The Coffee Struggle


Starbucks is not my “standard” coffee choice.

Are you surprised? I don’t think so.

In Singapore at least, Starbucks is not the leading coffee provider.

Who is then the top coffee provider in Singapore?

Not a single name crops up, though there are a number of global/regional chains competing in the market place, such as Spinelli or Cedele or Coffee Bean, etc., My favourite coffee maker is Spinelli, but unfortunately they are not omnipresent in Singapore. Coffee Bean comes next, followed by Cedele and then finally, may be Starbucks, if there is no other option.

Why is this the status for the number #1 coffee chain in the world, which is dominant in the U.S. and China and in several other countries? I know that in China, Starbucks is opening a new outlet every 15 hours – yes, you heard it right, every 15 hours. I have been to China many times in the past couple of years, and I have witnessed the fact that the Chinese folks are friendly towards Starbucks, and it is their favourite coffee brew. We even have a new Starbucks outlet in our own office building!

What about the U.K., a close friend of the U.S. where you would normally think and expect that Starbucks would be the #1 coffee shop?

The answer is no, they are not. In fact, I saw that the Brits favour their own coffee chains such as the ever present Caffe Nero coffee chain, Costa Coffee, and of course, the famous Pret A Manger chain. In all these coffee shops, you get good food choices, whereas in Starbucks London outlets, the food choices are bad. One of my ex-colleagues working now in London in fact stated that Starbucks has been fast losing market share in London because of just one fact – they do not offer a variety of food options which the Brits love. If I may add, the Flat White Coffee at Caffe Nero or Costa is far better than the Starbucks factory produced coffee!

Let us now come back to Singapore. Starbucks did not customize its offerings for such a sophisticated market, and that is very surprising. What you get in Singapore is almost exactly the same as what you would get in the U.S. In countries like India, Starbucks learnt its lessons fast, and started offering a variety of local Indian food options along with its expensive range of coffees. But not so in Singapore. The Starbucks coffee is not “strong” enough for the Singaporean palate, which is used to the “Kopi” offered in the local Kopi Tiam coffee shops, which is a strong brew with a variety of variations such as “black without condensed milk”, “regular with condensed milk”, “regular with less sugar”, etc., Singaporeans like their coffee to be very strong – almost dark brown, and I have seen people drinking their bitter coffee which is dark brown with hardly any milk in it. It goes with a variety of foods popularized by local chains such as “Toast Box”, which is one of the most preferred breakfast and coffee places in all of Singapore. I do not like to eat or drink at the Toast Box as it is always super crowded and the coffee is a bit too strong for me! Further, I do not eat the toasted bread with peanut butter that is almost standard fare out here at the Toast Box!! As I mentioned above, I like the Spinelli coffee the most, and sometimes walk into the specialty coffee shops which dot the island, which provide interesting variations to the standard coffee offerings.

While Starbucks is betting on China as its most successful and critical markets for the future (they plan to have 6,000 outlets by 2022), the world does not end in China. There are a whole lot of other countries which are important, though not as big as China market for coffee. However, I am afraid that Starbucks is not reading market needs well, at least in Singapore. In China, I do not have much choice, so I walk into the nearest Starbucks in Beijing or Shanghai, which is probably less than 500 metres away! In Japan, I do have choices for other coffee providers, but invariably there is a Starbucks nearby. However, if you can find it, I would recommend the Blue Bottle Coffee which is amazing.

There are so many options for good coffee anywhere you go, and I am now more tuned towards craft coffee makers, and tend to avoid Starbucks as much as possible. The food options in Starbucks Singapore outlets are not great and do not meet my needs anyway.

So, in a nutshell, if you are a coffee lover, I see no reason why you would spend on a Starbucks coffee when even your own office can probably produce a nice Italian coffee! Not always, and not for every office of course!! The other dimension that you would like to keep in mind (especially during weekends) is that you would find more interesting people in more sophisticated coffee places as compared to Starbucks with people busy on their laptops even during the weekends. If you want to strike a conversation with the barista or the server, then Starbucks is not the place, you would agree with me on that!!!

I bought some excellent coffee from Kenya, Ethiopia and Honduras during my recent trip to London, and more about my experiments with such coffee in my future blog posts.

Cheers, and have a great weekend,

Vijay Srinivasan

17th November 2018

Authoritarianism in Democracies


It is rather strange why so many democratically elected leaders of countries feel the urge to play god or superman when it comes to ruling in a majority government.

I believe that a streak of authoritarianism exists in most strong leaders with a strong will and powerful determination to take their nations and people forward. It is not an unnatural tendency, especially when the exercise of real power is possible, and there are a number of other influential people who assume the role of sycophants and sing the praise of the leader all the time.

