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!  

 

 

 

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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!

Emergency, Emergency!

Some of you may consider this as the second part of my blog 996 or else! Possible, but it is a comment on modern working methods not restricted to any specific field.

https://panvalkarpramod.wordpress.com/2019/04/30/996-or-else/

I read an article about school teachers in the UK. With WA groups and email, parents of the children started getting in touch with them regularly and expected an instant reply from teachers.  The late response caused anger in parents and anxiety in teachers. Teachers perform many more activities other than teaching in the class. They set exam papers; they correct the answer sheets. They check essays and have some administrative work too! They have a personal life like you and me! On top of this modern communications have created such pressure in some teachers in that particular school, that some of them wanted to resign and some protested strongly to the management. A parent finds time to communicate at 10.30 pm and expects a reply immediately.

I will tell you about the procedure followed in my granddaughter Rhea’s school. They do not allow the parents to communicate with teachers at all either by meeting or by electronic communication. They have a group of administrators who are available to meet the parents. Parents can meet them, and in most cases, problems get resolved at administrator level itself. Parents can have one meeting with teachers once every term and group meeting every quarter. I was delighted to see that at the end of lower KG this year, Rhea was analysed for twenty different personality points with details. They have a WA group for parents where circulars etc. are sent. Half the parents have no time even to read these circulars.

The same thing happens in other professions. Colleagues send you an email at 6 a.m. and expect a reply asap. WA has made matters even worse! You also know whether your message is read or not. One tends to read the boss’s note right away. But is it right?

First and foremost, there is a need to create a set of WA etiquettes. Secondly, every organisation should give a rethink and decide policies based on previous experience! What did they all do when modern methods were not available? Emergencies were handled even in those days. Years back in Jaya’s office a mainframe computer was being installed. Nobody had previous experience in this field. A call came from her office at 1.30 am, and Jaya mumbled some reply on a minor issue. Next day Jaya and I talked about this while having our morning cuppa! I told her that there would be a call again tonight but let me handle it. When the call came at 2.30 am, I, said, “Please make calls at night only when the fire alarm goes off.” No calls came ever again.

But then some people want to keep and show their importance to the organisation. I know of a guy who got married in the ’80s of the last century. Before marriage, his director called him and said, “Please, don’t travel out of Pune for Honeymoon; we will sponsor your stay in a five-star hotel, in Pune.” The guy did not travel. Later in his life, I have seen people calling him to find out if the knob on a panel is to be turned clockwise or anticlockwise!

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Are things moving in the right direction? As usual, the answer is Yes and No. Every few minutes some hot shot guy is born and wants to change the world yesterday! He goes into midnight email mode. The credit for starting this trend or you may say discredit, should go to Blackberry phone. Blackberry was the first cell phone which brought professional emails on the phone smoothly. Blackberry became a status symbol! People in those days would not say, let me check the mail. They would say, “Let me check my Blackberry!”

I won’t go into details of how email usage on cell phones has become routine, but now this usage is pretty standard. There is some discussion going on about rules and regulations that need to be followed. Unless some infrastructure is created and an attempt is made, things will not change. Some companies are doing their bit, and others are not doing anything. But it is not about the organised sector, but also in the unorganised sector, the change in thinking has to take place.

I will share an anecdote from very early days of email, about limitations of the fundamental knowledge of the systems, about usage, etiquettes. In a large organisation, people would mark a cc to many people. All the emails were replied as “reply all”. The storage made available to individuals was meagre. When I was talking to a friend, he said that his capacity is full every two hours. He did not do anything, no more emails for some time! Nobody had told people how to use email, as the IT people’s knowledge was also limited.

Even today, in the corporate email setups, there is a lot of limitation about storage etc. People when in difficulty, ask for details on personal emails and then download them! Now people have enough technical prowess; systems have understood limitations and discrepancies. But it is the management team that does not form policies where even during “out of office hours time,” communication goes on. It is simple. The system can always “not allow” communication beyond certain times. People should be given “right not to reply” after office hours! Same rules should be made to be rigorously applied for WA and telephonic communications. As usual, these things need to start from the top! There is a saying in the corporate world. If the chairman of the company asks about some delay in a project, the last guy in the value chain gets threatened of losing his job!

