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The year 2020 is turning out to be an extraordinary challenge for individuals, families and businesses. Coronavirus has spread several other viruses – those of fear, uncertainty, hunger, jobs, lack of physical interactions in education as well as in life, and the like.

The pandemic has left traditional business models in a shambles. Supply chains have got disrupted. Businesses have shut shops. Industries with some core strengths have diversified into newer markets and products. The first priority happens to be that of servicing the critical requirements of customers while shielding the employees to the extent possible.

Economies the world over have taken a severe beating. For a vast majority, sources of income have simply vanished overnight. The virus has exposed, yet again, the fault-lines in our health, social and economic infrastructure.

The Innate Goodness in Humanity

Many amongst us have already turned cynical towards a proposition of this kind and believe that human beings are selfish. Being bombarded relentlessly by the propaganda mills run by shameless politicians, a TRP-chasing media and movie directors who keep churning out dark and depressing flicks, we often end up taking a jaundiced view of people and events around us.

Rutger Bregman, the popular Dutch historian, in his book Humankind, argues otherwise. He points out that there is a spontaneous coming together of people immediately after any natural disaster. He says that ‘cooperation has been more important in our evolution as a species than competition. What we assume in other people is what we get.’

Walter Scheidel, in his book, The Great Leveler, argues that throughout human history, the following four kinds of disasters have led to economic equality: wars, revolutions, pandemic and state collapse. Each of these, he proposes, results in excess mortality, thereby creating a shortage of working hands and, as a consequence, a general rise in incomes.

A ‘X’ Shaped Recovery?!

However, the proposition is arguable. Take the case of the pandemic stalking us at present. It is true that it strikes all and sundry. But to say that the loss of livelihoods and economic hardships faced is the same across different income levels and business verticals would be wrong. Social biases, disparity in access to quality education, health and networking and a non-level playing field for small businesses to cash in on newer opportunities in the environment – all these play spoilsports. With each disaster faced by humanity, the inbuilt inequalities and fault lines only end up getting reinforced. The plight of the millions of Indian migrant labourers who travelled long distances on foot to reach their homes during April and June 2020 cannot be erased from our collective memory easily.

Credit Suisse economist Neelkanth Mishra speaks of four classes in the society: government, wage earners, informal enterprises and formal firms. For 2020-21, he has attempted to examine which group bears how much of the overall GDP loss. In these computations, 50% of loss is borne by the government, 25% by the wage earners and 10% each by informal and formal firms. Looking beyond 2020-21, a growth slowdown will be unequally distributed between these groups.

Recovery in the economy would not be as rapid as the slowdown has been. From the computation done by Mishra, it appears that it would neither be a ‘V’ or a ‘W’ shaped one. Perhaps, a ‘X’ shaped recovery is in the offing.

A Silver Lining in the Corona Virus Cloud

Broad sweeping generalizations of a situation could also hide some silver linings in an otherwise gloomy-looking cloud. According to a study done by Badri Narayan, a social historian and cultural anthropologist and, Director, GB Pant Social Science Institute, major challenges also tend to bring out the innate goodness in human beings.

He has interviewed 215 quarantined rural migrants in the Indian states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. The respondents were from a diverse set of castes like dalits, other backward classes and upper castes.

By way of a conclusion, he states that ‘Caste is deeply ingrained in our social system….. but an emergency like a pandemic gives jolts and shocks to it.’

In other words, when it comes to handling overwhelming challenges, caste considerations normally take a back seat. This indicates a possibility of the pandemic facilitating better social unity and cohesion, an idea which deserves to be explored further. This proposition fits in well with the views of Rutger Bregman.

The underlying need is to build resilience and inclusivity across the vast socio-economic spectrum of our society. Our politicos, economists and social activists appear to be missing a road map to counter a strategic challenge of this kind.

(Part 4 of a series of articles on Corona virus and Leadership) 

(Inputs from Prof G P Rao are gratefully acknowledged.)

