Boozos

The paying public deserves better.

They (the public) paid for their lavish lifestyles. They paid for their needless overseas study junkets to Europe during the summer months. They paid for the security detail to protect them from themselves (the public). They paid for their scams. They paid for their unaccounted money stashed away in tax havens. They paid for the infrastructure that mostly did not get built.

Just when they (the public) felt they could sit back and let political leaders pay some dividend on the investment by making a fool of themselves by making needless, irrational decisions that are likely to be scoffed at by all sections of society and may soon need to be reversed, the rug has rudely been pulled from under their feet.

Throwing caution to the winds, the Supreme Court has decided to take upon itself the mantle of making needless, irrational decisions that are likely to be scoffed at by all sections of society and may soon need to be reversed.

Political leaders are running scared. Never before has there been such an open challenge to their rights. This move of the Supreme Court strikes at their belief system and the core of their existence. Most of them have beaten a hasty path back to their constituencies to convince voters that they will continue to disappoint them with their unfulfilled promises and irrational decisions. The Supreme Court decision should be seen merely as a one-off, an aberration.

In a bold decision that appears to be in response to a petition from no part of society, the Supreme Court has decided that there should be no liquor vends within 500 metres of any national highway. This, apparently, was the missing piece of the jigsaw that will bring down accidents on national highways. Conducting driving tests and antecedent verification before issuance of licences was considered as an alternative solution but, since it appeared to hold promise of solving the problem, it eventually went where such alternatives need to go; the reject pile. Existing liquor vends should be moved a minimum distance of 500 metres from the highways. Moreover, since many of the existing vends appear to have been created after taking due approvals from authorities, they will need to be shifted overnight.

When the going gets tough, the tough get going, they say.

In keeping with the “spirit” of the order, several states have moved to denotify national highways and classify them as “tiny local roads” instead. The Supreme Court has lauded the move and acknowledged that the threat of accidents owing to drivers consuming liquor from vends on roads called national highways does not exist from drivers consuming liquor from vends on roads called tiny local roads, which carry as much traffic as national highways.

Pubs and restaurants falling within the 500 metre zone have, “under the influence” of the order, also moved to shift their entrance gates to beyond the 500 metre line. It is common knowledge based upon detailed studies of human behaviour that once you have moved (or have been moved by someone) a distance of 500 metres after consumption of liquor, the inebriation vanishes and you become, strangely enough, “sober as a judge”.

Hotel Management schools across the country have introduced a new course on teaching students the metric measurement system. Especially for the purpose of measuring a distance of 500 metres. The humble metric measure is enjoying a revival amongst bar owners who have only known the inches to be poured down a glass. Catering students are being taught the difference between national highways and tiny local roads and how to identify each.

The sagacity of the decision can be judged from the fact that India remains one of the most densely populated large nations in the world with, among nations with 100 million plus populations, neighbouring Bangladesh being the only one more densely packed, leaving enough space to move anything upto 500 mm (millimetres; 1 metre = 1000 millimetres) in any direction. Hence, moving a vend 500 metres away can be considered a wise and reasonable decisions, taking liquor vends only closer to  schools, homes, religious places, etc. And we know our children and people not barrelling down national highways are mature enough to resist the lure of the drink. In fact, liquor vends can be setup at a distance of 100 metres from schools. QED.

In a strange coincidence, the day this order was announced, a small outlet started coming up close to our building, at a point visible from our terrace. Yesterday the signboards have been put-up. And, lo and behold, we now have a liquor vend right next to our building! But I exaggerate. It is not right next to our building. It is about 100 metres away. From the place in the compound where youngsters play football, a good kick could land the ball, and some chasing youngsters, into the vend. But so what? Are they grown-ups travelling down national highways who will be lured by liquor and cause damage to themselves and others?

It is mainly drivers of vehicles on the national highways that we worry about. Drivers who we have chosen to give licences to drive motorised vehicles ranging from two-wheelers to twenty ton trucks. How can we trust them to resist the lure of liquor.

The Supreme Court means business. It has also banned signboards which started mushrooming along remaining national highways (the ones not converted to tiny local roads), pointing to the nearest liquor vend 501 metres away. It is expected that demonstrating foresight and wisdom borrowed from political leaders, they will issue a pre-emptive order for banning signboards which point the way to the nearest signboard which points the way to the nearest liquor vend.

But the paying public is not happy. They have paid so much money to see politicians make of fool of themselves. They cannot countenance the Supreme Court denying them their fundamental rights.

The Supreme Court, cut to the quick by the spontaneous censure from all over the country, is trying to limit the damage.

