Monday, March 27, 2006

The Architect

It’s been a long time since I posted, and the reason should really be quite obvious. The course is over and much huffing and puffing later, I am now at home, in Bombay, to enjoy what is doubtless going to be the last few weeks of unbridled freedom that I get to enjoy for quite a while.

Yes sir, now this really is what freedom should be about…well, almost. Let’s see, I am not fettered by thoughts of classes, exams, placements, projects or of course, work! Yet, I am at home, which brings with it the burdens that accompany being in an environment that you co-inhabit with parents, namely tidying your room a tad, making your bed when you get up and in general ensuring the tiniest bit of order in your existence. Moreover, it also places great restrictions on the way you like to lead your life!

Anyway, I’m not too bothered about those things. What really irks though is the incessant stream of queries that are invariably directed at me the moment I happen to fail to avoid social contact with any of the denizens that happen to know my name and of course the fact that I have just completed my course. Just why they waste their time and mine in that fruitless process is beyond me, but there you have it. Human curiosity seems to know no bounds when it comes to knowing what other people are doing with and in their lives.

The past week though, has thrown up a very interesting question. Neo, as those of you who have seen the matrix Trilogy will undoubtedly remember, makes the interesting observation at one point that “choice is the problem”. Now, it is of course debatable if we live in a world that we define through our choices, or whether our choices are in actual fact unavoidable. Choice could readily be imagined to be a quantity that can be defined in a complex mathematical equation, leaving choice and our interpretation as just an illusion of the fact that we have alternatives before us to choose from, with the underlying fact being that all our choices are already made.

Disregarding this debate for the moment, for the debate if entered could continue ad nauseum given the fact that few if any mortals are capable of actually unraveling this mystery – which I believe is a vital pivot in the whole debate on the issue of creation and its purpose – I find myself confronted with another interesting question.

If we assume for the moment that whether in the illusion or in the real sense, we make a choice, just what parameters does one consider as being sufficient? For example, is knowing what one does not wish to do, enough to make a choice, or should one also consider just what one does wish to do and juxtapose the same? Is knowing just one ever enough? Which is where, I suppose we descend to the individual level and realize that this decision would vary from one individual to another, with the parameters as well as decision differing with the thresholds that each individual places on each parameter.

This brings up another thought of course. What influences thresholds? Too many variables are involved in that for me to ever comprehend, but I believe that one of the most important factors in that is the sum of the experiences that the individual has in life as also the interpretations he places on each incident that he has seen or been involved in. The interpretation is – in my modest opinion - even more important than the actual incident, as with a different interpretation, the same incident could have a very different impact on the individual. It also becomes a bit recursive here of course, as it can easily be argued that the interpretation that an individual imparts to an experience is perhaps based solely on prior experiences!

Nonetheless, the basic point of choice therefore becomes an entity that is predicated on prior experiences, the effect that these have on the interpretations one makes, the combined effect that these have on the thresholds one sets, the preferences that one perceives due to the summation of all of these factors…and most importantly, on the alternatives that one perceives as being confronted with.

It’s all too complex for me at the moment. What I am pondering here is whether the alternatives one sees are all. Whether our extremely limited vision, fettered as it is with thoughts of what is real, attainable and possible, we are able to see past even the most miniscule shroud that limits our existence and thereby our thoughts and vision.

On a totally different matter, I spoke to a friend the other day and in the course of the banter that usually accompanies my conversations with the afore-mentioned friend, it struck me that I was left without a response to a statement and simultaneously so was the person at the other end, although we were ostensibly speaking in support of diametrically opposite viewpoints. And that’s where interpretations and our lack of true vision get exposed I guess…

That’s why what I deem as perhaps the course of action that would be the most mutually beneficial, may be construed by the other party as being something so outlandish that it would be the greatest folly to even deem it as an alternative worth considering… So much for free choice…

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Got a Detonator?

This was hardly the topic that I had planned to post on, the chosen one having been quite different in nature, but then I happened to glance at the headlines of this morning’s paper and suddenly, it was like a valve popping. At first, all I noticed was the name ‘Jessica’. It was an immediate conclusion for me, that this must be yet another article screaming that the murderers of the lady be brought to justice…but it wasn’t.

