Saturday, September 26, 2015

The Trip to Kochi

Have you heard of Santa Cruz? There’s a Santa Cruz in California, USA, and there is a Santa Cruz in Bombay. It means “holy cross,” and true to this statement the inhabitants of Santa Cruz, Bombay, are Catholics. It’s an important suburb because Bombay’s domestic airport is situated here. It’s a small place accessed by the Western Express Highway, fronted by the Hotel Centaur. I am travelling to Santa Cruz to board a flight to Kerala, my home state.

On the way I pass the area of my childhood, where I grew up, Chembur. Chembur is also a small suburb on the east side of Bombay, where pollution is high level because of the smoke-belching fertiliser and petrochemical factories. The place I lived in Chembur is called Tilak Nagar, and in those days, it was called Township Colony, which was built to house low-income group migrants who worked mainly in factories in shifts.

Chembur was a violent neighbourhood in those days and is even now. Boys here banded together into gangs for protection. The people who gained notoriety were a twinkle-eyed mischievous boy who grew up to be a super star of the Hindi screen. Another, disreputable boy, grew up to be called the “don” of the city, the underworld lord. He has converted the area into high rises that grow dizzyingly like medieval castles in the sky. It was about these people about whom my mind was occupied with when I rode the taxi to my destination, as our thoughts generally dwell on those people who become talked about, or written about.

Among the children of my generation six have died among which two were suicides. I can’t explain here why pleasant and fun-filled friends of my youth took their own lives. But, when life deals a blow, we can’t do anything about it. The less resourceful end their life, rather than face realities, and make adjustments. The more resourceful – like me – carry on regardless of all the hurts and humiliations. Sigh!

A profusion of highways, flyovers, special lanes, later I am at the airport. I say good morning to the hostess at the airline counter and she smiles back brightly. Done! My day is made! See, after all, I am a man of simple pleasures, and I have a soft spot for ground/air hostesses after seeing this video. (We all want something like that happen to us in real life, don’t we?) But there is need for caution. There are huge Punjabi hunks in lehenga-kurtas lumbering around the departure lounge sharpening their upward-pointed handlebar moustaches. What if they say, “whai didju flirtu with my Punjabi kudi?” Almost, as if expecting this, I twiddle with my own upward-pointed handlebar above my upper lip, though I don’t succeed in showing the malevolence (huh?) of their “Punjab da putr (son of Punjab)” appearance. Never mind.

At Santa Cruz, note: my downturned mustache!
I remember a time when there were no security checks at airports. Can’t believe it? Better believe it. You breezed in collected your boarding pass and passed straight to the aircraft. The terminals were big vacuous places where a few chairs were placed, not many, and after a flight departed there was a gap of a few hours for the next to take off. Nowadays an airport terminal is frenzied place, there are flights landing every few minutes, when the other is ready to take off. And there are people of all types milling around, and, like in a Bombay local train, you consider yourself lucky if you get a place to sit down.

And almost every second person in the flight to Chandigarh is a young luscious lass, in tottering high heels, a curvaceous delight to watch. I know I shouldn’t say this because of the lumbering Punjabis blocking the exits by their show of macho scratching of private areas. The girls are all clutching copies of Vogue and Elle which contain articles such as “20 way to ditch your boyfriend,” “50 ways to remove blackheads,” and nothing more profound, at the very best, than, “10 ways to cook tiramisu.” Which is profound indeed at their age. Oh the vanity of it all, the mundaneness of it all.

Flashy mobile phones, tabs, computers, are everywhere. One girl sitting opposite me, drop-dead gorgeous, is tapping into her Apple MacAir laptop and hardly gazing up from it, even to see if her flight has taken off. It makes me wonder if she likes sitting in airport waiting rooms, doing this all day. I can’t understand this obsession with being connected, and, communicating nothing. I maybe in her friend group on Facebook, who knows? I click a few selfies, though (the wordprocessor suggests “selfish,” which, incidentally, is what it is.)

At last, my flight arrives and a few shoulder pushes and elbowing later, I am safely into my seat, a window seat. You know, we southies are a conservative lot, so no babes holding Vogue and Elle in our plane, just plain Janes wearing saris and sandalwood paste on their foreheads. Hm. I watch as the plane taxies and takes off, one of the most pleasant experiences in my life. The roofs of Bombay are all blue from the plastic stretched on roofs for protection from rain. Then the clouds take over, their shapes like rising hills, valleys, umbrellas, sails, whorls, petals, ghost towns, and stalactites. A sense of déjà vu strikes only then and I lean back for a short nap till I reach Kochi, my destination.

