Saturday, July 09, 2016

Change in psyche - technology analyst to internal auditor

One of the big changes in my professional life happened on the first of July this year, when I changed from being a technology analyst to an internal auditor. It is a change that I imagined would happen at some point in my life and I am happy that it has happened. But, what I underestimated (in a positive way) was how my thinking could change, once my work profile changed. 

For starters, I have a background of a decade and a half looking at the external market as an industry analyst. Suddenly, I have the wonderful opportunity to do the exact opposite i.e. work as an internal auditor and look at the internal perspectives within a company. That is a radical shift and in fact needs an altogether different approach and thinking. As opposed to finding market opportunities earlier, I now need to think about how to improve things internally. Or, from looking at how a company can maximise an industry trend in my earlier job, to now looking at minimising risks. 

The opportunity to be an internal auditor is unique. It is one of those unique professions that provides an in-depth perspective into every aspect of a business and interface with executive management. The role, based on what I have understood in a week, is not only dramatically powerful but also incredibly useful to a company's inner workings. There is so much to learn, there is so much that one does not know in a new profession. And that's why I believe that my thinking is already changing, as I see the kinds of possibilities in this new profession. 

Sure, I am going to be challenged severely by veterans in internal audit. I am not the first to enter this profession, nor the last. But, the sheer challenge of learning something new, or of proving to myself that I can get out of my comfort zone and do something as well as I possibly can, is one of the most exhilarating professional feelings that I have experienced in a while.

In the last one week, I have learnt to see how my previous job is a wonderful starting point for this new job. To begin with, one has to understand the market realities before investigating how the company in question can improve. So, I have a solid starting point. And from that point on, as an internal auditor, I get to dig deep into various aspects of the internal workings of the company. 

I could not ask for a better combination than this to change my thinking. It's different, it’s a natural transition from external to internal roles, and hopefully provides a well-rounded perspective of both external and internal business conditions in a few years. 

It is amazing how thinking can change within 1 week of a new job, nay, a new profession in this case. Analyst to auditor may seem very radical at most times, but it makes far more sense to me now than it did a few years ago. Look forward to the journey!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

The beauty of learning about the Bengali life

I have been lucky to meet, befriend and get to know a bit about the Bengali way of life. Over time, I have made some truly fascinating friends from the great city of Kolkata (prefer calling it Calcutta). Though I have had Bengali friends since school, it was only when I left home for my MBA and later in my working life that I got to know a lot about Bengalis. They are one of the most interesting creed of people that I have ever known. 

My first taste of Bengal was back in school at the famous K.C.Das restaurant in Bangalore. I still remember the few evenings when my dad used to bring back a pot full of rasagolla (I later on learnt that it is roshogolla!). Gradually, I picked up the other wonderful savouries that the Bengali had to offer, for desserts - mishti dohi being an all-time favourite. But, my interesting association with Bengalis went far beyond food. I got to meet some really interesting people from that part of the country.

The one thing that has stood out for me, always, is the sheer amount of time that Bengalis seem to have in their lives. I have never understood it, but, they just seem to have that much more time for everything in life. Time to study more. Time to discuss a topic more. Time to admire the charm of nature, a bit more. Time to immerse oneself into the depths of a subject. Time to remember the famous verses of a Tagore. Time to watch the timeless classics of Satyajit Ray, starting with Pather Panchali. Time to start talking about a subject in the evening and still talk about it well after dinner. It’s amazing, how they just seem to have that extra bit of time, compared to others. Maybe, I am biased, but that really has been my standout experience in all of my interactions with them.

The other unique thing about every Bengali that I have befriended, is their eyebrow. It is thick, period. And, all of them, without exception have thick eyebrows. Is it because of the amount of fish they eat? Or, is it because of anything else that they do, which others don't? The size of their eyebrows becomes even most pronounced when a brow is raised, or if there is a quizzical look, or if enter into a debate with you. That's the first thing that I observe about their facade.

Talking of facades, their women are so good-looking. Be it at C.R. Park in Delhi, or Park Street in Calcutta, or the Bengali community in my lovely city Bangalore, all the women that I have ever befriended just look stunning. Added to that is their intellectual horsepower, which makes it an even more engaging proposition. I think, that really seals the issue of the Bengali charm - the sheer combination of intellect combined with beauty. Over time, I have reached the conclusion that the Bengali woman knows that she is very, very good-looking and hence perhaps goes out of her way to look good.  

There are other things about the Bengali life that I have loved. The interiors of their houses are so tastefully done. There is always place for a classy gramophone, or a violin, or a guitar, or sitar. Most of them will ensure that there is some form of a library, or at least a bookcase to store/showcase some of the choicest books written in the history of mankind. Not to mention, the Bengali choice of colours - quite breathtakingly unique. There is always a brush of one colour interspersed with the other. For example, the sofa may be brown or purple, while the gramophone sitting alongside it will be shining golden with a Tagore record player soothing an audience on any given evening. 

Tagore reminds me of the other thing that I truly cherish about Bengalis, their interest and choice of music. It is quite amazing how they manage to learn that much about music of different kinds and also manage to build a collection based on their individual tastes. After all, it was the Bengali community that gave us a timeless legend called Kishore Kumar, who I am a very, very big fan of. A talent like no other, and a man who has a song for me, raised in the south of India, for every mood and occasion or situation of life. Genius!

Of course, in all my interactions with my wonderful Bengali friends, I have hardly heard them mention about a certain Sourav Ganguly or about the closely related priceless jewel, the Eden Gardens. That pride with them is a given, though, not all of them have talked to me about it. I experienced the sheer passion for these two truly iconic symbols of Bengal in 2008, when I visited Calcutta for the first time. The acres and acres of the cricketing maidans and the quality and competitiveness of club cricket there was an eye-opener. I had only heard about English county cricket, or at best, Mumbai league cricket being that competitive. But, I saw true passion for sport on the maidans of Calcutta. Those places are so well-maintained too. And for a person like me, having grown up in the south of India where information technology rules, I found it fascinating to see a universal adulation of that great ex-cricket captain of India and sport overall. He really is the prized sporting possession of Calcutta, and indeed, all of Bengal. It is understandable why. That man showed the entire country what it means to be aggressive - a trait that you generally would not associate with most Bengalis. 

Few things in Calcutta are as iconic as their famous yellow Ambassador taxis. It was an experience of a life for me to travel nearly 30 kilometers in one of those iconic vehicles during my trip to Calcutta in 2008. The vehicle has its own speed of movement, the drivers seem to enjoy owning one of Calcutta's pride, and there is always music playing in these vehicles. The driver can also be an engaging conversationalist. And the minute he realises that you are not local, he will start showing you Calcutta's famous landmarks. You needn't be a formal tourist to see that city. A normal taxi ride will do.

All in all, I have loved the Bengalis. Their celebration of the Durga Puja is a celebration like no other. But, my only grouse is, Bengalis don't easily seem to understand vegetarian, except a few. I was lucky with vegetarian food just once when two absolutely lovely Bengali girls from work, were kind enough to host me and made specific vegetarian food for me. However, I did not find vegetarian food easily when I visited Calcutta. Thank god, I knew about mishti dohi and roshogolla, before I landed there!

To all the lovely Bengali friends that I have, I just want to say one thing. Your culture and way of life has fascinated me for as long as I can remember. And I just love spending the time I did with you. As much as I like learning about new things and meeting new people, the charm of an evening spent with a Bengali friend is something to treasure. Like I said earlier, their taste, intellect and ability to hold a conversation, not to mention their good looks (not that it’s essential, but helps), has provided some terrific memories of terrific conversations. I can now say that I do know a few things more than roshogolla and mishti dohi...!

Friday, October 09, 2015

Professionals need to be good at professional networking

One of the most significant things that I have seen grow and quite literally go through the roof in the last few years, is the power of networking. It has grown manifold from its primitive form of casual conversations or its variants in the initial part of my career, to newer dimensions that were unthinkable earlier. 

People call networking different things or use different places to network such as coffee corners, Friday evening meet-ups, after hour parties, like-minded clubs, golf courses, alumni groups, or online (think LinkedIn). Networking is almost expected these days. But, the crux of networking is to put your name out there and be known for what you are and what you are good at. It’s a massive opportunity to build one's own brand and unique identity. 

