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Showing posts from 2007

Benazir

Benazir Bhutto is dead.

She has been shot dead [most probably] in Rawalpindi, the garrison town of Pakistan.

The world's leaders are shocked. They should not be - there was enough forewarning of this coming.

Nawaz Sharif said - this is a sad day for Pakistan. Good of him. Prez Musharraf so far said nothing. It happened under his watch, in his city. Probably he knew it all along anyway.

This is a sad day for Pakistan, indeed. But I fear - it is a sad day for the entire South Asia. May be, this will have an impact in shaping the world history. This makes the hopes of democracy and stability in Pakistan even more remote. This gives the madcap dictator Musharraf even more time. With a nuclear arsenal under his command, he is the most dangerous man in the world today.

So, jail for the Justice Chowdhury, and bullets for Benazir. Sharif possibly does not count as he will do a deal. The present American administration indeed has a Pakistan policy, which is working no better than its Iraq or Af…

2007

2007 is over, well, almost. We are left with a few more days. Those can still be the defining few more days. Something truely momentus can still happen, which defines the year - for me, for you or may even be for the world. But as Christmas sets in and offices close, my work-year is over and time for reflection has started.



So, how was it overall? For me, it was not a bad year. Remember, 2006 was terrible for me, everything went wrong. It got better in 2007. Some wounds healed, some new grounds were broken. Professionally, a new opportunity opened up. Life became a lot less secure, but a lot more certain. A lot more fulfilling.



So, another year less to count, and one more to remember. Yes, I guess that's defining - I finally got old. My thoughts changed from aspirations to legacy, from profits to property. I thought about money, and realised how careless I have been so far. I regretted buying so many books and not one 'company paper' in my life. It showed me I am no entrepre…

Waiting for the recession

Holidays! For me, nothing changes though. No special visits, no special shopping agenda, not many social engagements. This is what the last two crazy years done to my social presence - I was never there, and so I was struck off from many lists. Pity! But there goes my first New Year resolution.

Anyway, it is fairly cold outside. Let's be honest - it is very cold. Colder than the last season, perhaps, though no one talks about these things with any certainty. It is breezy and cold, and I noticed black ice on Thursday afternoon. One of my colleagues explained to me that global warming is not just about warming, it is about making weathers more extreme. So, a warmer July and a colder February is what we are bracing for. Almighty God, why have we forgotten you?

The shops are busy. I took a lot longer than usual to buy some of those last minute gift items. I was expecting a lot less crowd, given the recent headlines about recession. Did I think that there were less number of shoppers tha…

Fashion Babylon

I am back from India - yes, yet again - and all ready for Christmas. The lovely weather is helping, the phones have become less busy and work hours less gruelling. Not shopped much this year - a bit down as my brother cancelled his visit to England rather last minute and since I have made no other plans, I am in for a rather boring christmas sitting at home. However, I recovered my reading habits, and made a pre-mature new year pledge not to lose it again.

What I just read is 'Fashion Babylon' - a story by Imogen Edward-Jones about a woman fashion designer based in London. Well, whatever the critics say about it, I found it engrossing - not just because I read it cover to cover in two days after such a long time. Not also because it has lots of stories, gossips, about the Fashion Industry and the assorted celebrities [I must admit that one take-away for me is a kinder view of Kate Moss], which probably is the reason lots of people will read it. I liked the human story, the entr…

Who wants to be a Fascist?

BudhdhadevBhattacharya, the Chief Minister of West Bengal, commented upon the recent violence of Nandigram - 'they have been paid back by their own coins' - commenting upon his party-workers' recent assault on Nandigram, an unremarkable village in West Bengal where an unique people's resistance movement to the Government's land acquisition took form. The resisting few had outside help - from an assortment of opposition parties and left-wing guerrillas - and they have fought for their corner. They managed to cut off the roads, and embarrassed and terrorised police, who managed to torture and fire upon innocent civilians in some cases. Then came the CPIM Cadres, armed and facilitated by the state machinery, while police stood by and in fact blocked everyone else from reaching the village. The Governor of the state lodged a protest, but CPIM created a huge ruckus on his comments. The cadres invaded Nandigram and flushed out the resistance - while scores of central sec…

The Reluctant Fundamentalist - A Review

I read this novel by Mohsin Hamid non-stop, over a few hours this Sunday. It is written in a witty, engaging, conversational style, telling the story of a Pakistani boy who studied in Princeton and worked for a highly esteemed financial services company, only to find himself at odds with America in the wake of the tension of India-Pakistan stand off after the attack on Indian Parliament, 9/11 and the tragic turn in his love life.