Thursday, September 10, 2015


 The shocking Sheena Bora murder case has familiarised us into the world of corporate femme fatales. You, of course, know who I am talking about. These are girls who come from less privileged homes, wanting to make it big in corporations, at whatever costs. I have had a few experiences about such types, meaning not personally, but to observe from close quarters what happens when sex enters plush corporate cabins, when power corrupts inhabitants of the rarefied realm. I won’t mention names here, for obvious reasons. But, believe me every organisation has a history of a string of dalliances, which have sometimes gone horribly wrong.

The protagonist in our case, an attractive young woman, comes to work in an organisation and soon the boss is besotted by her. She can’t do anything wrong, or, so the boss says. She slowly builds the relationship, goes out for lunches and dinners and attends corporate events with him. The boss maybe sexually frustrated in his marriage, which could be the golden opportunity the femme fatale knows and wants. She offers the clichéd shoulder to cry on and soon it’s the lap that is available. She thus blackmails her way up the hierarchical order, rather ruthlessly eliminating other contenders. Then it could be anything, a “girl friend” or a “wife” tag for her, even Chief Executive Officer (CEO). If she is very smart she becomes a wife, and if she is less talented she becomes a “girl friend,” of the top boss. This brings added power to her position. She becomes a femme fatale, ruthless with underlings, ruthless with the customers. Sometimes, in this way she crosses the line of propriety, but may be corrected by the boss at a high cost and loss of talent.

She takes advantage of the fact that her boss can’t reprimand her. She has manipulated him to such an extent. She can make all policies in the organisation, even if they are ill-advised. She can persuade people to do illegal acts which the employee does out of the need to keep the job. They would do anything to please her, even stand on their heads. She becomes a bit reckless seeing all the power that accrues to her with no great effort from her part. That’s when the downfall begins, the cookies start to crumble.

There is no way you can survive in an organisation if you are in her bad books. Sooner than later she will be at your throat and will see that you leave. It’s better to leave before she can hound you out. I myself was at the receiving side from such a femme fatale. She took huge amounts of the company’s money home, ill-treated her staff, fired many talented employees and made the boss (the managing director) into a puppet. Again no names.

When sex enters the boardroom, it’s a bad sign. My novel “Mr. Bandookwala, M.B.A., Harvard” deals with this aspect. The managing director of Pinnacle Constructions is in a relationship with the head of human resource, and, he can see no fault in what she does, which leads to disaster. Anyways can’t reveal much of the plot here, so have a look at the story outline here.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Movie Review: Gour Hari Dastaan

Director: Ananth Narayan Mahadevan

I am writing this as a film aficionado, a lover of quality films. I haven’t written many film reviews, but am attempting this to bring here the experience of watching the movie, which, to my mind, was a significant experience. In my earlier days, I used to be a lover of good films and have seen the best film-makers from Fellini, Kurosawa, Ray, Irving Stone, Majid Majidi to Indian film-makers like Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Aravindan, Mrinal sen, Muzzafar Ali, and such like. As a person with literary aspirations these films and the subjects on which they were made triggered in me a hunger to know more about people, their lives. I used to go in search of good films when they were playing in the city. In those days there was the AIR auditorium which used to exhibit the best films culled from around the world and I used to be a constant presence in their shows.

But over the years I have become disillusioned by Hindi cinema and have stayed away completely from it. It’s loud, it’s badly sound engineered, the lighting is too harsh, the plots are hackneyed and the script lacks ingenuity. Even films that are hailed as art films haven’t risen above dramatic influences and never have scaled the rungs of cinematic medium.

Disclosure: Ananth Narayan Mahadeven and I have worked in the same organisation, but we have never met. Later, I met him online and we became virtual friends on Facebook. At that time I was recruited as his replacement in a publishing organisation and, sadly, I turned out to be a poor replacement. My boss would praise him too much, proving his talents in from those formative years.
So I am all excited as I sit in the hall waiting for the ads to finish and the film to begin. This is the first film of Mahadevan that I am watching I don’t know if he, the director, would live up to my expectations. It has a dark foreboding opening. The sub titles in English were an advantage in that I could understand the film better. What followed, I confess, wasn’t disappointment but one of my truly good cinematic experiences, excelling in all aspects of film making like acting, sound, music, lighting, et al.

