Shortcuts in Life


In the quest for achieving something, or for just jumping the queue ahead of other clueless folks, people take shortcuts in their daily lives. They do this almost unconsciously, as they believe sincerely that they ought to be rightfully ahead of others. They do think that they deserve the unique place that they seek to usurp intheir pursuit of their goals in their lives, though these goals might be just steps on the way to accomplishing something bigger.

Think about it, how many times have you seen someone behind you in the queue for a movie or at an airline check-in counter, gets pulled to a spot ahead of you by somebody looking more official or authoritative – sometimes even helped by an actual airline official for instance. Whenever such a thing happens, I always wonder if such people using some sort of excuse to get ahead ever think of the time that others have been waiting in the queue, or the intrinsic value of the queuing system itself. They are so selfish and so full of themselves that they gleefully acknowledge the invitation by some unauthorized moron ahead of you and leverage the same to pull ahead of the waiting movie-goers or passengers.

More often than not such a thing happens in India, and it almost always does not happen anywhere else that I have been to – signifying the class mentality that is even today embedded in Indians’ minds. I have been to China a number of times and everything works systematically. People follow the rules and nobody solicits favours in common day to day life. The overt display of favourable treatment unfortunately embeds a wrong stereotype in the minds of young impressionable people, who assume that it is just normal and socially acceptable behaviour.

I get annoyed when I come across such instances, because my assumption today is that India and Indians would have moved far ahead in their behavioural culture. That refinement is yet to happen, as I witnessed twice within a span of 15 minutes at the Chennai International Airport last week. In all airports in India, passengers have to produce their airline tickets and a personal identification – in the case of international airports, it has always been your passport.

So here I was in the “airport entry queue” which surprisingly had only some four people ahead of me. I was ready with my passport and ticket, and like it always happens in India, the queue worked both ways. I saw some people who were talking to the police official starting to walk back in a queue which was not wide enough to accommodate two guys and some luggage! But then, in India one always needs to “adjust” – so I made way for these folks walking back. At that time, I saw the guy at my back in the queue who was well dressed and appeared to be respectable. He grew impatient with the delay in the queue not moving forward, and hit my leg with his baggage. I turned towards him and cautioned him to be careful, and then he apologized. I don’t understand this rush to get ahead in every queue in life. Nothing much is going to happen in a few minutes of waiting and letting the official process one by one. In India, the respect for processes is weak everywhere, and that tendency percolates down to inviolable areas such as airports.

Looks like a simple thing, but I do not agree that even apparently educated people get to violate process with impunity.

I got into the airport and proceeded to my airline’s check-in counter. There were just a couple of guys ahead of me in this queue as the counters hadn’t yet opened. And what did I see? Couple of guys, including a lady, could not wait to join the queue and follow it – with hardly any people in it! They lifted the barricade strap and got in ahead of me for the purpose of joining some “known” guy ahead of me, without so much as a simple excuse for breaking the queue discipline.

Again simple stuff, but the refinement of culture and respect for others are lacking – of course, there was never any discipline to start with anyway.

As I walked towards the lounge to start my long wait for the flight, I was ruminating on these mundane daily happenings in India. None of these take away from the greatness of the whole nation, but demonstrates that Indians in general, at the street level, are not willing to learn from the good behavioural practices and common culture prevalent in most other countries.

As I know only too well, Indians travelling abroad or living outside India, forcibly change their behaviour and approach to accommodate respective local practices and confirm or comply to those practices or cultural edicts to protect themselves and make progress. May be in India, the Prime Minister should introduce good cultural behaviour, discipline and respect for each other to the people of India – that should make some improvements in daily life.

Have a good week ahead folks,

Cheers

Vijay Srinivasan

14th July 2019

A Chaotic World in 2.5 years


It has been just 2.5 years since Donald Trump became the President of the U.S.

But it looks and feels like a long time.

The world has lurched from one trouble to the other, one intractable problem to the next one, one battle to the next, one sanction to a bigger one, one scandal to the next bigger one, one U.S. Cabinet member to the next, one friend to a foe, and one foe to a friend. Simply amazing!

