Tragedy of Commons and Kolis (Fisherman) of Versova

Kolis or fishermen have be oldest residents of Mumbai. There is popular Koli song written by poet Shanta Shelke  and sung by Lata Mangeshkar and Hemant Kumar.

Aami panyamandi raapan takto jail, Dhan daryacha lootun bharto dali

 Raat punvechi chandana pyali, Kashi chaandichi maasoli jhaali

 Majhya jaalyat houn aali, Neto baajaraa bharun mhavra taaza

In this song a fisherwoman talks about putting fishing net in sea and lot of fish get trapped in net and then she takes them to market. This song was written decades ago, when sea was unpolluted, fish were in plenty esp. fish for which Mumbai is well known like Bombay Duck and Pomfret. Each trip to sea resulted in high yield. Today situation is different.


Before we talk about changed situation, we will talk about term in economics – Tragedy of Commons.

Tragedy of commons occurs when individuals tend to exploit shared resources (like sea, pastures, lakes etc.) to such an extent that demand greatly outweighs supply, and the resource get depleted and  soon becomes unavailable for the community as a whole. Overfishing is good example of this.

tragedy of commons

Grand Banks fisheries had plenty of cod fish. Traditional method of fishing ensured that there was adequate supply of cod for community for decades. But later fishermen started competing with each other, this competition combined with advanced fishing techniques resulted in overfishing. Each fisherman was fishing more than what was due. By 90s the population of cod fish declined to such an extent that entire industry collapsed.

Another example is that of farms along Mississippi river. Each farmer made excessive use of fertilizers to get better yield, but due to rains the fertilizers flowed into Gulf of Mexico via river and its tributaries. These fertilizers resulted in growth of algae which in turn depleted oxygen levels in ocean, resulting in death of fish and soon there was “dead zone” in Gulf of Mexico. No fish can survive in dead zone.


Coming back to Kolis, pollution and overfishing resulted in tragedy of commons, impacting very existence of Kolis.

“General fish population has definitely decreased maybe because of pollution, development and other factors. But more than anything else, it is because of overfishing and catching juvenile fish that are not allowed to mature.”

-Dr W S Lakra, director, Central Institute of Fisheries Education

Visit to Madh and Versova Koli settlements in Mumbai shows consequences of tragedy of commons.

“The catch has definitely gone down…It’s halving every year. We can see chemicals in the water and there are so many plastic bags.”

-A Koli from Versova

versova madh

Arabian Sea is getting polluted due to waste generated by citizens of Mumbai, irresponsible citizens throw non-biodegradable like plastic bags, bottles etc. into sea. Untreated waste from hundreds of industrial units also adds to pollution. Versova beach is littered with plastic bags and bottles. There is mixed smell of drying fish, garbage and chemicals. The sea between Versova and Madh is highly polluted. This is depleting supply of fish.

“We fisherfolk have always learned to laugh, dance and make merry. Most of the uneducated lot are too bothered about their daily problems to look at the larger issues. Our water is being polluted as we speak and the government has no control over any of the industries that dump effluents in it. The first thing we would do after school is jump into the water and swim to Madh, but now we have forbidden our children from entering the water because it is filthy.”

-A Koli from Versova

To catch fish, now fishermen have to go farther into sea, resulting in more fuel cost. In addition to pollution, another factor that is depleting fish supply is presence of big trawlers. The small boats of fishermen are no match to these trawlers. Trawlers results in overfishing, resulting in lesser yield for fisherman.


Traditionally fishermen never used to fish during four months of monsoon, as it is breeding season for fish. But trawlers fish during monsoon resulting in decline in fish population.

“There is nothing left in this business for us. The cost has gone up, we have seen expenses rise with the levels of dirt in the water and the boat has to sail farther away to collect fish. I have thought to myself many times that there is nothing here for our children to pursue.”

-A Koli from Versova

There are other problems in supply chain. Migrants from North India have now become part of supply chain. They buy fish from Kolis and then supply it to residents, this result in loss of business for Kolis, as buyers instead of buying fish from fish market (dominated by Kolis), buy it from middle men i.e. migrants.

“We are the original inhabitants of Mumbai. We don’t mind the north Indians coming to our city and selling bhelpuri, sev puri, ragda patis or anything else. But why are they coming in our traditional business? At least leave something for our community so that we can survive here peacefully.”

