Archive for November, 2010

Family and other animals

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010 November 23rd, 2010 Rrishi Raote

In my home live three humans, and perhaps two dozen other kinds of creatures visible to the unaided human eye.

As I read late into the night, the bedroom window, with yellow light spilling through the net, is the site of a spectacular drama. Different insects are drawn to the light depending on the season: the little flying annoyances which float in from Haryana (so I read somewhere) after the rains, nasty little black biting things the size of mustard seeds, and a variety of moths.

So along comes a lizard. Every night he (or she, I wonder?) takes up a position at the centre of the jali and waits for a tasty buzz. Every night he eats so much that I can see his tummy distended and filled up with black. Insatiable! Sometimes this lizard will slap tail or chin against the net to shake loose some bug, and then grab it, or will rush around to pick up mouthfuls from elsewhere in the buffet.

My lizard’s favourite is moths. They make him reckless. To get a moth he will leap off the net and land splat on wall or floor a good five feet away or more, to grab it before it flutters away. And woe betide any other lizard who seeks to challenge him for his territory. He stomps and bangs the window, and makes aggressive rushes towards the interloper. He hasn’t lost his perch yet.

But the window is a big, sliding one, so inevitably some of the buzzers and flappers slip in between the panels. On its way to the light a little flying annoyance might land on my finger, and then it will perch awhile before taking off with one hell of a kick. Their legs must be among the strongest of all species, given the power to weight ratio.

Then they rush toward the light — a bright fluorescent bulb — dance around it for a while, keel over in a dead faint and drift to the floor under my shoe shelf. Over there, throughout 2009, lived a lovely little black lizard, very skinny and shy, who would poke his nose out to see whether I was watching, and (when he thought I wasn’t) dash over to collect his prize. I was delighted with this chap. This year he’s gone.

In the morning, if I wake up earlier than normal and visit the toilet, I expect ants. Near the WC is an imperfectly sealed crack which leads to the shaft. Through it dash, in small numbers like scouts, tiny black ants who scurry around looking for food or a shortcut between shaft and doorjamb, or shaft and floor drain. Regretfully I kill them, because I don’t want them making free with my beloved bathroom, but they really are quite likeable creatures — businesslike, not warlike. I don’t think they have soldier variants, because I’ve never been bitten. When they come across the wreckage of one of their comrades, they put on a tremendous burst of speed and zigzag around the floor nearby. I wonder: is this because they’re busy releasing some panic pheromone, or because it’s harder to get killed if they dodge and weave? However: my slippers are large enough to get them.

Another bathroom creature: a mysterious but common little grey-brown fuzzy fly-like insect that lives around the bathroom sink. It obviously loves the damp, because it seems to be waterproof. It has a nicely incidental way of flying, nothing like the sly mosquito.

One morning I drove to office, and as I was getting out of the car — which had been parked in our damp and dusty basement during the night — I noticed a spider cocoon just hatching on the passenger seat. It was one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen: dozens of minuscule orange baby spiders, each floating at the end of a single filament of spider silk, a parachute. I left the window open a crack and pushed off happily. In the evening they were all gone.

Large, leggy and hairy spiders are a little threatening, but small ones are entertaining. If I’m lucky one day, a garden spider finds its way into our second-floor flat. They are beautiful compact little beasts with neat short legs, a striped back, and a habit of moving in short leaps. Tickly and cute.

But the spiders I see most often are the messy ones that hang dusty webs from the ceiling or in corners. Tsk. (Want to know a trick? Go close to one such web and then hum with lips closed but your upper and lower front teeth close together so they they vibrate against each other as you hum, yoga style — that frequency seems to match the one a spider feels when something lands in its net, so it will leap up and look around eagerly.)

We have lots of books, which we protect with neem leaves dried and pressed between the pages. But one cannot escape silverfish. In Dalhousie this August I shared my musty bed with big juicy silverfish — ours, thankfully, look leaner, dustier and hungrier, and live mostly among our old files and papers. I’d rather they chewed on our old income-tax files than the books. No wonder they look ill-fed.

