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.

Positive Spin

Covid-19 is a cute little virus. And playful too. It likes to jump. It jumps from one person to another. I think it likes to play games with us because sometimes it jumps and sometimes it does not. Perhaps it wants to play a guessing game with us.

Because of Covid-19 children don’t need to go to school any more. They can pretend to study from home. Some can’t do that as they cannot afford the devices and bandwidth needed for online studies. These children can play all the time. So wonderful.

There are so many nice people who are getting salaries without having to do much work. And there are so many nice companies that have perhaps saved much money by retrenching staff they did not need.

It has brought many families back together since migrant workers, after retrenchment, had to go to the place they hail from.

So many people have become rich. The soap and sanitiser makers. The mask makers. The infrared thermometer makers. The hospitals. The foot sanitiser makers. The bandwidth providers. The virtual application makers. The personal vehicle makers. The software makers. So many people have also become rich by not buying things they did not need.

It has allowed interested individuals to beat pots and pans along with the Indian PM for a wonderful purpose explained by the PM and understood by these people that others could not. When has the common man ever got the opportunity of beating pots and pans along with their PM? And Corona made it possible.

It even made it possible for people in Delhi to breathe, even if it was only for a few days. But I will not focus too much on this aspect because it had an unintended negative fallout of indoor air purifier sales falling during that period.

The metro ride in Delhi is now so comfortable since only a few people are riding.

So many people have become knowledgeable and popular overnight and are now followed by thousands, in India’s case millions, of others. People who say that we will all die if we move an inch or take a breath. People who say this is a farce and nothing will happen as long as we behave sensibly. People who say that only cures based on ancient wisdom of a culture with a proud history that only they know about will work. People who say that only cures based on modern medicine will work. People who provide instant cures for conditions like low immunity that treatment of tens of years has not been able to fix. And, above all, positive people willing to believe anything and everything while giving a complete rest to their grey cells!

Thank you Covid-19. Thank you Corona.

How is that for some positivity at the start of the year? Or even day? Or hour?

“Why are you always so negative?” “Why can’t you be more positive?” I hear these remarks ever so often. Because of what I write. Because of what I say. Because of, I guess, how I think. And, in fairness to myself, it always sets me thinking.

Now I have decided to act.

Earlier, I might have said, “How is that for some positivity in a year that is seven days old?” No longer. Old? Smells negative, doesn’t it?

It puts historical events in perspective.

Mahatma Gandhi was being negative when he led the Dandi March opposing the unilateral imposition of taxes on salt, He should, instead, have sent a Thank You card to the British authorities for their wonderful thoughtlessness in trying to enrich themselves at the cost of others.

What about Hitler? Who would dare to call him evil and risk the ignominy of being termed ‘negative.’ Wasn’t he the guy with the cute moustache who devised unique reasons and ingenious methods for murdering human beings?

I am beginning to get it. And enjoy it.

Thugs of Hindostan was a great movie. It just did not get viewers because people did not like it. But it was a great movie. Even if nobody believes me. It was still a great movie.

The national football team of an unnamed country is a great team. It makes its opponents feel good and happy after each game.

I can now see positivity everywhere. Even the daily newspaper I read has a section where celebrities give out positive messages like “focus your energy in bettering your life” and “stay happy always” and “don’t let negativity get you down.” Not once in a while but every day. Who would have known such things otherwise?

Reminds me of the Extrovert and introvert equation. The way it is always introduced in a conversation by a self-proclaimed extrovert only for the purpose of proclaiming himself to be an extrovert and, by extension, a gift to society, and the ‘talkee,’ me in these cases since I am recounting the experience, as the introvert and therefore a lesser human and a burden on society. Of course, I have been a witness to exchanges where the ‘talkee’ has talked himself blue in trying to contend that he was, in fact, an extrovert. The exchanges, at some point got so evolved that whenever two people met, there was a healthy battle of wits to be the first to introduce the term extrovert or introvert into the conversation so that the introducer could paint himself as the rockstar extrovert and the introducee as the introvert who needed to be pitied and helped. The roles kept changing with each meeting.

There are obviously no shades. Extrovert or Introvert. Positive or Negative.

Wonder if my condition will last long? Wonder if it is contagious?

Off With His Head

It appears they have filed for copyright protection of ‘statue destruction as a method of protest’ and asked destroyers to pay them royalty. “We gave this to the world,” the filing says, and draws attention to the two Buddha statues of sixth century vintage, in Bamiyan in Afghanistan, then the highest standing statues of Buddha in the world, that they reduced to rubble in 2001, against entreaties from around the world. “And you said we were off our rocker then.” So, does the Taliban get the last laugh?

