Thursday, July 31, 2008

Workplace Ethics in India

I read news items on a new study on Workplace ethics in India. A staffing solutions company, Teamlease, has conducted the research in eight major Indian cities - Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Pune and Ahmedabad. This is a small scale research, based on 400 respondents or so, but the picture is quite revealing. For example, Kolkata scored well in terms of Integrity Scores and frowned upon most of the practises other cities will take on their strides, like using office phones to make personal calls. Ahmedabad came up the most lenient, with an integrity score of 21 against Kolkata's 76. No ranking is apparent from the stories I read, but interestingly Delhi's scores are not that bad [despite many stories one will hear about Delhi]; Mumbai predictably does well, and rather shockingly, Chennai workers report more workplace thefts than anyone else.
There is not much to read in this report, and it will be unfair to draw conclusions from it. The scope of research is too small, and it appeared the ethical context is calibrated against a western workplace, which may or may not be the right benchmark. However, this makes news because this is possibly the first time someone tried to look at this issue. It somewhat conforms to the usual racial stereotypes - contrast the Babu Kolkata with entrepreneurial Ahmedabad - but also defies the popular perception regarding the other places, most notably about Delhi.
I tried to read the actual report and accessed the Teamlease website, but apparently they have not made this latest report public yet. However, I could read other surveys of similar kinds - one on workplace romance was very interesting, particularly as it seemed that the majority of respondents in Chandigarh thought it is okay to have workplace romance between married colleagues and that romance has a positive impact on work performance. Again, that report conforms to certain stereotypes, a rather liberal Bangalore [though one notices that all Bangalore respondents were male], hedonistic Chandigarh, conservative Kolkata and an out-and-out puritanical Hyderabad are on display.

While I may have questions about methodology and scope of research, I do think this is very useful work. In my role, where I have to make decisions about foreign investment in Indian cities, such reports are an interesting starting point. In fact, workplace ethics is very relevant, though I would have liked to see that broadened into Work Ethic - beyond making personal calls on office phones and into actually doing the job and taking the responsibility.

Having worked in India, other countries and in the UK, I have often pondered over whether the Protestant Work Ethic, as theorized by Max Weber, has the real positive influence on the advancement of Anglo-Saxon nations [ok, and Germany!].

While I am aware of that it is more than usual for an UK worker to call in sick on Mondays, and have seen many Indian professionals conduct themselves with a high level of integrity [my lessons in Ethics were started by my supervisor in NIIT, a rather upright and hugely successful manager who went on to become a Senior VP rising through the ranks], I do know that we have to make significant improvements how we conduct ourselves at work. I am not talking about the narrow bounds of whether we use an office phone or turn in late - I think this is about feeling towards your work and commitment towards it. In the Western economies, the objectives are quite clearly set - it is about money and everyone is on the same page - but in India, there is fusion of East and West, and Work is about identity, money and emotional backbone. I do think the Indians are a bit confused about work: It is good that someone has started thinking about it.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

What I Want our English Training Business To Be..

It is that time, which inevitably must come in the lifetime of every entrepreneurial business, when one feels assured of the continuing survival of the business and faces decision time - whether to continue doing the same thing and stay within the zone 0f comfort, or to leap out to unknown, chasing a target that appears unattainable at the time. The business of Direct English in India has reached such a point: No one can deny the merit of sticking to the basics, protecting the margins and continue doing what we are doing, especially in the backdrop of the uncertainties in the global financial market and weakening business confidence. On the other hand, we are at a point where we have gained enough business knowledge and accumulated successes and failures, to be leveraged into a chain of learning centres across India - sitting still today will let this moment pass.

This is what made me set aside this afternoon to think what I want Direct English to be. The unusually hot last few days in London isn't what one will grade as an ambient environment for such presumptive thinking - I am only running the operations and ultimately the policy will be decided by the owners of the business - but I shall still need to make an attempt to present my own views on where the business should go.

To start with, I have extremely high regard for some of the Indian IT training companies - like NIIT and APTECH - which have done a very good job over last three decades and enabled millions of able men and women to support India's IT progress. These companies have established sophisticated business practises, employed very able people, pioneered education franchising models and successfully built businesses with international reach. With their intervention, Indian training market has also matured - I sure recall the days when computer training used to be done in quack shops [I was employed by one of them] - and a number of able managers and education businessmen emerged through the process.

However, this huge achievement of NIIT and APTECH [I do believe that there is insufficient appreciation of their achievements in the international business community] was built around a clear gap in the market. The formal education sector in India, mostly state-funded at the time, failed to anticipate the expansion of IT industry in India and offer suitable courses to aspiring graduates. Both NIIT and APTECH emerged in that gap, first by holding hands of global content publishers [NIIT of NETg and APTECH of NCC, UK], and slowly built their businesses following what I shall call the 3C cycle - of Content, Capabilities and Channel. This means, they took a global content publisher to enter the market, and built their Capabilities. They then extended this Capability to a Channel - a network of pioneering franchisees they appointed - which extended their reach and further enhanced the capability. Finally, they turned their attention to Content, NIIT by winning orders from NETg to write content on new software platforms and APTECH by gradually building a team and replacing NCC content and certificates with their own. But, throughout the process of growth, they maintained this 3C cycle feeding their growth, Capability expanding the Channel, the Channel leading to create Content and the Content furthering the Capability.

The times are different now - agreed. The speed at which businesses operate today has changed. The customer expectations have changed. But, it will be correct to say even if the velocity of the business has changed, the dynamics remain the same. And, my assumption is that the 3C model will still hold valid for building an education business in India.

However, while we may look at the 3C model as a possible way of building the Direct English business, there is one significant difference: We are in the English Language training business. NIIT and APTECH operated in the context of a clear market gap. We can also extend that theory further, in the context of global training providers. I am told that all major English Language training companies in the world comes from non-English speaking countries - Wall Street from Spain, Berlitz from Switzerland, for example. The reason isn't very difficult to guess - clear market gaps allow a company to grow and consolidate in the home market quickly, building competitive capabilities.

We shall, however, have no luxury of such clear market gap. English has always been the language of business and inter-regional communication in India. English is taught in Indian schools and most of higher education is delivered in English. It is hard to find an Indian professional who does not know any English. Previously, I have made statements that English training business in India will be about 'unlocking the English' in Indian citizens, meaning that our principal deliverable will be to empower professional Indians with English speaking capability. The commercial realities also drove us to price our courses at the premium end of the market - of course, our offering is unique and world-class [I have an aversion towards that word, but I am using it in the right sense here] - and I also stated, publicly and privately, that our target audience are those people who know English already. In essence, we identified the market gap in terms of knowing and speaking English.

