Friday, September 30, 2005

Your time vs Their time

Three days back, 11 am:
I give my scooter for -- not servicing but -- carrying out a few checks. The mechanic agrees and tells me that I can come back the same evening. But I tell him, since I won't be able to come out of office, I will come the next morning. He says fine, and says I needn't even call up.

Two days back, 11 am:
Even though the mechanic told me that I could just walk in and pick up my scooter, I think I should call up. I am told that the scooter will be ready only in the evening. Once again I tell them that I will be able to pick up the scooter only the next morning.

One day back, 11 am:
I call up the service centre. A very apologetic voice tells me that since there is a shortage of mechanics, they will be able to deliver the scooter only in the evening. Since I can very well understand what shortage of staff means, I tell them to keep it ready and that I will pick it up the next morning.

The current day, 11 am:
After three days of waiting, I am quite hopeful that the scooter is ready, and in a tone of eager anticipation, I pose the rhetoric question: Hope I can come and pick up the scooter. But the receptionist (or whoever) is double apologetic, tells me that a little more remains to completed and that the scooter will definitely be ready by evening. I tell her that the scooter was given three days back. But she says that the staff position is very bad and pleads with me to bear with them. Once again she tell me that I can pick it up in the evening.

By now I have run out of my huge reserve of patience. Instead of waiting for the evening or the next morning, I rush to the service centre. I have known this mechanic for some three to four years. So, it is with more disappointment rather than anger that I confront him. He trots out excuses, which are all very obvious lies.

"Sir when do you have to go to office?"

In the afternoon. "Sir, just wait for half an hour. Please be seated. We are really sorry sir."

I tell him I have to call on a friend nearby. So, I will be back in half an hour or 45 minutes.

After 45 minutes I am back. He tells me to wait. I wait and wait and wait. Another hour goes by. In between I keep expressing my impatience, disappointment, resentment, frustration... Finally the scooter appears.

"Sir, everything is fine. But I couldn't change the shock absorber."

But that was one of the main problems. "Sir we need to get that from outside since the shock absorber for your scooter is of a different kind. Sir, many of my mechanics are not well, some have gone to their home town. Sir, I am going through a really bad time.... Sir, just bring the vehicle tomorrow. I will do it in half an hour...

If he can't do this in three days, how will he do it in half an hour the next day? He has only apologies and assurances.

The lessons I learnt:

How this mechanic could deliver the scooter in three hours flat (after I landed up there) when he couldn't do that in three full days was an all-time educative experience. They say "share your knowledge with others". So here I go:

Lesson 1:
Everyone (other than you) has all of sorts problems and limitations. If they can't stick to their word, keep their promises, and deliver you what's due, then it's your problem, not theirs.

Lesson 2:
Your one minute = 'n' minutes for others. There is no way of figuring out this equation. There is something wrong with you, if you find that 'n' is less than one minute. Rarely you will find that 'n' is equal to one and most often it will be more than one. Behavioural patterns have defied logic and wisdom. We learn from experience the value of 'n'. Modern management gurus call it "experiential learning".

Lesson 3:
It's never enough to know just what you mean. Also learn to understand what others mean. When they say today, it is tomorrow. If they say two days, they actually mean four days. If they say this week, they mean next week.

Lesson 4:
You must have heard spiritual and management gurus saying: Never wait for others to act, you must always make the first move. Be proactive. How true they are! Remind others about their work. If not they think you are ignoring them. Since all people, except you, have lots problems, they can't remember what has been promised to you. Without making it so obvious, bug them, pester them. But don't harass them, because your aim is to get the best out of them.

Lesson 5:
Never lose cool. Going by the "law of diminishing returns" it makes no sense: you lose energy and don't gain anything. Just understand that this is the way it has always been, and this is the way it will always be. If you have any doubts, check Newton's First Law, the law of inertia.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Bloggers, beware

Big Brother is watching. Malaysia and Singapore are cracking down on outspoken citizens who hide behind the anonymity that the internet offers. Read on.

National celebration of disruption!

A day of national strike by the Left parties against every thing from high price of fuel to India's vote against Iran at the IAEA. A holiday atmosphere. Strike -- you have a readymade excuse for every thing that doesn't work. A perfect excuse not to do anything. A national celebration of disruption, a day of no accountability.

We are a very hardworking lot, aren't we?!
How can we go on working like this?!!
Don't we need such breaks, more often?!!!

