Degrees of customer centricity in today’s business world

Born in the 70’s, “Customer is King” was the business mantra I grew up listening to. But it no longer seems to be the case. While the advent of Internet has been the biggest disruptive force to hit the world of business, there is a lot more behind the journey of the business world to where it is now.

There are two factors to be clearly understood and even wary about when driving a business enterprise to it’s success – acceptance and adoption. In the brick and mortar model of business, it is extremely difficult to foresee changing customer preferences or what factors would drive customers to change their preferences. A simple example is the Indian film industry. A commercially successful movie was supposed to have a certain number of action sequences, songs, dance scenes, emotional scenes and comedy. It was the blueprint for success in Bollywood (and still is in some regional film industries) until a first time director (Farhan Akhtar) shattered the stereotype in 2001. It was the fear of acceptance that had kept Bollywood from evolving out of the rut it got stuck in. Same was the case with the world of business as well. The same fear of acceptance kept Kodak from disrupting it’s own business model by embracing the digital camera before it was too late.

The increased adoption of technology in business made collection of data from business easier and software applications made it possible to collate data from different business segments, analyze them and understand what factors are driving businesses up and down. Adoption of the internet and the advent of eCommerce finally broke the fear of acceptance and adoption as online stores does not even cost a fraction of the brick and mortar ones.

One fear gave way to a new one – customer support and satisfaction. As customers started adopting to technology and accepting new and radical products, it became imperative to measure and understand how satisfied the customers are. Back in 2004, my life was meandering through regular IT support jobs when I was hired for the project of a European client, at a time when I had no idea that IT support services were getting outsourced. One incident changed my professional life and helped me understand my way ahead. One of the client’s software applications had stopped working and it was reported to the support team I was part of. We worked on the issue as per the priority on which the issue was reported. When we informed the client that the issue was resolved, we got the feedback that what we worked on was an invoicing application and in the time we took to resolve the issue, they had lost a number of orders. The problems associated with it were manifold. Poor understanding of client’s business applications, wrong prioritization of their issues, all of these stemmed from the lack of understanding of client’s business environment and their requirements which led to the support team working on an issue with no understanding of its business impact.

In my next job, I worked on a product in a client’s environment for more than 2 years and was able to create a new system design for the product’s upgrade in a few hours, not merely because of my knowledge of the product but because of my understanding of the client’s business environment and the needs of its different business units. When I was sent to a client’s premise in the UK as the leader of a team for a large transition program, what was important to me was to understand the client’s business environment and what technical issues were currently affecting the client’s business. As the client’s entire IT activities were getting outsourced to the company I was working for, it was just commonsense for me to understand and resolve existing issues before owning the responsibility of the environment.

That was back in 2010 and technology has come a long way from that time. This is the age of AI and Analytics and putting them together has resulted in predictive analytics which is helping businesses to take informed decisions and make successful plans for their future. But how much of all of these have filtered down into the traditional brick and mortar stores? At home, we buy groceries on a monthly basis from a grocer we have been customer of for 15 years. For daily purchases, we go to a nearby supermarket store. There is a particular pattern to the items we buy from the supermarket store, like milk, eggs, bread, etc but more importantly there is a pattern to the items we do not buy, like cooking oils, pulses, rice, wheat, soap, etc. No one in the store has asked us yet where we buy these items from. To be successful in business in these times, companies have to be at the top of their game and continuously keep looking for opportunities to be innovative to not only attract new customers but to retain them as well.

I received a call from an aspiring startup’s co-founder some time back for advise. They were planning to create an online platform from where anyone could place an order for any item and they would deliver it. The word anyone was a concern for me. There is a very good reason why India will never be a completely digital market – people’s purchasing power or the lack of it. A big chunk of its population of people make their daily purchases on debt. The local grocers keep accounts of these purchases and people keep paying as and when they have money with them. Even the local restaurants in many places especially the smaller eateries do the same. This is a business model supermarket stores can never replicate and hence they can never erode the relevance of local grocers and small time traders.

This is an important reason why the India government’s decision to demonetize its currency notes has destroyed India’s economy as it has further weakened people’s buying ability. When I mentioned these aspects to the startup’s co-founder and asked him how he was going to tackle them in his business model, he had no answer. Borrowing or getting inspired by a business model in another country is fine, but there can be no excuse to not knowing about their own country’s business nuances.

As products and companies of all sizes throng the online market and jostle for space to find their feet, nothing is more valuable in business now than customer loyalty and repeat customers. One look at Amazon’s fulfillment center ( is enough to understand the complexity of its customer-centric business model. More than the number of its business segments, what is mind boggling is the fact that an individual could be its customer in multiple business segments and would expect the same level of customer service across all business segments. Multiply this by the probability of doing business with a few thousands or a million such concurrent customers and maintaining the highest quality of service across business segments is beyond comprehension.

Is customer still the King or has business become the Emperor of the King?


