Leading in the Digital World: How to Foster Creativity, Collaboration, and Inclusivity (Management on the Cutting Edge) – Amit Mukherjee

Leading in the Digital World | The MIT Press

A commendable primer on the pre-requisites that would define the trajectory of both a leader as well as the company that she is responsible for, “Leading in the Digital World” is a handy guide to the Corporate chieftain. At the heart of Mr. Mukherjee’s book is the influence of what he terms constitute long-arc-of-impact technologies, technologies that have the capability of bringing a paradigm shift in both mindsets as well as markets. A few well known examples of such technologies as highlighted by Mr. Mukherjee are micrometers, third-angle projection engineering drawings, and go-no-go gauges. In a world characterized by the acronym VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity), where the mantra is digitize or perish, the traditional bastions of leadership stand pitifully outmoded. The current leader can neither afford to possess an authoritarianism bent nor can be invested with a vicious streak. Gone are the days when business magazines could publish lists of “America’s Toughest Bosses” that began with the words, “In an era of endless restructuring, cutting heads like Robespierre on a rampage is just average. While making the list became a cause celebre, remaining on it accorded a hallowed view of the men involved (invariably it was men who made the cut). Consider the some of the names that featured on the list, as alluded to by Mr. Mukherjee: “Edwin Artzt (Procter & Gamble), Robert Crandall (American Airlines), Maurice Greenberg (American International Group), Andy Grove (Intel), Steve Jobs (then at NeXT), Andrall Pearson (PepsiCo), Donald Rumsfeld (Searle) and Jack Welch (GE). The monikers used by their compatriots, or assigned by Fortune, are also telling: Prince of Darkness, Jack the Ripper, The Pompadoured Bully, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde —a “thoroughgoing SOB—cold, calculating, and mean.” Clearly, authoritarianism wasn’t an aberration; it is how American companies were regularly led.”

Mr. Mukherjee identifies seven indispensable principles by which the modern day “digital leader” must go about the business of conducting business. As the founder, chairman and CEO of Salesforce, Marc Benioff famously exhorted, “the business of business is no longer business.” So, what are these seven principles? Here goes:

  • Digital technologies reduce, or eliminate, the value of an elite group’s skills or knowledge and enable—and may even require—the automation of its work;
  • Digital technologies augment the capabilities of less-skilled people, enabling them to undertake tasks they couldn’t earlier;
  • Digital technologies enable—and may even require—work to be distributed over time and geography;
  • Digital technologies enable—and even require—work to be increasingly thought-driven instead of being muscle powered;
  • Digital technologies create needs that aren’t predictable and/or add disproportionately great value;
  • Digital technologies expose organizations to radical transparency, which may—or may not—benefit them individually, or their networks or society at large; and
  • Digital technologies interact with and affect an organization’s external environment.

What distinguishes the leader of the future and separates the wheat from the chaff is an ability to seamlessly work with teams spread across geographies, respecting gender diversity and according equal opportunities and an attitude to relegate stereotypes to the dustbin and gain the most out of the facets of diversity. Benioff is again a torchbearer of change in this regard. As Mr. Mukherjee explains, “Benioff had taken a very public position supporting LGBTQ rights in a US state that passed a discriminatory law. He had urged other CEOs to do the same. During the interview, he said that though the percent of women in his company was less than 30%, he wanted to increase it to 50% in five years. As a result of an audit Salesforce had conducted, it had found imbalances in the salaries paid to men and women. It responded by increasing salaries for 6% of the staff. It had mandated changes in hiring and promotion policies so women and minorities would always be included in applicant pools. Another policy required women to constitute at least 30% of the attendees in any meeting.”

Mr. Mukherjee emphasis the need to evolve from evolve from “ethnocentricity (which can range from denial to denigration of other cultures) to ethnorelativity (which seeks out differences, accepting their importance and adapting) to integration (which is having a multicultural worldview).” There is a pressing need to pay heed and accord respect to cultural, linguistic and territorial peculiarities. “Former ABB CEO Goran Lindahl’s tweak of a predecessor’s policy is particularly relevant to the digital epoch. He famously declared that the official language of ABB was not just English, but “poor English.” That beautifully crafted policy made it easier for everyone to speak. Mr. Mukherjee also reiterates that leaders must be “T Prime” leaders. According to Wouter Van Wersch, CEO of GE Asia-Pacific T-Prime leaders have “the ability to navigate the in-between places that experts avoid.” These are leaders who have a wider wingspan (gamut of knowledge) than long tails (specialized depth in a field).

Mr. Mukherjee also warns his readers about the tendency to fall into certain dogmatic traps. Hence, he appeals to leaders to follow certain ground rules:

  • eliminate the “language of leadership” problem from your vocabulary;
  • address perceptions of unfairness wherever possible.
  • reduce the mutual incomplete knowledge problem.
  • seek inputs from people with different perspectives.
  • understand the power of implicit bias and take mitigating actions.
  • tackle the difficult task of assuring consistency across individual acts of inclusion.

Mr. Mukherjee also warns leaders against the pernicious quality of ‘ethical fading.’ For the uninitiated, ethical fading happens when the ethical aspects of a decision disappear. Instances of ethical fading abound when people focus heavily on some other aspect of a decision, such as profitability or winning. People tend to see what they are looking for, and if they are not looking for an ethical issue, they may miss it altogether.

The authenticity of this book lies in the fact that this is a culmination of A global survey of 700 mid-tier to senior executives and interviews with C-level executives from around the world.

Bob Willis, A cricketer and gentleman – Bob Willis & Mike Dickson

Amazon.com: Bob Willis: A Cricketer and a Gentleman eBook: Willis ...

Personally, the memories of Bob Willis that endure take the contours of a trenchant, gangling and acerbic cricketing pundit who never shied away from calling a spade by any other name. However, my earliest introduction to one of England’s and the world’s most formidable pacemen was courtesy a grainy, frazzled and intermittent-in-between-unscheduled-load-shedding, footage emanating from a Sears Elcot Black & White television set. Needing the installation of an external antenna that looked to the untrained eye as if it was reaching out to Mars, the television accorded its owner not just a choice of channels as would be determined by the national broadcaster, which was not many, but also warned its possessor that the vagaries of weather was beyond its control. Thus, the prospects of a batsman negotiating an out swinger or a fielder positioned under a steepler would remain enslaved to a huge gust of wind that would cause the antenna to sway, thereby distorting the feed, or a sudden burst of rain resulting in a power shut down of infinite duration.

