Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Touched by friends

This really is an emotional outburst, one rooted in joy. I have been meaning to write a new blog about my experiences at Havard Kennedy School for a long time, and will probably get to it soon. But this demanded urgent attention and so I am including this post in my general blog to be able to write it immediately.

As part of Spring Exercise, the culmination of my first year in the Masters in Public Policy program, I had the opportunity today to ask a very pertinent question to a very expert panel on sex trafficking. Without going into the details of the question, I would like to describe here something that truly touched me. 

Unfortunately, for some reasons beyond my control, one of the experts on the panel was unable to understand my question and made it clear in a not very respectful or friendly way. I didn't care much of course; intimidation does not affect me and I genuinely believe in the good of people, so I just repeated my question as many times as was needed for him to understand and respond. I bear no ill will to him or anyone else on the panel, it was just an unfortunate situation. But I did return sad that I was unable to convey the whole question and therefore failed to get a more comprehensive answer.

When I got back, I checked my email to see a mail from my friend Christina, "I understood you perfectly ... the guy was kind of an a**." Later, Mark said, "he was a jerk, you were clear", Josh said,"I could hear you perfectly fine", and Michelle said, "that guy was rude to you." Sometime later I had a rather angry text from Subhash that read, "you could have just said f*** you".

But the point of this story is not to be angry at the panelist for behaving the way he did, but to highlight how touched I was by my friends reacting this way. A couple of months into Kennedy School, I had started questioning if the people I considered friends felt the same way, and if I truly was part of a community here. And so, this response from my friends, who I now know think of me as a friend as well, really touched me and almost brought me to tears of joy. 

Actually, I am rather grateful to the panelist for doing what he did; he helped me find an answer to a much bigger and personally important question: do I belong? And the answer is clear and simple: Yes, I do!

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Foodistan - India vs Pakistan

I happened to watch the final episode of the food competition 'Foodistan' aired on NDTV Good Times, which is a great culinary competition between very talented Indian and Pakistani chefs. And I discovered something about myself...

Unlike most reality shows I have seen, one of the finalists was a woman. A rare sight amongst Indian reality shows, I was really pleased. And even though the woman finalist was in fact Pakistani, I found myself rooting for her. She didn't win though, and it was a fair defeat which she accepted very graciously, given the Indian finalist produced culinary delights that were beyond excellence in terms of technique, texture, taste and presentation.

So what did I discover about myself. Instead of hoping India would win, I hoped the woman would win. Clearly, the India-Pakistan divide is more political than anything. From the people perspective, we are the same. In fact, given both finalists were of Punjabi origin, I saw no reason to differentiate between them. And I don't consider this as being less partiotic.

But hoping that the woman would win came instinctively to me. I tried to analyse why. Those who know me would agree that I always tend to support the underdog, even if they are less talented. I supported Abhishek Bachhan, Tusshar Kapoor, Fardeen Khan and Emraan Hashmi when people hated them! And I think this is why I was supporting that rare female finalist, even when I could see that the other contender was doing minutely better. (Cautionary note: That doesn't make me feminist)

So I guess till the woman remains an underdog (for another few years still), while all top chefs, singing superstars and directors continue to come from the opposite gender, I shall continue, sometimes at the risk of being unfair, 'hooting for her'!

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Reminder: Let's be human

I was recently forwarded this story. It is a great one, no doubt. Makes you cry - out of joy or out of despair.
The reason I am putting this here is to remind myself. For years, every day I have said the same thing to myself - I have it all, good genes, good health, intelligence, talents, good education, good family, love, peace, security, food, work........I was born with above average endowments (I am not being proud, simply stating a fact). If after all this, I live only an ordinary life and do not challenge myself with an impossible dream, then it is a disservice to nature. This story reminds me of that commitment I have made to myself.

