Friday, October 30, 2009

Of valuing friends and everlasting friendship

A lovely weather- a slight nip in the air, a crisp evergreen smell in every breath you take - is by and far the next best thing to piping hot coffee on a rainy day. And a walk taken in such weather elicits sufficient thoughts, if the mind is allowed to think. So today, during such a walk, my thoughts centered around the virtue called friendship.

Friendships, people say are important because they are one's own making. No one can force us to be friends with someone, nor can anyone force us to not be friends with someone. Who we choose, how we choose, why we choose is entirely of our own making and volition. So in a way, it is a big deal, since we almost pool in life's experiences and our value systems when we pick our friends. Doesn't seem like we put in so much of thought before extending that hand of friendship.

Which then brought me to my line of thought today. Why are friends valued differently by different people? If it is such a big deal, whereby one's value systems and learning of life are literally being tried out, why do some people make the folly of choosing the wrong friends? Why do some set sky high expectations from friendship, only to return disappointed when the relationship gets built on a shaky foundation of one-sided trust and belief? Do chronic loners honestly never feel the need of a friend? Are they at peace with their aloofness? Tough to believe, for after all man is supposed to be a social animal! So, why do some value friends so much, while some are willing to treat friends like a spanner - use and throw? Then again, why does one person in a friendship value the friendship more, which can be seen by the angst he experiences when it doesn't go right, while others perhaps don't seem to care as much? Don't memories of past good times ever come back? And don't those memories urge one to get together with those one left behind?

The criteria used while making friends is certainly a mirror of one's own characteristics. But I also feel that valuing a relationship is an even deeper part of the value system. Every return - tangible or intangible needs a sufficient investment of effort. And the motivation towards that end comes from one's value system again whereby one wants to make a success out of every endeavor. Unfortunately, friendship is not an entrepreneurial venture. It takes 2 to make it work, and the fights and squabbles are the true tests of friendship. If the effort to resolve a dispute doesn't come through, one needs to realize that that acquaintance was perhaps never meant to translate into a friendship!

Which then brought me to another thought - one of barriers to friendship! Sounds weird, but I had written a piece before on Girls as Best Friends. Thinking a little more along those lines, I have realized that this is something that is psychologically impossible. Unless, one has forged those friendships ages ago, when life still revolved around school uniforms, lunch breaks, blackboards and pencils. I thought about it. William Kane had a Matthew Lester, The Count of Monte Cristo had a Jacabo, Jay had a Veeru. But Kate Blackwell... ummm had David Blackwell - her husband! Lara Cameron - ummm... no one. Laurie Montgomerie had Jack - again not another woman! So are we supposed to take a hint here and give up on the expectation of women remaining thick friends for life? I guess yes...

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Times of Tumultuous Turbulent Turmoil

It's been a while since I wrote on 'My time at ISB'. Oh! The title is not descriptive of all the time I spend here, but yes there are times I wish I could run far away into the Himalayas - far from the madding crowd. Why hills of the Himalayas? Because Placebo is actually singing 'Running up that hill' as I write this. I wouldn't even mind throwing myself into an ocean as long as I can escape the times of tumultuous turbulent turmoil that raise their heads every once in a while here at ISB!

One such time, that warrants a mention is the time of elective bidding. When a friend of mine at IIM had a gtalk tagline saying 'elective bidding $%&*$% up!' I thought, bidding for courses cannot be that bad. SRK has said in Om Shanti Om - 'Agar kisi cheez ko dil se chaaho toh poori kaayanaat tumhein usse milaane mein lag jaati hai'. Optimistic, idealistic fool that I am, I believed that dictum and believed in a cosmic force that almost always brings demand to supply! And with a spring in my step and a cheer on my countenance, I bid for my electives. And all hell broke loose.I came in with an idea of bidding for subjects I really wanted. What I didn't realize was that elective bidding was by and far the first place where we would perhaps apply all the concepts that we learn here at B school.

