The MeToo hashtags can become the pivots of women empowerment & societal change

In certain jokes floating through the social media I have seen the phrase “That escalated quickly”. Given the situations it gets used, I find it hilarious. The same happened with the MeToo and MeTooIndia hashtags on Twitter but in extremely serious way. They started trending slowly but then hit the high notes so loud that mere hashtags are on the brink of creating a social movement.

It all started with the details of one powerful man floating around. But no one was ready to take out his name. Then someone did. Women journalists pounced on it and his name became a raging wildfire. M J Akbar, a lion in journalism and now a cabinet minister in the central government. Turns out he was a predatory lion, using his mammoth stature in the journalism industry to sexually abuse young women journalists and use his cape of fear of power and influence to devour their self respect and dignity. Then came Alok Nath’s name out. The epitome of culture, decency and manhood. Turns out he is a good old rapist. The burning embers had caught fire. Names of corporate honchos and familiar names from the movie industries followed. Social media has lit up. Journalists and common people alike are baying for the blood of sexual predators.

I got into a row with popular South Indian singer Chinmayi on Twitter. She had called out the name of Vairamuthu, a song writer of almost legendary status who has collaborated on many of the Tamil songs of A R Rehman. Many aspiring singers and artists who had been abused by him were reaching out to her and taking her help in disclosing their experiences anonymously. My problem was two fold. How did the situation deteriorate to the level where so many women in the case of M J Akbar are reporting their abuse sagas and some of them happened 2 decades back? They kept quiet. So I wrote to Chinmayi requesting her to reveal the names of the victims as keeping quiet for so long and hiding behind anonymity are the reasons why sexual abuse has become a daily affair and common practice in the corporate world. She replied saying they have their career to worry about which is why they cannot call out their abusers. Exactly. Abusers are feeding on this fear to continue abusing. If Chinmayi had spoken out about her experiences long back, many younger singers may have escaped being preyed on by Vairamuthu. This is just one aspect of the situation. Victims are compromising on their self respect and dignity by choosing to suffer the indignity in silence. What is more, all men have become potential predators in the eyes of women. It is scary how women see men trying to engage with them in lighthearted conversations as flirting.

Women are also complicit in helping create such a toxic work environment. They have waded into a male bastion demanding equality in work and social status. This is not a Utopian world where men would step aside and let women take over the reins of power from them. What would men seek from women in return other than sexual favours? The ones who agreed laid the foundation stones of the system. From then on, everyone who went on to enter the system were conditioned to live in the system. From bedrooms sex became an accepted practice inside boardrooms. Women who couldn’t digest and come around to accepting all of this were scarred mentally with abuse. The heritage of the system has been handed down to the next generations of men who have only grown on to become more brazen in their actions.

What is astounding now is, other than a few murmurs in the movie industry and corporate offices, there is almost a deathly silence. It is improbable that the world of glitz, glamour, fashion and wealth could be a perfect world. Rather, it almost seems like everyone has taken shelter for the storm to pass. Shobhaa De the acclaimed writer and journalist was on TV to talk about sexual abuse in Bollywood and she said the ones who have been caught in the net are the expendables and small flies. The big and the mighty ones are hiding in plain sight. She was right on the money. Women have had to go through hell and back especially in the movie, aviation (airline) and healthcare (nursing) industries to even hold on to their jobs. But not a single mouth is opening to complain. Goes to show the heights of male dominance which in turn shows how low women have allowed themselves to be buried in the mire of sex, abuse and oppression.

Every individual’s responsibility in the society is to make it better for the next generations. It is not enough that we only try to make our children’s lives better. A life with self respect and dignity should get priority over everything else in society. All urban men who become influencers in the society are raised up in similar environments. Then how do some go on to become such wily predators? It is upon every individual to introspect and ask do we want to continue living inside such a slimy system where we have to keep worrying about our women’s safety and well being all the time. MeToo and MeTooIndia is a desperate call for change. They are the atomic bombs of the urban society. Their explosions have been triggered. What the abusers and predators fear is the mushroom cloud that emanates from it and envelops one and all. This may be the only chance for women to go up in arms against their tormentors. This has to become a movement, cleanse the urban world and it’s fire should then spread into rural heartlands. Women have always called out for equality and empowerment. Their time to take centerstage seems to have finally arrived.

