Letters to the editor

Scroll.in readers share stories of living with pain

Readers respond to the 'Invisible Pain' series in the Pulse section.

Silent fight

The article by Kanika Sharma on pain touched a chord with me. I have been afflicted with Fibromyalgia and chronic Myofascal pain for three decades now (“Pain is the silent epidemic that India’s health systems are failing to handle”).

My headaches started when I was barely 11. I could not share my pain with anyone at home as there was no perception about it in society in general. Even though it is very common for such patients to be told that “it is all in their head”, I did not have to face such a situation. Doctors I went to did not question my pain but were not able to diagnose it either.

When they did diagnose it, about a decade after my symptoms set in fully, it was not much help to me, as they did not know how to tackle the condition. When the pain is chronic – I have not had a day without pain in 30 years – one cannot depend on painkillers. Moreover, I am not supposed to take painkillers because I also have kidney-related issue. This seems like an unfair situation.

There were many psychological issues I had to deal with due to constant pain. Letting go of my job was the hardest, as I valued my economic independence more than anything else. Having a sick child added to my burden, when I was dealing with pain issues, that confused me a great deal. Moreover, before I had my diagnosis, I really used to doubt myself and my pain, wondering if it was all just in my imagination. So I would push myself far beyond my boundaries to deal with housework and my job despite chronic sleeplessness, chronic headaches, terrible fatigue, and a sick child. I had other issues of migraine, sinusitis and the worst – endometriosis (this painful condition for 20 years).

So, the article very validating for me and it struck a chord. I can go on writing, but the many, many adjustments and compromises I had to make, as a mother, eldest daughter and a wife. Giving up my job and with a husband with unstable income and no financial discipline only added to the psychological load of dealing with an invisible illness.

The feeling of guilt of not being able to do “enough” like all other women and with my healthy, hard working mother as an example put even more pressure on me. All this pressure did not help at all. –Anuradha

***

I started having migraines at the age of 18 (“No ordinary headache: ‘I wouldn’t even wish this upon my enemy’”). I would first have an aura — I would see flashing colours for about an hour. This would be followed by a severe migraine headache that would last for 12 hours and over 10 days. Alongside this, I also started suffering from vertigo.

Now, nine years later, I still suffer migraine attacks, especially in the summer, or before my period starts and if there is too much MSG in my food.

However, what I found is that taking contraceptive pills had exacerbated my headaches. My doctor told her that patients with migraine aura should not be take contraceptive pills as that can even lead to severe brain haemorrhage. – Devaki A

***

I congratulate the editor of Scroll.in and the team for the excellent articles on chronic pain. I would like to see more such articles coming out and reaching the public as there is an epidemic that the medical community and people fail to understand. Keep up the good work. – Dr Madhur Chadha

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
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Behind the garb of wealth and success, white collar criminals are hiding in plain sight

Understanding the forces that motivate leaders to become fraudsters.

Most con artists are very easy to like; the ones that belong to the corporate society, even more so. The Jordan Belforts of the world are confident, sharp and can smooth-talk their way into convincing people to bend at their will. For years, Harshad Mehta, a practiced con-artist, employed all-of-the-above to earn the sobriquet “big bull” on Dalaal Street. In 1992, the stockbroker used the pump and dump technique, explained later, to falsely inflate the Sensex from 1,194 points to 4,467. It was only after the scam that journalist Sucheta Dalal, acting on a tip-off, broke the story exposing how he fraudulently dipped into the banking system to finance a boom that manipulated the stock market.

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In her book ‘The confidence game’, Maria Konnikova observes that con artists are expert storytellers - “When a story is plausible, we often assume it’s true.” Harshad Mehta’s story was an endearing rags-to-riches tale in which an insurance agent turned stockbroker flourished based on his skill and knowledge of the market. For years, he gave hope to marketmen that they too could one day live in a 15,000 sq.ft. posh apartment with a swimming pool in upmarket Worli.