There is a lot to like this novel. It is easy to identify yourself with the central character, the ambitions, constraints and reservations very familiar. Its style is engaging, and wit, disarming. The novel contains a subtle description of life in Lahore, its oldness, its markets and its people. It depicts New York too, may be with less conviction, but with no less love.

However, it suffers from - in my view - one crucial drawback. Conviction. It remains difficult to fathom why Changiz - the central character - does what he does. There is a certain unreasonable…

Emergency in Pakistan

President Musharaf has made history by being the only Pakistani president in history to impose emergency twice. Lot of commentators say that the situation is alike Martial Law, which has been imposed on the country no less than five times in its sixty year history.

However, what’s interesting to me is what the President said in his TV speech – “I appeal to my critics – give us time! Your democracies have matured over centuries, but ours is a new one and needs time. We are making great progress, but it is necessary, from time to time, to correct the course.”

It is very similar to what a prominent Bangladeshi blogger wrote, in defending the martial law in Bangladesh: “Over the last thousand years, Bangalees have not had much autonomous democratic control of their destinies. We have been ruled during this time from Delhi or London or Islamabad. Even since 1971, our political leaders have often been autocratic leaders. So theoretically speaking we have had at best 15 years in the last 1500 …

Indian English

I visited an IELTS Training centre in Hyderabad today – Institute of Articulate Communication! Or, was it “Articulative (!) Communication”? Don’t remember, but this proves a point.

The point is – something new is happening to Indian English. Consider this: “The fast-growing, developing world uses the home as a sleeping bag and the office cubicle as a garden of courtship. Skin to skin is no sin, it helps to relax and truly pluralistic relationships are polygamous. Fidelity has many definitions and it is an insult to human heart when it is divided into categories in a reductionist manner.” I quoted that paragraph from India Today magazine’s round-table discussion on marriage and infidelity, and this is Dr. Harish Shetty, a psychiatrist.

Or, this – the anti-nuclear deal parties are ‘stone age obscurantist’ and pro ones are ‘stooges’ and ‘sell-out-ists’! Recently, in a business presentation, a very senior doctor was trying to impress my British associates by telling them that they can succe…

New India - Yet Again

I just finished my fourth trip to India in as many months, and now have this huge challenge on my plate - that of running a full-scale business in India.

Mythologies and emotions aside, this is surely a very daunting task. As I keep mentioning to my colleagues, paraphasing an observation about China - from outside, all one sees is the huge multiplier effect, x times the population, y times the size of middle class, number of people in the age group 18 - 30 larger than the whole population of Western Europe; but once you are in, it is actually a game of endless divisions - languages, states, religions, so on and so forth.

The popular British colonial view of India was summed up by Winston Churchill, when he observed that India is no more a country than the Equator. While this reflects more Edwardian delusion than historical reality, the diversity of India is undeniable, and plain to see even for Indians.

The key in operating in India, however, is in ability to see and operate with, to quo…

The Business in India - Finally Launched

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The English training business in India finally got launched - on the 28th September in Hyderabad. An interesting point in life for me - this took me three years of effort to get there. This meant bringing together people I have worked with for a while to make this project happen, and some of the new people I came across. For this launch, everyone came together - a happy occasion.

The idea was to create a multi-purpose learning centre with a core offer of English language training. The problem of English language training indeed is that it is difficult to build a medium to long term offering, which means that one needs new students to sign up every month or so to keep going. This is the other end of the scale of the education business, where you need students in annual cycles perhaps.