It was the semi-finals of the 1983 World Cup and our house in a quaint and sleepy village in South India was abuzz with excitement. The year also had heralded the arrival of the first Television sets in our colony and what better way to embrace this wonderful technology than celebrate the exploits of Kapil Dev’s Devils. Although by way of confession, a better part of what transpired in the game is lost to memory, the one unforgettable image was of this extraordinarily stretched English bowler with a singularly curious mop of hair running in to bowl from what seemed to be a ridiculously long way! Even though Sandeep Patil and Yashpal Sharma had Willis’ number on that day, the sight of this skyscraper tearing into bowl with a maniacal frenzy captured the imagination of a collective set of kids huddled around the television and yelling in tandem with the adults.

Of course, as time wore on, and the love for the game transformed into an unrestrained obsession, I learned that the human skyscraper was a man of many parts. I read that one of the most outspoken and confident cricketers to have graced the game, was also one of its most vulnerable. Reaching out to his idol-in-perpetuity, Bob Dylan for succor in times of desperation, I learned that this fragile genius was a connoisseur of wines, a Wagner worshipper, and most of all, an admirable loyalist to his friends. The more I read about Bob Willis, the more I appreciated his seemingly vitriolic comments on various programmes such as “The Verdict” and “The Debate.” The more I read and read about Bob Willis, the more I found and keep finding it hard to believe that he is no more. “Bob Willis, A cricketer and gentleman”, is a fitting tribute to the man himself. Edited by his brother, this is a quasi-biography that cobbles together Willis’ own writings, stirring testimonies of his achievements both on and off the field as recounted by teammates and opponents alike and a rewind of the six greatest test matches in Willis’ career. The man who added the name of his hero to his own name in a rebellious act could produce some incomparable sporting music of his own.

Interspersed with wit and punctuated by nostalgia, the book makes for some memorable and poignant reading. Playing for Surrey, mostly in the Second XI’s and also doubling up as a goal keeper in the lower rungs of semi-professional football for Guildford City Reserves, when not working at Harrods that is, Willis’ mundane routine gets a veritable shake up when he is given thirty six hours to get things sorted out before boarding a flight to Australia. It was the Ashes series of 1971 and injuries to Alan Ward and Ken Shuttleworth ensured that Willis got the call up since England were desperately looking for a tearaway fast bowler to give company to John Snow.

Even after distinguishing himself with the ball and with his fielding on the tour Down Under, Willis is forced to change counties from Surrey to Warwickshire, due to the surprising intransigence exhibited by his former county. An out and out quickie, the elaborate run up and the concomitant pounding on the knees ensured that brittleness was always an attendant feature of Willis’ game. A stinging remark by his captain Tony Greig about Willis’ fitness after generous swigs of the amber nectar, transformed Willis’ attitude and approach towards fitness. Embracing a dual strategy of hypnotherapy and long-distance running, Willis took his level of fitness to a different league altogether. However, the spindly legs were a constant victim to a surgeon’s scalpel as the torch bearer of the English attack underwent multiple surgeries throughout his playing career.

In addition to regaling the readers about the unforgettable Headingly Test of 1981, where Willis single handedly routed a much vaunted Aussie attack to scalp an unbelievable 8/43, the book also takes readers down memory lane to exemplary performances that Willis put in, in India, Pakistan, West Indies and New Zealand. However, the primary lure of the book is in the snippets of humorous incidents that it contains within. After the curtains came down upon his glowing cricket career, Willis established the International Luncheon Club. The plan was to host business lunches with a sporting theme once a month. Authors seeking to publish their work, cricketers, visiting teams were all the targeted invitees.

“In 1995 Brian Clough was the star invitee, coming down by train from his home in the Midlands on the morning of the lunch. Unfortunately, en route he became rather too well acquainted with the buffet car and turned up the worse for wear. “Brian had clearly had a few drinks already,” recalls David. “For some reason he was trying to kiss all the waiters, and we were frantically telling them not to oblige his frequent requests to fill his glass up. By the time he got up to do his question-and-answer he was barely able to speak, and we had to sit him down after seven or eight minutes. It was not long after the famous Eric Cantona kung fu kick incident at Crystal Palace. When asked what he would do to discipline the offender, Brian responded that he would “cut his balls off”. The strange thing was that we had organised another event for Brian in Manchester the following day, so we went up there fearful. But he turned up on time and sober, and was brilliant with everyone.”’

A man who was preternatural with nicknames, as the book illustrates, the Willis habit of bestowing nicknames ranging from the sublime to the silly, not just to his teammates but to his own parents as well, was legendary. The Chapters piecing together selected writings from Willis’ days as captain of England provide some guffawing insights. “At dinner this evening the main topic of conversation was the voracity of those local mosquitoes. They seem to have taken a particular fancy to the ankles of A.C. and Nick Cook and the backside of Allan Lamb, of which I entirely fail to see the attraction.”

“In ducking rather rapidly, however, I succeeded in putting a twelve-inch split in the backside of my trousers. Dear old ‘Flash’ Cowans came to the rescue with a surprisingly nimble needle and thread during the tea interval.

“We all ate well, none better than Mike Gatting, who has become known as ‘Jabba’ after a character in Return of the Jedi which eats everything it comes across!”

A reproduction of a piece that originally appeared in the Times edition of 5th September 2012 alluding to the rationale behind Willis adding the name “Dylan” to his original name is unmissable.

Bob Willis was a cricketer of tremendous abilities. He was also a human being beset with a roiling cauldron of emotions. Plagued by insomnia, suffering from depression and prone to self-doubt, he was a susceptible personality at the most granular level. However, he did not allow fragilities and foibles to usurp a good life. Good friends, great food and glasses of carefully selected wine more than made up for life’s more gullible moments. Moreover, Dylan was always within arm’s length to lend the necessary support and encouragement.

Robert George Dylan Willis touched not only those with whom he was in proximity but also had an appreciable influence on people about whose very existence he could not even be aware of. One such non decrepit and ordinary person was a 7 year old boy who kept his eyes unblinkingly glued to an unreliable television, and kept gasping at the sight of a windmill running in to hurl itself at full tilt against a set of people, some of whom would go on to become the boy’s most loved cricketing idols.

Sleep well Mr. Willis and THANK YOU SIR!

The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

Amazon.com: The Handmaid's Tale (Graphic Novel): A Novel eBook ...

