Sunday, December 13, 2009

Incredible India!!! Incredible Andamans!

This was a 5-day trip that we made to Havelock and what a vacation it was...

The Port Blair airport is just 10 minutes away from the dock where the ferry transports you to this island. The ferry charges could be a little high (around 13$ - 20$) but it takes just 1.5 hours to get you to Havelock as against a boat which could take you anywhere between 4-6 hours. Also, the ferry is air conditioned with plush seats and a food counter inside where you can pick up snacks.

DiveIndia picked us up from the airport to the ferry and from Havelock ferry dock to the resort. One of the first things that strikes you about Island Vinnie's is the proximity to the beach the the lush greenery. The Cabanas are adequately big, clean with water and electricity. Each has a hammock for lazy evenings. There are hammocks on the beach, under the shades of big trees, for a quiet snooze by the beach. There are the two huge and absolutely adorable dogs - Frodo and Sam, one a golden retriever and the other a Labrador - who are everywhere, frolicking in the waves or rolling about in the sand or getting petted by everyone.

The biggest attraction for this resort are the dive courses - PADI, SSI etc that they offer. The instructors are extremely competent, patient and jolly. There's never a moment's unpleasantness in this place. Everyone seems to be looking at the brighter side of life and that is so contagious.

Most of the travelers there are foreign nationals who keep coming back for their love of the sea and diving and if you are someone who loves a good conversation over some good beer (or lemonade), this is the place. Mornings, the resort wears an almost empty look with almost all guests and Dive teams out in the sea but come afternoon, the boats start heading back and with it, divers with diverse and incredible stories to tell - whether it is the colourful soft corals, the barracudas, octopus, the schools of vibrant fish or the sharks or just the excited first-time diver who has managed to stay underwater with the Buoyancy Compensator and wet suits - it is an infectious enthusiasm.

The evening wears on with people reading up their theoretical course books or just reading up on the aquatic life.

The Full Moon Cafe serves limited veg and non-veg dishes. I would recommend the roasted chicken with mashed potatoes, masala omlette, lemonade with mint and fish / chicken fried rice. The portions are adequate.

If you are not diving, there is plenty that you can do. Rent a bike / scooty / cycle and explore the Island. Radha Nagar Beach No. 7 is another not-to-be-missed location. The beachline is long with lush green forests, giant trees and elephants. The way to the beach is winding peppered with lush meadows, clusters of coconut trees, lotuses and wild flowers.

If you are someone who likes the comforts of home, wants a spa and air-condition in your room, Havelock may not be for you. But if you love the unknown, the sand, sea, surf and meeting new people and prefer pristine beaches, this is it.

Even if you don't stay at the Island Vinnie's resort, the warmth of the people, the experience of the Divers and the diverse people that you will meet here, makes it sure worth a visit. And am sure, the resort will grow on you...

Sunday, June 21, 2009

A Jelly-fishy Day!

Picked it up from a forum... Love it!
Hi Sue,

Just another note from your bottom-dwelling brother. Last week I had a bad day at the office.I know you've been feeling down lately at work, so I thought I would share my dilemma with you to make you realize it's not so bad after all.
Before I can tell you what happened to me, I first must bore you with a few technicalities of my job. As you know, my office lies at the bottom of the sea. I wear a suit to the office. It's a wetsuit. This time of year the water is quite cool. So what we do to keep warm is this: We have a diesel-powered industrial water heater. This $20,000 piece of equipment sucks the water out of the sea, heats it to a delightful temperature, then pumps it down to the diver through a garden hose which is taped to the air hose.

Now this sounds like a darn good plan, and I've used it several times with no complaints. What I do, when I get to the bottom and start working, is take the hose and stuff it down the back of my wetsuit. This floods my whole suit with warm water. It's like working in a Jacuzzi. Everything was going well until all of a sudden, my bum started to itch.So, of course, I scratched it. This only made things worse. Within a few seconds my bum started to burn!I pulled the hose out from my back, but the damage was done. In agony I realized what had happened. The hot water machine had sucked up a jellyfish and pumped it into my suit. Now, since I don't have any hair on my back, the jellyfish couldn't stick to it. However, the crack of my bum was not as fortunate. When I scratched what I thought was an itch, I was actually grinding the jellyfish into the crack of my bum.

I informed the dive supervisor of my dilemma over the communicator. His instructions were unclear due to the fact that he, along with five other divers, were all laughing hysterically. Needless to say I aborted the dive. I was instructed to make three agonizing in-water decompression stops totalling thirty-five minutes before I could reach the surface to begin my chamber dry decompression. When I arrived at the surface, I was wearing nothing but my brass helmet. As I climbed out of the water, the medic, with tears of laughter running down his face, handed me a tube of cream and told me to rub it on my bum as soon as I got in the chamber. The cream put the fire out, but I couldn't poo for two days because my bum was swollen shut.

So, next time you're having a bad day at work, think about how much worse it would be if you had a jellyfish shoved up your arse. Now repeat to yourself, I love my job, I love my job, I love my job. Remember whenever you have a bad day, ask yourself, is this a jellyfish bad day?

May you NEVER have a jellyfish bad day!!!!!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Rishta - Unka Hamaari Peedha Se - Part 3

Continuing the Peedha and More Peedha, because of trackers, here's another one by 'The Sun'...

Toh mere sahyogiyon... kya badh gaya hai trackeron kay prati aapka pyar?

Sab apney apney sessions mein hain involved.
Kar rahein hai apni apni employees ko evolve?
Kabhi coaching to kabhi mentoring par hum de rahein hai gyaan..
Mr. K key dashboards par bhi hai humein abhimaan!

