Monday, December 26, 2016

Monday Musings 276: Year later...

 Monday Musings 276: Year Later..

The good thing about the end of a year is that it happens every year – and that is also the bad thing about it. One gets the annual chance to make it different and meaningful. Many take that chance and many do not.  
Last year I had decided to take a tongue in cheek look at this boisterous exercise with a rather short shelf life – called resolutions. I thought I shall revisit all ten of them again and see what happened to them – did they survive the test of the real world or did they perish prematurely, as is their wont! Needless to say, just as they were tongue in cheek a year earlier, the tongue continues to be resolutely and firmly lodged in the cheek. Enjoy!
Here they go. 

1. I will not suffer fools easily – this has turned out to be trickier than I had thought. I suffered them quite benevolently for I realised that for every one person whom I thought to be a fool and quite unworthy of my indulgences, there were at least two who thought I was a fool too. Since they suffered me in silence, I decided to pass on the favour.
2. I will not say yes when I want to say no – This is work in progress, however miles to go. The greater tragedy is those moments when it is assumed to I shall say yes, instead of at least going through the motions of giving me a choice.
3. I will not attend get- together’s and parties – I think I did remarkable well on this one given that I was not invited to many.
4. I will not eat out – I should have articulated this resolution a little differently; I should have also barred myself from eating out during official lunch/dinners. The whole point was to adopt culinary simplicity and not just on my own account.
5. I will not watch TV – I must give myself a pat on my back on this one. I think I can claim with reasonable degree of accuracy that I must not have watched TV (minus of movies) for more than 5 hours in the entire year. I am also happy to report that I have not missed much and feel pretty much on top of my craft and trade.
6. I will not advise or try to motivate people – I wish I had known how difficult this will turn out to be. The urge to add ‘value’ is so deep rooted that I am its first unsuspecting victim. I am trying very hard is all I can say. 
7. I will not haggle or bargain with the rickshawwallah, vegetable vendor and other people who make a living on the street. – Absolute success. The fact that I stuck to this even during the demonetisation phase must be its absolute litmus test.
8. I will stay away from technology – as much as I can. I have been miserable failure on this. The virus has only entrenched itself more.
9. I will not fall for brands – refer to the answer in the next point.

10. I will not shop. – I am the most proud of this one. With the notable and very explainable exception of buying a running shoe, I am happy that I did not shop at all – I mean at all!! Not a thread of clothing, electronics, accessory, or any other item of consumption – branded or otherwise. This has been by far the best detox/rehab I have every put myself through. The closets are cleaner and the unused items significantly reduced. There was a moment when I wanted to extend this moratorium on shopping for another year. Thankfully that moment passed.
Happy New Year.
PS: I learnt a new word yesterday and that to my mind shall be defining word for the purpose of bidding the old year a grateful goodbye while I beging to welcome a brand new one.
Misoniesm - hatred, fear, or intolerance of innovation or change. (Do we suffer from it or pretend that we do not suffer from it? I have a full year ahead to answer it.)

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Monday Musings 275: Of books and the Characters!

Monday Musings 275: Of books and the Characters!

As I see it, there are only two kinds of problems around reading – one is around whether we like reading or not in the first place; and those who are able to overcome this problem are faced with another herculean one – what to read? There are yet others who remain untouched and unfazed with these two pseudo existential questions – they are clearly the happier lot.

There are all kinds of readers. Let me share a few types that I have bumped into.
1   1. The Imposter: they always carry a book and that is the only thing one can be sure of; that they are carrying a book. Usually the book that they will carry will also be the one which has featured in page3’s recently so that also serves the very purpose of carrying the book. Reading, for this lot is more a status symbol, an act of wannabe intellectual – the same reason why they would not wear just a suit but only an Armani or carry not just a bag but only a Louis Vitton! When you meet them they would play with the book in front of you so that you make it a conversation starter after which they will pontificate on the ‘Half Girlfriend’ (written by you know who!!), which according to them is a great book by a great writer, as if they are outlining the later Pulitzer winner. PS – take your revenge, just ignore the book and refuse to have a conversation around it. It will frustrate them to no end.

2    2. The worm: Irrespective of the title they are reading, which might range from ‘The tapeworms in your bowels’ to the ‘Climate change in Mars’ – they are immersed in it as if they are praying. The book is either close to their faces, in which case they want you to see the book and not their faces or they might be hunched on it, in which case they are the most likely candidates for cervical spondilysis – either ways they clearly are in meditative stupor. The book is larger than their persona. They are also saying the following – ‘Don’t even try to begin a conversation’ and ‘buzz off’. Chances are they have relationship issues with human beings – but that can be highly controversial, isn’t it? 

3   3. The flirt: The name says it all. They flirt with books but as is the wont of all flirts, they suffer from commitment phobias. No book can hold their attention for more than a few pages. All books, according to them, have a problem. Some are too boring, some too long, some have font problems, some have weight problems, and for some that it has no pictures (I love the last one!!).

4    4. The Show off: The show off actually reads the book, less to immerse and enjoy but to let you know that he has actually read the book. All conversation will be veered towards that book irrespective of the moment or the occasion. You will have to politely tolerate the absolute irrelevance of book to the mood. The revenge with the show off is to talk about an even more irrelevant book that you had read 10 years back! 

5   5. The Rebel: The rebel cannot understand how a normal human being can spend so many precious hours of human life so frustratingly tied up with something as inanimate and boring such as a book. The rebel believes that all the books that were supposed to be read have already been read from the KG to the 10th – everything else is an imperialist hegemony that must be rebelled against. The rebel believes real education happens on the streets and not on the couch. As one writer friend of mine says ‘I don’t read books because they interfere with my imagination’. I have not asked him so far whether his books will interfere in the imagination of others – remember he is a friend after all.

6    6. The Occasional: The occasional reads roughly one book a year and for precisely the same reason why the diehard non vegetarians keeps the navratra fast. Some call it penance; I call it a licence to go non veg for yet another year.


