The Googley Ways

I don’t remember who exactly advised me to read ‘How Google Works’ written by Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg, but I did nevertheless finished reading it last night. The book written by actual Googlers or coming from Horse’s Mouth is a book with difference as it actually delineates the way Google works or better, the way Google thinks. The last para of the chapter-conclusion poignantly says that some where somebody might be creating something which may eventually render Google irrelevant. The authors who are the soul of Google in more ways than one find even this idea inspiring and not preposterous or chilling. To me they are entrepreneurs out there to make money but are also honest in their intentions and in the ways they run their companies and perhaps that explains why in just two decades Google is a 55 Billion Dollar Company spread over some 40 nations and employing some 50000 googlers.

If you look at the history of Finnish mobile giant Nokia now and what it was till five or 6 years ago, you may perhaps understand the seriousness of the possibilities. Nokia has been literally swept out of the market just by Android platform. It was software which threw Nokia out and not the hardware and that was not even aimed at undoing Nokia. They were doing their work(mobile operations) just differently and in the way which was more convenient to mobile users. So, Google may be outsmarted if it is ever done, by ideas of software and not by the hardware. However the way Google is ready to adopt and change and improvise and the way it is open to its own criticism, the possibility of Google being swept aside are minuscule as per my understanding.

I think we need companies like Google as that may also be the way ahead if human beings want to survive and reach out to the solutions of most if not all the problems of this world. I think humans can find out the solutions of most of the problems, because the solutions and problems are always interlinked. The challenge is to link the two. I would call that, the problem of Locks and Keys. The problems humanity faces like hunger, diseases and environmental issues  are locks and the solution we need are the keys. The placement of locks and keys together is the task for the global community and of Googles or Apples or IBMs of this world and of scores of many visionaries and entrepreneurs like Elon Musk and many more who need to put their heads and hearts together by collaborating and by sharing the information. It seems Google may be best suited to assume the role of the aggregator of the best pool of the talent we have on this planet earth. The ingenuity of humans to create problems is infinite. Just look what we have done to our own environment. The speed at which we have contributed to elimination of scores of species from the planet earth is unnerving and the way the icebergs are collapsing due to global warming and all, are unsettling. However the human capacity to find solutions of the same is also infinite. So the Locks(problems) created by humanity may be unlocked by the keys(solutions) only if we all put our heads together. It is like settling pieces of Jigsaw puzzle. All the pieces are there, we need to just slog out hard enough to piece them together. I think we will.

What I was reading……….

My quest for life and knowledge continues and I continue to be surprised and humbled by the life and ideas of some outstanding individuals and scholars.

This week, I listened to the interviews of Samuel Huntington, the author of Clash of Civilizations. He says that the euphoria which had built after the end of Cold War and demolition of Berlin Wall was petering off now and the states were aligning inter-alia on cultural lines. He says instead of western model or North America led alliance dominating the world we are witnessing alignment of countries along cultural lines. He says we are witnessing the growth of North America-European alliance, Islamic Cultural alliance (though fragmented and fighting too), Indian cultural alliance, Chinese cultural alliance, Japanese alliance and Latin America and African alliance. He says that these alliances will consolidate further as they resolve their issues and progress or modernise without following the western model per se. He believes that many countries want to modernise but essentially not westernise. For example, Japan is a modern country but not western. Likewise India may modernise even more without following the western cultural ways. He says Westernism and Modernism are different. Though he also believes that western model of modernism which included, rule of law, separation of state and religion, respect for Individual rights and human rights has proved to be a good way of growth since 15th century and that this model in past has catapulted these nations on the path of progress ahead of its compatriots. He also highlights that if China continued to grow at the same pace for next one decade more it will posture herself as a hegemonic power in East Asia more often and that China believes that it has every right to do that as it was exactly that hegemonic for hundreds of years up  until middle of 19th century. The churning which the whole world is going through will test the hypothesis more in years to come. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

