Saturday, November 12, 2011

Hit by Randomness

Being very logical and conservative, I believed completely in Nassim Nicholas Taleb's idea that events with very high impact but very, very low probability occur far more often than one thinks probable. 

The accuracy of this belief came home to me yesterday evening quite forcefully. For a few days, the normally diligent maid who comes in to clean my office did not turn up. Phone calls to her mobile number remained unanswered. A slight concern remained at the back of my mind, but I did nothing about it. This maid, who has been with me two years would even phone in to say she'd be late.  I ascribed it to the fact that she leads a very challenging and exhausting life, and may be unwell. She lives in rental accommodation with her mother and her son, who is doing very well in school (as a single mother, she is justifiably proud of that). She is still fighting in Court for maintenance against her husband who has abandoned them both. She works in a few places doing cleaning work from around 6:30 am, and then works in a company in Crawford Market till 8:30 pm and returns home close to 10 pm. 

Then, yesterday I heard from her brother, who lives nearby but separately. She had met with a freak accident that has changed her life completely. An act of random irresponsibility leading to a devastating black swan impact on this hard-working lady. Hit by randomness, as Taleb would put it. Bad luck, as most Indians would. Either way, it is entirely senseless and inexplicable. 

It will be some time before she can pick up the threads of her life. Her brother's intention was to ask if I would be good enough to wait for her to get well enough and come back to her job. I assured him that I would wait. She has taken a rain check on my offer for financial help. Need to go and meet her - will do that tomorrow.  

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