The form of networking that is prevalent these days is well-suited to a human form of what I studied about products and services in MBA under the chapter 'branding' during my marketing class. Specifically, brand recall. If you are known by the people who matter, and have your name out there at the right place with the right people, the chances are that you will get your opportunities at the right time.

Nowadays, professionally selling oneself in a social setting seems to be a very powerful thing to engage in. The art of holding a drink correctly in the right hand, or using the semi-formal set up of being dressed in a coat without a tie and having casual conversations with the right people in a social setting, or talking about cricket and other things with people who matter, are way too common. I even know a person who does not drink or smoke, but goes to every major pub in India and meets people from all walks of life and discusses music with them. He is reasonably well-known and some of us were lucky to get free entries into some of the pubs he visited - completely due to his goodwill and grandstanding network with the pub owners! Now, this has nothing to do with professional networking, but, those are the kinds of newer dimensions of networking that I was referring to earlier.

Not to forget, all the time professional networkers are searching for the opportune time to present themselves and their skills. It does not come naturally to many people, but I have seen the attempt to be noticed in many a setting and it is amazing how many people try to be natural about it. Nothing wrong with that. But, I have always believed that one needs to be fundamentally good at something and have the ability to add value. That is the core. Networking has magnified the impact of getting dream roles by perfecting the art of casual conversation interspersed with serious professional interests. 

I actually even attended a session by the famous Indian entrepreneur-cum-socialite, Suhel Seth, as a part of a book launch a few years ago. After he launched the book, he only talked about how networking has helped him grow in his career. Agreed, he said that he had always been a brilliant debater since his school days, but those core skills along with his networking skills enabled him to make a name for himself in the Indian media.

One of the most simplistic forms of networking that I experienced a few years back, was when we had to take a good 3 months before deciding to hire somebody in our team. Following his interview (during those 3 months), that prospective candidate sent us emails which had industry reports that had content relevant to our work. Further, he also emailed us some specific market intelligence from publicly available sources and contextualised them a bit, for us (based on his judgment of the role, from his interview experience). That was a sure form of networking, long before he got the job. Of course, he got the job not only because he cleared the interviews, but very clearly, somebody somewhere noticed him even after the interviews. That is brand recall for sure (even though we were looking at other candidates).

Not for a moment am I suggesting that networking is a sure shot way of reaching great heights in a career. Absolutely not. One has to be good at something and deliver, nurture and grow the value of those primary skills in order for employers to continue to be bullish about one's credentials. To that extent, networking, without an inherent core, is never good enough. People will be found out, as networking can only get people a foot in the door. As I have heard in interviews with iconic cricketers', talent can only get you through for the first couple of years. After that, it is purely performance and hard work. It does appear that this logic is true for professional networking too i.e. without being good at something, and getting through via networking is a short-term solution in career management. It is advisable to become good at something or identify what one is naturally good at, and then go about networking with that core identity/skill.

Of course, being good at something and not letting people know about it i.e. without networking, seems to be incomplete, or even inadequate at times. We do live in a competitive world, after all.

Lastly, I am convinced that networking as a skill needs to be taught in leading business schools of the world, because, when graduates enter the business world and start scaling the corporate ladder, this is a skill that they end up having to learn on the job. Why not pre-empt it and teach them those real-world, necessary skills? But, never forget to teach them the core i.e. make them good at their areas of expertise - be it finance, operations, marketing, supply chain or strategy or any other stream of academic endeavour in a business environment (which is what I am exposed to). 

I wonder how I will view professional networking at the end of my career (still some years away!). Should be interesting to see how this skill evolves, in times to come.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Setbacks and learning are two sides of the same coin


For as long as I can remember, I used to hate setbacks in life. It used to make me wonder as to why God can be so unkind to human beings who mean well and wish to improve their lives. I used to literally go through extreme feelings of 'why me?', or, 'what did I do to deserve this?' And I had the exact same emotions and thoughts when bad things happened to people near and dear to me. 

Never did I think that setbacks are actually life's best companion to improve life, if combined with learning. Read on.

Some of the biggest mistakes that we make, especially when we are younger, is to consider failure or setbacks as the end of life. There have been umpteen times when I have gone into extreme depression or done aimless soul-searching, without always finding an answer to the failure that I was facing. That was mistake number 1 i.e. thinking of the setback in isolation. 

The other big mistake that one tends to make, is this world of constant comparison. It is the single most self-destructing characteristic for anybody's human psyche. That was mistake number 2, which is one's greatest enemy. We just forget that the capabilities of human beings differ, so do resources, or more importantly, discipline.

There are other wrong ways in dealing with setbacks in life. One, to think that it is the end of the world. Two, to find it hard to see a way out. Three, to just completely fail to consider alternatives that may be feasible. Four, the sheer unwillingness to consult closest comrades who may play a key role in advising you. Five, the inability to learn from the situation. And all this eventually resulting in just getting stuck. It is not easy. I am the last person to suggest that getting out of a mess in life is easy. One is battling life's practicality, along with one's own psyche. It's hard, really hard.

Over time, I have come to realise that the fundamental thing in tackling any setback in anybody's life, is in approach. While I don't know everybody in this world, I can definitely speak for myself. The biggest change in my mindset came during the years 2004-2010 (and occasionally after that), when I had to emerge and evolve from a personal catastrophe in my life (those who know me closely enough, know what I am referring to). During that phase, I really did think that it was the end of the world and I failed to think of things to consider, evaluate and diagnose things my own good. Life did seem unfair at that time. Life most certainly did seem unforgiving too. The world looked like it was the worst place to be in.

The big thing that I eventually came out with is that setbacks, personal disasters and failures have to be treated with less emotion (you can't avoid it), and more objectivity. It is easier said than done. And it is extremely hard for anybody who tends to be hard on oneself, as I usually am with myself. But, the key is to learn and learn fast. Time and tide wait for noone, as the saying goes. That is even more relevant in the context of self-healing. And the one thing I have learnt over time is that setbacks without applying the learning element, is a sure way to continue being in distress and pain. 

If we learn quickly from our mistakes, find a way not to repeat them and stop feeling inadequate about ourselves, just because we did something wrong or something really 'not-so-great' happened to us, we can rebuild. The degree of the impact of a setback/failure certainly varies from person to person and it is something that we cannot control. But, what we do control, is our approach to a setback. The ability to apply learning to a setback is in our control. The ability to learn and evaluate why something went wrong and what one should do to not to repeat that mistake (especially, if its something that could have been avoided) are the key things. Its like batting in cricket - if you get out to wild shots outside the off stump, and practice to leave the ball from the next match, you will reduce your chances of getting out. I suppose, that may seem too simplistic an example, but, it really is applicable to most of our lives.

Look at the number of initiatives in the world that are available to us these days to tackle failures/setbacks in life. We have mentors in most multi-national companies these days. We have self-help portals. Business schools teach students about emotional quotient in the corporate world. Psychologists are in various interview panels while hiring senior level candidates, these days. The Australian army, for example, does not recruit people for key battles/positions, if the candidate has not faced a severe failure/setback in life. Their contention is, if the person has not faced failure, he will not know what to do when he sees missiles coming at him in the battlefield. In the modern age, there are NGOs that help people tackle depression. Self-help groups are on the increase, right around the world. The subject, moral science in school, sadly continues to be treated with contempt. Perhaps, that is the one class that should be made mandatory in school. 

All this, to me, just points to one thing. Failure/setbacks, considered in isolation without introspection/learning, are irrelevant and meaningless. And having so many avenues these days to tackle setbacks just means one thing. We need help. But, to help these various fora to help us, we can start within us by helping ourselves first. There is no point in self-pitying anymore. The world and nobody has time for that. 

All that I mention so far, is historical. If I have to extend the syndrome of tackling failures in life to future generations, here's my take.

The modern day teenagers dare to dream and dream big. They do not understand or know the meaning of failure. The fact that something is not possible, does not resonate with them. That is the mindset of the modern era i.e. these kids of the digital age who are ready to take the world on. Nothing wrong with that. It is credit to the generation that the world has managed to build over the last 25-30 years - of dreaming big and fufilling one's deepest desires. 

