KR Ravi | Feb 27, 2009
There was an animated discussion when I had hosted a party at my home in the US yesterday. Most of the guests were Indians. These were successful people in diverse professions but all united in their love for India with deep regret that they could not use their talents in their home country.
At one point the conversation veered round to the reports of several Indians being killed in cities across the US. In the last 15 months, 8 engineers from Andhra have been killed.
The headline that prompted the emotional discussion was as follows:
Andhra engineer found dead in Spain
HYDERABAD: An aeronautical engineer from Nizamabad district of Andhra Pradesh was found dead under suspicious circumstances at his house in Madrid in spain.
One major regret of mine-among many others – has been my phobia towards mathematics. Over the last few years I have been devoting much time and effort to the study of the working of the mind and have written three books on this subject. This research led me to a study of mathematics since probabilities are an integral part of our lives and thinking process.
One insight that I gained is about superstition and the other was our tendency to see patterns even when events occur in a random fashion.
Thus one of my guests suggested that Telugu youngsters were being ‘targeted’ for murder in the US and maybe even Spain. He felt that 8 murders “is too much to be random.”
I told him that most people all over the world find it difficult to grasp the concept of randomness and have a tendency to see a pattern—some pattern in every series of events. We are probably programmed to seek an explanation that makes ‘sense’.
I tried to reason that the criminal in the US cities will not know the difference between a Telugu and say a Tamilian. Even someone from north India does not know this! It is also possible that the criminal may not even think about the nationality of the person whom he is attacking. He sees a man in a deserted locality who seems to be unarmed and better off than he himself is and a moment later he shoots his quarry down. It is we who realize later that the man killed is a Telugu guy.
Moreover some of these guys killed are students , relatively new to the country and city and are not aware that most US cities have ‘dangerous’ localities and need to be avoided. Anyone seen in these places risks being harmed irrespective of nationality.
In any case Telugus form the largest segment of immigrant Indians and even if a criminal decides to target an Indian there is at least a 40/50% probability that he will end up hurting a Telugu.
Thus these acts of violence are random and while one shares the grief of their families the fact is that Telugu people are not being ‘targeted’.
I believe that when one falls into such a state of mind there is a danger of developing a victim complex. I recall a Christian friend of mine telling me that her niece had applied for a scholarship in a Pune-based college but was turned down. The niece and aunt attributed this to ‘discrimination’ against Christians.
They told me that there were 2000 applicants for ten scholarships.
I drew their attention to a mathematical way of looking at this event. There were two thousand applicants for 10 scholarships. So obviously 1990 applications HAD TO BE REJECTED. So your niece was one among these rejected applicants majority of whom were Hindus! So Hindus can also claim to be rejected unfairly. The probability of her being selected was a low 1 in 200!
Thus I suggested that her rejection may be due to the odds being heavily against her and not necessarily due to discrimination. I do not totally rule out discrimination though but one must have better evidence to make such an accusation.
I believe most superstitions are the product of our tendency to seek ‘explanations’ for everything that happens around us. We see event ‘A’ followed by event ‘B’ and we cannot but say that ‘A’ led to ‘B’. This is the familiar cause-effect relationship that may be untrue. Many miracles attributed to God or saints fall in this category.
At one point in the party, my friend Rakesh Sinha suggested that in view of the Satyam scandal he concluded that Telugu people are frauds. This accusation has appeared in the net often. Before there could be an exchange of blows I told my guests that in case there is pandemonium the probability of all of us being arrested was high!
Filed Under: Miscellaneous