Archive for the 'India' Category

Onam Festival – Down Memory Lane

Today is Onam Day – the day when Keralites all over the world celebrate the harvest festival irrespective of religion, cast or social status.The festival normally falls between mid August and mid September every year ,generally corresponding to the harvest season in Kerala, India. Malayalees await this season with a lot of anticipation and plan various cultural and sports activities for about two weeks . There are snake boat races in many lakes/rivers during the season . Families do the rituals of floral decoration in their courtyard , prepare for the SADYA [ grand feast ] on the Onam day , at times for four days continuously ,wear new dresses , and go out for shopping and movies together.

Looking back for almost three-quarters of a century , I remember in my early child hood , Onam was mainly celebrated by Hindu families , with the legend of Demon King Mahabali associated with Vamana , one of the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu who defeated King Mahabali in battle. Vamana tricks King Mahabali into asking for 3 things , by which he banishes the king to ” Pathalam ” [ the nether world ] with a condition that the King can visit his kingdom once a year to meet his people. Onam coincides with such visits when the people put up their best to impress Mahabali that the prosperity which he left is in tact!.

I remember my father who was a lawyer used to invite his non – Hindu colleagues to lunch on the Onam Day and we used to enjoy such celebrations. All of us from the household used to serve food to our guests in plantain leaves – a 20 plus course Lunch with at least four  ‘Payasam” [dessert ] . We also used to engage in games like ‘Head Ball ‘ using a leather ball , play in swings , and watch teams of players performing ‘ Tiger and Hunter ‘ games visiting households. Most of the Joint families in those days owned large tracts of farm  land which the farmers tilled. The farmers used to bring ” tributes ” to the landlord , mostly a set of vegetables or fruits and the landlord gave them money or new clothes as return gifts.

Today , Onam has transcended to a festival at the state level with the provincial government leading it from the front organizing many cultural events. People of all beliefs without exception take part in Onam celebrations all over the world wherever Keralites reside  . The colorful festival has now taken a new meaning of societal integration demonstrating the rich traditions of the past to the younger generation.

Here is wishing HAPPY ONAM to all.

A Long Walk along the Line of Control [LC] in Kashmir

I served as the Logistics staff officer in the rank of Major  during the mid 70’s in a Brigade HQ close to the Line of Control [LC ] in Kashmir for 3 years. I got this job courtesy my qualifying in a 10 month long staff course in 1975 at the Defense Services Staff College [DSSC] at Wellington, South India. At Wellington, we were 300 officers from the Army, Navy and Air Force including about 60 officers from friendly foreign countries, all selected through a competitive examination. Thus, we were a privileged lot in many respects. During our training, we were exposed to many facets of military strategy, military history and international affairs as well as a detailed study on staff duties in field and peace conditions. We also participated in a number of war games practicing various scenarios simulated with  imaginary enemy threats both in the plains and mountains.

It was during the DSSC training, that I got exposed to the concepts of LAC [Line of Actual Control] referring to the de-facto international border between India and China after the 1962 war and the CFL [Cease Fire Line] between India and Pakistan in Kashmir after the 1947-48 war which got modified based on the Shimla Agreement of 1972 after the Indo-Pak war of 1971. We also learned about the Durand Line marking the border between Afghanistan and British India [later with Pakistan], the McMahon Line between India and China decided about unilaterally by Britain in 1917, which became the border between India and China in the North East, and the Radcliff Line delineating the International border between India and Pakistan after the partition.

What was noteworthy about all these demarcation exercises was either natural water shed principles [where water flows to each side from a hilly feature] or based on ground realities at a point when hostilities were halted by both sides. In both the cases, lines were drawn first on maps and adjusted marginally for tactical reasons without scant regard to the people and their ethnic background  affected by the delineation. This resulted in frequent border violations and negotiated truce following such incidents. At the Brigade level, we had flag meetings with Pakistan Army representatives when such issues came up. This is what we normally refer to as a No War – No Peace Scenario obtaining in our artificially created borders.