My thoughts and experiences about the nuances and hazards of dealing with money

Of all the factors that has divided and fragmented society, money has risen to top that list. Now money is not the same as wealth. It is commonly said that someone is wealthy and prosperous. Wealthy denotes someone who possesses wealth but there is no similar word to someone who possesses money. It is never mentioned as rich and prosperous and there is a reason to it. Wealth adds value to our lives in many different forms and that is how we become prosperous. Money only helps us to buy things and every one of those things are perishable. This is why money does not add value to our lives which in turn never makes our lives prosperous.

Back in 2008 when it was supposedly my “peak age” for marriage, my parents wanted me to buy an apartment in Bangalore where I was working at that time. I was aghast. There was no point in buying an apartment under the assumption that my marriage was going to happen. Then there was the demon of the housing loan to reckon with. I am bemused by how people queue up to take housing loans to buy apartments and houses, especially in burgeoning cities like Bangalore and in exhausted cities like Mumbai. Now let’s say I take up a housing loan for 20 years. I am effectively committing myself to paying back the EMIs every month without a break for 20 years. And how can I be so sure that I am going to be alive and healthy for the next 20 years? The funny part is, people look to reducing the monthly EMI amount by extending loan repayment period. Banks are all the more happy because they know they will end up getting back more money. The sinister thought behind it is, the longer the repayment period, the less likely it is of a proper full repayment which means when borrowers default, banks can easily take over the properties. The ideal way of repayment is to pay almost double of monthly EMIs and close the loan as quickly as possible. The advantage here is, even if we default on payments for a few months, banks will not proceed with any sort of action. But the catch here is, if we try to close off a loan faster, we have to pay some extra money as penalty on foreclosure. This is the best indicator that banks are more interested in what the borrowers have given as security to the bank than the money they have lent.

In cities, parking space for cars are available only in apartment buildings. This means to own a car, we need an apartment that costs may be 5-10 times or even more that of the car. This is how money lures us in into it’s honey trap. The education system trains us to become employees in the corporate world. Then everything that is associated with money takes over our lives. Then social status comes into the picture and social status rises when we start “owning” things. This perception pushes our needs to ridiculously high levels. Own a house, own a car, the list goes on and we embark on our Sindbad journey in the pursuit of more and more money, with little realization that we are being turned into money churning machines. We are simply working hard and enslaving ourselves to the banks to hold on to the things we have bought with money. Add to this the fact that everything we have bought is perishable and may need to be replaced anytime means even more money required.

Money never makes us prosperous because it does not allow us to add value to our lives and without adding value to our own lives, we cannot add value to other’s lives. How Antilla, the mansion of India’s business tycoon Anil Ambani stands out in the extremely crowded and tough living conditions of Mumbai is the shining example. Prosperity reflects on us only when our surroundings are also prosperous. Money keeps us locked to the extent that we actually stop noticing the value of everything else in the world. I was deep in my search for employment in 2013 after completing my MBA when my dad went down with a cardiac arrest. Because he is physically very strong, the experience did not shake him even though he had reached the brink of death. But taking the advice of reducing salt intake too seriously, he literally stopped taking salt. After a few days I noticed strange changes in his mannerism and behavior. On a Sunday evening I insisted and dragged the doctor into the hospital for dad’s check up and that was when we found out that his sodium level was fast declining and he would have had possibly gone into a coma in the next couple of days.

Now what if I had been employed at that time? First of all I would have had been working in a city away from my parents. My mom would have had never noticed the changes I saw in dad. He would have had most likely ended up in coma and I would have had spent almost all the money I was earning on his treatment and my travel. It was a massive learning curve. My keen sense and better understanding of human anatomy made sure I did not have to spend money when I was not earning. If there is a way to earn money there will always be ways to spend the money as well. We can never hold on to money. In a place like India with ever rising inflation and decreasing value of money, the concept of “owning” a house, having a “decent” bank balance and living a “retired” life has taken the biggest hit. We have evolved into a situation similar to that of animals and birds in the wild. They have to seek out their food each and every day regardless of all difficult situations or they will die. If they stop trying they will die. We have also reached that critical state where we have to find ways to earn money till we die. Ironically, as per the Bible, when the “Gods” created us, we were created as beings that were meant to lord over the animals and not live like them.

Now here is what I have learnt through these experiences. First of all, we need to find our balance with nature again. No living being has the ability to destroy nature for it’s own needs except us. We cannot cut the same branch of the tree we are sitting on. The branch will take us on it’s way down. More money is alarmingly proportionate to more destruction of nature now. Bangalore’s geography is dotted with numerous lakes. Almost all the small lakes have been covered up for construction and many of the bigger lakes are being openly used to drain human waste. Then people keep complaining about lack of drinking water. Why? Bangalore has been taken over by the migrant community from all over India who come in search of jobs in the IT industry. Now these people are in Bangalore to make a living and have no time to understand and solve environmental issues of the city. The result is, as per reports, Bangalore is set to become the first unlivable city in India very soon. When we make nature unstable for our needs, nature will take course corrective action to bring back it’s stability and the consequences can be disastrous as we found out with the recent floods in Kerala. More people move into cities like Bangalore every year, creating more need for living spaces and water further depleting the city’s already stretched and dwindling natural resources. We have to stop our war with nature because we can never win it and will only lead to our own destruction.

