Sunday, July 23, 2006

One year....and dead.

A year has passed running this blog. It was an experiment and the experiment was a great success. Lets see...

1) My writing has improved.
2) I have found many friends.
3) I have acquired a reputation. See what all would be well qualified to describ me.
a) Funny
b) Communist, left of center and leftist.
c) Anti-American
d) Totally nutcase.

Feel free to add more.

Let me tell you all have been compliments. Neetha my dear psycho friend would tell me that I am an attention seeking provocative guy. Which is in a way true.

But I am curious. Curious to find out what happens to me without a blog ?

It has been a good experiment so far and its time to experiment on new things.

But all good things should come to an end.

Officially I declare this blog "Dead" (as loftily as declaring the olympic games closed)

I have made a decision not to blog here. My other blog needs some attention. Johna's way had been lost in the woods for some time now. I may blog in a secret identity somewhere else.

All life is nothing but an experiment conducted with utmost sinciereity. No duplicity, no negativity and no bad intentions and definitely no baggage. This experiment is done and I have learnt a lot through it.

Its time to move on.


Read more!

Friday, June 30, 2006

Confessions Of An Economic Hitman - A review.

The first time I saw or heard of this book was during an election interview of Budhadheb Bhattacharya. The campaigning had been called off and it was a personal peek into the life of this marxist poltician.

Newscaster: "What are you doing today ?"
Budha: "Nothing, just catching up on reading"

Saying this, Budha brandishes a copy of this book. Time went by and one day I found myself within the higginbothom's stall in Chennai central railway station. I had an instant recall and made an instant purchase. Obviously I live an instant life :).

Authored by John Perkins , Confessions of an economic hitman is a story of the insider turned whistle blower.

This book talks of how corporations benifit from American imperialism. The things that they do, the lies they tell and how they leverage economic institutions like IMF, World bank, USAID to promote the economic interests of American corporations.

It begins with John perkins childhood, about his insecurity of having poor parents in an affluent school and his converting these inadequacies into a source of strength. He goes on to lay the foundation of the inner conflict which would dogg him for years to come.

John joins the peace corps to avoid getting drafted into the vietnam war and proceeds to work with Ecuador. He is guided by the uncle of his girlfriend/wife who works in the NSA. The NSA does an extensive testing of John's motivations in life and declares him as an ideal candidate to be an EHM (Economic hit man). NSA further advises him to join the peace corps and develop his skills and contacts.

While in ecuador John gets recruited by MAIN one of the biggest contracting companies then in the USA which appoints him as an economic analyst. John's worldwide sojourn starts. He is trained by Claudia on the techniques of economic manipulation, econometrics and high growth projection of statistics. According to john the procedure was simple. American consulting firms like his would be deputed to countries on statistical and economic assignments. These firms would depute their EHM trained executives ( just a few of them who are trained in liason with NSA and other US govt. agencies) to conduct econmic and statistical analysis and project growth based on cooked up numbers. These numbers would be based as reasons for extending large loans to the countries.

Developemental works like power projects, electrification etc would then be contracted to American companies most notably Bechtel, Haliburton etc. These projects would ensure that the loans granted would be immediately ploughed back into American companies. As time goes by the growth projections (sometimes as high as 20%) would not be achieved in a sustained fashion and the countries would bear high interest burden for the loan repayments (sometimes as high as 50% of national budgets).

The threat of this is used by American governments both democratic and republican to
leverage for votes, oil drilling rights, access to these countries resources etc.

John claims that the role of the economic hitman is to project cooked up statistics and economic growth and enslave the rulers of the nation using, kickbacks, sex and other western gizmos.

This in his opinion would ensure American domination across the world. He proceeds to add, "not of the common man but of a few corporates who are closely tied to the government". Bush Sr, Bush Jr, Rumsfield, Ford, Shultz, Cheney are all examples of this. He calls this "Corporatocracy". John proceeds to argue that the general American population are clue less of what America does to the world and elicits that as the reason why many are surprised of the backlash America receives.

Further EHM's are part of a larger 3 stage process of American corporotocracy.
Joh says, "If EHM's fail, The jackals step in.". By "Jackals", john means the assasination squad of the American government CIA. Panama's Richard Torrjos and Ecuador's president killed in quick succession of each other is given as failure of EHMs and success of Jackals. Both died mysteriously in plane crashes and had vowed to fight American Imperialism

The third stage is all too familiar to the world. John calls it thus. "When the jackal's fail, young men and women from rural america are sent to die in foreign lands". Iraq and Panama (under Manual Noriega) are given as examples of failure of jackals.

John calls all these a coordinated set of events and rips the masks surrounding US governmental AID to countries. He asks this questions "If so many people are against American Aid in the world ? and are so ungreatful of America, why is America so eager to promote AID ?, because it is profitable and it helps America". How ? was my first question as I sat confused ?.

towards the end of the book he explains. "American dollar is today the currency of the world. The currency of transactions between countries. Only America is allowed to print these dollars and the confidence and strength of American economy is what makes the world invest in America. America has printed billions of dollars and funded reconstruction and developement projects in many countries. This funding is unproductive and inflationairy. At the end of the day the american economy pays for it with high public debt (6 trillion USD). Some day if China calls for its loans back or if saudi arabia switches to euro's instead of America, this ghost will come back to roost".

He ends that book with a warning of what will happen to the world if we dream it and build it the American way. Amazonian jungle tracks in Ecuador are lost forever because of texaco oil company. The indegeneous Shaur's are displaced in their own land and their way of lives lost forever.

