Friday, November 01, 2013

The Stupid Voter - Another Indian fairy tale

An MP wrote to a head of a public sector unit demanding jobs for locals in the factory located there. Unskilled, manual labor jobs. This was cited by the newsanchor of an example of practices of intimidation and corruption. The same day a friend of mine narrated to me how he had Rs 3 crores of goods meant for his IT establishment in Kerala held up - reason, local labor had to be employed from the Union to move it from the lorry to his office. High rates plus its a 3 day festival weekend etc. The Indian govt lays down minimum local content rules on non-Indian entities and state government often stipulate jobs for local citizens. The latter two are legal, the former is a corrupt MP and thuggery.

So what’s with the stupid Indian voter (SIV), who elects corrupt and thug representatives? That’s the theme across a lot of the media, political spectrum and the middle class. He still votes for communal forces, caste based voting etc.

Some characteristics of the SIV, a fairly large number of us qualify:

1. Employed in the informal sector, viz., most laws don’t get enforced here on anything. There is often no written contract either. 90% of India’s working persons belong to this sector. “Informal” is also a euphemism for “We can’t do much about this section”.
2.  The govt overall doesn’t give the job, he looks for work everyday. A secure job for is a govt job, become part of a union and get many other benefits. You can’t lose the job for the rest of  your life. That job could come with recommendations.
3.  Monthly expenses are on food, transport (to get to work), educate children, plus doctor expenses. If these can be kept low, then life can be better on the earnings.
4.  A lot of the work is through referrals. The person, who is not very educated or skilled, lives in an area for his whole life. His residence is in a community, that’s (amazing!) his community. Big surprise, MBAs and doctors must be choosing to live in communities comprising traders or music groups and artists. Only these sections live amongst their own.
5.  The person has an unrecorded life, barring hearsay from the community he lives in. So bank accounts, if there is one, don’t track his regular earnings; employers don’t give referral letters or email addresses for future employers to consult and the education may be from an unknown school or college. As a graduate from Sant SomethingDas College or St. Anyoneatall College, people don’t have such glitches. They work anywhere, everything is on record and can be tracked quickly.

On the political front, the Member of Parliament or MLA does not decide how the budget is spent. In a centralized governing system, its decided collectively at Parliament and the funds are never enough for all (Parkinson’s Law modified at work - govt expenditure always rises to exceed Income). Implemented through the local district administration as per rules normally the size of an encyclopedia. Besides the Local Area Development Fund, MPs have little direct say on how money is spent. MLA’s have to rely upon the favor of the CM to get their share out of state allocations and most states are fairly broke - so its not surprising CMs are so powerful.  What an MP can do is:

i) Recommend or provide referrals to job applicants. Including prevent or cause transfer through influence. If they exercise diligence, they’ll provide such recommendations to persons they know better - likely from their own community - professionally and or personally.

ii) Fight for local jobs for their constituents. There is no legal basis often for this, so the only other option is mobilize collective force - a body politic.  Do-Good organizations call this “community mobilization”, others call this communist, still others call this “participative democracy” and some call this “thuggery”. Depends on your political viewpoint and bias, not on what’s happening here.

iii) Support any measures that will bring down prices of necessities. They don’t really see the fancy Geniusowitz Curve or Growthopadhyay Effect on the macro-economy. Bus fare is lower, rice costs reasonable and the doctor isn’t ripping me off.  And that boy who is eyeing my young daughter wrongly, can be beaten up.

The nature of poorer communities (money and skill) is immobility. They can’t trade much except their own bodies - as manual labor. They live amongst their own. The referrals they need will come easier if through their own community. This is not dissimilar for an IIT alumni network - even if you  don’t know the person, he is about a two phone calls away. The MLA and MP is one who is two phone calls away for this voter.

End result for the voter, who is not relying of government for his daily earnings, is - votes for the guy who is reachable, can make recommendations and willing to fight for things locally. If he has brought some low cost benefits to daily living, he gets the vote. If he can settle disputes (the law is too complicated and time-consuming), great. Not surprising many local leaders are powerful businessmen or even dons.  The Taliban’s biggest contribution to daily life in Afghan has been settling local disputes - often over land or livestock - as per a news feature I saw.

