Monday, March 2, 2015

All about Arnab

I have been suffering from an overdose of Arnab Goswami thanks to a news-addicted friend's visit. The experience has come close to being life-changing, insofar as switching off the TV has left me unnerved with the sudden silence, which seems sepulchral in the aftermath. I must also confess that I have developed a whole new appreciation for Arnab.

When, at the beginning of his show, Arnab addresses his panel of 'experts' with "Do you think that this outrageous, vicious and callous practice should be allowed to continue?", you immediately realize that you have an impartial compere, who is going to expertly guide his panel of experts with due respect to both the pros and cons - as long as they all say, "No". He consistently maintains his unbiased stance when he interrupts and overrides anyone daring to even hint of saying 'Yes', practically before the chap has even cleared his throat. Of course, one can hardly accuse him of allowing the chaps who say "No" to have their say - but, at least, they are allowed to get some three to four words out.

I would really like to know whether his panel is carefully selected for this quality or whether they get on-the-job training in his show. What quality, you ask? If you have ever sat through a program, you would have been delightfully entertained by the sight of some six people, all talking at the top of their voices simultaneously. (With Arnab also in the fray or not, depending on whether or not he is having a drink of water.) They all look like adults; seem like people who know that when you talk, you do it so that someone can listen to you; and seem capable of understanding that, when six people yell simultaneously, one can make more sense of a cat-fight than of this 'discussion'. Yet, they do this incessantly (meaning whenever Arnab allows them to do so) throughout the show, thereby giving the impression that they are there with the sole purpose of ensuring that the viewer gets to hear nobody.

This, indeed, is not the only impressive performance that Arnab expects on his show. He believes that miracles may be rare for Saints but should be produced on demand from people on his show. He really expects that the BJP spokesman to say on TV to 'millions of viewers', "Yes! Nitin Gadkari's act in stopping traffic in Mumbai for his convoy was shameful, and I shall ensure that he is thrown out of the party". He expects that the NCP spokesman will come out with, "How shameful of Praful Patel to have had Air India change the aircraft for the convenience of his daughter's wedding party. We will hound him out." The outrage and angst he displays when those luckless wights fail his expectations is a rarity in these days of cynicism. The day is not far off when we can expect the executive assistants of corporate honchos coming on Arnab's shows and castigating their bosses for poor customer service; journalists coming on the show and sneering at their editors for messing up news stories; why, you could even have Mr. Modi's driver telling Arnab that he shall ensure that Modi will never get elected PM again! Attaboy, Arnab! We all admire you.

That is not the limit of his idealism, though. I was extremely impressed by the fact that he expected politicians to voluntarily surrender the privileges that they receive. The last time I ever heard of ANYONE voluntarily surrendering privileges was just before my mother poured a mug of water on my face, and asked me to wake up and get ready for school. Arnab, though, is not totally naive as I shall prove. When someone on his panel mentioned that journalists too had some privileges, he retorted saying that he did not care if they were taken away. Note the fact, though, that he was wordly-wise enough not to say that there should be any voluntary surrender of privileges in this case. (Ah! No! I am not for VVIP Raj. Thank you very much for even considering that I could be VIP enough to want it to continue).

My heart bled for him, though, when he confessed, almost tearfully, that he did not understand how some politicians considered him lacking on courtesy. How could they be so unjust? Don't they understand that when he yells you down on your third syllable, it is just because he has had a brainwave that cannot wait for expression? When he says, "This is the silliest thing that I have ever heard on my show", he is only being honest. When he comes out with, "You better get out of politics", he is only giving out well-meaning avuncular advice to an upcoming young man about viable career choices. Truly, anyone who accuses him of discourtesy must be unduly thin-skinned.

And what about all those people who act arrogant and proud on his show? He ought to know who is and who isn't, after all. I cannot forget how Harish Salve came on his show being introduced as the pioneer who inspired the 'End VVIP Raj' campaign. At the end of the show, Arnab politely says, "Thank you Mr. Harish Salve for joining MY (emphasis mine) movement.". Harish Salve was looking a bit bewildered at being, thus, suddenly converted from a leading light to someone desperately clinging to Arnab's coat-tails as the latter bustled around the country cleaning up the VVIP Raj. I have a sneaking suspicion that the politicos go home after his show and tell their families, "You know what? ARNAB called me arrogant" with all the quiet pride of a physicist being lauded by Stephen Hawking.

My God! What have I done? I am going to have nightmares tonight of Arnab wagging his finger at me and yelling (or telling me politely, as he would think of it), "You cannot talk of me like that".

Thank God, I am apolitical and unlikely to appear on his show!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Culture - Fragile, handle with care

It is shocking to realize that I have all along been totally oblivious of what is happening around me. Worse still, I have been living in a fool's paradise assuming things to be exactly the opposite of how they really are. It is such a shameful thing that I have been so ignorant about what is happening with such an important thing as my own culture.