This book is a tremendous eye opener and illustrates beautifully the politics of middle east, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia.


1953 Mossadeg a democratically elected ruler in Iran was overthrown by American propoganda machinery who stirred up the oil companies, businessmen and labour unions. The Shah was propped up as the ruler.

Verdict : EHM - failiure, Jackals - success.

Saudi Arabia (Hose of Saud)

The house of saud was coopted using money, Sex, status, to clean up saudi arabia and build palaces, electrification projects, construction, defence and the whole gamut of stuff we call as developement.

Verdict : EHM - resounding success.


Saddam propped up by USA for its opposition to Iran and vast oil resources (next only to saudi arabia). Sold billions of dollars of weapons and help build WMDs. Fomented a war against Iran which went for a decade. WMDs which America helped to build was used to gas kurds, shias and other minorities.

Saddam nationalised oil companies and attacked Kuwait. War declared on iraq.

verdict - EHM failure, Jackal failure, young men and women sent to die.

teritorial war did not gaurentee them oil access as UN took over oil management in iraq. War declared again and occupation of iraq was launched.

Verdict - Young men and women sent to die. This time, they did die.

Meanwhile Haliburton, Bechtel and the American oil companies are benifiting from the spoils.

The american corporatocracy interest in Saudi arabia forced them to turn a blind eye to the extreme relegious fanatism the House of Saud was promoting. The house of Saud pumped billions of oil dollars into Hamas, Pakistan, Mujahideen and ismalic jihad.
These islamic relegious orgainsations was the foundation for taliban and Alqaeda. The most virulent of all.

Finally the shit hits the fan september 11 happens.

The cycle is long. Too long for common public memory, but according to john the connections are unmistakable.

My take on this book

1) Absolutely authentic in terms of facts and events.

2) Poorly constructed in terms of the narration.

3)I think this book is another case of profiteering and lacks genuineness from the
author. e.g. john claims to be morally torn about his choices all through his life
about the work he is doing and yet continues to do it for 20 long years.
After quitting from this, he goes on to form a alternative power company called
IPS and sells it off to an oil company. His explaination of threat and fear rings
hollow. Looks to me that he played with the big guys all along and snitched for a
lucritive book deal.

4) Some of the later events which John claims to be not involved with appears
sketchy and dubious. Some thrash this as conspiracy theory.

Vasu's Recommendation : Buy it. Good read and perfectly plausible. If its true that John did work for MAIN, I would even say a lot of the things he says is credible. But I am not the one to buy he was a noble soul.

I dont need to, at the end of the day I still credit John Perkins for having told this story however badly written or with illdisguised intentions it might be

Read more!

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Being Sardar

When I was a kid, I used to love Laxmi Kara's geography class. Geography was the closest thing to travel which I later figured out was my source of energy in life.
Kara herself was stately in her appearencce. With silver white hair she had a perfect face. She must have been atleast 60. She had that sense of calm and clarity in her face. Very very similar to Nafisa Ali in looks.

Laxmi Kara single handedly made me dream about being a pigmy. I loved the fact that one can climb trees, live in the forest, be free of homework, school and uniforms, eat all the exotic foods. This image stayed on till quiet late in life. The whole idea of living without any possessions as a tribal does is extremely appealing. Especially sleeping on a treetop some 250 feet above ground. Watchng a clear starry sky, black as ink studded with a zillion diamonds.

Ofcourse all this lasted till I saw that episode on pigmys by NatGeo. Their exisstence and livelyhood in the 20th century. It was stark, devoid of myths and quiet literally showed them as "as humans as anyone else".

Even then the whole image of a pigmy remained etched in mind. No amount of realism could erase those.

To dream of being a pigmy when I was 12 turned to dream of being a sardar. If you think of any section of people in the world who have embraced life as whole heartedly as possible, they are the Sardars. Sikhs is the politically correct term, but thats just a relegious identity. To be a sardar is something else.

Firstly it is super human. Its dildhar (all embracing). Its filled with fun and goodness (as good as the lassi) and most importantly it is about the laughs, throaty, gutteral and at times self-deprecating. No one can dispute the fact that no one can say a sardar joke as well as a sardar.

The word sardar has come to mean dumb, stupid, loser. But one look at this world would say that there is very little truth in that stereotype. The only source of reasoning is because of the hordes of sardar jokes.

We had one pappe sardar in our team. Every morning we would ask him "Bhupi, Kuki ki ondhi ?". Every morning he would say in his trademark smiling style "Madrasi, it doesent mean anything". Well, in those days I would have taken grave offence and sprung in defence of anyone making fun of tamil iconography. Be it curd-rice, or Rajnikanth or silk smitha. How can these north indians do that ? But then as I lived more in north india (I still believe mumbai to be more north than south), I realised that the hindi speaking community especialyl the sardars dont have such a bipolar view of India as we think. Its more multi polar. The bumbling bong is as much a curiosity as a touchy tamilian or the mystic mallu or the shrewed gujaratis. That way Identity played its true intended role. To identify.

This identity pride thing is a mechanism to psyche a community to strive harder to overcome imaginary enemies. Something similar to the drummers on a dragon boat in kerala. The drum beat of identity, pride is more to get the group of boatman to act in synchrony to the drum beat. Idnetity icons are similar in nature. Gujarati Asmita, Tamilian pride etc.