Bus kya karien inkey data requests say hi lagtaa hai dar..
HC recon kartey kartey jayegi hamaari zindagi guzar..
Palat kar dekha to ho rahi thee nayey praniyon ki entry..
MA, SMA ban gayey HR team ke centre of gravity..

Bas aagey kya bolein...
Humein hai aapkey inputs ka besabri sey intezaar..
Dissappoint mat karo yaar!
To which I responded :
Aur trackers hamare liye gaayenge...
Every breath you take
Every move you make
Every bond you break
Every step you take
I’ll be watching you.

Every single day
Every word you say
Every game you play
Every night you stay
I’ll be watching you.

And those who can't live without them...

Since you've gone I've been lost without a trace
I dream at night I can only see your face
I look around but it's you I can't replace
Oh trackers, can't you see
You belong to me

Jo trackers se Karen pyaar, woh MS excel se kaise kare inkaar?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

An Ode to Mumbai Local Trains

We Mumbaikars (I may be in Tamland married in Malluland but I sure am a Mumbaikar and will remain so, all my life) spend a lot of time discussing the 3:26 Virar Fast, the 5:44 Borivili Double Fast, the 10:26 Kurla Harbour local, 11:09 Dombivili Fast, because, to a large extent, our life depends on these local suburban trains. Don't ever mention the word peak hour. On the suburban trains, every hour is peak hour, including ek challis ki last local from Churchgate. The activity at the Churchgate and Victoria (Chatrapati Shivaji) Terminus stations, with a fully packed train arriving or leaving every two minutes, amazes me. The sea of humanity outside Dadar station every evening could be frightening. But it shows what the trains mean to us.

The experience of traveling in a Mumbai local can range from exhilarating, frustrating and occasionally frightening. There are times, with each train carrying more than five thousand passengers rather than the intended fifteen hundred when I wondered how I got into the crowded coaches and how I managed to get out. But then you miss out a lot of Mumbai life if you do not travel by the suburban trains.

I learnt a lot about life in the city from the trains. During peak hours, there was hardly any difference between the first class and the second class coaches. Even with millions travelling, almost everyone possessed a ticket or a pass. Unmindful of discomfort, the passengers chatted, gossiped, played cards and sang bhajans. I learnt a lot from their chatter. I got the latest twist in the Ambani power struggle and received tips on how to make rasam and appam from the South Indian lady passengers. The most heated discussions invariably took place during the elections or a cricket match when the fortunes of the parties or the teams were debated. And if you are a regular viewer of the K-serials and if you’ve missed the previous evening’s telecast, there’s no better place to catch up than the local trains.

Part of the education of commuting was rushing in first and trying to grab the window seat. The seat can accommodate three passengers comfortably but a fourth one invariably nudges and tries to squeeze in. Well, all you can do is glare at her and mutter something and hope she would away. But typically, you would get into the same situation the next day. saying - zaara adjust kar lo!

Commuting at leisure can lead to rumination. I used to wonder at the romance of station names like Cotton Green, King's Circle, Sandhurst Road, Santa Cruz and the harshness of desi station names like Chinchpokli or Ghatkopar. I remember hearing fashionable Christian girls pronouncing Kandivili as "Candyville" rhyming with Pleasantville, a New York suburb. Speaking of girls, it was the general belief that girls on the Western Railway were prettier and more fashionably dressed than the ones commuting by the Central. Don't ask me why! But then watching the Ladies Specials on both the Railways made one forget about glamour; the women pushed and barged in with a ferocity which would put male commuters to shame. Did anyone say weaker sex? For the timid, getting into and off a Mumbai train is close to a life altering experience. Engulfed in a sea of humanity, the hapless commuter just flows with the tide. Getting off crowded trains will redefine the meaning of personal space for you. The rides are so crowded that people even take the train in the opposite direction to one of the ends of the lines -- just so they can try and get a seat when the train turns around!

So what are the rules of commuting? The unwritten ones are :

1. No baggage Rule : There's just no space and in rush hours, either you get in sans the luggage or stay out!

2. Getting Off Rule : Stand near the door, atleast one stop away from your destination in empty compartments and in case your station is among the next three upcoming ones, do not even venture near a seat.
It is common for passengers near to tap each other’s shoulders asking for their destination. These people aren’t (usually) serial stalkers; they’re looking to position themselves for the 10-second window during which they can exit.

3. Seat Reservation Rule :
If you want to sit, stand in between the 3-seaters and ask the seated passengers 'Kaha uttarna hai' (Where do you want to alight?) If their destination is before yours, you point to yourself, then to him/her. A head bob from the seated party seals the deal, and your bum will soon be riding in style.

4. Helping-Hand Rule : You must, with the aid of your fellow passengers, scoop a passenger running towards the doorway
.Everyone works together to get you on the train before it departs.

5. Sharing Rule :
Newspapers are public goods in the Mumbai trains. If you don’t like people reading over your shoulder, then catch up on the latest Satyam development at your breakfast table. If you are reading newspaper in the train, you need to share it with atleast 3 of your co-passengers.

In Mumbai, local trains are the heart and soul of the city. It breathes life into Mumbai at the break of dawn and cradles the city to sleep, if only for a few hours. It truely is the lifeline. No other city, I know of, has such a plethora of people inter-mingling at one place and sharing moments of their lives together, even if it only is for a few hours.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Corporate Theatre

I have learnt the concept of training during my post-graduation course and have implemented it at various occasions in my work-life. I have also got trained by various methodologies in the last few years. But this was my first exposure to Corporate Theatre and training through the theatre methodology and what a refreshing experience it was...

