Monday, February 23, 2015

Culture - Fragile, handle with care

It is shocking to realize that I have all along been totally oblivious of what is happening around me. Worse still, I have been living in a fool's paradise assuming things to be exactly the opposite of how they really are. It is such a shameful thing that I have been so ignorant about what is happening with such an important thing as my own culture.

That is the problem with taking things for granted. You see, when I was young, my culture was assumed to be so strong. It had lasted a few millenniums and emerged relatively unscathed from long years of colonial rule. True, we had changed the way we dress and had taken to considering speaking in English as somehow more sophisticated than speaking in our own lingo, but those were but cosmetic changes compared to how little had been affected in all the rest.

I stop paying attention to it, assuming that what had been strong enough to last all the cataclysms of the ages would be strong enough for my lifetime, and find that suddenly it has become so weak, so fragile that it gets threatened by some ill-informed book, some pieces of art, the depictions of some fictional characters and even, horror of horrors, cartoons! How incredibly naive I was, how uncaring of my roots that I thought that, even if they did defame my culture, they could hardly make a dent on the strength of my ethos, and the best thing to do was to laugh them away. AND, in case there was any truth in the negatives stated, my culture had the resilience to change and become stronger - as it has in the past, when it stopped animal sacrifices and sati.

This convenient assumption - that, if the portrayal is wrong, it is ridiculous to give it any importance and, if it is right, it is ridiculous to muzzle it - is, I now realize, quite likely to bring on the end of my culture. It has now become so fragile that even the mild breeze, that these things are likely to be, is enough to blow it away and needs safeguarding with utmost vigilance.

I need to make up for my past lapses. How then do I ensure that I work in such a manner as to strengthen my culture? Do I take up the cudgels against the people who urinate all around my temples and scratch immortal love stories like "Rocky luvs Pinky" on centuries old sculptures? Nope - no-one considers that as threatening to our culture. Do I work towards the cause of rejuvenating Classical Music and dance? I do not think so. I have heard bhajans set to the tune of 'Ek, do, teen....' (And, who knows, "Chikni Chameli.." or whatever, now), so it looks like giving up Indian classical music/dance is not a big deal.

Do I proselytize about the strong family system here - that the intrusiveness may be a by-product but the support in times of need is reliable? Yeah Right - just as everyone and his uncle is ensuring that about the only thing that remains of the family system is the intrusiveness. Do I speak of the 'Athithi satkar' and the need to sustain the openhearted and open-minded way in which we treat guests and accept their different way of life? But that, too, is not necessary to strengthen our culture. What is important is to make the other guys accept ours. Just as the more important thing to strengthen my culture is for me to ensure that the women in my vicinity are completely covered, and the not too important and, maybe, even irrelevant thing is to avoid molesting women myself.

Do I propagate the Indian philosophical thought of a life of detachment from the material world? Nonsense - not when a sizable proportion of even the spiritual gurus are queuing up for their BMWs. Do I try to spread the idea of "God is in Everyone"? Don't be ridiculous - we all know that he cannot be in those guys praying to a different God OR these women who dress in a manner quite against our culture (There is this problem for me. With this sprawling country with so many different dress codes, exactly WHAT fits our culture and what does not?) Anyway, all this thing about 'Advaita' is a relatively modern construct and, if we had been around in those days, we would have eliminated all such threats to our culture right then.

I am all atwitter to do something to safeguard my culture but, unfortunately, cannot think of anything right away. And, meanwhile, my inaction is probably causing my culture to be blown away by these vagrant breezes.

Wait! Where is my cudgel? I can go around bashing young couples in my neighborhood on Valentine's day.

Oh! Shucks! Valentine's day is already gone. I will have to wait for a year before I can do something to safeguard my culture.

I sure hope and pray that it can survive till then!

Monday, February 16, 2015

Words of Importance - Scenario

"We are planning to increase our production in anticipation of higher demand for our products."

"If people do not actually buy more, we may lose a lot of money. Our product is perishable and if we cannot sell it, we will have to junk it."

Those pearls of wisdom uttered in the second half were, obviously, mine. Needless to say, half the people did not even deign to listen and the other half sneered at what appeared to be a school-boy trying desperately to act like a manager. Very difficult to digest, since I was in my mid-thirties and could not exactly fit into my school uniform.

The thing is, I had no-one else to blame for it but myself. My parents and teachers too, maybe, since it was they who taught me that what was said was more important than the way it is said. But, then, if an education in IIM had not rubbed THAT piece of nonsense out of my head, how could I claim to have learned anything in IIM? So, it was only myself I could blame, after all.