-Ramkrishna Keni, a Koli leader


This combination of pollution, depleting fish supply and competition from trawlers and middlemen is making fishing business economically unviable. Many Kolis fear that this will threat to very existence of community. Younger generation is not keen to get into fishing business.


“My father has been a fisherman, and my brother too started fishing from a young age. We have never thought of doing something else. But the younger generation is not interested in this profession any more. They would rather pick up new trades or jobs than go out into the sea. The government does little or nothing for us. So it’s up to the members of the community to fight to survive”

-A Koli from Versova.



Rabindranath Tagore, Rudyard Kipling and Noble Prize

“Kipling, the supposed expert writer on India, showed a better understanding of the mind of the animals in the jungle than of the men in an Indian home or the marketplace.”

-K R Narayan, Indian author

In 1861 a son was born in Calcutta to a rich and influential Bengali family. The son was called Rabindranath. Four years later, hundreds of miles away from Calcutta, a son was born to a British family in Bombay (Mumbai); the son was named after the place where his parents first met- Rudyard.

“Mother of Cities to me,

 For I was born in her gate,

 Between the palms and the sea,

 Where the world-end steamers wait.”

Rudyard Kipling on Bombay

Rabindranath belonged to Tagore family, which was quite influential in Bengal, both on social and political front.

India then was colony of British. Indians were considered to be an inferior race.

There was one section in Britain who believed that Indians (natives) benefited from British rule and any idea of freedom from British rule would be a disaster. So it was duty of British to punish people who propagated ideas of freedom or independence.

In India, one section of Indians believed that Indian society should get rid of social evils first, before demanding independence. They believed in reform of Indian society. Tagore family belonged to this category.


Rudyard Kipling believed in racial supremacy of British. He believed in status quo i.e. British as rulers and Indians as subjects. This reflects in his poems “White man’s Burden” and “Gunga Din”

Gunga Din is a bhisti (water carrier) in British army. He is abused by soldiers, but like loyal Indian subject, he tolerates all abuses and serves army with loyalty, finally lays down his life for solider. This makes him an “ideal Indian” in eyes of Rudyard Kipling.

Though I’ve belted you and flayed you,

By the living Gawd that made you,

You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din!

-Gunga Din, Rudyard Kipling

Rudyard believed in myth of white race, his views were not very different from those of Hitler who believed in superiority of Germans.

For him Gunga Din, though loyal to British is “black faced” and “squigy nosed”

“Of all them black-faced crew

 The finest man I knew

 Was our regimental bhisti, Gunga Din.

He was “Din! Din! Din!

You limping lump o’ brick-dust, Gunga Din!

Hi! slippery hitherao!

Water, get it! Panee lao!

You squigy-nosed old idol, Gunga Din.”

-Gunga Din, Rudyard Kipling


When Americans conquered Philippines, he felt that white race will bring enlightenment to ignorant people of Philippines (“sullen people, half devil and half child”). In fact he felt that white race was doing natives of Asia and Africa a great favour by ruling them. He called it “White Man’s burden”.

“Take up the White Man’s burden, Send forth the best ye breed

   Go bind your sons to exile, to serve your captives’ need;

 To wait in heavy harness, On fluttered folk and wild—

   Your new-caught, sullen peoples, Half-devil and half-child”

-White Man’s Burden, Rudyard Kipling


In 1907, at the age of 41, Rudyard Kipling was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.

“He identified himself with the ruling power and not with the opposition… Kipling sold out to the British governing class, not financially but emotionally.”

-George Orwell on Rudyard Kipling

Six years later in 1913, Rabindranath Tagore won Nobel Prize in Literature; he was first non-European to win Noble Prize.


Unlike Rudyard Kipling, Rabindranath Tagore was a liberal and believed in equality.

“Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;

Where knowledge is free;

Where the world has not been broken up into fragments

By narrow domestic walls”

-Rabindranath Tagore, Gitanjali

Difference of attitude could be seen in their reaction to Jallianwala Bagh massacre, where hundreds of unarmed Indians were shot by British soldiers just because they were protesting against British administration. Many died. The firing orders were given by General Dyer. This event was condemned by leaders in India and Britain. Even Winston Churchill condemned it. But Rudyard Kipling saw a “brave man” in General Dyer and paid tribute to him.

