Showing posts from November, 2009

India's Story

A must watch - Sashi Tharoor talking about India's story.

No Longer a Civil Rights Footnote - Claudette Colvin -

It is fascinating to read about Claudette Colvin, who and not Rosa Parks, refused to give up her seat in a bus and started the fight for de-segregation.

I am fascinated because this is not just the lost hero stuff. This also tells us a lot about political communication. One feels almost offended, defrauded, for being told the wrong story for such a long time. One may somewhat understand the political expediency in choosing Rosa Parks ahead of her to do this - she was calmer, more sellable.

That's not the point. The point is that this story should have come out earlier. May be I am expecting Ms Parks to say, when she was interviewed and turned into a celebrity, 'but it was actually Claudette who started all this'.

No Longer a Civil Rights Footnote - Claudette Colvin - "From Footnote to Fame in Civil Rights History"

Foreign Universities in India: The Bill Sent Back

The Prime Minister's Office has sent back the bill allowing the Foreign Universities to operate in India for revisions.
Not again! This bill is jinxed, and have been in a state of flux for more than seven years now.
But, as I learnt why, I am truly surprised. My expectations were the obvious: The PMO has found that there are too many privileges being given out in the bill, and hence, held back its approval. Quite the opposite, in fact. The PMO realized that the bill does not make it attractive enough for foreign education providers to come to India. They want to get this thing right the first time and hence, appointed a set of people to review this.
That's more pragmatic than you would expect from our usually pragmatic Prime Minister. He is on a roll, truly.
My earlier enthusiasm about allowing foreign universities in India were variously put down by the readers. It is still too difficult to set up shop in India and do anything meaningful. Besides, there were questions about quo…

An Obituary: The Invisible Hand

Capitalism has failed. Or, so it seems, standing in the middle of the worst post-war economic crisis. It is not about the house prices, which have started turning upwards, or the stock markets, which have recovered some time back. Precisely to the point, Capitalism has failed people. For all the talk of economic recovery, the unemployment is stubbornly high in many places. Carefully crafted careers have been wrecked, families lost their homes and a lost generation has been created. Capitalism as a system indeed failed all these people.
The funny thing is that it was always expected to fail. Despite all the hopes that we have finally beaten recession, economists knew all along that such cyclical changes are ingrained in capitalism. In fact, some of them actually celebrate it - creative destruction is what it is called. This is Capitalism's mechanism of wiping out the old and the inefficient, and create new efficiencies and businesses. The theory is - with progress, societies create …

Private Notes: How Sunday Posts May Change

I am on a review mode, because I don't want 2010 to become like 2009, a lost year. 2009 was rather unique in my life, a year which I spent in the permanent resignation mode, somewhat carrying out my responsibilities and not looking forward to anything in particular. The world in general has also spent the year in a PAUSE mode, waiting for things to get better, and to get moving. Whether my approach to life was shaped by the general mood, or I indeed contributed to the general mood, I don't know: Possibly both are equally true. But, at least from my personal perspective, it is time to come out of the cocoon, and get moving, take some risks and make sense of my efforts.
I have a pretty much straightforward agenda for 2010. That of staying in England and make the best out of the opportunity - to learn, to start a new life and to make a difference. I can not deny that England offers a range of opportunities which I would not have got staying in Calcutta, and I have always been too …

Social Learning: Taking Learning Content to Next Level

Social Learning is the current rage. That's the keyword the Learning Technology providers are clinging on to, the knight in the shining armour who would rescue the stricken companies in the middle of this unending downturn. Learning is invariably social, and even those theorists who would primarily look at the learner as the key driver for all learning activities, can not rule out the role the social context plays. Or, the shared context, as in a classroom, where lot of actual learning happens through interactions between learners or by absorbing another person's point of view of the same learning input. The technology-mediated learning is devoid of this, mostly, because, for all its advantages, e-Learning is mostly a solitary activity.

This leaves it with a crippling limitation. While the e-learning content can be quite engaging, without the social context, learning loses fun, inspiration and ability to inspire thoughts. This may be okay to impart instructions, areas where act…

Road to Copenhagen: Why India Must Wake Up

One week from Climate Change conference in Copenhagen, when World Leaders must meet and decide how they are going to 'save the planet', many countries are still wringing their hands and unsure whether they need to do anything at all. Unfortunately, India is one of them. India is a big polluter in absolute terms, but a minnow when compared on a per capita basis - because of its large population. India's professed stance, for more than two decades since we started talking about Ozone layers and climate in general, is that it will only do its bit when the developed world, primarily America, starts acting on cutting its own carbon emissions.
The logic of this stance was development. India and America are competing in many spheres, and the Indian government did not want to burden Indian producers with 'unnecessary' obligations to the environment when Americans are not doing enough to cut their emissions. The move would have been politically suicidal, it was argued, a per…

Would Dubai's Default Spoil the Party?

The big news today is that Dubai World, the big property conglomerate with many prestigious and some world famous developments under their belt, has requested its creditors to allow it an additional six months to pay a debt of $3.5 billion, which was due next month. The news immediately undermined the stocks of British banks, which were showing signs of recovery, and pulled the major European stock markets down. The impact is more severe because this debt deferment request also includes Nakheel's debts, a Dubai World subsidiary and the one which actually did some fascinating projects; no one was expecting that Nakheel will default as well. Besides, there are several state-backed companies which are defaulting or are near default, which is undermining the credit rating of Dubai's sovereign debt itself. This will limit the state's ability to raise money and bail the troubled companies out. So, suddenly, we see a trouble in the horizon; just when it seemed that we are on the …

An Autobiographical Note

Recently, I was asked to write a short autobiographical note, highlighting major learning experiences in life. This was an interesting exercise, as it allowed me to reflect back on what I have done so far. I reproduce my submission below. Two themes became clear to me. One, all my life has been a search. For a purpose, perhaps. And, two, my learning happened in a series of disruptions, when things fell apart or something changed dramatically. It was a worthwhile experience reflecting back.


