Archive for November, 2008|Monthly archive page

Consipracy theories

For all those channels that are throwing around the Pakistani angle with a claim of exclusivity, I have my own conspiracy theory.  It does not work out. Either I have been reading too many spy novels or the media (and probably the Government) are too naive but there are too many tell tale signs of faking.

Why did Ajmal Mohammad Amin Kasab allow himself to be captured? Fidayeens do not allow themselves to be captured.  Even if they are, they do not sing like a canary, eagerly dropping the name of Pakistan, the  Punjabi accent s easily giving them up as Pakistanis and references to training at the Mangla dam reservoir so eagerly. At least not so quickly!

What kind of a stupid briefing would these guys have received which did not tell them to dump all evidence about their origin before commencing the attack? This is S.O.P for any armed unit going into enemy territory. These guys come happily ashore carrying an entire clutter of electronics including a GPS that shows them leaving Karachi, Satellite phone in the boat,  SIM cards and mobile phones showing calls and contacts back to the LeT in Pakistan and Bangladesh, not to forget credit cards. To think that this Ajmal guy received instructions about changes in plan from his mission commander on a mobile phone is too unusual.  That too while carrying out his plan at CSTM? Why would they risk losing the mobile phone to the Indians unless they intended to do so?

The whole thing looks like a stupid, cheap red herring…all these evidences are deliberate plants to look like accidental discoveries. The guys were told to fight to death…but if captured, sing the song they were trained to sing.  All things are so easily leading to Pakistan and Bangladesh…as if some one out there deliberately wanted it.  

Ajmal reportedly had an answer to the query on their intention to retain the GPS and other communication stuff. Apparently they had planned to exit by the same route, i.e. by the sea after completing their mission. Now what kind of moron would expect to sail off uninterrupted after bumping off 5,000 civillians of a nation (the number of people Ajmal said they were to kill)? They should have known that it is a one way ticket and impossible to return.

I might be wrong eventually…but this easy peasy evidencing to Pakistan looks like someone planned it that way and we are falling for it. Someone wants  India and Pakistan to go into war? Who?

Each to its Exclusive

The Mumbai thing is over for the goons and the commandos. The rest of the circus takes over. Patil’s head rolls, Chidambaram is in (for whatever reasons best known to the lady and her faithful PM), Laloo makes statements that Patil should have gone long ago (as if he had been suggesting it like a faithful coalition partner all this time), Sonia is livid with her cronies, Vilasrao Deshmukh does his rounds of the Taj and God only knows why Ram Gopal Verma was with him then.

These are the tangy spices that the vultures have served us post the tragedy – all in an hour of my TV news channel surfing.  Each channel had an exclusive, a word that I am hearing more prominently across the channels than anything else. One did its rounds of conspiracy theories and the Paki connection as an exclusive as if it had personally interrogated the captured terrorist. Then again there were these bunch of news channels that took the tried and tested line of the “resilience and undying spirit of Mumbaikars”. This is a line that Barkha Dutt had already trashed a couple of days earlier on behalf of NDTV’s differentiation strategy (NDTV were the main subscribers to the ‘spirit of Mumbai’ line during coverage of earlier incidents involving Mumbai). And yes, the all favorite, best selling, never out of flavor, easy to use politician bashing. With likes of Shobha De (where is Mahesh Bhat?) being interviewed, this thing sits up there with all the masala next to the soap operas in never ending sagacity. There was this channel that did not spare even a poor bereaving father.  It took the cameras and pokey news guys right into the compound of Late Major Unnikrishnan’s home where his father was seen snubbing the visiting Kerala CM and Home Minister rather harshly.

One thing my brother kept pointing out to me is the difference between the likes of CNN and BBC and the Indian news channels. Not only were there telling differences in the styles of commentary, visuals and approach but also in music. For some reason, Indian news channels subscribe to the notion that Indians will die of asphyxiation without music. Like tomato sauce, music goes into everything an Indian consumes. Even news. They may be alien to the Indian mindset but these foreign channels are more solemn and dignified in their reporting. The Indian channels simply resemble prime time American crime reporting TV. They even panned the Bollywood fraternity viewpoint on the incident. Like we were dying to know what our tinsel duds thought of this whole thing. Some things earn the sobriquet ‘ubiquitous’. Like Bollywood people dressed in all white whenever anything happens in Mumbai and all those people lighting candles for every tragedy. The worst part is not they doing it but the TV channels converting it into an icon.

