Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Fatherhood...thanks Neer

It has been a long time since I blogged after ending my studies at HEC Paris. Last few months, I have been settling back into my office routine in the Government of India and trying to be as useful to the office as I can be. However, I did not have to stop writing on my blog as I can surely find 10 minutes once in a while to pen my thoughts...so I AM BACK!!

My life today is different from yesterday and I wonder many things account for the difference. Being a father since December last year is surely one thing that ranks at the top. Neer my son has made such a huge change to my life as a human being. He has the power to energise me even when I am entitled to feel tired. Neer in short is a realisation that life is beautiful at its most simplest denominator. He smiles, crawls, babbles, imitates and cries too...but each of these behaviours seems to be perfect and wonderful. In short, I am so accepting of this human being who arrived in my life only few months ago. In all his antiques Neer communicates sheer joy and happiness. He makes me and all in the family behave at his mental age...and we all transform from being dull and directed demons to sprightly and young avataars that god must have created in a happy moment. Thank you Neer for giving me and all of us that chance to be our best.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The monster of capitalism vs. the beast of socialism

A rather good discussion can at times be fodder to the brain and make the neurons fire. What can be more explosive than a talk amongst good friends discussing the relative merits of Capitalism versus Socialism (equated to Communism) as politico-economic models. Today's discussion took place in our usual 'Adda', my friend Vikas's apartment at HEC Paris.

The post-dinner talk on the dying debate between Capitalism and Communism ventured soon into an interesting territory. Communism or/and Socialism doesn’t stand much of a chance when participants in the discussion are students of an elite MBA Management School- where the best ways to succeed in a capitalist model are taught and the capitalist system itself idolised. However, there were (un)welcome differences of opinion and at times heated defence of the stands taken.

Here I try to sum up the grand theses explored in the hot discussion.

The principle merit of capitalism is its stress on efficiency and its focus on aiding the aspirations of the individual to do his or her best. Of course, being a business school, "doing one’s best" would imply "making best profits and more money". But, it is this very space for individual experimentation and excellence, that capitalism provides, that leads to innovations, R&D, growth of science & technology etc. Undoubtedly, Capitalism is an excellent tool that allows the individual to aspire for the best and perform better in the shadow of free and fair competition.

The above merits seem brighter when compared with the pitfalls presented by a dumped socialist model. Socialism is about shared responsibility i.e. government control, lack of accountability, nurturance of the weak, lack of competition, wastefulness and inefficiency. We all know how the communist bloc dissipated overnight to announce the paramountcy of the Capitalism. But is the situation so simplistic? Is it such a clear divide as black and white? Of course not. Surely not amongst the discussion participants, who were all intellectually bright and objective (with some hints of emotional rigidities at times).

So it is important to look at the demerits of the all pervasive capitalist model..so dominant in the teaching at all b-schools, admired and pampered by the leading politico-economic thinkers, world leaders and those who have benefited from this system. Also, has the world got at least something to learn from the Socialistic model? Perhaps yes. A good reason why so many governments across the world, today, have a socialistic tinge to their policies.

A capitalistic or a communist model is just a tool to operate the social-political-economic system in a nation state or the world. A tool however has to have a purpose and goal.

Howsoever efficient may have been the tool of capitalism, its success has to be judged in light of a normative construct. So if a system allows individual freedom to express, experiment, make riches etc, does it also serve certain norms & goals? Simply speaking does it lead us anywhere? Capitalism solely for the sake of growth and freedom could be dangerous, if it lacks a defined direction.

Individual pursuit of excellence and the successes judged solely at the alter of "money is honey" principle, should not violate basic goals with which entire humanity concurs. Capitalism for example cannot be allowed to pollute the earth in an unabashed manner; howsoever it may be a result of individual aspiration to excel or to maximise profits. We have to ask the fundamental question- why have we allowed a capitalist system based upon individual aspirations? What are the goals and the ends we seek that should weigh over individual pursuits?

The larger aspirational goals should include respect, basic amenities and dignity for each individual (even those who lose out in the race of capitalism), right to live and to exist on a sustainable planet and to achieve greater welfare of the masses. No one can doubt that a tool (in this case capitalism with sole focus on the individual), with all its finesse and efficiency, has been able to pollute the planet to dangerous levels in less than a century, accelerated the gap between the rich and poor (social, economic and political gap) and has pursued growth without questioning its relevance and direction. It is here Communism/Socialism could provide some inputs.