In India, a price-sensitive and highly competitive market for English Language training, it will be a challenge to establish a premium training centre. The business model will be a matter of negotiation and…

The Purpose of Education

C. is staying with us now, and she forced this discussion on us : Who would you call an ‘educated’ person? As one thing leads to other, the thought trail went further – what is the purpose of education anyway and how does it affect anyone individually and also a society as a whole.

Big questions, these. Also, one needs to be qualified to answer such questions. But there must be layman’s answer: A sort of a generalist view, which may not earn a Ph D, but something which can be understood and can be used to explain some of the maladies of lack of education.

When the question was asked, a Sanksrit sloka came to my mind, which says Education gives you humility, which leads to success, fame and money. A very concise statement on the purpose of education, but slightly dated perhaps. Humility is not COOL. It is OUT. Self-advertising is IN. It is a Brand You world, as Tom Peters will say. So, has the purpose of education changed?

But if you look at the process of education, and the format of it,…

Room to Read

I am now reading John Wood's Leaving Microsoft to Change The World and am hugely inspired by it.



This is a story of his leaving a cushy job in Microsoft in China, and setting up Room To Read. This tells the story of his encounter with school children in Nepal and promising to come back with books for their library, tapping in his hotmail contacts, and finally going on to set up Room to Read.



I must admit I am inspired, and I wish to do something similar in India. I can see what a revolutionary role free public libraries can play, and know about Andrew Carnegie and his project. While I set up the English Training business, I see this as a worthwhile project to get involved in.



There are t-s to cross, and i-s to be dotted. But I have now got started on this - setting up a chain of free reading rooms in India. I am talking to a few Rotary clubs, and intend to speak to Indian businessmen as I meet them.

Calcutta Moment

Don't blink, or you go under.



The policeman sleeps,

The eve teasers hang about -

The eve is trying apple juice in the corner shop.



Buses everywhere.

A queue forms in front of the ATM.

Another, in the panipuri shop nearby.



This is Ekdalia.

The corner of joy.

An eternal Calcutta moment frozen in a frame.

Keep Going

There are moments when you think,
Life's not worth living.
Either boring or compulsive,
All is tedious, and repulsive.

These are moments when you see
What we live for, is the key.
Money matters, but we know,
There are limits it can go.

So is love, or sex if you please,
Happiness appears more of a tease.
Friendships matter, but waver too,
No one lives just as you.

These are moments when you choose,
To keep going or cut loose.
All of us have habits to keep,
Even on board of a sinking ship.

So, keep going, keep going till you die,
Because you can't change, nor can I.
Head down, and throw up hands,
Or say, let us dig in sands.

Englishwala

So what do I do? When I get into a conversation, the question inevitably comes up.

I have noticed I try to answer this differently every time: 'I am a business man, setting up training business', 'I am in International Business Development and setting up a training business' and 'I am a training professional, setting up a training chain'. There may be another few variations but I don't recall it at this time.So, when I thought of getting used to one straight answer, this is what I arrived at - I am Englishwala, and my job is to set up a business of training English.

Yes, worldwide, and as my job title will say - India is included. I always wanted to do something worthwhile with my life. My Calcutta childhood did not show many possibilities, and my indifferent academic results did not inspire others to think of anything other than a standard office job for myself. So, I did - as destined - start off as a computer operator, gradually moving into customer facing…

My life is changing

I could not write the blog as often as I wished to in the last few months. This blog, Sunday Posts, was supposed to be about thoughts and ideas, and I suppose the hard, practical facet of life took precedence during this period. I was having a thinking holiday, which was refreshing, but one I can not afford for much longer.

My life is set to change now. I am taking over as the Overseas Development Director for a training and recruitment company this Friday, and will be straight onto the airport thereafter. This inevitably means even more pressured thinking and lot less time to write a blog.

I could have let the blog die. I did seriously consider that, and pledged to return to blog writing when I would have restored sanity and comfort in my life again. But, then, I had this flash of insight – first in many days – such a thing will never happen.

I realised that it is a much better idea to turn this blog into a daily diary, trivial in the context of my lofty goals, but alive. I realised my …

A Very British Affair

So, it seems BAE had paid Prince Bandar Bin Sultan, ex-Ambassador of Saudi Arabia to the United States, whose face and name became familiar to all of us in days following the 9/11, upto $120 million a year, in bribes.