I am not saying there isnt gujarati asmita and tamilian pride. There is infact a sense of commonality. But we make those commonality too much a centerstage phenomena than necessary. Its got its benifits, but the key question is are we over stretching it ?

Harpreet my senior in coimbatore is a sardar with a difference. Ask him where his native is ? he would say salem. Though thats not what people want to know. With time people started accepting Harpreet from salem as a plausibility although with a slight bit of suspicion. The funny thing was the look on people's face when harpreet spoke tamil. Some of us (including me), were taken aback when harpreet spoke flawless tamil (you know the beat, otha.. koodhi etc.)

Well it said more about the rest of us than about harpreet. Identity is real but its not always as stereotypical as we define it to be. Mahmood's padosan cast the death knell for many tamilians. kamalahasan's ek dujhe ke liye personally robbed me of anonymity at my workplace and made life difficult. Vasu meant Vasu-sapna as if sapna happened to be my surname(For more on this Read Morarjee Files - Parallel Run ). It dint help, I dint have sapna. But it helped to ease out tense situations, throw in some laughs and make people open. But how this identity issue will pan out is no gaurentee. All that matters is do we have the mindset to take something like that and make it positive ? or are we going to be confused, filled with angst and stressed out as the ABCD identity (American born confused desi). Are we going to make our identity the epicenter of our existstance ? Are we going to judge everything in the world through those lenses ?

Deep questions, but thats as deep as I can go today. Anyways I cant forget this one incident.

Andy was sitting down to play a game of Dave. Its 2.00 a.m. in the morning. Bhupi is impatiently waiting behind him for his turn to play. We had finished our shift and had 2 hours to kill before the first train came into lower parel. What do we do, but play Dave. Slowly it was becoming participative. "Left jao, right maro" rang the rarified morning air. Andy's reflexes were taking a beating at two and as everyone would say "old age was catching up". Andy got shot, by the revolving fireball. Immediately there was a loud laugh from behind Andy. It was bhupi, who was soaking himself in the situation andy was in. Andy sat there embaressed and fumin.

"Kya sardar bangaya yaar ?", managed bhupi amidst the laughs. Everyone joined in. Andy retorted. "Abhe, thu already sardar hai..". Bhupi was in form that day. "Haa par thera jaisa nahin.." And the laughter went on for a long time to come.

The ability to laugh at one's identity and not feel any less proud about it is sardardom in my definition.

I now dream of being a sardar as much as I once dreamt of being a pigmy. As for being a tamil, I already am one. Dyed in the wool. Unabashed. I can be both cant I ?

Read more!

Monday, April 17, 2006

Chori me imandari (Honour amongst thieves)

Mumbai is one hellava place. You will find the most stunning of all experiences. Some things that make you think, "Is this place for real ?". I started recounting all my experiences only after I left mumbai.

Some really shocking and some blissfully nice. While I lived there, I never had the time to think. I was busy running. It was one such day in the thick of monsoons. I had to sumbmit my original degree certificates for inspection at work. Just after lunch, the sky turned inky and a downpour was imminent. All of us took the cue and left for the day.

An earlier experience of ignoring the weather left us sleepless in office. With the kind of team I was with, we never could sleep. Atleast I couldnt sleep ignoring the sardar jokes that were loudly shared. I Have heard of sleewalking, but not sleep laughing. Wouldnt it be wierd if someone laughs in their sleep ? Spooky!!!

Dadar was unusually abuzz at 3.30 p.m. as everyone wanted to beat the rain. Thankfully the western lines were running. The 3:43 Andheri slow came and I decided to board it altering from my usual practice of taking only the fast trains. I love getting wet in the rains and was happy to find myself unchallenged for the corner position. People literally and figuritively die for that position.

The usual body language of the crowd standing close to the most coveted standing position were missing and I was happy enough to stake my claim. Obviously a rainy afternoon and the generall musty wetness detered the diehard train junkie who would give you a violently tough fight for that spot.

As the train picked up speed between matunga road and mahim it curves dangerously in one big arc. Instinctively one hangs out a little more than the normal. With my eyes set out straight into the rain I was blissfully in my own world enjoying every minute of it. My hands stretched out with a layers of polythene bags. My certificate, wallets everything right inside there..

All that would change in a short while turning this to be one long nightmare day. I have never felt a larger pit in my stomach and subsequently never elevated to a greater level later. Never anywhere in my life and sorry New York does not even come close.

That one day is enough testimonial for why Mumbai is the greatest place on earth.

My hands were stretched with warm rain streaming down the face. One half of my shirt was soaking wet. One arm clutching on the handle immideately inside and the other freely hanging outside. I was flying!. The thoughts of chai, some crispy bajji paav filled my mind.

Suddenly there was a sharp pain on my hand as the train arched midway between mahim and matunga. I heard a loud shriek from somewhere behind me and it was my co-passenger. He was also hit. As I reacted and recovered from that pain, I realised my bag with all the certificates and wallets was no longer there. My hands were clutching just plain water.

A lightning bolt of horror ripped through my insides. All I could think was "SHIT".. multiplied a 100 times... The bag from the other hand has fallen down!!!! Felt stupid, felt totally jolted out of the bliss. Shocked as if I landed on a granite slab... Totally chastised and my heart racing a million beats more.

I jumped in motion, swivelled and ran to the end of Mahim station. I got down onto the tracks and ran right on the tracks towards matunga. I could feel nothing. The rain, non-existent. All I was wishing was for the sight of the white and blue polythene bag. I strained my eye focused right on the sides of the tracks.

