Friday, July 30, 2010
Commonwealth games are round the corner. In every country with the exception of India, the Head of the State would have assumed the responsibility to ensure that an event of this magnitude went off well. Lula de Silva going all out to get the next Olympics for Brazil and Barack Obama travelling to Denmark to support USA's bid for 2016 olympics are just 2 examples.
In our case, Mr Singh looks absolutely clueless and unconcerned about the games. I am sure if something goes wrong, the fall guys are already in place but isn't it the responsibility of the CEO to ensure that the organization functions smoothly? Probably the only thing which gets Mr Singh excited is when someone mentions something about Rahul Gandhi to him and on all other occasions, he is happy playing second fiddle to 'Madam'.
How long will Indian media be quiet about the leadership or rather the lack of it exhibited by Manmohan Singh? My frustration is pretty evident here because we had such a good chance to showcase our country to the rest of the world but our famous 'Chalta Hai' attitude has ensured that the Appetizer has already spoiled the taste of the main course which will follow and the worst part is that the executive chef is least bothered about the outcome!
A few years back, Advani had called Mr Singh a 'Nikamma' Prime Minister and I competely agreed at that time that the remark was in bad taste. Now when I think about that remark, I know that Mr Advani had hit the nail in the head with that word!
Sunday, May 09, 2010
These are the top stories that I see on TOIs website today.
Inter-caste marriage ends in honour killing - http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/India/Inter-caste-marriage-ends-in-honour-killing/articleshow/5908484.cms
Mother of murdered Delhi journalist released on parole - http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/India/Mother-of-murdered-Delhi-journalist-released-on-parole/articleshow/5909079.cms
UP honour killing: Girl remains traceless - http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/India/UP-honour-killing-Girl-remains-traceless/articleshow/5909392.cms
Girl marries lover, father kills her - http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/City/Lucknow/Girl-marries-lover-father-kills-her/articleshow/5908655.cms
May be TOI should track all Honour killings in a separate section and maintain the count. May be, its a remote possibiility but may be India government would finally wake up to take action....
Monday, April 19, 2010
Did you every think about going on a holiday to Ukraine or Croatia or Tunisia? Why do I ask? Well, if you look at the International tourist arrival numbers for 2007, Ukraine had 23.1 million FTAs(Foreign Tourist Arrivals), Croatia (which I knew only for Goran Ivanisevic) had 9.3 million and Tunisia( I would bet P 1000 that you can't locate it on world map) had 6.8 million FTAs compared to India at 5.0 million(Incredible India).
I don't want to go with a long list of what can be done to draw the attention of International travellers to India but the numerous crimes against travellers don't help India's reputation as a safe destination. Goa has been in news for all the wrong reasons for years now and looks like Goa government has taken for granted that tourists will flock to Goa no matter what! Rishikesh, the last place where you expect crime(Coz sins are washed away in Ganga) is in news for two rapes over the last one month.
On top of that, we have the menace of the taxi drivers which are out there to fleece any foreign tourist to make a quick buck. BTW, in Manila I take a cab to go to work everyday and rarely has the variation of what I have paid for my trips been more than 10%, can we expect that in India?
And the filth that we Indians spread around the cities and our rivers without caring about the surroundings is another depressing factor.
Courtesy, our Chalta Hai attitude, we have almost come to believe that all this crap is actually a part of Incredible India experience and the tourists will come to love India despite all these problems but numbers tell a different story. Facebook is an example of what word of mouth publicity can do(And if you are reading this,I bet you are on Facebook). If foreign tourists were so enamored by India, and they would have recommended India to even 1 close friend, our FTA numbers would have not remained at 5 million today.
If Mayawati can hire 2000 ex army personnel to create a force that will guard all the statues that she has place across U.P, why can't we have a National Tourism Police which will have the sole task of helping tourists and solving crimes against tourists?
India must not stand for 'I'll Never Do It Again!'
International tourist arrivals
|3||United States|| |
|6||United Kingdom|| |
|16||Hong Kong|| |
|21||Saudi Arabia|| |
|25||South Africa|| |
8 million (2006)
|32||United Arab Emirates|| |
7.1 million (2005)
|35||Czech Republic|| |
|36||South Korea|| |
5.1 million (2006)
4.7 million (2006)
4.5 million (2006)
|47||Dominican Republic|| |
3.9 million (2006)
|50||Puerto Rico|| |
Saturday, April 10, 2010
Obviously, a country which does not respect rights of its citizens cannot be trusted to care for animal rights.
Will go there today to click some pictures.
Monday, February 22, 2010
- "Dalit woman set on fire for objecting to molestation"............ Sounds familiar right. In another country, it would have shocked everyone, to all of us its normal routine news.
- "Indian village proud after double honor killing"...............Will we ever hear the last of it? The number just continues to go up. The case is supposed to be prosecuted like ordinary murder, but in practice, police and prosecutors often ignore it.Often a man must simply claim the killing was for his honor and he will go free!
- "Baby burnt to death in incubator while nurse sleeps"....... Happens 4-5 times every year in different parts of country. Doesnt shock anyone anymore! Its just a machine which malfunctioned and we have so many babies that a few losses don't really hurt.
- "Boy thrown off train, RPF man held" - If you search with the phrase 'Thrown off the train in India', it reveals >11 million results. Sounds shocking right! How inhuman would a person be if he throws off a boy who refuses to part with Rs 50 and pay it to the cop as a bribe? Well not very inhuman coz it happens almost every week in India. Most of these incidents happen in Northern India and the perpetrators are usually Railway Police Force personnel. All too familiar story of guardians turning killers. These cases don't shock the nation or the railway minister anymore to warrant some action.
- "Girl commits suicide over eve-teasing in UP" - 'Eve teasing' is the most common crime in India. In fact its so common that police doesn't even file a report if it happens. Eve teasing means harassment/molestation on the Indian streets by common men. Every Indian man has indulged in it at some point in his 'boy to man' transition and its a part of our growing up process. Now if you ask someone in any part of the world(Outside India ofcourse) if they know what is 'eveteasing', you will draw a blank. It happens only in India! Its a term invented in India and we own complete patent rights over everything to do with it and Indians must admire the way we administer our control over this concept coz Priya(my only wife) tells me it doesn't happen in Philippines!
This last one is the most common and shocking one but doesnt shock anyone in India anymore!!!
- "Former Air Hostess jumps off the ship in Bahamas - Case of Dowry Death Registered against In-laws" - An estimated 25,000 brides are killed or maimed or burned to death every year in India over dowry disputes. Intellectuals pull out their calculator and say it is less than 0.0003% of India's population. I don't remember a case where the judge ordered a death sentence to someone found guilty of dowry killing. Death sentence is supposed to be given in rarest of the rare circumstances and because 25000 protectors turn killers in India every year, its not really a rarest of rare case. And so collectively, everyone bails each other out and avoids getting the harshest punishment!!! Ironical but true. India feels outraged if 'cabbie killers' kill 7-8 people for money but dowry deaths are usually confined to the middle pages as the supply of this news is so high that it cannot make it to the front page anymore!Generally each case generates some false media hype as if we really care and we are all shocked that this happened but its all a show which media puts up for us and we put up for the media. The killers are usually your neighbors or relatives and everyone in India knows some girl who if not killed, would have been tortured for dowry but its a mass silence pact between Indians and no one discusses it or socially outcasts the perpetrators.
I think this is it for now. I thought of compiling this list after reading all these articles If I can think of more news events which are unique to India, I will add to this list or you can suggest some. And please don't ever think that I am some kind of weird India basher. On the contrary, I love her so much that it hurts when you see all this happening in your country which has such a glorious past!
Monday, December 28, 2009
The adventurers from India have hit headlines in Philippines for all the risks that they took to get the best shot of Mayon volcano which is 550 kms from Manila but the Philippines military stopped them! No Kidding. Check out what the 'World Media' is saying about our adventure!
Thursday, December 24, 2009
Friday, September 25, 2009
Its been over 2 months in Manila now and right from the time I stepped out of the airport, I started looking for that Indian brand which is big in Philippines like Nike, Ford or Citibank in India and which could give me the opportunity to boast about how Indian companies are going Global. I never knew that the exercise would be so tough and almost neverending.
In India, Citibank and Standard Chartered are non entities infront of our home grown giants like SBI, HDFC bank and ICICI bank.And Tata and M&M command a much bigger market share compared to a Ford or a GM. Bajaj, Hero Honda and TVS dominate the motorcycle market. But unfortunately in Philippines, I do see Citibank,Stanchart,Ford, Nike etc all around but the Indian companies which give them a run for their money in India are nowhere to be seen in Philipinnes.
It simply makes no sense why our Indian companies which are enormously competetive when in India, do not want to step into growing markets like Philippines and grow with the economy. Isn't that exactly what the American companies did and continue to do, enter an emerging market at a small scale just to ensure your presence and then expand as the country's economy starts to expand. Thats what makes GM the 2nd largest car seller in China and Mc Donalds, the biggest fast food chain across many countries and Nike known across 200 countries. They did not start with a bang but started with a small set of operations, built their brand and expanded over the years.
And in 2009, when you hear about India emerging as one of the biggest economies in the world, you struggle to find an Indian brand which is popular across the world. Yes, we have world class companies in Infosys, TCS and Wipro and some more however they dont touch people's lives like a Mc Donald, Nike or a Ford would.
But relax! Just when I had started to lose hope, I finally found an Indian brand which/who made it big, not just in Philippines but the world over and possibly is the biggest Indian brand across the world but India still does not really know about the loyalty that this brand commands. And suprise, this Indian brand made it big and took to Globalization much before even the word 'Globalization' was discovered.
The answer is Siddhartha Gautama, better known as Gautam Buddha. By liberal estimates, there are approx 1.6 billion Buddhists across the world and even conservative estimates place the number at 1.2 billion (with just 37million in India) and he is the ONLY Indian brand I see across Philipinnes with entire shops dedicated to Brand Buddha.
So the teachings of an Indian prince who lived between 400-500 BC travelled the world over at a time when no one even knew that the world was round and spread the message of peace and non violence when Europe was living in dark ages and America had not been discovered. And 2500 years after he died, here I am searching for another Indian brand but failing in my endeavor.
May be its time for India to take some inspiration from this man and reach out to the world like never before! Amen!
A shop in Manila selling Buddha paintings, idols etc. There are hunderds of such shops across Manila
Sep 26th, 2009
Monday, August 03, 2009
I am not a foreign policy expert but here is my 2 cents worth of insight into future. "The tide shall turn one day and Israel will be history if it doesn't learn from the history and sufferings of its forefathers!!! "
Israel saw an influx of close to a quarter of a million jews to Palestine in 1940s, at a time when countries around the world were turning away the Jewish refugees fleeing the holocaust.Most arrived as refugees with no possessions and were housed in temporary tent cities.
Today, we see the desecendants of the same refugees who suffered so much at the hands of Nazis, tormenting the helpless people in Palestine and evicting them from their homes where they have lived for decades and has forced them to live in abject poverty for years. Obviously, the times have changed. Israel is a prosperous and powerful country now just like Germany was in 1930s but unfortunately it shows the same scant disregard to human rights and the world opinion like the Germans did in 1930s and 40s.
Israel would do well to remember what Saladdin, the great warrior told his son, ironically in Jerusalem itself - "Be wary of shedding blood, for blood does not sleep". Will we see the tide turn once again in our lifetimes?
Digvijay Singh Ankoti |
Sunday, June 07, 2009
Thursday, May 28, 2009
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Saturday, May 23, 2009
Sunday, May 17, 2009
It may be difficult to deal with defeat, but the regret of a drowned dream is quickly overtaken by the compulsions of survival. Both the BJP and the Left now face an existential dilemma, and will require honesty to pare away that part of the dogma that has checked the growth of one and undermined the success of the other. The BJP might want to consider a fundamental fact about our country. India is not a secular nation because Indian Muslims want it to be secular. India is a secular nation because Indian Hindus want it to be secular. It would be wrong to dismiss everyone in the BJP as communal. But L K Advani's efforts to sustain the inclusive image fashioned by Atal Behari Vajpayee were constantly undermined by the rhetoric of leaders who did not understand that the language of conflict had passed its sell-by date.
The turning point came with Varun Gandhi's immature speech. The BJP condemned it but did not disown it completely, for fear of losing the extreme in its search for the centre. What seems obvious now did not seem so clear then. Varun Gandhi should have been dropped as a candidate. Worse, Varun Gandhi fell in love with his new pseudo-aggressive image, and projected it in statements and pictures that went into every home through television. This young Gandhi even began to fantasise a future as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh. It is interesting that regional BJP leaders understood that this was toxic. The Madhya Pradesh party bluntly told Varun Gandhi he was not needed while the Bihar unit was relieved when Nitish Kumar refused hospitality to both Narendra Modi and Varun Gandhi. The national ethos is shaped by one predominant desire: the hunger for a better life. Prosperity is impossible without peace, so the passions of sectarian politics, whether based on community or caste, have been replaced by the clear understanding that peace is non-negotiable. Prosperity, on the other hand, has always been negotiable, since it has never been a universal fact.
India remains a poor country with rich people rather than the other way around. The poor want to be part of the India Rising story. It is odd that the Marxists should have missed this. They lost the Muslim vote in rural Bengal, not because of Islam but because of poverty. The message from Nandigram and Singur was that land was being taken away from the poor in order to create jobs for the middle class. Nitish Kumar has won because he created peace, and took his promise of prosperity to those at the very bottom of the top-heavy caste ladder. He will be the envy of his peers at the next meeting of the nation's chief ministers. It might be even odder if one draws a potential parallel between Bengal and Gujarat, but Narendra Modi's industrialization just might become a problem if he does not take corrective action. Taking the Nano that Bengal lost is only one chapter of a more complicated story. The poor are sensing that this cosy relationship between politicians and industrialists is benefiting either the rich or the middle class. The landless and peasants could turn against Modi if he does not resurrect rural Gujarat with the high-profile vigour he has offered industry. The DMK survived in Tamil Nadu because it gave the poor cheap rice and free entertainment. Buy shares in television companies. Every political party is soon going to hand out free television sets to voters. The Berlin Wall has been breached in Kolkata. Is it only a matter of time before the Communist bloc collapses? Are Prakash Karat and Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee the problem or the solution? Is there any alternative chief minister in Bengal who can fashion correctives and implement them with a hammer? The CPI(M) politburo meeting on May 18 was meant to be a celebratory event in the game of thrust and parry that was supposed to follow the results. It will now have the excitement of a dirge. Prakash Karat summed up this election pithily when he said, "We failed". It was not an individual's failure, since Marxist decisions are collective. It is easy to sneer at the defeated, but a paradox needs to be noted. The Left may not be missed in Kerala and Bengal, but it will be missed in Delhi, since it injected serious debate into economic and foreign policies. It is not important that the Left was right or wrong. What is important is that it generated a debate. It is obvious that governance is being rewarded, and Naveen Patnaik's vindication is sufficient evidence. But there is also a model profile for a politician that has emerged. The voter wants three qualities in his leader: honesty, competence and modesty. This is what he saw in Dr Manmohan Singh. Rahul Gandhi added the flavour of the future to the Congress offer. He has won his place in power through this election. In all likelihood there will be a transition within the foreseeable future, particularly since the Congress has silenced its allies as effectively as it has neutered the Opposition. Chief ministers like Nitish Kumar, Naveen Patnaik, Shivraj Singh Chauhan and Raman Singh delivered on all three qualities respected by the voter. Others got by on two, but they should not confuse reprieve with victory. The dangers of success are more dramatic than the perils of failure. Complacence is an easy trap. Arrogance is seductive. Dr Manmohan Singh has been given freedom to govern, but his first watch has to be on a slippage by colleagues. By giving him freedom, the Indian voter has denied him an excuse.