Could they have taken their cue from developments in the land of the free where pulling down statues is rapidly gaining favour as the means of righting wrongs? Or is it the other way round? Difficult to say. Easier to say that traditional forms of protest have been found to be ineffective.

“Merely saying sorry is not enough,” as Bill Maher, the American TV host, so eloquently said in a recent talk. “Statues have to be pulled down,” as he equally eloquently did not say.

“Sorry” does not quite have the same impact, as India realised when it asked Theresa May, then Prime Minister (PM) of UK, to apologise in 2019 for the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in Amritsar in 1919. A year later, who remembers the apology, or expression of regret as it was called? For that matter, who remembers May? It would have been a lot simpler to build a statue of May, who was not even a gleam in her parents’ eyes in 1919, and then pull it down. The good thing with this form of protest is, it can still be done. And again. And then once more.

Full marks to the UK for having retained its basic political identity during the hundred year period so that they could be held liable. Makes one wonder what would have happened if, say, an apology was expected from Yugoslavia? Would we ask Bosnia and Herzegovina, or Croatia, or Macedonia, or Montenegro, or Serbia, or Slovenia, to do the honours?

“Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come.” Victor Hugo may not have realised the significance of this declaration, his own, but the modern human certainly does.

As demonstrated by the expression of regret by the then PM of UK, descendants can now be held accountable for crimes perpetrated by a person. Not merely the immediately following generation, but coming at any point of time in the future. Not merely direct descendants, but anyone either remotely connected in any way or not remotely connected in any way. In short, anyone can be held responsible for anything.

Talk about beauty, apart from lying in the beholder’s eye, being in simplicity. This law, presently in the early stages of conceptualisation, would be hard to better for its simplicity.

As can be forebears. Not merely the immediately preceding generation but having existed at any point of time in the past. As pulling down of statues demonstrates.

In these charged times, Christopher Columbus has emerged as an unlikely favourite. Indigenous people of America are pulling down his statues as they blame him for discovering America which led to their displacement and marginalisation. Minority groups are pulling down his statues for discovering America that led to centuries of colonisation and segregation. And, believe it or not, Indian officials are preparing to erect statues of Columbus so that they can be pulled down. Why? For setting out to find India, but discovering America instead. “How dare he? Because of him losing his way, India lost the opportunity of becoming America. He has much to answer for. We all know what happened after that. Babur showed up in a few years with his hordes from Central Asia and the rest, which would have been history regardless, is history.” Descendants of Columbus are trying to come to an agreement on whose statue to erect for destruction. “Why was India not where he went? He had to discover America instead, where he is now a reviled figure. India needs to answer for that.” 

There is urgency and palpable excitement everywhere. The Orissa government has commissioned a statue of Emperor Ashok for waging the bloody Kalinga war in the fourth century BC, so that it can be taken down. Statues of Kauravs, from the epic Mahabharat, are sprouting up around the country like weeds during the monsoon, to be pulled down for their criminal acts against the noble Pandavs. The PM designate in the newly formed government in Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapaksa, has vowed to create statues of Ram, Laxman, Hanuman, and all major characters in the epic Ramayan. You guessed it…so that they can be pulled down, for showing Lanka and Lankans in poor light.

In a far-sighted move, and recognising the problem being faced by people in having to erect statues that need to be pulled down, the Indian government has decreed that every individual sculpt a bust of themselves and deposit it at the newly constituted Bust Bank (not to be confused with any Nationalised Bank, though both might mean the same thing) so that many years hence, when it is realised that the twenty first century human indulged in despicable practices like binge-watching Netflix, endlessly swiping mobile screens with one finger, running behind a bouncing round object on a football pitch, or even trying to meet with other people face to face, and the need arises to pull down their statues, they are readily available. The PM is expected to bless the initiative by giving it a name which, after a few days, he will explain the real meaning of.

Even as the present day rulers erect statues of invaders who repeatedly, well, invaded (is there a better suited word?) Indian territory for several centuries starting about 800 AD, to pull down in protest for being the cause of the misery faced by its people in the twenty first century that they are unable to solve, the common man in India, has, finally, started to ask for identification of the self-serving rulers who failed in their primary duty of protecting their people and real estate from invaders, and capitulated, repeatedly, for several centuries starting about 800 AD. To erect their statues and then pull them down.

On account of his less than kosher behaviour, as viewed in today’s context, Maher had the temerity to suggest rehab and sensitivity training for God, his God, to the point of saying “God is cancelled.” Should we open up other Gods for a twenty first century performance evaluation? Or, let sleeping Gods lie?

Inch By Inch

1. “Look hard at the darkness and you will start noticing rays of light.”