PS: Some people are genuinely connoisseurs of books – in the truest sense of the word. They are few and far in between. But there is no story in that.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Monday Musings 274: James...but not a Bond!

Monday Musings 274: James...but not a Bond!

I got talking to my Uber driver named James on an early morning drive. My usual conversation starter with Uber/Ola drivers is ‘How long have you been driving and what did you do before joining  the Uber/Ola bandwagon’. Each time there is a different story but this one turned out to be the most enjoyable and inspiring.

The difference between him and others whom I had met so far was clear right from the answer to my first question that came from him – ‘I have four cabs; this one I drive and the other three have been rented to other drivers’. When I let out the cry of surprise, he switched to conversing in English, as if he had sensed that i had made the error of stereotyping him with the classical archetype of Uber drivers. Thereafter it was a fascinating ride, great conversation with a liberal dose of anecdotes.

‘’I am from lucknow and I have done my MBA and have worked in a few banks as frontline seller of banking products growing up to become a territory manager’ he shared with me. I knew I was not with someone ordinary, either in terms of the richness of journey or of grit. ‘Soon I had a house and a flourishing business of solar panels’ he continued.

‘However a business deal gone sour caused the collapse of the business with huge bank overruns. Something radical had to be done to pay off the bank. So with a heavy heart sold the house and paid the banks completely – I did not want my CIBIL ratings to suffer at any cost’.  Here was someone who in his darkest hour was more worried about his credit credibility. I could imagine the surge of confidence that lurked within the man who was down but not out.

‘So we decided to send the son back to lucknow so that both I and my wife could focus on rebuilding our lives. I did not leave my home to be a loser – something must be done to keep moving forward’ (this was said in Hindi and sounded more lyrical and inspiring).

So what are your plans in the future, I ask him. I was frankly not prepared for the answer I got. ‘’I plan to repay the banks the loan on all my taxi and become debt free. Then I want to open an NGO. Do you know that many NGOs are working to clean the Ganga in Kanpur? I want to do something around education. You see, when I worked for myself things did not work quite well, let me now try doing something for others – who knows what the outcome will be’’ (apne liye kaam kiya to nuksaan hua, doosron ke kar ke dekhte hain – the hindi rendition was clearly heartwarming!)

Any regrets, in ask him. ‘Nothing actually. Even when I sold the house I told myself, perhaps that is why the house was built – to bail us out during this crisis. The only thing that pains me is that I had to send my son away from me to tide over this. I miss him’.

‘Give me your card’ he says as we bid each other good bye. ‘I will call you when I open my NGO’. I shoot my parting sentence ‘Can I write about you James?’ He smiled but said nothing as if he did not really cared about being written. He had better and larger things to do.

James was a better Bond than all those in had seen so far.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Monday Musings 273: Alignment – An alternative narrative

Alignment – An alternative narrative

Softer aspects of leadership have always attracted multiple narratives – most of those narratives have been based on the western world view and have originated from those cradles of thought. I am sure there is great value in any narrative but when we start reposing our faith in only one of them, almost ignoring and hence rejecting the possibility of the relevance of alternative narratives, is when we allow our pursuit of inquiry to become singular and hence incomplete.

Thankfully things are changing – and my book, ‘Kabeer in Korporates’ on which this write up is based, is an addition to the growing tradition of alternative narratives to mainstream subjects.

Leadership alignment is actually a part of the larger issue of alignment in not only all constituents of the organisation but also at all levels of the organisation. The reason I use these two frames separately is because the task of creating aligned workforce is distinct in its nature and prescriptions at the top and at the bottom- and between the top and the bottom of organisations. The dysfunctionalities causing disarray at the top emerge from insecurities and ego, while the dysfunctionalities between the top and the bottom emerge from loss of credibility of the top.

The chaos at the top leading to lack of alignment has many hues – it begins with the struggle for primacy between the functional heads; so the CFO makes the financial goals as the primary goal, or the Sales head making the sales goals as the primary goal or the HR head making Peoples goal as the primary goal. The fissures that get created when these goals vie for primacy soon become fault lines – that get formed at the top but soon trickle down the slope. The task of holding all these goals together into the crucible of a broad spectrum performance mindset is a rather tall ask. The exact opposite risk to this is ‘too much friendship’ at the top – a state where no one challenges each other’s comfort and status quo. Kabeer writes at one instance about all of us being passengers on a boat – a metaphor that the top of organisations must take inspiration from if they would prefer to have alignment in its truest sense amongst themselves.

Kabeer hamara koi naahi, hum kahoo ke nahi,

Paar pahunche naav jyon, milke bichure jahi.

(No one is ours and we are no one to others;

Like passengers on a boat, we shall go our own ways (if we reach our destination)

Everyone shall reach the destination if the boat reaches the destination – no one reaches anywhere if the boat does not reach ashore. The alignment at the top must heed to this wisdom. A fractured top is not only deeply damaging but also hopelessly visible to the rank and file.

The second kind of disarray is between the top and the bottom – irrespective of the function. This usually happens after a prolonged corrosion of credibility. Over a period of time the patterns of leadership behaviour like partiality, inconsistency, self preservation, blame fixing, credit mongering, oscillating and sometimes downright incompetence so on and so forth leads to the bottom of the pyramid completely disillusioned. This lack of alignment is perhaps not even visible to the leadership who remain baffled why all strategic initiatives remain non starters. This is like the wheels of the chariot start questioning the intent of the horses who they are supposed to follow – only in this case the wheels have a mind of their own.