Thursday, May 14, 2009
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
Notice in Delhi-Kolkata Rajdhani - If you are from England, please dont cry.If you are from India/Pakistan, please laugh your heart out
This highly popular mixing of both the languages in most parts of northern and central India has grown from the fact that English is a popular language of choice amongst the urban youth who finds itself comfortable in its lexicon. It is already the medium for imparting education in many schools across the nation. The advent of cable television and its pervasive growth has seen the masses exposed to a wide variety of programming from across the world.
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
Monday, May 11, 2009
Sunday, May 10, 2009
Sunday, April 26, 2009
Friday, April 24, 2009
1 Favorite of2818 Users
We come to love not by finding a perfect person, but by learning to see an imperfect person perfectly. - Sam Keen, from To Love and Be Loved
2 Favorite of2097 Users
"The spaces between your fingers were created so that another's could fill them in." - Unknown
3 Favorite of1946 Users
Have you ever wondered which hurts the most: saying something and wishing you had not, or saying nothing, and wishing you had? - Unknown
4 Favorite of1681 Users
Someday your prince charming will come. Mine just took a wrong turn, got lost, and is too stubborn to ask for directions. - Unknown
5 Favorite of1615 Users
In the end, it's not going to matter how many breaths you took, but how many moments took your breath away - shing xiong
6 Favorite of1594 Users
"Find a guy who calls you beautiful instead of hot, who calls you back when you hang up on him, who will lie under the stars and listen to your heartbeat, or will stay awake just to watch you sleep... wait for the boy who kisses your forehead, who wants to show you off to the world when you are in sweats, who holds your hand in front of his friends, who thinks you' re just as pretty without makeup on. One who is constantly reminding you of how much he cares and how lucky he is to have YOU... The one who turns to his friends and says, "thats her".... - Unknown
7 Favorite of1545 Users
It's better to keep your mouth shut and give the impression that you're stupid than to open it and remove all doubt. - Rami Belson
8 Favorite of1513 Users
"Meeting you was fate, becoming your friend was a choice, but falling in love with you was beyond my control." - Unknown
9 Favorite of1446 Users
If I could be any part of you, I’d be your tears. To be conceived in your heart, born in your eyes, live on your cheeks, and die on your lips.
10 Favorite of1330 Users
Never tell your problems to anyone...20% don't care and the other 80% are glad you have them. - Lou Holtz
2. Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.
—Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
3. The richest man is not he who has the most, but he who needs the least.
4. You miss 100 percent of the shots you never take.
5. Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something else is more important than fear.
6. You must be the change you wish to see in the world.
7. When hungry, eat your rice; when tired, close your eyes. Fools may laugh at me, but wise men will know what I mean.
8. The third-rate mind is only happy when it is thinking with the majority. The second-rate mind is only happy when it is thinking with the minority. The first-rate mind is only happy when it is thinking.
—A. A. Milne
9. To the man who only has a hammer, everything he encounters begins to look like a nail.
10. We are what we repeatedly do; excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.
11. A wise man gets more use from his enemies than a fool from his friends.
12. Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the men of old; seek what they sought.
13. Watch your thoughts; they become words.Watch your words; they become actions.Watch your actions; they become habits.Watch your habits; they become character.Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.
14. Everyone is a genius at least once a year. The real geniuses simply have their bright ideas closer together.
—Georg Christoph Lichtenberg
15. What we think, or what we know, or what we believe is, in the end, of little consequence. The only consequence is what we do.
16. The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but seeing with new eyes.
17. Work like you don’t need money, love like you’ve never been hurt, and dance like no one’s watching
18. Try a thing you haven’t done three times. Once, to get over the fear of doing it. Twice, to learn how to do it. And a third time, to figure out whether you like it or not.
—Virgil Garnett Thomson
19. Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.
20. People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing - that’s why we recommend it daily.
21. Before I got married I had six theories about bringing up children; now I have six children and no theories.
22. What the world needs is more geniuses with humility, there are so few of us left.
23. Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much.
24. I’ve gone into hundreds of [fortune-teller's parlors], and have been told thousands of things, but nobody ever told me I was a policewoman getting ready to arrest her.
—New York City detective
25. When you go into court you are putting your fate into the hands of twelve people who weren’t smart enough to get out of jury duty.
26. Those who believe in telekinetics, raise my hand.
27. Just the fact that some geniuses were laughed at does not imply that all who are laughed at are geniuses. They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.
28. My pessimism extends to the point of even suspecting the sincerity of the pessimists.
29. Sometimes I worry about being a success in a mediocre world.
30. I quit therapy because my analyst was trying to help me behind my back.
31. We’ve heard that a million monkeys at a million keyboards could produce the complete works of Shakespeare; now, thanks to the Internet, we know that is not true.
32. If there are no stupid questions, then what kind of questions do stupid people ask? Do they get smart just in time to ask questions?
33. If the lessons of history teach us anything it is that nobody learns the lessons that history teaches us.
34. When I was a boy I was told that anybody could become President. Now I’m beginning to believe it.
35. Laughing at our mistakes can lengthen our own life. Laughing at someone else’s can shorten it.
36. There are many who dare not kill themselves for fear of what the neighbors will say.
37. There’s so much comedy on television. Does that cause comedy in the streets?
38. All men are frauds. The only difference between them is that some admit it. I myself deny it.
—H. L. Mencken
39. I don’t mind what Congress does, as long as they don’t do it in the streets and frighten the horses.
40. I took a speed reading course and read ‘War and Peace’ in twenty minutes. It involves Russia.
Otherwise Intelligent Quotes
41. The person who reads too much and uses his brain too little will fall into lazy habits of thinking.
42. Believe those who are seeking the truth. Doubt those who find it.
43. It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.
44. I’d rather live with a good question than a bad answer.
45. We learn something every day, and lots of times it’s that what we learned the day before was wrong.
46. I have made this letter longer than usual because I lack the time to make it shorter.
47. Don’t ever wrestle with a pig. You’ll both get dirty, but the pig will enjoy it.
48. An inventor is simply a fellow who doesn’t take his education too seriously.
—Charles F. Kettering
49. Asking a working writer what he thinks about critics is like asking a lamppost how it feels about dogs.
50. Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self.
51. Never be afraid to laugh at yourself, after all, you could be missing out on the joke of the century.
—Dame Edna Everage
52. I am patient with stupidity but not with those who are proud of it.
53. Normal is getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work and driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for - in order to get to the job you need to pay for the clothes and the car, and the house you leave vacant all day so you can afford to live in it.
54. The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.
55. Advice is what we ask for when we already know the answer but wish we didn’t.
56. Some people like my advice so much that they frame it upon the wall instead of using it.
—Gordon R. Dickson
57. The trouble with the rat race is that even if you win, you’re still a rat.
58. Never ascribe to malice, that which can be explained by incompetence.
—Napoleon (Hanlon’s Razor)
59. Imagination was given to man to compensate him for what he is not, and a sense of humor was provided to console him for what he is.
60. When a person can no longer laugh at himself, it is time for others to laugh at him.
Sunday, April 12, 2009
"Bada Hua To Kya Hua, Jaise Ped Khajoor,
Panthi Ko Chaaya Nahin, Phal Laage Atidoor".
Isnt that the story of the comparatively fortunate Indians(read middle/upper class) living in big cities? How many times are we greeted by the security guard in our office and we just acknowledge it and move on thinking that may be our time is too precious to be wasted in chatting with a security guard? How many times do we think about giving a raise to our domestic helps without whose presence, it would be immensely difficult to come back home and sleep in peace without bothering about cleaning the house or the wares in kitchen? How often do we simply take interest in lives of those less fortunate than us and try to help them or may be just guide them?
Why did I think about Kabir's doha which I mentioned earlier? Someone from ICICI bank called me on Friday and told me someone will be at my place between 2pm-4pm the next day to collect a payment towards my umpteenth personal loan. I forgot all about it till the bell rang around 7pm and as I looked down from my third floor apartment, the collector who was obviously running late told me that he was here to collect the cheque. I asked him to come upstairs and as he stepped inside, I could see that he was almost a middle aged man with grey hair.
I handed over the cheque and as Pravin started preparing the receipt, I looked at his shirt which was torn in a few places(and this wasn't our Gen X style) and shoes which were torn and probably stiched over a few times.
I couldnt help asking him about his salary. Pravin draws no fixed salary! He earns just Rs 30/payment that he collects. I asked him about the number of payments that he collects everyday. Well, that depends on the distance that he can traverse in his modest means of transpor- a bicycle.He wont take a bus bcoz that would be a drain on his margin. He couldnt reach on time today coz he had just made Rs 30 in Connaught Place after collecting a payment there and than rode almost 10 miles to my place to make another 30 bucks!!! Pravin had another 2 payments lined up which would earn him another Rs 60 after travelling yet another 7-8 miles.
I asked him if he knew how to read/write so that I could help him get rid of this miserable job by trying to get a comparatively better job somewhere(even though I wouldnt really have tried).And I wasnt prepared for what he said next. He was a graduate from Sasaram, Bihar!!! Pravin came to New Delhi around 10 years back with a couple of his friends to learn computers and get onto the IT bandwagon but couldnt afford the exorbitant fee and started doing such odd jobs. Today, after 10 years of living and working in Delhi, he is only able to afford a 8*10 room with a shared bathroom in a ghetto with his wife and 2 kids who study in the municipal school. He cant allow his wife to work as its against the traditions followed by his Rajput family in Bihar.
And I came to Delhi armed with just a Diploma but managed a decent job only because I spoke English. And today after starting our careers at around the same time, I crib about the traffic I find while driving in the air conditioned comfort of my car and this man goes around the city in all seasons to try and make the ends meet.
This guy who came to Delhi at almost the same time as I did got lost in the wilderness. Today, he looks years beyond his age. But he runs around miles in this city in his cycle to save each and every penny that he makes to try and give a better future to his kids.How often have we looked disdainfully at all these cyclewallahs who choke Delhi roads and many a times fall prey to the bluelines?
He was obviously tired but was ready to live another day and fight it out in this mean city. He was poor but in his company, it was I who felt poor!
Friday, April 10, 2009
Subroto Bagchi Speaks - All the articles by the great man which were published in Times of India every Friday!
From among the many mails that I receive from readers of Times of Mind, there is one to which I cannot reply: it came by post, without an address and unsigned. The reader wants to ensure that he leaves no traces and remains in the shroud of anonymity. This anonymity is a penumbra that protects him from thousands of years of social stigma. The letter is written in impeccable English; the nice handwriting clearly indicates both good education and cultivated writing skills. The writer says that he is a self-made man, very well placed in life and happily married to someone he found himself. The only issue haunting him is his past, to which he was not a signatory when born into this world. Having lost his parents as a child, he was raised by his relatives in a remote village in a southern state. Being educationally gifted, he earned several scholarships, and eventually left the village and came to a big city. More successes followed and eventually he met his wife, herself a professional. When he left for the big city, he had left his past behind. Suddenly, at the time of taking the most important decision of his life, it returned. Her relatives wanted to know what caste he belonged to. In a moment of helplessness, he suppressed the truth. The truth is that he was born to a man who worked in a cremation ground, because that was what his caste ordained.A cremation ground in India is a very unusual place. It is difficult to conjure the experience to one who has not been there; words cannot describe the ethos. Central to the rites conducted in such places are the men who earn a living there. They set up the pyre; they tend to the body by repeatedly stoking the fire from all sides, poking the burning flesh with the only instrument of their trade, long bamboo sticks. Finally, after all is over, they collect the remaining bones and hand them over to the relatives. They do this under the burning sun and in the dead of the night; they do it in the pouring rain when the smoke from the pyre engulfs everything, emanating the smell of flesh and fire, wind and water. Every dead body takes a good six hours to be fully cremated and, even when relatives go away before that, these men cannot. The pyre has to be cleared afterwards and be kept for the next one who must be given the passage to another world. What happens, though, to the progeny of such men? They can roam in freedom if they embrace their father's profession; if they step out of the perimeter of their caste, the past will haunt them such that they must, as in the case of my reader, live suspended between the world of the living and that of the dead.My reader feels guilty and ashamed. His erudition make his wife's family think he is a brahmin. His wife of many years thinks so too. In the deepest corner of his heart however, when he dialogues with his own soul in silence, the seemingly comfortable shadow of the "don't ask, don't tell" principle, scorches him. The pain follows him everywhere. The more professionally successful he gets, the more life showers its goodness on him and, ironically, the more loved he becomes – the more the pain reminds him that his past is alive. It is like an alien creature that lives inside him and, he knows, will never go away. This man is not the only one in this country of a billion people where "the clear stream of reason" does lose its way, into the "dreary desert sands of dead habits". Every day. It is only a few days ago, newspapers reported that Bihar Chief Minister, Nitish Kumar was aghast that in several police barracks, there are separate kitchens for people of "lower castes". But it's not just Bihar. Even today, I know well that when bureaucrats try to ascertain the credentials of their colleagues, if someone has come through the so-called "reserved quota", that information heads and trails every other byte of data on the individual. Since the nationhood of India, in the intervening six decades, two new generations have been raised who did not have to be shackled to an inglorious past. How much longer, I wonder, before my nameless reader will be able to stand up to say, "Look, I am proud of my father and his profession." To him though, I want to say right now, "Though my brahmin parents gave me birth, it is only in the hands of someone like your father that I will receive my final deliverance. Thank you for what he does for all of us."
