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Archive for the ‘rant’ Category

Life and times in #116: Working from commute

In blah, rant, travel on September 10, 2011 at 11:37 am

8.50am Regular weekday: The car lurches to one side to avoid the foot-deep depression, classified for some unknown reason as a pot-hole, to promptly descend into one only half a foot deep. Settling onto a luxurious stretch of unbroken asphalt, nearly three car-lengths long, the cab driver proudly grins and remarks by way of explanation; “New flyover, was commissioned yesterday” as he expansively upshifts to 3rd gear for 5 seconds before moving back down to 2nd to navigate the broken surface. Honeymoon over, he applies the brake to settle in behind a beat up van after craning his neck to confirm that there was an operator in the vehicle, not making the rookie mistake of assuming that just because a vehicle was in the middle of a major arterial road in peak-hour traffic, it wasn’t parked there while its occupants enjoyed their breakfast in the adjoining udupi joint.

I observed the occupants of the vehicle on either side of mine, the distance between our respective vehicles a good three coats of paint, so that if we rolled down our windows and faced each other, oral hygiene habits would become a consideration.  Both occupants had their laptops open, tapping away with verve, as they sat, wreathed in the black smoke emerging from the do-it-yourself four-wheelers that are part of this city’s landscape. That’s when an opportunity presented itself. Not the kind that Zuckerberg unearthed when coding facemash at harvard. More the kind that will get an HR professional an “Above Average” in his annual appraisal.

Introducing ‘The WFC’: While cutting-edge organizations have instituted the employee-friendly “Work From Home” policy that can typically be utilized once every year, on an even date that is not a monday or a friday and does not begin with a “T”. Here’s an opportunity to earn some points for the “best places to work” surveys:

Introducing the “Work from Commute” policy. It will allow employees to accrue as hours spent working, those spent in enclosed metal cans while being shaken vigorously along at least 3 axes, namely their mode of transport. To participate in the program, employees would need to call their HR manager while commencing their journey, the background orchestra of horns could serve as evidence.

(Signing into Google maps was considered as a way to let HR track the movement of employees automatically, but rejected when the Bangalore position indicators refused to budge for inordinate lengths of time thus eliminating the distinction between those lounging on their couch and those hurrying to the office).

Imagine the hordes of satisfied employees trooping into office knowing that they have already clocked in a third of their work-day, spending another third in office before departing on their return commute to round off a productive day. Needless to say, this policy will only be worth the administrative effort in the major metros and would be a joke in cities like Hyderabad, where the employee would call in to announce the start of his commute and be in office before ending the call. That wouldn’t do at all. So, HR Managers working in prized locations of Bombay, Bangalore, the United Regions of NCR. You are welcome.

p.s: #116 refers to the enviable position that Bombay holds on the “Livable cities” ranking (link: http://www.economist.com/blogs/gulliver/2010/02/liveability_rankings)

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IT “Help!”….Desk!

In blah, email, rant, work on April 17, 2010 at 8:16 am

The early part of the week downloaded an interesting email into my official inbox. It was first thing in the morning and I had opened the digital version of the plastic tray with the large “IN” taped on it with scotch tape. The usual 60-odd new emails message appeared as they started downloading. Every professional today probably has their own sophisticated system of email management. There are folders, colours, message alerts, all that serve as your personal secretary, filing information by priority and urgency (not necessarily related). Being a follower of the Pareto school of thought, the foundation of my system is to identify the emails addressed only to me and to not bother about the rest since they can usually be ignored until someone checks. Outlook therefore has express instructions to show the ones sent only to me in blue in the inbox. The rest usually group themselves into three categories.

Independence: Working at a firm that’s makes most of its money from being official pains-in-the-client-ass, namely audit means there are stringent requirements to ensure no vested interests are spawned, even unknowingly. Hence, Independence emails that serve to inform you that so-and-so Ltd. was now a client and that we had 3 days to sever all dealings with them. There have known to be instances where employees have hurtled out of moving automobiles on learning that the carmaker was the latest big win. Die-hard company loyalists are not averse to refusing to compromise their ‘Independence’ by refusing the last and only batch of a life-saving drug made by a company they audit.

