How to destroy Morale in six easy steps – 101

Step 1: Find someone who takes pride in what they do

Step 2: Tell them that they have done a consistently poor job at what they take pride in

Step 3: Call them a failure

Step 4: Criticise their few errors and completely ignore any successes

Step 5: Tell them that they are not invested, do not care, do not make an effort

Step 6: Rinse and Repeat

Bonus Step: Pat yourself on your back for a job well done. 

In Memoriam

Of many bits of paper….
Newsprint old and new
Spiderwebs and a rosewood table
No spectacles and some brandy everyday.

Of fearlessness, humour and all things political….
Languages, passion, food and travels…

The little odds and ends of a full-life,
A painful life, a principled life…
A head full of curly hair and greyish blue eyes,

A man like no-other
A person we could all hope to be….
A tireless walker, teacher and friend

A wish for you upon the stars,
I hope you can see the world better now,
Have found some questions to ask up there…
Gather the forces there too, will you?
You made the world a better place, now lonelier without you
And heaven needed you too.

An anti-corruption herd…

Times like this, when Arnab Goswami (who is the self-proclaimed modern messiah of great journalism), is trying very hard to prove that the ‘anti-corruption‘ movement in India is now going international – leave me rather astounded. And frankly, I’m not astounded at anything new. People love causes. Wearing pretty T-shirts with snazzy ‘anna’ slogans, a couple of afternoons out in the sun, the excitement of ‘hey I’m being arrested’ can all be very exciting. Also very juvenile – but never mind that.

Here’s the real question, does more litigation/the enactment of more laws solve corruption?  The best question is however this; is corruption even a problem? Of course, this is a terrible question to be asking. It surely means that I must be corrupt, support corruption or at any rate be unwilling to do my bit to ‘root-out’ the unforgivable sin of corruption. I’m going to go out on a limb and say yup, all of those things are true.

Here’s why: Of course I am corrupt, like every other Indian I have been part of a system that has forced me to, against my wishes (nobody likes to part with money, nothing to do with nobility), to pay a bribe in order to get the job done. Of course its wrong and it doesn’t matter that if I hadn’t paid the bribe, I wouldn’t have gotten a passport.  I do support corruption, in that —  my understanding of it being a ‘problem’ is completely different. Am I unwilling to do my bit to ‘root out’ corruption, yes absolutely – because the movement is ill-conceived.

To begin with ‘corruption’ is not a problem, its a symptom of a larger problem. By waging war against a symptom, one isn’t really sorting anything out – the disease you see, is still around. In this case, the disease is poorly-designed incentives.

As Nitin Pai eloquently writes (and thankfully relieves me of explaining the theory behind incentives):

The idea of a ‘Jan Lok Pal’ is flawed and profoundly misunderstands the causes and solutions of corruption in India. It seeks to create another chunk of Government, more processes and rules, to solve a problem that, in part, exists because of too many chunks of Government, too many processes and rules.

If the ‘Jan Lok Pal’ presides over the same system that has corrupted civil servants, politicians, anti-corruption watchdogs, judges, media, civil society groups and ordinary citizens, why should we expect that the ombudsman will be incorruptible? Because the person is handpicked by unelected, unaccountable ‘civil society’ members? Those who propose that Nobel Laureates (of Indian origin, not even of Indian citizenship) and Ramon Magsaysay Award winners should be among those who pick the Great Ombudsman of India — who is both policeman and judge — insult the hundreds of millions of ordinary Indian voters who regularly exercise their right to franchise. For they are demanding that the Scandinavian grandees in the Nobel Committee and the Filipino members of the Magsaysay foundation should have an indirect role in selecting an all-powerful Indian official.

The argument that people should be involved in drafting legislation is fine, even if it misses the point that the Government is not a foreign entity but a representative of the people. It is entirely another thing to demand that the legislation drafted by an self-appointed, unaccountable and unrepresentative set of people be passed at the threat of blackmail. If we must have representatives of the people involved in law-making, we are better off if they are the elected ones, however flawed, as opposed to self-appointed ones, whatever prizes the latter might have won.

