I was having a chat with one of my close personal and family friends yesterday. It was a casual chat, but as always it turned into a deep discussion on several matters which have always been close to my heart, and I am sure, to his heart as well.
While we meandered around issues and challenges of mutual interest, we finally landed on the most important and critical issue that should dominate every discussion that people over 50 years of age are having, and that is, how to make the best out of the rest of our lives.
Yes, it is something that we should not shy away from. Discussing potential death timeline, and how to deal with it in advance, and understanding how others would deal with your death, is something that is direly needed. We do not discuss such matters. Period. Don’t you agree? It is considered inauspicious to even think of such things.
While discussing death could be seriously challenging, what about discussing about how to make things better for others while we are all on the firm and unchangeable path to our respective deaths? In a nutshell, how to make the best out of the rest of our lives? How can the rest of our lives be useful to not only the people closest to us, but also to people in the society we live in?
While my friend and I discussed this matter briefly, it was clear in our minds that this was something that is going to dominate our thoughts and actions in the coming months and years. Again, let us think about our legacy. Who will remember us, year after year, outside of our very close relatives and family friends? Is there someone out in the open world who would recognize your contributions to the society that you had lived in before you passed away – someone not related to you, someone not your friend? You do not have to be famous or a big philanthropist to have that kind of recall.
As we plough through our conscience, our entire life till now, our close family members and friends, it becomes very clear that there are very few people outside our circle who have been impacted by your presence in this world (let us say over 50 years, could go on to a 100 years!).
Did we ask the right questions to figure out who needs our help? Did we consciously feel that we could have been of service to those in need? Did we do public service? Did we mentor people who are not related to us or not friends of us? Did we donate to charity every year? Did we give out time to people who would have benefited? Did we even ask our own close personal and family friends if they need any assistance?
Very few people do these things. Just touch your heart and respond. We want to have a drink and relax, or we want to attend parties and network, or we go for movies. We worry about our financial position all the time. We worry about the condition of our car, yes, we “feel” for our car, or our apartment. We worry about tons of mundane things. But we do not worry about how to make the best use of our time to help others in need.
Money and material things dominate our conversations, even those within our own family network. There is no spirituality in almost everything we do. We should not confuse religious affiliation or temple visits or prayers or rituals with spirituality. This is a common mistake we all make. You attain spiritual well-being when the Super Power (not the U.S.) determines that you are (a) devoid of material desires; and (b) you have rendered help to several poor folks who would vouch for your generosity, kindness, time and assistance. It is not going to be based on how many times a month you visited temples or prayed for your own material success.
I think if you are reading this blog post, you are going to probably ring me. You would want to discuss more. Yes, I think there is a lot more to this topic than what I have written thus far. Let us discuss. I strongly believe our times are limited, and we have to contribute urgently. No one can predict how long we are going to live. Why bother about the lifespan if you can focus on things which help others? Not that it would assure a place in heaven, but that is the best thing that you can do.
Think about it, and let us talk soon!
5th November 2017
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.
29th November 2017
On the day when the world’s most renowned and celebrated non-violent leader was born (2nd October 2017 in Asia, 1st October Sunday in the U.S.), the U.S. witnessed its most murderous violence against innocent people, perpetrated by a violent gun-loving murderer in Las Vegas. The non-violent leader I am referring to is, of course, Mahatma Gandhi, who preached absolute non-violence against the occupying British police during India’s Freedom Struggle.
America indeed has a serious problem. More than 15,000 people died in the past 12 months because of GUN violence, the highest among all developed countries. In the Las Vegas massacre, 58 innocent civilians died and over 500 were injured. These folks were among a huge crowd enjoying a country music performance opposite to the now infamous Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino – I remember walking past this place couple of years ago in Las Vegas.
