Monday, January 28, 2008


Yesterday a social conversation shifted toward the topic of outsourcing and how some radio/TV anchors portray outsourcing as a problem that is making their life hell. In this particular case, a TV anchor had bought a computer that for some reason stopped working and to his apparent surprise his call to the customer service was directed outside the US. Now, according to him the agent on the other side of the line was trying hard to understand the problem but because of his "funny" accent it was getting tough for our beloved host to communicate. The "funny" accent in the previous sentence belonged to the agent and not the radio host. That confuses me, if I'm the one trying to explain something, shouldn’t my accent determine if I'm getting my point across? I'm imagining a exasperated tech agent pulling his hair saying: "I don’t know what language this customer is using, but it definitely is not what I was trained in. Maybe I should ask him to use someone else to get his problem explained to me. Maybe someone who communicates in English a lot, maybe a radio talk show host. Now wait, did he say he was one? How do people listen to him?"

Then the host went on to make a point that he wants American agents handling his problems. That would really take the language problem out of the scene, wouldn’t it. Except the fact that the whole computer is being made up of parts that originate from all the corners of the world but America, someone in these countries will have to sit with a potential American tech support agent and tell him how the whole thing works so that he, in turn, can help the others in trouble. Again, the language barrier. I have a solution, educate yourselves a bit: you can be better show host when you address a bigger audience and know the nuances of different accents and while you are at it get some computer education as well and find out what happens when you press more than one button simultaneously on the keyboard. You will be surprised that is anatomically possible and solves a lot of your computer problems. You might even get some exercise in the process, and boy: do you need that!!

Indian Heroes --- written in Nov 2006

Today's useless worry: We Indians don’t respect our heroes. I saw this headline on one of the online newspapers and it just touched me. It is true and in my view one of the biggest reasons that we will never be able to really command respect. We hold our leaders (in any field) in a very high esteem but only till they hide their "humanness" from us. It is almost like they have to be gods to be respected (or they should be respected by the rest of the world before we can give them a shot at it). As soon as a great leader shows his human face we do not waste a moment in bringing him down to earth (and below). Latest case in point, Ganguly's exclusion from the playing 11 (well... 12 or 11.5…whatever). I keep saying that rather that excluding him so unceremoniously the Indian cricket board could have given him a chance to "voluntarily" step down or retire. But looking back at the situation I feel that even doing that was being unfair to the most successful captain in the history of Indian cricket. Not to forget, he has been one of the most successful batsmen we have ever had and an above average bowler too who got us out from a many a tight situations. Considering the quality of talent that is getting a chance to play in Indian cricket today, Ganguly certainly deserves a place. What happened here was exactly the thing that I am talking about. For the duration that Saurav was a God in cricket in a way that he could stand up to the most aggressive teams in the world and put India on the list of serious contenders for world cup, we were singing songs about his greatness. But as soon as he lost a couple of series and began showing his frustration publicly, he was no god anymore. And as far as India is concerned, he never was great. We shoved him aside like he is a nobody. There is no doubt in my mind that great people have personalities that make them great. Greatness is a sustained state of behavior and external stimulus may be able to ruffle it but great people always do great things and are out of league of an average person. So Ganguly will continue to be a great personality since he was that way before we spotted him and we did not give him his personality when we picked him for the Indian team. Similarly we cannot take it back from him. But what is lost in the whole process is the self-confidence of an average Indian. We lost one more ido whom we could look upon for confidence when facing the tough competition of today's world. We could say that if MK Gandhi, Ramanujam, S Ganguly and Aryabhatta could emerge from India and show the world that we deserve a unique place in the world, so can we. All the other names that I mentioned above (MK Gandhi, Ramanujam and Aryabhatta) sustain their reputation as "great people from India" since the west agreed that they were so. There has never been an internal effort from within India to recognize greatness. We want to pick and choose extraordinary people and then wait for them to prove their worth, not before us but before the western world. And in the process they seem to show even a hint of normal human behavior we treat them like dirt. I do not know who in his right mind can captain Indian team in near future and give it all he has got without worrying about that fact that greatness in India is temporary until certified by the rest of the world.

As long as we depend on others to tell us what we can or cannot do well and who should do it, I do not see India as a nation having its own way with the world. I know that things are going great right now for India but we should not forget that we are doing well because we have been chosen to do well by others. And as long as our well being serves the world interest we will be doing fine, but what after that? We need inspirational leaders and we cannot get those if we keep digging their graves ourselves. Though cricket is something that touches me deeply this story will be true for any other field. Just change the name of the person. Some examples: Jagmohan, Vajpayee.... <>