2. I am also reading Pandeymonium written by ad-man, Piyush Pandey. He has titled the book after the whatsap group of his family, a trend which I think every family is following. Piyush born and brought up in Rajasthan, had a family of 7 sisters and two brothers (Adman Prasoon Pandey being other brother)  and that includes her sister Ila Pandey known popularly as Ila Arun, the famous film and TV personality and folk singer. Piyush started as a serious cricketer and played for Ranji along with Arun Lal and Kapil Dev and admits in the book that after initial successes got carried away with the minor milestones of representing his state in Ranji, while players like Vengsarkar and  Kapil Dev did not rest and paused till they got national and international fame. A very valuable lesson of life indeed. He though used his love of cricket in designing some of the most popular ads of Cadburys chocolate in which a lady praying for a six from his love playing a shot in the middle of the stadium and then rushing merrily towards crease to congratulate the batsman. He has been associated with many more ad campaigns pertaining to cricket and also with campaigns for bidding for hosting the cricket  World Cup in Indian Sub Continent. He has been a permanent fixture in most of the campaigns of IPL teams too. He learned the hard lessons from not working hard enough for cricket but used the experience in his alternative career.

pandeymonium-cover

3. Piyush owes many of his most popular ideas to his middle class upbringing and family values. His work on Fevicol is inspired by the enthusiasm he had when their family got their first dining table after days of woodwork done by a carpenter and watched closely by him. He says that Fevicol is a very important ingredient of the furniture but he says that it is always invisible as it is concealed to the inside of the furniture. He calls his mother Bhagwati Pandey to be ‘Fevicol’ of the family till she was alive. His association with Pidilite group through the famous ads of a dhoti clad South Indian villager man applying fevi-quick on his local stick to catch fishes easily while a professional anglers with all mannerism waits furtively, is one of the most memorable of his ads. So are the ads of unbreakable eggs of hens eating poultry food out of a reusable Fevicol box. He is also credited with one of the most memorable ad on Indian Television, Mile Sur Mera Tumhara in 1990s. This ad had captured the imagination of the country in a huge way in those years and it touches the raw nerves of us all. Piyush is very proud of this ad and he did it with a very paltry budget.

There is so much to read…..

Systemic Feast of Vultures In India

feast

I was attracted by the title of the book. I read about it in a pre release article and after going through the  short interview of the author, opted for pre-release order of the book written by The Hindu correspondent Josy Joseph. It took me some time to start reading the book but when I started it, could not hold myself from reading back to back. By the time I finished it, I felt exhausted at the systemic failures and loot, married as per convenience.

Author while exposing the corruption galore  in India credits his various sources who are ordinary and also sometimes beneficiaries of the system but still had some nobleness in them. He writes about them, ” Everyone here lives with a little bit of guilt and a lot of contradictions. Most regret paying bribes, many are angry at themselves for accepting bribes, everyone is irritated with the way people use influence to scuttle the rightful claims of others and almost all of us find a way to influence someone to jump the queue.” The lines are poignant and apply to us all perhaps.

The author starts the book with a prologue on the  wrenching story of village development of Hridyachak in Bihar. It is scary start of the journey ahead for any sensitive human being and particularly who has seen it from close quarters like me. It may remind you of mountain-man Dasarath Manjhi. He then shifts to chapter wise narration, starting with the power of ubiquitous Middlemen in India and their movement in the corridors of powers. He writes a chapter on the most powerful typists of India exemplified through the lives of R K Dhawan and Vincent George. The latter was winner of the fastest typist in a contest in his native city in Kerala, ending as the personal staff of a P M and the subsequent powerful first family scions ruling the roost. R K Dhawan who started as an assistant to Smt Indira Gandhi in 1962 (She was chosen as the chairperson of ‘New York World Fair Committee’ in 1962) and later prospered into the most confidential and most powerful politicians for decades.  Had you ever seen a typist with this angle?

He then traverses the arena of arms market and the middlemen involved in it. They are scores of authentic examples. While most of us know about Bofors, there are many interesting but shocking stories about the rich and powerful and how have they operated in the cover of their official positions through their English speaking foreign educated corrupt sons and daughters.

