Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Quarter times the fun [59/365]

This month just got longer.
February 2012 was an exciting month.
As rightly predicted, this month did have all the ingredients that could quench our insatiable thirst for gossip and voyeurism.

Personally, I've had a good month. I've been able to achieve some of my personal and professional goals and I set new ones for the rest of the year.

Dirty Word of the Month: Sexy
When the Chairperson of the National Commission for Women (NCW), Mamata Sharma said and I quote "'You should take the comment in a positive manner instead of protesting, resisting or going to the police' (Foot in Mouth here), I was rubbing my eyes in disbelief. It was truly a WTF moment.

I remember the first time I heard and used the word. As an impressionable 16 year old, the word was taboo.
But when chairperson of a committee that is supposed to be the watchdog of women in India confirmed that using the word was okay, I was finally at peace.

While I don't think this foot in mouth comment of her's could lead to any more rapes than what will happen or if this will lead to Indian women loosing their integrity, because I know that Indian women are made of sterner and worthier morals than what Mamta Sharma can claim to possess. 

And as for women, if living in India's lecherous metro and her conservative villages amidst a million gazes was not enough, now her 'Roadside Romeos' can finally expand their vocabulary too.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

..And the Oscar goes to [58/365]

The Academy Awards, also fondly known as the Oscars: An annual event where Hollywood actors come together and pretend to enjoy and toast each-other for the wonderful work that they have created in the year that just went by.

You know the Oscars are round the corner when every English movie channel worth its movies suddenly start serenading the 'greatest' movies of all time. Time to bring out those over used movie reels for Saving Private Ryan, Forest Gump, Titanic and the other predictable. Roll out some contests and promise some freebies to keep the viewers interested until last week of February. You know the drill.
So while the movie industry is busy lobbying for the golden statuette that will help them hike their 'fees' if they win, even the nominees get their moment of fame.

Now, everyone loves recognition. We'd love to be recognized for our work and rewarded too. But as today's stars walk the plush red carpet in their crisp Armanis and the Christian Diors, I wonder if this is really all there is.
I am quite sure there wouldn't be too many people who would recognize the stars that walked the red carpet even 40 years ago. But I am very sure we'd recognize Einstein or Pascal or Da Vinci any day.
True, movies are not meant to be a contribution to humanity in the same way Science or the Arts is, so I'll let this argument pass.

Amid the fist bumps and the heart wrenching minutes leading up to opening of the envelope, I wonder how much of the show is scripted and how much is truly rewarding performances.

And the Oscar goes to...

Nonetheless, I'll still root for the climax in Naked Gun 33 1/2 as my all time favorite Oscar moment.
"And they thought I couldn't do drama"

Monday, February 27, 2012

Devoid of morals [57/365]

pic credit: Reuters
Predictably the past month or so has been bad for feminists and women's rights across nation.
Our grim statistics seems intact and you'd hardly pass a day when a rape is not in the news. So when a recent gang rape made the headlines, I sat up and uttered a silent prayer.
The incident was disturbing and a chilling reminder why Uttar Pradesh will remain the rape central of India. (Read the sordid story here)

In the West, suspects and victims are treated with respect. The term 'innocent until proven guilty' makes much sense in a society that gives it's citizens the right to live in dignity. What the cops did in this routine gang rape was to err in judgement. By making a statement that smacked of sexism, they created a bad precedent and an unholy mistake that will forever deter victims from seeking justice.

If gang-raping a defenseless girl is not gruesome enough, the state administration's actions have scarred the girl and her family for many generations to come.
Gone are the days when women used to be treated with respect.
And what is it with gang rapes? Are the rapists of today too weak to do the deed solo?

We cannot blame men with raging hormones fed on a rich diet of sleazy bollywood movies, western porn and desi MMS's when they rape. They have been programmed to think that raping women who either appear easy/hard to get/poor or simply in need of a good f%&$ is acceptable and necessary. They wrongly believe that the women are secretly enjoying the rough sex in the backseat of their cars while they are driving around the city.

Had this been in the West, I am pretty sure heads would have rolled. What the administration did must be punished. 
While this incident will become yesterday's news in a couple of days, what remains to be seen is how the victim and her family will stack up with all the stigma that is coming their way.

This post is an Official entry for Stayfree's Time To Change hosted by IndiBlogger.
Promote this article here if the eradication of such evil means as much to you as it does to me.

Recommended Reading:
Why we'll never respect our victims

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Destination: Linger [56/365]

It had been a while since we went on a vacation together.
Deciding on a place was easy since we has been always wanting to visit Coorg. And I knew just the place to visit in Coorg - Linger!
Owned and promoted by a biking buddy of mine, I decided we should getaway.
I kept the destination a closely guarded secret and decided to ride 350 kms on our trusty motorbike.
We'd planned on starting at the break of dawn but eventually started at 8am on a Saturday morning. Now, I would still recommend that you start before the rest of the city wakes up if you have to travel across the city just to get out of the tarmac madness. Starting from RT Nagar, through Corporation Circle, taking the Sirsi flyover, unti we reach the gridlocked junctions of Mysore road. Negotiating this took us about 30 minutes. Time taken to travel the distance from RT Nagar to Kengeri: 3 hours!
The roads after Rajarajeshwari Nagar are as deceptively wonderful as they are scenic. Its a pity that we don't sell common sense and the ability to drive carefully as a standard accessory when we buy cars. Traveling at about 70 kmph, most cars and SUVs zipped by us as if we were standing still. Dotted with McDonalds, Cafe Coffee Day's and a dozen Darshini's (restaurants serving low cost local cuisine) we took plenty of breaks every hour or so.
Passing through the historic town of Channapatna, takes you back to your childhood. We just had to stop and buy a wooden toy for the child in us.
Ofcourse, entering Mandya, it is obvious to see the clout and influence that it's most famous sons have had on the town. Complete with four signals, traffic cops equipped with radar guns traveling through the town it is like a oasis in an otherwise deserted highway.
Entering Mysore, we hit a lot of slow moving traffic to reach the Outter Ring Road that is being built. And public construction in India directly translates into infinite dust, complete chaos and signage's in poor English.
Time taken to cover a distance from the Country Club restaurant as you enter Mysore until Industrial layout at the other end of the Ring road: 1 hour. Curiously, we couldn't find a single restaurant worth mention on this route.
The roads, however appeared to improve vastly as we continue towards Hunsur, Virajpet and on to Madikeri. Kudos to the State Government for making sure that the roads are well designed. With the government's penchant for speed breakers, I had to rely on signage when I was traveling at 70 kmph for any speed breakers (aka humps) on the road ahead, and I found it to be accurately marked except for a couple as you approach Kushalnagar. Beware!
I can't stop raving about the roads but entering Madikeri was a rude awakening. We had to proceed towards Talakacaveri.
If this is your first time to Talacaveri, prepare to reach before it gets dark. Certain patches of the road downhill are bad, really bad.
The route is breathtaking.