(Image courtesy https://medium.com/@brca.iitdelhi/social-harmony-e7cbacc76287)

(Related Posts:

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2020/09/05/corona-virus-and-an-early-onset-of-industrial-revolution-4-0

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2020/09/08/corona-virus-leadership-traits-and-human-values

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2020/09/14/corona-virus-some-lessons-from-bhagavad-gita)

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The conversation at the bar-parlour of the Angler’s Rest revolved around cinema and, and, as often happens, Miss Postlethwaite, our erudite barmaid and avid cinema goer, was at the centre of it.

‘”Bouncy Borgias” is now one my favourite films of all time’ said she to a Stout and Bitter. ‘And Lorna Laverne was marvellous as Lucrezia Borgia. Fancy being at the heart of all that poisoning, stabbing and strangling and be able to sing, dance and keep those wily Cardinals in line into the bargain.‘

‘I beg to differ’, uttered a Scotch and Soda. ‘Her role as Agustina Domenech in “Pirouetting Peninsulars” took historical facts to a new dimension. I never thought that the balletic and vocal efforts of women could deal such tremendous blows to Napoleon’s troops. The Duke of Wellington surely learned a thing or two from them.’

‘You may well have a point, there’, said a Tankard of Ale.

‘Not to mention “Gengis, the Graceful Khan”’, said a Brandy and Ginger Ale.

This was when Mr. Mulliner, with his usual sense of timing and courtesy, stepped in. ‘I am so glad you enjoy Miss Laverne’s terpsichorean performances. But credit must be given where it is due, and, in her present case, it must be laid at my nephew Cedric’s door.’

‘You mean your nephew discovered her?’ asked Miss Postlethwaite, in wonder.

‘Discovered would be going too far. By the time they first met she already was a star in the Hollywood firmament’, replied Mr. Mulliner. ‘What Cedric did was to point in the right direction. Or stumble. Or fall, if one wants to be precise.’

‘It must have been quite a feat’, added a Gin Gimlet.

It was not without its trials and tribulations’ (said Mr. Mulliner), since it happened almost at the end of that Coronavirus scare, when Cedric was working for the Medulla-Oblongata Studios as a humble Nodder, a position far below that of a Yesser (of which there are Senior Yessers, Yessers and Junior Yessers) at cinema script and treatment conferences where the studio boss is present. And it was one of those conferences – where tempers where already strained, given that the boss of the Medulla-Oblongata Studios had, months before, decided to quarantine all the staff and artistes in the studio lot to keep things going – that presented Cedric with the opportunity to further his and Miss Laverne’s careers.

‘Next item on the agenda: I need to find a way to keep that Lorna Laverne here and cease from pestering me’, said the boss of the Medulla-Oblongata Studios. ‘She demands that I take her career to a new level, or else she will leave and sign a deal with the Colossal-Exquisite people and sue me for “artistic damages” or something like that.’

‘But isn’t she happy with what she’s got here?’ asked a casting director. ‘If I recall correctly, she was plain Miss Lulubelle McCracker, winner of a beauty pageant in Wyoming involving wrestling bisons, juggling loaded and cocked Winchester rifles whilst hoofing and felling trees by shouting before we took her in. And now she is up there on the screen, bejewelled, coiffed and dressed in silks and furs as the favourite moll of top-drawer gangsters and ruffians – and being handsomely paid for it, too. What more can a dame want at this day and age?’

‘All this is true, my friend, but this particular dame wants more’, said the boss. ‘She wants to “venture abroad”, “enlighten the masses” or something like that. I can deal with any lawsuits she may throw at us, but her physical strength, voice and dexterity with a loaded and cocked firearm can be extremely unsettling.’

‘This is as huge a lulu as I’ve ever seen’, interjected a director. ‘Her acting capabilities beyond her present roles are negligible, and her knowledge of history extends only as far as last year’s Big League baseball results’.

‘That’s as may be’, retorted the boss, ‘but we must find a way out of this. Go away, think about it and let’s meet again here in two hours. I want solutions, gentlemen, and urgently. Bring me ideas. Find a way to give that harpy the ”enlightenment” she wants to give the masses and I will not forget the one who does it – nor those who don’t’, he ended, menacingly.

