Saturday, July 29, 2006

This past weak...

My work involves no death, no taxes and certainly no certainity. I've very little control on what I could accomplish (as a result) at work, but need to influence everyone around. Its mostly discovery process of finding out who today will find our concept to be useful, who would find it threatening, who would find it politically expedient or who would bless it but not throw hir weight behind it or... So, I go to work with an hope that the lightning would definitly not strike the 6th time. It is generally stressful, since there is no certainity around anything...

This past week, my non-work was far more worse that it made the work look saintly and a breeze ! It has been an emotional roller coaster; with a sense of disquietude. Something that had a probability of 0.00000001% to go wrong did not just go wrong, but went awry with 100% certainity. Along with the mice's, all my plans went south and awry.

It awashes you with a deep sense of futility particularly when you do not have control over the situation and you can only influence it to a minimal extent. The sense of helplessness is more pronounced since it is not about personal self, but some other person who is solely dependent on you and you are burdened with that accountability. Last week, I was running very hard to a stand-still. I was gasping at straws.

When you awaken in the morning, sometimes you have a sense of foreboding. You kind of know that today, at best would be no different from yesterday; the best it could become, is to get worse. And every day, dawn is unrelenting. It happens without a fail. Its the day that begins with hot sun, not a cloud in the sky with clear blue sky. I had complete blues in me.

Sometimes its good to be a loner. Sometimes its really not. The knot-times really stressful, when the Gods are merciful and painful and when they aren't. These are the times you wish you stop being strong for others and be strong for yourself. You wish you had your folks around so that you can have those uncomfortable silences of non-conversations. You atleast know that physical proximity is comforting - its your not-a-care-in-the-world return to innocence. Last week, I certainly caused consternation amongst my folks by calling them to come visit at the earliest.

I thought about the poem I read when I was in school. The poem was called the "Pulley" (iirc). Someone asked God as to why he messed up by creating complexity and sadness in the world, when he had the opportunity to create perfection. God had responded: those were the few pulleys that he had for the man to think about Him. I actually thought about visiting Tiruchendur sometime soon - just to sit in the outer praharam and gaze at the sparkling sea with the breeze. Ah, for that peace.

If you are a loner, sometimes you marvel at how that person can make friends. And how he can ask for a favour with no discomfort (and at the same time, how he would go out of the way to help his friends). It is tough, if you are a kind of person who typically are not used to asking for help. I looked at one such guy last week. Also, somehow I talked to him.

As it is said, once you have hit the rock bottom, found soft sands to sink a bit more and then innovatively could tunnel to plumb new depths, the only way is up. Once you hit the bottom, is when you perhaps ask for help, talk to someone, think about God, be a bit more positive. Not really sure if those are the right things; But for some reason, I did do all those. Was I gently nudged to do those ? By who ? I really dont have a clue. But on cue, on the Friday afternoon, the pieces started falling in rightful place. The puzzle is on course to completion, the picture is emerging; the picture isn't that bleak as I thought it to be, infact it isnt at all - the despair is getting to be weak and is falling away. Things can yet turn out well - there is Mr.Hope around; or is that Mr.God ?

Friday, July 14, 2006

(The Asterix on) The Divide*

* The Asterisk being simply my opinion; nothing to do with Goschinny and Uderzo

I am on the so-called impacted side of the divide, where I am being denied my rightful share. I've experienced first hand and I’ve been many a times told by my co-habitants on the affected part of the divide why reservation are bad for the country and dilutes the meritocracy mindset in the country.

Color me liberal, pseudo-secular or whatever. I relate to several instances that I’ve seen in the past: to me it is just not about the economics or if a person is well off and is able to afford an education. I believe it is about a mental state – of how aware one is about the need for education (any form of education) in an economy that is growing and becoming more and more global. I’ve seen instances where, in a situation where the awareness of the importance of education does not exist, typically kids and young men at an age do not have the right mentorship, guidance and control (where it is necessary) for them to make the right choices. This is not about if they have the financial support; it is one step beyond it – it is that mental support and push. There is no scaffold available for them to use. Typically, I find such young wo/men, inspite of all their effort, there is that intangible that they miss to get past the inflection point that turns the effort into results. It kind of gets to be a double whammy – this is the age when the hormones are at the highest raging point and the distractions are the highest; secondly there is no alternate and opposing control and context point that gives a true picture of current reality and future reality. If I take my own case, my father was pretty unrelenting on driving home the need for good education; he constantly gave me the context as to how the world is changing and pushed me in to situations where I was forced to get the context. He also ensured that there are necessary control points in my system. Environment around me, my sister, my cousins, my uncles and aunt were all in the same context and regardless of my own wish, I was constantly forced to see and live in it; so right at outset of the right age, I had some clarity on why education was important (not that I did much about it :) ).