The ‘Jan Lok Pal’ will become another logjammed, politicised and ultimately corrupt institution, for the passionate masses who demand new institutions have a poor record of protecting the existing institutions. Where were the holders of candles, wearers of Gandhi topis and hunger-strikers when the offices of the Chief Election Commissioner, the Central Vigilance Commissioner and even the President of the Republic were handed out to persons with dubious credentials? If you didn’t come out to protest the perversion of these institutions, why are you somehow more likely to turn up to protest when a dubious person is sought to be made the ‘Jan Lok Pal’?

But this is us. Given this reality, the solution for corruption and malgovernance should be one that does not rely on the notoriously apathetic middle classes to come out on the streets. The solution is to take away the powers of discretion, the powers of rent-seeking from the Government and restore it back to the people. This is the idea of economic freedom. Societies with greater economic freedom have lower corruption. I have long argued that we are in this mess because we have been denied Reforms 2.0.

How can we have Reforms 2.0 if “those politicians” are unwilling to implement them? The answer is simple: By voting. Economic reforms are not on anyone’s political agenda because those who are most likely to benefit from them do not vote, and do not vote strategically

So here’s the solution; don’t keep adding layers upon layers of legislation!!

Legislation fails catastrophically (what lawyers like to dismiss as implementation problems) when it doesn’t account for incentives. India is known for fantastic legislation and implementation failure. However, implementation failure, like other forms of market failure, are signalling devices. They’re telling you something. They’re saying, for example, systems where clerks are under-paid sustain systems where bribes need to be paid. Systems where accountability is not structurally built-in allows for large-scale corruption…

In the meantime, if you are pro-Anna – consider this. What should you be supporting? Well-designed policy or one man holding a government to ransom?  For further reading consider reading: Why the Lok Pal is a bad idea.

When Mallika Sarabhai says that  “we live in the most exciting times for democratic India, at least in the last two decades”,  I wonder what she is referring to?  The fact that so many Indians think turning out in hippy t-shirts singing songs is the equivalent of a movement, or that the stalwarts of this ‘movement’ consider it to be truly ‘mass’ given that all of India has internet connectivity (sic), or the fact  that India’s need for heroes (read Anna) has grown so much that we should consider this the greatest signl of a fantastically dynamic democracy.

Tipping Point

Disclaimer: This post has nothing to do with Malcolm Gladwell and his book – Tipping Point, which is a fantastic read btw.

Its been a long long long time since I’ve written anything – really this space is an apology of a blog in that sense.

I do have an excuse to offer though. Actually a string of excuses – the first being that I don’t have a job and went through a major phase of depression, then I got married and lately I’ve been spending time with a critically ill family member in a hospital instead of honeymooning.

Between all of this, I’ve had plenty of time (what else does one do in hospitals and beauty parlours anyway?) to introspect and more interesting observe my own behaviour during these tumultuous times.

I find that dealing with a crisis if you’re an overall efficient person isn’t very difficult. All it requires is a clear head, a larger than normal supply of patience, access to money and someone loving who will take care of you while you take care of other things.

Its the little things though that happen throughout that is truly exhausting. It didn’t matter so much for example, that I had to find 16 people to donate blood at a short notice or find ways to deal with extreme cultural shocks. It bothered me terribly though – that my favourite hair brush vanished for three whole days. It drove me to tears when I couldn’t find bathroom slippers in order to go pee when I had Mehendi on my hands.

I’m not sure what explains the complete strangeness of this behaviour – but on a completely non-original note I think I can say I’ve discovered my own Tipping Point. I hate it when I am expected to ‘be there’ and ‘take care’  — and the little things aren’t in order. Clearly working to resolve a large crisis (emotional or physical) brings out the best of ‘responsibility’ in me, but perhaps that process is so alien to me that I compensate by stressing out about the small things. Human nature or peculiar to me?

Or I love my HAIR BRUSH. And oh, I love my husband – he found it. 🙂

At any rate here are somethings to ask yourself during crisis management:

1. Are you being irrational about the little things?

2. Are you doing too much on your own?

3. Are you being a little unfair to those who are in support roles with you?

If you’re answering yes to any of these things – do what I did. Recognise that you have a problem. Find out what your tipping point is. Meditate for a bit. Change what gets you to that point. Get on with crisis management.