Well, we knew that. That's not news. The Serious Fraud Office in UK wanted to investigate, but dropped the case after the Government stepped in. That's also old news.

What should make us pause and think, however, is what Tony Blair said in justifying why the investigations should be dropped.

He said that if the SFO investigation into BAE had not been dropped, it would have led to "the complete wreckage of a vital strategic relationship and the loss of thousands of British jobs".

Vital Strategic Relationship with a corrupt, repressive and undemocratic Saudi regime, one must note. Also, of course, protecting British jobs justify bribing and securing contracts under the table - for our comfort.

Strategic Relationship is more valuable for rule of law, it is okay…

India's Edsel Mistake

Reading through Simon Robinson's 'India Without the Slogans' in TIME, I could sense a danger for India : Edsel.

Well, Edsel as in Ford Edsel, one of the most famous examples of over-hyping, effectively advertising a product and raising expectations before the actual product completely failed to match expectations.

There is lot of talk on India now. Incredible India! As Robinson mentions, this years World Economic Forum meeting was replete with 'India Everywhere' advertising. India is moving up the chain : it is no longer hyphenated with Pakistan, implying its self-destructing conflict, but with China, underscoring its emerging economic might. Indian businessmen are on a global buying spree, Indian companies are hugely successful in IT, real estate prices are going through the roof, salaries are rising, there is a clear optimism in the air.

But, for all this, one wonders whether India is selling ahead of itself. Robinson talks about the age-old Indian problems of infra…

Alfred Chandler

Alfred Chandler passed away last month.

It's funny that I chose Alfred Chandler as my nickname on Second Life. Playfully, I wanted to be the business historian of the Second Life businesses :-)

However, having lived in the age of Internet, I am an worshipper of enterprise. For me, managers are outdated and out of touch, and completely incapable of leading because the environment is fluid and expectations are uncertain. For me, the entrepreneur is the hero.

Chandler had just the opposite view. For him, managers were real heros. They were the value creators. He saw it at the pinnacle of the industrial age. More importantly, he worked it out with Alfred Sloan and GM, which needed all of Sloan's efforts after living on the brink under William Durant's management by the seat of pants.

Chandler is also remembered for his contribution on strategy thinking. He is remembered for his studies of strategy and structure, which is ever more relevant today, when the companies need to reasses…

The Eleventh Force

Thomas Friedman can be rightly called the Cheerleader-in-Chief of Globalisation. His unending enthusiasm, coupled with his great capacity to observe only the sunny side of things, makes his books a kind of sugary-syrup, something that feels good and cheerful while it lasts.

Whatever my attitudes towards his books, here is something I wanted to add to one of his lists.

He lists - in his 'The World is Flat' - 10 great flattening forces of globalisation: namely, 1. Walls coming down [Berlin Wall]; 2. Connectivity [WWW]; 3. Work Flow Software; 4. Uploading [Open Source Software]; 5. Outsourcing; 6. Offshoring; 7. Supply Chaining; 8. Insourcing; 9. In-forming [Web Search]; 10. The Steroids [Digital, Mobile, Personal & Virtual].

I wanted to add another, the eleventh, English Language.

If it was commerce that led the first and the second wave of globalisation [Globalisation 2.0 as Friedman calls it], it is global communication and cultural infusion and uniformity will lead the next. …

The Morality of Profit

In most societies today, making profits are accepted as moral, if not especially praiseworthy. This was not as obvious as it appears today – people used to be embarrassed about making a profit not so long ago.

Crazy as it seems today, it is worth thinking why it was so.

Profits, as economists will put it, is the reward for risk-taking, for putting a business enterprise together in the pursuit of an objective. In this definition, remember, profits are not what it is commonly understood to be – the gross middle-line towards the bottom – but a figure net of entrepreneur’s earning [wages for his labour], dividends and interests on borrowed capital, and provisions for building and other physical assets [a sort of rent, offsetting what these assets could have earned if leased out]. This pure profit – surplus – accrues to a business as a reward to its organisation, for the act of entrepreneurship itself.