What appeared to be a rather stable world in 2015 -16 has deteriorated beyond recognition. There has been a very inward-looking and totally selfish leadership at the helm in the U.S. which has driven the world to nuts – even the allies are totally lost. If countries like the U.K. are scratching their heads, one can imagine the situation in which the other allies of the U.S. find themselves in. Everyone is waiting for Trump to leave office, but that is not going to happen come 2021. He is most likely to continue as President of the U.S. for one more term, given the utter confusion and total quandary in which the Democrats have holed themselves in. As of last week, the progressive liberals in the Democratic Party have started infighting against the established clique at the top of the Party, which would cause further troubles and provide ample fodder for Trump’s twitter feed.

If the U.S. keeps on demanding total compliance to its trade demands and its own sanction regimes (which have no U.N. backing), there will come a time when larger countries would be so annoyed that they might start ignoring such demands of the U.S. This has already started happening – witness Turkey receiving the first shipments of the S-400 missile systems from Russia (Turkey is a NATO member and a strong Western ally), and France imposing a digital tax aimed primarily at the large U.S. social media companies like Facebook, Google, etc., If such actions continue and grow in size, the U.S. will start imposing sanctions on its own strong allies! Such counterproductive tit-for-tat actions will lead nowhere and could ultimately break long-held trust and relationships.

When will all this madness end?

Trump is not going to change his behaviour. There are many well-wishers of the Western alliance in the U.S., but they are all out of power and less influential today. The people of the U.S. have only one choice – the Presidential elections vote, but as I hinted above that is not going to be in favour of the opposition with all its foibles, unless urgent remedial measures are taken forthwith.

So, what is the solution?

For the moment, bigger nations will have to mind their own ways and start ignoring the U.S. The world economic growth will tank as trade volumes will drop significantly. The U.S. Dollar will continue to gain in strength based on its strong economy and dropping trade deficit. Most of the leading currencies will drop in value against the USD. The U.S. economy will continue to grow for the next couple of quarters and then start its decline. After all, we are living in an interconnected global world, and cannot choose to feign ignorance of global issues. China and Russia will lead the opposition against the U.S. India will maintain strategic ambiguity, but will eventually have to retaliate if Trump keeps pressing India on trade and imposes sanctions on India for importing Russian military hardware. India will then be pushed more into the welcoming hands of President Putin of Russia. The U.K., France, Germany, Japan and Italy will find themselves in the midst of a horn’s dilemma. They can neither support the idiosyncrasies of a moronic President, nor will they be able to ally with Russia/China.

Further problems for the world. In the middle of all this chaos, North Korea and Iran will have a field day. North Korea might even become a non-NATO ally of the U.S.! You won’t believe this, right? In Trump’s new world order, anything is game and anything can happen: imagine the Trump Organization getting a very huge deal for converting some of the coastal towns of North Korea into sea resorts, golf clubs and Trump Towers? Trump already alluded to this possibility in two of his press conferences. He is a businessman masquerading as President of the most powerful country in the world, and this accident has already caused a big misery to the world.

Who is going to have the last laugh? Of course, Trump.

Looks like a miserable situation. But then, the world has always managed to get out of such situations in the past. So, now it is a waiting game. The one big chance is for the Democratic Party to defeat Trump at the next hustings. It is still remotely possible, but then I see no evidence that there has been a meeting of minds on the overall win strategy within the Democratic Party. Some very powerful influencer needs to act finally and give a very big push. But he has not done so yet, waiting and watching what is unfolding in the primary debates.

You know who I am talking about, right?

Think about the only democratic possibility there is to unseat President Trump, and get back to normal life.

Have a great weekend, folks,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

13th July 2019

Economic Partnership with ASEAN


Global multilateral trading partnerships are in a state of disarray due to the isolationist attitude pursued by the U.S. President Donald Trump. Trump even termed the WTO “the worst organization ever established”. WTO stands for the World Trade Organization. The TPP or the Trans Pacific Partnership which would have become the world’s biggest free trade partnership was thrown into doubt couple of years ago when Trump walked out of it.

