It is nobody’s case that danger is not there. It is a question of an intelligent understanding of disaster as it is possible to face it sensibly

Periodically there are events which capture the people’s mind and imagination because they are so unusual. Recall the global frenzy at the beginning of 21st century? The midnight of December 31, 1999 and January 1, 2000 were supposed to be epoch-making. However, any student of geography knows that there is no such thing as a century changing. The planet Earth rotates around its own axis and around the sun. The flashpoint of December 31, 1999 changing to January 1, 2000 would be at different points of the globe at different times of the same day. For the purposes of enabling “measurement of time”, the Earth is divided into longitudes. This measurement begins at a given longitude in the Pacific Ocean region. The rest of the measurement of time follows. The marking of the longitude is notional and the time taken by the Earth to rotate fully, once, around its axis is taken to be “24 hours.”

Because of this innovation, calendars could be created and seasons marked by months. This collection of months became a year. The globe is dotted with many types of calendars, each marking the days and the collection of days in its own unique manner. Ultimately, all calendars talk of a year. In a manner of speaking, the measurement of days, months and years is based on assumptions which make learning scientific and sequential.

To get back to the story of the so-called beginning of the 21st century, the “unique event” was projected as once-in-a-lifetime occasion. People wanted to be among the first on the planet to witness the “birth” of the 21st century. They also wanted to have a story for their children and grandchildren if they were ever asked, “Where were you when the new century was born?” So the enterprising ones got to work and some of them sat on the beaches of certain islands to be among the first to witness the first sunrise of the 21st century. This became a multi-billion dollar business but no management book has discussed this. However, the “dawn of the new century” became a reality in perceptions.

Simply put, the gross truth is that there is no such thing as a sunrise or sunset. The simple truth is that the sun never rises and it never sets. It looks like a sunrise because the Earth rotates. Also, there would be no qualitative difference between a December 31 and January 1. In a manner of speaking, January 1 would be like any other day at any other time. Nothing would have changed in nature or reality, other than one more rotation of the blue planet while orbiting around the great fireball in the sky. However, the fallacy does not end there. 

A new century, even going by the self-given measurements, does not begin with a zero. A new century would begin with one. Hence, the 21st century did not begin, in a manner of speaking, in the year 2000 but would have begun in 2001 only. However, such is the power of the hype created by the media that no one seriously questioned the beginning of the new century on January 1, 2000. Thus it is that the new century was ushered in and celebrated. Almost every kind of reaction, from that of the astronomers to statisticians, was conspicuous by its silence on this anomaly. Clearly, in life, the importance of “belief” is high and the media plays a determining role in it. This is a running theme which has several precedents in this century. For instance, there was the Y2K scare at the turn of the 21st century, where computer users and programmers feared that computers would stop working on December 31, 1999. There was such a major brouhaha over the Y2K threat that it delivered huge financial gains for some computer companies. Ultimately, nothing happened but the belief in and the fear of the Y2K phenomenon was enormous.

Come 2001, there was the “threat” of Anthrax and in 2002 many believed that the West Nile virus was a threat to the world. In 2003 it was the fear of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), while in 2005 the “Bird Flu” was believed by many to be a recipe for disaster. A few gained and many, especially poultry and those involved in animal husbandry, paid the price of the global panic exacerbated by the media.

Whenever there was a threat perception the question of scale, magnitude and range of impact, were rarely built into the equation. Ultimately, this was nowhere near many of the other equally disastrous events that the world had seen, like in the time of the “great plague.” Swine flu, Ebola virus, Zika virus all had their days.

It is nobody’s case that danger is not there. It is a question of an intelligent understanding of disaster as it is possible to face danger sensibly. One of the media reports says that on March 12 alone, the ongoing Coronavirus wiped out Rs 11 lakh crore from the share market at Dalal Street with the Sensex crashing by 2,919 points. However, the biggest challenge of the time may be to face challenge in a realistic manner.