Support Functions: The paradoxically named departments (namely Finance, HR and IT). This discussion only considers Finance and IT since HR does exemplary work. The fact that appraisals and wage hike decisions are around the corner has nothing to do with it. For functions that are quietly expected to ‘support’ the rest of the organization go about their business, these guys have a lot to share. And a lot of what they say has the word ‘policy’ in it. The usual clutch of emails from Finance about the deadline for submitting expenses that have not yet incurred or reminders of how they only accepted sworn statements from landlords signed in blood (not necessarily theirs) as proof of tenancy. I’ll come back to IT.

Hail Marys: In large organizations, there are many people. Astute observation. And so these many people are organized into departments, teams, subteams and so on. This means when someone needs something done, they have the enviable task of identifying the right team for it. Since, given the movement of people in and out and the reorganizations and the promptness at which Org charts and contacts are updated, most senior folk resort to the American Football tactic of lobbing their work requests high and far and send it to as many people as they can muster with the idea that the right person would be among the recipients and would promptly proceed to deliver exemplary service. Who am I throttle their optimism.

Coming back to IT. The email, inspite of not being emblazoned with the blue that some others did, including those from clients with subject lines like “WTF?!”, caught my attention. With a gleam in my eye, I opened the email with subject “IT Helpdesk Support Feedback”. Satisfied that it wasn’t a Nigerian scam email, I clicked on the link to open the survey page and went to town. Maybe it was the fact that the name “IT Helpdesk” in their case only makes sense as the name of a B-grade thriller based on a killer desk that goes on the rampage and makes it victims cry “Help”. It certainly not because it takes a median 7 calls to get them to send their swat team to your rescue. Or the fact that their resolution to problems ranging from “how do i find this file I saved?” to “my 5 year old threw it from our 15th storey apartment balcony” is to “format the hard drive”. Or it could even be that when a virus had disabled my anti-virus program, they were unable to uninstall it since they (the IT team) didn’t have the admin password required to uninstall. Or maybe I was just being plain mean.

Its a free country, isn’t it

In blah, opinion, rant on December 2, 2008 at 6:11 am

It’s a cacophony of strident voices calling for action. The course is not very important, that there be one, is, very. Depending on what proportion of the words being expressed get the benefit of some cerebral horsepower, the courses vary from lighting a bunch of candles to giving the law enforcers tank armour for vests to installing battletanks outside hotel entrances to exercising our nuclear options against the neighbour, all accompanied with varying levels of reasoning underlined with “Take action!” then of course there are the opinions that aren’t saddled with the baggage of logic. These mostly involve rescinding the “secular” sections in our constitution as a fitting riposte to those who believe that making ones point involves plastic explosive and Kalashnikov rifles.

There is one underlying assumption in most of those lines of thought, that the root cause of our vulnerability to terror attacks is incompetence. The picture in everyone’s mind is a bunch of bungling bureaucrats and officials who can’t tell an approaching group of terrorists from the local group of party workers (actually, who can). Sure, it probably does not help that the average years of education imbibed by each of the elite members of parliament or legislature could be counted on one hand, but I believe, the root cause is beyond incompetence.

What do the Rs 100 payoff to the traffic cop at the signal for overlooking the slight infraction and the Rs 200,000 paid to the local corporator to ensure uninterrupted water supply have in common? Zoom out a little, and you have going rates for any kind of permission or right. Building contractors haggle over how much they need to pay the local representative to garner the plum contract. There is a line of work that involves getting agricultural land classified as commercial, thus multiplying its price literally overnight. In the nation’s capital, every confrontation resulting from a fender bender begins with reeling off the names of politicians that each participant has on his cell phone and can therefore the extent to which they can defy the law. Corruption. It’s a way of life, so deeply embedded in the Indian psyche that we look at it as fair cost of conducting the daily business of living. Sure, but what does it have to do with machine-gun toting maniacs?

Simple really. Does power corrupt or does it attract the corrupt? The latter, I believe. Just look at the profiles of each of the respected MPs or MLAs that govern this nation. Toss a stone and you’re more likely to hit one charged with multiple homicides than a novice who was just booked for disturbing the peace. These are the people who decide everything from expenditure on infrastructure, education, defense, law enforcement. Everything. A look at the income tax returns filed by these individuals does not require the paranoia of conspiracy theorists to guess that the only function of governance is to bleed the country dry for personal gain. The wealth amassed is then used to defend the fortress of power by making sure corruption reaches the grass-roots, in the form of television sets or bags of rice. In the midst of all this, they make some mundane decisions about whether India should sign the nuclear 1-2-3 agreement. Definition of a soft target anyone?

