Sunday, December 29, 2013

Monday musings 192: For a new voice

Monday musings 192: For a new voice

"For last year's words belong to last year's language,
And next year's words await another voice"
                                                - T. S Eliot

Another year leaked from the bucket of life. Those who shall attempt some kind of reflection, will be faced with the dilemma of seeing the year gone as either half filled or half empty. Some will find that avoiding such a reflection might be a better idea. 

The turn of the tide could have either strengthened our belief that we controlled the outcomes or led us to believe that much as we work to a plan, the future has a mind of its own. The human heart would discover that we might have some degree of control on what we pursue and how we do it, but we may not have a similar degree of control over how we feel at the end of the journey. We might be surprised by a sense of loss in victory or a sense of contentment in loss. 

I see multiple responses to a year gone by. Some treat this as a non-event believing that it is just a number. Some use this as a unit of time and compare it with what they set out to do and achieve and hence there is a assessment for the year - goals achieved, money made, success achieved, holidays taken, so on and so forth.

At the end it is less about how good or bad the year was but how good or bad were we during the year. How good were we in utilizing the opportunity of the last year 'to make a dent in the universe'? I have also grown to believe that nothing kills human beings faster than regret. How much more the year could have been packed with! How much more was the possibility of being happy and puny were our preoccupations!

There is infinite possibility to give voice to another language in 2014. I pray for courage to claim that language from our deepest fears. The language of possibilities, the language of listening to intuition, the language of instinct, the language of meaning in work. The only thing that separates us from what we know is right and what we must do is courage. May we have that in abundance the New Year. 

May we have another language and another voice – that of our own.


Sunday, December 22, 2013

191 - The joys of multi-lingualism

191 - The joys of multi-lingualism

The other day I got the opportunity to listen to a discussion on bilingualism under the umbrella of the Times litfest. The discussion revolved around the phenomenon and implications of bilingualism in today’s world viewed from the lens of cinema and popular culture. I must speak on the subject from the point of view of a cubicle-wallah.

India's diversity is most ubiquitous in its languages, apart from its weather, skin color, food and geography. As one travels even a fraction of the 2000 plus miles between Kashmir to Kanyakumari, one 'hears' India as much as one 'sees' and 'tastes' it. While this diversity is documented and taught school onwards it is not systematically and consciously developed. There has been a significant progress made in building the diversity of the palate and it is not uncommon to see culinary diversity at display across. Dosa is no longer a south Indian breakfast just as the stuffed paratha is no longer a north Indian phenomena. However we have not demonstrated a similar catholicity, an openness of mind in adopting linguistic diversity.  

English is our de-facto national language, Hindi a second language to at best half of Indians. So for all practical purposes half of India knows only one Indian language, if we discount English for a while. The rest of the country which has a regional or vernacular language apart from English might have Hindi as third possible language. My suspicion is that most of us do not know more than 2 or at best 3 Indian languages which is a pathetic low in a country which has 22 officially recognized languages apart from more than 1500 'mother tongues'. We must be chasing multi-lingualism while we seem to have limited success at bilingualism. 

I am sure we all would know the barriers in learning more than the languages we already know. However the benefits far outweigh the struggle. For one, nothing helps us bond and know better a people better than in their mother tongue. Language builds bridges that are beyond the here and now. When I speak in Oriya, I do not connect only the person of today but to the history of those people for centuries. I touch and get touched with the collective memory of a people which would have remained out of bounds otherwise. The world of their customs, rituals and deep rooted beliefs opens up for my understanding and empathy. Left to it all of this may develop without the glue of language also, but language achieves this rather instantaneously. 

Diplomacy is helped by language. Connections are strengthened by language. Corporate relationships are aided by language. The other day Economic Times reported how the new CEO of Pepsi food and the world wide CEO of PepsiCo bonded over their common language. Organizations that have a pan India presence include linguistic proficiency as an important factor in their people decisions and not without reason.

As I look around it is not difficult to see the shrinking space for bilingualism. Increasingly the urban youth at least is happy to be well versed with only one language, mostly English. When a language is reduced to become only a 'subject', the writing on the wall is clear - it is the beginning of the end for it. There is hardly any parental consciousness about this either and hence it is no surprise that there is no action in it. However neither are adults doing much about it.

I wonder how many New Year resolutions will be 'let me learn another language' - including mine.