If the strongman leader is well-intentioned, incorruptible, and not given to the negative influences of sycophancy, then he will be able to make a positive impact on his nation. Even then, he would constantly need the counsel and services of like-minded individuals, which becomes difficult especially in a conflicted country with heavy bureaucracy and multiple priorities. If such advice is not provided or sought, it is anybody’s guess where the country will eventually land, notwithstanding the good intentions of the elected leader.

Democracy is the most challenging form of government in practice today. It is prone to excessive meddling by mostly corrupt politicians, operating in a loosely managed system which can almost be considered as “free wheeling”. Unfortunately, it is currently the best possible scheme of governance available with all its foibles and inconsistencies.

The question then arises: how come a functioning democracy allows the emergence of a strong-willed authoritarian leader, and his/her free functioning despite the oversight functions built into a democratic system of government, and even tends to allow his/her excesses beyond what is permissible under such a system? Despite all the good work and progress that can be achieved by such a leader, the question still remains on “authoritarian excesses beyond what is permissible”, or the use of government machinery and authority to bully the naysayers and the well-meaning critics of the administration, curtail the freedom of the press, instigate lawsuits against dissenters and the media, and trample on civil rights.

There are many examples I can cite in defense of my surmise, the most potent ones being that of the Philippines and the U.S. In the Philippines, an authoritarian yet democratically elected President has totally destroyed civil rights and is pursuing a lawsuit against the most vocal media entity in the country. At last count, atleast 8,000 citizens have been shot down by law enforcement for drug trafficking or drug use, without any recourse to the country’s judicial system. In the U.S., we see the daily drama of a wayward President, who does not seem to care much about the fact that he is successfully dividing the country along race, colour and gender lines. The U.S. Congress has, so far, acquiesced to the whims of the President, and has rarely challenged him. This brings us to the next question.

Why do the other organs of a parliamentary democracy, such as the Parliament / Congress and the Judiciary just watch what is going on in the country, but rarely ever take suo moto actions to stop, challenge or dissuade the strong but erring leader? What prevents these organs from exercising their powers vested in them by the Constitution?

One reason could be that the Congress or the Parliament is run by the same party of which the head of government is also the leader, and the party is worried about the political ramifications of challenging its own leader and the next elections. In democracies, parties always worry about the next election. If there are a few vocal challengers in the party who give trouble to the President, they will eventually be silenced or ignored and replaced. Most political parties have average or weak leaders, so a strong leader who executes election promises and woos the electorate and voter base is always admired by the party, which becomes subservient to the relentless whims of its leader.

The Judiciary, in general, keeps a safe distance from politics and political happenings. This is the case, unless an affected party approaches it with a credible lawsuit against the government. In some cases of extreme injustice, the Court could resort to suo moto cognisance and initiate legal action on behalf of the victim.

While democracy provides for adequate checks and balances against the commitment of excesses by the Executive branch of the government, we have, of late (and in the past), seen real evidence of breakdowns which will eventually affect the fabric of democracy and its institutions.

The situation becomes worse when the “strong” leader delivers economic results and bolsters national security. It becomes extremely difficult to argue with positive results of benefit to the overall population (though not to segments of it). It may be sheer luck, but then it can be argued that specific actions resulted in solid positive economic progress, for instance.

Also, unfortunately, the general population usually prefers strong leaders who have a unique personality and a no-nonsense approach. This is one reason why movie actors went on to become successful in some regions as political leaders, while I would not believe they can deliver in real world what they did as actors in the make-believe world of movies.

Is there a way that democracies can adopt to avoid being caught in such an indefensible situation?

One way is to curb the discretionary powers available to the Executive for arbitrary exercise in favour of some stupid idea, or against an individual / entity who is opposed to the leader or his/her government. Easier systems of appeals to the Parliament which comprises of elected representatives and to the Judiciary will halt the President’s efforts in arbitrary exercise of power. However, nothing will prevent a determined leader in carrying out his mission vigorously with total insolence towards anyone beneath him or even those who are on par with him.

So we do have a serious issue with the democratic system of government. There is no immediate solution. Reprimand or threats of impeachment will not do the job. Aggressive judicial intervention is a real possibility, but not yet tested.

Think about it! Most of us live in democracies by the way!!

Have a good week ahead,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

11th November 2018

Avoidable Deaths in Unnecessary Conflicts


I came across the following “Costs of War” website run by Watson Institute for International & Public Affairs of Brown University, U.S.

