Monday, September 27, 2010

What is this obsession with religion?

In a country obsesses with religion, millions of religions, gazillions of Gods and Goddesses and Babas and Gurus (surds and otherwise) and Maulvis, we sure get to see a number of interesting sights. Ever had a chance to pass by a temple early in the morning? Even if a temple is situated in the middle of a densely packed road, people will slow their cars no matter what; bow to the temple from within their cars and then move along, honking for the next person to move faster; blissfully unaware of the fact of having created a jam in their wake. Of course, subsequently every driver will do the same thing and the people would be stuck in the jam; cursing the same gods for their misfortune. Talk about Irony.

In fact I remember an incident that I read somewhere, don’t know if it’s true or not. A family was irritated with people peeing on their walls due to a disadvantageous location of their home. Somebody suggested them to place God image tiles at about 3 feet height all across their boundary walls. And Voilla! Their problem solved.

Image Courtesy: Wikimedia

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Book Review: Devil in Pinstripes by Ravi Subramaniam


Article first published as Book Review: Devil in Pinstripes by Ravi Subramaniam on Blogcritics.
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I went to the Great India Place couple of weeks back. Being a bookaholic that I am, no visit to mall is complete for me without a visit to any bookstore within. While browsing the books, my sight fell on Devil in Pinstripes.

I could immediately guess that it included dirty, behind-the-scenes stories in the banking related world. It did not disappoint me one single bit.

The author, Ravi Subramaniam, has already written two other books, If God Was A Banker and I Bought The Monk’s Ferrari, neither of which I had read but I had heard both of them. I had heard decent reviews for those two books and thought to myself "What the hell? Let me buy this one and then let’s see how it turns out to be".

What I liked the most about the book is how the story hops intermittently between past and present, how well the past and present are woven together. The main protagonist, Amit, is in a lockup and keeps on having these flashbacks of his life; while intermittently he snaps back to the gloomy present.

As a sideline, the book also teaches a lot of lessons in office politics, people grouping together and cutting someone off, having moles in other departments and people on “take”.

What makes the book very interesting is how, at different points of time in the book, one can feel similar things to have happened in our own lives. How we have always had that smug boss who felt that he was the king of his office and no one had any right to contradict.

How there is always that one “yes-man” (in the book it is a woman) who worships the boss like anything. An ambitious young man, fresh graduate of an IIM and with an intent to be the youngest partner in the history of the firm.

That urge to do more than you can handle and need to balance work with life.

The characters are very well defined. In fact not only black and white, but the yellow, red and gray in the characters also seem to have been very well described.

I am not really sure, however, how I feel about the subtle, surrogate advertising that Ravi introduced in the book, such as Amit buying If God Was A Banker at the airport or a famous hotshot lawyer "Ravi Subramanian"; I feel that that was something that he could have done without.

All in all, an interesting one time read.

Rating of 3/5.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Indian Education - Boon or Bane?


Has the education made me a better person? Or made more of a robot out of me?

This is a primary question that everyone should be asking themselves at the beginning, end and even amidst the process of receiving the education. Is the education system in India really all that it is made out to be?

Now I know that this topic has been beaten to death especially since the last two years what with Aamir Khan on an education reform movement and Kapil Sibal asininely tinkering with the education system and every bit and piece making headlines now a day. But what the hell… this is my blog and I will be damned if I don’t get to ramble on it.

Although, globally, Indian students are considered amongst the best brains. The higher education facilities in India are amongst the best that there are. But somewhere in our education system, we kill the spirit of the students. We kill the initiative taking powers of the students. If we look at our educational system, we go by a set rule. The classes are deemed to take place for certain hours of the day during which, there would be a division in the form of time tables. The teachers or professors as the case may be, will come, read something from some material, give a pop quiz or a theoretical assignment and then leave. And then the next professor will come. And then the next day will dawn and so on. Then there would be examinations twice or thrice a term. And as is typical of most of the students no one, barring a few outliers, will study beforehand. Hence, all the cramming will be done on the day before the exam with feverish passion, roaming the corridors of hostels or sitting in home sipping tea/coffee and burning the proverbial midnight oil, students trying to cram everything till the second before question paper is placed before them. Did you just not smile reminiscing about similar moments of your life? Then there need be no more proof that this is a typical experience in the life of a student.