Birds! The sparrows who lived beneath my window AC vanished two years ago, with every one of their fellows. Even the crows, such characterful individuals, are fewer. The kites look shabbier. The noisy yelling babblers visit only occasionally, like distant relatives. A woodpecker periodically harasses the palm tree outside my window, but I haven’t seen him for a while. Only the pigeons manage, though even they no longer look sleek. What is happening?

The dogs in the lane behind used to howl companionably at 1.30 am. It was a chorus, stretching for several streets. After the dogs came the cats, yowling competitively at about 2.30 am along the back wall. Now both those schedules have been thrown off. Sometimes the dogs howl at 2.30 and the cats don’t sing at all. Is it because the little trash dump behind is cleared more often, and by trucks?

Like Delhi’s weather our animal environment is also changing in strange ways. Inside the house, where conditions stay roughly the same, wildlife flourishes. Outdoors, it’s all a mess. What will happen in five years? Will we have more and more creatures wanting to join us indoors, and fewer and fewer to lift our hearts outside? At least the “pest”-control companies can look forward to new customers. It’s all very worrying.

A promotion? Or, a demotion?

Sunday, November 21st, 2010 November 21st, 2010 Praveen Bose

Everyone felt a great sense of loss when the boss had retired. When we were at a loss to understand something… absolutely anything… and were too lazy to look up… well.. on Google, our reference material(!) we only had to turn to him.

No matter how busy he was he would not hesitate to put his head up and clear our doubts or give us a backgrounder on a subject on which we need some information.

Alas, we had to learn to use the Internet as our refence material once he retired. But, the Internet is not always trustworthy and the communication is one way! So, even now we ensure we turn to him to clear many a doubt.  

Lately, we had a brainwave. Why not get his opinion as a subject expert on a subject in which he is extremely strong (there are too many of them though)? That could be incorporated into an article we would be writing. Wow!

Is that a way to show how much we miss him and how much we yearn to have discussions with him? Perhaps, it is so.

Reminds one of college days when some favourite teachers, who are well-informed and interesting and friendly, had students following them out of the class even after class.

After speaking to many an analyst over the past decade or so, one is left wondering if my ex-boss is being demoted by being called an analyst.

Magical Answers, Anyone!

Saturday, November 20th, 2010 November 20th, 2010 Lipi Mohapatra

Last week was one big roller coaster. Everywhere I looked–among friends, team members at office, or myself–we were all in some emotional cul-de-sac. A close friend of mine was heading for a break-up, another was afflicted with a serious health problem that had started affecting both her work and personal life. I was in a mess on the personal front and sulking.

What does one do when one is caught in an emotional trauma–reach for a friend, a guide, a book, a soulmate, God? How does one know what is the right thing to do?

We all fuss and talk about how people handle their personal lives which eventually affects their professional productivity. It amazes me how so much intellectual importance is given to “work–life” balance, yet at some point or the other we find ourselves in a catch-22 situation. No amount of burying your head in the sand or trying to deal with an emotional situation head-on helps.

Why compartmentalise life into “personal” and “professional”? Does one not affect and trespass the other at all time, and vice versa? Is there a clear demarcation that exists with respect to this, or are we just kidding ourselves when we do that? Is there someone out there who has really achieved that ‘balance’?

All this led me to think: what if there were a compulsory subject during our college studies called Life Management  (just like we have specialisations in finance, marketing, history or politics) to teach us a few key life lessons? After all, aren’t the leaders/managers of tomorrow supposed to be more emotionally ‘balanced’ and empathetic with a higher EQ score?

As I discussed this with some of the core members of my team, they all came up with the obvious question - Can life lessons be learnt? It is just that clichéd query – Are leaders born or made?

Work is a source of “unique opium”, said Francois Mauriac, Nobel Prize Winner, to overcome an emotional trauma. Yes, most of us agreed to this fact, though we all have our ways of tiding over a situation. There’s nothing called one-size-fits-all. When push comes to shove and we have to move ahead, you just have to move ahead. Period. That’s the cold reality. No amount of rhetoric will help.

