Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Invictus and Forgiveness

I happened to watch the movie Invictus the other day. It was a great movie indeed. Well, not only did it have amazing performances by Matt Damon and Morgan Freeman, but it also conveyed a lot about forgiveness. And as usual, it got me thinking. I know, I can hear you say, 'temme something new'.

There were two specific instances that caught my attention. One, when the rugby team which comprises almost only whites, except for one Native African is expected to sing the newly formed South African national anthem, which is not in Afrikaans - their usual language. And the second was when Matt Damon, the rugby team's skipper (or cappie as he's called) visits Mandela's cell in Robben Island and is appalled at the tiny living enclosure. Both these instances struck me for their ideas on forgiveness.

The Native Africans had been severely oppressed by Apartheid. And then after the struggle, they were suddenly to be treated as equals. They had been severely wronged, and in no less words, deserved an apology in kind, forever. A simple beginning was just the whites relinquishing their old Afrikaans anthem and embracing the new anthem that combined stanzas in Xhosa, Zulu, Sesotho, Afrikaans and English. This many found tough to do, but interestingly, in the movie, which is supposedly based on real life events, the rugby team doesn't just mouth the words, they sing along in the World Cup! And this in effect gave the whites a chance to be the 'bigger person'. Why? Because they needed to swallow their pride, realize their folly and take steps to make amends.

Now consider the second event - Mandela was locked up in a tiny cell on Robben Island for 27 years. Matt Damon's character remarks on the evening before the final match, that he was pensive not about the match but about how one person, who was locked up in such a tiny cell, could come out and forgive those that put him there. Here, we see another aspect of forgiveness. When a person is wronged, by another and the other person comes to apologize, the wronged person has two options. One - make a big deal out of it, and make the wrong-doer feel even more small. Or graciously accept the apology, forgive and move on. And as it turns out, the latter option actually is more deserving of respect!

So in a way, in any situation, both people have a chance to prove character. The wrongdoer can step up and show that she is ready to accept her follies and apologize and make amends. A wronged person can be the 'bigger person' by simply forgiving and letting go, by proving to the transgressor that she values the relationship more than any small incident. The tradeoff though is giving up on those few seconds of garnering importance from the wrongdoer and having the wrongdoer desperately seek you out, give you importance and try to make amends. At the end of the day, it is up to each person to decide what to do. It is a tough choice to make, but the choice has to be made!

And this need not be the case only in huge communal or racial tiffs. Take a simple story - One person (Anna) has hurt another (Beth) through some action or word. The aftermath has 2 options - One, Anna comes up and of her own apologizes, or two, Beth confronts her on the same. In the latter case, it is very easy to analyze the psychological underpinnings, and say that Anna acted the way she did because of whatever reason and so, the onus is on her to ensure that the relationship is repaired. In fact, Beth would come and confront Anna with the case, if and only if she felt that their relationship was strong enough to warrant a confrontation. Usually in very strong relationships, a confrontation does indeed happen wherein Beth tells Anna why she is hurt and Anna then has to make it up.

Now take case 1, which is a bit more complex. It depends here on how much one values the other. Maybe Anna values the relationship a lot and so wants to put to rest any possible cogitations that may be bothering Beth. So she goes ahead and clears the situation. Now Beth has two options again. One, she can be the bigger person and make Anna feel comfortable, and let the issue go. Or two, Beth can perhaps act up, and make a big issue out of the whole thing, and prove her ascendancy over Anna, and make her feel small and abashed.

Now, my take is, that Anna shows character by stepping up and clearing up the situation, and Beth shows more character by letting the issue go, but not after sufficient communication. The time when Beth acts up and tries to put down Anna, is where the whole situation gets a bit dicey, since it looks like an attempt to prove an already proven point and trying to push an already pushed down person further into the earth. And this many-a-time, doesn't help Beth's image in Anna's eyes. Perhaps Anna expects a good friend to want to make her comfortable, despite the transgression and expects some 'bigger person' behavior from Beth.

So everywhere, everyone has a choice to prove character. It is up to the person always whether she wants to accept the opportunity or let it go in favor of 15 seconds of fame!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Journey to the center of the Earrrrrrth - Chronicles of a day trip - Part 1

Friday marked the end of academic pursuits at ISB. Which meant that Saturday would mark the beginning of fun pursuits post ISB. And true to expectation, we decided to kick start our week of fun with a ... wait for it... day trip to Srisailam. So after a day filled with fun, I sit down with aching calves, legs refusing to move, my back in love with my pillow, and even my thumbs and fingers groaning, to recount our exploits. So here is the story of our JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARRRRRRRTH as Random would say. A sneak preview - it involves rock sightings, a boat ride, a drive through a forest, a temple, tap dancing in the heat, a beautiful forest, rivulets, waterfalls, pleasant chats and a broken shoe.

