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Showing posts from October, 2012

Land's End

The end of civilization as we know it may occur when we have no land to live on. barring going back into the sea (assuming it's still there), or into the sky, we wouldn't have any options.

Therefore, my theory ( I still can propound a few) is that we, citizens of the world, must value what we have. All land records of the world must be made public, on Google or its equivalent, and we must all decide on what we should be doing with it. Housing of course is a primal need, and we could allocate large portions of land to this. Agriculture may be equally important, and that should take precedence over pointless uses.

After which, other land uses should be decided on by local communities. New communities can also be planned by citizen groups. What's new about this, you may ask. Two things. Transparency- the google part, and citizenry getting involved. Might actually solve a lot of the world's problems, methinks. Royalty cheques, anyone?

Exercise and Me

This is a forward from a dear friend that I could not resist filching. 
The only strenuous activities I indulge in nowadays are : 1) Beating around the bush
2) Jumping to conclusions
3) Climbing the walls
4) Swallowing my pride ...... very frequently
5) Passing the buck
6) Throwing my weight around (but getting bounced in the process)
7) Dragging my heels
8) Pushing my luck
9) Making mountains out of molehills
10) Hitting the nail on the head
11) Wading through paperwork
12) Bending over backwards
13) Jumping on the bandwagon
14) Balancing the books
15) Running around in circles
16) Tooting my own horn
17) Climbing the ladder of success ... rung by rung ..... downwards
18) Pulling out the stops
19) Adding fuel to the fire
20) Opening a can of worms
21) Putting my foot in my mouth
22) Starting the ball rolling
23) Going over the edge
24) Picking up the pieces
Ahem!

You Can Never Find a Rickshaw When it Monsoons

Believe it or not, that is the title of a book, and it's not written by an Indian. The book is actually a set of cartoons drawn by a world traveller, and has a foreword by Dave Barry, the funny man. The title got me curious, and I flipped through a few pages at the bookstore, and flipped for it.

It has a unique set of drawings of whatever Mo Willems of New York University, upon graduating and travelling across the world, felt he ought to draw. So whatever he remembered most from his day got drawn, with a commentary added on, sometimes a sentence or two, sometimes just a phrase or comment.

A different kind of book, for sure, and a very entertaining glimpse of mankind, from Indonesia to New Orleans, USA. By the way, I was in New Orleans once (or twice), and still remember it as a party place par excellence- there were some horse-riding cops around and streets barred to traffic- pedestrians only- and many other interesting things, including their unique Cajun food. India is also incl…

Conversations and Leadership

To keep major events (like Formula 1) out of your agenda is a remarkable achievement. I can lay claim to doing something on those lines this weekend. Akin to Nero's fiddling while Rome burned, I met some friends over lunch and conversation at a nice little restaurant called Kettledrum right next to a bookshop called Spell & Bound (close to Formula 1 time, I think-though I am not sure). Bought a book by Julian Barnes (Nothing to Be Frightened Of is its title), whom I haven't read before, but who seems interesting. Came back to watch an interview with Shankar Aiyar, author of Accidental India on Just Books. His interesting thesis is that India is good at missing opportunities- that is our USP, so to speak. And that we only work hard when in a crisis situation.

Earlier, yesterday, spent some time listening to presentations on academic excellence in engineering and management schools, made by a lot of illustrious people from various institutions. College of Engineering, Pune, …

Formula - the ones and twos

What is a Formula? It is a set way to do something, or to solve something. Like a linear regression model, or the famous Einstein equation which I have not understood what to do with.

Why are formulas important? For some of the same reasons that jargon is. It is familiar territory, and we feel comfortable with it. If you did not have a formula for something, you would need lots of experimentation to come up with some desirable or sensible result.

To descend into more understandable territory, there are formulas for a film, a book, or for a specific goal I found the wooing ritual a nice thing to observe, while in the U.S. and here. Since I am safely away from the age in which this usually happens, maybe I can be 'objective' about this.

In the days gone by, you wrote a letter to your beloved in English or whatever language. It was epitomised by Bollywood songs such as "Yeh mera prem patra padh kar..(When you read my love letter...)". With changing times, maybe the art…

Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro- The Making

I am simultaneously reading two books. The first is about the Kundan Shah cult comedy- Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro, the making of it, by Jai Arjun Singh. Lots of nuggets about the inside story. The guy who made it apparently looks like an accountant, and is not at all funny at first. There are a lot of script changes from the first draft. For example, it did not contain the Mahabharat climax scene with the immortal Dhritarashtra dialogue- Yeh kya ho raha hai?