A normative construct has to define the blackboard on which alone capitalism or any other tool should be allowed to draw a picture. France is an excellent example of a country trying to balance the capitalism's boon of individual excellence with the socialistic notions of welfare. Thus provision of excellent education to all children and a well functioning public health system goes hand in hand with a market based economic system that promotes corporate and individual excellence. Other governments elsewhere, including India too have tried to balance and control the market system with normative welfare goals having socialistic roots.

We humans, would hopefully soon realise, that in the end the individual pursuit cannot be allowed at the expense of ridiculing our collective responsibility towards human race and life on the planet. Socialism and Capitalism held together parallel the paradigm of the soul and the body. The balance between the two would define the future of our civilization.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Thank You HEC!!

I am sitting in my room in the residential block in the HEC Paris campus and looking out from the wide glass window. I can see the beautiful clear sky and savouring the spring which has slowly set in. It’s a wonderful day, a day I am wondering about my time at HEC and what I got from here.

I had come to HEC in August of 2008, after serving 7 years in the Indian Government in the elite Civil Services. I had worked in important Ministries and rubbed shoulders with the best of brains and the most powerful of men & women who run the Civil Administration in my great country. I wasn't sure what new I would learn at this great and iconic French institution but it wasn't long before the mystery unfolded with its bright colors.

16 months of rigourous classes, lectures from globally renowned Professors and Managers, a great work project with UN, a study trip to Senegal, some mind-blowing parties and hundreds of academic cases will remain etched in my memory for the sheer experience, delight and learning.

But HEC was more than just its classroom learning and projects. It was about a hard daily reality, a global setting and an insurmountable heterogeneity with mates from over 50 nations, compelling me to look at my knowledge, my self-identity and my life in a new way.

I arrived on the beautiful green HEC campus in August 2008 with my lovely wife with whom I had exchanged the marriage vows couple of months back. Anubhuti had studied in the UK and was more aware of the challenges that were possible in a foreign land.

We had some tough initial months as our intense search for an affordable accommodation, could only lead us to a smallest possible room outside the campus. I had to manage the early classes after a 30 minute walk from home to the nearest train station, got a 10 minute rest during the train journey, followed by another 20 minutes of walk to reach the HEC campus. The classes started sharp at 8 AM and the temperature outside was something I had never experienced before. After a long day of classes and group work, I repeated the same journey regimen and reached home to join my wife who spent her day in a never experienced solitude. This wasn't the life she had dreamt of after marriage but she was always resolute in her resolve to back me to the hilt. Things improved when we bought a Car in some time though my application for an accommodation at the campus bore fruit only in February 2009.

The residential life on campus was the most blissful thing for both of us. I never imagined that a 20 square feet room could bring so much happiness to us. It meant constant company & socialisation in the hostel, participation in various parties and get togethers, freedom from early morning alarm and much more. Small things in life are so important..life was teaching me a lesson.

In the two years at HEC, I was exposed to friends and acquaintances from over 50 countries. Such was the heterogeneity in the class that no teacher was required to learn about the world we live in. My world was different from the world of others and my eyes learnt to respect and appreciate this difference. The typical ethnocentric perceptions and stereotypes about self and others were challenged by the more objective appreciation and information that emerged from vivid interactions with my colleagues from other cultures.

I realised that the Americans too can be intelligent and humble, Japanese can laugh and smile, Brazilians can be cool headed, the French can work hard and Indians too could make mistakes. The common elements that unite all humans were evident in the shared concerns we had for each other and for the important happenings around us all. There were also differences but I learnt to accept and enjoy the same as never before. After all at HEC, I got initiated to the numerous worlds in our world for the first time.

Now that I am about to end my HEC journey and expect to get my well earned MBA degree in June 2010, I find myself a somewhat changed man. There is a difference in the Nimish who arrived on the Campus in 2008 and one who shall soon leave it. HEC has made me a global citizen with friends across the world. It has imbibed in me an unwavering spirit of possibility and confidence. The demanding class schedule and curriculum coupled with the experience of managing life as a student in a different country, the social exchanges with my colleagues, the intellectual debates, and the numerous triumphs and failures...all together have made me surer of my capabilities and strengths. I have firmer belief that I could succeed in any geography, task and any social situation.

The time at HEC was also an opportunity to strengthen my bond with my wife who was a willing partner in my dreams and struggles.(HEC also made me a decent cook..which helps). Also, it was while at HEC that my parents visited me. My father had studied at the Bath University(UK) and was relating things at HEC to his own experience. He really loved the greenery- sight of the tall trees from the room window- and the pollution free environs of HEC and France. We travelled a bit like driving to La Rochelle and they travelled extensively in Paris courtesy SNCF. Later, my elder brother visited HEC with his family and it was fun to have his kids (Siya and Arush) around. My family thus was part of my HEC experience in spirit and in deed.