— Judith Marlow

2. “You cannot control your thoughts, but you can control the actions they result in.”

— Iain Bradshaw

3. “Yesterday shines a light onto our tomorrow.”

— Leslie D’Souza

4. “Positive thoughts are their own reward. There is nothing you cannot achieve with positive thoughts.”

— Sook Yi Ng

5. “I always like to look on the optimistic side of life, lest I look at the pessimistic side and get consumed by it, never to come out.”

— Alyssa Amin

6. “Positive thinking will show you the path. Negative thinking will show you the obstructions on the path.”

— Roger Johnson

7. “Pessimism leads to pessimism, optimism to optimism.”

— Swami Charitranand

8. “If you make positive choices, the environment around you will respond and make your future choices easier, more natural, and more enjoyable.”

— Lee Chopra Bravinsky

9. “Positive thinking is more than just thinking. It is a way of life. Indeed, it is the only way of life. We have not been put on this planet to wallow in the misery of our negative thoughts. We are here to be positive, as being positive not only makes me better, but it also makes those around me better.”

— Haruto Nagoya

Inspirational? Motivational?

What is wrong with Ankur? No satire? No sarcasm? No highlighting any absurdity? Has the 45 degree Celsius (113 F) heat in Gurgaon got to him?

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If you are one who looks closely at motivational quotes, you might find that none of the quotes bear any resemblance to anything said in reality ever and offered as motivational quotes. Would a close looker at motivational quotes notice, or care, even assuming there was a way of finding out? But, let me not over-reach. Let me add, ‘…and not seen by me.’ Who knows, motivational quotes of these exact words, words that I just conjured up by some mixing and matching and imagining, might be on offer as, well, motivational quotes.

Will the motivational quoters take me to the cleaners for playing with their words? Motivational quoters who? The attribution is to names made up by me on the spot, and  adding a sprinkling of names from around the world to give a global look and feel. Would a close looker at motivational quotes notice, or care? But again, it is entirely possible that there may be real people answering to these exact names, sitting with their lawyers at this very moment, waiting for someone to make up a name exactly like theirs and slapping that someone with a legal notice.

Hopefully, the combination of the exact motivational quote and the exact name will be too much of a coincidence for me to worry about.

There is a Nike ad doing the rounds these days with people, perhaps close lookers at motivational quotes, gushing over it. This ad has footage of famous athletes in slow motion, set to the beat of music. Cristiano Ronaldo, Tiger Woods, Serena Williams, Rafael Nadal, and several other American athletes who I could not recognise. The message, “You are never too far down to get up again,” or some similar words.

There was an ‘inspirational’ Coke ad that I received a few days back. With rave reviews from many people, perhaps close lookers at motivational messages.

Seriously, are these two different from millions of other ‘motivational’ messages and advertisements developed by millions of businesses constantly looking for ways to gain mind and wallet share of their target customers? Of course, they are, different. The athletes are different. The background score is different. The narrator is different. The wordings are different. So what if there is some music, some slow motion, some high-quality footage, some nice sounding words in a deep voice saying something that translates to, “Hey you consumer, you idiot. Let me mess with your emotions, get you to associate my brand with ‘positive’ feelings, and help you make me rich beyond your wildest dreams.”

You and I could write those words. And put together that footage. Someone like you and I has perhaps done it for these businesses. Don’t believe me? Check out the ‘motivational’ quotes earlier in the post written by me. I am sure any of us can conjure them up. But I assume many people would rather a consumer than a producer be. Watch a promotional video of a fast food or garment business that has some music, some slow motion, some high-quality footage, and an audio in a deep voice belting out an inane truism that they would never have known otherwise, like “You can do what you want to do,” rather than making the effort to do what they want to do.

And then, there is Al Pacino. Always Al Pacino.

During my corporate life many years back, it was inevitable that one participated in events known by various names like Workshop/ Training programme/ Outbound training/ Seminar/ Offsite, etc. There were many objectives for these events which I will not go into here, but one common theme running through each was that, as an outcome of the event, all participants should be able to make more money for the organisation that employed them and probably paid for their participation. And the methodology for training them to do so was also disarmingly simple. Showing an ‘inspirational’ clip from a Hollywood movie with Al Pacino. Always Al Pacino. Asking his team to “Claw inch by inch, play by play” in Any Given Sunday, or telling the jury “And that, my friends, is called integrity! That’s called courage!” in Scent of a Woman.

And we would spend the rest of the evening talking about how that video clip changed our life, which would change back to its pre-event shape the moment we hit the workplace.