As per the Standard Operating Procedure [SOP] of our Brigade, the Commanding Officer of the Battalions along with his subordinate commanders, the staff officers of the Brigade were required to familiarize on the ground with the LC as a detailed knowledge of the lay of the ground astride the LC is essential in ensuring its defense. Soon after joining duty, I set out on my tour of the LC in a small team with adequate security escorts. I covered the entire LC in 3 days walking about 6 hours  during the day, spending the night at forward posts. What I experienced amply illustrated the points I mentioned above – Villages divided arbitrarily between Indian controlled area and Pakistan controlled area on the LC, at times, water available on one side of the LC, large minefields laid on both sides marked with barbed wire etc. In one case, we saw an abandoned house with one window on the Indian side and another on the Pakistan side with LC going in between.  We also noticed live mines on the hill-side  drifted to the road side, making it very dangerous to walk without precautions [walking only on the beaten path]. Many a times, during local festivals or at a marriage ceremony, people cross over the LC at great discomfort to the border  security forces but mostly with tacit understanding of the local commanders.

The porous nature of the LC has now become an advantage for Pakistan  trained infiltrators and terrorists to cross over to the Indian side to engage in subversive activities. We now live with this scenario for the last 70 years without a permanent political solution to the problem. As and when a solution is found, many adjustments will have to be made to correct the aberrations on the ground to make sure durable Peace between both the countries. I can only hope that this happens in my lifetime!

From Military Service to Corporate Jobs – The Indian Experience


Today , I read about a commitment by Starbucks to hire military veterans  and their family members publicly stated as a branding exercise !. What a noble way of recognizing the contributions made by the Armed Forces of USA ! . I am also aware that the US Government and the Industry gives utmost priority to employ Military Veterans in Civilian jobs after their engagement with the Forces. In the UK , there is a Govt sponsored Career Transition Partnership [CTP ] to connect military veterans with the Civil Industry.

Hiring veterans from the military is a good business , according to a research through in – depth interviews with individuals representing 69 companies across the US , by Margaret C Harrell and Nancy Berglass from the Center for a New American Security . Advantages as per this report for hiring military veterans are –

Leadership and Teamwork skills , Character , Structure and Discipline , Expertise , Decision skills in a dynamic high risk environment , Proven success and Loyalty .

Back home in India , in spite of  a full fledged Resettlement Directorate functioning with the Ministry of Defense , and various appeals made from time to time , only a very small percentage of the Armed Forces  veterans who retire at a comparatively younger age get a second career in the civil .  Of late , there are many isolated initiatives by many agencies to conduct training programs and orientation programs but these are yet to create an impact because of the lack of willingness of the Corporate World to come out with a process to enable this. There is also no stated policy or commitment from the Government to facilitate this transition.

The general public and the Corporate World know only about the primary role of the Armed Forces – defending the nation against any external aggression. Therefore , the only skills that they generally attribute to the military officers and soldiers is in the domain of security jobs and at times general administration.  In today’s  hi -tech and most complex military environment , the men [ and now women ] in arms , possess  very high degree of expertise in many fields of technology and engineering which can be gainfully utilized by the corporate organizations. In addition, the excellent managerial and people skills of the officers  who have been tested in high pressure situations with an ability to taking responsibility for their actions and getting things done first time , can be exploited by the society at large . They are quick to learn , picking up new skills and can adapt to new circumstances with ease.

I had read a paper on this titled ‘ Share our Brain Ware ‘ in the first Army – Industry partnership seminar organized by the CII [ Confederation of Indian Industry ] at New Delhi in 1995 while I was serving as a Dean of the Management Training Wing at the Military College of Electronics and Mechanical Engineering at Secunderabad . It was well received by the participants and some follow up action was initiated to get the details of skills and expertise from the Army sources for dissemination to CII member organizations. We also had successful Army / Navy / Air Force Officers who made a mark at Chairman / MD of public sector undertakings and other large organizations addressing the gathering.

I claim to have succeeded in my transition to the civil on my retirement from the Army after 30 years of service. What helped me was the following credentials –

A degree in engineering , my exposure to the discipline of management through various courses in premier Army institutions , a MBA from the Indore University obtained while in Army Service , my 3 year tenure as an Assistant Military Secretary at  the Personnel Branch at the Army HQ dealing with career planning and placement of senior officers in command appointments and my tenures as Managing Director  of an Army Base Repair facility manned mainly civilians who are governed by the factories act , followed by my tenure as Dean at the MCEME .

I had a successful civil career spanning 10 years with the IT Industry , working with a global IT Company  as Head of Operations and later as Corporate Head for Knowledge and Learning for their Indian Arm. I also worked for another 10 years as the Executive Director of HYSEA – Hyderabad Software Enterprises Association [www.hysea.in] , the only state level association in India for IT Companies .