Now Srisailam is rather far from Hyderabad. All of 240 km, with most of the route under forest cover and over hills. Look at the pic alongside -
So, being inspired by pictures put up by some friends on Facebook (talk about web 2.0), we went. It felt good buying goodies that evening - bread, cheese, Sprite, water, chips - basic sustenance. Reminded me of our midnight shopping trip to Hanamasa prior to the Fuji expedition! So, armed with goodies, a printout of the places we wanted to see around Srisailam, and the enthusiasm of a 5 year old going on board a ferry, we set off at 5 am (yes, we decided to leave at 5 and all 4 WOMEN left at 5. Hah! to all those trip groups with men and women who plan to leave at 4 and leave at 6 instead!!!).

We left before the crack of dawn, and were aided by empty roads. Some decided to catch up on lost sleep, and some others like me, aided by a small caffeine shot in the morning, chose to keep awake and catch up on my recently added songs. Holiday mood, you see. The road was long, there were mild winds, and soon enough, the sky cracked and a smiling sun showed its mild orange face. It was gorgeous. This was when we, rather, Random decided to call our trip the JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THEEE EARRRRRRTH. I wish I had that pronunciation button that comes up on Wikipedia. Speaking of wikis, we realized where the makers of wikipedia got the idea for meta.css. Look here - Yup, you do get to see quite a few beautiful things if you wake up early in the morning. But in our case, I guess our dreams are prettier and so, we maximize our utility and sleep longer, since the marginal utility of waking up early is losing out on better looking dreams, which we'd rather not do. Yay! so done with the rambling for this post. Back to the EARRRRRTH now... So, on we went, playing music of DCH, Lakshya, and singing along nice and loud. The key word is LOUD. We thoroughly enjoyed the morning. It was a simple loooooong drive, and as we went on, the rock formations just kept getting better. At times we wondered how those boulders defied Newton and balanced themselves so perfectly up there. Pretty soon, we decided that it was time for our dose of caffeine and typical road trip style, we stopped at a nondescript tea stall. Tiny tapri that served some perfectly delicious tea in tiny cups! And the minute we took out our cameras, the people in the shop - owners or otherwise felt obliged to pose...

Soon, it started getting hot, and we approached the Rajiv Gandhi Tiger reserve area. If only there were more than 1411 tigers, we might have seen the occasional tiger as well, as we drove Safari style through the forest area. The roads were phenomenal. Trees were a sober brown, heralding the start of the hot season. But altogether, they made the picture look very beautiful. Pretty soon, we entered the ghat section, and I must say, the Eastern Ghats are a lot less punishing than their Western counterparts. They do go winding, but not many sharp hairpin bends, and a lot less painful!

And then, we reached our first spot of the day! Patala Ganga - a small river-like water body, that comes out of the dam on the Krishna river at Srisailam. The USP of this spot is, the boat ride that one can take in a round basket-like boat, from the steps to the place where the rapids begin. Clearly this place is not frequented by several people and so, there were hardly any crowds. Random had suggested that we do this first, else the sun would begin pelting down on us like no one's business and ostensibly, she was right! Thank God we did the boat ride between 9.30 and 10.30 am! We needed to bargain our way here and who better than one with the subtle seasonings of Saddi Dilli??!!?? So M got us a deal we couldn't refuse. She actually got us the ride at one fourth the usual price and the four of us set sail. I say set sail, since it sounds sweet and I know I shan't use that phrase anywhere else, EVVVVER!

The ride was beautiful, and the round boat goes bobbing up and down, directionless, and you can go swiveling on it, whenever you want! All of us, also got our photo op with the oar and we could take a number of pictures of the dam, the bridge and beyond, from this perfect vantage point. And from the water, the upturned boats on the shore looked like giant turtles, as M remarked. The only flip side was the continuous chatter of our boatman. Every 2 minutes, he'd start his plea for more money. It started with stories about how he was starting afresh, to how he was a helper in a greater game. At one point I was tempted to rattle off Shakespeare's 'All world's a stage' dialogue to him, and had to try real hard to refrain from doing so. So, a serene and not so quiet boat ride later, we got back, had our pictures taken and were ready to start leg 2 of our trip.
And this is where I'll pause part 1, for fear of making this post toooo long. Watch this space for the section on the temple, tap dancing, glades in a forest, waterfalls, rivulets and the broken shoe... Yes broken shoe...

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Australian GP 2010 - disappointed

Unlike the happy tone of the post following Bahrain, this one is actually disappointed. I just have a whole bunch of unexplained thoughts.
  • Is age actually catching up with Michael?
  • If Nico could finish fifth with a Mercedes, why couldn't Michael? Plus Brawn won last year's championship. It can't be that the other cars fitted themselves with Getafix's magic potion, which Merc doesn't have!
  • Fine so Nico qualified higher, but MSC was seventh. The least he could do was maintain it.
  • It is not a big deal to just scrape into the points, since the only competition back there was from rookies.
  • At the end of the first race, the verdict was that there was work to be done, but by the third or fourth race things would begin to get competitive. Really?
  • What is with Red Bull? They qualify like a dream, but what's the point if the car blows a race when it really matters? Reminds me of the Renaults of 2006 - excellent starters, pathetic finishers.
  • Why am I so disappointed? Cos I am not used to a Michael who is not strong in a race. I cannot digest the fact that the camera of Star Sports seldom ever focuses on MSC, since he is too busy being a back marker.
  • I want the old MSC and his charm to come back on track.

