Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Hope Springs Eternal……..

The sun has finally set on what has been a wild roller coaster year leaving us dazed and breathless at the same time. Unimaginable events have taken place and the pace of events has been unprecedented.

In fact, 2008 can be called the Black Swan year. “Black Swan” is a concept coined by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of Fooled by Randomness and The Black Swan – The Impact of the Highly Improbable.

A Black Swan is a highly improbable event with three principal characteristics – its unpredictability, its massive impact and, after it has happened, our desire to make it appear less random and more predictable than it actually was.

This year has seen a series of continuous Black Swan events both in India and globally with some serious impact.

Let me try and recount some from an Indian perspective….

  1. The stock market crashes in January and October has been a severe and traumatic experience. Millions of investors suffered large losses.

  1. The commodity meltdown was unexpected, sharp, sudden and deep. This has hurt investors, companies and thousands of businesses. Large losses have meant businesses have become ultra cautious.

  1. Hyper - Inflation in oil prices and its equally sudden and inexplicable fall has left deep scars on the Indian fiscal scenario. Food inflation has led to a piquant situation.

  1. Series of terror acts climaxing with the Mumbai attacks have had such a deep impact on our collective psyche, that even a month later we are not too enthused on celebrating the onset of the New Year. The mood is somber and most have preferred to stay at home.

Well we also have had our share of successful black swans. These have been in the pipeline for some time and we should be seeing the fruits soon –

  1. Launch of the Nano – showcased the capability of the Indian brand of frugal engineering and world class quality.

  1. The Chandrayaan launch has been a harbinger of sorts. I believe that this small step will eventually lead to great leaps for India in the coming three – four decades.
  2. The IPL T20 cricket tournament has the potential of redefining cricket as a game and spectator participation

It is normal to magnify the bad memories and make light of the good. The mind has a tendency to blindly accept the negative and doubt the positive.

At this critical juncture and as we march on to a new page on the calendar, our confidence is dented, we are angry at our political class and frustrated at our inability to be assertive and take decisive action against Pakistan. We are also staring, perhaps for the first time, at job insecurity, pay cuts and a possible economic slowdown.

In the midst of all this gloom - Hope Springs Eternal in the Human Breast


We shall bounce back!!!

I feel that we have so much going for us and there is so much work yet to be done, then why are we so despondent? We just refuse to recognize our strengths and find strange comfort wallowing in despair. The so-called economic woes are temporary and there is no need for IRRATIONAL PESSIMISM.

I would like everyone to believe that the best years lie ahead of us. The onus is on us to make this possible. Please share your thoughts and optimism and those believing otherwise do come here – we may have a cure for you.

Let me end this post wishing my blogger fraternity a GREAT YEAR AHEAD.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

A - Z of Films: Tag from Prerna

I have succeeded in creating a serious image of myself. Prerna feels that posts are very serious and that she would like to read a fun post. She said this in a tag she has passed me.

Humour is Gopinath’s forte. I am more somber in comparison. I have tried my hand at humour and shall request Prerna to read this post - "Should I or Should'nt I - A Quirky Dilemma"

I have been scratching my head hoping that some divine inspiration strikes me………..and I will soon respond to Prerna’s request.

Now let us get on with the tag. List of movies to cover all alphabets from A – Z. Before I started, worry about X started looming large…Other alphabets protested saying that was not fair and I must be equally worried about the others. I was taken aback and decided taking on twenty five on them would be too much, so I beat a hasty retreat saying “I have been misquoted and my comments were twisted out of context by anti-national elements to deliberately create mischief.”

I now turn to the real task at hand…….

A – Aradhana, Abhiman

B – Back to the Future, Bheja Fry, Border

C – Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Chak De

D – Dil Chahta Hai, Devil Wears Prada

E - ET

F – Fedora, Forest Gump

G – Guns of Navronne, Gaddar, Guide

H – Hitch, Harry Potter series

I – Independence Day

J – Jaane tu ya Jaane Na, Jurassic Park, Jaws

K – Kabhi Kabhie, Khosla ka Ghosla

L – Last Emperor (The omitted), Lagaan, Lage Raho Munnabhai

M – Munnabhai MBBS, Miss Congeniality

N – National Treasure

O – Omen, Oceans-Eleven, One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest

P – Padosan, Parineeta


R – Roman Holiday, Reincarnation of Peter Proud, Rangeela

S – Swades, Sholay, Sound of Music

T – Taare Zameen Par, Titanic, The Sixth Sense

U –

V – Viraasat, Veer Zaara

W – Welcome to Sajjanpur, Wait Until Dark

X -

Y – Yaadon ki Baarat

Z – Zanjeer, Zubeida

Now I also have to deal with U (no - I have not seen Umrao Jaan) apart from X. Cannot even coin a limerick on this...

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Lessons we can draw from 26/11

November 26th happened and we witnessed three days of vicious battle. It also united the country like no other incident in recent memory has. Public anger bubbled over and there was savage criticism of the government in general and the political class in specific. The government of the day was forced to make changes and hopefully something concrete emerges out of it.

I was analyzing the entire episode from a very dispassionate angle and read with great interest all material available on all the planning that went behind this operation. At the end of it, what emerged was an absolute professional approach to the task at hand.

Let me issue a disclaimer here. This is not a post to glorify the terrorist nor does it seek to justify their objective or their actions. This is a dispassionate attempt to understand the approach and the lessons it holds for us.

When I look at what happened and the background information that emerged subsequently, a sequence of activities becomes clear. I will not repeat the activities but look at it from a management perspective.