Manshi (name changed on request), working in Mumbai, who experienced breach of trust w.r.t a friend at work, says to overcome the negativity, she had to quit her job. And that she didn’t have to rely on close friend/s or family to overcome the emotional stress. On the other hand, talking to acquaintances or ‘not so close’ friends helped her as “they don’t judge you”, she says.

Avinash Satapathy, an ex-captain of the Indian Army and currently managing his own consultancy services lives with his son Aman, aged seven and wife  Capt Madhusmita Patnaik who is a commander in a private airline. Avinash has ‘balanced’ it quite well as far as his own work, his wife’s work as a pilot and their kids life are concerned.

He feels that the feeling of “our” is very important to achieve this balance in case of a married couple. Avinash enjoys the experience of taking care of his son Aman whenever his wife is flying. He adds that she is not in some office work or typical job. We’r all (including Aman) taking extreme pride in supporting what she is doing. It’s challenging, difficult and trendsetting.

And my answer to my team member who is dealing with his emotional trauma remains the same – there is no magical answer. Yet we all need to deal with it and find our own answers. Somehow!

Readers of this blog are encouraged to share their experiences and help the lost souls dealing with their concerns/confusions in life.

The author is Director, IILM – Business School, Mathura Road, New Delhi

Just another brick in the wall

Thursday, November 18th, 2010 November 18th, 2010 Shibangi DasShibangi Das

The predictability of human interactions has become a bane for all those who seek excitement in meeting new people. I met someone recently for a formal interaction and there was an uncomfortable and overbearing sense of deja vu hanging in the air. The person was new and so was the ambience, but the conversation was extraordinarily drab. Talk of aspirations and personal or professional five-year goals only worsened my state of restlessness. I desperately needed a witty remark or a clever repartee to bring me back from the dead.

Where is the spontaneity now? Where is the naturalness gone? Why are we afraid to be different? How can we say we are unique when all we are doing is becoming someone who cannot be differentiated from another in a world teeming with a billion other you’s? Even our normal conversations are generously peppered with cliches and the chosen ten-fifteen words that form our vocabulary - “Awesome. Cool. Great. Cute.” We are becoming more unoriginal than ever. That’s all we can choose from to exclaim our excitement.

All of us seem to be rolling off the metaphorical conveyor belt of a mass production unit; we talk alike, dress alike, behave alike and sadly, even have begun to think alike. Our education system, right from the primary level doesn’t allow for exploration of concepts with an open mind. We are more used to the system of learning by rote and agreeing with whatever is told to us. We have grown so conditioned to this type of learning that now we rely on ready sources to tell us also how to act and react to questions, people and situations. We try to elicit responses of a certain kind, and in trying to be manipulative, we end up being predictable fools.

Consider this - you have a job interview to go to. You almost certainly know what kind of questions to expect - “What are your aspirations in life? Where do you see yourself five years from now? What are your strengths and weaknesses? Who is your idol?” and then some more. While these are perfectly valid questions, they also have become so commonplace, that  everyone has a well-rehearsed and well-thought-out answer to these well before the interview is even scheduled.

The mantra now is to create the impression that you are the best among the lot of rats squiggling their way to the “finish” line. Look around and you will see advertisements of courses that will help you crack the ultimate job interview, of counsellors who claim to rock your dating life, of personality development courses that help you make friends and enrich your social life, self help books to help you pitch your sales in the perfect manner and workshops to let you negotiate better business deals. We are all unaware, but eager participants in the rat race.

Ironically, having people speak, dress and behave similarly must make the process of evaluating people a more objective and easier task. Or does it?

It is a little alarming to realise how much of our behaviour is conditioned by these profit-making ventures. More alarming is the fact that while we are learning social etiquette, public speaking and acquiring charm and confidence, we have nothing left of our own that we can proudly stake a claim on; not even our impulses which are smartly conditioned to do the “right” thing at the “right” time. Political correctness rules. I do not disagree with the need to be smart and well-mannered. I have my problems with the umpteen replicas all around me.

We are all ultimately becoming like a set of actors rehearsing our lines and blurting them out at the opportune moment  What questions should the interviewer ask? How should the job applicant respond to it? What are the keywords, the catch phrases that slot you perfectly in an organisation’s recruitment database?