Just then a hand grabbed me from the back and pushed me gruffly to the sides. A few seconds later a train thundered by.

"Dhimarg phirgaya kya ?? Chuthiye " (Are you made, fucker ?) blurted an unkwnon face. It was the other guy who shrieked on the train. All I could mutter was.. a quizzical "huh ???".. "Shanthi rakh.. Mera bhi bag chori hogaya ?"... (Be calm, even my bag got stolen ?).

"Chori ???" I was stumped. How can it happen ? I felt infinitely stupid. Could see the whole world laughing at me. Could see "Shoba" - One of the few persons I totally detested laughing. "That crinjing shame, which occurs when one is utterly humiliated. When one's edifice of self esteem crumbles in one large public spectacle". That we were togather in the misery and stupidity didnt lessen the blow.

There is the certificates, driving license and all my visiting cards to consider.

Worse than humiliation is humiliation multiplied.

I recovered in the hope that we could locate the spot we got hit on the hand and the spot it fell. After a few trial and errors we searched searched and searched. Every once in a while a surge of hope, a voice inside would say.. "Abhe idhar nahi, aur thoda age hua".. (Not here, a little more ahead).

An hour later, completely humbled and grounded we reached matunga. Thats when the friend who alerted me of the train broke down and cried... A grown man crying.. I had my office files in it. I will be fired tomorrow.... "Whaaaaa"..

Frankly If I werent on the same situations, it would have been infinitely humurous. I couldnt put an arm and console him and neither could I laugh it out. I was caught in that dreaded grey area.

To break that impasse from no where I suggested, "Waapis doondthe hein, chalo" (Lets search again).

Through the misty rain, we could see a sillhuette of a man standing in a corner doing nothing. Our hearts raced. There was no anger, just the hope we will get our valuables. As we went there, he tried to sneak into the neighbouring mahim railway parallell road. Right through the shanties, right through someone's kitchen.

My friend (in miseries), caught up with him and prevented him from escaping. With his fists clenching on his cuff and violently shaking he was demanding "Sale, kidhar hai ? Maar dalega therekho"..

Obviously there was no response from him (we dint even know if it was him who stood there with a stick in the hope of catching some fallen valuables). "Kya poochraha hai ? Kuch samaj me nahi aa raha hai" (What are you asking, I dont understand) was his only response even after 15 minutes of pleading.

Finally anger gave way to pleading. The unknwon guy understood that we lost some valuables. Valuables only to us and worthless to anyone else. Frankly I dint care for the Rs. 500 cash. All I wanted were my certificates.

With nothing more to do, we crossed over into the backyard of a shanty lining the railway track in the hope of getting to the road. The tracks were becoming too dangerous as too many trains were whizzing past.

It was dark and my watch said 7.00 p.m.

We knocked the door of the nearest shanty and the door literally fell through. As we stepped into that musty stinky interiors, I felt 3-4 hands clutch my arms and cry.. "Aaja Mera Raaja"...(come my king) "Oye chikene, aaja"...(Oh fair one, please come). My body shook violently like when you step on human excreta or something like that.

In one massive lunge I jumped out of the front door and mustered my last ounce of energy as if my life depended on it. I could feel a pair of thuds matching me which only prompted me to run faster and faster. I turned around just in time to notice that it was my-friend-in-misery and not those eunuch (transvestite) prostitutes into whose den we accidently stepped.

The feet slipped on the wet road, I fell, got up and continued the sprint. Nothing mattered to me than the relative safety of Mahim railway station.

As we gathered our wits and breaths, the friend-in-misery in a wierd sense of humour says "Gaand lag gaya na ?" (Our ass has been taken) and laughs gurrulously. It was not even funny. I wanted desperately to remind him about the cry baby he was a while back. Better sense prevailed and I kept my mouth shut. Poor guy is recovering some of his spilt dignity. Why should I trip him in the the process.

I just nodded and we departed. Through out the train journey we were both standing well inside and I made sure I was in a different compartment.

I dint really like the idea of conversing with him and prefered the anonymity the company of strangers offered. It was comforting realising no one really knows.

A longer walk from Andheri to 4-bunglows gave me a lot of time to come to terms with what happened and gather myself. Specially required with snaketounge and pounce-on-another's-misery-for-some-cheap-entertainment roommates like A and S.

I tried to forget it all. Thinking of how to reapply for my certificates from IMDR and and how to get my Driving license back.

The day ended in horrible misery so much south, everything from then on can only be better.

A week later......

I unlock my house and right on the floor lies a brown envelope. "Something to cheer me up", I thought. Recieving an envelope always cheers you up doesent it ???

I rip it open and there folded hap hazardly were my certificates. Inside them were the license , all my visiting cards and the "Lord Rama" calender which my grandma had given me when she came to know I cam going to mumbai for work.

I just looked up and said, "Thank god"... No one else had come back from work and I let out a loud cry of gratitude.

My wallet and money were gone but I got my certificates back. I couldnt do anything that day too shocked to my wits. All I could think of was a great sense of magnanimity towards the chor!!!.

Chori me imandari (Honour amongst thieves) it was. Its like you want to thank someone and you just dont know who to thank ? You dont know what to do with that trapped energy inside your head.

I walked around the house aimlessly dumbstruck at what happened and the only thing I could think of was, "Hope that Friend-in-misery, had left his address". Luckily for me my own visiting cards saved me. The feeling was very similar to a post bungee walk when your hands and legs are shaking and you need to calm your nevers. If I were 50 years older, I would have had a nervous breakdown.