It begins with game theory. We thought that people would not bid for an 8 am class, since majority of the members of the class of 'homo sapiens' typically do not prefer waking up too early in the morning. At least that was what many of us gauged during the 4 core terms, listening to groans and cribs about morning classes. What we didn't realize was that almost all of us were thinking the same thing! If prediction markets were at play, many of us would have been able to pocket a small fortune in this guessing game - perhaps pay down our tuition!!

Second, risk taking. Managers are supposed to take risks - entering new markets like say Burkina Faso, the Gabon or maybe even Guatemala or Burundi. One may not know where to locate these exotic places on a map, but might need to formulate entry strategies for their respective firms, not to mention market growth strategies with targets like a year on year growth of 17.2%. So, risk taking should be second nature. And again, while bidding for electives - I know that taking a combination of 2 specific subjects, would perhaps fry my brain with numbers. But I still bid for them, since I rather strongly feel that I may not get one of them, or even if I do, I could maybe drop them. Going forward, I try to game the system. I try to get rid of all my subjects, in the hope of bagging that elusive forbidden fruit of a subject, hoping that even if I don't get it, the system will force me to take up some other subjects, and that time, I can pick up where I left off. Well, what if I end up getting those hot oil, number-heavy, brain-frying subjects? Risk, my dear Watson, is what rings in my head!!!

And finally, the biggest application, that I perhaps learnt too late was the funda of first mover advantage. People in strategy may say that first mover advantages are not applicable to every industry. Some places need you to bide your time, wait and watch from the shadows and pounce when the time is right. THE ANSWER HERE IS NO! If I were a first mover, I could have been sleeping today, whiling away my time, rather than fretting over subjects and points and trying to enter the minds of all my classmates, in an attempt to figure out what they're thinking!!!

Monday, October 12, 2009

The changing face of Rural India - Education

When we used to deal with the topic of India's population, and the issue of child labor, as young, adolescent students, we almost always imagined the errant parents as being vultures, out to make a quick buck by sending their kids off to some God-forsaken workplace and making them work their lives off. We felt that the parents perhaps always look upon their offspring as just another pair of hands - one mouth more to feed, but two hands more to work. No doubt some cases of such inconsiderate parents might exist, but what I realized, over a short rural jaunt, was that that cannot be a generalization.

This could be a trend in AP alone, but almost every rural inhabitant we spoke to, sent their kids to school - male and female kids, both! I must say, that fact was truly refreshing to note. They sent their kids to elementary school, and if the government school was not as good, they took the pains of sending their kids all the way to the next big town to study at a private school. Some even sent kids to a residential school. If a large factory was located in the village, the powers-that-be of the factory ensured that a good school like a DAV (which is a rather prestigious school in south India) could come up in the vicinity. And the rural population, was more that willing, if not happy to send their kids there. Some even ensured they sent their kids only to the big school in the town. Why? Like one farmer said, "If they studied here, they would come home in the recess and not go back. But if they went to the town, they can come home only when the bus would come at the end of the school day." Some farmers had actually sent their children to study abroad - farmers who perhaps were illiterate, had kids returning with masters degrees from places like US and UK. And they took immense pride while describing their successful children who had become doctors or engineers, and they all thanked the Indian IT industry for allowing their children to go where no one of their own generation had ever gone before. When asked what they would do with any extra money they could get through their efforts, they all, almost unanimously averred that they would spend on their kids' education.

(Pic courtesy Sai Pondalur, at Irkigoodam near Miriyalguda, AP)

Clearly, the people are cognizant of the importance of education . Now the only question is whether a supply can be arranged to meet the demand!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

