Friday, February 25, 2011

The royal meet-jack!!!

Hijacks and carjacks. What do you call a meeting where the agenda gets royally pulled offtrack? A meet-jack???? Hardly have I found a phenomenon more annoying than one where the agenda of a meeting you've called gets hijacked!

So, here is some background....

A certain task on hand needs a small group of not more than 5 people with variegated pasts to get together and dish out ideas on a common underlying topic. No, I am not talking about an AA meeting or a psychological roller coaster ride, but rather just an issue where the people in question have an opinion that counts more than mine (which is akin to a cow's opinion, mind you), owing largely to their rather intense experience in the thick of things. As someone I know would say, collectively, we'd have close to 100 years of work experience in that room and with the express intention of tapping into that immense treasure trove of gyaan, I guess I decided to get em all together for a 'brainstorming' session.

And what ensued just made me want to storm out of that place, with my brains screaming out in agony! One key takeaway though was that I managed to recognize and make a note of those signs that signal the royal meet-jack. At the end of the exercise though, I was surprised at the close alignment of what happened with key elements of an HBR article on conversations I'd recently read!

What happened : What happens when you get people steeped in loads of gyaan together? Each wants to peddle his gyaan as the next best thing since sliced bread! While assiduously pointing out that every other person's slice has layers and layers of mold on it. This vociferous defence and offence routine looks straight out of a quintessential war movie thanks to our apparent bellicose demeanor. Ok, so combative perhaps accounts for the offence, how exactly does it impact the defence, you ask? Well,defence because once the offence starts, the others begin to build strategies of defence. This played out in front of my eyes,with people speaking continuously, with one gentleman speaking and staring straight ahead as though he had blinkers on his eyes and maybe he believed that not making eye contact with others would also mean that he could blank out people in the room! So the combat, and the thwart story was part 1.

The result: The issue on hand was rather complex, with us having to discuss some key aspects of future strategy. But owing to the clash of the egos that was in progress the issue ended up looking like a second grade school debate contest! Every statement was made trying to second guess the other person's ulterior motive, half believeing that everyone out there was out to rule the world and decapitate anyone who dissented! No one wanted to stop and think that at the end of the day the discussion was happening in an attempt to achive a bigger goal. Somewhere the goal was lost in translation And in the ensuing mayhem, I was stuck with my notepad, bullet points under the heading 'agenda' and not a single strikethrough, blankly looking at the crossfire of words and thoughts, clearly realizing that this is anything but a discussion or a brainstorming session.

Salvage? : A feeble attempt at trying to get everyone back on track resulted in more noise, given that no one typically pays any attention to the words of someone a fraction of their age! Once the wars subsided, and everyone perhaps began to realize that warring words expended a lot of energy (the fact that lunch time was drawing near helped the calming of energies), everyone seemed to calm down, and suddenly before one could realize it, everyone had almost shut off! All that we managed to achieve was an abrupt reaffirming of what we already knew and we ended up convincing ourselves that a lot of key insights had indeed been gathered. Although for me, I realized that in front of my very eyes, I had just lost 3 valuable hours of my life!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

I like leeaving onnnnn a JET plane!

Take any usual service experience in modern India - getting a cell phone connection, traveling, a flight, a hair cut, anything. What are your typical reactions at the end of the service? I have always either ended up being angry or just plain indifferent! There are very few instances in modern day India, where you end up being genuinely happy after going through a 'service experience'. That, despite the fact that we are a service-driven economy, with everyone trying to differentiate themselves from the herd via their 'service-model'. So, when a happy ending comes along, you're tempted to talk about it! At least I am, or well I don't really need a reason to talk about anything anyway. But that is beside the point.

So, this has to do with a certain airline. And I know that someone upon reading this would be very happy, albeit for a completely different reason. That Jet Airways is very sweet to its flyers is known. But the fact that they've been sweet to me, despite my being a chronic offender, landing really late at the check-in counter, is additionally sweet. So, last year, I had the dubious honor of running to the boarding gates at an airport, flanked by 2 uniformed ground personnel of Jet Airways. I was appalled at my gross lack of exercise, when I noticed that those perfectly well groomed, prim and propah ladies on pointy high heels managed to go from the main airport terminal, down the escalator, into a connector train that sped on for a few minutes before depositing us in another building, and from thereon, up another escalator and a few more hundred meters really swiftly, without breaking into a sweat, while I could feel my ankle scream out in agony in just half that time despite my sneakers! And why was I involved in such an intense running exercise? Because a friend and I managed to check in our luggage after which we sat with a pizza and iced teas lamenting our fates oblivious to the fact that the departure terminal for our flight was in another building, and not just down a flight of stairs! But yet, despite not showing up in spite of the umpteenth last and final call, not once were we given a dirty look, and in fact after we boarded, we were told that there were empty seats at the back, where we could comfortably offload our jackets and cabin baggage and perhaps even put our feet up and sit comfortably! OK maybe not the feet up part, but the rest, yeah!

