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Everything that is happening now has happened before a pandemic has struck India. There has been panic. There have been heated debates about lockdowns, about mosques, about vaccines. The state has been negligent and the state has overreached. Civil society has risen up in protest. All kinds of rumors about the disease have spread through the land and the bodies of the dead have piled up. Wait a minute. All this has not only happened before, but it has been much worse.


Between 1917 and 1920, India was struck by three pandemics, which at one point were upon us. At the same time, cholera, the plague and influenza killed 40 million people during these hundred years. In fact, 70 million. If you count the 30 million killed by cholera in the years when it was merely endemic and not endemic in this state, populations have been devastated, villages wiped out and bodies have piled up on the streets. The state has failed and the backlash has changed are history.


And yet when we are faced with a modern pandemic today, we have forgotten all these lessons of the past. But these lessons matter to understand these modern times, to deal with the situation in which we find ourselves today, we need to learn about India's tryst with pandemics.


Welcome to the Scene and The Unseen, our weekly podcast on economics, politics and behavioral science. Please welcome your host of. Welcome to the scene in The Unseen. My guest today is Jonathan Miller, author of Age of Pandemics, a marvelous new book that looks at how the Indian subcontinent was ravaged by three pandemics in the century. Between 1879 and 1920, they took more lives than we could imagine, and they shaped our history, our economy, our politics and our society in profound ways.


JinMing argues that we need to build a collective memory about this past so that we can avoid as mistakes and apply its lessons. Age of Pandemic's is a wonderful book of scholarship and analysis, which is not a surprise to me because in my previous book, India moving a study of migration within India is, in my opinion, one of the most underrated books written about India in the last decade. I did an episode on that book, which in May, about a year and a half ago, and bought that book and that episode will be linked from the Señores.


I was delighted to have them once again on the show. But before we get to a conversation, let's take a quick commercial break. We often think of ourselves as the masters of the universe, the one species that managed to tame the Earth. This is nonsense. If you look at it one way, we are colonized by viruses and bacteria. We should have education to think about this in 2020. And we certainly should learn about our past encounters with these mysterious forces.


This episode and should mention this book is a great way of doing so. And I have one more suggestion for you. Hop on over to the great Kosice, Starcom, the sponsors of this episode, and check out the superb online course called An Introduction to Infectious Diseases by Batek Fox in 24 fascinating lectures, Fox takes us through a long struggle with infectious diseases. And if you want to learn something more cheery, chances are that you will find it the great courses.


Plus, they have a fantastic library of online courses from subjects ranging from music, math, cooking, history, political theory and much else. They also have an app where you can listen to the audio of these courses the same way you listen to podcasts and it will cost you nothing. You'll get one month of unlimited free access if you use the following during the great courses plus dot com slash unseen. That's right. Unsign the great courses plus dot com slash unseen for one month of unlimited free access.


Don't procrastinate. Soak up that knowledge. John, welcome to the scene in the U.S. Hi. Thanks for having me over. You know, the last time we spoke, it was about very wonderful book, India Moving, which I keep recommending to people because I just think it deserves to be more widely read and more specifically because it gives me so many insights into my own country, so many other moments. And that, of course, took a sort of a long time in the making.


On the other hand, this marvelous book that you have now written, as happened in the space of a few months, do you tell me the story of how that came about?


Yeah, it's just, you know, if you told me again that I would write a book by December on pandemic's, I would have laughed. And in a way, I'm still laughing because it's just a series of events which happened this year that ultimately culminated in the book. But really, the starting point is, of course, that when I was writing on migration, even my thesis, you know, I was coming across Galera, I was coming across a plague of influenza.


In fact, even my thesis in 2012, I have this map of population growth rate in 1911 to 21. So I clearly knew some of these interesting things about these pandemics because I encountered them before in my research on migration, but obviously had not done any. I never did a research paper on pandemics. I had never really followed up on that initial interest. But I had been scraping through material wherever I went. I was at the British Library many years back doing archival research and there's a report on cholera in 1867.


And I kind of got that photocopy. So I had certain material. And the starting point of this project was really March 11th, 12th, when the WTO declared it to be a pandemic. And I, in fact, actually tweeted a bit of an influenza impact on India and it got thermal protection. And one of the things that we quickly realized was, first, there's actually no book written on influenza in India, which is the greatest demographic disaster ever in human history, actually.


I mean, 20 million people dying in a few months. It's never happened before. So so this was something truly unique that somebody had to write it. And then, you know, as the book starts off with this dialogue, my son my son actually asked me, what's this whole thing about pandemics, what's happening in the past? And I said, yes. And he pointed out that influenza was also mentioned the tintern. And I realized that, you know, there are some ways in which the memory is stored.


But overall, unless it's the black death of Europe in the 14th century where a lot of books have been written or even the influenza, there's a book by John Barry on the influenza in there is one small paragraph in a 500 page book. Then half the deaths of that pandemic happen in India. So, you know, it was really underserve in the current research and the fact that in all three pandemics, cholera plague influenza in the century between roughly 1870 and 1920, India was at the epicenter.


And it just really struck me in March that, you know, somebody really has to be writing about this. And then I quickly realized that I was in a unique position to do it because I had already assembled this massive mortality statistic database as part of my interest in economics and history. And so I started analyzing that database and I could see the trends when as mortality rising and so on. So that gave me more confidence that I could do something on this.


And then coupled with the fact that a lot of the databases on this are actually freely available online to the Wellcome Trust, has all these pictures and reports freely available online. So that kind of reduce the transaction costs of doing research at the Piccolino project in history would take many, many years. You sit in archives and so on. But I that at least some of it was easily doable. So then I think in about April I kind of said, OK, this is a potential project.


Of course, it would not be possible without family support. The amount of hours I put into writing consecutively meant I mean, I should really thank my wife and son for giving me that space to just go out there. I think on, say, one hundred days of just literally nonstop work, you know, coupled with then, of course, many more months of post-production and so on. So it's been a crazy year for everyone. It's been a crazy year for me in the process.


Also, my lost a friend. So the book is dedicated to a friend who's a librarian, a fireman. And it's really thanks to, again, the library of the board that we could actually get a lot of this material. So it's a combination of amazing teamwork, which kind of got the book. And I really wanted it out in twenty twenty, you know, that would have had a nice ring to it. So finally, the last month, December twenty twenty, is when we could get back, you know, and what's crazy about this is that your book is by no means a quickie in the is immaculately researched.


And what I do, what I like to do whenever I read non-fiction is I'll go over to the footnotes whenever I find something interesting and look at where that's from and look at sort of the bibliography. And you just read a bunch of books while doing this, not just books in terms of historical books, books on previous epidemics, pandemics, but even, you know, you've got it throughout your book from different novels and literary works and all of that very aptly.


So I simply have to then ask you about. What are your processes of knowledge management, for example, like how many books, if I may ask, did you read during this period how how many books you normally read? How many did you read during this period? And what are your sort of methods or hacks for compressing this kind of data gathering and knowledge gathering? And, you know, all of that is a great question.


There's no doubt I've read more books in twenty twenty than any year of my life, and I love to read. So this is definitely been a year of massive, massive amount of reading, not just the number of books, but also research articles, papers and so on. Now the book has like eight hundred footnotes and it cites for four hundred studies. But I should say that does that mean I haven't read each and every book cover to cover? That's impossible.


That's impossible for anybody to read, say, 300 books. You know, that's just impossible. So a lot of books, of course, I quickly realized what the really important part of it and really get that into the book. So, for example, there's a great book called Everyday Technologies, which is about really technology history of India. But there's this amazing part on play where there's reference in this book about how the dangers of single manufacturing company, which is a multinational base in India, they had this issue of dealers dying because of the plague in the late 19th century.


And I just got that reference. It just so happens that I read this book in the past. But there are many books in which very quickly as a researcher, you know, you can go to the next you're looking for plague, cholera, influenza. These are the two pandemics. And if you're not, if you get it, you're lucky. So I would also say I've gone through many more books which are not cited just to find out if they mentioned plague, cholera or influenza.


But in the process, I had to read the first book. Let me tell you the process. The first book I read was this Cambridge Encyclopedia of Human Diseases, because I told them, I said, look, I don't know anything about medical science. I'm not a scientist. I'm not a biologist. I'm looking at this looking from a trained economist who's getting into history. That's that's my background. So I said I have to be at least I should not get the science drastically wrong.


So I had to. So this is a thousand page book which came out in nineteen ninety three. Obviously there's no updates on that. But this is supposed to be the canonical book in the medical history. And so those thousand pages gave me like this nice quick summary of all the major pieces of the world's major medical schools. So that is a starting point. And then some of the canonical works and Galera canonical book, some place and unfortunately, influenza, literally nothing has been written on India.


So there's really no book on India. Similarly, with plague and Cholera, you know, David Arnol has a book so that was useful to start with. And then he's done wonderful work even in the recent days. So then slowly after that, of course, for a writer, you want to tie up the basic academic blocks with literary references, with a variety of things, newspaper archives, which are easily accessible, at least from my library, but they are not John's discoveries.


So I was literally one fine day thinking, you know, there are not enough fossils and references in what I'm doing right now. It's becoming a drab sort of statistical analysis. And I was just looking at a bookshelf and there was a schoolteacher, which is this Marathi Autobiography of My Lakshmi by Tilla, written in the 1930s and translated into English just a few years back by the book. And there it was. There was the first person reference about plague and unknown even to Chantaburi, who translated the book The Disease Monaldi was nothing but this great influence epidemic of nineteen eighty.


And I just it was a eureka moment that, you know, I said she's talking about influence in nineteen eighty, which is the greatest disaster in a first person account because I family went through that. So I got these amazing references purely out of chance. So I think the right thing is then about putting these things in a nice sort of a story. But the big story is very clear. This was a period where we're told in India is the rise and fall of British rule, and yet what I was finding is in the daily lives of people.


I mean, they were scared of the British then infectious disease because it's like today we have concerns with the politics and so on. But the primary concern of the years trying not to get this disease, and that's pretty much how Indians were looking at this. And the numbers of stock, you know, you're saying, what, 70 million people globally died of these three pandemics, 40 million in India alone. These are numbers greater than the wars fought in this period.


More people died in Indian influenza than all of the people who died on the battlefields of World War One. So putting all that together, you know, I thought I had a fair amount of work ahead for me. But luckily, access to resources was relatively easy because I live on a university campus. So that's a I think I think that various things that cut down transaction costs of doing research, as I said, amazing library team. They got me relevant even manuscripts from just talking with other libraries.


That is fantastic in the library. So clearly, if you're not in the university setting, obviously, I think the transaction costs are much, much higher, but not a chance. And, you know, I was in South Park Street Cemetery in Calcutta, which is a burial ground literally a few days before the lockdown, a few more days and I would be stuck in Calcutta. And this will never happen. This happened that came back to India.


But South Backstreet's cemetery, my economist training, I saw this book at the counter and that was the registry of all the bits of there. Not that point. I didn't know I was going to write a book on pandemics, but I picked up that book about it and I got to do a spreadsheet. This is what all economists would do, put it in a spreadsheet. And there it was, because I wanted some evidence that 18, 17 people said this was important year and the book starts on this year.


You know, how do you show that 18, 17 is there were a lot of detonating in 1870. One is by single people said that something happened in that year. But I would like to see like a trend line you would want to have pre 1870 data and then show that 1870 things jump up. And there was I got this digitized and this is the burial grounds in Calcutta because it had struck big and it's a flat line before 1813 and it spikes up.


So the number of burials is recorded in South Park Street. Cemetery conforms to what people are saying then about this year's cholera struck very, very nicely, not just waiting, but for the next 50 years. So, again, a chance encounter, literally a walk through the cemetery, picking up a book, and then that becomes a useful source.


So I'm kind of stuck on the subject for just a moment before we get to the book. Once you sort of you're doing all of this reading, how do you organize the knowledge that you're taking from there? Like, is it a special software that you use many of these? I'm guessing, especially if you're getting them from the library, they'll be like physical books. Is it also fair? How do you organize all of this knowledge? How do you manage all of that?


Yeah, I would say I'm quite old fashioned that way. I know are, you know, special software. I'm sure I can do research more efficiently than what I'm doing right now. I'm old fashioned since I use a spreadsheet. So I, I put all my thoughts in a spreadsheet and I have lines put in bold, which I don't want to miss over. And when I can't miss, it's not in bold. But what I definitely do is like in this project, I'm going to try to collect all the basic literature.


So I made a list of about five hundred studies which I said I have to go through. Even if I don't read each of them cover to cover, I should be aware of what they're saying. And so I put those final words sheet. So it's a reference sheet and that's going to be next week. It's there's a supplement to this book which is going to go online. It's a working paper. And so that will have a list of all the studies.


So I did I made that first and so I knew what I was working within. And then after that, the spreadsheet kind of helps sort your ideas, kind of saying, OK, this is the floor. It was all nebulous. You know, when I started in March, I don't know what is I all I knew was that there can be three chapters called chapters of the book, which is to cholera, plague and influenza, and then maybe an introductory chapter in a concluding chapter kind of reflecting on covid-19.


But then beyond that, you know, how do you write this is almost one hundred year pandemic. So it's really pick and choose. You can talk about each and every year. You can't talk about each and every country, so you really have to select. And so my process of selection then is like in the book on migration is demographic. That is, you can have the largest impact. So obviously India had the largest impact in India, gets covered the most but cholera and devote some time to Egypt because Egypt had the largest 10 percent of its population was wiped out.


So as a percentage of population, Egypt was the most affected. So it affected us, affected Mexico. So I tried to then cover those regions which are most affected. And I think that's the pattern and all the chapters that is the regions most affected by the pandemics. So if you talk of plague, not just Bombeck, the most of plague literature in Bombay on India is Bombay City. And this book probably the first time, it's really expanding that thing because Bombay City was a really small part of.


The bulk of it was the Obama presidency, Punjab yuppy outside Bombay, the bulk of it was rural India. The people think of plague as being a bomb. Instead, the bulk of it was actually rural India. So that's the sort of sorting process to get the big picture that is that actually affected and then trying to get better. Judges looked at that. And when it's not been written then to actually dig up sources, go through newspaper archives and variety of other things to kind of all reports, vaccination records and a variety of things.


And along the way, you discover a lot of the some of it has been done by medical historians. So I looked at that literature very closely. But beyond that, you know, to your question about how efficient management of information, I don't think I'm terribly efficient, but there is some method, I think, in this research process.


Fascinating. Let's move one of the Bucknall.


And before we start talking about pandemics, per say, there was a broader question which I thought I should ask at the start, because it really intrigued me and struck me, you know, how we normalise all the progress that we make in terms of technology or standards of living or whatever. And I was, you know, struck by when you wrote the following words about mass mortality, where you wrote, quote, Once upon a time, we barely lived before we died.


We would celebrate, on average, only 25 birthdays in our lifetimes. And we rarely grew old enough to see our grandchildren. Mass mortality through war, famine, natural disasters and epidemics was a way of life. We began to live longer only when we fought for what was understood how to fight famines, grew resilient to natural disasters, and learned how to control the spread of disease. Stop good and at different points in the book, when you talk about, you know, specific pandemics or even diseases, we see how you could not take life for granted.


For example, at one point when you were writing about smallpox, you wrote, quote, There's an old saying in India coming in the 19th century that children were not counted as permanent members of the family until they had encountered smallpox once and survived stop. And then, you know, later when you're sort of talking about another pandemic, you've got David Gilmore and the British in India saying, quote, One visitor reported that he had twice lunched with men whose burials he had been invited to attend before supper.


The same day when an epidemic arrived at a station, people began measuring their lives in as they went to the club each evening, apprehensive to know who was missing from the night before. That was so familiar to the British in India, so quick and so frequent that they hardly seemed room for prolonged grief. If an officer died on campaign, his belongings were auctioned as soon as the funeral was over. Horses, clothes, revolver, even his cooking pot and his water bottle stopped cold, you know, and it kind of struck me that back in the day and pandemics weren't obviously the only threat to life.


It was almost a fact of life that when you are young itself, your friends are going to start dying on you. You know, you have such huge amounts of people and possibly one of the few generations, you know, over the last few decades that we don't have to kind of deal with this. You know, the mortality rate, your the average lifespan used to be 25 a few decades ago, and now it's 70 and we can take certain things for granted.


So in your reading of history, I mean, it seems to me that this thing hangs over everything. It hangs over everything that people do, the way they live their lives, the way they behave. So, you know, what are your sort of thoughts on this as a historian kind of coming across this?


Because, you know, this leered of the sort of likely mortality where, you know, you can't take long life for granted as we all do. That simply isn't there for most of human history.


You know, before 1920. I mean, this book ends in 1920 because that's the transition point when you look at that data and it starts falling only after 1920, but before 1920 in India and of course, before certain periods, say, 1850 in Britain and so on. Death rates for talking of something like fifty four thousand five percent of the population dying every year. Now, those are very, very high numbers. That's about ten times higher than what we are living with today.


