The long and short of the Queue!

A queue is a line of people or things waiting to be handled, usually in sequential order starting at the beginning or top of the line or sequence. In computer technology, a queue is a sequence of work objects that are waiting to be processed. The possible factors, arrangements, and processes related to queues are known as queueing theory. What do the queues do? They make life orderly, save time!

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But one thing I have never understood is why the word queue is spelt as queue and not Q! The spelling is the quirk from the English language!  

Forming a queue is the indication of a developed and organised society. Yes, we in India are not a developed society! What does a line indicate? It indicates that people behave in an orderly fashion; if the line is too big, then there are obviously a smaller number of windows than needed. If the line is moving slowly, then the person handling the work or the work process is inefficient. Or it indicates that the quantity of things being offered is limited. (school admission forms) People sometimes reach very early to enter a match arena. I remember that when I went to Melbourne to see the Cricket world cup finals, there were no big queues! The total number of spectators was 93 thousand plus. We reached inside the stadium about 45 minutes before the start time without any hassle or jostling 

Queues are the reflection of the world. The society has always been divided based on cast and creed. To manage complications, the boarding process at the airports is handled differently. While you board a flight, there is a separate queue for first/business class and others! Those who pay a significant additional chunk of money, get priority for boarding and deplaning. Is this fair? Yes and no both. Honestly, the flight takes off only after ALL the cattle class and the privileged board. Still, the boarding distinction takes place. It is done probably to pamper the ego of a particular category. Some want to pay more, get on the plane only at the last moment. But a separate queue is a fact of life. Frankly, what happens by boarding late, I have never understood. Ego boosting? 

A lot of discussions take place on this subject. Should human rights be the same for all? Can the state or an airline sell the rights at a higher price? Priority access is given any many places like theatres, theme parks and many such public areas. In India typical jumping the queue is done at the Balaji Mandir at Tirupati. The passes are sold at a fee, that gives priority to jump the queue.   

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Many people do not have time these days and are always in a hurry! Why does it happen? It is their mindset; let me do things quickly. In India, we see many such people. On an inquiry counter, they barge to the front without standing in the queue. When someone objects, they will claim that they have only half a minute inquiry!

A priority access line allows people to choose what resource they want to use to get to the front – time or money. For many people, time is more precious than money, so being able to hand over money to save time is a boon. The other side of the argument is if the service offered is efficient, reasonably quick, then people do not mind waiting for a few minutes. The value of the service provided depends on the actual service that is being offered. If the process of sending a parcel takes a couple of hours at a post office, then it is a strict no-no! But if the renewal of passport takes a couple of hours people do not mind.  

That brings me to the passport renewal process in India. First and foremost, one can apply only online. There is no manual process hence no queues. The application is locked after the required documents are uploaded. Based on dates availability, the appointment is given online. All are expected to be present at the office 15 minutes before their appointment time. At the allocated time, people are let inside the premises. You are generally done in one hour. For senior citizens like me, one can walk in at any time suitable. I came out in thirty minutes flat. Yes! There is a set procedure for priority appointments for an additional fee! Why should this be available? Sometimes an emergency crops up in life which needs jumping the queue! This emergency could be because of real crisis or neglect!  

But there are situations where people love to be in the queue. For example, a famous cell phone is launching a new model! Some renowned brand is launching shoes! People love to stand in line. When McDonalds started its first outlet in Pune, people used to stand in queue for some time to visit them. The queues continued for the first six months!  

When people are in the queue for entry into a sports stadium, waiting to enter a theatre to listen to their favourite crooner, they love it. It is treated as recreational queuing! People chat, smoke, have ice cream and have fun. Nobody cribs standing in these queues.   

Priority queuing will depend on what service is being offered. When people go to buy grocery, they hate waiting for checking out. Such businesses are already proving facilities like selfchecking counters for those who have purchased less than ten items at a time. Now they are providing apps where the buyer can scan the barcodes on their cell phones. When the last purchase is made, buyers can pay using their cell phone apps directly. The method makes checking out hasslefree.  

Does all this mean that the class is being replaced by money? Market forces take over. I read a facility provided in an office building in olden days. People used to get fed up of waiting for the lift/elevator to take you up; during peak period queues were long. They provided mirrors inside the lifts. As soon as people got inside the lift, most would adjust their clothing, ties, scarves, dresses and suits! They used the time to make themselves presentable. The provision of mirrors reduced the cribbing to a great extent. I never knew the reason for putting the mirrors in lifts!  

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Technology and evolution have changed many things, and it has changed the interaction of people standing in the queue! Oh, I am sorry! There is no interaction, people keep on looking at their respective screens! Technology has created a new situation. When we chat with Customer Service Support of some companies, the first thing that generally happens is that we get a message. “You are in the queue. Your call is valuable to us. One of our executives will attend to you shortly.” The music starts. Shortly can become annoying five minutes too!  The “person” chatting with you could be a BOT! Of course, there is always a variant in the message! You are our Gold Customer and will be attended to on priority!

I know that with most of you, my blogs are in the queue for your attention! But I will respond to you right away if you write to me! You are all Gold for me!

 

 

  

Is 450 a prime number? The Math controversy in Maharashtra!

I am so good at Mathematics that I am 100% sure that the number after 449 is 450! But is 450 a prime number? Is 450 divisible by 3 or 5 or 7? What is the square root of 450? What is the nth root of 450? My first statement is 100% accurate, but after all these arguments, I am now uncertain how good I am at Maths. What is the meaning of being good at Maths? Is your aim in life to become Dr Mrs Naralikar or Dr Naralikar? If it is not so, then you do not need to know the answers to all these questions. Why do we need to learn any subject? Why are we introduced to so many subjects while we are students? I assume that the main idea is to make us a rounded personality. See, the aim is to round off; we do not need to know the figures in fractions or fourth decimal in real life. 450 is good enough in real life instead of 449.9999999… etc. Is 450 a Prime number is a rhetoric question!

Recently there has been a big discussion going on in the state of Maharashtra about the way numbers are spoken and pronounced in Marathi. Mathematics expert Dr Mangala Naralikar declared that by changing the way the numbers are currently pronounced, Mathematics as a subject would become easy to learn. Majority of people find Mathematics very tough and challenging to learn and understand. This difficulty can create problems in these people’s day to day lives as their skill sets may not be good enough to perform basic transactions in day to day life. QED!

