Monday, December 27, 2010

Communication woes!

The World today has seen tremendous advancements in communication technologies but when it comes to humans communicating with each other, no amount of technology advancement is going to compensate if we make wrong assumptions. 

Virginia Woolf said in The Waves, one of her widely appreciated works and a literary master piece written based on the technique, Stream of consciousness - "We are difficult to read and we read others badly, either blinded by Sun or misled by shadows". How true it is! Alongside that, my most favorite quote is by Iris Murdoch who says, "Human beings prefer the distraction of confrontation to the difficult effort of communicating openly and honestly"

Just thinking about these quotes takes me back to my engineering college days when British Council Library in Chennai used to be my second home.  But for all the books that I have read, I have come to realize that reading these novels, taking down these nice quotes and remembering them is one thing and following them is completely another! In the heat of the moment, when we are "actually blinded by the sun" or "misled by the shadows", we don't realize that we as human beings are "difficult to read" and worse, we "read others badly"! 

I have always, after any misunderstanding with friends, never shied away from confronting the person and asking him/her, what the fault is. In the process, I have ignored my ego, its bloated nature and put people before its size. Sometimes, it has worked and sometimes, it hasn't. The other person's ego should also come down by some notches for reconciliation to take place. 

To cut this rambling short, all I can think of saying is, among friends, it is OK to fight but not OK to have bloated egos. With age, the size of our egos also increases and our ability to listen diminishes. We close our ears and fail to put ourselves in the other person's shoes. The results can be quite devastating for friendships and relationships. A friendship takes an investment of huge time and effort but in one instance of misunderstanding, it can be broken to shards and destroyed - all because somebody did not have the courage and the humility to apologize and clarify. 

As human beings, we tend to commit the same mistakes again and again and never learn from them. For a change, we should strive to be sensitive to the feelings of others and listen to them with open minds especially if it is one's friend. This is possible only if we communicate - F2F and with eye contact. 

Monday, December 20, 2010

Making a case for fairer and speedier justice

This is an essay I wrote for the course 'Ethics in Governance in Business and Society'. At Great Lakes, it is taught by two eminent crusaders against corruption - Mr. Vittal, Ex CVC and Mr. Seshan, Ex CEC.

Making a case for fairer and speedier justice

Erosion of faith in judiciary
Judiciary, considered one of the three constitutional pillars of Indian democracy, is of late sullied by a stream of unpleasant news reports. Questions have been raised on the integrity of senior judges and their track records. People have long reconciled to the fact that politicians and bureaucrats are corrupt and have always looked up to the judiciary and the Supreme Court in particular for deliverance. But reports about Justice Soumitra Sen, YK Sabharwal, Dinakaran and many others in the media point to a deep seated rot in the judiciary that is slowly eroding this confidence of the Indian public. 

Need for urgent reform
Reams have been written about corruption in the legislature and measures to address it. For argument’s sake, if we do assume that all legislators come clean, where does this leave the corrupt judges? There is an urgent need to clean up the judiciary by means of radical reforms. Piecemeal changes won’t do. Considering the backlog of cases in the Indian courts and the lack of accountability of the judges, to be able to enforce law and order, justice should be seen to be fairly and speedily delivered. 

Abolition of Jury trials in India
In this article, I propose a change which would, in my opinion, make the process of justice more fair, democratic and quick. It is something, that democracies world over have embraced, but India abolished way back in 1960 after the landmark KM Nanavati V State of Maharashtra case – jury trials. The argument put forth during abolition was that the opinion of the jury is often biased by social norms, morality, ethics and values and an objective judgement based on set statutes is rarely possible. It was also believed that juries would be influenced by media and public opinion.