View Larger Map

We reached Linger at Chettimani in 12 hours. While we were exhausted, tired and famished, we were in for a huge surprise! Read more about our experience at the Resort here.

Important if you're heading towards Coorg:
  • Getting there is half the fun. Don't make the mistake of zipping by all the wonderful sights (Channapatna), sounds(Virajpet) and smells (Mandya). Take plenty of coffee breaks and lots of sunscreen if you are on a bike.  
  • Drive Defensively. Logic tells that big city road users are better educated and polite. Reality: We had the most pleasant driving experience once we were out of Bangalore and Mysore. Drivers always gave right of way and were polite and most importantly followed traffic rules. 
  • Once in Coorg, slow down and smell the coffee beans. Quite literally.
  • Shop! Buy the insanely low priced coffee, freshly ground / beans. We bought a kilo of freshly ground coffee at just Rs80!
  • Carry a BSNL cellphone. Idea works as well.
  • If you are non vegetarian and won't mind eating pork, gorge yourselves on the local 'Pandi curry'. Its finger licking good!
  • The people are friendly but knowing Kannada can help you get around.
  • Trek!
  • Don't bother carrying work. Linger is all about kicking back and slowing down. But wait. You'll have to read about our experiences here..

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Gay Abandon! [55/365]

LGBT: A acronym that evokes curious questions and raised eyebrows.
Lesbians, Gay, Bisexuals and Transgender. A term that can earn you both amused looks and strong feelings.

In a reminder of how out of touch the government is with its citizenry, the government criminalized homosexuality. (The foot in mouth moment here)
While the 'normal' among us would take refuge in the argument that homosexuality and the middle genders are an aberration of nature (aka freaks of nature), I wonder if we have ever wanted to walk a mile in their shoes before passing frivolous statements.

Today, as I sat in the first of our LGBTF (LGBT and Friends) committee meeting, with about 39 other colleagues, we shared the challenges that the community faced. Now, I myself am not part of the community but I can visualize how difficult living and working can be when most companies (and colleagues) still judge you based on your sexuality. \
In a world where we rush to ban and isolate a behavior or inclination that is different from what we are used to, our gays, lesbians and transgenders live a mime. We often confuse unnatural sex with incest.
We need to change our perceptions. While we cannot life, shift and apply best practices from the West, we can certainly be more humane and sensitive to the community.

Thankfully, the light is now visible at the end of the tunnel. With a landmark Indian judgement that decriminalized homosexuality in 2009, many companies have started self-help groups that actively encourage individuals within the LGBT community to be more comfortable in their skin.

But the challenge has only begun. While right-wing fundamentalists and conservative religious groups fight the court to repel the judgement, I can only see huge wins by integrating a community that is as incredibly talented and diverse as the LGBT into the mainstream.

Recommended Reading:

Friday, February 24, 2012

NCTC [54/365]

We love acronyms!
We love to shorten the names of our movies, our government agencies and myriad departments and mundane programmes.
Why we even 'acronym'ize our college faculties. I've had HVD, who taught me Statistics; DYR who taught me English poetry and DNV, who taught me Maths. Come to think of it, I've never really found out the 'real' names behind the acronyms.
So while the real world has agencies like NREGA and programmes like JnNURM and such tongue twisting terms, every so often if you are fortunate you'll hear of a new acronym.
The Dope
Congratulations! Today is your lucky day. In today's lesson, you'll hear of NCTC (aka National Counter Terrorism Center). While developed and supposedly secure nations like the US already have the NCTC in place, India hit a road-block called Democracy. (Read about the exciting new blunder here)

Okay, now what is the NCTC?
Put simply and in the words of it's creator Home Minister P Chidambaram: "As the name suggests, the goal is to counter terrorism. Obviously, this will include preventing a terrorist attack, containing a terrorist attack should one take place, and responding to a terrorist attack by inflicting pain upon the perpetrators."

So why is this bad for us?
While I am for greater security and a nation where we won't have to worry about getting killed by terrorists, I think having a committee like this is infringing on our freedom and privacy as a citizen and inhabitant, I believe we need to start customizing our security plans so that we win a consensus while still being effective in deterring any more attacks. While many of our States have rightly opposed the Bill, some politicians are simply stonewalling any attempt at progress.
Leaders like Mamata B appear to be rather starched against any Bill that the Center would like to bring in.

Our leaders pretend to be governing for our benefit, protecting us and shielding us from the unfortunate controversy that the beleaguered Home Minister has served. But this is not surprising considering how the national government has made all it's decisions in secrecy and with an innate sense of arrogance. But given the clout that many regional parties and the media hold, it is highly unlikely that the government or any of it's puppet masters will get away with laws that suit themselves more than anyone else.

All said, the NCTC may be the last Bill that a weakened party which is barely holding on to its dynasty reins will like to have during its last few months in power.

Recommmended Read: WikiLeaks!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The importance of being Ernest [53/365]

It is that time of the decade.
While we have been whining about our unfortunate choice of leadership, we can look for some consolation towards the West. Much of the western world is going through the painful rituals of elections too.

It could be the eternal fight between the democrats and republics in the US or the Congress and the rest of the shebang in India, politicians have an uncanny love towards power.

In a conversation with a dear colleague of mine, he was recounting his recent visit to the beautiful nation of Dubai.
He gushed about the cleanliness and the way the crime and disorderliness was punished and the way the law was upheld. I can't agree more. Having grown up in the Middle East, I can testify that the Arabs do know a thing or two about ruling with an iron fist. While it is easy to see how countries that were nothing but vast stretches of desert could be transformed into futuristic cities, the cities mask the millions of expats who work and live in almost prehistoric conditions.
Perhaps the lure of money when converted is too big to ignore.

But will a similar autocratic rule help India?
We surely have the laws that can we have a government that can starting walking the talk?
The show has begun. Over the next many months, as Indians prepare to be lured with gifts of televisions, food and money to vote, and when politicians put on their happy masks, it is clear that we are in the crossroads again.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Pirates of Malabar [52/365]

Kollam, a sleepy town in the southern State of Kerala, is a town where her people are street smart yet naive. Like any other district in Kerala her people wouldn't mind traveling 5 hours a days if that means working in a dead end government job with lots of 'benefits'. A town where you can still live a fantastic life with Rs 5000 (approx $100).
I've seen this sleepy fishing hamlet metamorphose into a town and then a city while struggling to retain it's roots.
While Kollam has managed to gain notoriety for a lot a reasons in the past couple of years, the morning of 15th february was going to bring the limelight back to herself.