I do not think the U.S. Government and Congress have any excuse now but to impose some controls over how guns can be deployed in a civilized society. But they will do no such things under the strong, incestuous influence exerted by the National Rifle Association (NRA). Things will be forgotten, like it was after the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012 during President Obama’s tenure. No government and no congress has the power to outmaneuvre the very powerful NRA, who are the main reason for Americans currently possessing over 300M guns, the most of any country in the world. Not only that, most state governments in the U.S. are now permitting gun owners to carry their weapons in public places, an open invitation for their usage. Who can determine if it is intentional or not? The victims won’t live to tell their side of the story. The usual excuse proferred by the NRA upon the occurrence of every such gun violence will not hold water in any case – the NRA says if only there are enough guns donned by gun owners out there, gun violence won’t happen as there would be an immediate retaliation. Isn’t it laughable that Americans are buying this argument? How about shooting back at the Las Vegas murderer on the 32nd Floor of the Mandalay Bay from the ground below some more than 400 yards away, if only the music lovers all carried their guns?
The whole world is looking at the U.S. (repeatedly over the past 3 years of incessant gun violence) more carefully – how can the so-called leader of the “free world” be so ignorant of so much that needs to be done within its own country, how it fails to repeatedly protect its own citizens from gun violence, how it has failed to protect large cities, and how the whole government machinery is just spinning out of control under the eminent direction of the Honourable President Donald Trump. Among his many promises, Mr Trump assured he will take action against inner city violence and has often cited Chicago as the worst example of continuous gun violence.
My conclusion: nothing will ever change on the issue of gun control in the U.S. Hiding behind the U.S. Constitution is an easy way to fend off criticism from right or left. Judiciary won’t act against constitutional rights of citizens (“the right to bear arms”), despite some of these being outdated. So, there goes yet another wonderful opportunity to stop the carnage and bring sense into American society.
Most other Western nations have controlled guns, the best example being that of Australia under its gun amnesty program. It has been a big success, and major gun violence has long since been eradicated. People generally feel safe in countries with strict gun laws. The argument that America is a vast country, and so guns are needed in remote locations to protect oneself is also specious. If guns are controlled, it also means that guns will be controlled in remote locations. If there is a device that gun manufacturers can fit on all guns which would identify itself and give away its location before use, will that help? Of course, the NRA will fight tooth and nail against any legislative restrictions on gun acquisition, possession, and use.
So, there goes a great country which does not mind sacrificing its citizens and innocent bystanders for the benefit of gun-loving Americans and the NRA. How about the so many innocent lives lost? How about the sacrifices of young and old? All justifiable in the eyes of the NRA. Can it bring back those lives lost on the night of 1st October due to the violent gun-driven actions of a mass murderer who had so many guns ready in his hotel room? The NRA will justify anything to keep its gun lobby going. Do they have conscience? You bet they don’t.
Let us stay completely gun-free in our respective countries and societies. After all, we are already in the 21st Century and in the most civilized phase of our existence thus far, let us keep it that way.
7th October 2017
The United Nations published its 2017 Global Broadband Progress Report on the 14th September 2017.
It is an important report to monitor for people who are interested in the technological and social advancement of developing and poor countries. Around 52% of the world’s population (some 3.9B people) do not have access to the internet. The “digital gap” between the internet haves and the have-nots is growing as well.
Broadband internet access is not only important for education, it is also crucial in providing access to quality healthcare and enhancing incomes, reducing the gender gap, and better infrastructure. Broadband has become a critical part of sustainable development world-wide, and a majority of countries have established a National Broadband Plan to accelerate the penetration of internet into their respective countries, and connect resources to the national broadband for greater access and better livelihood.
While developed countries are increasing their broadband speeds to cater to increased speed requirements of their populations, the average broadband speeds in developing countries are not keeping pace, thereby widening the gap. Further, rural areas are under-served by broadband internet, as the latest 4G technology is being rolled out in urban cities with an ability to bear the cost.
Developing and Least Developed Countries have to worry about the widening digital chasm with Developed Countries. Even in Developing Countries with over 40% internet penetration rates, there exists a big gap between the internet speeds that one can get in an urban city compared to what a rural area gets. The governments force telco providers to extend their networks to the nooks and corners of the countries, but then the progress has been slow.
Given that Developing Countries are now jumping into the mobile broadband networks (sometimes from 2G straight to 4G, and in some countries from 3G to experimental 5G), we can expect a deeper penetration of mobile broadband in these countries in the near future. For countries such as India, the ability to access broadband internet on the go also provides huge benefits to the users – such as access to current weather conditions, education, healthcare information, government services, law and order situation, news, agriculture-related data, and so on and so forth. This is fundamentally going to change society and its focus on development. It will also lead to broader thinking and benchmarking against global standards. Of course, we cannot forget video content which with unlimited data, could easily displace televisions.