Today, after operating in Hyderabad for almost a year, we have done well. We got students exactly as we predicted, who paid a premium fee and was very satisfied in the end, and bought more courses, referred more students and even bought our franchise. We were seen as a High-end English Training provider, mainly by corporate customers, who started sending larger and larger groups of learners our way.

But then, this is decision time for us. Do we continue to do what we are doing, and remain a 'high-end'/high class/ premium English training provider? Do we focus on bridging the gap between knowing and speaking English, and work with those who know English already? This is exactly what our systems, infrastructure, people and processes are designed to do. This is our safe corner, where we can remain.

However, at the same time, we are painfully aware that this is too narrow a space and the 3C feedback cycle will never appear for us. We shall exist - serving similar customers through a limited channel with limited content - for next however many years this can go on. That is, till a competitor throws us out of the cosy corner and assumes leadership in the overall English Language training market.

An useful education was reading an old marketing classic - Ted Levitt's Marketing Myopia - where he talked about how companies wrongly define their business and allow competitive space. He took the example of Railroad companies, which, instead of thinking TRANSPORTATION as their business, defined their business as that of RAILROADS. So, they lost their businesses to Bus and Air and all other transport companies as they came. Levitt points out that this mistake is due to Product Thinking instead of Customer Thinking, seeing the world and the opportunity through the prism of the product one has rather than what the customers are expecting out of it.

A lot of that will apply to our thinking at the current time. We are blinded by the product. Of course, we have worked on this product for so long, and hence can't see this in reverse. But if I allow myself a moment to step outside this thinking, a clear picture of the opportunity emerges: The Inner City. I am talking about the 'hidden' cities of India, which stands in the borderline of agrarian and urban India, the 500 or more inner cities. This is the aspirational space in India, where English Language is both a ticket to an exciting future and a key to unlock the social status. This isn't new, of course - this is no discovery. The inner cities are asserting themselves lately, on TV Reality Shows and in the Indian Cricket Team. They are taking the full advantage of the democratization of opportunity - due to Internet [which is bringing the outside world to them], due to Satellite TV [which is bringing them to the outside world]. The young graduates of these smaller cities are reaching the big metros in thousands, manning its call centres, banks and insurance companies. This is the space we must belong to.

This will, of course, mean getting out of our comfort zone. Inner cities, despite their people wealth and aspiration, get less than their share in India's prosperity. They are still poor. However, this is the gap - the opportunity - and if we can tweak the business model, a winning formula will emerge. Refer back to the history of IT training yet again, and the credit goes to APTECH - who broke the thinking mould that the smaller city graduates can't afford quality IT training - this started the IT training revolution in India, so to say. [NIIT caught up later - in 1997] There are many other famous example of unleashing the power of inner city, none more impressive than Wal*Mart surely. And, this really it is - we are in the business of enabling students pursue the career they want - and the inner city is the space for it.

Back to Ted Levitt - we are not in English Language Training business, we are in the business of enabling the students realize their potential. I have said this before - English was once, back in the colonial times, the language of oppression in India; we wanted to make English a language of possibility, of opportunity, of freedom. This makes the thinking so much more clearer and the purpose so much more worthwhile. This will call for a radical redefinition of our market and call for reorientation of our product: But, so be it - it might just make sense to step out of our corner now and meet the opportunity halfway.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Day 42 : Looking at Last Week

I really lost it last week.

The Home Office is taking its time, and they won't tell how much more I have to wait. Does not matter that this is just a Leave to Remain, and under the current rules, they will almost inevitably have to extend my leave. There is a bit of an indication on the Waiting Times page, but the language is so arcane that it is hard to make out what they are really doing.

I can't call it a delay, as I was told that the process can take up to 10 weeks, and I have just finished 6 weeks. However, this is frustrating, as my job primarily involves travelling and I have several urgent businesses to look after. The fact that Home Office expects a 10 week processing time reasonable for a Highly Skilled Migrant shows how little they understand what the Highly Skilled Migrants may be doing in the UK. Besides, the fact that the process is not transparent, you can't even have an expected date, adds to frustration. My big problem today is that not only I can't travel, I can't even plan to travel.

This is almost affecting me personally. I have noticed that I haven't stepped out of the house since Monday. The first time I did so was yesterday, when I forced myself into it, but otherwise I was indoors most of the time in a exceptionally sunny week.

The reason why this is proving more stressful because we also have a partnership offer on table, which I should attend to, NOW. I realized that to do what we have set out to do, we must take on board a partner [or several partners] in India. We have an opportunity now, which I must attend to. Staying home is not something I would wish to do now.

Besides, I am increasingly feeling that I should remain involved in the operations in India. So far, my approach to this job has been that my primary responsibility is actually to set up the business, get things started, get able people to run it and move onto the next project. But, I am coming to the realization that this isn't going to be as easy. I need to get involved in India again, define and set the agenda. I must also spend serious time setting up a review mechanism. This is possibly my key mistake - I left it to the managers on ground and did not set up a functional review system. Trust works, but not if there is no transparency and information flow. I will have to spend time correcting this now - more the reason I need to travel.

Rather ironically, a day after I wrote the note on why the Indian democracy seems to work, there was the cash-for-votes scandal in the parliament. Three BJP MPs smuggled a bag and showed one crore in cash, claiming that they have been given that money to abstain [from the trust vote, which the government eventually won]. They made news and captured headlines, undermining the trust vote win by the Government. Largely, this incident was treated with cynicism - both by Indian public and World Media - there was nothing new in that claim of Bribery. While showing money in the parliament is theatrical and hogged prime time tele, showing cash is no proof of bribe. Several questions were raised on both sides, and surely most of them be ever answered. However, there is a question that I have to live with, and I must mention it here.

My immediate reaction to the theatrics of the BJP MPs with money was fury. It is indeed cynical to ask, but did they not know that bribery is a fact of life in Indian politics? Is this the first time they came across such a scandal? Surely not, as one of the MPs involved actually took money in return of leaking questions and was implicated in cash-for-questions scandal. So, why did they have to do it in the parliament?

This is obviously because the parliament sessions are telecast live and watched, in times like those, by millions across the country. So, what they were doing is a Public Meeting Gesture - where waving money creates the necessary visual image than saying that they have been bribed. Doing this, they of course undermine the democratic process and all politicians, and they don't seem to care. What is outrageous is that the leader of the opposition, LK Advani, knew about the plan and allowed it to happen. And, later, all the communist leaders, still recovering from the trust vote win of the government, took the cash-in-hand as irrefutable proof of bribery and did not utter a word about the abominable behaviour of the MPs that will bring all politicians in disrepute.