Friday, March 26, 2010

A moment for a momentous occasion

With today, all academic pursuits at school have come to an end. Yesterday marked the end of classes and today marked the end of exams. So, it is indeed a momentous occasion. I perhaps knew back in grad school that I wanted to study further, but now, I really am not sure whether I will be enthused about the staid environs of a classroom or interested in the stoic monotones that accompany academic discussions. Today marks the end of an academic jaunt and marks the beginning of several things - a week of fun with friends, with scant regard towards anything else - no nagging assignment or exam or pre-reads to do ; just unadulterated fun, a convocation, my first, since as is the custom, we never attend engineering college convocations! And of course the beginning of a new phase of life - a new job, a new role, new friends, new everything. And given that context, the occasion deserves a mention of the year gone by. I am picking this up from my FB note, since an early morning jaunt beckons and unless I sleep in the next 1 minute, I will have to run on less than 7 hours of sleep over two days. So, here is a gist of the year gone by. Watch this space for a full blown account, as the weeks pass....

Less than a year ago, I walked into this sultry city. Stars in my eyes, a dream to follow, a year to cherish. And this year gave me all of that.

Term 1, day1 - afternoon classes - great profs - microeconomics with a twist - marketing - Mudit Kapoor, 'does it even matter' - John Zhang - CP - gyaan sessions - accounting and nightmares - G5, - assignments - night outs - LRC - table hunting - plug point fighting - shushed by the librarian - pen stuck in a socket - markstrat - Harbir Singh - Jagmohan Raju - DMOP - black day - 'but this is so much fun and the whole class laughs out' - people falling off chairs - sleeping in class - snoring in class - loud yawns in class - Global economics and the recession - wake up calls from people who sit next to you - 5 minute breakfasts - caffeine addiction - housekeeping - quad parties - rains - snakes - cobra sighting - Prabhu screaming - Atul Nerkar - entrepreneurship - 'trust me on this' - Kirsten cookie company - Parag and Littlefield - Sunil Dutta and his Jesus Christ pose - Modigliani Miller - INVA - Ramana Sonti - redefining finance - Mean Variance Efficient - Assets under management - GSB - Total fertility rate of Somalia - SAIT - cross platform network effects - MGTO - Prof Pinto and Prof Pillutla - biases - availability heuristic - ELP visits - floods - Sai and Saidulu - Arjun and his wisecracks - Birthday - arbit dunking - cake smearing - fight for grades - McK on campus - consulting dreams - consulting case preps - fin preps - fin club - CMC and PEC - conclaves - Section parties - super 6 outings - parties - newspaper theme party - aaaageeeeooooogeeeee

Term 5 - we get a life - party more - electives - rural marketing - true blue insights - rural visit - the tree - options and futures - Sonti again - no options of a future - placements - CV prep - CV version 32 - CCMA - interesting times - loads of work - consumer behavior - rockstar profs - TiVo - Geeta Menon, Priya Raghubir - Brand management - cases - prereads - no prereading - off the cuff CP - Term 7 - placements - worries - cribbing - excitement - shortlists - dings - ups and downs - who got where - drown the gum in an outing - cheering up sessions - suiting up - interviews - getting a job - access to CAS portal denied - FB updates - LT - the movies - the magic - the chats - the dinners - the walks - the coffees - the LC - the love for chaai - shopping - more shopping - Golconda - movies, movies, movies - Goel food - The Raghu Dixit Project - Yapping on the roof garden - Ashish Kohli - ATAM - Asset Management - Vinay Nair - hedge funds - assignments - who cares - someone do it - How I Met Your Mother - movie sharing - Term 8 - ecstasy - all fun - classes in between - never do prereads - no CP - travel plans - the blue mug - visitors on campus - roam around - sight seeing - last mid term - last paper viewing - last class - last exam - last party - friends forever.

A lot in one year... cheers to a year well spent....

Sunday, March 21, 2010

3 cheers to collective human IQ

Today is momentous, since a 106 year old mathematical problem has been solved. The field of mathematics has somehow intrigued me all these years, since I associate math with the highest level of profundity. Physics and chemistry study tangible entities. Put a pellet of sodium into water and you will get sodium hydroxide, although accompanied by an explosion. Forces of attraction, in physics are measurable by finite formulae set forth by a genius who, ages ago was not hungry enough to eat an apple that fell on his head. But math is such that you see numbers, equations, an elegant sigma or an integration sign and these abstruse symbols hold together the foundations of everything known to mankind.