HR Horrors

I haven’t done an MBA and I definitely don’t know anything about human resource management, but I really think I could write a book about the-art-of-writing-a-resume.

I spent my day today looking at potential employees and laughed enough for someone to consider me nuts.

At any rate, here are some of the horrors I got and therefore some lessons:

1. Photographs: Unless the application is to a modelling agency, don’t bother. Nobody cares about your face – in particular nobody cares for a full length photograph.

2. References: Do not put down your husband/father/cousin etc., as references and then explain the relationship. In addition to being useless its also stupid.

3. Get the name of the organization right: You cannot apply to the UN when we are not the UN.

4. Referring to your ‘selves’: Avoid talking about yourself in multiples. Its disconcerting.

5. The personal attributes/interests column: If you don’t know how to use it, take it out. Seriously, I don’t care if you enjoy watching NDTV in spare time. Oh sorry, I do care. It means I won’t hire you.

6. Using words you do not understand: If you don’t know why ‘transparency’ is important, don’t use the word. I feel flabbergasted at your stupidity. Especially if you call yourself transparent.

7. Do not beg for the job: Do not say “I surrender my application”. If I wanted ‘surrender’ I would be hiring for love, not work.

8. Cover Letters: If nothing else, write a good cover letter. A blank e-mail with an attachment just shows laziness.

9. If you have no direct experience: No sweat. Just don’t send me a CV with experience in ARM technology and Ghz processors. Tell me instead–  why you want to make the switch and what skills you have that are transferable.

10. Don’t be a saint: Just because you want to work with the development sector, doesn’t mean you have to be “selfless in every endeavor”. Saints don’t get things done.

11. Applying for multiple posts: Don’t apply for every post that the organisation advertises. They already have your CV on file once, its only irritating to see the same cover letter/CV five times.

12. Interviews: Give telephone numbers on your CV that work and that you are reachable at. Speak in whatever language you are comfortable in – if English was a requirement, it would have been stated in the job description. When called don’t ask “what company are you calling from”?…have you not been listening?!

13. “Mr.” : Don’t automatically assume your recruiter is a man!

14. FWDs: Do not send an application with “fwd” in the title. Its obvious someone wrote it for you. While you are at it, make fonts consistent.


While on the subject of partners…

I’ve had the occasion lately to wonder what sort of ‘partner’ would be perfect. People undoubtedly change, so here is my list- at this point in time:

1. A person who understands ‘love’ and ‘relationships’ the way I understand it. This is probably the singularly most important thing to keeping a relationship going. There’s no point to a relationship where you feel un-loved and the other person feels unappreciated.

2. Someone who has time for you, above all else. This doesn’t mean the person doesn’t have a life — but within that life prioritizes you and your happiness above all else.

3. Someone who isn’t so truthful that it becomes an excuse and isn’t so dishonest that you get shocked.

4. Someone who is always proud of you and is willing to demonstrate it.

5. A person to take a holiday with, to just run-away with and be with.

6. Laughing partner.

7. Someone who gets the little things right – gifts you (even if only a single petal), does what you request on time, surprises you, calls you and is nice to you.

8. Reliable. Not someone who you need to think fifty times about before you ask them to do something for you.

9. A vertebrate – Seriously. Someone who has the guts to own you up and fight for you and more importantly fight to be with you. Within a reasonable time-frame.

10. A friend. Nothing that you can’t talk about. Nothing you can’t do.

That, could be a high set of expectations. Still, one can hope. After all one does not want to be the cloud across the sun…

Housing Husbands…

I want to buy a house. I’m a single, salaried (ahem well-salaried) woman. I need a home loan. I did some research. Turns out Indian banks will give me a loan that is roughly five times my annual income. Unfortunately for me, the value of the property I intend to buy, is more than five times my annual income.

In order to enhance my loan amount I can do three things: a) find a better paying job and then apply for a loan, b) get a better degree and c) find a husband. Let’s let point ‘a’ be for the moment. I always knew MBAs had a distinct advantage in the world, but having a husband? Oh how biased is the world against the single woman.