I am not an exception – there are many more such profiles in the Armed Forces – with Army , Navy and the Air Force looking for a suitable break with the Industry . A few years back , the Indian Institutes of Management came out with a 6 months training program especially packaged for the officers of the Armed Forces . This was a welcome step but I remember many of those who qualified in those program , reaching out to me at Hyderabad for referring them to someone known to me. Therefore , there is a dire need to institutionalize this transition and I am sure the corporate world will benefit immensely from the well honed skills of the Military Veterans and at the same time fulfill a societal obligation they have to the nation. I sincerely hope the noble example I quoted in the beginning from the US will motivate the Indian Industry to take note and come forward to address this issue .

Internet’s Next Users – A New Paradigm

The Wall Street Journal [WSJ] of 8th August 2017 features Megh Singh , a smart phone user from Delhi , India. Megh Singh, 36, is a coolie porter in New Delhi Railway station. He does not read English and is not comfortable to use a keyboard. That does not stop him from checking train schedules, messaging family and downloading movies on his smart phone. He sits either in the Railway station’s stairwell or at times on the door steps of a stationary train ,whispers into his phone using speech recognition on the station’s free Wi Fi using a Sony Smartphone with 4 GB storage .On his phone are some of the popular apps -Google Search ,Facebook,WhatsApp and in addition the Chinese UC Browser and MX Player.

India has one of the largest population of mobile phones- more than 900 million and counting [ much more than toilets, some statistics state] and more than 30 percent are Smart phones like the one with Megh Singh , mostly with Android operating system. One need not be Internet Savvy in the conventional sense to use such phones.   This new paradigm is transcending the traditional package needed to attract the “second billion ” users of the Internet as per a spokesperson from Google. The beauty of this new trend is that it is independent of any language and relies heavily on the visual and auditory sensation in human beings .  Tim Cook ,Please Note !

[ See the feature ‘ Internet’s Next Users:More Video,Less Typing contributed by Karan Deep Singh in WSJ dated 8th Aug 2017]

 

Food,Cloth,Shelter and the Internet – A Strong Case for NET Neutrality

Our basic needs for survival from the Iron Age has been food,clothes,shelter and this has not changed till the advent of the digital age and the Internet. 25 years ago a new basic need emerged in the form of Internet and soon Wi Fi enabled meant nothing less than “Fresh Air enabled ” in importance. We are graduating from broad band facility to Wi fi enabled home to wi fi enabled zones and Cities. Netizens are already dreaming of a wi fi enabled world to live in.

It is in the above context that the new drive in India advocating NET NEUTRALITY assumes significance. The public outcry against premium routes and preferential pricing mechanisms serving corporate interests is very timely and the Government should take note of this when framing new regulations. The internet is too much of a good thing for essential public service and should not be subordinated to certain vested interests.

Let the NET be freely available as per the choice and needs of the user community and let there be a rational policy for pricing as per usage of data .

Philanthropy for Results

It was indeed a pleasure to go through the 13 December 2013 edition of Forbes Magazine ,Indian edition where the year’s winners for Philanthropy awards are profiled. Godrej Foundation, The Bajaj Family ,Amit Chandra ,Archana Raghuram , Narayana Health of Dr Devishetty , Romesh Wadhwani ,Swati and Ramesh Ramanathan , Anu Aga, Rohini and Nandan Nilekani are all there in the list.

What struck me this time is the new emerging fields and the process accompanying the same in the selection, management and metrics of the various initiatives by the award winners . Also, the scaling up of the scope and reach of the endeavor . For example , look at Dr Devishetty’s attempt to open a hospital chain at Cayman Islands , a location generally known as a tax haven for the wealthy to park money . Amit Chandra bringing his business networks to his philanthropic work or Archana and her team bringing engineering and problem solving abilities to the table ,or Romesh Wadhwani’s efforts in job creation are all path breaking efforts in Result oriented Philanthropy. The idea of philanthropic capital by Nandan Nilekani and operationalized by Rohini or the efforts in building sustainability in philanthropic models by the Godrej Foundation are also worth mentioning.

Indian Philanthropy has come of age and is ready to scale new heights. The future definitely looks promising.