This was the introduction sheet to the training :

Dress Code: Absolutely Informal. Wear something loose and comfortable that will allow sitting, lying, or rolling on the floor. (Rolling on the floor - was this corporate training or some kid's workshop?) Ladies are advised to avoid Saris as they inhibit free movement.

Bring nothing with you - no notebooks, pads, or pens. Note-taking is strictly forbidden.

Footwear to be left outside the hall. Along with footwear, participants are requested to leave adult personalities, seniority, designations, and hierarchy, outside. Whatever is needed from among these can be retrieved on the way back after the workshop. (I completely loved this statement).

Bring cameras along. You will catch yourselves and each other in amazing postures and costumes and with unbelievable expressions that you may find difficult to replicate afterwards. You will want to preserve them for posterity and show it to parents, spouses, children, and grandchildren down the years. However don't expect them to believe it is YOU !! (This really intrigued my imagination!)

When I read this as a prelude to a training program I was scheduled to attend later in the week, I was sure about one thing : it would not be the conventional training programs that I've been used to.

When I entered the hotel and was ushered to the Training Center, I was surprised to find that there were no chairs, no projectors, laptops - not even a whiteboard or a flip-chart. Instead, there were mattresses and bolsters along the three walls at one end of the hall. All chairs were stacked in one corner. And the participants were stretched out comfortably on the mattresses and bolsters, casually chatting with each other. The atmosphere was warm and if I may add, very homely!

Mr. Paul Mathew, the trainer, came across as someone who was really passionate about theatre and his entire life was dedicated to this sole passion. He emphasized the basic learning principles on which the "Corporate Theatre" methodology is based:

1. Learning happens best in the 'child' state : In the 'adult' state, one has most of the answers, very few questions. Made a lot of sense. Have you heard any kid say / think : What will my mom / dad / teacher / friend think of me if I ask them this question? They are free from the 'looking good' mentality and hence are open to a huge amount of learning - their curiosity for learning and inconsideration towards 'What-Will-Others-Think' attitude, fosters an immense speed , gamut of exposure and assimilation of knowledge. As we grow, we get into a lot of complexities and our inhibitions and ego that we already know so much stop us from asking questions and thus our learning becomes lesser and lesser.

2. No one can train another : The onus is on the learner. Unless the learner chooses to learn, learning does not take place. True, isn't it? Until and unless you want to learn, you may be present at the workshop physically but me mentally absent.

3. One person's knowledge need not be relevant to another : Learning is best when each one gets in touch with their own wisdom. This I completely relate to. The 'Aa-ha' moment comes when a particular point sticks on to you since you can relate to it from your past experiences. The other participants also hear the same lines but they may not get impacted the way you do. And then no amount of note-taking is necessary. It remains with you long after the sessions are done.

4. Transformation is the most immediate and direct result of learning : If there is no transformation, there has been no learning. This sums up any training program. Change and learning are essential to training and if there is positive transformation, even in a small measure, the training has impacted you.

The training was competely an activity based methodology and we did various group tasks, the finale being, using basic artcles like chart paper, bed sheets, felt pens etc, to create a scene which would not have dialogues but we would freeze, on the count, and basis our expressons, arrangement of the props etc, the other groups would have to guess what we were portraying.

My biggest learning out of this workshop was that, a diverse group of people, from various walks of life, can play up to their strengths and keeping their individual ego aside, work with single minded focus so that the team wins. Individuals didn't have to be complete in themselves but the team neede to be, by playing up to each individual's strengths.

Paul stretched this concept of teamwork into the way we use Performance Appraisals in our workplaces.
He stressed on the fact that an incorrect appraisal system could make people compete against each other in an unhealthy way rather than collaborating to work towards team goals.

Differentiation is key in team appraisals, on the lines of what I had discussed in my post 'For Whom the Bell Tolls'. But the process should be such that if the team loses, no one gets rewarded, no matter how well they have individually performed. If the team succeeds in iys objective, everyone gets amply rewarded. And here, the winning team will differentiate its performers into top, middle and bottom.

Over a couple of cycles of appraisal, this will ensure that the Team weeds out the non-committed far more ruthlessly than a 'boss' can do it. Only those who can and want to contribute, are tolerated by a natural Team. When the Team does the rating, there is no perceived unfairness or injustice. It is not one person's appraisal. And unless a Team is 'suicidal' the rating will be ruthlessly fair. If not, they realize that ultimately everyone loses.

As I have said earlier, only a robust Performance Management System can build credibility in the process. There are various ways to differentiate and this is one of the ways.

Monday, June 01, 2009

I Know What's On Your Mind!!!

News has emerged from Google’s offices that should send a shiver down every employee’s back (and make Human Resources jump with joy). Google, concerned by the recent departures of several top executives, has developed an algorithm to try to identify which employees are likely to quit, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal. The algorithm would crunch “data from employee reviews and promotion and pay histories in a mathematical formula” and would show which of its employees were the most likely to quit soon. Laszlo Bock, who runs human resources for Google, told the Journal the algorithm helps the company "get inside people's heads even before they know they might leave."

This algorithm has huge potential - a boon of sorts to HR. Imagine its powers. Catch employees going away on holidays too often or falling sick time and again, take his ratings, promotions and pay histories and presto : you know whether he is headed to the hospital or on his way out of your company. HR's job and primary KRA (Key Responsibility Area) will now become what Sherlock Holmes and our very own Byomkesh Bakshi did - track, follow, pursue, shadow and nab the traitors! Loyal employees who are dedicated and trusty have nothing to hide and nothing to fear. But the plotting, calculating, conniving and devious ones - Beware!