One accustoms oneself not to expect stolen goods returned. Not in India and definitely not in Mumbai. That myth lay shattered.

In all this hungama (chaos), I realised that I dint even know the name of the friend-in-misery. The city seemed to me like one big karma wheel throwing your karma back at you.

For a long time, I would have made atlest a 100 taxi drivers happy. What with all The 5 bucks tip I used to hand them back with the smile.

My other mumbai chronicles are listed below. I feel so nostalgic about mumbai that nothing not even what happened in the begining of 2006 can snatch those memories. Thats for a later date though. Some day, maybe never... But for now, I feel real good thinking of those crazy days.


Morarjee Files Parallel Run
Mumbai Madness I Crazy Roomies
Small town syndrome

Read more!

Friday, April 07, 2006

Beyond Shotz... Three issues and going strong...

Beyond Shotz started out as an idea for young amateur photographers who wanted a platform to showcase their work.

The mainstream photography magazines were too much of a hassle to approach and we all know how that coterie works. The option was simple, launch your own magazine and make it freely available for all to read on the internet.

This magazine also is designed to be broadbased and include photographers from all over the world. The only criteria for being featured is "how stunning" your photographs are.. Being a photo magazine, quality photographs are the key.

Ofcourse, this magazine is not just about photographs. It aims to go beyond the frames to the people, the story and the emotion of the subject. Afterall there is more to photography than light, lens and camera. Hence the name of the magazine

Beyond Shotz !! .

Did I hear someone say, "Elementary, my dear watson ?"

Through this magazine you would view some of the most stunning photographs taken All across the globe, Travel to off the circuit places, Discover a thing or two about people, their culture and the way of life, Learn about the equipments and the legalities concerning photography, Read interviews of some unconventional yet stunning photographers.

Through this magazine you would go beyond your horizons. Maybe it should be named "Beyondhorizons". Well thats an idea for another mag..

Meanwhile all the issues are available for download right here...

Like we say in true uncouth, poriki tam bravado.. Nsoy, Jamai, Njamai...

Download (pdf~3.6 MB)
February 2006
Cover story - Bird photography

January 2006
Cover story - Chembra

Read more!

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Morarjee Files - Parallel run

Morarjee Goculdas spg and wvg co ltd. no longer exists. But for a brief period of 11/2 yers, that was my school, my home and my everything in mumbai. I finished my MBA from IMDR, Pune and like any other MBA passing out was full of energy an almost imatient drive to go and prove myself.

The first two months only added onto that fire as I sat in the head office twiddling thumbs and playing "dave". Piramal systems technology head office was one huge adda (hang out) where people pontificated on new softwares. Enveloped in a completely IT environment complete with AC, swanky cubicles, lounge music and internet connectivity, I sat for two months increasingly frustrated of my life. No real work was happening and my legs were twitching to get into a place where I did something purposeful. I smelt my first opportunity to get to field when my boss (vikram) asked me Shoba and sudhir to go on a field tour of all the group companies. Shoba was the typical MBA from goa with a huge chip in her shoulder and a mouthfull of jargons. Prescriptive, criticising and totally out of touch. Her most repeated statement was "This is not the way things are done in GE". She might be right in saying that statement, but she lacked a few grey hairs to appear more credible.

Sudhir and I were increasingly frustrated about the head office culture and were totally unhappy. First stop was Morarjee. Sudhir is a smart chap schooled in the MBA culture of symbiosis. Jump-and-get-ahead-of-life whichever way you see good. He quit piramal to join another company within 3 months of joining. "Got to be in USA within one year" was his mantra. I was an idealist with similar drives but determined to learn along the way. "Learning to learn", is a hallowed concept discovered, perfected and passionately taught in IMDR. IMDR is a management school with a difference. High on idealistic principles of Deccan educational society (DES) which ran institutions since the late 19th century like Fergusson college, Pune. Through DES institution's hallowed halls have passed many a great Indian leaders. Afterall a society patronised by Balagangadhar Tilak could be no less principled (The beginings of DES). IMDR is the newest child of this society and the first management institute in Maharashtra. Started in the 70s by Sumatilal Shah and Joshi, it is today lost in the cacophony of four letter acronymed MBA institutes. People often confuse IMDR for one of the high cost, high rhetoric (all-fart-and-no-shit) MBA institute. To the irkied up students frustrated by the lack of proper recognition, Dr. Bhupatkar, the smiling director would say "We are in the education of business and not in the business of education".

I was smitten by IMDR like my first crush. IMDR is a small environment with less than 150-200 living up to its stance of atonomy. Rebellious and idealistic, IMDR wanted to prove a point to the outside world. Like a bee to nectar, all of us were (should say are still) attached to IMDR. IMDR was a community.

Having said all this, we still had a little chip on our shoulder. A stunted chip. But one thing was clear, none of us ever shirked or eweeeed at digging our hands dirty getting things done.

So there we were at morarjee. Morarjee's IT was a mess a mossaic of arcane computer systems which needed a major surgery every 2 days and we were trying to implement the latest ERP. The textiles business is as old as business itself and no one would change their practices for any ERP software. The average user age was 45 plus and one can make a slab of granite move, but not these guys. Totally unaware of all this I was accepted into Morarjee's young but battlewary team of IT staff.

I grabbed the opportunity with both hands and legs. Atlast I have something purposeful to do.