We all know now that Trump is keenly engaged in multiple trade battles with China, the EU, India, Vietnam, and even Japan. He does not distinguish the traditional allies of the U.S. and exempt them from trade wars. Things have gotten so bad that all major trading countries are in a perennial state of doubt when it comes to trading with the U.S.

Apart from trade matters, the U.S. is also embroiled with countering Russia and countries which buy military equipment from Russia, of which the key countries affected being Turkey (a major NATO Ally), India (a major non-NATO strategic ally) and China.

With so many such battles going on, I was surprised to see news reports that Mahathir Mohamed, the Prime Minister of Malaysia, had taken the position that it would be better to exclude India, Australia and New Zealand from the RCEP or Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership arrangement in order to facilitate a faster close to the deal. Mahathir has never been a close friend of India, and has often criticized Western policies on human rights and labour. But I thought he would prefer India as a counter balance to China in the RCEP deal. Many ASEAN nations might be secretly wishing as much. The RCEP in total would have 16 countries in the economic partnership with more than 3.2B people, USD 22.6T in GDP, and covering 40% of global trade, but if India is taken out along with ANZ, its punch will drop leading to a China domination.

Malaysia has been moving closer to China for the past several years, and the change of government in Malaysia from Najib to Mahathir was expected to slow the pace, but it appears that China has managed the transition with Mahathir pretty well. For China, the most important counter weight is India, and it will continue to punch holes in the India story and its economic rise wherever and whenever it can. For ASEAN, there is not much choice, as China is a friend and an adversary at the same time, trying to swallow the entire South China Sea into its domain of strategic influence and domination. ASEAN is clearly in a huge dilemma when it comes to dealing with China. Further, ASEAN countries also have close security partnerships with the U.S., and have tried reaching out to India over the past few years.

But all these players are grossly underestimating the resolve of India and its Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. India is unlikely to take any slight by Mahathir kindly, and most certainly will object to its potential exclusion from the RCEP. It is difficult to gauge how ANZ will react to is exclusion as suggested by Mahathir.

It is of hugely strategic significance for India to be a founding partner of RCEP, rather than join it at a later date. At the same time, it cannot be subservient to the wishes of many member nations who are established stalwarts in managing and enhancing trade, as compared to India which contributes to just 1% of global trade. For India to become a big trading nation in the world, it has to become a key member of a global trading bloc, and not just be a simple member of the WTO.

India has many genuine concerns in the RCEP deal, and is dealing with the same in multilateral trade meetings. Its fear that the Indian industry and market will be over-run by cheap Chinese imports at zero tariff is not misplaced. Its request that Indian Services sector should receive a free labour mobility has not been received positively by the rest of the members. And so on and so forth.

I am confident that India will negotiate its way through the RCEP, and become a founding member when the deal is concluded. At the same time, mishandling of Indian rationale could lead to India walking out as it is very easy to see that India has to give up far more than what it would receive as benefits of the RCEP participation.

All these kind of deals take many years, and it is not surprising to learn that the original RCEP discussions started in 2012.

All the best to RCEP and India as a member of this partnership,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

7th July 2019

Chennai is Smiling


I am spending a few days in Chennai currently. I came to Chennai with some serious apprehensions due to the extensive news coverage on water scarcity which has struck the city. It is true that Chennai is facing serious water shortage, but the situation is not as dire as what CNN had been portraying almost on a daily basis. If you believed whatever CNN depicted, I would not blame you for coming to the conclusion that Chennai people should be perishing for lack of drinking water.

Nothing can be farther from the truth. Not surprising at all that CNN is sometimes referred to as “fake news” channel. Just by randomly interviewing a few people across the city, it is impossible to derive a totally negative and damaging conclusion. A more balanced analysis and fact-based reporting is expected from global news channels such as CNN.