Friday, September 23, 2005

Chappell vs Ganguly

A well-planned leak to the press has brought to light Greg Chappell's private email drawing the Cricket Board's attention to the major shortcomings of Sourav Ganguly.

This is the least surprising. That foreign bosses have problems with Indians is a well-known fact. We have been seeing this in today's globalised corporate world. This clash of cultures takes a back seat when the output is to everyone's satisfaction: no complaints in an "end justifies means" scenario.

Indians have their own idea of discipline; but not one that guarantees success, not even a dignified failure. This is where Chappell has had a problem. For him, discipline and commitment come uppermost. But, Ganguly is blinded by arrogance.

It's great that Chappell hasn't submitted himself to imaginary halos around so-called princes. This is a test of Indian Cricket Board's professionalism. Whom will it back: Chappell or Ganguly. It will do itself and the sport a great good if it backs Chappell.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Blog censorship handbook

A handbook that offers advice to bloggers who want to protect themselves from recrimination and censors has been released by Reporters Without Borders. The media watchdog said it gives people who want to set up a blog tips on how to do so, how to publicise it, as well as how to establish credibility. "Bloggers are often the only real journalists in countries where the mainstream media is censored or under pressure," Reporters Without Borders said on its website. "Only they provide independent news, at the risk of displeasing the government and sometimes courting arrest."
Read more on BBC

Monday, September 19, 2005

Is our govt grateful to citiziens?

Here is an interesting thought from a friend of mine. He put this across to me in an email, and I thought I will put it up here.
"When a person shells out money, does he/she feel a sense of contribution... that, say, it is going to a government body ? For example, when a person goes in a government bus instead of a private bus, does he/she feel happy that 'yeah, the cost of the ticket is going to the government' ?... I have felt it most of the time... If it is true, then the question is: Is the government really capitalising on this factor?"
A very interesting thought, which has occurred to me also, and coincidentally, when travelling in the city bus. I have thought about this point in the context of people of other cities, states and even countries working, living in Bangalore. A great many of these non-Bangaloreans have made Bangalore their home. Not just in the sense having bought a house, but contributing to the economy of Bangalore by way of paying taxes and also by spending their money in the city. The government is gaining a lot of money, no doubt.  
My friend asks: Is the government capitalising on this factor? I really don't think so. Had it been so, the government (by which we mean the politicians who take all the crucial decisions or at least give the crucial nod to bureaucrats' ideas) would have served the city, state and nation better. They would have been more conscientious, meticulous, prudent and committed in their public service. The government of course is, no doubt, contributing in a large measure to the development of the city and the state. But that's just by default, it is not because the majority of government officials have worked in a concerted, proactive manner, with the real aim of making this city and state a great place. Karnataka government is one of the richest in the country. If the government (politicians and govt officials) realised that it owes its richness to the citizens, they would have been a lot more grateful, devoted. Look at our roads on which the government buses also ply.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Bangalore's problems in the world media

Bangalore's achievements in the IT sector is internationally renowned. Now, the infrastructure problems of the city is also out in the international media. The story put out by the Associated Press from Bangalore has been picked up by quite a few international news organisations. Some of them are:

Washington Post
Computer Partner (Netherlands)
Bradenton Herald (Herald Today, US)
International Herald Tribune (from New York Times by its Bangalore Correspondent)
Silicon India, California (from Agency reports)

Friday, September 16, 2005

Don't let the govt off the hook

I was expecting this to happen, but I was hoping against hope that the IT firms will stick to their threat, and boycott the city's annual showcase expo But it looks like the IT firms and government have struck a deal. Who gave in to whom is debatable.

But the script has run exactly the way it did last year. IT firms announce the boycott plan, hit the headlines, rattle the government, the government announces a slew of plans to improve the city, IT firms are mighty impressed, they call off the boycott, nothing happens, the plans lie just like that, and the city deteriorates further.

Here is where I begin to lose trust in the people who actually lead the city. They are not the democratically elected leaders. (I never trusted them anyway.) But the captains of industry. Undoubtedly, they have made the lives of thousands of Bangaloreans much better than what it has been. Not just the techies, but everyone related to real estate to hospitality to transport to every other service sector, has benefited.

The IT firms have a larger responsibility which they can't ignore. Almost every one of them is here, one, because of the good climate (sounds funny but it's true). Two, Bangalore has a large pool of technical resources. Three, the companies find government policy suited to their business.