Right. And the worst part of that death rate is infant mortality. And so it's also the fact that most people who die that year were actually small kids, which is also a great achievement of the last hundred years of getting those rates done. So, for example, when I walked around this South Park Street cemetery in Calcutta, you see these storms, right? And when you walk past them, you'd think these are the guys who died. When you look at the data.


Twenty percent of those deaths were actually kids. So they're actually buried. But you don't really think when you walk in a cemetery of kids who died in such large numbers. So that's pretty much human history. You know, there are theories that say, no, there are some bad periods and so on. But all the evidence is pointing out that there's no real epoch in human history where people live for one hundred years. And so, I mean, of course, you have few individuals who live for a long time, like in the age of pandemics.


The two people who lived for nearly 100 years, coinciding with the period mentioning is that analogy. Being African has a nice book on this, but he survives the entire age of pandemics, perfecting his life. Just about a year or two before influenza, so but almost 90 plus years in that period, the other one is Florence Nightingale and she also lives almost 100 years. So these are outliers, but the average person, you know, cannot expect to live more than twenty five years in India.


So even this concept of a grandparent, you know, obviously diplomatic means becoming potentially grandparents. I did 40 or 50, but you don't live that long. So it's this whole notion that, you know, today you can see your grandparents and so on. It's a very modern concept of just mortality or so. And why was it so high up? Like I mentioned, you know, this war, these other things, but fundamentally epidemics. Right.


And so the big killers of history is malaria. So in India, at least, no more people have died from malaria than probably anything else. But then you had these giant epidemics like cholera or plague and influenza pandemics, but then variety of other things in diarrhea than tuberculosis, a big killer. And ultimately, all of this is linked with nutrition. You know, the healthier we are, even the most play you could survive to a certain extent.


So at the base of mortality is how well are you eating food as simple as that? And in a world where you have famines where whole economy was completely rain fed or independent, especially in India, a slight sort of bad rainfall meant people would start starving. And even if you're not going to die out of complete starvation, the disease would act upon undernutrition. And that has you salience today because we're seeing that, you know, this is the year that the average Indian actually got poorer nutrition.


Even the latest data suggests a kind of not so great. What it means is that if you don't get your basic nutrition levels up, there's always going to be this impact of infectious disease is going to be that much more. And that is why it was so, so stark before 1920. So often I think we need to improve precisely because nutrition kind of improved a little bit, but also because the better control of certain diseases, which is and that's, I would say not the great achievement of the last hundred years, is precisely this, what Angus Deaton calls the great escape, the rising well-being, the rural life expectancy, the fact that people can live, you know, for almost 70 years now in India, the life expectancy at birth compared to it being 25 and falling, you know, for some years in the early 20th century is the remarkable achievement of modern science.


And is it fair to say that, you know, the 19th century, in a sense, was the period that you write of, in fact, specifically 1817 to 1920, almost as such is like if you were pandemics personified, you would think that this is an optimal time for you to exist, because on the one hand, you certainly have globalisation and travel everywhere. So all of these things can spread. And on the other hand, modern medicine hasn't yet caught up with all of this.


And it isn't that sweet spot where these things are spreading faster than ever. But science hasn't figured out what is causing them. Leave alone how to cure them. Absolutely.


I think with so much fascination with the railways and that obviously any transport I mean, that one link would be my first book. And the second book is that you cannot have a pandemic without some migration. I mean, that's the link between pandemics and migration. And there's no doubt that obviously some transport would have carried out these infectious diseases. Having said that, even some of these diseases also travel just by when people are walking. So it's not that you had to have modern transport to have a pandemic in the first place, but let's take railways now.


People are fascinated by the railways. But at the same time, over time as these diseases intensified, there was no doubt that there was some sort of negative fallout because of the railways and spreading diseases. So absolutely right. This globalisation, all the things which are celebrated in the 19th century, I mean, this is the birth of the modern world. One of the reasons this book I mentioned this in the first chapter you have on the one hand say, Christopher, is the birth of the modern world.


This is a grand project of the rise of the modern world between 1789, the French Revolution in 1914, First World War. Then you have the stone age of Empire, age of capital and, you know, all these grandstanding books. And yet these cities don't all because they're Eurocentric. Most of that stuff is comes from Europe. European new epidemics and pandemics are really not part of that story. Right. And that's one of the things if you look at European history of the 14th century, you would have to talk about the plague, the backpack.


And so this is where actually this book comes in, because it's pitched at this idea that this is an age of pandemics. Pandemics affect, of course, most parts of the world, but it had a disproportionate impact on Asia and within Asia, a disproportionate impact on India. And that is why the overall century of progress seen from the same prism America is surging ahead. They go from a population of something like five to 10 million, two hundred million by the end of this time period.


Europe is surging ahead and typically the Indian music. Colonialism kind of dented India's prospects and so on. Actually, what this book is arguing is that Pandemic's was also constraining factor. The fact that we could not do business in the first place as much as what the West could do was because we had these pandemics in the first place. So absolutely right. This is an interesting bit of history because on the one hand, this is dramatic revolution, what we call it the first and second industrial revolution.


And yet, on the other hand, you have this massive spread of diseases and the West is continually concerned, you know, can you see what they're talking about? Cholera, plague. The memory of them is the black, that it's a memory which stays on for five centuries or six centuries. And they don't want that to happen because a black and white but one third of Europe, by most estimates, which is a huge percentage and one third of a big region as Europe dying out.


And so white, the black that had registered in the European consciousness somehow disputed 1830 in the 1920s. It's kind of completely escape memory. It's not really been recorded well in our history. And that's one of the reasons why the book was written.


You know, one of the things that struck me and I had no idea that, you know, that it would be the case to this extent that pandemics actually shaped our history. Like as we go on to discuss in detail, each of the three pandemics that you talked about, obviously changed economics and society, but also had a massive impact on politics, especially the plague. You know, we keep reading about the battle between the extremists and the moderates in the Congress, but it was you know, the plague had a big part in that coming about, which was quite surprising to me.


And you also kind of point out how during this period, you know, which is sometimes called the Great Divergence, because this is where issue your share of world GDP falls from like 50 percent to 20 percent. And what you point out is that during this time, mainly because of these pandemics, Asia's population share of the world population also fell from 65 to 50, which obviously, you know, had a role in that fall in GDP as well and is a major part.


And yet, you're right, you know, whatever history's I have read of these times in these periods and especially of India, you know, historians will hardly mention all of this. It's almost like in our everyday lives, we kind of take a disease for granted. Like I just recorded an episode yesterday which will actually release of the year in which my guests pointed out that every day America is losing as many people to covid-19 as they lost during 9/11, you know, and yet one is so incredibly visible and the other is, you know, it gets normalized very fast.


And it is not one big event which makes for great television. So it kind of just gets lost. You know, early in the book, you point out about, you know, your two good arguments during the book and you actually elaborated on them in the last few minutes. And one is that, you know, you want to place these pandemics in the global historiography, as you put it, for a layperson like me, you know, what do you mean by global historiography is what you're saying that, you know, the historical narratives that have emerged of the grand teams that shape society have to perforce don't speak about these pandemics?


Is that what you mean?


Yeah, historiography is used by historians. It's another way of saying the narrative. Right. So, for example, what is the you know, what is the most important thing that we remember of the 17 hundreds of Indurain? And it's about this tussle between the Mughals and the disintegrates. So that's the historiography Mugga decline, eastern company ascent and the Miracle. So this is probably the defining historiography of this period. Now somebody comes and tells you that, look, this is happening.


Yes. But there's something else. They were actually hypothetically five major earthquakes which hit the seventeen hundreds, which actually nobody stopped about right now. And it's actually those earthquakes which tilted the balance of power between these two things. You know, that's the kind of stuff I think, which is what this book is doing. That is there is certain things which actually happen. I'm not inventing these diseases. They happen in. All these people died, unfortunately, in large numbers.


Yet the dominant narrative of the 19th century in the West is one of ascendancy. It is one of empire building. So imperialism as one ism, nationalism, another one side globalization. This is a period, especially from the eighteen fifties onwards, massive debt to GDP ratio satirising of city building urbanization. And so these are this is the historiography. So when we talk about global history, of course, this is not happening all around the world, but this is happening in the West Bank.


And I would say that the major historiography of the 19th century is imperialism, because this is a time when empires only grow. And by the late 19th century, even Africa is almost completely colonized after the Berlin conference and so on. So in this whole milieu, if you have to look at especially India, let's talk with India. The history of that is one of British ascendancy to the 19th century as a world of Britishisms. And what I'm arguing actually, that the sort of an important event running through this thing is not it is true that they did not actually use the word pandemics in the 19th century, the word pandemic of the.


Three diseases only applies to influenza, so if you see they need government to report the pandemic outcomes for influenza, please, people are using it, but not so much. The operative word is epidemics. But one, we are actually seeing the 19th century. The historiography is actually that people are really scared. Of course, they're scared of each other, fighting wars and so on, but they're really scared of diseases and new diseases, which they have no clue about.


So one way of saying is, you know, why this particular P'tit and I'm trying to make this argument in this book, you can say that it's always high before 1920. One of the things I'm pointing out is that actually that started increasing even from the time that they started actually increasing throughout the late 19th century and that, you know, a lot of political events actually was shaped. Much of the book also talks about important political events which are shaped by these pandemics itself.


So what I want to do this book is to give a more central role for pandemics in global history. It's true that beginning in these pandemics did not kill too many people in Europe, in in North America, but it killed a lot of people in Asia and it killed a lot of people in India. So there is really I mean, even if you think of World War One, it had such few casualties outside of Europe, yet we call it we call it World War One at that world attached to it called world.


So that's something similar to what I wanted to add to that, the fear of the spending, because that's what the what the Americans were concerned about, what they call Indian Galera, just as today they call the Chinese Vytas, you know. And so around the world, India was also not known just for the British rule, but as a source of diseases like how we look at China. And so this kind of also looks at global history, a new light that is different parts of the world.


So it also impacted geopolitics. That is how countries were perceiving each other. One part of that story was actually epidemics. So that's what I mean by geography. What is the narrative? And the standard narrative right now is imperialism, nationalism, globalization. And what would argues that epidemics was also bad in this in this picture and especially these three pandemics of cholera, plague and influenza, which definitely affected India? Not I do have a subtitle of the book, has the whole world in it yet any, you know, reads this book is going to realize that most of this book is about India.


But I do that because most of the deaths were in India. But it's the fact that it did touch upon many parts of the world, from Russia, from Egypt to even Brazil, may not some part of the population was wiped out. And, you know, there's a book, Love in the Time of Cholera. You know, none of it in that book. If cholera was not such a defining feature and a cholera emerged from India in some some form or the other.


So so that's the whole idea of putting pandemics in 19th and early 20th century, what historians call it historiography.


I other core focus which you talk about is also the building of collective memory, as you put it, in the sense that you argue that, you know, the age of pandemics has been forgotten in the country most affected by India. And there is value in remembering it as a major event, just as a black death plague pandemic of the 14th century is registered in European consciousness through this to stop cold. And, you know, at another point where you're talking about the historical context of such epidemics, you speak about how in our culture, through, you know, Cotliar writes about, you know, the four great threats to life, which are war, natural disasters, famines and epidemics, and yet epidemics like in his list of priority.


And it's not taken so seriously. Why do you think that is? Why do we forget, you know, 20 million people dying? And that's when it was a, you know, six point four percent of India's population then, as you point out, is a big deal. So, you know, why do we tend to forget? Is it because our individual lives and individual stories and there's like Naum kind of mass representation or a grand narrative of that sort?


Yeah, I think, you know, how is memory how is any memory preserved when storytelling? I mean, why is it that we still narrate the more from from generation to generation that memory is kept alive? Nobody is telling us that it is a plague and cholera as a bedtime story is any longer. One of the things that it's negative, it's about death. So you want to forget it. And so that's that's one attribute of why we don't want to hold on to negative memories and we want to hold onto more such positive memories, too.


There is no identifiable enemy, as with, say, a war in a war or like, you know, look at influenza, you know, 19, April 19, you had the tragedy that has been memorialized. You know, there's there's the whole thing attached with it. I mean, if you go there today, there's a particular monument. You have this 100th anniversary events. Nobody was commemorating hundred years of influenza, which killed 20 million Indians, but for a tragedy, killed a few hundred Indians.


But the the the memory is so much stronger. Why? There's a clear enemy. And it was a British. That is with influenza H1N1, it is not really an enemy the public is going to sort of think so clearly identifiable enemies. I want to point out you don't compare two wars or natural disasters, right. Which affect both capital and labor. That is, it not only kills people, it kills the actual building. It it destroys buildings.


It destroys monuments. So in his historical recording as well, people noted down, you know, the destruction of Rome, the destruction of Delhi, for example. Now with an epidemic, you know, the city, the physical stock of the city, doesn't it just people kind of withering away in that? It could be the case that the epidemic spots the revolution. Then there's mayhem in that. But otherwise, a pure epidemic just takes labor. It doesn't affect capital.


And that means an historical recording. It's not glamorous enough. It's not spectacular. And so that's why historians often have to actually systematically document these epidemics. So I think that's one of the reason. Inadequate memorialization. So I wonder if you want to know something about plague and so on. If you look closely enough, there might be some markers like the Harkin Institute in Bombay is one memory because Harkin was a great scientist who was associated with both Gilleran Plague and India.


So there's an institute in his honor, but nobody will associate with pandemics and so on. Today, there's a statue in South Bombay of Viegas was the first guy who spotted plague in Bombay. There's a statue, you know, there is the statue, but nobody is really thinking that thinking of that statue outside a metro cinema as a memory of the plague back then. And so one of the things that might be useful is a you know, it's an open question whether we need to have museums on these epidemics or something like that.


But definitely it has to be taught. You know, I feel it has to be taught in our history curriculums in the sense and especially in medical schools. You know, I'm I'm really amazed that this is not being taught in medical schools. Right. So, OK, you know, there's a strawman argument that just because we say that this is not talk to us in history, I have my sympathy with people. Right. Because simply put, we cannot put everything in the textbook and some things have to be left out.


So you don't want to put this history in classical textbooks. That's fine. But medical students, they have to be exposed to this idea that if they went through this massive episode once and it should definitely inspire them to not only research the past, but also use some of those lessons for today. So memory is important and that's what the book is trying to push, that we need to build collective memory not only of our past major pandemics, and that can happen in multiple ways.


For example, so many health officials in the last 40 years have devoted their lives to eradicating polio, for example, before that smallpox. They should write their autobiographies or they should write a memoir, because that would be of tremendous use for public health people going forward as to how did we manage to eradicate polio, that is such a great success story. So they need to be books written on that, for example. So if not movies, that's expecting too much, you know, or even like a day of the year to remember member contributions of nurses, doctors, police, people, mortuary workers and so on.


I think just basic introduction of some of these themes in curricula will help. And that's the great hope of this book, that some of this gets picked up in history textbooks, if not the main class in history textbooks, least medical school textbooks like this would be taught as a course in medical schools that this is an important aspect of this, because I can tell you in your kids grew up knowing what is black, that black death is now an interesting event in general history.


Right. And I think this period demands such attention because for us, this period is just about Britisher, you know, and I think there's something something beyond traditional, which in fact took many more lives than British themselves. Yeah.


And then, you know, one of the things that kind of, again, struck me about your book is that, you know what, we sort of have a vague idea of how the black death and how plagues shaped, you know, European history in a sense, you know, the three pandemics of these hundred years due to a similar thing to India, for example, in Europe, you talk about, you know, the Black Death quote is said to have had consequences that are open to debate, such as laying the foundation for the rise of Europe, the Renaissance movement, the Protestant Reformation and even accelerating anti-Semitism stopcock.


And later, you talk about all the different consequences at that time, like inequality, like in northern Europe, more women went into the workforce and of course, anti-Semitism continued rising because Jews were blamed for the pandemic and could Arigon Province, Catalonia, Swaziland's Island and southern Germany. So you have these major sort of trends happening in the pandemic, played a part in that. Was it kind of a surprise to you to realize the extent of the role that pandemic played in history?


Like, you know, at one point in your book you write about how well, researching your previous book, you put together this map. Tell me a little bit about that map. And, you know, you point to it as sort of a moment of revelation, was it kind of more to it than that? And did some of it perhaps come after you had started to work on the book?


Yeah, not that map that you're referring to. It's a simple district level map of India, which shows population growth rates between 1911 and 1921. So on this particular map, when I drew this map, it was only stock because most of India actually registered a negative growth. So it wasn't like one region pulling down the overall population. Look at most of India, that one decade, you know, I plotted these maps from nine to one every decade.


So they were about 10 or 11 maps and they were all positive growth rates. And this one decade, the population of India fell. And there's no doubt as to why that happened. It was the influence of 1980. And when I looked at that map, know, I said, how is it that there's no book on this? This was back then in 2012 and out of interest. I read this one or two research papers since then. So that's interesting.