Changing times
Fast forward to today’s age – there is a gaping void in the number of judges we have to address the scores of cases pending in all the courts put together. The rich keep appealing and the poor keep waiting. It is a patently unfair system that visibly rewards the wealthy and gives the poor, only a distant and illusory hope. Very few judges have made their sources of income public even though there is a RTI act and few have surprisingly come out openly and admitted that, corruption at all levels is a fact. In this age of 24*7 live televisions, no judgment is immune to the influences of the electronic media and its commentators. 

We now have a thriving public society and laws that increasingly appear out of tune with the times. Laws on land reforms (SEZ issues), sexual rights (rapes and gay issues), organised labour and environmental concerns need to be constantly revisited in this dynamically changing scenario. 

In this context, I propose that we establish a system of trial by juries drawn from eminent members of the civil society. We should have a set number of juries for every district and a judge can appeal only once against the decision of the jury and he can decide only the quantum of punishment.

Argument against institutional rigidity
Amartya Sen in his work, ‘The idea of Justice’, says, “Institutional fundamentalism may not only ride roughshod over the complexity of societies, but quite often the self-satisfaction that goes with the alleged institutional wisdom even prevents critical examination of the actual consequences of having the recommended institutions. Indeed, in the purely institutional view, there is, at least formally, no story of justice beyond establishing the ‘just institutions’” This argument can be interpreted to mean that justice should move beyond a mere interpretation of rigid age old statutes. Indeed, in other parts of the book, with sufficient examples to boot, he mounts an attack on the ‘Rawlsian principles of Justice’. 

Need for citizen participation
In the context of human rights, Amartya Sen writes, “Active public agitation, news commentary and open discussion are among the ways in which global democracy can be pursued, even without waiting for the global state.” In the desire to interpret laws and accommodate appeals, there is simply a search for a “supreme alternative” and no ranking based on a “social point of view” This obviates the checks and balances, a participatory mechanism can bring in - a sad state of affairs for a culture built on the edifice of dialectics. When a jury decides, the sheer number of decision makers is more, humane aspects are given due attention and there is an alignment with the morals and values of the society. 

Addressing corruption, knowledge and trial by media
It is very difficult to sway the decision of a jury by influencing its members. The nexus between criminals and juries is again difficult to establish. So, chances of corruption are lessened by inbuilt mechanisms. Coming to the knowledge of the jury members, perhaps there might be technical limitations but the basic premises of what is fair and what is just remain eminently universal and can be hardly disputed. Regarding trial by media, one can never completely eliminate it in this age of information abundance. Let us learn to live with it instead of decrying the messenger. 

The example of recent adoption of the jury system by South Korea is a case in point. As we have successful democracies embracing this system, it is time we rethink the abolition and give the jury system, a chance. With the system in place, we might end up building a society where corruption free service becomes a fundamental right of its citizenry (Mr. Vittal’s proposal) even without the constitution explicitly saying so.

Friday, December 17, 2010


Why is the winter morning so heavy with sadness?
Why do the dew ridden leaves appear to be shedding copious tears?

Why does my friend shut himself to the external World?
What is going on in the girl's mind as she cries for attention?

What scary ghosts are the dogs trying to silence by barking their lungs out?
Why does the frog appear to be possessed by fear?

What are the foreign tourists doing in this remote coastal town?
Why is this fair skinned shop keeper lost to his surroundings?

Why is there a deathly silence in place of chirpy greetings?
Why are the trees not whispering to each other? 

Where are all the stars hiding?
Why is the twinkle missing in the crescent of the moon?
Where is the normalcy? Has somebody stolen it? 

Thursday, December 16, 2010


I just want to lie down and stare straight ahead
into the unending depths of oblivion,
into the vast abyss of vacuum and void.

I am tired, bored and frustrated with all the 
masks, veils, make ups, gloss, sheen and fake smiles
I demand real faces, real beauty, real character and real 
intentions. But everything is a farce, a sham and a facade.

I just want to lie down and stare straight ahead
into the unending depths of oblivion,
into the vast abyss of vacuum and void.