At the end of the day, these IT firms have been making good profits. How many of them have made losses, blamed the infrastructure and left Bangalore? The MNCs, which have shifted from abroad to Bangalore and saved themselves from extinction, must be the ones to feel most obliged to Bangalore and its citizens.

The modern professionals, whose famed soft skills are as good as their hard skills, should be the last ones to give up on the politicians of Bangalore. Luckily or unluckily, in a democracy it's finally the politician who calls the shots. Sadly corporators, the mayor and legislators (who wield actual power) are the least qualified to lead this city. This is where the manager gurus and entrepreneurs need to think of out-of-box solutions, not just to improve the city, but first to the shake the politician out of his slumber and drive some good sense into him.

Biocon CMD chief Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw said a few days back that the way we elect our mayor is a joke and suggested that we should have someone like Narayan Murthy as mayor. This is at best a dream. What she and he can definitely do is to work like a mayor for the city and shame the mayor into action.

Now that it is almost certain that will go ahead with all the glitter, there is one thing IT czars can do and should do.

Don't let the government off the hook. Let all the promises be not forgotten. The government doesn't have in it to assess itself and make necessary course correction to achieve the intended objective. The famed IT firms will have to do it: offer the idea-starved, leadership-lacking government agencies the expertise.

The two have sat down and drawn up many short-term, medium-term and long-term objectives for improving the city. Left to the government, they will just be forgotten. Bob Hoekstras, R K Mishras, Som Mittals etc should covertly or overtly prod the government into acting on these proposals, reminding the government on the deadlines, so that the desired results are achieved. When the city begins to breathe more comfortably, the politicians will realise that the IT czars were not wrong after all.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

IT honchos mustn't yield

The captains of Bangalore's IT industry have again threatened to boycott the annual IT fair. Reason: the city's failing infrastructure. Last year too they threatened but they buckled under government assurances that things will be set right. Like last year the chief minister has called CEOs for a meeting.

The CEOs should remember a few things:

1. Bangalore hasn't got any better in the last year.

2. The city is getting worse by the day. The day is not far off when the system will totally collapse. It's a really dreadful prospect.

3. The popular feeling (as indicated by conversations with the general public) is that no one (who can do something) is bothered about making the city a better place to live in. The illiterate but popular corporator; the worthless but powerful ministers; the influential but powerless corporate honchos -- all are being clubbed in one bracket. The very sad perception is that all are out there to rape this city.

4. People are fed up, they are just throwing up their arms in benign resignation. The media is making the appropriate noises, but no one else is.

The IT giants have given thousands of youngsters wonderful careers and good life. The companies have also in return gained a lot out of this city. They may not be as powerful as ministers, but they can certainly influence the powerful ministers.

This time the IT honchos shouldn't buckle under government promises. Boycott this prestigious event. That may not solve the problem, but it will be a powerful message. The boycott can't be the end either. They need to follow up, with tougher measures.

Thursday, September 8, 2005

A surprise on the road

Today when I was driving my scooter, I accidentally came in the way of another scooter. Neither of us were in any great speed, could be just around 10 kmph, and therefore there wasn’t any danger. But the criss-cross path was enough for us to brake suddenly and stare at each other.

Such moments are of great apprehension for me.

The amazingly high level of rage -- many motorists fly into when they think their forever-indisputable right on the road has been violated – is not just an unbelievable waste of energy and time, but never gets any one us any where. Traffic on any Indian roads is chaotic, to say the least. Ludicrously unimaginative and painfully slow investment on much-needed infrastructure, especially roads, is making matters only worse.

With bumper- to- bumper traffic, of such volume that our roads just can’t take, it is only natural that our vehicles might take a gentle brush or knock from another vehicle. There’sn’t any point in faulting one motorist or the other. But what happens is the vehicle is stopped, one driver rudely, contemptuously, shouts at the other, calling into question his road sense and, if the argument drags on, even mental balance.

The other motorist, as if he was waiting for this chance, takes up the cudgels all too gladly, and heaves back the abuses in equal measure if not suitably amplifying them in every way, catalysing a chain reaction. Meanwhile, the traffic piles up on both sides.
Mercifully, I haven’t been got caught in the duel; only in the traffic jam caused by such duels.

Back to the present scenario.