I found the following facts: yes, it is true that there is water shortage, and lorry water tankers are struggling to fill the demand of rising water needs by citizens. Yes, it is true that the government has not executed a proper water management system. Yes, there has been no concerted rain-water harvesting scheme. Yes, there has been no public supply of water by the government water supply organization, called MetroWater.

However, people have found ways to manage the bad situation till the rains arrive – the rains should be arriving very soon. People are resilient and are finding ways to conserve and recycle water. Private organizations, especially the people-intensive information technology companies, are asking employees to work from home. The Chennai city is functioning normally, and people are going about their jobs as usual. I did not find any major disruptions. My apartment gets water, and none of my neighbours complained of the serious water scarcity.

I met a few friends this evening, and there was no mention of the topic. Of course, you might say that all of us belong to the upper middle class, so we might have made the necessary arrangements to be comfortable. However, I disagree – we are also the most vociferous when we are faced with challenges such as this matter which should have received government attention and intervention long time ago.

I could feel some water drops on me this evening on the road, and I hope that Chennai would receive ample rainfall, alleviating the scarcity of water. There is urgent necessity for the government to adopt successful water management systems from abroad – good examples being Singapore and Israel.

A few days more and Chennai folks should be smiling with rains pouring. Let us wish them all the best as they overcome this challenge, instead of sputtering the airwaves with negative news.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

6th July 2019

The Materialistic Urge


Whenever I have had the opportunity to look closely at local friends in Singapore, I cannot but miss the cue on their focus on materialism. More than their focus, I believe they have an insatiable urge to keep bettering themselves from a materialistic point of view.

Is that surprising? Not at all.

What is surprising however, is that people view materialistic progress as a sure sign of their overall worldly progress. Upgrading of a car, for example, from a Toyota or Nissan, to a Mercedes or BMW, becomes a passion for many of the folks who I know, and they are driven by an inner urge towards that goal. While I would say that this drive and passion is mostly internal to their beings, part of it is also driven by comparison with people who are at a similar social status.

The unfortunate impact of such an unstoppable urge is to derail whatever little spiritual progress that could have been made in the meanwhile. A consideration of the holistic well-being of the soul is out of the question, as that will conflict with the materialistic drive. A consideration of the sufferings of the poor is mostly out of question (except to claim tax concession on charitable donations). A consideration, for example, of the low income of restaurant and coffee shop workers (at around SGD 7.5 per hour) in a country with a per capita income of over SGD 60,000 never crosses the mind. The situation is not very different in similar advanced economies such as Japan or Hong Kong or South Korea.

Let us step back for a minute and view the positive aspects of a materialistic focus. Can anything on this topic be “positive”? Yes, it could be – the reason is not far to figure out: the “Asian Tiger Economies” prospered because the respective governments ensured that their citizens are hard-working, with the assurance that a continuously growing economy would indeed create new wealth where none existed in the past. This was largely true, and resulted in booming economies from the Eighties onwards. The three decades following the Eighties were a period of unprecedented wealth creation, driven mostly by manufacturing and exports.

This wealth impacted the citizens in a strongly positive manner, creating an urge in them to drive towards a higher level of materialism. These economies realised that socialism, as practiced in countries like India, is not the right model for economic growth, and capitalism is the way to go forward relentlessly. It worked out.

However, capitalism eventually created greed (as we have seen in many of the scandals in the U.S.), and a persistent desire for more wealth and material benefits. Once this desire starts, it is unstoppable, it is a constant circle of vicious desire leading to more and more lust towards higher level of materialism.

In the process, any spiritual progress is stunted (though it is seen in some pockets of the society due to existence of certain religion-based or community-based societies or associations). People forget that there is something higher than materialism, and they are going to miss it in their lives as time is running out.

If you happen to ask any one of the folks who are very well off in the society, and ask him or her about materialism vs. spirituality, the answer is always almost the same: “of course, we are committed to spirituality and working on it almost every week in classes focused on Yoga or religious recitations, etc.,.” If you ask them whether they would sacrifice any of their material acquisitions in their spiritual journey, the answer is almost always the same: “well, we don’t see the conflict, neither do we see the need to change anything that we have accomplished in life. In fact, we are proud of what we have achieved.”

