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Rightside Up

What if everything we knew till now, is actually not the truth, or the whole truth? History has shown, or we now know, that several facts have been proven wrong, as we uncover new facts and or get a better understanding. A few hundred years ago, we believed that the earth was flat. Of course, there were people who knew it wasn’t, but the vast majority thought it was so. That’s what mattered. Because truths known only to a certain few is easily confused with conspiracy theories. Physical-Map-of-India.png
A recent news article got my gray cells cranking to write this blog. The news story talked about, the RSS, and students from the ABVP taking objections to a certain publication and or a presentation to be anti-national, only because the presenter showed a picture of the map of India the wrong way. I can understand if the map displayed national boundaries along wrong lines, and or included or excluded parts of the country. Well, it didn’t.
We are all used to seeing India, and the rest of the world represented in atlas like the https://si.wsj.net/public/resources/images/OB-XE524_india0_J_20130423010541.jpgpicture here. And that’s how it has been right from the very first time when you and i were introduced to the concept of India, the US, and for that matter any other country in the world. Why? What is the right-side up? Is there a correct way to represent the planet and its land mass and water bodies?
Why? What is the right-side up? Why is it always north on top, and east on the right? Where is north, and which side is east? I can understand the relationship between North and South vs East and West. But which is up, and which is the left, and what is right? Is there a correct way to represent the planet and its land mass and water bodies?
This is the view of the Earth and its planet Moon. This view is from Mars. See it?
01-earth-from-mars
Don’t see anything? Look again. Here below, i have presented the same picture and labeled the location that Earth appears, as seen from Mars.
IDL TIFF file
Here is our blue planet from as seen from our close friend in the galaxy, the Moon.03-Earth-from-Moon.jpg
Here is a closer view.
04-earth_eastern_hemisphere
 And in this context, here is a view of India, in form of a map, with all the labels and tags.
05-south-asia
Go figure!! Are we up? Are we down? Are we left? Are we right? We are but a speck in the galaxy we live. And yet, we fight about how our land is represented in a map the right-side up and or down.
For people interested here is a map of the world as published from the World down-under.
06-universal-corrective-map-of-the-world-mcarthur

Never, Ever, Give Up!

This year, the Australian Open created a record of sorts. I am still researching, if this is indeed, can be declared official or not. But irrespective of the stamp from any official record site or recognition from a sports body, the achievement nonetheless stands out.
The win by both Roger Federer and Serena Williams, and not to talk of the people who lost to them Nadal, but more importantly Venus Williams. Both these winners are aged 35 years, and Venus, Serena’s elder sister is 36 years. Never before in Grand Slam championships has a person of this age won the tournament.
It is commonly held in Tennis and in most other sports that require high amounts of physical endurance, agility and speed, a person is considered aged once they cross 30. And then it is usually downhill, because the younger generation takes over. And it becomes tougher and tougher for a person of this age or older to hold ground. Well, now we will have to redefine these norms, won’t we?
While I haven’t been watching a lot of TV, and therefore that goes for sport too. I do follow Tennis, and Football (the real kind, the one where they kick the ball with their foot or feet), field hockey, and of course not to forget Cricket. I am sure this rule or rather norm holds good for all these sports, atleast in the era since TV started covering these live. TV coverage meant, more speed, agility and fan following. All of which meant the older you get, you have one option; retire gracefully.
In cricket recently Dhoni, decided to step down as Captain of Team India, but presented himself as a player in the short form of the game, one day and T20s. And when everyone thought he too would slowly disappear from the scene, he instead had other ideas. And today he is found on the top lists maintained by ICC. Dhoni is 13th in the list today as a ODI batsman. And then again, ranking or not, just watch him run between the wickets; and then lets discuss age.
Three of the people I talk about today are all 35 years old. It is not a strange coincidence. All born in 1981; July, August and September. Prime age, in their fields to possibly retire. But yet they are each scoring new records and establishing new boundaries. Why? Shouldn’t these people just retire and let the newer crop take over. This might hold some sense for cricket which is a team sport, but for tennis, its all fair and open. No one is, in anyone’s way. Well of course, if Roger Federer had called it quits, theoretically a younger Nadal could have won the game. Just theoretically. Then again, why? And more importantly how?
One thing this will teach us, that these games, while they depend a lot on physical attributes of a person, is also mentally challenging one. And then if you are person who exercises regularly, you too would agree physical endurance is more a mind game. Because scaling the mountain, running a marathon or swimming across an ocean, all requires grit. And that comes from somewhere deep in your body. It is always so easy to give up.
Never! Never ever! Give Up!!