Q.E.D. or QED (sometimes italicised) is an initialism of the Latin phrase “quod erat demonstrandum”, literally meaning “what was to be shown”. Traditionally, the abbreviation is placed at the end of a mathematical proof or philosophical argument to indicate that the evidence or argument is complete, therefore used with the meaning “thus it has been demonstrated”.

See the Mathematicians want to say “I am done with a problem”, but they make it complicated by using the term QED!

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People taking part in Maths Olympiad, people talking of Fourier transform, discussing algorithms among themselves is fine, but when they start talking about their expertise in a WhatsApp group of ordinary human beings, things become tricky. Is Math Olympiad winner a genius or Sachin Tendulkar? Who has achieved more? Is achievement in Cricket lesser than achievement in Maths? In the academic world, a lot of importance is given to people who are good at Maths. They are considered geniuses, super intelligent, and so on. Is being good at Maths so important in life? In our day to day world, too much emphasis is given to Maths. One writes excellent poems, or she is a fantastic singer. Is it not good enough? Are you dumb if you are not good at Maths?

Ok here is a disclaimer! I have done Master’s Degree in Engineering and have learnt a bit of complex Maths. Come on! How many engineers use Maths in their day to day work! In my school days, there was an emphasis on knowing number tables by heart. Smart ones were expected to know tables up to 30 and also the tables for 1/4, 1/2, 1 1/2. I remember an incident which happened ages back. We were in Dallas in an amusement park. We bought something to eat, and I had the US $7.38 ready to pay. When the girl completed her calculation, I paid the money. She was surprised and asked me if I were a genius. I just smiled. I felt as if I had conquered the Mount Everest! (Not exactly, some minor peak!)

Why is Maths challenging to learn? I can find so many reasons. Proper methods of teaching and good teachers are the most important ways of making Maths attractive. My daughter Priya had a teacher who mixed up between one million and one hundred thousand. Then students are afraid about answers; in Maths, these are either right or wrong. Because of this black and white clarity, the human gets a little worried because he is proven dead wrong.

Many researchers think that teaching to find out approximate value is one of the best ways of teaching maths. Using approximation teaches your brain to collate your eye observation and brain calculation. If there are 25 oranges in a tray, ask children to tell the number of oranges without counting. By observation, we start to understand how to visualise and then count.

Many things can go wrong while learning Maths. You may know the method, but you may not see the reason behind it. So any variation in the problem will create issues of understanding. You will start feeling that you are not good at maths. It can so happen that you have solved the problem correctly almost till the last step, but you make reading or writing error, and write minus instead of a plus sign! Examiner will give you zero marks! QED! You are not good at Maths! But it is not so, you only have made a small error in reading or writing!

Learning Maths is like putting the building blocks on top of each other. If the foundation is not right, then you will find it difficult at a later stage. What you learn in school, you should know even at a later stage in education. Some of us are required to use mathematical knowledge in the day to day work too! Knowing fundamentals is essential for such people.

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The slide above shows where Maths is used in different streams. While I was doing my Master’s degree in engineering, we had Prof Wartikar who taught us Maths. For three months, he explained to us why Maths is essential to understand engineering subjects properly. Till then, we just used to study and appear for Maths exams without understanding why we were doing it.

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You don’t need things shown above in day to day living. To me, the fear of maths will go away if you have the right teacher to teach you. There is one crucial aspect, dyslexia.  People with Dyslexia find it very hard to learn maths for obvious reasons. One more critical point is that some people have the brain needed for Maths, and some don’t have the brains for Maths. These two extremes are not more than ten % of the population. But it is the rest 90 % of the people in between who face problems in Maths. What do we know in real life? Plus and Minus, a bit of multiplication and division. In real life, it does not matter if you take a minute more to count your notes.

What is the big noise about anyway? It is not that people do not count even with today’s method of pronouncing the numbers. With digital payments and computerised billings, you don’t count these days. The world has enough people who are quite comfortable with Maths, and they will perform the necessary tasks where complex maths is needed. Others are only users. It is ok if they find Maths difficult.

In all this episode, I saw a giant size ego coming into the picture. After some other experts created a big noise against the new method, the authorities declared that they would rethink about the original approach. Dr Mrs Naralikar proclaimed that if this happens, she will resign the post! Why? Can it be only my way or the highway?

India Shining Silently!

Among the political upheavals, hyperbole things are changing in India, slowly but surely. There was a political slogan, India Shining,” sometime back. But India is silently shining. The surprising part is that the change is happening on the Engineering side of life. The engineering feats are not sexy like IT, where smart men and ladies market their achievements.  

I read a couple of news items today. I found them very interesting for a different reason. One of the articles was about railways, and the other was about DRDO. 

https://indianexpress.com/article/india/indian-railways-piyush-goyal-premium-trains-rajdhani-shtabadi-5796304/ 

I will talk about the railways one first. When we speak of railways, we visualise historical systems, dirty platforms, and bogeys. In general, we get to remember inefficiency everywhere. But this article shares details about how a 20-year-old problem was resolved by Railway Engineering arm. The problem was about LHB coaches which were put into service; these were imported from Germany. There was a problem of coaches shaking, giving jolts while braking or at a higher speed. Railway team found a solution locally. There were about five thousand coaches involved. They replaced the Center Buffer Couplers with new design couplers. They also found that the usual braking method also caused these jolts. Hence they asked the drivers to use regenerative/dynamic braking system when speeds were above 30 Km/hr. With a combination of these two, jumping teacups and jolts have become history. There were 5000 such coaches, but with proper project management, the work on all of them was completed in two years. These stories don’t come out with fancy celebrations; these projects were done as part of routine practice. Great story to make everyone proud. 

https://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-israel-spike-anti-tank-missiles-drdo-5796306/ 

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The news above is another silent development of a highly complex military requirement of anti-tank missiles. Initially, the order was placed with Israel, who had a fierce competition with the US. This order was placed in 2014 for 351 launching systems and 8000 plus missiles worth US $ 500/ millions. Indian organisation DRDO (Defense Research and Development Organisation) was also in the process of developing the missiles locally. After successful second stage testing at Ahmednagar, the government decided to cancel the contract with Israel and go ahead with DRDO under Make In India initiative. These weapons are highly sophisticated and use infrared technology which has been proven during testing in hightemperature regions of Rajasthan deserts. No fanfare, the sheer hard work is the key to such success stories. Again this is the story of excellent project management where DRDO will deliver all the systems by 2021 as per requirements of the army! Kudos to DRDO. 

