Saturday, August 01, 2009

First Impressions….surely not the Last Impression

I have been coming to Bangalore (oops Bengaluru ) for years now but mainly on business travel. This time, consequent to my job change, here I am with my family with our bag and baggage, in the so called “Silicon Valley “of India.

Did I just say Silicon Valley? Is it truly comparable to Silicon Valley? Yes and No. “Yes”, if we look at the industry cluster – IT and ITES and number of entrepreneurial ventures in this sector and “No”, if we look at everything else.

This place is very different from Gurgaon, where I moved from. You miss the attitude, the air, and the convenience, basically the feel is not the same. Not that I expect them to be same. Cities can’t be clones. Each city has its own signature, a certain uniqueness, on which it builds upon and draws you.

Some of my observations do suffer from serious bias…bias of comparison with Gurgaon, which is so powerfully etched in my mind. Further this is more in jest than some serious writing.

Sometimes I wonder, is this a city or a cantonment where civilians have been temporarily allowed to stay? Shouldn’t these large tracts of land be freed and the armed forces be relocated. They are ensconced the most-prime real estate, which should be the case, if you are building a modern city. Central areas of the city (read cantonment) should be converted to business and residential districts.

Right from the day I have landed, I am driving from one lane to another….Roads…you must be joking…I know what I am talking about…they are only lanes…where are the roads???….There is no road density. The answer has been converting many of them to one-ways. The city has witnessed an explosion of people with growth of, manpower intensive, IT and ITES industries. Rather than taking tough decisions like widening roads or being foresighted by building MRTS (now one is under construction and knowing this place will remain for long), government has gone about increasing taxes to obscene levels. This reminds me of the negative attitude of growing rich by pulling down others… such negative attitude only alienates citizens. Take the road tax for instance, it probably collects the highest tax and has absolutely pathetic roads….sorry lanes. The traffic crawls like a centipede.

Anyway there are some lanes worth being called roads and are crammed with speed-breaker bumpers, maybe I should call them vehicle-breakers. There is one road, christened Jail Road, 10-15 Kms long, which I pursue to come to office from Sarjhapur Road to Electronic City has no less than 40-50 such breakers. I still take it because the other route is horrible. The city is teeming with these breakers and that too without any zebra markings. I was thinking if all the breakers were painted in black and white stripes, the arieal view of Bengaluru , would look like one big Zebra crossing!

Obviously this gets on to the nerves of the motorists, hence everyone resorts to honking. It has become a part of their driving skill and routine, so much so that they honk even if there is no one around. Imagine all the buses (most of the corporates have bus pick up and drop for employees) and rickshaws honking early in the morning when you go to leave your kids to school. Noise and air pollution are at its worst. This is something that the government should seriously think about. Those shrill and continuous honks almost make you deaf and go crazy.

Most of the roads and lanes are dotted by two set of parallel lines, the open drainage, I had seen these only in villages and now here. Why there was no attempt made to convert it to underground drainage. It’s not a town anymore. The open drainages are clogged with mud and garbage, which anyway is a big health and safety scare. During monsoons, due to water logging you can’t detect them in many areas, leading to serious accidents and loss of many innocent lives. To my horror, a month back, a kid got washed away and I heard the commissioner blaming the mother on why she allowed her child to play outside. Thankfully he was sacked.

Looks like citizens have given up and they find refuge in Palmists, who dote the city everywhere. I am amazed to see the number of palmists in profession. Occurs, the whole city only lives on hope, or how else can they thrive so much!

While Bangalore was always known for its night life and pubs, what no one shared that nights are also famous for loose stray canines. These canines are in large nos., and are so very dangerous. I wonder why no action has been taken and we allow our citizens to live in fear of getting bitten. An evening stroll can result into checking in to the hospital. I pity the guys who ride their bikes back home from the office late nights (and you a have huge BPO-KPO crowd).

Hey it’s not about negatives alone….the city has equal or more no. of positives.

