Spirituality departing from the land of discovery


Wow, what kind of title is this? I myself started wondering as I was writing it as the title. I had, like a couple of options for the title of the subject matter that I wanted to write about this beautiful and cool Sunday morning in Singapore (it rained for some 30 minutes this morning, and I was caught napping – nay, walking briskly at the MacRitchie Reservoir Park.

I wanted to write last evening itself, but got busy with other matters, and thought it would be better to think through more in the head before committing to the blog post, which I promptly did.

Again, I go back to India in terms of the vast availability of topics to write about! A recent WhatsApp message exchange with a close friend induced more thinking, and the result was this post.

India discovered spirituality thousands of years ago. It was not religion, but a state of oneness with the almighty and nature. Advanced thinking, I should say, given the age in which it was discovered or synthesized. Achieving “spiritual nirvana” was to be the mantra for all gurus (or religious teachers) for decades and centuries to come. The ability to give up all material possessions and merge with nature as a “spirit” was much coveted those days. I am sure a few attained nirvana. This philosophy is very similar to Buddhism.

Proliferation of gurus across India is not uncommon. People go to the intermediary or guru to get clarity on their lives and chalk out a future course of action. They need advice and guidance, and it was not an improper ask. As people, we go all the time to our elders, friends, and colleagues to seek some advice or the other. It is a natural thing to do.

However, in India, this process of seeking guidance led to fake gurus dishing out fake advice to the uninitiated or unsuspecting folks, who sometimes want urgent resolution of their problems. One positive outcome or positive result is all that is needed to push up and place the concerned guru on a pedestal, and the misinformed public will follow others in a herd mentality. In the process, the guru makes a huge amount of money, and converts his individuality to a commercial enterprise funded by his followers, spinning out books and products, and minting lots of money.

This is the most common thing happening in the Indian spiritual scene today. The better quality gurus who are reserved and pious, do not deserve the riches of the “crook gurus”. The latest case of the guru being punished by the special court in Haryana State of India which led to arson and disorder is the result of the state nurturing gurus. Secularism has no meaning if the government seeks support of gurus to win elections, and provides facilities to gurus which are only provided to ministers, in the name of security.

Spirituality is departing India. Not just based on incidents as above. The other aspect which plays an equal if not more domineering role is the ascension of materialism which is trumping spirituality. Materialism is the new goal of millions belonging to younger generation in India. People want to be rich. Nothing wrong with that. “To be rich is glorious” according to Deng Xiao Ping from the late Seventies. No politician dare say such things in India, as hundreds of millions of people are still subsisting on less than USD 3 per day, though the per capita income is fast approaching USD 2,000. In comparison, China’s per capita income (for a slightly larger population) works out to little more than USD 9,000. The China economy is almost five times the size of the Indian economy, and this has been achieved in less than 30 years. And, today the Chinese in Mainland China are seized by materialistic desires in every aspect of their lives, if you care to read about the social changes happening in China.

India cannot be much different, though the role of spiritualism is much stronger in India. However, materialism is taking over the lives of the youngsters, notwithstanding stories of one in a million that we read who are donning the saffron robes at a young age. Don’t get me wrong, I support materialism since I strongly believe economic progress stems out of peoples’ desires to upgrade their lives constantly. That means a desire for more things in life, more quality in life, better amenities, better education for children, more opportunity creation, more technology, more devices, better nutrition, more exercise, better health, and what not. I am not sure just following a spiritual journey would produce common advancement to the society in an economic sense.

Well, I am hearing murmurs of dissent. That’s perfectly all right. We need to have all sides of the argument. My conclusion, however, is that spirituality is departing from India in search of its next abode. Materialism is taking a strong root and this is to be expected, not to be fought against. The older generation is now coming to a conclusion, the younger generation sees things differently, defines needs differently, looks at problems as opportunities for upgrading life, etc.,

Let us welcome “materialism”.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

27th August 2017

 

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Citizen Privacy and Social Service Delivery


The Supreme Court of India upheld the sanctity of personal individual privacy as enshrined in the Constitution of India last week in a landmark ruling, which was widely considered as a setback to the Government of India, though the Government lawyer denied it saying that he welcomed the ruling.

The intent of the Government was to ensure that it had access to citizens’ data to deliver e-services, eliminating middle men and corruption which are endemic in the Indian system of bureaucracy. Most of us from India have felt that there was a strong need to automate routine government services, avoiding the requirement to visit government offices, which are notorious for their poor services and demands for money to execute simple tasks. We have seen and experienced how other developed countries deliver such services efficiently and without much ado, and with zero corruption.