 When it involved dystopia, I had my favourite quartet of books which I would read, re-read and get back to reading again. “1984” by George Orwell; “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley; “We” by Yevgeny Zamyatin; and “Darkness At Noon” by Arthur Koestler were my trusted and reliable companions of doom and despair. And then came along Kazuo Ishiguro with his “Never Let Me Go.” The horrors of Hailsham left the hairs standing at the nape of my neck as Kathy, Ruth and Tommy refused to stop repeatedly gnawing at my conscience with a vigour bordering on the sadistic. Over the past couple of years, I realized that I was inhabiting an Earth that seemed to possess a vertical divide. On one side of the chasm, were humans who had read “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood and were completely going agog with unconstrained excitement, whereas across the crater stood another set of people, blissfully oblivious of the contents of Ms. Atwood’s work. On the 1st of August 2020, I made the quiet transition from the territory of oblivion to the land of the aware. Suffice it to say the experience was nothing less than exhilarating.

The once United States of America is now the Republic of Gilead, a nation state not dissimilar to Orwell’s Oceania in terms of savagery and mental myopia. Antithetical to feminism and everything symbolizing the liberation of women, Gilead is a country of misogynists, where women are categorized as Wives, Marthas, Unwomen and Handmaids. Wives occupy the Apex of the hierarchy pyramid, with Marthas employed by them in numbers according to their rank and prestige. The Marthas take care of the Wives’ day to day needs doubling up as maids, cooks, and housekeepers. Occupying the base of the pyramid are the Unwomen who are deemed unworthy of any respect or merit on account of their neglected status in society. But it’s the “handmaids” who are designated to execute a chore that is almost fecund in nature.

Their sole function is to bear the children of the elite (the Wives), and in the event a handmaid is found to be ‘sterile’, she is instantly banished to outlying islands where the occupation of toxic-waste removal would result in her certain death. All the handmaids are named in such a manner that the second part of their name represents the name of their protectors or rather impregnators. For example, Offglen (“of” plus the name of her male protector). As the wife lies prone on the bed, the husband, proceeds to, in a ceremonial fashion, impregnate the handmaid in a purely perfunctory manner. One such handmaid is Offred. Inhabiting the abode of possibly the most powerful man in the Republic, Offred dutiful in the beginning, enters dangerous and uncharted territory, as she begins a dalliance with the driver of her protector. Discovery of this transgression would mean certain death for Offred. How Offred dances with the devil is the finely constructed theme of Ms. Atwood.

Shades of Orwell permeate the pages of “The Handmaid’s Tale.” A whole new set of neologisms are spawned as a result of Ms. Atwood’s work. “Unwomen”; “Econowives”; “Off”; “transport” etc. induce a surge of reminiscence and nostalgia as the reader is automatically left musing about “thought police”; “double think”; “memory hole”; “unperson” and of course the ubiquitous “Big Brother.” While Big Brother is the primary ombudsman, Gilead’s multitude of Big Brothers are The Eyes, where surveillance captures every move made by every person of significance, and most importantly, insignificance. In an exquisite exhibition of wordplay, Ms. Atwood employs the word “Salvagings” to denote Salvagings refer the executions that represent punishment for those not abiding by the Gilead Republic’s laws, such as the physicians who practiced abortions before the war.

The book is also peppered with Biblical references. The nomenclatures employed for representing certain professions for instance. The police are the “guardians of faith” while the “angels”. Guardians are a mythological creature tasked with defending their realm from demons while an Angel is a direct biblical reference to heaven. Or take the reading in a Centre where Offred is taken to for her indoctrination as a handmaid. “Give me children, or else I die. Am I in God’s stead, who hath withheld from thee the fruit of the womb? Behold my maid Bilhah. She shall bear upon my knees, that I may also have children by her.”

The solitary drawback with the book, is its pace, or an explicit lack of it. Some passages are stretched beyond rational limits and make for some excruciatingly slow reading. For example, the sequence before during and after a handmaid giving birth is never ending.

“The Handmaid’s Tale” is a creditable achievement by one of the greatest writers of our times. Ms. Atwood demonstrates the innovativeness within her sweep and the breadth of imagination that is resplendent in its wake. Now I hear that I would need to make yet another leap across another divide as Ms. Atwood has penned a sequel named, “The Testaments”…….

Redhead By The Side Of The Road – Anne Tyler

Amazon.com: Redhead by the Side of the Road: A novel ...

Lighthearted, warm, subtle and witty, “Redhead By The Side Of The Road” is one of those books towards which one instinctively reaches out in times of despair. It is an antidote to anxiety, an atavistic yet soothing remedy to frayed nerves and an effervescent read that suffuses optimism in the reader. The smile induced by Ms. Tyler’s book will linger long after the covers come down on the 179 pages embedded within their confines.

Micah Mortimer, is forty-four and is a creature of unvarying habit. He is also an animal of processes and procedures. Setting off on a run every morning at seven fifteen, he is also a stickler for cleanliness and rules. He has cleaning and mopping days, ‘kitchen days’ and many other chore days. He also moonlights as the super of the very ordinary looking apartment that he inhabits. For a living he makes house visits helping bewildered people extricate themselves from challenges posed by Information Technology. Operating a one-man company called “Tech Hermit”, Micah is the messiah of modems and wizard of the web as he goes about resolving various issues ranging from the silly to the subtle. For example, he is called in by an Asian man who wants Micah to clean up a cache of porn stored by his son in the depths of hidden folders. Micah is impressed and amused as he pries open the offending documents that are saved under prosaic sounding titles such as “Sorghum Production in the Eastern States, Population Figures, Dayton Ohio…”

Although in a muted and steady relationship with a fourth-grade teacher, Cass Slade, Micah’s tryst with both romance and women, are putting it mildly, sketchy. Women seem to slip away from him a la water off a duck’s back. He just cannot seem to hold a relationship steady. This clockwork pattern of Micah’s life undergoes an abrupt change when he finds a adolescent sulking boy at his doorstep, announced, one evening. Claiming to be the son of one of his ex-girlfriends, Adam Brink has a profound issue in life that requires immediate resolution. Before he can even say cheese, Micah finds himself in the eye of an intricate storm. And when Cass incredulously declares their relationship to be done and dusted, Micah finds himself in an existential crisis.

As things begin to unravel in unimaginable ways, both comical and embarrassing, how Micah goes about tackling them forms the crux and core of Ms. Tyler’s eminently readable book. The former Pulitzer Prize winner is at her vintage best as she produces a perelegans! Hence it does not come as one bit of a surprise that “Redhead By The Side Of The Road” has been nominated for the Booker 2020 long-list. In all probability with its story line sans a single blemish and a catharsis inducing narrative, the book may invariably find a place in the ensuing short list as well.