Staff Canteen (April7, 2006)
It is a Sunday morning. I am between flights at the Hyderabad Airport. My connection to Bhubaneswar is a good two hours away. Rather than sit inside the airport listening to the monotonous overhead announcements, I decide to step out and explore. Outside, it is a pleasant 22 degrees. As I look around, I see a sign towards the far right, beyond the alighting point for passengers. It reads “Staff Canteen”. I follow the sign. Barely a minute’s walk from the terminal, a little beyond an unauthorised temple where the only attendant is a white goat, is a big peepul tree. Under its shade, there is a make-shift asbestos roof. Below it, with its two sides half open, is the Staff Canteen. A few overhead fans and sad looking tube lights are the only elements of comfort here. The place has a dirty floor. Everything here is makeshift. The furniture is hammered out of welded steel frames with hard laminated surfaces. There are two counters, one selling biscuits, cigarettes, paan and mints. Next to it, beyond the crates with empty bottles of “cool drink”, is the dosa and coffee counter. In another place, a tap is protruding from a heavily stained wall with the sign “drinking water”. Mercifully, no one seems to be drinking out of it. Next to it is the rusting, retired frame of a bench. Currently the resident “Chhotu” of this place is using it to hang the mopping cloth. There are the blackened gas cylinders and assorted utensils here and there. Lord Hanuman looks down on the place from the dirty wall. Alongside the Lord, a State Bank of India calendar and a clock in working condition remind the staff members to get going as soon as they can. Next to all this is an open dustbin where empty water bottles, discarded cellophane wrappers and associated garbage play host to the local flies.This place is a melting pot. The ill-clad Airport Authority employee, the tired Indian Airlines loader, and a shabby traffic cop contrast the pretty Kingfisher and Jet Air ground crew. They are all sitting together for the breakfast they missed at home this morning because they had to report to work at probably 3 or 4 or 5 AM. A transistor radio is blaring some pleasant Telugu music. Quite unmindful of it, the men and women are busy with their food, occasionally getting up to collect their coffee or tea, coming back again to light a cigarette or to quickly return to their stations. Away from the sophistication of the air-conditioned terminal building and a world of induced polite conversation, professional briskness and glamour associated with air-travel, these people look real. I see them come and go, immersed in their own world; the conversation is centered around flights and cargo and schedules and manifests. The Staff Canteen is the only place, despite its current shape and state, that can give them a few moments of relief from their high-stress work place. Why must this Staff Canteen be the way it is? Why could not these men and women eat at the Airport Restaurant that, though not a fantastic place, is certainly better? If we cared enough, I am sure we could find ways and means of making it happen. To me, the stumbling block is a larger, almost national mindset when it comes to dealing with the needs of our people who run our organisations at the ground level. The workplace perpetuates the East India Company syndrome of making a distinction between the people in power and the natives. While the East India Company is long gone, the syndrome lives on. In many an organisation, there still are separate eating places, toilets and parking lots for different levels. Whatever may be the reason, one thing is certain. Unless we treat our people with sensitivity, respect and care, we cannot expect them to extend the same to our customers. People who are raised in darkness do not lead with light. When I was small, my second brother joined the Indian Air Force as an airman. His annual home coming was a big event. The Air Force used to send him on a second-class train warrant. After many years, he eventually became a junior commissioned officer. This time around, when he came home, he alighted from a first-class compartment. Proudly, he announced, “If you want a guy to do a first-class job, get him a first-class ticket.” At the time, I did not fully understand what he was saying. But now, sitting under the peepul tree’s shade, under the cob-webbed asbestos roof of the Staff Canteen, I wonder why no one is telling that to the bosses at the Airport Authority or to the airlines you and I fly in our jet-set world!
All Value Migrate (March 31, 2006)
It is late March in Scotland. The drive from Manchester to Dundee through the magical Lake District of England, onto unfolding green landscape dotted with grazing sheep and horses in barns, soothes me. As our car begins to leave all that behind and the beautiful, expansive river Tay carrying molten snow appears alongside, my friend, Gautam Rajkhowa tells me that we have almost reached. The river bends slightly, goes under an ancient railway bridge, and runs a little distance further before merging with the North Sea. “There,’’ says Gautam, “the ship docked alongside the quay is the Discovery; the one Captain Robert Falcon Scott had taken to the South Pole.’’ I get goose bumps as the maritime adventures of a bygone era come alive in my mind. We continue to drive along. Soon a row of river-facing, stone-clad, estate houses appear. “Those,’’ explains Gautam, “are the remnants of the jute industry. Once upon a time, ship loads of jute from India were brought to Dundee, which was the jute capital of the world. The houses here are all that is left to remind people of Dundee’s once thriving economy and global claim to fame.’’My mind drifts to the city of Gothenburg in Sweden where, the previous summer, I was visiting to deliver a talk at a top-management meeting of Volvo executives. Very few people know that the seafaring nation of the Swedes once had its own East India Company, and brought spices and gems and other merchandise that were sold in other European nations. By the last century, the seafaring trade dwindled. Seeing that coming, the Swedes turned their core competence to ship building. The nation became a global player in the ship-building industry for a while until other nations soon soon caught up and took that space away. The nation moved on to building great engineering companies like Volvo that makes trucks, submarines and aircraft engines that ensures Gothenburg is not lost in time. In Gothenburg, alongside the waterfront today, you see a huge ship anchored. Reminiscent of the past, today it is no longer used for its original purpose; the city has converted it into a car-park. From Dundee to Gothenburg, from jute to shipping. I am thinking of how economies of nations get created. And destroyed. Why is it that way? Quite simply, we all fail to realise the interesting truth that, by nature, all value is migratory. The moment something becomes of any value, value moves from one place to another. That is why textile, ship building, steel and the automobile industry have all gone from one place to another. Now, will it be the turn of the services business? Following the line of thought, what will happen to Pune and Hyderabad and Gurgaon and Bangalore in 10 years? Will a visitor in 2020 be shown ghost buildings? Will today’s satellite dishes be used for something like rainwater harvesting in 2020? It is such a scary thought. Yet, individuals, industries, cities and nations must move from one kind of value leadership to another, destroying the past from within, before value migration begins at the behest of someone else. That challenge becomes even greater considering shrinking cycles of value migration today. With services, value can migrate as effortlessly as a fund manager moving a portfolio of investments from the National Stock Exchange in Mumbai to the Nasdaq in New York to the London Stock Exchange; it’s all in a day’s work. Looking at the vestiges of the jute industry in Dundee, I realise how little the subject engages the minds of leaders back home. Where would the world be, and relative to that, how would our cities ensure that they create unusual new value to remain in the centre of global consideration in 2020? It is not enough to build a winning set of industries and create cities around them, we have to make them future-proof. Appreciating this aspect of business is not just an industry issue, it is about sustainable competitiveness of Indian cities that would soon have half the country’s population living in them. Sometimes, the competitive value is inherent to the industry but many times, it is in the eco-system itself. Just as industries must reinvent themselves, so must cities. When people come to do business, they are actually looking to buy-in to the total package. My mind would have strayed some more but Gautam switches off the engine to announce that we have reached home. Getting out of the car, as I struggle in with my carry-on bags, I cannot miss the small poster in his study. It reads, “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you have to keep moving.’’ Signed, Albert Einstein.
Of Life And Its Contradictions (March 24, 2006)
Life is full of contradictions. As we grow up, we begin to get surrounded by the many contradictions of our professional lives. A school teacher is expected to teach values in the classroom, but the system wants her to give preference for admission to a less deserving child because that child's parents offer a large donation. A manager is expected to be people oriented, but must ask a teammate to leave because of poor performance. A journalist writes exposes on many social issues, but sees skeletons in her own manager's office. Examples abound all around us. The other day, a young engineer walked up to me faced with the issue of working on a project for which the client was a tobacco company. By building a more efficient information system for the client, would he not make more people die of cancer? What is the right way and what is the wrong way of dealing with an issue like this?In every such case, at the end of the day, it is for the individual to do his or her own "sense making". A systemic answer is not always possible. Worse, whenever a systemic view is offered, it is invariably in context, hence open to more questions. Faced with a contradiction, most of us usually look for the truth, instead of dealing with the contradiction itself. The truth is always much more comfortable. The difficult but inevitable thing in life is that the truth always reveals itself in contradictions. The packaging never gets any better.Young managers find this very difficult to deal with. "One day you tell me to do this, another day you tell me to do the opposite?" Should I then become either apathetic, cynical; or became subservient to the system and blindly follow what it asks of me in every given situation? A lot depends on two things -- one, do I hold myself responsible for thinking and making sense of issues, of contexts and the outcome possibilities? Two, how much do I see myself as the "system"? When I am the system, do I think for the system or do I just think along with the system? Or, should I not think at all? In most cases, people find issues to be problematic because they would rather have the comfort of someone else running the department of truth and publish policies on the Intranet that are clear, unambiguous and without multiple possible outcomes.The Bhagavad-Gita provides an interesting perspective on both -- the pervasive nature of contradictions and the central need for the individual to think and make sense for himself. The former is best illustrated in the conflict Arjuna faced when he was at war with his own kith and kin. When the purpose of life is to do good, how can one justify waging war against one's own people? The message lies here. Our tasks in professional life are not about the easy stuff; conflicts are a part of every real profession and we are supposed to deal with them. They are not an aberration, they are the reality.Now comes the second part. Who must guide us in moments of indecision? The concept of the dialogue between Krishna and Arjuna is symbolic. Essentially, every one is part Krishna and part Arjuna. The Krishna in us is the voice of reason. The Arjuna in us is about the responsibility to act. Without one, the other is incomplete. Action without reason and reason without action are both inherently destructive. So, every time it is not for a higher power in the department of truth to tell us what the truth is. We are responsible to think for ourselves and we must take the responsibility for our consequent actions.Some time back, a very distraught leader came to me with the anguish of dealing with a contradiction. I gave him a simple exercise. I poured some ink on the table and asked him to clean it up. When he had finished, I asked him a simple question. "What did you do?" He replied innocently, "I cleaned up the ink". Showing him the dirty napkin in his hand I asked him, "Did you clean something, or, did you dirty something?" The interesting truth is, when you clean the ink, it is just a transfer of the mess to another surface. In reality, it is impossible to clean anything in the world without making something else dirty in the process. The higher we move in our professional lives, the greater becomes the need to deal with such contradictions. One must make peace with the idea itself, the process inherent, and the multiplicity of potential outcomes in every situation. Because, that is what life wants from us.
Open The Borders (March 17, 2006)
Ayesha Alam came to India as a student from Bangladesh. She studied at the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur. There, she met and subsequently married a fellow student, an Indian citizen. What should have led to an automatic citizenship for her actually became a decade-long ordeal of running from pillar to post. Unlike the millions of faceless migrants who choose to vanish in the large Indian melting pot, she opted to declare herself to the system.The system made her life so difficult that it wasn’t possible to concentrate on building a great career and contributing to the economy. Instead, her life revolved around getting her visa renewed and running from one law-enforcing agency to another. Over the years, her situation remained so uncertain that not once was she able to visit her family in Dhaka, even during emergencies. All along, while she was unusually well-qualified and could contribute great value, no one could tell for sure if she could work in India. For some time, she did work. With it came demands for bribes from local police, followed by threats and finally, when the citizenship did come through, she had had enough. Ayesha and her husband moved out of India. They were welcome in countries like UK, the US, Australia, Singapore, New Zealand, Germany, and a few more. Who lost out in the process? The Indian IT and BPO industry is witnessing a rapid growth. In the last 30 years, it has succeeded in creating a million jobs and will create another million in the next five. There is little chance that, by itself, India can produce so many competent and globally deployable people. But look around. There are thousands of proficient people in neighbouring Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. We get them in hordes when they come here on student visas, but afterwards, we lose them rather than make them a part of our national resource pool. This is not to speak of the naturally porous border on all sides that every day brings in thousands of undocumented aliens, who come in and then spread out all over India and live forever after. Thanks to the difficulty in recognition by physical features and a lack of tracking systems like a social security number, no one can tell who is legitimate and who is not. Political parties have no views beyond the occasional vote bank issue. So, while New Delhi is full of immigrant maid servants, cooks and watchmen, highly qualified professionals from neighbouring countries, who could add disproportionate value to the economy, are kept out. The world has come to realise the value of high-quality immigration. India could become more than just a national economy; it could become a thriving regional hub. This, along with India’s democratic system, will prove to be attractive for people seeking to build a great career. Why should highly qualified Pakistani, Nepali or Bangladeshi professionals go thousands of miles away from home? They could get the value of professional work avenues and proximity to their own homelands by working in India. In turn, they would become change-agents and take back some of the good things we do. This would result in building a vibrant, regional eco-system that brings even larger global investments. Immigrants bring along great work culture and studies indicate that wherever immigrant workers have gone, contrary to popular belief, they have created two-way benefits for the receiving and home country. Immigrant workers create the workplace diversity essential to building innovation. One cannot imagine the pre-eminence of countries like the US without highly qualified immigrant workers. Guess who forms the single largest ethnic group among NASA scientists? Indians. Much smaller countries thriving in the global economy tell the same story. Look at Singapore. Smaller in physical size than the city of Bangalore, it has less than Bangalore’s population but it generates a per-capita GDP that is nine times larger than India’s. How does Singapore do it? It is no coincidence that for every 1,000 people, Singapore has ten times more migrants than India. It has become a platform for regional development and encourages highly qualified people to work out of Singapore. This in turn encourages companies to opt for Singapore as a base for operation and large funds are invested there for supporting those activities. For far too long, we have seen India as a country that sends people to work overseas. It is time that India attracted people of the world to come and work from here. It will call for a paradigm shift in our thinking, changes in archaic laws and the cleaning up of an exploitative mindset in the many law-enforcing agencies that handle immigration.
Work As Child’s Play March 10, 2006
Of late, the concept of innovation has engaged my thinking quite a bit. Needless to say, I have barely scratched the surface of the subject and find that there are countless great people out there who have greater understanding and more profound views. Yet, in the course of my observations, I have come across a few truths. Among them, the very fundamental fact that innovation stems from creativity, and creativity has a link to a childlike state of innocence. Many of us lose that state of innocence; we leave it behind somewhere as we grow up. There is a certain pressure to grow out of childhood and, in a sense, we are encouraged to outgrow our innocence along with it. The ‘child state’ in us becomes a discarded outfit. I believe that in creative people, in people who innovate with great ideas and expressions, the child has never been abandoned, never left behind. The child lives inside the adult like a Russian doll and is nurtured, protected and communicated with regularity that is astounding. While the premise is fascinating and has a certain inherent joyfulness, when I share it with managers, they all ask me one question: if it is true that the child inside us is so valuable and we all have left that child behind, how do we get back in touch with that child? I think one way would be to observe children more.When I think of children, the first thing that occurs to me is how much more they smile and laugh. It is easy; it takes so little to make them smile and laugh. Try that with an adult! Many people who laugh with their colleagues at work do not share that same hearty laugh with their spouse who opens the door. They don a donkey-like seriousness on their face and find laughter childish and indulgent. Why must adulthood be de-linked from spontaneity? Children are perpetually asking questions. As adults, we are awkward with questions. We link the act of asking questions to ignorance. It indicates that we do not know; hence, we may look stupid while asking questions. Children have no shame, whereas adults suffer from layers and layers of shame. Because children have no shame, they are more capable of failing at something and moving on from it. Our sense of shame makes us inhibited. So we do not try new things at work. Children quickly make friends with strangers. Put two kids together along with a few toys and they will start playing before they care to know about each other’s antecedents. As adults, we seek the false comfort of known relationships before we agree to play with each other. Children freely express their emotions; adults learn to suppress their emotional side. We come to the workplace and are frequently counselled, “Do not get emotional.’’Children play. They find play in everything. Adults shun play and consider it the opposite of ‘serious work’. To a child, every act is an act of play. Playfulness is a deep state of imagination. While in it, a child is in complete engagement with the act of playfulness. In many religions, the idea of god and childhood are very treasured. In some religions, the universe is seen as ‘cosmic play’. In the corporate world, many chief executives see their work as ‘play’. Organisational structures often represent Lego-like building blocks; every structuring and restructuring is like creating, playing with, getting bored with, demolishing and starting a new model. Children fantasise. Adults feel that fantasy is strange. As a result, they curb their imagination. Less they fantasise, less becomes their ability to ‘visualise’ things. Visual thinking is very important to any creative process. Children do not always work on an ‘outcome-based’ manner. Consequently, they are always exploring possibilities and discovering things. Adults focus mostly on outcomes. As a result, they rule out an infinite nature of possibilities by seeking only a specific set of things. Most of the time, they come out either with that limited set or with nothing at all. Unscripted organisational situations require greater understanding of emergence and strategic thinking that looks beyond the stated outcome.Children derive happiness from very small things, adults seek only that kind of happiness which comes in super-size packaging. As a result, adult life is largely monotonous with just the occasional spikes of joy. The short supply of it, takes away potential of positive reinforcement that a child is flooded with, each time a small happiness is experienced. The contrast is so complete that they seem to have come from different worlds. It is time we got back in touch with the child in us and with the power of innocence, created work in a built-to-suit manner.