Economists were divided on how this surplus comes about. The conventional wisdom was, as I …

A Thought for Today

I tried telling my friend – I have decided to change myself. She asked – what’s new? Point taken – I keep saying that.

But I did change. I am increasingly becoming a glass-half-empty kind of a person. I sure was not this kind earlier. I am, after all, a salesman. Someone, who lives to believe in future, should not see anything but the half-full portion of the glass. Some salesmen go even further – they see only half the glass!

I am sure getting old. Becoming a grumpy old man! But I promised never to get old. So, my bitterness can’t be on account of my getting old. I am growing old because I am feeling bitter.

But am I really bitter? Well, that’s a theory my friend believes in. Well, I have started thinking of late, may be for the first time in my life. And, I am amused with a lot of things these days. Like, all this talk of democracy; all the seriousness of the politicians; all the pompousness of modern businesses; all the pretence of intellectuals; the whole feeling that the world has a…

In search of optimism

So, when did Capitalism win its decisive victory? Well, if my weekly trash rag have to be believed, it happened some time between Ronald Reagan getting too old for B movies and George Bush deciding to spread democracy in Middle East.

This weekly rag is The Economist. I read this for last ten years - first because I loved its tone and optimism, then because it made me angry, and now because I have become an optimist by infection and waiting to see when the pundit editors of The Economist see reason.

Because, capitalism is not winning. Well, I dont want to appear a scarecrow, frustrated about life and bitter about everything. I want to believe in a glorious future of continuous prosperity. I am a believer, of man's ability to dream, create and deliver. As my boss - an house-owner and therefore an optimist - was recounting that doomsday predictions from the 1970s did not materialise, and people are indeed better off, I wanted to believe him.

However, capitalism is not winning. It is a g…

Good Reads

I came across this site www.goodreads.com - a site for people who read books and love to talk about them.

Great idea - latest in the social networking space - and I signed up immediately. Not only that, I sent out an invitation to almost everyone on my Google Address Book who read books.

Well, the idea may not work. It may turn out to be too tedious, as I felt while going through it, too much to write. Also, dont know whether people who read and love books also love spending time on the net - increasingly it sure will, but we are talking now. I mean, whether this transformation will happen before the money runs out, as they say!

But a good idea remains a good idea, and smart thinking, guys! I shall keep spreading the word and invite other people to sign up.

Khartoum, Gordon and Gladstone

When Gordon Brown stood up to present his 11th budget, he did not miss the occassion to remind the MPs that only one man before him - Gladstone - had the distinction of presenting eleven budgets. In fact, Gladstone did 12, but by the time he was doing his 11th, he was already the Prime Minister.

His intended audience, of course, was Tony Blair, who is supposed to retire end of June, and hand over the No. 10 to Gordon Brown. It may be a fairly short lease, as things are not looking good for Labour, and Gordon Brown must inject some new ideas and thoughts to lift its fortunes. However, so far, it is not looking so good.

Take Iraq, for example. Brown has said little what he will do with Iraq. Withdrawing may quickly become as big a disaster as staying on. It seems that withdrawing now will cede space to Iran, at a juncture when they are increasingly defiant and becoming a real risk.

Or, fiscal policies for example. If Brown did anything new in his budget, it was playing with trivia, and thi…

Purpose

I had to learn, at different twists and turns in life, that everything must have a purpose. There is very little place in this crowded world, and among busy lives, for anything which does not have a purpose.

But, also I learnt in the journey, it is fairly easy to miss-read the purpose of things. Does Sun exist to warm up the earth, or keep it bound in an orbit? Or, less glamourously, is the business about making money or about making a difference? Do I exist to generate more carbon or to contribute?

The other issue about purpose is that it must change over time. Because the purpose is not inate in things, but it is what others, mostly people, find in it. Since societies and people change, the purpose of things must change.

I return to retail, as I must. For example, my grocer had a purpose to exist 20 years back - he was making available, under one roof, things that I needed to buy. That changed, since supermarkets invaded our lives. Sadly, the grocers still believe that they must exist…

Iran, Cricket and another week of madness

The last one has been a crazy week - one of confusion and pessimism. The optimist, there are a few of these still left, had nothing to show for his side this week, or so I think.