Democracy has its flaws. Democracy without responsibility is a difficult beast, and an attempt is being made in India to tame it. However, there are many people like Mr. Advani, who do not believe in democracy and want to undermine it at every stage. I did think this is Mr. Advani's Reichstag's Fire, where he did not care about the implications of action on the democratic process and was too busy undermining the opponents. The communists are of course no lover of democracy and free opinion - inside the party or outside - and they have now jumped on a train which is going to Gujrat [though they think they are going to Kolkata and BJP is going too]. So, while the bribery allegations may be true, the act of it undermined the country and its politics severely, just to save a few skins in the opposition front benches.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Day 34: Ambedkar's Warning and How Democracy Can Work

I am still reading India after Gandhi, despite the fact that I need to concentrate on the university coursework urgently. I have missed a deadline, but possibly I can excuse myself citing the extraordinary work that I had to do over last couple of weeks. I am intending to focus full time on that, but can't - as this book is telling me fascinating stories and providing me answers.

For example, as I read about Indian Republic's formative years, I can figure out why democracy worked in India while it failed in many Asian and African countries. I remember a friend and a fellow blogger arguing, in the backdrop of the political troubles in Bangladesh, that democracy will not work in Bangladesh as the people are not yet ready for it, and the country needs a period of enlightened dictatorship for a period of time. It did not sound right, and I did say so - but given the recent history of Bangladesh, such rationale was hard to refute.

I can draw two lessons from reading about the formative years of Indian republic. One, to establish a democracy in a nation like ours, which would have gone through many years of repression and unjust rule, one needs to start with forgetting the past and focusing on the future. The Indian constituent assembly included many people who had opposed Congress for many years, and they were included in Nehru's first cabinet too. Exceptional men, like Dr. Ambedkar or Shyamaprasad Mookherjee, the founder of Jana Sangh - who collaborated with the British rulers - were included and their views carried as much weight as that of anyone else. This is possibly the first step in democracy - an intent to find the common ground - which would not have happened in many new democratic experiments. No wonder that an essential ingredient of the democratic process in South Africa was the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, led by Bishop Tutu, which sought to bury the past - and that was quite a past with one of the most Brutal regimes in History! In the context of Bangladesh, this is possibly where things need to start - the country went through the most horrific abuses under their Pakistani rulers and their collaborators, and a lot of politics in Bangladesh is still about the past rather than being about the future.

Two, there was extraordinary leadership of Nehru. I am not talking about his charisma, because to do so will strengthen the superman theory of democracy, which contends that only an exceptionally charismatic leader can make this happen [Which leads to the theory that a country needs benevolent dictatorship for a period]. I am referring to his faith in democratic principles. His faith in the wisdom of a common man. This is exceptional because he always talked about universal adult suffrage, which was both a logistical nightmare and an absurd exercise in political education, for 84% of the electorate was illiterate. Nehru could have got away with limiting the franchise - to men of property and education, perhaps. I noted that Chester Bowles, the American Ambassador to India, was convinced that this is an exercise in madness, only to be convinced about the power of democracy by the remarkable sight of India voting in 1952! This is exceptional, as Nehru is often denigrated as elitist, and someone who was far more comfortable with his English than his Hindi - Macaulay's Child, in RSS terms. But this man pushed through his extraordinary vision, which was not without its share of critics and not without its moments of doubts, and eventually created the biggest modern democracy in the world. And, this shows a curious trend - of wisdom of the crowd - as in India, and in Bangladesh, whenever people got a vote, they showed their political wisdom in abundance, without being fooled by cheap populist tricks or being intimidated by the government of the day. The Indian experiment established a model of how democracy can work, and how one needs to start with a position of faith in the wisdom of all citizens.
Finally, I also noted Dr. Ambedkar's three warnings to Indian republic in the closing sessions of the Constituent Assembly in 1949, which remains valid today and relevant for many other countries going through the experiment.
First, he said we needed to know the methods of popular protest in a democratic country. He warned not only against armed rebellion, but the Gandhian methods of Satyagraha and Civil Disobedience, which he said had its relevance against an autocratic regime but has no place in a democratic society. This is important, as much of modern India's politics today revolve around 'Bandh', general strike, and these are used indiscriminately. This is harmful to the nations image outside, harms its productivity and competitiveness and creates an idle political culture, where people protest by not working and staying home. This is very relevant for societies like Bangladesh too, where I remember experiencing 48 to 72 hour general strikes all too often.
Second, he reminded Indians not to submit to charismatic authority. "He quoted John Stuart Mill, who cautioned citizens not 'to lay their liberties at the feet of even a great man, or to trust him with powers which enable him to subvert their institutions'. How very prescient - not just for India, where by 1974, a State Chief Minister famously pronounced 'Indira is India' and dictatorship came by 1975 - but for many other countries.
One example is Bangladesh, where Sheikh Mujib used his charisma to subvert democratic institutions soon after the liberation. A more modern parallel is Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, who made unparalleled contribution in fighting the oppressors and liberating the country, but became a prisoner of his own greatness and ended up becoming a despot, denying his country the same freedoms he helped to bring.
The third warning from Dr. Ambedkar was not to restrict ourselves to mere political freedom, but to advance the same spirit of freedom in social and economic spheres. As with his other two warnings, we did not follow his advice here too - and we have created a great imbalance in mixing a free and democratic political culture with great economic inequality and social injustice. This led to subversion of responsible democratic politicking all too often. But, instead of getting started on the urgent task of social and economic reform and equality, many observers, educated and well-meaning, blamed the 'inherent weaknesses' of democracy.
Reading this book, I know this view is wrong. All this talk about weakness of democracy emanates from seeing the system in its western context, and a somewhat embedded belief in the superior intellect and education of a western citizen. Democracy as a modern political system has started from the west, undeniably. However, the Indian model establishes how a poor, divided, uneducated country can practise democracy - by reconciling with the past, by putting faith in its citizens. Combined with secular and non-parochial political ideals, the system sustained itself despite many challenges.
Unfortunately, this model is largely forgotten, even in India, where doubters come by all too often. The modern experiments with democracy - in Iraq and in Afghanistan - also misses the point, as they try to establish democracy in the context of the tribal structure and does not attempt a reconciliation. Of course, the job in India is still half-done, and economic and social justice need to be achieved to strengthen the democratic culture. But it was useful being reminded of the founding principles, indeed.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Day 33: Freedom Writers/ Our Change of Course

I saw one movie twice in two days. This must be counted as an achievement, specially for me, as I most certainly suffer from Attention Deficiency Disorder, and being able to see a movie twice end-to-end is surely exceptional. I would sometimes do that as I managed to see it only partially - as I have done recently for Lives of Others [which is a brilliant movie based in the erstwhile East Germany], and also seen National Treasure: The Book of Secrets some five times in two months [Did not have much choices on the Emirates Entertainment, the alternative would have been to watch The Independence Day!] - but this one I saw end to end, twice.

