Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Aa Bail...

Will the big politicians currently in lock up get bail? They ask us - with pictures that paint colours of misery and words that would make you think that they were arrested for no fault of theirs except that they somehow, unknowingly ended swindling the exchequers by a few hundred crores wilfully. Will they get bail, the media asks us?

The banks will get bailed out, because they have far too much money. As I read recently, some of the banks are "too big to fail." Whether that bail out will save my deposit is a different point altogether. If you are a smaller bank, tough luck, sc*** you. If there are no banks, who will give the sops to all the sectors that the politicians want them to be given?

Blue collar industries will get bailed out, because they provide jobs. And if they go belly up, the funding to the politicians will stop. And if there is no industry, where will they give quotas to?

Airline industry jobs got saved because some politician went and threatened them which resulted in a conscience attack. They even got a credit deferral for fuel.

Agriculture will get bailed out, even for rich, super rich farmers.

Politicians, criminals will all get bail.

I have not seen anybody root for the IT industry. Deve Gowda? Farmers have champions, will P Sainath bat for the IT industry when the IT industry commits suicide?

In the midst of all this bail out bail out brouhaha, I am left wondering, will anybody bail people like me - the common man out?

Nobody bailed us out when oil touched 120$ and then some - even as petrol costs go through the roof.

Nobody bailed us out when vegetable and food prices shot through the roof.

Nobody offered us a loan, soft or otherwise...

Previously on the woes of the salaried class...

Monday, November 07, 2011

On Honesty

Here is a question I ask of people. If you led a team (either as part of your own enterprise or as part of your job), would you let you someone who reports to you steal? Cheat? Swindle your customers? Con your
stakeholders?

The answer I have always got is a clear no. The logic is that they are honest and they expect people who work with them to be equally honest. The honest people that they are, they cannot stand dishonest people who want to take a a cut out of every thing that their firm does.

And then I gently veer the conversation to our current leadership in the government and I ask. So, tell me, what sort of an honest leader would allow their "reportees" to loot hundreds and thousands of crores under known and unknown scams? Not only are they let go scotfree, they are often resurrected in fancy posts.

Clearly, if you are an honest person, you would not allow the dishonest to thrive under you - as your own personal example shows. Therefore, there is only one option left - that the leaders are dishonest?

Wait, there is another option, they say. "Perhaps they were not aware."

Maybe there is a possibility that leaders are not aware of what goes on under them. But then I ask, "Would you be aware of any such things in your organization? And if you gave the same excuse, would your organization buy it?" No way - I would be fired, they say. That seems to answer that question.

And second, if someone brought it to your notice what would you do? I would fire them they say and ensure that they are given a bad report so that no other organization would hire them. Exactly I say, unlike what
is happening today where the corrupt are resurrected in free for all posts.

Think about your own example, the next time you think about honesty in public posts...

Sunday, November 06, 2011

The Legend of Shikandi

The only form of leadership that man has recognized and appreciated is the leadership of fighting from the front and leading from the front. Leading from the back or backseat driving has never had too much appeal throughout history. The legend of Shikandi is a case in point. According to this legend, Arjuna hid behind Shikandi to kill Bheeshma. In order to defeat the Kaurvas, defeating Bheeshma was essential and he being invincible - the only way to do it was deceit. Shikandi came in handy - he was the face while all the action happened behind.

It is no wonder then that there is no legend of Shikandi - being a "Shikandi" is generally seen as distasteful, cowardly and then some (garnish with your choice of adjectives).

For the very same reason, the people whose leadership we appreciate - Churchill, Gandhi, Mandela - for example, are all people who have led from the front. These are real leaders - leader who have never shied away from leading and making a public appearance and not leading from their hideouts.

In todays day and age, we have our own share of Shikandi and legends. While what they gain out of being in such a of Shikandi is not known - the original Shikandi had personal vendetta. Thus, atleast in the original Shikandis case, it was evident why he wanted to be what he was.

Well, today we firmly believe that Shikandi was a great leader...and who knows, in a future day and age, we may very well anoint him with more decorations...

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Building castles with the sky

No, that is not a typo - while others build castles in the sky, we are now building castles with the sky. This is about Aakash - the tablet aptly named after the blue sky - which will go down as a dud.

The problem with offering tablet PC's and laptops to a population already underserviced in terms of education opportunity or power is the utility.

Many years back, a newspaper in Mumbai had a 100 page issue as part of some anniversary celebration or something. Needless to say, vendors thought it was smarter to sell it directly as used paper rather than go through the trouble of having to sell it. Why? Because the cost and effort of carting it around was not worth the trouble of the commission it would offer them.

Ditto with laptops and tablets. The immediate utility of something like that is not that high as much as the immediate utility of the cash that the beneficiaries might get by selling them.

Imagine that you live in a slum. Now with the pathetic electricity supply you have, you have to manage a laptop or a tablet. And as it is in a slum,the risk of something being stolen is quite high - either by a drunkard relative or someone else. If the risk for stealing is low, then surely there are demands for money from everybody concerned - in which case, it is smarter to sell the damn thing for some immediate cash. And then to top it, you perhaps go to a school where the teachers is more absent than present. And while you do so, you have to lug around a laptop or tablet on your back. Overall, if you ask me, a losing proposition. Unless I plan to use the battery to power the monitor to light up the house during a load shedding in the evening hours!

You get the point. My smallish brain tells me that it is a waste of time and taxpayers money. The only people happy with this are the manufacturers and the supply chain who will probably laugh all the way to the bank. And then again, some of those who manage to get a good price on the damn thing may also be happy with it.