A good beginning is already made. France has passed a law, a couple of years back, on the right to disconnect after office hours. Daimler and Volkswagen have a facility where emails sent to employees on holidays get auto-deleted so that after coming back to work employees do not face a flooded email box. Our NCP MP Supriya Sule has introduced the “Right to disconnect” bill in Loksabha. In a small way, attempts are being made to make life easier.

But what about small sectors, professional individuals in business? Doctors get a call from patients at an inconvenient time, and people are upset when they do not respond. It is ok in an emergency but what is an emergency? A good idea would be to send the doctor a message. (They do check messages as all of us do, and respond when needed. They do not return if they are in Bali on holiday) They will decide and act if they feel it is an emergency. I am also told that these same patients do not call doctors if they are getting late for an appointment.

Every work, every profession has its standard timings for doing work. Each individual fixes his/her schedule based on the requirements for personal and social activities. Availability of technology does not mean that the communications channels should be used in “the personal timing” of any individual. Do you call your grocer at 10 pm? Do we call our milk vendor at 9 pm? Yes, I know of someone who went to wine sellers’ home on a dry day!emrgency1 No, I don’t think so. Why? Because in the case of these service providers there is no emergency! Thank god!

 

996 or else!

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You must be wondering if I am going to start writing blogs in the digital language of 010101. Don’t worry; I am not doing it! But what is this 996? Chinese companies now expect their employees to work from 9 to 9, all six days of the week! For workaholics that sounds like great news. But 996 workaholics, by choice, are rare. People do work longer hours. But can that be the reason enough to work 996, all the time? I don’t think so. No sane person can follow that schedule. If you work 9 to 9, all six days of the week, where do have time for family life, time for personal chores? Time for enjoyment and time for quick picnics. Spending time with spouse and children on the seventh day is out of the question because it is likely, that one will sleep it out on the seventh day! Below is the status of 996 people on Sunday!

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How has this come up? Competition? Dictatorship? Fear of losing the job? Unrealistic goals? Or probably it is a combination of all the factors. Add to this, for international companies, with headquarters in America, and offices in Germany, Israel, India and China. Working with colleagues in different continents can play havoc on the lives of the people. In any organisation, the work is done by different teams in collaboration with each other. Hence there is a need for telephonic meetings regularly. But does it mean that 996 should be the norm? How longer hours will complete the complex jobs shown below, more efficiently?

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Jack Ma, the big boss of the Chinese company Alibaba, says, “The 996 schedule – which means working 9 am to 9 pm, six days a week – is “a huge blessing that many companies and employees do not have the opportunity to have.” He further says that if you don’t work this way when you are young, when are you going to work hard? The question comes to mind what the definition of young is In a group of 100 people if 80 members are young and 20 are not so young, then can you have different timings for young and the not so young? He also feels that such a work regime has allowed Alibaba to become a giant on the world stage.

Why do we work? To win our bread and butter, to learn new things, to go ahead in our careers. How many of us are bothered about the last aspect? The main thing is to achieve, is to steadily get our bread and butter, to pay our bills on time. Educate the children and pass life peacefully. Not everybody is looking to become highly successful in life. Would such people be interested in 996? Would they be able to sustain 996?

I remember about a young engineering graduate who was in the US for his master’s degree, for a couple of years. He joined a company in Pune, where the atmosphere was not 996 but hectic. It was a group of smart engineers working to do some great technical work. Three months later, he went and met his boss and said, “I cannot work with such a smart group of people; probably this is not my taking.” Later he started playing bridge and made his career as a professional bridge player!

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Is 996 feasible in the long term? I don’t think so. There is murmur going on, “family or ICU?” The 996 types of lifestyles are bound to create issues — even our 9 to 6, five days a week lifestyle is against the fundamental requirement of the human body. Before the industrial revolution, our lifestyle was based on nature. Sunrise and Sunset would decide the daily routine. 9 to 6, five days a week lifestyle also involves travel, business dinners and late meetings. So even this lifestyle is hectic. What made Jack Ma think that 996 is sustainable in the long term, I would not know.

Following two paragraphs are taken from a webpage

https://hub.packtpub.com/developers-lives-matter-chinese-developers-protest-over-the-996-work-schedule-on-github/

Working long hours at a company, devoid of any work-life balance, is rife in China’s tech industry. Earlier this week on Tuesday, a Github user with the name “996icu” created a webpage that he shared on GitHub, to protest against the “996” work culture in Chinese tech companies.