“Costs of War”

It is worthwhile spending some time on the reports published at this site, which have not been covered widely in the international media. The various analyses are revealing data that many of us do not have access to. The overall figure of deaths in the Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan related war on terror conducted by the U.S. and its allies is at least over a million, considering the casualties inflicted by diseases and infrastructural deficiencies caused by war in these underdeveloped countries.

I am not delving into the statistics at this site (which I strongly encourage my readers to go through anyway), but more into the human misery caused by wars such as this war on terror. Wars are always the result of misjudgements or forced error-prone judgements by civilian officials in governments who are susceptible to pressures from the military-intelligence nexus thirsting for war anywhere they deem it necessary. We know this from the historical evidence gathered in the aftermath of the Vietnam War which was caused by false information from a U.S. warship sent to the U.S. Defence Secretary and the Iraqi War on Terror based on false data presented to the U.N. Security Council by Colin Powell. Rarely has a serious conflict been caused by real evidence of attack by an enemy from the field (except the World Wars I & II). What powerful countries look for is a justification to launch a war based on any kind of provocation or any kind of false data.

Why do they do such a thing as start an armed struggle which they know would cause unnecessary casualties on either side, or serious civilian collateral damage, even if they know they would win the war? The U.S. lost the war in Vietnam, it was defeated and humiliated by the Communist North Vietnam in 1975, though it was already a super power. Did it not learn its lessons from that war? Why send finely trained soldiers into war and lose them for good? Why spend so much of taxpayer money (USD 5.6 T in the war on terror till 2017) which could have been invested within the U.S. for the benefit of the people of the U.S.?

At the end of the day, the purpose is to “teach an unforgettable lesson” to the enemies or terrorists who attacked the U.S. in 2001. Terrorism has not gone away and has not been eliminated as a result of the “war on terror”. What we know for sure is that more than USD 5 T has been spent, more than half a million people are dead for sure, more enemies have been created on the ground in the Middle East, the Syrian & Yemen conflicts are not even counted in the above war on terror, and so on and so forth. If the purpose is to teach a strong lesson to aspiring terrorists, and also to eliminate every existing terrorist, then that purpose has not been accomplished. “Mission Accomplished” by George W Bush was a falsity as the world knew even then.

Targeted elimination of specific terrorists is very challenging and may not be possible at all. While that objective has to be pursued without any doubt, the unnecessary killing of suffering civilians in these countries need to stop. Need to totally stop. Will the Western countries allow such killings in their countries if the reverse scenario had happened, or even otherwise? No, not at all.

Human life has to be respected and human misery needs to be addressed.

Imagine spending USD 5.6 T on eliminating poverty in the world. Imagine eliminating homelessness and providing a healthcare safety net with that kind of money. Imagine so many good things that could have been achieved over the past 17 years with such serious amount of funding, if not for the world, at least for the U.S. How about drastically reducing the U.S. budget deficit with that kind of money?

Well, no easy answers. The military – intelligence – government – industry nexus will continue to serve the needs of war, while providing rationale for starting wars. I would think Asian countries are more circumspect when it comes to starting wars. We have seen standoffs between China & India, China & Vietnam, China & Taiwan, China & Japan, etc., but such conflicts are managed well without ever firing a shot, as Asia understands the potential costs of war which could completely derail the “Asian Century”.

One of the biggest results of the war on terror is continuing human misery and migration (displacement of people). This continues and is proving to be a huge challenge to many Western countries. How do they integrate these migrants (who they really do not want) into their respective societies?.

Overall, the conclusion is simple: the war on terror should have been very specific and very localized to specific regions of countries, instead of establishing a country-wide war zone in Iraq and Afghanistan. It should have had specific purposes which should have been accomplished by now (after so many years of conflict). Instead, we see meetings being scheduled between the U.S. and the terrorists they shunned all this while!!!

In the meanwhile, the various war zones operate (almost all in the unlucky Middle East region) and conflicts rage as usual. The Military-Industrial complex is salivating at the potential U.S. – Iran conflict, which will generate huge business for them of the order of USD trillions again, while killing innocent people in hundred of thousands for sure.

Welcome again to the World of Ever-present Conflicts, Unnecessary Wars, and Totally Avoidable Deaths!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

10th November 2018

 

More of London during weekend


I spent more time walking around London and gaining requisite skills on navigating the rather complex London Underground or the “tube”. I even took couple of bus rides. Transportation is critical in any major city, but in London it is very critical since we cannot just hop into a black cab as it is frighteningly expensive (atleast for me). Uber is some 20 to 30% cheaper depending on the time of the day. I realized that I have to switch off the “foreign exchange data switch” in my brain, which constantly computes the cost of any service or product in SGD or INR and manages to scare me.