So, the Poincare conjecture is a concept floated in topology. The original statement in 1904 was - 'Consider a compact 3-dimensional manifold V without boundary. Is it possible that the fundamental group of V could be trivial, even though V is not homeomorphic to the 3-dimensional sphere?' In other words, consider a connected, 3 dimensional, finite sized, boundary-less space. Now, in this space consider loops, like rubber bands. If these rubber bands are slid down this space, thus continuously tightening them to a point, then the enclosed space is a three dimensional sphere! And Grigoriy Perelman proved that this is indeed the case. Alliteration, anyone? Poincare solved by Perelman! And why is this momentous? Well, there are 7 millennium problems, each carrying a million dollar award. Now there are just 6 more for the taking. Existential questions in the field of mathematics are slowly being solved, and somehow it makes me feel really proud that our human race is getting progressively sharper. Imagine, 106 years ago, a genius put forth a thought, a concept and 106 years and several mathematicians later, this has been proven! Collective human IQ has been proven to have been boosted by several 1000 points today!

What strikes me more starkly, is the fact that the problem has been solved by a genius who is perceived to be eccentric, and a recluse! Think Mozart, Van Gogh, Nikolai Gogol, Pushkin, Dostoyevsky - geniuses in their own right, consumed by a disillusion, overwhelmed by their talent that made them reclusive. Maybe it is something in their cognitive structure that makes all of civil society look trivial, as a mathematician would say. It is rather ironic that the world wished to fete a true genius for his brains and his commitment and contribution, and he who is supposed to be at the receiving end, sees the inherent worthlessness of the felicitation, since he is way beyond such temporal, trivial matters! And in a way, his respectability somehow shoots several notches higher!
I can't help but mention the movie 'Goodwill Hunting', which back then introduced me to the concept of the 'Field's medal', the equivalent of a Nobel in Math - there is no Nobel Prize for math, btw. Seemingly abstruse problems, in the movie, are solved by a genius janitor played by Matt Damon, who is simply brilliant, and lacks the gentility that goes with scholarship. And as happens in the movie, true genius shines through no matter what, and finds what it looks for. And the world that till then is too busy caught up in designing codes of conduct, sits up and takes notice when genius stands up and suddenly proves that societal mores and codes of conduct are the last things on its mind!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The answer is out there...

When something begins to consume you, the best option is to let it all out. If you are consumed by anger, bury your head in a pillow and scream your head out. If you are consumed by the hurt of a betrayal, you have two options, confront the person who betrayed you and let it go, or bury your head in a pillow and cry your heart out. If you are consumed by self-doubt, as I am right now, tell someone, and if there is no one around to listen, just put it out there, the cosmic energy will take it somewhere.

I saw the movie Julie and Julia last night, and I loved it. A simple story of a lady in the early 1940s, the wife of a diplomat, moving countries and continents, searching for something to do that would define her. She falls in love with Paris and French food. She wants to write a cook book, taking French cooking to the American world. Her part of the story traces her travails trying to get published. A young woman in the early 2000s, with a lackluster career and a half-written novel without a publisher, wants to find a definition of her own life, something that she can wake up to happily in the morning and decides to embark on a Julie/ Julia project. She starts a blog, that runs for a year, as she cooks every recipe in Julia Child's 'Mastering the Art of French Cooking'. Her blog is an instant success and she is covered by the NY Times, gets multiple calls from agents who want to work with her on a book. And everything ends happily ever after.

So it's got writing a book, blogging and following your dreams. And I wonder, what is the point of writing here, unless I know someone is reading it. Like Julia Child says in the movie, when her first publisher chooses not to publish her book, " 8 years of my life wasted. Of what use is writing, if no one wants to publish it". I dream of writing one day, soon enough. For me, my blog is a means of testing the waters, if I may, to see whether I do indeed have it in me to make what others may want to read. And many-a-time, the absence of any sign tells me that I don't have it in me. I try to avoid the bellowing sound that resounds in my head telling me that I am perhaps wasting my time, and I would be better off doing something else, because I do not want to hear that response.

And then I wonder, what if one's virtual writings are liked primarily by people who know and like what one is in real life, the content of what you write, notwithstanding. Is it worth changing who you are, just so that people encourage what you like doing? The fiercely independent person in me, may perhaps want to vociferously declare - NO! But the fiercely passionate about writing person inside me may squeak - maybe yes. And that, whoever is listening out there, is the gist of 'drowning in self doubt'. Do I have the right answer? No. But when consumed with the question of 'whether all of this makes sense', I just float the question out there, hoping somehow, somewhere I will find an answer, an answer either one I want to hear, or an answer for which I develop the courage to hear.....

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Love thy fellow humans - Not really...

It was 4:58 in the morning. I was outside the gates of the airport. Sleepy eyed, bored, bugged with a traffic jam in the early morning at the airport check post, yet forced to wait there grumpily looking at the cop who wanted to verify whether I was indeed who I claimed to be. And then I walked in, went towards the airline counter. I presented my ticket and I thought that maybe the airline staff had been trained to smile and so they would, but they played mirror mirror - I looked grumpy, they looked grumpier!

