Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Despite khadi vests

It's been 63 years since India adopted its Constitution and fortunately, I’ve been a part of more than a couple dozen anniversaries. Through my growing years, in several different ways, I've celebrated this remarkable day with a lot of enthusiasm and fervor, with activities that every Indian is privy to… from flag hoisting to march past to painting my face and dressing up in colors of the flag to singing along with Lata on the television screens, a few customary tears invariably rolling down my cheeks. But I'm not sure I ever gave it enough thought and consideration. I'm not sure I ever attempted to fully comprehend what it means to live in a free India. I'm not sure I valued the brighter aspects of it and opposed the not-so-bright ones. Sure I sat through all those speeches from visionaries, dignitaries and political leaders but unfortunately nothing seems to have registered or made an impression. Was I just inattentive or inspiring speeches are a rare find?

It feels rather ironic that so many years later, when I'm no longer even celebrating it in the conventional ways, I'm taking the time to indulge in something I should have done long ago. I conduct analytics for a living and in the end, it all boils down to the arithmetic of what has worked and what hasn’t. If someone was to do the math on our country, what would the outcome look like? Have we successfully implemented everything that was outlined in the Constitution or has our bureaucracy failed us? I can almost hear a brusque reply from someone in a khadi vest or a dated safari suit saying "Madam, it is not as black and white as that. It is complicated." I bet it is. It better be. It is after all the largest democracy in the world. But read between the lines through any new policy failure and you’ll notice that if it ain’t the hierarchy, it’s the procedures. If they’ve streamlined procedures, then it’s the protocols that sting. If protocols have been mastered, then it’s the regulations. If somehow, miraculously, regulations are followed, then it’s the C word (corruption, silly). And by the time all of the above puzzles are solved, it’s either time to break for a festival or for winter session and soon time to re-elect. Where is the time to implement?

I heard Rahul Gandhi imply very categorically in a speech that it may not be entirely true that our government is by the people, of the people and for the people. He categorized politicians four ways; (1) those with power - money or muscle, (2) those who've got it running in their veins, (3) those with the right business cards in their pockets and last and quite unfortunately the least, (4) genuine and deserving, which amounts to less than 10% of those who are elected.

So let me get this straight; only about 10% represent people who need to be represented and the rest are by proxy or default. Brilliant, isn't it? It is indeed because despite that, we're one of the largest emerging economies of the world. Despite that, we’re the largest producers of brain power in the world. Despite that, global corporations cannot survive without their back offices in our nation. Despite that, a common man can become the president. Despite that, our technological initiatives are comparable with any nation out there, our movie industry can churn out more films than any others and we’ve pushed some 24 folks in the top 100 billionaires in the world.

Dare to dream, I know, but wouldn’t it be amazing if those who govern our nation would, for once do it a little different? Like a chef who adds a new spice to an age old recipe to make it even more delicious. Like a doctor who prescribes a more effective drug to speed the recovery. Like a DJ who adds a new beat to elevate spirits even more. We may not be perfect but we’re pretty good. And just a few little boosters here and there, can bring about such grand outcomes that we can only imagine. Just a few little boosters, which turn impediments into opportunities. Need I even mention which ones?

Jai Hind.

Festivals and the modern man

This appeared on

Most people I know get charming gifts for Christmas and holidays. Cruise tickets, bling, electronics, designer watches. I get calendars. All possible varieties. The regular one with US federal holidays from vendors, the Hindu calendar that the temple sends me with a prefix of Mr. on the envelope, a spoof of the Mayan calendar, family birthdays calendar from a cousin, the Indian holidays calendar.

The Indian Holidays calendar got me thinking about Indian men and festivals. How should the modern gentleman participate in festivals? Is the urban, sophisticated, well-traveled man a conformist when it comes to traditions? Does he partake in age-old celebrations just like everyone else with the same enthusiasm, or with restraint? It’s not unusual to hear adjectives like "low key", "intimate", "peaceful" extensively in conjunction with festivities while talking to men. How, for instance, might he celebrate the kite-flying festival? Would he feel comfortable being on the rooftop amidst a sea of others as they get boorish and aggressive, all set to chop off the competitor's pride? Would he scream his heart out when he does succeed and announce his victory going at it full throttle with requisite facial expressions and accompanying body language with a little jig thrown in? Or would he rather buy a piece of art for a kite from the Chinese vendors who've set up shop on the exhibition grounds and silently take his possession to the international kite competition and fly, observe and internalize the process and later blog about what it did for him?