Tale of Two Americas

Its been many years since i have lived in the US, also commonly referred to as just ‘America’. For the most part what i love about America, is its uniformity and what i dont, is its lack of diversity. From east to west, north to south, anywhere, the US is literally the same. Be it food, clothing (subject to changes in weather), housing styles, cultures or any of the major characteristics of a society, it is all relatively the same. I have moved around and lived in many cities in the US; Racine WI, New Orleans LA, Indianapolis IN, Atlanta GA, Chicago IL, Washington DC, NY or Jersey City. My travels have taken me to nearly every one of the contiguous states of the US. I didn’t have to learn a different language, develop a taste for a different food, deal with newer customs, and or understand and comprehend a different culture of people in these places. Any diversity if any, ran along racial delineations, or maybe more pronounced based on class.
But in the recent years a stark divide, mainly on philosophical lines is visible to me. Philosophical is an appropriate word because that is the root cause of the divide, that is projected onto the politics of the US of A. People are divided, along political lines, leaning right or left; or let me bluntly say Republican or Democrat theology.
This division was always there, and has contributed in a very healthy way to growth and stability of the US. Coming from a multi-party democratic state, i had grown to appreciate the nuances of a dual party system. The process of electing a President directly, and the power of the Congress and Senate, that are not bound by party politics were all very appealing and fascinating. The principles upon which the two branches, legislative and executive, were constructed to form the government here, is simply altruistic. However the differences that seem to divide the nation today, has it genesis from this same strain that supposed to be its backbone. And since i started following the elections here, thats almost from the day i landed here, the political beast that i am, the divide seems to have deepened. The very last one, that we saw wind down, well almost wind down i should say, a few days back reached the very epitome. The protests after the election of Obama, and now after Trump, are testaments. It is like people live in two different America, support a different philosophy, swayed by different emotions, watch different news, and want two completely different end results. And it appears, the twain shall never meet.
I lean left, and i cant comprehend the right. And those that lean right cant comprehend the left. Gun control, abortion, LGBT rights, public spending on social causes, taxation, and the list goes on. On each of these issues, the positions are extreme in each camp, leaving no room for compromise, or so it seems. From the time Bill Clinton won the elections, with one of the lowest margins, thanks to Ross Perot, the people have revolted vociferously against the sitting President of time. Bill didn’t help his case or that of his party, with his sexual antics in the White House, and some of his past sexual escapades catching upTom Toles Cartoon to him. When the Democratic party closed ranks to support him, this set the stage for party (read philosophical) based posturing. It didn’t matter if we had a devil in the chair, as along as he was from my party, all else was irrelevant. Suddenly the very fabric of these two branches in this democratic system were being ripped and gashed, resulting in the usual, a lesser of the evils political system. Very similar to the rest of the world.
I have lived one half of my life in India, the largest democracy in the world, and the other half in the US, possibly the greatest democracy in the world. And my experience has led me to believe that the concept of democracy, is highly overrated in its ability to guarantee individual rights and freedom. I have held for sometime now that the best form of government is that of a ‘Benevolent King or Queen’. Hey why should you limit yourself when you are dreaming up an utopian world.
America today is divided between the dogma of these two parties, and has little room for another. In the past few elections, the options thrown up in this dual party system, has been unpalatable to the other side, that they refuse to accept. They also reject any third party influence, just to avoid the scenario of votes being pulled away, and causing the victory of the least acceptable option. The clout enjoyed by these two parties amongst the general populace is excessive, and hampers any third party or ideology to become credible option. Ross Perot was the only one in recent times to attempt to break this cast, unsuccessfully tho’. And unfortunately he didn’t bother to keep the momentum going, and simply gave up and retired to his business of making money. The stated objective to elect individuals to the Congress, Senate and White House. have all fallen prey to this two party system. Every election and choice is viewed from this narrow lens of the two party system.
Two countries within one state. One red, one blue. Equal and separate. If it weren’t for the Electoral College, every Presidential election would seem almost gridlocked. In most countries, the executive is controlled by the legislature.  However in the US, thanks to its nature of election, the executive and legislature can be at loggerheads; with the President from one party, and the Congress from another. And because of the stated differences, any and every action is delayed, and or compromised in its implementation and execution, that is almost guaranteed to deliver less than promised. The ideological separation, it appears, is complete and final, with no room for any compromise.
US Elections 2016
The current elections saw how angry and frustrated the republicans were with the two terms of the Obama presidency, and voted to outst the democrats. So, for sometime we will continue to swing from red to blue, and from blue to red, simply based on how angry one group is. So now we have a Trump in the White House, with a republican Congress and Senate. And in two years when the Congress seeks re-election, the now angry democrats will vote and create a different outcome to balance the situation. Maybe! If not, it will take the full four years of Presidency for the next round of changes in Government. And then the circle continues.
However the most interesting point to note is that of the 235 Million eligible voters in 2016 election, only a little more than 130 Million* voted in this election. So maybe there is yet another America? The one that votes for ‘Pizza’!