The 99icu webpage mentions the Labor Law of the People’s Republic of China, according to which, an employer can ask its employees to work long hours due to needs of production or businesses. But, the work time to be prolonged should not exceed 36 hours a week. Also, as per the Labor Law, employees following the “996” work schedule should be paid 2.275 times of their base salary. However, this is not the case in reality, and Chinese employees following the 996 work rule rarely get paid that much.

These two paragraphs indicate what is happening at the ground level. Can the developers come together and fight the system? I doubt, and it may not be possible even in the US as well as in India. But probably breaking laws in China appears to be blatant. Companies are getting away without being prosecuted by the authorities. The latest information says that 996 will be replaced by 10107! Ten AM to 10 PM seven days a week.

I understand the aspect of profitability in business. But will 996 achieve those numbers? It is evident that people are continuing this out of fear, and also because of no immediate options available. Years back I had met one engineer from Wipro on a flight. He said that his job was quite laid back, but every day he felt like changing his job. After office, he took 2 to 3 ½ hours to reach home. In 996 and 10107 the commute time is not even considered. I read on the website that someone changed residence and moved into not a very decent home, to reduce commute time.

Many companies are not into 996 or 10107, yet. But the number of hours put in plus the commute time makes it terrible. If both husband and wife are working, then the practical solution will be to look for jobs in areas nearby and move residence near the workplace. I know of a couple whose total daily commute time is six hours daily, minimum. One of them has a health issue and is required to exercise daily. But this is not possible due to commute time.

The Chinese colloquial term for a developer is “码农. Its literal English translation is “code peasants” — not the most flattering or respectful way to call software engineers. I call them white-collar workers on the lines of blue-collar workers. Mr Anand Mahindra, Chairman of Mahindra group, had tweeted, “I feel as if I am a businessman from Dinosaur times.” He made this comment after he read a statement by Uber CEO that Uber will never become profitable! I have a run very small business all these years; I am also surprised that Amazon has never made any profits, ever! I am told that these are 996 companies!

Mr Naraynamurthy of Infosys had sent an email to all Infosys employees to make sure that they leave office on time. But his instructions have never been followed in the spirit! I have discussed with people working in larger companies, especially the coders. All of them have said that they can concentrate on their job for not more two hours at a time. If 996 culture is followed how much will be the real productivity is anybody’s guess.

996? 10107? To me, none of these makes sense but what is the option? We had apartheid! We had slavery! The only difference is that compensations are high in the new bondage! Hopefully, there will be an organised movement against these systems, so let us wait and see, fingers crossed!

Yes, no! No, yes!

The classic conflict going on in our minds is whether to say Yes or to say No! Every day, many such situations come in our life when we must decide either way. The subject could be anything, but the situation arises where you need to take a call. We need to have clarity in our minds that No is a decision whereas Yes is a responsibility.

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Life is full of things that keep you busy. Before the advent of FB and WA organising your life was much more manageable. Whenever you are doing anything, there will be a request from family, friends, colleagues and others to help them out with something. Our natural tendency is to say Yes! The reason for Yes is to make you look good in other people’s eyes. There is a slim chance that the help is genuinely needed. By this, I do not mean that other times the request is not genuine. But before we reply, our grey cells must work to check if the priority of what you are doing is above the requested work. In most cases, for obvious reasons, your work has more priority. Then your answer to the request should be No.

How to say No is also equally important. You should say No politely; you can briefly give the reason why you are saying No. Maybe you can suggest an alternative way of doing the job. After all, you also need help from others. In a work situation, people come to you because they have to reach their goals, but then you also have your intentions as well as targets! But one thing for sure when you say No, say it emphatically.

The secret of productivity is quite straight forward. Not required to doing anything is faster than doing something. There are situations where no action is necessary, but we tend to dabble into doing something. In software, “no code” is efficient than any code! No meeting is always more effective than any meeting. There is a saying, organising a meeting should follow the principle of ordering pizza. Pizza can be shared with only a certain number of people; similarly, invite only certain numbers for the meeting. In today’s digital calendar world, you get “Invites” to too many meetings; find out which meetings make a difference to your work and regret others. Do not forget that someone has called a meeting, does not mean that it is an essential meeting! I had a friend who was the Managing Director of a company. I did some work with him and was required to go to their office quite often. Once while having tea with him, I said, “You have too many meetings and must change the culture.” After some discussion, he agreed and called a meeting to decide how to reduce the number of meetings. After five meetings, they still did not arrive at any conclusion.