I might come across as insensitive to the whole tragedy. Well that is how I feel. Even the most seasoned mind would not feel the pain of a tragedy unless it experiences one itself. I have had my own concerns for the past week, as I had to abandon my home and seek refuge at someone else’s place to escape the wrath of the floods following the cyclone Nisha. I am still a refuge as I type this. During my ordeal have seen things that the rest of the country has not seen and that formed a sharp contrast to the whole drama on TV that I was subjected to on the weekend. I will come back to this point later but firstly, I find the whole candle lighting to remember and mourn the dead thing somewhat clichéd and contrived. Especially when it is done as a group thing in full view of national news channels.  To me mourning is not meant to be distributed. It is a prayer in one’s mind, a feeling in one’s heart and a subdued message in person to the bereaved.  For this very reason, I wish they leave Major Unnikrishnan’s father alone. Send him a card or a letter of condolence if you really feel his loss but please do not show it full screen on TV multiple times or live telecast the postman who delivers it and catch the bereaved man’s reaction. Believe me…one day these channels would do this too!

This whole ‘jai jawan’ thing I have been seeing on TV is another thing I find hard to accept. To me, a soldier’s business is to fight…and live. Yes a dead soldier is a martyr, so offer a silent prayer to him and solemnly salute the living one. A soldier kills: something any soldier following orders would choose not to do given his own will. This overt and highly emotional celebration of a soldier’s victory is a sign of weakness. It is a tame acknowledgement of our own inability and reluctance to step into a soldier’s shoes and probably a feeling of relief that we need not do it. We shield these exact feelings beneath our boisterous cheers and emotional display of gratitude. For TV news channels, this is a TRP spinning masala that boring news does not provide. Show it repeatedly and the news channels are indoctrinating the people in the same way those fidayeens had been by their commanders.

Amidst this entire melee, one genuine politician and former Prime Minister passed away. The TRP hungry vultures chose to continue digging for exclusives in the Mumbai mess than spare a minute and remember the man who stood by his convictions. VP Singh stuck to his ideals than the seat on more than one occasion (Bofors, Income tax raids, the Mandal Commission implementation or the arrest of LK Advani)  It was Doordarshan that remembered the man, a channel that is now in control of a government formed chiefly by the very party that VP Singh was forced to quit. 

Finally, I find this whole “resilient spirit of Mumbaikars” ridiculous and too obvious. The single biggest TRP jump any channel would get is from the combined might of Mumbai or Delhi viewership. So with one carefully crafted phrase of flattery these channels easily grab the repeat viewership of the people of these cities. The laggard channels simply adopt this line too as “me too”. I care a dick for Mumbaikar, Delhiwala or Hyderabadi resilience or spirit. I care a dick for Chennaiite’s resilience too. There is no such thing at all. I bet most of them would only be too eager to get out of their sorry homes and continue enjoying their lives than have any real feelings the tragedy. Life is short…getting the best of it – that is what the average man really cares for. Like many things in this country, 24-hour  news channels too are for the haves, of the haves and by the haves. They cater to the haves and seek approval of the haves. So they speak of the resilient spirit of the haves and show it by panning someone like those candle burners! Frankly we have no frigging idea what human spirit or resilience means. These news channels have not begun to dig it even. 

Something wrong with the world today…

 Something wrong with the world today
I don’t know what it is
Something’s wrong with our eyes
We’re seeing things in a different way
And God knows it ain’t His
It sure ain’t no surprise
Yeah!
We’re livin’ on the edge…

 I used to get a kick watching the video of this Aerosmith song (Livin on the Edge).  Especially the scene where lead guitarist Joe Perry is playing a lead guitar solo in front of an oncoming train. The lyrics play out today as the week culminates with all its events. Mumbai, Chennai and the world…something is wrong.

