Monday, September 05, 2011
Saturday, June 18, 2011
Sunday, March 06, 2011
Sunday, October 17, 2010
The last 3 weeks have been phenomenally positive for the Indian spirit and there has been no better showcasing of what India stood for. Or at the very least what we wanted the world to see India for-Our reaction to Ayodhya and the staging and performance at the Commonwealth games.
The Ayodhya verdict was delivered in end September. The court ruling decreed that archeologically, a temple indeed existed prior to the mosque and that for centuries the collective consciousness of the Hindu society has believed that, that very spot is the birthplace of Lord Ram. So another ‘batwaara' was done, splitting the land between the two communities.
Enough ink has been spent analysing the verdict from all possible angles (social, political, religious, legal, socio-political and so on). To me what stood out is the maturity of the response to the verdict from both the parties. Any legal judgment by its very character creates victors and losers. Throw in religion and add the 'respect of minority rights' garnishing to this and you have a heady cocktail that could easily lead to social unrest.
The BJP has famously argued that ' Ram hamaari Asmita hai...' (Ram is our sense of pride, the identification of our ego) and in many senses, this verdict is a validation of the BJP's stance. There is no justification of the riots that followed, the murders that occurred and social divisiveness that was created due to the bringing down of the mosque. The BJP could have very easily gone around town claiming victory of a cause that they have espoused since their inception. But you did not have any BJP leader saying so. In fact, the RSS leader came out and said that this verdict should not be seen as a victory for one community over the other. What a stark difference from the strident voices that we have heard in the past. It could be well because they had a favourable verdict. But still, cut them some slack.
On the other hand, the Muslim leaders could have positioned this verdict not as a simple property ownership dispute but as yet another example of lack of minority rights protection and freedom in India. Though there are murmurs of this and a few politicians like Mulayam Singh Yadav did try to voice this, but by and large the response has been matured.
Given the relative calm with which the verdict was received the one statement that everyone is parroting is that India has finally moved on. I would argue that it is too early to say so. As a nation of 60 years that has lived with a collective consciousness of Ayodhya dispute and as a civilisation that has lived with collective subconsciousness of Lord Ram and Ayodhya, it is very difficult to wish away such memories overnight. Like one of my favourite columnist and one of India's most astute socio-political commentator Pratap Bhanu Mehta writes
"It is worth thinking about how these long-term trends will play out. We are perhaps being a little too blasé in our claims that India has moved on. The extent to which it has will be tested by our willingness to peaceably submit to the due process of courts. And there is reason to be optimistic on this score. But how much we have really moved on will be decided not today or tomorrow, but by how the long march of our history unfolds."
As experts were scurrying from one TV studio to another in the first 3 days after the Ayodhya verdict, trying to provide perspective on a 11,000 page judgment that they had not read another spectacle was playing out in Delhi, the Commonwealth games. Following the terrible run up to the games and the negative PR that sometimes bordered on borderline prejudiced writing, the opening ceremony the national mood and international perception did a U turn. From being dismissive of the games, Indians as usual swung to the other extreme and started demanding Olympics in India. Sigh!
The pageantry on display during the opening ceremony was possibly the best display I have seen of India. This came closest to what I would call Incredible India. The drummers from all parts of the country, the famous train which open to display ambassadors and bazaars, the cultural dances that were thankfully without bollywood-isation, the Guru-shishya parampara .. oh! what a spectacle.
The opening ceremony possibly is the best encapsulation of not only navigating chaos and cacophony that is India but in fact celebrating it. The more I stay outside India, the more I realise the awesomeness of her diversity and character that I have taken for granted. (More on that in another post). We are a melting pot, an orchestra an avail, a khichdi. Each of the individual ingredients retain their identity but together they provide a different, pleasant and desirable taste.
The real stars of the games however were the athletes. 38 Golds and 101 medal in total- that is no mean achievement. And behind every achievement whether a medalist or not there is a story. A story that by now is so familiar. Lack of facilities and infrastructure; of absence of institutions and monetary support and of basic amenities. But there is also the other side. It is the story of hard work and pain, of sacrifices from the individual and family. It is also a story of fighting against all odds, biases and perceptions. A story of belief and ultimately triumph. It is a fairy tale that played out in front of our eyes.
To me the real heroes of the games are the women medalists and their families. Their challenges aren't just lack of facilities or training or monetary but that of social mindsets that they and their families needed to overcome. I hope the new found status (deservingly so) that these women have achieved in their society and community changes the entrenched mindsets which believes that women aren't as capable as men or have a role only inside the house. Many of the women athletes are from Punjab/ Haryana / Chattisgarh/Bihar. I hope the government takes this opportunity to communicate loud and strong against female infanticide.
While the jury is still out on whether Sports builds character or not, I definitely believe it reveals character and helps you become better individuals. How to be gracious in victory, or how to lose and not feel a loser. Regardless of your background and talent, without consistent hard work there is no guarantee of success. In a sporting career, you will have ups and downs, victories and loses heartaches and heart breaks. As I read somewhere sports is life with volume turned up.
