New Book – Organizational Development Essentials

I am happy to announce the release of my new book: “Organizational Development Essentials You Always Wanted to Know.”

This book is a ready reckoner for people who would like to know more about the subject of Organizational Development (OD) but do not know where to start.

It seeks to provide an understanding of the still relatively new and evolving discipline along with its key characteristics, core values, and goals. In order that it is not confused with some other disciplines like Change Management and Human Resource Management, a distinction is also drawn between them.

The book builds the theory of OD around the concept of constant change and suggests that organizations need to move from change that is thrust upon them to change that is planned, with the help of OD interventions.

The book also discusses the 5 stages of OD interventions – Entry, Diagnosis, Implementation, Evaluation, and Institutionalization in detail. The discussion is rounded off by discussing the OD practitioner’s core competencies, skills, ethical issues, and knowledge required as well as the expectations the organization has.

The book is an ideal pick for managers and leaders in organizations who wish to acquaint themselves with all the aspects of OD. It will be a useful guidebook for students and help them explore the field of OD for a prospective career.

This book is produced in collaboration with Vibrant Publishers and constitutes a part of their Self-Learning Management Series designed to help students, managers, career switchers, and entrepreneurs learn essential management lessons.

As a reminder, my earlier books, that also appear on the top right section of this blog, are:

a collection of satirical stories set in the workplace,

and

a detailed guide to the world of business process outsourcing (BPO).

Thanks to the valuable insights provided by my longtime blogging friend Jacqui Murray on her blog, the URL behind these images should take you directly to your local Amazon bookstore where you can know more about the book and, of course, buy it if you find it interesting.

If you get to read any of them, please do try and leave your comment/review/feedback either on this post or on the online bookstore where you bought it.

Thank you!

Return of the Native

It has been an open secret all these years.

One that the Microsofts, Citibanks and Googles of the world, as well as the Londons, Singapores and Dubais, are unlikely to ever catch on to.

That Indians migrate overseas for the well-being and development of the nation, India, and not for seeking better opportunities for themselves and prospering in a jurisdiction with equal opportunity and an effective rule of law.

The secret came to light during the speeches made by leaders at the recently concluded Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, or Overseas (or Non-resident) Indians Day when they exhorted NRIs (Non-Resident Indians) to do their duty for the nation. The nation that allowed them to go forth and succeed. You don’t get such opportunities in many places. In countries like the US, Sweden and New Zealand, one could even contemplate staying back and succeeding.

Held on the 9th of January, it is now one of the key events in the Indian national calendar, and a pivotal strategy in the nation’s development ever since independence, even though the official marking of the day only began in 2003.

The day chosen is the return date of arguably the nations’s most famous overseas Indian, Mahatma Gandhi, from South Africa in 1915. Gandhi had become an NRI in 1893 to do service to the nation, by representing Dada Abdullah Jhaveri, the Durban-based private merchant of Indian origin, in a legal matter, as a lawyer. It is another matter that, stung by the treatment meted out to him by the British government, and to Indians in South Africa in general, he stayed on to fight for the rights of the Indian community, returning to India only in 1915.

The day celebrates the contribution of the overseas Indian community to the development of India by asking them to contribute to development. It seeks to strengthen the bond between India and the global Indian community. It is a day celebrated with great pride and enthusiasm by the government as well as the diaspora, the ones who get invited to attend.

Who exactly is an NRI?

The narrow definition is an Indian citizen residing overseas.

The broad definition includes a citizen of any country other than Bangladesh or Pakistan who had (a) at any time held Indian passport or (b) he or either of his parents or any of his grandparents was a citizen of India by virtue of the Constitution of India or the Citizenship Act, 1955 or (c) the person is a spouse of an Indian citizen or a person referred to in (a) or (b).

Phew! Anyone left? That is broad as broad gets.

To keep things simple, the broad section of the definition was carved out into a separate category known as a Person of Indian Origin (PIO) which was later merged with another category known as the Overseas Citizen of Indian Origin (OCI) created later for the same reason – simplicity.

According to the Ministry of External Affairs, the official theme of the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas 2023 was “Diaspora: Reliable Partners for India’s Progress in Amrit Kaal.” The theme focuses on the importance of the Indian diaspora in the development of the country. It is important to note that for every edition a new theme is chosen to celebrate the day.

Undoubtedly a staggering amount of effort must be going into developing the theme for such an important event every year, or every two years now since 2015!

The results are visible. The theme for the virtual event in 2021 was “Contributing to Atmanirbhar Bharat”.

See what I mean.

In order to fully appreciate the effort and creativity, as well as the wide subject coverage while determining the theme of each edition, it is necessary to go further back.

For the 2019 edition, held in Varanasi, in the Prime Minister’s electoral constituency, the theme was the out of the ordinary “Role of Indian Diaspora in building New India”.

This was a revolutionary change from the “Redefining Engagement with the Indian Diaspora” that had been agreed upon as the theme for the 2017 edition hosted by Bengaluru.

I will not be surprised if the topmost minds in the country, or in any of the 110 countries where NRIs live, have already put on their thinking caps and are hard at work to decide the theme for the next version of the event scheduled for 2025.

At the latest edition, Pravasi Bhartiya Samman awards were conferred by the President to chosen NRIs for their distinguished service to India as well as their countries of residence. It was not immediately clear if the country of residence agreed that the service provided to them was, indeed, distinguished.

The Prime Minister commented on people emigrating in earlier years owing to the stifling policies of previous governments run by other political parties and marveled at the resilience of NRIs as they continued to emigrate owing to the stifling policies of a new government and a new party.

