All About Us

It has been an educational week past.

I now know that Mukesh Ambani is India’s richest person.

I am kidding. I already knew that.

I now know that he has a son by the name Akash. Actually, I might have known that also.

So how was it educational? What DID I learn?

I learnt that Akash got engaged to Shloka Mehta on 28th June and a grand party was thrown by the Ambanis on the 30th to celebrate the event.

I learnt that Shloka has known the Ambani family since she was two years old.

I now know Shahrukh Khan was the host for the evening and that he and his son Aryan had a father-son moment at the bash. I learnt that they, Shahrukh and Aryan, even shared a light moment with Gauri Khan, Shahrukh’s wife and Aryan’s mother.

I learnt that Sachin Tendullkar has a daughter whose name is Sara. I learnt that Sara looked resplendent at the bash.

I learnt that Amitabh Bachchan’s maternal grand-daughter is called Navya. I also learnt that Navya stole the show at the event in her sari.

I also learnt that Abhishek, Aishwarya and Aradhya looked like a happy family.

I learnt that Karen Tran is a luxury floral decorator from California. I learnt that Karen Tran decorated the venue.

I learnt Argentina grows flowers. I learnt some Rs. 25 crores (about USD 4 million) worth of them were flown in from Argentina to decorate the venue. I learnt that it is possible to put Rs. 25 crores worth of flowers in one single house in one single night.

I learnt there is a bakery called Laduree in Paris. I learnt that Laduree is famous for its macarons, a sweet meringue-based confection that is made with egg white and icing sugar, among other ingredients. I learnt Laduree whipped up some delicious desserts for all at the bash.

I learnt that decorations at the venue included transparent umbrellas with wax chocolates hanging from them.

Phew!

These learnings were flying at me from many directions, like TV news channels, like newspapers, like workplace gossip, like the Internet, like WhatsApp forwarded messages between other forwarded messages asking people to refrain from wasteful consumption and mind their own business.

And I was hungrily lapping it up.

Because it matters.

Because now I can speak more than others about the ceremony that I think everyone else is talking about.

Because now I can authoritatively confirm or debunk the trash that people are bound to circulate about the event.

Because I can now send more WhatsApp forwards, in between messages to avoid wasteful consumption and minding our own business.

If so much can be learnt during the engagement, the sky will be the limit when the wedding comes around. I am hungry for knowledge. I am already counting the days to it even though I don’t know the date.

Now that I know it, I wish Akash and Shloka a happy married life.

After all, it’s all about us, baby!

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Travel with Rohin

I have travelled all over the world these last few years.

Vicariously.

Through my friend Rohin who is an avid traveller. Actually Avid sounds too tame for him. Animal, Fearsome, might be better adjectives to describe his Travel bug.

What’s even better is that he chronicles his travels on his Blog on Blogspot, our poor cousin of blogging. As I invariably fend off the green-eyed monster reading it, I am sharing a link that should take you to his latest post about his travels to Slovenia, Croatia, et al, as Blogspot, it seems, does not allow direct sharing onto WordPress.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

http://rohin-arora.blogspot.com/2018/06/slovenia-lake-bled.html?

 

Stay Blessed

As if the goodness thrust upon us by leaders of various types was not enough. We now have goodness coming at us from family and friends as well. You could have too much of a good thing.

It could be in the form of:

“Smile more than you cry

Give more than you take

And love more than you hate.”

OR

“Don’t overthink things

Don’t stress about what might not happen

Just chill out.”

That make you go HOW.

Smile more than you cry;” great idea, but please explain how.

…love more than you hate;” what a great piece of advice, but can you please elaborate and tell me how.

Don’t overthink things;” you are the best, please help me understand how.

A bit like the popular cook-book that publishes a recipe for cooking “delicious hare meat” but forgets the crucial first line, which is, “First catch your hare.”

Did it not strike our benefactors that they should also have provided an instruction manual? To answer the crucial HOW.

It could be in the form of:

“That being who neither runs away from disagreeable karma (unpleasent work, which causes bondage to itself or its fruits) nor gets attached to agreeable karma (pleasant work, duties), without any doubt such pure Satvik being is intelligent & true renunciater. As none of the human can renounce, entirely & completely, all the karmas, one who doesn’t gets attached to the karma & doesn’t desire fruits from Karma, is the true renunciater.”