Even if by some unfortunate contrivance of circumstances and fate, if it is deprived of such a nomination, it will still continue to be read with joy and zest!

Overdraft Saving the Indian Saver – Urjit Patel

Overdraft: Saving the Indian Saver eBook by Urjit Patel ...

The 24th Governor of the Reserve Bank of India, Urjit Patel in his latest work “Overdraft” mounts a scathing albeit nuanced indictment on the malaise and miasma plaguing the Indian banking sector. Taking utmost care to ensure that his views do not transmogrify into an all-out polemic, he is measured in his criticism and optimistic in his outlook. As Mr. Patel clinically expostulates in his compelling book, a pugnacious desire to further populism, a byzantine set of self-defeating regulations and a regulator who is reduced to a mere bystander if not a toothless tiger, all contrive to produce a parlous ecosystem, that is ever engaged in temporary ‘repairs’ with hardly any time for ushering in meaningful reforms.

“I HAVE BEEN IN the news; while it lasted, the contretemps made good theatre. It ended when I stepped down. The theatre of eminences has been going on for centuries and will continue for many more; eventually, everyone is forgotten.” Any book which begins as loquaciously as this invariably does not disappoint and “Overdraft” certainly doesn’t. Dwelling about the banking crisis in the country, Mr. Patel attributes this condition to the phenomenon of creeping banking sector-fiscalization, which in layman terms refers to “ownership of banks as a means for day-to-day macroeconomic management rather than primarily for efficient intermediation between savers and borrowers.”

At the root of the crisis, lies the issue of ownership. As Mr. Patel holds forth, despite three decades of banking sector reforms and an encouragement accorded to the entry of private banks, state-sponsored credit creation retains a majority share. The looming presence of government institutions in all segments, according to Mr. Patel has resulted in a mushrooming of ‘Stackelberg leaders’, an allusion to a strategic game in economics in which the leader firm moves first and then the follower firms move sequentially.

The mandate and priorities of the financial institutions in India seem to be haphazard and misaligned. These institutions have been tasked with priming “vague (and extraneous) objectives – underwriting the government’s disinvestment targets, preserving employment in public enterprises, contributing assistance to states based on the political clout of the representatives, intermittently providing artificial support to stock markets, and occasionally overt lapses in due diligence.” Mr. Patel identifies 9 “Rs” against which he undertakes an impartial evaluation of the performance of the Indian banks, both in the public sector as well as the private banks.

9Rs

For the canard spewing reprobates who strive to lay the blame of a broken-down banking system, squarely, on the doorstep of the Narendra Modi Government, Mr. Patel in no uncertain terms, traces the genesis behind the horror story. …”the dominant antecedent is excessive lending and borrowing; it is not surprising that in the decade since 2009/10, the bank credit–GDP ratio peaked in 2013/14.1 (If we include corporate bonds outstanding, credit from non-banking financial companies [NBFCs], housing finance companies [HFCs] and cooperative banks, the augmented financial resources/GDP ratio for 2018/19 is around an estimated 85 per cent.) Secondly, the asymmetry of information between the regulator and lenders, which is why the supervisor is almost always too late, is inevitably a critical ingredient. Thirdly, policymakers and regulators convince themselves, when the credit cycle is motoring along, that ‘this time it is different’ so there is no need to judiciously apply brakes – take away the ‘punch bowl’ or, at the least, dilute it. The present mountain of bad debt in India is no exception. The lending cycle/asset build-up started in the mid-2000s and even through the global financial crisis, we kept lending channels wide open – at a growth rate of about 17 per cent (in non-food credit) as late as 2011/12 – based on ambitious projections of debt-servicing capacity underpinned by an assumption of 8–8.5 per cent annual growth over a long period. Project execution would, in turn, have assumed minimal glitches or hold-ups. There was a (systemic) failure to maintain balanced credit expansion; non-food credit growth annually over 2006/07–2011/12 was 20 per cent versus the real GDP growth rate of around 7 per cent per annum.”

Mr. Patel also identifies gaping and inexcusable holes in the Corporate Governance of the Public Banks which leads to a rot in the system that is both systemic as well as endemic. With a dearth of senior management in place, governance according to Mr. Patel transcends the plight of a neglected child. “Ditto for the GBs’ board of directors; it is common knowledge that this has traditionally been a placeholder for sinecure to political supporters. Key committees of the board, like the audit committee, have suffered from both inadequate membership, as seats go unfilled, as well as paucity of talent/domain knowledge to carry out fiduciary responsibilities to the level that is required and expected.”

An insidious arrangement of quid pro quo also contributes to ensure a virtual stagnation of reforms in so far as the banking sector is concerned. Consider this damning fact, “In July 2019, the regulator imposed fines on eleven banks for a wrongdoing. A few months later, in September 2019, one government bank in that list received an award from a financial publication. In October 2019, a private bank that had been punished in July won an award from another financial publication. One can go on, as there are other such instances.” As many as 90 per cent of frauds (by value) occurred in the government banks as against 8 per cent in the private banks.

Since the advent of the NDA, a plethora of reforms have been initiated to stem the rot. The Asset Quality Review (AQR) exercise was initiated in the second half of 2015. “The clean-up started with a candid assessment of the sloth hiding in the sector’s balance sheet. Asset Quality Review. Around one-sixth of GBs’ gross advances were found, at first pass, to be stressed (non-performing, restructured or written-off), and a greater part of these were bad debts. For some banks, the share of assets under stress approached or exceeded 20 per cent. The estimate of stressed assets had doubled from 2013 in terms of what had been recognized by banks and acknowledged by the RBI. The Strategic Debt Restructuring (SDR) Mechanism was introduced in February 2014 (and revised in June 2015). The 5:25 scheme was introduced in July 2014 and its scope was extended in December 2014. The Scheme for Sustainable Structuring of Stressed Assets (S4A) was notified in June 2016. In May 2016, the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC) was enacted as a watershed towards strengthening India’s financial architecture”

As Mr. Patel illustrates, reforms more than punitive measures are the need of the hour. Imposing penalties on errant banks in general and Public Sector Banks in general, result in a perverse play of “neutrality.” Large fines and strictures on banks have been imposed for underreporting NPAs, accounting fudges and regulatory violations, more generally. As mentioned earlier, banks in December 2019 have had to reveal bookkeeping discrepancies and restate balance-sheet figures. This casts doubt on the effectiveness of penalties imposed by the regulator. Frankly, the flow of funds in the case of GBs suggests that monetary penalties are a case of money going from the ‘left pocket’ to the ‘right pocket’ (money collected by the RBI is passed on to the government as surplus), and back to the ‘left pocket’ (government returns the money to GBs for recapitalization).”