Sunil was the project manager. Tough as the users were, realistic as the broken chimneys dotting the factories. Morarjee was like entering into a time wrap. And there we were trying to implement a cutting edge software to streamline operations. The operations which has changed very little in 60 years.

"Give me something more to do, I have completed all the sales orders entries", I demanded gruffly. Sunil responded, "Ok. Can you finish these vucher entries ?". Another fortnight later the same routine followed "Give me more to do". This time sunil was convinced that I am out to grab the most mundane of works with full vigour. "Come with me to the meeting", he said. Like a schoolboy I took my notebook and pen eager to pen down the notes.

The Meeting

The CEO, CIO, Head marketing, CEO-Psytech and all the hallowed gods were present. Mamya, Sunil, Phanish, Andy and me were there from the user side. "Dont talk unless asked a irect question", advised sunil. I nodded vigorously in my newly elevated role. I was in a fully listening mode. The meeting started off with pleasantries and tea. That was the nicest part. Within a few minutes it deteriorated to accusitions and counter accusitions about problems. There was a departmental turf war and I was getting agitated. "A team of 15 professionals in the IT department are trying to better things and these guys were totally disrespectful, How can sunil take it lying down ?", My mind was screaming. Sunil was quiet and obeservant and finally the chairman Ajay, walked in and all democracy ended.

Ajay : "Are you guys done with the usual passing the buck thing ? "He asked.
The room was ominously silent. I was just controlling my temper. Ajay continued,"I dont want any more excuses. This implementation should be completed within a month. Otherwise all of you are canned." More silence followed and this time the silence spoke a lot. The language of fear.

As we trodded back. Sunil spoke for the first time "Guys so here we are. We need to do this within a month.". Paneesh's first words were "Thats impossible". I couldnt contain myself and opened my mouth for the first time, "sunil why were you silent when the other department folks were blaming our team.". All the others joined in, demanding an explaination. Sunil took his time and replied, "Guys that is morarjee's politics and I dont want to be a part of it. Look all that is of little concern now. Lets get this job done within a month. The top management has one brief. Finish it in a month or look for a new job".

Andy responded, "sunil I cant deal with kini anymore. He doesent cooperate atall".
Sunil looks on. "Ok Andy, you work in the finance module now. under paneesh. Who is going to work with kini and train him to take over ?". this was my opportunity and I jumped in and said "I will do it".

There was laughter everywhere. "Arre bache... kini will eat you alive", sneered Andy. Sunil was observing this closely and that was my last straw. I spoke up exasperatedly, "Look guys, no one wanted to enter sales orders. I did it. No one wanted to enter the backdated vouchers, I did it. No one wants to train kini and work with him. I will do it. If I dont do it, this whole thing will fail and we all will have to find another job".

Sunil broke the impasse and declared authoritatively. "Andy will work with paneesh and Vasu you and mamya will handle sales. I need this thing wrapped up within a month. Comeon guys, lets do it and get out of here".

The whole team was galvanised and I dove into the work like a dolphin chasing fish.


D-Day dawned and I was in Kini's cabin trying to talk him into getting trained onto the new system for sales orders and getting backdated sales orders entered into the system. The new system was longer and tougher to learn initially and the new system lagged the old system by two days. The theory is simple in implementation. You carry on with the old system and parallelly run the new system till the point where all issues in the new system are ironed out. In implementation parlance, this is called parallell run. Its tougher on people, longer working hours and harder to train. Its generally done for a month before pulling the plug on the old system and continuing on the new. We were 2 days of transactions lagging in the new system and kini was the only salesman with the knowledge of computers and fast enough to achieve this.

Vasu : "Kini saab, lets do this training and finish the back orders. We have to complete everything in a month."

Kini : "Abhe computer gadhe (computer fools in reference to our department), what do you think I am ? Thera rakhel ? (your mistress ?). Bahar nikhal ja, nahi tho maar kayega (get out of here or I will thrash you.)

Vasu : "kini saab, please this is not nice. Lets do this and finish strong. We need to get this implementation done and the CEO has given us this responsibility. If you need help, I will help you too."

Kini :"Who are you to help me (annoyed at being viewed as helpworthy), you are a kid and what do you know ? my experience in this company is bigger than your age ? Are you trying to challenge me ? "

Thats how the whole day went. In Kini's defence, he was old and nearing retirement and he has been overworked by everyone around. Worse he felt extremely insecure and suspicious of the computer system. Afterall when you are 60, it not exactly a great thing to be told to work under a 22 year old green horn who is a raring bull unmindful of how change affects human psyche. But for my IMDR grooming of humanistic management, I would have thrown up my hands and quit. I decided to work with what I had and that whole day was spent in argument bordering on conflict.

Quiet a few times, Kini's face was an inch away from mine. Close enough to hear our thoughts. But we were on full decibels loud enough to alarm the whole factory. Yet no one bothered as it is the work culture of a 100 year old cotton mill.

Kini : "Thum kya ek dhin me, sab badhal dalega ? jhaant bhi ukaad nahi saktha. (Can you change things in one day ? you cant even pluch a pubic hair). For my MBA schooled jargon receiveing ears, this was blasphemy. But then work situations involving the livelyhood of many people are bound to be full of such preaures. Passionately defending his territory, I realised that this fullthroated venture was leading us nowhere.

I walked out of his cabin at around 2.00 mainly to cool down, but also to eat some food and rejuvenate my spirits. Andy walks by with a beaming smile going from ear to ear and a face that said I-Know-What-happened-last-hour.