I went into a trance listening to the PM and found myself fondly recollecting the 15th Pravasi Bharatiya Divas held in the Prime Minster’s electoral constituency in 2019. Inaugurating it he had said, “People of Indian origin are in leadership roles in country, such as Mauritius, Portugal and Ireland.” To put this in perspective, Shri Pravind Kumar Jugnauth, the PM of Mauritius, a person of Indian origin, was the chief guest for the edition.

I had swelled with pride at the thought of how we would never let such a thing happen in India. We will never allow a person of any foreign origin to even settle down peacefully, leave alone handling a public office. It is a testament to the tenacity and courage of the diaspora, I had added to myself, that they have been able to assume leadership roles in other nations who did not have ancient civilizations they had to protect from the corrupting influence of foreigners.

He even sought out the ‘hotel motel Patel wallas’ who run more than half of America’s motels and suggested, “Whenever you get a guest in your hotel or motel, why don’t you put a few slides of India on TV. When the guests turn on the TV they will be able to see what India is.”

I am not privy to the impact this had on the business of the ‘hotel motel Patel wallas’ but it has revolutionized business in India. Each time someone in India switches on his South Korean TV, he/she gets to view, for free, a one-minute video on the achievements of the nation. Whenever someone sits in a Japanese car, the display panels are all aglow with Japanese script. Only after a minute they transition to English or Hindi. No extra charge.

His appeal to every NRI to persuade five non-Indian families to visit India with a visa on arrival waiting for them, seems to have been taken up widely. Foreign tourist arrivals in 2019 went up by almost 3.5% over 2018. In each of the previous 10 years, they had been going up by a larger percentage over the previous year. Isn’t it unfortunate that we don’t have Italian neighbours asking us to visit Italy with a visa on arrival waiting for us instead of waiting in the long queues for a Schengen visa? If only previous governments had had the foresight…

Dear NRIs, whatever else you may or may not do, at least give us your money.

Nation Building

“Are we of no service to society?”

The office bearers of the Medical Council of the nation had no response when the question was posed by participating doctors at a recent meeting.

Neither could the bar association come up with a convincing reply, even though its members were known to have all the answers in the most complex cases including rape and murder. The simple question asked was, “Does the nation think that we are a burden?”

The Institute of Chartered Accounts, with their ears to the ground, have cancelled the upcoming annual meet for fear of difficult questions being raised.

Voices of discontent are being heard from every nook and corner of the nation, from sanitation workers, from government employees, from pilots associations, from electricians, from cab drivers, from software developers, from managers, from the managed, from vice presidents and CXOs, from farmers, and everyone else you can think of.

Losers! All of them.

Except the people behind micro, small and medium enterprises, or MSMEs.

Their lives are about to change. No question about that. In fact, they may already have, since the video was released at least a couple of days back, if not more.

Video?

Yes video. Who would have though lives could be changed with a single video. But then, that is what leadership is all about, is it not? Thinking the unthought. Doing the not-done. Going to places not gone before.

What is the big deal in spending other people’s money to demonstrate leadership, you might ask. After all, the government collects billions in taxes. Spending a few thousand on hiring an agency to create a video will not even be a rounding off error in the government’s accounts.

And that is the beauty of this video. It has not been created by the government. Why should creating goodness all around be the sole responsibility of the central government? Is it not up to us to participate in nation-building?

Creating a video is nation-building?

Yes, it is, if the video has a soft tonal quality to it, mainly black-and-white footage, indulgent smiles, a slow tempo with soft sounds, smooth, slow voiceover, camera panning indulgently, and the national flag flying in slow motion, what is it if not nation-building? Don’t believe me? Check it out for yourself. The voice-over is in Hindi but with the help of English sub-titles, people not familiar with the language should also be able to follow the script.

Isn’t it amazing? What a message? Never before seen or heard anywhere. “…they are working tirelessly for their country, although in silence. Their tribulations are frequently unheard of. They make mistakes along the way, but they always come back stronger.”

After all, who has ever worked tirelessly for their country in silence? Or, whose tribulations were unheard of? Or, who have made mistakes but come back stronger? Isn’t it important to highlight these unique characteristics?  

Respect.

So, how will this help? Will it help MSME business owners get better prices for their products and services?

No.

Will it reduce competition and help them sell more?

No.

Will it help them reduce the cost of production?

No.

Will it help them pay better wages?

No.

Will it help them make more money?

No.

OK. Will it reduce atmospheric pollution in Delhi? Or, make politicians truthful?

No and no.

So, how exactly does it help?

I cannot believe you are so narrow-minded. Always looking for proof. Always asking for data. Only interested in actual benefit. Is it not enough that intelligent, educated, smart people have made it a priority to forward this video again and again and feel great about their contribution to nation-building? And I am not talking about MSME owners only. I am talking about everyone. Would it not make them feel proud to view such a video that even has a CTA, a call to action, of asking viewers to be respectful towards MSME owners. Where they don’t have to do anything; just watch and forward and build nation, watch and forward and build nation. Repeat, ad infinitum. Sometimes with added comments such as, “For the first time an Indian government released video for businessmen. What a video! 😊 Do watch it.”

But that is a lie, is it not? It is issued by MSMEX, which is a private company. It claims to be an “experienced MSME edtech company with highly qualified staff to help companies grow in their industry and attract more visitors online” and aspiring to “serve 10 Million MSMEs Worldwide.” I might aspire to have 100 million readers of my books. It makes me aspirational, yes. Nothing more and nothing less. Not a representative of the Indian government.

Again fact? Again data? Again truth? How does it matter? You can never be a patriotic son of the soil. How does it matter that it has been created by MSMEX? What matters is that people think it has been created by the Government of India.