It is funny how so much is spoken about finding work-life balance without any proper understanding of it. We wake up in the morning at a particular time so that we can finish n number of chores and activities and leave for work at a particular time so that we can reach our work place at a particular time. In the night, we sleep at a particular time so that we can wake up at a particular time next morning. So essentially when we become corporate employees, the corporate takes possession of our lives and time. Our entire 24 hours gets sucked up into our jobs and we get paid only for 8 hours. The balance we need to find is not in work and life but in our need for money. If we learn to find contentment in what we have and look at our needs sensibly, our need for money will decrease considerably. This, in turn, will free our time and energy and help us to focus on creating value in our lives. IT industry in India is notorious for the fact that as employees gain more experience their value decreases. Plenty of IT professionals have become stagnant in their jobs or have lost jobs and are not able to find employment again because they simply do not know anything else to do and did not consider learning and mastering new skills.

It no longer makes sense to “own” anything. This has given rise to business opportunities like renting cars, bikes and even household items. The amount we spend on renting a house or apartment will invariably match up to the amount we spend on maintaining our own. Back in 2008, a colleague in the Netherlands was refusing to own a car because of traffic and parking space issues. Our population has only increased in 10 years. From owning a house the challenge has shifted to living in a decent neighborhood with the availability of drinking water and proximity to essential outlets and services. But paramount now is to not get stuck in a single source of income. Develop skills that would open up potential opportunities for several streams of money. Chasing money should be just like how our body reduces fat when we start working out. Our body instinctively knows how much fat we need based on our daily requirements and burns only what it understands is excess fat. Similarly, if we have a fine understanding of how to simplify our life, we will automatically seek only the money we need to live that life.

I never chase money because money destroys human values and relationships and maroons us in our own little islands. Money clouds our judgement and makes us take wrong decisions. I make sure not to judge anyone in terms of money. It only takes an hour of madness in the stock market for a millionaire to become a pauper. Not having to focus on the money I was earning was what helped me focus on my dad and save him. I seek skill development, self improvement and building good relationships with people. Money, wealth, prosperity, everything will come but there is one question that always keeps bothering me. When all of it comes, will I be ready to use it in the best possible ways? This is what keeps me on my toes and always alert to every potential opportunity. Understanding the nuances of money and it’s potential hazards is the only way to not get enslaved to it.

Critical thinking – the worst anti-social activity

Couple of days back, I was watching Prakash Raj, a very well known Indian actor on TV expressing his views in a conclave conducted by a news channel. He was taking on every question, openly criticizing the current political scenario in India and putting the blame squarely on the shoulders of the PM and the President of the political party he belongs to. He is someone who is well entrenched and seasoned in his profession, has contacts wherever it matters and has a prosperous life, so he may have sounded arrogant to many. But then he explained why he is taking such a stand. A well known journalist and a good friend of his was murdered in cold blood last year and supporters of the ruling party were exploding crackers and distributing sweets to celebrate her killing which neither the PM nor any other party leader condemned. He just couldn’t take it and is letting out the rage that has been seething inside him.

The scourge of any establishment and what scares establishments the most is critical thinking. In one of my previous jobs a long time back, my team leader used to constantly tell the team that the work we were doing could be done by someone with just high school level knowledge. It used to feel like he was underwhelming us but he was right. We were just following set procedures and we were not required to wrack our brains to solve problems. We were not required to invent anything new. Simply put, no critical thinking was required. If we look at it closely, the entire corporate, political and religious spectrum works on the same principle. In the corporate, it’s just do the work as you are told to do, take your salary and go home. In politics, vote for one of those people who have been put before you and that’s it. In religion, read, listen and follow what’s written in religious texts.

If we look at all the greatest inventors in history, relatively very little is known about them other than about their inventions and their work. This is because the way they think is a complete mismatch to how the society works. Their behavior and lifestyle has never been considered as normal as per society standards and they were always treated as outcasts during their lifetimes. This is because critical thinking has always been the biggest enemy to the norms of society. Gautam Buddha had to renounce his kingdom and regal life because he understood that only critical thinking can make this world better. But he had to live his life outside the walls of the society. Jesus Christ tried to be a critical thinker within the society and we all know what his fate became. This is how society has always treated critical thinkers. Either keep them out and limit their sphere of influence and if that doesn’t work, eliminate them.

Religious and political establishments have realized long back that critical thinkers are their mortal enemies. When do people start doing critical thinking? When they are content with their profession, earn enough to live a prosperous life and most importantly have access to information and they fully know and understand what is going on around them and in the world. Deny all of these to people and they will struggle to manage their lives and take care of their families which will give them little time to seek out and understand what is happening in the world. First the concept of wealth was introduced, then financial institutions came along and introduced the concept of money. The Renaissance gave rise to industries and jobs and money got linked to jobs as salaries. Thus began our continuous struggle to eke out a living and seek out the elusive prosperity that always seem to be out of our reach. The establishments are also fearful of education which is why rural people in countries like India continue to have less access to schools and colleges and very little practical know how and true knowledge of the world is included in the education curriculum.