On the other hand - giving bicycles to schoolchildren might have a totally different effect...

Fly by Yourself

First we took the cat out of the bag - actually it was a assembly set for a wind up plane - the kind you get in a Hobby ideas store. I have always been sceptical of something that claims it can fly - but then this time, I gave into curiosity and picked it up.

And here were on a holiday morning trying to assemble it. Two curious pairs of eyes were looking as we opened the box, laid out the components and spread out the instruction sheet. One was pounding me with ideas and giving me suggestions even as I was trying to get it right. "Will it do this", "Will it do that" he asked. "Hey, the pack says, it can do a hover and come back to your hand" And here I was trying to get the plane
assembled right, without breaking any of the rather flimsy looking parts.

Finally, the assembly happened. The first trial flight was a miserable one with the plane not even taking off. A few more winds (about 200 of them) and tried - no change - the damn thing would not take off. Disappointment on the little faces around was perceptible. And then, one more shot of winding it and throwing it the air (who knows, it may not take off, but glide through the air on its own power) - and it flew very
well. The tiny, flimsy aeroplane that will go down in history as our first flying model flew.

And then he said, "I want to do it myself". "But how will I count to two hundred and keep winding? I seem to lose count"

"Keep winding till it looks like noodles and then it will all knot up"

And then I get a call in the afternoon, "Appa, I managed to fly all by myself..."

Yup, someday you will fly all by yourself...

(Postscript: The story is about a year old. The damn model broke after a few tries and the customer service experience after that from Pidilite/Hobby Ideas has been extremely pathetic - despite multiple conversations and visits to stores. I finally gave up on it after a few months. So, my advice to anybody reading this post is - dont buy those models - they are too fragile and are a waste of your money. You will spend more time consoling your child after the model is broken and irrecoverable than the momentary enjoyment of the flight!)

Kerala thoughts

I visited Kerala recently - my association with Kerala goes a few decades back and it happens to be my native place too.

I recall my dad saying sometime in the 80s, that the single lane road to the village road was exactly the same in the 50s, when he went to school. And this is the second decade of the 21st century - that road is exactly the same. And that road is no exception, the situation is the same in most parts of Kerala - the roads are as bad they have always been.

Over the past 30 years, like much of India, traffic and prosperity of this money order economy have increased steadily. As the rupee fell and the population going outside for work rose, money has come in at a steady tick. And Kerala has steadily lapped up all the new car models and smothered itself in ever more copious quantities of gold and other precious metals. The real estate boom which the country saw has had its effect in Kerala too - once agricultural land has given way to gated communities and posh sea and lake and river facing apartments. Land value has gone up multiple times. A small amount of IT companies have finally found an opening in the IT park in Trivandrum, but that really is about the only industry that has opened in the state in recent times. There are other jobs that the literate locals do not want to do and that gap is being hungrily fed by immigration from other parts of India. So, while Kerala exports manual labour (or plumbers, fitters etc. among others) to Gelf countries, it imports manual labour from other states of India - read Hindi speaking states. (For the first ever time in my life, I saw a bus board in Hindi in Kerala.) What tensions (communal and otherwise) this will cause remains to be seen.

A generation ago, my relatives worked in banks and other state owned enterprises and a few of them worked in colleges and found jobs in the handful of private enterprises. Their next generation has precious little chance of getting any job in Kerala - since our state owned enterprises are in no great shape and there are hardly other jobs available unless one counts attendants in gold souks and mobile phone stores. Software jobs are happening, but are really, too few to count as compared to any of the other 4 Southern states.

The point that I am trying to make, is that one on the one hand, because of the money order economy, the states people have made themselves prosperous while the state itself has had little or no role to play in it and that the state remains in as pitiable a condition as ever. The swanky houses hide the bad power and infrastructure situation. They have their gensets and inverters. The cool cars hide the bad roads.

Infrastructure is poor. The single lane roads are killers - especially with the new vehicles on it. Why could the state not acquire land to build better roads and railways? While land has been acquired by private entities to build swanky apartments, the government has not found itself able to acquire land for enterprises. Private entrepreneurship has found sources of labour from outside the state. But the government has not been able to reduce the grip of unions - in this state which has a strike every couple of weeks. So, the service industry which could naturally fit in this semi urbanized state with its high education levels is still struggling to find its feet.

KSRTC still runs old broken down buses and is unable to churn a profit, while the KSRTC of neighbouring Karnataka has taken great strides forward. The irony is not lost on the fact that Kerala with its transport services has not been able to tap into the thousands of tourists that pour into the state while neighbouring states have. Infact private operators in Kerala are doing very well. Tourism will suffer on account of bad infrastructure. As it is, it is horrendously expensive for most people to set foot in Kerala (Singapore and SriLanka compare favourably). Given the lack of facilities and the zooming cost associated with it, Gods own country could very well remain a slogan.

The Sabarimala pilgrimage contributes crores to Keralas economy - yet the temple surroundings, roads and facilities around it remain in pitiable condition. These pilgrims of course, are another type of tourists who contribute to fill Keralas coffers, but their condition remains despicable, as this years tragedy (now lost in public memory) shows.

Thirdly, Islamic fundamentalism is rapidly gaining ground in many parts of Kerala. And the political parties are cosying up in bed with them.

Theres a lot more that can be covered, but all in all, in my view it is not a very rosy future for Kerala - the state once famous for 100% literacy and then as gods own country - might well become a basket case very soon. I may be more pessimistic than sanguine, but I would love to be proved wrong!