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. 

Friday, January 6, 2017

On A Demonetized Night

Last month, I was getting back home after a late evening call in the office.  It was supposed to be a short call but got extended unusually long. It was around 11:30 PM as I took the last turn from the main road towards my apartment. As I was passing through a cross-lane I saw two bikes parked almost on the middle of the road with 4 men sitting around one of the bikes, as if they were repairing something. I felt sorry for the guys stuck on the road so late in the night and was trying to negotiate my car through the space available.

I was dead slow as I got too close to the bikes and suddenly the guys got up and surrounded my car. One of them took out a large knife – that kind of size I had only seen at the butcher shop – and asked me to come out of the car.  While I was confident to handle the goons, I had no choice but to come out of the car at that moment. 

The guy with the knife spoke in the local dialect and asked for money. I pleaded that after demonetization, I had not been having any currency with me. And, as a matter of fact, would be too happy if they could exchange some old currency notes that I still had in my pocket. They looked at each other in amusement. And then another guy spoke in English – do you have ATM card. I said – yes, but that doesn’t help either. There is no money in the ATMs for the past one week. He said – don’t worry about that. We will find out. How many cards do you have? I responded – two, but that will give you only four thousand. He didn’t appear too disappointed with the amount.

He took out his mobile and called someone to check as to which ATM was having currency. They spoke for a while and then he came back to me and asked me to follow the bikes to a certain 17th Cross, 24th Main.  Either they were too naïve or had too much trust on my gentlemanly gait that they never thought I would desert them. I too followed them confidently as if a pilot bike was guiding the car of the local governor.  I had my chances of getting away but the lure of finding an ATM with currency was too strong for me to do that.

Upon reaching the ATM, I observed that there was no familiar banner proclaiming ‘no cash’. The lights were on and there were no customers waiting in the queue at that late hour.  They instructed me to get the cash as they waited outside with the bike engines still on. They didn’t want to get caught in the camera that was placed in the ATM room.

As I came out of the ATM kiosk, proudly flashing the two crisp magenta notes of two thousand denomination, they appeared relieved. As one of them walked towards me, I placed my right hand inside my side pocket, while still holding the two notes on my left, and took out my licensed revolver. The man was taken aback and immediately retreated towards the bikes. The other guy on the bike shouted – Boss, leave him. But if you were amongst us, why did you waste our time. I smiled, for the first time in those twenty minutes, and said – first, I am not one of you and this one is only for self-defence. Now, just stay there until I call the police. They were stunned. I realized my mobile phone was not in my pocket and was left in the car for charging. As I turned and got into the car to take out my mobile, I heard the bikes zooming past on full throttle.

I felt bad for not having noted the bike numbers in my excitement of having found the crisp currency notes. Nevertheless, it was worth the pain at that mid-night hour. As I drove back home I also felt bad for not having thanked them for finding me the right ATM with loaded cash, through their efficient network. And I was wondering if the digitization drive will put a check on such robberies.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Media-tic Influenza

The high pitched animated debates on TV channels have sneaked into the bedrooms these days.  The loud deliberations enlighten every member of the household – Indians, by nature, stop-by to watch any street-fight and enjoy the ‘tamasha’.  Every house member has started aligning much strongly to a viewpoint as these debates never propagate a reconciliatory tone ever.

One lazy Sunday morning, my wife brought a huge bundle of papers – a collection of various junk dividend mails, some receipts and a few other sundry papers. She referred to a big government advertisement in the newspaper on ‘Swachh Bharat’ campaign and just said – ‘let us start from here.  I want this bundle to be reviewed and disposed today. ‘

Next day, while I was hurriedly having my breakfast, my wife brought out a bunch of Rupees 500 and 1000 notes that she had collected from her numerous hand-bags.  She wanted me to help her exchange these notes.  I was happy that demonetization had unearthed this treasure that I was unaware of but that meant a couple of more visits to the Bank. The bunch of these notes totalled around fifty thousand. I was taken aback and told her that it was unfair to keep these many currency notes out of circulation. This would hurt our economy and that she should have kept such savings in a bank account. She realized the criticality of the situation and only expressed a silent regret.

Later that night, as the family was getting ready for the dinner, my father brought a big bundle of notes in his hands.  He told me that he had kept this cash earmarked for his ‘last rites’ expenses as he did not want that burden on anybody. I was shocked to see three lakh rupees in cash as I was already struggling to manage my own cash.  In deep thoughts to find some viable solution I had a look at my wife and found a victorious sneer on her face as if she was reminding me of the sermon that I gave her that very morning.

I returned this morning after a week-long official trip. I had picked a premium brand of Scotch this time from the duty-free. As I was keeping the bottles in my cupboard, I realized that the four other bottles that I had collected during my earlier travels were missing.  When I asked my wife she said she had cleaned the cupboard. It seems she was quite impressed by my advice, on her cupboard full of clothes, that she should dispose of stuff which she hadn’t used for 6 months. She had given those bottles to her brother who visited her over the week. I was distraught at losing those cherished collections that would have made me a hero in a gathering of friends but obviously my wife would never understand that. I meekly said – ‘You could have checked with me. This was a day-light robbery.’ She smiled and said – ‘No. That was just a surgical strike.’ 