OR

“Beings who dont get free from attachment & desire of fruits from Karma, get good, bad or mixed fruit of their karma after their death (in terms of how & where they r born in next life). The one who doesn’t attaches himself with karma & doesn’t desire fruits from Karma, doesn’t face any fruit of it (as enlightened ones move out of circle of life n death).”

That make you go WOW. How come I did not receive this advice earlier (even discounting for the spelling and grammar issues)?

…one who doesn’t gets attached to the karma & doesn’t desire fruits from Karma, is the true renunciater.” You know I have been dying to become a true renunciater, no pun intended (on “dying”).

Beings who dont get free from attachment & desire of fruits from Karma, get good, bad or mixed fruit of their karma;” so it seems there is a choice of fruit available, please tell me where I need to click to indicate my choice?

Anyone can see that the advice dished out is so unique that nobody in his right mind would ever even dream of it on his own. Let’s be honest, without these messages, would you have guessed that you ought to “smile more than you cry?” Or even “don’t overthink things?” And it talks directly to that part of us that has been waiting for it eagerly from the time we were born, like becoming a  “renunciater” when we die.

Yes, we are talking about the greatest tool for peace, goodwill and harmony invented by mankind, Jan Koum and Brian Acton to be specific; the Group messenger on WhatsApp, the Wonder App, as christened by my friend N V S Sastry, and the favourite tool pf people who bombard unsuspecting, inveterate do-badders with these messages of love and goodness.

For years I have been bombarded with these messages, I believe they are called “inspirational”, on WhatsApp Groups, and for years I have been ignoring them.

It is not difficult to understand why I have not become a “true renunciater” or I don’t “smile more than cry”.

Suspicious as I have been of these messages, I have to reluctantly admit that they have been an invaluable source of strength for me in the most trying of times. Like at work, where they have helped me consume the tedium of office life by pretending to secretly read messages and responding, thereby appearing to be busy to others. They have also helped me in rapidly consuming my phone memory and equally rapidly upgrade to a phone with a memory, and cost, several times larger. And, above all else, by randomly forwarding messages that very few recipients will read, I suspect I have become a far more popular member of society. As has I believe everyone I know. Everyone has become more popular in equal measure.

And the do-gooders continue to boldly go where no WhatsApp Group message blind forwarder has been before.

They now blindly forward Good Morning messages. With the picture of a flower too.

Not any flower, but a rose. Not to me but to the whole group. Not to one but many many groups. And mind you, yesterday, it was yellow roses. And tulips a day prior.

They blindly forward videos of spiritual gurus, many of whom will probably later end up behind bars on account of sexual misconduct, on these groups.

Even inspirational quotes from unknown people, people who may have never existed.

All to reinforce the HOW and WOW effect.

In order to atone for past sins (some of them) and become a “true renunciater”, which I could not earlier, and to “smile more than cry” which, again, I could not earlier, I have started reading these forwards.

The first one I read was “If you can dream it, you can do it.” Almost immediately thereafter, the phone beeped again and came “Dreams don’t work unless you do” into another group.

Can someone please explain if I should dream or I should work.

The next one said “If someone points out your mistake, be happy that at least someone is interested in your perfection and success”, immediately followed by “Stay away from negative people, they have a problem for every solution.”

Can someone please confirm that someone who points out your mistakes is a positive person.

Then came “The secret of success is to know something nobody else knows.” I swear even my wife does not know the Password to access my bank account. I am waiting for the success that is about to envelop me in its fold.

I was afraid these messages might stop after the Madras High Court recently foolishly ruled that forwarding a message tantamounts to deemed ownership of content and the person forwarding can be held accountable for spreading slander and misinformation if that be the case.

I spent many a sleepless night with my mobile clutched tightly to my chest. Each blindly forwarded message in every group being reason for me to eagerly lap it as if it would be the last.

But I had reckoned without the tenacity of the forwarders. They took as much notice of the forwarded message announcing the Madras Hight Court ruling as they have been doing of other messages they have been forwarding.

Needless to say, the goodness continues unabated.

I am nominating WhatsApp Group messages for the Nobel Peace Prize with an honourable mention for everyone who has blindly forwarded such messages to foster goodwill, peace and harmony in the world.

Like the ending of many of the blindly forwarded messages, “Stay Blessed!”

