Sunday, December 29, 2013

Management by Sternocleidomastoid (SCM)

One has suddenly realized that there are new techniques in management and decision making.  The IIM's , IIT's and guys who write jargon filled  books haven't yet come up with new jargon.

So it has fallen upon me to define this new technique , the "sternocleidomastoid" technique, or simply SCM, to those intimidated by spelling. 

The Sternocleidomastoid or SCM is the name given to the neck muscle, that allows humans to nod and shake their heads on demand. 

The key is to realize who the demand is from.  What must always be ignored is reasoning and logic in your own  insignificant cerebral cortex.

Consider the story of  Ashok, who belonged to a reasonably well off family,  hated school, and was into various sports with a vengeance. Career planning , for him,  unlike for the hoi-polloi , was almost a genetic thing, and given his parents' clout, many folks in the building restrained themselves from shouting when he continue to break their windowpanes with his random sweeps and flicks of the seasoned cricket  ball. 

Till one day, someone who had newly moved in, simply cribbed to the building secretary. 

Foolish chap. 

It was a special building , created with the blessings of powerful folks with great synaptic connections , all upwardly mobile.  And the powerful folks kept a benevolent, and sometimes indulgent eye.

Warnings were half heartedly issued, meetings held so they could be minuted, and certain folks appointed to look into it , prepared a report. In the meanwhile,  the management folks tried to deflect the issue, by  talking about various other things. "Nature" even helped, by creating a short circuit fire in a section of the building.  That had the public mind latch on to something else. The building suddenly got new external paint, CCTV's (as is the current fashion), and solar water heaters, for certain sections. Even a watchman with a keen eye.

As expected, the Ashok report was expected to die a quiet death by ignorance.  The building committee shoved it under some hefty files.  Ashok continued his cricket. Windows  continued to crack . People continued to look out of their windows and shake their heads. 

Till one day,  this whole affair manged to reach outside the compound wall

Powerful folks heard about it. Instructions were passed, and the building secretary stopped  smiling at Ashok's father when he met him in the foyer. 

Ashok's mother got left out of the ladies' bhishi party.   

Word had it that the powerful folks felt differently.  The benevolent eye transformed into an angry glare. On a visit, by the powers,  to the building, there were declarations on how careless destruction of property would not be tolerated. 

Here is where the concept of management by SCM, or Management by Sternocleidomastoid  comes into play. 

The lowest levels have the strongest SCM. They simply use the muscles as directed and nod. Yes, no, and a vague maybe.  There are invisible rewards for using SCM correctly. 

If the problem persists,  the management by SCM goes higher.  These guys are masters of SCM. A nodded YES can mean a NO and vice versa.  Some even specialize in oblique and undefined nods. 

In what can be only called as the  Reverse Swing Sweep facet of SCM,  the powerful types, are able to reverse the entire function and meaning of the Sternocleiodmastoid muscle action

With a single public utterance.

The secretary of the building now dusts the files, extracts the Ashok report, and begins to turn the pages again.  His SCM is in reverse mode.  Nodding the head is now shaking the head. 

Breaking windows with a carelessly swept cricket ball is now once again a crime.    

No filing RTI, no going to courts, no arguing on TV channels, no caning by riot police, no nothing. 

No reasoning, no logic, no ethics, no shame. 

Just an awareness of what year it is. 

And  the amazing ability to  manipulate other people's SCM  at will, and get credit for your management skills, without being blamed for your erstwhile earlier silences.  

Anyone going to  err...  Harvard Business School to give lectures on Management by SCM ? 

Friday, December 27, 2013

BEST travels

(BEST is the acronym of the company that runs Mumbai's bus transportation)

A lifetime of driving in the worsening traffic in Mumbai, the disastrous quality of air prevalent at his face level   at traffic jams with heaving trucks spewing fumes of Diesel, and the variable leg space in 3  wheelers for a six foot plus person causing trauma to the patella,  has convinced him about the superiority of bus travel, where you travel at a height......

More so, since his age  and the color of his hair allows him the privilege of special entry into it from the front door of the bus, which means he gets to avoid the general shoving and pushing at the rear entrance used by younger folks.  The single seat right in the front of the bus, meant for senior citizens and/or differently abled folks  allows a certain level of leg stretching, and he always sits there, but gets up to offer his seat when he sees older seniors and folks with disabilities.

Maybe he doesn't look like someone who gets kicks out of free travel .  And the conductor takes his own time, making his way through the increasing crowd at the back, tapping the seats , getting folks to buy tickets,  grumbling about folks not offering change and so on.