To sum up what HEC gave me....HEC provided me the best possible yardstick on which I could sharpen my skills both as a professional manager as well as a discerning and sensitive human being. I am glad I chose HEC and made the right decision in 2008 to come out of my comfort zone to a zone of expanded horizon, possibility and knowledge. Thank You HEC!!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Well Done Abba

A movie was long due and Anubhuti, my better half, proposed the idea of a cinema getaway for the family. I was in Delhi for a short while taking a break from my MBA project in Paris and we had not gone out for a movie as a family for long.

Neer, my 4 month old son, was the reason for my initial reluctance to the idea, as he had the power to ensure that we don't sit in the dark space surrounded by loud noises, but must say that Anubhuti's instinct prevailed. So Neer, his parents, Anubhuti and I, and his grandparents (my parents) went for a late evening show of "Well Done Abba" on April 2nd 2010.

The movie began sharp at 2015 hrs and it immediately gripped us all (including Neer) with its excellent theme, narrative, direction and the brilliant acting by Boman Irani. The movie is a remark on the way the Government of the people, for the people and by the people works against the people.

Set out in a village in Andhra Pradesh, the movie's chief protagonist, Boman Irani, is a muslim who works as a driver in Mumbai. The story runs as a flash back in with Irani describing how he gets entangled in a series of Sarkari (read "redtape") procedures (read "corruption") since he dared to avail the rightful benefits of a government scheme meant to assist and fund the poor citizens to dig their own water wells (not oil wells). This he thought, would end the misery of the family whose members had to travel far off distance to get their water and also provided him a dream of irrigating some land for gainful agriculture.

The movie is unlike a lecture on morality and ethics and does not depict the horrors of governmental corruption in a typically grave and dark manner. Rather, it conveys the ghory impact of corruption on the lives of the poor in a rather subtle and humorous way. It also shows how the women empowerment initiatives in the village government structures - called Panchayats - (e.g. women have elected seats reserved for them) have been hijacked in a male dominated social setting. Also, the film does not end with the typical divine justice by punishing and hanging the corrupt officials and politicians...and thus whether we like it or don't - is closer to the reality of our times (in India). In doing so, however, the power of the film's message is not lost.

It shows how the poor victims of corruption can get their government (or rather the corrupt officials) to work for their well being. It shows the power of the democratic Right to Vote and the Right to Information Law that the Parliament of India enacted some years back. The story was enriched by the typical culture and mannerisms of a (hyderabadi) muslim family, the family story of twin brothers- a bad and good one, a subtle old world romance and few songs (which i thought were brilliant).

To sum up, it was worthy movie that made me wonder, whats the use of our own education and degrees, if we are not capable of helping our people in the villages and towns, learn about their rights and help to mobilise them for their right to have government deliver on its promises..not just on paper but in deed.

The movie's name, "Well done Abba", was fitting for the manner in which the chief protagonist fights for his rights, the subtle humor and of course Shyam Benegal's direction. I am sure my son Neer, was also saying to me "Well done Abba" for ensuring that this movie was his first ever.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The French Cheesy Affair

Long time since i wrote something on my blog but couldn't find enough motivation somehow into penning my observations and experiences. But hey, I got a reason to write today and that was due to the cheesy experience I had today in Paris's famed St. Michel market or the Latin Quarter.

Ajay, one of my good friends at HEC decided to give some of us a reason to celebrate when he announced suddenly through an email this morning his intention to host us for a dinner in Paris. We snatched the opportunity and landed up around 8 PM at St. Michel. As always, the gang took some time to decide on the place where we could fleece one of us (this time Ajay) and started with a nice Falafal.

But that was just the beginning...courtesy one of our supremely gifted friends we decided to have a sit in dinner at a French restaurant, where the six of us entered to quadruple the place's total gathering.

We had an easy time choosing some vegetarian dishes since the manager attending to us happened to be an Indian from Ludhiana who explained to us the what and how of the french dishes in english and hindi. So we ordered FONDUE and RACLETTE, both dishes from the Rhone-Alps region of France. The dishes were nothing but cheese on hot fire (literally placed on small fire flames) to be eaten by dipping bread pieces into it. It was a great feast and I had never eaten so much cheese in my life at one go. My lazy forays of over a month to the tennis courts of HEC had come to zero but I wasnt complaining...it was after all effortless. The cheese was hot and melted right into our mouths...it was bliss and the world seemed brighter than it seemed moments before. May be I am indulging in too much marketing (HEC's best course) and exaggerating the point..the idea is to make any unfortunate ones who reads my blog to savour these cheesy dishes at the first opportunity...wow it was indeed a cheesy affair!!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Home- Save the Earth

The Home..a movie that I heard so much about but hadnt seen..is what I saw today. Thereafter, couldnt wait but open my blogsite to pen my thoughts. I dont wish to say so much about the movie and its breathtaking pictures and narrative but would like to write about its message and content.