  1. Complete clarity of objective,
  2. Multiple teams in place,
  3. Thorough information gathering,
  4. Detailed planning right down to the brass-tacks,
  5. Rigorous and professional training,
  6. High levels of motivation and passion,
  7. Complete unanimity in the execution team,
  8. Complete clarity of each team member’s role,
  9. Constant communication with central point,
  10. Real time alignment depending on ground situation,
  11. Ruthless and professional execution.

When you mull on these points, it becomes clear that any top notch world class management would have had the same approach.

I just wondered if we in India had imbibed these principles in our nation building efforts, we would have been an economic and military superpower by now. It is important that our recent efforts at revamping our security apparatus are carried through carefully and with a degree of thoroughness that has not been visible till now, more so as the opponent has a highly focused, organized and ruthless approach.

It also highlights that anything done as a job with little or no interest results in poor output and in times of emergency a complete rout. We need to inject passion and enthusiasm in many of our efforts and the tenacity to stick through. May this shock jolt us from our deep slumber and prod us on to meaningful action.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

It's raining awards!!!

First it was Manju with her "Butterfly Award".

Then Gopinath had this irrefutable logic of a garden cannot have a single butterfly - you cannot argue against that....can you?? He added the second butterfly.

Krishnan awarded the PROXIMITY AWARD. This, however, comes with a rider. I am supposed to re-produce this paragraph as part of the award.

"This award is given to a blog that invests and believes in PROXIMITY - nearness in space, time and relationships! These blogs are exceedingly charming. These kind bloggers aim to find and be friends. They are not interested in prizes or self-aggrandizement. Our hope is that when the ribbons of these prizes are cut, even more friendships are propagated. Please give more attention to these writers! Deliver this award to eight bloggers who must choose eight more and include this cleverly-written text into the body of their award."

Let me now come to distributing the PROXIMITY award to some of my blogger pals.

I am most impressed by Nita, IHM, Manju, Priyank, Vinod Sharma, Prerna, Anrosh and Swaps. They get this award. I also give this award to Gopinath. He will be the ninth recipient and has already received this award. I presume there is no restriction in our perfect blogger world that a person cannot receive the same award twice....

Each one of them so truly deserves this award. From my perspective these blogs have become a daily must-read habit. Thank you all for enriching my life.

To end let me try and indulge in what has become the flavour of the season - "Say it Limerick Style"

Giving awards is a wonderful practice,
More so if they are to an apprentice,
Cheering my fledgling effort,
Helped developing adequate comfort,
To further churn out works of notice.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

An Award - A Fluttering Butterfly

Manju left a comment the other day that she had a surprise for me on her blog. Wow!!! - I thought, what could it be?

It turned out to be a bloggers award, "The Butterfly Award - For the coolest blog I ever knew". This also happens to be my first.

Thank you very much Manju. It has been a pleasant surprise.

This is supposed to be the coolest blog........award. I confessed to Manju that I do not think it is cool and that I am my worst critic. I am quite unsure of myself when it comes to writing a blogpost. A million ideas flutter through my mind and I just cannot make up my mind on what I want to write about.

This pressure builds up as a week passes by and then I start getting desperate. This desperation is made worse as I watch with a sense of admiration some of my blogger colleagues churning out a post everyday or once in two days. I marvel at their choice of subjects, I am amazed at their research, I admire their committment to writing and I am quite overwhelmed at their learning and ability to express themselves so clearly.

I then sit determined to complete a post and lo the next hour is like magic. Thoughts arise effortlessly and words flow like a river and they all fall in place and the next post is done. In comparison, my efforts seem disjointed.

So, when this blog is viewed as cool by some fellow blogger, I am thrilled and accept the accolade with grace.

Thank you once again.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

India Under Siege – Importance of Emotional Support

We have just come out of a mind numbing and terrifying experience. Our senses have been pounded by the relentless media coverage of an audacious attack on Mumbai.

We had a ring side view to the brutality of the attack and the swiftness and decisive ruthlessness of the response.

Our immediate reaction has been of shock and disbelief. This slowly gave way to anger at the system, anger at our own helplessness and inability to do anything, frustration that we have to put up with this sense of insecurity time and again.

The next stage that we are in, presently, is trying to find out who is responsible for this mess. In India, the natural reaction is to shift our sights and blame the politician. We also observe that many find refuge in being highly cynical.

If you observe closely, it is clear that we Mumbaikars are, at the current moment, on the edge and highly strung. We are all ready to blow-up at the slightest provocation. We are inclined to believe any rumour and all that is worst.

The Mumbaikar is traumatized and emotionally devastated.

There is an urgent need to re-orient ourselves. We have absorbed too much negativity and are jumping around like a cat on a hot tin roof.

We, in Mumbai, can be broadly divided into following categories:

- Who were trapped during these attacks and survived,

- Those of us who lost a friend or relative,

- All residents in the vicinity of the affected areas,

- The rest of us spread out – not directly affected.

There is an urgent need for a cathartic experience which will help every one relieve their pent-up emotions.

We rarely talk about the need for a healthy emotional balance. It is very important and more so in the present context. After all, we do no want to be a brutalized and de-sensitised city, presuming we have not already reached that stage.

I invite fellow bloggers to share their views and it would be nice to discuss some concrete suggestions.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Feminism - The Unchanging Core Essence

IHM tagged me on the topic "Feminism".

I wondered whether I was competent to comment on such a topic. After all as an adult Indian male, brought up in an indulgent atmosphere, my comments could be predictable and traditional or probably cliched.

I then realised that I am reasonably well qualified to comment on this. In our household, I am outnumbered by females four : one... The female brigade comprises my mother, wife and two daughters. This ratio was five : one till my grandmother passed away last year.