Unnatural death sells news. Always.
In this case, we have an Italian super-tanker passing through international waters mistaking a motorized fishing boat and its unarmed crew to be armed pirates, firing and killing two fishermen (Read the headline-making news here). 
While we can safely predict that this will soon become a Malayalam super hit movie in a few years, possibly starring aging Mollywood's Arnold Schwarzenegger - Suresh Gopi, we need to sit back, lay down that newspaper, close our eyes and think.

We have a weakened Italy, that has been battered, bruised and begging for Euros fighting India on technicalities.
Ofcourse, India is no saint herself but most Indians are too stiff lipped to admit that we need to be graceful in dealing with these killer Marines.
But again, that's not the point either.
I am amused at how swift the government, the judiciary and the executive has been in apprehending and bringing the visibly disturbed killers to justice. While we ignore the pleas and the suffering of the millions who are either killed by civic apathy, prosecuted by archaic rules, or those who are simply homeless because the government is too big an entity to bother about every single individual, I wonder why all the haste with this incident.
Surely, the Italians have erred greatly and are repentant for what can be termed as a hit and run, but in an uncanny way, the Indians are enjoying their role of being morally correct.

While the Indians can argue about their right to prosecute and rightly so, I fail to see how any of this will be good for us in the global theater of diplomacy. Prosecuting the hapless Italians could forever be the speck in the diplomatic eye of both the nations. Ofcourse, Kerala has lost two of her most talented tuna fishermen (pun intended) but don't we have enough Malayalis working as slaves in the Middle East to care about? I've seen and heard of thousands of Keralites who sell all their belongings, savings and everything in between just so that they can go to the Gulf and work as bonded laborers. Nearly all of these get to visit their homes only every five years, that is if they are not already imprisoned and still have their passports with them. But ofcourse, our great big benefactor - the motherland of India - does not need to know how her slaves live as long as the billions come rolling in.

So what really matters is money. Lots of them.
While the two fishermen lost their life for the culinary delight of their countrymen, their families have wisely decided to milk the cow while it's still standing. Each of the victim's families have filed a petition seeking damages of about Rs 1 crore (About $200,000)!
Those fishermen were worth more dead than alive
Couple of questions came to my mind:
I wonder who gave the families the idea of asking for 1 crore? How did they calculate the maturity amount so accurately?
I wonder how many ways that money is going to be split, if they get so lucky as to get it.
Does it really take Rs 1 crore to raise a child? I am pretty sure I didn't cost a crore to be raised.
And finally, I wonder if I will be worth that much when I am dead.

While the two governments and the Catholics are still squabbling over the Oopsie, I am quite sure the money is already getting spend.
Ka Ching!

Recommended Reading:

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Calling the bluff [51/365]

And the obsession with Iran continues.
The West threatening Iran with punitive sanctions while its business as usual in Iran. I wonder why all the posturing when it is obvious that we need the Iranian oil as much as they need our petrol-dollars.
Amidst the war cries and the many claims, Iran defiantly went ahead and processed nuclear fuel. (Read the startling news here)

Call it modern age propaganda or just the result of the West's influence on the media, Iran is a very progressive nation.
Unlike the Cubans, Russians, Iraqis or the Koreans, Iran has managed to make huge strides in infrastructure. With a GDP close to a trillion dollars, its economy is something that only a handful of nations can match.
Being one of ten most tourist worthy places in the world, I had the wonderful chance to visit the country a decade ago.
I noticed how broad the roads were, how friendly the people were and the enormous respect that its citizens had towards Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran.
With all the war-mongering going on, I was surprised at how peaceful you feel on the streets.
Their emphasis on protecting culture and history is a lesson that India can truly learn. Iranian cinema and musicians had been quietly gathering accolades for themselves for a while when I had visited. Sport is taken seriously, both as a recreation and as a career, which is much more than what I can say for other countries with the resources but lacking the will.
Many of us tend to confuse Iran with its poorer Asian neighbors. But their ingenuity, perseverance and almost limitless ability to excel inspired me.

Today as the war cries reach a crescendo, I recall how my perception about Iran changed. Iran is indeed the West's favorite punching bag. Today, I realize why the West and more importantly the US cannot bear an empowered Iran.
The same reason why the US could not stand a powerful Russia. 

More power to Iran.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Obituary of an Airline [50/365]

Oh Yeah!
Famous saying: 'What goes up, must come down'.
They also say how when the good times roll, the world parties with you till dawn. Slip once, and suddenly you are the fire hydrant as the world lifts its hind legs for a baptism with piss.

The ever so flamboyant liquor baron, parliamentarian, cultural/sporting enthusiast, car/woman lover and real estate magnet recently slipped. For those who just came in, here's the latest - Dr Malya's five star airline; Kingfisher Airlines, does seem to be the albatross around his cashmere draped neck.
The Airline has not made any profit since inception. Faced with piling losses, spiraling fuel costs, dwindling passengers, disgruntled employees and some acquisitions that went wrong, the airliner did the only thing it could do- Cancel flights. (Read more about the sorry state of affairs here)
Now, the downside of this is that passengers by the planeloads have been inconvenienced and left ranting online.
But of course considering how short our public memory is, we will forget all this in a few months.

While we are quick to write the king's obituary, it is time to think deeper.
What ails the domestic airline sector? With the national carrier in as big a mess as the king, it is only fair that we understand that this is not mere coincidence.

Air travel is still a luxury in India. As thrifty as we are, Indians have a multi-tiered approach towards splurging on air travel. Air travel is still something that an average Indian would only consider if all the trains and inter city buses to the destination are completely booked and if the journey is absolutely urgent and necessary.

That being said air travel is important for an economy like India's. Turbulent times don't last, the tough players do. Airliners in the West have been through the same. One of the reason why the king's troubles have hit the headlines is because many still refuse to believe how a savvy businessman like Malya could've gone so wrong. Some refuse to believe that Malya is running out of money only because his other businesses are doing great. While the man himself has admitted that all is not well for a long time, the shrewd businessman that he is I am sure he still has a few tricks up his Armani sleeve. Let's just hope this story has a happy ending.

Here's to the king and the maharaja. Bon Voyage!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Rise! [49/365]

Recently, an Indian actor sang a song that went viral online.
The song, made up of a bunch of lyrics that can only be termed as utter nonsense, is a testimony to how technology combined with good marketing can make anything a raging trend (pun intended). It proved how anything can be marketed as long as it is packaged well and promoted by deep purses.

Large Corporates have, in the last decade or so have gradually become more aware of their social responsibilities and that's a good thing. Nobodys complaining. Having been a part of one such corporate responsibility, I've realized that it is a win-win situation.

A few days ago, an NGO that I am proud to be associated with - Unnati (read about my experiences here), raised a pitch for sponsorship and support through Mahindra Rise - an CSR initiaitive by Indian auto major Mahindra. (Read about the program here).