You do not get the point? Well, let us rephrase that answer the management way and you will.

"If you consider the scenario where the sales rise only by 0%, the net profits will dip by 100% since our product is perishable and we cannot recover the variable costs." see! The moment managers hear the word 'scenario', they realize that what I am saying is a result of scientific analysis and not just hot air. (YOU consider the word 'scenario' IS hot air? Who asked you, anyway, we are talking of managers here) I have a sneaking suspicion that things like this happen at managers' houses.

Wife: It may rain today. Take an umbrella.
Husband: I don't think so. It has been cloudy the last two days but has not rained a drop.

Wife: Consider the scenario that it rains today. There is a 85% probability that you will get drenched and a 60% probability of your getting a cold.
Husband: Where is the umbrella? I can't take a chance.

Come to think of it, there is probably a great deal of marital discord in manager's houses merely because their spouses do not know the importance of the word 'scenario'. I mean 'Consider the scenario that your children may grow up rebellious. You need to go to that PTA meeting today."; 'Consider the scenario that I may blow up our retirement funds in shopping. You really need to come shopping with me." etc.etc. could well get results. But...I digress.

To get back to what I was saying, I truly deserved to be considered a school-kid playing at work, since I never really knew the right words to use. If only I had learned the seminal importance of the word 'scenario', for one, I might have been a wise and respected manager,scorching up the corporate ladder in unseemly haste.

It pays, of course, to elaborate on 'scenario'. I mean, it is hardly a help to just say, "In the scenario of low growth in sales, we will make losses" though it certainly is far better than saying "If sales do not grow, we make losses." You should never forget the fact that numbers, no matter which hat you picked them from, give a semblance of not only accuracy but also great diligence. So, learn to extend the 'scenario' thing by saying, "I think there is a 35% probability of sales remaining stagnant and, in that scenario, the top-line will remain the same. (Any idiot can say that, since if sales quantity is the same and price is the same, then the multiple of the two WILL be the same. BUT, still, it is more impressive to say it - it gives the impression of a dedicated employee who leaves nothing to chance, not even the possibility of mathematics deceiving you from time to time.) We would have incurred additional costs of about 20% of the top-line, due to the increased production and, since our bottom-line is just 10% of the top-line, we will make a 10% loss."

There, now, does that not sound more impressive, more...managerial? Yes, you said, in effect, the same thing - if you produce more and do not sell more, you make losses. BUT - if you speak the same way as you used to at school, how can one consider you a manager? Why did your parents pay those humongous sums of money to get you an MBA?

There is such a thing as going overboard with extending the 'scenario'. For example, you should not go on to say, "If that happens and we make losses, the CEO and CFO will give their coats to the Board of Directors to hold, while they grabbed you by the scruff of your necks and the seat of your pants, and chucked you out on the pavement." If you do extend things that far, you have veered off from scenario 'analysis' and gone on to wishful thinking. YOUR wishful thinking. If you forget yourself and go on like this, you may well find that this part of the scenario gets enacted - with YOU in the central role and YOUR nose rubbed on the pavement.

Ah! No! No! No! THAT's not what happened to me. THAT's not why I am retired. Really, believe me!

Monday, February 9, 2015

Panchatantra with a twist - Netted Pigeons

Now, there was this flock of pigeons whose head was friends with a mouse. One day, the pigeons found a lot of grains scattered in a field and descended to peck at them, only to find themselves trapped in a net. The head of the flock suggested that all of the them should unitedly fly with the net. If they could reach the mouse, he could gnaw the ropes of the net through and release them. Otherwise, they would be killed by the hunter.

Being merely bird-brains - literally - the flock carried out the plan and were freed of the net by the mouse. Not being gifted with the sophisticated brains of human beings, they had no real idea of the big picture and the entire conversation of the rest of the flock could be reduced to "Yes, Boss". Not particularly an intellectually stimulating conversation, right? If only they had been over-burdened with brains, they could have seen the situation from all angles and been much enlightened.

So, let us like Albert Einstein suggested, do a thought experiment and see what the gift of human intelligence would have done to enrich the conversation.

Head Pigeon: We are caught in a Net. If we can all fly off with this together, we can get our friend the mouse to gnaw through it and release us. Otherwise, we will be killed by the hunter.

Pigeon 1 (sitting on a hoard of grains): That is a panic reaction. We have ample time to finish all these grains before the hunter comes.

Pigeon 2: I did not expect this of you, Chief. You want us all to fly away so that you can have all these grains to yourself, later.