But, I am equally convinced, however, that it is this new generation that needs to be taught the ability to handle failure. I will never hope or want anybody from the generation-next to fail (or anybody for that matter). But, I really do think, that this generation-next is the most vulnerable. They need to be taught the mechanisms to handle failure. 

Be it now or the year 2050 or 2100, man will progress and create means to build a better world. Current and future generations will continue to 'innovate and invest' in their ideas to create a world far different (and hopefully better!) from what mankind has seen till date. But, the other 'i' is always not as directly visible as the first two 'i's I mentioned above. And that is, 'introspection'. 

I am not trying to paint a sad picture of the future world, but only trying to illustrate why introspection and learning from failures in the future will be even more critical than it has been in the past. The challenges of the future are likely to be the types that we may have not even thought possible. That makes it even more critical to do all three things at once - dream big and execute on those dreams, generate ideas for the betterment of the world rather than just compete, and introspect from failures.

Perhaps, Thomas Alva Edison said it best, years ago, "I have not failed 10,000 times. I have found 10,000 ways of not doing it and just need 1 way to make the electric bulb'. If that is not introspection/learning from failures, I don't know what else is. History is full of such great people with such great failures. But, it is what they did with those failures that made them great.

I am convinced, failures/setbacks and learning, are two sides of the same coin.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Why some things are unique to America - or so, they claim!


Over the years, much has been touted about the great American dream. The country has been positioned so aggressively as the only place on the planet where people can live their dreams. It has rightfully been coined the land of opportunities. And so on.

Having visited this country over the last decade on short trips, and having lived here for a little over 6 months, I have some observations. 

There is no doubt that the U.S. has enabled and created life-changing experiences for people and generated opportunities for people to realise their dreams. Technology-driven innovation, futuristic thinking, incredible success of a capitalist model, an economy grounded on people's willingness and ability to take risks have all contributed to this country becoming the world's number 1 economy. 

The university system here of applying thought to various disciplines, rather than learn by rote, has been a singular differential from the rest of the world (that is more prone to churn out degrees, than invoke learning - perhaps arguable, but let's take that to be the case for the moment).

What is even more interesting is the phrase, 'when Wall Street sneezes, the rest of the world catches a cold'. As much of an exaggeration as that may be, the fact that global markets look at the US indices for direction, in addition to the global standard of the U.S. dollar and its direction, have been other major influences of this country on the world. The largest companies in the world want to come here, invest and grow. The most ambitious of entrepreneurs do not believe that they have made it, unless they crack the code on the U.S. market.

Think about other things too. A casual statement such as, 'I am in the States', is assumed to refer to the United States, when it never is specified to be that way. That is the kind of universal domination of this country on the planet. They have managed to brand, market themselves very well, and those factors, along with the American ability to import talent and use it to their advantage has been nothing short of revolutionary.

But in all my travels here, there is the other element of life in America that has caught my attention too. The fact that not knowing your neighbour well, even if you live here all your life, is common. Assuming that the American way is the way in the rest of the world is a given, for most locals (unless they have travelled the earth). The general knowledge of the average Joe is incredibly poor - most people do not tend to do well in math and science here. 

There are a few zillion opposites here that I have never ceased to make me wonder, why it is so unique here. Take these cases of how the way of life in the U.S. is assumed to be the case in the rest of the world:
  1. There is the stupid assumption that the minute people from another country walk through the turnstiles of the immigration counter and reach a car, they should know how to drive here. What the locals conveniently forget is there are other driving rules in other countries, and that every country in the world does not have a GPS to follow. Plus, people in other countries do tend to drive on the other side of the road.
  2. Electric switch - In most of Asia at least (that's what I am familiar with), the electric switch is pushed down to put on the light, and pushed up to switch off. Here in the U.S., it is the opposite - and that is assumed to be known!
  3. If you look at financial statements here, the assets are on the left of the page and the liabilities are on the right. The income is on the left, and the expenses are on the right. That is the exact opposite of how financial statements are done in most countries that follow the British system of accounting
  4. Drinking water - it is so common for people to bend and drink water from a tap here. How very inconvenient that is! In most other countries, one normally has a glass right next to drinking water - at least in the standardised places such as an office or an airport. Not in the U.S. though.
  5. Water fountain vs fountain - I will never forget this one! When I went to Central Park in New York City last month, I asked a local for directions to the place where the large fountain (that was shown in the YouTube videos) was. The person pointed me in one direction and I followed that path. I never found any fountain there, but only tap water. That's when I learnt, that I am supposed to say water fountain, so that I get to see the actual scenic fountain that I was looking for. Merely saying fountain is interpreted here as the fountain that emits drinking water!
  6. The expression 'schedule' is pronounced as "shed-dule", in at least 7 countries that I know (U.K., Ireland, Canada, Australia, India, Sri Lanka, Singapore etc). Why is this word pronounced as "sked-dule" in the U.S.?
  7. The electric socket here is 2-pin. In most of the other countries, it is 3-pin. I have always wondered why. The power is 110-watts. In Asia and Europe, its 220-watts. I wonder why, even more.
  8. The driving experience in America is certainly wonderful, with fantastic roads and freeways, all under the watchful eyes of the law enforcement agencies. But, one does tend to feel sleepy while driving here (have checked with many people), as there are no traffic jams or people honking. Now, the way to save yourself from feeling sleepy while driving here, is to drink coffee. How unique is that? Isn't feeling sleepy more dangerous that navigating insane traffic?
  9. Levels in a building - this has to rank as one of the most amusing differences here. When you enter a building, the ground floor is called first level, and the first floor is called the second level, and the second floor is the third level. How can anyone coming from any other part of the world ever know that? My first day in this office, about 6 months back, made me realise this the hard way, when I went to the wrong floor (er, level!).

There are other things in the U.S. that I have also found uniquely different. Why is it that anything that happens here is considered global? For instance, how can any ranking here be considered global? The Fortune 500 ranks U.S. companies that are headquartered in the U.S., and who operate in the U.S. and have their financial statements filed in the U.S. Yet, this ranking is considered as a global ranking. While I understand the global impact of these companies, it's quite illogical to assume that these are the only top 500 companies on the planet (to me, at least).

Or, for that matter, as an old friend in Asia told me, 'if you study in the U.S., do it in the best universities. Don't do in the 'most-famous' place in a neighbourhood, as it is not known elsewhere. The Americans have a way of thinking that their 'local' world, is equal to the world!'

For all the advancement and technology in the U.S. I continue to be staggered by the number of Americans who have not seen most parts of their own country. Ok, I just got here in my life and am subject to the immigration laws. So, it makes sense to see different places whilst I am here. But, many Americans that I have spoken to, have not seen the Niagara Falls, or the Grand Canyon etc. It is even more common for people in one coast of the country, not to have seen the other coast. Going to New York City, even for the locals here, is that great big dream in life and trying to make it big. The other option is the Silicon Valley. And between these two extremes, there is only Chicago, or the mid-west, which even the Americans refer to as 'fly-past' zone (fly from the east to the west coast and back).

Retiring in Florida is the most common trend in the U.S. Clearly, the tax breaks and lower cost of living are the star attractions. Which only lends itself to the theory that this country, for all its advancements, is a very, very, very expensive place to live in. Especially, in the big cities, where most of the jobs are and where most of the people congregate. Yet, for all the time that people work in these big cities, many of them are not able to travel around and see their own country. I suppose that could be true in other countries too, but, it is something of a surprise for locals here not to have seen many places in their life (in the context of the supreme purchasing power in this part of the world).

Perhaps, all this is best epitomised in what two people who are born and raised here, told me. One said, 'Americans don't care' and the second person told me,  'this is a very selfish bunch of people'.

I guess it's best to take the best out of everything in life, wherever we may be.

Friday, August 14, 2015

My first 15th August outside India


This is the first time in my life that I am not in India on our Independence Day. This is the first time that I am not driving around my favourite city, Bangalore, seeing the festivities of the national celebration reaching the last mile. This is the first time in my life that I am not buying the Indian national flag and keeping it proudly on the dashboard of my car, and then placing it on my desk at home, upon arrival. I miss home. Genuinely do.

Come to think of it, I have been out of the country for a mere 7 months. It does seem like a lifetime though. Perhaps, I was far too entrenched back home than I had realised, and the impact of uprooting the apple cart and moving abroad hit me much later. No regrets in doing that, whatsoever, professionally (only) speaking. 