There is a thought process that saying No is a prerogative of the bosses. In a way it is correct, but others can also say No by being gracious!

How often do people ask you to do something and you reply, “Sure thing.” Three days later, you’re overwhelmed by how much is on your to-do list. We become frustrated by our obligations even though we were the ones who said Yes to them in the first place. It is the meaning of saying Yes without understanding the implications.

In the first place, what is the difference between Yes and No? These two words Yes and No are used so frequently that we tend to think that they have equal weight! But in reality, from the commitment angle, they have entirely different magnitude.

When you say No, you are only saying no to one option. When you say Yes, you are saying no to every other opportunity.

Assume that you have agreed to someone that you will help draft a document for her. You have given away your option to say No to her. You may become busier suddenly, but there is no way of coming out of the commitment. Your escape route to No is cut off in this case.

Saying No may look like a prerogative of the successful people, but for others, it can be a strategy to become successful! When you learn to say No, you are left with more time to continue to do what you are doing. There is a saying, “If you don’t guard your time, others will steal it!”

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Saying No applies not only in regards to helping others. You are working on a particularly important work of your life. On the way, you will come across many more ideas, many more distractions. Not all other ideas will be wrong; they may be quite interesting, but you can not allow yourself to be distracted. Saying No to distractions is a focused way of saying Yes to your work! People will appreciate it when you say, “since I am busy with the current project, I can look at ideas suggested by you at a later stage after my project in hand is done.”

You need to “Upgrade” your No! As you continue to succeed and improve in your skill sets, you need to change your strategy of saying No. Upgrading your No doesn’t mean you’ll never say Yes. It just means you are programmed by default to saying No and only say Yes when it makes sense. Saying No is very powerful because it preserves the opportunity to say Yes.

How to say No is a million-dollar question and there are no easy answers! But one way of doing it is to ask yourself, “If I had to do this today will I agree to do it?” If the answer is Yes, then don’t say No. By postponing it to a future date, at some time, it is going to become imminent and you must do it. Writing a blog is much easier than saying No in real life. But do not forget to apply various suggestions discussed, every time someone asks your support. Remember it is easier to say No than coming out of the commitment at a later stage.

If an opportunity is exciting enough to drop whatever you’re doing right now, then it’s a yes. If it’s not, then perhaps you should think twice.

Friends, please remember that saying No is not a negative approach but a positive way of taking your own work forward. So do not hesistate to say No, if you feel that it is the right thing to do! Option of saying Yes is anyway open to you!

Society Living!

First things first! My sincere apologies to my friends who read this blog yesterday! I was trying the WordPress site on my cell phone; after finishing a couple of paragraphs, I inadvertently pressed the “Publish” button.  The incomplete blog got published. I am now completing my blog; I am sure that those who read it were surprised, but can reread it if they want to!

The modern life has created a new way of living together, cooperative societies, condos or colonies. The concept started taking off in ’70 s of the last century. The idea is kicking and alive. In Mumbai before this was “Chawls” where people lived and in Pune there were “Wadas”. The main thing common in those structures was common toilets. Some homes had bathing places within the homes, and others used a small washing area in kitchens as a place to take a bath. I am now old enough to talk of “Olden Days” or “When I was young”. But I have realised over a period that each era had its fun and difficulties, joys and sorrows. I will meander through these times and share some incidents, anecdotes or narratives.

Now with several people migrating all over India, all the new societies have become mini India’s. These homes have become “homes away from homes”. The neighbours replace relatives, and people celebrate festivals from all religions and areas of India. We see cosmopolitanism at its best!  Later another wave of migration starts and parents of the young ones move in with their children. You have kity parties, Daru parties, senior citizen parties, kids having fun together.  The evenings are full of gala times, and many children are seen playing physical games and remain away from screens of all types. All in all, these are modern mini villages!