If you describe yourself as “dynamic young professional seeking to enhance his competencies in a reputed organisation of entrepreneurial culture while contributing to its multidimensional growth… (and all that blah!),” save it. All in all you’re just another brick in the wall.

The much hated B-word

Monday, November 15th, 2010 November 15th, 2010 J Jagannath

After watching The Social Network, a middling biopic (sort of) of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, I thought the eight most hated words in English are: “I am a businessman and I am human”. Right from the first shot, Jesse Eisenberg (Zuckerberg) is portrayed as a typical nerdy Harvard kid, who has an all-consuming passion for excellence at the expense of human relations.

Let’s admit it, we love facile sinkholes. As soon as someone tells his profession (gynecologist or surfer or concert pianist), our mind conjures some images ‘associated’ with it. When someone says he is a businessman, we immediately think of him as an arch manipulator, mean, cold, maximising profit is the only driving force of his life, showy to the extent of irritating (Exhibit A: Mukesh Ambani’s Antilia). Hollywood being the most-obliging industry, Eisenberg’s character ticks off all these boxes. He is dismissive of his girlfriend in the first scene and those tics are to be seen throughout.

“If you could have, you would have created Facebook,” says Zuckerberg derisively to The Winklevoss Twins and Divya Narendra, the trio who accuse Zuckerberg of stealing their idea. This Aguirre-kind of smugness is really misplaced and it becomes apparent when you read about the real Zuckerberg. In reality, Zuckerberg is a Mammon devotee (who isn’t?) but his personal traits are certainly not so abhorrent to portray him as a moustache-twirling villain. While David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin have created a masterful drama, they also end up doing a great disservice to the business fraternity.

Bill Gates donated $28 billion for charity and Google’s founders (Larry Page and Sergei Brin) are going beyond the realms of search engine. Google just invested $5 billion in wind energy and had also recently brought out a self-driven car prototype. All of this is crammed onto inside pages and page one material is this: When Apple ‘harassed’ a tech blogger of posting  the pictures of iPhone 4 prior to it hitting the market, there was a virtual outrage. If law of averages is taken into account, at least three-fourth of those posting comments will have an iPod. While we discount our propensity for hypocrisy, we expect businessmen to stick to a strong moral ethic.

If there is a poster boy for this depraved image of a businessman, it has to be Gordon Gekko (played with seductive relish by Michael Douglas) in Wall Street. His ‘greed is good” speech in the 1987 cult classic has apparently inspired lot of kids to end up being one of those ‘fat cats’ on Wall Street. While Oliver Stone raked in the moolah with a half-decent movie that was lapped up by the lowest common denominator as 80s’ answer to Citizen Kane, the damage was irreparable. When the sequel (Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps) released a couple of months ago, the image of Gekko was still resonant. The brick-size phone might have been replaced by a sleeker one but the sneer on Gekko’s face didn’t budge.

While the sequel was a snore-fest I had bigger problems with the film. Oliver Stone nails a Goldman Sachs-like investment bank to the wall but lets off the homeowners, whose bottomless appetite for that second and third home led to the recession, too easily. Oliver Stone had to keep that myth of slimy businessmen alive, after all.

PS: Eisenberg’s lawyer tells him in the movie’s final scene that only a ‘demon’ could have created something like Facebook. Now, really!

Trapped in a B(r)and

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010 November 9th, 2010 Shibangi DasShibangi Das

Having lived in a number of cities across India, I have always enjoyed observing the way consumerism has swamped our country and the different ways in which it has made people aware of the kitschy brands flooding our markets. While liberalisation of the economy has put some of the best and most fashionable things in the world right within our reach, most of us are yet to achieve that level of sophistication in being able to carry a brand off on our self. But before I am subjected to brickbats for making such generalised statements, I must state and you must agree that the propensity of people to flash their affluence and style quotient with their embossed outfits and other paraphernalia differs from city to city.

In a very hilariously smart, but maybe overused, example of the law of science “light travels faster than sound”, I have seen my first impressions of far too many well-dressed-in-expensive-branded-clothes people carrying over the top accessories garishly flashing their logos and labels, going kaput after they opened their mouths to start speaking. They may have all the money in the world, but their awareness quotient is so alarmingly low that it makes me feel severely geeky in a nice and proud way.