But, these 7 months have been a revelation of a kind that I did not anticipate I would undergo to such a degree. I have come to recognise and understand myself far better than I ever did. I have come to respect my Indian identity so much more and understand how deeply-rooted I am with things back home.

Being a representative of my country in a foreign land is the one thing that I keep reminding myself about. Whatever I say or do, or don't say or don't do, can very well be a judgment by locals about what my country stands for. It may sound like a stretch, but I'd rather be cognizant of that possibility and hence be responsible about it. The pride of representing my nation in an alien land is an opportunity to show the world the right things that we stand for. I remember this, more than anything else, on this Independence Day.

In these 7 months, I suppose there have been multiple instances of being amazed by a whole new world, and equally so, times of wonderment of what I left back home. And at other times, about the possibilities ahead. To that extent, it clearly has been a mixed bag - speaking only one single language (English) everywhere I go, driving on the road with strict lane discipline, standing in a queue and waiting for my turn, getting used to the credit card culture, adapting to the immense levels of mechanisation and technology in everyday life (apps etc), not finding people on the street while driving, or  the unique driving culture of not honking, finding only cars and trucks on the road with the occasional biker around, going about setting up a new life in an alien land etc, have all ended up in contributing to my personality in ways that I may only fathom much later in life. Or, other things like being precise with things, punctual for every meeting (social or official), planning for and having a dress code for an occasion, using Google maps or GPS systems to find your way to a destination (irrespective of whether it is 10 minutes or 10 hours away from your origin), finding a way to be tremendously organized (lest face the wrath of the law of this land), are clear improvements from yesteryear. 

All these are experiences that would definitely stand me in good stead, as there is no social system of support in this new place. It is a case of finding out how to do something from scratch, and going about doing it in the most optimum way. Or, at least, the best way that I can figure out!

Not meaning to compare this experience with that of what I had in India. But, the world I come from, clearly had different things. Even if one didn't follow the rules, there was always a way out. Not having lane discipline and getting stuck in traffic for 3-4 hours at a stretch was so normal. Finding oodles of people on the road was a given. Saying, 'just 5 minutes' for anything and everything related to time was such a universal phenomenon. Honking to make your point on the road was actually, in hindsight, so much fun! Just asking people on the street the way to a particular place in the local language is something that is nothing short of divine! Finding multiple modes of transport (apart from just cars), especially that cursed vehicle the autorickshaw is a luxury that I did not expect to miss. And whatever else I may not find different, there is absolutely no cricket fever in the US - given the fanatical following of the game and my personal fanaticism for the game!

Much of these 7 months I guess are on the practical side of life. But, as is the human psyche, every place does have a deeper influence, and I am no exception. The thinking and approach to life of a capitalist economy and the people who have grown up in that world is single biggest factor that has influenced everything else here. The concept of living life, 'here and now', is just about the opposite of what we are taught back home i.e. plan and look for the future. College dropouts, start-ups, teenager-CEOs, speakers on leadership who are just about in their mid-20s, NFL, NBA and baseball (to the exclusion of every other sport, except tennis maybe) etc. For the studious folks, life is about Ivy League and million-dollar jobs with a sign-on bonus and international internship prior to their working life. I remember attending a guest lecture at the world-famous Wharton Business School and was stunned to see the universal congregation of competition and friendship in one place. Friends for life on one hand, and rivals on the other. It was a revelation, for sure. 

I suppose, many things from the US have already started creeping into the Indian psyche i.e. technology and start-ups, dreaming of securing education at top institutes only etc. But, that still is perhaps the preserve of a select few back home. For the vast majority of us in India, there isn't even money to get into a decent college, let alone thinking about dropping out of college. Acute poverty and illiteracy are the banes of our development. Those are the social and structural things that are fundamentally keeping us from realising our potential. It no longer is about the lack of money. India, in the modern age, can command money quite efficiently and effectively. It is about will and execution on the ground. It is about having forward-looking thinkers who need to run the show, rather than people who perhaps should consider calling time on their careers in policy making. 

Clearly, the great Indian dream coming good has been best personified in the last few days with the announcement of Sundar Pichai as the CEO of Google. Undoubtedly, a showcase moment for any Indian in any part of the world. The man has demonstrated the art of the possible to every Indian on the planet. Let's face it, Google is synonymous with the Internet. And to have an Indian at the helm of how the world runs online, is truly a proud thing for all of us. It is those kinds of dreams that we should all aspire to achieve, in whichever walk of life we may be. Those are the professional successes that our country should try to replicate. 

And, it is all rooted in its very root - education. We fix our education, we fix our future generations. I have only heard Presidents and Prime Ministers say this in various speeches, but, based on my own experience of living in this foreign country, I am now convinced about it. On this Independence Day, that should really be the core of what we do i.e. fix our education system.

On a different not, the best description of these 7 months in this foreign country is in what somebody very close to me said last month, 'the mention of Bangalore/India, makes your face light up with 40,000 watts, almost!" 

Happy Independence Day, India! Wherever I may be, home is where the heart is and you are the only place I will ever belong!!!

Monday, July 07, 2014

Why are Gujarati stocks going up?

After all the noise about the national elections for the first half of 2014, the government has slowly tried to do two things at once i.e. 'take decisions' and 'appear to take decisions', in the first few days after assuming office. 

Sure enough, we have a man from Gujarat, with very humble beginnings, has made it big to the national stage and is now the Prime Minister of India. His government is evidently trying to make all the right noises about policy, economic revival, resurrection of the job creation policies, leveraging technology and trying to run the government with the power of 'lean'.

But, what has caught my interest in the last 2 months is the manner in which almost every stock of every company that is headquartered in Gujarat has been going in only one direction in the last many months. And that direction, is a clear, decisive upward movement. I have wondered why.

Let me illustrate with a few examples of how the Gujarati stocks have move during the period 1 January, 2014 to 30 June, 2014:
  • Arvind Mills is up 68%
  • Adani Enterprises is up 69%
  • Adani Ports is up 56%
  • Adani Power is up 59%
  • Axis Bank is up 48%
  • ...etc
Before I proceed, let me add that I don't have any bias in selecting Gujarati companies starting with the alphabet A. It is just a random selection!

What I find very interesting is that, while many of the indices of which these companies are a part of may not have done as well as these stocks have, there is a clear Modi factor that has prevailed in the cases illustrated above. That only adds credence to the long-held theoretical belief that the stock market has a large part of market sentiment attached to it, irrespective of valuations, stock analysis and experts on television channels. And by the way, in the case of Axis Bank above, the bank is actually only registered in Gujarat, even though its corporate headquarters is in Mumbai!

The same experts that I refer to above, believe that there is more upside to the overall economy. I would only hazard a guess that many of these stocks from Gujarat will continue to have their upswing, irrespective of where the rest of the economy goes. It might just be worth it, if one were to buy into all these Gujarati-based stocks in the next 5 years of the current government! 

On a more serious note, if such political sentiment is what is required for India to progress, have a wonderful capital market, and continue to be the preferred destination for every foreign institutional investor, I have no problems with it. Progress is what we need in order for us to realise the so-called potential that we are perceived to have in this century. Hope we make the first steps to realising our great potential in the coming 5 years. 

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Sachin Tendulkar - the belief man of India to retire from Tests...what he taught India!

All of us in India know only too well what the forthcoming retirement of Sachin Tendulkar from cricket means to our nation. That understanding is rooted in what this ‘belief-man of India’ showed us in the last 24 years and it’s something we will all genuinely miss. He is a dream to millions of us. And undoubtedly, an inspiration. But to me, there is a larger picture that the Tendulkar saga gave us i.e. for a developing economy like ours that is waiting to unleash its potential on the world, here is a sporting icon who demonstrated to us how it’s done from his walk of life. And by extension, to other walks of life.

Despite all the changes that we have seen in cricket, the game is fundamentally still about scoring runs and taking wickets. Tendulkar taught us how to score runs better than anyone else. He taught us how India can be a world-beater, if she wants to. He exposed us to the theory that we can be the best that there is, if we chose to be. Sachin showed us that we can not only be the best in the times that we live in, but can also be the best that there ever was/will be. All this, grounded in some supremely valid old world habits. He taught us that if you work hard at what you are basically very good at, it is realistically possible to hone your skills and come out top-notch.