India has successfully implemented the world’s largest national identification system (called “AADHAAR”) based on biometric data of citizens. Though the card is unwieldy, and possibly prone to misrepresentation, it has emerged as the one single identity for all Indian citizens. The PAN or Permanent Account Number Card which is held by most Indians has served as the identification proof for many years, but it was predominantly meant to be used in connection with Income Tax matters. The government now intends to link the Aadhaar Card with the PAN Card in the Income Tax system, thereby clearly establishing the identity and address of the individual tax payer.

Coming back to the privacy case in the Supreme Court of India, it was funny to note the inconsistencies in the arguments put forward by the government on various occasions. The government said that personal privacy, though a fundamental right of citizens, is not “absolute” – it does not give absolute rights to the individual on privacy and privacy has to operate within reasonable limits. The government lawyer went to the extent of arguing that citizens do not have absolute rights over their “own bodies”. Can you believe that?

If there is one institution in India which does not take nonsense, it must be the Supreme Court. For more than couple of decades, Indian Supreme Court Judges have acted as the balancing force between the executive (the government) and the parliament, and have generally been protective of individual citizens and their rights. I was not surprised to learn that in this crucial case of individual privacy, they acted to support the individual, rather than the government. While arguments flew back and forth, it was apparent that the Court was not going to play around with fundamental rights of citizens, irrespective of the needs of the government.

It is critical for the government to deliver e-services to citizens efficiently; it is also important for the government to deliver subsidies to deserving citizens such as farmers. However, the Supreme Court of India differed with the government on the need to sacrifice the privacy of the individual in order to be able to deliver something of value and importance to that individual.

I do not think the government will contest this ruling, or try to pass a legislation to overturn the ruling. I am sure that the current government is pragmatic, if not anything else. They have heard the ruling, and have reconciled themselves to the fact that nothing much is actually going to change on the ground. “Reasonable restrictions” can still be applied to the data collected.

What this case proves is that while access to and use of citizens’ data are critical to various requirements of the government, there needs to be strong safeguards for data privacy and protection before any individual data can be seen or processed. Consent of the individual concerned is of paramount importance before his data can be “touched”. There are no absolute guarantees, everyone understands that, but there has to be a consciousness on the part of the government as to the criticality of the data and the potential for abuse and misuse.

Kudos to the Supreme Court of India for this ruling, coming so soon after another landmark ruling regarding the triple talaq divorce case.

India is setting new milestones as it grows into the next phase of its social development.

Cheers, and have a great weekend,

Vijay Srinivasan

26th August 2017

 

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

Dialling back two centuries


For anyone looking from outside the U.S. at the events unfolding in the U.S., pitting the “alt-right” against the “alt-left” movements, it is just unbelievable – that the leader of the free world is having such serious problems pertaining to racism. This is after almost six decades of work trying to eliminate racial segregation in the southern part of the U.S. I am no student of history, so I do not wish to analyse American history and derive conclusions from the past. My understanding is that the U.S. sincerely tried to fix the race problem under various government administrations. The results are not perfect, and that is not surprising at all. These are never perfect. Look at scores of other large countries, and the problem persists in one way or the other.

When there is a divisive problem (like the bringing down of Confederacy Statues in Charlottesville, Virginia), then the underlying racial sensitivities come out to the top of peoples’ sensibilities and overtake with emotional force which is rarely seen in our daily lives. And, when there is a President who apparently supports one or the other factions, or try to stay neutral in an ambiguous manner, then that position lends support to the faction which thinks that the President supports their cause. And, when the administration is made up of people who espouse right-wing ideology (mostly), then their silence on critical and dangerous matters like what happened last weekend, further accentuates the issues on hand.

There are many more important matters for the U.S. Government to attend to, rather than waste time on things like the violent fight which erupted in Charlottesville, and similar fights expected in other rallies pertaining to this “statues” matter. Racism should be dead and gone in the 21st Century, but apparently it is refusing to die. Not just in the U.S., but unfortunately the U.S. still sets the benchmark on most things, so the world expects the U.S. to handle such things with a firm hand and squelch the hunger for people to make divisions amongst themselves with violence at the fore.