His most detailed exposure is about the corporate battles that have been fought silently in the Indian aviation sector. By the end of the book, you may start hating the chief of so-called biggest airline and his humble ways. He finds him to be a silent killer indeed literally. Interestingly much of this is documented in the dossiers of our own intelligence agencies, but still nothing is happening against him and many more for the reasons known and unknown. The way every arm of government  and state has been used and misused to monopolise  the sector is mind-boggling. You will understand perhaps for the first time, what a white-collar criminal is. I don’t know if some good storyteller/director may think of shooting a movie on the subject soon! Although he may not be courageous and lucky enough to survive the ordeal.

He writes about the plunder and loot of natural resources taking place in mineral rich Central India, all in the name of development. Development for whom? The local inhabitants in these most mineral rich areas have got two things only. One, the jobs of security guards and other lowest paid sundry jobs to fight against their own and the second, unparalleled amount of environmental destruction leaving them covered in tattered clothes and black soot.

He mentions about Ambani’s Antilla and the abject poverty around and also reveals that there was  an orphanage earlier there. It’s hard to miss the realities and believe me, it will bite you.

Author’s words keep on hitting you as you traverse through the book and feel anguished and sometimes even depressed at the way the whole system has been taken for a ride explained through authentic real examples by the investigative journalism of the man credited inter-alia with exposing Navy War Room Conspiracy, CWG scam and many more. He opines that the dismantling of License-Permit Raj is only a misnomer  and unless something most extraordinary happens we may be doomed sooner than we think and we may have to be satisfied by just sending summons to the plunderers sitting pretty in London.

Disclaimer: Don’t read the book if you are too sensitive and you can not digest the hardcore realities of Indian Democracy.

The Week 33 at Saifai

Saifai Medical University

Saifai Medical University

Knowing fully well that I would be a forced bachelor for next few months at least, I landed at Saifai, Etawah in the 1st week of Aug’16 as the Registrar of just notified U P University of Medical Sciences. Since my kids were studying at Lucknow, I was hesitant to start with but did not have many choices either. I had to prepare myself to live alone. In Lucknow, with college days and in job friends and family around I was obviously more than busy. Now I had to shift 260 Km north-west of Lucknow. I had the idea that in an educational institute, one can have a good volume of free time beyond regular office hours of 9 to 5 pm. It was aware that in a smallish town like Saifai(A Gram Panchayat still) where you would not find time-consuming trappings (including that of travelling to office and back eating up two hours every day) of any big city, I would have to devise new ways to utilise my time and my energy in a more productive way.

So after settling in this week, I focussed on reading as much as I could and watching as little idiot box as possible. I had my cook Daulat Ram and one more to take good care of me. While packing my bag for Saifai, I had stuffed plenty of books to go through and a 4G connection for navigating smoothly through the online world of some great stuff over You Tube. So I downloaded the videos of well-known writers and their talks recorded at various platforms and universities globally and started listening  to them one by one in absolutely peaceful surroundings of a rural India. I had a good time over last 6 days and am eager to share my learnings over my 2nd week in Saifai and week 33 of Gregorian Calender;