More than half way home, and the  conductor is still way behind. He turns around, trying to catch the conductors eye, to tell him that he still has to buy his ticket. He holds a currency note in his fingers, to signal to the conductor.  The conductor can just nod, blocked as he is by the sea of passengers, actually moving in waves as the bus lurches through potholes.

Five seats behind him, another elderly gent catches his eye.  Beckons with his hand.   He gets up, bends across and passes a hundred rupee note across to the gent, mentioning the stop where he must disembark, and needs a ticket for.  The elderly gent, passes the money back, via many others, mentioning the place , which the others repeat, till it reaches the conductor.  Who looks up, then looks down, tears a ticket, punches it, and dips into his money bag to return the considerable change.

Any other time, and he would be forced to make a comment on how people needed to bring lesser denomination currency notes. It wasn't always possible to carry so much change.

 Prosperity means never having any change.

He quietly hands the ticket and the change to the man nearest him, who hands it to the man in front, who again himself does likewise.  Till it reaches the elderly gent in the middle, the guy with the initiative.   A few exchanged smiles, nods, and the man in the seat in front, has his ticket, and his change, before he reaches his point of disembarkation.

He marvels at the trust, the acknowledgement of a need to follow rules,  and the unity amongst those who decide to play their parts in this simple act to ensure that a senior citizen in the front seat  can buy his ticket. Every person who passed across the ticket and change, very carefully ensuring that no change dropped anywhere in the crowd, despite the lurches and jam packed moving human standing walls in the aisle.

At the fag end of a year that has seen more worst times than best times,  made you wonder about how low we as humans could stoop when hurting others, and made us lose trust in those who we thought were folks with good sense, shame and scruples, he suddenly feels lighter. 

There are still the good, simple everyday folks around.  Concerned about simple everyday issues.  Particular about following rules.

He gets up,  as they approach his bus stop. Moves up to the exit door. The driver beckons to him, to stand a bit behind, for his own safety.  As a responsible driver, he  must keep one eye on the side, keeping such disembarking passengers safe,  with the other eye on the horrendous evening traffic.

He waves to the driver as he gets down.

All is not lost. There is a lot of good left in this world.   It is a good feeling on which to make his way home.

He suddenly moves to one side, as a biker speeds past him, narrowly missing touching him with the handlebars.  The helmet hides the shamelessness and brazenness.

He thinks people drove better when they had nothing to hide.

He turns in at the gate. 

He has nothing to hide. Very clearly, not even the  smile at the experience in the bus.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Mystery Dreams

I've often wondered about dreams. 

As in, when you sleep....

A day ago, a few hours into my 65th year on this planet,  there was a strange dream.

I was in, what appeared to be , a East European country, or may be  Germany, possibly to attend a conference of sorts.

Mind you,  this was all a bit exalted for me, as in my entire career in what is one of the nation's premier technological  institute,  my work  rarely involved going to conferences; when one was deputed to attend something, it was the type where the authorities quibbled seriously over whether to grant me rickshaw fare or taxi fare, and I ended up taking the good old trusty BEST buses or suburban local trains out of sheer disgust. 

So going to Europe for a conference , even in my dreams , was a bit rich.

And so there I was, all the signs around me were in some sort of German , and  I was walking to the venue  which was a massive old heritage palace type, now converted into a convention place.  There was a lot of nodding, bowing , smiling and hand shaking while registrations happened, and  someone,  a kind of senior functionary  introduced himself, as the convenor of the section  that I was interested in.

Cut to the next morning, and I was once again walking over to the venue .

I climbed up some stairs to the main reception area, and then went to look for the participants and convenor of the section, as well as the halls where the sessions would be conducted. What followed was hours and hours of me walking around all over the place, peeping into rooms, asking people for directions, and returning home at , say, noon, without finding anyone or anything .

Next day, I went back, and I wandered once again,but in a different area , again seeking the conference stuff that I  had come for. But once again, everyone looked different, and strangely, no one remembered me wandering from the day before. One more day of futile wandering, fatiguing me at the end of the day.

The dream suddenly moves to the International airport in Mumbai, where I am suddenly walking out with all the conference participants who were on the same flight, and they were shaking my hand and saying what a great presentation I did. There's the usual crowd around the luggage area, customs, and long walks to the exit.

I wave to someone who has come to receive me.

And the dream ends. 

They say early morning dreams sometimes come true.  I dont know whether I should be thrilled to bits about going to attend a conference in a Germanic country, or I should get worried about impending loss of memory , either on my part or someone else's part.