On that note, Cedric nodded and left the conference room in a sombre mood. He desperately wanted to get on in life so as to be able to marry his affianced and, for the past months, had been practising his “Yesses” in the privacy of his studio bunk in the hope that, once he had proved beyond doubt that his nodding was as good as any, he could get a leg up to Junior Yesser – and getting the sack now would put paid to all his plans. But he knew that the task ahead was gigantic and time was short: beyond the statuesque figure, alabaster skin, sultry eyes, cascading hair and dazzling smile that had propelled her to the silver screen, Lorna Laverne was, literally, a slab of granite – and one thoroughly refractory to being interfered with by any hammer and chisel at that. Besides, the enforced confinement in the studio had taken its toll on him, sapping his mental faculties and setting his nerves on edge.

But we, Mulliners, do not run away from the battlefield, however large the odds against us may be. Thus, Cedric decided to fortify himself with a hamburger and a frosted malted milk at the commissary before entering the fray, and duly made his way there, where he found himself seated next to a stuntman of unmistakeable Latin extraction and inquisitive stare.

‘You look troubled, amigo’, said the stuntman, in a demonstration of unexpected sympathy and insight. ‘Whatever your problems are, you will not solve them with malted milk. What you want is a good, chilled bottle of Corona beer. It will help you think straight, believe me. By the way, my name is Garcia and I work as a stuntman here’.

Cedric was surprised by such a friendly intrusion and alarmed at the mention of the name Garcia, but – unlike the unshaven, unkempt, uneducated, uncouth and untrustworthy desperados, gunslingers, cattle-rustlers and corrupt colonial despots that ancient family supplies in astonishingly large numbers (matched only, and occasionally, by the Gonzales) to Hollywood’s films – that particular Garcia seemed capable of passing muster in polite society.

‘That’s very civil of you’, said Cedric, ‘but I fear that alcohol will impair my judgement. I have an important meeting in two hours’ time, and must keep all my wits about me so as to be able to have some ideas and, maybe, land a promotion. And does this beer have anything at all to do with that virus that has been doing the rounds? Oh, and my name is Mulliner, by the way’.

‘There’s nothing to it, Mulliner. Corona is known for its soothing, refreshing action and is also a heck of a guaranteed virus-killer. I usually have a couple before being chucked down some flights of stairs or hurled off the back of a bull and trampled by the rest of the herd. If anything, it helps dull the ensuing pain’, said the genial stuntman in an encouraging way.

That did it. Cedric needed to refresh his brain, soothe his nerves and take insurance against the probable pain of the sack later on, and ordered a bottle. It came chilled and with a wedge of lemon stuck down its neck, something that did not prevent him from downing it in one go and gave it an extremely pleasant lemonade-like taste. But now the table he was sitting at began to fill with a dozen or more friends of the stuntman: fellow stuntmen, gofers, assistant directors, a wardrobe assistant and suchlike, and the arrival of every newcomer had to be marked and celebrated with bottles of Corona beer, again downed in one.

‘This is Cedric, a Limey who nods at board meetings’, was the way he was introduced to every newcomer. Cedric took a thorough liking to that jolly group of stalwarts of the film industry who made him forget his troubles (most particularly Lorna Laverne and what to do for her) and emulated their drinking to the point of first getting utterly yet unwittingly sozzled and, then, engaging in jovial and earthy banter with them – which climaxed in a food fight that brought a whole, freshly baked and expertly thrown apple pie to land on his midriff, liberally spreading its contents over his trousers, coat, shirt, tie, socks and shoes.

The impact of the apple pie, as well as the damage its shrapnel did to his clothes, put a stop to Cedric’s revelries and brought down to earth with a thud. Apart from looking like a casualty of a botched up heist on a pastry shop, being unable to say “British Constitution” properly and stand up without swaying, he had not had a single thought about how to give Lorna Laverne what she wanted. The situation suddenly turned from festive to funereal and his face showed it, whereupon the amiable lady wardrobe assistant asked: ‘What’s the matter, Limey? You look like you have to face a firing squad next’.