At the end of the second world war, Japan and Germany had lost, and many of their factories and cities were destroyed. All the treaties that were signed ensured that they would not resurrect rapidly. But somehow these nations rose literally from ashes like the Phoenix bird! All this was achieved due to the dedication, will power to excel and love for the nation.  

India, as we know today, became one nation for the first time at the time of independence. With the diversity of people, religions, languages, cultures, it was like Europe or much more complicated. Getting people together itself has been the greatest achievement of the last century, though we do not realise this. India has another significant problem. Our diverse culture has been very mature and has an old history of thousands of years. So, specific thoughts and beliefs are ingrained very firmly in our minds. We take time to change. Added to this was the large population. That India has survived and prospered is a miracle by itself.  

Slowly, we have started to learn to keep the diversity at home and now work together with professional pride as a single proud nation. Reading the above stories gives great hope to me about our great nation and people.  

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The viaduct of Pune Metro!

There are many such stories which are known to us, and we have started taking things for granted. Metro railway is an institution built singlehandedly by the doyen of this technology E Sridharan. He was also instrumental in developing the Konkan railway system. The system was one of the most stringent projects to build because of the tricky mountainous terrain. What Sridharan did was a technological marvel, management marvel. All the projects handled by him were always completed on time.

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Konkan Railway Bridge on the river Panval

My classmate Shashikant Limaye was the chief engineer for bridges on the Konkan Railway project. Shown above is the bridge designed by him on the river Panval (Yes it is supposedly near my native place Panval, where I have never been!). This bridge is 80 meters high from the ground level. It is considered a significant technical achievement in the project. How do people like Sridharan achieve such things? Looking into the smallest of the details has ensured everything works like clockwork on these projects. There is an exciting story about Sridharan. As the Metro lines started becoming operational in Delhi, he would visit different sectors every day to begin his work. Where he would go was not known to anyone. As he entered the station, he would bend and check if there was dust on staircases and escalators by wiping with his hand. What was the result of this dedication? Delhi, Jaipur, Kochi, Bangalore, Chennai, Mumbai, Nagpur, Pune, Hyderabad, Lucknow are all having Metro lines or are in the process of installation. All projects have always been completed on time.  

These projects have proven that in India, we can do worldclass technical work and have excellent project management abilities. In the example of bogeys, do not forget that these bogeys were not in one place but spread all over India. The work was completed without hampering the regular services.  

We have been doing great things in Technology. ISRO has already proven that it is India’s showcase worldclass organisation. It competes and beats others from the world in quality, performance and equally importantly, costs! 

On the business side Reliance has done a fantastic job of creating world-class large business; they have proven the same again in their Jio venture too!

But somehow we are not able to go up the value chain in other areas where we can do it. I am talking about the IT industry. They started doing well in ’90 s of the last century with Y2K! They started making big money and started getting large service contracts. Such contracts led to making even more money. In 20 years, these companies became very large, and have so much money that they did not know what to do with that money. Recently they started buying back their own shares from the market. The buyback indicated that they had no plans for developing new skills and gaining expertise in more modern areas. They have still not shown the willingness to go up the value chain. They have the people, the money but lack the will! I sincerely hope that these companies invest some money, human resources, and efforts in creating world-class products! Don’t just become Billionaires; become proud owners of great products!  

 

 

 

EV Conundrum!

 

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I am back to my favourite topic, Electric Vehicles or EV! A couple of days back there was a meeting called by NITI Ayog to discuss and decide EV policy for two-wheelers, in India. I am going to write only about the Indian scenario. My observation is that the electric four-vehicle of similar specification as the IC engine costs almost double the price. Plus per charge range of these vehicles is about 110 km. The specs are not good enough for the car to be used for out of station travel. With these limitations, it is going to be challenging to sell such vehicles. But in two-wheelers, I have observed that the price of EV’s is comparable with IC engine version. Distance travelled using two-wheelers is much less compared to four-wheelers. In India, parking two-wheelers at home is manageable compared to four-wheelers.

There are many angles to this issues. First and foremost is the fuel. With limited petroleum product reserves, there is bound to be a tough situation for the whole world if no action is taken, we will have difficulties. Add to this a new dimension; the US has threatened India to stop buying oil from Iran or else! If the US is so much worried about the whole world vis a vis Iran, then they should sell Oil to India at the same price as sold by Iran and that too in Rupees! But the US can get away with anything in diplomacy.

Petroleum product based fuels are adding to pollution is a known fact. The whole world is trying to reduce pollution by tightening the pollution norms, but apparently, there are limitations of investments to achieve the goals. Again the US has opted out of the body which is trying to track pollution world over. Again, it is the act of a bully.

All the nations are trying to reduce pollution in their cities and India is also trying its best. NITI Ayog meeting was held for the same purpose. Four-wheelers are still miles away from reaching the balance between the price targets and the cost. As four-wheelers will be expensive, their sales will not match current sales volumes at a price expected today. The second most crucial aspect in India is the challenge of charging the car batteries. Majority of the cars in India are parked in public places. Many of them are parked on roads and streets. How to provide a facility to charge batteries for such vehicles? Do we provide charging points on roads like we have parking meters? I don’t think that is a practical way of doing it. Another issue is that fast charging techniques are coming up but are still not good enough. With such limitations, NITI Ayog is trying to put pressure on the two-wheeler segment.

As already discussed, EV’s in this segment will have a comparable price, and because of lesser parking issues, charging the batteries using home electrical outlets may be possible. Charging is manageable; costs are manageable, and the number of these vehicles produced is very high. The number of two and three-wheelers manufactured in the latest financial year is 30 million plus. Total of fuel used by these vehicles is massive.  If totally converted to EVs, there can be a significant impact on pollution.

There are two groups in this segment. First and the main is the group of established manufacturers like Honda, Hero and Bajaj. They are already developing EVs. The second segment is the startups who are in the process of developing EVs. They have no hangups and are trying to support the government. But the established ones have the issue of scaling up. NITI Ayog is insisting that by 2025, majority two-wheelers manufactured should be EV’s. The Giants have a vast experience in manufacturing and can visualise or foresee the issues. Startups really don’t have manufacturing expertise and experience. They probably do not understand the meaning of manufacturing 2.5 million vehicles a month.