That is the problem with taking things for granted. You see, when I was young, my culture was assumed to be so strong. It had lasted a few millenniums and emerged relatively unscathed from long years of colonial rule. True, we had changed the way we dress and had taken to considering speaking in English as somehow more sophisticated than speaking in our own lingo, but those were but cosmetic changes compared to how little had been affected in all the rest.

I stop paying attention to it, assuming that what had been strong enough to last all the cataclysms of the ages would be strong enough for my lifetime, and find that suddenly it has become so weak, so fragile that it gets threatened by some ill-informed book, some pieces of art, the depictions of some fictional characters and even, horror of horrors, cartoons! How incredibly naive I was, how uncaring of my roots that I thought that, even if they did defame my culture, they could hardly make a dent on the strength of my ethos, and the best thing to do was to laugh them away. AND, in case there was any truth in the negatives stated, my culture had the resilience to change and become stronger - as it has in the past, when it stopped animal sacrifices and sati.

This convenient assumption - that, if the portrayal is wrong, it is ridiculous to give it any importance and, if it is right, it is ridiculous to muzzle it - is, I now realize, quite likely to bring on the end of my culture. It has now become so fragile that even the mild breeze, that these things are likely to be, is enough to blow it away and needs safeguarding with utmost vigilance.

I need to make up for my past lapses. How then do I ensure that I work in such a manner as to strengthen my culture? Do I take up the cudgels against the people who urinate all around my temples and scratch immortal love stories like "Rocky luvs Pinky" on centuries old sculptures? Nope - no-one considers that as threatening to our culture. Do I work towards the cause of rejuvenating Classical Music and dance? I do not think so. I have heard bhajans set to the tune of 'Ek, do, teen....' (And, who knows, "Chikni Chameli.." or whatever, now), so it looks like giving up Indian classical music/dance is not a big deal.

Do I proselytize about the strong family system here - that the intrusiveness may be a by-product but the support in times of need is reliable? Yeah Right - just as everyone and his uncle is ensuring that about the only thing that remains of the family system is the intrusiveness. Do I speak of the 'Athithi satkar' and the need to sustain the openhearted and open-minded way in which we treat guests and accept their different way of life? But that, too, is not necessary to strengthen our culture. What is important is to make the other guys accept ours. Just as the more important thing to strengthen my culture is for me to ensure that the women in my vicinity are completely covered, and the not too important and, maybe, even irrelevant thing is to avoid molesting women myself.

Do I propagate the Indian philosophical thought of a life of detachment from the material world? Nonsense - not when a sizable proportion of even the spiritual gurus are queuing up for their BMWs. Do I try to spread the idea of "God is in Everyone"? Don't be ridiculous - we all know that he cannot be in those guys praying to a different God OR these women who dress in a manner quite against our culture (There is this problem for me. With this sprawling country with so many different dress codes, exactly WHAT fits our culture and what does not?) Anyway, all this thing about 'Advaita' is a relatively modern construct and, if we had been around in those days, we would have eliminated all such threats to our culture right then.

I am all atwitter to do something to safeguard my culture but, unfortunately, cannot think of anything right away. And, meanwhile, my inaction is probably causing my culture to be blown away by these vagrant breezes.

Wait! Where is my cudgel? I can go around bashing young couples in my neighborhood on Valentine's day.

Oh! Shucks! Valentine's day is already gone. I will have to wait for a year before I can do something to safeguard my culture.

I sure hope and pray that it can survive till then!

Monday, February 16, 2015

Words of Importance - Scenario

"We are planning to increase our production in anticipation of higher demand for our products."

"If people do not actually buy more, we may lose a lot of money. Our product is perishable and if we cannot sell it, we will have to junk it."

Those pearls of wisdom uttered in the second half were, obviously, mine. Needless to say, half the people did not even deign to listen and the other half sneered at what appeared to be a school-boy trying desperately to act like a manager. Very difficult to digest, since I was in my mid-thirties and could not exactly fit into my school uniform.

The thing is, I had no-one else to blame for it but myself. My parents and teachers too, maybe, since it was they who taught me that what was said was more important than the way it is said. But, then, if an education in IIM had not rubbed THAT piece of nonsense out of my head, how could I claim to have learned anything in IIM? So, it was only myself I could blame, after all.

You do not get the point? Well, let us rephrase that answer the management way and you will.

"If you consider the scenario where the sales rise only by 0%, the net profits will dip by 100% since our product is perishable and we cannot recover the variable costs."

There...you see! The moment managers hear the word 'scenario', they realize that what I am saying is a result of scientific analysis and not just hot air. (YOU consider the word 'scenario' IS hot air? Who asked you, anyway, we are talking of managers here) I have a sneaking suspicion that things like this happen at managers' houses.

Wife: It may rain today. Take an umbrella.
Husband: I don't think so. It has been cloudy the last two days but has not rained a drop.

Wife: Consider the scenario that it rains today. There is a 85% probability that you will get drenched and a 60% probability of your getting a cold.
Husband: Where is the umbrella? I can't take a chance.