Finally great alignment emerges from authenticity. In organisations we must always remind ourselves of the difference between ‘Enrolment’ and ‘Conscription’ – the former is voluntary while the latter is by force. True alignment is voluntary while we only resist conscription of any kind. There is a greater probability of widespread enrolment if the person espousing the cause is perceived as being genuine an authentic. Unfortunately it is difficult to learn authenticity. The popular narrative of management literature dumbs down all attributes of leadership by presenting it as a ‘ten step guide’ – and consumers of leadership literature start to believe that it can be ‘read and implemented’ in the manner of other capabilities. It is the surest way of killing authenticity in the leader. The rank and file ‘feels like following a leader’ when they know that are getting what they are seeing. The followership and the alignment to the cause is then intuitive and deeply felt. The greatest alignment emerges when there is no difference between the leader and the led. They become one voice. As Kabeer says of the state of complete alignment –

Mai Laaga us ek so, ek bhaya sab mahi

Sab mera main saban ka, tahan doosra nahi

(As I become one with the larger purpose, I become the whole and the whole becomes me)

(First published in the November Issue of 'Peoples Matter' )


Monday, October 31, 2016

Monday Musings 272 – Pick a hobby; Win the Nobel

Monday Musings 272  – Pick a hobby; Win the Nobel

A study by the University of Michigan as quoted in the book called ‘Originals’ by Adam Grant found out something so utterly bizarre, counter intuitive – and perhaps heresy to most middle class Indian parents; that your chances of winning a Nobel prize as a scientist become increasingly more if apart from the field of study you also dabble on the side with an artistic hobby. The odds become 2X greater if its music, its 7X greater if its Arts, 12X greater if its writing and a whooping 22X greater if it is Performing arts like an amateur actor or a magician.  Now who could have thought that!!

What should we pursue – the lifelong pursuit of only one craft or vocation and the desire of becoming a virtuoso or picking up alongside the core pursuit of our lives and dabble in a sundry interest here and there? The classical view on this one appears to be in the favor of the former; the latter are reviled tastefully under the burden of aphorisms like ‘a rolling stone gathers no moss’ – as if the whole point of being a stone is to gather moss! So should be pursue depth or breadth?

The debate on depth or breadth is akin to the coffee-toffee debate of yesteryears around the candy ‘melody’ – and most would stand for the stance which is closest to their own experience rather than a serious study of the subject; and would offer the jingle of the TVC as the answer to this depth vs. breadth conundrum – ‘’melody khao; khud jaan jao’.
There is also something called ‘Prison of prototypes’ – we process new information within the framework of what we already know. Hence the more width we have, even if it is not deep mastery, the more are the chances that we can process the new information and new perspectives. The question I am holding is whether our adult lives is spent heeding to the import of this nuance or do we perpetuate the dogma of ‘one life – one pursuit’? The emphasis is to carve out time for a deliberate expansion of experience to newer fields, however unrelated and however amateurish they might be in the beginning, not necessarily to gain anything material out of it, but just for the childlike joy of doing something new. The point to be made is that one never knows when and in what ways does this come to play a pivotal part in your current pursuit – and if this Michigan study is to be believed that more often than not it does increases your odds at succeeding in your core pursuit.  It is now a folklore for the Apple fans to quote Steve Jobs own admission that his passion for breathtaking product design was greatly influenced by a course in calligraphy that he had undertaken just on the side.

I am sure there is more to this that what is postulated – and we shall approach this basis our own intuitions and biases. Irrespective of our current stance – we must think about it and while we take some time to arrive at a definitive view, pick a small hobby on the side – to play an instrument or sing or write or perform. It just increases our bets to win a Nobel you see!!


Sunday, October 16, 2016

Monday Musings 271 – The Orwellian dystopia

Monday Musings – The Orwellian dystopia
Good writing does not only inform and educate – it also indicates what do the winds augur. In a very uncanny way great literature is like crystal gazing – only far more complex. Sci fi writers also do the same thing but they occupy a different realm – of how science and technology will dramatically alter the processes of life and living. Rarely, if at all, do they talk about how will these inventions and advancements fundamentally alter the behaviour of people, the quality of relationships of individuals and groups, both within and across, and finally how will the polity at large change.  

Hence the other literature that tries to describe the ‘what can happen’ if the present fault lines continue to be under duress, becomes priceless and only too rare. Anyone who has an eye and stomach for such a literature must read the masterpiece ‘1984’ by George Orwell.

1984 was published in the late 1940’s and describes a polity which is excessively centralised, diabolically power hungry, and as it poignantly describes, power uncorrupted by the burden of having a higher purpose, but for power sake. Most critically it also describes the ones who want to exercise control over its people by controlling two fundamental things – ‘thoughts’ and ‘the past’.

One cannot help but notice how prescient the book was more than half a century ago – suffice it to say that one could have changed the title to ‘2016’ and it would be an accurate description of our times. I am sharing hereafter two critical themes from the book and leave it for you to admire the parallels – and should it tempt you to pick it up, do not resist it.  

The first is - He who controls the past controls the future. So an attempt is made by the powers to be, to obliterate all evidences of the past, particularly the alternative narrative. The past is continuously edited; newer versions of history is discovered and pedalled – which serves not only as a rationale for the current actions but also a source of its moral basis.  

The second is the concept of ‘thought-police’ – a system which keeps a tab on not only what you are doing but more importantly on what you are thinking. Even a mere thought which is independent of the popular/official narrative (or the narrative that the powers to be want you to believe) is treason. Thinking is no longer an independent act but a wayward force that must be controlled and an attempt to do so considered as defiance.

1984 is a frightening book as we read it today – I suspect if the world would have welcomed this great work as only a fantastic literature of its times or really a warning of the times we might inherit one day.

As a reader generally – and after reading this Orwellian masterpiece particularly, I have grown wary of all ‘history’ – whether of faiths, communities or nations. I am no longer sure if the ‘version’ I know is really how it was – or is just another version of truth. As Meryl Streep's character in the fantastic movie ‘Doubt, where she plays a nun in the church – a place where the currency of faith overrules all thought, says to the Bishop with anguish only a person of faith shaken to her core can experience – ‘Father, I have  Doubt’. 