How?

Beauty and the Beast

The level of scholarly debate in the country has been upped several notches with a newly appointed Chief Minister (CM) of one of the North Eastern states, jointly known as the Seven Sisters, weighing in with his erudition.

With a need to impress his political bosses, perhaps in return for an out of turn favour of being given the huge responsibility of running a state, he has lost no time in trying to cement his position in the party by putting his foot in his mouth speedily.

He has stated that Diana Hayden of India, crowned Miss World in 1997, did not have the beauty to deserve the Miss World title in 1997. He should know. After all, he is a democratically elected representative of the people and appointed CM of a state. If he does not know about women and beauty, barring spiritual gurus and movie moguls, who will? Moreover, he is an Indian male.

It seems the only women to deserve the Miss Universe and Miss World titled are the Venezuelan women, the American women, the Russian women, the Australian women, the Chinese women, the Filipino women, the Colombian women, the Angolan women, the Dominican Republic women, the Japanese women, the Swedish women, the South African women, and women from the many other countries that could not be immediately named.

But Indian women, no way. Except if you are Aishwarya Rai. Because he knows. Because he is a democratically elected representative of the people and appointed CM of a state. If he does not know about women and beauty, barring spiritual gurus and movie moguls, who will? Moreover, he is an Indian male.

For proof, one need not look far. Show him an Indian man in his right mind who would choose an Indian woman over a Caucasian woman, assuming he will have such a choice, assuming a Caucasian woman has been found who is willing to consider an Indian male, and he will show you a liar. Of course, excepting when he needs someone to cook dal and chapati for him. Like our grandmothers used to.

According to him, Indians were crowned Miss Universe or Miss World in quick succession. Quick succession meaning a period of about a quarter of a century. Like in 1994, in 1997, in 1997, in 1999, in 2000 and in 2017, till the time of writing this article. Such crowning stopped after the cosmetics market was captured. It was a clever ruse of the cosmetic companies of the world to corner the market in India.

This was a pertinent argument because in almost all other cases, foreign companies did not need any subterfuge to get Indian consumers to adopt foreign products. Indian consumers have taken to foreign products like ducks to water.

Do you remember any Master Healthy World or Little Miss Healthy Universe contests? You don’t because there were no such contests. But packaged breakfast cereals made by foreign companies are now consumed by children across the length and breadth of the country.

Do you remember any Mister Healthless World or Mister Healthless Universe contests? You don’t because there were no such contests. But carbonated soft drinks made by foreign companies are now consumed across the length and breadth of the country.

Our women, as per the CM, used leaves and seeds to keep their bodies in shape. And that is what they should continue to use. Like our grandmothers used to. Only men, sorry Indian men, need to keep pace with the changes taking place in the world. And since he is an Indian male, he obviously has the right to decide for Indian women what they should and should not do. After all, how are we going to eliminate heinous crimes against women unless men like him are allowed to take decisions for women.

Season of Surprise

‘Tis the season to be merry?

Maybe. Maybe not.

But ‘tis certainly looking like the season to be surprised.

Once again.

The Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) has set the ball rolling by predicting that large parts of the country will reel under temperatures higher than normal and that the seasonal average temperature is set to be higher than normal by over 1 degree Celsius.

We are surprised.

After years of rapid development, with millions of fossil fuel burning cars added to the roads, agricultural and forest lands being consumed to build wider and wider roads in an effort to get those cars moving and so that the common man feels like he is living anywhere but in India, building shiny new energy-guzzling highrises, putting many water bodies out of the misery of their daily struggle for survival, transporting food and water from greater and greater distances, we are surprised.

We are surprised that this is happening again. Because it had happened just last year in the summer, which was one of the hottest recorded in recent memory. And the previous year in the summer. And the previous year again.

Despite doing nothing to prevent a recurrence, it is recurring. Isn’t it surprising?

It is a surprise that summer is coming back at all. With its many surprises.

We will be surprised to see peak load requirement going up in the summer as more and more people switch on their air-conditioners.

We will be surprised to experience frequent failures in the grid-supplied power as the grid buckles under peak-load demand.

We will be surprised when residential societies as well as commercial developments switch on their diesel-powered generation sets and produce their own power to offset the grid failures. We will also be surprised that noxious fumes emitted by these generators will add to the pollution woes of the city.