How does it matter? How is it any different from the many commercials made by companies that tug at your emotional strings in an effort to make you buy something? While I have nothing against them using emotional appeal in their commercials since it is up to the buyer whether she chooses to be convinced about the message or not and opens her wallet, calling it nation-building is rich, is it not?

By evoking guilt companies make you spend money on things you don’t really need. What is that if not nation-building? Keeping the wheels of the economy moving.

Like the true leaders they are, the government has noted the simmering discontent after the release of this video, and instructed all industry associations and all representative bodies of doctors, lawyers, chartered accountants, sanitation workers, government employees, pilots, electricians, cab drivers, software developers, managers, the managed, vice presidents and CXOs, farmers, and everyone else you can think of, to make a nation-building (read emotional) video for their members so that they can feel good while watching it and contribute to nation-building by forwarding it again and again.

An opposition party has gone a step further. Recognizing that making such videos creates so much good for the whole nation, they have decided that if voted to power, they will ban all other professions and jobs and trades such as doctors, lawyers, chartered accountants, sanitation workers, government employees, pilots, electricians, cab drivers, software developers, managers, the managed, vice presidents and CXOs, farmers, and everyone else you can think of, and ensure that each individual will, henceforth, only be a maker of emotional videos, creating everlasting goodness.

The head bows down in reverence.

Found in Translation

“If you are a criminal, petty thief, or murderer, we request you to reschedule your business activities to a more suitable date and time.

If you are the common man or woman, and have not already forwarded this message without reading it, please read on.

We know you live in a nation that has nothing to be proud of. After all, it has been over a year since a person of Indian origin was appointed as the CEO of a major American company. We know that your daily acts of honesty, integrity, hard work and selflessness in a still-control oriented and touchy to criticism establishment are nothing to be proud of.

Since India is proud to host the 90th Annual General Assembly of Interpol from the 18th to 21st April, you will get an unprecedented opportunity to be proud. For four full days.

This is the first time that citizens will get to participate in a global event of this scale. Rejoice!

There are many ways to participate. Let nobody complain they did not get an opportunity.

You can participate, firstly and foremostly, by staying out of the way. Since the delegates to the Assembly need to travel between their places of stay and Pragati Maidan, JLN Stadium and the Airport, all you need to do is just get out of the way. Because this city and nation belong to you.

Because the Prime Minister cannot, since he needs to have his picture clicked while inaugurating the Assembly. So, you must.

Because the Home Minister cannot, since he needs to address the valedictory function. So, you must.

It is not only you, dear common man and woman, who gets to participate, organizations and corporations can do too. Special arrangements have been made for their active participation as well. The government strives for eliciting participation from each individual and organization, which is why we never bothered to seek their consent while committing to the Assembly.

Organizations and corporations can actively participate by ensuring that their non-essential staff members work from home, since video conferencing services and internet are available to them. Delegates to the Assembly obviously cannot, as such services are unheard of in the rest of the world, so you must.

This is a particularly important pillar of the participation strategy as organizations and corporations thrive by hiring non-essential staff.

You, you, and you (as opposed to we and us) should be prepared to use public transport. The Prime Minister and the Home Minister cannot, so you must. The delegates cannot, so you must. This city and nation belong to you.

Wait, there are more ways for you to actively participate in the Assembly.

Twiddling your thumbs is another way. No past government has ever got you twiddling your thumbs, has it? Please actively participate by postponing avoidable travel and bypassing roads falling in New Delhi district. Instead, sit at home or wherever you are and twiddle your thumbs. Twiddle like there is no tomorrow. Twiddle like we know you can. Be on the lookout for sample videos on yogic twiddling by experts that will also cure your diabetes and unclog your arteries.

The delegates cannot, The Prime Minister cannot. The Home Minister cannot. So, you must. Since the city and nation belong to you.

It is important to reduce traffic volume on roads in New Delhi District. With your participation, we can.

Why is it important to reduce traffic volume on roads in New Delhi District, you ask? Because we have such a high regard for our way of life that we need to stuff the garbage under the carpet and present a filtered view to visitors, since we have invited them here. Since the city and nation belong to you.

We have chosen one of the most crowded cities in the world for this Assembly to demonstrate our total unpreparedness for hosting such events. The objective can only be met if you cooperate and participate actively, as you have always done in the past. Or, have you already forgotten the banging of utensils?

What about pride after the 21st?

Good question. Good things don’t last forever. But you need not worry. Your pride is in good hands. After this event gets over, we will send you a message awarding you as the best common man and woman in the world. That should see your feelings of pride soar.

Who will bestow this award?

The same agency that bestowed the best PM award in the world some time back.”

The foregoing is an English translation of the following advisory issued by the Traffic Police in English: 

I have tried to be as faithful to the original as possible.

What do you think?

Adventure Sport

Our city leaders don’t often get the credit they deserve. While one might try to excuse it by saying that there is only so much credit one person can give; and with the central government after every ounce of it, what can state and city leaders expect, the truth is that we are a bunch self-serving, selfish, entitled people. It is a harsh indictment, but the truth.

We have seen the days when city leaders had to explain to us, logically and patiently, upon our wanting to know where the footpaths were for people to walk on, that if footpaths were left for people to walk on, where would the same people park cars and put-up electricity distribution transformers? Did we need to ask? Could we not have put two and two together ourselves?

In all fairness, we may be self-serving, selfish and entitled, but we do agree when a logical argument is presented. And, in the face of one, that was that with footpaths and the desire for footpaths to walk on.

It was, therefore, a surprise when a few months back my good friend Rohin said that he had been walking on a footpath on the city.

But there is a back-story to that.