It is to Mahadevan’s credit that he has put together such a talented team and inspired them to perform. Sometimes directors can be control freaks who would psyche even good actors to give their worst performances. Mahadevan’s control over the narrative was apparent from the opening shot. Slumdog Millionaire won Oscars but was a hotch potch of a film. This one is many times better in that it deals with an epoch and in a way that is both sensitive and nostalgic. Towards the end, I was moved to tears. I don’t know if this is because I am sentimental these days or because what I saw in the movie moved me to tears.

The film deals with Das in his entirety, his fight for recognition as a freedom fighter, his approaching Alzheimer, his disappointments dragging him into a secluded chasm of his mind. The very act of visiting several government offices with their petty politics can be nerve wracking to any ordinary citizen. Perhaps, this according to detractors of the director could be the film’s flaw, but in dealing with the whole personality of Gour Hari this is integral to the plot. Gour Hari emerges as a hero. He even clings to his post as secretary of the housing society – despite criticism - to prove a point. To make a film on a living person’s life and not to fall prey to clichés is a wonderful achievement. Credit should also go to novelist and poet CP Surendran’s scripting skills, realistic portrayal of characters, which makes a big difference to the authenticity of the film.

It’s a mark of Indian society that we do not allow talented people to rise above petty feuding. That’s why even a Night Shyamalan would have remained a maker of corporate films and ad films in our society. So the bad press the film has received from some quarters is demeaning and is a shame on us. Elsewhere Mahadevan would have been praised and given his due among the greats of cinema. I am going as far as to suggest that it be sent to the Oscars.

Vinay Phatak shines as Gour Hari. He gives that extra feeling to the character with some under-stated acting. It’s obvious that he is giving the role everything and his talent holds a candle to and exceeds that of many other character actors in Hindi films. Matching his elegance is Ranvir Shorey as the newspaper journalist who champions his cause. Ranvir, hair carelessly tousled, lives the part of a journalist. I don’t know the dusky girl who plays his side-kick but she also does a commendable job. 

Sen’s role is deglamourised but she compensates with talent and involvement. She doesn’t use make-up and it’s towards the end when she lets it fly at the housing society members that the full power of her acting unleashes and the shakti in her as a woman is palpable. She is a remarkable presence throughout the film, acting vulnerable and strong as the situation demands.

Resul Pookutty displays his excellent skills as sound designer. The film is a sound and music aficionado’s delight, even each guitar chord can be delineated from the sound track. When Gour Hari’s son strums his long-neglected guitar, the string breaks, and the sound reverberates in the silent movie theatre. I have had some experience in this aspect. One night a string on my guitar broke and I was aroused in shock from deep sleep by the echoing sound, a loud twang in the night’s silence. Just the act of thinking about a guitar and building it into the plot is an act of genius, according to me.
The film has its light moments, too, in the form of the official (Satish Kaushik) asking if Orissa is in Bengal. When Gour Hari goes to meet the MLA the security man played by Bharat Dhabolkar asks his name and he says he is Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. Dabolkar’s character may not even know who Gandhi is, so with a dead pan expression on his face he announces Gour Hari as Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.

I have heard it said in interviews with great icons of cinema that it is important to see that a “set should not look lit.” Hindi films just ignore this aspect of lighting sets. For them the set must dazzle with a hundred blazing lights with the result that the characters’ expressions are lost. In outdoor scenes there are a hundred reflectors and the eyes hurt to look at the screen. It’s a wonderful example of Mahadevan’s talent that he hasn’t resorted to over-lighting like other Hindi directors. I think other directors should learn from him.

All said and done, a finely crafted film, a beautifully construed and written film, a film that should go into the annals of Indian film making as another milestone. If I was a juror I would nominate it to go to the Oscars and would wish Vinay Phatak, or, Konkona Sen to win the award for best actor and Mahadevan for best director in the foreign films category.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

B Goes to a Party

 So, Biju (B) goes to this birthday party of his uncle who is 80 years old and still going strong. He is quite the “hahaha” type. Except that he is also a man of note in church, a respected campaigner for everything in the Syrian Christian calendar of events. He participates in annual general meetings with glee and robustness. B goes with some trepidation because this uncle can be sweet as well as nasty at times. Like the time he criticised B publicly for his ignorance of church matters. That’s another story, for another time.