  1. I started with the talks of 2002 Nobel Prize winner, Daniel Kahneman. His book ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’ is a marvellous book. He narrates the most obvious and easy examples of many mental traps and fallacies like ‘Regression to Means’, and ‘Less is More’ and ‘conjunction’ and ‘Narrative Fallacies’ who comprise our capacity to think logically. His ideas of fast-moving and life saving ‘System 1’ and most logical  and analytical ‘System 2’ are bang on target. This book coming out of almost half a century of writer’s psychological research is the only book in my life which started reading again on the day I finished it for the first time. This is addictive. Beware. You will be sucked in to it if you could survive first few pages.
  2. Next, I went through the lectures of a young balding Yuval Noah Harari. He has authored a top notch best seller ‘Sapiens’. It narrates the story of growth of humans over 70000 years and the way we have progressed by developing believable stories like Money or Economy or Family or Human Rights. He says thousands of years ago we were no better than say a Chimpanzee but soon Homo-Sapiens learned to work together by agreeing on few stories and promising returns in the future in lieu of their sacrifices on the day. He says 100 or even a 100000 men can work together but 100 chimpanzees who may be physically more powerful can not develop a common narrative to rely on and therefore sapiens won the race to prosper and therefore we are now 7 Billion and more while thousands and thousands of animal species are getting gobbled up by the sapiens induced growth. His most interesting talks available on you tube are one of the most original way of seeing ourselves. His idea of ‘Data-Religion’ is most interesting and seems to be believable. A must watch and must Read.
  3. I also went through lectures of  Sadhguru who in his inimitable style presents most coherent explanations of various events of life. If you listen to him regularly, you don’t need to go to any scripture to deconstruct the myths of life. He is too good. Gets you peaceful.
  4. I started reading the just released  book, ‘A feast of Vultures’ by ‘The Hindu’ journalist, Josy Joseph. He writes about endemic corruption and minces no words in exposing the nouveau rich and even corrupt journalists. The book is an authentic expose of every day scams of India and corrupt-to-the-core-systems well protected bt the illegitimate beneficiaries. More on this next week.
  5. I went through the talks of Guru Charan Das, ex CEO of P&G turned author of ‘The Difficulty of Being Good’. I had written my first impressions of the book in my initial blog writings last year. He narrates the right perspective of ‘Dharma’, which he gained by studying  Sanskrit at University of Chicago. A good take on mythology and history of India.
  6. I stumbled upon ‘The Theory of Minimalism’ and ‘100 things challenge’ to appreciate the fact that what we have is perhaps 100 times more than what we actually need to live which in turn leads to subjugation of even those 1 percent needs in favour of those amassed but useless 99 percent things. Authors Joshua Becker in his book ‘The More of Less’ has narrated the examples well. After going through his talks, I feel motivated enough to de-clutter my life as well. I will follow it up.
  7.  I heard Ram Chandra Guha on ‘Makers of Modern India’ and various fault lines plaguing India. He talks on the basis of solid historical evidences and demolishes hearsay on many issues like Nehru-Patel Rivalry. He explains the great tradition of leaders of that time where the most opposite of political rivals like Ambedkar or Shyama Prasad Mukherjee coming together for a better and stable India. He extols then leadership’s vision in readiness to adopt concept of Linguistic States in 1956 vis-a-vis Ceylon’s Single Language(Sinhalese) policy in the same year leading to decades long eventual civil war in island nation and rise of LTTE. He also reveals many fault lines of modern India including those of; attacks from left and right of ideologies; the damages to environmental legacy and marginalisation of weaker sections and schedules tribes and vices like fractured polity.
  8. I chanced upon a repeat watch of ‘Tanu Weds Manu Returns’ as a free showcase movie. The movie running on perhaps the best up to now performance of Kangana Ranaut is a real treat to watch. The movie set up in Kanpur, has believable characters and touches the life of all married couples who  have vouched for ‘7 Janmon ka Saath’! Tanu Trivedi and Datto Sangwan are hilarious in their own rights. I loved the movie. It deserves a one more watch perhaps.
  9. As an icing on the cake, I clocked a neat 36 Km by brisk walking everyday 6 am to 7 am at sports stadium, Saifai. I think by using good quality sports facilities in this village I made it an eventful week. My Map-My-Walk app has never been busier.

So, this is what I did this week. The week 33. Do I need to do more in a week?

Raise Yourself to Raise Your Child

I used this Sunday for reading a book by Dr Anupam Sibal. Dr Sibal during course of his medical career at Apollo Hospitals, has been closely interacting with kids and their parents and has written the book. The title of book is, ‘Is Your Child Ready to Face the World?’. I started reading the book to satiate my craving for finding ideas to motivate(handle?) my son Tathagat. I had anticipated that that Doctor Sibal would have prescribed some ready-to-eat/digest prescriptions for any parent to handle the kids and adolescent. Very soon I was in for a surprise.