All of this started with Hillary Swank. She is surely one of my favourite actresses. She makes things come alive. I thought she looks a bit like Julia Roberts and that's why, but that's not at all true - she does not project JR's femininity or sexiness, and does not have any of her million-dollar smile. I found The Million Dollar Baby very touching, though I wanted to see that for Clint Eastwood. I must also say that I am not yet an unquestioning fan. But I liked most of what I saw of her, especially Boys don't cry and even P.S.: I love You [though I absolutely dreaded the novel, a very tiring one from Cecilia Ahern].

The movie I saw was The Freedom Writers. This is about a post-Rodney King riot, special integration classroom, where a group of kids from different ethnicity have been put together. The white establishment of the once-A-List school, Wilson High, absolutely dreads them, and wish they could go away. The destitute kids forced together in the classroom are doing their part - carrying guns, peddling drugs and importing gang violence inside the class. It was against this complete breakdown of the system, Hillary Swank plays the role of the inspirational Erin Gruwell. We learn that Erin Gruwell is a real-life character, who did what the film says she did. The smart two-hour flick tackles the subject of education - and its transformational impact - with belief and sensitivity, and I thought my four-hour commitment [saw the movie twice!] was every minute worth it.

Meanwhile, there is a lot happening on the English training front in India. The English training business in India also has its own transformational agenda - reaching out to millions of people and empowering them with the ability to speak and understand English, and thus transforming their world - but I shied away from being so ambitious all this while. I defined the objective of our business to be 'to teach English to those who know English'. I did not think we can do more than this given the prices and the structure of the business. However, I had to come through a learning process to learn the obvious - in India, you either do things in volume or you don't do anything. There is no point in creating a luxury brand for English training. But there is enormous value in taking a globally accepted learning system to everyone, at an affordable cost. That will be transformational. I shall spend all my time now making this happen.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Day 32: Thinking About Party Discipline

The Indian media is having a field day. The government is up for a trust vote next Tuesday, and the numbers are still not adding up. By the last count, they are falling short by about 15 votes, with about 19 fence sitters including 6 independents. In the past, minority governments were saved by India's infamous tenth schedule, or anti-defection law, which disqualifies MPs and make them lose their seat if they have voted against party lines. This time, with a general election round the corner anyway, no one is much bothered about this.

Except one party. CPIM. Yesterday, I was asked who I think would win. My almost instant answer was that whoever wins, I know CPIM would lose. They have got themselves in an unenviable position. If the government wins, they will be completely dumped and stand out as a party which does not know how to behave responsibly. If the government loses, they would force an early general election on the country, costing several million dollars, and almost invariably, given their standing at the current time, they will be returned with a much reduced number of seats.

This is a strategic disaster, which will come back to haunt the party for many years to come. And, they have committed themselves to this line simply because open debate and dissent are not in the culture of this party. The almost all-powerful General Secretary, Mr. Prakash Karat, who is a politico-bureaucrat and does not have to face a general electorate, thought that because of his party's support to the government [note: from outside], he has some sort of executive power vested in him and he needs to be made a party to any administrative decision that the government is going to take. For last four years, he had held the policy-makers at ransom with his 'or else' threat. However, this time, his threats pushed the government a bit too far - they know that window of getting the nuclear deal through is fast closing as the Bush Administration is all set to go home - and in fact given them an opportunity - to show that they can act independently of the left's 'blackmail' and to deflect some blame for the high food and fuel prices. If they were open to debate and discussion against executive decision [ironically, the same allegation that the party makes against the government with regard to the nuclear deal], CPIM as a party would not have taken such a disastrous course because the people politicians in the party would have been able to remind Mr. Karat about their strategic weakness at this time.

The current situation should obviously prompt a rethinking of how much of party discipline is actually healthy. CPIM isn't typical - as one could see, they are obviously in denial and facing a decline, losing the middle ground to a somewhat resurgent, centrist Congress party, and the revolutionary initiative to Maoists and urban naxalites in West Bengal and elsewhere. But this question should be broadly applied to any political party, left or right, and measures like the tenth schedule of the Indian constitution should be viewed in this context.

It is impractical to say that no party discipline is necessary. That will be anarchic. While the power of the individual is on the rise, and new media allows transparent access to individual opinions, the individual still needs the resources and organization of a political party to effectively participate in the political process. And, these resources effectively makes the individual a representative, and as long as he continues to enjoy the privileged access to such resources, (s)he is obliged to act as a representative, and be within certain norms of behavior and voting as set by the party.

However, this needs to be seen in the context of current expectations of people from its politicians. More than ever, the voting public has the means, and in some cases, the willingness to participate in the political process. And, the politicians, who are in debt to their party for its resources and organization, are indeed in greater debt to people for their votes and continuing support. It also needs to be noted that the assertion that 'people vote for parties' are increasingly dated, as mass media has effectively created celebrity politicians and a popular political culture, especially in the politically involved countries such as India. So, indeed, people vote for people. At times like this, therefore, they expect their representatives to voice their opinion and not act like puppets in the hand of a few non-elected theoreticians.

Parties that want to survive in the future needs to prepare for this new reality. Even if the election process in a country do not allow a more representative democracy [like India, where we can't recall our MLAs and MPs], the party needs to build in processes for open debate and participation for its voters and supporters. Interestingly, the US model works well because its huge, and transparent, fund raising process. Parties are critically dependent on its supporters for funds, and need to tell them what they are doing, or planning to do regularly. Even the British leaders are accountable and regularly monitored, and while Gordon Brown may survive this year's Labour conference, he has to show his party that they can win the upcoming by-elections first. However, one can be assured that even if CPIM loses 50% of its current seats in the next General elections, talking about Mr. Karat's political wisdom will be still regarded blasphemy in CPIM, and therefore, will not be tolerated.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Condoleezza Rice on Rethinking National Interest

A sweeping view of current American Foreign Policy is presented in Condoleezza Rice's essay in the current issue of Foreign Affairs magazine. In Rethinking National Interest, she sets the context of the US foreign policy against the backdrop of post-9/11, post-Iraq world. She starts with the usually accepted view - 9/11 was a watershed point in America's history as was Pearl Harbour - and then goes on to talk about America's foreign policy, which marries Realism [as in its imperfect relations with Russia and China] and idealism [the faith in democratic development, partnership with democratic countries etc].