A rural jaunt : some reflections

They say 'Opposites Attract'. I agree. Two entities in stark opposition to one another attract me to observe them. Take for instance rural and urban life. Urban life is so very different from rural life, that it almost appears to be a microcosm of species and behaviors that are unique in themselves. And living an unadulterated urban life, makes one forget some of the finer aspects that are almost second nature to those who live in pristine rural areas. And if we happen to take a break from our urban rat race and try to take a sneak peek into a bucolic life, we notice so many beautiful aspects that almost get us all reflective! A few of my observations after a recent taste of rural flavors! (This is an actual picture I took at Chillapur near Miriyalaguda, in Andhra Pradesh)
  • It is possible for the total number of people around you at a market place, to be equal to the total population of the village.
  • It is possible for the only sound I hear to be the sound of my own voice.
  • It is perfectly normal to have electricity for just half a day - evenings and nights alone and still be happy in the sweltering heat
  • It is possible for the lives of all people known to me to revolve around farmlands and rainfall
  • It is normal for kids to come home from school and not toss their bags on the bed and demand something to eat, but rather to pick up a pitcher and trudge along to a river bank to get water for the household - all the time bearing a smile on their faces.
  • Every human being is treated with immense respect, no matter who they may be. An offering of water and tea to random visitors is almost taken for granted. In fact you ought to be surprised if such an offering were not to come through to you.
  • Every 'position holder' is treated with awe. For an outside observer, the position may not have much bearing in the greater scheme of things, but for the people around, such 'position holders' are BIG PEOPLE!

But one similarity between the urban and rural people is the stress on personal satisfaction before looking to the welfare of others. The basic nature of using personal power if any to appropriate available resources to oneself, while being aware that such appropriation is completely against the so-called 'equitable distribution' of resources seems to be a trend that exists across people, irrespective of their station in life! Call it human nature or call it a habit that emanates from the lack of sufficient resources - I'd prefer to call it the latter, because then at least we have some hope to perhaps improve, and given that Hope wins Nobel Prizes (case in point - Mr Barack Obama), who knows, one day we can have a society where everyone is equally happy!

Thursday, October 08, 2009

One line thought provokers - reloaded

  1. Why does the past look rosy always?
  2. Why does one never enjoy the present but a year later glosses over the past and wonders why she cannot get those days back?
  3. Why do vacations get over so fast, while work days seem to last forever?
  4. Why does the novelty of something you desperately wanted wane away faster than the time for which you put in effort to gain it?
  5. Why does one's mind go into a state of turmoil when things do not go as per plan?
  6. Why can't everyone of consequence be everywhere at once?
  7. Why can't we bridge the invisible gap between people in spite of technology having brought people closer?
  8. Why do the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, yet no one seems to care?
  9. Why do people perceive violence to be the panacea for all pains?
  10. Why does one love the status quo and abhor change of any sort?

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Confucius and Climate Change

The weather is beautiful. The skies are cloudy, the winds are cool. The atmosphere is absolutely intoxicating. The fresh smell of rain-soaked mud, the pitter-patter sound of raindrops, everything 'perfect' in the eyes of a romantic.

Would have been perfect, if only such a weather had existed in July, rather than October in Mumbai.

2009, was declared a drought year. Cut to June- July 2009. Crops failing for want of rain, pictures in newspapers of farmers looking skywards, expectantly, all portrayed an image of the India of the 1950s. It looked rather sad, since those vivid images were a stark contrast to the image of emerging India that we generally perceive.

Cut to October 2009. A deluge in South India. A catastrophe that has not been encountered for over 100 years. Villages submerged, people dead, crops devastated, the rice bowl of India affected adversely. Before I was to leave Hyderabad, I was not too kicked about leaving behind a perfectly cool climate, to come to Mumbai, which I knew would be in her 'midsummer blues'. But I was also relieved to finally be able to travel at a time when there would be no flight delays thanks to bad weather in Mumbai. And surprise surprise, all such expectations were killed, when we were told that BAD WEATHER in Mumbai had delayed the incoming flight. All of us were stumped, since it is rather uncharacteristic for 'bad weather' to prevail in clear skies October! But then again, this whole confused weather pattern is unprecedented. Right from the frigid winter of 2007, in Mumbai, to the current rain patterns, it is bizarre! As though the Earth were screaming for help, by sending these incomprehensible signals.