‘I will schertainly have to feish one’, Cedric replied, leaning forward with arms planted on the table for support. ‘I have to be at the boardroom in fifteen minitssh and look at the schhhtate of me… The bosshhhh will not like it. I will get the shack‘.

‘Then we have to do something about it’, said the resourceful wardrobe assistant. ‘First let’s get you some clothes and then some of the boys can carry you to the boardroom’.

‘Jolly deeeshent of you’, replied Cedric, now lying in a heap on the floor. ‘Muttsh appressshiated’.

Following that, four of the stuntmen whisked Cedric away to the wardrobe cupboard in an adjoining sound studio and the wardrobe mistress rummaged inside it to see what could fit him, having found a pair of Arabic slippers with curled toes, riding breeches, a Napoleonic army tunic and a Mongolian pointed hat – and that would have to do. Cedric was quickly decanted into that potpourri of clothes whilst forced to ingest half a gallon of black coffee and have cold water thrown on his face in the process. Then the four stuntmen carried him to the boardroom whilst trying to give instructions as to how to behave once there:

‘Walk towards your chair whilst having your back pressed hard against the wall’, said one.

‘Do what you do best: say nothing, look at the boss and just nod – but not so hard as to bang your head on the table’, said another.

Presently, they arrived at the conference room’s door, where, from within, the sounds of a most serious altercation could be heard, since Miss Lorna Laverne had decided to give the boss of the Medulla-Oblongata Studios an ultimatum in person and stormed into the conference room full of executives, Yessers and Nodders before Cedric could arrive there.

‘Come now, Lorna. There’s no need to break things or point that gun at me. I have my best people working on ideas to give you what you want’, the boss was heard to say, sounding clearly afraid for his life.

‘Really, sweetie? Do you? And what have your so called best people done, so far?’ Lorna retorted, in a voice dripping with scorn, as she sent a china ornament smashing against a wall. ‘Nothing. Zilch. Bupkes. That’s what. This collection of idiots can´t think of anything original for me. Look at them: afraid to pitch a single good idea and incapable to say a word about it out of fear. I will have to take steps! I have my reputation to protect! I have an artistic name to consider! I have warned you! I have the Colossal-Exquisite people right outside, despite the quarantine, with a big fat contract awaiting my signature, a lawyer ready to file a major suit against you and a press-agent rubbing his hands in anticipation of a juicy story about how you have been hampering my career on purpose!’

‘But Lorna. Lulubelle, dear…’ croaked the studio boss, pleadingly. ‘Please understand…’

‘Don’t you Lulubelle me, you insect! It’s Miss Laverne to you from now on. And good-bye forever!’ shouted Lorna as she threw her Colt 45 revolver up in the air before catching it in her handbag and jerked open the door to leave the conference room and the premises of the Medulla-Oblongata Studios forever. And this is when the tables were turned, both in the figurative and the literal sense.

What no-one inside the room knew was that such a magnificent altercation, carrying with it the exciting possibilities of furniture being smashed, glass broken and shots fired, had galvanised the attention of Cedric and the four stuntmen, with bets on who would come out of that room unscathed, slightly injured or in need of an ambulance placed. And also that Cedric, due to his inebriated state and to better hear how events were unfolding inside, together with the stuntmen, had been leaning sideways with one ear pressed against the door. So, when Lorna Laverne yanked the door open from the inside, she caused Cedric and the stuntmen to enter the room from the outside in a most spectacular, unusual and, in her eyes, entrancing manner.

Cedric, in his melange of an attire and inebriated state, unused to breaking falls and caught unawares by the sudden lack of support to his body, came first. He took five sideways, uneven and twirling steps into the conference room whilst rotating his outstretched arms like a dervish whose gyroscope had been damaged and plunged sidelong on to the floor, upsetting, in the process, an occasional table, a coffee table and a hat-stand. Two of the stuntmen closest to Cedric at the door came into the room almost at the same time as he did, but managed to avoid the debris on the floor, somersaulted over his falling body and landed neatly on their knees on top of the conference table with their backs arched backwards and arms extending upwards as if to indicate that their performance had been completed. The other two stuntmen entered the room a second later in judo-like, downward and sideways movements, rolled noiselessly on the floor and stood up in one single motion as if that was their usual way of entering rooms. For a moment, nobody else in the conference room could do anything but to stare in utter disbelief at what had just happened, and it fell upon Lorna Laverne, looking fixedly at Cedric’s collapsed form on the floor, to break the silence.

