Category: Culture

Language Emotions and Economic Loss


I came across a LinkedIn post and discussion thread today about Tamil vs Hindi (for people who do not know, both are Indian languages).

The original post was by a Chennai-based IT recruiter who complained that North Indians assume that he speaks Hindi when he calls them up, instead of responding to his English queries in English. He even goes on to mention that he teases the potential candidates by occasionally speaking in Tamil!

There were more than 10,000 comments by the time I came across this post, and thousands of “Like” (LinkedIn should also provide an easy button for “Dislike”).

Haven’t we heard this kind of topic before? Of course, we have, especially in Tamil Nadu.

Tamil Nadu and Tamilians apparently have not yet got the 1960’s imbroglio with the Central (Federal) Government on the then hot topic of imposition of Hindi on all States of India, against the Constitution of India and the regional peoples’ will, out of their heads even after 50 years. They are very emotional whenever the topic comes up.

Hindi is sparsely spoken in Tamil Nadu even today, though there are many Tamilians in Tamil Nadu who can speak Hindi rather well. It is not an accepted form of communication, however. Tamilians prefer English, even to talk to other Tamilians. Such is the impact of those old days when Tamil Nadu erupted in violence against Hindi. That misstep also led to the successful emergence of the Dravidian Political Parties of Tamil Nadu, which have been feuding even amongst themselves ever since. The result has been that the national political discourse and national political parties have been locked out of Tamil Nadu for all these past 5 decades.

The bad thing which came out of this anti-Hindi feeling has largely been detrimental to the overall economic interests of the State and its people, though many will argue (even now) that it was the best thing that could have happened for Tamil Nadu (apart from reduced plan allocations and constant challenges, I don’t know what we gained – if someone can elaborate, I would be more than happy to listen without a murmur). In the Sixties and Seventies, when Tamilians educated in Tamil Nadu purely in Tamil and English travelled to Delhi or Mumbai or Calcutta, they were at a big disadvantage. Those days (and even now), the Northern and Western regions of India had the biggest economic investments (both by governments and private sector), and offered more economic opportunities to job seekers. While English was the business language, more often than not it was not the spoken language in the office – it was almost always Hindi.

Who lost out?

Tamilians and Tamil Nadu. India is a country with more than 28 official languages and over 200 dialects. But, 70% of the populations (that is 900M as of now!) speak Hindi in almost a native fashion, or they learn the language from primary school onwards. Another 10% of the population (that is, another 130M people!) understand Hindi well, and would respond in Hindi if spoken to in Hindi.

So, a Billion people can operate in Hindi.

How about Tamil Nadu? It has 68M people only, just 5% of India’s population.

While I am not saying it is compulsory for everyone in the country to learn Hindi or speak Hindi, look at the advantages which I lacked as a non-Hindi speaker. One’s acceptance is higher at business offices, in government offices, in industrial environments and surely in society. Further, one would not need English sub-titles while watching Hindi movies! I survived with extremely half-baked and poor Hindi, and had to mostly depend on others to get my way through. I got into several tricky situations because I insisted on speaking only in English (you cannot blame me, apart from Tamil, English was the only other language that I know!).

I suffered quite a bit during my sojourn in Mumbai for some six years. I always felt left out, and my rather late attempts to learn Hindi did not work out as I just could not recall the right word at the right time. If only I had had the opportunity to learn Hindi even as my third language in my primary school, I would not have had any problems.

At the end of the day, it is the business and social acceptance across the country, notwithstanding any perceived language or cultural supremacy. Tamil is rarely spoken outside of Tamil Nadu in India – except in Tamil communities spread around the country which also speak Hindi fluently as they have settled in the so-called Hindi heartland due to economic or job necessities.

Why take up a fight against Hindi and waste precious time now? What is it going to produce in terms of benefits to Tamilians?

The world is moving fast, and India is moving very fast. Tamil Nadu should worry more about keeping its #3 rank in the State-wise rankings of GDP, it is in a good position to overtake Uttar Pradesh which has three times its population. Let us focus on bread and economics, and jobs and wealth creation for Tamil Nadu. That is a more important fight (in a positive manner, competing with other States of India) than spending an inordinate amount of time on language issues. If Tamilians wish to proceed and establish strong working relationships with Northern and Western regions of India, I would say learning Hindi is a good place to start – a positive thing to progress economically, rather than a negative thing which will impact Tamil. Tamil will never be impacted, it is a language which has stood the test of time over 30 centuries or even more.

