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Showing posts from July, 2008

Workplace Ethics in India

I read news items on a new study on Workplace ethics in India. A staffing solutions company, Teamlease, has conducted the research in eight major Indian cities - Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Pune and Ahmedabad. This is a small scale research, based on 400 respondents or so, but the picture is quite revealing. For example, Kolkata scored well in terms of Integrity Scores and frowned upon most of the practises other cities will take on their strides, like using office phones to make personal calls. Ahmedabad came up the most lenient, with an integrity score of 21 against Kolkata's 76. No ranking is apparent from the stories I read, but interestingly Delhi's scores are not that bad [despite many stories one will hear about Delhi]; Mumbai predictably does well, and rather shockingly, Chennai workers report more workplace thefts than anyone else. There is not much to read in this report, and it will be unfair to draw conclusions from it. The scope of resear…

What I Want our English Training Business To Be..

It is that time, which inevitably must come in the lifetime of every entrepreneurial business, when one feels assured of the continuing survival of the business and faces decision time - whether to continue doing the same thing and stay within the zone 0f comfort, or to leap out to unknown, chasing a target that appears unattainable at the time. The business of Direct English in India has reached such a point: No one can deny the merit of sticking to the basics, protecting the margins and continue doing what we are doing, especially in the backdrop of the uncertainties in the global financial market and weakening business confidence. On the other hand, we are at a point where we have gained enough business knowledge and accumulated successes and failures, to be leveraged into a chain of learning centres across India - sitting still today will let this moment pass.



This is what made me set aside this afternoon to think what I want Direct English to be. The unusually hot last few days in…

Day 42 : Looking at Last Week

I really lost it last week.

The Home Office is taking its time, and they won't tell how much more I have to wait. Does not matter that this is just a Leave to Remain, and under the current rules, they will almost inevitably have to extend my leave. There is a bit of an indication on the Waiting Times page, but the language is so arcane that it is hard to make out what they are really doing.

I can't call it a delay, as I was told that the process can take up to 10 weeks, and I have just finished 6 weeks. However, this is frustrating, as my job primarily involves travelling and I have several urgent businesses to look after. The fact that Home Office expects a 10 week processing time reasonable for a Highly Skilled Migrant shows how little they understand what the Highly Skilled Migrants may be doing in the UK. Besides, the fact that the process is not transparent, you can't even have an expected date, adds to frustration. My big problem today is that not only I can't trav…

Day 34: Ambedkar's Warning and How Democracy Can Work

I am still reading India after Gandhi, despite the fact that I need to concentrate on the university coursework urgently. I have missed a deadline, but possibly I can excuse myself citing the extraordinary work that I had to do over last couple of weeks. I am intending to focus full time on that, but can't - as this book is telling me fascinating stories and providing me answers.

For example, as I read about Indian Republic's formative years, I can figure out why democracy worked in India while it failed in many Asian and African countries. I remember a friend and a fellow blogger arguing, in the backdrop of the political troubles in Bangladesh, that democracy will not work in Bangladesh as the people are not yet ready for it, and the country needs a period of enlightened dictatorship for a period of time. It did not sound right, and I did say so - but given the recent history of Bangladesh, such rationale was hard to refute.

I can draw two lessons from reading about the formati…

Day 33: Freedom Writers/ Our Change of Course

I saw one movie twice in two days. This must be counted as an achievement, specially for me, as I most certainly suffer from Attention Deficiency Disorder, and being able to see a movie twice end-to-end is surely exceptional. I would sometimes do that as I managed to see it only partially - as I have done recently for Lives of Others [which is a brilliant movie based in the erstwhile East Germany], and also seen National Treasure: The Book of Secrets some five times in two months [Did not have much choices on the Emirates Entertainment, the alternative would have been to watch The Independence Day!] - but this one I saw end to end, twice.

All of this started with Hillary Swank. She is surely one of my favourite actresses. She makes things come alive. I thought she looks a bit like Julia Roberts and that's why, but that's not at all true - she does not project JR'sfemininity or sexiness, and does not have any of her million-dollar smile. I found The Million Dollar Baby very …

Day 32: Thinking About Party Discipline

The Indian media is having a field day. The government is up for a trust vote next Tuesday, and the numbers are still not adding up. By the last count, they are falling short by about 15 votes, with about 19 fence sitters including 6 independents. In the past, minority governments were saved by India's infamous tenth schedule, or anti-defection law, which disqualifies MPs and make them lose their seat if they have voted against party lines. This time, with a general election round the corner anyway, no one is much bothered about this.