I was a very active sports person till I finished my college. I played cricket for league and clubs and basketball at university and state levels. I remember I would go to the basketball court, every evening after school, when I was 7th to 10th classes. The state team would practice there and I would sit and watch their drills. Post that college boys would play and I would sit there every day hoping that some guy would not turn up leaving a team short of players and I would be called upon to join them. I would run around fetching loose balls only to be noticed by them. There have been weeks I have spent sitting on the sidelines without a chance to play. And finally when you do get a chance to play, you are just filler. The ball would not be passed to you or even if it was you were to pass it back immediately. You couldn't afford to mess it up. For if you did, you wouldn't be called upon the next time.
While I was school team captain in basketball, I was nobody on this court. Patience was learnt by sitting out and waiting even though I knew I was good enough to be on court. I worked hard and turned up daily and waited patiently for that one chance to earn. I would be up early before sunrise to go to the court as it would be free for me to practise a few shots. Evenings I would be back again.
One very important lesson that basketball teaches you is that you may have a super star in the team but you need everyone to contribute. As Phil Jackson used to famously quip about Michael Jordon and the Chicago bulls - the strength of the pack is the wolf (that leads the hunt) and the strength of that wolf is the pack. You soon learn that you need to give respect and only then you can gain respect.
I continued playing while in college and now played with 'men'. They were well built and played basketball professionally. And frankly I was no match for them. I had to go to college and also play basket ball, while they could afford to practise 3 hrs in morning and 3 hrs in the evening daily. But those were fun days. The fun you have when you are surrounded by people who are as crazy and passionate about the same things that you are cannot be described. It is a high that has to be experienced. While my friends would be sitting cinema theaters, pubs, coffee shops and beaches, I would be toiling hard on the basket ball court.
I don't know what drove me so much in those days. And sadly I don't know where that feeling has evaporated. Guess Life happened :(
When I see these medal winners and other participants in the games, I feel like celebrating their success. I feel that I can relate to their hard work and dedication and discipline and know what it takes to reach where they are today. Their success is that much more personal to me. Commonwealth Games has thrown up a lot of new heroes for the nation and for the many communities they belong to. I am sure that it is only going to have a positive effect on sports and the sporting culture of this country.
Saturday, September 25, 2010
This has been the saddest experience of my life, as I was very close to my mom in spite of the distance. She was a loving and caring woman who loved life and people and it makes me very sad that she no longer will be able to enjoy the life she loved so much. She loved to travel, to eat, to meet friends, to watch movies, to read books and to be with her family and even though she was 80 years old and with poor health for the last couple of weeks, it’s very difficult for me to comprehend that she can no longer inhabit this world she enjoyed so much.
I’m eager and happy to get on with work, knowing that all business problems always have a solution, which is not the case with health and life issues. I’m looking forward to seeing you and talking to you at the soonest occasion
My manager's mother passed away recently and she was away for close to a month. When she came in, she sent a very touching note, a part of which I have pasted here (without her permission). I found the last line very interesting. 'Knowing that all business problems always have a solution, not.....'
I sometimes wonder that our lives are so complex, difficult and for most parts out of our control that may be we yearn for that feeling of control, that certitude which would enable us to say, if we do X, Y will happen and so on. And it is this nature of business i.e. problems can be solved and that most things are causal, that, it is so alluring, that many people give 'business' so much importance, sometimes at the cost of other also important things in life.
I am turning out to be a big believer in signs. I have noticed that I am in a unclear situation, I have been fortunate to read ‘signs’ that have made me pause, re think, re assess and decide the right course of action. And every single time I have recognized and acted on these signs, I have chosen the 'better option'. I can't call it right decision, but definitely the 'better option'. This signs talk sounds so mumbo-jumbo, hocus-pocus right? Let me try and explain.
By signs, I don’t mean some sudden writing which appears from nowhere but I think I mean an intuitive feeling. A phenomenon, where I am able to comprehend a situation for more than what it looks at first sight, go behind and beyond and understand what it means in a broader context. I know all this talk of signs sounds like witch craft or something but it is not.
There is this other article I read - 'How Will you measure your life’ by Prof. Clayton M Christenson in the Harvard Business Review. The article raises interesting points and has drawn diverse reactions. I reproduce one part of it here that I quite liked.
It’s crucial to take a sense of humility into the world. By the time you make it to a top graduate school, almost all your learning has come from people who are smarter and more experienced than you: parents, teachers, bosses. But once you’ve finished at Harvard Business School or any other top academic institution, the vast majority of people you’ll interact with on a day-to-day basis may not be smarter than you. And if your attitude is that only smarter people have something to teach you, your learning opportunities will be very limited. But if you have a humble eagerness to learn something from everybody, your learning opportunities will be unlimited.