They have clarified that liquor is good because it generates a huge amount of revenue for the government. Our fight is not against liquor. Do you not see the rapid expansion of liquor vends near schools, houses and religious places, at least in modern cities like Gurgaon? If we have our way, no citizen of the country will need to travel more than 100 metres in any direction to reach a liquor vend. 

But liquor drinking is bad. Our fight is only against drinking liquor. That too by mature adults who have been adjudged fit to be issued driving licences. That is why liquor advertising is banned on all media. We will soon issue orders to ensure that the government introduces a tax to uniformly collect liquor revenue from each citizen so that the state can continue to finance its charitable activities and development agenda, without anyone ever needing to consume it.

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Black and White

“Is it not clear? By asking for explanations, you are wasting the precious time of senior government officials that can be put to use for issuing more confusing and unnecessary rules.”

A senior government functionary made his displeasure evident when cornered by a section of the media on the burning issue of demonitisation of currency notes of the two largest denominations, 500 and 1000, that contribute 86% to the currency in circulation in India, for dealing a body blow to “black money” in national interest, that subsequently changed to “move towards digital transactions” in national interest, that have anyway been growing rapidly on their own, and the latest decision of the government in this regard, of asking people, who seek to deposit the old notes even within the originally declared deadline, to provide a satisfactory explanation of why they did not deposit earlier.

“Let me explain for one last time. On 8th November, and several times thereafter, we have said that people should not be in a hurry and can deposit their stock of old, demonetised currency notes in their bank account till 30th December. Hence, anyone who tries to deposit these notes on the 20th of December or anytime after, till 30th December, is obviously flouting that rule and now needs to explain why he has delayed depositing this money. These people have brought it upon themselves.

The rule-book says stop at a red light, people don’t follow.

The rule-book says form a queue at the ticket counter, people don’t follow.

The rule-book says don’t throw trash in the open, people don’t follow.

Are you telling me that our countrymen have suddenly chosen to become rule-book followers? This is obviously an attempt of the Opposition parties to get people to follow the rule-book and embarrass the government. These people will be punished for their faith in the government’s assurances. Their actions are against national interest. If all the old notes come back to banks, how will the government make any money on this initiative and spend it on unnecessary projects?

Our hand has been forced. This is why it has been decided that people who seek to deposit the old notes need to provide a satisfactory explanation of why they did not deposit them earlier despite the government’s assurance that the deposits could be made till the 30th of December. What’s more, this explanation needs to be recorded in the presence of two bank officials, because bank employees have no guidance or authority on which explanation to accept as suitable and which to not.

As elected representatives of the people, if we don’t call upon commercial entities like banks to sacrifice their business interests, who will?

As you might know, apart from accepting deposits, issuing advances, managing operations and risk, opening and closing accounts, selling financial instruments like mutual funds and insurance, transferring money, handling trade transactions, dispensing and accepting cash, our bankers have really very little to do. We successfully employed them in fruitless activities like repeated exchanges of discontinued currency notes from 8th November. As the exchange scheme was withdrawn randomly one fine day, we have now involved bankers to witness recording of statements from mostly honest account holders as to why they did not deposit money earlier, despite the deadline still being ten days away. Think of the millions of youngsters graduating from college every year, many of them aspiring to work for banks, especially the engineering graduates. We have to protect their future as well. If the situation starts improving anytime soon, we may increase the number of bank officials required to witness depositor explanations to three, or even four.

And this decision has not been taken in isolation. We have gradually built up to this by issuing false promises and assurances from time to time, like this is a short-term pain, like it will take only three weeks for the situation to improve, like there is enough stock of new currency, like the government is closely monitoring the situation, and many more. Even today, the common man seems to be expecting that he will soon be able to withdraw and deposit his own money from and into his bank account.

Meanwhile, as you may have heard, the Finance Minister has clarified that RBI has enough stock of new currency to fulfil the need of all banks and account holders. They are just not releasing them to banks. Just like that.

This is necessary for patriotism. If we had not brought the banking system, and all business, to a grinding halt, would you feel that you are undergoing this pain in the national interest? Tell me honestly, would you ever?

Some of you might even want to know the logic behind the introduction of the Rs. 2000- note. Do you?

Well, just like that.

Yes, just like that.

Because there is no logic.

Tell me, what better way to thwart potential black-money hoarders, the objective initially put out, than by creating utter confusion?

Since we ourselves have no idea why we have introduced a Rs. 2000 note, how do you expect anyone to, be it the common man, the politician or the black-money hoarder?