This august group is now responsible for developing the capabilities to evaluate and identify threats to India’s national security. To fund the right programs that enable building capabilities to erode the capabilities of terrorist groups to launch attacks, to develop early-warning systems to consider scenarios and ever-increasing means of attack, to address the root of the causes that precipitate local support to the outsiders. Is it not so much easier to reshuffle cabinet and post a truck full of soldiers within shouting distance of the gateway? Unless, someone tells them the contract sizes involved in installing a closed-circuit network across the city…

A lot of what I’ve said was under the premise that educated and driven leadership would de facto see beyond their personal gains but a slew of saber-rattling emails on a forum for supposedly measured and insightful discussion suggest that maybe the latter group might be afflicted with whatever leads a drunk to look for his lost keys under the lamp post and also punch the lamp post in the process. But hey, isn’t that one of the perks of democracy.

Prejudice and Stupidity

In blah, life, rant on October 1, 2008 at 7:08 am

You arrive exactly two minutes to the time your reservation is for and announce yourself at the desk. “4 for Mr. Kapoor”. It is after all the most sought after restaurant in town. As you wait to be seated, you flip through the menu and start to imagine the succulent meal you’re about to have. Just as the hostess is about to lead you in, a person comes up and announces imperiously “Gill for 4”. The hostess doesn’t break stride as she leads Mr. Gill’s party of 4 to the table that was almost yours. So close… you think…but then what do you expect when your name has three of them damned vowels?

The crisp morning air rushing through the windows, the car surges forward on the empty stretch of highway. There is a reason you woke up at 5am, you think! You grin as you feel the horses under the hood begin to warm up to the task. You feel the urge for some good ol’ 70’s rock to complete the feeling. You rummage through your untidy collection for the perfect album. You don’t realize your car drifting to the left…not until you feel the dull thud. You snap out of your reverie in a rush and stop your car checking your rearview mirror fearfully. You go cold when you see the immobile person lying about 25 yards from your car. You hurry to check the damage and as you come up to him you realize he’s bald. You suck in a lungful of air in relief, turn around, and go back to your car and leave, this time, slower.

In my mind, these figments of bizarre logic are not dissimilar to Eddie Gilbert’s story. Imagine having a problem with including a bloke who, with his ability, can rattle the Don?!

How do we explain a broad set of individuals being ok with the idea of discrimination? Sure we label the ones who practice the most traditional forms of it as bigots. There are laws in most developed countries deeming most forms of it as illegal. My fascination is on two counts;
One, with the fact that we even need laws to enforce these ideas that are so blatantly counterproductive (here I’m not referring to the kind that is done to economically benefit one section, those make sense in a convoluted zero-sum school of thought) and two, I can’t even begin to pretend to take a ‘holier than thou’ approach to this subject. Who knows how many of these are so deeply ingrained in my psyche that they don’t even pop up as examples of discriminatory thinking. As a British businessman in colonial India, would I bat an eyelid on reading a sign that said “Dogs and Indians not allowed”? Or as a Middle-class, educated Caucasian in the early 60’s, would I think twice about the idea of racial segregation? Who knows?

It’s like our brains look for reasons to build prejudices, and is supremely creative in coming up with the relevant hooks. Race, religion, economic status, sexual orientation, gender, physical disability, physical ability, geography, language, diction (accent), profession, age, weight, marital status (single/married/separated), the list is long enough to suggest there is something very inherent in our thought processes that manifests in making cursory judgments of other individuals without even considering an individual assessment. Why?

The Ring-Ring

In blah, life, rant on April 11, 2008 at 9:19 pm

It starts innocently enough. A deferential query from a remote acquaintance, in continuation with an interaction you initiated. One that you have known long enough to converse with at ease. The polite tone, suitably apologetic, when its queries are answered in the negative. Your eyebrows, only slightly raised, when, in a few days, an acquaintance of the acquaintance apparently, poses similar but different queries on your mobile device. This time, the negative response questioned. You reckon the cause to be confusion caused by your inability to have made your response clear, and move on. After all, through the history of civilization haven’t miscommunications been the cause of a great deal of strife.