And then the lady said, " check in is 30 minutes before take off. Sorry." Exasperated, I look at my watch. 5.03, it says. Take off was at 5:30.

"But I am 3 minutes late! And that was because the cop outside was building a caricature of mine in his head, while verifying my identity. And his friends further out were allowing cars to go in a trickle and somewhere in the middle someone decided to stop the car in the middle of the road and say her poignant goodbyes."

"Sorry ma'am. Pick up your new ticket outside, our flight is tomorrow at the same time. Oh and don't forget to pay the fare difference", she said and bluntly walked off.

3 minutes is mean. No airline's flight takes off on the dot, and definitely not those of the airline I am talking about. Then how could they enforce strict time lines on me, when they don't live their own word? Ok, there is no written script that says that a plane must take off at the designated time, but there is a written script that check in closes 30 minutes prior to departure. OK fine, at least some empathy? Poor soul coming in in the dead of the night! But no way. Have chance to prove ascendancy - will do so.

The other day, I was at a Govt. office. I needed a small clarification and this gentleman behind the counter was counting notes. Yup, counting currency notes and not just one bundle, but rather a whole pile - presumably settling the day's transactions. And I had a query about where to sign! My task 2 minutes, counting notes - God knows! But no. I asked, and he put up his hand - wait. I waited. He moved to bundle number 2. I asked again. He signaled - wait. I waited. And this went on for 15 minutes after which he looked up and said, " Oh that, go and ask at counter number 1." Empathy again. Someone is waiting, and her time is perhaps as important as yours. But no. Have chance to prove ascendancy - will do so.

It gets quite frustrating, when you know that someone would have to make a very small concession for you to book a huge gain! Waive off 3 minutes, so you can make a flight. Just listen for a second, so you can get your job done. Apply a bit of my point of view to a situation and accommodate my wish, at no cost to you! But when people are in positions of less power, I feel, that they do not wish to squander any chance to let you know that they can exert the force of their will on your plans! And that does not feel good. Irritation, exasperation, desperation, generalization verily follow - 'Man, why can't she let me check in?' 'Just tell me where I need to sign, and I can get on with my life!' ' Pleeeease... I have to be on that plane, and it is just 3 minutes.' 'Man, these government people are lazy' - are standard responses!

Can we do anything about this? I guess yes, next time we're in a position of 'power', let's look from the other person's perspective before saying a blatant NO.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

All time favorite joke 1

In keeping with Schumacher, I came across this joke, which is one of my all time favorite political jokes. In fact, knowing that Paul Krugman quoted this joke in one of his articles feels cool. Just the way the joke progresses is real cute. So here goes -

The European Commission has just announced an agreement whereby English will be the official language of Europe, rather than German, which was the other possibilty. As part of the negotiations, Her Majesty's Government conceded that English spelling had some room for improvement and has accepted a 5-year phase-in plan that would be known as "EuroEnglish":In the first year, "s" will replace the soft "c". Sertainly, this will make the sivil servants jump with joy. The hard "c" will be dropped in favor of the "k". This should klear up konfusion and keyboards kan have one less letter. There will be growing publik enthusiasm in the sekond year, when the troublesome "ph" will be replaced with " f ". This will make words like "fotograf" 20% shorter.In the 3rd year, publik akseptanse of the new spelling kan be expekted to reach the stage where more komplikated changes are possible. Governments will enkorage the removal of double letters, which have always ben a deterent to akurate speling. Also, al wil agre that the horible mes of the silent "e"s in the language is disgraseful, and they should go away.By the 4th yar, peopl wil be reseptiv to steps such as replasing "th" with"z" and "w" with "y". During ze fifz year, ze unesesary "o" kan be dropd from vords kontaing "ou" and similar changes vud of kors be aplid to ozer kombinations of leteres. After zis fifz yer, ve vil hav a reli sensibl riten styl. Zer vil be no more trubls or difikultis and evrivun vil find it ezi tu understand ech ozer.ZE DREM VIL FINALI KUM TRU!!!!! (Und zen ve vil take over ze vorld!!!!!)

Sunday, March 14, 2010

It has begun...

Know those days when you change the batteries to your TV remote? Suddenly your thumb screams thankyous. Likewise those days when you're in a hurry and you try to lock your door and the exact right key turns up? It's weird how these tiny things end up making your day. You mouth a thank you to the cabbie, smile as you get your coffee, and some pleasant song like say Enya's 'The Memory of Trees' resounds in your head. (Pic courtesy Ben Curtis/ AP)

Why am I describing this? Because I find it hard to believe that one event has that effect on several others. Those in the know would know that today, March 14th 2010 marks the return of the King to the wonderful world of F1. The king did indeed return, only this time, with the star and not the prancing horse. The race was rather mundane. The rules have changed a bit. Pit timings now show an aggregate total from entry to exit and not the usual under-10-second count showing how efficient the pit crew is. Now point scoring positions are not the top 6 or 8, but the top 10. Team names are all different now. We have Lotus racing, Virgin racing and Virgin now means that there are two airline magnates involved in F1 - Virgin and Force India, since Force India has a co-ownership by Vijay Mallya, of Kingfisher beer and airlines fame. Deadly combination, I know. This race also marked Karun Chandok's debut in F1 and yet again we see the tricolor on the circuit, painted across a car. Godspeed that he lasts longer in F1 than his predecessor.