The eye-opener for the entire humankind and more so us the more fortunate among the homosapiens who have benefited from the virtual slow death of the Earth, a result of our lust for its resources. I can only say one thing, if the Earth and life on the planet has to stand a chance, each one of us has to look at our role and the way we lead our lives. Sustainable Development has to come out of the feel-good dictionary of our business vocabulary and become the very genesis on which every action, every discovery, every technology, every triumph and every failure needs to be judged. The Earth is suffocating and the movie captures that in such a powerful way.

I feel like someone accountable for I never think before wasting hundreds of litres of water, eating meat that is necessarily produced in an Earth destroying manner, wasting electricity that is borne out of immense pollution and generating avaidable garbage. Can I as an individual do anything? Yes I can if i change my lifestyle and my habits which are based on the callous concern of natural resources. So many small actions at individual level by billions of us responsible humans should make some impact. The lifestyle has to change...I have to change and people have to change...only then can we gift a chance to the womb of life, that is, mother Earth.

I strongly recommend all to see the movie: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jqxENMKaeCU

Friday, September 18, 2009

What they do preach you at B-School?

A question that has been dominating my mind space relates to the nature of the MBA Programs and the great stress they place on "Networking". When I first arrived in France and entered the beautiful campus of HEC, I was virtually oblivious of this greatest learning that the MBA School tries to dig into the participants psyche- Hey guys learn to Network...no its not corporate finance, not marketing, not supply chain, not even French...but Networking that matters. What the hell was meant my 'Networking'?

I am not an IT guy so wansnt thinking in terms of networks of computers. I seemed to realise soon that most of my colleagues were well versed in what Networking meant. However, some of the anachronistic models in the Indian gang and certainly me seemed to consider networking as a trivialisation of human connectivity and human bonding. Such was the intensity with which everyone seemed to stress upon Networking that even a purely human and social urge to ineract with another human being was christened by these not so modern beings on Campus as "Networking"...it became a common joke among friends on campus..so if someone just felt like going out with some classmates for a drink...the fellow was charged (or complimented) of Networking.

Among some friends, it became a word to basically mean...Hey we know you have no interest in the guy or the girl but you think he or she can be useful to you some day..then please go ahead, show that plastic smile, talk on subjects you are least interested in and crack jokes you consider dumb and utterly stupid. After all, its all about Networking.

You would be insane if you want to hang around with people and colleagues only if you like them. The Networking Gain from the mutual consumption of the valuable resource called Time, was a fundamental parameter to judge a human exchange. After all, Time is money and we were in a Business School.

Well, now that I have spent an year on Campus and am somewhat free from my stereotypical view and biases for Networking, I do understand that it is an important tool for learning, growing and expanding ones horizon. What appeared as an assault on the humane aspect of the human self seems less blasphemous to me today. So what the hell Networking means to me now?

To me, it is the opening up of the hesitant being to fully interact and express oneself to the world around him or her. One is not required to have an strong emotional reason to meet another human being all the times. We can meet the other person because it can be rewarding to us- in terms of information exchange, knowledge and shared interests. Whether or not, the person becomes a friend would depend on shared values and interests but there is no harm is knowing another person and have a mutually rewarding interaction. What seemed like an exploitative regimen is more acceptable to me today..though i dont still appreciate the word "Networking".

Even if one has the most pious and selfless desires --wanting to lift the world's poor out of their drudgery, is it possible to do it alone? We need Networks of like minded people to achieve tasks big and small. Not all the nodal points in the Network may think alike or have same values and interests but still they can cooperate on a common goal or show each other a direction of value. If we make strong emotional bonding as a pre-requisite for a human interaction, we would either have limited number of beings with whom we have exchanges or we would be emotionally and psychologically drained. The practice of "Networking" allows us to expand our capacities, to expand our zone of influence and be part of the interactive human landscape. We can accomplish more and be more useful to the world around us.

Perhaps, the negative connotation I drew from the word "Networking" was borne out of the fact that I only remembered that the less gifted and less noble poeple had achieved a lot out of this tool. But a tool is a tool and should be judged as such.

In some ways, those who wish to achieve the great and noble objectives (most time callously termed selfless and holy), are sinning if they fail to achieve their goals only because they don't employ the power of Networking. Thank God, Nelson Mandela and Gandhi knew better..though somehow, I have a hunch that they too may have detested the word "NETWORKING"