As a health economist, he's done some interesting work on it. But they I mean, you can count it's the single digits, you know, the amount of research done on influenza in India. And it was a big mystery. But I didn't follow it up back then because I got more interest from migration. And that's what I worked on for most part of the last decade. And that map really came back when I was looking at these mortality statistics in March, I literally went back to the map and kind of started exploring.


In fact, you one of the things which is coming out with the book, as I mentioned, is a supplement and the supplement has. So how can I say that in the last 20 million people in influenza, in fact, this is now my estimate based on a certain method which I'm using to calculate influenza losses. So that's going to come out in the supplement in the coming week. And what I do out there is look again at the district level data and kind of estimate the population shortfall.


So there are a lot of regulatory moments. And this idea that, you know, pandemics, like you mentioned, the black, that they can have consequences, support this book. I was trying to understand influenza have 20 million people die. There must be some consequences. And at least one debate, interestingly, took place by two great economists, theoreticians and Amartya Sen. And this was in 1967. And they had a debate. This was both of them eventually won the Nobel Prizes, but they actually had a debate on the impact of influenza on India.


They had a debate on is this surplus labor and in agriculture or not. So the idea being, you know, so many people die out again, agricultural productivity in whole. And so of very interesting debate that they had back then. There's some now research on influenza and its impact. But throughout the book, there's some which I definitely believe had a massive impact that we can talk about that labor movements and so on. But there some also, which I thought speculative as of now in the realm of speculation as to what was the impact, what are the consequences of this pandemic, you know, going forward.


And one of them, which are very excited about and I hope to do more research on, is that it really changes India's urban trajectory. You know, these pandemics have a disproportionate impact on cities in north India. And we know for a fact that what are some of the largest cities of India in the early 20th century were Lucknow, in Hobart and so on. And that moving on India's urban landscape today. So or potential reason for this relative decline of, you know, some benefit cities of the early 20th century was actually pandemics.


So that's one of the sort of you know, just like people say Renesys, because of that is a big question, a big sort of grand theories, but interesting hypotheses. I don't think anybody's really got the data right now to prove them.


Yeah. And I guess it in a word, like absolute answers like, yes, this caused the Renaissance. I mean, everything is multifactorial and this stuff kind of plays into all of that. Let's kind of now, you know, begin with the narrative of the book and let's talk about the Calero. But before we talk about Galera, give me a context of, you know, what 1817 is like. Give me a context of the time. Like we know that the East India Company runs less than a third of the land, most of the subcontinent, you know, Calcutta, Bombay and Madras, your key sites of commerce.


As you point out, your publishers, HarperCollins, are formed in that year effectively. Give me a sort of a context of what is the word like? Are people travelling Waterstreet like what other kind of lives people live? So we can then sort of look at the ground on which, you know, everything begins.


Should the first thing to note is that there is no railways, but that's a big part which happens post eighteen, twenty five and it really comes to the U.K. So this is a world with no railways where like the earlier two thousand years, the fastest way to get across the subcontinent is the speed of the horse. Or you could go down the Congo in terms of waterborne navigation, which is still highly prevalent. This is a worldwide movement and migration is happening a bit.


But movement, a lot of it has happened for pilgrimages. And these are large scale pilgrimages, people going in large groups across the subcontinent and which are the major pilgrimage centers that they continue to be the major. But it's still putting the south in the north in a different place and make up so many people from India to be making this journey to Mecca even in 1817, around one billion human beings in 1817. So today, the population is seven times more than that.


And about 60 percent of that was in India and China, about but million. China, more than 200 million in India. And the population of us in 1817 was about the size of Calcutta today. It's literally nothing in eighteen. Seventeen. Everything. I mean, think of American history and it really starts off in terms of some demographic by the late 19th century when this enormous transatlantic migration. But before that, it's a really tiny sort of republic.


We have the slave trade still on in some pockets, but there's growing pressure to quash the slave trade in India. The British leasing company is on the rise, but it's only in 1818. So 1817, they've still not managed to defeat them at. So that is also in balance of this tentatively sort of poised. But they've got the East India Company does operate to these three ports of Bombay, Madras and Calcutta, which are doing fairly well in the Ottoman Empire, is there, but it's not doing too well.


This is back on Bomaderry. Pasha was rising up in Egypt. There's a store dynasty in Arabia, there's a Ching dynasty in China, the market for the Opium Wars of China, that we're still a proud imperial sort of rulers. That time is a Qajar dynasty in Persia. And as you pointed out, you know, Harper Collins or Harper Brothers, as they were called, the publisher of this book also started in 1817. Just a coincidence out there.


So this is this is only the background.


So it's a book on pandemic's arising out of what happened in the pandemic years, essentially. And, you know, cholera is not something you and you've pointed out in your book about how it had, in fact, been in what we today call India, even as you know, long before this and 1043 were you know, it was in Portuguese rule to go away. They had a rule that every time somebody dies, we shall have a ringing of the bells.


And then so many people started dying that it became a cacophony and they kind of had to put an end to it. And you've spoken about how in 1757, Omniture Durante's Army was affected by it. In 1783, 20000 people died in Haridwar and all of that. Tell me a little bit about Kalitta. Like what? Escalera What was known about it at the time or what sort of, you know, happens when one gets cholera? How far does it spread all of these things?


Yeah, it's a good question. So what is the best way to understand that is supposed to inform the symptoms? So if you get cholera, you know what happens to you. So like almost any in this, there's some amount of headache. You start uneasy. But the classic symptom of cholera is what we would call as news motions or, you know, basically watery stools. But classily rice, water students. This is the classic description, clinical description of dehydration.


That's what's happening with cholera. That is, you're losing a lot of fluids from your body, especially through a bowel movement. And that's one of the things about cholera, you know, because it really shocks societies wherever it appeared, because literally had to go to the toilet. I mean, that's what we're talking about in this disease. Now, that happens is before. Absolutely. So it's not something which is completely new. In 1817. Historians are pointing out that even in the traditions people call this particular thing called visual Chicca as the closest equivalent to cholera, not another sort of disease of diarrhea.


I mean, you use the word diarrhea today, cholera, but there's certain differences. So both of them have similar symptoms. Cholera was far more deadly. And often patients will also turn blue because of massive dehydration. So turning blue was also part of the sort of folklore around the disease, and case fatality rates were more than 50 percent. And this is a nice number to know because it was observed in different settings. So what does that mean for the lady right now?


Is that out of a hundred people who get the disease, about more than 50 would die. So that is what is causing this case fatality. So it could 19 todavía things about one to two percent, but it's much more violent than color. But cholera case fatality rate at that time was much more than 50 percent. And the difference is the birds focolare before ranged from Olexiy in which is used in Goa, like I said we should. Cejka is the closest equivalent in our attrition and Hiza so Haza is like any practice.


So in the Arabic world as well as Muslim practitioners health practice in India, Hiza was the example. If you read this book by Munshi promotion Etgar the father of that kid. I mean, it's amazing the story dies of what is what is known. In fact, that chapter starts with this particular quote, Ben Hokkien, Saddam Hussein, who says Barberi, Dr. Millhiser, they had to go through Caputi. And that tells you the kind of thing that doctors are scared to kind of treat patients with this because nobody really knows how to treat.


So the mystery of cholera is really the fact that people are treated and that's the mystery about any diseases that it's it's so hard to treat it. And by the seventeen hundreds, the first English references to cholera come about so you can see the word cholera and cholera morbus for some reason in British medical circles. And that's really what sticks on. And then 18, 17, when it kind of breaks out, it's clear to medical practitioners in India that this is cholera.


But what makes them completely off guard is its virulence. So for the same disease has been recorded in pilgrimage sites. It's been recorded as devastating hurricane in the 70s and 80s. So stop happening before 1817. Yet in 1870, when it strikes, it goes across the subcontinent very fast. And that's why 1817 is so the most accepted reason for why 1817 and why not earlier is that there's some sort of a mutation in the strain of cholera. We now know cholera is caused by bacteria.


It's a different bacteria and virus and so on. So it's a bacteria, which is later, much later, much more than a century later called Escalada Vibrio. So you mentioned the symptoms of cholera, but what happens from 1817 from a hundred years is a really fascinating story of people trying to get to grips with this disease and the whole debate on its transmission. How is it spreading? You know, today at least, we are lucky to know some elements of transmission during the year we move from being obsessed about this transmission.


Now, people say there's not so much transmission, it's more of airborne. But you saw these debates this year back then, the fundamental across medical schools in the world, the idea was that, you know, bad and or important what the British miasma was the reason for every disease. Forget this cholera. And so cholera is an environmental problem. That is, if you have felt if you have dirt, you will get cholera. That was the cause and sort of relationship in 1870.


So that's the sort of back.


Yeah, yeah. No, no, it's fascinating. And just the way people talk of super spreaders today and, you know, we were quick to blame that leakage part a few months back. You know, the same shit was happening back then, like you point out, about how at one point you said, quote, Burri and many other pilgrimage sites were perceived by Europeans in the 19th century in the way many see Chinese with markets will meet in 2020.


That is, as places that generate pandemics stop growth. And you speak about how, you know, both Hindu and Muslim pilgrimages were blamed for it. There was even an outbreak in Mecca where many people died. And in 1866, the International Sanitary Conference in Constantinople, as it was then blamed budy in Mecca. But I want to kind of go back to this question of trying to figure out what causes it. Like, you know, one thing you point out is that really it's only by the middle of the 20th century that oral rehydration therapy comes about and people kind of figured out what to do about cholera.


And it isn't such a big deal. But back then, you have this sort of atmosphere of complete ignorance and all kinds of crazy theories, like at one point you you know, you describe this one incident in Russia where a few villagers abducted two doctors on duty who espouse quarantine, tied them to cholera corpses and place them in a pit. Their survival would be proof against contagion. In that particular case, they did survive and were eventually pulled out of the pit stop, which is fascinating, you know.


The other thing that strikes me is that medicine based on science at that time, is at such a primitive stage that alternative medicines are thriving like you are right at one point called the need of physicians medicine. Hakeem's did command respect and were enlisted by the British in relief efforts. The cures offered could be a mixture of various medical traditions. The words prescribed black pepper, ginger cloves and at most beloved Indian ingredient, caffeine or associated. Or however you pronounce that in Madras, in south India, physicians practicing arguido Naani and Ceyda, native to the region, assisted the government.


And where the cure seemed to be effective, it won the appreciation of the roles of the locals, irrespective of who the ruling class was, the British or the local royals stop.


And it strikes me that, you know, medicine back in the day is so primitive. You know, for various diseases, you would have bloodletting as an option and all of that hospitals would not yet be sanitized. So you could actually die because you went to a hospital that you know, that is why people would believe in some of these alternative systems, like, you know, the explanation that I give whenever I talk about, you know, why so many people believe in something like homeopathy, for example, is one of course, we all know about the placebo effect.


But there's also a reversion to the mean that, you know, some diseases will just automatically get better over time. And if you take whatever medicine you think is medicine at the peak of that, you will obviously ascribe causation and say, oh, no, no, no, this cured me and all of that. So what's kind of the medical landscape like? Because today we think of, OK, there is science and, you know, there is proper kind of medicine and we have a great understanding into all of these.


But at that time, everything is kind of free to is depending on whatever you think that works because nobody really knows anything. Right. What was that like? Absolutely.


I mean, you know, also this today, this notion of Western superiority in medicine that if at all, it was in fact, what I point out in this book is that these pandemics, it really didn't matter that much. Maybe cholera, the plague, they figured it out very late after the pandemic influenza, after the pandemic certainly didn't hit during the pandemic. But in the early 19th century, they were all the same. I mean, there was really no advantage that Western medicine gave in surviving cholera.


These are the I mean, given these very these targets in south India. So as you said, you're not completely faith based. Does that mean, you know, is completely useless against cholera? It's hard to say, but against basic diseases, I'm pretty sure that some of these things that they would have been afraid must have worked. Obviously, every you know, there's a credibility criteria and these doctors would have gained reputation over time only, of course, if things work.


But, you know, this is a world where when these doctors are living on side by side with massive superstitions and you have these bitches, you have these sorcerers, you have eaten all kinds of people in especially rural India, but also in India who command huge aspects. So, of course, goddesses and gods. So in Indian history, Cedella is a classic goddess in eastern India for smallpox, but they could be for cholera, you know, across the seventeen hundreds.


And it's Escola Bibi came into prominence and it's really fascinating. So in 1817, in the years following that, all of these kind of stock went up much more than Sittler, you know, and so different temples had to do. In fact, their own patron saying they don't know Aagaard can help you out better. So it's interesting how religion was, of course, very closely intertwined with a healing practices. Also, you know, I point out in cholera, this is a jumping 100 years later, but Christian conversion, for example.


Right. So using epidemics as a pretext for missionary movement, saying that, look, all science is better. Actually, it wasn't better for a long period. But the claim that our science is better. So if you join our religion, you know, you get some benefits out of it. So this is an open game. And health being a Day-To-Day matter, it must have been such an important thing in guiding people's decisions, whether to convert a religion.


If somebody is going to say that, you know, I can cure you, it is the most powerful kind of advice, you know, anybody can potentially take even in today, not the spiritual guru market thrives on healing powers. And so it's a very closely edged notion. So the medical landscape 1830 is, as you rightly point out, very primitive, but there are no clear advantages of any system. Inmaculada, as you said, pretty much everyone is clueless.


In fact, what some of these things that they were doing, like bloodletting, this was a British practice. It was completely opposite of what anybody should be doing. The analogy I use in the book is like, you know, contracting money supply in a recession. This is pretty much what they are doing. That is literally, you know, what you need is actually some amount of fluids in your body. And so taking out even some of that was obviously a crazy idea in one of the practices they would.


Leeches on the anus to suck out the blood, really crazy practices which emerged in the 20s and 30s and all of this on the pretext that Galera was somehow coming from the air, from environment and so on. And so it's really Jon Snow, who's the hero in this whole fight against Galera, who in 18, 40s and 50s figures out that, look, hey, this is not about and this is about water. And that's the big discovery on cholera.


The cholera is a water borne disease. And yet, even though John still kind of proves it in the 50s, he's not very famous in his life that he's now very famous. But he was not very famous back then. People maintained this airborne theory of cholera transmission for more than 60 years. And the Indian the Indian Medical Service, which a British officers, they were scientifically trained and so on, was so proud of the science of the quantity of cholera.


They did a Jack Johnson City and so forth until nineteen hundreds or so. It was a complete global embarrassment because these Indian Medical Service people were hell bent on showing that it was the environment. Why the environment? Because it's happening in some parts of the EU, so it can't be this waterborne, otherwise it would be affecting all through the year. So there must be something to be involved. So they have the reasons they have their own sense of scientific reasoning based on the position they were taking.


But on hindsight, the ability from cholera is mostly a waterborne theory. Of course, the new transmission mechanisms found today, but it is generally a waterborne disease. And it's only once they figured out transmission that people could start working out on prevention, cure and so on. So that has to wait. The truly great scientific revolution is bacteriology. And so the great bacteriologist like Robert Cock, Louis Pasteur, after everyone who gets up in the morning and drinking milk knows about pasteurisation, bastardise.


This is all the great work of French and German and a few British scientists in the late 19th century. And it's only the diet that you can see a dramatic divergence then in medical systems. So that's really what makes Western medicine ahead, because they start this idea of experimentation based science. They kind of understand what is the diet of the germs creating disease and so on. And then that, of course, helps in controlling Galera eventually. But the overall progress is very slow.


The case fatality rates of cholera finally fall down only in the 1910s, the 1920s. And luckily for the Indian Medical Service, it's one of our older people who does this. And it's Leonard Rogers who finally figures out that the way to stop a body from dehydrating is rehydrating it. And so what he pioneered was this IV method, intravenous method of injecting fluids, saline, heisel selling sort of potions into the body, worked it out. They took five years of experimentation, but finally got it.


And that could use case fatality rate from 50 percent to less than 20 percent. And today, of course, people say this is the greatest invention in medical history. That is Wathiq all oral rehydration therapy, because it's so COST-EFFECTIVE, it's so cheap. It's just a bunch of starch in your mouth and ingesting it. And yet it kind of protects against diarrhea, protects against an important class of diseases that historically claimed a lot of lives to treat cholera.


Even if it happens, we know how to fight it unless the strain kind of mutates and again becomes very deadly. But at least the lead time on bacterial diseases today is very good. So we can quickly fight. But as you point out, 1817, very primitive, no real advantage offered by any medical system.


So I have a couple of follow up questions, but we'll save them for after the break. Let's take a quick commercial break now. We'll be back in just a minute. Please go and rehydrate yourself, the listener. As many of you know, I'll soon be coming out with the fourth volume anthology of the scene on the unseen books organized around the themes of politics, history, economics and society and culture. These days, I'm wading through over three million words of conversation from all my episodes so far to curate the best bits.


And for this to happen, I needed transcripts. And that was made possible by a remarkable young startup called Chief. That chief attack chief Dot Dotcom is a digital platform that allows companies to outsource work to their network of freelancers and Achieve Network includes more than one hundred and twenty five thousand people as of now. You want people to make you a Web page or design a logo or compose a jingle or do some digital marketing for you. That gives you an easy way to reach out to freelancers competing for your work.