Unnati does some incredible work in transforming people.  Their goal to transform a million youngsters is admirable.
Difficult but not impossible. Formidable but just what our country needs. An entire generation of productive, educated and committed workforce.

And true to its words, I've seen the confidence and the growth in individuals, both young and old go through in just 70 days. That's right, it takes less than a quarter for an entire family to Rise. From poverty, from degradation, from isolation.
I've been a part of the selection process where hundreds of young boys and girls, many who have traveled from as far away as Sikkim and Nepal to attend the 70 day vocational training that Unnati gives free of cost. Many of the interviewers are dedicated volunteers who spend hours on a weekend screening candidates. Once selected, the candidates are on the right path to change. While Unnati does insist on punctuality and discipline, it never forces itself on any of its students.
This I believe is because many in Unnati treat its students as responsible adults who are capable of making their own decisions. Wise move, I think.

Towards the end of 70 day training session, I begin to see how it's students undergo a transformation into mature adults who are intelligent, accountable and extremely productive. In the process, I've seen timid semi literate girls and boys who are intimidated by English become strong individuals with character and poise, conquering their fear of the stage and the world.

Unnati has not lost any of the steam since its first batch. If any of the accolades and the praise they receive is any indication, I can say they are on a roll. But accolades alone cannot fund a project this size.
Surely Unnati needs a lot of support. In the form of dedicated volunteers who want to make a difference and in the form of money. I've seen many former students return to their Alma- mater to return a little of what they got and I've seen professionals render their expertise, knowledge and time for free.
Seeing as the NGO does not take anything from their students while giving them a lot in return, it is imperative that the able among us strive to do whatever it takes to support Unnati.

I've taken up the cudgels to spread the word and to try and spread the word about the great work that they do.
Mahindra Rise is a wonderful platform for Unnati. But for the NGO to win the kind of national recognition and support that this effort offers, Unnati needs 3000 votes.
That's not a high number. I've seen silly videos go viral with these numbers in mere minutes. I've cast my vote. Sure registration does take a minute, but wouldn't you register for a website if it mattered to you?
I ask that you visit the link right now (takes just a click), register for yourself (another minute or so), vote and ask your circle of friends to do the same too. And you're done, all within 5 minutes that you can squeeze in your lunch/dinner break.
It's that simple!

Strike while the iron is hot. Make a difference now by voting. And know that by your vote, Unnati is that much closer to achieving it's goal. While corruption and Anna Hazare might still be a cause worth fighting for, supporting organizations that strengthens our grassroots can never be a lost cause.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Defining Failure [48/365]

Hebrews 11 is widely known as the role-call of the faithful.
It talks about how faith guided and saved people. One of my favorite chapters in the Bible, I've enjoyed reading about how ordinary people became extraordinary by mere faith.

Are you confident that your name will find a place in such a roll-call in Heaven?
While we shirk away from a straight answer on this, I think it is also important to realize that many of these may never have realized that they were destined for greatness, let alone a place in the Bible.
Abraham was a deceiver (Genesis 12:10-20), Moses was disobedient (Numbers 20:1-13) and David was a murderer (2 Samuel 11). Despite their sins, the men and women of the Bible are remembered for their persevering faith and trust in God.
These are the men and women 'who through faith... out of weakness were made strong'.

I've seen too many people who've given up hope of salvation only because they refused to believe that God could forgive and cleanse them of their sins. 
I've seen too many people commit a sin only to believe that God will forgive us, because He said so. How skewed we are! 
While God can never accept a sin of commission, he still gives us a chance to turn back. Whenever we are ready.
We forget that only God can cleanse us and still want to use us for His purpose.

Are you ready to be cleansed?

Friday, February 17, 2012

Talking shop [47/365]

Men and women are wired differently. No sh*t.
My wife loves sharing how the day went and recounting the good and bad of her day at work. I on the other hand, rarely have the energy to talk shop by the time I return.
While she finds recalling everything that happened that day very therapeutic, I find it unnecessary and believe leaving work back at the workplace. I sometimes find it dreary to listen to every minute of what happened. Not because I am not interested, but because it takes a lot of effort to be an active listener after a hectic day at work and through city traffic.

I may not like talking shop, but I enjoy sharing my day, thoughts and plans with God. I may not be able to see Him. I don't even know how He looks, but I do know that He is listening to me. I know that He is interested, and an active listener. I know that how my day went matters to Him.
My Rock and my salvation, He is my fortress. (Psalm 62) With His unfailing love and in the comforting knowledge that we can safely rest all our anxieties and fears in Him, I know that He is all ears.

Unfailing, patient - He is just the kind of person who waits to hear from you every single day of your life.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Impeached [46/365]

While we gawk and whisper in hushed tones of how politicians in the West are corrupt, I wonder how the rest of the world are talking about us. Nearly every politician in India today has corrupted and connived to stay in power.

But our skewed relationship with uncanny politicians have kept them in office far longer than they should have.
While we proudly consider our press free and speech liberal, I doubt if we can pull down a corrupt politician without bringing our economy to a grinding halt.
When the Americans pulled up Clinton and when the Germans forced its scam tainted President down (read how they did it here), I wonder if we looked inside us to see what ails us.

Surely, corruption is not Indian, but being complacent is. Our complacence has allowed us to be occupied, looted and slaved for hundreds of years.
If the British had occupied us for hundreds of years and shipped an endless amount of treasures back to their homeland, I don't see how things have changed 70 years later. We surely have managed to extricate the parasite, but in the process have mutated into something more malicious. Our politicians, businessmen and celebrities have systematically looted billions of dollars out of India. Stashed away in tax havens, I wonder if we'll ever get to see any justice being served here.

Do we have it in ourselves to be fair and just?
Can we punish the guilty and not assume they will reform by a mere slap on the wrist?
I realize that we are not the best democracy but we surely have all the right textbooks with us. Being in the land of non-violence, I'm sure we can adapt and improvise.

Is it a tall order to expect our politicians be accountable to us, the people?
We might have given the world Gandhi, but we have much to learn about our cousins in the West too.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Houston, we have a problem [45/365]

Whitney Houston: The latest victim of seemingly endless wealth and fame.
The most awarded female singer in history, was found dead in the bathtub of her hotel on the 11th Feb.
Heart-wrenching nonetheless, as millions paid their respects and reminisced her life through the past couple of decades, I prayed silently. I prayed that she finally finds the peace and love that eluded her all her famous life.

