Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Antha naal gnabakam ....

Memories of those days, goes the title of this post in Tamil. Alumni reunions are an American tradition. It was not very common in India, until recent years. You passed out of school and college - and that was that. You went your own way , kept in touch with a  few, lost touch with most and lived your own life.  Rarely did you return. But that trend is changing.

A week ago, the 1961 batch from Madras Medical College held their 50th year reunion. Everybody was 70 plus in age, obviously. Some 60 odd batchmates attended, it is reported. They came from far and wide. They went back to their old classrooms . They went back to their labs. They sang the songs of their days. Including this one (sorry its in Tamil) which was actually released in their year in college.  They ribbed their mates as they used to do so long ago. In short, they had a whale of a time.

What is it that attracts people to reunions. After all they have gone so far a distance that they may not even be able to relate to their school or college anymore. Even the closest buddy, who was a life mate in those days has changed so much that you can barely recognise him. So why the pull ??

The pull is because as you grow older, nostalgia becomes a more and more powerful emotion. Sure everything has changed beyond recognition, including you. But so what ? There is the magical pull of past memories that whitewashes the dirty and puts a golden hue on the ordinary. Yes, the school looks a bit shabby now. Yes the town looks a bit lost in the ages. But there is a special joy in revelling in the past. Talk about the carefree days of school (never mind that they hardly seemed carefree then). Talk longingly of the teachers (even though they caned you to fury). Talk to the girls, now women (you wouldn't be caught dead talking to a girl then). Wander about in your memories. Grasp a fleeting remembrance that was buried deep in the mind. Smile at the playground where you whiled away the years. Walk around with a silly smile on your face. And heave a deep sigh before returning back to the real world.

That's what awaits me for the next 2 days. I go to the 35th year reunion of my school batch. OMG ; how did the years fly by ?

Friday, 23 December 2011

The beginning of the end ?

It was a long time coming. In retrospect its actually surprising that the backlash is starting only now. The backlash against email, I mean. A few days ago Atos Origin, a French IT company, started the ball rolling by announcing that it would ban email in the company by 2014. Now Volkswagen unions have struck a deal with the company that emails to their unionised employees would be switched off after office hours.

This had to happen. E Mail addiction is an extremely serious epidemic as this blogger observed here. It is a global pandemic of epic proportions. Walk into any office or meeting - you would see rows and rows of people peering into their screens or thumbing away at their Blackberries. Eerie scenes more suited for George Orwell's 1984.

Its well known that more than half the emails you get are completely useless. And you get a LOT of emails. For some reason your genes are so programmed that you have to see each and every one of them 15 nanoseconds after they arrive. The greatest attraction to mankind, even more than a gorgeous topless woman, is a blinking light on the Blackberry. Social norms still hold you back from pawing at the aforesaid lady. Nothing in the world - not even an earthquake - can keep you from grabbing the Blackberry.

This is what most of us do in offices. Either tap out or read useless stuff 50% of the time. And for years now, it has extended out of the office into our homes. We do the same inane stuff in bed, in the car, even in the loo. Absolutely waste of our lives.

Email, when it arrived, dramatically increased office productivity. Now I am willing to bet (and some distinguished academic has no doubt done research on this) that it has actually lowered productivity back to pre email days.

Consider this. Would you think it appropriate to talk all the time in the office and at home ? Why then is it OK to be emailing all the time ?? Shut the $%#@ thing off and do some real work.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

A classy speech

Rahul Dravid, India's elder statesman of cricket, delivered the Bradman Oration at Canberra last week. If you want to hear a classy, graceful, charming, stylish speech, look no further. Class, grace, charm and style define the man and perhaps it is but natural, that his speech was all of that.  It is about cricket, of course, but even if you are not a cricket fan, listen to it if you have the time - this is how a speech should be made. Its 40 mts long, but I really wished it wouldn't end.


Rahul's speech follows in the lines of another classic speech - from Kumar Sangakkara of Sri Lanka, when  he delivered the Cowdrey lecture in July. Another gem, you can listen to here .

English oration is alive and well in the colonies, atleast in the sporting world !

Monday, 12 December 2011

One small step for Huawei, one giant leap for China

As is often the case, the seemingly trivial turns out to be a giant event. I suspect this is the case with Huawei's announcement, buried in the back pages of financial newspapers that it would no longer pursue new business in Iran. So what , you might ask.  Read on.

One of the fundamental principles in China is the total separation of politics  & economics. It has one of the freest of capitalist systems (at least for Chinese) and one of the most controlled of political systems. In foreign affairs, China has diligently pursued a policy of complete non interference in political matters. Its policy in Africa is unique in history. It is rapidly colonising economically, but scrupulously keeping away from interference in local politics. It will do business with anybody - God, Archangel Gabriel, Satan, Devil whoever, as long as there is business to be done. Before you denounce it, consider that there is some merit in this approach - the Chinese say political matters are for the citizens of that country to decide and it is not their place to make value judgements on them. In this, they are completely different from the European colonisers of the past.

The first chink I have come across in this policy is this announcement from Huawei. Huawei is a large supplier of telecoms equipment to Iran. These are undoubtedly used for espionage and suppression. Iran is a pariah for many nations - no American company can deal there. There has been constant criticism in the West of Chinese companies who do business there, but that's not unusual  - they are often criticised for doing business with the likes of Mugabe. So why has Huawei taken this clearly political step. Before you think that this is one company deciding and not China - perish the thought. No company in China decides on any sensitive matter without the go ahead from the government. For the first time, atleast as far as I know, China is saying politics might dictate economics in foreign affairs.