Don’t we get it that it is a setup? We could have made anything happen. It was all in the hands of the makers of the movie. Al Pacino could have sacked his team and took on the opposition single handedly. And won. And we would have cheered and said it was such a great example of belief in oneself, no matter what the odds. He could have changed three players at the last minute and still won. And we would have cheered and said that it was such a great case study for future generations for ‘decision making under adversity.’ He could have debated with a referee on a technicality and held up the game for an hour to enable a key player recover from a bout of dizziness. And we would have cheered and said it was such a great example of negotiation skills. All to be shown as ‘inspirational’ videos at the next Workshop.

What is it that keeps driving people to consuming these ‘motivational’ quotes? Looking constantly for external motivation? Acting as super-spreaders and spraying these messages liberally amongst their near and dear ones, even not so near and not so dear ones? Is it an unwillingness to face up to what we may consider to be the unfairness and hard facts of our life? Lack of self-respect? Trying to get someone else, anyone, to solve their problems?

I am not an expert. In fact, I am pretty much out of my comfort zone here. I am not questioning the likes and dislikes of others. If reading motivational quotes and watching motivational videos is what sails your boat, who am I to complain?

In fact, if it is so good, why don’t we just get all the business corporations and all governments to stop doing whatever they claim they are doing, and just keep churning out motivational videos and messages all the time and the world will be a better place. Right?

What I am saying is that it does not sail mine.

The question is – Did it (the producing and consuming of the motivational) message make the world a better place?

 

Our Books, My Stories

My stories made it to two books that have been published recently. Both are collections of stories contributed by different people, and related to their own life and experiences.

What is common between the contributors in the two books and in each book? They are all alumni of the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), the coveted institution of higher learning dedicated to business education.

In “A Chapter Out of My Life,” the contributors are drawn from different IIMs, from different cohorts in different years.

In “Reflections,” they are all a part of the same cohort, the batch of 1987, who spent the same two years at the IIM in Ahmedabad.

What is common between the two books? I believe I am the only author contributing to both.

Over to the books then. If you do read them, please try to leave a ‘Review’ on either Goodreads or Amazon or any place online you are comfortable with.

1. A Chapter Out Of My Life: Gems from the lives of ordinary people

A Chapter

This has been published by Salil Agrawal, a senior by a few years from IIM Ahmedabad and the founder president of IIMAGES which is a society of the alumni of IIMs. He has been instrumental in creating the ‘network’ impact of the IIM alumni and hence, in many ways, the most suitable person for putting together a book of this nature. The contributors have been drawn from different IIMs, from different cohorts in different years.

In Salil’s words:

“There are extraordinary people and then there are ordinary people. People like you and me. People who are accomplished in their own way and who have had interesting lives. But they are not extraordinary, they are not celebrities. Their stories do not get published even though they are very inspirational.

This book brings to you stories from the lives of nineteen such wonderful people. All of them are alumni of Indian Institutes of Management. They write about an experience from their life that made a difference to them.

These stories will be very useful for younger readers – management grads in the first few years of their career, students of management, those aspiring to do an MBA and also those planning to join the corporate world in the near future.”

Kindle edition on Amazon India (Rs. 49- with proceeds to charity): https://bit.ly/sllbk1

Kindle edition on Amazon US ($0.65): https://www.amazon.com/dp/B087XBMWBL

Paperback anywhere: still to be released

2. Reflections: Life Reloaded. Class of ‘87

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This has been published by Sanjeev Kotnala, a classmate at IIM Ahmedabad, from the 1985-87 batch that graduated in 1987. The contributors are all classmates of ours. People who spent the same two years of their life in the hallowed precincts of IIM Ahmedabad, pursuing an MBA programme, amid the iconic exposed brick architecture of Louis Kahn.

Sanjeev is the founder of INTRADIA World and a Marketing and Branding professional devoted to enhancing potential and capabilities of clients’ team. He runs 2-day workshops on Ideation and Innovation and is a certified NLP practitioner and an ICF accredited life, Mid-life transition and Master Spirit Coach.

In Sanjeev’s words:

“Eighteen Authors, from CLASS OF 1987, IIM Ahmedabad, share more than 28 real impact stories from professional and personal life. These are small, compelling incidents that challenged their thinking, making an impact in their lives.

Read their ‘aapbeethi’ (self-experiences) as they transparently open up to allow you a behavioristic peek into their lives.

Yes, you can question their Approach and Learning, or maybe you could end up questioning your approach to life. Who knows, which incident here mirror’s your life and touches a chord? Why wait for Self Experience when others’ experience can help guide your approach.

What you gain from these stories presented in five sections; ‘Business’, ‘People’, ‘Encounter’, ‘Life’, and ‘Institute’, is all up to you. Happy reading.”