So now I want to buy a husband.

I can’t be the only single woman in the world who needs an enhanced house loan. I wouldn’t at all be surprised if there was an informal market for husbands. Imagine….

A market where one could pick a husband by his loan-enhancement capability. The MBA men will be the most pricey. The market would then be flooded with fake MBA types – enter rating agencies to certify the authenticity of house-loan-enhancing-would-be husbands. Such a rating agency would work exactly the way a credit rating agency does. When the size of the market grows and banks finally catch-on, the government will abolish the husband requirement.

Why then make husbands a housing-loan enhancement criteria in the first place?


Just A Little Time…

Just a little time,

moments, reason and laughter…

Just a little time is enough.

To make a familiar face fade away,

To forget what the fingers and toes felt like…

To put away the long hours and the shorter days,

Just a little time is enough.

To replace the red of the shirt with the red of a new dress…

To replace your music with my silence,

To replace and fill,

Just a little time is enough.

And still I wonder how ‘little’ is enough?

In the trees, in the busy streets, in your empire and in my home…

Just a little time is enough.

To make what was ours – into yours and mine…

Just a little time is enough.

How to be illogically ‘Activist’

Hey, I have nothing against activism or activists. Activists are a great part of civil society and democracy – they’re what keeps the system going, but still, when someone has an opinion; it irks me that they don’t think it all the way through.

Sample some writing by two such activist types.

The first is an open letter to Amitabh Bacchan written by Mallika Sarabhai about his endorsement of Gujarat, the second is a review of ‘My Name is Khan’ by Jawed Naqvi. Take a look at the article by clicking on the link and I’ve reproduced Mallika’s letter below:

Greetings from a Gujarati.

You are indeed a fine actor. You are an intelligent man and a shrewd businessman. But should I believe in your endorsements?

Let’s take a brief look at what you proclaim you believe in (albeit for huge sums of money). BPL, ICICI, Parker and Luxor pens, Maruti Versa, Cadbury chocolates. Nerolac paints. Dabur, Emami, Eveready, Sahara City Homes, D’damas, Binani Cement and Reliance.

And now Gujarat .

I wonder how you decide what to endorse. Is your house built with Binani Cement? Do you really like Cadbury’s chocolates or do you have to resort to Dabar’s hajmola (whose efficacy you have earlier checked) after eating them?

And having endorsed two pens, one very upmarket and one rather down, which one do you use? Have you, except perhaps for the shooting of the ad, ever driven or been driven in a Versa? Do you know whether the Nerolac paint in your home (you do use it don’t you?) has lead in it that can poison you slowly as it does so many people? Or are the decisions entirely monetary?

It has been reported that no direct fee will be paid to you for being my Brand Ambassador. So, with no monetary decision to guide you, how did you decide to say yes? Did you check on the state of the State? I doubt it, for the decision and the announcement came from one single meeting. And I somehow doubt that you have been following the news on Gujarat closely.

So, as a Gujarati, permit me to introduce my State to you.

Everyone knows of our vibrancy, of the billions and trillions pouring into our State through the two yearly jamborees called Vibrant Gujarat. But did you know that by the government’s own admission no more than 23% of these have actually moved beyond the MOU stage? That while huge subsidies are being granted to our richest business houses, over 75000 small and medium businesses have shut down rendering one million more people jobless?

You know of Gujarat ’s fast paced growth and the FDI pouring in, you have no doubt seen pictures of the Czars of the business world lining up to pour money to develop us. To develop whom? Did you know that our poor are getting poorer? That while the all India reduction in poverty between ’93 and 2005 is 8.5%, in Gujarat it is a mere 2.8%? That we have entire farmer families committing suicide, not just the male head of the household?

You have heard of how some mealy mouthed NGO types have been blocking the progress of the Narmada project, how the government has prevailed, and water is pouring down every thirsty mouth and every bit of thirsty land. But did you know that in the 49 years since it was started, and in spite of the Rs.29,000 crores spent on it, only 29% of the work is complete?