Let us make language-based fights and issues a thing of the past, and focus on what is best for our people.

Cheeers,

Vijay Srinivasan

29th November 2017

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The Founder Revolt and its Implications


We saw a surprising development in the Indian IT industry earlier this week when the CEO of Infosys, Mr Vishal Sikka, resigned protesting against personal attacks by founders of the company which have caused serious distraction in the performance of his duties as the CEO of the famous IT company. The Board of Infosys was fully supportive of the CEO during the onslaught mounted by the founders, led by Mr Narayana Murthy, the ex Chairman and CEO, and one of the co-founders.

Mr Sikka’s resignation sent the Infosys stock down by over 10%, wiping out almost USD 5B in its market capitalization. The market had a strong belief in the value that Mr Sikka brought to his job, and his strategy of moving Infosys’ business from traditional IT outsourcing to cloud, big data, social media driven business, transforming Infosys to take on the new digital challenges offered by the market.

While there are many commentaries (mostly supportive of Mr Sikka and the Board), it is important to learn a few things from this episode. Once the founders have handed over the CEO job to a professional, and have received assurances from the Board of Directors that the essential ethos and values of the company will be maintained and strengthened further, they should stay completely away from the running of the business. If there are issues with the corporate governance aspects of the business, there are ways of approaching and handling the same with the Board, instead of washing the dirty linen in public media glare.

Of course, it is to the credit of the founders who have built up a strong foundation for Infosys over three decades of pioneering work, that such public damage did not cause harm to the company or its business or its stock price (in a major way). Things were going on normally, despite all the attacks.

But Mr Sikka now says that the attacks by Mr Murthy turned very personal over the past couple of weeks. And, the distraction to the business was too much, leading him to make a drastic decision.

His resignation is a loss to Infosys as well as to the Indian IT industry. He was setting new benchmarks in strategic business transformation at Infosys, and was a thorough professional who made decisions without undue influence (from what can be gathered). He had the ears of the Board and the stock market.

Mr Murthy is an iconic figure in the industry and is a well-recognized name globally as well. There must be something which has disturbed him and his co-founders in a big way. But then, the way the attacks have been mounted on Infosys is not an acceptable form of protest. Seasoned businessmen and leaders do it in a different manner, without public disaffection and published letters via the media.

I disagree with Mr Murthy’s tactics, and won’t be surprised if the damage to Infosys is long-lasting. It would be very difficult to find a CEO of the calibre of Mr Sikka who would be willing to take up the CEO job now.

When I entered the IT industry in 1987, I knew only of Mr FC Kohli of TCS and Mr Azim Premji of WIPRO. I also knew about Mr Shiv Nadar of HCL. Infosys was not known at that time. But, in the Nineties Infosys built up its business nicely, garnering a serious reputation for integrity and values (similar to WIPRO). For the past nearly two decades, the stock market has always looked at Infosys as a trend-setter with conformance to global principles of accounting and transparency.

That legacy is under threat now. Hopefully, the Board will be able to make the right choice of the CEO. If it is an internal candidate from the old times, the market will assume that the founders are taking back control. And, if it is an external candidate bold enough to accept the challenge of dealing with the founders, then it has got to be a person of huge stature who cannot be trifled with.

Let us see how this plays out.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

20th August 2017

Europe under continuous attack


Europe needs and deserves a firm leadership against terrorist attacks which try to disrupt peaceful co-existence of the 28 countries in the European Union (EU).

Like any other association of nations, the very purpose Europe came together is for trade, employment and joint defense (against U.S.S.R. in the Sixties and Seventies). Similarities in cultural backgrounds help in all such associations, though a common religion plays a much less role. Europe has always been willing to take in immigrants from non-European countries, though various countries in the EU have their own restrictions. Some of them are very liberal, some of them are quite restrictive. Germany is an example of a generous nation, well-to-do people, who have accepted immigrants as long as these folks can adapt to the local culture and learn to speak the German language. The history of Europe is laden with wars and refugees, and crimes against humanity, so it is not surprising that the Europeans are more open than others to war refugees.