Enter into this mix i)  The rich - who really aren’t affected by the small stuff - just the way the voter above doesn’t really care if WalMart is allowed to open a shop in India. and ii) The middle class - perpetually on the cusp of rich and the cusp of poor. All the cheap food and hospitals will be through more taxes - not directly on incomes, but on consumption.  They scream the loudest about all this.

The stupid Indian voter is not voting communal. His access to a better life happens to more likely with someone who is reachable - very likely his community. Unfortunately, the distinguishing characteristic is caste or religion and not an engineering or management school. Its generally true of poorer regions or regions with less mobile populations in any democracy - they pick the guy they can reach.

What a stupid reason.

Friday, September 27, 2013

The Don Fanucci Regime

Don Fanucci represents a milestone in the metamorphosis of Vito Corleone in The Godfather. He wants to “wet his beak” (a phrase he uses), as the young blood in his neighborhood - Vito, Tessio and Clemenza, - are doing business in his area without seeking his blessings. Income earning in his area is Don Fanucci's divine right and those who want a piece of it must pay. This roughly was the approach of colonial governments and kings till the mid-20th century, resulting in a permit and licence raj for almost anything. The movie "Lagaan" was about such a matter. Don Fanucci was deemed a criminal, colonial governments and kings have never been deemed criminals.

The Comptroller and Auditor-General's office, an institution of high integrity, reports on what it is asked to report on, as per the prevailing rules. That’s what auditors do. They don't make the rules.

Their report says that telecom services operators shared spectrum across circles to offer roaming without paying the licence fee, that cost an estimated Rs 200 crore loss of licence fees to government.. For 3 G services - 3rd generation mobile services that makes Internet on phone a service with respectable speeds. That’s the rule.

An objective of such policy is gain efficiencies, especially resource efficiencies. The operators in question have used the available resources (spectrum) to increase service availability to customers. If they make profits they will pay taxes on such profits. If they still make losses, they have to work harder to turn that around. Meanwhile, customers get wider availability of a service and possibly better prices - as all smarter operators realize that this is a win-win for their own customer base and reach

The concept of a “circle” is antediluvian. Its related more to the administrative convenience of telecom services by the arms of government. Hence, when you travel an hour from Bangalore city centre, you are in Tamil Nadu. A further hour or more takes you into Andhra Pradesh (Chittoor). These are trips made daily by a very large number of people. All three places are in different circles.

Many will go to town about corruption in government and the Rs 200 crore loss mentioned in the report and add, “God knows how much they are concealing”.

Contrast this with the recent announcement by govt effectively delicencing bank branch office expansion. Its only restricted by the overall quality of the bank - a factor that prevents citizens from being exploited. Not different from a person passing an MBBS to be allowed to practice as a doctor.

66 years on, its more than the 3rd generation of continuing such an approach in rule making in India. An approach that says, “you have no permission” and "wet my beak", rather than compliment itself on creating an environment that’s caused competition to benefit users. Rules need to be made to prevent exploitation of citizens by services and products - not deny them access or make it more expensive to provide the access.

It’s time to reject the Don Fanucci approach in public policy.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Bourne Again

The most famous global citizen living in Amnesia is Jason Bourne.  Hollywood has squeezed the towel dry for every molecule of profit to be made from a most intriguing character created by Robert Ludlum.

Somewhere in between was this piece of magical movie making called “Momento”. Never seen a plot being narrated backwards so well. It also has do with a memory immigrant.  Then Aamir Khan got involved in a Hindi version and killed everything clever about it.

Yesterday I saw a movie called “Mumbai Police”, a Malayalam movie. Great flick. Also based around a memory loss premise. What happens when you suffer a memory loss on the cusp of cracking a case? 

I had a brief personal experience after an accident. I couldn't remember a thing for about 2 hours including who my two close friends were, who were with me when it happened and took me to the hospital. Its another matter that many would gladly have memory loss about having ever met me.

But this isn’t about the movies. But some observations on the memory thing.

You forget everything that happened. But the stuff you’ve trained your mind and body to do works as good as before. Its like that magic writing pad you had as a kid, just pull the foil up and everything on it is erased and you have a blank sheet again.

Most of the stress, trauma and bad stuff that makes life tough is about remembering all that. When you beat up a kid, screamed at your wife, banged the car after a big party, humiliated by the lousy boss at work..etc. If miraculously, you couldn’t remember all that...every day, wow! Life would be the same joy of a kid discovering  the world!