The establishments have also ensured that people who can do critical thinking are subjugated to them thereby effectively neutralizing them. A simple example of this is wealthy and distinguished people of the society flocking the establishments of God men. Once they are all brought together under one umbrella, none would dare to go against the establishment. This is also how we find plenty of well educated people being part of and supporting political parties. All of this would explain why the political establishment in India is riled and up in arms against Arvind Kejriwal and his party. He is well educated, had a prominent government job and has a pedigree in social service. That is why when he launched a political party, the entire system went into shock. When the system tried to take him down, he found a way to win elections and become a Chief Minister. What he talks about and the work he has been doing has been clearly highlighting and differentiating what elected representatives have been doing for the people for so long and what elected representatives should be doing. Solving existing problems in society is another huge setback for the establishments. If there are no problems, what is there for the leaders to highlight and talk about? They have no vision for the society and people, they are only concerned about taking care of the needs of the establishments. This problem exists in the corporate world as well.

In his bid to create new and innovative ways of governance, Arvind Kejriwal has been forced to go against the establishments and that is why all of them have ganged up against him. He has made himself a threat to their survival and existence. Similar is the case with Prakash Raj. These people have risen above all influences of the establishments and cannot be subjugated. They cannot be allowed to flourish within the realm of the society. In a Malayalam movie called Red Wine, there is a character who was a students leader in college and fights against the corporate trying to usurp tribal land. The head of the company says he belongs to the firebrand category who will not sway under any influences and can never be subjugated so he has to be eliminated.

Critical thinkers continue to be the bane of the establishments. LinkedIn has introduced a concept called Influencers. These are mostly leaders from the corporate world. Hundreds and even thousands of people follow them. People have to understand that everyone is capable of having their own views and opinions from their experiences in life and do not necessarily have to follow anyone. Until this enlightenment happens, we will all be under the slavery of the establishments and will continue living the miserable lives we have become accustomed to.



Is this the rise of Hindu fascism?

There is a super hit Bollywood movie that was released a few years back in which the entire story of the movie is shown as being narrated by one of the protagonists. He is born into a Muslim family and moments after his birth, he is shown lying in the cradle and wailing while his father and relatives are all around him. At that moment, his father decides that he is going to be an engineer when he grows up. From the moment I was born, I started belonging to a certain religion, caste and sub caste. I am supposed to go to temples, marry a Hindu woman and there is an endless list of things that associates me to the religion and it is this association that connects me to the society. Seems I was safer in my mother’s womb. How I wish all of us are able to communicate with one another from the time we are in our respective mother’s wombs.

The society we live in is fraught with divisions and divided mindsets. Divisions based on religions, caste, color, we just keep inventing new ways to create new divides. Money or wealth has been a major dividing factor for thousands of years but we have managed to create innovative divides with that as well. If it was the affluent, upper middle class, middle class, lower middle class and below poverty line in the 20th century, the divide is becoming broader as haves and have-nots in the 21st century. The problem is actually not with the divides or boundaries but the conflicts they are triggering. Be it with religion, caste, color or money, one-upmanship creeps in everywhere. We are craving for domination, even among our own kind. The biggest business tycoon in India built the biggest house in the country right in the middle of one of the poorest slums in the most thriving city. Is this because being the most intelligent beings on the planet, our domination over other species is complete but our need to dominate isn’t subsiding? Is this why it is mentioned that the Gods forbade knowledge and intelligence to be passed on to us?

These divides are at work, at every moment of our lives. When those 7 Hindu pilgrims were killed on their way to a renowned Himalayan temple, fingers quickly turned to Muslims. Why? Is it because it happened in a region where Muslim population is in dominance? There is a separatist movement going on in the region and the attack on pilgrims has been attributed as an act of terror by the separatists. It is universally accepted that anyone who indulges in acts of terror does not have any association with any religion because all religions forbid violence and taking lives of fellow beings. All Muslims visit Mecca so they understand the importance of visiting a holy shrine, regardless of religion. I do not and will never believe that a true Muslim would have ordered an attack on the pilgrims. Every act of terrorism has political and/or religious reasons behind them. People’s lives are sacrificed and gets termed as collateral damage to further the wicked and vicious agenda. Terrorism is subjugation and domination through violence and it cannot survive without motive and adequate support.

There is something unique about India that everyone needs to remember at all times. When Christianity and Islam spread to other parts of the world, they were adopted by either nomads with no religion or by nature worshipers. But when these religions came to India, they were adopted by Hindus who were already part of a religious and social structure. Hindus chose to break away from both to welcome and adopt new ideas. Every culture in the world has been welcomed with open arms in India. They have all integrated into Indian society and this has given rise to India’s spectacular religious tolerance and diversity. So when certain Hindus start hate mongering and spewing venom against other religions in the name of protecting Hinduism, let them remember that there are no aliens in India. In the tree of religious tolerance and diversity, all of us have roots in nature worship, the trunk is made of Hinduism and branches are of different religions.