As Indians, old values of hard work, discipline and great work ethics have been inherited by us from our ancestors. But, in this modern digital era, where instant gratification is more the norm than the exception, Tendulkar taught us why those old values still hold true and are perhaps India’s biggest strength. To me, the biggest lesson that Tendulkar gave us was, it’s one thing to be talented, and it’s quite another thing to use that talent to be the best that you can be. His lesson to millions of people has gone far beyond the cricket stadium where the world saw him educate us, in his own style.

Tendulkar’s cricketing story is certainly a part of sporting folklore. But, what he taught us is something that I think will be mentioned in the same vein as the lessons that the great Mahatma Gandhi taught us (Bapu mainly stood for non-violence, peace and freedom struggle). The lessons from Tendulkar, is more than likely to be repeated for generations to come i.e. simplicity, dedication, discipline, hard work, high values and ethics, non-compromising in the wake of hostility, answering critics with performance and nothing else, sustenance, longevity…the list is endless. It is quite natural for me to compare Tendulkar’s stature in the Indian context to that of the Mahatma, simply because, both these great men were able to sustain their vision and deliver on it like no other. People dream about being successful, about being liked and accepted, about having a great career etc. But, Mahatma Gandhi from the 20th century and Tendulkar from the modern era are two people who simply captured the collective imagination of Indians and others on the world stage. That is rare, tough and extremely inspiring for generations to come. Both of them had self-belief, far beyond what is normal for any human being. But, for that sort of self-belief to translate into performance on such a mass scale, leading them to become icons of their generation and beyond is enough reason for the rest of us to learn from these two phenomenal people that we have been privileged to see from our shores.

I called Tendulkar as the belief-man of India and it’s something I have believed in for a long time. The great man, at the very heart of it, taught us what self-belief means and how it needs to be used to one’s own benefit. I still remember that Adidas ad of the 1990s, where they showed Tendulkar playing on a pitch in adverse conditions and a mother praying for this great sportsman to win the match. That is the consciousness that this man managed to seep through. He quite literally, brought a nation to a halt when he batted. We have had sporting greats being idolized, but this man was worshipped. That in itself is a rare enough phenomenon. He was not about just scoring centuries in different parts of the world. He was about making us believe that yes, delirious success is a genuine possibility, irrespective of which sphere of life we were in. 

To me, the lasting memories of Sachin's test match saga are three-fold - all three, are from his iconic centuries). First,  that incredible 114 in Perth in 1992; second, 136 against Pakistan in Chennai in 1999, and third 108 in Chennai against England in 2008. Incredible batting displays that gave us lessons of life as it were. Three amazing knocks,  tremendously different in their nature, and each knock with a profound message. The Perth knock was an innings far ahead of his times and told the world that India is no pushover in the toughest cricket pitch on the planet; the Pakistan knock was a message to fight the most extreme adversity in life against the toughest odds possible against your arch-rivals and a demonstration of what it means to give it your all; and that magical, even romantic innings against England that told us what it means to do your bit in order to cheer a billion hearts when terrorists had plundered the Taj in Mumbai. Amazing, amazing, amazing cricketer, who brings tears to my eyes, just as it swells with pride & admiration. Not to mention, supreme inspiration!

Sure enough, for a few weeks, this great cricketer has managed to snatch the attention of billions of fans from politicians (in an election year) to his last 2 test matches at the iconic Eden Gardens and Wankhede Stadium. That, in a country that is steeped in political history, is an achievement that not too many other cricketers could have managed. 

Let’s enjoy the last 8 days of test match cricket that this once-in-a-generation cricket will play. Let’s not look back at his 24 years, but live the moment like he taught us to. I so look forward to the ooh-aah’s when he bats in the next 4 innings. I am also very certain that there will be more than a tear on 18 November when he walks back to the pavilion at the Wankhede stadium. It’s a big ouch (after the ooh-aahs), that we need to get used to. 

I only hope that what this great man taught us enables us to extend it to our respective walks of life and try to make India the best that there can be. For now, it really is, Sachiiiiiiin, Sachin, in true, vociferous, genuine, heartfelt Indian style!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Emerging India needs to introspect

Three players from an IPL franchisee have just been arrested on grounds of spot-fixing in an IPL game in the 2013 edition of the tournament. Take a step back and look at the list of other scandals that we have seen in India in the last few years - coalgate, railgate, fodder scam, match-fixing in international cricket, 3G fiasco, mining scam, Satyam Computers, and a few older ones such as the hawala scam of the 90s, Bofors in the 80s etc. There is even an official list of scams available online.

I get a feeling that we are all convinced that India as a nation is on the cusp of its moment in history, of finally doing something about the emerging superpower that the world has been talking about. Yet, I am equally convinced that beneath that conviction, lie factors that are so intrinsically Indian that we are almost forced to think whether it's our turn to take on the world now at all. There are too many impediments that are a derivative of our own dreams and aspirations that is stopping us in our tracks, so to speak. Things like corruption, malaise, lack of probity in public life, total lack of transparency, incredibly high levels of unproved nepotism in different spheres, financial scandals, politicians with a criminal background governing us, supreme pressures of coalition politics that deflates any attempt at making sound economic policy (think Tata Nano) and so on.

A part of the reason, I think, is because we are a victim of our own inactions and inabilities to solve many of the above issues. Yes, many of us may be aware of these issues and have potentially had many a coffee corner discussions on the malaise that bleeds India. Yet, we have lacked the collective courage of conviction to get united in our attempt to fight these elements that are potentially stopping us from realising our true economic potential. That leads to frustration and dissatisfaction i.e. when we have the potential to do something, and then that potential is not going down the road of true realisation due to internal politiking and differences, it curbs dreams. I can only cite the example of Japan, which fought against all odds, with great national pride after 1945 and rebuilt itself to become a world-beater. Do we have such pride in India left?

Take the latest IPL scam where three cricketers of a franchisee have been arrested for alleged spot-fixing. All three of them have emerged from distant corners of the country and came into the IPL, regional cricket, and one of them has even represented the country. Why in the wild world would they resort to spot-fixing and put their careers on their line? Why succumb to the very elements that I talk of i.e. doing everything they can to stop themselves from realising their true potential? Where is the ability to still do a few things the good old-fashioned way i.e. keep a goal, work hard on it, and go and realise it. 

I think that such sad incidents (IPL) are cases of an India that wants to grab the attention of the world, but is not necessarily being given that stage readily. Resorting to any sort of malaise is the last thing that the country needs in its quest for international political and economic glory. Can we not find a way to direct our frustration to more concrete and positive directions?

For far too long, we have been an emerging economy. And I fear that with many of these anti-social elements and scandals at play, we may take a longer time in actually emerging and making a grand arrival on the world stage. We, as a nation, have traditionally not been a rich part of the world. It is only post-1991 that many of us have actually understood what it means to make money and more importantly what it means to use that money to the country's advantage. Yet, with national scams from every discernible part of country, we have grossly misdirected the ability to become an economic superpower. Rather, we have become a victim of our own fantasies. 

That's why, as clich├ęd as it may sound, we are at a tipping point. We cannot let all our internal issues, stop us from realising our true potential. Nor, should we allow ourselves greed and lure to get the better of us

It is not wrong to make money, nor is it wrong to dream big in life. But, we need to always remember that the one lasting identity of a person, or a nation for that matter, is integrity and probity. I don't think any of us, who is a right-thinking citizen, will ever be able to respect any sort of success that is achieved through unwarranted means. 

We are a 5,000 year old civilisation and have some serious tradition, values, principles and ethics to look after. The sheer dream of becoming an economic superpower should never result in India losing the very values and principles that we have been known for. That is a price that is far too expensive to pay, and one that I am certainly not game for. Play the game hard, but play it the right way, as I have always seen and learnt by watching sport. It holds true for every other walk of life.

Given all this, I therefore think, that we need some serious introspection on where we are headed as a country. We need to think for ourselves i.e. whether we are on our way to becoming an economic superpower with the right values and principles, or, whether we are ready to give into the lure of economic freedom at the cost of values. I vote for the former option.