Weather….awesome….everything else eclipses when we talk of weather. God has been very kind and benevolent to this city. It has fantastic weather and that too round the year. Sprawling and scenic lush greenery can be seen all over and offers a very soothing sight. To a great extent it makes it up for every other lacuna and probably the only reason why people have been tolerating all the other hardships. I wonder if cities like Bangalore and Gurgaon have just been lucky….lucky by chance…Bangalore’s got such a pleasant weather and Gurgaon happened to be South Delhi’s neighbor and close to the airport. Had the Govt. been a little proactive, they could turn these cities to a Singapore or Hong Kong equivalent. Anyway, great weather a boon. One can swim all the year round, one can play any time of the day, golfers need not get up very early in the morning, your AC bills come down etc. Extreme environments can be very tough on elders, therefore this place is great for them.

What a safe place it is for the ladies. And that’s important, since women comprise of >50% of IT/ITES workforce and majority work in US / UK shifts. It is therefore utmost that city provides a safe environment.

Foodies will like the bakeries and fruit juice corners, and are very reasonable, which are in abundance…

Probably there is no better place than this for travel junkies. There are hundreds of destinations, at drivable distances (within 6-7 hrs drive). Motivated by this fact, I have bought Outlook’s weekend guide. Need to go on the first one.

What I liked the most…day before yesterday, at around 1 pm, I was strolling on the 4th floor cafeteria terrace of my company, looking at the vast expanse and thinking about my work. It was naturally quiet, as guys start rushing in at about 2pm, suddenly I heard a cuckoo sing and that too for a full ten minutes. I looked at the cuckoo sitting on one the trees planted in the campus, down below from the terrace, I didn’t move. It was such a heavenly experience. I hadn’t heard a cuckoo sing in years. I would have definitely not got this in Gurgaon.

Anyway…I am sure it will finally work out for me in this they say…time is the greatest healer. I would have figured many charming locales and my next blog could be a 180o turn from this one. Amen.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Kismet, Muqaddar, Luck, Destiny, Fate, Taqdeer

Life is a very interesting experience. It has been like never-before designed roller-coaster with sharpest bends and falls, unmatched acceleration, resulting in extreme fear and excitement. May be it’s the newest extreme-sport in the current recession era.

This one is about my own career and life. I was looking to move on from my current job, having worked good nine years, as the place developed a sinking atmosphere, aimless and without any challenges and excitement. I felt as if I was losing my sharpness by the day, which was unacceptable to me. The only problem was that with the entire economy in tatters, nothing meaningful was coming by. I worked on a two pronged strategy; one – reaching out to my relationships and consultants and two – reaching out to almighty invoking him to set my destiny on the right path. I felt as if AR Rehman wrote this beautiful composition for me.

Marrammat Muqqaddar Ki Kar De Maula

Arziyaan Saari Main Chehre Pe Likh Ke Laaya Hoon
Tumse Kya Maangu Main Tum Khud Hee Samajh Lo

Dararein Dararein Hain Maathhe Pe Maula
Marammat Muqqaddar Kee KAr Do Maula, Mere Maula

Tere Dar Pe Jhukaa Hoon Meeta Hoon, Banaa Hoon
Marammat Muqqaddar Kee Kar Do Maula, Mere Maula

Submission to GOD or Guru, gives you formidable strength, courage and solace to bear and fight out moments of stress. Most importantly it brings peace with yourself. Having been a spectator of this sport myself, my mind wandered thinking where I am headed. I would casually answer to my friends, ‘Dekho Kismet Kahan Le Jaati Hai’ ( Lets see where does destiny take me). And suddenly, I was filled with thoughts around this abstract concept of Kismet and its variances Taqdeer, Muqqaddar, Fate, Luck, Destiny…

What went through my mind, was a storm of emotions and I captured it by writing this couplet.

Mere Muqqddar Mujhe Yahan Se Kahin Aur Le Chal

Mere Haath Kee Lakeeren Ab Bhi Tere Marammat Mein Hain
Jodta Jaa Aur Inhe Us Manjil Ki Raah Dikhla De
Jahaan Josh Ho, Umang Ho, Sukoon Ho, Sach Ho, Sach Ka Saath Ho
Himmat Ho, Chaah Ho, Raah Ho, Tum Ho

Nahin to Inhe Phir Se Likh
Mere Muqqaddar Mujhe Yahan Se Kahin Aur Le Chal

This is something which has nettled people all around seeking answers in astrology, palmistry, gemstones, tarots, and what not. I gazed at my palms, wondering, whether actually one’s fate is captured in these lines. Do they really convey something?

