The inhibitions of society


Are you making an intelligent guess on what this topic could be about?

You would probably guess it right, I guess.

This post is about the historic, game-changing verdict by the Supreme Court of India on abolishing the British era Section 377 which penalized sexual acts between adults of the same gender. This was a much awaited verdict by the LGBT community.

I am not going into the moral dimensions of the issue or the verdict itself.

It is all about the society in which we live in. For a long long time, the society shunned and ostracized people belonging to the LGBT community, irrespective of any other factors. So the community kept to itself, and operated in secrecy to avoid facing the society and more importantly, the “moral” policing which occurred in many parts of India.

The main premise of the society (which happens to be largely conservative) was always that homosexuality and lesbianism were against the natural order of living. Many a time, there were religious links to the stand taken by the society – it was that God had ordained procreation to occur exclusively between man and woman, and any other form of sexual relationships were anti-religion and immoral. And so on, and so forth.

Society’s worry is about things which are unknown – which it does not understand, it does not know why a different union is required, etc., It is scared.

Obviously, as members of the same society, we had two compulsions: (a) that the society does not approve of such modes of cross-gender living together; and, (b) that non-conformance to the majority view (in excess of 99%) would put even sympathizers into grave difficulties while trying to pursue normal lives. These constructs would challenge any person even if he or she does not belong to the LGBT community, but sympathizes with their cause and right to live in any which way they prefer with any kind of sexual orientation. The society also worried about the impact of such orientation on children and teenagers of impressionable age groups.

If someone asks me straight about my support or lack of support for such societal restrictions, it would be difficult for me to respond. Obviously, I do not wish to take a stand, but that is also timid and smacks of conformance where none is called for. I cannot and do not differentiate against any such orientations if I encounter such people in my business life, as it does not matter to me. I have actually not encountered anyone belonging explicitly to the LGBT community and it is my strong presumption that they are no different from me or my other friends (the “Straight Ones”! – this will no longer be a politically correct expression!!). When there is no impact on business life or corporate situations, why should one bother about social life situations?

Introduction to such a community member in a social context or business networking context is surely not going to affect my view of that person – it should not. However, would I engage with such a person in a family get-together kind of situation – meaning would I invite him/her for a social get-together at my home?

I do not see why not. Of course, I would surely have a challenge if a same-sex couple turned up at my home or for a private function, as I have not experienced such a situation till today. How would I welcome the couple or introduce them as a couple to my family members and other friends?

I am sure I will figure a way out of such a challenge. The key thing is to invite them. Personally, it is a big challenge as I grapple with the acceptance myself. I have to convince myself that nature provides for a variation in sexual orientations amongst the citizens of the world, and there is nothing inherently wrong or immoral for two people of the same sex discovering joy in their union. I will not be able to understand such a union intimately, however, and I am not going to deny it or deny my lack of understanding. But I can appreciate.

I belong to the 99% majority I referred to above, though I am a “liberal” with open views (as you might have seen in this blog). I am a non-conformance specialist, as my opinions are usually contrarian to those of the majority, simply because I spend time thinking for myself on issues and do not just depend on others’ views or those propounded by a religion, sect, or government. When I think through issues, I discover facts or perspectives which are not truly reflected in the majority discussions. While I respect the society in which I live, I am not going to accept the majority view in matters of public importance. So, I usually look at the conclusions of the legal system, rather than at conclusions made by an elected government which could come under popular pressure. It is also true that many a time, an elected government does not bother about popular opinion and makes decisions which it thinks are appropriate or required for a meaningful resolution of the issue at hand. Hence, I cannot be blamed for running my own thought process and respecting myself for making decisions or conclusions, which I retain within myself, or publish on this blog. It does not mean that I do not respect the majority view, or the minority view, or the religious view, or the government view. But in the pecking order, my conclusions reign supreme at #1.

So, in conclusion, while I do not understand the physiological or biological mandate for same sex union, I do understand the preference and sexual orientation of one human being towards another that he or she likes or loves. That is perfectly fine, and should be fine with the larger society as well, though there will continue to be challenges as we saw in several court cases in the U.S. (recall the case of the bakery owner who refused to serve the same-sex couple). I am sure there will be similar challenges in India.

There should be no rationale to discriminate against the LGBT community members – any such discrimination should be prosecuted as per law in force. They have their own right to privacy and human rights in equal measure. As the Supreme Court of India said in its judgement “Morality cannot be martyred at the altar of social morality. Only constitutional morality exists in our country” – Dipak Misra, Chief Justice of India.

Hence, the only conclusion is to accept the LGBT community members as full-fledged members of the same society that we all live in, and not discriminate against them in any form, and slowly integrate them into the social context with open arms while educating our own family members to pursue an understanding reminiscent of the maturity that the human race has already attained.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

9th September 2018

Child Abuse


I have been influenced by various religious philosophies over the years, but the maximum influence has come about from two – Hinduism and Christianity.

I will not dwell on Hindu Philosophy in this post, and instead focus on the major influence that Christian Philosophy has had on my upbringing.