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The causes and effects of the Rafale deal

So the ticking time bomb has triggered a full scale explosion. The endless debates and punches and counter punches that has been happening over the course of weeks and months has given way to a full scale war. Finally, some light has fallen on the shadows of the dubious Rafale deal and it is not good news for the Modi government. The fact that Anil Ambani has been the beneficiary of an unholy deal between the Indian and French government has been brought to light by none other than the erstwhile French President himself.

Questions are raging over how a weapons manufacturing company was started by Anil Ambani just weeks before the deal was signed, HAL was sidelined and Ambani’s company was proposed as the only option by the Modi government as partner for the deal. But my problems and concerns go much deeper. I did a one year MBA program with an international business school in Shanghai. There I met people from almost every part of the world. I used to have a good time with a young Pakistani lad who incidentally knows the band members of Strings and I used to tell him that one day I will be in Pakistan and I need his help to meet them. The college had given me a fellowship and I used to work actively with the college staff most of whom were Chinese. My point is, I was not fighting with that Pakistani guy and the Chinese people I know. It made me realize that citizens of India are not at war with the citizens of Pakistan and China. When we, the people have no problems with each other, why do we have borders and armed forces? Why are the governments buying and manufacturing all the weapons? To protect the people from what?

Lets take the case of Jammu and Kashmir. It became part of India during Independence and then the war of 1948 broke it into two parts. I see reports about separatists indulging in violence and the plight of the Kashmiri Pandits and I wonder, why can’t the people who want to be with Pakistan go to PoK and the ones who want to be with India come to this side of the border? Wouldn’t that solve the problem? Why are the Indian and Pakistani governments not trying to resolve the problem? Why is the UN not trying to resolve the conflict? Same goes with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Every time I hear and see about conflicts and problems, I always wonder why people are not working towards solving these issues.

Coming back to the Rafale issue, my next problem is in the way the government eventually decides from which country and which companies to buy the weapons from. The three wings of the armed forces are more than well equipped to do their own due diligence and decide what their requirements are. All the government needs to do is to provide them the required funds and clear all bureaucratic hurdles for the purchases. But when the government overrides the needs of the armed forces and initiates deals as per it’s wishes, then something murky is definitely happening in the shadows. This is what caused the Bofors issue and now the Rafale issue.

During the 2014 elections, there was a rumour that Modi’s election campaign extravaganza expenses ran upto Rs. 20,000 crore. He was always seen travelling for election rallies in private helicopters of Gautam Adani. Now why would a corporate businessman provide the services of this private choppers to a PM candidate? It doesn’t end here. Wherever Modi used to travel to for campaigning, be it as far as Thiruvananthapuram in the south or Arunachal Pradesh in the east or Jammu and Kashmir in the north, he used to always return to Gujarat the same day itself. Those journeys themselves must have cost a monstrous amount of money. Why was Adani spending so much money on Modi? So it was clear that Modi was going to be the next PM. Now Modi has himself admitted to being a chaiwala (tea seller). So how does all of this reflect on him? Like the story of Kalidasa, an ancient Indian poet. Kalidasa was a stupid and ignorant woodcutter who was found by some wise men cutting a branch of a tree he was sitting on. These wise men had a grudge on a princess because of her haughtiness at her wisdom. So they dressed up Kalidasa, asked him to keep quiet, spoke for him and interpreted his actions and claimed to the world that he was the most knowledgeable guy in the world and managed to defeat the princess in a debate. The same seems to have happened with Modi as well. The corporate seems to have installed him as the PM to be at their whims and fancies and to get their business deals signed off without understanding anything and without asking any questions. The Rafale deal seems to be just one of them. If there were scams during the previous UPA government the present government itself is a corporate scam.