It is an interesting read, though these views are well-publicized views of a celebrity politician. The tone - interestingly - is one of realism, and she even has kind words to say about Russia and Iran. The message is that America must strive to engage, and remain engaged, in the world and with similarly minded partners to build a world of peace and shared values. Sounds much like George Bush's second inauguration speech, just a little sobered at the end of a rather terrible four years in the administration.

She also argues in favour of the intervention in Iraq, yet again, and justifies the human costs referring to the fact that Saddam Hussein was indeed a threat - why else the international community kept Iraq under embargo for so many years and Clinton administration put forward several measures to contain him. This is where Rice the politician gets better of the Rice the academic. Indeed, international community kept Saddam embargoed as the United States, and the Saudis, did not like his influence and his military ambitions. As for the threat, even Robert Mugabe presents a threat and even worse crimes are committed in Burma every day. Mrs. Rice got 4 clear years in the State Department and did not find it necessary to do anything more than making some noises about the problem. By the same measure, the human cost of Iraq war can not be justified by pointing that Saddam was a threat, and gloss over the whole WMD scandal.

Lord Palmerstone said nations have no permanent friends. Rice disagrees and feels that countries with shared values and similar institutions are permanent friends to United States. She does not mention that this is rethinking needs to go beyond this assertion. She never mentions that environment may become a foreign policy issue soon: While the similarity of institutions and values are good enough to keep the friendship in a world of shared interests, in a world where resources are scarce, and the interests of rich nations will be at odds with each other, such friendships may not remain as permanent as it seems now.

Day 31: Reading About India

I am reading Ramchandra Guha's India After Gandhi. Unlike the scholarly histories, this one is very readable. This is also written very recently, which gives it a sort of familiar feel. It talks about how India's schoolbook histories end in 1947 [a fact Nandini disputed and claimed that history books in her school went beyond 1947, though she did not read that part!], and how we should look back to our history after 1947 with a sense of pride. Indeed, it is so easy to see the negatives in everything, to complain about what we did not achieve. However, the fact that we have built the world's largest democracy, the emergence of which no theory can plausibly explain, is something which we often overlook and never take pride in. Yes, it is imperfect, but so is every other country. But this isn't a reason why we should stop being proud of what we have achieved, and from whatever I read so far, I feel Mr. Guha's history is a timely, appropriate reminder.

There is this other interesting thought, which came from recent readings, especially from After Temarlane, an excellent history about the rise and fall of global empires. This talks about the modernizing effects of the European empires, and contrary to the claim that these empires had removed the age-old prejudices in the countries they ruled, it talks about how these empires possibly destroyed the indigenous culture and systems, and in fact developed and institutionalized some of the divisions and prejudices in the society. The Indian system of caste, while not a British invention, was certainly accentuated and institutionalized by the British administrators. While they can't be completely blamed for how Indians treated their compatriots, they certainly created posts and electorates, but no affirmative action programmes, for different castes and religions. Undoubtedly, British rulers were also responsible for many of the modernizing reforms - abolition of 'Sati', for example - though it is wrong to see this as a completely European-led reform. Raja Rammohan Roy, a classical scholar, thinker and a religious reformer, is largely credited with the abolition of 'Sati', though this goes unreported in many colonial versions of history.

While on this subject, I must also return to Macaulay, the key personality involved in introducing English education in India. I have written in the past about a spoof that circulates in his name, wherein he marvelled about the richness of India and drew up a cynical plan to destroy this with English education. This spoof of course, shows the other end of the coin - how the nationalist history, and its numerous followers, completely missed the point. In my opinion, the British ruled with self-interest, doing nothing that undermine it, doing everything to promote it. So, despite the colonial view of 'White Man's Burden' and its many modern apologists [Read Niall Ferguson's Empire], the European empires in Asia and Africa often had retrograde effect on societies, and consolidated and institutionalized prejudices and divisions in the society. The modern reformers, Indians and in other nations, however, were often trained in English and in European liberal values. They were not helped when they tried to reform their societies; indeed, the empire tried to undermine their efforts in every step. They promoted people like Jinnah, who, with all his British education and little regard for Islamic faith, saw self-interest in promoting division and bigotry in India. Macaulay, in the interest of his nation, introduced English education in India. His interests were clear - he wanted to preserve the British rule in India in perpetuity by creating a English-speaking Indian bureaucracy. There are indeed no moral issue here - international affairs are run on the basis of pure self-interest even today. However, Macaulay's children, as the Hindu nationalists later derisively called the English educated liberal leaders, had a most unanticipated effect on the country - they wanted to build their country with the liberal values of Europe. It is still a very sensitive issue - I got severely rebuked by many of the readers on this blog for calling the spoof a spoof, and for what they saw as Macaulay's genes in me. However, I did think Macaulay had an unintended effect on Indian history, and his reforms set us down the road of modernity in a way.

This is exactly why one should be optimistic about human civilization, and not write it down. If the course of history was left in the hands of the powerful, progress would not have been possible - because the powerful always preserves their power. But, throughout history, one would observe, human mind has been unsupressable, and the curious has always sought knowledge and driven progress. There is a lot of proof of the essential good nature of the human beings. At troubled times like this, this indeed is a reassuring thought.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Day 30: Preparing for a Recession

The inflation in UK has reached 3.8%, almost double the inflation target of Bank of England. The petrol and food prices, despite a few cyclical drops in the last couple of weeks, are showing no signs of weakening. At this rate, the inflation is bound to surge, especially when this is a worldwide phenomena and UK can not remain immune.

The Bank of England, as recently as last week, chose not to raise the base interest rate from 5%. This is because they fear an economic slowdown, which is already around the corner, would be accelerated if they did so. Their principal worry, of course, was the falling house prices, which has fallen about 10% from its peak last autumn, and are slated to go down even further. Besides, mortgage approval rates are down by more than 50% year on year, and these days, getting a good mortgage is akin to getting lottery in UK.

The problem, however, is that when the Bank is more concerned about House Prices than Food prices, it not only hits the poor people more than the rich [or house-owners and builders], it weakens the fundamentals of an economy. Keeping interest rates down is keeping money cheap, and at this time, this is in fact distorting the 'invisible hand' of the capitalist economy. For all the talk of abiding faith on capitalist enterprise, the powers-that-be subverts its course all too often. This is one such scenario. We obviously have a problem if at the existing interest rates, we have a 'credit crunch' - the banks are not prepared to lend money since they think risks are too high. Letting the interest rates rise at this time will, of course, correct that situation somewhat, by rewarding the lenders enough for their risks. By holding it down artificially, and by letting inflation rise at the same time, the policy-makers are pushing us down the path of long term weakness.

