Thursday, August 7, 2014

Chalta hai

"Oh! The financial model fails if you assume Interest rates outside a range."

You can fool some people all the time and I had managed to fool my organization into thinking that I was an expert on financial modeling. Now that I had quit, they had retained me as consultant, and here I was checking on the validity of a financial model by one of the people in the Projects department.

By the way, in case you are wondering whether a financial model is a size zero woman, sashaying down the ramp clad in currency notes, let me disabuse you of the notion. There are spreadsheets and then there are spreadsheets. The latter are the ones which you develop to project the financial position of a proposed project to assess whether it was worth investing in. When banks get into the act, these spreadsheets get elevated from the general population of mango spreadsheets and enter the exalted realm of financial models.

"Fails?" I asked her.

"Yes! It breaks down with those assumptions."

She might have been talking of a pet poodle and wondering why I could not just accept the fact that poodles WILL lift their legs near lamp-posts and water them. After all, it was in the nature of poodles to do it and, to her, it seemed that it was in the nature of financial models to break down every now and then.

"You made this model, right?"

"Yes"

She looked puzzled. She had no clue - or so it seemed to me - that I could be so stupid as to assume that, just because she had made the model, she was responsible for any breakdowns it suffered OR for rectifying them.

When I was doing this modeling, if someone had pointed out an error in the model, I would go crimson all over my body, rectify it, and periodically kick myself in the butt for the next month for having made the error. One of the various immaturities in my mental make-up that prevent me from being an adult Indian. The idea of merely assuming that  'Work WOULD have errors, so what?' never occurred to me and still does not.

(By the way, it just so happened that the other person was a woman. It could well have been a man.)

The next interview was with the head of the Projects department.

"I think the model needs rectification. It fails when certain assumptions are made."

The man looked at me in astonishment. As though I were a fireman, who had been called to put out a serious fire in an apartment block, and was refusing to take the vehicle out because the axle was noisy and I insisted on greasing it before I took the it out. I, on the other hand, could see no emergency and was not mature enough to understand that, when there was no fire, there was no need to grease the axles and keep the vehicle ready.

"Chalta hai (It's Ok), yaar! We can manage with this one." he said. Then, seeing me still unconvinced, he provided me with the blood-brother of 'Chalta hai'. "Kya farak padtha hai (What difference does it make)? We will just keep the assumptions within limits."

Ye Gods! I do not belong in the Indian corporate world. I still have the senseless assumption that the shirt should be cut to fit the body, when everyone knew that the body can be cut to fit the shirt. In other words, the model need not be made to adopt any necessary assumptions, we could just tailor the assumptions to fit the model.

THAT, to me, is the major cause of most of what ails India. What if you cannot maintain service standards - chalta hai, you cannot be good all the time. What if your roads are littered - chalta hai, you cannot be clean all the time. What if your products break down - chalta hai, you cannot maintain quality all the time.

The problem is not that I expect 100% quality every time. The idea that nothing less is acceptable is what ensures replacements, penalties for deficient service etc. In other words, when 100% quality is guaranteed to the recipient, then quality standards improve and, even where there are inevitable failures, the recipient is guaranteed a replacement/compensation.

If, however, you start accepting lack of quality as the norm - the 'chalta hai' attitude - then everything goes down the drain. The moment you start thinking of yourself as a rat in a sewer, you only think of becoming a bigger rat, not a lion. For example, I see Indian companies touting 'German technology' or 'Japanese Technology' in their products as a selling proposition, and there is no vestige of shame in either the seller or the buyer that the implicit message is that imported technology is bound to be better than indigenous technology. I cringe when I see those advertisements and when I accept the inherent truth of the message - with a 'chalta hai' attitude, you are never going to get 'Indian technology' to mean something to take pride in.