* Votes are still being counted, but is not expected to sizably alter the total percentage.

Made in Germany

I am a frequent flyer. Every month, i am flying half way around the globe, if it from Chennai to the US one month, then it flying back again the next month. My work requires me to operate in India and the US, splitting my time to about 3-6 weeks (usually 30 days) in each place. Anytime i arrive at a location, the usual questions are “Hey! When did you arrive?”, quickly to be followed by “When are you going back?”. My family also calls me a frequent flyer; in a different context, i.e. flying away or running away from stuff. I cant blame them. But i am eternally thankful to them, as they spare me from constant nagging, which would have had a serious effect on my work.

As i fly so often, i tried many different options, and finally settled on Lufthansa as my flagship carrier. A few good reasons for this. First, it is a Star Alliance partner, and since i am a United Airlines mileage member, this helps me accumulate miles for every flight i take on Lufthansa. Now this is also a question, i am often asked “So you must be having millions miles?”, and my response is “Yes! I do. But i don’t get to use them.” Second reason for Lufthansa is the convenience factor, 7 days a week, one stop over, two flights of about equal time to get me from Chennai to Washington DC. And the third the incredible German efficiency – almost always on time, in almost 14 years of flying Lufthansa, they are yet to screw up with my baggage.

On my recent flight from Chennai to the US, as i was being served my meal, i observed a small fact. The cotton cloth napkin i was given along with my silverware, had a small tab, showing the details of the place of manufacture. Knowing the manufacturing world, i straightened the tab to read the text, convinced that it will have the magic words “Made in China”. Well, i was astounded instead by the words “Made in Germany”.

img_5048

Made in Germany!

Why would a cheap cloth napkin be made in Germany? Let me first explain, it was not a cheap piece of cloth. It was fine well made cloth napkin. But still this is a low value item, and offers no economic bonanza for Germany to manufacture it, when it could have easily imported this from China. I have noticed in the US, it is difficult to find items that are ‘Made in USA’. Today if you enter a store in the US, other than local food produce, most items are manufactured from China. To the extent that in stores in and around the DC metro area, where they sell paraphernalia like the American flag, miniatures of the Washington Monument, Capitol, and the White House etc., are all ‘Made in China’. And hence my surprise in seeing this on a simple cloth napkin on this German airline.

It is also evident when you are in Germany, to notice the class of engineering in everything you see and touch. Be it a simple faucet, a door knob, a hinge or a draw handle. They seem perfect. They work, and very seamlessly. The fit, the joint, and the physics of it all, simply seems and feels superior. I am of course comparing to what i have seen mostly in the US, India, Canada, a bit of England and isolated part of SE Asia. It appears that the German engineering machine is made of a different breed.

And so it must be, that the Lufthansa thought they must use German products on their planes. The pride of this national carrier in everything German, is so evident. It is not cheap to make these products here. And so i wonder, how and why they choose, and manage their finance and profit. But like their love for their mother tongue, there must be a love for their own. I am sure Germany import goods, and considering a country like China, they must be importing quite a lot from there too. But i wonder if they would import their national flag, that is made by the Chinese.