But then, soon after, you hear the same query, this time, from someone you know for sure you don’t know. You think maybe they erred in the initiation of making contact, that maybe they were seeking one of their own. But then you hear the sound of your name. And even you, in your naivete, can not think this to be a mis-placed digit connecting to your mobile device. But it gets worse. Even before you’ve dusted yourself off, you hear the same chimes. You take no action, except to turn down the chimes, so the connection is never made, and things can go back to normal. But then it repeats itself. Over and over. Till you recognize the misshapen set of digits,  as they flash, with an urgency that seems to tell you that the sooner you deal with it the better. That, while they are seeking to make contact, others, you need to communicate with are being turned away disappointed. They are natural predators. Hunting in packs. When one set of digits gets familiar, another one joins the hunt. Constantly keeping you guessing, off balance.

You now constantly live in fear, in the middle of work, during lunch, in meetings, everytime your hear it. Is it them? But man is nothing if not resilient. It takes time, but it happens. You prepare yourself, you dig deep, you deal with each of them, matching them, for patience, for tenacity, for sheer gall. Noting the set of digits, making copious notes. You realise you can’t slay the beast, but at least you can cage it.

But you under-estimated them, their abilities, nay, their powers. As you instinctively react to the completely different harmless chimes of your desk apparatus. Expecting input on the document you’re working on, prepared for anything but…”Sir, I’m XXXXX from XXXX bank. We want to offer you a credit card….”. You freeze. You can run….but you can not hide….from telemarketers.

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Necessity: the motherhood of apple pie!

In blah, rant, vacation on November 7, 2007 at 7:12 am

Its that time again. to put together all that you will need for a defined period of time into a rigid plastic receptacle. For someone who relies on striding out of the shower rifling through my wardrobe to follow a regimented process:
step 1: pick up item
step 2: sniff for pervasive body odours. if none proceed to next step, else glumly put item in laundry basket and go to step 1
step 3: examine for all-too-evident creasing. if not visible from more than 5 feet, proceed, else go to step 1

its anathema to think of the things I’ll need for a week in advance! Packing! The prime example of the failure of the phrase “necessity is the mother of invention”. Else, how does one explain the non-existence of the following:

  1. Wrinkle-free & perspiration-repellant clothing: The former does supposedly exist and the marketing claims are true too, as long as once you put them on, you believe that your back is made of brittle graphite and you do not test the flexion of your joints (namely; knees and elbows). The latter, well, would reduce the need for all those changes of clothes, so you could saunter into an airport with maybe a gym-bag worth of underwear changes (if you’re particularly fussy).
  2. Multi-purpose shoes: Blame it on the capitalist mindset to have everyone own multiple pairs of shoes; by that I don’t even mean the two cabinets worth (and then some) that S owns but the need for formal – black/brown, sneakers, sandals etc. Why not one pair that can change colour between black and brown and is supple and provides enough support to take a pounding on a treadmill? But no, if Reebok’s schizophrenia-inducing ads are to be believed, there’s two people in everyone. fair enough i say, but why cant both wear the same pair!
  3. Dress codes not bordering on sadomasochism: It was one thing when the stuffy old coots in good ol’ england dressed in their frock coats, stiff collars, suspenders and went “Jolly good I say!” They had there bonded labour aka butler in the form of Jeeves or Threepwood or what you have you to track down and launder every item of clothing. Why didn’t one of these stiffs realise that as you moved closer to the equator, you needed fewer layers and less of your body covered? More importantly, why haven’t we figured this one out on our own? Imagine going to work in thin spun-cotton tees and shorts/cargos with open-sandals.