One fine day Rohin announced that he was in hospital as a result of injuries sustained in a dangerous adventure sport.

“What?”

“When?”

“Where?”

Now Rohin is a peripatetic traveller if ever there was one. If he is not in Slovenia he is probably in Japan and if he is not in Aurangabad he is probably in Masai Mara. He writes extensively on his travels and if someone wants travel guidance from me, for whatever reason, I merely point them to his blog.

Believing he had discovered some new destination for adventures sport, I excitedly asked him those three detailed questions. In the excitement of talking about adventure sport, rarely does one worry about the condition the participant is in.

I am a nature enthusiast, at least to a degree. I have a great regard for people who test their physical limits against nature, in a respectful manner. Whether it is mountain biking, or rock climbing, or open-ocean swimming, or white-water rafting. Like Rohin. In an ocean of push-button, or picture-postcard, or even hired adventure, such examples stand out.

“In Gurgaon, where else?”

My face fell, realizing that it was not another exotic locale that I could aim for. But then, on realizing that I did not have to spend money to get to Gurgaon, as I was already there, I brightened up.

“How?”

“Outside Max Hospital,” he said, responding to my fourth detailed question. Perhaps realizing that that did not satisfy my curiosity, he added, “on the footpath.” Perhaps realizing that I was still not satisfied with his answer, he added, “I was walking on the footpath outside Max Hospital with my daughter. After some distance the footpath ended.” My ears had perked up when he said he was walking on the footpath, but I could only say, “Ended?”

“Yes. Ended.”

“Ended like…?”

“Ended like ended. Finished. Ceased. Concluded. Stopped.” He paused as if to ask if I needed more synonyms.

“I felt the breeze in my hair as I descended six feet into the gutter when the footpath ended, with a thud. It was more exciting than a bungee jump. In a bungee jump you deliberately jump, here the ground vanished from under your feet suddenly. Can you beat the sense of that thrill? You will not get such broken bones and bruises them so easily even at the best adventure sites in the world, that too for free.”

I nodded. I have done some adventure sport in my time, and I could understand what he was saying. It was beginning to make sense. While we had been mocking them, city leaders had been quietly turning the city into an adventure park.

An adventure park not like Appu Ghar, the water park, where one needs to strive for adventure, and one is conscious of it. But an adventure park where adventure can come from anywhere.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

I now knew that one could walk on the streets once again, at least in some places. Seeking adventure for free, I set out immediately after hearing about Rohin’s adventure, to seek mine.

After not having found adventure on Golf Course Road, M G Road and even on the Old Delhi Road, I finally found my adventure yesterday, just when I was beginning to lose hope. Or, perhaps, my adventure found me.

It found me on the humble stretch between my home and the South City-1 colony market, less than half a km away, on the way back.

The footpath having been consumed by parking and an electricity distribution transformer as per the vision of the founding fathers, the road flooded after ten minutes of light rain, I was making my way through a dump yard that, I believe, was meant to be a park. My adventure found me as I tripped on a wire stretched across the path, barely above ground level, at the exit point of that park.

Thank you, city leaders. Together, we can make our city a popular destination for adventure sport. On second thoughts, why together; you have it in you to do it all by yourself.

My trophies from the adventure are displayed here:

Dancing in the Dark

(Translated from Finnish)

“Why does it always have to be us? Here we are, the happiest country on Earth. We have a small population and an almost unlimited amount of beautiful, unspoilt, open spaces for everyone to enjoy, with only 16 people per square km. And yet our political leaders let us down, nay, embarrass us.”

“True. Germany, not far away, has 234 people per square km. Bangladesh has 1,141. And our per capita GDP is also a very healthy $46,000.”

When this conversation between Johannes and Maria started, people sitting close to them had started to pay attention, ignoring the private conversations they were having with their neighbours before that.

“I admit she is young. But that cannot be an excuse when you contest in an election for a public role,” Johannes responded.

A hush descended over the popular crowded sauna in the middle of Helsinki. So far people had been trying to pretend it was not there, but this statement could leave no doubt about the presence of the elephant in the sauna. Even the hissing of the hot stones topping the ‘kiuas’ seemed to have quietened down. There could no longer be any doubt what they were talking about.

The leaked videos of Sanna Marin, the Finnish Prime Minister, dancing in a private party, and generally letting her hair down, has divided the nation down the middle. Some were of the view that it was OK and that as a human being she needed to let her hair down to stay sane, as well as get some exercise. Others felt that she had put herself, as well as the nation, in an embarrassing and compromising position by appearing to act like a common person and not respecting the dignity of her position.

“Why did she do it?” Anneli, sitting on the other side of the sauna, wondered, adjusting her towel. “I am travelling to Italy tomorrow. No way am I going to say where I come from. Tomorrow she will want to go and order an Americano in a coffee shop. Where will this stop?”

Antero, throwing a ladleful of water on the hot stones, to get them hissing again, looked around for an opening and added, “It is not that she has a shortage of role models in terms of popular, democratically elected leaders around the world, many of them much more experienced. She should be open to learning from them.”

“Is it a surprise that America is the richest and most powerful nation today?” asked Olavi from the far corner of the rectangular room lined with wooden benches, to no one in particular. “They have an equally mature voting population who have chosen a leader who can barely stand. Can he ever embarrass the nation by even attempting to dance?”

There were nods of agreement all around. Anneli added, “And when he goes out cycling, he falls over. She could at least have fallen over or had two left feet, instead of the competent performance she put in. Could she not have fallen over or bumped into someone to save us from this embarrassment?”