How many times have you bumped into your bosses, super-bosses and the Company CEO's and MD's and have been casually asked : So, how are you finding the company? And how many times have you answered with all the earnestness and emphasis in your command : It's going absolutely great, Sir. I totally love my job. Do we really have to follow a Light's Out policy at 8PM and no work on Sundays? I could get so much more done if I were allowed to stay the nights and work on weekends (while your mind is conjuring up pleasant images of your seniors' faces on your favorite dartboard and you hitting bulls eye and yelling - I hate you, your freaking job and your stupid company. If I could, I'd write out my resignation letter and throw it on your face. After I am gone, I hope your work suffers, you get demoted / pink-slipped and you feel cold, alone and uncared for, just as I have). But do you say this? Nope! You play your cards close to your heart, smile broadly, look happy and lie through your nose. Convincingly. Repeatedly.

So will you now get caught by the HR Under-cover Agents if you even just think of lying? Thankfully, the answer, for now, seems to be No. People Management magazine reported that the chances of Google commercially releasing the quitter finder algorithm were dim. A spokesman for Google clarified that, “The development of HR algorithms is not our core business”.

However, fore-warned is fore-armed. You are behind enemy lines and are constantly being watched.

After all, the New HR Mantra is :

Every breath you take / Every move you make / Every bond you break / Every step you take

I’ll be watching you.

Every single day / Every word you say / Every game you play /Every night you stay

I’ll be watching you.

Every move you make / Every vow you break / Every smile you fake/Every claim you stake

I’ll be watching you

Saturday, May 23, 2009

I Am India...

I am India....

I remember in March 1993, when the skyline of Bombay was almost blown off with a series of bomb blast...bombs went off at the Bombay Stock Exchange building, Air India building, Masjid Bunder, a bus near Passport Office, a building near Poonam Chambers, Plaza cinema hall at Dadar, Centaur Hotel Juhu and Sea Rock Hotel at Bandra ... to name a few. Thousands lost their lives, thousand others were wounded and the poor became poorer still. I obviously knew who had done it but I was asked by the so-called powerful nations to restrain myself and not jump to conclusions. After all, I am the country where great leaders like Mahatma Gandhi have preached non-violence, to give the other cheek if I am slapped on one. How can I then be a hypocrite in front of the world and resort to voilence? So, I allowed terrorists likes Dawood and Tiger Memon to escape out to Pakistan / Dubai and lead lavish lives. The world, not surprisingly had a very short memory and carried on and no one bothered.

I have always been surrounded by rogue states and unstable governments. And my borders are so vast and varied that I am vulnerable from various sides. And Pakistan has been a neighbour which constantly keeps reminding me of its existence. A few years later Pakistan again was at war with me. Kargil was a full-fleged war on my people. It was horrifying to say the least . And what did it yield except the Powers-that-be telling me to restrain and work towards 'samjhauta'... The world knows what happened to the Express which went by that name. A compromise which would mean handing over Kashmir on a platter to my neighbours!

I have produced proof after proof of Pakistan being the birthplace and nurturer of terror. And can Pak sustain its terror activities without the support of its military? Where does its arms and ammunition come from? Where does the money come in? When documents were produced stating that France continues to sell arms to Pakistan, no embargo, no sanctions but "good advice' was given. I was reminded that I am the world's largest Democracy and hence should be the big sister to a nation who in fact is a day older than us!

Do you remember December 1999? It was Christmas time, and the whole world was celebrating the end of the century and the beginning to a new millennium. But how was it made immortal in our minds? The hijack of Flight IC 814. In the middle of no-where, in Kandahaar, the plight of the passengers and the crew was in the hands of the terrorists. My countrymen watched horrified and with bated breath to hear any news on the return of their near and dear ones . Did any country in the world come forward with a solution? I had to fend for myself.

I carried out the Pokhran II nuclear test, the whole world was quick to condemn me, US sanctions were the first to be implemented. Pakistan was given as much support as required.

I find it extremely ironical that the big bully who did not think twice before the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima / Nagasaki, raced to wipe out Vietnam, eagerly instigated the Afghans against Soviet Union (and so, in a large respect, aided the creation of Taliban), time and again reminded their next generation that they should fight for justice turns face about when it comes to their country? America, the country who finds it difficult to swallow the same bitter pill, the developed nation who had no clue of what was going to happen to them on a Tuesday morning, who had no inkling of events to unfold... the same country who has all along just given me lip service got full support from me in its time of need.

From the riots of 1993 to the Taj bombing of 2008, I have been bleeding... crying... tolerating... sacrificing. I was once regarded as the most secular, cohesive and peaceful democracy but now am being broken down to pieces. At times, I think it is a battle - a war that I have allowed too many countries to meddle in and distort the real essence of .

Is Kashmir my only problem? What about the rampant lawlessness in states like Bihar and UP? And the under-development in the BiMaRU states? And how can I forget my patriotic 'netas' who, in the garb of preserving my culture, create communal and civil violence. Do you, my country-men (and women) vote for a party or against it? Why is there so much criminalization of politics and corruption right from the lower to the topmost rung in society?

When you go for movies, do you stant up for the National Anthem with a sense of pride or do you, in your minds, keep thinking 'What a waste of time this is'... Well, if you do, here's a new anthem for you... Sing it and feel ashamed. Jaya he!!! (or is it Jai Ho!!!)