Saturday, July 23, 2016

The Silver Lining

It was yet another sleepy Saturday and as I was coming back from my usual temple visit, I noticed a huge crowd outside my neighbourhood jewellery store.  There was a long serpentine queue with people carrying heavy suitcases standing in that queue.

As I was wondering what that commotion was all about, I noticed my neighbour Reddy standing in the queue, with two large suitcases. He was a top shot in a local IT company but I never imagined he would go to a jewellery shop carrying a suitcase. Was he planning to buy the entire shop? Did he get a hefty bonus this quarter? With a huge question mark on my face, I approached Reddy who was quietly reading a paperback while in the queue, waiting for his turn to get into the shop. There were quite a few security guards managing the crowd.

Reddy was a bit taken aback when he saw me. And then sheepishly told me the motive of his standing in the queue.  The last date for filing the Income Tax returns was just a week away and Reddy realized that he had to provide complete details of his assets in this year’s return. Needless to say, his annual salary would have been more than 50 Lakhs as that was the gating criteria for the asset details. He was carrying two suitcases full of saris with gold and silver borders for assessment. As per the new rule, he was required to declare all his assets including jewellery and such gold and silver threaded saris. He did not tell me that the suitcases had jewellery as well but that could not be ruled out.

As I was heading back home, I was wondering as to what kind of misery a poorly drafted government act can put people into.  The poor salaried class employee, who gets to expose all his financials through the Form 16 issued by his employer year after year, is yet again cornered on his inherited and acquired assets – which have more of sentimental value than giving any substantial money back. Half of these assets may not even qualify under the category of real metal that the government was after. It is only after spending a good 4 hours in this queue that Reddy would realize the real worth or otherwise of these assets.

I was also worried if this would put some of these 25 year old marriages into jeopardy.   It may turn out that many of these assets, that would have come with the marriage, and which the household had treasured all these years, might turn out not to be of the expected carat value? What if some of these jewellery pieces are called out as below par – the typical 18-carat stuff? What if such a revelation comes as a shock to the 25 year older groom at this stage of life?  I am sure, the finance ministry would have never anticipated the huge social impact of this new rule.

Over the last year, I was very upset with my company’s quarterly results – that on many occasions missed the targets. This lower-than-expected performance meant that I could never get my variable salary to the full.  And that ensured that I was not in the same bracket as Reddy.  All my pains of losing the variable component suddenly vanished.  Thinking of those worried faces in that long queue and realizing the risks of such grave consequences, I was happy that my company did not meet its target numbers last year. I reached home and took out the Form 16 from my bag and gave it a huge kiss for having missed that monstrous number.  Whoever wrote that phrase about silver lining – I was too pleased to see those gold and silver linings on my wife’s saris – that were not to be exposed to the entire world yet. 

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Yellow in my Life

The other day, a colleague of mine asked me as to why I always used yellow colour to highlight important data points in presentations and dashboards.  That was the first time I realized what he said was right. I always had this fascination for the yellow colour in my dashboards, as the first choice of colour. The other colours only followed the sequence, in case I needed more distinct highlights.

My knowledge of colorimetry tells me that Yellow is the most visible and most luminous of all the colours of the spectrum. It’s the colour that captures our attention more than any other colour. As the psychologist in me started analysing my life to look for all the ‘yellows’ hidden therein, I also read somewhere that ‘yellow’ is considered the colour of happiness, and optimism, of enlightenment and creativity, sunshine and spring. And the Japanese relate to ‘yellow’ as the colour of courage. That was somewhat of a relief against my cynicism.

Indeed it was right that I chose that colour as a first choice in my creations.  However, there were other ‘yellows’ in my life as well.  The first ever automobile that I rode was a ‘yellow’ Bajaj 150 scooter that my father owned and it carried all those bruises caused by my full throttle misadventures, until my father repainted it.   And then I owned a ‘yellow’ car that was always a talk of the town – when I drove that in Delhi and later when I carried it to Bangalore. It was such a distinct and unique colour that people used to notice me on the road and used to check with me if I was driving through a particular lane the previous day? The ‘yellow’ colour car had become my identity of sorts amongst my acquaintances.

But the most important and defining yellow moment of my life was the colour of dress that my wife wore, when I was introduced to her for the first time in my office. That was exactly 25 years ago from today – on the 15th July 1991.  And that precisely is the reason for me to write this ode on ‘yellow’ today. That was the day she joined our new office. I had also moved to this office just 2 weeks earlier from a different city. The two of us were chosen through a test to move into this IT department from our respective Bank branches. As others in this office were ‘seniors’, I was eagerly waiting for this ‘batch-mate’ of mine to join this new office.

I was told on a Saturday that the lady had been relieved from her branch and would join this office on the following Monday.  As I was eagerly waiting to meet her on Monday morning, I noticed a girl wearing a ‘yellow’ suit walking up the corridor. Was she the girl? I was not sure and just got busy with my work. A little later, my Manager walked up to me with this lady and introduced her to me. Yes, that was the girl. The girl I was waiting for. The girl who would be my batch-mate at this new office. The girl who would be as new to the system as I was. The girl who could relate to my initial tentativeness at this new place and the new work.