We will be surprised when, despite uncontrolled drawing of ground water for industrial and other uses, the water table plunges further.

We were expecting November-like bracing conditions to prevail through most of May and June, but looks like IMD had other ideas. If putting out realistic and reasonable facts and figures is all it can do, does a rapidly developing nation like ours really need an IMD? But that is for our political leaders to answer. Let us enjoy the beauty of life while we can. With its ability to throw up surprises every day and every minute.

Summer will be followed by monsoon. Yet another surprise. Seriously, did anyone know about this?

Come monsoon and we will be surprised to realise that water can flow from higher to lower level of ground. And that constructing in its path without adequate assessment of capacity will lead to impeding the flow of water and cause water-logging.

We will be surprised to know that open ground absorbs rainwater much faster than land that has been constructed over. As a corollary, we will be surprised to realise that slower absorption of rainwater leads to a slower recharging of groundwater resources.

We will be surprised to know that that poor quality material used in building of roads leads to the surface being washed away leaving gaping holes for traffic to navigate. We will be equally surprised to understand that gaping holes in the road surface and water-logging on roads leaves only narrow usable channels for traffic on otherwise wide roads, which leads to massive traffic jams with people leaving office at 6 PM reaching home 15 km away at 5 AM the next morning.

We will be surprised to realise that rainfall does not have a mechanism through which it can stay away from areas prone to water-logging and poor drainage.

We will be surprised to know that random dumping of waste and stagnant water is a toxic combination that leads to breeding of mosquitoes, among other vectors, that leads to the spread of malaria, chikangunya, dengue and other diseases. As a corollary, we are even more surprised to learn that preventing collection of stagnant water and keeping our surroundings clean can prevent vector-borne diseases to a great degree.

It is a surprise that these are happening again. Because they had happened just last year during the monsoon. And the previous year in the monsoon. And the previous year again. Despite doing nothing to prevent a recurrence, they are recurring. Isn’t it surprising?

The beauty of life. Knowledge and learning at every step. The faster one is able to forget past learnings, the more one will keep learning. As long as one is open-minded. And not repeatedly asking “why is this not fixed?” or “who is responsible for this mess?”

And if that is not enough of surprises, winter, which just about got over, will come back. Did you know that?

We will be surprised that the cold winter air, with all noxious fumes and other pollutants emitted into it, will hang low and not get dissipated as easily as in the non-winter months, when it blows the pollutants away to unsuspecting people in other geographies.

We will be surprised that respiratory issues will abound in the winter months and that the masks people wear are not a natural adaptation of the human species to environmental stimuli.

We will be surprised that the days are short and nights long.

We will be surprised that it gets cold.

It is a surprise that these are happening again. Because they had happened just last year in the winter. And the previous year in the winter. And the previous year again. Despite doing nothing to prevent a recurrence, they are recurring. Isn’t it surprising?

And then, surprise of surprises, maybe even a shock, summer will be back. Who could have predicted that?

 

You Can

“A horse a horse, my kingdom for a horse,” spake King Richard in Shakespeare’s Richard III.

In a slight twist to the Shakespearean phrase, we say A can a can. A can for my car. A Swachh can for my Hyundai Accent car.”

Hyundai Motors, a leading car maker in India, has boldly gone where no car has gone before. It has done the unthinkable. It has introduced a Swachh can inside its cars.

Not a bag. Not an envelope. A can.

I am sure my erudite readers understand what a can is. But a Swachh can?

My erudite readers, a Swachh can is also a can. In this particular case it is the size of a Venti Latte takeaway coffee cup of Starbucks. Or an ice-cream cone with a slightly upsized mound of ice-cream.

And Swachh? Swachh means clean. Swachh Bharat, or Clean India, is the call given by the present PM to keep the country clean, which is why our countrymen did not keep the country clean before the call. They were waiting for the call I believe. Now they are waiting for something else. We will find out as soon as that call gets given.

They, Hyundai Motors, have splashed advertisements in all prominent media to ensure no person is denied this pleasure. And roped in Shahrukh Khan, the leading star of Hindi movies for almost two decades, and their brand ambassador for perhaps as long. Of having a Swachh can in his car.

swachh can

But if Hyundai wants to place a can in its cars, why should we care? It is a free country after all. They are free to place a can, a flower-pot, or a steering wheel, in their cars. They have to figure out the commercial model of their decision and ensure it is legal.