There are a number of articles which have been published on the matter of racism in the past one week in international newspapers. The clear conclusion is that the President of the U.S. is on the wrong track with his rather inept handling of the Charlottesville incident wherein one poor woman died and many people were injured. To avoid such situations in future, clear and categorical message needs to go out from the President and the Department of Justice that violence will not be permitted, display of weapons will not be allowed in rallies, fighting between two sets of protesters will be banned, and the government has the right to implement its policies without court intervention when the matter pertains to public safety and security. In the U.S., courts intervene in matters such as this rally, and the judge made a wrong decision (please read for yourself on this aspect). Law Enforcement and the City Council failed to put up a stronger argument.

Banning of leftist and rightist organizations is not the solution to avoid problems such as these – they should be given clear and strong messages that the government will prosecute offenders without fear or favour, without any allegiance to any ideology whether the President supports or not. This has not been done in the U.S. – rather surprising! I had written earlier about the lack of “liberalism” in University Campuses where opposing ideologies from conservatives are not allowed, which is also ridiculous. Sometimes, it does appear that “both” sides commit sins, but in the case of Charlottesville it is the alt-right which appears to be at fault.

In a free country, different options are available to the people. There will be moderate approaches, milder leftist views, and then there is the possibility of aggressive leftist movement. In the U.S., the “anti-fascist” of “antifa” movement is an aggressive version of the “alt-left” movement, which is not shy to take up physical cudgels against the weapon carrying “alt-right” activists. All this leads to dangerous development in societies leading to potential of violence.

In a nutshell, the U.S. is going back to old times of racism and racial segregation, and lumping of all immigrants as undesirables. This is not good for the U.S. and not at all good for the world. The U.S. is an immigrant nation, and its success has been based on this simple fact.

Why can’t the President of the U.S. see this fact for himself? And, make amends for the disastrous press conference he gave last week. The U.S. is at a turning point now, with this development. The world is waiting for a logical resolution.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

19th August 2017

Insanity with nuclear trigger


May be it is the right way to deal with an unpredictable dictator like Kim Jong Un. May be it is the only way to call his bluff. May be it is a vastly different way to tackle North Korean bluster. May be this way there will be some positive movement towards a dialogue.

But, whatever it is, for the chief of the most powerful country in the world, and that too the only nation which has actually used a nuclear weapon in war, to make the statements that President Trump made over the course of the past one week, shows that a nuclear nightmare is indeed not only probable, but entirely possible.

We now have, not one mad man at the nuclear trigger, but two. Of course, one is on a smallish trigger (which may or may not work), but the other one has thousands of nuclear bombs and means of delivery at his disposal. For President Trump, it is very easy to “nuke” North Korea, whether the U.S. Congress gives permission or not, whether the United Nations agrees or not.

Diplomacy is in tatters, finally.

World’s governance is moving to mad men, finally. At some stage in the history of the world, this was thought feasible, of course. But, now, we are finding that the most powerful man in the world actually does not have checks and balances when it comes to exercise of the strategic nuclear command. If President Trump wakes up today (being a Sunday), and does not like the latest utterances by the “small” mad man, then with his impetuosity, he can order either a traditional attack on the nuclear and missile sites in North Korea, or order his SEALS or marines to go in and capture Kim Jong Un, or press the nuclear trigger.

While obviously such actions are always contemplated by all U.S. Presidents, that investigation and discussion are always done in absolute secrecy. Not exposed via the infamous Twitter handle of the President!

It will not be inappropriate to state that the Western Allies are shaking in their shoes after reading President Trump’s Twitter blasts against North Korea. Some must be holding the tables and some must be banging the tables. Some must be cursing.

Threatening situation, isn’t it?

You can visualize the mushroom clouds. More than 210,000 people died in 1945 in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Think about the power of the latest nuclear bombs 70 years later, with much more potential to cause huge havoc in an area as densely populated as Seoul…….

It is very unusual and unbecoming of the U.S. President to talk like the way President Trump did. Nothing is unusual about North Korea, however. That is the way North Korea operates. Personally, I don’t think their ICBMs will fly as long as they think, and their nuclear bomb miniaturization could be a false report designed to generate anxiety amongst military circles. Their ICBMs should be shot down once they cross Japan, and that will be done in any case by Japan and the U.S.

What should the world do?

That is for another blog post. When things settle down (without a war of course), world historians will critique the behaviour of North Korea and the U.S. They will draw conclusions which would eventually force the U.S. Congress to implement a system which would enforce a joint decision-making between the President and the Congress when it comes to matters as critical as this – annihilation of millions of people by couple of insane folks who just have the triggers, but not the wise counsel enjoyed by other Presidents.