During an interaction at a wedding with one such man in his mid-twenties he kept referring to his Armani suit that he (also made a point to drop) had bought for a jaw-dropping amount of money. The cheek inside me decided to have some fun and I asked this man very innocently the full name of the designer again. “Emporio Armani,” came the instant reply. I choked on the sherbet I was sipping and after excusing myself rushed to the other corner of the hall to be able to laugh at his answer. It reeked of his ignorance and misplaced pride in being so filthy rich.

Another time, at another wedding, a sari I wore was admired by many. It was a pretty sari no doubt, but bought from a small store in a popular market in a modest city. I was constantly asked if it was Ritu Kumar, or Neeta Lulla or even Satya Paul. The look of horror on each of their faces as I repeated the name of a never-heard-before, non-descript store kept me grinning. During such moments my subtly sarcastic alter ego takes immense pleasure in giving these people a good jolt.

It is not that I am anti-brands. I like them too. They are pretty, they are quality, they do make me feel nice and pampered, but they are overrated and irrationally expensive too. I have seen men and women spend more than they can afford to sport brands, only because they feel they are worth what they wear. As if what is on them is a clear foolproof indicator of what’s within. So, for a rich dad’s girl decorated with Tifanny, Cartier, Valentino, Prada, Chanel and Jimmy Choo and out for a ride in her equally spruced up boyfriend’s swanky Rolls Royce, to roll down the car window and buy a five rupees worth rose to help the little flower girl earn enough for a square meal is “oh so downmarket!” (complete with the scrunched up nose). She’d rather have Orchids and Tulips shipped from abroad. She wouldn’t be caught dead with that pretty rose which unfortunately doesn’t have a brand name tagged to it.

I am also not saying that all well-to-do people who are afflicted with brand fever are mean and uncaring towards the less fortunate. There are many who think nothing of spending their hard-earned and easily-inherited money for the greater good of society. But to see this huge young population of India, that is considered to be such an asset to our country getting blinded by the bling of Guess, Louis Vuitton, Burberry and Aldo and doing just that (getting blinded) is somewhat depressing. The fascination for fashion labels is fast overtaking simplicity and common sense, which are more useful any day. Why can’t we flaunt intelligence, mental brilliance and an affable charm with as much elan?

Obama is Coming, Obama is Coming…

Monday, November 1st, 2010 November 1st, 2010 Praveen Bose

Obama is coming. Everybody’s jumping… From New Delhi to Bangalore.

But, would the Nobel Peace Prize winner be coming to promote peace in the region? Obama is coming to sell the ultimate boy’s toys. It’s the election year, and Democrats are set for a beating, thanks to the economy that is struggling even now. Now, we got sere what he will scare us about.
The number of jobs created in the US, in their thousands, will help add a few thousand jobs to the struggling US economy. If he manages to strike a deal, he would be able to hold the Republicans at bay even when they may be in control over the Senate and House of Reps.
Perhaps he would be offering concessions and enticing us with a few low hanging fruits in return for helping create jobs in the US. The restriction placed on outsourcing may be loosened a wee bit to entice Indians into signing on the dotted line for buying the war machines for billions. A few 1,000 Indians may be allowed to work in the US on H1B visas.
Remember when Bill Clinton came calling and all over were falling over each other to catch a glimpse of the then US President. Perhaps we will see another spectacle.
Having won the Nobel Peace Prize, he might perhaps like to ensure that his reputation as a ‘peaceful man’ stays intact. So, we may get the aircraft whose weapons cannot be fired by war-mongerers (like us). But, only under the orders of the White House, perhaps. So, if the US President is asleep… we wait for him to wake up so that we could get his orders to allow us to fire the weapon when the need might arise.
The $10 billion at stake on the combat aircraft could do some good to the $12 trillion economy by creating a few jobs.

Perhaps our political class will consider bending over backwards to help the rich country with a poverty rate of over 14%. Hope they have been doing the Ushtrasana to help develop a flexible-enough back.