May Day In July March 3, 2006
After finishing a quick dinner, when air traffic controller A S Shekhar walked up the narrow staircase leading to the radar room on the other side of Bangalore airport’s main runway, his mind was not focused on anything special. He was a content man. The fifth child of an accounts officer of the state electricity board, Shekhar was brought up all over the place. After high school, he could not make it to an engineering college. Instead he joined a polytechnic. There, he did his diploma in mechanical engineering and then joined the public sector Hindustan Aeronautics. After spending a few years inspecting Avro engines, he shifted to safety and maintenance. Eight years later, an internal advertisement for air traffic controllers shifted him finally from what he ‘wanted to be’, to what he was ‘meant to be’. Inside the radar room tonight, things looked normal. The occasional babble on the radio telephone and the bright blue blip of the radar as it scanned 200 miles of radial distance around the runway, running north to south, was how everything should be. It was Shekhar’s world. On the radar, there wasn’t much happening. There were just three aircraft that had taken off a while ago and were well past his oversight. He was aware of them but stayed focused on the mandatory sixty miles of approach control. It was at that moment, that everything changed. A Jet Airways 737 flight with a call sign JAI 411 called in. “Bangalore Control, JAI 411. Maintaining flight level 250. Estimating EBIPA at 2310’’, the voice over the radio telephone broke off. Flight level 250 meant that the aircraft was at 25,000 feet and at this time, crossing Belgaum. A little later, the captain would start descent for final approach to Bangalore. Shekhar felt a twitch. Had he not read the log, in which the Boeing 737 was cleared for 29,000 feet? What on earth was he doing at 25,000 feet? He did not realise the sweat already forming on his forehead as he asked the captain to affirm altitude. “Maintaining flight at 250’’, came the calm answer. Shekhar’s head exploded. Just before going to dinner, he had cleared Mumbai-bound Lufthansa’s cargo aircraft DLH 8414 that was right in the flight path of JAI 411, as it was gaining altitude. It had been cleared assuming that JAI 411 was going to maintain 29,000 feet. By an inadvertent error, Shekhar had not been made aware of a ‘reclearance’ by Chennai Air Traffic Control to JAI 411 for 250. Shekhar’s chest began pounding, even as he did the mental math. JAI 411 and DLH 8414 were on a collision path. They were both away from each other by a distance that the aircraft would cover in three minutes and ram into each other. Shekhar’s voice was trained to remain calm. He frantically called the Lufthansa flight to radio position. The captain replied that he was crossing 215 for cruise at 260. “Bangalore to DLH 8414—level off at 215’’, Shekhar shouted. Then he repeated the intent, “Recleared at 215’’. The captain of the cargo jetliner found that a strange order. It was his time to keep climbing but the controller was asking him to level off! He shrugged. “Affirm levelling off at 215’’, he returned. Approximately 100 miles from Bangalore, aboard the Jet Airways flight at 25,000 feet, unaware that he had been born again, the middleaged father of three kids on seat 9C, took one more longing look at the pretty air hostess and sighed. Shekhar handed over control to his assistant, stepped out of the dark radar room and stood in silence. In front of him was the eerie calm of the night sky of Bangalore. After a few weeks of the event that never took place on the night of July 10, 1997, the departmental letter of appreciation arrived. It came with no public ovation, his salary and perquisites did not change. He was not feted by the President. Not that it mattered; to Shekhar, a deputy manager with HAL, his work is his reward. Atop the control tower, he is the master of all he surveys. It is his word that rules. It is time for me to leave. I am catching the Deccan flight to Chennai this morning and it is due to leave in another half an hour. As I shake hands with Shekhar, I ask another air traffic controller on duty, “When are you giving a push back to the Deccan Aviation flight bound for Chennai?’’ Without taking his eye off the runway, the man replies “Only after you are on board, sir.’’ Stepping out of the control tower, I ask myself, if it is not pride, whatever else really brings out the best in us?
The Missing I February 24, 2006
Some years ago, I visited a primary school in Dharmapuri, Tamil Nadu. As soon as I entered the classroom, the children stood up and chorused, “EPDP School. Namaskar,’’ thereby announcing who they were and then saying “good day’’ to the visitor. After that welcome, I spent some time interacting with the children via an interpreter. The children were very uncomfortable having such a conversation on a one-on-one basis. They would rather do things in chorus. Very recently, I met students of a technical training institute where young men and women were being trained to join the hospitality industry. Once again, as I entered the room in which they were seated, the class stood up and gave me a choral welcome. Whenever I asked them any questions, they would all reply in unison: “Yes, sir. No, sir....’’ But I was clear that I would engage them in a dialogue and, as I began singling them out and seeking comments, the discomfiture was writ large on their faces. I contrast this with what I see in western countries. Two things become clear. One, no one ever springs up because a visitor has come. It would be considered servile. Two, it is unusual, even for children, to be responding as a group. Choral singing and conversation are very different activities. These lead to a very important issue: why do we desire servility, obedience and group think so much?These are not just things one sees in schools and colleges. A few years ago, I was in the hallway of a private bank’s corporate office, when the chairman entered. Row after row of people rose like rising and receding waves as the man and his son walked down the hallway. On one hand the spectacle was a collective loss of productivity as people ceased work, so that they could worship. On the other hand, I thought, it wasn’t such a bad idea after all, because so many people reduced their risk of repetitive stress injury by taking a quick break from work. The bank does not exist any more.Servility ahead of competence is something we emphasise right from kindergarten to the workplace. This must stop. One admirable thing about educational institutions in the west is the self-confidence, freedom and individual dignity they instill. If you are not careful, it may even look like irreverence. But, without losing inner humility, if we can drop some of our choral behaviour, I am sure people will learn to think for themselves. This is very important because we are largely adaptive in our ways of working, and we really find it very difficult when it comes to dialogue, debate, confrontation and building a point of view. We also find it difficult to ask questions. Invariably, when a speaker ends a presentation and the moderator throws the floor open for questions in India, I find some very unique things. Most cannot ask a question without first making a speech. Having made a speech, just when one is wondering where the question is, the person says, “Actually I have three questions....’’. Another curious phenomenon: the people who ask questions are always the same. They enjoy the airtime and, more than wanting to know, they want to be heard.Now over at the workplace, getting an audience to ask a visitor questions is a tooth-pulling experience. People are tongue-tied. There is a pall of silence. After prodding the audience a few times, you elicit a few inane questions. You wonder whether people have a mind of their own, whether they absorbed what they heard, whether they have a constructive pushback, whether they have a counterpoint. Whatever. But nothing happens.It is probably that way because our educational system severely discourages asking questions. Imagine the chaos if the sixty plus students in a typical third standard science or geography class started asking questions? The poor teacher would have to be sent to an asylum. So, Job No 1 for the teacher is getting the class to shut up—even if the effect is going to be permanent for most children.These days, wherever I go, people talk about innovation. Irreverence to existing ways, entrenched gospel, systems, processes, organisations, ways of doing things and even people in authority, is the starting point of innovation. If, during our formative years and at the workplace, we are taught to be subservient rather than competent, it is unlikely that we will ever become global leaders in any field. So, do not jump up and say “Good morning, sir’’ in unison. Stay seated. Think as you listen to the visitor. And question.
No full stops in India February 17, 2006
In 1996, as corporate vice president, Mission: Quality at Wipro, my task was to initiate Six Sigma in Wipro’s five diverse businesses. To start with, the need was to get the top management aligned to build a shared vision of what it could do with Six Sigma quality. The essence of Six Sigma is to focus on defects in every process and drive them out of the system to make every product or service error-free. At the Six Sigma level, given a million opportunities to make a mistake, you make no more than 3.4. To reach there, it is not so much a statistical journey to hunt down defects; it becomes a way of life. In order to launch the initiative, Azim Premji and his colleagues were taken to a site away from Bangalore where a group of consultants from Motorola taught them the Six Sigma way. On the last day, after finishing his session, one of the consultants was bundled off in a rented car to catch his flight back to the US. After he left, I finished my day and headed back to Bangalore in my car. On the highway, in the middle of nowhere, I saw him standing with a vacant gaze next to a stranded car. I pulled up. For all our Six Sigma talk, the car ferrying him had run out of gas. Needless to say, I was deeply embarrassed. As I got down to the task of evacuating him, I found that he was not affected by the immediacy of the bad planning. Instead, he was surveying the state of the brand new road that had been laid, on which his car was standing. He told me, “Do you realise, Subroto, nothing ever is complete in India?’’Startled by the observation, I looked around. The road must have been laid just a fortnight back. But, in places, people were already digging it up afresh; some agency now had to lay cables. In another place, while the rest of the road had been laid, a stretch had been left undone because a culvert was being built. It must have been an afterthought. When the culvert would be ready, I was sure, somebody would turn up to undo everything and create a diversion because the drain underneath would have to be built again. So, nothing would ever be complete.Go to a swanky five-star hotel. The fancy frontage will belie the debris still lying on the rooftop or the incomplete plumbing next to the staff entrance, to which the spit and polish of the ballroom does not extend, or the rubble left over after the underground basement parking has opened for business. It is not the construction site alone. Look at the work of a software engineer. The code might be complete and released, but a year after, you will find that the documentation is not complete. A nice suit is carefully crafted but the lining has threads that should have been removed before the suit was handed over to the customer. A brand new apartment is handed over to a customer with a dozen small things that are not complete. You give your car for servicing—it is similarly okay for you to get it back, complete in all respects except the grease on the door and under the bonnet, left over dirt. Why do we, in India, never ‘complete’ things? In part, it is our sense of time. What, we may ask, is the need to complete anything? After all, thousands of years ago, we existed and we will continue to exist a thousand years hence. What is a speck of time in a civilisation that spans an eternity? Why insult time by seeking completion? So, it is okay to begin using a road even with the culvert not ready. It is okay to leave behind chips and mortar and remnants of construction debris when the front of a building is whitewashed. An incomplete manual, long after a product is shipped, is quite alright. The same mindset is displayed in our cities and villages, which get festooned with the cutouts and posters of political and religious leaders. No one removes them long after their visit or the event is over.As we become a global player in the larger scheme of things, as a nation, we must change our mindset. We have to break free from our poor sense of completion in whatever thing we are charged with. If we do not do that, despite the on-time pick-up, we may find ourselves stranded on the highway to the world.
Yoking Avishek February 10, 2006
Avishek comes from a family of farmers from a place near Patna. His father is a small farmer; the land holding is about three acres but the family is able to make both ends meet. Avishek has two younger sisters. One is a graduate and the family’s top-most priority is to get her married. The younger sister is in college but is unfortunately going through a tough patch for health-related reasons. Avishek was sent off on a scholarship to a Sainik School somewhere and, from there, he managed to get through to a reasonably good engineering college.This year, the 22-year-old begun his first job in a reputed organisation, and he is assigned to one of the best areas that promises to enable him to reach his potential. But there is a catch. His job requires that he learns with greater intensity than he had to show at college. It also requires that he works closely with his team; he looks around and participates in all organisational activities and spends time in getting coached and mentored. All in all, for him to succeed, he needs to be immersed in the work and everything around it for the first two or three years of his career so that he can be confident of having created a solid foundation for himself. In many ways, from a career standpoint, his getting a job in a good company is not equal to his being born into a great career. His career has only been conceived. Avishek’s father does not know all this. To him, Avishek has finished college and is now in charge. So Avishek has two tasks: One, he has to marry off his sisters—read, pay the dowry. Considering his caste, and the fact that the village now knows of his job status, the money we are talking about here is estimated at Rs 15 lakh. To add to this forward-looking requirement, his father recently brought his younger sister to Avishek and left her with him so that he can take care of her as well. Avishek is not protesting. He is just bewildered. How will he do it? He needs to arrange Rs 15 lakh within the next five years, he has to get the sister medically treated and must run around city hospitals and, at the same time, implant himself in his new work environment, where he has to compete with hundreds of new entrants such that people take notice. When he met me with the innocence of a 22-year-old, I saw in his eyes the picture of a calf whose owner wants him yoked, but whose shoulders are not yet strong enough. There is no villainous intent; there is just ignorance about what a job is and what level of serious time investment is needed in the early years to be steady enough before someone can take on larger family responsibilities. Avishek’s father is only fifty and is in good health. There is no reason for him to abdicate the throne. In his eyes, however, “ Ab ladka bada ho gaya hai. Wohi sambhal lega.’’ If only someone told him that he needs to give Avishek some more space and a little more leeway before converting him into an automated teller machine. Avishek is not alone. I know two other examples of very bright people who were yoked too soon. In the process, one derailed his career and the other did somewhat alright but could have gone way longer had he been given if that little additional consideration by his family. The former colleague was under so much pressure to marry off his sisters that, in search of dowry, he left a great company with an excellent career potential and joined a socalled MNC just for that higher salary. That higher salary he got for a while, but in the ensuing five years, he changed three jobs as companies came and went and now the man is barely hanging in there. He lost out in the prime of his career.The second person has a great research and development mind who lived all his formative years just worrying about arranging dowry because he was born with the tag of the eldest son of the family who is, from now on, responsible. I am proud to be part of the Indian social system. We are not a “me, myself and I’’ society. I find that despite so-called modernity, the average Indian youth is deeply committed to the family and more than willing to share the larger responsibility. But if responsibilities become a burden and a young calf is yoked before his time has come, who wins? All I ask from Avishek’s father is, please give the young boy just five more years.