I generally come across people who take all the credit for good things happening to them and blaming their ‘Kismet’ for everything negative. Do you remember Jagjit Singh singing:

Rekhaon Ka Khel Hai Muqqaddar
Rekahon Se Maat Kha Rahe Ho

To me, its about the attitude you wear. Choosing to stay positive is tough but not impossible. Needs tons of energy otherwise, but if your foundation has been built on the strength of character, then it’s not all that tough. Something we should give to our kids as they prepare for this extreme sport. I recall, Emerson, clearly echoing similar thoughts.

Sow a thought and you reap an act
Sow an act and you reap a habit
Sow a habit and you reap a character
Sow a character and you reap a destiny

One should easily expect two to three serious and derailing situations which will have the potential to make or break one’s life and threaten one’s career. Coming out of those depths will depend on individual’s character, courage, positive thoughts, friends, spirituality and positive thoughts. It’s about conditioning the mind. ‘Men are not prisoners of Fate, but only prisoners of their own mind’, said Franklin Roosevelt.

If your driving desire is positive, destiny will always stay on the positive course. Picking up the famous quote from our Upanishads:

You are what your deep driving desire is;
As your deep driving desire is, so is your will;
As your will is, so is your deed;
As your deed is, so is your destiny.

So the deed is basically your Karma. So one should practice the Yoga of Karma and choose to be Karma Yogi. Shrimad Bhagvad Geeta, is a good reference point, to understand this piece in detail.

Rather than focusing on this, people fruitlessly tend to seek solution elsewhere. Many reach out to astrologers, wearing combination of gemstones etc. Do you believe that these have the power to change the course of your life or absorb negative happenings? May be it helps one remains calm, having sought divine intervention. I am not totally against it, but shouldn’t get subordinated or only rely on them hope for miracles to happen, else it will only lead to desolation.

Tune Ungli Mein Sajaa To Liya Patthar Lekin
Teri Taqdeer Badal Jaye, Ye Jaroori To Nahin

Moving on to something lighter, there is hardly any subject which has stayed untouched by Indian Cinema. Hence can’t resist taking examples from it. The most unforgettable for me was AB riding the bike and singing cheerfully.

Rote Hue, Aate Hain Sab, Hansta Hua Jo Jayega
Woh Muqqaddar Ka Sikandar, Jaane Man Kahlayaga

Another one, where two friends, Shammi Kapoor Ji and Dilip Kumar Ji contradicting each other, talk about fate and planning.

Haathon Ki Chand Lakeeron Ka
Sab Khel Hai Bas Taqdeeron Ka

Taqdeer Bhala Kya Main Kya Janoon
Main Ashiq Hoon Tadbeeron Ka

Treading into negative territory, this number, challenges one to punt on one’s own ability.

Tadbeer Se Bigdee Huyee Taqdeer Banaa Le
Apne Pe Bharosa Hai to Daanv Lagaa Le

Dartaa Hai Zamaane Ke Nighaahon Se Bhala Kyoon
Insaaf Tere Saath Hai Ilzaam Uthaa Le

The recent movie ‘Oye Lucky Lucky Oye’ was on very similar theme. The swindler-hero, high on self-belief, always ends up escaping from the clutches of law.

The subject has been the fodder for ‘Shayars’. I am sure this subject would have ranked as their favorite had a poll been conducted. There is none, who has not touched upon and written extensively on this subject. Choosing to stay in Gam ( Sorrow ), sacrificing their love, deriving joy out of that sorrow, ultimately faulting their Kismet for what bechanced them. Many beautiful Ghazals and Shers have captured this concept. Can be a blog subject in itself. I put across couple of them.

Yeh Na Thee Hamaree Kismet Ke Wisaal-Ye-Yaar Hota
Agar Aur Jeete Rehte, Yahee Intezaar Hota

( Was not my destiny to meet my love. Had I lived more, would have longed more…)

Mere Haathon Se Gir Gayi Lakeeren Kahin
Bhool Aaye Hum Apni Taqdeerein Kahin
Agar Mile Tumko Kahin To Utha Lena
Mere Hisse Ki Har Khushi Apne Haathon Pe Saja Lena

I love this one

Aqal Waalon Ke Muqqaddar Mein Yeh Zauk-e-Junoon Kahan
Yeh Ishq Waley Hain, Jo Har Cheez Lutaa Detey Hain

Anyway coming back to me, my efforts of looking out did pay off. Closing two and both of my likings was such a ego-booster. I thank my Guru and Lord for loving me and bestowing their blessings on me. I close this blog with the powerful thoughts as they run my mind and aptly put across in the couplet.