Plus, no one blames you for whatever happened then…once they know it! Of course, this lays you bare for certain things like that email from Nigeria about the $10 million bounty that awaits. (Also your mortage, credit card and telco services providers won’t be happy you’ve forgotten their bills).

So, the net effect is no more daily stress but with all the talents and faculties intact (hopefully physically as well). Sounds like a win-win.

The obvious question is then, why do we want that person to recover his or her memory? Our need prevails over their likely happiness?

Its like being born again. A second life without a trace of the gore of yore.

There’s something else I’d like to point out here…..

….but I can’t remember.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A Bolly Good History Class

A priest interviewed at the Live Aid venue back in the mid 80s had this to say about the intersect of his chosen life and a concert featuring anarchic music.

“Just because you’re doing something serious, doesn’t mean can’t do it with a sense of fun” (or something to that effect).

That resonated. Short term, it justified the wilder side of my student life. Longer term it has stayed with me as an approach to life.

A couple of days ago it just occured to me that yet another  reason why children hate school is boring text books. There’s stuff you can’t duck - like maths. There’s other stuff that’s a battle of attrition - does the book run out or the student’s patience? Normally Sopor wins.

Let’s take an example:

Climax of Bollywood film. Hero is beating the sxxt out of the villain (of course he won’t use his gun on a guy who’s raped and killed his whole village etc). At some point, the film’s scheduled time runs out, the hero has displayed his mastery over kung-fu, swordplay and stunts - and the director wants the “kill” sequence rolling.

Villain : “Tum mujhe nahi mar sakte, Vijay*. Tumhari behen mere ko rakhi bandti hai!”
Hero  :  “Arre gadhe, rakhee ki parampara pandrah sau ke bad hi hau tha. Yeh picture to gyarah sau ka time ka hai”.
…..and plunges the sword in where it matters, to thunderous whistles and applause from the audience. Jhakaas picture, bhidu!
(Ok, ignore all factual veracity of that bit).

* alter “Vijay” to suit your vintage to “Rahul” or “Chitraakh” - these days the exotic Sanskrit names are popular.

Translation :
Villain : “You can’t kill me. I’m a rakhi brother to your sister”
Hero : “ You got the dates wrong, buddy. Rakhi didn’t mainstream till 1500 AD, and this plot is a 1100 AD plot!”

Watchers instantly pick up the original date of “rakhi”, and the fact that “rakhi” is a significant cultural thing. Its more likely to stick. The way Munnabhai shifted October 2 recall from “dry dry” to the great man’s Birth Anniversary. (“Lage Raho Munnabhai”).

At pre-University college in Bangalore, we had political science as a subject. A lot of the stuff was boring civil laws, constitution etc. Luckily we had a suit wearing, smoking, (and occasional beer) drinking Brahmin teacher. He’d just crank up the nautanki to counter the high Yawn Quotient of the course content.

Our children suffer immensely from the sheer volume of stuff to be read and remembered. Boring text books add to the pain. India has a natural cultural strength of “nautanki” - theatrics. Its why our movie industry has churned out at least 400-500 theatric movies every year for decades - way ahead of Hollywood.

We are emotional folks who relate easily to such feelings. Bringing this to text books could be a win-win.

Students will still be killing themselves to compete - they’re all smart and capable. But at least they’ll die laughing. Anyone got a problem with laughing children?

Friday, July 05, 2013

Fear is the key

Botulinum is the most lethal toxin in nature.  It is found in plenty - in soil, dust and in....gulp.. honey! It can kill at a dosage of 1.5 nanograms thats 0.015 mg. Food, if not cooked properly, can carry this.

Nobody really cares, do we?
a.   There is huge propagation of fresh, natural food. Cooking kills nutrition - apparently. Well, it also kills bacteria.
b.   Botulinum is the basis of BOTOX! Remember all those nice looking people? and the cosmetic surgery business? well......

There are several others candidates - arsenic being one of them. Its everywhere. Its also what's used by the clever villain to bump off her husband in an Agatha Christie story. The chances are you are breathing it right now and eating it...its pretty prevalent in rice.