And since they have no idea, how do you expect them to indulge in their corrupt practices?

The common man, on the other hand, has tasted blood. He wants to contribute to the national interest. He wants more. More de-monetisation. More pain. More suffering. He is willing to live in perpetual penury so that black money can be eliminated for his good. May his tribe increase.

Where do we go from here?

First, we prevented people from using their own money that they had in cash. Then, we successfully prevented people from using their own money lying in bank accounts by creating unending queues for withdrawal. Now, we have prevented people from depositing the cash they held. I think the virtuous circle is complete.

But, for an elected representative of the people, the work is never complete. Since people have elected us and reposed their faith in us, it is left to us to decide what constitutes national interest and patriotism. The battle is far from over. People are clever. They have deposited all the money we had called “black”, back in bank accounts. In such a situation what can a well-meaning government do? Launch a witch-hunt of course against citizens.

Further, in order to promote the patriotic spirit and national interest further, we plan to soon bring out rules that prevent people from living in their own houses, wearing their own jewellery and driving their own cars and bikes.

We are geared for the challenge. By the time you go to press with this interview tomorrow, we would have already rolled back, though only partially, the rule introduced with great fanfare yesterday, requiring people depositing old notes to explain reasons for the delay. We will also ensure that only a small section of the impacted banks are advised of the change. We will then partially roll back the roll back announced.

I don’t want to reveal the hand, but you should soon start seeing a removal of the curbs on withdrawal of cash from accounts. However, since banks will not be given any cash, they will not be able to pay any to customers. It will be the problem created by the inefficiency of banks, despite the best intentions of the government.

As you may have overheard the common man say confidently, ‘only the execution is faulty’ :-).”

Face to Face

ECS (name changed), one of India’s largest IT companies, probably the largest, engineered a coup of sorts a few years back when they setup a female-only BPO unit in a country in the Middle East, well known for its treatment of women.

They engineered another coup when they got the Indian PM, during his recent visit to the country, to visit this Centre.

As we all know, conditions and regulations in a host country need to be respected. Even if you are the PM of a big nation. The Indian PM, full marks to him, has never been known to be non-accommodating, especially where uninterrupted oil supplies are at stake.

Though it was a secretive visit, with no coverage in the media, for obvious reasons, some photos of the PM’s visit to the centre seem to be emerging.  We bring these images to the readers of darkofficehumour for their reading and watching pleasure.

Remember, you saw them here first.

The PM walking in with the CEO of ECS and Chairman of Mata Sons, the majority owner of ECS

The PM walking in with the CEO of ECS and Chairman of Mata Sons (name changed), the holding company of ECS

PM having High Tea with staff, alongwith serious discussions

PM having High Tea with staff, alongwith serious discussions

A worried CEO of ECS and Chairman of Mata Sons wondering how to locate the PM in the crowd

A worried CEO of ECS and Chairman of Mata Sons wondering how to locate the PM in the crowd

The PM in the crowd

The PM somewhere in the crowd

 

Moment of alarm as an unidentifiable object sighted in the background; subsequent investigations revealing it to be a male of the species

Moment of alarm as an unidentifiable object sighted in the background; subsequent investigations revealing it to be a male of the species

 

Management team of the Centre standing separate from the staff, like in any self-respecting organisation

Management team of the Centre standing separate from the staff, like in any self-respecting organization. These people are quick learners!

Posing with the PM. Looks like an amateur photographer!

Posing with the PM at the end of the visit. Looks like an amateur photographer!

 

These images underscore the importance of this visit. From the expressions on the faces of the participants it is clear that historical changes are afoot.

Remember, you saw it here first!

Free Basics

Big business is at it again. Doing what they are best at. Making the world a better place. By telling us what is good for us.

According to some reports, Facebook has spent close to a hundred million US dollars in promoting Free Basics in India. How’s that for a start to altruism?

Free Basics, for the uninitiated, is a concept being promoted by Facebook, alongwith Reliance, one of India’s largest business houses, who are about to launch their 4G enabled mobile telephony services, whereby a certain set of websites will be made available for free to all users. Accessing websites beyond this permitted list will attract charges.

As is always the case in India, the lesser the understanding about an issue, the more the number of people offering knowledgeable opinions, including yours truly. While some of the debate has been on the role of Telcos in a society, whether they should merely be the conduits of Voice and Data, charging on the basis of volume, or whether they should have a say, and interest, in what passes through their network, most of the uninformed knowledgeable voices have been on the role and interest of Facebook and its founder and primary shareholder, who we will refer to as MZ, which, clearly, is everyone’s business.