How can anyone sleep at peace in the night like what U.S. politicians are asking Americans to do? Everyone has thinking capability and everyone should think.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

13th August 2017

Note: My tagging of this blog post is intentional…….see for yourself.

 

The India Experience……..continues…….


I spent the past few days in Chennai, the Capital of Tamil Nadu, visiting relatives and finishing off some personal work which was waiting for my visit for the past 4 months.

Every time I visit India, my perception of the environment has kept going up – I mean, increasingly positive. The improvements that I see all around should have come about couple of decades ago, keeping in tune with global enhancement to living conditions. But India faltered on its way to economic growth, led by ineffective leaders who were always subject to political pressures and vagaries, and who made decisions not always keeping the welfare of the country at heart.

However, notwithstanding the huge delays which have cost dearly, finally things are shaping up. I am not going to be positive about most things, however. In a very large country like India, it is very tough and almost impossible to get every section of the society aligned with economic growth imperatives and the sacrifices that are sometimes necessary to achieve equitable growth for all. There are people who are always against the central government and its initiatives. There are state governments not ruled by the same party which rules in the centre (federal). There are religious factions, there are minorities and then there is the “silent” majority who do not care about anything.

With all these challenges, India is moving fast forward, which is a rather surprising development over the past year or so. It will take considerable time, but it is not inconceivable for India to reach a 9 to 10% GDP growth rate, and a per capita income of USD 3,000 in the next 5 years, which should lift the size of the GDP to more than twice what it is today. It is also entirely possible (given the trajectory and assuming minimal disruptions) to achieve a per capita income of USD 5,000 in about 10 years’ time, which would be roughly three times the size of the economy today.

Well, good to read. On the ground, things move slowly however. Corrupt practices continue, albeit with reduced intensity. I pick up feedback from cab and auto rickshaw drivers, who are rather articulate and voluble when it comes to criticizing everything around us. I also collect inputs from folks that I meet, because invariably the talk turns towards the ineffectiveness of state governments and economic growth, etc.,

One thing which worries me is that what you hear about the English capability of Indians is actually not true. Most people are more comfortable in their mother tongue or in Hindi, the de facto national language which 70% of India speaks and understands. When I called a central government agency in New Delhi which is responsible for the national bio-metric ID cards, and chose the option to receive instructions in English and to speak with someone in English, I could not get the right person despite multiple attempts. I was able to get only Hindi speakers, who were baffled that I could not converse in Hindi, and struggled to understand what I was trying to say. It was incorrigible that the senior management of that agency has not addressed the issue, as everything in Central Government in New Delhi (and elsewhere in the country) is supposed to deal with all parts of the country, not just with Hindi speakers. Further, I tested the basic English language of OLA and UBER drivers in Chennai, and they consistently demonstrated lack of grasp of basic English communication.

So, what are we talking?!!!

It is not adequate for just the IT workers and Financial Industry workers to speak English. India needs to do something urgently to rapidly enhance English literacy. The most popular language in China today is English! Is it surprising? No. China has repeatedly demonstrated that if it sets its mind and heart to achieving something, it will achieve that, come no matter what. India does not follow this tenacity in thinking to achieve and then achieving the target with heart and mind.

Another parameter that I use to measure improvement is the ability of the economy to maintain capital assets to ensure maximum utilization and productivity of the asset. India has repeatedly failed to maintain its assets. Simple examples include MIG fighter jets (“flying coffins” as these are called), roads, power plants, water supply, railway stations and rail tracks, airports (improving finally), and infrastructure in general. Faulty lifts (elevators) and escalators abound. Attention to detail is completely lacking. Maintenance discipline which is an essential and critical component of economic productivity does not exist. How then can India compete with China?

In a large metro city like Chennai, with a population of 8M (50% more than Singapore), the upkeep of public facilities and roads are found to be seriously in disarray. I dread the upcoming monsoon season when the number of potholes in roads will multiply rapidly. It is apparent that public money is not being spent wisely in the interest of the public. Many arterial roads do not have pavements, or have pavements which are occupied by hawkers. The city municipal corporation does not seem to be taking strict action on violators. All legislators are afraid of voter backlash, but they view the voters in pockets. The silent majority goes without a say.

I can go on and on, but the key point that I observed is that people are optimistic and the general economic environment is improving (notwithstanding President Trump).

I hope that one day, not in the too distant future, at least some Indian cities will reach the status of global cities which attract talent from around the world.

The Indian story continues……….