I wonder if the inability to recognize the place and people on the second day, was all happening in the dream, or was the dream interfacing in real time, with a sluggish actual brain refusing to jog its memory cells. 

I wonder , why everyone except me, in the dream , remembers that I did a presentation, and did it well.  

Is this a sign of things to come ? A warning sign ?  Is this information overload messing with my brain bandwidth, and causing jams in typical Mumbai traffic style?

Or may be I just had too much of the fresh winter veggie spicy pickle the previous night's dinner ?

I guess I am just glad to be back.

And yes, lest I forget, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to everyone.....

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Run, Lata, Run.....

For many years, you wore clothes as a basic need. Sometimes,  slightly different designs and cuts to celebrate occasions , for yourself or with others. 

But never, in one's wildest imagination did one think that one was making , what is today referred to as a fashion statement.

One grew up in a no nonsense environment that encouraged exercising and sports, along with studies. The only concession made to sports outfits , was  a divided skirt for school sports and badminton , and  an everlasting red swimming suit that defied all the chemicals in the chlorinated pool. Heated pools were completely unknown, and anyone who hesitated to get into a cold pool at  , say,  a winter morning at 6 am , was simply pushed in. Acting self conscious while wearing these things was frowned upon, towelling robes were worn only in movies, and you basically got on with what you came to do.  You must understand that this was a time when frocks as uniforms elicited caustic comments from certain folks.

The pool would be filled with folks who abhorred wearing swimsuits, and landed up in shorts and tops,  self stitched swimsuit stuff with sleeves , high necks and legs (you now know where speedo got inspired from)  , and some ladies even swam in 9 yard sarees worn in an innovative way , so your legs were free , but completely  covered.  A bit like the 9 yard sarees worn by reality show dancers, koli fisher women and so on,  and one of my own abiding memories is of a tall lady wearing one of these 9 yards, executing a graceful dive, and emerging out without being smothered by fabric floating all over .  Many years later I would greatly admire a senior lady  of prosperous proportions, a very traditional minded lady , who wore this frilled swimsuit with complete nonchalance, and executed one of the smoothest dives I have seen anyone do. Turns out she spent her childhood in Varanasi, learned swimming in the Ganges, which had currents, and became an expert swimmer. It was a pleasure to watch her swim, and no one really cared about what she wore.

By and by,  many decades later , the daughter took up swimming at 7 (or is it 9) , in a red frilled swimsuit. Those were the days you wore speedos for serious swimming where you wanted to reduce the "drag" factor in the water, since timing mattered. The speedo suits were very expensive, available in limited places, and i remember waiting for a few months to see how serious the child would be about the competitive swimming (for which she trained), before investing in one. Theoretically, one could swim wonders even in frilled suits and shorts, but by now suits and caps were mandatory.

There was a time when the coach wished to have the kids swim with certain added loads, and we outfitted them with pull-on synthetic shorts available anywhere, and loaded the pockets with pebbles and stitched them up.  We also made belts were we could put known loads and tied these around the swimmer waists.

Today it is all about making sports a fashion.  There is no life without track pants, and tops , which sometimes look like sleeveless saree blouses, exposed midriff and all. Rank beginners in swimming,  arrive outfitted  with the latest in speedos, fancy expensive  goggles, caps, floats, flippers and what have you, matching towels, magic dryers, lotions, sunscreen et al.  You see guys in cricket smearing some white sunscreen stuff on their faces while playing; all this started happening after teams from other countries started doing this to keep from getting sunburnt and television started spying in closeups and stuff.  Every person doing sports has some kind of wrap around him, whether its ankles, knees, wrists or elbow, and even thighs. I just often wonder whether folks in the older days tanned less, or had better muscles.

And so it was with a great deal of pleasure that I came upon this article in the DNA newspaper, relating to a lady wearing a 9 yard traditional saree,  an immigrant working on a  farm site, who decided to run the Baramati marathon near Pune. 

No , the folks at Nike, Reebok , Puma et all do not know her at all,  neither do folks who manufacture track pants and tops, with assorted bands to tie around your hands, necks, and foreheads.  

Because she ran and won the race, wearing her normal 9 yard saree, long sleeved blouse, palloo covering her head. She ran in her slippers, till one broke, whereupon she got rid of the other and continued on to win the race.

This news report appeared in the DNA newspaper and you can read about it here.

Lata Bhagwan Kare , 61, mother of a grown up son,  works as a farm labourer, left all the "athletes" way behind within minutes of the starting, and was adjudged this year’s Fastest Marathon Runner.