Like many compatriots from India, I was educated in Jesuit educational institutions in India, which I hold in high regard for the values that they imparted to the students (most of who were not Christians, but Hindus and other religious minorities) and the quality of education that they delivered. My parents, like many other parents, did not send me to “localized” Hindu-focused educational institutions, but rather decided that Jesuit schools were better choices for their academic standing and values that they taught.

This, by no means, demean other excellent localized schools run by various religious denominations in India. There have always been a wide variety of good schools all across India. I am referring to a time line and a place in which it was determined that Christian schools were a better bet.

I am taking time to explain the rationale, as the Hindu ideology is a dominant influence in today’s India, and there are a number of people who would, without deep thinking, jump on to the Hindu bandwagon to the detriment of established institutions belonging to other religious denominations. Such a tendency is detrimental to social development and should not be encouraged by the government of the day.

Given this background, I am pained by the reported abuse of children by Catholic Clergy in Pennsylvania and other places. Such things happen with other religions as well, but the scale of abuse in Pennsylvania wherein thousands of young children were sexually molested by Clergy who were looked upon as saviours is simply shocking. It took a long while for a Cardinal in Australia to be brought to justice recently, and there were significant abuses in Chile, if I recall correctly.

What is also shocking is that the Pope did not proactively condemn these abuses vehemently in the first place. He let the court system to take its due course in Pennsylvania, instead of sacking and excommunicating all Clergymen who were found to be involved in child abuse practices. And, the court was vigorous in its attack on the Church in Pennsylvania, pointedly hitting at the coverups by the Church in all the child abuse scandals, over a period of 70 years!

Catholics apparently are losing their faith in the Papacy and his determination to hold his own folks to account – especially in such a sensitive area as child abuse. The faith had been misplaced it appears!

I just listened to the live CNN broadcast of the Pope’s visit to Ireland, and the Prime Minister of Ireland, Leo Varadkar, referring to the hurt of children who were abused and the families which were broken by the practices of the Clergy in his welcome speech – he is a bold person, other PMs would not have dared to bring up the issue right in front of the Pope seated on the dais. Not only that, Leo Varadkar is openly gay in the majority Catholic nation of Ireland, which also has the distinction of legalizing abortion a few months ago.

Times have changed.

The Catholic Church needs to find its feet and carefully wade through the abuse scandal, and re-establish it credentials with specific actions – not just with words such as “we are sorry for what happened”, and “we feel the guilt” and “we will repent for such abominable sins”.

The irony is that the Church runs lots of schools for young children around the world. Hopefully, there are no more scandals involving young children at a very impressionable age, who will be forced to carry the sexual abuse trauma all through their lives. There is a huge press coverage on the Pennsylvania abuse scandal only if you care to look up on the web. It is sickening, to say the least.

This blog post is not about accusing the Catholic Religion or Church or the Christian Philosophy. The religion is above all such infractions and sins, it maintains its stature like the other religions of the world. My gripe is only about the hugely negative impact that the scandal would have on peoples’ faith, not just the Catholics, but also non-Catholics who have come to depend on the quality of the academics in Christian educational institutions run mostly by Clergymen and more importantly, on the value systems that were always imparted in these fine schools and colleges.

I hope the Church would take cognizance of such serious concerns, and address the same in an open transparent manner to reduce the anxiety of parents. Of course, the Church has to do a lot more to retain Catholics who have been departing the faith, but that is their core job of running the religion and they have to do what they believe is right. As far as I am concerned, I do not depend on any “middlemen or middle ground” for my faith – I am on my own, as I had written in several posts in the past.

Time to heal the victims, and hope the Pope will do his job on this count, and not delay justice in the future – he should not listen to his own Cardinals who could be wrongly advising him not to apologize, or not to take drastic actions. Now is the time to heal, repent and more importantly, take aggressive actions against erring Clergymen who have turned traitors to the faith which brought them up to where they are in the Church hierarchy with huge trust reposed in them by Catholics and parents.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

25th August 2018

Form and Protocol over Substance


There are several places in the world where form and protocol and symbolism are more critical and more important over content and substance.

Many Asian countries fall under this rule.

But the most important Asian country where the above rule is strictly applicable is none other than Japan.

Japan still is one of the most innovative countries in the world – no doubt about it, though the innovation is more on video games, automobile technology, bullet train technology, and manufacturing. There may be several other areas which I might be missing out here. However, slowly but surely, it is receding from startup innovation as the country is fast ageing. There is of course, SoftBank which continues to invest in many non-Japanese startups around the world. There are some creative startups in Japan itself, but increasingly we do not hear much about them.

One reason is the ageing population, the other reason is the culture – I am not ruling out many other potential reasons. The cultural impact is severe – to the extent that it dominates over everything else in a conversation. The cultural customs and the resulting inhibitions have ruled out the open, transparent, informal exchange of ideas and thoughts which is an essential ingredient of a startup culture.