Need Versus Justification January 27, 2006
There was a time when corruption was spoken of only in hushed tones. These days, there is a certain bravery associated with the ability to be corrupt. However, there are people, organisations and institutions in India who have become both successful and impactful without compromising their values. It is quite another thing that they have to speak up to get noticed and are overshadowed by those who push the envelope of professional integrity every day. The tentacles reach out to every part of life and living in a country of a billion people.The most heart wrenching sight of corruption I have been witness to was on the platform of the railway station at Howrah in 1987. It involved a Railway Protection Force guard and a young girl. The girl was probably 16 or 17. Everything about her was normal except that she had contracted leprosy and when you looked at her closely, you could see the disease eating away her fingers. Her body was a sad combination of her blossoming youth and a disease that had decided to live on it. Quite obviously, she made her living by begging on the railway platform. The well-fed railway guard was extorting money from her, just as he did from any other unlicensed porter or a vendor selling sundry merchandise on the platform. Such a tragic sight brings one face to face with the ugliness of a nation in the most graphic manner possible. A question emerges from it: Is there a need for someone to be corrupt, or are there only justifications? As a citizen of this country, I am yet to see any one individual who absolutely had to be corrupt in order to stay alive, to exist. The man or woman who has nothing, and that broadly describes more than half a billion people, is not corrupt. When you have nothing and have to toil for a day’s living, usually you feel no need to fleece others. So, who among us is the one given to corruption? It is someone who really does not need the extra money. Yet, as you probe further, you find that just as the need factor becomes non-existent, it is the justifications that pervades.Everyone does it, so why shouldn’t I? My bosses want it from me. Without being a part of the system, I would lose my job. My child’s education depends on it. My wife asks me for things I cannot afford on my salary. I have to do it to build a house, provide for my children’s future. And of course, “How can I be in business without cutting corners?” The list is endless. Yet, they remain justifications. None of them is really a need.Recently, two young engineers met me. They have bucked the trend and not sought jobs for themselves; instead, they have started their own enterprise. Today they employ more than 40 people and have met with admirable early success. In the course of our conversation, I asked them what would they do if someone asked them for a bribe in exchange of a business deal. The two were flustered for a while and remained silent. After a while, one of them mustered courage, cleared his throat and said with youthful bravery, “If business requires it, so be it. We will do what it takes”. It was my turn to fall into silence. What portent of the nation’s future is contained in his innocent statement? His affirmation will one day deepen the reach of a poison further down into the veins of a nation that was born as a protest against injustice.In the course of our day-to-day business, there are different kinds of people we interact with. One kind is professional, hardcore and unrelentingly corrupt. This kind, both big time and small, does not care whether you are a leper or a destitute. Then there is the much larger group that treads a softer path. It consists of people who take a bribe if you are happy and willing to offer one. They are selective in whom they seek favours from. They are not hardcore and may not create permanent roadblocks if you resist their overtures. In dealing with them, it is for you and me to make up our minds on what is our personal ethic or standard. These are people who are looking for an accomplice not a victim. Finally, there is also the kind of people in business, in government, and even in politics that is on the right side of things and is not corruptible.India continues to exist thanks to their personal conviction that, irrespective of the justification, at the end of the day, there is really no need to be corrupt.
The Stranger In Your Life January 20, 2006
I often ask this question to people: “Who played the most important part in bringing you to this world when you were born?’’ Invariably, people are at a loss to answer. Many people reply that it was their mother. Nothing could be more incorrect. Because, chances are, she was quite unconscious and unable to handle you as you were being delivered. The new born, on delivery, is always picked up by someone who holds the baby upside down and pats the back so that the lungs begin to breathe, to signal the first act of independence. Yet, most of us grow up to forget how much we owe that one individual, whose act of complete involvement becomes the cornerstone on which every other reality of our living rests. How many of us know the name of that person? She who asked our tiny pair of lungs to welcome life into the little body is not remembered in most cases—probably one in a million would ever go back to her to say, “Thank you; without you I would not have come to this world.’’ There is a huge lesson in that one act played by someone who recedes into uncomplaining anonymity. She remains a stranger.What is the role of such strangers in our lives? It is a matter worthy of reflection. As is this one thought: how good a stranger am I?The thought has followed me for many years. In 1992, when I was setting up Wipro’s international operations with meagre resources, Tom Best, a customer at Sun left his job and moved to Novell in Salt Lake City, Utah. As soon as he joined his new employer, he called us. “Could we set up an inter-operability lab at Novell?’’ It was a god-send. While we wanted to grab the opportunity, we had no ground support in Utah. We knew no one there and needed help. Tom gave me the reference of a lady, a professional mover, who had helped him with his relocation. It was winter, and the snow had moved in. We had no spending capability, and needed to get a team operational immediately. I asked my colleague Subroto Mukerjee to meet the lady. Subroto arrived there and what happened next blew us off our feet. The lady took charge of everything, and in two days, Subroto was able to tie up all the details. All this while, we had been nervous that if she were to bill us for her efforts, we would be unable to pay her. In the end, Subroto asked her, with trepidation, what we owed her. “Nothing,’’ she replied. That was the last we saw of her. Many years after that, I met a young Chinese gentleman who was visiting Bangalore for the first time. He did not know anyone, and had no hotel reservation. On alighting at the airport, he struck up a chance conversation with a co-passenger who, upon learning about his predicament, despite being jetlagged himself and under severe time pressure, took him to three different hotels, helped him check in at one, and then left. The Chinese visitor was amazed subsequently to learn that the man who did that for him was none other than Dr Sridhar Mitta, who was at that time the chief technology officer at Wipro. He realised who his angel was only when he came to call on him at his office. Until then the two had not even exchanged proper introductions.In my own life, when I look back at all the golden turns, each one has been signalled by a person whom I have never known personally, someone who expected nothing from me, and had no personal benefit from my success. They all came unsolicited, played their angelic part, and quietly left the scene like the lady at Salt Lake City. When I look for them today, they are as faded as a woman named ‘Dandor-ma’ (Such people never had names they were always referred to as someone’s wife or mother. Her name meant ‘mother of Dando, the boy’), the illiterate, lower-caste midwife who assisted my mother as I was born in a small-town government quarter 48 years back.As we grow up and seek success, at every step and each turn, we seek the familiar. We look for comfort in familiarity and seek sameness. Is there a lesson delivered to us right at birth that we all forget? Just as a stranger helped me take my first breath, is the next great thing in my life, being held upside down by a stranger? And by the same token, how good a stranger am I to the world around?
Bunty Aur Babli January 13, 2006
This story needs to be told. Professor Anirudh Krishna teaches at Duke University. Before joining the world of academia, Anirudh was an IAS officer for many years. His area of work has been poverty alleviation. It has engaged him even after leaving the IAS, and today he has extended his study beyond India. In India, he has been studying how and why people escape from or fall into poverty in villages of Rajasthan and Karnataka. When we met through a common friend, we were both very interested to find out the inter-generational background of the average Indian software engineer. We conducted two interesting exercises. I conducted one within MindTree, with some help from the AC Nielsen group. The other one was done under Anirudh’s stewardship, using a broader sample. We took engineers from the Philips Innovation Centre in Bangalore and employees at Sasken. The results of both studies need to be told. First, a look at the two studies themselves.Recently, when a batch of hundred fresh engineers joined MindTree, anonymous feedback was taken on various demographic indices including parental occupations and income patterns. An overwhelming 33% came from a rural agricultural background. This was followed by 20% who were children of small business folks—kirana shop owners and upwards. The rest were children with parents from the salaried class. These included 4% who were children of teachers and 2% who were children of priests. Across the board, what was the median income? It was a surprising Rs 15,000 per month between both parents. The starting salary of these entry level engineers was well above that. Anirudh’s study was more detailed and had a broader scope. When Anirudh proposed his study, I asked friends Bob Hoekstra, CEO of the Philips Innovation Centre and Rajiv Mody, founder CEO of Sasken, if we could take volunteers from their organisations as well. The two readily agreed. We looked at a little more than a hundred software engineers to determine what socio-economic strata they came from. This included the educational background of parents, whether they studied in the vernacular medium and also the economic affluence as evident from patterns of ownership. The study mapped ownership of 17 different household items from a transistor radio and a cycle at the least to a refrigerator, a washing machine and a car at the highest level. The results confirmed the broad finding of the earlier study but went one step ahead and showed that 12% of people came from not only rural but what can be called ‘poorer’ backgrounds. In this case, only one parent was a graduate or less, the respondents had studied in the vernacular medium, and/or had studied at a government institution in a small town. The ownership pattern of white goods put them right at the bottom of the quadrant—closer to the just one transistor and a bicycle cluster. Both the studies demolish the myth that information technology is an elitist industry. It is an industry that has a very high number of people who have been children of significant economic and social disadvantages but have broken free from their background and are treated at par by their employers. Not a surprise, because this is an industry that values what you know as against who you know.The National Association of Software and Service Companies (www.nasscom.org) estimates that there are seven lakh people who work in the IT sector today. What is interesting is that the sector is not new. It started way back in the late 70s, though it became big only in the 90s and, in the last five years, has been recognised as world-class. Thus, it has taken close to 30 years for it to come to the level of employing seven lakh people. Even more interesting is that in the next five years, it is about to double. By 2010, Nasscom estimates the industry will need another 1.3 million people. Given that phenomenal growth requirement, where will the future IT workers come from? Who are they? Going by both studies we conducted, a large part of the people required will be filled by our very own Buntys and Bablis as long as they have good number skills, analytical capability and a basic level of communication.For the first time in the economic history of India, their socioeconomic background will not come in their way as they seek to enter the most exciting part of their lives. However, what could hold them from getting there is the substantial information gap that exists as one goes to the district level. The child who will graduate from high school in 2006 needs to be told about the industry, the options and the entry criteria today.
A Tale Of Two Managers January 6, 2006
When Ramchandran Kirtheyil walked into my room, he wanted to leave the organisation. He had come to say good bye. I had known him well over the years—he was growing well enough in the system, but I knew he had not yet blossomed to what his true potential was. I asked him to tell me what kind of job he had lined up for himself. To me, leaving in itself is not a bad thing as long as the individual is off to something significantly better, so that the move is justified. From what Ram told me, I was clear that this was not the case. He was getting the predictable 20% raise, but that was it. No significant job enrichment, no indication that the chosen organisation would be a far better platform from which he could achieve greater professional heights. So, what was the push factor? A detailed conversation brought out the true reason—he was unhappy with his supervisor. It was yet another case proving the adage that people do not leave organisations, but they leave their managers. But first, a little background about Ram himself.Ram started life as a software engineer with Tata Infotech and after sometime, moved to Verifone. He joined MindTree in 1999 just as we were starting the company. He was one of a group of seven friends who, along with their manager Babuji Abraham, had walked into our small shack of an office just as we had opened shop. The cheerleader of the group, Babuji Abraham, is one colourful manager who makes work a collegial activity. Having worked with Babuji for many years, Ram continued to have him as his mentor as he shifted assignments within MindTree. Over the years, Babuji remained his confidante for things big and small and it was but natural that he became a role model for Ram.Last year, things became very different. Ram had grown into a technical lead and was assigned to a difficult project with a new manager. Ramesh Gopalkrishnan. His new manager was the opposite of the colourful, collegial Babuji. A reserved, no-nonsense manager, Ramesh was a process-oriented, ‘very-solidly-routed-to-work’ kind of a person who was also a stickler for details. He disliked people going about implementing a plan that he did not himself know about. Babuji, on the other hand, was okay with such flexibility and was always there when someone needed him in a crisis or for an escalation.Ram concluded that there was a mismatch of chemistry between the two of them. In essence, it was a mismatch of both style and expectation. Ram respected Ramesh for his professional ability to lead but disliked his detail-orientation; he felt it was an infringement on his freedom. Ramesh, on the other hand, felt that as long as a new technical lead had not proven himself, he had to work within the boundaries and the planning and review pattern that he would set. The two began drifting apart and a time came when a series of small irritants and trivial gaps became increasingly more pronounced. As a result, Ram started looking outside. He was now with me to bid farewell to an organisation with which he had built a bond that was actually larger than his relationship with any single individual. Yet, right this moment, that bond was on the backburner.I asked Ram a fundamental question. Why was it necessary that he had to like Ramesh the way he had liked Babuji? Is it a good idea to be attached to the same manager and his style just because a zone of comfort had begun to develop? Isn’t it a good idea to be exposed to different managerial styles in different parts of one’s professional life? Don’t we learn more from differences and frictions than from a happy but unchallenging relationship? Wasn’t Ramesh’s style inherent to his functioning and own brand of success and had nothing to do with his likes or dislikes for any one individual, let alone for Ram?Ram went back to think over the questions. Over the weekend, he found his own answers. When we met again, Ram had been able to do his own sense-making. He decided to stay on. In time, he moved on to yet another manager and continued to do well. He dropped by one day and chatted with me about his work and life. Towards the end, as he was leaving, he turned back from the door and said, “By the way, I just wanted you to know something I have discovered for myself. It is amazing how similar my own leadership style is to that of Ramesh.’’ On that note, dear reader, happy new year to you.
Stairway To Success December 30, 2005
"Sir, when we had to leave Doddaballapur to come to Bangalore, I could not speak English and had no idea what a sandwich was", said 21-year-old Vinay. He was narrating his journey from being a small village boy to his position as a manager of a Cafe Coffee Day outlet. Vinay’s father used to work for a cooperative bank. One day, all of a sudden, he died, leaving behind two young children and his wife, a home maker with no idea about the big, wide world out there. The family had no income other than what he used to bring home. The bank was kind enough to come to their rescue; they told her that she could join the bank. However, there was a condition. She had to move to Bangalore because the branch in Doddaballapur could not accommodate a female employee. The family had no alternatives. Though her new job promised to give her a take-home salary of Rs 4,000, in a city like Bangalore, it wasn’t enough. Worse, she had to wait for six months before the first salary was credited to her account due to procedural reasons. At that time, Vinay was just about 15. For him, his mother and his little sister, it was as if they had fallen out of the frying pan into the fire. Vinay decided to look around for a job while he enrolled in an evening college. After a short stint with a grocery chain where he used to pack bags, Vinay came to Cafe Coffee Day. There he waited on customers, cleaned tables, and served coffee and sandwiches, and began to learn how to deal with customers of all kinds. That was a good five years ago. Today, Vinay speaks fluent English, oversees the work of a dozen people, runs the cafe as a profit-and-loss centre and is due to go to Vienna, where Cafe Coffee Day is opening its next outlet.Sarika Gandotra lost her mother in an accident when she was a six-monthold baby. She was raised by relatives who resented the burden and coaxed her father to marry again when she was five. The marriage led the family into a downward spiral. The stepmother decided to dislike her. The more she did that, the more protective her father became. One day, he walked out of the house with Sarika in tow. They moved from Jammu to Delhi to Mumbai and finally to Bangalore. Fate was not kind to the two. A time came when Sarika's father started giving up and asked her to get married so that she could probably have a better life. Sarika refused. She told her father that rather than get married at such an young age and move into yet another phase of uncertainty, she would look for a job that would let her continue with her studies and, at the same time, look after him. She joined Cafe Coffee Day. Last year, in yet another cruel blow of fate, her father died. But Sarika, a child of displacement, is in no state of despair.As the DJs of MTV entertain from the overhead televisions and animated young people take in the aroma of a cafe latte and enjoy the freedom of youth, she runs between the espresso machine and the next customer waiting to be served until the clock tells her that it is time to rush to her final year BCom class at the Sheshadripuram College.Behind the business built on the lifestyle, glitz and exuberance of Cafe Coffee Day’s mostly youthful customers, is a story of the grit and determination of young men and women who are rebuilding their lives.Looking into her youthful eyes that alternate between her past and her future, I ask Sarika, doesn’t she feel embarrassed serving the young men and women who probably go to the same college as she does? Does it not feel below her dignity to clean up their tables after they are gone? Sarika replies that she is proud to earn her livelihood the hard way; she tells me that she would not have it any other way and declares that the occasional tag of “waitress’’ does not bother her as she waits at the table of her own destiny.Of the 2000 young men and women who serve you the brew every day at Cafe Coffee Day, 15% are people who go to college at night, working part-time at 36 hours a week, that leaves them with an estimated take home pay of Rs 2,500 a month, contributory provident fund and insurance thrown in as extra. So, the next time you stop by for a cup of coffee, take a deep breath. A lot is happening over coffee.