Now here is a complicated situation. Established manufacturers have to keep on producing IC Engine vehicles and ramp up EV production. Tremendous efforts and money will be needed. Startups may know the EV technology but do not have the wherewithal to manufacture one hundred thousand vehicles a month. Selling these numbers without the right experience is going to be very tough. What about funding? They are solely dependent on financing by VCs. Today I read an article about VCs trying to go away from electric vehicle manufacturers, in China, as there are too many variables. These startups will never get bank funding. Don’t forget that even Tesla is still a VC funded company! They are already facing production bottlenecks, and their sales are going down!

Will Lithium producers make a cartel like the petroleum cartel? It is a million dollar question. India does not have Lithium reserves, but China has done brilliantly. They have taken controlling shares in many mines across the globe. Till foreseeable future, it looks like the Lithium, and to some extent, Cobalt is going to be the key elements. Their control will be the key to success.

https://www.mordorintelligence.com/industry-reports/india-lithium-ion-battery-market

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The cost of the battery pack was the US $1000/ kW-hr in 2010. In the year 2016, it came down $273. At this rate, the EV’s will become affordable over a period. By 2020 it is expected to be sub $200/. By 2026 the price is projected to be $100/. But till that time it is going to be a tricky question about change over. Those who can afford will buy the EV’s, but the mass production models will take some time to become affordable. In the countries, where parking of cars is an issue, it is difficult to predict what the solution will be.

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One pertinent point discussed by NITI Ayog was that if the pollution goes out of hand, then the courts will intervene. Once that happens then, the discussion will be between manufacturers and the courts. NITI Ayog suggested that some policy decisions need to be taken while interested parties are involved in the debate; it will enable both sides to come to an excellent resolution.

It is more of a chicken and egg situation. It is known that EVs are good for pollution management. On one side, nobody even knows which startups will even survive five years hence. Hence there is no point in putting your money on them. But the existing giants have their issues. They need to run their current business, which has its unique problems. They have to simultaneously scale down and scale up for old and new business. Hence they have shown their apprehension with the year 2025. How will they come out of this conundrum is anybody’s guess.

Are Electric buses the real solution for pollution control and to take people away from personal vehicles?

Human Traits!

The more we live in this world, the less you are surprised with human reactions. Poorest of the poor will share food with the needy, and the rich guy will not give a morsel to the deserving. I am talking about human behaviour and the so-called traditions that are followed in our society. Now that I am near the seventh decade in life, I get a feeling that I have been there and I have done that. Nothing will now surprise me anymore. I suddenly come across surprises.

We have a lady who does cleaning work at home. She is 36 years of age and quite a chirpy lady. She asked Jaya for a couple of days leave as her daughter was to travel back to her husband’s home. Surprise one. The daughter was here for the birth of her second child. Thirty-six years of age and the second grandchild. Oh! Maharashtra is a progressive state; child marriages have stopped long back. I asked Jaya why does she need a couple of days of leave? There is a tradition in their family, that when the daughter goes home after delivery, her inlaws are gifted with 150 Puran Polis! Puran Poli is a Maharashtrian delicacy; it’s a bread with a sweet filling and very tricky to make. In the current summer weather, the Poli can quickly get spoiled! But who cares, there is a tradition, and it must be followed. How can any family finish 150 Polis before they get spoiled? But logic is not part of the culture. The anecdote is from the family who are in the lower economic strata. The expense to make the Polis must have been around Rs.1000/. That is a lot of money for her plus several hours of efforts.

But here is one about people from very high economic levels. There is a housing society in Pune Called Himali Soc. It is one of the oldest high-end housing societies with row houses and condos. In Pune, we usually have water scarcity during the summer, especially when the monsoon gets delayed. The people from that society complained to the municipal corporation about the water supply. Since the problem was not getting resolved, the society people kept on complaining. Finally, the corporation sent a team of people to check the issue. They found that there was no apparent issue with the supply side. Still, the problems in homes persisted. They started checking individual dwellings. They were shocked to find out that out of 30-row houses, 25 had installed pumps, to pull the water from the main supply line. Using pumps is strictly against the law. They acted immediately and confiscated all 25 water pumps. These are supposedly highly educated, sophisticated people living in a high-end society. But they were in the least bothered about the law and the inconvenience it caused to others. I am sure most of the people must be leaders in their own fields. For small gain, they behaved in an incorrigible way. Is this fair? Is it the right thing to do? These people could have easily bought their drinking water supply if required. Friends, do you approve of such behaviour?

Then there is one funny story about a petty criminal. The person is 49 years of age and is a habitual offender. Sometime back he had a minor fight with a cigarette kiosk owner. The criminal beat the owner and stole a few thousand rupees from him. He was duly caught by the police and kept in the lock-up at the Police Station. At night, he started making noise, shouting and created a big ruckus. He had a habit of making a show which an outsider would think that the person is mentally derailed, almost on the verge of being mad. Most of the times, the Police would get fed up with him and his noise. The situation would ensure that the Police release him. The officer in charge that night was a smart person. He decided to send him to a large hospital to check his mental health. The doctors put him in the psychiatric patient’s ward. The patients from the ward, started to interact with our petty criminal, they would hug him, they would shout at him. They would scream at him. On the third day, the criminal got both scared and fed up. When the Police team came to check about his health condition, he privately told them that he was wrong and he would never throw the tantrums again, ever. He requested them to remove him from the ward. He now behaves appropriately in the jail without troubling anybody.

Modern technology has achieved a couple of great things. It has given a gift of longevity to people in India and has brought old friends together. Whether longevity is a boon or bane depends on individuals and their attitude towards life. I have observed that people die much later these days. In my father’s generation, dying after a few years after retirement was the norm. When people died between 60 and 70 of age, it was not a surprise. But now this range has moved more towards 75 to 80. As usual, it has its pro and cons. One thing is your attitude and secondly the money. You now need more money after retirement than you would need previously. Once you are sure that there is enough money, then it is up to you to see how you remain happy.

From one of my groups, people have been doing many things; we are all around the age of 70. Pravin, the singer, has now started writing poems and does some paintings. Sudhakar has been doing lovely pictures for quite some time. Hemant remains busy as the board of director for several organisations. Vasant is active with social work. Another friend takes discourse on religious matters. One more friend has formally learnt to perform puja and goes to various homes as a priest. Suresh teaches yoga on weekends in Sydney, Australia. Surendra has passed a competitive exam and now is going to take admission to a full-time course to become a lawyer. I have now joined an online course at Oxford University for creative writing. Two or three friends have already checked with me the procedure to start a blog site on WordPress.