Second major change was that the gorilla scene was axed. There was a gorilla who turns up to give some gyaan to the heroes- a talking gorilla, in a scene. It was axed to give a crisper run to the film. And the famous scene where Om Puri finds the corpse of the Commissioner on the road was modified to make it easier to shoot. The original was too complex.

NFDC, a govt body, was the producer of one of the greatest comedies in Bollywood. You dare not say that the govt. lacks a sense of humour!

The second book I am reading is called The Sky …

Professor of The Year- A Non-review

Well, the movie is yet to be made, so I can't really review it- not even view it, actually. So maybe I'll just put out a possible plot.

There is a contest for professors at a Business School. The profs don't look like profs, but more like teenagers. Just like students in films never look like students. So they can sing, dance, climb trees or do whatever the script asks of them.

The contest involves devising the best exam in a subject, giving the best lecture in a class, and drumming up the best home-work assignment.

There are three hot contenders for the grand prize. Two guys and a lady- profs all. Here's what happens.

1. The lectures are all uniformly boring, and put everyone to sleep. So it's not a differentiator among the contestants.

2. The exam. The Ethics prof asks his students to analyse where Rajat Gupta went wrong, ..in getting caught, and how he could have prevented it. The marketing prof asks his students to create an ad for Kingfisher airlines solicitin…

Sage of Omaha Visits

The sage of Omaha- no, a sage of Omaha (not Warren Buffet) visited us yesterday for a talk. This is a professor at the University of Nebraska, and we were discussing potential collaborations of various kinds. But what he talked about was Social Entrepreneurship.

What is that? Any venture which is primarily aimed at social good. Not obliquely aimed at it -because any enterprise may do some social good, for instance, by creating jobs. But aimed at social good as its primary purpose of existence. NGOs may fall into this category. Individuals need to create a sustainable organisation that can survive beyond a grant or two, or survive beyond their own life, to make it sustainable.

An interesting discussion followed. He had also studied Gandhian thought, and visited Sewagram at Wardha.

Yash Chopra and His Films

Kabhi Kabhi was one of the most poetic films made in Hindi cinema-even more than Silsila. The protagonist was a poet, and sang a song which won the lady's heart at a college gathering. In an age where disco was rampant, this was indeed novel.

Deewar had an undercurrent of violence and revenge, but it was far less macabre than what we have witnessed in recent times. And less crude- much less.

Trishul was actually quite a well-made movie about corporate shenanigans like bidding intrigue. Sanjeev Kumar had a really good role, akin to his Sholay character in age. So did Shashi Kapoor and Hema Malini. Kitaabon mein chhapte hain chaahat ke kisse , haqiqat ki duniya mein chaahat nahin hain, were some good lyrics in the song Mohabbat bade kaam ki cheez hai.

Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge was an updated version of Sangam (he did not direct it, Aditya did, but his stamp was on it somehow), with a romp through Europe and some melodrama to close the narrative. Very beautifully filmed, and both…

Badarpur, Faridabad and Me

I travelled to Faridabad-actually, Ballabhgarh, by a combination of the metro up to Badarpur border and further by bus. It was actually a pleasant journey, much to my surprise. I had only been to Faridabad long years ago in 1984 when I worked with the India Today group. I had visited the Thompson Press located there, which was quite modern for its time, and used to do a lot of Annual Reports.

Today being a Sunday, the crowd was perhaps at a tolerable level in both modes of transport. The metro is being extended to Faridabad as I understand it. That should make life easier for those who have to commute daily. Is this the professionalising of Delhi? Maybe, because public transport determines a lot of fates of the working population and gives them options they never had. Mumbai is a good case in point.

Maybe we should go about building public transport in tier 2 towns that might turn them into tier 1 towns in a few years.

English Vinglish

The central idea of self-esteem being tied to one's ability to function reasonably well in the world of Queen's English is spot-on. In many cases, it opens a new world of opportunity to anyone from any background. The elite who have always spoken it or learnt it have a natural advantage, but others can overcome class barriers and maybe other barriers with training in spoken English.