Kindle edition on Amazon India (Rs. 199-): https://amzn.to/2RsA3Ln

Paperback on Amazon India (currently out of print): https://amzn.to/36qDYg3

 

Queueing Theory

“As an important person, I am entitled to be ahead of the hoi polloi and cannot be bothered about niceties like queues and waiting-for-your-turn. Hence, I did not bother to reach here in time, knowing I could take advantage of the apathy of the common people and their diffidence in taking a principled stand, even for their own benefit. I can play the ‘victim’ card, or bulldoze the off person who dares to object, to get ahead.”

He had actually said, “My flight is about to take off. May I please go ahead of you?”

I had cleared the queue to enter the terminal building, and the queue to drop my checked in bag, for my flight to Bangalore in the morning, the previous Sunday, and had entered the third and last queue, for the Security Check, before I got in to the queue to show my boarding card to the airline staff at the gate, followed by the queue to enter the bus that took us to the aircraft, followed by the queue to enter the aircraft, when he had uttered these words.

And he had almost edged past me completely, assuming, I assume, that all was good, and that I should be grateful for the privilege he was according me, of letting him pass, when I had made my move and blocked his path. “Please come in queue. My flight is also about to take off,” I had said firmly.

Clearly not used to such a response, the gentleman appeared lost at first, but quickly composed himself and said, matter-of-factly, “But I will miss my flight.” Apparently, it was my problem that he was going to miss his flight.

“If you are in a hurry, please ask the airline staff to help you speed up the process.” I was in the mood to be logical and reasonable. I also looked around to others in the queue, hoping they would support my logical stance. But they were engaged in other important tasks to save the world, peering into their mobile phones.

“But the airline staff said they cannot help me with the security process,” he said, agony of that slight writ large on his face.

“So it becomes my responsibility to flirt with the possibility of getting delayed myself and letting you go through?” I responded, bringing all my years of experience writing satire to bear upon that single statement, hoping to shame him to the point of withering away, while appealing to the baser instincts of others, as, by this time, the sight of two adults engaged in a quarrel of sorts had ensured that a small crowd had gathered around us, leaving their places in the queue. It was a relief to know that watching a spectacle live is still more important than saving the world on a mobile screen.

“What time is your flight?” someone asked the other gentleman.

“7.45,” he responded.

“What time is your flight?” the same person asked me.

“7.50,” I responded, holding up my boarding card.

“So let him go through then. His flight is before yours, is it not?”

The others joined in the chorus. I wilted under this onslaught. He quickly stepped past me flashing a smile of victory that said, “Take that you idiot.” As many others had left their positions in the queue, he was able to quickly get through to the Security Check station.

Failure to learn fast has never been one of my weaknesses. Though chastened, almost three seconds later, when the next person came up who was late for the flight he had to catch that was almost at the same time as mine, and made his move with, “My flight is about to take off. May I please go ahead of you?” I was ready. I shook his hand, wished him a pleasant flight, and requested the person ahead of me in the queue, to let him pass.

As I kept flagging people past me in the queue, and as people who were late for the flight they had to catch that was almost at the same time as mine, kept making their move with, “My flight is about to take off. May I please go ahead of you?” my mind wandered off to those happy days at the Well Known Institute of Management in Western India (WIMWI), and to Professor Tripathi’s class on Production and Operations Management, over thirty years back. “Single queue multiple server,” I was hearing him say, “is the most efficient form of queueing, that optimises wait time for the customer and idle time for the server.”

But man keeps pushing the envelope. New discoveries are being made every day. Little would Professor Tripathi have known, that even before he retired from WIMWI, there would be an even more efficient way of queueing; of people showing up late and cutting the queue.

Soon, the only two people standing behind me were two greying ladies, who looked like they were foreigners. I looked at them pityingly. It was clear they did not have the benefit of good education. Of modern theories of queueing. They may have good communication skills, good interpersonal skills, respect for people, but theories of queueing? With such a gap in their knowledge, how could they hope to get ahead? At least in queues in India.

As I continued to be the last but two in the queue, having moved barely a few inches from the time I had entered, I realised that I will miss my flight if I did not clear security in the next five minutes. Being a quick learner, as I have perhaps mentioned earlier, I stepped on the accelerator, alternating between playing the ‘victim’ card and bulldozing my way through the few uneducated souls who dared to object, scythed through the queue, and reached the Security Check point. I had a flight to catch, after all.