Japan is so clean and spotless (more so than even Singapore) that peoples’ minds are trained to spot rubbish rather than see creativity. I do not believe that Japanese can tolerate chaos in their society, or suffer an indulgence towards foreign influences easily. The “openness” is rather severely limited. One other reason is their commitment to speaking almost exclusively in their mother tongue. While speaking in English is limited, it is not unusual – people do understand what a foreigner is asking for in general. However, a free English conversation is always a tough proposition when Japanese language is so much more natural for them to converse in. They also expect foreigners to learn and use Japanese language. All this limits the influence of foreign ideas. If this is the status of English, one can imagine what happens to other languages.

Of course, there are many characteristics of the Japanese society which merit our attention and appreciation. In that society, we can see the result of dedication, passion and commitment towards building an almost egalitarian livelihood for all people. It is also known for people helping each other in times of troubles or catastrophes, as evidenced in the recent floods or past earthquakes. The general standard of living is far better than most countries, and the infrastructure that has been built out in large cities like Tokyo is simply amazing, providing a benchmark to most other Asian cities.

On the negative side, Japan has a real challenge in containing its costs. Everything, almost everything is expensive compared to most other places. Why should a taxi ride for 10 KMs cost more than USD 30 is something I could never understand. Why should a simple meal cost more than USD 12? Why should a coffee cost more than USD 5? And, so on and so forth. Luxury items are priced horrendously high. Apartments are obscenely expensive even at just 350 SQFT space.

Coming back to the discussion on form and protocol, this is an essential part of the Japanese society and cannot be ignored by anyone. The politeness cannot be misconstrued for compliance or agreement. Almost every Japanese is polite and mostly quiet – yes, there is silence almost everywhere except on the roads. You are not supposed to speak in the elevators, or laugh. There is hardly any laughter sound to be heard. You also do not see kids running around in a super market or mall, at least I did not see. It is strange, but that is the way it is. Possibly Japanese parents frown on children making noise or playing around in public places.

It is very hard to imagine that it is the same Japanese society with its staid and polite culture that invaded many Asian countries and attacked Honolulu in the Second World War. There is obviously strong grit and determination in every Japanese which have played out well for them after the War in the reconstruction and rebuilding efforts, leading to one of the most successful industrial societies in human history. You can see the dominance of Japanese brands in every walk of consumption around the world, though these brands are under threat by the Mainland Chinese brands now.

In a nutshell, if you are a foreigner wanting to make a quick entry into the world of Japanese business, it would not be possible unless you first fully understand the critical importance of Japanese customs. If you are meeting a client during a social occasion, your glass (of wine or beer) should be held at a level lower than the clients’ glass. If you are meeting a few client executives in one meeting, the senior most client executive’s business card should always be kept on the top of the other executives’ business cards on top of your wallet which is also kept on the table. You have to bend almost at a right angle when concluding a meeting, and so on and so forth.

Welcome to Japan! Enjoy the Japanese culture, customs and behaviour. Of course, enjoy the fabulously pure Japanese food!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

3rd August 2018

 

 

Secular Life in Turmoil


I have written about secularism in the past.

Some of my previous blog posts are listed here:

Secularism under threat

The Debate on Secularism

Spirituality departing from the land of discovery

The rising intolerance

I am adding on to the above posts with some additional thoughts on a bright Sunday morning here in Singapore, as I gaze across the expanse of a water reservoir which is serene and calm. I am disturbed with the onset of these thoughts, so the calmness around me is surreal.

I believe no religion owns a country or a people, around the world. Religion is the creation of man and woman. For thousands of years, the religious faith of a group of people had provided to them a solid hold on their lives as well as guidance to lead their lives. Religions, unfortunately, had been the cause of wars between people and untold millions of deaths.

Religion is not a necessary prerequisite or condition for sustaining a faith on things which matter to you. It is nice to have a system of faith which is what a religion should provide to its followers. A religion cannot dictate what someone should do or should not do. Of course, these are my personal views (as always).

So, my point of view on secularism is rather simple – since no religion should own a sect of followers or people, no one religion can control a country. This surely and firmly applies to democracies (theocracies are not being discussed in this post as I have not understood their rationale for existence in this multi-religious, multi-ethnic, cosmopolitan world). This would mean that democracies should disown ALL religions, irrespective of the majority affiliation to any one religion.

What does this mean in practice? A Catholic country with majority of its people Catholics, cannot have Catholicism embodied in its constitution as the “state religion”, as long as it remains a secular democracy. The same applies to other religious denominations. Coming to the example of India, it is enshrined in the Constitution of India that India is a secular democracy, though over 85% of its population are Hindus who generally follow Hinduism as their religion. The founders of India did this with a clear purpose in mind – that India is a very diverse, multi-ethnic, multi-racial and multi-religious country even at the time of its Independence in 1947. A Hindu theocracy would have seriously impacted the emergence of a peaceful India as a nation-state.

Think about the wisdom of the founders and original thinkers of Indian Constitution. They were not ordinary folks, they were serious people who contributed to the formation of India. Were they wrong? Absolutely not.

The racism and the attendant violence that the U.S. witnesses every day is because the government and law enforcement are discriminating on colour of people and their ethnicity. European countries are having huge problems on absorbing new immigrants because their social integration into European societies has not been possible due to the differing customs and religious practices. India did not have many of these issues for several decades. In India, law enforcement did not shoot at people they do not like.