Further, the Reserve Bank of India, although the primary regulator is rendered infuriatingly impotent as the powers to remove Directors and appoint a new management etc. in the case of Government Banks is totally taken out of the ambit of the RBI. This has the effect of transforming the premier regulator of the banking industry into a spectator lamenting over unfortunate occurrences.

However, all is not lost. A firm resolve, a firmer mindset and a paradigm shift in resoluteness can still bring the Indian banking sector back in the reckoning. For that to happen, the need of the hour is people with the caliber of Mr. Urjit Patel.

Understanding Coronavirus – Raul Rabadan

Understanding Coronavirus by Raul Rabadan

A very concise and clear book, rather a handbook on the pandemic that has put the entire world in a tailspin. Since the time the first cases of COVID-19 were unearthed in the Hubei province of Wuhan, surmises, conjectures and conspiracy theories have abounded about the origin, nature and trajectory of the pandemic that in transmissibility has taken the entire planet by devilish storm. At the time of writing this review, more than sixteen million spanning 215 nations have been afflicted with this virus with close to 650,000 succumbing to it. Even as the medical and scientific community is racing against time to develop a vaccine/drug for this highly infectious virus, the discourse surrounding the same has taken on contours ranging from the sublime to the silly.

In his book, “Understanding Coronavirus”, Professor in the Departments of Systems Biology and Biomedical Informatics at Columbia University, Raul Rabadan tries to set matters straight. Mr. Rabadan us also the Director of the Program for Mathematical Genomics at Columbia University. A former fellow at the Theoretical Physics Division at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, in Geneva, Switzerland, Mr., Rabadan joined the School of Natural Sciences at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey in 2003. He has been faculty at Columbia University since 2008. He has been named one of Popular Science’s Brilliant 10 (2010), a Stewart Trust Fellow (2013), and he received the Harold and Golden Lamport (2014), Diz Pintado (2018) and Phillip Sharp (2018) awards. Impeccable credentials indeed. In a language that is easy and bereft of alphabet soup and “medicine speak”, Mr. Rabadan handholds his readers through the basics of the workings of the corona virus and a possible cure.

As Mr. Rabadan informs his readers, that “at the end of December 2019, an outbreak of pneumonia cases of unknown origin was reported in Wuhan, Hubei province, China. The patients presented with high fever and had difficulty breathing. Most of these cases were related to the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, where, in addition to seafood, a variety of live animals were also sold. Other infections occurred in people staying at a nearby hotel on December 23–27. All tests carried out by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention for known viruses and bacteria were negative, indicating the presence of a previously unreported agent. A month later, by the beginning of February 2020, the virus was found in several countries across the globe, and on March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared it a global pandemic. The disease caused by the new coronavirus was called coronavirus disease 19, or COVID-19.”

If any of you wondered how the viruses are named, you need not look beyond Mr. Rabadan’s book. The International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses (ICTV) represents a group of experts that determine how to name and classify viruses based on a series of criteria, including the similarity with other viruses and the hosts they infect. The committee on taxonomy of viruses determined on February 11, 2020 that the new coronavirus responsible for the outbreak in Wuhan in December 2019 belongs to the existing species of SARS-like viruses.

Mr. Rabadan goes on to highlight the various factors associated with the virus such as the basic Reproduction rate, the transmissibility potential, the myriad health care initiatives undertaken by countries across the globe in response to this virus, the progression of the disease, the most vulnerable segment of the populace and the limited risk mitigation measures by way of treatment that we have at our disposal. Mr. Rabadan also dispels the myth that COVID-19 is akin to Influenza in its working. To paraphrase him, “these are very different viruses. Influenza viruses are similar in size to coronaviruses, but the genome of influenza is much smaller, with only 13,000 nucleotides split into eight different segments. The replication strategy, the way of entering the human cells, and the range of hosts are very different from SARS-CoV-2. Influenza and coronaviruses are two very different viruses, belonging to two very different families and having very different means of entering cells and replicating. They also encode their genomic material in different ways, and the proteins and genes of the two viruses have no resemblance to each other. They have different incubation periods – a couple of days for influenza and five or more for SARS-CoV-2 – and the pattern of infections is different. Seasonal influenza is mostly a disease of the upper respiratory tract. Although complications and pneumonias can occur, they are not as common as in COVID-19. Seasonal influenza morbidity and mortality are associated with the very young and the old, whereas COVID-19 cases in the young population are rare. There are specific drugs and vaccines for seasonal influenza, whereas no drugs or vaccines are available for the 2019–2020 COVID-19 outbreak.”

Mr. Rabadan also explains concepts such as “super spreaders” in a manner that is easy to comprehend and grasp. “Super-spreaders have been identified as deviations in the number of infections from the expected number. By estimating the R0 of an infectious disease, one can calculate the maximum number of infected people from an infected individual. Deviations from that number indicate the presence of super-spreading. For instance, if the R0 is estimated to be 1, the probability that a single individual infects more than 10 would be very low, less than one in a million. If we find a few individuals infecting more than 10 cases in a disease with an R0 of 1, it would suggest that there are super-spreading events.”

Dexamethasone an anti-inflammatory steroid, has, in a trial conducted in the United Kingdom proved that it could save lives of those afflicted by the COVID-19 virus. Along with the repurposed drug Remdesivir, this provides hope for millions of people across the globe. The first results of a large clinical trial of Remdesivir with more than 1000 individuals has shown that it could reduce the time of infection by four days, but not a drastic reduction in COVID-19-associated mortality. Based on these results the US Food and Drug Administration issued an “emergency use authorization” for the treatment of SARS-CoV-2 infections.Clinical trials for vaccines are underway in various geographies and are in various phases.

While we may be a long way away from a definitive cure or a vaccine, there is no doubt that we need to institute some measures that prevent a surge capacity in the disease that overwhelms the health care infrastructure. We all need to do out incremental bits by wearing masks in public and practicing uncompromising respiratory and hand hygiene. We can also educate ourselves by reading Mr. Rabadan’s wonderful book!

Call of the Wild

(Image Credit: Crispina Kemp)

The mammoth truck came hurtling down the highway.  Trucks in general, and trailer trucks in particular are rumbling behemoths whose concept of speed is restricted to encouraging trudges, exceptions being Jason Statham movies. But the man behind the wheel seemed possessed by the Devil himself. With a determined foot obstinately fixed on the accelerator, and hands furiously working on the steering wheel and the gears, the heavy set man with a bull neck and a cigar precariously dangling between his lips seemed to be on a mission. A mission with suicide written all over it.