Now how did Anil Ambani and the Modi government manage to pull off such a deal brazenly without the fear of any repercussions? They thrive on the ignorance of people. Most people in rural India especially in the North do not have even basic facilities like drinking water and electricity. They do not even have enough education to spell Rafale properly. Political parties have been exploiting them every 5 years by baiting them with the offer of basic amenities in return for their votes. They get nothing after each election and since they are all stuck inside vote banks, they continue voting for the candidates from their caste, religion etc. Most importantly, political parties ensure that people do not get proper education. Education increases our understanding of the world and we start asking questions. Questions are the biggest threat to the existence of political parties. This is why government schools are in dilapidated condition in many of the states and private schools charge such exorbitant fees. The objective is to keep people away from education. This is why Arvind Kejriwal and the AAP party had to go through all sorts of dire situations and repercussions when they tried to revive government schools in Delhi. Five of the biggest Indian states from where maximum representatives go to the Lok Sabha (lower House of Parliament) are stuck in this situation. BJP won maximum seats from these states in 2014 which clearly reflects the pathetic condition of Indian democracy. The consequence is that apart from the fragmented urban voters, no one will question Modi about the Rafale deal. He can happily go and campaign for the 2019 elections in the rural areas of India. This is what emboldens political parties and the corporate to take the country and the people for granted in their quest for money and power.

Finally, why a deal for weapons manufacturing? Which are the most booming business industries in the world? Weapons, drugs, prostitution and trafficking in that order. What generates maximum revenue in the world? People’s fear and people’s lust. We need to look at nothing beyond the first movie of the Iron Man franchise. What prompts billionaire businessman and playboy Tony Stark to become Iron Man? Because he finds the weapons manufactured in his company Stark Industries in the hands of terrorists and he realizes that weapons manufacturers sell weapons to both sides of wars and conflicts. The best commodity for sale has become the human life itself. Anil Ambani seems to be thirsting to enter that realm of business and make some money for himself at the cost of human lives. This is why Kashmir, Palestine and many other areas continue to be conflict zones. More is at stake here. Financial institutions move in into conflict areas once some sort of deal for peace is made, invest money and basically enslave people’s lives in that region. If all conflicts stop, financial institutions and weapons manufacturers will have to close down their shops. The stakes are much higher than the comprehension of common people and political class is just a puppet in the hands of the corporate all over the world.

Sexual harassment thrives only on the fear and complacency of women

Bollywood actor Tanushree Dutta seems to have opened up a massive cupboard of skeletons of sexual harassment. So many women in the corporate world are taking to Twitter to narrate their tales of similar sordid experiences at the hands of men and vent their anger. The hashtag Metoo is trending like fire on Twitter. Though I am glad that this discussion is finally happening, sadly, women are opening up with their stories years after their ordeal. Why? Because they were forced to hush up for the sake of their careers and lives. Why again? They were more fearful of the backlash and repercussions from the society. They simply had nowhere to go so they had to gulp down the venom and stay quiet.

Before getting into sexual harassment we need to understand what sex is. The answers are in the very foundations of our existence. We share many common traits with animals and one of them is procreation. Why do male species of animals exist? Essentially to reproduce. Their purpose is to pass on their sperms to the females. Male butterflies and males of some species of animals engage in a frantic race without even having food to deposit their sperms inside the ovaries of as many females as they could before they die. There are many more bizarre cases of reproduction process in nature. In many species including ours, males have evolved into taking care of their families. Human males have never been monogamous which is why society was created and marriage as a concept was enforced upon us. Marriage to me was actually a desperate measure to control the reproductive urge of men. When this was not enough, prostitution was created. This is why the Devdasi concept was introduced in ancient Indian society. Upper caste males were allowed to prey on girls and women from the lower castes and satisfy their sexual needs so that they would stay away from girls and women of their own castes. The term sex in itself exist only in our world and is not part of the animal world. Intercourse is just one aspect of the entire process of procreation among animals. But we have made it complex and convoluted. From discovering and understanding foreplay to creating contraceptives to writing an entire book on sex positions, we have actually wasted a humongous amount of our time and energy on something that was actually meant to be a clear and simple process.