When B enters expecting to be treated like a very important person, the hall is full of people. And all of them are singing hymns at the top of their voice, which is quite disharmonious. There is no place so B is given a chair by the toilet. Hm, B thinks so this is the special treatment to a nephew. So B sings some hymns. Then the preacher preaches something, which he forgets when the ordeal of the cake cutting starts. There’s the “Happy Birthday” song and then everybody takes out their mobile phones, and the show offs they are, go click, click, click.

That over, the loud blandishments start. Everybody is all praise for uncle. Uncle also praises everybody except B. So there goes B’s self confidence, for a toss. B knew uncle did never like him, so it’s not new. Uncle holds forth, “I was this, I was that, I was there, I travelled here, I went there,” till one of his daughters says, “sit there and keep quiet.”

Uncle’s daughters Siji, Sinu, and Sony don’t know B, or, remember him. It’s so long since they met. So it’s okay, B thinks. B is sure if uncle had a son he would name him Shiju. Not surprising since one worthy in God’s Own Country named his son Shit. What must have he said to his son, “Shit, poo, poo, no son?”

When party is over, the payasam has been drunk, the party-goers find that their footwear have been mixed up. There were a few of them milling around in the narrow foyer hopping around like penguins on hot rocks. Luckily B found his footwear intact, at the place he had kept it.

“That was one hell of a party” B said to his wife.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Corporate Horror Stories - Part 3

A person I have known for some time retired recently. With a good package, may I add? He was a loader in a public sector oil company. His job was to climb on oil tankers and fill them. He received three million as retirement benefits and has a pension for life. I was contemptuous of the job he did, “loader, loader, government free loader,” I used to think. Not anymore. The government has taken good care of him, he boasts. The government loved him even though the company he worked for was making losses in billions, even though the tax payers were being squeezed to run the oil company. He hasn’t passed SSC, can’t read or write, he has very basic skills. He is a happy man. I am retired, but from the private sector. What did I get? Zilch. Nada.

My blood boils; my judgement is hampered as I write this. My laughter curdles in my throat into a suppressed scream. I weep silent tears. So many years working in the private sector and nothing? The man mentioned above has exchanged his car for a high-end Scorpio, worth more than a million, he has bought gold, and, adding insult to injury, he goes on holiday. I am a bit jealous of him, not a bit, a lot. Now he will sit and enjoy his life, going for long holidays, unlike me, working at bits and odds.

I remember those years I slogged in low-paying jobs. Oh, how those days come back in rush, as if in a bad dream. He also had a low-paying job but he had security. He bargained and got a better deal; whereas I was a sucker for thinking the private sector had more opportunities for advancements. I should have known better, the banyans and the marsupials (no allusion to any caste here, hehe!) I worked for don’t care a zilch for talent. They paid their employees the absolute minimum and wanted world-standard work done.

A big hee... hee... to all that crap.

However, the danger for those like me is that in the hallowed private sector – where I assumed talent was appreciated – more and more smart operators who know a little bit of everything are taking over. I was replaced as copywriter of a construction company by a man who said he knew how to write and design also. I found that he was being paid more than twice what I was paid. Dank. I had to leave and find another job. The new guy took over. He had a few elementary skills which he lied about when hired, but when it came to designing an advertisement he was helpless, which was soon found out.  Did the company want experience or glamour? Was it going to sacrifice my experience for the misplaced promise shown by the new recruit? I resigned when I found another job, which paid me more. The company lost a skilled hard working guy (me) who handled their advertising and public relations and gained a worker who was, basically, incompetent. This is happening with disturbing regularity in the corporate world.

Thinking about it, it seems like a trap which I have fallen into, unwittingly. I was swept away by the feeling that all will be alright, good paying jobs would come. But today, in India, the private sector is squeezing every drop of blood from their employees while, at the same time, working them to death. My typical work-week consisted of 60 hours of work with only a day – Sunday – off. On the other hand the government is paying its employees and public sector workers much more than they deserve to be paid, plus, a pension. That’s what happened in Greece. The country’s pension liability billowed from paying government servants. Greece spends 17.5 per cent of its income on pensions, more than any EU country. India spends around 6 per cent but this is estimated to rise to 19 per cent in 2050. Where will this money come from?

Meanwhile the man is enjoying life. Now, he is laughing I me, I suspect. He goes for multiple vacations, flaunts his wealth, throws lavish parties, wants to get his sons married, and is having the good life. Let him enjoy. He has worked hard for it, climbing those trucks in rain and hail, and filling those umpteen tanks. Thinking back that would have been a better job by far.