Maria, sitting next to Antero, said with some nastiness, “Did she not know about the island nation in the Indian Ocean where the leaders appointed relatives to positions of power and led the economy to ruin through mismanagement? It may cause a popular uprising and a revolt but does it divide opinion in this way? No way.”

Annelli added, “And do you know how they were getting exercise? By filling water in the huge swimming pool in the presidential palace while people outside the palace did not have drinking water. No, not swimming. Filling water. Could she not have done that? And then the president got more exercise when he ran away from the public to another country, in time-tested political tradition.”

The temperature in the sauna was rising, and it wasn’t only because of the hot stones on the ‘kiuas’. The owner adjusted the temperature downwards to prevent an explosion.

“Then there is India, the world’s most populous democracy,” Helena, just back from a vacation to India, piped up. “They also have a young leader and a great role model. He may be seventy years old but for a country with 90 being the usual cut-off for a Prime Minister, that is young. Has he ever been caught out dancing? He is like a rock. Check out his pictures in front of popular holy shrines around the country at the taxpayer’s expense. He is absolutely still, and usually covered in an orange coloured cloth. Do you know what he exercises? He exercises his vocal cords. That is what experienced politicians are expected to do.”

“She does not need to look far for inspiration,” it was Olavi’s turn to speak. “She only needs to look at our neighbour Russia. Why can we not randomly invade a country and kill ourselves some civilians? Letting hair down and exercise can both be achieved, not just for herself but for a lot of people at the same time, without anyone even noticing. And once it starts, it can go on indefinitely.”

“And what about Bolsonaro?” Anneli found her voice again.

“Bol who?” asked Maria. “Anyway, what about Bol whatever?”

Directing a cold glance at Maria inside the hot sauna where the temperature had already topped ninety, Anneli said in an even colder tone, “For those of you who don’t know, President Jair Bolsonaro is, well, the president of Brazil, the biggest country in South America.”

Quickly getting over the disappointment of not receiving an ovation at the momentous declaration, she asked, “Do you know how he exercises and loosens up?”

Seeing blank faces around she answered her own question. “Well, he goes around meeting people face to face. And, when he does not like a question someone has asked, he lunges at him, grabs his shirt and tries to snatch his mobile away from him.”

“That is what I would call a true, traditional politician,” Olave clapped and said. “My fear is, with leaders like Sanna, we may be running out of such leaders. It will be a sad day for the world when that happens.”

“Could she not have violated some Covid-19 related or other protocols, as done so effectively by Boris Johnson just a few months back?” Helena asked, a bit ruefully, thinking about the missed opportunities. “Party if you need to, but what is the point of being the prime minister if you are not even going to break some rules while doing so?”

Cross-talk began as the temperature and emotions started to rise.

Johanna, who had just returned to the sauna after a refreshing dip in the adjoining lake, and eager to contribute, said, “And did you know that in North Korea…” But she was not allowed to complete her sentence. There was a hissing sound, not from the stones, but emanating out of the people, as they picked up their respective, and so far unused, ‘vihta’ and set upon her.

Over The Top

I was shocked. And I am probably putting it mildly.

“Shamita – Raqesh part ways” screamed a headline in the morning paper.

And I had no idea. Was I living under a rock?

Without losing a moment, I switched my glance to the write-up. If Shamita and Raqesh were parting ways, the least I could do was find out who there were, or are, even if I am not able to find out why they were doing what the newspaper said they were doing, parting ways.

Turning to page 4, where the write-up was, I unearthed a treasure trove of important information. I found:

  • Their names were Raqesh Bapat and Shamita Shetty
  • They met on the reality show Bigg Boss OTT last year
  • They made a music video together in May
  • Shamita even wrote: “I think it’s important to make this clear. Raqesh and I are no longer together.” Important? The fate of humanity hung on a slender thread. You have saved it Shamita.

And here I was, trying to follow the Russian invasion of Ukraine, India’s border conflicts with China and Pakistan, the PM race in the UK, and tennis at Wimbledon, the brickbats between political rivals, huge stashof cash found with an aide of a Bengal minister, and the Indian cricket team’s efforts in England and the West Indies. I was wasting my time would be an understatement.

Shame on me.

It is not that I did not care about this section of the newspaper. It is called HT City and comes every day, I think. I would pick it up, turn to the Calvin and Hobbes strip, read it, fold and put it back. What was I thinking?

But, like they say for statistics telling you a lot but leaving out the really important parts, the write-up provided a lot of information that I have already summarized above, but left out the important bit, at least for me; who the hell were they?

Did I have a choice? No. I turned to Google. What did I find?

“Shamita Shetty (born 2 February 1979) is an Indian Bollywood actress, model and interior designer. She made her Hindi film debut in the musical romance film Mohabbatein (2000)…” A bulb lights up. I remember watching that movie. In my defence, I was young, I was even more foolish.

“Raqesh Bapat is an Indian actor and model. He is known for his work in films like Tum Bin (2001), Koi Mere Dil Mein Hai (2005)…” No lighting of bulbs here.

I get it. This is important. When one watches shows on TV and OTT for entertainment that make little sense, and may or may not be entertaining, but that is a personal choice, it needs to be complemented by snippets of the personal lives of the people they see in those shows that make equally little sense, in the media. It is a right. As simple as that.

How else will viewers know what Shetty had for breakfast?

How will they know where Bapat went to a holiday?

How will they know what they wore when they were in college twenty years back?

And without this information, can the entertainment that makes little sense, not make even lesser sense? It is obvious, is it not? If I am not trying to make Netflix and Star TV richer does not mean that others will also shirk their responsibility.

I did the Google search two days back. Today my browser is already full of helpful suggestions about reading who Bapat went to an awards function with and watching a video of a gym session of Shetty. I think I may have arrived. I can sense a void in my life is about to be filled with meaningless information about other people.