The the friction ignited sparks on the road. Swerving in a serpentine manner the truck was a giant python on steroids. Finally it crashed through the check-post before cartwheeling and transforming into a rolling ball of flame. The driver’s last words were, “all i asked was for a PCR test.”

(Word Count: 149)

Written as part of the Crimson’s Creative Challenge #89 More details regarding this challenge may be found HERE.

Blood Runs Cold – An Anthology

The Hive (@The_Hive13) | Twitter

The British poet, historical novelist, critic, and classicist Robert Graves once memorably exclaimed, “A well-chosen anthology is a complete dispensary of medicine for the more common mental disorders and may be used as much for prevention as cure.”

The very concept of an anthology is intriguing. An act of harnessing contradictions, tying together diverse perspectives, unifying vibrant, restless and throbbing threads of individual imagination into a cohesive structure is what distinguishes an anthology from its other cousins such as let’s say the essay. The father of essay writing – arguably – Michel de Montaigne meant the act of an essay to mean an attempt. An essay is to “try”. An anthology however does not just attempt. It goes even beyond that act. While an essay aims to play within limits, an anthology plays with limits. In “Blood Runs Cold” – the title itself seems to be a clever take on Truman Capote’s spine-chilling true-life chronicle “In Cold Blood” – seventeen young and talented authors bring together their perceptual sweep and wake of the genre of thriller to assemble an anthology that mesmerizes. Before I bore my reader to death with my monologue on anthologies, let’s dive into the stories (sans spoilers of course) that form part of this arresting bouquet:

  1. The Crypt – Priya U Bajpai

What does an attractive woman with acuity and alacrity do when after engaging in a wild celebration to usher in her twenty seventh birthday, she wakes up to find herself not only in a state of post-inebriation, but also isolated in the deep dark confines of a crypt? Vani would know. The protagonist of Ms. Bajpai’s story “Crypt”, Vani stares at a situation that might at once be dangerous and one that puts her very existence in peril. She needs to bring to bear all her verisimilitude to get out of this conundrum. But why has she been abducted? Or has she even been kidnapped? Where or what is this crypt? Ms. Bajpai’s imprimatur is her simplicity. The plot is tight, the narrative easy on the eye and the tension, palpable. “Crypt” sets a humdinger of a platform for what is to follow!

  1. Hollywood Murders – Anshu Bhojnagarwala

At the end of every story in the book, there is an ingenuous chapter that illuminates the idea behind the story. Ms. Bhojnagarwala’s reason for penning her story is apparently, to challenge herself to tackle a genre which she has not tried her hand at before. If this is true, then Obama is my Uncle! The poise and panache with which she deals with the investigation skills of Inspector Savio and his Hollywood thriller obsessed sidekick Sridhar, makes Ms. Bhojnaragwala seem a seasoned veteran of her craft. Shades of Georges Simenon’s Inspector Maigret and flashes of Denzel Washington’s “The Bone Collector” assail (pleasantly) the reader as she races through the story in one breathless sitting. “Hollywood Murders” – One for the Judge, Jury and Executioner! This is one short story that would have even made Hitchcock deliver a silent chuckle of approval.

  1. Crimson Circles – Pranav Kodial

Mr. Kodial elucidates that the inspiration for his story stemmed from the epistolary work of Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. The effort one must admit is linear to its outcome. Of a near perfect length, a crispiness that is effervescent and a gripping plot that whizzes forth like an arrow from commencement to conclusion, “Crimson Circles” is a delightful exercise in combustive spontaneity. A eulogy-cum-obituary that waxes eloquent over the accomplishments of a dead murder mystery writer takes a catastrophic hue and demonic colour as the words progress from the prosaic to the perilous.

  1. Shadow Wars – Sarveswari Sai Krishna (Sarves)

In his seminal work, Finite and Infinite Games, Professor James Carse, expounds that the objective of players playing an infinite game is to never strike a terminal blow that would end the game. Their very motive of playing is to keep the play, in play, perennially. “Shadow Wars” bears classic testimony to this aspect. One of my favourite stories in the book, Ms. Sarveswari pulls off a veritable master stroke in this fight between two gangsters seeking to usurp the fortunes of each other. Engaging in a deadly predator v prey gamble, both know that irrespective of their existence the show must go on. There cannot be an end to exploitation. R.E.A.D. T.H.I.S!

  1. Swipe Right to Die – Ell P

“When Shammi auntie spoke, people shut up and listened. Don’t mistake my Shammi Auntie; she is neither eloquent nor charming. In fact, with a face leathery enough to look like a third generation ‘hand me down’ Louis Vuitton, a body flappy enough to gather puddles of sweat in between the folds, she is positively grotesque.” This is Ms. Ell P at her vintage best! This is exactly what makes this woman one of my favourite authors. She writes in a vein that is irreverent, a manner that is irascible, and a style that is inimitable. One ought to write for oneself with nary a thought for the “sentiments” or “reservations” of the reader, unless such supposed transgressions are religious. Ms. P does just that! A couple of indescribably gruesome murders, a hulk of an inspector, an Alzheimer’s afflicted sleuth and a horny writer who just cannot wait to get into the jeans of the inspector all add up to make a “Tinder” box (no pun intended) of a story! A slobber knocker this! Think twice before installing any dating app on your smartphone!

  1. Tango in the Woods – Srivalli Rekha

A voluntary dalliance with danger, a macabre dance of death in a dense clearing, a confident and arrestingly beautiful Mayor and an intrepid architect all come rushing together in a crescendo of mystique, mystery and menace. Ms. Srivalli does a fantastic job of coalescing a dogmatic and ritualistic past with a contemporaneous present in the ambivalent and quaint setting of Mayanagari. Svana the Mayor with a languid elegance and Razi, an architect with a purpose fix a combined date with destiny, as there are feuds to be settled and sins to be atoned for. The most compelling aspect of this story is the attention to detail, especially, for the settings in which the most vigorous of actions take place. From the cozy confines of a bed to the wilderness of bushes, this is total bedlam!

  1. Countdown to 100 – Christopher R D’Souza

One of the shortest stories in the book is also one of the crispiest and lingering! This will remain with the reader long after the covers have come down. A homage to the fact that a story does not need either an expansive setting or a convoluted phalanx of characters, the life and times of the serial killer Billy Arnold in solitary confinement and waiting to meet his maker, is one that cannot be missed.