Our bodies contain about 1 trillion bacteria - a large number of which we have no idea about.
Scientists don't have a proper handle on how body proteins behave. These are the blokes that go berserk and cause cancer.

The list is endless. And, in general, no one seems to be bothered and rightly so. In fact the only things we seem bothered about is when a group champions a fear and turns it into an industry. So "big fears" support zillion dollar industries - climate change, chemicals.

Fears of "but we don't know what could happen" have driven up the cost of developing medicines to about $ 1. 2 billion and upwards and around 10 years. The same holds for crops.  Roughly 200 years ago the guy credited with the small pox vaccine quiet simply injected a healthy guy with small pox, after he thought he'd cracked the vaccine. To check if it worked. Shocking? The individual was his kid. As vaccines go, this disease has virtually been wiped off the face of the planet. (extinct species? where are the Conservationists?!)

As is transpires, most of what we know doesn't bother us - since most of us are ignorant about these things. Its also true that we have a better realization of how much we don't know!  Let's examine an itemsof daily life:


Toothpaste is less than 100 years old. It started as a whitening agent - may not sound nice, but just like shoe polish.  Now, its routine for parents to berate their children for not brushing their teeth.

We also realize that many species routinely regrow their teeth - several times in a lifetime. Pushing research in this direction will kill the toothpaste business, dentistry on a number of counts and cosmetic surgeons. You think they'll just roll over and let this happen? Regrowing teeth would like a small pox vaccination for tooth decay.

Item 2 on this is "bad breath". Romeo and Juliet didn't use toothpaste - doesn't sound so romantic now does it? At least not intimate romantic? Most will tell you that diet and digestion affects this rather than the temporary fix.

So teeth care isn't about toothpaste but a range of habits.

How does the teeth business work?



As part of a market survey we did a few years ago, we chatted with about 100 or more newly graduated students in Delhi. Almost all the young men and women had at least 2 additional qualifications besides the university degree. Both qualifications were in some computer related field - web designing blah blah. The usual 3 month part time diploma course from a random place that cost upwards of Rs 10,000. Most agreed that it was pretty useless. In fact, most also agreed that their BA or some other such course had nothing to do with their work - and so, pretty useless as well.

Middle class homes in India (and I'd assume elsewhere in the world) are so frightened about their children's future...they want their kids educated as much as possible. Any Degree from anywhere helps assuage the fear. Families work extremely hard and make supreme sacrifices so enable the children to be educated. The children are, in turn, nervous about falling off the cliff in life...if they don't study.

Cashing in on this is a huge education industry. A typical "best school" in a city with world class teachers and infrastructure - parents spend about 1x to 1.5x of school fees on tuition fees besides the school fees. This is just study stuff. The piano class and tennis class are cater to the parents' image thing or their desire to have kids do what they couldn't!

The key driver to all this is FEAR. Some happy business persons profit from it. Its a business that booms during recessions.....its not just recession proof. There's an incentive for these guys to create recessions!

None of the knee jerk reactions to these fears attempt to resolve anything. A cadre of business persons develop profitable livelihoods around this....even if they parade as concerned socially conscious organizations  sometimes. Meanwhile, we are happy in our ignorance rather than put these things in a balance and a context of life.

Now the "seeking balance" and "context of life" thing is also a big business. We'll read one person's blockbusting book called "The Key To Happy Living" and all our fears will miraculously vanish. Earlier this magic book was called.......(forget it, I don't want to start a war)......some religious text.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Fanfare for the Common Man - a tech fairy tale

(how technology is improving our lives - and other such fairy tales)

Technology has revolutionized and democratized life. The Financial Services and telecom sectors have invested in it heavily in the interests of better customer experience and efficiency. The following experience illustrates this, real-life.

Visited the bank to change my address in their records. I’d shifted.