Bangalore – A Work in Progress City

What struck me most when I visited Bangalore recently was the extent of road work being undertaken all around the city causing diversions every few miles as you move along even in the main arteries . There are fly overs or underpasses almost everywhere under construction throwing up a lot of dust and rubble.

I really wonder how some one commutes daily for work in such an environment.Come on – you can’t dig up the who;e city together in the garb of development. There should be a method in this madness after all.

The authorities seems to tying to catch up rather late after sleeping for a long time , when the city was overtaken by the IT Revolution in the 90’s and 2000’s . The new metro rail hardly supports the logistic requirements . A quantum jump in the number of private cars has also added to the misery.

Overall , to a visitor , the city [ once a garden city ] looks like a perennial “work in progress” with no end anywhere in sight.

Brown Money

A survey report by OLX , the on line portal for sale of domestic used goods reveals that approximately Rs 5100 crores [about 828 million US dollars] worth used or unwanted goods are locked up in Indian homes . These are in many forms like furniture,electronic goods,books , kitchen items,clothes,travel items , toys and many such items.

Even though I have not yet given my stock and its value to OLX or any other such sites [ I may do so soon] , I must confess that I have quite a lot of such stuff with us yet to be sorted and disposed off. I have collected a lot of stuff right from my Army Days including mementos, trophies, key publications especially special issues and a lot of books – both fiction and non -fiction. One thing I regularly started doing is to give away a few items of utility during the annual “Joy of Giving ” week to charity. These are mainly clothes , old magazines , newspapers etc.

The CEO of OLX.in Amarjit Batra calls these assets “Brown Money” . According to him the potential of the used goods economy is compelling . In fact, what has surfaced is only the tip of the iceberg and we will need many OLX type portals to mine these assets and convert them in to cash for those who are willing to part with it.

War over Water – a possible scenario ?

The other day , we witnessed an ugly scene in our immediate neighborhood – The occupants of a five story apartment were fighting early in the morning outside over distribution of scarce water to all equitably.

We face the same problem in our apartments too but have not yet reached the flash point witnessed . We get water once in 48 hours as the bore water is enough to  meet the requirement of 260 apartment units and water tankers are not readily available. 12 years back when we bought the apartment , we had plenty of bore water but most of the source have dried up as the water level has receded . We were then 260 families and today there are more than 2600 apartments in the locality depending on the same ground water . No sign of Municipal pipe water yet !

While in the Army , we were trained to live on 5 ltr of water a day in the field conditions! – Water discipline! . During peace time , the Army had a norm of 200 ltr for a family of four . Outside in the civil world , water is never taken seriously as a precious commodity and wasting water is a national pastime ! . Leaking pipes and over flowing tanks are all around . People in India so far have given lip service to rain water harvesting and such initiatives to conserve and reuse water .

One question , no builder will give you a firm answer is availability of water when they talk to prospects. Indiscriminate building of domestic dwelling units with scant attention to future availability of water is the norm in any Indian City and the Government and local bodies do not do anything to stop this trend.

Many experts say the next world war will be over  water . At least , I am convinced it is  possible  in my neighborhood if the monsoon is delayed by one more week!

The Art of Discount Sales

In India , we have many festivals and it is very convenient for any retailer to offer discounts . Then , we have the new year and year ending discounts , monsoon discounts and last but not the least stock clearing sales . I have noticed shops which sell merchandise always on discounts – say 30 to 50 percent on coupon price , or buy one and get three free etc .

With the rise in disposable income with the middle class , there is a quantum jump in retailing especially in clothes and house hold items . The shops overflow with merchandise and dealers are anxious to turn over the stocks in quick time .

Recently , we were contemplating changing our sofa set and were looking for an exchange offer . I found one retail chain which offered the exchange . When contacted , they told me the price of the old sofa will be 25 percent of the cost of the new sofa selected . I noted the price of various sofa sets and promised to get back soon . However , when I called on them during the next week which happened to be a festival week , I was told that the exchange offer is not there now and instead there is a festival discount .  What I found out was under the exchange offer , the cost price of the sofa was Rs 15,000 more than the festival offer price , clearly indicating to me that the exchange offer was a clear trap !.

The ‘ buy one and get three free ‘offer is another technique by which the actual cost price is hiked four times and the freebies are adjusted within this range . Bundling of different items as a package also follow the same process .

The bottom line is , we shopaholics like discounts and the retailers play to our sentiments and make a sale with a good profit margin at the end .