Without that switch being on, the retail prices looked pretty reasonable. I walked into a number of supermarkets such as Aldi, Marks&Spencer, Waitrose, Tesco, and Sainesbury. More or less similar, but the best was Waitrose in terms of variety and quality, though the prices were a bit on the higher side. All these supermarkets were crowded and I could hear a babble of multiple languages from immigrants from all over the world. Surely, an Indian in the U.K. is not out of place. In fact, when the Immigration Officer at London Gatwick Airport asked me about the purpose of my visit, I told him I was visiting my daughter for Diwali and he did not bat an eyelid!

Coming back to my London itinerary, I visited the famous Portobello Road Market in Nottinghill area on Saturday which was crowded to the hilt, with hardly any space to even move around. It resembled the flea markets elsewhere, with hundreds of small shops peddling trinkets, memorablia, clothing, books, paintings, etc., as also a variety of food from many parts of the world. I enjoyed the walk, though technically it was not a walk – you get almost pushed forward, or you have to push ahead to get to the next shop. I had to be careful holding the food that I ordered, as it could have been knocked down by any one of the “pushers”. Beware of pickpocketeers of course.

Some of the pictures from my Portobello Road shopping experience as below:

I continued my exploration of the City of London today (Sunday) by visiting the London Bridge and the Tower of London. Fascinating history from over a 1,000 years ago characterize the Tower of London, which is a World Heritage site. Again, I enjoyed the walk which spanned the length from the edge of the modern London Bridge, all the way down the steps towards the Tower of London. Hundreds of folks were doing the same on a bright sunny day, though it was a bit chilly at some 8 deg Celsius.

Here are some pictures from my Sunday itinerary:

London, no doubt, is a fascinating historic and global city – very interesting, very absorbing. I am sure I have not scratched even one-fourth of this great city. I found London to be a lively, happening city, not held to ransom by history though the tour guides and tourists only talk about the British history, Kings and Queens. Though I had written blog post against monarchy in the past, history is so fascinating that I also fell victim to the rather interesting stories about King Henry the Eighth and his foibles with various Queens (six of them!).

Overall, it was a good 3 days of exploration around London, and thats all I had on hand in terms of time.

Have a wonderful week ahead, folks.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

4th November 2018

18,000 Steps in London 02 Nov


I walked and walked.

Never ending tourist spots in one of the most “touristy” cities in the world. I was part of a walking tour!

I am talking here about London, to which I returned after many, many years. I decided to become a “new” tourist in London on Friday 02 Nov.

First I went to the famous Primrose Hill on my own to get almost a full view of the City of London. Here are some pics – I am sure most of you would have travelled to this fabulous city, however I am posting what I took in an amateurish fashion:

I wanted to walk through St Regent’s Park and reach the London Business School and stroll through to Baker Street Underground Station as per my original plan. But I changed that plan and walked back to the cafes located near St John’s Wood Underground Station for having lunch plus coffee. It was a nice walk in sunny weather but the temperature was below 10 deg Celsius. I was of course, decked up for that kind of weather – thankfully, it was sunny all day unlike the usual rainy, muggy London that we usually get to experience almost all year round.

Salad lunch was good at Pret a Manger cafe and I had a lazy flat white coffee before I headed out to take the tube to the Charing Cross Station – I had to reach the Apple Store at Covent Garden to join the Sandeman’s New London Walking Tour (you can google it). It is a free tour, you just pay what you like to the tour guide at the end of the tour. We had a wonderful, vivacious lady from New Zealand as our tour guide, and she spoke almost non-stop right through the tour while shepherding some 30 folks from all over the world. I met people from Brazil, Spain, Russia, Holland, Portugal, Germany, Malaysia and the U.S. I also met an interesting guy from Argentina, but he went on to join the Spanish language tour.

We walked for the next 2.5 hours to many places like the Trafalgar Square, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, the Royal Park, Whitehall, Churchill’s War Room, and so on. I took several pictures as you can see below, but nothing outstanding as the group was constantly moving ahead and I did not wish to be left behind without being able to hear our guide’s fantastic speeches!

Most of you would have seen these places in London, so I am not elaborating on each and every one of them here. Let me see if you can identify the Harry Potter-specific shots that I took!

It was wonderful walking around London, actually the City of Westminster (not the City of London).

There were thousands of tourists in each place that I visited. When I tried to enter the Piccadilly Station Underground on Friday evening around 6 PM, it was so jam packed that I could move only inch by inch towards the entry gates, and then there seemed to be huge crowds trying to board the tube, I thought it almost looked like Mumbai train system, only there were no people hanging out of the train!