“Untouchables” – the class of people that Mahatma Gandhi tried hard to integrate into mainstream Indian society – are in a far better position today than at the beginning of the 20th Century. I would argue that they are in a better situation due to strong affirmative actions than the African-Americans in the U.S.

Given all this complexity in various large nations, the only solution is to maintain a religion-neutral, race-neutral, ethnicity-neutral, and colour-neutral system of governance and law enforcement. The argument that the majority religion is being neglected and more importance is being paid to minorities is not appropriate, as majority population can always elect a party that they want to run the government. Religious sects across a large country cannot easily integrate election voting, that is just a dream. Individual people vote according to their conscience mostly (at least the people who understand partisan politics which is dominant today everywhere in the world). Religion can never integrate a society, it can only disintegrate it.

So, in a nutshell, secularism is the only way forward for the world, at least for the democratic nations of the world. If a party or government is formed on theocratic principles, then that is doomed to fail in the medium term as the majority electorate would realize their folly in electing them in the first place. No religion can run a government, and no government can operate a people as though they are religious levers to be pulled up for convenience.

I am absolutely sure that many folks may not like what I am writing here, nevertheless I believe that it is very important to express one’s thoughts and discuss the same with folks who are interested in the global development of the world. Anger against a particular religion, majority people, or minority people is not going to solve any issue. Every one is equal in this world and secularism ensures that as far as religious faiths are concerned.

Have a wonderful weekend, and see you next weekend,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

29th July 2018

 

The Bourgeois Class of India


I have been in 3 great cities of India this week.

Delhi, Mumbai and then Chennai now.

One thing I can say with confidence after this trip – the middle class of India is fast becoming the “upper middle class bourgeois” society.

What I mean by that is not a surprise. The middle class of India is growing wealthier by the day, and could soon become the second wealthiest emerging market group in the world, right after China.

And it is going to be of more than 300M people in size – this estimate could be wrong due to measures that differ from the rest of the world. However, it is an indisputable fact that this fast moving and growing middle class is establishing a new set of contours for the society, in which peoples’ attitudes are dominated by materialism, lack of spiritualism, contempt for the poor people and those at the fringes of the society who couldn’t make it, and of course, more materialism in whatever they aspire for.

I do not think I am wrong in my assessment.

I saw a variety of folks and things during my travels – modern men and women, young people who seem to dominate the corporate circles, the polish exhibited by 5 Star hotel staff, the prices of everyday common items, the approach of doctors to healthcare problems of society, the packed cinema halls even during weekday evenings, the footfalls in super rich looking malls, the luxury car brands which seem to have now arrived firmly on the Indian landscape, etc.,

I look for evidence via what people say and what people do. I am careful in spending – I get only what I need, not what I would want in my dreams (I do not dream by the way) to carry on with life, I focus on achieving simple things successfully in a daily routine, and I do not let others think that I am from a privileged background (I am not). I look for attitudinal changes – which are prevalent all over India in the metropolitan cities – which makes a society what it is. The new bourgeois class of India is super confident of itself. It commands a status in society that was previously the prerogative of the rich and famous. It is a high-spending, brand conscious class. It is not family oriented. It is selfish, it cries for attention, it is snobbish, and it is focused on exhibitionism.

I was staying at a nice hotel in Mumbai yesterday, and saw several young women walk into a secluded area of the hotel where smoking is permitted. I was in the adjoining restaurant from which I could see what was going on. While the camaraderie was evident  in the giggles amongst the women, it was not surprising they were all smoking, and continued to smoke after their first cigarette since their break time was not yet over. Personally I have never smoked, I do not like smoking, and I do not like to see young women smoking – they are too young to be spoiled into a habit from which they will never be able to recover. The bad influence of the West is clearly felt in such situations.

Well, from the dashing North to the cosmopolitan West and now to the so-called conservative South. I expected Chennai to stay where it has been all along in the conservative spectrum, but that appears to be slowly but firmly changing. I was in a big mall this afternoon shopping for some essentials. While waiting for an auto-rickshaw (yes I use it for short rides if you are wondering) at the mall entrance, I saw young couples (who were not evidently married) holding hands, and sometimes almost hugging each other. I did not see kissing. But this was a revelation – that this is happening in a society which has had tight contours all along, and looked down on other permissive societies up North and West. The other surprise was that nobody seemed to care (except me of course!) – everybody was doing their job and couldn’t care less about anyone else – another sign of the emerging bourgeois class.

Even while shopping, I noticed that shoppers generally went for the highest priced items in a particular category – for example suitcases. Shoppers wanted imported brands, and that too costing 50% more than the India made brands. And, so on and so forth. Surprising? No, not really.

The Indian society is changing. It is changing fast. I do not think I will be able to recognize it in about 10 years from now. It will become the “new” West. The confidence is contagious and I believe this aspect is good for India, if not anything else. You need confidence – a lot of it – to build out a nation on a new trajectory. I also noticed that people were not indulging in political small talk. Only the older ones were talking about politics. Again, that is a sign of times. No young person cares about anything or anyone else, except himself/herself and his/her desires. That is selfish and materialistic. But nothing can be done about it as it has become a #metookindofmovement.