I only have doubts now – or so it seems.  What makes my position so precarious is everyone around me is so absolutely sure.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Monday Musings 270 - Roots

Monday Musings 270 - Roots
Many years back I had read the famous and controversial in parts book ‘Roots’ by Alex Haley which traces the history of an African American to many generations back to the wilds of Africa. The book had left quite an impact on me – and I am told that it had had a similar impact on many others since the time it was first published in 1976.

I had started to wonder how it feels like going back to ones roots – particularly when it is way way back in time. I had wondered how Alex Haley would have felt when he would have gone back to the same tribe in Africa and realised that he came ‘here’. (I was not aware of some of the controversy about the historical authenticity of this pursuit then so it was easy to be carried away by the emotional whirlwind about such a thought)?

What makes us wonder about our roots? Do all of us wonder about it in the same measure or whether to some this possesses more than others? What makes some feel so differently about this question than others? Is it better not to be touched by this question in the realisation of the futility of this pursuit – for what conceivable material benefit will emerge out of it? What will it solve ultimately except may be an additional to the treasure trove of trivia that we carry with us all the time?

However to others it is an important search – it is the beginning of the formation of identity. The ties of place, kinship, family tree gives us the overarching shade of a shared past – some kind of a banyan tree which helps us to feel anchored. We do not float unanchored – we have something to hold on to – for whatever it is worth.

As I progressed through the book then I could not help asking myself if there was a latent desire in me to search for my roots – may not more than a century as Alex Haley had managed to do – but may be fifty or 70 years. I don’t know what I told myself then but there were parts of the book when the travails of ‘Kunta Kinte’ the lead protagonist so to speak became so overwhelming that it was difficult not to be choked. I could not identify what was so overwhelming in that tale that was touching me in such inexplicable way. In hind sight I can say that the seeds to search my roots were sowed. I had to go back to the place where it had all began. It took a decade for it to fall in place.

An hour back I returned from the place where possibly a century plus years ago the family tree could be traced back to. I met a small one room mud walled – no roof ruins approximately the size of 100 sq ft of what is left of it. I am trying to make sense of what it means for me now that I have been to such a place - exact place, where once life flourished and which is in ruins now - and which in a very philosophical way is a precursor to my being.

Increasingly we are living in places where we were not born and raised. I wonder if we will miss going back to whatever we call as our roots – may be not a 100 years; but may be where we were raised and have memories of. I wonder if it is worth dying anywhere else. As a young boy I saw the anguish of not being able to die his ancestral village in my grandfather and could not fathom that emotion of his. Today may be I am just beginning to understand that. May be all of us have a deep seated need to connect with our roots – whatever they are; and maybe we just don’t know it yet.

One begins to wonder – how many variables come together to ensure you are where you are. It could have so easily been something else.  


Sunday, September 4, 2016

Monday Musings 269 – As I wake up..

Monday Musings 269 – As I wake up..

I ask myself - what is the first emotion I feel as I wake up? As I open my eyes and the slumber wears off and I become aware of being alive, not yet becoming aware of where exactly I am opening my eyes but only the awareness that I am indeed still there – where the weight of my situation has yet not burdened my soul. What do I feel in that few uncorrupted seconds? Not what is on my mind or what I am thinking but how am I feeling?

Do I wake up with a feeling of some kind of heaviness? There is no real reason to feel this way for everything is fine but the dawn of wakefulness is heavy, like the child who enters a dark room in his own house – he is comforted by familiarity of the house and yet discomforted by the dark.

Do I wake up with a feeling of dull alarm that the body intuitively feels when it is in danger which is yet not corroborated by facts but is palpable in the bones so to speak? There is no reason to feel this way for everything is fine but the dawn of wakefulness comes with an inexplicable anxiety, like moving in a wilds, the jungle – comforted by our abilities to meander through and yet acutely aware that it is the wilds that we are passing through.

Do I wake up with a feeling of weightlessness, a feeling of no feeling at all? I become aware of everything, my body, my surroundings, my situations and I feel nothing. I am here and yet I am not here. I am levitating above and beyond almost making fun of the mundane. I am untouched and detached. Actually detached is not the right word - detachment is deliberate, a conscious attempt to severe attachment; this feeling is a stage deeper – as if I never had an anchor or ties or reasons. Like clouds.

Do I wake up with a feeling of unadulterated joy – as if I feel like dancing the moment I become aware that I am awake. There is no reason to feel this way but I am almost looking forward to getting up. There is a zing in my being that wants to give life a fresh shot. I surprise myself with this energy even as I am only becoming aware of being awake. It’s like the mountain spring which is hurtling down the slope, with no purpose but only still being purposive in its flow.

Do I wake up smiling? I am smiling as the first shimmer of wakefulness is emerging from the dark abyss of sleep. I have no reason to smile but I feel like smiling, there is some vague happiness that I know exists somewhere deep down, in the acute realisation that I have more than I need, in the comfort that I have more than what I thought I will ever have, in the thankfulness that I have more than what many others have. I wake up with gratitude although in this twilight of wakefulness and slumber I am not yet aware of the word ‘gratitude’ for this stage is beyond language – so I wake up smiling, for no apparent reason at all.

Do I wake up in a hurry, an abruptness that is so jerky that it shatters both – the calm of the sleep and the joy of getting up? I have noticed an egg hatching  and an cow giving birth to a calf as a kid in my village and I was always intrigued about the ‘slowness and the gradualness’ of the process. There was no abruptness to it. Abruptness  kills. Young children wake up gradually, adults wake up abruptly. It is a fait accompli or can something be done about it?

I am becoming more and more aware of how I feel in that fleeting moment, where sleep dissolves and a young day of wakefulness is born.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Monday Musings 268 -Kabeer in Lunyakhedi

Monday Musings 268 -Kabeer in Lunyakhedi

Around a 100 kms from Indore is Lunyakhedi, a village made famous by perhaps its most accomplished son, Padmshree Prahlad Singh Tippania.  Lunyakhedi is the epicentre of what can be safely called the ‘Kabeer belt’ of India – the culturally rich malva region of central India. Prahladji is a very well known folk singer of national and international repute who sings Kabeer in the quintessentially Malva style, with a tamboora in one hand and manjeera in the other.