Monday, July 06, 2015


 This is a corporate horror story right from the bottom of my basket of tales. You have heard about how software companies pay their employees so well and they have a gym and cafeteria – food for free - in their office itself. Well, I have never had any of those amenities in the companies I worked, hm, slaved rather. Hey, but the story here is different. You will see how these companies can afford the abovementioned gyms and cafeterias.

I was working then with the company sales of which was around 2000 crores. A real biggie. The company was listed on the stock exchange and had good projects in various parts of the country. Then the chairman decided that we must computerise the whole operations as accounting for all the projects was getting out of hand. So we had experts suggesting to us whether we needed SAP or Microsoft. Microsoft was favoured because it was cheap. The chairman agreed to give the contract to a company who would do the development of an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system for the company. Meanwhile the chairman also became friendly with the boss of the company doing the ERP system. It was usual for the chairman to have breakfast and lunch with the owner of the ERP company at his home.

I was in the ERP department to implement their Sharepoint system, which is a software that linked all the knowledge resources of the company, so that information was available to all when needed. The ERP manager chosen was a retired army Colonel who knew next to nothing about ERP or computers. The Colonel spent time chatting with his girlfriends on the computer and we pretended to work.

So when the chairman was merrily having breakfast with the ERP company boss, he assumed the Colonel was doing his job. The chairman was also cheerfully signing the completion-related documents which entitled the ERP company to claim their payments. Meanwhile the Colonel who thought ERP was some sort of caper which they played in the united services club went about addressing his staff in stentorian voice about duty and responsibility. He didn’t know what was happening behind his back. He was having long meetings with the ERP company in which he didn’t understand much of what was said, but kept nodding his head.

The chairman signed the last of the phased out payment cheques, a large cheque this time. The entire contract was paid out without much being done. When it came to a demonstration, nothing worked, because the basics of an enterprise resource planning system were not in place. This made the chairman livid with rage. He raved and ranted at the Colonel, who raved at his staff. The staff went home and raved at their poor wives. Crores of rupees had gone down the drain already and then somebody in the staff pointed out that the ERP company had never done any projects whatsoever because it was recently set up by a disgruntled employee of another software company.

The ERP company got rich, Microsoft got rich but the company I worked for was poorer by a few crores. Then the decision was taken to implement SAP. I only know the story thus far because by that time I had left.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

What's Happening in Greece?

 I like the Greeks. Yeah, I like them because of their attitude. That handsome dude Prime Minister Tsipras is always smiling as if nothing is wrong. He is even enjoying the publicity, not bothered that his country is a broke nation. His hair is neatly combed and not a strand of grey is visible anywhere. He is clean shaven all the time, no stubble like his Indian counterpart. The other dude is his finance minister Varoufakis, he is handsome and has a cool walk, too, shoulders squared, swaggering like a rock star. Adonis, sort of. He rides a bike as an austerity measure, but who knows where his stash is?

So what’s happening in Greece? They have brought a continent and the world on its knees and have the gumption to smile. “Now you take care of us, give us more money, or, you go down with us.” Isn’t that hilarious? Hahaha! Another global financial crisis will cripple us. Meanwhile let’s make the most of it, hahaha!

The 2004 Athens Olympics started the slide. The country spent $ 9 billion hoping that tourism will get a boost after that. But the tourists stayed away because of the high cost of everything. The real problem started in 2011 and nobody bothered to check it. Greece went on spending without care. They were part of Eurozone now so let Europe take care of them.

Sure Angela Merkel can do something? Can she? Surely Obama can help this country which is as old as civilisation itself? No? Then what really is wrong with the handsome Greeks? Oh I get it. It’s their inability to impress western women with their cool demeanour that’s bothering them. No longer are they being lionised as God’s gift to mankind.

Well who needs them when they have enough cool dudery in the likes of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie? Last heard they were in negotiations for buying a Greek island on the Ionian Sea.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Ajith Pillai's Book "Off the Record"

Right from the time I knew him when we worked together in Malayala Manorama, I knew Ajith Pillai would write a book and it would be something to look forward to. Ever since I purchased the book on Amazon I couldn’t put it down, his sparse – Hemingway-ian – narrative kept me going impatiently from page to page. He is witty, ironic, and cynical and often would make me laugh with the stories he had written and the experience he had had. He was friend and fellow conspirator who helped me when I was in a dark period in my life. If I was dark and moody he would crack a joke and my spirits would lift. When we were short of money he would say, “Let’s rob a bank.” Of course, he didn’t mean it. He was correspondent of The Week and I was Manorama’s marketing supervisor. Though we were in conflicting departments our friendship was devoid of any rivalry. Being a foodie, he led me on a discovery of the restaurants in the Fort area: City Kitchen, Gokul, Martin’s, Mahesh and many more. He loved his food as he did his drink. But most of all he loved his job, wherever he worked.