As I travel around, I learn a lot of stuff about the places I visit and the people I see and meet. India is special as I was born and spent a long time there, and I thought I understood India well. I am wrong. I have to learn more by watching India move. And, it is moving very fast.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

20th July 2018

 

 

Ending Poverty Vs Military Spending


The world spent approximately USD 1.7T on military expenditures in 2017 as per data published by SIPRI (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute). A little over one-third was spent by the U.S., followed by China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, and India among the top five military spenders in the world.

It has been estimated by SIPRI that just 10% of this expenditure is enough to end poverty around the world (more than 800M people are below the poverty line) in just 15 years, meeting the U.N. goal to end poverty and hunger by 2030.

Does the world need to spend around 2.2% of its GDP on military expenditures which does not have a measurable ROI apart from waging wars and killing people? Is it necessary to keep investing in military R&D and expansion of war machinery especially when the entire world is hungry for peace? Was there any tangible benefits reaped by mankind by conducting destructive wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen?

In other words, the world can reduce its military expenditure not just by 10%, but by half and still have a decent defense mechanism against enemies. If the world wants peace, where are the enemies anyway?

We are going to finish the second decade of the 21st Century in couple of years. It is a shame that there still are hungry people around the world. It is a big shame that many people still do not have a roof over their heads, or do not know where their next meal will come from. There are millions of children suffering from malnutrition due to lack of food and milk. Poor people exist even in developed countries as we can see them under bridges in many first world cities in the West – the homeless folks beyond even the fringes of the moving world economics and society.

The collective conscience of the world should be focused on solving this intractable problem of poverty and hunger, instead of focusing on increasing the possibility of conflicts and wars by spending more on military. Is there a ministry for resolving human hunger and ending poverty in the major countries around the world? We only see defense ministries who are drafting the next year’s budget with a potential 5 to 10% increase.

World leaders meeting in the U.N. should make a choice between ending poverty and increasing their military expenditures. Even if the regular annual increases are scrapped, enough money will be released to take specific actions in humanitarian relief. If the military budgets are cut by 10%, that would release USD 170B towards poverty alleviation. If this money could be targeted at helping poor children, that is going to create a healthy workforce for the future. Think about it.

It is highly irresponsible for countries to spend more than 2.5% of their GDP on defense expenditures, when the allocation for poverty alleviation projects is not even 0.5%. What are we talking here? What about allocation for education and healthcare? What about allocation for eliminating hunger? Why are governments not allocating enough of their budgets to address the needs of poor people?

For most of us in a secluded area of society, the impact of poverty and hopelessness and hunger hardly strikes home. We rarely ever think about these things. We are happy if the government reduces our tax burden, leaving more money in our hands to spend. So, how are we different from our own governments? Governments spend money on things that they prioritize, not what citizens wish for. Citizens of any country would want better quality of living, better transportation, better roads and infrastructure, better access to education and healthcare, less poverty and less hunger. Are governments providing for these things everywhere around the world?

Poor people do not worry about taxes or at other items of government expenditure. They are worried about getting through today and then tomorrow – day by day. Most of us are not looking at our lives with the same lens – we have been lucky and fortunate to get through life in an easier manner. Have you ever felt hunger with no access to any food at all? Never. That is not the case for poor and hungry children all around the world.

So, we as educated citizens of the world, need to push our own government to reduce military expenditure and redirect the released funds towards eliminating poverty and hunger from our societies. This is the most important thing that a government can do during its term of office. If it does everything else well, but not do this one thing, that would mean it is a heartless government which has wrecked its legacy.

We do not get many chances to address the problems of poor people. The focus is not on them. Let us try to bring it back towards the objectives outlined in this note. United Nations better take action immediately instead of just lecturing in its hallways.

Have a good weekend folks,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

14th July 2018

The fragility of human life


When I take a long walk (around 90 minutes) in the morning, I tend to do one of three things – either I walk in total silence focusing exclusively on the terrain ahead, or listen to my old-time favourite songs (almost always Abba or Carpenters or Lionel Ritchie or Michael Jackson, or sometimes Norah Jones), or engage in some serious thoughts with good clarity of mind in a very calm environment (there are very few people walking or jogging at the time I usually go in the morning).

I have always found that thinking hard is tough when I am stationary, or just at home doing mundane things. When I am on a solo walk, I tend to be able to think more vigorously. While there are strong positives for thinking in a calm manner while walking a long distance, there are also some downsides. For example, when the mind flies into the future (or into the past occasionally), I tend to be less careful on the terrain ahead, and have fallen down a few times because I failed to “see” some obstacle on the path (there are many stones before I reach the wood-tiled pathway around a lake that I usually go to). I realized that it is not a good idea to keep falling down and hurting myself (especially on the knees) at my age, so have improved my caution while walking which reduces the intensity of thinking somewhat. The other challenge usually is the speed at which some runners tend to overtake me on a narrow path, forcing me to move to the extreme edges of the pathway which could push me into the lake if I am not careful.