Job Satisfaction December 23, 2005
Jobs are not meant to satisfy us. Jobs are not animate things that have knowledge of who we are, what we are seeking and what our special needs could be. You may say that I am just making a philosophical statement. To the contrary, I believe that it is the most practical and rewarding way of looking at many things in a professional career. When I see scores of successful people around me, I believe that their achievements are largely because of such a perspective. It also occurs to me that developing this perspective is eventually beneficial in every way possible.Let me go back a century and tell you a story. My grandfather was a medical practitioner in the Bihar of 1920s. He had a brood of children who were orphaned due to his untimely death. Two of my uncles had just about finished high school when he moved on. Their older brothers could not afford to send them to college. The two had to be gainfully employed, somehow, as soon as possible. They were taken to Tata Steel, an hour away from where they lived. Tata Steel and the government of Bihar were the only two employers you could think of in a five-hundred mile radius of my uncles’ hometown. The possible work one could get at Tata Steel was that of a technologist-engineer or of a manual worker. So, what could be done with the two boys with their high school qualifications? They were neither fish nor fowl. “Take them to the lab,’’ someone said. A German technician who ran the place was looking for a few hands. The burly German took a hard look at the two. Then he showed them a broom standing at one corner of the lab and asked them to sweep the floor. By the end of day, one of the two just ran away. To him, it was too much to handle. The one who stayed back retired as a chief foreman of Tata Steel. The difference between the two? The one that stayed on was not trying to seek ‘job satisfaction’. Instead, he focussed on satisfying the job.The more prosperous the industry, the higher the number of people looking for this elusive thing called ‘job satisfaction’. Similarly, the more qualified some people are, the higher is their need for ‘job satisfaction’. Sometimes, it is as elusive as seeking ‘true love’. There are times when we get lucky deservedly or otherwise. But we also get used to it and conclude that it is the responsibility of the organisation to maintain a continuous supply of job satisfaction.Whenever I think of job satisfaction, I remember all those who have to work at night—policemen, airline pilots, nurses and doctors, ambulance drivers and hotel staff, and of course the sentinel of the snow and the desert and the mountains. Do their jobs ‘satisfy’ these people or do these people satisfy the jobs with which they have been entrusted? Are jobs living things that can ever ‘satisfy’ us?In the corporate world, like any other place, when we open the bonnet and look under it, we find a whole bunch of tough, dirty but strategic tasks that must get done for the bacon to come home. Sometimes, they are so tough and so dirty that they overshadow the strategic nature of the job. So, all such jobs have to be ‘sold’ to prospective incumbents. More they are sold, less buyers they attract. Often, the man who takes up the job is either a loser who has no other choice, or someone who just views it as a transit camp. For many potentially high-performance individuals, a false sense of survival, desire for glamour or just the need for creature comforts make these jobs undesirable. “I would rather be in Kolkata than be posted to Mungher.’’ “I rather have the corporate planning job than be collecting bad debts.’’ Or, consider this one here: “Give me a cerebral job, I do not enjoy handling transactions...’’Few of us ever ask the boss to be rewarded with a tough and dirty job. We only look for the ‘plum’ ones. Yet, there are people, who given a tough and dirty job, make it strategic: they transform the job in unbelievable ways. In a typical career span, there must be at least four such solid stints in one’s life to make the person a solid professional. All the great people I know have been in the trenches for much of their lives, and their inventory of bruises outnumber the commendations they have received. The occasional commendations stay on the wall. It is the bruises that these people carry with pride.
The Ugly Duckling December 16, 2005
Two women, both very successful professionals in their own rights; one works in the interiors of Madhya Pradesh as a doctor and the other leads an R&D team of software engineers in Bangalore. First the story of the doctor.Tripti Das was born as the middle child in a brood of three. She was the most non-descript of the three and early in life, her father decided that she was the “plain Jane’’ who would not make it big in life. She was just not good enough. When she failed to make it to the Air Force Medical College, he was proven right. That’s all. Tripti did not tell anyone anything but secretly, the whole of the next year, she saved on her bus fare and with that money, she wrote the test again. She cleared it, completed her medical education and eventually, joined the defence services. Having spent long years there, she went overseas where she set up her flourishing practice to finally return to India to serve the rural poor. She is in her early fifties today and still feels the emptiness left behind by a parent who declared early in life that she would not be able to make it.Maya Rao was born in a lower middle-class family, among six other siblings in a small town in Karnataka. Her father was a salaried man. In her ninth standard, when she decided to study mathematics he frowned. He also wanted that she should go to the women’s college nearby somehow get her graduate degree and just get married. Her refusal to go to the women’s college confirmed his thoughts that she was on her way to become a rebel. Maya persisted to complete her bachelor’s and then her master’s degree in mathematics. Her father, however, completely opposed the idea of her wanting to do a post-doctoral work at the Indian Institute of Technology and forced her to join a bank in Hyderabad. Maya went to join the bank and from there, within a week, put in her papers, sat on a train to Kharagpur and never came back. From there to a software R&D centre was a long walk she is able to recount with ease. But like Tripti, she wants to cry when she recalls the path she had to take to assert her right to dream. Like Tripti, Maya is clueless why her father always said ‘no’ to her, each time she wanted to do something.It is a country of a billion people almost half are women. It is commonly understood that the girl child in rural India is conditioned to a variety of ‘soft discrimination’. She begins to accept it all and when she grows up, sometimes she extends it to her daughter, as her time comes. As a result, her son gets the nutrition that he must have, the education he must be given and the better clothes, the toys, the medical attention and whatever else. Even in semi-urban, lower middle-class families, the boy-girl divide is complete. My mother’s mother in the Bengal of the 1920s told her that the girl child of the family must be content with eating the head and tail of the fish. The men were to be served the in-between pieces.But what with fathers of people like Tripti and Maya? It is a complex psycho-social issue and each story is unique in many ways. If we were to step into the father’s mind who knows what parental anxiety, what sense of protection or what warped thought led them to push a high-achiever girl into a position of emotional struggle? It wasn’t a struggle with the outside world. Not with the professor in her college. Not with the boss at work. With their own fathers!No, I am not a social activist or a reformer. All I want is to tell people that in countries like the US, the percentage of female white collar workers is almost the same as their male counterpart. In our country it is difficult to make an estimate. A little digging into the facts would tell us that while in the hi-tech sector in the best organisations, women constitute less than 20% of the workforce and the national average across all organisations is a lamentable 12%. Most workplaces try and ‘accommodate’ women, some treat them with plain ‘tolerance’.But Tripti and Maya are no ordinary people. They are shaping the futures of their respective organisations. Their path to professional stardom need not have been strewn with rejection. Somewhere that scar remains. To the parents of the many such darkcomplexioned, non-descript, middle-child born females here is a respectful request: “Please do not write her off yet.’’
Mostly Bad Apples December 9, 2005
Most of what goes by the term MBA in India is a racket. It is time we admitted that. We all live with the hope that the institutions having mushroomed everywhere are an inevitable step towards a market-driven system in which the customer will ultimately weed out the bad ones. There is also the feeling that if there is a sucker born every second, why grudge the guy who is making a little money? Some hope that the situation will one day self-correct the problem. Unfortunately for the majority of students and parents who are victims, it will take more than just hope to get the situation fixed. It will take serious action not by the regulators, but by prospective students and their guardians themselves. At times they are as much to blame.Consider this: Neel is a plain graduate in humanities. He admits that he does not have strong number skills. He has come to the city of Bangalore, egged on by relatives who wanted him to do his MBA. He has not qualified for the tier 1 or tier 2 or even the tier 3 colleges. However, he could secure admission in an MBA course run by, of all things, a cultural foundation! It hooks prospective students with the catch that it has a “tie-up’’ with a US MBA programme. I for one know that the so-called US institute is not even known in the US, and that no one quite cares about it. The place in Bangalore has no classrooms of its own and operates as part of the cultural foundation. There are no hostels. The students who come from a distance stay in a mess run by a local in Rajajinagar. The so-called MBA school has two choices for “specialisation’’—marketing and finance. In neither of the two areas does the faculty have any practical experience or any academic credentials of significance. Neel is studying finance, but he does not have any grounding in basic mathematics. He does not know much about the potential careers he could have. Only one batch of students before him has graduated from this institute.The ones who have graduated have not been placed yet, and no one knows what will ever happen to them. The tragedy is that Neel and his parents knew all these facts before jumping in. Yet they pretended that with time, all problems would get solved. The place would receive recognition. The courses would get accredited. Campus placements would happen and mathematically-challenged Neel, who has low communication skills, would get picked up by some company. After that, fate would take over.Unfortunately, none of these may happen and chances are, Neel will be a sad person after two years, not knowing why things did not quite work out. At the same time, he will have problems admitting to himself that he could have avoided the inevitable. Barring probably 10% of the management schools in India, the vast majority of them do only one thing well. They keep the kids off the streets. The question therefore becomes, why parents must push their wards to such places, which will not bring any professional value to the young boys and girls? Why should everyone be an MBA? Just so people know, I am not an MBA. Only 13% of my company’s 3200 people are MBAs.Barring probably 10% of the management schools in India, the vast majority of them do only one thing well. They keep the kids off the streets. The question therefore becomes, why parents must push their wards to such places, which will not bring any professional value to the young boys and girls? Why should everyone be an MBA? Just so people know, I am not an MBA. Only 13% of my company’s 3200 people are MBAs.So a young man or woman can build a satisfying and successful career choosing from many other options that are better aligned to the aptitude of the person. We must first ask ourselves what we are good at and then build our options around that. A second rate MBA does not in any way make up for a persons weaknesses. So, if you are considering a “me-too’’ MBA school and are planning to put your parent’s hard-earned money into it, think again. It may be a much better idea to start a neighbourhood store with that money and work towards an MBA that only real-life experience can provide. In the longer run, that could be far more valuable.Parents, please do not get carried away with “foreign affiliation.’’ This is the last vestige of our colonial mindset. If something is not inherently good, a so-called foreign affiliation does not purify it with pigmentation. The best way for you to determine if an institute could add value to your ward is to find out what jobs some of the students of the previous three graduating classes have landed. Meet some of these people and ask them probing questions about the faculty and what value the institute added in helping them to get their jobs. If the answers are not forthcoming and yet you want to admit your ward to the MBA course, know that you are buying just deferred disappointment.
The fallen Tomato Cart December 2, 2005
I pass through this very intersection every morning with so much ease. Today, the pace is skewed. There is a sense of disarray as motorists try to push past each other through the traffic light. The light here always tests their agility because if you miss the green, you have to wait for another three minutes before it lets you go past again. Those three minutes become eternity for an otherwise time-insensitive nation on the move. Today, there is a sense of chaos here. People are honking, skirting each other and rushing past. I look out of my window to seek the reason. It is not difficult to find because it is lying strewn all over the place. A tomato seller’s cart has overturned. There are tomatoes everywhere and the rushing motorists are making pulp of it. The man is trying to get his cart back on its four rickety wheels and a few passersby are picking up what they can in an attempt to save him total loss. Though symbolic in the larger scheme of things, it is not a substantive gesture. His business for the day is over. The way this man’s economics works is very simple. There is a money lender who lends him money for just one day, at an interest rate of Rs 10 per day per Rs 100 lent. With the money, he wakes up at 4 am to go to the wholesale market for vegetables. He returns, pushing his cart a good five miles, and by 7 am when the locality wakes up, he is ready to sell his day’s merchandise. By the end of the morning, some of it remains unsold. This his wife sells by the afternoon and takes home the remainder, which becomes part of his meal. With the day’s proceeds, he returns the interest to the money lender and goes back to the routine the next day. If he does not sell for a day, his chain breaks. Where does he go from here? He goes back to the money lender, raises capital at an even more penal interest and gets back on his feet. This is not the only time that destiny has upset his tomato cart. This happens to him at least six times every year. Once he returned with a loaded cart of ripe tomatoes and it rained heavily for the next three days. No one came to the market and his stock rotted in front of his own eyes. Another time, instead of the weather, it was a political rally that snowballed into a confrontation between two rival groups and the locality closed down. And he is not alone in this game of extraneous factors that seize not only his business but also his life. He sees this happen to the “gol-gappa” seller, the peanut seller and the “vada pao” seller all the time. When their product does not sell, it just turns soggy. Sometimes they eat some of it. But how much of that stuff can you eat by yourself ? So, they just give away some and there is always that one time when they have to simply throw it away. Away from the street-vendor selling perishable commodity with little or no life support system, the corporate world is an altogether different place. Here we have some of the most educated people in the country. We don the best garbs. We do not have to push carts; our carts push us. We have our salary, perquisites, bonuses, stock options, gratuities, pensions and our medical insurance and the group accident benefit schemes. Yet, all the while, we worry about our risks and think about our professional insecurity. We wonder, what would happen if the company shifted offices to another city? What would happen if the department closed down? What would happen if you were to take maternity leave and the temporary substitute delivered better work than you did? What would happen if the product line you are dealing with simply failed? In any of those eventualities, the worst that could happen would still be a lot less than having to see your cartful of tomatoes getting pulped under the screeching wheels of absolute strangers who have nothing personal against you. All too often we exaggerate our risks. We keep justifying our professional concerns till they trap us in their vicious downward spiral. Devoid of education, sophisticated reasoning and any financial safety net, the man with the cart is often able to deal with life much better than many of us. Is it time to look out of the window, into the eyes of that man to ask him, where does he get it from? In his simple stoicism, is probably, our lost resilience.