One wonders why, though. For years, central banks have viewed inflation as their enemy number one, because it erodes the value of money, destroys competitiveness and weakens the economy. Also, Inflation hits poor people first, and most. Particularly the current kind of inflation, which is being driven by a worldwide food shortage and a rampant speculative hold on petroleum trading. This is indeed a Malthusian world reigned by greedy opportunists - not dissimilar to Upton Sinclair's Chicago - we all are back to 'Jungle' days. I keep feeling while Soviet Union indeed grew up to become an 'evil empire', its dissolution led to this strange world where the poor were complete disenfranchised despite their vote. As I see, various nationalist oligarchic formations came to rule the world, and a consensus, funded and approved by these formations, has been achieved and fed to everyone. So, we still have the have-nots, but they are in an opinion-vaccuum, and are kept happy with Binge Drinking and Prozac. It is a different world from the sixties or seventies, much more akin to Huxley's vision of Brave New World, where everyone talks the same language, well, almost. [I have noticed all the labour ministers these days talk like Gordon Brown, but that's beside the point] So, the central banks today care less about inflation these days, and they are far more concerned about house prices going down and hitting the property speculators.

I know I am going to be hit with the big stick here - rising mortgage interest rates will indeed hit the poor too and create homelessness. But we all know the answer there - the Government. We may or may not face a situation like 1929, but we have many instances of great rebuilding efforts like the New Deal, and I have a feeling that we are going to need one when this current crisis is over.

Someone said this before, Malthus was largely neglected in modern economics because all of us were convinced about unending prosperity. But our views are as wrong as Marx's vision of Revolution within our lifetime. As Marx should have been more patient, we should be prescient - we can see that the foundations of our economic system weakening, and we face a Malthusian reality in key factors, like energy and environment. It is time that we start questioning the modern economic consensus yet again, and bring back some sense of perspective in our planning for future.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Day 29: Indian Left Continues its journey to abyss

It is Monday and I got a strict schedule going as I planned. It did work - as I always suspected, I am a morning person and trying to get the maximum done in the morning always work for me. It did help that this was a quite day: Most of my colleagues in Northern Ireland were off work for the 12th of July holidays, which commemorate William of Orange's victory in the battle of Boyne. Of course, the nature of the celebration is very sectarian - it is the Protestants who won and Catholics lost and this unveiled a long period of Protestant rule and all that followed. I do think the Catholics resent it a bit, and clearly do not participate much, but these days, watch it for fun perhaps.

I did use this quiet day, however, to gather my thoughts. Clearly, I am not happy with what I am doing, as I would have indicated in this blog. But the problem is, I suppose, one of expectations and planning on both sides, rather than any irreconcileable differences. All of us want to achieve the same thing, though we don't agree on how to get there. Thinking gives me the perspective that I have also been wrong a lot of times. I should have gone along and given it a try as everyone else want. Instead, I took a position of doing the right thing and did not even consider the possibilities. This is clearly not right. No one knows the correct answer, and since I have tried this my way for about an year, it is time that I give it a honest try the other way, and the solution may lie there. I initiated appropriate actions, starting with the acknowledgement that I may have gone wrong on different issues, and set up a clear target date to review progress.

While this was going on, the news from India continued to be as bad as one would expect. The CPIM continued its quest to bring down the government, almost in blind rage than based on any rationale. It seems that there is a clear division of opinion in the party - some sane men are still around and they would not want to fool around with the whole country's future in this fragile global conditions - but the party discipline and the culture of consensus is holding them back. This isn't, of course, a moment of principle for the BJP too, who, despite initiating the Indo-US dialogue themselves and knowing that the CPIM leaders potentially care more about Chinese interests than Indian interests, can not shy away from the temptation of pulling down the government. It is a gamble for them, which may just work out. They are on an ascendence, and rising inflation may make people want a change and put them back in power. But, if the government falls, it will start the journey towards the abyss for the CPIM. Their gamble that Indian muslims will love them for scuttling the deal does not take into consideration that they are losing the muslim, agrarian vote bank and currently their strength comes from urban voters in West Bengal and Kerala. They will be blamed directly for bringing down the government, and putting the country in a crisis. This will show that they take Chinese interests above India's, and no sane Indian will ever vote for them again. They committed the 'historical blunder' back in the 90s by shying away from forming a governing coalition; this time, they are committing another 'epic blunder', depicting themselves as a party of street opportunists and used-car salesmen who will run away from taking responsibility all the time.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Day 28: Reviewing the priorities

I am already into the Sunday, end of fourth week since I started this. I have achieved bits and pieces, but I am not sure how much of that is due to staying home for a relatively long period and what is due to deliberate action. One thing I surely know is that some of my problems persist: a messy daily schedule, always coping up with deadlines at the last moment and a gap between intent and action. After all, these are the things that my 100 day project was to solve - I wanted to become a more effective individual/ professional at the end of this period.

Undeniably, there are certain things beyond my control. For example, my visa - I know everything is in order and it will come through, but this long wait isn't any good. I noticed my faculties go into a waiting mode when I am made to wait, which slows down my work and everything else. Besides, this uncertainty about when it will come through is also not good - I have a number of travel assignments and need to get started on them ASAP. I know I am on the fourth week - I am told that this will be done within '10 weeks' - so I am plausibly looking at Mid-August here. This isn't any good, as we have events planned in Calcutta, Manila and Hyderabad much before that - and I am suffering from the resulting anxiety.

Also, there is this bit about Indian government - the government faces a trust vote on 22nd July - which somehow affects my life. India needs strong governance at this time, and such incidents don't make it any easier for the country to face the global economic meltdown, which has possibly started. Apart from clear signs of recession in US and British economies, there is another big bank closure in the States. I have also been reading in the Businessweek that the recent retail sales data - which indicated a jump both in US and the UK - may not reflect the ture picture. This is because the statistics include Internet sales data, and does not differentiate between domestic and overseas sales. This distorts the whole picture, because atbthe time of weak dollar and spreading internet, there is a huge amount of e-purchases made by consumers worldwide. So, in effect, the statistics isn't very reliable, and we are possibly already into the recession but we don't know that yet. The governance problems in India at this hour can lead to Foreign Investment meltdown - and note that a huge chunk of foreign investment in India is actually Foreign Institutional Investment, which is easier to get out of - and this makes me think about a currency risk, which will impact our current business model seriously. This actually means additional work for me. I am trying to come out of my emotional, detached mode and the thinking of 'selling my way out of the problem' as I have realized that I have many problems which need collaboration at different levels if that has to be solved. This means I engage others, even when they are not interested, through a continuous process. This means, as a necessary first step, more engagement from me, and necessarily accepting a different schedule than 8 to 6 work that I currently keep.