Except one party. CPIM. Yesterday, I was asked who I think would win. My almost instant answer was that whoever wins, I know CPIM would lose. They have got themselves in an unenviable position. If the government wins, they will be completely dumped and stand out as a party which does not know how to behave responsibly. If the government loses, they would force an early general election on the country, costing several million dollars, and almost invari…

Condoleezza Rice on Rethinking National Interest

A sweeping view of current American Foreign Policy is presented in Condoleezza Rice's essay in the current issue of Foreign Affairs magazine. In Rethinking National Interest, she sets the context of the US foreign policy against the backdrop of post-9/11, post-Iraq world. She starts with the usually accepted view - 9/11 was a watershed point in America's history as was Pearl Harbour - and then goes on to talk about America's foreign policy, which marries Realism [as in its imperfect relations with Russia and China] and idealism [the faith in democratic development, partnership with democratic countries etc].

It is an interesting read, though these views are well-publicized views of a celebrity politician. The tone - interestingly - is one of realism, and she even has kind words to say about Russia and Iran. The message is that America must strive to engage, and remain engaged, in the world and with similarly minded partners to build a world of peace and shared values. Soun…

Day 31: Reading About India

I am reading RamchandraGuha'sIndia After Gandhi. Unlike the scholarly histories, this one is very readable. This is also written very recently, which gives it a sort of familiar feel. It talks about how India's schoolbook histories end in 1947 [a fact Nandini disputed and claimed that history books in her school went beyond 1947, though she did not read that part!], and how we should look back to our history after 1947 with a sense of pride. Indeed, it is so easy to see the negatives in everything, to complain about what we did not achieve. However, the fact that we have built the world's largest democracy, the emergence of which no theory can plausibly explain, is something which we often overlook and never take pride in. Yes, it is imperfect, but so is every other country. But this isn't a reason why we should stop being proud of what we have achieved, and from whatever I read so far, I feel Mr. Guha's history is a timely, appropriate reminder.

There is this other…

Day 30: Preparing for a Recession

The inflation in UK has reached 3.8%, almost double the inflation target of Bank of England. The petrol and food prices, despite a few cyclical drops in the last couple of weeks, are showing no signs of weakening. At this rate, the inflation is bound to surge, especially when this is a worldwide phenomena and UK can not remain immune.

The Bank of England, as recently as last week, chose not to raise the base interest rate from 5%. This is because they fear an economic slowdown, which is already around the corner, would be accelerated if they did so. Their principal worry, of course, was the falling house prices, which has fallen about 10% from its peak last autumn, and are slated to go down even further. Besides, mortgage approval rates are down by more than 50% year on year, and these days, getting a good mortgage is akin to getting lottery in UK.

The problem, however, is that when the Bank is more concerned about House Prices than Food prices, it not only hits the poor people more tha…

Day 29: Indian Left Continues its journey to abyss

It is Monday and I got a strict schedule going as I planned. It did work - as I always suspected, I am a morning person and trying to get the maximum done in the morning always work for me. It did help that this was a quite day: Most of my colleagues in Northern Ireland were off work for the 12th of July holidays, which commemorate William of Orange's victory in the battle of Boyne. Of course, the nature of the celebration is very sectarian - it is the Protestants who won and Catholics lost and this unveiled a long period of Protestant rule and all that followed. I do think the Catholics resent it a bit, and clearly do not participate much, but these days, watch it for fun perhaps.

I did use this quiet day, however, to gather my thoughts. Clearly, I am not happy with what I am doing, as I would have indicated in this blog. But the problem is, I suppose, one of expectations and planning on both sides, rather than any irreconcileable differences. All of us want to achieve the same th…

Day 28: Reviewing the priorities

I am already into the Sunday, end of fourth week since I started this. I have achieved bits and pieces, but I am not sure how much of that is due to staying home for a relatively long period and what is due to deliberate action. One thing I surely know is that some of my problems persist: a messy daily schedule, always coping up with deadlines at the last moment and a gap between intent and action. After all, these are the things that my 100 day project was to solve - I wanted to become a more effective individual/ professional at the end of this period.