Not one to rest on his laurels, after hungrily reading all this, I moved my gaze to other parts of the newspaper. The pickings were rich. I could see “Huma would rather take a day off on her birthday than work” and “Why Harsh Varrdhan Kapoor won’t say yes to a regional language project” lined up next to each other.

Did you know? I bet not.

Are you dying to find out? I bet yes.

I will stop here, as there is work to be done. I need to first find out exactly who Huma and Harsh Varrdhan Kapoor are and work my way up to the answers to these important questions.

Bermuda Flyover

“To my naked eye, #Dehradun cannot take the load of any more new buildings. Wherever one goes; on ones left or right, one only gets to see four storey commercial buildings coming up. This rampant and unabated construction spree is neither wise nor suitable for the sensitive #DoonValley”

What was he thinking?

I am talking about my old friend Anoop Nautiyal, Brand Ambassador Dehradun and Founder – Social Development for Communities Foundation, Uttarakhand, who said these words, apparently a few days back.

Take a guy back to a formerly pristine town that Dehradun was before it became the capital of the newly formed state of Uttarakhand and got developed, and he starts believing that he has to save the world.

Must big cities like Delhi and Gurgaon continue to bear the responsibility for creating ecological disasters? There is something known as a shared responsibility, though I suppose Doon residents would not have heard of it. Hearing Anoop, the common man might even start thinking that all the shiny new buildings in Gurgaon have been built because Gurgaon can take their load. He might even start believing that there is adequate power and water for the common man.

As luck would have it, I was on top of a brand new architectural wonder planned and constructed by the city of Gurgaon, where I live, that was thrown open to the common man to marvel at and benefit from, when I saw this message posted by Anoop. I understand there is confusion about the constitution of the seven wonders of the world, but I also know that there will be no confusion or disagreement about the inclusion of this marvel in the seven wonders, regardless of which the other six may be.

The architectural marvel I am referring to is a flyover. For readers who may be more familiar with other traffic lingo for it, a flyover is an elevated road, like an overbridge, built usually for the purpose of crossing over an obstacle, and getting traffic moving smoothly. The obstacle could be a railway track, it could be a river, it could be another road going across, it could be a traffic signal, or some such thing. There is always something.

“But is a flyover not a common structure that kills the pre-flyover businesses on the road and creates dead spaces where the homeless often take shelter, what with expanding road networks and burgeoning car numbers?” you might ask.

And you would be right. A flyover is indeed commonplace. There must be thousands of them around.

But this is not any flyover. Unlike your ordinary flyover that would have been built over a railway track, or a river, or another road going across, or a traffic signal, or some such thing, this particular flyover goes over nothing. Well, not literally, of course. It is built on the base of solid ground and on top of the flat, ground-hugging road that was already there.

Just to give you an idea of the lay of the land, this is what I am talking about:

The light blue shaded part is the road in question before the flyover came up. There is no railway track, or river, or another road going across, or a traffic signal, or some such thing, that is impeding the flow of traffic. The dark blue structure is meant to indicate the presence of a pedestrian bridge over the road for, what else, facilitating pedestrians crossing the road. It is well understood that the purpose for pedestrians to use an overbridge is to get to the other side, regardless of which side they start from. In this particular case, the purpose of almost all pedestrians to cross this road was to either get to, or from, the HUDA metro station. That being the case, this pedestrian bridge made no effort of delivering its users to, or from, the station. People coming out of the station would take the escalator or stairs down to the ground level and then take the escalator or stairs up the pedestrian overbridge just a few metres on, and then the escalator or stairs down on the other side. This, of course, was done by the handful conscientious ones willing to follow rules and put their lives at risk by climbing a pothole-ridden pedestrian overbridge, while the masses would take the safer route, flag down the traffic and nonchalantly cross the road where you see the thinner dark blue strip across the road on the map.

But what is to be done. If a pedestrian overbridge cannot go into the HUDA metro station, it cannot. End of story.

The other manual addition made by me on the map is the red dot that represents a traffic signal.

And this is the map after the flyover was constructed. The reason you see no difference in the road is because it is an aerial view, from the top. The flyover is exactly on top of the road, which, of course, is still there, buried under the pillars and construction material of the flyover.

But that is not fully correct. I am being unfair. You don’t see the pothole-ridden pedestrian overbridge in the ‘after’ picture. I think it was demolished based on another bold new policy of the government. Since we cannot build pedestrian overbridges in a manner they can be used by pedestrians, why build them at all? Sensible, I suppose. And pragmatic.

And this is the view of the flyover from the side, clicked as I was coming out from the station and down the escalator. You can see the cars waiting for the light to turn green. Fortis Hospital is visible behind it.

So, here I was, having driven up the up part of the flyover, drooling at the prospect of crossing quickly over something that I did not know existed. It was mysterious! Magical! I knew there was no railway crossing or river or road beneath the flyover, but, one does not know what one does not know. There must be something. Maybe the authorities have struck oil in that patch. It would have been difficult to drill with cars and other vehicles honking and running around all the time and trying to fill their tanks for free from the gushing oil. But with traffic diverted to a flyover, the authorities could carry on with the responsibility of running the city. Or maybe they built the flyover just in case they strike oil in that patch in future.

I jammed my brakes as the car ahead of me had stopped. As had the one if front of the one in front of me. As had…I hope you get the picture. I looked up. Actually, I looked down since I was at the pinnacle of the flyover, almost twenty vertical feet clear of where I would have been had there been no flyover. From that vantage point I could see that the traffic light at the bottom of the down part of the flyover was glowing a bright red, with the taillights of most cars ahead of me lit as they were pressing the brakes down.