All of this literally point to a complete realignment of how I spend my time. This will involve a big risk gamble - completely focusing myself on the task of English Training business despite disappointments, and possibly moving to Armagh without regard to the problems it will create for me personally. My spirits were lifted this morning with a rare upbeat assessment of opportunities in the Northen Ireland in Businessweek and as a sort of a plan emerged in my mind. It is literally going back to basics, focusing on my circle of influence and getting started without delay on what I have to do. Hopefully, this will help me to find the way - I shall surely give it a try.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Day 24: Indian Government Seeks a Trust Vote

I haven't been keeping up with this diary as a colleague is here, and there are a number of things happening in our English training business. We have fiddled with this far enough, and it is time that we freeze the business plans and get everyone on the same page. The key problem, however, is that while this is obvious, this isn't easy. We wanted to create a great franchising organisation but then entangled ourselves into a running a centre, and that sucked out most of our time. As a friend says, hindsight is an exact science, but of no practical use, sadly - I think we defined our business wrongly. We wanted to create a franchising business, and built expectations around that. However, we somehow ended up thinking that we are in the business of English Language training and started a centre in all earnestness. The whole point, of course, is that we never clarified what we wanted out of it, and today, one year down the line, if I ask my colleagues in the board what they expect out of this business, all the expectations are aligned to a great network of franchisees, and none with a great English training centre.

One could plausibly argue that to have a great franchise business, you need to have a working centre. I thought so as well, but as I know now, the dynamics of these two businesses are completely different - commitments are different. This realization is a bit late, as we have dwelled in this confusion for a while, and what in effect I have to achieve is a change of course over next 8 to 12 weeks. This is going to be difficult, but as with things like this, this is going to be an absorbing challenge and I am looking forward to it.

Of course, the other thing that kept me absorbed for last 24 hours is the fact that the left parties withdrew support for the government and made it to seek a trust vote in the Parliament over the Indo-US nuclear treaty. This has been going on for a while, and has huge implications for ourselves, our business and India in general.

I always thought that Indians, particularly the Indian elite, learnt one thing from their British Colonial Masters very well - they are as much in denial as the British about their relative position in the world. I think we are too self-important. I must point out here that I am as optimistic about India's future as anyone else, but I think we will do very well with a dosage of reality and a proper lesson in humility. This problem was very visible in left's dealing with the nuclear agreement issue.

I think what we all have to realize are the following: One, India needs clean, renewable and abundant energy if it's economic growth has to be sustained. Two, while Indian scientists have created indigenous technologies to produce nuclear power, being able to tap the global nuclear fuel trade and using up-to-date technology will significantly upgrade India's nuclear power capacity. Three, the whole 123 agreement would not happen if the Bush administration did not see India as an important strategic partner and did not think that assisting India to grow will strengthen the global economy.

I find the stance of the leftist parties absurd here. They chose not to be in the government and provide outside support. They, therefore, can not claim ministerial privileges and be a party to administrative decisions. Especially when they are organising rallies against rising fuel prices, for which the government can do very little, the very fact that they are hindering government's efforts to go forward with the 123 agreement is cheap politicking, opportunism at its worst. This will surely cost them my vote in the next election, but more importantly, they are working against India's strategic and long-term interest. And that is a crime!

Well, the other opposition parties are opposition parties. They are not trying to take the moral high ground like the left. They are trying to cash in the general discontent, and behaving as childishly as expected. But they can possibly be forgiven, because, not being the party of the government, they will not have the direct responsibility of wrecking this deal.

I must say that I could not see anything wrong with the agreement India negotiated with the IAEA. In fact, it is an excellent agreement under the circumstances. It stops just short of accepting India as a nuclear power. It allows India complete sovereignty over its nuclear power. I don't think that the leftists expected this, and I am sure they have been caught completely off-guard. They are trying to make an issue why the government rushed [we know the answer: it is an urgent issue and the government the 123 agreement to reach US congress before they adjourn in 40 days time, and reconvene effectively after a new administration has come to power]; they are asking why they were not taken into confidence [they have done nothing to deserve the confidence - they have created trouble from day one, never engaged in a constructive dialogue on this, and besides they are not part of the administration].

The point is that in India, the administration and the legislature are not separated clearly, but they ought to be. And, I do not think we should allow the governments to take the administrative decisions, deferring to the parliament only for ratification of done deals. The involvement of so many shortsighted and feeble politicians in a matter of national importance is disastrous. I am hoping that the government will finally manage to win the trust vote and be able to move forward with the agreement soon. If not, the Indian leftists would have managed to do what they do best: stall progress and commit monumental blunders.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Day 21: A Sunday, finally

I have mountains of work waiting. Expense statements, to start with, as I did not submit one for last four months and a lot has built up. This is also significant money locked in, which is playing havoc on my finances. Besides, I have taxes and National Insurance contributions to sort out, which must be done first thing tomorrow morning. Another university coursework deadline is looming around the corner, and Invest NI needs the application forms returned for the September Trade Mission to India. I have still the contracts pending to go out, the one for Manila can wait till Wednesday but I have to get the ones for Calcutta and Mumbai sorted out soon. And, besides, I must write the content for our website - something which is way way delayed - and I know I have to get this out of the way by next week.

However, despite all of this, I spent nearly four hours watching Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal fighting it out at the Wimbledon final. It is not over yet - we have a rain break right into the final set, with 2-2 on board, and 2 games each at this time. This is surely a waste of time in the context of my strict priorities, but I have always watched all Wimbledon finals since Borg played Jimmy Conors in 1977. I don't play Tennis, though the free-to-access Tennis courts at the local park and the opportunity to practise the game on Nintendo Wii has almost convinced me to give it a try. Today's time commitment has nothing to do with my new-found interest in Tennis though, it is more about the habit [I also watched the Williams vs. Williams Women's final yesterday] and pure Sunday effect. I did think that I deserved this Sunday after a hard week's work, and I took that without taking any permission.

This, of course, means that I am in for a hard day tomorrow, and I know the trick now - I need to start early. Tomorrow will start the fourth week of my visa application, when, I think, I can reasonably start expecting to get back the passport. This will also start a new phase, I have planned to imagine I have just come to England with all the accumulated advantages of last four years and start afresh. So, with 79 more days to go to meet my objectives, tomorrow will hopefully get me on track and I shall start correcting some of the mistakes I continue to make, like postponing work which can indeed be done today.

Day 20: An excellent article in the TIME magazine

I read this remarkable issue of the TIME magazine yesterday, which talked about the two views of American Patriotism, and contrasted Obama and McCain from that perspective. I shall particularly recommend The War Over Patriotism by Peter Beinart which is brilliantly written and produces a balanced view of both sides of the fence.