Opportunism, rank dishonesty, fake sincerity and 
a truck load of lies - these are the layers that cloth
us, that make up the skin, the muscles and the bones.
Once the limelight is on,  we swagger in pride, put on 
a grand show and delude ourselves...but it can't last long...

For now,
I just want to lie down and stare straight ahead
into the unending depths of oblivion,
into the vast abyss of vacuum and void, looking for 
answers that evade me, tease me and mock me.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Thank you Deepak!

This post is inspired by Amar's post here...

Amar is my friend and batch mate at Great Lakes...he has an aura about him that is a little difficult to place - no airs, humble, playfully chiding and at times, displaying a childish nature that belies his age.

Well, this post is about my mentor at Intel, Deepak. Thanks in large part to him, my 33 months at Intel from July 2007 until April 2010 were the best months of my life and am not exaggerating at all. I am extremely glad that we still stay in touch.

Deepak is the epitome of charm, a humble, helpful and caring nature. His manner of working, interpersonal skills, ability to strike working relationships across teams in no time, manage stakeholders - all of this have given me numerous lessons and here, during this PGPM program, hardly any day passes by without me remembering him and thinking, how his behavior still has a great deal of impact and influence on me.

Never once has he told me "You should do this only in this manner"/"You must complete this within this hour"/"Stay back and complete this testing"/"Don't take up that additional assignment as it is not related to your project". The freedom that he gave to a fresher like me is, in retrospect, a huge reason for my happiness.

Those numerous hours of working together, time spent in the smoking zone, chatting about everything under the sun including the prettiest girls, the latest books and the most scenic tourist spots - if I say that, he personally took a deep interest in my learning and development and did everything in his capacity towards that, it would be a fitting tribute to his interpersonal skills. I owe my technical and process skills as well as my immense confidence at work to him. Courses here talk about idealized influence and individulized attention under the head -transformational leadership. Well, words remain words - a little lofty, a touch verbose and well-nigh idealistic. But I have the pleasure of having seen them in action...

I learnt a lot of things from him - seeing things in perspective, the philosphy of "If you see a white crow, you should not be surprised", (which I am tempted to term as an axiom), the importance of making people happy and good about what they do and more than anything else, to thank them for what they have done...

Deepak, I would always remain indebted to you, whichever offer I take up at the end of this program and wherever I work. Thank You!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Political scenario in India

We were asked to write on this for a contest - 300 words was the limit.

From the days of scrupulously clean politicians like Lal Bahadur Shastri, Kamaraj and Moraji Desai to the days of everyday scandals, Indian politics has come to be synonymous with corruption, appeasement and inaction.

Across the length and breadth of the country, there is reluctance on the part of politicians to wield power with responsibility and accountability. There is no harm per se in acquiring power but exercising it with impunity for the wrong ends is a rot of the system. A political career is viewed as a means to acquire the maximum possible wealth in the shortest possible time or as a means to pander to one’s regional and caste groups. As a result, youth community is deeply sceptical about politics.

People have been duped into believing that short term solutions are what they need. Any political leader should be a visionary and sadly, among the current crop of leaders, except for a select few like our Prime Minister, hardly any politician has a vision for the country. Under the guise of action, all that our politicians do is form committees and task forces. Direct action that addresses people’s real needs is virtually absent. Vote banks are created and the flames of radicalism and casteism are fanned. This leads to a vicious cycle culminating in appalling mediocrity. Politicians appease their pet constituencies and the people who vote get lured by short term fixes and perpetuate inefficiency.

What India needs today is a redefinition of the word politics to encompass the larger public good. We also need politicians who can practise honesty and sincerity visibly - since role modelling good behaviour will in itself be an incentive for others - and a mobilisation of the country’s youth behind those who do that. Any radical change has its seeds in a revolution.

PS: This couldn't make it to the next round...perhaps, wasn't upto the mark!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Human beings and the underlying subconscious

This is an essay I wrote in Term 1 as part of the course - "Intelligently interacting with others" - Read it after a long time and felt, this deserved a space here...