How much money do we really need?
And given all the money and fame, do we know how to live our lives unblemished?
Where do you think you'll end up when you've made the wrong choices in life?
How would you like to be remembered long after you've gone?
Pertinent questions that I ask myself every time I hear about a death.
Showbiz is a cruel place, I agree. As harsh as the spotlights and as fleeting as the paparazzi, Whitney will not the last person who had talent, got lucky, became insanely rich (no pun intended), got the wrong habits and ended up dead in a hotel room.
I'm quite sure she might have visioned a different life for herself. She may have wanted to retire in peace while still being remembered for that glorious voice she immortalized. She may have visioned a healthy marriage and a large family. She may have craved to be a role model for her daughter. She may have visioned a death in a lot more dignifying place than a bathtub. She may have wanted her loved ones around her when she shut her eyes for the last time.
But she didn't.

Life is cruel. While she may have had many of the things that mere mortals struggle to achieve all their lives, she also had her demons, that many of us would never want to have any part of. Occupational hazard, I guess but then there are a lot of celebrities, who have maintained a fair semblance of sanity and sanctity in their lives and their careers before taking the final bow. Like clockwork, you will begin to hear shameful accounts of Whitney's downward spiral from people who benefited from her fame and money. Relatives, friends and well-wishers will come alive from the woodwork for a piece of whatever is left of her legacy and wealth. Does she deserve this? Tough question to answer.
I doubt if she'll want to care of what the living will have to say or think anymore.

Death is cruel too. Our debate of heaven and hell ends on earth.
While I am no one to judge her, I can say that her choices in life is not something that could entitle her to a place in heaven. She may have made her peace with God in her final moments, and I sure hope she did.

Death is the equalizer. It does not matter whether you are the most admired CEO of the most successful business on earth or if you've got the most awards in your life, what matters eventually is the choices you make in your life here.

RIP Houston.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

My Valentine [44/365]

So here's another western import that Indians have adopted.

Back in college, I could actually witness the transition of how young impressionable Hindus make plans for 'that day' in February. St Valentine was probably the best evangelist known to man. It's interesting how even though I spent 16 years abroad, I'd never witnessed any other country take to St Valentine the way Indians did.

Valentine's day is just not one of those days which are good for geeks, loners and psychopaths.
A really depressing day for the single guys who've worked really (and I mean reeeallly) hard to snag one of them mamacitas, but failed.
A bad day for husbands who have -
a) failed to stay up awake and wish his wife/lover/booty-call a happy valentine's day at the stroke of midnight.
b) not got his wife the perfect gift.
c) not figured out a way to please her.
c) all of the above.

In a decade and a half, I've seen how a day that was intended to be day when tokens of love would be exchanged have become that time when insane thoughtless radicals attack those celebrating their love and when businesses try to sell off their unsold winter stocks and anything in red. 
Curiously, Valentine's day is exactly ten months to 'Children's day'

But it is also the day when husbands and wives discover how much they really know about each other.
Neetha and I love to gift each other surprises. We keep each other guessing until the very last moment and its simply tantalizing. I give her clues as to what it would be and enjoy the anticipation and joy that every gift brings us. Of course, it isn't anything expensive or otherwise tacky but always thoughtful.

Ofcourse, when you're in a relationship, you are supposed to love each other every single day but there's something about the 14th that makes your partner glow in a very special way. It could be the anticipation and the excitement, the blush on her cheeks or the twinkle in his eyes, or maybe it could just be love that comes from within.

One day when you prove that money can indeed buy you happiness for that day.
Because it is either the warm cozy bed or the doghouse otherwise.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Greed is Good [43/365]

Recently, an Insurance agent was trying to peddle one of his company's latest Life Insurance policy. The terms of the policy stated that I would need to pay half of my pay for a minimum of three years for a million dollar payout at the end of ten years. Naturally, the prospect of getting a million dollars meant that I could actually retire in a decade.
However, I asked him the all pertinent question - What if I die tomorrow? Like the seasoned salesman that he was, he convinced me that my nominee (my girlfriend) would get the million dollars. What if she died too? Now, he was stumped, since he couldn't say my yet to be born children were going to get the million dollars.

In Luke 12:13-21, Jesus tells us of how we save, anticipate and plan for a future that we don't have any control over. We can't even predict if we will survive tonight.
The poignancy of the scripture makes us sit up and think about what really is important in our lives - God.
While God never propagates that we live in poverty and while he has encouraged us to use our talent and wisdom to create wealth, what he does abhor is that we neither bring shame to Him by our miserliness or by gluttony. He expects us to the smart yet rich person who is not afraid of letting go of what can be lost to rust and ruin, for that indestructible wealth in heaven. Not that we will want any of the wealth when we reach heaven, but living our lives the way Jesus did should be our guidelines.

In simpler words, a JD for a place in heaven is asking for a person who is 'forgiving, loving, tolerating, being patient, understanding and wise'.  
Have we got it in us?

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Sound OK Horn [42/365]

It took me a few months to understand why every public transport in India had 'Sound OK Horn' painted on the back of their vehicles. Why are we asking if the sound is okay with the horn?!
Gradually as India began to sink into me, I discovered the Indian obsession with horns and anything that produced sound.

In the 15 years that I've used a vehicle on Indian roads, it is impossible to miss road rage.
I've mentioned in an earlier post of how musically blessed our drivers are, but every time I get on to the road I feel like I am in a battlezone.

As if proving me right, a recent report of how road rage got out of hand got me thinking. When am I going to be the victim? Not that I've been safe from the brush of death but its just that I've been really lucky.

Our drivers use their horns as an extension of their alter egos. Safe within the cocoons of their vehicles, they toot their horns impatiently and inconsiderately. From the moment they get out of their garages up until they return, an average driver would have honked atleast a dozen times. Statistics apart, I think what makes us arrogant drivers is the fact that we are not ready to wait. We can't wait for the traffic to clear and we reach for the horn almost automatically. I've had drivers become extremely impatient and honk even when they can see that the traffic is piled up for miles ahead of them. I've seen drivers honk when they are in a tearing hurry to zip past, even when you are stuck and can't. I've had drivers so pissed that they've tried running me off the road, only because I could not let them overtake me. I've seen Indians swear and show the finger and generally so angry and irritated. While I can understand how the state of our city roads are anything but desirable, I fail to see how we cannot be little less noisy, lot more patient and tolerant. And this is possible when we don't honk as much as we do.

So I thought what better way to prove my theory but by trying it myself. I took it as a project for the last one week where I decided to not use my horn at all. While it was difficult to resist, I found that I didn't hurry while on my way to work, slowed down when I had to, drove defensively and didn't get as stressed as I would normally be.
I swore much less when that driver cut lanes and within a day or two I could even start smiling again at fellow drivers.  This was incredible transformation!

While I won't advocate a 'No Horn' day simply because such a day is impossible to effectively implement it, I think the transformation will begin when we shed our obsession with sounding horns, one honk at a time.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Inshallah [41/365]

Every year as you approach the New Year, you'll see a lot of friends, colleagues and family members going on their much deserved annual vacations.
'See you next year'. As humans, we take a lot of things for granted.