The Ghost of Arnab Goswami

This morning started with an interesting tidbit of news in one of my whatsapp groups; ie Arnab Goswami has quit TimesNow. How much of this is true, and how much speculation exists in this story and all the stories that follow this, i dont know. It is safe to say that irrespective, this story has kicked up a storm on the news streams and other social media sites like twitter, facebook and of course whatsapp!
Cyrus Broacha - The week that wasnt !

Cyrus Broacha as Arnab Goswami

Arnab is dear to me, and i owe a lot to him and his creed at other TV 24×7 News channels. Thanks to him, and on this note, primarily because of him, i have stopped watching news on television. I have gone back to the good old days of reading the newspaper and a few magazines, specially the ones that dont have a presence on the television. My ability to absorb and digest news feed, appears to be far superior now, and additionally i am saved from unnecessary hypertension and blood boiling situations, that would have otherwise warranted me to throw my shoe, the TV remote, the brass fruit bowl, my cat, my wife or children at the TV. I cant recall the last time i have seen his show on TV, but have done a few times on youtube to be able to break into a laugh at his expense.

Arnab is special, because he spoke in a language that i understood fluently, as compared to the other Hindi or local news TV channels. More so, because he always wore his passion on his sleeve. And his bias is very evident, he is more like an evangelist who chased away evil spirits in front you. And just like those evangelists, you hear of all those people who benefited from Arnab’s ranting and raving on live TV (Let me come back to the live TV part in a bit), but never actually met that person. Was it even real ? A good question, best left unanswered for his benefit.

Arnab is extraordinary, because his newshour is the only one that had about 14 people on the show at the same time. 14 people ! I think there was time i he had more that he had to invent a scroll bar for TV, to be able to show the others who were not currently active on his show. Arnab and his GhostsI search without luck on the internet to find an image to place here. The other beauty of this placement was that sometimes all of his guests were talking at the same time. But inspite of all this din, the only voice you heard loud was “The Nation wants to know”. It seemed like a repugnant child who wanted his voice heard amongst his friend. My child would have shut up soon, after i gave a light but significant smack across his/her head. But this cry baby, just Arnab Ghosts again!wouldnt. It seemed to irk me, that he would invite people to air their views, but never allow them the peace. And if they tried, it could turn vile and nasty. And his guests have used words and “finger” signs, otherwise unheard of on national TV. The better part is Ghosts of Arnabsometimes, you had all these ghosts (not guests) on his show, and they didnt get even a full minute to state their view or sometimes simply open their mouth. He is also charlatan enough to leave  empty chairs for guests that dont wish to appear on his show, but needs to be meted out his ire and those from his other choicest guests.

Arnab is an original, because he never ceased to talk about how his show had exclusive footage (which was currently also being aired on other TV channels), exclusive access to documents (which was a bunch of white paper that he constantly waved at his guests or fictional beasts), exclusive sources (whom we never see or meet), and exclusive freakin everything. There was nothing that was not exclusive. He even contended that his guest was exclusive when the person was also providing the same interview or information on other TV. He was not the first to claim exclusivity, but was surely the first with his incessant claim to exclusive exclusivity.

Arnab is a pioneer in making sure his voice is the loudest, clearest and possibly the only voice to be heard on his TV show. He seems similar to the likes of Bill O Riely and Sean Hannity of Fox News. But they pale in comparison in how best Arnab can outshout his guest or humiliate them on live TV. Live TV in the sense, recorded live, but aired later, with the obvious edits and fixes, because if you flip channels his guest is on another TV news show, also providing live and exclusive updates there. Obviously you have to trust in the “exclusivity” promised by Arnab, and call a bluff on the other channels. He is also the brave soul, that called for the arrests of his own fraternity, because they dared to air opinions or news divergent from his. That had to be the icing on the cake, when a ‘journalist’, asks the government of the day to arrest other journalists for talking a different viewpoint. Talk about freedom of the press, but like democracy, it is only reserved for a few.

Oh and before i finish. When watching the show, the only real words that i can decipher for other guests is when they mutter “Arnab”, “Arnab”, “Arnab”, “One minute Arnab”, “Arnab one minute”, “Arnab”, “Arnab”, “Ek second Arnab”, “Arnab”, “Arnab”….. The patter that never stops !