The race began strongly, but the deadly hand of luck and fate again came up, when Vettel who so far had a strong weekend, began slinking back. I remember the team radio comment that was aired, where an exasperated Vettel poignantly asks his mechanics if anything can be done, and the response is that he suffered a mechanical failure, because of which two prancing horses and a McLaren lapped him up like a dollop of ice cream. So Alonso won, followed by Massa and Hamilton. Massa's return was indeed momentous. The chap was on track after almost being killed last year. Despite that, he returned and that too very strongly! If there was any fear or apprehension in his mind surrounding how his profession almost killed him, he sure has overcome it, and for that - RESPECT!

Schumi started seventh and ended sixth. Big deal you say? I disagree. The chap is 41. He has nothing to prove. He is driving more as a hobby. The car is different and new. And he gained a position with no one retiring. Alonso was second, and he won, because the winner slinked back because of a technical glitch. He did not win because of sheer overtaking and driving magic! There is no need, according to me, to exult and thump one's chest in a victory gained out of a race leader's loss, caused by events beyond his control.

So now, the dynamics are weird. Ferrari is strong, as usual. But my star driver is driving for a star. And a chap I don't really have too much respect for is driving in a scarlet garb. Life would have been a lot less complicated if only Michael had returned to Ferrari, as before... But then, he entered Ferrari and turned their fortunes around, through his sheer hard work, tuning the car and pushing it and himself to limits. I wouldn't be surprised if he does the same turnaround for Mercedes as well, making it a strong and powerful team, a force to reckon with and then slink back into retirement. Well, till then, he has a job to finish and people like me have a fun Sunday evening to look forward to.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

So we passed the Women's Bill... So what??

So, we passed the bill for Women's reservation in the upper house of parliament. Yay!! Ok, now that the rejoicing is done, let's look at the story. Rediff had a good piece giving the gist of this whole hullabaloo. Why people are against it and why it is a good step. Our PM says that the passage of the bill shows that in India democracy is still alive.

But let's look at it this way. It took 14 years to see daylight. Why? Because ruling coalitions were afraid to push the bill for fear of hurting dissenters who incidentally were on the ruling coalition. And back then, most of our time in Parliament was spent in no-confidence motions! So, every time a government tried to push for the bill, it faced dissent from within and it had to scuttle the bill for fear of scuttling the government! The usual process is - introduce the bill in the Lower house - the Lok Sabha, get approval and then go to the Rajya Sabha and then back to the Lok Sabha. Having faced obstacles at each and every step while trying the Lok Sabha, this time, the Government got smart and introduced it first in the Rajya Sabha. The dramas in the lower house are still to come.

We need to note that the RS is still an elitist house, since members are not elected, but rather appointed. So, passage here, actually does not mean much! Yes, the elite part of society sees the benefits of reservation for women. They are educated and so may be expected to stay away from the sways of political groupthink! May.. I am not sure, but this is my guess, based on the membership of the house. The Lok Sabha, in comparison, is larger in number, it has a greater proportion of dissenting members, and in the past, the dramas in the Lok Sabha have been LEGENDARY! So, I feel, that the crux is yet to be reached. Yes, it is a step in the right direction, and something at least, which has not been achieved this far has been achieved.

Yet the question remains, why the dissent? The model has worked as we've seen at the Panchayat and local self-government levels. I am traditionally not someone who supports reservations, but when situations are so lopsided, as to not allow a certain faction of society to find its true calling, reservations are necessary. Just like how, beyond a threshold, affirmative action was necessary to make life livable for African Americans! Just like how, after years of condemnation, reservation managed to bring some glimmer of hope for Dalits in India. Although that part has been grossly exploited politically of late. So, reserving seats for women, would certainly empower women at large. They have an empathetic ear to voice their concerns to.

But on the other hand, you can have a man and a woman from a certain area contesting for 2 seats. Think Laloo and Rabri contesting for 2 different seats in Bihar. Both win. No prizes for guessing the direction of policies in that scenario. Unless the bill is made water-tight, preventing any form of exploitation, the process could fall flat. Women in households in North India, are already suppressed. It wouldn't be hard to imagine a time when despite reservation, a woman MP is a dummy thumb-printing a personal agenda of her husband's in Parliament. Yes, that is a gory thought, and one needs to factor all of these into law making.

But Indian democracy is young, and we learn every step of the way. Till the bill gets passed in the Lok Sabha and gets ratified by the states, the job is as well as unfinished. Even after passing the bill, we need to proactively guard against exploitation and the media certainly has a responsible role to play in the same. But till then - a good start and a strong hope for the future defines the state as of now.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Int'l Women's Day 2010 - Does it really make any sense?