The fact that we wake up or even being able to see your loved ones the on the other side of tomorrow. We toil for our tomorrows. We sacrifice our family time for that over-time at work. All so that we can climb that socioeconomic calendar.
I'm reminded of James 4: 13-17, where we are cautioned against boasting about our tomorrow.

13 Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.”
14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.
15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”
16 As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil.
17 If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.

While the scripture isn't asking you to not plan for the future, what it is exhorting is that we have a proper relationship with our Creator. Arabs and Muslims around the world use Inshallah a lot. Translated into 'If God wills', I've seen a lot of people ask for God's blessings as they are about to start anything new or big. Having started with God's name does not mean He is obliged to guide us to our goals, though.


Friday, February 10, 2012

TOCing Excel [40/365]

'Where are your updates?!' A friend, dear critic and voracious reader asked me.
Since I did feel guilty about lagging so far behind in blogging that I decided I owe my readers - YOU, an apology.

I've been as busy as a rat scrapping coconut off the husk.
That is if you want to term doing what you love as work.

I was faced with a dilemma at work. I could never resist a good ol' challenge and I was not about to start doing it now.I had to organize a really huge MS Excel file. The spreadsheet had about 300 tables with text in them. Not your typical spreadsheet, you see. I had to figure out a way to navigate to individual table head without having to scroll down. I had to create a Table of Content (TOC). Easier said than done.
Considering how Excel was never meant to have a TOC or 600 pages of text, I knew I was staring at something beyond the ordinary.

Once I'd decided that I had to create a TOC, I set about transferring the tables from the Excel spreadsheet to a Word document. I created an heading style using a customized style template, and created a TOC. That was the easy part.
I tried importing the Word document to Excel but the converting it to a CSV file only robbed it off its formatting.
But then I hit upon the idea of bookmarking the individual tables on the spreadsheet. That would have worked if we had only one table in a sheet. Considering that we had 300 tables, this could made updating the sheet and managing the document a herculean task. But this is went I stumbled across how every heading that was linked to the TOC within the Word document. Every heading when copied from the Word document had a reference point named '_TocXXXXXXXX'.
What I did next was to create a separate list with just the headings and hyperlink it to the 'Place in the document'. Voila!
I had a fully functional TOC within Excel!

There are some flaws to this as well. But I guess the flaw is also its greatest utility.
When copying the heading from the Word document and pasting it to the Excel spreadsheet, the value gets stuck to the cell. Now, this means if you delete the heading for any reason, you will still have the '_TocXXXXXXXX' value no matter what else you input in the field. But this also means that you can insert cells/rows/field above it and the heading retains the '_TocXXXXXXXX' value.

Now, my next challenge is to do is to create a customized footer within Excel that will show the Headings within the particular page and creating a specialized macro for formatting tables within Word.
Back to the drawing board.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Money for nothing... [39/365]

Recently when I wrote about how most Indians would give a limb and a spine for a government job, I had also mentioned how the cushy hikes, revisions and bribes always besides the free accommodation and perks for the rest of their life meant a charmed life.(Get the dope here)
Well, a cousin of mine who hopped government jobs like it was going out of style felt indignant that I implied he was living a luxurious life getting paid for almost no work. Truth be told, yes he was quite stable financially because of the choices of PSUs that he chose to work in. But it is also true that there are lakhs of government employees who have not been paid for many months/years.

While India has been splurging on trillion dollar defense deals, we have lakhs of government and PSU employees not getting paid their due salary. I can barely imagine how families can survive without salaries for as long as they have been. Reportedly, many of our PSUs have not paid their employees (aka Slaves) for over a year. Shocking!
Now, it's not because we don't have the money or because we are still called a 'developing/third world' country. But because much of the money that a honest tax payer contributes disappears into a labyrinth of bureaucracy and corruption.

Do we really need a nuclear submarine and 200 warplanes? Why do we need better weapons? Has any of the people we've killing complaining about the kind of missile that hit them?
Must we really send a man to the moon at the incredible cost of a thousand crore? Don't we have enough people to take care of here on earth?
How about the billions that flow down the drain during the great democratic juggernaut called Elections?

It is difficult to fathom how a nation with the kind of wealth and resources like India could still struggle to pay itself.
We may not have a capitalist economy but we certainly follow it as a religion.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Holier than thou [38/365]

The land of Kamasutra has done it again.
For all those foreigners who thought Indians are prudish and not 'curious', a bunch of legislators from the southern state of Karnataka have managed to prove them otherwise.
Three ministers were caught by a television crew watching a porn clip on their smartphones. The reason for the outrage is because they were watching the clip while the house was in motion discussing other 'serious' stuff on Tuesday. (Read the enchanting story here)
Fast forward a day, all three got the boot, a committee was formed, and the opposition got another brownie point. While the entire nation drools over the finer points, politicians from Kerala will barely want to mumble considering their penchant with prostitution. So its business as usual in India.

Politicians getting caught with the pants down, and hands inside the cookie jar (no pun intended) has always made for interesting media. 'Porn'gate, as any scam worth its muck gets christened, couldn't have come at a worse time for the ruling party in the government. As Indians prepare to go to the polls, a scandal like this is something that any politician could have stayed away from.

While heads are rolled with incredible efficiency, I also begin to question how effective such decisions are.
C'mon, are we going to assume that these politicians are never going to watch porn again? Are we to believe that they will be reformed and never ever pornicate themselves? That's right. They are not going to stop.
Infact, they will only be a lot more careful about not getting caught.
Not that I am advocating that watching porn is bad. Infact, I am yet to think about a person, man or woman who has not watched porn, ever.
I'd rather recommend a healthy dose of erotica to any man or woman but as Indians, we are naive. We'd like to believe that people have never watched a 'blue film' ever. Aw crap! We'd like to believe that our boys and men have never masturbated ever. Most believe that woman don't like porn. Well, my ex was into 'animal sex' and there are tons of sites that cater to every possible sexual craving capable to humanity. And Internet was just the most incredible way to all that free porn. Heck, this will even boost the numbers of those googling out the now aptly titled 'ministers mms masala' clip online.
We are indeed closet pornstars. Behind closed doors in cyber cafes and seedy hotel rooms, our boys and girls are satisfying themselves to their heart's content. And we have the MMS clips and video clips to prove that.

So whether it is a video of a rave party going wild or men gang-banging a drunk woman, the takers are always there. Its just a matter where you watch it. The ministers made the cardinal mistake of letting their curiosity get the better of them. Like a bunch of repressed teens with raging hormones, they forgot that the walls indeed have eyes. Caught red handed with a blue film (pun intended). However, I know of many many colleagues who have either watched porn at office or have atleast exchanged porn via emails while in office. I also know of some colleagues have made love in restrooms and dimly light landscaped lawns. But I guess we are all innocent until caught.