Many congratulations  to this amazing gutsy lady....!

A thought just occurred.

I've been looking for outfitters to make   pull-on 9 yard sarees (pleats and tuckins and all) , which one can wear, say, like a salwar, and then organize the palloo as required . 

All the folks offer 4 varieties of 9 yard saree styles : Peshwai(Brahminical), Paramparik , Kolhapuri  and Tamashaa(Dance)  style. 

Maybe time has now come, to honor Latabai, and define a new style, the Marathon Winner 9  yard saree style .....

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The age of money

A short midmorning queue for tickets at one of the suburban railway stations in northeast Mumbai.  Recently.

There are a total of 5 windows, 2 are open.  One joins the shorter one, and within a minute rues the decision.  While the lady at the other window, sells the ticket briskly, to a suddenly never ending queue, the lady at my window, suddenly gets up, discusses something with an official at the next window (closed), and proceeds to spend the next 15 minutes, opening and closing  drawers, retrieving and receiving money from some official, and counting it , before depositing it in the aforementioned drawers. Several trains go by, people wait and shuffle from one foot to the other. Very clearly, the sudden money accounting and checking cannot happen in the ticket issuing time. The windows are officially closed periodically, with clearly announced timings, just for that. The adjoining queue continues its brisk move, and our queue is now interrupted by a few folks buying first class tickets. They are entitled to buy those at the same window, without getting into the queue.

Money talks. Officially.

A family death leading to a cremation. In 2000.   A certificate from the cremating authorities, is submitted while going out at the office near the exit.  Some knowledgeable folks, urge me to part with extra amounts like Rs 400 at the gate.  I refuse. Out of respect for the departed soul,  who would have abhorred that.  One month later, the concerned paperwork from the crematorium office  has not reached the municipal ward office, that can only then issue a death certificate.  This normally takes few days after cremation.  I threaten to visit the crematorium gate office, and question them. In the presence of other citizens who might be there.  Nobody needs a ruckus.  But I have learned one thing. And it doesn't matter if you are dead or alive.

Money continues to talk.  Unofficially.

Long ago, several decades ago, one had occasion to visit the Marriage Registration Office. Then the only one near Town Hall .  To submit an application specifying intention of getting married, and arranging to call the Registrar to a residence for the short legal ceremony.  An almost silent abandoned office, and one is keenly observed by folks who think only those running away, or facing opposition, come there to get married /invite the Registrar. Marriage registration then was not mandatory. The Registrar noted the date, signed, was escorted to and from with great respect on the appointed day.  The government then trusted its citizens.

Cut to a few weeks ago, and the office, or better still, now a branch of the original, for the suburbs,  is now an overcrowded bustling set up, with long queues, lawyers offering to get stuff done for you, for a fee.  The mandatory 1 month waiting period rule still exists.  But there are people , right now, offering you guaranteed dates of marriage  after that, for a bunch of fees of course. Which probably get shared up and down the official hierarchy.  Officials appear to be available to visit residences . For a fee.  Which makes my jaw drop. And my head reel in disgust. We are told it is an unofficial fee.  Marriage registration is now mandated by the government, many NRI types need to do visa work immediately after marriage for their spouses, and need immediate certificates, and  so this entire service is available at a premium.

Money continues to talk. Unofficially.

Those who get married with religious ceremonies, must get it certified by the presiding priest, and then apply for a marriage certificate at the above office.  Turns out there is a  long queue at the office, and some folks offer to get you a place in the queue.  You reach a bit late thanks to the permanent vagaries of Mumbai traffic. You are told your place in the queue has been missed out. Payment of a certain amount will retrieve the place.

Money continues to talk. A bit too much.  Unofficially.

And now it talks  like in the Bollywood movies.   It is the leading hero in sting operations, shown continually on our television sets.  There are villains, threats, denials, lies, and beautiful vamps. It even appears as the fourth or fifth umpire in certain ball games. 

Way back, we did not have so many educational institutions, but we had education for those who wanted  it. Today, money talks so much, and from so many towers and hi-fi rooftops , that education has become an industry. You pay, you get; you have rules , then you pay someone and defy them .

Money continues to talk. Blatantly.  And everytime the authorities make new laws and rules,  it rubs its hands in glee at the prospect of defining loopholes and breaking the laws.

There is no stage of life immune to its influence.

One is glad one grew up when one did.

Money didn't talk then. Perhaps it occasionally whispered. And swore.

But mostly ,  it simply pursed its lips and glared .