Jana Gana Mana Rann hai..
Iss rann me, Zakhmi Bharat ka Bhagya Vidhaata..
Punjab Sindh Gujrat Maratha..
Ek doosre se lad ke mar rahe hain...
Iss desh ne humko ek kiya,
Aur hum desh ke tukde kar rahe hain..
Dravid Utkala Banga..!
Khoon bahakar ek rang ka, kar diya humne Tiranga,
Sarhadon pe jung aur, galiyon me fasaad-danga..
Vindh Himachal Yamuna Ganga, mein tezaab ubal raha hai,
Mar gaya sab ka zameer, Jaane kab zinda ho aage..
Phir bhi tava shubh naame jaage.. Tava shubha ashish maange..
Aag mein jal kar cheekh raha hai, Phir bhi koi nahi bachata..
Gaahe tava jaya gaatha..
Desh ka aisa haal hai lekin, Aapas me ladh rahe neta..
Jana Gana Mangal Dayak Jaya Hai..
Bharat ko bacha le Vidhata!
Jaya He! Ya yeh marann hai..
Jana Gana Mana Rann hai..

Saturday, May 16, 2009

For Whom The 'Bell' Tolls

I was working on developing a career management system for my company and in that context was critically evaluating the performance appraisal system as well. One of the most debated ways to assess performance in organizations is the dreaded Bell Curve. Forced ranking assesses employee performance relative to peers rather than against predetermined goals. Managers rank employees into three categories: The top 20 percent are the people who will lead the future of the company. They're given raises, stock options, and training. The middle 70 percent are given smaller raises and encouraged to improve. The bottom 10 percent are contribute the least and may be meeting expectations but are simply "good" on a team of "greats." They're given no raises or bonuses and are either offered training, asked if they'd be happier elsewhere, or fired.

I was reading Jack Welch's Winning and came across this passage on forced rating, bell curve and differentiation (For the uninitiated, Jack Welch, retired Chief Executive Officer of General Electric (GE), is most often associated with forced ranking, since GE used this performance management tool to eliminate the bottom ten percent of performers each year.) :

Differentiation starts right from our school days with our grades and play-ground where the best players get picked first and the least athletic ones watch from the stands. Everyone knows where he/she stands. The top kids want desperately to stay there and continue to get the thrill and respect of winning. the kids in the middle work hard to get better and thus bring up the quality of play. And the kids who couldn't make the cut usually found other pursuits, other sports in which they excelled. this is true on the playground and it is true in business.

When differentiation is working, people know where they stand. Maybe some information is hard to swallow at first but soon enough, knowledge is liberating because when you know where you stand, you can control your destiny.

Differentiation brings out the positive impact of an open, honest management system built on candid performance assessments and aligned rewards. For the top performers, the very existence of a middle cadre gives them yet another reason to pull out all the stops everyday. They have to keep getting better to have a high standing. For the middle performers, the aspiration to get into the top level makes them work harder, think more creatively, share more ideas and overall, fight the good fight everyday.

Now, coming to the detractors of forced ranking, I have heard many say that it is not ethical. My view on this is - any system or process is nether ethical or unethical - it is the implementers who make it so. A lot depends on how fairly the system is developed, and how fair the people are who carry it out.

Forced Ranking may be hard on the under-performers, people who are not dependable, determined or persistent but truth be told, organizations are not charitable set-ups where they are obligated to carry these non-performers with them, on emotional grounds. And more importantly, a laissez-faire attitude where everybody gets an exceptional / very good rating makes the ranking meaningless to employees. Would that not be the case if everyone in a school stood first?

But, having said that, I definitely feel the emphasis should be on the correct way to implement the process. Clear, transparent and honest communication of process and feedback goes a long way in building credibility of the system and its processes. If the Forced Ranking system is a way to make power centers in the organization where those who fall out of favour with the boss / are not 'Yes-Bosses' are chucked out, such a system is doomed to implode. If you don’t give people what they need to perform well and expect them to succeed, if you set a measure to which people should perform and don’t give them the tools to do it, then it is an unfair process, set up for failure and politics to set in. But if the evaluations are carried out in fair ways, and if people know the grounds or expectations on which they are being evaluated, it could be a reasonable way to reward growth and ability and to cull unpromising or under performing employees.

My Choice Blogger AWard

I have been awarded the My Choice Blogger award by Meera. Thanks so much. I am glad I am your choice!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Happy Mother's Day, Ma!!!

On the occasion of Mother's Day, I thought it apt to share this piece of writing...

We are sitting at lunch one day when my daughter casually mentions that she and her husband are thinking of "starting a family."
"We're taking a survey," she says half-joking. "Do you think I should have a baby?"
"It will change your life," I say, carefully keeping my tone neutral.
"I know," she says, "no more sleeping in on weekends, no more spontaneous vacations."

But that is not what I meant at all. I look at my daughter, trying to decide what to tell her. I want her to know what she will never learn in childbirth classes.

I want to tell her that the physical wounds of child bearing will heal, but becoming a mother will leave her with an emotional wound so raw that she will forever be vulnerable.

I consider warning her that she will never again read a newspaper without asking, "What if that had been MY child?" That every plane crash, every house fire will haunt her.

That when she sees pictures of starving children, she will wonder if anything could be worse than watching your child die.

I look at her carefully manicured nails and stylish suit and think that no matter how sophisticated she is, becoming a mother will reduce her to the primitive level of a bear protecting her cub. That an urgent call of "Mom!" will cause her to drop a souffle or her best crystal without a moments hesitation.