Bank Officer : Sir, please fill out this form. And we’ll need an address proof. (...lists documents)
The form includes everything about me - not just my name, bank account number and the new address.
Me  :    So this will be effected on my Credit Card as well?
BO  :   No, Sir...there is this other form to fill....(gives me a second form to fill)
Me  :   But isn’t the Credit Card section part of your bank? Why do I need to do this again?
BO  :   Sir, they are a separate department and the forms are consolidated in their section city.
Me  :    So you have two separate database entries on me?!!!!!!
BO   :   Yes, Sir. That is our system.
Me   :   Is that why the credit card department had my date of birth recorded wrong? They entered it separately.
BO   : Possibly, Sir.
Me   :   And for verification on a transaction, they told me I had given a wrong date of birth. Amazing, I can’t remember my own date-of-birth correctly according to them.
BO   : And Sir, we’ll need a photograph.
Me    :  I’ve changed my address, not my face. Why do you need yet another photo?
BO    :  Sir, its part of the KYC (know your customer) procedure.
Me     :  So without another photo, you don’t know me? Don’t you  have a camera here to take the pic?
BO     : Sir, we need one for the form.
Me      : But you digitize it for your database, don’t you? and you don’t have a camera at hand? Why don’t you use your webcam? Unless you need a resolution that captures the length of my eyelashes.
BO   :  (nervous laugh).
Me :   Why do I have to fill out the other stuff? You already have my existing address. With my bank Account No: and photo on your computer, you know its me.
BO  :  Sir, ok - I’ll fill that out (and then she fills it out!!). But wait, you account is at Gotham city (name changed to protect identity) and not here?
Me  :  Yes, that’s why I’m changing the address to here. I’ve shifted to Metropolis.
BO :  Sir, then you have to give this at your Gotham City  branch.
Me :   So I have to take a 3 hour flight to Gotham to submit this, since you’re computerized system doesn’t know who I am,....even if I can withdraw cash from this branch? and you can’t verify who I am, even I’m sitting in front of you with my ID.
BO : Sir, that is the procedure.
Me :   By telling you I’ve shifted, I’m doing you a favor. Its my money in the bank, accessible I really don’t care if your records are obsolete. Either I can do this right now..or its your problem finding me.
After conversation with Branch Manager with this crisis....
BO and BM :   Sir, why don’t you use phone banking and make the change. They’ll do so immediately.
Me  :   Great, then why didn’t you tell me in the first place so I didn’t have to fill up this long form.Its okay to do it from Timbuktu on phone, but when I come in person to the bank I have to fill out a form with document? Wow!
BO :   Sir, (hahaha). You are right, but that’s the system.

Now I had to do the same for my phone - mobile.

Phone Officer :   Sir, you need to contact  Extort-o-fone Gotham City to cancel your old number.
Me    :    Why can’t you do this on your computer right now? I’m here.
PO    :   Sir, that is our procedure. And please fill out this form.
Me     :    Other than address, nothing has changed
PO     :    Sir, its the system - please fill out the full form.
Me      :   Please transfer the balance from the old number to the new one.
PO     :   Sir, this is a new connection in a different we have to close the old number done. Which will be done in the next billing cycle.
Me      :   But I’m the same customer and its within my credit limit permitted. Why do I have to pay for 21 days of a Billing Cycle when you know I’m not going to use the number.
PO     :   Sir, but that is procedure we have to follow.

So Extortofone bills me for 21 days on a dead number. With efficiency, they refund my deposit on it after 60 days.  If my bill payment is delayed 10 days, the phone connection is cut-off. Its a very fair deal, I suppose.  They invest heavily in customer relationships and have a customer care executive for you if you’ve been a long standing customer. I have, for about 15 years. The CCE calls me up once a week for no particular reason at all. He even assures me that the refund will come in 60 days. I should be a satisfied long-standing customer, but I’ve become grumpy with age. Its my fault.

We must be an emerging economic power ready to storm the globe and a superpower in IT. Technology has really made our lives a lot better. They now transfer the paper onto computers, so we can print out additional copies of application forms that we’ve filled. Why do we need copies of our filled applications? I don’t a technology savvy thing to do.

So about a decade and a few zillion bucks later, we’ve now shifted to technology-enabled bureaucracy in the enterprising, customer oriented private sector.  Just in comparison, my last tryst with government was renewing my Driving Licence. They mailed it home by registered post the next day after my application. Besides the form, I didn’t even have to give them a photograph. They had a digital camera.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

The Gender Pay Gap

Underlying reasons and suggested ways out

Various surveys have confirmed that women are paid less than men for equivalent jobs across he world. I couldn’t help wondering why this is so, based on my own experiences in India.  This is what resulted:

1. Govt is the only employer, in the Indian context, that has a fixed pay-scale for jobs. Its normally dependent on the length of tenure that an eligible candidate has worked at a particular level. So a pay band of say Rs 10,000 to Rs 15,000 is established for a job a Level 1, with Rs 500 increments. After 10 years, the pay levels off at that job at Rs 15,000. A new recruit will start at Rs 10,000/- with no experience at Level 1. A person recruited laterally with say 2 years experience will be recruited at Rs 11,000. There is almost no scope for negotiation.