For those that are still unfamiliar with the J case, she was shot in open view of over a hundred people, at a party where the former model was acting as bartender. She refused to serve a man a drink and he shot her dead. The courts have acquitted the guilty parties around seven years after the incident, citing a ‘lack of evidence’ as witnesses turned hostile…the police were criticized and the investigating officer, after he was transferred has revealed that his superior asked him to substitute bullets and do all in his power to help the well-connected accused.

This morning’s paper carries the story of another woman, Meher Bhargava, who lies in a hospital in critical condition after being shot in the neck thrice. She’s also largely paralyzed by the injuries and remains in a critical condition and on a respirator. This happened 12 days ago. The reason she was shot? She objected to eve-teasing. The suspects are still at large and the police are not just dragging their heels, but seem to have dug them right in…

The suspects in this case already have cases of loot, arson and attempted murder lodged against them. Once again though, being well-connected to a person in Mullayam Singh Yadav’s government (this has happened in Lucknow), they’re likely to escape scot-free! One of the prime reasons I stopped reading the newspapers here was just this…that here, anyone connected with MSY can very literally, get away with murder. Why just here though, history shows that this is the case right across India.

Circa 1984, the riots that followed the assassination of Indira Gandhi. Rajiv Gaand comes out openly and proclaims that “when a great tree falls, the ground will shake”, thus very clearly authorizing this party-men to cut loose without fear of punishment. It turned out exactly like that. Faces seen clearly on television leading killer mobs, went on to occupy ministerial berths, rather than prison cells.

Cut to a bit later and the Bofors controversy. Rajiv and Sonia Gaand were clearly guilty as was the ever-so-nice Mr. Q. Everyone knows what followed. Cut a bit later and you have the fodder scam involving our ever-so-honourable Railway Minister. Yes, that’s what you get for embezzling over INR 5 billion. It’s India, after all. A land where getting seen with Dawood Ibrahim is considered a status symbol and where, rather than offer a defence, people can question the means used by people to ‘sting’ them.

The first time I heard of the means used in a ‘sting’, I did wonder about the legal aspects, sure. But, one does ask the question of just how easy it is to buy these people. Apparently the ‘sting’ teams succeeded in proving that if someone was to try, it would prove ridiculously easy. So, now the question is not so much of whether the person is guilty or not, but of how corruptible the person is. It may be nowhere close to a legal case, as this operation proves no culpability or any illegal act in the past, but it sure does make me question the integrity of people who are supposedly ruling our Fate as well as that of the nation. All this of course, is followed by the revelation that the ‘sting’ team was sponsored by the rival political party, at which point the entire debate goes off at a tangent and ends up becoming just another pile of muck.

I often question articles and posts that merely rave and rant and present no solution to the problem. That, quite honestly is the reason that I have never posted on this topic – that of justice or the lack of it in India. Somehow, the closest I came to a solution was a course of action that started with simultaneously blowing up every single Legislative building in the country (at a time when they’re fully occupied). This of course, is beyond the realms of even a Mithun feature and even then, this would just be the start. The disease now is linked so inextricably with the system that it appears to have become a part of it.

I am also sick of hearing people say how ‘the people’ are the ones that will end all this. Bullshit! Sad to say, 90% of the people of this country – if not more – don’t deserve the right to vote! If they did, how could you justify any of the political leaders of this country? Mind you, I don’t even need to take a name!!! Name me even one!!! Sorry, democracy may flourish here…but that’s such a damned farce.

It’s a disturbing thought to know that the Fate of the country is largely decided by people who sell their vote for a bottle of country liquor, have little idea of what a vote is and an even smaller idea of whom they are voting for or what the issues are. Politicians know that their fate can be determined by the level of rainfall in election-year. And here, I am not even touching upon the communal, pseudo-communal, hidden communal, caste-based, poll-rigging etc etc.

Equal voting right is a stupid thing in India and I don’t care if you brand me arrogant or a supremacist for saying so. I truly believe that the vast and overwhelming majority of people do not deserve the right to vote. If you’re an Indian, ask yourself if you know the name of your local Municipal representative. If you don’t, well, then it shows you just how responsible a citizen you are.