“A brave man who in the face of a great peril did his duty as he saw it”

-Rudyard Kipling on General Dyer

Reaction of Rabindranath Tagore different, he renounced his knighthood and protested against the massacre.

“The time has come when badges of honour make our shame glaring in the incongruous context of humiliation, and I for my part, wish to stand, shorn, of all special distinctions, by the side of those of my countrymen who, for their so called insignificance, are liable to suffer degradation not fit for human beings.”

-Rabindranath Tagore, renouncing his Knighthood.

“A great crime has been done in the name of law in the Punjab”.

-Rabindranath Tagore

Rabindranath Tagore was not just critical of British; he did not spare Gandhi during Bihar earthquake. Gandhi had called Bihar earthquake a punishment to upper castes for practicing untouchability. Tagore rebuked him for making such ignorant statement.

Nueva Germania, Friedrich Nietzsche, Bernhard Förster

“Germany is a great nation only because its people have so much Polish blood in their veins … I am proud of my Polish descent.”

-Friedrich Nietzsche

Bernhard Förster was a school teacher in Germany. He hated Jews. He and his wife Elizabeth decided to leave Germany, along with 14 German families to settle down in Paraguay. This new settlement called Nueva Germania was had no place for Jews and was future of hardworking, Christian and “racially pure” Germans. The 14 families had come to Paraguay with great hope. They had chance to show world that they belonged to race that was superior to others.


But once they reached Paraguay they realised that it was an impossible task. They found it difficult to work in harsh conditions. The scheme soon collapsed and Bernhard Förster committed suicide. His wife Elizabeth returned to Germany. The settlers were wise people, they decided to face situation, they gave up claim of racial superiority and mixed with the locals and started farming. In present day Nueva Germania, most of the descendants of settlers look like locals, but some have retained their German features.

“Some were able to survive…those pioneers struggled with disease, failed crops, infighting and the megalomania of the Försters, who lorded over the colony from an elegant mansion called the Försterhof.”

-Lidia Fischer, descendant of a family that was among Nueva Germania’s first settlers.

But story does not end here.


Friedrich Nietzsche (pronounced Knee-Cheh) was well known German philosopher. He came with a concept of superman “Übermenschen”- a person who is not driven by herd mentality, one who has superseded the bondage of the human condition and reached a liberated state — one of free play and creativity.

pure race

He was against German nationalism and pro Jewish. But in his later years he was losing his mental balance. After her return from Germany Elizabeth Forster decided to take care of her brother Friedrich Nietzsche and took charge of his writings. She, like her husband, Bernhard hated Jews. She used her brother’s work for Nazi propaganda. His work was twisted to suit Nazi propaganda.


His idea of superhuman was for welfare of mankind and had nothing to do with race. But Nazis used concept of “Übermenschen” to tell German that they were a superior race- true Aryans- fit to rule world , infact fit to rule “Untermensch”, the subhumans. Jews, Romas and Slavs like Poles and Russians were labelled as subhumans. This twisted logic helped Hitler to kill Jews, Romas, Poles and Russians and grab their land.


Nietzsche’s work had nothing to do with Nazi propaganda. In face Nietzsche was proud to call himself Polish and believed that Polish were superior to Germans.

“I am a pure-blooded Polish nobleman, without a single drop of bad blood, certainly not German blood.”

-Friedrich Nietzsche

Post war some of the German war criminals fled to countries of South America. They were welcomed by residents of Nueva Germania.  War criminals found Nueva Germania, a safe place to hide.

 “According to the experts, they say that Germans have the best judgment in the world, and then come the Koreans, or rather, the Japanese…and Paraguayans come in last place”

Guillermo Fischer, resident of Nueva Germania

Marshall Goldsmith, Winning too much and Game of Chicken

In Game Theory there is an interesting game called “Chicken”. The game of chicken models two drivers, both headed for a single-lane bridge from opposite directions. The first to swerve away yields the bridge to the other. If neither player swerves, the result is a costly deadlock in the middle of the bridge, or a potentially fatal head-on collision.


Most of the cases it ends in either deadlock or collision, because no one wants to be called “chicken”. Winning becomes important, even at the cost of loss associated with winning.