Would they be jamming down on the brakes if they were waiting at the same traffic signal on a flat road?

No way.

WouId I have had this view had this flyover over nothing not been built?

No way.

Stop at traffic signal before the flyover is built and stop at same traffic signal after the flyover is built. Fair deal. I silently thanked the authorities and made a mental note to vote for the same people once again.

The transformative power of a revolutionary idea can never be underestimated. I can already see study tours led by city CEOs and corporators from around the world making a beeline to Gurgaon to learn more about this marvel. Personally, we have always struggled with sightseeing choices in Gurgaon whenever someone was visiting us, ending up with detested ones like the Sultanpur bird park and a walk in the Aravali Hills. That problem is now solved. It helps that we live but a ten-minute walk from this wonder.

With the Bermuda Triangle solved and people losing interest in the Yeti, I can even see correspondents of TV channels working on the great mysteries of the world descending in large numbers on Gurgaon, where else, and trying to unravel the new mystery. The cricket game I was watching yesterday was interrupted several times by ads which said, “Sensational discovery; why the Gurgaon flyover was really built. Coming soon to your favourite channel.”

Trial By Fire

“You fools!” thundered the Prime Minister from the ramparts of the Virtual Reality (VR) headset that he used whenever he had to thunder but did not have a real crowd of fools in front.

Spontaneous celebrations broke out across the country as soon as he had uttered these words. Youngsters engaged in arson and protests against the Agnipath recruitment scheme for the armed forces that has replaced traditional recruitment methods for non-officer cadres, stopped in mid-stride while trying to hurl a stone or brick at the police barricades. Throwing their projectiles on the ground, they moved forward and hugged the closest member of the police force and exchanged sweets that had magically materialized.

It is alleged that these spontaneous celebrations were instigated by coaching institutes that mattered to nobody even if they existed, as were the outbreaks of violence when the scheme was announced a few days back. Owners of coaching institutes that mattered to nobody even if they existed, were blamed for voicing their opinions on the scheme, in violation of that holiest of unwritten rules of democracies according to which an opinion, if at odds with the opinion of the government, tantamounts to being anti-national. Particularly when it is regarding a scheme that was introduced “without parliamentary approval or gazette notification” and “quashed the century-old army selection process and imposed impugned Agniveer-22 scheme in the country” as a petition filed in the Supreme Court seeking a review of the scheme says.

But try telling that to the protestors. And the celebrators.

“Do you know our Prime Minister has been ranked number one in the world on calling the people fools?” said one protestor to another, while biting off a piece of the ‘laddoo’ in his hand, and looking reverentially at the message on his phone that announced this new ‘fact.’

Of course, “You fools” is not something he said. What he did say was, “Some decisions and reforms might appear temporarily unpleasant but benefit the country in the long run.”

“Shame on you for not knowing this simple fact, you overgrown morons, especially for the reforms introduced by my government,” was also not said by the PM during this speech.

Corporate leaders, some of them bidding for large government projects, have handled their responsibility with aplomb. They have come out vocally in support of the scheme and said they will hire Agniveers, how the people taken in under this scheme will be known, on priority. Apart from the priority of hiring women and people with special needs and people from low-income backgrounds and people from rural areas and many others that they have announced from time to time. One feels for them. A corporate leader’s job is never finished.

When asked, “is that a commitment?” by a reporter, they said in unison, “Read our lips. As we said, there is a large potential for employment of youth in the corporate sector. If that is not a commitment, we don’t know what is.”

Leading universities of the country have been quick to respond and have started to rebrand their programmes. The Bachelor of Arts (BA) will henceforth be called the Agniveer BA. The Bachelor of Commerce (B.Com.) will henceforth be known as the Agniveer B.Com. Agniveer B.A. (Honours) and Agniveer B.Com. (Honours) programmes are in the offing. Master’s programmes are expected to follow suit.

Corporate leaders are licking their chops gleefully at the unexpected windfall the new scheme has brought for them in the form of talent. The Agniveer talent is proven to be better than the current talent available, since it is based on a government-in-power announced scheme and not tested anywhere, even in the form of a pilot scheme. What more could a software development company want if not a young person who can handle a machine -gun? What better resource could a bank ask for if not a young person who can do a hundred push-ups while whistling the tune of “Saare Jahan se achcha?”

These skills are so useful that no established corporation appears to have made an effort to either evaluate new hires on these skills during their existing recruitment processes or upskill them during the training phase. But, how could they? Their leaders do not have the smarts of either the Prime Minister or the Defence Minister to have suddenly decided on the new, well-thought-out programme, sidestepping parliament where questions could be raised, delaying well-intentioned schemes.

On top of the government-minted Agniveers, they will have access to Agniveers from many leading universities across the country. Graduates are delighted that their degrees, that were not considered job-worthy, and forced them into an expensive and almost equally job-unworthy MBA programmes, had become hot property overnight.

With great ideas, one really cannot say how far they can go. Agniveer B.Tech. from IIT Delhi anyone? Or, an Agniveer MBA from IIM Ahmedabad?

The CAPF (Central Armed Police Forces) like the Border Security Force (BSF) and Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) will get the privilege of absorbing some of the 75% rejected, sorry, not absorbed in the armed forces, population of Agniveers. There will be an additional 10% quota for this group in addition to the quota they already have, since a developing, transparent, free, open, equal, merit-based, progressive, democratic society should keep building up its quotas of reservations for reasons other than economic disadvantage. Since the training required for handling civilian situations is identical to the training necessary for handling armed forces of enemy nations, the two have been kept separate all these years.