However, we will soon find out if Europeans remain tolerant to the vagaries of the refugee influx, especially from Syria and certain other Middle Eastern countries. France is a case in point. Paris has been diligently attacked by terrorists who do not like the French way of living. While it is easy to cast aspersions on a particular religion for these incidents (including the one last week), the French people will do well to recall that their freedom did not come easily – they had to fight for it every inch of the way in the Second World War with the help of the Allied Forces. They had to fight against Nazi occupation – they were refugees in their own country. It is critical to take stern actions today to defend French freedom, no doubt about it. However, it is rather easy to swing to the far right and attack the whole philosophy of Europe and the EU. What positive stuff can come out of it? Why would France try to isolate itself from the rest of Europe?

Colonial powers such as France and the U.K. cannot escape their histoy. If there are millions of Muslims in France, that is the result of French invasion and occupation of North African countries several decades ago, may be a century ago. Clear-headed, rational thinking is called for when a government is dealing with all kinds of its citizens – they do not always come with the same colour, race, ethnicity or religion.

Nevertheless, Europe faces tough times ahead. Elections are a way for the far right to assert their extremist philosophies and gain governance after a long wait. That did not work in Austria and Denmark, and is unlikely to work in France. Germany, in my opinion, will remain centrist for quite some time, unless jobs disappear and crimes increase as a result of uncontrolled immigration.

The solution is to give law enforcement more powers as they are called to face and deal with militant elements of societies. Governments have to make it absolutely clear that cultures and philosophies would not be trampled upon in the name of giving big space to immigrants. Everyone has to live together peacefully, and the message has to go out loud and clear that if immigrants are not happy to adapt and accommodate, they should be free to return to where they came from. This message is critical and needs to be delivered by all types of political parties or governments. immigrants remain as guests of the welcoming host nations till they earn the right to become permanent residents or citizens and start a new way of life. Why should they want to replicate the lives that they lived in their respective repressive countries?

Europe remains a beacon of an elitist kind of democracy that other democratic nations can only aspire to become. It should not be split radically into segments which then cannot work together in the European Union. That would be disastrous for the future of this world.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

23rd April 2017

Gurus not exempt from Law


Spiritual Gurus have long been a bane of many religions around the world.

Their (largely) negative impact has been felt severely in India for a very long time.

Some gurus have positive impact overall. One of them is Jaggi Vasudev, the other is Sri Sri Ravi Shankar who runs the famous Art of Living (AOL) Foundation. There are thousands of others, but my simple view has always been that there is no need for an intermediary between God and I, or God and anyone else for that matter. Unfortunately, Hinduism, one of the most enduring religions of the world with over 800M followers, encourages the adoption of gurus to facilitate a communication with God. I do not agree with such a philosophy, though there are other major religions which follow similar philosophies, putting man over man. Humans look for a guide to help them navigate the world, and it is not at all a surprise that a Pope arises to guide Catholics, for example. The plethora of gurus in India does not follow any systematic approach, they crop up anywhere and everywhere where the gullible would fall at their feet and worship them. There are thousands of “magical” episodes when these human gurus have generated simply impossible manoeuvres which continue to fascinate their followers.

However, none of these “humans” are above the law of the land.

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, his Art of Living Foundation, and his spokesman accuse the government and the National Green Tribunal (NGT) for giving permission to conduct the World Culture Festival in March 2016, which has completely destroyed the river bed of the Yamuna River which most Hindus consider as a holy river. Sri Sri is a charismatic guru, who is close to powerful politicians and the wealthy folks of India, and so it would be interesting if the expert committee’s findings would indeed find their way to justice in the current dispute between the government/NGT and Sri Sri/AOL. I don’t think it was appropriate for Sri Sri to accuse the NGT and the government for having granted permission to him for conducting the Festival.

Where is accountability and humility on the part of the famed Sri Sri?

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and his AOL are not exempt from the law of the land, and have to abide by the rules and regulations. Being close to God does not exempt him from the rule of law. It would be interesting to see how his ardent followers react to the findings of the expert committee.

It is clear that spiritual gurus cannot run a government, a court or the environment. They should focus on God, not make Hinduism a circus philosophy. It is always good to hear some of the lectures of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, but the wisdom of his speeches does not make him God. He is after all, an ordinary man, like all of us. If he commits a mistake, he has to pay for it. There cannot be an excuse. If a fine is levied (as it has been), then his organization has to pay it. Damage done to the Yamuna riverbed will take 10 years to fix, as per the expert committee. Who caused the damage? Not the government, nor the NGT. They merely granted permission, may be misguided, may be under some sort of pressure. But Art of Living Foundation and Sri Sri are entirely responsible for what happened. Who can contest this assertion?