'Alright, Captain, are you ready to play 'Chicken'?'

Renowned coach Marshall Goldsmith has made list of 20 bad habits of leaders. Of these number one is “Winning too much”. Leaders love at all cost and in all situations, they want to win contracts, get ahead of colleagues and even want to win argument with spouse.

“Winners love winning. So, if it’s:

–          Important, we want to win.

–          Meaningful, we want to win.

–          Critical, we want to win.

–          Trivial, we want to win.

–          Not worth it? We want to win anyway!”

-Marshall Goldsmith

His advice to leaders who want to climb career ladder is to stop this habit of winning at any cost.

“Winning too much is the #1 challenge for most people, because it underlies nearly every other behavioral problem. If we argue too much, it’s because we want our view to prevail (in other words we want to win). If we put other people down, it’s our way to position them beneath us (again, winning). If we withhold information, it’s to gain an edge over others. If we play favorites, it’s to gain allies so “our side” has an advantage.”

-Marshall Goldsmith


He feels that there are some arguments that are not worth winning, you may end up winning but end up losing an important client or relationship. So at times it is wise to let go. So in game of chicken if drivers show wisdom, both can win.

“The next time you start trying to win and prove you’re right, take a deep breath and ask yourself: Exactly what am I winning? Is this really something I want to win or need to win? Is this even worth the effort? We can become more successful if we appreciate this “flaw” and work to suppress it in all of our interpersonal relations.”

-Marshall Goldsmith

Gut feeling, Gerd Gigerenzer and Decision Making

 “I have always done everything by intuition and gut feeling, and almost never used accountants to decide if I should start a new business.”

-Richard Branson

In one organisation employees were reluctant to suggest any improvements, reason was if anyone suggested improvement, then before it change could be incorporated, a detailed statistical analysis had to be done, the findings had to be presented to panel of experts, who in turn would ask for more analysis…in most cases the improvements were withdrawn.

'On the other hand, maybe he always goes from his gut because he doesn't have any brains.'

While rigours statistical analysis is sometimes required for decision making, but at times many key decisions are also taken based on gut feeling or rule of thumb (heuristics)

gut feeling gerd_gigerenzer[1]

Psychologist Gerd Gigerenzer believes gut feelings don’t get as much respect as they should. He describes gut feeling as …

…it’s a judgment that is fast. It comes quickly into a person’s consciousness. The person doesn’t know why they have this feeling. Yet, this is strong enough to make an individual act on it. What a gut instinct is not is a calculation. You do not fully know where it comes from.

Decisions taken based on gut feelings can be correct ex. Howard Schultz started Starbucks based on intuition that Italian model of coffee houses will work in US.

Ray Kroc ignored his lawyer’s advice (lawyer advised him not to buy McDonalds) and brought fast food chain owned by brothers Richard and Maurice McDonald for $ 2.7 million, based on gut feeling that chain had huge potential to grow!

“The problem with making big decisions based on complex calculations is that you can’t know all of the variables in an uncertain world, and not all the information from your past is relevant to your future, so your judgment can get clouded with irrelevant noise.”

-Gerd Gigerenzer

Intuition comes with practice and years of experience and is useful when decisions have to take in situations where past data is of no use. Intuition is useful in cases where decisions have to be taken in ambiguous situations i.e. while taking decisions some of the key parameters are unknown or uncertain. Decision making based on past data is useful in stable situations, but past data is not reliable in VUCA world (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity)

“Good instincts rely on rules of thumb, known as heuristics, wherein you focus on the most important information and ignore the rest. If you want to explain the past, you can do this with very complex rules, but if you want to predict the future, that is not always the case. Then, less is more.”

-Gerd Gigerenzer

Gred has suggestion for people who either have a hard time hearing their gut or maximizers i.e. who want to explore all of their options before making a decision, to strengthen their intuitive muscle.


They can start it with using gut for decisions that are not critical ex stop weighing the merits of every item on the restaurant menu and invoke a rule of thumb that has saved indecisive souls everywhere…ask the waiter what he would eat there and just get that.

“Now, in private life, I rely on instinct. For instance, when I first met my wife, I didn’t do computations. Nor did she.”

-Gerd Gigerenzer