The scheme is of a transformational nature and will significantly boost the capability of the forces. Such schemes should not get bogged down in financial calculus. Hence, it is also expected to deliver savings in the form of reduced outlay for pensions of service-folks. Pensions to politicians are of course important for national security, even for truncated terms, and must, hence, continue, so that more transformational schemes can be introduced.

Chiefs of the three forces, were nowhere on the scene when the scheme was announced by bureaucrats, in an expansion of their roles, are being paraded in front of an incredulous public to sell it, a job so far done well by the National Security Advisor (NSA).

Like all schemes that meet with opposition, it appears that we have a brave PM to introduce such transformational change at the cost of political goodwill. With two colluding nuclear-armed states as adversaries and perhaps the longest unresolved borders, one hopes he is.

End Game

The Russia-Ukraine conflict has entered its third month. Though I was following the developments closely at the start, interest has since flagged. However, questions are rising.

“14 Ukrainians including a pregnant soldier have been freed in the latest prisoner exchange with Russian forces,” apparently stated by Ukrainian sources as per the newspaper I read today morning.

A few days back, and I don’t remember the name of the town now, the Russian army reached close to a town they wanted to capture and opened up a path for people to exit.

Whatever happened to the good old playbook of reckless killing and pillage, I wondered. Is this what happens in a war?

But I jump the gun.

What happens then, I wondered, when I read about the exit path for people to leave the town.

Presumably the civilians go to the next town, wait for the Russian army to reach, threaten the town and its residents, and open up a passage for exit to the next town?

Or, perhaps the evacuees do not stop at the next town and simply seek out the nearest border to exit to another country?

But what is the big game plan of the invading army?

Is it to raze all structures to the ground?

Is it to rid the landmass of its present population?

Is it to pick and choose locations to join Russia, then withdraw, and hope nothing has changed?

What is the game plan?

Concern for civilian lives is appreciated, though I wish it was for all lives. Unfortunately, this concern seems to be only a patchwork attempt at face-saving. There are daily reports of civilian lives lost, like this one today, “Moscow has turned its focus to Ukraine’s south and east after failing to capture the capital Kyiv in a nine-week assault that has flattened cities, killed thousands of civilians and forced more than 5 million to flee abroad.”

So much for rules of war, if there are, that both armies have to abide by. But, why could these rules not be extended to a blanket ‘no armed conflict’ rule? Would that work any worse than the present rules? By the way, did the Taliban sign off on them?

And if the big idea is to bomb the agricultural fields and vacant buildings and factories without any human beings, into submission, would it not be better to earmark a desolate piece of land, and the air and space above it, as the designated ‘war zone’ instead of inflicting collateral damage on the global GDP by destroying stuff and killing people?

The battle of Kurukshetra in the epic Mahabharat holds a lesson for all of us. The great battle was fought between the Kaurav and Pandav armies on the plains of Kurukshetra, about a hundred miles from Delhi. The blind king Dhritrashtra, too old and inform to fight, could continue to live comfortably in his palace far away from the battlefield, with Sanjay giving him a running commentary on the unfolding battle.

Where can this place be? How about Siberia, since Russia is one of the antagonists in the current conflict? Or the Australian outback? What about the Sahara desert? Greenland? The Amazon rainforest? Nations that have a score to settle would need to reserve the place in advance. For a fee. Since we live in a GDP-driven world, imagine what it might do for the economy of the host nation?

The United Nations will work out a cost-sharing formula between the adversaries in advance, lest that become the reason for another conflict. Hopefully they will be better at it than at preventing and resolving conflict.

But I jump the gun. Once again.

In my early understanding of the conflict, it seemed that Russia was concerned at Ukraine’s attempts at gaining entry into NATO, as that would bring NATO warheads to its doorstep. And that it had given fair warning that such ambitions should not be entertained. Leaving alone the argument about independent nations deciding their alliances and fate themselves, one wonders what Russia would do after subsuming Ukraine (assumed since it is the much larger and much better armed adversary). Would Poland, then, not become a neighbour? Would it then dislike having a NATO member on its doorstep once again and take suitable action? Would Germany be next? Is there any satisfactory end in an armed conflict?

But that is conjecture.

What is probably fact is that Russia has sent blind soldiers to Ukraine.

The other day, the US secretary of state Antony Blinken and defence secretary Lloyd Austin crossed the road into Pushkin Park in Kyiv, wearing their sharp business suits, dodging Russian tanks, for tea with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky among the elm trees. Later the same day, President Zelensky hopped over to the Ostannya Barykada, a bar inspired by the three Ukrainian revolutions since 1990 – the Revolution on the Granite, the Orange Revolution and the Revolution of Dignity in 2014, for a drink in the evening with UN chief Antonio Guterres. Many other leaders are said to be on their way to meet him. Video calls no longer work.

Only the Russian troops don’t seem to be able to find him.

And I cannot seem to be able to find the reason for the senseless loss of life.

The Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov was recently reported as saying that “progress has not been easy” even though negotiators from both sides talk every day. I can imagine. It has only been 67 days.

Still looking for the reason, I looked up the stock price performance of two of the larger arms manufacturers. And yes, there are big corporations in America that are not called Google and Tesla and Amazon and Apple and Meta.

What did I see?

Lockheed Martin went from USD 386.46 on 18th February to USD 441.71 on 28th April.

Raytheon went from USD 93.37 on 18th February to USD 98.08 on 28th April.

In the same period, the NYSE composite index went from 16392 to 16032, while the NASDAQ composite index went from 13751 to 12871, both in the opposite direction.

The war started on 24th February, 2022.

I wonder how and when it will end.