It is an end to a busy week at work fighting a mutually unacknowledged war. A silent battle against possible events of a bad world economy rendered vulnerable by the bad policies of some influential governments that had no time or foresight for economic stability. We were fighting against time and our own sagacity and resourcefulness to keep our heads afloat and protect our workforce from the ignominy of the pink slip. Despite the reassurances by our prime minister and finance minister, we cannot escape the flutter of the butterfly’s wings. The flutter caused by one nation’s failure to control events has generated a ripple that hit other nations like big waves. The thread of bread as I put it goes long. In my industry one man’s desktop data advantage is another’s bread for the day. It stretches from US to Chennai. From Chennai to God knows where. The chain goes on. I am a client to one and a vendor to the other. I do not go down the chute alone. I drag people along with me.  And I get dragged by others.

THE WATERS AIN’T SAFE ANYMORE

For those outside Chennai, this would automatically refer to the audacity with which a bunch of fidayeens came ashore at Mumbai and ran amok with ammunition. For those in Chennai, you should add cyclone ‘Nisha’ and its deeds that went unnoticed to the world in general thanks to some gun-toting idiots. The cyclone brought with it a rainfall that was unusual in both volume and timing. The ripple of butterfly’s wings elsewhere is causing changes in the weather pattern in the Bay of Bengal that is causing cyclones at odd times and devastating effects. Entire standing crops of rice have been rendered waste and the ripple continues to roll ahead with possible food scarcity, loss of livelihood, price-rise and all the socio economic ills. The cyclone that was brewing up for quite long came and stayed for long, discharging a ridiculous amount of water all over the city and the state. The result was a huge waterlog all over that caused life to stand still in Chennai. Roads became rivers that drowned cars and buses. The authorities switched off power supply to prevent electrocution. Shops closed, water supply ceased and people were imprisoned in their own homes without help and support. Imagine the plight of the poor in shacks and huts or shanties by the road. I wonder what happened to them and where did they all go. What will the farmers do whose crops are all gone? This was not the first time for Chennai. It was the third one in the last 4 years of my life in Chennai.

As for Mumbai, I have no idea what to say. Thanks to the house arrest by Nisha, I have had no TV at home. I am sure the Barkhas, Prannoys and Arnabs have said a lot with their exclusives and in-your-face commentary. I have nothing to offer in this regard.

The capitalist world never reveals its excesses but the unchecked freedom that the capitalist governments gave banks and financial institutions caused them to act recklessly and fall big, taking down whoever was associated with them.

The same capitalists’ refusal to pare down their own excesses with respect to environment is causing the ripples in the environment. The ripples (that a few of us care to think about and term it as climate change and global warming) are slowly turning waves of change that are materializing into things like untimely cyclones in Bay of Bengal. It is a grim situation for a nation like Maldives whose newly elected leader’s primary task is to find his people a new nation because the existing one is going down into the sea thanks to the rising sea levels at the equator caused by melting ice at the polar caps which are being subjected to heat from the oceans that are warming thanks to the persistently growing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that is causing the trapping heat from solar radiation within the atmosphere.

Well I might be wrong in describing this scientific chain of events but in a bigger sense, I am worried about the inter-links and technical advancements we have so eagerly built all these years. They are of no use when it comes to sustaining life. We celebrate global inter-connectivity and technology convergences but it was not my cell phone with, GPS and internet that connected me to the rest of the world in the time of crisis (when I was trapped at home thanks to the flood). It was the lowly landline phone that people hardly use these days that helped me reach out to my family and friends. The cell phone’s battery did not last long enough in the blackout.

We have come out of the old economic ways to inter connect using technology without homogenizing our disparate economies. We have entangled demand and supply forces far too much to cause a global meltdown with just one event.

The Mumbai terrorist attack is the result of poor interlinks. Our ideologies, political motives and insecurities often fuelled by economic needs have led us to the political posturing that rubs off wrongly on some. We’re seeing things in a different way and God knows it ain’t His. Yes it is not God’s but our own excesses as human beings that led us to the incidents of “26/11”. Our inability to live together in a connected world. Our inability to read and understand each other’s minds, our reluctance to let go things that do not have any value, our lack of faith on others with respect to our own faith. Those who caused the carnage are but a bunch of brainwashed idiots. The ones who sent them to this ‘glorious death’ are manipulated by the machinations of their superiors who in turn are manipulated by someone else. The chain goes on and covers everyone. Even Osama Bin Laden is influenced. In the olden days, you either knew the truth  or were ignorant. In the modern world, you have television and live media. Between them, truth changed. It is now the lie that is believed until it is altered.