Now where does sexual harassment come from? Males of all species in nature are supposed to woo females before mating with them. They engage in fierce battles to win over the right to mate with females. Male birds dance before the females, bring food, build nests and do an array of other things as part of the wooing process. This is why males of all animal species are beautiful and brightly colored. Only among us are women required to color themselves up and look good which for me is one more example to illustrate how male chauvinism dominates human society. What we call as flirting is actually the wooing process in nature. Thousands of years of societal rules have ensured that men don’t ask for sex the moment they like women. But there are men who do it nevertheless. One category consists of the ones with prominence in the society who misuse the value bestowed upon them by people and who knows how to use their influence to clamp down mouths and keep their dirty secrets in the dark. The other category consists of people from the lower strata of people without enough education and without proper nurturing who grew up seeing women getting treated with contempt and without value. The raging debate currently is about the first category. But there is only a thin line that separates the two categories. In both cases, men begin with flirting and move towards seeking sex. When both doesn’t work, men of first category resort to sexual harassment and men of second category indulge in rape. Why? The only difference is, men of the first category have too much at stake to lose if they resort to rape.

But why does all of this happen? Because women blame fellow women for their ordeals. Why? Because there is a huge gap in the mental makeup of women from older and current generations. Women from older generations used to suffer immensely and surrender to the whim and fancies of men to keep the relationships from breaking apart. But this goes a lot deeper. Men with power and influence in the past used to try and hook up with women they fancied. Some women in turn used men’s lust for sex to satisfy their own societal needs. This is very much in relevance and vogue even now. This is the origin for the need of complicity. This is why men expect all women to comply and give in to their needs which is why men often say when another man’s wife doesn’t have a problem doing something why are their wives complaining about it. So the burden of blame falls squarely on the shoulders of women who do not want to comply. This is why women cannot go to other women and open up about their ordeals because of the fear and apprehension that older generations could put the blame on them and use it as an opportunity to make them give up their careers for a domesticated life and their more naive friends and peers could possibly advise them to give into the wishes of men and keep quiet about it to save their careers.

Women of modern times have hardly reasons to complain though. Here is the amazing and heart wrenching saga of Nangeli (https://www.speakingtree.in/allslides/did-you-know-19th-centurys-breast-tax-in-kerala-is-the-darkest-spot-on-humanity-ever/401758). In the erstwhile Travancore kingdom in Kerala about 300 years back, women from the lower castes were forced to walk around without covering their breasts and had to pay taxes based on the size of their breasts. Nangeli chose to defy the demented rule and all the ensuing odds by covering her breasts. When authorities came to collect taxes, she chopped off her breasts, gave them as tax and bled to death. Her act of unimaginable courage was enough to stop this horrendous practice forever. When the entire society was complacent, all it took was one woman’s sacrifice to bring about the change.

Its a pity that educated women still fear backlashes from men and society, suffer the ignominy of sexual harassment and choose to speak about it much later. They need to look for inspiration from history, from the lives of heroic women like Nangeli who chose to not bow and lay down their self respect and integrity at the feet of men and societal diktats. Sexual harassment and sexual predation continues to exist because women in the past have shied away from opening up their torturous lives to the world. Speak up and force the society to change now. That is the only way to make the lives of the future generations of girls and women better and safer. Nangeli, Joan of Arc, Rani Laxmi bhai and countless more brave heart women must be looking down and smirking at the pathetic state women have put themselves in.