Pigeon 3: Who knows if we can really fly with the net all the way to the mouse. Even if we do, the mouse may not want to help us. Even if he does, it may not be possible for him to cut through the net.

Pigeon 4: This must be some conspiracy. The mouse must be involved in this somehow and will charge a hefty fee to cut through the net.

Pigeon 5: Even if it is really a hunter's net if we plead with him, he will let us go. Why take recourse to any hazardous ventures?

Pigeon 6 (whispers to pigeon 7): How many can the hunter eat? We are in the center, anyway. After he eats those ones at the edges, he may let us go.

Pigeon 8: There is no net. This is merely the way the land is, here. It is an unwarranted conclusion from our temporary inability to move to postulate the existence of a net. Even if there is a net, there is no evidence that there is also a hunter. This is either irresponsible scare-mongering or an attempt to push us to closer friendship with the mice.

Pigeon 9: You people landed where the grains are thick and have eaten well. I and my family have had little to eat. We will help you but you will have to do most of the work, since we are too weak.

Head Pigeon: Either all of us work equally at flying away with the net or none of us will.

See - the entire flock of pigeons has been educated on all possible facets of the problem thanks to human intelligence.

So what if they all ended up getting digested finally?

P.S: Seeing any similarities with international discussions on Global Warming and other such issues are at your own risk.

Monday, February 2, 2015


'Practice makes you perfect' or some such thing, they say, and it is probably true. Whatever else I practiced or not, the one thing I know that I practiced with utmost diligence all through my life was this thing of seeking approval. It is true that I am yet to discover why it is so important to acquire this ability but still...

Anyway, I must say almost all of us get a very early start on this thing. One of my earliest memories must be that of visiting a neighborhood house and being offered candy, whereupon I was supposed to immediately look around to see if my mom approved of my taking it. If I fail to do so, OR grab a second or third helping without such approval, I was held up as an example for pigs to emulate in greed. (One of the eternal mysteries of Society for me is the fact that at an age when I could eat nonstop all day and still wake up in the night feeling hungry, I was expected to turn down additional offerings, if I expected social approval. On the other hand, now that I have hit an age, when I am already thinking about antacids halfway through the meal, people keep thrusting additional helpings on me and laud me if I eat everything on offer. Strange...but that is not the point of this discourse.)

What applies for early childhood, though, does not apply in the teens. Once you hit the teens, you start seeking approval of your peers AND a necessary (though not sufficient) condition is that you should earn the disapproval of the adult world at large but, most especially, your parents. It is thus that I could pity, but not respect a friend, when he met me with a disconsolate look.

"What is the point in enduring this queasy stomach and hangover, dude! My purpose was not served."
"What happened?"
"I reached home falling down drunk. My dad opened the door and had a satisfactorily disgusted look on his face."
"Good! So, why are you unhappy?"
"He asked me how much I had had to drink. I proudly said two large pegs of whisky. And do you know what he said?"
"Only two large pegs and you are thoroughly sozzled? In my time I could down four and still walk a straight line."

Poor guy! You could say he earned his dad's disapproval, I suppose, but I quite agreed with him. THIS was not exactly the sort of disapproval for which he would earn brownie points with our friends. A knock-down-and-drag-on argument with his parents on his drinking ways and he could have become a hero.

Ah! Youth! Then you felt an almost messianic zeal about opposing almost anything the adult world said and rebelled against them. Mind you, you can keep spouting about freedom of thought and action but, unless you want to shed all your friends, NEVER apply the same freedom with regard to the thoughts and actions of your friends. So, there I was, already practicing to seek approval from people only to be liked, as opposed to the dependency factor that applied during earlier days with regard to parents.

This entire process of growing up - maturing, some wag called it and the term stuck - is, I think, a process of gaining more and more expertise at gaining approval. In the early days, it used to be just your parents; then just your own group of friends and, in both cases, there was roughly a unanimity in WHAT you were expected to do or be. Adult life is a process of finding out that all people around you do not, necessarily, approve of the same things. Your neighbors approve of your Nano but your in-laws sneer at it. Your boss wants you to come in formals, your wife prefers you to be hip. Your parents want you with them but your children prefer a gated community. So, you do a zig in the morning, a zag in the afternoon and go around in circles all night. The extent of your mastery of the art of gaining approvals determines how much stress and guilt you accrue in the process.

And here I am, near the end of life and free to do only things that I approve of, myself.

There is only one small hitch. Can someone please tell me exactly what I need to do to gain my  own approval?