There are more ‘fragile stickers’ that the airlines paste on his dholak cover than would be scratches on it, which indicates that the extent he has taken the sound of Kabeer through his singing.  A humble school teacher who breaks into the maalvi dialect more often than not, lives Kabeer even as the world perceives him to be only singing him, is an absolute delight to watch, meet and talk to. He is child when he cracks up, a philosopher when he makes a point and a saint when his fingers caress the tamboora.

Every year this time around he hosts a few people in his village for 5 days of singing and talking Kabeer – a kind of workshop if you may call it. This year I was a part of those lucky few. My comrades were a picture in contrast – A few classical music aficionados, a music band lead vocalist, a few Corporate types, a mother with a kid, a few school teachers, others with journeys best left un-described – all with Kabeer on their lips, mind and heart. I am not sure where these 5 days came from and where have they gone because they rest lightly on my memory, for I struggle to chose words to describe them fully and completely – and yet I know I did walk on those sands. I have the experience; I do not have the perfect expressions.

So what did we do for 5 days? Outwardly we sang Kabeer (for the record – others sang – I listened; me singing would have been a disruption!), discussed what he said and what he meant and what it means now; However inwardly I think each one of us were in our own journey. Simple questions – but big questions; Questions about meanings, meaningfulness and meaninglessness, about futility, about connections, about simplicity, about relatedness, about being wanting to be good but struggling with it, about going beyond symbols and connecting with the essence, questions about denials and projections, questions about the known and the unknown, about boundaries and liberation, questions that have answers and mostly questions that do not have easy answers. Everyone had his own personal tryst with the questions of their lives – and may be for a moment through Kabeer they also figured out the futility of questions. Being was more important than becoming!

We must know Kabeer more deeply than we know him today. Kabeer is the voice of sanity during the times of tumult; he is also the voice of revolt in the times of utter ludicrity; He is the voice of masses during the times of shameless elitist dominance; Kabeer is the voice of simplicity when it paid to be pedantic. Kabeer is the voice of reprimand during the times of nauseous politeness and he is the voice of connection during the times of vitriolic intolerance.  

Most discover Kabeer on their own and out of fortunate serendipity. People like Prahladji have done more to reclaim and rediscover Kabeer than institutions that were supposed to do that job – but then that has been the story of Kabeer even when he was alive – institutions always failed him; he was a darling of the masses then as he is now.

I don’t know what exactly we brought back from those 5 blissful days in that world – maybe we left a part of us back there and maybe we brought back a bit of Lunyakhedi with us. My love for Kabeer has only entered a new level and the love of Lunyakhedi has only begun. It will be difficult not to go back there soon.


PS: Having authored a book based on Kabeer's writings I had begun to imagine I know a bit of Kabeer. This ego was punctured in the first few hours only at Lunyakhedi. Kabeer continues to punctures egos even today. You rock buddy!!




Sunday, July 31, 2016

Monday Musings 267: The many shades of Rains

Monday Musings 267: The many shades of Rains

I write this facing my balcony and gazing at the haze caused by heavy downpour that is so characteristic of Mumbai. The overcast skies have open up like they have some kind of mandate to accomplish. Rains arguably are the best season of all. Most of the reasons that make rains enchanting are the sentimental kind, a kind of mush that one associates with the matters of the heart. (What the heck, even cubiclewallahs had a past, didn’t they?)

Adults hate rains mostly, unless you are a farmer – and I suspect if any of the reader of this post has a job description that has farming even the footnotes. The same adults used to enjoy rains as kids. There is no better joy than poodle crushing, something that can safely be assumed as a precursor to candy crush. The jump from one poodle to the next, unmindful of the soiling clothes and wet shoes, was an unparalleled joy. It was breaking free from the rhythm of the mundane, a rebellion against the chastity of routine and cleanliness. Most kids developed mysterious naval ambitions during rains – the paper boats which would glide through the small trail through the neighbourhood. I bemoan my kids missing this simple joy – the price of vertical condominiums. May be they will find something else to miss when they grow up.

Getting drenched meant different things as a kid and in youth. Returning home with not a follicle dry meant welcomed by an overzealous mom to reprimand camouflaged with dramatised concern. It would usually be followed by special treatment of hot tea and snacks. Untimely spicy snacking was the best thing about rains as a kid. Is the space of enjoying getting drenched shrinking? Everyone seems to be too scared of the kids falling sick. I have long ago come to the conclusion that the instinct to protect from harm has done more damage to our loved ones than our carelessness – but that has got nothing to do with rains.

The youth associates with rains in a more romanticised ways. There is some or the other association with rains that makes a gaping hole in their heart. Rains have a melancholy about it – youth experiences this ache freely and openly. Adults are too dead and busy anyway. They are busy protecting their leather shoes.

I believe most other seasons have nothing to give. They are prisoners of their character. Summer and winter cannot help but be what they are – oppressive. Spring is yet to decide whether it is summer or winter may be a mutant between the two. Autumn by design is forlorn, like a dejected lover. They hardly have anything to offer. All that happens in these seasons is despite them, not because of them. Rains are different. They are temperamentally givers. Rains carry bounties and they open up their hearts without favour and discrimination. They are like grandparents – large hearted, easygoing and always in the mood to give. Rains create conditions for life to flourish.


PS – so what do middle aged Punjabi men do when it rains? Well they look for their drinking glasses. Come to think of it, they do that even in summers, winters, autumn, spring or any other season. Why make an exception!!

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Monday Musings 266: Even if Trump gets trumped!

Monday Musings 266:  Even if Trump gets trumped!