Although I was for the policy all along, recently I’ve been more convinced for such a need; we are going through the painful rigours of change management at my work, I have internalized, that the "need for reservations" is not about economically and otherwise deprived. For I see, people all around me have the intent to change - but where the challenge comes in is in "the how to" and in "the what to change to" . It is just about how long does it take for a mental mindset to change! It is the ill-awareness of the amorphous end-state; that knowledge comes a about only by experience ; and experience comes in by constantly being in a situation where the changed-state is the natural state of being. I was told by a change-management expert that it normally takes about a year for a small group of people (in one hierarchy) to even internalize why a change is required. And for the organization to change its mindset it would take several years – this is in an industry that is not even 30 years old.

In India, we are talking about a huge population who has been in a different and stereotyped (and perhaps subjugated ?) mindset, been on the receiving end for eons of several generations, denied the basic education and access to richness of our culture and literature. With this background, somehow, it is not intuitive for me that the change would happen in one generation. Just because the opportunities present itself does not imply it will be taken – the ecosystem where one grown up needs to have that mindset: I believe, the reservation is about ensuring that kind of change comes about; where the changed-state is prevelant everywhere and to everyone. Once that happens, I think the collective excellence of India would increase; but prior to that, we could probably, repeat probably, see a blip in the sigmoid curve!

Ps: On this, there was an excellent article on the Sunday Magazine of the Hindu at

Pps: On the other hand, I also do think that reservations in higher education and jobs where basic education (where reservation already existed) is a pre-requisite, is redundant and its pushing the vote-bank envelopes; and hence, perhaps, one of the reason why a rationale person too paints all the reservations (needed and extraneous) with the same brush of “death of meritocracy”.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Airlines People, Enakkoru (pala, Infact) Sandegam...

· Ever wonder these “beautiful people” who come across aloof and cold outside the confines of an airplane become warm and caring once they are inside? Would this dichotomy stress them enormously?

· If ever a Stewardess in hir personal lives, get angry and ask someone to “get out”, would they also tell them, that the “nearest exit may be behind you”?

· As the airplane flies higher and higher, it appears smaller and smaller to the eyes – is that why everything that’s served in the plane are in mini-sizes – like the food, peanuts packs, liquor bottle; Is this the case of “Honey, I shrunk every damn thing” ?

· I’m not looking to look as thin as you folks do or as fit as you folks are – If I’m on a diet, I will tell you; so, can I actually have a full and real meal, please?

· If one were to meet you on the road and ask for directions, would you do the side-ways karate chop there too?

· If you were to tell the Stewardess, while deplaning that you are planning to kill yourself, would they with their stuck ready-made smiles tell you – “Bye now, Buh Buh-ye now”?

Sunday, July 09, 2006

The Gandhi Trials

The Accused:

Ganesha was circling looking for a prey. He always ended up finding one; these days it was tougher than early days where people seemed to fall for cons easily; but these days, there seemed to be smarter people all around; he himself had to become smarter. Earlier he had worked alone without having to split his spoils with anyone;now, he needed to develop a support system, since people have started asking more questions and there are more disbelieving people – he thought aloud, ‘tch… what is this world coming to, where have all the faith and trust gone’ and grinned to himself wryly !

Ganesha always picked his spot carefully – this time, it was near photocopier shop; where there are more business and companies around. Although more and more companies moved to the outskirts, he found the newer companies took their place. In Bangalore, he found the people in IT companies with their higher affluence, and perhaps guilt of having to do something for the society were easy prey. As Ganesha hung around the photocopier shop, with a copy of B L Thereja’s text book and a photocopied version of it, he found a person who could be a potential for Ganesha. The person was wearing glasses, thin and was sipping coffee alone. Ganesh, prepared himself, checked if his mobile was hid well and was on mute; he did not want to give himself away by ringing at the wrong time. Ganesha then approached him, with a tortured and unsure countenance,

“Sir… Sir, I need some help, Sir”. “I’m a 2nd year engineering student. I’m from a small town near Hubli, Sir”. The thin-man stayed silent.