Last year my article was stark - talking about how women's liberation was miles away in India. And it's International Women's Day again - 10 years into the new millenium. Yet again, people are going ga-ga over the whole phenomenon of 'Women's day'. Facebook is full of status updates with people wishing their female friends a happy Women's day. Women themselves saying - 3 cheers to women empowerment and so on. Yes, we've come a long way. From being disenfranchised and restricted to the house, to running Fortune 500 companies, the woman has indeed come a long way. Texts and references nowadays, always refer to a pronoun as 'she' and never 'he'. I am not a ideologue. But I just feel that having one day to rejig our memories that women were once upon a time supressed and so need emancipation and liberation, according to me, speaks volumes about where we stand as regards gender equality. I am not a feminist. The very fact that I need to keep declaring that I am not a feminist, shows the disdain associated with espousing the cause of the woman! And all these factors really don't make me think that women are looked upon with equal respect as men, in today's world.

So, the topic of today in the news is the Women's 33% reservation bill in parliament. The timing honestly seems too coincidental. And as paranoid as I may sound, coincidence is one thing I don't really give too much credence to (Thank you Jason Bourne). So... now, move over minority religious communities, the target is the woman. As if what they have had to endure for so long has not been enough, the reservation in legislature bill is also dragged into the open. When I first heard about the bill, I was stumped, for in school I'd learned that 33% of seats are reserved for women. What I learned now, was that this bill sought to enforce the same across all levels of government. And I guess it is a step in the right direction.

In one of our visits to some parts of rural India for a project, we found that those local self government bodies that had ample representation of women, actually prospered. And there was an anthropological reason to this fact. Simple, the rural men were used to alcoholism, and the women were used to being exploited. Savings would be squandered on alcohol and the woman had to endure. The minute they found a presence in the Panchayat, law enforcement became possible. If the Sarpanch's wife was on the Panchayat as well, the women had a powerful ear to listen to them. Education was being supported, development was coming through. The model has been tested and it works. Then why the disapproval of a formal law?

Why is 'equal opportunity for all genders' still so difficult to enforce? Why is talent not appreciated regardless of gender? If we can look at talent beyond economic status,why is gender still a bias? Why is the 'upper hand' of the man so insecure as to not want to allow the woman to shine through? These Whys have somehow never found an answer. Any woman who sets out to find an answer to these questions is branded a feminist. And a feminist tag carries with it the notion of an inherent bias and inherently biased voices are seldom if every heard!

The situation is poor. The woman has to be subservient even now. Granted family has requirements that are met only by the woman. But I personally feel that that is for the woman to decide. Whether she wants to work and manage a family, whether she wants to be a maid servant or an aaya at a school is for her to decide. Whether she wants to be a corporate honcho or a scientific researcher or a school teacher who can work at her kids' school is for her to decide.

Now this incident is truly ironic. Maid servants are tough to come by in Mumbai city. Especially the good ones. I happened to have a good maid servant who surprisingly showed some ethics towards work. AWOL was not in her vocabulary and that was great news for us! So, one day I got to talking to her, and she said that she had studied till grade 12. I asked her why she didn't go work in an office as a minor clerk or typist or any other role that would justify her literacy. She said in a plaid tone, that her husband did not want her to have a secure job. It's anybody's guess why her husband, a daily wage laborer did not want his comparatively more qualified wife to have a better 'social standing'. But she was happy that she was at least able to come to work and earn a living outside of the house. Then one day a couple of weeks ago, she stopped coming. When she finally came to collect her settlement money, her explanation was - 'My husband did not want me to go and work. He got a job as a contract laborer at a construction site for a whole year. He said that he was competent enough to support me and and that his house did not need a woman's income. So, I stopped coming.'

As long as this is the attitude towards women of all social strata, I guess all we'd do is put up messages on FB and wish each other a shallow happy Women's day. I still look forward to the March 8th, where the post on this blog would be cheerful and optimistic. Amen!

Sunday, March 07, 2010

No, Na, Nein, Non - Part 2

So the last one talked about how people refused to say 'No'. This one is just the opposite, how everything led to the same answer - No. No. Not possible. Never. Non. Nein. Nyet. You get the point, right?

Now this happened to me in a retail shop.

I'd gone to buy something, but picked up something worth double the price, which had a similar packaging - the color of the bottle, the shape, the everything. And in my hurry, I picked it up, assumed a price hike and got out of there. As is my practice, I trashed the bill in the nearest bin and ran along home. After getting home, and arriving at a consumption occasion (pardon the usage, but that's how marketers measure product penetration. Did I just say consumption occasion and product penetration in one line??? Man, I need a vacation). So, when I got around to using the thing, I realized my error. After a few curses under my breath, I went back to the shop.