Solutions for this one? Frankly, I’m fogged. I can’t think of one other than the fact that the right-minded people should get into the system and cure it from within (something that would take a century if not more), but who would enter all that filth, knowing that it could cost you your life? I thought of it too at a time, but it takes more than just the urge to do something. It would take a complete lack of fear regarding a certain bullet to the head. Is it sensible? Can it actually be done in the realm outside the ideal? I was too weak to find out. Who knows? Maybe someday someone will try. Maybe some already have. We’d never hear of them…not in the days when even the bloody media is just the extension of the political system and inches are bought rather than made.

Oh and yes, I too do not know the name of the local Municipal representative of my locality…

Monday, March 06, 2006

In a Group, I'm Individual...

Slot 1 of placements ended today (1AM) and to be frank, ended very nicely for me personally. Of my four applications in the entire process (yes, just 4), I had 2 shortlists and converted both and accepted the offer that paid the lower salary…the profile doing the trick for me. A way better profile.

The results were amazing in the sheer volume of the offers that were made in Slot 1 this time. But, even as I stood there, listening to the last of the names being read out, while enveloped in the euphoria of knowing that I had achieved what I myself had considered very doubtful at the beginning of the placement season, I happened to glance at the face of a person I know very well.

Smiling and congratulating another person, X looked just like one of the other people in that room; celebrating what I call the raison d’etre of the IIMs and all B-schools, Engineering colleges etc. in India. It was a sight that immediately took away the emotions I had been going through and replaced them with the thought that life is indeed so damned unfair.

Come to think of it, the entire placement process is very unfair and frankly, very silly. Let’s see how a typical multinational bank that wants to recruit people for its Treasury function recruits. They shortlist the top 40 students or something in the batch and then subject them to that arbitrary horror called the Group Discussion – the habitat of the terrifying GD-killers, the loudmouths who seemingly know not that a Group Discussion by definition should have more than just the one person speaking!

I would really like to question the very basis for the existence of this phenomenon. Just why does this GD exist? As per the panellists of course, it exists to illustrate just which people ‘can work well in teams or groups’. What a load of crap! Having been through a fair number of these, I think I can say with a fair degree of confidence that all that a GD does is weed out the people who are not too fluent in English, not too aggressive, not too damned loud and essentially the ones who are content to discuss rather than fight! Seems rather to defeat the purpose it set out to achieve, when you consider that last point in particular!

I, personally have failed just once to clear an elimination GD (in five attempts) and this is something I put down to the fact that I generally bide my time and speak but little, preferring to think up a point that nobody else has brought up and bringing it in nicely at the point that even the panellist will notice that I contributed quality rather than quantity. I do this twice and then remain silent unless the panellist decides to ask everyone to conclude in turns or asks me to summarize.

Yet, I have to admit that this is in no small part also attributable to luck! I have never applied to the FMCG companies; and those that have assure me that those firms never fail to select solely those people who never stop talking, preferring a fish-market scenario over allowing the others a chance to speak. This though, is not just restricted to FMCG companies it would seem.

Banks somehow seem to have acquired this fetish (so to say) as well! In today’s day and age, most if not all, banks recruit for multiple functions spanning both consumer banking as well as corporate banking, the former being more of a Marketing job with little or no Finance knowledge required and the latter being the opposite. Now, I really fail to understand why a candidate applying to the latter really has to demonstrate how good he is in a GD!

Why should communication skills and teamwork be qualities you look for in a person, who is after all, just going to pore over numbers and figures all day, compute solutions to very complex equations and all in all, work individually to reach certain objectives? Just why should this person be great in a GD or exceptionally good in his fluency in the English language? Why should he be the sort who is necessarily grammatically correct all the time and who speaks accent-less English?

A number of people say about me that once I get a shortlist for an interview I will almost certainly clear it. I do take this as a compliment, yet I do not consider this to be a reflection of my true abilities. I take it purely as acknowledgement of the fact that I am perhaps more fluent and more ‘glib’ a talker than several of those around me. I do not for a moment though, believe that these qualities will in any way enable me to be superior in my work to those around me who are not so good on those parameters. Far from it, I believe that a number of them are in actual fact, far better equipped than me to excel in most fields! Through hard work, dedication and knowledge of the field, all of which I sorely lack.