“I need some help Sir”, Ganesha repeated; “I cannot afford to buy my books, and hence I had to take xerox of a text book that I borrowed”. As he was talking, he pointed to the text book and the sheaf of photocopied, spiral bound book. “Whatever money I had, I had paid for the photocopy; but my exam fees are due tomorrow, Sir”, he trailed off, with an unsure voice…

The thin-man looked at Ganesha quizzincally. Ganesha felt he is being evaluated and quickly ensured that he ensured that he kept his diffidence and helplessness in his face. The thin-man asked incongruously, “which branch”, which Ganesha answered easily. Then Thin-man threw him off by asking about his first year marks. Ganesha mumbled something that could be believable and kept it just over 1st class. The Thin-man then asked him about his college. Ganesha knew what was coming next – he needs to be careful here. These days most people offered to pay the fees in person. Ganesha learned this the hard-way, when his medicine-scam came undone when the person he approached, spent Rs.400/- on buying medicines for Ganesha that he need not need; but that had taught Ganesha the lesson and he developed a support system around it – a medical shop, where he could return the medicines back but having to forego a 25% cut; a clerk in the college who would collect fees but return the money for a cut. Although Ganesha would like to avoid this, but these days, he needed back-up plans.

He aware that Thin-man was watching him; Ganesha gave the name of the college that was on the outskirts; Before the thin-man could speak, Ganesha produced the ID-card of the college, which could be made very easily from lost cards. The thin man had given it a cursory glance; but Ganesha knew not to underestimate anyone – he held the card out, so that the thin man can study it more. Ganesha could feel that, he had his man, but the thin man was wrestling with something else in his mind – perhaps he wanted to offer to come along with Ganesha and pay the fees. Then finally, after what seemed to be eons, the thin-man asked, “how much” ?

Ganesha took out the letter that he had received from the college reminding him to pay the exam fees before a certain date – it had Rs.1750.00 in it. He quickly added he could cover some of it and he short by Rs.1050.00 – Ganesha had found that not asking for the full amount made the whole story highly plausible and credible. The Thin man took out his purse and pulled out a Rs.500/- and three Rs.100/- and gave it to Ganesha. He was saying – “normally I would have come with you to pay, but today I cannot”. As he gave the money away, Ganesha took the notes with earnestness, thanking the thin-man profusely and asked him if he could meet him here again to give a copy of the receipt. The thin-man waved him way and quickly turned and walked away. Ganesha looked at cash in his hand – the portrait of Gandhi on those notes seemed to mock at him in a smile.

The Defendant:

Vikas Rao wanted to take a break from work. He has been struggling with a complex problem at work and wanted to get out to get some fresh air, which was paradoxical to talk about in Bangalore. He got out of his seat, went out to the tea shop on what looked like a shopping complex. He had ordered for a coffee and sipping his coffee when he felt someone calling for him.


“Sir, I need some help”. Vikas looked up to a find a person standing in front him. He looked younger than what his age was perhaps. In the next 10 minutes, Vikas heard the story of Ganesha Gowda who was a poor student from a town near Hubli and was a reasonable student, who wasn’t able to afford for the exam fees and wanted some help; the young man had offered his ID card and the letter from the college as proof. Vikas had studied it, but he was street-smart enough to know that these can be produced. He studied the young man again – there was something about him that Vikas found not credible. He gave Ganesha another look over – there seemed to be something hidden in his pockets, that seemed like a mobile. Vikas knew he could be wrong, but in this case, he probably wasn’t.

As Vikas was wrestling with his thoughts, he went back to his own past. Not much unlike the young man in front of him, Vikas too was from a small town. His father was a typical lower income group and worked in a local office; the money from the work was just enough to make both ends meet; with that money, he could not have sent Vikas to an engineering college. Although Vikas was not an outstanding student, he was a very good and sincere student. He knew that education was way out for his family and himself and spent enough time doing that well. Vikas did secure a good seat in an engineering college, and fortunately for him, one of father’s friends gave him a loan to complete his studies and sponsored some of Vikas expenses. Once he finished his studies, got a job and he went back to his sponsor to return the money. The venerable old sponsor smiled at Vikas and told him to help other poor students out with that money.

That was the day Vikas had made up his mind – that he would sponsor couple of students on his own through their education and would not turn down people who come to him for help for their education. He was not a fool not to know that there were scam artist who used such modes to con people of their money. At those times, he always went back to his ethical blueprint of needing to help; he knew that if he took that excuse of con, he may actually have turned down some with genuine needs too. He also typically ensured that he doesn’t give away money without verifying a few things. However, he knew out of 10 people, 5 could be a con. But he stayed the course, he believed because of those dirty 5, he had made up his mind that the real 5 should not be denied; to some of his friends that was a warped logic. But Vikas believed in the value of education. Even if his money reaches only 5 out of 10, he was ok with it; although he knew he could be conned via this route, he did not want to cynicism to come in the way for those genuine 5 to be helped. In an important thing such as education, he did not want to play the odds.