I doubt if this would be the last porngate to hit the headlines.
In the words of Michael Moore: I wonder how future civilizations will judge us...

Monday, February 06, 2012

When reel becomes real [36/365]

AIDS, cancer, heart disease, mental illness and diabetes are those kind of diseases that we think we will never get.
'It is because of their lifestyle and life decisions or because of all his/her past sins'.

The experience of seeing my Dad struggle with cancer is perhaps one of two or three events that changed my life. He was a strong person. And perhaps the toughest part could have been his intimate knowledge of how lethal his cancer was.

When news of Yuvraj suffering from a malignant tumor in his lungs hit the newsstands, I had a familiar feeling of gloom. I am no fan of any of the Indian cricketers. But somehow, I remembered his TV commercial for an Life Insurance company.
Like an ominous sign to the future, the cricketer was emphasizing on how the cart is only as good as its bull.
While millions of the most eligible cricket bachelor's fans would be praying and hosting pujas to appease the gods of health and death, I'm quite sure he would come out of this a stronger and tougher individual. No one survives cancer unchanged. True both literally and figuratively.
But this also proves to us that life has amazing equalizers that can humble us and force us to stop and smell the roses.
Last year, I tried raising money for cervical cancer. Though I had a target of $500, I could raise only about $150. This especially when one in five women in India are susceptible to the disease. A visit to an oncology hospital is a witness to the suffering and the hopelessness that needs no language. Physical pain is temporary, but the mental agony of knowing that you are on a countdown can be excruciating. All the money in the world cannot steal that pain away.

So what happens to those who are beyond the care of medical science and have just a few months/weeks/days left to live or die. What happens when that person has no more money for expensive palliative care? That's where organizations like 'Karunashreya' come as beacon of hope.
In the few months that I have been associated with NGOs like Unnati and Karunashreya, I've seen how indomitable human spirit and optimism can be infectious. Like a lit lamp on a tall stand, it radiates hope and mitigates pain and stigma.
I've seen the incredible work that Karunashreya does amongst the critical ill cancer patients. They are not bothered about who wins the elections or if the roads are fixed. In a blink match with death, philosophy takes a back seat. Its survival. Its time to forgive and be forgiven.

Cancer has its famous champions. But they are either few and far between. But every single survivor can help take the sting and stigma out of cancer. We need awareness and acceptance. Will India's latest poster boy for cancer help do that?

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Dawn of sense [35/365]

Today's newspapers should have come with a warning for Cricket lovers and amorous Muslim men in India:
Make sure you sit down before you read any further.

Sahara, the real estate conglomerate who has been sponsoring the over rated, under performing, uber rich Indian cricket team for well over a decade now, finally decided to pull the plug and the rug from underneath the BCCI. (The delightful news here)
What took them so long?
Sahara in one swift move has turned the tables on the most influential cricketing board in the planet. Now cricket in India has always been The sport to follow. But with the current debacle Down Under and a team with more senior citizens (aka Veterans) than in the government, I wonder if any company would want to take a bet and decide to sponsor the team on any of its fully paid vacations abroad and around the country. The company statement was more of an emotional plea than anything else.
While it is easy to see the economics of money in sport, I'd make more sense if the sponsor would have a say on the performance of it's beneficiaries. Like in any corporate today, the consistent performer should be rewarded better than a fair weather, good pitch hitter. But I guess that could be asking for too much especially the way they are playing. But then the question I would like to ask is, why are the players spending more time and effort selling themselves on screen if they cannot win a match? Well, I may not be a cricket buff (or would hate to describe myself one) but all those million dollar paychecks that our cricketers get simply does not make sense. At all.
Overall, a bad day for the Indian Cricket board.

And the day was not looking any better for Muslim men either.
A historic judgement was to be passed by Muslim scholars in India. No more triple talaq. (Shocking news here)
For the uninitiated, Muslim men are allowed to keep up to four wives under the Sharia law. But allowed to marry only one, obviously because the law recognizes that the man cannot care and do justice to more than one wife. Smart!
Why? Well, the reason is hardly spiritual. After years of bloody wars that left many nations with a skewed sex ratio, entire societies were left with more widows and spinsters than eligible men. Islamic countries encouraged their men to take more wives in to solve this supply & demand dilemma. Women on the other hand, are prohibited from having more than one husband.
And if you thought men had all the aces in choosing a wife for himself, then you haven't heard about the divorce yet.
Muslim men can divorce his wife just by uttering the talaq thrice. You won't even need a witness and in countries where polygamy is actively encouraged, the husband may not even need to wait for a period of time before uttering the third talaq.
But now with the landmark decision to disallow the triple talaq, I am guessing some of the most important arguments will be about how this law will restrict the freedom of a Muslim man. The women will be lucky to get any representation at all. While polygamy can be a good thing for certain societies, I still think that is more of an exception than the rule.
(Recommended Read here)

While we still wait to see how BCCI will bend over backwards to accommodate it's strongest sponsor, or if the law prohibiting the triple talaq will be passed and enforced as a law, this is certainly the beginning of the end.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Spiritual Death [34/365]

Death is a mournful thing.
While some see it coming, others have it decided for them. But all of us will keep our date with death.

While the 'sudden and unexpected' death of someone you knew could be heartbreaking, a death in the family is something that can crumple a person, from inside and out.

But what about spiritual death?
If you know someone who is struggling with sin and temptation and refuses to reform, do you mourn for them?
In the Bible, we see Jesus raising the dead many times. The Bible does not tell us what became of the people who He raised from the dead. And personally, I don't think that would matter.

The book of Genesis tells us how He breathed into the dust and we were formed in His image. And later we read how we are destined to return to dust (Genesis 2 - 3). Somewhere down the long line of evolution, we've muddled up our purpose on earth. We glorify our bodies. In vain, we think how fat / thin we are is what matters. We chase diets and cosmetics in search of that elusive fountain of youth. We spent all our waking hours dreaming about fitness.
Instead of nurturing a healthy soul in a healthy body, we've made food our sole reason for existence.

Today's world is filled with people who'd rather have a healthy breakfast in the morning than spent five minutes in conversation with God. How much longer can we delay our need for God in our lives?

Nearly all of us hate funerals. Not our own, but of others 
My Dad never wore his black rhinestone wedding ring to a funeral because it was considered inauspicious.
I know people who go through ritual bathing after they return from a funeral service. Because they want to cleanse themselves off the karma of the dead.
Insane as that sounds, this is not going to do anything for the dying spirit that we all carry within us.

I still don't cherish the thought of the day when my Mom or a family member passing on, but the least we can do is live a life that is spiritually immortal.