This post is however not about my walking per se. It is more about thinking. I always felt that I should have devoted more of my time in my life to thinking hard about every choice open in front of me, or to every issue in my life crying for my attention and resolution. I spent far less time on thinking, or took the easy short-cut of personal advisors, or fell back on just my previous experience.

I still take advice from others close to me, but I spend more times thinking about all issues and come back home with a clarity which is difficult to beat. The result is that I am able to engage with my family members in a calmer manner, and others in a more effective way. As I walk more, I think more. The latest issue surrounding my thought process is the fragility of human life.

We see death and destruction all around the world when ideologies clash and countries end up fighting unnecessary wars or engage in unwarranted conflicts. A beautiful life which existed yesterday with lot of hopes for its future, is suddenly gone today. The ability of man to pluck another life out of this world has only grown tremendously over the years, and that man continues his life without remorse under the guise of morality, the necessity of a “good” war over evil people, or the essential nature of law enforcement – I am sure there are hundreds of reasons that a man can devise for taking the life of another human being for which he needs to answer in his own after-life – such offenses cannot be hidden or explained away under the guise of moral explanations that a government or religion can provide to the man who is plucking the life away. There is no real serious explanation that can be offered for shooting a suspect twenty times all over his body, especially on his head and chest. There is no rationale for bombing a country with cluster or chemical weapons. There is absolutely no possible reason for trying out one country’s latest weaponry on a country which cannot defend itself against such attacks.

So, what could be the reasons why bad things continue to happen all around us establishing the total fragility of human life, which should have always had a “precious” status in humanity?

While no explanations could be acceptable, the lack of fierce responses from religious guardians is absolutely stunning. When defenceless countries and people are bombed, where is the question of religions taking sides with the perpetrators? Where is the neutrality of religious intervention to stop or deter such devious things from happening?

As I think more and more on such topics, it is not unusual for me to get depressed on our inability to stop or vote against such things – there is no possibility that poeple could question or challenge a conflict or a war, unless there is a direct referendum on the most serious matters affecting this planet as a whole. However, that is unlikely.

Our own lives are so fragile, that we are not in a position to devise suitable advance responses to what is happening to our own bodies as we age. Any amount of preparation or planning is not going to help when the inevitable thing eventually occurs in our lives. We go on steering our lives taking some precautions as and when we feel necessary, but one day the fragility of our own lives will be exposed in a natural manner.

So how do we get ready for such a 100% clear possibility at an unknown date?

Try to think of whatever you had ever wanted to do, but could not do or achieve. Create a “bucket” list of such things. Spend more and more time with your family members. Do some charity. Do not expect any returns, and do not think that you will get to heaven or hell. None of that sort might exist. At the end of the day, what matters is whether you have helped people around you, stood for some good cause, made your family members successful in their respective lives, and garnered respect and admiration from friends and relatives for your ability to successfully steer your life and contribute to society in a manner that you could. Forget about emulating other successful people, or investors, or businessmen. It does not matter.

Well, more in future posts on this topic.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

6th May 2018

Salt Mango Tree


I felt only shame after viewing this Malayalam movie “Salt Mango Tree” on NetFlix along with my wife.

While there are many positive things I can say about my birth country India, there are equally many bad things that exist even today in modern India. I feel very proud when I see global corporate CEOs from India (far outnumbering many other countries), over 100 satellites being placed successfully in orbit by one single rocket launch by the Indian Space Research Organization, the very optimistic young generation in the entire world which India has in abundance, and so on and so forth – it is a rather long list of achievements by India and Indians in a short span of just six decades.

However, the things which went wrong over these same six decades, and which continue to hamper the potential and growth of India still bother me a lot. These should bother all well-wishers of India. What I am referring to here are things like corruption, lack of guaranteed, affordable and accessible education for all, lack of universal healthcare for all citizens, lack of safety and security for women and even for very young girl children, and lack of world-class infrastructure and facilities all across the country including uninterrupted access to electrical power, potable water, proper roads, high speed internet, etc., etc., Though there have been some improvements in the past few years, what India needs cannot be met with incremental enhancements of existing infrastructure. India needs to do what a China has done in the past 30 years of relentless public investment in a non-bureaucratic manner with the sole intention of enhancing the livelihood of its people. Communist China has done a far better job than a democratic India, and I am not going to listen to the democratic nonsense that many armchair philosophers expound on the superiority of democracy. Everything in the corporate world is measured on budgeted outcomes, why not in government and governance?

The movie “Salt Mango Tree” describes one facet of India’s systemic failure in providing quality education for all children. Parents have to run around for getting admissions to prestigeous schools, and are totally stressed out in the process. They have to perform better than their children in school admission interviews. What about children of hawker stalls and poor people? How will they get admission in such schools if the criteria is based on how well the parents perform in interviews? How will they speak in English, let alone come well dressed and well groomed for such nonsensical interviews?