The dominant side at home is the feminine element and feminism (not in any derogatory sense and for want of a better word) is definitely present, all-pervading but under stated. There is no place for the bra burning type here, not because it is a cause of insecurity to the male but because of a calm sense of self-esteem and respect prevailing.

I have had the privilege of seeing the feminine element across four generations. The core essence never changes. The only change is in the outward manifestation and that is a function of the time we live in. It is comforting to sense and feel that the core essence is constant. This facilitates change, as it should, and, at the same time retain a strong connection to our roots.

As far as I remember, there has been no deliberate attempt to drill in the concept of "female" as something separate. Every one was same and worthy of respect. As one grew up in this atmosphere, it was not unusual to accept "female" as an equal. There was no attempt to demean the "female" nor any attempt to place the "female" on a pedestal.

Respect was natural and it was shown effortlessly. It was neither solicited nor offered grudgingly. It still is....without any dilution. I am happy to see my daughters growing up to be confident and noble souls with a mind of their own. They grow up to believe in certain values that will be their protective shield in a world which could get biased.

I may sound alien with what I have had to say, as I am painfully aware that this may not always be the case. Whilst in some societies, women may be seen as a disadvantaged lot facing discrimination and lack of freedom. We also hear of physical and mental abuse that they are subjected to.

Rightfully, there is sense of outrage at this and stop it must.

Feminism, as is understood or potrayed today, is more activist in nature, more reactive and perhaps driven with a sense of achieving equality and undoing real and perceived discrimination. However, unless the change is brought about by inner conviction and genuine feeling, the whole effort remains superficial and end result is status quo-esque.

All process of evolution begins with compulsion, education, inculcation of "Human Values" and adhering to these values till it becomes a habit. We have a joint responsibility to initiate this process of evolution and see it through to its logical conclusion. It is immaterial that this task may not be complete in one's lifetime.

Thanks IHM for the tag. I understand that it is a tradition to pass this tag on. Let me pass this on to Gopinath. I am sure he has a tongue-in-cheek comment to make and give a humourous twist to this subject.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Why Obama? – We get what we deserve.

The election of Barrack Obama is now part of history.

The din has died down and the dust is just settling down. The victors are now busy trying to comprehend the magnitude of the task ahead and the losers in disarray. This post hopes to rationally see this phenomenon and hence a respectable interval from the actual event.

Whilst Obama’s ascendancy to the throne means many things to many people, what has struck me is the exuberance with which Indian bloggers have reacted to this. Further, and quite inexplicably, many have bemoaned our political leadership and the absence of an Obama-esque figure on the Indian horizon. We have a term in financial markets parlance, “Irrational Exuberance” and “Irrational Pessimism”

Our positive response to Obama has been mainly on account of following factors

  • His colour. There is always that fantasy of an underdog making it against all odds and an Afro-American in a White dominated USA is a “bang-on” fairy tale script.
  • Brilliant packaging, positioning and superb marketing.
  • Flawless execution of a very detailed strategy.
  • Unfailing magnetic power of rhetoric and oratory.
  • Our own ability to be led down the garden path. An Indian disillusioned with our politics is ready to lap up this fairy tale.

Let me not be cussed and ignore what is worth applauding. It speaks volumes that the American society in five short decades has evolved from a society with deep divisions to a stage where a man of mixed parentage is elected to be President of that country.

Let me now turn to our lament on the absence of a Obama like figure in Indian politics and a detailed analysis on how our political leadership falls woefully short of these high standards. My response

First – We are different

We are still evolving from our clan-caste-village-region-state identity to a pan-Indian identity. We are trying to get rid of the shackles of extreme prejudice. We stick to leaders from our clan, caste or region.

We are also an emotional people and very quickly queer the pitch. Our response to anything tends to be irrational and emotional. You only have to watch any debate in Parliament or media to realize what I am saying.

Second – We get the leaders we deserve

Our leaders come from the same pool as we are in.

We conveniently like to believe that we are educated, sophisticated, dignified, cultured, well mannered, fair minded, broad minded, honest, democratic, secular, unifying, well informed and so on. This list of virtues is endless.

With equal convenience we paint all politicians as the exact opposite of what we believe we are and lament at our misfortune. To us a politician is uneducated, boorish, rough, aggressive, loud, ill mannered, narrow minded, dishonest, corrupt, feudal, communal, divisive, biased, ignorant, criminal and anything else that we can think of.

Is this possible???? It is ridiculous to believe this is possible. We get leaders we elect and more importantly deserve.

The fact is when we hold a mirror to ourselves and are honest, we will see shades of what we believe the politician is. The political class is a microcosm of our society at large and is only representative of the values that we stand for.

Now let us for a moment presume that we have found our Obama – who has captured our imagination and can lead us to glory.

If he talks about Hindus – we will label him communal,

If he talks about others – we will accuse him of appeasement and playing vote bank politics

If he talks of rationalizing fuel prices – we will label him anti-poor

If he wants to lower fuel prices – we will accuse him of poor economic sense and fiscal indiscipline.

If he talks of developing Bihar and UP – we will accuse him of favouritism

If he talks of reviving Mumbai – we will criticize him for ignoring the backward areas and their genuine needs.

If he wants to solve the Kashmir issue – we will accuse him of a sell-out and dividing the country

If he wants to act tough in Kashmir – we will accuse him of human rights violations and suppressing the people’s aspirations

If he wants a tough law on terrorism – we will incite the Muslims that this law will be misused against them

If he does not go in for a tough law on terrorism – we will say that we have a weak leader who has no will to take on terrorism.