My Fair Lady, based on Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion was also based on this premise, and Dev Anand made his own Man Pasand on the same theme. Gauri Shinde uses a clever situation in the life of Mrs. Godbole (Sridevi) to take you through the trauma of a non-English speaker in daily life (a PTA meeting at school) and in a visit to New York, where she feels humiliated at a coffee shop encounter.

The movie succeeds in telling an unusual story- the fight for self-esteem by doing what it takes- in this case, it involves learning English. The scenes are mostly normal scenes from the life of an upper middle…

My Second Book Launch at Pune

It's the second coming, so to speak. My autobiography, which is an online publication (only printed on demand) through pothi.com, a website that helps you to self-publish, will see its second retail launch. On November 9th, at Pune, at the Crossword on Senapati Bapat Road. This is a slightly revamped version with better formatting (the earlier one was done by me, and this one by professionals), some new content (like lifts from this blog), and a new cover design. The title remains 'My Experiments with Half-truths'.

For anyone in Pune, 6.30 pm at Crossword, you are welcome to drop by. You don't have to buy the book!


Presentation Skills

These are the most important set of skills a person may possess or acquire in life, in my humble view (just avoiding IMHO, the cliche). Why? It can change you from a hero to a zero, or vice-versa, in a jiffy. I have come to this wonderful conclusion about the human condition (might get nominated for a Nobel sometime), after sitting through a bunch of presentations at a conference where educated people, some faculty and some students, presented their research papers.

I have no quarrel with content that was presented, but I do have one with the way it was presented. Most speakers did not seem to have a clue as to how long they were taking. This was compounded by a laissez- faire chairperson, who allowed them to drift aimlessly from slide to slide (oh, what a slide it was, too).

Anyway, there were horrendous (egregious? maybe I still remember how to spell this, after all) errors of spelling, pronunciation, grammar, editing and the like on many of the slides and articulation of those. Th…

The Etymologicon by Mark Forsyth

This is a book in the whodunit tradition, but not about murder- unless you think language has been murdered over the centuries. It is about the origin of English words, etymology. But written in a way that is part Wodehouse, part Hitchcock, and well, part (Frederick) Forsyth.

The most hilarious one I have come across so far is the one on the origin of testify. Apparently people in olden days swore on something with their hands either on their own testes or those of the high official before whom they swore! What could be funnier? Sounds like a Mel Brooks movie scene.

Disaster comes from misplaced planet, or dis-astro. And now, a story, the story of Frankfurt. Once upon a terribly long time ago, there was a tribe called the Franks. They invaded Gaul and Gaul became Franc(k)e. They oppressed the native Gauls horribly, forcing them to eat garlic. Only the Franks themselves were free. Thus they were enfranchised. They were able to speak freely or frankly, and everyone else was disenfranch

Netaholics Anonymous

Like the eponymous (not sure what this means, it is a trial usage) Alcoholics Anonymous, we could have many anonymii (this is my invention, in the tradition of Milton -more on him later in a book review coming soon) for various ills that plague 'society'- a euphemism for 'you and me'.

The obvious one is Netaholics ananymous. This will be a support group which visits the jungles of Africa and face a tiger, crocodile, or other man-eating species. Thereby ridding themselves of any urge other than survival. Net addiction would be the last thing you could think of.

Corruptoholics Anonymous. They would be taken as a group to visit countries where the corrupt are hanged, guillotined, or otherwise suitably disposed of. The cure would follow automatically.

Cellphonaholics Anonymous. This support group would be subjected to screechy sounds from objects like cell phones held close to their ears. Heavy metal or other 'music' may be also tried at high volume, creating a ph…

Malaysian Sing-song

On an earlier visit to Malaysia I was struck by the lyrical quality of the Malay language. It was love at second sight when I went there last week- with the language, I mean. Here are a few phrases to prove the point.

Taman Kanak Kanak- Children's Play Area- you can almost hear the children make cute noises if you say that aloud!

Perlepasan Antarabangsa- International Departures

Dilarang Merokok- No Smoking. What a musical way to give you the bad news if you are a smoker.

Bilik Tungu Ulang Alik- Shuttle Waiting Area. Not the space shuttle, but the grounded variety.

Bilik Khas- Special lounge. Reminded me of the Diwan-e-khas in Akbar's court.

Daftar Masuk- Check-in.