I used the “Citymapper” app for finding my way around which is incredibly useful especially on the London Underground, though I preferred Google Maps for the walking part between any two locations – it was easier and more accurate.

I wondered how people in the past would have navigated without the aid of such apps – signifying how “digital” we have become even to find some coffee shops around us!

London is all about discovering the city by walking around. Never take a taxi, you will be stuck in heavy traffic in a very very expensive mode of travel.

So now you see how I walked 18,000 steps in one day.

Have a good weekend folks,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

03 November 2018

Does Government own You?


For thousands of years, humans did not have a form of government which took responsibility to manage and defend a nation or territory. Before government came into picture, the rule of law was based on the inalienable rights of an individual to his or her life, liberty and property. You might have read this principle of what is known as “natural rights” during your school years.

Fights and battles happened when one person or his army tried to violate this natural set of rights, and take away the life, liberty or property of one individual. That was not at all acceptable, and it was perfectly fine for the aggrieved individual to wage a fight against the aggressor.

With the advent of a system of government, people came under the government’s governance mechanism. In return for infrastructure, safety and security, the people were ready to pay taxes to cover the costs of governance. In essence, a social “compact” was struck between the society and the government which was elected by the society. The government assumed primacy in all matters pertaining to the state, running of the governmental affairs, dealing with other states, protecting the people, investing in infrastructure, et al.

The influence of the government on the society or any individual in the society is nothing short of phenomenal, whether we are living in a democratic society or not. Unfortunately, in today’s world, there are no option to live “outside” of your society or country’s system of governance (after all, we don’t choose our parents or country of birth!). We can carry our thoughts which will never be subject to any external controls, but even our thoughts are subject to controls once explicitly expressed. This is the situation in many countries.

So, the question arises: which part of you the government owns? Whole or some part? The physical part or the mind part? Are we really fully free in any society? Does the government own us? Can the government take away our “inalienable” rights to life, liberty and property? Where does the government stop?

And so on and so forth………..can the government dictate to us on what we should be doing? Is it a facilitator or commander of your talent and skills?

Do we have the option to break our social “compact” and return to the nomadic way of life?

Do we subjugate ourselves to the primacy of the government which rules us? Do we totally give up?

Well, of course, we all know that the situation is not so dire in most countries. The government does not intervene in your personal life, unless there is a law and order problem. It really does not care.

Some governments, however, try to own you, commandeer you, and punish you if you commit offences not palatable to them. Taking away a citizen’s life, as we have seen recently appear to be quite extraordinary (I am referring here to the Kashoggi case in Istanbul). While I am stunned by the apparent indifference to the murder of an innocent civilian citizen in a diplomatic facility, let us not forget the foreign intelligence agencies of the top nations of the world routinely carry out targeted assassinations around the world, in countries where they do not have any jurisdiction. Torture, cruelty, killings and threats are all normal practices practiced every day in the name of national security, or if that does not work, in the name of regional security / protection of valuable allies / in the cause of world peace, etc.,

So, in a nutshell, be prepared at any time to be owned by your own government apparatus. And, if your country’s government is very closely connected with the the government(s) of the most powerful nations of the world, then you are in for an even scarier ride if your thoughts are on the wrong side of what these governments think is right. How about sympathizing with the suffering Palestinians, Uighurs, Yemenis or Rohingyas, just to name a few?

Food for lot of thought, I should say, pun intended!

Have a good week ahead,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

28th October 2018

Why do people get angry?


Anger Management is an old topic that I had covered sometime in the past.

After many years of experience taming my anger about things which I should anyway get angry about, I can safely say that anger is not a totally useless feeling.

You should feel angry about things which are pertinent to you as a person or to the society in which you are living. Anger falls under a range of emotions that we, as human beings feel and experience. There is nothing wrong with that – in fact, if you do not feel angry about things which are unjust or which are harmful to you or to the society, then there is really something wrong with you. After all, we are all not saints.

Clearly, if you are wrongly targeted by someone, or you are wronged in an inappropriate manner, you should be angry, nothing wrong about that.

But then, getting angry does not mean that there is a free hand for expressing it in a violent or offensive manner. Most folks translate the feeling to wrong actions – even throwing things around the house for something which has gone wrong, is totally inappropriate. In the past, I used to get the urge to throw or destroy things in my way, after I got angry in the worst possible manner. It took me quite a while before I managed to control my behaviour. I realized that the destructive streak in many of us goes along with the strong feelings generated by anger, which is instigated by some very unpalatable happening. It is totally inappropriate and wrong to pursue that course of action, as destruction is not the way to resolve your anger.