That the construction is so poor (lots of sand added to the you- know- which cement perhaps) that over the last 9 years there have been 308 breaches, ruining lakhs of farmers whose fields were flooded, ruining the poorest salt farmers whose salt was washed away? That whereas in 1999, 4743 of Gujarat ’s villages were without drinking water, within two years that figure had gone up to 11,390 villages ? (I can not even begin to project those figures for today – but do know that the figure has gone up dramatically rather than down.)

With our CM, hailed as the CEO of Gujarat, we have once again achieved number one status – in indebtedness. In 2001 the State debt was Rs.14000 crores. This was before the State became a multinational company. Today it stands at Rs.1,05,000 crores. And to service this debt we pay a whopping Rs7000 crores a year, 25% of our annual budget.

Meanwhile our spending on education is down, no new public hospitals for the poor are being built, fishermen are going a begging as the seas turn turgid with effluents, more mothers die at birth per thousand than in the rest of India , and our general performance on the Human Development Index is nearly the first – from the bottom. One rape a day, 17 cases of violence against women, and , over the last ten years, 8802 suicides and 18152 “accidental “ deaths of women are officially reported. You can imagine the real figures.

You have said that you are our Ambassador because we have Somnath and Gandhi. Somnath was built for people. Gandhiji was a man of the people. Do the people of this State matter to you? If they do, perhaps your decision will be different. I hope you will read this letter and decide.

In warmth and friendship,


So let’s begin with Mallika’s letter.

Amitabh Bacchan is a well known actor, he endorses a range of products on television. I’m not going to contest the list – but here is the rub, Mallika asks – should she (and also the people of Gujarat) believe in his endorsements? I have a problem with the framing of this question.

Does the fact that Amitabh Bacchan endorses a bunch of products also mean that he has to believe in them? Let me explain. Acting is a trade, a business – models do commercials for money and so does Amitabh Bacchan. Unless you truly believe that Amitabh Bacchan also did every single film of his because he ‘subscribed’ to everything his character/role said/did on screen; this strikes me a ridiculous argument.

An advertisement is an advertisement; yes the media has great power to influence and all that; but does endorsing a product automatically translate into belief? (I’m not getting into the Nerolac question – lead poisoning, citation?)

Next, Amitabh Bacchan said he would endorse the ‘Gujarat campaign’ without any money, so? If Amitabh Bacchan felt that he wants to endorse Gujarat because of Somnath and Gandhi (note, not Modi) and without money; is there a problem with that intention?

Mallika also points out Gujarat is in a state of  indebtedness, this advertisement would have influenced tourism and income (positively) – strange then, that the rant is about Gujarat’s problems and the attack is on a minor effort to help. Most interestingly, if anyone has taken note of Amitabh Bacchan’s political inclinations – whatever they might be, they are certainly not Modiwards at any rate.

And while on the subject of endorsement, why not also attack Kiran Bedi for endorsing Fair and Lovely, surely that was a more upfront endorsement for colour-based discrimination by a woman icon of this county. Or is it that – Amitabh Bacchan supporting Gujarat’s tourism is a larger issue than fairness creams? Or maybe Kiran Bedi’s was an endorsement and Amitabh Bacchan’s was a carefully orchestrated mind game of support to Modi? I don’t about you – but to me this is far-fetched.

Mallika says Amitabh wanted a tax-free screening in Gujarat, a Rajyasabha seat for his wife, and free land for a film city. We don’t know the source of this information. Even if Amitabh wanted a tax free screening of Paa in Gujarat, so what? A lot of film stars request similar things from a bunch of CMs, is this any worse? Paa was a decent film. I don’t know about the other two claims, aside of the fact that it is hearsay. I have a problem with the wording and argumentation of this letter.

Moving on to Jawed Naqvi’s review of My Name Is Khan. MNIK is not a great film, it is barely a good film. The second half is longer than it should be  and stretches beyond imagination. The Khan has overacted and Kojol isn’t convincing. I’ve seen the film. However, MNIK is not a pro-saffron brigade film. That is my problem with Jawed Naqvi’s take on MNIK.