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Welcome back to the scene in The Unseen, I'm chatting with John Meacham about Age of Pandemic's, his wonderful new book on 1817 to 1920, and the three pandemics that shaped our nation profoundly during that period. And yet we don't remember them as we should, and they hold a lot of lessons for the present day. So just a phenomenal Eye-Opening book. You know, from what he was seeing just before the break, I have sort of a couple of follow up points.


One is you refer to Jon Snow. Right. And that whole narrative is very interesting that in 1849 he comes out with a book called On the Mode of Communication of Calero and no one pays any attention to him. Then in 1887, you speak about M.S. Fernando comes out with this paper called Cholera and Water in India, Stop quote. And what I find fascinating about that is poverty produced a map in the book. Like, you know, people who've been following covid would notice that there are all these studies of how covid can spread through droplets in a restaurant.


So you'll have maps of restaurants and where everybody is sitting and, you know, with arrows to where the droplets are going. And M.C. Fornell did a similar thing where he mapped the spread of cholera in a village and he had like two wells, which he marked out and then showed the kind of spread proportional to the two wells and therefore concluded that it's obviously a waterborne disease, which, you know, despite what Snow had done for decades earlier, no one yet believed and, you know, educated things like instead of these wells, we should have mass produced hand pumps and all that just just as remarkable scientific work.


And yet no one took him seriously in much the same way that, for example, that, you know, so many lives were lost because people ignored or, you know, Semmelweis when he spoke about the importance of hand washing and all of that.


Why do you think like, it seems to me that always within any establishment, in pretty much any context, even outside the context of medicine, there is this arrogance, there is this lack of humility. You know, there is an accepted way of doing things, of thinking about things. And you imagine that this is right. And, you know, anything new that comes up nutroots. New revelations can often take decades to spread, even in something which literally can, you know, affect lives.


And it's not just in medicine. It's in economics. It's in governance. And so many different fields. You find that, you know, authorities are sticking by the wrong way of doing things for ages while, you know, the truth is out there. So is this something that you've kind of talked about? Yeah.


I mean, in social science, within paradigms gorvy one death at a time, it's only when the guy dies, finally, that his disciples, his jailers across many lineages who propagate this guy's new saw. But the thing with science is that the such things are not happening. I can imagine economics finishing FRIEDMAN Right. And, you know, these kind of ideologies pass on to students. But in science, the whole idea of science is very objective. If it's bad science, it gets figured out very quickly.


And so Jon Snow has kind of figured that out very well. Europe started implementing that. They started having better water supply systems. They kind of started accepting contribution. But some kind of evidence based approach to understanding cholera was on in Germany, one of the heroes of the sanitation policies, a guy called Max one better. And interestingly, you know, did not believe in the waterborne theory. And almost in his death, he committed suicide by 80 90.


He maintained this view that, you know, it's the environment and not he, in fact, actively looked down upon bacteriology and so on. Even Florence Nightingale has to be shown a microscope to say, look, this is the new science and this is what is causing diseases. And then finally, she accepted. So often you have to demonstrate this revolutionary idea that are coming back negative about people. And very interesting is look around sort of bureaucratic needed medical studies, but completely ignored by the top brass and by some accounts even lost his job because he was actively propagating an idea which would have saved millions of Indian lives if people had started getting good water supply systems.


That was all it was needed to prevent muscular outbreaks. Interestingly, the modern Travancore wrote to him saying that I would like to hear more about the ideas and so on. So there were people there was a particular audience was willing to experiment with immense Indian medical service help. And in fact, they looked at it and they said it better take this, people leave office here. So this is an interesting kind of thing, even in science, because both the IMF and John Snow coming from a particular scientific tradition.


But inside, we would say, you know, one thing has to be right and one thing has to be wrong eventually. In this case, these guys held onto this position for far too long. And eventually it was kind of demonstrated, clear-cut, that it was a waterborne disease and until much later, that these water supply systems, in fact, in Calcutta, cholera started and mortality started falling majorly after 1869 when the big water supply was introduced in the city.


So even that was a. A clear cut example of success in how one can prevent collapse. So that's me, right? These paradigms exist and it's very tough sometimes for a revolutionary idea to make its way across the board and stuff, which today we will take for granted that if this is what scientists are saying, by using a particular process of experimentation and so on, there's much more credibility today. But back in the late 19th century, when the first ideas of bacteriology were coming in, it received a lot of pushback and people were very, very sceptical of the claims that they were making.


It really was only with the nineteen hundreds when, without a doubt, the ideas of pasture cork and many others were finally Collingsworth.


And you know, another thing that kind of struck me when I was reading this book was how, you know, we look back on those times with hindsight and the accumulated knowledge that we have and look at it through that prism like I sometimes feel I cannot possibly imagine what it would be like for me to live in the 19th century, because whatever knowledge I have, I would have to assume it does not exist. I would have to strip it away and all those sort of the certainties kind of vanish.


For example, we speak about how, you know, in one sense, you know, the god of religion is really the god of the gaps. There are so many things you can't explain. So you bring God as an explanation. You are in prehistoric times. You don't even understand, you know, the sun, the moon, the rain. So you have gods for each of them and so on and so forth. Now, in modern times, the only things that can be explained is perhaps the things that will never be explained, which is or which will never be confronted, like what is the meaning of life.


And obviously, one could just say that, look, rationally speaking, there is no meaning. It is random in all of that. But that's a little hard to accept. But a lot of these other questions have been answered. Like, you know, Douglas Adams once famously said when speaking about natural selection that give me the of knowledge over, you know, whatever or religion kind of might invoke. Now, I'm kind of thinking back to the 19th century when this shit is happening all around you.


People are dying and you have no clue why some random person is saying it's because of water. But other people are coming up with various explanations. And some of these are stunning explanations. Like, for example, you write in your book, go to one Sanskrit scholar from that region, means that there were three types of disease in the world for sins committed in past lives, for sins of the current life and for accidental sins, and that an epidemic like cholera came under the second category, which is sins of the current life, obviously.


Similarly, you talk about how Draculaura deities all over the place, including one called her lalala in Urbandale. And at one point, you know, one of the British dignitaries of that time who was leading them against Morato was in fact in the third and Luminato War. Francis Rodden Hastings, you write about how his men are blamed for killing cows on Lalo's aggrieve, which is why he is effectively now taking revenge and he is a clearer deity. You also speak about how in the region, on the West Coast, which is sorcerers are being blamed for cholera and as late as 1943, BRM Betka right skort.


It was reported from Nozick on 1st September that the Hindus of a village attacked an acute, which is a bit curious, attacked and a child family tied their hands and feet of an elderly woman placed her on a pile of wood, which was subsequently set on fire. Alder's because they thought she was a cause of the cholera in the village. Stockwood and these narratives are crazy, of course, are not like propagating at WhatsApp speed like they do today.


But, you know, and today you could argue that despite the fact that we know so much more, these narratives are still so commonplace, like our own social and psychological state when he recently dies and all the mad conspiracy theories that came up, then someone new Stephy and some even on Twitter and so on and so forth. And again, you've spoken about how back then people used to resist vaccination when it came about, when it, you know, started becoming sort of popularized in the late 19th century because they were like, it can make us impotent.


And just today, I saw on Twitter that people are talking about these current vaccines that I think somewhere in central India there is a rumor that the men start behaving like women and the women start behaving like men, which, if you ask me, is not a very bad thing. So there is a sense of overall bewilderment. So and as a historian who is kind of going in there doing the complete opposite, you know, making sense of everything, but everybody in your stories, in the histories that you tell, most people are just completely bewildered all the time.


So, you know, what is your sense of this?


And, you know, whether this kind of reveals something about the human condition and the progress of science will not affect it is a very deep question, because, I mean, this idea of panic, fear, conspiracy, rumor mongering, we've seen so much of that. This is said, you know, in 2020, maybe not as deadly as rumours back then, but of course, the rumors travel much faster now than back then. That began in March.


There was a thing about Indian immunity. And a lot of people say, no, I would not come to India because we have such strong immunity. These people live in clean environments. And so that's why they get polluted. That is, we kind of grew up in these bad environments and it's almost like a spray that we can have water and food and the farmers who fall sick, not there. This is not something to be proud about. This is we have bad quality water and we are kind of immune to it.


But that's only one part of the immunity. There's nothing like full blown immunity to anything. That's how we cannot fool ourselves. We fool ourselves. These nice stories which vegetarianism, you know, this huge thing with Indians. But there was one, you know, what's up with this here in the. Has never been the source of pandemics and the subtext being because they are mostly like the argument being because it is not a vegetarian, but Calatrava's, I mean, like the world blames China today for nearly a century.


India was seen as China is seen to be an originator of pandemics. So the sort of classic emotions of fear mongering that will not stop. But I think what collective memory can do is collective memory is that it's a built in. We know we can see the markers and quickly react to that. So, you know, nobody in Europe is blaming the Jews for poisoning because this was happening in the 14th century plague. And of course, it was happening in different ways in the early 20th century.


But today that's not happening. And so that's our collective memory is useful to understand. I think the thing with pandemics is that when it's strike, it's happened so rarely that when it strikes, people have no clue how to react to it or any new epidemic. And that is why building this collective memory through different generations, passing that information on to each generation is very important so that people realize that there are certain patterns, you know, pandemics will happen.


And, you know, there's no need to kind of completely go into panic and rumor mongering mode. One needs to trust scientists and clear out at least what they are saying and so on. So this in the 19th century was given the kind of the world of witches and sorcerers and so on. You can just imagine the amount of crazy things. I mean, I'm basically reporting stuff in the 1940s, you know, of people burning of interest, literally putting people on the stake, so to speak.


Crazy things happening in the name of epidemics in accosted in societies India, where today the word is socialist distancing is started being there. I mean, it's a different concept, but untouchability and in the world of epidemics, of course, that took on a huge meaning because often the segregation in villages and cities meant that the lowest ranking cost, for example, were confined to the lowest amount of food. The worst kind of water and hidings. So influenza, for example, you know, the death rates, Fokin plague, influenza, especially influenza, was so much higher among social certain social groups of India compared to the rest.


So diseases acted differently on different sets of social groups in the population. And thus there was the thing if you escaped. So one plausible hypothesis that, say, the so-called untouchables of that time had a much, much more higher death rates because nutrition was so poor, actually the really poor, and couldn't stand these diseases. But yet the perception that so many people were dying of influenza belong to these social groups leads to a new perception that it's them who are causing these diseases.


And so that becomes like a self reinforcing stereotype. And what modern science does, of course, still that this is not cause and effect. There's a different set of reasons why. This is why when cholera first struck London and UK in a big way, it hit the poor parts of the thing and the poor actually part that it's the way of the rich to get rid of. So that's an interesting story.


Another of the interesting things that I found while reading a book is that typically we think of a pandemic as an event that happened. And then in a year or two, it's over and it's done and all of that. But, you know, Calero, pretty much for the whole of the 19th century and even beyond, you know, plagued us. And as I shouldn't use the term plague, those Colorados and and some people treated as six separate pandemics.


But you actually point out that the six pandemics should be considered as being nested within one large pandemic extending over a century. Tell me a bit about sort of why you come to this way of thinking about it and the like 15 years back, the standard bearer, nobody would ever want to let a pandemic.


There was always the first cholera pandemic, the second one from like eating twenty nine to thirty three, the third one from eating Forty's fifth one sixth once and one and so on. And this was partly because of the way it was characterized by writers of those times in the late 19th century and early 20th century when they started recording colorize that event in history, the first riperton and all of them argued that it all started in India. And what they're trying to do is they point out each and every outbreak in Mexico can be linked to it, starting in India a few years before that.


Right. And this was a chain of events. So this idea was that every outbreak in the West happened because of some stock in India and then it got transmitted by some mechanism. The problem with this theory is that oftentimes there was no clear mechanism linking it to India or Japan, for example. You have had outbreaks in many years in the 19th century, but often there's really no connection. So connection could come from ships, you know, from people getting off and then contaminating water and so on.


So this mystery was actually clarified only in the last 15 years where people realize actually. Vibrio can become endemic, which means it can sustain itself in certain water systems, so you don't need like a continuous transmission once it settles down. And certain maritime systems, it can lead to outbreaks nested from those systems themselves. So the key is how does the 1817 strain move around the world? And so a plausible hypothesis is that it moves around in the first 10 or 20 years and then it settled down and became endemic in certain parts and it kind of grew from there.


So in such a reading, then, you don't get multiple pandemics. You're only talking about one large pandemic in the sense that there are outbreaks in certain times of the year. And it means certain years could be activated by by reasons concerning the survival prospects of a deal. But beyond that, to point out each and every wave of the pandemic to India, what seem to be. So we now have a research paper in Japan which basically shows that small outbreaks were not linked with India, especially in the later part of the 19th century.


It was more endemic. It was completely happening within. And so this new research actually is overturning earlier research which showed cholera in terms of these pandemics. And so this is a good one biography of cholera, again, focusing mainly on the West, which basically makes this very strong case of not calling it six different pandemics, but calling it one pandemic. So, I mean, are we following that line? It's really very cutting edge research over the last 10 years, which is actually showing newer it's shedding new light on cholera and how cholera can transmit and become endemic and such.


So that's what that's the language, I think, in this book that is not all of this was linked with India and this new strain of cholera, which exists in the world today, started back in the 60s. And most people point out, again, a mutation which happens roughly around Indonesia, know and it's now this strain which is found across the board. Nobody talks about it today. It's still there. You know, it still hurts that some people, because it's so easy to treat it today.


So that's why it's no longer an important disease for us to be worried with. But the strain mutation, the two big ones happened in 1870, it looks like, and one in the 1960s.


Yeah. And in fact, you were speaking of Indonesia, you point out about how as it spread across Asia, 17000 people died in what was then called Batavia Now or Jakarta. And, you know, is spreading through East Asia, spreading through West Asia, where you speak of 15000 people dying in Basra. And you also sort of talk about and this again, struck a chord of, you know, in terms of how it must have been for a common person to what someone in his family just today who you write, caught in boats and caravans and in deserts and plateaus, people watched in horror, the passing of rice, water stools and the subsequent deaths stop.


Gordon I guess that once, you know, mentally you've connected to it must be such a feeling of terror when someone close to you gets for the schools for the first time, like, you know, it's almost beyond imagination. The other sort of interesting thing that you speak about was that, look, there were four big diseases of the 19th century, as you say, cholera, plague, smallpox, typhus and cholera actually took much fewer lives and malaria.


So and yet it dominates the popular imagination in a much greater sense. You know, you have love in the time of cholera. You don't have love in the time of an awful mosquito. So why is that? Is it because we way that people just it happens and they just die and much more sort of viscerally shocking, you know, what are the reasons behind it?


Yeah, I think it's to do the symptoms. We do have nonoperating is that much. We do blame the mosquito, at least for some reason. But there is malaria kills so many people even today. You know, we don't call it a pandemic. It's because it's endemic in certain regions. But there's no real clear evidence of it transmitting itself across time like chocolate plague and influenza. That that's why we don't call it the good. It's it's far more deadly in terms of in action that's taken even in this age of pandemics.


We think 70 million people died because of these pandemics, but malaria actually kill more people. So there is always the number one killer. So the difference between cholera and plague and some of these other opinions is precisely the symptoms plague. It was this bubble which basically got these sort of boils on your body and in clericals is right for that, too. So there's no doubt that some death horror attached with Clelland plague, which did not happen, that malaria I mean, a high fever, you know, that is a don't didn't start growing stuff in your body or you didn't have to go to the toilet a thousand times like in the case of Ebola.


So there's no doubt that this added to this this fear of cholera. And then it started transmitting a transplant. As you said, basically, you see a guy in a circle with this. It really became a talking point. And so it became a very, very quickly people start hating the whole idea of getting. Rather than getting. Yeah, and I guess, you know, the basic symptoms of malaria like fever, she shiver also happen for many other things.


And therefore, you know, you know, you can recover from a fever, but can you recover from those emotions? This is not a question we would ask ourselves today. And, you know, among the many sort of historical consequences that you point out, the one that kind of struck me was the one about the 1857 her rebellion or the first war of independence or whatever one calls it, and chapattis. What do chapatis have to do with Galera?


Just tell me about that.


It is a debate among historians about what the circulation of chapattis can be. And one line of reasoning is that it conveyed the incoming of epidemics. So what this the system, basically a village would send out this column of postman in a postal person, and this person would give literally a box of Djibouti's, you know, to the next village and so on. And so, like really a network of two parties. And this was it's a historical fact that this was observed in 1857, you know, a few months before the actual outbreak began.


And that's not a research paper now which connects the dots and says that towns which got this Jabateh circulation basically as a proxy for impending cholera, you know, heighten the kind of prejudice of people against the British and make them act more. So it's an interesting line of causation. But this idea of chapattis population as an interesting in traditional knowledge, you can call it, to warn others that cholera has come, cholera is in town, is a very interesting and attractive proposition.