2. Non govt jobs have a band within which a recruitment takes place. The band widens the more senior the position is. The starting point within the band is a negotiated salary. In practice, virtually all employees join the firm at negotiated salaries. Pvt firms include non-government organisations that are not-for-profit.
It is a normal practice in many private sector for-profit organisations to outsource the payroll. This becomes a single point of resentment with employees, so the approach is to shield such information from others.
It is also normal practice for the employers to seek to employ people at the lowest cost possible to the company. The only exceptions are those deemed outstanding in their work, many of whom are poached from other organisations. Pay hike is an incentive for the switch. Lets safely assume that in a normal A:B:C distribution of performance, the A list will be say 1 in 10. This piece applies to the 9 and could affect even the A list employees.

Given that salaries are negotiated, why do women end up with lower pay?  Please bear in mind that the following observations apply to a majority and not all. There are clearly exceptions to the rule.

1. Women are viewed as the “Second income earner” in families. This is true in terms of how women perceive their own earnings in the context of the family. This is true of how employers perceive women also. The result is that the starting point of the negotiation is lower than that of a male employee. (I worked for two years in a not-for-profit that was about 70% women employees including in top management and that’s how it  was assessed internally).
It is also true that in most homes with a single-earner, in the Indian context, the male is the earning member. This circumstance may not be true for many other countries.
2. Women look for a more wholesome picture in the job beyond pay (this can be related to a desire for dignity also). Working environment and the context of the job is also valued. So often they do not end-up negotiating too hard if the pay is in an acceptable range. The parallel one could look for here is starting pay-scales for those who come from other discriminated or disempowered groups. Aspects such as dignity of the work place play a huge factor in chosing a job.
3. Discriminated groups including women, often reach the interview table with a defensive mind-set, viz., I need the job badly, don’t want to lose the option over pay issues. Women, additionally, have to cope with work discontinuity that occurs due to marriage (husband got transferred), childbirth and child rearing. The location of city (due to husband’s transfer) and child rearing are related to the traditional roles of women in the home. The impact is required rigidity (of timings, for example) or flexibility (work from home, flexi-time) etc. Both of which place women on the back-foot on pay negotiations. The comparator for this would be for men-workers who may require such flexibility due to health reasons, child-rearing or other such responsibilities. The men with such circumstances are smaller in number, but my guess is that they get placed on the backfoot on negotiations.
4. Women who take a break for family reasons (especially child birth and rearing) often feel that the missed years may have taken the edge of the their abilities. I do not believe this to be true (and have experienced it thus). In fact, their maturity levels at handling such a challenge in life, is real value to the work place. The lack of currency in terms of data and developments is something any reasonably competent person can catch up in a few weeks - it isn’t a big issue. Many women at work and who are personal friends, confirm this view to me.
a. the fact they felt “lesser” when starting; and
b. realizing they’re as good as they were anyway and the “usual idiots” at work were still the “usual idiots” even if they had not taken a break!

All these above factors affect the negotiated pay of the recruit as also, the nature of jobs taken. The nature of jobs taken is a separate matter - but its no coincidence that a large number of fixed time jobs, as in hours of work, employ women. Teaching, operations and administration / HR, accounting jobs etc. Govt employment presents a very attractive option - equal pay, plus likely fixed hours - except for the few who reach the very top.

Downstream in a work career, for normal performers, the starting point of low-pay carries on through their career. Each consecutive job offers a hike (even if negotiated) based on previous  pay drawn So an employee being offered say a 25% hike on previous pay, finds it difficult to press for greater pay unless he or she is able to set-off competing employers in a bidding war. The latter happens not often, as jobs options don’t emerge at the same time.

To summarize:
1.Private sector negotiate pay to the lowest level possible for recruitment. In all cases during my working life (govt., private sector, for-profit and not-for-profit), there is no desire to pay less to women. The desire is to pay less for anyone - to the point it can be acceptable!
2. Women, like other discriminated groups, are on the defensive on pay negotiations.
3. The lower “entry” level payscale, thus has a downstream effect on their entire career.

