Friday, September 25, 2015

2016: PLAGUE STRIKES BANGALORE !

For most of the year in 2015, you could not go down any street in Bangalore without seeing a mound of stinking garbage. From tube lights to commodes to thermocol to soiled diapers to plastic bags to rotting food the city was steeped in its own filth. Thanks to a tragic juxtaposition, the city was also cursed with an extraordinarily callous and corrupt government. The cabinet of the state government consisted of land grabbers who would not hesitate to murder any one who got in the way of their lust for land. No one raised eyebrows when the Lok Ayukta of the state, tasked with fighting corruption was arrested for corruption. The citizens tolerated all of this because the city was home to companies that created a lot of jobs with good salaries. 

On New Year's morning of 2016, a senior lab technician at a hospital on Old Airport road was driving to work. He was driving past mounds of garbage behind the Old Airport when he noticed an old woman - a Pourakarmika - bending over and sweeping some of the garbage that had spilled onto the road back to the side of the road. It made him wonder. A massive global supply chain spanning design firms in Germany, Italy and the US design products which are then assembled in China and then shipped to millions of consumers in India. These products generate mountains of garbage. This garbage is then cleared by old women bending over with brooms. Clearly the old women were not winning. How can brooms - technology invented a thousand years ago - compete with the global supply chains of the 21st century. Surely garbage management needed better tech than this.

As he reached his lab he pulled out a blood sample that a Doctor at the Hospital had called up about in the middle of his New Year celebrations. He suspected something bad. And wanted the technician to check it first thing in the morning. It took him an hour to go through the tests. At the end of the tests, his hands shaking he dialed the National Centre for Disease Control. He spoke to an Assistant Director there for half-an-hour. It was followed by a few email exchanges. By evening he couriered the blood sample to the NCDC office in Bangalore. The next morning the Director of the NCDC in Bangalore had the difficult job of making an announcement he dreaded. He wrote an email to several members of the press that a case of Pneumonic Plague - the was discovered the previous evening in Bangalore. It was extremely infectious.

As people checked their phones on 2nd January morning they discovered that Bangalore was struck by the Plague. Which is when the panic started. Rumors spread at the speed of 4G. There was talk that the Army would quarantine the entire city for a month. It lead to a massive exodus. 3 million people tried to leave the city all at once. The streets were choked with cars/taxis/buses ferrying people out of the city. People were rioting at the airport and railway station, demanding to be allowed to get on to any transport available out of the city.

By late evening of 2nd January Singapore, UAE, Europe, Australia, Japan and the US banned all food imports from India and were considering banning all product imports. All of the major airports started screening passengers from India. As the number of plague cases reported in Bangalore grew - thanks to an overzealous media and sensational reporting by hospitals - some of these countries stopped boarding passengers into aircrafts heading into their countries from India. By 3rd January the city was desolate. Several pharma shops had been ransacked. There were no antibiotics to be found anywhere in the city. Several people died from infections that just a dose of antibiotic could have cured. For once, the traffic cameras at Silk Board Junction and KR Puram Bridge showed a couple of cars passing at rush hour. It took a couple of days for the government to declare an emergency situation. The central government rushed in the army to start relief operations. 

By mid-January, India was reporting a loss of over ten billion dollars in export revenues. Investor confidence in Bangalore dipped. The Bangalore dream suddenly stalled. Companies started moving operations to neighboring states. With each company moving, the property market tanked. All those land-grabbing politicians were staring at enormous losses as businesses started leaving the city.

In less than 2 weeks, a 25 year dream run had ended. All because a corrupt and inept government had let garbage fester, causing disease and panic. 


Background : I was in Surat, Gujarat in September 1994 when the Plague hit the city. A quarter of the residents of the city fled within 4 days of the announcement by the Govt. Surat's thriving diamond business took more than a decade to recover. 

Monday, June 22, 2015

"WE ARE NOT A TECH COMPANY" !!

There are leaders of companies who even today say "We are not a tech company". The only thing you can tell these leaders is "I hope you have planned for very early retirement"