The recent issue of ‘The Economist’ says something very interesting about the possible nomination of Donald Trump (the issue went to press before he actually was nominated by the republicans). In summary the article argues that irrespective of whether Trump wins this November or not (and most likely he won’t), the American discourse in general and the Republican discourse in particular will no longer be the same for a very long time to come. They trace back this phenomena to the last century or more to a list of stray insurgents who appeared on the political scene of America from the 1800’s till date, who said dramatically idiotic things for those times, contested elections, lost gloriously and handsomely but even in their loss sowed seeds of the idea that they championed – which later on in some form or shape became mainstream, sometimes in a few years and sometimes in a few decades. Hence the conclusion, Trump may not really lose even he were indeed to lose the election.

The hypothesis appeals to me, even though Trump does not. (In fact I so enjoy the idea of someone like Trump in America – its sweet revenge; I am no longer particularly ashamed of my political class – even the USA has them!).  The hypothesis is this – that a radically new thought, which appears contrarian, bold, audacious, even stupid or taboo when postulated for the first time, summarily rejected by the electorate for which it is postulated for, may still be worth its while – for it may oen the door for at least a conversation to begin on the subject thereafter.

This hypothesis is sufficiently proven in the realm of ideas (imagine someone proposing a telephone or internet for the first time or say flying for the first time), or in the realm of social issues (imagine the backlash when someone would have proposed abolishing caste practices or Sati 200 years ago) or in the realm of inventions/technology.

I want to take a look at the hypothesis in the organisational context. A new practice, a new model, a new way of doing things, a new assumption, a new idea – which is radically different from the way things are, is met with characteristic grunts and disdain. Sometimes the idea gets shot down at the drawing table itself. It is these set of ideas that have not been accepted yet that are of intrigue to me.

What if we are proposers of an idea and in a brainstorming session it gets summarily rejected and comprehensively denounced? Even worse what if it is mocked? It appears that the authors of such ideas who are at the receiving end of such vitriol must take hope. History teaches us this. Even if the idea is rejected, it may have at least injected the idea in the canvass of discourse. The first time it may meet with disdain, the next time it will meet with rejection (at this stage you are considered worth opposing at least!), the chances are bright that the third time it will get with a ‘slot to debate’.  It is at this stage when one must take satisfaction that the idea has been given sufficient credibility – enough to merit a debate and opposition. The idea has received validation. Opposition is the highest form of engagement, perhaps more powerful and more fulfilling than agreement.

Voltaire had said, ‘No one can stop an idea whose time has come’. However what Voltaire perhaps failed to mention that before the time of an idea does come, there are multiple people who must have talked about the idea amidst derision and mock. It is on the shoulders of those unsung heroes that the glory of future strongly sits.

A wise and very senior leader shared in a candid moment that many times he has had to stay with an idea for more than a few years and build comfort and consensus around it before it got accepted. It was an invaluable lesson.

So the next time I may lose an argument around an important, path breaking, radically new proposition, may be I shall argue again – and again.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Monday musings 265 – An ode to Alvin Toffler

Monday musings 265 – An ode to Alvin Toffler
The rock star futurist Alvin Toffler passed away recently. I remember picking up his book ‘The Future Shock’’ during my B school and miserably failing to read it beyond 50 pages. The book and its content did not catch my fancy, which by the way speaks volumes about me more than it speaks about the book or the author.  Years later I picked a copy of it from the dusty (but famous for its collection of titles) pavements of South Mumbai but the book somehow remained unread for many more years. I finally did scan through it around a decade back.
Many of the pet themes and conversation embellishers that we use today in the corporate world can actually be traced to Alvin Toffler. Some of the Tofflerisms are now a part of everyday language and when we look into them in the light of the fact that they were said almost 40 years back, they acquire the halo of brilliance. For instance sample some of them –
  1. ‘’Change is not merely necessary to life — it is life."
  2.  "The illiterate of the future will not be the person who cannot read. It will be the person who does not know how to learn."
  3. "Change is the only constant."
And mind you – all of this was said was only one person!! (Actually two – if you include his wife, who collaborated on most of his work). Anyone who is interested to know which and how many of those predictions of Toffler came out to be true must pick a copy of the book and marvel at his prescience. It will also not be wrong to say that Alvin Toffler made the job of a futurist look sexy.
The sequel to Future Shock was ‘’The Third Wave’’ published in 1980. Some of the ideas postulated in this book may have appeared as fictions during the time of its publication but appear to be clairvoyant brilliance now.
For instance the thought that there will be a roll back of the industrial era creed of standardisation (towards customisation!!), and that there will be progressive attack on the notion of the nation state from below (increasing clout of regional/decentralised) and the top (rise of powerful non national entities like corporations, religions and cartels) or the eclipsing of monetary wealth by knowledge and information, so on and so forth.
Toffler went to write many more books and his ideas were built on by the subsequent generation of futurists. In his death Toffler may have triggered in me an interest in his works. Hopefully I will do better this time and stay with the study.
A few other Tofflerisms that the cubicle-wallah may find interesting for his consumption are -
  1. ‘’Most managers were trained to be the thing they most despise – bureaucrats’’
  2. You've got to think about big things while you're doing small things, so that all the small things go in the right direction.
  3. “You can use all the quantitative data you can get, but you still have to distrust it and use your own intelligence and judgment.’’
  4. “The future always comes too fast and in the wrong order.”
    Rest in Peace Mr. Toffler.

 PS - Sometimes (though not always) a good way of preparing for the road ahead is to look at the road covered.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Monday Musings 264 - Groucho in the Cubicle

Monday Musings 264 - Groucho in the Cubicle

I have always admired reading Groucho Marx whenever someone sent me an isolated quote of his. On a lazy Sunday afternoon I decided to a bit of background reading on his witty one liners. On the other side I have always bemoaned the lack of humour in the corporate world. I think the cabin and cubicle guys compete with politicians and lawyers in the race to take themselves a tad too seriously. All of them believe they are going to last forever and if this earth is going around the sun and the seasons are changing then a large part of the credit for it must go to them.  They must visit the graveyards – the damn place is filled with people who thought the same.