If he wants to introduce Uniform Civil Code – He is anti-minorities and will divide the nation.

If he is against Uniform Civil Code – He is pro-minorities and not helping a State where law is same for every one.

This leader will be perpetually caught between the Devil and the Deep Sea.

So, Why crib with our present political leadership??...we are not supportive citizens either.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The First Step towards Financial Literacy

My attempt is not to study “managing one’s finances” in isolation as a very narrow topic. I believe our financial health card, so to say is a by product of how we live our life itself. Once we understand the basics, the build-up is very logical and simple – completely de-mystified.

Our times are changing fast and bringing in its wake unheard of opportunities. This has meant widening employment and entrepreneurial opportunities and higher incomes. Often, high incomes come at a young age when responsibilities are not many.

As I had mentioned in an earlier post that having money is empowering, it presumes that flow of income is constant and abundant enough to leave a surplus after needs are taken care of. Further, our attitudes, our background and our upbringing plays a major role in shaping our approach to handling money.

Whilst every body would like to be a “crorepati” (a “lakhpati” has no value today) today or at some date in future, it is possible that many may not reach their target, while a few may achieve it many times over. It is also entirely possible that with inflation, a sum of Rs. one crore then may be very ordinary and bar has moved higher.

Let me try and put things in a simpler perspective.

This whole game has three sides to it

- Incomes earned or capacity to earn,

- Expenses – both living and discretionary,

- Resultant Surpluses and its subsequent investment and management.

Under each of these heads lie all the complex variables that interplay with each other and make each person’s financial situation as unique as it can be. This is a very important basic principle that we must keep in mind but do not.

Each one of us is unique and this impacts our financial condition. It follows logically that each requirement is unique and therefore has a separate solution. What works for one, need not (Please note my emphasis) work for the other. We will see at a later stage, especially, in the context of stock market investments, how this has played havoc with people.

I would like to examine all variables that fall under these three heads mentioned above and the impact it has on one’s financial health card. This will help us understand the basics better and, hopefully, stop being awed by a lot of jargon and smart marketing.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Financial Illiteracy – An Unaffordable Luxury

MONEY is the eternal elixir of life. It is power. It is energy. It is a passport to conveniences of life. It is the most powerful antidote to the crippling constraints imposed by poverty. Money is empowering and yes an obsession with money also brings in its wake misery – but that is besides the point here.

It is a fact that people spend the maximum time, first training themselves to earn and then earning money. The amount of effort put in getting good education and then getting a good paying job is almost Himalayan in dimension.

This is not the end of it. Once having entered in that never ending spiral, the person is completely pre-occupied in efforts to increase his/her income. This is normally done by working harder, working longer hours, opting for higher and specialized education and so on. The spiral continues and we are sucked deeper into it trying to earn more money.

The question that now arises is - How should one manage this money?

Isn’t is funny that so much effort is put in, time and resources invested to develop a high earning capacity but people are totally ignorant about how this money should be managed.

I call this “Financial Illiteracy”.

Life was simpler in the past. The choice was limited and one would place money in nationalized bank fixed deposits or small savings schemes managed by the Post Office or the popular Public Provident Fund. Of course, there was the mandatory insurance with Life Insurance Corporation (LIC) and units of UTI where you had almost assured dividends every year.

Stock markets were considered as “gambling dens” and avoided by a large section of the population.

Times have since changed. Many changes have taken place and India is slowly moving away from a tightly controlled and Government owned structure to a more market related structure.

This has meant

- Exposure to market fluctuations
- High fixed returns now becoming a thing of past
- Safety has become relative and capital is exposed to possibility of loss
- Element of risk is now an important factor to be taken into consideration
- Entry of private players in the financial markets
- There are now multiple choices and of varying complexity
- Smart marketing and product positioning has come to stay
- “Financial Advisors” is a new breed that will be part of the scene henceforth.
- Introduction of dematerialization has added a new concept of ownership.

It has now become imperative to understand how to navigate through this maze. It has become increasingly important that basic concepts are understood such that one is not taken for a ride. It has also become necessary to understand financial and other types of risk and accept it as a part of our life.

It shall be my endeavour to expand on this theme and attempt to de-mystify some of the so-called complexities.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Blog Action Day 2008 - Poverty

I get further drawn into the ways of the blogging world. First, it was tagging and now Blog Action Day 2008. It was only today, I realised that something like this exists and there seems to be widespread response to this. At last count the BAD site had about 12k sites participating.

Without debating on the merits of such collective action, I attempt to contribute my mite to a cause - to mitigate poverty.

This is an effort to lift "The Last, the least and the Lowest" from their deplorable existence to a more human level.

We equate poverty with a lack of basic necessities for the very existence of a person or a group of people. The state of deprivation is so acute that survival itself becomes a huge uphill task everyday. Typically, poverty evokes images of people who are hungry, naked, suffering from malnutrition, homeless and having no skills, jobs or vocations.

Logically, mitigation of poverty implies that groups of people blessed with a surplus would share a part of that with the deprived group and thus ease their burden. It pre-supposes a flow of some resource to the deprived group and their lack is removed.

At this point let me pause and think - What do we mean by eradicating poverty?

Based on our general and typical response, we would dip into our pockets and share a little money. A few would go through their wardrobes and dispose of old clothes, books, toys. Many others would take on the task of feeding the hungry. There could be symbolism in the form of fasting - so that you can empathise with the deprived hungry group. Established banners may carry out programmes to provide elementary housing and so on. There are a million ways to share what we have with our less fortunate brethren.

Each of these responses are worthy of applause and may their tribe increase - but - is this the solution? Will this eradicate poverty or even reduce it appreciably?