That is an astute observation. While we are not all pricks by default, meritocracy which we all swear by as the panacea to all problems in the world, is in my circles at least, defined by certain restrictive cues like the name of school or college, designation on our visiting card, the locality where we have bought houses, vacation destinations, fortune 500 ranking of our employer and so on. And we often compare ourselves with people who are better off or in our perception have accumulated more tick marks on list that invariably has items similar to the ones listed above. And these people become the smart people we want to associate with/ learn from and hence by the nature of limited capacity, energy, time, we don't seem to learn things from the rest. Thus it is not by choice that we ignore or close our minds to others, but just by social conditioning.
Of course, this also begs a larger question. How should we define merit?
Thursday, August 19, 2010
I came across this news article yesterday. Brazil has setup a Grammar hotline. You can now dial in - ask your doubts and experts will answer. The reason they say is that 'Brazilians are sensitive about making grammatical errors, which are often associated with a lack of education.'
Well, I do not think that grammatical errors imply a lack of education. Neither do I believe that proficiency in a language is a pre-requisite for success. Take the example of Indians like me. Most of us are not native English speakers. We are invariably bi-lingual if not tri-lingual or even multi-lingual. I can safely claim that I am proficient in English and can speak/write/read - Hindi and Tamil and can speak and understand Kannada and a bit of Bengali and can understand a bit of Gujarati. And almost all Indians I know are multi-lingual. So when we talk, we switch between two or even three languages, often in the same sentence. The rules of grammar are different in each of these languages. Hence we aren't often grammatically right when we speak. But hey, as long as we get the message across, it is fine, right? May be.
So what about when we write? We don't write in three languages. We do so in only one. Writing doesn't demand instantaneous reaction or spontaneous expression. In fact it gives us enough time to proof read for errors, if any. So then, are we justified in being a little more critical of errors when they occur in writing?
I think the discussion is not as simple as right vs. wrong or justified vs. unjustified, I would like to view the question in the broader context. Why is writing and writing well so important? Why do I and many others place a premium on the written word?
In this age of complexity and high noise, the ability to express our thoughts and ideas in a simple and cogent manner is a skill that is very scarce. Spoken words suffer from transmission loss. Our writing has the ability to travel both geographically and across time. Putting our thoughts down on paper, many a times, helps ourselves get clearer about the topic. As we write, we are often forced to think beyond gut reactions. We are forced to differentiate and discern between judgments /biases and facts and thus and many a times we re-evaluate our own points of view. Writing necessitates us to understand who our reader or audience is, expect or anticipate their questions and answer them in advance. This definitely develops our own intellectual faculties and many a times signals maturity of our thought process. We slowly but surely learn to appreciate nuances and subtexts better.
Effective writing is what I refer to as the ability to write well. I would in fact argue that our readers are investing their time to read and interpret what we are trying to say. So in a sense, we owe it to our readers to invest our own time, to enable easy comprehension. Not all of us are gifted with linguistic skills to write lyrically or poetically, but in this day and age we all have access to spell check and grammar-check tools. When we make the effort to spell check and grammar-proof our writing, we are in fact telling the reader that we appreciate and value his or her time. It signals that that we pay attention even to the smallest of details.
In professional context, I don't have to over emphasize the value of the written word. We are as good as our ideas and our ideas are worthwhile only if the receiver gets what we are trying to say. Our managers and business leaders have little time, so effective communication is of paramount importance. What we need to realise is that in today's electronic world, our written word travels before us. It builds a mental image and influences the perception of the writer in the reader's mind. And why wouldn’t we want to leave a positive impression?
Increasingly, we are concluding business deals via mails and documents alone, without interacting even once personally or over telephone with the other party. In such cases, it is crucial that we take effort to communicate effectively, so that we may influence the deal positively. I would even reckon that if we write well, with attention to details by dotting all the i's and crossing the t’s, our client or manager or business partner could very well believe that we would be as meticulous about our work/projects as we are about our written note.
Now, we write in different contexts. An email, a chat conversation, a personal invitation or a thank you note and so on. We don't necessarily have content that is intellectually heavy that needs to be thought through, simplified, communicated effectively all the time. I am sure our friends and acquaintances understand our message when we communicate using short forms or even non-grammatical terms. They could only care less about spellings, grammar, framework, thought process etc. So do we need to spell check, grammar-proof our writing even for a simple chat conversation? I am biased to say yes. It is my very personal point of view that we should make every effort to write well. After all, our friends are still investing time and effort and by taking pains to enable easy comprehension, we are only appreciative of their effort. Also, if we want to make a habit of writing well, why exclude certain conversations/ interactions. Excellence is after all achieved only when best practices become a habit. I would also contend that our friends are the best people to hone our grammar and spelling skills with. We are, after all most receptive to their criticism.
Finally, I would like to leave you with a cheeky note. When God gave the Ten Commandments, he wrote them / got Moses to write them down on stones vs. just sermonising. Now, I wonder why.