Groucho somehow knew this lot long before the cubicles got filled with the self obsessed.  I think I shall use the following quote of his as an opener. ‘’I worked my way up from nothing to a state of extreme poverty’’. This sums up quite well the bay-to-cubicle-to-cabin-to-wherever journey.  As my boss of one time use to say – ‘’he has stopped contributing to us; we have decided to promote him’’

Meetings are a great invention. Whoever invented it must have been a genius. Actually it is the right word – people definitely meet; some might argue, they only meet! Groucho commented ‘’before I speak I have something important to say’’.

Every day we meet people we would love to forget. Thank God there is some benefit of politeness that our schools taught us or there would be more dead people than we have in Syria today. Groucho the philosopher knew it half a century ago – ‘’I never forget a face but in your case I will be glad to make an exception’’. He also said – ‘’Next time I see you, remind me not to talk to you’’.

The number of hours we put at work is a subject of intense debate. It is considered to a surrogate of how much you contribute. Groucho had remarked ‘’No man goes before his time – unless the boss leaves early’’.

Management is getting things done. Principles behind action and consistency behind them and other sundry constraints must not get in the way. There is one for every occasion. Groucho was proud to have said ‘’these are my principles and if you don’t like them, I have others’’.

There are times at workplace when the sheer inanity and banality can make a rock wince. Thank God they have bars. When someone at work says, Gosh, I need a drink, he is indicating that he is on medication and it’s time for the next doze. Groucho supports when he says, ‘’I am not feeling well, I need a doctor immediately. Ring the nearest golf course’’.

The boss is all – a verb, an adjective and a noun. Disagreement with the boss is a cul-de-sac; a Hobson’s choice. You might hear Groucho speaking during such an interaction - ‘’who are going to believe – ME or your own eyes’’.

Finally I cannot slot this last one by Groucho, so I leave it your discretion – ‘’Please accept my resignation; I cannot belong to any organisation that has me as a member’’. 

Smile Please.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Monday Musings 263 – 1.01 versus .99

Monday Musings 263 – 1.01 versus .99

Some-times there is poetry in numbers. Recently I noticed a pearl in the otherwise banal deluge on the whatsapp which had only two equations – that 1.01 raised to the power of 365 was equal to 37.8 and that in contrast .99 raised to the power 356 was a paltry .03. Such was my disbelief in the enormity of the difference that I actually went and checked it myself and found that the calculation was indeed wrong. The later was actually .0255 and the author had been rather kind and rounded it off to the next higher digit and in the process save a bit of self respect for the tribe of .99.

I am sure the import of the equation is not very difficult to follow although the enormity might be difficult to digest.  A tiny, inconsequential, statistically meagre difference over a large period of time becomes not only material and substantial but as evident gargantuan.  The finance guys call it the power of compounding. I think the catchy concept might serve the purpose of explaining the phenomena very well in the world of the measurable but is woefully inadequate in expressing the enormity in the realm of the non measurable.

Over a long time how does one even begin to imagine the horrors two hour of watching TV over twenty years wreck on human intellectual capacity. How does one imagine what regular burger eating does over twenty years. I am sure there are burger fans and the TV addicts who might find this illustration offensive but then truth be told I cannot even begin to imagine the real long term impact of a very minor difference compounded over an extended time frame – assuming I can fathom the real implication of the equation above.

I am beginning to also ask myself how would this equation play out at work place or friendships or other relationships or our commitment to our professions. The difference between 1.01 and .99 is really too tiny and imperceptible, something that would in all likelihood pass notice however real it might be. The receiver of the service might not even know the difference, the consumer might not even be articulate the difference even though she might perceptually experience that tiny little gap rankling in her bones but the difference there is. Over the period of time the difference not only becomes material but also the differentiator. I wonder if I am the 1.01 kind or the .99 kind. I also wonder what will it take to know it.

I also ask myself what will it take for me to shift gears and then sustain itself over long times. An example that has stuck with me over many years illustrates the point.  There was a mason who was perturbed about a small imperfection very high on the ceiling; upon being assured that no one else would notice it so high up, he remarks that he would notice. I think clearly he was the 1.01 kind.

Very recently I came across a professional who was perturbed about a satisfaction score of 4.62 as against the expectation of 4.68. I did not understand then about what the fuss about a tiny .06 was but I know now. I think they practice the power of 1.01.  


Sunday, May 15, 2016

Monday Musings 262: The hurry to understand others

Monday Musings 262: The hurry to understand others

I come across quite frequently many who profess to understand others.  An equal others if not more are those want to learn to understand others. In m y profession particularly a window into the dungeons of the human mind and human behaviour is considered a holy grail and there are not many to fall for the charms of mastering it – at least the notion of it. There in hangs this musing.

The idea that we understand others, their behaviour, and their motives is so intoxicating that before we know it we fall for it. The notion that it is even possible to do so is enough to suck us into believing that we can actually do it. One of the reasons why we fall for it is because it gives us a sense of power. What can be more gratifying than the idea that we can understand others and their actions – and in that knowledge lies the mistaken belief that we can play with it, influence it and control it.  Some elemental study around mental models, pop psychology and juvenile theories and oops – ladies and gentleman we have got a psychologist on the house!

The idea that we can even begin to unravel the recesses of a human mind and then tie it up with its manifestation is overconfidence, unless one has devoted an entire life to study it.  For everyone else I guess the whole thing is tantamount to armchair hunting. It gives a nice feeling and a high, but at the end of it all it, it’s notional and really unreliable. However many fall for it. I wonder why?

This whole thing becomes ironic because while being interested and even passionate about pursuing the study of another mind keeps so many of us busy; the dungeons of our own mind remain unexplored. The physician remains ailing!! I also reckon that the lack of understanding of self remains an ignored pursuit not as much because of ignorance or inability but more because of arrogance – which one knows enough about himself/herself.

