Death of unemployment

It started out as a normal head of state visit to another country, with billions of taxpayer money being spent for promising co-operation in a wide range of spheres.

However, it soon turned into the most unlikely, and most productive state head visit in history.

It is no secret that a somnolent economy and rising unemployment were the two issues that had been dogging the government of the most powerful nation in the world. With the elections over, the President lost no time in getting down to serious business, like scheduling state visits.

He had seen some signs during the last visit but, since, like any respectable state head, he was grappling with many other serious problems at the time, like people who wanted solutions and an opposition that wanted answers, he had not paid much attention. But now, with elections just over, and there being no need any more to provide solutions or answers to anyone, these issues started taking centrestage, because of which he lost no time in in scheduling a state visit to the large democracy.

On his instructions, and in an effort to look like “everyman”, the trip planners had included activities that a common man would do, and planned to make him unobtrusive. As unobtrusive as a posse of six armoured limousines in a land of cycle rickshaws and scooters could be.

The first of these was a trip to the local mall where he would hang-out at a coffee shop and talk to people without ordering anything from that shop and having other customers wait for the coffee they wanted to order.

His entourage of six bullet-proof cars drove into the underground parking lot of the mall, like any common man. The President’s eyes popped out when he saw that when his car stopped at the entrance to the parking lot, no ticket came out of the ticket machine next to the driver’s window. The driver stuck his hand out but nothing happened. The driver then looked at a person sitting in a small cubicle just ahead of where the car was standing and nodded his head briefly. The person in the cubicle nodded back, and punched a key on a keyboard with flourish. As if by magic, the ticket came out. The driver took the ticket and moved forward, only to stop immediately else he would have crashed into the boom-barrier. There was another person standing next to the barrier who looked at the driver. The driver looked back. There was a moment of awkwardness. Then the driver relaxed and nodded his head. The standing person smiled and pressed a button and the barrier opened. The driver moved forward.

The President relaxed and smiled. His memory had not failed him. He took out his notepad and quickly made some notes. This was important. He could not trust any other person with the details.

His joy was short-lived, though. When his entourage drove into the parking lot of the next mall, there was no attendant to pluck out the ticket from the machine and hand it to the driver. Was it an isolated case in the previous mall, the president wondered? Instead, there was a booth where one paid the fixed parking charge. There was no other person in sight. The President drooped in his plush seat in the car. He had built up hope from the last parking lot. He was in a despondent mood right through that mall. When his entourage was driving towards the exit of the mall, however, he saw a lonely figure standing in the distance, right at the exit of the parking lot. He sat straight again. He could sense hope once more. The person at the exit was checking the ticket receipts to ensure that the entry fee, without paying which the car could not have entered the lot, had been paid. And, in another bold step that showed the importance and necessity of the the job being performed, not to forget the highest level of decision-making skills, if the car-driver could not locate the receipt, he just waved the car on. He again took out his notepad and made notes.

He was amazed at the efficient use of resources inside the big supermarket he strolled into while at the next mall. He could see young men and women, apparently employed to work in the supermarket, efficiently avoiding work and chatting inside the aisles. The less work they did, the more people had to be hired. The more the people hired, the more their idle talking and even lesser work done. So it became a virtuous cycle of employment. He had not seen this kind of commitment to the cause of nation-building anywhere he had travelled.

What really freaked him out were the security guards manning the exit points of each shopping outlet. Even a shop twenty square feet in area had a security guard at the exit to prevent any cheating. These guards would stop a customer from going out of the shop till they had checked that he was taking out only what he had been billed for. And, this being done by people who could not even read or write; it boggled his mind. How had they managed to implement this, he wondered?

He watched them for a while, took out his notepad and made notes again.

In some of the shops, grocery stores and supermarkets for example, the average number of items on the bill of a customer checking out was over fifty, with most checking out with bags stuffed with bags laden on trolleys. Each security guard was able to do the checking in an average of three seconds. He was able to “take in” the fifty items on the list at a glance and then, even more magically, check the goods without opening their bags. The entire process was completed in under five seconds, for total customer convenience.