Poverty, if it has to be mitigated, has to be attacked relentlessly from all sides. This is a war in which the entire society has to participate.

A combination of short term relief measures are very essential but on the longer term, poverty needs to be tackled at a very different level.

We will have to

- Start with inculcation of self-confidence in these people,
- Ensure their inclusion in the education or skiling / re-skilling process,
- With these skills, facilitate absorption in a trade, profession or vocation,
- Encourage expansion of economic activity such that the deprived class has an
opportunity to generate a steady income for subsistence.

Only then will people move above poverty levels and sustain themselves without perpetual dependance on hand-outs.

These are transformations of an epic nature. It requires immense courage, confidence and extreme patience and undying support of a society eager to change. Progress will be slow but it is definitely possible to eradicate poverty in a generation or two.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Indian Transformation - An Eventful Period

India is in a hurry. It has to catch up and keep its tryst with destiny.

India is also a place where chaos reigns supreme. Chaos made all the more intense with deep rooted transformation in progress. I say “in progress” because this “wave of change” that commenced about two decades back in slow and unsteady steps has begun to assume increasingly bigger and wider dimensions. However, this wave has yet to assume tidal proportions that will include all within its fold.

Grow it will and no power on this earth can stop an idea whose time has come.

This phase, of transforming a nation to a completely different level of existence, occurs but once in the lifetime of a nation. Perhaps, on a longer time scale this phase may be seen once in a couple of centuries.

We, the people of India, are blessed to be living our life times at this juncture in our nation’s history. We are witnessing history being made and many of us are actively contributing in our own way to its making.

Many things have changed dramatically, many for the better, some seem to have worsened, but, the vast majority feels that life seems to be the same and nothing seems to have changed.

Let me list and examine a few of these changes

This is the unsung sector of India. Our farmers' achievements have largely gone unnoticed. Our food grain production has increased from about 169 million tones in 1991-92 to about 230 MT in the current year and land used for this is more or less constant at 122 – 127 million hectares.

The total population covered by a telephone connection (fixed or wireless) has crossed 350 million. Almost 35% of the population is connected with some of the lowest tariffs in the world. This is a far cry from the dismal 4% about fifteen years back.

The conceptualisation and completion of the Golden Quadrilateral expressway network was a bold project which has had dramatic and far reaching impact on surrounding regions

Indian education system has gained much respect and much of home grown talent has proved its mettle in various spheres around the world. Surely, a lot has to change but it is also true that we are our own worst critics. Engineering and Management education is already accepted as amongst the best.

Indian entrepreneurial energy has been unleashed and world seems to be the stage. There are numerous instances of Indian companies setting benchmarks for excellence. Pharmaceuticals, IT, Engineering, Steel amongst others come immediately to mind.

World class facilities and expertise has become available. It has gained sufficient acceptance to be packaged for medical tourism. The challenge, however, is how to make this more affordable and accessible to all Indians.

Banking, Insurance and Financial Services:
This period has seen establishment of independent regulators, increase in transparency, expansion of market leading to increase in financial inclusion, use of Information Technology, a liberal tax regime, strong supervision and conservative incremental approach.

The intangibles
- Surge in self confidence,
- Ability to dream big and translate them to reality,
- Use of soft power,
- Freedom of expression has found new avenues and new meanings,
- Ability to evolve strategic thinking.

I understand that much ground needs to be covered. There are serious gaps in some areas like spread of universal education and healthcare. Socially we seem to have regressed. That should, probably, be the subject matter of another post.

However, it is also important to feel proud of what we have achieved. I am at a complete loss and I cannot understand
- Why are so many cynical?
- Why are so many pessimistic?
- Why are we so apathetic and disinterested?

On reflecting a little, I could think of so much to be positive about. I am sure, collectively, India can shake this world up and show an entirely new direction. (Cynics Please excuse)

What do you think, my dear friends?

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Should I or Shouldn’t I - A quirky dilemma

Just the other day as I was blog surfing, I noticed that IHM (Indian Home Maker) had tagged me. I would certainly have missed that tag had I not spotted it that day. This tag requires me to list my “Quirks” and “Addictions”. This was the first time I have been tagged and I was gaping at the screen thinking, "Quirks" - but I do not have any and "Addictions" - what is that???

I have seen this “tag business” a couple of times on other blogs. Many were interesting, some were quite amusing and a few tended to be bordering on the “outrageous”.

The next thing in my mind was “What is this – should I ignore this?” or “Hey come on – be a sport and play the game”. Then it went “But, my blog is not personal – I talk about everything else about India” and “Should I dilute this positioning”. The other side of the brain went “You speak your mind on various issues – Here the issue is yourself” and “What positioning – stop taking yourself so seriously” and so on till I realized a week had passed.

I woke up when Priyank sent “Blog Recession ka – Jara update kara ki” (Why this blog recession – Please update) I took it as a directive and shed all my vacillation.

Here we go (IHM – please note)

My first - is this great human quality of indecisiveness. I vacillate like an oscillator before I am forced to decide out of sheer exhaustion.

My second – is this amazing ability to sleep any time any where. A five minute nap whilst taking a ten minute ride is a piece of cake. After long years of traveling in Mumbai local trains, I have perfected the art of sleeping whilst I am standing (in the local train only).

My third – is this absolutely maddening ability to keep a straight face when some one has cracked a joke (a good joke that is) and stare through that person saying “So…”. This wet blanket is so infuriating that I almost expect a WHACK…on my face….

My fourth – is a “masti” or “keeda” (this is Mumbai Hindi) when driving my car. Drive slowly in the fast lane and induce road rage or do not start immediately when the signal turns green and watch people go hyper and get palpitations.