While this was absorbing read by itself, its views hold true for India in many ways. We have this idea of Indian exceptionalism as well - a nation like none other - and believe in India's role in bringing peace to the world. Our geography never allows us the luxury of isolation from World Affairs, and therefore it is always important for every Indian to know what their country means and stands for.

Of course, we are no better off in providing a clear answer. We have had this debate - between looking towards past and looking at the future - and never really resolved it. We have people who believe in a static, pre-existing definition of Indianness and who would want to see Indianness as an inclusive and emergent concept.

I shall particularly mention one point which touches me personally. This statement here: 'The American who volunteers to fight in Iraq and the American who protests the war both express a truer patriotism than the American who treats it as a distant spectacle with no claim on his talents or conscience.' Very true, and this is exactly where I fail India. As one of my friends pointed out recently in her mail, if I do not engage with India, I fail my duty to my country. To be honest to myself, I do engage with India and try to make whatever limited contribution I can make everyday through my job. However, I am programmed to follow a middle-class life, and with its professional, selfish distance, this represents the worst form of dereliction of duty towards our country.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

End of Week 3

I am finally back in London - came back yesterday.

easyJet as usual was late, it did alright from Belfast International right up to the aerobridge at Gatwick, which surprised me as I have never returned on time, but then made up for the punctuality by waiting to open the doors for half hour or so. Apparently, someone left a bag near the aerobridge, so they won't move till someone removed it, and then the aerobridge will not open and they need the stairs and buses, all things you can possibly imagine going wrong at 11pm. Finally, I managed to get home just shy of midnight, completely exhausted out of these five intense days, barely able to walk because I pulled a muscle on my right foot, and thoroughly undecided on what my strategy going forward will be.

But then there was good news. I lost weight. I always wanted to lose weight all my life. I have been teased for being a fat boy at school, and that remained with me. I did manage to lose weight after school, and turned skinny in my adolescence. However, as I started working, or more correctly, as I got my first desk job at Aptech, and complemented it with a daily dose of 'Double Egg Chicken Roll' of Calcutta variety (which, for the benefit of the uninitiated, is wrapped with a paratha soaked in oil), I quickly gained back all the weight I needed to fill my naturally cherubic frame. As I look back to my old photos, I know I became fat, with a distinct paunch, and kept a moustache to make me look middle-aged much before I became just that.

I must say I never cared till I came to England. Here, the general consciousness about health and food habits surely affected me. I got rid of my moustache - though don't recall exactly why or who advised me to do this - and started walking about a lot. To start with, this was not about exercising. I took up an apartment about 2 miles from the city centre, and without a job, the 80p bus fare at the time looked costly. So, I almost always walked, carrying around an almost impossible load of groceries [we shared our flat that time, so there were more people]. I also walked to work. That was a breeze on good days, as our office was near Clarkenwell and I shall walk everyday from London Bridge station, over the London Bridge and past the Bank of England wall and Moorgate. That was most probably the most pleasurable thing I ever did - not just because I saved £40 a month by just buying train ticket [as opposed to a Travel Card, which would have got me onto Tube as well], but it was great to walk with so many people, of so many nationalities, through the 'City', and through the alleyways which are so distinctly old-world, and most importantly, so similar to Calcutta.

Coming back to my weight, all of this, combined with a bit of forced dieting [more to save money], did make my weight go down steeply - down to 75 kilos at one time. I was still far off from my recommended 60 - 65 Kilo range, but a vast improvement on the 85 I came with. Prosperity did not help, I crawled back to 78 when I started doing well, as I was more often on a bus and ate outside lot of times. But this India trip devastated me. When I started this job last year, I was at 78, but by December, I had enough Biriyanis to come right back to 85. It felt wrong, and while I kept promising myself a cut on diet and a dose of exercise, I was up to an amazing 88 kilos by March 2008. A gain on 10 kilos in 9 months, I am sure I was having a great time in India food-wise, but it did not help as I was feeling unfit and many ailments, indigestion etc, started making a comeback.

The good news now is that since I haven't travelled since May - an amazing two months - and walked almost every day, this time by choice, I have lost 6 kilos in two months. Nandini claims it has become visible, and I hope it has and I can maintain this for next few months, and don't lose the habits as I start travelling again. So this is something which will be part of my life agenda and a top item on my to-do list everyday.

Other than losing weight and gaining physical fitness, I haven't actually achieved much this week. I had a rather forgettable board meeting on Thursday, where I could see that I am operating at a vacuum and there is actually very little understanding of the international markets or new business challenges from most of my colleagues. Operating without much serious competition can be disastrous, and it was plain for me to see, that most of my colleagues never bother to look beyond what they have - here and now. I was told to be 'less entrepreneurial', not for the first time in my life, but I hate that as much as anything. The value I brought to every job I did was that I WAS ENTREPRENEURIAL, seeking out new challenges or opportunities, or trying out new ways of doing things. I am always very bad at following set formulas, accepting structures and submitting to reviews. This is precisely why I always thought I am not a good employee, and in lots of ways, I would have probably done better in academia than in a corporate job. Or, may be running my business is what I should do, and I have no illusions that this isn't my business, and though I am not planning to leave mid-way [though I am tempted by some of the offers I am getting, I know they are invariably the same], it will be foolish to make any long term commitment beyond September 09 here. I have not decided that I shall walk - things may change then and I may think differently - but I am consciously trying to keep my involvement limited and purely professional.

The other significant thing I have decided to do this week is to align my studies with my interests. I have a natural interest in history, politics and international relations, and I appreciate good literature. One of my mistakes over the last few days is try and focus my studies on something which is outside my core interest, and therefore I was not making any progress on my reading list. I have now recognized my mistake - one can not achieve focus by diverting from one's interests - and thought it is most important to get my reading habit back. So, there is a huge change on what I am choosing to read, and I shall keep talking about it here.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Day 17: In Ireland

I have missed out on my diary as I was unbelievably busy. I am in Northern Ireland and going through a soul-searching exercise. What did we plan when we started the business? What happened? What did not happen? How to move forward from here? It is very useful, as this involved many candid discussions and allowed me to clarify issues. However, I had fairly limited access to Internet, and even did not read much or watched TV, so it was hard to write.

The interesting development right now is Africa. Jonathan wants to start businesses in Uganda and Rwanda, which interests me. I am impressed with what I hear about Rwanda - it seems that they have a great nation-building going on there. Jonathan's been there recently, and he tells me that people clean the streets, in their locality, themselves, on a particular day of the week. And, this is everyone, including the President. Not participating in this is frowned upon, as is throwing litter, which is punishable by law. Amazing, considering that it was only a few years they had a genocide. And, of course, I thought why can't we do this in India?

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