He took more notes, even though he did not need to. He was beaming by now. His mind was clear. His efforts had not been in vain. He would go back and implement the best-practices he had seen on this trip. He could visualise his country being rid of the scourge of unemployment. He could see grown-up men and women, in their new jobs, enthusiastically doing nothing. The rest of the trip he was floating on air. He did not need to make any more notes. He could see elevators with attendants to push buttons at the bidding of people travelling in them. He sensed the presence of attendants right next to automated vending machines, to take money from customers, push it into the machine, press the right button and handover the chosen item to the customer. He saw waiters carrying trays at self-service restaurants. There were a dozen parking attendants in every parking lot. He could go on and on.

He made a mental note of sending his entire team on a study-trip to this place.

Though he was sure his country’s unemployment problems would be solved, he was still troubled by one aspect; what was the genesis of this wonderful state of being of the large democracy? How had they discovered this miracle cure that they, the most powerful nation, had no clue of. He racked and racked his brain but could not come up with a convincing explanation.

He had a scheduled meeting with the Prime Minister the following day. He resolved to ask him this question.

(To be continued after the meeting of the President with the Prime Minister…)

Summer Delight

In May and June, the Northern plains in India burn under a relentless summer sun. Daytime temperatures go upto 45 degrees (Centigrade, which, for the benefit of my western world friends, equates to 113 degrees Fahrenheit) for a good part of two months. Live here during these two months and the craving for escaping to the sunny climes will be cured, forever, if you do live to tell the tale.

As this period coincides with the summer break in schools, this is the time when people make an effort to get away to cooler climes. Further the better, of course distance being directly proportional to the wallet-size. Usually.

We took a short holiday this summer. To a nearby (don’t jump to unrelated conclusions about my wallet-size!!) hill-town, about 300 km. from Delhi.

The idea of such a holiday, to me, has always been to, of course apart from the sheer fact of getting away from the daily humdrum for a short period, breathe in the salubrious mountain air and allow the body to feel the various muscle groups by walking up and down the hill slopes, that sedentary city lifestyles makes one forget even exist. Even though it is always only for a few days. And this is what I looked forward to on this occasion as well.

It is amazing what good weather can do.

There were people checking in and out of the hotel all the time. As soon as the check-in formalities were completed, the guests would energetically move to their room, and switch on the TV. To be seen only when their favourite programmes were over, or at breakfast-time in the morning. In a place where the climate was not so bracing, the same movement from the hotel front-office to the room and switching on the TV would take considerably longer.

When not watching TV, people were energetically moving around town. In and out of indoor gaming dens. The more gaming dens and pubs they went to, the more they gave themselves the opportunity to breathe in the salubrious mountain-air while they were enroute from one to another. Even playing video games inside closed rooms becomes a healthful activity at such a place. There is no way they would get this healthful exposure in the city in between dens.   

We went on a walk / trek to the peak of the highest hill in town, which, I understand, in vertical height, is a modest 400 metres up from level at which most of the inhabited town exists. No Everest for the seasoned climber, but challenging enough for me.

As we made our way on foot to this peak, it was, again, a refreshing sight to see scores of people going up the hill and sweating. Their cars I mean. The cars made complaining sounds while battling against gravity on the narrow mountain roads. But the fearless drivers spared no exertion in shifting to the lowest gear and pushing their cars forward against the debilitating pull of gravity.

We were at the peak for over fifteen minutes. During this period, several groups of people came up, in cars and occasionally on motorbikes. They would, unfailingly, be awed by the mountain vistas visible, click pictures, picnic on bags of potato chips and soft-drinks, and start to go back, within about three minutes of arrival. I need to learn this sense of purpose.

Who knows, they may be in a hurry to drive back to their hotel and spend some quality time on the machines in the gym in order to stay fit. Unlike us who first wasted time and effort in walking up a motorable hill, and then loitered around for all of fifteen minutes.

Or they could be in a hurry to get back in time for their daily dose of various pills to contain and push back the advancement of diseases like blood-sugar, hypertension and heart-related ailments, caused by a sedentary lifestyle and inadequate physical exertion. If this is indeed the case, their discipline needs to be lauded.

We got an opportunity to commune with nature. And observe and mingle with different kinds of creatures inhabiting that world. From inside the comfort of our car. The outside world looks so pretty viewed from the insides of a temperature controlled car!

But before you again jump to conclusions (I use “again” as I assume you did (jump to conclusions) on the earlier occasion), I must clarify that, as always, we had stepped out of the hotel with the noble intention of a stroll around town. On foot. Yes you read right. We stepped out of the hotel with the noble intention of taking a stroll around town on foot. We even stepped out of the hotel premises on foot as the first step.