If what is happening now is the rise of Hindu fascism in the name of creating a Hindu exclusive country (Hindu Rashtra) , it is never going to succeed. During the partition of India in 1947, even when a separate country was carved out for Muslims, not all Muslims in India migrated to Pakistan. Many chose to stay back and they were protected from being massacred or forcefully migrated by none other than Hindus. Social media is rife with attempts to divide people in the name of language and geography. Every state in India has it’s own language, culture, food, clothes and even in the way how people look. We all exist together as a country by choice, not by force. There is simply no point in trying to divide the people into north and south Indians. Hindi is the most popular language of the country rather than being the national language and people learn to speak Hindi by choice and circumstances not by coercion. No attempts to change the food habits of people by force is going to succeed. There is a reason why Indians do not rise up in protest together. Through thousands of years, we have endured so much violence, we decided to adapt to changes and become tolerant rather than become resistant. But we did stand up together, when the head of colonialism turned ugly. The intolerance towards divides in the society is growing and if pushed to the tipping point, it won’t be long before the next struggle for freedom begins.

The story of a river, riots and a missed festival

So it was just another day, just another Monday. Today (Wednesday) is the starting day of the most important festival (Onam) in my state (Kerala). All Keralites converge towards their homeland during this time and as I was having my lunch close to the bus stop on Monday on my way home, my dad suddenly called me and in a frantic voice he said that riots have started across Karnataka and the situation is descending into chaos. Soon enough, I got the alert on my phone that the bus has been cancelled. It was a long travel back, but I managed to return to the safety of my rented place in Bangalore. Fast forward to yesterday morning and I stepped out to see if any shops were open. I found one shop with it’s shutters half open so I went in and picked up some stuff. As I was waiting to pay, this tall scrawny kid swaggered into the store and demanded to shut the shop immediately. He looked like one elongated drum stick. It took me a bit to hold back my temptation to ask him to go and eat some food before he starts creating trouble because one good solid blow from a policeman is enough to take his life..

I had wondered for long how a public show of protest goes so quickly out of hand. Then I saw the great migration of wild buffaloes at Masai Mara on TV and then the truth dawned on me. All the buffaloes converge to the river bank where there is a moment of uncertainty. Then one buffalo summons up the courage to get into the water and every other buffalo rushes into the water after the first one. This is called herding mentality and it is present in every species on the planet including human beings. What we need to see here is, neither do the other buffaloes know with what reason or logic did the first buffalo decide to go into the river nor are they applying their own reasoning before throwing themselves into the river. The river is infested with crocodiles who will be waiting eagerly for this time every year and I am quite sure the older buffaloes are aware of this danger but still they decide to go ahead with crossing the river. The objective is to get across to the other side for food and they have accepted some losses as collateral damage. If I draw a parallel here, the same happens during protests and riots as well. Don’t the protesters know that police will be there as well and some of them could get hurt or even get killed? There will be some people to incite the violence and everyone else would pitch in without applying any logic and without considering the danger to their own life. This herding mentality and blind faith in us are keeping two institutions in our society alive and healthy: Religion and Politics.

Erstwhile India (including Pakistan) had been littered with a large number of kingdoms for the longest time in her history. There were many who sought the glory of conquering the entire region but India’s geography and demography is so complex and complicated that none succeeded. The British were the ones who came really close to this with their divide and rule policy. I still do not understand what Indians were looking for when we stood up together and demanded independence from the British. Again the herding mentality comes into the picture here. The First World War had weakened the colonial powers considerably. Some people who foresaw the opportunity to become political leaders and rule the country exhorted the masses to stand up against the British and they duly obliged without even thinking about what they were truly looking for freedom from. The divides in the society that has existed for thousands of years exists even now and discrimination based on caste and religion continues even to this day. The assumption that a land which is so complex geographically and demographically and it’s people who are so diverse culturally could be united and brought under a book called the constitution was probably the biggest mistake that has happened in India. The fallout of this is the primary reason behind the continued flare up of tension between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

The most important reasons for the depletion of natural resources are blatant mismanagement and exponential population increase. What is sad is that people are not asking themselves why is rainfall getting lesser and why is there less water in the rivers every year. More people want to build houses every year so more trees have to be cut and more land has to be freed up for construction yet people expect rains to be consistent and rivers to be filled up with water every year. Ridiculous can also be so amazing at times. On both sides of river Cauvery are farm lands and farmers who are trying to grow crops to earn their livelihood. Why is it not possible that they can just keep aside the fact that they belong to two different states and share the water from the river equally? No, because the issue has been politicized and it has been taken out of the hands of the farmers. Now political parties and courts are deciding which side should get how much water. What is truly ironical is that the people who torched vehicles in protest and the guy who came to shut down the shop yesterday may not have even seen the Cauvery river, forget knowing about the ground reality there. Herding mentality visible here again. What I am wondering now is, which is more volatile, a border issue between two countries or the water issue between two states in the same country. The only difference I can see is, people in the two states haven’t started using guns and bombs against each other.