I tried avoiding him and go about my lunch in silence. The whole canteen was in whispers, chuckles and glances in my direction. the simple dal, roti and rice was bitter and jokes were on of how I became the bakhra in the computer department.

"Woh naya chokra hain na ? Madrasi ? Usko Kini ne masth gaand maar dhiya ?". (Kini took the new guy's ass. The madrasi) I gobbled up my lunch as soon as I could swallow and tried to get out of the place. Sunil was silent and kind of understood what I am going through. He just let me be. Later when the episode would be over, he said that day is the day I grew up.

Next to Morarjee is an old Dutta temple which used to be solace on some of the stressfull days in my life. I walked in and sat in a corner dampening all thoughts inside. A full 5 minutes of blank brain felt like red bull.

That day, I decided i will turn things around. Post lunch Kini was sitting in his cabin and I walked in acting as if nothing ever happened.

Kini : Exasperatedly. "Thum kya chahthe ho ? (what do you want ?)"
Vasu : "Kini saab, I understand what you are going through. But we need to do this thing. I will help you in whatever way you want. But I need you to devote some time to this. there is no point fighting like this. Everyday we will fight on and on and within a fortnight I will get fired."
Kini : Ok... we will do this. But dont be like the other computer gadhes (fools). They didnt do their job well the first time and we had to re-enter the sales orders again. I am not a machine you understand ?

An hour from there, I guided Kini through his first sales order entry. Every single query as to "why this, why that, this is more work than old system" was tackled without losing temper.

By 5 p.m., we were not in talking terms. We were in typing terms and with two computers we started entering the first of the 5000 pending sales orders. I decided I will finish it before end of day. Kini left the day at 9.00 p.m. finishing 500 sales orders. I had some vadapaavs for dinner and ploughed on.

It was close 2.00 a.m. when I wound up with the last of the pending orders and as I reached the railway station just missed the last train home. I hung around the station for a while and it was close to 4.00 a.m. that day as the firset train of the new day chugged in. As I wandered into my apartment and slumped on my bed it was 5.00 a.m.

The clock struck 10.00 a.m. as I entered office and picked up my cup of sick and lousy coffee. Ever wondered why office coffee is always lousy ? Sunil, looked at me in stock astonishment.

"The sales report as on yesterday is tallying", he announced.

"What about today ?", I asked irritatedly not wanting to sit with kini for another day.

"Kini is entering sales order in both the systems. Good job Vasu", quipped sunil quiet apparently surprised on seeing a cooperative Kini. He proudly turned and anounced "The parallel run is on folks!!!".

The team suddenly showed some new found respect for me. This kid can get things done. I went to kini's cabin and checked out if everything was fine. He looked at me and said, "The two reports are tallying. Kaisa ? (how). I had done only 500 pending sales orders and atleast 4000 was left, yesterday". "I did it saab", I said and I could see a astonishment in his eyes. "Dont worry, I will take care of every sales order from today", he voulenteered. Now the two systems were level and tallied. We needed 15 days of parallel run to uncover all issues and to fix them. I thanked him and as I was leaving. "Aapka naam kya hai ?", kini asked. "Vasu", I replied.
"Ha Vasu!!!!.. Like Vasu (Kamal) and Sapna (Sridevi) in Ek duje Ke liye ?", he said with booming laughter.

I just smiled. Ever since that day, I was known as "Vasu Sapna". Like there existed a physical sapna and like it was my surname. It opened doors in the packing section for our packing implementation. In the dyeing section, In the yarn section. "Vasu Where is your Sapna ?", became the smart cool statement to say whenever all these old warriors came across me. It helped me get work done for the implementation. It eased language and other departmental gaps. With one stroke kini gave me the weapon to disarm all resistance and subversion by disgruntled workers to the new system.

Though I sound elitist when I say that, It was a deadline and we had to make it in time.

A tinge of sadness enveloped me when I learnt that Morarjee is no more. The company was shut down after a fire and in all probability would be sold off, developed into some gaudy mall burrying with it a history of 100 years.

In its dieing years, Morarjee taught me a lot and was the perfect platform to learn human behaviour. Wonder what happened to Kini, Pande and Dalvi the numerous friends I made while in Morarjee. They were old, but witty and extremely generous folks. I visited their ganesh pandal in 1999, met their families, enjoyed their hospitality, their loud and dry sense of humour.

"Sapna, Raath ko aathi hai kya ?" (Does Sapna come in the night ? pun on the word sapna which also means dreams in hindi).

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Sunday, March 12, 2006

Fly on the wall

A major fan of Asimov like me had to figure it out some time. Despite my obviously slow clump of clay in my head, I realised soon enough that Asimov is not a science fiction writer. He did write about the future as he foresaw it, but it was quiet apparent that Asimov was more an explorer of human psyche than the future. The future, robots, transmutation et. al were the right context, the right distraction for him to dwell deeper into the human mind. Two stories would remain in my mind for eternity. The Jokester and The billiard ball . Every tenth knowing smile, I smile is more because of the instant recall of these two amazing stories rathar than the inherant comedey in the context.

It was one such smile. An old uncle who came back from the USA and was regealling all the natives with stories of the promised land. He drawled on pausing stratigically to very very good effect.

"We Indians are extremely intelligent. You know when I was a student in caltech, I had a friend coming fom India for the first time. He joined Princeton to persue his doctorate in physics. Now as students we had to save a lot of money. What did this friend do ? He places a collect call to my number. The phone rang and I picked it up. A sweet voice anounced to me saying, 'A collect call from Ramesh Aagaya. Would you like to accept it ?'. No I replied and she went on to inform Ramesh Aagaya how his collect call had been denied. See without spending any money he informed me of his arrival".