And as though on cue, we have this whole impasse on the climate change dialogue. Confucius once said, " He who does not economise will need to agonize" Seems apt in the light of our current climate issues. I'd put in a post earlier (of outcomes and interests) on how expecting the emerging world to co-shoulder the climate change burden in a 50:50 manner along with the Americas and Europes of the world was almost certain to lead to a deadlock, with no amicable solution emanating thereof. And now, the UN General Assembly meeting has achieved just that, with everyone playing the penguin game - one where everyone waits for another to take the lead. In a classic case of what psychologists call 'mistaken attribution', the focus was more on WHO was responsible and WHO was not doing what was to be done, than on a clear idea on WHAT needs to be done to tackle the challenge as a global community. Here are some statistics in the map to prove why such circumlocutory behaviors are circumspect! The logic / rationale behind the developed world blaming their laggard approach on the lack of 'co-operation' from the emerging world is absolutely not justified.

The fact remains that the world is screaming for action. We need to act before it is too late. Mumbai, on the west coast of India is served by the South-west monsoon winds from June to September. Geography lessons in the lower classes had taught us that India has 3 main seasons - summer, winter and monsoon. And we also had specific months when these seasons would prevail. But imagine a classroom conversation of the future, if we don't take the cries of nature seriously -

"Teacher when do we have summer in India?"
"I can't say with certainty".
"Teacher how do crops grow?"
"Only with the blessings of God, since rains are never dependable"

What can we as the next generation do? Well, the usual stuff that we already know of, cut auto emissions, since that is the one portion of the emission story that is clearly in our hands. And on another level, we must use climate change idealogies as a guiding factor while choosing our elected leaders.

Friday, October 02, 2009

The Maoist Massacre

The scene was straight out of the Sippy flick - Sholay. Families massacred. Little kids targeted. The first reports called it a Maoist attack in Bihar. Later we realized that it was a fight - a casteist fight that resulted in such picked-out killings. And almost in immediate succession, just we heaved a sigh of relief, that Maoist rebels were not really wreaking havoc on civilized society, came news about the ruthless beheading of a Jharkhand cop by Maoists. For someone sitting in another part of this country, it felt revolting. What on earth is Maoism? And does it really promulgate violence targeted at children? Well, elsewhere in the world, such acts would be termed 'dastardly acts of terrorism', but ask the perpetrators here and they may as well say that this was their cry against the 'establishment'.

Studying developmental figures for the erstwhile 'BiMaRu' states, the plight is understandable. With a Gini coefficient at 0.318, the inequality in Bihar is stark. Reminds one of the situation during the French Revolution where the rich got richer and the poor got poorer. The state keeps screaming for all-inclusive, pro-poor growth. But when the law and order system is crippled, and the number of convoluted, inter-twined problems is humongous, the system takes some time to unlearn and relearn and implement. Granted, unemployment is high. Granted the poor are poor. Granted, the inequality is high as well. But the truth is, that efforts are being taken, and the results will show, sooner rather than later. That said, if the issue is with the Government, why not try to sort things out amicably? Killing children will almost certainly not endear the perpetrators with others who are suffering similar plights. If not anything, just like how the killings of innocent people by terrorists dilutes the so called 'cause' in the eyes of the common man, making the distinction between villainy and martyrdom even more stark, even if the Maoists, as per the original Mao Zedong doctrine are fighting for the rights of the poor peasant, they will be viewed with disgust and perceived to be another bunch of inhuman, insane, indoctrinated, inglorious, murderers and villains.

Whatever the cause may have been nothing justifies ruthless killing - be it the killing of children or of a law-abiding officer. More so, on or after Gandhi Jayanti, where the world celebrates the winner who never won, of the Nobel Peace Prize, a man who famously declared that 'an eye for an eye makes the world go blind'. A man who abandoned a rather successful non-cooperation movement after a retaliatory attack at Chaurichaura, just because the retaliation violated his principles of non-violence. If the Maoists were trying to send a message, I guess all of young India, (and I take the liberty of speaking on behalf of all other young like minded people like myself), feel that a message has been conveyed, of course, but a message that is horribly wrong, and completely contrary to the kind of picture the perpetrators wish to project.