Friday, February 03, 2012

The blindside of life [33/365]

Do we forgive enough?
Is our love unselfish?
It is incredible how many people will say No to these questions.

Twelve years ago, I made a phone call that led to one of the most profound relationships that I've had.

Soon after the call ended, we got acquainted and since the booth was inside a prominent bus station which I visited often, our bonds grew. 'Aunty' was a middle aged lady who lost her eyesight due to a botched eye surgery shortly after her fifth grade. The doctor 'accidentally' snipped off the nerves to her eyes. Unmarried she was pretty much by herself all her life. I'd later learn that various welfare schemes by the government enabled her to earn her living by candle making, basket weaving and now the phone booth.

As able bodied people, we have many limitations. We are embarrassed and phobic about a lot of things. We would not approach strangers to strike a conversation, yet would spent hours talking over the phone. We would feel embarrassed to give a good compliment or to return an innocuous smile, yet we expect others to be kind and friendly towards us. We feel insignificant in the midst of certain people, yet we want to be the bigger person amongst people we meet. We would rarely try a new profession / craft / hobby without first worrying and being anxious about what the society would say/think about us, yet when we encourage our children to stand out of the crowd. We are insecure and insufficient even when we have much. We give little, yet take much. We are prejudiced against caste, creed, ethnicity and language.

But 'Aunty' blinded by callous surgeons did not curse God for all the curve balls that life has dealt her. She is perhaps one of those individuals whose faith in God has only become stronger. A testimony to how God allows people to go through certain situations so that He is glorified. God has been her guardian, and her strength and even when it appeared that she could be homeless, He worked through the most unlikeliest samaritans. Even when the unscrupulous business people demolished her phone booth, all she did was pray. She didn't indulge in self pity or malicious campaign. As with all things divine, a local corporator soon build her a better and bigger phone booth.

Looking at the lives of those are different from us either by accident or by birth, I begin to believe that no matter successful you think you are, you are only as good as your prayer life.
Our sensory laden lives makes us forget how fortunate we are to see what we see, hear what we hear and speak what we want.

While most people often look for the bright side of every situation, would that make sense to the differently abled unless we decided to share our lives with them?
Hoo Ha!

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Bangalored! [32/365]

Sweatshops: A dirty word that conjures up images of obscure rows of employees sitting hunched over in dark dreary and unhygienic factories in countries like Philippines and Bangladesh.
While the truth is not far from the fiction, sweatshops have evolved into sophisticated work-areas where employees and their working conditions have not changed much.

Bangalore is the ITES sweatshop capital of the world.
I've started my career in a call-center. One of the first in Bangalore, it was when people the Dell call center was still that dream company to work for. We never had cabs the way most companies have now. Sometimes, you'd get a ride in the company's Maruti van or sometimes, the MD's Cielo. Most times, it was BYOA (Bring Your Own A$$) to work and back. But I enjoyed my stint there. I was one of 25 who would try and sell Sony products to American customers who visited our products online. I could easily sell a couple of VAIOs or a $7000 plasma televisions on a regular day.

The company never had the infrastructure or a clue on how to manage it's employee and retain talent. Every time an enterprising rodent chewed on the computer cables, we were simply sent to a nearby cybercafe so that we could continue chatting with our unaware clients. To my clients, I was Nancy. We never had to field questions like 'Are you in India?!' or make much small talk. They just wanted to buy a Sony product and it didn't matter that we were in a rat infested call center in India who had no clue about how the weather in the US was. This was more than a decade ago.

While BPOs and call centers might look a lot better in buildings of glass and metal, with backup plans and improved infrastructure, I often feel much of this is just cosmetic. I have seen companies that encourage their employees to work overtime by paying them 20 times of what they would normally get in as a bonus in their annual appraisals.
I've worked in companies where they pack you ten to a cab that would normally seat only seven plus the driver. I've been in one of those cabs where sandwiched between the co-passenger and the driver and with the gear stick between my legs, I would hope that the driver clutches the right shaft. I've been in companies that mandate that you reach office at least 30 minutes before your shift but could care a rat's ass if you missed your ride back home. Transport and food has always been the bane of every employee in such a company. But of course, the buck is always passed.

If you thought only the folks in garment and manufacturing industries were being slaved, think again.
Surely proponents of the industry can testify at how the average standard of living has increased in India in general and Bangalore in particular since call-centers have arrived. And I agree that this has given jobs, a career and so many other things to millions of graduates like me.
But we aren't that much better than our Chinese counterparts. Our educated boys and girls migrate to cities with dreams of a better life but end up working in call centers that don't serve good food, wont listen to their transport woes and can't guarantee that they wont be fired the next time a 'ramp -down' happens. Many of them live in unscrupulous hostels and dilapidated paying guests that fleece them.

For people outside the industry, if you're working in a call center you have loose morals, an affinity for mobile phones and gadgets and you live a life that disgusts them yet they would tolerate you since you are a source of money for them.
But for people who have survived the industry, they can vouch for how difficult work can get, at how harsh Indian task masters are and how life is generally not as rosy as we make it appear to the world. I know of companies that insist their employees take about 400 calls a day (and that's about 50 calls an hour with an average handle time of 5 minutes or lesser per call) with a constant pressure to excel and not be at the bottom of an archaic performance scale.
Yet, I've referred many of my acquaintances and friends to a call center anytime they wanted a job and I know plenty of people who have done the same. The life may not be great, but it's a great place to start from.

Definitely, many of our call centers are nothing but really sophisticated sweatshops but I shudder to think where the world would have been without India, her million call centers, the billion graduates and the zillion puns and jokes about the Indian accent.

Recommended Read

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

The difficult month [31/365]

I hate tongue twisting words. Especially when it is a month.
Welcome to 'Febru-vary'
Its that month of the year when we begin to feel settled in after a boisterous January. 
That month when moderately lazy Christians would start packing up their Christmas decorations and begin finding space in the attic for the Christmas tree.
That month when investment managers and tax planners get into a frenzy and stop spending hours on FB. It's that time of the year when single guys start working out and almost single girls start playing tough to get.
February is also that time of the year when married men across the world are expected to pull up a rabbit out of the hat and bowl his mate off her feet and when their wives become even more mysterious and prefer to throw subtle clues of what can bowl her off the feet. 
The month of red hearts and great valentine day discounts.
Ofcourse, no one really wants to know about those men/women who are going to cheat on their partners over the course of this month, so everything is just fine.

Ahh! February. You've either failed your new year resolutions already or are about to.
A bad time of the year to quit smoking because your annual appraisals have either ruined your peace of mind or are about to. 
When the Indian government is about to kick off its annual exercise in fiscal 'truth or dare'.

Difficult or not, all's well because love, even the superficial kind of love, conquers all your fears.

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