But has anyone ever stopped and questioned if this is actually a right thing to do? Is it really necessary to have papers twice a term? What if the paper does not merit twice or thrice examining the student? Will the system be changed? What if a course titled Advanced Oral Communication requires that the best way to judge a student would be to check how well he can communicated orally? Would the ancient ones be awoken from their gargantuan slumber to stroke the embers of the goblet of fire or would this be yet another example of requests falling on deaf ears? Or would the PGP office say, yet again in a deep oratory mellifluousness, “Keh diya na… Bas keh Diya”?

And what about the content of dribble that we dare call as our curriculum? We teach students how to write e-mails in corporate communications class but we are not able to teach them to keep their cell phones silent during lectures. We are teaching them transportation problems and assignment problems, but we are still not managing to impart the importance of being punctual in attending lectures or submitting assignments in due time. Oh sure we get to know what balance sheet is (though we can never balance the two sides), some professional and serious sounding business jargon to carry us through most of the conversations, some bits and pieces of knowledge that we hope would be useful once we get to the jobs.

When I was in school, I was a very shy and introverted person (that’s not to say that I am not now… just that I have upgraded myself over the years and learnt how to be more open and enjoyable with friends around). But I was not always like that. I remember bits and pieces and moi ma tells me that I used to be a spirited child in my primary years and that I used to be extremely full of energy, extroverted and highly energetic. So what changed me over the years? I will say the educational system in my school where the primary school teachers were not comfortable with children questioning their authority, receiving apt witty remarks from a 3-4 year old kid and the problem of having to miss their afternoon nap in the class because of one hyper-active kid who would not lie down even after being fed a whole bottle of valium. Ok that I am kidding and that I was never fed valium. But yea that was true that my teachers were frustrated with me because I would not let them rest. Peter Senge (1990) maintains that we learn only when the experience is followed by immediate feedback. Hence, the feedback of knitted brows and frown on the face, instead of crow’s feet, were enough of a feedback for me to deter me from doing such things over the years and be made more of an obedient student.

Then came engineering college… and boy what a bliss it was. Of course the first year ragging and adjustment issues apart. But that was truly the first stage of the education that I really enjoyed. Probably because our branch was a relatively smaller one so the entire group of students were pretty close knit (of course we now have some outliers but where do we don’t have them?) Even though most of the education was more of a rote of a fixed curriculum set by ancient professors and studied through copies of textbooks and notes prepared by some diligent students (Thanks neetu, priyanka, lohani and all hostellers for question papers). But more importantly, at that stage I truly realized the fun of being with friends, how one learns more from friends than from profs, how several long lasting friendships can be wrought out of simple things such as having birthdays on same or nearby dates.

During the management education, I believed that I learnt a lot. And not just about balance sheet, or 5 S (Seiri, Seiton, Seiso, Seiketsu, Shitsuke), or how about Pavlov’s experiment with dog and its saliva, or even about financial markets, difference between debt and equity, complex macroeconomic models or any such thing. The most important learning came in the people handling skills, as a management education should impart; even though there was no formal education in it and the entire curricula was to be learnt through a practical experience and the only test for the same would be in real life scenarios. For instance, knowing the name of the peon of the PGP office is not going to get you any 50 basis point reduction in the cost of debt (Talk about being arbit!) but it would certainly help you get an advance copy of the next term time table and allow you to plan your leaves accordingly. Or asking a mess worker about his life in general is not going to drastically improve the quality of food but at least you will get the best that there could be from amongst them.

And that’s the kind of thing that an education is supposed to teach, practical things. And not something that we can just learn and forget. An education is not supposed to make you like a robot, ready to do work at the command of a master or numerical spout the value of pi at the behest of a command. Education should make you realize the significance of pi as well.