I feel that I should warn her that no matter how many years she has invested in her career, she will be professionally derailed by motherhood. She might arrange for childcare, but one day she will be going into an important business meeting and she will think of her baby's sweet smell. She will have to use every ounce of discipline to keep from running home, just to make sure her baby is all right.

I want my daughter to know that every day decisions will no longer be routine. That a five year old boy's desire to go to the men's room rather than the women's at McDonald's will become a major dilemma. That right there, in the midst of clattering trays and screaming children, issues of independence and gender identity will be weighed against the prospect that a child molester may be lurking in that restroom. However decisive she may be at the office, she will second-guess herself constantly as a mother.

Looking at my attractive daughter, I want to assure her that eventually she will shed the pounds of pregnancy, but she will never feel the same about herself. That her life, now so important, will be of less value to her once she has a child.That she would give up in a moment to save her offspring, but will also begin to hope for more years, not to accomplish her own dreams, but to watch her child accomplish theirs. I want her to know that a caesarean scar or shiny stretch marks will become badges of honor.

My daughter's relationship with her husband will change, but not in the way she thinks. I wish she could understand how much more you can love someone who is careful to powder the baby or who never hesitates to play with their child. I think she should know that she will fall in love with him again for reasons she would now find very unromantic.

I wish my daughter could sense the bond she will feel with women throughout history who have tried to stop war, prejudice and drunk driving. I hope she will understand why I can think rationally about most issues, but become temporarily insane when I discuss the threat of nuclear war to my children's future.

I want to describe to my daughter the exhilaration of seeing your child learn to ride a bike. I want to capture for her the belly laugh of a baby who is touching the soft fur of a dog or cat for the first time. I want her to taste the joy that is so real it actually hurts.

My daughter's quizzical look makes me realize that tears have formed in my eyes.

"You'll never regret it," I finally say.

Then I reached across the table, squeezed my daughter's hand and offered a silent prayer for her, and for me, and for all the mere mortal women who stumble their way into this most wonderful of callings.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Bengali A - Z

Something I picked up recently... The A - Z for Bengalis...

A is for Awpheesh (as in Office). This is where the average Kolkakatan goes and spends a day hard at work. And if he works for the 'Vest Bengal Gawrment' he will arrive at 10, wipe his forehead till 11, have a tea break at 12, throw around a few files at 12.30, break for lunch at 1, smoke an unfiltered cigarette at 2, break for tea at 3, sleep sitting down at 4 and go home at 4:30. It's a hard life!

B is for Bhision. For some reason many Bengalis don't have good bhision. In fact in Kolkata most people are wearing spectacles all the time.(too many plays to attend,shongeet programs)

C is for Chappell. Currently, this is the Bengali word for the Devil, for the worst form of evil. In the night mothers put their kids to sleep saying, 'Na ghumaley Chappell eshey dhorey niye jabe.'(remember ' so jao nahi to Gabbar aa jayega'....thanks Sippy sahab)

D is for Debashish or any other name starting with Deb. By an ancient law every fourth Bengali Child has to be named Debashish. So you have a Debashish everywhere and trying to get creative they are also called Deb, Debu, Deba with variations like Debopriyo, Deboprotim, Debojyoti, etc. thrown in at times.

E is for Eeesh. This is a very common Bengali exclamation made famous by Aishwarya Rai in the movie Devdas. It is estimated that on an average a Bengali, especially Bengali women, use eeesh 10,089 times every year. 'Ei Morechhey' is a close second to Eeesh.

F is for Feeesh. These are creatures that swim in rivers and seas and are a favourite food of the Bengalis. Despite the fact that a fish market has such strong smells, with one sniff a Bengali knows if a fish is all right. If not, he will say 'eeesh what feeesh is theesh!'

G is for Good name. Every Bengali boy will have a good name like Debashish or Deboprotim and a pet name like Motka, Bhombol, Thobla, etc. While every Bengali girls will have pet names like Tia, Tua,Tumpa , Tuktuki, Mishti, Khuku et cetera.

H is for Harmonium. This the Bengali equivalent of a rock guitar. Take four Bengalis and a Harmonium and you have the successors to The Bheatles!(2 lac impersonators of the bhetols and elvis da in North kolkata only)

I is for lleesh. This is a feeesh with 10,000 bones which would kill any ordinary person, but which the Bengalis eat with releeesh!

J is for Jhola. No selfrespecting Bengali is complete without his Jhola. It is a shapeless cloth bag where he keeps all his belongings and he fits an amazing number of things in. Even as you read this there are two million jholas bobbling around Kolkata, and they all look exactly the same! Note that 'Jhol' as in Maachher Jhol is a close second.

K is for Kee Kaando !. It used to be the favourite Bengali exclamation till eeesh took over because of Aishwarya Rai (now Kee Kando's agent is trying to hire Bipasha Basu).

L is for Lungi, the dress for all occasions. People in Kolkata manage to play football and cricket wearing it not to mention the daily trip in the morning to the local bajaar. Now there is talk of a lungi expedition to Mt Everest.

M is for Minibaas. These are dangerous half buses whose antics would effortlessly frighten the living daylights out of all James Bond stuntmen as well as Formula 1 race car drivers.

N is for Nangto. This is the Bengali word for Naked. It is the most interesting naked word in any language!

O is for Oil. The Bengalis believe that a touch of mustard oil will cure anything from cold (oil in the nose), to earache (oil in the ear), to cough (oil on the throat) to piles (oil you know where!).

P is for Phootball. This is always a phavourite phassion of the Kolkattan. Every Bengali is born an expert in this game. The two biggest clubs there are Mohunbagan and East Bengal and when they play the city comes to a stop.