Start your own November 25, 2005
David Thomas will turn 40 on Friday. He is smart, competent and devoted to his organisation. A graduate from one of the Indian Institutes of Technology, he went on to get an MBA from one of the best management schools before starting his career with a leading Indian company. Somewhere during his career, he felt that he should be working for a multinational company, partly because of the lure of higher compensation, but also he was succumbing to the pervasive Indian mindset that working for an MNC is the more prestigious thing to do. Sometimes an aunt or an uncle does not quite know the name of the company you work for, nor can they explain what you do. Yet, just the smug words ‘works in an MNC’ conveys that you are doing alright. That was then.Today, as he looks at the next 20 years of his life, David feels deeply troubled. He feels that he has levelled out. The work that he performed so well just a few years ago is no longer as consequential to the organisation. There is something in the air that tells him that his career is festooned with autumn colours. Too many organisational changes confuse him. How can he create a long-term career plan for himself ? How will he get that plan nested in the larger landscape of the huge organisation? Something in him tells him to be bitter with the system for his present situation. At the same time, he knows that bitterness is not going to solve anything. He is at crossroads. A simple change of jobs will not magically take him back to the time when he was 23 and his next 20 years looked inviting. What can David Thomas do today?He has an option. Unfortunately, no one is telling him about it. That option is to start his own, to become an entrepreneur. Here is why: Entrepreneurs create jobs. Jobs provide people with livelihoods. Without a livelihood, everyone feels lost. Given a good livelihood, we all feel secure and able to raise families; we have the comfort of exploring higher callings; we are able to provide emotional security to people around us.There is an estimated 6.5 billion people on earth. Out of these, a third live right here in India and China. In the Indian sub-continent alone, there are 450 million children below the age of 15 who will need to join the workforce very soon. It is neither for the government, nor for large businesses to create avenues for employment and growth for these people. It can only be done by entrepreneurs.Entrepreneurs drive innovation. Seldom does innovation come from very large, very established players. The reason is simple. Innovation disrupts the established way of doing things. Large, profitable organisations frown at disruptions of any kind. For innovative people like David Thomas, it is sometimes easier to start something ground-up than trying to change the existing behemoth.Entrepreneurs create great wealth not just for themselves, but for others as well. They also use the power of wealth, sometimes, to build sustained legacy for society at large. Behind the educational system of the US is a huge amount of personal wealth donated by entrepreneurs. Without their support, some of the greatest initiatives to protect heritage, arts and literature and the environment would be difficult.Entrepreneurship can be deeply rewarding. The richness of experience and sheer self-confidence you get by starting a small shop is sometimes larger than running a huge department for an established entity. This is because entrepreneurship is the most handson thing you will ever do. Nothing about entrepreneurship is a spectator sport. Many things in a well-paid job in a large organisation could well be. Entrepreneurship is a creative process. When done successfully, it can give you the highest sense of accomplishment possible. That sense of accomplishment is next only to delivering and raising your baby.Finally, the world has become an entrepreneur-friendly place like never before. No government in the world says, “We do not like entrepreneurs.’’ Funding for new ventures is becoming increasingly cross-border. Also, today, more resources are chasing fewer ideas, rather than the other way round.Well then, David Thomas, probably the time has come to shed your sense of being at crossroads. Consider breaking free to start on your own. It could well bring back the sheer feeling of exhilaration when your first appointment letter was delivered in your youthful hands, a good 17 years back!
The survivor November 18, 2005
We live in difficult times. As people who are born of tradition, we are more comfortable when someone is always there to show us the path. It makes us comfortable because there is the power of wisdom and sage counsel. Sometimes, it also deflects our burden of responsibility to make our own decisions. Whatever the reason, we learn to look up to people. We look up to parents, we look up to teachers at school, the boss at work, role models in the society, we look up to the government itself and, finally, to people who are intermediaries between us and God. Sometimes, some of them fail us. We have learnt to take that in our stride. What makes ours a particularly difficult time is that we are seeing many of them failing at the same time.Government after government has shown its soft underbelly from personal conduct of people in power to its inability to protect the innocent citizen in times of distress. A serving president of the US misused the Oval Office, lied under oath and was allowed to stay in office. That became a lesser issue and we all moved on from it the day 9/11 happened. The world’s most powerful government stood helpless while the lives of ordinary people were buried under crumbling concrete.So the next time another terrorist group bombs a crowded railway platform, will you still believe that there is a government that it can protect you? Chances are, if someone really wants to get you, he will. GoogleEarth will show where you are right this moment even as the stewardess on a plane says, “Aerial photography is not permitted as per government regulations.’’ So, why on earth should I pay my taxes honestly to a government that cannot stand by me when I need it most? We want to seek solace from our religious faith. We want to be healed by the keepers of the faith the Father, the Imam, the Guru. There, we hear about the stories of child molestation in the Roman Catholic Church to stories of greed and murder in the shadow of a Shankaracharya.Not enough. Sometimes, a role model in the family, often an admired parent, crosses marital lines, or is discovered by a child to be taking bribes, or has became an alcoholic, or has changed beyond recognition after raising you on a staple diet of idealism. It leaves us at crossroads. Some of us feel devastated. Some take it as the signal and the justification to match the conduct or the failing."If the whole world is this way, why not I?'' Sometimes, we are fortunate enough to be able to make sense of what is going on to make our own choices. Each one of us is an intelligent, independent being. What the environment around us does is mostly beyond our control. What we decide to deduce and act upon is a function of the choices we make. When I do not exercise that choice, I abandon my right to assert myself. Let me paint you two scenarios. Both real.One of the nicest persons I have known in my professional life was sexually abused by a parent. It is probably the greatest humiliation one can carry on one’s shoulders through life. Yet, that abused individual is a great co-worker, a very giving spouse and a loving parent in real life. The past and the present may be overwhelmingly difficult; the future is what that individual has chosen to be all about.In New Delhi, a serving General has been asked to leave after selling regulation alcohol in the black market. I am sure he did not really need that extra money. Basic needs could not have driven him to do such things. In any case, his basic needs cannot have been greater than that of the 19-year-old boy from the heartland who stands in Siachen snow for months on end, under the shadow of a glacier, gun in hand and only fire in his belly. What if that soldier decided to take a nap? After all, if the General can be a bootlegger, what is wrong with a short nap in the line of control?The choices made by a sexually abused co-worker and the one sentinel in the line of fire makes our world go around. The Upanishad says: “You are what your deep driving desire is As is your desire, so is your will As is your will, so is your act As is your act, so is your Destiny.’’ In the turbulent world around us when role models fail, we have to make our own choices. When we do so, we realise it is not as difficult as we sometimes think it to be.
Fake Encounters November 11, 2005
The Times of India’s Bangalore edition had it on its front page a few days ago—Intel’s India operations had asked some of its people to leave for forging their leave travel allowance (LTA) claims. Intel refused to furnish details except that it affirmed its standards of integrity were sacrosanct. I can well presume what would have happened there. A few people would have made a seemingly innocent conclusion that if an employee fudged an LTA claim to deny the Income Tax department their dues, as long as such an act did not hurt the company’s cash flow or bottomline, there was nothing wrong with it. We all know when the concept of LTA as a tax-exempt perk came up, in New Delhi travel agents sprang up. For a small fee, they gave people fake receipts for travel not undertaken with which they could submit a claim. It is quite commonplace in some organizations for someone to claim airfare while they travel by train. What’s wrong with that? After all, some politicians and film stars, cricketers and businessmen and bureaucrats routinely falsify their income tax returns to save on taxes? Well, companies like Intel do not agree with that reasoning. To them, both the means and the ends must be justified when it comes to workplace ethics. Cut to MindTree. A young engineer applied for a job with us. He had a passable degree in engineering. But, he cleared our difficult-to-get-through entry test and started his work in right earnest. We found him to be as good as any other in the organization. Then the worst happened. When his past employment history was checked, it turned out that he had forged the salary certificate to show that the last salary drawn was Rs 20,000 a month whereas his real salary was Rs 9,000 per month. In reality, he did not have to do this because our salary fitment does not depend on it. We look at education, the skill and our internal equity and then decide the compensation based on a competence grid. We fired the man. This isn’t an isolated case. Last year, in MindTree alone, we had a dozen cases where people were asked to leave after a month or two of joining when employment verification raised traces of forgery. I understand that in larger Indian companies where intake is significantly more, the size of the problem is even greater. But if found out, the consequences are as severe. The question is, to what good use? Why do people do things that bring them humiliation? Well, in the first place, no one told them that it was wrong. The truth is that a new breed of Indian companies are here who place value on integrity compared to the past. In addition, thanks to globalization, we are seeing companies like Intel coming to India who make no compromise on the seemingly small violation of workplace ethics. Amartya Sen has called us an ‘argumentative nation’. On matters of workplace ethics, we can have particularly long arguments on what is right and what is wrong, who truly is at fault and dwell on the quantum of punishment. After all, should all these people have been warned and let off as against being shown the door? The truth is that companies like Accenture, IBM, Intel, Infosys, MindTree or Wipro and many others have no appetite for such discussion. Matters of integrity to them are always a black or white issue. The human eye is trained to distinguish between 108 shades of grey. The moment one gets sucked into analyzing the many different shades of grey, it becomes unending. So, to these organizations, white is white and black is black. You either play by the book or, you opt to stay out. It’s that simple. So, the next time your nephew asks you to arrange for a fake experience certificate, tell him it is not a good idea. If someone tells you that no one would notice if you claimed first class train fare but travelled by bus do not submit a false claim. If someone says, “but, everyone here does it,’’ ask yourself, how comfortable would you be to explain your conduct to your own child if she ever asked you if what you did was the right thing? The concept of workplace integrity is going to grow in importance. However, it is not about policing people’s behavior. It is about making conscious choices based on conviction about what is fair, transparent and above potential scrutiny. It is about closing one’s own eyes in a dark room and listening to the voice of conscience.
The Power of Mentoring November 4, 2005
In Bengali households, the eldest brother is often called “Dadamoni’’. I was eight years old when I came under the tutelage of Dadamoni, my eldest brother, D P Bagchi. He is 14 years older than I am, and at that time, was teaching at the local university. I came to live with him in Bhubaneswar from a small place that had no schools in the vicinity. While waiting to be admitted to school in the campus at Vani Vihar, I had no work on hand. I guess being both uneducated and unemployed at eight has its special circumstances. So, at times, I would sneak out of the house to hang around at the university, often eavesdropping on post-graduate classrooms.On one such occasion, I was outside a classroom where he was teaching and was caught. Instead of punishing me, he asked me if I understood what he was teaching. I sheepishly explained the theory of demand and supply that he was teaching to his class. He was so impressed with me that, instead of discounting me as a child, he started explaining the theory in greater detail. Thereafter, he started telling me about many other theories, like the law of marginal utility. One day, the Chancellor’s Cup Debate was held, and he asked me to come along with the condition that I promised to sit quietly at the back. There, I was thoroughly impressed by the young men and women who came up to the podium to debate the motion. I did not understand a word they said, but the process was spellbinding. I told myself that, someday, I had to do this kind of stuff. After a year there, Dadamoni joined the IAS. In due time, he was posted as an assistant collector in a sub-division called Keonjhar in Orissa. There, as he was trained in various aspects of district administration from doing land settlement in villages to declaring Section-144 in disturbed areas during a student strike he would treat me like an adult, teaching me all about the IPC and the CrPC, and explaining to me the intricacies of the revenue administration and discuss issues of development. Once the Hungarian ambassador visited an iron-ore mine in Dadamoni’s sub-division and he had to play host. He took me along to meet him. On the way, he explained the concept of protocol and coached me to address the ambassador as “Your Excellency.’’ I couldn’t wait for the visitor to ask me a question, to show off that I knew how to address him correctly even though I was a small boy in shorts. Dadamoni also taught me to recite Rabindranath Tagore’s timeless verse ‘Where the mind is without fear’. It came in handy for me because I shifted school every other year and, whichever new school I went to, the fact that I could recite an English poem of that sort earned me acceptance in the eyes of my new teachers and peers, who spoke little English themselves. Strangely, most workplaces have not heard about the concept of mentoring yet. In some, it is seen as a so-called “HR’’ initiative thereby driving it down to the lowest common denominator. In this context, my meeting with a young software engineer, Sriram becomes fascinating. Sriram quit his job to start a mentoring programme called “NalandaWay’’ in Chennai. The initiative impacts more than 220 promising children living in slums. NalandaWay locates such children by going around, meeting their parents and teachers. These children are then paired with successful people in the corporate sector. In the small time that the initiative has been around, it has become massively successful. The internationally renowned Ashoka organisation has adopted it as one of its “social entrepreneurship’’ programmes. Sometime ago, we got the folks from NalandaWay to talk to our leaders on what it takes to mentor young children. The idea was to learn the process so that we could introduce it to our own people. As my mentor, Dadamoni had a Pygmalion effect in shaping my personality and destiny. Education gives us some knowledge but good mentoring gives us the ability to relate it to the real world; it helps us to learn life-skills and moulds our attitude. The self-confidence that it can generate is so huge, it is almost magical. The principles of mentoring the child that was me, a teenage girl in a fishing village of Chennai and a budding young white-collar worker are not different. They all begin with the magical sensation of a grown-up reaching out to hold a soft, unformed hand and whispering, “Yes, you can!’’ This is when dreams are created and bridges built across to the realm of the possible. Where would I be today, without you Dadamoni?