What could be some avenues to explore to redress this?
1. To establish information systems to enable women to have a rough guage of what the job pays at the lowest to highest band (if possible). I can see guys using this service too, especially those from discriminated groups (handicapped, health, ethnicity etc)
2. To have active dissemination of the logic to women that:
a. Taking a break from work does not render them stupid. All that’s happened is that they are out of date on current events. No reason to feel despondent.
b. They are not “second income” earners. They are joint first income earners at the very least.
c. How the family perceives its relative earnings of partners is none-of-the-employers’-business.
d. For fixed-time jobs,  eg at a billing desk at the supermarket or as the person handling the front desk in an office, there is no reason for them to accept less pay for their time. For executive functions, jobs are inevitably outcome linked. So doing things like leaving early to manage the kids at home are NOT of any consequence. Its principally, in terms of time lost for non-work, no different from the golf-game or lunch-meeting around business, when about 5 minutes of actual work becomes an excuse to waste 2 hours! (some jobs this may not be a waste, but my experience suggest that most of the time it is. Its just fun bundled with a little work to make it look respectable!). Of course, managing a child is important while a golf game isn’t.
e. The pay negotiated in the early stages of a career, say graduation plus 3-5 years, stays like a monkey on one’s back. This is an issue that several men also face, if they’ve opted for lower paycheques early in the career. .

The key point I’d like to make is that the pay discrimination observed won’t go away with all the angst, rhetoric etc. Laws in countries can’t mandate private sector to guarantee any kind of pay =- you just have to look at the minimum wages scenario. Most of the perceived “discrimination” is the outcome of negotiations - related to a clutch of factors like those listed above. Its most often not out of a desire to pay less to a woman. Its out of a desire to pay less, full stop! You only need to look at the number of women employed in the recruitment business (flexi-location job), to realize that its often women sitting on the other side of the table negotiating pay. (I don’t have statistics for this, but it would be worth examining).

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Darwin and Dashavataram

(if you're all touchy feely about reference to religious matters, go read something else right now. This is meant to be serious reading). 

It started a few hours ago on a discussion on Chota Bheem. Chota Bheem has become the most popular Android game in India, last month. Then a random sequence led me here.

Lord Vishnu, the savior, in the trinity of Hindu Gods has 10 avatars - manifestations. We're done with 9 and the 10th is awaited, contingent on a cataclysmic event. (sounds familiar? Bruce Willis...get your team ready!). Its also interesting how there is a base 10 in operation here too.

The first three avatars were:

  • Matsya (the fish)
  • Kurma (the Turtle)
  • Varaha (the Boar)

To paraphrase the skeptics : "So WT* has this to do with Darwin?".

Darwin represents the school of thought that says we divided to multiply and eventually became human beings. Its a pretty ironical transformation isn't it : cells divided and thus become more than one cell (multiplied). Now its reached a stage where human factions multiply and divide themselves and fight about a whole lot of stuff including critical things like "Is Sachin Tendulkar the greatest cricketer ever?"

Darwinian views of life include :

  • the single cell of living organism
  • the ocean as the starting point
  • land as emergent and then land-based species.

Vishnu's first 3 avatars mirror this evolution. The Fish at the time of only the oceans, the Turtle (an amphibious life form) at the cusp of the emergence of land; and the Boar as facilitating the rise of the earth from the oceans.  

(read more stuff about this here : )

After that point there is a lot of similarity in the sub-texts of how humanity has evolved. 
i)   Control over everything on earth (manifested in theology as demons)
ii)  Assumption of a "god" like status and power (Ceasar, Kublai Khan, and your current head of state, Managing Director)
iii)  Possession of everything that can be considered property, viz., everything on earth.

Add up the three "I want to" -  own everything material, own your mind and be like God - its like an executive summary of the conflicts that have plagued human beings...since they became human beings. 

The marketeers of religions work on the "own  your mind" with the implied backing of God, 
the marketeers of politics work on the "own your mind" with the implied backing of God, and 
the marketeers of business work on the "own everything material" as an implied route to happiness and God.  But all this is side-tracking the main event of this piece.