I suppose the promise of exotic south-east asian massages does alleviate the suffering to an extent though. Here’s to Indonesia; Happy Diwali and all that jazz…

deltoids: deploy

In blah, life, opinion, rant on August 19, 2007 at 6:24 am

Set piece: A somber room, in twilight glow, save for the center, which is brightly lit with a battery of powerful lights focusing directly beneath them. And there, you lie, anesthetized by the sleep-inducing chemicals entering your blood stream. Blissfully unaware of the millions of nerve endings screaming to those parts of your brain that can decipher the well-being of the body it resides in, that all’s not well. The individuals grouped around you have to make the decision as to whether the mass of sinew, bone and blood vessels that form your left arm (A) should be salvaged or (B) has to be amputated. The last thing you did before going under was to pick the team that huddles around you…

Team #1: A handpicked team comprising of a couple of orthopaedic specialists, vascular surgeon, a neurosurgeon, a seasoned anesthetist, with the requisite support staff

Team #2 : A team put together by making random sweeps of different areas of the city, taking care to represent all sections of society, professions, races, religions and so on and so forth

Now, what if you didn’t have that choice? That the decision was based on the following reasoning:

  • You are a successful white-collar professional who makes several multiples of your country’s per capita, hell, maybe even more than that of the most developed countries in the world
  • Yours is not a physical profession (e.g construction labor) plus you’re right-handed, so its not your dominant arm anyway
  • (A) (refer above) means you recover in 10 weeks and go back to your life, possibly rejuvenated and be more successful than ever
  • (B)  would mean you would require a prosthetic which means a chance for the company that manufactures those to stay afloat, also for the farmers who supply the raw materials to avoid penury

Fiction, all of it, macabre albeit.

But then how is it, that when it comes to making decisions that sculpt laws, policies that govern intakes into institutions of learning, zoning regulations that determine setting up of commercial hubs, financial policy that oversees utilization of gargantuan amounts of money are based on the overarching principle of “Majority Wins!”? that saffron-painted thugs can go burning vehicles and demolishing property in the name of the ‘common good’? Is the democratic way really about doing what’s best or is it the blunt instrument of the teeming worthless hordes? Maybe its time for a rethink?

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gamesmanship and happy returns

In blah, life, rant, sports on August 3, 2007 at 1:41 pm

“I drive a porsche…what car do you drive?” <drumrolls…thunderclaps…sharp intakes of breath even!> How could he?! The horror of it all!!! ummm….what? Apparently this l’il line picked up by the stump microphone during he 2nd test at trent bridge is the subject of much teeth gnashing. The reason? It was said in a clipped brit accent to one of India’s batsmen. As per Simon Barnes from The Times, this indicated the nadir of sportsmanship on the cricket field. He reckons “the combination of vulgarity and insensitivity is mind numbing”  because “is it a suitable remark to make to a man from a Third World nation who is a guest in your country?” He even goes on to call that hallmark of german engineering a “penis substitute”! 

In the process of getting his knickers in a twist, he seems to’ve forgotten that put together the match fees, board contract and the endorsement deals, the batsman in question would be making roughly about 5-10 times his english counterpart. More importantly, this insult would rank so low in the context of the typical sporting encounter, I think its entirely probable that the bloke was actually considering buying a Tata Indica and hence was comparing notes on mileage and maintenance. I guess when you make your living as a writer, you have to keep you ‘molehill locator’ on high alert all the time.

Broadcasters have taken to recording snippets of players introducing themselves rather than showing a graphic on screen. So, you have “Ian Bell…age 25…right hand bat” The 1st and 3rd bits of information, I have no problem with…I mean…wouldn’t look good to announce someone else’s name or to mislead ppl into thinking you’re a left-arm chinaman bowler when you’re not. Its that middle bit…I’d spent most of my cricket-watching ‘career’ seeing young ‘uns my age play the sport…not any more seemingly…l’il squirts…all born y’day…or the day before…who the hell allowed them onto the ground…oh ok..i’ll admit..am a year older…grrr…

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burn baby burn…

In rant, sachin, sports, world cup on March 25, 2007 at 1:05 pm

It’s only fair. I think its fitting that the cover page of the Hindustan Times and the Times of India showed angry fans burning/blackening posters of Sachin Tendulkar. It’s perfectly understandable that similar such fans grouped together and went to the Tendulkar residence and turned off the electricity mains to his apartment after he got out for nought in the crunch game against Sri Lanka. Thanks to every news channel for showing scrolling sms’s and emails from angry fans about how a bunch of “overpaid individuals interested only in making money” have let the nation down.