The online Longman dictionary definition of the word says “subconscious feelings, desires etc are hidden in your mind and affect your behaviour, but you do not know that you have them”. A course in ‘Intelligently interacting with others’ encompassing Karma Yoga and ‘Group Processes’ right at the beginning of the term, all said and done, helped us understand the significance of the “subconscious” in our daily lives – how every act of ours is influenced by the subconscious without our knowing it and how in turn, every act plays a small part in moulding the “subconscious”.

The first part of the course was a series of challenges to conventional modern assumptions - beliefs that have got so ingrained at the subconscious level- that, to be able to challenge them, the effort taken should be commensurate enough to achieve a transformation at the subconscious level. Far removed from the world of introspection and contemplation, in the midst of constant flux, caught in the centre of a vortex having little control, we have been zombies, moving about in a preoccupied and dazed fashion, rarely pausing and thinking about what we are doing. From such a state to a state where we have been able to assimilate some of the tenets of Karma Yoga, it is a long journey indeed – a journey marked by several reflections, explorations and unanswered questions.

Materialism and individualism, marked by an enhanced perception of the self and in some cases, characterised by a scant disrespect of others, have pervaded the intellectual space of the modern World so much so that any mention of spirituality, collectivism and moderation is brushed aside as a weak attempt to digress and deviate from the immediate concerns. However, any attempt at self-discovery involves an earnest exploration of the subconscious. We started doing that when we examined selfishness, freedom, duty, love and work. At the outset, all these entities seem disparate but nothing can be more further from the truth as we learned.

Work for work’s sake, work without attachment to results and without any selfish motive in mind, do your duty through love and freedom, strive to do good and resist evil – can we in today’s world practise this? I am tempted to say “No”, but then, after serious thought, if happiness and contentment is needed out of life, instead of a perennial struggle marked by frustration, then, the answer is a big and resounding “Yes”. Shorn of all mumbo-jumbo, this list of 5 can be illuminating. Intimidating to merit attention at first, gradually, with practise, they would result in ‘peace of mind’ and harmony because they are in line with a pure conscience – an ideal at best.

The second part of the course on ‘Group Processes’ breached a wall in the “subconscious” – the wall between the individual and the collective space. With the help of scientific evidence, numerous experiments and theories, human behaviour in groups was examined. The joy of learning is enhanced when it can be achieved through association to something we already knew. Existing aside from the hard wired world of other sciences, here, nothing is set in stone. Therein lays the difficulty too. We are used to capturing rigid formulas and theories and storing them away in our minds, but in any dimension involving human behaviour and groups, there is no clearly demarcated line that anybody can tread on!

In unravelling several layers of the “subconscious”, I realised that many of my assumptions in life had no real basis at all. That

Minority groups can influence – When somebody like the lone jury member in ‘Eleven Angry Men’ can turn the tables around and convince the rest of the jury members to pore over the evidence in detail several times in succession, each of us can influence too!

Biology and systems have something to do with group theories – Any field of study or science is not an isolated entity. Rather every field draws from and gives to other fields, something of significance that can be omitted or ignored only at a huge loss

An individual’s self esteem draws a lot of its strength from the group the individual belongs to – If a person can get a higher sense of self-esteem, simply by helping other group members’ cope with their miseries and agonies, then unselfish work can yield high personal rewards.

Human beings at times seek out miserable company and don’t always get drawn to similar people -

Comparison can actually sometimes aid in personal development – When the word comparison has only less-than-good connotations, to realise that it can actually aid in a personal advancement is heartening.

Groups can actually acquire a mind of their own – Similar to human beings, groups can also acquire a mind of their own though this can prove to be both advantageous and disadvantageous depending on context.

Leadership is not all about Power – With leadership tied to politics in our heads, realising that it is actually “helping people see a different set of possibilities” was a revelation.