Let me recount the top events this week:

1. Violence in Iraq continued. A rocket launches near the site where UN Secy General was speaking, and Ba Ki Moon gives half-a-second TV representation of how the war in Iraq continues to unsettle the world. Iraq's Deputy PM gets hurt in a bomb blast, probably initiated by one his bodyguards. People die, more American soldiers go in, and the US Congress pushes for a timeline for troops withdrawal which Prez Bush promises to veto. Tellingly, the person who was seen bring down Saddam Hussein's statue 4 years earlier told the world media that the occupation has been worse than life under Saddam. A vietnam veteran told BBC that after the congress resolution, the war started sounded ominously like 'Nam. And, Prez Bush, clearly running out of ideas and time, said n…

New India/ Old India

There are stories I want to believe in. Stories of an emerging nation. Of human achievement, of dreams, of accomplishments of impossible tasks. Of confidence. Of being presented to the world, in its own terms.

Of India – that’s my country. Wherever I am in the world, whatever I do – it is etched in my face and my body. In my tongue, nested in my accent and programmed in the way I think. I share the pride, and bask in glory, of my resurgent nation.

At last, at last. This is the land of the plenty, which invited plunderers from around the world, and in the end, absorbed them in its identity. It is the land of the plural, which spoke in many voices and many languages, but in agreement. It is this nation, comatose for centuries, passive – which awakens up now and talks its own language.

So, supermarkets, superhighways and superscientists. Businessmen who talk about buying out the world. Politicians who bask in a new confidence, and look forward. Students who dream, professionals who swagger …

The Armenian Genocide

I write this as I watch a free DVD distributed in the TIME by Armenian Groups documenting the history of the genocide on Armenia by the Ottoman Turks.

The story is very familiar. A massacre by design, of innocent, unarmed population, while the world looked on. The supposedly modernising Young Turks turned monsters in the name of national interest. Imperial powers pursued self-interest - as the French Ambassador observed the primacy of business interests over human ones. And the Turkish Government - not unlike the Holocaust denials - denied that there was anything, to this day. And, very timely. HrantDink's blood has not dried yet. The debate on genocide denial is live and well, and currently weighing against Turkey in its discussions with EU. OrhanPamuk's Nobel Prize in literature contributed to the global awareness of the issue, and Turkey's, despite its modernisation, almost medieval stance regarding this. Not surprisingly, Pamuk is also considered to be under threat. There…

I Go Watch Big Brother then!

Britain is abuzz with Big Brother, and the treatment Shilpa Shetty is receiving from some of country's gossip-column celebrities. It is an ungainly, nasty affair. But it is not unusual. The word 'bitching' was not coined for nothing, and bullying and bad behaviour is the order of the day.

The things took a nasty turn as this became the fight of Shilpa versus the ladies of the house. And, yes, they were not nice at all. They could not pronounce Shilpa's name. This is commonplace though. It is usual for someone local not to be able to pronounce another person's alien name, though a reciprocal behaviour is considered to be offensive. It went to such extent Shilpa started getting called 'the Indian', and slowly this led to comments about Indians in general. Not surprisingly, a huge international row about racism ensued.


To me, racism is a non-issue. Well, unlike what people may be led to believe and say, it is there. And, let it be there. It allows some individua…

Bangladesh : Keep watching!

The world is watching Bangladesh.

Well, not true. The world has other things to watch. Celebrity Big Brother, for example. Or, something else. There is always a show on, aint it? Why would anyone bother about Bangladesh, a country of no significance?

I would say, we better watch. It is a country of 130 million people, poor, with a majority following islam, but democratic – so far! Not an usual thing. And, also, unlike other Islamic democracies, the Prime Ministership is not granted for life [or till retirement]. There is lively elections, free and fair by most counts, and the party in power has been thrown out in last two elections. Some achievement!

It is poor. It is corrupt. But don’t snigger! Think of another poor, corrupt country which is democratic, and you will realise what Bangladesh brings to table. The true test of democracy – how to make the system work at the ‘bottom of the pyramid’ – is being played out here.

I am not suggesting that it is perfect. There is a lot of vote buyin…

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