I prefer not to exert myself at all but, when I take on a job, I can never do less than my best and can never digest an error in my work as being natural. There is a certain pride in doing a great job and becoming the best at what you do - a pride that entirely obviates the need to have the esteem of other people to bolster your own self-esteem. The fact that other people have become only a source of pleasure and not points of stress is entirely due to the fact that I do not need them in order to have a sense of self-worth. So, yes, abandoning the 'chalta hai' attitude and striving for personal excellence is a great help personally, as well, in addition to the difference it makes to Society.

But then, I am the immature maverick Indian. Who knows how the mature Indian will feel and react. For all I know, the reaction will be the other sibling of 'Chalta Hai' - "Sab log aise hi hain (Everyone is like this)". Leaves me with no option but to say, "Kya farak padtha hai. These people will be like this. Chalta hai."

I suppose we may as well resign ourselves to talking about our glorious history, instead of making history.

48 comments:

  1. Got news for you from these here upper latitudes out west of the prime meridien... Business cases for projects are almost always manipulated to get the project started. That's when they are built at all.

    I should know - building Project Offices is what I do for a living, when I'm not trying to pretend to be a writer. :(

    The issue really is greedy corporation executives have stripped the organizations of the thinker/doer types who have all become independent consultants. The yes-men, chalta-hai, kya farak padta hai, mera paisa thodi hai crowd are left in charge and the fight has gone out of them. Majboori, maybe, has caused them to lose their sense of pride.

    It's a very sad state of affairs.

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    1. You touch on another of my pet bug-bears - this elevation of wealth as the ONLY measure of success, which had led to making money at any cost - pride in work, honesty and every value that makes a human being worthy of respect.

      All over the world, people seem to be shifting to the 'chalta hai' attitude but in India we seem never to have shifted away in the first place :)

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    2. Agree. It seems that India is leading the way but in actuality the "superiority of the west" is a carefully nurtured myth, a myth that globalisation has destroyed. Or if it hasn't then it has at least torn rather large holes in.

      Corruption in the first world is a business art. Check the number of cases where corporations have paid billion dollar fines while "admitting no wrong doing". It's now just a cost of doing business. If you like, corruption and bribery have been perfected in the west while the "developing nations" do it rather crudely.

      Cop beatings? Check
      Financial shenanigans? Check
      Class distinction? Check (Where else would a mayor admit to using crack, proven to consort with drug dealers and still be in office? Why would actors and actresses repeatedly fail the probation and still not go to jail?)

      I would say to Indians - stop thinking of the west as some superior entity. Where there are humans there will be same level of crap.

      The chalta hai attitude exists everywhere. File this under "Sad but true"

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    3. Need you tell me about it? :) I mean India has still not got to the point of making bribes tax-deductible. We need to learn about lobby firms :)

      The thing is, though that before all these took over a lot of legislation and enforcement mechanisms had been put in place to ensure that their world was not entirely 'Caveat Emptor' :) We skipped that part of development and jumped directly to the next stage :)

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    4. Yeah,the FDA, for example, is one of the most useless, corrupt bodies. The drug companies and the doctors consistently widen thresholds so that more people are prescribed drugs. A third of the US population has been to jail (they are private enterprises now so obviously they need to find every little petty thief to get in there so they make profits).

      And the big banks and financial companies screwed everyone over and no one went to jail. All those executives caused people to lose their homes, their lives and none of them showed any remorse, and none were prosecuted and the executives all got hefty bonuses.

      The ordinary rank and filer here works twice as hard because of all the layoffs, the projects are run like the galley ships of old, every one is stressed and cuts continue. And while projects continue to be too expensive, too late and deliver a fraction of the value "promised in the business case" more staff is cut so the executive bonuses can be paid out.

      'swonderful life! Then there's people like me (and you) who have jumped off the corporate ladder. Are we the smart ones? Or are we the stupid ones who couldn't take the heat and jumped off the sinking ship? (Am I allowed to thoroughly mix my metaphors?)