But in our haste to provide this hardcore knowledge to the students, we often miss out on the softer aspects. Ironically, most of the B-schools conduct GD and PI in their selection process just to see the soft skills of the candidate and forget to hone those skills in candidate once they enter the hallowed portals of the prestigious institutions. In that context, lesser known institutions still have crowd which has better soft skills to make up for the non-presence of the brand names.

Images courtesy: www.gallery.ca, www.cypasia.org, newamericanuniversity.asu.edu, ccdaag.org.uk, www.clickjobs.com.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Would you prefer an ebook to paper book?

Got this very interesting article in today's paper. Since I love reading a lot, I could not help but share this article. The original can be found here (among many other places I am sure).

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There are very few battles in the technology space that actually make sense. The Plasma vs. LCD display was a good one till it lasted; the HD-DVD Vs BluRay was plain stupid; the three-way skirmish between gaming consoles Wii, PS3 and Xbox 360 is exhausting and the all new smartphone OS war is actually moving from dull to a pretty good slugfest. But rarely does technology wage a war against the old guard – truly established old school vs. the all new wiz bang of gadgetry. Yet, a classic battle of epic proportions is taking place right now – Ebooks vs. paper books!

We’ve had paper book fans talk about how they’ll never switch and there have been reams of columns on why Ebooks can be a better experience if only you would give them a shot. Fortunately this little war will be played on many fronts – consumer preference being just one of them.

Those who swear by paper books usually move into emotional and nostalgia mode. They seem to be incapable of reading without the heady smell of paper, the melodious rustle of turning a page, the olfactory experience of fresh ink, the eureka fact that their paper book will never suddenly run out of battery, that they can read while their aircraft is taking off or touching down, that they can hand them down to their friends and family and mostly that there is no strain of looking at a screen for a long period of time.

On the other hand, Ebook warriors seem to be getting a new arsenal everyday. Ebook prices are lower, they are a much greener option with no paper, no distribution, no warehousing, no retail space being used. Paper books are heavy and bulky and you can’t carry too many, while you can store thousands of books on one device, search, mark, look up definitions, make notes and share book passages on Twitter and Facebook in a second. Most importantly, you can set up font size and readability levels that are perfect for you.

Things seemed fairly well balanced when suddenly, Amazon announced that Ebooks now out-sell hardcover books by a factor of 1:2. All hell broke loose with typical hogwash headlines like ‘the beginning of the end’ and ‘it’s all over’ appearing across world media. Is it true then? Are the days for paper books truly numbered?

It has been about three years since the first real Ebook readers appeared. Prices since have fallen by almost 80 per cent, it’s the largest selling device on Amazon, almost every major book seller and consumer electronic maker has a model or two available, authors now release books directly to the public, bypassing the publisher and distributor, the iPad and other devices are pretty good Ebook readers on their own, thus creating some incredible momentum. It would seem that paper books are truly on their way to being dead and buried, right? Wrong! Sales of paper books have actually increased by quite a bit in the last three years. Some say by more than 40 per cent.

It seems that reading itself is staging a huge comeback and it’s now being fuelled on both sides by this very war. You try a Ebook on your phone and suddenly rediscover your passion for reading. Rather than watch a movie on a flight, you now read a book. You curl up with a book instead of sitting up at night watching television. Reading is going through a rediscovery revolution like never before.

Unfortunately it may not be all that balanced in the future! Here are a few controversial predictions. First, in about a year or so, Ebook readers will be given away free. Price are already at the sub $49-100 mark and it is not difficult for retailers to give them away with a contract where you promise to buy 12 Ebooks over a six month period. Second, prices of Ebooks will fall dramatically. This will put a lot of pressure on paper book prices and will make entire industries like paper and publishing go into a tailspin. Libraries will close and second-hand bookshops will be more like antique stores. None of this sounds good for an industry that has been there for literally thousands of years and is an invaluable resource.