Duduk- Seat. Rhymes with dubuk, a sound made when you immerse something in water. That's why I always found the Dubuq, Iowa name funny when in the U.S.

Tandas- Toilets.

And finally, my favourite, Tuntutan Bagasi- Baggage Claim.

I could spend a day just reading the signs in Malaysia! Wonderful.




Thai Airways and Bong Film Fest

There is a Bengali film festival- in Pattaya. While golfing away in the sidelines of a business trip to Malaysia, I chanced upon this delightful piece of curiosity on TV. Anyway, good to see Indians of all hues going international. Speaks well about the tourism authority of Thailand and the Pattaya city reps.

Thai airways is making a loss, it seems, in spite of its good reputation for service. Maybe the business end needs looking into a little more. I flew them for the first time, and found the service really good, on a par with Singapore Airlines. Their smiles seem more genuine, somehow.

Will also fly Air Asia for the first time, and from 'the other airport' in Bangkok- Don Muang (hope the spelling is right). This is a budget airline that is profitable, to the best of my knowledge. No food, pay for all check in bags, and the like. Let's see.


Celebrate Every Day

Why do we wait for a festival or an occasion to celebrate? Is every day not good enough for it? Do we need Britannia (a brand it sells) to tell us to have a good day? Why can't we have it anyway?

I am fairly certain, you have something to celebrate on a given day- if you discount going to work, I mean. Even going to work has its celebratory areas- like socialising with a few people, meeting visitors, and getting satisfaction out of doing some good- I am assuming here we don't smuggle anything for a living.

I did research the happiness topic a bit over the years, and I find lots of people are unhappy when they stop working, and many actually die soon after they retire- men, in particular. That may be because work gives them an identity, and because they have never learnt to immerse themselves in other activities, or the community around them.

Anyway, it makes immense sense to celebrate your daughter's little achievement, your parent's good health, or your friend's …

Alfred Hitchcock Presents

This guy has a knack of presenting films- both his own and made by other directors, with a lot of suspense. Saw a short episode on TV after a long time yesterday. What impresses me the most about his stories on film is two things-

1. The brevity. He is able to tell the story with a minimum of screen time, unlike most Hindi (or other) directors. This episode was 30 minutes long, with a full story.

2. The gripping suspense he creates, even when you know who-dun-it. It's not about who-dun-it all the time now, is it?

The guy is a walking (no more) ad for packaging being the soul of the content, a marketing message that some big guy in marketing once summed up as  "Sell the sizzle, not the steak!"

Remember him for the terrifying Birds, Psycho, and Dial M for Murder, and such classics. Ram Gopal Verma should watch some.

Stars and Meteors

What happens to stars who suddenly lose steam? Do they turn into meteors- or meteorites? I am talking here of stars in the film or music firmament.

Daler Mehendi, Alisha Chinai, Moon Moon Sen, Navin Nischal, and many more come to mind. Nazia Hassan (whose song has been blatantly copied in a recent film seemingly without credits to her or the music director Biddu), Runa Laila (in India) are some others that vanished without a trace.

Wonder what happens to numerous stars and starlets who play bit roles and then whoosh, nothing. How do they cope with this situation?


Pressures and Unhappiness

There is all kinds of pressure these days from your cradle to your grave. These grave thoughts are the result of some weekend ruminations. Whenever one hears cricket commentary, one remembers the words Manovaigyanik dabaav (Psychological pressure) used by erstwhile Hindi commentators.

These pressures can be of various kinds. To conform, to comply, To fall in line, to be what someone else wants you to be, to keep up with the Maniklals, etc.. What you do with them can result in happiness or otherwise- yours and that of others.

We frequently think that a faster (or bigger) car will bring us happiness, and do double duty to earn enough to buy it. But how many guys actually go out on a long trip in their car- big or small? Research may show that these are fewer than imagined. So the car ends up causing parking problems for everyone, if you are in a metro, rather than joy for the owner. The stares you get are less envious, and more about the nuisance caused by your giant ego-sized vehicle.

A Unique Experience

Had a unique experience today at a Faculty Development program on case method of learning, at a Delhi
B-school. We had about 20 participants attending the session through video-conferencing, from Pakistan. Worked pretty well. The roving camera meant that I could move around while talking, and only turn towards it once in a way.

My earlier brush with technology was at IIM K where we had VSAT based teaching (entirely) in a program which was pioneered by IIMK, and copied by other IIMs afterwards.