Not to be left behind in demonstrating their speed of learning, the Delhi airport authorities decided to resolve the issue of delays in the Security Check queue by creating a separate fast track queue for important persons, entitled to be ahead of the hoi polloi, who cannot be bothered about niceties like queues and waiting-for-your-turn, who do not bother to reach in time, knowing they can take advantage of the apathy of the common people and their diffidence in taking a principled stand, even for their own benefit, by playing the ‘victim’ card, or bulldozing the off person who dares to object.

It is remarkable what can be achieved with a little effort, some imagination and a lot of resolve. In as short a period of time as a week. The Security Check queue presented a transformed look yesterday, which, again, was a Sunday. The regular queue was clear as a crisp February day in Gurgaon. One could see miles out to the security personnel swatting flies as they waited for the next passenger to show up.

Meanwhile, all passengers stood in the fast track queue, along with everyone else who was flying out from Delhi at that time, beneficiaries of Delhi airport authorities alacrity in implementing a solution, continuously moving ahead of others in the queue, even as the others kept moving ahead of them.

 

Sign Language

“But then, when will I cut them?”

I had forgotten it was my responsibility to ensure he was able to. Cut them. Blame it on old age.

The question had been asked by the young man sitting next to me and, in all likelihood, triggered by my saying, “this is not the place to be cutting your nails,” after my initial “perhaps you should be doing this at home,” had apparently gone unheard.

The trigger for my statements, in turn, had been the act of this young man casually taking out a shiny nail-cutter, spreading a newspaper on his lap, and starting to carefully chip away at his nails, taking care, as a responsible adult, to not leave any vestige of the activity in the surrounding area. Inside a train on the Delhi metro network, that I now take every day to get to my place of work. And back.

And, after the second statement, since there could not have been any doubt who I was speaking to, as there was nobody else cutting his nails in that coach, or in any other coach is my guess, he had left the nail on the middle finger, perhaps as a fitting hint, half-cut, and looked at me and asked the question. Crossly if my interpretation of his look is reliable.

Then he had looked away, perhaps not noticing my discomfiture as I did not have an answer to his question, and allowing me the luxury of a sigh of relief. But then he had looked right back at me and asked, “Where does it say?”

“Where does it say what” I asked right back, now composed.

“That I cannot cut my nails here?” He had not wasted time. When he had looked away from me, he had quickly scanned the coach to check if I had any basis for my unreasonable demand. Of requesting him to not cut his nails.

I was the deer in the headlights now. I sheepishly looked around, desperately searching for some sign of a sign behind which I might have hidden. I need not have. The young man had done his homework. There was a sign prohibiting sitting on the floor. There was a sign prohibiting smoking in the coach. There was a sign prohibiting eating and drinking. But nothing prohibiting the innocuous act of cutting nails. One’s own.

But he was a reasonable young man. He saw my discomfort and offered me a lifeline. “Has the Prime Minister asked the people to stop cutting nails inside coaches of the Delhi metro in any of his ‘Mann ki Baat’ episodes?”

The nation knows that the Prime Minister had asked countrymen to maintain cleanliness and hygiene. How else could we have known that we ought to maintain cleanliness and hygiene. I recalled, with some guilt, that even from the ramparts of the Red Fort, from where the Independence Day address is delivered, the Prime Minister had so far made no mention of not cutting nails inside coaches of the Delhi metro. How could anyone be expected to know that cutting nails is not be done in the coach of a train on the Delhi metro rail network.

As soon as the train stopped at the next station, I got off, though my destination had not arrived. I was unable to face the young man.

I should have known better. Walking down the platform I was reminded of my interaction, just two days back, with another youngster. This youngster eating in the coach. Did I already say there were signs prohibiting eating and drinking inside the coach? This young lady was eating right under the sign when I pointed this out to her, earning the response, along with a ‘puppy dog eyes,’ expression to go with it, “So when will I have breakfast?” I had looked away, shame-faced, at not thinking about such obvious issues. I may not have been her parent, and she might have been physically a full-grown, independent adult, but clearly I had not thought about when she would have breakfast.

And had continued eating her aloo parathas and pickle which the entire coach knew was of mango, seasoned in mustard oil.

The entire coach now also knew of this old chap who was poking his nose in other people’s affairs. “Can’t you get a mobile phone for yourself?” was the unsaid chorus. “Then you can join us and be brave and nationalistic and patriotic and send out forwards here and there on your mobile, when a criminal incident, usually a murder or rape, catches everyone’s attention and gets reported in the media. But following simple to understand, day-to-day rules in public life? Where do you think you are? Canada? Singapore? In fact, if we discourage breaking simple to understand, day-to-day rules in public life, it might well stifle out more serious crimes that have the potential of catching attention and allowing us the opportunity to be brave and nationalistic and patriotic and sending out forwards here and there on our mobiles. Whose side are you on?”