The whole living room burst into laughter applauding the intelligence of Desi Americans and ridiculing the hole ridden system in America. The message was simple. Indians are too intelligent. Give them any system, they will work with it and even twist the system right on its head. That living room was thich with pride and I have to admit, I was the first one to roar with laughter allbeit an entirely different reason. Uncontrollable laughter. Everyone else took the cue and dint want to be left behind.

Why did I laugh ? Is it a unique joke ? Definitely not. Its not even original. I have personally heard ten different people tell me the same joke in ten different versions. Each one claiming with ferocity that he/she/, his/her friend was the original inventor of this great Desi discovery. I laughed that day of the wonderous beauty of Asimov and how mis-understood his stories were. I laughed at the joy of my own discovery of what Asimov really was. A writer of human psyche, letting us have a sneak peek as to why people do what they do. This post is about that.

Asimov's theme in Jokester was simple. Jokes are small little experiments performed by aliens on humans to understand their psyche. To find out why they do what they do. Its not quiet important weather the alien experiment theory is true or not. But for argument sake, lets say it is true. Then why did the old uncle repeat the sadofied (stale) joke ? Why did he expect a laugh ? Why did I laugh ? Why did all the others laugh ?

That uncle was returning back to India after dog years and like every Indian it is central to his life what people of his community think of himself. His sense of success is directly dependant on what his earstwhile peers think of it. His accomplishment is directly co-related to how accomplished he feels out here. In all this there is a fear too. The fear of retaining his Indian ness. Even the most outgoing and liberal person in India, when confronted with the stark reality of a western society steps back to his identity and wants to retain that at any cost. This protective nature is what makes him go to "Bridgewater temple", Learn vedas, look upon carnatic music as some holy grail to be preserved, become more of a hindu than he would ever be in his lifetime. This sense of who you are is so starkly visible in the general American landscape it turns the most outgoing person into a recluse.

If you happen to live in middle America, it is difficult to just become friends with anyone in town. The kind of culture and style an American society brings about is entirely alien to the sometimes intrusive and curiosity ridden Indian way of life.
This uncle, was trying to get back into his old setup at a higher rank than when he left. I was just helping him to ease back into the community as soon as possible and I couldnt help laughing with disbelief of how many different claimants are there for this joke. Each claimant using it for his own unique purpose displaying his own unique psyche. And for perhaps the first time, I wasnt too critical of the fakeness in tihs narration. It was just too funny and I was screaming to myself "I cant believe he was telling me this old sadofied (stale) joke". There was no condescention but it was purely amazing.

Very soon the others who saw this, realised that they all should laugh. Why did they laugh ? Two main reasons.

1) Epidemics
2) Tipping point.

Read Tipping point for a detailed analysis of this.

Anyways in brief we laugh because laughter is a huge social ice-breaker. Its a peek into informality and a certain bonhomie between people. Once you laugh at an other person's joke, you are accepting him into your inner circle and telling him he is accepted and vice-versa. Its a kind of low stakes approach. Instead of openly asking "I want to be friend's with you" (Not the amorous kind megha encounteres often), if you crack a joke and people laugh at it, its apparent that your company is liked and both of you do want to engage in that social interraction. The problem with openly asking that question "I want to be friends with you" or any other social interraction question like "Can we have a cup of coffee ?" (the oft used dating opener) is the fear of rejection.

"How would it be, if I am rejected ?". Well instantly any human would feel bad being rejected because everyone genuinely wants to be liked. A joke is a face saving way of testing that acceptance/rejection theory.

Jokes are also an amazing way to alter the stakes in a relationship. I was told by an old school friend Neetha "that one of the reasons you are funny or try to be funny is because you want to alter the stakes in your relationship and bring it to the zone where you can handle. You can entertain people and often you think that all people want is entertainment. So if someone wants something deep and meaningfull and you cant give it to them, you lighten up the conversation, make them laugh, entertain them and even hope that this can distract them from their real need." I dont really believe this sweaping statement by Neetha, but there is a little truth to it. When can one actually think beyond the rut one is in ? When can you get creative and innovative ? When can those amazing brainwave solutions to your problems appear ? When will you go to your happy place ?

Only when you laugh and lighten up isnt it ? Laughter is nothing but an externally induced natural mood elevator. When your mood changes and your brain processes some puzzles and enjoys the victory of figuring something out, it gets creative and you would find easy ways to untie some really difficult knots. I am built that way actually trying to figure out how knots are opened. Jokes and laughter actually alters many of the assumptions in our brain without us having to be confronted by our set positions in an open way. If someone tells me "Vasu you have to change". Hell there is no way I will change. But if the environment is non-threatening and easy, I will change even without being let know of the fact that I need to change.

Jokes and humour help to generate that non-threatening environment where we all have face savers to not injure our pride.

Whats the connection between the title and the post ? Through and through this whole experience of mine, talking to the old uncle, seeing through the smokes and mirrors of human behaviour, sifting through the tons of crap Neetha told just to find out the odd precious stone, I was a fly on the wall. Non-participative, alert, overworked in my mind and figuring out new relationships between evensts and elements in my environment. If I had involved myself I would never have understood many things. Never would have recalled Asimov and certainly wouldnt have laughed so hard at the "Rames Aagaya" joke.

I was just a fly on the wall.

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