As Vikas studied Ganesha, he was reasonably certain this guy belonged to the dirty 5. But then Vikas also knew he could be wrong. He took out his purse, took out a Rs.500 note and three Rs.100/- note. Incongruously, the portrait of Gandhi in those currency notes, seemed to smile at him in approval.

The Great Leveller

Henry Mpenga could hear his class and his rows of seats being called for boarded. He had waited patiently for his name to be called; as his area of seating was called, he found himself in a melee and was being pushed around. Finally, a semblance of order was restored and he found he was gently pushed towards his seat. The stewardess, with a high lack of interest of Mpenga’s well being, directed him to his seat with a plastic smile. Mpenga found his seat in the middle row and unfortunately it was not an aisle seat; he looked for a place in the overhead bin for his luggage, but found that it was already overflowing. He had called out for help and the stewardess told him to stow his bag underneath the seat in front of his. Mpenga wondered if they could repeat it even when they were woken from his sleep. Mpenga stowed, rather stuffed under the seat, his luggage and then squeezed himself into the inside seat; with his generous built and height found himself to be constrained. He wanted to get another seat; he looked around, but looked like he had no freedom to find another seat. A few minutes later, he found both the seats on either side were occupied and he found that he was constricted more. After what seemed like a punishing time, the plane was ready to take off. Mpenga who had a weak bladder wanted to go, but he looked up – the seat belts signs was still on – he had to endure it for a long while. As soon as the plane reached a cruising altitude (the pilot said), the seat belts signs were switched off. Mpenga wanted to get to the toilet; the person on the aisle seat who has just settled down to a snooze across the trans-Atlantic flight, did not like one wee bit that he was being asked to get up. He gave enough hints to Mpenga that he would not appreciate being asked to move out every few hours (“There goes, thought Mpenga; he killed the very idea of moving out of his seat once in a while to loosen and keep the blood-circulation going). Mpenga went to the toilet and had to wait until the queue dissolved; he was thankful that he just got into the toilet as he relieved himself. He regretted that he needed to ask his neighbor to move out again to fit himself. As Mpenga eased himself back into the seat, he began feeling hungry. The little peanut pack only acted as a teaser; as he asked the passing stewardess, he was told that he needed to wait and he would be served lunch in about half hour. Mpenga wished he was in ground and was free to just walk across the street to a food joint to buy something that would satiate his hunger right now; however, with no options, he waited; fighting to stay awake and his hunger. After what seemed an interminable wait, the stewards wheeled in the food; a tray with some standard fare was plonked in front of him; it was ordinary and cold. He wished he had some choices; but there was no luck, since the stewardess told him that it was a full flight – he did not get the relation, but then let it go. After the sumptuous lunch (Mpenga thought wryly), Mpenga snoozed off. As he was just dropping off into a deep sleep, he was awakened by the noise: the stewardesses were getting ready to serve food; He wanted to go relieve himself, but he found his 35D neighbor feigning sleep looking away from him. After he could hold no longer, Mpenga awoke the 35D and slipped out. He freshened himself in the toilet, looking forward to return to his homeland. When he got out, he found he could not get to his seat, since the stewardesses were serving food and the cart was between himself and his seat. The stewardess motioned him to wait and he moved incrementally as they moved serving food. Finally, the whole train reached his row and he was allowed to get into his seat. As soon as he settled down, he was given another decrepit food of vague recipe. Mpenga, who did not want to stay hungry for another hour, just gobbled it up. As soon as the yet another lunch service (“An oxymoron” thought Mpenga) was done with, the seat-belts lights came on; and the in-seat incarceration began… Finally, after 7 hours of flight time, the pilot said that they would be landing soon in Mpenga’s country. Henry Mpenga looked forward to it, as the plane touched down in the capital city.

Henry Mpenga was traveling incognito. Henry Mpenga, the greatest freedom fighter who was in the threshold of emancipating his country from the oppressors was returning to finish off the occupiers. It was the last thrust of the sword that will kill the occupation. It Henry Mpenga’s revolutionary ideas, his incessant questioning of rules and oppression, first from within the country and then from exile, his refusal to accept constraints in choices had inspired the whole nation to raise against the occupation and he was in the threshold of success. Henry Mpenga, who rebelled against the idea of being told what to do against his free will, had endured through the seven hours of being told what he needs to do; He now stood patiently awaiting the stewardess’ signal that he is free to move out of the plane.