In order to cut through the dross of uninformed debate, and present the real picture to the public, MZ agreed to an interview with a prominent reporter of a leading daily. Here are some extracts from the freewheeling interaction.

Reporter: Thank you for joining us today MZ. I know you are a busy man. Let me come straight to the point. Why are you promoting Free Basics?

MZ: After creating a successful business, a lot of responsibility is thrust upon you. People look up to you. It becomes your responsibility to decide what others should do. We have decided that others should follow Free Basics.

Reporter: Thank you. That is very eloquently explained. Tell me, why is Free Basics important?

MZ: That is the wrong question. The question we should be asking is “what will happen if there is no Free Basics?”

Reporter, sheepishly: OK, what will happen if there is no Free Basics?

MZ: Nothing. Absolutely nothing will happen if there is no Free Basics. Hence all the more reason we introduce it without any delay. Before this realisation becomes common knowledge.

Reporter, mentally clicking another “Like” for the answer: You have decided on a Free Basics model where you define the websites that a User will get access to. How did you decide on these websites?

MZ: All our decisions are guided by one mission; of helping people. The websites included are the ones which people really need for their day to day activities. Like Facebook. Isn’t that what a poor farmer in Cuddapah district of Andhra Pradesh, praying for rain while sowing seeds in the searing heat, really need? Isn’t that what a hard-working miner in Dhanbad district of Jharkhand, while working underground in the peat mines, where he cannot even access the net, really need?

Reporter, clearly impressed with MZ’s passion for helping people: What about the other sites?

MZ, without noticing the interruption by the Reporter: …and the list has been rounded off by adding other popular websites in each category, which nobody has heard of; like Jagran Josh for Career and Jobs, instead of Naukri and Monster. It was a lot of hard work, unearthing sites that nobody has ever used. But I am thankful to our dedicated team that we have filled all categories.

Reporter: There is some research you have quoted that in 50% of the cases, after a User has tasted the Internet, within 30 days he starts accessing it on a paid basis. Does that not defeat the purpose of providing Internet for free?

MZ: Don’t you want to see development in this country? If the poor farmer in Andhra Pradesh, or the hard-working miner in Jharkhand, cannot contribute to making Facebook shares rise year after year, how will you call them developed?

Reporter: Would it not have been better to give a certain amount of data free of cost? That way, they could visit the sites that are useful to them, and also limit the time spent on surfing.

MZ, displaying signs of exasperation: Did you grow up in a socialist state? Looks like you don’t understand the meaning of freedom and democracy. In a democratic society, freedom is the right to choose from the list that big business and government have dished up for your own good. Do you want to create anarchy? Everyone accessing websites that are useful to them. Unthinkable!

MZ, while waiting for the Reporter to recover from this outburst: Besides, if he got what he wanted for free, why would he ever graduate to become a paying user of the Net and become developed?

Reporter, a little defensively, having no words to counter that iron-clad logic: One hears that none among what we call developed countries have opted for Free Basics. The only countries which have permitted some form of Free Basics are Uganda, Tanzania and Philippines and a few others.

MZ: There are many reasonable nations in the world. They see reason as soon as I offer to buy out their country with Facebook shares.

Reporter: You have spent a hundred million dollars in promoting FB. Would the money not have been better spent if you had used it to create Internet accounts for a million people.

MZ: You need to get your facts right. We have not spent a single cent on promoting Free Basics. We have run a campaign to educate people so that they understand what is good for them. Are you questioning the value of education?

Reporter, side-stepping the question: It appears that you are trying to bring about a change in the functioning of Telcos. Though run by private corporations in many countries, Telcos are still primarily viewed as utilities providing a basic service.

MZ: Look, you can only do so much. If Telcos don’t understand that complicating an existing, working model, without adding any value to the ecosystem, is what is good for them, there is not much that I can do.

MZ, suddenly becoming agitated: Your Prime Minister promised unfettered access to the Indian market when he hugged me in Menlo Park a couple of months back. Indian Telcos better agree!

And, on that conciliatory note, the interview ended.

We are all better informed and better placed to decide what big business and government have decided for us.

Making India proud

“What a great day for India!”

Having just glanced through the front page of the printed newspaper, with its usual dose of an Opposition walkout in Parliament, a Central Minister being questioned for undue favours to a tainted businessperson, rapes, stampede deaths at a religious congregation, and not having a clue to what he was talking about, I pretended I did not hear.