The book I am referring to is Off the Record by Ajith Pillai a collection of his stories – on record – most of which I have heard from him in person. A good raconteur, a good writer, a good human being is how I would describe him. He was incorruptible and told me of the blank cheque handed to him by a tycoon to write a story favourable to him. Of course, he didn’t accept it. These are stories which are not part of the present collection. Likewise, he had submitted a two-word resignation letter at Observer which consisted of only “I resign.” That points to the humour of the man.

He and the late Vinod Mehta had a good personal chemistry. Under Mehta his writing and career took off, first at Sunday Observer and then at Pioneer and Outlook. Mehta trusted him and knew of his inherent sincerity and dedication. The legendary editor passed away without handing his baton to someone worthy of the mantle of the leader of the fourth estate and I feel the worthy inheritor would have been Ajith Pillai. Well, it’s cruel fate that Ajith didn’t get what he was due. He should have been an editor now, motivating a younger crop of journalists cutting their teeth on the burning problems of the day.

Ajith Pillai's Off the Record
Particularly gripping is his account of the Kargil war which he covered for Outlook. His dad was a high-ranking army officer and, I guess, that gave him the insight to report on the war in depth. Speaking of which it reminds me that he studied at one of the premier institutions – La Martinere – in Lucknow where, I presume, Vinod Mehta also studied. Yes, he did. (This I find after a Wikipedia search.) What’s about that institution that inspires creativity and good moral standards in a morally corrupt world, I don’t know?

Off the Record is a must read for all journalism students. Not only read it, but keep it on your desk to refer to it, re-read it and digest what he has to say. Treat it as your Bible and Bhagwad Gita. Particularly because mostly Ajith worked in an era when laptop computers, cell phones, and social media didn’t exist. I have seen him sitting in his cabin writing his dispatches in long hand and having them sent by teleprinter to our head office. When I told him my work in marketing was not working out and that actually I wanted to be a journalist he arranged an appointment with an editor, but the job didn’t materialise. No worry. At least, he helped, that’s the kindness of man I am writing about. Now, on hindsight, I think I would have made a miserable reporter.

Here’s what I think journalism schools should do. They should buy the book in bulk and distribute it to their students. The indefatigability of the man who took his reporting seriously will come shining through. We will hopefully have a new crop of journalists as dedicated to their jobs as he was.

Do read Off the Record even if it deprives you of your last vada-pao in McDonald’s. You will hunger for more, which is actually the purpose of this book.

Monday, June 22, 2015


Sometimes I wonder if the aggregate of the problems of this world is because of greed. This realisation has troubled me no end. Now greed pervades everything: sports, entertainment, publishing, broadcasting, software programming, etc. When I was starting in content writing for websites I was told by my manager that “everything is available on the net, you just have to copy and paste.” I followed his instructions and did likewise. Perversely it might seem, now, he is the manager of some company in the US and doing well. His instructions to his programmers were, “don’t try to invent the wheel, take the code from the source, paste it.” (Source code was available online from every website.) His motive was greed and how to make millions. He didn’t know then that his stilted philosophy would result in job loss for twenty people working under him. In those days from a poky little office in the Millennium Business Park our company made five million dollars a year by copying things from others san any fear of copyright infringement. Then, one fine day, the company shut down rendering us jobless. The reason was Google can easily detect copied content and can punish the site by giving low exposure and a low ranking in web searches. So greed didn’t pay and I had to find another job.

Earlier in my career I was general manager of a small publishing firm. I had risen from the ranks by sheer hard work. I had invested a lot of time and energy to build up that organisation: invented new systems, streamlined billing, dirty-ed my hands learning about how to run a publishing company. The company was doing well and there was considerable goodwill among the advertisers. The owner would greedily extend his deadline for ads that came in late so that he could earn a good profit for that month.  I became worried as the issues started coming late. The January issue would come in March and so on. The effect was that the magazine got so delayed that there came a day when we couldn’t catch up. I told the publisher to miss a few issues but he wouldn’t do that. Advertisers saw the foolishness of their ads appearing after a few months and stopped releasing ads. The magazine died a natural death and with it ended whatever small dreams I had nurtured.

