Showing posts from January, 2011

The Mubarak Dillemma

In Egypt, this is being called Tunisunami, but this has nothing to do with Ben Ali, and everything to do with Mubarak. This is a moment of people power. We are not colouring the revolution, but if we did, this one might be Green. But, the optimism aside, this is Obama's Tehran moment and he must decide fast and quick to avoid Carter-esque meltdown. What can he do? He needs to weigh upon Mubarak to leave. America can not afford a Tahrir Square massacre in its hand; with fighter jets flying low, this seems to be moments away now. The lameness of Hillary Clinton's statement that US does not want a take-over which does not lead to democracy shows that it is yet to make up its mind. This is not a moment of such confusing statement: Does she mean that the US remains with Mubarak and she believes that there is democracy in Egypt? If Mubarak does not go now, he will fall: With him, he will take the whole US policy in Middle East to grave. This would not remain a matter of freedom and d

On the Fault Line: Living at the edge of Organizational Change

Changing organizations can be a thrilling, all consuming, life enhancing experience. It is not easy, and often it may look quite scary. But, if one's convinced about the pay-off, not just in money terms but the value one would create, every bit of the trouble seems worth it. But, then, there is nothing straightforward about it. As I told a colleague recently, everything is culturally grounded. This is something management gurus often don't get it, because they are not inside an organization. It is often easy for consultants to see and do things to change an organization, because they see and work from outside. If they have the mandate, they can follow the cold logic of management rationality. However, this de -personalizes the organization, as the logic employed can be only of money and shareholder returns: Such re-engineering can only end up with a narrow focus on stock value at the expense of everything else. Changing from inside, though difficult, can be more rewarding, in t

Change Arrives in Middle East

About a week back, while we were following the events in Tunisia, I pondered whether this will be the 'Domino' moment . A week on, with protests spreading to Algeria, Yemen and finally Egypt, it indeed seems so. In fact, Egypt seems to be on the brink and Hosni Mubarak, the dictator of Egypt and the bulwark against freedom and democracy in the Middle East, seems poised to go. Finally. Mubarak indeed is a survivor and it is still too early to write him off. Joe Biden had to eat his liberal credentials only a few hours back to deny that Hosni Mubarak is a dictator. No one pushed him on the point almost out of sympathy: American administrations seems to be completely clueless on what to do. They are currently opting for a holding strategy. They let Ben Ali run from Tunisia and held the country through a proxy, expecting the crowd power to subside. That did not work. They are on similar paths in Egypt, trying to ditch Mubarak and getting behind the Army or another proxy administ

Arguments with Myself: The Unbearable Lightness of Being

These days, time is a bit heavy as it is full of reflection, every moment seems to stop before it is over, with a pause almost and a throwback into time I can see but can't get back. My movements, which must follow a routine and crucially, the railway time-table, are laden and almost slow-motion, burdened with the ever-present question of what I could have done. In a way, I am reminded of Katherine Mansfield, like her fly stuck in the ink, forever trying to dry itself and fly again and forever dragged down. But I also feel light, as if in a train. Time is such a carrier, as if I don't have to move on myself but I am being moved into. As days pass and suddenly I know that January, which turned out to be the cruelest month of my life, is almost over, it seems a different age and time that I was thinking of: Suddenly, with a flick of a calendar, what was my day-to-day reality seems like a movie, where I was an observer and which I mistook for reality. I play silly games: Like sayi

The Point of Art

The pointless is precisely the point: I announce. It is one way to live life as it comes, but quite another to be able to stop and talk about it. We are no perfect mirrors, with our twists and turns, and should claim no prizes for reflection. Yet, it is our words and thoughts that make events around us richer, and I claim, significant. The events would have happened regardless: Let's settle for that. One can say everything happens for a reason, indeed, but to assume that we know the reason or it happens for what we think is designed to happen next, is a foolish attempt to play God. The point I am making is that the events have no significance if it did not initiate us into thinking. Even something as significant as a death or a birth derive its meaning from what we thought about it; An unsung birth or an un-mourned death is just a momentary happening, not unlike a small installment of rain or a tide that was scheduled to come at a given hour. The significance of writing is to crea

Is this the Domino Moment?

Throughout Cold War, the Western Policymakers drummed up the fear of a 'Domino' effect, when, well, all hell breaks loose. The rationale was, and this was pretty strongly held as the Vietnam War was fought on this basis, that once a major country chose to go the 'Red' way, this may mean every other country in the region will be encouraged to change sides and a global communist movement will become reality. Hence, the efforts were to nip any expression of discontent with the assorted dictators CIA put in place. Ironically, this worked in the name of freedom: A radical secular leader often found himself in front of a speeding truck, or murdered by a bodyguard. The times changed, but the techniques have not. Indeed, we have scarcely moved a generation. Frederick Forsyth and John Le Carrie may be slightly out of favour, but still alive and still able to churn new novels. The straightforward divide between freedom and evil has not changed much; just the actors now have new

Random Thoughts on Higher Education 'Business'

It has been an interesting few months at work for me. Indeed, just as I was planning to move towards the next phase - when I start doing things hands on and apply the things I leaned over the last year or so - my personal life became all too turbulent. I lost four people I closely knew in a span of eighteen days, and my life became as uncertain as it ever was. But, then, I have this feeling that I am on to something big at work and would not want to lose my focus at any cost. Hence, I am staying the course, whatever it takes. The reason I think I am onto something big is because I see the Global Higher Education being a growth industry for the next decade or so, and I believe my company is quite well-positioned to take the advantage. Indeed, only if we play all the cards right, and if at least some of the assumptions that we are making about the business environment hold true. I know this is a big IF and there is a lot of uncertainty in the environment. But, it is reasonable to think t