The heartening aspect to me though is how mobs have been destroying vehicles and other infrastructure in the past 2 days which tells me something significant. When it comes to natural resources, people have no value for money or anything related to money. Money has taken over as the fundamental aspect of all divisions in society to the extent that devotees who donate larger sums in temples are allowed to pray longer before the idols of deities. Money has even penetrated the domain of natural resources and we have been selling land and water for a long time now. For the benefit of some people who created the concept of money, the planet and the rest of the people are getting destroyed slowly. I do not know how long all of this will continue and how much destruction will have to happen before we realize our mistakes. Amazingly, all this societal decay and destruction has been very clearly prophesied in ancient Indian texts as Kali Yuga (age of Kali). I just hope this time ends sooner than later and this world gets the opportunity to start over again, preferably without human beings in it.

What do I do now that I have missed my festival? Well, there is a very significant reason why we have festivals. Our lives have been uncertain from the dawn of our existence. When we were hunters and cave dwellers, we did not even know if we would return home alive from hunting or fishing expedition at the end of the day. So we started looking for and making reasons to celebrate with our near and dear ones. Onam is the second harvest season of the year and though harvesting has reduced considerably through time, celebrations are always in full swing every year. I do not need a reason to celebrate life, every moment with my loved ones is nothing less than celebration for me. So I have told my parents that next time I am able to go to meet them that will be the time we celebrate Onam.


The heroes amongst us

The other day, I was watching a movie in which the male and female protagonists meet, fall in love, get killed and are born again. The male protagonist is born as an immigrant worker, as a thug and then as a gaming software professional. It was a crazy movie with over the top emotional scenes and I watched it only for a while, but it set my mind into thinking about one thing. Our never ending search for out of ordinary personalities and our need to glorify them. 

Humanity’s history is littered with whom we call as heroes, people who have braved the odds and succeeded in their quests. If people of ancient times became heroes by slaying demons and dragons, unearthing wealth and by putting their lives on the line in gladiator arenas, today’s heroes are sport stars, rock stars and movie celebrities whom we drool over. But the thread that connects all of these people have remained intact through the ages. Our need to idolise and glorify some amongst us has remained undimmed with time. But the people we make our heroes are quite controversial.

 People who have fought and defeated evil, vanquished villians and chased away the bad guys. The movies we make are a simple reflection of this. But the fact is, we have also idolised those people who raped and slaughtered millions of fellow beings. We speak of Alexander and Genghis Khan with admiration. We even admire Achilles who as the legend says owed his alliegance to no one and fought wars at his own wish. Now we make movies out of their stories and glorify them even further. We book the tickets in advance to watch these movies and the producers of the movies make millions and even billions of dollars. Fast and Furious movie franchise is a great example. Even though we all know most parts of the movies in the franchise are made through advanced computer graphics, we still throng to watch them to see Vin Diesel and Paul Walker defy all impossible odds including gravity itself to pull through unimaginable stunts. 300 is another movie that comes to mind. Blood and gore all the way, but Leonidas and Xerxes are admired as powerful kings even now. When Greece won the Euro 2004 Soccer championship, their style of playing was compared to the tactics of Greek and Spartan armies during their heydays.

So what are we talking about here? Do we admire and glorify people who challenge the existing norms of society? Does that mean we throw our weight behind the underdogs? No. We have always sided with the ones who have had more power and more power has always come with more influence and control over people. We have owed our alliegance to the ones whom we have empowered and we have let them rule our minds and bodies. I have never been able to wrap my brain around the fact that black skinned people in Africa allowed white skinned people to control their minds so much as to enslave them. But what disturbs me more than anything else is that we admire and look up to people who have amassed wealth. Bill Gates might be a well known philanthropist but what is the first thing we remember and talk about him? Microsoft and Windows. What does that translate into? Revenue. Ditto with Steve Jobs. Apple and it’s unbelievable horde of profit. Warren Buffet is admired as the best investor and what does that translate into? Money. In an ever expanding capitalist ecomony around the world, money is fragmented in such a way that some have most and the rest have few or nothing. The objective is to maintain the world this way so that everything can be bought with money, even the choice of the people to elect the representatives to govern them.
This leads to one simple question. Who are our real heroes? The ones who show us how to make money? The ones who have money and shows us how to live their snazzy lifestyle? Well, these are the two categories of people who are always in the limelight now. What about someone like Narayanan Krishnan who is devoting his life to care for every destitute he comes across? I have never come across anyone who learnt to cut hair for the sole purpose of cutting hair of street dwellers he cares for. What about Johan Eliasch, the Swedish millionaire who bought 400,000 acres of Amazon forest land just for preserving the forest? We make heroes and Gods out of everyone we could find, including politicians and film stars. Why have we left people like these out? The only logical reason I could find is, these people are spending money and have no lust for power which completely contradicts the expected behavior of the ones we idolise. 
I have wondered for long why Indians have so many Gods. When I understood about Lord Rama, Krishna and many more, I saw the connection. They embodied strong personal characteristics like patience, perseverance, focus, conviction, self belief and most importantly, the courage to stand up to what was right, not only to them, but for the greater good of beings around them. This is why they came amongst us, to teach us these virtues and these virtues are what we need to seek when we pray to them. All true leaders only expect us to learn their virtues and rise to a higher consciousness where we can coexist with our fellow beings and with Mother Nature. None of them have wanted us to glorify them. Jesus did not create Christianity and Buddha did not create Buddhism. They saw that all of us are heroes in our own ways and all they tried to do was to make us enlightened with this knowledge and show us how to reach there. But unfortunately, we are stuck too deep in the world of wealth and the seven sins to see their true message. When all of us find the heroes within ourselves will be the time all sufferings will end on our planet.