One such marketman was Ketan Parekh who took over Dalaal Street after the arrest of Harshad Mehta. Ketan Parekh kept a low profile and broke character only to celebrate milestones such as reaching Rs. 100 crore in net worth, for which he threw a lavish bash with a star-studded guest-list to show off his wealth and connections. Ketan Parekh, a trainee in Harshad Mehta’s company, used the same infamous pump-and-dump scheme to make his riches. In that, he first used false bank documents to buy high stakes in shares that would inflate the stock prices of certain companies. The rise in stock prices lured in other institutional investors, further increasing the price of the stock. Once the price was high, Ketan dumped these stocks making huge profits and causing the stock market to take a tumble since it was propped up on misleading share prices. Ketan Parekh was later implicated in the 2001 securities scam and is serving a 14-years SEBI ban. The tactics employed by Harshad Mehta and Ketan Parekh were similar, in that they found a loophole in the system and took advantage of it to accumulate an obscene amount of wealth.

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Call it greed, addiction or smarts, the 1992 and 2001 Securities Scams, for the first time, revealed the magnitude of white collar crimes in India. To fill the gaps exposed through these scams, the Securities Laws Act 1995 widened SEBI’s jurisdiction and allowed it to regulate depositories, FIIs, venture capital funds and credit-rating agencies. SEBI further received greater autonomy to penalise capital market violations with a fine of Rs 10 lakhs.

Despite an empowered regulatory body, the next white-collar crime struck India’s capital market with a massive blow. In a confession letter, Ramalinga Raju, ex-chairman of Satyam Computers convicted of criminal conspiracy and financial fraud, disclosed that Satyam’s balance sheets were cooked up to show an excess of revenues amounting to Rs. 7,000 crore. This accounting fraud allowed the chairman to keep the share prices of the company high. The deception, once revealed to unsuspecting board members and shareholders, made the company’s stock prices crash, with the investors losing as much as Rs. 14,000 crores. The crash of India’s fourth largest software services company is often likened to the bankruptcy of Enron - both companies achieved dizzying heights but collapsed to the ground taking their shareholders with them. Ramalinga Raju wrote in his letter “it was like riding a tiger, not knowing how to get off without being eaten”, implying that even after the realisation of consequences of the crime, it was impossible for him to rectify it.

It is theorised that white-collar crimes like these are highly rationalised. The motivation for the crime can be linked to the strain theory developed by Robert K Merton who stated that society puts pressure on individuals to achieve socially accepted goals (the importance of money, social status etc.). Not having the means to achieve those goals leads individuals to commit crimes.

Take the case of the executive who spent nine years in McKinsey as managing director and thereafter on the corporate and non-profit boards of Goldman Sachs, Procter & Gamble, American Airlines, and Harvard Business School. Rajat Gupta was a figure of success. Furthermore, his commitment to philanthropy added an additional layer of credibility to his image. He created the American India Foundation which brought in millions of dollars in philanthropic contributions from NRIs to development programs across the country. Rajat Gupta’s descent started during the investigation on Raj Rajaratnam, a Sri-Lankan hedge fund manager accused of insider trading. Convicted for leaking confidential information about Warren Buffet’s sizeable investment plans for Goldman Sachs to Raj Rajaratnam, Rajat Gupta was found guilty of conspiracy and three counts of securities fraud. Safe to say, Mr. Gupta’s philanthropic work did not sway the jury.

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The people discussed above have one thing in common - each one of them was well respected and celebrated for their industry prowess and social standing, but got sucked down a path of non-violent crime. The question remains - Why are individuals at successful positions willing to risk it all? The book Why They Do It: Inside the mind of the White-Collar Criminal based on a research by Eugene Soltes reveals a startling insight. Soltes spoke to fifty white collar criminals to understand their motivations behind the crimes. Like most of us, Soltes expected the workings of a calculated and greedy mind behind the crimes, something that could separate them from regular people. However, the results were surprisingly unnerving. According to the research, most of the executives who committed crimes made decisions the way we all do–on the basis of their intuitions and gut feelings. They often didn’t realise the consequences of their action and got caught in the flow of making more money.

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The arena of white collar crimes is full of commanding players with large and complex personalities. Billions, starring Damien Lewis and Paul Giamatti, captures the undercurrents of Wall Street and delivers a high-octane ‘ruthless attorney vs wealthy kingpin’ drama. The show looks at the fine line between success and fraud in the stock market. Bobby Axelrod, the hedge fund kingpin, skilfully walks on this fine line like a tightrope walker, making it difficult for Chuck Rhoades, a US attorney, to build a case against him.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Hotstar and not by the Scroll editorial team.