My fifth – is having a “puran-poli” which has been drenched in “Heated Ghee” (aka as “toop” – t as in “talwar”), taking an hour to finish it and then sit licking my fingers contemplating on “How beautiful Life is…..(for puran-poli eaters)”. This is my idea of heaven on earth.

I solemnly state that the above mentioned is the Truth – the Complete Truth – and Nothing but the Truth.

IHM – I chose not to ignore your tag. Cheers!!!

Who should I tag this on to? I will think and vacillate and oscillate and decide next week……..after all that is my first quirk.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Positive Spiral – Benefits of Collective Celebration of Festivals

This is the third part of my triology on celebration of festivals in India.

We have a long history of collective celebration of various festivals. This formed the basis of social bonding and a way of expressing gratefulness to the elements. Every element of Nature was taken as a manifestation of the Divine.

Over the years one witnessed many changes. People’s perception changed, their preferences changed, they now had a different approach to religion and spirituality. A significant change in the last century has been the development of large urban agglomerations. Urbanisation, brought in its wake a different set of all-round changes.

Here, we will look at the positive spin-offs of collective celebrations of festivals. I had listed three, viz., Janmashtami, Ganpati and Navaratri celebrations which witness large and spontaneous celebrations.

I would begin by looking at some tangible benefits that have accrued to society

Keeping traditional arts alive due to patronage of these festive groups. Artisans from far and wide make their annual pilgrimage to these places and get value for their skills. Traditional arts are kept alive and more importantly these artisans absorb the latest and assimilate them in their working.

Judicious use of surplus financial resources to run many services as

- Education - Schools, Vocational training institutes,
- Health – Clinics, Ambulance services,
- Social – Aligning with civic authorities and NGOs for work on various issues like river cleaning in Pune, use of eco-friendly material, socially responsible celebrations, post-visarjan cleaning activities.
- Cultural activities covering art, music and sports
- Religious activities like bhajan groups, religion awareness classes.
- Charitable activities – assistance to school going children, shelters for the homeless,

I now turn my attention to some of the intangible benefits. These are important because many do not appreciate these at the first instance but play a very crucial role in our society.

• In today’s stressful times, involvement in organizing and managing is a great cathartic experience. Youthful energies are channeled into something constructive for almost two – three weeks before the actual festival and during the festival itself.

• Experts who have tracked this social phenomenon confirm an appreciable fall in levels of violence and stress. Mental problems also show significant regression.

Religion is still a powerful motivating factor. Sending social messages intertwined with religion are an excellent way of attempting social change. Firstly, it spreads awareness and if there is a follow-up under a respectable banner, this can be used as a potent instrument of social reformation. One such group had successfully run a “Vyasana Mukti Abhiyan” (Programme to reduce / eliminate addictions) focusing on tobacco, pan masala and alcohol addictions.

Involvement of local groups – A group festivity celebration puts the onus of good planning and execution on the organizers. This involves large groups of people in what is essentially voluntary work. This is a sort of forced team work and with a dash of devotion thrown in does a lot to promote social harmony. I have seen this especially, during Ganpati celebrations. Over the years, volunteers develop a sense of strong loyalty to group activity, and this becomes an annual pilgrimage of sorts.

• Participation by people in these festivals is an occasion for social interaction and bonding. It is also used by groups which move from one location to another for the “darshan”. In fact, there is a custom that one should see “Eleven Ganpatis”. This is a joyous group activity and increases the “feel good” factor in us.

• Beneficial vibes from participation in “Aarti” (ritual in which light either from lamps or camphor is offered to the deity) and “Bhajan” (collectively singing praises of God) sessions. It is widely accepted that collective prayer and singing has profound healing effects on the whole group.

I have listed some of the main positive spin-offs from our tradition of collective celebration of festivals. I am sure, if one were to study this subject in detail, it could form the basis of a doctoral thesis. I wonder if any one in India has chosen to study this.

It would be very illuminating to share experiences and view points from others – not only from India but across the whole wide world.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Celebrating Festivals – Beyond the Obvious

Change is the only certain and constant process in our lives.

True to this “eternal wisdom”, there have been dramatic changes in our lives. Religion, its relevance, its observance and many other related aspects have not only changed but also accepted as natural. Consequently, festivals have begun to assume newer meanings, and logically, therefore, the way festivals are celebrated has also undergone a sea change.

A great many of these changes have been positive but the dark shadow always lurks around the corner. I prefer to be an optimist but would like to keep my feet grounded in the reality.

Let me attempt to examine a few changes that seem to have robbed our festivals of their innocence and where devotion seems to have taken a back seat.

Invasion of Corporate Sponsorship

No celebration is complete without the “Corporate Sponsorship”. Vast sums of money are flowing in these celebrations and each succeeding year the scale gets grander.

Simplicity, elegance and creativity have been sacrificed at the altar of standardized publicity material.

Political patronage has crept in

Shadowy political figures at every street corner seem to have re-discovered these festive occasions as reminding people of their presence. Their patronage is becoming ever-more visible and combined with money power are slowly edging out the non-political groups.

Declaration of large prize amounts and a host of awards has become the rallying point for such politically tinged celebrations.

This is leading to a game of one-upmanship and we have the spectacle of each group trying to outdo each other.

Money power – coercion to contribute

Life can be quite a nightmare for the residents, shops and other commercial establishments in any area.

Monetary contributions are aggressively solicited and the quantum is pre-decided. One needs to be really tough or rank foolish to pay anything lesser.