Q is for Queen. This really has nothing to do with the Bengalis or Kolkata, but it's the only Q word I could think of at this moment. There's also Quilt but they never use them in Kolkata.

R is for Robi Thakur. Many many years ago Rabindranath got the Nobel Prize. This has given the right to all Bengalis no matter where they are to frame their acceptance speeches as if they were directly related to the great poet and walk with their head held high. This also gives Bengalis the birthright to look down at Delhi and Mumbai and of course 'all non-Bengawlees'! Note that 'Rawshogolla' comes a close second ! and a closer third is 'Robindro shongeet' ...every
child born first sings a verse of robindro shongeet before asking for mothers' milk)

S is for Shourav. Now that they finally produced a genuine cricketer and a captain, Bengalis think that he should be allowed to play until he is 70 years old. Of course they will see to it that he stays in good form by doing a little bit of 'jawggo' and 'maanot'.

T is for Trams. Hundred years later there are still trams in Kolkata. Of course if you are in a hurry it's faster to walk.

U is for Aambrela. When a Bengali baby is born he is handed one.(a statement for 'upwaardly mobile bengalis') A close second is Uttam Kumar.....the Rock Hudson of Goria..haat.....

V is for Bhaayolence. Bengalis are the most non-violent violent people around. When an accident happens they will fold up their sleeves, shout and scream and curse and abuse, "Chherey De Bolchhi" but the last time someone actually hit someone was in 1979.

W is for Water. For three months of the year the city is underwater and every year for the last 200 years the authorities are taken by surprise by this!

X is for X'mas. It's very big in Kolkata, with Park Street fully lit up and all Bengalis agreeing that they must eat cake that day,abandoning their roshogoollas and shondesh for a day.....

Y is for Yesshtaarday. Which is always better than today for a Bengali (see R for Robi Thakur).

Z is for Jebra, Joo, Jipper and Jylophone.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Shubho Nabo Borsho

Not the very apt time to write about the quintessential 'Pujo' of Bengalis but with 'Poila Boishakh' (Bengali New Year) coming up tomorrow, I have suddenly started feeling very 'Bengali'!!! This, in a world where we are so cosmopolitan! In fact, coming to think of it, tell any Mumbaikar that he lives in a Maharashtrian city or any resident of Bangalore that he lives in a Kannada one and s/he will take immediate offence. S/he will immediately launch in a tirade of how high the pot-purri of cultual mix exists, of the wide roads, the night-life, the wi-fi and the wide and diverse set of people that inhabit the cities.

But then, there are those cities that are far away from the techno-babble (and bubble); that are rooted deep in their identity as a non-cosmopolitan, traditionalist city that takes pride in being just the way it is. Kolkata (or Calcutta as I have always called it, inspite of the fact that the Bengali pronunciation is Kolkata) is one such city.

I have not lived in this city for an extended period of time. A visit for a few weeks every alternate year was just about, more than enough for me - I always found the life there very slow and laid back compared to the fast life in Mumbai. But the true way to explore a city is by staying there on your own and I was given the opportunity to do so during my post-graduate internship with ITC. The two months that I spent there alone, without my immediate or extended family, taught me a lot about the city, its hues and cultures, its people and most importantly, changed my perception about the city.

Calcutta has deep passions, cheerful chaos, utter contempt for commerce and fiery responses to the smallest provocation. And at the same time, it has the love for culture, arts, intellect; it is bare in all its emotions - it is humane and exudes warmth and comfort. It truly is the City of Joy in many ways! We define most cities by the infrastructural / financial / cosmopolitan outlook and growth but Calcutta is one place which is defined by its people.

And this is where the 'Pujo' comes in... and it so much more than just worship! Calcutta immerses in the joy of celebration, of artistic expression and the brightness of colours and music of the 'dhaks'... the 'fragrance' of fried fish, the 'shidur khela', the 'Anjali', the competition between pandaals to see which is better, the riot of colours... The 'Pujo' is simply a celebration of life, for the City of Joy.

I was told that the city would grow on me. And guess what, it did. Without knowing, it quietly stepped into my heart and won over my soul!!!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Sambar of '69

Was going through some of my old treasured mails and found this one...
(To be sung to the tune of Bryan Adam's Summer of '69)

I had my first real six rupees.
Stole it from my father's pants.
Went to a madrasi hotel,
to eat the Sambar of '69.

Me and some kadke dost,
Had it all and we caught bukhaar,
Jimy puked, Joey got ulcers,
And Bagga ne maari dakar.

Oh when I went back there now,
The food was as stale as ever,
And though it was 1999,
Still the Sambar was being served over there...
That was the worst food of my life...
Back to the Sambar of '69.

There's no use in complaining,
When you got no other place to eat,
Rushed in the evening to the doctors clinic,
But he too was at the toilet seat,

Yeah standing there waiting outside,
Nurse told me I will wait forever,
Oh and when I held my breath,
I knew that I had to use that loo there
That was the worst food of my life.
Back to the Sambar of '69.

Man I was getting killed,
I was full and restless,
I needed to unwind,
I guess nothing can wait forever - FOREVER... NO!!!!

And now the dhabas are changing,
New dishes have come and gone,
Sometimes when I pass that old Madrasi lane,
I still smell it, I can't be wrong.

Standing in those unwashed clothes,
The waiters still call me in there,
Oh the way my nostrils burn,
I know that it will be served forever,
What was the worst food of my life.
Yeah it was the Sambar of '69, the Sambar, the Sambar, the Sambar of '69 .....

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The GREAT Divide!

