Monday, September 05, 2011

A new chapter

I have been absconding for a while. I am shamelessly providing an excuse. See below for the same :)

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Dubai Trip

So finally I did travel :) And this time, it was to Dubai. It was my first trip west of India. And I was mighty excited. And Dubai was a lot of what I had expected. And in many ways it was very different too. For starters, Dubai's economy isn't driven by oil. In fact only 15-20% of GDP was because of Oil. The oil is mostly in Abu Dhabi. Dubai is much like Singapore, driven by service sector.

The 2008 recession hit Dubai hard with exodus of a lot of expatriates. From articles I have read, people would drive their car to the airport, buy one way ticket and exit Dubai, leaving their Ferrari's and Prado in the parking lot. Dubai experienced a construction boom in 2003-2008, with buildings coming up at breakneck speed. The speculative market in housing prices and rentals fuelled the boom, and when the crash came, it bankrupted a huge percentage of population. Dubai, basically went bankrupt and Abu Dhabi had to step in to pay the debts. So much so that the tallest tower in Dubai - the Burj Khalifa was initially called Burj Dubai (or Dubai towers) but the name was changed to Burj Khalifa after the Abu Dhabi ruler who paid for the tower's completion in 2008.
Dubai is a man made city built on barren land with buildings, offices, malls dotting the entire landscape. The closest one can get to India is Gurgaon- albeit a well planned one. The land is barren but it is simply buildings and lands and roads and a productive and thriving economy. So in essence Dubai per se has no natural landscape (it does have a desert and a coast), but its man-made landscape is no less impressive and inspiring. Dubai in my opinion is a great example of sheer willpower to create something big. Malls in Dubai reek of opulence. The newer part of Dubai with its glittering malls, offer the best brands from across the world. If it is present in London, Milan, New York Paris or Shanghai, it is here in Dubai. Dubai is an expatriate dominated population with only 20-25% of population being local.
Thus, you find Argentinean cuisines in this small city which you wouldn't find that easily in say a Singapore. Not only in terms of cuisines and brands but the malls try and bring every possibly experience to Dubai so that you have absolutely nothing to complain. The Dubai mall, had a giant aquarium where you can go diving - beat that.. and the Emirates mall has a huge indoor ski resort, where you can go skiing . Whoa!

To give you a measure of Dubai's wealth - These are gold ATMS. ATMs that dispense Gold Bars. hah :)
It gets so hot for 6-7 months a year that one has to spend time indoors and malls seem are the ideal hangout spots. I should say that the malls weren't a novelty factor for me, given that Singapore is also quite similar, but then it was fun as a tourist. The most enjoyable part of the trip for me was meeting the brand manager I had been working with over the last few months over phone and emails. He is from Pakistan. He is extremely well read and knowledgeable. We got along absolutely fab when we met. It was such a stimulating and mind opening conversation just to hear narratives of events that we are contemporary witnesses, yet from an completely new perspective - a perspective that is steeped in a different set of experiences and consciousness. I am not talking about the clichéd topic of India Pakistan and Kashmir. We spent few hours talking about the Middle east, Pakistan, perceptions of India, the unrest in Egypt, Libya, Bahrain and other regions, the local customs, global politics, oil economics and so on.
He was narrating a story of how when he and his colleague ( an NRI Indian and Hindu) were travelling in Egypt on work, the local Egyptians were very fascinated and excited due to presence of a Hindu. They started asking her questions on Hinduism and its customs etc. She was struggling to answer and the brand manager stepped in explained to the Egyptians in detail about Hinduism and its tenets. I sat there listening to him in wonder on his depth of knowledge and more importantly in admiration of his nature to learn and know more and more.
One of the biggest learning for me from this trip was that Pakistan and the people of Pakistan are more Indian than I had ever imagined. Well, that may not be the right articulation, but what I mean to say is that I really understood why Pakistan is included as part of 'sub continent'. Why both of us call ourselves 'Desis'. Pakistan has little in common with Middle-East. Even the language Urdu is closer to Hindi and is very very different from Arabic- so much so that two native Urdu and Arabic speakers cannot understand each other easily. Cricket and Bollywood are huge in Pakistan and my colleagues from Pakistan quoted movies and songs and dialogues from movies across the decades.
In our team on a particular day, there were three Pakistanis in the meeting and later that evening we stepped out for a team dinner. And boy did the three of them get into 'mood'. For close to 45 min, the three of them (including the brand manager) took turns to belt out 'Sher and Shaayari and qawwalis'.
I sat there mesmerized. They had couplets for every mood, every emotion and every situation. And it wasn't just a two line chorus but the full length easily running into 10-12 lines. Brillianto!
Overall, I really enjoyed my trip to Dubai. In the last 7-8 months that I have been out of India, there is one thing that I have learnt from my personal observation of people especially Indians. When Indians move out of India, they tend to converge together and hanging out with Indians. And if there are plenty of Indians then they tend to hang out with Indians from their part of the country etc. I call this the ghetto-isation. I completely understand this mindset - we create islands of familiarity in a new environment where similarity is seen as a reaffirmation of some form of kinship. However, many a times we are so steeped in this mentality that we miss out the experiences of local culture, people that can provide us some incredibly new stimuli and learning experiences that can really broaden our horizons. From simple reading of books to experimenting with cuisines to visiting museums to engaging in conversations with other nationalities can be such an enriching experience.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