It is best not to follow any examples for anger control and management, as it is a very personal effort. It is not connected with energy or passivity of an otherwise calm individual. Provacation has a price, and it exerts a damage. It is critical to avoid unnecessary prompts inducing unnecessary anger. For instance, I have seen people who are very angry with the way government behaves, or who are quite upset with law enforcement and its deficiencies. We should have the wisdom to distinguish between things which we can and cannot control.

This does not mean you cannot comment on the state of affairs. However, my point is that we should learn to separate emotion from our opinion. We should also recognize that there are always two sides to the coin, and everyone will have their own point of view. It is not that only our opinion is the most sacred one of all.

Anger is also relative – if we demonstrate our anger in an aggressive manner, we should not be shocked with a powerful retaliation of anger at a higher level. We should therefore be careful about directing our anger at unintended recipients, or even in a specific way as things could go rather wrong.

Anger also increases your stress and possibly your blood pressure. Why then initiate it? Stress harmone production caused by the anger feeling is not good for our health, and has long term implications. Blood pressure is a killer, as we all know. So why indulge in an unproductive feeling which causes destruction and produces unwanted health problems?

In a nutshell, while feeling angry is in itself not bad, connecting with anger in an emotional way and behaving in a destructive manner as a result, are not good signs of a stable person. Stability and calm demeanour are critical parameters for managing the anger that you feel on any matter inimical to your composure.

Inciting supporters against non-supporters is a good example of instigating fear, anxiety and anger amongst people out there in the open. President Trump managed to accomplish this act from the highest level of office in all of the U.S. I do not have to write more about the damage done to the democratic fabric of the American society in this context. We need to ask President Trump to control his anger and frustration about everything around him. Especially the anger he has shown towards the mainstream media which has not been useful or helpful at all.

Control your anger while understanding the cause of it, and deal with it in a calm way.

Have agreat weekend, folks.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

27th October 2018

Long Winding Road


As I sit down to write this post, I am influenced by the vast expanse of bluish-green water body surrounded by a green forest that looks at me everyday. It is a rarity in the concrete-dense Singapore that you get both a huge lake (reservoir) and a forest just in front of your building. I guess people will pine for such a view, though there are many seaview apartments in Singapore, or even ones overlooking a hill or greenery. But the combination of both water and greenery just outside all our windows and balcony mesmerizes me regularly, and throw in the beautiful sun setting in the evening into the water, and there you go, the poet in you will come out. In my case, I am no poet, so my blog post writer comes out!

My rumination today is about life – the long and winding road that we had crossed, and more such road ahead of us. I am thinking on what constituted my life and its long road till now – it has been a good journey, though there were plenty of surprises and some disappointments, like everyone else must have endured. I was shown the path to the main road by some very important people like my parents and one of my teachers in secondary school, and I followed that path. But once I hit the main road, I was in full control of it all by myself, with occasional guidance by some other important people who kept popping up along my “own road” – these are your guides and might include a variety of folks : your own family, your relatives, your classmates, your friends, your business colleagues, your bosses, your peers, your subordinates, your remote acquaintances, and so on and so forth. In my own road, I have been lucky to receive guidance and counsel from a few people who I cannot forget under any circumstances. There were detractors too, and I cannot forget them either.

But one thing I am clear in my head – it was just me who drove my own car along this long winding road. Nobdoy even taught me how to drive my own car! I figured out how to service my car, at what speed I should travel, who should be my car companion(s), and where to load up on petrol – if you see what I mean. Sometimes before my wedding, my car was empty, I was the sole occupant, and that is the time I gained my independence, individual thinking, acceptance of my own “self” as I was, and my own moral compass. I led my own life, and refused to be drawn into any kind of stereotype. Of course, I had the big challenge when someone understood where I came from just purely from my name: that is a tough one to crack as I was expected to behave and perform in a particular way, which I did not do most of the time.

If you do not fall into that behavioural pattern, then sometimes your “own road” could get longer, as you are outside the mainstream and too individualistic. I had this problem early on in my career and had to develop a response mechanism based on how well I did in my work. This carries on through your life, and your ability to steer clear and keep the head above generic conformity required to maintain a specific pattern actually increases and eventually makes you a deep thinker.

In my life, I had to change my “car” and take a “different road” once in a while, and that requires courage. The thing which requires a big courage is of course choosing your life companion. A wrong companion will derail your life for sure, but a good companion can make the journey a pleasant happy one while enhancing your ability to deal with steep curves on the life road. When I had to make a decision to move from Singapore to Mumbai in 2006, I depended a lot on my wife’s advice – it made the difficult shift a bit easier and allowed me to reach a level in my corporate life which I was looking for. You also add companions as you travel further – I mean your children. They will be your companions for quite a long while, but eventually will get down and choose their own set of car / road / life companion. They may proceed on an entirely different road, as is to be expected.