It also reminds me of something else. I have always felt that as kids we accept everything; our innocence makes us more human than we can ever be as adults. This innocence is the one thing I fight for and try and hold onto against all odds. Somewhere down the line, constant evil thoughts from adults all around has a lethal effect on our humanity. You are taught to lie to a friend's mom because your mom doesn't like her and doesn't want to meet her; doubts are sown inside your head about anyone who asks for your help; you are taught to not share your notes with friends because then they might top the class instead. I have done my best to fight this murder of my innocence and humanity, but sometimes do fail. This story is an effective reminder.

So I'll let you read on......
At a fundraising dinner for a school that serves children with learning disabilities, the father of one of the students delivered a speech that would never be forgotten by all who attended. After extolling the school and its dedicated staff, he offered a question: 'When not interfered with by outside influences, everything nature does, is done with perfection. Yet my son, Shay, cannot learn things as other children do. He cannot understand things as other children do.Where is the natural order of things in my son?'

The audience was stilled by the query.

The father continued. 'I believe that when a child like Shay, who was mentally and physically disabled comes into the world, an opportunity to realize true human nature presents itself, and it comes in the way other people treat that child.'

Then he told the following story:

Shay and I had walked past a park where some boys Shay knew were playing baseball. Shay asked, 'Do you think they'll let me play?' I knew that most of the boys would not want someone like Shay on their team, but as a father I also understood that if my son were allowed to play, it would give him a much-needed sense of belonging and some confidence to be accepted by others in spite of his handicaps.

I approached one of the boys on the field and asked (not expecting much) if Shay could play. The boy looked around for guidance and said, 'We're losing by six runs and the game is in the eighth inning. I guess he can be on our team and we'll try to put him in to bat in the ninth inning.'

Shay struggled over to the team's bench and, with a broad smile, put on a team shirt. I watched with a small tear in my eye and warmth in my heart. The boys saw my joy at my son being accepted.

In the bottom of the eighth inning, Shay's team scored a few runs but was still behind by three.

In the top of the ninth inning, Shay put on a glove and played in the right field. Even though no hits came his way, he was obviously ecstatic just to be in the game and on the field, grinning from ear to ear as I waved to him from the stands.

In the bottom of the ninth inning, Shay's team scored again.

Now, with two outs and the bases loaded, the potential winning run was on base and Shay was scheduled to be next at bat.

At this juncture, do the others let Shay bat and give away their chance to win the game?

Surprisingly, Shay was given the bat. Everyone knew that a hit was all but impossible because Shay didn't even know how to hold the bat properly, much less connect with the ball.

However, as Shay stepped up to the plate, the pitcher, recognizing that the other team was putting winning aside for this moment in Shay's life, moved in a few steps to lob the ball in softly so Shay could at least make contact.

The first pitch came and Shay swung clumsily and missed.

The pitcher again took a few steps forward to toss the ball softly towards Shay.

As the pitch came in, Shay swung at the ball and hit a slow ground ball right back to the pitcher.

The game would now be over.

The pitcher picked up the soft grounder and could have easily thrown the ball to the first baseman.

Shay would have been out and that would have been the end of the game.

Instead, the pitcher threw the ball right over the first baseman's head, out of reach of all team mates.

Everyone from the stands and both teams started yelling, 'Shay, run to first!

Run to first!'

Never in his life had Shay ever run that far, but he made it to first base.

He scampered down the baseline, wide-eyed and startled.

Everyone yelled, 'Run to second, run to second!'

Catching his breath, Shay awkwardly ran towards second, gleaming and struggling to make it to the base.

By the time Shay rounded towards second base, the right fielder had the ball. The smallest guy on their team who now had his first chance to be the hero for his team.

He could have thrown the ball to the second-baseman for the tag, but he understood the pitcher's intentions so he, too, intentionally threw the ball high and far over the third-baseman's head.

Shay ran toward third base deliriously as the runners ahead of him circled the bases toward home.

All were screaming, 'Shay, Shay, Shay, all the Way Shay'

Shay reached third base because the opposing shortstop ran to help him by turning him in the direction of third base, and shouted, 'Run to third!