And that had not been an isolated incident either. A day earlier, I had pointed out the sign to another young man seated next to me and about to bite into his carefully packed sandwiches, to which he had, again with a ‘puppy dog eyes’ expression to match, had pleaded, “I am feeling very hungry.” But, this young man had packed his breakfast and kept it back in his bag. He must be a loser.

I had walked up the stairs and reached the ground level of the station. My mind was made up. I was going to see the station in-charge and request him to put up fresh signs inside train coaches so that decorum is maintained. ‘Do not shave in this coach,’ ‘Do not wash clothes inside this coach,’ ‘All cooking activity inside this coach is prohibited,’ in addition to ‘Do not cut nails inside this coach’ were some I had on my mind. And, of course, ‘Do not rape inside this coach,’ and ‘Murder is not permitted in any part of this coach.’ That would teach them, I hoped.

And that is not all. I would also request him to take away the existing signs like ‘Eating and drinking is not permitted inside this coach,’ since they are not followed in any case.

More pleasant rides on the Delhi metro await us.

Curated

Every time I look, the world seems to have changed. When I looked recently, I found that I was being assaulted by curated products and services from all sides. Not products and services. Curated products and services.

Like onboard a recent domestic flight where I was offered a curated food selection that I had to pay for. Curated omelette. Curated bread roll. Curated fruit bowl. Curated cup of tea. It was a morning flight else they might have offered curated rice and curated ‘daal’ and curated chicken curry as well.

“Can you please pick up your cup, sir?” It could no longer be considered a request, considering the tone it was spoken in, even though a ‘please’ and ‘sir’ had been inserted in the sentence. It was the flight attendant, looking cross, almost shouting at me. Passengers seated around had stopped eating and were looking in our direction, hoping for entertainment on a flight with no video screens. Apparently, she had said it thrice already, as I was informed by a co-passenger.

On seeing the curated food on offer, my mind had wandered off to the good old days of flying. Though, on the back of the recent experience, no sane person would qualify them as the ‘good old days of flying’. Tell me which airline served curated omelette on a morning flight? No sir. Not one. Or curated bread roll? Or curated tea? Or even a curated fruit bowl? Flyers had to make do with uncurated omelettes and uncurated fruit bowls and uncurated bread rolls and uncurated cups of tea. Still want to call them the ‘good old days of flying’? Not me. No wonder we did not have to pay for them. Some mysteries get solved only when enough water has flown under the bridge. In the harsh glare of looks from other passengers, I picked up the cup from the tray in front of me and the attendant splashed curated tea into it and walked away.

Flipkart and Amazon are passe. What is not are curated shopping websites. These websites, as I read online, tap in the time of people and showcase them products selected wisely which saves a lot of time and also leads to the discovery of hidden gems floating around the internet. Curated web service offers effective personalized shopping experiences to make shopper’s shopping more enjoyable. And they, I understand, are able to do this because they are curated. 

Makes sense, doesn’t it? The traditional shopping websites must have been putting mascara under electronic products and mobile phones under books. Just to ensure that visitors waste a lot of time while searching for a product. And what about their Vision and Mission? I bet one of the statements in there somewhere would be, ‘To make the shopping experience hell for our visitors and ensure they never come back’. They aren’t curated, are they?

Though I never quite understood the meaning of the word, in my own objective and rational manner, I had associated it with something classy and exclusive. The reason perhaps is that my main exposure to the word had been in connection with ‘curated’ exhibits and ‘curated’ collections in museums in Europe. Like The London International Surrealist Exhibition curated by a group of artists and poets including Henry Moore, Paul Nash, Andre Bréton, Man Ray and Paul Éluard. Like the Russian Art Exhibition (Erste russische Kunstausstellung) in Berlin that featured Russian Constructivism and curated by artists David Sterenberg, Nathan Altman, and Naum Gabo.

No, not based on visiting and experiencing those exhibits in museums in Europe, but reading about them online. Cannot clearly recollect if those were curated or not. The online articles silly, not the museums and their exhibits.

Uncomfortable with indiscriminate application of a word I associated with class and exclusivity, I lost no time in trying to find out more about it. To my utter shock and surprise, the Merriam-Webster online dictionary defined curated as: carefully chosen and thoughtfully organized or presented.

The pieces were starting to fit in. I was realising why businesses had to start curating products and services. Clearly airlines in the ‘good old days’ merely carelessly decided the menu for a flight, and presented it in a disorganised and thoughtless manner. Because, like other uncurated businesses of the time, they were running a business that was trying to make its customers unhappy and lose money for its owners as fast as possible. And stores would have made it a point to stock random items that were of no use to their customers so that they rapidly went out of business, paving the way for curated businesses to emerge.