Well, I am not concluding anything, but you might get a different set of answers, of course. But the point is that materialism has taken precedence over spirituality in the world for the past several decades of economic progress. It is difficult to reverse anything, and the need may not exist in the minds of the people even. When people do not see or feel the need, then there is no contest.

In my mind, both are needed for a society’s progress – spirituality and materialism. Further, there should be equitable sharing of wealth (not “equal”), which means that a CEO of a global public corporation cannot be allowed to earn 2,000 to 3,000 times more than an assembly line worker in his own company. And, poverty needs to be eliminated towards ensuring a basic minimum income adequate to sustain oneself.

Well, these are only wishes of most socialists, and may not come to fruition. However, it may not be out of place to write about it, or to talk about it, or to discuss about it.

Cheers, and have a great week ahead,

Vijay Srinivasan

30th June 2019

Old and Older Connections


In life, we keep meeting new folks in every day business and personal lives. We try to keep track of these people by entering contact details in MS Outlook for business contacts and in Apple Contacts for personal contacts (in my case). We do not have the time or focus to review these contacts and check to see when was the last time we interacted with a particular person.

The reason for inactivity when it comes to business contacts is not difficult to fathom – if we continue to do business with a business contact, then we keep meeting the person almost like every month at least. If we are not, then it only means that there is not much business activity between the two organisations. Slowly, the business contact who you had met quite some time ago, fades away from your radar and is rarely to be seen again. In my opinion, this requires a review as you should evaluate every business contact for his or her value, and reduce the importance to a lower level as the case may be – a business rolodex cannot be just ordered according to the alphabet (of either the name of the organization or the name of the business contact). It should have immediate importance and value for you to generate some fresh business lead or introduction to a prospect. So, it should be ordered accordingly.

In the case of personal contacts, the situation gets worse as most such acquaintances are driven by local connectivity rather than leverage a broader connectivity. What I mean here is that people in a specific location or area of a city oftentimes tend to get together for parties, and the proximity effect has big impact when the specific area has some big ticket condominiums with similar profiles of folks who would have got introduced at some business or social event. As people spread across a city or a country, it becomes more difficult to connect and network and build a relationship. If I look through the personal contacts (people that I have met mostly on social occasions and exchanged business cards with) list on my Apple, I encounter people that I have almost forgotten, or people who I met so long ago with no further interaction. It is strange, but that is the way it is, even in a small city like Singapore. You can then imagine the prospect of networking in a large country such as India or the U.S. Again, I eliminate folks who I have not interacted with in the past 3 years or so, and reduce the length of the contacts directory with more meaningful names.

In this process (both business and personal, more specifically personal), I identified a phenomenon which I knew intuitively but which has not coalesced up to my senses till now. It is simple – folks I had known from my old times and folks who are more mature, have always made attempts to keep in touch with me, and similarly I had the inclination to keep in touch with them almost continuously over the years in a proactive fashion. I am talking about a three decades-long experience, so there must be some truth in what I am discovering. The groups that I have been part of for a long time are still around and some of the members of these groups have been in touch with me directly. The “physical” groups that I have been part of are also active with an orientation towards its members and their well-being. In fact, we often seek out each other when we visit other cities or countries. My management school classmates are going to meet later this year at a port city in India for a long-awaited rendezvous. The success of such endeavours is based on interest level, good will, familiarity, and an utter lack of pecuniary considerations of any kind – there is just no motive other than to fondly interact and network.

I find this fascinating – I get calls from people who I know well but who have been away, and the connection is almost instantaneous with a desire to fill the gaps in each others’ lives. I have not seen business happening between personal contacts and I believe that it is probably the right thing. No point in introducing a motive for the connection or a specific interaction between two personal contacts, apart from the genuine desire to speak to each other on personal matters.