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

13th August 2017

 

 

Rating of People Interactions and Behaviour


I have had a long-term habit of generating a rating for every new person that I meet up during the course of my work or on a personal basis, and also an opinion of how people that I know already behave in a particular situation of interest to me. I believe a constant assessment of all people interactions is a necessary basis for judging people, though there are always call-outs by youngsters “don’t judge us” or “don’t pass judgement on people”. But in a world of shifting stances, it is absolutely necessary to define the kind of folks with whom we wish to have a longstanding relationship and that can be done only with some serious assessment and judgement.

While I have mostly managed to keep my ratings and assessments, and consequent judgements private, sometimes when others interact with me, a few judgements do fall out into the open. Recently, I made the point to a couple of people that it is a necessary way to measure potential outcomes – people with high ratings tend to deliver on their commitments, and people who have poor ratings do not deliver as expected, but not necessarily of course. Especially in the corporate context, it is essential to develop a barometer of ratings of people that one comes into contact with on a daily basis, whether these folks are internal to the company or external folks (such as client, partners, analysts, suppliers, service providers, etc.,). You can then determine how to get things done most efficiently for the benefit of your company or yourself!

Such a conditioned measurement rating is developed by careful observations of words, ideas, proactive commitments, timelines, and quality of interactions with others. I developed a system wherein I followed the old, traditional methodology of A+, A, B+, B, C, D and F. There was hardly anyone in the A+ category as to be expected, may be because the other person does not see value in the particular engagement and does not deliver his or her best. Some 5 to 10% of interactions fall into the A category based on quality of interactions, relevance of commitments, follow-through on expeditious basis to deliver, and actual quality of delivery on commitments made. May be around 15 to 20% of the people fall into the B+ category, more than A category, and the rating is based on potential ability to deliver rather than actual delivery (sometimes a perception rather than pure reality). Most people in this category do strive to deliver but sometimes not equipped or capable to deliver on their commitment. Sometimes, the quality of delivery suffers. Sometimes, the behaviour or performance on the way to achieving the desired outcome is not compatible with the level of expectations. Ability to engage on an equitable basis is achieved by the A category folks, but not always by the B+ category.

Most of the folks fall into B or C category (and a few into D, none in F) and while it might be important to maintain the ties for the purpose of future improvements, it is not always necessary to nurture these folks, as the time available is limited to achieve desired outcomes. It is far better to focus on A and B+ categories of people as their productivity far outstrips those of the remaining people in the rest of the categories. Achievement of objectives, delivery of a common goal, accomplishing mutual satisfaction in the relationship and behavioural impact in a strongly positive sense are all critical to success, and these are delivered in ample measure by A category folks and most of the B+ folks as well.

It is sometimes difficult to synchronize the internal ratings system and the actual physical engagement with the concerned individual. The rating assigned to the individual remains in our head and tries to influence our behaviour towards that particular individual. I try not to get caught in this cycle of influenced behaviour and continue in the most nonchalant manner to get on with the task on hand. After all, there was a need for that meeting with that individual and it is important to progress that meeting towards what could be a positive conclusion, without getting unduly impacted by the rating I had given to that individual and his interactions with me in the past.

Such a self training improves our way of looking at people around us and the world, which is not a super-duper A+ world, but on an average, not a bad world either. Most folks around us are average, and fall between B and C on the Bell Curve. This does not mean things do not get accomplished in the world, or the quality of interactions is consistently poor. Things do progress, things do happen, people do work with each other. If the world is comprised only of A+ and A people, then it could become a threatening place driving super productivity in a mechanical manner. If we have people manager responsibility, it is critical to help our reportees move from a C to a B or B+ performance level just to stay in the competitive race, and they do understand this need.

With all that said, it is still essential to measure people around us with whom we come into contact with for meeting some goal – corporate or personal. Such a careful assessment helps not only our thinking, but might eventually help the others in measuring up. When I measure others, I am not judging from an A+ or A pedestal. I position myself in the midpoint, say a B+, that is what would give a considered judgement of other peoples’ potential, their abilities, and their behavioural tendencies. If I position myself as an A+, almost everyone else in the interaction is going to be pushed down in the ratings, and one should consciously avoid this trap. Measure yourself on the same scale and rate yourself first.

Interesting, right? It is a very interesting exercise. Just apply to yourself and the people around you. Measure others as they would measure you, in terms of all the parameters above. You will be surprised to learn that people who you have ignored in the past do get better ratings if measured in an objective manner!

And so on, and so forth.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

6th August 2017