We are living on the edge.  We are playing our guitars while the speeding train is approaching behind our back. Our ways of life and times have changed. We have rubbed off a lot of insularity from ourselves and have altered things so much that it is hitting us back. A time for introspection. A time for a new global spiritual consciousness.

Power words – I

A power breakfast is a meeting of influential people to conduct business while eating breakfast. It is made to sound something like an elite class thing. The dhobi and watchman of my building do that everyday…eat breakfast together and conduct business. They are influential as they carry the neighborhood gossip and can pull a few strings to get things done. A power tie is one that has a striking colour, pattern and style that makes the wearer stand out or grab eyeballs. Then there is this power nap thing that is a short sleep meant to kill drowsiness. Phrases that are prefixed with the word power amuse me. The word adds weight to anything. Creates a sense of importance. In a sense, they render anything else as mediocre.

n the past few days, I was making a mental note of some corporate jargon being thrown around at my workplace. Words and phrases I would term as ‘power words’. These are utterances that separate you from the usual chaff.  Words that imply your command and control over matters and words that qualify you as a ‘power executive’.  Everyone seem to be catching up with these. I am no exception although I do not like to ‘jargonate’ everything . Presented here is the jargon of my workplace. They are in no specific order. Add yours to the list:

ASAP: I find it funny when they actually pronounce it like a word (A-sap). But it sounds more friendly, trendy and slick than ‘as early as possible’. Only bosses use this to magnify their own sense of importance (including me) over their subordinates, ” Need this asap. Just put everything else on hold”

Buy-In: A trendy sexy phrase I would say. A single word to define agreement, participation, commitment or approval. Buy in means your commitment to the success of something whose failure means your backside is as much on the line.

Basically: Now, basically everybody uses this prop word because someone before them used it and it caught on. It is a disease that germinated in those Tier 2 and 3 B schools where everybody tackled the common problem of communication skills. The word is supposedly used to introduce a simplified explanation containing only the most essential point. In real life, it is hardly used that way. It is mostly a meaningless filler to buy time to think up more things to say. Mostly used by people who have no clue about making an effective start to a sentence. They are dogged by self doubt and insecurity.  This is not typical corporate jargon but a lot of people use it to start a sentence more so because it just clung on to them. Best avoided!

“Sort of…”:   We all love to hear ourselves sound American without having the slightest idea that we are nowhere near being American with phrases like “sort of”. Pronounced as “sod off”, it conveys a picture with no detail and is a useful phrase to use when you are not sure about something and yet wish to reply to a query.

Recall value: No idea why are they using this ad world phrase but sounds uber when used, especially with a sophisticated gesticulation of the hand to aid the visualization.

Sign off:  Approval sounds too pubic sector I guess but sign off also means that the boss or senior honcho blesses your initiative and it is your baby now. Implementation teams use it a lot (probably to highlight their own exclusivity from the rank and file structures that operations teams bear)

Put together:   Not exactly a corporate phrase but when your boss calls you at night and asks you to “put together a few slides ASAP” on something he wants to present in the morning, you cannot escape the feeling of being fobbed off. A more sophsiticated phrase for the word “make”. Also conveys a boss’ apparent lack of idea on how something can be done and so pushes it down to someone to figure it out.

Solutioning: Ah yes…effective corporate communication depends on verbing the noun.  Heard my boss use this the other day. Don’t know if the other person was impressed but I was. It is uber cool to pull out fresh verbed nouns to power push an otherwise mundane thing. So testing becomes solutioning.

Disconnect: It works the other way too. Noun the verb. I first heard this word in 2004 just a few days after I joined this company. It was a kind of a power enclave one afternoon led by the hyper enthusiastic CEO and his team of young managers. The enclave was meant to “tackle operational roadblocks and generate fresh ideas”. I was the new one in and hence invited to witness the ‘method to the madness’ and ingrain the ‘work culture’. There was this super cool Tamil ‘enthu cutlet’ with a super cool American accent who spoke all things cool. I could not make a dick out of what he spoke all afternoon but picked up this neat little word that means lack of coordination. “Disconnect between implementation and operations can be addressed with a templated solution….” Ho hum!