  1. An Insidious Affair – Ratnakar Baggi

Rashmi Joshi is a starlet who has resuscitated an almost terminal career in the Kannada film industry by creating ripples with a universally acclaimed comeback. However, this second coming receives an unwelcome jolt when her Koramangala apartment in Bangalore plays host to an “accidental murder.” To add agony to anguish is the fact that she must put up with a dysfunctional marriage. When to this already unsavoury mix is introduced the involvement and appearance of an intransigent security guard, intrusions of an intrepid neighbor, and frequent appearances of intellectual man of medicine, mystery takes on proportions that are of a different dimension. A breezy one by Mr. Baggi.

  1. The Lone Soldier – Aradhana Shukla

One of my personal favourites in this anthology, “The Lone Soldier” is a stirring, reverential and resounding tribute to the sagacity, and sacrifice asked of uncountable number of repressed women, unfortunate to have fallen prey to the sadistic vice of the ISIS. Viewed purely as chunks of meat to be ravaged before being taken to the cleaners or discarded, these women have shown that the change that they can birth, is putting it mildly – revolutionary and earth shattering. Faryal, The Lone Soldier is one such woman. The frail figure hidden beneath Ms. Shukla’s ‘Abaya’, is in fact the very epitome of resilience. Defiled and desecrated by many filthy hands and filthier souls, Faryal decides to take revenge and since the illiterate clan of the ISIS have no idea about either Shakespeare or his timely warning that “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned”, they are equally oblivious to the fate awaiting them. Neither does the enraptured reader until reality hits her like a ton of bricks! Read this, re-read this and once done, get back to it again. Unmistakable traces of “The Beekeeper of Sinjar” and unmissable shades of “The Last Girl: My Story of Captivity and My Fight Against the Islamic State”, adorn this story.

  1. The Family Man – Sreeparna Sen

Ms. Sen, in an ingenious way uses mystery as a tool to deal with a seminal and topical concern that is tormenting the medical profession throughout the world. The insidious killer that is depression is also a remorseless leveler. Caring for neither fame nor inconspicuousness, distinguishing between neither fortune nor impoverishment, this murderer strikes with an impunity that is startlingly unbiased. Ms. Sen takes this issue head on and deals it with an aplomb that is refreshing.  The protagonist-is-the-antagonist conundrum leaves the reader in a bind and provides a real perspective of the sufferer himself. One has no choice but to detest as well as sympathise with Bishwambar Mishra.

  1. Asphyxia – Yatindra Tawde (YT)

“A sozzled Ronnie stumbled out of the pub.” Thus begins YT’s story. What seems like a happy hour tryst gone wrong in a pub takes on contours that will make the reader wince, squirm, and squiggle. Extrinsically, a revenge-is-a-dish-served-cold story, the quintessential theme permeating the story is one that is intrinsically inimical to our country. The issue of women’s safety. Let me be clearer. The responsibility of a cultured and civilized society does not and should not end in merely ensuring the safety of every women. There must be a preservation of dignity of the fairer sex as well. If the law and order cannot ensure this, then as YT illustrates, women might be forced to take extraordinary measures and those I assure you might not be one bit pleasing! Asphyxia is the strangulated rights and privileges that ail women globally and a release from which is imminent.

  1. The One Who Got Away – Tina Sequeira

The right dose of adrenaline juxtaposed with a strong social message. Ms. Sequeira’s “The One Who Got Away.” Is a where-Mila Jovovich-meets-Angelina Jolie-meets-Michelle Pfeiffer tale that encompasses sex, salvation, and everything in between! Thrill-a-minute stuff with a strong and telling threat – “treat women as pure objects of lust at your own peril. You might not live to tell the tale.” And deservedly so!!! Wonderful job. I hope this story sprouts a thousand Kushas but preferably not the accompanying decapitations!

  1. Scarlet Shadows – Sheerin Shabab

What secrets can a serene and tranquil garden nestled in a quaint setting possibly harbour? Rajan Mehra is soon going to find out. Keen to escape the unrelenting hustle and bustle of a concrete jungle, Mehra beats a retreat to a bungalow leased out to him by a former Major. The only other occupants of the house are Ms. Cardozo the cook-cum-maid and Mohanlal, a grumpy, indifferent and intransigent gardener. When Mehra plans to alter the replanting setting of a regal and imperial “Parijat” tree, skeletons begin tumbling out of the closet – literally. The highlight of this deftly concocted short story lies in the fascinating elucidation of nature that plays an integral albeit unwitting role in unraveling a mystery that hitherto lay dormant.

  1. Cause and Effect – Kanika G

The only Science Fiction thriller in the book, “Cause and Effect” does not disappoint one bit. This, to a great extent is attributable to the pedigree of the author. If the cause is Science, the outcome must be an invention. “Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it and I will move the world” said Archimedes. “Task me with a story forming part of an anthology and I will transform the dimensions of thinking” Ms. Kanika seems to exclaim! An amalgam of theoretical Physics, metaphysics, ecology, ethos and human foibles, “Cause and Effect” has at its heart an angry young man of Science, Dyson, steadfast in his intention to avenge the havoc wrought by purveyors of ecological destruction, and to ensure the visitation of doom on all individuals whose collective action has resulted in a bereavement which Dyson cannot overcome. But for his ambition to be fulfilled he will need the assistance of his able friend and a master of time travel Kaster? Will Dyson & Kaster achieve the impossible?

  1. ABCD – Varadarajan Ramesh

The most innocuous title in the book disguises within the most complex and intricate story of the book. Encompassing layers of psychological intricacies, maniacal intrigues and unexpected interludes, “ABCD” by Mr. Ramesh is a head spinning act of originality. Miffed by what he perceives to be an unjust, unfair and unwarranted rejection of his acting caliber, a method actor decides to take things in his own hands. What follows is mayhem unlimited! Even though the story does not have spilling intestines and smashed cerebellums, the tension is so palpable that it can be cut with the proverbial knife. Don’t read this if you have a drink or two in your hand, or on second thoughts read this only after a drink or two!

  1. No divorce for Mrs.Das – R Pavan Kumar

A fantastic story about a struggling detective who nurses fantasies of a goldmine when an attractive and alluring woman comes calling to his miserable shack seeking assistance to trace the whereabouts of her missing husband. The missing man is no ordinary individual. He is Mr. Das, a premier real estate tycoon whose middle name is cash. But detective Sahil Solanke might just have bitten more than what he could possibly chew as the contours of the investigation take a murky turn. Mr. Kumar does a commendable job of conceptualizing a plot that is tight and which never lets its intensity levels to drop.