Arnab and his brand of TV news is here to stay. His ability in raking up viewership, with this type of “over the top” TV news has prompted other TV news channels to adopt the same strategy. And when he leaves TimesNow, and starts his on NaMo TV or something like that he is surely going to amplify this many times over. With the growing impatience and anger amongst the populace, it is inevitable that he cashes in and keeps his personal cash register ringing.

There was a reason that Narada the wise sage always uttered “Narayana Narayana”!

Counting Medals at the Olympics

rio-olympics-Dipa
The 2016 Olympic Games is just about to close; as i write this, the 10th day is in progress. The closing ceremony and games will come to a close shortly, just a matter of days.

 

India, a country of over 1.3 Billion people have been participating in Olympic Games since it first started. Our only recourse to a medal, and that too Gold at it, was from Hockey (field hockey). All this worked, till the Europeans and others from the ‘western world’ changed the rules on us. Since then for a long long time, the number of medals we gained from participating in Olympics was close to Zero.

 

Things started to turn around a decade or so ago, when we started winning medals in sports, that we would have never thought of competing before – shooting, archery, boxing, badminton, wrestling, weightlifting, etc. Also thanks to 24×7 news channels, we were bombarded with news everytime we started a campaign in one of the many international competitions – Asian Games, Commonwealth Games and of course the Olympic Games.

 

This year in 2016 too was no different. India had a large contingent of participants. We have done this before too, but usually it used to be filled with officials and other cronies from the sports and other federations out for a joy ride. Last few years, things have changed in favor of the athletes and other sports personnel. There is always a big hype generated when the events are about to start, and a big moan of despair and lament when we finish the games, and return home with nothing or minimal medals. The team is held to task for their performance. Accountability is a good thing, but who to be held accountable and for what is a different thing altogether.

 

This Olympic games were no different. Except Team India was pitched as the best ever, and the medal counts were being fixed much before even the games had started. The team went, they performed, but ended up with a medal count that is again close to Zero.

 

Before we begin our judgement, lets take a breather. Team India entered 117 candidates in 15 sporting categories. We were able to see, thanks in part to our ranking in the world as a sporting nation, and additionally thanks to the attention a sport other than cricket commands with TV viewers, we were able to see only limited set of Indian athletes perform in their sport. I can tell you about the ones i saw, they performed their hearts out. Yes, they could have done better, an inch to the middle, a sec faster, a feet to the right, or whatever. We are always so used to hearing, we in India, don’t have the ‘killer’ attitude. Probably not. But can you really pin the blame on them?

 

The school systems in an average county in the US, support and provide sporting facilities that rival the setup India can usually put up for an Asiad championship games. Children are provided facilities and training right from their infancy in their preferred sport. The system of grades includes and allows these children who excel in sport to get credits to help them move up their ladder in the education system. Swimming, diving, athletics, team sports, name it, they have a method to channel the madness. We shouldn’t mistake this for the Chinese style camps to farm medals and records. This is individual driven and family supported, making the best use of the facilities provided to excel in their field. Today at the Rio games, the US has reaped about 105 medals, with two days remaining for the games to close.

 

The day when India is able to provide even half of what the counties in the US are able to, we should begin rating performances of the athletes and hold them accountable. Till then, lets us simply encourage the ones that try. Even if it is not enough to beat the best in the world. It is enough to inspire a few in India to try harder.

 

Here are some other notable performances:
Name Sporting Event Time Overall Position
Lalita Babar 3000 Mtr Steeple Chase 9:22.74 10th
Manish Singh 20 KM Walk 1:21:21 13th
Sandeep Kumar 50 KM Walk 4:07:55 35th
OP Jaisha Marathon 2:47:19 89th
Kavita Raut Marathon 2:59:29 120th
Khushbir Kaur 20 KM Walk 1:40:33 54th
Dattu Baban Bhokanal Mens Single Sculls (Rowing) 13th
Abhinav Bindra 10 Mtr Air Rifle 4th
Jitu Rai 10 Mtr Air Rifle 8th
Satish Sivalingam Men’s 77 Kg 11th

Delivering, a customer service

I studied commerce, accounting and economics as majors for my college graduate degree. Two of these designated customer as king, in most, if not all economic transaction. Across the globe too, many different economic model of society and government have given way, allowing capitalism to ascertain its supremacy. The very basis of this economic model, demandXsupplyprofit for the individual, is based on the availability of choices; in the constant battle to find equilibrium between demand and supply. While there are always exception to the concept of demand driving supply, it is just that, an exception. The rule applied to virtually almost all transaction.