‘That’s it! That’s what I was looking for! You’ve done it!’ she said in a voice that shattered an ashtray next to one of the “Yessers”.

‘Who did what, Lorna? What do you mean?’ asked the boss, now trying to nurse a perforated eardrum.

‘He did it! The one who came in first! The one who performed that wonderfully exotic dance whilst dressed like one of those French sultans who served in the Colombian-Russo-Manchurian cavalry, as we read about in history books! That’s what I mean: this is culture! This is history told in a way anyone can like! This is foreign!’ Lorna said, clearly enraptured.

‘He is a foreigner, Lorna. He’s a Limey’, painfully retorted the studio boss.

‘So much the better’, replied Lorna. ‘I’ll bet his family is as old as New York City Hall and he has been to a university founded some years before Wrigley Field was built. And what is the name of that genius, that hero, and what does he do here?’

‘His name is Cedric Mulliner, and he is a Nodder’, said the boss, now realising that, for some reason still unclear to him, his problems with Lorna Laverne seemed to be disappearing.

‘Not anymore, buster’, said Lorna decisively. From now on, not only he is a Senior Yesser at ten times his present salary but also – and on a separate, special contract at that, at two thousand dollars a week, plus an extra five hundred apiece for his four assistants here who will ensure the historical integrity of every plot – my sole advisor and script developer for singing and dancing historical movies in which I will star! Ah, yes! And you will lift this dreadful quarantine that you have imposed on us! That’s what I demand. And if you don’t like it, I’ll take myself, Cedric the Limey and whomever he wants from this two-bit outfit and go to Colossal-Exquisite. It’s entirely up to you, mister!’

‘Let me see if I am getting this right, Lorna’, said the boss, now with some of his composure regained. ‘If I give you Cedric Mulliner, lift the quarantine, agree to all your terms and conditions and let you create and be the star in what you call “historical movies to enlighten the masses” you will remain with us, stop harassing me and no longer pose a threat to my life?’

‘Attaboy!’, replied Lorna. That’s exactly what I mean’.

‘And you, Mr. Mulliner? Do you agree to be promoted from Nodder to Senior Yesser and also become Miss Laverne’s chief scenario developer, all that under the terms and financial conditions she has just put to me? If not, is there anything more you want?’ asked the boss.

Apart from medical attention to deal with his bruises and the inevitably ensuing hangover, there was nothing more that Cedric could even contemplate wanting. And given his still inebriated condition and also by force of old habit, he could but nod in agreement.

(Eduardo Garcia introduces himself thus:

Eduardo “Duca” Garcia is quite probably the most un-trendy and least technologically-savvy person involved with Trends Studies. He is also a human salad, having been born in Rio, received an anglicised education and lived in the UK, Spain, Central Asia and Portugal. To complicate matters further, he is married to a woman of Brazilian, English, U.S. and Greek extraction – whose stepfather was a Dutchman – and his son lives and works in Denmark.

His career was mostly devoted to Marketing and Advertising, something that forced him to look at the consumer, society and mentalities in more detail – if only to avoid sending the wrong message to the wrong people at the wrong time and being rightly sacked for doing so – and his start in Trends Studies began when he was in Kazakhstan and Carl Rohde was unwise enough to invite him to contribute to Science of the Time.

He can be contacted at eduardo.garcia@40maislab.pt or through Facebook.)

 

(Permission to publish this piece on this blog site is gratefully acknowledged!)

 

(Illustration courtesy Wikipedia)

(Related Posts: 

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2020/03/20/jeeves-deals-with-croronavirus-guest-post-by-eduardo-garcia

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2020/07/25/the-corona-gladiators-proposal-for-a-plummy-movie

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2020/03/23/psmith-shares-with-lord-emsworth-a-smart-marriage-plan-to-ward-off-corona-virus)

 
 

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