Monday, February 12, 2018

A Record Not Worth Celebrating

As I turned back to understand the reason for some commotion at the airport, I found a few flyers confronting the two ground duty staff, manning the boarding gate.  The display screen at the gate continued to show the same ETD for a Mumbai – Bangalore flight, though it was well past that time and there were no signs of the incoming aircraft yet.   I too was supposed to take the same flight and could see many flyers getting impatient as it was already 2 hours past the scheduled boarding time. And that meant the flight would reach Bangalore well past midnight.

While the phenomenon of delayed flights was nothing new, it was the lack of correct information that caused more anxiety to the flyers. I have been witness to the chaos at Mumbai airport, on those heavy rainy days of September, when not only the flights were abnormally delayed but were also cancelled. On those occasions, despite all the inconvenience, the flyers never took their ire on the ground staff. But here was a situation where they did not see any weather related constraints – neither in Mumbai nor in Udaipur, where the flight was supposed to have originated from.

It was indeed sheer apathy on part of the airline. On their part, they said that the aircraft had reached Mumbai and was hovering around the city for almost one hour, waiting for clearance to land. And then something stuck me. I had read a newspaper report a couple of days ago that the Mumbai airport had set a new record of air traffic – managing 980 flights in a span of 24 hours. Improving efficiency is good but not at the risk of paying a heavy price. This is not a typical corporate world where if you don’t meet your stretch goal, it just costs you a certain variable pay component or at the most an elevation. Here the precious lives are at risk and hence these records are required to be seen from a different perspective. Passenger safety is the key and there cannot be a trade-off on that.

Coming back to the incident, I have faced a situation when I boarded the flight but the pushback happened after 2 hours. The pilot had informed well in advance that we were in the queue behind other 37 aircrafts. There was a very heavy fog earlier in the morning and the airport was shut down for about 2 hours. The cascading delay, therefore, was explainable and the flyers could appreciate the situation. In the current scenario, however, there were no explicable reasons. The weather was perfect across the country all through the day. And hence the backlash.

The challenge of celebrating record breaking numbers is that they become the new baseline. The air traffic control is then expected to handle those numbers in the normal circumstances. The new schedules are drawn without considering breathing spaces. The crunched schedules are expected to work with precision – barring the weather induced disruptions as exceptions.

The job of an air traffic controller is a high pressure job. My worry is that when I fly next time, I am not sure if my aircraft is guided by an overworked controller. Or when my flight gets delayed next time, I am not sure if it is a genuine delay or a mess up of the controllers’ duty roster that had not considered a lower than full attendance. Or, if my pilot has just been asked to do a short merry-go-round the city just because an overworked controller had to take an urgent, long-suppressed bio-break.  

Monday, January 1, 2018

Crowd-Source Your Safety

On a flight from Mumbai to Bangalore last evening, I was flipping through a local newspaper that covered the various happy and sad moments of the year just gone by.  My eyes were stuck at the horrific pictures of two of the most bizarre accidents of the recent months that were caused due to sheer apathy on part of the authorities.  One was the Elphinstone railway bridge stampede that took away 23 innocent lives and the other one was the very recent 1Above pub fire that killed 14 innocent merry makers.

And these are not the only isolated incidents where we came across complete apathy on part of the authorities. Year after year, we have seen similar accidents involving hospitals, places of worship, festival gatherings etc. Governments will come and go; Ministers will inspect the sites only after an accident; a few upright bureaucrats might bring in cheer here and there but the situation will not improve drastically. It needs mobilization of public opinion and public consciousness. It is like the ‘Swachchha Bharat’ campaign which banks upon the common man to participate and make it a success.

Life is precious and a negligence of even a fraction of a second can take away a kicking and bubbling life as we saw in the case of that birthday girl in the 1Above fire accident. She just blew her birthday candles to the cheer of her friends and just a few moments later death blew her away – for none of her fault.

While places of public utility and services will still need the authorities to wake up from their slumber, with the high reach and impact of the social media, we can influence the opinion makers and the lawmakers to get into action.  However, on the other commercial establishments like Restaurants, Malls, theatres etc. who depend heavily on our patronage, we have the collective ability to twist their arms and make them follow best practices in order to provide safe and secure spaces.

And that is where crowd-sourcing will help us. Since most of these establishments are either owned by politicians or people with political patronage, it is not easy for a common man to take them head-on. The backlash would be too deadly for an individual to withstand. However, we can collectively air our negative opinions on these matters and avoid patronizing such places. The best way to counter these unscrupulous elements would be to hit them where it hurts most – their business investments.
Can the popular portals like Zomato and others introduce a Safety Rating other than the usual quality related rating that gives a collective opinion to a prospect. And the 5-Star Safety Rating would depend on whether the place has firefighting equipments? Whether the Fire exits are marked clearly? Whether they have multiple exit points? Whether the entry /exit staircase /gallery has enough space to provide safe passage to the entire capacity?

