real issue in itself, ethically speaking, it is unacceptable to make doctors a scape goat by pointing to imaginary costs borne in their training. Let the legislators come out in open and say, “We’re exploiting you doctors, not cuz you owe us anything, but simply cuz we **can** and we **need to** cuz we don’t have it in us to fight the market forces, to provide you with good infrastructure in rural areas, good facilities and humane working hours in facilities erected and managed by us, and because we cannot pay you well enough to lure you away from corporate sector or private practice, and we cannot tempt you with good research facilities. And we need to do that cuz in every election we promise the people that we will do good to them, and on that pretext we collect various kinds of taxes. Kya ukhaad loge humaara?” And, that would be closer to truth. :)

Life is the Dance of Existence

Today I was talking with Her on the phone, and She was taking particular pleasure in recounting to me a goof up by someone reeking of sheer incompetence. My laughter did resonate with hers, but somehow I, on that particular occasion, did not feel contemptuous of the person in question. On most occasions I would have. I don’t know why, but I rather felt sympathetic towards her and pointed out to Her that perhaps the lady in question was indeed doing the ‘best’ she could in her circumstances (which included her lack of interest in the task at hand, perhaps some household tensions that we might be not aware of, or some inherent lack of ability that just could not be helped). She and I understand each other very well, so I had not required to elaborate further on what I had meant.

Then, I had ended the call some time later. Somehow, my thoughts had again veered to the above part of conversation. I was finding myself filled with great respect for the very act of living. I told myself, one always has an option to just sleep to never wake up again – that is, to die. Sleep is so sweet, after all! Whatever one chooses to or even most passionately desires to do is filled with some kind of conflict or struggle when setting out to actually do it, which one is always aware of. My thoughts had again veered to the concept of thanatos (click) propounded by Sigmund Freud (in my limited knowledge). Yet, most people, at most times do end up doing something, when indeed doing nothing is an attractive option. I’m not the one to believe that ‘doing’ in turn serves some larger purpose. That all is redundant, but yet, in those moments I was filled with admiration for this struggle, this conflict that every human, just by virtue of living on, indulges in. I’m not the one to romanticize the suffering of pain, yet in those moments when I saw beauty in struggle done by the living human, I had done precisely that.

I told myself, every living human is beautiful, their life is a monument. Every moment one lives, every occasion when one does something – be it the most minor things we take for granted – that act of living, of struggling against the option of not doing, not living, must be cheered. I asked myself, must the life of most hardened and cruelest criminal be also celebrated? I somehow found myself saying a “yes”. I am not here to justify my feelings, because there was no logic to them. That was purely a state of mind, filled with a rare sentiment. What I chose to adjudge as ‘best’ by default that one does, may be adjudged as ‘worst’ as well, because there are no standards here to measure anything (deed or thought) against. I repeat, that is just a sentiment, perhaps, even a transient one.

I asked myself, what is the difference between the ‘living’ and the ‘not living’? I have been aware that there are no real differences. Things exist. Living and not living are merely different modes of existence. But when existence wants to make its presence felt, it flutters, it goes round in great whorls, it emits a blast of wind that for a moment shrouds our consciousness, it creates patterns all around that are hard to ignore, it breaks away from its inertia (of continuing to be in the same state as in the last moment). When existence celebrates its existence, it dances.

Life is the dance of Existence.