Lack of accountability:

With money comes the temptation of misuse and this is a self feeding vicious cycle. Proper accounting, of all funds collected and spent, is a problem area.

This incentive of making “easy money” is dangerous and fuels ambitions of grander efforts the following year.

Another disturbing feature is the “paid darshan” which is slowly taking root. I thought God is freely available to everyone. Probably, not anymore.

Brazen violation of all rules

No one dare show the rule book. It will be quickly twisted out of context and you would be painted “prime villain” of the piece.

Nearly every rule is broken. You have unauthorized hoardings, unauthorized “pandal” construction, illegal occupation of public spaces, roads, private spaces…, flouting time limits and probably many more.


It is alarming to count the hazards such festivities pose. Fire and safety hazards, health and noise hazards and environment degradation (recent addition) are some of the issues that do not attract any attention.

Some Pertinent Questions

Are things really so bad???

Is this another lost case where the very purpose of collective celebrations has been hijacked by a more nefarious agenda or is one reading too much in all this???

Has it become fashionable to lament on any such evolution as destructive or have we become purists and status-quo ists???

Still worse, are we being elitist by being overly critical when the vast majority of the people seem to have no problem and participation in these festivals is a matter of joy and social bonding???

In my next post, I will look for the tremendous positive impact that such collective celebrations have on our lives.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

This Festival Season – The Obvious is what we see.

The Indian Calendar has two broad streams – Shalivahan Shaka and the Vikram Samvat. Both these calendars have the same months in the same order.

If you observe carefully, you have a long festival season that begins around mid-July and extends right up to Diwali around October – November.

This is followed by a break of a couple of months till around mid-February. The next two months mid-April, that is the period between Mahashivratri thru to the harvest festival season covering Holi in between is the busy season again. This is followed by a lull from mid-April through to mid-July.

The most intense festive period according to me and the focus of this post is the period between mid-July through mid-November. The festive atmosphere is amazing with very high energy levels prevailing all around.

During this period we have at least three festivals which witness spontaneous and large participation from the masses. We have the Janmashtami (or Gokul Ashtami) celebrations, Ganapati celebrations and lastly Navaratri festivities.

It is my attempt to see these festivities from a different perspective. The first would be to see and appreciate what is visible and, therefore, obvious. Going further, it would be very interesting to examine what is beyond the obvious. To be fair, it is imperative to look at the seemingly dark side and what I consider the brightest aspect of these festivities.

The obvious that one sees, as part of these celebrations, is

a. Plenty of glitter and elaborate arrangements
b. High levels of devotion
c. Strong interest from the people to participate in such festivities as evidenced by large crowds and long serpentine queues,
d. Participation of many people in the organizing efforts,
e. Popularity of thematic presentations like Environment, Pollution Control, Peaceful co-existence, anti-terrorism themes…..
f. Competitive spirit amongst various groups,
g. Cultural programmes, various competitions and sports events for the residents of that area.

There is no limit to what else can be added as part of these festivities. All creative juices are in full flow.

In the next post, I will examine What is beyond the obvious?

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Ganesh Chaturthi Celebrations – It’s meaning to me

Today is the fourth day (Chaturthi) of the first half (Shukla paksh) of Bhadrapad month as per the Hindu calendar. This is day of Ganesha or Ganapati and celebrated with great devotion in Maharashtra and rest of the country.

Literally, every household is a picture of devotion, excitement, energy and supreme happiness. I have friends who tell me that they feel so energetic and fresh in spite of being on their feet the day long and sleeping so little. They also feel the vacuum and loss of energy when the Lord departs at the end of ten days of festivity.

I have always marveled at this total change in the atmosphere for ten days. Maybe, I should also add the twenty days preceding this day too.

Every year, we go to the GSB – Wadala Math for our poojas and this year is no different. I pondered on what Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations meant to me. This led me to a fascinating journey inwards, almost like meditation and I felt blessed at the end of it. Let me share the quintessence of what I understood.

Life is a gift from the divine and we have come here to achieve something in our lives. It is up to us to find our true calling and it is our duty to make a difference where it is required.

That - this divine force is always by our side and we are blessed and taken care of. In fact, I am told that all our needs have been taken care of, some even before we have realized them as our need.

That – we are solely responsible and have that infinite power to write our own destiny.

That – festivals are an occasion to express our undying gratitude for all blessings in our life and also an occasion to celebrate life itself.

At the end of this, I was in total awe, experienced complete devotion and absolute surrender and bliss.

We bow down at the divine feet of Lord Ganesha and seek His Grace in all aspects of our life.

May each one of you have a great festival ahead. Let us all thank Lord Ganesha for all the blessings he has bestowed on us and our family members.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Tyranny of Choice – Dilemma Facing School Children

My daughter has come to dread this question asked her by many of our relatives and family friends – “So, what do you plan to do after school”.

Her exasperated reaction – “I do not know….I am so confused…..There are so many choices and I cannot make up my mind”

This is the dilemma that our school going children face today. On one hand you have expectations of parents or peer pressure to handle. On the other, if you wish to research and list all options available before taking a decision – you are drowned in an avalanche of information and choice.

The intriguing and frustrating part is when commercial art seems as interesting as bio-technology or hotel management seems as exciting as a career in space engineering.

Cannot do both can we???? We definitely cannot switch from one to another without considerable pain and loss of academic years. In many cases it is just impossible to switch.

Let us have a closer look at what sort of choice we have.

We have at least forty major branches available in engineering. Add at least two dozen branches in medical and para-medical avenues.

Relatively straight forward avenues like Commerce have at least a dozen and half different courses at the graduate and post-graduate levels. This is followed by a mind boggling array of career options. We have the same situation in arts(all types), hospitality, languages, pure sciences, home sciences and perhaps in many other fields which I am not familiar with.