Again unfortunately, most of us are emotional, and wish to kick folks who do not conform to whatever is the general trend of belief or philosophy, in this case of Sri Sri. If there is a variation to that thinking, then the people who think differently would be termed as traitors to the cause. Nothing can be farther from the truth.

Time to think on environment, time to think about Yamuna River, which has recently been designated as a “legal person” by the courts of India.

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar should apologize, desist from repeating such extravaganza, and indeed pay the INR 5 Crores fine. We should all respect the law.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

22nd April 2017

Some Positive Things


There has been some observations from concerned friends and blog-readers that my posts tend to be negative, atleast in a mild fashion, and often criticize whole countries or cultures, rather than suggesting ways to change oneself.

While I believe that as an author of my blog I am entitled to my views (unspoilt by any external or personal influences), and am really open for critical reviews by readers, I think it is also my responsibility to deliberately identify and point out positive things I see around me. I have done that before in my blog itself, but my attempts in the past may not have been that visible or impactful. In my opinion, authors tend to be analytical and shaped by their own experiences, or by things that they witness in their lives. Authors rarely get shaped by one-sided views of their friends or colleagues and instead tend to exercise academic neutrality on issues of critical importance, not getting easily swayed.

In this post, I thought I will write some positive things about India, my country of birth. I have plenty to gripe about India, and have expressed my opinion in multiple blog posts over the years. Unfortunately, I have not been in a position to change anything in India itself, which I regret. The only positive thing that I have done is to stay connected with an orphanage over the years.

One very positive thing about India that the whole world has noticed is the composition of its demographics. India has the world’s youngest population for a very large country of its size – over 35% of its population is under 35 years old, and over 50% of its population is under 25 years old. This is hugely significant – we are talking about over 400M people and 600M people respectively. India can indeed be the factory for the world. No wonder Lockheed Martin kind of companies wish to move their entire F-16 production line to India (just one example, there are other valid reasons for that proposed move). For the next 3 decades or so, India will become the mainstay supplier of young people to the rest of the world. This is a hugely positive thing for India and for the world.

The other great thing about India that I like very much is its resilience as a nation which is a primary result of its people diversity. India snaps back to normalcy after every calamity, or natural disaster, or terror strike, with determination to continue leading normal lives and bitterly swallowing the feelings about its fallen heroes. Such a strong determination makes India a place in which it has never been a problem to attract young men to the army or police. The resilience of its people makes India a great nation which will bare its teeth and fight any challenge with or without modern equipment. One has to just take stock of the series of natural calamities which have hit India time and again, and witness the army’s role in saving civilians, and peoples’ role in saving others irrespective of religion, caste or creed.

A fantastic thing about India is the respect people have for their parents and teachers. The Indian culture insists that we continue to do this throughout our lives. And, we do it all the time. Even if one gets angry with one’s parents, the interaction is going to be usually based on a respectful conversation; no sign of disrespect to one’s parents is displayed as parents and teachers (the good ones at least!) are almost treated as gods. Parents earn for their kids throughout their lives and devote all their efforts to the upbringing of their children, and the children know that as well. It is very rare even today that an adolescent child leaves home on his/her own looking for a separate house to settle down, unless there is a business imperative or unless there is a need to operate out of another town.

There are many positive things about India, and it is not feasible to list all of these things here in my simple blog post. Sometimes, I think that India’s positives might eventually overtake the negatives, but I do not wish to give the slack to India on the negatives which it has to seriously address before it can become a first-world nation. India cannot be beholden to all its not so positive legacies, and must instead focus on building a modern nation based on a gender-neutral, religion-neutral, caste-neutral, race-neutral, colour-neutral society. Government intervention is needed to correct the wrongs and make India a successful first-world country which stands proudly amongst the top 10 countries of the world. However, as it stands today, there are several positive stories that can be recounted about India, and it has been my view that such positive aspects have not been widely discussed or shared.

Wishing a Happy Diwali to all my readers, whether you are from India or not, and whether you are Indian or not!!!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

30th October 2016

 

 

 

Understanding Ancient Cultures and Religions


I have been thinking a lot about this topic for a while.