Someday, people will realize that it is safer to go to an eatery with 5-star rating on Safety-meter and 4-star on taste of the food than the other way round. Someday, the greedy, callous owners of such joints will start focussing on these important aspects as well. Someday, they will value our lives more than their profit margins. And someday, we will realize our own worth and will learn to place our safety and security above all other considerations. Let us start the New Year with that resolve. 

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Can Aadhar bring social injustice debate to a logical end

Some 25 years back, when I joined a Bank as a probationary officer, I happened to chance upon another youngster who hailed from the same city that I came from. Over a period, I got to know more about him as we moved together. But that is not the story.

During the training period, as we got more details on all the participants, I noticed from the list that this person belonged to a social class that allowed him to get this job under ‘reserved’ category (Given the sensitivity attached to an individual’s privacy today, this was an unpardonable blunder to have published these details but then it was a different age). His father was a bureaucrat from the Indian Economic Service – and ostensibly came through a reservation. So, compared to mine, this guy had a more comfortable childhood. He had a better schooling and moved in a society that was much more elite than that of mine.

Today, when I watch my daughter striving hard to get a seat into the premier institutes and then fretting about someone, who perhaps might walk away with a seat with much more ease, due to a guaranteed reservation, I am unable to reconcile to this state of continuous social injustice at the hands of those who continue to garner priority treatment at the expense of the ones it is meant for.
At some corner of the country, a progeny of my said friend might walk away with a ‘reserved’ priority seat yet again. Generation after generation, the three generations will continue to deprive a more deserving candidate his dues. My friend’s father was better placed in the Government as compared to my father – albeit after availing a reservation. My friend had an equal position as that of mine – yet again riding on a reservation. And now, his child will compete with my daughter with a pole position, riding on the ‘reservation’ card.

At another remote corner of the country, another person from the same social class as that of my friend, would be struggling to get a lowest, entry level job with the Government because his grand-father was uneducated, his father had no opportunities to complete his schooling and just got some Government alms to meet his ends. And now this third generation is still struggling to get a decent secure job that will put him and his family on par with others.

With Aadhar in place, can we also create a hierarchy of all Aadhar holders as stage-one.  Then we record the fact of these people having availed reservation in their family tree. Reservation once availed for a particular category of job, or higher studies, should then cease to be available for their next generation. And to be fair to them, if a person avails reservation for a Class 3 job with the Government, his progeny will still be eligible for reservation for all the higher levels viz Class 2 and Class 1 etc.

This is not a solution that will give short term results. This is a long term plan which will have a gestation period of 50 to 100 years. But that, for sure, will end up with much more even distribution of reservation for the most deserving amongst the social class that it is aimed at. After 100 years, we might live in a society that has no need for a reservation. After 100 years, we might end up creating a society where everyone gets equal opportunities.

I would be wrong if I do not acknowledge some of the honest citizens who have not taken undue advantage of their social position.  I remember a class-mate of mine, hailing from the same city, had relinquished his ‘reservation’ and got his medical seat, albeit with a struggle of two years, but purely on individual merit. His father himself was a doctor and I salute them for taking that bold step and sticking to that even after missing a seat in the first 2 attempts.

With the kind of spark that we have seen with some of the most revolutionary decisions that this Government has taken, I am sure it can only be this Government which can take such a bold decision. If it cannot be implemented by this Government, I am afraid no other Government will dare do this. And as this Government gave a call to all the financially privileged citizens to give up their subsidies voluntarily and got an overwhelming response, can the same be applied on this count as well, with a call to ‘give-up’ reservations voluntarily. Can this start with all the bureaucrats volunteering to give up reservations for their progeny – as they have already achieved the highest Government job with or without reservation.

And that will be the biggest contribution of Aadhar to our society – in spreading the benefits of reservation evenly across the social strata and ultimately reaching a point where no one will need reservation. The social injustice debate will then meet its much awaited logical end.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Can we really be minimalist?

Browsing through an airline house magazine, I happened to read a short interview of the spiritual guru Jaggi Vasudev.  He was talking about people’s greed to have more, acquire more and consume more. He referred to the depleting natural resources and the urge to use-up all of it much sooner that what is needed.  He also referred to a beautiful quote of Mahatma Gandhi - The world has enough for everyone's need, but not enough for everyone's greed.