Bikhri Hooyee Umeedon Ko Jod
Aaj Phir Se Nayaa Mukaam Paana Hai

Har Dil Mein Padi Khamosh Dhadkan
Mein Aaj Sahlab Laana Hai

Is Andhere Se Nazar Aane Wale Us Taraf Ke Ujaale Ko
Iraadon Se Yahaan Muqammal Kar Laana Hai

Ik Saath Karke Apni Taqdeeron Ko
Aaj Apna Ek Naya Muqqaddar Banaana Hai

Fateh Kar Sabhi Jahaano Ko
Sitaron Ki Tarah Chha Jaana Hai

Mili Hui Is Shikast Ko
Shikast Ka Rukh Dikhlaana Hai

Or may be as Sir Iqbal put it...

Khudi ko Kar Buland Itna, Har Taqdeer ke Pehle,
Khuda Bande se khud Puchhe, Bata Teri Razaa Kya Hai

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Commentary on the First Quarter 2009.

Events unfolding within financial services and its implications on the company I work for and myself, sought of, kept me occupied. This period was quite happening though for India from both national and international perspective. Most of these events evoked very strong and mixed reactions from the Indians with emotions ranging from awe to aversion and antipathy leading to very interesting debates. This post is more in the nature of commentary and my stand on some of the events. Not that my position is of any consequence or matters to anyone but could be read as views of common man.

Let me quickly capture some of the epochal events. I begin with the positives. The opening of Taj, Mumbai for business on 6th Jan was triumph of good over evil. The intensity of damage it had suffered and the quick rebound is a great testimony of our determination and only reinforces the belief that bad times don’t last. Unfortunately its five months since 26/11 and the trial has only just began, God knows when will the justice be given? My worst fear is that Kasab becomes another Afzal after years and years of trials due to political compulsions! Will be great travesty of justice and insult to Indians and should be severely censured. This is something we should reform asap led by both administration and society. Cannot led perpetrators of crime against India escape punishment?

Then came the Satyam saga, which quickly eclipsed the euphoria of Taj’s opening. I was disgusted to see some guys taking pride in the fact that it’s India’s answer to Enron. We don’t need to answer scam with a scam. This one episode had the potential to bring down India’s value proposition and investments in Indian businesses in general and did dent our credibility. For a change, the government managed this piece well and contained the magnitude of damage it could cause. As I write, it has found a new owner, a very respectable Indian name - Mahindras. The way transition has been managed, I would say is surprising and remarkable, well done on this one but what will do long term good, is to use this opportunity and cleanse the system thoroughly.

My third pick would be two landmark films - Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire and Anurag Kashyap’s Dev D. Well, both films had their share of controversies, while Slumdog Millionaire was caught in the argument whether its poverty porn or not, Dev D got mired into whether it too loud and bold. I believe that Slumdog M was a visual treat and did get to showcase India’s vibrancy and positivity in the midst of poverty, but Dev D was a better storyline and more hard-hitting within the Indian context. Slumdog M went on to create history by winning all major Golden Globes and Oscars and Dev D redefined the female sexuality by presenting an entirely new paradigm. I personally loved watching Dev D more than Slumdog M. Infact, I have taken liking to what some of the Indian filmmakers have attempted with Shakespearean literature, with innovative and creative remakes. Vishal’s Maqbool and Omkara based on Macbeth and Othello respectively were pathbreaking and deserve honorable mention. And now, Dev D based on Sarat’s Devdas. What an adaptation! I think it was an extremely creative piece of work, pushing the boundaries, keeping the themes and characterizations intact. I am sure Devdas will continue to intrigue the Indian filmmakers and we will see many more versions.