The first home I remember was in Mumbai, at Dhobi Talao behind Metro. It was a six-story building. All were two-bedroom flats, and each had its bath and washroom areas like in flats. My father worked for the police force, and the flats were rented by the Government from the owner. The name of the building was Gopal Mansion! We kids had a real time in those days. A fascinating thing happened in the life of Gopal Mansion.

http://gopalmansion.com/

A few years back, S.M.D Charitable trust purchased this building and converted it into a very neat and clean low-cost living facility for people who travel from outside Mumbai for the medical treatment of their near and dear ones. There are many hospitals around this area, and the people get to stay in Gopal Mansion for supporting people under medication and treatment.

Later when I bought my properties, those were in the Societies or Condos. The experience of living and interacting with people is fascinating. I have lived my life after education, in Pune. Shortage of water is common in most areas. In one of the societies, we had severe water shortage. The committee decided to call a plumber and get every water connection in all houses checked. The society consisted of 120-row houses/ townhouses with interconnected terraces for a group of home. One of the persons simply refused to allow checking of his taps on the terraces. One enterprising person suggested that we could go to his terrace from the next house. The tap in his water tank was leaking and water flowing all the time. Leakage must have happened for quite some time, as a lot of Moss had grown up in that area! So much for responsible, educated citizens! He was fined heavily!

In the city of Aurangabad, one fancy condo complex came up, and the homes were quite expensive. It was expected that people would have two cars and a couple of scooters. The facility was provided for these numbers. One guy had 16 cars, either BMW’s or Mercedes! He would park all of them on the premises. There used to be minor disputes on the subject, but recently a dispute blew into something huge. People got embroiled and had fist fights followed by police complaints. Next part is interesting. People had doubts about 16 cars and all and were not sure what business he used to run. Complaints were made to the Election Officer that person is handling cash for distribution in the ongoing elections. There were counter complaints. At the end, when the police came, they found out that the person was already in jail for some other reason! Let me tell you from my experience that the committee is going to find it very difficult to handle this person.

In another society where I have a condo, there lives a known bad element. I don’t live there. I am told that the person uses the house for nefarious activities; he probably runs a high end escorting service. On top of this, initially, whenever he entered the society, he would come brandishing a gun! (In India, Gun laws are extremely stringent!) The committee team went and met him, and they requested him not to display his gun, at least! Luckily he agreed to it! He does not pay his monthly subscription on time! Recently, a committee member saw his car in the society. (the person does not live there) By the time a few people came together (for obvious reasons they meet him in a group!) he was gone! Who will bell the cat?

In another society where I used to live, the nasty person used to live. He was hands in glove with the builder! In the initial phase when the builder used to handle day to day work, this person used to take his cut on money collected from members. During cooperative society formation, he used to help the builder by sharing details of internal meetings with the builder. When he sold his home, he made sure that the society would be required to go into litigation for the money that was due during the transfer! He used to steal diesel purchased to run the generators!

In another society, there was a funny incident. The usual water shortage was tackled by some people coming together to go to each home for checking the leaking taps! While they were doing the checking, they found out that one of the taps in a home was leaking heavily. The lady of the house was suitably embarrassed and immediately got it repaired. The funny part was that the lady was part of the group who were volunteering to do the checking. How can one miss such leakages is a mystery to me!

I know of a person, living in an independent bungalow. He was the maintenance in charge of a large engineering plant! Whenever we went to his house, we would always find taps having serious leakage. He used an ancient 50-year pump (maybe installed by his father) to pump water into the main tank!

My observation is that people have been learning to live in modern homes but have to share responsibilities. One important aspect is that you cannot choose your neighbour! Secondly in modern careers, people travel outside India for work and look for better and better facilities. But they forget that costs are involved and many times pay reluctantly, though they have high double incomes, sometimes. Most are becoming mature but now main issue that comes to the fore is their egos! There are unnecessary disputes and fights just to satisfy egos! But all in all, it is fun to live in these modern villages or towns tucked away in major cities! Merging of languages and citizens for various places in India happens very smoothly.

Salute to common, modern “Society Living!”

Right or Wrong!

A friend shared with me a document about a disputed asset usage by a well-known private organisation. As I do not like to go into political disputes and discussions, I am sharing my general thoughts on the subject. I am not talking about what happens the world over, but I will restrict the discussion under Indian scenario. I will not be specific about names and projects for obvious reasons.  