Simply put, the avenues it opens up boggles the mind. Imagine buying a curated 42 inch flatscreen curated TV of a known brand. As opposed to? As opposed to an uncurated 42 inch flatscreen TV of the same known brand. Or a curated Sniper RUSSIA FIFA World cup 2018 Football, Size 5, Red colour. As opposed to? As opposed to an uncurated Sniper RUSSIA FIFA World cup 2018 Football, Size 5, Red colour. Simply put, the human race has risen above challenges threatening its existence and found a path to progress on.

I hope you liked this specially curated post. I must stop here. Need to run to Delhi to buy groceries as my neighbourhood green grocer has refused to supply me ever since I told him I will buy from him only if he stocks curated potatoes, onions and tomatoes. He doesn’t get it. I hope you do.

Road to Happiness

There was once a happy stretch of road. Road1

It used to witness lots of happy people in happy cars go back and forth.Road2

There was a place where the road crossed paths with a railway track. It was called a level crossing. For protection of road traffic (a train is much bigger!!) a barrier was put on the road to ensure no one crossed the railway track when a train was passing.Road3

Cars waited patiently when the barrier was lowered to block the road and let the train pass. When the train had passed and the barrier was raised, the cars went past on their way. Happy people in happy cars on a happy road.Road4

One day, there was an impatient man waiting at the railway crossing and getting more and more restive as time passed. He did not like waiting for the train to pass. He did not like waiting. He believed he had important things to do while others did not and it was the world’s responsibility to make him succeed. He had a manic need to prove that he was better than others, all the time. He was second in the queue on one side of the track.Road5

Determined to get ahead of others, as soon as the barrier was lifted, he swerved his car to the right, overtook the car in front, swerved left again back to his lane, before the first car from the other side could reach him.road6

He was thrilled at his cleverness. And at the stupidity of the others. And that he had once again bested the others, who were following rules. He thought he was the smartest of the lot and would always stay ahead of others, as was his right. He looked back in glee at the car he had overtaken and drove off.

His feat had not gone unnoticed. Occupants of the car ahead of him, who he had overtaken, mine, were upset. Not so much at being overtaken, but overtaken rashly and then being mocked by the errant driver.  The cars on the other side who could see this manoeuvre also noticed. They thought if that guy could get away with it on his side of the road, so could they on their side. They made a mental note of adopting the same strategy next time an opportunity arose.

As luck would have it, in the not too distant future, their cars were arrayed at the railway crossing exactly as they had been earlier. This time, however, he was not the only ‘smart” one. Everyone on both sides of the track had been smarting and turned out to be as “smart”.

Before the barrier opened cars were positioned in their lanes.road7

As soon as the barrier opened, the car ahead of the “smart” car, mine, moved up swiftly in order not to allow him space to move back into the line ahead of him. The second car on the opposite side swerved right in heroic fashion, to make a dash for cutting back into the lane ahead of the car that was in front. But the car in front moved up swiftly to block the space in front.road8

At the same time the cars behind on both sides came on fast, and filled up all intervening spaces, whether in the right lane or the wrong one so that no smart driver could manoeuvre in. The result was that while they moved into the wrong lanes, they could not now come back into their own lanes.road9

Nobody on either side was able to move. They remained there for hours, honking and arguing. Some got out of their cars and started fighting with others. There were babies and sick people in some cars who were crying and getting uncomfortable. There was even an ambulance stuck in the traffic. But nobody could move.

The administration was forced to place traffic police at the intersection, incurring an unnecessary expense for the state exchequer, eventually paid for by everyone through taxes. The “smart” drivers were thrilled. They knew this was a smart move by the administration to help “smart” drivers” like himself, while the cost is borne by everyone. The traffic police, whose job was to ensure movement of traffic, ensured that the “smart” drivers got clearance before others so that oncoming traffic could be released. Punishing the errant for causing the problem, it seems, was not their goal.

Good news travels fast. Each driver involved in this episode took upon himself the task of teaching the same “smartness” to drivers at other level crossings they happened to pass, through personal example. Today, all level crossings are “smart” crossings, where traffic has to wait for hours to be on their way. Sometimes traffic police shows up to ensure “smart” drivers get right of way in the melee.

Roads everywhere are full of idiots behind wheels. Like me. Could I not have let the “smart” driver overtake me rashly and be on his way? Could the idiots in cars on the opposite side not have avoided this unhealthy competition and allowed the “smart” driver to be on his way. Disturbing questions.

One idiot is often all it takes.