I am usually a techno-ignoramus, but I can see some of its benefits, saving costs for many on travel, which I have come to dread on occasion.

Honda Brio

After a long time in the car industry, there is a head-turner. Yes, it looks cute, and unique. The last time one had this feeling might have been with the Daewoo small car in India, and the Volkswagen Beetle abroad. What is it with the million-dollar car designers that they can't think of better designed-cars?

Cars come in weird shapes. Boxy, aggressive, sporty (whatever that means- driving is certainly not a sport, unless you count toying with other people's lives as one). They can also be functional, spacy (more car per car?) and fluidic (hopefully, not a car version of the incredible melting man, one of my favourite comic characters).

When will the designers actually use brains to do things like they apparently have with the Brio? If history is any indicator, not very often.

Hope in Times of Gloom

Indian stock market indices like the Sensex are doing cartwheels of joy, after hearing about the reforms that were announced over the last week. This is actually like an Oktoberfest of our own.

It is without a doubt because of the 1991 reforms that we are a strong country today. But for them, we would have been in the depths of despair, and probably hungry, disintegrated and disoriented. The ability to market these and more would probably see our economy grow at a fair clip in the next two decades.

With gloom pervading the European and American markets, this is our chance to show the world that we can lead it for a change. Let's do it!


Quarterly Returns

If you decide to analyse life in four quarters, 25 years each, and apply investment consultants' criteria to doing it, you may end up with something like this (to be patented, then you can't read it for free)-

Quarter 1: Negative income, (living on credit- mom and dad's money), Return on (their) Investment  uncertain, (Physical) Assets showing healthy growth.

Quarter 2: Income growth healthy, Assets are stable and productive, Return on (your) Investment on a slow but upward trajectory.

Quarter 3: Income at all-time high but matched by expenditure high, NAV just the same. Productivity on the decline, fixed assets changing to realty and shiny metal set to disappear into bank vaults (not in foreign shores), Bonds (with people)  losing value with time.

Quarter 4: All assets (physical and fixed) turning into NPAs, Declining ROI, Net worth close to zero, Bond rating by agencies (those around you)- approaching junk status.


Zorba the Greek- The Film

I have been wanting to see the movie ever since I read the book maybe a year ago. The wish came true a couple of days ago, at Hyderabad. The medium (film) is able to capture some of the book's greatness, but not all.

I will attempt to explain. The book relies on a lot of philosophical dialogues which are interspersed at regular intervals into the story, a simple enough tale of a man on a mission confronted by an ebullient, irrepressible Greek and their contrasting approaches to life. One, a dull, academic type, and Zorba, anything but.

Anthony Quinn does a marvelous job of acting the title role, and brings liveliness to his role. His scenes of doing the dance at unexpected times are some of the best, including the last scene. But the impact that the dialogues had in the book are somewhat muted in the film. May not be anyone's fault, but the impact is less.

The photography of what looks like Greece is really nice and different from the New-Yorkish sets that one is used to in f…

The Sound of Logic

What is sound logic? Is it when you hear something and like the sound of it? Or do bells jingle in the brain telling us, "This is logical." Some of these descriptors don't make much sense.

What is brand new? Is it branded as new? Why not just simply new? Is that any less?

What is a white lie? Can you have a black lie? Black and white? Grey? Rainbow coloured? Why not?

Why do we write Yours sincerely when we are not being sincere about being sincere? What does being sincere mean anyway when you are writing a letter?

Exciting, Interesting, Challenging, are words that may have lost their charm by being overused, wrongly used and excessively used. A job ad that promises a challenging environment with exciting growth options and interesting projects to work on in an IT company...get what I mean?

The Indian School of Business

Visiting ISB for some work, I could not help but wonder at what Indian universities can be, and what they are. Promises of greatness belied. If you are at a typical state university campus, what you see is lack of professionalism everywhere, and a lack of maintenance even in the basic painting of walls, fixing of broken chairs and so on. Not to mention the broken intellectual infrastructure.

When will this change to something we badly need? My theory is that one of two things has to happen. Foreign universities must descend in large numbers and provide a kick in the backside to shape up these slumbering giants. Or, every university must be made autonomous, and every college must be asked to market their own programs, with few exceptions. Might just shake up the lethargy prevailing all around.

The ISB is a reminder that it can be done.