Some events, which didn’t occur in India but affects us (you could list Slumdog M in that category as well as it is a British Film) would be Obama’s installation and bloodcurdling events in the neighbourhood. Obama got it right the very first day by acknowledging that Pakistan is turning out to be a dangerous place and asked them to get things right. Most notable was the attack on SriLankan cricketers (read this was supposed to be India tour) and Taliban taking over parts of Pakistan. Pakistan increasingly looks like a failed state. Taliban now looks strikingly close to Indian borders. Stable and prosperous Pakistan is in our interest, period. As a policy, we should no longer be passive observers and should get actively involved in the geo-political affairs of the region, flex muscles, roll-up sleeves and get our hands dirty. Our neighbourhood is getting increasingly volatile with disturbances in Pakistan, SriLanka, Nepal, Burma and the high-handedness of China. That leaves only the Kingdom (now a democracy) state as an ally. Can’t take the approach that it’s their internal matter. We may have to suffer some short-term consequences but is very important from long-term stability, unity and growth of India and therefore the world. Fail to understand why we are shy of taking an active role in world affairs.
And finally, the most important event, the mammoth election for the lower house - the biggest democratic tamasha. Spread over two months, India goes to polls and the world watches. The whole process acts like a botox and makes our democracy young vibrant and beautiful. For all its ills, nothing can beat the enthusiasm of exercising the franchise. This time we have seen increased awareness and eagerness and the first phase has been encouraging with 62% participation. Hail the elections, Hail the democracy and of course Hail the Indians.

In midst of all this, we took another landmark step to launch RISAT-II, propelling us in the elite league of countries with their earth-facing observation satellites (more popularly known as spy satellites) and won Azlan Shah ( can't remember, its hockey stupid, our national game!).

So, 2009 looks to be interesting for India.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

'Asatya' Satyam

Hadn’t thought that I will have to start this year on a negative note. Infact first few days have been good and bullish of sort. There was an air of optimism all around.

But today has been an unprecedented day in Indian Corporate History. Don’t know how many times have I used the word’unprecedented’ in recent times. Its becoming so common with defining events occurring frequently that it may lose its significance.

Satyam Computer Services Ltd., a blue chip, belonging to the league of top 4 ITES houses (others being TCS, Wipro and Infosys) and darling of investors, admitted to fraud of shocking proportions, around INR 7000 Cr. (roughly $1.5 BN @ $:INR- 48). Coming from B Ramalinga Raju, who enjoyed very high credibility in India and overseas, and considered the new gen leader of emerging India, has made it even more appalling and disgraceful. I have met him once and he comes across such a humble and honest character, almost Gandhian in life and simplicity. Its understandable if this was from some rogue broker. His act has put everyone proud Indian to shame. He has hurt his employees, shareholders, customers, and believers in the India story.

The failed and aborted Maytas acquisition bid itself was enough to rub eyes again and again and pinch oneself to be sure of whether this was really Raju’s act but this one just blew out of water. Its beats all the financial scams so far India has seen, in scale and sophistication, a fraud of epic proportions, by our standards. However this one was a step ahead of other scams. Most of the other scams involved non-cash items or off balance sheet items, but fudging ‘cash’ is almost impossible and that to the tune of $1BN is astonishing, tells how massive the fraud is.

Every item has been fiddled - cash gone, interest on cash – fudging on top of fudged cash, additional liabilities, creditors shown on lesser side, debtors shown on higher side, revenues fudged, margins fudged….whoof ..all this for years. Cannot be one mans job…surprisingly no one blew the whistle…when the company was publishing results within segments…the business leaders must be knowing that there contracts are not resulting in kind of margins the results are showing… CFO, controller, auditors, board, audit committee..… how could this escape.

So far, I used to take pride in the fact that we are relatively untouched, but this one right in my courtyard, has left me jolted. This act has put Indians, India and India Inc in bad light. The credibility has been put to question by this act. The trust and confidence, which was already shaken post series of collapses in US, and was limping back to somewhat normalcy, has been shattered yet again. Couldn’t have imagined a worst start for 2009.

Why does one need to do this? Morally bankrupt society - the world is undergoing a moral and ethical crisis of epic proportions. The virus has spread throughout the world and has damaged the immune system of the society badly. Corrective steps should be initiated and speed is of the essence. Role of each player should be examined, Raju and all those who connived should be treated as financial terrorists and punishments should be commensurate.

I just hope this is not the beginning of scams in India and remains as one off isolated event. An economy of our size cannot take it any more. Lets be guardians to what happens around us.