Women, particularly feminists, leave no opportunity to point out what a bane, men are to society and how, with human cloning becoming successful, men can be just thrown off the face of Mother Earth! But there is a further divide... in the South of India, people feel that North Indian Men (NIM) - and not men in general - are the bane of society. They are supposed to be uncouth, uncultured and God's gift to womankind. And for the South Indian Men, (SIM), every person who has been born and brought up towards the north of the Vindhyas, is a North Indian (Yes, us Mumbaikars as well!!! :) )

Let's put things in perspective : there's no denying that in the 'women-safe' city of Mumbai, a few years ago, on New Year's night, women were molested by a mob in full public view with media around. But to counter that is the Mangalore pub assault episode, when the activists of Sri Rama Sene barged into a pub and violently beat up the girls present there in the name of preserving Indian culture.

Can we really segregate and accuse one section of the population with such 'henious' crimes while absolving the other group in the same breath, just by virtue of the states of birth / growing up / residence? But truth be told - NIM are far more crass and openly rough and vulgar than the SIM. The most perverted, double-meaning jokes, am sure, originated in the northern part of the country and although I am not judgemental about them (having laughed at them with as much gusto as my NIM & SIM friends), they can get lewd and uncomfortable for the feeble hearted. And not to forget the evergreen punch-lines - 'Kya maal / item / bomb / body hai'; 'Aa chalti hai kya'; They not only whistle, but also make obscene gestures and pass lewd comments. Whether a girl is of eighteen or a woman in her 50s, these men shower there love and affection on everyone.

This is what I read in a site which caters to Western Women visiting India - particular advice for North India while South India was rated much more laid back, friendly, and respectful :

- Learn to ignore everyone around you unless you have a specific reason to speak with someone.

- Don't meet people's eyes - especially men.

- Don't chat very much with random guys. Indian women don't do that and neither do they look at men. In fact most Indian women completely ignore the presence of men and just go about their business.

- Maintain your distance from any man - very young to very old. At least three to four feet. That's how much space Indian women maintain between themselves and an unrelated male.

- Don't wear clothes that expose the shoulders, that are tight across the chest, don't expose legs, no strappy dresses, etc. Salwars or just pants and a long cotton top are comfortable and appropriate.

- If anyone asks you about a boyfriend or husband, say yes, you are married for years and he is in Mumbai or somewhere else and you are visiting friends in whichever town you happen to be in. Or just act completely deaf when the topic comes up. Most Indian women do not answer personal questions and keep quiet to indicate that the question was no appropriate.

- Learn a few words of the local language like help, water, toilet, etc. When in doubt about something, ask another woman or a couple.

- If you will wear salwar kameez (that "Punjabi suit" you'll see women wearing -- baggy pants, baggy shirt and a scarf which is not optional -- you'll give people the silhouette that they are used to seeing and will avoid a lot of unwanted attention from the bold and sex-starved men who will approach you.

- You should also avoid being alone on dark streets at night, and private contact with strange men. Just because they are wearing shirt and trousers instead of a longhi doesn't mean a man has the capacity for the sort of friendship you and I are used to from Western men -- so don't expect that.

- Meet cyberpals in public, in daylight if possible... always. Even at home, this is kind of like saying "don't take candy from strangers" but every once in a while we need that reminder.

- If you're lost or need to know what time it is, ask the nearest woman. Her husband will answer, but direct your conversation at HER.
(WOW!!! This is enlightening!)

- If someone touches you, slap him! Scream "pervert"! Take off your shoe and threaten him with that! But that's a last resort -- better to avoid those situations when possible.

- If you are on a train and someone asks if they may please sit on your berth while you sleep -- tell him that you know he would never want anyone to ask his sister that same thing and to forget that idea.

All this being said, you will have a more difficult time in North India than in the South of India. North Indian men are more aggressive towards women - not just foreigners, other Indians too.

Perhaps a burkah would be the answer to our woes in India!!!

But guess what - although the NIMs win this hands down, guess, burkhas are not able to protect these women -

Guatemala, where an impoverished female underclass faces domestic violence, rape and torture. An epidemic of gruesome unsolved murders has left hundreds of women dead, some of their bodies left with hate messages.

Pakistan, women are gang-raped as punishment for men’s crimes.

Somalia, a vicious civil war has put women, who were the traditional mainstay of the family, under attack. In a society that has broken down, women are exposed daily to rape, dangerously poor health care for pregnancy, and attack by armed gangs.

Nepal Early marriage and childbirth exhaust the country’s malnourished women, and one in 24 will die in pregnancy or childbirth. Daughters who aren’t married off may be sold to traffickers before they reach their teens. Widows face extreme abuse and discrimination if they’re labeled bokshi, meaning witches.

Mali, where few women escape the torture of genital mutilation, many are forced into early marriages, and one in 10 dies in pregnancy or childbirth.

Afghanistan More than half of all brides are under 16, and one woman dies in childbirth every half hour. Domestic violence is so common that 87 per cent of women admit to experiencing it. But more than one million widows are on the streets, often forced into prostitution.

Daughters of Shame by Jasvinder Sanghera outlines in painful detail the horrific stories of women abused and suffering... 'I listen to those stories -- told by women who have been drugged, beaten, imprisoned, raped and terrorised within the walls of the homes they grew up in. I listen and I am humbled by their resilience', she says. It is a long drawn battle - one which is being fought in various parts of the world, behind closed doors and in open grounds, in darkness and in light, in public view and in private; it is a battle without ammunition but the wounds are equally deep, the cries deeply painful and abuse and death as real... Every defeat in this war must be deeply mourned and every victory celebrated and recounted deftly and without apology.