A further reading of the interview made me a little uncomfortable. It spoke about technology aiding the manufacturing industry increase production manifold. Perhaps, much more than what is needed. It made me think about the typical business rat-race. The corporate brouhaha over the perennially upward moving revenue guidance. Only the ones who get stimulated by the very smell of this melee are the ones who survive and swing upwards along with the revenue graphs. The rest end up as burnouts.

Is it the fear of survival of the fittest? Is it the fear of a big fish eating the smaller ones and hence the pressure to continuously grow bigger? Or is it simply a poorly learnt lesson on ‘stretch goals’ taught in some high profile management school? What we don’t want to understand is that any material has a limit to its elasticity. Beyond that it becomes plastic. And plastic is typically artificial, false and superficial.

With corporate performance being measured at quarterly intervals, the executives are forced to demonstrate that much more agility, in terms of continuously pushing their goals to higher levels in shorter intervals. With that kind of appraisal, the focus too shifts on short term results rather than concentrating on a long term strategy. And they end up scraping through the bottom as if there was no tomorrow.

Long back, I was watching a TV interview of the legendary actor Amitabh Bachchan. The anchor referred to his flourishing career even beyond the age of 70 and asked him as to how long would he continue to work and earn.  To that Bachchan responded by saying – ‘I want to earn enough for my next generation to live a comfortable life. But unfortunately nobody knows how much is ‘enough’. So, I will continue to work as long as I can.’ I respect Bachchan a lot – both as an actor and as an individual who has been through many ups and downs in his life and still has maintained his dignity and has continued to earn respect from people at large. But that statement coming from a person who is supposed to be earning Rupees 1.5 crore for a day’s appearance on a TV show, is an indication of the uncertainties and insecurities of our society and therefore, how and why we get swayed towards acquiring more and more fearing for the rainy day.

So, if the large corporates do not believe and respect a minimalistic philosophy, the celebrities do not have the belief in creating a conservative eco-system then how do we expect a common man not to acquire more than what is required. Be it wealth, hard currency, consumables or even a few buckets of extra water. The minimalistic fervour in the society stays to the minimal.That it is not zero is the only silver lining. 

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Hanging up..... what???

After working for about 30 years, I was seriously contemplating to call it a day. Neither was I comfortable with the changing corporate environment nor was my organization showing any particular admiration for my skills and experience.

I was thinking as to what would be the right timing, how I will keep myself busy once I quit and how will I present this decision to my family and friends.

I very distinctly remember and cherish those childhood memories of the momentous event of Mohammad Ali’s retirement. The King hangs up his gloves – screamed the newspaper headings. Or for that matter, when the football legend Pele announced his retirement, it was his boots that were supposed to have been hung.

Having worked in the IT industry for the last 18 years, I failed to figure out as to what will I finally be ‘hanging’. A keyboard or mouse didn’t make much sense as there was no symbolism associated with these – unlike the boots and the gloves.

As I was recollecting all my childhood dreams of a career, I remembered my first impression and fascination for the armed forces.  If I had joined the army, I would have proclaimed hanging up my uniform. The other fascination that I had was for cartooning. In that case, I would have announced hanging up of my pen or my brush. Another dream profession for me was that of a Doctor. It is another matter that the doctors never retire, but for the sake of records, I would have at least hung up my stethoscope.

I began my pursuit by jotting down the various roles played by me in the last 20 years. I did a bit of database administration, some software programming, some product SME and a lot of program management, people management and delivery management. All this while, I neither used any particular prop nor wore a specific attire – not even a symbolic one.

Finally, I could zero-in on one particular aid that I used all these 20 years doing grey and white collared jobs. The one key tool that I used while writing my code; designing a solution; shaping a product; interacting with my teams and my clients was perhaps my brain. And therefore, will it be appropriate if I announce to my friends that I would be hanging up my brains? But post that, my close friends and family will surely be in trouble – managing a brain-less creature around for rest of his life. 

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Old Wine Stays Loyal

Since the publication of that bestseller by John Gray, the man-woman conflict seems to have got much simplified. Every weekend domestic skirmish now finds an explanation attributable to the different planetary lineage coming from Mars and Venus. Without profiling ourselves into being the descendants of the two specific planets, I have no hesitation in declaring that my wife and I too have had that celestial chasm in our outlook to life.

For a working couple, weekdays get too busy to have any scope for a difference of opinion or for that matter any opinion at all.  But all slipups and aberrations do not go unnoticed – not by the Venusians for sure.  It just builds up like the cyclonic low pressure zone and hits home over the weekend. As in case of any weatherman, though I can well predict the timing, the intensity remains as capricious.
The weekend, for me, means a relaxed milieu of rest and recuperation in preparation for the impending week. It means waking up late; it means a relaxed breakfast, reading through those extra pages of the newspaper; and it means a short post-lunch nap. Of course, without compromising on that weekly grocery shopping and topping up of the freezer with fruits and vegetables for the week.  For her, the weekend means setting right all the upheaval of the household over the week. Catching up with me on the status of the pending bills; checking with me on that mutual fund investment that she read in the newspaper over the morning coffee, on one of the weekdays; a gentle reminder on some KYC that she had to submit and I had been dragging it for many months; chasing me to get the plumber and the electrician for the leaking tap and the dysfunctional light switch. And the list goes on.