So, each one of us have our own vehicle, companion(s) and road. Sometimes our roads intersect and we happen to meet. Such meetings are essential especially when it involves an old friend, a classmate, a distant yet good-minded relative, or even your own children. You should ensure that such meetings continue to happen and cherish them for the memories they bring along as you continue your journey towards the end of the longish road.

Is there an end to your own longish winding road?

What do you think?

If you have lived your life well and have not committed any harm to others, there is actually no end to your road.

Am I blabbering? No. You are thinking death signifies the end of every individual’s road. Not true.

As a person loved by your own family and friends, as a human being who contributed in a positive sense to this world, as a life companion to your spouse, as a companion to your children, as a mentor to many colleagues in your professional life, your soul will linger on. For the soul, the road never ends, and it is permanently “marked” as your road with your name on it. Other people will remember you for many things, but most essentially for the good things you did.

So, your road goes on. On and on. Forever. And, your soul keeps travelling on it.

You just need imagination and a serious sense of purpose in your life to visualize what I am saying here, and I am sure you do. Think about it. Do good things to others. Contribute to the well being of all your “life companions”, and persuade them to follow their own conscience.

At the end of the day, it is our conscience and soul which matter to this world.

Your road never ends friend. Keep going, and Do good.

Have a wonderful week ahead,

Cheers

Vijay Srinivasan

21st October 2018

Value of Human Life


It is a shame to see how worthless your life can be, if you are born and living in a Third World country.

In this context, as you rightly guessed, I am going to mention Africa, India, Middle East, some Asian countries, and China. May be there are plenty others, but as examples the above will do.

If you are born in a Western country, you can more or less rest assured that your country will fight to save you if you are incarcerated in any other country. If you are in your own country, you can be sure that no one is just going to take away your rights and your own right to your own life that easily (of course, here I have to mention rather strongly about how easy it is to take away a life in the most developed country on the planet – I mean the U.S. where the proliferation of guns has led to anarchy in most down town areas of large cities and elsewhere as well – like Churches, pubs and most of all, schools). However, notwithstanding such occurrences, the Western nations protect their own citizens wherever they are living, in general, at least by representing the case in a foreign court of law, and persuading foreign governments in the cause of their citizens.

Contrast that with the absolutely indifferent attitudes that governments of Third World nations depict towards their own citizens, specifically those still living within the respective borders. Human Life is simply worthless, and can easily be sacrificed in thousands of situations, which in general, won’t be tolerated in Western nations.

Look at the casual manner in which a Saudi journalist was murdered and dismembered in his own country’s Consulate in Istanbul couple of weeks ago, because he did not toe the line of the Saudi ruler. Look at the way in which China arrested a leading, well-known actress and the President of Interpol on the pretext of tax evasion or corruption, without a public hearing. Look at the way India treats its journalists and TV channels. Look at how easy it was for a train driver to kill 60 people celebrating a festival with fire crackers in North India couple of days ago – where lies the responsibility and where is the accountability?

Middle East and Africa have a whole lot of human rights violations, and that includes Israel’s unacceptable actions against unarmed Palestinian civilians. I like Israel as a nation with incredible human talent, but the way it treats non-Jewish folks needs urgent remediation. It has to think about the larger human tragedy at its borders which is not going to disappear. The tribal nature of many Middle East and African countries is hampering their development and integration into the global society. Economic integration might happen, but social connectivity will be very hard if they do not mend their ways and approach towards the critical importance of human life, human talent, and human contributions, irrespective of cultural angles and long-held customs. You can see some of these same tribal culture in North India in several states.

Look at how Myanmar has treated its Rohingya ethnic Muslim minority (I have written about this very sad situation) and is now struggling to take them back from Bangladesh, which demonstrated incredible humanity by hosting the Rohingyas in temporary camps and provided them with food.

Look at how President Duterte of the Philippines has tried to eradicate the drug menace in his country by simply choosing the option of murdering the drug addicts, drug peddlers, and innocent bystanders by brute police force. No elected official is a god, and remember, he has killed more than 12,000 citizens in a short span of 30 months or so in a highly religious, Catholic country.

The international community is weak in its protestations and actions against most of the above atrocities. What can it do, when sovereign nations make unfathomable, illegal and non-humanitarian decisions? Not much, you may think.

There is of course, a lot the international community can do, with the support of the Western nations. However, if the U.S. does not show strong commitment towards firmly eradicating some of the more egregious actions, then the world will continue to discount the value of human life.