But I should say that it's contentious. Not all historians agree they have different interpretations of what jobat establishment. But I think in this book, I think this idea that it was actually connected very closely with Clear and coming to that said such an important Yanin in history. Nobody really thinks of it as collateral. But it is the fact that cholera preceded the outbreak and a lot of people died, more people died from cholera rather than arguably the massive uprising in that year.


And I know many hipster's on a gluten free diet who would argue the Japanese had a problem in and of themselves? No. You know, tell me a little bit about the toll of this. And also, I was intrigued by something that you've pointed out when you're talking about the toll that, you know, you have estimated that 40 million Indians died due to cholera between 1817 and 1920, which works out to, you know, 300000 deaths every year, five percent of all deaths in the Indian subcontinent during this period.


No sort of one. You've pointed out this is your estimate. Secondly, you know, Isolator, when talking about influenza, which we'll also chat about, you've pointed out about how for the longest time people believe that the figure of the number of people dead was one of the early figures that was cited at that time, which is six million, but actually 20 million people died. So some of the work that has gone into this is actually your original research, looking at the numbers and figuring this stuff out.


So tell me a little bit about how did you do this? What was your methodology and so on and so forth?


Yeah, this is the training and economics and also demography. I mean, the collecting team between the first and second book is actually demography. Demographics basically study three things fertility, mortality and migration. And my first book is about migration and this book is about mortality. So the connecting theme is demography and I mean explosion of demographic research methods. How do you estimate that it's, you know, very few data points and so on. So are debt statistics.


In fact, this is a side note. It's precisely because of the cholera pandemic that we actually started recording deaths systematically in India. So this process starts in the early 60s after a series of devastating cholera outbreaks in the years following that. And the British start the system mainly to monitor the health of their army. So they're not really doing it for the native population. But very quickly, they realize there's a need to do that. They need to sort of document systematically what's happening within the population.


So India's death registration system, like we have today, the origins of it are the eighteen sixties and from the 70s and province provinces, sometimes even district wise, the British systematically collected deaths and the causes of death, not obviously the huge problems. The people reporting these deaths was not a well-trained medical doctor. It was also a political party or the tax person at the village level. So a lot of issues around that. But the general trend that you will see kind of mimics what is happening.


So in some cases you would see a spike in cases. So what I have on a spreadsheet now is a province level database of all the dates between 1870 and 1940s. So that's what, 70 years data. Now, that's a great database of plague that starts in 1890. That's a great database for influenza, which is a continent of fevers, which makes it slightly complicated. But that's tricky because what do I do with the spirit, 18, 17 to 18, 16?


It is a little no database, so they just guestimates and so on what basis doesn't make estimates it. So I then look at all the records and look at the box office records and look at different records and projections. They're not perfect numbers, but on average, about two hundred thousand people dying by concolino between 1870, the 1910s, and that number is going up. And so what we can say for sure on the basis of that number two, fifty thousand between 2000 deaths is a certain number of millions of deaths of Indians.


The thing with the letter, of course, was that it is partly endemic, which meant that a certain number of people died every year, irrespective if it was virulent. So in Calcutta, in eastern India, where it was endemic in those maritime systems, some people always that you make a distinction that what is endemic and what is epidemic. So I look at only those years a clear case of epidemic, which means it's spread all across India was recorded.


And so my final numbers are eight million deaths in India in this whole period, which is epidemic, but actually 31 million people, which is endemic. And so there are so many more people who died in the average year. And so that's what the 70 million global figure that I have in this book actually does not count. The thirty one million deaths of endemic cholera in India. If you add it to that 70 million, then it actually goes up to more than a million.


So a lot of this bit accounting and it's a really morbid task. I mean, even four percent treated statistics like me. You know, just to look at those numbers, I mean, just think about three hundred thousand deaths due to just cholera in one year at a time when the population of India's one fourth of what it is today, it's a trivial unknown by one fifty thousand deaths on a population which is four times larger. So those death rates themselves are so unbelievably high back then.


So a lot of this book, as I said, the starting point of this book was a statistical database to try and understand which parts of India had more mortality. And then in the case of cholera, I have this on page seven of the book. It's probably the first time somebody has given global estimates of cholera because it's kind of tricky. How do you estimate cholera deaths across time? So people have been for some individual countries. What I've just done on that table is to aggregate it again, using certain methods of use for which we don't have to wait until that Russia had a lot of hits, one famous casualty being Dankovsky, the famous composer, and even his mother actually died of cholera.


Then you have Spain, Hungary, France, Germany, U.K., all of them, but a few hundred thousand. But Egypt and Egypt is spectacular in terms of the estimates that I have is about more than half a million people out of a population of nearly six million. So that's what 10 percent of the population kind of is getting wiped out due to just one disease, cholera. So that's kind of a really spectacular kind of strike in Egypt. So that's one part of this project, is to just understand who is dying and nobody that's aided by British media, including statistics, I should add, we actually don't know much about cholera, plague and influenza in places that we did not record statistics for exactly the princely states in India.


So we know much more about Mandela's presidency and the presidency because presidency or yuppy or united provinces. But we don't know much about disarms Hezbollah. We don't know much about missiles. We don't know much about that. And that's because these statistics were never really collected. So they need to project for them. So then I use some other methods to get project for them based on basic population. Thorntons Yeah.


And laypeople often think of statistics as very dry and their eyes glaze over when you look at big numbers. But numbers of people and I guess part of the task of a skilled historian is to sort of turn those numbers into stories. And, you know, you've written about as Calero travelled across the world, how it was changing history everywhere. Like in France, you talk about how 300000 people died and in 1832, there was actually a rebellion out there in Spain.


You speak about how the monarch had to come out on the streets to console the people and tell them, don't worry, we are on top of it. You speak about, you know, the religious revival in Marseille, which was Catholic at the time. And and interestingly, you speak about, you know, Rabindranath Tagore's grandfather, Diwakar Tagore, donating money to France. You know how much pride something like that would give Nationalistically. Tell me about the consequences of Calero on India.


I mean, not just in terms of debts, but politics, economics, society itself. Tell me a little bit about that, because it lasted such a long time and took so many lives, 40 million people getting to it.


Clearly, this one is, of course, 1857. So you should start talking more about how the pandemic was the backdrop under which the revolution took place. Why does unhealth? You know, there's definitely a greater demand for. From the people to improve public health, it's not a big demand, but that's one important aspect of how it started, that registration statistics, the whole idea of tabulating deaths is a consequence of the ban that's existing with us even today in what we call as a sample registration system.


It's a 40 year history, but that groups of recording death in India start from the 60s. The ban doing lots of interesting things. Of course, some important people are killed by it even in 1857. Some of the case this is guy in Calcutta, young 22 year old guy, and read Deverill and he's basically sort of he dies at 22 but he's a staunch Anglo Portuguese person who is criticizing British rule and unfortunately his that is that he dies at a very young age because of cholera rather than one dreux who has a the interesting thing about it and this is a larger thing when epidemics, he says obviously epidemics are horrible because they kill a lot of people.


But when you have so many people, like in India, in a country, could that actually improve the lives of people who are left alive? And that's the whole reasoning between the black. And it killed so many people that those who survived actually worked with more capital and productivity increased. And rather, WANROOY has this argument. But I couldn't find too much of resonance with cholera. I found more with plague and influenza that it had positive consequences for those who survived for cholera.


Not so much know in Europe, the impact was very clear. They had cholera types. So you had like violence attached with cholera. I mean, write. The cholera outbreaks in Europe coincided with Europe's Revolutionary War of 1848, the Crimean War in the fifties, the overthrow of the German Confederation, 1866, the end of France, the second empire in 1871, and also in Russian Poland in 1890. So important events in history, which actually coincided important political events in both European and Indian history.


We talked about 1857, which coincided. The other part is that cholera coincided very much with famines because what famines do is also classic starvation. Going to bet it would drive people outside in the search of water. And because what is the famine in India, it was basically lack of rainfall. And in that process, people would congregate towards certain centres that they would find water. And that is how with contaminated water, basically I would just read to those populations.


So it is great news like 1899. Nineteen hundred or eighteen seventy seven. Thirty eight. Those were the years of cholera. Really shocked. So Polara also in interaction with famines, made it much worse. And so the public health officials had to really step it up. The biggest implication, of course, of cholera was to accept that it is because of cholera that you had this first conference in 1850 one. It is a first example of a global health surveillance system, though of course it was pretty much European imperial powers, plus the Ottoman Empire trying to understand how to prevent cholera.


But that is really they had a series of conferences, 1851 one another one that 1866 series of conferences. That turns out the little ones, the League of Nations is formed. It's the same sort of conference, people who make a kind of a department. And that is the genesis of the World Health Organization in 1948 and the WTO, which call it a pandemic in twenty twenty. So you can see it is unbroken line connecting cholera and the first conference of 1851 and WTO announcing it because it's all linked.


It's all part of that same thing. How do we spread the disease from traveling globally?


And what was also fascinating to me was I thought this will be like, you know, a linear recounting in the sense that you have three chapters cholera, plague and influenza. But they all kind of overlap. You know, by the time you get to say something like 1918, all these are happening. Plus there is a monsoon that has been disastrous and everything is just haywire. Like like you speak about how the previous year there was too much rainfall, which was a problem.


And and the next year there is too little rainfall. And, you know, everything is just happening at the same time along with imperialism. Of course, let's kind of move on from Calero. No, as in fact, you know, humanity's done because it's pretty much it's virtually a problem that we have solved. And talk about the plague now. It's been sort of around for much longer in the consciousness. Like I love the sport with which you started this chapter, which is from, you know, about six fifteen from Iguala, my Jahangiri, and I'll read it out.


Outcoached when it was about to break out, the mouse would rush out of its hole as if mad and striking itself against the door and the walls of the house would explode. Immediately after the signal, the occupants left the house and went away to the jungle. Their lives were saved. If otherwise, the inhabitants of the whole village would be swept away by the hand of death. A stock which is, you know. That is also a striking phrase that just, you know, and this was written before Adam Smith's invisible hand, and this is also a kind of invisible hand with a morbid thought.


So tell me a bit about how sort of plague is looked at in India and how it comes to India and in fact, at the end of the 90s didn't even necessarily originate here. Like you point out, it's happening in Hong Kong. It's happening in China. Tell me a little bit about this and how it is kind of different from, you know, Calero, which came before.


And all of that plague is history's greatest disease. If you had to put an honor on the grid in terms of, you know, this sort of glamour value attached to it in terms of what it can do and so on. Why? Because the Black Death was about the plague. That's one part of Europe. It is a big moment in European history, evidence of plague attacks. And in history, it must have happened because we think it plagues also endemic among rodents and so on.


Again, to those who don't know plague, as we now know, that plagues about a bacteria Yersinia pestis, as it's called, discovered in the late 19th century. But until early 90s, nobody knew what causes plague. You know, and as you pointed out, all people knew that rodents and especially rats and mice started dying in large numbers. And if you saw that happening again, that was the sort of standard operating procedure regarding it. I do not in the book.


And, you know, I want to claim this as my little small contribution, that the Shastra has certain references which seem remarkable about rats and rodents, and they also lack facts and so on. And all of these things came into play in the 20th century. And I think that maybe I speculate that maybe we ought to have the task of referring to was the plague. This is something medical historians have not get rid of that structure. But league has sort of always been there in the subcontinent, but it never became so big as this.


We don't have evidence of it becoming so big as it did in the late 19th and early 20th century. And the fundamental way it works, we now know, is from it comes from rodents to humans via the bite of rats me. But this transmission mechanism and just under that mechanism itself is one can write books on that. It is so fascinating that we'll debate. But in the 19th century, it's not that, you know, in fact, my understanding of plague was that it comes to India out of nowhere in 1896, but even in India in the 19th century, the world in 1840, in the early part of the 19th century, it its end about the no gruesome accounts of killing.


And the thing with plague even more than cholera. So cholera, the bad things. If you go to the toilet in play, you can see it there, these large black lumps, which devlopment. So this is almost a bit like leprosy in the sense that this is a disease which kind of leaves its mark on its victims lefko, the different types of plague. There's also pneumonic plague, which is, you know, which does not leave such marks necessarily.


But the principle, the classic plague leaves these marks and they stand out. And that's why it's also carried by travelers. And they have more evidence of living history than many of the diseases. So it really breaks out in a big way in China. The way historians and classify these three pandemics to the first one is called the Justinian Plague. And new research is suggesting that it was not as big as it was previously thought and of affected the Mediterranean world.


So this place around Egypt, Turkey today and this is we're talking about the sixth century, see the time of Emperor Justinian, of the Byzantine Empire. So that's when the first plague pandemic, as it's called, the second plague pandemic is Europe in between 13, 14 and 13, 53. But then a repeated plague outbreaks throughout Europe until the seventeen hundreds. So London, for example, most famously was ravaged by the plague and then by fire. And this is in sixteen, sixty or so.


But Blake stops it hit, I think, the last time it hits Europe in a big way. I must say, if I'm not mistaken, 1722. But after that, it doesn't hit you. After that, it's pretty much China, you know. And so that's where the accounts come. It's pretty much Egypt, interestingly, and also India. And so then it breaks out in a big way in China in the 50s and 60s and 70s.


It really captures the imagination of the doctors, but it becomes a global issue when it reaches Hong Kong in 1894. And that's when we start seeing, you know, the third plague pandemic really begins because from Hong Kong, then it goes around the world because Hong Kong was a major trade center. It also, you know, exported a lot of food grains and food grains was a classic sort of storage point where humans would go. And that is how, you know, that's the solution, moving food, grains, rodents and the spread of plague, which is the classic transmission mechanism.


And so from China, most accepted theory that it came to Bombay, from Hong Kong and from Bombay. But that doesn't mean that there is no plague. Before that, there was plague in global call. Actually, Mohammad Mohammadi is the word today we use for pandemic, the word epidemic. But, you know, it's either money or might be used in different contexts. Work is more than a thousand years, I think more of Modie not and more Murray in South India.


But Mohammadi, which is really pandemic into this island, was used to describe plague in the global region in India. And this is like 1850. And so this is in British, of course, but 1886. It comes to Bombay and that's when all hell breaks loose. Yeah.


And it's fascinating how the numbers are like you. You've written about how when it hit Canton in 1894, there was an 80 percent mortality rate, 80 percent. And interestingly, people in upper stories were surviving because obviously, you know, a little further away from rats and those pesky little rat fleas that they carry and, you know, cantando 40000 people in a day. And, you know, you've got this wonderful Poyan wonderful because I enjoyed reading it.


It's not a wonderful, wonderful Boyum birthday, but it's very enjoyable. Called The Plague of Bombay by B.F. Patel about Maanvi in 1896. So I will just read it out for the amusement of my listeners. Could I stand in Montreal around with cries of all the streets resound this quarter crowded at the best first falls victim to the best. The Janzon party are set to tail first in alarming numbers, fail in every home or death, or to meet a bewildered geyser's view.


These sects seemed as picked out to bear alone the burden of despair. The other races, as yet very good, not looking dangerously half callous to their neighbors, was the plague disturb not their repose, but soon all and deceived distend the ravages of in hand scows every corner of the land, stop court and, you know, apologise to all the gentlemen patio's who must have, you know, reacted with alarm when I read these words. These are not my words.


This is from the plague of Bombay by B.F. Patel. And this even though you know a touch of Nimona about this in the sense that, you know, the other races as yet three could not be looking dangerously. Now, you you've pointed out it early on. The numbers are not crazily alarming. Like in 1896, you know, three thousand people are recorded as dying, then 50000 the next day, 100000 the next year. Pretty bad, but not yet kind of, you know, hysteria at pandemic levels.


And most of these are in Bombay presidency. So tell me a little bit about, you know, what's going on with the plague in the popular consciousness at this point in time?


Yeah, the first time I have a whole section of crisis invest in India. Ninety six to ninety eight. The government of India, British India goes bonkers and they're doing this because they don't want to reach Europe, you know. So that's the the fear. They've been battling cholera all these years. They've got a grip on cholera is no longer important to Europe, but plague invokes this memory of the Black Death. And again, it's the collective memory.


That's what I'm talking about in this book. It's that collective memory which is driving them to say at no cost shall playing into Europe and their principal point of interest in Bombay and of course, Hong Kong. And so this epidemic, which we are living under today, is the creation in February. In 1890, it was this viceroy Elgin basically rose up. They basically said, we have to control this. And they they impose these most draconian measures, which most public health experts would say is not right.


Not because, I mean, for the simple reason to come back, any epidemic pandemic, you need to win the trust of people. If you don't win the trust of people, nothing can work. And so that's exactly what happened. They went round with search operations and on hindsight, completely wrong science. They thought it was just poverty and filth which led to plague. If that was true, you know, Calcutta people said Calcutta got cholera because of that filth, but Calcutta really suffered from plague.


It was really about the rats and seas and the particular nature of rats. And this got no. He often five in a big way, so for the first seven years of this pandemic, they were going on three disinfectants, one disinfectants do then. I mean, this is idea, again, of some sort of airborne transmission just in some way that in this medical.