Process Mapping: A phrase for non technical people to sound impressive and knowledgeable about processes. Again implementation teams use this to display their apparent control over elements. In reality, it is a silly exercise of using elaborate icons and diagrams to depict a process on a powerpoint slide, something a reasonably good engineer just creates in his mind.

Documentation: It used to be ‘paperwork’ before. But new word covers everything that paperwork covers and also anything that gives people like me an opportunity to show our usefeulness by wasting time typing out things on MS Word and converting it into a pdf document.

Reports: Again a trendy, efficient word. No I am not talking about meaningless MIS. That is not trendy. But reports here mean people reporting to you. “How many direct reports do you have” would mean how many people are directly reporting to you. As I stated earlier, it is equally trendy to noun the verb.

Key Learnings/takeways:  From womb to tomb, man is always learning. Any exercise always has key learnings. Even boring workshops on people management or knowledge management. Every failure has a lesson and is a learning. Also if anyone with a white skin says anything and as long as he or she is on the customer side, there is always a key learning or we would create some and impress the hell out of them whites by bulleting the key learnings. Takeaways is more trendy. Useful stuff from a generally boring event, speech or workshop. ‘Basically’, nobody cares but we always close events by bulleting key learnings from it to acklnowledge the usefulness of the event.

I guess these will do for Session 1. More to come

Getting all chocolatey

For two weeks now, my life was all chocolaty…at work. My team of researchers and I have been doing in depth study of chocolate markets (those reading my Facebook status messages would get the idea).   I read quite a few facts about it everytime I looked up an online chocolate resource. Like, dark chocolates are increasingly becoming the preferred confection in Europe, Asia and Australia. Or that Holland processes 40% of all cocoa produced in the world. The annual per capita consumption of chocolate in Switzerland is 12kg compared to 4kg in Holland and just 400 grams in India!

The Aztecs did not have a Van Houten press to separate cocoa butter from chocolate. Nor did they have the sugars. Instead they brewed their own cocoa drink with spices and peppers! They believed that cocoa  was an aphrodisiac and their king Montezuma always had some before entering his harem. What they did not know was that apart from the flavanoids and anti oxidants, chocolate also had opiods (also found in opium). Opiods dull any pain and generate a feeling of well being in the mind. Combined with phenylethylamine, sugars and caffeine present in chocolate , they increase blood circulation, increase heart beat and refresh the mind – the net effect is the same fuzzy wuzzy feeling of being in love.

The exposue to chocolate market was already doing some ‘chemical ka locha’ in my mind. So I decided to taste my own 400 grams worth – preferably dark chocolate that seemed to be capturing every connoisseur’s imagination these days.  I bought some on my way home from office and deposited it in my refrigerator and later promptly forgot about it. This morning I took out the big bar of Cadbury Bournville Dark Chocolate along with a can of Diet Pepsi. There wasn’t much to do on a Sunday morning except TV and emails as I munched on the bar and sipped the cola. A little later as i was watching TV my train of thoughts led to the conversation I had with my little nephew the previous day as we watched Spiderman on TV at my brother’s home. I felt like calling him and speaking to him. The train of thoughts led me to the memories of my pet and its puppies and how I played with them. I felt like going back in time and cuddling them all over again. It was then I realised that the chocolate was doing its work. Probably the caffeine in the Pepsi added to the rush of warm fuzzy wuzzies I was experiencing. The whole thing lasted a few minutes before I was back to listless channel surfing. So it works!

Chocolate may have long been associated with feminine romanticism but men are equally vulnerable to the feel good thing. Imagine how Montezuma would have felt when he saw his favourite queen in the harem! Dark chocolate is therefore a great way to beat depression. Psychiatrists should be prescribing it as a diet. You should have one before you meet your boss each morning. Probably it is the economic meltdown that is increasing the consumption of dark chocolate than its exclusivity. People are seeking a release from the gloom of these depressing times. But I never get this. With 12 Kg per capita annual consumption, why are the Swiss still a grumpy lot?

Diwali Lights!