Google Your Career October 28, 2005
Google was started by two geeky youngsters from Stanford University—its beginning is legendary. I heard it from a Silicon Valley venture capitalist Ram Shriram. Shriram had made his fortune working with start-ups like Junglee and Netscape. Thereafter, he decided to become an angel investor. On one of his visits to Stanford to catch up with Professor Jeff Ullman, he met the two Google co-founders. The professor told Shriram that he should be backing these two young men. Despite the existence of the concept of internet-based search engines, there was something unusual here. Shriram and Andy Bechtolsheim, co-founder of Sun, were willing to listen to the professor and took out their cheque books. It was then that everyone realised that the two youngsters did not even have a company name, much less a bank account.On the spot, they thought of the name ‘Google’ and Shriram filled the ‘to payee’ column accordingly. The rest is history. Google became a great IPO success, is meeting profit projections and has already become a Wall Street darling. I like the way the company raised itself to industry leadership. I think it has huge lessons for working professionals who could take a leaf or two from the Google story to build their own careers.To begin with, Google built itself on a solid value proposition and took a uniquely differentiated position. It provided value to the world before demanding any value for itself. It served until the world became dependent on it. It created value by meeting the unstated needs of unseen customers. That is a sure way, though a more difficult one, to win. It did not fear incumbency. So what if there were established large players who could have eaten Google for breakfast? Finally, Google persevered. It wasn’t an overnight success story. These are elements that build memorable professional careers as well. But wait, I haven’t told you the real secret sauce of their success, yet.Google started as a search engine. You typed in keywords and it looked through millions of pages all over the world’s farflung servers and reported what matched your needs. As time went by, they tried to make the search process more intelligent, more intuitive. They did not stop with that. When millions of people came to them with their search queries, they added the now famous ‘gmail’ to their basket of products — virtually unlimited storage, with no need to delete anything, more intuitive organisation of all your communication needs. What next at Google? I meet analysts who tell me that the next great wave of computing could come in the form of ‘service on demand’ from Google. You want to process your payroll? You want to print invoices and file tax returns? You want to manage your inventory? You will probably just go to Google and use any of these applications for a fraction of what it costs to own a software that does these sorts of things today. This may or may not turn out to be the state of the future. But, what is undeniable is the fact that Google will remain a force to contend with in the days ahead.Now think of your career and mine. If we can be compared to Google, the question becomes, what new value have you and I added of late? I meet many folks who started out in sales, and have grown up over time to manage larger territories and bigger accounts. I meet engineers who started in production or information systems or planning, and kept growing in a linear manner ‘managing’ essentially more of the same as years went by. Will this model work in the future? The answer is a short ‘no’.We may all choose to become a generalist, a specialist, remain an individual professional contributor, be a manager or a leader or whatever else we want. But in any of those, one must be sure to question periodically, "What new service offering do I have to offer to the world around me? Do I deliver it after someone has asked for it or am I pre-investing in building the capability?'' Just as Google needs to create new value for its users constantly, as professionals, we can't just be the best search engine and stay put. People who just continue to deliver the same good old stuff, cease to be interesting to the world around them after a while.I like people to look at their careers as five-year spans. Every five-year span is usually populated by two major assignments. Usually, we think of these assignments in terms of roles, job-descriptions, responsibilities, span of control, location and of course, compensation. It is time to take a leaf out of Google’s book. We need, periodically, to do a Google to our careers to create unusual new value and stay the favourite.
Letter from Nimesh Anand October 21, 2005
One of the interesting rewards of writing a column is the wide variety of mails I receive. Sometimes, they contain words of appreciation, sometimes criticism, and then there are mails from people seeking professional advice. I do not like offering advice because it is not possible to give good advice without involved discussion. Also, most people do not like to receive advice. What they seek to hear is an affirmation of their own conclusions. Against this backdrop of reluctance, when Nimesh Anand (not his real name) wrote to me a few days ago, insisting that we meet, I asked him to summarize his issues first. When his reply arrived, it made me sit up. In many ways, Nimesh Anand is going through a happy problem. He has two job offers at hand from comparable companies for middle management positions. An engineer by education, he has spent most of his life in the sales profession. He wants to know, which of the two offers should he choose? That brings us to a very basic question. What are his goals? If we know a person’s larger goals, making a decision becomes easier. Here is what he has to say about his goals - “...over the next two to three years, I want to get a part-time MBA from a decent school; spend a little more time with my family than I have been able to; position myself to earn in the $500,000 bracket or be able to live in India and earn a US salary.’’ Very commendable, even if very self-centered. I wrote back to him, asking him how old he was. The reply startled me. Nimesh Anand is all of 32-years-old! At 32, he has a burning desire to earn $500,000 a year. He wants a US compensation to be paid out in India. For this he wants to have the kind of job that lets him have “enough time’’ to do a part-time MBA, but from a “decent’’ school and he also wants to spend more time with the family. Where does the company fit into the overall scheme of things? We will worry about that later. First, a little mathematics. If Nimesh is given out half a million dollars in compensation, his total cost to company will be in the order of a million dollars. It is a simple rule of thumb. You add the office rental, the equipment, other overheads, his travel and related organisational expenses. In the service industry, we normally take the total cost of owning an individual as twice the compensation paid. Given that, what value must Nimesh add such that his company can service his half million ambition? What level of rain making capacity must he have? How would he sustain that level of rain making, year after year? I was baffled. I asked myself, what was I doing when I was 32? It was 1989. My salary was Rs 5,000 per month. Add to that, a twobedroom company-owned house. My job involved coordination between Wipro’s computer factory and the field, looking after debtors and the technical training function. A bit hotchpotch, you may say. But I woke up every morning and ran. I worked hard and looked around baffled at all the people around—they seemed to be infinitely smarter, more competent than me. Seeing them, I worked even harder and asked myself, what value was I adding to be worthy of their company? It’s not that I was a martyr with no material ambitions. I did have my fair share. But they were not the compass of my life. Nor were they my North Star.You may say that was 1989, 16 years ago! Okay, let’s pay Nimesh 16 times or even 32 times more than what I earned then. But his needs are working out to be 375 times than what I used to make! He has at least 30 more years to go before hanging up his boots. If today, he needs half a million, what will he need in each of the three decades ahead of him? His view of a professional career is clearly that of a slot machine. Would he sign up for the rules as well? If all the money he needs must be made before he turns forty, he may have to squeeze all the juice out of his marrow before he hits his prime. Then what? Leaders, who have reached the top in any industry, have done so by giving more to life than they have taken out of it. Their foremost aim at every stage in their career has been to create disproportionate value, for the system, before self. Material rewards have followed, some times quite below their expectations, and sometimes well beyond.
The Relative Factor October 14, 2005
Vanitha Prem Kumar will retire in two months time. A fortnight back, I met her in Chennai and listened to her life-story. Born to a railway doctor in 1948 – she was the second in a family of six children. All was well until one day her father passed away all too suddenly. It left her mother is a state of shock and lingering sickness. All her siblings were receiving good education but her mother had decided that it was quite alright for her to stay home. After her pre-university, Vanitha became home bound. Her mother liked it that way – it helped her to stay close to at least one child who could take care of her. Vanitha, a devout Christian, felt that this was indeed God's way. She was happy being near her mother who felt that the "not-so-pretty" Vanitha could well wait until a good man came along to marry her - someday.Everything changed one day when her uncle, a manager with a Tata company in Kumardubi, came visiting. He threw a fit. How could all the other children get good education while one girl was singled out to stay home? He chastised Vanitha's mother and the lady promised to let Vanitha go out of the house. That was Vanitha's turning point. She stepped out and trained to become a telephone operator. Vanitha liked that kind of work because at home, when her father used to be a doctor, it was she who used to pick up the phone and even started liking the errand. One thing led to another. She saw an advertisement for a telephone operator's job and not knowing that it was from the Taj Hotels, applied for it. She was selected and trained as an "order taker" for three hundred rupees a month. Seeing her rapid progress, the amount was raised by another hundred and fifty after a month. She married a man she liked and raised her two children over the years. Today, her daughter is settled in the US, married to a software engineer and her son is in his final year in a local engineering college. Vanitha is looking forward to continuing her work even after she retires from the Taj Coromandel in Chennai. She attributes her life's joy to the career the Taj has helped her to build. It all started however, with the uncle from Kumardubi.Cut to MindTree. I was chatting with a group of young software engineers. We were discussing the kind of influence our immediate and sometimes, the extended family has on us. Many owe their career to well-informed counsel of a relative. But sometimes, they have a hugely damaging influence because they are either ill-informed or overtly possessive. One young engineer who comes from a small town in Kerala, born to retired government folks, had to give in to constant maternal cajoles to come closer home. The mother did not understand the difference between one Software Company and another. Neither did she know the difference between a job and a career. Another engineer from Delhi had this amazing story – whenever he meets his uncle, the gentleman has just one concern. One of his cousins has already gone abroad. Another cousin has changed "three jobs" in two years! What is wrong with him? Why is he still stuck with the same company for five long years? Is every thing alright? I dread to think of how many people destined to great things in life, get derailed because of pressure from what I have started calling the "Relative Factor". I think two things will help. One, we at the workplace, will have to do a better job of bringing young people to the workplace and exposing them to the myriad options. We have to do that at the level of high school students. It does not matter that many of these children may have nothing to do with our organizations or careers we currently offer. Two, we have to connect with their parents and more importantly, the uncles of India. To me, they seem to have got everyone covered in the penumbra of their influence.I feel wonderful for Vanitha who will do a hat-trick soon - making it to the President's Club of the Taj Group for the third time in a row for the work she has done. She wears the small medallions of recognition on the border of her saree as if she had won them at the Olympics! I feel saddened by the young engineer who left behind a great career with us in Bangalore to board a train to Cochin – a place that is closer to Thrissur where mother is waiting for him.Life is a snake and ladder game. Every time we make a choice, we also choose the consequences. That is the reason we need to be careful with the Relative Factor in our lives. It is better to make it informed and beneficial.
Written on Sand October 7, 2005
As a small boy, I was always fascinated with sand. In places I grew up, sand was easy to find. By the river bed, at construction sites and by short-lived rivulets that ran like fiery rivers after a spell of rain, next to paddy fields. The sand bed designed by unseen, deft fingers stayed on till a cow's hoofs went over them. I could spend hours looking at the patterns or playing on the sand dumped at construction sites. Today, bang in the heart of India's Silicon Valley, the only time I see sand is on my way to work. I see the trucks carry sand to construction sites I can no more play at. But my mind goes back to my childhood and the sand trucks bring me the memories of Koraput in Orissa. As a three-year old, I used to watch the occasional truck, groups of young adivasi women called "Nani bais" perched on the back. They wore bright sarees up to their knees, tucked flowers of the forest on the well plaited hair and sang in chorus as the trucks moved past me. At work and singing! Sometimes, as dusk fell, I would see them return - this time walking past - the women always held each other at the waist and walked in a single row - the men behind and they would be inevitably laughing or singing in a hauntingly beautiful chorus. That's my first impression of people at work. Today, I do not see them when the sand truck moves past in the traffic of Bangalore. But I notice something very interesting. The trucks come loaded from the river bed many miles away - nobody perched on them. Then they stand in some parking site - waiting for a buyer. The sand they carry is neatly stacked and every few days, the pattern changes. Sometime, they are loaded and then neatly patted to look like a pyramid, sometime like a mountain, sometime in yet some other shape. It occurs to me that the men and women who load them, have a mundane task but they have fun doing it and use their creativity on the sand as they go about their job. Some days, when the gulmohar trees are in bloom - you can also see a twig or two of bright bloom inserted on the top of the sand with the spontaneity of a child at play. Very similar to what we have all done as children by the sea, after building a sand castle. Today, I saw something even more interesting - I saw a parked sand truck - the loaders had willfully etched the Nike swoosh sign on the entire body of the sand. I am sure this is not part of a Nike campaign, but there it was. Until a buyer will come by, take the truck and the load is dumped. The artist will not be around to see the signs gone but he or she does not care. The creator had fun at work. How many of us sing at work? How many of us put our own swoosh sign on the sands we load? It occurs to me that we have left the child behind somewhere as we have gone to school and college and donned our business suits. And we complain about the spirit of innovation and lack of creativity at the work place. What is innovation and creativity? Is it in the mind or is it in the output? Is it in many small things or is it in a big bang of a great idea that will change the world forever? Is it something that flows out of designated minds in a R&D lab or is it in the hand of the "Nani bai" who improvises by plucking the flame of the forest - tucking some of it in her plaited hair and hoisting some on the sand? Or is it in the jamming they do, composing on the fly because they have never known how to read music, never been trained in any formal way? Innovation and creativity is a state of being. It does not get taught in MBA classes. It shies away when simplicity is shorn and we seek sophistication. It is not what gets guided through reward and recognition mechanisms that companies seek to fervently put in place like a net cast over a sea that has no life below the waves. It is a flow, a spontaneity and a continuum. It is in the profound anonymity of the artist of the sand truck who I will never see - someone who is telling me the importance of trying doing something new and doing it differently while loading the sand truck of my life today.
What will I be, what will I be? September 30, 2005
I see it in their faces when they report to work on the first day, after being selected from an engineering college or an MBA institute. I see spark and innocence and a desire to win the world, laced with a kind of confidence only youth has been granted. Then I look beneath the veneer. In to the recesses their minds and I swim with their thoughts. Below the exuberance and the self-confidence, I sense uncertainties – I sense worries about what lies ahead? Flash back 1976. In the post-graduate class at the Utkal University, at all of 18-years of age, it occurred to me that I was wasting my time. My father had retired. I was living off my brothers. It had been only a couple of months before, that I had graduated with a first-class honors degree and was eligible for a national scholarship -enough to pay the mess dues at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) - the place I had wanted to go to. But the scholarship got disbursed only twice a year and mess dues needed to be paid every month. I went to many banks, they would not listen. At that time, you did not get a loan to study humanities. So, instead of going to JNU, I took admission at the local University and I was not liking it. So, what did I do? I walked out of class and took the job of a lower division clerk in the Secretariat. It paid me Rs 305 a month and in the bureaucracy, I was senior only to the dhoti-clad, elderly peon. My job started as an intern with the "upper division clerk" - a very dignified man who looked like a teacher. I would reverentially call him "Khuntia Babu". He taught me to file letters - something taken with great seriousness in government departments. One day, I was given to draft a letter of regret on behalf of the Secretary - it ended up being so sophisticated that both Khuntia Babu and the Sectional Head Clerk who was called "Bada Babu" saw great risk and thereafter, I was given a very light load. Given a lot of free time, I found myself often dragged to mediate among warring senior clerks who would suddenly start a furious debate over subjects like whether Sanjay Gandhi was good for the country - the debate often led to verbal violence but like receding waves after a crash, they would head back to the brown piles on their respective desks. One day, the dhoti-clad, elderly peon who had a permanently glazed look invited me to a secret club on the roof of the Secretariat building where a chillum was being passed around among his fraternity. In my life, it was the most exclusive, 'invitation-only' club I have ever entered. I worked there for a year before the DCM Group selected me as a Management Trainee. In a sense, the job at the Secretariat had taught me to brace for what was coming my way at the seventh largest industrial house in India at that time. Management Trainees at DCM were considered to be God's special people. Except that, I got posted to the oldest textile mill run by the group. There, my induction started at the "time office". At the gate of the Mill, at the blast of the siren, thousands of workmen - some bare-feet, some semi-clad, would march in with their "attendance cards" in hand. The smell of bidi and sweat from hard working and tough talking workmen interspersed with the noise of the clerks with thick glasses sliding down the ridge of their noses. I was the odd man out. Cut to 2005. In my office in MindTree, today I peer down the screen of my laptop, my thoughts are atomized and satellite links move them as bits and bytes across the world. I begin my day looking into the eyes of twenty-something engineers. By mid-day, I have spoken to customers in different parts of the world. By afternoon - I have sat in review meetings and spoken at training programs. Finally, ending the day with dinner with a visiting IT delegation. I time travel and step into the mind of a young man of 1976 and search out the familiar images. I ask myself - did I know that things would happen the way they did? What way my first job is linked to where I am today? I don't know. In some explainable and mostly unexplainable ways, it is. Sometimes, instead of looking for that link, it is probably better to simply do an outstanding job of whatever one has on hand. The rest, falls into place.