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    5. I am just me! Smart, Stupid what does it matter :) I just wanted to be happy. And, no, the heat did not make me jump off the sinking ship. I had decided on jumping long before I even entered the kitchen :) (I can mix my metaphors with the best of you guys :P )

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  2. You have hit a bull's eye here Suresh! I can't agree with you more. It has caused me a lot of argument. It is everywhere, in every sphere. It is so ingrained in us. We marvel wide eyed at everything foreign and perfect and we have no shame, we just accept that they are better. But we never ever stop for a moment to ask ourselves where we lag! Because we are just used to accepting that this is how we are, sub-par somehow, content in serving the other more advanced race

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    1. Burns me up too. ONLY a person who s used to giving quality will be angry at his not getting quality in return. Since we do not give quality service, the nation is unlikely to see any move towards more quality.

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  3. With a brain the size of a dinosaur's (not a dinosaur) I was nodding at the ramp-walker-in-notes definition of 'financial model'. Somehow, it sounds more appealing than the professional jargon. And easier to understand to. :P
    "The moment you start thinking of yourself as a rat in a sewer, you only think of becoming a bigger rat, not a lion." - This is where I clapped.

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    1. It appealed to me too Sakshi :) I loved the intellectual pleasure of making the regular financial model but the result seems not so interesting compared to what the imagination conjured up. :)

      Thanks! Good to know I can earn applause some times :)

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  4. You have rightly shown the mirror, Sureshji.
    'Chalta Hai' is unfortunately true & so deeply ingrained in our psyche...
    Totally agree.

    We need more Quality-conscious people like you. (Note- I mean this with utmost sincerity.)
    The kind of people who don't compromise & when informed of an error in their work, have the following reaction:
    "go crimson all over my body, rectify it, and periodically kick myself in the butt for the next month for having made the error."
    India wants this... May the tribe of such Indians increase.
    Those who'll raise the standards of the rest...

    I despise the fact that the rest of the populace ensures that those who are Quality-conscious or pro-development or change-oriented etc are made to fall in line with the rest of the populace...
    "Sab log aise hi hain (Everyone is like this)".
    "Kya farak padtha hai."

    The day we STOP accepting 'Chalta Hai' as our Mantra, our India will START boasting of truly incredible achievements & not just "resign ourselves to talking about our glorious history, instead of making history."
    I pray to see the day soon.

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    1. Ah! How right! If you are quality conscious and honest, you are the 'duniya nahin janta hai, bechara' :P

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  5. A good example is me. I, am a homemaker,in Bangalore,shifted here three years back,my window to the city/ world is Bangalore Mirror and Internet.No maid, vendors know hindi better than me (they can swear in hindi, I can not.) ... so the minutes passed in some BMTC buses (against my husband's wish..so again limited) were/are my only interaction with Bangalore. Still i know Swalpa Adjust maadi :D they speak it as salpa adjzt maadi .....Proud to be Indian.

    PS the girl IS good man ... she looked at you puzzled ... just because she had made the model, she was responsible for any breakdowns it suffered OR for rectifying them !!! ROFL ... I mean it ...ROFL.

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    1. HA! At last someone ROFLs reading one of my posts :)

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  6. Members of a drying tribe, the ones who strive for quality in whatever they do on a consistent basis. Today, just about good enough earns platitudes like excellent, awesome, then I wonder what truly excellent work will get, maybe a pink slip, given that the powers that be don't even understand what constitutes a good job. Just good enough is good enough nowadays.