Second, Narendra Modi’s politics is not only about stereotypes. In fact, stereotypes are quite the secondary theme of his politics. The closest thing to stereotypes in Modi’s politics is xenophobia – a fear of the ‘Other’; which is a theme that MNIK manages to address fairly well. Modi’s politics is hate politics, it is an anti-minority stand that functions through many ways and stereotypes are one of those ways, certainly not the only way.

Thirdly, in the film – Khan does not let the FBI catch a bunch of angry muslims who were protesting Modi and Bush. He catches sight of a bunch of Islamist extremists.  I want to know – if you feel angry about the plight of Muslims in Gujarat, Palestinians or Kashmiri’s should you be plotting to blow up Americans or Hindus in India? Is that the answer?

Surely, Mr. Naqvi recognizes that as they are Modis so there are mullahs. Opposing Modi doesn’t mean you should not oppose a mullah.

Mr. Jawed’s next problem is oversimplification. Khan’s mother (in the film) tells him there are two types of people; good and bad. Yes there are. This has nothing to do with autism. This holds true for normal people too. In bad times, it is what people do with their anger (and shades of grey) that make them do good or bad things. You could be angry about Palestine and take up arms or you could join a peace movement. Go ahead – classify. Good or Bad?

Indeed it is nonsense that MNIK suggests that outrage against Palestine and the Gujarat pogrom is shared only by Muslims. The fact that the movie brings the journey of one Rizwan Khan to the media (in the movie) implies that the message “of peace and that all Muslims are not terrorists” goes out to those who watch television in general – unless in Mr. Naqvi’s world only Muslims watch television.

Why Mrs. Khan asks Naqvi – why not? All over India and the world many women out of choice adopt their husband’s last names. There is no indication in the movie, that Mandira (Kajol) does this out of anything but choice. If the argument is that women should not have to change their names, that is a valid argument for another day. A lot of much married women don’t change names and many do because they’d like to, or because tradition says so and they haven’t actively had a problem with that.

The problem with the Naqvi point of view is that it berates a brave film. A long, not very great – but still brave film.

It was in India that the screening of Anand Patwardhan’s War and Peace was banned. Take a look at the progress – Karan Johar (a mainstream  family-drama film making director) makes a film about religious profiling.  I think that is great news. Just as Obama becoming president – sure Obama hasn’t done as much as he could about de-nuking the world and Karan didn’t make a perfect film. Does that mean we should turn away from the progress? I don’t think so.

Monopolizing TED

This post is an opinion. It is important that I state this upfront given the probability that its likely to be taken badly. This post is an opinion. Re-Stated. Opinion. Period.

Lately, I’ve become a big fan of saying things ‘upfront’ along with becoming a fan of ‘staying in the loop’, ‘re-defining impact’, ‘being on the same page’ and the like, but all that is a story for a different day.

TEDIndia is happening. TED has been ‘happening’, in a better way – for longer. Years ago, when TED found me – I spent several days downloading mp4 (s) to my Ipod. Qualitatively, what made the videos/talks different, was the fact that they celebrated the ‘small fry’, voices that haven’t been heard before.

Now take a look at the TEDIndia’s speakers list.

If you work with development in India – almost all those names are familiar to you. Where are the new ideas? Where is the innovation? A huge percentage of the potential speakers represent the ‘social enterprise’ space, there are also the ‘microfinance guys’, the ‘development economists’ and all then some more.

Some of these guys have done great work in the past. They’ve shaped the development space into what it currently is. They’ve also run out of ideas. Not to mention the ‘legendary-ness” of Usha Uthup.

Clearly, many of these people are established ‘greats’ with good reason. They’re excellent speakers and ,yes, maybe those of in this niche ‘development’ sector do know them – but this is about Global Recognition (with G and R in CAPITALS).

I beg to differ – clearly this is about fund raising and hobnobbing. Nothing wrong with that, just state it upfront.

So here’s my quibble — the idea was for TED bring ‘inspired’ thinking to the rest of us. On this front, TEDIndia – well you’ve failed me.

PS: This post, of course, has nothing to do with the fact that boss(es) are also on the speakers list. 😛