Cooperation can result in greater returns in the longer term than competition – In a few cases, though competition is cutthroat, both parties can be well off if both of them cooperate.

Our judgement of another person’s character can be as faulty as a conclusion drawn from a simple and unthoughful interpretation owing to our own prejudices and the person’s membership outside our own groups.

Physical spaces and seating can enhance productivity manifold – Just the manner of arrangement of physical spaces can enhance or bring down productivity.

Being part of likeminded groups can be a source of succour to many – Therapy and self group groups can offer hope and mutual learning respectively.

These are some of the many things that my “subconscious” was wired to dismiss without due consideration. But on reflection, this has been my takeaway. My subconscious has definitely got moulded and my actions henceforth will draw from a new set of altered assumptions and beliefs. That is a remarkable feat to accomplish in such a short time and I am proud as a consequence.

The course was something I would never ever forget!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Fading imprints

The dynamics of human memory is very strange - it is able to accommodate an astonishing number of moments in stark detail within its folds and crevices. When we walk on the beach, the foot prints that we leave on the sand fade into nothingness, washed away by the mighty waves. There is not even the slightest trace that gets left behind. Yet, it is not hard to imagine, how surprised we would feel, if, by a stroke of fortune, we were able to see those foot prints again. Precisely, this was the thought running through my mind as I was talking to my child hood friend today. Every word that he spoke seemed to touch some chord deep within and reveal it in a stark fashion. Having known each other since primary school, conversation flowed easily. 

The topic under discussion was our mutual acquaintances. As we reminisced, I realized that I had no clue what these people were doing now. The feeling was a little unnerving; these were the same people I used to meet every day, day in and day out, during my school days. Yet, I had no idea, what paths destiny had in store for them and in which nook and corner of the world, they are in! I came to know that somebody is in Ethiopia, some body is in NZ, some body else is happily married...

How does this happen? We get so caught up in our mundane routine that we forget the very people who were once, so much an integral part of our lives! The people who live 2 doors away, with whom, I used to play cricket in my school days, what do they do now? My school teachers, are they still teaching the same classes? That silent guy who used to sit next to me in class 4, what is he doing now? Perhaps, we should refrain from straining our memories too much. Perhaps, we should cease to think about these people, for they serve no purpose in our lives now. Perhaps, their utility in our lives, their presence, that was once so vivid, their unique attributes, the qualities by which we used to remember them, all of these have ceased to matter. 

No, certainly, that is a very crude way to look at it. It is not how, we should look at life. What about the present? I almost shuddered. Will I, some 7-8 years from now, talk about my college friends in the same manner? Am I now getting confused between friends and acquaintances? Has this boundary ever been clear to me? It is simply unthinkable and too scary to contemplate. Yet, it is not a proposition that can be dismissed at the outset. It is quite possible, if not probable. Why did I not think about these boys and girls when I was in Bangalore? It is not possible to answer that question without feeling a little guilty. 

Yes, I admit it. I am feeling guilty today. Guilt - it is so easy to acknowledge this feeling now. Once acknowledged, it makes redemption possible. I hope, I don't write a similar post some 7-8 years from now. That would be too hard to stomach. That would be, to repeat myself, totally unthinkable! 

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Of contests and more contests

One thing that I have learnt over the past few months is that it is so much fun getting people together and competing against some of the best brains across the country. By participating in anything and everything that is worth its salt, I have come to learn a lot outside the sometimes stifling and constraining boundaries of classroom and hostel life. It expands the horizon of knowledge by letting us explore different domains and avenues. By challenging us, it manages to bring out the best within. Friends when completely trusted, push their potential and come out with amazing outputs and it is a sheer joy to see teamwork in its quintessential avatar for once!