About a year later, this lady in ‘yellow’ answered me in affirmative and exchanged vows with me – yet again, in a ‘yellow’ Mysore Silk Sari.

And as I reminisce that momentous encounter with ‘yellow’ 25 years back, a wishful thought comes to my mind and I intend asking my wife  – was she wearing that most visible, most luminous yellow that is ought to capture the maximum attention, only to impress a tall, dark, handsome batch-mate who was waiting for her to join that new office? Most likely the response would be a coyish disavowal of my claim. Nevertheless, I still owe a lot to ‘yellow’ in my life.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

तुम होतीं तो ऐसा होता तुम होतीं तो वैसा होता.

तुम होतीं तो ऐसा होता तुम होतीं तो वैसा होता.

तुम मेरी गलतियों पर मुझे प्यार से झिंडकती और मैं हंस कर टाल जाता

तुम पापा से मेरी गलतियां छुपा लेती और मैं इस लाड़ पर इतरा उठता

तुम देर रात अकेले खाना खा रही होती और मैं तुम्हारे साथ बैठ कर मोहल्ले की ख़बरें सुना रहा होता

तुम मेरे बचपन की शैतानियाँ याद करतीं और खुश होतीं, और मेरी आज की बातों पर ठहठहा कर हंस पड़ती

माँ होतीं तो ऐसा होता, माँ होतीं तो वैसा होता.

बहुत सी कही दोहरा सकता, और अनकही सुना सकता.

माँ होतीं तो ऐसा होता, माँ होतीं तो वैसा होता.

मैं तुम्हे मौसियों और मामा के घर पूरी शान से ले जाता

तुम्हें कभी उनसे उन्नीस होने का एहसास न होने देता

तुम मेरी उपलब्धियों पर खुश होतीं

और मुझे सदा खुश रहने का आशीष देती

माँ होतीं तो ऐसा होता, माँ होतीं तो वैसा होता.

माँ होतीं तो अपनी सारी छोटी बड़ी गलतियां मान लेता

माँ होतीं तो मन में कोई अहंकार न आने पाता,

माँ होतीं तो उनसे पूछ सकता, कि जो होता है वो क्यों होता है

माँ होतीं तो उनके दामन में फूट फूट कर रो सकता

माँ होतीं तो ऐसा होता, माँ होतीं तो वैसा होता.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

RIP Papa

It is about 25 years now, when I met him first time at the New Delhi Railway Station. A short, slim, soft-spoken person – very different from my image of a typical local Delhiite. He had come to drop his daughter at the railway station, on a train to Bangalore. With a typical retired Government official looks, he seemed worried sending his daughter far away from Delhi for a good 2 month training. Today, even with all these modern communication gadgets and a daughter ready to step into the corporate world, I can correlate better with the anxiety of that gentleman.

We were some 5-6 of us, going together for our training to Bangalore. All of us assured this gentleman that we would take good care of his only daughter. Just that I took it too seriously and continued to stand by my word even after our return and finally married his daughter after a year. And then I got to know ‘Papa’ more closely.

During my growing years in Kanpur, like any other child I too idolized my father. His typical South Indian rule-book oriented, disciplined lifestyle made him stand out in that otherwise chaotic, carefree, happy-go-lucky society. And when I moved closely with ‘Papa’, I realized that he too had those fastidious streaks around righteousness, around self-discipline like my father had. In no time he destroyed all those myths I believed around the characteristics of a ‘Punjabi’ – which anyway he wasn’t.

We had completely diverse backgrounds – He had a British inspired upbringing in Bahawalpur and loved having his continental breakfast with a knife and a fork every day while I had a typical Tamil upbringing and loved having my Sambar-rice using all my fingers. But we gelled.

The Leo in me was excited to see his huge collection of discarded items and a well-equipped tool-box that reminded me of the same that we used to have at home. He loved reusing his junk and I loved repairing broken stuff myself, instead of depending on random poorly skilled workers. And we gelled.

He detested the modern day politicians and I didn’t have any particular liking for them either. And we gelled.

He loved gardening and I did not mind assembling some required stuff for him. And we gelled.

He was a connoisseur of tea and coffee and I loved my daily dosage of 5-6 cups as well. And we gelled.

He believed in and practiced Homeopathy and I wasn’t averse to that either for any of my ailments. And we gelled.

When we shifted to Bangalore in 1998, he continued to visit us twice a year. He loved the Bangalore weather and the city as such. And its bakeries too. We explored the typical south Indian eateries, the well decked grocery stores, the local temples together. And we gelled.

He found fault with my wife and I readily agreed. When I pointed mistakes with his daughter he smiled and nodded. And we gelled.

He lived on his terms and was dependent on none even at the age of 92. The day he was taken to hospital for a short 10 day stay, he made his own morning tea and had his bread-butter-jam, in style, with a knife and a fork.

As he passed away on 18th, two days before I was scheduled to visit him, I had only one regret. He left without divulging a secret to his son and daughter - that he liked me more than he liked them. Rest in Peace, Papa.