When I forward my blog posts to multiple groups, it signifies my desire to stay in touch with multiple folks at the same time. They may or may not read my posts, but they know I exist and I am quite active. I am just a phone call away. That keeps the vibe going in the group. Occasionally, I get a response from a group member, and it is an important event for me!

In a nutshell, I cannot emphasise the critical importance of “old” and “older” connections to the social well-being of oneself. We need to make all possible attempts to network and keep the association going forward. This will not only help us but also will help the person at the other end. I have always seen that folks who have been away for many many years are kind of emotional when they get back to their home city and meet their old class mates or friends – they had been missing the good old times all those bygone years!

I hope I am making sense – it is for you to “feel” what I am belabouring to explain.

Have a wonderful weekend folks,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

29th June 2019

80 Minutes of Solitude


I look forward to my Sundays.

Not for the inherent laziness it entails. Not for the food that I can cheat on, at least for a day. Not for the multitude of TV shows, movies and cricket matches.

I love my Sunday morning walks, which are always longer ones compared to other days of the week. I typically do 50 minutes of walking on weekday mornings (sometimes 60 minutes), but on Sundays I tend to stay on my walk somewhat longer, typically reaching 80 minutes of continuous, non-stop walk.

It is not just for the sake of satisfying my Fitbit (of course, sheepishly I keep looking at it once in a while to check how I am doing!).

The idea is to have some focused aerobic exercise, for sure. It kind of make my lungs breathe some early morning fresh air, which is just pure goodness in these times of pollution percolating into our lives every moment. I feel good at the end of the walk though I am soaked in sweat.

However, the key benefit that I have to claim is the impervious solitude that I seem to be achieving during every such long walk in areas surrounded by thick shrubbery and water. While my mind keeps processing the inputs from the environment surrounding me during my walk, it also is replaying portions of my life. It also is forcing me to think about life choices. It is in a unique position of quietude when it can challenge me on difficult issues pertaining to my own life. How did I perform when faced with a difficult situation? How did I handle a tough matter? Did I do well when dealing with one of my family members? How would have my life changed had I selected a different option in a decision-tree?

I find the exercise fascinating. Since there is hardly any distraction (apart from bird sounds and ruffling of leaves), the mind is absolutely clear with an unparalleled ability to dissect issues threadbare and lay these down in front of your eyes. Yes, while walking I have been able to witness the power of the mind, which I would not have been able to under normal circumstances.

I have come to love my Sunday morning walks due to the impact that these “walk with me” kind of solitude they provide to me. I did 80 minutes of walk this morning as well, and sheepishly counted 8,000 steps when I walked back into my home on my Fitbit – more or less accurate, I should say. But what is more important to me personally is the “review” that my mind conducted of my doings, behaviour, performance, and life choices.

Where else can I get this kind of service, feedback and advice?

At the end of the day, everything is in our hands. There are many folks who say that everything is in God’s hands, but I disagree. Man and Woman are intelligent human beings created by a greater force, so they are in a position to evaluate things and make appropriate decisions for themselves. Help might come in many different ways, but the responsibility for their actions is always theirs. They cannot and should not blame God for any of their failures.

So, it is very critical to listen to your own self. You are the master of your thoughts, your behaviour, your being and your actions. And the best way to listen to yourself is to seek solitude. I would suggest that you do not go for a walk with your partner as that could become an extension of the household – you do not wish to be debating the same issues that you would be discussing with your better half at the park. Try to be all alone in absolute solitude. And stay that way as long as possible, giving enough space to your mind to debate with YOU.

This works for me. I can tell you that I have come up short during many instances in my life, and now I am staring at the learning that I can indeed achieve by listening to my own mind – it is indeed beautiful, and all of us have beautiful minds.

Think about it, and you might agree with my observation which comes from practice. By the way, I met my target of 98,000 steps for the week of 7 days finishing today (Sunday), so I am doing well on the Fitbit count. Keep walking but also keep thinking.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

23rd June 2019