You must be wondering why I am telling you all this. Friends remaining busy is in our hands. First and foremost, we must remember that we are not immortals. Ill health, poor eyesight, physical disabilities are going to be part of our lives one day.  We may become bedridden for some time. But we should not get discouraged by what is going to happen in future. People do many new things post-retirement, you need to find your path to enjoy life, to find happiness. So are we going to give up?

People from our age group and above can set standards for future generations about positive attitude. Let us help overcome the negativity of the so-called traditions. Our “rich” traditions will continue, unfortunately. In countries like Japan, people handle their lives on their own, happily in the age group above 80. They have been doing it for many generations. By showing that you can be happy even at a late stage in life, we can make this a better world! Let’s do it!

Open and Closed Mind!

 

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In life, we find that some people always make progress, move ahead in life. But others keep on repeating the same mistakes and get stalled in life. Why does this happen? There is no clearcut answer for this. The main reason for this could be their approach to life, the way they try to solve the problems; it is about their mindset. The more successful people have an open mind, whereas those who don’t do well have a closed mind.

Open minded people have the willingness to learn and are not afraid to accept that they have gone wrong. Those with a closed mindset never want to admit that they have gone wrong; they will fight tooth and nail to prove how they are right. Ultimately, your approach to handle problems defines success or failure in life. In fact, the problem starts with closed minded people putting up a show that they are open-minded. This non-acceptance is dangerous.

Having the courage to accept that you are wrong is a good beginning. The progress graph slope depends on your ability to accept new ideas, especially the ideas which you do not prefer.

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Typically, a closed-minded person does not like his ideas challenged by someone. Such people cannot accept the fact that others may have better ideas, different ideas which need to be considered. These persons are not amused when someone asks them a question. The closed-minded person will never ask a question about someone’s idea, he will just make a statement to the effect, I don’t agree, or I don’t like it. The open-minded person will ask a question about new ideas. Why do you think it is a great idea? Can we do it slightly differently so that your concept becomes even a better idea? Such questions indicate that open-minded person is basically ok with the idea, but a few points are not clear to him. Maybe there is another way of looking at the concept which you might have missed. The person wants to contribute, and the question makes you think a little more. Such queries can lead to a better conclusion on the subject. It will lead to bringing different viewpoints forward. Finally, such arguments, questioning could lead to the concept of agreeing to disagree! Such conclusions are always drawn after healthy discussions.

The thought process brings us to a discussion on questions and statement. A statement indicates one track mind. I want to do this in the following manner, whereas the query means the thought process, of being open to the idea and trying to get into the depth of understanding the concept better. It also indicates that the open-minded person is accepting the fact that others can be smarter than them. Like closed-minded people, they don’t think that they are the best! Open-minded persons always have a curiosity about how others feel.

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People’s default behaviour offers quick information about them. When you disagree with someone, what’s their reaction? If they’re ready to rephrase what they just said or, even worse, repeat it, then they are assuming that you don’t understand them, rather than that you disagree with them. They have that superiority complex. Open-minded people will see through other people’s eyes, they will consider other people’s viewpoint. When you disagree with an open-minded person, they are quick to assume that they might have misunderstood something and ask you to tell them where their understanding is incomplete.

Close-minded people react with, “I may be wrong, but here is what I think.” This statement is trying to mask that you are close-minded. An open-minded person will put things differently. He will say, “I may be wrong, but why do you do it this way? Can you elaborate further so that my understanding will be better.” He comes up with a question and not a statement.

A close-minded person does not like to hear any voice other than his own. He will block others from speaking. He does not like the idea that he has to rephrase what he said and explain again in more details. The open-minded person will say, “Hey, friend! Why don’t you say something? I have put an idea which I think may be useful, but your suggestions will take care of points which I may have missed, or I may not have even thought of those points.”

I read an interesting theory on the net. The method says that the close-minded person uses an analogy that at the end of the day, only one sperm meets the egg to create life. Once this meeting takes place, the egg shuts off its system. No further sperms are allowed. But the open-minded person has a mind and a thought process where many ideas and concepts are accommodated, merged and tried leading to a far superior solution. His mind will think of these many ideas back and forth before finally concluding.

One thing the close-minded person does not have is humility. When humility is absent from your persona, one becomes close-minded. Where is humility hidden? It comes out from accepting your failure, recognising that you have made errors of assessment. Acceptance can never happen when you have a closed mind. Most important is that you do not have to worry about being close-minded. You have plenty of company. But do you want to change it? Do you want to become a better version of yourself? It is doable, and you need to work on it. It does not happen by accident.

Being open-minded does not mean that you spend an excessive amount of time considering patently bad ideas just for the sake of open-mindedness.

If someone offers you a freebie, be sceptical. There is no free lunch in life. If someone tells you that he has found a technique so that humans can fly, ignore him. If someone comes to you with a brilliant idea to cheat people or government by fraudulent schemes, close your mind. Being close-minded in such cases is the right thing to do.

When you find yourself exhibiting these behaviours at any moment, acknowledge what’s happening and correct it. Don’t blame yourself. As soon as you can, find a quiet place and reflect on what’s going on at a deeper level. Try to do better next time. Remember that this stuff takes efforts.

Friends, ultimately everything boils down to the company you keep. Everybody has a mentor in life and selecting a good one is a great beginning. If close-minded people surround you, you will have to work hard to remain open minded. But if you are close-minded, don’t fret, take efforts. You can change yourself provided you want to change. Things are not on auto-pilot; you need to work hard for it. Don’t worry; it is doable!

Benefits of Social Media!

We hear a lot of minuses about social media, but like everything else, there are always pros and cons. Pluses are what good things you take from anything. I will restrict my discussion to WhatsApp and Facebook; I will add Skype and Facetime to the list too! I am talking about Indian diaspora migrating all over the world. People move for education, job, and lately, they travel to “safe” countries as fugitives too. Some travel for three to six years on different projects. Short term travel has also gone up a lot because the Indian system has now merged with the international business.

Currently, the World Cup Cricket tournament is going on in England. Many Indians have travelled from India and a large number from the US and other countries too. (We had travelled for the Cricket World Cup final in Australia in 2015) The English allrounder Moin Ali was asked his opinion about desis supporting Indian, Pakistani and Bangla Desh teams when these countries played against England. Moin has moved to England from Pakistan. He said, “Now, I have changed my opinion. I am ok if the desis settled in the UK support the countries of their origin.” Many years back, there was a discussion in England that those who have come from outside and settled there should support the English team. That would show their real affinity (patriotism?) to England.