There’s a lot to preserve here, a lot to cherish and not give up on. For a gadgety column, this may be a oxymoronic wish – but I really do hope that this time, technology will not triumph in this battle of the heart and mind. Otherwise, as a friend of mine once joked, in the near future we may all be reading an Ebook while keeping a piece of paper alongside. To crush at regular intervals and nostalgically relive the feel and smell of reading a real paper book!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Top 5 paradoxes in Indian Telly

We have all seen our fair share of the telly dramas. Be them the Ekta Kapoor variety or the Adhikari Brother’s ‘Comedy’. Whether or not you want to, there are some things that you just can’t escape. Meeting distant elderly relatives is one thing. Other thing is watching the prime time soaps, which your mother and sister are convinced teach us all a thing or two about the life. I have had my fair share of this serial watching as well. And over two decades of this accumulated experience has confused me to some aspects which are mind-boggling at the best. I am surprised that the scientists have not pounded on these ‘paradoxes’ of the Indian Telly. But for the benefit of the public in general, I will list the top three here:

Inexplicably, Mangalsutra, bangles and lamps are amongst the most favored items of the directors when they want to show an ill omen. The mangalsutra, when snatched from the neck in the most brutal fashion; while a theft or during the protagonist planning a revenge or something; will break at the clasp, be intact and then be stored in a jewellery box. However, the same mangalsutra, when showing ill omen; when gets slightly entangled in the folds of the tent cloth that the protagonists wear will break from all possible sides accompanied by a close-up of all the beads rolling around on the floor. Similar is the case with bangles; glass bangles when normally taken off (no matter how brutally) will never break but for an ill omen, even the slightest pull will break them asunder and draw blood from the wrist.

News channels and babas often discuss the theory of reincarnation and how you need to do good deeds in life to be reincarnated as a human in the next life. Going by that theory, all the actors must be saints and angels. Out TV channels are way ahead than just theorizing, though. Several instances are known wherein a person has been reborn with full memories of what they were and what they used to do in the life gone by. The same concept has also been liberally explored in various Bollywood movies as well.

Another perplexing thing that I have observed that however time passes by, the characters remain ageless as ever. Even after the much hyped 5 and 20 year jumps in the soap, the only visible difference between the appearances is addition of a spectacle to the costume list and a couple of streaks of while hairs, donning more elegant (or so they think) clothes while the next younger generation to follow will wear an ever more increasing set of ridiculous clothes. Sometimes, when a younger character grows up; the older version seems younger than what the character was 5 years back (Look at Baalika Vadhu). Otherwise, they are physically fit as hell and somehow escape the nature’s weathering of people in terms of wrinkles, pot bellies, or sagging skin. Guess the folks at fair and lovely, no marks and anti-ageing cream can learn a thing or two from the Telly people.

The most wondrous of things of all is that whatever be the time of the day, whatever is the work that these people are doing, whatever situation they are in; these charming folks are ALWAYS wearing a makeup. While normal people like you and me would sweat a little bit when working in kitchen or doing a couple of rounds in gym; they will always make everything look like a breeze and perform everything with such panache; makes us feel like lay morons. Even while sleeping, the wives will don full makeup and their Kanjeevaram Sarees with the full entourage. Surprisingly so, they remain as wonderfully made up as ever, even when they wake up from the bed or are being served a bed tea. Unless of course the aim is to portray them as being guilty of having slept, then they will be disheveled as us mortals. Other than that, there seems to be no normal people around on these soaps. But I guess the ordinary people are not glamorous enough to be shown on telly when all the unglamorous people watching the TV want to see is a sharply dressed vamp, with couple of inches long weird bindi on their forehead.

The last one is something that I have seen only in the case of Ekta Kapoor crap only. It could be possible that the same would be duplicated elsewhere as well but not that I have witnessed. I am talking about, of course, the Plastic surgery procedure. Again, they portray the plastic surgery to be such a simple procedure that the entire face of a person can be changed, without leaving a single mark of the body. But even more wonderful than that is the fact that a simple plastic surgery can also result in the height, weight, skin tone and even voice quality to be changed.

What a wonderful place to live, the Telly world be.

Images courtesy: themuslimwoman.org, connect.in.com


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