  1. The Healer of Dreams – Rashmi Agrawal  

Freudian in construction, Ms. Agrawal’s short story juaxtaposes the paranormal with the parapsychological. The protagonist of the story Mr. Ranjan mirrors the character “Eleven” in the popular Netflix series “Stranger Things.” The treatment of the story is expert and riveting. The ambiguous ending that leaves the interpretation open to the readers is the icing on the cake.

To paraphrase Yehuda Berg “Words are singularly the most powerful force available to humanity. We can choose to use this force constructively with words of encouragement, or destructively using words of despair. Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate and to humble.” I have employed the medium of words to genuinely express my unbiased and impartial feelings about the concerted efforts of a dedicated and bright band of people who decided to put pen to paper and, in the process, conjured a memorable anthology.

Please read it. You won’t be disappointed.

Factfulness – Hans Rosling, Ola Rosling & Anna Rosling Ronnlund

Factfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong About the World--and Why ...

An incorrigible optimist, the late Hans Rosling would have taken on the ravaging COVID-19 pandemic head on in his own inimitable and indomitable way and perhaps even devised an ingenious method to put paid to his rampaging hopes. This Professor of International Health and a veritable superstar in so far as both his work and views are concerned, created a sensation with his TED talk titled “The best stats you’ve ever seen”when he expounded on some jaw breaking information and data that left his audience pleasantly reeling.

Now in the book titled “Factfulness”, Mr. Rosling brings to bear his entire sweep of alacrity, acumen and assiduousness in informing his readers as to why the world is not at all as bad as some have it to believe. Lest one be misled by the preceding statement, the book is not an exercise in ‘Pinkeresque’ Panglossian fantasies. It is a meticulous, measured and methodical expostulation of the strides which some of the most impoverished of the world have taken, thereby cumulatively ensuring that the Earth is in fact a better place to live when compared with what our ancestors or even our grandfathers were made to put up with. As Mr. Rosling himself narrates in the book, his own thinking underwent a paradigm shift when as a young doctor in Mozambique in the 1980’s he was reprimanded by a visiting friend, a fellow medic as well, for not caring better for a seriously ill child in Mr. Rosling’s health clinic. Mr. Rosling provided the child with a feeding tube for oral rehydration, whereas his friend was of the educated and informed opinion that the baby deserved an intravenous drip, which would increase her chances of survival but take more time.

The incident served as an eye opener for Mr. Rosling. He reflected on the fact that while there was no reasonable manner in which a standard and decent level of care could be provided for the relatively small number of children who visited his district hospital, and with the time saved from treating patients at a ‘good enough’ level, Mr. Rosling could instead stop a multitude of children expected to die in his district every year by training health workers, and vaccinating children.

Mr. Rosling poses 13 seemingly innocuous questions at the start of his book, the answers to most of which turn out to be nonlinear to the conventional modes of thinking. Try answering some of these questions if you can:

  • What is the is the percentage of girls who finish primary school in low-income countries – 20, 40 or 60 per cent?
  • What is the life expectancy today – 50, 60 or 70 years?
  • In the past 20 years, has the proportion of the world population living in extreme poverty almost doubled, remained the same, or almost halved?

Mr. Rosling is of the view that it does not make any sense to divide or label the world into developed and developing countries. Alternatively, he envisions the world as being amenable for classification into four logical and informed income strata, each continuously advancing. The poorest of the poor, mainly in Africa, subsist at Level 1; but even their fortunes are depicting an upsurge. Then there are the Level 2 countries where there is a burgeoning lower-middle-class. Many of these Level 2 nations will soon make the leap to Level 3, where people can boast savings, own consumer products, and avail themselves of secondary education. Finally, there are the Level 4 countries, the abode of the 1 percenter where opulence and ostentatious consumption represent a way of life. There can be no more startling example of the progress mankind collectively has made than an assimilation of the following facts:

  • Worldwide since 1800, the percent of children who die before age 5 has steadily declined from 44% to 4%. Over the same period, global literacy grew from one in ten to nine in ten;
  • Just since the 1970s, the undernourished share of the population has dropped by two thirds, while children surviving cancer diagnoses have increased more than a third, to 80%; and
  • Today, 90% of primary-school-age girls around the world are enrolled in school.

However, as Mr. Rosling emphasizes stories chronicling incremental albeit telling improvements, are not front-page fare. Sensationalism, pessimism and downright negative happenings are devoured by people and it is these tragedies that embellish the TRP ratings of television channels and newspapers. To paraphrase Ohio State University psychologist John T. Cacioppo, Ph.D. “your brain is simply built with a greater sensitivity to unpleasant news. The bias is so automatic that it can be detected at the earliest stage of the brain’s information processing.” As Mr. Rosling illustrates, even though violent crime rates in the United States have been steadily dropping since the year 1990 each time something horrific or shocking happened – pretty much every year – a crisis was reported. People still believe that violent crime is getting worse.

The book has an arresting reference to Rosling’s tryst with studying in India. This incident also exhibits the negative, stereotypical and banal mindset harboured by the West towards the East. While studying public health at St. John’s Medical College, Bengaluru in 1976, he recounts his first lesson there as a fourth-year medical student: “How could they know much more than me? Over the next few days I learned that they had a textbook three times as thick as mine, and they had read it three times as many times. I suddenly had to change my worldview: my assumption that I was superior because of where I came from, the idea that the West was the best and the rest would never catch up.”

Stories about gradual improvements rarely make the front page even when they occur on a dramatic scale and affect millions of people. And thanks to increasing press freedom and improving technology, we hear about more disasters than ever before. This improved reporting is itself a sign of human progress, but it creates the impression of the exact opposite. At the same time, activists and lobbyists manage to make every dip in an improving trend appear to be the end of the world, scaring us with alarmist exaggerations and prophecies. In the United States, the violent crime rate has been falling since 1990. But each time something horrific or shocking happened – pretty much every year – a crisis was reported. Most people believe that violent crime is getting worse.

Mr. Rosling also backs up the evidence for advancement by using some of his own family’s experience in Sweden. For example, in a moving passage, he talks about his grandmother, “My parents had been saving money for years to be able to buy that machine. Grandma, who had been invited to the inauguration ceremony, was even more excited. She had been heating water with firewood and hand-washing laundry her whole life.”

This physician, academic and statistician unfortunately died in the year 2017, not living to see his work in print. However, his exemplary work is being carried out by his son Ola Rosling and daughter-in-law, Anna Rosling Ronnlund. There is every reason to believe that they will take things up from where exactly Mr. Rosling left them.