The progress of broadband adoption in Developing Countries is an important indicator for the development of society as a whole. Even a decade ago, we would not have thought in this fashion. This shows the huge advancements that internet has made in changing the lives of people for the better.
In order to reduce the gap with Developed Countries, there must be aggressive and concerted focus on not only extending the broadband networks but also increasing the speeds of access.
In 5 years from now, such a focus would completely change the livelihood of rural populations of large countries. Let us hope for the best in this effort.
16th September 2017
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.
19th August 2017
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……….
13th August 2017
I met with an old friend of mine yesterday who worked with me in Singapore many years ago. He is from the Philippines and was visiting Singapore on business. He is some 7 years younger to me, but is wiser than me and I should say, more broad-minded. I always try to meet up with him whenever he visits Singapore, and has been the beneficiary of his counsel on many matters of life.
He thinks highly of me as well, and shares his views on business and life with me. We know each others’ families, and I have stayed with him in Manila during one of my trips. My views on the Philippines is largely shaped by his commentary on his country.
Yesterday’s meeting was no different. It was a real pleasure to catch up, and the meeting veered towards substantive life issues. Charlie has been impacted by his father’s recent demise. He also described the cancer plaguing one of our mutual friends in the U.S. He mentioned that life is fragile and we all need to do things which we enjoy right away without any undue delay. No procrastination. Spend more time with your family and friends. Do not have regrets.
He asked me a rhetorical question – “is the world going to miss you tomorrow morning if you are gone today”, and the answer was a firm “No”. The world will move on with its business, and a small group of family members and close friends will probably shed tears and express remorse and grief, and that would be all. Things will get back to normal and even close family and friends will move on in life, except for occasional remembrances.
It is kind of difficult to understand and digest this aspect of life. What can we then do today that would impact folks around us? How can people feel the positive impact of anyone in their lives? We are not talking here about the great historical figures who built nations (like Mahatma Gandhi, or Lee Kuan Yew), or who discovered scientific breakthroughs (like Albert Einstein, or Thomas Edison), or the first astronaut who flew around the earth (Yuri Gagarin), et al. Many of these people have had strong impact in the manner in which nations and lives have developed during the 20th Century, and there are hundred of such figures whose names can easily be recalled. But, how about yours? Will anyone outside your immediate circle recall your positive contributions to society? Will anyone even remember us?
If a person has led a good life, causing no harm to others, always wanting to help others especially the downtrodden, and tries to contribute to society in some positive manner, it is not necessary that he or she should be famous with an easily recallable name. The small positive contribution will be recognised by the society. However, the most important effect is that his or her children carry on the same principles in their respective lives, and inculcate similar philosophies in their immediate circles. A small group of people will surely recall how good a person was during his or her lifetime. And, that should be enough.
Coming back to Charlie, he was gazing beyond me yesterday and thinking seriously about the fragility of human life. I told him that I completely synchronise with him on his line of thinking, and suggested that we should spend more time together discussing these aspects of life. It is critical to decipher when one becomes happy, and most of us do not ask ourselves that question – “what makes us truly happy?”. Think about it for a couple of minutes and you will see that the answer is quite complex. There are many happy things that you can do, there are things that you can do which makes others happy, but what exactly that you do that makes you very happy? Think about it.
May be sailing in the sunset with your life partner will make you very happy, or celebrating the arrival of your first grand-son or grand-daughter will make you very happy. But do you become very happy when you receive a huge sales commission or you sell a share for a big profit?
What are you going to do with that money?
We still live on 3 simple meals a day, and our wants are minimal (at least for most of us). One does not need to have huge amount of money unless one wants to donate to charity and help people of Syria, Rwanda, Angola, and other very poor countries.
So, it is time to ruminate your position in the circus of life and whether you are playing it well, not just for your own benefit but for others’ as well. Are people around you happy about you? What are you doing today to positively contribute to the mood at home, or to society at large?
A lot to think for the weekend, I guess.
Have a good one.
15th July 2017