Middle Class growth in India

Widening gaps in society with increasingly rich middle class is seen as a negative development in "emerging" countries like India. One needs to recognize that the income gap that has reportedly risen from 1:5 to 1:500 in the past decade is more due to the fact that the middle class is proportionally earning more as compared to the loss on income at the poor level. The gap has widened due to the improving life style of a particular section of society. While it is a noble thought and a goal to keep this ratio at 1:5 levels with same increases in the income at the higher end, one needs to understand that such a change maintains the status quo in absolute terms. For a non-socialist nation to be richer overall, some classes have to take a lead. It’s the middle class in this case. Looking back, many of these rising middle class people have their roots in poor families which decided to educate their children rather than have full stomach of food everyday. They deserve to be where they are right now and role-model the coming generations from poor families. That is not to say that the poor should remain poor but to make the point that for the poor to be better of, someone else above their income level needs to earn much more so that they can spend it and buy whatever goods/services the poor are selling. Measuring growth in percentages at different class levels has its faults too. The quality of living for a person who earns 1000 rupees a month increases if his income doubles to 2000. But is this change in quality of living the same if the income were to double from rupees 20,000 to 40,000. The point here is that as a nation improves economically, the people with higher financial bases will appear to be doing increasingly better than the people in poor classes but that doesn’t necessarily paint the right picture. Ultimately, it’s the most poorest class of people that form the first link in the chain of goods and services that make up a heightened middle-class lifestyle. As people get more to spend, it will ultimately trickle down as income for all the working class. Granted, it is a slow and an irksome process in countries that are relatively young and still coming out of bureaucratic tangles, but it is happening nevertheless. The areas of country where the middle class earns more has seen a general increase in prices for everything from food to real-estate. And the layers of economy who are benefiting from this are getting deeper and deeper with time. One would really like to ask the critics who use sentences like "people used to be more compassionate toward poor in old days" and "rising middle class stampedes the poor" what their solution to the issue is. Is it better to be poor and appear compassionate to make a decent living for yourself and help the poor and the overall economy grow in process. To all those who sit with their pens and look and write for the plight of poor, I have one advice: It’s a great time for intellectual people like you to get out there and make some money. And once you do that try investing the new found wealth in such a way that you don’t have anything to write about.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Om Shanti Om

So how does it feel like to see a movie with 31 stars? In as many seconds may I add. The theatre was all excited to see their hard earned money generate interest like never before. They paid $10 to see the great Khan and they "saw" him alright. They also got to see a host of other stars, if they didn’t wink during that flashy song sequence that is. So adding another $2 for each star and a few cents for Rekha, Jitu Ji and Dharam Paji (that’s the ticket price they are comfortable with), the audience actually made money by watching this movie. I wonder, if following the roaring success of OSO we will get to see a host of other movies made around old concepts with no effort put in to make them better or even somewhat structured. We know what happens to such "serious" efforts (Don, Sholay, Umrao Jaan come to mind). So I guess the winning formula is to get a s*$t load of *stars* and make them sit together to watch an old blockbuster and after a couple of drinks let the cameras roll. If a star takes off his clothes in the process, you got a hit and if it’s a female star, well you could try all over again. People have all ready seen that "story" in numerous Miss XYZ campaigns.

But the best part of the movie is the storyline. How numerous seemingly random acts of directorial genius come together to form an equally seemingly random story line is beyond the realms of understanding of the mortal audience. They see their beloved hero getting thrown out of a burning building right onto a road where an established movie personality happens to drive his wife for a last look at the movie city before she succumbed to the labor pains and kicked his ass for not driving to the hospital. There is the hero's mom who after about 90 years of age (she was 60 when her son decides that the best way to get to his dreams of starhood is to die and find a new mother) over-acts with same youthfulness as her son has been doing for all the movies he ever made. Then there is the beautiful but dumb actress who doesn’t know that she looks like a superstar of yester-years. Wonder if it was her studious and seedha-saadha nature that kept her away from movies. When she finally realized that all her classmates were busy making the chart popping item numbers she decided to give acting a try. The seventies song sequences did bring laughs in the hall. If this trend continues, a few decades down the line films will make pun of the movies in our generation by just parading the characters in skimpiest of wardrobes jumping around making monkey noises. Coming back to that song with 31 stars, the promotion photo of which shows SRK on a podium with Salman, Govinda and Sanjay Dutt. Now, call me paranoid but the future doesn’t look great to me when star of the day decides to advertise himself with a person known for his aversion to both animal and human life, a person convicted of arms hoarding and a failed politician. That photo must be framed and mom's someday can use that to make a point about bad company and future prospects to their kids.

Hats off to Farah Khan for pulling this one off. A great director know when he/she needs all the help the industry can provide to push a movie across the profit zone and boy, does she get all the help!! It felt like she had to throw a fancy dress party and film the stars as they arrived to greet her. And I have to confess that I didn’t know that Karan Johar was into costume design. But given the complexity of dress design for OSO I'm sure he (or she, depending on how intimately you know him... or her) didn’t have much of a task on his hands. With our heroes following the lead from our ladies, there isn't much fabric requirement in our movies these days. Considering the amount of "hari patti" that goes into the movie business these days, I'm sure the costume designers will take the cue soon and we will see some "hara patta" being used to cover the strategically important anatomical areas. The include the forehead and the thin area around the waist above navel. For heroes, the waist clothing is waste clothing.

While first half had its funny moments, the second half seems to be a bit drag. One of the reasons is that SRK actually acts like himself in this part of the movie. You feel like getting up and leaving the hall but there is a glimmer of hope that since the hero exposes quite a bit in this half maybe it’s the heroin turn next. And, to make the things worse, the hero does not die in the end of this movie so we might have to suffer more in OSO-2. Come to think of it, who am I kidding? Even if he died he'd be born again and will come back to haunt us in flesh. And don’t forget, he will get his 200 year old mom with him.