Undeniably, there are certain things beyond my control. For example, my visa - I know everything is in order and it will come through, but this long wait isn't any good. I noticed my faculties go into a waiting mode when I am made to wait, which slows down my work and everything else. Besides, this uncertainty about when it will come through is also not good - I have a number of travel assignments and need to get started on them AS…

Day 24: Indian Government Seeks a Trust Vote

I haven't been keeping up with this diary as a colleague is here, and there are a number of things happening in our English training business. We have fiddled with this far enough, and it is time that we freeze the business plans and get everyone on the same page. The key problem, however, is that while this is obvious, this isn't easy. We wanted to create a great franchising organisation but then entangled ourselves into a running a centre, and that sucked out most of our time. As a friend says, hindsight is an exact science, but of no practical use, sadly - I think we defined our business wrongly. We wanted to create a franchising business, and built expectations around that. However, we somehow ended up thinking that we are in the business of English Language training and started a centre in all earnestness. The whole point, of course, is that we never clarified what we wanted out of it, and today, one year down the line, if I ask my colleagues in the board what they expect…

Day 21: A Sunday, finally

I have mountains of work waiting. Expense statements, to start with, as I did not submit one for last four months and a lot has built up. This is also significant money locked in, which is playing havoc on my finances. Besides, I have taxes and National Insurance contributions to sort out, which must be done first thing tomorrow morning. Another university coursework deadline is looming around the corner, and Invest NI needs the application forms returned for the September Trade Mission to India. I have still the contracts pending to go out, the one for Manila can wait till Wednesday but I have to get the ones for Calcutta and Mumbai sorted out soon. And, besides, I must write the content for our website - something which is way way delayed - and I know I have to get this out of the way by next week.

However, despite all of this, I spent nearly four hours watching Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal fighting it out at the Wimbledon final. It is not over yet - we have a rain break right into…

Day 20: An excellent article in the TIME magazine

I read this remarkable issue of the TIME magazine yesterday, which talked about the two views of American Patriotism, and contrasted Obama and McCain from that perspective. I shall particularly recommend The War Over Patriotism by Peter Beinart which is brilliantly written and produces a balanced view of both sides of the fence.

While this was absorbing read by itself, its views hold true for India in many ways. We have this idea of Indian exceptionalism as well - a nation like none other - and believe in India's role in bringing peace to the world. Our geography never allows us the luxury of isolation from World Affairs, and therefore it is always important for every Indian to know what their country means and stands for.

Of course, we are no better off in providing a clear answer. We have had this debate - between looking towards past and looking at the future - and never really resolved it. We have people who believe in a static, pre-existing definition of Indianness and who woul…

End of Week 3

I am finally back in London - came back yesterday.

easyJet as usual was late, it did alright from Belfast International right up to the aerobridge at Gatwick, which surprised me as I have never returned on time, but then made up for the punctuality by waiting to open the doors for half hour or so. Apparently, someone left a bag near the aerobridge, so they won't move till someone removed it, and then the aerobridge will not open and they need the stairs and buses, all things you can possibly imagine going wrong at 11pm. Finally, I managed to get home just shy of midnight, completely exhausted out of these five intense days, barely able to walk because I pulled a muscle on my right foot, and thoroughly undecided on what my strategy going forward will be.

But then there was good news. I lost weight. I always wanted to lose weight all my life. I have been teased for being a fat boy at school, and that remained with me. I did manage to lose weight after school, and turned skinny in my a…

Day 17: In Ireland

I have missed out on my diary as I was unbelievably busy. I am in Northern Ireland and going through a soul-searching exercise. What did we plan when we started the business? What happened? What did not happen? How to move forward from here? It is very useful, as this involved many candid discussions and allowed me to clarify issues. However, I had fairly limited access to Internet, and even did not read much or watched TV, so it was hard to write.

The interesting development right now is Africa. Jonathan wants to start businesses in Uganda and Rwanda, which interests me. I am impressed with what I hear about Rwanda - it seems that they have a great nation-building going on there. Jonathan's been there recently, and he tells me that people clean the streets, in their locality, themselves, on a particular day of the week. And, this is everyone, including the President. Not participating in this is frowned upon, as is throwing litter, which is punishable by law. Amazing, considering …

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