Realms of business at the cost of humanity

So, the 7th and possibly the last of the Fast and Furious franchise garnered a billion dollars at the box office in 17 days and the whole world let out a collective groan of awe through the print and social media. Money is what we discuss about the most every day in our lives. Apart from all that we see and hear on print media and TV, on social media we keep coming across articles like “How to become a millionaire before 30”, “How to become successful like Richard Branson”, “10 investment tips from Warren Buffet” among countless others. I read them too, not to learn or get inspired from them, but to understand the way people think and approach life. Every year, Forbes releases the list of the wealthiest people in the world and I can’t help but smile at it every time. Almost every year, Bill Gates tops the list. When the world is in awe about his fortune, little do people realize how much money Microsoft and he is actually losing. In third world countries like India, software piracy is so rampant that at least 6 out of 10 computers running Windows must be using pirated version of Windows. What could Microsoft have done? It would be impossible for them to catch up with individual users. So they let it be. Why? If they had done anything to prevent it, someone else would have taken over that space with their operating system. I had consciously kept myself out of finance and stock markets until I got exposed to the dizzying world of corporate finance during my MBA. What I learnt in a nutshell is, whenever people talk of money they are only talking about one thing. Return on Investments (ROI). I get really struck by the fact that money is concentrated in the hands of a few people and the majority of the people are eking out a living compared to them. The rich keeps getting richer and the fish monger I first saw when I was five years old was still a fish monger 20 years later. When it comes to money, I have learnt a valuable lesson from my dad. Whenever we see people spending money beyond their means and abilities, it means they are using devious ways to earn their riches. I usually do not care a hoot about how people make money, except in two cases.

Money in the name of God. My amazement never ceases when I wonder how a few billion beings in a remote corner of the unimaginable expanse of the Universe can conjure up the belief that pieces of paper they make with the picture of their leaders in them are needed to sustain the power that has created the Universe itself. The irony is, people dole out money in the name of God only with the expectation of making more money. The financial statistics from Hindu temples are themselves staggering. These temples would have beaten top companies hands down if they were registered in the stock markets. By God, they would have been the best companies to invest money in, no losses and exponentially rising profits every year. In a way, people are doing just that, by donating money in the name of God. Those investments do not have any market risks. Priests have to pay in millions in bribes to get a job in one of these temples and once they are in they earn several times more than what they invested in a couple of years’ time. It all comes down to who gets the lion’s share of money that is invested by us in the name of God.

We all know by now that humanity can never stay united. From within the walls of our homes to between boundaries of countries, we are always in conflict. In the name of religion, race, caste, skin colour and so many other reasons, we have been shedding the blood of each other. But a certain group of people among us saw a business opportunity in this, to make money by putting weapons in our hands. This is the biggest business in the world now, not gold or technology or drugs. Do we ever take a pause to realize this? No. Why? This is not anything new or recent. Winchester and Gatlin are two companies in the US who were manufacturing extremely good rifles and machine guns respectively way back in the 19th century. When was the last time we saw the name of a weapons manufacturing company in the list of top companies or the CEO of such a company in the Forbes list of wealthiest people? Those names will never be revealed. They are infinitely more powerful than even the President of the US. Why else would the US leave all the military equipment behind in Pakistan and Afghanistan after their conflict with the erstwhile Soviet Union got over, when they fully knew the consequences of leaving behind the weapons in the hands of blood thirsty Afghan warlords? Why is the US still supplying arms to Pakistan when they know fully that Pakistan is one of the biggest nurturing grounds for terrorism in the world? The objective is nothing other than creating and maintaining conflict zones around the world so that the clandestine business of weapons manufacturing can thrive. Most of the weapons that are sold through government deals are also sold to terrorist organizations through the black market. This is the true premise of the first part of the Iron Man movie franchise, but it got drowned out in the thrill of Tony Stark building his shiny Iron Man suit and flying around in it. The weapons manufacturing industry is also part of the service industry. Where there are guns, bullets are needed and guns need to be repaired and replaced. The additional benefit in this industry is, the moment someone picks up a gun for a fight, it gets stuck to that person’s hand forever. Live with bullets and die by one. Death by a bullet will only instigate more such deaths, so more guns and bullets are needed. The growth in business is exponential.

What I cannot get to wrap my brain around is the fact that when I have a problem with my friend or neighbour, total strangers are waiting to put weapons in our hands. Now it has become so brazen that in places where no conflict exists, situations of conflict are first created and then weapons are introduced there. What happens when two people are equally armed? They always keep trying for one upmanship by buying more weapons. Who becomes happy? Once it escalates past a point there is no looking back. This is how arms race has been triggered time and again. I am pretty sure there are places where buying guns is easier than buying groceries. Our world has always been on the brink of another war after World War II and so many conflicts are going on right now in different countries. Why don’t we see any of these conflicts escalating into a war? Conflicts are only meant to create more opportunities for the business community and should not become detrimental to them, so even though we will see plenty of posturing by different countries to start a war, we need not fret over the possibility of one happening. Our society’s steady descend into chaos will trigger our annihilation some day and that will be nature’s way of cleansing herself from the dirt called humanity. Till then, some among us will keep making money at the expense of the lives of the others.