It sickens me to think that the person that taught a number of people Finance could fail to reach the interview stage for any of the major banks on campus in Slot 1. Yet, the way things are structured in the placement process, this is a very real possibility. It sickens me to contemplate that one of the most intelligent people on campus could be rejected in interviews for Treasury and Corporate Banking roles because his communication skills are not ‘up to the mark’. Just what is the mark? Work skill? Or glib talk?

These people are too good to not get jobs. They are too good to not be the top performers among their peers within the next two years. There is no doubt that they will indeed be the stars that shine brightest in a very short while. Yet in the meantime, I must say that their loss is also the industry’s loss and in particular the loss of the organizations that choose fa├žade over matter, style over substance and glib talk over real knowledge.

Yet, this thread is about more than those few. This is about those that somehow fall through the holes in that web called luck. Through no fault of theirs but merely through that fact that is fortune. There are those that somehow are missed because they state plainly who they are, rather than type the same in words designed to mislead. To those that have qualifications that set them apart from the rest in terms of true knowledge who are still considered as being not good enough to merit an interview as the course is not one that requires the top percentages.

At the end of the day, what will show is just true ability. So X, this one’s for you dude…

I chased what could do without,
You follow with the blade landing on the thorn,
You saw it not; you’ll see it once more,
The blind can’t be warned; wisdom’s never inborn

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Of Calamities and Misinformation

If I were asked to name the two biggest natural disasters ever to hit Indian shores, I would have no hesitation in naming the horrendously overhyped and much lied about duo of J Nehru and MK Gandhi. Whether evaluated from an economic, foreign-relations or human perspective, these two did all in their power to cripple the country and leave it in a total shambles by the time they were through.

Let’s just look a bit objectively at the oh-so-great Mr. N then for starters. Power hungry as he was, his first act was to ensure, with able assistance and ultimate guidance from Mr. G that the Congress’ decision of appointing Patel as PM was shot down and he was to lead the nation. This decision of course, led to Jinnah asking for Pakistan, since his only condition was that Nehru not be made PM. A secular Jinnah, when rebuffed by Gandhi on this demand immediately turned to hardline religiosity and ultimately this led to the infamous rioting that left thousands dead and the populations of two nations scarred.

This however was just the precursor to what Nehru truly aimed to accomplish. Jinnah was perhaps the wisest man of that time and I base this opinion purely on the fact that hindsight shows how right he was to demand that Nehru not be made PM. Just after Independence, with Pakistan mounting an attack on Kashmir, the then-ruler of the independent State rushed to Delhi and signed an accession treaty with India. As part of the country, perhaps I am not being too demanding when I state that India’s duty was now to retaliate to uphold sovereignty – a suggestion that Patel (Home Minster) made.

Yet Nehru in his infinite wisdom chose to rush to the UN with this issue rather than use force. The result? A total fiasco with India rejecting the UN’s decision, an International Border that is non-existent and much-debated, a ‘Line-of-Control’ that is farcical and ill-defined at best and of course, the wonderful gift of terrorism that shows no signs of ceasing.

But Nehru was an all-rounder, to be sure. India was a newly freed nation and this of course afforded him with ample elbow-room to wreak all the havoc that his mind dreamed up. Economically, he imposed on the country a model more incompetent and ridiculous than any could have imagined. A similar model was tried and immediately rejected by China, but Nehru of course knew better.

So, we had regulations that ensured that there was no private sector at all, we had a monolithic public sector that apart from boosting the employment figures provided little productivity and ensured that incompetence, corruption and red tape became inextricable parts of our industry and culture. The growth rates under Nehru was not just laughable, but contemptible and the economy hurtled quickly towards the crisis that would envelop it in the 1970s.

Foreign affairs though, was the field for which Nehru reserved his best. He started this little baby called the Non-Alignment Movement. Fantastic as it may sound, this joke not just survived its ill-conceived inception, but lasts to date!!! This despite the Cold War itself having been over for well over a decade. Oh well, since we can’t blame the last bit on Nehru, I will just leave that as a pointer to how ridiculous the concept was in itself.