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    1. Kaam chalao IS our motto :) Don't ever ask 'Kitne din chalega' :P

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  7. Financial models and Size Zero is both somewhat Greek to me though I will invest more time in understanding that. "Hota hain, Chalta Hain Duniya Hain" a dialogue from the movie Khalnayak is what defines our mentality. We worship mediocrity and not excellence. Kya kare we are like this only! but no, we need to change if we want to grow as a superpower

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    1. We need to change even if we want only self-respect :)

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  8. I also think what ails us is this inferiority complex for what reason I have no idea...What I've seen in my work life so far is that nobody wants to point out the mistakes of the client , if the client is from outside India, because apparently they know best even if we know they don't...Whereas the clients would have gladly accepted their faults if pointed out..But no we have to compromise because apparently we are lesser mortals...very sad..And because I don't listen even though the clients love me my very own Indian team mates think I'm a burden! ...I don't know if this is chalta hai attitude but it certainly is a by product of that...

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    1. If you do nothing worth being proud of, feeling inferior is a given.

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  9. Financial model is a size-zero lady, sashaying down the ramp clad in currency notes :-D :-D...hell of an idea ! only you can invent such great similarities...and that's why I love to read your posts !

    "periodically kick myself in the butt " ..oh !! joined a gym recently ? so much agility..a dream for me though ..:-P

    Finally..we all know that this is one of our national characteristics..... and 'chalta hain' is the sobriquet of every project with errors... nothing will change unless and until the mind-set is changed to... chalta to hain par keya chalana thik hain ?

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    1. No! No gym! Just that I kick my butt with the heel and not the toe of the foot :)

      AND THAT national characteristic is what will keep us down :)

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  10. This chalta hai attitude is really everywhere. Mediocrity or even lower than mediocrity is acceptable as long as some big bosses are making money off the product. Look at our roads, bridges, railway platforms, everywhere. Or look at our movies, popular music, novels. We really seem to have forgotten what it means to strive for excellence. May be we had lost that a few centuries ago and are getting deeper and deeper into the hell-hole of chalta hai yaar or kya farak padta hai. I shudder to think of where will this road take us!

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    1. As, indeed, do I. You visit some of the South Indian temples and look at the sculpting on the obscure pillars, near the floor, where no-one really looks and you still find amazingly done sculptures. It surprises me that the country which produced such sculptors - who tried to do their best even where it would likely go unnoticed - is the homeland of a population of 'chalta hai' people.

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    2. I know what you mean. Have been visiting some of these amazingly grand temples over the past year or so. This is the India we need to bring back. How? I don't know, but somehow we must.

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    3. I am at a loss as well. Somehow, maybe over the period of colonial rule, we seem to have lost pride in self and have taken to taking pride in possessions. NOW, unless we tie in wealth with quality, it seems a tough ask.

      Such a pity! The joy of doing a good job far transcends anything that money can buy - except if you are starving, of course :)

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  11. You know I have been thinking about this recently.. Previously when I started working I would feel my heart beat rising as people would find errors in my work.. But these days I have kind of resigned to the fact that error will be there ..I know it is tough to be error free .. but watching my attitude towards error undergoing such a drastic change shocks me .. Each time I decide to gear up and try to work with the resolve to do error free work, I fall flat in few days time dead tired and let go of the leash and error kind of gushes in .. I am not sure what to do.. I am thinking of quitting or should I give one more chance I do not know...

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    1. You do tend to make errors when you do anything. Perfection is not given to us mortals. What is problematic is to consider errors acceptable.

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  12. I have fought and fought verbally of course on this 'chalta-hai' attitude, I have quit my job twice when I failed to convince my team-leads that we are duty-bound to offer 100% quality to our clients. What is the point of ISO certification and other shams if a basic project report has typos and wrong data. I am sick and tired of being the guinea pig in the scientist's lab-experiment, running endlessly.

    The only reason that a vast majority sticks to the security of a pay-check and regular job is the pressure of loan EMIs :( caught in a loop which has no redemption!

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    1. I know Mahesh! One of the things that made me decide against marriage - and keep my needs simple - was that I hated the idea of HAVING to work when or where I did not want to work.

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  13. I bow down to thee! This is an argument I had not only in my corporate life but even outside of it and I was shocked by how entrenched this "chalta hai" attitude is. Think about it, even on the roads when you see people violating traffic rules and many a times causing fatal accidents its the same attitude at play but with a slightly different flavour "I can get away with it".