But achieving that balance of economic freedom with a high value quotient is not easy to achieve. We need many things to fall into place for that to become a reality. For example, we need politicians who typically are of high moral and public probity, we need citizens who pay their taxes regularly, we need corporates that invest in growth through the right channels and have every word of the corporate governance law executed in letter and spirit, we need sports games (not just IPL) to have the highest form of credibility, lest, sporting bodies will risk going bankrupt and losing the interest of the sports fan. We need people from every profession to deliver the highest levels of professionalism that is possible, but not at the cost of ethics and moral turpitude. The list of requirements is quite long!

Some of these points I make above may appear dreamy-eyed. But, if we do not achieve those standards, no amount of policy-making or foreign investment is going to get us on a path of economic freedom with strong values. We will rake in the money, yes, but at a price that is potentially irreversible i.e. loss of values. There may be arguments that money and values may not go hand-in-hand. But, that is the example that we as Indians should strive to set, for the world to follow. Wouldn't that be great? It would make me a very, very, proud Indian!

What India needs in 2014

The national elections in India are still a few months away (though some believe that the mega event could happen sooner rather than later). I am not political science student, nor a trained journalist or any other expert on politics. My only credential is that I am a right-thinking citizen of the country who just wants some solid governance.

In preparation for 2014, here's my wish list of what Indian officials need to do long before the elected members reach the hallowed portals of the Parliament House in New Delhi. Some of the items on my wish list may be a bit dreamy-eyed, but it might just warrant inclusion given the sheer lack of ideas in any case.
  • We need some concerted efforts by the Election Commission with other authorities such as the Enforcement Directorate, Income Tax, etc on all current politicians who are likely to contest in 2014.
  • Start procuring latest information and conducting a background check on all the current members of Parliament. Look at their income tax returns, their financial standing, and their known sources of income. See if there is a case of disproportionate assets. Any discrepancy here, or litigation that is not yet resolved, or unlikely to be resolved are clear grounds for disallowing the candidate to contest
  • Bring in some performance measures - look for contributions made by the existing politicians in terms of bridges built, schools started, hospitals built, etc. What sort of role have they played in infrastructure building in the country? This could be for any part of India, but, at the very least, needs to be for their own constituency/state
  • Does the politician currently holding an office have a criminal background? Disallow him from contesting again.
  • Check whether the current crop of politicians is educated or not. At the very least, they should have a Bachelor's degree. If not, they have no standing to represent the people they claim to represent now, all over again
  • Technology - have the politicians from a particular province created an environment where the local population has access to technological means of governance i.e. internet cafe, online learning
  • What has the politician done to make people in his province more employable? Has he created an environment for learning, made education more affordable and accessible? Has he brought in a few companies to invest or start operations in his locality? Even if long-term, has he at least thought of such initiatives?
  • Look for the number of foreign visits made by the politician in his current team and the costs of such trips to the exchequer. Based on that, look for how many of such visits translated to core economic value to the country? Did it result in attracting investors to the nation, or, did it result in some solid brand building in foreign political circles that helps India's perception in the world etc. If it was a leisure trip, disallow such politicians from contesting again. They cannot use the taxpayer's money for their pleasure.
  • Check contracts - for every politician worth his salt, and who has signed on a contract or has been a party to a contract signed for or on behalf of the government, check antecedents.  Check if the transaction was a clean one and that there were no kickbacks. If found guilty, punish him and disallow contesting elections.
  • Influencing the law - just like we have seen in Railgate, Coalgate etc, there must be reasonable grounds in many parts of officialdom to suspect influencing things that are outside the rules. While it is not possible to check on every potential decision made in government, any behavioural or procedural deviation from normal protocol should be considered suspect and investigated. We do not need people in governance to misuse their position for private good. Any act done for public good, even if via correct use of influence, is still tolerable and can be allowed. Not otherwise
  • Corporate governance on politicians - all of us are aware of the corporate governance norms that are applicable to companies. Is there any way for election authorities to prescribe some such governance framework for politicians that are measurable, doable and most importantly reportable? 
  • Election budgets - politicians are known to spend truckloads of taxpayers' money for election campaigning, propaganda, publishing materials, using strategic offices across the country, and travelling etc. We need a serious propriety audit of these expenses, not just a regular statutory audit. Sources and applications of funds need to be very clearly identified and be traceable. Any deviation here or lack of transparency, are again clear grounds for dismissing the candidate. This is equally true for non-election expenditure that the politician would have incurred in his current term in office.
I am sure that there are more ways to tie down politicians in order to curb any behavioural, financial or other excesses. I am only pointing out that for clean, good governance, there needs to be a far greater sense of getting ready for an election, rather than starting on building checks and balances at the eleventh hour. Advance preparation with the intent of providing the citizens the option to vote for clean, good, dependable candidates will go a long way in the prosperity of the nation. It needs will, and for a change, administrative and judicial will, as against the usual political will. 

Can we do some of these recommendations, at least? Or, are we going to allow ourselves to be ruled by another set of corrupt officials and then crib. The choice to be proactive is ours, and is now.

Friday, December 28, 2012

The Belief Story is Halved - Sachin retires from ODIs

I guess the first thing that comes to mind when you see the headline of this blog is, 'Wait, is that possible? Are we not getting into unfamiliar territory with this news?'

I simply think that we got used to this great cricketer from Mumbai (Bombay, when he made his debut). The world has changed in the last 23 years that we have seen Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar play for India in his blue jersey in one-day internationals with the greatest of pride. Think of this for a minute - when Sachin made his debut:

  • We didn't have facebook
  • Google didn't exist
  • Online shopping did not exist in India
  • Mobile phones were a luxury
  • There were hardly any malls in the country, except for a handful in Delhi or Bombay
  • Imported goods were really just that - imported
  • There were no 24 X 7 television channels
  • Internet was the exclusive preserve of a few scientific organizations, that too, at primitive speeds. If anything, many of us visited the then ubiquitous cyber cafe to experience this new dimension to life called the Internet
  • etc...
Yet, this man has lived through all of this transformation that we have seen as a country and kept the hopes alive for all of us with his singular dedication and commitment to what he knew best - score runs for the national team in the international sphere. 

Facing up to monstrous fast bowlers who were possibly double his height and weight, going to the farthest corners of the world to places that not too many Indians had even heard of and scaling heights in most places he went to, brought pride to all of us. It made us feel that here was someone who represented us in the world. He not only can hold his own, but prove to the world that we as Indians are really the best of the best. 

Sachin, for me, symbolised that incredible belief that many of us at that time couldn't even fathom to think of i.e. dream big, play hard to conquer the world in the most professional way possible, without hurting anybody and yet standing firm in the face of any obstacle on the global stage. This boy-next-door that India has come to love, adore, respect, admire, fall in love with, and indeed revere to the point of seeing him become India's sporting icon, has clearly made me and many of my ilk think big in life and not to settle for less. Like one of the expert writers wrote on his blog recently, he mesmerised our country. 

Perhaps, the lasting effect of this great man's impact on my life and people in my sphere is represented by this one line that my father told me in the '90s in my final year of college. 'Whatever you do, Arun, do it well. Try to use the Sachin attitude in whatever you do in life and you will go places'. I possibly never understood the significance of that short line from my father in 1998, but, I clearly understand every word of that statement now. My father was still working then and he clearly saw a great vision for India and for people like me. But, by using Tendulkar as an example, he was able to clearly demonstrate to me that here was a world-beater like non-other that he had seen in his long life, and that it makes perfect sense for a youngster like me to learn the virtues that Tendulkar represented in my own life.

Look at it this way. Sachin does not even know that I exist and scores of people like me. But, just look at the impact he has had on all of us, cutting across every discernible, stupid, man-made divisions that are all too common in our country. This man is loved and revered by one and all. How many Indians have managed to do that, with such universal effect? Sure, he has had his critics like every other celebrity, but the weight of his universal acceptance as India's champion is far heavier than what any critic might have to say. Incredible India is what we have heard, here is a truly incredible Indian!

I will miss the no.10 blue jersey on the cricket field, Sachin. Not for the records, for they are part of cricket folklore and there are far more qualified sports commentators to analyse those numbers than me. I will miss you for the sheer magnanimity of your presence at the centre of Indian cricket, for the incredible trust, confidence and positive attitude that you brought to billions of your fellow countrymen and for that pride in performance that you taught people like me (who grew up with you!). 