And now, this one was grander. My domestic flight yesterday was to leave at 10 past 8 and I landed at the check in counter at 10 minutes to 8. With a ton of luggage. The lady at the check in counter was quite firm in saying I couldn't get in, with my luggage and I pleaded, very sweetly. I was sincerely stuck in a terrible traffic snarl and I literally ran into the airport. And what made Jet even sweeter this time, was the personnel's almost immediate call to the baggage handling people to hold off the shut and lock down procedure of their baggage hold, and the extremely swift handling of my luggage and almost immediate transfer to the hold. Yes, I ran again, this time in slippers, and landed at the boarding gate at 8 PM sharp, just as that employee was about to write down my name to sound out the last and final call to Ms. Sindhu Subramaniam. In an almost Mission Impossible move, I jumped into the plane, and I thought I might become Agent Hunt, when I saw at least 4 more people behind me. I hurriedly sat down, and the flight, left exactly at 10 past 8, perfectly on schedule.

They say contrast is essential to appreciate one from the other. I have had the dubious honor (wonder how many dubious honors I've had) of being disallowed a check-in on a 5.30 AM flight because I landed at the check-in counter at 5:03 AM. No pleading, reasoning, begging, helped my case. The lady at that spicy airline refused to listen to me, or realize that a police security hold-up just at the mouth of the driveway to the airport delayed me by exactly 3 minutes! I had no luggage, I just needed to walk through. But I was told to shoo, and buy myself a new ticket. What good came out of this? I made me a new friend, another companion in my moment of penury, who had been similarly prevented from boarding!

So, of all my experiences, where I've had my luggage lost, broken, where I've been disallowed boarding on a spicy airline, or shown a dirty, grim expression, with no words when I asked for water on a silky airline, yesterday's gesture sure made me a believer and a huge fan..... till a gory experience do us apart!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Swindler's list

It's crazy to observe our extreme sense of adjustment to everything that happens around us in India. Being a Bambaiyya, I have grown up in an atmosphere of adjustment to everything - from adjusting to accommodate a fourth passenger on a train seat that can fit just 3 people, to adjusting to traffic snarls caused by snail-paced infrastructure development. One spends a good deal of time and effort fighting for the basics - electricity, water, transport, a house-maid, and almost everything else! And at the end of the exercise, you end up becoming a pro at adjustment. But extrapolating this sense of adjustment to a greater political and economic arena and expecting the average Indian to adjust to swindling behavior by a handful of crooks who choose to not just swindle the nation of a few crores and in some cases a few lac crores, but also to make the average taxpayer look absolutely foolish is perhaps stretching the 'thoda adjust please' concept a bit too far.

That's why, a new scam story hitting the papers each day is not just disgusting to me as an average Indian, but it's also extremely frustrating to know that while I and maybe half a billion other working people in my country are much too busy working, a handful of characterless and morally dead individuals choose to subvert the very meaning of the word law and turn every single public office into a viable money manufacturing machine! And each day, the stories get murkier. Long long ago, a supposed clean PM got embroiled in a scandal involving kickbacks on a defense deal. Then came a couple of huge stock market scams involving forgeries, and massive insider dealing. In the recent past, we've had scams in real estate, with benaami properties, nameless bank accounts, unverifiable customers swindling huge sums of money, nepotistic dealings by people in power - you name it, we have it and if we don't just wait for a bit!

And now, we have the massive 2G scam, wherein as a dirty, murky plot comes to the fore, one gets more and more disillusioned about the whole civil system as a whole! So we have the 2G spectrum airwaves to be used by telecom companies (demand side) sold the same by our government (supply). The Govt sells it dirt cheap to some unrecognizable players for peanuts. You think the Government has been cheated in the bargain, but as it turns out, it is just the taxpayer and the economy of the country that have been cheated. The spectrum sold by the govt for peanuts, finds buyers for over 10 times that price, amongst huge global players, begging the question why they were sold dirt cheap in the first place. And in this story, the main characters allegedly range from a ruffian Indian political party and all its cronies to one of the doyens of Indian industry, to countless babus in places of power.

And while the media has enough stories to fill reams and reams of paper, hog airwaves 24x7, one hopes that something would be done about the perpetrators of such dubious acts. Although, I do wonder, while staring in disgust at the blatant indecency of the whole mess, why must we believe that those, smart enough to conceptualize and pull off such a swindle, might just not be smart enough to buy their way out as well! After all, even a 0.01% of 1 lac 76000 crores can cover anyone's legal fees plus bribes for 7 generations!!!