So they went around to the cover of the book, for example, shows a flushing engine used to confuse. It looks a little like a fire in a fire situation when you think of how actually it gets transmitted through food and simply that it's all completely wrong prevention measures. And what this meant was massive clampdown on individual liberty and huge pushback and pushback came in interesting ways. People were people were scared and hurt, just like, how can you touch me?


How can you inspect my wife at the railway station? So the opposition comes from all sorts of of these. How can you let how can you put me in a hospital next to a person of another cost? For example, they had this strict segregation law. So if you got you have to go to the hospital. There was no and you would be separated from your family. And this is important. But this is the first time the British state really intervenes in Indian lives in a major media.


And the pushback is tremendous. You know, this is I would say, like 1857, we didn't have an uprising. We got a set of reactions in Poona. There was an assassination. Walton was assassinated by the topic of this because they targeted this guy is breaching all limits into our society. And it's the birth of Killock as this massive story goes to Jean Ganapathy is banned for the festival, has been, interestingly, has brought into the site.


So that's a side story of the plague. But then he's released from jail. Tilak is a star, so it's literally the plague which launches him onto the national stage in a big way. It makes Gockley a big star. Later on, quickly becomes, you know, the head of the name instability. So it's also the birth place and the plague as a backdrop, especially missed in India because the British government goofs up so spectacularly that the pushback is tremendous.


And but the paradox is a lot of even I of the plague before starting on this book was of this, Peter, 80 ninety six to ninety eight. And I thought this was when they really hit and this was the intensity, it turns out. And afterwards actually the British kind of said, you know, we need to change tack, we need to be having a different approach. But plague really starts hitting India after nineteen hundred and that's when the numbers start going through the roof and know we're talking of like in one year a million deaths just because of and and start bombing cities.


Really, this is part of our Belgaum. Satara know a lot of these places, Bombay presidency which get affected and a lot of it was because of basically 20 years later, they realised the best way to prevent plague was that think, you know, if you could stick their necks out, you wouldn't get plague. And that is why toward the plague pandemic, soldiers need an army. You know, very few of them died due to the plague.


Why? Because they in cantonments, cantonments, nice structures in the cantonments. But you will get plague in basically what we call scatter structures. And that is where it had its greatest intensity. But for plague, you wanted the correct, correct and the correct interaction. So the distribution within India was not because of the more dirty than others. It just so happened that some places had particular Vinograd. So insultingly the recipe was not the the this is what I do, the different varieties.


So there's not efficient transport of components to humans. So that is why the nickname is pretty much but Punjab European presidency. They had the perfect kind of that. And both are going to be perfect for consumption. And that's why it kind of got that. And that's why arguments on sanitation again fell flat, because people pointing out, you know, for one hundred years would be telling us that Calcutta has cholera because Calcutta is dirty and yet is complete.


So, yeah, it is a paradox. And it's only such kind of questioning which led scientists to really find out the roots of black optimum.


Right. Plus optimal rightfully. I'm going to come back to that later because there is much about rats in the book as well. But first, this question takes me in, and it's almost resonant in a way that when I think of current times, you know, one of the first things that struck us in March, at least in India, is that this is a very alarming situation that is developing. And even if we don't have collective memory, at least we can see what's happening in Italy and Spain and everything and can take it as seriously as it requires.


But but, you know, there is limited state capacity and therefore there is no option for a state in a country like ours but to resort to Blanton's, which in our case in India was, of course, a blunt tool of the lockdown and with its various costs and benefits. And, you know, when I was sort of reading about what the British government did at the time of the plague, it seems that what you have is a bunch of blunt tools which also arise from a time of epistemic uncertainty in the sense that you don't know what the hell is going on, really.


I mean, today we have a much better idea of. From the start, in fact, despite all the uncertainty about mosques and, you know, whether it is surface bone or whatever, at least we had a much better idea than those guys back then did. And I will just take a quote from your book about some of the blunt tools that came into force at one point to write a code as part of the plague prevention measures, thousands of buildings were cleared out, citing unsanitary living conditions.


Property was destroyed and burned and trains were regularly cleaned. Tiles were removed from the roofs of houses and dwellings with reported infections were marked with signs outside them and treated as if they were on fire. They were flushed with water from fire engines and flushing pumps mixed with disinfectant such as Greece. All of an oil based potassium permanganate houses were also languished and sulphur was burnt inside. And at one point to talk about how the poor are panicking because they are often being left homeless, because their dwellings have been targeted, they rise up against the government.


And, you know, one of the slogans of that time is Mardell Okereke, Omar dialogical, which I don't need to translate. And in Poona, you speak about Walter and quote Walter and went in for the harshest containment measures anywhere in the country with intensive house searches conducted by European troops to identify sick people and transfer them to the hospital in the event. Accusations of forced examination and misconduct, especially with women, flew thick and fast and were short on 22nd June 1897 by Prado's from an outraged family with the surname Tropica.


Stop. And as you pointed out, this has repercussions. Taluk becomes a superstar. Gockley, you know, becomes involved in in 1947, which is when, as you point out, a million people die. You know, the Congress is sort of split between the moderates led by a Gockley in the extremists. Right. By taluk. And it's kind of fascinatingly, again, I'm quoting you go during the peak of the plague pandemic in India, more than innoculation or sanitation, it would be quarantine and evacuation that would become the norm.


So in general, when you think of the state's response to events like this and also then the pushback against people to the state, you know, how sort of are there patterns that emerge in terms of, you know, overreach and so on and so forth? What are your observations?


One was clearly a big issue while trying to enforce some sort of a lockdown then is, of course, what do we do with Migrante? Look, you know, that's a big issue, of course, which happened this year. But I think be clearly got it wrong in my view. And we had a migration crisis earlier this year. Interestingly, the British had a very different view. They took a look. Whatever we do, these guys are going to go back.


If we have a harsh lock down, these guys will walk back. If we shut down, the railways will walk back. So interestingly, for all their other forms, the British actually allowed these people to go home. You know, not that it was part of the pandemic. There's no evidence of that because there's no there's no spike in deaths, you know, immediately after that. But what it enabled was that the Bombay half of Bombay, 400000 people actually left Bombay and they came back.


This time this year, people are coming back, not to the cities. But that's a classic response in a pandemic that is so migrant workers will want to go back. The same voices that we heard this year, we heard back then, that is Moniteau bombing the psychology that if you want to die, we will go back home and die. So that's one classic response clearly, which we saw back then and what we saw today. The other, which is really interesting, is that the best strategy was actually evacuation and this was traditional knowledge.


This was passed down from generation to generation, you know, started off that sort of that is if you see these rodents coming out, spitting and dying, the best thing to do is move out. And, you know, this tradition also had many aspects to it. So entire villages, wicked. And still during the night, there was some implied thing that there's something to do with nighttime and later on time that we showed that it's a lot of this is transmitted at night that is is radically that should really work best at night.


So aspects of traditional knowledge embedded the British did not heed to it and later on started respecting Silvina. Even by 1959, the British always the best strategy is to let religious camp out of villages and let the season pass off of plague. And then that became the most cost effective strategy. And in the absence of any powerful vaccine or inoculation, in the absence of any breakthrough in it, like an antibiotic, which is an existing vaccine, the only thing that people could do was what people were doing for centuries.


That was estimate. Usually 30 million people must have evacuated at some point or the other in this terrible sort of decade. And I'm now come across, you know, first person accounts of people who lived on the edges of the villages, not just villages, entire towns, you know, observers. There's a reference in this book which is not a small place that's got tens of thousands of people. The entire town would camp outside. So it would be a town completely locked, everyone living outside purely in order to escape of.


The way to beat people, of course, was to build good buildings, good quality buildings, but there was no demand for that and there was no supply for that. So that never really came up. The learning from that is, you know, massive state overreach in the first place. The British learned from that. Eventually, the plane manual basically started off pretty much by saying respect people like that if you have to take into people in confidence.


And that has kind of persisted. All public health will tell you that, you know, you have to build the trust of people. The second thing that these did was, of course, reorganise urban governance. Now, this had its pros and cons. There were some long needed things like revamping the sewerage systems, because that's part of the natural breeding. So all of that were good things. But in this process, of course, massive displacement, as you pointed out, the poor people had to come out on the streets.


And so in those terms, a huge negative repercussions. One of the consequences, of course, of is today in every city there is a development, a lot of people. So you have to make this mamady in Bombay or did it then need the in the party the roots of that, like the plague? You know, it's the first that Bombay Improvement Trust is formed as a response to the plague. The Hyderabad Improvement Trust is formed as a response to play.


And so do our cities, I think, are not really the best examples of cities in the world. But whatever basic semblance of urban governance came into account was precisely because play prompted. You don't think she was famously in Bombay? It was created as a response to having 80 flats. These are theories as to how they transmit. And so lot of these suburbanisation more broadly started in a big way in India thanks to the play. Yeah, that's fascinating.


And you know, you to the guideline of how the state should treat the people and read out this line that struck me from the Punjab League Manual in 1989. And it says, quote, The cardinal principle of all public administration must be that no pressure or compulsion in any shape or form is to be brought to bear on the people. Encouragement, persuasion and the provision of facilities for carrying out the measures advocated are the only legitimate means of influencing and guiding public opinion in their direction.


Desired Stockwood. And, you know, another resonant part was about sort of the quarantine circumstances like recently. Again, yesterday on Twitter, I came across this sort of disturbing piece about Harshman there, about how he got over it and got himself admitted to a hospital and things were so bad that, you know, he lost his memory for ten days effectively and kind of lucky to get out of there. And as he pointed out, despite all the privilege and social capital, in order to think of what's happening to others.


And, you know, again, you can read an echo of it in the book. You've got it from, you know, the clear translation of Lakshmi by the Lakshmi teacher through. So I'll read that without and you know, this is from more than a century ago, but it need not be good. The cottages were ventilated by opening's about Hispan long running along the top and bottom of the walls of walls were made of tin. They got so cold at night that we felt we would freeze over.


We were surrounded by the sick. They screamed and beat on the tin walls. At times a patient would climb onto a wall and jump with a loud thud into the neighboring room. The floors of the cottage had not been leveled. When you walked pebbles bit into the soles of your feet. There was no food in our stomachs and no sleep in our eyes. Thoros, her daughter Tara screams, were heartrending. I thought of Yamata Kingdom anywhere. It had to be here.


The place was terrifying. The night was terrifying. The surroundings were terrifying. In the state of my heart was terrifying. Stop. And you know, again, I thought I should read this out for the benefit of the listeners. And I'm just going to go right out and sort of buy, you know, strategically and to go back to what we said earlier about people forming crazy narratives over all these. You know, you've mentioned a bunch of rumours that came about, such as, you know, the British are collecting Indian bodies to extract mommai of fluid to save themselves.


This was one rumour. Another rumour was about how, you know, to afford vaccination. The needle was a yard long. You died immediately after the operation. You survived the operation just six months and then collapsed. Many lost virility and women became sterile. The deputy commissioner himself underwent the operation and expired half an hour afterwards in great agony. Stop. Good unrelated question. Why does a shoot spread like I had protection of old news on my show, you know, more than a year ago.


And, you know, we were discussing those crazy rumours on WhatsApp where people are talking about, you know, children being kidnapped by strangers. And those rumors were constantly being modified with, you know, whichever area they were meant to reach out to, that area being put in. And as a consequence, people were believing that rubbish and they were actually lynching strangers who happened to pass through the village. Now, I understand that, you know, we are a species which explains a very complex world through simple stories.


But why these kind of stories? Why it is sort of morbid fascination that exists. I mean, I know that this is not related either to the book or to economics or history or whatever, but what are your thoughts on this?


I think there's something about death that said. I mean, that being the most natural, but also something that I have been obsessed about, that really sparks of all sorts of conspiracy theories, I would say not just epidemics, you know, even the suicide like we saw earlier this year or something about that, which makes it very easily pliable to gossip. I think that's that's true. Now, you combine that with a general atmosphere of fear and panic like a pandemic.


And what you get is quite a lethal mix of fake information, which either this year or especially the plague transmitted like wildfire. I think also what matters is the credibility of the state. And because the British media came down so harshly that they did not gain the trust of the people for a really long time. And so even on vaccination, you know, later on there's a quote in this book. It says, The same vaccine that people warn is causing a riot because the vaccine was introduced later on.


There was the right form of the vaccine that people saw the benefits of the vaccine and then wanted that vaccine. And so the whole mindset shifted in the span of, what, twenty five years. But getting this idea of inoculation, vaccination took so much time and often these doctors and so on had to inject themselves. Should what Joe Biden just in case the first shot and say that this is this is fine. So, I mean, I'm not expert on psychology, but I would imagine that under consideration, the stress is definitely something to be said about the exponential rise in rumors and spread.


And so that's why you need a credible state and a government which would give you good information from time to time.


The interesting thing about these kind of stories is that they don't just happen during heightened stress or, you know, we are just surrounded by so much crazy conspiracy theory all around that it's a little bizarre. But there is also in the middle of all this superstition and blind faith, there is also some great science happening. I was especially struck by the science around rats and cats with simultaneously you all during this period, like you've spoken about how there was this municipal commissioner of Bombay, Bobcat Snow, who shouted, in your words, quote, charted the migration path of rats within the city from the east to the west and then to the north and emphasized retract migration and mortality, impeded local efforts to contain the plague among humans in newer regions.


Stop, quote. So my question is, how is he charting the migration of rats?


Yeah, they're literally taking samples. They're taking samples. I mean, this is a really amazing story. This twenty five year period where people are really studying facts at multiple levels and also get that point out at one place. And what Snow is doing is they're taking samples of rats found dead and they kind of literally tracking. So they have these monitors of that to see how many they'd better be getting from different locations. And so they literally starts and rat I mean, the number of rats found dead or even caught alive.


This becomes a statistic for almost twenty five years. A Hartney looked up statistic during the plague, believe it or not, is how many rats died in your locality. And this whole phenomenon that catches you becomes a big deal. So in this particular case, before the migration of humans, that he starts looking at the migration of rats and how they are going. And again, the science is not this. Even today, we don't know exactly how is because, you know, they have got very long distances, even just by foot.


The rat fleas can go there to do this. Right. And the rats there actually has to be embedded in the rat. But the rats, we can go very far unless it's nested in a short supported, which is a classic transmitter or the rats themselves. But the rats themselves can sit in these stories and they can go by train wagons and reach Punjab, for example, and then infect other of the rats and so on. But one thing we should talk about is also that more rats died than humans.


You know, this is a difficult place that people blame the rats. Yes, we blame them. But actually that at the receiving end and it's only when rats die that actually what happens is the flea gets hungry and then bites humans. That's science behind plate transmission. So the unfortunate saga of, in fact, that migration is a sign that they are kind of helping us by pointing out that, look, stay away, there's something wrong happening if that's how bad this is, again, just a joke.


So that means that not rats are surviving for long periods. That means there's no plague and they're not to be safe. But it's amazing the kind of stuff people did with rats. Eventually, the signs came to me that once it was confirmed that rats were the source rats, these were the source rat catching became an occupation. And even during the bombardments by the I think it gives an a peaceful after something like that, that's the going rate today.


But this whole occupation of rat catchers have gone big time. And the. They were given these incentives to get drugs, they were objections, for example, again saying, you know, this is against our religion, so you should not torture animals and so on. So they were upset that the mechanism is they simply would keep these instruments objects to catch rats and maybe sort of poison sort of bred in these cages. And then the next day they would have to report.


And once the rats come to the laboratory, they imagine these scientists at these research laboratory, they're basically studying these rats have plague or not, because by the end, they discovered the germs that repeatedly. So all I think this is thousands of rats lining up at the laboratory every day. Just imagine the economy, you know, firstly paying people to get fresh, then somebody analyzing the rats and they built like a school, you know, how many cats are dying and so on.


And then, you know, then they say that the and because plague was cyclical, you know, why was it cyclical? Because the rat fleet could survive in certain seasons of the year and it transmitted so in different parts of the cycle. But you could say that it became seasonal, which meant that people could observe just like how, you know, the monsoon is coming and going. You could see over time when the plague is coming and then going, which is not known in 1897, in 1898, but by nineteen or five or six, it became so seasonal that this rat scorecard is very important because that's as it started to bring out.


You knew that plague is ebbing out there, just like we look at this chart numbers and now it's on a downward track and into the track. The number that they were seeing even more than human beings was actually rats.


No, and it's completely crazy because you've written a lot about this. So, you know, I won't go all of it. But one of the things I was struck by is how it was estimated that there were as many rats as humans in England and Wales. That is about 40 million. And using a similar issue, one million rats were estimated to live in the city of Bombay Stopcock, which is just nuts. And what happens after this is and by the way, what you were saying earlier about an incentive to catch rats, it strikes me, was also an incentive to breed rats.


But, you know, I'm positive with a scheme like that where people who are breeding there, was this a scam in Vietnam?