Growing up in Pre-liberalization India, I spent my school days with a set of rather simple goals: A job in the Government. A marriage, arranged, with a girl from a suitable family. And, bringing up kids to do exactly the same. In fact, these goals were so simple and obvious that it was stupid not to go for it. The recipe was very straightforward too: Study hard. Which meant following the teachers and memori…

On Cities

I referred to my discussions with Sudhakar Ram previously and my interest and association with his New Constructs initiative. While he looks at seven such constructs - success, work, consumption, learning, governance, wellness and globalization - one of his idea is particularly intriguing. That of a future of villages. It is counter-intuitive, as the model of development we know is based on cities. In our minds, more cities mean more progress. We acquire farming land to build factories, and housing for workers, and count that as a sure sign of economic development. Besides, if someone talks about village-based development, we take the person as either Maoist, or Mad, or an impossible idealist without any grounding of reality. Since Mr Ram is clearly not one of those, it did make me listen up and think through what he was saying. And, it made sense.

To start with, cities are industrial creation. Or, more correctly, modern cities are. Medieval cities were primarily trading outposts. The …

Leadership in the Connected Age: What We Should Look For

I am trying to develop an understanding of leadership, in the context of today. I think many of our ideas are too industrial age - a concept I picked up from the New Constructs initiative - and also too Euro-centric, though this term is used to mean Europe and America together. I know this is not a new discussion: People like Charles Handy explored these concepts extensively in the 1990s. But, like other concepts, these need to be revisited often.
So, to start with a metaphor. The industrial age leader was almost like the leading horse in the charge of the Light Brigade. First man out. The captain of Titanic. The one chosen to die. General Patton. Focused and Unforgiving. FDR. Unfearing. Dirty Harry. Dispassionate and Professional, though sometimes a social oddball. Warren Harding or Bill Clinton. Presidential from day one.
On a more serious note, leadership so far has been about standing out, standing apart. It was about leading the pack. The leaders absolutely must be 'at the top&…

Private Notes: Rethinking Education

I am currently working on structuring the Leadership training initiative I spoke about before. The more I look at the possibility, I feel more passionately about it. The more people I speak to, I become aware of the need for a catalytic change that we need in India, and the desperate need for a generation of rainmakers who will bring this about.

For all the myths about mechanical industrial progress, the leadership that England attained in the Nineteenth century, or what United States achieved in the Twentieth, did not come about purely through the tweaks of the government policy. It was not even pure greed of the entrepreneurs, coupled with an advantageous Geo-political condition and military muscle, that brought about a sustained change in the society. The transformation needed intellectual leadership, experimentation and a commitment to better the lives of all countrymen by a few. India, while it is making great strides in creating wealth for those in the city, still lacks those lea…

Bangladesh: A Murder Unhealed

Yesterday, the Supreme Court of Bangladesh upheld the death sentences of the five ex-soldiers in the murder case of Sheikh Mujib, the first President of the country. Mujib was assassinated, along with most of the rest of his family, in a coup on 15Th August 1975. The coup plotters accused Mujib of various misdeeds, including nepotism, corruption, dictatorship and selling out to India. Mujib, the enormously popular leader who played a part in starting the liberation struggle of East Pakistan, which eventually become Bangladesh, clearly lost control of his country by then: The coup plotters simply marched out of the Dhaka Cantonment, surrounded his house with tanks and armoured cars and shot him, along with his wife, sons, daughters-in-laws and nephew, dead.
To start with, it was a grizzly murder and needed to be punished. It was long viewed as a political act. The subsequent governments of Bangladesh actually granted amnesty to the coup leaders, including those directly involved in the …

Private Notes: What I learnt in 2009

I am not yet in Christmas mode. Really. I still have a very busy six weeks to go. In fact, these last six weeks appear all important - as important as the last few pages of a novel - where a conclusion must be reached. So, I am not in a summary mode yet. However, I have indeed reached a moment of reflection - a point when I can look back a bit and start thinking what I learnt [and what I still haven't] - which may make these final six weeks more meaningful and interesting.

Contrary to my previous expectations, 2009 did not turn out to be my worst year yet. Instead, it was, like for many people across the world, a lost year. In my life, if it did not happen, it almost would not have mattered. That is a frank admission - I almost sleepwalked through the year, expecting that things would be worse than it actually turned out to be.

So, I gained nothing and am standing, at the end of the year, where I was twelve months back. I can easily project back to a year back - the days before 26/…

Late Stage Industrialization: The Curious Case of West Bengal

The West Bengal government, one run by the Communist Party of India [Marxist], is on its way out. Well, almost - they look almost as clueless as Gordon Brown. Their opponents, not exactly as smooth as David Cameron, are united and single-minded, and has the political momentum. Indeed, the West Bengal elections have one additional year compared to the British one, which is due by June 2010, but at the current state, one can't say whether the additional time at hand is an advantage or a liability.
May be a liability, as everything is going wrong for the government. The administration has lost control over the party, and the latter is busy undoing whatever little credibility the government was trying to build by creating a momentum in terms of industrialization and job creation in the state. In the meantime, the opposition seems to be gaining brownie points just by watching the fun - by sitting in sidelines while Maoists take over a number of villages in the state and threaten the sen…

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