Fame, alcohol and a tragic end to a great man

All greatness in this world has come at a cost and most of it has been hidden cost. Many among us drool over and criticize rock stars for their drugs, sex and rock and roll lifestyle. But what we don’t do is to find out how they end up living such lives. Climbing up the ladder of life is one thing but staying on top is a different beast. Well, there is no course in the world that teaches fame management. If we are striving for success without knowing what to do with it when we achieve it, we are in for a lot of trouble. The first objective is to know when we have peaked in life and then accept that we are no longer going up so we need to rechart our lives. I learnt this lesson from the life of Mark Knopfler. He broke up Dire Straits when the band was at it’s peak and was topping every music chart in the world. Why? Because Brothers in Arms is a phenomenal album which he may have realized he could not better. His decision was justified when he returned in 1991 with a new album which did not match up to the dizzying heights of Brothers in Arms as was expected. He achieved the fame he wanted to but was smart enough to chart a new course for his life. He still makes music but the music he wants to make and not what people expect him to make under the label of Dire Straits. But I guess most people who achieve greatness do not understand the need to scale down and stay consistently successful. They bask in the glory of their success and let life slip out of their hands. I know two people whose lives peaked and ended in identical fashion but in very different ways.

Someone who was like a father figure to me passed away yesterday after a prolonged battle with liver cirrhosis. He was affectionately called ND by everyone. Born into abject poverty, he rampaged his way through school on scholarship and then finished his engineering degree on scholarship as well. A truly remarkable achievement by the highest standards. When all his friends went for lucrative jobs in the marine industry, he went to Dubai and found his feet. He worked in one company for 25 long years, got married, got his sisters married, got his wife’s sisters married, got jobs for his cousins in Dubai, got them married and settled, built his own house, got his kids educated, saved money for the family and most important of all, took absolute care of his mother. He surpassed expectations so much that he managed to do things beyond one man’s capabilities in a lifetime. When I was growing up, I was always told to look up to him and see how he takes care of his responsibilities. His life was similar to my grandfather’s in many ways. With no job and no money, grandpa left for Calcutta during the peak of World War II and found his life there. He worked his way into Dunlop and had an cracker of a professional life there.
Both dragged their life downhill in similar ways as well. When they thought they were finished with their responsibilities, both decided to return to their hometown, the same place they had to leave and go in search of a good life elsewhere. They returned without any specific objectives, hoping to live a calm and retired life. Both didn’t realize that after living high profile lives in cities for so long, life in a town would eat away their minds. My grandpa spent his last years with a slipping mind, the only reason for him to hold on was me. ND veered down into a road of self destruction. He tried his hand at business and failed badly. Then a monotonous life of doing nothing took over his mind terribly. He was a normal drinker and he took to alcohol to drown out his mind without peace. He was neither an alcoholic nor depressed. He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. His path crossed with my grandpa once again during this time. Out of nowhere, his friends called him to Singapore to work. Without any responsibilities left, it was his passport to freedom, to start life again and end it in a blaze of glory. I begged him to take it up but sadly he didn’t. Dunlop had given my grandpa a two year contract to work in the UK when he took retirement and he had also refused.
From then on, it was only a matter of when it would all end. When I met ND recently after his liver had given upon him, he told me that all his responsibilities were over and there was no need for him to be alive anymore. That will always be one of the saddest moments of my life. All I could ask him was that he has left everyone a legacy of how one man can shape the lives of so many people around him. Does he want to leave behind a legacy of such a death as well? I saw his eyes welling up with tears and he asked me to leave. I knew he had realised it was all too late.
What I would really miss about him is the way he would question me with stern eyes and then melt down and give me a sly smile with a sparkle in his eyes. The prospect of facing his wrath was one of the reasons why I could never take the risk of slipping in my life. People may say that he drunk himself to his death and that he is not a good example to follow, but those people are either short sighted or never knew him for who he was. He just made one mistake in his life. He didn’t take a moment out of his life to look what is around him and ask himself “What is it that I really want to do?”. Did he want to explore the world? Take photographs? Paint? Create music? Make food? We will never know. He was unwavering in his focus towards his family but he was totally blind about himself. He just went with the flow and thought he was enjoying life, but he wasn’t. No one can truly appreciate life unless we know what our true capabilities and interests are and how we will truly fit in this world. He may only be remembered as the one who was born to rescue his family and that will give no justice to the man he was and the immense skills and attitude he had to face life. He leaves a huge lesson for everyone to learn and a huge hole in my heart. For a man who achieved so much in so less time, this was not the way to go. He deserved a much better farewell. If his soul has awakened, I am sure he is not going to be at peace for such an inglorious end.
ND, respect and honour. Your life will continue to inspire me and keep me focused on my family and friends. I will see you in the plains of afterlife. Till then, au revoir.