As happens on many occasions, “the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry”. As soon as we got out of the hotel and into a shaded path covered by trees, we were waylaid. By a bunch of monkeys. When I say waylaid I mean they were doing their usual stuff; swinging around from branch to branch, foraging for food, making noises, and all of that stuff, from at least fifty feet away. Now, for a city dweller, who has had as close an encounter with a monkey only from the other side of a cage wall, this was like being waylaid.

But the monkeys, I am sure, had not bargained for our sense of purpose and commitment. We hurried back inside the hotel and emerged, within a few minutes, inside our car. It was a really peaceful communion with nature. If nature was testing our mettle I am sure it had got its answer.

The locals will never understand this pleasure. We saw the locals walk past the monkeys as if they did not exist. They do not have a hope of experiencing nature from inside a car.

As city-dwellers, we don’t give up a good thing easily. We continued our stroll around town. Inside the comfort of our car. Try it, if you haven’t. It causes much lesser strain on the body.

They (the locals) also still need to walk across the street to cross it. They haven’t cottoned on to the idea of hopping into a car to cross the street. Or riding on a cycle-rickshaw manually pulled by a person twice their age.

They have a long way to go before they can catch-up with city folks in terms of development.

I hate travel

Manager, back in his office after a week on the road, to Team Members : Good to be back in office. Some respite from constant travel. I am sick of constantly having to rearrange my personal life on account of business requirements. Seems as if my life is spent in airport lounges more than home. And the hotel food really gets to me. I hate all that.

Team Members, in one voice : We know it must be difficult sir. But isn’t it exciting to visit new places ?

Manager : Yes it is, but you know me. I am happy between my home and my office. I will tell my Boss that I am not travelling for the next one year. If the company insists that I need to go because nobody else is qualified, I will resign and leave. After all, there is a limit to everything.

Team Members : You are so simple and straightforward, sir. How we wish we had these opportunities to travel.

Manager : Well, you know me guys ! Focussed only on work and family. Of course I understand your feelings. And, believe me, when the opportunity next arises, I will nominate one of you to travel and represent the company.

In the middle of the meeting the Senior Manager (the Manager’s Boss) drops in and says, “Oh, by the way, we have been invited to the Industry Conference in Las Vegas end of the month. It is for a week and the company will bear all expenses. We would like someone from this team to attend the conference on behalf of the company. I am leaving the choice to you guys. No specific qualification or knowledge is required as we are not anchoring any session. The participant would mainly need to listen to the speakers, make notes where appropriate, collect Business cards, and come back and debrief. We don’t mind if you want to take your spouse / partner along as long as you pay for it.

Team Members, in one Voice : Hurray. We love the company.

Before leaving, the Senior Manager to Manager : Send me the name of the person chosen to attend by end of day please. My secretary will make necessary arrangements.

After the Senior Manager leaves, the Manager turns back to his team and says : See, it never ends. Just when I thought I will have a few peaceful days at home comes this requirement. I will again have to pack my bags and go. Such is my life!!

For Your Own Good – Withdrawal of Transport Facility

Keeping your welfare in mind, the company has decided to withdraw the Transport facility of pick-up from home in the morning and drop back home in the evening that has so far been provided to all employees.

It has been noticed that obesity amongst employees is on the increase and has been causing intermittent health issues with a resultant impact on productivity.

Upon withdrawal of the Transport facility it is expected that employees will now have to walk to the nearest metro station, or stand in the sun and sweat while flagging down a Taxi, or drive to work. It is expected that these exertions will create a salutary impact on employee health. This will, at once, translate into less time off and improved productivity, allowing you to put yourself in a better position for taking on higher responsibilities when the time comes.

Not only that, lesser ailments means lesser strain on the nation’s medical infrastructure which, if you connect the dots, will indirectly benefit you through a lower requirement of tax contribution (there was an additional phrase after “tax contribution” in the original draft of the Circular but later deleted from the final version : “which is likely to happen only in the next generation”).

Hence, as you can see, we have only your welfare at heart in taking this decision. Not only are you more likely to get promoted, your tax contribution is also likely to come down. This has not been done either to reduce costs or increase the Bonus payout for the Directors because of improved profitability.

We are certain you will support the company’s policies, as you have always done in the past. As such, we have not wasted time in trying to get feedback, and instead have implemented it with immediate effect so that you can start reaping the benefits right away.