Is it finally true that economic clout cannot be divorced completely from politics.  As China's economic power grows bigger and bigger in the countries it is doing business with, it becomes harder and harder to stand aside and say it is not involved with local politics. This is exactly what happened to the East India Company, which started in exactly the same way. Maybe China is reaching the inflexion point. One breach like the Huawei action and the dam has to burst. Can the Chinese now deal with blood diamonds in the Congo, or keep away from selling arms to Mugabe, for very long ? As it gets drawn more and more into global politics, it will have profound implications for the world and China. The world because, it will alter the balance of political power inexorably. And for China because it is not good at doing this - diplomacy is not its strong point and it will have to learn.

That's why I think, its one small step for Huawei ..........

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Of adjectives that don't apply

What's common to beautiful, popular, controversial, helpful, successful, deserving and proud ? Besides being adjectives ? What's common is that they don't apply to this blog. Nothing here is beautiful, popular ......; you get the drift.

When you are tagged to apply those adjectives to your blog, you have to really scratch your head. Tagging used to be a rage three years ago when blogging itself was a rage. Blogging is now in a steep and precipitous decline. The ladies who started deeply intellectual tags that asked "What are you wearing" have all disappeared. Tags have naturally vanished. But Reflections, a star blogger started this tag and Preeti, a master blogger has tagged me with extremely affectionate words that have gone straight into my head. I was also tagged by a blogger I deeply respect and admire, and since she did me the honour of not linking my blog but simply saying incredibly kind words, I am doing so likewise. So I have force fitted the adjectives to my blog and in a fit of vanity, picked up the tag.

This is the tag

Rules:
1) Blogger is nominated to take part

2) Blogger publishes his/her 7 links on his/her blog – 1 link for each category.
The links are:
- Your most beautiful post
– Your most popular post
– Your most controversial post
– Your most helpful post
– A post whose success surprised you
– A post you feel didn’t get the attention it deserved
– The post that you are most proud of

3) Blogger nominates up to 5 more bloggers to take part.

4) These bloggers publish their 7 links and nominate another 5 more bloggers
5) And so it goes on! 


Unlike Preeti, who has taken posts from this year, I thought I would go back to 3 years ago when I started blogging and choose posts from the early days. From my first two months of blogging.

Beautiful post - A moving video . Not a real post, but simply a link. Nothing in a business blog can remotely be termed beautiful.
Popular Post - E Mail addiction. It got THIRTEEN comments (ha ha). Never mind that half of those were my own replies. But in the good old days when even one comment was a joy to behold, that seemed like out of the world.
Controversial Post - Leave the wives at home . You are forbidden from asking if I know the meaning of the word controversial.
Helpful - A (Power) Pointless world . If only many will "take my help".
Success surprised you - Subprime crisis in plain English - My first double digit comment post. You are again forbidden from asking if I know the meaning of the word "success"
Didn't get the attention it deserved - Its just not cricket . Got zero comments. Boo Hoo !
Post most proud of - Women in Indian business .  I truly believe this.

For once I will break my habit of not tagging others and actually tag 5 bloggers who have stopped blogging. They are lovely bloggers and we must respect their decision not to continue, but I can't resist harassing them - so to you The Thoughtful Train, Le Embrouille Blogeuer, Half Indian, Sri and the non sarkari Sardar - (he's even deleted his blog) - come back you lot. We really miss you.
By the way, in case you are wondering why all my linked posts have a rude exclamation mark instead of a photo, its probably Blogger telling me what it thought of them !!

Friday, 2 December 2011

Toothbrushes and mobile phones

There are more people in the world today who own a mobile phone than a toothbrush. This may startle you, but its true, at least according to 60secondmarketer.com. There are 4 bn mobile phone users in the world. The annual sales of toothbrushes is 3.5 bn.

This won't surprise you if you read the excellent book, Poor Economics, by Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo. My good friend Ravi, who often comments on this blog, very kindly gifted it to me and it makes fascinating reading.  It was named as the Financial Times Business book of the year. As the byline says, its a book about rethinking poverty and the ways to end it. The book destroys many myths about poverty and provides fascinating insights into the behaviour of the poor. Its no surprise then that they would rather own a mobile phone than a toothbrush.

One of the big insights is that things that make life less boring are a priority for the poor. The  quote from Oucha Mbarbk, a poor Moroccan villager sums it all up "Oh, but television is more important than food !" In country after country, the researchers have tried to analyse why the poor eat so little, and sometimes bad food, even when they have the money. Food spending is actually declining in a poor country like India. Its because food is not a priority !

Another fascinating area of research is health. The largest killer of children in world is actually diarrhea. Two cheap and easily available miracle drugs can save the 2 million children who die of diarrhea before their 5th birthday - chlorine bleach and a rehydration solution of salt and sugar. And yet many do not use it even when given free. They want an antibiotic or an intravenous drip. Prevention is frowned upon. An expensive cure, often in the hands of a quack is preferred. 

Another deep insight - poor are like hedge fund managers; they live with huge amounts of risk. They manage this by a typical hedging strategy - diversifying activities. A striking fact quoted from one survey - the median family had three working members and seven different occupations. And you would expect that in a high risk enviroment, insurance in some form or the other would be popular. Wrong. Nobody seems to want insurance.

The book is full of amazing tidbits of research. For example , in Kenya, one of the largest levers for ensuring prosperity for your child was actually giving her deworming tablets. Children who were given deworming tablets for 2 years instead of only 1 year earned 20% more every year for their entire lifetime !!

There is , of course, no silver bullet for eradicating poverty. You mustn't expect one from this book. But it offers many fascinating insights that would make anybody think again about poverty. I heartily recommend anybody with an interest in this subject to read this book.

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