As Kabeer says,

Padhi guni Pathak bhaye, samjhaya sansaar

Aapan ko samjhe nahi, britha gaya avatar

(Study and teaching the world is of no avail, // Unexplored and un-understood self - such a wasted life!)

So the question to muse over is not the sermon of needing to spend more time and effort to understanding ourselves rather than wasting time on trying to understanding others, but the question what makes the latter so charming and the former so repulsive? I use the strong adjective repulsive rather than my first choice, ‘unattractive’ because I reckon such large scale denial definitely must have its roots in something fundamentally disturbing. Perhaps we are too afraid to study self for the fear of what we may find – perhaps we already know in some strange way what we will find.

I think it was Carl Jung the famous psychologist who had said – ‘’Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding about ourselves’’. A twist of that could easily be, the more we are interested in know about the minds of others indicates that we running away from understanding ourselves. !!

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Monday Musings 261: The Menace of trolls

Monday Musings 261: The Menace of trolls

The flipside of open access social media is the evolution of a new creature called the troll. A troll as the Wikipedia defines is a ‘’ a person who sows discord on the internet by starting arguments or upsetting people by posting inflammatory, extraneous messages....attacks people....”

Following are the defining features of a troll.

A troll hides behind a mob. He is like the faceless member of the herd of yesteryears who seeks strength in his anonymity and solace in his being unknown. He is the neighbourhood bully who lurks just around the corner often with a group of lumpen elements. I also suspect he is psychologically deeply disturbed and must have had a history of attention deficit. He is battling his insignificant past and most likely even more insignificant future (someone who is busy trolling is unlikely to achieve anything meaningful anytime soon) by attacking those are genuinely significant enough to have attracted trolls like the swarm of bees.

A troll expresses without processing. A troll rarely cross checks facts verifies truthfulness and authenticity. Actually he has nothing to do with truth – his draws fun in the attack. The grounds of the attack be damned. My hunch is that a troll enjoyed in his childhood such random games like plucking the feathers off butterflies, throw stones at stray dogs and kill lizards and rats. Since such opportunities do not arise much these days so trolling is a close substitute if only even more dumber.

A troll has an opinion in anything and everything. A successful troll has something to say even when he has no clue on the subject at hand. Actually my sense is that he actually knows nothing about anything at all because anyone who has any credible knowledge about anything would not do something as silly as offering unsolicited advice or comment. Restraint – as a word, ability and attitude is unknown to a troll.

A troll is touchy and hence aggressive. A troll has very poor threshold for disagreement. He is touchy about his views and his position in general. My sense is that he suffers from low self esteem and was most likely thrashed by his teachers and parents and always compared with his mates on counts of decency and obedience. As a troll this is payback time for him. He will criticise anyone for anything. Most of his hurt is imaginary but his digital anger is real.

A troll is does not know history. If the whatsapp and FB forward on themes like politics, religion, and culture and how can I forget, patriotism is anything to go by – it is abundantly clearly he flunked in history. Not only is history flawed, uneducated and deeply bigoted, the fact that he wears this as a badge of honour makes him actually dangerous.

Imagine a likert scale where on one end is a mischief monger and on the other hand is a nut case  and imagine someone with characteristics of both and then imagine such a creature as a digital organism. That my friend is a troll for you! He may be the person who is on his device next to you. Give him a slap and send him back to school.




Sunday, April 17, 2016

Monday Musings 260 – Measurability is over hyped

Monday Musings 260 – Measurability is over hyped

‘’ The objective was synonymous with the measurable....the limiting of the knowable to the quantifiable ....Moreover the exclusion of the non measurable from what counted as knowledge left some of us our most important questions unanswered but unanswerable.... (This is from a book on Existentialism, a strand of philosophy)

I read this and immediately my thoughts went to someone’s email signature which screamed ‘’What cannot be measured cannot be improved’’. I have heard things to that effect multiple times at my workplace and frankly I have recycled some variation of that myself. There was a hollow ring to it every time I proclaimed it as certitude; the finality of the statement was intuitively doubtful.  However I could not find words to explain. As I read the above, my tentativeness on the subject has finally found words.

I inhabit the world of plumbing and not that of philosophy although given half a chance I would like to change places. (Purely on grounds of ability I will postpone that to the next life as of now). Corporations put a premium to the measurable and that emphasis is promoted as a virtue. The origin of that thinking is not difficult to trace-as the market place understands and hence rewards only the measurable and the measured. However what goes into making things happen on a daily basis often may not be quantifiable and hence not amenable to measurement. The lack of quantifiability and hence measurability does not in any way reduce its criticality as if most often indicated. We will do well for our well being to remember that. The custodians of workplace will do well to remember that. 

There has been progress in a way to bring the focus to the softer aspects of being an employee, managing teams and running an organisation from the heydays of the machine worldview – where everything was a part of a moving machine and hence treated as a controllable part. No wonder that issues like engagement, loyalty, culture, leadership and other cousins of the same ilk have entered daily conversation. However the way they are treated betrays the same worldview of objectivity that in the first place had proved insufficient. The worldview is still of scores – essentially machinist – as a be all and end all – and not on the ‘softness or spirit’ of it – and that makes the whole exercise like playing golf with a cricket bat.

Measurability cannot be the only paradigm of criticality. Just because something is not quantifiable and hence measurable should not mean it should be discarded. Most things that human being appreciated, desire, value and respond to cannot be bound by the terrorism of Likert scale (Peace be upon him!). Imagine saying to your loved one that they mean 26.732 Kg to you (assuming attachment can be measured in kilograms) or to the employee that you feel 94.65 greater concern for him/her which is 35.87 % higher than last year! Utter gobbledygook!!! I am sure you get the drift of the nonsense.

This does not mean that the pursuit of quantifiability and measurability is essentially wrong or undesirable – it’s the mindlessness of it and the paradigm that it is the only touchstone of organisational effectiveness that is under scrutiny. That, however requires some reading of existentialism, a subject which generally speaking the cubiclewallah looks down upon. If only he knew!!