I racked my brains. Wild thoughts were coursing through my mind; Did India move up to the 132nd place in world football rankings, by some stroke of luck? Or did we finally, irrevocably nail some senior politicians for stashing away illegally collected billions in secret Swiss bank accounts? Or was it religious tolerance; did the nation finally find a solution to its internecine religious squabbles?

“Don’t you know? Haven’t you heard?” In his excitement he had failed to notice my response, or the lack of it.

Affected by his excitement, even wilder thoughts started occurring to me; Did we finally manage to get people to start arriving on time for an appointment? Or did we get people to start respecting the vulnerable sections of society? Or, even more difficult, did we manage to get people to understand the purpose of traffic lights?

It still did not come to me. Not one to flinch in the face of adversity, I held my nerve. I did not give him the satisfaction of knowing that I did not know.

“Apna (Our) Sundar is the new CEO of Google”, he burst out excitedly, not caring whether I was participating in the conversation or not.

Sundar?

The question was, perhaps, visible on my face, because he said, “Yes, don’t you know Sundar?”

I racked my brains yet again. ‘Twas the day for the brains to be racked.

Like in any engaging and meaningful discussion between close friends, he continued without waiting for my response, “Sundar Pichai has been appointed as the new CEO of Google.”

As if on cue, my phone beeped. In one of the WhatsApp groups where I am a member, a college friend had posted, “do you know Sundar’s wife is from my state?”

“Wow!”, “You lucky dog”, “Did not know you were capable of this” and many other congratulatory messages immediately filled the screen of my phone, in recognition of the remarkable achievement of this friend being from the same state as Sundar’s wife; a state with a population of only 73 million. In such a sparsely populated state, obviously everyone would be on first-name terms with everyone else.

“His wife is from my city.” This message, on the same group, came like a thunderclap. Silence enveloped the WhatsApp group. Messages suddenly stopped. There was no way of topping that. Members, perhaps, realised they had been hasty in congratulating the guy who was from the same state as Sundar’s wife.

Now, I am not one to shy away from admitting when I have been bested. Truth be told, in the newspaper I was reading at the start, I had noticed a headline about Sundar’s elevation, but had neither paid any heed to it, nor connected it to being a great day for India. I was ashamed. Yet again.

To make amends, I asked, softly, “Why is it a great day for India?”

“Don’t you get it?”, he started, exasperated with my thickness. He halted, looked around, as if searching for the right phrase, and stammered out, “It is a…great day for India….because…because…it is a… great day…for India”. He got up and walked off, to avoid having to answer other silly questions.

It was a lucid explanation. I fell silent, as I usually do when faced with logic and reason, especially in addition to lucidity.

Between the excitement of the friend who was (or had been) with me, and the messages on this WhatsApp group, I was getting the drift. The enormity of the event was dawning on me. Now all by myself, I slipped into a haze of rose-tinted possibilities, imagining all the reasons why it must be a great day for India.

It must be a great day for India because a person, born and brought up in India, now heads an American corporation. It must also be a great day for India because this corporation, as all corporations do, is trying to become an even bigger and more profitable corporation.

It must be a great day for India because it must mean that shareholders of Google will now sell their shares in Google and donate their wealth to India, paving the way for everlasting success and happiness of all Indians.

It must be a great day for India because Sundar, instead of working for the interest of his employer, who pays his salary, will suddenly start working for India, without pay.

It must be a great day for India because the elevation of Sundar is a validation of our time-tested policy of unwillingness and inability to engage bright minds that require an orderly environment to thrive, leading them to look for, and thrive in, greener pastures overseas.

And let us also spare a thought for America, the country to which the corporation in question belongs?

It must surely be a dark day for them. They continue to provide an environment that makes it a magnet for people from around the world. Not only that, they provide them equal opportunity for success. When will they learn?

It was beginning to make sense.

We deserve credit for Sundar’s success because we have been a party to creating hurdles in his way at each step. That he was able to overcome them and pursue his life, is a credit to us, not to him.

The timing is propitious. The sixty ninth Independence Day looms.

The PM, in his Independence Day speech from the ramparts of the Red Fort, is expected to ask the rhetorical question, “Did any Indian become CEO of Google before we came to power?”

To counter the impact of this revelation, it is also learnt that the Opposition is preparing a campaign, the highlight of which will be the statement “Sundar was born when we were in power.”

I am now a prouder Indian.

I made a mental note to check if Sundar, or his wife, or any other close or distant relatives, had ever passed through my town, or state, or intend to. Or if I, or any of my close relatives, had ever travelled to the city, or the state, where Sundar grew up.