I was seriously embarrassed to see how the movie portrays the anguish of both the parents, who struggle to make a living and save money for their only boy. The movie strongly hints about the so-called “donation” which is nothing but a bribe which parents have to offer to schools. When parents give up on the due process in getting school admissions, they turn towards short cuts such as bribe, and this practice continues throughout the life cycle of their children, embedding and validating the need for systemic corruption. Why would anybody outside the Indian system believe that our quality of education is good and impeccable, on par with the developed countries? Making an incorrect comparison with the IITs and IIMs is wrong, as the folks who get into such schools do so entirely on merit, and they go on to change the greater world in many ways. They are focused on making wealth and very few dedicate their lives to fixing the systemic issues of governance in India (I personally know of only one such classmate).

I am not going to describe the movie here, but the message from the movie cannot be more impactful – to get quality education in India even at the primary level (starting at Kindergarten) today, parents have to prepare well, get trained, perform very well in school admission interviews, and be ready to offer donations. This is not the case in any one of the developed nations of the world. If India wishes to achieve the status of the top 5 countries of the world (not just based on GDP), it has to pay serious attention to education, healthcare, quality of living, public infrastructure, etc., and follow the model of either the Nordic countries or countries like Singapore, where public systems by government trump even the best quality of private systems (which are also available but at a tremendous cost). If India cannot invest at least 5% of its national budget on improving public Education and another 5% on public Healthcare, then the future generations will continue to suffer.

The focus outside India today has turned positive about India after a long dry spell of negative media coverage about the bad things happening in India. I have seen that over the past quarter century (most of which I have spent outside India), and it sometimes used to pain me. I am out of it now and immune to the negative coverage on India. I look for some positive news on India every day. The political news is not encouraging. As I wrote in a recent blog post, my experience in Bangalore traffic in the midst of visiting foreigners was not positive. The “East Asians” detest infrastructure problems as they have long been used to good infrastructure and environment. I make it a point not to bad-mouth India in any manner to them, and I try to keep my views to myself. I tend to talk about the positives and push the envelope for their next visit.

However, as I write here this evening, it pains me again to see that India has not changed in fundamental public services.

Looks like this will be the situation in our life time.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

29th April 2018

The terrible loss of privacy


Privacy is a funny aspect of life.

Most institutions and corporations we deal with in our lives demand that we sign off on dotted lines when it comes to providing them access to our very personal data. Most consumer companies do the same thing. Governments have always asked for our data. However, the phenomenon of giving away our total freedom and personal data to social media giants did not bother us for a long time. Until last week.

I am referring to the data breach on 50M Americans who have accounts with Facebook. Well, this is not the first instance, but in terms of scale it is the biggest ever. There have been hacks on Apple’s iCloud, releasing personal data of celebrities. There have been other hacks such as the bad one on Yahoo mail.

But, people forget and forgive, the reason being that they still need the services of the social media companies, cloud service providers and email operators. There is just no alternative to leading one’s life today – if an individual is not on Facebook, he does not exist – not just virtually, but physically as well! He or she is ignored for lack of digital savviness, or inability to be in sync with the rest of the world which seems to be rushing into Twitter, Instagram, Snap, WeChat, WhatsApp, Line, Google’s variety of offerings including of course Search, and so many such digital tools.

So, things will be back to normal after a few months for Facebook. They will undergo detailed investigation that is reserved for Russian hackers, questioned on Capitol Hill, excoriated in the “adult” networking circuit, and punished in some way, like being forced to implement tougher security measures. Facebook’s reputation currently is in the dumps, and they should not be trusted as they have traded their users’ data. But apart from all this, do you think that anything substantive will happen to them? There are more than 2B users who depend on Facebook for communication. Not me however – I never seriously used the consumer version of Facebook, though I have an account with very sparse data on myself (I however use a corporate version of Facebook behind my company’s firewall for internal teamwork and collaboration, along with other tools such as Microsoft Teams and Yammer).

So here I am – not a regular user of the consumer version of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, et al, but a serious blogger on this WordPress platform and LinkedIn user. I select what I wish to do, and cannot be led to use some tool that I do not wish to use. Further, I am careful not to accept terms and conditions of these tool makers and platform owners, and do not click to give access to all my data voluntarily. Neither do I agree for unsolicited marketing communications from these folks or their marketing collaborators, though sometimes it is made difficult not to agree.

The question is – what is more important: maintain privacy or lose it due to either the lack of security of the provider or his desire to sell off my data for money? In my case, the answer is crystal clear – I would rather forego the convenience of “checking into” Facebook and detailing what I am up to, or posting my photographs enjoying a vacation with my family, but safeguard whatever little privacy that I still have. It is not necessary for the entire world or my friends and relatives, or for any government, to know what I am doing at this moment (I am blogging now!). It is irrelevant to them, but it is critical for maintaining my sanity. It is not that I am anti-social – I am in multiple WhatsApp groups – but I wish to remain private. I do not respond to LinkedIn invites from people who I have not yet met. I should know the person through a referral or I should have met that person before I would even consider accepting the invite.