Humans generally do what their heart tells them, in such situations. Is it right or wrong? Who are others to decide? A person who has citizenship of the new country, to me, will always stand up when “Jan Gana Mana” is played! That person will stand up for “God Save the Queen” or “The Star-spangled Banner” too, the country where the person has become a citizen! But you are born and brought up singing Jana Gana Mana; so, when the anthem starts standing up is automatic. It is a natural thing to do.

With the advent of modern technology, staying in touch with people back home is a zip. The main thing is that this technology is mass used and the device, “cell phone” is in everybody’s hand. On top of that, it is inexpensive. In public places, free wi-fi is available, which adds to the ease of usage (and of course to the cost).

People who migrated in ’60 s and ’70 s of the last century found it difficult as international telephony was expensive. Plus maybe the mindset of people who migrated in those times was different. A classmate of mine who emigrated in 1971, came to India for the first and the only time after 45 years. Another friend called his parents twice in the first 15 years, both the times at the time of the birth of his children. I am not sure how these people and their family must have felt in those times.

Another thing was phone density in those times was very poor in India. When Jaya was in the US for one year in 1980-81, we had to do a lot of coordination. She would write me a letter saying at what time she would call me. I would then go to someone’s home to receive the call. We did not have a telephone at home in those days.

Compared to today’s times, not many people migrated in those days. With so few Indians, probably people did not want to say that they were Indians. They would change the pronunciations of names and surnames. Panvalkar would become Pan Walker, Harinder became Harry and so on. Now my son is Sachin Panvalkar in the US and not Pan Walker. The mindset of people has changed. My generation was born around independence and the awe created during British Raj by the “Goras” was not completely washed away. So in other countries, the diaspora would be under the Raj influence, people’s behaviour was subdued. People would try not to openly flaunt Indianness. They were afraid to say, “Myself Deepak Joshi”! They now see many people from different countries like Japan, China and others struggling with English. With this, our people’s confidence has gone up.

Now the situation has changed so much in the next generation that people are not worried about their accent. The social media helps to stay in touch with friends and family back home. WA and FB help in getting alumni, family, friends group updates, so there is no telephonic silence like the olden days. People communicate with each other at the drop of a hat. Living in on different shores does not mean being cut off. Sometimes it so happens that due to work pressure or visa issues, it is not possible to travel home for some functions. People watch the whole thing on live-streaming using Skype. India-Pakistan Cricket match? No problem? Watch it anywhere in the world using modern technology?

How has this helped? How is this useful? Living in different parts of the world for your work does not mean that you are cut-off like the olden days. I remember the story of a person in ’90 s of the last century. He was living in the US for around ten years. For whatever reason, he could not make it back home during that phase. His parents went there to meet him a couple of times. Then his grandmother died. When his father called to inform him about death, the son simply could not accept it. He kept on saying, “ Oh! She was so hail and hearty! How could she die?” In his busy schedule and telephonic silence, he forgot that his grandmother had become eighty! For a previous couple of years, her health had deteriorated, and she had become frail. But in the son’s mind, ten years younger image of the chirpy grandmother was frozen!

Friends, our generation has reached a stage where we have the bragging rights to claim how our life was better, how we used to meet our old friends and so on. We also tend to look down on technology, may be out of phobia, fear, and because we don’t understand the same. Keep an open mind, try and adapt to new technologies. Don’t forget that the same technologies are helping us to remain very close to our families, friends.

Don’t forget that some things don’t change, ever — for example, the subtle reaction on seeing a brown person like you and me in foreign countries. But keeping in close contact with back home, being proud of Indianness helps living life more confidently. The bond created makes the second generation in foreign countries proud to say that they are Indian British or Indian Americans. They handle the subtle reaction mentioned above discretely. My grandson once told me, “Aba when we want to curse Goras discretely, a few of us start speaking in Marathi!” Next time you Skype with your grandson, add a few choice Marathi words to his vocabulary! नमस्कार! नन्तर भेटू!

Administrative Reforms Tsunami!

 

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The above slide depicts the difference between a specialist and the generalists. India currently is administered by Generalists where now the need is for both Generalists but in many places that of specialists.

https://indianexpress.com/article/india/plan-to-import-talent-a-third-of-deputy-secys-from-outside-govt-starts-work-to-induct-400-directors-5776102/ 

This news item from a newspaper must have sent shock waves through a particular section of the administration in India. Prelude to this was the appointment as External Affairs Minister, of Mr Jaishankar, recently retired career diplomat who had handled his work with aplomb during his career. Instead of appointing a politician, Jaishankar, the domain expert was appointed.  

The British ruled us for 150 years. They created an administrative infrastructure to suit their needs and not the needs of India. At the top of the pyramid were the elite IAS service and other such allied services. Their job was to ensure that the British rule and its arm functioned smoothly. Their main targets were to ensure that the taxes were collected on time, to break the agitations against the British government and nip them in the bud. (Remember Jalianwala Baug?) An example of different priority was the cultivation of opium in Bengal and Bihar. British made sure that all the produce was sold to the government and at one stage British sold Opium worth Seven Million British Pounds in a year to China from India; for opium growing areas officers were expected to give top priority to opium fields over all other functions. Anti-mutiny work and Opium farming were a couple of services which indicated that the system was designed to run in ironclad fashion with no allowance for deviation. It was a sound system, and it served the purpose of the Britishers. We inherited and continued with the same system even after the Independence was achieved, which helped us initially. It served its purpose till the last colony, the one in Goa by Portuguese, was driven away in 1960.  

As usual, everybody was happy with the status quo. Why repair something which ain’t broken? Out of all central services, the IAS was considered top echelon even above the Police. As administrators, they advised the government on every subject under the Sun. The system continued to remain ironclad with all the keys safely with the IAS team. They decided rules, regulations, salary rules, transfer rules everything. It ensured that Civil Services always had the best deal. They continued to have a group of staff to support them at home with many other facilities. As per the rules, they were generally transferred every three years or less to make sure that special interests were not created. So from district administration to finance, finance to technology, technology to Land reforms and the law was the typical journey. They were considered experts in whichever department they were handling.  