There has been lots of backlash in Western countries against certain ancient religions and cultures. There have been repeated incidents (too many to count), especially of late, in which some belief or faith has been insulted. One of the latest cases is when United Airlines (its alliance partner airline or subsidiary) refused to serve diet coke in a can to a person who wore her religion on her sleeve, so to say. That was absolutely unacceptable, and United Airlines apologized for its crew member’s behaviour, but I am not sure whether enough training is being done to educate service folks who are in the business of serving the public.

We do not see such behaviour in South East Asia, to be specific. There are virtually all cultures and religions present in this region, plus all the Western cultures. However, there is no insult to any specific culture or religion, or any outward display of a religious faith. People carry on with their work, and do not take time to talk about such folks or their faith or their customs or their cultures. May be they do so in private, which is fine. No insult is done, and in some countries it is not possible to cause insult, because the government concerned is very clear about acceptable behaviour – what is not acceptable will lead to punishment. And, that stuff is captured in a law of the parliament which is then applied to the population without any hesitation.

I am not sure why such happy behaviour cannot happen in places like the U.S. or European countries. Tolerance is the very basic fabric of human life, necessitated all the more because of our innate differences – we believe in different things, different faiths, different cultures/customs, we wear different kinds of clothes, and what not. Everything may be different between me and you, but we still have to respect each other, avoid any kind of insult to each other, live together, and be productive in our respective pursuits in life. Is that not very clear to all ? Why is it not clear to so many people in the advanced countries – this just baffles me.

Immigration is a part of life in every country, and people are going to move around the world. That would necessarily impose a burden on the natives of a particular place, state, or country. There is a necessity to understand and merge with others. There should be welcome to foreign folks who have chosen your place as their dream place to start a new life. Why insult them ? After all, they are going to contribute to the economy of your place or country.

It is very critical to spend sometime trying to understand ancient cultures, ways of doing things, and religious practices. I have personally invested time on these things, and it made me a better man. People do appreciate if you take interest in their areas of belief; you may not subscribe to their vision or belief, but you are making an attempt to understand. That, in itself, is a positive gesture to people around you. That does not give you license to say bad things about the people around you, however.

So folks, it is time to shed our preconceived notions about what we think are “bad” or “wrong” cultures. They are all the same at the end of the day. We need to learn, understand, appreciate and give a helping hand to people around us, irrespective of their culture, belief or religion.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

14th June 2015

Worsening Traffic


Chennai’s traffic is worsening.

Along with that, the culture of patience is also going down.

People are getting very annoyed on the situation in the roads, cluttered by the metro railway construction all over the city. In fact, I think Chennai must be witnessing the highest level of metro railway construction of all cities in India. The metro network seems to be criss-crossing the city, and one can see the construction activities in almost all parts of the main city.

This has caused serious inconvenience to the ordinary people of the city. I guess that the first metro trains will probably start running towards end of 2013, and then a series of milestones will follow over the next couple of years. So, the action on the roads will be relentless, and disturbing to most folks.

But that is the cost of development coming so late in the genesis of a large metro city, so much later than Calcutta which had its metro network done in 1983, almost 30 years back.

But when it is done, the metro network of Chennai will be the pride of Chennai, that’s for sure, like it is for the Delhi folks.

However, as of now, the current traffic situation in Chennai is alarming. It takes a long time to cross any major traffic signal junction and it appeared to me that people on the roads are losing their patience. May not be the case all the time, but evidence is certainly pointing in that direction.

When drivers lose patience, they tend to be aggressive and make mistakes. So, one has to be careful while driving in Chennai these days. I do not know how the situation will evolve over the next one year, but I have seen the situation every 3 months or so, and could feel the distinct deterioration. For people who experience it every day, it may not matter as much.

The other important topic I wanted to address in this post is that Chennai folks do not appear to respect the queueing theory much, as I have repeatedly seen in the airport. There is a sense of entitlement in the minds of the privileged folks of Chennai when they expect favourable treatment from places wherein they have to follow certain rules.

I was witness and a party to such an episode which happened in Chennai Airport yesterday, when some “heavy-looking” people tried to get ahead of me in the check-in counter, just ignoring my presence ahead of them in the queue. I bluntly repudiated their advances and put them in their place, which they detested. I had to state very clearly that I had to first complete my transaction, as I was the first in the check-in queue counter. This does not happen in Mumbai as I had observed queue behaviour many times over the years.

Well, that is the situation in Chennai. Otherwise, I think it is a nice place with bad weather. It was drizzling over the past couple of days and not that hot.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan
1st September 2012
Mumbai