Or Holi. After years of doing it the same way, would he crave to do it any differently, perhaps a tad more discreet? Instead of dunking everyone and their mom in colored water tanks or flinging water balloons, would be rather prefer a single color for symbolism, take along an intimate group of friends to the beach and watch the sunset as they made tea on the campfire, a hint of color accentuating their faces, indulging in animated discussions?

Does bhaang have to be the highlight of Maha Shivratri for him or would he be tempted to take that trip he's been thinking of to the Kailash-Mansarovar region and feel closer to the Almighty as he camps out next to the highest body of freshwater lake in the world, capturing the play of sun rays on Mount Kailash with his digital camera firmly rooted on a tripod? If the modern man is going to take his cues from the rest of the world, he probably won't be getting too down and dirty with everyone else.

Take Ganesha Chaturthi. If you've ever been to the Mumbai one, you're familiar with the clamor, the colors, the processions and the euphoria. The city virtually comes to a standstill. But if you were to celebrate it in San Francisco, you'd have to take your Ganesha Idol to the Hindu temple where it'd be tested for bio-degradability before you could board the bus to Pier 49 and take a 3 hour cruise to the middle of the ocean, which is the only ‘spot’ that the city environmental agencies have approved for drowning of the idols.

I'd like to think the modern Indian man can find a middle ground here somewhere. Sure, if you're living in the US you probably can't throw colours on non-Holi celebrators without getting sued, but in India, isn't it about time you got involved like everyone else? No one likes the guy who is always standing at the sidelines, however perfectly groomed he looks.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The other "woman"

This appeared on in December.

She’s new, she’s famous, she’s exotic and she’s a game changer. Ladies, that’s just one of a million ways to describe the new “woman” in your man’s life, come November 25. You’ve read all about her. You are familiar with her upsides and downsides. You’ve heard all the jokes on her, twice. It’s taken the curiosity out of the equation. In this over familiarity sans proximity streak, you have not had half a reason to be concerned. After all, a name like ‘Siri’ could hardly pose a threat for you. Think again.

Set to be released later this week, the iPhone 4S has a faster processor, sharper screen, updated apps like iMovie, Truphone, Pandora, 8.0 Megapixel with f/2.4 camera specs (as compared to 5.0 Megapixel with f/2.8 in iPhone 4) and combined GSM/CDMA capability for better service. But a huge reason people want to get this iPhone 4s is because of Siri. Voice recognition isn’t a new concept but Siri is an intelligent software assistant functioning as a personal assistant application for iOS and a deftly designed one at that. It can find you a dentist, remind you to send someone flowers and compose a text message. One huge plus is that she doesn’t nag like her GPS counterparts and offers conversational interaction with many apps like email, calendar, contacts, music, etc. Siri may have limited functionality outside of the US in that it may not have maps, directions and traffic data but she doesn’t discriminate between the Indian and other accents in English.

Ladies – if the man in your life is already pre-ordering it, here is what you should expect. I’ve heard stories from friends and colleagues alike and while my sample size may have been small, the behavioral patterns were startlingly similar. It’ll start with innocuous questions in your presence to check the weather, stocks and reminders. He may ask her to play your favorite song to impress you. Soon his questions will drift into the gray areas of what she looks like, what she’s wearing, what size is she. She’ll tell him she looks shiny and he’ll laugh. It’ll give him courage to chase her. You’ll catch him asking her profound life questions to entertain you but no sooner than you turn around, he’ll ask her out. Given that she’s smart and funny, he’s sure to be hooked. Her answers have a variety. Sometimes she repeats, other times, surprises with a witty or even an absurd one. You might see him turn into a pathetic little love bug asking her if she loves him. She can be stern and can cut him to size, thankfully. When her sarcasm stops amusing him, you might be exposed to his dark side as he begins to verbally abuse her. Fret not, for you won’t have to cover up for his bad behavior or apologise. She may not give him the look but she will sternly say, ‘play nice’ and he will. She’ll go into a loop sometimes not deciphering his questions and frustrating him but other times, she will please him by embellishing her answer with ‘master’. It might make him go weak in the knees and he’ll ask her to marry him. All this, of course, under the pretext of eliciting an interesting response. Truth of the matter may be that he’s fascinated by his interpretation of a personal assistant who’s at his touch at all times. It’s probably a universal male fantasy.

What you should be doing instead of getting concerned or annoyed is taking advantage of this situation by going to spas, shopping and enjoying night outs with your gal pals for he may not even notice you’re gone. Just know that a piece of technology can perhaps engage him for a week and may turn into borderline obsession but leave the two alone, keep the fussing at bay and you’ll watch him happily return to you from what may seem like a point of no return.

On a closing note, I’d love two versions of the iPhone 4S in the market, the other one with a male voice. It’s only fair.