My notion of finding prescriptions for my son was demolished sooner than later and was instead replaced by the prescriptions and knowldege for me! I leaned through the book that a child is like fresh and soft clay and is ready and empowered(by Almighty) intrinsically to face any challenge in the world. It is we, who disrupt their natural propensity to grow and learn. We disappoint them usually with our biases and load them with all the world wise knowledge aimed only to survive and claim more and more of the global resources. We hardly teach them that intrinsically, we all are noble souls and we should strive to find success, but not without clearest priority to happiness. The happiness which comes with being a human who has humility, compassion, emotion, truthfulness, forgiveness, courage, determination, gratitude and  capacity of dreaming and not by amassing wealth or topping grades.

I examined my own handling of Tathagat and soon realised that those qualities were not the focus or foundation of my teaching or preaching. They hardly got meaningful references in my talks with him. Dr Sibal quotes Paulo Coelho to remind the futility of preaching, “World is changed by your example and not by your opinion.” Are we not master of giving opinions?

Gandhi’s most famous principle of life was, “Be the Change”. His famous story of not telling a child to leave eating excess jaggery, till he himself had done that, is a perfect example of living by his beliefs. So as a parent, I have to practice, what I want my children to be or to do. Be it honesty or be it humility, courage or dreaming big, or anything else, I have to show my children that I am telling him or her only what I actually preach and practice. If I am discourteous and rude to my subordinate staff, my son will surely judge his younger or inferior peer with contempt and eventually that will culminate in, him handling even old and unproductive parents badly. So after going through this book I realised that I have to get ready first to face my child, instead of him getting ready to face me or the world.

Is-Your-Child-Ready-to-SDL135692163-1-3c4e0I am now clear that if I am ready, appropriately, to face my child, my child will be ready for sure, to face this world. The title of the book could easily have been, “Whether father of a child Is ready to face his child and the world?” I need to raise myself before I can raise my children.

The Difficulty of Being Good

The Difficulty of Being Good: On the subtle art of Dharma, is the title of the book written by Gurcharan Das, a voluntarily retired CEO turned into a successful author. The book originally published in 2009 by Penguin India was republished as one of the best-loved 25 titles in 2012. The author by his own confession hit by the third stage melancholy at the age of 50 sets out to find the real purpose of the life by finding out the right path or  approach for himself to move forward. In fact this melancholy has been hitting all of us at various stages of life. What I am doing ? Where i am heading to ? Was it all i intend to do ? What next ? What is the right way ? What does so called great tradition of Indian classics suggest as the right Dharma ? What is right / What is wrong ? In our quest for the right knowledge or samyak gyan or what has been told to us by our parents, teachers, friends, literature, classics and all pervasive media in information age gets us into tailspin many a times. The teachings even contradict. The Dharma Yudha of Mahabharat was won inter alia by insidious manipulations of Pandavas to kill great warriors Bhishma, Drona, Jaidrath and Duryodhan etc almost as treacherously as the killing of Abhimanyu by the wrong sided Kauravas. So what is the the incorrigible Dharma in true sense ?

To find out the answers the author  at the ripe age of 50 with a receding hairline goes on to join the University of Chicago to dig out answers from the Regenstein library with the help of well known faculty of Sanskrit scholars Sheldon Pollock, Wendy Doniger and Steve Collins. Though the author initially thought of going through the classics on all 4 aspects of Dharma, Artha, Kaam and Moksha, he could not go beyond the great Indian one lakh shlokas laced epic Mahabharata. The author getting engrossed in the outstanding characters like Yudhisthira, Arjun, Duryodhana, Draupadi and Bhishma etc has written a beautiful treatise on Dharma by analyzing threadbare the omnipresent and omnipotent human tendencies like envy, courage, duty, despair, status anxiety, guile, revenge and remorse. In writing about them he has used the vast knowledge resources of centuries, from ancient Greek tradition to the latest writings. He has quoted many real life tragedies likes of  Raju of Satyam  Computers and of Ambani brothers’ feud to find out the answers for himself and for his readers. Its a great journey therefore through ages. His comparison of Achilles brutal revenge on Hector by dragging him after death as described in Iliad with the fury of Arjun to kill anybody who comes in between him and Jaidratha after the the deceitful murder of Abhimanyu or the comparison of Ambani brothers’ feud over division of one lakh crore empire on lines of negotiation of pre- mahabharata parleys mediated by Krishna is a great appetizer for any reader to go along and to read the book from start to finish in one go. The author focusing on chapter wise analysis of human tendencies borrows quotes and examples from authors of all walks of life. From Aristotle to Jeremy Bentham to Shakespeare to J S Mill to Sigmund Freud he takes help from the analysis of all great authors  and commentators of the world who had insights to say on the  strands of human nature.