For sure. So we don't have evidence in India. But I'm quite sure that this economy this is a classic perverse incentive kind of problem. But it didn't. So there's a historical that documented this in Vietnam. It's called Hanoi, and that catches and, you know, the whole economy which started on reading that so that you could catch them. Absolutely. Yeah.


The scene in The Lancet, indeed. And also the directions in which it goes, like one of the ways to get rid of rats is to have cats. So there is a dude called Andrew Buchanan. You write about who actually carries out a cat census. And then you write, quote, In 1910, he staged demonstrations in a room with glass doors of how cats killed rats to create visual awareness. His enthusiasm was supported by luminaries such as Robert and Skeeter Sato.


However, he found few takers for his proposals in India and stringent opposition from a few scientists abroad who argued that cats themselves could harbour the plague. Some even argued the non-venomous snakes were a better option, since they did not attract that actually stop. Good. And I can imagine a home keeping, you know, non-venomous snakes instead of cats for the rats. And then I found I loved the spider as well. Caught in the middle of this fascinating mammalian and reptilian debate, cats were introduced in plague prevention policies and British rule Hong Kong and in German rule Tokyo, London, Japan.


A small business of cat rearing and trade also developed on the side. In 1989, Japan imported 4000 cats from the USA and still noted a shortfall of 10000 felines. Cat breeds were compared on the efficiency in killing rats in Japan. Kitakata Appraiser's sent to him by Buchanon as exquisite rat catchers and offer better rates than the ones found that stopcock, which is all of it is sort of completely nuts. And now, you know, before we move on to influenza, you speak about how the main legacy of the plague as such can be traced alongside, you know, four kind of different Arklow politics, labor and urban governance.


So, you know, can you elaborate on this for me? Because it seems to a certain extent the consequences of all of these, you know, good or bad are with us today. Yeah, definitely.


I think if you ask me between cholera, plague and influenza, which had the greatest impact, which still lives with us today, it's link to the legal aspect is the law, which is called Epidemics Diseases Act of 1897. I mean, cholera prevention duties under that act. So that's the that's the real big legal I mean, the legacy in terms of law comes from that. Interesting that you write about inheritance law and so on, because so many people died so quickly that people had to start writing wills and so on.


And it gave a little fillip to that industry as well. So that's the law part. That is the architecture of countering pandemics in India. The legal architecture was born out of this third global pandemic. Pandemic of India will start from eighty nine six. The other part is about political movements, so one part is Gockley. So that's a huge part of Western Indian politics. But then it's also about the cooperative movement, the history of the cooperative movement.


So we will today and so on. There are some successful cooperatives, lot of the mafia, but interestingly, a lot of that organizational bandwidth. To run a successful cooperative, you need to be able to get a lot of people for your cause. So you need organizational skills, leadership skills. And that came about often in people in these evacuation camps. So imagine if you have to evacuate an entire village or an entire town again and again, some kind of killer of people who kind of emerged in this system, who basically within the leaders of the first cooperatives of India, which were emerging in 1945 and so on.


So the servants of Undecidable is a classic example of that, which were into plague relief and then became a big social work. And then we mentioned the Europe, the plague, which really ninety seven one million deaths, the worst year in even history from plague was the year this Congress split. And so that was not the defining reason. I'm not arguing that these epidemics were the main reason, but an important factor, the fact that how is the government responding to this was a big deciding point between different factions of the National Congress and then informed about Grampa's in one of the deals.


Starting point in politics was really being this head of the Sanitation Department of the municipality. And his first big job was in 1917, plague outbreak. And anyone and nobody can survive. Until then, no major outbreak, 1917 value for a lot of people left him there and went on the ground trying to understand the situation, to put his political career starts off with this basic economic impact. You can't ignore the fact that economic activity is constrained. Like, you know, this is a recession.


You now think of pandemics striking in know from year to year. It's a kind of lesson on part of economic history of India that pandemics curtail India's growth story in the nineteen eighty nine years, 1910s in a huge way. And so I give examples. There are clear examples of GDP falling in some years by five percent and so on. It can aggravate some of these other impacts. And business houses everywhere are complaining, saying we can't do business in epidemic times like these workers get some bargaining power.


And this is a classic thing of epidemics. When enough people die, the guy's surviving, can get good wages. And so there's a labor shortage in many sectors which drives up wages. So that's one thing. And then urban governments which have already alluded to, which is the improvement trust. So the roots of urban planning and development really take us back to the plague and to the Bombay Improvement. Trust is really the first one that starts in eighty nine year, Mysore in ninety three, Calcutta in 1911.


It happens literally a few months after the as Dr..


And, you know, you cannot talk about the urban history of India because so many cities of India League was a huge part of the history for at least 20 years. You know, in Hyderabad, you know, between 1911 and 1920s or so was continuously ravaged by plague. Its population collapsed completely because of the massive floods in headbutts, which powhida by these people, nobody the massive floods, but actually the plague killed many more people than the massive floods.


But nobody remembers the plague as we do the massive floods. And that, again, going back to this point that floods, earthquakes, big calamities board are better remembered than epidemics because epidemics that are destroying new capital stock and so on. So this is obviously the legacy of the plague on politics. So it's interesting if you see the full of Indian freedom movement, the way I look at it now is cholera and these enterprising plague and the rise of the Congress and influenza and the rise of Gandhi.


Actually, three major sort of markers in our freedom movement can be pinned against the backdrop of a major pandemics.


Then Mahatma Gandhi also kind of play the side role, even in plague hitting South Africa, because as you point out, when he's in South Africa, you know, that sort of slogan of cleanliness is next only to godliness, perhaps has something to do with that. And me also talk about how because South Africans, white South Africans would blame outsiders for this. In a sense, it was also a contributing factor to apartheid. Yeah.


So that's definitely the case. We've got our plague in India, but plague, many say it's a pandemic. It really reached many parts of the world. It didn't kill many people in the estimates that put until 19, 20, 30 million deaths, 12 million in India. But there were one million deaths outside India and China. But South Africa got hit. Brazil got a little bit of plague, documented deaths, but it scared some parts of Indonesia economically.


And in South Africa, there's no doubt that it contributed. It's not the main factor, but it contributed towards these very strict segregation policies that started because like with cholera, plague was associated with food and dirt. So how do we keep Blakely away from us? Don't let these people who carry plague, companeros and to segregation policies were very strongly put into place in South Africa. So, you know, so. So as a historian has noted on myelination book, you're going to complete what you say contribute to the rise of nationalism in India, the great fight in Honolulu, which is, you know, in Hawaii, the persistence of the Asian prejudice in the US.


So one of the boys didn't hit the US. The immigration laws became extremely racist after nineteen or five precisely because they associated with immigration, the disease. And so that's how this anti China and Indian sentiments throughout the rise of apartheid in South Africa and the growth of public health service in Brazil. Interestingly, Brazil, one of the leading scientists in the world, was appointed at a very young age to be the public health expert. And he did a great job.


He created, people, say, the pioneer of public health in Brazil. And I'm pointing this out because Brazil today is on one spectrum. The government of Brazil is on this little and anti science. If you block the governments of the world today, Brazil is on one end with the president of Brazil continuously says, you know, that this is not even a virus. This can do any harm and taking blatantly sort of anti scientific positions. And within a hundred years back, it was the Brazilian government who got the best scientist possible to handle the outbreak.


It just shows you how things have changed for Brazil for that one hundred and fifty years that.


Let's move on to talking about influenza now, where, you know, the way it strikes seems to be like much more dramatic. Like you have a court at the start of your chapter from the famous preliminary report on the influenza pandemic of 1918 in India, which is a report from which 36 million figure comes, as you point out later, and this court goes court. The hospitals were choked so that it was impossible to remove the dead quickly enough to make room for the dying.


The streets and lanes of the cities were littered with dead and dying people. The postal and telegraph services were completely disorganized. The train service continued, but at all the principal stations dead and dying, people were being removed from the trains. The burning hearts and burial grounds were literally swamped with corpses. Well, an even greater number of it had removed the depleted medical service itself, so stricken by the epidemic was incapable of dealing with more than just a minute fraction of the sickness requiring attention.


Nearly every household was lamenting a death and every word terror and confusion being struck, gold and a stock picture. And also for if any of my writing students are listening to this, an excellent use of semicolons like they work much better than full stop, sir, in terms of the accumulation of effects and the impact that they have on you. And while these are sort of the general and abstract, you know, the the writer, the country party, also known as the.


Wrote about how, quote, My family disappeared in the blink of an eye, in whichever direction I turned, I saw darkness stop quote. So tell me a little bit about influenza. You know how people react to it. What are other duties at the time that what is causing this, which, as you point out, the kids, we didn't know for sure or what was causing it. So what was that like? Because by now this is no longer like Calero, which is spreading slowly in a country where the railways aren't dead and all of that.


This is just sweeping through populations. Tell me a little bit about this.


Yes, supposedly, because, you know, this idea of most people think of it as a cold in the common cold is also part of this watercoolers rhinoviruses as a cold. But the flu comes from influenza. They have people heard of influenza in 1918? Yes, because there was something called is the 1918 90 influenza pandemic. So the 1918 was not the first one. In fact, historians have not done many pandemics, but they were not as needed as in nineteen eighty one.


And in England medical circles, they were event of what had happened in 1890 and it was called names that have been in that list come in so that it will maintain. So the difference between influenza and the other two disease, cholera and plague is that it's not as glamorous. And that's because you don't have to go to the toilet or you don't have to eat. Nothing boils on your body. You just get a fever and some truth and so on.


The remaining medical knowledge at that time was bacteriology. In fact, virology was not even close. Nobody knew about what the White House is and so on. And so people thought that influenza is caused by something fifers bacillus neuroscientist's and bacillus being bacteria. And this was a two eighty nine three I think is when he kind of noted this. And so 1918, the medical establishment thought that this is just another strain of flu bacillus. And so all the vaccination efforts which did take place, but they completely failed.


That was on the basis of thinking that the flu is nothing but bacteria. So it's as it is quite wrong, you know, in the sense it's like saying coronavirus is not actually if it's 50 years later, somebody says that it's actually not quite as it was something else. So that's what people are looking with, I suppose, bacteria. But it's not it is a virus. So that was one big unknown. And that's why nobody really knew how to deal with this 1918 influenza.


The violence was kind of unprecedented. Most people would say it has never happened since then. Also, it spreads so quickly around the world. You know, it reached the villages in remote Alaska. You know, it reached like islands in the Pacific Ocean. Just some human contact was enough. But you require human contact, know? And that is why the scientists of Fred Hoyle, famous astrophysicist, he, in fact, pointed out that how can it be so vital?


So he argued much later, many decades ago, that this has to do with some sort of a meteorite dispersion, that some meteor was going from outer space and think of it dispersing the virus. And that might endanger those of us across the world. But we have evidence of influenza not touching certain items of the world, and it's precisely where no ships landed there. And so it's precisely in those islands which said we are not going to take any ships coming in, which got that early warning notice, which completely escaped influenza.


So there were literally a few parts of the world which were without influenza, that it was not only vitally needed. And so case fatality rates varied around the world and there was unusually high, but typically in the range of three to five percent, which is fairly high combined with that whitelist. And it devastated, you know, half a million deaths in the US back then, literally hundreds of thousands of deaths in Europe. The context is also important.


It came during World War One and it eventually killed many more people than the war itself. To the war ends in November 1918. But the bulk of the influenza deaths happened between September 1918, let's say August 1918 and December. So this is really a pandemic which lasted for three months, though most people today classify that from 1918 to 1920. And that's why this book's title also takes 90 in. But most of the deaths happen in two or three month window.


That is September, October, November of 1918, when very good start. It's a it's still a mystery. Most people would call it the American cancer. That's what the reading is. Yes. But it's famously called the Spanish flu. Nothing to do with Spain. It just the fact that in Spain happened to be neutral in World War One. And so it had its best post reporting about the disease. And so most people heard about the flu in Spain.


And that's how it under the world. I mean, it's a complete misnomer. Spanish, it should actually be called the American flu, if you want to call it neuroprotective. It's more accurate to call it an American flu, but we now know it as the Spanish and of course, when should I call it influenza of 1918? I don't think we should be giving any geographic descriptors to diseases. It comes to India and it's in two waves, OK?


It comes in two waves.


And the first wave is my understanding of it is devastating and interestingly kills off people in the working age group. So unlike covid, which is high mortality among the old people, or even plague, which also killed a lot of infants, apart from looking at triple influenza, had this unique and W shaped signature. It killed a lot of very young people. Then it's mortality. Impact was lesser in the 10 to 20 age group, 20 to 40 age group.


It really spiked up then if you see this mortality across age groups, it was W6 and that's the signature of the virus because a W shape was observed around the world. And so a lot of theory as to why the scientific theory as to why it happened. And what are you doing here, Dr. Lance? So influenza was also directly linked with pneumonia. And so in a sense, it attacked and then the pneumonia took over and kind of destroyed the body.


And so literally people's lungs would fill up with fluids. It would be one way to think about influenza and it is your lungs completely giving them. And so many of these deaths, eventually people turn blue and so on, like malaria, but for a different reason. So that's the nasty nature of influenza. At the end of the day, it's a flu and even flu. They're not supposed to be so little. But this particular strain was and we can talk about why it was so devastating and so on.


But the mortality estimates at that time globally were placed at about 20 million. And that number has been revised upwards and only upward since then. And the most, I would say the best estimates put it at about 40 million worldwide. We still don't know the exact numbers for China in terms of mortality. So that's a big number. But there are some papers which say 50 million plus. And so I think there's only one paper which is putting down the number, 40 million is the number now global deaths due to influenza pandemic.


And I argue in this book, I've taken up the estimate for India in a way back to 20 million. Kingslee Davis was a demographer back of the envelope calculation. He said 20 million in 1951. Then that number was brought down. So in 1918, when this report came out called the preliminary report, the number by the health commissioner at the time was six five to six million. This was only British and it's not 50 states. So if you say one million for that can get maybe seven million.


It's really the census of India know they enumerated the census in 1921, that really the enormity of loss stood out because a census official said, look, it was not five to six million because that is not the number we're getting because it went to the villages. There are villages just decimated. So it's interesting that it's about two, three years after the event that actually the enormity of loss came in because remember, how do you even get this information on loss?


You know, you have to have a newspaper system. You need to have news agencies. The point is even those guys died. So even reporters died. So it was not covered as an event. It got covered only when the census officials went and said how many guys in the village and you compare it to the previous census and then you find the staggering gap. And so how do we explain this gap? Is it because of influenza or plague or other reasons?


So there's a method to the census, but there's no doubt that influenza had huge impact. And so the numbers, the estimates range between, I would say, 40 million. So that generates an estimate of 40 to 50 million. And I basically put it up much more because I found that actually mortality was much higher in Hyderabad State and Rajasthan, and that has never been accounted for till now. So this is my research claiming high mortality for these kids.


And so now the numbers, about 20 million for India. So these are my estimates for the mortality.


And what is absolutely nuts about all of this is, you know, we are thinking of 2020 as this horrendous year. It's almost a meme that somebody dies and, you know, people will tweet or no 2020. When will it get over? But, you know, 1917 and 1918 were almost like a perfect storm of horrendous events, like, as you pointed out in the book, a quote, India went from being abnormally wet in 1917, suitable conditions for malaria and plague to being abnormally dry in 1918, a classic condition for famine.


So you've got malaria, you've got plague, you've got famine, you've got influenza hitting and killing 20 million people. Plus, you have all the political discontent, the all attacked, you know, Gillian Valborg, it's all kind of going to hell. I mean, and in a sense, it's therefore, you know, not that surprising that, you know, with all those glamorous events happening, the influenza has kind of been sort of overlooked. And I'll come back to that.


I was also struck by one thing here. One, of course, the common theme in all these pandemics, including the current one, is the essential state failure. Like you called the historian Rudloe reminiscing gaud. Confusion and inconsistency seem to have marked the response of the authorities throughout the presidency. But what was heartening then, and it's similar now, in a sense, is the response of civil society, like you write about how good they were, appeal to newspapers to send people from voluntary service organisations in Bombay City to affected rural areas.


These organisations would emerge as the saving grace of the pandemic across India. And then later you write, quote, In Bombay City, these organisations aiding in this effort were an eclectic mix of the Hindu Medical Association, the Social Service League led by name Joshi, and its influenza relief committee, community based hospitals for the Jans, Lozano's Marbury's Borders and Parsees St George's Nursing Association, Young Men's Mahmuddin Association, Bombay Humanitarian League d'Elegance, Free Library, Japanese and Shanghai Peace Goods Association and dozens of others were distributed food, medicines and often ran travelling dispensary's stop quote, almost like, you know, a secular uprising of the people helping each other in times of need when the state has failed, somewhat similar to what even happened here during the migrant crisis or during the lockdown in general, whether it was civil service groups in Delhi and in Mumbai who feared so many thousands of people and help them out and help them get home and all of that.


What's your take on sort of this aspect of what was going on? And, you know, is it something that we only noticed during a pandemic that only comes up in these times of emergency and other ways? We chill out and most of us, we are like, you know, the government is there to do all this is not my work. But suddenly when there's a major sort of tragedy like this and you realise the state can't handle it, then you go out and get the job done yourself.