NAM of course meant that the member nations of this organisation aligned with neither the United States nor the USSR. It’s perhaps the easiest fact to point out that none of the NAM countries achieved anything significant in terms of growth during the Cold War era. India of course, was to play an even bigger clown under the expert guidance of the highly esteemed Mr. Nehru.

While a leading light of NAM and one of the founder nations, India was quite obviously cosying up to the USSR. This of course was hardly invisible to the USA who quite nicely formed an alliance with Pakistan. (It took massive efforts to shrug off the effects of this phase and Indian relations with the USA did not improve till ABV's reign... Even now of course, the astoundingly stupid Left and their cronies are creating a ruckus, but then again, they'd do that anyway.) Yet India was never really assured of overt Russian support anyway, since we were, ostensibly at least, a part of NAM and therefore could hardly afford to support one of the Big Two on any public forum!

Yet Nehru’s biggest showpiece, his grandest moment and the culmination of all his efforts on these different fronts was the confrontation with China. Much is made in history texts in Indian schools of the fact that the Chinese were the aggressors in this conflict. This of course, is a vicious campaign of misinformation used by the Congress to sweep under the carpet all the horrendous mistakes that Nehru made in the lead-up to the conflict.

The great statesman that he was, he deliberately redrew the maps and asked the Indian forces to proceed further and further, assuming that the Chinese troops that would inevitably be returning to their outposts would not care to fight and take back what was theirs, as the land in that region was hardly fertile (Wonder why he wanted it then, but then I’m not as smart or as much a visionary as he was).

Nehru then repeatedly ignored Chinese pleas to withdraw and the result of course was the war itself. This is where Nehru’s other achievements came into play. Where the maps and the records showed bridges and roads that the exchequer had paid millions for, there were in reality none present! And Nehru being the tactical genius and the geography master that he was, asked the Indian soldiers to march into combat in the Himalayas, wearing no more than a sleeveless sweater. Perhaps his assumption was that the firing would keep them warm. Who knows? Perhaps he was right. We’ll never know the soldiers’ perspective of course as they were all massacred on the battlefield…

As an illustration of the truth of all this, consider that China, having marched well into the disputed territory and being in a fantastic position, unchallenged and facing pressure from nobody, unilaterally declared a ceasefire as well as a withdrawal of troops and returned vast portions of the disputed territory to India. This is after the fact that their initial offer for a ceasefire in September (all they asked in return was that India agree to negotiate on the issues that Nehru had so far ignored), was rejected by Nehru even before he read it!!! This of course sparked off the combat in October and November that claimed over a thousand soldiers.

Nehru showed his tremendous respect for the fallen men with his stunning statement regarding how ‘not a blade of grass grows there’, to illustrate that the loss was not anything he considered major. And this man is considered our greatest leader? The maestro of foreign relations? The only foreign relationship he was good at was the philandering with Lady M.

In true Nehruvian style of course, there was a report written on the War and the reasons for the loss. There was also a Committee instituted later that was asked to see if the report could be released to the Indian public. That of course, has not happened and possibly never will… To do so, would destroy in one blow all the myths that the Congress has worked so hard at spreading, about the most vile person ever to occupy any nation’s top office.

To those that may contest the facts I present regarding the China War, please visit this link. It may enlighten you…and trust me, it makes for a depressing read, particularly if you are a Congress-loving person who believes in that web of lies and deception about Nehru…

Someday I’ll write on Gandhi’s other failings, but perhaps the biggest of them all, was that he shoved this man down our throats… It’s enough to make a grown man cry to hear people praise those two bastards.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Dustin' Up Reality

I don’t normally watch movies, considering the activity to be rather a waste of time, particularly considering that this time could be so much more gainfully employed in writing or at least listening to some songs. It was therefore something that caused me no little chagrin when I was literally forced to watch a movie tonight.

In a way that I find quite typical though, I managed - with some effort mind you - to shrug off my tormentors so to speak and was sitting in my room sipping the vodka when it suddenly struck me that it could surely not be that bad an idea to watch, or should I say re-watch a movie called The Graduate. I settled down therefore, comfortable in the absence of the newly-removed plaster and watched a movie that quite frankly, I expected to bore the wits out of me.