Are children or their parents supposed to sift through this information overload and come to some rational decision or is it easier and less painful to just flip a coin and decide.

Many a time, children change their minds on what they like and very often they come to dislike a subject or course because it does not meet their expectations or they encounter difficulties in understanding the same.

It has taken us adults so many years to find our true calling and, this is probably, the lucky minority. I believe a vast majority of adults feel trapped in what they do with little chance of a change.

Is it not, therefore, very unfair that our education system forces the choice of a career stream when we have barely begun to understand our own aptitude, likes and dislikes.

This certainly merits deeper thought and a move towards making our education system more flexible such that it equips a child to eventually find his / her own true calling.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Independence Day Celebrations - Dullness Personified

India became an independent nation at the stroke of midnight of August 14 - 15, 1947. Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister, uttered those immortal words – “Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially…….”

What a historic moment? - What a powerful speech? – An amazing achievement to throw off the yoke of colonial rule……..We were now free to shape our own destiny.

That was sixty one years ago. Let me, for a moment, risk being irreverent and ask – 15th August 1947 seems so far away and almost surreal. To us born in post - 1947 India and having grown up in a very different environment, independence is natural and, perhaps, taken for granted. The past, beyond a point, becomes a drag and fails to enthuse the younger generation.

I-Day has now become an annual routine. We open the old chest, remove the same things out, burnish them, use them for a day and wham – they go back in for another year.

The same routine, the same dull uninspiring speeches from dull uninspiring leaders, same patriotic songs intermixed with filmy mush. You have the mandatory “Aae mere watan ke logo…jara aankh mein bhar lo pani…..”. Leaders everywhere mouthing the same old overused clich├ęs………, plenty of protocol, stiffness and of course the modern day scourge – plenty of security.

I have tried to trace this decline from a pristine annual event almost bordering on being holy to something which is “Dullness Personified” and completely out of depth.

The euphoria of independence lasted, perhaps, for a decade or two. We were a newly independent nation and annual celebrations were looked forward to. Speeches from the ramparts of Red Fort were followed intently and the excitement of having to achieve much for the nation still survived. The memories of the independence struggle were fresh in the minds of the people and leaders alike as they had themselves participated. The pain of partition was also intense and a semblance of order was just getting restored in their lives.

With gradual change the post independence generation came on the scene. Their identity was different and they have not been able to relate with the movement for independence. The soul was somehow missing and I-Day celebration has slowly degenerated into an annual must-have ritual – almost like a parody. To make matters worse, cynicism rules high and is a great mood dampener.

People participation has dropped to an all time low. If you go beyond the Red Fort celebrations to the State Capitals, participation is restricted to just the leaders and officials.

This year it was a long week end and you actually saw people exulting and making quick getaways. It is sad that we consider it a waste of time to participate in any such celebrations.

I think,

Time has come to re-examine the relevance of the current format of Independence Day celebrations in the country.

Time has come to re-position the whole concept of I-Day celebrations afresh and establish its relevance to the people.

Time has come to infuse some interest, enthusiasm and variety and make it a joyous celebratory event and not a solemn, grim, dull and boring event.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Spring of Hope in a Ghetto of Despair

Saturday – 9th August 2008 was meant to be an ordinary day without any of the glamour attached to 08-08-08, but it was not to be. Let me share my experience.

A few of my office colleagues and I have been debating the previous few weeks about the need to give back to society, do some social work or “seva” as we call it. Being from a corporate background, it was natural to come up with grandiose plans with no thought given to how we were to execute them.

Wiser counsel prevailed and we realized that we know very little of life outside our air-conditioned offices and sanitized environment. Our present efforts are to see and understand ground realities.

We visited a small school at Dharavi in North-Central Mumbai. Dharavi has earned the dubious distinction of being the largest slum in Asia with a population of over one million packed tightly in an area of just 1.75 sq kms.

We visited the Sri Sri Ravishankar Vidya Mandir run out of half a dozen sheds at the north-west corner of this mega shanty town.

This is a school with two hundred thirty students spread across Nursery to Class – V. The school authorities plan to add one higher class every year till they reach the tenth standard in the next five years.

The school presently has eighteen teachers led by Principal - Ms Shubhangi Karvir and a few support staff.

The school is part of the Sri Sri Ravishankar Vidya Mandir initiative in value education. Apart from the normal curriculum, great emphasis is laid on other activities like dance, music, martial arts like taekwondo, sports including chess and skating. Students from the third standard upwards are also taught about computers in a separate lab set up.

A novel part of the teaching process is the way in which “Value Based Education” is made a part of all subjects. Young minds are exposed to human values like compassion, friendship, caring, mutual respect, and teamwork….and so on.

What sets this school apart from many other schools is the incredible student-teacher ratio. The maxim of one teacher for every twenty students is strictly followed.

What we heard was impressive but what we saw overwhelmed us. Dharavi is as dirty as slums can get. Every possible failing of human nature can be seen there. Alcoholism and drug addiction is rampant and violent behaviour is the accepted norm.

Students come from disturbed homes and vitiated neighbourhoods. There is no concept of personal hygiene or a nutritious diet. It is an angst and acrimony filled atmosphere.

In the midst of all this is a monumental effort put in by a band of very dedicated people determined to make a difference in the lives of those whom modern Indian society has forgotten. To mend such tender lives and get them on a productive path requires immense confidence in oneself and faith that there is an "Unseen Power" who is directing this change.

A Spring of Hope bursts forth in a Ghetto to blow away the clouds of Despair.