I think, you know, it's a big question. I think state failure is obviously an obvious problem for civil society to wake up. But I think there are many aspects of state failure where civil society does not respond. But pandemics, as you rightly point out, precisely because it affects all of us collectively and we're all in it together, that is what kind of gets it much more prominence. And so, like you said, like this year, 1918 was unprecedented in the amount of outpouring.


I mean, literally everyone was in it to help others because you could see I mean, if you want to think of all these zombie movies of people walking around dead, people walking or people falling dead, something like that. I mean, when the 20 million people die in a few months, this is literally like the first course of the book. The chapter says people literally getting off the stations and their dead bodies around, this is people dying on the streets, you know, it's that horrific.


And so the possible response is people go back into their houses and say, I'm not going to come out or actually basically try and help others in certain ways. So the most obvious example, you know, they started these dispensaries. They would have this unique medical system. The doctors would go to houses, take a lot of what are you seeing, what is your diet? And they had some basic prescription because what they realized was with some amount of nutrition, you could sail through it.


And as long as you're been nourished, you could get through the flu. But if you are not that well nourished, the mortality rates were just an absolute killer. So that's the kind of realization that people found out. And what it meant was that you could then as an individual and not based on science, but just based on that reasoning. Then when you saw the numbers and get the influenza, it caused some pain, but the person didn't die.


Right. But when the person was not that well nourished, the person was dying. And that sort of idea that you need to get basic food and water out there, a massive response. And so the public health commissioner in that economic bite, as I say, he would later sarcastically say that the outpouring of support in large numbers from the educated towards the poor in times of distress was unprecedented, perhaps in the history of India. I mean, you know, he uses his words to say that this was an interesting episode which actually cared for the poor.


And, you know, it was truly a remarkable effort. Was it successful? All we can say is that it must have prevented millions of more deaths. So it must have helped stop it. It was only herd immunity, which kind of stopped it eventually. Right. In the sense it is a threat to the population. And it's still a bit of a mystery as to how it was out. Maybe it mutates to lesser forms or was it a complete herd immunity.


But whatever it is, the loss was just immense. And as Astrid Krosby, the historian, says, the single largest demographic shock ever received, the human species. You know, so when you say 40 million people die in a few months globally and in that Endersby, 20 million, this is a shock of not, you know, this oral history. Dr. Yogesh was cite in the book who was on duty this year. He was in his village in the Delta region, Delta, saying you at the instance of this in the past.


And interestingly, the memory lingered on, you know, the influenza and this particular tribal leader from the leader, from the tribe stepped up and said, you know, my father. How did they tell us the story of a time when so many people died that a person had to be given alcohol to drive the car to dispose of all the bodies and just the sight of bodies stacking up is one of the defining images of influenza. And this time they, you know, the Ganga being stacked with corpses, all histories pointing out the bodies being thrown off the cliff, really staggering number of deaths which which took place out here.


And one of the top stories of this is that it kind of came on the back of a truck. So that was an important part of the story, that the truck had led to a lot of undernutrition, which kind of influenced, acted upon.


And there's also sort of the unintended consequences or an unseen effect, as it were, where at one point you write and this is from bodies piling up and at one point you write, caught in the hilly areas of human corpses were thrown into the jungle. And according to the writer, Jim Cobbett led to leopards developing a taste for human flesh and thus being labeled Magneto's stop quote. And to think that we blame the leopards and pass judgment on them. And, you know, it's not their fault.


What are they to do? A similar unintended consequence is that, you know, you point out how Goderich move early. Goodridge was founded in 1897 to make security equipment, and in 1918, they move to manufacturing, washing. So birds, which is a classic example of incentives. Let's kind of now but you know, before we move on to a final section and we'll keep it brief, because I know I've had you long enough, let's move on to sort of the aftermath and the consequences of, you know, the influenza pandemic over here, because as you point out, it's not just a death toll.


You know, at one point you say it is possible that in 1918, 40 to 60 per cent of the Indian population contracted the flu. This has consequences even on those who survive. You estimate that the GDP that you, you know, went down by 10 per cent and all kinds of things are happening because more women than men are dying. The birth rates also go down and all kinds of shit is playing out. Over the long term. There's a supply side shock.


You know, when it comes to labour supply, there's a demographic impact of all of these things are happening. So tell me a bit about what this kind of impacts of that particular pandemic were.


Yeah, I mean, the economic loss was massive, partly because the drought, but also because simply this is the classic supply side shop, as economists would call it. It's simply that people that. There's no production. And so we say the GDP fell by about 10 percent. It's in fact constructed that in India's recorded macroeconomic history from 1991 to now, the two years in Virginia saw a negative 10 percent of all global pandemic years. And that's why really college students who often know a lot about what the Great Depression did to the US economy should be taught in India.


But what pandemics can do to our economy because they've had such a big importance in Indian history. So, you know, agricultural, you spend that particular year. The big impact was on people. And what a big argument I make in this book is that influenza gave birth to India's labor movement in a big way. And I use this I saw this using, you know, the spike in articles on like if you look at the Times of India database, the number of times the word unions or Meebo is going to mention spikes up dramatically after influenza.


And then tons of documents from the royal commission, variety of sources to tell you it's that particular three months which changed the game for labor simply because if you don't have 20 million people, what are people who are going to employ these people? So the guys who were left behind get tremendous bargaining power. And so wage rates are going up the same amount of labor. The conditions of labor tend to improve. But more important for the freedom movement, these guys now see, of course, I mean, influenza, influenza's a rallying point.


You see so many people dying, it's very clear that the British are not these so-called benevolent rulers. There is massive calamity which just happened. And there's a lot of opposition to the British that's coming out of this. And then, of course, stuff like general tragedy and so on. So that's a huge part of the story. The idea that public health I mean, it is the leading official in health, nomine by the time they report the sanitary commissioners of India, you know, it's the influenza that they call the public health commissioners of India.


So the world public health itself comes into a consciousness really thanks to influenza. There's some improvement, not much improvement, but there's some improvement in the uptake of medical colleges because people realise that when there was some amount of medical facilities offered, people could survive the flu. And so an obvious counterpoint was that if you increase medical facilities, then it would be good. It doesn't get so much international opinion criticism and the Bengals haven't figured out much later. But the Americans and I mentioned even in the American politics, people are pointing out what's happening in India, saying how can so many people be allowed to die at that point?


So emphasis on public health slowly sort of improves. The labor movement starts off in a big way, again, like the cooperative movement and the cooperative movement also starts. Right. But the biggest impact is that the death rate of India finally start small. And that's why influenza bookends India, as you can see, a millennium worth of mass mortality and in 1920s when the death rate starts falling. And that's two reasons. One is both all three, cholera, plague and influenza start ebbing because it's a better understanding of cholera and plague.


And that's kind of a one off. But influenza trends are so many people who would have otherwise died of currently in the next year or so. In a strange way, it kind of knocks out so many people that the people who are left there then of the surviving or living for longer time periods. So India's demographic transition begins at the end of India as well, because once they start falling over time, birth rates are falling and that's when India's population growth really starts to grow.


So how we became a billion people, I mean, to our history, we had high death rates and high birth rates and our population fluctuated between most estimates, between a hundred and hundred million people. It's only after influenza that actually death rates started falling substantially and the Indian population started growing steadily from 300 to 400 to 500. And today at one point two billion people. So India's falling birthrates, really that journey starts off from the end of influenza.


And so that's why it marks the end of an epidemic of mass mortality.


I like the way you point out that if they hadn't died of influenza of cholera or the plague, you know, if one guy doesn't get you, the other guy will see where you're going. And so we are indeed, you know, those of us who are still here in 2020, so incredibly fortunate that we just have, you know, two enemies to contend with, too dangerous to ourselves. One, a school with 19 and the other is the flailing state now.


But my next question is sort of, you know, you have a chapter at the end where you look at it through the rear view mirror. You look at the lessons of the past or covid. And one of the things that you point out is about the incentives of politicians, about how what we see nowadays is that politicians actually have an incentive to downplay pandemic debts and they can do this by underreporting them or they can, you know, find something.


Pneumonia or they could simply not test, in fact, you know, Donald Trump famously said that one way of getting the covid numbers down is to test a little bit less in the logic. There is, of course, impeccable, except that he was making it explicit and these incentives work on all politicians. So, one, you know, there is this because I think one of the truths that modern politicians have figured out to a large extent, governance doesn't matter.


Narratives do. I mean, obviously, if you go to the extreme, then governance will also matter if people are dying in the streets. But otherwise, it is really the narratives that matter. And your incentive is towards, you know, looking after the narrative and not actually doing anything about the problem. Quite often it'll come from denying the problem. And another aspect of this is in, you know, the tail interest. For example, you point out that, you know, all of these things are foreseeable.


You know, Bill Gates famously said, you know, five years ago that the next pandemic is going to be vicious. And it seems to me that a politician's incentive will always be to downplay the tail risk because your bandwidth is limited. There are only so many things you can do and talk about. So if something is an extremely low probability event with extremely high costs, despite the high cost, the probability is so low that your best of ignoring it.


And when people do talk about, you know, tail risk, such as, you know, every time there is the warning of a pandemic which doesn't quite become a pandemic like bird flu or swine flu or whatever, then, you know, it seems like what was a fuss all about and wasn't that a false alarm? So how does one then think about the incentives of politicians? Like, I completely get your point that collective memory is important. That is, in fact, what helped, you know, Southeast Asia deal with this current pandemic, because they've been through those previous scares and they kind of got their act together.


You know, caroler dealt with NEPA, which is why they were a little more efficient here. But having said all of that, it's also true that, you know, the incentives of politicians are in a different direction and so on. So what are your thoughts on this?


I think, you know, politicians have to claim that they're doing a good job. That's the basic objective of every politician, that it's Trump or, you know, any any politician going to try and sell. This idea that we're doing a great job now can be objectively say that somebody is doing a great job. What I say in the book is that we know what we cannot say if somebody is not doing a great job. And it's asymmetric in the sense that Pakistan has very few debts and the economy is not tanked as much as in India.


Does that mean Pakistan has managed it much better? I don't know, but I can definitely say that US has managed it badly because they've got textbook actors very high on the global spectrum and so on. So the way I'm looking at this is, you know, don't celebrate. People like New Zealand is the classic poster child right now of good pandemic management. I would say don't do that. I don't think the U.S. has done a great job. All we can say is that some countries have messed up and US is probably the classic case of that.


India's I mean, not really. If you look at any objective measure, it's not that bad. But in our neighborhood, we are the worst that we can see for sure. So the politics of pandemics is, you know, first is how much to intervene. That's the big question. How much should be knocked done? And the decision we took, for example, was on this probability that suppose it goes out of hand then are the loss would be too much for us.


Now, in hindsight, of course, maybe some would say it was too harsh. It was definitely not well thought out because we got a migration crisis unnecessary out of it. But but I think this distinction between economics and epidemiology, which is also this age of pandemics, kind of threatening, very classic need this year. Interestingly, there's already a research study which shows countries which are closer to elections, you know, did not intervene that much. And so US had an election this year and they did not do much.


Why? Because the economic losses are so massive that it will basically hurt your electoral prospects. So that's one theory that is countries which were closer to election that she did not intervene on that much. So that's one way to look at it on a more glassful. Of course, you know, between the last age and this age of pandemics, that time the imperial powers and Britain did not really invest as much in public health to control cholera in India with what they were doing in Britain.


So obviously, democracies have to that's the working hypothesis, that democracies are going to be better off at understanding pandemics because information base will hopefully be more timely and so on. In any case, the debt reporting hopefully is much better today. If you ask me how many people died in China, I don't know what the number of the stated number, but nobody really knows what is the action of oil in Iran. But it can be quite sure of the numbers in the US, in many of the other countries.


And so that's one thing that's not democracy really gives them. The other thing about pandemics I have said is about. This, the regional variation of this holiday stop in India. Not every now and then is so close this model then even today, Kenya's leading on the most indicators of death and so on. But it's changed from what Kenya was six months back to now. Things have slightly changed in the pecking order. And what history tells you that this will happen at some point, some regions will have more than some other regions, that there'll be some reasons which for the last five years down the line as to why covid mortality was much higher in some parts of the world than others.


And so what the kind of infantile thinking that is starting off with is that a good pandemic management know the state has an important role to play, but there are a variety of other factors, including the disease, ecology and so on, just like my plague hit Bombay and Punjab, but not so much eastern and southern India. It didn't really have much to do. It had more to do with the nature of the rats and fleas. And so there is this rule of the disease itself, the unique attributes of the disease itself and the impact it's having.


And politicians, of course, will always try and, as I say, compare losses with somebody doing worse than that. And so that's why in India we are comparing ourselves with us. If we compare ourselves with other countries in South Asia where the worst off. So this sort of who are you competing against? Is every politician sort of choice to make?


You know, one of the heartening things, at least, is how far the science has progressed and not in an incremental way, but almost exponentially in the sense that, you know, when influenza hit in 1918, you know, people promise that there'll be a vaccine soon. And they only started work on a vaccine in the 1940s. And regardless, while live on vaccines for other kinds of the flu, that there's never been a vaccine for the coronavirus before this.


I remember, you know, epidemiologists seeing this year that they may never be a vaccine for covid-19 because, well, you know, there have been other flu vaccines. And I think for the coronavirus, look how long the HIV vaccine has been in the making yet here we are. And this is like so incredibly remarkable now that your book is out. And now that we've kind of discussed some of the lessons in terms of governance and the way people react and the importance of collective memory and all that.


But the other factor in this is, of course, the science, which is advancing massively. But nevertheless, it could be said that, you know, viruses and bacteria have always kind of had the upper hand against us, if not colonised us entirely in a much deeper way than the British could manage. So when you kind of look at the future, you know, when the next pandemic comes, will we have learned the lessons of this one?


You know, is there a sort of given everybody's incentives and the imperatives is classic really go down on like at one point you talk about the stages of a pandemic and, you know, the way you have classified it is between denial, confusion, acceptance and erasure, which, you know, I found quite enlightening in light of all that you write in the book and in light of all that sort of happened in this year. So do you think that will at some point, you know, learn from the past and nail the correct response to something like this?


I think it's possible, as I say, on pandemics cannot be eradicated, but pandemics can be contained. And that is all that you can do. I mean, there will be epidemic outbreaks in the future, but it's about how you respond to it. And I think the first obviously trust the science and trust was assigned to the thing. I was happening because I was shown that this classic recommendation of a lockdown, while obviously very useful in a country like India, has massive social costs because of the impact of a lockdown varies across different occupational groups.


Those who can work from home simply simply getting poorer by the day. And so hopefully some of these learnings will having a good Social Security net for people who are going to lose out. You know, in this place, like, for example, the migration crisis was completely at this point for those who study migration, hopefully then the next pandemic comes. We don't have a migration crisis. I think that's the learning that can happen. And that's what past pandemics tell you, that you have to anticipate migration.


So you either ensure that there's enough Social Security given so that people are not thinking of going back or you allow them to go back to a stop and then to the lockdown. It's one of these two what you can do, neither of them, as we saw earlier this year. So there are lessons to take from this pandemic into the next. There are lessons to take from past pandemics, and that is that the less obvious it is, the more likely or the less likely they're going to deny when the next comes.


So these four stages of denial, confusion, acceptance and erasure, and if you don't erase the memory, then we are less likely to deny and we are more likely to move on to that acceptance phase in a way of smart science. That is, you look at the best technologies available to combat the pandemic and then what? So clearly, I mean, I'm convinced that there's a role to kind of memorialize certain events, especially in the. Good community, which is the front runner to kind of contain the enemy, so, you know, one of the things I'm getting from the medical community is that if only they had known about this migrant world, for example, then some of the recommendations would not because the guys who recommended our government in March want all doctors, which is good, but nobody had really thought about migrants.


And this is a complete blind spot which seems to have been there. So hopefully that will help the many books written on the different angles. I think I think we learn a lot about nurses and doctors and how people actually live, especially the lives of frontline workers, which I think needs to be documented. There should be awards for people doing great work. We've had 150 deaths due to covid. But in the past, mortuary workers, you know, when you think of millions of deaths, literally, just imagine people putting these people, burning the bodies.


So many people involved in the pandemic. And we need to start recognizing the label and value of that work so that in the future it's going to happen. But hopefully we can have seen through the next one comfortably on these words of hope.


I think we might as well sort of end the episode here in May. Thanks so much for giving me so much of your time and giving so much of time to writing these wonderful books, both this one and India Moving, which I think are just remarkable books which anyone interested in India or pandemics. In the case of this latest, one should certainly pick up. Thanks, man. Thank you so much for having me.


If you enjoyed listening to this episode head on over to the nearest bookstore, online or offline and pick up age of pandemics. But you need to maybe you can follow me on Twitter action. My Tumbi. You can follow me at Amitava Amitay. We ARMM you can browse past episodes of the scene of The Unseen at an unseen dot and stay safe. And thank you for listening.


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