Shay, run to third!'

As Shay rounded third, the boys from both teams, and the spectators, were on their feet screaming, 'Shay, run home! Run home!'

Shay ran to home, stepped on the plate, and was cheered as the hero who hit the grand slam and won the game for his team

'That day', said the father softly with tears now rolling down his face, 'the boys from both teams helped bring a piece of true love and humanity into this world'.

Shay didn't make it to another summer. He died that winter, having never forgotten being the hero and making me so happy, and coming home and seeing his Mother tearfully embrace her little hero of the day !
We all have thousands of opportunities every single day to help realize the 'natural order of things.' Do we pass along a little spark of love and humanity or do we pass up those opportunities and leave the world a little bit colder in the process?

A wise man once said every society is judged by how it treats it's least fortunate amongst them.

May your day, be a Shay Day.

I am tired of this government Part 4

When I started this series, there were hardly any people who shared this opinion. By now, I guess the whole country is saying this. But I shall continue anyway.
So what's new. Nothing really......it is the same old story. The UPA government fails to own up...as usual!
I'm sure no one missed the 2G verdict by the Supreme Court. Did you happen to catch the press meet hosted by Mr Kapil Sibbal that followed? Here is what he has to say

  1. The Supreme Court has finally made it clear that the telecom policy is flawed and needs to be redone.
  2. The telecom policy was in fact brought in by the NDA in 2002 and they must take up responsibility for the turmoil that has followed and apologise to the country
  3. The Supreme Court has only raised its finger against Mr A Raja; the Prime Minister and Former Finance Minister Mr P Chidambaram have not been charged and are not be blamed at all
  4. The Supreme court is blaming Mr A Raja, not the Congress. The DMK still remains a strong ally
Here is what this should translate to if common sense prevails:
  1. The UPA is a brainless community and organisation.It basically relies on court orders to take actions and determine directions. 
  2. When they decided to form the government, UPA basically had no vision or clarity and followed whatever the NDA had laid on a plate for them.
  3.  The present cabinet is not a cohesive workforce. Rather each minister functions independently, free to do whatever he/she chooses to do. The Prime Minister has no control, in fact he has no knowledge of independent ministers actions at all.
  4. The Congress party will continue forming alliances with corrupt allies because all hey want is to continue to stay in power which requires the coalition to continue.
And here is what this should translate to for those who have been reading between the lines and looking behind the eyewash
  1. The UPA is defending what is indefensible and making a fool of itself. They can only point to the SC judgement and speak in those terms because they are clearly left with nothing to day and do not have the spine to own up and take responsibility.
  2. The UPA has successfully managed to ruin a great telecom policy (a policy that succeeded in bringing a telecom revolution in India that has had far reaching impacts even in rural India that could leapfrog technology to advance itself) by using favouritism, nepotism and informational assymetries. This would have far reaching impacts again.....on the entire economy and investment climate!
  3. The PM, Former FM and every other minister in the cabinet is corrupt and hand-in-glove with Mr A Raja. Playing dumb is the only thing they can do now.
  4. The UPA is formed out of allies that depend on each other to achieve only one common objective - to stay in power.......there is no common ideology or vision that binds the UPA together.
If Mr Kapil Sibbal's eyewash succeeds on even one person this time, I would have to seriously reconsider average Indian intelligence.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Image is everything

Forgive me for borrowing this quote from Rockstar! I am actually one of those few people who have gone crazy about the film's dialogues. But this post is not about Rockstar (although I do intend to do a review of the spectacular movie on my other blog). This is about something much more serious, but  I'll keep it brief.

There is something terribly wrong with us, men in particular. I didn't believe it was possible, but I have seen too many instances now to continue to be so naive. Here's what happened. On on of the rare occasions when I was watching a movie (Force) with friends (I prefer watching with family or alone), one of my male friends told me with a lot of conviction that Genelia D'Souza was actually fat! While I digested this, he clarified that she had a belly, which she effectively hid under her skirts...."ever noticed she never shows her belly button?" , he asked me. I had to use all my strength to reply with a serious face. "No!!!"