When I first watched the movie, it left me quite untouched. It struck me more as a movie that may have been relevant in parts to the audience of the 60s, feeding on their anti-establishment feelings and their rebelliousness, but one that with the passage of time had not just been eroded in the connection that it could establish, but also one that was retrograde and quite comical in its attempt to be a mature movie-watchers feed.

Watching it tonight though was a quite different experience to the time almost a decade ago when I viewed it for the first time. For starters of course, I no longer had that adolescent thrill at the prospect of watching a movie that was ostensibly all about sex and attaining sexual maturity. What started a couple of hours ago as a mere exercise to prove the veracity of my aversion to movie-watching turned quite quickly into an absorbing exercise that made me think even after it was, for all practical purposes, at an end.

How many people in my batch or the next truly know what they aspire to become – apart of course from the time-honoured ‘successful career’ myths? How many truly understand the life that faces them? How many are equipped mentally and emotionally to handle all that life will inevitably throw their way? Why them, a vast majority of even the supposedly mature adults I meet, despite their decades of working life, seem to be quite at a loss when confronted with these questions.

Most people would prefer to flow with the tide, so to speak. Few, if any, of us have ever contemplated the ramifications that our actions at this age, or any before this, will have or have had on the lives that we shall lead in the future. The emptiness and desolation that oft seem to accompany middle-age are perhaps a direct consequence of this. Then again, when have we ever been granted the time to think of such things?

As things stand, a few days prior to this post, I found myself staring at a list of company names. A number of them – and I am not ashamed to say this – were names that I had never heard prior to setting my eyes upon the list. My task was to rank these in order of my preference – were I to be offered a job in each of them. This task that seemed so infinitely easy did not really take me a short while to complete mind you, despite the fact that I only ended up ranking around 10 of the companies in that entire list of well over a hundred. And trust me when I say that the number of applications I have made falls well short of even that number, which when compared with my colleagues seems so paltry.

When have any of us really had the time to ponder over those myriad questions that confront us in the forms? ‘What are you short-term and long-term aims?’, ‘Where do you see yourself five years from now?’ Quite frankly, while a few may have found the time to contemplate these, the vast majority are, at least in my opinion quite clueless about the true answers that they hold to these questions.

When thought about at even the slightest depth, we have never really made the choices that we seem to have made. As a high-schooler, it was ingrained in me that the intelligent and the performers chose to do Engineering or Medicine by default rather than design. Little wonder then that I, like the vast majority, ‘chose’ one of those disciplines. Post-Engineering, it was quite clear to me that my heart did not lie there and once again like the majority of the populace confronted with such a situation, I chose to pursue an education in Management.

I truly believed that the two years thus spent would give me the opportunity to not just look at who I was but also give me the time to evaluate where I stood and where I really wanted to head in life. Most people in my position do the same and quite frankly they are hardly to blame – if at all. Asked myself, I too would advise a person facing that crisis in life to do exactly as I did.

And yet, as I stand today, I feel that most around me are truly lost – too caught up in what we are doing to ever thing properly about exactly what we are doing and what ramifications our actions hold for ourselves. Aversion to taking risks has become so deep a part of us that we rarely seem to be able to tune into ourselves. The truth about us becomes a part of the great unknown and like the leaf in autumn winds, we too get swept with the tide…moving towards our destiny with scarcely a thought about what that destiny is.

I can hardly boast of being a thinker or even one who knows the answer to any of the questions that haunt my existence. However that is hardly an excuse for being who I am. Will I ever have the courage to pursue the dream that I saw emerge today? I know not. I have no idea quite frankly about what direction I will ‘choose’ to take at the end of this phase of my life…and yet, that one phone call today wherein I stated what I believe in and met with an empathetic response seems to console me that the path I choose will not really be as tough as things have seemed thus far.

My aim is neither of chastising, nor of demeaning those that surround me. I merely say what I do because I am perhaps more clueless than most…because I know just how clueless man can become. Dustin Hoffman, take a bow… Truly, the sounds of silence are deafening.