A New year begins

My absence from this blog has mostly gone unnoticed. I would like to blame the no blogging bit on the global trend that blogging is on the decline, impacted by face book and twitter. I wish I could say the same things in my case. However, that would not be completely true.Truth be told, I think I have taken a really long time to adjust to change and I don't think I have fully adjusted. And I am still trying to figure out the balance. I don’t seem to have a routine.
One of the biggest sources of discomfort for me has been the change in the work profile. From working in a mostly India time zone with all colleagues in the same time zone, this role change has shifted me to a global role. I work in a global team where my team mates sit in Beijing, Singapore, Dubai, Panama and Cincinnati, i.e. basically all time zones. Earlier when I would shut my laptop in the evening and open it the next day, I would have a few e-mails from colleagues who I would call workaholics. However, when I open my laptop in the morning in Singapore, I have close to twenty emails at the least. I now feel that I am working 24*7. And somewhere this has been playing on my mind.
The ten plus years that I have been away from home, it has been in hostels and later in Mumbai where I have had flat mates etc. Since I moved to Singapore last May, I have been staying alone. Earlier, I would leave for work around 8.30ish and leave office around say 630ish. These timings were co-ordinated with flatmates to share ride back home. Now, I do not have to adjust to other people's timings anymore and hence everything is stretchable, there are no hard stops. This is terrible.
Finally, to me, progress or growth needs to be balanced on all fronts, professional, personal, emotional, spiritual. I am extremely uncomfortable with the fact that in the last few months the balance has been altered. I would now like to bring it back to a position that I feel more comfortable with. The fact that I have not read a new book in the past 4-5 months is appalling.
So, now that issues have been identified, what do I plan to do?
- First, I need a mental shift within myself. If I am to build a career in this company or any global company for that matter, I am going to be working with global teams sitting across time zones. So I first need to acknowledge this new reality and tell myself, to forget the good ol' days. They are at best ideal benchmarks when I could come in at 8.30 and leave at 6ish. In this new world, I need to figure out my own balance, which should not be defined only by in and out timings.
- Second, Emails are like death eaters, they feed on my mental consciousness and take up inordinate time. They can't be wished away and they can only be managed. I take my laptop home daily. Even though I need to answer only emails, if at all, I start working, simply because I have access to laptop. So I have decided to get smart and leverage technology (This is basically me justifying my own actions to myself J ) So as of yesterday, I have requested for a blackberry. So once I have my bb, I will leave my laptop at work and hopefully no working when am at home. Phew!
- Thirdly, I have this bad habit of keeping emails open after reading them and leaving replies half answered. Hence from now on, all emails if read, need to be action-ed - reply, forward, delete, archive etc. No keeping them open and pending.
- Fourthly, There are few things that were shared responsibilities earlier - cleaning, cooking, paying bills, ironing etc, which are now completely mine. Need to outsource some of them - standing instructions for bill payments, hire cook/maid to help clean/iron etc. so that more time can be freed. The second part is going to take some time.
- Finally, I need to get back to things that made me feel that I was making all round progress. Read more. Learn something new. I have started Spanish classes as of Jan 1, 2011. Yayy!
So, given that I consider myself better at identifying issues than necessarily solving them when it comes to myself, lets see how well I do on the above steps.
Now lastly, all the above makes it sound like doom and gloom in my life. It is not necessarily so. More on that later...

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The coming out party!

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

Its only words....

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.