Serves the whole bunch of ’em right, especially Sachin Tendulkar. He should’ve known. He should’ve known when he first appeared on the test team as a 17 year old. He certainly should’ve have had an inkling when he stroked a hundred at Perth or when he set about redefining the term ‘opening batsman’ in one-day international cricket by going after the new ball in New Zealand. Over the years, he stubbornly refused to learn from the zillions of opportunities. Each time he set about dominating attacks or playing rear-guard on foreign pitches. Each time he raised his bat for having completed triple figures. Each time that opposition captains and their bowlers huddled together to work out ways to dismiss him and celebrated like the match was won when his was the first and only wicket to have fallen. He cannot feign ignorance when that ‘hard-as-steel’ veteran Steve Waugh said in his post-match interview that “We were beaten by a better player” (and not team). Not only that, he even had the audacity to exhibit his love for the game, I mean, how dumb do you have to be to celebrate a direct-hit runout as wildly as you celebrate a ton? oh, and especially when the throw wasn’t even yours?! Ridiculous!

Just because he was born with a rare combination of talent and temperament that will most likely never be seen again for several generations, he can’t just ignore the fact that his performances are the closest that, millions of people come, to a sense of achievement. He might claim in his defence that he is only a sportsman and only went out to give his best and that the rest  was never under his control, but that would be indeed weak. That it was unfair for spectators (and of that category, we have hordes) to shirk the responsibility of their own ambitions and need for fulfillment, and to tack it to the blade with MRF printed on it. He might plead that rarely have sportsmen maintained superlatives levels of performance for the duration of time that he has. What of his debt to the millions of this nation who, bereft of ability or temperament, will never amount to anything in the duration of their existence? He owes those teeming masses who will live their lives in utter mediocrity never having the opportunity to taste success for themselves. He owes them big.

As for the other 14, several of whom might’ve first picked up a bat because of the person discussed above, who are currently wondering about the physical safety of themselves and their families. For Rahul, Zaheer, Ajit, Sehwag and co. The teeming blue billion have extracted the ultimate pound of flesh. Never again will they enjoy a game of cricket like they must’ve when they first picked up a bat or a ball. For they will now, more than ever, realise that this country does not understand the concept of competition or sportsmanship.

Sachin Tendulkar and the rest should be ashamed to be Indian. I know I am.

 

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f***wits

In rant, sports, world cup on March 19, 2007 at 6:11 am

Appalling…spineless…petulant! The first two words would’ve been seen with increasing regularity since the time Bangladesh scored their winning runs against India, but not the last one. That’s because I’m referring, not to the 12 who represented India in the game, but the millions of ‘supporters’ who have been ‘wronged’.

  1. Portly housewives wearing pads over their sarees as they beat up pictures of Dravid and co.
  2. Mobs in various parts of the country burning effigies representing the ‘villains’
  3. Other mobs pelting stones at players’ houses
  4. Politicians, beurocrats, BCCI administrators condemning the performance and demanding redress

Just who in F***’s name do we think we are?! Somewhere in the process of the game gaining its astronomic popularity and its players becoming household names, every tom, dick and harry in our populous country thinks he has part ownership of the Indian cricket team. Its like each person believes that its our magnanimity that allows each of those 11 individuals to be out on the field. That they perform for our entertainment.

What the f***wits don’t understand is that its a sport, not a bullshit reality tv show where every line is scripted to pander to their tastes. In sport, you go out, give it your best and look to play better than your opposition on the day. While the best sporting encounters are when there are two teams playing at their best, that, often is not the case.

Did the Indian team play at their best? Not by a huge margin. Did they try like mad? HELL YEAH! The same f***wits might point out that this was against a team that has been the traditional punching bag for every heavyweight. Fact is, if you blank out the names on the backs of their shirts, and monochrome the video, you’d have a hard time figuring out what team this was. They might be brought back down to earth by the Lankans, but on that day, they were near flawless in their efforts.

They’re sportsmen and must be hurting from that defeat and in a perfect world, their response would be to launch themselves at their next opponent to give them a memorable cricketing lesson. But when the l’il shits back home are stoning your homes, you can’t help but wonder if they’ll just show everyone the middle finger on live television and walk off the field. With all the afficionados of the game that we have, it shouldn’t be a big deal to replace all of them with better players, should it? Or maybe the f***wit response will be to show their rabid competitiveness by going online and voting to eject some pseudo-celebrity off a f***wit show.

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