Remembrance, Yet Again

I lost a friend. The theme of this year for me is - death. I lost four people I knew closely in 19 days. This includes my brother, my longstanding political mentor and finally, PRC, as he was popularly known, an ex-colleague, ex-friend (we drifted apart) but most importantly, the person who changed my life. Without PRC, I would possibly be a company man today, warming some pointless chair in a name-heavy organization in one of the Indian cities. I would live the life scripted for me - built around the cycles of job, mortgage and pensions. I shall possibly be happier, submerged in the ignorance about the possibilities of life. I lived that script once upon a time, but can't any longer imagine what it would be like to go back. In a way, he helped me to free myself, forever. I was always a dreamer. But in 1998, I had a good job. Things were going well for me. I was married, got a decent raise, a promotion was around the corner; my mentor and boss was very supportive, and she was layin

A Boy's School

The Coming of Post-Industrial War

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, in the first decade of the new millennium, were possibly the last of the industrial wars that we have experienced over three centuries or thereabout. The side with the industrial might, not with most men, won. What counted is the firepower, and the training and equipment that the men carried, not how many men one had lined up. The format, perfected over the last hundred years or so, was to bomb the enemy out of the existence first, before sending out the infantry. In the last years of the doctrine, increasingly, the manned flights are being replaced by the unmanned ones and the race is on to replace infantry, at least in the more dangerous tasks, with robots of some sort. When this transformation is complete, the art of industrial warfare will reach its peak. But, I shall argue, that this peak will be reached long after the decline has already started. That is not unusual. The technological peak is often achieved often after the social necessity of the

About My Brother

I did not write the blog last few days because I could not. My brother, who was my constant companion for all my life, my partner in business, someone subjected to all my advice and my suggestions, decided to die. I could not write another post without first writing about him. Lest I give the impression, it was not self-inflicted death. It was a combination of illness and depression, as well as his drinking habits and a recent abstinence, not least due to constant advice from our sister, my father and me. But, if retiring to death has any meaning, that was his. I was on the other end of the phone, listening to my tearful father who was all too aware of the inevitable meaning of his collapse long before a medical professional has seen to him. In a way, we all knew: He just gave up and retired into sleep. I have never been so alone. As I said, he was my constant companion. When I started working and my office hours stretched late into evenings, he was the patient chauffeur

Over the World: Facebook Vs Internet

Web 2.0 versus the Web itself? With Facebook valued at $53 Billion by Goldman Sachs (who invested $450 million in the company now) and taking over the No. 1 spot for most popular website (dethroning Google), the question is getting louder: Is Facebook (and the likes of it) a threat to the Internet? After years of optimistic predictions about Internet changing the world, it has become fashionable to talk about the threats to Internet over the last year. The Economist ran a story about the Internet breaking down into various national networks, each with different rules. Then, Tim Barnes Lee and other founders of the World Wide Web spoke against the various Walled Gardens, such as Facebook (and Google), which are sort of private gardens in the cyberspace, each again with its own rules. In a way, these seem to be the 'old' society gnawing back into the cyberspace, and shackling its free for all flow with the the usual borders and fences that we are used to. How much of this is r

Arguments with Myself: Why I Write This Blog

Holidays almost over and work has returned to my mind in full blast. In a few days, I travel - to Malaysia first and then to familiar Manila. This, as I said before, promises to be a busy year, and hopefully a meaningful one. And, as I prepare myself for the work, and the change that must inevitably come with it, I had to question all the things I do, and see if it is worth doing. Why I write this blog, indeed, is something I had to ask myself. This is an important part of my life. I have been writing this blog for 5 years now, and have written 600 notes and posted another 100 odd from somewhere else. That indeed is quite a bit, and considering that almost 500 of these entries have come in the last two years, this is indeed becoming a bit of addiction. So, I usually blog early in the morning, rather than browsing a newspaper or watching television. And, some of the evenings, and most definitely Sunday afternoons, like now. This means eating away the time I could see movies, read books

Over The World: Euro-stonia

Estonia joins the Euro. The announcement is greeted, as expected, not with joy and announcements about the fading of nationalism, but the exclamation: What timing! What timing indeed, as the European single currency is up for big tests in the coming month. With Portugal and Spain tottering at the brink of bankruptcy, this may not be the best year to be anywhere near the Euro. However, as the Estonian Finance Minister explained, rather resignedly, one can't choose the timing of such events. Indeed, this may have meant years of negotiation and preparation, printing of currency and calibration of information systems. One can't really withdraw from the process once committed, without great cost: A cost the poorest economy of the European Union can ill afford. Besides, this is a political decision. Giving up the national currency is in a way giving up a lot, a lot of power given up by the national ruling classes (I shall refrain from the word 'bourgeois' ) in favour of a sup

Over The World: War of Civilizations

It does not take long to undo civilization. An insightful urban myth, as told in India, involves a High Level Japanese delegation and the then Chief Minister of Bihar , one of India's poorest and most lawless (at least then) state. The Japanese, for whom the Buddhist shrine in Sarnath (allegedly Buddha's mausoleum) is one of the holiest places on earth, were dejected looking at the state of Bihar and offered to help: Give us Bihar for seven years and we shall turn Bihar into Japan, they said. The Chief Minister, famous in India for his quips, reportedly answered: Oh, give us Japan for seven minutes and we shall turn it into Bihar . But my context for today's post is not Bihar , nor economic development, but Egypt. Watching the television in the comfort of the Christmas break should be a pleasurable thing, but it is not. The stories of violence keep monopolizing the headlines. Today's news tells me the bombings in an Egyptian church which killed a score of praying Co

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