It was a funny conversation then, but as usual, I see a huge social problem in everything. I mean, this guy isn't slim either. Most men who criticize cinema heroines for being an inch too fat are never pictures of perfect health. What gives them the confidence to dismiss women for not being the perfect image so easily. He could have said she is a terrible actress and that would have made sense to me. But this did not, because I can't find flaws in people's looks. Which is why I never invest hours and money in cosmetic products that are the rage today, not just for women, but also for men (ever tried Fair and Lovely men's cream?)

Till a week ago, I would laugh at my female friends who would go crazy about the way they looked. But now I see that image really is everything; an image fed by the media of what a perfect body must look like. And we happily waste time, money and emotion in upholding this image, come what may.

I can only do one thing. Continue to tear up advertisements for beauty products and slimming machines and burn them chanting "Everything is image, image is everything swaha"!!

PS: Kudos to all my male friends (there are some) who have removed themselves from this craziness

Monday, 2 May 2011

Solar is cooler!

I have been in Portland without seeing the sun for almost four days, and I realised something. We in India are just so dumb! We are willing to waste a nearly free and readily available source of power that each individual household has access to. We pray to the sun everyday (at least a lot of us do) but refuse to accept a gift nature so kindly bestows upon us. Why?

Solar powered equipment would be so much more convenient to use. And if we all started demanding it now, a good enough market with competitive prices would probably develop in India. Besides, why not rely on solar thermal power to heat water and cook food? It doesn't seem practical as yet and might be highly inconvenient with the currently available equipment. But can we at least demand anyone who cares to listen to help us access this incredible source of power (are the highly reputed IIT and DCE engineers listening)?

And finally, all the power deficit and the power theft (possibly on account of illegal residential areas stealing it) could at least be partially resolved if we started harnessing an energy source that practically greets and heats us everyday.....

Summer is coming. We allowed the rain to go waste without harvesting it. Let's at least try to use the sun while it lasts. There are other parts of the world that don't really even have the option of using this gift!

Monday, 11 April 2011

I am tired of this government (Part 3)....

I wrote this piece a year ago, in a very emotional state of mind, when one of the slums was being destroyed without any notice to the residents, leading to the death of two infants. It is not entirely practical, but I thought I should post it here nonetheless.

My take on slums

First, you (the present ruling government) create skewed economic incentives so that a large number of people have to migrate from their rural homes to cities. You take away their farms, their land and leave no means of livelihood for them to survive on. On a parallel track, prices rise sky high, especially for basic necessities, so that any means of livelihood in rural areas become meagre and people must migrate. Then, you go ahead and let slums originate, without any civic amneities, no water or sanitation, no health facilities, and you appease the very slum population by distributing Rs 2000 in cash asking them to vote for you.

And then when you come into power, you are mandated to "clean" the city, and the first thing you can do is pick up a bulldozer and "sweep" off those very slum dwellers that brought you to power. So basically, those people have no value for you now...they are disposable.

If you want to prove otherwise, then take up better policies.
  1. Make sure there are adequate means of livelihood in rural areas. There is a lot of opportunity. Agro-business; solar power; telecom; etc.
  2. Identify some land areas and build low cost vertical four-storey LIG housing on an economic model. Make sure there is community participation while creating sanitation facilities in these buildings. One such building complex would be able to accommodate five small slums and if it is located in a central area, people don't have to travel too much saving on transport demand and costs.
  3. Create multi-utility lanes on roads to accommodate hawkers. Whether you believe it or not, city dwellers (not the multi-millionaires, but the aam aadmi) depend on them much more than they depend on your fancy malls built by the industrialist in whose pockets you reside.
  4. When you ask someone to move, make sure he has an alternative; make sure you give them adequate notice; and make sure you absolutely need to do this.