The author taking a rationalist approach demystifies many characters and asks us to see them in a rational way. He sees Dhritrashtra’s agony rationally and highlights the fact of his hard luck of not being able to rule Hastinapur for being blind vis a vis pale Pandu and his son Duryodhan being  born just minutes later than Yudhisthara’s birth through leviration of  Kunti and Dharma. He also brings out the outspoken nature of Draupadi as she faced with ignominy of being disrobed in the durbar not hesitating to ask Yudhisthira and the assembly of Kurus that whether Yudhisthara had lost himself first  or her , in the game of dice. He also presents the dilemmas of Yudhisthira in his efforts to postpone wars after losing at the hands of deceitful Shakuni and still accepting a 13 years vanvas. But once he is chastened by the tough life of Vanvas he goes on to formally declare war on Kauravas and even telling the only lie in his life about Ahwathama in order to facilitate killing of his Guru Drona a sin qua non to win the war. Likewise he analyses the Bhishma’s behaviour in relinquishing his claim to the throne of Hastinapur to his  awkward duty bound presence in the assembly where Draupadi was being disrobed on utterly dubious grounds. He analyses the status anxiety of the eldest of Pandavas but known to the world only as the son of a charioteer. Karna’s unflinching commitment to his friend of bad time and moments,  Duryodhana and his subsequent self annihilation by being with Duryodhana despite offers of Krishna before start of war to be recognized as the eldest of Pandavas and to a right to throne etc is an aspect of human nature worth assessing if not appreciating per se . Krishna’s handling of war and him bearing the brunt of war by being cursed by Gandhari and the ordained annihilation of Yadav clan is also painstakingly handled. The remorse of Yudhisthira as distinguished from regret after the end of war is also to be understood and absorbed. His disenchantment from everything after the hell of a war was handled by a dying Bhishma who reminded him of the dharma of a King. The author does it all through a fine continual thread of interwoven analyses. The author is also aware of the manifestations of use of word Dharma in the secular context and tries his best to disentangle his Dharma from religion. He starts with the knowledge that his quest for right Dharma may  also lead to his negative bracketing by the over jealous secularists, but he continues with his fine logic and quotes liberally from all reliable sources to weave his story. He takes on ambiguities and dilemmas and dissects them in the bright light of logic and reasoning of 21st century and takes help from many real life experiences.

My understanding of the Mahabharata and the Dharma has improved with the reading of the book but it has also sown the seeds of many dilemmas. In the hindsight how could have Yudhisthira reacted to war if he had known before the start of war that revenge would be begetting more revenge only and his victorious kins and army too would be annihilated after the end of war night attack of Ashwatthama. The logic of war too gets questioned in the overall sense of term. The difficulty of being ‘good’ actually is a perennial quest and we need to continually engage ourselves to find the answers. This 300 odd pages book with really useful notes helps. Many of the answers would be coming from outstanding  world wise resources  and repositories of knowledge but perhaps we have to be equally cognizant of the answers coming from our own inside.

The difficulty of Being Good; On the Subtle Art of Dharma by Gurcharan Das (New Delhi:Penguin Books), 2009; pp 311 and notes, Rs 250(paperback)