Air, Sunlight and Water are three primary natural resources. Air and Sunlight are unlimited, but potable water is not! Water may be abundant in the sea, but fresh water is not unlimited. The availability of potable water in the right places at the right time is also critical. That is going to be essential in future. Any new asset creation is controlled by availibility round the year. Like in Rajasthan, the government is putting Sunlight to good use by putting up a large number of Solar plants. In various areas in different states, wind energy is harnessed by putting up windmills for power generation. The asset I am discussing is water. Government is taking up measures to catch rainwater by inexpensive methods in the state. Creating dams, diverting river water are long term projects and take huge money and a lot of time. So instead of going for complex ideas, it will make sense to achieve this by more straightforward methods.   

The specific document shared by the friend is talking about a contract this private company and the then British government. I am sure that since the project is enormous, there must have been a legal contract between the government and the company. Assume that a similar agreement is made between today’s government with a multinational. Will the deal be challenged after 100 years? The only difference would be the original contract I am talking about was with the British Government in India of those times. The hypothetical case that I have said is about the contract with sovereign government of India. Let us not forget that India as we know today, did not exist before 1947.  

When I read the document shared by my friend, thoughts about the problems discussed in the report look unimportant to me. A society, a government and hence the nation works on ethics that is followed. The document demands that the old contract made by the company with the government should be annulled. The resources used by the company should be used for the benefits of the rural poor and farmers in the different area of the state, deficient in water.  

If we take this logic further, which agreement should remain valid? There are significant beneficiaries of assets due to awards made by Shivaji Maharaj. It was the method of those times. To keep the different sardars together, they were awarded large chunks of land. Sardars would collect the taxes from the people in the area and share taxes with the Shivaji’s government. It was the way of paying sardars for the services rendered by them to Shivaji. During the last 50 to 70 years, land prices all over are shooting up. The descendants of the sardars have enjoyed the fruits of the ancestral property they had received from Shivaji. Some have become multimillionaires by selling the land, and a few have become billionaires! Should the gift that was given to these families be valid today? Was that land not owned by somebody else? Honestly, I have no issue with the old system, but it should be consistent to all, whether an individual is involved or a company is involved.  

These days there is a lot of discussion going on about poor farmers and their issues. These need to be handled with a lot of genuine care and love. Add to this the problems that come up because of market vagaries; farmers do not get reasonable rates and many a time they have to sell their products at a loss, as the product is perishable. But lest we forget, there is an equal number of poor living in the towns and cities. They live in squalid conditions and have a daily struggle to make two ends meet! When we talk of “helping” the rural poor, we should also find ways to “help” urban poor.  

What has this company done? When they took over the assets, they built dams to produce electricity. Remaining water after production was used by (and is still being used) poor people from certain area. The power helped Bombay to grow in the last century. In those days private industries did not have the money to take up such massive operations. Does the contract have an end date for the lease? Does it have an escape clause from the deal? If this contract is valid then what is the reason to ask the company to opt out of it?  

Before 1947, many things had happened for which land and other assets were taken over by the government. Indian Railway is a prime example of this. Does it mean that old owners now should be compensated for the land at today’s rates by paying the difference? Mughals in their time had given lands as an award or a reward to many. Are these contracts to be reopened? These contracts were also not made with Indian Government after 1947. Airports, Harbours were built in olden days and continue to be used after modernisation by the Indian Government. Is it only because an asset similarly is used (in the language of people against this- exploited) by private industry, it is wrong 

A valid contract between any two parties, the government or private is a contract that should continue. The demand mentioned in the document, has  asked the government to change the agreement and use the water as deemed suitable by this group of people.  

There is one valid argument. The contract was created more a hundred years back. Requirements of those times were different as there was hardly any industrialisation and urbanisation. Availability of natural resources was also different, per capita. With increased population, the reduction in per capita availability is causing stresses, and hence there can be a demand to use natural resources for a different reason. Saying this is easy but to bring such significant changes into practice will be extremely complex, and very expensive. So instead of using existing resources for a new use, invest the same money for creating the required infrastructure.  

It is said that the future wars will be about water. Is this dispute forerunner of things to come in future? I am sure good offices will prevail, and the situation will be resolved sensibly without any coercion.

What is right or wrong, only time will tell!