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I started thinking about persons who appear for a competitive examination at the age of 25. Based on this examination and interviews, they are selected to become an officer to run a district, the state and the nation. The system was probably alright till the ’70 s of the last century. But slowly, with the advent of computers and India getting linked to the global economy over a period, their “expertise” was found wanting though was never challenged. Most of the selected persons have been smart people with reasonable intelligence. But the situation has changed so much in the last 25 years or so that everybody realised that we must have domain experts to run the government departments too!  

All domains have become multidisciplinary where even technologists can find going tough. For example, GST involves knowledge of taxation, law, commerce, computers and project management. Aadhar card needed software knowledge, database expertise, data science; fortunately, we had Nandan Nilekani to handle this.

Rajeev Gandhi recognised the lateral entry need in government when he was the PM. He invited Sam Pitroda to suggest the ways and means for India’s entry into the modern telecom & electronics era. That was a masterstroke, and India did start moving in the right direction under Pitroda’s guidance. But such entries were infrequent. Pitroda had direct access to Rajeev Gandhi so he could put aside objections from the administrative framework. The massive behemoth of administration prefers the status quo to anything else. The people were Subedars in their domain. They would try and not take decisions or move the files backwards and forwards. The administrative infrastructure was like Khan Market gang, privileged, with everybody knowing each other. India moved at a snails pace if and when, in spite of the group. Twentyfive years back, the Indian growth story started, so did the need for the specialists.  

Who could break the shackles of generalists? Dilliwalas? No way. In came a confident Narendra Modi, a rank outsider from Gujarat with a background of a tea-seller. A common man but a man with zeal to take India forward. In his first term, he broke shackles and started with improving efficiencies. All the subedars had to swipe their cards in the office at nine am. Time frames were decided for specific actions and achieved. 

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Now in the second term, the government has realised that only the advisors and consultants are not going to make the government more efficient and successful. Executives also must be specialists where needed, and this is what the government has started. Now if you reread the above article, you will realise the importance of specialists. I am very much aware that every system needs both specialists and generalists. For understanding social issues (and many such issues) and tackle them, generalists will continue, and they may be essential also. But the government is trying to fill 1/3 of the positions with specialists.  

Two critical points to be remembered are that the empire is going to strike back looking for rules, loopholes and ways of preventing lateral entry from happening. After all, the entry of specialists is directly affecting their career prospects and importance. Reservations is another issue that needs to be handled. In allowing the lateral entry, reservations need to be kept in mind. When the first nine such positions were filled, the HR department decided to advertise each post as an independent post and not as a pool of secretaries. Single post declaration allowed HR to overcome reservations requirement. The change will cover a large population in India. Though the number of entries being discussed currently is only 400, unrest can start leading to agitations. 

Friends, the modern world, say in the last 30 years has changed so much that the specialists and subspecialists will be needed everywhere. How can the administrator decide which fighter plane India should buy? Should we have Shinkansen or Maglev or TGV trains for India? How to improve and ensure that modern electronics goods are manufactured in a big way in India? Even specialists are going to find it tough to understand such things. But this change is going to create a big Tsunami for the administrators whether they like it or not!

How do we believe the untruth?

 

lie1To lie is a false statement deliberately presented as being correct, a falsehood. I have taken this meaning of the transitive verb “lie”, not about the physical position as in lying down. During our life, everybody lies at some stage or the other. We makeup stories and defend them tooth and nail. We do this because our brain is quirky and works differently, conveniently to suit the situation. Lying is a reaction of our brain to an event. Consider an event where our hand or fingers touch something scorching hot, unknowingly. The signal goes to our brain, it is processed, and another message is sent to our hand, to remove the hand immediately. During this process, there is no jumbling in understanding. There is a tightly coupled linear relationship between cause and effect. In this case, there are not many variables; hence, the result is clear cut.

But things are never in black and white; these are mainly shades of grey. These grey shades are what confuse us, and we end up not telling the truth, or we lie. Not thinking about the fact is not necessarily lying. There are reasons why we lie. These can be for some benefit, to avoid a tricky situation, to mask our errors, and so on. Sometimes the conclusion is drawn which are suitable for someone.  But sometimes the reasons can be funny.

Years back when my son Sachin was doing engineering, our daughter Priya was in kindergarten school. Sachin would share some anecdotes during our dinner. The moment he finished his story, Priya would start telling some fantastic tale. All of us would sincerely listen to her, but in the end, she used to be very happy. Her reason for such a story was to take part in the conversation, be part of it.  She was not lying for any benefit but just to be involved.

Deepak had gone to Delhi for the first time, enjoyed the crowds, the food and the sights. At the end of the day when he reached the hotel, he realised that he had lost his wallet. The story was used in a group to discuss people’s behaviour. People were told this story as an exercise. In this story, the cause and effect are not so obvious and are vague. The vagueness creates a different thought process and opinions from people. No background about Deepak was shared with the group.

The people from the group were asked to recall the most important word from the sentence about Deepak’s day in Delhi. The most recalled word was “Pickpocket”. Based on this word, there was a lot of discussion about the crime in Delhi, how the situation is going out of hand. There were suggestions galore as to how to help move around safely in Delhi. The beauty was the word “Pickpocket” was never used in the sentence, and the critical word was “Sights”! It was about Deepak viewing the sights of Delhi and not about his losing the wallet.

During the evolution of our brain, there appears to be a bug formed. When there is vagueness in cause and effect, we tend to create our own stories, each one to his imagination. Do we try to create a plausible reason for what could have happened instead of asking the narrator how Deepak lost his wallet? Deepak’s wallet was missing could be explained differently is what we forget. Deepak could have forgotten his wallet in a restaurant or a store where he purchased some colas. Deepak could have accidentally dropped his wallet while using washroom somewhere. There are so many possibilities, but most people thought about a Pickpocket. Why is that so?

When the group was explained these possibilities, most were upset. Their ego was hurting. You have a particular thought process about various places, pre-set notions. Delhi connects with the crime, Pune connects (or at least used to) with retired people and so on. So people go by the easiest and the simple story that comes to mind. When questioned about logic, people don’t like it; they become uncomfortable. Since this was a group meeting, people got restless, they went on persisting about their theory. They wanted to stick their guns. In Delhi, how else could a wallet be missing? It must have been stolen. The voices were raised, egos came into the picture.  All this happened due to the evolution bug in our brains.