Nothing wrong with wanting to be a private individual. However, we know that most teenagers willingly give away their most personal data on the Facebook platform. The issue is that Facebook cannot be trusted to keep that data totally private and secure.  We do not know for sure that the data is safe and secure. We also do not know if they had traded our data for money. We never knew that Facebook gave away the data on 50M Americans to a U.K. Professor for some vague research, who in turn handed that out to the now infamous Cambridge Analytica.

It is more important to spend F2F (“Face to Face”) time with friends, relatives and family, like in the old times. It is more important not to be influenced by hate speech and lectures that are posted on all social media platforms. Did we live without a mobile phone or social media platforms in the past? Did we live a life without networking? We did live well, but I believe we did not learn to adopt technology well in the 21st Century. We just blindly jumped into all that is new without much analysis.

I am not against any of these innovative tools and platforms which have created enormous value to equity investors and users. I think we need to be extra careful in how and why we use these in our lives. Do we give our date of birth or place of birth to our neighbours or strangers? We don’t. We do not share any personal data in public. The same caution applies when we venture into digital space. We cannot ignore the fact that digital platforms are fast proliferating across our lives, and will come to dominate all facets of our existence. We may not be able to order ice cream without a social media account in future, or something as ridiculous as that.

Welcome to a world less private, more intrusive, less secure, and more dangerous as a result.

Hope you enjoyed your weekend.

I am happy to share the fact that I am now allowed one glass of wine, and I will soon be posting on the wine I had and the experience of de-addiction to wine.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

25th March 2018

The Culture of Materialism


The premise of this post has been to establish the link between materialistic greed of (certain) people and corruption and overall destruction of value for citizens who lead normal lives. I went for an event today, and this topic was discussed among a set of trusted friends who had very different views. As an author, I am supposed to state my views in a non-diluted manner, while accepting criticism or praise in equal measure, which is exactly what I am going to do now – I have not changed any of my views in this final version which is getting published this evening (Saturday evening in Singapore), though I did think about some of the alternate views expressed by friends today on this topic.

Here is my view in a few bullets (this is not the normal way I write, but I thought it would be good to highlight):

  • Countries which unabashedly focused on the material well-being of their citizens in the 1970s and 80s, paved the way for economic growth to be the dominant factor in their countries’ vision – examples would be South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore – the four “Tiger Economies” of Asia. This meant that citizens were led to believe on the economic vision of their leaders, in turn, leading to rapid growth over the past 3 to 4 decades, rapidly enhancing the GDP per capita of these nations, and focusing on generating material wealth for the citizens. This has already happened – Singapore now is the 4th richest country in the world in just one generation! There are pros and cons, but one cannot argue with the fact that economic progress has been clearly accomplished.
  • Countries which focused on political philosophies and social development in an Utopian manner did not progress fast due to the debilitating bureaucracies that these countries established, leading to slow progress and corruption as the main driver for faster movement of business. There are many examples of such nations, mostly democracies and some dictatorships, but I am not going to name them. Established mechanisms of corruption and nepotism led to stealing of wealth from ordinary citizens to line the pockets of politicians and bureaucrats, and the wealth generation was isolated in few family run businesses. Not surprising, however.
  • Over the past decade or so, these large countries have seen what the smaller countries have accomplished, and are trying to adopt some of the policies though in a much belated and haphazard manner. However, the institutionalized corruption continues irrespective of change in governments as the essence of bureaucracy has stayed the same. This implied focus on materialistic economic growth will take a very long time to trickle down to ordinary citizens, and will again benefit few individuals and families, as we are seeing. Tax payers’ money is being stolen brazenly to benefit these folks.
  • So, the derivation is that the focus on materialistic wealth generation is not going to work for larger countries since institutional changes and policy frameworks have not changed for the better. This would mean that corruption would accelerate and lead to larger financial scandals, while ordinary citizens would see probably a lower impact of routine corruption due to e-governance initiatives (the only major benefit, yet to be realized however).

In a nutshell, the culture of materialism will lead to skewed economic growth for larger countries, benefiting the same businessmen who benefited in the past. Lifting millions of people out of poverty towards a USD 5,000 income per capita is not a simple challenge – it cannot be compared with the easier task that the Tiger economies had with their singular focus on trade. So, there is going to be very hard time befalling on millions of honest working folks and farmers, who would be held subservient to the governments by paying more taxes and more fees to obtain banking, insurance, and other services.

This is indeed a sad situation. Expecting millions of ordinary folks to understand economic and digital principles is foolhardy, as the base of education and healthcare has not been laid out over the past many decades. When ordinary people see how the rich people fleece money in an illegal manner from the same banks and governmental institutions, what ideas would they get? When these powerfully connected and rich people escape without so much as an indictment, what message does that send to others? While a French revolution is not in the offing, ordinary people would have to take some kind of action within their control, right?

Fascinating, but also saddening. Think about the whole complex situation developing, and you will see that WhatsApp messages and Fake News do not tell the entire story. The deeply maligned people are going to scot free, and no one can do anything. This is the result of all our democracies and institutions in action. Even the U.S. is not spared, as you see in daily news, day in and day out.

The culture of materialism is destructive. It will lead to serious social divisions in society which cannot be fixed in one generation.

Think, probably with a drink like what I am doing now!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

17th February 2018