We care because we are sensitive and caring human beings. We care because we believe Hyundai’s hand has been forced. By the draconian Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) law. The company has admitted that it is using its Corporate Social responsibility (CSR) funds for this initiative.

The CSR law, as some might already know, mandates for-profit corporations of a certain size, to spend 2% of the average net profits of the last three years, on CSR activities.

In order that the law is transparent and fair, the government has sharply identified what qualifies as a CSR activity by only recommending particular areas of need, including eradicating hunger and poverty, maternal and child health, HIV, TB and malaria, promoting gender equality and environmental sustainability. Companies can develop their own investment strategies and decide where to invest as long as it is approved by their Board which has one independent director who is paid by the company. To make the law even more clear, it also does not define an enforcement mechanism or penalties for non-compliance.

The Swachh can ticks off all boxes.

The CSR law, apparently, has been brought in because it is believed that for-profit corporations are best suited to carry out CSR activities since welfare of society is neither their primary, or secondary, or tertiary objectives or any part of their reasons for existence.

And since one of the primary responsibilities of a government is understood to be to determine high-priority needs of society and target public expenditure in these areas, what better way to discharge it than to abdicate the responsibility to for-profit organisations. After all, since corporations exist, why should the government do any work beyond making vague and misleading laws? We all know how difficult that itself is, don’t we?

Instead of managing a billion people many of whom are poor and expect the government to actually work for improving their lot, why not just manage a few thousand business corporations who will make the process of governance easier by contributing handsomely to politicians and political parties for these rights and laws.

Governments and politicians are happy because they will have even lesser work to do and can make good use of their time by making baseless accusations at other politicians for questioning this law.

Corporations are happy because what was required as an essential part of the success of their business and anyway being done, now can be quantified in Rupee terms and showcased as their selfless contribution to society.

A billion people are happy because they believe a huge amount is being spent on them and not on for-profit corporations making money for themselves, and their gradual decline into greater misery is either not visible or on account of their own incapability, and not for lack of government and for-profit corporation support.

Armed with the CSR law, for-profit corporations are boldly going where they been many times before.

Like a hydrocarbon extraction company who has decided to use the CSR funds for training displaced independent, proud farmers to handle jobs as drivers, security guards and pantry boys in their offices.  Which they were doing even before the CSR law was introduced.

Like a soft drink manufacturer who is using its CSR resources to recharge ground water supplies in the areas they produce their drinks. Which they were doing even before the CSR law was introduced.

Like Hyundai Motors putting Swachh cans inside cars.

No wonder cars were not clean. No wonder roads were not clean. There was no Swachh can inside the car.

Now, as soon as there is trash inside the car, what will you do? You will open the lid of the Swachh can and poof. The offending trash will vanish inside the can. And, as soon as the can is full, what will you do? You will open the lid of the can and poof. The offending trash will vanish on the road.

It was the absence of the can that kept our roads dirty. Not the absence of a mindset that allows us to respect others and the space of others.

Pressed for answers on the genesis of this CSR initiative, Hyundai Motors says they have done it because in a survey 98% of respondents have said that they deeply care about cleanliness of outside infrastructure such as streets and roads. Respondents were given two choices, as below:

Q. Cleanliness of outside infrastructure such as streets and roads is a big issue in India. Which of the following statements describes you best?

  • ˆI care about it
  • ˆI don’t care about it

And 95% of respondents said they favoured a portable covered bin inside the car in which waste items could be conveniently disposed off. Again, respondents were given two choices, as below:

Q. For conveniently disposing off trash inside the car, would you

  • ˆPut the trash in a portable covered bin inside the car
  • ˆThrow the trash outside the window

Since people told us, we have invented from scratch and given you the Swachh can.

And a plastic one too, by the looks of it.

Boyed by the resounding success of the CSR initiative as it seems to have changed nothing, and since 30% of their profits paid by for-profit corporations to the government as taxes cannot be used for governance since there are other important uses for that money, the government is considering enactment of laws to get for-profit corporations to spend 2% of their average annual net profit over the last three years to ensure that crimes against women are eliminated, and penalise them if they are not.

Why did we not think of this before? Everything the government could not do now seems possible.