I will share my personal example. I wear goggles these days but do not wear them when I am required to drive. The goggles are not suitable to correct my eyesight. I was getting ready to go to the gym and started looking for the case. I walk to the gym. The case was missing from the regular place. I rechecked my sack. I emptied the stuff, but it was not there. I was trying to recollect if I had misplaced them during my travel to Mumbai last week. We had a driver; hence, I had taken the goggles with me. I retraced the whole journey. I took Jaya’s suggestion. We rechecked a bag we had taken during the travel. Nada. For a change, I kept my ego aside and told Jaya that I might have forgotten the same in our car! When I checked the vehicle, the goggles were there.

Why did original thinking take place? First and foremost, how can Pramod forget the glasses in the car, he is such a tidy person. So I thought about so many other plausible things to justify my thinking.

There is another method of spreading a discrete lie. My friend and I were in a professional meeting. During tea-break, a subject came up about the Managing Director of another company. My friend made a casual remark that he was the classmate of the MD. One more person in the group also happened to be the classmate of the MD. He said, “How come we never met before if we were in the same class?” Our friend was NOT the classmate of MD in COEP but in junior college. Our friend had a unique style of lying discretely about his qualifications. He had done his BSc. He also had another habit. He was very handsome and had a mature personality. In the later phase of his career, people started calling him Dr So and so! He never told anyone, ever, that he was not a PhD!

All this tells us one principle. Next time when you are not able to justify your explanation about your story or analysis of the situation, use Ctrl+Alt+Delete key in your mind. The action will hopefully push your ego away and reset the position. Make a new start; think again, try to take the direction to the truth. That is what your aim was, and you had made an error in the first place.

To err is human!

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The common phrase ‘To err is human’ is often heard in its fuller form ‘To err is human; to forgive, divine.’ It means that we humans are bound to make mistakes, and err while we live. But it is crucial that others forgive those who have made errors. Without this forgiveness, people will try to avoid the work they are doing.  One thing for sure is that what we are talking are errors and nobody wants to make errors deliberately.  But the slide above is a more realistic representation of the human thought process.

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But there are some fields where errors are almost non-acceptable. These are the functions where human life is involved, for example, the medical field, the pilots, and so on. Errors in these fields can lead to loss of human life and/ or property. But that is another subject.

Sometimes we all lose our way. We are humans, after all. We make mistakes. We focus on the wrong things. We pursue goals at all costs. We waver on ethical and moral cliffs. We get too far down a slippery slope. We steal. We cheat. We lie. We deceive others. We deceive ourselves. We don’t open ourselves up to our friends. We see crime or fraud committed by our friends and colleagues, but we don’t speak out. These can be misjudgments by good people. In these moments we’re not the friend others deserve, the partner others choose, the child our parents raised, the epitome we wish to be, nor the person we’re capable of being. But does this mean that we should not get a second chance? Does it mean that we should be blamed throughout our lives? Should we be punished for life? 

Take the case of Australian Cricketers Smith and Warner. They were caught planning and cheating to alter the ball condition in a test match; there was video evidence. They were sent back from the tour and banned from playing Cricket for one year. It was a great humiliation. Loss of face which happened because of a moment of indiscretion; the indiscretion was caused by an urge to try and win a test match at any cost, by any means. Were these players born cheats? Were they bad humans? I don’t think anybody is born that way. They learned their lesson, accepted the punishment with humility and fought their way back in the team by sheer performance. Last week, Smith was being punished the second time by booing crowd at the Oval in London in a World Cup game against India by mostly Indian group. The second part of the proverb came into play to the surprise of all. Their cricketing foe Virat Kohli gestured to the crowd, while batting, to cheer Smith instead of booing. Such magnanimity! To me, this gesture was more pleasing than the Indian victory. It showed how Humane Virat is! Later he said, “Smith was already punished; he has all the rights to make a comeback!” 

It is not the failure that defines people; it is how they come back from disaster. It is already a bad thing that you stumbled, but it is worse if you do not want to change, improve and attempt to become the right person again.  

What defines a mistake? What is an error? When we started living in an organised society thousands of years back, the society formed its own rules. The societal norms became acceptable by trial and error. In the absence of the concept of ownership in the pre-farming days, the standards were different. The idea of marriage and ownership did not exist. When couples had sex, there was no question of breaking the rules as there were no rules. Probably, only the mother knew about the birth father of the child. The concept of theft was not very serious, as almost no one owned anything.  

But there are mistakes and errors which are the time honoured ones like a promise given to another human being. In today’s world of social media, we have too much data and information flowing in our direction. Add to this the travel time required in major cities, which has gone up.  We have so many “friends.” It is moralistic thinking “to err and to forgive”. All these can lead to failure on our part to honour commitments.

But with modern society, new thought processes have also come into vogue.

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This is a tongue in cheek slide which reflects on the current management principles. The rules and thoughts about erring are quite different because of politics in any organisation. Those who can win the political game, win the race. Forgiveness be damned! This my friends is real life! Proverbs and sayings are for mere mortals not for hotshot managers!

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This slide, of course, is looking at the new technology with humour. Computers have made life quite simple for us. At the same time, we are becoming over-dependent on computers. How can the computer make a mistake is a real question? The way computers process data and information for us is totally dependent on how we humans have programmed it. To correctly program the computer, those writing the program should understand the subject in details. Advice from domain experts is critical. I will share one professional experience with you. We had sold a software product to a multinational for their business processes. Later on, the GST regime started. We had made our product GST compliant. From the customer side, they had a top-notch management company to advise them on the subject. Some changes were needed in their SAP. We called for a meeting to check the compatibility of our system. We found that the knowledge of the domain team from consultants was not adequate. With our experience, we knew that in such a complicated situation, a smaller vendor is declared erroneous! Might is always right. But we made sure that we were perfect and their system was tweaked to match our policy.

So in the real world, the mighty is always right, they never err! So it is necessary to avoid errors or mistakes. Also, it is essential that the whole world knows about it. But in personal life, forgiveness works, and you don’t need to blow your trumpet! Forgiveness reminded me of a story.

A thief is caught after some theft in his village. His mother comes to see him at the police station. Before being taken away, he requests a private meeting with his mother. He embraces her and bites her ear. She screams, but the thief says, “Mom, I always used to steal things in school, but you never reprimanded me, in fact, you almost praised me. Your forgiveness was wrong as you never scolded me. Look now, I have become a thief!”