Sunday, December 15, 2013

190: The rise and rise of the loser

190: The rise and rise of the loser

Almost two years to this date, 29th of November 2010 to be precise, I described one Pankaj Dubey in Monday Musings 103 - an unusual story of an extremely gifted "middle class boy in the small town of a developing country" (his words) who failed so gloriously academically but still found his feet chasing his dreams. This is a sequel to that story. (strongly recommend that you read that before you move ahead - 

Pankaj was abused by academics in his early years and more particularly by maths. In his own words he is a 'merchant of imagination and not a prisoner of knowledge'. His life took him from the hinterlands of Jharkhand to BBC, film festivals and some serious work in empathy building in slum children. I had ended by saying that he has now shifted his base to Mumbai to dabble in film writing and that one must keep watching this name because "this part of the story is still untold". I was not wrong.  

In the last 2 years Pankaj has done script supervision for the movie 'Ghanchakkar', an under-production feature called 'Chauranga', but most importantly next month will see the launch of his maiden book called 'What a Loser' with Penguin India, also simultaneously in Hindi called "Loser kahin ka". Pankaj has written in both the languages-something that yet again indicates how prolific his talent is. 

The last blog on this subject was an ode to what sheer talent, imagination and creativity could do. It was also to shatter the myth of academic success and how underprepared is the current school education to predict the future success of its produce. This blog is to talk about the rise and rise of the tribe of losers. 

Success is so over-rated and I have a feeling it would also be very boring. Statistically more people fail more number of times than those who succeed. Even the best fail a lot more than they care to admit. Success is like nicotine - each time you need a stronger dose to give you the same high. After a while your nerves are jaded and your soul is tired, chasing the mirage of success. You cannot rest because by now you are scared of losing out. The popular culture is desperately looking for the hero of the day - only to be forgotten tomorrow because someone else has claimed the airwaves. Yet the chase continues because the popular culture celebrates the hero. The rest are condemned to live the life of anonymity - the loser. 

The loser never claimed his space. But not anymore. The loser is the underdog who must now come from behind despite his feeble chances of winning. If only the top of the pyramid must get all, then such a pyramid must be damned. This is not a socialistic utopia which justifies mediocrity, but an appeal for diversity. There can more than one pyramid - and the loser of one can be the winner of the next. 

'What a loser' by Pankaj Dubey must be bought, read and re-read - in that order, as a celebration of ordinariness. It must be held dear by all those who did not top their class ever but are special nevertheless. It is not an apology but a celebration. I have a feeling being a loser will become fashionable with this book.  There cannot be shame in being ordinary or not being the first. 

Well done Pankaj! I am so looking forward to both the books. 


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

189 Monday Musings: The AAP phenomena and organisations

189 Monday Musings: The AAP phenomena and organisations

The victory of the political novice AAP in Delhi will be dissected for quite some time now as it must be. The so called middle class shot to economic prominence in the last decade of the previous century with its colossal purchasing power along with consumption power. Every producer of goods and services paid homage to the likes and dislikes of this block of consumers. Choice was a bad word till then because the consumer had none and the producers had no incentive to give one – from scooters to TV, from telephone to clothes the gloom of choicelessness was all pervasive. Economic emancipation fired and fanned by the forces of liberalization finally changed that. Business writing started to recognize the collective might of the middle class and perhaps the best work on this came from the bureaucrat Pavan K Verma who wrote ‘The great Indian middle class’. 

Economic emancipation often makes way for a need for political and cultural emancipation. The AAP dent in the political universe must be seen in that light. A group of people wanted a voice, wanted to be heard and taken notice of – and when the traditional system refused to do that they made themselves heard by taking matters in their own hands.

Let us examine the lessons for organizations from this.
#1. Recognize the shifts in the voices for all segments/functions/departments. With time the prominence of departments change and the voice available to them must be commensurate to their emerging criticality. Backbenchers of yesteryears may be at the vanguard of tomorrow.

#2 Provide organized and formal avenues of expression to teams and individuals. It is foolhardy to believe that the system ‘knows what ails itself’ all the time. The power of self correction is often overestimated in systems however desirable it might be. One never knows when a minor thread of discontent becomes a short fuse for a revolt.

#3. Change the nature and the idiom of discourse with the changing times. Speak in metaphors of the times and not of a bygone era. When the corporate geriatrics (read 45 plus) rule the Gen X, fault lines will emerge. Similarly each function has a different idiom and when the conversation within the organization takes place in the idiom of the dominant department then we are sowing seeds of discontent. The organizations must have an amoebic ability to reach out and engage in ‘local’ idiom of every unit, function and department.

#4. Finally, never underestimate an upstart. Do not ridicule early voices for or against an idea or a policy. Isolated voices gather momentum because, to borrow Voltaire’s words, ‘it’s time may have come’. Organizational movements are messier than political revolts because they are rarely visible. They can paralyze a system, rob it of its ability to create what it can and be what it can be.