I wish you the very best in anything that you choose to do in the future, but like I posted on my facebook page the other day, my lasting memory of you will be from 2 of your iconic knocks - the upper cut that you hit off Shoaib Akhtar in the 2003 World Cup match against Pakistan at the Centurion Cricket Ground, and the other is that unforgettable 143 against the Australians at Sharjah in 1998, when you really did knock out not only the sandstorm that hit the ground, but also the belief in the mighty Aussies at that time.

Irrespective of anything else, I have learnt from Sachin how one should never ever to give up in life. Hats off, champion! You really have made many, many, many Indians proud. I look forward to cherishing the last part of your Test match journey.  Simply because, a large part of the Indian belief is halved with your retirement from ODIs. And it is not restricted to cricket. It is the belief that you taught us, that needs to be reinforced now, more than ever before, given the challenges that our country faces. Sons of the soil like you are indeed the driving force for that belief to be maintained and eventually increased, even after you finally leave the stage from international cricket. I will always think of you as the Belief Man of India.

I hope someone sensible makes a movie out of your career, as generations after us need to know what a fine Indian graced us.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Gender bias...in this world

It is increasingly apparent to me that we are no longer living in the so-called man's world. I have traditionally never ever believed in the existence of a man's world as I always thought that the world is composed of two main genders - male and female. More than anything else, my belief that both genders are equal has always been grounded in the fact that all of us enter this world with nothing and leave this world with nothing. Hence, none of us has any right to proclaim that it is a man's world or a woman's world. I still continue to maintain my theory that it is an equal world, in my humble opinion, at least!

However, a number of events that I have observed over the last few years has made me think again about this equality theory that I hold. I am beginning to see enough evidence that the world is far more vocal about atrocities to a woman, than it is to a man. I see cases reported in the news of manhandling of girls, rapes, divorces, and many other atrocities. Those are atrocities that even I would condemn, irrespective of which part of the world it happens.

But, the change in gender bias that I am referring to is more subtle. It is not direct. It appears beneath the surface, so to speak. One has to dig deep to see how people have begun to change their behaviour towards any semblance of nuisance caused to girls. For example, the latest outburst by Sania Mirza that she has been treated by the AITA as a commodity in the selection of teams for the London Olympics is a case in point. I have seen tennis players, sports journalists, television actresses & socialites (with no tennis credentials) and others appear on national television to determine whether what Sania said to the AITA was right or not. That too, in light of her move after she received confirmation of her wild card entry into the London Olympics 2012 next month. She was silent all these days, when the imbroglio between Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes consumed prime time television.

I found the national debate on this Sania outburst, extremely biased. Why should we support her statement of being treated as a commodity, when nobody ever talked about any bias when Leander and Mahesh were slugging it out in public last week? Everyone talked about national pride & putting the country before everything else in the Lee & Hesh imbroglio. And now, when we see an outburst from Sania Mirza (in her words of being treated as a commodity), why are we not placing the same metrics in front of her i.e. national pride & representing India at the Olympics? Why do we have to talk about gender bias, feminism et al? Why can't the equality I referred to earlier, apply? Why gender? Talk tennis preferences, talk sporting favouritism, talk politicking, I will buy that. But, I certainly don't buy this sensationalism of gender in the entire equation. In my humble opinion, it is unwarranted.

The above case may be quite distant from the circle of influence in my life, in the context of this subtle gender bias. So, let me refer to things that I have seen, where I have observed this 'below the belt gender bias' that shifts gears, rather, flows with the tide. For example, when a guy dumps a girl, it has long been considered man's ego and the age-old way of men treating women. But, when the same treatment of being dumped is meted out to a guy (by a girl), I have observed that the support that the girl receives is potentially far greater than what the guy does. There are support systems that are created for the girl (when she dumps the guy). The guy is blamed, even if only figuratively, of not handling the situation. The guy is told that he was not good enough for the girl. The girl suddenly achieves cult status in terms of the clout she enjoys. Works in her favour. Boosts her ego. Not too many people necessarily even provide the guy with an opportunity to voice his viewpoint in the entire equation. In extreme cases, the guy is deserted and left to fend for himself (emotionally & socially). The girl moves on in her life & the same support system that was once available to both the guy & the girl, completely migrates to the girl's camp. It is never apparent in the first instance, but becomes gradually visible over time. Why does gender have to come in? Is the guy any less devastated than the girl (when she dumps him)? Or, is the girl any more devastated than him (when he dumps him)? Why bring in bias at all? Devastation is devastation. More so, if one is a victim, and the other is the originator of such pain (be it a guy or a girl). Why introduce subtle gender bias in the conundrum of devastation, which in itself is tough to handle?

Another example of this subtle gender bias - the recent election of Sheryl Sandberg as a Director in Facebook. I have nothing against her being elevated to a senior leadership position. But, my problem really is, why does one have to make references to her gender in her achievement? Why can't we keep it simple and say that there was a person who needed to be hired/elevated as a Director in a famous company...and that, this lady got it? Why does it have to be reduced to things like diversity on the Board of Directors? Why can't we just leave it to the merit of the candidate's capabilities to bag the job? Why do we have to bring in gender into this? She was good enough to get the job, period (at least, according to me).

There are even subtler things I have noticed. Guys stand in a queue for a long time to get a movie ticket or railway ticket (assume, no internet for a second). A girl happily walks in, beats the line, goes to the front of the line, pulls out money, smiles at the first 2 guys in the line and manages to get tickets from the counter. She doesn't ever have to wait in the queue? Isn't that bias? Why can't we recognise that both a man and a woman are there to get hold of a ticket and disallow such preferential behaviour?

Another example of such subtle bias that I see more of. Policemen treating traffic offenders. In the event that the offender is a guy, the policeman pretty much rubbishes the guy and harasses him no end. If the same traffic offence is committed by a girl, I never ever seen a policeman behave rudely, scream, swear of harass the girl. Why? Isn't a traffic offender, be it a guy or a girl, supposed to be an offender & hence be subjected to the same course of law that is applicable? Period.

I see other instances in the corporate world too. I mentioned about Sheryl Sandberg earlier. How about people like Chanda Kochar, Naina Lal Kidwai and other wonderful professionals who made it to the top of the financial services industry in India? Why does their gender have to come in the way of crediting them? Nobody ever says that Ratan Tata was the first MAN to buy companies abroad (Jaguar, Land Rover etc). But, almost everyone in the media says that Naina Lal Kidwai was the first WOMAN who went to Harvard Business School from India. So what? Why can't we just say that we are so proud that an Indian had the pedigree to make it to HBS all those years ago? Why introduce gender bias? N.L. Kidwai was a super achiever and good enough to go to HBS & got her due. Why bring in the woman angle? Imagine someone saying that Dr. Manmohan Singh was the first MAN to be economist/FM & Prime Minister. Nobody ever says that - people only say that he is the first Indian since Nehru to be elected as PM twice. His gender is never brought into the equation, right? Then, why do we do that with the other super achieving women in corporate India or other walks of life? Isn't that subtle bias?

I can go on & on about my observations of these subtleties in treating men and women & the changing nature of bias that we see in the world. It scares me. We want to build a world full of hope, full of equality and freedom. We need to teach our future generations that bias is one of the strongest retarding factors of growth and development. Human beings need to be given opportunities on the merit of their case. They need to be given their due for what they are and as they are. If they get something by the dint of their own hard work, diligence and commitment, given them the credit, irrespective of whether the person is a man or a woman. Let's build a planet with less, nay, no bias. I may be talking idealistic, but, I am eminently confident that while deliberate/apparent bias cannot be removed, the subtle bias that I talk of can certainly be removed!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Acceptance....

Some people have the innate ability to convince others. Many others may cite the same points as the 'convincing folks', but may never be accepted. Have you ever wondered why is it that the same point stated by different folks are received differently by the recipient of the message? I have seen this happen with increasing frequency in recent times.

Communication is traditionally referred to as the process whereby a sender dispatches a message through a channel to a receiver. That is theoretically correct. However, why is it that the same message from a different sender, is received differently by the receiver? Has it got anything to do with the stature of the sender? Or, is it related to the personal equations between the sender and the receiver i.e. there may be a message sent by somebody who is not greatly valued by the receiver. Yet, the same message sent to the same receiver, by a some other sender who is looked upon in awe by the receiver, is considered an expert view, or at the least sanguine.