At times a Sunday can get tougher than the weekday.  The descendants from Venus, I am told, are great at multi-tasking. As they juggle around their multiple assignments, they have also stacked up all the delegations that keep coming up the moment poor Martians complete one task.  One such Sunday morning recce of my cupboard by her resulted in recovery of a big bunch of sundry papers.  As I finished disposing off this bunch of receipts, bills, notices received and stacked over a period, she handed over her form-16 to me to file her tax returns. I looked behind her, on the study table, as to what was lined up next. She gave me a mischievous smile and went into the kitchen.

As I was working on my laptop, calculating her tax liability, she was explaining a real life problem that she had been facing. I thought the problem was due to her incorrigible habit of excessive multi-tasking and was about to suggest a simple solution to overcome the tricky situation when I suddenly remembered the golden words of John Gray, as I had read the book recently – the Venusian is not looking for a solution from me. And I told myself – you are a genius but don’t trivialize her problems. Just listen to her and acknowledge her problems. Thanks to Gray, the conversation ended pleasantly – I reserved my solutions and she contained her emotions.

The other day, as part of a long weekend clean-up, she inspected the refrigerator and took out the 3 cans of beer lying there for some time. I had bought these a few months back when a cousin of hers came visiting. I had stocked my freezer well with the drinks to make sure I do not run out of them if the visitor decided to stretch his limits.

As she took out the bottles, she noticed the expiry dates printed at the bottom, in bold letters. To my bad luck, the dates had gone past due. I knew I was in for trouble. I had this uncanny knack of getting into trouble by missing dates due to procrastination. So far this had happened only with utility bills and notices but this was my first ever dispiriting experience with the spirits. She looked at those printed numbers and then looked at me but said nothing. And suddenly it flashed upon me that this was a catch-22. She couldn’t be happy that I had not consumed the alcohol and she couldn’t admonish me for letting the stuff get expired. And that gave me a high that consuming those three cans couldn’t have given.  The old wine stayed loyal to me even after its expiry.

But she had the last word. The three cans are now lying in my bathroom and I am expected to wash my hair with that twice a week. I am not complaining if that sometimes leaves a taste in my mouth, I am just worried about the strange smile that my office security guard gives me when I enter my office early in the morning. 

Thursday, April 27, 2017

My Granny would have loved the Blockchain

The other day, I got an invite from a cousin for the engagement ceremony of his son. As I was sharing the news on the dinner table, my daughter asked me as to what was a ‘Nichayathartham’ ceremony.  I explained to her – it is the confirmation of a marriage, announced in the presence of all the relatives and friends of both the parties. It is a kind of a commitment made in public that none of the parties can go back on. In olden days, a societal approval was more sacrosanct than a legal document. And hence a ceremonial engagement assumed great importance in social life.

As I recall my childhood, my grandmother and the other women of her age used to play a key role in arranging marriages for boys and girls in the family and in their friends’ circle. Marriages in the traditional Indian society, in those days, were typically arranged by the elders in the family through their own network of friends.  And that was the case across the diverse landscape of the country – north to south and east to west. The canvas would usually be a close circle of region, language, caste and sub–caste.

Blockchain today is the latest buzzword in IT industry.  Every business is competing against the other to find a use case to deploy the Blockchain technology. Also, every Industry leader and every CXO is singing hosannas for this new kid on the block.  Blockchain is a large distributed ledger that is self-certifying, is not owned by anyone in particular and is supposed to be incorruptible. It guarantees the validity of every transaction with no scope for errors – be it omission or commission.

If my granny was alive today, I am sure she would have loved to create a permissioned blockchain of all Tamilian / Brahmin /Iyer /Thanjavur district / Asthashastram boys and girls with their complete CVs. All her age-group acquaintances would have owned the nodes, whichever part of the world they were living in. And all those marriage alliances they would have fixed, at the click of a mouse, sitting on their cosy rocking chairs.  And there was no need for confirming the marriage alliance over a social gathering as this technology claims the highest degree of accountability.

I would have loved to see this gizmo in my granny’s hands but would have faced one problem for sure. My wife’s CV would not have been part of this blockchain but would have figured in another blockchain containing Delhi / Bahawalpuri / Saraiki etc. And I am told, they are yet to crack the inter-operability across different blockchains.