The availability of choices to the customer, is therefore a major principle of this economic theory. This allowed new suppliers to enter the market place and fulfill demands of the buyer. The customer (buyer) stopped buying from a particular supplier, if the goods are defective, service bad, and or if the price  higher, among a multitude of other conditions. The pressure on the supplier to please the customer is there paramount in this situation. New suppliers are constantly presented the opportunity to enter the market place, and existing supplier is continuously under pressure to deliver and retain its customer base. A simple survey around the neighbourhood, will provide clear evidence of this duel.

I as a customer, am entitled to superior service as a paying customer. The concept of expecting and delivering superior customer service has been an important basis throughout my professional career. It equally applies in personal transaction, but personal transactions are clearly outside the laws of commerce and economics, and are governed by more ethereal laws. My very first job, at NIIT, required me to be constantly searching for delivering quality service to my customers, my students, both current and prospective. It required among other things, for me to sit at the front office, and help with prospects. My first manager, AT as he was known then, talked to us about how even the supposedly “lame” telephone operator was an important role in the organization; essentially stating that their voice and demeanor on the phone played a big role in coloring the organization.

Today, i trot the globe, traveling constantly between two major continents, with a life in two large economies; India and US. I run an organization in India, which is part of a larger entity based in the US. I expect my team members of the organization i run, to now constantly deliver service over and beyond their ability. This then creates a stress, akin to the balance between demand and supply. The problem tho’ is one of two things; either my expectations are unrealistic, or customer service as a principle is archaic. Before you read too much into this particular scenario, allow me state here that my team does one hell of a job persevering to attain the objectives we have set for ourselves. It still requires me to introspect this in the larger economic system, because service to customer  appears to be on the wane everywhere. However, in my worldly experiences and search for answers, am thinking will allow me to be at peace in the world, but also hoping i can use some of the learning to help me and my team.

I had sometime back recounted the concept of good and bad customer service in my blogs, specifically one about experiences at my neighbourhood store – Trader Joe’s. I happened to meet up with a team leader or manager, at coffee place next to the grocery store. I struck up a conversation to find how they used their magic to have happy employees, who were able to keep their customers happy. It appears just that; happy employees means happy customers. Ensuring your team is happy, solves a major part of the riddle it seems. The team at Trader Joe’s are provided a lot of freedom in day to day transactions and encouraged to do their best to solve customer problems. Teams are created to tackle different administrative tasks, and setting goals allow them to freedom to execute and function smoothly, without too much of managerial pressure. Allowing your team members to find answers to problems in customer transactions (reasoning), encouraging them to try new things (innovate) and determining the outcomes and correction (analysis) all go a long way in delivering superior service.

The onus then becomes to find a balance between innovation and execution. Innovation in itself cannot provide superior service, because many ideas will fail, and only a few succeed. Rote execution creates boredom, and is soon fraught with errors, and therefore failure to deliver the required service. Solutions and answers begin with understanding the problems. The bane of dreadful service is usually the inability to understand the problem we are solving. Many times what is required is the mindset to understand the pain and suffering of the customer, providing a sympathetic hearing of the problem or even a simple acceptance of the situation or issue (even if unwarranted). Unfortunately in the pressure cooker that we all live in, it is difficult to appreciate your problems, when i am drowning in my own. The corporation’s requirement to find profit, at all costs, is also another reason why even willing team members are unable to offer service or deliver.

The freedom to innovate, reason, and conduct critical analysis, in my mind stand out as key factors that influence the ability to deliver superior service. Like all things, how much is too much, and how little is too little then becomes the main function of a manager. It is not so much the need for an equilibrium between these, but rather the ability to execute and function even while thinking. That is the key attribute that needs to be honed and encouraged amongst the team, including oneself.

Easier blogged, than done!

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