If I don't chronicle a few experiences of this aspect of my college life at Great Lakes, this journal would be incomplete. Some contests, experiences, learning, Here we go -

  • XIMB has an event called Skill city, the first round of which was an elimination round that required us to solve aptitude and reasoning based questions including puzzles. With 10 of us in a room, we tried to collaborate and crack the quiz. Even though we did not succeed in the end, it was something that transported us back to our mock CAT days. Solving all those questions made me wish, if only I can go back to writing these tests again! :)
  •  MICA has this event called Metrotopia, the Superhero challenge, where we are supposed to come up with a superhero on our own which can solve some pressing global and Indian issues. I almost fell in love with the character, my friend, Shruti, conceptualized - Sugandhi. After numerous rounds of brainstorming and discussions over her costume, superpowers, the issues that she can solve, all in the midst of numerous classes and assignments, we managed to come up with a solid presentation. And when all things seemed to be proceeding smoothly, today morning presented a rude shock to me. In what is one of my worst experiences in life, heavy downpour meant, we could not take Sugandhi to MICA. We were crushed and I am yet to come to terms with this lost opportunity! Who said life is fair? However, the early morning drive had its share of joy. We had breakfast at A2B and it tasted divine...
  • For a guerrilla marketing contest organized by JBIMS, I suggested to my friends - Shruti and Somnath - that we participate. In the space of 3 hours, some intense hard work yielded what appeared to us, a "solid" solution to the question posed. We submitted and 2 days later, realized that we were through to the finals...with only few days to the finals and our confusing schedule, we couldn't make the journey.
  • Sydenham, Mumbai had a book review contest in which we were supposed to come up with a book review for either of the 10 books that they had listed. I chose 'The new age of innovation' to write on. I would have never read that book otherwise and because of the contest, managed to complete it in a very short span of time. Never mind that the review, to my surprise, apparently didn't meet their standards. 
  • There are these numerous online quizzes on dare2compete. Novices to quizzing, we attempt them with all earnestness and end up having a ball in the bargain! :)
  •  One contest that we are currently working on is the business plan contest for LIBA, Chennai. Hope we crack this one... I am sure, we can, if we put in our 100%...
Hoping that this wonderful phase of my life presents me with more of these opportunities to have fun and learn at the same time. Sometimes, in life, one has to make efforts to find happiness and when those efforts succeed, nothing like it!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

As the electives start and the roads diverge...

The popular axiom goes, “Familiarity breeds contempt”. I am not so sure. If it does breed contempt, then perhaps, five months is a short period for contempt to take roots. As we, the gladiators, (batch of 2010-11) complete the set of core courses and move on to our areas of specialization, the roads diverge. The study groups (groups of 5 that was formed as soon as we joined and to which all of us got so used to!), the Karma Yoga groups (bigger groups formed for visits to nearby villages as part of the Karma Yoga project) and the sections we were in, ever since we joined – all these stand dissolved!

As I wait for the fourth term to start, I feel a little disoriented and a little rudderless. It is strange how many of us, complete strangers to each other, not long back, have quickly made very good friends in the midst of a taxing and rigorous schedule of classes, quizzes and assignments. I guess, it is God’s way of equipping each of us with resilient and strong support systems, no matter where we go. All of us have experienced it since we have considerable work experience before joining. We go to a new place, take up a job, feel lonely, meet new people, like a few of them, establish friendships, grow to rely on them and then, by either a stroke of destiny or will, find ourselves saying goodbye to them.

I am going to miss the idiosyncrasies of all my group members, their eccentricities and all of the joy and happiness they shared with me. I am going to miss all the classes we attended together, the fun we had, the secrets we shared and the notes we took and exchanged though we'd be classmates for a few courses. As part of larger sections, nothing like a diverse group of people with different career aspirations, to get ideas flowing and energy pumped up. Great Lakes, so far, has given me so many experiences that I would cherish. Now, it is beginning to give a glimpse of what I would miss, 7 more months from now. That is how life is. We move on and sometimes, we cross paths too. That is when the roads will meet again!