Business lessons from the life and times of Mark Knopfler and Dire Straits

Its a curious case about Dire Straits & Mark Knopfler. People who know them would die for their music. People who don’t know them don’t know them at all. When I tell the younger generation about them and make them listen to their music, they find it weird and boring. But when I go on the internet I see kids swearing by their music. The disparity is so vividly glaring. This is the legacy Mark Knopfler has created for himself and for Dire Straits.
The name of their band in itself defines their music. They were asked to give a name to their band during their struggling years and what came first to their mind was that they were broke and had no money with them. Dire straits actually reflected their situation at that time and was not put as a funky name like other music bands at that time. This honesty has always reflected in their music. Mark Knopfler has been in many ways the Steve Jobs of the English music world. As music evolved from jazz and rock and roll from the 1960s to fixed categories of rock, pop, blues, etc. towards the late 1970s, Dire Straits was inspired by all the different categories. Their music had everything going on together. In those times when heavy synthesizers, guitars, drums, long hair and crazy outfits came to be considered necessary to be successful as a music band, Mark Knopfler refused to throw in the towel and give up his dream of making music he wanted to in exchange for fame and money. This is essentially why they were initially in dire straits. For quite some time, Apple did not make computers for everyone to use. Steve Jobs waited for his computers to evolve in the market and its demand to build up. Microsoft makes Windows for everyone to use which is in fact the hardest business model to follow. It is simply not possible to have something for everyone which is reflected in the numerous updates Windows versions needs and the different Windows versions themselves. In the similar vein to that of Apple, Dire Straits made the music they wanted to make and let people evolve into their music. Commercially this is a huge risk to take. But thankfully, in the world of art and music, creative satisfaction always takes precedence over commercial success. What this translates into is how we should position ourselves and/or our products in the market. If what we have is genuine and can truly cause disruption and create it’s own space in the market, put it out there, keep working on making it better and be patient. Success will eventually catch up.

The second and the more important aspect is evolution. From the late 70s when they started off their music evolved as more and better musical instruments were added. Mark’s lyrical and singing skills became more silken with each album. Their popularity peaked in 1985 with the release of their “Brothers in Arms” album. After being on the road for almost 2 years on shows across most of the world, Mark seems to have realized that they were moving away from making music for themselves to playing music for the people. It might have sounded ludicrous to many at that time, but when the passion goes out, so does the creativity. He could not let fame and fortune take control over his passion for making music which was possibly why he disbanded Dire Straits. This is a massive lesson for the business world. No matter how successful a company or a product becomes, to continue to be successful it has to keep evolving and to evolve the passion for it has to remain intact. This is probably why Bose Corp. has never been on the stock market. They do not seem to want business and commercial success to take precedence over their need for creative excellence.
Dire Straits did come back together to make one more album “On Every Street” in 1991 but that experience also taught them an important lesson. It is a superb album by all means but unfortunately ended up being compared with Brothers in Arms which should have never happened. They were like two different products from the same company and should have been seen and evaluated as such. If Dire Straits fans are longing for their reunion which Mark is staunchly refusing to go back into, it is because people themselves killed the confidence he had on them. Mark disbanded Dire Straits forever and started collaborating with other great artists such as Eric Clapton, Elton John and Phil Collins among many others and eventually started to make music under his own name.
Here is the most critical lesson to learn. Be it with someone’s life or academics or jobs or business or products, the growth graph will hit a high sometime. But it won’t stay there for long. What goes up has to eventually come down. Many musicians and music bands shot through the roof initially and then disappeared without a trace. This keeps happening all the time. There are two aspects to consider here. The lessons we learn from our experiences as our graph grows up and realizing that our graph has hit the high. Mark seems to have realized this when On Every Street got compared to Brothers in Arms. Dire Straits had hit their peak with Brothers in Arms. Unless they created something better than Brothers in Arms, every album they released in the future would have had been subject to comparison with Brothers in Arms. That was a phenomenal expectation and disappointment to live with. Their evolution was complete with Brothers in Arms. The option was to either continue to exist in that painful situation or let it all go and mature as a musician by himself and give everyone else in the band the opportunity to figure out their life ahead on their own.
When businesses grow and hit their highs their evolution gets complete at that point. Then they need to settle down and mature. True fans of Dire Straits know what a gifted and amazing songwriter and guitarist Mark is. He has wisely and craftily used the reputation of Dire Straits to build his own brand name. Steve Jobs has always used this strategy with Apple products. Apple has a core consumer segment that will buy anything Apple sells. After establishing that segment they released a dazzling array of products to bring more customers into that group. Now they are in the maturing phase and are focused on improving their products.
Mark Knopfler still makes music and does world tours but at his own pace. His music has always been what his passion for music has brought out from him. We need to tread the same path, be it in our professional or personal lives. True passion will eventually bring in fame and fortune but the key is to hold on to that passion at all times. Fame and fortune will wither away with time. But everything we do and create with passion will have the hallmark of fine quality and it is the quality that always stands the test of time.