Why is this so? Does this behaviour have any psychological connotation? Does this behaviour have anything to do with any personal vendetta that the receiver may have against the sender he 'doesn't like'?

Maybe, there is another angle to all this. The sender may enjoy tremendous credibility in the receiver's eyes. Or, the sender may benefit from 'favouritism' in the receiver's estimation of him. Or, there may be some open behaviour that is partial, or, more subtly displayed preferences by the receiver. To me, it is illogical that the same message sent by different senders are viewed and received so differently by the same receiver(s).

I have seen this behaviour manifest itself in multiple fora. In the corporate world, an outside consultant enjoys greater credibility in the company's eyes when the former provides certain recommendations/action items. Yet, when the same recommendation is made by any executive within the firm, it is not necessarily taken well. In other set ups, you find that when two friends go out with a group of friends and both of them crack a joke, the audience may not laugh at one of the 2 people who uttered the joke; yet, the same audience may burst into haughty laughter when the other person states the joke. Is there an explanation to this at all? It's the same joke, after all!

You find this 'sender-trap' as I call it in families too. There are people who demand respect. Such people, at most times, are insensitive to the idea of earning respect from family members. And there are others, who consider some people in the family more aligned to their thoughts and actions, than others (the latter are conveniently ignored). Yet, the ignored people, typically might have the same, well-meaning, well-mannered attitude to the entire family. But, they are never considered as part of the family. Their communication with other members of the family (especially, the people who don't consider them as part of the family) deteriorates over time. Ignorance becomes a norm. Silence becomes the way of life. The ignored variety begin to think 'why should I bother communicating with such people, who either refuse to understand my viewpoint, or, are incapable of taking my views?' 

Then, there are bosses who demarcate between people reporting into them. There may be situations when 2 team members may have the same suggestion in a project, where, the boss ignores the person he does not prefer; and credits the person who he prefers. That leads to a lot of ego issues, demotivation etc. The larger point is, the recipient's behaviour results in the 'ignored' employees to wonder why they should even be part of the team,when their efforts are not valued by the powers-that-be. 

Much of being ignored, results in getting supremely demotivated at most times. And in other cases, it can cause lack of belief in oneself (due to total non-acceptance from all quarters). I think, all this, has fundamentally got to do with being accepted as a human being overall. Communication is then just an offshoot. A person can try all he can to convince people and try to explain his well-meaning intentions. However, if the person is fundamentally not accepted by society, he/she is not going to get very far in being accepted in society/life. Otherwise, there just cannot be an explanation to this whole sender-trap. It is communication, at the end of it, which is a very standard process as outlined at the beginning of this blog piece. So, I am convinced that its acceptance of the human being that's at the core. It can't be anything else, to my mind, at least.


Sunday, March 18, 2012

A 100 hundreds..!

Sachin Tendulkar reached immortality as far as batting in cricket goes, by reaching his century of centuries in international cricket, when he made 114 against Bangladesh in the Asia Cup league match earlier this week. The man , who has had his fair share of critics, reached the zenith of batsmanship with a nice flick on the leg side, and then raised his bat, and pointed his bat to the Indian flag and the BCCI logo on his helmet. Ramiz Raja and Sunil Gavaskar were in the commentary box! 

And I was at DKOM, on a day that I listened to some luminaries and their experiences in life - Vishal Sikka, the CTO of SAP; K.V.Kamath, Chairman of Infosys (former CEO of ICICI Bank); and popular author, Chetan Bhagat. Not to mention, an amazing DEMOJAM!

Hats off,champion!! Hats off! It will be hard to replace you in international cricket!!

That ability to prove others wrong

For long, I have admired sport for the virtues that it has taught me. Passion, commitment, discipline, love for what you are doing, do the best that you possibly can, make the most of your talents, make a statement to the world et al. Sport usually thrives on the ability of a chosen few to go beyond the ordinary that makes watching sport itself a virtue. But that is not the point of this blog. I firmly believe that sport teaches all of us, in any walk of life, on how to approach life and come up in life, in the wake of severe adversities. 
 
There is no point screaming at the top of your voice against people who have decided to harm you. It is better to take stock of the criticism being levelled against you (in whichever stream you may be in), and doing the best you can to prove those critics wrong. Like they say in cricket, let the bat do the talking. In much the same way, let critics talk; and all you need to do is perform and the same critics will either stop making comments about you, or will learn to appreciate that they need to watch their word before they speak.

I have seen this element of being criticised or ostracised or denegrated by many people in many ways. Some people end up saying that 'he is not good enough'; others are bit more impolite, and many others are downright rude. Of course, there is this other variety that you need to guard against the most i.e. the type that will sweet talk you and make you believe that you are great, when in fact, they are doing all they can to destroy you, bit by bit. Calculated demolition by people, who know to do it subtly, without your realising it. And this can be both at a professional and personal level. If it is professional, there is enough room to prove them wrong. If it gets personal, that is where the aspect of self-respect comes in. I have learnt in life never to let go of your self-respect, irrespective of anything else.

I believe that critics of all types can be made to eat their words in ample measure. The one thing that you need to watch out for, is to avoid taking things personally. That is easier said than done. Like my uncle famously told me, “You will you find the solution to a problem, if you focus on the problem”. Otherwise, one tends to get consumed by the feeling of revenge against the individual who demolished you and that will make it hard to focus on the issue. That's the key - focus on the issue, because, if that gets solved, then your critic will automatically eat his/her words and be careful about what he/she says to you or about you next time around.

The worst variety are the people who betray you (not just critic you) i.e. you may have grown up believing somebody no end. Such people may turn out to be supremely opportunistic and may stalk you in the smoothest manner possible, without any previous hint. They are the toughest and the worst set of people once can think of handling. When they demolish you they way they do, it affects your self-confidence and belief systems in life itself. You begin to wonder whether you can believe anyone on this planet at all. That is the time of supreme examination of an individual's patience, intellect and most importantly the temperament of the individual, who is at the receiving end of the critics. That precisely, is the time, to have the balance to handle the situation. Very few have that balance. That is where, I believe, sport can help.

The ability to handle the worst situation possible in the most balanced manner. Never to give it back verbatim to the individual who demolished you, but show the same individual that you are actually far better than he/she thinks you are. While those people may have the opportunities to be opportunistic, they conveniently forgot that ever dog has its day. One needs to bide his/her time and just go on about one's regular life and have the gumption to fight back, professionally and with a lot of dignity. A lot of this is to prove to such demolition-driven people to not only mess with you, but also to prove to yourself that you are far better than people think/perceive you to be.

I think, one really is answerable to oneself in the long-run. If I can look at myself in the mirror and be convinced that his/her conscience is clear, that is more than enough. Critics will come and go; so will people who think they have demolished you and thereby won in their lives. But, all of them can be made to eat their words, by your own courage of conviction and firm belief to prove to yourself that you can achieve the benchmarks that you have set for yourself. Opportunistic people are the worst people one can ever encounter; and such are the people who will first realise your worth, when you perform.  Take Rahul Dravid, for instance. Connoisseurs of cricket averred that the man cannot play one-day cricket; he didn’t react, he actually responded with 10,000+ runs in the ODI format. The old connoisseurs had no answer and were forced to agree that he was one of the greatest ever cricketers of all time!

Many of these lessons are embedded in the sublime world of sport, at least for me. I am convinced that all of us can draw from these lessons and adapt them to our spheres of life. There is no need to be bitter, or arrogant or irritable or reactionary.  Just do your own thing, keep your conscience clear and people who have done all they can to kill you alive, will eventually eat their words. Don’t even expect an apology from the people who tried to damage you; you will automatically know that they were wrong, when you go about things the right way, just as they will realise that they passed a judgement on you a little too early for their own good.  
 
One needs to look no further than a Dravid, or a Kumble, or Ganguly or of course, Sachin in cricket. Or, other champions from other games such as Federer, Maradona, Pele, Viswanathan Anand,  Jesse Owens, et al. All these legends have had their fair share of critics and people who have questioned them through their career, and indeed their lives.  The lesson that these champions taught me is to focus on their sport and make their critics eat their words.

I now firmly believe in many of these virtues that sport has taught me. It helps me live my life better.