Come to think of it, there is probably a great deal of marital discord in manager's houses merely because their spouses do not know the importance of the word 'scenario'. I mean 'Consider the scenario that your children may grow up rebellious. You need to go to that PTA meeting today."; 'Consider the scenario that I may blow up our retirement funds in shopping. You really need to come shopping with me." etc.etc. could well get results. But...I digress.

To get back to what I was saying, I truly deserved to be considered a school-kid playing at work, since I never really knew the right words to use. If only I had learned the seminal importance of the word 'scenario', for one, I might have been a wise and respected manager,scorching up the corporate ladder in unseemly haste.

It pays, of course, to elaborate on 'scenario'. I mean, it is hardly a help to just say, "In the scenario of low growth in sales, we will make losses" though it certainly is far better than saying "If sales do not grow, we make losses." You should never forget the fact that numbers, no matter which hat you picked them from, give a semblance of not only accuracy but also great diligence. So, learn to extend the 'scenario' thing by saying, "I think there is a 35% probability of sales remaining stagnant and, in that scenario, the top-line will remain the same. (Any idiot can say that, since if sales quantity is the same and price is the same, then the multiple of the two WILL be the same. BUT, still, it is more impressive to say it - it gives the impression of a dedicated employee who leaves nothing to chance, not even the possibility of mathematics deceiving you from time to time.) We would have incurred additional costs of about 20% of the top-line, due to the increased production and, since our bottom-line is just 10% of the top-line, we will make a 10% loss."

There, now, does that not sound more impressive, more...managerial? Yes, you said, in effect, the same thing - if you produce more and do not sell more, you make losses. BUT - if you speak the same way as you used to at school, how can one consider you a manager? Why did your parents pay those humongous sums of money to get you an MBA?

There is such a thing as going overboard with extending the 'scenario'. For example, you should not go on to say, "If that happens and we make losses, the CEO and CFO will give their coats to the Board of Directors to hold, while they grabbed you by the scruff of your necks and the seat of your pants, and chucked you out on the pavement." If you do extend things that far, you have veered off from scenario 'analysis' and gone on to wishful thinking. YOUR wishful thinking. If you forget yourself and go on like this, you may well find that this part of the scenario gets enacted - with YOU in the central role and YOUR nose rubbed on the pavement.

Ah! No! No! No! THAT's not what happened to me. THAT's not why I am retired. Really, believe me!

Monday, February 9, 2015

Panchatantra with a twist - Netted Pigeons

Now, there was this flock of pigeons whose head was friends with a mouse. One day, the pigeons found a lot of grains scattered in a field and descended to peck at them, only to find themselves trapped in a net. The head of the flock suggested that all of the them should unitedly fly with the net. If they could reach the mouse, he could gnaw the ropes of the net through and release them. Otherwise, they would be killed by the hunter.

Being merely bird-brains - literally - the flock carried out the plan and were freed of the net by the mouse. Not being gifted with the sophisticated brains of human beings, they had no real idea of the big picture and the entire conversation of the rest of the flock could be reduced to "Yes, Boss". Not particularly an intellectually stimulating conversation, right? If only they had been over-burdened with brains, they could have seen the situation from all angles and been much enlightened.

So, let us like Albert Einstein suggested, do a thought experiment and see what the gift of human intelligence would have done to enrich the conversation.

Head Pigeon: We are caught in a Net. If we can all fly off with this together, we can get our friend the mouse to gnaw through it and release us. Otherwise, we will be killed by the hunter.

Pigeon 1 (sitting on a hoard of grains): That is a panic reaction. We have ample time to finish all these grains before the hunter comes.

Pigeon 2: I did not expect this of you, Chief. You want us all to fly away so that you can have all these grains to yourself, later.

Pigeon 3: Who knows if we can really fly with the net all the way to the mouse. Even if we do, the mouse may not want to help us. Even if he does, it may not be possible for him to cut through the net.

Pigeon 4: This must be some conspiracy. The mouse must be involved in this somehow and will charge a hefty fee to cut through the net.

Pigeon 5: Even if it is really a hunter's net if we plead with him, he will let us go. Why take recourse to any hazardous ventures?

Pigeon 6 (whispers to pigeon 7): How many can the hunter eat? We are in the center, anyway. After he eats those ones at the edges, he may let us go.

Pigeon 8: There is no net. This is merely the way the land is, here. It is an unwarranted conclusion from our temporary inability to move to postulate the existence of a net. Even if there is a net, there is no evidence that there is also a hunter. This is either irresponsible scare-mongering or an attempt to push us to closer friendship with the mice.

Pigeon 9: You people landed where the grains are thick and have eaten well. I and my family have had little to eat. We will help you but you will have to do most of the work, since we are too weak.

Head Pigeon: Either all of us work equally at flying away with the net or none of us will.

See - the entire flock of pigeons has been educated on all possible facets of the problem thanks to human intelligence.

So what if they all ended up getting digested finally?

P.S: Seeing any similarities with international discussions on Global Warming and other such issues are at your own risk.