    P.S- btw having spent a bit of my time on financial modeling at work, the imagery of a model walking the ramp clad in notes was enough to make me fall of my chair laughing :P

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    1. When you offer quality, you become less inclined to accepting low quality - in the products you buy, in the services you get, in the infrastructure and in the behavior of others in all spheres of human activity. When you are in the chalta-hai mode, you do not respect yourself - and if you do not respect yourself, you do not feel that you deserve better treatment enough to demand it. (See the terms people use to try and command respect - "Janta hai mera baap koun hai?'; :Jante ho ki main kaun hoon?" and such things that refer back to their position in Society. They cannot think that simply as people they are deserving of respect)

      Am glad that I also made you laugh :)

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  14. You talk of assumptions that break down a financial model but the truth is we are not careful about simpler things such as alignments in an e-mail. This attitude pervades all aspects of our life.

    Even consumer goods with a long term life are built to fail in the stipulated time. I doubt we will ever go back to days of a 20 year old refrigerator or 10 year old television.

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    1. Quite right! It seems unlikely that we will

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  15. I can see that you have not grasped a very important insight. That there's true happiness in incompetency :) And if you still don't believe it, I wrote a post to prove it ages ago.. http://themoonstone.wordpress.com/2010/11/26/happiness-in-incompetency/
    Well, on a serious note, a very thoughtful post.We just have become bigger rats in every field , no sign of a lion anywhere. We have three options - 1. we can be a rat and believe we are a lion 2. we can be a rat and believe we are a rat 3. we can try to be a lion and believe we are a lion 4. we can be a lion and believe we are a rat.
    First one is illusion, second is accepting reality - whether we want to continue being a rat or try being a lion starts from there. Third is having reached a competency and being confident about it. And fourth is even after having reached a competency, we still suffer from an inferiority complex. I fear the first far more than the second.Third is ideal and fourth I am not sure if it exists.

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    1. Ah! Ash! We are sort of 1a - we know we are rats but we think becoming the biggest rat is the pinnacle of achievement :)

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  16. I wish i had written this post-this attitude inflames me.
    New born babies get roasted in incubators--chaltahai.
    Kids fall into open holes of death chalta hai.
    Overloaded trucks go past cops and cause accidents--chalta hai.
    Drunk drivers kill people,no charges established-chaltahai.
    CCTV cameras are installed but don't function--chaltahai.
    3000 persons die of electrocution in 10 years in my state--chalta hai.

    Will we ever see responsibility fixed and punishment granted?Nahi chalta.

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    1. You got right to the depths of the point I was raising, Indu! This tolerance to sub-par performance is what causes ill in every sphere of action and at every stratum of society :)

      You made my day with the 'wish I had written this post' - A first for me and makes me very proud that it came from you.

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  17. I'm tired of this attitude of ours,there are a number of things that come to my mind but i won't torture you with my rant...but i'm so glad that a fellow country man of mine has a problem with this,cause i see so many of us who just don't seem to care,they simply say "India hain,aise hi rahega" ...i fight almost daily,with almost everybody or almost everything .. breaking lines,littering,spitting,driving recklessly,not good service....so much more,even i've started to believe that Indians are not going to change,never,i can only do much about it,try to educate ppl nd teach my kid right and about quality of our Indian made things will never improve cause we always want easy solutions,we never strive for perfection,we Adjust,with everything,and if somebody tells us that something's wrong we think of them as "nakhrebaaz",see that as a tantrum ....and if i see something wrong in the Indian way of doing things or our sensibilities everybody goes patriotic on me .....and about taking pride in our work,what's that?

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    1. Yes! Wanting our nation to be better is better patriotism than sticking to bad habits

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  18. You are right Suresh. It's applied everywhere in the country. Impacts public and the private sectors and homes and public places too .

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