That’s the predicament of most greedy organisations of today. They think their greed can substitute for enterprise and energy. They – like Gordon Gekko - think being greedy is good. But the thing about greed is that it gives rise to more greed. More greed then leads to confusion among the ranks, the foot soldiers get disoriented. Then the company, the enterprise starts dying and nobody can stop the decline in the company’s health because the top people are still thinking in terms of greed. Once the decline starts it is unstoppable, the end result is a lot of fights in the office, recriminations, finger pointing and death of a viable business.

Watch this space. More of this to come. 

Thursday, June 04, 2015

Vacation to Kerala

The vacation in Kerala was eventful, a revelation of sorts, as it always is. So, here I am with a bag of tales from God’s favourite country. I don’t know who all will read this and benefit, but here it is, my impressions.

Firstly, uneducated Malayali men are mostly wild and impulsive. They revel in being wild and uncontrollable, ingesting a bottle of whisky a day without any qualm and badmouthing everybody in the process. They destroy their own lives and that of their family members without thinking. All they can think about is liquor and sex. There is one such specimen in the house opposite my brother-in-law’s (BIL’s) house. He drinks, lazes around home, uses the worst profanities with his wife and children, and does no work. He is a pathetic sight, slouching his tall figure and walking on the street, trying to act dignified. He has had no education and was a waiter in a tea shop before he was kicked out. His wife is the breadwinner of the house. She tolerates him to some extent but loses her cool sometimes calling him the worst profanities when offended. She works as a domestic help and earns a good salary which can keep a family alive. But he goe s to her employer and borrows money, which is then deducted from her salary. These are people who get rice at Rs 2 and have health insurance and a pension when they are old. Yet, they can’t manage and depends on what is being doled out by the church and other charities.
River Periyar: though it starts in Tamil Nadu flows into the Arabian Sea close to Kochi

Leave this specimen of depredation and move along to the services. A malayali craves for a government job as a thirsty animal seeks water in the Sahara. Once inside the job, he knows he is lord and master over his domain. He behaves like a satrap newly appointed in his august post. I wanted the schedule of a new air-conditioned bus services from Tiruvalla to Kochi. On three occasions I was given three different timings. How could I know which one was true? I was disconnected after the most perfunctory information. “That’s all you get,” must have been the understanding among them.

Then I try the Tiruvalla railway station. Here the inquiry desk doesn’t bother to answer the phone. Dang! After ten tries, I give up, in frustration. Since I have a smartphone with internet I could get the train schedule online. Thank God!

The countryside is incredibly beautiful. There are lush palms and rubber trees waving in the somnolent air, punctured by the call of exotic birds. There are the backwaters which add to the mystique of a tropical paradise. Many times I have been tempted to get down from the car I was travelling to walk along the bunds that separate the fields and have a bath in crystal clear water. Kerala doesn’t have industries so the water is pure.

There are also unsightly sights along the way. This is to be expected in all towns in India. In Ernakulam where I stay with my brother there isn’t proper garbage disposal. They have to pay for garbage to be collected. So what happens if they don’t have money to pay? They dump the garbage on street corners. Stern warnings have been put at street corners, to no avail. People still dump. This is a problem with all towns in Kerala. Development has brought with it many problems, and the towns are struggling to adapt.

With talk of development, there isn’t licence enough to develop infrastructure. The Aranmula airport project is one such. After a series of see-saw tilts and nudging, the project seems finally to have met an ignoble end with the civil aviation ministry too having withdrawn its consent. It would have meant good development, jobs, visibility to a small village to which I belong, where I was born. Yes, I belong to Aranmula village. It’s sad that this dream didn’t materialise.

The Kochi Metro is another development project that is limping. Land acquisition along parts of its route has been held up due to court cases. The work is going on, but progress is slow. It will take more than a year to resolve all these and the project will go into further delay.

On the way back I take a flight, ticket for which has been booked six months in advance. At the check-in counter I insist on a window seat and am given an upgrade to a SpicejetMax seat. It gives me pleasure to see people who have paid tens of thousands in cramped seats when I enjoy complete legroom freedom in the Max seats. Hehe! Ask and ye shall receive what?