As we two scooterists stared at each other, I, for a moment thought, this guy was going to park his vehicle there and confront me. And, I feared all those meaningless flights of rage. But he just smiled. Not just that, he said, “Sorry,” too.

My heart sank in gratitude, and wee-bit admiration too for this gentleman. He just melted away in the traffic. If I could meet him, I would have showered praises on him. I would have been so glad to have met and got introduced to a soul, the likes of which we so badly crave for, but we so badly miss.

A smile. A sorry. They don’t cost anything. Simple stress-busters. Simple solutions.

Wednesday, September 7, 2005

Unions of dwarfs in Kerala

Kerala is known for the countless number of unions, owing allegiance to both ends of the political spectrum.

Here is an interesting item on the BBC on how dwarfs have got together in Kerala to ensure they are not discrimiated against.

  • The Kerala Small Men Association has 300 members across the state and is demanding what it calls "special recognition" from the government. A recent regional film "Adbhutha Dweep" or Wonder Island, which cast 300 dwarfs, has been a huge hit and is thought to have inspired action. The men want job quotas, free bus rides and other facilities.

Tuesday, September 6, 2005

A week after Katrina

The lead story on BBC and CNN continues to be Katrina, almost a week after the disaster. The images are still shocking. The city of New Orleans is still under water and it is said it may take many weeks to pump it out. But a few things are striking:

1. We are yet to get a death toll from the tragedy. Today the mayor said 10,000 may have died, though the official figure is something like 71. But if there was a similar natural disaster elsewhere, the US would have immediately put a figure to the possible death toll.

2. Katrina is one of those incidents that happen in the US, which unveils to the world at large some inherant, inexplicable paradoxes of the American society. Slowly but surely CNN is discussing the racial aspect to this tragedy, which the BBC had spoken of on day one itself. Not just Americans, people of many other countries too believe that racial issues are a thing of the past in the US. But tragedies like Katrina suddenly rips open up an underbelly of the American society that makes one shudder.

In an article in The Guardian of September 5, Jonathan Freedland talks of the r
eceding floodwaters exposing the dark side of America, and of a country waking up to injustice and high-level incompetence.

The following two paras are interesting:

  • Finally, America will have to get over the shock of seeing itself in a new, unflattering light. It is not just the lawlessness, violence and gun culture that has been on show in New Orleans. It is also that America likes to think of itself as the "indispensable nation", the strongest, richest, most capable country on the face of the earth.
  • That belief had already taken a few blows. The vulnerability exposed on 9/11 was one. The struggle in Iraq - where America has become a Gulliver, tied down - was another. But now the giant has been hit again, its weak spot exposed. When corpses float in the streets for five days, the indispensable nation looks like a society that cannot take care of its own. When Sri Lanka offers to send emergency aid, the humiliation is complete.

Friday, September 2, 2005

America's Black Tsunami

That is what Hurricane Katrina is being described. The stories coming out of New Orleans are unbelievable. The scenes that we have been seeing during the past few days, hardly seem to be from the US. Most of the people affected are Blacks. Mississippi and Louisiana are the two states where the most number of Blacks live.

A friend of mine who works in the US and is currently holidaying here in Bangalore came out with two theories:

1. The US and state administrations put out enough warning, but the residents being what they are, probabaly didn't heed the warning and stay put.

2. Knowing the residents, the administrations didn't do enough to rescue them.

Scenes on TV showing residents crying out: "It's two days since I haven't had food", made me wonder about how efficient the system is. It seems the system is good only when everything is fine. Once there is breakdown and chaos, the people are just lost with no one to turn to.

If there was a similar situation in India, like in Mumbai recently, probably Indians would have coped better. Only because, Indians are used to such breakdowns and system instantly adjusts to take care of the immediate needs.

Mumbai ground to a halt during those recent days of flood. But there weren't looting and rape, nor were there people starving.

Thursday, September 1, 2005

Pay bribe, see your child, in Bangalore

The New York Times has been running a series of articles examining the impact of corruption on democracy and economic development around the world. As part of it, there is an article on corruption in Bangalore. It talks of how poor mothers in Bangalore have to bribe hospital staff to even see their newborn baby. It's a very startling, shocking fact. How deep corruption can permeate the society, to such inhuman, brutal levels.

The NYT article has also been picked up
Blogging Baby, a portal on baby care and parenting.