I said, " I am sorry, I picked up the wrong product yesterday. May I please return this?"
He said, " Bill madam"
I said, " I am sorry, I trashed it."
He said, "No madam. Bill needed madam."
I said, "But I came just yesterday late night. I was the last customer". Given the limited target area around that shop, just fewer than 600 of us shopped at that shop. And I remember my usual store guy back in Mumbai, who remembered us as regular customers, despite serving several hundreds of people each day. So, well, I used a typical statistical tool called 'extrapolation' and applied it to this situation. Note to self - Statistical tools look good only on research papers and Mickey Mouse scenarios used in research. Never in REAL LIFE.
He said, " No madam. Bill needed madam".
I said, "Oh. OK. But you have a computer system. You printed out my bill for me. So please check your past records. You have a product ID, a price paid, a date, everything."
He said, " No madam. Bill needed madam."

A gross lack of empathy. Zero customer focus, treating the customer like cattle, just like a cash register, whose hard earned money is reserved only to fill the coffers of the retailer. I was aghast. Despite being in an age of technology, which is supposed to make life easier, having databases which make searching simpler, records retrievable and preempt the reliance on shabby slips of paper, here I was, trying to convince this guy to shake off the traditional form of doing business and actually USE the technology he was happy scanning and punching numbers into. A couple of more minutes of listening to 'No madam, Bill needed madam', made me realize that my time and sanity were indeed worth a lot more, and it made no sense trying to beat sense into that poor chap on the other side of the counter.

Once bitten twice shy. This time, I went to buy something else, and after getting home, I realized that I had the exact same thing already. But discerning that I am, I had saved the bill. (In the otherwise empty wastepaper basket of my room, nevertheless). So armed with the bill off I marched to get back my money at least this time around.

I said, " Hi, I bought this yesterday. I don't need it. AND I HAVE THE BILL".
He said," Wait madam. I talk to manager".
I thought, "NOW WHAT!!!"
He came back. Looked at the bill.
I said again, " I need to return this. Please can I get a refund? Here is the bill"
He said, " No madam". Bells started shrieking in my head. I almost felt like exploding.
"Madam. Buy something else. No refund of cash."

And I wondered about the desperate attempt at making revenues. Ok, loyalty programs are good to hold on to the customer. But this is not retention, this is detention. I never liked such 'policies' which said 'No cash refund'. In fact several tiny guys use such lopsided policies to extend a vice-like grip on customers. And people who don't like pressure tactics detest such nefarious ways of holding a customer by the scruff of his neck. And I for sure would want to keep my interactions with such retailers to a minimum. Did that already with an apparel retailer. One more added to the list. For the marketing world - Customer is king. For some retailers though I am afraid 'Customer is cattle'...

Friday, March 05, 2010

My pearls of whatever

I've been writing this post since quite a while. I wanted to try and collate as many of my random thoughts as I possibly could before putting them here. So some of you may find this post absolutely profound, and some of you may find the stuff here absolutely inane. But you know what? Profound or inane, doesn't matter. You're here, you might as well read the stuff here :)
So here are my pearls of wisdom/ insanity/ whatever. I use the first person, since it is easiest to convey and ruffles the least of feathers. Simple.
  1. I kept chasing that which was never mine to be, under the delusion of having found perfection. Only to realize that in my chase for perfection, I was leaving behind the imperfect appropriateness which is what life is all about.
  2. I kept laughing with them all along, to try and break out of the mould, only to realize at the end that the joke was on me all along.
  3. If the sub-conscious mind is indeed so strong, why don't all dreams come true?
  4. I kept thinking up camouflaging reasons for my choices, without realizing that my decisions were my own whose rationale did not need explaining to anyone but a few. And those few never questioned the rationale.
  5. People say and do things that hurt you. And you feel hurt because you're sensitive. And many-a-time, you wish you could hurt them back. Unfortunately those who get hurt, seldom ever have the insensitivity that's needed to hurt others.
  6. Every move was made in an attempt to try to be accepted into the social code of conduct, to try and make everyone like me as a person. Little did I then realize that those who wish to dislike me would do so, everything else notwithstanding, and trying to win them over would only be a gross waste of time.
  7. Humanity is a weird species. You are always judged for WHAT you are, rather than for WHO you are.
  8. Contrary to what anyone may say, you are what you are perceived to be. If you don't like what people think of you, change what you portray of yourself.
  9. The hunt for perfection is a hunt for dejection. There is never such a thing as a perfect friendship, a perfect relationship, a perfect life. Perfection is an illusion, and like a mirage that deludes the thirsty into imagining the presence of water, perfection deludes an individual into an assumed land of success and acceptance, till finally the mirage collapses and the perfectionist is left in the middle of the scorching desert, burnt, bruised and battered and left to fend for himself while everyone around him has left him on account of his nitpicking ways.
  10. Providential dispensation is honestly weird. Seemingly run-of-the-mill individuals get everything that defines the whole, complete life, while exceptionals essentially end up as outliers - with neither the entities that define the normal life, not the embellishments that define the good life.