The right to life needs to be strongly enshrined and promoted irrespective of political or sovereign affiliations. What is the difference between one human life in a Third World country and another in a Western country? None, in my opinion. No dollar value can be ascribed to any human life.

Well, that might sound moralistic, but it is not. The idea that someone’s life is only worth USD 20,000 in India at the bottom ladder of society, whereas that same life is worth USD 300,000 in another country doing similar work with similar family situation, only cries for a better and more non-judgemental view of life on this planet.

Looks like the pen is not stopping – I can write another couple of pages, I guess. This is a topic which has come to my mind quite often, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you also start thinking seriously. If the famous MBA schools cannot address this generic problem of evaluating and assessing the value of human life, then do you think that the MBA students are getting a real education for running their own lives?

THINK!

Cheers

Vijay Srinivasan

20th October 2018

Networking Neurons


As we grow older, we tend to keep our wisdom to ourselves nowadays, unlike our predecessors who pushed us when we were young or even middle-aged with their pearls of advice and wisdom from their own lives.

As the modern age progresses super fast in the 21st Century, our post-50 generation is losing its relevance rapidly as we are bothered that we might be out of touch with modern realities of life on the planet. Our children sometimes communicate that sense to us when they think that our ideas are old-fashioned or our words of wisdom are totally out of place. That is not surprising, as our children are obviously much closer to experiencing the reality of the lives of their generation with their classmates, friends and colleagues.

However, I certainly believe that there is a lot of factual advice that can be gleaned from our lives and our minds, as we are not exactly “old generation”. We form the link from the 1950s/1960s to the 21st Century, and have experienced the marvels of technology and what it feels to be in a digital world. Our lifestyles have modernized and changed for the better.

Yes, we do not wish to nag our children and their friends with unsolicited advice for sure. I am sure they will find their own way, while “at least” looking at how we have built our lives and currently living our dreams.

This thought process leads me to an existential question: if we are not talking that much within our households about the lessons of life, and focusing more on the mundane things of day-to-day life, then how does our brain build up to the next level of complex thinking? If sophisticated and analytical thinking goes out from our daily life, then what happens to our brains? If our brain is not able to provide a consulting service to even the folks around us, do you think we can sell its capability to external parties easily?

The potential decay in brain power can only be arrested if you network with a variety of people outside your usual circuit. My job affords me that capacity in which I meet at least 5 to 10 strangers every week. The development of your brain to be in a position to network with strangers and extract their mental capacity into your own thought process is strategic to your existence. We should never let our brain to fend for itself – we are no longer in an individualistic society of the 20th or 19th/18th/17th centuries when an individually capable scientist or philosopher conceptualized a discovery on his/her own. Things have changed a lot over the past 6 decades or so – now teamwork leads to bigger and better discoveries or theories.

So, in a nutshell, my theory here (!) is that the neurons in our brains need to keep growing. And, at a fast rate. The neurons cannot just grow if you just read or write (like this blog!!!). You need to get out and meet strangers who are more likely to infuse the neuron growth that you want.

That now brings me to the essence of networking fundamentals. Most of us are shy when we walk into a room full of mostly unknown people (this happens to me a lot), or attend a big conference. We mostly tend to ourselves, keep looking at our big smartphone, acting busy, et al……….we generally refuse to voluntarily connect with someone we don’t know.

Imagine you walk into a group and introduce yourself to a group of, let us say, 3 people chatting with each other. You can see a hint of surprise, but quickly they smile, shake hands, and become willing to exchange business cards. Once you introduce yourself and what you do, they sound more interested. May be a potential business meeting could come out of it in the near future – it has happened to me many a time.

I cannot emphasize more the critical importance of networking to your business and more importantly, the development of neurons in your brain!

Sounds fascinating?

Network more and keep a diary of who you met on your calendar. Try to recall the faces of the persons you met after a week. Try to think of the meeting or conference or lunch you attended. Try to think of the topic you discussed with a particular person.

You will see quickly that this “brain food” of networking works, and you can train your brain to flourish on it. Daily nurturing is needed for the brain. It is like going to the “brain gym”, so to say!

As our brain cells in the hippocampus areas start to “network” and constantly form “associations” with things and people, you will discover you not only recall peoples’ faces but also their names and the places where you met them. You will be able to recall the name of the restaurant wherein a dinner party was hosted by a business partner, and who all attended from either side of the table. And so on, and so forth.

So, if your wisdom cannot be articulated in a family environment, so be it. Unleash your brain’s networking neurons on strangers that you meet. They will be impacted positively, and so will you be.

Try it today!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

14th October 2018