Vishnu's first three avatars and the evolutionary view of life have common themes. And this isn't a Hindu exclusive. Researchers have linked the Matsya phase as being not different from the deluge and Noah. (Noah luckily didn't have to defend which species he picked for the sail, and get nailed in media for the selection). A watery beginning to life as we understand it - whether from the religious history perspective or from the science history perspective. Noah is a common theme to Mesopotamian, Hellenic religions, Christianity, Judaism and Islam.  Notably, many feature Noah as enjoying knocking over a few ..of wine. (so it isn't your fault, we are like this only.)

If we strip the God and religion aspect of mythology and these texts - we are left with some equivalent of science-fiction of that era. Let's say an Arthur C Clarke or Douglas Adams or something equivalent around then. All such fiction and tales are rooted in a prevailing way of life and a historical context of that time - what had already happened and what were things people were trying to make happen. 

Perhaps its time to look at some of these ancient texts and scriptures and hand-me-down tales in terms of pointing to a history and evolution of life and society at a point of time. Using it as a basis of pushing the "god" thought down everyone's throat will be a chauvinistic and limiting exercise. Rejecting it outright as useless "mind games" would also be chauvinistic. Every bit of human experience tells us that tales and writing provide a picture (however hazy it may be) of an era. 

This serendipitous discovery, for myself, has renewed interest in checking out some of the ancient stuff (no, I'm not referring to Charles Dickens...yawn!). I doubt I'll read the original language versions and absorb the Be-Good Galaxy philosophy that interpreters have tagged with them. Maybe a "Chota Bheem" equivalent of contemporary communication that provide some visualizations.

Avatar no: 10 is scheduled to be "Kalki". That will end the era of Kalyug (the bad era) and begin SatYug (the good era). The odds are that it isn't going to happen in this century...and therefore our lifetimes. 

And he's (she, say many) will arrive with a blazing sword (hope its solar or renewable energy fired or the tree-huggers will give her a bad reception) and on a white horse...Gangnam style! :-D

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The S V Road

There’s an SV Road everywhere in India, at least in big cities. And a whole lot of other stuff. Its how things work when you’re famous. Its reached a point when famous creeps also have roads and memorials named after them. So “Akbar Road” - after our famed Mughal Emperor who was a patron of the arts - is pretty close to “Aurangzeb Road” - his descendant, who was famed for killing music.

I have a friend named Z (name changed). We met over a chess game about 7 years ago. Z is American, white, tech, and with a strong belief in his faith - Christianity. We got chatting on this religion, God stuff at some point. He asked me for some recommendations on good reads on Hinduism.  Well, it was a situation....for me.


I’ve grown up in a Hindu family, nuclear. No one ever asked me to do anything in particular because of it. I’d drift into temples as part of family outings, chapel in school etc. At some point, maybe age12 or 13, I asked myself what this God - religion thing was about and then that was that.  Let’s say, the subject and I parted company.


The situation caused me to ask around with those who knew more. Read up a bit and packaged the recommendations with some text - that the price of good education, there’s always your own two-bits to add to anything, even when ignorant. And away to Z.

Z came back with his own homework. The point of intersect was ‘this guy’. People choose their faith, any faith, because in their view its the best. Nothing chauvinistic about it. It’s true everytime we choose - its the best of what we have available. “This guy” amongst all others he’d studied from different faiths, made the biggest impact.

Z knew I’m a non-God/religion guy and we had some extended exchanges around this, flavored with my pop knowledge of Hinduism. No strings attached. It was fun and I learnt a bit about life because of him. A also learnt about “this guy”.

Z and I have never met in person, the games were on-line. We’re friends. And I see him as a good human being. From diametrically different contexts of life, growing up,living, religion, we have had some rocking interactions of considerable depth. And I ended up reading about “this guy” - that I hadn’t done with any seriousness before, in my life. He was just a name of a road, till then. Here’s a link to a brief speech he gave at Chicago in 1893 at the Parliament of the World’s Religions. Its simple, inclusive, warm, wise.  His beliefs articulate many of my own. I think he would have loved to be part of that chat,  to observe his beliefs in practice in that microcosm of life, between Z and I.

“This guy” is Swami Vivekananda. Its his 150th birth anniversary today. This is my two-bit tribute to the great man.

The real tribute is that I know I’m already walking down The S V Road.